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Jun. 10th, 2008

Two days, a Pope and a pizza place




Kari sinks her teeth into a big Pisa pie.



Yes, the rumors are true: in Italy, there really is pizza on every corner.
Florence, Pisa, Rome... even the Pope's house has a pizzeria, but Kari and I soon agreed that he should stick to his day job (Popery).

You can walk the entirety of Florence within a few hours and yet you can't hope to take in the twenty-plus monuments and attractions there within a week. However, making the most of our two days in Florence, Kari and I managed to check out:

-the Duomo, the Baptistery of San Giovanni, and the Basilica of San Lorenzo, three churches conveniently located next door to one another,
-the Church of Santa Croce, where greats such as Donatello, Michelangelo, and presumably the other ninja turtles, are buried,
-the Ponte Vecchio, the only major bridge left standing in Florence after WWII, now a major centre of bling,
-the Uffizi Gallery, home of Botticelli's Birth of Venus,
-the Accademia Gallery, home of Michelangelo's David, and
-the Istituto e Museo di Storia della Scienza, whose foremost exhibit focuses squarely on Galileo's Telescope.

Add to that an initial day trip to Pisa, where the tower and shops may be shifty but the pizza and pasta are definitely bang on. (While every meal in Italy was delicious, we found the foodstuffs in Pisa to be on a level of their own.)

When not taking in the sights around town, a good deal of our time was spent in PLUS Florence itself, a hostel which (remarkably) gave Villa Saint-Exupery a considerable run for its money! Aside from the aforementioned swimming pool and sauna, PLUS also had a great restaurant area and bar, along with an amazing view of Florence from its uppermost rooftop patio; all the makings of a great place to hang out after a day's exploration.

While Florence as a city had the feel of an aging town formerly the the centre of art and culture, Rome is very much a bustling metropolis, yet one still rooted in, and respectful of, its history. A casual turn off a side road will lead to a quiet square hidden from view, complete with immaculate statues, fountains, and the occasional ancient egyptian obelisk thrown in. Like Paris, Rome is easily navigable on foot or via the metro, so the numerous points of interest are never out of reach. Even out-of-the way destinations such as the Vatican and the Catacombs only require a short transfer by bus, and are definitely worth the effort. On a spiritual level, I count our visit to the tomb of John Paul II and passing through the shrouded halls of the Catacombs among the high points of the trip.

Capping off this adventure on Friday night, after a few free pizzas and 3-token beers, Kari and I found ourselves sitting at the Alessandro Palace bar, feeling utterly amazed at all we had seen and overwhelmed by what a great time we'd had. Though we are returning home, Edmonton now seems like only a brief stopover along a greater journey still ahead.


Until next time, how about a few choice snapshots to sum up our Italian experience?




Ed finds pushing over the Leaning Tower more difficult than at first glance...


Ed finds pushing over the Leaning Tower more difficult than at first glance...



...although Kari makes it look easy to hold up.


...although Kari makes it look easy to hold up.



PLUS Florence is where the fun's at!


PLUS Florence is where the fun's at!



The Duomo (Arigato).


The Duomo (Arigato).



Kari makes a new friend outside the Uffizi.


Kari makes a new friend outside the Uffizi.



A copy of David.  Being naked must mean less wind resistance with the slingshot.


A photographable copy of David.
Being naked must mean less wind resistance with the slingshot.



Ed gets some perspective on Galilean science.


Ed gets some perspective on Galilean science.



The Ponte Vecchio.


The Ponte Vecchio.



Santa Croce.  Each rectangular marking is a tomb marker!


Santa Croce. Each rectangle on the flooring is a tomb marker!



Did it justify the means?


Did it justify the means?



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Hotel Alessandro Palace, the #1 Roman hideaway with nightly free pizza parties.



The sacred Court of the Pinecone at the Vatican.  I'm not kidding.


The sacred Court of the Pinecone at the Vatican. I'm not kidding.



He's a-cookin'-a-somethin'-up-a!


"He's-a cookin'-a somethin' up-a!"



Warning:  The Pope will not see you if are missing a leg, bicep, or any part of your swimsuit.


The Pope will not see you if are missing a leg, bicep, or any part of your swimsuit.



Kari and Ed people-watch on the Spanish Steps.


Kari and Ed people-watch on the Spanish Steps.



Dove est Waldo?


Dove est Waldo?



Ed's shoes always come undone when there's a gelaterie nearby.


Ed's shoes always come undone when there's a gelateria nearby.



The towering Pantheon.


The towering Pantheon.



Kari wonders when the bread will arrive.


Kari bemusedly wonders when the bread will arrive.



The majestic Trevi Fountain.


The majestic Trevi Fountain.



Ed at the entrance to the Catacombs.


Ed at the entrance to the Catacombs.



A spectator's view of the mighty Coliseum.


A spectator's view of the mighty Coliseum.



The Roman Forum awaits.


The Roman Forum awaits.



With a tranquil walk through the Forum, Kari and Ed bid arrivederci to Italy.


With a tranquil walk through the Forum, Kari and Ed bid arrivederci to Italy.


Jun. 2nd, 2008

Where the mountains meet the sea




On the beach.




Plage Mala must be seen to be believed. A winding walk from the heart of Cap D'Ail leads to a lush, remote pathway overlooking the Mediterranean and a secluded cove along the mountainside. Unlike the many beaches surrounding Nice proper, the small rocky beach of Mala is relatively out-of-the way and less frequented by tourists; a perfect place to take in the sun and waves. Hewn into the cliffs are railed stairways and gorgeous villas reminiscent of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, though we had an equally picturesque view from the beach itself.

With the sand still in our shorts, closeby Monte Carlo was our next destination of choice. Had we only taken Connery's example, unzipping into formal wear after our swim, we would have fit right in with the high-rolling casino crowd. However, outside the bodyguarded casino doors, tourists rule the streets, flooding in from the many cruise ships berthed within view.

A final pizza (and some $1 beers for old time's sake) later, and our red-eye train to Florence was underway. Cheers to Villa Saint-Exupery; it's everything a hostel should be and more, and I can't recommend it more highly. Plus Florence, our new hostel, won't be ready for a few more hours, which suits Kari and I just fine as we're still reeling from the rushed pace of Paris followed by the crash relaxation in Nice. On the upside, it looks like only two steps in Florence are enough to go from Michelangelo's David to Galileo's telescope. Also, there's a swimming pool.




Villa Saint-Exupery, our favorite hostel by far.


Villa Saint-Exupery, our favorite hostel by far.



Cap D'Ail.


Cap D'Ail.



Plage Mala, one of the most beautiful places on Earth.


Plage Mala, one of the most beautiful places on Earth.



Ed and Kari on the shores of the Mediterranean.


Ed and Kari on the shores of the Mediterranean.



Kari arrives at Monte Carlo.


Kari arrives at Monte Carlo.



Ed arrives at Monte Carlo.


Ed arrives at Monte Carlo.



Monte Carlo casino:  Spies, stars, and supervillains welcome.


Monte Carlo casino: Spies, stars, and supervillains welcome.



One of many upscale harbours along the Cote D'Azur.


One of many upscale harbours along the Cote D'Azur.


Jun. 1st, 2008

Tour de France




Paris, je t'aime.



Nice is incredible, and we've only been here an hour.
The last three days in Paris have gone by in a blur as fast and varied as the local metro trains. Adding to that the highly reasonable price of red wine, it's hard to remember where one day ends and the next begins, but all in all, we've taken in the Tour Eiffel, Arc de Triomphe, Musee du Louvre, Musee D'Orsay, Musee Rodin, Tour Montparnasse, Notre Dame de Paris, Sacre Coeur, and Centre Pompidou, with the occasional stop off along the way. To... you know... eat. Two words: Croque. Monsieur.

As I mentioned earlier, Nice has already more than lived up to its reputation. The Villa St. Exupery is by far the best hostel for twentysomethings this side of the Great Wall; late internet connections, a multitude of pizzas and $1 beers aren't the only things they have going for them! Time to hit the hay and then the beach, but not before recapping the last few days in a photo montage. Cue the music:


TimHotel Tour Eiffel, our Paris base of operations.


TimHotel Tour Eiffel, our Paris base of operations.



A delicious meal fit for the discerning Frenchman.


A delicious meal fit for the discerning Frenchman.



Kari reclines in a Parisian park.


Kari reclines in a Parisian park.



Le Tour Eiffel.  It's even bigger in person.


Le Tour Eiffel. It's even bigger in person.



Ed pauses in the tower stairway. Note the load-bearing column.


Ed pauses in the tower stairway. Note the load-bearing column.



Ed pauses in the tower stairway. Note the load-bearing column.


L'Arc de Triomphe standing triomphant indeed.



Art Appreciation part I:  Ed thinks deep thoughts at the Musee Rodin.


Art Appreciation part I: Ed thinks deep thoughts at the Musee Rodin.



Art Appreciation part II:  Ed remembers the double your age plus seventy rule at the Musee D'Orsay.


Art Appreciation part II: Ed remembers the double your age plus seventy rule at the Musee D'Orsay.



Art Appreciation part III:  The Mona Lisa.  It's even tinier in person.


Art Appreciation part III: The Mona Lisa. It's even tinier in person.



Kari brings the exhibit to life.


Kari brings the exhibit to life.



Ed confronts Shelob at the Centre Pompidou.  Who lets a giant spider into a museum?


Ed confronts Shelob at the Centre Pompidou. Who lets a giant spider into a museum?



Kari and some fearless pigeons reenact a Hitchcockian moment.


Kari and some fearless pigeons reenact a Hitchcockian moment.



Notre Dame de Paris.


Notre Dame de Paris.



A gargoyle's-eye-view of Paris from the towers of Notre Dame cathedral.


A gargoyle's-eye-view of Paris from the towers of Notre Dame cathedral.



Sacre Coeur.


Sacre Coeur.



A mime photo is a terrible thing to waste.


A mime photo is a terrible thing to waste.



Kari and Ed disent au revoir a Paris.


Sur le promenade de Montmartre, Kari and Ed disent au revoir a Paris.


May. 29th, 2008

From whisky to wine




Kari and Ed share a warm drink at J.K. Rowling's haunt.

I'm writing this entry on a crazy mixed-up keyboard as a clock hastily counts down to zero in the corner (at which point, I assume, the internets will self-destruct), so forgive me if this post is brief ànd fu&l of ni&tqkès;

It's safe to say that Kari and I have felt more at home in Edinburgh than anywhere else along the journey thus far, so leaving the warm hospitality of Cluaran House for the hustle and bustle of Paris was bittersweet. Although I personally was looking forward to the bustle. Our last full day in Scotland included sampling a variety of regional Scotch whiskies and a round-trip bus tour across the city, stopping along the way to browse the National Museum of Scotland and scale the 287 steps of the Scott memorial tower. The highlight of our day was a hearty dinner with Ali and Noreen, our friends and gracious hosts at Cluaran House. The delicious meal, lively conversation (and fine Scotch) were a perfect sendoff to our Scottish adventures. Here are some highlights, and a taste of things to come:

Cluaran House, our second home in Edinburgh.


Cluaran House, our second home in Edinburgh.



Kari and Ed with our good friends the Crightons.


Kari and Ed with our good friends the Crightons.



Ed shares a laugh with the locals.


Ed shares a laugh with the locals.



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Kari seems set to scale the Scottish spire.



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We're French! Can you not tell by this outrageous accent?


May. 26th, 2008

Highlander: The Returnening




There can be only one.

Another entry at the close of a long journey across country, this time around the rugged rocks of the Scottish highlands. Once again, the saga is too great to tell all at once, and once again the hour is far too late to do so properly, so here are more snapshots in our series of tales from the road:



The great organ at St. Giles Cathedral.


The great organ at St. Giles Cathedral.



Edinburgh Castle.


Edinburgh Castle.



Target: Edinburgh!


Target: Edinburgh!



The massive Mons Meg.


The massive Mons Meg.



Ed pledges his solidarity at the Scottish National War Memorial.


Ed pledges his solidarity at the Scottish National War Memorial.



Kari goes tete-a-tete with Hamish the highland coo.


Kari goes tete-a-tete with Hamish the highland coo.



Duone castle.  Wait, where have I seen this before?


Duone castle... Wait, where have I seen this before?



Allo! Ooo ees eet?


"Allo! 'Ooo ees eet?"



It is I, Arthur, king of the Britons.


"It is I, Arthur, king of the Britons."



The Scotland-shaped Loch Alsh.


The Scotland-shaped Loch Alsh.



The island harbor of Portree.


The island harbor of Portree.



The volcanic silt beach of Glen Brittle.


The volcanic silt of Glen Brittle beach.



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The fine shells of Uig's coral beach.



A veritable Scottish lagoon off of Uig.


A veritable Scottish lagoon near Uig.



Scotland's last defense.


Scotland's last defense.



Kari and Ed atop the Portree church tower.


Kari and Ed atop the Portree church tower.



Sound like good hours to me!


Business as usual in Portree.



The haunting vista of Kilt Rock.


The haunting vista of Kilt Rock.



Ed sights Nessie!  For reals!


Ed sights Nessie on the Loch! For reals!

May. 23rd, 2008

Irish Spring




The freshness of Ireland.

Back from touring the Irish countryside; now we're off to explore the Scottish highlands over the next few days. There are more tales more to describe than there is time right now, so here's a taste of our upcoming series of entries from the road:



The grounds bordering Blarney Castle.


The grounds bordering Blarney Castle.



Blarney Castle looms overhead.


Blarney Castle looms overhead.



My precious...


My precious...



Yes, Ireland really is that green!


The forty shades of green.



The domino-like portside townside of Cobh.


The domino-like portside townside of Cobh.



Ed takes in a picturesque view of a working Kerry county bog.


Ed takes in a picturesque view of a working Kerry county bog.



The Atlantic meets the Irish coast off Cahirciveen.


The Atlantic meets the Irish coast off Cahirciveen.



Kari explores the chapel grounds in Sneem.


Kari explores the chapel grounds in Sneem.



Temple Bar, our favorite nightspot in Dublin.


Temple Bar, our favorite nightspot in Dublin.



Monastic ruins in Glendalough.


Monastic ruins in Glendalough.



Strolling the wooded path to Upper Lake.


Strolling the wooded path to Upper Lake.



Fangorn Forest.


Fangorn Forest.



The Misty Mountains.


The Misty Mountains.



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Ed becomes one with Lower Lake.



Kari doesn't like bedtime at 3:30AM.  Or waking up at 4AM.


Kari doesn't like bedtime at 3:30AM. Or waking up at 4AM.

May. 20th, 2008

Dublin's finest




Two perfect pints o' the brown.

What began as a cloudy, wet morning quickly became a raucous whirlwind tour of Dublin's must-see attractions, ending with a perfect pour of Irish stout.


Christ Church Cathedral was first up, a small but ornate church combining a myriad of styles as it was expanded, ruined, and rebuilt over the ages. It's now a cultural fixture in Dublin, acting as a rallying point akin to Times Square for major festivities. The tombs, stained glass windows and underground crypt are right out of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, full of hidden details that could be easily missed in a blink. The cathedral itself is connected by bridge to its former chapel house, a location which now houses the Dublinia exhibit. A quirkier celebration of the Viking age you will never see, but fascinating all the same; I never would have guessed their level of technological sophistication (there's a lot more to the story beyond circular shields, horned hats and hammers -- apparently Newfoundland was not just an accident).


Next on the list was Trinity College, home of the Book of Kells and my favorite stop of the day. Students are students the world over, and it was a happy sight to see a campus filled with activity, albeit because exam season was underway. The incredible architecture throughout the grounds puts the U of A to shame, and I couldn't help but enjoy the strange mix of a campus steeped in age-old tradition with a modern, wisecracking student body. The library exhibit itself really surpassed my expecations; I can't do it justice here but suffice it to say that the manuscript displays were highly illuminating.


How better to cap off a long day in Dublin than with a dram or two of its best-loved export? Last stop of the evening was a trip across town to the Guiness Storehouse for some self-guided hijinks amidst seven floors extolling the virtues of hops, water and barley. A rollicking good time; every level is designed to ensure you don't leave without a 'eureka' moment and a goofy grin, building to the grand finale of a 360-degree panaroma of Dublin atop the Gravity bar, and wouldn't you know it, they were giving out free drinks! Definitely a day for the books. Onward to the Irish countryside...


Observations:
-U2 own the Dublin airwaves, possibly in the literal sense.
-The REAL Gaelic harp -- the Irish symbol attributed to Brian Boru, Ireland's first king -- is not in Guinness' famous storehouse; it can be found on display in the Long Room of Trinity College (and can be played if you get the library staff sufficiently drunk).



Christ Church Cathedral.


Christ Church Cathedral.



Stained glass adorning Christ Church Cathedral.


Stained glass adorning Christ Church Cathedral.



Pulpit featuring the writers of the four gospels.


Pulpit featuring the writers of the four gospels.



Cathedral crypt or the Dwarven city of Dwarrowdelve?


Cathedral crypt or the Dwarven city of Dwarrowdelve?



Dublin Castle.


Dublin Castle.



The perfect pint.


The perfect pint.



Mmmm... beer


Mmmm... beer.



Kari and Ed take in the view at Gravity bar, atop the world's largest pint glass.


Kari and Ed take in the view at Gravity bar atop the world's largest pint glass.

May. 19th, 2008

Dublin: Day 1




A lively traditional Irish folk band draws a crowd on the streets of Temple Bar.

The long hours and airline food were definitely worth it. Ireland is a truly amazing place, and we've only scratched the surface so far with a short walk around the hostel vicinity. Even on a Sunday night, friendly faces can be seen down every street and alley, with traditional Irish folk music rising complemented by the heavenly aromas of decicious bar confections wafting through the air. From the majestic statutes right down to the cobblestone streets, the Emerald Isle's rich history really hits home at every corner. Can't wait to explore a few choice spots in more detail tomorrow! Love the fun-loving atmosphere and sense of camaraderie here.

Some observations:
-Our hostel, Kinlay House, is right in the thick of the nightlife around the Temple Bar area, with late-night meals, entertainment, and internet available for nightowls.
-Dubliners are the kings of pub food.
-Fun tourist activity: count the number of passers-by not wearing jeans. (Current tally? Zero.)



Kari by Wellington Quay


Kari by Wellington Quay.



Kinlay House, our hostel in Dublin.


Kinlay House, our hostel in Dublin.



St. Audoen parish.


St. Audoen parish.


The vibrant Temple Bar nightlife.


The vibrant Temple Bar nightlife.

May. 17th, 2008

The right stuff




Our flight through London leaves today at 7:45pm, and everything is pretty much where it should be. Even the spork. Next stop: Dublin!

May. 15th, 2008

Thunderbirds are go!

It's nearly time to head off on our three-week excursion! Keep checking back here for updates from Kari and myself on our various misadventures around Europe!






(Seems simple enough.)