Monday, August 30, 2010

La Dolce Far Niente

The Italians have a saying: "la dolce far niente." It means the "the sweetness of doing nothing (and no, I did not just get that from Eat Pray Love). Yesterday, Sam and I walked over ten miles. The upside is that we saw a lot and didn't have to worry about calories now. The downside is that our feet killed and we had been on such sightseeing overload that we, again, forgot to relax. So today, we recouped. We slept in and had a lovely breakfast at the hotel cafe. Then, we chilled out for a few hours.

But, its not really healthy to stay in a hotel all day, so Sam and I looked up something to do. We landed on Trastevere. Trastevere is a neighborhood across the river (on the Vatican side) that guidebooks rave about. So, we took a bus and then walked. First we stopped at a little restaurant to eat. I had pasta and Sam had pizza. Then, we toured Trastevere. It's kind of a small neighborhood with lots of little shops and restaurants. It's cool because it's not very touristy. Most of the people walking around with us were Italian and the shops were more authentic and less Colosseum paperweights.

In the square, there is the Church of Santa Maria. Sam and I went in. It was beautiful! The ceiling was a huge mural and the moldings on the pillars were really detailed. There were also a lot of cool statues everywhere. There was music playing and all the other tourists were quiet. Sam and I sat there for a long time, admiring the architecture and art and soaking in the serenity. After that, we thought it was about time we got more gelato, so we hunted for a gelateria. It wasn't difficult to find. I got coffee and chocolate and even ordered in Italian!!!

Then, it was time to go back to the hotel for some more relaxing and to get ready for Rome's nightlife. First, we went to Campo dei Fiori. We had passed through it earlier to scope it out. It's a piazza surrounded by restaurants and bars. Tonight, we chose The Drunken Ship. We got a couple beers, watched the soccer game, and played Spot the American. After a while, these three people came up to us -- Jack from Australia, Mike from London, and Jenna (??) from Connecticut. They hijacked our table and started going on about how they party every night. They were really funny for a while, but then started advertising some pub crawl the next night. Sam and I quickly realized they were working us. But they were entertaining, so we stay for a while. Once the bar cleared out, they went one way and we went the other, back to Scholars.

Scholars was medium-crowded. I learned tonight that they have an irritating bathroom set up, as I really had to go by the time we got there but had to wait some time. Other than that, it was lovely. Sam and I got a couple more beers and talked with the bartenders. Steven said that he would throw people out if they were bothering me throughout the semester, and that eventually the bartenders would started joking around with me, so I would have to hold my own. Actually, I'll have to learn to understand more than 50% of what he says first.

After that, we left and went to sleep. It was an awesome day. Turns out, the Gibsons do "la dolce far neinte" pretty well...

Sunday, August 29, 2010

When In Doubt, Have Some Sit Time

So much walking!!! Today, Sam and I did some more sightseeing. Again, we got kind of a late start. And by we, I mean Sam got up at a normal time and had to wait for me to get up closer to noon. First we had to eat something quick and cheap, so we went to Termini Station for some fast food. We chose Mr. Panino, a kind of Italian Arby's. We took our sandwiches and sat a Basilica Di Santa Maria Maggiore to eat.

From there, we walked to the Pantheon. I had never really thought of the Pantheon as a must-see in Rome, but now I know that I was totally wrong. It's amazing! The architecture is beautiful. The dome inside has a sort of skylight that lets a beam of light shine in. Sam informed me that the building is architecturally perfect. To build something like that, even today, would be incredibly difficult because of the distribution of weight of the stone. The walls are all different colors marble, and there are religious statues everywhere. Sam and I sat in the pews for a while before moving on.

Then we went to Piazza Navona. After Trevi Fountain, I think that Piazza Navona is probably my favorite place in Rome so far. There are two beautiful fountains and a plethora of street artists selling their work. The Piazza is surrounded by restaurants with seating outside. We chose one and had some iced coffee and lemon sorbet. As we walked around the piazza after our sit-time, we saw that there was something being filmed. Sam and I decided it was probably a commercial.

After Piazza Navona, we walked a few miles, crossed the river and went to the big kahuna -- Il Vaticano. We took some pictures and considered going in St. Peter's Basilica, but decided we didn't want to stand in line. We had seen it last time we were in Italy. Unable to decide what to do, Sam and I had some sit time and discussed.

Finally, we concluded that we would go to the Temple Rome Campus and then my residence. Sam had planned this
trip under the pretenses of moving me in and, ironically, flies home twenty four hours before my residence is open to me. So, we decided that at least she could help me find the buildings. More walking....
We walked along the river and ended up in this little market. It had clothes and books and movies. I found a Roman Holiday poster that I want to put on my wall. Finally, we found Temple Rome. It's a single building about six blocks from Piazza del Popolo. We wanted to go in and perhaps peruse a school store, but it was all locked up. So, we just went to my residence.
The walk to my residence takes about 40 minutes. It mostly a nice walk, except that it gets a little iffy towards the end. But, Sam and I saw many restaurants and cafes that have the potential to be regular hang outs for me and my friends. The actually residence is, I think, two buildings connected with a courtyard. There is a doorman/security guard out front. As we were sitting and resting inside the gates, a couple of older people came out, proving that it is not just a residence for student abroad students. Real Italians live there too! So exciting!!!! Unfortunately, we cold get in to see the rooms, so, after some sit time, we headed back to campus.

We walked past campus and through Piazza del Popolo to the Spanish Steps, where we had a much needed gelato stop. We split three scoops -- chocolate, caramel creme, and tiramisu. Once we finished, we stayed such long time that we think the waiter really started to dislike us. But we didn't care. We really needed to rest.

Then, we walked back to the hotel, showered, and ordered some cheese plates for dinner. We took a nap, saying that we would wake at eleven and go out. At eleven, we woke up, promptly decided to extend our naps, and went to sleep for the night.

I've been told that an important part of Italian culture is sitting in cafes, talking, and relaxing. Well, Sam and I certainly achieved that. If there was ever a chance to sit, we did, soaking in the atmosphere. If you asked me, its the best way to travel/sight-see. Of course, today, we also walked over ten miles, according to Google. It was tiring, but wonderful.

That said, tomorrow may have to be a relaxation day....

Friday, August 27, 2010

One Gladiator, Two Gladiator, Three Gladiator, Four...

Today was sightseeing day numero uno. Sam wanted us to see everything we could, but of course, we have our priorities. First, we needed breakfast. We were pulled into a little cafe by a looming creep waiter. It was actually around lunch time, so I got pizza and Sam got focaccia. It was nice, except for the weird and weirdly skinny waiter and the exorbitant price of a frozen cappuccino.

From there we went to the ruins. While walking for a while, we saw quite a few gladiator impersonators. Most of them were fine, but one really stood out. He was wearing the armor and holding a sword and a helmet. However, he was also wearing socks with his sandals, cargo shorts, and a bandana. That guy didn't fool me at all. We went to il Colesseo first. It will never cease to amaze me. I think the best way to describe it is epic. The tickets we bought there also got us into il Foro and il Palatino. Il Palatino was one thing we had not seen last time. But I really don't know why. It was so so cool! I'm still not totally sure what is was, but it seemed like a collection of residences and a stadium. Many of the dwellings were fairly intact. Then we went to il Foro. It was okay. Obviously, it's amazing, but I much prefer the other two. Although there was an exhibit there about an ancient aristocratic family called the Aemii (?), which had a frieze depicting the capture of the Sabine women. It reminded me of my school friends and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. <3

From the ruins, we went to another place we'd skipped last time -- The Spanish Steps! It was a b
it of a walk, but it was worth it. Not only did we get to see them, but we got to sit down for a while. We people watched and relaxed. Everyone else was doing basically the same, so it was a great atmosphere. Hopefully, I'll be able to spend time there between classes. After that, I insisted that we go to the Piazzo del Popolo. Honestly, I wasn't that interested, but I wanted to have seen it and I didn't want to walk all the way there the next day. We were close, so we went. It was iight. Then, back to the Beehive. When we got there, we got a bread, honey and cheese plate. We hadn't eaten since our expensive encounter with the creepy waiter and the snack was just delightful. Then, nap time. You see, we get cranky without our nap time. Plus, we needed to rest for the night.

We went to Scholars, an Irish pub that caters specifically to students studying abroad. It was a Thursday, so it was kind of empty, but it was a great place. It's all dark wood, with college T shirts hanging from that bar and soccer playing on the TVs. Pretty nice. I definitely want to got here a lot this semester. Eventually, the bartender, Steven came over to talk to us. He was kind of a welcome wagon. He's from Ireland and he informed us that, usually, Italians aren't allowed in the pub because they hassled the girls, but tonight that were less strict. A couple minutes after he left, a few Italians came over. Only one spoke English and translated for the others. I lost some sister points because I mostly made Sam talk for us. In the period of our conversion, we told them several lies (we're from New York; i study art; we're only here for three days, etc) and eventually they left. Then, we walked back to the Beehive and collapsed.

It was a great first day in Rome. I don't know how tomorrow can beat it....

Gelato is the New Baklava

This morning, we gathered our duds and got ready to leave the island. Stavros drove us to the airport at nine for our ten thirty flight. The Santorini airport was tiny. Once we passed security, we waited near our gate. Actually, we waited near all the gates, because they were just double doors leading outside. All five were against one wall. We had to take a bus to the airfield and boarded the plane there. I'd always wanted to do that. We flew Olympic Air to Athens and then to Rome. I was happy because they gave us food, even between Santorini and Athens, which was only thirty five minutes.

When we arrived in Rome, we had to take the train to Termini Station. Once there, we got a little lost before finding our hotel, The Beehive. It in this tall yellow building only a few blocks from the station, and it's not exactly what I'd expected. It's all organic and vegetarian and kind of resembles a hippie artist commune. Anyone who really knows me can tell you that I can be a little cynical about things like that, but this is pretty nice.

After a long day of traveling, Sam and I had to rest for a little while, but before long, we were up again. All throughout our trip, the pasta sections of menus had been taunting us because we were determined to save Italian food for Italy. Now, we were searching for spaghetti. We decided to start at the Trevi Fountain. Of course, I was thrilled because I remember it as my favorite place in the city. This time, it was a lot more crowded, but still amazing.

After the fountain, we walked around a bit until we found a suitable place. It was a couple blocks away, called Bar Centralismo. Sam got spaghetti with tomato sauce and basil; I got spaghetti carbonara, with bacon and an egg creme sauce. If I had been imagining the perfect start to our Roman holiday, this would have beat it. This food was so so so good! My mouth is still watering.

From there, we walked a little more then went back to the hotel. We would need our rest for tomorrow...

Here's to Santorini

Sam and I slept in today. When we awoke, we got dressed and ate some cereal. Then, we walked into town and caught the bus to Kamari. From there, we searched for the way to Ancient Thira. Sam had read in a guidebook that there was a footpath leading to the ruins and we wanted to take it. Long story short, we found that we were much too late to walk to the ruins, which were atop a mountain. Even if we took the bus, we would only have a half hour before the site closed. We took a mini-bus up the mountain. It was really nerve-wracking as the bus swerved back and forth up the mountain. Finally it parked in a little promenade and Sam and I had to walk further up the mountain to see the ancient city.

WTF, Ancient Thirans?!?! Why would you build you settlement on the top of a mountain, when there is clearly primo real estate closer to sea level? That said, the ruins were pretty cool. Most of the structures were from about the third century BC. The amphitheater was especially cool. It looked out over the cliff, so the ocean would be the back drop for any performance.

Then we had to book it back down so we didn’t miss the bus. We rode down and went to the beach. Not having planned to spend time at the beach, we didn’t have bathing suits, so we just sat there, soaking in the scenery and trying to make our final hours on Santorini last.

Back in Karterados, we rested for a few hours before going to dinner. Tonight, we tried another small restaurant in town called Fish Taverna (it also had a longer, Greeker name, but is has escaped me). It was a lovely little place with light wood furnishings and vines winding up the walls. The whole effect made the restaurant look like a tree house. We also liked Fish Taverna because the waitstaff had a inordinate number of very attractive men. Indeed, Sam and I discussed how we thought the average looking Greek was about a 7 on American scales. Just one more thing that makes Greece a great vacation destination. Anywho, Sam and I were still resolved to try new foods, so Sam got Stuffed Vegetables and I had Chicken Schnitzel a la Crème. Sam’s was really good; mine was basically breaded chicken. After dinner, we walked to Thira to do some shopping.

Sam and I both agreed that we had grown quite attached to Santorini. In the short time we had been there, we had become very familiar with the island, and especially with Karterados. We walked into town everyday and went to almost every establishment there. And Stavros and his family were so kind that we felt at home.

Tomorrow, we leave for our next adventure. It will be sad to fly away from Santorini, but I'm definitely ready to do as the Romans do....

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

I Wish It Was Less Rude to Take Pictures of Strangers

Today was our relaxation day. We had to give the ATV back at one, so we took the morning to go see Kamari Beach. Kamori Beach is very popular. This is where many of the beach bars and restaurants are. We drove just to the beginning of it, so that it was basically just beach. Rather than sand, the section of Kamari Beach we went to was covered in dark rocks. It made for a nice alternative because the fine sand of the other beach had gotten into all our stuff. It was beautiful. The water looked blue and when we actually went in, we could see our feet at the bottom, which is a healthy change from murky Jersey Shore water. Sam and I worked on our tans, and when we got bored, we watched Friends on my iPod. It was a nice piece of home to comfort us while away.

Once we had driven back to Kartdardos, and given the bike back, Sam and I stopped for a frappe (iced coffee) at the local creperie. It was lovely and we are both now resolute to return for a crepe. We ended up sitting there for an hour, discussing Sam’s upcoming year of graduate school. Then, we stopped at the bakery for snacks and a fresh loaf of bread, followed by the mini-mart for water and feta cheese. To save money, we plan to eat bread and feta for lunches rather than going out. What could be better? Possibly only the bread and mozzarella we buy to save money in Rome.

Anyway, the rest of the day was devoted to lying by the pool, reading, and resting. ‘Twas excellent. At night, we went to Savas. Savas is a little restaurant in Karterados that we had passed everyday and thought looked good. It was small, but crowded when we got there. Sam and I had vowed to try something completely new, so I chose Fried Pork with Egg and she had Pastitsio. Mine was fine – basically a bread pork chop. Sam’s looked like lasagna, with a layer of tubular pasta below a layer of ground meat (beef or lamb, we do not know) below a layer of some white stuff. At first, we thought it was potato, but Sam Goggled it and learned it was some kind of flour custard. ??? Anyway, she liked it.

Then, we headed to Thira. It was a little early for nightlife to begin, so we sat to digest and do some people watching. At that time, we wish that it was more socially acceptable to photograph strangers or that we were stealthier. If we could have, I certainly would have posted the pictures of the bedazzled shoes, the ill-fitting dresses, women dressing decades younger than they should. Our personal favorite was the groups of people all wearing completely white outfits. Thank goodness they were tan, or else they would have been invisible against the stark white walls. Then, we started walking around Thira and looking for a place to go. We finally landed on Murphy’s again. There, we met Xavier, Aka, Nikolai, and Andia, four super sweet Frenchmen on vacation on Santorini. They brought us to the Enigma Club, a very stylish place with neon lights and completely white furniture. It fit very well with the island atmosphere.

I think one of my favorite things about Santorini is all the different people here. Sam and I walked down the main street of Thira and heard about six different languages being spoken. Even at Murphy’s, we discussed touring Athens with a girl who lives there. I can hear Australians, Germans, and French people through my window at Stavros throughout the day. It is rare that we are exposed to people from so many different countries, and I’m truly enjoying it.

We’ve been going to Thira almost every day. Tomorrow, we go to Ancient Thira to wrap up our time on Santorini…

Kick Start

Today, Sam and I slept in. When I awoke at eleven, Sam and I had a nice breakfast on our little porch and then arranged for a scooter so we could go to the beach. The island of Santorini is only about five miles across, but it’s hilly and the roads are narrow, so there are as many scooters driven here as there are cars. So, at one o’clock, Sam went into town to get a scooter. But apparently, one has to have a motorcycle license to drive a scooter, so she returned with an ATV instead. Our little ATV was red and dusty and resembled a bug. It has an electric transmission, but it didn’t work, so every time we wanted to go, Sam had to kick start it, which is difficult for an unseasoned driver. So the next 24 hours quickly became a who’s who of kind men willing to help us. But, by the end, Sam was old hat and could do herself. Our ATV also didn’t go as fast as most for some reason. So in the course of the day, I’m pretty sure everyone on Santorini over the age of six passed us on the roads. But that didn’t bother me at all. Slow and steady wins the race…and doesn’t get us into an accident.

With our new ATV, we drove down to Monolithos Beach, but there was no one there, so we turned around and went in search of gas and a bank. We found the gas alright, but the bank was more elusive. We ended up having to go back to Thira, parking, and looking on foot. Once we found the bank and MACed more money, we decided to ditch the beach and walk around Thira. We explored the winding back streets of the little town. Thira, like most Santorini villages, is built into the cliffside, so there are little staircases throughout the town, finally leading to Caldera, where one can look out over the sea and view the islands around Santorini.

After making our way down from Caldera, Sam and I ATV-ed back to Stavros. We took naps before getting ready to go out. Tonight, we decided to drive to the top of the island and visit Oia (pronounced eee-yah). From the top of the village, the sunset was supposed to be breathtaking, so we decided to check it out. However, we left a little too late to make sunset, but the drive up was beautiful enough to make up for that. To get to Oia, we had to drive up the cliff face to get to the highest point on Santorini. And I’m not going to lie – it was crazy scary. Driving up, we were cliff-side. One slip and we would have driven straight off Santorini. But Sam handled the ATV well. She said it was stressful, but, from I sat, she seemed like a pro. When we got Oia, we walked to the top and saw the view. It was like a postcard or a screensaver. Straight ahead, we could see some islands in the dusk sky. To the left, small white buildings cascaded down the mountain side. It was absolutely everything I dreamed Sanotrini could be.

After marveling at the view for a bit, Sam and I strolled Oia streets and found a restaurant, where we each had Chicken Souvlaki and french fries. For dessert, she had baklava and I had some ice cream. Then came the ride back to the hotel. It was pitch back, with only our headlights to see by, and the road down the mountain swerved and turned like nobody’s business. But still, Sam held her own and we got back safe and sound. After such a long day and several stressful drives, we vetoed going out and crashed.

It was hard to believe that we had only been on Santorini for two days. We had packed so much into that relatively short time that we both felt worn out. There hadn’t actually been that much relaxation in our vacation. So, we both decided that tomorrow would be for relaxing on the beach or by the pool.

Until then, Kalispera….

Three Euro Wine? Don’t Mind if I Do!

As the ferry was docking, it looked as if the boat would crash into the cliff face of Santorini. In the port, Sam and I saw sign after sign advertising car rentals and hotels. But we only had eyes for Stavros Villas, our hotel, where we had heard only the best about the owner. We finally found a van that advertised Stavros, and it drove us and two other couples up the cliff. The views were magnificent! Then, about half way to Stavros, we stopped and four of us were handed over to another van, Stavros’s van. A little further, we stopped again and one couple was dropped off, while another got on. Finally, we arrived!

Stavros Villas is in the town of Karterados. It is a two story white building with blue shutters. Picture classic Santorini and you’re imagining Stavros. There are palm trees all around and a swimming pool. And Stavros is basically the nicest man ever. When we met him at the first hand off, he said “Don’t worry. Stavros is here!” He dropped us off in our room and then had to go all that way to the port to pick up some Italians who weren’t even staying with him. Our mini fridge had defrosted and leaked, so there was water all over the floor. But this was actually serendipitous because then we got to meet Stravos’s daughters, who he called to clean it. I’m not sure of the first one’s name, but then Emma came and explained the island to us. She told us the way to the beach and Thira, a main city, and suggested that we rent scooters to get around.

Once she left, Sam and I chilled for a while and caught our breath. Then it was time to move again. We decided to get some food from the mini-store, so that we could spend less on breakfasts. On our way out, we bumped into Stavros, who volunteered to drive us there. We picked up some cereal and juice and then walked around Karterados. It’s a cute little town with a lot of cheap restaurants and scooter rental places. Since we had learned that nightlife doesn’t really start until midnight, and most Grecians don’t eat until around ten, we decided to stop at a little restaurant to have a small snack when we would have normally had dinner. After walking a little more, we stopped at the supermarket to get milk and couldn’t help ourselves when we saw the wall of wines. Not wanting to spend a lot, we chose the cheapest – a nice three euro bottle. After that, we returned to Stavros to prepare for the night ahead.

After resting, showering and dressing, Sam and I set out for the popular town of Thira for the night. It was about a thirty minute walk from Stavros. Thira was certainly alive when we got there. There were people all around and dozens upon dozens of restaurants and shops. For dinner, we chose Dionysus at Atlantis. The name is awesome because the myth of the lost city of Atlantis actually started right here on Santorini. Around 1500 BC, Santorini and the few surrounding islands were connected. Then in the center of this huge island, a volcano (which is still active today) erupted and all the land around it fell into the sea. When you look into the water from the top of the cliff, you can still kind of see it. Anyway, that event gave birth to the myth of Atlantis. Back at the restaurant and still trying to cut corners, we opted to only share a couple appetizers. We got tomato fritters with onions, a traditional Santorini dish, and fried cheese in a wine sauce with red peppers. They were both amazing! I think I liked the cheese best, but the fritters were very different, like nothing I’d ever tasted before.

Sam’s Europe guidebook said that, in Thira, the hot clubs change often, so one has to follow the music to find a good party. So, that’s what we did. We followed it to Murphy’s an Irish pub that clearly catered to tourists. They played American music and even had a New Jersey license plate on the wall as decoration. We drank and danced there for a while before these guys, Mario, form Athens, and Paolo, from Venice, took us to another club – the Koo Club. It was huge, with muti-colored lights illuminating the bar. There were about three levels packed with people. We stayed there for a little, and I tried out my Italian with Paolo. I only got about half of what he said, but it was good practice nonetheless. After a while there, we walked back to Karterados.

An amazing first day in Santorini…