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Segovia Spain - Volunteer Teaching English

sunny 16 °C

While planning out trip I read a blog about teaching English is Spain as a volunteer. Following up on this possibility, we discovered Vaughan Town and since Spain was on our itinerary applied to volunteer.
We had to pay for our own trip to and from Madrid but from Sunday to Friday our meals and hotel bill would be gratis. On Saturday night VaughanTown hosts a complimentary tapas reception at five pm at the same hotel the bus leaves from on Sunday morning. I booked us into this hotel for the Saturday night so we would be at the right spot on Sunday.
We made it to the tapas reception at the Eurobuilding in Madrid by five past five. This is where the Anglo contingent mee each other. We are the only Canadians in this group. There is a couple from Australia, fiveI or six from the states and the rest are from the UK. At least three of them seem to be living in Spain though. Several have done this before.
Two paid staff will accompany us to the resort and ensure everything goes smoothly.
I drank sangria, enjoyed the appetizers, this is supper. Our bus to El Rancho near Segovia leaves tomorrow at 10. We will meet the Spanish students then and we are encouraged to insist on conversing in English. No problem. Glad I have learned very little Spanish so it won't be a temptation.
The forecast for Segovia is for snow by Tuesday. Dress appropriately. Fine. I do not have room in my pack for more clothes, I will layer. And stay indoors as much as possible.
I do have a knit cap and gloves which came in handy in Finland in September. I guess we will be in the mountains. Today in Madrid was sunny, no jacket needed, just a long sleeved shirt.
25 November
We have a one bedroom suite with a small kitchen. I got up at 730, made coffee with the instant cappucinno pouches left over from Italy and enjoyed the view. The couches have such deep seats, like almost twice as deep as a sofa back home, really wonderful for tall people.
Our bus departed shortly after ten, every Anglo must sit with a Spanish person and chat. It must have been successful as I did not see much scenery and all of a sudden we were here. It is like a small village, el Rancho Resort.
I have my own room, in la posada el rancho, large room with floor to ceiling window with a study alcove. We had a three course lunch with wine and now get a two hour siesta break. Then more talking, supper is at 9. I have been voluntold for some kind of presentation maybe tomorrow night. It is a bit nerve racking, but we are all in the same boat. Everyone has been very nice, had lunch with two men from Spain and a guy from Scotland.
We are expected to mingle and eat with different people, 2 Anglos, 2 Spanish, all conversation in English. I had swordfish for lunch with fruit for dessert. The marzipan cake looked wonderful though.
Segovia is a province in the Castile Leon area of Spain. The Iberian Penninsula.
There is also a city called Segovia and Walt Disney's castles in Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella were both influenced by the Alcazar Castle located here.
Isabel 1 was proclaimed Queen of Castile on the spot where the gothic Segovia Cathedral stands today. She promised the financial backing for Columbus to rediscover America in Segovia.
We are not in the city though, just in the general vicinity.
Alcazar Castle

Alcazar Castle

After our siesta we spent three hours talking one on one with Spanish participants. Supper was at 9, same drill as lunch, only choose different tablemates, 2 Anglos, 2 Spanish, talk. Both red and white wine are on the table, I drink water and sip a mouthful of red wine to be polite. I am exhausted. The Anglos are suppose to do 65 percent of the talking so the Spaniards can hone their listening skills. What does proactive mean, what is payoff, explain behaviour, wish I had lugged along a thesaurus to help me come up with synonyms. And a dictionary. Long day.
We get two wake up calls a day. The first one is at 815. Breakfast is compulsory. Then we go into our 50 minute assigned one on one sessions. It is really impressive how well some of the Spanish speak English. The lady I am with is a human rights lawyer. She started learning English two months ago. We have a complex conversation about her work with women in South America. I admire her for doing good works. She points out that by volunteering to teach English I help people like her go on to China or Africa to fight for human rights. Another man, 52, retired banker, is learning English so he can travel and talk to the people he meets along the way. He is very fluent, really good vocabulary and hardly any accent. We talked about Mark Carney leaving the Bank of Canada to head up the Bank of England. He was incredulous that the UK would hire a Canadian. Don't they have any good bankers in England? Apparently not. There are a lot of students here, recent graduates, mechanical engineering, business administration, there are no jobs, they are learning English to improve their chances, they are prepared to move, English will be their ticket. Interesting. Proactive and expensive. This will be one of four week-long retreats they attend during a ten month intensive course. It is costing them twenty thousand euros. I read our dollar dropped on the Carney news, you do the math.
Most of the Spanish are in something called the Master's program. There are four of these intensive "retreat" type events in the program. As the Anglos (native English speakers) come from a variety of countries the accents vary considerably. I can barely understand a few of the Anglos. We don't have anyone from South Africa among the Anglos or that accent would be in the mix. Thank goodness there aren't any Newfies or we would all be in a lot of trouble - well it would just add to the fun. We have a good group.
The youngest Anglo is from Wales and is not yet twenty. The oldest is at least my age. The Spanish are likely from early twenties to mid fifties at the most. A lot of people stay up partying til all hours but I am not one of them. I do not have that kind of stamina. The Spanish are great socializers and excellent dancers.
The challenges for the Spanish are daunting. First a fifty minute session with an Aussie. Then a fifty minute session with an American from the deep south. Then a Canadian. Then a Brit. We all sound different. They can party til two am and concentrate on English the next morning.

Also, among the volunteers is a young American woman who is married to a Spanish husband and lives in Madrid. She is a guitar player, singer, and composer and has entertained us in the evening, very good. She is, by the way, blind - but that does not define her. We are all impressed by her huge personality, and independence. So - if you are a decent human being and speak English as a first language you might like to volunteer. You do not need a hidden talent or be a ventriloquist or anything but if you can juggle or play the guitar you may well share your talent with an appreciative audience.
The second wake up call is at 430 pm. We get a siesta or free time from three to five. Anything between ten pm and nine am is free time.
Unemployment in Spain is over twenty four percent and the recent graduates blame the civil servants. Too many, too de-centralized, too much duplication. Of course if we trim all the fat from the public service there will be more people looking for work.
Did the USSR fail because they were broke, was the Ottoman Empire just too big to manage, where are the Romans now? Spain is in bad shape but Greece is in terrible shape. You would think Greece could use some tourists' dollars, why are the transportation workers on strike?? Why are shareholders more important than customers, how can Finland offer free University and free health care, why are Norwegians richer than Albertans, I ponder these questions before I go to sleep.
27 November, Tuesday
Chilly and overcast, it snows late in the afternoon. A group of us Anglos had free time so we went to the small medieval city of Segovia where a huge Roman aqueduct from the first century is the best preserved in all of Europe and the world. A very pretty, remarkably clean old town boasts a city wall, the last gothic cathedral to be built in Spain (completed in 1768) and the enchanting Alcazar castle.
Roman Aqueduct

Roman Aqueduct

Segovia Cathedral

Segovia Cathedral

Segovia is an easy daytrip from Madrid. Also, it would be a pleasant stop for one or two days relaxation.
A recommended restaurant for coffee, tapas or meals is Meson Jose Maria, located between the aquaduct and the town square. A local recommended it to us and although we only had cappuccino I feel confident it is good, with reasonable prices, it was very busy with locals.
Teaching English as a volunteer was a good decision. It gave us the opportunity to meet a lot of Spanish people from all over the country, different age groups, different occupations, very interesting. Now that Spain is in the EU speaking English is more important. They are very expressive people and our job is to converse and explain the slang, the way we really talk, so that they can pick up the rhythm and the meaning. "Horsing around" "back to the drawing board' phrases like that.
It is rewarding to see the improvement in the Spanish students' pronunciation and comprehension over the course of 5 days of total English immersion. A few seem to take it really seriously and allow no phone calls, texts, emails in Spanish, they eat, sleep and dream in English for the duration.
Also we sample a lot of different Spanish food, the meals are large and we have selections to make every morning, what do we want out of three choices for first course, second course and dessert. Meals are lively occasions, conversing, drinking wine, breaking bread, do not use butter on the bread, use olive oil instead.
Also drizzle olive oil on vegetables - it is the Spanish way.

Posted by CherylGypsyRose 16:12 Archived in Spain Tagged churches buildings history castle budget teaching_english_with_vaughanto Comments (0)

Istanbul, Turkey, Safranbolu, The Black Sea

sunny 21 °C

We arrived in Istanbul at 11 pm by bus from Plovdiv Bulgaria. Metro Line, originates in Sofia. The bus left Plovdiv at 11 am. Nice Turkish bus with tvs and an attendant who passes out water, cakes, coffee and tea as well as hand sanitizer. The bus is clean and seems quite full.
At 2 pm we went through the Bulgaria section of the border. At 8 pm we finally cleared the Turkish side. We were told we could get off the bus for fifteen minutes to use the washroom. Then we hung around the bus for five hours and forty five minutes.
Not an auspicious entry into Turkey.
This was the first hole in the floor washroom I encountered. After using it and paying for the privilege, I noticed a bathroom marked English, well too late. I find the squat washroom difficult to use, consequently for the rest of the day I barely moistened my tongue with water. No, there isn't a grab bar. However, if all the Turks use them and prefer them there must be some merit and squatting solidly into old age without support must keep them limber and flexible with strong leg muscles and balance.
We took a cab from the Istanbul bus station to our hostel, Cordial House hostel in Sultanahmet. We experienced some pretty fancy? Crazy? driving. No matter what the official count, several people have told us there are twenty million, maybe more, people in Istanbul. They say you drive five cars, your own, the one in front, the one behind and the two beside you. If you are a pedestrian watch out, you wait for the car. Drivers are aggressive. Pedestrians do not have any right of way.
Quick to hit the horn, never mind signalling, yes we just avoided that head on collision, whew thank god we made it.
We had a twin room, actually there were five beds but we had the whole room, you could barely move for all the beds, did not have a private bath, but ok for one night. Hostels are not that cheap in Istanbul, but this one is about twenty two dollars each. So we thus spent the night of October twenty seventh. On 28 and 29 we got a private twin with ensuite, way nicer, better view, better sheets, way nicer air pillows for fifty canadian, some kind of deal I made with the clerk, forty euro for ensuite. Also this room had a tiny tv and we got CNN so lots about US election and Hurricane Sandy.
Sultanahmet Square
This is Istanbul's old town. We are fortunate to be a short, maybe two block walk from the square.
Istanbul, Constantinople, Byznatium, one of the world's oldest cities - has a long and storied history. I am thrilled to be here!! It is hustle and bustle, with horns honking, people calling to you to come into their restaurants, tea-boys rushing about, tourists, people of all ages and manner of dress.
Cordial House is a short walk to the Blue Mosque. So on Sunday 28 Oct after we got our room straightened out and moved our stuff over to the private twin and head out for breakfast and coffee. Waiters stand on the street and call you in, turns out this first place is really expensive so we each have turkish coffee, a thimblespoon of strong black coffee, for six tl each, that is more than three dollars, eegads I usually like milk in my coffee, but when in Rome, the dainty cup is at least one third sludge but....... you get your caffeine fix and I love strong coffee.
We are walking on the square approaching the blue mosque, when we are greeted by a pleasant, English speaking "skout". This isn't the right word, he is a look out, finds tourists and brings them back to the family carpet, kilim, ceramic, leather shop. Well I am really not interested and we are going to have breakfast, but no wait, he knows the perfect place for breakfast, not too expensive, and what do you know on the way to the family shop and he situates us at a pleasant outdoor cafe, he will be back.
The breakfast plate has a hard boiled egg, olive paste, nutella, some other sweet paste, tomatoes, cucumbers, cheese, honeycomb, olives and bread, likely some other stuff, I took a picture. Very good, eaten on a patio, a cat curls up on the chair next to me.
Breakfast in Istanbul

Breakfast in Istanbul

Well our skout came back, yes we need ten more minutes, we did almost get away but he was there, in we go and the carpets are deftly flipped out, displayed, explained, now the elimination process, kind of fun, interactive, say yes in turkish or no. Now you have narrowed them down, walk around, see how the colour changes, which one do you choose?
We turned down the offer of tea so as not to tip the obligation factor scales, we did not buy a carpet even though being the first customer, it was a special religious holiday, for the luck, we were offered a scandolously low price, never to be repeated, whew we are out on the street, no carpet, heading for the Blue Mosque.
Which has six minurets and is free to the public, you have to put your shoes in a plastic bag which they provide, and wear a scarf, also available there.
There is quite a bit of turquoise in the stained glass but in the tiles are lavender blue. Very beautiful inside and out.

It is a lovely day we have tea on a patio and sit on the grass in Gulhane Park.
There are women wearing a wide variety of clothes, bare headed women in sleeveless, women with head scarves,
A real mix. It is funny to see a woman covered from head to toe and her male companion dressed in whatever casual ensemble, just as he pleases, modern day and ancient tradition, this is not my concern, this is a secular country. I wonder what they wear under the scarves to give them that shape though. A lot of women wear what looks like a conservative pastel or grey coat, they wear a scarf and almost like jeggings and nice shoes with it. I think it must be warm, it is about 23 degrees C today. There are a lot of good looking people, very nice hair and expressive eyes. Then there are the tourists, well without the backpacks I do not know if I could pick them out, the Aussie accent is a clue.
We have kabobs for supper.
Turkish Delight is everywhere. They call it Lokum. The oldest lokum shop in the world is located in Istanbul and dates back to the eighteenth century and is still owned by descendents of the man who invented what we today know as Turkish Delight. Made famous by the CS Lewis book, The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, it has become a special treat for those who grew up with this book. Like countless tourists before me I will take home a box of Turkish Delight, in all its luscious, pastel glory.
29 October
Monday. We tour Aya Sofia, 25 tl each admission, Ataturk was smart to turn it in to a museum, a real meaningful church, Christian first, then turned into a mosque, Christians and Muslims and the merely curious flock to it, 25 tl a pop, pretty good income.
Onward to the Archeology Museum, which is a bargain, ten tl, takes up three buildings, we spend at least two hours here, too many artifacts to take in, but we leave with a blurry impression.
Archealogical Museum

Archealogical Museum

On to Topkapi Palace which may be the richest palace or the oldest palace, I just forget now, but I was impressed with the bowls of egg sized emeralds in the treasury, the huge diamond, all the gold, jade, rubies, pieces of the prophet's beard, just mind boggling, dna.
There are some nice viewing points to take pictures at the castle. Oh admission here was 25 tl.
That was quite a bit for one day.
standard meal in Turkey

standard meal in Turkey

30 Oct
So we go to the Grand Bazaar for which Jeff has zero interest, it is like being at a huge market, or like all those booths at stampede, like a maize, but these booths are selling leather, furs, gold jewellery, carpets, junky souvenirs, candy, turkish delight, 4400 booths under a roof, I am scared I will lose Jeff, get lost and never find him, it is a relief to get back to the square and blue sky. The Grand Bazaar is one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world. The original shopping mall. Something like 300,000 people visit daily. It is a real hullabaloo with vendors calling out to you, tourists hustling by, tea boys running around with tea for the merchants and their friends who squat casually outside their booth.
The Grand Bazaar

The Grand Bazaar

Tea seems to be the common drink, served in little glasses. At restaurants, if they like you, they give you a free glass of tea at the end. We could never figure out why or why not tea was offered, but we learned to tip accordingly.
We now make a tactical error and move from our nice hostel, so well located, out to the apartment of a couch surfing host. We have couch surfed four times all very positive experiences.
We take a tram, transfer to a bus then transfer again. One hour, easy..
We arrive, the place is on the twelfth floor there is an elevator.
Our host serves us tea and cookies. Later his friend from the states stops by and later two other friends who don't speak English are visiiting. Eating sunflower seeds is an art form here, crunch crunch, very slick. Out comes the water pipe, they have apple tobacco, bought specially for us as they know Jeff smokes and in Turkey that is not a problem, the patios all have ashtrays.
So it is a late night, Jeff is practically comatose the last two hours, and announces at 1230 am he is going to bed, so that effectively ends the socializing as he is sleeping on the couch. I get my own room. i get next to no sleep but on 31 I wake jeff up at 930 and again right now on Nov 1 at 845, still he is tired and I am cranky, we have sights to see. The location is a drawback but the good parts included the food, served on the coffee table, taken up from the central dishes with bread, really good eggplant and tomato dish, tea made in a double pot served in special glasses on little saucers, a good lentil spread, lively conversation, some funny stories. The location was a drawback, but near shopping. Halvah, which we love, is so cheap here, we are eating way too much.
On 31 October we take a one hour city bus to near where the boats give tours of the Bosphorous, For fifteen tl each we relax on the deck and see the European side and the Asian side of this huge city located on two continents divided by the Bosphorus. Really scenic, pleasant, talked to a doctor from Saudi Arabia who trained in Edmonton for five years, a surgeon, he may train another year in Vancouver, and a Japanese family from Tokyo who live in Kuwait, he works for energy and has been to Calgary. So, do you speak English?

Regarding couchsurfing in Turkey - we had numerous offers from men, none from women or married couples. I would recommend that females travelling and surfing alone have a hard look at the profile and references before making a commitment. Maybe Turkish women are out of bounds and western women considered loose. At 63 who am I to judge? But the young men at our couch surfing abode did talk about western women hitch-hiking in Turkey and they thought it was foolish. Yes, they will get rides.
Just exercise a little caution here please. Turkish women are largely reserved in public. Therefore, behaviour considered normal to us may be misconstrued. Some of the guidebooks do warn you not to be too friendly. This was written in one couch surfing reference by a guest regarding her male host, "I should have known better than to allow him to give me a massage, but then, so should have he." Otherwise he had lots of good references, but this type of comment should be a red flag.

Now 1 Nov we are on a metro line bus heading east, it is 26 degrees C today, the bus is air conditioned, 24 canadian each for this trip. Not bad. We are going to Safronbolu, a Unesco World Heritage site due to the large number of preserved Ottoman era wooden homes, near the Black Sea. We hope to take a day trip to Amasra on the coast.
The bus leaves at 1300, the trip is 6 and a half hours. The first 1.5 hours we are making our way through Istanbul. Good-bye ancient Byzantium, Constantinople, Istanbul, the beating heart of Turkey.

Safranbolu, World Heritage Sight

We arrived after dark in Safranbolu. The days are really getting short which is the down side to travelling this time of year. It is November 1 and it was 28 degrees C today.
We were going to board a mini bus to Centrum but seemed the bus driver and a cab driver encouraged us to take a cab to our hostel, which we did.
This cost twelve tl which is so funny when you compare the price of the cab to the price of the entire bus trip there.
We arrived at the hostel, not right in front but down a little hill like ten metres, and were shown to our room by the owner, who spoke next to no English. We sign languaged that we were hungry so he showed us the restaurant next door, which was very relaxed, about a four year old boy was watching cartoons, there were plastic water bottles on the floor and people were just standing around talking and smoking.
We ordered, the lady was nice, spoke some English and while she was busy in the kitchen behind the cash register area, not that there is a cash register, she whipped up some fresh flat bread using one of those thin wood rolling pins. I drank original sprite and Jeff had mineral water while we waited, then the food came, iskender kabab and meatballs, fresh bread. It was ok but a lot of yogurt and tomato sauce is involved in the iskender kabab and Jeff isn't that fond of dairy.
We ate, the child went nuts when a certain cartoon came on, really excited, it was cute. They also bring a big basket of white bread and it is a challenge to cover it up to protect it from the flies.
Back to our room, aching for sleep, it is tiresome taking the bus.
The bathroom floor seemed kind of wet and the bathroom smelled musty but we had wifi and tv with two or three English channels.
And so we settled in.
At two am I am awake and mad. Jeff is snoring and our room is right off the common area and somebody out there is watching tv. I get the playbook and go on the internet for awhile, cannot sleep, and the battery warns me nine percent but I am busy reading about something, maybe Safranbolu, and what do you know the computer turns itself off. So I plug it in but it doesn't seem to light up like normal. Anyway, hoping for the best, it is now quiet, I go to sleep for a few hours until five am or ten after when the call to prayer is beamed straight into our room, so loud. The loudspeaker is pointing right at our room. So now I check out the playbook and it is at zero. There is a fly bugging me but I can't seem to nail it. I fiddled around with the charger, now I am getting worried this has been our lifeline, what shall we do. Maybe Jeff can fix it. So it was a long wait til I woke him up at 8 am and he fiddled with it trying to make it go. Finally it seemed to take a bit of charge but then it just turned itself off. Breakfast came with this hotel so finally shortly after nine am we were advised the tea was ready so we said we would like nescafe, no they didn't have any so we had our tea and by nine thirty in a little area off the sitting area, not too sanitary looking we each got a plate with cucumber, tomatoe, a boiled egg and some olives there were over fifty flies hovering around but I ate, oh and there was cheese also. The young guy went out and came back with some fresh bread which he sliced up and presented. I put a napkin over the bread to protect it from the flies. For thirty four dollars a night, this is what you get in Saffranbolu. Pasa Mustafa Kunagi - don't stay there. I was afraid to eat anything as they do not have proper facilities and it is not very clean. However, I did eat the bread and drink the tea and never got sick.
We went exploring, it was a gorgeous day, so warm and sunny, walked around and had nescafe at an outdoor cafe and I did some shopping. First we asked if there was a post office near by. Then we went to the post office. Well we needed to go to the international post office in the centre but he gave us a nice box. Back to the hotel, picked up a tablecloth I had bought in Romania, a few other things, because now I am going to mail a parcel so I don't have to cart this stuff around. We also pick up the playbook and charger and head back out and I buy some souvenirs, there are souvenir shops everywhere, saffron in a little box, saffron soap, a little tablecloth, some candy, and then we take the mini bus down town which costs us about 1.25 tl and walk around looking for the post office, get directions, look some more, finally find a post office and it is closed til 1330 so we stop for a drink and lunch. I am drinking this yogurt drink, quite like it and Jeff is drinking mineral water. He had a good wrap, I wasn't hungry. Back to the post office and there is a huge line up so we go to a phone store and they sell blackberry and the guy hooks us up with a new adapter for ten tl, we plug it in, seems to be taking a charge whew big relief.
Go back and stand in line at the post office and then it turns out this isn't the right post office and eventually we do find the main post office and then it costs almost 60 tl to send this stuff home but I do it as this has been such a rigamorole, and I don't want to cart it around.
Then Jeff needs a swimming suit and we shop around, I should mention that before we left Istanbul he got a very nice long sleeve shirt although we were looking for a tea shirt. Anyway we found some nice shorts that will double as a swimming suit, a tshirt and the guy threw in a pair of socks. Turns out the tshirt is kind of small but it was only 25 tl for the whole works so we are ok.
Take the bus back to the hotel, go out for a walk and have supper really good chicken kababs in a nice atmosphere, salad big enough for two, and this all came to 35 tl.
Safranbolu is a good place to shop for souvenirs: lots of nice wood items, trinkets, scarves, tablecloths, spices, saffron and things made with saffron like soap, Turkish Delight (lokum), evil eye bracelets and fridge magnets, there are numerous souvenir shops. Apparently saffron can dye a liquid 100,000 times its own weight.
Two things you see a lot of in Turkey are pictures and statues of Ataturk and evil eyes.
Ataturk, Mustafa Kemal, was an army officer who was born in what is now Thessaloniki, Greece, but was at the time of his birth a part of the Ottoman Empire. Ataturk became his last name because he was the first President of Turkey. Private homes, hotels, hostels, restaurants, stores, shops, often have a picture of Ataturk hanging somewhere in a prominent place. Ataturk, 'father of Turkey,' still revered today although he died in 1938.
The evil eye ornament, key chain, fridge magnet or bracelet is a popular souvenir for tourists. I guess it deflects a person with an evil eye from putting a curse on you. Therefore, an evil eye key chain isn't a bad idea as it will either be in my car or in my purse so I will effectively be protected whenever I leave the house. It is like a blue good luck charm.
Back to the hotel, the playbook is plugged in, not seeming to charge much it is now at one percent. I look up some info and it says never let the battery go to zero all kinds of people have had all kinds of problems. Anyway I read up on it and spent an hour or more fooling around with it and I think by next day we maybe had thirteen percent. This is now Friday night and the noise is bouncing up from the street, there are people in the common area talking and drinking tea til two thirty in the morning, I wear earplugs and did get some sleep. Jeff had a shower the day before, the bathroom is the shower, like there is no stall and the water does not completely drain away. It was disgusting really but there were rubber shoes that we set by the bathroom door and waded in.

The Black Sea

Safranbolu is in a mountainous area east of Istanbul fairly close to the Black Sea. It has a lot of old Turkish heritage houses and that is why it is a UNESCO world heritage site. Very pleasant little city, quiet really, easy to walk around. Anyway Saturday morning there was a new guest at the breakfast table, Kim from Korea, who spoke a bit of English so we swapped travel stories. Jeff asked the young guy who made our breakfast about getting to Amasra by the Black Sea and we had apparently two options. Take the public bus for 25tl each and that would take two hours and a transfer or his friend who spoke English was a travel guide and would take us for 120 tl all in and show us around. We opted for the latter and that was a hoot. The car was so old and did not have seat belts in the back seat as this is where we both sat, the driver, guide and the young guy, Salim, from the hotel sat in the front. Neither one of them spoke much English. But they could say some things like Let's go, picture, how old are you, they were students, stuff like that. I got a kick out of Salem, nineteen or twenty years old, and so joyous. It seemed like he was having such a good time, very enthusiastic, the music was blaring, nobody wore seatbelts and they smoked and texted the whole way. The Turks have very expressive faces. "You nice people," Salim remarks. "How old are you?"
It crossed my mind once or twice that I did not want to be spattered on this road in Turkey, that I wanted to live to tell the story, fingers crossed, we would make it safe and sound back to our little hovel in Safranbolu. We careened along the mountain road, past farms and greenhouses, sheep in the fields, scenic little villages, forests, and then we saw the sweeping view, the Black Sea and the picture perfect Amasra nestled on its shore, 6500 people a real resort town in the summer. We parked the car and walked around and got to lots of wonderful picture taking opportunities, and then stopped for lunch, conveniently they knew the guy that worked there.
Keep in mind this isn't our first meal in Turkey it was a pida place and when we were advised it would be twenty tl each my job dropped. This was a blatant rip off. But we paid.
Flower pots in Amasra Turkey on the Black Sea

Flower pots in Amasra Turkey on the Black Sea

Anyway we would never have been able to get there on the bus and find all the good vantage points on our own in five hours. We careened back to Safranbolu, known for its saffron, and went out for a nice supper that cost for two, in a nice environment, better and nicer food with our main beverages as well as complimentary tea, twenty tl for the works. Not twenty each.
Then our hotel which was pretty much a dump, worse place we have stayed and we stayed three nights, don't ask, it just gets tiresome moving, had advertised free shuttle service to the bus, we tried to convey this to the owner, not understanding, he charged us ten tl. Petrol costs money. so this kind of sours me off, no matter that they say they like us so much, we are nice people. Salim carries my pack to the car he actually has tears in his eyes, goodbye. Gule gule.

Posted by CherylGypsyRose 14:14 Archived in Turkey Tagged churches art boats castle budget backpacking Comments (0)

Rome, Italy and Vatican City on a Budget

sunny 22 °C

18 November.
Rome, the eternal city, built on seven hills, located on the Tiber River, the capital of Italy is home to almost three million people and has been in existance since 730 BC.
We are going on the free walking tour which in my mind is at the Spanish Steps at eleven am. We walk four blocks from our hostel to the central train station and buy metro tickets, they are one euro fifty each and good for over an hour. The train is packed. We get off at Spanya station, find the Spanish steps and wait around. Really busy, all kinds of people taking pictures and we take pictures too. Today is Sunday.
The Spanish Steps

The Spanish Steps

It is not cold but you need a light jacket and it is overcast so the pictures will look dreary. A band comes marching into the square, looks like the Salvation Army, it is all quite jolly. Rome is a hilly city, thus the need for the steps to get to the church at the top.
The Spanish Steps should have been called the French Steps as the church at the top is a French church and France paid for the steps. But the Spanish Embassy must be here and also Keats used to live right next door and now there is a Keats and Shelley museum just to the right as you face the Spanish Steps. There is also a fountain with a statue of a ship at the bottom of the steps and a nice picture taking opportunity. There are all kinds of underground springs feeding the fountains and the water is suppose to be good but I am not taking any chances and stick with bottled water.
band playing by Spanish Steps

band playing by Spanish Steps

At ten past eleven I dig out our notebook and discover the tour started at ten but there is another one at four. OK. All is not lost. We climb to the top of the Spanish steps (156 but who is counting?) and take some pictures, then walk around. The first coffee shop we come to is a definite stop and we enjoy a cappuccino, I like a good coffee to start my day. Expensive, though, when you sit outside, cheaper if you have it inside, likely standing which is not my favourite thing as I like to sit down and rest when I get the chance. I am sixty three and being a backpacking budget tourist is really exhausting.
So we look at the map and decide we will see the Trevi Fountain and all the sights along the way. We walk down the street where all the expensive stores are, Gucci, Prada, etc and I take a few pictures of things I will never wear, or own and really who cares. We get to the Tiber River and snap a few shots, and when we are close to Trevi fountain, stop for a quick lunch of pizza and sandwich and water, shared.
The Trevi Fountain is really spectacular, crowded with people, but there are seats along the wall and we score a spot and sit awhile enjoying the view and the idea, here we are at the sight where so many people have been, movies have been shot here, people have cavorted in the fountain and we throw in coins and take pictures like everybody else.
Trevi Fountain

Trevi Fountain

Now we walk to the Borghese Park which is a city park next to the Borghese Mansion. We take a circuitous route and by the end of the day we for sure will have walked ten k if not ten miles. There are some tremendous views of the city and lots of people are walking, we make our way back to the Spanish Steps, walk down 156 steps, and wait for the four oclock tour which we never did find. Oh well, I really do not know if I was up to a two hour walking tour that would have ended at six pm and we would have staggered home in the dark. As it is I am complaining at the metro when we take the wrong door out, I do not want to walk one extra step. We stop at the grocery store and buy instant cappucinno for the morning and also little dixie cups of gelato. Yummy. Back in the room, eating my gelato, savouring it, I feel rejuvinated. Tomorrow is another day, maybe I will sleep well tonight and tomorrow we will go to the Colosseum. I think we did quite well today, saw some sights, got a good handle on how the subway system works, walked in a city park with Roman families pushing prams and leading dogs on leashes, no rain, a fine day.
November 19 2012
We flew out of Calgary two months ago, Sept 19.
We have been to Sweden, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria and now we are in Italy.

A note about Calgary, Europeans know it first for the Flames, second for the Olympics and third for the Stampede which they seem to think is barbaric.

Have you been to the Colosseum?? Built to seat 75,000 spectators, up to 65,000 people would be given free passes to watch gladiators duke it out. During the half time show they killed Christians. It would have been quite a spectacle, there are elevators built in to bring the animals, maybe lions, onto the stage from underground cages.
The Colosseum

The Colosseum

The admission to the colosseum includes the Forum and Palentine Hill and costs 12.50 euros but we bought a Rome pass which includes free admission to two museums and unlimited rides on the metro for three days. Costs thirty euro and saves a lot of time if you are taking the train. Also you bypass the line up at the Colosseum.

We spent at least four hours walking around these sights, maybe a total of one hour sitting. Then we went to the museum near by, more recent history, wars of independence, emigration, first world war, etc and numerous stairs of the Vittoriano which are worth it for the views of Rome from the terraces. This is a stunning building, very white with many statues outside, really dominates the landscape and is not well liked by residents apparently but us tourists just love it.

Rome was not on my bucket list but it should have been. Tick. I don't have a bucket list but going to Turkey was a vague kind of goal. Tick. Tuscany was not even on my radar until I noticed Siena was close to Rome. Then as it turned out our cheapest flight from Izmir to Italy brought us to Bologna, therefore to Florence and into Tuscany.
From Palentine Hill

From Palentine Hill

It has rained during the night and a bit of gentle rain in the late afternoon today, but still quite warm, the roses are blooming on Palentine Hill and the oranges are hanging on the trees, they are in season here too. Not exactly shirtsleeve weather but a light fleece jacket is enough and you can still sit outside and enjoy a coffee or a wine at an outdoor cafe. Actually it feels a bit like spring, but the leaves are starting to turn. I have seen more maple leaves in Europe than I ever see at home in western Canada. Here they cover the sidewalks on some streets, all golden colour. In Finland they were shades of red, maybe because it is colder there. However, the trees that signify Rome to us are the striking umbrella pines.
Umbrella Pines in Rome

Free Walking Tour - Bernini's Fountain, Vatican City

Most major European cities have a free, donation accepted, walking tour. We find them informative, a good orientation, an interesting introduction.
The walking tour usually lasts about two hours and the distance covered could be four kilometres, you start out at one point and finish somewhere else. On the Rome walking tour the starting point is near the Spanish steps and on the Vatican walking tour the finishing point is St Peter's Square.

OK this is Tuesday and we finally got on the free walking tour. First it turns out that it does not operate on Sunday so we wasted a fair amount of time on Sunday hanging around the Spanish steps looking for the tour.
Then we were all set to take it Monday but for the first time on this trip I slept in and we did not get going til after ten. So we missed it. We did think we might hook up with the four pm tour but after all those hours at the Colosseum, etc we just could not take a walking tour plus we would have had to rush to finish up at the Forum.
So today we made it to the Spanish Steps and could not see any tour. Wow. This was bad. Then it turned out the tour starts by the Spanish Embassy which is just down the block and thank goodness we managed to participate.
After a brief stop at the Spanish steps we walked down the Fifth Avenue of Rome and looked at Prada through the windows. Then we stopped at Piazza Navona the baroque square with Bernini's Fountain of the Four Rivers which is every bit as impressive as the Trevi Fountain. We saw the Parliament Buildings also and the Shell Fountain.
The highlight of the walk was the Pantheon. Raphael is buried here. Also a bunch of kings. The cement dome is forty three meters wide and forty three meters tall, it has no windows as windows would jeopardize the integrity of the structure. Instead there is an opening of nine meteres round in the roof of the dome. This is the only source of light. When it rains it rains into the Pantheon but holes strategically placed in the floor carry the water away. The Pantheon is so well preserved even if the bronze from the columns out front was removed and recycled at St Peters Basilica and the white marble that covered the building inside and out has been removed. The Pantheon started out as a temple to some other gods but became a Christian church, therefore as in all of Rome, as a church, there is no admission.
inside the pantheon

inside the pantheon

well preserved in Rome

well preserved in Rome

We walked over the Tiber on the Angels Bridge, designed by Bernini. Two of the angels were done by Bernini, the rest by his school.

Angel's Bridge Rome

Angel's Bridge Rome

On the other side of the Bridge is Castel Sant Angela where the pope used to live. There is an old penitentiary in the basement. It is now a museum, the Pope having moved to the Vatican about 1929 when the Vatican became a separate state. We will tour the Castel Sant Angela museum tomorrow as our second use of the Rome Card which gives you two free entrances in Rome, but not in Vatican City.
Our guide brought us to St Peters Square and explained how the Pope did his Sunday greeting from the second window on the right and if the window was open you knew the Pope was in residence. In the summer he goes to his summer place.
We tipped the guide, had our apple juice and a snack sitting on a bench in St Peters square and then went to find the Vatican Museum which turned out to be quite a hike.
Vatican Museum - The line-up was non existent, it was now about half past noon so we went through the security entrance and bought our tickets: fifteen euro each. We went to see Raphaels work including his masterpiece the School of Athens.
The School of Athens

The School of Athens

The colours are so vivid in Raphael's paintings it is like the figures are three dimensional and the book, for example, is coming out of the wall. There are corridors of sculptures and I took some pictures of feet to prove my point from Florence that the feet and everything else are really detailed even though they are carved from marble. There are maps, antiquities, tapestries, paintings, sculptures, it is huge. We did not look at everything and pretty much skipped over the modern stuff.

Then we headed into the Sistine Chapel and were amazed by the Michelangelo paintings on the ceiling and walls, other artists are represented here as well.
We did manage to get out the right hand door as suggested by Rick Steves and all kinds of other travel posts. We could not find a tour group to hook up with but just headed out when nobody was looking and this exit put us very close to St Peters Basilica where St Peter is suppose to be buried. We have already seen the burial spot of Saint John in Selcuk (Turkey) and really that was pretty much a thrill.
St Peter's Basilica, being a church, is free. Here, behind glass and quite a distance from the admirers, is Michelangelo's marble Pieta. Mary holding her adult son Jesus, lifeless in her arms, it is very moving, the color is a wonderful warm ivory, very beautiful. Words cannot describe it really, you have to see it.
Michelangelo's Pieta

Michelangelo's Pieta

Also Michelangelo designed the dome and the church is marble, gold, bronze, paintings everywhere, sculptures, and you can take pictures here as well. The only place you cannot take a picture is in the Sistine Chapel, the Japanese have the rights to the pictures, go figure.

Now we went to the Peoples Square, Piazza del Popolo, and enjoyed the wonderful fountains and the ambiance, sitting on a marble bench with a light misty rain. The Egyptian obelisk is pink and is about four thousand years old. Then we went to the Republic metro stop to find St Suzannas church so I could pick up the passes for our audience with the pope tomorrow. A donation is requested so I did leave them about ten US dollars, it is an American RC church, they fly the flag and everything. Then home. We did stop once on our way for a cappucino and a light snack but this day was very intense with walking, we can hardly navigate anymore, we are really worn out, about six hours of steady walking today. At least tomorrow we can sit during the pope's service and I am really looking forward to that. It is not every day that we get to see a king, a head of state and have a guaranteed seat. I wouldn't be able to get that close to Harper. They suggest you go two and a half hours early to get a good spot but that is not going to happen.
The Vatican is a rich little state, the world's smallest country, less than nine hundred people. Imagine. Right in the middle of Rome.

Audience with the Pope - Ok we were in the audience

Wed Nov 21
We walked into St Peter's Square at 930 am. Tickets for our free admission in hand, we were directed to the end of a three block line. The audience is inside today. It is gorgeous weather, warm and sunny. I do not need my jackets. Plural. I am wearing my raincoat and fleece.
The line moved quite fast, we were behind a Spanish bride and groom. She had a satin dress and wore a mantilla.
The current Pope's name is Benedict XVI and I had to look that up, it is not just off the tip of my fingers. He was born in Germany near the Austrian border in 1927, so not a spring chicken. He will be 85 in April 2013. Imagine, at that age, to be the in charge of over one billion Catholics worldwide.
By 10 am we were sitting in the chapel/auditorium quite close to the front. There were maybe 100 people in front of us and 6000 beside and behind us. Just the way people got streamed in from security, we were lucky. I really did pinch myself, I was so in awe of being there. I cannot imagine how the Catholics felt.
At about 1030 the orchestra played a tune, then two Swiss guards came onto the stage and stood on either side of the throne. Dressed in gold and purple, the Swiss guards have been guarding the Vatican for over 600 years. There were already about two dozen cardinals sitting on the right hand side of the stage.
Then, in a wave, everybody in the audience/congregation, stood up, like you do at a wedding, and the crowd erupted. Jeff leaned over to me and said, 'The pope is like a rock star' and I was clapping along with everybody else when the small old man with white robes and a crown of thick white hair came out on the stage. He said a few words and raised his arms, he was speaking Italian so ....Then we all sat down and people were snapping pictures to beat the band.
A cardinal read a passage from the letter by Paul to the Corinthians. I know this as it was read in several languages including English. Then the pope, who remained sitting in a big chair with two cardinals in smaller chairs on either side of him and the two Swiss guards standing on either side of the cardinals, then the pope, as I was saying, gave a sermon. It was in italian (or maybe Latin) but I could understand the gyst of it, God, Jesus and Paul, antagonistic, the service revolved around the Bible passage.
Then one after the other, cardinals spoke. In English, the pope would bless members of our families who were sick, then the pope spoke in heavily accented English, well he read something and there was polite applause. He mentioned England, the states and Sri Lanka. I had a hard time understanding him but he was basically bringing greetings, welcoming the 'English as a first language' attendees. Then the same thing was repeated in German, polite applause. When the pope spoke in Spanish there were boisterous cheers and again when he addressed the Portugese speakers, loud cheering and waving of flags. The Italians waved white handkerchiefs.
But it was the Polish segment of the audience who stole the show. A group with red head scarves stood up while the pope was speaking Polish and started singing, the Poles scattered around the huge auditorium were clapping along to the tune. It was quite a long song and when it was finished the pope resumed talking and right away another group started singing, interrupting him for the second time.
When we went on the walking tours of Warsaw and Krakow, it was so evident that Poland is a Catholic country and they were so proud of the Polish pope, John Paul ll.

There were a few more languages covered, but it was pretty subdued. Then the pope stood up and gave the Apostolic blessing, which also would cover our relatives and loved ones who are sick or in agony. and when he was finished the cardinals lined up and kissed his ring.
Our audience was over.

The man on my right had wiped away a tear during the Polish singing so before we left I touched his arm (his back was towards me) and when he turned I asked ' are you Polish?' and of course he was, I said 'Canada' and shook his hand and he hugged me and kissed my cheek and for me this was a moment.
I don't care if you are Catholic, Protestant or agnostic, today's papal audience was powerful, and we both are glad we came.

Jeff and I left the chapel and proceded to Sant Angela's Museum. Which has a lot of stairs and some great views of Rome. Hadrian is buried here. Then it was a long walk to Piazza Fiori, yummy lasagna for lunch, nice square where they used to execute people, now it is a produce market, Campo di Fiori, narrow winding streets, artisan's shops, Sergios was closed (Ali from the Tulip Art Shop in Turkey had recommended this restaurant, likely opens for supper at 730), and we got home at five.
We are staying at Christina's Residence, about four or five blocks from the main train terminal, cost is 34 Euros per night and includes breakfast which is set up in your room, you make your own instant coffee with the electric kettle provided and there is a fridge.
Tomorrow we fly Ryanair to Madrid. Caio.

Posted by CherylGypsyRose 18:41 Archived in Italy Tagged churches art museums history budget backpacking seniors budget_hotels Comments (0)

Rila Monastary Bulgaria

View The Iberian Penninsula in December & China for Cheap on CherylGypsyRose's travel map.

On October 25 we took a bus from Sofia to Rila Monastery, the largest East Orthodox monastery in Bulgaria. We bounced along, through the mountains in the mist, stopping in villages where ladies in housecoats passed money through the window to the driver in exchange for packages, what was in them I do not know, this is his route.
We picked up people along the way, passing men leading cows along the road. There were cornfields, orchards, and now we arrive at Rila Monastery.
Originally built in the tenth century, a small part of the fourteenth century re-construction, the Tower of Hrejla, still exists today. Most of the monastery was destroyed by fire in the 1800s and had to be rebuilt yet again. It has five domes, three altars and two side chapels. The impressive frescoes were completed in 1846.
Rila Monastary Bulgaria

Rila Monastary Bulgaria

The living section has three hundred rooms. We stayed one night in the monastary and enjoyed the peaceful setting. Of course the novelty of sleeping in an actual monastery was a draw for us. They lock the gates at ten p.m. so it you are outside, too bad.
Our room at Rila Monastary

Our room at Rila Monastary

No pictures are allowed inside the chapels where the intricate woodworking is a highlight.

The bearded monks move gracefully and silently on their way to prayers. Within the chapel they sing acapella.
Pilgrims and tourists take pictures in the inner yard, snapping photos of the frescoes and the architecture. There is a post office in the courtyard as well as a shop selling religious icons and postcards. Outside of the gate there are two restaurants and other souvenir shops. The dining experience is tolerable at best. Bring snacks. There is no food available within the monastery.
It does seem like a place where time stands still.
An Orthodox priest slowly circles the courtyard beating a piece of wood with a stick to give the call to prayer.

Monk at Rila Monastery

Monk at Rila Monastery

Rila Monastery is 117 km from Sofia. If you are into hiking there are trails from the monastery to the surrounding Rila Mountains. You could choose to stay over night or just make a day trip from Sofia on the bus. The morning bus back to Sofia leaves shortly before 9 am, it is a small, jolly bus, lots of locals sharing their chocolate with other passengers, chatting up the driver, very lively. Fun, I'm glad we came this way.

Rila Monastery Bulgaria

Rila Monastery Bulgaria

Here we can see the oldest part of the monastary, the Tower of Hrelja from the fourteenth century. Rila Monastery is a UNESCO World Heritage Sight.

Over 900,000 visitors make their way to Rila Monastery every year.
Interesting when you think about the founder, St Ivan: he was a hermit and lived in a cave.

Posted by CherylGypsyRose 20:18 Archived in Bulgaria Tagged mountains churches budget backpacking Comments (0)

Bologna, Florence, San Gimignano, Tuscany, Italy

San Gimignano, Jewel of the Tuscany hills

sunny 19 °C

We were up early November 13, left Selcuk, Turkey by private car, as planned at 530 and arrived at Izmir airport at 630 am.
Flew Pegasus Air, changed planes in Istanbul and arrived at BLQ in Bologna Italy about 230 pm, the time changed, we gained an hour. Our flight cost something like one hundred and twenty two dollars Canadian each from Izmir Turkey to Bologna.

Bologna, Italy

We took a bus to the central station in Bologna, about six E. each and then took a cab to our hotel for eight E. Our room is clean and quaint, it has a great balcony, lots of nice white towels, we like it here. We bought a coffee in the pretty lobby, great, strong, fairly good size, we love Italy.
We took a walk, picked up some Euros, got some bread, salami and olive paste, I got three tetra packs of wine (like little juice packs, I am not a wine connoisseur obviously) and we had a picnic on our balcony as we had not really eaten all day and the nearby restaurants do not open til seven pm. We have not used Euros since Estonia. Nine countries, nine currencies, even though most of them (Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Bulgaria and Romania) are in the EU. For the next three weeks we will only need Euros..
At 730 we walked to the Trattoria, stepped in, all white tablecloths, mirrors and gorgeous light fixtures. Quick as a wink the staff were wrestling me out of my coat, which consists of a black nylon hooded rain jacket over a blue fleece jacket, really awkward getting the two off at once. Anyway, we are not exactly fashion plates but we brazened it out and tried not to gasp when the menu was presented.
Two water and a toothpick please.
By this time a basket of assorted bread and rolls had arrived along with a glass carafe of carbonated water. After eye contact gestures we decide to have pasta bolognese, the first course, and skip the main. A fairly skimpy bowl of pasta arrived and we ate slowly and chewed carefully.
pasta is a first course in Italy

pasta is a first course in Italy

This was one of the smallest meals of our trip and hopefully the most expensive. But an experience all the same. Before bringing the pasta they brought us each a little polenta wedge with something on top, and when they took away the empty pasta dishes they brought little tarts. We each ordered dessert, Jeff had gelato and I had creme brulee and the bill was fifty euro which is our combined food budget for a day and a half. Consequently, we will be having more picnics. It was funny when we left, the lady server was holding my blue fleece, the gentleman had my limp black rain jacket and eventually they got me bundled back up and on my way.
We loved our 35 euro a night hotel room, Arcoveggio Hotel, so much we wanted to stay an extra day but they were booked solid so we took a city bus to the train station, and bought train tickets to Florence for just thirty euro for two tickets on a high speed train, some kind of good discount. The train was leaving at four pm, so being too cheap to pay five euros each to check our packs we walked to the centre of Bologna, pretty city, blocks of shops, nice square. Along the way we passed through miles of covered arcades in the central shopping district, nicely protecting us from the weather. Bologna is the culinary capital of Italy apparently. It also has the oldest University in the WORLD, dates back to 1088.
Cappuccino in Italy

Cappuccino in Italy

The train was very comfortable, most of the trip was in a tunnel, with very brief flashes of green countryside and small mountains, we talked with Tanya, a lovely girl from Rome who spoke good English, she had lived in Miami for a year, also England, and had worked on a cruise ship. She told us to go to San Gimignano.... instead of Siena, she knew we would like it better and she was right. Because we talked about the good Italian coffee after all that tea in Turkey she gave us each a lovely coffee chocolate. Nice girl.

Florence Tuscany Italy

Rolling hills, green with shots of gold, it seems to be early autumn in Tuscany. The roses and pots of geraniums are still blooming.
Can there be anything more beautiful than the countryside around Florence in mid November? Grape vines, olive trees, umbrella pines. Quaint villages perched on hills. For about fifteen dollars each we took a day trip to San Gimignano, but that will come later as it happened on 16 November.
We arrived in Florence, the Renaissance capital of the world, on 14 November. We stayed at the Gennessio Hotel, walking distance from the train station, up a few flights of stairs, for three nights. We had originally planned to stay one night and go to Sienna but after we had settled into our room and discovered it was clean and had a nice breakfast room decided to stay an extra night. The second night we moved to a larger nicer room with two windows and a lovely view, clean, good sheets and pillows, so at a little over fifty canadian a night we decided to stay three nights. Breakfast was included and we could get some English on the tv. These tvs are so small I can barely see them.
Our room in Florence came with breakfast

Our room in Florence came with breakfast

I am lucky with my dim vision that I am taking in as many sites as I have been, without Jeff I would be wandering around in a haze. Yes, I am wearing glasses, they just cannot correct me enough to see twenty twenty, I am lucky I can see the walk signs let alone the street signs.
So we picked up bread, olives paste, salami, antipasto and chocolate bars and had our supper in our room.
15 November, beautiful sunny day but with all the shade in Florence it was still a bit chilly. The streets are narrow, the buildings tall and it is absolutely picturesque. We walked down to the square near the railway station and hooked up with the free walking tour at 1030 am. The guide did not speak as clear English as some we have had so I was straining at times to understand, heavy on the architectural details. Because of this tour we went to St Croce square where some very famous people are buried inside the church. Being buried inside a church is a better guarantee of getting to heaven or so it seemed back then.
St Croce Square

St Croce Square

Some really big guns are buried here so we paid the six euro admission and photographed the final resting spots of Galileo, Michaelangelo, Machiavelli and Marconi. We sat awhile in the sunny courtyard of the church, it was so quiet, peaceful and warm. Other tourists were there writing in their journals and eating their little picnics but it was very quiet and nice.
Both gelato and sorbet were invented in Florence. Also little wooden pinnochio ornaments are everywhere.
Pinnochio store

Pinnochio store

We stopped for panini for lunch at a small bar type establishment, and then continued on our way. Panini makes a nice, filling and inexpensive meal.
We walked down by the river, and looked at the many bridges and then bought tickets to the world famous Uffizi museum I think 12.50 euros. There are rooms and rooms of paintings, I lost Jeff and spent an hour looking for him, he finally found me. Also numerous sculptures, we were there almost two hours and then trundled back to the hotel where we had another picnic supper, the bread crust is so hard you can hardly break it open and just shatters. but it is good bread, although I think Turkey had awesome bread and similar in taste to good homemade bread in Canada. Now for some reason I thought Michaelangelos David was in the Uffizi, we looked and looked and finally asked somebody only to find out that no, David is at the Accademia where we did not go. Time and money are both factors but also sore feet and burn out are another. We saw so many marble statues of naked men, some of their feet were so detailed you could see the veins and their toes and toe nails were really life-like. I did not examine the rest of these figures in such detail, but am sure they were painstakingly carved into the marble.

San Gimignano, Tuscan Hills

16 November was a gorgeous sunny day. We took the bus from Florence to San Gimignano in the Tuscan hills. The round trip was thirteen euro each. We had to change buses in Poggilbonsi, but the wait inbetween was not too long. The entire trip took about two hours getting there and just over an hour and a half to get back.
The countryside is breathtaking really. Very green, lush rolling hills, vineyards, olive groves, trees, villas, villages, fields, gorgeous, with the mountains in the distance.
San Gimignano is a medieval town, with narrow streets, sweeping vistas of the Tuscany hills, charming and quaint, totally picturesque and easy to walk around. I still think Tallin Estonia has an awesome fairy tale old town but San Gimignano is a contender. The buildings are high, many towers, shop after shop of leather, souvenirs, purses, shoes, pottery, bakeries, candy. Yes, this would be a good place to stay over night and soak up the Tuscan sun. We enjoyed our day trip immensely. We had a coffee and sweets and panini in a bakery/restaurant, really good apple cake. The coffee here is fabulous, served with a little chocolate. The staff were friendly, boisterous even.

We spent several hours in possibly the most charming village in the world, San Gimignano an easy day trip from either Florence or Siena and a good place to spend a few days for some down time. If you want to see a Medieval town in Tuscany this is the place!

Located about 56 km south of Florence, or roughly halfway between Florence and Sienna the town of San Gimignano is built on a hillside overlooking lush valleys. In the third century BC it was the sight of an Etruscan village. A wall was constructed in the seventh Century and it still has fourteen tower houses built in feudal times by wealthy residents. It is a Unesco World Heritage Sight.

Our bus trip back was kind of stressful. When we got off the bus outside the old walled city the driver waved his hand to indicate the spot where we would catch the bus home. We had a schedule and waited, some other people were there too and finally a bus came along with the town name, Poggilbonsi, written on it. It looked like a school bus and was filled with junior high maybe high school kids. Every body got on so we hopped on too and then looked at each other, my god this cannot be the right bus, but we were careening towards the town. When we got there we got off at a stop with some kids and wandered around looking for the bus station where we had made our morning transfer. As it turns out we found it fifteen minutes later and some of the same people who had been on the school bus with us were also waiting for the bus back to Florence, so I guess it was the right bus after all and and we got in an extra walk unnecessarilly. Anyway we made it back to Florence safe and sound on the top deck of a double decker bus, sweeping views of the Tuscan hills, greener than green, with little shots of gold as a few trees are changing colour.

When we got back to Florence we booked our rail tickets to Rome for seventeen November. There was no discount and we could have shopped around but having stood in line for half an hour to find out tickets would be forty three euro each I just bit the bullet and bought them. Then we walked back to the hotel, stopping to have a bowl of tortellini on the way, five euros each and I had a half glass of fairly good red wine to wash that down for two euros. The parmesan cheese is really good, it isnt that kind that comes out of a box. You know in North America how the waiter comes around with the big pepper grinder and asks if you would like some fresh ground pepper and then grinds it over your food like he is really adding something special to your dish, ridiculous when you think about it. They do that in Italy with parmesan cheese and it really is a big deal and good.
Florence really is a must see in Italy. We love it. And imagine if you were into art history and architecture it would be totally worth it to come here. We could have stayed a week but we have to get to Rome and see the sights there too and with only four full days in Rome it will be tight. The weather has been sunny, there are numerous outdoor cafes but we only like the ones in the sunshine as it is chilly in the shade. Locals drink their coffee standing up by a bar or stand up table, being tourists, and Canadians, we prefer to sit down and take it easy while we sip our cappucinos and espressos.
This time of year there are not big line ups to the museums but apparently when it is forty C in summer tourists line up for four hours to get their tickets to the Uffizi and then are so worn out they can barely see everything in that huge gallery. We got in within five minutes so this is a good time of year to come to Florence. 17 November was another sunny day. There are many towers where people used to live, tall buildings, where shops or artisan areas are on the main floor and where in old times the owner could protect himself from enemies and invaders by dumping boiling water on them (or whatever method he chose, maybe burning oil.)
The rich people of course like the Medicis lived in huge complexes likely built around a central square where they may have done business as although the Medicis were bankers they engaged in other business endeavors as well. So the central courtyard would be used to sell their wares. The business would be on the first floor, the family would basically live on the second floor and the servants would live on the third floor.
Now on the exterior of the buildings the rich owners were required to provide some street light for safety, less fighting among the rabble. They were also required to build in benches for pilgrims and travellers to rest so there are nice cement benches sticking out of old buildings all around Florence except not at the train station where they really need them. There were also places on the outside of the homes for people to tie up their horses, kind of providing parking so that people could come into their courtyard and do business.
seats on the wall in Florence

seats on the wall in Florence

Gelato and sherbet were invented when a rich Medici was preparing a wedding feast and put up a competition for somebody to invent a dish and so a bright Italian went up to the mountains and brought back snow and froze milk, added egg yolks, sugar, etc and came up with gelato. And they call Bologna the Culinary Capital of Italy.
So this morning we trundled off to see the Duomo. This is one of the largest churches in the world, has a huge dome and is made of marble which is a common building material around here, marble walks, stairs, floors, etc. We told the guards that we were going in to pray, so we did not have to buy a ticket. Some of the stained glass is by Donatello and we had a little prayer and admired the wonderful painting on the ceilings as well.
We had pizza for the first time for lunch and it was thin crust which I recommend.
So now we have to pack up our backpacks and walk over to the train station, our train leaves at two fourteen and gets into Rome at 345 and I have our hostel, guest house type thing, booked, Cristina's Residence. It is walking distance from the central terminal. The train was nice we had seats by the window, very comfortable and wifi. The scenery was amazing but most of the time we were in a tunnel so if you want to see the country side go by bus.
We actually have a map of Rome so that is a first and we have pretty good directions to the hotel so we find it within twenty minutes of walking. The guy who lets us in says "there has been a mix up but we have prepared a small room and we will move you to a larger one tomorrow". Well it is small with a bunk bed but it has a private bath and it is bigger than a train compartment and smaller than the cabin we had on the Viking Ship from Stockholm to Turku Finland which remains in my mind one of the biggest all time bargains, fifty dollars each with a private room and private bath from Stockholm to Turku, Finland, all night sailing. Great deal. Anyway our room is clean it has what we need and we get BBC on the TV and wifi actually works in the room. There is a nice courtyard outside of the hotel and we are on a quiet street near the university. May I mention 130 dollars Canadian for three nights including breakfast and taxes. Not bad for a world class city like Rome.
I am excited as I have arranged an audience with the Pope on Wednesday we have to pick up our tickets Tuesday night. We will have an audience along with six thousand other people but hey, I will only pass this way once and the pope is a very famous guy.
Tonight we are just relaxing, will go out for pasta later and will watch the news on BBC we don't know too much what is happening in the world so it is nice to catch up and then tomorrow we will have a full day of sight seeing. I expect to be pretty busy over the next few days and hope I see all the important sites. We will tour the Vatican Museum Wednesday since we are there anyway seeing the pope.
It seems a bit warmer here, soft air, we are near water. We are near sea level. We like it here.

Posted by CherylGypsyRose 03:10 Archived in Italy Tagged churches museums world heritage budget medieval unesco backpacking sight rennaisance tuscan_hills budget_hotels Comments (0)

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