Thursday, 30 June 2011

The ABC's of Europe

At the recommendation from a fellow traveller on our Cosmos trip, I am doing another photo blog. This one is dedicated to the ABC’s of Europe.
Another Bloody Church

Westminster Abbey (London), did not go in this one, but it was interesting to see the location where Pippa Middleton's rear end became famous

St Pauls (London), rather a large church, all I remember about this one was the burning pain in my legs after climbing 250 stairs up the dome

Windsor castle (London) even has its own church

Notre Dame (Paris), unfortunately did not see any hunch backs

Basilica of the Sacred heart (Montmartre, Paris), next door is the Moulin Rouge. Guess which had the bigger line.

And the great unfinished church of the Sagrada Familia (Barcelona), bit like New Zealand roads really.

The Pantheon (Rome) that great movie set from Angels and Demons…or was it National treasure?

Another bloody great church, St Peters (The Vatican), I wonder if St Peters and St Pauls is where that rhyme about Dicky birds came from…

This is the Santa Croce (Florence), famous people are actually buried here, Michelangelo and Galileo.

Another church in Florence, the Dome. Has, well, a dome…like the others actually

Even Pisa gets a church…or Abby…or monastery…something like that.

St Nicholas (Monaco), where we got to see Prince Albert having a wedding rehearsal.

Here was a church, or temple, in Pompeii…nice sacrificial alter. Don’t see many of those these days.

Very cute little church this one. Found in Aegina, Greece.

Another church in Greece, in a very dodgy area. Tour director had to guard the bus to stop illegal immigrants climbing underneath.

Venice has lots of churches….this is St Marks

And here is another, I’m not surprised they have a lot of churches given the locality of the city and the rate it’s sinking.

Austria and Switzerland also had lots of pretty churches. Lots and lots and lots of churches. All with domes that look like garlic or onions. This one is in Salzburg at Mozart square.

My rate of photo taking of churches has somewhat diminished over the course of the trip however, as the apathy of just Another Bloody Church sets in.

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Yodelling and Schwarzenegger

Today in Lucerne, Switzerland has certainly been an interesting one. It started out ordinary enough. Fine morning with a few clouds in the sky. Looked like a perfect day for a lake cruise.
Then the music started on board the boat. Yodelling and Swiss horns. Yes I know we are in Switzerland but do they play Maori chants on the Ernslaw in Queenstown? The captain started explaining the local scenery, and honestly, he sounded exactly like Arnold Schwarzenegger...a bored Arnold Schwarzenegger admittedly, but Arnie none the less. Maybe all men with a German accent and a deep voice sounded like Arnie, who knows.
The cruise carried on, the wind picked up and the clouds grew darker. There was thunder and lightening and it started to rain. We were, at that point, sitting on the top deck open to the elements.
Finishing the cruise under shelter on the lower deck, Arnie the captain talked about one of the hotels on the hill. A very beautiful hotel, the locals apparently call it the holy hotel. Why? Because when you see it you go "Oh my god!" and when you get the bill at the end you go "Jesus Christ!"

God: "We get fish in the lake THIS big!"

Yes Switzerland is very very expensive. Jesus Christ was the sentiment used last night when I worked out the conversion cost of our dinner. I have decided not to look at the Visa bill again till we get home.

After the lake cruise with Arnie, we were booked to go up Mount Titlis with the rest of our tour group. By this stage the weather had deteriorated further but we were still optimistic that despite the crappy weather it would still be a fun excursion. Driving along the pretty Swiss roads through the countryside we noticed that the road was getting ever increasingly covered in water. A landslip was the final cause of the coach having to stop and us having to abandon our trip to the mountain. However getting a 14 metre coach back down the country road was not such an easy feat. Lacking a suitable turning spot our driver simply reversed back down the road he came, a rather impressive manoeuvre considering the size of the bus.  

So because the scenery today didn't happen or it was raining, here are some photos from yesterday...when it wasn't raining.

Innsbruck, Austria

"How do I make it go?"

Umm?? (Yes I know I made him do it)

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

The hills are alive with dysfunctional families

While in Vienna, we had the pleasure of visiting the Habsburgs winter and summer (Schonbrunn palace) residences. The Habsburg family really takes the cake when it comes to weird families. They decided that instead of fighting other countries, they would simply marry into them. Maria Theresa, the Empress of Austria, had 16 children and managed to marry most of them into important families, earning herself the name of mother-in-law of Europe. One of her children was Marie Antoinette who married the King of France and ended up getting her head cut off.

Looking at the back of Schonbrunn Palace

Gardens at the back of Schonbrunn Palace

 Ironically Schonbrunn palace was also the location of young Mozart’s first royal concert. It was said that during the concert he tripped over and was helped up by one of Marie Theresa’s children, the young Marie Antoinette. 

In Salzburg we visited the home of Mozart. It is said that he didn’t particularly like Salzburg, however they have made a fortune off him. His family is also one of rather interesting dynamics. Childhood illnesses claimed the lives of several of his siblings and all but two of his own children. He himself died in his mid-30’s of still unknown causes. As the son of a court musician one wonders if his father might have pushed him into music along with his older sister. The original helicopter parents.

Salzburg is also home to another famous family, the Von Traps. If one wants dysfunction you need not look further than a bunch of singing, curtain wearing, Austrians with a runaway nun as their leader. Austria is as beautiful as it is portrayed in the movie. It’s no wonder everyone is a bit nutty, the fresh air and greenery must go to their head. 

The Von Trapp house

Saturday, 25 June 2011

Frequently asked questions about Venice

One thing that has struck me about Venice is how little I actually know about the place. I know its a city with canals and bridges, but that's about the limit of my knowledge. I have learnt a whole lot of random information while being here in Venice, so I am going to share some interesting facts, and random photos of bridge and gondolas.

  • Venice was built on a series of 117 islands. It was built to defend the people against invasion as incoming boats could not navigate the difficult canals.
  • There are over 400 bridges in Venice. There is only one bridge that allows access onto the islands.
  • There are no cars in Venice. The only transportation is boat or walking. Lots and lots of walking.

  • Gondola boats are always black.
  • The Gondola boats cost around $25,000 as they are all handmade and wooden
  • The 'Ferro' is the metal ornament on the front of the Gondola. The six metal teeth represent the six regions of Venice, the curve represents the Grand canal and the doges hat, the semicircular break represents the Rialto bridge.

  • Venice was built on wooden piles which petrify under the water.
  • It is currently sinking at a rate of 2 1/2 inches every 10 years, rising sea levels also threaten the city.
  • During periods of very high tides, many parts of the city are submerged, including St Marks square. Wooden gangways are put in place so people can still get around.

  • Venice has two famous islands, Burano and Murano. Burano is famous for lacework and Murano is famous glass work.
  • In Burano the houses are painted many different colours, so the fisherman could find their way home in the fog. If one wants to paint their house now they have to get a permit.
  • If one wants to become a glass maker, they have to study for 15 years. Even then they are only paid a minimal amount till they become a master after many years of work.

If you want more information about Venice, you can check out their very own encyclopaedia page, 

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

The Original Ministry of Silly Walks

I think I have found the original Ministry of Silly Walks.
It is the Greek Guards outside of parliament in Athens. With their beige skirts, tassels on their knees and pom pom’s on their shoes, they certainly look the part, but when they start the changing of the guard that’s when you realise you have stumbled into a Monty Python sketch.

It also happens to be the site of all the protests they have been having in Athens. To be honest, I wouldn’t be that scared either of those guards. As a tourist in Athens though, you soon quickly realise that Athens is a horrible dirty city. There really is nothing going for it except the Acropolis. The protesters could do something useful with their time and do some cleaning, but as what is quite clear around the city, they tend to be a bit lazy. Most of the motorways intended to be built for the 2004 Olympics have only just finished being completed. After the Olympics, the stadium buildings have just been left, the area now a wasteland for rubbish and homeless people instead of being built into a nice park like setting. It’s no wonder the country is running out of money. Shops aren’t open on Mondays, and opening hours are sporadic at best. We went to go to the Acropolis museum, which you have to pay to get into, it was shut. The city is so filthy that you don’t want to spend any time in it anyway.

Temple of Poseidon

The Parthenon (translated = Virgens Apartment) 

Instead we spent the day on a local island, Aegina. In contrast it was a beautiful place with crystal clear waters. You can’t swim in the beaches of Athens because of the pollution. We spent the day driving round the island on a 50cc scooter, cheap as to hire, no wonder either, bits kept falling off it which we had to run down the road to retrieve and replace. Struggled a bit as well, going up the hill to the temple ruins with two people on it.

Temple of Aphaea

Speaking of silly walks, it turns out that the main reason people go to the ancient site of Olympia is to take photos of themselves being silly and posing as athletes in the Olympic games or running on the stadium track. I have photos of said silly poses, much more interesting than photos of a bunch of rocks.  

These people are in our tour group. Hmmm....

Saturday, 18 June 2011

The man in the stripped Pyjama's

A chest infection and food poisoning is not the greatest way to start ones visit to Rome. Combine that with 30 degree temperatures and uncomfortable becomes your middle name. However, Rome is amazing. I prefer it to Paris personally. In Rome, no building can be built higher than the dome of St Peters, so it makes for a very pleasant sprawling city, rather than multitudes of high rise buildings.

Seeing the sights of Rome, one has the feeling of being on a movie set. A lot of ‘Angels and Demons’ was shot in Rome. Not sure how they got rid of the tourists though. The Spanish steps, so named because of the Spanish embassy round the corner, should be named ‘the Spanish conglomeration of people’. You can barely see the steps or the fountain for the bodies.

Trevi fountain is much the same. Trevi fountain is actually the end point of one of the aquaducts, rather than a fountain by itself. The pope didn't think the original was impressive enough, so they put Poseidon rising out of the sea with his men and water horses in tow. I’m thinking of putting one of the front of our house, but I think I might be over capitalising.

The Pantheon, not to be confused with the Parthenon, is one heck of an impressive building with one of the first domes ever built on a church. I still can’t get past the movie set thing though, as this was the site of the water element in Angels and Demons.

The Vatican, a city that actually doesn’t include St Peters square, is architecturally interesting. When you stand in a marked spot in the square (that’s actually a circle), the pillars round the outside look like a single pillar, but if you move from that spot you can see that the pillars are four deep.

Four Pillars

One Pillar

I also asked one of the Swiss guards at the Vatican if I could take his photo, you have to ask any military or police personal first in most countries. He was fine about it, so I have my photo of the man in the stripped pyjamas.

The colosseum and the Roman forum are both remains from Ancient roman times. Pillaging took the marble that used to coat the outside of the colosseum so all that’s left is the stone. Earthquakes have also damaged it so that newer brick re-enforcements have been made necessary. In the forum there is a building that was the home for the vestal virgins. Girls were taken from their home at the age of 5 to live for 30 years as a virgin in the temple. Their blood was so sacred that if they lost their virginity while there, they were buried alive to keep the blood in the body. It was a great honour for the family to have a vestal virgin daughter, perhaps not so much for the girl. 

McDonald's for Adults

Pompeii. The village that got in the way of an active volcano.
Not a great town slogan, but I suppose it’s more interesting than “Auckland, the city of sails”.
Pompeii is still being uncovered from the results of said volcano, and has been remarkably well preserved. Rather good news for tourism, slightly less good news for the 3000 people they have found cast in mud.
One of the buildings that was preserved was the town brothel. Complete with numbered pictures depicting the various erotic positions one could order. Kind of like a McDonald’s for adults. “Yes, I would like a number 4 followed by a number 7 please”. Also, helpfully, if you were in town and got lost, you could always find your way to the brothel by the various phalluses carved on the stone walls and paths, pointing you in the right direction.

That is what you think it is

The temple was also one of the buildings that has been dug up. Standing in front of the sacrificial alter, one has a marvellous view of Vesuvius, framed by Roman pillars. I wonder what the priests were thinking as the mountain erupted. “Shit. Perhaps we should of sacrificed more lambs”.

Temple alter with Mt Vesuvius in background

Victim of Pompeii

One of the typical streets in Pompeii

Thursday, 16 June 2011

I hate lemons

After Sorrento I have decided I hate lemons. Did you know Sorrento, which is near Naples if you weren't sure, is famous for lemons.. They grow them here, that and olives. They put them in everything, its really not necessary I'm sure. They also make a drink known as lemoncello. Deadly stuff, especially when you consider they make it with 90% alcohol....that sort of stuff belongs in the flammable cupboard at work. Also deadly when at dinner instead of sipping it you decide as an ex Dunedin student that it should be taken as a shot. That got our table of middle aged people rather tiddled. Especially after they decided it was a good idea to drink everyone else's table's ones because they hadn't discovered the art of sculling.

Anyway we didn't just spend all our time in Sorrento getting drunk. The day before we were in Florence. A city of 300,000 people and 200,000 scooters.

That and David.
The famous David statue by Michelangelo. The real one is in the museum in Florence. A replica stands where the original used to stand. Florence is pretty enough, there is a nice large church made with marble. I'm starting to think I have seen enough churches to make up for my lack of ever going to one.

Santa Maria Del Fiore Church
While in Sorrento we also took the boat and spent the day on the beautiful island of Capri. The weather was hot and sunny which a bonus to. The island is made up of two main villages, Capri and Anacapri. Anacapri is high up than Capri. Access is by a very very narrow winding road on the end of a cliff. The drivers drive like they are attempting to kill everyone on board. A lot of the village is only accessible by tiny little battery operated trucks because of the narrow roads. From Anacapri you can take a cable car all the way to the top of the island. The views are worth it, although try telling that to the people who required a stiff drink to cope with the decent down.