Letters from Scotland
By Jonathon Farrell
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So it has been more than a week, as I warned you it would. But hopefully I can make up for it in this letter! I hope you have some time to spend, because I am afraid this might be a long one!
I wrote the last one from a hostel in Italy! As soon as I was done my exams, I hopped on a plane to Rome to meet up with some friends who were there the day before. I had a text message telling me how to meet up with them - they wanted me to go to their hostel and drop off my bags first.
So, I was instructed to cross the street outside the train station (I took a train from the airport) and cross the square with the church to find the little glass door. Well, if any of you have been to Rome, you will know that this describes nine out of 10 places in the city!!
I wandered about, towing my pack, for a good two hours as my phone had stopped having service at the airport, and eventually met them at the train station. They arrived from another airport, so they were looking at an entirely different set of churches in squares!
Once we met up, we had a nice meal at a little restaurant which smelled of wood smoke from the cooking fires. It was a nice change from the usual tobacco smoke that is a constant haze over Italy! Afterwards, I tried to get a place in the hostel, but there was none and I wound up in a tiny hotel room next door.
The next day, we explored the Vatican City. It was amazing, the amount of man hours that must have been put in to building and decorating the place - it was absolutely mind-blowing.
We started off in the art museum where we saw some very famous works, such as the Transfiguration by Raphael and a few by da Vinci. Unfortunately, the Last Supper was away getting restored and was not on display!
After that we went through the Vatican Museum which had a surprising number of Roman deity statues and even some Chinese ones. It seemed more just a collection of the finer things art has produced. It was very tiring on the eyes, because the walls, floors, and ceilings themselves were works of art, with paintings hanging on them in golden frames.
We came to the Sistine Chapel and I was chased out for having my camera in my hand. Then I was chased out for sitting in the wrong place.
Then, while walking across and admiring the Creation on the ceiling, I managed to trip over the wheelchair access ramp! Somehow I fell off the step that it was on and crashed down onto the hollow ramp with a mighty boom. So everyone in the room stared and laughed, and I went beet red and tried to hide in the crowd (which is not easy for me in a room of Italians!)
So, now I have a new most-embarrassing story, and am one of the few with a story that begins with "This one time, in the Sistine Chapel..."!
We then saw the collection of Pope-mobiles, ranging from golden chariots to Jeeps that looked like they came straight from TV's Hazzard County. After we were done, we saw St Peter's Square and Basilica, and then went for a stroll through Rome to find a nice restaurant for dinner.
The next day was Ancient Rome, which had us climbing the Coliseum and Palatine Hill, both of which were amazing. The Coliseum was such a surreal experience, having studied so much of Roman history and knowing what went on in there! It is quite a feeling to stand and look down over a floor where so many were killed or martyred.
The Palatine Hill had ruins of several emperor's palaces, and some things still in their original positions, such as the orange groves. Not sure if it was allowed, but I snuck a few oranges from the trees. I assume it was fine, since I had to stretch to get to one that was still there - clearly all the ones within reach had already been picked.
Well, it was interesting to have an orange from the ancient grove, but the Romans must have had stronger stomachs! It was so bitter, I could not eat more than one slice of it.
Next we saw the Arch of Titus, built with the money gained from the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, and proceeded into the Forum. There were some places in this ancient marketplace which still had wagon ruts from its commerce days, giving a view into just how much happened.
We went on into the Capitoline Museum where there were many famous Roman things, statues of gods and goddesses and whatnot, and the famous statue of the she-wolf nursing Romulus and Remus. I could go on and on about the marvelous things I saw in Rome, so maybe it would be best if I skipped to the next day at this point.
We hopped on a train to Naples where we stayed at the top-rated hotel in Europe for a whole eight hours. Then we took a subway to Ercolano, the modern suburb containing the ancient city of Herculaneum which, along with Pompeii, was buried in the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius.
It was phenomenal - the town was so well-preserved! There were places that included original Roman furniture, and many of the buildings still had their wooden structures. This is another one I could easily write about for ages, so suffice it to say I was like a kid in a candy shop, and would have been reluctant to leave if we had any goal in mind besides a pizza in its hometown of Naples. This was delicious, though I could have done without the Gorgonzola cheese.
We took a train back to Rome, where we had to run to the other side of the city, under all manner of sketchy overpasses and across train tracks, to meet our train to the next city - Florence!
Touring through Florence
On the first day in Florence, we climbed the Duomo. It was a 500-step climb, so it was a lot of work but totally worth it. There were incredible paintings on the ceiling of Judgement which became more vivid and terrifying with every step.
From the top, we had a complete view of Florence, as it is the tallest building - it was breathtaking. We spent almost two hours at the top, just marveling at the view. We came down, and admired the rest of the cathedral, built in an elaborate pattern of red, white and green marble. This is one of my top sights in Italy, for sure!
After that, we spent much of the day just wandering the city and enjoying the most vibrant atmosphere I have ever experienced. We made our own supper and went to bed early to prepare for the next day - Pisa!
We took an early train out to Pisa, but were disappointed to find that the Leaning Tower could only be climbed in 30-minute tours, and there was no possibility to linger at the top, so we contented ourselves to look at the amazing cathedral (though not on par with Florence!) and take a healthy amount of corny tourist photos with the Tower.
Jonathon Farrell, son of Geoff and Sandra Farrell of Huron-Kinloss, is studying at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland this school year, through a student exchange program at Queen's University, Kingston, where he is a third-year student.
We held it up, kicked it down, punched it over, blew it back, and all manner of things until we realized there was a long line waiting behind us! So we went on our way, and found ourselves on a train back to Florence where we toured the Pitti palace, residence of the Medici in past times, and made ourselves a wonderful meal.
Then we climbed a hill and came to the Piazzale Michelangelo where we stood for a long time enjoying a view over the entire city at night, all illuminated just for us tourists to enjoy. We found ourselves back there the next day too, after a tour of the Uffizi gallery, one of the finest in Europe, which included a lot of artworks I recognized and even knew the stories behind - incredible!
And unlike the Vatican, they had the sense to hang paintings on white walls so you actually knew what to look at! That night, after our final daily gelato in Italy and a wonderful Tuscan restaurant meal, my friends boarded a train to Venice.
Travelling around Austria
My train was not until the next morning. I was not going to Venice - I was off to Salzburg, Austria. This journey, of course, took me on the most scenic trip I have ever taken through the Alps in the winter - I actually got a stiff neck from gazing upward into the mountains.
Once I arrived in Salzburg, I met up with my friend, Thomas, who I met when he stayed with us for a week over the summer. We went back to his house in the backwoods of Austria, in the village of Wildenau (which is Austria's answer to Ripley!)
The next day, I went to school with him, and sat through one class of mechanical engineering, and then one English class where I was put on show and tell, answering all kinds of questions. High school kids are the same there as at home - most of the questions were either about driving or drinking!
Through the rest of the day, we drove around in the lovely countryside which quite reminded me of Grey County. Let me say, Austrian food is wonderful! Over my visit we had schnitzel and (no idea how to spell this one) Kaisersmach, a kind of sugary bread concoction - it was excellent.
The next day we went to Salzburg where we could not find our way to the castle so we explored the personal garage of the guy who owns Red Bull which was full of fancy aeronautic toys and race cars.
That night we went to a costume ball in Aspach, near Wildenau, and I was dressed as a Canadian farmer, in my own clothes and a John Deere hat we gave Thomas while he was at our house. Not really sure what happened, but I was chatting with some people and all of a sudden there were a bunch of cheerleaders dancing to ABBA songs, something Austria just loves, and then a woman in a princess dress came out.
I was led to the front of the room along with the town council and, as far as I can tell, inducted into it which doubles as the carnival club. They kissed me on the face several times, led me here and there between cheerleaders, and then hung a medal on me, and never spoke a word of English. No one ever did explain it to me either! Whatever happened, I got a good souvenir from my Austrian ball.
Checking out Munich
The next day was a drive on the Autobahn at a leisurely 220 km/h (with a young fellow who was not nearly as good a driver as he thought he was!) to Munich. I was there overnight, in which time I managed to find my way downtown when a local gave me his tickets, where I took all kinds of pictures. Unfortunately for me, this was Sunday and everything in Germany closes on Sunday.
I just walked around outside, where it was far colder than I expected and had clothes for, so I cut my visit short and turned in early.
The next day, I flew back to Edinburgh, bussed to St. Andrews, and found my hall to be almost empty. I think there are about 20 people here now, none of whom are the ones I usually hang out with. So this week will be slow, but that is fine. I need to sleep after my grand excursion through four countries in 10 days!
Below, are the public links to some Facebook albums containing my favourite pictures from the trip:
books, sports, movies ...
Wednesday, February 02, 2011