Friday, October 20, 2006

i just got back from a week traveling around italy, and it is now my new favorite place in the world.
we started out in rome and saw all the typical tourist sights, but we spent the first day at the beach, which was so great. we rented chairs and just laid out there for about three hours, and i got one of my books for class finished.


we couldn never really decide the name of this beach, but it was pretty, and there were quite a few topless people. i dont think i could ever get used to that.

we found this one gelato place that was amazing, and we went there every night. we also had the BEST tiramisu in the world at this one little place. italian food is one of my faves and rome did not disappoint.


the colosseum at night.


more colosseum.


our first dining experience in rome. we were sort of lost, and walked by this place and it looked good so we went in and it was.


me and g inside the colosseum. the maze like thing behind us is where the people and animals were kept before they were brought out to fight. there was a wooden flooring over it, but it was burned up or collapsed or something along time ago.


a better view of the inside. you can see where they built part of the flooring so you could see what it used to be like. it could hold 50,000 people and within the first 100 days of it's opening, 5000 wild animals were killed


these guys dressed up like gladiators, or maybe centurions, were walking around all over the place, trying to get people to pay to take pictures with them, but i was sneaky and got one from above. ha.


looks like sing song is a much older tradition than we thought, even the ancient romans had a sing song stage.


im pretty sure there was a lion in here at some point.


some ruins of the ancient city.


katie, me and kristin with the city behind us. the big white building with the statues on top is HUGE and was built for one of those world exhibitions. too bad the leveled parts of the ancient city to build it.


the pantheon. it was first used as a temple to seven different gods, but since the 7th century its been used as a basilica for the catholic church. the roof was the coolest part because it is this huge dome, but its not supported by arches, vaulting or ribs. i couldnt get a very good picture of it, because it was so big. the artist rafael is buried there.


a not very good picture of the trevi fountain. there were people everywhere, so we just sat for a while and people watched. we saw a lady with some sort of stick contraption getting money out of the fountain,and then a police woman came and followed her around. it was pretty funny.


the spanish steps, also covered with tons of people. we sat there for a while, but didnt climb them.

on friday, we went to the vatican and waited in this huge long line to get into the vatican museum. it took about an hour, and when we got in, we looked around for a while,saw a mummy, which was sick. then we set off to find the sistine chapel, and it felt like we were going through a maze. when we finally got there, it was super crowded and of course most of what you're supposed to look at is on the ceiling, so my neck started to hurt after a while. it was very beautiful though, but i wish i could just go in there and lay on the floor and see it. when we got out of the chapel, we were sick of looking at art so we left to go find a place to eat. then we went to st peter's basilica, which is where peter is supposed to be buried. we waited in line for a long time, then realized that it was for something that we didnt want to do so we got out and walked around in the tombs of the popes. then we went into the basilica and that was crazy. ive never seen something so grandly decorated in my whole life. there were paintings and statues everywhere, and it was HUGE! we kept trying to follow tour guides that spoke english, and one fact i picked up was that the building is absolutely the biggest it could possibly be, otherwise it wouldnt be able to stand. also there are dead popes in glass cases in different places throughout the basilica. they sorta look like statues laying down, but they really are the remains of the popes, it was a little weird to me.

the next day we caught a train to cinque terre, which are five little towns on these hills next to the mediterranean sea. it was gorgeous, and we stayed in this amazingly clean and nice hostel. it was in this tiny little town, that only had one restaurant and one little grocery store in it. the restaurant turned out to be really good and we had dinner both nights with some australians and new zealanders from our hostel.


this is the view out of our window. i decided that this is my new vacation spot- who needs ruidoso?

the next day we took a bus to the first of the five towns- riomaggiore. we did a little shopping and then walked to the next town. between the first two, there is a paved walkway and its real easy. the next one was a little more difficult and from then on we just took the train. the towns were all so cute,and i went a little crazy on the shopping. i had the best,or maybe second best pizza of my life- cheese pizza with pesto. so good. at the last town we sat on the beach for a little while.


the jetty in riomaggiore.




you can see the trail we walked on in this one, and the water was soo blue!


someone caught a shark in the second town, manarola


this is one of the towns, i think riomaggiore.


i just like this one.


we climbed down these stairs to get to this big rock that we sat on for a while.


me on the big rock.


the beach in monterosso.


the sunset we saw on our train ride back to the hostel. we were all scrambling to get good pictures of it everytime the train stopped. once we got to train station, we discovered that we had missed the last bus to the hostel, so we had to wait about an hour for taxis to come get us. it was quite an experience, but we got to hang out with the aussies and new zealanders, so it was fun.

i took a ton more pictures, but most of them look a lot alike. it was soo beautiful though and if any of you ever go to italy, i definitely recommend going to cinque terre. i wish we could've spent a few more days there.

next on our trip was venice, and it was amazing too. i cant really pick between cinque terre and venice as to which was my favorite bc cinque terre was soo beautiful, but venice is just a cool place. we actually got to stay in a hotel there and that was soo nice. we had a lot of great food and found a lot of cute stores, and i went a bit crazy with the shopping there too. we didnt really do too much except walk around, shop, eat and ride on the boats. gondolas are like 90 bucks so we opted to use the public transportaion boats.


the grand canal. you can see one of the boats like what we road around on. they even have little boat taxis.




one of the canals.


more gondolas.


me and dre on the ponte rialto, one of three bridges that goes over the grand canal.


turns out freckles made his way to Venice. lucky.


more gondolas. I love black and white pictures.


I also love sepia.


we love trying to take pictures of all four of us, this was on our last boat ride.

we are back in school for about a week before our next break-im going to scotland! we also found out that we have another break between now and thanksgiving, so im going to try and make it to ireland. my family is coming over thanksgiving and we're going to florence for a few days and im pretty pumped about that. it's pretty hard to do school when the real reason i came here was to travel, but its not too bad. hope all is well with all of you! much love!

Thursday, October 05, 2006

i have a five page paper on gothic and norman architecture due tomorrow at midnight, but why would i do that when i could put up pictures from france?

we left bright and early on saturday morning, took the chunnel to Paris, and spent the rest of that day and sunday there. just a little ways from our hostel was Notre Dame, so headed over and ate lunch at this little outdoor cafe right next to the cathedral. travel tip number one, dont eat close to major tourist attractions. I paid almost 20 dollars for a ham and cheese sandwich and bottled water. we spent most of that afternoon wondering around trying to make our way to the eiffel tower, where we were going to meet for our Fat Tire Bike Tour that night. We made it to the Louvre, but just the outside, and walked along the Sein River. you would think that as much as the eiffel tower sticks out, it would be really easy to find, but its just not. the bike tour started at 7 and just as we were getting ready to head out, it started raining. they sold these little plastic rain ponchos, but those turned out be completely ineffective becauset the hood would just blow off as soon as you started riding. it rained the entire time we were on the tour, and for a while it was really pouring. it was still a lot of fun, but we weren't able to hear as much of the details about what we were seeing. A few things I did learn- Notre Dame was abandoned as a church during the French Revoution because religion became really unpopular. They turned it into a marketplace and even had animals in at one point. Then victor hugo wrote the hunchback of notre dame, and people started to take interest in it again, and decided to clean it up. It was recently cleaned using lasers, and you can see the highest parts that havent been cleaned yet and are black with dirt and pollution. I was amazed by the fact that buildings could be cleaned using a laser. The Louvre is 3 miles to walk around the outside, and to walk around the inside its 8 miles. im not sure how that math adds up, but thats what our tour guide told us. Kings used to live in the Louvre and i think Napoleon also did at one point. I really dont remember much about the bike tour, except that it was cold and wet, but fun.


this is our first view of the eiffel tower, and that is the sain(sein?) river


the girls in front of notre dame


the front of notre dame


me and the eiffel tower. part of our bike tour was a ride on this big boat down the sein, and we got a great view of the tower.


katie,dre and me on the boat. they made us wear those reflective vests, very cool.

The next day we went to mass at Notre Dame. I've never been to a catholic service, so it was just completely different than anything i've ever experienced, and add to that the fact that it was in french and latin. after that we went to the latin quarter, which is not a latino area of paris, as i thought, but a place in the city where they used to speak latin. we walked down this little street with all these shops and restaurants on it and ended up at this market. me and dre really wanted to eat some authentic french food, so we went to one of the restaurants and ordered roclette. its slices of cheese that they serve with meat and potatoes and bread. they give you this little grill thing to put the cheese on to melt it and then when its all melted you pour it over everything else. it was SO good. then we got crepes-nutella and banana- and headed off to the Louvre.


dre and i at the french restaurant


my favorite french food- pain au chocolat- a croissant with chocolate in it. so good.

the louvre was pretty spectacular. it used to be a palace, so of course the inside is really pretty and then there is all the artwork as well. we saw the mona lisa, which was small. i know that it is one of the most famous paintings in the world, but its still small. i was much more impressed by the wedding at cana, which shows the wedding where Jesus turned water into wine. its gigantic,like as big as a wall in my house, and the people were all life-sized and there were a lot more of them. we also saw the Virgin on the Rocks, also by da Vinci. it was more interesting than a lot of the others because one of the girls i was with knew the story behind it- some nuns asked da Vinci to do a painting with Jesus, John the Baptist, Mary and a certain angel or saint. Well he comes up with this painting that is terrible to the nuns, because all of the symbolism in it is really offensive. Baby John is blessing baby Jesus, Mary has this sick claw looking hand that is positioned to where it could be palming Jesus' head and then the saint/angel is holding out her finger so that if mary were holding Jesus it would be going across his throat as if she were slitting it. and the background was really dark and gloomy, and rocky. the nuns were horrified and made him do another painting. i like art, and im glad that i went to the louvre, but i couldnt walk around for hours looking at paintings. another thing we saw was hamurabbi's code, the first laws to be written down.


the inverted pyramid at the louvre.


hamurabi's code, there is writing all over it, even on the back side.


something that napoleon had built outside the louvre.

after the louvre we walked down the Champs Elysses, which is like the rodeo drive of paris. we saw the original louie vuitton store, and the original sephora and at the end of that street is the Arc de Triumph. It was built by Napoleon to celebrate a military victory.


arc de triumph

after a strange dinner at our hostel that night, we went to find Camille's, a restaurant that katie's guidbook called "blowtorch heaven" because of its creme brulee. it was my first time to try it and camille did not disappoint. it was so good. next we headed back to the eiffel tower to try and go up to the top. we didnt think we would make it on time,but we were able to go to the second level, which was great.


all lit up


dre, g, katie and me on the tower. i was expecting the view to be like the view from hancock tower in chicago, but there just arent that many tall buildings in paris, so it was a lot different. not as many lights to take pictures of, but still beautiful.

monday morning, we get up early and ride a bus to Caen to a WWII memorial museum. i was sick and exhausted, so that day is a bit of a blur, but we did watch this movie that took old film from both sides of the war and played them side by side, so you could see what was happening on the allies side, and on the axis side. after the museum we went to Bayeux, to see this tapestry which tells the story of the Norman invasion of England. it is really really old, and 70 meters long. it was pretty neat to see something that has survived so long. we also went to see a cathedral in bayeux, which i am supposed to be writing my paper about. the hostel that we stayed in would have been THE greatest place ever to have a youth retreat. it had this big field next to it, and an obstable course, and all the rooms were decorated in disney movies. ours was little mermaid, and the other two were peter pan and the three little pigs. it was crazy.


our little mermaid room. i loved this place, but a lot of people got creeped out by it. they also served as pretty amazing breakfast of croissants and baquettes and cheese and nutella.mmmm.


this random teepee set up oustide the hostel. needless to say, i felt right at home in it.

on tuesday, we went on a d-day tour with this amazing guy named dale. he's british, but he lives in france and gives these tours through a company called battlebus. it was really incredible. he knew so much information, a lot of it that researched and found out himself through interviews with veterans and you could tell that he just loved what he was doing. this was by far my favorite part of the trip, and it was really just a moving day. sooo much information that he told us, and of course i want to put it all on here, but really would take forever. so im just going to put a lot of pictures and try and explain some of the more interesting things that he told us.


ok this shows a pretty good view of a field where paratroopers were dropped. this want meant to be their target, but for a lot of different reasons, a lot of paratroopers ended up in the wrong place. there is a small river, la merderet, running through it and the germans flooded all of these fields by closing up locks. so these fields were covered in 5-6 feet of water, and when the men landed they had really heavy packs on,and werent expecting water deep than 2 or 3 feet,so a lot of them drowned as soon as the landed. there were some men who landed on the high ground that you see on the right and they had to listen to the cries of the men in the water and werent able to do anything.


this is the bridge that is shown in the last scene of saving private ryan. the movie mixes a few different stories together, so the bridge isnt actually in the middle of a town like in the movie. dale told us some pretty amazing stories about the battle to capture and defend that was one of the main roads in that area, and leads down to the beach,so if the americans werent able to hold the bridge,the troops landing on the beaches would have no way of getting further inland.


if you have ever seen the movie "the longest day", this is the church where the paratrooper gets stuck on one of the spires. the paratroopers in his stick(thats what they call the group of men that can fit in one plane) were dropped way way earlier than they were supposed to be and happened to land right in the middle of a town square, at just about the worst time imaginable. one of the houses right by the square had caught on fire, so the whole town was awake trying to put out the flames along with a lot of german soldiers. so they see these paratroopers starting to come down,and they just open fire on them before they land. but this guy and one other get stuck on the roof of the church,and end up surviving.the guy thats shown in the movie was hanging right next to the bell tour, and went temporarily deaf during the whole ordeal because the bell was ringing so close to his head. he didnt realize it until after he was taken down by germans, because he had been so stressed and had such an adrenaline rush. the other guy who landed on the roof went about twenty years with a broken back,and when he finally went to the doctor the doctor asked if he had ever experienced a sudden impact and he said well there was this one time in the war...


this is a little church in small village of about 50 people. because of its location, it fell under attack from both sides, and it changed hands between americans and germans three times in two and half days. there were two american medics who spent the two and a half days in the church caring for 81 men, including 7 germans. they were able to save all but two of their patients, and there are two stained glass windows that members of the church have paid to have put in there.


utah beach.


dale didnt tell us any information about utah, but from what i understand it was pretty easily captured. definitely not as bad as omaha.


me and g at utah beach

after utah beach, we went point du hoc, which is in between utah and omaha beach. there were 2 or 3 german bunkers and they believed there were 5 long range guns that could be pointed at either of the beaches and could do a lot of damage. a team of rangers was sent to take out the guns and secure the road that run up to the point. to get to the bunkers, they had to climb a 100 foot cliff, and some of them did it pretty much bare handed. so they were supposed to reach the point right after it was bombed by planes, so that when they got to the top, the germans would still be in their bunkers and they would be able to sneak up on them. a strong tide pulled them off course, so they arrived about 45 minutes late,and by then the germans were all coming out of the bunkers and began to shoot at them, and were waiting for them at the top. once they had been fighting for a while, they discovered that the guns they thought were there were actually telephone poles, so they had to go and find the guns, which they did and they were able to disable them. the most amazing part of point du hoc to me was the landscape. dale told us that the ground used to be relatively flat but now its completely "moonscaped" because of all the bombs that were dropped on it. hopefull you can tell by the pictures how uneven and deep some of the craters are.



the big chunks of concrete are from the german bunkers and they are thousands of tons each. they are scattered all over the landscape because the bunker was blown up and these huge pieces went flying through the air. imagine having to watch out for that, on top of bullets all over the place.


you can tell just how even the terrain is, and its all because of the bombing.


me and dre inside the bunker. i dont know if this is where a big gun would have gone, or if there would have been a man with a gun standing in here.


check that out, those cliffs pretty much go straight up.


this is janine, my 2nd cousin and teacher of my Christian Worship class, which i love!

after point du hoc, we went to omaha beach. i wont even try to tell all the information that dale gave us there, but it was a huge massacre. the germans were waiting for us and had the best possible angle in a bluff above the beach. they had between 8 and 12 guns that could fire over 1000 shells a minute pointing straight down at the beach.. there was supposed to be a large aerial bombardment before the invasion, but because of fog, the pilots dropped the bombs in the wrong spot, so the Germans were completely untouched and omaha beach had the worst pre-invasion bombardment of any of the invasion beaches. There are 2 or 3 roads running through the bluff off of the beach, and that is the only way off the beach. so of course those are the most heavily guarded and that is where we attacked with the most force. The attack started at 6:00 in the morning, i think, and the first wave was almost completely wiped out in 20 minutes. one of the biggest problems was the beach itself. they didnt know before, but the beach undulated so there were spots that were deeper than others,and then also there were crators made by the misdirected bombs. so they were expecting the water to be 2 or 3 feet deep, and when they stepped off the boat, it turned out to be 5-7 feet in some places, and with their heavy packs they just sank to the bottom. some of them were able to get their packs off, but a lot drowned before they could even fire a shot. the commanders back at the big ships didnt know what was going on at the beach, that it was a massacre, because so many of the men died that no one radioed back to them, so they just kept sending wave after wave every thirty minutes or so.


omaha beach.

The town of Bedford Virginia had atleast 20 boys, maybe as high as 30, that were all in the same company, and many of them were in the first waves at Omaha. Every one of them died, and the town sent a letter to the military asking for news because so many of their boys were fighting and they hadn't heard anything. someone sent them a letter saying something like we think casualties are low. and then later they had to send them letters saying that their sons were dead. i never knew this before, but a lot of the boys fighting really were boys, some as young as 17 but most between 18 and 20. i kept thinking about bryan the whole day and how i just couldnt even imagine him being in that sort of situation. it was really horrible to think about.


you can see how the undulations in the beach causes these little riverlets, and dale said that later that day and the day after the riverlets ran red from all the blood.
it was really unbelievable to stand on that beach and hear about all the men that had died there 62 years ago. This quote is from one of the official reports from the military "within 10 minutes of the ramps being lowered, [the leading] company had become inert, leaderless and almost incapable of action. Every officer and sergeant had been killed or wounded... It had become a struggle for survival and rescue" All in all i think the number of casualties was 3000, in one day alone.

After omaha beach, we went to the American Cemetary which is on top of the bluff overlooking omaha. there are almost 9500 people buried in the cemetary, and it is amazingly symmetrical. there's a large wall with the names of those who bodies werent found or identified and there are 307 graves that have no name on them. buried in the cemetary are the brothers whose story "saving private ryan" was based on, except their name was Niland and the story wasnt exactly the same. When the military figured out that three brothers had died and there was a fourth one still fighting, they tried to find him and got papers ready for him to be discharged,but by the time all that happened, his unit was already being sent home.


this is the view from the top of the bluff, overlooking omaha. it seems like a pretty good distance down to the beach to me,but i guess with a powerful scope and a machine gun, i can see how easy it would be to sit up there at the top and just pick off the invading troops.


the front two crosses mark the graves of the niland brothers. you can kinda tell from this picture how the crosses are lined up in every direction. it must have been really tough to get them all arranged like that.

the tour was definitely the best part of the france trip for me, because it was really interesting and i learned a lot, but also it had such an impact on me. i never had really thought about war that much, and of course i knew that its terrible and everthing, but it just seems like i know it more on a personal level, and all i did was just walk around and see the places where all this history happened 62 years ago, i definitely can now say that i am whole-heartedly against war, under almost any circumstances.

on Wednesday we went to mont st michel. which is this island sort of thing that has this really old abbey on top of it. twhen they tide goes down, the island is surrounded by quick sand. we spend a few hours there looking around and then headed to this small town called Dinan. it was a lot like the town in beauty and the beast. we got our last real french crepes and did a little bit of shopping, then we flew home.


mont st michel

i am leaving for italy this coming wednesday and ill be gone for a going to rome,cinque terre and venice, and ill try to post sooner after i get back than i did this time.
here is a quote from "the problem of pain", by C.S. Lewis, which i had to read for my intro to philosophy class. he has a lot of good things to say (obvisouly, he's C.S. Lewis) but he is quite difficult to read.
"it is a poor thing to strike our colours to God when the ship is going down under us; a poor thing to come to Him as a last resort, to offer up "our own" when it is no longer worth keeping. If God were proud He would hardly have us on such terms; but He is not proud, He stoops to conquer, He will have us even though we have shown that we prefer everything else to Him and come to Him beacuse there is 'nothing better' now to be is hardly complementary to God that we should choose HIm as an alternative to hell; yet even this He accepts"

thanks for reading!