A Travellerspoint blog

The Eternal City

For me, Rome was one of those things that you try not to hype up too much in your mind for fear of being let down (like the buckeyes winning national champtionships). Well, I was wrong. There could not have been enough hype for this one.

Rome is amazing.

You want history? Overwhelming. You want awesome architecture? Plenty here. Ancient ruins? Untill your heart is content. Art? Everywhere you look. Good food? Have you ever heard of pizza or gelato? Like I said, Rome did not let me down what-so-ever.

We cruised miles a day by foot all over town, on top of the ancient Roman super highway (now called Via Cavour, and on top I mean it is paved over), around the ancient city, and the Vatican to name a few. I am happy to say that I have only eaten gelato (basically the best ice cream, ever), pizza, and some fruit from the stands for the duration of my stay.

Have you ever seen the movie 'Gladiator?' Remember the shot of Rome where the birds are flying on the morning after Maximus is captured? I could see that scene looking at the old ruins, the clouds here at sunset fit the shot perfectly. It was even quiet, being Sunday, the cars weren't allowed on the roads around Palatino hill and the Colosseum.

I sure am glad that I threw a coin in the Trevi fountian -- that means that I will make it back to Rome sometime.

Just a few shots of the Colosseum

The Pantheon, the largest ancient Roman building still intact

Michelangelo's plaza design at Campidogilo, the horse statues are about 1,900 years old!

Palatino Hill Ruins, where Romulus supposedly lived

Fontana di Trevi, the most famous fountain in Italy, flowing with the virgin water from the Roman original aquifer. It depicts Neptune and the sea (among many other things) by two horses, one is tame the other is wild. Pretty cool I thought.

In the famous Plaza Navona, the guy is fighting an octupus!

Pizza, yep I took a picture of it


Posted by foltz.45 22:26 Archived in Italy Comments (1)

Should have brought that headlamp...

hiking the Cinque Terra

We should have brought a headlamp... Thinking that we would have good light situations for pictures, we started the 12km Cinque Terra trail at 6:45pm. The sun sets at around 8:10pm these days, but we had been cranking out kilometers like it is our job lately. We probably should have thought a little harder about the situation and thrown that light in the day pack, but we have been rolling with the punches really well.


Cinque Terra is an Italian national park, consisting of 5 tiny coastal towns (Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggior) and a trail that connects them with lots of side trails along the way. We decided to take the train to Riomaggior and hike to Monterosso where we would spend the night. It is decieving to start the trail in Riomaggior, the trail is much easier on that end.


We charged the trail, stopping to capture a scene with the camera here and there arriving in Vernazza (the 4th town from our direction) right before sunset. Now, we just had to make the 5th portion of the trail back to Monterosso and dinner. The twilight faded way too fast. The first 4/5ths of the trail had taken us about 2 hours, the last fifth, in the dark, would take us another 2 hours... about that head lamp.

We are not talking about a level, solid, well lit, well marked path here. Instead we are talking about a rocky, uphill, downhill, meandering, pitch-black path. I would have failed the "being prepared" part of the Boys Scouts on this day. However, it was a good experience giving some me some good pictures and a story. There cannot be too many people that have experienced Cinque Terra having the trail lit by lightning bugs, a crescent moon, and the constilations of Orion, Cassiopea and Ursa Major among others.

Manarola, the 1st town past Riomaggiore

Corniglia, the middle town

Vernazza at sunset

Posted by foltz.45 13:20 Archived in Italy Comments (1)

The Swiss Alps


For the first time in the last 50+ days, I forgot I was travelling. There is always something that lets you know that you are on the road; the pack on your back, always checking itineraries, making reservations, finding food that isn't in the fridge, seeing new things, language and anything else that is different than the everyday things of home. Travelling is always blatently at the surface or at least part of your consciousness.

After trying to leave Spain for about a week due to the Easter holiday and train schedules, then staying a night in Milan -- which was a good place to get stuck for a day (see pics below) -- due to a workers strike on the train, we finally made it to the swiss part of the trip.

We visited the capital, Bern and made some day trips from there. Then, we found ourselves in Interlaken. It is at this time that my mind wandered from the thoughts of travelling. The smell of the alpine air, clear views of snow capped peaks, blue glacier lakes, waterfalls, evergreen trees. No city sounds; just the breeze through the trees and chirping of birds and crickets.

Switerland is flawless in what they do, cater to tourists. The Swiss are efficient -- surprising to me in Europe -- very clean, nice helpfull people. The problem... it all comes at an expensive price.

Bern skyline

Lake Luzern, crisp clean alpine air

...and agian


Where swiss cheese comes from!

This could almost be in Idaho...

Brienz in the Jungfrau area

The Swiss Alps at Brienz

Castle in Milan, like I said, it was a good place to get stuck for a day

Bam, The Duomo!

...and inside, that is a cathederal, can you here the organ music filling up the empty space?

Prayer candles

Posted by foltz.45 16:48 Archived in Switzerland Comments (0)

Basque Country

Thoughts from a Cafe

People walk by -- with their dogs, strollers, kids, significant other -- in full cold weather attire of coats, hats, and scarves. Most of the shops are closed for the Easter holiday, but there is a massive herd of people out and about, window shopping in dark windows, cigarettes lit, each person in their own world on their own path. This is the natural order of things here.

I am starving. Apparently people here don´t eat, rather they survive on their smokes, cafes, wine, and tiny snacks consisting of a piece of bread and a slice of cheese. First thing is first, coffee. Upon finally finding a cafe, I order a cup and a croissant. I am the guy in the t-shirt. It is a warm 16C, especially in the sun. The smell is a relaxing combination of those from a bakery, coffee, and the mist from the sea. The view: in the foreground, the walking herd including old men with berrets, mopeds and cars behind them, buldings and the misty hills and sea in the background. The Basque people are friendly.

We are in a pickle. When you travel on the fly, this is bound to happen sooner or later. The holiday left us stuck in north Spain a week longer than we had wanted, but what can you do? We were just happy to have aquired a place to crash during the night. We have now stayed three nights in Bilbao, three more in San Sebastian, and one more in Barcelona before we can travel out of Spain. Tonight we take the train to Milan in an effort to make it to Switzerland, but lets rewind back to that cafe.

I really like the fact that many European cities are pedestrian friendly; people here walk a lot. I especially like this because I am a man counting on my feet to take me where I am going. Did you know Americans will only walk, on average, 300 yards a day? (thanks for that fact Bill Bryson). Did I mention that people here are really thin? (lots of walking+no real food). We have probably been covering between 4 and 10 miles a day on foot. My legs are now getting a rest and my mind enjoys the caffine. I am now taking in my newest prized possession: the March issue of National Geographic magazine -- in english. It is pretty much worth its weight in gold. I take it all in, devouring the pictures and text, watch people on the crowded sidewalk, sip coffee and eat the croissant which takes the edge off the hunger. Things will work out, I am going to enjoy the moment.

Here are some pictures from the last few days of adventure, maybe not worth a 1,000 words, but still more interesting than text.

Me, fully loaded

Maundy Thursday in Bilbao

Dan in Bilbao with a little guy very interested in whats going on

Bilbao river reflection

Bilbao Basilica

Out of the mist, the Gugenheim!

San Sebastian City Hall and Statue of Jesus on Easter... trust me that is Jesus

San Sebastian hilltop Church

Basilica in San Sebastian

Horsemen statue

Flying a kite in front of the Palace in San Sebastian, this guy was getting dragged around on the sand

North Spain Coastline, the conditions are just never perfect for good pictures it seems

Dan photographing the north coast... this is pretty much what we do

San Sebastian Sunset, yep I will take that picture

Posted by foltz.45 17:27 Archived in Spain Comments (1)

Madrid for a day

Running on Empty? Filler up with the high test!

About that cup of coffee... just the smell would return some strength to my stretched-to-the-breaking-point, taught, internal string I mentioned earlier. Hot, bitter, black, caffinated goodness. There is a running dialogue between some friends and I that coffee is basically the nectar of the gods.

Upon finding a novel while hiking, Bill Bryson (in his book "A walk in the woods") was delighted and sublimely gratified saying, "if there is one thing the (Appalachian Train) teaches, it is low-level ecstasy -- something we could all do with more of in our lives." I always try to enjoy the little things in life myself, not always with success. When travelling with a backpack, it is exponentially easier to enjoy such things. When before these moments are taken in with a quick good feeling and a smile or missed all together, you now grasp them with an embrace like a bear hug... I mean you run up to it like you are finishing a marathon, collapse at the line and almost break into tears you are so full of joy.

We found ourselves, out of the drizzling rain, at a coffee shop, ordered the largest grande cup of coffee, and sunk into beautifully cushy lounge chairs on the second floor. I mean, I ran ran up to that finish line and collapsed into that chair. Having a cup of coffee and sitting in that soft armchair was indescribable, just an overload of the comfort senses. How can you reach this level of ecstasy during the daily grind? Not sure if you can.

On top of our extreem enjoyment, we met a man from Seattle also enjoying a cup of coffee (starbucks, how ironic). We had no plan or intention other than to do some serious marinating in those chairs for a long period of time (it had already been a chunk of time). However, unknown to us at the time, we were about to begin an enjoyable long day.

Joel, our new english speaking friend (if you speak english in a foreign land, you are automatically befriended), is a world traveller and free lance writer who was laid over in Madrid on his way to India. We were contemplating things to do for the next twelve hours until our train left for Bilbao and decided to see a museum that Joel had visited some years back.

The Museo del Prado, among the thousands of art pieces, has a room containing the "Garden of Earthly Delights" painted by Bosch and several works by Patinir that are just as impressive. I stood and took in Bosch´s work for more than 20 minutes in awe of the complexity and imagination it must have taken to create such a painting. The Flemmish painters room alone was worth the admission. I could have been there for several more hours if I didn´t finally give in to the physical demands from the knees down and the rumbling in my stomach.

Our trio proceeded to chat about everything from photography and art to politics to travel while we sought a place to have a late lunch. After lunch we decided to visit the M.C. Escher special exibit which happened to be in town. By metro and foot, my feet still more or less in shambles and legs on the verge of cramping, we found the exibit.

Escher has been a favorite artist of mine for a while, his trendy works used to hang in poster form on my old apartment walls. Seeing the progression of his work in its entirety was mind boggling. You stare at them utterly amazed. Each one a perfect presentation of lines and contrast, most of them in simple black and white. It is beyond comprehesion how someone could create art like he does. As he progressed with his form, his works play tricks on your mind. You stare as long as you can while he holds you captive making you walk a wire between elation and losing your mind. You just cannot make the leap to understanding but are fascinated.

Some art is considered by art critics to be great. I can appreciate this and most art in some way. Between the Flemmish room in Prado and the Escher exibit, I was completely captivated and in awe. I forgot for a few gracious moments how little sleep I was running on... how my boots had not been off my feet in the better part of two days... how I still had to get back on the train that night... I have no words to describe how amazing those art works for me, they enticed my imagination and mind.

Madrid was a great stop. Starting out as a wreck, pulling the pieces together (the mind is a powerfull thing... thanks also to the coffee), meeting a new friend that shares the wanderlust, enjoying interesting conversation, seeing two art exibits that now top my list, and getting on the next train to Bilbao-- all in less than a day. Some days are just better than others.

Posted by foltz.45 22:53 Archived in Spain Comments (2)

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