Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Sound of Music, Salsa dancing and Sculptures

Well, I have had a lot of adventures since my last blog. So where was I? Well, I believe last post I was bored out of my brains in the middle of nowhere in Austria. I left this place refreshed and ready to take on the world and headed straight to Salzburg, the home of the Sound of Music and classical music. The city was beautiful with huge baroque buildings surrounded by mountains; I felt like I had stepped into the 18th century, or some time around there. I also found out this stage, after not using it for 3 weeks, that my bank card had expired. It seems no matter how prepared you are, things like this will always pop up. I think I need to interrupt this blog to say that I have the best mum in the world. She jumped into action straight away at home and made sure that I wasn't without cash for too long. That night I had to find somewhere to watch Holland play Uruguay, so on a recommendation from the hostel I found a huge Oktoberfest-style beer hall inside a monastery with huge steins of beer and a massive screen. I met a friendly group of Israeli guys who bought me some massive beers, and then after the fantastic game (which Holland won) we found a salsa night club. Yes, I went salsa dancing in Salzburg with some Israelis. Just another day in the world of backpacking.

The next day I did the Sound of Music tour, since everyone on Facebook told me it simply had to be done. The tour was led by a lady wearing a Julie Andrews style hill-twirling costume who took us to many places where the movie was filmed such as the huge house they lived in, the lake they fell in, the gazebo where Liesel fell in love and the gardens where they sang "Do re mi". We had a good singalong on the bus to the soundtrack and that night I watched the movie itself so I could recognise all the places. I really forgot how much I love that movie. I swear for the next week I had all the songs on repeat in my head.

Next stop was a town called Innsbruck right in the Austrian Alps. I arrived at this town and it was the first time I had arrived anywhere without pre-booking. I think it will surely be the last. Apparently there were some medical exams going on, so the whole place was booked out by students. Just my luck. So I spent 3 hours frantically calling place after place on the Internet before I finally found a rather expensive room a little out of town, but conveniently located at the foot of the alps. Relieved that I wasn't going to have to spend the night sleeping in a train station or park bench, I had a well-earnt bath and then collapsed into my large and expensive double bed. The next day I caught a cable car halfway up the mountains, then hiked to the summit. The view was well worth it. I felt on top of the world and even spotted a wild mountain goat. As I was descending, however, I went a bit off the beaten track and ended up almost rock climbing, but without the safety of a harness. There were a few hairy moments where the rocks got a bit slippery and as I watched some loose rocks fall the 600m or so down the mountain I decided it was time to go back the way I came. I don't think my travel insurance covers stupidity.

So from Innsbruck I caught a long overnight train to Rome, back to Italy, where I would be meeting up with Fi and Shelley. I was excited but completely exhausted, yet somehow I couldn't seem to get any sleep on the 10 hour train ride. Maybe it had something to do with the school and scout groups that were all over the train. But I made it to Rome and checked into a camping site about 20 minutes out from the city centre where a friend of Fi's welcomed me and I gratefully fell into a deep sleep under a tree by the pool. That night I had dinner with Katrina (Fi's friend) and her family, a good old fashioned aussie BBQ with sausages and kebabs. It was pure bliss. The next day I awoke to find that Fi and Shelley had arrived and we kept hugging because I simply couldn't believe they were really there. We caught the train into town for Fi and Shelley's first Italian meal, during which a pigeon thought it would be funny to poo on Fi's head and in our drinks. Well, they do say it's good luck. Welcome to Rome. We then did a bit of shopping, as girls tend to do when they get together, especially when every shop window is shouting "Saldi!" (sales). We threw our coins into the magnificent Trevi fountain, then we went back to laze by the pool and get ready for the World Cup final between Holland and Spain. Unfortunately it was a ridiculously boring game and the outcome was disappointing and Fi and Shelley were struggling to keep their eyes open, so we went to bed, as we had an early start in the morning to get to the Vatican.

We had a booking for 8:30 for the Vatican museum. So we left at 7:30 to catch the train. But the train had other ideas. Let me tell you a bit about public transport in Rome. They consist of rickety old trains covered in graffiti and with no air conditioning and they are usually so packed that you can't get a seat. This is an issue when every day is 40 degrees. And when the train decides to stop for 10 minutes at every stop and then even in between; which is what this train did. Everyone was looking pretty frazzled, fanning themselves and then finally someone knocked on the train driver's cabin and asked what the deal was in Italian. Only then did an announcement come over the speaker, and it mustn't have said anything reassuring because everyone groaned. I asked a man what it said and he replied "They are having technical difficulties". Well duh. So what should have been a 20 min train ride took us an hour and we didn't get to the Vatican until 9:30. Luckily our booking still held, because the queue was already about 1 kilometre long as it weaved around the city walls in the hot sun (I am not even exaggerating). I was definitely glad to pay the extra 4 euro booking fee to skip that queue. I felt a bit like VIPs getting into an exclusive club. Except that this club was full of sculptures and religious artwork and the Sistine Chapel. Amazing yet totally overwhelming.

We then went to see St Peter's Basilica and climbed the 320 steps to the top for an amazing view of Rome. The church itself was by far the most amazing I have seen, with such intricate detail in every square inch of wall and you sort of had to wonder at the decadence and power of the Catholic Church. Shelley and I got a photo with the Swiss guards who made sure we kept a healthy distance and then we decided it was time for some of the best gelati Rome had to offer. Katrina took us to a place which was so packed you couldn't even read the flavours, but it was definitely some of the best gelati I've had.

The next day Shelley and I went to see the Colosseum and Roman Forum. We got a summary of over 2000 years of Roman history in about ten minutes and we stood at the top of the Colosseum just staring at the very place where years before people watched as slaves were eaten alive by exotic animals. And I thought human kind was messed up nowadays. That night we went out for dinner with Katrina and then went out for a few drinks. We met a very interesting character as we were downing our Mojitos... he looked like he was trying to be Axl Rose from Guns n Roses and he was surely wearing more make up than the 3 of us combined. He was also generously tattooed and kept us entertained all night with his anecdotes. On the way home, I suddenly became very fluent in Italian and chatted to our taxi driver all the way home in what I thought was perfecto Italiano.

Soooo, we shopped, ate and drank our way through the Rome heat, but after 3 days, it was time to part ways with Fi and Shelley again and move on to my next destination; Naples, then the Amalfi coast. Stay tuned for more adventures... it only gets more exciting. :)

xxxxxooooo Meg