Sunday, 17 July 2011

A quick one from Morocco 16.7.11

Hey, it’s me again already….
I arrived safely in Morocco and am in a lovely Hotel (with free internet).  After walking around the streets outside, I am thinking this Hotel is one of the loveliest, friendliest and safest places to be (when one is still on their own in Casablanca), so I thought I would send a very quick email to pass the time until I meet with my tour group at 6pm tonight. 
Plus I had a little story to share, and couldn’t wait two weeks to tell you.  I got up at 4am this morning as I wanted to make sure I had plenty of time to catch the 5.30am Metro into the main Train Station (Termini) in Rome, to then catch the 6.23am train out to the Airport (takes 30 minutes).  My flight to Morocco left at 9am and I was told to be there 2 hours early.  If all went as planned I would have been there by 6.53am.  I had gone to the Termini Train Station yesterday to check which platform the Airport Train left from and where I could buy a ticket, and I really couldn’t have been more organized.
Well, all started off as planned.  I made it into the Termini Train Station and bought my ticket and was proudly smiling to myself thinking how proud Melinda would be of me if she could see me now.  When we travelled together 2 years ago, I just followed her around and now here I was the seasoned traveler!!!
I walked to platform 28 and the train was already waiting there.  That is often the case, so I confidently jumped on, secured myself a good seat so that I could have my suitcase beside me, and relaxed in preparation for my journey to the Airport.  I thought I would make good use of the half an hour trip and started writing in my travel diary, and we departed shortly after.
We travelled along and stopped a few times at various stations to collect passengers. I did have a fleeting thought that maybe I should confirm with someone that this was in fact the Airport train (as I had thought it was meant to be an express train), but I immediately dismissed the thought, and guessed they must have factored the stops into the half an hour train trip.  I was very impressed by the small amount of luggage that these people travelled with…for people that were supposed to be catching the Airport train???  Shortly after, I again wondered whether perhaps I should just confirm with someone that this train was going to the Airport.  But then this evil little voice in my head replied, “Don’t be silly.  How embarrassing to ask.  Of course this is the right train.  How could you possibly have got on the wrong train?”
So I continued on writing in my diary as more people got off and on the train. I then started to look at the watch and think, hhmm, still no airport, maybe the train is running a little late.  It is Italy after all.  I then put my travel diary away and looked out the window and started to see lovely bales of hay in the fields alongside the train tracks.  Hhhmm, wow, the Airport must be on the real outskirts of the city??  Okay, I now look at my watch again and finally decide I should have been at the airport 10 minutes ago. In all honesty, I was in total denial and just didn’t want to face what was becoming glaringly obvious to me – I was on the WRONG train!!!!
I finally summed up the courage to ask the guy who had just got on the train and sat in front of me. “Umm, excuse me, but is this train going to the Airport?” And then the words I just didn’t want to hear – “No, No, this train is going to Pisa!!”
A hot flush overcame me for a few seconds and I let out an “Oh F#@k.  I am supposed to be going to the Airport”.  A day at Pisa would have been lovely “ANY OTHER DAY”, but perhaps not today!!!  The lovely guy (and the other guy across the aisle who also heard) then explained that if I got off the train at the next stop I could catch a train back to a particular station and then catch another train to go to the Airport from there. 
So I grabbed my luggage, got off at the next train station ‘Saint Mariella’ (or something like that) and raced into the shop at the station and begged for a taxi to be called.  It sounded like a safer option than catching 2 more trains.  God only knows where I would have ended up then!  When I explained the urgency, he rang the local taxi guy who was still in bed.  At 7.25am the taxi driver turned up.  When I asked him how long it would take to get to the airport he said 40 or 50 minutes!!  This time the blood drained from my face!!  I then explained my predicament and desperate need to get to the Airport as quick as possible and I saw the excitement on his face!!  We flew along the highway, breaking every speed limit and made it in 30 minutes!!! It was worth every cent of the small fortune I had to pay! 
 I then raced into the terminal, got through check in, walked through the baggage scan thingy, got through passport control, walked for miles to find the right boarding area (Rome Airport is like a small City), and made it just as people were lining up to board the plane!!! OMG…what a relief!!!  I even had a second to spare to ring Mum as I was lining up.
A few lessons now learnt:
1.     Pay attention to the signs – like the really big display signs at the train station which tell you what train to board for your intended destination.
2.     If you get a niggling feeling you are on the wrong train, you probably are!!!  Don’t listen to that evil inner voice that makes you travel for another half an hour before checking!!!
3.     The Airport Train IS an express train and does not stop to pick up passengers along the way.  Especially ones with no luggage!
4.     Arriving late saves you money as you then don’t have any time to shop at the Duty Free shops??
5.     Yes, there are nice paddocks of sunflowers and bales of hay that you can view on the train ride between Rome and Pisa….but they are nowhere near the Airport!!!
6.     When it is finally time to fly home to Cairns, catch a taxi from the B&B straight to the Airport!!!
The flight was only three hours and seemed to go very quickly.  But I thought it was quite strange, when we landed in Morocco more than half the people on the plane all let out a big cheer and started clapping.  What the?  Did they not expect to land safely???
Back again...Okay, it is now 10pm.  I have met my new tour group and have not long returned to my room after having dinner with them.  At this stage there are only 7 of us on the tour.  Was supposed to be eight, but one lady was a no-show at the Airport today. Hhhmmm, wonder if she is in Pisa???  And can you believe we are all from Australia.  Jill & Brian from Torquay, Victoria; Jemma from Wollongong; Debbie from Sydney; Neville & Fiona from Hughenden and me!!  Everyone seems lovely, so I can’t wait to get started tomorrow morning.  And on that note, it is time to head to bed.
Cheers from Casablanca,
Love joy xxx

Friday, 15 July 2011

Buon Giorno 14.07.11

Buon giorno,
Gosh, the time is just flying by!!!  I can’t believe a week in Venice and 6 days in Monza (just outside Milan) could go by so quickly!!  And the God’s were definitely on my side when it came to the weather.  It sprinkled rain one morning in Venice and one day in Monza and the rest of the time was glorious sunshine.  Both cities have summer weather very similar to Cairns spring weather, so I felt right at home (all inclusive of a few days of working up quite a sweat while walking around in the sun). 
Have I said how much I love Venice!!!  I have previously described Venice as having a maze of narrow streets, canals, and countless little bridges.  Well, each morning I would walk out of my apartment into a small narrow street, turn right and then walk down another long narrow street (now lined with shops on either side) then turn left and the street opened to a small piazza with more pretty shops & eatery’s and a few park benches. I would walk through the piazza, go right, walk through several more narrow streets, before the street opened to a huge piazza where there were even more very pretty shops, larger outdoor dining venues, and a Church. This then led to a wider street alongside a canal and a bridge to cross the canal.  I crossed the bridge and……Read that paragraph over and over and over and over and over again and you will get a good image of walking around the streets of Venice!!!
Due to my questionable sense of direction, if I liked something in a particular shop I was simply forced to purchase it for fear of never finding it again!!!  It was probably lucky for my credit card that I was somewhat distracted by the coloured buildings (and their decaying fa├žade which gave them their unique appearance), their amazing reflections in the canals, and the never ending stream of gondolas floating down the canals. 
Gosh, please don’t ask how many photos I have taken. If you feel that you need to see 152 different angles of a Gondola, please let me know as I am sure I can assist?? As for coloured buildings, let’s not even go there!!!  Especially as I spent 6 hours on Burano Island which is renowned for its coloured buildings and reflections!!!  Even I was shaking my head when I was looking back over my photos (in between yawns). Put a camera in my hand and I’m sure I become possessed!!!

Even my landlady Linda was shaking her head each night when she would see me downloading all my photos.  However, she fed my obsession by giving me directions to a lovely street called ‘Via Garibaldi’. This time, all the narrow streets that led off from this main street had washing hanging out on clothes lines which were strung across the street. Apparently they do this specifically for dedicated photographers like me to take photos…so obviously I had to oblige.  One local who was walking past me clearly must have seen the excitement on my face because she stopped and dragged me around to her street which she said was even better!!!  Can you imagine a visitor from overseas coming over to your house and getting excited when they walked outside and saw your laundered clothes hanging from your clothes hoist….hard to believe it is a tourist attraction…but really it is!!!  I have another 152 photos to prove it!!!

My landlady also reminded me that Venice was only an hour’s train ride away from ‘Verona’…home of Romeo and Juliet!!!  So, of course I had to go there for the day; along with thousands of other tourists looking for romance?  So, off we all went in search of Juliet’s house and the famous balcony!!  Remember the balcony.…Romeo, Romeo, where for art thou Romeo??? Don’t worry when I found it; I did stop short of screaming from Juliet’s balcony, “Donatello, Donatello, where the bloody hell are ya?? I thought best not scare the other tourists!!!
 Inside the courtyard of Juliet’s house there was also a bronze statue of Juliet with a very polished right breast.  Apparently it was good luck (for finding love) to touch this right breast.  Who starts these traditions???  Only in Italy I say!!!! But, who was I to go against tradition?  I, along with many grinning males, copped a feel of her breast. 

You also have the opportunity to send a letter to Juliet about your search for love and somebody actually replies to you.  And now with the advancement of technology, they actually have computers set up in one of Juliet’s rooms so that you can email Juliet as well as pop a letter into her mail box.  I may have inadvertently sent an email…….Hey, they also made a movie about this one.  It was called “Letters to Juliet”.  Very cute movie if you haven’t yet seen it.  And this movie has a very happy ending J.
Even the walls at the entrance to the courtyard were covered with marker pen (Graffiti) declaring endless love. Hhmm, apart from one that said “Me Bitch”, which I’m sure, was written in an endearing way??? There were also love hearts and names on band-aids, gum, sticky notes, padlocks,…anything that could be attached to the walls and gates.  There were men, women and children everywhere leaving messages of love.  The name “Donatello” may have also made it onto a (clean) band-aid and somehow became attached to the wall.  I mean…..who carries a marker pen while on holidays???  Okay, Okay, I got caught up in the moment……

And again I was blessed to have made a new friend in Venice.  I was on ‘Via Garibaldi’ taking photos when a lady walked up to me and kindly asked if I wanted her to take a photo of me (using my camera).  I said yes, and she did.  She then said that she had an hour spare as she was waiting for her husband and daughter (who were looking through a museum) and did I want her to walk with me to other locations where she could take more photos of me!!!  My initial reaction was “Oh my God is she a crazy stalker or can she really be this nice?”  Well, fortunately for me, Adriana was really that nice!!!  We ended up going for a bit of a walk (to take a couple more photos of me) and then sitting down and chatting for the whole hour while she waited for her family.  She was from Prague in Czech Republic, which was a place that had been highly recommended to me as photographers dream to visit (No…I haven’t taken enough photos!!!!).  So, we swapped email addresses and later that night she sent me a message offering for me to stay with her family for a few days and they would show me around Prague!!!  I just couldn’t believe my luck!!!
That same day, I also received an email from Melinda’s friend Ros (who will be travelling with us around Eastern Europe) to say that she was going to Prague for a few days before meeting up with Melinda in Vienna on the 16th of August.  SSSooooo, guess who is now going to Prague!!!!!  I decided it would be easier to stay with Ros for those few nights and then Ros and I will travel together to Vienna.  However, I have arranged to catch up with Adriana while I am there to obtain a local’s point of view of the city.  How exciting!!!
And then before I even blinked, the week was over and I was heading back across the canal in a Vaporetto (water bus) towards the Venice Train Station…and off I went to Monza to visit my next lot of relations.  This time they were cousins on my Father’s side of the family, who I was again meeting for the very first time.  And a big yes, the Princess re-emerged and found herself a new castle!!!!
Oh my God…they were amazing!!!! Imelda and Luigi (78 & 79 years) could not do enough for me!!  Again I was told to treat their home as if it was mine.  I was offered food and cups of tea every 5 minutes; provided with three course meals for lunch AND dinner; had my clothes washed and ironed, and all the while not being allowed to lift a finger to help.  One afternoon I was sitting on the couch with my feet up, reading a book (after just having finished a cup of tea) and Imelda asked if the ‘Principessa’ (Italian for Princess) wanted anything else.  A crown would have been nice???
They also had an apartment in a gorgeous town called Barzio up in the mountains, so we went there for the weekend.  Was wonderful!!!  Luigi and I took a gondola up to the top of the mountain and went for a lovely walk and then that afternoon Imelda and I went for a walk around the city centre.  We walked into her favourite funky jewellery store and she MADE me pick out an item that she wanted to buy for me so that I could remember her when I wore it!!!!  So I am now the proud owner of a new silver necklace with two flower pendants!!!
But wait, there’s more….they used to own a store (which sold clothing, lingerie etc) and it is now run by her son Maurizio.  So, we dropped into the store so I could meet Maurizio and see the store.  While she was showing me around, we walked past some lovely bra’s in one of the display cabinets.  I may have lingered in front of one particular bra for a second too long because before I knew it, she was sizing me up and I was in the dressing room trying it on!!  The lovely Italian bra (AND matching panties) soon became another gift by which I could remember her.  Although, hopefully not quite at that moment that I am showing them off to Donatello??? Oh, I also scored pretty blue top as well………….. Imelda only has the one child.  However, if I had stayed any longer, she may have just found a daughter!!! Oopps, sorry Mum, but you already have two others….
And Nnoooo, the gifts don’t stop there.  When I was invited over for lunch at their son and daughter-in-law’s house, they also felt the need to shower me with gifts!  They gave me a lovely trendy little bag which is shaped like a flower.   Just gorgeous!  Loreedana (the daughter-in-law) and her two kids also spent the day with me in Milan yesterday and took me to see the famous Duomo and the Art museum.  And to follow up with what we saw in the museum, Loreedana then went into a book store and searched out and purchased an English version of the book “The Betrothed” for me.  The back cover reads “A vigorous portrayal of enduring passion “The betrothed’s” exploration of love, power and faith present a whirling panorama of seventeenth century Italian life and is one of the greatest European historical novels. The generosity of these wonderful people just didn’t end.
I was taken for guided walks around their park and city centre and the Monza Autodrome race circuit (which is where they hold the Formula One Italian Grand Prix….your husbands might be interested in that one).  The entire family also took me for a drive to see some wonderful lakes.  And when they found out about my gelati fetish, they ensured that it was catered for on a daily basis!!!  I was also introduced to Imelda’s sister (another of Dad’s cousins) and received a phone call from another cousin who had heard I was there.  Six days just wasn’t long enough!!  Imelda wanted me to stay for two weeks and I would have except I already had set plans.
So once again, there was a teary good-bye and lots of hugs and kisses at the train station this morning.  And if you were wondering, none of them spoke English, so the whole experience was even more amazing for me knowing I could communicate well enough now make myself understood.
And now I am back in Rome for two nights, before heading off on my next adventure.  That adventure being “Morocco”!!  I fly to Morocco on Saturday for a two week tour before returning to Rome on the 31st July.  I hear the internet access over there is a little scarce, so if you don’t hear from me for a couple of weeks, let’s just hope that it is not because I have been sold off for a herd of camels!!!! 
I hope all is great with you!!!
Love & happiness to you always,
Joy xxxxxxx
p.s. I have had so many requests for photos, that I have added a few to give you some idea of the photographic temptations I was faced with in Venice.

Monday, 4 July 2011

Ciao from Venice - 2.07.11

Buona Sera miei amici,
Gosh, can you believe it is July already!!!!  I have now officially been in Italy for two months!! Does that mean I should be writing this email in Italian??  My brother suggested that I should and then it would at least guarantee that the email would be shorter….not nice!!
Well, I am sitting here in my cosy little apartment in Venice, having arrived yesterday afternoon.  I found this apartment using a website called Airbnb.  This website allows people to advertise a room for rent in their own private homes.  Which means the apartment comes with a little 71 year old Italian lady called Linda (who is the owner of the apartment).  Not only do I have my own huge room; free reign to use all the facilities in the apartment; but dearest Linda also washes my clothes, makes my breakfast, and for the last two days has also washed up my dishes!   And I am getting more free Italian lessons as she can’t speak a word of English!!!  Just perfect!! I am now keeping my fingers crossed that by the end of the week, I will even score a home cooked meal!!! 
The apartment is in a great location and today I walked EVERYWHERE!!!  I got up early and headed out to catch the best ‘photographic light’ of the day.  The weather was just glorious, with a light cool breeze.  And the best part was that most tourists sleep in…so there weren’t many people around.  Obviously a different story this afternoon!  I was forced to do some shopping, as there were just too many people in front of all the monuments???
I was quite disappointed in the gelati I ate yesterday, so I thought I had better taste test another one today.  Fortunately for the Venice gelati reputation, it was a lot better.  Did you know that eating gelati also increases your social interaction?  I sat down on a park bench while I ate it and an older couple sat down beside me.  We got into a conversation and by the end of it they gave me their phone number and said if I made it to Padova (which was their hometown 20 mins outside of Venice), that I should give them a call.  They were just lovely.  Again, they only spoke Italian, so I am obviously getting better!  Each time I paused to try to think of the Italian word for whatever it was I was trying to say, they told me to take my time as I was doing very well!!  My teachers at the language school would be very proud of me!!! 
Oh, and the lighting was obviously still good at that time because they were “most surprised” by my age.  No, I didn’t tell them I was 35…they just thought I was!!.  Hhhmm…he did say his eyes weren’t as good as what they used to be….  Actually, I think it is all the gelati that is smoothing out my face (or was that rounding out my face??).
Wow, I am so beginning to LOVE public transport.  Who would have thought that many hours on a train or plane or bus could result in so many new friendships!!!  When I was sitting on the train going from Rome to Sicily, I had a pile of books beside me, as it is a 10 hour train ride.  I had my book called “New Earth – Create a better Life” (which made it into Oprah’s book club!!); a journal called “The Secret Gratitude Book”; and another journal with “All my thoughts & the Heart Talks” written on the cover.  These books grabbed the attention of the guy seated beside me, and he initiated a conversation by pointing to them and saying, “hhmmm, doing some reading?” I just started laughing and we got along fabulously after that!  He later admitted to thinking that I was an American going through some type of midlife crisis!!!  Not sure how far off he was…maybe wrong country??  Salvatore was Italian (and now lives in Brussels in Belgium) but spoke perfect English as he worked for 5 years in the Italian embassy in Melbourne.  And can you believe he was friends with the two guys that helped me out with my Visa Application in Brisbane!!! It can be such a small world sometimes.  Salvatore was wearing very pretty shorts at the time (denim with a red cuff with white poker dots), and I couldn’t quite work out whether he was very trendy or ……very gay??
Oh, and on the Train from Rome to Venice, I also met some great people.  The girl sitting beside me was a touch-up artist for a professional photographer in Melbourne.  Which meant that she was a photoshop guru!!!  I got so excited I almost hugged her!!! 
And yes, once again I had a fabulous time in Sicily.  Four nights just weren’t long enough!  Although my clothing would disagree!! My favourite jeans have become somewhat snug and I may either have to considerably increase my daily exercise or buy another pair of jeans???  Fortunately, it was with great foresight that I brought my ‘bigger’ shorts over on holidays with me. 
The first night I arrived in Sicily, the whole family (all 18 of them) plus me, went out for dinner.  On Monday and Tuesday nights I went out for pizza with my cousin; after I had eaten a huge pasta lunch with Maria & Nino.  Then on Wednesday as a special treat for me, Maria and Nino made a special type of bread filled with tomato, cheese, potato and bacon, in their wood-fire oven (as well as numerous loaves of bread) and the whole family turned up for lunch!!  And in between all that, I managed to find space to squeeze in 3 gelati’s as well!!! Yes, I know…my name is Joy and I am a Gelati- aholic!!!!  Oh, and you should have seen the food bag that Maria put together for me for the train trip on Thursday.  Two days later, and I still have left-overs!!! 
I am very happy to say that my visa is now all sorted!!!  Thanks only due to Maria’s son-in-law being a police officer!  He came with me on Wednesday to the Immigration Office and Police Department and it was only due to the fact that he knew the staff there that my application was processed, otherwise I would still be waiting in line behind the other 300 African refugees trying to get a visa!!!  Don’t they know how much money I am spending here on food, not to mention the other few minor purchases…..  I am helping their economy!!!  They need me!!!  Hhhmmm, maybe I should go to Greece as well.  I hear they are not doing so well at the moment??
Gosh, it was really hard to say good-bye to everyone this time.  Especially knowing that I may never see Maria and Nino again was pretty tough.  Yes, there were tears!!!  I had to say good-bye to Nino the night before I left as he was getting up at 4am to go to the markets and I would miss him in the morning. Well, that morning Maria showed me a little note Nino wrote out in Italian to give to me.  It translated to say, “Good-bye Joy.  I wish you good luck.  You are the sweetest girl in the World.” How special was that!!!! I feel like part of me will always remain with my new Sicilian family.  And part of Sicily has also come with me… the form of a few extra kilos!!!
From Sicily I then returned to Rome for one night.  On the train back to Rome I was privileged to meet another wonderful Sicilian couple.  And can you believe their names were also Nino and Maria!! They looked after me like I was their daughter.  I didn’t have any water with me on the train, so they gave me one of their bottles and then refilled it for me when I finished it.  Then Maria looked after my bags while I went up on the deck of the barge with Nino (when we crossed over from Sicily to Italy).  And when we arrived in Rome, not only did they help me with my luggage, but they bought and paid for my ticket for the Metro (underground train) and walked with me to catch it.  I am meeting the most amazing and generous people on this holiday.  Some days I feel so blessed!!!  J
And as I have been back to the same B & B in Rome 4 times, I am now greeted by hugs and kisses from the owners when I arrive.  The afternoon before I left for Sicily, I was wandering around Rome when Friedrich (one of the owners), rang me to let me know another Australian had arrived at the B & B, in case I was interested in catching up with him.  When I returned to the B & B, I was introduced to Glen, who was from Brisbane!!  FINALLY, I have met another Queenslander!!!  Glen was so nice and just loved to chat (an instant common interest!!!).  We talked for about 4 hours before I had to rush off to pack.  He knew everything you could possibly know about computers and electronic gadgets and I now have a new appreciation for my Mac computer which awaits me at home!!!  Yes, he is now a facebook friend!!
When I started off writing this email, I was going to begin by saying that this email would be a short one.  Sorry…Glen is not the only one who loves to chat!!! One last little story…
When I was in Rome I took the metro to one of the outer train stations, where I then had to catch a bus to Tivoli.  Well, I thought I had better go to the loo at the train station before catching the bus.  Scary, scary experience!!!  It was the strangest toilet I have been in so far.  It was a self-cleaning toilet, and I don’t mean just the bowl!!! I mean the entire room!!  You had to walk into this steel chamber and get locked in.  Everything was wet from being washed continually.  I was so scared that it would start cleaning while I was in there that I could hardly pee!!!  Talk about feeling claustrophobic!!  And I almost had a panic attack when I couldn’t work out how to get out of there.  The big red button did it, but I was worried that was the ‘cleaning’ button.  Oh, and yes, I did have to pay 80 cents for the privilege of using it!!!
The gardens at Tivoli were lovely.  I met up with Vincenzo who showed me around both estates.  The first one was beautiful with gorgeous fountains, however the second one was like doing the blue arrow walk in Cairns (many, many steps up and down through the bush) to find a waterfall.  Vincenzo thought it was a great idea for me to see both the man-made structures (fountains) and the natural ones (waterfalls).  I thought it was a great idea too when I handed him my daypack to carry back up the hill!!!
Okay, Okay, I’m going before you have to make a second cup of coffee/tea/bottle of wine??
Hope you are all well.  Thinking of you all heaps.
Love Joy xxxxxxxxxx