Sunday, January 23, 2011


This past week has been a busy one. I have done everything from sledding, to chopping wood, to trying my hand at roman engineering. I have started living with a lovely british family who have an olive grove here. It is a beautiful place, the trees growing on terraces built by the romans, the house probably older than my country, the driveway in-fact a roman road. 

The town itself is lovely too, it is the first real italian town I have stayed in. All the others have been either super rich, touristy, or german. There is a real sense of community, and the people are so nice. Unlike most places, if you go into a store here and ask to use the washroom, they will let you, even if you don't buy anything, just as an example.

Although the nights are cold, the days can be warm, and actually the bulbs are just about to bloom. We ate lunch outside a few days ago in t-shirts, a welcome change from the negative temperatures of the north.

I have basically been helping out around the house, and the farm. They have about 600 olive trees, plus every kind of fruit tree you can imagine, from apple to orange to pomegranate to lemon. 

When they bought the place a few years ago, it had been abandoned for many years, and it has been a huge amount of work to bring it up to a working level.

Last weekend, we headed up to Abetone, a ski mountain an hour and a half from here. The road there was amazing, very windy, but with nice corners all the way there. There was not much snow, but we found enough to go sledging.

Just yesterday, Simon, the other guy who is staying with the family, and myself went to Lucca for the day. It is a very beautiful place. The wall around the old city is a very impressive work of engineering. 

As it is not the tourist season, many of the shops and restaurants were closed.

We wandered around for a while, mainly in circles it seemed, but eventually found the as Simon said "round square". It is one of the piazzas in Lucca, and it is in fact round, which makes it funny to talk about in english.

A little bit of wandering later, we found the tallest tower in the city, and paid the 2 euro student price to go up to the top. The climb wanders through several different staircases, eventually ending up on the top of the tower.

It is a bit strange in that it has trees on the top of it. The view was great, although it was not sunny, and we hung around up there for a little bit.

The rooftops of the city, ancient as it is are very interesting to look at. There are buildings and roofs all jammed together, with little additions that have over the centuries made a convoluted mass of buildings. Neat to look at in my opinion.

From the top of the tower, you can see outside the city walls to the roman aqueduct a few kilometers away.

After descending, we wandered for a while, looking for a place to eat, and eventually found a tasty pizza place.

We soon wandered back to the train station, and took the train back here.

Last night, Simon and I had helped Chris, the owner of the house, figure out how to get the tractor he had bought out of the box van he had transported it in.

Not an easy task.

There was nothing at the house we could use as ramps, so we headed out to find something. 

First we went to a garage just across the valley, but the ramps they had were still to short and created much to steep a ramp. We continued up the valley, eventually spotting a toilet paper factory that had a loading bay.

We went down to it, and asked if we could try, and they said we could, but only for 10 minutes because a lorry was coming in then. The place was perfect, but we could not get the tractor started in the confined space of the truck.

We had to give up and drive off to find another place.

After several tries at places that were all gated up at 8pm on a friday night, we found a street with a bank off the side that seemed like it would work.

We were smart this time, and after backing up to it, we simply took off the handbrake and pushed it out onto the grass. We left it there under the confused gazes of the neighbors on the other side of the street.

Chris had managed to drive it back while we were in Lucca, and it was on the bottom terrace with the vegetable patch when we got home. We all got to take a turn driving it. Lots of fun.

This morning, I cooked breakfast. Scrambled eggs with fried tomatoes. There are no electric stoves in the house, so instead of lighting the wood cooking stove, I used the barbecue.

Standing outside in the chill morning air, on a terrace of an olive grove in tuscany, cooking eggs on a barbecue, being pestered by a feisty goat named Dommy, being serenaded by the many churches in town, I kept thinking that this is why I am here. This is why I left home to come traveling. Experiences that cannot be had anywhere else.

Said feisty goats:

Later today I am going to walk up to a church perched up on the other side of the valley.

Tuscany is amazing.

Friday, January 14, 2011


Trains. I love them, but sometimes they just take to long to get to where you want to go. I am sitting on my third train of the day right now, and I still have two more to take before I get to where I am going.

I left the house at 9 this morning, and I will not get to my new house in Tuscany until after 7 this evening.

After a wonderful time this christmas and new years, I am finally moving on to the next part of my trip.

I am now a volunteer.

For the next little while, I will be living with a family in Tuscany, and spending my time pruning olive trees. I am looking forward to it, and have actually hoped it would work out since before I left Canada.

But for right now I am on the train.

Before I get to much into talking about christmas, I would like to extend a warm thanks to all that have made my trip what it has been so far. Thank you so much for all you have done, and I hope to find a way to repay you in the future.

Ok, I want to take you back to christmas. The tree was up when we arrived back from Verona, and it had a few decorations on it already. It was not until the late evening of christmas eve, that it got decorated fully.

The way it works is this. The whole family pitches in, and all the real decorations come out. The tree is decorated in full, including real candles, gingerbread stars, and all sorts of other beautiful things.

After the tree is done, everyone exept the mom leaves for a walk. This takes about an hour, and in that time, Astrid has laid out all the presents, and some champagne, and lit all the candles on the tree.

Real candles on a christmas tree are really amazing.

After a song, sung all together, and a toast, it is present time. I am used to taking turns with one person opening a present at a time, but this christmas it was like a shark feeding frenzy, with paper a-flying, and everything.

Then there was dinner. It was truly amazing, with no less than four seperate drinking glasses at each place, all used for a different drink.

Many courses later, tummy stuffed, wine consumed, it was time to call it a night.

We have just left Verona. It is kinda gross out now. It was really nice most of the way here, but we went through a tunnel a while ago, and when we came out it was all cloudy and yicky.

Anyways, back to where I was.

The 25th is not a special day at all it seems, and nothing really special happened exept for more sumptous food.

New years was the next big event.

THere were a few cousins over, and after an afternoon of fun, and yet another truly astounding supper, we had to entertain ourselves until midnight.

We went sledding.

We went to this big gigantic pile of snow that the snow cats had made for the cross country skiiers, and first went down the part that is nice for the skiiers, but soon decided to go down the almost vertical sides.

It sounded like one of those ideas that sounds like a bad one, and then ends up even worse, but it actually worked out very well. The vertical drop, with a jump at the bottom was very fun, and only a little bit dangerous.

After returning to the house, and a short wait, it was time.

We all went outside, all with champagne, and waited for the countdown. It hit, and after clinking glasses and hugging everone, there were fireworks. They were pretty cool, but a minute later, a display started from the top of a nearby mountain that kinda dwarfed ours.

The craziest thing of the evening was this yelling we heard that sounded like it was coming from above. It turned out that it was. There was a guy who was in a paraglider circling around right at midnight. Kinda cool.

On the radio when we went inside was a waltz, and everyone grabbed somebody and waltzed in the new year. Very special.

I went to bed after a few hours, but the others went out to the bar down the road to continue the celebration.

A few days later, we went on our adventure to Firenze and Venezia.

I dont think I finished talking about Venice, but I think I will leave that for another day.

What I am not going to leave for another day is something that I saw yesterday. It was a hot air ballon festival.

Astrid and Poldi and two others went on a ride in the ballon. It wasnt just any ride either. They took of from Toblach - Dobbiaco, and headed over the alps towards, and in fact almost to Venice. They said it was truly amazing.

I was amazed just watching the balloons prepare, and leave. There were about ten I think, all lined up in a row.

When we arrived they were just pulling them off the trailers, and arranging the baskets.

Then they started testing the burners.

I watched and took pictures as their balloon was prepared. It was quite interesting.

After a long time of setting up the basket, it got tipped over so that the balloon could be attached and inflated.

First, there is a big fan that blows air into the balloon to fill it up. That takes a while, and during that time, there needs to be people holding a line that comes off the top of the balloon.

During this time, I got to go inside the ballon!

Very cool.

After it reaches the biggest it will get with the cold air, the burners are turned on, and the fan off. This is when it starts to get warm inside the balloon, and produce lift.

Eventually, it slowly tips up, and the passengers get in.

It takes quite a lot of time from this stage to heat the air up to the temperature it needs to be for the balloon to lift off, especially if it is a long trip with lots of weight.

Eventually thoug, the balloons started lifting off, and heading away with the wind.

I watched for a little longer, and took a few more pictures, before heading off to take the train back to the house.

I think it is getting grosser outside now if that is possible.

It is sad because after it stopped snowing this morning it was so nice.

Well I am going to stop typing now, as train seats really are not designed for it, and seem determined to make you remember that with every letter.

I am no longer sitting on the train, and I actually wrote that all yesterday, but thats ok.

Tuscany is amazing. I am living in a house built by the romans, on the side of a hill, with terraces filled by olive trees. It is amazing.

Will write more later.

Monday, January 10, 2011

I Must Return!!

Venice is amazing. To anyone who thinks it is merely an overhyped tourist destination, they are wrong. There is a reason why so many include the ancient city in their travel plans. It is truly the most remarkable place I have ever, and probably will ever go.

Returning there for a longer stay is a must. I am on a computer in a library right now, but when I can use my computer again, I will post more pictures. The trouble is, the pictures do not do it any justice. We have all seen pictures of Venice, but to experience it is something else.

I am going to have to keep this short, but, that city has entranced me, like so many before, and before I leave this continent, I have to go back there.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Venice!!! Finally There!!!

I have long dreamed of someday visiting this city. As with many others the idea of a city rising up from the water is a fascinating and almost entrancing concept. Well, I am here now, and I can safely say that I am both fascinated and entranced by this city.

The "streets" are narrow, so narrow in some places that two people passing must turn sideways. There is no way you can walk in a straight line to where you are going, there are so many twists and turns that it would be easy to get lost. Even the "main streets", the ones leading from the Rialto Bridge to Piazza San Marco, are convoluted and just as twisty and tiny as the rest.

To get around, one must either plan a route meticulously with a map, and follow their progress at every turning, or just set off in the general direction, and let your intuition guide you. I prefer the second method, and it seemed to work last night, although it was not always the fastest path we took.

We stepped off the train at 4.30, and arrived in a station that looks exactly like every other station in europe, but, when we stepped outside, we were definitely not in just any city.

We stepped out onto a piazza that ended in steps going down to the taxis, in this case, boats. It was soooo cool.

We asked one of the taxi drivers how much it would be to our hotel, and it was going to be about 40 euros, so we decided to walk. If we had known where we were going, we would have made it there in about 10 mins.

It is so beautiful in a completely unique way.

 As it turns out, we ended up in the right place, but we had drawn the little dot of where the hotel is on the wrong side of a little bridge. It never even occurred to us to check over there, and after a while of looking decided to call the hotel for directions.

After mistakenly calling the hotel in Florence, where the guy was understandably confused, we got a hold of the hotel in Venice, and the guy came out the door and called us over.

It is a very nice hotel, again, a B&B thing too.

Here is my room, which was for once, actually like the one on the website!

After a quick rest, we went out for pizza nearby, then walked to Piazza San Marco. On the way we passed over the Rialto Bridge, and the view from it is amazing.

That second picture is the one street in Venice, however it does not really lead anywhere as we found out later.

We found our way to the piazza, aided every once and a while by the signs leading the way. It is a beautiful square, even though a few of the buildings are covered up with scaffolding for repairs.

We walked back over the Rialto Bridge, and stopped at an osteria for an aperitivo. Soon, being tired, we wound our way back to the hotel, taking a long, but easy route back through the piazza where we had eaten.

This morning, as I am typing this, see this out my window.

It is so amazing that I am actually here. It is one year almost to the day that I decided to come to europe, and here I am, in this ancient city, eating breakfast served in my room.

Looking out the window, there is a bridge I can see, that looks in the picture, like there is some distortion of the view going on, but no, it is just like that.

None of the bridges here are straight. They all angle to the next gap in the buildings, or morph out to lead to a doorway or two, or even seemingly lead nowhere at all.

I love this city already, and am going to go out and explore some more, take my camera for a walk, and see what I can find.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Can't Think of a Name for This Post

So, I have not written in a while, as you have no doubt notice. It was not in fact because I didnt want to, but more because of the abscence of one of the key ingredients in a blog, the internet.

I am sitting here now on the train, a nice one, a Eurostar Frecciargento. We Just left Firenze a few minutes ago, and are heading to Venezia, just a couple hours away.

Firenze, or Florence as many people know it is a beautiful city. It has such a long history that it is kinda ridiculous. From Ponte Vecchio with its jewlery shops, to the Duomo with its massive dome, the city has landmarks coming out the ying yang.

Today, and in fact for the past few days, Sophia and I have be on a trip. We set out early early on the 4th, and caught the train to Firenze. We stayed in a little B&B Hotel mix thing, which was actually quite nice. The guy was so friendly and helpful, and the location was great.

After checking in, we walked the 10 mins to the Duomo, and were instantly dwarfed by its massiveness. It is huge! The outside is this crazy tiled patern that is almost too much, but the inside, unlike most other duomos is white. There is only one fresco, and that is on the inside of the dome itself.

It would be an amazing acheivement to build it now, let alone in the 1400s when it was built. It has the largest brick dome ever consturucted, and it is just massive.

We decided we had to go up to the top, if only to take the classic photo of yourself with Firenze in the backgound.

There was only a short line, and we headed in, and instantly were confronted with the first of the 463 stairs leading to the top. Now that would be a ridiculous number on any stair case, but this was no ordinary staircase. It twists and turns, goes spiral for a while, does a weird square spiral thing, and eventually ends up at the base of the dome. That part was not bad, as it was only the up staircase, there is another for going down.

There is a little balcony that surrounds the dome, and you go out on it. Great view.

The next section is the difficult part. There is only one staircase for both the up going and down going people. Now, I am not a huge person, but the staircase was still narrow for me, and when you added crowds of people trying to pass it became crazy. Now, it starts going up fairly straight like a normal stairway, but, since it is in-between the two layers of the dome, it eventually starts going sideways, the ceiling/walls slanting more with every step.

Finally, it turns and goes straight up the last section, and there is an almost ladderlike part to get out onto the cupola on the top of the dome. It is definatly worth it.

It is crazy how high it is. Utterly amazing.

I had Sophia take the obligatory photo, and after some gazing about, we headed back down.

It was a fight against the tide for the first bit, but eventually the stairs sepertated and it was a smooth climb down.

Next on the list, and yes, there actually was a list, was Ponte Vecchio. As the name suggests, it is an old bridge. It is not just a bridge however, it has shops along it, and not just any shops, it has jewlery shops. Probably 2 or 3 dozen of them span the river.

After some wandering, lunch, and a quick stop at the hotel, we were in line at the Uffizi.

It is a huge museum, absolutly crammed with paintings. Absolutly crammed with them.

We had reserved online, a free service that, is advertised as letting you "jump the que", "not wait in line", stuff like that. In fact, you just stand in a slightly shorter line that moves slower than the normal lines.

We split up for an hour or two, and wandered around. My favorite was the Birth of Venus, a very famous painting.

We just crashed after that, ate dinner at a pizza joint and went to bed. We had been on the go since 4 that morning.

Yesterday, we just did our own things, Sophi shoping, and myself taking my camera for a walk. I took pictures of a lot of things, but my favorite was the people pictures I took.

It is exhilerating getting in peoples faces and blatantly taking pictures of them. Some of them turned out very well if I do say so myself.

After a lazy afternoon we ritired to our rooms for the night. Today, we spent the morning wandering Palazzo Vitto, and its formal gardens.

We just pulled to a stop in Bologna Centrale, heading to Venezia. Very exited to finally see the city of canals.

But that is now, and you are probably wondering what I have been doing since I last wrote from Verona. Well, I have not been doing a ton, to answer what I am guessing is your question.

I have in fact been doing just normal everyday things that one does when wintering in the italian alps. The family, and in fact the whole region is very into hockey, and so we have been visiting several of the outdoor rinks in the area. They rang frome lakes to flooded 400m tracks, to proper rinks. It is quite different skating on outdoor ice than indoor ice like I am accustomed to.

Also, it was my first time actually playing hockey, and all were dissapointed because they thought that I would be good, being Canadian and all. Yay stereotypes!

We also went sliding a few times, always fun.

I did a lot of reading, and watching American College Football, which is seemingly inexplicably always on, no matter what time of day you want to watch it, it is there for your veiwing pleasure.

There were a few truly memorable moments, such as christmas, and newyears, but it was more of just the experience of life there.

I am going to talk a little about life there, and maybe next post I will go back and write about christmas or newyears, as they are worth describing.

Snow is a big part of life there, or rather what one can do with snow is a big part of life there. For the most part, the white stuff goes completly ignored with tasks like driving and walking carrying on completly unchanged, but when it comes to skiing, it is loved by all.

There are large ski resorts all over the alps, but in addition to that, all the little towns have their own little ski lift. Most of them are really tiny, but a few of them are actually pretty nice, like the one right by the house.

That is all well and good for downhill skiing, but some may be thinking, what if I want to go cross county? Well, there is a solution for that too. Each of the towns also has a snow-cat, and they maintain every night dozens of kilometers of trails winding up and down the valleys. They are used to the full extent, and even have lights along large stretches to allow for skiing at night if you so desire.

In short, as much as they seem to completly ignore any amount of snow whilst behind the wheel of a car, a lot of their life seems to revolve around other ways of sliding fast along the snow.

I am kinda running out of things to say right now, I did not get much sleep due to skype, and Top Gear, so I am going to quit while I am only a little bit behind, and end this post.

Hopefully the hotel in Venice has internet, and I can post this promptly.

It does have internet, I have posted it proptly.