Sunday, July 30, 2006

Rome - Italy

I took the train from the south of France (see blog) to Rome and only spent a few days there but was able to visit most of the major sights including the Vatican. A few things surprised me about Rome/VC. One was how intertwined the ancient ruins are with the everyday life of a modern city. Everywhere you look, in residential neighborhoods, parks, commercial districts, and shopping areas, there are signs of the crumbled empire. The other thing that stood out for me was the opulence of the churches. The amount of gold, silver, marble, and other gaudy stuff is overwhelming. At first glance you think how beautiful but then I started to reflect on my trip in South America, especially the town of Potosi in Bolivia (see blog) where it is estimated that over 9 million indigenous workers and African slaves died in the mines. Of course that was under Spanish rule and this is Italy so I took a bunch of pretty pictures and moved on to Greece (see blog).

Friday, July 21, 2006

French Riviera & Monaco

I went from Barcelona, Spain (see blog) to the French Riviera. All of the cities in the area are gorgeous but Monte Carlo in the principality of Monaco is by far the best. The place reeks of opulence from yachts to Ferraris to one of the most famous casinos in the world. I only spent a day here and it was more than enough. Most of my time was spent in Nice and Marseille.

Next I was on to Rome, Italy (see blog).

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Barcelona - Spain

After running with the bulls in Pamplona (see blog) we headed to Barcelona, Spain which is a gorgeous city on the Mediterranean coast near the border of France. We spent 5 days here before heading through the south of France and Monaco (see blog).

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Running with the Bulls - Pamplona, Spain

I had just come from Amsterdam (see blog) and was ready for the famous 'Running of the Bulls' in Pamplona, Spain. They call it the festival of San Fermin which was another amazing event that is hard to explain with words, pictures, or even video. Starting July 6th and continuing for 8 days, it's a non-stop party from 7am where we congregated in the streets waiting for the canon shot to signal the release of the bulls into the street for an 850 meter dash into the coliseum where the real action begins. The actual running of the bulls only last 15 minutes and is not much of a challenge. I stayed in front most of the time and got bored so I waited for the bulls to catch up and then ran along side of them for a bit. The bulls run straight to the arena with the exception of a few stray runners that they catch in the corners and can do some serious damage.

We entered the arena in a large group and the bulls were funneled out. I started to take pictures when a guy tapped me on the shoulder and pointed behind me to the set of fresh bulls that they were letting back into the arena. I guess I missed that part in the book and thought it was over. There were about 250 of us in the center and at least 5,000 spectators in the stands above. The bull starts charging all of us and grabbing victims one by one. Throwing them up into the air and then charging them a few more times once they hit the ground. Please see the first video below – in 50 seconds the bull gets at least 3 people before heading for me. With camera in hand and still running I jump the wall to safety. Crazy stuff! It was one of the most amazing things I've ever done and will probably be in my top 10 for life.

Next up Barcelona (see blog).

Tuesday, July 4, 2006

Germany, Czech Rep, and Amsterdam

After my collarbone healed from the mountain biking accident in Argentina (see List of Bad Travel blog) I flew into Dublin on June 19th, met up with some friends, toured the Guinness Brewery, bar hopped in the famous Temple Bar district, and then flew to Germany for the World Cup games visiting Berlin, Hamburg, and even Nuremberg for the final USA match against Ghana.

While traveling in South America I met many backpackers who said Prague was the most beautiful city in the world and a must see if I was ever in the area so I took a train into the Czech Republic. I was not disappointed (see pics below) and also learned that Prague was home to some of the best beer and most beautiful women in the world. At this point in my trip I also noticed a similarity in each of the European cities. The 'red light' districts were hugely popular where most of the good bars, restaurants, and parties were. In Hamburg it was called Reeperbahn and they had some of the streets completely blocked off and checked ID, letting in only males 18 and over. Apparently prostitution is legal in many areas of Europe.

I cruised back into Germany and then headed to Amsterdam. This place is gorgeous during the day with canals, parks, shops, and restaurants. I walked into an Internet shop called Happy People Café and noticed there weren't any computers and the place was full of smoke. Of course I had to ask whether it was really an Internet café which was followed by laughter and a menu with various types of 'shrooms and weed'. I had to visit the red light district and sure enough it's just like you imagine with stretches of red lit windows full of strippers/prostitutes trying to get your 50 euros for 15 minutes of whatever? We ended up talking to a guy that owned and operated 65 'windows' and he said that it was like running a hotel and rented the windows for 110 euros for 8 hours. He also mentioned that the city was trying to change its image. Good luck!

After Amsterdam I headed to Pamplona, Spain for the 'running of the bulls' (see blog).


Czech Republic: