31 July 2008

Really old stuff

Assisi is a quiet hill town in the central region of Italy called Umbria. Umbria is highly underrated in terms of beautiful terrain, often overshadowed by Tuscany's popularity. It is easy to understand why Assisi is a popular tourist and pilgrim spot. It is situated on the top of a mountain yielding absolutely unbelievable views of the surrounding area.
St. Francis was born here and established the Franciscan order. The basilica itself is beautiful, built in 1230, it is actually two basilicas, one on top of the other. It survived a large earthquake in 1997, and was closed for two years to fix it. Inside the lower basilica, there are several great frescoes by Giotto and others showing the life of St. Francis, Jesus, and even Mary Magdalene.

We had a leisurely afternoon exploring the town and I got a meringue that was as big as your head. It was awesome. Dinner, as usual, was pasta, chicken, and french fries. Carb it up!

The next morning we drove south to Pompeii. I should not even get started on the coolness that is Pompeii, the town that was tragically covered in 40+ feet of 800° F volcanic ash in 79AD. I learned that it is special not only because it gives us a look into live nearly 2000 years ago, but a look into one single day that ancient people led. The ruins were discovered in 1700something and are still being excavated. It is amazing how much survived the eruption, frescoes, buildings, mosaics, pots, loaves of bread. Even bodies remained intact, forever frozen in the ash.

30 July 2008

Home of the Renaissance

With all of us fully recovered we headed to Florence next. Florence is the absolute mecca for Renaissance art. When I was there eight years ago, we were in such a rush, that we were in the Uffizi gallery for about 45 minutes which is an absolute crime against nature. I was determined to see it properly this time. We ended up getting in without waiting in line and having a personal two hour tour of the most important and influential art of the renaissance. It was great. Botticelli, Lippi, Giotto, DaVinci, Michaelangelo, Rafael, and Caravaggio. Priceless, beautiful works of art that I was overjoyed to finally get to spend some quality time with. Okay, I'll try to stop nerding it up.
The next day we had a walking tour and saw a lot of the city including Pointe Vecchio, a large bridge over the Arno River. It is the only bridge in Florence to survive world war II, and is a very interesting place, with little shops build right off of it. We also visited Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore and Brunelleschi's Duomo. I later climbed the 400+ stairs to the top, getting a great view of the frescoes inside the dome, the architecture of the dome itself and an absolutely incredible view of the whole of Florence. It was truly unbelievable and the best six Euros I spent. I felt no sway, no shudder, no hint of instability as I stood 375 feet in the air on a 37,000 ton dome that was raised in 1436 without the use of wooden scaffolding. Sweet. It was here I learned that when you're alone, the best way to get a picture of yourself is to ask someone who has a more expensive camera than yours to take your picture. 1. they won't steal your camera because they already have a better one. 2. they probably know what they're doing.
We also saw Dante's house, and went inside la Basilica di Santa Croce where we saw great sculpture and the graves of Michaelangelo and Galileo. We also visited the Duomo museum where we saw the original golden "gate of paradise" baptistery doors completed by Ghiberti in 1422 after 21 years of work.

29 July 2008

Once again, from the top

Long before my friends proposed hiking across Scotland to me, my parents and cousins planned a trip to Italy. It happened to work out that the trips didn't overlap, and I actually had five days in between, three of which I spent working, two of which I spent nursing my painful ankle.

I left for Italy limping like an old lady, worrying everyone in my party, and worrying myself that I had a stress fracture.

Thankfully my mother had an extra ankle brace that I wore, and the foot feels much better now. How a sore ankle got better through more walking, I can't explain.

I took the same trip in 2000 when I was in high school. I was really excited to be able to finally share my experiences there with my parents.

So, we flew into Milan after hopping over the Alps, and drove to the east coast of Italy. We stayed in the fairly small town of Caorle, where we could dip our feet into the Adriatic Sea. From there we went to Venice, a fascinating town, of course due to it's lack of roads, cars, and the utter insanity of living on a cluster of sinking islands. It is a beautiful place, and we spent much of our time in the Doges' palace, (the Doge was the king of Venice). (It's a museum now, we weren't having tea and biscuits or anything.)

Around midday, my cousin suddenly fainted, which altogether isn't an exciting or happy thing to happen. But I quickly assessed that she hadn't had more than maybe 16 ounces to drink that day and it was very hot. We were assisted by the staff there who called an ambulance. I was sure that she could refuse if we could fix her up so I made her the same deal as I would make for any other patient. If she could walk out under her own power, then I would be satisfied that she was okay.

Unfortunately, that didn't happen as she continued to feel lightheaded for more than half an hour even after drinking a lot of water. What I didn't realize at that point was that there are truly no wheeled vehicles in Venice, so the paramedics arrived in a boat. A boat! Thankfully I knew that my cousin was okay and simply needed more fluids than a water bottle could give. Because of this, I could turn my attention to the giddy feeling I got when I realized that I would get to see the Venice EMS Ambulanza Boat.

I was very impressed with their EMS. They had lifepack 12s, started an IV on her, and were generally very thorough.

She was taken downstairs in a very strange looking, what I called, a stairchar/wheelbarrow. It was the oldest wackiest thing they had. Outside I followed them through the crowds of tourists to where their ambulance boat was parked. I am shamed to admit that I was so excited at my cousins expense, but she understood.

She was rehydrated in the ER, and rejoined us later that evening. All was well.

27 July 2008

Arrivederci, Roma

So, tomorrow we are heading home after a fantastic trip. Today I put my hand in la bocca della verità. This is a really old sculpture (old like BC) which legend says could tell who was a liar, and if a liar put their hand in its mouth, it would be cut off. Luckily I kept my hand, which makes typing this fairly easy.
We also visited Ostia, a very ancient city that was pretty fascinating. I'm out of order now, but we also saw a church that had some huge beautiful paintings by Caravaggio. Oh, I'm a nerd. It was cool.

Tomorrow we have an early start so I am off to organize my things and make sure that there is no limoncello in my carry on, lest I have to drink it all at airport security. Hmm, not a bad idea.

26 July 2008

Buongiorno!

Yesterday was fantastic, starting in the Vatican museums, and seeing the Sistine chapel which is simply unbelievable. From there we visited the Coloseum and the roman forum, seeing ruined buildings from a city established in 753 AD.
These buildings are not ruined solely because of the decay of time, but because, among many other things, Romans invented recycling, and would take building materials from old buildings to make new ones. If only they knew what a money maker the Coloseum would be today. Maybe they wouldn't have changed it. But, the Coloseum also had materials stolen from it. The small holes in the facade are from people stealing metal out of the walls. The metal was originally used to give the walls some, well, give.
We saw Trajan's column, the Trevi fountain, the Spanish steps, and the pantheon. The pantheon was built in the first century BC, BC! That is crazy.
I also got to spend a little time in an Italian ambulance. I know one sentence in Italian, Io sono una paramedica americana. Worked like a charm.

Today, more roman adventures await us.

Ciao

24 July 2008

Roma, Roma, Roma

We have just arrived in Rome, and have lots of touring to do tomorrow. Today we were on the lovely isle of Capri. This is a small island 6 miles off the west coast of Italy. We had a great boat ride around the island and had wonderful views of sheer cliffs and clear blue water. We are all doing well and having a fun time. Tomorrow, we'll hit pretty much every major site in Roma including the vatican, colleseo, roman forum, trevi fountain, etc.
Well, there is a long queue of internet hungry teenagers forming behind me. If I don't get off soon, they'll mutiny and write something nasty on my facebook wall or something.

Buona Sera.

22 July 2008

We are here

We are in Assisi in Umbria Italy. Internet has been in short supply and extremely expensive. But all is well. It goes without saying that everything is beautiful, and more detailed, picture filled updates will follow.

That is all for now, here for your enjoyment are some weird keys on this italian keyboard. à ° ò ç è é ì ù § £

Ciao!

15 July 2008

Feet don't fail me now

Oh, day five! On the last day we went from Drumnadrochit to Inverness, at least 20 miles. In my notepad I wrote two things: 9:01 when we hit the trail, and 6:50 when we reached the GGW sign declaring the end.
The trail started out on our new favorite roadway, the A82, which we had seen quite a lot of, and narrowed to a single track trail in the woods which was beautiful, but all uphill. Eh, it sucked. The trail opened up to a double track logging road leading us to the highest point in the trail. I was already totally busted at this point. We walked a while longer and had lunch at a mountain bike park which was actually pretty cool. There were people there with their kids playing on the playground. It almost felt like we were near civilization.
We continued on a long rural road through sheep fields and moores. We were on this road for probably two hours and didn't see a single car. The trail then went back into the woods where we took a snack break and I think I nearly died. Well, I felt pretty bad all around. I ate a pack of starbursts which fortified (I use the term lightly) me for the remaining, maybe five miles. I was going at a literal snail's pace and shuffled to the end. Oh, it was bad. We reached the outskirts of Inverness which just teased us, as we still had pretty far to go. I was surprisingly energized when I saw the sign at Inverness Castle telling us it was over. We celebrated for about five seconds before attempting to find the B&B.
We seriously vegged for a while and then Louisa inspired us to go to dinner. It was a great idea, just difficult to carry out, as we had to go down some stairs to get to any restaurants. I am sure we looked crazy as we carefully lowered ourselves down each stair, clinging to the handrail. We definitely needed a sign explaining that we had walked 20 miles to justify our silly gait. We did have a delicious dinner of Spanish tapas and sangria.
The next morning we caught a train back to Edinburgh and from there had a leisurely lunch before Andy and Louisa had to catch their flight. In the afternoon, Jenn and I went to the Museum of Scotland for a while before our legs gave out completely. We bought dinner at the Tesco and stocked up on food like souvenirs. (160 bags of PG Tips, sweet!)
I had a great flight home, but there was a delay in getting our bags down to us. I didn't get my bag in hand until 3:45, and my connection was at 4:10. Needless to say I was freaking out and ran through customs, rechecked the bag, busted through security, hastily tied my shoes back on, and ran quite a distance to the gate. I made it with eight minutes to spare.
I am now nearly fully recovered, I still have some pain in my ankle that is getting better. Hiking the Great Glen Way was fun, beautiful, tiring, and painful. It would have been fun on a bike, and a lot faster. I wouldn't trade the experience, but I probably won't repeat it.

GGW official site.

Demand the A82 upgrade.

Support GGW improvement projects.

14 July 2008

Day 4 and Nessie

We left the next morning for Drumnadrochit (pronounced Drum-na-drock-it, or just Drum to the locals). Day four was a hard one for hiking with several areas of moral killing switchbacks.
It was at some point in this day that I resorted to drinking whiskey straight out of the bottle. I think it helped.

When we reached Drum, after 14 miles, our B&B was a beautiful sight. The owner was super nice and fixed us some tea right away (because tea fixes everything). He then drove us "downtown" to the Loch Ness Discovery Centre.

This was as campy and silly as I had expected and the gift shop was larger than the exhibit itself. It was a series of videos that told the history of the legend of Nessie which more or less began in 500 something when St. Columba spotted a water monster causing some trouble and forbade it to leave the loch or hurt anyone. Since then, Nessie has been spotted over 1,000 times! Allegedly. I mean, she'd be pretty old by now for one thing. (many of the "sightings" have been proven hoaxes. Can you believe it?!)
Some believed that it was a plesiosarous left over from back in the day, but they died out 65 million years ago. Many expeditions have been led under and on top of the water to find Nessie and everyone has come up empty. Also, apparently there is not enough marine life in the loch to support the life of even one water monster.
I asked one of the employees if he thought there was anything in the water. "Oh there's something in the water alright." he replied laughing. "But probably not a monster." Even after walking the whole length of the loch, we didn't have one sighting or even a false alarm. Bummer.
Here is the "original" modern sighting of Nessie. Her first picture from 1933.

Day 3

On the third day, we were on the trail by 9:20. We started out going through sheep pasture and farm land along the banks of loch Oich. It was cool to be in with the sheep who didn't seem to mind us too much. We returned to the caledonian canal for a few miles, and here we experienced our first and only proper Scottish rain storm. Our lunch goal was Fort Augustus and we marched there in relative silence, rain dripping from our jackets. We made it to Ft. Augustus and had our one and only sit down lunch as we had nowhere to buy our usual ploughman's lunch in S. Laggan. Here, Jenn officially declared that she was 'busted.' And I was too. Busted became part of our GGW vernacular to basically describe that we were hurting, blistered, and generally tired of walking. Unfortunately, at this point, we still had eight miles to go that day.
Here we got our first views of Loch Ness which is an absolutely huge body of water. We ended up walking its entire length of 23 miles. At its deepest, it is over 700 feet down, plenty of room for the elusive waterhorse to hide.
We left the relative civilization of Ft. Augustus and headed back into the mountains. It was a steady climb for a little while, offering us fabulous views of the loch. It was beautiful!

We arrived at our end point for the day, Invermoriston, at 5:15, after 18 miles of hiking. I was really hurting, but a hot shower and drugs can do wonders. We took a few minutes to enjoy some whitewater on the river Moriston which was cool.
Oddly, when we got to the B&B, an ambulance was parked out front. I asked, of course, and in such a rural area, the ambulance is staffed by local people who leave it at their houses while they are on call for a week at a time. Cool.

13 July 2008

Day 1 and 2, less brief

When we arrived in Fort William, we had a nice lunch and walked to the Ben Nevis Distillery and had a really cool tour. I sort of figured out the differences between types of whiskey. Some random facts were that scotch whiskey is aged in used oak casks (preferably sherry casks) for at least three years and a day. (American whiskey can only be aged in new casks) Single malt is one "batch" from one barrel. Blended can be from several different barrels from the same distillery, or from different distilleries. I got some and it was good, and that's all that really matters, right?

We set out from Ft. William around 9am after a great breakfast from what we decided was the best B&B of those we stayed in. There was a honed process for rating the B&Bs consisting of kindness of the proprietors, availability of tea, hot chocolate, and biscuits, amount and quality of breakfast, comfort of pillows, and number of bedcoverings.
The B&B bar was set high.

We had beautiful views of Ben Nevis for many miles and at all angles. "Look, there's Ben Nevis." was a common phrase when things got boring. We found ourselves at the beginning of the Caledonian Canal which basically cuts Scotland in half. Boats travel through many locks, canals, and lochs. Locks are the things that transport boats through the canals where water travel would be impossible without them. Lochs are basically long, skinny lakes.

A boat could technically get all the way 'through' Scotland in about 14 hours, but the lock keepers only operate 9-5 so it takes a week. The most impressive series of locks is called Neptune's Staircase. This is eight locks in a row, raising the boats 64 feet in 500 yards. It takes a boat 1.5 hours to get through.
From here, day one was mostly canal tow path that was easy to navigate. We arrived in Gairlochy which consists of a lock keepers house and I think that's about it. We had to walk an additional three miles (bringing our total for the day to 13) to Spean Bridge. Here we had a nice stay an were able to have dinner and get lunch for the next day.


In the morning, our B&B owner drove us back to the trail, saving us a few blisters and an hour or so of walking.

Here the trail left the canal and wound to the shores of Loch Lochy (which is basically like calling it Lake Lakey) which was beautiful. I was wishing that I had a kayak to play on the windy surface of this loch. We went about an extra mile to see a double waterfall called Eas Chia-aig meaning "Water of the old witch" Where apparently a witch had been run out of town and fell down these falls into the pool below to her demise.

The rest of the trail on day two was in the woods of Clunes and Sough Laggan Forest. It was beautiful, old forest and the trail was a double track logging road, which wasn't too bad to walk on.

We arrived, 14 miles later at South Laggan at 3:45. This town is so small that we had dinner and breakfast at the B&B, because there was literally nowhere else to eat. Great food here and an "honesty bar" which was great mostly because it was loads cheaper than regular bars.

A day in the life of a GGW thru-hiker

1. Wake up at a fairly reasonable hour.
2. Stretch
3. Enjoy a delicious full Scottish breakfast. With or without tomatoes, black pudding, or haggis (shot of whiskey also optional).








4. Hit up the grocery store/corner shop for lunch.
5. Hike 5-8 miles and take in the view.








6. Stretch PRN








7. Enjoy a delicious ploughman's lunch consisting of bread, apple, cheese, and a large amount of chocolaty digestive cookies.









8. Hike 5-8 miles.
9. Stretch some more.








10. Get to B&B.
11. Have tea and biscuits.
12. Shower.
13. Stumble to dinner. Order anything, it will be the best meal you ever had. (accompanying beer/shandy optional)
14. Veg out and stretch some more.
15. Sleep, glorious sleep.
Rinse and repeat.

12 July 2008

A silly amount of pictures

It has taken me forever to upload more than 200 photos from our Scottish adventure. Don't feel bad if you don't look at all of them, but you know, you might miss me drinking whiskey straight out of the bottle.

Edinburgh and the GGW

Scottish Ambulance Service

More word filled entries to follow.

10 July 2008

Day 5 In brief

Can one die from walking too much? If so, I am really close. Oh, the pain. No really the hike was super painful yesterday and would never end. But we finished! Thank God.
It took us roughly 40 hours to go where a car could have taken us in 2. But it was fun. We have already looked back and laughed at the complete silliness of it all.
Obviously, there are many pictures to go along, and much longer explanations, but I am home tomorrow, so I'll work on it then. Plus, it wasn't worth 50p to use my pen drive in here.

My muscles are super sore right now, so much that I think I need a walker to get around more efficiently. It is seriously comical to watch us ascend or descend stairs, and we are staying at the top floor of the hostel tonight! Yesterday we were all so busted, as Jenn would put it, that it wasn't even funny. I literally shuffled the last three miles. I have no idea how I finished. It was insanity. But lots of good memories and solidified friendships fo sho! 20 miles in one day is at least 5 miles longer than an Ellies maximum tolerance for walking.
So, more to follow in the coming days!
Cheers!

05 July 2008

Day 1 In Brief

We are in Spean Bridge in rural Scotland. We walked 13 miles today on the Great Glen Way. Loads of beautiful views. Amazing views, in fact. I am using a palm to write this, hence the brevity of this entry. But l am having a great time. We started our hike with a nip of whiskey this morning. It was from the Ben Nevis distillery. Good stuff! Ben Nevis is the tallest peak in the UK at 4,409 ft. Tis' plenty for now, time for food and sleep. 13 more miles tomorrow!

03 July 2008

Edinburgh on foot

Today I walked around in the morning. I ended up going in a lot of stores, especially outdoor ones which was sweet, and having a tea. I met Andy and Louisa at the Hostel around 1130 and from there we went to the Surgeons Hall Museums at the Royal College of Surgeons. This was pretty sweet, as it had all kinds of medical tools and things preserved in jars. Very cool stuff.
Which leads me to my favorite story of two guys called Burke and Hare, where in 1828 they decided that since the medical school would pay for corpses for educational purposes, that it would be a good idea to lure people to their house, smother them, and then sell the bodies to the school. 16 bodies into it they were caught. Hare threw Burke under the bus basically and Burke was sentenced to a public hanging. He was then publicly dissected and they made a wallet out of his skin. Needless to say, this wallet was at the museum, and on the cover it says "Burke's Skin Pocket Book." Wow, that is a whole new level of punishment. I like it. I mean if more people were publicly dissected, I think there would be less crime.

We then found Jenn and walked around the town. We ended up doing a tour of some of the underground old town that was really creepy. We had a nice dinner and a pint and now all ready for bed, to catch our train early tomorrow morning.

Behind the wheel pics

After I wrote yesterday, per Kals suggestion, I went to his favorite chippy and got some deep fried haggis. I must admit, not what I thought it would be, but still pretty, well, gross. Today I had some that wasn't deep fried, but much better. I think it's safe to guarantee that that will by my last haggis ever. More importantly, I got a deep fried Mars bar (milky way) which was super awesome and I'm sure took years off my life, but I'm strangely okay with that.

02 July 2008

Edinburgh behind the wheel

Yesterday I did do most of those things, I got some Jaffa cakes at the grocery (which are amazing, by the way), had something to eat, and visited the Museum of Scotland long enough to see Dolly the sheep. (by the way, she's stuffed and dead now, if you forgot like I did)

I started today with a hearty breakfast at the hostel and went to the national gallery. They have some nice stuff! Didn't buy anything there, 'twas all too bendy or breakable. I then wandered around the touristy spots. Saw the castle, Balmoral (where harry potter ended) and went to a bookstore (not as touristy) to get a map of our hiking trail for later.
I then met Kal (truamaqueen) and we had a tea and he showed me around the Edinburgh ambulance station. (happy to report he is not a robber or a serial killer, but exactly what I thought he would be (a kind and awesome ambulancman!) I only tried once to get in the wrong side of his car. At the station, we combed through an ambulance for quite some time. With me touching everything, asking way too many questions, and taking pictures of silly things. It will come as no surprise to you that it was all awesome and I was jealous more than once. I like how he laughed when I told him that we still lift patients. Ha ha! Their trucks either have a "tail lift" or a handy ramp that folds out to wheel the patient in. Both of which are not that complicated mechanically, so why the heck don't we have them?! Anyway, they have the usual toys, and some cool ones that we don't have! Including a computer for writing trip sheets that has a link to their dispatch and ERs so that not only is there no actual writing, there doesn't even have to be printing! (I'm sure this exists somewhere in the US, but not where I am)
He then took me 'round to the hospital to show me the ER which is basically a spitting image of any that I've seen in America. I tried to explain to him the relative silliness of not having a national health system, and we talked about blogging about work and such.

I am not able to upload pictures on the computer here, so I'll have to try another place later, or wherever I was yesterday (if I could find it), or just have to wait until a later update.

He brought me back to the center of town and we had a coffee in the "birthplace of harry potter" so I was quite keen to write in the presence of greatness, so to speak. Here I am now, writing this. I feel about as inspired as I usually do, and I have quite a lot more energy than yesterday given a good nights sleep and some tea and coffee.

I plan to spend the rest of the evening (it's about 6:30 here) eating somewhere Kal suggested and continuing to attempt to not look like a tourist.

Tomorrow, I am joined by Andy, Louisa, and Jenn, to officially begin our holiday together. (I am sure that I can talk Andy into going to the surgeon's museum to see a wallet made of human, it's the other two I'm worried about.)

01 July 2008

Edinburgh on the bike

Within ten minutes of my arrival in Edinburgh, I had collected my bag, retrieved £ from the ATM, and had acquired a bus ticket to take me to the center of town.

Within twenty minutes of my arrival I had spotted Edinburgh castle, watched a Scottish ambulance service RRU fly by with glee, and had been completely won over by the town.


Within two hours I was checked into the hostel, had my trusty and certainly rusty bike, had successfully navigated my first roundabout, and took a picture of an ambulance.

Now, a few hours later I am pretty much ready to pass out. I have wondered way to many times if I was going the right way down a street, and been scared pretty much every time I see a car coming in the opposite direction. Some intersections, pictured below, are absolutely impossible to understand.








I am now sitting in an internet cafe, sipping a cappuccino and taking a break from the bike and being lost. When I am finished I hope to find a proper dinner, even though it is only 3:30, visit a grocery store, of course, and peruse the Museum of Scotland. Or, just go to bed.