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Week 48: Rome: First Hostel, Colosseum and Such, and the Vatican

I took three years of Latin which included quite a bit of Roman history and I have always wanted to visit Rome.  The train ride from Paris was beautiful with the Swiss Alps outside my train window.  Long train rides are a good form of therapy I’ve found.  Rome was the only place where I was not able to find a couchsurfer host.  I had a couch possibility, but when I arrived in Rome and checked my e-mail there was no couch.  Therefore, I did not have a place to stay in Rome.  Then I decided to eat at the Rome train station because I’ve found food in the stomach is always a good idea when you’re not quite sure what’s going on momentarily.  I struck up a few conversations with people at the restaurant and was told where a few hostels were.  I went to the hostel and discovered they were full.  As I was speaking into the intercom about where other hostels were, a man walked out and told me he had a bed and breakfast I could stay in.  I told him, “I don’t want breakfast” and after a few minutes of talking and walking away he stopped me and I had a big room to myself for less than I would have paid for a night in the hostel with six people to a room.  Cool.  The next morning I packed up, checked out, got online, and found the highest rated reasonably priced hostel in Rome and set off to my first hostel experience.  The Ciak hostel was an excellent place to stay and I got to become good friends with Brits, Hollanders, Greeks, and Spaniards.

Colosseum:
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I was lucky to find a Rick Steves‘ Rome guide book in the hostel which made my Rome experience exponentially better than it would have been otherwise.  I highly recommend his guidebooks, after using many other books I found his to be the most helpful.  My favorite part was how he would tell you, “Find a nice place to sit in front of… ” and I would sit.  When Rick tells me to do something I do it and it turns out that he usually knows when I’m tired before I do.  So, thanks Rick (second time I’ve thanked Rick on rtqblog).

The Colosseum was surreal for me for several reasons.  It is believed that over half a million people were killed in the Colosseum as well as over a million animals.  Wow.  That gives the place a sickening feeling.  However, it is such an incredible architectural achievement.  It could seat 50,000 people and was so logically built to get people in and out as quickly as possible.  It must have been an amazing sight to see in it’s glory days.

Ground Floor of the Colosseum:
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Top Story of the Colosseum:
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Colosseum and Me by night:
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Another surreal aspect of the Colosseum which brought my year full circle is who built the Colosseum and the Arch of Titus (the arch pictured below in front of the Colosseum).  The Arch of Titus was built to commemorate the capture and victory over Jerusalem in 70 AD.  The Romans destroyed the Second Temple, which was the center of Jewish worship and the remains are now the Wailing Wall, and took the Jewish people back to Rome to help build the Colosseum and an arch to commemorate the destruction of their most holy place and the deaths of their loved ones.  Since I was in Jerusalem in January learning about this history it was much more real for me.

Roman Forum from Palatine Hill:
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The Palatine Hill, Roman Forum, and the now unrecognizable Circus Maximus were amazing to see as well.  Walking on the same stones that Cesar walked on in the Roman Forum was a pretty crazy feeling.  My hostel was down the road from all of this so I would walk down every night and read my book about the Roman Emperor Julian.  Life is not tough, currently.

Sistine Chapel and Me:
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The Sistine Chapel was another surreal experience for me.  Michelangelo is not just the best Ninja Turtle, but he was an amazing artist.  I probably sat there for an hour and a half inspecting everything.  I loved the nine center paintings from Genesis, especially God creating day and night.  My good friend Gabe always tells people how God moons people in the Sistine Chapel and it’s true.  Check out the bottom (hehe) left of the center panels in the picture above.

St. Peter’s Basilica – Peter’s Tomb
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St. Peter’s Basilica has the largest interior of any Christian church in the world.  My pictures of the church didn’t turn out well, but I have plenty of video I will post later.  I had heard about St. Peter’s before, but I had no idea what I was walking into in terms of size and beauty.  The materials taken to build St. Peter’s were taken from many historical places in Rome like the Colosseum which is frustrating.  Traditionally, Peter, the apostle upon whom Christ said he would build His Church, was buried here after being crucified upside down near the obelisk of Nero’s Circus (which is out in the courtyard in front of St. Peter’s).

The Pope is out of Rome during the summer and they did not have Mass while I was there.  I would love to experience Mass led by the Pope at St. Peter’s Basilica one day.

Week 47: Paris: Movies, Bakeries, Sites, and Chartres

Before going to Kenya, I planned to visit two places on my way home from Kenya if I had a layover in London, my dad’s only cousin lives in Paris and one of my best friends, Brian, and his wife, Kellie, live in Edinburgh currently.  Things worked out and it didn’t cost anything extra to extend my layover in London, yay.  I have learned that when an opportunity like this presents itself, you better take it!  So, I did.

I was privileged to visit my dad’s only cousin, Rick, in Paris for one week recently.  In 2006, I visited him for two weeks and had a very good time meeting his friends and getting to know him better.  He has lived in Paris my entire life.  Rick is a movie buff and so we watch movies I haven’t seen when we’re together which I love.  We’ll be on the subway and he’ll ask me if I’ve seen a movie and I’ll give him a very blank look and then three hours later I have seen it.  This trip Rick introduced me to Gay Purr-ee, 3 Women and What Ever Happened to Sweet Baby Jane to introduce me to director Robert Altman, Diary of a Country Priest, and The Straight Story (amazing, if you haven’t see it) and Mulholland Drive (rated R for good reason) to introduce me to director David Lynch.  I really enjoyed all of the movies and look forward to seeing more oldies that I’ve never seen.  Rick also introduced me to Gore Vidal and bought me one of his historical novels, Julian, to read and I am thoroughly enjoying it.  I really enjoy trips where I learn about new ideas and gain valuable knowledge (instead of just site seeing) and my time with Rick has always been that way.

We did do some sight seeing because Rick works at several places that are right by the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, and the Arc de Triomphe.
Cousin Rick and me:
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I had forgotten how amazing the bakeries are in France.  Rick helped remind me with breakfast every morning looking like this.

Breakfast from the bakery:
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Rick is an English teacher at different schools around Paris so I was able to see a lot just by accompanying him to class.  I’ll let pictures do most of the talking.


Saint Jacques Tower
(Check out those gargoyles)
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Notre Dame:
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Rick and Oscar Wilde’s Tomb:
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Jim Morrison’s Grave:
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Outside Louvre:
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On Sunday, Rick took me to a town 50 miles north of Paris called Chartres.  Chartres is famous for it’s cathedral, Chartres Cathedral.  The stained glass from Chartres is used on many Christmas album covers and is breath taking.  We were lucky to catch an organ concert on one of the most impressive organs in one of the most impressive churches I have ever seen while we were there.  Rick also took me for a long walk in Chartres without telling me where we were going.  It turned out we were going to a gravedigger’s house who had decorated his entire house (and eventually the next lot) with pieces of shattered plates, glasses, and pots.  It was incredible and I will post a video of it in the next week or so.  It is impressive, you’ll agree.

Chartres Cathedral (check out how different the spires are):
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Chartres Cathedral:
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Chartres Cathedral Stained Glass Windows:
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Eiffel Tower and me:
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Eiffel Tower and trees:
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Arc de Triomphe
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Amazing Park by Rick’s house:
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So, after a very good visit in France I was off for my first visit to Italy.

My Luggage and me:
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If I am ever President of the World…

If I am ever President of the World, I am installing pillows on the back of all plane, train, and bus seats.

Example of where pillow should be and why:
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Week 47: London: From Matutus to Buses and Trains

Before going to Kenya, I planned to visit two places on my way home Kenya if I had a layover in London, my dad’s only cousin lives in Paris and one of my best friends, Brian, and his wife, Kellie, live in Edinburgh currently.  Things worked out and it didn’t cost anything extra to extend my layover in London, yay.  I have learned that when an opportunity like this presents itself, you better take it!  So, I did.  Then the wheels in my brain started turning (danger!) since I had a month or so of free time I thought maybe I could get a Eurorail pass and see a few places in Europe I’ve always wanted to see without having to fly back over the ocean later, save the environment and money (I’m down!).  Turns out, I can get a Eurorail youth pass as a youth for only two more months because I’m 25 and under.  So, I did.  Furthermore, I am couchsurfing where I don’t have to pay for places to stay and meet really interesting people in the cities I visit.  So, the trip is costing a train pass and basic food.  Amazing.  Opportunity seized.

London

My plane arrived into London at 6 AM and I slept rather well on the eight hour flight up from Nairobi.  I had asked people what they recommended that I do in London.  My old boss and good friend, Allison, recommended going on the open air bus tour of London.  She said, “I know it’s corny and pricey, but it’s worth it.” Allison had spent a year in London as a YAV and said she knew more about London than some Londoners because of the tour.  I only had two days and one night in London so this was a great way to the see the tourist sites and hear about the history of London in a short amount of time.  Furthermore, you can hop off and on the bus for 24 hours.  So, although it was corny and pricey I did enjoy myself.

Westminster Abbey:
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Me and Big Ben:
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Mac Store in London:
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London was also my first experience couchsurfing.  Couchsurfing.org is a website people join like facebook, where they create a user profile, but the ultimate goal is to help people who are traveling find a couch to sleep on wherever they are.  It’s free and the host is supposed to provide the traveler with breakfast, but that’s not the best part.  The best part is meeting and staying with a local person and not in a touristy place.  The experience in a city is completely changed by having someone who lives there host you and give advice on what you may like to see.

My first host was Richard and I was his first surfer which made for a good match.  I got off the open air London tour bus with my 50 lbs of luggage on my back.  I could see the landmark metro stop on my bus tour map from which Richard’s directions started.  I had the mindset of, “I walk three miles or so in Kenya without any problem,” however, I don’t have a 50 lbs bag on my back… I would have been fine, but I didn’t google map the directions and ended up not finding his house and wondering around a bit which is all good, except the bag was with me and my back.  Eventually, I realized I needed to look up the directions he had e-mailed me again and take a break.  So, I walked down the street looking for food and internet.  I found a Pizza Hut (I hate to eat at States’ food places abroad) and went in because they had wifi and I knew I would leave full which is what I was interesting in at the time.  I found my mistake in the directions and made my way to Richards.  I arrived and was very happy to meet Richard who was a very nice man who welcomed me very graciously into his home which was only a ten minute bus ride from the heart of London.

Richard and Me (my first host):
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He was drawn to my profile because it says that I am studying to become a Presbyterian minister and he is very involved in his church.  So, he recommended that the next day I go to see John Wesley’s church, home, and grave.  The next day I did just that.  John Wesley was the founder of the Methodist denomination and is known for his heart being “strangely warmed” when hearing a preface to Romans by Luther.

First, I stopped by the Tower of London, but it cost a lot to get in and didn’t fit well into my thrifty month.  Not a good foot to start off on.  So, I went to John Wesley’s which was not listed on the tourist map, but I fully enjoyed.  I was the only person there when I got there.  I was invited to watch a 20 minute video about Wesley, then given a tour of the church, his house, and his grave.  It was fantastic and much more interesting for me than seeing the Tower of London would have been.

John Wesley’s Pulpit with me in it:
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John Wesley’s Bedroom (where he died):
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John Wesley’s Prayer Room where he would begin his day at 4 AM and end his day as well:
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John Wesley’s Grave:
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I love London and it’s history.  As I was on the bus, I looked to my right at one point and there was a tiny plaque which read, “Here the first post mark was officially posted.”  That’s pretty crazy for a small plaque.

After this I headed back to Richards to get my belongings so I could make my night flight to Paris. I had not seen all that I wanted to see, but there will always be things left over. It is impossible to see it all. Sounds simple, but is terribly hard to learn.

Music: Jackson Squared

Alright, I told myself I would do this while I was in Lodwar, but got distracted somehow.

In Lodwar, I was spotted easily and often as a mzungu (white person).  When I stood up from bed in the morning the first thing I heard was mzungu from the children lining the fence by where we were staying.  I’m use to this to an extent in Nairobi, but not from my bedroom.  So, after two weeks of this I needed some emotional release and I found this through music on the five year old iPod my good friend Brian gave me before I left for Kenya.  So, Jackson Browne and Michael Jackson were my good companions on this trip.

Jackson Browne was my first concert!  Whoo Hoo!  The baby sitter fell through for my little brother and me so my mom stayed home with Patrick and I went with my dad to see Jackson Browne.  I don’t remember much of the concert except that at one point I told my dad that I had to pee, he looked down at me and said, “Are you sure?”  Funny question I had never heard before.  His favorite song had just started so he picked me up and ran with me to the bathroom and back.  This is the only time I can remember my dad picking me up because he has a bad back.  So, that’s why I remember my Jackson Browne concert.

This song is amazing!  My favorite line is “Honey you really tempt me, you know the way you look so kind.”  Also, the age and the years he mentions are the same age my dad was in those years.  He and Jackson Browne are the same age.  Enjoy!

Here is the song I had to pee during… Amazing!:

Michael Jackson died… not cool. Kenya helped me reconnect with one of my favorite musicians because he was played in every matatu and you would walk by a restaurant and hear his music. So, thank you Kenya and Michael for the good times.

The true introduction of Michael Jackson as a solo artist with the first moon walk the year I was born:

The best choreographed music video in my humbled opinion of all time… ever… humbled (try to ignore the lyrics written in or watch it seven times like I do)(Warning: violence):

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