David Paparelli's Blog

Matthew 19:26

Hands of Love Video

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This video was created from footage I took in Uganda.  It’s a look into Uganda and the Hands of Love organization.  I hope this video will end up being put to good use as an education and fundraising tool for Hands of Love.

I had a great time working on the video with Chris Adams and can’t thank him enough for his help.  If you want to view more of of his work go to his youtube channel.

If you would like to sponsor a child or just learn more about Hands of Love go to Hands of Love’s website.

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Written by davidpaparelli

December 29, 2010 at 4:05 pm

Posted in Uganda

“You will have a story to tell”

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In my last post I wrote that adjusting to living in Uganda was easier than I thought.  This does not mean that it has been completely uneventful.  There have been some ups and downs.  As Elijah tells us frequently “you will have a story to tell.”  Well, here are some of those stories.

We are living in Pastor Elijah’s house.  It is under construction still and we do not have running water, but we do have a toilet over the hole in the ground we go to the bathroom in.  The hole is called a pit latrine.  I have not had the experience of using one with out a toilet over it so I can’t tell you what that is like.  Frankie described a technique based on his experience so you may be able to ask him.

With no running water there is obviously not a shower.  What we do is fill a bucket up with water and splash water on ourselves to bath.  None of this is nearly as bad as it sounds and we have acclimated just fine.  Vera and I have been comfortable and the trip has been great.

A highlight for me on every trip is the best meal I have.  Vera and my first morning in Uganda we were introduced to our alarm clock.  Ruth (Pastor Elijah’s wife) has a chicken, a few chicks, and a rooster.  Watching the chicken followed by her chicks is cute and quiet.  The roosters are neither.

One morning the rooster was sitting right outside my window crowing constantly.  At that moment I prayed that the rooster would not crow anymore.  The prayer worked.  That evening one of Pastor Elijah’s sons stepped on the roosters legs and cut its head off.  Ten minutes later the rooster was plucked, gutted and put in a pot.  Our dear friend was on the table to be eaten within a couple hours.  That was by far one of the best meals I have ever had.  It was prepared by Ruth, whose food never disappoints, and it was followed by many nights of good rest.

With the exception of the rooster, the food we have eaten here has been pretty normal.  It usually consists of chicken, pork or beef and nearly always includes rice, beans, plantains, and potatoes.  I have rarely seen anything eaten that is out of the ordinary.  Everything may be cooked slightly differently but it is cooked with familiar ingredients.  My thinking that I was familiar with Ugandan food was proved wrong when Vera was helping Pastor Elijah’s youngest son with his homework.

Little David Williams was working on the food pyramid for homework.  Vera found it weird and pointed out to me that bugs were listed under the protein part of the pyramid.  I had a good laugh and left it at that.  Later on that day David was playing with Joshua (a three year-old staying in Elijah’s house) and he yelled and pointed at a small cockroach.  Joshua ran over and picked it up and rinsed it under the rainwater tap.  Right before he could put it into his mouth Vera shouted at him to stop.  David ran over and grabbed the roach out of Joshua’s hand.  As Vera was giving him praise for keeping Joshua from eating the bug David tossed it in his mouth and ate it himself.

So it turns out that bugs are not just on the food pyramid for show.  They are actually eaten and I assume that they are a good source of protein.  I don’t think I will be trying them any time soon, but David Williams said he likes them a lot.  Despite what you must be thinking at this point in the post we have been doing more than eating and studying food.

In the last week we traveled for the third time to the orphanage out in Namadhi.  The orphanage is a four hour drive from Elijah’s house and we were going to need to be there for two days so we stayed the night in a hotel.  We got there on Monday and the kids welcomed us by rushing the van and chanting welcome.  It was great to finally be there to work with the children not just tour the school.

Our goal for the two days was to enter as many kids’ names into the organization’s new database and take photos of the kids to match with the names.  In two days we finished every single child at the orphanage.  We thought it was going to take two weeks to complete all 420 kids.  Everything went by incredibly quickly and smoothly.

It was great to be finished with this first part of data entry and to finally start putting faces with names.  On Thursday we did the same thing at the Kiteezi orphanage located about a mile from where we are staying.  In one day we almost finished the entire orphanage.  Now the database has 619 children with matched photos.  This was a miraculous amount of work to get done in a week.  Vera and I are now starting to enter in the stories of each child.  Getting to put a face with a name and a name with a story is connecting us to the children and really giving us a much better idea of the situation in Uganda.

One of the children joined the Kiteezi orphanage after being found breast feeding on his dead mother’s breast in the bush.  I am not sure how common this is but I do know this child was lucky to be found.  He is now alive and happy.  I am blessed to have been able to spend time with him.

Another child’s father was killed by being sacrificed and her mother died of aids.  This left the child abandoned and alone.  Yet another one’s parents were in an accident with him and both of them died.  This little one was left alone and frequently wakes up crying from night terrors about the accident.  There are millions of these stories in Uganda and Hands of Love has collected some of the children who have succumbed to this kind of trauma.

This organization has provided food, water, and shelter to these children but more importantly they have provided them with a future.  The future will come from the love and education the children now receive on a daily basis.  Seeing the desperate condition of the children as we are traveling to the orphanages and then seeing the hope in the smiling faces of the children at the orphanage is sad and yet incredible.  The transition in the physical and emotional condition that we have seen and the kids have experienced is truly amazing.

This is a video of me and Vera playing with baby Joshua:

Written by davidpaparelli

September 20, 2010 at 1:02 pm

Posted in Uganda

Mukama Yebazibwe

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Where do I begin?  The last three weeks have been challenging, eye opening, and exhausting.  From the time we got off the airplane until now, Vera and I have been to a Ugandan wedding, spoken at the Youth Ablaze conference, and visited both Hands of Love orphanages.  The first thing we had to do was adjust to the Ugandan lifestyle.

Adjusting was not nearly as hard as I thought it would be.  We did not know what to expect when we arrived in the Entebbe Airport.  Our plane landed, we got off, and we got into the line to get our visas.  The line did not look very long but it took forty five minutes for us to get to the window.  The man checking passports took our picture and hand wrote a receipt giving us permission to enter the country.  As unofficial as this process looked, we were allowed to enter Uganda and that’s what was important.  Vera and I picked up all of our bags without an issue and made our way to the exit.

We passed through the exit and we were greeted by Pastor Elijah and several members of his team.  They were holding signs welcoming us to their country.  One of the signs was the poster for the Youth Ablaze conference that was going to be starting in a few days.  It had me and Vera’s picture on it and I was listed as a speaker.  This is about the time I became painfully aware that in a few days I would be speaking to 1500 Africans about financial management.

I had no idea what I was going to say.  I was asked to give three thirty minute talks about finance three days before I left for Uganda and one week before I was supposed to speak.  The only things I knew about my audience was that they were between ten and forty and were African.  So I knew nothing about them.  Not knowing your audience makes preparing a speech incredibly difficult.  Thankfully, Elijah has eight kids that are the same age as the majority of the people that attended the conference.  I talked to a few of his kids and found my content.  Now I just had to prepare my speeches.

All my preparation took place at Elijah’s house while adjusting to his family’s way of living.  We drove from the airport to the Pastor’s house at around 11:30 pm and it took an hour and a half to get there.  Since it was dark we did not get to see much of Uganda.  All we got to see was how insane the drivers are here.  Motor bikes are constantly weaving in and out of traffic, bicyclists are doing the same, and all the while trucks and cars are slamming on their breaks and swerving out of the way.  This is the reason 17 people die a day from motor bike accidents in Kampala alone.  If you are ever a tourist in Uganda do not take a Motor Border/borda borda (Motor Bike ride) to your destination.  It may be cheap but you are likely to get injured.

Vera and I made it to the house unscathed and we were welcomed into the home we would be staying in for the next nine weeks.  The house was and still is under construction, but what had been built was really comfortable.  As I said before, it was much easier adjusting than we thought.  Ruth had prepared us a great Ugandan dinner of slow cooked meats, rice, and potatoes.  We were shown our rooms and the facilities.  Everything looked comfortable so we ate and then went to sleep.

We woke up to find out that we were going to be resting up all day and adjusting to the time change.  I started talking to one of Elijah’s sons about the speech and we were able to outline the entire thing.  I could finally start preparing!  It was too bad that there was no time.

The next day we headed to eastern Uganda for a wedding.  Elijah was marrying one of his pastors.  The drive was four hours long and on the way we picked up Frankie (a member of the team from Atlanta).  Frankie (the international evangelist) made it in the night before and was revved up and excited to start preaching.  The drive was bumpy and was our first glimpse of Uganda.

The overwhelming desperation of the people here is unbelievable.  People walk for miles looking for water, there were over thirty thousand wandering children in the district we were in, and people lucky enough to have a home lived in a mud hut.  The wedding was in one of the poorest districts in Uganda and people still dressed there best.  People who have absolutely nothing were wearing suits and ties.  The bride and groom were dressed in the same thing an American bride and groom would be dressed in.  I can’t draw too many comparisons to American weddings because I have never been to one.  This was actually the first weeding I was invited to.

It was a great experience.  I got to see Pastor Elijah in action for the first time.  He married the couple, spoke about the importance of marrying one woman and staying faithful, and the bride, groom, Pastor Elijah, and the witnesses signed the wedding contracts right in front of the congregation.  I filmed as much as I could because I wasn’t sure when I was going to get to go to another Ugandan wedding.  We got back to the house late and rested the next day.

Youth Ablaze 2010 was starting Sunday evening and I was supposed to make a speech on Monday.  It was already Sunday and I had to get my materials together so I could talk the rest of the week.  Thank God Bill Leonard gave me materials for my speech before I left for Uganda because I did not have internet access most of the week.  Most, if not all, the material for my speeches were found in the few books Mr. Leonard gave me.  By the time I went to bed that night I had my first speech ready to go.

Elijah told me that I would be the last speaker of the evening on Monday.  Monday, which was the first full day of the conference, was too much to handle and, for that matter, everyday after that was as well.  My speech was postponed because Frankie started healing people through the Holy Spirit.  I can’t go into too much description about this because I don’t understand it.  I don’t think anyone truly understands it.  What I will say is that night he focused on people with migraine headaches and several testimonies came out of it.

As a result of the extra time, I had another night to prepare my speech.  I was now put on the schedule for Tuesday morning.  Tuesday morning came quickly and my first speech went well.  Pastor Elijah told me I sounded a little bit nervous for the first five minutes but eventually came into my own.  I think the entire week went like that for me, Mike, Frankie, and Vera.  We all came into our own.

Mike was well prepared for all of his speeches and was truly amazing.  Pastor Elijah would tell him it was time to go up and speak and Mike would go.  Mike knew he would speak everyday but rarely knew the exact time he would speak until the day of.  On the last day He did not know he would be speaking twice.  Mike had sat down and was thinking he was finished for the week when Elijah asked him to give another forty-minute talk.  Without any hesitation Mike got up and took the stage.

Frankie continued to praise lord and truly set the people in the conference ablaze.  He refused to let people in Uganda out praise him and I have to say they never did.  Pastor Elijah gave him the new title of International Evangelist Frankie Vega and Frankie lived up to it.  The man showed great faith in the Lord and was able to show the power of God all week.  Everyone could not help but smile when the international evangelist took the stage.

I was just trying to keep up these two guys the whole week.  Everyone told me that I did a good job, but I will have see the tapes before I know for sure.  My talks ended up being about a biblically based form of budgeting, saving, and what to do with the money once it was saved.  Having talked to Elijah’s family and gotten a perspective on the Ugandan people helped me tremendously and all of the prayer helped even more.

After the conference everyone rested for two solid days before we continued on with our mission trip.  Our next item was to travel all the way back to eastern Uganda to see the Namadhi Orphanage.  We drove four hours out to the orphanage to see the work that was going on and the children being supported.

This was the first orphanage that Elijah and his wife Ruth built.  It is in an area with no electricity and some of the worst poverty in all of Uganda.  On the way to the orphanage we stopped and handed out soap to some of the locals.  This gave us the opportunity to see the conditions that some of the people live in.  70% of Ugandans are under 18 so most of the people we were serving were kids.  All of the people we saw in this community were in terrible condition.

Most, if not all, of them were malnourished, living in mud huts (if they were lucky), some were limping, some had what appeared to be tumors, and they were all happy to receive just a bar of soap.  If this did not put life in perspective enough, seeing the quality of life the orphans at the orphanage had in comparison was astounding.

The orphans welcomed us by rushing our van and chanting ‘welcome’.  They all looked healthy and happy with muscles on their arms and new clothes.  We met the principal of the school and some of the staff and then we sat down to hear the schools chorus sing.  They had added our names into songs, which made us truly feel most welcome.  All of them sang beautifully and danced their hearts out.  Elijah gave us a short tour of the orphanage before we had to jump into the car and rush back to Kampala so Frankie could catch his flight.

Frankie managed to make it on to his flight and back to the states safely.  Mike’s departure date was coming closer and he had yet to do the one thing he wanted to do while he was in Uganda.  He had not seen his little girl.  Mike and his family sponsor a girl in the organization’s other orphanage.  Elijah finally took us to see Joy.

The children welcomed us the same way they did at Namadhi.  Even though it was the same welcome Mike reacted much differently when he saw Joy there.  He gave her a hug and some gifts from the family.  I think he knew the impact he was having on this little girls life and yet, like everything else in Uganda, he could not believe it until he saw it.  The realization in both their eyes when they met each other was incredible.  Joy finally met her dad and Mike met his girl.

The entire time we were at the orphanage Mike was either holding Joy’s hand or holding her in his arms.  Anytime one of the other children tried to get Mike’s attention Joy pulled him away.  It was an amazing moment to witness and I know Mike wouldn’t trade it for the world.  I met my parents sponsored kids and got to know them a little bit, but I had to keep in mind that I would be back and this day was about Mike and Joy.  I will let you know more about my Ugandan brothers and sister when I get to spend more time with them.  With this entire week and the powerful images it had engraved in our minds it was time to get back to work.

Mike had one last thing to do before he got on the plane to go home.  He had to meet with me, Vera, and Pastor Elijah to try and get the rest of me and Vera’s trip situated.  We had a six-hour meeting with Elijah, which safely resolved many issues.  The Americans were now informed about the entire organization and we knew where to start working.

Written by davidpaparelli

September 8, 2010 at 2:12 pm

Posted in Uganda

Amsterdam Airport

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Quick Update: Vera and I made it safely to the Amsterdam Airport and we are looking forward to our final leg. We will arrive in Uganda in twelve hours! I will hopefully get some reading done and start preparing for this speech on our upcoming eight hour flight.

Written by davidpaparelli

August 19, 2010 at 6:55 am

Posted in Uganda

Preparing for Uganda

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It is just a few more days until I leave for Kampala. My departure date (August 18th) is speeding towards me. I will be in Uganda until October 26th and I will be trying to update my blog on a regular basis. Internet connection will be sparse, but I hope that one post a week will be possible. After multiple shots, a collection of pills, a search for bug spray with over 50% deet, and an attempt to gather the various other items I think I’ll need, I am almost ready to get over there and get to work.

What work will I be doing? I have been trying to get an idea of this as well. The resources available to the Hands of Love community and the situations of the people there are only vaguely familiar to me. I have done all the research I can possibly do and asked the questions that I could ask but what I found is that you need to be there to understand the organization’s desperate condition. Since I am having trouble understanding the reality of the situation it is making it difficult for me to set realistic goals.

The very least I will do on this trip is understand the needs of Hands of Love and be able to articulate them when I get back. I hope that by doing this a solution will be found for some of the most pressing problems. Other than this, I have ideas for some specific projects and I have started preparing them this week.

One of the problems brought to my attention was keeping track of the orphans. A record is taken twice daily but there may be turnover, death, and other factors that make keeping tabs on the children difficult. I am working to develop a database, which will help Hands of Love in Uganda, USA, UK, and Germany keep up with each child. Beyond this I have been gathering up video equipment and trying to better understand the financial situation of Hands of Love.

I will be taking as much video as I can while I am there. This will produce a video about Pastor Elijah (the head of Hands of Love) and I’m sure a few other projects will come out of it as well. Also, Pastor Elijah has told me that I will be able to help with some budgeting, cash flow reports, and some other finances. While this is what the organization needs, people in the US are looking for transparency in Hands of Love’s finances. Full transparency will be difficult to achieve with unreliable internet, lack of man power, and seemingly more pressing issues but it is necessary for Hands of Love to grow and expand. I am optimistic even though I’m not sure what I will be able to get done. The team I am going with should help me a great deal.

When I set out to go to Uganda I was going alone. Now I am going with a team of three other people. This should make the trip all the more productive and I think a lot will be done through this small group. I am not sure what God has in mind for molding us and using us and I cannot wait to find out. One thing I am praying about and I ask you to pray about is a recent email I received.

Pastor Elijah sent me an email a couple days ago asking me to give three thirty minute talks at the Youth Ablaze Conference he is holding in the next week. He wants me to talk about financial management to two thousand Ugandan youths. I could not help but laugh, simply out of shock, when I received this email. The last couple days I have been thinking and praying about where to go with my message. I have a starting point, but if any of you have any suggestions don’t be afraid to comment.

This trip will be life changing for me. Thank you for your support and my next post will be given all the way from Kampala.

Me and Pastor Elijah

Written by davidpaparelli

August 16, 2010 at 11:17 pm

Posted in Uganda

Home Again, Home Again

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Everything I did in Barcelona, worth talking about, I did the day I got in from Naples. I took the sleeper train from Milan to Barcelona and arrived in the Morning. The train ride was comfortable and I made it to the hostel without a problem. My room was not ready yet which gave me a couple hours to burn.

Instead of going out and seeing Barcelona, I hung around the hostel and got my flight back to the states in order. Once my room was ready I went up and took a nap. This is how the next two days of my stay went, but when I woke up from my nap I was at least active for that night.

I went down to the common room and met two American guys. They invited me to dinner. We ate tapas and had drinks. It was a real Spanish dinner. The restaurant was an outdoor cafe, we did not eat until 9:00, we had small portions, and drank. All the requirements were met. After dinner we went back to the hostel and discussed going out for the night.

Going out sounded good and I thought I had the energy to manage it. Boy, was I wrong. I was under the impression that going out in Barcelona was the same as every other city. I thought the bars would close at 2:00 and everyone would be heading home shortly after 1:00. This is not the case in Barcelona.

There were live bands playing in the bars until 4:00 and people did not head home until 6:00 in the morning. Don’t get me wrong, it was a great time, but after a two month trip I was way too exhausted to do this. I payed for it the next to days.

I started getting sick and to avoid it I stayed in the hostel. The trip had been too long for me to motivate my self to push through. So my plans for seeing Barcelona were down the drain. Hanging around the hostel I was able to meet a lot of people though.

My last night in Barcelona I went to dinner with an Aussie, said adieu to everyone going out, and set my alarm for 7:00 AM to catch my flight. The rest must have worked because I am on a plane to JFK right now and I am not sick. My voice is gone, but no tylenol is required. That being said, I would call my trip to Barcelona a success. A different kind of success.

It’s bizarre to say that I am on a plane headed home. I do feel like it is a good time to end the trip. Traveling does grow on you and you certainly get used to it. It’s just that I may have gotten too used to it. It will be good to sleep in the same bed for a few weeks, eat familiar food, and speak the native language of the country I am in without any effort. It has been a great trip and I am a disappointed it is over. This plane ride is certainly bitter sweet.

I saw everything I set out to see on the trip and much much more. My train log runs down further than I ever thought it would. Who would have thought I would go to a international soccer game in Brussels, walk through Brugge with a hooligan, have a drink with a chef from one of the best restaurant in the world in Copenhagen, see the gardens of Vienna, go canyoning in Intarlaken, and hike through Cinque Terre? Honestly, I had not even heard of Brugge, Interlaken, or Cinque Terre before my trip so I probably would not have guessed I would end up there.

Backpacking through Europe has had its ups and downs and the downs made the trip great just as much as the ups. It was the downs, usually, that put me in the situation to meet new people. Not that you need to work hard to meet people when you are living with them. Through this whole trip I have seen places that I love and places that I hate, but no matter where I was the people with me had the ability to make it an enjoyable experience. I have to give endless thanks to all the people listed in my “people I have met so far” page and many many more. Also, thanks if you have read any part of my blog so far. I will enjoy looking back on this blog and remembering what I have done and that alone made it worth writing. At the same time, It was a huge bonus to know that people were reading and I was sharing my experiences not just recording them.

This is by no means my last post on this blog. It is just the last post of this trip. I will keep writing and hopefully my life will remain interesting enough to read about…

Written by davidpaparelli

July 27, 2010 at 3:13 pm

Posted in Europe

Rome, Florence, Venice, Cinque Terre, and Naples

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I apologize if this blog seems a bit inconsistent in the writing. I wrote this long entry over the course of a few days.

Rome, Florence, Venice, Cinque Terre, and Naples. Sounds like a lot to do in ten days and it is. Nick and I have been running around Italy for a week now. I can’t believe that it is almost time for him to go home, which means it is almost time for me to go home. I’ll try and recap our week as best as I can. I have not been able to write until now because we have either been busy experiencing places or moving places. So, to say the least, I have a lot to say. I just hope I can remember it all.

Nick flew into rome early on the thirteenth. I took the train out of Roma Termini to the airport to meet him. Meeting up was uneventful. We took the train back to Termini and settled into our hostel. I knew it was going to be a tough day for Nick, but that was probably an understatement.

He told me that he watched four or five movies on the plane and did not sleep at all. I penciled a nap into our schedule after hearing this. Now there were two things on our schedule. Nap and meet up with Monique and Jason for dinner. Monique and Jason are a couple of my friends from college. They are doing their own backpacking trip (http://moniquegiguere.wordpress.com/) and we happened to be in Rome at the same time. Somehow, we got in contact with each other and were able to plan a dinner. With our day free, me and Nick left the hostel and tried to find some more things to put on the schedule.

Our day turned into aimless walking through Rome. I can’t quite call it completely aimless because we seemed to pick large monuments in the distance and walked towards them. First was one of the many obelisks (each mark the center of their own square in Rome), next was the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and finally Il Coliseo. This walk from the main train station to the Coliseum took us past almost everything in the city. We did not stop for much, but once we got to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier the top of the huge staircase seemed to call to us.

The Tomb is a giant white monument. A flame burns at the bottom of two stair cases and is guarded throughout the day. The two staircases wrap up the building and pass a statue of a soldier on a horse. They end in a large building that acts as the top. The whole thing is white, which makes the small flame at the bottom and the colorful Italian flag on the outside stand out quite a bit. We walked up a few stairs and lost a lot of water weight to get to the top. The view was not anything spectacular, but the monument itself was pretty cool especially for an ‘unknown’ soldier. Thankfully, we found a route down the monument that kept us out of the sun. Reaching the bottom and looking down the main street, we saw the coliseum and started on our way towards it.

On the way to the Coliseum we stumbled upon the forum and a lot of gladiators trying to take their picture with us. We walked around the coliseum and then walked back to our hostel to check ‘nap’ off our list. One thing we knew after this walk was that we needed a tour of the city. Walking through thousands of years of history and knowing almost none of it is a good indication that it is time to get a tour guide.

It was hard work and took some time but we were able to turn our penciled in nap time into a reality. After some struggle, I woke Nick up and we went to meet Monique and Jason at the central train station. It was great to see some familiar faces and hear about their trip. Their stories made me realize how different it is traveling alone. We had been to the same places and seen a lot of the same things and yet our trips were completely different. Not to say that one is better than the other, just that it is amazing how different traveling alone is. I found this out pretty quickly traveling with my brother and hearing about Monique and Jason’s trip was a good introduction. Dinner went well, as most dinners in Rome do, and the two groups parted ways planning on meeting again for dinner the next day.

As I expected, I woke up before my brother the next day. I went to a tour company, booked a tour, got some money out of an ATM, did my laundry, answered a few emails, and then went back to the room. Nick was still sleeping. I think he was rounding the thirteenth hour of sleep so I figured it was ok to wake him up. He did a stretch, a groan, and settled back into his bed. The same routine I would see for the next ten days. I woke him up again and gave him a little incentive by describing our plan for the day. Surprisingly, telling him we were going on a three hour tour got him out of bed. Well, it was either that or lunch. Either way we were up and out of the hostel.

The tour met at the Piazza Novona in front of the obelisk. Our tour guide was a doctorate of archeology. I don’t think business in the field archeology is booming right now in Rome, which was good because she was an excellent guide. Our first stop on the tour was the Pantheon. This is an incredibly large domed building that was built to worship all of the gods of the Roman Empire at the time. It has since been turned into a church. The dome has a whole in the middle of it that allowed the sun to stream into the building. This created an awesome effect on whatever the light was touching in the building. The problem, I guess, is that when it is raining outside it is raining inside the Pantheon. The tour continued passed the balcony where Muselini made his speeches and then along the same walk me and my brother had taken the day before.

We passed the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, went into the Forum, and then into the Coliseum. The Forum was great to be standing in and interesting to look at but it is not much to see. This was the case for me, I know other people could study it for years. I will say that the senate house was impressive and it was surreal walking where Julius Caesar walked and seeing where he was buried. The tour finished in the Coliseum.

The Coliseum was everything I expected it to be. The tour guide gave us an introduction to the stadium, most of which me and my brother already knew, and then ended the tour to let us explore it ourselves. Nick and I walked up to the second floor and looked out on the underground tunnels and the few seats left. We left after soaking in what we wanted to see of The Coliseum and started our walk to the pizza place where we were meeting Monique and Jason.

This Pizza place was supposed to be the best pizza in Rome. In my opinion the name is not even worth mentioning. The waiters were rude and pushy and the pizza was not good enough to compensate. Having now had pizza from Naples, I can say don’t waste your time in Rome on Pizza. Eat other things and then take the hour train ride to Naples for pizza. I promise you it will be worth it. The dinner went much the same way as the night before. Similar enjoyable conversation with a smattering of complaints about the waiting staff. Dinner ended and we said goodbye to Monique and Jason. This long day lead to some good sleep.

I had to get Nick up a little earlier the next day because we had to check out and get on our train to Florence. We got to Florence around dinner time and ate before exploring the town. Both me and my brother loved Florence. It is a beautiful city with a great feel. We took a bike tour of the city to give us an introduction and a few recommendations on what to visit.

The tour went well. The guide was not nearly as professional as the doctor we had in Rome, but how much can you complain about a bike ride through Florence. He did tell us not to bother climbing the Duomo. Instead, we should go to the Baptista just outside. The guide told us the lines are shorter and it is infinitely more beautiful. After looking at the Duomo’s line, we took his advice, walked right into the Baptiste and admired it for the better part of an hour.

Looking up at the dome you can see stories from the bible that read like comic strips. Giant, gold encrusted, comic strips. I describe the dome as a comic strip in the most respectful and adoring way possible. It just happens to be the only thing I can relate it to. In all honesty, this dome and this chapel were full of character and gave a better indication of who the people of Florence were than most things in the city. Sitting in the chapel for so long apparently got us in the mood for a walk because we decided to go to the Piazzale Michelangiolo afterwards.

I’m not sure if Nick thought it was worth the walk, but I certainly did. This Piazzale is up an enormous hill across the Fiume Arno (the river running through Flornece). A few hundred stairs later we reached the top and looked across the river at all of Florence. We could see as far as the villa covered hills surrounding Florence, down to the Duomo and to the walled gardens at the base of the hill. We gave our legs a rest at the top of the hill before heading down and exhausting them again.

From the Piazzale Michelangiolo we went to the Galleria dell Academia where the statue of David is found. The entrance to this building was so unassuming that we had to ask people standing in line if this was the right place. They told us it was and we waited for forty-five minutes to get into the galleria. Once inside there is not too much to see, but when you round the corner and see the David your jaw drops. The statue itself is impressive and when it is lit by natural light streaming in from a dome over head, as it is, you become taken back even more.

Nick loved the statue and I enjoyed watching him observe every single detail from the vanes running down the arms and feet to the curls on its head. I think we both kept asking ourselves how this seventeen foot statue could be carved from one piece of marble that was almost considered junk? We had taken in all we could of the statue and then we quickly walked through the rest of the Museum before leaving to catch a train to Venice.

Venice was the first city I had been to that had turned wandering into a way of life. Nick and I did some research on the city to see what we should do while we were there and it turns out just being there is the the thing to do while you are there. If that does not make sense I can explain a little further. While in venice our guide book recommended that we eat gelato, go for a walk, sit in an outdoor cafe, and go for a gondola ride. As good as a romantic gondola ride with my brother sounded we both agreed it was not necessary. This left us with eating and walking of which we did plenty.

We ate Gelato all day, sat in Piazza San Marco and listened to live music while we had an expensive snack, and ended up at Harry’s Bar on our last night in the city. All this eating must have sweetened our blood because the two nights we slept in venice, with the windows open and no air conditioning, had us covered in bug bites. The tourists and the bugs put a damper on Nick’s time in the city and I walked a way ambivalent to what is a lot of peoples’ favorite city. I gave Nick the option to stay in Venice for the day and leave for Cinque Tere at night or leave in the morning. He did not hesitate before firmly saying that he wanted to leave in the morning.

In the morning we took a train from Venice to Milan, Milan to Genova, Genova to La Spezia, and La Spezia to Monarola. We passed Monarola once or twice on the local train and ended up walking there from a nearby town. This got us to our destination, Monarola (one of the five towns of Cinque Terre (five lands)), at around ten at night. The hostel we planned to stay in was booked up but we managed to find room in a hotel in Monterosso, which is the farthest north of the five towns.

The hotel was great. It had air conditioning, no bugs, and I was able to shower without sandals on for the first time in months. I let Nick sleep in the next morning and I had a long breakfast, drank tea, and mentally prepared for the long hike ahead of us. The Cinque Tere hike we were about to embark on is through all five fishing villages along the coast. You hike from Monterosso to Vernazza then down to Corniglia around to Manarola and finally to Riomaggiore. The hike is around eight miles in all and if you do it with out stopping it takes about three hours, but most people recommend allotting five to seven hours.

The views from the cliffside are absolutely spectacular. We had a taste of the view the night before when we walked from Riomaggiore to Monarola. The sun was setting as we walked and it left an unforgettable image in my mind. Seeing the sun set behind all five villages and into the cliffs was remarkable. It is something that I will never forget and will hopefully get to witness again. I woke Nick up so we could see some more of these spectacular views. I gave him a croissant I stole from down stairs, he through on a pair of pants, and we were out the door.

Right after walking out of the hotel we saw where all the tourists were. The only tourist beach in any of the five villages is in Monterosso and it is crowded. We escaped the crowds by starting our clime through the Cinque Terre National Park. Each hill we climbed gave a stunning view. You could see the village you were headed to, the village you had just left, and they were both surrounded by an endless ocean and beautiful cliffs. Besides the villages, we walked past the amazing farming efforts of the villagers, how you can farm on a cliffside is still beyond me even after seeing it, and looked down into the various lagoons at anchored boats.

We reached the last two towns of our hike and decided to take a swim. The rest of the hike was said to be the easiest and having done one leg of it the night before we knew it was not going to be very difficult. So knowing a swim couldn’t hurt we went down into a lagoon.

I had not swam my whole trip and I had been looking forward to this swim a similar length of time. The water felt great after our three to four hours of hiking on a hot day. We spent plenty of time swimming, lounging on rocks, and relaxing before we moved onto the last part of our hike.

On our way into Riomaggiore (the last village) Nick spotted a cliff we could jump off of “safely”. It was a twenty to thirty foot jump into the water. As we descended to the jump I asked a local if it was safe to jump. They did not speak english but I think they said yes just jump out as far as you can to avoid the rocks. There was only one thing left to do. I took the plunge and survived to write about it. Otherwise, my brother would probably be writing this blog right now.

Nick did the jump just as tentatively as I did and afterwards we both did it several more times. We even started to get an audience higher up on the cliffs. This was the last straw of the day. My legs were spent and I was starving. We stopped in the last town and got some fresh fish and wine before heading home to Monterosso.

We slept well that night and we were ready to travel to Naples the next day. To get to Naples we took a train to La Spezia and then got on a train to Naples. The train to Naples lasted eight hours. Once we were in the city, we made it to our hostel.

The hostel I had booked told us that I had accidentally reserved for the next day and they were fully booked for the night. This was terrible news to get so late in the day. We managed to find room in another hostel and take a life threatening cab ride over to it. They gave us a room that we reached just before midnight. Now the challenge was going to be to find food.

Walking down a main street near our hostel we came across a pizza place that told us if we took the pizzas to go we could order. For ten euros we got two pizzas and two waters. Naples is not venice. I don’t want to bore anyone with describing this pizza but it was the best meal of my trip so it has earned a more extensive description in my blog.

The pizza had a thin crust that managed to maintain its doughy nature. On the crust was placed the perfect amount of a sweet marinara sauce. The crust also supported a layer of mozzarella cheese and cured ham that was left somewhere in between bacon and deli sliced ham. What made the pizza were the mounds of ricotta cheese. The ricotta cheese made every bite melt in your mouth. It was arranged in clumps, which not only was aesthetically pleasing but also managed to distribute the perfect amount of cheese with every bite. I was making some pretty unusual noises while eating this pizza and Nick kept giving me odd looks. It would be impossible for me to do this pizza justice with a description. Unfortunately, I will be craving the pizza for a long time and probably fail at recreating it several times before giving up and buying a plane ticket. This hard day of travel was ended on a positive note with a full stomach and air conditioning.

I woke up the next day and asked the girl working at the hostel what we should do for our only day in Naples. She said that we should leave Naples and go to Pompeii or Capri. She had to repeat her self because I was astonished that she recommended that we leave Naples for our only day in Naples. So, after no debate, Pompeii it was.

Before going out to the ruins, me and my brother went to where the guide book told us the best pizza in Naples was. Even though we were pretty sure we had already found it, we thought we would give this other place a shot. There was a line outside before the restaurant opened which seemed like a good sign. The pizza was not nearly as good. It was still filling and tasty yet it could not quite measure up. We burned off the calories of the pizza on the walk to the train station.

The train to Pompeii was easy enough to find and Pompeii was easy enough to get to. When we walked up to the ruins of Pompeii I knew that we were going to be in a similar situation that we were in in Rome and we better get a guide. A relatively cheap tour was offered and we took it. The tour was great and it was incredible how well preserved the city actually was. Some of it is reconstructed, but the majority of it is original. As we walked through the city I could clearly see what life was like two thousand years earlier.

The restaurants showed how people ate, the perfectly preserved paintings depicted life in various parts of the city, entire houses showed the lifestyle and standard at which people lived, ingenuity of the baths and fountains showed the creative side of the native Italians, and the brothels showed the dirtier side. I liked these ruins better than the forum because you could imagine people populating the city so much more vividly. This was a well worth while stop on our trip.

We had to leave the ruins a little earlier than I wanted to to try and catch a bus up to Mount Vesuvius. When we got to the ticket office the attendant made it clear that the volcano was closed for the day and would not open until tomorrow morning. So we missed out on seeing where it all originated. We headed back to the city earlier than planned and went to our favorite pizza place to end the trip.

Nick and I were on the train to Rome at 7:50 am the next day. This got us to Rome at 9:00 and we were on the train to the airport by 10:00. This is how my whole day went. Nick was lucky enough to escape the trains, get on a flight, and go home. I was trying to get to Barcelona in a day by train and so in the 24 hour period that I was traveling I took five trains not including the metro. I successfully landed at my last stop of the trip (Barcelona).

Written by davidpaparelli

July 21, 2010 at 2:43 pm

Posted in Europe