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Day 9 - May 7, 2005 - French Riviera, France to Florence, Italy

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It was another day of waking up at 6:45 am.  At first, the early mornings weren't so bad, since they were five and six hours ahead of time from home anyway.  But by the Italian leg of the tour, they were starting to wear on me.  The coach was packed at 7:15 am and I went to breakfast.  I sat with James, Matt, Steve, Aussie Justin and Vanessa. 
 
I got to know Aussie Justin that morning.  We talked about the differences in the Australian and American accents.  I learned that Australians pronounce the letter H, "hate-ch," and the letter Z differently as well.  I think it was, "zeed" or "zid" or something like that.  Also, I don't think they have cheese doodles in Australia.  I was trying to describe them and they didn't seem to be able to connect my description to anything they had at home.  This could have been due to my inability to describe cheese doodles to people who don't know what they are, at least by name.  When you think of it, how do you really explain a cheese doodle?  The closest I got in getting the Aussies to identify with them was the Cheesy Poofs from Southpark.  The Aussies, however, thought Cheesy Poofs were cereal.
 
After unnecessarily long conversations regarding cheese doodles, we were on the coach towards Italy.  In retrospect, I wasn't anticipating Italy as much as I should have been.  And I'm not really sure why.  I guess when you have an itinerary of ten countries, you're bound to over hype and under hype certain ones for yourself.  For me, Italy was the under hyped country.
 
While on the road towards the Italian border, we were disappointed in how the seating arrangements evolved.  This left us unable to play Osama Bin Hacky for the first time during a significant drive in a few days.  We probably could've arranged it if we really wanted to, but I suppose no one wanted to be a nuisance.  Also, the views of the French Riviera are quite exceptional.  I didn't mind just gazing out the windows for a couple of hours.

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DAYTIME VIEW OF MONACO

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AND ANOTHER

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ONE MORE

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THE FRENCH RIVIERA

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NEAR THE ITALIAN BORDER

In addition to admiring the scenery, we engaged in some extremely bizarre conversations.  I sat next to Steve during this part of the trip.  Somehow we began talking about farm animals in France.  It probably stemmed from the fact that there were farm animals right near our campsite in Antibes.  Anyway, the conversation actually evolved into talking about the noises animals make, and if they are, even if extremely slightly, influenced by the way people speak.  For instance, do French animals have an accent, if you will, compared to Australian animals and American animals?  I swear, we weren't currently influenced by any alcohol or drugs.  I suppose it was just mere boredom from the often extensive drives.  For the record, I concluded with the opinion that there could be at least slight differences in the sounds, but it has nothing to do with an influence of the native human's accent.
 
Somewhere during the madness, we drove through Nice, which is another quaint and appealing town on the coast of the Riviera.  Then, for what would be our last stop in France, we stopped at a French perfumery.  This stop was pretty unappealing to me.  I just viewed it as an asthma attack factory.  Nevertheless, I participated in the walking tour.  I then bought some perfume for my mom for mother's day to mail it home.  For some strange reason, they actually accepted American money there.  This was convenient, as I had been completely using ATMs and I still had a decent amount of American money left.

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NICE

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THE HARBOR IN NICE

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VAT INSIDE THE FRENCH PERFUMERY

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MORE SMELLY PERFUMERY EQUIPMENT

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OUR CONTIKI COACH

While some of the tour (all the girls) browsed through the shop in the perfumery, we went outside for some much needed fresh air.  I played some hacky sack with Matt, Freddy, Vince, and Myungsoo.  After boarding the coach for the last time in France, we drove back through Monaco and into Italy.
 
For our first activity in Italy, we played "The Tunnel Game."  Rex offered a prize to the person who could most accurately count the tunnels we were about to drive through.  I thought it sounded pretty simple.  Also, I had a paper and a pen out, so I just started a tally after passing each one.  However, the number soon reached 50, then 75, then 100.  I didn't expect his many.  The final count was something ridiculous, like 180 or so.  I was about 20 off.
 
Our first stop in Italy was just at a typical service stop.  Before the stop (and before the damn wake up song), Rex bragged about both the quality and the size of the pizza.  I was highly anticipating trying my first slice of pizza in Italy.  I then ordered a slice, which is actually a quarter of a pie, as opposed to an eighth (like we have in the US).  It was good, but not nearly the best slice I've ever had.  Also the size was definitely inferior to the average sized slice available in the New Jersey area.  I didn't want to come across as being arrogant at the time, so I kept my complaints to a minimum.  However, Scottie and Dane (the two Australians who had been living in New York) definitely agreed with me.  Although it was good, I felt let down.  I did order another slice though.

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FIRST PICTURE IN ITALY

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KATE, MICHELLE AND I EATING OUR FIRST PIZZA IN ITALY

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ITALIAN SCENERY

After we were back on the coach, Rex asked for volunteers to design a shirt to represent our tour.  After there were no jumpers, I volunteered.  Vince said he would help me.  In the end, I would end up designing it on my own though.  Thanks for nothing, Vince!
 
The next stop on the way to Florence was Pisa.  There is really not much of interest in Pisa except the Leaning Tower.  There were some interesting little stands selling things, but I would come to find out that the same stands are ubiquitous in Italy.  There were also some mildly interesting buildings, architecturally speaking, aside from the leaning tower.  However, I would come to find out that this architectural style is also ubiquitous in Italy.

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THE LEANING TOWER

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AWESOME BUILDING OVERSHADOWED (LITERALLY AND FIGURATIVELY) BY THE TOWER

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MY MOST CLICHE PICTURE OF ALL TIME

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CLOSE UP

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EXTREME CLOSE UP

Upon entering Pisa, Rex offered another prize to yet another game.  The object was to come up with the cheesiest picture of the leaning tower.  I ended up walking around with Vince, Kim and Yvonne.  I'd say, while considering Europe as a whole, tourists are in fact the most obvious and the cheesiest in Pisa.  Everyone does the cliche picture of themselves holding up the tower.  I had some fun taking pictures of the people doing that.  Vince then came up with a picture he decided to enter into the contest Rex had going.  He somehow made a sexually suggestive picture involving him and the tower.  I'll leave it up to your imagination.  I too came up with an entry.  I tilted a garbage can and just took a picture of that, calling it the Leaning Bin of Pisa.  After the fun, we headed back to the coach.  My final thoughts of Pisa were that I was glad to have gone there, but I have no interest in ever going back.

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MY AWARD WINNING "LEANING BIN OF PISA"

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RANDOM CLICHE TOURISTS

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MARKET IN PISA

After we were back on the coach, we played some Osama Bin Hacky once again.  This time I played with Matt and I orchestrated an impressive winning streak of my own.  I began to take over the Grand Master title from Neil. 
 
Later, we finally arrived at our campsite in Florence.  The cabins in Florence were amazing!  They were, by far, the best accommodations of the tour so far.  I roomed with Neil, while Matt and Steve shared the other room in our four person cabin.  The funniest thing about our cabin was the refrigerator.  It was unplugged and there was tape over the cord.  Written on the tape was, "do not plug in."  I was sick of all the "licensing" and other nonsense luring us to buy beer at campsite prices.
 
Next, we went to the market at the top of the hill.  The hill was the only bad part of the campsite in Florence.  They had 1 liter Becks there!  I was pretty happy with that and so I immediately indulged.  I sat for a while with Neil, Joanne, Hayley, Vanessa, Siraj, Scottie, and Dane.  I have no idea what was discussed but we had to have been there for a while because I was drunk when I went to dinner.

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OUR IMMACULATE FLORENTINE CABIN

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INTERIOR SHOT

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THE BAR AT THE FLORENTINE CAMPSITE

I ate dinner with Vince, James, Freddy, Olivia and Kent and I think some others.  The food was pretty decent.  Afterwards, most people left to go to a pub in the city.  However, I was planning on taking advantage of that early night I had been desperately seeking, so I stayed at the campsite. 
 
Fortunately (or unfortunately, as far as sleep was concerned), James, Vince, Myungsoo, Kim, Yvonne, Kent, Freddy, and Olivia all stayed at the campsite as well.  We all went to James', Vince's, and Myungsoo's cabin to play some games.  They had removed the tape from their fridge, plugged it in and stored their own reasonably priced beer in there.  We then played Circle of Kings.  Some interesting rules that followed were saying, "I love James," before drawing each card and ending each sentence with, "in bed."  This ultimately resulted in saying, "I love James in bed," before each drawn card.  There were also these really bizarre animal cartoons on each card, accompanied with a saying that was very strange.  It was a subtle blend of something an animal from a children's book would say and something a serial killer would say.  Another rule required everyone to recite these quotes in a sexual manner, while ending their sentence with, "in bed," of course.  I'd say it was the most creative game of Circle of Kings I've ever played.

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JAMES, MYUNGSOO, ME, KIM, YVONNE

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AND ANOTHER

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VINCE, MYUNGSOO, JAMES, ME, KIM, YVONNE, KENT, FREDDY

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MORE ALCOHOL INDUCED FUN

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AND MORE

After our game of Circle of Kings, everyone went to bed.  Since neither of us were tired (so much for that early night's sleep), Yvonne and I went to reception to buy stamps, get a phone card and call home, but it was closed.  We sat there for a while and talked about the tour.  We went back to the cabin and finished off the beer.  Neil came back with a guest, which ended up meaning that I wasn't sleeping in my room that night.  I didn't mind though, since Neil was respectful about it.  We then spoke to Matt for a while about his night in the city and Yvonne went to bed.  Matt and I eventually went to sleep at 4:00 am, officially annihilating my goal of getting to sleep at a reasonable hour.