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I mentioned how, in places like Rome and Vienna, it’s such a joy to walk around the city because of all of the beautiful old architecture everywhere you look.

Yeah, that’s not so much the case in Berlin.

Berlin

Not that it’s entirely lacking in eye-catching architecture, but mostly it’s just drab gray buildings everywhere you look.  Which is understandable, considering that the bulk of the city had to be rebuilt after the destruction of World War II.

Thanks a lot, Hitler.

Berlin

But of course, that assessment is unfair to Berlin — it certainly has a personality of its own, it just lacks the old-world charm of some of the other big European capitals.

Strudel pipes

There are also these bright blue pipes running all over the city, and every time I see them I chuckle; there’s a great bit in Patton Oswalt’s standup special Tragedy Plus Comedy Equals Time where he jokes that those pipes contain strudel filling.  I won’t spoil where that joke goes — you should just listen to it if you haven’t.

I actually didn’t even realize that there was a second city that was wiped out by the Vesuvius eruption that you could visit — Herculaneum, which is decidedly smaller than Pompeii, but definitely worth a visit.

Herculaneum

It’s actually better preserved than that city, so it’s intriguing to explore; you get a slightly better sense of what the city was like pre-volcano-apocalypse.

Bonus: it’s about a billion times less crowded than Pompeii.

Herculaneum

Also, if you want to see the grimmest thing imaginable, there are several little caves that have the preserved remains of some of the people who tried (and failed, obviously) to protect themselves from the volcano’s wrath.

Dark

Obviously if you’re in Naples, you’ve gotta go to Pompeii — it’s a quick, cheap train ride away from the city, and it’s an interesting enough piece of history to be common knowledge around the world.  You’d be crazy to miss it.

But of course, so would everyone else; the place is absolutely packed.  It’s probably a good idea to wake up early in the morning for this one.  I showed up at around noon, and the line just to buy tickets took a solid forty minutes.

Pompeii

Also: don’t do what I did.  I somehow managed to misplace my ticket almost immediately after buying it.  I checked all my pockets, panicked, then went back to the ticket booth and essentially accused the guy of giving me my change but forgetting to give me my ticket.  This resulted in him hanging a “closed” sign on his ticket window (sorry, everyone behind me), then methodically counting his money and his tickets to make sure everything added up (it did, of course, because I’m an idiot).

So I wound up buying another ticket. I then promptly found my original ticket in my back pocket, because like I said, I’m an idiot.  So I showed back up at the ticket booth with my most sheepish “tourists, am I right??” grin and explained that I had the original ticket all along.   The guy stared at me with a look I can only describe as pure, unadulterated disdain.

He gave me my money back, though, so there’s that.

Pompeii

Anyway, Pompeii was absolutely amazing, though I’d recommend doing a tour of some sort.  I elected to go tour-free, because I’m a cheapo, and regretted it almost immediately.  I’m not generally a big tour guy — aside from the aforementioned cheapness, I like seeing things at my own pace.  But as interesting as everything was, I feel like a little bit of context would have made it all the more fascinating.

Pompeii

Still, even without the tour, just wandering around the ruins and taking it all in is a truly indelible experience.

Pompeii

Note: Thanks to a bunch of terrorist douchebags, the chronology of this blog is a bit messed up. This and the next few posts were actually written before that whole fiasco, which is why this is written as though I’m still in Zaragoza.

I wound up in Zaragoza pretty much at random; the initial plan was to go to San Sebastian between Madrid and Barcelona.  It turns out I’m a cheapo and can’t afford San Sebastian, so plan B it is: spending a few nights in Zaragoza, a medium-sized city about halfway between Madrid and Barcelona.

It’s not exactly the first place place you think of when you visit Spain (I hadn’t even heard of it until recently), but I’m actually quite enjoying my time here.

There’s a quiet to it that I find immensely appealing after the teeming hordes of Madrid.  It’s endearingly unflashy; unlike Madrid, which is just wall-to-wall tourists wherever you go, it feels like a place where real people live.

And yet it’s not without its more touristy pleasures. Statues? Yeah, it’s got statues.

Statue in Zaragoza, Spain

Old churches? And how.

Church in Zaragoza, Spain

Museums? Several.

Museum in Zaragoza, Spain

It’s very easy to head straight for the more well-known hotspots like Madrid and Barcelona, but I think there’s something to be said for going to a city like Zaragoza. It’s not as exciting, but you get a much better sense of how the locals actually live.