Monday, October 31, 2011

paris


City: Paris, France

Dates: 12-15 October, 2011

Transportation to City: Plane from Venice to Paris (EasyJet)

Transportation in City: Our feet, the Metro, the RER, OrlyBus


Places Seen/Visited: 
- Eiffel Tower

- L'Ecole Militaire
- Les Invalides
- Sacre Coeur
- Montmartre
- Moulin Rouge
- L'Arc de Triomphe
- Place de la Concorde
- Grand Palais
- Notre Dame
- L'Opera
- Galeries Lafayettes
- Place de la Madeleine
- Shakespeare & Co.
- La Conciergerie 
- Louvre
- Hotel de Ville
- Place des Vosges
- Jardin Luxembourg
- Pere Lachaise Cemetery 
- Jardin Tuileries
- Jardin des Plantes

Food Eaten:
- Baguettes

- Cheese (normal)
- Cheese (stinky- we didn't realize this when we bought it)
- Croque Monsieur (delicious ham and cheesy sandwich, if you weren't aware)
- Quiche Lorraine
- Salade Verte
- Boeuf Bourguignon (beef stew, cooked with wine)
- Onion Soup
- Nutella Crepe
- Raspberry Tartelette
- Pain au Chocolat (pastry filled with chocolate)

Hostel Review: 
PROS: Clean. Located in Montmartre, not too far from a Metro station (the Blue Line- Anvers station, the same station you use to get to Sacre Coeur). Helpful, nice staff. Had our own room, which included a sink. Towels included (they were very small, but after using my tee shirt for a week, I didn't mind). Breakfast included as well and it was GREAT. It was the same thing everyday-- orange juice, coffee, pain au chocolat, and a baguette with tubs of butter and jam-- but no complaints.



CONS: Public bathrooms and there wasn't a shower on our floor, so you had to climb stairs half-wet after your shower. The shower wasn't always warm.

Things Learned:
- Don't jump on the Metro train just because it's there if you aren't absolutely sure it's the correct train for where you're headed. You'll end up way off track if you accidentally take the wrong line (going the wrong direction isn't such a big deal as long as you realize it quickly).



- Like in Italy, use any free public restrooms you see even if you don't have to go. Paris actually provides free restrooms in various places around the city. They can be hard to find, even with the "Toilettes" signs you occasionally see (just because there's a sign, that doesn't mean you won't be walking for ten minutes before you find the toilets the sign was pointing to). Conveniently, they self-clean after every use so you don't feel quite so icky using them. The only problem is that it can take forever if there's any line at all. The door takes awhile to move back and forth and the self-cleaning takes a good two minutes. We spent 20 minutes by the bathrooms once or twice because we had to go and we knew there wouldn't be another bathroom around.


- If anyone approaches you at a big tourist site (and they don't just want you to take their picture), it's best to ignore them. They're probably going to try to scam you. Especially men trying to tie a bracelet around your wrist and girls pretending to be mute. I usually think it's best to firmly say "Non, merci!" (so they think I'm just an annoyed French person, hopefully, and not a tourist) and walk quickly past.


- Water and wine both cost a ton at restaurants. Wine was usually 3-4 euros a glass and water was 3-5 euros for a small bottle. It's a huge rip-off.


- At a restaurant, you usually just sit down immediately. They don't often "seat" you. Plus, that way you can pick the table with the best view.


- If a waiter looks at you confusedly when you sit down, he's probably just waiting for you to either say the drink you want (assuming you're just there for coffee, wine, or a cocktail) or ask for the menu. Especially if you're eating dinner early (5-7 pm). 


- Buy a carnet of Metro tickets if you'll be using it just occasionally. It's ten tickets for a discounted price.


- Don't buy cheese unless you know what it is (or it may very well be stinky).


- Keep your camera in a very protective case and don't drop it.


- It's wonderful to spend time under the Eiffel Tower, picnicking or just sitting and talking, especially at night, but know that there are tons of guys selling Eiffel Tower keychains there and it can get very annoying. We were always happy when we saw the police run up and all the keychain-sellers would sprint off in the other direction. If only they could be there all the time.


- Go to the Louvre from 6-10 pm on Friday if you're under the age of 25. It's free! Even if the signs make it look like you still need a ticket. We were afraid I had the wrong information about free Fridays (I saw it online before we came), but we watched some younger people go through without tickets. You just have to show your passport.

Favorite Parts:
- Going up in Notre Dame. The view is spectacular! So many people want to go up in the Eiffel Tower, but if you go up in Notre Dame, you get a great view of the Eiffel Tower plus you're amongst the gargoyles.



- Eating the croque monsieur we got from the Berthillion stand on Ile Saint-Louis. Cheesy yumminess and probably the best croque monsieur I've had yet. Also, eating the raspberry tartelette by the Eiffel Tower after dinner. Also, every baguette. Also, everything else we ate in France (besides the stinky cheese, which was just too smelly).


- Shopping at H&M. I only bought a scarf, but it was fun just looking around and going through all the different floors. Being with a boy, I didn't get to do any shopping on Fall Break really. H&M was all I asked for (pretty much . . .) and Brandon was very patient when it took me forever to decide which scarf I wanted. 


- Every time we sat beneath the Eiffel Tower. The first day we picnicked there with a baguette, cheese, and orangina. The second day, we were there before dinner and we ran into three of our classmates. That night, we went back after dinner with a baguette (for Brandon) and a tartelette (for me). It's so pretty and it's nice to have time to relax after you've been walking all day. 


First Day in Paris, Lunch at the Eiffel Tower.

Croque Monsieur & Quiche Lorraine.

Eiffel Tower Lit.

Sacre Coeur.

Montmartre.

Galeries Lafayettes (a mall)

L'Arc de Triomphe


Eiffel Tower.

Boeuf Bourguignon.

Raspberry Tartelette.

Notre Dame (and wearing my new H&M scarf).

View from Notre Dame.

Best Croque Monsieur! Look at the Huge Layer of Cheese :)

Inside Shakespeare & Co. Bookstore.

Hotel de Ville.

Place des Vosges.

The Louvre.

Inside the Louvre.



Thursday, October 27, 2011

venice


City: Venice, Italy

Dates: 10-11 October, 2011

Transportation to City: Train from Florence to Venice (Italia Rail)

Transportation in City: Our feet


Places Seen/Visited: 
- Rialto Bridge
- Santa Maria della Salute
- San Giorgio Maggiore
- Dorsoduro Neighborhood
- San Geremia Square
- St. Mark's Square and Basilica
- Doge's Palace
- The Campanile
- St. Mark's Clock Tower

Food Eaten:
- Margarita Pizza

- Split Fettuccine Alfredo and Ravioli with Brandon
- Choco-Mint Gelato
- Sandwich (Rosemary Focaccia, Mozzarella, Some Kinda of Meat)
- Four-Cheese Pizza

Hostel Review: 
PROS: Clean. Nice location near to the train station, so it was very easy to find when we first got there. Also, we were on the island itself, so we didn't have to pay for water taxis everyday.

CONS: Our roommates spoke no English, so we couldn't even ask simple things like "Is someone in the bathroom?" Having roommates is always a little awkward. My bed was very close to the bed next to me and I woke up to a big Spanish guy snoring next to me . . . We were promised WIFI, but it never worked. The website also said we would receive free towels, but apparently that applied only to private rooms (I would have had to pay a euro or two to use one). Had to wait awhile for the bathroom in the morning.

Things Learned:
- You don't really need to use the water buses if you have more than a day in Venice. You can easily walk everywhere and you'll see a lot more. Be warned though, there are a lot of bridges. My knees/feet were hurting a lot in Florence and the bridges in Venice nearly killed me.

- Check the signs before you get in line for something. You aren't allowed to bring a backpack into St. Mark's Basilica, which we only realized when we reached the front of the line. We lost our place and had to go to the basilica's office on a side street of the square to store Brandon's backpack while we went inside (it was free, at least, both to store the backpack and to enter the basilica).
- Don't leave your toothbrush in the hostel!
- Do buy wine with a screw-on cap or ask (before buying) if the cashier has a corkscrew. Don't try to remove a cork with your keys.
- If a man selling roses comes up to you at the end of the night and offers to give you the rest of the roses as a gift because he's stopping business for the day, don't believe him. He will ask for money and you will get mad.
- Buy a map! A simple little picture printed off the internet won't do. You'll probably get lost no matter what, but a map really helps.

Favorite Parts:
- First seeing the canals and gondolas. I've never seen a city like Venice and after seeing it so much in pictures and movies, it was amazing to see in person. 

- Eating (always!).
- Watching the sunset on the canal. The first night, we watched it on the Southern shore of the Dorsoduro neighborhood. The colors were magnificent. The second night, we watched it on the Grand Canal and again, it was gorgeous. 


My First Look at Venice!

On Ponte degli Scalzi

Rialto Bridge

Santa Maria della Salute

San Giorgio Maggiore

A Canal

Sunset the First Night

Gondolas

Sunset the Second Night

St. Mark's Square

Pizza!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

florence

View from Piazzale Michelangelo


City: Florence, Italy

Dates: 8-9 October, 2011

Transportation to City: Train from Rome to Florence (Italia Rail)

Transportation in City: Our feet


Places Seen/Visited: 
- The Duomo (aka Santa Maria del Fiore)
- Palazzo Pitti
- San Lorenzo
- Santa Maria Novella
- Piazza della Repubblica
- Piazza Santa Croce
- S. Spirito 
- Bargello Museum
- Palazzo Vecchio

Food Eaten:
- Gelato (Coffee and Panna Cotta flavored)
- Pizza Margarita
- Pineapple Pastry
- Candy from S. Spirito Market
- Split Tortelloni and Gnocchi with Brandon

Hostel Review: 

PROS: Nice location beneath the river, so we got to walk across Ponte Vecchio each night. Had our own room (which was three different levels and included our own bathroom) and for a very good price. Staff helpful when we had questions/concerns (I thought the cleaning lady had taken my washcloth but she'd just stuck it beneath my pillow) and gave us a map.
CONS: Smelled a bit like Mexican Villa (Springfield Mexican restaurant), but it wasn't too bad. You got used to it. The shower was freezing cold the first day. WIFI didn't work.


Things Learned:
- When you book a train ticket from Rome to Florence, the sign at the train station may say Milan because Florence is the first stop on the Rome-Milan route. Just be sure the train number on the screen matches the one on your ticket.
- Make note of free public restrooms. If you don't, you may end up paying 1 euro because you have nowhere else to go. Also note signs outside restrooms that indicate a price.
- Museums aren't always worth the price. We didn't pay very much for the Bargello, but I still don't think it was worth it. I'd rather walk around the city than pay to see paintings/sculptures I can see on the internet (not that it's not cool to see them in person, just not always worth it).

Favorite Parts:
- Eating gelato when we first arrived on a bridge that looked out over the river and Ponte Vecchio. 

- Seeing all the cute pups. There were so many dogs in Florence!
- Drinking wine on the ledge overlooking the river. Again, such a great view.
- Like in Rome, the food. Dinner was always such a treat because we got to scope out a great location (both nights in Florence we ate in Palazzo Vecchio), rest our legs, and enjoy amazing Italian food. Our pizza the first night wasn't too great, but the tortelloni and gnocchi (which came with a great cheese whose name I forgot) the second night was definitely one of my favorite parts of our visit.
- Walking up to Piazzale Michelangelo. The view was fantastic. Everyone who visits Florence should see it.


Ponte Vecchio

Palazzo Pitti
Gelato!


Gelato Cones

Gelato on the Bridge, Overlooking Ponte Vecchio

View from Piazzale Michelangelo

Piazzale Michelangelo



Santa Maria Novella

Palazzo Vecchio

Enjoying Wine on the River

Tortelloni

Gnocchi

rome

I went to four cities over Fall Break and spent nine days traveling. Just the idea of writing descriptions of each of those days exhausts me. Instead, I'm going to break down each city into important topics. Like food. Also, I thought I might do the cities in a linear fashion, just for kicks, so here it goes, starting with Roma, Italia:


The Spanish Steps


City: Rome, Italy


Date: 7 October, 2011

Transportation to City: Flight from Athens to Rome (Easyjet)

Transportation in City: Our feet (much to their dismay)

Places Seen/Visited: 
- Colosseum
- Vatican
- Castel S. Angelo
- Piazza Navona
- Pantheon
- Trevi Fountain
- Spanish Steps

Food Eaten:
- Pizza (mozzarella di bufala, priced by the weight)
- Gnocchi

Hostel Review:
PROS: Nice location near the train station. Bathrooms next door to our room. We were supposed to have a 6-person bedroom but ended up in a 4-person, which was great-- even better when only 3 of those 4 ended up being occupied. Staff very nice. When we first got there, the man at the desk (without us even asking) gave us a map, circled the big attractions, and explained the best ways to get to them.
CONS: Both bathrooms were occupied all morning so I had to wait forever just to brush my teeth and use the bathroom. The lock on our door was terrible. When we first got there, it wouldn't open at all and we had to have the owners come open it. Then once in the night and several times in the early morning, the other girl in the room couldn't open the door and Brandon (I slept through almost all of it . . . ) had to get up and let her in.

Things Learned:
- Wear really comfortable shoes. Really comfortable.
- Rome really does deserve more than a day. We weren't terribly excited for it so we gave it the smallest amount of time, but we were pretty disappointed we didn't have time to go inside the Colosseum and Vatican.
- Know that some restaurants have service charges (ours was 2 euros each).


Favorite Parts:
- All of the sites were amazing to see, so it's hard to narrow it down. The Colosseum and Vatican were both so awesome and majestic in person, but we really didn't get the full effect since we didn't go inside. For that reason, I'll say my favorite site was the Spanish Steps. It had a great view and wasn't too terribly crowded (like the Trevi Fountain, where you barely had room to move let alone take a picture).
- My real favorite part, I'm a little ashamed to say, was sitting down to eat. We had a wonderful view of the Pantheon, my feet finally got to rest, and my gnocchi (the first time I'd ever tried gnocchi actually) was delicious. 


Colosseum

Vatican

Pantheon

Gnocchi

Piazza Navona

Trevi Fountain

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