Day 16 – Getting lost and enjoying the local flavor

Picture on one of the bridges in Venice with the Canal to my back
Picture on one of the bridges in Venice with the Canal to my back

I am so excited to spend the whole day in Venice!! The bridges, the canals, the tiny streets and the atmosphere! It is definitely a city you can get lost in, and we did, but that is part of the charm. Going a different way and seeing new sights, it is like no where else I have ever been. It was also so very helpful to have an offline map to get back to our hotel each night. Tonight we will be on our second sleeper train of the trip, so we pack up, store our bags and head out for the day.

Rialto Market - One of my favorite spots
Rialto Market – One of my favorite spots

Our first stop was the Rialto Market, which was one of my favorite things to do! Not only was the produce fresh and delicious, but it was an experience in itself! We spent a good half hour here, and I could have likely spent the afternoon. It took me a moment to figure out what to do, but I managed to find my way. The stand I went to, was likely one of the busiest and had mainly locals with full shopping list. I had to ask someone how to say my number in Italian for fear of missing it! The vendors were quick and seemed to pick the best from the bunch they had. There was produce being throw, but I made sure not to touch anything unless I was asked. It really was so fun just to watch, never mind participating in the experience, and the fruit was soo good!

San Marco Basilica
San Marco Basilica

We went through San Marco Piazza to find a gondola ride. The basilica was quite impressive and the buildings all around were just incredible. I took a quick snap as we had already seen it yesterday. When we arrived here in the morning, it was completely dry, when we arrived back after our ride, the square was flooded and we had to use bridges set up to cross over the square, or take our shoes off and walk as some other people decided to do. We were told which gondola service to use and so a group of us head over to share the experience.

Gondola Ride in high waters
Gondola Ride in high waters

Don’t judge to harshly on the pictures… given the bathroom/shower situation, I did my best!

The gondola ride was fairly relaxing, but I am not sure it is something I would necessarily recommend for the money. The canal was busy and there was a lot of time of waiting in lines to get under the bridges. The canals were higher than normal, so we had the added adventure of trying to make it through some of these bridges on a bit of our side, and our gondolier had to duck to get under most of them.

The high waters of the canals made for some tricky passes under the bridges
The high waters of the canals made for some tricky passes under the bridges

We also saw and walked over the Rialto bridge, something we also had done yesterday.

Rialto Bridge
Rialto Bridge

The last sight of the day was the Bridge of Sighs. There are two legends to this bridge, one has to do with lover under the bridge, but the one I prefer is the one with the prisoners. It is said, that this was the last view of freedom and the outside world between a prisoner being sentenced and put into prison. Regardless of what you believe, it is a pretty cool bridge!

Bridge of Sighs
Bridge of Sighs

Not only the square was flooded, all along the main canal, water was coming up onto the streets, it was kind of neat, but I am sure for the locals, it is not ideal.

High waters in Venice after the rain from the day before
High waters in Venice after the rain from the day before

The last stop of the day was the island of Murano. It is here where they have beautiful glass blown art and jewelry made on the island. It is also here where I have my only regret from Italy, a piece of art with a blown glass sea turtle encased in clear glass. This piece was amazing, and I walked back and forth from it many times. Unfortunately, I could not justify the price. One day, I will be back and hopefully then I will buy it!

Headed to Murano Island on the water bus
Headed to Murano Island on the water bus

We spent the rest of our time here, going to a glass blowing demonstration, eating and shopping. I must say, even though I have done glass blowing myself, it is still so fascinating for me to watch. Especially since the gentleman made a horse!

We started as a group of 4 coming onto the island, but broke up into pairs, and myself and my partner in crime had a really great lunch of fresh brick over Italian pizza. Funny enough, while waiting to be seated, I met two sisters and their spouses from Boston. It is one thing to meet people from the US but entirely different when they come from your city. One of the women even taught in Medford! We had a great lunch both with my friend, and chatting with the Boston ladies, as I told them about our travels so far and what the travel plans for the future, and they told us about theirs! I have said this before, but I really enjoy a conversation with new people, and with these ladies, I could have spoken with for hours.

Once back on the main land, we met up with the rest of our group for some pre-train cocktails and some snacks for the night, before we packed up to pack in to our overnight train. Tonight, we are sleeping 6 to a cabin, so it should be quite interesting how this works!

Tomorrow we wake up in Vienna, Austria!

Day 15 – Soggy Duck

Keeping my bags dry
I may look silly but I kept my bags dry

Rain rain go away!! I say that, but I really cannot complain, we have had some amazing weather and rain must happen every now and again. Thankfully we made it to the train station before it really started, and thanks to my friend from the UK, I had a poncho that fit over all my bags just in case. This came in handy once we arrived from Viareggio to Venice, and provided some laughs. I must purchase a bag cover for my next trip for sure!

Full rain gear, ready to walk in the rain.
Full rain gear, ready to walk in the rain.

Thankfully our hotel was a quick walk from the train station, so myself and all my bags stayed dry. Unfortunately, I was put with all the sick people at this hotel, so the fate of my health was surely sealed.

A little background – day one, I was bunked with 3 other girls, one who was sick and was not the best at keeping the germs to herself. This was not how I wanted to start a 30 day journey through Europe, but I tried to just go with it, and hope for the best. Whatever the bug she had, has been spreading its way through the group. So far, I have been successful in staying healthy, but tonight will really challenge my immune system for sure!

I am very thankful for my family for fielding some of my messages, and keeping me positive, and making me laugh! If you are wondering about the title to this post, it stems from those text conversations, in an effort to bring some humor to my current situation. I also found a espresso and crepe which does wonders for my mood.

I opted for the walk around Venice in the rain, which I really enjoyed. There is something about this city that I fell in love with. I love all the cute streets, even the ones you can barely fit down. I love that there are canals every where you look and I absolutely LOVE the open market. Because of the rain, I did not bring my camera, so there are no pictures from the day.

At night, we went to the cute little Italian restaurant, where I had more delicious pasta, but also tried Black Squid ink risotto. This was a dish most people were excited to try, and although it was not for me, it was fun to try something different. The people who ordered it, really liked it!

Black Squid Ink Risotto
Black Squid Ink Risotto

After dinner, I ventured off by myself to a Irish Pub. I know this is not what you do in Venice, but there was also really no pubs to go to, and I wanted a taste of home. Or I should say, I thought I wanted a taste of home.

I pulled up a chair at the bar, and had a beer with a mix of different people, some locals some foreign like myself. A group of older ladies came in, for what I can only guess was a birthday party. They were your quintessential Woo girls, and they made their presence known. At one point, while ordering drinks, a member of their party invited me to join them, in which I politely declined. Which brings me to my thought of the day.

There are times that I find it challenging to be an American traveler, especially with what is going on with politics in America. I cannot tell you how many times I have discussed the topic of politics. But there is also the “typical American tourist” and I have seen them, and they are easy to spot, and it is everything I strive not to be. I think the best compliment I can get sometimes, is being mistaken for a local or not immediately pegged as an American. Do not get me wrong, I am very fortunate to live where I live and have the opportunities that I have been afforded. However, for me, it is also important to be the opposite of the stereotype, which I hope I have been successful at.

Tomorrow is another full day in Venice, which I could not be more excited for!

Day 14 – Some much needed me time

Another early morning to take a 2 hour train to Florence, however I was up a bit earlier to drink coffee and do some morning writing, to have a positive start to the day. Today is also our CEO’s birthday.  I had already purchased museum passes, so as soon as we arrive in Florence I head off on my own. I am off to explore the Uffizi museum, as well as Galleria dell’Accademia. Florence is a very walk-able city, and I was able to navigate pretty successfully with the map. I was able to see some sights along my way to both museums.

 

First up was the Uffizi Museum. This is home to The Birth of Venus by Botticelli, which is absolutely beautiful in person to see, the Portraits of the Duke & Duchess of Urbino by Piero Della Francesca, which I was more drawn to than I had been expected to, as well as Doni Tondo by Michelangelo. There were also some early work of Leonardo da Vinci. I cannot say this was my favorite museum I have visited, as most of the art work looked very similar to me, and there was not much that drew me in. I did really enjoy seeing The Birth of Venus, which made the trip worth wild.

 

I had plenty of time before my reservation at Galleria dell’Accademia, so I made sure to stroll past Catedrale di S. Maria del Flore on my way. While walking through the streets, I passed a small art gallery that caught my eye, with a guy in the window who was painting with a spatula knife. I have always been drawn in my this type of artwork. I was watching from the outside and was pulled into the shop by another older Italian man with kind eyes. The artwork was incredible, but with limited space, and repacking a daily struggle, I left empty handed. Walking away I thought a lot of the interaction I had with the artists, which put a smile on my face, I thought about the paintings that caught my attention, and I questioned if I would regret the decision to walk away. At this point the rain started to sprinkle, and I walked around the beautiful Cathedral with my mind still pondering.

 

Since I had time, I spent some time just taking in the beauty of the city, and also watch a photo shoot that was taking place at the Duomo. Having so much time with my own thoughts, can not always be a good thing, and with still time to spare, I decided to walk back and see if I could find the art studio.

 

With a bit luck, as I had not been paying close attention to which streets I was walking down, just the direction in which I was walking, I found the studio. With a price point in mind, I went back in and asked about pricing for the different pieces of art. There were so many that I really liked, and it was hard to choose just one, but I did. What started as a pleasant interaction with the artist, turned into what I now see to be a really funny story, although one I may save for in-person conversation. I will leave it as this, I was kissed by a bright eyed, kind, and older Italian artist… unprovoked and unexpected.

 

Last stop in Florence was the Galleria dell’Accademia to see David. Even though I had prior purchased tickets with a time, I still had to wait in a bit of a line. The rain started to pick up again on my way, but luckily I had brought my rain jacket with me, so I put that on over my day pack to keep my camera dry and most of myself. When it rains, the street vendors, who go around trying to sell you trinkets, switch over to umbrellas and ponchos. You can not walk down the streets without being approached to purchase, it can be quite annoying at times. Once in line, I had a couple from America behind me who were on their honeymoon. We chatted here and there while waiting, until the rain started pouring down. I was so thankful for this couple, because as they were without rain protection and getting soaked in the rain, all you could hear was laughter, which in turn made me laugh as well. When you are in these situations where you can either laugh or cry, laughter is often the best medicine, and I really appreciated their humor at the situation. It wasn’t until the rain subsided that we were let in the the museum, most of us a bit soggy, but still in high spirits.

 

I really enjoyed the Statue of David. I have heard things here and there about people’s disappointment, but I found myself in awe. The detail, even in just his hands alone was quite impressive. David was the main attraction to this museum, although I did wandered around the room with the sculpture, which again I find amazing with how realistic they can make a piece of stone. Two pieces really caught my eye for the detail they put in the cloth in the piece to make it seem to real and flowing.

 

I left the museum and made my way back to the train, with some minor detours on the way back. I ran into some of my group on the way back, which was great, as it allowed me to take a bit of a nap on the two hour train ride.

 

Funny story about the train ride. I was awake by the time we had about 30 minutes left of the ride, and so the group of us were chatting away. Sometimes, we had long delays at stations, so we were already running a bit of a delay. At one point, we realize one station is taking a particularly long time, about 5 – 7 minutes, and we are just ready to be back. It was at this point, I questioned the group which stop we were at, and if we were in fact back to our station. We were! We were so tired and distracted, we hadn’t realized we already made it back to our stop, which thankfully was not only the last stop, but we also didn’t start going back from where we once came from! It made for a funny story to tell the others!

 

The first night in Viareggio, we found this delicious dinner restaurant, so myself and one other decided to go back for dinner, and we were joined by one more. This was one of my favorite dinners. The food was good, the wine was flowing and the company was excellent! We also kept room for dessert, which was homemade and really really good. I don’t typically like Tiramisu, but I really enjoyed my bites of this one!

 

For our CEO’s birthday, we bought a couple bottles of wine, and sang happy birthday in English and some of us sang in Polish. A large group of them went down to the water for a night swim, but between being run down and knowing what the water looked like, I bowed out and went to bed. Boy was I thankful for a full and restful night sleep!

 

I am thankful that I know myself well enough to know what I need from life. I am also very thankful for these days that I have to myself. I really love traveling as part of a group and I love having people to come back to and discuss the days activities with, but I also like to be able to go off and do my own thing from time to time. After all, this is my adventure!

Tomorrow is Venice and I couldn’t be more excited!

Day 13 – Every day can’t be a winner

**Still no pictures… womp womp… what did I expect with free wifi

 

Real coffee at a free breakfast! What a great start to the day! Breakfast and two cappuccinos later and I am ready to start the day. Cinque Terre is a coast line that is made up of 5 little villages. A train runs through the mountainside to connect them. The water is clear, the houses are quaint, the views are amazing.

 

We head to the first village, Riomaggiore, as a group to check out some of the views from above. It really is quite stunning. On the way down, back to catch the earlier train, I step on a large pile of dog poop…. Awesome. Some people try to tell me this is good luck, which I will find out, not the case.

 

Despite looking at the train schedule, and seeing there was not a train at the time we were at the station, we all piled into the train that was there, just to find out we were headed the wrong direction. This was very frustrating. With only a day to spend in Cinque Terre, this mistake ate up a good hour of our day, and inspired wine drinking while waiting for the next train to arrive. We finally made it the next planned village, Vernazza, where we sat and had lunch. Although the food was very good, it was also quite expensive being a restaurant on the water, and like most meals in Italy, it also ate up quite a bit of time.

 

When we finally made it to Monterosso al Mare, and the beach, it was close to 4pm. The water was awesome! It was warm and clear and blue. The only negative was the jelly fish swimming along with you, one which I saw and swam away as quick as possible. We were so buoyant, that very little effort was need to stay afloat. You could see the fish swimming around you, while floating upright in the deep waters. It even made it hard to push yourself to the bottom. Once again the beach was lined with private beach sections, but at least this time the free section was pretty good and the water was all the same. The train back was at 8pm so once the sun started to go down, we packed up in hopes to see the sun set from a higher point closer to the train station, in Riomaggiore. Unfortunately, the clouds came in and we could not see the sun set, but it was peaceful.

 

Due to timing, we grabbed dinner at McDonalds at the train station for dinner, and caught the 8pm train back to Viareggio, where I showered and headed to bed as soon as I arrived back.

 

Today was not a win, but just in real life, you will have your bad days. This was one place I was really looking forward to visiting, and I felt a bit cheated. I am thankful to have my family and also one of my roommates to be able to vent a little about my experiences today. Tomorrow is a new day, and after a good night sleep, I should be refreshed and ready to tackle the museums in Florence.

Day 12 – Wine at the Lavanderia

**Pictures to be added on wifi that can support uploads

From Rome, we are traveling to Tuscany, with a stop over in Pisa. Pisa is a really small town, which is made famous from the Leaning Tower of Pisa. We were told, it leans about 1 cm more each year. The government in Pisa attempted to stop the process, but ended up making it worse and it leaned 6cm that year. The Italian government has not forbidden any efforts to stop the leaning, and it is projected to fall in the next 200 years. At the moment, they still allow visitors to climb the tower, although it is about a 2 – 3 hour wait to do so. There is also a Duomo and a Composanto where you walk on the tombs which make up the floor.

 

In Pisa, after seeing the tower, I chose to go off by myself for lunch and have some much needed alone time. As much as I love traveling with a group and experiencing with other people, I also appreciate some time by myself to sit and reflect and take in the culture. I had a really great meal of risotto with asparagus and a glass of sparkling house wine and then finished off with an espresso. The coffee in Italy is so good! Mid-meal, two women sat down next to me and we started to chat over the menu. One of them was traveling from Turkey to visit a friends, the other with her husband from Singapore. They had met each other on the train and decided to meet up for lunch. I pretty much ended up joining them for lunch as we even shared a bit of our meals. I really enjoyed the lunch and the conversation.

 

What is funny about this, is two years ago, I had posted on Facebook about having lunch with a stranger, thank you Facebook memories. It is these random interactions that bring me great pleasure, and sometimes lead to great friends. One of my traveling partners in Australia once said to me, “You talk to everyone… I mean everyone!” and I think that is still probably very true. It is one skill that I am always very appreciative of that I can do. Sometimes it takes these moments when you are alone and maybe outside your comfort level to have these interactions. I most likely have my dad to thank for this skill, as he is pretty well the same way! Thanks Dad!! 

 

From Pisa, we headed to Viareggio, where we would have base camp for the next 3 nights. Viareggio is a beach town that leaves a lot to be desired. The hotel is nice enough, but the beach is just okay. However the hike from the train station to the hotel was a long, hot trek, that left most of us regretting any extra item in our pack. It is in these moments where you are calculating what you can put in the bin to reduce the weight of your packs.

 

As soon as the bags were dropped, swim suits were put on and we headed to the beach. Most of the beach in front of the hotel is private and you have to pay for a chair, which can be quite pricey. There is a small section of free beach at the end near the pier, that is not a very nice section. We were warned to only bring towels, as anything else would likely be stolen, so we set down our towels and cloths, and headed to the water. This would be the first time I swam in the Mediterranean sea, and it was nothing to write home about. The water was nice and warm and once you got out far enough, it was nice enough, although it was very much like home, as you could not see a whole lot through the water. The whole coast line, however, was saturated with sea weed that made the water undesirable. I will save you all the description, but it was the first time I ever literally gagged when entering a large body of water. I made one of the girls I was with go out until there was no more seaweed, and then I just looked straight ahead and practically ran out to where she was. I had the same strategy coming in, but in the end it was worth it, because it was so nice to just float in the water.

 

After swimming, we went to find the laundromat. This proved to be quite a frustrating exercise, and led to two bottles of wine being consumed while finally doing the laundry. What should have been a 10 minute walk turning into a 45 excursion. I am thankful for the friends I have made, as they made what could have been a frustratingly disastrous night, into one filled with laughter, with the help of some delicious wine. I have never been much of a wine person, but when in Italy, and the wine is cheaper than the water, you drink it! And I must admit, I have had some really good wine.

With the help of 3 woman, from America, Canada, and Sweden, who are all here for their 4th and 5th year of Italian school, we not only found the laundry mat, but also an amazing place for dinner. It was probably one of the best dinners I have had this far.

 

Today had it’s highs and lows, but it ended on a high note. When it comes to food, today was a great day. Tomorrow we are off to Cinque Terre and I am beyond excited.

 

Thought of the Day: a laundromat is a lot more fun with friends and wine. I am not sure how well this would go in the US, but I highly suggest it. When you find yourself in a situation, where you can either laugh or cry… find a way to laugh. I am sure when I look back on this experience, it will be a funny story.

Day 9 – The first taste of Italy

**Pictures to be uploaded soon

6am wake up call to meet the group at 6:30 to hop on a bus and catch our first train. While waiting for our next train, we were treated to a sunrise coming up through the mountains. Our second train was 3 hours and it took us to Milan. This would be the beginning of two days without showers. This was mentally hard to prepare for, as it has been so hot in Europe so far, and Milan was going to be no exception. We only have the day in Milan before going on our overnight train to Rome. Because we will be staying in a hotel in Rome vs a hostel, the showers are in the room, therefore you could not take one until you checked in, around 4pm.

 

Because it was a Sunday, the downtown was pretty dead. I expected to see a lot of high fashion in Milan, but again, with it being the weekend, it was mostly tourist, so we only saw very little. We walked through a lot of shopping centers and street performers, some who were quite good. There was a guy who was playing different glass bottles and a woman dancing with a glass ball.

 

Our first stop was lunch, at this really cute and really delicious pizza place, where you can buy pizza by the slice, and then we went to get gelato after, which was really good! It is a big difference going from the swiss alps to a busy city in Italy.

 

Some things I learned about dining in Italy. There is sometimes a table charge, where they charge per person to sit and dine in. The servers will bring bread and sometimes champagne to the table. This is not free, you will be charged if you eat or drink anything, even if you did not order it. Water is also not free, and can sometimes cost as much as a glass of wine. You do tip in Europe, usually 10 – 15% is customary.

 

With full bellies, we walked over to Duomo, which was quite a sight, headed to the castle and into the gardens, where most of the group settled in for a rest and some of us took a nap in the shade. I must say, this was one of the best naps I had, even though it was fairly short.

 

To not waste the day, we decided to go explore the section of town in which we were going to be having dinner. It was really cute and nice to walk along the shop lined streets. We also walked along the canal, where they were having some type of race, my guess would be a triathalon, based on how fatigued a lot of the swimmers were. Most of them were just using their arms and letting the current help take them down the canal. I am not sure if I would go swimming in this canal, although it was definitely one of the cleanest we have seen so far.

 

Along the way, we also popped into this cute coffee shop for a break and some coffee. I ordered a mocha, and it was served in this cute little cup. It was espresso, chocolate and a dolop of whip cream on top. It was really good, and a great pick-me-up.

 

We met the group for dinner and had a buffet style meal, that was very inexpensive but what you would expect from a buffet meal. By now, we are tired and sweaty from the day, but thankfully with full bellies. We arrive to the train station to pick up our overnight train. There are four of us to a cabin, which is smaller than I was expecting and about as comfortable as sleeping on cardboad. The two bathrooms are shared with all the cabins in that train block. We also had to keep all the luggage in the cabin with us, which made space even more limited. Should be a fun night. Tomorrow we will wake up and find ourselves in Rome.

Day 8 – Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should

***Pictures to be added soon!

Dancing into the morining hours made for a shorter night sleep, however worth it for the night we had!

The morning came quickly. I chose to spend my day at the hostel, as well some of my other travelers, instead of going for the day hike the CEO had planned. I believe I made the right choice! Although I heard the hike was beautiful, it ended up being all day and my body and mind needed a rest.

I took advantage of the day to catch up on my blog while doing laundry, repack my bag to be ready for an early departure tomorrow, as well as taking a nap in the relaxation room. Although our room in the hostel is not ideal, the hostel itself is actually really nice. They have a section that reminds me a bit of a tree house, and that is where the relaxation room is. I wish I took a picture of this room, so you will have to use your imagination. The room is two part, one is set up like a lounge with comfy couches and chairs arranged in a circle design, along with a center table and bookshelves. A wall with two large doorways on either side separates this from the hammock room, where you have 5-6 hammocks. The side wall to this room is open slats to let in the fresh air, and boy was it fresh, as well as give you a view of the mountains. It was a perfect place for an afternoon nap.

 

In the afternoon, before the hikers were back, a couple of us went over to the park, where they had set up for the Interlaken marathon. We relaxed by the river and ate gelato

.

 

In the evening, I decided to take in the sunset up on Harder Klum, a single building up on top of one of the mountains we were staying near. To get to the top, you ride a cable car, that goes up the mountain at a 64 degree angle. I have added an image of a 64 degree angle so you can appreciate what I am talking about! I think it was probably one of the scariest things I did this whole trip, and all I could think in my head on the way up was… Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should!

A 64 degree angle
A 64 degree angle

The cable car was on a train track and was being pulled up the track by a cable. I tried to grab some pictures, but none of them could really do justice. I was also a bit panicked on the way up, so I was just trying to hold it together. It is really a shame no-one took a video, because I am sure it would have been hilarious to watch! Especially when we disembarked. At the top, the cable car pulls up to a staircase that runs only the length of the cars. They literally left no extra room, and the stair case is just suspended on this “station”. The stair case was enclosed by a railing, however, if you looked over the edge of the railing, which I DID NOT, it was a large drop on all sides. If you have seen the movie Elf, I can only imagine me stepping out onto these stairs was a bit like the escalator scene. I think it took me at least 10 – 20 seconds to work up the nerve to step my second foot onto the stairs, and even when I had both feet on, my legs were jello and I could not wait to be on solid ground.

 

I finally relaxed when I was out of the station and walking up the rest of the way to the building. The view though, made the trip up completely worth it. It was quite amazing looking out at the town and the lakes and across to the mountains. I grabbed a beer and just sat to take it in. One of travelers in my group ended up meeting me at the top and we enjoyed the sunset, which was stunning. After the sun had set, it meant getting back on the cable car. We went down together, and I told him that he was in for a treat, based on how well I did going up, and I did not disappoint! Those stairs got me again, but I made it on the cable car and going down was a lot better than going up, and a bit quicker.

 

Tonight, four of us decided to make a pasta dinner. Because they had all went on the hike, and I did not get back until after 8pm, instead of cooking, I came home to dinner waiting for me in the refrigerator, which I was so thankful for, and it was so good! Eating out as much as you do when you travel, it was a treat to have a “home cooked” meal.

 

Despite planning for a quite early night, I ended up staying up a bit later, but enjoying the company of some of my new friends and playing some card games.

 

Fun fact of the day: While on the cable car, I was standing next to an older Asian gentleman, who I do not believe spoke any English. I had my camera around my neck and at one point he looked at it, looked at the brand/model and gave his approval! I love my new camera, but this interaction validates my decision.

Day 7 – A rush of cold water

***Pictures will be added as soon as I can get WiFi strong enough to Upload them

 

So let’s talk about the hostel. I am in a tiny room with 3 bunks beds, so a total of 6 girls. That is no problem. Our only source of fresh air, opens to the front of the building so any noise or smoking comes right in our room. Our door, opens to the communal showers, so you hear people showering all day/night and if kept open, it can get a bit muggy in the room.  We have 4 boys with us, there room is pretty well an apartment. They have a kitchen, and two bedrooms, each with two single beds and wardrobes. The other girls dorm, was just like ours, minus the showers and the windows to the front, so there was some jealousy in the luck of the draw!

 

Now that I got that rant out of the way, I must say the circumstances, plus the fact that the bunk beds move and squeak at all movements, it gave way to quite a laughing fit last night with myself and two of the girls. Sometimes, you just have to laugh!

 

I had a bit of a struggle getting out of bed this morning, but the fresh mountain air was really great! Interlaken is a really cute town that is surrounded by mountains and has two huge lakes on either side, that are connected by a very fast, cold, beautiful river.

 

Breakfast went better, toast with jam and yogurt with granola. The coffee was instant, but with the addition of Swiss hot chocolate, it was really good!

 

Today I have booked an excursion, canyoning. There were a bunch of adrenaline inducing activities, but Interlaken is so expensive that I had to chose just one, and I figured I would chose the one that I have never done before. There was a group of 5 of us booked it for the afternoon, since it involved water, and figured it would be a bit warmer in the afternoon. With the morning open, a bunch of us headed to check out the lake.

 

The views just getting to the lake were quite amazing. To look ahead and see 3 mountains, two lush and green and one snow capped, it’s a sight to see. The lake itself was beautiful, albeit cold. I put my feet in, but that was the extent to swimming in the lake. I must also note, that we are getting quite good at navigating around and using public transport, especially since I could read very little in this town.

 

We headed to the local grocery store, which I think this may have been the hardest trip, as again, I could read very little and had to do a bit of guessing. I purchased the staples, bread, peanut butter, jelly and some fruit and veggies.

 

I realized too late that I left my case that attaches my GoPro at home. I tried to purchase another one, to no avail, so I had to rely on the guide to take pictures and video of the Canyoning, so I will do my best to describe it.

video here: https://cloud.outdoor-interlaken.ch/s/K9CQvSvgkZCRsIs

 

When we get to the shop, that is 2 doors down from our Hostel, very small town, we changed into bathing suits and put on our wet suits. I would say the thickness was probably at least a 4mm. Next we went down to get out wet suit boots, and jackets and finally our harness, life jacket and helmet.

With gear in hand, they drove us up a mountain road, which was terrifying! We parked and still had a bit of a hike up to our starting point. In our wet suit and harness and carrying the rest of our gear, this was quite a feat, but we all made it up. In addition to our group, there was another group with newlyweds with the brides father, the grooms brother and a best man. They were a fun group to have with us! With it being the end of the season, the guides seem to be a bit over it, which I think is my only negative to say about the whole day… well and the walk up in the wet suit and harness!

 

On each of our helmets, we had names, mine was Ewok. In my group, we also had Maurice, Pickles, Gangsta and Vritney. For the trip, we were to refer to these names. We arrived at the start point and we made our way down the river in the canyon. Thankfully it was a warm day, as the water flowing through was very cold, yet with all the gear, you don’t notice it that much. The current was also very swift and moved quickly down the canyon. Picture the parts of the river you would go white water rafting down, except with a bunch more rocks and not as deep.

 

To get to the end, we did a series of bounding between rocks, repelling down a line, jumping off rocks into pools of water and sliding down natural rock slides. Three jumps stick out in my mind the most, the first one, where we were to jump and land on our back, like a reverse belly flop. The guide was more than happy to help you, and I told him he might as well plan to help me, by pulling me back when I jumped, to make sure I landed correctly. The next jump stands out, just because of how high it was. That moment when you are airborne that you have that “oh shit” go through your head before you hit the water. The last one stands out, because you needed to do a “superman jump” where you are to land on your side. But not only that, you were to jump out close to the rock wall to your left, but not hit it, and avoid the rock on the right. It definitely added some more intensity to the jump.

 

For me, the repelling was probably the most challenging, as my legs got a bit tangled underneath me, although I was able to demonstrate how flexible I really am! There were a couple waterfalls we went under and one that once we went under it, we pushed off on the rock and get shot out. The last part was a natural two part rock water slide. You go down the first part on your own, and then before you go down part two, the guide turns you around and has you go down backwards. I really enjoyed the day. It had all things I like to do, although I find myself more calculated and cautious then I was before surgery when climbing and going rock to rock.

 

When we got back, I took a little break in the hammock at the hostel. A couple of us walked and went to explore the town a little, and we purchased some Swiss chocolate as well as purchased a mocha at the chocolate making shop. For the mocha, the shop used their own chocolate, it was very good. For dinner, myself and 3 others went to the Irish Pub next door, as it was the only place that was reasonably priced, and even that was pretty pricey. I ordered the steak dinner that was the special of the evening, and we had some Sticky Toffee pudding cake for dessert, that is so delicious.

 

This weekend, they were holding a marathon, so while at dinner, there was a parade of Swiss cows with traditional bells around their next, being led with only sticks. When they passed back by, they were led by goats. The funniest part was watching the “handlers” try to catch the run away goats, with just a leading stick.

 

The rest of the evening was spent in the club that was under the Hostel where a group of us went drinking and dancing into the morning hours. I did not get to bed until 2am, but it was such a fun night with my other travelers. One of the German hostel guest had us all dancing what seemed equivalent to the electric slide, which was really fun to learn and dance.

 

Fun Facts: The water in Interlaken is so fresh and clean, and especially compared to French water, it was delicious, and you can get it from any tap or faucet you can find around town.

At the hostel, they had a bathroom instruction guide and asked all guest to sit while doing their business.

Switzerland is big on recycling and conservation. In the hosel, you had to keep pushing the shower facet, as the water would only run for 30 seconds at a time.

Day 6 – A day of art

***Pictures will be added as soon as I can get WiFi strong enough to Upload them

Second day in Paris and we are off to the Louvre.  Once again, bread for breakfast, but I managed to make a coffee that was a bit more tolerable.

 

A group of five of us head off to the museum, which once again we did a fantastic time navigating the streets and Metro. Our tickets were for right when the museum opened, which was great as it was not too crowded yet. Knowing we had short time, we tried to make sure we saw the exhibits that were important.

 

We saw the Mona Lisa, the winged victory of samothrace, the statue of Venus, and the valpincon bather. The museum is massive and there is so much to see, not just with the art but also with the building itself.  In total, I think we spent about 2 hours there, which I think was a good amount of time before it starts to get a bit overwhelming.

 

Since we had time, we popped over the Notre Dame again to actually go in the building, as it was one of the places from the tour that we all had really wanted see. I am so glad we did, as it was incredible! Thankfully, we had little wait to go in. The stain glass windows were massive and beautiful. While we were in the church, they started to have noon mass.

 

I really enjoyed our second day. Just walking around to the two locations, it gave us a better feeling of the city of Paris.

 

Meeting time was 2pm at the hostel, so we hit the grocery store for lunch and dinner and met back up with the group to catch a train to Interlaken, Switzerland.

 

A metro and two trains later and we were in a quaint town surrounded by mountains. It was a bit eerie as the town observes quite hours at 10p, so when we arrived just before midnight, the town was quite with little street traffic and almost no foot traffic.

 

Fun Lauren Food note: I found it a bit challenging shopping for to-go food in Paris, especially when I do not read French. Needless to say, I kept to the basics which made for an interesting lunch/dinner on the trains. I did make sure I ordered a crepe while still in France, and it was delicious.

 

More Fun Facts:

 

I was so very thankful to have playing cards, as we were able to play a couple of card games to get us through the second 3 hour train ride

 

I had to pay 80 cents to use the restroom at the France train station, it was the only time so far that I have had to pay to use the ladies room, which I see as a win.

 

The toilet paper on the first train was pink, and was the exact same as the paper towels… so you can imagine how that feels!

The toilet paper in the Hostel in Switzerland was stronger than the paper towels… so again, I will let you imagine that one too.

 

Next up… Canyoneering in Interlaken and maybe a swim in the lake

Day 11 – Dancing the night away

 

4am with 12K steps… needless to say we had a fun night dancing, but it made for a lazy morning. My room was awake by 10am but we did not get out into the city until noon. I had my first chocolate croissant, which I realize is weird because we have them in the US, but I am not someone who eats croissants. It was delicious and went great with my cappuccino. The cafe next to the hotel had 1 euro cappuccino that were absolutely amazing, so we went there often.

St. Peter's Basillica
St. Peter’s Basillica

Today I went to explore the Vatican. Vatican city is the smallest country in the world. There was a lot of curiosity of if or what a Vatican passport may look like, so we googled it. The answer was, Yes, they have their own and it is black.

One of the guards in Vatican City
One of the guards in Vatican City

Thankfully I was with one of the girls when I went to the Vatican, because the tour guides are relentless in this part of the city. From the metro all the way to the museum gates, they hounded and harassed you, about whether or not you had tickets. Most of them we just ignored and walked past, however, once you got closer, that strategy did not work. Some of them would make comments about us not responding to them, it was probably the worst we had encountered. The girl I was with had tickets to do the museum, but I chose to just go to St. Peters Square and the Basilica. In the Basilica, I went down to the Crypt and saw the tombs of the past Popes. It was quite interesting, as most of them were topped with a sculpture of what I could assume is how they looked when they passed. It was also interesting how little some were Pope. This is sacred space, and no pictures were taken.

St. Peter's Square
St. Peter’s Square

I very much enjoyed wandering around and just taking in the beauty of the place, so I took very little pictures in general, as I would never be able to fully capture the beauty of this place. They have 2 post office’s on site, so I took advantage and sent out some post cards, as this day marked the first leg of the journey.

Posting post cards from Vatican City
Posting post cards from Vatican City

After the Vatican, I popped over to a cafe for lunch and then headed back to the hotel, to have some rest time before we met some of the new members of the group. (This morning we lost 7 members of our group, some of which I became close with, and was sad to see them go.) Thankfully I had as tonight we gain 5.

At the welcome meeting, we met the new people, and enjoyed a dinner with them, to merge them into the group. After all the walking and dancing, I took the train back to the hotel, to avoid the 15 min walk back.

Tonight we are early to bed so we can be up early to pack up and head out at 6am.

Fun Fact of the day: The drivers in Italy are crazy! I know I was worried about getting hit in England because I didn’t know which way to look, but I am more concerned in Italy, because they just don’t care. I also think you are more likely to get hit by a scooter or motorcycle then a car, because they just zip around the city without a care.