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

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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.

Day 10 – Rome Day 1

**Pictures will be added soon

Sleep was limited on the train to Rome. What I find comical was how excited I was about an overnight train, just to be very disappointed. I had planned on taking something to facilitate a nice long sleep, but it was crowded and I ended up swapping bunks, so it was difficult to get to my bag, and I figured I was really tired I should just sleep. However, between being hot, then freezing, only having a sheet for the bed and to cover me, sleeping on a hard surface with tired, sore muscles… it made for a long sleepless night. I would say about half the people slept, while the other half of people slept like me. Although, this really was the only night since starting the trip that I had a hard time sleeping, so I can’t complain too much!

 

Today was our first full day in Rome. It was also our last day with 7 of our travelers. I opted to skip the orientation walk and explore the city with a couple other members of the group. We had a great breakfast of eggs, toast, bacon and cappuccino, which helped start the day on the right foot!

 

Our first stop was the Colosseum, which was massive. We opted to go in, and to our luck, without pre-purchasing tickets, we were actually able to get in the short line! I feel like this rarely happens. It only took us about 15 minutes to get in, meanwhile people with tickets were waiting much longer. One fact I learned, was that they used to be able to flood the arena, to simulate aquatic battles. It is a shame that materials from the Colosseum were used for other buildings, as it would have been great to see it more intact. It was really neat though to see the view of the underground quarters from above. I really enjoyed the walk around and taking it all in.

 

Next up was the Palatino con Monstra, which are the gardens across the way with a lot of ancient ruins. I really enjoyed walking along the paths, and imagining what it would have been like when these buildings an gardens were filled with people. The one disappointment to this section, was the addition of modern art, which added no value to the area. If anything it took away from sights and the beauty of the area.

 

At this point we are starving, which seems to be a common theme with this trip, so we walk to the canal, past the MOUTH OF TRUTH, which we did not stop because of the long line, and unbeknownst to us, into the Roman Jewish quarter for lunch. The cafe we settled on, was endorsed by Anthony Bourdain and it was quite good. I was so tired, that when I sat down for lunch, all I wanted to do was put my head down for a quick nap. Instead I asked for espresso. This is not a common practice in Italy to order coffee before a meal, but if I wanted to stay awake for the meal I needed something. You would have thought I asked the waiter for an elephant by the way he looked at me. He asked more than once if I was sure that I wanted it now, and not after the meal. This was the best espresso I have had so far, and I am not quite sure what was in it, but it kept me up the rest of the night, and with added energy!

 

Lunch was very good, and it was really nice to have that break from all the walking. Thankfully we had it just in time, as rain was coming in just as we were leaving. We made it to the Pantheon, built between 27 BC and 14 AD, then rebuilt in 126 AD, right as it started to really rain. There was something magical about being there in the rain. The Pantheon has the world’s largest un-reinforced concrete dome, with a circular opening (the oculus), in which the rain came pouring in and hitting the floor. It was quite a sight, and not one you could really plan for. This is one of the best-preserved ancient roman buildings and it is awe inspiring. To think that they could build this beautiful structure without the tools of today.

 

Last stop on the way to the metro was the Trevi Fountain. Even in the rain, it is a stunning fountain, with the white stone and the blue water. It is said you should throw two coins in, one to make a wish and the other so that you return to Rome. I did both, although I will not be sharing my wish! By the time we had finished, the rain had subsided and we made it back to the hotel with time to shower and recharge before the last dinner with the first group. I must say what an amazing shower it was!

 

Dinner was at a really fun Italian restaurant, where food was good and so were the prices. I shared some delicious wine with other travelers and the restaurant gave us a complimentary shot of limoncello to complete our meal. From here we went to an outdoor bar and then to a club to go dancing, although I am not sure where  exactly in Rome this club was. 

 

Tomorrow is our last full day in Rome and when we say goodbye in the morning to 7 of our travelers and hello to 5 new ones.

 

Fun Fact: The phrase “When in Rome” was used a lot today, and it is much more fun to say it, when you are actually in Rome.

 

The Rome metro is pretty well useless. We bought a 48 hour pass thinking we would use the metro as much as other places, but because it is in an X, and it is not very close to a lot of the places, we used it very rarely.

Day 5 – A walk through Paris

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The Eiffel Tower

For those who were wondering… I did try to solve the mystery of the hump in my mattress… turns out it was a bend in the bed frame and not the mattress itself!

Today we woke up in Paris, a city that reminds me a bit of NYC in both look and smell. In Paris, public toilets are not free, which likely contributes to the heavy smell of pee in some areas. Our group has opted to go on a “free” walking tour around Paris.

As most of you would expect, my breakfast consisted of bread, with butter and jam and some terrible coffee, it was what I found that I would eat. Paris is not known for having good coffee and the hostel was no exception. The hostel itself is very nice, with a really nice room, but the food, for me and my limited palate, left a lot to be desired.

The walking tour itself, although full of fun little stories and and an entertaining guide, left us feeling a bit unsatisfied as what was accomplished for the amount of time spent.  However, the stories were worth the 5 euro it cost. I will do my best to retell them.

Full view of the Fountaine of Saint Michel
Full view of the Fountaine of Saint Michel
Saint Michael and the Devil
Saint Michael and the Devil

Fountaine of Saint Michel was the meeting point of the tour. This is in the Latin quarter of Paris. The square in which we stood held a lot of history. The fun story of the square takes place in 1998, when France is to host the world cup. France makes it to the finals against Brazil and wins its first and only World Cup title. As the story goes, the people come to the square to celebrate and while celebrating, one member of the crowd scales the fountain and puts a France jersey on Saint Michel. Soon to follow, the Brasil jersey was put on the Devil. To the displeasure to some of the residents, the jerseys only came down when the weather finally wore them away months later.

The statue of Charlemagne next to Notre Dame
The statue of Charlemagne next to Notre Dame
Me in front of Notre Dame
Me in front of Notre Dame

Next up was Notre Dame, which is absolutely incredible! It took over 100 years to build and it is truly a site to see. Unfortunately we did not go inside, which was a bit of a bummer.

The story here was about the doors. A man, whom I now can not remember his name, was commissioned to create the doors for Notre Dame. It is said he made a deal with Devil as he was having a hard time thinking of a design. This man died two weeks after finishing the doors. When Notre Dame was first opened, the doors would not work. With the help of holy water, the doors were able to open, and so they were deemed cursed by the devil. The center doors remained closed to this day. The doors are truly exquisite and thanks to my zoom lens, I was able to capture them!

The front middle doors of Notre Dame
The front middle doors of Notre Dame

Another feature of Notre Dame is the gargoyles that surround the church. We learned that most of these are actually drain pipes and the water leaves the mouth of the gargoyle.

Gargoyles on the sides of Notre Dame
Gargoyles on the sides of Notre Dame
Gargoyles from the top of Notre Dame
Gargoyles from the top of Notre Dame

While we were in the square in front of Notre Dame, I noticed near the statue there was a gathering of people and pigeons. Being nosy as I am, I had to investigate. Turns out, there was a guy there with food for the pigeons, who would land right on him. It seemed as if people would pay for food to have pigeons land on them to take pictures.

A man in front of Notre Dame who was feeding the pigeons
A man in front of Notre Dame who was feeding the pigeons

This whole thing seemed absolutely mad to me. First of all, you shouldn’t be feeding the pigeons, second of all you shouldn’t be paying for food for the pigeons, and most important… You should not encourage pigeons to land on you! Oh the things you can get tourist to do!

Initially known as Palais de la Cité, now known as Conciergerie
Initially known as Palais de la Cité where the King of France resided, now houses the Palais de Justice

Next we walked over to the Conciergerie. This building has been named 3 times. Initially it was known as Palais de la Cité, when it housed the King of France. Next it turned in to a courthouse and prison, where it tried and housed Marie Antoinette as well as other prisoners. Now it is the site of the Palais de Justice. The building itself was really nice, however, there is also a beautiful church off to the left!

The first stone bridge in Paris not to support houses
The first stone bridge in Paris not to support houses

We made our way to the Pont Neuf, the first stone bridge in Paris not to support houses. The construction of this bridge took a long time, starting with the King Henry III and finishing with King Henry IV. During the construction, they ran into some funding issue, and so, the King imposed a tax on wine. The people of Paris were very upset about this. When you get close to the bridge, you can see that it is lined with stone carved faces, although none seem to be alike.

The faces of the Pont Neuf
The faces of the Pont Neuf
One of the faces on the Pont Neuf
One of the faces on the Pont Neuf

As you can see, the faces are a bit demonic in nature. The story goes, upon completion of the bridge, King Henry IV through a 3 day party for the people, where there was to be all the wine you could drink. Because the people were still upset about the tax to there wine, they came and stayed for 3 days straight, drinking their fill of wine. By the 3rd day, the people were all a bit haggard. King Henry IV had a sketch artist draw the faces of the guest and they were carved into the bridge to embarrass his guest who overstayed their welcome.

This bridge, being void of houses, was highly traveled, as well as drew in street artist who would perform, much as they do today. Before heading onto the bridge, we were once again warned about pick pocketing as well as scams. One scam is a ball game, which we actually saw, where there are 3 boxes and you must guess which box the ball is in. You see this in some magic performances. In addition to the person “running” the game, you also have other members posing as players, who help draw in people with the illusion of being able to win. We actually witnessed this on the bridge, and it is quite an elaborate operation.

The new location of Love Lock
The new location of Love Lock

The original love lock bridge is no longer filled with locks, due to one the the pieces of the gate falling into the canal. After weighing the gate, and determining it could have cut right through a boat had it actually landed on one, it was deemed a safety issue an all the locks were removed. In view of the original Love lock bridge, which has been crafted so no more locks can be placed, there is gates in which new love locks have been placed. There are vendors on site, willing to sell you a lock and use of a sharpie. To me, this concept has now become commercialized and gimmicky. The authenticity around it has been lost, so much so, that you will even find combination locks on the gate!

The Louvre
The inside walls of the Louvre

We walked into the center of the Louvre and learned a little about it’s history.  This picture does not do it justice. The Louvre is massive and intricate and amazing. This is the location of the Mona Lisa, which only became famous after it was stolen and post cards were sent world wide in search of it. I will be visiting the Louvre tomorrow, to explore the gallery. In total, it is more than 13 kilometers, and is estimated it would take over 9 months to see every piece of art inside.

Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel
Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel

Our last stop was the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel to commemorate Napoleon’s military victories. It leads you into the Tuileries Garden where you can see the Axe historique, which is a line of monuments, buildings and thoroughfares that extends from the center of Paris. If you look, the Louvre does not sit center as the rest, and at times there have been talks of shifting the Louvre so it is center.

Again, although informative and full of fun stories, it was very much touristy, and I felt as though I didn’t get to see much of Paris.

Our group came back together to set out for a picnic at the Eiffel Tower. What I found a bit funny, was we saw the Eiffel Tower at different parts of the walk, but it seemed quite small, like the one in Vegas. It was not until you arrived on site that you saw the enormity of it. It did not disappoint, and we had bread, cheese, meat and wine while basking in the view. The worst part about this location is the abundance of souvenir shops and street vendors. Every couple feet there was a guy holding cheap trinkets trying to get you to buy.

The Eiffel Tower
The Eiffel Tower
Paris was hot! We were a bit thankful for the overcast sky, as it was hot enough without the sun beaming on us. Our group split up, and I went back to the hostel to shower, change and go find drinks and dinner with a couple girls. It was a bit impressive that we were able to navigate the Paris Metro and using a map find our way through the streets back to the hostel, with little redirect.
Three of us went down to the canal, about a 5 to 10 minute walk from where we were staying, found a cute cafe to grab a drink, I had a Bellini that was delicious, and then set off to find a place for dinner. Tempted to go into a pub that was almost guaranteed to have an English menu, we decided to try our luck at a authentic French restaurant.
We were very thankful to have a server that helped us to translate the menu, although there was still a bit of a language barrier with some items. One of the specials was veal, and he was able to translate baby but did not have the word for cow. With a little help we figured it out!
The food was amazing and the company was great, and after a bit of a disappointing start, we had a fabulous end to the day in Paris!
Tomorrow I have tickets to the Louvre and we then leave in the afternoon for a train to Switzerland.
**Much apologies, I am posting without proofreading which I will do at a later date

Day 4 – On my own two feet

Today is the day that I say goodbye to friends and head to London to meet my group. I found myself with little sleep as the excitement and anxiety started to build. I was having fears of summer camp part 2, having such a amazing time the first time, the second round could not hold up to expectation. In Australia, I left with some lifelong friends, would I have those after this trip? Will there be other travelers who speak English? These people will essentially be my family and friends over the next 30 days… will I like them? will they like me?

I was dropped to the train station, with instructions on how to get the St. Pancras International, which I managed to do, with some help along the way. I had a bit of trouble with the London Tube system, as it wasn’t as intuitive as I had expected it to be. With all the different lines and similar colors, I found myself staring at it perplexed, wondering which shade of purple was the line that I wanted. I decided to just find someone to ask for help. Alas I made it to my destination.

With nearly four hours to kill, I dropped my luggage, and decided to try to go outside the station to find lunch.  This turned out to be a mistake! I would have been better off in the station as I found myself in a world of chains. The one pub I did find, seemed to already have been occupied by the town locals, that I wasn’t quite sure I wanted to mingle with at 2pm on a Monday. I ended up settling for a sandwich shop, and had to pay more for my food for dining in! After, I set my self up at a coffee shop in the station and worked on this blog!

I must say, waiting in anticipation, made the time crawl. I found myself watching people around me, and wondering if they were part of my group.  Finally, it was time and all my anxiety melted.  We seem to have a really good group, and all but 4 of us are from Australia. Apparently, if you want to find an Australian, you don’t go looking in Australia! Everyone is very nice and I am more excited for this trip.

We hopped on an 8pm train to Paris, where we arrived at our hostel close to midnight with the time change. The hostel we are at is very nice, aside from my bed which seems to have a hill in the middle of it. It is like the Princess and the Pea, although I am not brave enough to lift the mattress to see if there is something underneath it.

A funny tidbit from yesterday that I forgot, I have yet to adjust to being in a different time zone, although my phone is on Boston time so I have no excuse. Yesterday morning, 10am my time, 5am Boston time, I saw some exciting news on Facebook. I was so excited that I sent a text messages out to two different people, only to realize in horror that I sent 5am text messages on a Sunday morning.

Fun fact of the day, that I learned from my roommates, Thomas Crapper was the inventor of the flush toilet. The lore is that this is where the phrase, “going to the Crapper” or “taking a crap” came from. Upon doing some googling, there is another explanation for the origin of the phrase, however, I like the first explanation best!

Off to explore Paris tomorrow.

Day 3 – Lazy Sunday

After a late night Friday and a long day Saturday, we were due for a lazy day. Plus, I was going to help Silke with packing her backpack… since it went sooo well for me!

The one thing we did do, was walk over to the local grocery store to pick up items for lunch. Being around food, whether in a shop or a cafe is when I realize I am not in America anymore! Thankfully Silke is fluent in American as well, as she is able to translate certain items into their American name. Something noticeable in the grocery store, is that a good deal of things come in smaller portions. I took advantage of this time to just have a look around, as there was many items I did not recognize or the flavor blends were different then the ones I am used to.

The very best part of this shopping excursion was running into the American Section. I now wonder if other cultures are as offended as I found myself when they go into American shops and find their section. What I found in this American section was Pop-Tarts, Twinkies and a whole lot of candy!

The American Aisle
The American Aisle

Now I understand that a lot of the same things I eat, they also carry as traditional items in the market, but is this really what America brings to the table?! Is our culinary addition, processed foods full of fat and sugar! They even carried flavors I have never heard of before, like lime filled Twinkies and the equivalent to Lucky Charms but also with chocolate bits. And to boot, they had some of the worst for you Pop-Tart flavors! They really should have just labeled this section – diabetes. Needless to say, I did not purchase anything from this section.

After shopping, we spent a lot of the day packing up Silke. I must admit, it is much better being the helper rather than the packer! I found myself laughing a lot, because the emotions she was experienced were mine only a couple days ago. The frustration and the struggle of wanting and trying to pack everything you own. Trying to justify why you “need” to bring something even though it is similar to other things you “need” as well. I still remember sitting on the floor with an overstuffed bag, nearly in tears over my boots not fitting and needing to pack them.

As my last full day in England, it was nice to just lazy around and be ready for a busy day ahead, heading to London to join my group and leaving for Paris. This European adventure has just only started and tomorrow I will go back to standing on my own two feet!