Monday, May 28, 2012

Last Stop: Venice, Italy

It was our last day in Italy. SAD. But what better way to spend it than in....VENICE!

However, some of us were a little sore from walking up and down all of those hills in Cinque we had to do some stretches in the train station first....

After arriving in Venice, we realized a few things:

1. Venice doesn't really believe in streets. Not only do all the streets wind around in no apparent grid or pattern, but sometimes they'd just rather have a canal of water where a street should be.

2. Hiding one's identity is strongly encouraged. Masks are sold EVERYWHERE. And I'm not talking the little mask you can buy in a party store, I'm talkin' Phantom fo the Opera's Masquerade elaborately decorated masks.  It was incredible.


3. Venetian pigeons are crazy. At dinner, we were being attacked in an organized
formation and they wouldn't stay away from us.  And then we had moments like this, when they didn't want anything to do with us. C'mon birds, make up your little bird-brain minds!

We spent the day wandering, eatin gelato, shopping, and seeing St. Mark's!

By this point we only had a few hours left in Venice, and (sadly!) only a few hours left before we had to goodbye to Claire, so we decided to spend them on a good dinner by one of the canals. Check out the view from our dinner table:

Not really sure how we managed to get a view like this, considering this restaurant was turning people away...but somehow we got a table and we were able to spend our last few hours
      enjoying eachother's company,
                 enjoying some DELICIOUS food....

An orange wine commonly served in Venice.
Claire head not included.

      ...and asking eachother, "What is my life?" 
Seriously. What is my life?! I got to spend this past week with some of my favorite people in one of my favorite places on earth. 
All in all, it was a lovely trip and I am SO thankful for it!!

Classes will be starting tomorrow afternoon for me! As much as I have enjoyed all of my travels, I am looking forward to settling into a routine.  I feel like I've learned so much already, but I'm looking forward to learning from my professors in the classroom and beginning my LAST semester of college! WOAH!

Cinque Terre, Italy: A Slice of Paradise

I imagine some little corner of heaven might look a little bit like Cinque Terre, Italy.

We left Florence early in the morning and took a train to Manarola, which is one of the five villages located in Cinque Terre (get it? Cinque....five? I didn't catch on at first, so if you don't understand yet, you're not alone). We spent the day hiking along the coast of these villages, eating delicious gelato (of course), running away from creepy-crawly crabs, and basking in the sunshine on the marble white rocks on the shore. It was truly incredible and I don't reslly think I can fully describe it, so I'm just going to let the pictures do all the talking:

Chelsea and Claire at lunch. 
I tried lobster for the first time EVER here. And, might I say, it was QUITE tasty.

We stayed in a hostel at the very tippy-top of this little village.

They don't just have rocks on their beach. They have MARBLE rocks on the beach. How cool is that?

Claire and me after jumping into the freezing Mediterranean Sea. #WorthIt

 I've become THAT person, who takes pictures of her meal. But seriously, when it looks THIS good, how can you NOT photograph your food?

Sunset over the Mediterranean Sea. GLORY.

Cinque Terre, Italy was seriously like a dream. I would look around and every single view was as if I was standing in a postcard. It did not feel real. But, don't worry, it definitely was! And I am SO glad it was. Otherwise, my day in Italy would not have been nearly as beautiful.

Friends in Firenze

After finishing our time in Rome, we hopped on a train to Florence...or Firenze, as they call it. SO incredibly thankful to have a Eurorail pass, which allows us to take the train from anywhere to anywhere in Europe.  It's pretty much the greatest thing ever. Can't imagine being in Europe without it. Anyway, we arrived in Florence and met up with our sweet friend, Claire Aufhammer.  Claire was my roommate sophomore and she decided to study abroad in Scotland this year. She had just finished her exams and decided that meeting up with us in Italy would be the best way to kick off her summer. And she was right. Because we had a blast! But what else is new; I always have a blast with Claire.  I am so beyond blessed to know her. She is one of the most intelligent, compassionate, and genuine people I know. That girl is going to change the world. And I'm so honored to call her friend.  So after our reunion with her, which may have involved some squealing and jumping, we began our Florentine adventure! 

The city welcomed us with this beauty of a sunset, taken at Ponte Vecchio Bridge. Wow. 

Breakfast was provided every morning at our adorable little Bed and Breakfast, which was owned by a sweet little Italian couple, who lived at the Bed and Breakfast.  Also, sidenote: this breakfast area was the only place I could get phone reception, and so I spent quite some time making phone calls while sitting in their laundry room (which is on the other side of that door, behind this table), as their family enjoyed a large and loud Italian meal together at this table. I loved it. I felt like I was staying with a real Italian family...which I guess I was.

We spent most of the day shopping. (We're girls; what do you expect?) And many of these shops were located here, on Ponte Vecchio Bridge. 

All that shopping makes a girl hungry, so we stopped at a restaurant that Claire had been to the previous year with her family. The owner, Francesco, was extremely welcoming and actually gifted us with some wine and a tour of his wine cellar in the basement of his restaurant, which apparently was over 1000 years old and built on top of Roman ruins. It was incredible!

We then hiked up to the top of the Piazzalle Michaelangelo, which was quite the trek. But WELL worth the view!

And one does not simply go to Florence without seeing the Duomo. Nor does one simply go to a blog about Florence without seeing the here it is:

Florence was actually hosting a gelato festival while we were there. I know, I know, it was a dream come true.  However, THIS masterpiece came from a gelato shop on one of the street corners. You may be surprised to know that I actually ordered the smallest cone and was given THIS. Yes, it's bigger than my head and yes, wafers had to be inserted into the ice cream for support, so that the ice cream didn't topple off of the cone. 

....and yes, I ate the entire thing. No problem.

And, if that delectable treat doesn't make you fall in love with Florence, I don't know what will.

There's No Place Like Rome

Well, I spent 19 straight hours on trains today. And, needless to say, I am thoroughly exhausted.  However, I am STILL going to blog about my fabulous trip to Italy.  Now THAT'S commitment. I may not be coherent, but at least I'm making the effort, right?

Italy is absolutely wonderful. If you haven't been, GO. I absolutely loved it and would go back in a heartbeat....sooooo when you go, let me know, and I'd love to tag along.

Chelsea and I left on Tuesday afternoon for Brussels, where we took a flight to Rome.  in case you didnt know, European flights are SO cheap. So that's awesome.  And the seats inside were yellow, which obviously makes the experience much more cheerful.  AND our plane even had a name: Bye Bye Baby...maybe not the most encouraging thing you want to read as you're boarding the aircraft, but hey, we got there in one piece, right? 

We landed in Rome very late (much later than my parents would've liked). But thankfully, Chelsea and I were with some Baylor boys, so we were not alone (don't worry, Mom and Dad). We soon learned that punctuality is not the Italians' strong suit. An hour later, our bus arrived and dropped us off at our hostel.  Let me rephrase that, it dropped us off in the general area our hostel.  We then spent another thirty minutes wandering around the streets of Rome, searching for our hostel.  We eventually found it but, let's just say, looking for it was not my favorite experience. Note to self: always arrive in Rome during the daylight.

After arriving at our hostel, we did the best we could to get some sleep and rest up for our day ahead. Rome wasn't built in a day, but we did our best to see most of it in a day.  And we did a pretty good job at that, if I do say so myself.

First stop: The Colosseum. 

Ate some delicious "frozen chocolate" right here, outside of the Pantheon...tasted a lot like a Frosty....but obviously MUCH better. Wendy's needs to take some pointers from the Italians.

I didn't want to be rude, but don't you think someone should let them know that they have a giant hole in the roof of their Pantheon...?

National Monument to Victor Emmanuel II
(Not gonna lie, I just had to Google what this was...but it was too pretty NOT to take a picture of it!)

Stopped for some pizza at Piazzo Navona. 
Not a bad view from our lunch table, if I do say so myself.

 I thoroughly enjoyed the mob of children in matching blue hats parade through the streets of Rome. Seriously, God bless the chaperones who led this ginormous group of elementary school kids around the city. It looked like madness...if madness wore a blue hat.

The Vatican

And now I know that if Speech Pathology doesn't work out as a career, I can always move to Rome and become a street performer.  There seems to be a high demand for them there:

....these guys just sat. And they made money. If only all jobs were that easy....

I'd probably pay these guys to follow me around all day.

Trevi Fountain
(thank you Lizzie McGuire Movie, for reminding us to go there)

Makin' a wish at Trevi Fountain

Rome, you were pretty good to us.  But, honestly, if I go back to Italy, I'd probably wouldn't go back to Rome. It's overwhelmingly huge and there are a billion people everywhere. Don't get me wrong, I love the history that is there (I'm quite the Latin nerd actually), but I don't think I could've handled being there longer than a day.   Needless to say,I was ready to catch our train to....Florence!

Monday, May 21, 2012

Why do Mondays always feel like a Battlefield?

Monday.  The final day of our group trip.  The days had flown by and it was crazy to think that it was our last day! But we were all growing very tired and ready to be back 'home' in Maastricht. But we had two battle sites to see before we were back in Maastricht.

This morning we loaded the bus and drove.  Obviously, we all fell asleep on the bus.  What else is new? We are all convinced that the bus driver was circulating some sort of sedative through the air conditioning system on that bus.  Seriously.  Every time we boarded the bus, we were instantly asleep. Which made getting our class reading done extremely difficult.

Our first stop was at was the battle site of the Battle of Verdun, which was fought in Verdun, France.  Our tour guide was the most precious little French woman.  She was like a grown up Madeline, with a big red hat and everything.

She walked us through the memorial dedicated to the 1 million French and Germans who died there and through some actual trenches that were used during the 10-month battle. We even found a bullet near one of the trenches, which she let us keep, as long as we didn't tell anyone. But I trust that all of you can keep a secret.

After the tour, the sweet little woman apologized for her "poor English," which was actually nearly flawless...most of the Europeans think that their English is horrible, but in actuality, it's near flawless. If anyone should be apologizing, it's us Americans who come to their country and expect them to speak our language.

Then we drove some more to Bastogne, Belgium to the site of the Battle of Bulge, the last major battle of World War II. The memorial was a HUGE monument, which we were allowed to climb.  On the monument, the state of every American who fought in the battle was represented on the monument.  Don't worry, Kansas was there:

Can you find the excited little Kansan in this picture?

That was our final stop of the day until we finally reached Maastricht around dinner time.  It's so nice to be back in a familiar location and finally get some time to just relax, before we all leave for our individual travels tomorrow.  

2700 km, 7 countries, and 5 days later....Operation Europe: complete.

This sign hung proudly on the front of our bus for the entirety of the trip.

Chelsea and I will be leaving for Italy in the morning and will return to Maastricht next Monday.  So expect another post soon after that! Have a good week!

Castles, Cruises, and Quesadillas

On Sunday, we woke up, had yet another fabulous breakfast at the hotel (surprise, surprise). We walked to the Chateau de Chillon, which  is a castle that overlooks Lake Geneva.

 We were given a tour of the castle by a little curly-haired Swiss woman, who ended all of her sentences with "hm?"  She informed us that the castle was over 1000 years old and showed us the banquet halls, bedrooms, bathrooms (which was so much of a luxury that the Duke actually invited guests to the bathroom with him to discuss business matters, and the prison.  On the wall of the prison, was the signature of the British poet, Lord Byron, who was imprisoned there for 6 years.

After the tour, we were given some time to explore the castle on our own.  Most of us climbed the billion flights of tiny little wooden stairs to the top of the castle, which overlooked the lake.  Most of us were sore the next day from all those stairs. I'm amazed that people in the Middle Ages climbed that often AND in 50 pounds of armor.  I'm impressed.

After our tour, we went a short little day cruise on the lake, enjoying the beauty of the surrounding mountains of France.

Our bus was waiting for us on the other side of the lake and we loaded up and drove to the Rhein River falls, which is an incredible huge waterfall on the Rhein River.  We were able to walk down around the waterfall, which was partially terrifying and partially awesome.  Mostly awesome though.

(photo cred: Sarah Hammerle)

After that, we loaded the bus (yet again) and drove through the Black Forest (which is less treacherous than I had originally thought).

We arrived in Freiburg, Germany, which is a pretty good-sized college town.  And quesdaillas were sounding very good to us and so a few of us found a Tex-Mex place right by the hotel, which was surprisingly good! But it was obviously a challenge (ordering Mexican Germany...yeah. But don't worry, when our food FINALLY arrived, all of our orders were correct AND delicious). 
Afterwards, we just walked around the town and, of course, got some delicious ice cream. Ice cream....that's always a good way to end the day. Amen? Amen.