Italy & Central Europe

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Hello from snowy Munich!

After Athens we went to Delphi for the day, which was great, really cool to see all that.  The next day is was on to Patra for the ferry to Bari, Italy. We slept on the floor of the ferry because ‘deck’ reservation really do mean DECK  It was not a great night, but we met some nice girls from the States who also loved to play cards, so had a few rounds of crib and managed to not get kicked out of the inside of the ferry.  Thank goodness for off-season! Once in Bari, we found out that the train to Naples was actually out of commission due to the building of a new train tunnel.  So we took a short train ride, a long bus ride (5hours!) and another short train ride to Pompeii via Taranto and Naples.  We stayed at the International Hostel there and slept in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius.  All rested up, we spent the entire day wandering around ancient Pompeii. What an amazing place! I definitely recommend it!

That night we headed north to Rome, and spent the night in the International Hostel, which was easily the biggest hostel I’ve ever seen.  It had probably about twenty dorms with twenty beds each!  The following day we went to the Vatican City, and it was amazing. St. Pauls is beautiful, and we were the first people on top of the Coupola that morning, early enough to see the sun finish rising ~ what a great moment. We walked all through the museum twice before leaving, as once just didn’t seem enough.  The Sistine Chapel is wicked, but the map room is almost as good, and totally adds to the whole experience. It was one of our favourites for sure.

The next day was a walking day – Trevi Fountain, Piazza Navona, the park, Piazza del Popolo and the best gelato of my life at San Crispino. Wondering why all the damn Irish were wearing green????? Oh yeah, it was St. Patricks Day!  Totally behind on that one! It’s so easy to loose track of time.  Italy lost to Ireland in Six Nations Rugby in Rome, again why there were so many Irish in and around the city.  We actually managed to catch a bit of the match in the Piazza del Popolo as there was a huge screen set up for all to see.

March 18 we spent getting lost in Ancient Rome: the Coliseum, the Roman Forum, and the Palatine Hill . . . all very cool old stuff. At this point, Rome is bar none our favourite city.  A walk along the banks of the Tiber proved interesting as we ended up seeing Rome more quickly than we had anticipated, and had a few ‘extra’ days on our itinerary.  Central Europe was calling, so we pulled out the trusty EuRail book to see where we could go.  Until then we had enjoyed fantastic weather without any rain, but the clouds started coming in that afternoon, so we headed back to our apartment and did more laundry and ate more pasta.

The next day was a pretty lazy day. We slept in, chilled out, went to see an aqueduct, and started our Central European jaunt by catching the train to Munich, only because there wasn’t one to Vienna!  We are staying here tonight, and then tomorrow night are taking a night train to Budapest (Hungary), and spending the day there before we go to Vienna for a night or two, and then to Florence, the Cinque Terra and then Venice and then to Bordeaux!

For now, we are seeking refuge from the cold in the internet cafés, churches and restaurants and later we’re hitting up the Hofbrauhaus for some REAL German beer . . . more soon!

Friday, April 6, 2007

En Paris!
We have been in Paris since Monday evening, and will be here till Monday morning – a full week! The longest we have been anywhere! We will miss our late morning leisurely breakfasts and our slow pace, but be assured; we still know how to see a city in a day!

Our night in Munich was a drunken blur . . . they serve been by the LITRE there!  On the way back to the pension, I slipped down the escalator and had a pretty epic bruise on my butt for at least a week.  The following day, we actually went back to the Hofbrauhaus for lunch – and more beer.  If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!  That night we overnighted on a train to Budapest, Hungary.

When we arrived at 9am there were old men drinking beer in the train station, to each their own I guess!  It was actually pretty warm there, and since we were both tired and sore from the trip so far we spent the day in the Turkish baths in the centre of the main park in Budapest.  We did get a chance to walk around the city a little bit, and found that the art there, including the statues, was very different from the art that we had seen in Italy and Greece.  It had such a different vibe to it, very dark and mysterious.  I’d love to go back, and also visit other Eastern European countries to compare.  That evening we took the train to Vienna (after almost leaving our bags in left luggage!) to spend a night (after a bottle of Hungarian wine) and the following day there.

It was cold in Vienna!  Freezing rain and wind did not make for a very nice walk around town, but a very interesting tour in the amazing Royal apartments of the Schonbrunn Palace warmed us up a bit!  That night we tried to get back to Italy, but apparently Vienna is a very popular place for Italians, and just as we couldn’t get a from Rome to Vienna, we couldn’t get a train from Vienna to Venice.

So, what did we do? Went to Zurich of course!! I even managed to secure myself a free bottle of Austrian wine for helping the wine maker make his bed on the overnight train!  We planned a four hour layover of sorts in Zurich to see the city.  It was a Sunday morning however, and practically nothing was open.  After walking the couple of kilometres from the train station to the centre of town in the freezing slush and rain, we managed to find a small café that was open and treated ourselves to the MOST expensive coffee of my life.  Switzerland is expensive, the Swiss Frank is worse than the Euro, almost as bad as the Pound, so our two coffees were equivalent to $18 CND or something ridiculous like that!

After about an hour in the train station to warm up it was back to more temperate climates in Italy. We visited Venice, the Cinque Terra and Florence, each for two nights. Venice was nice, very touristy, but St. Marks was beautiful, and we managed to skip the 2 hour line to see the inside by dropping off our bags.  Hiking in the beautiful Cinque Terra was great, so scenic, and busy enough in off season. On our way to Florence, we stopped at Pisa for the afternoon and took the dorky tourist pictures of the Leaning Tower – it just had to be done!  We didn’t go into any museums in Florence, but instead just walked around and saw all the sights, including the fake statues of the David that are scattered around the city.  Unfortunately, we couldn’t get the train we wanted to Bordeaux, so we stayed two nights instead of one. We went horseback riding with our extra day in Italy: in the absolute pouring rain. It was expensive, 95€ each, but two hours on a horse, and a true Italian meal (complete with Chianti wines) in a 13th century castle, and then a cappuccino in San Gimingano. Since it was so rainy, they only took us horseback riding for one hour. Jake especially was MAD, so we got 25€ back each.

The next morning it was a mad dash to the train station for the overnight to Nice, and another the full day on the train through the south of France to Bordeaux, where I got to reunite with 3 of the best friends a girl could ask for: Lisa, Audrey and Ali!

More to come later . . . 

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