A Travellerspoint blog

The land of BEER!!!!

Germany, Prague, and our tour of their beer halls...

snow 20 °F


Beer and Bratwurst, could it be any better.

With it getting closer to Christmas time we were excited to be in Germany, to see some friends, and to explore the Christmas markets
…oh yeah, and I’ve heard the beer is pretty good too. In the land of Bavaria, where beer may have been invented, we hit the Beer Halls hard. In a state where it is declared as a food, beer was item regularly served for breakfast, lunch and dinner. We immediately visited the Augustiner Beer Hall where we sat on the customary long benches, rubbing shoulders with the locals and enjoying two masses, in other words a liter of beer each, the only size that beer should be served in.
1 Mass, 2 Mass, 3 Mass...Floor

We spent the rest of the afternoon perusing the market stalls and made our customary dash for the train. Barely making it with about 2 minutes to spare we were headed to Eichstatt, a small German village outside of Munich, to stay with our friend Anke, our first couch surfer to stay with us in Tampa. We were actually staying with her entire family including mother, father and three brothers. It was so nice to see a familiar face since travelling for so long and we had the best time staying with her. She was an absolute amazing host and we were truly experiencing the traditional German life. Every night they prepared us a lovely meal of some traditional dishes which always involved lots of beer on the menu. She was excited to have someone actually surfing at her place as we were only the second people to ever visit.

We obviously had too much beer at dinner.

While in Eichstatt we still travelled back and forth to Munich some days, making sure to experience more of the beer halls in town. Taking our first free walking tour in the city we learned a lot about its history. We highly recommend the NEW”City Name” Tours wherever they offer them. We also enjoyed the city of Eichstatt while there and visited the castle and museum in the city. The museum actually houses the oldest known bird fossil in the word, found right there in the city…Jen was super excited.

Even better, while there we got to go sledding with Anke’s little brother. With Jen being able to count how many times she had seen snow, she lived up the moment by attempting to make snow angels and snowmen.
There goes Alec.

Here comes Jen.

Before dropping into the zone.

We spent a few hours in the snow that afternoon and were thoroughly exhausted. Enjoying the city so much we decided to stay two more nights in Munich with a couchsurfer in the city.

The next day was spent at the infamous Dachau Concentration camp. What a site to really see. Learning a lot about World War II and the Holocaust in school, it was nice to see where and how it truly happened. Spending well over 4 hours there we were beat and were meeting a friend in Munich later that afternoon. It had begun now to really snow and the trains were slightly delayed, we didn’t estimate enough time and missed meeting our friend. After a long day we decided to head back to the Hofbrauhaus for, you guessed it, more beer.
Hof what?

Watch out behind you, he may steel your beer!

Anyone gets close to my beer, I'll wack'em with my pretzel.

It was also a meeting point for our host for the next few nights, Liviu. Liviu was a fun character. He hosted us for two nights even with other surfers there already.

Gluwein at the medieval market.

We spent the days back in Munich enjoying the city and the nights at his place watching movies and sharing stories. One day we finally met up with our friend, Jana, who is the girlfriend of the infamous Sam Prior, our couchsurfer from London who stayed with us for a week and we are meeting for New Years.

Jana showing us the true sights of Munich. Potato pancakes!

Munich is just an amazing city. You know they actually consider beer a food there and what better way to experience it than for breakfast, Weiss beer and weisswurst…that’s white beer and white sausage for you guys playing at home. They say that the weisswurst can never hear the noon bells, meaning it had to be served before then. What better way to wash it down than with beer.

At the Paulaner beer hall, sometime around lunch...I think.

This was just our first city in Germany and we loved every minute of it, we couldn’t wait for more…but first we were headed to Prague in the Czech Republic, before seeing more of Germany.


Back to the East

Stepping off the train in Prague with no reservations, literally none, not even a place to stay, we immediately searched for internet. Thanks to a new age you can pretty much find internet everywhere for free. And if it is protected, simply the numbers 1-8 too many times work as the password. After getting connected we found a hostel for 6 euro a person/night, we immediately knew we were back in the East, enjoying the low costs. The city was really amazing and had it not been now towards the end of our trip I’m sure we would have stayed longer. The city was just amazing. It reminded us a lot of Budapest, on the edge of the East but with a lot of the influence from the West. The Czech Republic boasts itself as the highest consumer of beer in the world, sorry Germany you lose this round, and at the price, we know why. It is literally cheaper than water and doesn’t taste much differently. I will give them some credit, we visited a monastery there that brewed an amazing IPA, much different than the traditional Pilsner Urquell or Budweiser (supposedly the original) that everyone else enjoys.

The monks know one thing for sure, beer.

Another bonus for being back east, food portions. Here, a meal usually consisted of some large piece of meat with dumplings and gravy…no vegetable in sight.
Meat and more meat, and oh, with dumplings.

The city also takes pride in its astrological clock that every hour gives a show that is easily one of the most overrated attraction we had seen so far.
Wait for it, here it comes, ohhh...you missed it.

We took another free walking tour in Prague which was absolutely amazing and hilarious at the same time.

Cathedral St. Vita...at the largest castle complex in the world.

Our tour guide, Colin, was from Scotland and between historical info and humor, he was just great. Unfortunately the weather that day was a mind blowing -11 Celsius. We talked with family at home, it was around the same time Tampa was experiencing record lows as well, the only difference is we were getting inches and inches of snow.

This is where we perfected our souvenir shopping technique to avoid the cold. We spent about five minutes every 20 minutes of walking in a store looking at crap, most of the time, just so that we could begin to feel our toes again. While enjoying Prague we decided to experience a sense of normalcy by watching a few films at the cinema. With the release of Harry Potter while we were gone we thought we were going to have to wait to catch it in English but, to our surprise, they showed it in Prague. The only catch, it was only shown twice all day in English and the first day we missed it by 30 minutes, which meant we had to come back the second day. Also in Prague we experienced a wonderful concert performed by a flute, violin, and piano. It was nice to finally see a classical piece since we had travelled to so many cities that housed some really great composers. With our last stop in the east coming to an end we prepared ourselves for our trip back to Germany. Talking to family at home and hearing stories of the cold weather we were at least excited to get snow, it was literally dumping silver dollar size snowflakes at a nice calm pace.

It was then when we really knew we were going to be having a white Christmas.


In Germany I am free…

Arriving in Berlin we were amazed at the size of the station. This was easily the largest station we had been on in our 2 month rail adventure. It was 6 stories tall with a number of shops, restaurants, clothing stores, pharmacy, and of course…trains.

A little piece of home.

The first night was spent over a few German beers with our new hosts Andreas and Uli. With it getting closer to Christmas everyone was getting into the spirit. Their daughter would promptly wake us up every morning at 6:30am to open not one, but two advent calendars before school. Most our days in Berlin were spent wandering the sites.

Who's the better kisser?

We took another free tour but decided to end it early because it was bloody cold…we’re practicing our English for New Years in London. We spent some more time at the local Christmas Markets with their gluwien and bratwursts. While in a shopping mood we discovered a second-hand store that was 4 stories tall, everything must be bigger in Berlin. We ended up spending two afternoons there going through all the clothes and finding the perfect black jacket and beanie. The second day was spent with Matt, a fellow couchsurfer who had arrived from Spain with no winter clothes.

While in Berlin we visited some of the important sites: the Brandenburg Gate, Hitler’s Bunker, the Holocaust Memorial, Checkpoint Charlie, and the Berlin Wall.

Holocaust memorial, a photographers paradise.

A couple of hours were spent one day at the Jewish Museum, designed by Daniel Liebeskind, the architect for the new World Trade Center. The building was pretty amazing, meant to disorientate you while inside it is connected only by a datum of voids. OK sorry to get so architectural on you guys, I heard him speak at USF before I started grad school and have wanted to see the building ever sense. In other words, the floors were all zig-zagging and angles and a group of open spaces in line with each other connected them all together.

Jewish Museum.

While in Berlin we shared a lot with our hosts. Cooking them a traditional American chili mac one night for dinner and talking about craft beers from the west coast. They were both really into trappiste beers, like those found in Belgium, and had traveled to the U.S. Uli was actually in a school for brewers. It was interesting to see their take on beer. Andreas had grown up in Bavaria, the home of beer, but didn’t want to settle for the typical Helles or pilsners found there. In Germany, in order for beer to be actually classified that it can only contain certain ingredients and nothing else.

On the last night in Berlin, Andreas, Matt, and the two of us went out for a typical German holiday meal consisting of a massive boiled piece of pig, sauerkraut, mashed potatoes, and mashed peas. After dinner we headed for a local pub/store where they sold all sorts of good German beers. We all purchased a few and headed for a brewery that was in the basement of the nearby college. En route we victoriously opened our beers on the metro in celebration of it just being allowed.

We are truly free!!!!!

Afterwards we headed home for some movies and beer. Matt and Andreas left around midnight for a club, the normal opening time in Berlin, and Andreas still wasn’t back when we left the next morning. Getting out of Berlin is a whole other story in itself that we will hold until the end of our rail pass which will include other freckled facts about our train travel.

Video for your viewing pleasure!

Sorry that it's sideways, but this one is for you Jackson!

Posted by smart alec 02:06 Archived in Germany Comments (3)


The land of the Alps.

Arriving in Geneva at night we briefly saw the city and prepared ourselves for our all day trip through the mountains. The overall experience of our stay in Switzerland was amazing. We spent the entirety of the first day traveling a Golden Pass Panoramic train with floor to ceiling windows.
Train time...again.

The views were absolutely stunning and everything had a nice layer of snow on the ground. We constantly saw skiers heading for the slopes and we briefly contemplated hitting the hills the next day.
Check out those peaks.

It was so interesting to be in such a dense network of mountains.
After so many trains we started to develop growths on our backs.

We made a few stops along the way for lunch and had a lovely time at the Christmas Market in Interlaken…having our first taste of Gluwein.
Another excuse to drink before noon.

Interlaken was interesting city with typical Swiss mountain town on one side and extreme sports mecca on the other. With the chance to go bungee jumping and cliff diving we opted for the more relaxed sport of gluwein and people staring.
This time we opted for shoes on instead of off.

Back on the train we headed on our last leg of the journey to Lucerne, passing more mountain peaks and the ever so famous Mt. Pilatus.
Our train through the mountains.

We arrived in the night with it raining and snowing, make up your mind already. We had been getting used to the cold weather but had figured if it was going to cold, why not snow already? It’s kind of rude of the weather to be bitterly cold and only give us rain or nothing. We actually had been a little too wild in the city and spent the night in jail. At least we could share the room and there weren’t any other inmates in there with us.
Our room for the night.

Just kidding…we were staying in an old jail converted into a hotel in the 1990s. Fresh with the original doors and bars on the windows it was quite a fun experience, plus it was around the same price as a hostel and we enjoyed a wonderful breakfast.

The days in Lucerne were mainly spent walking the city streets, ducking in and out of shops to avoid the weather, and people watching. It was another currency to deal with but it was pretty much an equal conversion to US dollars, the only problem being that everything was about twice the price. Even a lovely dinner at McDonalds cost around $20 for two people, and that’s ordering from the “dollar menu”…I say dollar lightly because there was nothing for a dollar. We did get to spend a nice evening eating some fondue at a cute local restaurant. Fondue is a traditional Christmas dish for the Swiss and it really was amazing.
Sorry Melting Pot, the Swiss win this one.

Another traditional Christmas event included St. Nicholas day where people strapped huge bells to their bellies and walked the streets with some Santa Clause-like character that we can’t remember the name of but it sounded like Schmammel Clause. In Europe instead of the customary lump of coal in a child’s stocking they instead tell their children that if they don’t behave they will be kidnapped by some scary character dressed in black. Sounds a little extreme but hey, if it works, I’m down for the idea.

The next few days we saw the city but were ready to leave after trying to save on the budget too much.
Umbrella weather.

Watch out for the troll guarding the bridge.

Breaking out of Lucerne.

Having used another currency, the Swiss Crown, we wanted to make sure and spend all the coins because currency exchanges won’t take coins so we settled on a Twix for the train ride. We were finally heading to Munich and were extremely excited about the beer.

Posted by smart alec 02:20 Archived in Switzerland Comments (1)

Provence-Alpes-Cote D’Azur

Back to surfing again

semi-overcast 32 °F

Le French Riviera

Excited to make it to France we stepped off our train into a well developed city: mass transit, shopping malls, and crepes on every corner. We were mainly excited to enjoy the French cuisine that they boast about, especially the salad Nicoise. Nice is an interesting city, alive with the influence of money but confused about its heritage. It had a mix of Italian and French among the streets, from a history of constantly changing sides. We really enjoyed seeing the beach front, even if it was quite cold and covered in rocks.
Ahhh...the blueness.

The water was an amazing sky blue color and broke lightly on the rocks. After leaving Italy and never having a chance to surf with any Italians we were excited to be staying with a local, Quentin, who was an active Couchsurfing host. He had just finished a weekend hiking excursion in the mountains and hosted us for a few nights. While in Nice we enjoyed the fresh daily market, panorama of the city, and of course the cuisine. While in Nice we spent a half day in Monaco, mainly to people watch and check out the millionaires.
Ballin', shock callin'...

It was quite expensive but neat to see the casinos and cars. We walked up to the palace and saw the changing of the guards and bought our customary patch for the country.
Tony Stewart ain't got nothin' on Jen.

We got to try the Nicoise salad the last day we were in Nice for lunch and a Beaujolais Nouveau wine that had just been released the week before. Mom you would be impressed on how much we have learned about wine. We learned that the Beaujolais Nouveau was a very young grape, the first of the season and each year as soon as it is released all the vineyards try to be the first to get their wine to Paris. It was nice wine and for a steal at only $10 a bottle at a restaurant. We also enjoyed the Rose’s from this region even though it wasn’t the correct season to drink them supposedly. Some say you can only drink Rose when looking at the coast; we had that part down, now we just needed some warmer weather.
Having some fun on the jungle gym for adults.

There's the coast.

We grabbed some bottles of wine for the train which caused us to be little rushed but made it safely to the train. We were leaving Nice and heading to Gonfaron, a tiny town somewhere in Provence. This would be the start of our first HelpX and we were really excited. For those of you who don’t know HelpX is another online organization like Couchsurfing where you work for 4-5 hours per day for 5 days while the hosts provide you with food and a place to stay.

Even the French don’t know where it is…

We were excited to have found an American couple because it was only 2 days until Thanksgiving and they were having a traditional dinner with turkey and all the fixings. Our hosts were Jill and John, a retired navy helicopter pilot working freelance for the rich and famous in the Riviera, living in a small farm house with their 2 year old twin daughters Camille and Celeste. We spent a lovely 8 days there helping them with various projects in and around the house. We really enjoyed our time with our lovely hosts. It was nice to be in such a small town, not worrying about future travel plans and saving some money. We spent the first few days just doing some general yard maintenance, getting ready for Thanksgiving. They gave us some free range on the dinner, allowing us to prepare some of the dishes and even entrusting us with brining the turkey. The wine was always flowing strong while we were there, at $2 a liter you couldn’t pass that up. After Thanksgiving we readied for the olive harvest.
Pick pick pick, all day long, pick pick pick while I sing this song...

They had about 20 olive trees of varying shapes and sizes and had invited friends over to try and knock it all out in one day. As we started on the third tree it began to snail on us a little, it was a cross between snow and snail and reminded me of dippin’ dots falling from the sky. After about thirty minutes it started to dump quarter size snowflakes which meant…coffee break time.
Our first glance of snow.

We headed inside with the few bags of olives we had harvested, a little disappointed at the outcome of the day. After waiting a while we determined it wasn’t going to be picked today and took the rest of the day off. With the weather not improving we sat inside and enjoyed some good ole turkey and rice soup, the creation of a few leftover pieces from Thanksgiving.

The next few days were spent inside working on plastering the walls of the living room. With a little on the job training we were mastering it by the end of the process. Motivated to give Jill her living room back we worked hard into the afternoon, only stopping while the girls took their naps. One night we got cook dinner where we prepared the ever so famous lemon-caper chicken with parmesan broccoli and risotto. They were extremely impressed and we made a few other dishes while there. We could tell John and Jill had their hands full with the girls and we wanted to make it as easy as we could for them. It was amazing to see twin girls that were so different. Easily noticeable which girl was who, we began to notice things that each would do differently. Finally when the weather cleared we harvested the rest of the olives. It really is a simple process to remove the olives. First you lay day tarps under the tree and just rake your fingers through the limbs, climbing ladders or the tree to reach the higher branches. The most tedious part was sorting through to remove any leaves or twigs before taking them to the coop for processing. We ended up harvesting about 250 kilos of olives, which equals to around 25 liters of olive oil.
Our harvest for the season.

With our time winding down there we were excited to be getting back to travelling but would definitely miss our relaxed time in Provence.
Celeste with her new sweater, sorry about your sweater Jerry.

Our lovely hosts.

John drove us to Toulon to catch the train and we headed to Avignon, the closest big town to the Roman aqueducts at Pont du Gard. I had wanted to see them ever since learning about them in school and we were excited to be staying with Marie, a local university student and avid couchsurfer.


We were greeted by one of Marie’s roommates, David, when we arrived and treated to a lovely risotto dish that night with a few of her friends. That night we headed to a local bar for a “blind test” which involved yelling out the artist name and title of song as fast as you could. Man did we feel a little ignorant, most of the songs being American singers, we didn’t know half of them. Though to our defense, Jen and I have never been good at that game. We had a great time though and headed to another bar for some great beer and a little pool.
Fun beer time!

The temperature was really dropping and we were a little out of normal comfort for cold. Just a couple hours north of Avignon we had heard that snow was falling heavily. The next day was spent exploring the city. It’s a nice town with an interesting history, bought by the pope in the 14th century for him to live when he was tired of the “dirtiness” of Rome. While living there, there were two popes, one in Rome and one in Avignon, which caused a major riff in the Catholic Church until resolved in the 15th century, returning the only pope back to the Vatican. It was interesting throughout our travels to see the amount of religious history in all the cities we visited. While contemplating these thoughts we were approached by Elder and Elder, Jehovah’s witnesses from California…it was quite an awkward moment of mixed languages and introductions. They asked us if we had ever heard of them, and any college student recollects the random knocks at the door to meet another Elder at home…man Elder must travel a lot. At the end of the brief chat they asked of our opinions and Jen so nonchalantly replies, “More power to you”. It was quite hysterical and left them speechless which made escaping their grasp much easier. At lunch we tried our first pate of the trip, which was surprisingly amazing. We didn’t know what to expect, and hearing horror stories of animal parts processed into this “delicacy”, we were a little squeamish. This wouldn’t be our only time on the trip to try it again. That night we met Marie our host at a school potluck with her classmates. The party was for some celebration I can’t actually remember, but the food was amazing. It was nice to try so many family made dishes in one place. It was like traveling around France in that one room; crepes, soufflé, quiches, and all the other typical French dishes. We can’t explain enough how much staying with locals has made our trip so much more enjoyable. CouchSurfing with random strangers may seem strange but all the experiences have been absolutely amazing.

The next day we arose early to go see the piece de resistance, had to use that phase while in this blog obviously, the Pont du Gard aqueducts. When limited to public transportation you learn to take what you can get and in the winter isn’t that much. With only one bus there and one back later our options were pretty thin. The benefit though of travelling during this time is less crowds. We arrived at Pont du Gard with hardly anyone there and by the time we left that afternoon, everyone was completely gone, other than the Australian couple that had ridden both busses to and from the site.
So many arches...those Romanies got it goin' on.

With a few hours to spare we hung out with our host and made some plans.
With our host Marie.

On a whim the day before, we had decided to travel to Switzerland next instead of Paris. We felt that this would be our only opportunity to see it and we had to take a chance. Booking a room in Geneva, mainly because it was the cheapest city, we were planning on riding one of the panoramic trains through the mountains to Lucerne.

Posted by smart alec 14:20 Archived in France Comments (2)

These are a few of our favorite things….

Essential items when backpacking

After deciding to take this trip we realized we had no idea how to pack for a three month adventure. So we consulted many blogs of other travelers, checked out good ol’ Rick Steves’ website, and tried to critically think about every item we would be packing since we had to carry it all on our backs.

Now that we have been travelling for over two months we would like to share some of our favorite items for a trip like this one.

I purchased my Keen hiking shoes the night before we left. I know that many people think that this is a no-no and that shoes for trips like this one should be broken in well before leaving, but I beg to differ. I spent a chunk of change on them ($120) and they have been nothing but good to me. My shoes have seen me through many a rainy and snowy day and I have not had any blisters or sores of any kind. Definitely an excellent purchase!

Europeans are a lot more environmentally friendly so it is a rare thing to find plastic shopping bags in stores and if stores do have them they usually aren’t free. Thanks to my sister Sara’s wedding I have an endless supply of reusable cloth bags that fold up into a small strawberry when not in use. We brought one on the trip and have used the heck out of this bag. It has carried groceries, bottles of wine, clothes to and from the showers in hostels, and so on. Thanks Sara!

My parents bought me an iphone for my birthday this year. At first I wasn’t quite sure what to think about it. I am not the biggest fan of technology and have always just enjoyed a phone that makes and receives calls. I tried to keep an open mind about it though and learn its features quickly since we had little time after my birthday before leaving on our trip. It turns out that it is a lifesaver for trips like ours. We have both come to love it very deeply. We have used it as an alarm clock (one less thing to carry), to Skype calls home, to email train schedules and times to ourselves, download Rick Steve podcasts and Lonely Planet travel guides, and probably the most useful App, a converter (for currency, temperature, length, etc.). The converter is very useful since we have gone through six currencies in two months and aren’t finished yet.

Living on the move means that you do a lot of things on the move like eating. We decided to bring along our camping tool which is similar to a Swiss army knife except it has a bottle opener, knife, fork, and spoon. It conveniently folds up, but also splits apart into two tools. I can’t tell you how many times we have used this tool to cut salami or cheese, open bottles of wine, eat yogurt etc. It is great for use on trains where we eat a lot of picnic style lunches. And it definitely got a workout in Italy with all that wine!!!

Wool socks are where it’s at! Not only do they wick away moisture when it is hot outside and your feet are sweating, they also minimize odor. They also keep your toesies warm during cold weather since they are composed of synthetic materials (wool, nylon, and spandex) and not cotton. So if any of you are looking for a last minute Christmas gift for your loved ones think wool!

Posted by smart alec 15:48 Comments (3)


Long overdue...

semi-overcast 70 °F

Side Note: We are constantly trying to keep an up to date blog and so far have not been successful. We catch up one week and fall behind the next. We are going to try some new stuff with our blog because we really want to have this for later in our lives and want to share our experiences with anyone out there…is anyone there? We obviously aren’t writers and try to stay motivated but want everyone to know that we are trying and absolutely love all your comments. We also have tried to compress our blogs into each country that we visit but from now on will probably post more based on internet connections instead of waiting till we leave the country.

The sinking city…

Arriving in Italy it began to rain as we left the train station. We were excited to be in Italy because I had remembered such wonderful things about last time I was there. We came to Venice to see the city before it was totally flooded. It was like being in a new world, with no streets, everything connected by waterways. We saw gondolas and boats for taxis, trash barges, and even Guinness delivery boats.
City in the water.

We caught our expensive ferry, 13 euro, to our stop and went to drop off our bags at our hotel. We immediately headed to Piazza San Marco and to our surprise, it had about 5-6 inches of water in the square.
Water anyone?

We thought it was due to the rain but later realized that it was actually high tide and this happened every day. When the city is like this it transforms with everyone wearing galashes, not to be confused with goulash, with some opting for the cheaper option of plastic bags sold at high prices, nice rip off.
Duck boots as we liked to call them.

We didn’t realize the city had gotten to such a bad level, nature’s way of saying watch out. We were glad we were at least getting to see the city before it disappeared but weren’t happy about the price of everything, we had heard that Venice was expensive, but we couldn’t understand how anyone could live here at those prices.
Pretty but wet, pretty wet.

We ate some lunch at a nice sandwich shop and had a pair of cappuccinos before we braved the cold, wet weather. Getting lost a little we ended up on the very north of the island before finally finding the Rialto Bridge over the Grand Canal for some exchanging of cameras with some Asians for a nice pic.
They sure know how to make a nice pic.

Wandering the market for a little, trying to avoid the encroaching water, we then headed back for a quick nap, of course stopping for a bottle of vino on the way back. The sun was starting to peek out which was really nice so we walked to the water’s edge, which was everywhere so it wasn’t a long walk.
Ahhhh sunlight.

After our nap we walked to pizzeria for some good pizza at a great price. We decided to only stay one day in Venice, mainly because we saw the whole city already and it was just too expensive to enjoy.
Night walk along the water's edge.

Maybe it was a short trip but we still had so much to see and didn’t feel like wasting money. With a slow start the next morning we started for the train station. Planning on walking there to avoid the expensive ferry, we headed out the door and were immediately cornered by the water. It was high tide and we tried a few streets to no avail. We cut our losses and headed to the ferry, but to our surprise the ticket booth was closed so we just boarded and were able to ride for free, glad they weren’t checking but we had no other options. We got to the train station and hopped on the next high speed to Florence.

Renaissance Style

A few hours later we were there and quickly checked into our hotel. After trying for days to find a host we unfortunately settled for a hotel while there. We headed out to see the Duomo and a couple of the sites that night to take advantage of a quick arrival.

We happened to run into the couple we had ridden the train from Salzburg to Venice and exchanged stories and contact info, excited to have seen a somewhat friendly face.
It's a small world after all.

We ate at a great buffet that night around the corner from our hotel, all Italian and all home made. The next morning we decided to fight the crowds a little at the Museo de Accademia to see the famous statue of David by Michaelangelo. We were pleasantly surprised by no crowds or lines and walked right in. After seeing a few hundred paintings and statues we headed out for a walk on the town. We really enjoyed the city, it was like walking back in time to the Renaissance, witnessing the wonderful masterpieces that were acquired by the Medici family.
Duomo in the daytime.

We ate lunch in a hip neighborhood in what seemed to be the college neighborhood of town and headed up for a nice panorama of the city, after walking by the parliament building. This building by the way was an eye soar within the city. With a massive paved surface in front of it sloping to the street and a hideously ugly facade…it doesn’t even deserve a photo. The panorama was amazing, stopping for a quick nap on its steps, we saw our second replica David statue in Florence, this one made of bronze. The city worships the statue, creating a number throughout the city, most of varying materials from the original.
Now you can see it from afar.

We headed back to the hotel and grabbed a quick bite at Il Pirata, the buffet we had eaten at the night before, and went to bed. We were heading to Naples in the morning and were excited about seeing Pompeii.

With the smell of leather in the air, we hit the streets of Florence on a mission. We hadn’t bought many souvenirs on the trip so far and had decided that anything else we bought would have to be useable. With that in mind we decided to check out the bazaar of leather dealers that lined all the streets of the old town. After talking with a few and haggling with the prices I settled on a nice leather bag, just the right size and color. On the way back to check out we bought one for Jen too just so she wouldn’t feel left out. Leather has a unique characteristic to its quality. It always seems to be timeless, fading in and out of current styles but always keeping that kind of nostalgia to it. What drew us to it was not its texture or color, but its smell. We sat on the train to Naples just simply sniffing our newly acquired items and grinning, excited for our purchase of these lifelong items.

The city under siege…

Arriving in Naples at sunset we had heard of the sketchy neighborhoods and wanted to quickly find our hostel. After walking for what seemed to be an hour up and down hills we finally made it, hotel Meridien, also known as the Pizza Hostel. Naples is an interesting city with its old streets, like most Italian cities, and its newer areas. Nestled on the coast of Italy, it had a large port that gave access to many of the nearby islands. The unfortunate part would be its general dirtiness on the streets. Constantly avoiding lovely gifts from its canine residents and just staring in amazement at the mountains of garbage piled on the streets. That night we ate at one of the most famous pizza places in the world…Naples boasts as the inventor of pizza and the city isn’t short of a few hundred places that serve it.
Pizza Pizza

The pizza was great; large, simple, and hot out the oven, what more could you ask for? Oh, and it was only $5. We were excited to finally be in a city in Italy that was at least a little bit cheaper. We were excited to watch the overtime USF win over Louisville that night and rested nicely.

With the smell of garbage in the air, we caught a short train to Pompeii the next morning, the real reason we had come to Naples. We spent the entire day at the ruins. Words can’t describe all the fun we had that day walking the streets. I will try to do something new here instead of just listing one by one what we saw. Here is our top pick of places to see in Pompeii along with tips on planning the day.

Top Pompeii Picks:
1. The Brothel: A must see of the city. Lined with its lovely artwork on the walls, so descriptive.
2. Mansion Life: You thought you had it good, how about having your own hot bath in your house, among your multitude of rooms.
3. Mosaics: make sure to check out the painting-like mosaics find on the floors of many of the homes.
4. Amphitheatre: my highlight of the trip…would have been awesome to see one of the live concerts they host there.
5. Road Rocks: Our top pick of Pompeii…seeing the wagon tracks that carved the streets thousands of years ago…simply amazing.

Abbey Rd...Pompeii style!

As we travel to all these wonderful areas we of course do some researching but there is never enough time or desire to know everything that you should expect so from now on we will try to post our helpful tips and recommendations that we have learned by chance along the way. We would love to get your insight of what to call these tips. We have played around with a few ideas like, “Red Head Tips for…”, “Surfers’ Tips for…”, “Freckled Facts for…”, “Nomad Tips for…” or simply “Jen and Alec’s Tips for…”, but would love your opinion so please write back as a comment with any recommendations or even your vote for one above. Later on we are also planning on posting a blog on what to and not to bring on a 3 month trip to Europe. So as our first tips provided we will call these simply

Tips for Pompeii:
1. Remember to grab a map and guide book (free) before you enter the gates, they aren’t found anywhere inside as we found out.
2. Plan a general route of the area, it’s so large and 4 hours isn’t enough time to see everything.
3. Bring your own lunch, Naples has really cheap food and the site doesn’t. What’s better than a kilo of clementines for 1 euro?
4. Avoid the Asian tour groups, they will find you and try and chase you out of an area with their rapidly snapping cameras and extended umbrella tour guides.
5. Stand close to English speaking tour groups, they provide great info, and it’s free.
Avoiding people...

We headed back again at sunset and ate pizza again, this time trying the famous pizzeria where Julia Roberts ate at in Eat, Pray, Love. All by chance we happened upon this restaurant, what a great pizza again.
Movie poster photo op number 2.

Naples as a city isn’t much to come by, under siege from the garbage on the streets and the large influx of immigrants that have invaded the streets. It’s an interesting site to watch the immigrants sell the fake Gucci bags and purses and at one sight of police down the street, everyone quickly grabs their goods and heads to the nearest alleyway.
Quick...the gestapo are coming.

The city does have its upside though: a multitude of wonderful pizza shops and some great nearby excursions including Pompeii, Mt. Vesuvius, and the Amalfi Coast. We spent most of the second day walking around the city and were kind of upset at what little there was to do. We were excited to be leaving for Rome the next day.

On a whim the next day we headed early to catch the train to Mt. Vesuvius. The weather had cleared a little from the day before and we couldn’t see any clouds at the top. After a quick van ride on the Vesuvius Express Bus, which seemed like it went straight up the mountain, we arrived near the top with a bit of a walk to the edge. The walk was by no means light and we began to regret all the pizza we had been eating the past few days. We just figured we were working it all off. Glad to make it to the caldera, number two for the trip, we took some pics and videos of the crater.

We looked for a little while down the mountain for Pompeii but were unsuccessful in finding it. We didn’t have long at the top, only around 15 minutes, because the van was leaving. We headed down, much easier than up obviously, and hopped on the train to Sorrento. We wanted to catch a glimpse of the Amalfi Coast and this was our best chance.
What a beautiful coast line.

The town was quite nice, perched atop the cliffs, with some really nice hotels. We walked around a bit and realized this area was where lemoncello was from. There were also lots of ceramic pieces that reminded me of my grandparents sale’ and pepe’ shakers that sat on their breakfast room table. I’m sure this is where they had gotten them. We headed back and caught the afternoon train to Rome.

The colossal city

That night we arrived in Rome and checked into our hostel, conveniently located right near the train station, the Alessandro Downtown. We were pleasantly greeted by the front desk and informed that every night there was a free pasta dinner, what a treat. We were also super excited to see that they had working washers and dryers. It’s the little things that make us excited on our trip. We hadn’t been able to wash our clothes for a while and had to begin washing things every night in the sink of our previous hostel. Wearing of our dirty clothes began while in Naples, which probably added to our idea of the city as well. It had begun to rain that night but we wanted to check out a few of the spots before dinner. We immediately headed to Trevi fountain to fight the tourist crowds. We made our customary tossing of the coin over the shoulder to promise a return one day; it had obviously worked for me since I was there again already.

After people watching for a while we headed back to the hostel for the night after stopping by the Coliseum on the way back.

The next day with the weather clearing a little we spent the morning washing all our clothes, super excited to be a little cleaner. We have been extremely lucky on our trip so far; it has managed to rain almost every day that we are travelling and clear on the days that we are visiting cities. Being the wettest month in Italy we were surprised by how much good weather we had been experiencing. We decided to catch one of the many bus tours that circled the city since there was so much ground to cover. It provided us a quick abridged view of the city in the comforts of a rain covered seat in the open air, haha. After riding the entire stretch of the loop we tried to hop off two or three times later realizing that those stops were not in use during the winter season, thanks for telling us at the beginning Ms. Tourguide. Getting off around St. Peters Square we headed to Piazza Navona for a nice lunch.

We next headed to the Pantheon and the Spanish Steps. The Pantheon is absolutely amazing. With its waffled ceiling and open oculus the interior of the roof section is just mind blowing. To think that the Roman’s had the technology of concrete and perfected it and then it was lost for hundreds of years.
Those waffles look good.

That night we headed out with a few people we had met at the hostel. We grabbed a bottle of lemoncello, some beers and headed to Trevi fountain. It was nice to hang out with some like minded people for the night. Not to say we don’t love spending every waking minute with just each other, but it was just a nice change of pace.

The next morning we regretted going out so late because we decided to see two major attractions in one day, the Colisseum and the Vatican. We headed out early to beat the crowds and did so.

Arriving at the Colisseum when it opened, there were only about 5 other people there. This gave us free reign over the entire stadium and me some free time to do a little sketching.
Are you not impressed? Are...you...not...impressed!

We headed to the Roman Forum for a few hours and ran into a couple that we had met while in Bucharest for a few nights, what a small world. We were beginning to wonder how many people were doing the same trip we were doing. They had headed to Istanbul and now were in Italy while we had headed to Austria and down. What are the chances that you literally run into someone at that moment, we were just amazed. Anyways, after a quick lunch we headed to the Vatican.

A quick stop for some of the best Gelato we had ever eaten and we were there.
Flavor saver.

We spent a few hours admiring all the collections in the museum and of course the Sistine Chapel. We could have spent all day based on its size but we were already wiped from the early start and to be honest there’s only so much artwork you can look at for so long. We had finished our blitz day of the two most visited sites in Rome, pleased with how much we had seen. We were really enjoying our time in the city and for the first time in Italy, not excited to leave the city we were in. We ate dinner, free pasta that is, with our new friends from the hostel and readied our bags for our trip to Cinque Terra the next day. After seeing so much wonderful architecture we were heading to an area with little buildings and mostly nature trails and coastline. With our customary travel day showers we boarded the train for an amazing ride along the west coastline of Italy. The tracks were literally on the shoreline and the views amazing. Arriving in our tiny town of Vernazza, one of the five cities of Cinque Terra, we quickly checked in that night and headed for bed. We had read about this city from Rick Steve’s website and weren’t disappointed. The majority of our stay included hiking the few trails that were open and hopping on the regional trains between the small towns.

It was a nice stay, much different than our last few weeks, reminding us of our time on the Greek island of Naxos, but much smaller. A nice relaxing few days and we were recharged after Rome.

After a few days we were ready to head on to the French Riviera, ooo how fancy.

Posted by smart alec 15:48 Archived in Italy Comments (5)

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