Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Past 2 weekends

The past 2 weekends were a couple of my favorite trips of the semester... and also my 2 last ones : ( I have only a week and a half left! It's bittersweet - I am getting very excited to come home, despite being sad to leave. I'm definitely making a list of things I need to do one last time before I go. Hopefully, if I have enough money (it costs 60 euros) I might go on a bike tour of the countryside, see a winery in a castle, and get a free tasting and lunch there this weekend with my roommates. And then it's finals and projects and getting packed and getting gone! I have 4 finals, unfortunately, and a 10 pg paper on top of some other projects and papers.. so for once I'm getting really busy. But - my last 2 weekends! This past weekend I went to Switzerland with Carrie and Erin, and the weekend before I went to the Amalfi Coast with Bekah. 
Southern Italy was my favorite place I have been to, hands down. Cinque Terre comes in a close second (they were very similar.... small towns on the beach, rustic authentic Italian-ness, beautiful landscape, etc), but this was my favorite. It was like heaven. The weather was perfect all weekend, I swam in the Mediterranean (twice!), explored hidden sea caves, hung out in tiny resort towns. Our first day, we went to Sorrento with the program we were going through, where our hostel was. The hostel was REALLY NICE! Definitely the nicest one I've stayed in. It had a large restaurant/bar downstairs that was really cheap (4 euro cocktails and 6-7 euro dinner... the 2nd night, Saturday, they made an all-you-can-eat Mexican buffet which we had for 7 euros, and I was soooo happy. I miss Mexican food.) and a rooftop terrace with tables and a panoramic view of the ocean and stuff. So pretty. Bekah knew some girls on the trip from class, so they roomed with us, and they were really nice... we hung out with them all weekend. So, our first day, we visited Positano, which is a little tiny town on the coast. So cute, and small, and beautiful. All whitewashed buildings and palm trees.. and the smell of lemons everywhere. It felt very tropical. The beach was nice, but rocky, and when I went swimming the water was so crisp and clear with the rocks underneath that I was reminded of Tahoe (so excited to go this year... and finally for the whole week!) Eventually we rented a little speedboat with these other 3 girls (8 total so it was cheap) and cruised around (they let us drive!) and to a spot where a bunch of other kids were jumping off cliffs into the ocean. You know I did it! It was only about 30 feet. That night, we had a few drinks on the roof at sunset, walked to dinner in Sorrento, and to a local bar. Saturday, we took the ferry to Capri! On the way, we stopped at the Blue Grotto, which was this amazing little hidden cave that was discovered by the Romans and used to be the "King's swimming pool". You had to get on a little 4 person rowboat, and lay down completely flat to get through this little teeny opening above the water, while the guy rowing the boat pulled the boat through using a chain that was strung through the inside of the passage. Inside, I don;t know why, the water was illuminated this INSANE electric blue color... and it was clear so you could see all the fish swimming around underneath. It was really cool. I tried to take pictures but I dont know how well they turned out. Then, on to Capri... Capri was gorgeous! It was much more of a resort style town, and it was pretty packed, but we explored the island using the local bus and went to Augustus's Garden, a pretty catus garden with views of the coast, and then Anacapri (the top of the island) where we tasted limoncello and some of the girls got handmade sandals. Then we had lunch, walked around a bit more, and took the bus to Marina Piccola, the little beach area. There, I got a fruit smoothie, and laid out for a couple hours before we had to leave on the return ferry. There were all these cool rock formations and beautiful tiny houses climbing up the cliffs in all these pretty colors.. I took some neat pics! Then, that night we got the Mexican buffet and just hung out at the hostel (which was actually really fun). Sunday, we took our bus and went to Pompeii. We got a guided tour for around 3 hours, which stretched a little long, but it was really neat. It was less of seeing the volcanic remains and stuff than seeing just the remains of a well-preserved ancient city.. we saw all the inter-workings of society and the way things used to run, building by building... ie. this is the supermarket, these were the baths, this was where they ground flour to make bread, this was the laundry house, etc. I felt like Grandpa would have really enjoyed it... so I tried to take some cool pictures there as well. Then back to Florence!

This weekend, we didn't use a student travel company, we just went on our own! We booked tickets on overnight trains, which we felt like we had to experience at least once in Europe. They turned out to be really crap. I mean, it was a cool experience, but I got very little sleep. Highlights included screaming babies, drunk Italian teenagers in the hall outside our compartment all night, me not getting a blanket because they "ran out", and getting woken at 2 am at the crossings of the border to have our bags searched by the Swiss Border Patrol. Yay. We arrived in Bern, the capital, at around 6 am on Friday, and we walked from the train station to our hostel. The hostel apparently didn't open til 8, so we stumbled around half-giddy from lack of sleep for around an hour before eventually finding coffee and pastries. That's how we saw one side of the river... haha. After check-in and a short nap, we walked around the rest of the old town, across the river to the botanical gardens and Einstein's house, and back. The town was very very small. But sooo cute! Every house looked like a Swiss cottage, and the town made a kind of peninsula with the river running around it. The bridges were super high wood trestle bridges and with the trees and the cute little houses it was very picturesque. We ate lunch in this main square in front of the Parliament building, where they were setting up for some kind of event. Then we walked around, to the "bear pits" (where they keep 3 brown bears in these pits in the center of town, since they are Bern's mascot animal... apparently not when it is under construction though. dang.) and to the top of this hill where there is a rose garden and a pretty view of the town. Erin went to go meet her friend at the train station because she had a hour long layover there randomly so Carrie and I walked up the hill with some wine and sat for a bit. Then we met up with Erin again and decided to check out this concert that was now playing in the main square... we got in with our wine and got some delicious bratwurst with mustard and these big hunks of brown bread for only 7 francs (this was a very good price... except we had to eat with our hands. the lady looked at me like i was crazy when I asked for a fork. That or she didnt speak english) and sat down and listened to this very interesting German music... kind of like Johnny Cash, but in German, and a little more eccentric. Cool, though. Bear in mind that in Switzerland more than anywhere else NO ONE speaks good English. They know a few words, but not enough to speak it. No one could explain to us what event was going on, but there were all these booths set up with stuff in German and French. As we looked around, though, we realized that everyone was wearing some sort of red, on a scarf or t-shirt or something, and there were red balloons set up somewhere, and people were wearing pins and stuff and carrying banners... we were at a socialist rally! Sweet! it was definitely interesting to see even though we didnt understand anything. German has nooo cognates... So we pretty much hung out there, and then walked to a square where they were playing the world hockey championships (in Zurich that weekend) on a big screen. We cheered for the US. : ) On Saturday we got up and took a train to Lucerne, another very small town, where we did more walking around in the old town, and on their famous wooden bridge built in the 1600s, and around the lake, which had swans everywhere, and sailboats, and was framed by the alps all around. Very pretty. We got lunch near the "Lion of Lucerne", a kind of monument, and people watched for a while, where we managed to see some sort of Swiss scavenger hunt... we witnessed 4 separate groups of our-age people wearing nurses' and paramedics' outfits carrying someone pretending to be injured on a stretcher through the plaza... when we asked them what they were doing they said "having fun!" and went on their way. Haha. Then we headed back to our hostel for a nap cause it started raining, and went out that night for fondue, which we ate in a restaurant on a yacht. Very fancy. And RICH! wow. Lots of swiss cheese... who wouldve thought. On Sunday, since it was nice out, we decided to rent a paddleboat before we left Lucerne, and went around the lake for an hour on that. That was fun. Then we hopped a train to Zurich, and spent the day getting lunch there, and walking around. We left that night at around 9, and got back in the morning! 

So that's the story of my last 2 weekends! I'll put pics up soon - for some reason it takes a couple days from the time I upload them online until the blogger thing registers that they are there and allows me to make a slideshow. So maybe next week... and then I can see you in person not long after that! Yay! oxoxxox - Charlotte

Thursday, April 30, 2009

New pics

So, I put up some pics from Lucca and Nice. Lucca is a small walled village in Tuscany, where mom, dad, Paul and I went for the day. The wall around the city is about 30 feet wide, so we rented bikes and spent an hour or so going all the way around. Soooo fun! And it was a beautiful day. There were tall trees all around, and tons of little tiny flowers in the grass. As we rode, I kept noticing a tall tower somewhere in the center of town that looked like it had trees growing on top of it! We made up our minds to find it... and we did! So we climbed the top and took pictures. That whole day was really fun.

The pictures from Nice are of a trip I took in the beginning of April, which I didn't write about at the time. I visited Eze, a very small walled medieval village on top of a cliff over the beach, Monaco, the small little rich rich rich country (?) with the famous casino and a beautiful white sand beach, Antibes, which was my favorite, since it was charming and old and had a castle and the Alps in the background over the beach, etc. Then, we visited Nice on the 3rd day, which was cool because it was a Sunday and so we came upon the Nice Flower Market, which is apparently pretty famous, and was absolutely BEAUTIFUL! Soo big, with red and blue and white striped canvas stalls, beautiful flowers everywhere, fresh fruit and veggies, etc. 

Today I'm off to Switzerland - my last trip! : (

Monday, April 27, 2009

Fiiinnnallly blogging again - Paris!

Hi guys! So I know I'm running a little late... very very late, but I still want to tell you guys all about Paris, and about my past weekend. I realize I'm not putting in enough day-to-day details, either. I'm a bad blogger : ( I went to Paris last weekend because I received a cash voucher from the airline I flew with from Frankfurt to Florence back in January, since I had to switch flights (mine was overbooked). So, I had 175 extra euros, which I used to pay for the entire flight, luckily. The unlucky part was that none of my roommates had the extra cash lying around, or had other plans for the weekend. Soooo since I wanted to go to Paris since French class in junior high, I decided to just go for it by myself! I was a little nervous, but it turned out fine, so in the end, I was actually pretty pleased with myself. I planned the entire trip, booked two different hostels, made thorough itineraries for each day (I flew out of Florence on a Wednesday, skipped my Thursday class, and flew back Monday morning... necessitating 5 nights), navigated the metro system, and managed not to spend an obscene amount of money. My first day was a travel day, since I had a layover in Munich, and I didn't get in til late. The next morning I had to walk to my next hostel, which was pretty confusing to get to. Walking the back streets of Montmartre was interesting, though, and I got there in about half an hour. The hostel was nice. There was a view of the Sacre Coeur from the terrace, which was right outside my room. The first night, my roommates were two older men who didn't speak English. But whatever. The first day, I forced myself to wake up at around 8 (quite early by my standards), had to go seek out a hardware store so I can get another damn converter (the italian one didn’t work), and ate free hostel breakfast consisting of coffee, apple juice (jus de pomme), and a single croissant. Then I had to pack up and navigate the streets to find my next hostel. After that, I got dressed and made my way a few blocks uphill to the Sacre-Coeur, a big white basilica on the top of

Montmartre (the village area of Paris I'm staying in) Hill. It was pretty. Then I walked down to the metro, bought a pack of tickets, and made my way (pretty

impressively skillfully) to the place I wanted to go.

Anyways, then I was at the Place de la Concorde, which led me into the Jardin des Tuileries, a garden/park that was pretty at one end and not so pretty at the other. I came out at the not-so-pretty end and was kinda underwhelmed but that was ok cause I was hungry and looking for food. After that I found the Musee l'Orangerie, which is kinda tucked away in the gardens. I LOVVVEEED the museum! They had tons of Impressionist stuff, some early Picasso, Renoir, Matisse, Cezanne, etc. There was a Paul Guillame room that was all miniature representations of his apartments in Paris and his art collections, which was cool to me and

kinda nostalgic cause of my dollhouse : ) I’ll have to show you guys the pics. Then - the Monet waterlilies! Sooo amazing! Words can't describe. They are HUGE first of all (like 30-40 feet long maybe 10 feet tall) and I've loved Monet since I was a kid so it was really cool to see. After that I meandered along the Seine until I got to the pretty part of the Jardins, walked through those, and turned onto the Champs-Elysees, which was packed with people and really wide and busy and not as pretty as I thought it would be. It was about a 20 min walk down that street to the Arc de Triomphe, which was included in my fancy "museum pass" I bought for 48 euros for 4 days so I got to climb that and from the top there were really pretty views. That was about all that was on my itinerary so I took the metro to the grocery store and then home, cooked

dinner in the hostel kitchen, and sat on the terrace and read some more. I decided on Hemingway’s “A Moveable Feast”, his memoirs from when he lived in Paris in his 20s. I ended up meeting this guy who's also traveling alone, also from the Bay Area (Marin). I chatted with him and this guy from Indiana for a while and then went to bed early. So. Boring details- I woke up early and got on the metro to the Ile de la Cite, a big island in the center of the Seine, the river that runs through the middle of the city. From there I used my handy museum pass to get into the Conciergerie (French castle from like the 1100s to 1400s and then used as a prison... Marie Antoinette was held there before she was executed... I saw her cell) the Sainte-Chappelle (pretty huge stained glass windows), and the Notre-Dame, all of which are on the island. I got into the building part of the Notre-Dame fine, which was lucky cause the line was huge but I snuck in. hehe. Then I had to go out the side door to stand in line to climb the bell tower (you know Quasimodo and all that Victor Huge stuff) and the line for that was fat too but I couldnt cut : ( Anyways I got in ok and saw the bell tower, the gargoyles, and went up to the top and all that. After the Notre-Dame I went and got lunch and took it down to the bank of the river to eat.

Have you seen Ratatouille? I was reminded of that movie when they're running along the river. It looked like that. Then, I walked through the Sain-Germain neghborhood (cute, artsy, small streets) to the Jardins du Luxembourg and the Luxembourg Palace. I wandered around in there for a while, and actually got up the nerve to ask someone to take a solo pic of me (my first of the trip) but she pushed the power button instead of the take a picture button. I figured that was a sign that it wasn't meant to be. Then I walked back through the St-Germain and kinda into the Latin Quarter and tried to search out a cheap-looking cafe to sit at. In FLorence if you pick one of the cafes on the famous piazzas or that look super nice they don't have menus (or if they do no prices... and you end up paying an exorbitant amount for anything). I was nervous the same thing would happen here so I went to the trouble of walking to a remote area and finding a place that didn't look that nice. Get the check for my cappucino... 5 euros. SO frustrating when I'm cooking dinner at my hostel every night to save money. After the stupid cappucino (I did sit and read at the cafĂ© for like an hour... LOVE love love Hemingway.) I walked to the Montparnasse district and to this business tower there that's super tall and you can go the top (museum pass!) and it has pretty views of the city. I wanted to see it all lit up though so I killed more time walking through the mall (for once I didn't even want to buy anything) and then sitting and reading in the waiting room until it was dark, which wasn't til like 8:45. By then I went up to the top, snapped some pictures, etc. It really was gorgeous and the sunset was pink over the dark almost black cityscape and the Eiffel tower was all lit up... I tried to stay up there longer but it was late and I was starving and my feet were so tired from all the walking and I was tired from being out since like 9:30 am. So I hopped on the metro, went to the store, and home to immediately eat. My current roommates (a young Italian couple from Rome) wanted me to go out with them which was nice but I was just sooo tired. The next day, it rained, and I took the metro to the Eiffel Tower. I didn’t end up climbing it, cause it was pretty expensive and the lines were so long, plus I figured I had seen the views from the Arc de Triomphe, the Notre Dame, and the Tour Montparnasse, and the view from the Eiffel wouldn’t have the tower in it, obviously, so I skipped it. Then I walked to the the Musee D’Orsay, which was reallyyyy cool. So much neat stuff. They had Toulouse-Lautrec, Van Gogh, Monet, all kinds of modern art… it turned out to be way too big for me to see everything in one day. I was tired, and lonely, I think, so I left after a couple hours and got some food. Then I walked around for a bit, headed back to the hostel, and took a nap. The Italian couple invited me out to dinner with them, and with our new roommate, a guy traveling alone from Canada, but I already had food to make for dinner, so I said I would meet them out. I took the metro by myself, which was interesting, but it was pretty easy to meet them. We went out in the Latin Quarter, which was packed with people and bars and restaurants and was really interesting. At one point, we accidentally ended up in a male strip club, and I also tried absinthe, which was lit on fire… woo! It was really fun, and the couple was so nice. The next day we all went to the Versailles Palace and gardens together, which were AMAZING. I’ve been here for so long that it takes something really cool to blow me away again, and the gardens did. They were so huge, and gorgeous, with such cool little fountains and statues hidden around every corner. We ended up exploring those gardens for a couple hours all in all. Then we toured the castle, which would have been 25 euros without my pass, so that was nice. We had to take a local train there, but that was interesting too. Then I went back and packed, cooked dinner, said goodnight to the couple, and finished my second book (Zodiac) and started in on the third I brought. Then I had to wake up at 4 am to fly back! All in all, it was really relaxing to walk around by myself and do exactly what I wanted to do for the whole weekend. I was glad I met the Italian couple, though, because I started to crave company. I flew in on Monday, had a great week in Florence, and left on Thursday night for the Amalfi Coast. More to come! Plus pictures! I LOVE you guys!

Monday, April 6, 2009

Just as a forewarning...

There are around 360 photos in my "Spring Break" album. I guess I should have split them up, but I'm lazy, so there you have it!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Spring Break!

Hi gang! Hope all is well back home. It's almost Easter and I am definitely missing family as well as going to miss the brunch and get-together. Since I am leaving Tonight for Nice I thought I should give you guys some details about my spring break week... especially because mom dad and Paul are going to be doing the same thing I did very very soon! So my friend Erica arrived mid-day on Thursday the 19th. She wasn't jet-lagged at all (until the next day, at least) and so she immediately wanted to walk around and see the sights and do some shopping. That night we went to dinner at our favorite pizzeria (Erica was very impressed). The next day, we had to wake her at 2 to make sure she kind of got back to her regular sleeping schedule... hope that doesn't happen to you guys! It was Friday so we spent that day walking around, doing more shopping, etc. We even discovered this one street that has all these little vintage shops on it. I didn't buy anything, but it was cool to look. We ended up eating in that night and going to bed early (on our walk during the day we had noticed how people looked like their dogs... that gave us an urge to watch 101 dalmations, so we found it in 9 parts on youtube and Erica and Carrie both fell asleep while watching.) The next day I had to wake up early to go meet Charlie at the airport!! you have to walk to the train station and take a bus there, but it's cheap and not that hard. His flight ended up being delayed, and they lost his baggage, but he made it ok. By the time we got back to my apartment it was evening so we headed to dinner. We went to this nicer place that I've been dying to try and I got bistecca alla fiorentina (traditional florentine steak with balsamic sauce)... Soo good! Then we got some wine and walked up to the Piazzale Michelangelo. It was so cool pointing everything out to Charlie and telling him what we were going to do and see in the next week. He loved the panoramic view and kept asking for my camera so he could take pictures! The next day, Sunday, I took him around to all the sights. We saw the Santa Croce, the Palazzo Vecchio, the Ponte Vecchio, the Duomo, Baptistry, and Campanile, and a lot of little things like my favorite antique market, the leather market (where the Medici used to set up their banking stands), my favorite sandwich shop and gelato places, the shopping district, etc. He was impressed by how many little churches are just hiding around corners. In walking around with him it was cool because I got to remember that first-time feeling of amazement I had when I arrived... and it made me even more excited to show you guys around! I want to show you guys even more stuff, though : ) San Miniato al Monte, and the Palazzo Pitti, for example. Anyways, we also had to go to the airport to get his baggage, which was no fun, but we needed to get it since we were leaving for ROME in the morning! (Me, Charlie, Erica, Carrie, and Carrie's best friend from home, Hannah, who arrived Sunday night.) Rome was awesome. It's only about a 2 hour train ride from Florence so we were there by around 11:30. I had a lot of preconceived notions about Rome because so many people advised me to choose Florence over Rome, as Rome was bigger, dirtier, etc. I loved it! When we arrived it was sunny and nice outside.. T-shirt weather even. Our hotel was nicer than we expected, and the streets were clean, beautiful, wide, and edged with orange trees and tall buildings. We checked into our hotel and started walking, in the general direction of the Spanish steps. On the way we tried to pick oranges, but they were sour, and stopped to take pictures of everything, from fountains and churches to the American Embassy. When we finally realized that we were starving, nothing appeared until (ta-da!) there was the Hard Rock Cafe. We stopped and pondered on getting something Italian instead until we realized that there were hamburgers inside, which pretty much sealed the deal. It was my first in over 2 months, and it was delicious! Granted it cost 14 euros, but oh well. After that, we went to the Spanish steps, walked around the area for a bit, and ended up at this huge park called the Villa Borghese. It was absolutely beautiful (tall trees, grass, statues, flowers, a lake, etc.) so we decided to rent a 5 person bike for an hour and explore! We looked goofy, I'm sure, but it was fun. On our way back to the hotel, we stopped at the Trevi Fountain, which was gorgeous, but decided we needed to come back at night to see it all lit up. We ate a light dinner and went out, ending up at an Irish pub near Piazza Navona. The next day, we wanted to go to the Vatican, but realized it would be about a 40 minute walk from our hotel. So.... we decided to hop on a sightseeing bus! Yes, one of those big dorky buses that you can sit on top of and take pictures. It was actually a really fun way to be complete tourists and laugh about that but at the same time see more of the city (Rome is HUGE). Plus, it was only 15 euros for 24 hours, so we rode it to the Vatican and back, and were able to take it to the Pantheon the next morning. From the Pantheon, we walked to the Forum (a bunch of Roman ruins) and the Colosseum, which were my favorite parts of the trip by far. I took way too many pictures of the ruins. Oops! Anyways, that night was Carrie's 21st birthday, so we went and got a nice dinner at this wine bar with "live music" ... turned out to be one big Italian guy sitting there singing Phil Collins-esque songs on his keyboard, but still entertaining. From there we walked to the Trevi Fountain and took some pictures... it was much prettier at night. It was a long night, so Charlie and I ended up missing our (6am) train to Venice, and had to take one at around 11. We tried to just stay up, since we got home at 5, but it didn't work. We spent most of that Thursday on the train, since it's about 5 hours one way, but ended up arriving and taking the "boat bus" to our hotel at sunset, so the view along the Grand Canal was gorgeous. We wandered around town for a while and picked a place to have dinner later... I finally got my nice seafood dinner that I never got the first time in Venice! We split this amazing salmon dish and some spaghetti with clams, and I introduced Charlie to Caprese salad (my favorite). The next day, we wandered some more, got lunch along the canal, and took an evening train home. The weekend in Florence was all about relaxing with Charlie, Erica, and Hannah, and it was a lot of fun. The only bummer was that Charlie and I were planning on renting mopeds and driving around in the hills and having a picnic on Sunday - but it poured all day! So we went and got some hot chocolate instead : ) This weekend, I'm going with Carrie to Nice, with stops in Eze, Monaco, Cannes, and Antibes! Very excited! Lots of love, Charlotte

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Thursday, March 5, 2009


Sorry I haven't posted anything new in a while, guys. I'm just now getting a bunch of new pictures on my computer, they're all really great. I'm going to try to put them up soon, when I get the time. If I have time tonight (currently packing to go to Munich this weekend) I'll post the ones from my trip to Cinque Terre. I guess I should tell you guys about it! Ok - here goes - mom and dad you already heard all about it but oh well.

Cinque Terre - mom and dad, I really want to bring you guys here if you come- inlet on the Adriatic (?) with 5 tiny tiny towns all together, separated by a mile or 2 of coast in between. We arrived super early on friday in the town our hostel was in, Riomaggiore, and explored there for a while. We ended up just taking this little path we found up a hill through all this country - vineyards, flowers, tiny little whitewashed houses... basically everything you would imagine from the seaside in like Greece it was GORGEOUS. And it was the most beautiful day. Not a cloud in the sky. We took the path up for about a half hour before we got to a main road. We hiked down that for a while and got the most breathtaking views of the coastline from up high. Then we followed that road down back into town, got some focaccia ...mine had tomatoes, garlic, cheese, and fresh caught ANCHOVIES: I usually hate them, but tried it, and it was really good. Then we hiked down the "via dell'amore" (lover's walk) along the coast for about a half hour to the next town, Manarola. The walk was right by the water and paved, and graffiti'd all the way down with peoples names and stuff. From Manarola we walked around for a bit, watched the sun set over the beach, and walked back to Riomaggiore. We got dinner there for a "fixed price" of 15 euro for a first course, second course, water (which you always have to pay for here at restaurants) and wine. I got gnocchi with pesto and then sausage with cheese and potatoes. REALLL healthy. We stayed super late at dinner watching this bizarre Italian "American Idol"-style show but with old people (??) and then by the time we were done it was 10, so we walked to the "bar centrale" and and it was CLOSED. Haha! Apparently it isnt tourist season. So we just called it a night. Saturday we got up and took the local train to the 4th town, Vernazza. The 3rd 4th and 5th towns are all pretty far from each other and we had heard the 3rd town is small and nothing really to see so we just skipped it. The 4thn town, Vernazza, was bigger than any yet and more touristy. The hiking trail between it and the last town was closed cause of a landslide (boo) so we decided to brave the hike that goes up into the hills and back down into the next town. It took no less than 5 hours... but it was sooo pretty and it felt good to get the super hard exercise. Most of it was uphill. But we got so high up that the views of the ocean were really cool. We actually stumbled across 2 hidden-away churches along the way, too. One of them was way cool cause it was a convent in the middle of nowhere. I wanted to take a picture of the nuns but didnt want to be uber-rude and American. It was cool though. We got to the last town, Monterosso-al-Mare, by the time the sun had gone down. We walked on its beach for a while and werent that hungry so went to get an apertif (this great European concept where if you buy a pre-dinner drink they offer you a huge buffet of appetizers/dishes -our favorite aperitivo spot is at Piazza

Beccaria, right by our apartment, and it has really good pastas and vegetable dishes... mmm.

And you can load up your plate... amazing). We went into this little hole in the wall that was a wine shop too and this older guy came up to us and started chatting with us immediately (he was the owner... everyone is WAY more hospitable here than in America. its unreal.) He offered us a wine tasting of the special white wines only made in Cinque Terre with appetizers. He gave us each 4 glasses of different wine to try (all AMAZING, I usually don't like white wine but this was really good)

then came back and was all,. "which was your favorite"? So we told him and he brought us a free bottle of that. Then he brought us a free bottle of red. BASICALLY... by the time dinner rolled around we were pretty tipsy. None of us had had lunch and we had been hiking allll day. We looked like absolute crap, sitting there in this super nice little wine bar, and befriended ALL the old men in the room and had them laughing at us. SO much fun. The guy told us to look for him at the bar after dinner, so we left and made asses of ourselves at dinner, of course, and scarfed our food. So that was my weekend there in a nutshell.

This past weekend, my friend Nancy from high school visited me from Modena, a small town about an hour away. She studied in Milan last semester, and liked Italy so much she decided to stay on and get a job! She's currently an au pair.

First off, Friday i don't have class, so i went to Siena with Carrie and just explored. You take like an hour and a half bus through the country and get there and walk around... there wasn't that much to see, just a really cute central piazza with like a bowl shape, a palace, a duomo, a couple churches, some pretty views of the hillside... super cute little town. Very rustic and pretty. You're supposed to try the wild boar when you're there (its apparently their specialty. I didnt even know those things still existed) but i was too big of a pansy. Nonetheless a good day. When I got back, Nancy's train was arriving in half an hour, so

I waited at the train station. I was soooo excited to see her and it was fun catching up on the walk home and stuff. Going out that night, we asked this young Italian couple where a club was... Nancy made fun of my Italian... the girl seems like she knows where it is and motions for us to come with her. So next thing we know its me Carrie and Nancy only and we're walking like 10 feet behind them, and its been like 25 minutes, the girl keeps glancing back at us, and we realize we're walking in circles. We'd been so caught up in conversation that we didnt realize. Then this crowd of people kinda came between us and them and they start running away! They thought we were stalking them! So then we gave up and went to the secret bakery. Have i told you about that? Its a florence legend. Its this place that's only open from like 1 to 5 am. They make pastries and pizza and it is sooo fresh made and always warm and delicioso. BUT it's a secret location! You have to find it! (our first time, we had the guys we were with show us where, so we cheated). You can smell it from about 2 "blocks" away. i say :blocks" cause its like tucked in a little alleyway. Its an unmarked door, you knock, they let you in, you order, and you have to leave. And if you're too loud outside, they won't let you in. That happened to us our first time there cause those guys were kind of drunk. You could hear people talking quietly inside and the machines going but they didnt open the door! We went back the next night and pronto! hehe. Nance was so impressed. The next day i did all the things she wanted to do. She's been to Florence a couple times before so of course we had to hit up the outdoor market, her fave gelato spot (also mine, and hands down the best - "Grom"), and we wrote a postcard for Sally (a friend of mine from high school, and Nancy's roommate in San Diego, where they go to school. Mom is friends with Sally's mom... they are in the same book club - nerds!) Then we decided to do the top of the duomo. It costs 8 euros and so I was waiting for an opportune moment cause its not like I can afford to just do it whenever but we went for it, you climb up a stone staircase, very cool and old, narrow and twisty, for a while (like 500 steps) and get to see the inside of the dome (very pretty, huge and painted with a big fresco of heaven and hell) and then you get to the top and you're outside on top of the dome! Panoramic views of the city all around! It was the nicest weather we've had so far, maybe 60 outside and sunny, and it was gorgeouuussss. So saturday night we wanted to try this place my friend Kelli reccommended called Dante's, which was a pretty far walk but apparently gives students all you can drink wine. AND THEY DID! Nancy me Erin Carrie and Erins friend Jen who was visiting from Barcelona had an amazing dinner and wine, and then Tiramisu. So good! I'm already addicted to Tiramisu. We were eating in the downstairs floor of this restaurant having a pretty late dinner and a pretty long one and eventually we were the last ones down there and the restaurant owner comes down and starts making friends with us! I love it, Italian bar and restaurant owners LOOVVE americans and always give us free stuff. So he brings us down a pitcher of "Limoncello" this Italian liqueur thats made with lemons that they love here, youre supposed to take some of it between courses to cleanse your pallate. So then the guy leaves and goes upstairs... and puts on rap on the entire lower floor. The restaurant was still busy upstairs but he shut off the lower floor for us! Next thing we know we're having a little dance party!

He brought us free hats too! baseball caps that say Dante's.

It was a fun dinner, and really fun to see Nancy. She left in the morning.

So there's an update for ya! I'm very very excited about my trip to Germany. We're visiting

the castle that Disney used as a model for his. We have to hike through the snowy Alps to get there. We're getting to go to 3 other castles, too. It's supposed to snow all weekend! And the tour guide man (very nice old German man) said we can even stop in Salzburg, in Austria, for a few hours on the way back. None of us were expecting that and it's gonna be so cool. I've heard it's beautiful. I'll definitely put pictures up next week, cause I'm getting tired now and have to wake up early. Sorry about the weird formatting. I don't know how to get it to stop.

Ciao a tutti! Look in your mailboxes for postcards! : )