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