Bridge of Sighs
This past September I took a trip to Europe wich included Venice, Florence, Rome, Mykonos, Santorini, and Athens. This was only my sencond plane ride ever so I'll admit I was somewhat dreading the LONG ride to Italy, but that wasn't going to stop me from persuing my dream of traveling to Europe. I've had this goal since I graduated from college in 2004 (think of it as a graduation present to myself) and I was so excited when I saved enough money, found the time, and 2 good friends to go with me (Melissa & Steve).
"Fast food" in Venice.. really good actually!
I like to eat...
We were determined to make this trip as inexpensive as possible and met up about once a month for a year before the trip to start planning...and saving more. Our meetings usually consisted of ideas of places to go, where to stay, possible tours, where to eat, transportation, etc. all while hanging out at El Torito's Happy Hour or my apartment with pizza and wine. I had to start training myself for wine tasting because I truly did not like it, but since I was definately going to Italy I figured I must learn to at least drink it without making a face... unfortunately, I didn't "train" enough and my taste for wine did not change when I finally got to Italy. We considered sleeping in Hostels and trains, booking our own flights, touring museums on our own, and eating as little as possible.
However as the meetings progressed, or rather became less productive due to the wine consumption and lack of traveling knowledge, and we became overwhelmed with the amount of planning truly involved, we convinced ourselves we needed a travel agent to help us out. This was probably the best idea for first time travelers, but I wouldn't recommend finding a random one from the phone book or you might have problems (I'll leave it at that).
Our vacation date finally arrived and we were off to our first destination of Venice, Italy. The plane ride was exhausting and I struggled with the time difference on the first day but we all made the best of it by enjoying a good meal at a local trattoria. After lunch we cruised around the mazes of the Venice streets, bridges, and squares.
Steve crashed in our tini tiny hotel after our walk and Melissa and I hunted down pizza and gelato before we went back to our cramped hotel room. During the two days in Venice we saw many museums and churches, took a gondola ride with a serenade, and filled up on gelato and pasta. On our way to the train station an old Italian man hobbled his way toward us, yelled at us, and pointed his finger vigoursly at the correct maze to get to the train station. He caught up with us around another corner and yelled us in the right direction once again. I think it was obvious we were lost tourists. It seems to me my most memorable memories are the embarrassing, funny, and clumsy ones.
Once we arrived in Florence I wasn't impressed, in fact I was concerned about my safety at first.
But as the few days sped by I wished I had planned for a longer amount of time there in order to get my fill of the museums, art, churches, tuscan hills, and more gelato of course! Some of the sites we saw were the Uffizi Museum with its immense collection of historical art, the Duomo where we climed over 400 stairs to see the most amazing view of the city and to get closer to the painting on the dome's ceiling, the Town Hall with incredibly huge statues surrounding it like the copy of David and the statue of Perseus holding the head of Medusa, and Michealangelo's apartment. There were also plenty of familiar stores that I could not afford on my budget in US dollars and much less in Euros! The funniest moment there was when I discovered that the hotel shower was not intended for standing and that the "thing" hanging on the wall was a blow dryer, not a vaccuum.
My Hotel (the Lux)...Denfinately not like Vegas!
I was sad to leave Florence, but excited to reach Rome where we planned to stay 4 days.
It is hard to describe Rome in a small summary because it seems like even if you lived there you wouldn't be able to discover everything about this extraodinary place. Rome has so much history and my small amount of time there still did not allow me to explore as much as I would have liked. Our itinerary for Rome was packed, actually it was nearly impossible but we survived and made it to everything we planned on going to. We got lost twice in Rome due to the non-sense of direction of my buddy Steve and my personal inability to read a foreign map (which I discovered as soon as we got to Venice). Luckily Melissa had a great sense of direction and somehow got us to our hotel after a hot, sweaty, and grumpy two mile walk with our heavy bags rolling over the less than level sidewalks and streets.
Inside the Dolce Palace...
She also managed to find our second tour of the day after Steve decided he would take direction from an Italian woman that barely spoke english and wasn't even looking at the correct side of the map. On our first day in Rome we ate at the local McDonalds and walked around the Spanish Steps. My one word of advice...do not wear flip flops on marble steps or you may slip in front of hundreds of people that wind up laughing at you as you pathetically scrape yourself up off the cold marble floor with an instantly bruised wrist, hurt bottom, and bleeding foot only to limp away from the crowd and cry like me (yes one of my memorable, embarrassing stories). Some of the places we visited were the Vatican where we saw the Pope fly in with his helicopter, viewed the Sistine Chapel, watched for pick pockets at the Trevi Fountain, toured the Roman Ruins, the Colleseum, St.
Busy Grand Canal
Paul's, and Palatine Hill. We also went on a night tour of Rome which I would recommend to anyone interested in the "dark side of Rome". As our last evening arrived we could not decide where our final supper would be until our hotel manager recommended Il Giardino di Albino Restaurant about two blocks away from the hotel. The atmosphere was what I imagined all of the Italian restaurants would be; inviting, musical, loud, extreme amounts of food, bottles of wine, gelato, and laughter. We were presented with an "appetizer" that seemed to never end (fresh cheeses, veggies, salamis, meatballs), and a first course wich included three huge platters of different pastas. Then we were offered a second course of meat or fish which we refused before our bellies exploded.
But of course there's always room for dessert! I had chocolate gelato, Melissa had vanilla gelato, and Steve had tiramusu. My last memory of Rome is with me and my friends eating desert and humming along with the Italian music while toasting our last glasses of wine, which I surprisingly enjoyed!
....Greece trip story to eventually follow....