Saturday, December 31, 2011

Amsterdam.

One of the most overwhelming places on Earth-- Schiphol-- the Amsterdam airport. Maybe overwhelming isn't the right word-- it's just like an amusement park more than an airport. And I have never seen so many duty-free stores in one place before. Desperately needing some face moisturizer, I went into a shop and tried to buy the cheapest one I could find. The lady wouldn't let me buy it without my boarding pass. I explained to her that my boarding pass was long gone and that I was just arriving there. She explained the Dutch tax rule to me-- No one can buy un-taxed items if they are arriving there-- just leaving. First sign of being overcharged in Holland.

I stepped out into the bitterly freezing air and stood in the cab line. I turned around to look at this place-- it was like a huge mall-- with flashing lights and Holiday garb everywhere. 

I made it into the cab and got to talking to the taxi driver. Amsterdam is another place where everyone speaks English-- they learn it in grade school, so pretty much everyone has it down. My driver even taught me a few words and phrases-- Absolutely cleared from my memory right now. Dutch is so over my head. It is so completely different from anything I have ever heard in my life-- it sounds like gibberish. But I love listening to it-- I'd really like to try to learn it one day. 

I looked at the meter-- it was already at 25 Euros... "Oh shit," I thought. "Um," I said to the driver, "How much is this going to be exactly?" 

"Oh, about 50 Euros or so."

Holy crap. The most I had paid for a cab on my trip was about 20 Euros. This was not good news. Second sign of Holland ripping me off.

Anyways, once I got over the absurdity, my friend I met back in Florence came to meet me at a metro stop. Dave is an Australian who just re-located to Amsterdam a few weeks ago. It was nice to have a friend to stay with there, instead of staying in, yet again another hostel. That night, we went out and he showed me the infamous Red Light District. There are prostitutes in the windows and "Grow-kits" in shop windows. I had always heard about the "Coffee Shops," but I guess I didn't really believe they existed until I was actually sitting in one. There is literally about three on every block. Needless to say, everyone I met there was very laid back...

He has a full-time job, so during the day I bundled up as much as possible and wandered the streets. It was dark while I was there. I didn't see the sun once. But I liked that, in a strange way. Amsterdam has a mysterious, dark beauty about it-- at least in the winter time. I visited the Anne Frank house-- where Frank and her family went into hiding before being caught and taken to the concentration camps. I spent about three hours there and read about everything I could read in that museum. It was eye-opening to be standing in the same house where those innocent people were hiding from the Nazis. 

My stay there was brief, but I'm glad I chose it to wind down my trip. I flew back to Milan (where I flew in to begin the adventure), spent a night there, and got on the plane to head back to America. 

It was over, and I really couldn't believe it. 

Lisboa.

I am not one of those obsessive runner people, I swear. However, I do admit the sole initial reason I decided to visit Lisbon is.. well.. because.. of.. running. One of the things I really wanted to do on my journey was to find a half marathon to run in. So, Lisbon's race worked out with my trip's timing perfectly, and it was at the end. It was what had kept me motivated to keep running, no matter how much my body really did not want to since I had abused it with foreign food and alcohol for a few months. I would say I was decently prepared for it, considering I was living a nomadic lifestyle-- hostel to hostel-- surrounded by endless temptations to ... well... not, take care of my body.

In my opinion , I was really lucky to have been healthy during my entire trip thus far. I mean, I had eaten horse and lamb, for God's sake-- two things my body is completely not used to. I had drank nearly everyday (in moderation, but every single day, give or take a  few). It's just how Europeans live- and I was not going to pass that up. I was about due for an immune system- shutdown. 

The day before the race, I think my body was just pissed at me and I felt really nauseous-- I had no appetite and nothing appealed to me in the least bit-- That is incredibly strange for me. I am usually hungry most of the time and usually know exactly what I am craving-- There's not much I won't eat. 
So, not surprisingly, my race in Lisbon was without-a-doubt- the worst race I have ever ran. I literally felt like I was going to throw up the entire time and I honestly do not know how I ran 13.1 miles he way I felt-- But I did- and I am so happy for that. That's all that mattered to me... just finish the damn race! I told myself. Yes, it was really cool running in a foreign city and hearing about 8 different languages running-- that was one positive. 

Another positive was the fact that Sarah (my Aussie friend!) was waiting for me at the finish line. We ended up being in Lisbon also at the same time!! So, once I got to feeling better, we explored the city and tried some of the delicious Portuguese soups and other dishes. I would have liked to have spent more time there (I was only there 3 nights), because it is truly a beautiful city. The word that comes to my mind in describing its architecture is "Pristine" and very royal-looking, without Rome's overwhelmingness. And there was an old-fashioned, wooden trolley car that is not only for tourists running through the city! 

There was a metro system there, but it's quite possible to walk most of Lisbon, if you're willing to hike up and down the steep hills of the city. I was expecting Portuguese to be similar to Spanish, and at first, it seems like it a bit-- but in actuality, it's not at all. Thankfully, most people in Lisbon speak near-perfect English, and they are all very welcoming to foreigners. I had several people tell me, "Welcome to our country!!" with loads of enthusiasm. I liked that-- Instead of being bothered by visitors, they were proud they even wanted to be there. A Humble bunch- the Portuguese. This is also where I saw the most attractive men on my trip... So, that's where they are all hiding-- in Portugal. 

The Lisbon night-life was nearly on par with Madrid- just on a smaller scale. There were lots of little bars and awesome bands playing into the wee hours of the morning. And I did love my hostel--the last one on my journey. It was a really old building that had been renovated very well and there was an awesome vibe going on in that place. Except, the rooms were named, and my room was called "Blow." That weirded me out a bit. 

One of the best parts of my Lisbon visit was Anarita, Philip's friend, who is a Lisbon local. We met up and she we walked me around all the parts of the city where tourists just don't know how to go to. She showed me her very first apartment, told me stories of her life as a dancer, told me about life in Lisbon, walked me to a beautiful point where you can see the entire city, and took me to an adorable cafe for coffee and some sweets-- what Portugal is famous for. So, that was very special for me-- I love meeting the locals and knowing what it is really like. 

So, my last stop was Amsterdam, a place I have always wanted to visit. Thank God flights in Europe are cheap! 

And we're off...

Segovia.


The beautiful Spanish city of Segovia has become one of my favorite places in the world. I visited with one of my cousins when we were studying Spanish in Madrid one summer. Ever since I experienced this charming, fairytale esque place, I always wanted to come back. My mom had the fabulous idea for she and I to take a side-trip out of Madrid for a couple of nights. Enclosed by rolling mountains with bustling streets lined with cobblestone and historic architecture, Segovia is seemingly perfect.

By bus from Madrid, it took us about an hour to reach Segovia. We checked into our hotel, La Infanta Isabel (the very first one on my journey), which was actually the same hotel my cousin and I stayed in about 7 years ago. It is adorable- located right on the Plaza Mayor- and painted a creamy yellow color. It was so nice to be in an actual hotel- with the sheets already on the bed!

However, the temperature did drop about 10 or 15 degrees from Madrid, since we were higher up and tucked away in the mountains. Nevertheless, the sun will still going strong and we considered ourselves lucky, considering it was nearly December!

Our first night there, we learned (and I re-learned) that Segovia is incredibly expensive. The thing is, I feel like this place has an excuse to be expensive. I don’t see why anyone wouldn’t want to go there. It is somewhat touristy, however it has kept it’s original appeal, quite literally.

The Segovian Aqueduct is the symbol of Segovia, not to mention the best-preserved ancient monument in Spain. Its original construction dates back to the 1st Century A.D., but it was rebuilt in the 15th Century. It’s about 3,000 feet long and 900 feet tall (in certain places). To this day, it still transports water to another region.

So, besides admiring the astounding aqueduct, my mom and I explored the city. We poked in and out of the little shops, and bought some Christmas presents. We indulged ourselves in some delicious Spanish bean soup, which is famous there. For dinner, we just hopped from tapas bar to tapas bar, having little tastes and bigger sips of red wine, making sure we weren’t being completely financially ridiculous.

We spent the rest of our time visiting the cathedral and the palace, both located in the heart of historic Segovia. They were both stunning—it was hard for me to believe such grand buildings exist in such a small town.

Although I love Segovia, I found myself strangely missing the chaos of the city life in Madrid I had gotten used to over the subsequent few weeks. But, it was a nice calming time-out for both my mom and I.

It’s back to Madrid then headed to Lisbon!

Adios.

Madrid.


I spoke my broken Spanish to the friendly doorman and he led me up to the 6th floor of my cousin’s apartment building. As soon as I walked in, I went, “Oh, Thank you God.” This place was beautiful--- tastefully decorated furniture, huge windows, a stainless steel kitchen… I could go on and on. Not to mention it was spotless.

As much as I loved hostel hopping and life on the farm, it was just nice to be somewhere quiet and—well—classy. My cousin, Philip, and his lover, Miguel, had this whole floor to themselves—like a penthouse. Since they both were still working when I arrived, I relished in a couple hours of silence and solidarity. I even did some yoga in the living room—I couldn’t remember the last time I had been that alone. I felt so lucky to be a guest in their place—I had my own bathroom too! Amazing, I hadn’t had that in months. Oh, the little luxuries in life we take for granted sometimes.

Once Philip came back, he made me a drink and we sat and talked forever—It had been nearly two years since I’d seen him last so there was a lot of life to catch up on. He’s an English teacher and tutor in Madrid—He and Miguel (A true Spaniard) met at a place called the Black and White club about 20 years ago—ever since, Philip has never returned to the states to live. I don’t really blame him.

Madrid is a fabulous city--- I liken it to a Spanish New York—There is an endless amount of things to do. Whether you are into the culinary scene, the entertainment scene, the shopping scene, the history scene, etc… You will find something here to capture your interest.

Since I was really burnt out on museums and playing Tourist at this point in my trip, I lived more like a local during my stay in Madrid. The first thing I did was go grocery shopping and start cooking for myself. I had never felt so happy to be in a grocery store before. I was actually beginning to crave healthy eating more and the (another one) luxury having a kitchen to cook in! And Madrid was also a wonderful place for me to run—I didn’t make it to every one but there are many parks for fitness fanatics to spend their early mornings, lunch breaks, or evenings in. My favorite was called Retiro—mainly because it was filled to the brim with beautiful trees, both dirt and cement paths, quaint cafes, playgrounds and a lot more. It seems like everyone in Madrid ran there—something that always keeps motivated is a fellow runner. Plus, I could take the metro near Philip’s place directly into Retiro- it was awesome.

The metro in Madrid was top-notch, and so easy to figure out. I barely even had to glance at a map. There are metro stops on every other corner; they’re clean, and incredibly convenient. The one downfall was the Americans’ (including myself) obsession—Starbucks. I was really disappointed to see it sitting proudly in several different parts of Madrid. It was my first time seeing it on my trip—they won’t even let it come to Italy. I just don’t understand why anyone would want to spend the money on Starbucks, which is only mediocre compared to Spanish coffee. It really is just so much better and it’s usually only one Euro. That is ONE DOLLAR AND 50 CENTS!!

Anyways, my first weekend there was a little bit out of control. Granted, I was celebrating my 23rd birthday with Sarah (my friend from Australia who I met in Florence), and she was ALSO celebrating her birthday. So, we had endless reasons to live it up as much as we possibly could—and we did it. The first night of our celebrations ended at 8 am. I literally was on a metro at 7:30 in the morning… living life like the true Spaniard party animal. I really don’t know how those people do it! But it sure is fun to do every once and a while. Sarah and I spent our weekend dancing (in a ridiculously expensive club), indulging in too much alcohol and delicious Spanish cuisine.  By the end of that weekend, my body hated me and my mind was floating somewhere else, but it was definitely an unforgettable birthday!

After that, I took it easier… which is nearly impossible when you are living with Philip. He is in his 50s, but his energy is like that of someone who is my age—no older than 25. He is so much fun to be with—he never fails to make me laugh. He took me to the best bars, the best tapas bars, and when my mom came to visit, he took us to a Flamenco show! It was amazing…. I could have watched it all night long. I still can’t fathom moving my feet the way those dancers did.

It was SO refreshing to see my mother—she flew in on Thanksgiving day, which was fabulous because I wasn’t quite sure what it would be like spending my favorite holiday somewhere that no one even really knows what it is—let alone celebrate it! So, we spent it like Spaniards and ate some raciones (which are dishes in between tapas and entrees) and drank lots of red wine.

Madrid is where I really learned about after-dinner liquors, one of Philip’s favorite things. Averna was my favorite—it’s hearty semi-sweet delicious liquor… It’ll put you right onto sleep, that’s for sure.

My mom and I explored together--- on Sunday, we went to the Rastro—the huge weekly flea market that has really anything you could imagine---clothes, jewelry, shoes, lingerie, purses, home accessories, etc. It truly is cheap—I bought a poncho for about 6 euros—that’s not even 10 dollars. Can’t beat it. But you really have to choose wisely there and come early on in the day. Otherwise, you’ll end up being smashed between a mob of locals and tourists all trying to walk in different directions.

We really got used to eating like Spaniards… I got to thinking about it and it’s whole lot healthier than the way we eat in the States (this is probably part of the reason why Americans are fat and I maybe saw one fat person the entire time I was there). They eat a small to moderate- sized breakfast, a very substantial lunch (followed by Siesta!!—the nap) and a very small dinner or a couple of tapas later on at night—I’m talking 10-11 p.m.

The Saturday my mom was visiting, Philip and Miguel drove us to two lovely mountain villages north of Madrid. The first one was called Granja, a quiet and charming city where the Spanish court’s “Summer Palace” is located. It was probably the most beautiful palace I have ever seen in my life—and I didn’t even go inside. The gardens were enough to take my breath away, equipped with several bronze statues and fountains, seemingly never-ending gravel pathways, secret gardens and even a labyrinth—a maze we --almost-- but made sure we did not to get lost in!

We had a glass of wine and a little tapas at a bar in Granja and made our way up to a little medieval village called Pedraza, to have lunch. We had reservations for 3:15 – and man, did we eat. My mom and I always let Philip and Miguel take control on the food thing. We enjoyed delicious warm bread straight out of the oven, white asparagus, famous bean soup, red wine and lamb—which was hard for me at first.

Since I just crossed over from a vegetarian to an occasional meat-eater, lamb was hard for me to think about eating. And the presentation in Europe is so much different—in a raw, straight-off-the-hunting-grounds kind of way. But, once I took a bit, I got it. I understood why the lamb was so famous there and I wanted to keep eating it, and I did. Of course, my favorite part was the skin, which is the most fattening and delicious part of the animal. Sorry, little lamb L

My time in Madrid was amazing and it is the place where I could see myself moving to one day for a period of time—who knows. Nevertheless, I know I will be back.

...

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Hort de Gloria.

So, I always thought in the back of my mind that I would one day go and live on an organic farm. But I never knew it would be this soon. Thanks to another American girl I met on a train in Italy, I found out about WWOOF-- "Willing Workers On Organic Farms"-- this amazing organization that provides people with information on different farms in any country they desire.

Since I knew I'd be in Spain shortly, I registered online with WWOOF Espana, and really thought it was way too late in the game to make it on to a farm (I was hoping to get there 2 weeks after I was registered). However, one out of about 20 farms wrote back and said I am more than welcome and I can stay for whatever length of time I desire. It was with a family business called "Aqua Ventura" that is based in an old farmhouse called Hort de Gloria. It's basically a small rustic hotel in the middle of the mountains-- people come and go on outdoor excursions during the day- hiking, climbing, kayaking, etc.

This place was naturally beautiful. It was basically a paradise. Chickens roamed freely-- there were countless dogs and cats just living the life. It is truly secluded-- surrounded by rolling mountains. When I was there, it was mid-November, and every morning seemed to become richer in color- rusted oranges, golden yellows, bright reds-- Autumn bursting through the foliage.

Aqua Ventura is run by a middle-aged couple-- the woman is Spanish and the man is South African. They have two pre-adolescent kids. Needless to say, they have their work cut out for them. Everyday, the guests expect breakfast, boxed lunches, and an elaborate dinner. Not to mention running a farm in itself is a lot of work. So, "WWOOFers" are always helping out, day and night, with anything they can to keep things running smoothly.

Our main duty, besides cooking and cleaning, was to pick olives in order to make olive oil. The farm had ton of olive trees, ripe and ready to be tackled. Most mornings would be very early- before sunset- and we'd be ready for bed by 10 p.m. I shared a tiny cabin with 4 other volunteers-- I was the only American, which I really loved. There was a Russian girl, a German girl, and a Swedish girl, who had literally biked by herself all the way from Sweden. Then, there were the Italian guys, who came together, and have the same name-- Francesco. These guys were the happiest people I have ever met-- constantly singing and playing the guitar, harmonica and tambourine. Although they did get on our nerves a little bit, I will never forget them. They were true spirit-lifters.

The German girl and I became really close-- she had quite the story to tell. I have never met anyone like her. She is a polygamist, who has about four or five different boyfriends. I knew she wasn't lying, because she had a "Skype date" with a different one every night. She is 29 and told me she just knows herself-- she knows she will never be able to commit to just one person, and she does not see why she can't love several people at once. She hopes to live in a commune one day with likeminded people-- basically people, I think, who are just okay with sleeping with everyone else. I was incredibly intrigued by her, but I still couldn't wrap my head around the whole idea.

When we weren't working, we went hiking together.  I was running, writing, doing yoga, playing with the dogs or just hanging out. We spent a lot of time singing and dancing together, and just enjoying life at the beautiful farm.

I decided to stay a week since my trip was already flying by and I had a lot left to see. Plus, my cousin was awaiting my arrival in Madrid!!

Adios. 

Monday, December 19, 2011

Barcelona.


Leaving Italy was bittersweet. I had grown attached to the Italian culture. But, my mother is half Spanish; making me a quarter, so going to Spain was comforting. It is the only place I had ever been in Europe before my adventure and I was excited to be going back. Barcelona was one Spanish city I had never seen before and always wanted to go, so I decided to start there.

I would give the hostel in Barcelona a 5 on a scale from 1 to 10. It was just too impersonal and very institutional. But there was quite a mixed bag staying in my room- a girl from Sicily, two girls from China, a Canadian couple, and a guy from Korea. And, there was a bar and Sangria was the perfect way for me to get in the Spanish mindset. I had two friends living in Barcelona at the time—one girl I went to school with was earning her English teaching certification and a guy I knew from Atlanta is working there as a sports journalist. Anyways, I couldn’t get in touch with either of them, so my first night there was somewhat of a disappointment—I ended up being bombarded by a British soccer team in town for some game. I am embarrassed to say I ended up at the Hard Rock CafĂ© with a group of sloppy, seemingly unintelligent athletes. Way to go, Caroline.

However, I believe I made up for it in the next week I spent in the beautiful city of Barcelona. I spent most of my time there with my two friends- drinking Sangria, bar-hopping, eating tapas, admiring the famous Antoni Gaudi’s architecture, touring the Gothic churches and truly beginning the life as a crazy Spanish person.

Maybe “crazy” isn’t the politically correct term, but Spaniards certainly know how to party and know how to do it well. They put Italians to shame when it comes to staying out all hours of the night and into the early mornings. Time slips away in Spain—seriously, one second it is midnight and the next thing you know its 4 a.m. and you would have never guessed it.

It took me a while to get used to the language change. It's strange switching from Italian to Spanish, because they sound very similar but are really incredibly different. Before my trip, my Spanish foundation was fairly strong, considering I studied it for years in school, and my Italian basically non-existant. But, since I had spent so much time in Italy, I was just getting good, and BAM- back to Spanish. I found myself digging deep back into my mind where I had stuffed my old Spanish grammar and vocab. in order to learn another language. After a few days and a bunch of mistakes, I started to get the hang of it again.

People really appreciate it when you at least try to speak the language. My pet peeve is when people do not even make an attempt at speaking the language, while thinking that speaking English slowly is going to make it any more understandable!! Drives me insane.

I was happy about was a change in food. I loved the pastas, pizzas and every other carb. Italy is famous for, but my body was over it. Italians know how to do it right, but after a while the three or four course meals get real old. In Spain, tapas (miniature appetizers) are genius, in my opinion. I could live off them- and I basically did when I was there. Granted, many of them don’t contain the healthiest ingredients you could imagine—one of my favorites is croquets: basically fried ham and cheese or sometimes they come with vegetables or seafood inside. They are absolutely delicious, and in moderation—like anything else- they won’t kill you. The chorizo—the Spanish sausage—was another favorite of mine. And the Spanish tortilla—an omelet-type tapa made with eggs and potato is a classic.

Another thing that is ridiculously unhealthy but very traditionally Spanish: Churros. They are basically strips of fried dough sprinkled with powdered sugar. And, if you really want to go the extra mile (which I do), you can dip them in hot liquid chocolate. Mmmmm, Devilishly scrumptious.

And a famous park—Parc Guell—is one of the more touristy places in the city, full of scarf and jewelry vendors, and street musicians trying to make a buck. Nonetheless, it is probably close to the prettiest spot in Barcelona. There are beautiful birds flying around, several of Gaudi’s structures (including his own house) and views of the coastal Spanish city that took my breath away. It makes sense why people from all over the world visit it everyday.

Next stop—The farm.

Hasta Luego!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Amalfi Coast.

My last stop in Italy was in hands down, the most beautiful area yet. At least -- in my opinion -- it just took the cake. Plus, it was exactly where I needed to be to come down from the crazy Rome high.

I made it to the train station fairly late at night since I had to connect in Naples and take a local train out to the smaller towns where I'd be staying for 5 nights. Although it was pitch black, it seemed charming and the hostel was by far the nicest one I encountered on my trip-- and the same price as everywhere else.

Really, this place shouldn't have even been called a hostel-- it was fully equipped with a lounge/bar/restaurant that was basically transformed into a club when necessary. The food was actually decent and cheap and the breakfast was free. The staff was full of the most sincere people I had met and I got the feeling that they actually wanted to be there. There was a rooftop balcony-- actually, a few of them stacked on top of each other. Sure, I had to share my room with about 11 other people, but it was immaculately clean and the bunks were actually built into the walls-- an extreme luxury from what I had been used to! I even had a little bedside table to put my crap in. AND, the elevator actually worked.

Since I hadn't seen Sorrento or any of the nearby cities in daylight, I went running the first morning to get my bearings. I'll never forget that run, simply because after every 6th of a mile or so, I was getting more and more blown away by the beauty, charm, friendliness, and tasteful architecture this place had. I automatically thought; If I live in one place in Italy, it will be here. Absolutely.

There were little outdoor markets lining the streets, all the locals were so cheerful and friendly, and just happy to be there. Well, I get it. They live in one of the most beautiful places in the entire world. And it's hard to lose sight of the ocean when you're in any of the towns along the Amalfi. And the water's unbelievable translucent pale green color that has the ability to capture my mind's attention for what seems like forever. It's just not what I am used to on the Florida beaches, which have their own wonderful features, but this was just different.

I spent my 5 days there, wandering the streets of Sorrento, eating freshly caught seafood, and riding motorbikes along the Amalfi coastline with two friends who lived in my room. They were Jarn, a "Kiwi" or New Zealander and Magdelana, a Chilean girl who was traveling for 9 months -- half of which she would be spending volunteering with children in Africa.

We split the cost and got two bikes. With my track record behind the wheel of any sort of motorized vehicle, I figured it would be a good idea for me to ride with Jarn, who seemed to know what he was doing. Magdelana, on the other hand, basically lied to the renter guy and said she knew how to drive one. She pretty much taught herself, which was great, but this meant Jarn and I were always about 50 miles ahead of her!

Anyways, that is a picture I will have in my mind for as long as I live-- spending a day cruising along the Amalfi coast-- hopping from city to city-- Amalfi, Positano, Ravello-- and stopping wherever we pleased to take photos, talk, and just relax in the natural beauty which surrounded us. That day was surreal.

I spent the rest of the time mostly by myself-- took a ferry to the island of Capri, which was obviously pretty, like the rest of them, but much more "upscale," you might say. I was honestly a little disappointed when I spotted a Prada store after taking the long but beautiful hike to the top, where the actual town was located. I took a quick glance in some of the shops and quickly realized this was a place for mostly Americans who had so much money they didn't know what to do with it. There were stores full of nothing but designer everything. That's all fine, but not really what you call authentic! So, I just got a beer and watched the sunset over the water-- really can't complain anymore about that one.

I thought about taking a day trip to Naples, but changed my mind after I heard one girl's horror story. This girl and her boyfriend were staying in my room, and they had just spent a few days in Naples. They were walking down the street around 9 p.m., and some dude rides by on his motorbike and yanks the strap of her purse (which is going across her torso), pulling her along with him across the pavement. Eventually, I guess the guy gave up and she was fine-- left with a few bruises and scratches, and well--obviously horrified. I decided it would be a wise choice to stay away from there- especially as a female traveling alone.

I've gotten lucky with this type of stuff I think-- knock on wood. There has not been one time where I have felt unsafe or in danger of anything. It may have something to do with me knowing I have to be alert and conscious of my surroundings at all time-- and I must take care of myself. I think any female can travel the world if she knows how to do that.

So my plan was to go to Pompeii one day... Figured I'd catch the train and spend a half-day there exploring. Funny thing I learned quickly about public transportation in Italy (especially in smaller towns)-- and many countries in Europe in general-- They really don't need much of a reason, if any, to just shut down for a day or two. Once I got to the train station, I learned that the trains were just not running that day-- for apparently-- a reason that no one knew of or even really cared about at all. And, buses were not running either because there were "large boulders" in the middle of the road. Let me just say, I saw these "boulders," and they were more like big rocks that I could move with my own two hands.

I was bummed a little I couldn't get to Pompeii. However, I really didn't mind this carelessness in transportation-- I actually appreciated it. It is so drastically different from America's stick-up-everyone's-ass mentality, and quite frankly, it was refreshing. People are less obsessed with plans and constantly having to go somewhere everyday at a certain time. Some may call it lazy. In my opinion, it's a much better way to live-- learning to go with the flow and realizing that things just aren't going to happen the way you necessarily thought they would, and usually for the better.

That day, I ended up just wandering around and allowing myself to get lost-- no time constraints of a train, no agenda, just being. And, to me that is when traveling is really becomes the most fun, and the most transforming.

Leaving Italy was sad for me because I was actually become somewhat conversational with my Italian and I really had developed a strong love and respect for the entire culture. It is such a beautiful place and I will cherish the time I spent there forever. I know I will be back one day.

Onto Spain!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Roma.

So-- Once I left the beautiful land of Tuscany, I felt re-charged and ready to go. I believe I left for Rome on the perfect day—it was pouring down rain in Siena, and actually getting really cold. And when I stepped off (or waddled off with my absurd 50 lb. suitcase), the change in weather was drastic. It was bright and sunny—my scarf and big coat were now completely unnecessary.

Usually, I wouldn’t write about my train station experience, but I had one worth noting in Rome’s “Termini”. I was making my way to the exit and this old (I’m talking 75 to 80 range) Italian man stops me and starts chatting. At first, I didn’t care—he seemed happy and nice—and I really loved any chance I had at improving my Italian. But within 5 minutes, this man was asking me to meet him at 9 for dinner that night—So, I smiled and told the creep I’d have to check with my friend.  I gave him my number-- Of course, not my real number.

Seriously, nasty old man? I barely even look my age. Actually without mascara on, I could probably pass for 18. It’s one thing when guys around the same age go for it, but when men start seeking females over 50 years younger than them, it’s simply insane. But all Italian men (or boys) I came across on my trip seemed this way—this mentality of “Oh, I want you so I can have you”. To me, this is incredibly unappealing, and actually—“No, you can’t.”

Anyways, my hostel in Rome was one among few with a full bar – and the only one with a free drink with check-in. Besides that, its quality was mediocre. The worst part about this one really had nothing to do with the hostel actually—it was this German who was really a nice guy but had the absolute WORST smelling body odor in the entire world. I’m talking to the point where you can’t focus on what he’s saying because of the stench and it lingers for about an hour after he leaves the room.

But really, I’ve come to realize the conditions of the hostels really don’t matter in the whole scheme of things—no one comes to hang out in the hostel room, especially in Rome.

Right away, I met a few somewhat interesting people—a girl from the Netherlands who was only 20 and just dropping in for a little break from her real life, along with a bartender from Philidelphia who visited Rome and just never left. 

Then there was the bizarre military guy from Israel who (after a few drinks…) decided to tell me all about his Jewish upbringing, including the fact that he’s circumcised (OOHHHKAY? Thanks, for that buddy) and that his parents are angry with him for not wanting to get married. He secretly wants to be a film director and coming to Italy seemed to give him the motivation to actually follow that dream. Whatever works, right?

But the best person I got to see in Rome was my newfound fellow-traveler and New Yorker, Martha. We met in Bologna at the beginning of my solo journey and just instantly clicked… decided Rome was a must do—together.  So, I waited at the bar for her to get in and we had the most outrageous night of our Rome experience—just endless laughing and debauchery until about 4 or 5 in the morning.

The next day, we somehow managed to make our way onto a walking tour of the city- given by yet another American implant who had simply fallen in love with Rome. He was obviously passionate about the city and I actually learned quite a bit of history (there’s A LOT to know in Rome). He showed us the typical but must-see tourist sites-- Palatine Hill, the Colossum, the Roman Forum, and the Pantheon.

The Pantheon was absolutely phenomenal. After witnessing its grandeur and enormity with my own eyes, I could barely wrap my mind around the amount of time, analytical thought,  blood, sweat and tears that went into creating that beast of a structure.

But it was also the place where I fell prey to a horrible tourist scam Martha and I were leaving the building as these horribly fat and sloppy looking men dressed in Viking outfits asked us to pose with them. So, we shrugged our shoulders and went along with it. For about 10 minutes, we let them show us how to hold their fake swords, and pretend to kill each other. Although we did get some fabulously ridiculous photos out of that 10 minutes, they tried to charge us FIVE EUROS a piece. We instantly felt like the dumbest two people in the world. 

I simply told these morons this was insanity, that they should tell people before-hand (But of course, this ruins their entire ploy),  gave them half of what they wanted and walked away. Learned a big travel lesson there-- That is one mistake neither of us will ever make again.

Oh, and never go to a pub crawl that is claimed to be "THE BEST EVER". We paid 20 Euros for this thing--- In our defense, we thought we were getting: 1. Free drinks at several bars, 2. Free entry into a night club, 3. Free Pizza.

In reality, we got: 1. Free drinks at one bar for the first half hour (where we spent 3 hours) 2. The company of wasted 18 and 19 year olds playing beer pong,  3. Front row seats to some skank taking a body shot off the bar manager.

After unsuccessfully getting our money back and making it clear to these people their pub crawl sucked, we ditched it and made our own fabulous night.--Yet another lesson learned.

The rest of my time in Rome was spent roaming the cobblestone streets- making it through the Jewish Ghetto, which has been home to Europe's oldest Jewish community for over 2,000 years.  And I discovered my favorite section of the city- Travestere- a small charming village of narrow roads, bustling shops, and trendy eateries- mostly filled with 20-somethings. We had a meal of pasta, pizza, and wine for about 15 euros a piece at a classic Italian trattoria, which is an amazing deal.

And wandering through the inside of the Colosseum was enough to send me back in time when everything was in action. I could blink my eyes and just imagine what it must have been like-- the entire stadium filled to the brim with screaming Italians waiting for their gory, blood-and-guts entertainment to take place.

Martha and I went to the Vatican City to see the infamous St. Peter's Basilica and the Vatican. Something interesting which I never knew-- the Vatican City is actually an independent state from Rome with its own government system and postal service.

And as I roamed the hallways of the Vatican, I was absolutely blown away by the enormous amounts of gold paneling, and endless intricate designs and sculptures on the ceilings. Surely this was the most phenomal interior beauty I have ever set my eyes on.

Everything in Rome was that way- just ridiculously thought out and aesthetically appealing in every way any human's mind could imagine. Our last day was a Sunday and Martha and I decided to find a mass in one of the hundreds of cathedrals in the city. So, I did a search online and found one with a mass at a reasonable hour and we went.

All I can really remember is sitting in complete silence-- I had no desire to speak-- This place humbled me. It made me feel small in a way that felt so uplifting. I went up to receive communion, and as I took a long glance up close to the altar, tears filled my eyes. As korny as that sounds, I don't care. It was indeed a small cathedral but its raw beauty created more of a holy, faithfulness inside of me more than any other church I stepped foot in. 

So, after almost a week in the nocturnal city, Martha was headed back to "real life" in New York, and I was moving further south to the Amalfi Coast, to my last Italian destination on my journey.  

Ciao!


Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Lucca & Siena.

My past week has been spent exploring more of Tuscany, in the two small cities of Lucca and Siena. My intention after my first three cities was to spend some time by myself- something I haven't done enough of at all on my trip. I have met so many amazing people- mostly travelers and a few locals- but I really needed this time to chill... and I've - well, for the most part - done just that.

Lucca is a historic, charming bite-size city with a minimal amount of tourists. I started my stay there with a run on top of the city's walls, which is basically a beautiful park enclosing the city-- complete with a biking and running path, picnic tables, and playgrounds. Just a walk around the walls gives you a glimpse of Lucca's overflowing Botanical gardens, stunning Romanesque churches and other historic buildings. 

My first opera experience ever was in Lucca-- and is apparently the place to go -- because Puccini, the famous opera singer got his start there. Every hair on my body stood up as I listened to the female opera singer (there was one male, one female) belt out every song... She was remarkable. The man? eh, slacking. 

One downside of Lucca-- the hostel. It reminded me of a classy prison... if that makes any sense at all. Ok, from the outside, it's decent. And the front desk guy was extremely comical and friendly. BUT It was always dark and freezing cold, and I paid 2.50 Euro for a PAPER towel and wash cloth.... I didn't even know those existed. And one of the women in my dorm snored much louder than any of the guys I shared rooms with in Florence or Cinque Terre. 

I did figure out a trick to get people to stop snoring if you don't know them well enough to slap them or pour water on them--- Cough really, really loud. Usually, they will wake up and most of the time, they will shut up. 

Lucca is also the place I figured out I could eat lunch for about 4 to 6 euros-- the markets in Italy are fabulous for buying picnic lunches. Everyday I was there, I bought bread, cheese, tomatoes, salami or whatever else, and took it into the beautiful park. I'm starting to realize I have no money, so my need for elaborate meals all the time is pretty much going out the window. But, honestly, I have no complaints. It doesn't get much better than Italian cheese and bread. Not to mention- the SALAMI- Thank God I started eating meat again. I don't know what I am going to do when I get back to the states-- Salami there is disgusting. 

Anyways, after two nights in Lucca, I took a bus to Florence with the intention of getting on a train there to Siena. Well, apparently the trains were on strike all day long... the Florence airport was a madhouse. People were screaming at each other in multiple languages and everyone was pissed they couldn't get to their destinations. I stood in line for about an hour to be told I may get on my train. I took the chance and bought the ticket. About 4 hours later, I made it to Siena. 

Exhausted and starving (and in need of some wine), I made my way to a little trattoria and ate. I had no idea I was seated front row for a huge political debate. A local man and his wife were leaving when they started talking to the restaurant owners about the Italian government and how awful it was (this is all I could truly gather with my unsatisfactory-but improving-Italian skills). The man grew very angry and started yelling about how Obama is doing things right. (Yea, okay). 

After I spent about a half hour being entertained by him, I slid out and went on a hunt for a pub I found in my beloved travel guide. Well, I made it to the street, but no sign of the pub (My book's a little dated, and sometimes it lists places that have already shut down). 

But, there was a wine and cocktail bar. I ordered a "spritz", which is a mixture of Prosecco (sparkling white wine) and some kind of fruity mixer. After a few minutes of observing the rowdy Friday night college crowd (Siena has a university), a group asked me to join them. They were all native Italians, which I was very happy about-- I spoke my broken Italian to them, they spoke their broken English to me. 

They were quite funny, drunk, and more than willing to share their wine with me. One of them asked if I could sing, "I believe I can fly" for them. Apparently, they are about 10 years behind, and unfortunately I was not quite intoxicated enough. 

But after talking to them for a while, it was clear they are all driven, all with different career paths. Two of the girls were going to be an economist and an artist, and two of the guys- an engineer and a lawyer. And they too, think Obama is the man. (?)

So, my days in Siena were spent mostly wandering the cobble-stoned hilly streets, relaxing, cooking, avoiding tourists (even though I am one), and learning more about how locals live here. I climbed the Torre di Mangia, visited the Duomo, and went to a popular running place called Piazza Della Liberta at sunset, which was incredible.

And now I am re-charged and off to Rome... ready for yet another adventure.. ready to meet more people and reconnect with a few. I'll be staying in a 12-bed hostel with the first friend I made on my trip in Bologna. I'll also be meeting up with two girls from New Jersey-- one who I met standing in line at a restaurant in Florence-- she actually lives there now and teaches Italian kids P.E. (pretty sweet deal?). 

And the other- Alisa- is on her own journey through Europe  before she goes to med. school.  I met her standing on the train to Lucca... we got to talking, realized we grew up about 15 minutes away from each other, and she told me about her experience with working on an organic farm in Italy during her trip. Fascinated, I took down her info, she told me about the organization, and I ended up finding a farm to work on near Alicante, Spain- for about 10 days. It looks amazing- I will be helping with anything the family needs, perfecting my Spanish, tending to their animals, picking fruits, veggies, olives and making olive oil, hiking, climbing, and decompressing from Barcelona (my first stop in Spain). I've always wanted to have an experience like that, and... well, I'm getting it much sooner than I expected!

Allora...

Cinque Terre.


I knew I had made a good choice as soon as our train slid at lightning speed into the Vernazza (one out of five small towns in Cinque Terre) station--- the view from the window looked surreal-- the spotless, crystal clear, aqua blue water was unlike anything I’d seen in real life. I’m pretty sure my jaw dropped to the floor and remained there over the next 4 days.

My new friends and I spent our time there hiking up and down the hills and mountains---through woods and vineyards---connecting each small medieval village to the next.  And, we ate – the best pizza and seafood I’ve had in Italy so far -- drank copious amounts of wine, and laughed more than I have in a very long time.

Oh yea, and 3 of us went scuba diving. I had no intentions- absolutely none what so ever to go. I was planning on going for a ride in a kayak and maybe a swim. But two of my Aussie friends casually asked me if I wanted to go, and strangely- and much to my own surprise- I said yes.

The idea of scuba diving always scared the shit out of me—I was born with a pretty decent case of claustrophobia and always want to have wide-open spaces. Nevertheless, I doled out the 50 euros, put the tank on, listened to the nice Italian man’s instructions, strapped on my flippers, and went for it. Note- this would never happen in America. People can’t just go scuba diving without proper lessons or a certification. Granted, we didn’t go out on a boat—we got right in at the marina and stayed fairly close to land.

But our instructor was fabulous—he was very calm and reassuring. My fears vanished as soon as I went under the first time. I was surrounded by thousands of fish, all swimming together like little sea soldiers. Never in a million years did I think I’d be touching the coral on the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea. And, never in my life will I forget that experience.

If I had any disappointment with Cinque Terre it would be the number of tourists--- but, hey I’m one of them, so I get it. And, this actually happened to be the absolutely only place where I met any rude Italian people-- There was one coffee shop that apparently sought out only bitches for employment.

And my hostel was by far the crappiest one I’ve stayed in yet. Actually, it wasn’t even a hostel. It was a 2-bedroom apartment with ELEVEN beds. And ONE bathroom. And again, with guys—the snoring (and farting) here was worse than in Florence.

At first, to be honest, I wanted to cry. But, after meeting more people and knowing that my dear Australian friend Sarah was right there with me, I actually (strangely) grew fond of our little shithole. I’m not supposed to be staying in snazzy tight-waddy places anyway- I have no money and I’m 22. Plus, it was in a great location-- just steps away from the marina and close to good bars, restaurants and markets.  

This is where I had to say goodbye to Sarah, Tracey and Nez-- 3 of my good Australian friends I’ve made so far on my journey. Nez was hanging around a bit more and Tracey was off to see the rest of the world (literally). Sarah was off to Switzerland and I was going back down through Tuscany. But, she and I are meeting again either in Amsterdam or Madrid for our November birthdays—she will be turning 26 the same weekend I am turning 23!

Chin Chin amice! 

FIRENZE


So, I am – let’s see – three cities late writing in my blog… And since my last post, I have absolutely fallen in love, head over heels, with traveling. It’s pushed right out of my “planner-mode” and right into “living for the moment” mode. Don’t get me wrong, traveling involves planning… obviously. Otherwise I’d be out on the street sleeping next to a dumpster.  But, plans change, and this experience is helping me to accept that. And, to absolutely love it. What’s better than not knowing what or who is around the corner? Instead of being fearful, it’s much more fun to get the hell over that and just take it all in.

Like I said, the morning I left Bologna, I had the opportunity to take a cooking class with two amazing and kind Italian chefs. I was expecting some huge sign and a big culinary school, but as I hesitantly wandered down a tiny alleyway and almost gave up, I found the little sign and made me way in. It was only me and an adorable family from Scotland who were just dropping in to Bologna on a long-weekend get-away (must be nice). We spent four hours making pasta dough, rolling it out, and forming 3 different kinds of pasta. I have a new respect for Italian women who spend so much time making fresh pasta- it is NOT easy! By the end we had Gnocchi with Ragu sauce, Ricotta and Parsley stuffed tortellini (my personal favorite), and tagliatelle (fettucini-shaped) with traditional Bolognese meat sauce- and of course ate all of it with some delicious red wine. Bella!

So I hopped the train to Florence, and the cab driver dropped me off in front of a big building with no signs for my hostel. None. Surely I am in the wrong place, I thought. I pushed a button next to the door, heard the buzzer and let myself in. Still skeptical, I shoved my way-too-big suitcase into the old-school elevator and made my way to the top floor. Sure enough, this was it. I was greeted by a typical loud, friendly but intimidating, plump Italian woman. The place was completely different from the first hostel I’d stayed in… It was like a little apartment with a few rooms, bathrooms, and a kitchen. This would be my first time staying in a “mixed dorm,” which means I live with guys--- eh. It turned out to be fine, minus all of the snoring.

I met my first Australian friends within 5 minutes of checking in—I have grown to love the Australians. By now, I’ve met about 10 of them. They are true adventurers, and do not understand why Americans don’t generally explore the world more. -- Two of them invited me to come on a tour of the city and a leather factory, followed by dinner and wine that night –- My first night in Florence ended up to be quite hilarious—filled with perhaps a little too much alcohol.

There was a lot of alcohol, actually. After all, Florence is the capital of Tuscany—where the most extraordinary (in my opinion)--- wine vineyards exist! On Wednesday, an Aussie friend and I took a tour to the Chianti, where we went to several wine tastings, toured a vineyard, and indulged ourselves in ridiculously delicious olive and truffle oils (a said to be aphrodisiac)…and more wine.

We ended that trip with a visit to San Gimignano, a tiny medieval village, where we climbed the tower and ate, apparently – the world’s best gelato. That night, we had the ever-famous Florentine steak, which was inexplicably delicious.

And the flea markets in Florence are phenomenal- open all day, everyday-- and you can find pretty much anything you can imagine. The city is famous for the leather, so I went on a mission all week to find the perfect brown leather jacket—at the lowest cost possible. After bargaining, questioning, being bombarded by salesmen, and trying on about 10 of them, I purchased my first real Italian leather.

The Uffizi Museum definitely owns up to its popular name. Despite the massive amounts of people and tour groups speaking in every language imaginable, the artwork is phenomenal. In a strange way, it was incredibly satisfying for me to find the paintings I studied day and night out of a damn textbook for an ass-kicking art history class during my freshman year of college. My favorite is “Venus of Urbino” by Titian—the painting of Venus lying naked on a red couch with her dog. But after a few hours in the Uffizi, my claustrophobia kicked in. I was led through about five gift shops, and eventually made my way out.

After spending five nights in Florence, I’d say I covered the city fairly well. The greatest thing about it is that you can walk everywhere within a half hour--at the very most. On my last day, I made it to the other side of the famous Pontevecchio Bridge to visit the Boboli Gardens—I could have stayed there for an entire day--- The gardens are adorned with beautiful statues and regal fountains.  It was seemingly never-ending with dirt paths leading every which way, in and out of woods, up and down huge hills, with areas to lie in the grass and just watch the bustling city of Florence pass by.

After numerous people told me there is one place I cannot miss out on, I –yes-changed my plans—instead of venturing through more of Tuscany right away, I decided on a 4-day detour to the remarkably beautiful Cinque Terre.

Ah, Bellisimo!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Ciao Bologna !

I have always heard that when you travel as I am doing, you meet people from everywhere. Well, since my last blog post, I have met a girl from the Bronx, Martha, a 23-yr. old solo traveler who has quickly become a good friend of mine. She's living in my room, and as soon as I asked her where she is from, and New York came out of her mouth, I honestly felt relieved. She was the first traveling American I have met thus far.

Besides Martha, I made a couple of friends here from Amsterdam, Spain, Australia, and Italy as well. It's really amazing to hear people's stories, why they are traveling, about where they have been, and where they plan to go next. The more people I talk to about their adventures, the more places I want to see. Martha and I will be meeting in Rome at the end of the month, once she finishes up  her month-long 6-country trip.

We spent Saturday together exploring more of Bologna... the highlight was climbing up one of the "Due Torre," an infamous tower in Bologna. It was quite the workout, but quite worth it. The view at the top was completely breathtaking.

Then, we had 2 or 3 run-ins with mimes on the street... All we wanted was a picture, and all they wanted, was our money. Apparently, I was not supposed to snap a photo of them without paying. One literally chased me down the street! I've become quite stingy with my money, and am not about to blow it on a mime. I have also grown very fond of the no-tipping policy they have here in Italy. No complaints there at all.

Martha and I walked the entire city, from bottom to top. We finished off our trek with a delicious meal in a laid back restaurant called, "L'Osteria del Montesino"... another good find out of my now-beloved guidebook. We shared wine, a plate of "formaggio" (cheese), and I had turkey for my main course. We decided to go for a night on the town, along with a few others from our hostel.... quite the scene on Zamboni St.----the street where Bologna's university is-- which is also the oldest college in Europe.

On a side note, I love ordering a vodka with soda here, because it is unheard of... every bartender looks at me like I am insane. Last night, one actually gave me one full glass of vodka, and one full glass of soda!

And, today was my last full day in Bologna... I spent it with Martha and Bram (from Amsterdam) at mass in the Basilica San Domenico, which is by the far the most beautiful cathedral I have seen so far. This morning was my third time visiting the church in 5 days because I am plainly awestruck by it. The service was unsurprisingly wonderful, with a beautiful choir.

Then we asked some Italians on the street for a good, local place to eat. They happily brought us to a local bookstore with a restaurant built inside of it. We loved it, because there was not a tourist in sight and the food was cheap and fabulous. We all ate "Tagliatelli di ragu".. a classic bolognese pasta and meat dish. Yum.

Tomorrow, I will be packing my bags and headed to Florence, but first I will be taking a 3-hour cooking class in the morning... I feel like that will be the perfect way to end my stay in Bologna- which is said to be the culinary capital of Italy. I've decided to travel south to Tuscany, as the weather is getting colder. Once I've hung in Florence for a bit, I'll take a day trip to the Chianti country and tour a wine vineyard, and then head down to Siena. From there, we shall see where this journey takes me.

Chin Chin!     Cheers! 

Friday, October 7, 2011

Bologna

I am actually sitting in a public internet area in the Piazza Maggiore in the center of Bologna, Italy. I came in here to hide from the current downpour.. the first I have actually seen since I arrived in Italy 3 weeks ago. The weather has been perfect .. crisp and cool in the mornings and evenings, and a bit toasty during the day. Anyhow, Bologna is not quite what I expected it to be... it is a decent sized bustling city with lots of character.


I am staying in my first hostel ever, on the outskirts of the city.... by far the cheapest place I could find. At first, I thought it was a bit of a shithole, but honestly, it has what I need.. clean sheets, decently clean bathrooms, and nice people.. from everywhere you can imagine. There are a ton of people from England and obviously Italy, then Germany, Spain and I actually met an older man from Poland last night when I was sitting out in the patio of the hostel. I also met a Pakistani family at the train station.

My wallet and passport sleeps with me at night.. I literally cuddle with my money while I am sleeping. Bizarre maybe, but there is no way in hell I am getting stranded alone with no money and no passport. I have already experienced a few occasions of almost being or actually being ripped off.. due to the fact , im sure, that I am obviously American, and blonde. My first meal alone, I asked the waitress what she liked... you know what she pointed to...the freaking Lobster. First of all, the lobster was 18 euros.. by far the most expensive meal on the menu, second of all, I did not come to Italy to eat lobster. She seriously thought I was a moron. So, I smiled, and told her I would have the pizza. For 7 euros.

Another example.. i have taken the taxi twice to my hostel... one driver charged me 17 euros. The other charged me 11. On a more positive note, my lunch yesterday was at a place called Trattoria Belfiore, which I hunted down out of my guidebook. It was a small and charming, dimly lit restaurant with lots of Italian businessmen and a couple of families. The pleasantly plump owner immediately came to my table and tried the best he could to explain everything on the menu to me. I chose Verdura Mixta, which was a delcious plate of zuchinni, potatos, squash, and other veggies grilled in olive oil. For my main dish, I wanted to try something local, so he broughtme Togliatelle alla bolognese, which consists of long fat noodles with bolognese sauce.. a meat sauce. I washed it all down with Prosecco.. the famous sparking wine of Italy. I am continuing to love tradition of drinking wine at every meal, every day.

This morning, I was wandering the side streets near the Piazza Maggiore, in search of the open air market I have been reading about. An incredibly nice Italian woman came to me and led me to the most incredible market I have ever seen in my life... Endless displays of meat, fruit, veggies, baked goods, wine, cheese, and more lined the side streets. By far, the best market I have seen in my life.



This weekend, I am working my way through the museums, cathedrals, and gardens of Bologna as well as I can...Yesterday, I visited an old museum full of beautiful artwork from the Middle Ages. Today, I am on a mission to find a tower I can climb, in order to view the apparently breathtaking view of the entire city and surrounding landscape. I am intrigued by the towers of Bologna, because one day, there was over 200 towers that rose above this city... built by noble families as symbols of their prestige and wealth. And only a few are still standing, and even fewer are sturdy enough to climb.


I would love to go to the theater here, the Teatro Communale, for a ballet or an opera. The thing I am most excited for is my cooking class I will be taking on Monday morning before I leave Bologna... at a place called Gli Amici di Babette... a local cooking school. After that, my journey takes me to either Florence or Venice. I have yet to decide, and I must soon. They are in completely opposite directions of each other.



Arrivederci!