Category Archives: Italy Trip

Any posts in this category are from our trip to Italy. Enjoy!

The Swiss Alps

Guten Abend!

This morning we woke up in Italy, and discussed our options for the day over coffee cups 1, 2, and 3. We could walk into the city of Como and explore, or lounge by the pool until it was time to leave for Switzerland. Naturally, Rachel and I chose the latter option; we felt the need to tan somewhat for the remainder of our time in Italy. What I can say about our decision is this: The sun from high noon until 4 in the afternoon is much hotter and effective than the evening sun we enjoyed yesterday. After a while, my dad commended Rachel on her tan, yet told me to lay a towel over myself AND move my lounge chair into the shade, for fear I would toast like a marshmallow in a fire pit.

Between the tanning sessions, Rachel and I exhausted our welcome in the massage pool, but we didn’t care. There was an air of security in our pool area that lay nestled between the mountains that surrounded us every way we looked.

Around 5 pm, we set out for Switzerland in what we fondly now refer to as the VD Mobile, because of the license plate…and the VW mini-van isn’t what one might consider a chick magnet. We wound our way through the tall Italian villages IMG_3434around Lake Como, then made the conscious decision to turn around and drive towards our actual destination. 😉 Not too long after, we nodded our way through border patrol at the Swiss-Italian border, and were able to exhale a deep sigh of relief. We feared nothing more than getting lost in Italy, where none of us spoke Italian, so when we could be certain we were headed in the right direction, the previously existing tensions lifted, and the car was filled with high and happy spirits once again.

The drive was scenic, but our real fascination began with the small villages we passed through that placed their churches on the highest hills of the area. It was symbolic to see every home face and look upward to the church. As our winding drive continued, the incline of the road steepened, and it became clear that we were finally in the Swiss Alps. Waterfalls gushed from the tops of the glacial peaks at every turn; gallons upon gallons cascaded from the rocky cliffs constantly. The glaciers made it feel like it truly was wintertime again, and the outside temperature dropped as our altitude increased.

Swiss Alps

It seemed as though the Swiss could make tunnels out of anything along these roads, because too many times the road drove through the middle of the mountains, and the chipped away rock was merely smoothed with concrete. As if these make-shift tunnels weren’t enough, sometimes we would pass under metal and fiberglass structures that were sturdily attached to the side of the mountain, as if to flaunt the Swiss’ architectural ingenuity. Dad fondly referred to the Swiss after that as “The Tunnel Wizards.” The roads were not only steep, but narrow, and too many motorcycles passed us on the left, leaving our hearts to leap out of our chests, should their risky maneuvers be ill-fated. Nausea set in at the tight switchbacks that came with no warning, as we were forced to look downhill. I already hate heights, and this position did me no favors. But our excitement was tangible; there were beautiful scenes to to seen out every window, be they front back or sides. Somehow, the drive up the Alps caused us each so much individual joy: it was new, fresh, and beautiful. And by far, among the fondest moments of the trip…so far.

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When we reached the top of the mountain range, before we began our descent, Rachel and I stripped down to our bikinis (per Molly’s suggestion), and stood in the snow for the sake of a few funny pictures, and bragging rights. Sans weather-appropriate clothing, we stood in one of the greatest mountain ranges in the world, in just below 40 degree weather, looking at the snow, glaciers, and thick fog that surrounded us. How many other times in our lives will we get to say we did that?! Afterwards, we sprinted to the car, shaking with goosebumps, and scrambled for our shorts and t-shirts.

Suits in the Swiss Alps

Perhaps it was the mystery of not knowing what laid ahead of us that made the ascent feel so lengthy, but the descent seemed so anti-climatic and short by comparison. We wound our way down the mountain, and past flat villages and fields, hoping that we would eventually wind up at our hotel: Hotel Bären in Wilderswil. I was excited to be in the German-speaking part of the country, and still am. But the first sentence out of my mouth when we pulled into our parking space was: “This reeks of having to entertain ourselves.’” The quaint lodgings confirmed my initial reaction. While a cute space, it’s difficult to have a positive first impression when you can’t find your room after a 4 hour drive, only to later discover that you are on the 5th floor, in a separate “family corridor.” Hm.

We were seeking food desperately, and decided to try the hotel restaurant. You haven’t experienced true joy until a 71-year-old Hungarian man serenades three tables in a dining hall to the tune of “What A Wonderful World”, in the style of Louis Armstrong. And, by style, I mean near-perfect voice imitation. It was too funny to listen to a group of young drunk men try to sing along. That aside, we ate heartily, and I ate one of the best meals of chicken and noodles I think I’ve ever eaten in my life. I love German food!!!

On that note, my Wi-Fi hunt has taken way too long. So Auf Wiedersehen, Bis Später!

Lake Como and Bellagio

Il Grand Hotel di Como Il Grand Hotel di Como

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This morning I woke up singing the praises of the coffee machine at breakfast. After a bit of sleep, we were all able to regroup over cereal and yogurt, looking ahead at the rest of our day. It was decided that we would take a 2 hour boat ride to Bellagio. This style of transportation was developed initially as a water taxi, but proved to be a great way to see the sights. However, I felt like when I wasn’t looking through my viewfinder, I was staring at my feet with a bout of sea-sickness. This begged the question: People actually go on boats…for fun?

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The lake was stunning; the water was an emerald shade of green, and the ridges and tiers of the mountains seemed to go on forever. There were clusters of terracotta colored homes that ran vertically up the mountains: a style that reminded me of the Tuscan countryside. I imagine that higher up the mountain, the incline becomes steeper, so almost every village is built from the water level, up. This privatized water access reminded me of the alleyways we found ourselves wandering down in Venice four years ago. Apparently the scenery wasn’t enough for some, because Rachel and I received an authentic Italian cat-call from one of the men in the boats below ours. DSC_6241 DSC_6238

 

We finally arrived in Bellagio, and my feet couldn’t have fled to dry land more quickly. The town was built upwards, like most of the other towns we had seen. Between the cafes, upscale clothing stores, and tourist hot shops, we settled on a Gelateria. I cannot believe that we survived Italy this long without gelato: it’s almost criminal. The trek up and down the stairs of the coastal town grew tiring after a while, and DSC_6302when we decided we had taunted ourselves enough with fine Italian fashion that was out of our price range, we returned to Como on the “Servico Rapido” boat. An hour later, we were back at our hotel, ready to spend the rest of the day relaxing.

Rachel and I parked ourselves pool-side, and with the help of a young (and slightly over attentive) cabana boy, collapsed the umbrella by our chairs with the sole hope of catching mid-day rays at their full potential. Much to what will be my mother’s dismay when she reads this, we fell asleep in the sun for hours, without sunscreen.

I can’t remember the last time I felt a truly relaxed calm sweep over me like I felt this afternoon, but it was enchanting. Some may attribute it to the fact that we are in one of the most beautiful places in the world. And, I say that as an avid traveller who has seen and experienced a lot of beautiful things. Others may attribute it to the incident today where I inadvertently sat up straight in the midst of tanning, forgetting that my bathing suit top was, in fact, undone for the purpose of tanning. After a horrifying mishap like this, one can only laugh it off, relax, and accept that the worst has already come to pass. Whoops.

While trying to push this from my mind, and settle into a state where thoughts couldn’t penetrate my calm, I stumbled upon this bit on knowledge: “Relax, because the worst is over. You are more prepared to deal with whatever life sends your way, than you ever thought possible.” This can apply to a lot more than my embarrassing moment: relationships, new beginnings, college. As a practicing over-thinker, sometimes pushing the hyperactive planning and analyzations aside for a day or two can actually lead to more clarity. Hmmm…

After our time by the pool (which was frigid, in stark contrast to the air temperature,) we got ready for dinner. The sun was dipping behind the hotel, and Dad seemed peeved that the cabana boy was not quite as helpful towards him. Weird, right? 😉 Thankfully, we are now on Italian time, and dinner at 8:30 seemed like no problem. We drove to Cernobbio, to eat at Della Torre. We had an exquisite view over the lake and lights of Como. Everyone ate Italian faire, except for me. Wiener schnitzel was on the menu, and what more can I say? I’m a German girl. Rachel let me try some of her pizza though, and I can attest to its deliciousness– just as great as one might expect Italian pizza to be. Our night wrapped up with dessert, and we began the dangerously fast descent into Como, as Della Torre is located on one of the taller hills in Cernobbio.

And now, I am here in my comfort zone: a public place, in my pajamas, on my laptop. Tomorrow’s plan is unwritten, just as it should be, with one minor detail: the next time I write to you, I will be in Switzerland.

Buona Notte!

European Excursion

Dear readers, it’s that time of year again where I embark on a new adventure and take on a new city, country, or continent. This summer? Northern Italy and Switzerland. I’ve been up for 31 hours straight, so if my writing tonight is incoherent, I apologize.

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Welcome to Milan, Italy: the fashion capital of the world! Where graffiti is abundant, and every day for a pedestrian becomes a struggle for survival. Speaking as both a taxi cab patron, and pedestrian, I can attest to this. 😉

Our flight landed in Milan-Linate around 10 am, and after being on-the-go for collectively 12 hours (including our stopover time spent in Amsterdam), it felt nice to stretch our legs. We took a taxi to what we thought was the home of Da Vinci’s “Last Supper.” However, due to a communication error with our cab driver, we wound up at Piazza del Duomo, home to THIS work of art instead:

Milan Cathedral Milan Cathedral

We spent a few hours perusing the square, and re-caffeinating before we began our trek on foot to the Convent of Santa Maria della Grazie: the real home of Da Vinci’s original fresco. It was amazing to see this work of art in person. We were only allowed to see the painting for 15 minutes, but that was just enough time to take in it’s vast size and historical significance. I’m surprised I was even able to appreciate what I had the pleasure of seeing, mainly because only 30 minutes before, I was in the process of falling asleep on my backpack in the square in front of the convent.

Da Vinci's "Last Supper"

After that, we all agreed we had had enough. We took a taxi back to the airport, picked up our rental car, and made the hour and a half drive to Como, Italy. Our hotel, Grand Hotel di Como, is gorgeous, and I’ll have to post pictures of it tomorrow. Unwilling to succumb to the drowsiness that had been nagging us for the past few hours, my dad and I set out on a search for food. Keep in mind, we began the hunt around 5:30 pm. However, we had forgotten a lesson we learned from our last trip to Italy: When we are ready to turn in, the rest of Europe is just waking up. Of every restaurant we scouted for food (in and around our hotel), none would serve dinner until 7:30 at the earliest. Our stomachs hated us for it, but we decided to make the most of the beautiful weather and pass the time by walking around Lake Como. The architecture and landscape of this sea-oriented city is gorgeous: just unbelievably stunning.

Eventually we returned to the hotel and ate course after course, trying to control the impatience that boiled within us as a product of our lack of sleep and beyond empty bellies. Our poor waitress was much more accommodating than we probably deserved.

And now, I am here: sitting in the hotel lobby mooching off of the free Wi-Fi they skillfully place in “public” areas of the hotel. When I travel abroad, it’s nice to have the language barrier sometimes. No one here is willing to ask the quirky American girl why she’s lounging in the front lobby of an exquisite Italian hotel… in her pajamas. I’ve taken refuge in my laptop screen, so I don’t have to look up and meet any of their disapproving glances. Like I have reflected in earlier posts: Most Europeans are nocturnal. Their activities, lives, and interests operate around the time the sun dips below the horizon. For someone such as myself, I’m lucky if I can even keep my eyes open beyond 11. With added sleep deprivation? Fuhgeddaboutit! This is bed time for me. And with that, I’ll say goodnight and sign off.

Buona Notte!

A Friday Night Feeling

April 20th, 2012

This Friday I went to school with Lena, and the day proved to be simple and uneventful. The real story lies in my night.

After a delicious dinner of Spargel (asparagus) and prosciutto with sauce, Lena and I hit the town with some exchange friends. We bounced around from Kaufland, to Rosso, to one of Lena’s friends apartments, until we all called it a night around 4am. That’s when Lena and I retired to her Oma’s to sleep. Thankfully, her Grandma lives right in the city!

A lot of what happened that night I shouldn’t type. And so I’ll let it go unsaid. But my greatest conclusion of the night: if you read one of my earlier posts from Venice (it would have been 2009!), you may remember a certain reflection on the easy-attitude of Europeans. Well, 3 years later I’m here to make the same observation. Nothing is a rush, nothing is forced, but everything is relaxed and simple… Ready for the kicker?…

If you let it be!

Waltzing through Trier these past few nights has given me an air of weightlessness, just drifting and floating through the city streets at night. I am happy: truly happy. And have never been more content.

~As written by me that night

Maybe everyone thinks that way, but not everyone has had the opportunity to feel that way. And, at 17 years old, I’ve found it, twice? I truly am the most fortunate girl in the world.

Photos of Italy

I’ve finally put all my photos of Italy together into a Web album. The address is: http://picasaweb.google.com/albibbins?feat=email

Admittedly, some of these pictures are better than others, and after captioning 900 photos I got a little bored, but I hope they will still give you a good sense for what our trip was like.

Enjoy!

Last Day in Venice

Friday was our last full day in Venice. After an early- and I mean EARLY- breakfast, we hopped on a water bus to Saint Mark’s Square to meet Marco, our tour guide (not the same one as our waiter the other day.) Marco the Tour Guide joked that every man in Venice is named Marco. We walked around Piazza San Marco, learning about the history, the politics, etc… He took a lot of pride in his city, despite the occassional flood in November, the fact that the government was looking to close three of the four major ports to the city, and many younger couples were moving to the newer parts of the city. Marco believes that they’ll miss the older, more familiar Venice and come back soon enough. Although slightly eccentric, I have toi admit he was very optimistic! One of the stops on our trip was to an old church in St. Mark’s Square. When we walked in, a guard started yelling at me and Rachel. We thought it was because we were taking pictures, but actually it was because our shouldres weren’t covered by our dresses. We had to but shoulder covers, which are a fancy word for over sized napkin. 90 degrees outside, 100+ degrees inside, and we have to wear shoulder napkins…not fun.

An hour later, we found ourselves enjoying gelato at Piazza San Marco, listening to a classical group of players. Buying our way back along the pier, we took the water bus “home,” this time with no navigating troubles.

Dinner was liesurely, starting with melon and ham appetizers (a delicacy.) Dad had shrimp, but I’m allergic so I stuck to the ham and canteloupe. For actual meals, Rachel and I had pasta, and Dad had something soaked in octopus ink; beyond that I pretty much lost interest. It was a perfect way to end our trip; happy yet sad.

Our walk back was an endless search for a souvenier for Rachel. After that was a nice walk back to Hotel Gardena (we took tons of pictures!)

The flight home was long, including the six hour stop over in Frankfurt. It was good to be home, although we instantly missed the everyday adventure of a new country.

Well it’s been an amazing trip, and thanks again to all who commented, or supported me for this trip! i’m looking forward to more future posts! 🙂

Venezia

Okay I’m going to start taking volunteers to help me move my stuff here- it’s amazing! As soon as we stepped outside the train station, all three of us were speechless. The arcitechture on the tall buildings was beautiful, but the river the buildings sat on (the Grand Canal) was like nothing we’d ever seen. It was huge and sparkling in the hot sun. Taxis (in boat form), police boats, and gondolas travel along this waterway in such mass numbers, it was unbelievable that they didn’t collide.

After we checked into our hotel (which has a view right over the river), we walked down the street to grab a bit to eat. We found an outside restaraunt right by the water. Our waiter, Marco, was working as the chef, bartender, and waiter all in one for the day, and still he was incredibly patient with us, and the food was excellent! I got a burger, and although I didn’t come halfway across the world for a classic American meal, it was prepared like nothing I’d ever seen. Later came the tiramisu that Marco made himself- delish!

Afterwards, we wound our way through the maze of streets looking for a gonadola company on the Canal that we’d bought tickets for earlier. The ride was beautiful, and the musicians that played actually made me enjoy accordian music. 🙂

Me ad Rachel on the gondola in Venice

Me ad Rachel on the gondola in Venice

45 minutes later, when the ride was over, we tried finding our way back to the hotel, with little luck. We wound up at St. Mark’s Square where parts of our favorite movie (The Italian Job) are filmed. We sat down at an ourdoor cafe to rest our bodies from the tiring work of reading a map. Rachel and I got chocolate milkshakes, and listened to the dueling classical quintets. It was really interesting to a music fiend like me.

Then we began walking back to the hotel, at least that was the ultimate destination. We walked around with one tiny map of Venice as a guide, and it was getting dark quickly. “Get lost in a foreign country” is towards the bottom of my bucket list, so my anxiety started to kick in. We were in a huge anxiety bubble, and it was only expanding around us, ready to pop, as we worked our way further and further into the heart of the city.

Many many left turns and one very helpful hotel concierge later, we found our way to the public transportation- a big water bus. As nervous as we got, afraid of what kinds of people came out at that hour, everyone outside our bubble seemed completely calm and secure. Drenched in sweat from the hot and heavy Venetian air, and so used to getting back to the safety of the hotel in Florence come nighttime, the liesurely post-dinner milling around had become unfamiliar to us. At one point on our walk back from the “bus” dock to the hotel, I turned to Dad and said: “Look at them! Just look! They just don’t care! He responded: “Oh, they care, just about the right things.”

Now I’m typically very careful when it comes to right and wrong because everyone seems to have their own opinions on the matter. To me, it’s like stepping on eggshells. But just then is when it all clicked into place. I stopped short in my tracks, and walked over to the railing of the bridge we happened to be crossing. I just stood, leaning on the railing, listening to the jazz music coming from the street below. And I watched the people, the gondolas, the water. It was like an epiphany. Why rush rush away from the beauty of this moment- the water, the night, the people? Just taking a moment, a minute, an hour here and there to enjoy the preciousness of life is all it takes.

Well I hope this blog makes you reflect a bit! Ciao from the most amazing city I’ve ever seen!

Flying Through Florence

Today started with a private tour of the Accademia Gallery with our guide Yadri. It houses all sorts of mediums; photos to paintings to sculptures. More well known is Michelangelo’s statue of David. We couldn’t take pictures, but I learned this about the statue: 1.) David has butterflies carved into his eyes to give the appearance of contemplation and depth. Who woulda thought? 2.) The statue has many imperfections that are only visible if you’re looking for them. It doesn’t seem fitting that such a great symbol of Renaissance art should have any scratches, but I guess if you were 505 years old, you’d be feeling a bit worn down too.

From there, we walked past Brunelleschi’s Dome (which is the huge cathedral I wrote about earlier.) After a LONGGGG lecture about the dome, we walked through the back streets of Florence with Yadri leading the way. We came across Dante Aligheiri’s house (the famous author who wrote “The Divine Comedy”), and past Uffizi (a large art museum.) In front of Uffizi were a lot of statues of famous Florentines. Among those were “living statues” that scared the daylights out of us when they moved unexpectedly. I swear they could’ve passed for actual statues!

Afterwords we walked to Ponte Vecchio, where we said arrivederci to Yadri. 

Ponte Vecchio at right, and houses of Florence along the Arno River Ponte Vecchio at right, and houses of Florence along the Arno River at left

Later we walked through a huge market called  San Lorenzo Market, where we bought many more souveniers. Afterwards we went to dinner (I got lasagna :)) at an outside dining area. Everything went well in terms of getting on the waiter’s good side, until it came time to leave. When Dad stood up, he bumped the table with his knees. It was enough force to send olive oil and glass shards from the water pitcher into my lap. I was fine…but I can’t say the same for that water pitcher…

After our dash for the exit, we went to a gelato place called “Grom” that Yadri had recommended. We were exhausted, and headed back to the hotel for an early night.

Wow, it seems like just yesterday we arrived in Florence ready to see another side of Italy, and now tomorrow we are set to leave for Venice by train in the morning. In the end of it all, Florence was nice. It doesn’t have the same energy at night that we found in Rome, which was hard to adjust to, and it isn’t as liesurely as Rome when it comes to walking around and eating. However, it has just as much history to it as Rome, and there are a lot of “foodies” here (people who enjoy the preparation and eating of good food) like myself, so I felt right at home in that sense.

Well I have an early day tomorrow, so I’ll write again when I’m in Venezia! Ciao!

Castello di Oliveto

If driving into Florence was hard, driving out is twice as hard. Today we had a scheduled wine tasting and luncheon at a castle called Castello di Oliveto in a town called Castelfiorentino at 11:30 am. Unfortunately, the directions there were unclear and it took us two hours just to get to the center of Castelfiorentino (which is actually a beautiful mountain town.) The drive turned into a liesurely cruise along the vineyards as we drove around hopelessly lost. After a while, Dad finally gave in to our pleas and asked for directions, which were so helpful, they set us another hour and fifteen minutes behind.

Finally, we arived at the castle at 12:45 pm. It sat on 3,000 acres of land, used for growing grapes, olives, and livestock. It used to belong to a noble family who housed popes that were visiting in the area, but now it’s used for income by a wealthy family.

Me and Rachel in front of Castello di Oliveto

Me and Rachel in front of Castello di Oliveto

When we walked into the great courtyard, we didn’t even know if we would get a tour. The guide (Louisa) pointedly looked at her watch, but gave us a private tour/wine tasting/lunch anyway. The courtyard was beautiful, as well as the view from the terrace. We also got to see the wine cellar, where they make 10 different kinds of wine.

Afterwards was the wine tasting and luncheon. For those of you who are wondering, Rachel and I only tasted a few. And there’s actually no swallowing involved, if you catch my drift. For lunch we had sheep’s milk cheese (wierd but good), salami slices, prosciutto, and bruschetta. It was all so fresh and filling. Later came the biscotti, and we were stuffed.

Wine tasting/luncheon at Catello di Oliveto

Wine tasting/luncheon at Catello di Oliveto

We started walking around the vineyard afterward, but when we came across two shotgun shells, we hi-tailed it back to the car! From there we wound our way further up the mountain to a quaint town called San Gimignano per Louisa’s suggestion. It was hilly with cobblestone streets and old buildings. It was very clean, and very tourist-y; Dad said it reminded him of Disney World. But it had a fantastic view over what seemed like the rest of Tuscany, and we got a lot of souvenirs too.

San Gimignano

San Gimignano

Later on, we drove back to Florence for a dinner of pizza and…you guessed it…gelato!

Thanks to all who have been commenting- it means a lot even if I can’t get back to all of you 🙂 I’ll write soon! Ciao!

P.S. I’m feeling much better thank you for your concern. 🙂

Firenze

Welcome to Firenze (Florence)!

Today had a rough start. Between saying goodbye to Roma and feeling a bit under the weather, it was just not a great day for me to take a 2.5 hour car trip. We were scheduled to take a rental car out of Termini Train Station (located in central Rome), but there was some sort of mishap in the scheduling, which resulted in sitting in Termini for half an hour. Now the thing about Termini is it’s a nice train station, and is so big it could pass for an airport. But they play the same jingle , absolutely no variation. So when they would make an announcement over the intercom, they would start the entire song over again, as if we’d forgotten the first verse. I assure you, we had not. the major headache that ensued was only curable with a comedy video off my iPod. No other remedy fits such strenuous conditions when traveling with family.

 Overall, I thought Rome was nice, with beautiful architecture, but I can’t wait to see what the rest of Italy has in store for us. As soon as our journey to Florence began, the scenery changed to flowing green hills with grape vineyards and sunflower fields. Around 3 pm we arrived in Florence, and the streets are twisted and confusing, but we’re trying our best to get our bearings.

We set out later on to go Geocaching, but no luck. (For those who don’t know what Geocaching is, it’s a world-wide “treasure hunt” via GPS.) We’ll probably try again tomorrow. We walked around Piazza di San Giovanni with a gorgeous cathedral in the center of it. There were people who were so moved by the massive church that they were crying.  

Cathedral in Florence

Cathedral in Florence

Then we went for dinner (pasta bolognaise was delish) and gelato. This time, we didn’t need to hunt for Wi-Fi because we have it right in the hotel!

Tomorrow looks promising in terms of weather and events, so I’ll write later tomorrow!

Arrivederci!