Monday, March 26, 2012

Last stop... Madrid

Anyway, we got into Madrid at 7:30am and found our way to the hostel. We weren’t able to move into our rooms, but we left our luggage and began our adventures. Our first stop was the Cathedral of La Almudena. It was really cool. The frescoes and stained glass everywhere were in bright colors, like nothing I’ve ever seen in a church before. The light shining through the windows lit up the inside in bright colorful reflections; it was pretty incredible.
The most colorful cathedral ever!

Right next to the cathedral is the Royal Palace, so we made that our next stop. We were able to walk through a bunch of the different rooms inside; it was the most decked out place I’ve ever seen! So many colors, more chandeliers than I’ve ever seen, amazing floor patters, a ton of silver and crystal… it was amazing. Linked to the palace was an armory which was also really cool. It contained all the armor, swords, javelins, guns and horse protection from the royal family. Some of it was really decorated and seemed like it was just for looks, but I’m sure it was a status thing. Right next to the Palace was the Royal theatre. It wasn’t so grand, but then again, we didn’t get to see the inside so I can’t say anything.
Royal Palace with the royal lamps. haha
We started walking on Arenal street which is mainly a pedestrian street with a bunch of shops and restaurants. Madrid is a pretty cool little city. The street was so colorful; it seemed like every building was different, but when they are all put together the character of the city is amazing. We walked past the monestary on the street and right next to there was a small street market. The vendors all sold different things from jewelry to scarves to clocks and wallets. It was fun to walk by all of them and “window shop”. We finished making our way down Arenal and ended up in Puerta de Sol. This is a nice little open square with a fountain where it seemed like everyone gathered. Don’t believe me? Even Spongebob, Patrick, Mario, Buzz, Woody, the Smurfs and a mime were there. Yep… everyone gathers here! Haha. We just had to sit an people watch for a while; it was too entertaining not to!
Colorful buildings!
Characters Puerta del Sol
From here we headed to Plaza Mayor. This is another square, but a lot bigger than Sol. It has a bunch of restaurants and some shops. We decided to sit down for lunch here and eat out in the plaza so we could people watch some more… and it was in the 60s so it would be a crime not to sit outside! I had another fried squid sandwich, I’m tellin’ you they’re delicious, and a drink that was a summer wine with lemonade. It was very good, pretty refreshing! There were some interesting street performers we sat and watched for a while, and after we decided we had enough, we headed to our next destination.
mmmm lunch :)
We saw that we missed some gardens that were over by the Royal Palace – Jarines de Sabatini – so we made our way back. Along the way we passed another little square, Plaza de la Villa, which was pretty nice, but people don’t really gather here… I think it’s surrounded by government stuff so that’s probably why. Unfortunately when we got to the gardens it wasn’t as grand as it sounded, but it was a nice place to sit and relax for a little while.
The next stop was San Francisco el Grande. We had seen many San Francesco churches, so why not one more! We got there and realized that even the church closes for siesta. We had a little more than a half hour to wait so we went to the park next to the church and took a little nap in the sun. It was pretty pleasant. We woke up at 4 and went into the church, which was freezing cold. But it was beautiful nonetheless! There was a tour going on, but it was in spanish so we couldn’t understand. So we did our own thing until they took them into the back of the church, and then we tagged along so we could see the back haha. We also hung around until the turned the lights of the dome on so we could see it in all its glory… and then we cut out after they shut the off to continue the tour haha.
The dome inside the church
We saw something on the map, it was a column of some sort that looked important, so we decided to find our way to that. Along the way we ran into a pastry shop and of course were drawn in. Girls + Chocolate… come on now. We got these Palm pastry things. It kind of swirls around and forms a heart, and of course it was covered in chocolate and a little bit of whipped cream. It was delicious! We found the statue shortly after that, but it wasn’t as grand as the pastry haha. So we made our way back to the hostel to move our stuff into the room and settle down a bit before dinner. It had been a long day!
Snack time!
After our recovery, we headed out to find food. We didn’t quite know what we were hungry for so we just wandered. We ended back up in Mayor Square where we had lunch, but we went to a different place called the Jamon Museo… yes, the ham museum. They have stuff here kind of like Prosciutto, some may say it’s better… it kind of is :) so we got some of that with fries and eggs. It was a pretty delicious meal; pretty filling too! After we were satisfied, we headed out to discover a place we passed on the way to dinner – Ice Bar.
It is just what it sounds like – a bar made entirely of ice. The walls, tables, chairs, everything is ice! They give you a huge coat to keep you as warm as possible because it is -8 degrees Celsius inside! With our cover charge we also got two free drinks… which was all we were able to stay for because it got pretty dang cold. It was quite the experience! We made friends with the bartender who actually makes all the ice sculptures inside. He talked to us for a while and told us his favorite building in Madrid and where to visit. He was a pretty friendly guy!
Probably doesn't need a description..
We left the bar, and suddenly it didn’t seem so cold outside anymore! Haha. We headed back to the hostel and called it an early night because we were pretty worn out! We slept in til about 9, and then checked out. Luckily we were able to leave our luggage at the hostel so we could walk around more since we weren’t leaving til late.
Our first stop of the day was the Prado Museum – free for students! Yes, another museum. But I will give it props, even though I don’t really like museums, this one was pretty cool. Something about the paintings just made it better than some other museums. We spent a couple hours there, and found out our ticket got us into Jeronimo’s  Church for free. It was right by the museum so we decided to stop there before lunch. We poked our heads in… to find out there was a wedding going on. Oops… they should really warn us next time. Haha.
The church.. with the wedding inside
On that note we headed to find lunch – surprise, surprise bocadilla de calamari! Haha. Yes that makes three this trip, but I figured I probably won’t be able to have it again, at least for a really long time, so I need to enjoy it while I can! We enjoyed our lunch and then headed to the Botanical Gardens. It was a lot smaller than the gardens in Barcelona, but it felt more natural and peaceful. I liked it… so much that we took another nap out in the sun there. It was pretty enjoyable! :)
Beautiful flowers :)
We spent probably a couple hours at the gardens and then headed to a huge park – Retiro. There were a ton of people here. There was a house made entirely of glass that we went in and a museum as well. We also went and sat by the pond area where there was a huge monument; we watched all the people who rented out row boats and all the kids skating around. I would love to have a park like this at home, or at least one nearby when I settle down to take my family. It is definitely a great place for families!
Turtles hangin' out at the park!
We left the garden and walked by the Puerto del Atocha, the Palace of Cibeles and the building our friend at ice bar told us about… which looked a lot like Gaudi’s houses. We’re not sure if it was or not though, but it was beautiful. We were feeling pretty worn out by this time, we had done a lot of walking. But we wanted to go see the first angled towers built, which happened to be in Madrid! So thus begun our final walking adventure… It was a lot farther away than we thought… We passed by the soccer stadium where the Real Madrid game was getting ready to start – should have gotten tickets for this too!
Puerta de Atocha
After about 45+ minutes we made it to the buildings. Was it worth it? My feet might not think so, but they were pretty cool to see. And besides, right next to them was a place where we got chocolate covered churros… if you ever see these – get one. They are so good! So after this we decided it was in our best interest to take the metro back to our hostel instead of making the hour+ walk… so that’s what we did. When we got back we hit up a restaurant close by to watch the game and get some food. I had some pork with eggs and potatoes. It was a good last meal in Madrid – and I washed it down with a local beer, Mahou.

We headed back to the hostel to get our bag and change for the ride home. Since our plane leaves at 6:30am and our time changes at 2am here tonight, we decided it would be a good idea to stay at the airport instead of pay for another night at the hostel and risk not getting to the airport in time. So sleepy time in the airport it was… only it was freezing cold on the floor… so no sleeping happened. They finally opened up security at about 4am and we went through and sat some more until our flight left at 6:30am. I immediately fell asleep. All-nighters aren’t my thing anymore! Haha. Our flight landed, we loaded a bus, got to the train station and boarded the train to Orvieto.
These last two weeks have been great… but I’m glad to be back home and settled down. What an adventure. Now… back to school…
What a beautiful city...

End spring break marathon blog... Ciao!


6 am came early and we got around and made our way to the bus that took us to the airport. We boarded and got into Barcelona at our hostel at about 2pm. We ran into a girl who is studying at the university here that helped us find our hostel. She gave us tips about what to visit, and how to avoid the crazy drivers. She said to pay attention because they don’t. There are even warnings painted on the streets that have a statistic about 1 in 3 automobile accidents happen at crosswalks with pedestrians. Hm… guess we need to be more careful here!
And you thought I was kidding...

After we got settled in we went to a café to have lunch. It was a pretty good deal – an appetizer (I got tuna with tomatoes), an entrée (I got chicken curry with potatoes; the chicken curry was really sweet, not hot like I was expecting), and a dessert – ice cream! All of this with a drink for 9.50! Everything seems so cheap after eating in Paris!
After our tummies were full and happy, we decided to walk it off and made our way to Parc Guell. It is a big park that was designed by a crazy architect – Gaudi. His work is all over Barcelona, so he will be referenced a lot the next few paragraphs. The park was a lot bigger than we expected, but we walked around and got a view over the whole city. The weather was beautiful, which was a welcomed change from rainy Paris, so the walk was really nice. After the park, we made the long walk back to the hostel and got around for dinner.
Entry to the park
We met up with some other friends that are here visiting too, and we went and got Tapas! These are little plates, kinda like appetizers, but everyone orders a different one and you all share so you can try it all. We had a wide range of food. Warm goat cheese with raisins, some cooked peppers, eggplants with honey, potatoes with bacon and hot sauce, sweet and sour chicken wings, boiled shrimp with garlic, and an omelet thing – and sangria. We definitely ate like locals today, and it was delicious! I think I could get used to this place – glad I am spending the next three days here!
Warm Goat Cheese... surprisingly good :)

Tuesday we slept in a little bit, considering we had been getting up early the last few days and we have 3 days in Barcelona. We got up at 10 and headed to the Botanical Gardens. On our way we walked through another small garden and went by the Olympic grounds from when they were held here in 1992. It was pretty cool to see the stadium and everything they had built for the Olympic games. It will be cool to compare it to the grounds they are working on now in London when I go. After our walk through we headed to the Botanical Gardens. It was HUGE! It was such a beautiful, peaceful place, and on top of that, the weather was beautiful as well – sunshine all afternoon! We headed down the hill and came across the Barcelona Pavilion by Mies van der Rohe. It was just like I remember, except not out in a field like all the pictures I had seen. That’s because the pictures are from when it was first built… and then they tore it down and re-built it in the same spot years later; so a bunch of other stuff got built around it. It was still pretty cool though.
Olympic Grounds
Exit of Botanical Gardens
Barcelona Pavilion!
After these stops, we headed to meet up with our friend. We went over to Piazza Catalunya – which contained the most pigeons I have ever seen in my life! It was pretty disgusting; there was even a little boy sitting on the ground playing with the ones that surrounded him. I was a little disturbed to say the least… So on that note we went to grab lunch. We went to this small place off the street that served this chicken and veggies in a tortilla. It was pretty delicious! We continued our trek down Las Ramblas – which is a road with a pedestrian walk down the middle. It’s pretty neat because there are a ton of people and a bunch of vendors along the walk. There is also a huge market right off the street that we made our way in to. It was incredible! I would venture to say better than Orvieto’s market… There were fruit vendors, meat vendors, wine vendors, seafood vendors, candy vendors… So much stuff! I bought some fruit and this awesome strawberry/mango juice that is 100% fruit juice. It was the best juice I’ve ever had!
The next stop of the day was the Chocolate Museum of course! The ticket you buy to get in is a bar of chocolate! It was awesome! The museum had the history of chocolate and a ton of sculptures made of chocolate. It all looked so good! After the museum, I went to go get the tickets because guess what… we were going to a Barcelona soccer game tonight! We got the tickets and went to dinner at a cool burger diner to get our fill of burgers and cheesy fries! We headed out and made our way to the stadium.
Yep- that's a chocolate sculpture

We had our trail mapped out, but it changed abruptly when we saw some people who were going to the game get off at the stop before ours. So that made us nervous and we jumped off after them. They started running, because the game was going to start in like five minutes, so we had to run after them… they probably thought we were crazy. But we followed them through the streets and made it to the stadium just in time for kickoff. We weren’t supposed to be able to sit together, but we found three seats open together and took those instead of splitting up. The game was awesome; the atmosphere was incredible. Soccer here is like football at home, or basketball during March. Everyone was so pumped up! It started to rain, but we didn’t let that bring us down, the game was too fun! Barcelona ended up winning 5-3 against Granada. It was a great game.
The view from our seats
After the game was crazy. We weren’t really sure how to get to the metro since we had run after the girls; so we just followed the masses assuming they were going to the same destination haha. We were right. Everyone was walking down the middle of the street, which was kinda crazy because there were still cars and mopeds trying to drive. Why you would attempt to drive after a game in that area beats me! But we made it to the metro stop – along with the rest of the city. We had to cram our way through the station and onto the trains, but we made it home! It was quite the experience!
Wednesday morning we woke up to rainy weather. We were determined to not let it get us down so we walked to our first destination: Sagrada Familia by Gaudi. We walked by two of his houses, Casa Batllo and Casa Mila, along the way. Of course after Casa Mila while we headed to the church it started raining harder and harder, but we kept on trekking along. We made it to Sagrada Familia, and words can’t describe this place… pictures don’t even do it justice. It was the weirdest, most incredible place I’ve ever been. I don’t know what Gaudi was thinking when he was designing, but he did some pretty crazy things! In the church there was a museum that explained his way of thinking a little bit, but I don’t think there will ever be a good enough explanation for it. Haha.
Area above the altar
After the church, we decided to head to a place I had read about called El Poble. It was a place built for the 1929 exhibition in Barcelona, and it was supposed to be torn down after. But because it was one of the most popular destinations during the exhibition they left it up. They have since turned it into a place full of artisan shops and restaurants. There were ceramic, leather, glass making, jewelry making, textile making shops and so much other stuff. We spent a few hours there just wandering through the stores. It was so cool to see all the local artisans working in their shops and seeing what they were producing. We stopped for lunch while we were there… I consumed a fried calamari sandwich… yep, that’s right – fried squid. It was pretty delicious too if I do say so myself! Never thought I would enjoy such a thing, but it was good! Luckily after lunch the rain slowed down so the day wasn’t so soggy!
A man making a glass rooster
We were craving something sweet after lunch so we went to a chocolate store we passed while we were walking around. They had so much chocolate – and samples! – so we got some. I had a piece that was shaped like a coffee cup and it tasted just like coffee. It was soooo good! I also had a dark chocolate truffle – also delicious. Some of the best chocolate ever!
Coffee flavored chocolate :)
After El Poble we headed back to La Ramblas and the market there. I had some more juice – two more – kiwi mango and pineapple strawberry. It was so good. I feel like everything here is so delicious! We made our way down the road and to our next stop – free dinner with the card we got from the hostel. It was a simple pasta with meat sauce, but it was free so I can’t complain. With dinner I tried the local beer Estrella. It was pretty good; more of a sweet beer. If you’re ever in Barcelona I recommend you try it!
Before we headed back to the hostel we stopped to see Torre Agbar. It is a pretty interesting architectural design to say the least. It’s cool because it lights up at night, but I don’t think I would ever design something like that. But we saw it and headed back to the hostel – with a stop at the grocery store for some sweets. I found double stuff oreos… oh the small things in life :)
Torre Agbar
Thursday morning we rose early to get a jump on our last day. We made our way to our first destination: the Picasso museum. On our way there we stopped at the market, again, for a pastry and juice. This time I had Pineapple Mango… just as good as all the others! We continued our way to the museum, and of course as we were waiting in line it started to rain again. I shielded myself as much as possible, but we got in pretty fast and managed to dodge some of it. The museum was pretty cool; it walked you through his whole life. Surprisingly, Picasso is a really good artist; by that I mean he can draw normal things haha. I still won’t ever understand how he thinks the way he does. We spent a while walking through the museum, and by the time we left the rain had let up and the clouds started to break!
-no pictures - not allowed at the picasso museum :(
We went over to see the cathedral, which was pretty, but there was so much construction going on it was hard to really see it all. Outside the cathedral there was a market set up – it kind of reminded me of a garage sale because it was just a bunch of people selling odds and ends. But there were some cool stands with old records and music. It was pretty interesting. As we started walking towards the beach we came across another market similar to the one on La Ramblas. It was inside with all the separate vendors set up. These little markets are pretty cool; they all have their own character. I wish we had stuff like this at home.
We left the market and headed to the beach. The sun started to poke out just in time! We walked to the port and sat by the water for a while soaking up the sun. It was beautiful outside today! So much better than the rain yesterday! After our beach adventures we wanted to hit up a restaurant to grab some more authentic food. We stopped at a restaurant for Paellas. It’s a rice dish and ours came with chicken, clams, another type of shell fish, shrimp and peppers. It was pretty dang good. I love some good seafood! We continued up the road after lunch to our final destination – the Arch of Triumph. This one was pretty cool, very different from any of the other ones we have seen because it was made of brick. There was a nice little park space right behind it so we decided to sit down and people watch and soak up some more sun while we had the chance.
Triumphal Arch
On the walk back to the hostel we were in the mood for something sweet… so we stopped at an awesome bread shop, and I got a croissant. This wasn’t just any croissant though; it was one filled with chocolate and with chocolate sprinkles on top! It hit the spot! We walked the calories off and headed back to the hostel where we got ready for our overnight train ride to Madrid.
Before loading the train, I headed to buy something from Barcelona because I hadn’t gotten anything from Paris, so I thought I deserved a little gift haha. I got a Barcelona Messi jersey since we had gone to a game, thought it would be a good reminder – especially since he broke the record for the most goals while we were there with 232! And then of course he scored a couple more after that… no big deal.
We headed back to get to the train station; we ended up getting there a couple hours early because we were worried about getting our train tickets. But it ended up being a lot easier than we expected. So then we just sat in the station and people watched… and ate cheap McDonalds for dinner :) We loaded the train – seats were more comfortable than I expected which was good since we were going to be spending the next 9 hours there sleeping. I had a guy come sit by me, he wasn’t supposed to be there but his friend was in the same car so he moved back there. He tried talking to me, and didn’t seem to get the hint when I told him I didn’t understand his Spanish and put my headphones back in haha. I fell asleep and when I woke up he was gone and an older lady was there… hmmm. She tried to talk to me in Spanish too, but I had to inform her too that I in fact didn’t understand… do I look spanish? Haha
Gummy candies at the market - it was so colorful!

Goodbye Italy - Hello Paris!

After our tour we headed back to the hotel, loaded a bus and went to the airport. Our plane ride was only about an hour and a half and we made it to Paris… well… the outskirts of Paris. We had to take another bus to the city center which was another hour+ but I can’t complain – I am in Paris! We made it to the city, figured out the metro stop and headed to our hostel. The hostel was really nice – we’ve really lucked out with them! We got settled in and went out on a search to find food, and we stumbled upon a crepe restaurant. Hey, when in Paris right? We chowed down on our crepes and then made our way up to sacre coure (275 steps later) to see it at night. We were pretty tired from our travels so we headed back to get some sleep and prepare for our long day ahead.
Sacre Couer at night

Morning came and we arose early – well, 8 am. We headed out and began our day full of walking. We wandered the streets and hit a bunch of smaller tourist stops like Mary Magdalene, the Pantheon, the Opera house and a few churches.  Since the day was cloudy and a little rainy, we decided to spend it doing the inside things. So we went to the Louvre… biggest… museum… ever. It was a bit overwhelming; so much to see, and since we had other things on our list, we tried to just hit the main points- ya know like Mona Lisa… no big deal. After the Louvre, the next big stop was Notre Dame. Of course on the walk there we had to stop for another crepe for a snack – my choice: Nutella and Banana. Mmmmmm… Don’t judge.
The Louvre
We made it to Notre Dame, and I know I keep saying how this church was great and that church was great, but wow is all I have to say about this. It was absolutely amazing; words can’t describe what this place is like. There were so many people, which usually ruins an experience, but this was still pretty amazing. There were a ton of prayer candles, so I put in my offering and lit one for my grandma who is on her way to getting better. I spent a lot of time in the cathedral – the stained glass was unbelievable. It was a lot to take in at once.
Prayer Candle flame for Grandma

Notre Dame

After the time in the cathedral we made our way to find some more smaller stops, but then decided we wanted to hit Pompidou. This is the weirdest building, doesn’t fit in with Paris at all, but man is it cool! It’s an architectural wonder. All the structure and ductwork and pipes are exposed and are color coated - basically it's a building turned insidee out. It is an odd site to see, but it’s pretty cool. We made our way in – free of course because we’re students! – and walked through the modern art museum inside. I have to admit that modern art museums are more bearable for me for some reason. But by the end of it, our legs and feet were hurting! We had walked all over Paris and were ready to sit down and take a break. We decided to go grab dinner before heading back to the hostel; we found a place right next to the museum – Chouchou. I got duck for the first time in my life, and I will admit it was pretty darn good! For dessert I had an apple tart, and although it wasn’t like the tart we are used to, it was still pretty good. After we were full and even more sleepy, we headed back home – thank the lord for metros so we didn’t have to walk all the way back home. We got back and caught up on family and life a little bit and fell asleep… hard. What a great first day in Paris.
Pompidou Center

The next morning we awoke bright and early to make it to Versailles. We got on the metro and began our journey to the train to take us there. We made our transfer and got to the station… to find out the train was not running. The sign in French explaining what to do wasn’t very helpful, but after looking at it long enough we figured out what stops we needed to get to next. We got back on the metro and headed to the next station… to find the line we needed to get on shut down for the day. This wasn’t our day! So we asked the information desk what to do next and he guided us to the station we needed to go to. We finally got there and searched high and low for our train. When we thought we finally had it figured out, we went to go buy our tickets… to find out Katie had been pick pocketed… Lost her money, cards, everything. We took this as a sign that we weren’t supposed to go to Versailles this time and went back to the hostel to take care of everything.
After a long afternoon of phone calls and reports, we finally made it out to do some more tourist stuff. The Arc de Triomph and Eiffel Tower were on our list. The Arch was cool, but the tower – of course that was the winner. There was only one lift working so the line was pretty long, but well worth the wait. We made our way through the line and up the lift to the very top level. I knew it was pretty tall, but being that high up was pretty incredible. We took a 360 degree view of the city and made our way back down to the next two floors. Being here was absolutely amazing – only been in my dreams. Now I can check it off the bucket list. :)
Eiffel Tower!

We decided to stick around and eat dinner there so we could see the tower lit up at night. We ate at a restaurant that had some of the best pizza ever; and we weren’t even in Italy! I got the Country pizza. It had bacon, onions, mushroom, and a fried egg on it. Talk about delicious! We finished just as it got dark so we went back to see the tower lit up, and then we made our way back home. We did some souvenir shopping, of course, and got a crepe – with nutella and bananas again! :) I’m telling you, you have to try it. After we got our fill in, we made our way to 10pm mass at Sacre Couer. It was absolutely amazing inside, and the service, although it was in French, was beautiful. By the end of it we were tired from the long day and made our way back to pack and get some sleep for our next big adventure – travelling to Barcelona.
Eiffel Tower shining bright

Sunday, March 25, 2012

A little bit of Vicenza... A lot of Venice

We rolled into Vicenza, and came to our hotel… which we found out was 5km outside of the city center. Of course no one wanted to walk that far to see the city, so our bus driver was nice enough to drive us there so we could explore. We didn’t really know what was in Vicenza besides some works by Andrea Palladio. So we just walked around to find these. We saw the duomo and the basilica (which has since been turned into a shopping center… kind of disappointing…) We wandered some more and came across a big open park – with a huge muskrat. We came across a tree with a bunch of roosters in it; so naturally Blake decided to try to hold a conversation with them. He would call to them, and every time they would answer back. It was pretty comical. We made it through the park and decided to try to find dinner… which was more challenging than we thought it would be. But we did come across a restaurant that had…decent food. Not the best I’ve had, but not too bad. We made it back to the hotel, worn out from the long day, ready for bed.
Tower by the Basilica

Morning came and we were given a big ol’ breakfast by the hotel – so many options! We loaded the bus again to head to our first stop of the day Villa Rotunda. We had studied this in history as well as in some studio classes so seeing it first hand was pretty awesome. It is very symmetrical, but it has a certain beauty about it… it’s hard to explain. But I’ll just say all famous architects after Palladio studied this as well as many of his other works.
Villa Rotunda
On the way to Venice we made one more stop at a cemetery designed by Scarpa. I will say that I have no idea what goes through that man’s head when he designs because I can’t explain a single thing he does, but it was a beautiful place. As weird as it may sound because it was a cemetery, I could have spent hours there. It had a certain personality about it that I really enjoyed. But, we were all eager to get to Venice, so back on the bus we went!

About an hour later we rolled into Venice. This has been the one trip I’ve really been looking forward to since we got to Italy. When I think of Italy, I think Venice is what pops into my head: the buildings on the water, the bridges, the canals. I was so excited to spend the next three days here! I love water… so that may have something to do with it too. Marco met us at the hotel and walked us around for a little while to get us acclimated to the city a little bit. There are so many shops that sell masks and glass from the glass blowing factory… yay souvenirs!
The first day with Marco we went to Piazza San Marco. This is the piazza where there are no Venetians because it is packed with tourists! Haha. He took us into Doge’s Palace – it was pretty incredible. I’m not one for museums, but when I can appreciate the building I can handle it. We made it through the palace and then were able to go up to the top of the tower. When we got up there we had a 360 degree view of the city… Venice is gorgeous – love this city. After the tour we took the ferry to Murano – the island with all the glass blowing. We went to the museum and saw some pretty amazing works. I found myself asking if what I was looking at was really glass. We of course did some shopping around after that to get some one-of-a-kind glass souvenirs. It was a pretty cool little place.
View from the bell tower

Murano Island!

We made our way back to the hotel to get ready for dinner –Hard Rock Café! Yes, that’s right, we went big. I may have spent 15 euro on BBQ, but it was definitely worth it. Best American meal I’ve had since we got here. Can’t put a price on good ol’ home cookin! After dinner we headed out to celebrate Anne’s birthday and met up with our friends from Castiglion. It was a pretty good night!
BBQ Dinner!
The next day we got up and got all packed for our spring break travels. We left the hotel for our last trip with Marco which consisted of a walk around the city and St. John/St. Paul’s Church. The walk was amazing, of course, because it’s Venice. I can’t get over how beautiful it is. And the church was pretty spectacular too. It doesn’t matter how many we go in, each one has its own thing that makes it so beautiful.
Inside the church

Next stop... Paris!

First Stop... Verona!

Once we made it to Verona and checked in – our hotel was rainbow colored of course – we started our exploration. We wandered the streets and grabbed some food at the supermarket for a picnic in the park outside the arena. My first impression of Verona was that it was a very beautiful city. Definitely worth a stop if you ever travel to Italy. After our lunch we walked down the main pedestrian shopping street. It was pretty cool, a lot of their pathways are made of marble… yes, Italians live the high life.
Our hotel - see? rainbow...

We came across a church, San Anastasia, and were attracted to the outside so we decided to make our way in. We bought a pass to get into the four main churches in Verona so we could see it all. The inside was amazing; it was a very long church, and I couldn’t get over the organ pipes. It was so decorated… absolutely beautiful. After this we made it to the next church – the Duomo of course! This was also a very breathtaking church. The area that contained the altar was incredible. All the ornament inside… words and pictures can’t even begin to describe the atmosphere of these places!
San Anastasia
After the churches, we made our way to the Roman Amphitheater. The amphitheater itself was still in pretty good shape, which still gets me – how did they do it?! From the hill it was on, you could oversee the whole city. We saw a huge church while we were up here and decided to leave to go see what it was all about before we had to go back to dinner. We walked to the church and it was free to get in… we should have known it wasn’t going to be as good based on this fact. It was pretty, but nothing compared to what we had already seen. Who would have thought the biggest church wasn’t the most beautiful? We left and were a little upset because we gave up our perfect location to watch the sunset to see a so-so church. :( We walked along the river and made it back to the hotel to have a nice dinner of pasta with ragu, beef and potatoes, and a yummy ice cream for dessert!
Roman Amphitheater
Tuesday we spent another day in Verona – first stop was Castle Vecchio. It used to be a castle, got destroyed and then the interior was redesigned by Carlos Scarpa to be a museum for the castle. Now I’m not a huge fan of museums… but the building was pretty cool! Haha. We made our way through and had a little time to spare; so of course we left and made our way to another church on our checklist, San Zeno. We got to the piazza the church was in and we were surprised by the façade. They were doing construction on it so it was covered by a sheet that had a picture of the façade on it… hmm. Although the exterior was a little surprising, the inside was beautiful. It had two levels you could see when you walk in. From the nave you could see the crypt down the stairs and the altar up the stairs.
Clock Tower at the castle

At San Zeno

We made our way back to the castle to catch up with the group and head to the arena. The arena is basically a small version of the Colleseum that is more intact. We just relaxed in here for a while and soaked up some rays. I walked around the top level of it to overlook the whole city; it was a pretty awesome destination. After the arena, we made our way to the final church on our list – San Fermo. Just like the others, it was beautiful. The ceiling on this one is what set it apart from the rest though. I couldn’t believe what I saw; nor could I imagine how this was constructed. It was amazing.

San Fermo

Enough of the churches – we were on a mission to find Juliet’s house… you know? Like in the movie Letters to Juliet! It was quite the search, but we finally found it. The walls where the letters used to be put is now just for graffiti where you are supposed to write you and your lovers name. It was so colorful! We saw the balcony, and of course for luck touched to breast of Juliet.
The graffiti leading to Juliet's balcony
After all this we were hungry! We came across this pizza place that sold pizza by the slice, but this wasn’t any ordinary pizza – it was brick oven pizza! It was one of the best pizzas I’ve had since I’ve been here. I had some with tomatoes and mozzarella and some with eggplant. You turn your nose up, but it’s actually pretty darn good! For dessert we grabbed some gelato and then loaded the bus to head to our next destination – Vicenza.