Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Italy! (and Amsterdam)

I flew through Amsterdam on my way to Italy, so I could spend some time there without making a separate trip later. Which wouldn't have happened. And because I haven't spent enough time in that airport (my host dad joked that I was at the point where I could use "du" there - the informal form of "you".


cute, the tulips think it's spring even though it's freezing
It was freezing and windy, but I walked to Vondelpark and walked around the outer loop. I walked back through the Leidesplein area, and through the flower market where there weren't any flowers yet. I tried to meet Meagan at the train station because she had come on a later flight, but she was on the wrong train and got there late and we didn't have phones.
canal tour
So after a while I went on a canal tour, and then walked through the red light district. I also stopped in lots of cheese shops and ate all their samples as well as what could be argued as too many stroopwafels.


We didn't spend much time here at the beginning, but let's just say it didn't run smoothly. We had rented a car, but between my relative inexperience driving a standard, the fact that it was night and raining, and Milan being one of the worst places to drive in the world ever, it ended up being a disaster. We couldn't find our hotel or anywhere to park on the street near it, so we ended up at a parking garage. The man working there saved our lives. He spoke no English so we communicated through google translate on his laptop (thank goodness for wifi). It turns out our hotel didn't accept late check ins, even though we had to tell them what time we were coming when we made the reservation. So we ended up getting sent to another hotel and the man who saved our lives called us a taxi. It was the weirdest hotel room.
The next morning, we made lots of phone calls, and ended up taking the car back. We lost some money which was a little nauseating, but it ended up being the best decision we could have made. The people who recommended renting a car to drive around Italy were wrong. Don't do it...just don't. We finally made it to the train station and were on our way to Verona.


Juliette's house

letters to Juliette

It was late afternoon by the time we made it to our hotel, and I desperately needed to go for a run to regain some sanity and stop feeling like I needed to vomit. Meagan started looking for lodgings in our next location while I was fighting the sunset before I got lost in the very confusing streets. We went to the grocery store, which is a favorite activity for both of us, but it was a little disappointing in that it wasn't really very different from German stores. We bought ourselves a feast of tomatoes, mozzarella, pesto, antipasta, plenty of wine and a corkscrew, and these little lemon sorbet things that caught our eye in the checkout line before we realized what they were and that we didn't have a freezer so we couldn't eat them.

Romeo's house

The next morning (Tuesday), we went into the main square in Verona and were able to get a map at the Tourist Office and have them circle things we should see. We made our way through the pedestrian area to Juliette's house, through the old city and into the cathedral, before crossing the river and climbing up to the old city wall to get a view of the city. We ate delicious pizza things on the way back,  got our luggage from the hotel, and then met Meagan's friend Ilaria. They were in a German course together in Hannover before Ilaria had to go back to Italy. We ate our first gelato of the trip before her dad picked us up and took us back to their house, which was about 40km away, in a tiny village called Bezzetti.

It was nice to be out of a city for a bit, and I went on a run on the roads and through the fields, and then got locked out of the house. We ate breakfast and walked to a nearby village, then came back and packed and made spaghetti. Ilaria's mom came back and drove us to Lake Garda. We had a little while there before our train left for Florence. We said goodbye to Ilaria, then didn't forget to validate our tickets before getting on the train.

Lake Garda


morning run

We finally figured out how to get out of the train station and made our way to our hostel in Florence - PLUS Hostel, I would definitely recommend it and they have other locations in Italy and a few other countries. The people in our room were nice, which is always good.

Mr. David

In the morning, I ran through the main part of town across the river, and then on the way back climbed up the hillside and got a view of the city. It's fun to see cities as they're waking up, when all the vendors are just starting to set up their stalls and the hoards of tourists haven't been released yet. Most of the people I saw were other runners. Meagan met her friend Parker at the train station and we got back to the room at the same time. We made our way into the town for a walking tour, which was great. It was only us and a family of 3 from New York, who were a little pretentious but our tour guide was really good and we couldn't have done all that on our own. Plus there was free homemade gelato, including the original flavor which was invented there. 

We ate lunch at Gusta's, and I had the Gusta pizza which was delicious with arugula and tomatoes and parmesan. Then we went to Vivoli's for gelato, which is like the original or something but anyways it's famous. I had coffee mousse (SO GOOD), pear caramel, and dark chocolate hazelnut. We wandered around a bit and people watched, then ate aperitivo's at a bar for dinner. It's the best - you order a drink for €5, then get a whole bunch of snacks from the buffet - pizza, baguettes and spreads, olives, walnuts,.... 


Cinque Terre:

Friday morning, we packed up early and caught a train to La Spezia. A guy got on in Pisa and sat with us, and noticed my Beloit College T-shirt because I was dressed to go hiking and said his sister went there! He was heading to the same place with us so we spent the day together. Our hostel was in Riomaggiore, the first of the 5 villages that make up Cinque Terre. We shared it with some architecture students studying abroad in Italy, and it was a strange room. But we had a fridge and freezer so we could finally eat our lemon sorbet!

We were told all the trails along the coast between the villages were closed because of a landslide in the fall, which was disappointing, but we were planning to go to the next village and hike up the mountains and maybe see if we could find where all the olive trees and wine were. We met a family on the platform that said that they had hiked on the closed trails between Vernazza and Monterosso, and that it was doable. So that's what we did, and it was so nice. It was beautiful there - I would definitely go back and do more hiking! We were lucky it didn't rain on us, but the clouds were sitting low and it was pretty grey. It was still a great day though. We got to the train station and wanted to go back and stop at one of the other villages on the way, but the trains kept getting delayed and then cancelled. We finally found out someone had jumped on the tracks, which was sad and made us feel bad for getting upset that it took us 4 hours for a 10 minute trip. We got gelato while we waited, and then made it back. We decided to have one nice dinner at a restaurant, then bought some (local, of course) wine at a shop and went down to the beach. I think this was my favorite place we went.

Saturday we wanted to get out early and see the other towns we hadn't been too, but it was raining. The path to the next town from where we were staying wasn't even possible to sneak onto, and the trains barely ran at all. We ended up being able to go to Corniglia, which is the only village on a cliff and not at sea level, for about 10 minutes. Our train ended up being delayed, and we were really worried we might not make it back to Milan very soon or without paying lots of money, but luckily we were able to figure out another way to meet up with it somewhere else.

Milan take 2:

After we found our hotel, the rain finally let up a bit and we walked down to the Duomo, but they were about to close so we couldn't go in, and walked through the Brera gallery. I spun on the bull's balls, which is apparently good luck. We were tired and hungry so we just went to the grocery store for snacks (and wine...), then found a place nearby for apperitivos. We were craving gelato, but of course couldn't find anything open. Thanks a lot, Italy.
Duomo (look! a ray of sun! amazing)

Sunday morning we checked out and lugged all our stuff back down to the main square to find the bus to go to the airport. It was so confusing and everyone told us different things. But we made it. Even though we had a long layover in Amsterdam again, we were tired so Meagan and I just ate a lot of chocolate and hung out and used up all the free internet. I got back around midnight.

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