Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Last day in Venice and arrival in Perugia

During our last day in Venice Nicole and I started to get the hang of how to get around the city, which on the first day was really difficult because the street signs are not helpful at all since many of them are dead ends, are extremely short, very windy, and for all thes reasons you will probbaly never really know what street you are on in Venice and, even if you do, you probably wont ever find it again. Nicole and I went shopping and came across the Basilica di San Marco while we were trying to get back to the hostel. Both of us were really glad we stumbled upon it because it is really amazing, although the line was really long and neither of us went in it.

Nicole left this morning and I got very sad as I watched the train pull away. It was a lonely feeling to be by myself in Venice with 5 hours to kill before my train was supposed to leave. I found a completely new area that Nicole and I hadnt visited. There wasnt much in the area and I had to look hard for a museum, but I finally came across one. I went into the Scuola di San Rocco and the museum of Leonardo Da Vinci inventions. The first had beautiful and ornate artwork, including originals by Titian and Tintoretto that were beautiful, but would probably have been more interesting if the brochure had explained the stories behind the paintings a bit. The Leonardo museum was small but had a cool concept: people had taken the sketches in Da Vincis notebooks of inventions and actually made them so that you could see what they loooked like in real life. Two or 3 of the inventions wouldnt ever actually work, which I thought was interesting. But he really was a Renaissance man, and it was easier to understand his genius when it was in 3D.

I got to Perugia and an English speaking couple approached me and offered to help. They were really nice but they didnt realize that their reassurances that they heard tons of people speaking English in the city wasnt what I wanted to hear. I didnt want to be rude and tell them that I didnt want to speak English, so I let them show me to the center of the city, which was very nice of them since this city is very confusing. I managed to find my way to the University for foreigners and the hostel, but on my way back from the University I must have taken a wrong turn and now am lost. I spotted this internet cafe and decided to stop in, use the computers, and ask directions.

I have been taking a lot of photos and wil try to post some soon. Tomorrow I will take a placement exam, which I am really nervous about, and I will have to find an apartment because I only made hostel reservations for one night, but the hostel doesnt seem full so I can stay tomorrow if I have to. Perugia is beautiful and as soon as I have a home and learn to navigate my way around I think everything will go smoothly.
Me by the gondolas

On a bridge over the canale grande

Me in front of the Basilica di San Marco, which Nicole and I found by accident

Monday, June 27, 2011

Milan and Venice

Nicole and I arrived in Milan in the late afternoon and started the day off by finding the famous Scala opera house, which we tried to find a show for but none were playing that night unfortunately. We also saw and went into the Duomo, where mass was taking place but we were still able to appreciate the artifacts and stained glass. It was beautiful inside and the 3rd largest cathedral in the world. Another interesting fact is that it took nearly 500 yrs to build: it was started because someone wanted to please the Gods to get a male heir and was finished under orders by Napoleon.

In Milan I ordered a classic Milan dish: osso buco alla Milanese and was too scared to try the bone marrow but it was delicious. We also met a friendly Irishman who was working on his masters and glad to find some english-speaking company. He showed us around a bit which was nice of him.

This is an example of one of Milans fancy shopping streets

We also took a tour of the famous shopping district, where some streets were quite literally made of marble and beautiful tile work. We even bought some clothes, though in the fashion district rather than the high fashion district. We thought  the regular fashion district was also quite nice and much more affordable. It is true what they say about Milan: Italians there are dressed impeccably. They all look like a million bucks.

Me in front of Milans Duomo

In Venice yesterday we met up with some of Nicoles family and they gave us a place to stay for the night, which was great. They were well-traveled and had some good stories to tell and their kids were very sweet. Nicoles Aunt Jess showed us how to bargain and Tim showed us how to get around.

Today Nicole and I went on a kayak trip through the canals of Venice. quite honestly we thought it was all a hoax for a minute when we saw how deserted teh island was, but eventually found the place and set off for our tour. I really enjoyed the sit-in type of kayak and liked it far better than the sit on top kind that I have used in the past. Some of the canals were very busy, like Canale Grande with its vaportettos speeding by, but others were narrow and serene. In some we had to pull aside to let boats and gondolas pass, and in one we had to paddle with our hands because the passage was too narrow for paddles. It was amazing to see the city from water level. We got to see so much more than we would have on foot and everything looked so different. We saw the old bricks under the bridges, which are as much works of art as they are functional, and we got to see piazzas and monuments and learn about one of 3 remaining gondola shops that still make gondolas by hand in the traditional manner with no 2 pieces symmetrical,all made by hand. I dont think the shop could have been approached on foot, so that was really unique and fascinating to see how the boats were being made.

We have met some fascinating and friendly Italians. Our waiter in Milan serenaded us and tonight our waiter decided to become Nicoles new boyfriend after asking us whether we had boyfriends. He, like everyone else, thought she was a real Italian by appearance, and he asked if I had Irish ancestry. I do have a healthy tan by now, but I guess Ill never quite blend in. I think it is funny how many people think Nicole is the real Italian since she does have Italian ancestry, but Im the one who loves languages.

Nicole and I in Venice

Sorry for the long pause between posts. I didnt have a computer for a few days. Even now Im breaking hostel rules by using this one: its free but im not supposed to use it past 1130. But one more thing: I thought gelato was going to be underwhelming, but it is delicious! I had 2 gelatos today, thats how great they are.


Friday, June 24, 2011


Nicole and I outside of the Musegg Wall I believe it was called in Luzern, which we stumbled upon when trying to find our hostel

Sorry for the short post last time. The hostel gave me two internet tokens worth less than 20 minutes total and the directions to everything was in German so I had difficulty figuring out how to use AOL to talk to my potential landlord in Perugia and then update my blog. I didnt even notice the zs in all of my words until now. The z and the y are switched on Swiss keyboards for some reason so I am just not used to it.

Interlaken was really fun and I wish I had had more time to talk about it. In Luzern yesterday Nicole and I went to a modern art museum which was kind of out there but which we ended up spending an hour and a half at and I ended up really enjoying. We walked into one room with paintings that seriously just looked like white canvases, which was something we had been joking about before we went to the museum as the stereotypical modern art that anyone could do. As it turned out the room with the white canvases turned out to be my favorite because if you looked at the painting you could actually see some amazing scenery and Nicole and I were both impressed that the artist could do that. It sounds crazy, but maybe you just have to see it to understand it.

I have been eating a lot of Swiss chocolate and have been sure to buy at least one bar a day. My favorite was Ragusa dark chocolate with macadamia nuts in it because the inside tasted fudgy and delicious. Nicole and I also went to an authentic Fondue restauarant and had cheese fondue, which I was surprised to find out had white wine in the ingredients, but was very good and was nice for a surprisingly cold day.

Both days in Luzern have been pretty cold, today and zesterday I wore long sleeves and capris and brought a raincoat with me everywhere and was chilly if anything. Nicole and I went on a boat ride across lake Luzern to Mount Rigi I believe and took the worlds steepest cog wheel train to the top. It was disappointingly cloudy but was still cool to appreciate just how high we were up since we were literally in a cloud. We took a gondola ride a little bit down the mountain, which was below the cloud line and could see a lot from there.

At the top of Mount Pilatus (not Rigi as I mentioned earlier)

I searched very hard in every tacky Swiss souvenir shop and in regular stores (so to speak) to buy something here but did not succeed in finding anything that either wasnt junk or didnt feel inappropriate to buy in the summer time. I saw a sweater that if I have time I may go back to get, but it feels silly to buy a sweater in the summer that isnt even on sale. Hopefully Italy will have better souvenirs and will be a little warmer than Switzerland. I have really enjoyed Switzerland though and am sad to leave. It is picturesque to be by a lake filled with Swans with mountains in the backdrop. Today there was even a Swiss plane show over the lake and 8 or so planes did loops and dives in synch.
The swans here are not shy.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011


Interlaken has been great. The hostel is clean and the town is really cute. On the first day Nicole and I hiked up Harder Kulm. Today we went canyoning, which was a really cool experience. We got to slide down natural water slides cut into the rocks by water, jump off of rock cliffs, repel, and zip line. The water was freezing and so we all wore wet suits and 2 jackets over the wetsuits. It was beautiful in the canyon and it is too bad I have no pictures, but for anyone who is curious try on Youtube searching Grimsel canyoning to get an idea of what I did. It was possibile to buy a video but I decided I didnt think I would ever watch it. We also went biking along lake Thunersee and found a park where Nicole went swimming in the freezing cold water and the locals clapped for her because she was so brave. I stayed on dry land but got plenty of photos, one of which captures a sailboat surrounded by a halo of crepuscular rays, which is my favorite photo I have taken so far. We also found some ruins by the lake and biked along a tree lined river, which was my favorite part of Interlaken. Unfortunately, photos do not do this place justice, especially photos of the water. The water is amayingly clear and bright but also has a milky, almost opaque quality. nicole says she heard it is because of the glacier runoff that the water is so clear.

Nicole and I in a pretty Interlaken field

The view from Harder Kulm

Me standing about half way up the climb

Monday, June 20, 2011

Arrival in Zurich

My flight took off yesterday evening at 6:25 PM and landed at about 7:30, which felt to me like 1:30 in the morning. I was one of the first people to board the plane, and so was the man who sat next to me. He was thin, looked about 30 years older than me, and seemed to speak English well but we didn't talk much. The flight itself was not bad considering: they showed a movie and served dinner. I waited for the movie to end at about 9:30 and tried to sleep. I was surprised that they did not turn off the lights until around 11. Luckily I had a sleeping mask and ear plugs (there was a baby three rows up from me), but it was so uncomfortable trying to sleep upright that I didn't get much sleep anyway.

My first impression when we were descending was that area surrounding the Zurich airport is rural, not suburban, despite the fact that the airport is not far outside of the city. I laughed when I saw on the Zurich airport website shortly before leaving that the airport offers tours of the "picturesque airport property" that last an hour and a half and that cost 8 Swiss Francs, but now I see that the countryside is actually very beautiful, and a tour might be worth the 8 francs on a long lay-over. The airport was extremely modern and clean inside, and it was nearly empty. I thought customs might take an hour or more but it took 2 minutes or less. I wandered around the airport to see what was there and then struggled with the primarily German-language train ticket machine. I was fairly certain when I got on the train at the airport that it was the right one, and luckily I made it to the Zurich main station without any problems.
 A train passing by the National Museum of Switzerland in Zurich, the first photo I took

Right outside of the main station was the Swiss National Museum, which I believe is closed on Monday, but which I took a picture of. I also wandered down Bahnhoff Street to look at the shops and then down to the river, where I took some pictures. I was supposed to take the tram to Jennifer's house, but since I had a map with me and it wasn't very far I decided to walk. I took some photos along the way since the buildings are all so quaint and decorative and even the sidewalks are fancy and clean with cobblestone borders.

Zurich is located along a beautiful lake

My first impression of Switzerland is that everything seems orderly, clean, efficient, and designed with attention to the last detail. I noticed a lot of smaller-size cars and bikers, and there were a lot of places where you could pick up healthy fast food like apples and cherries.

Being in a German-speaking city by myself for the first few hours was a little overwhelming, especially when I was trying to buy my train ticket, use the ATMs, and navigate the tram network. I'm really glad that Nicole and I will be traveling together soon. I think we are going to have a lot of fun.

I am glad to have a chance to use the computer. The Crowne's have been very hospitable and I feel clean and relaxed since I just took a shower. I am looking forward to seeing the city more later today and wish I had more time to see everything there is to do here, but am also excited to see Interlaken tomorrow.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Don't Rain On My Parade

I'm packed and ready to go. My mom and I will leave at 10:30 for a 2:30 flight out of Norfolk. I have a connection that leaves from JFK at around 6:30. I will arrive in Switzerland at around 8:00 AM their time. It's a long day of travelling, but it will be worth it.

I put together a 10-day weather forecast for my trip in the cities I will be visiting:

I'm hoping it won't be too rainy in Switzerland Tuesday through Friday, but on the bright side Italy should be sunny for our entire stay.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011


I didn't have to search far to find pasta tonight: I made some by hand in my kitchen in Virginia. I made the dough from scratch, rolled it through a hand-crank pasta machine, and put it on a pasta rack to dry. It was delicious!

I am excited for the trip but still need to take care of a long list of things before I leave. To mention a few I still have to notify credit card companies I am leaving the country, pack my backpack, and (most importantly) redeem my coupon for a free pastry at Panera, which expires while I am away.

Thursday, June 9, 2011


Welcome to my blog! This is where I plan to post stories, memories, and photos from my trip to Europe that begins in just 10 days. My plane departs on June 19th and will arrive in Switzerland on the morning of the 20th. Once there, my friend Nicole and I will backpack together for ten days, visiting Zurich, Interlaken, Luzern, Milan, and Venice by train before we split up. Nicole will head back to the US and I will stay for a four week study abroad course.

So far a lot of planning has gone into the trip. The first step for me was finding a study abroad program that looked like it was worth my summer savings. The next step was making flight reservations, which I booked in March. In mid-May Nicole and I chose the places we wanted to visit, used to get our tickets and booked hostels. Since then I have bought a good pair of walking shoes, a sturdy travel pack, and am waiting for my travel insurance card to arrive. It all sounds simple, but each step took hours of planning and research to finalize the best itinerary and to get the best deals along the way.

I have not thought much yet about what it will actually be like once I am abroad, but I expect the trip to be eye opening, amazing, frustrating (at times), and hopefully the experience of a lifetime. I am excited to leave the country for the first time and, after garnering all the travel wisdom I can from books and blogs, feel ready to test my independence and street smarts. It's not easy to travel on a student's budget, but my friend Nicole and I are going to do just that. Hopefully this blog can serve as a guide for students interested in taking a similar trip.

More posts to follow,