Tag Archives: hostel

A Tuscan Weekend

Okay, I have waited way too long to post this, but here I am, sitting in Paris, blogging when I should be researching. Prepare yourself for lots of photos.

Damon and I got up before the sun on a Saturday to catch a train to Florence. This was my fourth trip to the beautiful city, which is a welcome change of pace from Rome. We started out the trip with the inevitable climb up Brunelleschi’s dome. How can you visit Florence without it? So, four-hundred and sixty-three steps later and we were on top of the world.

Damon and I on top of Brunelleschi's Dome in Florence

After our visit to the Duomo, we hadn’t quite had enough of churches, so I took Damon to Orsanmichele. This is hands down my favorite church in Florence. It looks nothing like any other church. It’s a big brick square with fourteen niches around the outside. The different guilds in Florence commissioned artists to decorate each of the niches. Damon and I had fun trying to guess which niche went with which guild. Some of them were pretty hard to figure out. Click on the link above to look at all the individual niches. Afterwards we wandered down to Piazza della Signoria and ate some lunch. On our way to check in to our teeny, tiny hostel we happened upon a miniature Florentine foods festival. There were vendors selling wine, cheese, olive oil, biscotti and dried meats. In one corner an old couple was making these weird, nut-flour pancake/tortillas filled with ricotta cheese and Damon and I decided to try them. Not the best thing I’ve ever had, but it was certainly worth the experience.

Eating that nut-flour ricotta wrap.

After checking in to the hostel, we did a little obligatory shopping at the leather market outside of San Lorenzo church. Damon bought a hat, scarf and a tie and I bought nothing. Unbelievable. We did a little bit of wandering, crossed the Ponte Vecchio and ended up at Santa Croce where there just happened to be a chocolate festival. Oh darn. I ran around all the booths like a crazy person getting a sugar high just from looking at all of it. After scoping out all the goods, Damon and I settled on a certain vendor who sold some sugar-free delicacies he could enjoy. (He’s hypoglycemic.)

On a suggestion from my friend Candidate Steve Bunn, we had a before-dinner drink at Lochness Lounge before heading on to dinner. The end of our night was filled with multiple unsuccessful attempts to find a jazz cafe. Oh well.

The next morning we swung by Ponte Vecchio before we caught a train to a little coastal town in Tuscany called Viareggio. Viareggio is second only to Venice for its Carnevale festivities. As soon as we arrived we heard a guy singing this random song that went a little something like this: “La da da da da Carnevale! La da da da da Carnevale!”  Or that’s how Damon remembers it, anyway.

After lunch we paid our 15 euro to get into the parade area and I was completely blown away. In all honesty, I was a little tipsy and I think that helped, but this was the most impressive parade I have ever seen. The floats were beautiful. Everyone, absolutely everyone was dressed up. Damon and I had bought masks just before leaving Venice. Here’s a photo of our Carnevale costumes:

Damon and I in our Carnevale Masks

The floats were absolutely breath-taking. They were gigantic and had all these moving parts. Damon and I were surprised to find that many of the floats had political or social messages. For example, this one is about budget cuts to education:

Edward Scissorhands Float

This one was about violence towards women:

Scary Warewolf Float

And last but not least, this one was about Michael Jackson dying. Notice the people dressed in skeleton costumes… There were also people dancing on the float who were dressed like Michael Jackson. In fact, the one wearing a fedora pointed out Damon in the crowd, who was also wearing a fedora. It was very exciting for Damon and it seemed to be pretty exciting for the dude on the float, too.

MJ Float

And then there was this one, which I liked for no particular reason:

Another Float

As the parade was coming to a close and dusk was settling in, Damon and I decided to ride the ferris wheel. It was then that we realized just how close to the sea we were. So, naturally we made our way out to the beach. We ran around in the sand a little and Damon took his shoes off, stood in the freezing water and yelled thank you to his family and friends. It was the perfect way to end the perfect day.

Damon and I on the Beach

We took the last train back to Rome and I slept in Damon’s lap the whole way.

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Filed under Florence, Italy, Viareggio

463 steps and no wheelchair.

This past weekend Jenn, Joey, Patrick and I went to Florence. We hopped on the cheap train and hours later ended up in the city. On our walk from the train station to our hostel, we saw almost the entire city. We stayed at Soggiorno Pitti across from Palazzo Pitti, which is actually a fairly ugly palace concealing gardens that cost ten euro to go see. We did not see said gardens. On Friday evening Jenn, Joey and I met up with Patrick, who was staying at a different hostel, and we walked to the loggia outside of the Uffizi gallery and listened to a one-man-band play covers.

Titian's Venus of Urbino

Titian's Venus of Urbino

Saturday was a sight seeing marathon. Jenn and I woke up early and waited in line to visit the Uffizi gallery. It’s one of my favorite museums because it has one of my favorite paintings in it, Titian’s Venus of Urbino. For the same reason, it is also a very frustrating museum to go to. For some reason, tour guides like to think (and tell people) that the painting is a private portrait of a faithful wife made for a loving husband. Why can’t people accept that she’s a courtesan?! Argh.

Joey and I on the top of Brunelleschi's dome.

Joey and I on the top of Brunelleschi's dome.

After the gallery Jenn and I met up with Joey and hiked 463 steps to the top of Brunelleschi’s dome on Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, the main cathedral in Florence. Don’t worry, I made it with my ankle brace! The view from the top was amazing, but one thing made it very special. There was a big yellow butterfly pacing (if something that flies can pace) next to the dome. All three of us kept snapping shots back and forth, trying to get a photo of the butterfly. This is my best one.

Florentine Butterfly

Florentine Butterfly

After the dome, I went into the baptistery while Joey and Jenn waited outside. Even though I have been to Florence twice before, I have never been inside. The ceilings are decorated with gorgeous mosaic work. If you go, I highly recommend it!

Baptistry Ceiling

Baptistery Ceiling

Then somehow Jenn and I convinced Joey to go to the open air market. She bought scarves for herself and her mom and I bought leather gloves. YES! In the evening we tried to find an English bookstore for Joey, but ended up heading to Piazzale Michelangelo instead, another place I have never been to. Unfortunately, it involved another huge set of stairs. Fortunately, it offered a wonderful view of the entire city from a hill top. After that we all crashed. Jenn even fell asleep in her clothes!

Panorama from Piazzale Michelangelo

Panorama from Piazzale Michelangelo

On Sunday morning we had Italian coffee together at a bar, spent some time on Ponte Vecchio and did a lot of shopping before catching our (delayed) train back to Rome. It was a wonderful weekend for sure.

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Naxos/Paradise

We arrived in Naxos in the evening and made a plan to meet Diana at the town hall. Unfortunately, there are two town halls in Naxos and we both waited at a different one. When Diana “no-showed” Joey and I walked up to the famous Portara, which is the location of the ancient temple of Apollo. It was so beautiful in the sunset.

Joey at the Portara

Joey at the Portara

As we were walking back to our hotel, I heard the words “Hey guurrrlll” from a familiar voice. As luck would have it, Billy and Ben were staying at a hotel just down the street from ours. That night we all met up with Diana and her sister Livi and played backgammon and cards on the beach. At the end of the night, Joey and I went for a 4 am swim in the ocean and the water was still warm. The next day we spent a lot of time at the beach. In the evening Diana took us to the opening ceremony for the 31st International Guitar Competition of Naxos. Apparently the most famous duet in guitar right now opened the celebration with a concert. They were absolutely amazing; they played as if they were one. Afterwards we went out for a drink at the 4 Euro cocktail bar along the main drag in town.

Diana and I at St. George Beach

Diana and I at St. George Beach

The next day was the day of Diana’s performance in the guitar competition. Billy and Ben decided to drive us all there with the ATVs they had rented. Unfortunately there were six of us and only two ATVs. Since Diana had her guitar, her and Ben shared one ATV while the rest of us piled onto Billy’s. It was fun while it lasted, but we got caught and had to pay “damages”. We did, however, make it to the concert on time and Diana played beautifully. However, she didn’t make it into the finalists. As it turns out, the Greek student of the Greek competition coordinator one… and he wasn’t even good. Put two and two together.
Joey fell asleep before we went out that night. We met some Greeks, bought ice cream and went to bed. I said goodbye to Billy, Ben and Livi that night because they would be taking the ferry back to Athens the next day.

Joey and I on the ATV

Joey and I on the ATV

The next morning Joey and I were feeling adventurous so we rented an ATV and I drove us all the way down the island to Kastraki beach. We found a little cave there and also went swimming. Then we drove farther south and found the remains of a resort abandoned half way through construction. We wandered about the rubble and climbed down to the beach. We found a secluded grotto and had the beach to ourselves. Then we took our ATV to a tavern for lunch. Our final stop before home was Aghios Prekopios, apparently the best beach on the island. The sand was certainly better than St. George Beach near our hotel, but it was more crowded and I much prefer St. George. In the evening we met up with Diana and her parents and had drinks with them.
On our final day on Naxos we had to spend a lot of time at a café again due to the lack of luggage lockers and early check out times. Then we met up with Diana and went back to her hotel where her dad cut up watermelon that we ate on their balcony. Then we hopped in the beamer and drove Diana to the horse farm. Her parents scheduled a beach ride for her that evening. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to say goodbye because we had to leave for the ferry before Diana got back. We arrived in Athens late, late at night, slept in a hostel for just a few hours, then it was back on a plane headed to Tubingen.

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A Few Days in Berlin

After saying goodbye to Vienna, Sarah, Andrew and I hopped on the night train to Berlin. We arrived early in the morning and promptly found the longest route to our hostel. Sarah found the Generator hostel by typing in “fun, hip hostel in Berlin” into Google Search. Success! haha

First, we finished our final exams in the Burger King across the street, then we wandered around the city a bit. That night we went on the Generator’s pub crawl and met some people from the East Coast and also from Wales.

The next day we took the free walking tour of Berlin that Tomasina recommended. It was amazing. Our tour guide, Stewart, starts out by introducing himself as a finance major and a part-time rapper. Then he proceeded to rap about German history throughout our tour. We pretty much saw everything on this tour, starting with the building Michael Jackson dangled his baby out of (RIP). Stewart showed us the Brandenburg Gate, the Holocaust Memorial, the Bunker where Hitler committed suicide, the remains of the Berlin wall, Checkpoint Charlie, the square where the book burnings took place, some churches, everything. He also pointed out some famous artists’ graffiti. Berlin is well known for its street art and it is everywhere.

Checkpoint Charlie

Checkpoint Charlie

After the tour, Sarah and Andew headed back to the Generator and I pushed on to the Pergamon Museum. I really wanted to see this museum because it has a lot of the artwork taken from Greece, particularly the Pergamon Altar. However, I also saw Mesopotamian art that got me really interested in that area. I might have to make a trip there someday… I also found a soldier’s head from the Great Trajanic Frieze that might help me with my research later on. I was able to study the helmet and facial hair pretty closely! After the museum, I met up with Sarah and Andrew again and we had a wonderful dinner of Indian food. Once again, scarfing down ethnic foods that aren’t available in Italy.

Andrew and I at Neue Palais in Potsdam

Andrew and I at Neue Palais in Potsdam

The next day we took the train out to Potsdam, the palace complex that belonged to the Prussian kings. We started out at the tiniest palace and worked our way up to the largest Palace, Schloss Sanssouci. It was so hot that we were melting while we trekked around the complex. It’s not just a complex, it’s a city and it’s huge. I would almost say that from one end of the park to the other is not within walking distance (it’s at least questionable). Just as we were getting a bit delirious because of a shortage of water and a surplus of sweat, we found an oasis: a little stand selling ice cream, water, potato salad and souvenirs. That little boost of energy was enough to get us through the rest of the park. After five and a half hours of exploring, we hopped on the train back to Berlin and we all passed out, three dead-tired tourists on public transit. Then I grabbed my bag and headed to the airport.

Tübingen, here I come!

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Why I’m not allowed to choose the hostel anymore.

We had Friday off of school because of Arbeitstag (kind of like Labor Day), so Billy, Joseph, Andrea, Bobby, Andrew, Michelle, Amanda and I decided to wake up early and jump on the train. It was just after Sebastian’s birthday so we didn’t all feel our best, but we were able to sleep on the train. We arrived in Budapest around lunch time to find out that it was a lot warmer in Hungary than in Austria. After stealing a map from a Best Western, we attempted to find our hostel. The sun was beating down our necks and as it turns out, our hostel was on the outskirts of town. So we had to walk pretty far. When we finally got there, the hostel owners didn’t speak English. Haha, welcome to Eastern Europe.

We jumped on the metro, which was quite frightening. The trams are so old and when they stop at a station, they put on the breaks and then the tram skids to a stop. We made it to the inner city and took a walk around the Pest side.

Amanda and I in front of Parliament.

Amanda and I in front of Parliament.

We visited the beautiful Parliament building and walked to the famous Széchenyi-Lánchíd bridge. Then we walked to Szent Istvánbazilika, or St. Stephen’s basilica. It was a beautiful Neo-Renaissance church. The even had a reliquery with the hand of St. Stephen in it. In the evening we walked to Margit-sziget, or Margeret Island. It was a warm evening and we explored the gardens and the ancient ruins of a monastery.

We were quite ambitious the next morning and we decided to explore the Buda side of the city. We stuck mainly to the area called Castle Hill, but we started the day with a hike up to Statue Park. This is where the moved all the old communist monuments after Russia’s occupation of Hungary ended. They also had old weaponry on display next to the citadel. When we climbed down the other side of Statue Park, we ran into a couple bands setting up for a concert. Billy started getting excited because we happened upon an Iron Maiden concert, but it turned out that they were actually Iron Maidnem, a cover band, and they would be playing that night with Jon Bovi and AB/CD. Oh well.

Then we climbed up to the entrance to the fortified section of Castle Hill. We wandered around here for hours exploring the castle grounds. Yet another reminder that we were in Eastern Europe were the signs reading, “Watch for Falling Rocks.” You mean the castle might crumble down upon me?

Michelle, Andrea, Amanda and I at the entrance to Buda Castle.

Michelle, Andrea, Amanda and I at the entrance to Buda Castle.

On the other side of Castle Hill we spent some time at Mátyás Templom before descending the hill and ending up in a Burger King for some grub and a bathroom. Then we walked along the river to a beautiful view of Parliament and crossed over the Széchenyi-Lánchíd bridge to close up the miles-long circle we hiked through the Buda side. On the Pest side, we visited the largest Synagogue in Europe and the second largest in the world. Then we ate a traditional Hungarian dinner of goulash. After dinner we walked back to the river to see the city lights.

View of Parliament from the Buda side.

View of Parliament from the Buda side.

The next morning we headed to the Varosliget district of Budapest where they were having a fair for Arbeitstag. We bought some delicious fair food and enjoyed traditional Hungarian funnel cake before heading to the baths. Andrew, Joseph, Bobby, Michelle and I bought tickets to the baths and played around in the lazy river, the mineral pool and the sauna. What a relaxing day in the sun! After our pool time, we walked to the train station and headed back to Vienna. I finished the book Joey got me for Christmas on the train, The Unbearable Lightness of Being. It was fun, but we’re happy to be back in Western Europe!

*** A final reason why I’m not allowed to choose the hostel anymore: I didn’t shower for three days for fear of getting fungus from the hostel showers.

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