Archive for September, 2010

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Greece: The Beach, and Not Much Else

September 29, 2010

Honestly, there’s not a terrible amount to say, because we weren’t there that long, and while we were there we didn’t do a whole lot.  We flew to Athens and arrived at our hostel around 5, which gave us just enough time to drop our bags and race to the Acropolis before it closed. I was obsessed with Greek mythology as a child (and to answer your question pre-emptively, yes, I was the coolest kid in school), so seeing the Parthenon was pretty fun.  However, we were both so hot and so tired, we wouldn’t have made it much longer, even if the place hadn’t been closing. We grabbed food on the way back to our hostel and collapsed into bed before getting up at 5:45 in order to catch a bus to the port for our 7:30 am ferry to Santorini. We made it to the boat with five minutes to spare, like, they were pulling up the ramps. No matter how much time we give ourselves, we always seem to end up sprinting through train stations and airports and docks, in our giant backpacks, inciting laughter in all who see us.

But we did make it, and 8 hours later we got to Santorini, where we immediately went to our hostel (which was actually a hotel, and by far the nicest place we’ve stayed, yet one of the cheapest). We dropped our bags and headed for the black sand beach, which was a mere 100 yards down the road. That evening we asked our concierge where a restaurant listed in my guidebook was, but he immediately told us that we could go there, but it was not very good. He said we should go to a restaurant just to the left of the hostel, where he ate every day, and it was authentic Greek, and everything was caught fresh, and if we didn’t like it we could come and tell him. We ate there, and he didn’t steer us wrong, it was delicious. Plus, when we asked for the check, they brought it out with “second dessert,” for free. That pretty much sealed the deal, and for the next 48 hours we didn’t leave that triangle of space. We went from our hotel to the beach, to the restaurant for lunch, back to the beach, the restaurant for dinner, after dinner walk on the beach, and back to the hotel to have a drink on our porch and talk. It was glorious. Did we see the adorable village at the top of the island that you’re supposed to see? No. Did we hike to the volcano crater, or go snorkeling? No. We lay around and read and ate, and I do not regret it for a second. It was perfect.

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Italy: 9 Days, 9 Gelatos

September 25, 2010

Yep, that’s a gelato a day (technically we had two in one day since we didn’t get any the night we arrived).  I won’t lie, gelato was a glorious part of the whole experience.  But I guess there was some other cool stuff too.

Florence was… okay.  I see now what people mean when they say it’s a “dead city.”  It was just so full of tourists (and yes, I acknowledge that I am one of them, I just like a good mix of tourists and people who actually live there).  But despite the crowds, we did enjoy some incredible art.  The very long museum lines passed quickly thanks to the sixth Harry Potter book on tape we have on Tiffany’s ipod.  We are that cool.  Michelangelo’s David really was worth all the hype.  Pictures don’t do it justice.  The tendon behind the knee, the bones in the hand, the vein in the forearm; everything is just perfectly executed.

Even if I hadn’t enjoyed the art and architecture, Florence would have all been worth it for this one meal we had.  You will think I am exaggerating or lying when I say this, but I promise you I am not: it was the best meal of my entire life. I know it seems impossible that I could say that with certainty, but I can. Tiffany’s friend had told us to go to this restaurant, and had told us to order the pasta sample, steak sampler, and picked a bottle of wine we should order. We got the pasta sampler, and it was random, just a small dish of whatever they had cooking at the moment.  I won’t go into detail, but suffice it to say that each was delicious, cooked to the perfect tenderness. Then, since I don’t eat steak, Tiff decided to just get one steak, and I picked some chicken cooked in Port (sweet wine). You guys. This sauce was the most delicious thing I have ever eaten. Tiff enjoyed her steak, but she admitted this sauce was incredible. Sweet and savory and buttery, I can’t describe it adequately, so I’ll just say this: I was having an emotional experience eating this chicken. I am not joking when I say that I was near tears, it was that good. I want to evangelize for this sauce, because it makes me sad thinking that there are people in the world who don’t know about this sauce. As I ate, I thought that I might not live much longer since I would never eat again, because why would I put something in my mouth that wasn’t this sauce, now that I had seen the light?

Ok, I’m done, but if you ever go to Florence I will tell you where to eat. Don’t argue with me. Just do it.  On to Rome.  We heard repeatedly that we should get a guided tour for the Vatican museums and Sistine chapel, so finally we decided to cough up the money and do it. It was well worth it, like everyone said. You get so much history. I didn’t know that Michelangelo hadn’t really painted at all before the chapel. That’s incredible! But for sure my favorite in ROme, and possibly of the whole trip, was the church of San Clemente. Many thanks to my sister for suggesting this one, because it was wonderful. The ground level church isn’t anything exceptional, built in the 12th century, but if you go down a level you can walk through the 4th century church it was built on and see some wonderful frescoes. Then go down another level, and there are ancient Pagan ruins! Imagine the most awesome underground maze of rooms and tunnels that your ten-year-old self (or current self) would want to run around in. That’s what this was. No pictures were allowed, so you’ll have to go see it for yourself. At one point you can fill up your water bottle from a 1st century underground spring! It was so much fun.

I won’t bore you with more detailed descriptions of my gastronomical adventures, just imagine a lot of pizza and even more pasta. Ciao!

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France: We’ll Always Have Paris (but I Liked Lyon Better)

September 18, 2010

Oh France. I liked you so much more than I thought! For some reason pre-Paris, I got myself completely worked up, and was convinced I was going to hate Paris. I thought the people were going to be mean, and it was going to be big and overwhelming, and I would want to leave immediately. Well, of course, none of that was true. Just between the train station and our hostel, two people stopped and asked if we needed help when they saw us looking at our map and scratching our heads. And I don’t think they were just distracting us so a cohort could pick our pockets, esepcially since the first was a grandmotherly looking woman who barely came up to my waist. But who knows.

Paris was wonderful. My favorite museum was probably the Musee D’Orsay, we just loved seeing Van Gogh, Monet, Manet, and my favorite, Degas. For those unfamiliar, a lot of his work is of dancers, both two dimensional (pastels maybe?) as well as small scupltures, which are my favorite. I’ve loved him for a long time, but they had a lot of his pieces and it just reminded me why I loved it.  Also loved the Musee Rodin, (he did The Thinker and The Kiss), the sculptures of his they had in the garden were just so full of emotion and torment, he really saw the inner struggle in people.  The Eiffel Tower was wonderful. I had a moment as we were walking to it thinking “Holy cow, I’m about to see the Eiffel Tower.”  Nothing else had really hit me like that, I think just because it’s so iconic, even little kids know what the Eiffel Tower is, your whole life it’s the Eiffel Tower in Paris, but then to be there touching it? It’s a little surreal.  I have to say however, I don’t know if I really get the whole romantic aspect. Maybe that’s just because I was there with Tiffany (and don’t get me wrong, she’s a very attractive girl and all), but I was looking around thinking “Well, it’s a very impressive structure, and the view is amazing, but I’ve climbed a lot of tall things in Europe. There are a lot of amazing views, and I think there are just prettier places that would seem more romantic than a big metal tower.”

Then there was Lyon. Oh my. What an unexpected jopy that city was.  I didn’t know much about Lyon, but we just so happened to pick a hostel in Old Lyon, and good thing we did.  The newer section is fine, but Old Lyon is simply stunning. It’s right along the river, and the buildings are beautiful, the people are so friendly, and the food. Oh the food! Every day for lunch Tiff and I walked over to a market and bought cheese and fresh fruit, and then went to a bakery recommended to us to get a baguette and some tasty treat for dessert, and we would eat it outside. It was heaven. The baguettes this place made were perfect, crackling crust on the outside, soft and warm on the inside. They also made these cookies, macarons, and sandwiched in the middle was either Nutella or raspberry jam. I can’t explain why they were so amazing, fluffy yet moist, sweet with a slight almond flavor.  All I can say is I weep at the thought that I might never have one again.

When we weren’t busy stuffing our faces, we loved walking around Lyon.  They have a huge park that is one of the most beautiful we’ve seen.  It has free botanical gardens and a zoo!  The monkeys were hilarious!  This one moved like a little old lady, and was totally fascinated by Tiffany.  There was also a lake with a tiny island in the middle that has some sturcture called Memorial to the Dead, and you can’t see it because the island is so covered with trees.  They way you get to it is by underwater tunnel.  You really want to know what’s on the island, don’t you?  Well, so do I, and I can’t tell you because we couldn’t go in the tunnel.  I fogot to mention that it was pouring rain the night we arrived (like thunder and lightning, which made the walk up the 45 degree hill to our hostel super awesome). As a result, the tunnel was flooded, and was still closed when I made Tiff go back on our last day there. It seriously kills me that I don’t know what is on that island. I will get back there someday, and I will find out if I have to build a boat and row there myself. I have to know! 

We also went to a museum about the French Resistance and the Deportation, which was very fascinating.  I didn’t realize the Resistance was really working against their own government as well as the Nazi regime.  They were really on their own, which makes their fight all the more impressive. Lastly, we went to Tiffany’s pick for the day, something she saw on our map called the Robot Museum.  Sounds awesome right? Oh it is, but not in the way you think. Turns out Lyon, in addition to food, is also famous for puppets, and one small segment of that is animatronic figurines, like the Santas you see in store windows at Christmas. And this museum had hundreds of them. All in motion, all the time. It was hilarious! (and less creepy than you would expect). There were actually some very cool scenes set up, including a Peter Pan one, and some pretty impressive motor work.  Well, that’s the gist of France. On to Italy!  Au revoir.

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Belgium: Waffles, Fries, and Chocolate

September 10, 2010

After London we went on to Belgium, starting with Brussels.  Have to say, not a big fan.  Dirty, and covered in graffiti, and just… gray.  The sky was gray, the buildings were gray, people even dressed in gray.  That’s not to say it was all bad, there were some beautiful buildings in the center square, and the famous chocolatery Neuhaus was so delicious.  I’ve eaten a lot of chocolate in my lifetime, and I mean A LOT, but I seriously think this was the best.

By far the best part of Brussels were the spontaneous things.  After leaving the square we walked by a huge church and decided to check it out.  We determined that it was the Cathedral de St. Michel et St. Gudule, and it was absolutely gorgeous, as so many churches here are.  As we were leaving, I stopped to see if there was anything explaining the lives of the saints while Tiffany walked out.  I then saw a gate leading underground, and a sign that said & Euro and had a picture of some sort of tunnel.  I obviously had to go.  I ran out to get Tiff, and we walked down into an underground tunnel that held the ruins from the ancient church that had been on this same site.  It had been discovered a few years ago during remodeling, and was just fascinating.

We went on to Bruges then, and it was so adorable.  I don’t even care if it’s just for tourists, it was beautiful.  It looks like Belle’s town when she wakes up and sings at the beginning of Beauty and the Beast (anyone? anyone?)  We rented bikes and rode along the river past windmills and over bridges.  The bikes were a wonderful break from all the walking we’ve been doing, though there was more than one point I thought I might die, sometimes  by bus, sometimes just through the combination of cobblestones and my own lack of coordination.  We climbed the tower int he center of town, and the view was stunning. Then we rewarded ourselves with waffles and fries for lunch, and bought some more chocolate.  It was just a great relaxing day.  We also loved getting to know our roommates, especially Vivian. She was from Japan, and didn’t really know anyone, but was just the sweetest girl.  We all had breakfast together, and it is so neat to hear other people’s experiences.  Did you know college is free in Sweden?! Why didn’t I live there.  All in all, loved Belgiun (well, Bruges anyway). Next up, France!

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London: There’s a Cafe in the Crypt? And a bar in the museum?

September 2, 2010

So Tiffany and Lindsey’s Great European Adventure started in London.  It was a whirlwind, we did so much.  I’ll just give a few highlights here:

St. Paul’s Cathedral

This was possibly the most beautiful church I have ever been in.  Architecture, statues, everything was stunning. And the view from the top was well worth the 500-some stairs it took to get there.  However, probably the most unique trait was below the main sanctuary.  There was a crypt, with hundreds of graves, as well as a cafe.  Yep, you can have your sandwich, then go look at where some dead people are buried. Not exactly my cup of tea (ha), but good for them.

Science Museum

Covered all kinds of fields, the history of medicine was particularly fascinating.  I love hands on exhibits, so the kids area was of great interest, however, all the children kept using the exhibits that I wanted to.  And then their parents would look at me strangely because I’m not a child, nor do I have one, and I would act like I didn’t really want to play with the exhibit. But I did. Fun is not just for children.  Luckily, there was a grown-ups only fun area: a bar. In a science museum. Does no one in Britain find these things as strange as I do?  It was also interesting to learn about things I had learned from a US persepctive.  The perspective also came into play at the British Museum, where the British chose the word “rescued” to describe the removal of statues from the Parthenon, while Greece might have a different choice word.

Neal’s Yard Dairy

If you love cheese, this place is like heaven. The smell walking in the door is enough to walk you over, but press onward, because the taste is totally worth it. We must have sampled 10 different cheeses before buying two and a loaf of bread for lunch. Delicious.

We were sad to leave London and its spectacular theatre, though less sad to leave the bathroom in our hostel which had two faucets, one with freezing water, and one with scalding. Your only option was to choose how to suffer, or have a friend hold both on while you pitifully splash from both. But it’s off to Brussels and Bruges.