Friday, August 29, 2014

The City of Water

Our Venice adventure began with a night train.
Not sure why they put comfort there… it definitely wasn't the most comfortable.
We're always up for an adventure though. We thought, "Hey, why waste a whole day at the airport and spend money on another hotel night when we could sleep on a train?"
 What we didn't think about was who we might be sharing a room with, or the fact that we would arrive  in Venice at 5 in the morning, or that we would only get four-ish hours of "sleep."
We actually got pretty lucky as far as bunkmates go. We ended up with two english speaking med-students from Singapore that were really nice. They were just as nervous as we were about sharing a "room" with random strangers, so it was cool that we were all the same age doing the same thing (traveling all around Europe). Because Venice is pretty small, we ran into them about 10 different times, and the last time we finally got a pic with our buds!
As I said, we arrived in the city while it was still dark. We knew we wouldn't be able to check into the hotel, so we rolled our suitcases around trying to find a good place to watch the sunrise. 
That wasn't very successful, so we tried to find a place with wifi to send an email to our hotel and find out when we could check in. We ended up at McDonalds. Super nice. Unfortunately, the wifi was down on the whole island (it's actually 118 small islands all connected by bridges, what?), so we were out of luck. We had the code for our hotel door, so we decided to just check it out.  

Lookin' super good at 6 AM.
Eventually we were able to check into our room, and we found out we had been upgraded to a nicer suite. The hotel was actually a 4-room bed and breakfast, so I was curious to see what the room would look like. Turns out it was a dream. What better way to spend a night in a romantic city like Venice than in a four-poster bed? And what better to do than take a mid-morning nap?

Can't beat that.

Post-nap exploration.
 Looking tired much?
Despite being a little drowsy, I was really excited to be in Venice because my sister, Jenn, told us we HAD to come here. It was her favorite city when she visited Italy, so I loved getting to experience it again for her. 

 St. Marks Basilica
St. Mark's Square and my face.
The sweet lady working the front desk of our b&b gave us an awesome lunch recommendation, A Le Tole Spaghetteria e Pizzeria. The menu seriously had 10 pages of delicious sounding pizzas. Anj ended up with the house special: wild boar sausage and ham, fresh mozzarella di bufala, and a drizzle of truffle oil.

It was absolutely the meal highlight of the trip. 
I can't get over those delicious, HUGE chunks of moz. I had a pizza with fresh tomato, corn, and brie. It was tasty, but I was a little jealous of Anj's pizza. 
Per Jenn's recommendation, we got lost in the streets. 
Venice is unlike anywhere I have ever been before. The canals and the bridges and the water give it a totally unique, relaxed character. The warm, welcoming colors and loud people that are so typical of Italy are anything but lacking, but no one is going too fast. If you want to get somewhere, you have to take your boat or walk.

I love that. I love just walking around cities, wandering, getting lost, and Venice was the perfect place to do that. It really does have a romantic feel. I can totally understand why Jenn loved it so much. I really think everyone should have the chance to experience this city of water.
 I also loved seeing all the gondolas in action.
 It's a real life fairytale. 
 Pure joy right there.
Color choices? Spot on.
Model shots are always a good idea.
While getting lost, we happened upon a little shop owned by a husband-wife team. He makes beautiful glass sculptures and she paints the classic venetian masks. While we were in the store, he told us about the process he uses called lamp working. Using sticks of Murano glass and a flame that heats up to 2000 degrees, he melts the glass and swirls it together to make little figurines. We watched him make a perfect, tiny fish and we had to buy it. I'm all about souvenirs with memories behind them.
 Venice Highlight: the Gondola Ride

I was a little torn about whether or not the gondola ride was worth the money (it isn't cheap); I had read a lot of reviews online and so many people said the canals were so crowded and that it was a waste. 

But, I read elsewhere that if you find a gondolier in the quieter parts of the city, farther away from the grand canal, you can actually have a peaceful experience. I'm so glad I found that tip because it really made a difference. It was a beautiful, peaceful, romantic boat ride through quiet canals.
 I loved sharing that moment with Anj. 
(And the Gondolier who graced us with some lovely singing.) 
 I'm not sure how we got so lucky, but during our whole ride, there wasn't another Gondola in site. 
It doesn't get better than this.
Gondolas are so detailed and beautiful. Each one is unique and you can tell that the gondoliers take care of their boats. Ours was the one on the right: I can't get over all the beautiful gold detailing. 
 After our romantic cruise, we headed to Ponte di Rialto, the oldest bridge in Venice.  
Though all the little shops on the bridge were closed, it was a perfect view of the grand canal.
 We ended the night with a leisurely stroll back to our Locanda. Along the way, a little stand was offering free smoothie samples. I grabbed a sample and was about to take a sip when they informed me that it contained Vodka! Whew, that was a close call. 
The next morning we were greeted with breakfast in bed. 
Since the island is small and we saw most of it our first day, we decided to head to a few neighboring islands the next day. We started on the island where much of the Venetian glass is produced - Murano.
 We stopped in for a little demonstration.
 It was sweet. 
We spent the rest of our euros on beautiful gifts for our family and friends, then hopped back on the slow moving water bus to Burano.

If you ever find yourself in Venice, you MUST MUST MUST go to Burano.
It might just have been one of my favorite things I have ever seen.
Burano is famous for its lace and its beautifully colored buildings. 
And you should know, I LOVE COLOR!
They began painting the buildings to delimit property, and I guess it stuck.
I mean, what better way to show what's yours than by painting it an absurdly bright color?
I don't think I even saw any lace because the houses were so enthralling. 
They came in every color imaginable. 
I think someday I'm going to paint my house purple.
Or yellow.
Or turquoise.
Or orange!
While we were exploring the little island, a pink house family lost their parakeet and were chasing it all around the island. Their parakeet was, naturally, named Gigi, so they were running around shrieking "Gigi" as this little white bird flew in crazed circles around the sky. It didn't look like the situation would end well...
I wish I could have met some of the people who lived in these colorful homes. 
They must lead colorful lives.
I guess we live a pretty colorful life ourselves...
It just so happened we unknowingly wore our most colorful outfits. Nice. 
Are you dying to go to Burano yet?
You should be.
Our Venice adventure began with a night train,
and it ended with color. 

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

An Evening in Roma

After a very unique airport experience (think total chaos security line with 5 tour buses worth of field-tripping middle schoolers and security workers who just give up and start chatting with each other and let everyone run through the metal detectors) and a very unfortunate bus ride (think what should have taken maybe 20 minutes ended up taking around 2 hours) we made it to Rome!

And what better to do in your first few minutes in Rome than visit the Trevi Fountain?

Side note: we actually spent our first few hours in Rome getting totally lost and taking wrong trains trying to find our hotel. But who wants to hear about that saga? Back to the fountain...
Legend has it, if you throw a coin in over your shoulder, you're sure to return to the city again. You're supposed to throw it with your right hand over your left shoulder... woops! So we might not be guaranteed a return.
I seriously asked like 7 different people to take a picture of us with the fountain. Somehow the first 6 could only manage to get us OR the fountain. Why does taking a picture have to be so hard? 
You can't go to Italy and NOT get Gelato every day. Here's round one:
People will give you funny looks when you set up a self-timer shot on the Spanish Stairs. Do this at your own risk… I was so nervous someone was just going to steal our unattended camera!
We made it to the steps right at sunset, and it was beautiful!

And then we dined to accordion music. Perfection.
Day two started with another unfortunate bus ride and a trip to the Vatican.  
The highlight of the Vatican is the Sistine Chapel. To get there, you have to wander through about 7 million rooms of statues and busts and crowds. You gotta make the most of it!
Along the way, you do get to see the School of Athens painted by Raphael, which is pretty cool.
This is not the Sistine Chapel. You are not supposed to take any pictures inside the Chapel, so we didn't. It was tempting though. It's simply breathtaking!
More Vatican shots:

A few years ago I was in Rome, and a friend showed me this little bakery with the most delicious sandwiches: buffalo mozzarella, sliced salami, and fresh-baked flatbread. I'm so glad I was able to share it with Andrew! Good food has to be one of the best parts of traveling. 
We continued our jam-packed day with a visit to the Colosseum. 
I had no idea how much Anj loved old things! He loved seeing the Colosseum. I'd never been inside before and it is actually pretty cool. Fun fact: though the colosseum could seat around 50,000, it was built in a way that it could be emptied in three minutes! Take that every stadium I've ever been to. 

Seriously. Everytime we ever asked someone to take a picture it was just a huge struggle. Forget it.
I ran ahead and was posing like a statue, and I thought Andrew was taking a picture of me… Then I looked over and it was actually a totally random person taking a picture and Anj was nowhere to be found. Awesome. I remade the shot for Anj though.
Extra points if you can keep your eyes open!
Ruins, ruins, and more ruins!

A day in italy is pointless if you don't have gelato! This time we stopped at a rome favorite, Giolitti.
So. Many. Flavors. 

We both got the nutella. WOW. Just wow. 
We spent our last day exploring and eating. 

This gelato was my favorite.
 Pinapple mint. Rasperry sage. 
Gelato genius.
Look a blurry picture of cats! There is this one ruin where hundreds of stray cats live. Seriously. There is a stand where you can donate to have them spayed/neutered. Or you can just adopt one. It's wild.

How many can you spot?

If you know me, you know my favorite thing to eat is caprese salad. 
While in Rome, I was on the hunt for the perfect caprese, and I finally found it:
I think the caprese angels came down and smiled upon us. It was SO good.
And if that wasn't enough, I got to eat the most perfect, pillow-soft gnocchi I have ever had. 
It was smothered in a tangy pear gorgonzola sauce. Yum!
This guy had some delicious pasta too, but I was too busy enjoying my gnocchi to remember what his pasta was called.
 I'm pretty sure it was tasty though.

Although getting a picture with the name of the restaurant was a failure, I definitely think our Rome trip was a great success. We saw the sights, we ate good food, and we tried 13 flavor of gelato in 2.5 days. Mmhmm. Success.