Category Archives: Europe

One of the sights of Europe

EUROPE TRIP, VIDEO AND CONCLUDING REMARKS

The video for the trip is finally done! It took a bunch of meet ups and some expert music production but my buddy Jesse Josef Nanton has made a sweet video once again. The music is great as always. Many many thanks to you for making this happen.

Check out the video below!

Check out Jesse’s other videos here:
Jesse’s YouTube

and his music here:
Jesse’s SoundCloud

Dope.

Where to begin… I’ve been home for some time now, been programming full time and even picked up a full time position working. I find myself thinking about my trip often and have been wanting to get back out on the road and do some more traveling. Unfortunately, I don’t forsee any travel in the near future. I’ll be focusing on other dreams, growing up a little, and hoping to make some awesome websites or apps.

While I’m doing that I will often be thinking of this trip. Here is the final itinerary.

Day 1: 25-Jun New York, USA
Day 2: 26-Jun Rome, Italy
Day 3: 27-Jun Rome, Italy and Vatican City
Day 4: 28-Jun Umbria, Italy
Day 5: 29-Jun Siena, Italy
Day 6: 30-Jun Assisi, Italy and Castiglione del Lago, Italy
Day 7: 1-Jul Tuscany, Italy
Day 8: 2-Jul Florence, Italy
Day 9: 3-Jul Cortona, Italy
Day 10: 4-Jul Citta Della Pieve, Italy
Day 11: 5-Jul Genoa, Italy and Monte Carlo, Monaco
Day 12: 6-Jul Nice, France and Marseille, France
Day 13: 7-Jul Montpellier, France and Barcelona, Spain
Day 14: 8-Jul Barcelona, Spain
Day 15: 9-Jul Ibiza, Spain
Day 16: 10-Jul Valencia, Spain
Day 17: 11-Jul Madrid, Spain
Day 18: 12-Jul San Sebastian, Spain
Day 19: 13-Jul Bordeaux, France
Day 20: 14-Jul Versailles and Paris, France
Day 21: 15-Jul Paris, France
Day 22: 16-Jul Lyon, France
Day 23: 17-Jul Geneva and Lake Lucerne, Switzerland
Day 24: 18-Jul Interlaken, Lauterbrunnen, and Oberwald, Switzerland
Day 25: 19-Jul Zermatt, Switzerland
Day 26: 20-Jul Milan, Italy
Day 27: 21-Jul Venice, Italy
Day 28: 22-Jul Innsbruck, Austria
Day 29: 23-Jul Salzburg, Austria and Munich, Germany
Day 30: 24-Jul Brussels, Belgium
Day 31: 25-Jul Amsterdam, Netherlands
Day 32: 26-Jul Hamburg, Germany
Day 33: 27-Jul Copenhagen, Denmark
Day 34: 28-Jul Gothenburg, Sweden
Day 35: 29-Jul Stockholm, Sweden
Day 36: 30-Jul Oslo, Norway
Day 37: 31-Jul Drive to Preikestolen, Norway
Day 38: 1-Aug Preikestolen, Norway
Day 39: 2-Aug Bremen, Germany
Day 40: 3-Aug Berlin, Germany
Day 41: 4-Aug Nuremberg, Germany
Day 42: 5-Aug Zurich, Switzerland and Vaduz, Liechtenstein
Day 43: 6-Aug Lake Como, Italy
Day 44: 7-Aug Home

44 days.

14 countries.

12,000 miles of driving.

The whole trip
The whole trip

There are a lot of great memories from the trip. I got to see a small portion of this beautiful world that we live in. Everyone I met was suberb. The people I traveled with made the trip incredible. My darling made it the absolute best.

When I think of this trip there really were 3 parts of the trip. The first was in Italy with my girlfriend’s family. We stayed in a villa and took day trips around the Italian countryside.

First part of the trip
First part of the trip

The second was with my love, traveling to France, Spain, and Switzerland. We went to all of the best spots and ate and drank to our hearts content.

Second part of the trip
Second part of the trip

The third part was just myself traveling, sleeping in the car every other night, driving more miles than any part of the trip. Each of those three parts of the trip were different. Different emotions. Different costs. Different freedoms, challenges, experiences, and sights.

Third part of the trip
Third part of the trip

I loved all three parts of the trip and I would not have done it differently. I saw a lot of things. I missed a lot of things. I loved it all. I went. I saw. I conquered. I grew up. I achieved my dream of seeing (Western) Europe and traveling extensively for the first time in my life. My schedule may be tight once again but I will be back on the road at some point.

I would be happy to answer any questions that anyone might have. Generally people ask about how much it cost, so here’s a detailed breakdown. A lot of this had to be pieced together from bank statements, emails, and memories, so it is far from accurate. I’m pretty sure I overestimated somethings. I paid less for some things and I paid more for some things. Staying on a villa in a spare bed was of no cost, but paying for nice hotels for my lady sure did (smiley emoji). But she’s the best and I have to spoil her at least a little. By myself, I slept every other night in the car to save some bucks and build character.

This was my trip. You could easily spend much less or much more money and still have a great time or a terrible time. Money doesn’t ensure a great time. For example, just going to Ibiza for one day cost almost $1000 because we had to fly there and back, get a hotel, eat, pay for tickets to see the homeboy Nas in concert, etc. It is one of many examples of how you could spend a lot less or a lot more on this or any other trip.

Rough estimations of the Europe trip
Rough estimations of the Europe trip

The total price really reflects paying for myself but I also paid for my darling as much as possible, although sometimes she refuses to let me. Also keep in mind that this trip was 44 days. You could increase or decrease that length. I’ve been wanted to travel to Europe for many many years and I didn’t have any reason to hold back. I knew someday I would be back working and unable to get any serious time off (already that happened lol) and probably not be able to do something like this for a couple years, if I ever get the chance. It was truly a dream trip of a lifetime and I loved it tremendously.

Preikestolen, Bremen, Berlin, Nuremberg, Zurich, Vaduz, Lake Como

And the final stretch of the trip:

July 31 – Drive to Preikestolen, Norway
August 1 – Preikestolen, Norway
August 2 – Bremen, Germany
August 3 – Berlin, Germany
August 4 – Nuremberg, Germany
August 5 – Zurich, Switzerland and Vaduz, Liechtenstein
August 6 – Lake Como, Italy
August 7 – Home

Well, here we are. The end of my Eurotrip. 45 days later. It sure went fast.

Since the last time I have done a lot of traveling, both by driving and by taking several ferries. I wanted to see Preikestolen in Norway (Preacher’s Rock or Pulpit’s Rock as it is called in the English translation). Norway has a tremendous amount of beautiful things to see and experience and they are dispersed throughout the country. This is great because there is always something amazing within driving distance, but not that great because you can’t see it all in a few days. You have to spend a lot of time in Norway to see it all. For me, Preikestolen looked like the best place to go to in Norway. Even with the 8-hour trip from Oslo, I thought it was worth it.

So off I went, from one side of the country all the way across to the other side of the country. It was a lot of driving, but the scenery along the way was gorgeous. I couldn’t really stop to take pictures of the beautiful scenery but I did get this picture of some horses for my sis who’s been asking me the whole trip for pictures of horses.

Got some horses
Got some horses

That was the only picture I really took all day. When I finally got to the Preikestolen area, a trip that included hopping on a ferry, I drove up to the top to scope out the situation for tomorrow’s hike. Or at least as far as the road will take you. There is a parking lot at the top that is 2.4 miles away from the final destination. From this point it looked nice, and I was hoping the 1,100-foot increase in height would make for some better views. Plus it was cloudy, raining, and getting dark when I got there.

I grabbed some sleep in the car, thinking about the hike the next day.

I was slightly worried about the whole hike, but I was more than committed at this point. The round trip would be 5 miles, up and down through some steep rocky terrain, and it was still raining and cold in the morning when I woke up. I didn’t have any rain gear. My outfit consisted of pants, a t-shirt, and boat shoes (the best shoes that I had for the hike, which I thought would be dearly inadequate). I looked around at all of the other hikers who had the works; rain gear, nice boots, and proper backpacks. Oh well, this was something that I had to see, so I was off.

I took an umbrella with me as well so that I could protect my Norwegian baguette and camera if the rain became bad. As I start hiking, the weather started clearing up. By the time I had got to the first picture spot, the rain was gone and the blue sky was out. The clouds turned from grey to white. Looks like maybe I would be all right with the weather after all. The boat shoes were holding up fine.

Weather turns out to be nice
Weather turns out to be nice

Further and further I climbed. There were a decent amount of people hiking and the crowd was very diverse. People of all ages were making the trek up to Preikestolen. Apparently in Norway they start hiking with their children at a very early age. I remember a decent amount of people carrying babies and small kids, some sitting on their parent’s shoulders, up the mountain like it was no big deal. I remember seeing two girls hiking with her mom, one of whom you could tell was just finishing up learning how to walk. I was pretty impressed that a 4-5 year old was attempting this hike, but she was smiling and enjoying it.

Further and further up I climbed. The hike up is a decent hike. It’s similar to doing stairs for a long time, only the stairs are just rocks that you have to navigate across. I thought I was getting somewhere but I couldn’t see the Preacher’s Rock so I knew I had to go on further. I climbed a couple peaks that I thought surely would be it. Thinking I was further along then where I was, there was one point where I joked with myself that the place where I was standing was the halfway mark (I later found out it was). The views along the hike are great and there are plenty of places to stop for a water/food/picture break if you need to.

Hiking to Preikestolen
Hiking to Preikestolen

Some of the views that open up are tremendous. The bad weather had completely gone away and you could see for miles in the distance at some openings. These views were great, but you really have to make it to the top to fully appreciate this hike. When I saw this, I knew that I had to be close.

Norway, so gorgeous
Norway, so gorgeous

Turns out, I was pretty close. Here’s the first shot of Preikestolen. It is a very steep cliff that is 1,982 feet above the ground. If you hate heights or easily get vertigo, you might want to skip the next couple pictures. It might not look like it from this picture, but it goes straight down.

First shot of Preikestolen
First shot of Preikestolen

This picture shows how vertical the cliff is. It also shows the beautiful water that runs beneath the cliff. The views up here are astounding. You forget all about the hike when you are up here looking around. But you have to be careful. The cliff drops straight off, so if you happen to go over the cliff, there is no saving you.

It drops straight down
It drops straight down

There have not been many accidental deaths off of Preikestolen, which is surprising given that people go right up to the edge. Some people even sit with their feet dangling off. I think the first accidental death happened in October 2013 and I haven’t seen a story documenting another since then. There have been several suicides off of the cliff but that number is also low given the difficulty of reaching the top. I’m a pretty cautious fellow, so I thought for sure I would be staying far away from the edge. But I also had to make sure I got the best pictures that I could get. So here’s a picture that I took at the edge of the cliff, with Preikestolen on the right side. You can see how it just drops right down. It’s pretty wild being this close to death.

At the edge of Preikestolen
At the edge of Preikestolen

That was enough for me. Thumbs up for Preikestolen and not falling over.

Thumbs up for not going over
Thumbs up for not going over

Here’s just one more shot of the fjord. Tremendous place that I definitely recommend to anyone.

View from the top
View from the top

Preikestolen was what I thought would be that last major stop on the trip. The rest of the trip would almost be like a victory lap. Back through Denmark, Germany, Switzerland, and Italy, all places that I had already been through, only this time in different cities. I wasn’t sure where I would be spending the night. I really wanted to make it as close to Bremen, Germany as possible, but that was fourteen hours away and included two ferries. The roads in Norway were mostly 35-50 mph due to winding around all the mountains and lakes. I hopped on both ferries. I drove and drove. Eventually I got three hours outside of Bremen and decided to grab some sleep for the night.

In the morning I made the three-hour drive to Bremen. I was able to check in early at the hotel. I’ve been able to check in early at almost all of my hotels. They usually have a check in of 3 PM but I generally get to a place around 11 AM and get a room no problem. I grabbed some extra sleep at the hotel and showered up and got to checking out the town. Bremen Cathedral, or St. Peter’s Cathedral sits in the market square in the center of Bremen. Like many of the churches in Europe, its history is a long one. Parts of it collapsed. It was knocked down. It’s had bombs dropped on it and lightning strike it and every other thing possible since the first church was built there over 1,200 years ago. It’s been rebuilt, refinished, and restored a whole bunch of times.

St. Peter's Cathedral in Bremen
St. Peter’s Cathedral in Bremen

I had plans to go to a place for dinner but I saw a bunch of tents and outside seating along the water with German beer and German food. I grabbed a Franziskaner Hefe-Weisse Dunkel and bratwurst at one place, and followed that up with a Paulaner Hefe-Weissbier and some currywurst, which is a sausage, cut up and drowned in a curry ketchup.

German beer and currywurst
German beer and currywurst

Paulaner’s had a bunch of tents and tables by the water and they also had their outdoor and indoor seating at their restaurant. Sure, Bremen isn’t Munich, but Bremen still is Germany. I’d recommend this waterfront area for when it’s nice out and the tents and outside seating is setup. It’s felt like a mini-Oktoberfest.

Paulaner's in Bremen
Paulaner’s in Bremen

After dinner I strolled around to the opposite side of the river. I scored this pick of the tents and the people. That’s where I was having my dinner. Melissa told me to take some good night shots on this trip so I’ve been trying to get some good shots and I think this one is pretty good. I’ve definitely learned a ton about photography on this trip. I still have quite a bit more to learn but I’m getting some respectable shots for something I consider just a small hobby.

Bremen at night
Bremen at night

Bremen was meant to give me a break from the absurd driving that I was doing the previous days. The drive to Berlin was a short three and a half hours. Driving on the Autobahn is incredible. Every driver is very aware of the other drivers and they only use the left lane to past. I’ve been cruising on the Autobahn between 90-100 mph, not pushing my little Opel past that. Even at that speed cars are passing me. It’s a beautiful thing.

When I got to Berlin, the first stop I made was to check out the Berlin Wall. Parts of the wall have been left up but almost all of it has been knocked down. This portion is from near the Berlin Wall Memorial. This side is clean but the other side is bombed with graffiti. I like graffiti when it’s done right, but I think the plain wall looks so cold. The cloudiness and rain helped add to the effect.

Berlin Wall
Berlin Wall

A short walk took me to Mauerpark. It’s a pretty neat place that is a hipster’s dream. There’s a flea market where you can score cool stuff. There’s a grass area that is a wasteland. It seems like Berlin in general is a hipster/hippie mecca.

Flea market at Mauerpark
Flea market at Mauerpark

A short walk from the flea market leads you to outside seating where they do karaoke on Sundays. A lot of people are there to watch whoever is brave enough to get up on stage sing their song. The acts I saw might not have been the best at singing, but they made up for it with the humor.

Karaoke in Mauerpark
Karaoke in Mauerpark

I decided to head back to grab my car. On the way back I happened to get this horse and carriage riding along the Berlin Wall.

Some more horses
Some more horses

I hopped in my car and drove off to Berghain, one of the craziest clubs in the world. Yes, it was Sunday at 7 PM and I was going to a club. And no I wasn’t early. I was late. The party does not stop here. People have been partying inside here for over 24 hours straight. Sunday mornings are a very popular time to go to Berghain. The write-ups of this club make it seem like something totally out of control. No cameras or picture taking allowed. It’s extremely hard to get into and you can be kicked out of a long line if you aren’t wearing the right thing, don’t talk German, or a slew of other reasons. It’s sex, drugs, and rock and roll (although rock has been replaced with house and techno). Hence, no pictures. Anything goes. And in a world where everyone is taking pictures of everything and posting it, I thought it would be interesting for that aspect alone. I wanted to go in to experience the place. I’ve been to some of the greatest churches in the world on this trip. I’ve seen all sorts of art at different museums. I’ve seen some of the world’s greatest nature and had some of the world’s best foods. I wanted to see what one of the world’s best clubs was like.

Yea, that's Berghain
Yea, that’s Berghain

I pull up and I hear the hum of 808’s bumping techno and house. I get out of the car. I take a picture of the place. And I just can’t bring myself to go. I don’t know why, really. Maybe it was the cloudy, rainy day. Maybe I had been traveling too much. Maybe it was the realization that it’s time for me to grow up and move on. And so I hopped back in the car and had some Pringles (Paprika flavored, that’s the European way), and thought on it. The answer became more and more clear. I wasn’t going to go. I was going to take a slow, leisurely drive to Nuremberg. And so I did. As I drove out of Berlin, a rainbow appeared. It looked like the cloudy, rainy weather that had been around me for the previous bunch of days might finally give way to some sunshine.

Nuremberg is a much smaller city than Berlin. There are a dozen things I would still want to do if I went to Berlin again, but I would be happy enough with my one visit to Nuremberg. Nuremberg has its churches, this one being St. Lorenz.

St. Lorenz in Nuremberg
St. Lorenz in Nuremberg

I thought this was pretty sweet. It’s a 14th century fountain called Schoner Brunnen, which translates to Beautiful Fountain. It looks unlike most things I’ve seen on this trip, but that’s probably because of the perspective. It’s really pretty similar to any gothic spire that you would see on any of the gothic churches of Europe, but the detail and style is greater and different. The colors are eye-catching. There are two brass rings that have been seamlessly welded into the iron fence and they bring you good luck if you spin them. The Frauenkirche, or Church of Our Lady is seen in the background of this picture. It’s another amazing building.

Schoner Brunnen, Beautiful Fountain
Schoner Brunnen, Beautiful Fountain

Nuremberg isn’t exactly known for being the most beautiful place in the world, but I’m going to miss walking down cobblestone streets like this.

I'll miss you Europe
I’ll miss you Europe

For dinner I was planning on going to Albrecht Durer Stube, which is highly rated German restaurant that has the classic fare and beverage at a reasonable cost. It’s what I was in the mood for, but it was closed. I decided to head to O-Sha Thai Restaurant which had rave reviews. The tom young soup was out of control good and the crispy duck was good, but they weren’t kidding when they said spicy. Good thing I had a German beer to cool the taste buds. I’m also going to miss eating outside just about every day. I love how eating outside is such a big part of European culture.

Thai food, German beer
Thai food, German beer

Zurich, Switzerland was up for the next day. I was told Zurich was a place where you can go for fancy things so it was nice to see this building totally bombed. Everyone tags everything in Europe. There’s a lot of graffiti here, but usually not on buildings. There are at least some attempts here to move beyond tagging and into street art, but it’s most just tags.

Graffiti in Zurich
Graffiti in Zurich

I had to get some more Swiss chocolates. The chocolate out here is amazing. This is Sprungli, one of the best. This is the original gangster of Swiss chocolate that is still doing its thing. There were a couple chocolatiers that started before Sprungli, but companies like Nestle and Kraft Foods now own them.

Sprungli turns up
Sprungli turns up

Zurich is a beautiful city. The river that runs through it is great to walk along. There are plenty of the usual shops, restaurants, etc.

Walking in Zurich
Walking in Zurich

By now I have become an expert at getting into, parking in, and exploring a new city and I think I can get a feel for a place in a couple of hours. I broke down Zurich pretty quickly and wanted to get out of there. I would have had too much time if I just went to Lake Como directly, so I pulled up a map. I would not be going to Luxembourg like I thought I was, or Liechtenstein. My country count would end up being 13 and not 14 like I thought. Yes, I decided to count Vatican City as a country after all. Mainly because I needed to make up for the two countries I wouldn’t be able to see, and well, also because it is actually a country. It may be the smallest country in the world, but I’m counting it.

So I’m looking at the map and I realize Liechtenstein isn’t that far away. It’s only about an hour from Zurich to Vaduz, the capital of Liechtenstein. I decided to make the drive and get my country count back to 14 like I said I would. The drive was gorgeous. The mountains provided a stunning backdrop that had me cursing the darkness as it rolled in. Of course I had to see the Vaduz Castle, the number one tourist attraction in Liechtenstein.

Country number fourteen
Country number fourteen

And that was it. I was out of there. Liechtenstein was pretty dead. It’s a weird feeling being one of the only people out and about in the capital city of a country. Feels kind of like Will Smith’s character in I Am Legend. I made the drive to Lake Como. I really wish it wasn’t dark because I had to cross over a mountain and it looked beautiful driving to Lake Como. The area around the lake looked gorgeous too, but I couldn’t see too much because it was night out.

In the morning I was pleasantly treated to the view of the pool, with Lake Como and a neighboring city in the background.

Turned up for the final stay
Turned up for the final stay

I decided to get some relaxing in while I was staying at Lake Como. There are several different places that you can stay at when you are in Lake Como, so really I was staying in Menaggio.

Have to relax a little
Have to relax a little

Had to get a little swimming in between tanning sessions.

Just swimmin
Just swimmin

After freshening up, I grabbed a ferry over to Bellagio to spend some time hanging around. Bellagio is probably the place you think of when ever you hear about Lake Como. Here’s Menaggio from the ferry. My hotel is the yellow building on the left, right by the ferry stop.

Menaggio, Lake Como
Menaggio, Lake Como

And here is Bellagio. The towns around the lake look pretty similar. They all have similarities and differences. Bellagio was a nice place to stroll around. Although it’s the bigger, touristier town, it’s still very small. I grabbed a final dinner of spritz, caprese, pizza with prosciutto, and espresso and finished with gelato from a gelateria.

Bellagio, Lake Como
Bellagio, Lake Como

I hopped the ferry and got back to Menaggio and strolled around. Took one final picture, chucking up the deuces.

That's the end of this chapter
That’s the end of this chapter

And that pretty much wraps this all up. Have to do some packing and I have an early flight out of Milan, but I should be back home tomorrow.

This trip has been quite the experience. I’ll post a full wrap up when I have some time and when it all can sink in.

I have a ton of video footage that I’m going to break down to make an awesome video of the whole trip that I will post later.

I’m happy that I am doing exactly what I want to do with my life. I look forward to continuing that by starting up a business in the near future, of which I will also make posts here.

Hopefully I have inspired you to achieve some dreams of your own. Life is too short not to do what you really want to do. If I can help you in any way with your dreams then reach out. I’ll be happy to help.

I can’t wait to see everyone back home and get back to working on some other dreams of mine.

Thank you for taking time to read this. I don’t foresee any world travels in the near future, but if you want to go somewhere and you are looking for a travel buddy, you might be able to twist my arm.

Peace.

Love.

Joe

Austria, Germany, Belgium, Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, Norway

To recap the last couple days:

July 22 – Innsbruck, Austria
July 23 – Salzburg, Austria and Munich, Germany
July 24 – Brussels, Belgium
July 25 – Amsterdam, Netherlands
July 26 – Hamburg, Germany
July 27 – Copenhagen, Denmark
July 28 – Gothenburg, Sweden
July 29 – Stockholm, Sweden
July 30 – Oslo, Norway

I’ve been traveling around Europe all by my lonesome self. It was very sad at first but I’ve been enjoying the time to myself. I’ve been doing tons of walking around the cities, several miles every day. I’ve had some time to my thoughts and myself and it has been great. I’ve been sleeping in my car every other night and that’s helped me to appreciate the simple things like having a bed to sleep in.

The first stop by myself was Venice, but I wrote about that in the last post. After Venice, I ventured off to Innsbruck, Austria. Innsbruck is a nice town. The towns all start to look the same after some time. Nice painted buildings, statues, squares, outside seating, churches, souvenir stores, etc. but each town has it’s own identity. I was hoping that the weather would be better in Innsbruck so that I could see the mountains, but it was cloudy. Half the fun of Innsbruck is the beautiful mountains around the town and I wasn’t able to see them. Anywhere you see clouds in my pictures of Innsbruck, there should be mountains there.

Wish it wasn't cloudy
Wish it wasn’t cloudy

This is the Goldenes Dachl or the Golden Roof. It was a wedding present from an emperor to his bride, completed in 1500. The balcony was used to observe festivals and jousting tournaments. It was raining out but plenty of people were there to see the Golden Roof. It’s a big deal in Innsbruck.

Golden Roof in Innsbruck
Golden Roof in Innsbruck

Here is a view of the town from almost underneath the roof.

Get out of here clouds
Get out of here clouds

I had started off the solo leg of my trip in search of some good value. I wanted to rough it a little more than I was when I was with my lady, so I found the Himal Nepali Kitchen, which was a restaurant that served up some delicious Nepalese food for a good price. I scored a cucumber salad and a chicken masala. The reviews were very high for this place, and the food was good, but there are several Indian restaurants nearby home in New Jersey that could rival or exceed it. As I was in Austria and starting to move from wine countries into beer countries I had to order the Franziskaner Weissbier, which is one of my all time favorite beers. It hails from neighboring Germany.

Franziskaner Weissbier
Franziskaner Weissbier

After dinner I strolled around town. There was some classical music being played in town. I stopped to listen for a few minutes. There has been a lot of live music played throughout the places that I have been and some of it is definitely worth a listen. The clouds started to pull back a little but not much. I wouldn’t be able to see the mountains but I will eventually make my way back into the mountains again on this trip.

Clouds slowly moving out
Clouds slowly moving out

The next day I decided to spend a few hours in Salzburg, Austria and then head on to Munich, Germany for the night. Salzburg is a nice town. There are squares and statues and fountains. I’ve been trying to get some good horse pictures for my sister but usually the only horses are off of highways and there is no good place to pull over to get the picture. So you’ll have to settle with this horse fountain until hopefully sometime next week when I finally get a decent picture, lol.

Horses in Salzburg
Horses in Salzburg

I strolled by Mozart’s birthplace. He was born and lived in Salzburg for many years. Mozart’s body of work includes over 600 pieces, but he would spend his late years broke. He died at 35 and was interred in a common grave in Vienna, with maybe four people attending his funeral.

Mozart's Birthplace
Mozart’s Birthplace

For lunch I went with the cheese pretzel. Delicious.

Pretzels for lunch
Pretzels for lunch

They built statues for Mozart after he passed away. He is pretty much immortalized. This is something that happens with lots of great artists. Sure, Mozart was acknowledged during his life. He had performances as a child prodigy at a very early age. But it is not until later that some artists are fully recognized for their work. Many die broke; some don’t get any recognition until after their death.

Legendary composer
Legendary composer

I had to make one more stop before I ventured off to Munich. I tried to find some of the head honchos at Red Bull Arena in Salzburg to have a talk about the New York Red Bulls soccer team. For those of you that don’t know, there are two Red Bulls soccer teams. The one I root for is from New Jersey/New York, but the Salzburg one is where the global soccer operations are. Actually the entire Red Bull brand is headquartered in Salzburg. I tried to find some of the big bosses to have a chat about the teams progress this season, but they weren’t at the stadium. Actually, I’m pretty certain I wasn’t even supposed to be here. I drove right up to the stadium, parked illegally in some VIP spot and then ventured into the stadium. I was just planning on walking up and seeing if I could see the field or anything but the gate was open as they were doing construction on seats behind one of the goals. I saw the open gate and I walked in. “Act as if.”

Snuck into Red Bull Arena in Salzburg
Snuck into Red Bull Arena in Salzburg

The outside of the stadium is pretty lame looking in comparison to the gem of the stadium that we have in New Jersey.

Salzburg not as nice as NJ
Salzburg not as nice as NJ

I got out of there before I had to explain what I was doing in there and got on my way to Munich. Munich is a pretty big town that has new and old buildings. The Marienplatz is the city’s main square and has been since 1158. No big deal. Just an 850-year-old meeting place. It’s a nice square.

Marienplatz
Marienplatz

This is pretty much the longest my beard got.

The bearded man
The bearded man

I decided to grab a haircut and finally found a place that was open. It was a pretty straightforward process. For about a day though I had the sides of my head shaved and had the beard at it’s full grown length. I don’t think I have any pictures of it, which is fine as it was a pretty ridiculous style.

After getting my fresh new cut I ventured off to the Hofbrauhaus, which is a very popular Bavarian brewery. There is a lot of beer served at this place.

Hofbrauhaus
Hofbrauhaus

The seating inside is pretty beautiful. There was a band playing songs and everyone was in pretty good spirits.

Inside the Hofbrauhaus
Inside the Hofbrauhaus

I chose to sit in the outside courtyard, which had maybe the only single seat available in the whole place. I asked the waiter what he recommended and he suggested schweinshaxe, which is pork knuckle with potato dumpling. I’m glad he recommended it because it was delicious. I found out that it is a very typical Bavarian dish.

Schweinshaxe with Bavarian brew
Schweinshaxe with Bavarian brew

The next day I was planning on heading to Frankfurt because it was halfway between where I was and Brussels, which is where I wanted to be. I decided to tough it out and make the drive straight to Brussels after hearing Frankfurt was nothing too special. I got to Brussels without any major happenings. I thought I would be a little more tired after the night sleeping in the car but I can drive forever and I wasn’t tired at all. I checked in to the hotel and showered up and chopped my beard off in replace of a mustache that would last for two days.

I stopped by Grand Place or Grote Markt, which is the central square in Brussels. I promise you this is not a picture of the one in Munich. They do look very similar though.

Grand Place in Brussels
Grand Place in Brussels

I forgot how many of my favorite beers were from Belgium. Delirium, Chimay, Lindemans, St. Bernadus, La Chouffe. I realized this walking through the city and seeing places like this.

Delirium
Delirium

I wanted to stop in but I needed dinner first. I had to get the mussels and fries with a Chimay Blue. Apparently mussels and fries is the official dish of Belgium and I was happy to order it. This is a dish that is not popular in the States but it’s hard to beat a bowl of mussels with some fries and a beer for a meal. After dinner I walked around a little more and then ventured back to the hotel to score some sleep after the long drive.

Moules and frites with Chimay
Moules and frites with Chimay

In the morning I walked around the city some more. I had to get Belgian waffles in Belgium and so I did. They guy said chocolate and cream was the best way to get it. It was delicious, but the waffle itself is tremendously better than any waffle I’ve ever had. I kind of wished that there wasn’t all that chocolate and cream to destroy the subtle beauty of the Belgian waffle but it was delicious regardless.

Belgian waffle
Belgian waffle

I got on the road and headed off for Amsterdam, Netherlands. There are a lot of canals in the city. It kind of looks like a more boring version of Venice.

Dreary Amsterdam
Dreary Amsterdam

I stopped by the Anne Frank house, which is where Anne and her family hid during World War II. It was weird driving through and hanging out in areas that played influential parts in such major wars. It’s a little hard to grasp that this is in the same location as the coffeehouses that sell weed and buildings that let you pick which prostitute you want to spend the night with. It’s the same place and it’s only a few years later but you could never tell that stories like this happened here if you didn’t know the history.

Anne Frank house with stache
Anne Frank house with stache

You could never really tell from looking at the house if you didn’t know it, but this is the Anne Frank house.

Anne Frank house without stache
Anne Frank house without stache

I grabbed steak and fries, which seemed to be a popular choice in the city, and it was alright. I was a long ways away from Belgium so my beer choices where pretty much Amstel or Heineken. I went with a Heineken, which tasted less skunky than it does in the States. Nothing special though.

Heineken not that great
Heineken not that great

I walked all over Amsterdam, back and forth over canals and down alleyways. I was told that there was great street art or graffiti in the city but I couldn’t find too much of it. I assume it’s more on the outskirts.

I ventured around the Red Light District. Later on at night these booths would be filled with mostly naked women begging the boys passing by to throw their money at them.

Amsterdam red light district
Amsterdam red light district

There were places offering sex shows and sex shops. People were very drunk and high as you can smoke weed anywhere in the city. I really wanted to find a place that was playing some hip hop so I could do some dancing but I think everyone is too high in Amsterdam to dance and I couldn’t find a place. I scored some good Chinese food at this place called Wok to Walk, which cooks your Chinese in a wok fresh for you to take with you as you stroll around. It was a great late night snack, although I probably was the only sober person eating it.

Amsterdam went kind of how I expected it to go. The city’s big draw is the marijuana and the red light district, neither of which I was really interested in. The city is still worth a visit, and might be fun if you didn’t have a bedtime or manners. One thing I wanted to see but couldn’t because of the hours was the Van Gogh Museum. I’ve always thought Van Gogh’s work has a great appearance, something about those brushstrokes.

Hamburg, Germany was the next stop. It also has a popular square called Rathaus. There was a food and wine festival that was going on, which made for an even better time.

Rathaus wine and food festival
Rathaus wine and food festival

I had to get one of these wursts. I ordered it by pointing and saying “that one.” Pretty much everyone talks English that you come in contact with. Those that don’t you can always point and use hand gestures or whatever to get what you want.

This wurst is the best
This wurst is the best

Hamburg also has a famous red light district located along the street called the Reeperbahn. It’s quite a bit smaller, more tame, and less popular and renowned than the red light district in Amsterdam. I wanted to check it out because this is the area where the Beatles played for a couple years before they became mega popular. I realized that Saint Pauli was playing Celtic in a preseason friendly that would have been pretty tremendous to see, a game that was being played only a few blocks away. I could tell by all of the Saint Pauli supporters who were decked out in their punk/skull and crossbones gear.

Reeperbahn
Reeperbahn

After checking out the Reeperbahn area, I ventured off to the waterfront at the port. The Port of Hamburg is massive, one of the biggest in the world, ranking in the 15 spot. The waterfront around the port has restaurants and bars and shops.

Port of Hamburg
Port of Hamburg

Copenhagen, Denmark was the next stop. I was following my GPS and it took me to a ferry terminal, so I took my car and hopped on board. Ferries are a way of life in the Scandinavian culture. It’s not the only one that I was on and I still have a couple more planned for the last leg of my trip. The Puttgarden to Rodby ferry was a short ride that got me about an hour and a half outside of Copenhagen. It was a nice change of pace from driving.

Roadtripping
Roadtripping

Copenhagen has a nice area called Nyhavn, which has a bunch of restaurants along the water.

Nyhavn
Nyhavn

I decided to go to one restaurant and get lobster bisque and lobster. The lobster bisque was good but had shrimp in it, which was strange. The lobster came with some dill sauce. I miss lobster in Maine. They give you a huge lobster and it comse with butter and you open it yourself. You can’t beat that stuff when you are in Maine.

Lobster not like Maine
Lobster not like Maine

I strolled around Copenhagen, stopping here or there. I ventured off to the Tivoli Gardens, which I didn’t end up going into because there was a fee, and I have seen enough gardens on this trip already. I walked over to The Little Mermaid, which is a big deal in Copenhagen. It’s a bronze statue that was commissioned by the son of the founder of Carlsberg brewery. He was fascinated by the story after seeing the fairy tale performed at Copenhagen’s Royal Theatre. The statue has been vandalized many times as you can easily get access to it. Although apparently the statue located in Copenhagen harbor has always been a copy, with the sculptor’s heirs keeping the original at an undisclosed location.

The Little Mermaid
The Little Mermaid

Sleeping in the parking deck didn’t work out well. I got a knock on the window a minute or two into sleep and was told I couldn’t sleep there because of safety reasons. The guy tried to offer me a hotel that his friend had. I politely told him no thanks and decided to make the drive out to Gothenburg, Sweden. It was supposed to be a short drive but the GPS took me to another ferry terminal. So it was the middle of the night and I boarded a ferry. It’s just a way of life over here. I made it to Gothenburg as the sun was coming up. I asked to check in to my hotel ten hours early and surprisingly the host said that it was fine. I went right to sleep when I got there and when I woke up headed out to explore the southern archipelago of Gothenburg. There is a collection of islands that you can hop on and hop off on with a ferry pass, which included in the public transportation pass for the city. For a couple bucks you had access to a bunch of awesome little islands.

Island hopping
Island hopping

Since it was a little late in the day I only got off at Branno Husvik (the southern part of Branno) and walked around the whole island and departed back for mainland from Branno Rodsten (the north east part of Branno).

Walking the island
Walking the island

I had an entire beach all to myself.

Man watching birds
Man watching birds

The ferry ride was great. It seems like hanging on the rocks is popular to do.

I just like this picture
I just like this picture

I strolled around Gothenburg, Sweden. I tried to grab some food but the place wasn’t serving food so I settle for some kebab sandwich that I was afraid would make me sick by looking at it. The freshness of the place wasn’t near what I thought it would be. When I got back to the hotel, I grabbed some sleep so that I would be rested for the next day.

Stockholm was a nice drive from Gothenburg. I saw a moose on the way but couldn’t get a picture. I think it was a baby moose but it was still absolutely the biggest thing in the world. It was about half the height of a pine tree.

I was told that I had to go to Marten Trotzig’s and get the reindeer. I had a Swedish meal there. It started with a cloudberry martini, which is a berry only found in the Northern Hemisphere. After I had the herring plate which featured blueberry and vodka herring, lingonberry herring, mustard herring and pickled herring. It definitely felt a little Polish with the dill, cream, onion, and potato on the plate. Apparently the Swedish way to eat herring is with an O.P. Anderson aquavit, which is a digestif spirit.

Not sure if in Poland
Not sure if in Poland

After the herring I had the reindeer, which came with a black currant sauce and some oyster mushrooms. Reindeer tastes delicious just like any of the more exotic meats. I thought the meal was good, but the restaurant gets hammered on Google Reviews with a 2.3 rating. I think this is because the price is high, but a decent price comes from the liquor at this restaurant. If you eat here and don’t order any alcohol I don’t think you can complain too much. I dunno, most of the time I agree with the online reviews but I don’t think I agree with them here.

Reindeer
Reindeer

I spent some time strolling around the Old City or the Gamla Stan as it’s called. I grabbed an ice cream and messed around with some photos. Here’s Stockholm.

Stockholm
Stockholm

And here’s an amusement park that looked like fun. It was way too far of a walk that late, otherwise I was in the mood to stroll around.

I wanna go on the rides
I wanna go on the rides

I couldn’t sleep so I decided to make my way to Oslo. I made it about halfway before I pulled over and decided to sleep in a rest area. My eyes were a little tired and it was fine because I couldn’t check in until the next day anyhow.

One of the big things to do in Oslo is to get out to the fjords. I chose not to do that because I plan on heading out to Preacher’s Rock or Pulpit’s Rock (it goes by many names) tomorrow. I strolled around town. I went in to a game place and they had some Magic the Gathering cards. This Black Lotus is pretty reasonably priced at $2,500 US dollars, but I didn’t buy it.

Black Lotus
Black Lotus

I grabbed some dinner at Lokk. It was a three-course meal that was fairly priced, a steal compared to what many of the restaurants charge for good food in Oslo. Cucumber soup with pork, a fish dish, and a chocolate ice cream with custard.

Cucumber dill soup
Cucumber dill soup

After dinner I ventured off to Frogner/Vigeland Park. It was a decent walk through the city. There were some great sculptures and statues that expressed the human emotion pretty well.

Look at the individuals
Look at the individuals

The grounds were also nice. It reminded me a little of the gardens at the Palace of Versailles but nowhere near as impressive.

Nice grounds
Nice grounds

On the walk back I saw some guy fall off of his bike so I went to make sure he was alright. His name is Chris and he said he was drinking all day and it was the second time on the drive that he fell off of his bike. He said he was heading back to his place to meet up with his girlfriend and some friends and he was going to do some cocaine and then he was heading back out for some more drinks. He invited me out for a beer but I told him I was all good. I got a decent walking head start on him while he was figuring out his bike situation but after a couple minutes he was zooming past me off into the streets of Oslo.

Hope you made it home buddy
Hope you made it home buddy

So yea, that’s pretty much been what I’ve been up to for the last week or so. Tomorrow I’m making the drive out to Preacher’s Rock in Norway and tomorrow I should be hiking to it. Eventually I’ll get back into Denmark, Germany, Switzerland, and eventually Italy where I fly out of on August 7th. I have another week left, which I’m excited for but I’m also excited to get back and see everyone and get back to some computer programming. I miss everyone a whole bunch but I’m excited to finish out the trip.

France, Switzerland, and a little more Italy

Here’s a schedule of what we’ve been up to.

July 13 – Bordeaux, France
July 14 & 15 – Paris, France
July 16 – Lyon, France
July 17 – Geneva and Lake Lucerne, Switzerland
July 18 – Interlaken, Lauterbrunnen, and Oberwald, Switzerland
July 19 – Zermatt, Switzerland
July 20 – Milan, Italy
July 21 – Venice, Italy

Spain was a great country to visit, full of surprises and deliciousness. The plan for heading back into to France was to visit Bordeaux for some wine tasting on a vineyard. We would need a bite to eat to start off the day so we decided to go with these kouignettes. I’m not even sure if I’m allowed to distribute this image as kouignettes are apparently registered in France, which to me is absurd. You sell good pastries based on how they taste, not registering the name kouignette. Regardless, they were delicious.

Kouignettes, registered
Kouignettes, registered

We were waiting for our ride to show up to take us to the vineyard. We waited for a while and looked all over but couldn’t find it. Eventually I checked my email and found out the vineyard tour was cancelled because they needed at least three people due to “certain regulations” which weren’t detailed in the email. If anyone ends up booking the Saint Emilion tour with Rustic Vines you might want to double verify your verified tour. Oh well, it was a rainy day anyway so it was just as fine.

We found a restaurant called L’Autre Petit Bois that had wines from Bordeaux, explained our situation, and the bar tender hooked us up with an awesome tasting. We tried three different wines that he recommended before he included a fourth glass for free at the end. As you can see, the pour for a free glass is robust. Restaurants in Europe will often give out free drinks or desserts after the meal and they usually are impressive. Some of the Italian places will even drop off a whole bottle of limoncello and allow you to pour as many shots as you want. It’s a nice gesture that I think American restaurants can learn from (I think a bottle of limoncello is 6 euros).

Wine tasting in Bordeaux
Wine tasting in Bordeaux

I ordered a foie souffle type of thing for dinner during our wine tasting. It came with some raw yolk. It came with four breads that each had a different seasoning. You’ll see nice attention to detail like this all over the place.

Foie souffle at L'Autre Petit Bois
Foie souffle at L’Autre Petit Bois

We spent the rest of the night moving from place to place watching the World Cup final. Argentina fought a tough game and almost was able to force penalties before a brilliant finish by the Germans to claim the cup. I missed a decent amount of the World Cup traveling around so it will be fun to rewatch some games and see highlights that I haven’t seen.

The next day we ventured off to Paris. We decided to stop at the Palace of Versailles on the way. The inside was closed on Mondays, which was a bummer. The outside grounds were open and it took us two hours just to see a small portion of it. The palace has to be the most incredible property in the world. The palace itself is massive. It doesn’t even fit in this picture. You can choose to enjoy or disregard that rounded arc. It was part of some art exhibit that involved putting random aluminum pieces around the grounds.

Palace of Versailles, now with art
Palace of Versailles, now with art

The grounds are incredibly big. From the top steps you can look at a pool of water that stretches almost until the horizon. The grounds extend to both the right and left of the picture. Much of the green that you see in this picture is manicured shrubbery. There are fountains and statues everywhere. It would take you days to walk all of the grounds and see all of the rooms. I can’t really explain the size of the place but it is incredible and one day I hope to be back to check out the interior.

Keeping up with the Joneses
Keeping up with the Joneses

After checking out the palace we took a short ride to Paris. Paris was very crowded. Streets were closed off and the police presence was unusually high. I was wondering what was going on in the city. Turns out it was Bastille Day, which is similar to Independence Day in America. There were concerts and fireworks and all sorts of festivities. The streets were packed with people watching the fireworks show. I scored a couple sweet pictures of the event but I think this picture with the Eiffel Tower is the best of the lot.

Bastille Day 2014 in Paris
Bastille Day 2014 in Paris

That’s how these big trips seem to go. You might miss out on a wine tasting or seeing the inside of the Palace of Versailles, but you happen to be in Paris during Bastille Day. It all evens out.

After fireworks we were able to score some dinner. The best dish was this crayfish and caviar on bread. Europe has no standard for what they call shrimp, prawns, or crayfish so you never really know what size or type of crustacean you will be getting. In the States crawfish come from the South, prawns are big and probably have a head on them, and shrimp are usually going to be normal size or those crappy small things you sometimes get.

Crayfish and caviar
Crayfish and caviar

We grabbed some sleep for the night and the next day went exploring. The Louvre Museum was closed on Tuesdays, which was just as well as it has 35,000 pieces of art (650,000 square feet) and you could never see the whole thing unless you spent about a month at the place. Just another thing I can look forward to if I make my way back here.

Louvre, now with handstands
Louvre, now with handstands

One thing that Megan really wanted to do was to get a lock so that we could add it to the lock bridge. The lock symbolizes your love. A lot of people have done this, so much so that pieces of the fence of the bridge are collapsing under the weight of the locks. You can see it happening a little in this picture with the holes at the top of the fence. If you ever find a place such as a bridge or some other nice place and you see a random lock attached to it then this is where that trend originated. I’ve seen locks in many places that we visited.

Love locked down
Love locked down

We grabbed a lock and tried out some magic marker, which was pretty ineffective. I spent a couple minutes etching our love into the lock so that it could be forever. If you ever end up in Paris and want to look for the lock then let me know and I’ll let you know where to find it. We put it in a location that we thought had the highest chance of survival. I tried applying what I learned in engineering in my Statics class so hopefully it holds true, lol.

J + M forever
J + M forever

After visiting the lock bridge we ventured off to the Notre Dame cathedral. If you like churches or architecture I really suggest you come to Europe. There are incredible churches everywhere. I wish I were here for that scene in Man on Wire when Philippe, the tightrope walker, walks across the top of the cathedral.

Notre Dame
Notre Dame

After all that walking we needed to fuel up on something. We grabbed some dinner at the Michelin star awarded Rech, which is a seafood restaurant. They served up several dishes that looked as fancy as this before surprisingly serving up the best desert I think I’ve ever had. It was this strawberry and ice cream with this cinnamon toastish thing. I’m not really one for desert but that was amazing. The whole dinner was great.

Tasting at Rech in Paris
Tasting at Rech in Paris

After dinner we continued to walk further around Paris. We passed the Arc de Triomphe. The circle that goes around the arc is pretty calm in this picture, but not when we drove around it to get to our hotel the day before. I think there are ten lanes and a dozen exits, so if you are not careful you will end up with an accident or getting too close to the arc where you will spend forever trying to get out of the circle.

Arc de Triomphe
Arc de Triomphe

We caught glimpses of the Eiffel Tower throughout the town before the view opened up. The Eiffel Tower is one of those tremendous pieces of architecture that fits the city perfectly. The lighting system on the tower is patented so if you take a picture of the tower when it is illuminated then you cannot redistribute that image without permission from the Societe d’exploitation de la tour Eiffel (SETE) within the country of France. The tower itself is open to public domain but the lighting system is not. At least I think that’s how it goes. But I’m not currently in France so I think I can legally post these pictures. The whole thing is completely absurd but I’ll let you know if I get an email from SETE asking me to take down these pictures.

Eiffel Tower with night approaching
Eiffel Tower with night approaching

It was late so we couldn’t take a ride all the way to the top but we got to the second floor. It was a nice view of Paris from that height. I snapped a couple pictures. You can see the Ferris wheel by the Louvre which is where our hotel was and where we walked from and would end up walking back to. The Sacre Couer church is in the center in the far distance. The Arc of Triomphe is off to the left a little out of frame of the picture. Paris is a gorgeous city at any angle.

Nights in Paris
Nights in Paris

After the ride up we strolled through the grounds outside of the tower. There was a bunch of people hanging out on the lawns drinking wine. It’s common in a lot of European cities to grab a beer or wine and drink it wherever you please. Everyone seems to be pretty under control with the whole concept, which is very different from back home where if you have a cup with some alcohol you get fined for it. After heading back to the hotel we grabbed some sleep to get ready for our trip to Lyon.

Eiffel Tower at night
Eiffel Tower at night

Lyon is a nice town. It’s known for some of the best food in France, but you have to make sure you go to one of the bouchons. Most of them had outdoor seating like these.

Bouchons in Lyon
Bouchons in Lyon

We saw a pretty cool looking bouchon named Le Tire Bouchon with no outside seating that had a gritty New York City feel to it. We pulled up the reviews on Yelp and Google Maps and that’s the one that it suggested so we ventured inside. The wallpaper was just slightly peeling. The paint had a worn tarnish on it. It was well used but very cute. The food was incredible; probably the best well rounded meal of the trip. I had foie and toast again and Megan had a bruschetta that sat on top of greens. For the entree I went with duck and she went Risotto Saint Jacques, which is a risotto dish with scallops. She went with creme brulee and she laughed when my desert was brought out. I ordered La Charlotte, which is this weird, rose colored pie with yellow sauce and a pastry siding. It’s the perfect looking desert if you’re a five year old girl. It was very delicious and she admitted the first impression did not fit the delicious taste.

La Charlotte
La Charlotte

After dinner we strolled a little through town, making our way back to the hotel. I liked this statue of some guy carrying another guy, who looks like it could be his friend who needs carrying. The name of the piece is The weight of oneself by Elmgreen & Dragset, so really it’s just the guy carrying himself which is a little less romantic. I’m not really sure why neither have clothes but the acceptance of nudity is much more relaxed in Europe than it is at home. Back home we freak out and laugh like little kids when we see a naked body part but in Europe people are much more accepting. We got to the hotel and grabbed our last night of sleep in France, before heading into the gorgeous country of Switzerland.

Carry yourself lightly
Carry yourself lightly

The original plan in Switzerland for the first day was to go from Geneva to Basel and finally Zurich. We were a little tired of all the towns we had been seeing and decided to go for some more nature. We dropped Basel and Zurich to give ourselves more time in the mountains, deciding to stay at Lake Lucerne on the first night. We still ventured in to Geneva because it was directly on the way. Geneva is a nice town with a lake of it’s own. It was busy with people enjoying the nice weather.

Lake Geneva
Lake Geneva

We made our way to the Swiss Chalet near Lake Lucerne for our hotel. It was a very nice Swiss hotel, which had red flowers and Swiss flags decorating the outside.

The Swiss Chalet
The Swiss Chalet

The receptionist decided to hook us up with a big suite for no charge. It was a great stay at this place.

Like a fairy tale
Like a fairy tale

The hotel came with it’s own beach with views of the surrounding mountains. I got about as close to these swans as their mom would allow.

Baby swans
Baby swans

After hanging out around Lake Lucerne for a little we grabbed some dinner. Swiss food seems pretty expensive as most of the restaurants. I’m not exactly sure why but it’s pretty pricey. I went with calf liver for my meal and it was very good. We ventured off to bed for an early night to catch up on all of the traveling that we had been doing.

The next we ventured off to check out Interlaken. We stopped along the way to take in the views. It’s gorgeous driving through Switzerland.

Switzerland is gorgeous
Switzerland is gorgeous

Interlaken seemed like a nice place. I think they wanted around $40 per person to take the funicular to the Harder Klum, which takes you pretty high up on one of the mountains. It seemed a little steep and would have been repetitive as we had the Matterhorn on schedule for the next day. We decided to skip the ride and ventured off in the direction of Wengen. We looked into the Top of Europe railway tour, which takes you to the Jungfrau mountain. It was a little late in the day to go on that and the ride takes a couple hours so we proceeded further to Wengen. Wengen is a car free area and you have to take the train from Lauterbrunnen to get there. Since it was a little late and we weren’t staying the night we decided to stroll around Lauterbrunnen. We hiked around the Staubbach Falls.

Staubbach Falls in Lauterbrunnen
Staubbach Falls in Lauterbrunnen

We continued the drive through the glorious Swiss mountains. We drove through the Grimsel Pass, which is one of those roads that wind back and forth a bunch of times both going up and coming down the mountain. It’s similar to and right next to the more famous Furka Pass which was used in the James Bond movie Goldfinger. I don’t have a great picture of the winding road as I was more focused on safely getting through all the bends, but here’s a picture of the at the top.

Looking out over the Totensee
Looking out over the Totensee

We got to our hotel in Oberwald, which I though was a lot closer to Andermatt. I wanted to check out Andermatt but the hotel I booked somehow ended up in the small mountain town of Oberwald. No big deal because Oberwald was a great little mountain town. We grabbed some Thai food. It might be surprising to think of Thai food in Switzerland but they seem to love it. After dinner we ventured back to the hotel. It was pretty hot and the rooms often don’t come with air conditioning as they just expect you to open the windows, which we did. In general air conditioning is used maybe 10% as much as back in America. In the US, every place will be air-conditioned. In the countries in Europe there is very little air conditioning used, even in places in hot summer heat in the cities. But the lack of air conditioning was fine for this night. It was an amazing night to look out at the stars.

The next day we were set to venture to Zermatt. Zermatt is another car-free town. You have to drive in to Tasch and take a train or taxi over. We hopped on a short train ride and made our way straight for the Gornergrat Bahn, which takes you up to the Gornergrat mountain. The ride up is around half hour with a few stops if you don’t want to go all the way up to the top. From the top you can see almost 30 4,000-meter (13,100 feet) peaks and a bunch of glaciers. It was supposed to thunderstorm but we were able to catch the Matterhorn with relatively few clouds.

Matterhorn over Zermatt
Matterhorn over Zermatt

The train up the mountain is great. I would definitely recommend it to anyone who visits Zermatt. The views are nice the whole way up and down the mountain.

Riding the Gornergrat Bahn
Riding the Gornergrat Bahn

Here’s another picture of the Matterhorn with even less clouds. From this moment on the storm clouds started to slowly roll in over the mountains, but it was tame and only resulted in some drizzles.

Matterhorn almost cloudless
Matterhorn almost cloudless

We decided to stack some rocks at the top of the Gornergrat. We stacked all of these rocks to make a tranquil setting high in the mountains for people to enjoy.

Stacking rocks
Stacking rocks

Actually, we didn’t stack any of those, but we didn’t knock any over, so I think that’s fair enough. We made our way back down the mountain into town. We had been trying to get some Swiss chocolate on the trip but it is pretty difficult to find. The store we went to was closed at 7 PM so we decided to head back the next morning.

Shopping in Zermatt
Shopping in Zermatt

The next morning we got to the chocolate shop and it didn’t open until 2 PM. The next stop on the trip was Milan so it looked like we were out of luck for real Swiss chocolate, outside of the mass-produced stuff they were selling at the convenience stores. We decided to add about an hour of driving onto the trip and venture off to what we thought was as chocolatier. All we had was the address for this place with 1 Google review from a year ago. The website that was listed wasn’t functioning. It was risky to drive all the way out to the middle of nowhere but we were fiending for some Swiss chocolate. We got to the place and it looked like someone’s driveway. Wasn’t looking good for chocolate. But we were on the wrong road. A quick U-turn got us onto a much wider street that had Chocorama Chocolatier Moreillon. We scored some awesome Swiss chocolate. Some of it looked like this, but they had chocolate in all different kinds. The chocolate was delicious and I would recommend it to anyone near the town of Sierre.

Finally Swiss chocolates
Finally Swiss chocolates

We ventured off to Milan, Italy for the final day together. We were both starting to feel a little bummed about leaving each other for two and a half weeks, but we still had another day of exploring so we set our sights on Milan. When we got into town we grabbed another espresso and cappuccino, something that is not very well made outside of Italy. There were some places that had good espresso and cappuccino but in Italy everywhere including the gas station and the convenience store has amazing coffee. I certainly will miss that when I am back home drinking Americanos.

We grabbed some Sicilian style food when we got there. I ordered some grilled crayfish, which to me look like prawns. It was a dish that I got on my first night in Italy and it’s what I wanted to have again. I tried ordering it the night before in Zermatt but I ended up getting this below average salad. Oh well. Win some, lose some.

Crayfish, but they look like prawns
Crayfish, but they look like prawns

We strolled around town a little in Milan, grabbing a final gelato outside of the Milan Cathedral, or the Duomo as they call it. There’s pretty much been a church at the site since forever (there is a baptistery under the church that you can visit that was built in 335), but building of the cathedral officially started in 1386 and didn’t end until 1965. I know everything can’t be built as fast as the Colosseum (6-8 years) but it just seems like almost 600 years is a long time to build something. They may have taken their time but they got it right.

Milan Cathedral, the Duomo
Milan Cathedral, the Duomo

I especially like this carving of David slaying Goliath. Underdogs for the win.

Underdog lifestyle
Underdog lifestyle

After we got back to the hotel we grabbed one final night of sleep together. We woke up early in the morning to take Megan to Milan airport. It was a sad ride.

Just stay with meaaa
Just stay with meaaa

We said goodbyes at the airport.

It’s so empty without her. I miss her bundles. I cried a little after getting on my way. I was bummed. I was heading to Venice, but I was alone.

So empty now
So empty now

I ended up pulling over to grab a nap at a rest stop. I couldn’t sleep the night before and needed a quick nap. Eventually I got to Venice and took a one-way boat ride to the San Marco stop. It was a very nice ride along the way.

Nice views helped cheer me up a little
Nice views helped cheer me up a little

When I got off I strolled around, eventually making it to the southeastern part of Venice. Who would have thought that Venice looked like this? The Park of Remembrance is a nice park where you can quickly get away from the tourists. From the end of the island I was determined to make my way back to the parking deck by walking. Everyone says you need to take boats to get around Venice, but I wasn’t having that. I plotted out what looked like an hour walk and got on my way.

It's Venice, I promise
It’s Venice, I promise

I stopped for a pizza and a spritz and used some Wi-Fi to plan my trip a little. I haven’t really thought too much about where I was headed ever since I planned my initial itinerary back before I started the trip. I decided on Innsbruck, Austria for my first stop after Venice. With that I got up from the restaurant and got back to my walk. I strolled through Piazza San Marco.

Much people at Piazza San Marco
Much people at Piazza San Marco

Further and further I went, passed the many canals and gondola rides, across a bunch of bridges. Eventually I made it all the way back to the car at the parking garage.

Crossing the many bridges
Crossing the many bridges

The rates at the garage were 21 euro for anything from five to 24 hours. I was only there for maybe seven hours or so and decided to sleep the night in the car, as it didn’t cost me anything. I kind of want to take the final leg of this trip thriftier than the others. The Michelin star restaurants and four-star hotels should make way for occasional sleeping in the car if the opportunity allows it. I’m thinking parking decks should provide decent safety and cover from weather, and I’ll alternate nights in pretty nice hotels. If anything looks sketchy I have no problems bailing.

Well, that sums up most of the trip. I’m currently in Innsbruck, Austria. Salzburg, Austria and Munich, Germany are up for tomorrow.

I miss everyone back home and I’ll be seeing y’all soon enough!

South of France and Spain

July 5th. And then there were two.

It was definitely sad at first traveling without the family, but seeing the new sights helped us to quickly replace our feelings of sadness with feelings of “Wow, look at that!” We ventured from the villa in the Tuscany/Umbria region of Italy to the north and to the west. The first day of travel would have three stops, with the first being Genoa, Italy.

Genoa is a nice coastal town. Parts of it are picturesque, like this shot of Boccadasse.

Boccadasse, like a magazine
Boccadasse, like a magazine

When you see these quintessential travel magazine scenes in front of you, it’s indescribable. You feel like your in travel magazine, each new day is a new page or article. Only instead of pictures and words of incredible things you are living them. You see not one picture, but a streaming flow of beauty. You don’t see a picture of food. You experience the food with the tastes and smells and textures and temperatures and everything else that is going on. When you see this stuff in a magazine you say, “wow, I wish I could see that someday.” But when you are here living it, you think “this is fucking amazing.” I hope if anyone reading this ever wanted to do some traveling that you find some way to get out there. Sure, there is a ton of frustration and problems and complexities and you’ll hear from a bunch of people how a million things can go wrong, but that stuff is well worth going through to get this experience and live this stuff. Maybe I feel that way because I made traveling a dream of mine and I decided to pursue it rather than let it stay a dream. I think the bigger takeaway here is to not just dream but also to physically manifest those dreams. Dream it. Figure out what you need to do it. Then do it.

Ok, tangent over. After hanging in the Boccadasse neighborhood of Genoa we decided to grab some food. It was siesta time so we had to settle for something else. We grabbed these incredible homemade ice cream sandwiches. It’s been very common in Italy for people to naturally go above and beyond and their ice cream sandwiches are no exception.

Always go the extra step
Always go the extra step

After the quick snack we ventured back near the car to a Chinese food place, which was something we wanted to get in a European country to compare to the Chinese food back in America. It was pretty cool to see the localization with the Chinese food menu including pasta, risotto, and gnocchi dishes. We went with a prawn dish. This is what Chinese food looks like in Genoa.

Chinese food in Genoa, Italy
Chinese food in Genoa, Italy

We hopped back in the car and made our way to Monte Carlo, Monaco. I’m trying to think of a richer playground than this but I don’t think I can think of anywhere in the world where more rich people come to relax. The drive in along the cliffs is breathtaking. The marina where the yachts are docked is gorgeous. It’s almost comical how many Bentley, Maybach, Rolls, Lambo, Ferrari, etc. are on the streets and in the parking spaces here. I love cars and it’s just a treat to see everything on display here.

Yachts in Monte Carlo
Yachts in Monte Carlo

We decided to check out the Casino de Monte Carlo square and the Hotel de Paris. There was a bunch of gentlemen playing some great songs outside of both. They were killing it with tremendously posh versions of Coldplay and other popular songs.

Tuxedos and pop music
Tuxedos and pop music

Walking around and seeing all this stuff you can’t help but wish to have piles of money so we decided to go to the casino and win big. I got rejected at the door based on my dress code. Great. Came all the way to Monte Carlo to pretend to be James Bond and I can’t even get in the door. Walked back to car which was parked incredibly close and threw on some fresh pants and a dress shirt. Walked back to the casino and I was in. Unfortunately they don’t allow cameras in the casino, but we had an epic time in there. Megan didn’t know how to play any games so I taught her roulette really quickly. Pick red or pick black. If the ball lands on that color then you win your money. I don’t normally gamble because I learned statistics at some point in my life and I am fairly rigorous with applying common sense and not throwing my money away, but this was a special occasion. The plan was for each of us to put 25 Euro on a color. If we won, then we had free drinks on the house. If we lost then we would still get a drink but it would be a much sadder affair. Megan went first. She chose black. Cold-blooded. Wheel spins. As it’s spinning I’m thinking man, that’s around $35 with the current conversion to dollars. The ball falls off the wall of the wheel and starts bouncing around colors. Looks like it will hit black. Then red. Then oh maybe it can hit black again. No not red, come on. Finally lands on black. Boom! Beginner’s luck. Megan wins and now it’s time for me to go. I tell her to place my chips on red. Then I ask her if she thinks it’s good. She’s lucky. “Should I put it on black? Or should I stay red?” The chips stay on red. She’s not making the decision for me. Wheel’s spinning. Ball’s going around. “Man, I hope I’m not throwing away $35.” The ball hits the wheel. Starts bouncing again. Looks like red. Then black. Then red again. What’s it going to end on? Boom, red. Heck, yea! We pick up our chips and cash them in after a single spin each. We won big. Took down the house. Went off to the bar and ordered a drink, technically on the house. Thanks suckers! A 17 Euro mojito and 20 Euro martini never tasted so good.

We go out of there and strolled around a bit more. Monte Carlo is a dream world, and it’s great because you don’t have to be rich to enjoy it, although someday I would like to come back with a pile of cash and do it right.

Feeling like a million bucks in Monte Carlo
Feeling like a million bucks in Monte Carlo

After we got out of there we ventured through the winding roads into Nice, France. The area we stayed at was a little gritty, or at least it felt like that coming from the richest place in the world. But looking back on it, that’s the same grittiness that you see throughout Europe. Some places are a little rough around the edges, but most of that is just a difference of what I’m used to seeing. America I’m sure has the same grittiness but I’m just used to it. I go in to Newark, NJ to watch the Red Bulls play soccer and I never think twice about it. We grabbed pizzas that night while watching Costa Rica almost pull off the miracle against Netherlands before losing out on penalties.

The next day we got out of the hotel and ventured off to check out what Nice and the south of France had to offer. There is a cool old section that has a nice park. There are water streams that turn into steam clouds in this fountain area of the park. It was a cool image to see the reflection of the water on the ground.

Park in Nice, France
Park in Nice, France

After strolling around the park and grabbing a crepe and some espresso (not as good as in Italy), we strolled over to the beach. Wow. What a great beach. The only negative for me was the stones instead of white sand, but wow. The water was incredible. The whole scene was just gorgeous. It was fun to lay out and get some tanning and swimming in.

Beach in Nice, France
Beach in Nice, France

After relaxing we went back to one of the many outdoor cafes and order a seafood tower that had a bunch of awesome seafood. Yea mom, some of it was raw, but everything is fine with me. I’m healthy and feeling great!

Seafood tower
Seafood tower

After lunch we ventured off to Marseille, France. We drove up to the Basilique Notre Dame de la Garde. It was closed but it was an impressive looking church way at the top of the highest point in Marseille. It’s amazing to me how much work and effort went into building churches in Europe.

Another impressive church
Another impressive church

The view from the church is definitely worth the drive to the top. Hard to beat being up here and taking in the view.

Best view of Marseille
Best view of Marseille

After taking way too long to find the hotel and parking because of the narrowest of streets and road closures, we got to the hotel. I needed a shower to freshen up but had to settle for a bath, as that’s all the hotel offered.

Just taking a bath
Just taking a bath

We walked down to the old port area and looked for a place to eat. A bunch of restaurants were closing but a few stayed open for the later crowd. We found a place with mussels and fries, which I never knew was a popular French dish that you will see everywhere. I tried to take a picture but the steam from the mussels fogged the lens so no picture for that, which I’m sure is fine for some of you. I post a lot of pictures of food because I love food. I think food is one of the most important parts of a culture, but feel free to skip past all of my food pictures. After the delicious dinner we skipped back to the hotel for some sleep.

Day three of trip post-villa would include a stop in Montpellier, France to pick up some lunch. We grabbed some pretzels from a stand and some sandwiches that were on pretzel bun. I went with a prosciutto and cheese sandwich and a foie gras sandwich. I should probably stop eating the foie because of how it’s produced though, but it was incredibly delicious.

Hazy Montpellier
Hazy Montpellier

We hopped back in the car and made our way to Barcelona, Spain. After some driving we arrived in Barcelona. At this point we were getting used to driving around the tiny European roads and maneuvering through the narrow parking decks and were able to get to our hotel without too much effort. Well, other than driving through a pedestrian square and having to reverse as it was not intended for vehicles.

Barcelona is a great city. There are a lot of younger people and it’s reflected throughout the city. We stopped for an incredible meal at Cera 23, which was a short walk from our hotel. They are known for their mojitos so we ordered one of those. More delicious was the food. I wasn’t carrying my DSLR so I couldn’t get any good pictures of the food, but the meal ended up being so good that we found ourselves back there the next night. We ordered octopus done in a traditional Spanish style of olive oil, paprika and large salt. It’s one of the best things that I have eaten on the trip. Absolutely perfect dish that I would eat many times before ever getting tired of it. I ordered it again the next night. In addition to the octopus we got some tuna and a seafood rice dish. The rice dish was very unique. I think it might have had the skins of an onion or some other ingredient sticking out of the rice that would expand and contract to make it look alive. It’s hard to explain but it was a very cool presentation.

Dos mojitos at Cera 23
Dos mojitos at Cera 23

The next day we started the day off with some espresso and cappuccino at Caravelle. It was a coffee house that had delicious sounding tapas, so we went with shrimp, fish, and cauliflower tacos. We also grabbed a beer brewed in Barcelona that they were selling there.

Tacos at Caravelle
Tacos at Caravelle

After scoring some WiFi we ventured off to La Sagrada Familia, which is a famous church in Barcelona. It was completely under renovation, which is surprising for a church that had commenced building 130 years ago. I eventually found out that they never finished building the church; it should be finished sometime in the next 10-15 years. Interesting. We waited in the whole line for about half an hour in some heat before I decided I didn’t want to pay the 40 Euros for two people to go see the inside of the church. Maybe it was the heat, maybe it was that I had already seen a bunch of churches, maybe it was the unsuccessful beggars asking people for money in line, maybe it was me thinking about the massive amount of resources that have been spent and are continuing to be spent to build churches, I don’t know what it was, but I just wanted to get out of there. It probably is worth a visit, especially in 15 years when it is completely finished.

La Sagrada Familia being built
La Sagrada Familia being built

The church was designed by Antoni Gaudi, a legendary wizard of design and architecture and a staple amongst the Barcelona scenery. We decided to visit one of his works called the Casa Batllo, which is a house that he designed. It also cost 40 Euros for two people to go see but it was worth the money. The amount of detail that he put into this house was incredible. The house was possibly inspired by Jules Verne’s science fiction, underwater scenes, fantastical works, and Gaudi’s deep imagination.

Casa Batllo
Casa Batllo

I shot this chandelier from underneath and it has a very different perspective than what you might see walking through the room. Maybe it looks like an eye or a creature like a spider or something else. The whole house is open to interpretation. The paint on the wall is continued throughout the house and may have been used to make the walls resemble an animal/dinosaur/creature’s crackled skin.

Chandelier at the Batllo House
Chandelier at the Batllo House

Gaudi’s finesse and control over his materials enabled him to create shapes that seem very uneasy to accomplish. The entire house has almost no straight lines. This room is a good example of mastery across many materials.

Mastery across many materials
Mastery across many materials

There is a lot of blue and underwater themes to the house. Another impressive skill Gaudi had was to utilize light. The house had many stories but each room in the house had some sort of opening into which it received natural light. There are almost no lights needed to maneuver around the house other than the chandeliers, which were used much more to set moods and enhance the settings of the rooms.

After Gaudi we ventured off to Catalana, which is a tapas restaurant. We ordered numerous little bites of food, but among the best were the grilled cuttlefish and razor clams. Razor clams don’t usually make their way onto the American menus so it was great to score a plate for only a few euros.

Razor clams at Catalana
Razor clams at Catalana

After tapas we strolled across La Rambla, which is a famous tourist street in Barcelona. We eventually made our way back to Cera 23 for desert, but I opted for that octopus dish again. It was delicious, but the kitchen was swamped and it couldn’t hit the perfection of the night before. Still, it was an amazing dish and I would order it again and again. We also grabbed a ceviche that was refreshing. So our desert kind of became a second round of tapas but we eventually scored a sweet to finish off the night.

Octopus at Cera 23
Octopus at Cera 23

We only had a few hours sleep because the next morning we hopped a flight to Ibiza. We were originally planning on cruising to Ibiza from Valencia because it was supposed to be cheaper and I was looking forward to the ride, but the flight was the same price. We had a flight on Ryanair, which was a disastrous affair. Almost missed the flight because it took them two hours to print a boarding pass. We went back and forth from line to line and the workers were clueless as to how to help us. Then they started closing lines and queues grew longer and longer. It was a disaster. But no worries, we got on the 50-minute flight to Ibiza. We took a taxi over to the San Antonio part of the island where we were staying. We laid out at the pool while waiting for our room since we were there so early. After checking out what was happening around the island we opted for Nas over Steve Aoki, Lil Jon, Graham Sahara, Danny Wade, and Angel Linde who were at Pacha. I didn’t expect to go to Ibiza to see hip-hop but I was thrilled. The Nas concert was killer. He played a bunch of hits and was celebrating the 20th anniversary of Illmatic.

Queensbridge to Ibiza
Queensbridge to Ibiza

We had another early flight back to Barcelona and almost got booted from the Ryanair flight because we didn’t go through some sort of passport check or something. Who knows with this airline. We got through another quick flight and grabbed the car from Barcelona airport and were able to successfully get to Valencia without too much struggle considering the lack of sleep the previous two nights.

We grabbed some sleep when we got to the hotel and eventually wandered out for some paella at Canela. It wasn’t authentic Valencia paella which comes with duck, rabbit, and vegetables since we opted for the seafood paella. The rice was brilliantly cooked. This was the view from our table. Everyone eats outside in Europe, and the views of the city are usually awesome.

Eating paella at Canela
Eating paella at Canela

Valencia was intended to be a restful day back when we put the itinerary together and it paid off. We were well rested for the next day in Madrid. Madrid is a city that a lot of people have been saying is not worth the visit. I completely disagree. I think Madrid is well worth several hours drive. You can easily spent a couple days in Madrid. We started our day off with some homemade pastries, vanilla wafers, espressos, and cappuccinos. The espresso at this little cafe next to our hotel was the best since leaving Italy. I tried to use my Spanish to communicate that I didn’t want a single and wanted a double. I said it as “no pequeno, pero grande” or something like that. I think they sell their espresso as small and large and the large is like a triple shot, which is great. I love espresso so generally the more the better.

Treats to start the day
Treats to start the day

We ventured off for Plaza Mayor, which was a nice walk from our hotel. We stumbled upon the Market of San Miguel, which had incredibly fresh and delicious ingredients, tapas, and drinks.

Market of San Miguel
Market of San Miguel

Spain was coming out of siesta so we grabbed some sangria, oysters, and cheeses as an appetizer until dinner time. All of the food and drink from the market was delicious.

Oysters at the Market of San Miguel
Oysters at the Market of San Miguel

We wanted to go to Botin for dinner, which is the oldest still running restaurant in Spain, and one of the oldest in the world. It was founded in 1725. But we couldn’t get seated, as it was completely booked for the night. We instead opted for dinner at Los Galayos in the square. They had some great seafood paella.

Paella in Plaza Mayor
Paella in Plaza Mayor

After dinner we strolled around the square some more before venturing back to the hotel for the night.

Strolling Plaza Mayor
Strolling Plaza Mayor

The next morning involved a pretty long drive to San Sebastian, which is a town in northern Spain close to the French border. It’s a nice shore town that sits on the Bay of Biscay. The beach is worth a visit.

Beach of San Sebastian
Beach of San Sebastian

The water was warm and the sun was shining, which was great given that it looked like we were driving into a storm on the drive from Madrid.

Hanging in San Sebastian
Hanging in San Sebastian

The night should be spent in the town grabbing tapas, or pinxtos as they are called here, from the many restaurants. We went to a few but Borda Berri was the best. All of their dishes were good but I think maybe the octopus is the best.

Octopus at Borda Berri
Octopus at Borda Berri

It’s been a very busy week since we left the villa in Italy. We’ve been through Monaco, the south of France, and Spain. Tomorrow we are heading back into France for several days before swinging in to Switzerland. Tomorrow should be a fun time touring vineyards in Bordeaux. The trip has been a dream so far and I’m looking forward to what the rest has in store.

Hasta luego!

In a villa sipping vino

I’ve been so busy traveling around that I haven’t had time to update until now. In the last week I’ve been immersed in the Italian countryside. Sienna was a great city. Like all of Italy, it has great coffee. I’m definitely going to miss the coffee when I leave Italy. The espressos are my favorite but some of the more elaborate coffees are good too.

Italian cafes are delightful
Italian cafes are delightful

The city was getting ready for its famous horse racing festival, which is held twice a year. During the race horses run around the city down to the city center. Everyone in Sienna was very festive while we were there, two days before the event. The different supporters were singing their songs and parading around the city, wearing the colors of their horse.

Sienna was a party
Sienna was a party

The food in Sienna was excellent. We had the best cheese platter of the trip with many different types of cheeses. The local wild boar on the menu was great both as a stew and as a steak. The lasagna was entirely made from scratch and tasted fresh and flavorful.

Cheese platter in Sienna
Cheese platter in Sienna

Sienna, like many of the towns around here has huge churches all over the place. Italy seems to be a pretty religious country, both historically and currently. The detail and construction of the churches here are immense. Building a church like this in the present day would cost billions of dollars if you could even find enough craftsmen to do all the stone/metal/wood work.

Churches all over
Churches all over

The night after Sienna was spent back at the villa with the family. I was messing around with some night photography and caught a shooting star on camera. It’s not the best shot of the group but it’s obligatorily included due to the shooting star.

Villa Serena under the night sky
Villa Serena under the night sky

The next day we spent in Assisi. Assisi is a nice town. Like many of the towns in the area there are shops, restaurants, cafes, gelato stores, and beautiful things to see. The people of Italy were very friendly and Assisi was no exception. Assisi seems to have more ornate churches per such a small area than anywhere else. Most famous is the church where Saint Francis of Assisi’s tomb is. There were no photographs of the church or tomb allowed and I respected it. If you want to see either just head over to Google. The church is gorgeous and the tomb is hard to grasp. Italy has so much history all over and it’s just amazing to see the tomb of such a historical figure from almost a thousand years ago.

Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi
Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi

After we got out of the church we strolled around the town. There was a pretty sweet car parked outside of the church and I grabbed a picture.

Whippin like Gatsby
Whippin like Gatsby

We grabbed lunch and looked out for some desert in the town. I was tempted by massive meringues, which are the size of your head but settled on a smaller size, which tasted great. I love the sweets and dessert stores that they have all over the place. The quality of the treats is great.

Pick a treat, any treat
Pick a treat, any treat

Like many of the towns, Assisi is picture perfect. The towns really shoot themselves. It would be hard to mess up taking great pictures of these places.

Assisi is gorgeous
Assisi is gorgeous

Here’s a shot of most of the crew minus one aunt and uncle set. It was a little hard to get all 13 people in one place at the same time throughout the trip but when we were all together it was a great time. We kept each other laughing and lifted spirits when the frustrations of travel crept in. I’ll definitely miss everyone when it’s just my lady and I traveling around.

Most of the fam
Most of the fam

After Assisi some of us went off to Castiglione del Lago. It’s a great little town with a castle, which was fun to explore. There are great views of the lake and mountains throughout the town. There’s even a place that sells homemade local craft beers, which was a nice surprise for an Italian town where you normally order beer not by brand but by asking for a “beer”.

Top of the fort at Castiglione del Lago
Top of the fort at Castiglione del Lago

The delicious food that we were eating in the towns and countryside made its way into the villa’s dishes. On some nights people would cook for dinner. The night after Castiglione del Lago was finished off with a penne with vodka sauce. We had an assortment of classic Italian appetizers.

Inspired by local product
Inspired by local product

The next day we went on a wine tour of two wineries in Tuscany. It was nice to see the fields up close and watch the wine process from start to finish. The vineyards were beautiful.

Vineyards in Tuscany
Vineyards in Tuscany

Both wineries had a bunch of wine at various stages of the process.

A whole bunch of wine
A whole bunch of wine

The first winery had some dried meats, cheeses and breads to pair with the wines. I had my USA jersey on at this winery and met a young kid with a Belgium jersey on. He was giving me dirty looks but eventually we got to talking about the game. Him and his family were great people. We wished each other luck for the game. Unfortunately the luck would be on the side of the Belgians and the US would be knocked out of the World Cup later that night.

Wine tasting
Wine tasting

The second winery came with a full lunch tasting menu. This winery had some great food. It was all prepared on site by the cooking school that’s at the winery. Everything was made with fresh ingredients that were either from the winery or in the local area.

Menu for wine pairing
Menu for wine pairing

We got back to the villa and hung out with everyone. We caught the sunset, which was as gorgeous as any of the nights at the villa.

View from the villa
View from the villa

We had another dish that was cooked up at the villa, which was a tremendous shrimp, mussel, and clam pasta. It was excellent. I didn’t expect the clams to be anything special but they were incredibly flavorful. The mussels were nice and fresh and the shrimp were good as well. I just loved eating at the villa because the food was inspired by the local product and it was hard to differentiate the dishes from what we were eating out in the towns. The night was spent cheering on the US soccer team, even thought they couldn’t get through to the next round.

Cooked at the villa
Cooked at the villa

We woke up early the next day to catch a train to Florence. Florence is gorgeous. It’s a great city and has some great shops. All of the big Italian brands are present as well as many Italian leather stores.

Florence is gorgeous
Florence is gorgeous

We went to the Uffizi Museum to see some amazing artwork. The Uffizi has many great pieces of art. I especially loved all of the painted ceilings. I thought they were excellent.

Ceilings at the Uffizi Gallery
Ceilings at the Uffizi Gallery

There were many masterpieces throughout the museum such as this one by Leonardo da Vinci.

Leonardo da Vinci at the Uffizi
Leonardo da Vinci at the Uffizi

The statues at the museum are some of the best in the world. I wish I was able to appreciate them more but statues to me are a little repetitive and don’t evoke too much emotion. It’s a little annoying because a tremendous amount of work and skill went into the piece and I just can’t proportionally admire it.

Statues at the Uffizi
Statues at the Uffizi

The ceilings of the place were maybe my favorite part of the Uffizi.

I love these ceilings
I love these ceilings

Some of the artwork is just stunning. There are some huge paintings in the museum.

This painting was enormous
This painting was enormous

After we got back from Florence we stopped at a local restaurant, which had delicious homemade food. The gnocchi was excellent and I grabbed a cuttlefish dish which seemed to appear on several of the menus in the area. The cuttlefish was pretty excellent and I would get it again.

The next day we ventured off to Cortona.

Cortona was a nice little town
Cortona was a nice little town

It was a small town in the country that had very excellent food. I went for quail eggs with truffles and a duck dish, both of which were excellent. We spent the day strolling around and taking in the views.

Taking in the sights
Taking in the sights

The vistas from Cortona were great like many of the hillside towns in Italy. The contrast in colors from up top is excellent. A lot of times the views that you see are like a painting.

The views are tremendous
The views are tremendous

We got back to the villa and went for a stroll around. The fields of wheat and sunflower are beautiful to walk past.

Sunflower fields in Umbria
Sunflower fields in Umbria

On the final day before we left we went to another small town of Citta Della Pieve. It was scenic and beautiful.

Picturesque town
Picturesque town

As with all of the other places we went to the food was incredible. I got a liver pate, which was the best dish that I had on the whole trip.

Liver pate was the best dish
Liver pate was the best dish

After strolling around Citta Della Pieve we went to Castiglione del Lago again for one final dinner before heading back to the villa. We said our goodbyes to the family who all had to be up early for flights back home and ventured off to bed for the night.

For the next two and a half weeks it will be my lady and I traveling around France, Spain, and Switzerland. I’m sad to say goodbye to everyone and to Italy but very excited for what the rest of the trip has in store.

Ciao!

I just landed in Rome!

The day finally was here. I was packed and heading to Rome to start my 45 day trip around Europe. The night before I felt a pretty awesome high, a euphoric blend of happiness, excitement, and success. It’s a feeling that I’ve felt only a few times in my life and is hard to explain. It’s been a dream of mine to travel and see Europe and I was on my way.

I was supposed to fly from JFK to Dusseldorf and then to Rome. But the flight to Dusseldorf was delayed for two hours, causing me to miss my connection. The fastest way in to Rome was then to go to Munich and then into Rome. I had to grab my bags and go through the check-in process again so while I had access to my bag I grabbed my USA jersey and threw it on. I definitely made myself a target wearing a USA jersey in Germany on the day the two were playing in a World Cup match and I rightly got my share of dirty looks from the Germans sprinkled in with “Go USA” from a couple American soccer fans.

The flight to Munich was fine and so was the flight to Rome. I was in and out of sleep on what was starting to feel like an endless journey but I eventually grabbed my bags in Rome and grabbed a taxi to the Pantheon, where my hotel was next to. I was planning on catching the USA game out in Italy since it was on at 6 PM Rome time and I was supposed to get in at 10:30 AM, but I had to settle for following the game on my phone, getting to my hotel just as it ended in a 1-0 loss which was fine as the US was able to advance out of a very difficult group.

My hotel was the Pantheon View Bed and Breakfast and it was way above my expectations. Don’t let the fancy name fool you; it was pretty much the cheapest place I could find in the area. But I was greeted by a very nice lady with a glass of champagne.

Welcome to Rome
Welcome to Rome

And the room came with a balcony, which had a nice view.

View from my Balcony at Pantheon B&B
View from my Balcony at Pantheon B&B

I met up with my girlfriend’s family, and grabbed some dinner that night. The food in Rome can be tremendous; generally simple dishes that are executed with freshness and flavor. The prosciutto, buffalo mozzarella, tomatoes, king prawns, and some red wine made for a delicious first meal.

Prosciutto and Buffalo Mozzarella
Prosciutto and Buffalo Mozzarella

Finished dinner with an espresso, which was very rich. There was a gelato store next door and so I had to go with the pistachio and hazelnut.

Gelato in Rome
Gelato in Rome

The rest of the night was spend strolling around and catching the World Cup matches to find out who the US would be playing. The game was accompanied with some red wine. It was an early night as we had a lot of exploring to do the next day.

The Pantheon was a minute walk from the hotel. The area around the Pantheon has some good restaurants and places to hang out at. It’s a good place to people watch.

Pantheon is a minute walk from the room
Pantheon is a minute walk from the room

We hopped a taxi to the Coliseum for our tour, which was given by a very knowledgeable lady who was a history teacher. She was brilliant and a joy to have for our tours of Rome. Like many things in a city with history that spans thousands of years, the Coliseum was under construction. If the people who built Giants Stadium built the Coliseum, this is what it would look like.

Coliseum a la Giants Stadium
Coliseum a la Giants Stadium

The Coliseum is an engineering marvel. Built in only 8 years the size, importance, and beauty of the building is all around you on the tour. I learned a lot on the tour and won’t bore you with the details but it’s an amazing place.

The interior of the Coliseum
The interior of the Coliseum

After the Coliseum we walked around some more ancient Roman ruins. Our tour guide had before/after pictures of the area so it was remarkable to see what the place used to look like. The scope and scale of the history in the area is incomprehensible. Just walking a couple feet and there is some new remarkable fact. The history of Rome is layered upon the same space. The Coliseum sits on top of the location of where Nero’s palace used to be. A couple feet further is the hill of where the legend of the founding of Rome took place.

Statues of the Vestal Virgins
Statues of the Vestal Virgins

After touring the area we stopped for some lunch. We also grabbed coffee and a pastry at this little cafe. Freshness, quality, and simplicity are strongly represented in all good Italian food, including desert and drinks.

Lots of great treats throughout the streets
Lots of great treats throughout the streets

After lunch we went to the Vatican to see some more amazing sites. We weren’t allowed to take pictures in the Sistine Chapel, which I respected. There is no need for me to take pictures of it as you can find them all on Google. It was nice to see Michelangelo’s work on display and to see the world-renowned painting of the creation of man in person. It’s the picture where God is reaching out to touch man and the fingers are just almost touching. What I liked more than the Sistine Chapel was the hallway that we saw before going in to the Sistine Chapel. The ceiling is painted with beautiful gold paintings and the walls are covered which some brilliantly designed maps, which for the time were a marvel.

The gold hall of maps before the Sistine Chapel
The gold hall of maps before the Sistine Chapel

We ventured out in Saint Peter’s Square. It was pretty cool to see where the Pope speaks from every week and the chimney with the smoke that announces whether the new pope has been selected or not.

Saint Peter's Square
Saint Peter’s Square

Saint Peter’s is stunning in size and detail. It’s the biggest church in the world. It has some tremendous artwork inside.

The size and scale is tremendous
The size and scale is tremendous

Here is a world-renowned Michelangelo sculpture. His work is impressive to see. It’s in another league when you compare it to the other work that you see on display pretty much anywhere.

Michelangelo's Pieta
Michelangelo’s Pieta

We walked past the tomb of Pope John Paul II. I had to take this picture for my grandmas because they were unsure of where he was buried. He’s off to the right when you walk through the main entrance.

Pope John Paul II's tomb
Pope John Paul II’s tomb

There’s a mummy of Pope Innocent XI in the church, which is amazing. The history and holiness of Rome and the Vatican can be spooky at times.

Body of Pope Innocent XI
Body of Pope Innocent XI

In the church is a statue of Saint Longinus. He’s the soldier who pierced Jesus when he was on the cross. Apparently a tip of the spear is in the column above the statue, behind the angel sculpture on the little balcony above the statue. My grandma told me many times that if I ever made it to Rome that I would have to see the statue. Longin is my grandfather’s name so it was critical that I saw this statue. The tour was over but I asked the tour guide where I could find this statue and she helped me to see it. It was an amazing moment for me to see that statue that I heard my grandma talk about so much. My grandma’s husband was very important to her and my grandfather is very important to me too. I never knew the man but I wish I had. Seeing the statue was very profound for me and I teared up a little when the tour guide asked me why the statue was important to me and I explained the story to her.

Saint Longinus
Saint Longinus

After the tour was over we left Saint Peter’s. We stopped in gift stores because I wanted to look for a gift for my grandmas. Nothing really stuck out. Both of my grandmas have been to Rome and to Saint Peter’s. My one grandma has met Pope John Paul II two times and she gave me a rosary that was blessed by him. They’ve seen it and done it all. There’s nothing there that I can buy them that would have any significant meaning really so I opted to not get anything. I’ll keep an eye out to see if I can score something maybe from the Notre Dame in France or something from somewhere else. But I really just want to sit with them and show them pictures and we can compare our trips to Rome, maybe over an espresso.

Leaving Saint Peter's
Leaving Saint Peter’s

We walked back to the hotel, stopping for a Peroni. We grabbed dinner at this awesome Italian restaurant called Santo Padre. They kept bringing out all of these appetizers and pasta dishes and deserts until we couldn’t eat any more. There were many dishes that tasted so good; among them were the roasted peppers, an eggless carbonera, and oxtail pasta.

After dinner we went back to the area around the Pantheon and grabbed some drinks. This is a view from the table of the place that we grabbed drinks at.

Grabbing drinks near the Pantheon
Grabbing drinks near the Pantheon

After another night’s sleep, it was off to the airport to get rental cars and head to the villa. My girlfriend and I stopped at a gas station for food and had delicious pizza. They had all sorts of fresh food there like pastas and salads and chicken, and as they were leaving they brought out some fresh tortellini pasta which looked so good. It’s a major contrast from the food in the United States, where if you go out to a restaurant you may find yourself eating a frozen meal.

We drove out to the villa that we would be staying at for a week. It was a little tough to find but eventually we got here. This is a view from the backyard of the villa.

Our backyard
Our backyard

The villa is gorgeous inside. Definitely a nice place to be able to call home for a short while, and probably by far the nicest accommodations I’ll have on this trip.

Home for the next week
Home for the next week

There are flowers all over the place. There’s a groundskeeper who is working on the land throughout the day and a lady who has been helping us with things inside the house. She has baked some delicious cakes already.

Beautiful flowers all over
Beautiful flowers all over

We spent some time looking for a grocery store but they were all closed. For night we grabbed some brick oven pizza and spent time hanging out and having some pizza and wine.

Brick oven pizza in Italy
Brick oven pizza in Italy

Today we are off to Sienna and I’ll be hanging around the Italian countryside for the next few days. It will definitely be a nice and relaxing few days.

Until then, ciao!