Thursday, April 9, 2015

Spring Break in Italy and Croatia

Approximately 5,600 miles, 12 days, 4 cities, 2 countries later and I’m home!!

My Prague home I mean. I’m finally back from my spring break trip to Venice, Florence, and Rome, Italy and Dubrovnik, Croatia. I actually got back late Monday night, but I studied all day Tuesday for my midterm Wednesday and then had my internship all day the next day. So I’ve been a little busy, but I’ve finally found a chance to sit down and go through pictures and write. This is most likely going to be a pretty long post, but in my defense, we did a lot! And out of the 1,346 pictures I still managed to narrow it down to just 80. Haha. It was a really awesome trip overall with minimal problems. The weather was perfect for most of our trip so we were really lucky. I was also fortunate to go on the trip with Haley, Zack, Greg, and Sean, some of my best friends here. We had a great time and I couldn’t have asked for better travel buddies. Those guys are seriously hilarious.

We were a little excited for our spring break trip as you can tell.

We left Thursday a couple hours after class ended and headed towards Venice. Funny story actually. First we had to take a train to Munich where we would transfer onto another train that would go through Austria take us all the way to Venice. Let me just put it this way, we got on a train around 5pm Thursday and finally made it to Venice the next day at 8am. We spent about fifteen hours on a train. What’s funny though- it’s funny now but it wasn’t at the time- is that some of our train tickets were wrong. Three of us purchased them at the same time and two of our group got theirs later. Well Zack, Sean, and I had the correct tickets, but Haley’s and Greg’s were wrong. The ticket lady had accidentally given them tickets for the day we purchased them, which was two weeks prior to our trip. So we are in the middle of Germany when the ticket checker comes by and says they aren’t valid. And obviously we should have looked more closely at the tickets, but these were really weird looking tickets that were hard to read! They didn’t even have the train times or anything. They were strange. And also they usually hand them to you in a little ticket holder and there’s no reason to look at them again... So anyways they are able to buy tickets on that train on the spot and we made it to Munich. There, we find the information desk and ask if we can purchase tickets for our next train to Venice and they tell us we can purchase them again once we are on the train. Keep in mind that at this point it’s almost midnight. So we get on the train, it takes off, and we find a ticket checker so they can buy tickets. Well… the ticket checker tells us the train is sold out… at this point the train is already moving. We tried to explain the situation but he just thought we were lying to him and told Haley and Greg they had to get off at the next stop. I’m currently running around trying to find a solution and hassle the train manager and inform them that I found some open, unreserved seats but they refused to listen and were very angry and adamant that they had to get off. At this point, it’s after midnight at the start of Haley’s 21st birthday and she is sitting at the end of the train cart silently crying. Greg is acting optimistic. I’m angry of course (obviously). The train stops, but we couldn’t get the door open and I was still arguing (nicely) with the train conductor so they don’t get off at that stop. Anyways, the next stop is in thirty minutes so they are just waiting to get off when the train manager finally comes up and says he found two open seats for them- which I have to point out were the exact seats that I was trying to tell him about earlier- and they get to stay on! So we were all happy. Greg opened a beer and we all went to our prospective seats to try to sleep for the night (very uncomfortably sleep I might add).

So honestly we did have a little hiccup, but that was honestly the only real problem we had the entire trip. It actually put things into perspective for us and we were even happier that we were all together and all in Venice together to celebrate Haley’s birthday. We were also really excited to sleep in a real bed that night.

 When we got to Venice it was actually lightly raining so we trekked across the island under umbrellas, through windy streets, and across canals to our apartment and immediately went to find pizza for breakfast. Our apartment was actually in the perfect location right in the middle of everything and just steps away from the Rialto Bridge so that was nice. The rain let up early on in the day so we explored the streets, went to St. Marco’s square, did some shopping, and ate gelato.

I really really liked Venice. I feel like with every city I go to, I have expectations and an idea of what it will be like in my head. Out of every place I have been this semester, Venice definitely matched up to those ideas the most. It was just a picture perfect city that was so beautiful and neat that it felt impossible. There wasn’t that much to do besides walk around and just hang out though so the amount of time we were there, just one day, was honestly perfect. 

Standing in St. Marco's Square

Rialto Bridge

This was a classic Italian cocktail invented in Venice called a Spritzer. It was kind of weird tasting. It was slightly fruity with a really weird after taste. Not bad but not great. It was definitely interesting.

Looking out at the Grand Canal from Rialto Bridge. 

Waiting for the train and enjoying the sun.

The next afternoon we hopped on a train to Florence! The train through Tuscany was also exactly what I pictured it as. There were rolling green hills spotted with Italian houses and vineyards and little farms. It was a really pretty and nice two-hour train ride. Once there we walked to our apartment where Paula (Powlah), the pretty Italian lady, met us there and checked us in. Paula was mentioned many more times throughout the trip. Haha. Our apartment was right in the popular area and close to everything in the city. Unfortunately we accidentally broke a plate and several wine glasses but we are hoping they didn’t notice. That night we got some groceries and explored the town a little bit. I had a delicious calzone for dinner.

The next day we went to the Boboli Gardens which we all really liked. We wandered around the pretty green hills and sculptures for quite awhile and just enjoyed the sun and beautiful weather. Then we went to the Silver and Porcelain Museum and the Costume Gallery Museum that were in Pitti Palace, part of the gardens. The rooms themselves where the artifacts were housed were probably my favorite part of the museums. Each room was so ornate and old with beautiful architecture and paintings.

After that Haley and I went to find some gelato and wandered through the leather markets. In the evenings in Florence we played games and drank wine. It was great. 


Our first night in Florence, we were walking around town and found a carousal, so of course we had to indulge our inner-child and ride the pretty horses.

The famous Duomo Cathedral

And then this happened. And it was great.

The famous bridge across the river in Florence.

Florence is located in Tuscany, which is wine country. I thoroughly enjoyed the Chianti (once I was reminded five times how to say it. I realize now how little Italian influence there is in Texas because I really struggled with pronunciations there. 'Chianti' in particular was so hard for me to remember, most likely because I was drinking it every time I head it haha.)

The next day was probably my favorite of the entire trip. We hopped on a train in the morning that took us to the Cinque Terra region. In Italian that actual means ‘five lands’ and is a strip along the coast that has five picturesque villages nestled along the shore. You can either take a short train between the villages or hike. Sadly, not all the hiking trails were open. We ended up taking the ‘red’ trail between the first and second villages, Riomaggiore and Manarola. All the villages were so quaint, absolutely breathtakingly beautiful, and very authentically Italian. The red trail we took though was pretty difficult. It was only a one mile hike but it took us a little over an hour (which was shorter than the estimated time). We literally hiked straight up the mountain and down the other side. It was crazy and exhausting but I’m glad we did it. The views were amazing and totally worth it.

Everyone had lunch and snacks in Manarola. I actually ate my snacks right by the shore by the rocks where the waves were breaking. We decided to take the train to the fourth village, Vernanzza, and hike the only ‘blue’ (scenic) trail that was open. This hike was a lot longer and quite a bit easier even though it was still a good workout. The trail wound around the exterior of the mountain and once again gave us amazing views. I have always loved hiking so I really enjoyed it. We had great conversations the entire day between the five of us. Apparently everyone agrees that my spirit animal is a hawk. Haha. (Haley is a Chihuahua, Zack is an owl, Sean is a mountain goat, and Greg is a Raccoon). At least that was before the boys kept trying to change theirs. Like I said, we had some great conversations.

We ended up in Monterosso, the last village, just in time to wade along the beach and have a beer before we had to catch our train back to Florence. By the time the day was over and we were back in our apartment we were all exhausted. I have an app on my phone that tells me how many miles you’ve walked and how many flights of stairs you’ve climbed that day. When it was all said and done we had walked 10.33 miles and climbed the equivalent of 146 floors… for the record, the Empire State Building only has 102 floors… so let that sink in and it will give you a little perspective of our hikes that day.

Zack and I realized we were matching. After this picture was taken I proceeded to laugh so hard I cried. It was not only hilarious that we were accidentally completely matching, but he was so tall he wasn't even in the picture. It was great. 

It was very hot. I started out in jeans and changed into shorts about five minutes into the first hike. 

Fab five!

Another look at the Duomo on our walk home that night. It was a beautiful building, very intricate and unlike the normal gothic buildings in Prague.

The next day in Florence, we just kind of wandered around and hung out again (and obviously ate more gelato) before we took a train to Rome. We actually had lunch at a Mexican food restaurant called Tijuana. It was a nice break from the pizza and pasta. Haha. Seriously though, I ate gelato every single day that I was in Italy, even when we just had a layover in the Rome airport on the way home. It was delicious. Apparently the difference between gelato and ice cream is that gelato has half the sugar… which Haley and deduced that it really just means it’s healthy! (Let us dream please).

Here is a quick list of the gelato flavors I had:
-coffee with chocolate chips
-white chocolate and nutella (YES)
- Frigidarium (the gelato store’s house flavor)

In my happy place with my coffee gelato.

Overall, I liked Florence. Most people say that they like Florence much more than Rome though and I have to disagree. There really wasn’t much to do there unless you wanted to pay 30euros each to see the famous statue of David, or go into the Uffizi Museum. It was a nice city and I enjoyed it but I definitely liked Rome more.

Rome has actually taken the place of one of my most favorite cities in Europe so far. I loved it. Everywhere you looked or walked there were thousands of years old ruins and pieces of history. It was amazing.

Our first night there, Tuesday, we got to our apartment, which was actually in more residential area, and found this awesome pizza place called Mangiorre’s. It was hands down the best pizza I have ever had in my entire life. It was a local pizzeria and everyone there was speaking Italian. It was also packed on a Thursday night at 10pm. Seriously it was amazing. We ended up going there again the second night because it was just so good. It was also really reasonably priced too for a giant personal pizza. Our apartment was once again awesome. It was really big and the people were really nice. They even stocked the pantry with snacks for us. 

Wednesday morning, we went to the Colloseum to pick up our tickets. We wandered around the Roman Forum and Paletine hill which was amazing. Then we went back to the Colloseum for our tour. I’ve been obsessed with the Colloseum for a long time so getting to walk around inside and really appreciate it was a dream come true. Later we walked to Piazza Novana, had gelato at what turned out to be the best gelato place ever, Frigidarium, and had snacks and drinks at happy hour and a restaurant. 

These ancient aqueducts were literally one minute from our apartment!

Our last day in Rome, we started off by going to the Trevi Fountain. This definitely turned out to be the biggest let down of the trip. It was under total reconstruction. There was a little plastic walkway that you could walk along to get closer to it but it wasn’t even worth it. We were very very sad about it. I was really looking forward to seeing the fountain and I could imagine how beautiful it was when it wasn’t under construction. We tried to get over it and headed to the Pantheon. This actually turned out to be one of my favorite things I saw in Rome. The Pantheon is the best preserved Roman building and it’s over two thousand years old. It was amazingly pristine. It was also really neat how the light shone through the hole in the roof onto a different part of the room at different times of the day. The math and science that these people knew really amazes and intrigues me. It’s unbelievable how they built these places so perfectly. It also amazes me that they had running water and after their civilization fell it took them a thousand years to have it again. So many things interest me about the ancient Romans and Greeks. It’s also cool because they built the Pantheon in such a way that wind is constantly going out through the hole in the top so even when it rains, the water can’t get inside.

The rest of the day we wandered around the city and hung around the Spanish Steps, which is the widest staircase in all of Europe. It was a great place to relax and people watch. One funny thing about the trip and Italy in particular was all people trying to sell you things on the streets, mainly selfie sticks. Literally every two minutes someone would come up to you saying “selfie! selfie!”. It was so annoying. While we were sitting on the steps, a man approached and managed to sell Greg a little balloon filled with flour that you could make into faces. It was hilarious and we were cracking up at Greg. We ended up naming the creature Griswald and he entertained us for the day.

After that, we went to the Vatican and walked through the courtyards and museums. We also got to see the Sistine Chapel and Michelangelo’s famous paintings on the ceiling. It was actually a weird place because you weren’t allowed to take pictures or talk in the chapel, which was just a giant empty room filled with people staring at the ceiling. The artwork was really cool to see though. That night we went back to Frigidarium for gelato and had more snacks and drinks at happy hour. We finished the night with pasta at Campo De Fiori, one of the main squares there.  

This was Trevi Fountain :(

This shows the how cool the light was coming through the top of the Pantheon.

People watching on the Spanish Steps.

The green guy was Griswald. 


We weren't supposed to take pictures in the Sistine Chapel, but I may or may not have anyways.

Griswald died :( Shortly after, we lost Zack for a few hours. Not having cell phones is a definite struggle sometimes. Note to self: always establish a meeting point even if you don't think you're going to get separated.

Mmmmmm gelato. This was from Frigidarium! 

Saturday we took a flight from Rome’s FCO airport to Dubrovnik, Croatia. Our apartment there was located in the Lapad area. We had an amazing view of the harbor!! We were so lucky to have stayed in such awesome places. Airbnb is amazing and so cheap if you’re traveling with a small group. One downside to Croatia was that we had some of the worst weather there, it was only around sixty degrees Fahrenheit and pretty windy the whole time. It also rained the last day we were there.

Croatia was a perfect place to end our trip because we were just able to relax and hang out. I read a couple of books and enjoyed it. When we first arrived we ate lunch at a delicious Mexican food restaurant I know it’s weird to eat Mexican on vacation in these random countries, but it seriously doesn’t exist in Prague so it was a real treat. My quesadillas were so good!

Our apartment balcony.

The next day we took a ferry to Lokrum Island, a small nature reserve. This was my favorite part of Croatia I think. The island was actually filled with hundreds and hundreds of peacocks. They were everywhere!!! Like seriously there was one every five feet on the entire island. They weren’t scared of people either so they would come really close. We saw some of them put up their tail feathers and walk around too. We also saw some fight which was interesting.

On the island, there were some trails that took you to different things, like a saltwater pond that is like a miniature dead sea. All of the water in Dubrovnik was perfectly clear and beautiful. After we checked out most of the island we sat on the rocks and had a snack. I fed some of the peacocks crackers and it turned out to be a huge mistake. They wouldn’t leave me alone and were getting way too close! It was really scary. I turned around and one of them was literally a foot from my face. Their beady little eyes creeped me out.
The walls of Dubrovnik are a main attraction there. They enclose the entire Old town area. The city was actually really neat. It was small and super old, with tons of little alleyways and shops. It was fun to wander around. The walls were cool to walk around because it gave you awesome views of the city and everywhere else. The Game of Thrones has also been filmed there so that was pretty cool too. It’s easy to picture that you’re back in a medieval city on the Croatian coast.  I’d love to go back there when it’s blazing hot and lay on the rocks and enjoy the crystal clear water.

Overall, it was a great trip. Twelve days is a long time but I honestly enjoyed every second. It was nice to finally get back to Prague though and just get back into a routine.

Last night Haley and I went and saw Fast and Furious 7. It was hilarious because we bought the tickets and walked into the theatre just to realize that we somehow ended up at the 4D showing. It was awesome! Haha. I had never been to a 4D movie theatre but I loved it. And it’s nice because you don’t have to wear 3D glasses. Instead, your seats move and rumble, air and water is sprayed on you, things push against you in your seat, and smells are pumped into the theatre. It was a really cool experience. It was also fun because it was for Fast 7 so you could feel the car engine revving in your seat and feel like you were driving the cars. So that was our excitement for the evening.

I have lots more to do this weekend but I’m looking forward to spending a day exploring more of Prague and spending the weekend in Pilsen, CZ.

It’s exactly one month from today that most of the other students are going home (I’m staying for vacation with my brother). I can’t believe this semester is going by so fast and I’m already dreading saying goodbye to all of my friends and Prague. I really love my life here. On the other hand though, I am still looking forward to getting back home and seeing my friends and family. It will be a very happy reunion with everyone.

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