27 November 2011

Travel Update: November

It's been a crazy past couple months, as touched on briefly here and here. And while I'm in the transition between writing about my European trip of 2008 and my Middle East trip of 2010, I thought I would write a little something about where I stand in my planning. So what have I accomplished in November? Not a whole lot...I'm just trying to take life day by day; trying to avoid a complete meltdown with the life-changing losses I've experienced in October/November. But I haven't accomplished nothing. I succeeded in some of the fun stuff: buying a point-and-shoot camera (maybe I'll have to debut it here soon) and a few SD cards. I've researched travel insurance a bit, but will need help from family friends as this stuff is completely over my head - what with deductibles, monthly rates, etc. I'm also planning on sending mine and Christy's passports off for Indian visas this next week and hopefully we can finally get ourselves to go to the travel clinic for our immunizations as well. This is the not-so-fun stuff that I hate spending money on - but it has to be done.

If you're curious, here is my list of things that need to get done before we leave (end of January/early February?). Slowly but surely, eh?


26 November 2011

My 7 Favorite Cities in Europe

There are so many dazzling, awe-inspiring places to visit in Europe, it can be so hard to decide on just a few destinations. I wanted to challenge myself to see if I could pick only 7 cities that I would consider my favorites. This by no means is a list of the best cities, nor does it include some of the fabulous destinations that I am still dying to visit (Edinburgh, Barcelona, Prague - to name a few). This is simply a list of the places that captivated me the most, the places that still have a strong hold on my heart.

1. Lucerne


Ascending the nearby Mt. Pilatus remains one of the best days of my life. It was such a beautiful and spiritual experience to be surrounded by the heavens. It was a calming and healing experience for the soul to experience the world from this perspective. The actual city of Lucerne is absolutely charming as well and I fell in love with the Swiss people and customs. I seriously wanted to leave everything behind and just move to Lucerne for a while. That's still an idea...

25 November 2011

Versailles, in detail

To be honest, I wasn't sure I needed to revisit Versailles as I had been there four years ago. But I'm glad I did (seriously, I would go back anywhere that I've been ). Versailles is so grand and detailed, that it's impossible to truly see it all. And I'm really bad with remembering historical facts and figures, so a refresher is always welcome. Surprisingly, I did remember a lot about Versailles and how the rooms had looked, but this time there were two very big changes. First, the hall of mirrors had been under renovation in 2004 - in 2008 it was finished, shining and beautiful. That was the positive. Secondly, Versailles played host to an art exhibit by Jeff Koons (who I had studied in an modern art class). This wasn't necessarily a negative, but it definitely distracted from the palace itself and seemed very out of place. I'm still not really sure what that was all about.

The entrance of Versailles

                                                                                                                       ©CM

24 November 2011

A Day in Paris

I'm a bit of an art nerd (maybe that's why I didn't fit in with my study abroad peers...), so the Louvre is a place that sends me on sensory-overload. I've been here before - but who could ever say no to the Louvre? You could live in here for a year and probably not see everything. (I'm still determined to come back here and spend longer than two hours, or at least visit a few times in a week to see just a small percentage of what the Louvre holds.) Everyone always comes to see the same 10-20 pieces of art, but if you've been here before, perhaps get yourself a map and hit just a certain section of the museum that really interests you.

                                                                     ©CM                                                                                                          ©CM

23 November 2011

Paris at night

Paris comes alive at night. You know that magical, exciting feeling of Christmas when the lights line the streets and outline the houses? That's how Paris feels at night (can you imagine Paris at Christmas time?!). It's exciting - it's alive, and there is so much to see and do at night here. One thing I really enjoyed was seeing the sunset from the Arc de Triomphe. The blazing oranges, red and pinks was a sight to behold from the end of the Champs Elysees.

Paris' Arc de Triomphe

                                                                                                                                                                                                               ©CM

22 November 2011

Paris, At Last

Ah, Paris! There's no place like it. There's a certain magic, a certain je ne sais quoi, in the air. It's intoxicating and addicting - like you could never get enough of this city. This was my second time in Paris, and it instantly felt like home - or maybe even like it was going to kidnap me and hold me hostage (maybe that was wishful thinking though...) Being submerged in "Le Parisien" lifestyle is fascinating - the sounds, the smells and the sights. You never want to close your eyes when you are here, fearing you might miss something. The cafes with their outdoor seating, the tree-lined boulevards and the distinctly Parisian architecture are some of the things that captivate me and I never wanted to leave Paris and her charm.

In 2008, Paris was all decked out with stars and many of the landmarks were lit blue
at night to kick off France's six-month presidency of the European Union

The roof of Hotel des Invalides - where Napoleon's tomb is located







21 November 2011

St. Paul de Vence

A short drive from Nice is the tiny town of St Paul de Vence. This is a sleepy town, but also one of the oldest medieval cities in the French Riviera. Visiting here feels like discovering your own private piece of France - the only other people, besides our tour group, that we saw were locals going about their daily business. There are some fascinating artists here, as well - each window display was more intriguing than the last and each one had a completely unique style. St. Paul de Vence is an awesome, quaint (in a good way!) place to discover in the French Riviera.


I love the patterns in the street - completely unique                                                                              ©CM
                   to St. Paul de Vence

20 November 2011

Nice is Nice

Indeed, Nice is nice. Despite the...quaint hotel we stayed in (the hard beds, slightly sticky walls, etc..), I really did love Nice. It's a breath of fresh air - away from the bustling cities like Rome and London. The escapism comes mainly from the nearby beach (the Mediterranean Sea!) - water always has that calming effect. I immensely enjoyed walking along the beach and listening to the unique sound of the waves crashing against the pebbles. That's right, this beach is entirely made up of pebbles, instead of sand. A bit uncomfortable to lay out on, but I loved it nonetheless. And the fact that Nice is located in the French Riviera, makes it accessible to some equally beautiful towns nearby (Cannes, St Paul de Vence and Eze being a few). Nice is the perfect place to take a vacation from your vacation!

Nice's pebble beach

War Memorial along the beach

One of my favorite sounds - the waves beating against the pebble beach:

19 November 2011

How I Enjoyed Monte Carlo Without Spending Money

If you're like me, then wasting money (especially on gambling) has absolutely zero appeal.  So, when I found myself in Monte Carlo on my European tour, I was a little unsure of how I was going to spend an hour or two here. But, I (and my travel partner-in-crime, Christy) are never bored and can always find ways to keep ourselves entertained. So, instead of wasting too much money in a casino, what did we do? Of course, we had to at least go inside the casino, as it's what Monte Carlo is famous for, but we also walked around taking pictures, finding nice vantage points and meeting up with some of our travel mates. There's a little stretch of greenery right in front of the casino - with fountains, beautiful plants, etc...so it was like a walk in the park. Definitely a relaxing and enjoyable afternoon.

Overlooking Monaco

There it is - the Monte Carlo casino     ©CM

18 November 2011

Pisa and the Piazza dei Miracoli

My last stop in Italy, on the European Cavalcade tour, was in Pisa. Even though there's not a whole lot to do/see here besides the leaning tower, I had wanted to visit here so bad the year before - when I was living in nearby Florence. So, I was excited to be here and experience Pisa, just as it is. There's a tiny little tram (so cute!) that takes you into the heart of the city, right outside the Piazza dei Miracoli - which is where you will find the Leaning Tower of Pisa. There are three major buildings that make up this piazza - the baptistery, the duomo and the bell tower (or leaning tower). I absolutely loved the architecture of these buildings, and the brief time Christy and I had here was great!

Piazza dei Miracoli - baptistery in front, then the duomo and the bell tower in the back.


I loved how so many of the Italian buildings were made up of these columns and statues.  ©CM

17 November 2011

Florence 2.0

October 2008 - I find myself once again in Florence, Italy. A year ago, to the month, I was living in Florence, seeing these landmarks every day of my life. It was so weird to go back - as with anything, it felt the same, only different. It's like I no longer belonged and I was just one of the millions a year who only visit for a day. But I was so excited to be back, especially with my best friend Christy, so that I could show her around some of my favorite places. It was nice to actually know the area and have a plan of action for sightseeing, as opposed to not really knowing where to go and just wandering aimlessly. I previously listed the best museums and churches to visit in Florence...so, now I bring you the best things to do in Florence in about two hours (having spent virtually no money!).

Start at Piazzale Michelangelo for a postcard view of the city. It's gorgeous and peaceful up here and it lets you get an idea of the layout of the city.

                                                               Piazzale Michelangelo                          ©CM

                                                        One of the copies of the David         ©CM


Pompeii - Lost in Time

It's an eerie feeling to find yourself in Pompeii. It really feels like walking back in time - like finding yourself in 79 AD, after the devastating volcano, Mt Vesuvius destroyed nearly everything. I could hardly believe that you could still make out the foundations of houses and shops from back then. To imagine the horror that this place saw is unbelievable. While Rome has some of the most famous ruins, the ruins of Pompeii are not to be missed for anyone interested in history. I walked this site with an incredible sense of awe - dramatized by Mt Vesuvius looming in the background, able to erupt at any given moment. (I'm thankful it held off for the time being.)

                                                                              One of Pompeii's main streets                   ©CM

                                                                                         ©CM

16 November 2011

Vatican City

Within Rome's boundaries is Vatican City - a city-state unto itself. I was so excited the day we got to explore Vatican City and its museum - we woke so very early and lined up outside the museum walls - but it definitely was worth it. Christy and I, and the tour we were on, were one of the first ones inside the museum - able to completely enjoy the works of art without the hoards of people. If you thought Florence's Palazzo Vecchio and its ceilings were intricate, bold and over-the-top...you'll be blown away by the Vatican Museum's ceilings. It boasts never-ending hallways full of frescoes, decorative patterns and sculptural angels. You'll forget you're supposed to be looking at the art on the walls, since you're too busy looking at the art on the ceiling. So over-the-top, but it's amazing.

                                                           Vatican Museum's ceiling              ©CM

Magical Rome

Ah, Italia!  ("Bongiorno" as our tour guide, Emile told us every morning while in Italy). I was so excited to visit Rome while on my European tour - and it was completely different than I imagined. The traffic was insane! (I don't think there actually were any traffic laws that were abided by...but, actually, now that I think about it, Cairo was worse.) It was nearly impossible to navigate the streets, even just outside of Rome. But once inside the city of Rome, proper - it was like stepping back in time. When in Rome, it's impossible not to imagine the city as it was centuries ago (some of these buildings still having been there). Buildings such as the Pantheon and the Colosseum have a certain power over you, not only because you've grown up seeing photos of these landmarks, but also because of the history and what took place there. It was fascinating. Rome is such a large city as well - there's so much history to see and explore...you could spend years here and not see it all.

                                                                      Rome's Pantheon                            ©CM

Inside the Pantheon - the ceiling was gorgeous!


15 November 2011

Capri

About halfway through mine and Christy's European Cavalcade tour, we found ourselves in Capri! Oh, Capri! I loved it here...whereas it had been pretty cold everywhere else, the sun shone brightly here in southern Italy. After a 45-minute ferry ride from Naples to get here, we got the chance to wander the island, searching out gorgeous vantage points. It was truly breathtaking and quite peaceful (once you got away from the crowds). Our tour eventually broke up and we all went separate ways - following whatever excited us most...shops, restaurants, walking, etc. (Wandering alleyways and taking photos of unsuspecting Italian men being some of the things that intrigued us). Capri was definitely a highlight of our tour and I still reminisce about the unreal blue water, the lemony drinks and the experience as a whole.


Seriously, doesn't this water look fake? So pretty

Venice: Further Afield

Venice is a photographer's dream. The canals, the pale multi-colored building, the gondolas and bridges. You can have a lot of fun here. As me and Christy went our separate ways for the day, we both took a whole slew of photos before heading off to a nearby island (see below). Here are some of my favorites:

                           Yes, that's gum


                                                                                      © CM

14 November 2011

Venice - once again

My last trip to Venice (in 2007) was great, but was filled with the traumatic experience of getting separated from my mother. It all ended well, but made me a little nervous (yet still excited) to go back. In 2008, I found myself back in Venice with my best friend - on a tour. Our first night there was simply magical. We took a gondola down the lesser-traveled, more mysterious canals, with a singing gondolier and everything. That was the only sound I could hear - the gondolier, until we disembarked - it was then that I heard footsteps drawing closer and closer. Before long, we found ourselves in the middle of St. Mark's Square - at night! A sip of champagne out on the square, listening to the musicians and enjoying the Italian masterpiece. This was my good night...

St. Mark's Basilica

fair Verona

"Two household, both alike in dignity - In fair Verona, where we lay our scene. From ancient grudge break to new mutiny, where civil blood makes civil hands unclean." We find ourselves in Verona - the setting for Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. I know it's preconception, but Verona really feels so romantic. Everything seems to be coated in a valentine-y color - pinks, reds, yellows and soft, fading frescoes. Spending an afternoon here just puts you in a good mood - there's the amphitheatre that meets you as you enter the walls of this city (one of the best preserved of its kind) and, of course "Juliet's balcony" and Juliet herself (gold where she has been touched most - why does no one touch her face?).
There's magic in the air in Verona...if you find yourself here, you'll be captivated under its spell. And perhaps you'll never leave.

Verona's Arena

             "Juliet's Balcony"                                         Juliet - touching different parts brings different luck

13 November 2011

Innsbruck

Innsbruck, Austria marked the beginning of the second week of my European Cavalcade tour. Me and fellow traveler, Christy, started getting into the swing of things - finally getting used to the fast pace of this tour. We had so much fun driving from Liechtenstein and into Austria, blaring "The Sound of Music" of course. I found that the landscape seemed to change as well - the mountains more rocky and, seemingly a transition from Germany to Italy. Upon arriving into the city, our first stop was at Our Lady of the Four Pillars church. This church was small, but left a huge impact. It was a lot smaller than most churches the average tourist visits in Europe, but it was absolutely beautiful. The outside was cheery and inviting and the inside was so intricate, delicate and...dare I say, gaudy? But I completely fell in love with it and it was such a special experience to just sit inside and take it all in.

Overlooking the Inn river, near the center of Innsbruck

          Our Lady of the Four Pillars                                                       Inside the ornate church

Liechtenstein - 1 Country, 2 Hours

Poor Liechtenstein - it deserves to be discovered, just like any place. But, alas, I spent about 2 hours here...walking into some of the shops and just seeing what I could see in the brief time allotted.  I thought Liechtenstein deserved its own post though, so below are a couple of the photos I took.

Vaduz Castle in Liechtenstein

Model of Vaduz Castle - with my gnomie, McGregor, as king

12 November 2011

The Most Amazing Hotel, Just Outside of Lucerne

If you ever find yourself in Lucerne, you absolutely have to stay at the Hotel Krone in Giswil. Our tour guide teased us for days about the "barn" we would be staying in - how the "cows would be licking our faces in the morning to wake us up." we all knew Emile was pulling our leg, but after a while you start questioning what exactly you're going to find once you get there. I'll admit, I was a little nervous. But I have to say, this was probably my favorite place we stayed during the whole tour. 

Hotel Krone is hidden away in the Swiss hills - only a small road nearby. It's like being adopted into a small village. It was also a lot like camping! The building our room was located in looked very much like a cabin, and it was called im Mondshein (or "moonshine"...cute right?) One thing to be aware of...if you're giggly like Christy and I can be always are, you're going to annoy your neighbors since the walls are super-thin!

Our little cabin, separate from the hotel lobby and restaurant

The surrounding hills

Lucerne

Lucerne was (regrettably) the only city I visited in Switzerland, but it left a huge impression on me. What with our amazingly awesome experience on top of Mt. Pilatus, the city of Lucerne only enhanced the feelings. It was such an overcast day, but for someone like me - that only makes it better! Upon descending Mt. Pilatus, our first stop was at the city's lion monument. This emotional piece of art was created to honor the Swiss Guards who were massacred during the French Revolution. The expression on the lion's face is so moving...he's shown with a wound to his side, but lying over a French shield - the Swiss shield next to him. Mark Twain was right when he said that it was "the most mournful and moving piece of stone in the world."

The lion wounded and lying over the French shield

Nice renovation, right?

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