Reggio di Calabria.

We arrived in Reggio di Calabria via train (my first!) really not expecting much. I had read online that there was a great promenade for running (which proved to be QUITE true), but other than that, we really were coming simply because it was a great jumping off point to Sicily, which was to be our final destination in Italy. It turns out, that little ol’ Reggio di Calabria turned out to be awesome. We arrived to our hostel (after booking through hostelworld) only to be greeted by quite possibly the world’s sweetest guy ever who walked us down the street to another place, as the place we had booked was having water problems. Glancing at each other sideways (we have heard that story before), we followed the guy, only to have him take us to a perfect room in a perfect location. Rooftop terrace, great breakfast, wonderful, warm conversation…we couldn’t have asked for anything more.

Anyway, after talking to the guy, it turned out a few hours after we arrived there was something that translated to “the great stroll” which literally meant the entire town comes and walks around the main street eating gelato, window-shopping, teenagers chasing their crushes through crowded streets, lovers loving, families pushing their kids on tricyles…it happens every week, and it was honestly magic. It truly made me wish that I lived in a city where we (not only) had a main street, but had the type of community feel that they had here. Kev and I followed suit and walked up and down the streets snacking for about 2 hours before we came back to our room and turned on HOUSE OF CARDS.

The next day we….

Checked out the Farmers Market right downstairs from our place…
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Admired (and utilized!) the amazing Boardwalk Promenade for running/strolling (told you!)
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Ate delicious (cheap!) food – Great bang for our buck.
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Seafood Risotto
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Fish Lasagna
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Perused an awesome outdoor flea market!!!
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Took in gorgeous ocean views (Sicily just across!)
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One random memory: one night we went to this place that was recommended to us called “Lord Byron” for typical snack foods (pizza, calzoney type things, etc). It was PACKED because 1) it was SO cheap (everything was a buck) and 2) it was the perfect spot for young kids and their friends, or families to hang out. That night, we went and grabbed a quick bite to eat and a couple beers and walked outside to some of their outdoor seating. Right next to us, there was a table with about 10 10-12 year old kids chowing down on their snacks, and one kid drinking a beer trying to look SO cool in front of his friends (which, by the glimmer in their eyes, he was). Anyway, it was a great memory, one that made us both wish we were 11 again, and one I think we’ll always have.

Honestly, it was a great time. The weather was damn-near perfect, and I think we both were a bit sad to have to leave. It was such a slow moving city, but one that also had such a great vibe and energy to it. Attention those heading south! BE SURE TO STOP in REGGIO DI CALABRIA, stay at Casa Laguana and enjoy Southern Italian hospitality!

Amalfi Coast (Minori, Amalfi + Sorrento).

Our trip to the Amalfi Coast was honestly kind of a pain. From our hostel in Rome, walked to the metro, which we took to the outskirts of the city where we did another ride-share. We met at this rinky-dink little gas station (Q8) on the side of the road. From there, we drove about 2.5 hours to an airport, where we hoped bus to a city called Salerno. We were the only ones on the bus (guess we were the only ones stupid enough to head to the coast when rain was in the forecast!). After about a 45 minute ride to Salerno, we were again dropped off at the bus terminal where we grabbed yet another bus (after waiting in the pouring and FREEZING rain for 1.5 hours) to Minori.
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The bus ride the the Amalfi Coast was BEAUTIFUL, but never having great luck driving, I was crazy sick with the switchback turns. Another hour later, we arrived in beautiful Minori, where we were lucky enough to get to walk 950+ steps up the side of a mountain (no joke) with our packs. (Like I said, wasn’t the best day of travel we’d ever had, but certainly not the worst!). We arrived (somehow!) in great spirits (probably due to our insane view) and despite having un-perfect weather, were thrilled to be there.

So, our time in the Amalfi Coast looked a lot like this:
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Ridiculous, right!?

Although the weather wasn’t great while we were there, the views were nothing short of spectacular.
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The colors of the towns “popped” even more given the dark sky contrast
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And the fog/mist rolling in over the hills was awesome.
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We could almost imagine what it would have been like to visit in the summer, or some warm months when swimming might have been possible, but instead we collected rocks…
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Read on the pier (and made new friends)…
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Watched the sunset roll in…
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Enjoyed the town (and the cute little lemon trees)…
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Ate some delicious pasta a couple of nights, and had a really memorable night chatting with the owner one night (we were the only ones in the restaurant, so we were lucky that way). Talking with her was a highlight of our time in Minori, as was her delicious homemade limoncello that she gave us at the end of our 2.5 hour long meal. It is interactions like these that are definitely one of the perks of traveling in the off season. We saw her on various nights of our stay, and both times she took our hands and greeted us like friends. It was great.
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Enjoying views like this from our guesthouse (again, 950+ stairs up the side of a mountain just like you can see mirrored here)
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Walking from town to town on the windy sea-side roads….
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Kevin posing in Minori.
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Enjoying the SEAFOOD pasta (where it couldn’t have been fresher!)
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AND, taking a 7-course cooking class in Sorrento!

Because of all the rain (and the fact that we had been meaning to take a class while we were here), we decided to “bite the bullet” and take the class. After an almost 2 hour bus ride (only about 20km away, again, the switchbacks are no joke) we finally made it to the beautiful Sorrento. It was just us in the class, which was yet another instance where traveling in February has worked to our benefit. About an hour into our class, the chef’s father (speaking no English), beautiful mother (who was one of the classiest women I have ever met in person, and reminded me so much of my great-grandma) and aunt (also, Italian speaker only) arrived to come see what was happening, chat with us and talk food. Honestly, it was exactly like you might imagine an interaction with a bonafide Italian family might be. They were warm, and gracious, hilarious and honestly made our time 1,000 times better than it already was. It was awesome.
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All in all, our time in the Amalfi Coast was amazing. We were especially happy to have stayed in Minori, which was far less touristy than the other cities in the area. Despite our original plan to make our way south, south, south, we decided to head a bit north to Naples as rain was still in the forecast and we figured that if we were stranded in the rain, at least we would be able to indulge in copious amounts of pizza (which we did, but that’s for another post).
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Not Italy Come Kevin! (Rome)

We decided to get back to our backpacker roots (or something) in Rome and stay at a hostel. The hostel was OK, though the common area (the main reason to stay at a hostel in my opinion) was outside of the building and down the street half a block. This wasn’t a huge deal, except for the fact that when we asked the guy working at the front desk if there was a common area at all he told us no but that they were building one (there was construction going on). It was something of a confusing mis-communication. Oh well.

So, Rome. I feel like the past few blog posts are a bit boring in terms of listing things we did, and that’s mainly because we are following a pretty standard tourist path in some of these cities. Any photos you’ve seen of Rome pretty much sum up what we did in Rome.

For example…

We went to the Vatican Museum and saw all of the crazy/famous/interesting/old/plentiful art that lives there.
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We were lucky that we didn’t have to wait in line for more than 20 minutes to get in, but that said, truly the Vatican is overwhelming. We read online that there is apparently 7km of stuff inside Vatican city to see. Crazy. So, we saw what we could see without wanting to kill ourselves and drank cappuccino out in the square when we thought we might. Squeezed through the Sistine Chapel and ooh-ed and ahh-ed in the map room (which was the coolest gallery by far, in our opinion).
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IMG_4785The tapestry room

IMG_4775We sent some mail from Vatican city (get excited)

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After seeing all we could really see in the Vatican (and walking down the awesome spiral stairway leading out)
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we walked to St. Peter’s Basillica which was INSANE (this picture shows nothing). The line of people wrapped around the square was incredible. It must have taken them all day to get in.

IMG_4807We decided (after moseying around for a bit debating whether or not we should get in line) we would instead walk to the Coliseum, which was no small feat, instead. The weather was nothing short of perfect – blue skies and a small breeze to boot, so we figured we’d go for it.

The walk didn’t disappoint.
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IMG_4828Not too far into our walk, the sun started to set, and it was magic.

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And, we finally made it!
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That night, we were starving. We decided to walk (a bit further :)) to a restarant we were alerted to by a chick we rode with on our way from Florence that she and her friends recommended. After arriving an hour earlier than it opened (damn Italians and their late night eating!) we sat in a nearby park and read. Our wait turned out to be worth it, as we had a bunch of amazing food, including carbonara which is something Rome is known for (we had it twice at two different restaurants)

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IMG_4844and some other mushroom/pancetta pasta, which was pretty awesome.IMG_4846

The next day, after seeing all of the major sites we planned to see, we stopped to have a quick “breakfast”

Standard fare:

IMG_2104and cruised around the streets. After about an hour, we happened across a grocery store which enabled us to have one of the best lunches I’ve ever had. This grocery store was really amazing (not fancy), and it kind of felt like something in a movie. A bunch of dudes cutting meat from 15 different types of cheap, beautiful prosciutto. Fresh mozzarella (that is again) super cheap! but also amazing quality. The strange thing for us was that there were literally legs of animals sitting on the counter that you could have cured meat cut from. Anyway, the lunch was awesome. We bought fresh tomatoes, basil, mozzarella balls (again :)), 2 types of fresh-cut deli meat, 2 types of fancy fresh foccacia bread, a hard cheese of some sort, apples, and a bunch of peel-and-eat shrimp. It was a feast, to say the least (all for 15 euros).

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So, I suppose those were the highlights of our time in Rome. We were only there for 2 days (short and sweet!) but I feel like we capitalized on all of the main attractions and really enjoyed ourselves.

Carnevale in Venice

From Ancona, as I mentioned previously, we decided that we’d go North to Venice. Actually, Lindsay decided that, and when she told me she had decided this was a good idea I was thrilled because it seemed “smart.” I imagine traveling to a new countries in the way that we are traveling to new countries is sort of like what it must be like for a novice sculpture (let’s say the goal is to sculpt a life size dog) to start a new project with a giant, huge, block of clay. It’s tough to know where to start, and it’s tough to know once you’ve started if you’ve started in the right way. But, once you REALLY get started, then things start to fall into place and you realize that at least you’ve started. Or at least that’s how I imagine us…or something.

Anyway, we decided to go to Venice.
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We used Bla Bla Car (a website) and found a ride with two really nice guys (Pablo and Alfredo!). We met at Ikea (which was so awesome, because I love Ikea) and made the three hour drive with these two really nice Italian guys.
Lindsay drinking a beer in IKEA
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Actually, one of the dudes was born in Argentina, but had lived in Italy for most of his life. Aside: there are a huge number of Argentinians in Italy it seems, or we just randomly keep running into them for some reason.

The drive was nice, and I technically was in Bologna (I stepped out of the car for 10 seconds, Lindsay did not. For the record – although she won’t let me count that) when we dropped Pablo off. Bologna being one of the “big” cities in Italy that Lindsay and I didn’t really visit.

On the drive, we found out that Carnevale (which is how they spell it, btw) was happening in Venice when we were going to be there. It’s a bit difficult to explain how awesome this was, but basically there wasn’t a better time to be visiting Venice than during Carnevale season. This also explained why it was so difficult finding a room (Lindsay did an awesome job and we ended up staying right near Saint Marco Square), and why the cheapest room we found was 70 euros.
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Carnevale is a big deal it turns out in Venice, and when we got there at night after taking a train from the nearby city that our driver dropped us off at, it was like a totally different travel experience then we’ve had so far. In general, everywhere we’ve gone in Europe has been pretty dead as far as other tourists go, but when we got to Venice the streets were PACKED with people dressed up in costumes, throwing glitter and confetti, etc. The shops were all open, vendors were outside selling mulled wine, and in general it was a pretty big/awesome/beautiful party. It felt like we stepped into a movie about how cool Venice is on accident. It was awesome.

So we hopped off the train and wee walked a good 2 or 3 kilometers through the zig-zagged streets/canals/etc of Venice and eventually found our hotel. It was nice enough, though very loud (which actually was sort of nice itself) because of all of the people singing/laughing/yelling/talking on the streets below.
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Here I am with all of my devices (compass, GPS and phone trying my best to be inconspicuous)
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So, unfortunately the rest of our time in Venice was spent doing basically the same thing we always do: walking around and people watching. So, pictures will hopefully give an idea of what things were like.
Lindsay and Kevin in Venice
Some memories specific memories include:

People watching…
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Eating a pizza down by a canal one afternoon
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Eating our first legit Italian breakfast (espresso based drink + pastry) – multiple times
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Mulled wine and “spritz” with Campari and dancing to “Uptown Funk” in the city square…
Again, people watching 🙂
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Lindsay had one fun night of dancing and drinking limoncello and watching the fireworks
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Eating these ridiculously delish fried dough and cheese with (once prosciutto, once with sardines (not intentionally) while walking around partying ourselves to DEATH one night(and buying this REALLY cheap and terrible juice box wine and drinking it.)
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Lindsay also went to a cool church one night for service and had a cool interaction with a tiny, little old man that was apparently like 4′ 6″ (inside the church)
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Walking a long ass way to find get to the bus station we were leaving from (like 3-4km through those crazy streets with our packs). Here Lindsay is, stopping for sustenance (espresso + sweet treat) about 1/2 way to where we needed to be…
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Here I am looking just awesome.
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Going geocaching (easy cache!)
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The truth is that most of what we did in Venice is what you’ve likely seen before in photos. The important thing (I think) is to note that Venice completely lived up to my expectations of what Venice is.
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Leaving Venice was a slight pain on account of us having to walk 3ish kilometers from our hotel to the bus station. To make matters worse, on top of being an already (planned) hour early for the bus to make sure we had everything in order when it came, I ended up remembering the ticket time incorrectly and it turned out that we were actually 4 or so hours early. So we spent a long time sitting on the cement reading. Luckily we are no strangers to sitting on the street/sidewalk/dirt/airport/etc for hours, waiting for transportation. At least it was a pretty nice day.

Amsterdam

From France, we went to Amsterdam via bus which was uneventful. Lindsay slept the whole way, I did some programming stuff, I got a coffee, and we ate great salads that we bought at a grocery store in Paris (mine was some sort of smoked salmon + rice + wasabi mayo, Lindsay’s was some sort of quinoa/hummus/edamame something-or-other).

We arrived in Amsterdam around 8 in the morning and took a train from the bus station to the central train station. One pretty nice thing is we had some random guy come up to us and give us a train ticket that was good for a week (though only during non-rush hour) for free. I think he was a fellow backpacker. It was nice of him.

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Amsterdam is a city that I really like, and Lindsay also really likes now. She says it’s the most beautiful city she has ever been in. Grated, she still hasn’t been to all of Europe yet, but still, I have to agree, it is pretty beautiful. For me, having never been to any of the Nordic countries, I imagine this is a taste of what it would be like. Everything is sort of, I don’t know, Ikea-ish, but in a super quality sort of way.

The food was great, there were bikes and young people everywhere, it was super walkable, and the Anne Frank museum was worth the trip alone (according to Lindsay). I didn’t go to the museum because she bought a special “Anne Frank tour” ticket online, and there only happened to be one ticket left during the days we were there. She had read online that there is typically a line wrapped around the building that people stand in for hours to get in (which it turns out there was, in the sleeting/snowing/crappy weather), and to avoid that, and get the most of her visit to the museum (she was really interested in it for her teaching stuff) she bought the ticket for herself and I decided I’d go hang out and do something else, which I felt good about.

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So, below is a random picture that doesn’t really demonstrate what I’m talking about (in regards to the awesomeness of the city) unfortunately (we didn’t take many photos on account of there being a lot of snow/sleet and trying to keep the camera dry), but basically Amsterdam has what I imagine is a taste of what some of the Nordic countries have. BTW, I know we would both love to go to Iceland, Sweden, Norway, Finland, etc, one day.

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Anyway, upon arriving in the city proper we walked a kilometer or so to our hostel. This hostel happened to be Intersail hostel, which is a boat. I sadly didn’t get any pictures inside of the boat/ship, but it’s pictured here on the right side (you can’t see it super well :().

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Before I type more, let me say that I agreed to not bitch too much about Intersail Hostel here. Lindsay told me “two sentences max as this is water under the bridge, and isn’t what we really care to remember about Amsterdam”, but it’s going to be a few more than that. I’m typing this out mainly in hopes that if somebody ever googles for Intersail Hostel Amsterdam Reviews they might find this and at least know what happened!

When we arrived at Intersail to check in, I was told by Christian (sp?) that we had booked two rooms. I said, “I don’t think so.. I’m pretty sure I only booked a single room for two nights!” Christian, being a nice guy, said, “hmm… ok!” and showed us around the boat. You can see me in this exact moment:

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Click here for more about this, if you are bored or want to hear me bitch

We were in Amsterdam for 1.5 days. It was amazing. We ate more fries with mayonnaise then I can believe. We walked around and explored the city. Lindsay bought “cute boots” at a flea market. She went to the Anne Frank museum and ran around the water canals.  We ate pizza. We met a bunch of cool people and drank beers and chatted in the hostel.

I found a sign that said ajax.
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We ate little “pancakes” with syrup on them
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We watched the sunset on the water
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We ate from one of those FEBO machines, even though I completely forget that they were a thing until I saw them.
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We ate a TON of stroopwafels, which (hello Mom, if you are reading this!) my Mom loves, or at least used to love (though I don’t you’ve made them as much the past few Xmases? Perhaps they are a ton of work, if I recall correctly). They have since become Lindsay’s favorite sweet treat.

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And, although Dave may not be reading this, I thought of Dave (who I went backpacking with through Europe in 2003 for 5 weeks after high school!) and found Vla, which many people don’t believe exists (I’ve even talked to people I’ve met from the Netherlands who have no idea what I’m talking about). It’s basically drinkable pudding, by the way, and I think it’s great. This container was like, USD 0.90.
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We also did a lot of the standard Amsterdam things, like walking around the Red Light district which was as surreal as ever. Honestly I enjoy it because it’s such a surreal experience and at least in my life it’s a pretty strange thing to be walking next to a family with kids who are on their way home, past windows with nearly naked people in them.
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I feel like I’ve done a bad job explaining our time in Amsterdam. I’m sorry.

It was short, it was beautiful and special and different from other cities. The food was great, the Anne Frank museum was great (again, according to Lindsay).

And then, after this crazy terrible blog post, we flew from Amsterdam to Zagreb, Croatia.

Pariiiiiiiiiiieee

We arrived in Paris an hour earlier than planned (5:50 am) to pouring rain, a dark morning sky and garbage littering the streets (which thrilled Kevin beyond belief). We had another opportunity to stay with yet another awesome friend, Adrienne, who lived in the “red light” area of Paris, Piagelle. Despite the fact that we could have probably had a lot of fun at the Moulin Rouge, or cruising a dance floor somewhere nearby (which were quite possibly still open!), we opted for the lame route (not surprisingly :)), and went to get coffee at a little kebap place near her house. After making friends with the Algerian dudes working there, they refused to let us drink any more coffee (because it was bad for us) and instead loaded us down with the most sugary-sweet tea IMAGINABLE, which was definitely bad for us in a completely different way. On a sugar buzz like you would not believe, our morning turned out to be quite a lot of fun – a great start to the city that never sleeps!Untitled
Amazing trash find in Paris!After refueling with (yet) more coffee at Adrienne’s and settling down in her amazing flat, she took us on an amazing tour of the city, and was seriously quite the tour guide!

When I think about Paris, I imagine accordion players serenading the lovers walking along the Seine River, cute girls and little old men wearing berets, artists painting scenic landscape portraits, and people of all ages eating croissants. Turns out in January, only the croissant thing happens to be true. There was no music, there were no artists, and only the tourists wore berets. That said, despite the rain, and despite the cold, I could not help but gawk at the beauty of this city, and can only hope that we can visit again one day when the weather is warm, the skies are blue and when people (other than us!) are singing Aux Champs Elysees 🙂

 

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One of our first stops was the beautiful, Sacré-Cœur, a beautiful Catholic cathedral, my first “real” one since being in Europe! It didn’t disappoint.
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IMG_4101Walking down the Seine, we happened across the Pont des Arts bridge. In the city of Love, it’s no wonder so many people latched on to the idea of hooking their “Love Locks” to the bridge to leave behind in Paris… That said, these photos can’t even begin to display the INSANE number of locks on this bridge. Recently “Love Locks” have been banned because this bride is near collapse due to the extra weight of the locks, if that gives you any idea of how many locks are actually on this thing. It’s insane. Untitled

Bridge LocksWe were lucky to visit two of the most infamous museums in Paris, one being the Musee de Orsay, which just now happens to be my new #1 favorite museum I have ever been to . The museum houses the most impressionist and post-impressionists pieces in the WORLD. While we weren’t able to take photos inside the museum, we were able to stand literally inches away from masterpieces from Monet, Van Gogh, Seurat, Renoir, Rodin, Degas, and hundreds more. I mentioned this the day we went, but I literally got a bit teary eyed standing so close to such iconic pieces and was truly humbled and in awe of what we saw there. Mankind is truly incredible. This is a photo just as we left the huge Impressionist floor exhibit. It seemed like the perfect photo to capture our day.

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Walking around the streets, there were amazing sculptures and random art pieces everywhere we looked.

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We also visited Notre Dame!
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Dad, this photo is for you. Found literally one foot step outside Notre Dame.
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The stain-glass work was INCREDIBLE. I can’t even begin to wonder how many hours went in to creating these…
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And then, there was the food…the buttery, rich delicious food….

(Scary pic, but!) My first legit Crepe!IMG_4123Eating World’s best CroissantIMG_4040Voted best baguette in Paris.Best Baguette in Paris 2007

Love Mural (taken for Corie Brown).
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Outside Lourve (taken for Sai the dog).
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The Lourve is the WORLD’S LARGEST MUSEUM. It was originally built as a royal fortress, but was officially opened in 1793 with an exhibition (of mostly confiscated church property). There are more than 70,000 pieces in the museum, and we could have literally spent 4 days there and not given it the justice that it deserves.

These were a few of my favorites of the day (which specifically reminded me of Anthea Marie Mitchell, for whatever reason :)):
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One section of the museum was called “The Napoleon Apartments,” which (per Adrienne’s suggestion) we might have never even seen (again, the museum was THAT big). Room after room was insanely and decadently decorated. Honestly, no photo can do it justice. Can you imagine living in a space like this!? These are the times when the “1% holds 99% of the world’s wealth” becomes more tangible than I would otherwise understand – even if it is just a replica!
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Also, I have to say, there were pieces THIS BIG in the Lourve. I mean, Seriously, look at Kevin next to that thing. I am not one for art history, but I would be VERY interested to know JUST HOW LONG something like this would have taken to paint. Not my style, but look at that detail!
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And then, there she was.  99% of the reason we came to the Lourve to begin with, Mona.
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Paris Highlights…..

On the street in Pigalle.
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A romantic French dinner (per Corie’s suggestion!) celebrating us.
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A “King’s Cake” night!
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And I won (by finding this little guy in my slice :))
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A bourbon and beer tasting extravaganza, courtesy of Adrienne’s guy, Paul!
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Shakespeare and Company bookstore (no photos allowed inside, but damn. Heaven. on. Earth.)
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Where Napolean was Buried.

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And last but certainly not least! Paris wouldn’t be complete without the Eiffel Tower!!!!
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IMG_4210All in all, despite the not-ideal weather conditions, Paris turned out to be pretty darn swell. For the life of me, I can’t seem to find the photos of the delicious Britannia food (fish soup, mackerel pate, etc!) Adrienne cooked for us, or the duck, but man, were they delicious! We were quite lucky to have had such a great friend host us (yet again) in such a beautiful city.

Deutschland (Munich!), and how we wish we could have stayed there longer

The title of this blog post is a work in progress. I was going to just say “Deutschland” because that seemed pretty cool, but then my fingers got itchy and I just couldn’t stop typing and I ended up with the title you see above.

Let me say this first: the absolute best part of Germany was seeing our friends: Babsi, Peter, Magdalena, Simon, Lars, and Saskia.

And now let me say this: We are incredibly grateful to these people for sharing their homes with us, feeding us, teaching us, and generally just making us feel welcome, warm, and like we were with family.

These things said, we had an awesome time in Germany :). To start at the beginning, I think, we traveled from Hungary to Germany via bus. The bus trip was a night bus, and as is somewhat normal the bus trip was not particularly pleasant, but also not particularly eventful. One special feature that made the trip somewhat notable was that the chair that I sat in had a broken “recline” button/mechanism. Basically the chair reclined or unclined (what’s the opposite of recline?) at will, which is to say when the bus accelerated the seat reclined, and when the bus decelerated the seat “unclined” (as I guess we’ll call it). This was very annoying to be honest, and cut into the already few hours of sleep I normally get on a bus. Additionally, the bus was blaring some terrible American movies with dubbed Hungarian so loud that with our ear buds in, we could hear the movie perfectly. Sometime around 3 or 4 AM I ended up switching seats with Lindsay because I wasn’t getting much sleep (given the movie (that was still playing) and my “fight” with the seat trying to get comfortable, which kept her awake and I could feel her ire even in the slumberish state I was in.). Anyway, once we switched I think I slept better. Small aside: I hear about people having blot clots from sitting too long in seats and such on airplanes and buses, and when I sleep on a bus I get a bit paranoid about this because I’m generally in some strange and uncomfortable position that results in my lower extremities falling uncomfortably asleep, and I imagine I’ve somehow cut off all blood flow to my legs.

So, after arriving in Germany I must say that we were quite excited. Our bus arrived at 4:57 AM (to make matters worse!), and we didn’t want to arrive at Babsi/Peter’s in the middle of the night, so Lindsay and I had a cup of coffee at the train station. Which reminds me to tell you, we were at a train station. I think it was Hacker-something station.
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It was pretty exciting actually, because we got off the bus and there were real, live Germans coming out of a bar that was at/near the train station. They were drunk, which was great and added an air of festivity to our arrival. There were also a lot of slick looking people with skiing equipment, apparently catching a bus or similar to go skiing for the day. I’m guessing these details aren’t of particular interest to you, but I want to mention them anyway. We also spent some time this morning watching the floor sweeper do his thing, and I got my first look at a Germany grocery store (Ledl – spelling might be wrong?). We bought some museli at the grocery store which I’d like to add was one of our favorite foods in Germany on account of there being lots of non-sugary museli that tasted healthy.

Ok, small break for a joke:

Q: Why was the little boy crying?

A: Because he had a frog stapled to his face

OK, back to business.

We took the S-Bahn to Babsi and Peter’s house, which was so warm and welcoming. They have a great new fireplace which is super cozy and it was great to sit around at night and drink a glass of wine or the fancy beer. This was our first time meeting the kids, Magdelana and Simon, who were great. Magdelena taught us the names of a few different animals in German (my favorite being either Shark (“hi”) or squirrel (who’s name is fun to say but complicated so you’ll have to trust me). It’s worth noting that the house we stayed in was the same as the house that I visited 12 years ago when I came to visit in 2003 after high school, except they’ve moved down stairs to a larger apartment. We actually slept upstairs in an unconnected room (future Magdalena’s room) which I came to learn was actually the same room that Babsi and Peter used to sleep in when they lived on the top floor.
So, Munich itself we spent roughly 5 days in. The first two days were Saturday and Sunday and for the most part we hung around the apartment with the family. Babsi prepared a wonderful German breakfast the first day we arrived, and the second. (I’m typing this without internet but I hope a photo of this breakfast will go here.)
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We babysat for Magdalena and Simon on Sunday evening which was actually a lot of fun (also, the easiest babysitting I’ve ever done as Babsi/Peter left around 7pm, and the kids bedtime is 7:30). We brought them a few little food kits/toys from Japan and we made them with the kids (mini doughnuts, slime that was supposed to be gummy candy, and chocolate mushrooms).

One other small memory: one night we were putting the kids to bed and I was supposed to read a bedtime story to the kids. Except it was a chapter book in German. So I tried to read the book but after two or three sentences trying to pronounce the words Magdalena had to help me out and ended up reading an entire chapter to herself and Simon, which was quite impressive in my opinion, and let me off the hook.

The next day, we explored Munich. I can’t say we saw everything, but we did do a few key things. We walked around a lot and walked through the English Garden where we sat next to a lake and split a beer.

We walked around the English Garden some more and saw a surfer (though we didn’t actually see any surfing happening unfortunately). Overall though, the sun was shining, and it was an awesome day.

**We had taken a lot of photos of the English Garden, the kids and a ton more on this day, but apparently they are no where to be found! :(**

Later that day while exploring Munich, Lindsay and I were very hungry. We actually (this is sad perhaps) walked 3 kilometers or so to a ramen restaurant that had great reviews (we both had been craving ramen) but just as we arrived it was closed until dinner. So getting slightly grumpy considering our hunger and the disappointment of walking for nothing we walked towards a train station. Then, out of now where, there was a huge bar/beer house/restaurant! It was fate I guess and we ended up going to eat there. We felt great about eating authentic German food, and it was fun to eat in a giant beer/food hall. It was not the cheapest food we’ve had on the trip but it was quite good. Interestingly, it turns out that years ago, I found a bunch of old slides that I scanned of some random guy and his travels (from the late 50s/early 60s, I believe). After talking with Babsi about the dinner, I realized that this guy had taken a photograph of the place we ate at during the Oktoberfest, as this place was a big brewery – so that was pretty cool.

On another day, we visited the Dachau Memorial (former concentration camp) which is in the town of Dachau and I’m not sure if it’s technically “Munich” but regardless we went there. We had an awesome tour guide (per Peter’s suggestion) who walked us around for something like 3.5 hours. Which is crazy I think, because 1) it was only 3 euro a person and 2) The tour is only supposed to last 1.5-2 hours 3) The person is actually a volunteer.
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The lady who took us on the tour also talked with Lindsay a lot about various books that she might be able to recommend to her students next year, and was overall just really passionate about the subject, which made the time fly by. Also, she gave us a ride in her van to a bus station (which was super nice/sweet/awesome, although it ended up being a bus station that didn’t go where we needed to go so we ended up walking to a different bus station and getting lost on the way and then walking around for an hour or so – but I did manage to purchase some long johns en route).

Another day, we visited Christina (Babsi’s sister) and her husband Heinz (spelling?) and their child (whose name is sadly escaping me at the moment!) which was great. It was really nice to see Christina after so many years (I saw her last 12 years ago in Munich when I visited with Dave) and see her life. It’s a bit crazy to think about life when you have a 12 year chunk of time you’re dealing with. 12 years ago I visited Christina in downtown Munich in a very awesome loft apartment, and she was living by herself I believe. Now, she is married, has a child old enough to walk and talk and play outside, has an apartment that’s more like a house, etc. Christina cooked an awesome apple strudel also, and Heinz made us some great tea. We also got to see his knife collection and their place of work, which was really interesting (various clothes).

Another highlight, which I’ve sort of already mentioned, was the food that Babsi and Peter provided for us. One night we had a traditional German feast including meat and a sort of ham bit + cabbage + vinegar salad (which was awesome) and (spelling this phonetically) “ca-noodle” which are round balls of something or other. For those of you that don’t know I sort of enjoy collecting nicknames for Lindsay and canoodle quickly made the list.
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We also went to a bunch of Aldi, Ledl, and other grocery stores. The general rule was “if you see an Aldi, go into the Aldi.” I’m not exactly sure why this is but Germany (and other countries, but especially Germany in my opinion) has amazing grocery stores. I mean, large fresh balls of mozzarella for .55 eurocents. Milk for less than 1 euro. Etc. AMAZING vanilla pudding of all sorts. And so forth. There is also a machine in Aldi now that when pressed spits out a croissant for like 0.35 eurocents. It’s crazy! And a HUGE selection of wine and beer most of which can be had for less then 2 bucks (wine) and less then a buck for beer. I would kill for an Aldi like this in the states. It makes Trader Joes seem like a joke in my humble opinion.

We also met another friend of Babsi/Peter’s named Michael, who was a German native living in NYC. We had a great soup and wonderful bread and again a wonderful night of talking and drinking wine and fancy champagne and beer. Keep in mind the cozy atmosphere and great friends and the fireplace. It was really nice :).

On our last day in Munich (based on Babsi’s recommendations) and we touched the lions (so we should be back to Munich soon we hope!), walked around the Munich Residenz, Marineplatz, ate more delicious food, and saw more awesome churches and grounds. We had such a nice time and will (are!) missing the family already. I’m hoping we’ll be able to keep in touch with Babsi and Peter better then last time around!
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And then, before we knew it, our time in Munich was up, and it was time to go visit Lars and Saskia!

A small bit of Hungary: Budapest (or, “yes, we made our flight!”)

So, the last blog post I mentioned that we may not make our flight to Hungary. It turns out that I may have accidentally forgotten that our flight was actually a half hour then stated during the negotiation phase of planning our waking time with Lindsay. This turned out to be a good thing as Iberia was a very confusing airport. There was an incredibly long line, and all of the displays above the checkin counters said things like “Web Check In” which was not applicable to us, or other things that didn’t apply to us. This is a confusing sentence. Basically we had baggage but it wasn’t clear which line we should wait in, so we ended up splitting up and Lindsay waited in the longest line (we assumed it was probably where all of the poor people had to wait) while I checked in using one of the not so fancy check in things. Anyway, we ended up having 20 or minutes once we got to our gate before we had to board, so it wasn’t really so bad. But, I think even if we disagreed about some of the other details here Lindsay and I would both agree that it was slightly stressful when we got into the airport, had an hour and a half or so, and were running around trying to figure out where to go, only to find out we had to wait in an insane line.

Anyway, we made it though, and we felt that Budapest was awesome. I honestly don’t feel like I can say much about Hungary in general because the reality is that we barely explored the Pest side of Budapest (who know there were two different parts of the city, Buda and Pest!).

We stayed in a super nice apartment/studio. I sadly don’t have any photos from the place, but it was warm (which was awesome and a nice change!), and had a great view of the city.

What did we do in the city.

Note that there are not a lot of photos from Hungary, sadly. So the coolest things, like the ruin bars, aren’t really well represented

We went to the Penny Market which was a cheap grocery store and bought muesli, coffee, various dairy products, and we ate them and cooked breakfast.
Here is some muesli that I accidentally ate with a ton of sour cream.
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We ate cabbage rolls (also I accidentally gave a 1000 percent tip accidentally). The cabbage rolls were not nearly as good as Lindsay’s grandmas (we both agree)
Before I tipped 1000 percent

We went to a few “ruin pubs” which are basically old awesome buildings that were converted to sweet bars with lots of interesting art. This part of Budapest (and other parts) basically felt like the wet dream of a person who loved Oakland. Here I am ordering a beer (and then Lindsay’s phone died)
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We went to one of the oldest public baths in Hungary certainly, possibly Europe. It was really beautiful, though sadly I can’t say it compares to anything that Japan or Korea has to offer. It was sort of like a crappier version of the jjimjilbang that we went to in Korea. Anyway, it was still pretty cool, and we had a “cabin” that we shared to change in. The baths were, in my opinion, hot, overcrowded, and very dirty feeling. Note that I’m not some fancy person who cares about clean stuff (I like to wash my pants once a month), but it just wasn’t a bath house type experience, it felt more like a tourist box to check although there were quite a few locals it seemed. Here is a crappy picture of our dressing cabin.
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The night after our SICK ruin pub/bar hopping experience (secret: it wasn’t that sick, I think we drank a total of two beers between us), we went on a craft brewing tour of the city. We ended up going to 5 pretty sweet little bars that either served their own beer, or other craft beers from other parts of the world. I was pretty shocked to find Anchor Christmas Ale on TAP in Budapest. Although I didn’t drink it, I had some beer from New Zealand, because I hadn’t before. It tasted like beer, FYI.
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I think you can read the Anchorsteam here
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A beer angel
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Our toothpaste from Japan finally gave up the ghost, which I’m still quite sad about. We replaced it with a different/new brand from Budapest, but this was my favourite toothpaste from the trip so far. The Japanese toothpaste had little things in it that I call (some other brand’s trademark I believe) the “scrubbing bubbles” which I liked to think helped with my developing tooth-rot.
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We got some new craft materials for Lindsay, and spent quite a bit of time searching for new boots for Lindsay (without any success). We drank some crappy wine that was less then 2 bucks a bottle. I woke up most mornings and programmed for 2 or 3 hours and made some progress on Phapi.

Finally, we just saw a bunch of beautiful old amazing buildings.
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And finally, we took another night bus (one of the worst yet!) to Munich!

Aegina Island and Nafplio (bonus: Lake Vouliagmeni)

Well, I just typed a blog post to tell all about Athens, but then I remembered that Lindsay already did that! So that was 30 minutes down the drain. This blog post will be much less exciting now because my life has taken such a terrible turn for the worst with this revelation!

While Lindsay was typing the last blog post, I was at a really, really awesome place called Lake Vouliagmeni. It’s a lake that maintains (according to google) a 24 C (75 F) temperature all year round. Sadly, I didn’t take any photos, but it’s a pretty magical place. Basically I took a bus South from Athens for ~1.5 hours, got off and walked 500 feet to this “resort” (which isn’t really a resort, though I bet in the summer it’s pretty fancy/happenin’). Keep in mind it’s relatively cold here, ~40 F, and I’m wearing 5 layers + hat + gloves. I paid my 10 euro (one of the more expensive things I’ve done on this trip) and put my stuff (bag, towel I brought, etc) at a table next to the water. If it was the summer, this would be where people were sitting out drinking wine, eating fancy foods, etc. But when I was there the tables were mostly empty. Anyway, I put my stuff down, stripped down to my trust Speedo, and jumped in the water!

The water, which I wish I had brought my gopro for, was beautiful, beautiful water. It’s brackish and there are a number of sea like creatures living in it (something similar to sea anemones?) in addition to these little man eating fish. I say man-eating fish, because they are man eating, but they only eat little bits of dead skin off your feet. It was like one of those fancy spas where the fish eat your dead skin, except it was in a very beautiful, clean, deep, crystal clear(ish) lake! But the fish were pretty awesome, and I have some serious (and slightly painful) calluses I’ve built up over the last 6 months or so, so it was actually pretty handy to have fish eat them for me. Also, this wasn’t a joke, there were literally 100+ little fish at a time.

But, the fish were not the coolest part. The coolest part was that I could swim out to a deeper area of the lake, and I was able to (sort of) do a bit of freediving practice. Quite honestly I had a chill at this point, so it was a bit tough for me to relax and really work on my breathing, but I was able to dive down to the bottom of the lake along a decent line to 35 or so feet, which was fun. I’ve been carrying a mask and snorkel with me for the past 6 months (through Canada, then through the rest of our trip) and this was the first time since Canada that I’ve had a reason to use the mask/snorkel.

Sadly I didn’t get any photos as I forgot my camera, but the lake’s website has a few photos, and Google image search has a bunch of photos that give a pretty good idea.

Anyway, the next day Lindsay and I left for Aegina Island. We took the metro down to the port in Athens, and then we took a ferry (the flying dolphin!) to the Aegina. It was a short trip really, only took us 40 minutes from the port to the Island.

Here is the town/port of Aegina near where we arrived from the ferry
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When we got to the island, we were quite honestly thrilled. Lindsay and I both really love the water, and an island happens to be surrounded by it. Beautiful water in fact. The island of Aegina is (especially during the winter) very slow and quiet. This has been the case most places we’ve been because it’s the winter and quite honestly most places we’ve been are a bit more comfortable during the summer. Swimming and sun bathing and that type of thing are what this island would be great for, sitting out on a hot summer day and drinking a (cheap!) beer. But during the winter things are likely just as beautiful, we’re just more likely to be looking for a warm coffee in a heated cafe (more difficult to find then you’d guess!). Anyway, I’m sending mixed messages here. Basically the island was beautiful, but felt a bit “dead” because it’s the low season. In the summer I guess many rich people in Athens come to Aegina to live, and many tourists come to enjoy the sun/water as it’s a quick day trip from Athens. But none of those people were there.

various photos of the beautiful water
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We stayed in an AirBnB apartment again, in the small town of Perdika. It’s about 15-20 minute drive by taxi/scooter. We were staying in a very cute/homey little studio apartment. It had a wood stove (which we were ironically too cold to use), a little propane stove for cooking, and a space heater for heat.

The road almost to the studio we stayed at in Perdika
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Our kitchen
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Lindsay cooking in the kitchen (recipe: mulled de la 2.98 for 1 liter wino rojo)
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Me drinking coffee (?) and eating something (maybe dinner? or some garbage sweet thing?)
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Our host brought me the night we arrived back into the marina (Aegina, the main town on the island) and she brought me to a friend who rents scooters. I rented a 80cc scooter (2 stroke though!) for 25 euro for three days. I can’t describe how happy I was about this, there is little I love more then riding around little beautiful islands on a scooter. The drive back from town to Perdika was something I hope I’ll remember because it was pretty magical. Cold, crisp, the sun setting, driving along the coast, passing a bunch of “cute” Greek fishing boats and various small harbors. etc. Very awesome.

Our scooter, parked at the studio
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This is from a different night on the island, but basically is what I saw while scootering back home
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Me with my trusty helmet about to set out home (except actually from the next day again, but let’s pretend)
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That night Lindz and I slept well, but the next day we went outside and it seemed that there was a hurricane. There wasn’t really, I don’t think, but it was incredibly windy and raining a bit and very very cold. This was a bit of a “yolo” decision, but we didn’t want to sit inside all day so we decided to brave the weather and ride the scooter back into town so we could go to a cafe and get some coffee and some groceries to make dinner with. Anyway, on the ride I had one eye closes the entire time, and the other eye was squinting. If you clothes one eye completely, and then squint the other so that your eye lashes nearly completely keep you from seeing, that’s how I was driving. The trick was to go fast enough so we didn’t have to drive in the miserable cold with ice rain stinging our faces for hours, but slow enough that we didn’t outright die. This picture is probably one of the best memories from the Greece trip, and is 100% out of the camera and with as far as I can tell pretty reasonable white balance.

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hella
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Anyway, the next few days we basically did the same thing, except with better weather. Still bone-chilling after 3 hours or so out exploring around the island (we drove around MOST of the circumference), but not so bad that I had to drive with my eyes shut. We drove around the island on the scooter, went to get food at grocery stores (yogurt, chocolate, bread filled with chocolate spread, eggs, sausage, beer and wine and ouzo), and got a gyro every once in a while. Then we’d walk around the town a bit, then head back to our place and cook dinner, research the next leg of our trip, and when the internet worked watch Always Sunny in Philadelphia.

exploring, etc
(imagine some of these places during the summer… they’d look the same, but there would be tons of people sun bathing in bathing suits, and we wouldn’t be wearing gloves)
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Lindsay being bad-ass (like Mac)
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Dead sea urchin decorated by the ocean for xmas
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The day we left Aegina we had to make our way down to Nafplio. As the crow flys our AirBnB place was only 60 kilometers-ish from our AirBnB place on the island, let me tell you, we did NOT travel as the crow flys. Instead we road the scooter back to Aegina port, then took a ferry back to Athens, then a bus to a larger bus station in the opposite part of Athens, then finally a 3 hour bus to Nafplio.

View of Nafplio from our guest house (I think..)
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Nafplio is apparently the original capital of Greece. I’ll save some time by telling you that Nafplio felt a lot like Aegina did in terms of being out of season, but it was just as beautiful if not more so. Well, probably less beautiful actually, but more of a fancy sort of old town feel. Lots of fancy stores, etc, but also beautiful beautiful water.

water and boats, fancy stores, etc
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On our first full day in Nafplio (actually we only really had one FULL day) Lindsay and I hiked up “999” stairs to Palamidi Castle. I use quotes because the claim of 999 stairs seems to be in question. Actually if I read the wikipedia article I could probably find out the actual number of stairs, but if I had to guess I’d guess 917 stairs. I counted 3 sets of 100 stairs, give or take, and that was far less then half of the stairs I’m guessing.

This is some of the castles and bastions (Ian, if you happen to read this, I can’t tell you how many times I thought of you on this day as every single little plaque thing that explained the history said “… something-something bastion was build in …”
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A thing in the water
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I guess the number of stairs don’t matter that much. The point is, we walked up this thing which gave us an awesome view of the city. The most important thing that we saw, from way up on this hill, was that in the beautiful water near our guest house (where we had talked about wishing it was summer so we could go swimming!) there were a number of people in the water, swimming! In the water! So we got up to the castle, explored a bit, took some pictures, then we raced our asses down those 999 or not stairs, ran back to our guest house, grabbed our swim suits and mask and snorkels, and went swimming!

Note that in this picture, I think that thing in the water is a person swimming!
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Here is another picture of a different person swimming in the same place!
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Let me tell you, for the second time, we really love the water. The water was so beautiful, very clear (I’m guessing 40-50 foot vis), and not all that cold. Thanks to Marc, I can tell you the water was 18 C, or ~64 F. The air was considerably colder (we passed a small pond that had ice on the surface while running to grab our swim stuff), but oh well. The sun was bright and warm. I found a octopus! And Lindsay found some fish!

This doesn’t really demonstrate how great the water was, but sort of I guess
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The before/after swimming location
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Bonus: after swimming Lindsay and I was going through the rocks on the beach (which reminded us a lot of a beach along Lake Superior in the UP) and we found something very similar (if not) agates! A bunch of them! I’m hoping to take them with me when we visit Nicola’s family so perhaps his Dad (or Mom!) can tell us if they are in fact agates.

After the swimming, I ate a bunch of baklava, and a bunch of different types of baklava. Note that “baklava” may not be the correct word, but if you saw what I was eating that’s probably what you’d call it.

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This is a bite Lindsay gave me that I was selfish and greedy and took a HUGE bite

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That pretty much brings us to today. Today we woke up and had breakfast (provided by our guest house), then we took the same bus we took down here back up to Athens. Then we took another few buses to the guy we are currently staying with (super nice guy named Chris). Now, we’re freeeezing in bed, typing this blog post and figuring out what time we need to leave to get to the airport. Lindsay thinks we’ll be fine leaving at 6AM, I would feel more comfortable leaving at 5:41AM. If the next blog post involves a “we missed our flight” then I guess we’ll know who was right.

So, tomorrow we go to the airport (ATH), and from there we fly to Budapest! Budapest for 7 days!

Athens, a Graffiti wonderland.

So, it turns out Athens is a graffiti wonderland, and it’s AWESOME. Literally every step of the way to the Acropolis and Acropolis museum was covered in graffiti. Of course, no pictures do it justice, but I can assure you, you would have thought it was awesome too. Every few minutes had me saying “Babe! Just one sec!” *snap* etc. which is why you’ll see him waiting for me in so many pictures….:)

BUT SERIOUSLY! LOOK AT THAT COLOR!

IMG_3438IMG_3413IMG_3426IMG_3428IMG_3398IMG_3406IMG_3435IMG_3430IMG_3414IMG_3421Even where there’s supposed to be NO color, there’s color.IMG_3423IMG_3439IMG_3415IMG_3417IMG_3416IMG_3452We had to walk straight up to get to the Acropolis museum (and to see the Parthenon) but it was well worth the climb. The museum was filled to the brim with pieces (4,000!) of every artifact found on the rock and on the feet of the Acropolis, from the Greek Bronze Age, to Roman and Byzantine Greece.  While wisps of info about Athena and Zeus and Hercules wafted around in my head before the exhibits, it was incredible to see just how ornate and modern people were in regards to their art, language and architecture. Pictures weren’t allowed inside the museum, but we found a great view of our next goal for the afternoon: climbing Mt. Lycabettus to get a 360 degree view of Athens. (View from museum)IMG_3455IMG_3446Sweat. Nature’s blush.IMG_3467IMG_3478IMG_3462IMG_3466

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On the hike down, we decided to get some more delicious gyros (only $2 Euro!) and enjoy the city square at sunset. As you can see, it was pretty glorious. Just 2 days in, Athens has FAR exceeded our expectations in regards to the UNBELIEVABLE food, genuine warmth from the citizens of Greece and overall history and beauty. Pretty stoked to be here.IMG_3461Great view of Parthenon from the square.IMG_3482