Napoli aka Naples

We hadn’t originally planned on visiting Naples. The reason we didn’t plan on visiting Naples is a bit difficult to put my finger on, because like much of our planning on this trip it was very haphazard and semi-random. I guess we had planned on spending more of our time in smaller cities on the coast, and less time in cities. But, after the Amalfi coast (which was amazing, but also wet with few indoor things-to-do that weren’t on the expensive side) we looked at the forecast and saw that it was going to be really raining cats and dogs (not literally cats and dogs) and so figured we’d head to a larger city, Napoli being close and easy to reach, and reasonably famous/well known/worthwhile.

This suited me just fine, because to be honest on our way down to the Amalfi my heart grew sad (not literally) knowing that we were so close to the (arguably not really) birthplace of pizza. Honestly, I was a bit disappointed that I had to say that I skipped over Naples, considering how much I love pizza.

And I love pizza. Along with Ramen, Sushi, and (without getting into specific dishes) Indian food, it’s #1. And this is perfect because in Naples there really is a lot of pizza, everywhere. Actually this is a small problem in the context of this blog post because pretty much the only photos we have from Naples are of Pizza. Here is an example:

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This photo is from L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele – I ate there twice. The first time, I left Lindsay who was feeling sick as a dog (impossible to really know this) instead of comforting her or helping her recover, and it. was. awesome (love you Lindsay, with all my heart (not literally)). I was really really excited because if you google “best pizza naples italy” (you have to add italy or you’ll get Naples Florida results… thanks Obama) this is generally either the top, or one of the top 5.

The pizza here is sort of like a New York style. Thin crust. Crispy. Often you only have two options: margherita or marinara. It’s always cooked in a pizza oven. It’s always great. It’s sometimes more than great.

So, eating pizza is a pretty big part of what we did in Naples. When we weren’t doing that, we were generally sitting in a bar (aka “cafe”) drinking cappuccino or espresso or americano. I have to give Lindsay some real credit for giving espresso a real shot here. She had espresso 3 or 4 (maybe more?) days in a row.

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We stayed in a hostel for 3 out of 4 days in Naples, and like many hostels (I hate this, by the way) they kick you out in the morning while they clean. Our hostel kicked us out at 10 am after breakfast. Breakfast, by the way, was some interesting here. I wish I had pictures, but basically it was toast, ultrapasterized milk in a box, cereal, small round dried biscuit things, terrible toast, and GIANT HUGE containers of Nutella. Oh, I sort of found a photo!

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As I was saying, we got kicked out of our hostel every day at 10am. This doesn’t seem particularly early, and it’s not (I’m always up by 8:30, if not earlier. Lindsay is up… early also) but when you are traveling every day, and aren’t planning far ahead, and are trying to not spend a ton of money (which means you can’t just go to museums every day), it is sometimes better for us to hang out in our guest house (reading, writing blog posts, programming, etc) until 11 or 12, then heading out, so we have a really good chunk of time to explore and enjoy the day, but we also get some time at night. Of course, this sounds terrible or really sad perhaps, but it’s just reality – we can’t be tourists 14 hours a day, 7 days a week, for 10 months straight. Anyway, the point of all of this is to say that our normal travel schedule was slightly out of whack in Naples. We left earlier then normal, and we got home earlier then normal.

Here is Lindsay doing some random planning
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Naples itself is a pretty awesome city I’d say. It’s dirty, there is more dog shit on the streets then any other city we’ve visited in the West, but it’s a really interesting and unique city compared to Rome/Florence/Venice. Of course, each city I just mentioned is unique, but Naples is unique in different ways. It feels a lot grittier and dirtier and generally more multi-cultural. For us Naples felt totally safe, but some people (who I suspect are perhaps not used to living in a city or being around a real mix of people) call it “dangerous.” I will admit there were a number of shady sorts of places, and I was a bit more cautious of where I put my money in some areas, but really it was pretty great.

Another thing that I really loved about Naples is that a few streets had a sort of “I bet this is what Italy felt like 60 years ago” feel to it. Once again, I wish I had more photos, but there were a few streets where people were selling vegetables in the back of oldish/beatupish trucks. Stuff like this. This photo doesn’t do it justice, but sort of gives the idea:

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Actually, I scanned a bunch of slides (film) (I may have posted some of them on this blog before) that I found at an estate sale back in Berkeley a few years ago, and there were a bunch of photos from what I believe is Italy. These photos are very similar how these streets of Naples felt like to me. Again, the photo we took (above) isn’t from this street, but you can perhaps sort-a-kinda get the idea. I have no idea if these photos below are actually from Naples or not, but again, the feeling was similar to me.

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Italy Naples maybe

Possibly Naples?

Naples perhaps? Italy I think?

We ended up spending 4 days in Naples because we found a good deal on a train to our next destination (Reggio Calabria) that required we stay there 4 days. Quite honestly, it was probably a day or two too many, considering we didn’t really DO anything in Naples. We didn’t go Pompeii (though we drove by Mount Vesuvius like 15 times going between Amalfi and Naples and ride sharing and etc), we didn’t go to a single museum (honestly we just didn’t feel like it), we mainly at pizza, walked around and people watched, ate at cafes, talked with people at our hostel, and hung out.

See, pizza!

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One other highlight was cooking. One night Lindsay and I (more I then Lindsay, but she was working on planning the next phase of our trip!) made “traditional” bolognese sauce (like we learned in our class!). It was pretty good, and I’d say fun to do. There was an AMAZING grocery store (sort of like in Rome, but a bit fancier) and we went there twice to look around and buy food for cooking/eating. They had these cured legs of various animals that you could buy that were stored in what looked like a fancy soft guitar case. (Photos to come, I hope, if I can find them).

For the sake of documentation, the fourth night we ended up having to sleep in a different hotel. It was the hostel owners “cousin” (when I hear this I generally think, “yeah right” because in India and many other places with touts you hear this constantly, “oh please visit my brothers shop” “oh my cousin has a shop next door with great prices” “oh let me show you my mothers shop”, etc). It actually may have been the cousin, but regardless it was in a pretty shady area of town. And the hotel itself was a bit on the “prostitutes come here” side of things. But honestly, that’s not fair, because the place was actually totally fine. If you haven’t spend the last 8 months traveling or camping or doing something similar, then you might say it was a bit rundown or perhaps grimy, but the sheets felt clean enough to me, and the towels, while grey and dingy, smelled clean enough. Bonus: the rooms had themes, like the America Room with a mural of native americans. Etc. Our room, sadly, seemed theme-less. Though we did have a reasonably nice balcony, and there was an amazing pizza place nearby!

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We ate pizza in Naples literally until the last minute. We ate pizza from Naples as we left Naples, on the train. Here Lindsay is standing with a pizza waiting for the train to Reggio Calabria.

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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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Florence

We took a total of three buses to get from Venice to our AirBnB apartment in Florence. The first two were pretty easy (other then having to sit and wait at the bus station in Venice for 4 hours as I mentioned in my previous post). The biggest pain was that the second bus dropped us off at what felt like the side of a major road, in the dark, where there were no street lights or sidewalks, etc.

I had expected this to some extent because like always I have checked out the full route we had to take before leaving Venice, and I knew that our last bus picked up on the side of a highway where there was no clear, obvious bus stop. I even saw the “stop” on google maps. But, it’s a bit different when you’re tired, and it’s pitch dark and you know that the bus is only coming once an hour (or so you hope!) and if you miss it you’re going to be sitting in the road for who knows how long in the cold, with a slight drizzle.

I took a quick video of this situation, though honestly it doesn’t do the situation justice because what you can’t clearly see is that there was literally no place to stand on the side of the road because the road is set down in a little “valley” of sorts. So you’re basically standing on the road. Lindsay had the bright idea of turning on her flashlight, so the oncoming traffic could see that we were standing there, which really did (thankfully) slow traffic considerably.

Luckily we didn’t have to wait long for a bus to come so in the end it wasn’t so bad. It certainly could have been a lot worse (although Lindsay doesn’t look too thrilled there :)).

We finally got to the city (Florence) and had 1.5 kilometer walk to our apartment. On the way we passed a couple of people handing out flyers to a free choir concert happening at a big/old/beautiful cathedral, and we ended up running to our place, and dropping off our bags and then RUNNING back to the cathedral to watch the concert. It was pretty cool I’d say, especially for free. All of these amazing old cathedrals are pretty awe-inspiring on their own, but when you add a choir on top of the building itself it’s even better.

After the first night we had a number of things that we wanted to make sure that we did, primarily involving food (surprise, surprise). Sometime in Venice (or perhaps before) we decided that when we were in Italy, we really wanted to feel like we could eat a variety of different foods without feeling guilty about cost, etc. Of course we always try a ton of food (and talk about it plenty I’m sure), but with Italy we wanted to spend a bit extra if we needed to, and throw caution to the wind sometimes and make ourselves go out to eat (instead of finding one cheap thing and eating it for every meal).

Actually, speaking of the first night, after this concert (it was maybe 10:30 or 11? Late by our standards) we went out for dinner. I had ribollita, which is a traditional/classic Florence/Tuscany soup made with bread (a thickener?) and a bunch of vegetables, apparently twice baked. Lindsay had some sort of pasta dish with mushrooms and truffles. We also each had a glass of wine, which was really fancy. The meal was spectacular.

I’ll take this opportunity to mention that so far, Italy has been a truly amazing place food wise. It’s too much work and I’m not really able to fairly compare countries, so I won’t do that, but I will say that every single thing we’ve done in terms of food in Italy has been awesome. For example, as I may or may not have mentioned in a previous post, nearly every morning we get a coffee and pastry, and they are always cheap and awesome. Pizza has been amazing (more on that in another post), pasta has been amazing, and prices in general have been spectacular considering what we’ve been eating. Much like Venice lived up to our expectations/vision, the food in Italy has done the same.

We only spent two days in Florence, and to be honest the two days were spent doing what we normally do – walking around the town, going into markets and grocery stores, walking into any (free) interesting things we see. Reading. And eating lots of gelato.

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A few highlights include:

Reading on the steps at a library near the river that runs through the city…

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While we were there (randomly, as I expect in the US somewhere less old and historic feeling), a Red Bull car drove by and gave Lindsay and I each a Red Bull through the window. Lindsay didn’t want hers, but seeing as they were free, I grabbed two drank the Red Bull with excitement even though I don’t really like Red Bull. After drinking mine and part of Lindsay’s I felt sick and decided not to drink Red Bull again.
IMG_4749The markets in Florence were beautiful. We had some truly amazing pasta (in what I now believe was a bolognese sauce) at the central market (very sweet/old/historic) market.

Here is Lindsay reading our guide book while eating…

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Taking our photo in front of this famous church/cathedral (but not actually going in)
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At our guesthouse, we had an enjoyable conversation with a few girls from China who were studying in France. No photos, but a good memory. One of them was quite interested to know (randomly, soon after talking for the first time) if we used the knife in the right hand while eating. Frankly, I should probably not have found this as funny as I did because on occasion I can ask some stupid/random questions when I’m in an uncomfortable situation, but the girls absolutely shocked and giddy reaction to our response (“I guess we eat with the knife in the right hand…?”) had Lindsay and I both bordering on being rude because we had a difficult time containing laughter.

So, two days of this walking around stuff and then we left Florence. We did very few of the “big” tourist attractions, which some may see as a crime, but we had a nice time just the same. We had a ride share down to Rome with Vito next. Here I am once again doing what we do best, wait for transportation.

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The drive to Rome was uneventful. Vito didn’t speak much English, and there was another girl in the car with us that was Italian so she sat up front, which meant that most of the 3ish hour car ride the people that were not Lindsay and I talked. I read (more Dresden File books) and Lindsay listened to podcasts (The Moth). The one thing I wanted to mention is that we stopped at this gas station/rest stop somewhere and it was AMAZING. Most importantly, they had TWELVE PACKS of Kinder eggs! 12 packs! It was crazy. They were 8.99 euros.

TWELVE KINDER EGGS

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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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.

Quick day in Ancona

Well, Ancona was our first stop in Italy. It is a port town, and it is not super touristy from what I can tell. Lindsay and I stayed in a super nice hotel (one of the most expensive places we’ve stayed on this trip), only because it was the only practical option for us as nothing else was available for a single night. The hotel, called the “Seeport Hotel” had a fancy worldpool shower, and we got a chocolate on our bed. And in general it was just really nice with a great view of the port. Also, the included breakfast was super fancy, with fancy cheeses and fancy other stuff. It was fancy. And fancy.

Ancona, well, sadly I don’t have many photos, and there isn’t much I can say that’s exciting. We were only there for a single day and Lindsay was tired as she didn’t sleep all night, and feeling a bit sick, so she ended up sleeping at the hotel. I left, and had quite the adventure. I didn’t do anything particularly exciting, but I did a TON of stuff. I actually tracked it, I walked something like 12 kilometers, and I walked to any and everything that I saw that looked interesting. I walked to old churches, I walked up big hills that overlooked the port where I read for a while in a bench, I walked through old city ruins, I walked into museums (though just through the door, I didn’t pay to actually go in). I even somehow found myself in what felt like the countryside walking through a VERY VERY old cemetery where all of the gravestones were written in Hebrew (?). And I got my first (at least on this trip!) Italian gelato.

Overall, it was an amazing day. It was also warm and sunny on this particular day, which was great and not the norm. I did take a few photos (film), so once I develop them I’ll try to post them here, probably.

For now, here is Lindsay looking great getting ready to move onto our next destination:
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Our next destination being VENICE! Which we traveled to via blahblahcar where we first met up with our rideshare partners (Pablo and Alfredo) at IKEA, of all places.

Kevin with our train tickets in front of IKEA
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Lindsay orders a BEER at IKEA
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Ferry from Split, Croatia to Ancona, Italy

We took a night ferry from Split to Italy, in large part because Lindsay thought it would be fun to take a ferry somewhere, but also because it’s a pratical way of getting from Croatia to Italy. The original plan was to go to Arcona, then go to the South of Italy and then head back North, on the way down sticking to the East coast and on the way back up sticking to the West coast. That has since changed because we realized that it was probably a bit crazy to go in a circle around the country, so we’ve instead decided to go North to Venice, then work our way South to Sicily and then finally fly to France (Marseille) from there. Basically, only go South (except to go North to Venice from Ancona).

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

We walked with our packs from our AirBnB apartment in Split to the port of Split, which was roughly one kilometer, not to bad. Then we walked around until we found the pier that our ship was leaving from.

The Ferry was sort of like a cruise ship, except the entire bow of the boat folds down and makes a huge ramp for cars and trucks to drive in. So it’s bit more utilitarian then a normal cruise ship, and holds more semi-trucks. Before we actually got on the cruise ship we had to wait and pass through imigration which is always sort of fun and exciting, especially when it’s with a new form of transportation (airports are all pretty much the same, but the ferry was a bit different feeling).

Getting onto the ferry is also a lot different then getting on a cruise ship because you walk through the GIANT part of the ship that is for cars (the bottom level), and again it feels very utilitarian. But then you walk up stairs into something that looks like the lobby of a cheap hotel, if that cheap hotel was on a ferry. There was a reception person and everything.

This was a bit strange for us, because as far as I could tell everybody on the boat had a reserved cabin for the trip. There are a few different types of tickets you can buy, ranging from ~70ish dollars to ~170 dollars a ticket. The cheapest are the “deck seating” which we had, and then there is the “cabin” which is what everybody else seemed to have. The cabin is basically, as you may have guessed, a cabin with a bed, etc. The “deck” is basically, as far as we could tell, “sit anywhere you want as long as somebody doesn’t tell you that you can’t sit there.” This sounds easy enough, but when you get on the ship it’s a bit disorienting and I felt what I imagine the third class passengers on the Titanic must have felt like. There were lots of people directing passengers to their cabins, but there wasn’t a person directing deck people to their decks, you just sort of had to figure out where you could/couldn’t sit.

We ended up walking up some stairs and findng a big room with a bunch of tables and chairs in it. It looked sort of like a mess hall or something, or perhaps a cheap restaurant seating area. We said, “maybe THIS is the deck?” Again, sounds simple enough, but it wans’t clear if this room with tables/chairs was the place we were supposed to sleep that night. But, on the end of the room was a big bench with a comfortable enough cushion, so Lindsay and I put our stuff on the cushion and made it home for the night.

One thing I’m sad about is that I didn’t really walk around the ship much, or go out and enjoy the brisk sea air. This was in part because I was worried that if I got up I’d give up my seat, and in part because it was freezing cold outside and we pretty much went straight to bed when we got on the ship to try to get a full 8 hours of sleep.

One highlight on the trip: the tables in this room ended up filling up with a bunch of men who ate dinner at the tables, and after dinner they all sang songs. For like 3 or 4 hours. It was slightly surreal. Lindsay and I are on the bench at the end of the big room on this boat, each in our silk sleeping bag liners, with eye masks on (the lights are on fullblast all night), and then the rest of the room is filled with men eating dinner and singing songs. I guess they were in some sort of choir, apparently traveling to Italy to sing or something. It was pretty cool. Eventually I had to put in earplugs, because these were not quiet songs, they were loud, full on choir songs until after midnight. Video/audio recording hopefully will be posted here.

Around 7:50 AM, after my alarm went off but I apparently didn’t hear it, somebody nudged me and said “Ancona” – and sure enough, we were docked in Ancona! Like magic! So I woke Lindsay up, we threw our stuff in our packs and ran down the stairs and got off the boat, while we were still waking up.

Croatia in words

Croatia in a few words

I haven’t been so great at writing blog posts lately, not for any really great reason, I just haven’t been spending the time. Part of the issue, I think, is that we’ve been in the mindset that when we move from one country to the next we’ll write a blog post, but I I think I end up trying to type too much or we don’t type nearly enough.

Anyway, hopefully I’ll starting writing more frequent blog posts. This one is not really one of those though, because it’s another “catch up.”

Croatia was a pretty great country. I’d recommend you visit it if you get a chance. Zagreb, the capital, where we started, felt like a small-ish city compared to a Paris or a Munich, but nice. It sort of reminded me of what I remember Prague to be like I guess. We did a few noteworthy things there:

  • We went to the “museum of broken relationships” – basically a bunch of items from various failed relationships (most of them romantic, but not all). The stories behind the actual items were the most interesting part of the museum. I was/am very happy to have found that the museum felt “authentic” to me, not like people had edited a bunch of stories to make them incredible when they weren’t. There were just a bunch of real feeling, often sad, thought provoking little stories to accompany the items.
  • The mushroom museum. This was difficult to find. We took two days to find it actually (not searching the entire time of course!). The first day we asked the tourist information area where the museum was and they drew the location on a map and said “Next to the Hypo Bank.” We found the bank easy enough (it was visibile from the tourist office), but found not a single sign that indicated that there was a museum there. We ended up walking around the building, but found nothing. The next day we went back, did the same search again, but this time we went into a random door that looked like it led to a closed down building. You walk in the door and it was dark, sort of like a large apartment building that was condemmed or something. But we walked up the staircase (the museum was supposed to be on the second floor), at this point having no idea if this was the correct place or not (having seen no sign). On the second floor, sure enough there was a sign that said something about the something-something society, not exactly “MUSHROOM MUSEUM IS HERE” or anything, but it sounded like something that might be related to a museum so we knocked and it ended up being the right place. The museum itself was small-ish (two rooms or so), but really really impressive. Hundreds of different types of mushrooms, all well preserved. Plus it was free.

Otherwise, in Zagreb, we spent a lot of time walking around the city, eating different foods (things were very cheap having flown from Netherlands), and walking more. I did some work on my website project, Lindsay and I watched a few episodes of Deadwood (a great show by the way).

We also went to see Interstellar in a movie theater. This was for us both I think a great experience because

  1. It was the first American movie we’ve been to on this trip (we saw two movies in Hindi in India, but those were Bollywood films)
  2. I had wanted to see the movie for a long time, in theathers, and had assumed I’d miss the opportunity but for whatever reason the movie was still playing in Zagreb
  3. The movie was awesome I thought, and Lindsay thought
  4. It was pretty cheap – I think we paid around 7 USD for two tickets
  5. I very much enjoy going to the movies in general, and going to the movies in a different country is always an interesting experience I think. Sort of like eating at McDonalds in a different country, it’s similar but the differences make it so interesting

We ended up heading to Zadar next after Zagreb. Zadar is a small coastal town, and the photos if you were to google look amazing. Zadar was very beautiful, but for me at least more then most cities we’ve visited recently it wasn’t really well suited for tourism during the winter. There are a bunch of places we’ve visited that are sort of “dead” during the winter, and often time that’s OK (even nice sometimes as you feel like less of an annoyng tourist and more of a crazy tourist). But Zadar was really really dead.

Honestly I can’t exactly think what we did in Zadar at this point, except that Lindsay liked the city because she ran every day and there were a bunch of nice routes. I did a fair amount of programming I believe, and I drank some coffee and ate musli.

We also saw the Sea Organ, which is basically a cement structure created so that air is forced up over the holes in the concrete structure when waves come in. So it’s like an organ or some other wind instrument. The cool thing about it is that it’s quite large, and it’s actually built into the sidewalk that goes along the water.

Anyway, our time in Zadar we stayed at the “Sea Gallery” apartment, which was a small apartment with a bunch of water colors the owner painted hung up on the walls. It was a pretty nice little apartment. As I mentioned, I’m unsure of what exactly we did in Zadar, but whatever it was we did it for a few days and then moved onto Split.

Split was probably the easiest town to love, and probably the most popular tourist destination I’d guess, but that didn’t stop me from loving it. It’s on the water, there is a park right near the city area, the entire city feels like the sea/water is part of the everyday life, and in general it was just a cool town.

We did a lot of walking in Split, which isn’t abnormal, but we had a few days of beautiful, warm sunshine and it felt like heaven. I went swimming one day, which was great. Well, it was good, maybe not great. It felt great to get in the water, but honestly the water was the coldest I’ve been in in a while. The type of water that is difficult to stay in for long because you get a headache the second your face goes under. Still, even in the shallow water (2-3 feet max?) I brought my mask and saw a bunch of beautiful sea anemones (which is a nearly impossible word to spell by the way).

Lindsay and I ate out one nice meal in Split. The photos you’ve seen already, but we had the black squid ink risotto. I actually thought it was really really good. I also talked to the bartender/waiter for a while about it and asked him if it was just a tourist gimmick, and he said no, and that he didn’t eat it all the time but normally once a month or so.

I also really liked Split because it felt a bit like a gateway to other awesome water areas of Croatia. For instance, the island of Vis. We didn’t go, but I talked to a guy in a freediving/spearfishing shop about places to spearfish and apparently Vis is one of the top spearfishing and scuba diving places in Croatia. This I found exciting.

Another thing I really enjoyed about Split was sitting outside with all of the locals (mainly men) along the water drinking a beer at 1 in the afternoon. Seriously, there were guys that would sit outside all day long on these benches with their friends and their dogs and drink beer. I remember on day Lindsay and I sat outside and drank a beer in the morning, then we walked around all day and did whatever we did, and then on the way home that night, after dark, the same group of guys were sitting exactly where they had been before, still drinking beer and chatting.

There was also a fishing area (best way I can put it), where there were a bunch of small fishing boats and nets and things laying out drying, and there would always be a group of guys sitting around. One particularly memorable day there was a group of guys who I think had been fishing, and they were sitting around on a picnick bench in their fisherman gear, and somebody was grilling up some fish, and then they all started singing. It was awesome. It was like, a fisherman song, I like to think. Maybe they were singing about the sea, and how beautiful it is, and how they love fishing and the sea air. I have an audio recording of it actually, maybe I’ll try to post it.

In closing, let me say that I’d recommend anybody go to Croatia. I would likely recommend visiting in the summer (though I think Split in particular is crazy with tourists at this point, a bit different from the chill atmosphere we had!). I think I’d like to go back to Croatia one day, and when I do I think I’ll probably stick to the South and to the islands.

Next up, a ferry to Ancona, Italy.

Croatia in photos.

(***Forgive me in advance for the worst blog post yet, but we’ve already done so much since Croatia and time’s a wastin’! In the effort to get caught up, here’s a short and sweet version of our time – but I’m not going to do this beautiful country justice!***)

So, when Kev and I decided to visit Croatia, we went to escape the Schengen region visa restrictions, hunker down, save some money, see some beautiful sights, but again really, to avoid digging into our visa time. I have wanted to visit Croatia for years, since one of my best pals, Brian, mentioned it to me as a possible rock climbing destination during college. Croatia turned out to BLOW our expectations, and will be somewhere we without question visit in the near future (hopefully in the summer) to scuba dive, spearfish and enjoy the absolutely pristine, beautiful water. These photos are backwards given our (sadly!) very basic route due to the way they uploaded, but you’ll see a glimpse of what made this country so incredible.

Split:IMG_4547IMG_4515

Squid-ink risotto (a local delicacy) color created by, you guessed it, a perforate ink sack of a squid. Kinda made my stomach turn (seriously, imagine eating across from those lips pictured below). Kinda delicious.IMG_4550IMG_4554

IMG_4551IMG_4500IMG_4504IMG_4493IMG_4526IMG_4491IMG_4509IMG_4498Sunsets like you would not believe.IMG_4540IMG_4529IMG_4539IMG_4528IMG_4544A couple photos for our dear friend, Nicola.IMG_4564IMG_4562IMG_4527Kevin (being a bad ass), doing something even the locals refused to do…swim.IMG_4502

Zadar.

I told you, the sunsets, right?! I got to run on this boardwalk every day. Heaven. Heaven, I tell you.IMG_4476IMG_4460IMG_4475IMG_4466

Zagreb.IMG_4438

Mushroom museum.IMG_4418IMG_4417IMG_4393IMG_4428IMG_4427IMG_4375IMG_4370IMG_4384Museum of Broken Relationships (yes, you read that right). It was awesome.IMG_4453IMG_4451IMG_4452IMG_4437IMG_4442IMG_4440And another 2 weeks zip by, off to Italy we go!IMG_4576

 

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.