A Travellerspoint blog

A note on packing

You always have too much

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After lugging around all of my stuff (and Kristine’s duffel bag) all day today, it makes me stop to get critical about each thing I have packed. I thought I had done well with a small backpack and small duffel bag, but it doesn’t take long for both to get heavy. When I was planning for this trip before I even knew Kristine was coming, we read about a woman who traveled to Europe for several weeks and the only clothes she brought were a pair of black pants and a black shirt, which she washed in her sink every night. At the time, it inspired me to pack a lot less than I was planning to but I realize that I could have done better still. If I ever make a similar trek in the future, I would bring 1 polo shirt, one button down, 2 pairs of shorts, one pair of pants (for the “no shorts” churches) and my little ziplock of toiletries. In addition, I really wouldn’t need more than 2 pairs of boxers because I could simply wash a pair in the sink every night and let them dry during the day while I wear the other pair (a night to dry just isn’t enough for the waistband to dry out). I would also wash my outfit from the day in the sink every night. I have been washing my boxers this way every couple of days and it doesn’t take long. Its much better than trying to go to a Laundromat between 8am and 10pm, which is prime time for all the other activities I want to fit into my day. Where I’m at now, I simply have too many clothes to hand wash in this manner.

It’s really silly to bring t-shirts on a trip through Europe. It’s much more fun to buy shirts from the places you go along the way. I would have done so more often but I simply have not had the room in my luggage. I probably would have brought the same luggage, since all of that would be a tight fit in my backpack plus it’s nice to have a lighter backpack to bring around throughout the day. This would leave my duffel less than half full and would make it so that I wasn’t fighting to zip it up every day we hit the road. Plus it would be light as a feather while allowing for more room to buy a few touristy things on the journey.

Posted by atbrady 17:53 Archived in Italy Tagged packing Comments (0)


Seeing the Sights in an Afternoon and Disaster Averted in Florence

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When we got to Pisa at 4pm, we went to the place to lock up our baggage and found out it closes at 9pm. We wouldn’t be back to the station until 10 or so for the 10:30pm train to Florence, so we unfortunately had to carry our bags around Pisa all day. Or more accurately, I would be carrying my backpack and both duffel bags around all day. We bought a map and saw that the Leaning Tower was all the way at the north end of the town and the train station was way down south. Luckily, we found out that Pisa is a small town and it took us 20 minutes to walk the length of our map. The funny thing about Pisa is that the entire tourist section is in one block. There’s the tower, a cathedral and a baptistery all right next to each other, with an endless row of vendors lining the side of the block.

Kristine went to buy tickets while I guarded the bags and she was happy to find out that you can’t bring bags up the tower and have to check them. Our ticket for the tower was for an 8 o’clock tour and they wouldn’t let us check our bags until 5 minutes before the tour, so we were stuck with them for another 3 or 4 hours. We went inside the cathedral which was actually pretty amazing, although the outside architecture of it was probably the most impressive. The baptistery was a circular building which gave it incredible acoustics. It’s known for the echoes it makes. Although you have to be silent inside, every half hour one of the security guards makes noises in all different pitches. It sounds like he has a chorus with him because the sound reverberates so many times that it sounds like there is several voices. It was cooler than you might think. By this time, we had a few minutes to take the requisite “holding up the tower” pictures before actually heading up. On the lawn in front of the tower, there is signs all over the place saying that the lawn is off limits and there are two security guards patrolling with whistles. They take their job way too seriously although the fact that they try to keep you off the grass in the first place is kind of ridiculous. Every once in a while, they security guards were out of sight for just a minute when people would start creeping on the grass to take pictures. Eventually the lawn would be filled with people until he came back blowing his whistle like a crazy person. Quite entertaining to watch.

Going up the stairs in a lopsided tower is pretty disorienting and it was cool to get to the top and walk around the edges to see how much higher one side was than the other. We were up there just around sunset, which was perfect. We headed down for dinner was within sight of the tower itself. There was even a little band walking around playing music. One thing that kind of ruined the ambiance, however, was that they turned the TV on which was right above us and had an MTV-type channel playing mostly American songs. Not exactly adding to the Italian atmosphere. The waiters at this restaurant and a few others we have been to take orders on PDAs which was kind of cool. I’m sure it makes things much easier on their end. I really like how everything here already includes tax and tip. It gives you a more realistic idea of what you’ll be spending and also keeps too much change out of my pocket since most prices are at even numbers. It takes forever to get your check no matter where you go and we ended up kind of having to hustle back to the train station. Speed walking with both our bags was fantastic. We made it with a few minutes to spare. Pisa was a great little town. It was cool to see what it’s like being outside of a major city. Things certainly were much cheaper, even despite the fact that we were in a very touristy section. I’m definitely glad we made the trip, although I’m not sure what we would have done there if we had stayed longer. All of the attractions truly were in one square. Most of the other people seemed to be there on day trips as well, which makes sense since a train ticket to Florence is only 7 euros for a 1 hour trip. Since I was carrying the luggage most of the way, Kristine had the map and kept bragging about not getting us lost like I had in Rome, even though Pisa is about one tenth the size of Rome and we only took the one major road from the train station to the leaning tower.

When we got to Florence, it was quite a walk to our hotel and I was again carrying all the bags. We ended up getting there just fine, but sat outside the hotel pressing the buzzer for probably 45 minutes. I went to try to use a payphone but the payphones here only accept calling cards. We were about to start asking people to use their phones to call the hotel number until another person came in and let us in with them. There was luckily a computer for public use and I suggested Kristine send the owners an email that we were here. We also checked and confirmed that both the hostelbookers website and the hotel website said 24 hour reception. We had been inside a half hour or so and were getting ready to sleep in the hallway when one of the owners came in and let us into our room. I was honestly expecting a free night or something but instead they tried to convince us that we said we would be arriving at 8pm and that we should have called if we were running late. First off, we definitely said 11. Maybe she could have convinced me that I accidently put in 11am, but 8? No way. Secondly, she tried to tell us that it didn’t say 24 hour reception on their website and that they wouldn’t be there late unless we called (calling with what phone by the way?). Finally, we were told that there was an error in their booking system and that we would have to switch rooms for tomorrow night. Fantastic. I guess that’s Italian customer service for you. My mom probably would have tried to get a free night out of it (although I would have been surprised to see this lady budge after she tried to blame all the problems on us) but we were so tired at that point after a long day of traveling and just happy to have a bed to sleep in. We booked this hotel because the reviews said the continental breakfast was really good and our breakfasts so far have been pretty bad. This breakfast better be fantastic.

Posted by atbrady 16:32 Archived in Italy Tagged tourist_sites Comments (1)

Close Call

Ticket Validation

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I’m not sure why they don’t treat train tickets like the subway where you have to put your ticket through to go through the turnstile. Instead, you can hop right on the train and then they have to have a guy come around on the train to check your ticket. In Europe, before you get on the train you have to validate your ticket which basically prints the station and timestamp on the ticket before you hop on so that you can’t reuse the ticket. If you don’t you get charged a huge fine. Anyways, we got on the train and about 3 minutes before it was about to leave, we realized we hadn’t validated the ticket. Kristine hopped off and ran to the machine and ended up making it just fine, but that could have been interesting. Now that we’re on the train, there’s two or three separate guys on the phone that are all literally screaming. Its going to be a looongg four hours.

Posted by atbrady 16:31 Archived in Italy Tagged train_travel Comments (0)

Tourism Hyperspeed

Cranking it up to 11

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This morning, we woke up as hobos which was exhilarating! We officially have nowhere to sleep tomorrow night and have no idea where we’ll be. When we woke up, we headed to the train station to plot our next move. We had talked about spending a few days traveling through Italy, probably stopping in Florence first, but Kristine showed some interest in Pisa so we looked into it and saw that train tickets from Rome to Florence were the same price as the tickets from Rome to Pisa then Pisa to Florence. The plan is to get to Pisa ASAP, spend the afternoon there, and then take the last train to Florence. Our rough plan is to spend tonight in Florence then all day tomorrow and tomorrow night and leave some time the next day. If the side trip to Pisa works out, we’ll probably do something similar by making a side trip to Bologna on the way from Florence to Venice. Athens may be out of our itinerary, as we have both heard from separate sources that its overrated and that there isn’t much to do. We thought about going to the Greek Isles to relax a bit and making a day trip to Athens, but who knows. The flight from Venice to Barcelona is only $79 compared to $239 from Venice to Athens, so that might have made the decision for us. Anyways, I’m now sitting in the train station with Kristine asleep on my lap waiting for our train to Pisa!

Posted by atbrady 16:29 Archived in Italy Tagged train_travel Comments (0)

Ancient Rome

Last Day/Night in Rome

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After our great experience at the Vatican yesterday, today we’ll be seeing the sights of Ancient Rome. Breakfast was again uneventful and we hopped onto another overflowing subway train to Capitoline Hill, which was laid out by Michelangelo. There, we stopped at what was billed as the world’s oldest museum, built in the 17th century to house Ancient Roman art. Notable was the remains (feet, head, parts of the arms) of an enormous statue of Emperor Constantine. The statue was so big that his little toe was about the size of my head. The sculptures throughout the building were pretty amazing, especially considering how advanced they were for their time. Literally inside the museum was the foundation of an ancient Roman temple built on this site. Finally was a breathtaking overlook on the Roman Forum (where all of the ancient remains are located). We had planned to go walking through the forum, but you could see all that there was to see from this overlook and from the street and decided that it wasn’t worth the 10 euro ticket. We were able to see some restoration work being done in the area, which was pretty cool. After walking along the side of the forum, we found ourselves at the Coliseum, complete with guys dressed as gladiators trying to get you to give them money to take a picture with them. It was amazing to see so many ancient stones outside the Coliseum simply stacked into piles. Since we had our Roma Pass, we were able to skip the line which was about two hours, one more reason why the Roma Pass was the best deal in any city on this trip. The Coliseum had a few plaques about its history as well as some interesting facts about gladiators as well as replicas of their attire. Overall, however, Kristine and I felt that both museums and Rome in general was a gold mine of ancient ruins that was poorly organized and preserved. Especially after the well planned and polished museums and attractions of London and Paris with plaques everywhere giving you more information, Rome seemed to just let visitors in to see their treasures and expect them to be content just looking. Personally, I enjoy refreshing my memory from things I learned in school years ago or reading the stories often detailed in various plaques. Romans are remarkably lucky that their sights are so beautiful that people will still come, but overall there is plenty of room for improvement.

We made a quick pit stop nearby for lunch and had great sandwiches. All over Rome there are continuously running water fountains. While this seems pretty wasteful, they have been great to be able to fill up my water bottle wherever we go, although Kristine refuses to drink the water. After lunch, we returned to the Castel Sant Angelo that we weren’t able to make it to yesterday. It’s basically a fort and provided another fantastic panorama of the city. Again, we felt that the building itself and the rooms inside could have been better explained. At this point we were near the Piazza Navona which we loved so much and stopped there for some gelato. I got half mango and half lemon gelato. It’s much different from our ice cream, somewhere between ice cream and sorbet. Kristine had chocolate which basically tasted like fudge and was also great. Even during the middle of the day, the Piazza was filled with people and street performers. There were some cool bands, but also some random street performers such as a person who puts on a glittery gold robe and an Egyptian mask and basically stands still for as long as possible and expects you to give them money. Hunter and I had seen the same act in Paris and thought it odd that in no way was it related to the place we were in. I also saw more I heart Roma shirts, this time however, they said I <3 NY but had NY crossed out and Roma scribbled underneath. They really need some new ideas. One shirt I do like that I have seen in London and Paris as well are college shirts (i.e. the Rome shirt says Universita Roma and has their crest).

With our gelatos in hand, we headed to the Pantheon. It is the only building from Ancient Rome that remains intact. You probably know it as the domed building with the hole in the middle (seen in Angels and Demons). It was a great way to end our sightseeing adventures in Rome as it was beautiful to admire. Even after a busy day, we didn’t end there. My guidebook had recommended going to the Spanish Steps where vendors and tourists congregate. On the way, we stopped two separate times at random churches that were open and were absolutely beautiful. It was amazing to see that even those that don’t make it on the tourists radar are just as old and majestic. We also passed the Trevi Fountain which was ridiculously packed during the day. You couldn’t even get near it. We were happy to have made it last night when it was lit dramatically and we had it to ourselves. At the Spanish steps we didn’t actually buy anything, but we were exhausted and the steps provided us with a seat to for great people watching. We watched countless tourists get scammed by the dozens of flower scammers using the same methods over and over again. There was also plenty of vendors selling other useless trinkets. We hopped back on the subway to stop at our hotel before dinner. No matter what time you are on the subway, it is absolutely packed.

After dropping off our things, we headed to a nearby area, Via Veneto, recommended by my guidebook for food and nighttime activity. After last night’s epic walk, we wanted to stick close by our hotel. It was still a good 15 minute walk and gave us a chance to see a part of the city we had not yet explored. The restaurant we went to was pretty cool, one of the types surrounded by pictures of the owner with celebrities. Apparently it’s a popular place for the stars to go when they’re in Rome. Dinner was pretty good. Kristine gave me a hard time for ordering Lasagna since I had done the same the last two nights when she ordered boring Italian meals she could get at home. I guess I just wanted to see what Italian lasagna was like. It was pretty good, if unspectacular. We noticed our waiter speaking to us in great English, to the table beside us in German and to the wait staff in Italian. We ended up finding out that he was from Pakistan and spoke 7 different languages which was incredible. Overall, there are a lot more English speakers here than in Paris, which I was a bit surprised about. Even small shopkeepers speak decent English. After dinner, we walked around Via Veneto. It was a cool walk, as it was the area with high end hotels and bars, but ultimately, we would have gone back to Piazzi Navona if it had not been such a long walk. That was probably our favorite place to be in Rome. It was the kind of place you could sit at and enjoy for a whole night.
So far, the weather on the trip has been fantastic. In the past 9 days, our worst weather has been a cool afternoon in Paris and a 5 minute drizzle which is pretty good in my book. Since you have to wear pants and covered shoulders in the Vatican and at most Churches in Rome, the weather here has almost been too hot, but I can’t really complain. While the sights in Rome were absolutely fantastic, from the Piazzas to the architecture and of course the Coliseum and Vatican, the rest of the city wasn’t as impressive. As soon as you left any of the attractions, the city seemed run down and not especially inviting. I had a great experience here but could never see myself living here, unlike the last two cities.

Posted by atbrady 16:27 Archived in Italy Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

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