La Dolce Vita

Part two of our Eurotrip was Italia.  If you missed Part One (Germany), read about that here.

After departing Germany on the morning of March 20th, 2017, we had a short flight to Venice.  From the airport, we took a water taxi to Venice.

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View from the water taxi

Luckily, the aunt of our airbnb host met us at the water taxi drop-off in Venice.  I don’t think we could have found our way without her guiding us!  She led us through several narrow, unmarked, winding passageways before we reached our temporary home away from home.

Our Venice flat was amazing.  It was beautiful inside, along with a stunning view of the city from the balcony.  There was a delicious gelato shop right by our place, which was very convenient.  There was also a bakery nearby that served yummy croissants.  The flat was a close walk to most of the major sights, but was on a quiet street so it was very peaceful.  The location really couldn’t have been better.  I wish we could have spent a month here.  If you haven’t used airbnb before, I highly recommend you check it out!  You can get $40 in travel credit if you sign up here!

 

After we got all settled into our place, we headed out to see the town and find some lunch.

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We carried our pocket phrasebook with us and attempted to speak (albeit very poorly) Italian everywhere that we went.  Almost everyone we encountered did speak English, but we felt that it was important to try to speak their native language in their country.

We spent the day exploring, including going to St. Mark’s Square and the Rialto Bridge.  Both were a bit crowded, but definitely must sees.

 

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Literally everywhere in Venice is beautiful.

 

For dinner that first night, we had some delicious pasta at a quaint little spot.  Our server brought us free digestifs after dinner.  It was limoncello – I loved it!

After diner, we walked around Venice and ended up back at the Rialto Bridge and then at St. Mark’s Square.  It was cool to see both places illuminated in the dark, and there were way less people.

 

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The next day, we headed to St. Mark’s Square to see the inside of the basilica.  We arrived right as it opened, so we only had to wait a minute or two in line.  It was pretty incredible to see all the detail that went into the design.  (No photos were allowed inside the church.)

We also did a tour of Doge’s Palace.  We rented audioguides and then explored on our own.  It’s a beautiful place – each room is more elaborate than the next.

 

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This day also happened to be our 2-year wedding anniversary.  What better place to celebrate than in Venice?  Our celebration included a gondola ride.  It may be touristy and expensive, but it was worth every penny.  Gliding through the canals, with beautiful old buildings and unique bridges everywhere, an Italian tenor singing softly in the distance – it’s pretty perfect.

 

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For dinner we went to an amazing Italian place that K found.  I think our server appreciated us trying to speak Italian because he brought us free aperitifs.  The aperitif was quite bitter, but I drank it anyway.  When in Venice!

 

After dinner and drinks, we headed out and decided to try to get lost in the winding streets.  We bought some wine from a little store and then meandered through the narrow walkways, sipping as we walked, enjoying the magic that is Venice.

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The next morning, we packed our backpacks, stopped for one last croissant and coffee, and then headed to the train station to catch a high speed ride.  Until next time, Venice…

Next stop, Roma!

-A

Castles in Europe

Before I start blogging about this year, I want to share my adventures from last year.

It was a pretty big travel year for me.  I have been dreaming about going to Europe for years, specifically to Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany.  Last March, we made those dreams come true and I was able to cross #1 off my bucket list – tour castles in Europe.

And as always, along the way, we had many other adventures that weren’t on my list. I’ll start with Germany.  I did organize a fairly detailed itinerary for our trip to make things easier for us since we were traveling alone and don’t speak the language.  We also booked our airbnbs for all three cities (Munich, Venice, and Rome) before we left the States.  However, other than specific dates for each city, the rest of the itinerary was fairly flexible.

We started off our Eurotrip by flying into Munich on March 18, 2017 and arriving in the morning.  From the airport, we took a train to central station in Munich.  We had some difficulty figuring out how to buy a train ticket and then how to validate it, but luckily a local helped us out.

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We couldn’t check into our airbnb until later that afternoon, so we stored our hiking packs at the central train station.  They have lockable boxes you can rent for pretty cheap.

Then we took a train and bus to Dachau Concentration Camp.  On the train, we met a very nice man from Australia who was also heading to Dachau.  I was relieved that the directions I found online of which train and bus to take from Munich to Dachau were accurate.

Dachau Concentration Camp was surreal.  K referred to it as a “sobering experience”.  The museum was very informative and interesting from a historical perspective, but it was of course very sad.  Apart from the museum, you are free to wander around the camp.  We spent several hours here – there is a lot to see.  The weather was cold and rainy – luckily we brought some warm hats!

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After we got back to Munich, we grabbed our bags and then headed off to find some lunch.  Unfortunately, we walked for ages and couldn’t find a single place to eat.  By this time, I also really needed to find a toilet, which proved to be more elusive than a restaurant.  This was a low point of our trip.  We were cold, wet, jet-lagged, hungry, in desperate need of a bathroom, and in a country where we don’t speak the language.  By some stroke of luck, we finally stumbled upon an Italian place as we headed back in the direction of the train station.  Although we would be in Italy in a few days, we decided to stop here anyway because it was warm, it was food, and there was a bathroom.  After a few minutes, our stress faded away.  I think the drinks helped with that.

We checked into our airbnb flat after lunch, which happened to be right next to the Italian restaurant.  Our home for the next couple days was very nice and close to the train station.

That night, we went to a beer hall that K read about online, called Augustiner.  This place was my favorite thing about Munich.  When we arrived, it was all community seating at big long tables.  We found what looked like the only empty spots, two seats next to each other across from a couple older gentleman.  It turns out that they were from Sweden, but they spoke German too and some English.  It was definitely a humbling experience for me to see that most people we encountered in Europe spoke more than one language.  I don’t think that we do a very good job of that in America.

We actually never found out the names of the gentlemen we sat with at Augustiner, but they were very nice.  It was pretty loud in the beer hall.  Their English was limited and our German was reliant on a pocket translation guide, with our Swedish being non-existent.  But despite language barriers, we had a fun night with those guys, who we affectionately referred to as Pieter and Marten from that night on.  The food was amazing and the beer at Augustiner was actually the first beer that I have ever liked.

As we were leaving, we met a really funny (and very intoxicated) English man who had us rolling with laughter.  All in all, it was a great night.

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Unfortunately, K woke up sick the next day with a bit of a travel bug.  This was the day we planned to take a train to Neuschwanstein Castle, and it was the only day we would be able to go as we were leaving Munich the following day.  I offered to go on my own while K rested at our flat, but despite being sick, he did not want to spend our last full day in Munich in bed.

We grabbed croissants and coffee for breakfast at the train station.  The train took about 2 hours and then there was a short bus ride to Hohenschwangau, the small town where the castle is.  The view on the train was very scenic.  Also, I just love trains.

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We booked our tickets for both castles (Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau) in advance before our trip, but were able to upgrade to an earlier tour time once we arrived.  We toured Hohenschwangau Castle first, and then stopped for a quick lunch.  I had a delicious schnitzel sandwich and poor K, still sick, nibbled on a pretzel.

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We had a little bit of time in between the castle tours, so we went for a walk around the area.  There was a beautiful lake nearby.

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Can you imagine waking up to this view every day?!

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The lake water was so beautiful!

Finally, we made the trek up to Neuschwanstein.  I was pretty much bursting with excitement.  My ultimate travel goal was actually happening!  The sound is pretty soft on this video, but you can see the excitement on my face!

No photos were allowed inside the castle, but if you are ever in Munich, I would highly recommend that you take the day trip to Hohenschwangau.  The castles are amazing and the scenery in the area is absolutely beautiful.  This place was everything I hoped it would be and more.

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We were pretty tired by the time we got back to Munich and K was still feeling pretty bad, so we grabbed some food from the train station and took it back to our flat.  If he would have been feeling better, it would have been fun to have one last night out in Munich, but we decided to stay in so he could rest up for the rest of our trip.

The next morning, we took a bus to the airport.  We had some trouble finding the bus stop, and actually ended up running to make it on time.  Nothing like jogging with a heavy pack on your back in the early hours of the morning!

Once we got to the airport, our troubles were not over.  I had some difficulty getting through security because apparently I had too many liquids in my bag.  It was a little nerve-wracking to have problems at a foreign airport.  The security officer actually pulled my liquids out one by one to examine them, but most of them he referred to as “medicine”, such as my contact solution (“medicine for the eyes”), so these were excluded from the limit.  I ended up having to throw out one small container of dry shampoo that was almost empty anyway.

We departed Munich at 8:20 am on March 20th, 2017.  It was a quick trip, but we were able to see a lot in a couple days.

Next stop, Italia, but I’ll save that post for another day.

-A

7 Tips for a Short Stay in Vegas

 

Four best friends in Vegas…

No, I’m not talking about The Hangover.  In November, I traveled to Las Vegas with my husband and our two friends.  We didn’t steal a tiger or throw a mattress off the roof, but we did have a great time.

We played the slots.  And some of us won.  And then we all lost.

We played Blackjack.  And some of us won.  And then we all lost.

We ate at a classic Vegas buffet.  And some of us ate too much.  Okay, we all ate too much.

If you’re planning a trip (and you should), here are my recommendations:

  1. Stay in a central location on the Strip (or on Fremont street).  We rented an awesome condo on the Strip through Airbnb.  Our place was walking distance to almost everything.  The condo also had the added benefits of providing coffee (much needed after a late night) and a spa pool (great for relaxing after a long day of walking).  Have you tried Airbnb before?  We love using it.  We have gotten to stay at some great places for a cheaper price than a hotel, but with more space, a kitchen, and a local’s recommendations for things to do in the area.  Sign up here and get $40 off your first trip.  Just make sure the host you choose has positive reviews from other people, first.  🙂

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    The view from our room

  2. Try to see as many of the unique casinos as you can.  Even if you’re not a gambler, the architecture of the the buildings is worth seeing.  The Luxor, Excalibur, and The Paris were a few of my favorites.
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    The Paris

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    Excalibur

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    The Cosmo

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    The Luxor

  3. Make sure you check out Fremont Street.  It’s a different vibe from the Strip.  I would love to spend more time here on our next trip.IMG_3316.jpg
  4. Go to a lunch buffet.  It’s cheaper than dinner, but still has amazing food.  We went to The Golden Nugget – so good. IMG_3318.jpg
  5. Go see the sign.  You know the one.  The iconic Welcome to Las Vegas sign.  It’s touristy, packed with people, parking is terrible, but seeing the sign in person is worth it.  We did have to drive here from the Strip (but you could take an Uber or taxi if you don’t want to rent a car.)  15232299_10208394089912120_1892026850154465942_n.jpg
  6. If you have time, get away from the city and check out the Hoover Dam.  Truly an amazing sight. IMG_5517.jpg IMG_3336.jpg
  7. If you have lots of time (or in our case-one day), drive to the Grand Canyon.  You can make the trip in a day, which is what we did, but I wouldn’t recommend that.  It’s a long drive (~4 hours each way).  It would be better to stay the night (or a few nights) near the canyon (maybe in Flagstaff), so that you have more time to enjoy the park.  Oh, and make sure you check the weather before you go.  Because apparently, it does snow in Arizona in November.  IMG_5526.jpgIMG_3422.jpgIMG_3426.jpg

Las Vegas is an unforgettable experience.  Brightly decorated buildings as far as you can see; aggressive street solicitors loudly slapping cards at you; peppy slot machine music echoing through your head (even after you leave); the flicker of excitement running through your body as you push “spin again”; cloudy rooms full of smoke, hope, regret.  There’s no place quite like Vegas.

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Have you been?  Would you like to go?

-A

 

 

Mission to Mars

In October, K and I had the opportunity to travel to Cocoa Beach, Florida for a short vacation.  I planned to complete #24 on my 27 before 27 list – go parasailing.  Unfortunately, the weather did not cooperate and our parasailing outing was canceled.  Next time!

We ended up having several spontaneous adventures, though, including the following:

Used airbnb for the first time.  I was nervous about this one, but it turned out to be a great experience!  During our time in Florida, we stayed in a lovely house on the canal.  Our host was very nice and hardly home, so it felt like we had the place to ourselves.  She let us use her canoe, kayak, and bicycles, which was probably the best part of the airbnb experience.  Her house was a short bike ride to town and the beach, which was super convenient.  Our morning routine was to bike to a coffee shop in town and then head over to the beach.  K went for a morning surf while I drank my coffee on the beach.  Perfection!

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Explored the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.  K really wanted to do this.  I was not so sure, but once we got there I was so happy we went!  You could spend the entire day here and still not see everything there is so see.  We did the Space Shuttle Launch Experience while we were here.  K loved it.  I found it to be pretty scary, though!  If you’re the least bit claustrophobic, don’t do it.  That is definitely the closest I want to get to launching into space.  🙂

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Walking in the footsteps of Apollo 11

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Atlantis

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Space Shuttle Launch Experience.  Terrifying!

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Mission to Mars

Went tubing at Kelly Park/Rock Springs in Florida.  This was probably my favorite Florida adventure.  Hands down one of the most beautiful places I have ever been in my life.  This spot is just a short drive outside of Orlando, where we flew in.  We went here on our first day in Florida.  It was a bit rainy (but still plenty warm).  The weather turned out to be in our favor, though, as Rock Springs was fairly deserted.  We rented tubes from a (somewhat shady) little gas station outside the park (there are no tube rentals inside the park).  We paid a few dollars for the tubes and a few dollars to get in the park – it was less than $10 total.  This float was like a natural lazy river.  I may have been a bit paranoid about coming across an alligator (there were some warning signs), but we did not encounter anything worrisome.  The water was crystal clear, the scenery beautiful, and best of all, there were hardly any other people.  If you are ever in Florida, go here!

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Drank at a beach bar in Cocoa Beach, Florida.  Because hey, it’s 5 o’clock somewhere.  It was very crowded (standing room only) when we arrived. K (of course) made friends with an older couple near us and they kindly gave us their beach-view table when they left.  There is nothing like having a drink at a beach with some live music.  What a fun night!

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Tried Cuban food.  There was a cool Cuban restaurant in town that we biked to one night for dinner.  We decided to be extra adventurous and ordered every single side dish so we could try everything.  Most of the sides were good, although I didn’t really care for the plantains.  I was not a fan of the boiled yuca, either.  The meat was delicious and wonderfully flavored, though.  I would definitely eat Cuban food again.

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Such a fun trip.  Would love to return!

-A