Monday, September 28, 2015

Travel Diaries [Verona]

Verona - the city of love. The city I love! This is such a beautiful place with old world charm - housing the 2nd largest arena in the world, and also the famed setting of Romeo and Juliet.

One thing we've learned on our travels around Italy, is that the Italians are the most helpful and patient people to us clueless tourists. While taking the hour long train ride from Padua to Verona, and being the second time on a train, we were feeling quite comfortable and proud of ourselves for so easily getting from one city to the next. Glancing out the window at a stop I noticed the word "Verona" and we jumped up, grabbed our bags and ran off.... onto an empty platform with no buildings in site. Looking around, trying to figure out where to go next - an Italian woman out of the blue asked us if we needed help. Being confident Americans, we said, no we didn't.  Disregarding our arrogance, she pressed on and asked if we were trying to go to Verona - and we said yes - to which she responded we needed the next stop, not this one.  We turned, and bolted back onto the train which for some reason had not left yet - and made it to the real Verona.
In Verona we bought a "city pass" that is a good deal for spending a full day site-seeing. It lets you in the Arena, Juliet's House, a tower in the main square, and many cathedrals. Our first site we visited was the huge arena where gladiators faced off against lions, emperors decided prisoners fates with a thumbs up or thumbs down, and many Christians were persecuted. It's truly impressive how massive of a structure it is and how many hundreds of years it has remained in beautiful condition - even today still hosting operas and concerts.

Gladiators were often the largest and strongest slaves of the Roman empire - so obviously Sam was a good choice to take on that role as well.
So the romantic in me was quite giddy with this picture - here I am standing on Juliet's balcony where Romeo called to her below. Alright - so this was a bit kitschy and the place was teeming with tourists... and Romeo and Juliet is not a real story... but the house is located in a real medieval style home which you can tour, so definitely a fun stop.
*Mom* Sit in the chairs for a picture
*Naomi* I don't think you're supposed to sit on the chairs... there's a sign
*Mom*  Just for a quick one it'll be ok!
*Security Guard* No Sedarse!

Pretty sure that means no sitting.

*Tower Selfie*

Below is the main square in Verona - there is a huge market of fresh fruits and tasty treats - the perfect place to get a refreshing snack.  The city is easy to walk around and one of my favorites because of it's old world charm where you got to escape the crowds of tourists.


Friday, September 25, 2015

Travel Diaries [Venice]

I’ll chalk it up to being young, but more likely just because I was so excited to be in Italy, that I bounced back pretty quickly from being a little jet-lagged the first day, and adjusted to the time zone.  I have a family of early risers, so it was no surprise that we made it to the train station by 7:30 a.m.

I can’t complain about it though – because by leaving so early, 1. You take advantage of your adjusting to the time zones (it doesn’t feel that early) and 2. You miss the rush of tourists who wake up at what others would deem a more acceptable hour…
And about 30 minutes later we were stepping out onto the streets of Venice!
There are many water taxis or waterbuses that pull through the train station area and our “Plan of Action” was to grab one of these and take a little water cruise through the canals. The benefit of this is, the tickets you buy to ride the water taxis last 90 minutes – so we rode it to the very end of the line pretty much (taking advantage of the time you bought and enjoying a relaxing boat ride) and then we would make our way back to the train station by wandering the streets back.

Our first stop on our walk was St. Mark’s square – the busiest and most touristy part of the city. We waiting in line for about 20 minutes, but to walk through the church was free. **When traveling throughout Europe, it’s handy to keep a shawl or scarf on hand, as most churches require you to cover up, and if you don’t have anything you have to buy a blue, weird paper shawl**

For the rest of the morning we wandered a bit until I saw a sign for a free art gallery – it ended up being a very creepy collection of Barbie doll art, entitled “Highway to Hell” but we still very much enjoyed it because the art only took up a small section of a large mostly unoccupied building that we were able to look through, and even go out to their docks on the canal.
This was an extremely hot day in Venice – temperatures the week we were in Italy were abnormally high, so the lethargic pace we went was enjoyable and every hour or so we searched out air conditioning for a drink or treat. Even packing a water bottle for each of us was not enough – but it helped keep our costs down, as those necessities are pretty costly in Venice.
My brother, Sam, was our map reader for the trip – he did a pretty good job at keeping us from getting lost through the maze of streets there, only dead-ending us into a canal once ;) But the map was most definitely a necessity – you can purchase one before your trip, otherwise we bought one at the tourist kiosk by the train station.

By 2pm we felt like we had done and seen enough in Venice and had adequately sweated through all our clothes and six bottles of water, that it was time to make our way home.
But the day wasn’t over! Our hosts in Padua wanted to show us one more thing in their hometown. Capula delgi Scrovegni – a cathedral from 1300 with rare paintings by Giotto, which is regarded as one of the greatest masterpieces from the Renaissance, which depicts scene from the gospel, covering the entire interior of the chapel.  Giotto is also responsible for painting at the Duomo in Florence. To visit this chapel a reservation must be made beforehand. Our guide through this visit was Roberto – who doesn’t speak a lick of English, but his passion for Giotto was evident and he was a lovely host to have.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Travel Diaries [Padua]

 Well. This has been a long time coming, and I can't say I'm sorry that it has - because it has been good to take a break while a lot of life changes have happened and then fully enjoy my first European trip... and now I get to relive it all by sharing it with you!

So, without further ado I present my Travel Diaries. Over the next couple weeks I'll be sharing my time traveling through Italy (Paduva, Venice, Verona, Florence, Cince Terra, Pisa) and then on to Paris! Hopefully, if you're planning on a trip through these parts, there will be some helpful tips on how to travel, where to go, and what to see. Also, if you're planning a trip you'll take me with you. Pleaseeeee take me back.

At 10 a.m. on a Wednesday morning, my brother Sam and I headed off to our native territory, good ol' Canada. We discovered when looking for international flights to Italy, flying out of Toronto was about $600 less than anywhere we could find around Grand Rapids (i.e. Detroit, Chicago) AND it was a direct flight - so driving the 5 hours definitely seemed worth the savings and hassle of changing flights.
Unfortunately, Sam and I's first international flight was not a cup of tea. With most flights headed that way going through the night, we were looking forward to reclining and blissfully sleeping our way across the Atlantic. BUT we were stuck on an older plane, with no videos, a vape-ing individual in the seat in front of me, blinding aisle lights (grrrr), and no leg room for my 6 foot 5" younger brother. We jealously gazed upon the family in the row next to us, with the mother doling out pills to help her children sleep.... something we definitely wished we thought of.  The second picture above is after 8 1/2 hours with little to no sleep, kinks in our backs, but excited to have finally landed in Venice and ready to meet up with our parents.

Our first few days in Italy, our dad was teaching at a seminary where pastors had gathered from all over the country to hear him teach. They were the most gracious hosts and provided delicious meals and rooms for our visit - and after arriving in Italy that morning, one host, Pietro, was ready to show us his hometown Padua.

Padua is a beautiful university town - unlike the university towns we have hear in the states - this place was filled with buildings that are hundreds and hundreds of years old and priceless works of art. It hosts the 2nd oldest university in the world (University of Bologna being the oldest) with Galileo being one of their notable graduates. Padua also hosts the Cathedral of St. Anthony, the patron saint of finding things or lost people, AKA your mom.
*St. Anthony's Cathedral*

After walking through the cathedral, we perused the streets and even happened about a Padua University graduate's celebration. They have a funny tradition there where the graduate's friends and family's slap his bear back and chest as he runs by, leaving very painful looking welts.
The temperature throughout our week in Italy wavered around 100 degrees the entire time, so cold showers were necessary in the morning, afternoon and evenings. But even with the heat, Sam and I easily fell asleep that first night - apparently traveling through the night right into traveling through a beautiful city in blazing heat, tuckers you out real quick.
Packing for this trip was important to me, as I needed comfortable shoes, and cool clothing in order to feel comfortable there (gotta fit in with all those fabulous Europeans!) Obviously, style is really important to Sam as well - he had to represent his hometown Grand Rapids Whitecaps, along with a range of other fashionable printed tees. 

Hope you follow along with me through the rest of awesome European adventure.