Sunsets in Florence

Italy part 2: Sunsets in Florence

My first memory of Florence is a rather hazy, golden dream. I remember that when my family got there I was exhausted, but that stepping out into the pink and gold tinged streets of the city gave me new life. At some point in the evening, I remember that we stumbled upon an orchestra performing near the Ponte Vecchio and I knew that I had fallen head over heels in love with the city. Several days later, as my family’s time in Florence was coming to an end, I made sure to rub the nose of the Bronze Boar statue which, according to legend, guarantees your return. Four years later, I proved the legend right as I have come back, only this time sharing the adventure with two friends.

I was determined to make this year’s Florence experience as magical for Mary and Catey as my first visit had been for me. Unfortunately, the trip didn’t get off to a great start. As I mentioned my last blog, we missed our train from Rome to Florence. Thus, we had to buy second-class tickets for a three hour train ride and, to make matters worse, we actually ending up getting off at the wrong stop and had to catch another train ten minutes later. All of this resulted in us getting to Florence very late and eating a dinner that was good but way overpriced. So…not really the magical first day I had envisioned. But I shouldn’t have worried too much, because the next day was almost as perfect as I was hoping for.

The next morning we had a delicious and cheap breakfast at a little cafe called ‘Caffe Rosano” (a croissant and a freshly squeezed o.j. for 4.5 euros). Then we headed to the Galleria Academia to pay a visit to Michelangelo’s David. I had bought tickets before hand so we had to get there a little early to exchange our vouchers for the tickets.

The gallery is, in my opinion, the perfect size for a museum. It only takes about an hour and a half to see everything and, especially with the David, you feel like you get your money’s worth. The David is very impressive (I think Catey might be in love). The details in just the hands of the David are absolutely incredible, you can even see the veins. Definitely a ‘must-see’ of you get the opportunity.
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Quick note: Seeing the David during the off-season was actually a lot better than seeing it during the summer, because in the summer the museum is extremely crowded.

After our wanderings through the museum, we got a quick sandwich to go at a little shop called ‘Sandwichic.’ The guys behind the counter were super helpful and gave us each a button for good luck as we left. The sandwiches were absolutely delicious and we ate them on the curb of the Piazza Della Signoria while fending off pigeons.

After lunch, we made a quick stop at the Ponte Vecchio, took some lovely photos and headed to the Pitti Palace. I had only given us two and a half hours for the entire palace, because I forgot how large it really is. Unfortunately, even with the Museum of Fashion and Costume closed, we didn’t see everything. I had originally planned to take a quick tour of the Boboli gardens, but both Mary and Catey were pretty tired so we headed to a coffee shop instead. After being reinvigorated with caffeine, we headed to the Piazza Michelangelo to watch the sunset. Now, I don’t mean to toot my own horn, but watching the sunset from that hill was a great idea. The entire city of Florence turned gold and pink in the sunset and right behind us a street musician played beautiful songs on his guitar. We even saw a professional model shoot happen right below us. I felt the same magically beauty that had originally made me love Florence, and this time Catey and Mary could experience it as well.
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The Ponte Vecchio

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Pc: Mary

After climbing down from Piazza Michelangelo, we headed to the Santa Croce where both Michelangelo and Galileo are buried. Unfortunately, the church was closed by the time we got there, so we spent the evening exploring the Christmas market nearby. For dinner, we headed to a restaurant named ‘La Fettunta.’ I split a lasagna and an eggplant parmesan with Catey. Both were absolutely scrumptious. After dinner, we headed to a nearby gelato shop to meet up with an old friend of mine from Denmark named Natascha, who just happened to be studying in Florence when we were there. The gelato was pretty subpar for the normally delicious florintine gelato, but sitting in a warm room, surrounded by friends and catching up is always a nice way to spend an evening.

The next day, didn’t go as smoothly as I had planned unfortunately. I had bought tickets for us to se Il Duomo at 10:00. They were supposed to be ‘skip the line’ tickets, but we ended up standing in line for about half an hour anyways. As we were nearing the front of the queue, I noticed that some people with tickets that looked similar to ours were being turned away. I asked the couple in front of us what was going on and they told me that not only did you need a ticket, but you needed a reservation as well. I was pretty confused because I had bought the tickets for a specific time, and had the physical copies of the tickets with me. But when I showed them to the security guy, he told me that because we didn’t have reservation we couldn’t enter. I was starting to get a little frustrated by this point, but we made our way to the ticket office in the museum to figure out the problem. It turns out the company I bought the tickets from sent me an email with two separate links–one for the tickets and one for the reservation–and wrote that I only needed to print one or the other to enter, when in reality, I needed both. After figuring out the problem we went back to the guard and he finally let us into Il Duomo. The moral of the story kids–always print out every link from a ticket website because it’s better to be safe than sorry.

I forgot how long the climb is to the top of Il Duomo and Catey and Mary were pretty tired of stairs by the time we got to the roof. The view, however is definitely worth the climb. 24993194_1141385252658950_1572070914499339006_n.jpg

After walking around the Duomo museum for awhile we met up with Natascha had an amazing lunch at Toscini Panini (6€). If you get the opportunity definitely eat there! You’re allowed to sample all the different meats and cheeses before choosing the ingredients for your sandwich and all the employees are very nice.

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Right after eating a delicious sandwich, I felt the overwhelming desire to hug my Danish friend, a.k.a. Natascha

After lunch, we grabbed a quick gelato (Florence gelato is the best), and headed to the Uffizi gallery to spend the afternoon looking at art. Unfortunately, there was another mix up with the tickets (although this time it was entirely my fault). Somehow I had bought tickets for the 5th and the 7th but not the 6th, which was the correct date. So yeah…another piece of advice would be to always triple check your ticket dates before buying them. I bought some more tickets and we headed inside. The museum itself is quite large and beautiful. We saw Botticelli’s ‘Venus’ and many other stunning paintings, but unfortunately I think we were rather museumed-out by the end.

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We left a little earlier than planned and headed to the laundry mat to wash our clothes. For dinner, we headed to a small, Chinese-food restaurant. We had all been craving Chinese food because, as good as Asturian food is back in Oviedo, they don’t have a lot of good international restaurants. Thus, we ended our final night in Florence eating delicious fried rice, spring rolls, and in my case, sweet and sour chicken.

The next morning, we got to the train station extra early to make sure we didn’t miss our train this time. It was hard to say goodbye to Florence yet again, but I know I’ll be back because I paid a dear old friend a visit.

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Midnight in Paris

I could never remember if Paris was known as ‘The City of Light’ or ‘The City of Love,’ now that I’ve been there, however, I realize it could easily be both. I only spent a total of three and a half days there, but my friend Mary and I must have gone to almost every big tourist attraction there is and more. Our time in Paris was so busy and full of experiences, that If I were to try and write every single one down, this blog post would go on for hours. Thus, in the spirit of keeping things short, well, shorter anyways, I’ve decided to just focus on giving quick reviews to the biggest and most famous monuments/ places we visited (Mary’s blog has a more day-to-day write up of our experience, so there’s a link to her blog below).

Musee D’Orsay: The Museum itself was quite nice. For a ticket costing around 10 euros, you could see hundreds of paintings, sculptures, and pottery, including works by Van Gogh and Monet. The size of the museum is very nice—large but not overwhelming.

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Quick note: The Museum is right by the River Seine, and, unfortunately, if you stop to take pictures you might be targeted by a group of swindlers. They look like well-dressed, young hipsters, but I assure you their intentions are not benign, especially if they tell you they are collecting for the ‘blind, deaf and handicap children.’ Beware! I’ve been a victim of swindling in the past and it’s the absolute worst feeling because you blame yourself entirely (seriously, it sucks).

Sacré Coeur: The Sacre Coeur is a beautiful Basilica on top of a hill (it’s pretty easy to spot while in Paris). It takes a while to walk up the incline and then climb the stairs, but it is well worth the time. The view of paris is absolutely incredible and the basilica itself is very nice.

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Quick note: This Basilica is called the Sacré Coeur (Cu-ur) not Sacre bleu (which is one of my little brother’s go to phrases when badly impersonating a frenchman). Try to remember this as it can help prevent extreme embarrassment in the future.

Luxembourg Gardens: Mary and I decided to go to the Luxembourg Gardens rather late in the day, so we only had about an hour to explore them. They were quite pretty, although I imagine they would be ten times prettier in the summer, and a great place for some photos.

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Pantheon: After being kicked out of the Luxembourg Gardens (because it was closing—not because we were obnoxious), we kind of stumbled upon the Pantheon. It is a very impressive structure from the outside, and since it only cost seven euros to go inside, we decided to give it a try. There were some crypts, including Madam Curie’s (fun fact: Madam Curie was actually born in Poland), and an impressive, spacious main floor. Although it was cool to see the inside, I wouldn’t consider it a ‘must see.’ If you have time, go, but If you don’t, don’t worry about it.

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Quick note: The bathroom looks like it is for both men and women, because the sign for both is placed at the entryway, but if you keep walking there’s actually two distinct bathrooms.

The Catacombs: Oh, the catacombs. Mary’s probably still a little salty about that one (for those who are not familiar with the word ‘salty’ it basically means ‘peeved’—the more you know, right?) Anyways, my parents had told me that the catacombs were a must see, but because we were visiting Paris in the winter and planning on getting to the catacombs early in the morning, I didn’t think it was necessary to get tickets ahead of time. I was wrong, very wrong. We ended up waiting in line, in freezing weather, for about an hour and a half. By the time we finally went down into the catacombs, I was afraid for my health, both because of the fact that my toes felt like they were falling off and because of the dirty (playfully dirty, I like to think), looks I was receiving from Mary. The catacombs were basically just a vast sea of bones. There were so many that it seemed to go on forever, especially if you shined a flashlight into the crevices. I’m not sure how I felt about it. I mean, it was almost as if all the bones were sticks or just plastic props. It was very hard to picture the pile as actually human remains, and it just made me think of my inevitable future as a corpse (I know, super happy). As Mary put it, I had a mini-existential crises. So, overall, I’m glad I went but I wish I had bought tickets ahead of time. 14.jpg

Quick note: The floor of the tunnel leading to the catacombs is basically a death trap. I twisted my ankle like three times. Also, a warning to my fellow tall people, the ceiling is quite low at points.

The Louvre: Before leaving for France, one of our Spanish friends told us that unless you have a lot of time on your hands, The Louvre isn’t worth it because you can’t even begin to see everything. Well, she was right about the fact that we barely scratched the surface, but I think that even if you only get to see a fraction of what the Louvre has to offer, it’s still worth it.

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Quick note: The Mona Lisa is fine, but what’s really impressive is the painting right across from the Mona Lisa. It’s called The Wedding at Cana and it’s absolutely huge.

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The Circus: The friends we were staying took us to go see a circus with them, as it was a show that their young cousins would enjoy and we would understand. I had never actually been to a real circus before, and I felt like I had been transported back in time. It was a fine way to spend an evening, quite entertaining. With that being said, however, I don’t think I would pay to go back, I think it’s probably a lot more magical for younger children.

The Eiffel Tower: On Sunday morning we headed to the Eiffel Tower. The Tower is so iconic and beautiful that even though it was a little chilly, it was quite full of people. Mary and I decided to go all the way to the top. The line on the ground level took about 30 minutes, but the wind wasn’t too bad and it was sunny. After we got into the elevator, I thought we would go straight to the top, but you actually stop on the second level, get out and take another elevator. The line for this one was really long and to make matters worse it was freezing, like Chicago freezing (my fellow Chicagoans you know what I’m talking about). The line took forever, but we finally made it to the elevator and got all the way to the top. On the top level you can see the entire city and you can peek into Eiffel’s apartment where there are wax replicas of Eiffel himself, Thomas Edison and Eiffel’s daughter. Overall, it was worth it. I would like to return one day, but only in warmer weather. 1.jpg

 

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Quick Note: Knowing good time-wasting games can help pass the time in line Also, if your friend doesn’t like your singing, try to refrain from humming continuously while standing next to them. Trust me, they don’t like it.

Île San-Louis: This isn’t really a tourist monument or destination, but I thought I would include it because it was so cute. Despite the freezing weather, our host family took us to get some ice-cream and walk around the shops. I definitely wish to return when I’m not shivering my butt off.

Quick Note: For all you romance-lovers out there, this Island is definitely a romantic spot. I would imagine it’s absolutely incredible in the summer, crossing over bridges, eating ice-cream and listening to the bells of Notre Dame…*sigh* I’m definitely coming back.

 Notre Dame: Mary and I went to mass in the Notre Dame. It was huge and quite beautiful, but I still think my favorite church is in Madrid (Catedral La Almudena). 37798865865_06638c3016_o.jpg

Quick Note: The sermon is in French, but they give you a program that has sections in both English and Spanish, which is nice because trying to read along in French is hard!

 Arc de Triomphe: We only saw the arc from the outside and didn’t spend the money to go to the top. From what I’ve heard, you have a very nice view of all the different avenues coming together, but it’s rather unnecessary if you’ve been to the top of the Eiffel Tower (that’s just what I’ve heard, so correct me if I’m wrong!). With that being said, it’s a lovely spot for some pictures.

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Grand Palais: Again, Mary and I didn’t actually go into the Grand Palais, but it is absolutely beautiful from the outside.

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Quick Note: Does anyone know if there was something special going on this weekend? Because there were a bunch of vans full of older police officers lining the street next to the Grand Palais.

Pont Alexandre: Lovely bridge, great for photos!

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Quick Note: The bridge decorations reminded me a lot of Game of Thrones (a fact that isn’t really useful or helpful for you but I thought I’d just let you know anyways—you’re welcome).

Galleries Lafayette: O.K. So the Galleries of Lafayette is actually a giant shopping center (similar to the Water Tower Place in Chicago). We honestly had no idea it existed until our French friends told us about it. We decided to go to check it out and it. was. awesome! The entire mall was decked out for Christmas and there were also different ‘Christmas stations,’ for example, a Santa Claus (I wanted to get a picture but we didn’t have time), a fortune teller, and a virtual roller coaster (so much fun!). So if you’re in Paris around Christmas time definitely give the Galleries Lafayette a visit.

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Quick Note: The clothes were super cute too. So if you have money to spend and love fashion, this place is for you.

Well folks, those are all the big monuments and typical tourist attractions we saw. We did a lot more, including, but not limited to the following: watching a documentary on whales in the iMax theater, eating at numerous, delicious, french restaurants, walking through the Tuileries Garden, seeing the Eiffel Tower light up at night from our bedroom, and eating Thai food.

Before I sign off, I just want to give y’all one last tip. Before going to Paris I had heard that the Metro system was really complicated and hard to follow, but I found that to be very untrue. Even Mary, who has almost never used public transportation in her life, could easily figure it out. The only aspect of the system that might be a little confusing is how often you have to switch trains, but it is extremely easy to follow the signs. So don’t be afraid to use the Metro. It’s cheap, quick and really useful!

P.S.–Berets are always a good investment

P.P.S–check out Mary’s blog and Flicker pictures (a lot less of me and more of, you know, Paris)

https://marycecelia12.wordpress.com/2017/11/30/paris-is-always-a-good-idea/

 

Finding your Happy Place (Santiago de Compostela)

Mi historia empieza un Jueves. Yo necesitaba unas vacaciones (si, yo se que estoy en España pero todavía las necesitaba) entonces Mary y yo compramos billetes a Santiago de Compostela y La Coruña para el fin de semana. Llegamos a Santiago de Compostela a las 9:00 mas o menos y fuimos al hostel se llama Albergues Semenario Menor (16 euros cada noche). Había muchos peregrinos en el hostel y con mis pantalones tipo cargo y mi cabello loco, parecía una peregrina también (un hombre me dijo ‘buen camino’). La primera noche, no vimos la ciudad, solo comimos la cena que Mary había traído en nuestros cuartos. Pero el día siguiente, exploramos la ciudad y me di cuenta que Santiago de Compostela es un lugar especial. Es muy difícil explicar porque tienes que ir a Santiago de Compostela para entender completamente como es, pero voy a intentarlo.

Imagina que estas sentado en una plaza. El sol se esta poniendo y hay música de gaitas en el aire. Todo a tu alrededor son personas: ancianas, jóvenes, familias, parejas y peregrinos. Todos están hablando en otros idiomas: inglés, ruso, aleman, francés y español. Cierras los ojos y escuchas todas las voces diferentes. En tu mano tienes un bocadillo gigante de jamón y queso. Sabe delicioso. La luz del sol poniente esta calentando tu cara. Respiras el aire libre y olvidas, por un momento, todas las cosas negativas en tu vida. Eso es Santiago de Compostela. Estar allí, me hizo feliz.

He oído una frase hecha, ‘Hay algunos lugares donde uno se queda y otros que se quedan en uno’ creo que esto describe Santiago de Compostela perfectamente. Estoy segura de que volveré.

I needed a vacation (yes, I know I’m in Spain but I needed one nevertheless). Thus, Mary and I made plans for a weekend trip to Santiago de Compostela and La Coruña. We planned to leave Thursday and spend the rest of our long weekend exploring the new cities. Thus, at five o’clock, we got on an ALSA bus heading to Santiago de Compostela. It was a pretty nice ride (I definitely recommend the ALSA bus company-very roomy seats with strong wifi and a lot of good entertainment). We got to Santiago de Compostela around 9:00 and headed straight to our hostel Albergues Semenario Menor. We didn’t really do anything the first night except eat some sandwiches Mary had brought for dinner. The following morning however, we went to the Pilgrims Mass in El Catedral de Santiago. The place was packed to bursting! There were pilgrims from all over the world, singing together and listening to the bishop (who happened to be from California). It was awesome. Afterwards, we explored the city and I soon fell head over heels in love with Santiago de Compostela.

Imagine for a moment that you’re wondering around an old plaza. On one side of the plaza is a beautiful hotel that looks like it emerged from an entirely different time period and right next to that hotel is a ledge overlooking the town below. The sun is setting, casting a golden glow on all your surroundings. The faint music of bagpipes wafts through the air, mixing with the sounds of a hundred different voices. You can discern half a dozen different languages from the surrounding conversations: Spanish, English, Russian, French and German. In your hand you’re holding a huge bocadillo (basically a sandwich made from a fresh loaf of bread). It tastes delicious. You close your eyes and let the warmth from the setting sun fill your eyelids and, just for a moment, you forget all the negative things in your life and just exist. That is Santiago de Compostela.

It’s no surprise to me that it is the end destination for the El Camino pilgrimage. To me, it’s like the embodiment of inner peace, except you don’t need a calmed mind or knack for meditation to find it. It’s just there, welcoming everyone who is lucky enough to find it.

Now before I end my blog post, I should probably talk a little about La Coruña. I think that if I had gone there before Santiago de Compostela, I would have loved it more, but after Santiago de Compostela it just seemed kind of- meh. It’s a nice city, there are some cool plazas and buildings whose stonework look strangely like lace, but I wouldn’t exactly call it the ’embodiment of inner peace’. That’s not to say there aren’t cool things to do in La Coruña. Mary and I visited a fascinating museum fortress-prison (free entrance!) called San Anton and also saw the Planetarium and Body Museum. Overall, La Coruña was rather difficult to get a read on. It felt more like an American city than Santiago de Compostela, but at the same time it was entirely different. I think I would go back if only to get better acquainted with the city and its vibe.

Thanks for reading and sorry for the wait. I joined a volleyball team last week (I know, I can’t believe it either!) so I’ve been pretty busy. I’ll explain more in the next blog

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The sunset I previously mentioned. PC: Mary

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PC: Mary (BTW check out her blog if you haven’t it’s awesome! Mary Vickers)

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I felt like I had found Narnia

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La Coruña: Plaza de Santa Maria

 

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The buildings I think look like lace

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Me standing next to the tallest man. Finally found my people.

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Rollins follows us #rollinslife

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San Anton

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La Coruña

 

My thoughts and prayers go out to the victims of the Las Vegas Attack and all those struggling in Puerto Rico.