Saturday, July 9, 2011

Flight to Paris from Rome on a Spanish Airline to get to The Netherlands to visit my American cousins...

Sorry for my delayed blog post...and again, brace yourself for a long blog!

Early Tuesday morning I said goodbye to the "air conditioned and internet capable" Villa Tassoni (more like the sauna and lack of internet) and headed to the airport. Our flight to Paris was at noon, but we got to the airport pretty early. We decided to grab a bite (the standard for Italy pastry and coffee for breakfast) before heading through security. Brandon ordered a chocolate croissant with a cappuccino and I ordered a chocolate and almond pastry with a cappuccino. The total was 8.20 Euro...believe it or not I found this to be cheap for two cappuccinos and two pastries...that's because the cashier did not give me my pastry. After I realized that maybe she did not hear me, I said "Oh, I'm sorry I also had that pastry over there..." She was not happy. She started saying sternly "8.20 EURO" while holding up the numbers with her fingers. It was like she thought I was a total idiot. I said, "No, I would like to add it our order. Her response, "EIGHT EURO TWENTY--NO!" Needless to say, I did not get the pastry and I was annoyed. We got through security and waited at the gate for our plane to board. The flight was not bad at all. We could see a view of the Alps, which was very cool. Not to mention, the airline was very nice (Vueling). We arrived to Paris a little after 2 pm. This is when things got a little hectic.

View of the Alps

We picked up our checked luggage and headed for the train to the subway. Our hotel was right near the subway (Paris has a huge Metro) so we wanted to save money by hopping on there instead of getting a taxi. So, we bought the train ticket from the airport to the subway. Not a problem, we caught it on time and it took us directly to the subway. But, the problem was that after we got to the Metro, we could not find ticket machines to purchase actual subway tickets. Brandon had to exit the subway station and reenter just to purchase the tickets. Sounds simple enough, but this took us forever to figure out because we just found it annoying that you could only purchase the tickets before you took the train to the subway. We had to switch lines (again, Paris' Metro is huge) to get to our hotel with all of the baggage--remember I was here for 5 weeks (a lot of luggage). We finally made it there and by this time it was 4 pm. We checked in and got settled. We decided to head to the Marriott lounge where we could have a few drinks and relax. They also had some finger foods to snack on.

After calming down a little bit after the subway incident we decided to walk around town. Our hotel was really nice, but it was also kinda far from the center. It wasn't until later we found this out.

We first stumbled upon Jardin du Luxembourg. I say stumbled because we were just kind of wandering. It is one of Paris' largest parks. The flowers were really beautiful and it was fun to people watch there--lots of joggers, picnickers and people making out (I say that like it is normal because in Europe it was like everyone had no beef with PDA.)

Jardin du Luxembourg

After that we walked down Boulevard St. Michel. This is a strip of sorts that has several shops and leads to the Latin Quarter. We walked through the Latin Quarter which had a ton of tourists. There were several different types of cuisines and souvenir shops. There was a lot going on in this part of town.

After that, we wandered--yes, wandered some more and found Notre Dame. It was kinda nice that we saw it Tuesday night because we did not have much time in Paris. The outside was beautiful and normally the inside would not have been opened, but for some reason it was. However, way too dark in the cathedral to see inside. Interesting really because it did not get dark in Paris until at least 11 (we later found this to be true for the Netherlands as well). Near Notre Dame there were several street performers.

We continued to walk and all of the sudden the weather took a turn for the worse. The wind began to blow hard and you could see a down pour about 5-6 blocks away from where we were standing. Water from the nearby fountains got us wet and the dust and dirt from the gravel blew in our eyes...not cool. Finally, we decided to find a bar since clearly the rain was coming. We found a bar with live music (they played some American songs with some French songs) and ordered some Kronenbourg beers. We ended up meeting some people from the UK who had spent three days biking from London to Paris. They were pretty nice, but also wasted. They seemed kinda fascinated and relieved we were Americans. One, because we spoke English and two, because (so Brandon says...) the British are usually fascinated with American cities and celebs.

Bar We Visited

Notre Dame

We finally made it back to the hotel very late. It took FOREVER to walk back to our hotel outside the center.

The next day we had to switch hotels. Neither Hotel #1 nor Hotel #2 had two nights available. Luckily, Hotel #2 was very close to the center. We ate breakfast (which was really good) at Hotel #1. As you might of guessed, we opted for the taxi this time. It was a nice ride around Paris to familiarize ourselves with the city and also, neither one of us wanted to start our day getting lost and sweaty trying to find Hotel #2. We checked in but our room was not ready so we headed to the Louvre. We had to wait in line for about 2 hours, because unlike my adventures in Italy, I did not pre-book. At the Louvre we saw the Mona Lisa, David Jacque Louis paintings, Venus of Milo and Winged Victory of Samothrace. Again, we did not have much time in Paris so we decided that with the wait and the crowd there was no way we could see the entire museum (we heard there was no way to see the entire museum even with a long visit in Paris and it could potentially take like 3 days to see the whole place).

Venus of Milo
Mona Lisa
Outside the Louvre

After the Louvre we had lunch. I ordered a roasted chicken and FRENCH fries. :) It was actually pretty good. The "au jus" was delish. When we finished we headed back to the hotel for a quick rest and a chance to freshen up before dinner and the rest of the places on our list. We headed to Avenue des Champs-Elysees. Also, VERY touristy and crowded. A ton of shops. We saw some interesting people here too. We also saw the cops chasing street vendors who were selling knock off bags. Not to mention, the BIGGEST LOUIS VUITTON EVER! Things going through my mind--"WOW! That store is huge and why the heck would you sell knock offs in a 5 mile radius of that!" Champs-Elysees ends with the Arc de Triomphe. It was actually really gorgeous. I never expected that it would impress me that much. After that, we headed to the Eiffel Tower and waited in line 2 hours (AGAIN!) but it was worth it. We went to the second level and had a look at Paris right at dusk (ya know, 10:30--pretty normal :) )

View from Eiffel Tower The Arch

Eiffel Tower
Cops Confiscating Bags Louis Vuitton

We decided to have dinner afterward but it was nearly impossible to find a decent place to eat at this hour. I had a cheeseburger and BF had an omelette. We headed to a busy street to find a taxi. Apparently, taxis do not pick people up in Paris. They just drive around. It was impossible to hail a cab and we even tried waiting at a taxi stand. No such luck! We walked home...we did not get home until 2 am. This was not a good thing since we had to catch a 7:30 train to Rotterdam!

View of the Eiffel Tower on Our Walk Home

We woke up around 5:30 the next morning. We had arranged for a cab immediately after our incident with trying to hail a cab the night before. Thank God! We took the cab to the train station. The train was actually very nice. We slept most of the way and got to Rotterdam around 10 am. From Rotterdam, we were to take the train to Eindhoven to meet my (pregnant) cousin's husband Keith. We had plans to stay with them for a couple of days. When we got off the train at English signs. I found this to be weird because everyone said the Dutch speak perfect English (they do), but the signs were all in Dutch. It took us 45 minutes to figure out how to buy a ticket and find out what platform we were suppose to be on. I asked 4 people that worked at the station before getting the right answer.

We arrived to Eindhoven around 11:50 and Keith picked us up as planned. We went straight to Jessi and Keith's new house. It was great! Nice and spacious. We loved the big windows. I was excited to see Jessi (and Liam.) After we brought in the luggage and got a tour of the house we headed to lunch at La Place. We split a sandwich and a salad. Afterward Keith had a call for work so me, Jessi and BF walked around near their house and Jessi told us about things in Holland and even took us to the grocery store to show us the differences between grocery shopping in the US and the Netherlands. We went back afterward and relaxed for a bit.

Jessi and Keith had to attend a birthing class right outside of Amsterdam so BF and I decided to have dinner in Amsterdam while they were in class. Keith and Jessi dropped us off at a train station near the class so we could just take the train into Amsterdam. Again, issues with the train. The machine only took coins or European cards (the one's with the chip--these cards are not like American credit cards. They have a set allotted amount of cash on the card that can be reloaded). We didn't have enough coins (of course!) I had to ask a random guy for some change--I felt like a bum!

We got to Amsterdam and the town was not what either of us were expecting. The architecture was beautiful. The Netherlands is also OBSESSED with bikes! They bike more than they drive cars. There were parking decks FULL of bikes. There were also canals in Amsterdam...I had no idea! Of course Amsterdam has the "coffee shop" and "red light district" stigma, but I really think Amsterdam is alot more than that! Very beautiful.

Bike "Parking Deck"

Amsterdam Canal in Amsterdam

We met back up with Jessi and Keith when we were done with dinner and headed back to their house. The next morning Keith bough us pastries for breakfast. We also had a "Dutch cuisine"--bread with butter and chocolate weird! But tasty and one of Jessi's favorites! Another breakfast item we ate and one of Keith's personal favorites was a "stroopwaffle" --very thin waffle cone like cookie with caramel filling. We set it on top of our coffee mugs to warm them up and soften them up. Very sweet, but also very tasty! Keith got a crazy coffee maker after moving to Holland and Brandon and I were in awe with it. Everyone who knows us knows WE LOVE COFFEE! We sat around after sleeping in, drinking coffee and chatting it up. It was so great catching up and we had a really good time just relaxing and conversing with Jessi and Keith.

We decided to head back to Amsterdam later that afternoon. Keith parked the car at a park and ride and we rode the train into Amsterdam again (this time with minimal issues.) We had planned to do the Heineken Experience, but we lost track of time when we all got very hungry and stopped for tapas. The tapas were actually really good! After dinner we walked around the rest of the city and also had dessert. The dessert was gelato and fresh was crazy because it was like the beginning of my trip meets the end! :) This morning Keith and Jessi took us to the airport. They could not have been more hospitable! (you can see Jessi's recap of our visit at she also has a blog!)


We got home around 6 pm (we landed around 1 pm and had to pick up our car and Linus--I missed him so!) I am very happy to be home, though. My trip was great and couldn't have asked for a more interesting and fun experience. I hope you all have found this blog to be entertaining!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Some more bling! Special shout out...

Another special shout ANOTHER one of my dearest friends--Telleen Jean Anderson-Lozano! Congratulations on your engagement. I am so happy for you and Greg and I can't wait to celebrate with you! San Francisco in a couple of weeks will be prime for a celebration and then MTB's wedding...woot! :)

I'm sorry I do not speak Italian, WOW! That's alot of pigeons and Julius Caesar...

On Friday morning I left for Bologna to meet family Mariano, Maria and Francesco. Mariano is my great grandmother's first cousin, Maria is his wife and Francesco is his son. I arrived at the Bologna station to find out that Mariano nor Maria spoke English. Another adventure...

Francesco had to work until 5 pm and then the plan was for us to all go to Bologna together Friday night. Mariano and Maria live in Malalbergo (a province of Bologna), which is about 30 minutes from Bologna. After we arrived at Mariano and Maria's apartment, we had lunch. Maria cooked pasta (homemade) with red sauce, veal with mushroom sauce and salad. We also had watermelon for dessert and finished things off with espresso. It was delish! We spent much of the time on the computer using translators to speak to one another. I was kicking myself for not knowing Italian at this point. Who wants to speak to one another through a computer when we are sitting right next to each other?? I don't...I feel like this was my fault.

Homemade pasta...courtesy of Maria!

After Francesco got home, we decided to take a walk so he could change. We had gelato. I ordered a small but Mariano INSISTED that I get the biggest size the place offered! At this point, I was about to POP! After we walked back to the apartment to meet back up with Francesco, we left for Bologna. We walked around Bologna for a few hours and had pizza for dinner. After we finished in Bologna, we visited Ferrara (another town right outside of Bologna). This was Francesco's recommendation, as its architecture was much more ancient and medieval, unlike Bologna, which was mostly modern. We did not get home until about 1 am and then I was up at 6:30 to catch my 8:50 am train to Venice. Francesco and Mariano dropped me off at the station and waited until my train departed before they left. Mariano, Maria and Francesco were very hospitable and we did the best we could with the language barrier. Considering I didn't know Italian and they didn't know English, we had a great time!

Castle in Ferrara
Statue of Neptune in Bologna

On the train ride to Venice, I met a breast cancer survivor who lived in none other than Anderson, SC (right outside of Easley, where some of my family lives). This woman lives in Anderson, but is orignally from Istanbul, Turkey and attended college at Berry in Rome, GA. Her story was very inspiring and she was a very interesting individual. It's always nice to meet people like this and I am sure I met her for a reason.

After I arrived to Venice I met up with Brandon. It was very exciting to finally see him! We spent most of the day exploring Venice and walking the city. We also did a self-guided Vaparetto tour of the city. It was a lot of fun. We did not have many plans, so I really enjoyed catching up and spending the day exploring and getting lost!! We had lunch at a touristy joint (impossible to avoid sometimes), visited the Rialto Brige, St. Mark's Square and just picked up a slice of pizza for dinner. Our hotel was very nice and had a great Venetian look to it. The staff was very accommodating and friendly (unlike the staff here at Villa Tassoni, who gave us a seriously hard time for Brandon's unannounced arrival.)

Rialto Bridge
Pretty Sunset in Venice

St. Marks' Square and the Pigeons!

Campanile on St. Mark's Square

Last night, we took a night walk across Rome visiting all the places I have already been, but BF has not. We visited Campo di Fiori and had a tasty dinner there. We continued onto Piazza Navona, The Pantheon, Trevi Fountain (with a stop for gelato...duh!) and The Spanish Steps. Everything was beautiful at night!!

Trevi Fountain
Campo di Fiori
Piazza Navona
The Pantheon Spanish Steps

Today we visited the Colesseum, The Roman Forum, The Panethon, Piazza Navona, Campo di Fiori (for a mini happy hour :)) and Trastevere for dinner (tasssssty). After dinner we enjoyed a beer on the steps in Trastevere and walked along the river at the night market. So far, we have really enjoyed our time together. Tomorrow we leave for Paris. I am sorry I have left off a lot of details in the blog tonight (and lacked my usual sarcastic remarks), but I have alot of packing to do! I will see everyone soon....Ciao!!

The Roman Forum
The Colosseum