The Rest of Europe: Italy, Amsterdam, & Brussels

Finding a good internet cafe, time, and the right head space to blog about our trip has been more difficult than I imagined.  After leaving Barcelona, we didn’t spend more than 3 days in one place, often with a full day of travel included.

Our flight from Barcelona was delayed an hour or so but lucky for us, the airport actually had an outdoor courtyard where we were able to soak up some sun before heading to Italy for 9 days.

We landed in Pisa and like good tourists, we marched over the the Leaning Tower where I got obligatory snaps of the tower, Brandon and the tower, and landscapes with the tower.  You get it.  We ducked into a fast food like pizza joint for pizza, beer, and salad — the name of the place we’ve forgotten — which is unfortunate, because it the one of the best meals we had on our trip!  Especially the salad. A solid greens mix, shredded veggies, fresh mozzarella… yum!!  On the subject of the food, there was also an amazing gelataria outside our hostel – La Botega Gelataria.  Our favorite gelato of the trip as well.

Gelato became a diet staple of ours for about 2 weeks.  Each day we looked forward to a cup of gelato so we could compare it all the others we had.  Bad for me (this is a weight loss trip!), good for Brandon (I think we gained a pound or two).

We left Pisa and took the train up to the Cinque Terre — a group of towns on the Northwest coast of Italy.  We didn’t have reservations for our two nights here and in retrospect, that was a bad idea.  We got off the train in Manarola (the 2nd town), thinking that it would be less popular and that we could find a guest house.  There are signs up all over noting “rooms for rent” but unfortunately you have to call and we didn’t have a phone.  After walking around for a couple hours, up and down, left and right, we finally found a nice apartment in Riomaggiore.  We took it, although it was over our budget.  So glad to have a shower.

The Cinque Terre was beautiful.  There is a path connecting Riomaggiore to Manarola called the Via Dell’Amore, the path of love.  Easy walk, beautiful views.  On our 2nd day we did a longer hike from Riomaggiore to Vernazza.  Took about 3 hours, and in the end we celebrated our accomplishment with pizza and beer.

We left the 5Terre for Florence where we spent 3 days.  I went to both Florence and Rome ten years ago and think that I felt the same both times – Florence is overrated.  The city’s history is fascinating, the Uffizi collection stunning, and the shopping grand, but the city itself feels too touristy.  Pisa was super touristy but it also felt like a place where people lived.  Not Florence.  We went to the Uffizi, strolled through the Central Market (oh how I wish I could have stuffed a suitcase full of cheap purchases and sent home!), hit the farmer’s market and bought olives and fruit, ate gelato, etc.

After Florence we trained over to Siena for a night.  We wish we had more time in Siena.  For lack of a better way to describe it, the vibe was good there.  The city is divided into 17 neighborhoods – all insects and animals — and we stayed in the caterpillar neighborhood, right next to the giraffe neighborhood.  Twice a summer the neighborhoods race horses around the town square in a race called Il Palio.  Too bad we missed it, looks like fun.

We then hit Rome for two days.  2 days is not enough time to see Rome.  We went to the Vatican on our first afternoon but unfortunately the square and St. Peter’s were closed due to preparations for a mass by the following morning for the priests.  We moved on that evening and the following day to see all the sites: Pantheon, Colosseum, Circus Maximus, Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain, etc.  We took a trip to the Catacombs — the graves of half a million early Christians in South Rome.  It was an amazing walk through hand dug caverns dug 1700 years ago.  It was a little hard to get to (only a public bus that runs every half hour) but we met 2 nice Belgians on the way.  Rome, of all the cities we’ve been to in Europe, had the least user-friendly transportation systems.  Since I loved Rome so much ten years ago, I won’t let my mediocre experience this time stop me from returning a third time!  And I better, since I threw a few cents into the Trevi Fountain.

On to Amsterdam – I enjoyed it much better this time.  The city was packed with tourists and we had sweet digs at the NH hotel.  A bathtub!!  Ate herring from the street vendors. We rented bikes, riding through the Vondelpack and the forest, and didn’t kill ourselves riding there.  A little intimidating in the city, but once we got out, it felt great to ride along the canal.  It was also nice to be back in cooler weather — 60s — some natural AC between high 90s Italy and 100s India.

There’s really not much to say about Brussels.  Not enough time there.  Did laundry and flew out early the following morning.  All the chocolate has lecithin in it – and since Brandon is a real chocolate purist (that’s a nice way of putting it), we didn’t indulge (honestly, we didn’t have the time).

We had a wonderful time in Europe.  And in retrospect, now that we are in India, it was a good idea to acclimate to traveling together, making decisions on the flyer, and working out the kinks in our system.

No photos now — no USB port on this computer.

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