A Travellerspoint blog

Our nice time in Nice

My first city in France

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From Cinque Terre, Kelle and I took a train that took us along the cost to the French Riviera. Our stop: Nice. It was so easy to travel here that it was weird to me when the language all of a sudden changed.

Our time in Nice was just perfect. It's basically a vacation town - so equivalent to Americans going to Florida every summer. This was great for us to get some rest especially coming from our tiring hikes in Cinque Terre, and afterwards Kelle was going to Paris and I was heading to Madrid, both site-filled cities.

Day 1: Walk around Nice

Our hostel was so close to the water, we spent the day just walking around Nice and just loving the vibe. We walked up the Montee du Chateau (an old castle that has been turned into a beautiful park and viewpoint of Nice) and had amazing views of the beach and the port.

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For lunch, we sat on the Promenade watching people go by and I ordered a Croque Madame. My new favorite meal. So it's basically just a ham and cheese sandwich with a sunny-side egg on top, but I don't know what they do or what type of cheese they use because it was the best lunch ever (Thanks to the mom and daughter we met in Florence that recommended it to me!).

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Our hostel was a really social one. It had a bar in the downstairs with a restaurant and a lot of people around 18-30 years old. Kelle and I were excited to go out to a bar or club since we hadn't done that yet in Europe. We met some really cool people in our room of 8 on the first night and I thought it would be really easy to meet people after that. Unfortunately, those people left and we received new roommates. They happened to be 45-50 year old men that were cycling around Nice for an entire week! They weren't creepy but it definitely was a little odd that they decided to stay in an 8 person dorm in the hostel ranked #1 for youth backpackers in Nice. It thwarted our chances of meeting roommates to go with to the clubs. The first night that they were there Kelle and I returned at 1am (really early night for Europe standards) and tried to be as quiet as possible. But I guess it wasn't quiet enough because the next morning, they continuously were slamming the door and their lockers, and opened the window shades around 7-8am. Rudeeeee.

Day 2: Day trip to Cannes
We took a trip to Cannes. We had actually just missed the film festival that happens there, which is I think what made Cannes so famous. Alex met this girl that went to the festival and she said she saw 30 or so movies in the span of 5 days…What?!

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Kelle and I had a really nice beach morning here. We didn't go to the beach in Nice because there is actually no sand there, just rocks. We saw people laying on them as if it was sand, it did NOT look comfortable but I guess they are used to it.

Then we just walked down this street called Rue Meynadier. It's a street that has these really cute 18th century homes and the ground floor has now turned into boutiques and bakeries. We walked into all of the sweets shops and just drooled everywhere. I'm not usually a sweets person but I wanted all the chocolates in that moment.

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Day 3: Day trip to Grasse

On our last day, Kelle and I went to a town called Grasse (just pronounced grass haha). We were told that it is a really nice day trip to go visit the perfume factory. Grasse is France's leading perfume producer because it's location is ideal for a lot of the flowers used.

We visited the factory of Fragonard. They had begun making perfumes in 1782 and today they are a very exclusive company, only selling in their stores (so you can't go to Macy's and find their stuff) or online. They showed us how they currently, as well as how they previously, extracted the essences from the flowers and then how they make the perfume or eaux de toillete (body spray). Also, the person that makes the combinations of different essences are called a "Nose". Apparently, they have to study for 10 years. Two of those years are just theory and at the end of that they have to be able to identify 1000 different smells!

After the tour we pretended to be a "Nose" and went and smelled their perfumes. The tour guide would ask us what we smelled and people would shout out citrus, lemon, lavender, roses, etc depending on the perfume. I failed at this, I would just be like "Ooo this smells pretty" haha.

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Hanging out with Kelle was perfect. I was glad to be with a girl after being with Alex for a while haha. (One reason is because Kelle and I both take a long time getting ready :) ). I'm so glad she was able to take this trip with me. Currently she is back in NY and every time I have to walk up a bajillion steps I think about our hilarious hike in Cinque Terre where we felt like dying.

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Posted by EscapewithKay 14:59 Archived in France Comments (0)

Arrivederci Italy

See you in 55 days!

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My quick recap of Italy:

Visited: Venice, Rome, Florence, Tuscany region, Pisa, Cinque Terre

Favorite City: It's a toss-up between the #1 romantic city in the world (yep that's currently Venice :) ) and Florence
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Meals:
1) Penne, Spaghetti, Tortellini, Ravioli, Tagliatelle, Linguine, Lasagna, Risotto (Basically name any type of pasta you know of - but I never saw Fettuccine Alfredo or Chicken Parmesan According to the chef in my cooking class, those are only meals that Italians cook in the homes and Americans cook in restaurants)
2) Caprese salad almost every day (tomatoes and mozzarella!!)
3) Lots of seafood in Cinque Terre and Venice
4) We would order the house wine at every meal (1/2 a Liter for 5 Euros? Um yes! - that's about 3 glasses for 2 people)

Favorite meal: Penne al arrabbiata (penne in a spicy tomato sauce)

Favorite cheese: We got a meat and cheese place in Florence and this soft cheese was my favorite, we asked the name of it and it started with a B, she said it's also called "Toad's skin". Anybody know?!

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Favorite museum: Galleria de Borghese in Rome

Favorite activities: Vespa tour with Alex and Cooking Class with Kelle

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Weird observations (actually most of them are about the bathroom):
1) The tank of the toilet is usually close to the ceiling of the bathroom, which made me wonder: If the toilet water is running, how do they lift the little handle inside the tank?
2) I would put my hands under the faucet thinking it's automatic because I didn't see a handle, but nothing would happen - there were foot pedals
3) Where is the toilet seat? I got tired of squatting.
4) If you actually want vegetables or salad with your meal, you have to add a side which was about 4-5 euros.
5) They charge extra for bread
6) Make sure you say "sin gas" if you don't want bubbly water

Funniest moments: Alex jumping off the train to Venice because we lost a ticket and just shouting: "I'll meet you in Venice"

Lessons learned: We learned that we always have to have a backup plan for if my friends and I get separated, especially because there is no easy way to communicate without wifi.

I also learned that it's better to give yourself an extra hour in whatever site or activity you're going to. You never know if you really love it or want to take a rest on a bench and enjoy what's around you. I always realized this on days when I would constantly check my watch to make sure we were on schedule…which is the worst because this is supposed to be vacation right?!

Going along with that: there is just way too much to see. I would think, "Well, when is the next time I'm going to be in Italy? So I have to see everything now"…That's impossible! I quickly realized that if I don't see everything, it's okay. It's better to enjoy yourself seeing what you can, and this gives me even more reasons to definitely come back!

I'll be returning to Italy at the end of July for my flight home, so I'll be sure to order my favorite meal and find that toad's skin cheese :)

Posted by EscapewithKay 00:22 Archived in Italy Comments (3)

Redefining a Hike

...before this trip a hike was anything up a hill for 15 minutes...

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After Kelle and I finished our amazing cooking class, we left to Cinque Terre, Italy, but with a brief pit stop in Pisa. When I say brief, I really mean brief. We were there for maybe a little over an hour. We stepped off the train, put our luggage in storage, walked 20 minutes to see the Leaning Tower, took our obligatory pictures, and then RAN back to the train station to catch the last train to Cinque Terre. This was all because the taxi we took to take the train to Pisa accidentally took us to the airport. Here was my lesson on always triple checking with the taxi drivers where they are taking you…

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I realized afterward that it doesn't look that I'm "trying" to hold up the tower at all, where Kelle definitely looks like she is pushing it down haha!

Cinque Terre is made up of 5 little villages (the name literally means 5 lands). Each of the towns are built into the cliffs on the coast, which has made it one of the most picturesque places in Italy. The five towns (in order) are: Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, and Monterosso. The coastline, villages and the hillsides are all part of the Cinque Terre National Park and is a UNESCO heritage site. One of the main appeals of going to CT is for hiking - Kelle and I don't really hike, but since this trip is about trying new things, I didn't want to pass up seeing these sights in person.

Day 1: Arriving in Cinque Terre
When Kelle and I arrive in Cinque Terre, we went to the town of Manarola, where we were meeting back up with Alex. I had read how beautiful and hilly all the towns were (and saw pictures from my Godmother's visit), but it was about 10pm and all we wanted to do was shower and eat. As Kelle and I are pulling our bags up this massive hill, we realized then that maybe we weren't cut out for this, haha! We joked that the walk up to our hostel was going to be our "hike" and we could now cross it off our list. :)

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Day 2: Monterosso, Vernazza, Manarola

Kelle, Alex and I decided to hike the national park trail that was open (many of the trails are closed due to landslides), Monterosso to Vernazza, a two hour hike. (Later I read in Alex's guide book that this is the most demanding trail - thanks for warning us!) When we got to the trail, we discovered that we had to pay 7.50 Euros to hike it since it is a national park. Alex left us to hike the free path which was a 4 hour hike…Kelle and I looked at each other and quickly paid the ticket for the 2 hour one.

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Monterosso is the largest of the 5 villages and has a beach. We hiked from there to Vernazza. When they say hike, they definitely mean hike. It was nice that it was just Kelle and I on the hike because we were able to have girl talk and just take our own pace. But Kelle and I were so confused when a lot, lot, lot older people would pass us. We didn't realize we were that slow, haha! But, hey! We made it!

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Kelle and I then took a well-deserved sunbathing break at the waterfront of Manarola. We were also able to get some great views of the town we stayed in. Out of the 4 towns I visited (never made it to Corniglia), Manarola was definitely my favorite. All of the pastel houses and the steep hill really make it look beautiful from the viewpoints.

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The 3 of us had a great dinner in Manarola that night. We ordered a bottle of wine made in Monterosso (probably from the grapes we passed on the hike!). Alex and I shared this seafood black pasta, which is black from the squid's ink. I was a bit grossed out at the pasta, but you actually can't really taste the difference!

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Day 3: Riomaggiore
We spent the morning walking around and getting more views of our town Manarola. Alex took us up these steep stairs to get these pictures. So I hope you like them!

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We then spent some time walking around and eating in Riomaggiore. I bought some homemade olive oil with all the seasonings to make bruschetta!

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The entire time we were in Cinque Terre the weather kept saying 50-70% rain. Luckily it didn't rain on our hikes at all! But I would love to go back for longer, maybe when the water is warmer to go to the beach and also to just eat more of the great seafood they had!

Today our trips diverged as Alex went back to Milan to catch a flight to Prague and Kelle and I left for France. It was definitely bitter sweet to think that my time in Italy was over, but I just had to remind myself that this was only just the beginning :)

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Posted by EscapewithKay 00:32 Archived in Italy Comments (1)

Vespa, Wine, and Pasta

Falling in love in Florence

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...continued post on Florence:

Day 3: Piazza Michelangelo & Vespa/Wine Tour

On Day 3, Kelle and I went on a walk on our own to the Piazzale Michelangelo (actually, who am I kidding, it was more like a hike…). Here there is a copy of Michelangelo's David and you can see Florence and the hills around it. Just as I was falling in love with Florence, we see the end of a wedding right in this piazza…it was so beautiful!

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We then walked across the famous Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge). I learned the story of this bridge in Dan Brown's Inferno. Basically, the bridge housed butchers, grocers, blacksmiths, etc…But there is a corridor linking the Palazzo Pitti (where the Medici family lived across the bridge) to the Uffizi. One of the members of the family didn't like the smell from the butchers when he would walk above them every day. So everyone's shops were shut down and he installed goldsmiths and jewelers and that's what is still there today. Kelle and I saw some gorgeous gold bracelets we wanted and soon realized that these jewelers were way too expensive for us.

On our walk home every day, we had a great view of the Ponte Vecchio on the bridge next to it.

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Everything so far was something "to see", so Alex and I went on a vespa/wine tour. I was looking forward to the vespa tour for sooo long because all I wanted to do was learn how to drive the vespa. Sooo about that….I tried for about 15 minutes and there was no way I was going to be able to drive through the hills of Tuscany on that thing. I couldn't bring myself to even pick my feet off the ground :( Luckily, Alex was there so we shared a vespa. Another lucky thing was that no one else was on the tour!! We had our own private tour guide! We drove around a bit and stopped some places for pictures. We then learned about the area and about the grapes they grew in the Chianti region.

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I especially thought that the roses in front of each of the rows in the vineyard were gorgeous. But then we learned that it's not just for looks. They put a rose bush in front of each row of grapes to check for bacteria. If that rose bush has bacteria on it then they check that row of grapes, or else it would take them forever to check every grape.

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Chianti wine will have a special label saying that they followed all of the rules. For it to be a Chianti it has to have at least 80% of the Sangiovese grapes (the ones we saw) and then if it’s a Super Chianti or "Classico" will have more than that (can't remember the number…). The other percentage are different grade blends which is why you'll have different tasting Chiantis. We then went to the Ruffino winery and saw the Vats and the barrels that the wine will age in. These barrels are actually Pennsylvania Oak. So different wineries will also use different wood, which also cause the different taste.

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If you ever see a Ruffino wine and get it, think of me! It was my first wine tasting, and I loved the wine pouches they gave us. (I was especially glad I didn't have to drive the vespa after that! Thanks Alex!)

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^That's the label of the wine

It was such a beautiful day in the hills of Tuscany!

Day 4: Cooking class

Lastly, Kelle and I took a market tour and cooking class before we headed to our next stop. Seriously, this was a perfect way to end Florence. The tour started by taking us to Mercato Centrale. Different from Mercato Nuovo, this one is all about food. There are meat and cheese stalls everywhere. I bought some fresh olive oil here.

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After going to the market and picking up what we needed for cooking, we started to make a tiramisu so that it can chill in the fridge while we cooked the rest of the food. We used mascarpone cheese, eggs, biscuits, cocoa powder, and espresso...but I put very little espresso because I don't like anything about coffee (somehow I made it through undergrad and grad school without it lol)

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We then made pasta from scratch just using flour and eggs. It was actually pretty simple, except I wasn't that good at rolling out the dough. But it tasted so good! We made tagliatelle and ravioli using the same dough. I will definitely be trying this again.

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Lastly we made a Bolognese sauce. The chef was very animated here. He wanted to make sure we knew that Bolognese is not red sauce with ground beef. Its ground beef with some red sauce. Also it is basically blasphemy to him to use extra virgin olive oil when you are cooking. He said use your good oil (extra virgin) for bruschetta, bread, salad, etc...for cooking just use olive oil.

The whole thing was definitely worth the money, Kelle and I had a great time! I would completely suggest doing a cooking class wherever you go (if you love food like me :) ). I hope I have time to do one in Spain. This one older lady was literally smiling the entire time. She kept saying how much her face hurt.

I know I've only gone to 2 other cities at this point (well actually I've been to more because this post is like 2 weeks late, shh!) but Florence was definitely my favorite. It is such a walkable city and great vibe: vendors everywhere selling amazing smelling leathers, painters painting Florence sites right on the street, small hole in the wall restaurants making the best paninis for 3 Euros, amazing sculptures and art everywhere you turn, a short ride to the serene hills of Tuscany…just everything was perfect. I didn't even scratch the surface here so whenever you want to go to Florence and are looking for someone to join you, just give me a call ;)

Posted by EscapewithKay 02:04 Archived in Italy Tagged travel girl adventure europe jersey kayla hits Comments (1)

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

My quest to find them all

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As a kid I LOVED the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I loved the cartoon, the movie, the action figures…all of it. (If you don't know it, the title explains it all except the 4 turtles were named after famous Renaissance artists). My favorite was Michelangelo, so much that he was my imaginary friend. (Don't laugh, I read a study that said 65% of children have imaginary friends! :-P). My first question when I arrived in Florence was: Am I finally going to see all of TMNT? I saw Michelangelo (The dome in St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican as well as the famous Sistine Chapel) and Raphael (The Stanze di Raffaello in the Vatican Musuems), but I needed to see Donatello and Leonardo! Well…spoiler alert…my mission was success, but it wasn't that hard considering Florence is the center of early Italian Renaissance art.

Alex and I arrived and met up with one of my best friends from Carnegie Mellon, Kelle.

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We spent the longest amount of time in Florence, so this post I'm breaking up into two parts.

Day 1: Bargello, Duomo, & Galleria de Accademia

After learning that I really liked the sculptures at the Galleria Borghese in Rome, we decided to go the Bargello which is Renaissance sculpture. There were 4 Davids here! Two by Donatello (yes! Just one more TMNT to go): there was one that was more Gothic and then later you see the workings of early Renaissance.

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There was also an early one by Michelangelo and by Andrea del Verrocchio (Leonardo da Vinci's teacher). All of these David's had a sword in one hand, a rock in the other, and then standing on top of Goliath's head. (Correct me if I'm wrong but David did not have a sword right?) My favorite is still the one in Rome by Bernini (but this one is Baroque, the art style following the Renaissance).

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(Those 3 photos are from google but I cited them in the descriptions!!)

We then went inside the famous Duomo. The Duomo is Florence's centerpiece. To me, the inside was not as great as any of the other Cathedrals we went to, but the amazing part is the outside. The dome weighs 37,000 tons and uses 4 million bricks. The designer, Filippo Brunelleschi, had to invent hoists and cranes to build this dome (again - engineering tidbit :) ) and he constructed it without using a wooden framework.

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Most of the churches in Florence had the same type of façade: white, green and pink marble. I loved it, it is so different than the outside of other churches I had seen before on the trip.

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Lastly, we quickly went to the Galleria de Accademia - the main thing to see here is Michelangelo's David. The story behind this one is that Michelangelo was given a piece of leftover block of marble that was actually ruined by 2 other sculptors. We sneaked a few photos of David, so this one is mine (hehe)

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Day 2: Uffizi, Piazza della Signoria, Campanile, & Battistero
On, our second full day in Florence, we started with the Galleria degli Uffizi. The Uffizi has "the finest collection of paitings from the Early and High Renaissance". The Medici placed their art collection here and basically created Europe's first modern museum (it was open to public starting in 1591!). I downloaded a self-guided tour by Rick Steves for $1.99 that we all followed. The layout of the museum was chronological. So we started with medieval paintings and slowly went into the Renaissance. This allowed us to see how paintings would go from 2D to 3D.

Highlights: Botticelli's Birth of Venus and Primavera (Springtime), Michelangelo's Dona Tondo (aka Holy Family - it was the only completed easel painting and it really looked like clusters of sculptures when I looked at it), and….Leonardo da Vinci! His Annunciation (the scene where the angel Gabriel talks to Mary) is here in the Uffizi.

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(In case you didn't realize…I'm already content with Florence at this point because I have completed all of the TMNT :) )

After the Uffizi, we were pretty exhausted from 3 hours in a museum, so we grabbed some lunch before climbing the 414 steps of the Campanile. The Campanile is the Gothic bell tower that is right next to the Duomo, with the same façade. We decided to climb the Campanile instead of the Duomo (almost same amount of steps) so that we can get pictures of the Duomo. It was definitely worth the long climb - but I was wearing a maxi dress so that was a bad idea!

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We then went into the Battistero (the Baptistery) that is on the bottom of the Campanile. I learned in Dan Brown's Inferno that this is where Dante was baptized. On the outside of the Baptistery are the famous "Gates of Paradise". They were beautiful! Each panel are scenes from the Old Testament.

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On our walk back to the hostel for naptime (yes I take a nap almost every day because doesn't this sound exhausting?) we passed through the Mercato Nuovo (New Market) and found all the leather goods you could imagine. I couldn't help myself but splurge a little bit ;)

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On this night, we decided to go out for aperitivos (basically like appetizers or tapas in Spain). I googled the best aperitivos in Florence, but we were still unsure what aperitivos really meant. Well...you walk into the bar, order a drink, and then as long as you have a drink you can have as much of the finger food as you want...for the price of 1 drink! I wish I had a picture, but I was too busy stuffing my face. :/

....to be continued (Days 3 and 4 of Florence to come)

Posted by EscapewithKay 09:13 Archived in Italy Comments (2)

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