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Today on Drive By by Train Radio

So Spotify has this nifty radio feature that is eerily similar to Pandora - and by eerily similar, I mean it’s literally the same thing.

I wasn’t sure how it worked, so I clicked the first song I saw which prompted the radio to begin and play songs that are “related” to my choice.

The song I unknowingly chose is Drive By by Train and before you interrupt, I know what you’re thinking - “Why in the hell would you do that to yourself? What good can come of it?! No, please, don’t, it’s not worth it. Life is worth living. Okay - that’s good, take my hand, step back off the ledge. Let’s talk about it. Everything will be okay.”

But guys, here’s the thing - Drive By by Train Spotify radio station is actually good.  Now, when I say good, what I mean is that I haven’t heard Train play once - it wasn’t even the first song. But the songs that are being chosen are great - and nothing like Train.

Due to this (and the fact that I feel like an empty worthless human being now that I’m not writing blog posts about Europe), I’m starting a daily post called, “Today on Drive By by Train Radio”. This post will capture the song that I feel least encompasses Train and should in no means ever play on a station with such a sullied reputation.  

Enjoy.

DISCLAIMER: If you chose this station, I must warn you - Nickelback may play. If this occurs, do not seek shelter or flee, but thumbs down that shit and FAST.  If anyone hears you listening to Nickelback, they have the right to cease all communication and set in motion your social exile. For your safety, please remain vigilant and aware of the risks; Nickelback exile is something I would not wish on even my worst enemy.

Day 31 - The Homeland! (Ireland)

After our all night power nap, getting up was super easy.  The one thing that I was promised that I knew Jill would see to was a full Irish breakfast, so that is what we did.  We went to a place that was known for their delicious breakfasts (and everything), so I could get the true Irish breakfast experience.  And let me tell you, it was delicious. Meat-tastic and sure to kill me, yes.  But also delicious.

After breakfast, we opted to take the free walking tour of Dublin.  This was my seventh and Jill’s eighth, which means that we’ve both done at least half of the tours that this company offers – putting us very near stalker status – a feat we’re totally okay with.  I was really interested in the tour because, although I’m not sure where in Ireland my roots are tied to (I know that my family left from the north), it’s still interesting to learn about the history that is most likely tied to my family in some way.  We learned about the oppression of the English over the years and the continued fight for Irish independence. 

Lady Justice

We started in Dublin Castle, which looks almost nothing like a castle, and passed by Lady Justice – a statue erected by the English during their rule in which Justice has her sword drawn, isn’t blind and is in fact looking at her sword with her back to the city.  If you know anything of symbolism, the statue essentially has her back to the city and promises a justice that is neither blind nor fair.  We also visited the Dubh Linn Gardens which is where the city got its name – and is where royal figures land their helicopters when they visit the city. 

the castle part of Dublin Castle

Dubh Linn Gardens

We also visited Trinity College – the oldest college in the city and the seat of many historical books and documents.  After the tour, we wandered into St. Stephen’s Gardens, a beautiful set of gardens that were awesome to wander around.  Within the garden, we saw a series of signs from Poland to Dublin in recognition of their good sportsmanship during the EuroCup matches.  Apparently, the Irish were such good fans that the mayor of the town they played in wanted to send tribute back to Dublin to thank them for not sucking like the Russians. 

Trinity

St. Stephen’s Gardens

National Library


Thank You Ireland?

We continued our wandering and came across the Dublin Street Performer World Championships.  These competitions were just performers from all over the world, come to Dublin to compete for the title.  It was an awesome surprise to stumble upon – we watched a hoola-hooper and also a bucket drummer from Brooklyn (two separate acts, just in case that wasn’t clear). After passing through the festival of sorts, we made our way back to the hostel to gather our thoughts and plan the evening. Jill still had to pick up her suitcase that she had left from her time farming, so we opted to go and get that.

hoola-hoop!

We hung out with her friend Stephen and his roommates for a bit before hunger got too great and we had to part ways so Jill and I could go get the chips and garlic sauce we’d been looking forward to since Amsterdam (when the hell was that, anyway?!).  Tonight we decided to listen to some traditional Irish music, drink some buckfast (Monk made mulled wine) and get a pint of Guinness.  We went to the original Trinity Bar – the bar that holds the namesake of the neighborhood in Dublin that has become the cultural hub of the city. The music was great (I love the fiddle), but we didn’t get that pint, since the city shut down sooner than anticipated and we missed the last call.  Oh well – that just gives me a great excuse to come back soon!

Millenium Memorial

And with the bars closed, our vacation suddenly drew to a close.  In the morning, we’ve got separate flights back to the states – seven hour plane rides back to reality (more or less).  I really can’t believe that it’s over, but alas, I have a wedding to get to, so the choice isn’t really a choice at all.   I anticipate authoring a summary of sorts, though I’m not sure what form it might take or if it really will happen at all – but I’ve got my hopes high. 

If you’ve been reading along this past month, I hope that I’ve kept you entertained and given you just a little taste of how amazing my month has been.  Eventually, I’ll be putting the rest of my photos up on Facebook, though we’ll see when I actually get around to that…

sign of truth 

Lesson of the day: Vacation is over.

Day 30 - Madrid Dos

I feel like for the first time in a month, our ambition paid off.  We managed to wake up on time, take full advantage of the hostel breakfast (nutella was present, Europeans love nutella, which is convenient, because I love nutella).  After breakfast, we made our way to the Sandeman’s Free Tour – our first since Munich. 

The tour spoke to the history of Madrid and to many of the large attractions throughout the city.  Madrid rose to prominence mainly because the Hapsbergs moved their capitol here.  We learned about the rule of the Hapsberg family, as well as Spain’s trials with democracy, dictatorship and democracy again.  Additionally, we learned that the most influential Spaniard of all time is the current King, Juan Carlos, due to the part he played in freeing Spain from the bonds of dictatorship in the 1970s.

more locks of love

The tour also took us past the oldest (still operating) restaurant in the world (Guinness Book Certified), as well as the last remaining portion of the wall that used to surround the city.  We learned that in the past, citizens used to be forced to take in the royal families’ staff depending on how large their houses were, so the people would fill their houses with grain and wheat to make it look like they had less room.  Eventually, the royals caught on to this and brought it to the end, so the people started building their houses in a way so that you could not easily tell how many floors were in the house – and placing the windows in a way so that you could not divide a room into two in order to house staff.  It was actually a very ingenious solution to a complicated problem. 

oldest still operating restaurant in the world

crazy window house

last remaining bit of the city wall

Memorial to the victims who were killed in a 1906 assassination attempt

After the tour, we had some delicious, cheap Spanish food with the rest of the tour group and, after chatting for a bit, made our way back to the hostel in order to grab out belongings to head to the airport.

the symbol of Madrid 

We were again flying RyanAir, which is great due to how cheap the flights are.  However, the problem is that to check a bag, you have to pay about 60 euros, so, needless to say, you don’t want to have to check a bag.  The problem is that the gate staff have a box they can ask you to squeeze your bag into and, if it doesn’t fit, you’re forced to check it (and pay).  They don’t always do this, but, as luck would have it, they were doing it on this flight.  Jill and I both knew that our bags would definitely not fit, so we started to panic.  We made our bags look as little as possible – and we even received some Irish hospitality from the people around us who took a few of the bulkier belongings we couldn’t make look skinny.  Luckily, the gate attendants didn’t ask to size check our bags, so we escaped that battle unscathed and un-teared (because I probably would have just given up hope and cried). 

Some of the Madrid Metro Signs:

look at the fingers!

don’t like us on Facebook!

make way for Jesus

The flight to Dublin was fairly uneventful and, being that Jill is a bonafide Ireland expert, we knew exactly where we were headed.  We made our way to the hostel and I took in my (partial) homeland the entire time.  Once we got checked in, we opted for a power nap, since we were running low on sleep and the Madrid sun had tired us out.

We agreed to nap for an hour and then go out so I could experience the true Dublin experience.  After an hour passed, we couldn’t bring ourselves to get out of the comfortable beds – a trend that held until the next morning.  Oops. No regrets.

Lesson of the day: It’s not a power nap if you get eleven hours of sleep. 

Day 29; To Madrid!

Remember that time that Barcelona tried to ruin us?  Well, the trend continued thorough what was totally no fault of our own.  Jill woke up early to get out and grab some last minute Barcelonan souvenirs and mail postcards in an effort to not lost them (again).  When she got back, I was finishing getting my things situated and shortly after, we made our way to our train for Madrid.

When we got to the station with a solid ten minutes to spare, we found that the train station had a baggage screening station, so we got held up there and then we had to have our tickets validated before heading down to the platform.  Luckily, we did make it in time; however, we did not have the time to grab any breakfast.  We were taking a high-speed train (with speeds up to 300 km/hr!), so the trip took only about 3.5 hours.  The train did have a dining car, so Jill got breakfast and lunch and I, just lunch.

Once we arrived in Madrid, we discovered twothree things.  The first is that it was hot. The second was that there were baby heads (like the ones outside the Boston Museum of Fine Arts). The third was that Stephen forgot to map the hostel…and the name of the hostel…and pretty much anything.  Good news though! The buses in Madrid have free wi-fi, so we stood near a parked bus and found both the name and locale of our hostel and made our way there!

When we got off the subway, we noticed something quite interesting (see picture).  As we walked, we saw a few more not-so-subtle indications that we were in the gay area of the city – Chueca (club advertisements with shirtless men, a man on a scooter in leather advertising a club with a sign with a shirtless man, etc.).  That’s right ladies and gents, guess who inadvertently booked a hostel in the gay area of Madrid.  Yup – this guy.  Jill gives me hostel-booking authority for one night and what do I do? Gay hostel (well, it wasn’t a gay hostel, but you get the point).

Regardless, the hostel was actually really nice.  We got ourselves checked in and the admin at the desk showed us all the great places that we should see.  After we got everything settled and printed our plane tickets to Dublin for tomorrow, we set out to explore the city.  For the most part, we just wandered to the landmarks that were circled on our map – the main street, the Royal Palace and Garden, Plaza Mayor. The city was truly beautiful and had an almost Bostonian feel to it – certainly a different feeling than Barcelona had, which was really interesting to experience.

After we wandered for a sufficient amount of time, we made our way back towards the hostel, stopping at a grocery store along the way to pick up some pasta to cook for dinner.  With two days left in Europe, we decided to finally attempt to do dinner as cheap as possibly and cook for ourselves.  We decided that we don’t regret how we did the rest of our trip, because we got to experience delicious food all over Europe, but we totally can understand why some people made the effort to cook in every hostel that they could.

Once we finished eating (and were sufficiently stuffed), I moved for a nap session, which we took.  After naptime, we fetched our sangria (from Barcelona!) from the fridge and began our preparations for our night in Madrid.

We didn’t have a solid plan for the night, just to wander around Chueca and attempt to find a good bar or club to end up in.  We sat in a courtyard finishing the sangria and then continued wandering around.  Eventually, we wound up in a bar called Studio 54 (or 64 or something, I do not remember).  We had a great time – though we didn’t stay out too late because we wanted to be up early the next morning to get the most of our last half-day in Madrid.

Even though we were only out for a few hours, I knew that I was going to be upset we didn’t have more time in Madrid.  The feel of the city really resonated with me and I would have liked the opportunity to experience some more nights out in different parts of the city.

Day 28 - Barcelona 2.

Our flat’s walls were very thing and we were right next to the street, so attempting to sleep much past 11 was fruitless.  This was depressing because I really, really wanted to sleep past 11.  But seeing as how I couldn’t fight the inevitable, I awoke and got ready to face the day.  Jill mapped out the places in the city that she wanted to see and we attempted to devise a game plan.

We set out for las Ramblas, a touristey, shopping street running through Barcelona.  We eventually stumbled upon a Dunkin’ Coffee (it’s not Dunkin’ Donuts over here), so needless to say, we indulged.  Behind the Dunkin’ was a really cool little market that had everything from fresh fruits to fresh meats to fresh fish to falafel – Jill commented that she would love living in Barcelona just for the opportunity to do her shopping there.  After wandering a bit, we decided to grab some lunch.  I opted for fish a chips – a decision I would later regret, considering that I was an 85 degree day and fish on the stomach was not a desirable feeling.  She got a falafel from a stand in which there really wasn’t a line and people were yelling in what I believe to be Catalonian, so even Jill couldn’t keep up with what was going on.  She eventually managed to get to the front, though, and got her delicious food (again, I regretted my decision). 

fun statue just before las Ramblas

in case you were wondering

the market!

After lunch, we wandered a bit more and eventually made our way to the beach.  We promised ourselves a shorter day today because we had other things to see (and because our skin might have caught fire otherwise).  Because I had my phone today, I was able to snap a picture of what I wholeheartedly believe is the Cornucopia from the Hunger Games, even though I couldn’t find Katniss anywhere. 

the Cornucopia!


Satisfied with our beach time, we made the decision to head to the train station to secure our passage to Madrid.  When we got to the train station and grabbed our number, we were disheartened – we were number 015 (great!), but they were currently on 864 (not so great!).  But, seeing as how we didn’t really have a choice, we pulled up some floor and waited.  While sitting on the floor, a kid of probably about 7 rolled his toy car towards me and I made the cardinal mistake of acknowledging him and rolling it back.  This started a game which was bound for failure – mostly because he was seven and only spoke Spanish and I was 22 and knew enough Spanish to tell him I had not the slightest idea what he was saying.  It was comical actually, because Jill was next to me so she ran as much translation as she could.  Among the phrases were “You don’t understand me very well, do you?” and something along the lines of him showing me how to do flips with the car.  Eventually another kid came along and, being that they were able to communicate, I became obsolete.

Barcelona art.

This experience actually solidified my resolve to learn a second language when I get back to the states.  The fact that I could not even understand the most basic of phrases really hit home that, first off, I was a fool for taking Latin in high school.  More importantly, it was that I should do at least a little bit in an attempt to culture myself. 

Back to the waiting – a kind (probably depressed) couple was nice enough to give us their number as they were leaving, so we moved up a solid fifty or sixty numbers in the queue.  Our number finally came, we secured our tickets and set off for a park that was designed by Gaudi. 

Famous for his mosaic and design work all over the city, the park is essentially a sanctuary designed by him. It was beautiful. It was set atop a hill, so you had beautiful views of the entire city, all while being encapsulated in this mosaic paradise.  I couldn’t really believe my eyes. Also, there were parrots in the trees.  Parrots.  I mean, come on.

Once we had our fill (and I decided my wedding location – destination wedding!), we opted to head back to the flat, get ourselves situated and go see the Sagrada Familia and the Gothic District.  I was parched, so I made us stop in a grocery store to grab some water.  While we were there, we found .98 euro boxes of sangria so needless to say we bought four.  After dropping our purchases at the hostel (and bringing two along with us), we set out to see the Sagrada Familia designed by Gaudi.  Words cannot describe how amazing and intricate it was.  Pictures hardly to it justice.  It was started in 1882 with Gaudi getting involved in 1883.  It is so intricate that construction is still going on and isn’t anticipated to be finished until 2026 (though it has faced some interruptions).

We had plans to head to the Gothic District after seeing it, however, we failed to plan ahead and the metro had closed by the time we went to head out.  This was problematic because we wouldn’t be able to get to the Gothic District, but also because, planning on utilizing the metro, we left our maps at home.  Rather than admit defeat, we got pizza.  We found a nice restaurant near the cathedral and, after eating, they pointed us in the way of a bus that would take us home. 

delicious pizza.

We managed to get home with more ease than Venice (I think) and opted to call it a night.  I will take this time to note that the main reason I fear hostel environments is snorers.   I had the luck of being next to Godzilla himself, who really should see a doctor because whatever was happening was definitely not healthy.  I made it soundly until about 6am, at which point it because to much to bear, and I had to put my headphones in and turn up the music, because that was less likely to keep me awake than the thunder one bed over. 

It was unfortunate that we did not get out to the Gothic Distric, but I suppose it just gives me something to look forward to next time I’m in Barcelona.  Overall, I had a great time in this city.  It is certainly quite lively and definitely full of fun things to do.  I almost wish we had time to fit in some sort of tour, but that’s what Wikipedia is for, I suppose.  Even though it started by attempting to ruin us, I believe that in the end, we conquered Barcelona (or at least tied).  Either way – it’s off to Madrid!

Lesson of the day: Check metro times. Or bring a map. Or both.

Day 27; BarTHelona 1

Morning. A new day. No travel. Beaches. Go.

Wouldn’t it be funny if that was my whole post for the day? If I’d become so lethargic that I left you with that? – but worry not, I’m not that cruel.

We awoke just in time to check out late and spent a few minutes in the lobby planning our day.  As we were booking our hotel, we also found a hostel-type place to stay for our remaining two nights in the city, so we wanted to make our way there to check our bags and survey the situation.  Our residence of choice, Mr. Bruc’s Bed and Coffee, was a fairly interesting situation.  The space was a gorgeous flat that the proprietor’s filled with twenty or so beds. Personally, I would have loved to just live there (it had a patio, big rooms, high ceilings – it was beautiful), however, staying there for two nights was certainly did not warrant any complaints. When we arrived, we were actually able to check in, so we left our bags at our beds and set out for the beach. 

our flat’s patio

We went to the beach with just our towels – in case you didn’t know, Barcelona is renown for its pickpockets, so we opted to not bring our phones and wallets (well, my wallet, we covered why Jill didn’t have to worry about this), that way we could both go in the water at the same time.  We grabbed a lite lunch at a café near the beach and set out. The beach was awesome.  It had real sand, unlike the pebbles of Monte Carlo, which we appreciated.  It also seemed like a more family friendly, family affordable environment, which was nice.  However, there were fewer yachts, which was also nice.  We planned on spending just a few hours at the beach, just laying out, relaxing and enjoying the sun and water.  Needless to say, we were quite surprised when we got back to the flat and it was 7:30.  That wasn’t too problematic, considering that, according to what I’ve heard, people in Barcelona don’t start going out until at least 1. 

the beach!

We got ourselves cleaned up and set out for some dinner.  Jill wanted paella, badly. She looked up a restaurant that had good rating and cheap prices, so that is where we headed.  Now, if the past month has taught you anything, it is that when we plan, we fail.  Segue to the restaurant being closed.  Deciding that this would not be our downfall, we wandered around the area and found another restaurant serving paella (and sangria), cut our losses and went in.  The paella was delicious – made from scratch (as evidenced by the fact that it took forever to be finished) and the sangria, well, we’re in Spain so I think you know how it was.  Moral of the story – dinner was delicious and we were happy as clams (we’ve come to refer to this as “clam status”).

dinner!

eyeball building?

On the way home from dinner, we stopped at a market to pick up some powerade and wine (because it’s important to monitor your electrolytes when drinking) in preparation for the night ahead. One of Jill’s friends gave us the name of a club that, if we wanted a fun night, we should go to.  We sat in our hosts kitchen for a while (because we had no reason to be there before 1:30, according to them) and talked.  The hosts were hilarious.  Apparently, they had made a mistake and allowed someone to book a check-in after midnight – it was a mistake because it meant they both had to stay awake and wait for him to arrive.  So we sat in the kitchen and talked – mostly about our travels and the guests they’ve had and how it was so hot.  At one point, one of them got on the floor, opened the freezer and attempted to cool the kitchen via freezer.  Additionally, he told us that our other host, from Finland, cannot always properly use the letter ‘V’ when speaking English, so she does everything within her power to avoid saying the world ‘reservation’ which she says something like ‘resewaion’.  If you didn’t laugh, it was really one of those “had to be there” moments, so, yeah…

Anyway, after enough time passed (I would say after we finished our wine, but we only bought one bottle, which seemed fine to me at the time, even though I realized just how wrong I was once it was polished off in no time), we made our way out to Razzmatazz, an old warehouse turned rager venue.  The club was actually a lot of fun, and, like most places throughout Europe, played a large amount of American Top 40.  I was a bit confused when the mixed in some 80s – not out of a lack of appreciation, but out of confusion over why 80s were being seriously played in a club.   On top of that, the theme of the night was some sort of wedding something, so there was a lattice on stage and that was about the extent of the theme integration. 

We danced our hearts out until five when the lights were turned on and everyone was promptly chased out of the venue.  We gained a true appreciation for the genius of the Barcelona transit system through this experience.  On the way to the club, we had to walk because the trains stopped running at either 12 or 1 (nobody could tell us for sure).  However, we got to take the train home, because they start running again after 4, just in time for everyone to go home. 

I can now officially say that I’ve survived a true night out in Barcelona, if for no other reason than the sun was on its way up as my head hit the pillow.  I had a blast, but I don’t know that it would be a sustainable lifestyle – I think I simply enjoy reasonable sleeping hours too much for this to become a permanent habit (that and I live in Boston, so you’re out by two at the latest every night).  Regardless, our first true night out in Barcelona was a success.

Lesson of the day: One bottle of wine does not a pregame make.

Day 26; To Barcelona!

Today, we’re off to Espana. Unfortunately, due to the, erm – ineptness, of the Italians, we managed to book ourselves a fourteen-hour travel day.  We had hoped to secure an overnight train to cover the distance, but all those seats were long gone by the time we arrived in Monaco. Additionally, we had two choices for our first train – early and late and, of course, late was booked as well. 

We left Nice for Montpellier, France shortly before eight for a five hour train ride with a five hour layover.  The plan was to take some time to explore Montpellier and take in a bit more of France, however, we encountered a small mishap shortly after getting of the train.  When Jill went to pay for lunch, she realized that she no longer had her wallet.  The situation was worsened by the fact that, for the most part, French is a dominant language throughout the country, so, as in America, many people do not know a second language.  She managed to find a railway employee who spoke rudimentary English – enough to get across that she thought she might have left her wallet on the train.  After some time, it was confirmed that this was the case – and that the wallet was bound for Toulouse, France, about seven hours to the north.  Unfortunately, there was nothing else that could be done in Montpellier, mainly due to the fact that the employees refused to attempt to work with Jill because she could not communicate in French. 

Montpellier

We spent our time in Montpellier in a McDonald’s (because they have free wi-fi and as long as you order some fries, the won’t kick you out) attempting to find a way to get her wallet back.  Over this time, we discovered that the French railways English hotline is neither hot nor English and that, when you call said hotline, they’re really only good at telling you they don’t speak very much English and then mysteriously disconnecting.  Needless to say, the situation was disheartening. 

one of the trams in Montpellier


Jill reached out to some of her friends and found one that was in Europe and fluent in French in an attempt to get some help from the railway.  This effort proved, for the most part, as unsuccessful as ours, so we’re hoping for the best, but really not expecting it.  The most depressing part of the situation is that, when she gets back to the states, the first place Jill has to go is the DMV (cue laughter).  Also, she lost her phone in Ireland (we think), so she also has to go to the Verizon store – unless any of you amazing people out there happen to have an extra phone she could use.  Keep in mind though that, if trend holds, you’ll never see it again.

Montpellier

Disheartened and a bit pissed at the whole of France, we set off on our second connection, which quickly connected us with our train to Barcelona.  Using our lessons from the past and planning ahead, we mapped how to get to our hostel from the station, so we effortlessly made our way there.  When we went to check in though, we ran into a bit of a problem.  We didn’t have a reservation – this was interesting because, well, we did.  I checked my email for the reservation and, low and behold, we did have a reservation, but for four days out.  For obvious reasons, this was of little help to us (mainly because we’d be back in America by the end of our reservation).  To make matters worse, the hostel and (as the receptionist let us know) all hostels in the area, were booked full for the night – and it was already 11p.m.  We weren’t quite sure what happened with the booking that our days were so abhorrently wrong, but, there was nothing to be done.  With the day getting increasingly better as it went on (it’s text, so I’ll let you know that was a sarcastic comment), I was plotting on the logistics of taking sleeping shifts in the train station until we could find a hostel the next day.  Luckily, however, that wasn’t necessary, as Jill found a hotel in which we probably wouldn’t get killed that didn’t cost our first born (well, not our first born, but, whatever – you get the idea). 

We graciously thanked the receptionist for the use of their lobby and set off in search of this hotel.  It was only about a block away from the metro station, so it was fairly easy to find.  We checked in and, reassured that this probably wouldn’t be the place of our deaths, got settled.  I spent some time on the (paid) wi-fi updating my blogs and googling things about why France (and Italy) suck (joking, kind of).

We had plans to rage on our first night out in Barcelona, but, as evidenced above, Europe had slightly different plans in mind – so we opted not to push our luck and called it a night.  If it’s any consolation, Barcelona can’t really get any worse, right?

Lesson of the day: There is now validation for my inherent (American) distaste of the French.

Days 24/25; Venizia, Milano, Ventimiglia, Monte Carlo, and Nice

We awoke to a knock from our hosts letting us know that we should get up – they needed to clean the room for the next guests.  On a list of things I needed, this wake up call did not exist. What did exist was a glass of water, Italy’s supply of advil and something disastrously unhealthy.  I got water.  Luckily for us, breakfast was included in our stay, so we had some coffee and plastic wrapped croissants (I was in no position to complain).  Also luckily, Nico and Matilde were nice enough to let us leave our bags in their apartment until our train.

We decided to take the day easy and see the city via the Grand Canal and the boat bus.  Because Venice is a series of islands, there aren’t any roads – if you didn’t know this I apologize for not letting you in on the secret.  Anyway, they have boats as their mass transit that run up and down the canals and around the islands, so we hopped on the one that went past the most noteworthy sites.

It was fitting that we were on a boat bus, because the recurring them of the day was “struggle boat bus.”  This was probably much funnier a joke to us, since we were on a boat and people probably thought I was dying, but hopefully you at least smiled, if not, pretend and lie to me. 

We got off the bus at St. Marco’s Square because we were hungry and needed to procure some souvenirs.  So we walked around the square for a bit and made our way to the Rialto Bridge (and picked up some calzones along the way).  After that, we just meandered home, pretending to know where we were and occasionally checking the map to validate these thoughts.  As luck would have it, the weather was starting to take a turn for the worst and a moderate downpour started just as we were just a minute away.  We didn’t get too wet, but wet enough to let us know that we needed to wait until the rain stopped to head to the train station. 

thank goodness we weren’t staying here (it’s a joke…)

After getting upstairs, we rounded everything up and waited out the rain.  Once it had calmed down, we said our thank-yous and goodbyes and headed toward the train station.  We wrote down some train numbers and times in an effort to, once again, attempt to find a train to Barcelona and, again, we were unsuccessful.  It would appear that, although in Germany, we could have access to any train throughout Europe, the case was just not so in Italy.  Every train was either un-findable, sold old, or was an overnight train from Milan to Barcelona that cost 77 euros and was four nights away.  We called it quits and decided that the best thing to do would be to just talk to someone in France and hope for the best.

With that adventure taking far less time than we expected, we had a mere three hours to wait until our train, so we posted up outside the station and waited.  We traded shifts getting food, drinks and cannolis and, before we knew it, it was time to go. 

Up to this point, I believe that I’ve left out the best details of this adventure.  Because everything with Barcelona was in a solid state of self-implosion, we decided to just book a night in a hostel in Nice, France (which we hadn’t planned on doing originally) and hope for the best in finding a train out of Nice.  Now, the night in the hostel was for tomorrow night.  For tonight, we had a 5:30 train that arrived in Milan a few hours later. From there, we would transfer trains and head to a little station called Ventimiglia, arriving at 1:30.  After this, we had to wait for a 5:45 train that would take us to Monte Carlo Station in the Kingdom on Monaco. 

This is why today’s blog post is for two days – we didn’t really have a bed, so I don’t consider them entirely separate.  Anyway, we boarded our first train, went to Milano, transferred trains and eventually arrived in Ventimiglia.  We weren’t sure of what to expect when we got off the train but we found two things that were positive – the station was enclosed and we were hardly the only souls on this harrowing adventure.  By the time we got there, there were probably thirty or forty other people scattered about the station – some up playing cards, some lying on the tickets desk and some in sleeping bags.  Jill and I opted to pull up a nice piece of floor in a small corridor leading to the trains, laid our towels out, wrapped our bags around ourselves and attempted to get some sleep.  We weren’t deprived of sleep because, as luck would have it, we had an entire compartment to ourselves on the leg of the train from Milan to Ventimiglia.  This was a blessing because we were able to turn off the lights and each lie across three seats and get some sleep. 

Sleep on the tile wasn’t so great, as every twenty or so minutes I had to roll over in an attempt to wake up whatever part of my body I had been lying on.  5:30 came sooner than expected and neither Jill or myself hated the world as much as we were anticipating – besides, we had on the horizon a promise of a day at the beach.

We boarded our short train ride (that was the most annoying part, we were literally a ten minute train ride from the French border and twenty minute ride to Monaco, but no trains ran overnight, so we were stranded in Italy) and set off for Monaco.  If you didn’t know, Monaco is the second smallest country (behind the Vatican) locked within France and the Mediterrian.  It is a kingdom, so it has a king who actually runs the country and is also a tax haven.  We weren’t there to explore the city, however, we were there to go to the beach (cue Nicki Minaj).

We walked around Monaco for a bit and took in the sights, which were AMAZING.  This country was beautiful. And I was so mad I forgot to bring my yacht. Once we were there, we managed to secure a train to Barcelona - in almost no time at all, which makes me wonder very much what it is the Italians were trying to do.  Once we had that squared away (it was like 7:15 now), we left the station and went to the beach, where we spent the rest of the morning and afternoon.  We took in the amazing sights and finally made it to what was surprisingly a free beach.  We staked out a spot with our backpacks and towels and set in for the day.  The water was crystal clear blue - borderline unbelievable.  We just laid on the beach and swam all day long - it was great.

just another day on the yacht

our beach for the day

Side note - Monaco is so obsessed with looking good that they have a jet ski that picks up debris in the ocean.  That’s right - some guy rides a jet ski around and picks up sticks and leaves.

Anyway, once we were both what we believed to be sufficiently sunburned (we were both so hot, we couldn’t really tell), we opted to pack up and head back to the train station so we could check into our hostel in Nice, France.  The train ride, another twenty minutes, was beautiful since it was along the coastline.  Once in France, we made our way to the hostel, which was rated one of Europe’s best - and they weren’t lying.  It was something of a haven - situated on a hill overlooking the sea.  It was beautiful - and we were slightly upset that we were only staying the night.  We were super tired from the beach all day (swimming and the sun takes it out of you!), so we decided just to chill in our mecca and relax - especially considering that we hadn’t been in beds in over a day.

the view from the hostel

Although it was a gauntlet of many places in a short amount of time, I think that we made the best of it (and didn’t die).  For now, we’re finally off to Barcelona to take in some Spanish fun!

Lesson of the day: Don’t try to book your trains in Italy. Waste of time. Sorry, Italians.

Day 23; From Firenze to Venezia

After a month, I maintain my abhorrence of morning trains.  Though, because we have a very limited time in Italy, they’re something of a necessity.  I’ll tolerate them, but I still don’t like them. Jill and I managed to wake ourselves up with not enough time for breakfast (surprise!) and made our way to the train station in an effort to not find ourselves stranded in Firenze.   We did leave ourselves enough time to grab some “American Breakfast” from the train station McDonald’s.  In Italy, they’re apparently big on their baked goods and what not and not so big on egg sandwiches and the like – but at McDonald’s they have the aforementioned “American Breakfast.”  Egg-McMuffins, hashbrowns, essentially the normal Mickey-D’s breakfast, but branded as American (most likely in jest of our obesity).  Finding this was fitting, because not fifteen minutes prior on our walk, I was whining to Jill about my only needs for the day being an egg sandwich and a hashbrown. She informed me that those were not Italian delicacies and that I should not be an elitist American – well, I showed her.

Breakfast rant aside, we caught our train and were off to Venezia!  The train ride was only a few hours and direct, so relatively painless.  We arrived in Venice around 10:30 and made our way to the apartment in which we were staying.  Because Venice is so small, hostels on the actual island are few and expensive, so we utilized AirBnB to find a bed to sleep on for the night.  We found a place that looked great, with nice hosts and a good location, but that I had inadvertently forgotten to map the night before.  If you’ve ever seen the movie Labyrinth, you’ve seen Venice (though we couldn’t find David Bowie). I had a screen shot of the place on google maps where the apartment was supposed to be, but we could not for the life of us decipher exactly where on the real map that this location was.  We wandered in what we hoped was the right location in search of either a landmark or wi-fi.  We found the later, which I used to actually map the location and, after heading in the wrong direction, returning to the wi-fi and starting over, we managed to find the apartment – kind of.  The address was 4228 (on a road near a canal, neither of which bore the names the map said they did), but consisted of 8 units, A-H.  As luck (or creepiness) have it, some old man pushing a stroller that didn’t speak a lick of English asked us (I think) if we needed any help.  I showed him the map and the names of the people we were looking for and, after repeating the question, “Quattro piano” (fourth floor in Italian) eight or nine times, he pointed us to the correct unit and we made our way up.

the view from our room

I’ll take this moment to discuss two things.  The first is that, as was the case in Florence, the fourth floor is actually the fifth, as the ground level is zero and the first up is one, so we were actually on the fifth floor.  The second is that, after meeting our hosts, we discovered that they do not know this man.  He lives in the building across the street and they have never met him – we didn’t ask any further questions but were thoroughly creeped out.

Anyway, we met our hosts, Nico and Matilde, who were extremely welcoming and nice.  Nico, whose English was slightly better than Matilde’s showed us around the apartment and also pointed out some places to visit on our map.  He also advised us that the best way to experience Venice was to go out and get lost – a feat in which we excelled. 

Once we were “checked in,” we decided to hit up the train station first in an attempt to sort out or travels to Barcelona.  This proved fruitless as the attendant informed us that she could not access the booking system unless we had specific train numbers (untrue) and that we needed to get a timetable from customer service. She was a very nice woman, but not very good at her job, as customer service did not have any time tables, and further informed us that they could not help in the least as they had no access to the Spanish train system (again, untrue). Regardless of what we knew to be true, we decided it wasn’t worth an argument, since they seemed quite certain of themselves, and set out to explore the city instead.

Venice is a beautiful city.  I don’t understand why it was settled or how it is organized or anything except for the fact that it’s beautiful.   Using Nico’s suggested points, we attempted to wander the city and a somewhat strategic manner and, although we were never exactly sure where we were, we didn’t do to bad.  As a matter of slight clarification here, since I failed in getting us to the apartment, I gave up hope in navigating the city, so whenever I say “we” about a time in Venice, please assume that Jill was directing and I was complacent with her direction.  Anyway, we visited iconic places such as St. Marco’s Square and the Rialto Bridge – both of which were packed with tourists, but beautiful nonetheless.  The Rialto Bridge crosses the Grand Canal and is packed with shops and merchants – many selling Murano glass, which is hand blown on an island not far from Venice.  St. Marco’s Square is filled with pigeons (sky rats) that will sit on your arm if you have bread and some beautiful views as well.  We also wandered to Il Redentore Church, where a floating bridge was constructed for the festival that we happened to be staying in Venice for.

view from the Rialto

other side of the bridge

That night, the city would open the bridge – from 7pm on Saturday until 10pm the next day, for easy passage from the main island to Guidecca.  This celebration occurs in honor of the ending of the Plague in Venice.  The bridge is constructed and opened and people flood the city, barbequing in the streets, setting up tables outside and drinking.  Most of all, everyone awaits the firework show.  We weren’t aware of the 7pm opening, so when we got there at 5, we were slightly let down that we could not pass.  However, since the bridge would be open all night and the fireworks weren’t for another six hours, we opted to head back to the apartment, try to figure out the unsolvable train problem and procure some wine for the evening. 

St. Marco Square

St. Marco Square

When we got back to the apartment, we decided that we couldn’t actually do anything about the train – we would either book one the next afternoon, book one when we were actually in France or figure out another way there that we didn’t have the energy to brainstorm just yet.  As we were there, Nico and Matlide invited us to have some wine and bread with their friends, so being polite guests, we obliged.  We sat for a while talking about our European adventures, there adventures and how American’s stereotype Italians in movies.  After some time, Jill and I decided that we should get ourselves ready for the evening – so we got some suggestions from Nico on a good place to find wine and set out.

Gondola Party!

Locks put on the bridge outside Accedemia to symbolize lasting love

another lock shot

There is a large square just a few minutes from the apartment and when we came upon it, we were quite surprised.  Though it had been mostly empty just a few hours ago, it was filled with people – mostly drunk.  We passed one kid who was covered in eggs and who probably wasn’t going to be able to stand much longer.  At this point, we pretty much figured it was going to be a good night.  We set of in search of the bottles of wine that Nico had told us about and, after some intense wandering, found them – 5 euro for a 1.5L bottle of house wine that was delicious because we were in Italy. 

Nico also suggested that we head across the floating bridge for the best views of the fireworks, so we did as he recommended and made our way with the droves of people across the bridge.  We looked around for a bit, attempting to find a decent spot to watch and settled on a patch of sidewalk near the waters edge and big enough for us to have some personal space. 

And that was, more or less, our experience in Venice.  The fireworks were nothing short of amazing – and it made us slightly nostalgic about missing the 4th back home.  After the show, we denied requests to come to some party on another island (my first thoughts were that this was the first seen of a Taken sequel) and wandered our way back to the apartment.  I’m not quite sure how we made it, but that is mostly due to my lack of effort to discover how Venice is laid out.  Seriously, go look at a map and try to imagine navigating it.  Impossible. 

Lesson of the day: If you’re going to drink 1.5L of wine, eat dinner. In addition to that, just don’t drink 1.5L of wine.

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