It’s been a while, time for an update. Should have written these next few posts months ago…but life sometimes gets too crazy! So, here we go:
My parents were nice enough to come visit me in Belgium. My dad may have needed some (a lot) of convincing to do the trip, but I think he finally decided to come because I told him I wasn’t heading home any time soon (kind of blackmail, I guess?).
I met up with my parents at our quaint hotel in Paris. I was very proud of them for following my instructions well and getting there via the excellent metro system Paris has put in place. They arrived before me (I was taking the train from Belgium) and went to get some breakfast, so when I got there I waited for them to get back.
This was certainly no Best Western or Hilton, but for the price and location I think it was great. It was very typical European, and by that I mean there was a tall, winding staircase to get to each floor and rooms with big windows that opened onto a view of the courtyard on one side, and a view of the busy street on the other. When you were on the stairs halfway to the floor above, you could take a bathroom break because there was a toilet on every half level to…optimize the space? I don’t really know. Maybe not all rooms included a toilet. I think my dad would have preferred a more typical Americanized hotel room, but I also think he appreciated the charm.
We only had that day to explore grand Paris because the next day we were moving onto Belgium. So in a nutshell- we bought some packs of train tickets and went as far as we could with them. My mom has some issues with walking at the moment so she couldn’t walk to far, but the train took us most places easily.
This is going to be a long story short because it was a few months ago at this point and I don’t remember everything we did. We started the day by visiting the grand shopping centre, Galeries Lafayette. It’s fun to just walk around and look at all the fancy stuff most people can never afford, as well as the cool trinkets that you want but would never use. At the top you get a great view of Paris with some of it’s greatest monuments in the distance, including the Eiffel tower, and you get the best view of the Opera house. It’s one of the best places to get a view of Paris from above for free. You can have a drink or meal there if you want as well, but it is pricy!
From then on, we walked through some of the parks (which are nicer in the spring, I will admit), saw some golden statues, a few carrousels, and admired some of the grand buildings from the outside. It was too late for us to get tickets to most things for that day and the lines were an hour or two long, so things like Notre Dame, the Louvre, and the Eiffel tower we appreciated from outside.
We ended the day with the best view of Paris from the Tour Montparnasse. As the sun went down, we enjoyed the city light up and the Eiffel tower sparkle on the hour. It was a good finish to our first day.
The next day we got up and had some typical butter croissants (drooling as I mention them). We went to one of the markets that happened to be going on that day and browsed through all of the fresh produce, clothes, and random knickknacks. It was pretty normal for me at that point because I’ve been to them all over Europe, but my parents really enjoyed it because it’s something that it only available in the two months of summers around Vancouver, and only in a few locations.
Afterwards, it was time to get to Belgium. We grabbed our bags and took the metro to the train station. I bought the sale seats for 15 euros each and realized quickly I probably should have went for the 25 euro ones (we were seated in fold down seats for 2.5 hours, but eventually found better seats and made it work). We arrived in Brussels, caught the train to Ghent, and met up with Harry and his dad. We ditched the luggage in the car and walked around the cobbly city of Ghent a bit. It was around dinnertime, so we went for a lovely dinner together with my parent’s, Harry, and his parents. For the first time our parents were meeting face-to-face (ooOOoOoOooOoooo) and we had a typical Belgian meal of mussels and fries. It was delish (I had a cheat day on my vegetarianism for this).
The next day Harry and I took my parents to Bruges. They loved the medieval, fairy-tale like village (the city centre) and my dad and I did some imagining about which tower it was that the guy from In Bruges fell from. I think my dad particularly enjoyed the medieval themes in Belgium, so I guess he will have to come back again to visit.
Already the next day we were off again. Harry’s dad was nice enough to drive us to the airport, where we departed for the authentic Italian city of Naples. We landed and went to our first AirBnb not too far from the centre. It was a beautifully renovated place in an old building and was easy to get to and from.
We saw some lovely plazas, ate some great margarita pizza, and took in the sometimes-chaotic lifestyle of the Napoletano people. It is a city that is full of passion, fresh tomatoes, and creative life hacks. For example, some old lady two or three floors up a building was yelling aggressively out her window at the veggie vendors down below. She put some cash in a basket that she lowered to them, they put in some tomatoes, and she pulled them back up. That would never happen in Canada.
We did a tour through a castle on the water as well as through the museum of Archaeology. Both were very interesting and we enjoyed looking at statues, bones, old tools, and learning general history of what went down many years ago.
We spent a couple days there and then rented a car and started our road trip. Our first stop was Herculaneum, a similar site to Pompeii but much smaller. We learned a lot of really interesting facts and could make out certain architectural areas and how they used to live. We discovered how the first toilets were, some original plumbing, how they priced things (from writing still visible on the wall), and how their stores were laid out. The volcano Vesuvius was visible in the background, the one who ended this small civilisation in an instant.
We continued on to the Amalfi coast. This was the part where we began to regret renting a car a bit because the traffic is just INSANE. First of all, there is a lot of traffic, second, people drive like madmen, and third, parking is non-existent, super expensive, or miles away. I highly, highly, highly do not recommend driving here if you can take a bus, which is an easy and convenient alternative.
On that note, after we stopped in a few places along the way, such as Sorrento, we got to our hotel, which the parking situation was a nightmare for. Our car was parked a 15 minutes drive away and it wasn’t us who took it there. We had to call some local guy who didn’t speak English and never picked up his phone if we ever wanted our car. This was set up by the hotel. After waiting over an hour on the side of the highway to get our car returned the next day, we refused to give it back to this crazy Italian (who was another madman driver) and pay him 12 euros per day. The price was right, but the situation wasn’t worth it.
Amalfi itself is a very cute little coastal town. If you go through the little alleyways, you’re out of the tourist centre in a quick moment and finding yourself chatting with some of the locals who speak a bit of English. We had one of the best meals I have ever had in one of the off-the-beaten-track restaurants (still touristy, but less); it was fresh made pasta with some garlic zucchini sauce that I will never forget. This was the best meal of the whole trip for me, on par with some pizza I had in Como.
I did a photo shoot with a cute couple around Amalfi (smart people who took the bus there) and we got to do some location hunting along the way, and I really have to stress that you should get away from the centre if you ever visit! It is such a touristy place, but those random alleyways and staircases lead you to some pretty cool spots.
Rome was next. We drove the rest of the Amalfi coast that we hadn’t seen, passed Vesuvius, and got to our AirBnb outside of the city centre. Rome is another place with great metro lines, so we made sure we had a place we could park the car for free and take the metro line into the crazy city. It’s insanely touristy, but worth a visit outside of the summer I would say.
From the Colosseum to Trevi fountain, we saw the touristy stuff and enjoyed delicious pastas, caprese salads, or paninis for lunches.
Of course we had to visit the country of Vatican City to see the grand religious buildings. Were they ever grand. Massive paintings on the ceilings and walls, various statues, St. Peter’s Basilica, it’s all way over the top with decoration and thought. The amount of money back in the day that would have been needed to create this is just unthinkable. It’s one of those things that was definitely wrong to build because the money came from people who needed it for basics like food and clothing, but now we have this massive spectacle to drop our jaws at with an insane history. So- it is what it is, might as well go see it.
Our next destination was beautiful Tuscany. We arrived to our AirBnb and it was nothing like the photos and so we ended up paying for an upgrade to what was in the photos (would not recommend this place only because of that), but the upgrade was a lovely place. We looked over the rolling hills of vineyards and had lovely sunsets by the pool. We stayed in a small town just outside of Montepulciano, which is definitely worth a visit. It is situated near to many tiny, hilltop villages that are sometimes enclosed by stonewalls and overlook the valleys below. We ended up visiting five or six of them, including Montepulciano itself, and they were all super cute and nice to spend 30 minutes to an hour just walking around, maybe getting a coffee or gelato, and enjoying the Tuscan sun. We even took a day to check out Siena, which is a bit touristy but still nice.
I did a photo shoot there as well and it couldn’t have been better weather. Sunset was just epic and the couple was super nice. They were an hour late so we ran through Montepulciano as quickly as we could and then went to our AirBnb property for the rest of the shoot. I have to say- I love working in Italy!
After that we drove to an area south of Florence for our next AirBnb. It was a really cute place, but too many mosquitos for me! Better than staying in Florence though, that city is way too touristy and has a lot of traffic. It’s cool to see some of the sights, but really there are just too many people year-round.
We were near the end of our trip when we went to Genoa, which was where Harry and I would take off to the Dolomites and my parents would make their way back home. So we had a last dinner and breakfast together and parted ways for now.
Harry and I then took a train to the tiny town of Cles, where our Couchsurfing host (Silvano) picked us up and brought us to Cloz, an even smaller town near the foothills of the Dolomites. There he made us a lovely Italian dinner and gave us great advice for hiking through the Dolomites.
The next day he dropped us off near a hiking trail where we started to head up the mountains. It reminded me a bit of home because there were many evergreen trees and the smell of moss was often quite strong. Close to the top it was rocky and there became less vegetation, as usual. It was nice to see some natural spring water pipes coming straight out of the mountain, great places to refill our water bottles.
The weather started to turn a bit dark and rainy, so we turned around and headed down. At the bottom we ended up in a cute town, similar to any other mountain town, and got some hot chocolate to warm up.
The next day, Silvano’s good friend Vanessa took us to Andalo, a slightly touristy town a bit similar to Whistler (much less touristy). She worked at a local ice rink there so it was very convenient. We walked around the city and did a small hike to a deep green lake. The weather wasn’t the greatest so we didn’t get the nicest colours, but it was still nice to be in nature.
That evening Vanessa invited us for dinner with and her family, who, for the most part, didn’t speak a word of English. We still had a lot of fun and ate some amazing, home cooked, Italian food.
Our final day was spent doing a very small hike to another lake, this one with some beautiful, turquoise water. We enjoyed the last little bit of “Canadianness” we could get and then spent that night getting some great pizza with Silvano, Vanessa, and their cycling team.
We were then off to Cinque Terre, a place I had been before with my lovely friend Mia and her family a couple years back. This time we were going to visit Harry’s parents. We stayed in a place with a beautiful view of Riva Levante below, the costal city closest to where our hotel was.
With Harry’s parents we saw some places that I hadn’t seen last time, some small villages I really can’t remember the names of. Of course, we also checked out all five of the villages of Cinque Terre, and they were spectacular as always. Last time I went in March, and I gotta say, I prefer it then when there are less tourists! Regardless, their colourful beauty still amazes the eye.
Two more stops left. First was Como, where we visited a Belgian friend of Harry’s who was living there with his girlfriend. We spent the first night watching a game of European cup football, Belgium vs France, and I think we all know who won that round. The next day we spent walking around Como and visiting a few of the ferry stops around the lake. In Como itself, we had the BEST pizza I have ever had in my entire life. Harry and I loved it so much we got a second one the next day even. I don’t know how they made their pizza taste so much fresher than any other Italian restaurant, but it was just top notch, way above any other pizza I’ve ever had.
We spent the evening with our friends, Jan (“yawn”) and Marijan (“mary-yawn”), in a place only locals knew about. It was right on the lake but way out of the tourist centre. There the boys went for a swim while Marijan and I enjoyed the setting sun.
Harry and I took a 5 AM bus to Venice, arrived to our hostel a few hours later (the one time we didn’t have a CS host!), and crashed a bit before going out to do anything. We didn’t actually make it into Venice until the next day, and then we spent the whole day walking around the romantic city. Gotta say, this is another city better seen out-of-season because there were too many tourists. In Venice you can escape them a bit by walking down random streets and getting lost, and that’s the best way to do it.
Finally it was time to go home. We hopped on a bus to the airport, got on our Ryanair flight, and finally had some comfort of staying in one place for a while. That’s one thing you miss when you travel too much- stability. Constantly living out of your backpack and not knowing what you’re doing and sometimes where you’re going the next day is mentally exhausting. We were more than ready to stay put for a long time!
Anyway, stay tuned, I should be uploading a lot of posts over the next few days!