Québec City: A Photo Journal

We slipped away to Quebec City to celebrate our anniversary. I think of Canada and Canadians as cousins and neighbors, so I was surprised with how completely French Quebec is. Everything felt very foreign and we, very lost. But what’s the fun of travel and adventures if you don’t feel a little lost and foreign every now and then?

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We’re learning that however long a road trip should take, it will most certainly take longer with a toddler. Sometimes you have to pull the car over and let wild things be wild. After a good long run through the grass and a proper sward fight with sticks, our wild one was ready to complete his first trip in another country.

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We arrived in the evening and spent an hour getting the room set up for Roman to sleep in a new place without burning anything down ;] I sat in the living room watching Darren on the baby monitor lying on the floor on a mattress with Roman tucked into him falling asleep. It had been a long day driving 10 hours from home. I was feeling a bit sorry for myself, having spent our anniversary with a rowdy toddler in the backseat screaming off and on the entire trip.

And then I watched my husband being the amazing father that he is; watched him snuggle our son close in his arms until he felt safe enough to fall asleep in a new place. And I realized that this is what marriage and parenting are all about—about road trips made longer and louder by little ones but more magical and memorable because of them too. About learning to love each other and find ways to celebrate and seek adventure even when it might be easier to just stay home. I lucked out on the boys in my life, no doubt about it.

I’m usually well prepared for our trips but Quebec surprised me at every turn.  It was cold, much colder than I ever imagined a place could be in July. I wore my one long-sleeved shirt every day and drank hot coffee as much for the comfort of drinking it as having the hot cup to warm my hands.

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Our first day in the city, we pushed Roman in his stroller, not realizing that Quebec is basically all uphill and every shop entrance has steps up into it…we got a good workout and Roman got a sweet ride :] The next day we smartened up and hauled Roman around in a backpack carrier instead—still a workout but a little more manageable on hilly cobblestone streets :]

The giant toy moose, or “foof”, travels with us everywhere :]

I love walking cities and feeling the culture of the people living and playing out before me in the sound of foreign language and the smell of food and coffee and cigarette smoke a little different from our own. Quebec was full of inspiration in the architecture and the way small, simple spaces were made even more beautiful by plants, flower boxes, and bright pops of color.

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We walked around eating crepes and getting lost on streets that seemed to wind endlessly one into the other.

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donutAnd of course no trip to Canada is complete without about 37 trips to Tim Hortons :] We ended each day back at the apartment with a pastry and a hot cup of coffee—which is quite hard to order when you don’t speak French; we were surprised every day with what kind of coffee we ended up with but it was always good :] It was a fun trip and a sweet little getaway with my two favorite boys ❤

NYC in the Fall

DSC_0918When I was growing up in Missouri I always insisted I would move New York City when I left home. Then I married Darren and moved to Massachusetts instead. We had been married for about six months when I finally saw NY for the first time by convincing Darren that we absolutely must go stand in Time Square on New Year’s to watch the ball drop at midnight.

We cooked up a plan to get out of work and took off to see this place I’d been dreaming of. I remember walking around with my head tilted back the whole time trying to take in all the buildings towering over me. It was snowing and we walked all over the place that cold December day trying to see as much of the city as we could.

DSC_0809{The New York skyline, September 2013}

We saw the place where the Twin Towers had been; at that time it was still just a big hole in the ground and the worst feeling washed over me when I saw it. I have been to NYC several times since then and now a memorial fountain sits where the hole once was. A new tower is being built and I have pictures of it at several different stages of construction throughout the years. The fountain and building are beautiful but I still get the same awful feeling every time I walk by.

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We spent a good part of that first day going through a Jewish Holocaust museum; I don’t know why but we were drawn to it and we stayed there until the building closed and we had to leave. When we walked outside the sun was setting over the Hudson and my first glimpse of the Statue of Liberty was lit by a backdrop of pink and orange. It was a strange contradiction, walking out of a museum that reminded us of how wretched humans can be to each other and immediately seeing the Statue of Liberty standing there reminding us of the freedom and hope we have in this country. And then the hole where the Towers stood reminding us that even though we are free, we are not invincible.

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After all that, we made our way to Time’s Square to bring in the New Year. It was bitterly cold that night…the coldest I’ve ever been actually. And truth be told, we gave up and went back to our hotel room before midnight and watched the ball drop on TV just like any other year. Still though, I will never forget that first trip to NYC.

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My brother and his family were here for the last two weeks visiting. We took them all over New England and of course to NYC. My 5 year old nephew talked endlessly about riding the boat {the ferry to the Statue of Liberty} and the underground train {the subway}. Every day he wanted to know if today was the day when we were going to NYC and after everything we did over those two weeks, he still says NY was his favorite.

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Here he is on the train…he kept his face pressed to the glass throughout the entire ride even though we were going through dark tunnels and couldn’t see a thing :]

DSC_0752I think my very southern brother was the only one on the train wearing cowboy boots ;]

DSC_0805Here’s Gabe holding onto uncle Darren on the ferry ride to the statue.

DSC_0766And here I am…getting blinded by the sun :]

DSC_0655I love seeing the world through a child’s eyes. Kids are so excited about everything and they notice and delight in things grownups push past and overlook.

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DSC_0838We watched street entertainers and got lunch from an outdoor vendor…which by the way, served the best lamb gyro ever.

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We rested our feet in Central Park before taking off to see Time’s Square all lit up in the dark.

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NYC is its own wild place. It’s nothing like the rest of America and feels like a strange little cultural bubble that represents so many different aspects of American culture as a whole. I love it and I hate it and there’s no other way around it.

“Don’t you love New York in the fall? It makes me want to buy school supplies. I would send you a bouquet of newly-sharpened pencils if I knew your name and address.” You’ve Got Mail

Memories of Mexico

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I spent a couple different weeks in Mexico when I was a teenager. I was going through a box of photos the other day and came across some of the pictures taken while I was there. Back then I took all my pictures with one of those disposable cameras with film. I was crazy about cameras and pictures and I remember driving my mom crazy when I had film to develop. I would ask her every day if I could take it to the store to develop and then I would ask her every.single.day. if the pictures were ready to pick up. She’s a profoundly patient woman :]

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These first two pictures were taken when I was 16. Though the quality is not very good, these photos bring back a world of memories. Everything from how sweet these kids were—always on our heels wanting to play and have their picture taken, to the way the air smelled up in the humid mountains of Mexico. I remember the meal a group of women made over an open fire in a kitchen with a dirt floor…I was afraid to eat it at first but it tasted so fresh and good. I remember sleeping on a cot on the ground and being woken up by a very loud rooster every morning.

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The rest of these pictures were taken in a different part of Mexico when I was 18. Again, the kids were the best part of the trip. Darren pointed out to me that all these kids would be in their late teens or early twenties by now, older than I was when I took these…amazing.

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Exploring the streets with my best friend :]

I’m so glad we have photos to capture the present and take us back to the past. I had all but forgotten about these trips and now they are alive in my heart again.

London, England

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Our very last stop in Europe was London. We were excited. Darren had been to London before and wanted to show me around. They speak English {obviously} so we figured it would be easier to know what was going on. We had navigated our way all over Italy by train so we figured England would be easy.

And yet…the minute we walked through customs and stepped into England, we were lost and confused. Let me just say that England English is not always very much like American English and the difference in our accents made understanding each other downright comical sometimes. We still had lots of fun though.

We had to blitz London because we were only there with a few hours between flights so we decided to see all the big sites in central London and took off on the train for Big Ben.

The train ended up being my favorite part because of the people watching. London was so dramatically different from Italy, especially on the trains. Italy was loud and hot and busting at the seams. London was cool and rainy and so, so quiet. Everyone was dressed for work and man did they look sharp. They all wore black like they knew something I didn’t and every one of them looked like James Bond with an umbrella. No kidding. Like James Bond with ear buds and a book. It was impressive.

I felt so underdressed and I’m pretty sure I was the only person in all of England wearing flip-flops that day in the cold rain. People even had coats on. Coats! In June! But I didn’t mind the cold or the rain because it gave me an excuse to get a proper hot English tea and I just don’t think I could have come home satisfied otherwise.

The people at the tea place laughed at me because {a} I probably sounded like a hick {b} I was wearing flip-flops {c} I didn’t know the answer to any of their many questions about what kind of tea I wanted. What do you mean what kind of tea do I want? I want the kind you put in hot water. So they pointed to an elaborate collection of tea varieties and I’m like, errr, Earl Grey, yep that sounds familiar. {d} There was a lot of confusion about how to put milk in my tea…I know that doesn’t sound complicated, but seriously {e} The tea bag went on the fritz and all the loose leaf stuff started getting in the water and I was panicking and Darren was laughing.

It was exhausting.

But yummy :]

Anywayyyyyyy….here’s what we saw.

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London bridges falling down…nah, just kidding, they didn’t fall down.

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Parliament

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Westminster Abbey…which I keep wanting to call Downton Abbey…but it’s not.

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The London Eye

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The Tower of London and some fancy pants building in the background

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Look at the set up for tea in our hotel room! I pocketed all the tea bags as a souvenir and Darren was like, did you steal all of that from the hotel room? And I was like, yes…no…yes…leave me alone, it’s mine.

And that kids, was London and the completion of our little European adventure. Now I want to go back…forever…and live under a lemon tree in Italy…but Darren says I can’t…men, marriage…sigh.

If you missed any of the earlier posts in this series about Europe, you can still read them here:

Barcelona, Spain

Marseilles, France

Florence & Pisa

Rome, Italy

Pompeii & the Amalfi Coast

Taormina, Sicily

Dubrovnik, Croatia {Former Yugoslavia}

Venice, Italy

Venice, Italy

Venice is magic.

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We spent our last two days in Italy winding through these enchanting streets and then we were on our way home with one last stop in London along the way.

Thanks for reading along :]

If you missed any of the earlier posts in this series about Europe, you can still read them here:

Barcelona, Spain

Marseilles, France

Florence & Pisa

Rome, Italy

Pompeii & the Amalfi Coast

Taormina, Sicily

Dubrovnik, Croatia {Former Yugoslavia}

Dubrovnik, Croatia {Former Yugoslavia}

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Croatia was the only place we visited outside of the European Union so it was kind of exciting and fun to go somewhere off the beaten track. We started the day early exploring the old part of Dubrovnik. The old city is made of slick, glossy stone…almost marble like. I almost died 10,000 times because walking is hard for me in general but walking on slick, glossy stone is just a death trap for someone with my lack of coordination.

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The old city feels very medieval and I heard some parts of the “Game of Thrones” were even filmed right in Dubrovnik. The old city is small and compact so we walked around the whole thing very quickly.

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We met lots of friendly little streets cats who stopped and said hello

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And then we settled in for a taste of Croatian coffee

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And it tasted quite nice mingled with the smell of cigarette smoke swirling all around.

After that we walked through a little outdoor market where people were buying and selling food and flowers.

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And then we walked along the alleyways up out of the main section and into the little streets where people live. It was very quiet and peaceful and achingly beautiful too. Clothes hung on lines drying in the warm sunlight and flowering trees added bursts of color to the otherwise white stone city.

We decided to walk outside of the old part into the busy modern streets full of people and businesses. The old city is just as pretty from the outside as it is from the inside.

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Croatia fought a bloody battle not long ago to gain independence from Yugoslavia. Many of the houses and building were badly damaged during the war and we heard that all the buildings that needed a new roof after the war got an orange tile roof to remind them of what they have been through. So just look at all the buildings with orange tile roofs and think about how much damage there must have been before the roofs were replaced.

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We noticed a beautiful little beach within walking distance so we decided to run back to our room and change into our swimsuits so we could jump in.

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The water was crystal clear and *freezing* cold—I shrieked when I got in and decided to spend the rest of the day on the warm sand instead of in the water. There was tons and tons of sea glass on the beach and I spent the whole afternoon running my hands through the sand collecting the smooth, colorful pieces.

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Adriatic sea glass

After we were good and toasty from the beach we decided to go back to the old city and cool off with some gelato. I know the Italians are supposed to be famous for gelato and we did try it several times in different parts of Italy but the gelato in Croatia was my favorite. We got some that was the flavor of green tea with big slices of fresh lemon all over it….it was so, so yummy and refreshing.

After that we were on our way to our final destination in Italy—Venice.

If you missed any of the earlier posts in this series about Europe, you can still read them here:

Barcelona, Spain

Marseilles, France

Florence & Pisa

Rome, Italy

Pompeii & the Amalfi Coast

Taormina, Sicily

Taormina, Sicily

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Once in Sicily, we rode the train from Messina to Taormina. The ride in was absolutely beautiful as the train snaked along right beside the Mediterranean. Just so you know, I didn’t do any editing to these photos—the colors you’re seeing are the colors I saw as the brilliant cobalt sky seemed to melt right into the sapphire waves.

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Once off the train, we waited for a bus to take us from the station into town. It was standing room only on the bus again but we didn’t care; we were too busy having our minds blown by all the colors and textures of this extraordinary place.

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That’s Mount Etna smoking in the far background—an active volcano!

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 My travel buddy

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We found a pizza place for lunch and I just think you need to know that Sicilians put potato on their pizza…which is just about the best thing that’s ever happened to me. My two favorite things—potato and pizza transformed into one thing—potato pizza…oh my gosh it made me ridiculously happy. I would show you a picture but I ate too fast for such things.

We were sort of lost by the time we made it to the pizza place but the man working there was very friendly and helpful and got us heading back in the right direction…which just so happened to be the opposite direction…and then we were on our way to the Greek amphitheater.

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View from the ruins of the Greek amphitheater.

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Those waves, those gorgeous blue waves. They kept speaking to us and since it was our last day on the Mediterranean side of Italy, we finally decided we absolutely had to get in the water.

We found a store and bought some swimwear and then asked around until we found a bus to take us back down to the train station. From there we took off on foot until we found a way down to the water. The beach was rocky and painful to walk on so we hurried into the waves and found out they were even more painful—so, so cold….like ice water. We stayed in long enough to get some pictures and say we had been in the Mediterranean and then we limped cold and wet back across the rocks…but we had a really good time and I collected lots of pretty rocks from the beach to take back home with me. After that, we had to hurry back to the station so we wouldn’t miss the train.

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Once we got back to Messina, we found a shop and tried some scrumptious cannoli. We both already love cannoli and always get some at our favorite Italian pastry shop when we’re in Boston. But Sicily is the birthplace of cannoli so it didn’t seem right to leave without trying some…good choice, Kari Ann, good choice…it was so yummy, and flaky, and creamy, and yummy…and now I want to go back and get some more.

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After Sicily we took one day off from Italy and went to Dubrovnik, Croatia {Former Yugoslavia}…I’ll tell you all about it in a day or two.

If you missed any of the earlier posts in this series about Europe, you can still read them here:

Barcelona, Spain

Marseilles, France

Florence & Pisa

Rome, Italy

Pompeii & the Amalfi Coast

Pompeii & the Amalfi Coast

After just one perfectly beautiful day in Rome we were on our way to Naples. When our Rome tour guide found out Naples was our next stop, he told us even Italians are scared to visit there and tourists will be pickpocketed to the bone…so that was super encouraging. Admittedly, Naples was the sketchiest place we went but from everything we had been told we were half expecting to be mobbed by savages—and it wasn’t quite that bad :]

People kept warning us about pick pockets everywhere we went and I’m sure it can be a problem but we found the people in each and every city to be kind and helpful. Being in a foreign place where you don’t know the language or where anything is or how things are done can make you feel very vulnerable and finding that people are willing to stop and help you find what you’re looking for was one of the best parts of the trip.

There is a lot of immigration here on the east coast where I live and the cities around us (like Boston and New York) are major cultural melting pots. I never thought too much about what it’s like for people moving here and trying to find their way around but I hope I will be more sensitive and helpful now that I know what it’s like to be in a foreign place myself.

The first thing we wanted to see in Naples was the Amalfi Coast so we took off on foot to find the train. We walked what felt like a really long way trying to find the station and were starting to think we were lost right before we found it. The attendant at the station was actually really friendly and helpful (unlike the other train stations) and we were quickly on our way to Sorrento where we could get a bus up the coast.

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I loved riding the trains around Italy because it allowed us to see all the little places in between the big cities and we got to immerse ourselves in the culture for a few minutes. There were lots of kids and teenagers on the trains dressed in beach clothes. They were so different from American young people. Here on the trains young (and old) people put in ear buds and stare at the book in our lap so we don’t have to talk to people.  Most Americans also have a pretty large “my space” zone meaning we don’t like people standing too close or touching us. People in Italy seemed to touch each other a lot. If anyone touches me they can just stand back and wait for the popo because I’ll be screaming for my life :] Ok, it’s not quite that bad.

In Italy though, the young people came on and the train was booming with noise. They talked (loudly). They sang (louder). They sat on each other’s laps and clapped to the songs they were shouting. I stared at them in amazement :] I loved them though—they were so full of life and wildly connected to everything going on around them. They didn’t close out the world with ear buds and “personal space”—they just let the world come gushing in and it was really beautiful to watch them having such a good time.

The transformation in the landscape from Naples to Sorrento was incredible. We went from a big black and gray city to a the lush and colorful countryside that felt almost tropical. We rode by all sorts of little towns built right into the sides of the mountain and zipped by pretty little stucco houses and bright lemon groves.

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In Sorrento we bought our bus tickets then ran in a little café for another sweet and tangy cappuccino. We asked for a to-go coffee so the barista put it in a plastic cup with tinfoil on top—I guess Italians don’t really get coffee to go like Americans do ;]

There was a very long line for the bus so we tucked ourselves under an umbrella to get out of the sun and waited our turn. The bus was supposed to come every 15 minutes but it took at least 30. By the time we got to the front of the line, the bus was packed full with standing room only so we had to decide if we wanted to wait another 30 minutes or however long it took for the next bus or just get on and stand in the aisle. We didn’t want to waste time so we decided to stand.

We figured people would get off at some of the stops along the way and we would eventually get a seat but instead more and more people kept getting on at each stop. It didn’t matter that there wasn’t any more room, people were going to get on no matter what.

We wound up, up, up the mountain around sharp bends that I never imagined a bus could make. We kept stopping and adding more people and working our way higher and higher up the mountain. And then we popped up around a bend and I found out exactly why everyone says you must see the Amalfi coast.

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It is so, so beautiful. None of the pictures I took do it justice because they were taken out of the window of a moving bus. That line running along the side of the mountain is part of the road we had just driven. Our path snaked right along the side of the mountain and sometimes cut right through the mountain by way of tunnel. When I looked out the bus window all I could see below us was water…I felt like I was on a roller coaster hanging off the edge of a cliff. Sometimes I was pretty sure the bus was going to roll off the mountain but it didn’t matter because I’ve never seen anything more beautiful in my life.

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That zig zaggy thing is part of the road we were on.

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I couldn’t believe all the color—from the crisp, clear blue sky to the turquoise and sapphire water. The pink, orange, and purple flowers hanging off of everything and the bright yellow lemon groves dotted between the cypress trees. It was stunning. The Amalfi Coast is one of those places that’s hard to share because you really just have to see it with your own eyes to understand what it looks like.

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Because we were standing in the aisle holding on for dear life, I didn’t really take many pictures on the way up…I just stood there and ate up all the color and beauty accosting my senses. Sometimes, to really appreciate something, you just have to put the camera down and see the world with your eyes instead of your lens. On this trip, I didn’t want to spend so much time getting the perfect shot that I looked back and realized I didn’t actually see anything.

That wild two-hour ride up the coast is one of my favorite memories from our trip. I loved everything about it—standing in the aisle holding on for dear life while our bus seemed to hang over cliffs, listening to Italian swirl all around us, and laughing with and at the other tourists on the bus who were as startled and enamored as we were by this wild, free place built between the rocks and the ocean. Did I mention I loved it? Love, love, loved it.

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 I wish we could have spent the whole day exploring the coast but we only had one day in the area and wanted to see Pompeii too. So we hopped on a different bus and took the two-hour ride right back down the coast. This time we got seats and sometimes, I admit, I closed my eyes around the bends because I thought I was going to die by plunging into the Mediterranean and I had already seen everything on the way up anyway :]

We accidentally got off the bus at the wrong train station but it didn’t matter because we were still able to get to Pompeii from there. While waiting for the train we met a college kid from Colorado who was backpacking through Europe for the summer—backpacking through Europe is the stuff dreams are made of. He was sort of lost and confused like we were and was also trying to get to Pompeii. He seemed very happy to have met someone else who spoke English. It seems like when you are in a foreign place, you become instant friends with anyone who speaks your language. When normally you would push pass strangers without taking notice, you suddenly are very happy to talk and tell them all about yourself—just because they can understand what you’re saying. So we talked to the backpacking college kid from Colorado and we all knew each other’s life stories by the time we made it to Pompeii :]

Pompeii is huge…and we only had an hour or two before we had to leave. If we ever make it back I’m going to leave a whole day just for Pompeii and do an audio tour so I know what I’m looking at. Here are some pictures:

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{Cart tracks worn into the streets from the days when Pompeii was populated}

I used to want to be an archeologist thanks to Indiana Jones so Pompeii was like eye candy for me. So sad and yet so fascinating.

So that was our day in the Naples area. Next we were off to the beautiful island of Sicily…and I will tell you all about it on Monday.

Thanks for reading along. Ciao! ;]

If you missed any of the earlier posts in this series about Europe you can still read them here: Barcelona, Spain; Marseilles, France; Florence & Pisa; Rome, Italy.

Rome, Italy

After chasing trains all over Pisa and Florence the day before, we were happy to be taking a guided tour of Rome. We met up with our group in Civitavecchia and took the hour and a half bus ride into Rome. We had our first real Italian coffee at a stop on the way in. Our guide, Giovanni, told us about the different kinds of coffee and what he would pay for each—and told us not to pay more than he would even though we were tourists. We got a cappuccino that was perfectly sweet and strong and I think I’m going to have to invest in an espresso machine now that I’m always craving all the good coffee we had overseas.

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Once our bus arrived in the city we picked up our second guide, Valentina. We needed two guides: one to do the talking and the other to protect us from the Roman moped drivers. No kidding. There are about 15 gazillion mopeds in Rome and most of them are trying to run over tourists. I mean, I don’t blame them…it must be kind of annoying when a whole mob of foreigners are trying to cross the street together and are walking really slowly snapping pictures while traffic gets backed up…but let’s be kind and not smoosh each other into the pavement, okay? Okay. I don’t think Giovanni got paid enough to walk out in the middle of the busy streets with his back to the traffic just so we could cross alive…but it was nice of him either way.

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 {A Roman driver plotting our demise}

Traffic aside, Rome is majestic. Every time you turn around there’s something else to see. It’s incredible to stop and think of the history this city has seen and still has written all over it today. Rome is alive. Many of the places we went felt a little touristy and contrived—like they used to be something but are now used only to relive distant memories of a place that once was. Rome isn’t like that at all; it’s vibrant and bustling with both the people who live there and the tourists who travel great lengths to see it.

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We wound through one perfectly picturesque street after another and added our footsteps to the story Rome tells.

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We saw so many things—the Trevi Fountain and the ruins of the Roman Forum. Aventine Hill where you can see the Imperial Palaces. The Circus Maximus where chariot races were held…

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We went by the Tiber River and walked around the Arch of Titus and all through the Colosseum—and jeez, I thought my head was going to explode from sensory overload.

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After all that we walked to St. Peter’s Basilica and if the church wasn’t impressive enough, we got to see Michelangelo’s Pietà. The whole time I was standing there looking at it I was thinking, holy cow, Michelangelo did this when he was 23. I’m 27 and I’m still a loser. Oh well.

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DSC07435The Swiss Guards who protect the Pope. Nice pants, boys.

Our day in Rome was one of my absolute favorites. There’s just no place like it, so busy and alive and full of history too. I hope my coin in the Trevi Fountain works because I would love to go back someday. I picked up a little toy Vespa while we were over there to remind me of the crazy Italian drivers and the busy Roman streets filled with people living and breathing and adding their footsteps to the pages of the Eternal City.

Next we were off to Naples, Pompeii, and the Amalfi Coast.

If you missed the earlier posts in this series about Europe, check them out here: Barcelona, Spain; Marseilles, France; Florence and Pisa.

Florence & Pisa

We spent most of our time in Europe exploring different parts of Italy. We had one day to hit both Florence and Pisa…and what a day it turned out to be.

We decided to start with Pisa but getting there took some work. First, we took a shuttle to the bus station. We needed to take the bus to the train station but since it was Sunday the buses weren’t running as often as they normally do. People started getting fidgety when the bus wasn’t coming because they didn’t want to miss the train. Some people decided to walk to the station, some pooled their money and took a taxi, we decided to wait. The whole time we were standing there waiting I just kept thinking, “I’m standing in Italy, I’m standing in Italy.” I had dreamt of that moment for so long—it was incredible watching it unfold.

In good Italian time the bus rolled in and we actually ended up driving right by the people who decided to walk to the station–patience pays off, my friends :] We really didn’t know what was going on with tickets so we just told the crabby man behind the counter what we were trying to do and bought the tickets he gave us.

After that we had to figure out how to validate the tickets and find the right platform to wait for the train. We rushed around, asked lots of questions, consulted with other people who spoke English and were trying to do the same thing, and finally settled on where we needed to be. Once we were settled in they announced the train would actually be arriving at a different platform so we all rushed back into the station and started over. The good news is, we did get on the right train in time :]

The train ride into Pisa was about twenty minutes long and I enjoyed every minute. We rode through the Tuscan countryside and even though I was dead tired, I couldn’t close my eyes for one minute for fear of missing something. Riding the train was perfect. I didn’t take any pictures or worry about a thing. I just sat there and watched the hills and wheat fields roll by while a dream that has lived in my heart for so long slowly came true.

We were told Pisa was a little place overrun with pickpockets and nothing to see or do but stop by the Tower. I would have to disagree. The streets were perfect Italy–exactly what you would picture in a postcard. I wanted to stop at every alley and take a picture of just one more perfectly enchanting little street.

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We didn’t really know how to get to the Tower and there weren’t very many signs pointing the way so we just kept wandering in whatever general direction other people seemed to be going. At one point we were sort of lost when I turned around to the Tower peeking up over the buildings and leaning right in our direction. That moment will live in my heart forever.

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I have to admit, I didn’t really want to see the Tower. I thought it was too touristy and I wanted to spend the whole day in Florence. But I’m so glad we decided to go because Pisa and the Tower were so much more beautiful and inspiring than I ever imagined. I used to think if I had seen a picture of something, then I was good, I had seen it. The Tower of Pisa changed my mind about that.

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After taking pictures at the Tower, we started making our way back to the train station. It started to pour and we huddled under an umbrella and wound through the streets. Walking the streets of Italy snuggled up under an umbrella with Darren is just about as close to perfect as I can imagine.

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I swore I wasn’t going to bring any touristy little nick-knacks back with me but I have to admit, a little Leaning Tower of Pisa did make it onto my desk. It was just too cute to leave behind!

We wanted to try real Italian pizza so we grabbed a couple of slices to eat on the way to Florence. We sat on the curb at the station and ate up while we waited for the train. We had lots of pizza in Italy but the stuff we tried that first day in Pisa was the very best–soft and airy–almost pastry like. I sit around and dream about it now :]

The train ride to Florence was another hour and a half but equally beautiful. We wanted to see the Duomo and actually saw the top of it sticking up over the building as we pulled into the station. Well, that should be easy to find, right? Wrong. We walked out of the station and managed to get lost immediately. Unfortunately we had spent more time in Pisa than we intended and we only had a couple of hours left for Florence before we could catch the last train out. Getting lost was eating up our time and we were both a little frustrated.

We did learn something though, when all else fails, find a street buried in touristy nick-knacks and follow the crowd…this leads you to a landmark every time :] We went down a street full of shops and could see the Duomo poking up over the buildings in no time.

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I had absolutely no idea how beautiful the Duomo would be. I know I keep saying that about everything, but you really can’t imagine what it looks like until you’re standing right there. It was incredible. I must have taken 100 pictures of it and none of them capture what it really looks like.

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Of all the places we went, Florence is the one I wish we had left more time for. But I tell Darren this just means we have to come back someday :]

Our time was up as soon as it started and we begrudgingly made our way back to the station. We had been very careful to leave extra time so we wouldn’t miss our train but once we got to the station we couldn’t find it listed anywhere on the schedule. We asked someone working there if the train was still coming and she assured us it was. We waited right up until the train was supposed to be there and still nothing.

Darren decided to ask again and figured out the train we needed was actually listed under a different name…just in time for us to watch it pull away without us. Our only other option (save a very expensive taxi ride) was to take the train back to Pisa and then on to Livorno. We had just a couple of minutes to find the right platform before this train left too. We made it on breathless and worried about getting back before the buses and shuttles stopped running for the night. Not to mention we had no tickets for the train.

Honestly, that first day we had no idea what was going on. We told the attendant at the first station that we wanted a round-trip but realized later that he had only sold us a one-way ticket. So we rode the train all day not realizing that we could have been asked to get off or be fined had our tickets been checked. Fortunately, that day no one looked at our tickets like they did the rest of the time ;]

We didn’t make it back in time to catch any buses or shuttles but we weren’t the only ones. We met a couple our age from Istanbul who wanted to share the cost of a taxi with us. Normally we wouldn’t take a taxi with strangers but they seemed as tired and befuddled as we were so we agreed. On the way to the taxi stand we snagged another couple from Peru to help cut the cost even more.

All of us started talking about where we’re from and what we do. It came up that I grew up in Missouri and one of the guys wanted to know what part. I told him Kansas City and he told me he grew up in Missouri too…and his parents still live in Joplin. I was like, “What the heck, my parents live in Joplin too.” What are the odds of meeting someone in Italy whose parents live in the same little Midwest town as yours? I guess they aren’t kidding about that whole small world thing.

Anyway, that was our first exciting, stressful, exhausting, perfectly imperfect day in Italy. Sorry I didn’t have more pictures…it was so overcast and rainy, it was hard to get any good pictures 😦

Next up: ROME!

If you have missed the earlier posts in this serious about Europe, you can still check them out here: Barcelona, Spain and Marseilles, France