I’ve Been on Vacation…

I haven’t forgotten completely about my blog. It’s a good sign I haven’t been blogging or on Facebook much – I’ve been too busy each day with Ajith enjoying our vacation. Here’s a recap of how things have been so far in order so you have an idea what we’ve been up to:

Vast Contrast

My time in Tropea had to come to an end, though I felt like the time flew by. I’m sure having a cold that was persistent and wouldn’t go away didn’t help, but by the end I was feeling much better. I was accompanied to the train station by Nicola’s brother Peppe, his girlfriend Sara, and others they knew. I was all of a sudden freaking out when waiting for the late night train with them because I noticed someone walk by us who was also waiting for the train.

There was a man who I’d met in Sicily a few weeks back at Guiseppe’s café one day at our break from class. He was like 50 something and had overheard our group speaking Italian in many accents, as we are all from different parts of the world. Anyway I found it strange and sort of freaky, but I kept running into him 3 times total in a few days in Catania, a large city. Suddenly, here I was…in the train station of the little town of Tropea and who walks by??? This WEIRD guy from Catania! I thought to myself, ok…what the heck is going on here!? I really was scared. I think that’s really, really bizaar such a thing would happen. In the end, nothing happened. I don’t think he saw me because I was surrounded by Italians and at the time he passed by, they all were speaking and he didn’t hear my American accent so he didn’t even notice. He did get on the same overnight train to Rome though but luckily I never saw him again. FREAKY!

I took the train for 7 hours to Rome. I arrived at the Termini train station and waiting for Ajith to arrive on a train from the airport, and luckily we met up! We were able to go on the Metro (thanks to Nicola’s good directions that it would be easier to take this than trying to walk with our luggage) and found our B&B.

My hatred for large cities came back to me as soon as we got out in Rome. Part of my trip to Italy was to escape the hustle, bustle, and chaos. I arranged this trip well in advance and knew what I was getting into by going to big cities with Ajith but this was a huge adjustment and hard to swallow having come from where I’d been. We did have a lot of fun though doing the things we did. Read on in Rome to find out more.

Rome

The first day I planned with nothing specific in mind because I knew that Ajith would be jet lagged (though he usually sleeps well on planes) and I would want to transition smoothly without jumping into doing 100 things in a day. We started off by going to Piazza del Poppolo, then walked up to Pincio, where had a fantastic view of the city.

After this, we walked to the Piazza Spagna, where you find the famous Spanish Steps. I hadn’t been there in years (since I was 17 I think) and was very excited to get back. We hung around for a while, went into a church at the top, and real fast we were fading. We bought some water and felt better. I’m always amazed how much food and water play into how we interact, haha.

To finish off, we went to the Fountain of Trevi. It is a really beautiful place and I enjoyed that again. We went not only once, but another time in the evening to see it all lit up. Gorgeous!We slept WELL that first night. I think we were both fast asleep by 9:30pm.

The next day we did a lot – went to the Colosseum, Roman Forum, Victor Emmanuele monument (where we saw a fantastic view of the city), and ate dinner at a fantastic restaurant. We really needed it at this point! Ajith got a rigatoni dish that was made with pistachios, bacon, and pecorino cheese, while I ordered one of my favorite dishes, penne arrabbiata. We also ordered a cured meat and cheese dish for an appetizer to try and wow, it was fantastic! We definitely scored well with this restaurant! We also ordered a citrus chicken and vegetable dish but we had too much food. Ugh. Now we know!

The next day we went to the St. Peter’s Basilica and the Sistine Chapel. We had to stand in line forever, It was fantastic because we listened to Rick Steve’s audio guides that I learned are free on his website. They were fantastic for us considering we’re doing this trip completely on our own without tours. There are helpful maps also we pull up on our cell phones from time to time and it’s made a big difference. We went to the top of the Basilica and got some great photos of Rome.

You can imagine our time in Rome went quickly but was really enjoyable.

Happy Halloween – Roman Style

It was fun to be in Rome on Halloween night to see how it’s celebrated in this country. Years ago (maybe around 1995?) when I had my exchange student Sara she told us that it was more of a novelty than anything, and she thought a lot of things Halloween were adorable. Now, I saw a fair amount of Halloween decorations (anything with a Jack-O-Lantern face) are sold, and kids and adults dress up for the occasion. It’s more “celebrated” by little kids who were dressed in many types of costumes and who went around the piazzas with their parents asking for a “caramello” (candy) in Italian. Many shop owners had candy to pass out. Ajith and I were eating dinner at an outdoor restaurant when this adorable little lion came up to us asking for a ‘caramello.’ Unfortunately we didn’t have anything on us to give to her but the concept was cute!

Many adults tended to wear devil horns on a headband or a witch’s hat, or painted their faces just for fun. Some simply wore a combination of black and orange for their outfit which was just fine. Many shops had displays with fallish/Halloween colors. That was about all we saw…very interesting to see. It’s nothing like the US’s Halloween celebration, but I think in time it may.I had a conversation with Nicola one day about Halloween, and I told him that kids ring doorbells and say “Trick or Treat.” He so innocently asked what if they got a trick instead of a treat? I explained that most people don’t scare kids (except for the occasional person who dresses up on their porch and scares kids when they approach) but that all kids get candy. It was a valid question!

I will absolutely appreciate Halloween next year. It’s one of those things you don’t realize you miss until you don’t have it anymore.

Florence

My experience in this city this year was much better than last year. I enjoyed the city a lot and we had a great hotel minutes from all the action. The view from our window was pretty cool, too. We went to the Uffizzi Gallery and the L’Accademia for the afternoon.  After, we ate dinner at this cute little trattoria named Antica Trattoria San Lorenzo where Ajith ate a meal that he says one of the best in his life – it was delicious!! He enjoyed “ribollitta” which apparently is a dish that peasants used to eat. It was a dish similar to minestrone soup though it had chunks of bread in it, so it felt more like a stew instead. I must admit, it was pretty awesome. That’s one thing I’ve learned from my time in Europe is that some of the best food is actually pretty simple and from some of the freshest ingredients locally grown. In America we’ve forgotten what it’s like to eat local and fresh…instead we worry about convenience and the quality quickly has gone out the window, nor do many Americans think about the source of where their food comes from. In the pic below, you’ll see his ribollita, our eggplant parm, and my ravioli flavored with pears and something else. Delicious!We climbed to the top of the Duomo and that was fantastic. When I was 16 I climbed to the top of the belltower which was 414 steps up. This hike was more steps, but so worth it!We even made some time to do some shopping here (for Ajith). He always has trouble finding clothes that fit right in the US because he’s so small. Europeans are far smaller than Americans, and finding clothes that fit here was a lot easier. He ended up buying a winter jacket, which was fantastic because he’s been looking for one for years now. He also came home with a new pair of shoes too. Ajith loves shoes, so coming home with only one pair was a challenge because he liked many things, but all in all he did well!

We went to San Giovanni Valdarno for one evening to meet Denny for dinner. Unfortunately, we were in a hurry to buy our tickets and forgot to validate it. We got busted by the ticket checker on the train and charged us 40 Euro as a fine. I could’ve kicked myself for not having done this. The worst was we were the only people he checked, so I know it’s because we were foreign he picked on us. Grrr. The time we spent in SGV was fun though!Venice

I love this city – it’s beautiful as always! What I love most about it is its small charm and the fact that you can’t really get lost here because all signs lead to the Rialto Bridge or San Marco Square, though you feel like you’re in a maze of many small alleys and roads all on foot.

The first night Ajith and I walked around and ate dinner and got familiar with how to find where we needed to go on the Vaparetto, the public water taxi. I love the Rialto at night!  Note the public taxi pick-up/drop-off point on the right.The next day the weather was awful – rainy, cold, etc. It was a Seattle day in Venice! We spent some time touring through the Doge’s Palace, the St. Mark’s church, and then walked around to find somewhere to eat. In the midst of all of it, we window shopped and enjoyed seeing local shops. Later, Ajith felt like some wine and we found ourselves at a local little wine bar. There was a group of young people outside just hanging out chatting in Italian with one another. Ajith decided to ask them a question about an Italian music channel we’ve seen a few times and this got the conversation flowing. In the end, we spent a few hours with them and had a fun time! I enjoyed being able to speak Italian with them considering I hadn’t spoken much since Ajith arrived in Italy. All in all, we had fun with our new Italian friends!Athens

We absolutely did not give this city the justice it deserves, as we treated it more like a stop over than a real destination. Everyone we spoke with told us to only allow one day there because it was dirty, and a good solid day would provide us the opportunity to see everything we needed/wanted to see.  We stayed at a hotel that looked like it was 30 min. away from the city thinking it’d be no big deal, but with the tram ride into the city it was roughly 50-55 min. until you got to anything cool.

We got up early to leave Venice for our 6:30am flight, and due to checking-in, finding out how to get from one place to another, and circumstances like mentioned above, we didn’t find ourselves in downtown Athens until 5:00pm, just in time for the sun to go down and not be able to see anything. Well…we did get to explore the Acropolis area enough to get acquainted with it so we were prepared for the next day to return, but other than that we didn’t go to it. We simply admired it getting lit up at night, which was fabulous! We found ourselves in an area of Athens that no tourists were (which made us [ok….really just me] a bit nervous considering the economic situation at the moment) yet at the same time was neat because we wanted to find an authentic, Greek restaurant for dinner.  We got what we wanted and all ended well. Here are some pics of what we saw at night:The next morning, as mentioned, we made it a point to get up early to see the sites. This was spectacular and really impressive! I’m so glad we went back for more. We hired a tour guide who was available which helped us understand what all we were seeing too, making an even larger impression on us. The city of Athens itself is huge – much larger than I expected. We learned that out of ~ 11 million people Greece has, roughly 5 million of them live in Athens itself. Ajith and I both agreed we’d love to come back again at some point and really spend more time here, as there is so much to be explored and we barely scratched the surface.

This is the building where they light the torch for the Olympics each time:We made it back to the hotel in time to catch a bus to the airport**, and off to Santorini we went!

**Funny story: Ajith is a huge fan of good photography lately, and tends to get carried away sometimes (in my humble opinion). We were under time pressure to get to the airport for our afternoon flight, and he claims he built in a buffer of time to take photos, etc. Well one thing led to another and next thing we know, we were running late because someone had to get just the ‘right’ picture at every angle of every monument.  We thought we missed the bus to the airport. This could’ve been a problem because instead of paying the 5€ for a bus, we would’ve had to pay many more Euros for a cab. Luckily, at the moment we decided we should go back to the hotel to have them call us one, the bus to the airport showed up and we made it on time. Phew!!!

Santorini – Heaven on Earth

Words cannot begin to describe how beautiful this place is!!! By far this has been the highlight of my trip with Ajith up to this point. The pretty white buildings with blue roof tops does indeed exist, and it looks exactly like all the photos you’ve ever seen of it. Coming here in November provides a different experience than if we came in the height of tourist season, so we get to really appreciate it for what it is and has to offer.

I booked our hotel online and apparently many hotels are owned by the same people. They offered to give us a different room for a few Euros more per night. We looked at both rooms before making a decision and wow, it was hands down easy to decide to go with their offer. This hotel has a view that you absolutely cannot replace, and it is so calm and serene. The staff here are so friendly (and from Romania, mostly) and very welcoming.

The views from our balcony are fabulous, and the patio outside our room provides a wonderful place to just take it all in – especially the sunsets which are irreplaceable! During the day it is quite warm and perfect for sun bathing, and yet at night it’s cold and windy and literally I bundle up with a scarf, hat, and gloves. I’ve never experienced such a drastic climate change consistently day in and day out…it’s surely something! Also, we came here just as daylight savings time came into effect, so it’s now dark out by 6pm at night.

Because it’s off season, finding restaurants that are open is a challenge because most have shut down for the season or are about to close in a few days. We found some fantastic souvlaki though! The rest of the town is sleepy starting when the sun goes down, so the evenings are completely ours to lay low and enjoy wine on the balcony all bundled up for winter. 🙂

We agreed well in advance that Santorini and Crete were going to be the relaxing portions of our trip where we didn’t feel a need to be anywhere at a certain time and could do whatever we wanted without any pressure. Santorini has provided that to us for sure. The first and second days literally were all about relaxation with not a care in the world.

For something different , we decided today that we would go to another town called Fira, and then catch another bus to one of the black sand beaches. We got there, and within one minute of being there realized it was anything but an ideal sun bathing day at the beach due to high wind and a cool temperature. Plus, there was a lot of construction going on right around that spot. It was very disappointing. Unfortunately, this was another time where picture taking interfered with the clock, and we literally saw our bus driving away as we were approaching. The bus was gone by this point though so we had no choice but to stay.  We had to wait around for an hour until the next bus arrived to take us back to Fira which would connect us back to Oia, where we are staying. It was COLD, windy, and we had another 2.5 hours to wait until the next bus came! We got lunch, had some hot tea elsewhere, and killed time. Here are our portraits that we took while missing our bus:It felt so good to arrive back in Oia tonight. The first thing I did was wrap myself up in bed with the warm blankets and rested for a while. I forgot how the cold and wind takes a lot out of you! All is well that ends well, and here I am, finally caught up on the blog!

Tomorrow afternoon we leave this heavenly island to go to Crete, where we’ll spend a couple days before heading to Istanbul.

Day in and day out, I remind myself how grateful I am for this opportunity and am so glad I’ve done this. I still am in shock sometimes that this is my reality right now – like I’m waiting for someone to pinch me! Time is flying by but we’re trying to stay in the moment as much as possible and enjoy where we are (even if it is on a windy beach after having missed our bus). Nothing has happened to us that a sense of humor hasn’t fixed! 🙂

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6 Responses to I’ve Been on Vacation…

  1. Sara McArdle says:

    I need to go to the Uffizzi one day! So much of the art we studied in my art history courses in college lives there now. Also, I need to go to Santorini! It was already on the list, and your description has sealed it for me. 😀

  2. Stefani says:

    Yay!! So glad to see all the pictures and hear about everything you’ve been up to! Looks like you and Ajith are having a great time, and Greece sounds amazing. I enjoyed seeing all the Rome pics and remember all those things from when I was there in 2000 🙂

    Keep enjoying yourselves!! And keep taking lots of pictures 🙂

  3. Grazyna says:

    Hi Melissa!!! Grazie per il tuo racconto e belle fotografie!!:))
    Si vede che avete buon tempo:) Divertitevi!!!:)))

  4. Susan says:

    What beautiful pictures! It is like seeing postcards and then all of the sudden you & Ajith pop up in the postcard picture. Thanks for sharing all your travels, I love being able to see all your adventures from the comforts of my couch! 🙂

  5. Anonymous says:

    THANK YOU for sharing your experience with us.

  6. I feel like I’m there with you as I read of your adventures! Tons of Love to you, honey! Thanks for being so faithful in posting!

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