San Diego

SAN DIEGO – 11:30 AM, May 4th Ok, so we’ve been home since early Friday and have been recovering from Amsterdam ever since. Sorry for the late update. We arrived in Amsterdam on Monday the 28th around 8pm. We arrived to our bed and breakfast, but we were unable to get in. The owners left explicit instructions to call so he could meet us upon arrival, however we couldn’t find a phone that worked with change or credit card, we don’t speak Dutch!!!!! Finally he met us. All in all our B&B was the best, the price of the room included Cereals and Milk breakfast, Blackcurrant gin in the evening and chocolates on the pillow, and yellow tulips above the headboard.

That night we made our way to the Hard Rock Cafe for juicy hamburgers and beer, and then it was off to bed. Tuesday we visited the Van Gogh Museum and were surprised by a great exhibit that provided further insight about the artist. We then visited the Heiniken Brewery, well worth the 7.50 euro, which included 3 free beers and a free gift. Tuesday night was Queen’s night. We partied with the best of the Dutch, and they know how to party. People everywhere in the streets drinking, dancing and just plain going crazy. Also we strolled through the Red Light District, ask if you want further details!!! Wednesday was the big day, the Queen’s Birthday. We hit the streets around 11am and found many festivities already under way. There were many stages around the city with free music and only 2 euro for a pint of Heiniken!!!! Jeff was in heaven. We walked around visiting all of the street vendors and then the torrential downpour of rain hit Amsterdam, we ran to Hard Rock and indulged in more hamburgers and Dutch beer. It was off to bed early and Thursday morning we took a 9am bus to the airport.

We flew 10 hours to D.C. and then another to 5 hours to LAX, and another hour and a half drive to San Diego. Thanks to our friend SAM!!!!! By the time we reached our house at 12am we had been traveling straight for 24 hours with no sleep. But to our surprise we awoke on Friday with no jet lag.

Stay tuned for pictures, which we will load soon, and our favorites list. We are glad to be back in the USA.

Chur

CHUR – 3:00 PM, April 27th Our last evening in Venice was most unforgettable. We had dinner at a pizzeria and later watched the cafe orchestras mentioned before. To start, you are charged 4 euro per person entertainment fee!! We ordered 50 euro worth of drinks, which was two rounds. Jeff loved his Grand Marnier and Mel enjoyed her White Russians even more, not to mention our drinks were served on a silver plater with delicious green olives and chips. Jeff also smoked a cuban cigar. We enjoyed our romantic evening in Piazza San Marco, listening to the melodies of Phantom of the Opera.

It was early to rise the next morning and off to Switzerland. After a 4 1/2 hour train ride, we reached Bellinzona, Switzerland. The Swiss Alps are most breathtaking. We had a two hour wait until our bus left through the alps to Chur where we were staying with our Swiss family. Mel relaxed on a bench and enjoyed the beautiful mountains, while Jeff examined the colorful swiss francs.

Our bus ride was most exhilarating. The family in Chur recommended this ride so we could experience driving through the swiss alps. After arrival, we had a great dinner with cheese, meats, homemade breads, homemade jams and great conversation with Walti (father) and Nina (daughter). Later that evening we were blessed with watching a movie, in english of course!!!! The next day it was off to Milans on our two hour bike ride through tiny swiss villages and our final destination, Hiedi’s village, all thanks to our guide Nina. We returned home to a lunch feast of swiss favorites and a siesta. Nina was able to get Mel to join her basketball practice later that evening, where she managed a 1 1/2 hour practice with a german speaking coach!!! Jeff met the girls in town later that night and Nina showed us a great night in Chur at Tom’s Beer Box.

Saturday we had plans to stay at a small cozy cabin high up in the alps. It was Karin and sister Nina, Jeff and Mel. Oh, we can’t forget their cute dog Sancho. We drove an hour on a windy, one-way rode to the cabin nestled on a hillside, with a beautiful view of the surrounding alps, which are all still covered with snow. After unpacking and eating some snacks, we were led by the two sisters on a two hour hike, which led us to the top of a huge cliff above Chur. At the top of every peak, there is a book that is signed by survivors who have made the trek!!!! We returned safely to the cabin and made a feast, played cards, enjoyed swiss wine and beer, talked about our different cultures, laughed a lot and finally to bed.

Today we are back with our swiss family. We will eat dinner with the entire Brunner family; Walti, Charlene, Karin, Simon and Nina. We have enjoyed our stay here in Chur and hope to meet up with the family again. Thank You!!!!!

Tomorrow morning we leave to Amsterdam, a 10 hour train ride, arrival time is 8pm. Ahhhhh we’ve made it to the end and will be home soon to friends and family. Stay tuned for an update on Amsterdam and our “Favorites List”, probably when we get back.

Chur

CHUR – 7:30 PM, April 25th We are in Switzerland! We love it! A full update will come soon, but here are some pictures in the meantime.


Seeing the Pope

The Trevi Fountain

Lunch in Amalfi

Look at the size of those lemons!

Bathing in a Pompeii bathhouse

Temple to Athena in Pompeii

Florence’s Duomo

A Venice canal

Dinner on the Grand Canal

Drinks in front of the orchestra in Piazza San Marco

Venice

VENICE – 1:00 AM, April 22nd Ahhhhh, Venice. Rest, relaxation, strolling, and no itinerary! Mel has instituted a museum ban here in Venice, but Jeff may defect and sneak into one.

Sunday was easter in Florence. Apparently this is a big deal! We went to the “Burning of the Cart” celebration in the Piazza del Duomo. There was a parade of midevial dressed men, women and children, musicians, flag performers and important religious people. After an hour of performance, they set the “cart” (actually a big wooden structure that looks like a shack) on fire. Well, not on fire, actually the fireworks strapped to the cart. It was a fun little 15 minute firework display. But, of course, nothing like when the super bowl was in San Diego this year. Then it was back to the hostel for a nap and then up and in a cab to the Uffizi Gallery. Jeff strolled a little slowly for Mel, but Mel did enjoy the Botichellis. After that it was a light dinner and back to the dirt mound, uh, I mean hostel to do some reading. We were TIRED!! We awoke early to the sound of rain outside and left for the train station. Mel was glad to leave our grubby, slimy, loud, toilet paper less, co-ed bathroom hostel.

On the train we met a nice Australian couple in Europe for the year. We talked the entire three-hour train ride and exchanged e-mails when we arrived in Venice. We took the slow boat down the grand canal to our HOTEL, we just sat and stared at the city, it is really a floating city! No cars! No mopeds! Gondolas! Water and bridges everywhere! We checked into our hotel, a rock throw away from Piazza San Marco, the city’s main square. Jeff had insisted on staying in a hotel, and this close to the piazza, Mel had wanted a hostel on the outskirts, but Mel is thanking Jeff now! We strolled the small, shop-lined alleys for a couple of hours, gawking at the glass, jewelery, and venetian art. Then it was back to the hotel for a nap, and then out again for dinner. After dinner we spent the rest of our night in Piazza San Marco listening to “The Dueling Orchestras” There are three cafes that have outdoor musicians playing for the people in the square. The music was great and it was a perfect venetian night.

We slept in this morning. Our first morning sleeping in since Barcelona. It was wonderful. Mel is feeling a tad sick, but the rest did her good. We are now off to do more wandering, Mel has a shopping spree building inside of her!

Florence

FLORENCE – 4:30 pm, April 19th We spent our last day in Sorrento with a day trip to the Roman ruins in Pompeii. It was amazing to both of us to see the size of the ruins, it really is a city! We spent 4 hours strolling the dusty streets checking out the ancient frescos, mosaics, temples, palaces, public baths, and a few brothels. We where able to go inside the baths, very interesting how the bathing process was done, this must have taken all day. People went from cool, to medium, to hot baths, and there where dressing rooms and “saunas” It was crazy to try and put ourselves into 79 AD Roman civilization.

We returned to our hotel tired and dirty, feeling like archaeologists. We cleaned up, relaxed with a beer on the balcony, and then headed up to dinner. We had another long, multi-course Italian feast. Jeff tried carpaccio (thinly sliced raw steak), and Mel had the fried mozarella sandwiches again. And those where just the appetizers!

The next morning we had breakfast and then took the local train back to Naples (hell) to catch our train to Florence. We had failed to realize that the Friday before Easter might be a heavy travel day. The day before we visited a travel agency trying to book reservations on the Naples to Florence train. After a 20 minute searching process we where finally booked first class on an inter-city train (as opposed to direct). We were excited, FIRST CLASS! Woo hoo! Little did we realize that on trains there is very little difference between the classes. We ended up in a six seat compartment with an Italian family of four off to grandma’s for Easter.

Where do we start? The kids were spoiled and whiney, the adults never stopped yapping the ENTIRE time. Ahhhhh, get me off the train! 4 and a half hours later, we arrived in Florence. We hopped a bus (hopefully the right one) and ended up at our hostel. The hostel is an old converted monestary. This place is HUGE! Mel is a little scared of ghosts, but we did fine last night. After checking in, we left quickly to begin our exploring. We headed to the Duomo, the large Cathedral in the center of the city. We walked around till dark and found a cafe/pizzeria/bar and had dinner. We grabbed a couple to-go beers and headed for a piazza and sat drinking Heineken and people watching and watching the street artists. Catching the last bus, it was off to bed.

This morning we had reservations at the Accademia Gallery to see Micaelangelo’s David. The statue isn’t just hugely famous, it’s HUGE! We didn’t quite realize how big the statue is. After checking out the rest of the small, but great, gallery we left and headed to the Duomo to check-out the inside. Because of Easter, they only let you go partially into the cathedral, and we were unable to go underneath the famous dome. Jeff was sad, he is a geek about the dome. After that we grabbed some sandwiches and sat on the cathedral steps…more people watching! After lunch we went to the Bargello Museum, a great sculpture museum. We saw works by Micaelangelo and Donatello, and some other famous Italian dudes. Then is was more strolling, we saw Ponte Veccio, Santa Croce, Palazzo Vecchio…lots of buildings, churches and bridges. Now we are waiting till our dinner reservations at 7:30 at Acqua al 2. This is a restaurant that is here in Florence and also in San Diego! We went to the San Diego one for our 2 year anniversary, we are excited! One comment, the one here is quite a bit cheaper, curse the expensive San Diego cuisine! Tomorrow we are planning on attending the Easter festivities in the central square, and then later off to the Uffizi Gallery (another museum forced on Mel by Jeff). More later…

Sorrento

SORRENTO- 10:30 pm, April 16th Monday morning we started at Cafe Trombetta with the regular; cappucini and a croissant!! We were regulars after 3 mornings in a row. This is a cafe that requires you to pay before being served at a bar. Yes, a Starbucks, but bar style. The Italians go ga-ga, Italian men were drinking their espresso out of shot glasses at 7am!!

Then we were off to meet our tour group at the Vatican, but after he was 15 minutes late we tagged on to another tour that was free for the first half. This covered the Basilica or the Vatican church, the largest church in the world. Also where we saw the Pope. So amazing this place, not a painting in the entire place, only mosaics, which Mel went crazy over cause she loves everything mosaic. We were in there for an hour or so, listening to a basic history and some secrets that otherwise go unnoticed by the regular tourist. We’ll share if you plan on going there. Needless to say, for a couple of kids who are not very religious at all, this place was most breathtaking.

We decided to pay a little extra for a tour through the Vatican Museum. All we have to say is after almost 3 hours we finally saw the Cistine Chapel. The most amazing piece we have seen yet. The best part was going in with a little bit of history on the artist himself, Michaelangelo, and the history of the work too. We felt like experts pointing and discussing, as others stood and sat dumb founded!!!!

Our last night in Rome was great. After spending two nights in a dorm with a family of 6 from who knows where, we were blessed with the cutest IKEA room. Tuesday morning we were off to catch a 3 hour train to Naples. We originally had planned to eat lunch in Naples and catch the regional train to Sorrento afterward, but we were in Naples a little under one hour. Soon realizing we were in Tijuana, we turned back around to the train station, but not without Mel’s ankle giving out in the middle of the street. This caused Flash to have a mini heart attack. He picked her up off the ground so fast and promised pizza and beer as soon as we arrived in Sorrento. The train to Sorrento was a grueling one hour trip, which included 33 stops along the way. Little did we know that our $2 euro ticket was subway style and didn’t guarantee a seat. We stood huddling our belongings the whole way.

We are only mentioning all of the negative to lead us to- SORRENTO. This place is so breathtaking and surreal. Our pictures will soon tell the paradise we have landed. The first thing we did was walk a couple blocks for lunch, then we called our hotel to pick us up. This is where the positive starts. A shuttle to our hotel!!!! No stinky subway or thieves. We began to wind up a hill in our shuttle, only to look at each other, thinking- is this guy going to drive us off a cliff or is he driving us to no where and leaving us. We knew our hotel was far up, but not in the sky!!!! We finally arrive to the front of what Mel and Flash believe is a 5 star hotel- Il Nido is the name. The view off the balcony of our room, w/ full patio and furniture, looks to Mt. Vesuvius and Pompeii and overlooks all of Sorrento. Mel took a 45 min bath as Flash stood on the balcony the whole time taking pictures!!! Once, two very stinky backpackers were now high rollers. Dinner was served at 7pm, where we managed to have a 4 course meal.

Today we took a day trip to Amalfi only wishing we had a week. The only way into the city is by bus, of course if you have a yacht you will be there in 20 min. Two hours later on one of the most windy, one way roads, we reach another paradise. What can we say, Italy has been paradise for th both of us. Tomorrow we will visit Pompeii, more details then…..

Rome

ROME – 12:20 am, April 14th We are having the greatest time here in Rome! The city is treating us very well, no pickpocket attempts (yet), gorgeous weather, friendly people, a great hostel, it doesn’t get much better! Where did we leave off? Ah yes, in Nice.

We took another overnight train out of Nice headed for Rome. This turned out to be one of the surprisingly best nights we have had. The sleeper car was full so we had to reserve regular seats. We ended up with 3 other people, Americans, who where studying abroad in europe and where traveling around on their breaks. One of them was studying in England, outside of London, and the other two where studying in Southern France. It was great to talk to Americans our age (well, a little younger) and just “hang out” We talked about all the things people who miss home talk about: Mexican food, American TV, american restaurants….It was extremely refreshing and we got off the train in the morning ready to conquer Rome.

First we checked into our hostel, it was 7am so we couldn’t get into our room yet, but they let us take showers! We must have smelled like stinky backpackers. We got cleaned up and headed to the Colosseum. Breathtaking! We got inside and just stood in the same place for about 15 minutes and took it all in. Mel wished she had brought togas and crowns of leaves so we could be just like the ancient romans. After the Colosseum we had lunch at a cafe. We had salads and sandwiches, topped off with some great gelato ice cream. Then we took a walk through the Roman Forum, ruins of the ancient Roman town center. Lets just say, the ancient Romans loved marble. After the ruins we headed to the Borghese Gallery. This is a small little museum that used to be the mansion of a Cardinal who lived a couple hundred years ago. Cardinal Borghese was a strong supporter of the Renaissance and Baroque art movements at the time, and the museum is a display of his art collection. It was amazing to see some of these paintings and statues in their original settings, where they have been sitting for hundreds of years. After the gallery we went back to the hostle, relaxed and then went out to dinner. We ate at a good restaurant recommended by one of the owners of our hostel, it was great Italian food. We had bruschetta, lasagna, veal, dessert, and of course, wine. After dinner we went back to the hostel and called it a night.

Today we got up and headed for the Vatican. Today is Palm Sunday, the Sunday before Easter. We are both a little unsure about the religious significance of the day, but it meant the Pope was giving a huge 2 hour mass at the Vatican in Piazza San Pietro. So, we saw the pope. He is old. We couldn’t see him very well, but from what we could make out on the huge jumbotron screens, he’s not doing too well. It was a great experience, Jeff took tons of people watching pictures. We stayed for about 30 minutes and then headed for the Trevi Fountain. From there we strolled to the Pantheon, where we had lunch in the square facing the front of the Pantheon. This was the best. We sat there in the sun, ate authentic Italian pizza, drank good Italian red wine, took in the magnitude of the Pantheon and watched the tourists stream bye. After 3 hours there in the Piazza de la Rotonda we headed out, saw a few more churches, took a quick visit to the Piazza Navona and headed back to the hostel for a siesta. After an hour nap we headed out to Trastevere, more of a colorful, laid back, “artist’s hangout” area, this is Rome’s equivalent to Paris’ Latin Quarter. We walked around for a while, found a small restaurant that looked good, and had a nice dinner. The waiters in the restaurant didn’t speak english very well, but in contrast to Paris, this was not a difficulty, they had as much fun with it as us. After another wonderful dinner it was back here to the hostle and another happy end to another great day in Rome.

We are excited for tomorrow, we are taking a 5 hour guided walking tour of the Vatican Museum and San Pietro. This will be our first guided tour and we are looking forward to REALLY knowing the significance of some of the amazing things we will see. Now it’s time for a little more Limoncelo (liquore di limone) and off to bed. Hopefully Mel’s allergies will clear during the night! ACHOOO!

Rome

ROME – 1:20 am, April 13th We have pictures online! After a painful hour on an iMac here at our hostle Jeff has managed to figure out this whole Apple Computer thing. The pictures are rather large, so they may take some time to load on a dial-up modem. Update on events in Rome later, lets get to the good stuff… p.s. yes, some of the photos are sideways, I never said I was a computer wiz or anything… p.p.s NO, we are not wearing the same clothes in all the pictures, how dare you suggest such a thing!


LONDON – You can see Parliament in the background.

TWYFORD – Windsor Castle

PARIS – The Louvre

PARIS – Nightfall sykline from the Louvre


PARIS – Eiffel Tour

SAN SEBASTIAN – Sitting on the dock of the bay, wasting time

SAN SEBASTIAN – On top of the mountain

BARCELONA – Sagrada Familia

BARCELONA – Sagrada Familia

Nice

NICE – 11:00 am, April 11th We spent our last day in Barcelona yesterday. We had to carefully schedule our day as war protests completely shut down all transportation in the city between noon and 2pm. We got to see tons of people marching, carrying signs, blowing whistles, banging pots and pans… No need to worry parents, everything we saw was peaceful. We have begun to see more and more American tourists as our journey continues, Italy should be just as full as Barcelona. We went to the Picasso museum yesterday during the main protest time, even the museum ticket office stopped selling tickets for 15 minutes at noon in protest. We had some falafals for lunch and then it was back to Las Ramblas once the metro was back running. Mel went crazy window shopping in all the shops, but to Jeff’s suprise she has not purchased an article of clothing, just souvenirs.

We took the night train from Barcelona here to Nice last night. This time we decided against the couchettes and roughed it in the regular seating compartments. It was not too bad, normally the compartments seat 8, but there were only 3 of us, the third being a hip french dude (non smelly). It was a little discomforting to be woken at 3am by the police searching every compartment for a thief and wanting to know if any of our belongings had been taken during our sleep. We where OK, we had locked our backpacks together and to the train with a cable (nice work Mel).

We watched the sunrise over the Mediterranean this morning while on the train. Beautiful and strange, since we are used to the sun SETTING over the ocean. The weather is not as warm as we had hoped, but the forecasted rain has not yet arrived. We are feeling a little grubby without a shower and in the same clothes as yesterday, but know it will get worse as we leave Nice tonight (overnight) for Rome. We found a park and ate breakfast and will go searching for a comfy bar to do some relaxing later. We found the most expensive hotel in the city and treated ourselves to a refresher in their WC (water closet — bathroom). We can say that wetnaps have become our best friends in the last couple of days.

We are hoping to get some pictures uploaded soon, but no promises! Jeff has gone a tad crazy with the digital camera and has taken over 500 pictures so far! Mel has made herself the designated video camera operator and has captured quick video of all the big sights.

Next update from Rome!!!

Barcelona

BARCELONA – 4:00 pm, April 9th It´s hard to believe we have been here in Europe for two weeks, it´s even harder to believe we still have three to go. Barcelona is a big city, but doesn’t have the big city feel that London and Paris had. There are many more young people here, not so many older business people rushing about. English is spoken by most people and is on almost every sign of importance, this is good!

Monday night we had dinner at a great restaurant called Les Quinze Nits in Placa Reial. This place was very modern, could have been a restaurant in San Diego, the food was great, we both had appetizers, a main course, desert, and drinks all for 50 euros, it seemed like it should have been 100! Oh, and when we say drinks, we mean drinks! Mel had a litre of Sangria and Jeff had a litre of house red wine. The guy taking our drinks looked at us kind of funny when we ordered, and then everybody around us looked at us funny when our large pitchers of booze arrived. Oh well, we finished everything and went back to the hostle happy.

Yesterday was our “Gaudi Day” Barcelona is crazy about Antoni Gaudi, an artist/architect who lived and did many works here. His most famous was the Sagrada Familia, a church that is still being built today. It was very cool! We went inside (kind of, the inside is not finished and is actually still “outside”) and where able to go up into one of the towers. We then went to Park Guell, a cool park with tons of Gaudi mosaics and a great view of the city. Then we went and saw Casa Mila, a Gaudi building without a straight line in the entire design. These sights where all great, Mel loved them because of the mosaics. We also went to the train station to make our Thursday morning train reservation to Nice. And you will never believe it, there is a train strike that morning! Wow, came as a huge surprise to us. So we made a reservation on a train overnight that night. Mel is a little worried, we have a Thursday night train to Nice, we spend 15 hours in Nice and then take another overnight train to Rome. Talk about smelly and tired!

Last night we hit the town for some dancing and drinking. We took a nap from 830-930 and left our hostle at 1130, this town is a late starter. We went to the touristy nightclub area, little did we know we would be spending the night in Tiajuana! For those of you who have been to the club scene in TJ, this was a lot like that! Let me give you a few examples of the interesting people we saw:

  • The 45 year old woman who had too much to drink and was dancing like a crazy person, all being captured on film by her husband.
  • The 30 year old Italian in the dark Italian suite with the black turtleneck, buying all his friends drinks. Very mafia.
  • Eminem (or his body double)
  • A man who decided to take out a city map in the middle of the dance floor and try and figure out how to get home, while dancing. We think this was some sort of pickup technique, because we saw him later buying drinks for a girl.
  • And too many Britney Spears clones!
  • But we had fun, and drank toooooooooo much. Mel decided to go drink for drink with Jeff, this was a bad idea and the night ended for her on the bathroom floor. We slept in until 130 this afternoon and had lunch at the Hard Rock Cafe. No sightseeing today!