lunedì 30 aprile 2012

Block Leave, Part 1: Bern, Switzerland

To my small audience of beloved readers, thank you so much for your support and interest in my travels and life abroad in Italy. You all are quite amazing to stick with me through my negligence of upkeep. The blog shall continue, though, how could it not when I have so much to tell you all! As I write this, I am on a train from Lyon, France headed to Bordeaux with my wonderfully awesome and handsome husband! We began our journey on Easter Sunday (and since our sweet mothers were not here to stuff us with chocolate yummies we took it upon ourselves to do so...with authentic Swiss chocolate!) 
Scott's expensive, white penis sausage...
(Not as yummy as my sandwich)
We arrived Sunday evening to the still town of Bern, Switzerland. After checking into our hostel, we quizzed the receptionist what would be a good place to eat. She informed us that it was easter and nothing was open, but there was one restaurant that she knew would be open, so she marked it on our map of Bern and we walked out into the cool crisp night. With a great view of the city, we ate at our only option for the night, a tourist joint charging 19 Franc (about 20 dollars) for a small sandwich (yeah...ouch). 

My 20 dollar sandwich
Snoring bears.
Even though the city was void of life on Monday morning, Scott and I still found plenty to do. The Bears were out sunbathing in Bear Park and greeted us with load snores. We strolled through the beautiful swiss neighborhood with the most beautiful and quaint houses we’ve ever seen. We peaked inside to Einstein’s museum, but did not pay to enter because there was a zoo nearby that we wanted to check out! Sure enough the Pelicans and pigs were out and about on this easter weekend too! The zoo was pretty awesome. We were just walking along the river enjoying the peacefulness of it all when we happened across a large rock with goats peering down at us. We continued our walk along the river and then realized that this was no ordinary nature trail, but a nature trail with a zoo. No long lines, screaming kids, or Swiss Franc to worry about, just walk along the river and keep your eye out for the sleeping animals. Even though there were flamingos, which are pretty cool, there were no Giraffes (boo). So we headed back into town for some dinner. More shops and cafes were open in the later hours of the day, but to our surprise, the prices were still pretty steep, so we settled for some good ol’ SwissMex. Unfortunately, they do not serve unlimited amounts of chips and salsa at this Mexican restaurant but the food was decent, and though the prices were still astounding, they were cheaper than their cafe competitors (12 Franc for water, really!?) 

Scott says he wants to go cuddle with the sweepy bears.

Cute Swiss houses!

Scott in front of Einstein museum.

I got to pet a Swiss kitty cat. They are nicer here!

When we saw a mound of pelicans we realized we may have just stumbled into a zoo.

Then we saw the goats and knew we did.

Scott had to resist the kill, but I bet the bacon would have been good. 

Flamencos but no giraffes...I'd give it 3 stars I guess. 

The next day, we were on a mission. We had, like big dummies, packed all of our items for the trip into a big blue PX duffle bene. It ripped as I was walking to the Lerino train station (the one right behind our house). It was heavy and cumbersome, and we were more willing to throw it away with all of our belongings inside rather than carry that thing around any longer. Fortunately we were in Mountain country where everyone backpacked and hiked so the sport stores were plentiful. Needless to say Scott and I got us some good swiss backpacking back packs, split our items and were happy campers...worth every Swiss Franc if you ask me, worth every Swiss Franc circulating in the hugenormous banks next door if you ask Scott, (he was the one who was bearing the load of the dumb-heavy duffle). 

Look at me all backpacker like. 
Just look how happy he is!
Once our bags were packed, we headed back out, bought another small stash of chocolate, and went to reserve our train tickets. As I was standing in line, Scott wanted to spend the rest of our Franc cash to buy a pair of sunglasses (his walmart pair could not withstand the intensity of our traveling). When he came back, and I had our tickets in hand, Scott had a huge smile and a huge cone of ice cream. But not just any ice cream mind you. There is history behind this. When people ask me from my previous travels what were some of the best foods I had eaten, this particular swiss chocolate ice cream always ends up somewhere near the top ten. As Scott and I walked to the train station, we saw an ice cream stand and there it was in all of its smooth rich glory, swiss chocolate ice cream with large shavings of dark chocolate. We demolished, I mean savored, the ice cream, hopped on our train and headed to our next destination: Lyon, France.

Scott liked the man eating ogre fountain. 

Aww, what a sweet bear.

But I'm a mean Car. 

I've always wanted to be part of the landscape. 

These storage looking doors along the street...

...turned into full on stores, bars, and clubs!

Walk along river Aare. 

Sampson killing the lion. 

Scott making sure his watch is on time. 

Scott found his high school statue of himself throwing discus..

Can anyone guess why Scott loved our hotel in 

View from our hotel.

Ok, really freaky witch looking lady with a stroller full of dolls.
I was a little afraid when Scott snapped the picture,
 that she would turn him into one of his dolls. 

Overall, we liked Bern...and this harpist. 

lunedì 5 marzo 2012

A Venetian Carnival

On Saturday, February 18, Scott and I decided to visit the quiet, romantic streets of Venice. As our train arrived to pick us up from downtown Vicenza, we peered into the windows only to see faces, shoulders, and butts pressed firmly against every corner of the train car. Hoping that everyone on the train wanted to see Vicenza today, we waited for them to come spewing out, though only a few trickled out as they squeezed past bodies and backpacks. Scott and I gave each other that, "do we really want to get on this train...what are we getting ourselves into" kind-of-look. Of course, Scott was more than willing to turn around and head back to the house because he is the smart one. I, on the other hand, grabbed him by the arm, affirming him that this is totally going to be worth it...though I knew it would take a lot more than a forced smile to convince him that these crowds are worth it. 

We were the first ones to attempt to enter our train car with three others behind us. The passengers already on the train subtly expressed their thoughts on their pleading faces that I could only interpret as, "Oh, please. For the love of Pete, please do not get on this car!" The seat section was completely full with people crushed against each other in the isles. The small entrance was stuffed, but we squeeze in somehow. Scott called this, "standing 'nut to butt,'" which was, unfortunately, extremely accurate. The other unfortunate aspect was that not everyone had the best hygiene, and I really wished I had my Purell with me to pass around to everyone coughing and sneezing into their hands then touching the same walls and bars that I had to use to balance myself on every wind in the track. I burrow my mouth and nose into my scarf in attempts to not catch every bug or virus that was flying around, though, wishing more-so that I could stick my head out of a window. Even though the train was not heated, it was so hot, and I was thankful to at least have the bit of wind coming in from the cracks in the doors to alleviate some of the body heat. After three more stops with only a few people worming their way out and several more people piling in, I realize that everyone is going to Venice. 

This is what we saw as soon as we stepped off the train and that's when I knew for sure that this was Carnival! This is why they were selling masks at the Post Exchange! This is a major festival held every year 40 days before Easter and then ending on Martedi Grasso meaning Fat Tuesday, (or as better known in the States, Mardi Gras).

There were several booths set up painting faces or masks. 
We got there pretty early so the crowds were not terrible just yet, but we jumpped right in and started following the flow of the crowds. We were not exactly sure where we were going; we just knew that where ever it may be, EVERYONE was going there. We stopped by the first cafe we saw to try out a pastry (I got tiramisu, go figure. And Scott got the "hot chocolate," which is more like hot pudding or a melted chocolate bar in a cup!) 

The lady behind the bar wore a festive blue wig with horns!
We marched on, continuing to follow the crowds, taking pictures of all the interesting costumes. Some people just wore masks with their regular clothing. Most likely bought at a street vendor like this one.

Others wore full beautiful costumes with intricate details. Apparently there is a contest for the best mask (one of the most important events held on the last week of Carnival), called La Maschera piu bella. Here are some of the more interesting costumes, though there were hundreds and hundreds of good ones. Some of the best, I did not capture since people crowded around to take pictures, and I was just not that patient, I guess. Then there were those who did not dress up at all (such as ourselves), but enjoyed the atmosphere nonetheless.

"Double, double toil and trouble..."
I thought this was so funny, three witches gathered around. 

The puppy people (or sheep), I'm not sure, but they were cute old people in cute old costumes!

I ran ahead to get a picture of Scott walking with this band of masked ladies (he's trying to blend in and act natural!) When the ladies saw my camera pointed in their direction, they, all at once, stopped to pose for me.

Wizard/Elvan family
Remember, remember the fifth of November!
Along with the many mask/hat/scarves/food vendors that lined the roads, there was plenty of entertainment.  We came across men making beautiful music with wine glasses filled with water and surprisingly, a mariachi band. (I took video, but I still can't seem to figure out how to post them. I will add them later if I ever figure it out.)

We continued to walk with the crowds for hours, though we did stop for some pizza and gelato. When we reached our final destination, we were in a beautiful plaza stuffed with tourists, and masked men and women. St Mark's Square (Piazza San Marco) is the Bourbon Street of Venice. It is where historic masked figures, dating back to the renaissance, gather to reunite and dance. 

There were stages set up for concerts (we came in with YMCA playing). The plaza is where the cream of the crop costumes were sitting/standing about, getting their picture taken by the hundreds of tourists. 

It was such a great day getting to experience part of a true Venetian Carnival! Although we both knew the real parties wouldn't start until later in the evening, both of us were ready to head back home. Walking with crowds can be a little more exhausting than you would think. But, walking with crowds, we soon discovered, was nothing compared to walking against them. 

The crowds grew thicker as the day grew older, most people came here to party hardy. Finding wide open streets like this one was a pleasure compared to the tiny narrow roads where I wouldn't dare reach for my camera in fear of dropping it in the rushing and pushing flow of people only to never see it again. 

Once we made it back to the train station, we snapped a few more last-minute shots of our day in Venice. Getting back through the crowds was stressful and tiring, but seeing the calm streets with boats floating by, made for a nicer ending to our trip.