Wanderlust 2017: Romeo, Take Me Somewhere We Can Be Alone

While leaving Venice, we took a two hour break in the beautiful city of Verona, Italy. Verona is exactly the type of city I would want to live in. It’s small, there’s a good amount of shade and sunshine, it’s not too busy, but at the same time, it has everything you could ever need.

We took a quick walking tour past the Arena di Verona, which was a Roman amphitheater built in the first century. Soon, we arrived at the Piazza Bra Square herbs water fountain park and the shops of Verona. When I saw how quiet and quaint this little town was, I fell in love.

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We then ended up at Juliet’s Home. Stories say that if you touch her right breast, you will be lucky with love. I won’t lie, I totally felt her up with no shame. There’s no harm in looking out for yourself.

After visiting Juliet’s home, I strolled through the streets of Verona and saw some beautiful architecture. The trip was very short, but I loved the energy, literary history, and scenery. In hindsight, I should have grabbed a glass of Pinot Noir while sitting at Piazza Bra Square – then again, it was 10AM. I think that would’ve made Verona perfect.

I wish we could have stayed for at least 24 hours to see more of the area – possibly even longer. I have found that Northern Italy is more my speed and I plan on coming back to spend some time in the Alps region.

Wanderlust 2017: Veni, Vidi, Vici, Venice

After leaving Florence and Cinque Terre, we knew that we were going to one of the most iconic locations in Italy: Venice! Our time in Venice was short and jammed packed with things to do.

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The City

To get to the city of Venice, you must take a water taxi, which if you ask me was a lot of fun. Any time I get a chance to be out on the water, I genuinely enjoy myself. When you dock, you see this beautiful city highlighted by bodies of water.

 

We walked through Piazza San Marco to the gorgeous Basilica Cattedrale Patriarcale di San Marco.

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The cathedral is one of the most famous examples of Italo-Byzanine architecture, and I can honestly say, has some of the most beautiful architecture on the exterior and gorgeous paintings in the interior. We did a quick tour of the church, where unfortunately you’re not allowed to take photos, walked around the piazza, stared at the clock tower, and still couldn’t believe that this little island in Northern Italy existed – it was something out of a fairy tale.

The Canals

The canals are everywhere and there is not getting away from them – not that you want to. Every street has a bridge or has a dead end where the canals flow.

We had the opportunity to take a gondola ride around the Venetian canals. Getting on the Gondola, you feel as if you’re going to eat it and fall into the gross water (yes, I said it, the canal water is totally disgusting). Luckily, the drivers know how to distribute weight properly when everyone gets on the boat.

The ride was fun, but mildly underwhelming. It took about 20 minutes, they didn’t sing to us, and it kind of felt as if we were going in circles. Going under the bridges next to the tight-knit neighborhoods was interesting, but not exactly how I imagined it would be.

Would I do this again? Probably not, but I recommend doing it once to say you did it.

The Vineyard

This was hands down my favorite part of our trip to Venice. We drove out to the middle of the country to Vignaluna Vineyards. This is a family-owned vineyard that produces delicious wine manually. What does that mean? No big machines – no mass production – no unnecessarily added chemicals.

We took a quick tour of the vineyard, then we headed inside for wine tasting and dinner.

We tested five wines: a Prosecco, Moscato, Rosato, Chardonnay, and Raboso, all of which were amazing. My favorite was definitely the Prosecco, but that’s not much of a surprise.

Food was constantly being shoved down our throats as we tested the wine; everything was made fresh in the kitchen by one of the family members. You can see here, once again, my love for pasta:

Well, that’s it folks. The second to last stop in Italy has been documented (Verona will be last) and soon I will tell the tales of when we moved north through Germany, the Czech Republic, The Netherlands, France, and Spain! Ciao!

Wanderlust 2017: When In Rome…

After an amazing week in Greece, it was hard to believe that I would spending the next nine or so days traveling through Italy. The first stop you ask? ROME!

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Going into this trip, I knew it would be tourist central – something that I am used to since I lived and worked in New York City for more than half a decade – and jammed packed with people from all different walks of life. However, I don’t think you can be completely prepared for this type of tourism. In NYC, we move FAST. In Rome, they move glacially slow. It was definitely a transition period for me, and prepared me for the rest of Italy.

…Experience the History Like the Romans Do

We had the pleasure of touring the Roman Colosseum and Roman Forum. This structure is immaculate and the second you walk in, you start to feel like Russell Crowe in Gladiator. You can almost hear the crowds, picture men and women sitting separately wearing white robes, waiting to be entertained.

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I did have a sad moment at the Colosseum. Turns out that when they brought the animals from other parts of Europe and the Middle East to fight against, they were starved and locked in pitch dark dungeons, so they never really had a fighting chance for their lives. I got over it very quickly, but it made me very upset.

Also, our tour guide told us that the Romans were not nearly as civilized as we seemed to have thought. Their main entertainment was going to the Colosseum to see death. They also held plays where instead of acting out deaths, they would legitimately kill the actors to get the full effect for their audience. They were quite barbaric.

We also went over to the Trevi Fountain, where if you throw three coins into the fountain, you wish (1) to return to Rome, (2) have a new love interest soon, and (3) get married at some point. I don’t buy into these silly stories, but just to be safe, I may have thrown three coins in the fountain. Here, you can see it was an extremely enthusiastic moment in my life:

We also went over to Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi, a fountain in the middle of Piazza Navona. Once again, gorgeous fountain, super crowded. But worth stopping over. I did get a chance to see it around 10am when the square was clear, and it was definitely worth seeing again.

The fountains were gorgeous. The city overall was gorgeous.

…Go to the Vatican Like the Romans Do

Those who now me know that I was raised Catholic, but have chosen to live a life sans religion – personal choice; I respect everyone’s beliefs. This however did not stop me from going to Vatican City.

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Vatican City lies in the middle of Rome, but is considered it’s own country – sorry boys, but that wall isn’t really fooling anyone. Also, if you go there, DO NOT get your passport stamped. When you get it stamped, you void your passport.

Anyways, the Vatican was beautiful. The city is perfectly maintained, the architecture has been created with such attention to detail, and the gardens are perfectly kept.

…Eat Like the Romans Do

As previously mentioned in the Athens post, I was no longer on a traveling adventure, but simply a food tour, and Rome did no disappoint. I chose to have pasta for every single meal except breakfast, and gelato at least once a day. And to be honest, the only reason I hadn’t eaten pasta for breakfast is because our hotel fed us each morning and I wasn’t about to turn down free food.

Let me put it this way, every pasta I tasted was delicious and above basically every pasta (I will say Ferarri’s in Schenectady does make a mean pasta and can hang with Italian-made pasta) I had ever tried. I found that the reason why the pasta is so delicious is because they keep the ingredients minimal and natural. They let meats and sauces marinade for a long time, they slow cook everything, and most of all, they put so much love into their food.

I decided to have “Terah Time” where I treated myself to a delicious meal alone at Ristorante Romantica – yes, I took myself there without realizing the name of the place until I had already eaten half of my meal. This is something that is completely necessary to maintain my sanity while traveling the same 30 people for a period of 35 days. I stopped over a quaint bistro, had a glass of the house white, ate an excessive amount of pasta in a creamy red sauce with salmon, then finished off with some Italian lemon cake. I was happy as a clam for treating myself.

…Make Pasta Like the Romans Do

One of the trip “add-ons” was a pasta making class in the middle of Rome through EF College Break. We taxied over to a fourth floor walk up and soon found ourselves sitting in a circle and testing olive oils and balsamic vinaigrettes. As you can imagine, I was extremely excited.

We then had a glass of Prosecco then headed to the rooftop terrace. There, we found a kitchen, then a shaded area with tables setup with cutting boards, flour, eggs, and everything else you would need to making pasta from scratch. The instructors were wonderful, the process of making pasta was easy, and most importantly, the food turned out to be delicious.

I had taken a pasta making class before at Brooklyn Kitchen, but it didn’t compare to being under the Italian sun, sipping bubbly, preparing a meal, then sitting down as a group and appreciating our hard work and our instructor’s skills. We ended with an espresso to get us through the rest of the day, since we were stuffed full.

Moral of the story, take a pasta making class at some point while staying in Italy – you will not regret it.

…Travel Like the Romans Do

Upon our departure, it was quite bittersweet. I was excited to leave the busy city to head to Florence, but I was sad to leave a place filled with such history. I would definitely go back for a couple days while touring Italy. My main gripe was how busy it was, but then again, it is summer and people take time off to travel (I’ll get over it).

Wanderlust 2017: Make Me a Hercules

A decision I made once I decided I was going to quit my job, move, and go back to school was before I became a broke college “kid” again, I was going to go on an adventure. Originally, I wanted to drive around North America and potentially parts of South America for a few months to a year, depending on how the trip went. Then, while visiting my dear friend Riley up near Boston in February, an ad popped up on her Facebook for the EF College Break travel agency. She sent me the link and we joked about me going on an “Ultimate Europe” trip which spanned the course of 35 days with group of random people ranging from 18-28 years old. Two days later, I put a deposit on the trip and never looked back. Four months later, I took a flight to Athens from New York City.

THE ARRIVAL

The flight takes about nine hours. November 2016, when I flew to Warsaw, I had a layover in Zurich, which broke up the eight hour flight into a five and a half hour flight, then a two and a half hour flight. My flight to Athens was an over night direct service on Delta with solid meal choices, as comfortable of seats as possible for coach, and a decent amount of leg room (keep in mind, I’m 5’10” and leg room can get tight on flights).

As we landed in Athens, I met up with the group of people with whom I would be spending the entire trip. Everyone was exhausted, I was in a very weird mood, and the combination can be hard meeting 29 other people for the first time. I think the only thing that saved us from grumpiness was the fact that we were in Greece.

THE SITES AND HISTORY

As you know (hopefully), Greece is rich with history that is still apart of every day life in Athens. The city is relatively touristy, but it’s to be expected when you have structures such as the Parthenon, Acropolis, Olympic Stadium, as well as dozens of other historical locations.

The first day, we did a walking tour of the main areas in Athens where you could buy knick knacks and food. The area was swarming with street vendors chasing you around to buy bracelets and other useless goods. The first thing Mayra, our tour director warned us of was the fact that you could easily be pick pocketed if you’re not careful. I think this instilled a lot of fear into the others who are on vacation with me, but living in NYC for six and a half years, you tend to be a little more comfortable in busy areas and don’t necessarily dwell on the idea of being robbed. However, safety is important and gypsies are everywhere.

On day two, we woke up bright and early and headed straight for the Acropolis. When I say this was one of the most amazing things I have seen, I’m not exaggerating. From the Acropolis, you can see the Parthenon, Dionysus Theater, Athena’s Structure, and a breathtaking view of Greece — from the Mediterranean to the mountains.

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We also went to the Acropolis Museum, where hundreds of historical artifacts and works of art can be found that date back to the inception of the founding of Greece. Some of the made-up names of the structures did crack me up. When you have a head of an artifact and one small piece of their body, how can you possible name it “Young Warrior Who Rode a Horse”? WHERE IS THE HORSE? HE’S NOT EVEN PRESENT! As you can imagine, I found the need to read the name out loud of most structures to simply entertain myself. Soon enough, the couple of people I had visited the museum with was soon questioning the names of each statue. Needless to day, it was a great bonding experience.

After the Acropolis, Parthenon, and Acropolis Museum, we decided to go for a stroll through a beautiful park to see the Panathenaic Stadium. This is where the first ever Olympics were held in 776 BC. The structure is massive and extremely fun to look at. You start to imagine olympians running in their full armour, barefoot running laps around the stadium and competing to be the first ever Olympian.

At the end of day two, we all took a hike up a hill to watch the sunset over Athens. Talk about a perfect ending to a perfect day. Nay, talk about the perfecting ending to our last full day in Athens.

The next day, we took a ferry to Paros to continue “Greeking out”.

THE FOOD

The first night, we had an orientation dinner at a gorgeous restaurant overseeing the Parthenon. I cannot exaggerate how important it is to have at least one nice meal when in Athens. Greek food is one of my favorite cuisines — I’m pretty sure it’s what kept in in Astoria, Queens for the five and a half years I lived there. Feta, tomatoes, olives, kebab, gyro, tzatziki, octopus, and the list goes on. Everything was fresh. Everything was cooked to perfection. Everything made me extremely happy. And the food I’m talking about wasn’t only at the nice restaurants, it was also in the small little hole in the walls you find on the side streets, the more generic locations, and the bakeries!

Speaking of the bakeries, if you have a chance to get a ham and cheese pastry for breakfast, do it. It’s very European, it’s very messy, but at the same time, very satisfying.

The final thing I will say that I loved about Athens is that the wine is always flowing. There is a different perspective on life there. You work and you work hard, but you also enjoy life. You don’t spend a ton of money on your home or material possessions. You spend money on food and drink that brings people together. Everywhere, people are happy, deep in conversation, sipping wine, indulging in their meal, and happy. Coming from NYC you very rarely see this type of relaxed lifestyle and happiness.

I was so happy with the food that I texted my mother and told her I was no longer on a traveling adventure to see new things, but I was simply on a food tour. She found it to be hilarious, but I wasn’t kidding at all.

THE DEPARTURE

We ended up extending our trip in Paros, which got us back to Athens very late the night before our flight from Athens to Rome. It was very sad. I felt at home in Greece — I really do think has a lot to do with my tenure in Astoria. I know Athens is a place I will be visiting again. I will probably spend more time in the islands or out in the country side, but a stop in the busy city of Athens is a must!