After my last class for the last two weeks on October 20th, I went home to pack up my backpack for 12 days of travelling across Europe. The things I saw, the things I learned, the strangers I met, and the adventures I had along the way were fascinating. Since it's impossible to cover 12 days, 8 cities, and 4 countries and everything that happened in one post, I'm going to do my best to hit the highlights: the things I enjoyed the most, the best adventures, and the most impactful moments and memories. Take a seat and get ready to travel!
October 20th - October 21st: Milano and Venezia
We left Dijon for Milano in Italy via a night train at 11:30PM on the night of the 20th, ready to rock. All of my friends were traveling with two bags or a backpack and a suitcase but I traveled with just my backpack. Definitely the right way to go, since I had being held down by luggage and reduced mobility when traveling. The night train was 6 hours, so we arrived in Milano at about 6AM. I'm not a coffee drinker, but when we arrived in Milano I was exhausted so I ordered a true Italian cappuccino, and let me tell you: that will wake you up FAST. Wow. It was so small too, like a shot sized cup, but bam, I was awake a ready to explore Milan for the half day we had planned there. Milano is very industrialized, so there's not too much to see there, and it's absolutely loaded with people ready to steal your stuff and steal your money. The Africans who gave me a wristband and asked for money afterwards received nothing, especially since they called me a "playboy" once I told them I was from the US. Another lesson learned in the stereotypes people have of Americans outside the US. We saw the world's largest Gothic church in Milano, took some photos, and moved on for Venezia (Venice for those who don't speak Italian). When we were waiting for our train's gate number, all of a sudden the board begins to read "cancellato". Leave it to the Italians to cancel a train half hour prior to departure. I asked the staff what we should do since I speak Italian and they told us to get on the next train half an hour after hours no problem. Sure enough, it all worked out. Some of my travel companions were stressed over the change, but that's part of learning how to travel: nothing ever goes as planned and life's an adventure. Expect the unexpected and have fun with the adventures that follow. After a pretty simple train ride, we arrived that night in the hostel in Venezia, which was great, and then headed to the city for some late night gelato.
October 22: Venezia
We got up this morning ready to explore Venezia, which is too romantic and beautiful for words. It's the only city I've ever visited where I think you could legitimately walk through the city with Sepia or black/white lenses on and everything would still be absolutely beautiful. The domes, the churches, the bridges and canals...it's a pretty special place. We spent most of this day wandering around the city, getting lost, and just generally enjoying the city. We also took a "gondola" ride, which is really just the fancy canoes they paddle around the city. It was pretty pricey, but definitely worth it to see the city from ground level by water, travel through the narrow canals, and see the old and famous buildings in Venice. This canal ride is probably one of my two best memories from Venice. The other is when we were trying to find our way out of the city and while we were a bit lost, a French couple came up and asked us for directions. Since I had just asked the nearby police officer in Italian where the way out was, I was able to explain to them in French how to get to where they wanted to go on their map. Although I'm nowhere near fluent in all three, being trilingual and able to manuever in three different languages is awesome. After this we headed back to our next hostel in a different location in Venice for some rest before leaving the next morning for Vienna.
October 23 - October 24: Firenze
We had to catch an early train out of Venice for Florence this morning, and we arrived in Firenze at about 10AM and headed for the hostel to check our bags for the day. Our hostel in Firenze was a bit special and unique, because they let all travelers write on the walls who pass through. I took a 360 of this and some pictures, so be sure to look at those below after reading. After checking our bags we headed out to explore Florence. Not long after arriving I purchased my new leather jacket at the world famous San Lorenzo leather market. It's an awesome looking jacket, and has a design I've been wanting for a while. It's handmade from Italian leather, and had a surprisingly good price you wouldn't find in the US. I normally don't splurge on fashion, but this was the exception. I found some great leather gloves also to spruce up my existing leather jacket, and bargained with the seller in Italian to knock the price down. Again, a pretty cool experience. Later in the day we explored the famous Duomo in Florence, and I was able to go up into the tower next to it. I got some awesome views from there and some pictures as well. That afternoon we went to the Uffizi Museum which houses some pretty famous artwork, and is right next to the Piazzale Michelangelo, where the Statue of David is. Florence was key in the Renaissance era, so the artwork and architecture there is amazing. Italy is so amazing, the history is just so rich everywhere you go. That night I could tell I was starting to come down with a cold, so I called it a night early.
The next day I was definitely down with a cold, but I got up and went out on the walking tour anyways because I knew I wouldn't be back anytime soon. My friend who I was going to go with didn't show (he overslept) but I went anyways. It was a great walking tour, and many hostels offer free walking tours, so I definitely recommend doing them whenever you find them. We saw some great examples of renaissance and gothic architecture and artwork, the Salvatore Ferragamo building (didn't know who he was...but I definitely do now!), found the oldest wine bar in Florence, the Ponte Vecchio where lots of really expensive jewelry is sold, and she tipped us off on where to go for the best view of Florence. After the walking tour I headed there to get some pictures which turned out great, and while I was up there I had the best hot chocolate of my life. I was five euros, but I'm pretty sure it was just melted chocolate and milk and came with a world class view, so....I have no complaints. While sitting there I took some time to reflect on things, where I was, what I was looking at, where I was going, and how lucky I am. Sometimes I lose sight of how lucky I am, and every now and then there are moments like that that just sock you in the face and say "you lucky bastard look at this!" Definitely one of those moments, and it made me that much more thankful for the awesome friends and family I have that have helped me get here/there. After this, I left for the hostel again and went back to hang out and relax. That night we went out for dinner and I showed my friend where Italy's best gelato is (the walking tour tour guide tipped us off!). It was SO good. The texture was indescribable, like something in between ice cream, milk, whipped cream, frozen but not quite frozen, and super fresh made that morning. I'm definitely going to miss that.
October 25: Pisa and Roma
Another travel day was upon us, and today we traveled in the morning to Pisa for a few hours to see the leaning tower, which is basically all there is to see there. That building really IS leaning, by the way. Pictures make it look leaning, but until you see it in person with the buildings around it you don't really understand how much is actually is leaning. The 360 I took posted below shows that pretty well I think. After visiting Pisa for 3 hours, we headed back to Florence and then took a train to Rome. We arrived in Florence about 5 minutes too late and ended up missing our train to Rome. Again, my travel companions were freaking out, but we got on a train to Rome about half an hour later and all worked out. It's all part of the fun of traveling.
October 26 - 28: Roma
I had already visited Rome once before a month prior with my American friends, but you can never visit a city of that much historical significance too many times. That night we relaxed in the hostel, getting ready for the next day. On the following day we went to the Roman ruins and the Colosseum and spent about half a day there. I was like a kid in a candy store all over again. Having studied Latin for 5 years in high school, it knocked me off my feet all over again seeing all of those ruins in person. Life is so awesome sometimes. After spending time in the ruins we went into the Colosseum. That place is incredible and it's hard to imagine what it must've been like two thousand years ago full of Romans cheering on gladiator fights. That stuff still fascinates me, and although the Colosseum isn't as big as the football stadiums modelled after it today, it's still an incredible feat of architecture for it's time. We went back that night to see the Colosseum at night, which was pretty cool to see too. It's equally as impressive at night as it is during the day.
The next day we visited the Vatican, St. Peter's Basilica, and the Vatican Museum. Too much for one day for sure, but we still managed to hit the highlights. We saw the Vatican relics and artifacts in the exhibit inside the Vatican, went to the top of the dome that looks down on the Obelisk in front of the Vatican where masses are held, and inside the Vatican museum we saw tons of famous works of art: statues from the Trojan war, the Sistine Chapel, the School of Athens paintings, Caesar sculptures, and so on. Pretty phenomenal stuff. Out of all of this though, the two highlights of the day for me were none of these.
On the subway in the morning, we passed a group of about 8 autistic adults heading to the Colosseum for a visit. They were SO excited! Two of them were even gladiator fighting each other with sounds effects and invisible swords. I was able to understand most of what they were saying and they were all super excited to see the Colosseum. It was another reminder to me that I need to volunteer with some organization when I get home to work with autistic kids and adults because they always make me so happy. The other moment was when we were at breakfast. We sat down at a table with an older man who was 80 years old. I began conversing with him in Italian and we later learned that he was from Spain, lived in Portugal, retired and loved to travel, married to a French woman, and spoke French, Italian, German, and of course Spanish. He bought us all a second round of breakfast cappuccinos, but most importantly he reminded me of my grandfather who passed a year ago. His thirst for knowledge, love for travel, and desire to learn new languages was fascinating to me. I hope to be like that when I'm 80 years old, speaking multiple languages and traveling. Sometimes the people you don't even know can having an incredible impact on you. It's one of the many awesome things about traveling the world and living in other cultures. After this day of exploring, we left Rome for Bologna where we then took an over night train to Vienna, Austria for the last city on our grand voyage.
October 28 - November 1: Vienna
I had incredible luck with overnight trains on this trip, and the overnight train was no exception. Again, sometimes the strangers you meet traveling can make the trip that much more incredible. When we got on the train, I asked the man across from me if it was ok if we traded seats if necessary since he was traveling alone like myself and I wanted to sit with my two friends for the overnight train (we had opted to sleep in the chairs instead of the cars with beds to save money). He agreed. Later that night, at about midnight, he and I ended up engaging in a discussion on history, Italy, the US, African cultures, and more for about 2 hours until 2am. He was from Nigeria and spoke all three languages fluently from Nigeria, English, and Italian and was in Rome to study history and archaeology. One of my courses last year for Italian was on the history of Italian from the 1000s on, so we had a great talk about that, cultures, forming new cultures, differences, the US, and lots of other awesome stuff. Again, I was fascinated not just by his knowledge and proficiency in languages, something I desire too, but his thirst for knowledge. He was headed to Vienna to visit his brother who had lived there for 15 years to visit his brother but also because he wanted to study German next for history and language purposes. Fascinated, and a sure inspiration to me. He even offered to have his brother help us find our hostel when we arrived in Vienna the next morning. Another lesson learned: strangers are not always bad people when you're traveling foreign countries and are in some cases awesome.
He taught me another lesson that I think is worth mentioning and had been on my mind the past few days coincidentally. Live in the present. Not the past, and not the future. I read a book recently that talked about how the imagined future is as real as the past in affecting our decision making, so live in the present and the now. As I was standing in front of the Colosseum the day before, I was thinking the very same thing. There I was, standing in front of the Roman Colosseum. THE Roman Colosseum. And for the rest of my life, I'll look back on that time I was standing there looking at the Roman Colosseum from the Palatine hill, and I'll remember the excitement from that morning on my way to visit it again, but there, there in that moment, I was in front of it. Take it in. Enjoy it. Savor it. You may never be back. So live in the now. Lesson learned.
We arrived the next morning in Vienna, ready to explore again. We headed to the hostel first to drop our bags, and then headed out to explore the city. That afternoon we found our way to the Schonbrunn gardens and palace, which are incredibly gorgeous this time of year. It's basically a bunch of very well groomed trees, gardens, and foliage, and we got lucky and caught it all in full fall effect. You won't believe the pictures I got of it, attached below. After exploring here for a bit, we made our way to the Austrian Zoo for a few hours, which is probably the prettiest zoo I've ever visited. Very clean, neat, well organized for seeing all the animals, and the foliage added to the visit. We saw some awesome animals here as well, including the baby panda bear they have. There was an amazing sunset that night as we were leaving, which was a nice pre-end to such an awesome trip. We found a great student bar that night too, where the bartenders working there gave us a free round of welcome shots and showed us a place for food across the street with a student dinner not on the menu to help us save a few bucks. We stayed here for a bit drinking, which is where I met the bartender from my hometown. We live in such a small world. We started talking about where we went to high school, and all the stereotypes we had of each other's schools. Lesson learned: where you study and studied, whether you fit that school's stereotype or not, where you're from, and what you do with your life and the reputation you have will follow you everywhere, even to the other side of the world sometimes. Never forget that.
We spent our next day in Vienna renting bikes for the day and biking around the city siteseeing. It was a pretty cool way to see the city, and on this trip I had now seen some of Europe's most famous cities by foot, bike, train, and boat. Not a bad way to see the world. We met up with two other American students from Dijon for lunch and their American friend studying in Vienna, which was awesome. Always nice to see some fellow Americans when traveling. We ate lunch at a "pay what you wish" all you can eat Indian buffet in Vienna, which was also awesome, especially for a tired traveler on day 12 of an epic journey. We spent the afternoon seeing sights before leaving on our train at about 6pm for Munich. We connected in Munich to a sleeper train headed for Paris. We were finally heading "home". I've spent the last half a year or so asking myself where is home with this wild life I lead, whether at DU, the summer internship in Vail, my parent's house in Parker, Dijon, or somewhere else whoknowswhere in between. But, that's a blog entry for another time... I had good luck again on the sleeper train ending up in a seat area that wasn't completely full and lots of room to spread out and sleep. We arrived in Paris right on time, took the metro across town form Paris Est to Gare de Lyon, and caught our train home to Dijon. We arrived home in Dijon after about 15 hours of train travel across 3 countries coming home.
November 2: Home in Dijon
Needless to say, after a journey like that, I'm not travelling anywhere this weekend. It'll mark my first weekend in Dijon since arriving on September 5th, 2 months ago. I can't believe I've traveled that much in so little time. I also can't believe I've been calling Dijon home for 2 months now when it feels like I just arrived. I think the next items on the list are local travels around France. I can travel to Paris for free with my rail pass and I can see lots of things in Paris for free with my student card including the Louvre, the Eiffel Tour, The Versailles, The Arc de Triomphe, and more. I'm not broke yet, but I think it's time to slow down for a bit and enjoy France for what IT is. I went to my first class in two weeks tonight and sure enough my French speaking kicked right back in. Being able to convey your ideas in so many different ways is amazing to me. It's like an art but you're able to paint the same story in so many different colors. I am tutoring two French girls starting this week in English and can't wait, the language nerd in me is freaking out a tad bit. I can't decide now if I should learn German or Spanish next, though Spanish would be more useful in the business market right now. Maybe I'll be lucky enough to learn both someday... As for life in France, there's actually homework due during the month of November as the only work I've done thus far is a mid term in a class and light homework here or there, so it's time to get to work. I returned to more residence problems (of course), but I'm not going to ruin an epic blog entry like this with so many positive lessons learned in it with residence drama. I'm still probably coming home 10 days early as a result of the residence problems, but more on that later. I've posted the links to pictures and a few 360s below, and I hope you've enjoyed reading about all of my travel adventures!
Full Picture Gallery
Piazza in Milano: http://360.io/9w3fUN
Standing alongside the Grand Canal in Venice: http://360.io/2qnnhV
Renaissance Architecture in Florence: http://360.io/5vyfcV
Best view in all of Florence: http://360.io/24Z2m9
The Hostel in Florence: http://360.io/NrBVnz
See the Leaning Tower of Pisa: http://360.io/kN4wdz
Stand inside the Vatican: http://360.io/wvYzAT
Visit the Colosseum at night: http://360.io/YLPczF
The Roman Ruins: http://360.io/fW6aUv
Emperor Nero's private garden: http://360.io/NfHVVW
Inside the Roman Colosseum: http://360.io/5EB35W
Standing inside the Sistine Chapel: http://360.io/TkCn9Z
Study at the School of Athens: http://360.io/Gw5nyJ
Palace in Austria: http://360.io/YpbEUn
The Schonbrunn Fall Foliage: http://360.io/49yuCx
Full account page for all of my 360's: http://occipital.com/user/ccc6-62663/scott-larson
Happy travels everyone!!!