What I Learned This Summer In Europe

What I Learned This Summer In Europe

I’ve been home about a month now and beyond it of course being nice to catch up with friends and family, I do rather miss the streets of Paris, the tastes of Florence, and the sights of Venice. In reflecting back on the trip while going through photos I am reminded of the friends I made and the old ones I got the opportunity to see again. It was truly a once in a lifetime experience. It was more than just a vacation it was a master class in French and Italian culture. I want to share some of the few lessons I learned while away:

1: Paris is Real.
In all the hustle and bustle of sightseeing, tourists, and attractions you forget that Paris is a city like any other. People are born there, they live there, and they die there. They fall in love there, they get married there and they start families there. Paris isn’t a make believe place that only exists in our dreams. It’s a living breathing place. It evolves and changes over time. It is worth spending more than a couple days there. To properly experience Paris you can’t rush it you need the time to take it all in, wander around the city streets and experience all things Parisian.

2: Apartments Are the Way to Go.
If you want a real authentic experience I’d highly recommend renting apartments. Not only does it allow you a home base to unwind and relax after a long day it allows you the luxury and freedom to do your own cooking which helps cut down on costs. We also found that the apartments were much cheaper than hotels and in some cases the same price or cheaper than hostels. We stayed 30 nights in Florence for 600 euros. That was $25/night for a 2 bedroom, with a large living area, full kitchen and a balcony. By staying a 20 minute walk outside the centre it allowed us to live as if we were Italians. We used http://www.airbnb.com, I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a unique experience.

3: Blogging is Hard!!
Blogging is MUCH harder than it appears. It is very time consuming but the final product is absolutely worth it. I started this travel blog as a way to keep people informed about what we were up to, journal our experiences, and to force myself to write. I’ve learned so much and the blog has been a great success. I plan on maintaining this blog going forward focusing on a variety of things so be sure to check back often.

4: Travel with Someone You Love.
Traveling is tough. It’s delays, transfers, waiting, and the unexpected, but it’s because of the unexpected that you want to travel with someone you love. When Rebecca and I boarded that plane I honestly didn’t know what to expect. That thought made it very scary and very attractive all at the same time. The things we did, saw, and experienced are things I will never forget. There is no one else in the world I would have wanted to share them with. When I look back on this trip in 20 years I won’t remember just the things we saw I will remember the person I was with when I was there.

That’s it for now. I hope everyone has a great thanksgiving and is able to spend time with their loved ones. Remember, life is short, we only live once and some people don’t even do that.

PS — Click on the mosaic to check out 500 of my favourite photos from the trip up close.


Our Last Day: Wandering Around Venice

Our Last Day: Wandering Around Venice

Day 92, 3 months, 13 weeks, any way you put it, it was the last day of our trip; a day I had not been looking forward to. Our plane was to leave at 9pm that night so we had one day left. We ensured our bags were packed before we headed out that morning to just explore and roam throughout Venice, something we hadn’t had a chance to do since we were here all those 92 days ago. With no real direction or desire we stopped to have a photo taken on the Rialto once again to help bring our trip full circle. We wandered over the bridge to Mercato de Rialto which is home to a fresh food market and the famous fish market. We continued walking away from the touristic areas taking lefts and rights to get us off the beaten trail. Often we found beautiful ways that opened to the Grand Canal and on occasion we ended up walking into dead ends but it was a lot of fun. We just wandered and it was great. We crossed over Ponte dell’Accademia a large wooden bridge near the Istituto Veneto di Scienze to visit the Peggy Guggenheim collection and Santa Maria delle Salute. We ended up taking a traghetto cross the Grand Canal. A traghetto is an empty gondola used to ferry passengers back and forth across the canal. While it wasn’t as romantic as a typical gondola ride, it was much cheaper and we still got a great view of the Canal from on the water.

It was a beautiful day, sunny, and warm and everywhere we turned it was picturesque. To be honest it was a day I didn’t want to end. It was decided that we should eat before heading to the airport so we opted to walk over to the Castello district to dine outdoors along Via Giuseppe Garibaldi away from the hoards of tourists. We sat and enjoyed a traditional meal of pasta, salad, and a side of fried calamari with of course a few Spritz. We walked back to the apartment at a leisurely pace while enjoying the view of the waterfront one last time.

Our day in Venice ended when we board our boat for the relatively short ride from the Rialto to the airport. As the boat navigated the Grand Canal and finally headed out into open water. Passing by the surrounding islands all I could think was how perfect today had been and how beautiful Venice is.

Climbing Pinaocallo & Ice Cold Prosecco by the Rialto

Climbing Pinaocallo & Ice Cold Prosecco by the Rilato

I woke up Sunday morning with one thought in my head, “I hate Brock”. We woke around 5 am. We had a train to catch to Pordenone for 7 and wanted to give ourselves more than enough time to get to the station, especially after the debacle that was yesterday. I knew what awaited us once we reached Pordenone, a short drive to Pianacavallo, then a hike up the mountain, I wasn’t overly excited for the grueling physical activity that lay before us.

We stepped out our front door and were absolutely astonished. The city that is Venice, which is usually a buzz with tourists and vendors was silent. There was no one. The streets were empty. I had never seen Venice like this ever before. We walked up the Rialto and looked over a city that was still asleep, no boats going back and forth, no hordes of people, it was beautiful, and peaceful. That was the exact second I fell in love with Venice. I had always liked Venice but I hadn’t loved it. We took our time walking to the station enjoying the space and taking some truly rare photos of the empty streets.

Rebecca and I both napped on the train ensuring we were both awake for our big day. As we stepped off the train in Pordenone for a second day in a row we saw a familiar face. After embracing with Brock we headed to his car to start the day’s adventure. On the drive we caught up and all agreed it didn’t feel like 3 months since the last time we had all seen each other. The drive to Pianacavallo is a true driver’s drive. Up a mountain, with a tarmac trapped like a spaghetti noodle.

We got to the base of the mountain before it had gotten too hot and started our climb up. Truly one of the hardest things I have ever done. You begin climbing through a forest which is almost straight up, for about 45 minutes before you level off. It was tough to say the least. After that we climbed over rocks and lose marbles for about an hour and a half before we reached the summit. Once we reached the top it was all worth it as the view overlooks Largo di Barcis and beyond that you see more of the Alps. I had done a similar hike on my own in ’09 but only along the ski hill. I never reached this height or view. We sat for awhile taking a ton of photos and chatting before heading back down. Brock was a good enough sport to bring a Canada t-shirt up which I had given him 3 months prior to adorn in a few photos.

Going down was almost harder than going up because the rocks would give away and you would have to react quickly. It is mentally straining as you must anticipate your next two or three steps ensuring you don’t whip out and fall to an untimely death. All three of us had little falls all of which were manageable and not overly dangerous. In the end we made it back down in one piece, but not without our fair share of anxiety.

Once at the bottom we grabbed beers and relaxed, sitting and just enjoying each other’s company at a small bar next to the ski hill. The sun was out and we soaked up the beer and some fresh sandwiches.

Brock dropped us off at the station and we said our goodbyes, Brock was very torn up about seeing us off but we ensured him we would be back soon. While we waited for our train we walked around Pordenone grabbing some aqua. Our train ride was nice and I couldn’t help but think how much I loved Brock for taking us on such an amazing adventure this day.

Once back in Venice we picked up some takeout pizza and headed up to the apartment to change so we could go out and enjoy Venice at night. We picked up a bottle of prosecco while out and head down to the Rialto to drink it. We found a great spot on a dock used for the delivery boats but being as it was 10pm they were no longer in use. We sat on the edge of the dock watching the buses coming and going and the taxis going around all along as the gondolas navigated their way in the dark. We concluded our evening in front of San Apostoli, a 7th century Roman Catholic Church, one of the oldest churches in the city. We sat quietly in the moonlight enjoying one of our last gelatos.

Lunch in Cimpello with Family

Lunch in Cimpello with Family

Saturday morning we headed north from Venice to Cimpello to have lunch with my family. We walked from our apartment to the station stopping a few times to take photos and to grab a few little gifts for the family. We gave ourselves a little less than an hour to reach the station which was just enough time as the walk was a little further than we had anticipated.

Our train took us an hour and we ensured we had a valid ticket this time around. When we arrived in Pordenone we were greeted by my mom’s cousin Marisa and her daughter Roberta. We talked for a bit before walking to the car and heading to Cimpello to my great aunt’s house where we were to have lunch.

Upon arriving at Zia’s house such a familiar sight was before me. Zio Sergio was barbequing in the driveway while his brother in law Zio Levio sat and watched while smoking a cigarette. We were still waiting on Marisa’s husband Franco so I asked Zio Levio to give Rebecca a tour around his farm and show her all the fresh fruit trees, an experience I was fortunate enough to have myself the first time I visited the farm 6 years ago. There is something I love about watching my uncle walk around his property pointing out the fruit, then using his large hands to pull a piece down and either saying “bono” as in “good you can eat” or “no bono” meaning “not good” and tossing it to the ground. I find something very romantic about his farm and the way he lives. After an extensive tour of the farm, he showed Rebecca where he stores the wine before bottling, where he stores his car and his old tractor before taking us inside and showing her his wine cellar where he let us drink his wine right from the large vat.

As the tour was coming to an end I saw a familiar face walking along the path towards my uncle’s house, Franco. With a large smile on his face he walked up and we embraced.

As we headed inside for lunch I was excited to have a home cooked meal. The lunch was massive. It started with a spaghetti dish, followed by melanzane, and stuffed peppers. Next was the meat course. There were ribs, steak, chicken, and sausage. I was in heaven. The table was adorned with red wine, persecco, polenta, bread, salad, fresh tomatoes, and all around great company.

We all sat out in the sun after lunch talking and enjoying the classic Italian countryside before we said our good byes and headed back to Venice. Reflecting back on our short time with them I still love that Italy more than anything.

Back in Venice we were beyond full making the walk back to the apartment difficult. We opted not to eat that evening and went to bed early as we were due to be up at 5am the next day…something I was not excited to endure.