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.

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Off to Naples to Visit Friends

Off to Naples to Visit Friends

Tuesday was the last morning Rebecca and I would have in Florence. We left the apartment early to ensure we would catch our train. Having packed everything up the night before, we simply woke, got dressed and headed to the bus stop which would take us and our 300 pound luggage to the station. We were both sad to say goodbye to Florence and both agreed if we had known how comfortable we would become here, we would have extended our stay and spent our last few weeks in Florence instead of our current plan of heading to Milan.

In typical Italian fashion once we arrived at the station we discovered our train was late so we had plenty of time to spare ensuring we wouldn’t miss our ride. One of the early lessons we learned, when traveling by train with large luggage, is to get onboard as soon as possible to make sure your bag has a sensible, secure and safe place. The later you get on the train the greater the chance that your luggage will be relegated to a position neither easily accessible or easy to get up.

Our train ride was uneventful and before we knew it we were in Rome and soon after that were pulling into the Naples station. By that time our train was close to 25 minutes late and I was hoping my friend, Cathy, who was coming to meet us at the station, hadn’t abandoned us. Luckily enough, as soon as we stepped off the train we saw her waving her hands back and forth, and a huge smile plastered across her face. Cathy is a long time family friend who grew up with my mom’s sister in Sudbury and now lives in Naples. Her husband, Ron, works on the NATO base there. I had visited Cathy and her family once before, in 2009, but haven’t found time to return since. It was really nice to see a familiar face and to hear someone else speak English with a Canadian accent.

Cathy was in a panic when she met us as she was deeply worried that her car would have been ticketed, or worse towed, because she thought she had parked where she should not have. I tried to calm her fear by explaining the logic of what would have to happen for someone to tow her car in Italy. First you’d have to find a police officer or traffic officer who would be willing to write up a ticket. Second, you’d need to call a tow truck. Third, they would need to bother someone at an impound lot, and fourth, someone in an office would have to process the ticket, resulting in 4 separate people having to do work. That truly is not the Italian way. Lo and behold, the car was still there, questionably parked, perhaps even holding up traffic as we rolled our luggage out of the station and over to her car.

The drive back to her house in Bacoli, a suburb of Naples, was smooth, once you were out of the city centre. The Naples city centre is a nightmare. I thought Florence was bad for traffic. Naples takes the cake. No one obeys traffic laws and those who do obey them have an additional set of their own traffic rules.

Cathy had moved into a more authentic Naples neighbourhood since I last visited, closer to the water than her previous home. It was slightly smaller than her old place but it had cosy feeling that Rebecca and I quickly embraced. After an early and stressful day we decided to spend the day relaxing and we read and enjoyed the view and the sounds from the apartment. We also took advantage of the opportunity to enjoy some North American treats like ice cold beer, Ruffles sour cream and onion chips, and peanut butter. That evening the four of us went out for dinner at this incredibly good fish place that is a market by day and a trendy hip restaurant by night. I don’t understand much Italian but we all agreed our server had little interest in serving us and the attitude she had was overwhelmingly unappealing. We decided to ignore her attitude and proceeded to enjoy a beautiful evening and some delicious food. We all had a different dish mainly consisting of a variety of deep fried fish while splitting a pitcher of white wine with fresh peaches floating in it – a very Napolitano drink. It was a great time and both Ron and Cathy had the opportunity to get to know Rebecca.

Tempo a Firenze è Finito

Tempo a Firenze è Finito

Our last day in Florence was filled will relaxation. We biked early to Parco dei Renai to catch some sun and to frolic in the water. It was nice, refreshing, and most of all the only thing we wanted to do. Florence had been good to us, we had fallen in love, not quickly, but as a young girl falls in love with an older man. It took time, we needed to learn Florence’s characteristics and likes, but in the end we both did not want to leave.

We suntanned for the majority of the day jumping into the lake in order to enjoy the cool refreshing water and to provide a break from the beautiful but warm sunshine. We planned to leave enough time to drop off our bikes in the center of town and take our last walk back to our apartment in Novoli to meet up with Davide’s parents one last time and to ensure that the apartment was left in an acceptable condition. The one thing you don’t learn in Canada is that when you have windows open all day with no screens dust blows in and coats everything. We spent a couple hours making sure the dust was gone and the apartment looked “clean”.

We crashed early that evening, ensuring our packing was close to complete and the apartment was in the same condition as we had found it. For what laid ahead of us was a different adventure to a different place featuring different characters.

The Friends You Make

The Friends You Make

I’m happy to report that our last Sunday in Florence was tourist free. We woke up late, relaxed around the apartment and headed into town to finish our shopping in the leather market. I came away with a wallet for myself and some gifts for my mother and sister while Rebecca located a couple wallets to match her leather bags. I also went looking for a apron for my father with the Statue of David on the front but in the end wasn’t satisfied with the qualify of any of the ones I found.

In the afternoon we watched the Forumla 1 of Hungary. It was an exciting race and full of action, with Louis Hamilton taking the checkered flag. After the race we spent some time packing before heading to our favourite restaurant for one last meal before we left Florence. We settled in for a long night. We each ordered pizza. We invited the owner, Gino, and his nephew, Franco, over to eat with us as they were both on break.

I never thought I would have been so happy in Florence. Somehow we developed a family and our own pace. We met people who cared about us and from there developed lasting relationships. Heading for dinner for the last time was a reminder that no matter where you go you can always find a home.

Catching Up With A Friend & A Trip To Fiesole

Catching Up With A Friend & A Trip To Fiesole

The one thing I have found to be most refreshing while away is that people I know seem to be everywhere. This realization happened once again while in Florence. I received a message from a university friend, Jane Wong, who was studying in Florence. She asked if I was free as she would love to catch up. I jumped at a chance to hang out with a fellow Canadian. Early Saturday morning we had plans to meet Jane at Caffe Gilli in the Piazza della Repubblica. Jane was a little late, but that allowed us extra time to secure our bikes and to admire a beautiful original 280 SL Mercedes Benz convertible, gray with blue leather interior, with the 4 speed manual. I have always loved old SL’s of this style and hope one day to be fortunate enough to own one myself.

We enjoyed a cafe with Jane and caught up about life and love and Florence. Jane has been in Florence since the winter studying at Polimoda in their Luxury Management program. The three of us chatted for a few hours before it was time to head back to catch some Formula 1 qualifying and for Jane to meet up with her friends.
After qualifying, Rebecca and I biked into the centre planning to head to Piazza San Marco to catch a bus to Fiesole, the first settlement in this area by the Romans. However, as we walked toward where our bikes were secured by our apartment it appeared they had fallen over. On closer inspection we discovered some damage had been done to Rebecca’s bike in the fall. She limped along as far as possible before we stopped at a 99 cent store to grab some glue to fix the broken bits of her bike. We eventually made it to the Piazza and locked our bikes. I glued her broken bits together and we headed towards Fiesole.

Fiesole was beautiful. Located high above Florence it provided a gorgeous panoramic view, different from that seen in Piazza Michelangelo. We wandered around for a while, seeing the original Etruscan ruins and heading to an old cloister…that’s a nunnery for those of you who don’t know what a cloister is.

A Day At The Beach

A Day At The Beach

Another tip we picked up from visiting with Davide and his parents was that there was a man-made lake not far from Novoli, about 12km and with bikes that became a destination worth visiting. Early Friday we unlocked our heavily locked orange bikes and headed north towards Signa. The start of the trip was a series of paved roads and pathways through La Cascine that quickly fell away to dirt and sand and rocks which continued for 8 km. It was rough, and hard, and in the end our bodies hurt from rolling over the large rocks and holes in the uneven path.

When we eventually reached the water and the beachfront it was a relief. We paid our 5 euro each for a sun chair and relaxed for the remainder of the day. As some of you may not be aware I hate getting wet and I take forever to get into cold water. Duncan, Will, Craig, Jeremy, Adam, and Kevin will know that I don’t do lake swimming easily, and this was much the same. I would enjoy the water, from my knees down. Sometimes I would go slightly further in if I had to pee.

The weather was impeccable and we enjoyed the peace, the sunshine and the occasional train traffic. The regional trains coming in and out of Florence were on a elevated platform on the other side of the lake. We stayed until the lake closed and biked back what seemed like hundreds of miles, sucking the last bits of energy from us. Sun tanning is harder than it looks.

Aperitivo ad Arte

Aperitivo ad Arte

Wednesday took a heavy toll on the body meaning that Thursday the majority of the morning was spent sleeping and recovering, icing body parts and stretching. I honestly hadn’t felt this much pain in a long, long time. In the afternoon, we spent some time planning out the remainder of our trip. Thursday evening we were due to visit the Uffizi gallery, one of the oldest and most famous art museums. On Thursday evenings in the summer the gallery has started a program where for 12 euro it opens its doors to a select few for the tour of a few rooms of the gallery and to sit on the terrace where your ticket provides one drink and a buffet of appetizers: A tip we picked up from Davide’s mother when we meet her the other night. Me, not being one known for sending great amounts of time in museums and art galleries, thought this may be a great way to increase turn out. We got there a little after doors opened at 7 and it was already busy. We made a b-line for the terrace; grabbed a table, our drinks and some delicious food and sat with the Duomo, Palazzo Vecchio, and Campanile di Giotto in our sight line. It was a gorgeous evening and a great way to experience the Uffizi Gallery. We were lucky enough to catch there last Thursday evening for the summer, as like most things in Italy, it does not run in August.