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.

One Last Day in Bellano

One Last Day in Bellano

On our last day in Milan we had already decided we wanted to stay at the lakes. We headed back to Bellano. After having such a positive experience we wanted to spend a full day there. Before we left Milan we were worried as the weather report called for rain and clouds at Como. Once we arrived our greatest fears were realized as the weather was terrible, the rain had passed but there wasn’t a single ray of sun to be had. It was rather all and all disappointing.

We grabbed food from the local grocer for lunch and went down to the beach. We were the only ones there. I was less than impressed, and rather grumpy. I sat for awhile playing Angry Birds, getting wet by the occasional drop of water still remaining in the threatening clouds above. Rebecca was determined it would get nicer. As I went off for a walk she must have prayed pretty hard because low and behold the sun broke through and it turned into a beautiful day. We sat at the water for a while catching rays and enjoying lunch; a fresh Caprese sandwich with salami.

We spent the majority of the day on the beach in the sun spending time sun tanning and swimming. There was a fresh food market so we both wandered through that enjoying, for maybe the last time, a real Italian market. When we felt like we had had enough sun we packed up our stuff and headed into the city centre to grab some gelato but not before we visited the local marina and met with some nice people who had been out on the water all day sailing. We watched them lift a large boat out of the water because due to the lack of dock space most boats when not in the water were lifted out, maintained and kept in a boat parking lot.

We savoured our gelato while sitting on a bench overlooking the lake with the mountain in the background. I couldn’t stop thinking to myself, why would anyone ever want to leave a place like this.

Returning to Lake Como: Varenna, Bellagio & Bellano

Returning to Lake Como: Varenna, Bellagio & Bellano

Neither Rebecca nor I have slept very well the last week while being in Milan, the bed is small, and very soft resulting in an inability to sleep deeply. Due to our plans for our last week, Sunday was one of the last days we would be afforded the opportunity to sleep in, so we tabled our plans to leave early for Lake Maggoire and decided to make plans based on when we awoke. We both slept in, missing the early train leaving us with a decision, did we want to take an 11:30 train to Stresa at Lake Maggoire or a 10:20 to Varenna at Lake Como. I fully understand how that predicament isn’t exactly a life or death problem but that was the biggest issue for us that day.

We opted to head to Lake Como as the train left earlier and we would be afforded more time in the beautiful lakeside town. We boarded our train and headed on our hour trip through the mountains to reach Varenna. Varenna is further north than the town of Como and is directly across from the town of Bellagio which can be reached via ferry. Our initial plan for the day was to head to Bellagio right away before spending time in and around Varenna itself, where we would need to catch the train home. That plan crashed and burned the moment we arrived at Varenna. A couple of other passengers along with us tried to exit the train and car the doors wouldn’t open. Before we knew it or had a chance to signal for help from a conductor, the train was moving again heading to its next stop. Lucky for us the next stop was only about 4 minutes down the track at a small town called Bellano. Not exactly knowing what to do, Rebecca and I made fast friends with an elderly couple, George and Terry, who were supposed to get off at Varenna to take the ferry to their hotel in Bellagio. Trying to get our bearings George and I headed down to the water to determine if it was better to take a train in an hour or if there was a ferry coming sooner while Rebecca stayed with Terry at the station. To make a long story short, in the end George and Terry headed back down the tracks to catch a ferry from Varenna as it was a Sunday and ferry service to Bellano was almost nonexistent. While, for Rebecca and I, we happened to stumble into what can only be described as the cutest, little, out of the way, town in all of Italy.

Bellano is quiet, not a typical tourist destination. It’s a short walk from the station to the waterfront which is clean and simple. You first come across an open green park area that overlooks a marina and beside that is a waterside bar with a pool and rentable sun chairs, in front of what can only be described as a rocky beach. There is a small walking bridge which stretches over a small river that brings the fresh mountain water down to the town and feeds into the lake. Along this river and on the beach, we witnessed people lying in the sun and enjoying the beauty of the quaint little town. Beyond that area, Bellano turns into a small public square and there is a yacht club with sailboat storage. Finally, there is a long boardwalk toward the center of the city which of course has your typical Italian staples: pizzerias, churches, and gelato shops.

We ended up spending a few hours in Bellano, sitting and admiring the view of the mountains and the clear shimmering lake. We picked up lunch from the local grocery store and sat along the park right at the waters edge. It was very remarkable town. We eventually got back to our original plan and jumped on a train and rode it the one stop back to Varenna. Varenna was slightly busier. It appeared to be more of a small fishing community. We initially didn’t spend much time there as we jumped on the first ferry we could get to go to Bellagio.

Heading to Bellagio I wasn’t prepared for the views we witnessed from the boat. Since it was an automobile ferry there was the open front and rear end of the boat which allowed the cars to come and go. This also meant you could get right up to the edge of the boat. Standing there, Rebecca commented, it almost felt as though you were flying over the water.

Upon docking in Bellagio it was apparent we were in a much larger tourist destination. It was busy, crowded, and things were expensive. We quickly made our way through the city to head to the point to look over the lake from a different angle. We sat along the large retaining wall for awhile, gnawing on some bread sticks, occasionally sharing them with the ducks below us. I love feeding ducks. They are such silly animals.

We would spend a little more time in Bellagio walking around the town but all in all it wasn’t the most exciting place for Rebecca and I. While we were there, we did get a chance to watch a regatta featuring Lucia’s, which are typical Lake Como rowboats.

We headed back to Varenna where we explored the town for a short while. We walked along a boardwalk to the main city bay where we sat and enjoyed some gelato while admiring the view again from a different angle. Very quickly a nasty storm rolled in, blowing the boats in the bay around and knocking over umbrellas at some of the smaller restaurants. We opted to take this opportunity to jump on a train and head back to Milan.