Sunset Picnic in Fiesole

Emily, Brie, Nicole, and Yvonne invited me to go up to Fiesole with them to have a picnic.  I thought this was a wonderful idea, since I’d heard the town is charming.  Emily and I walked around a big Conad store to pick up bread, peaches, plums, and cheese.  We met Brie, Nicole and Yvonne at their apartment and walked to the tabaccheria on the corner to get bus tickets.  When we got off the bus in the Piazza Mino del Fiesole, we headed uphill towards a church.  There was a big lawn and some stone benches overlooking Firenze.

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It was a perfect golden sunset, and the bread was fresh and the cheese was great and the plums were so juicy.  We had SO MANY plums.  If you are ever in Italy in late summer/autumn, go to the fresh market and buy golden plums.

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We didn’t get to explore a lot because it was getting dark and pretty much everything was closed, but it was so beautiful there.

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The Ruins of Pompei

Pompei was buried in ash and pumice in 79 AD when Mount Vesuvius erupted, preserving a 1st-century Roman town, including its people and art.  Erica and I reached Pompei midmorning after we left Atrani and had taken the bus back to Salerno.  We walked around the ruins for a couple of hours.  A lot of the architecture has been preserved, as well as pottery and frescoes.
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Since volcanic soil is so fertile, a lot of the vineyards have been regrown in the ruins and there are trees everywhere.  In the background of this picture, you can see Mount Vesuvius resting ominously.

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We walked around trying to find the casts of the people whose forms had been preserved by the intense heat of the eruption.  Sadly, we didn’t find them.  We saw one last amphitheater and figured it would be pretty much the same as the other two we’d already been in.  So note: the last amphitheater is where the replicas of the bodies are (the originals are in the Museo Archeologico Nazionale in Naples.

That was the final adventure on this disastrous trip, and a pretty good conclusion.  When I got back to our apartment, I called Emily and told her what I disaster the trip had been, and she brought me chocolate milk and made me spaghetti.  Best friend EVER. (Thanks Em.)

Journey to the Amalfi Coast (Or Why you shouldn’t talk to strangers)

After the success of going to Croatia without anyone I knew, it was time I dealt with disaster.

Erica and I had gone on a planning spree a couple weeks ago and decided we wanted to go to the Amalfi Coast together.  Which sounds great, right?  Yeah, duh.  But we had never travelled together, and maybe I should have been clued in to how bad an idea this was when I noticed she never explored the city we were living in.  She was always, always always always on her computer, messaging friends back home.  Which I can understand to an extent.  But still, how often do you, as a college student, get to live in Firenze, Italia for four months?

So anyways, during our planning spree, we decided we were going to take a night train down to Naples and go to Pompei and the Amalfi Coast from there.  Mistake numero uno: I didn’t check the tickets.  The first ticket was for the fast train to Rome.  Numero due: The connecting train to Naples didn’t leave until the next morning, when the train station opened back up.  There was a gap we didn’t know was there until we arrived at Stazione Termini in Rome, and were getting ready to camp out on some benches and eat McDonalds.  But the station closes down completely for about five hours at night.  We were standing out in the front of the now locked doors, wondering if we should find a spare piece of concrete amidst the other vagrants, or…I don’t know what our other plan would have been.  Wandering Rome at night without a map?  In any case, a man named Mario decided to walk with us to find a hostel.  He wasn’t an old creeper, maybe 25, and he was pretty nice.  To avoid having to actually share a room with him, we set our room limit at €15.  We got laughed out of several places.  We walked around for maybe two hours, when he actually found a place that would accept our price.  Okay, parents, I never told you about this, but as you can see, Mario was not an ax-murderer or a crazy rapist.  Erica stayed awake playing games on her iPad and let me sleep.  I slept with my feet up by Mario’s head.  I hope they smelled.

At about 6.30, we left him still sleeping at walked back to Termini, which was open again.  We took the first train to Naples and were roundly harassed by a group of teenage boys until the train car filled up enough that they had to stay in their seats.  They asked us to go out with them about forty times.

It was pouring in Naples, and we couldn’t find the Circumvesuviana line (hint: it’s downstairs).  This was the train that was going to take us to Pompei, and then to Salerno, where we would catch a bus to Amalfi.  Our train broke down five times and had water pouring in from where the cars connected.  I think Erica wanted to kill me.

We decided to forego Pompei until the trip back due to the rain, but Erica also decided she only wanted to stay in Amalfi one night and then come home first thing the next day.  This was the first trip I had taken without a guide of any kind.   If I had been braver, I would have told her she could do what she wanted, but I was going to stay.  But, spoiler alert, I went back with her.  That was kind of the beginning of the end between us.

The Amalfi Coast was beautiful, even in less-than-ideal weather.  There was a fairly terrifying bus ride from the train station in Salerno to the town of Amalfi.  We had to backtrack a little to get to Atrani, where our hostel was.  After a nap in one of the rooms of A’Scalinatella, the hostel in Atrani that I had found, I watched the sun set on this beautiful church high up on a cliff.

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The church is Santa Maria del Bando, and is home to a painting of Mary and Jesus by an unknown 3rd-century artist.

The fact that we didn’t explore a bunch, or stay very long just gives me a good reason to go back.  At the time, I was mostly just happy to get a warm shower.

The next morning Erica and I had a really nice breakfast in the dining room.  We had tea, orange juice, croissants filled with peach jam, biscuits with Nutella, toast and eggs.  While we were waiting for the bus to come back through town, we walked down the the beach, where boats were waiting to be sent out for the day.

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Since I didn’t get to spend really any time on the Amalfi Coast, here’s some history.

Amalfi was a major maritime trading hub in Byzantine times (c. 330-1453).  In the 19th century the coast was extremely isolated and could only be reached by mules on steep mountain roads.  By the 1900s its isolation and location just south of the busy metropolis of Naples, is what drew people, including, artists and writers.  The town of Amalfi is now mostly known for Duomo di Sant’Andrea, built in the 9th century.  The cathedral’s crypt is home to St. Andrew the Apostle, who was delivered by Constantinople in 1208.  The towns of the Amalfi coast are all beautiful, though some are more popular with tourists than others.  Positano, the picturesque town with houses spilling into the Mediterranean, and Ravello, perched high above the water and the rest of the towns, would probably be at the top of the popularity list.  The cliffs that make up the coast are covered not just in homes descending to the sea, but also stepped vineyards.  I mean of course!  It’s Italy!

Anyways, these were the things we saw from the bus as we headed to the ruins of Pompei.

Croatia in three parts: 3

My time in Croatia was coming to a close, and even though I was ready to see Emily again, I wasn’t quite ready to leave this secret paradise I had found. We woke up early our last morning and walked to the bus waiting at the end of the quay. The six of us, me and my five roommates, sat in three rows of two. I sat with Grace and we talked as the bus wound its way up into the mountains. We were going to Krka National Park.

Our Bus2Alps guide, Tiernan, said it was her favorite place in the world, which is pretty high praise from someone who has travelled all over Europe, so I knew it had to be good. Driving up to the entrance almost felt like the national parks at home–a lodge with shuttle buses, some cabins along the road, and a grassy landscape with the occasional tree (I guess that’s like Zion or the Grand Canyon). The bus went down a really windy road into a deep glacially created canyon with an ultramarine river flowing through it.

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We took a winding road down to the parking lot, where the trail started.  We walked through a beautiful forest filled with the sound of water.  We had to walk over boardwalks that crossed streams and waterfalls.  The water was always a deep blue-green.  We passed through places that seemed like they were part of a completely different forest.

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The whole time I thought that Krka was one of the most beautiful places I’d ever been.  I had yet to see the grand finale.

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I basically sat in the grass and looked at the waterfalls for the next two hours.  It was cool out, but it was warm in the sun.  Some people were swimming, while others ate at the little restaurant nearby (I was out of kuna, the currency in Croatia).  On the way back up to the bus, we walked past more waterfalls rushing towards Skradinski Buk, the main waterfalls.  I sat next to Grace, and we talked for a while about our lives until we eventually fell asleep.  I woke up in time to see the sunset while we were driving through Slovenia, back to Firenze.

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Croatia in three parts: 2

Day two in Croatia, we woke up and went down to breakfast at the restaurant beneath the hostel, called De Belly. There were eggs and half-toasted bread with strawberry jam (that’s like a thing in Europe, half-toasted bread. You get used to it.). After breakfast we went back upstairs and got ready to go to Brac, an island off the coast of Split. We all trailed down to one of the piers and got into a boat that had a lower deck with wooden tables and an upper deck with benches. There were so many of us that we pretty much filled both decks. As we left the harbor people were laughing and screaming but I mostly watched the sailboats out on the water. I met another girl who joined our group, Arin, and we talked about school and the places we wanted to travel to.

Split and mainland Croatia as our boat was leaving the harbor:

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They served us lunch on the boat–spaghetti for me, but everyone else got a fish. Just a whole fish. It was kind of freaky.

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There was also an unlabeled bottle of mysteriously strong wine.  I tried some and felt like my throat and mouth and chest were on fire.  It was the kind of stuff that doesn’t even hit your stomach, it goes straight to your brain.  Everyone else was pretty wary of it, so we avoided the bottle altogether and just drank water.

We stopped in a little town on Brac called Postira.  When people saw our boat come into the harbor, they set up impromptu gift shops and postcard stands.  There were men playing cards and smoking outside a pub and a black dog running around by the water.  The buildings were either whitewashed or stone with red roofs, and there was a sweet little church that I wanted to go into.  Unfortunately we had limited time in Postira, so I bought a floaty for when we went swimming and a postcard, then went to the supermarket with Grace and got a huge bottle of iced tea and some plums.

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We got back on the boat and went around the island to another cove, and the water was amazingly clear.  I don’t know how deep it was, but I could see the sea-grass and rocks passing beneath us.  We docked in a tiny harbor, and people jumped off the top deck of the boat into the water.  Then they swam under or around the boat to reach the stone stairs that went up to land.

While walking to the beach with Grace, I blew up the floaty I had bought in Postira and discovered it was about the size of my head.  It also had cute orange fish on it.  The walk to the beach was nice, if longer than I expected.  It was hidden a cove along a little road lined with houses and gardens.  Every now and then someone would zip by on a Vespa or bike.  The beach was rocky and was also home to an orange and white cat (I took home a rock that now resides on my dresser).

After sunbathing and drinking tea and eating plums for a couple hours, I decided to go in the water and try out the floaty.  As suspected, the floaty failed at life!!!  I sunk up to my shoulders, and it basically just kept me from sitting fully on the ground.  The water was cold but incredibly clear, and I could see how the roots from a nearby tree dipped into the water and dug back into the ground.  The rocks on the bottom were orange and green and blue.

That night, Klaire, Grace, Mel and i went to Trogir with some other people that didn’t want to go on another pub crawl.  I got mac n’ cheese gnocchi, which was amazing, and we threw french fries to a black cat that was wandering around the outdoor patio.  Trogir was magical, like it was stuck in time, and there were old women walking around and gelato shops still open, and I walked around the narrow streets for 15 minutes or so looking for somewhere to get a postcard, and the streets were so narrow that if I stretched my arms out I could touch the walls on both sides.

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Ok, bedtime.  I’ll leave you with this picture that I love.

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Croatia in three parts: 1

The Croatia weekend trip was the first trip I had taken by myself. No one really knew that much about Croatia, so they weren’t as interested in going as if I’d been going to say, Provence. But I had recently read that it was an unknown, safe destination, so I was like, let’s do this. During our Siena and San Gimignano day trip I had asked our guide about Croatia and she said October 4 was the last trip of the season. So I signed up with two spots to spare.

Our tour met at Stazione SMN at 9pm, and were all herded onto a double-decker bus. There were so many of us, it was completely full. I got a window seat on the top next to some guy, and we drove on the autostrada for maybe and hour and a half before we stopped at an Autogrill for dinner.

Autogrill is like…I don’t know. The only thing equivalent to a food court I ever saw in Italy, except it also has a little shopping area with books and snacks and stuff. There’s a place that sells pizza, and another place that has burgers, and then maybe salad or something.  It’s pretty uncharacteristic compared to the rest of Italy.

Anywho, we all got Pringles and Pockys at Autogrill, which was basically closing because it was 11 at night.  I think I ate a whole box of Pocky, you know, those pretzel sticks that are covered in chocolate that are only sold in the Chinese section of the grocery store.  And then I fell in the dead sleep of one who has to sleep upright for ten hours.  We pulled into Split around 8 am, and dropped our stuff off at the hostel, which is hidden in the Diocletian Palace.  The palace was built for Emperor Diocletian back in the 4th century AD as a retirement home.  We had breakfast at the restaurant beneath our hostel (more on how cool that place was later).  The hostel stored all our luggage in a closet behind the desk (I had only packed a backpack).

So then we all got ready for white-water rafting.  We followed our guides down the Riva promenade to the taxi station, where our bus was waiting.  It was about an hour and half drive to the launching point on the Cetina river, where we put wetsuits on over our swimsuits.  Rafting was so much fun.  There were parts that we really had to pay attention to, but mostly we could relax and talk to our guide and watch fallen trees pass beneath the water’s surface.  I was with the five other girls I was sharing the room at the hostel with: Grace, Klaire, Mel, Jenna and Shannon.  They had all travelled together, and they were so fantastic and let me tag along with them.  We all made each other laugh over the silliest things, like when we saw a horse grazing by the river and Jenna yelled, “Look, it’s a unicorn!!!”

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At one point our guide told us that we were going to have to sit really fast in the bottom of the raft when we went over a small waterfall.  We practiced a couple times, then actually went over the falls, which is really just really fast water being squeezed between two rocks.  All I remember is getting a face-full of freezing cold water.

We all got to stop so we could swim and jump off a big rock.  I don’t usually jump off of big rocks into rivers, but I figured, what the hell, I’m in Croatia, and anyways, this would be an appropriate use of YOLO.  I stood on the edge for about a minute, trying to figure out if there was a way for me to turn back, but then I lunged forward and screamed and hit the water, which all went up my nose.

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It was great.

After rafting we all had a lunch at a beautiful restaurant in a stone building by the river.  Everyone got fish, and I got the usual vegetarian meal, spaghetti.  It was really good though, and there were bread rolls and for dessert we had beignets (my favorite!).

When we went back to the hostel, everyone got ready for the pub crawl, which I didn’t have any interest in.  I walked around the Diocletian palace for a while, and found a touristy shirt that said I Love Croatia, which I still wish I had gotten.  I suuuuper tired, so I went back to the hostel.

I want to tell you about the Goli+Bosi hostel.  It’s not your regular crappy backpacker place.  Even though there were six of us to a room, it was still one of the best places I stayed.  All the room numbers referred to a significant year in Croatian history.  Each bed was in a nook with a curtain you could pull over the entrance, and each nook had its own electric plugs and lights so you didn’t disturb anyone else.  The walls in the rooms were white, but the floors, and well as the entire hallway and common area was an incredible bright yellow that kind of made you feel like you were walking through apple juice.  Also our bathroom and shower were bright yellow.  The whole place was very surreal.

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I fell asleep while I was writing in my journal, and was woken up at midnight or so by Jenna, Klaire, Shannon, and Mel coming back in the room between pub visits.  Someone was crying, and I figured out in my sleepy haze that Mel was trying to call her fiance back in the US, and Klaire and Shannon were trying to comfort her.  Jenna was yelling, “You guys, SHHHH, Rachel and Grace are SLEEPING!!!”  It was so ridiculous that I started laughing.

Thus ended my first day in Croatia.

Horseback Riding in Chianti

Our Friday started kind of sketchy, because we couldn’t find the group of people we were supposed to meet by the McDonald’s (it’s truly a travesty that there’s a McD’s in Firenze).  Then our drivers found us and led us over to a van in the train station parking lot.  We rode with a woman who was taking a Vespa tour through Chianti.  Nicole, Emily and I were the only people going horseback riding.

The people at the stables were so sweet.  They let us walk around the barn area and pet the horses.  They had Friesians, the big black horses with the long, wavy mane and tail, and they were so beautiful.  We ate some Italian snacks out of the vending machine in the locker room and then got ready to ride.  I never caught my horse’s name, but Emily’s horse was named Brutta.  Which, by the way, is Italian for “ugly,” so poor Brutta.  She was actually very pretty.  Em was kind of nervous about riding because she hadn’t done it as much as me and Nicole, but her horse was very sweet.  Brutta liked to stop in the middle of the trail and start munching on the tall grass, and Emily would laugh and try to pull her back in the right direction.  It was so peaceful, weaving around the grapevines and walking through forests with songbirds in the trees.

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Afterwards, we were taken to Monteriggioni, a 13th century castle in Chianti.  From a distance it looks like a crown, and a Medici lady wore it as a crown on a stamp or something, so it’s called the crown of Italy.  We had a wine tasting in what was apparently the oldest room in the city.  It felt so private, since it was just the three of us.  The lady leading the tasting was so nice and informative abou the wine.  (That’s what I wrote in my journal, but there’s no more detail.) A lot of the wine came from a nearby winery called Monte Chiaro: Terra della Grigia.  Anyways, it was really good.  The lady had white, pink and purple hair, and I really wanted to take a picture of her for the portrait project in my photo class, but I was too nervous to ask.

We met up with the Vespa people for lunch.  It was a huge lunch with bread, oil and vinegar, bruschetta, two kinds of pasta, and pie and gelato for dessert.  And more wine.  I was so full! Image

After lunch we walked around the castle, but we weren’t feeling that great and were all kind of cranky, like trail riding really takes it out of you.  Monteriggioni is so pretty, with olive groves everywhere and these panoramic views when you stand outside the city walls.

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