Tag Archives: Europe

From Pisa to Milan and on to Paris

Friday morning we left Pisa for Milan but decided to first stop in the town of La Spezia along the way. We grabbed some food at a grocery store where I also happened to find a Danish beer the size of my head. I had to get it of course.

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We walked down to the harbor area and sat by the ocean where we had a small picnic with our food.

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It wasn’t long before we had to catch the train that would take us to Milan where we were to take a sleeper train to Paris. We got to Milan far before we needed to catch our night train so we decided to check our bags at the train station and explore Milan a bit. Milan’s a big city and I was a little worried it was going to be as unpleasant as Naples, but it wasn’t. The streets were a lot nicer and clean. We even found a large park with ponds and fountains that was really nice. We walked around the city some more and finally stopped at a small cafe where we could grab some coffee and sit for a bit.

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The cafe ended up closing while we were there so we had to move on. We decided we’d just go back to the train station and get our bags out of storage and just wait for our train. Once aboard we got settled into our top bunks and I grabbed a couple beers from the train bar which was conveniently located next to our cabin. As I drank my beers in my bunk I over heard some Americans talking about how they were going to a Jimmy Buffet concert in Paris, I thought that was kinda funny. The train ride itself was alright minus the woman in our cabin who smelled like shit and decided it was a good idea to wake up at 7am and keep opening and closing the cabin door every two minutes, even though we weren’t supposed to get to Paris until 9am. Fuck you bitch, I’m glad the bunk ladder hit you in the head when you were getting your luggage out.

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Once into Paris we caught the metro down to our hotel in the Montparnasse area. We arrived at our hotel early and for the first time on our trip we where not able to get an early check-in. Lame. We were able to leave our bags in their luggage storage and then went to grab some breakfast.

After breakfast we were off to check out the Paris Catacombs which were nearby. There was a pretty good sized line to enter the catacombs when we got there and I’d say we spent a good hour waiting to get in. Once inside you descend about 130 steps down into an underground tunnel which was used for mining stone. You follow the underground tunnels for a while and eventually enter a passageway that is lined on both sides with stacks of human skeletal remains, which is a little shocking to see a first. The tunnel of bones goes on for a while until you finally make your accent back up to the surface.

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After we finished our tour of the Catacombs we bolted over to the train station so we could get a sleeper car reservations for Sunday night. Unfortunately for us the train was booked up. We had to get back to Madrid by Tuesday somehow and the only other way to do it was to take trains all day on Monday, which didn’t sound fun but we had to do it. We booked our trains for Monday and headed back to our hotel to check in and ask if we could book a second night since our Sunday night train plans fell through. Luckily, a second night at the hotel was not a problem.

That night we found a vegan restaurant to eat at called Tien Huang which we were pretty stoked about since we hadn’t eaten at a proper vegetarian restaurant since Prague. The food was superb. After dinner we hitched the Metro up to the Montmartre area to check out a bar called Rock ‘n’ Roll Circus I had Googled earlier that day. We thought we might be getting there too early since it was only 8pm but when we walked up the place was already jammin’ with a live band and people already poured out front in the street drinking. I was surprised. We decided to walk and grab some coffee and come back later to see if the crowd would thin out a bit. We got coffee at a Starbucks which was directly across the street from the Moulin Rouge where we got a table outside and people watched. After our caffeine fix we headed back to Rock ‘n’ Roll Circus to see how it was. When we got back the crowd was a little smaller and there was a DJ playing 7″ rock ‘n’ roll records. I went inside and ordered a whiskey and coke but only got a whiskey with ice, oh well. The DJ spinning that night was supposedly the oldest rock DJ in Paris and he looked it, but he was not messing around. He had an arsenal of props he used to try and stir up the crowd: moroccos, a whistle, and a dinner bell which he ran around with and banged with a spoon. But his antics didn’t stop there, oh no, at some points after he threw on a record he’d then immediately light off a large firecracker in the bar. Let me also say he looked like a bad fat Elvis impersonator. Pretty entertaining but it started to cook like an oven in that joint so I finished my whiskey and we made our way out.

Napels and Pisa

The night train to Naples was a hell ride. It was packed full of people and even though we had seat reservations there seemed to be people sitting where we were supposed to be. As we waited for the train attendant to come the police came on the train and just started telling people where to sit since it was so disorganized. They tried to put us in a space that was crammed with other passengers who had their belongings strewn about. I had to struggle with the train attendant to put us in the seats we had reserved and have the people occupying those seats kicked out. We finally took our proper seats but it was difficult to sleep. We were a little worried about our belongings since the train was crammed with all kinds of random people and it didn’t help that the dude sitting next to us was a loud snorer. Also, sleeping upright in a rocking train seat isn’t easy. After what seemed like the longest train ride ever we finally arrived in Naples.

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I had high expectations of Naples, so it is sad to say this, but the place seemed like a shithole. I guess I shouldn’t generalize the entire city that way, but everywhere surrounding the train station seemed like a dump. There were piles of garbage everywhere, sidewalks in disrepair, tons of construction, graffiti, crazy traffic jams, and you couldn’t cross the street without fearing for your life. We grabbed some coffees and decided to walk towards the coast where we thought things might be a little nicer. After getting caught up in a labor march we happened upon a tourist information booth. Not sure why this wasn’t at the train station, I guess that’d make too much sense. Anyway, the people working at it were helpful and gave us a map and told us about some sights to see; some of Napel’s castles were among them.

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We walked through the pathways of Napel’s oldest castle which was actually on a small island off the coast connected by a bridge. The views we got were unbeatable and it kind of made up for the hassle to get there.

We grabbed some food at a typical Italian restaurant, and then made our way back to the train station where we caught our night train to Milan. The night train to Milan was a lot better than the night before because we were able to reserve actual beds in a sleeper car rather than just seats. We slept great, however, in the morning the train attendant did not return our rail pass to us which he had taken from us the night before when he checked our reservations. I kept telling him that I needed it back but he insisted he did not have it. I was getting worried I’d never see it again and felt quite helpless. I kept pleading with the train attendant but to no avail. There were a couple of Italian dudes in our sleeper car as well, one who spoke a little English and sympathized with us. When he saw the train attendant walk by again it seemed like he was giving him crap for not returning our pass or something, I couldn’t tell since he was speaking to him in Italian, however shortly after that conversation the train attendant was able to produce our rail pass. I guess he finally realized his mistake and had given it to another passenger (that makes you feel good). At least he was very apologetic about the mistake but I honestly think that if it wasn’t for our fellow Italian passenger we wouldn’t have seen our rail pass again. Having our rail pass back we breathed a huge sigh of relief as we rolled into Milan. Shortly thereafter we caught our train to Pisa.

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Our bed and breakfast was just a short walk from the Pisa train station and was quite nice. We dropped off our stuff and then went in search of food. After lunch we strolled around a little while but came back to our room to relax some and watched some English television documentaries about Russia. It was nice relaxing especially after all the train travel we had done for the past two days but alas, we didn’t come to Pisa to watch television. We were off to see the leaning tower, but not without first stopping to get some ice cream from a place that was recommended by our host. The place was called Gelateria De’ Coltelli and was supposed to be one of the top five ice cream places in Italy. It was pretty good I guess. We finished our ice cream on our way to the leaning tower where we hung out and took some pictures. It was fun watching all the other tourists doing the required hand-holding-up-the-leaning-tower pose and making sure their pictures came out just perfect.

Verona and Bolognia

Sunday morning we left our bed and breakfast in the hills of Salzburg and caught a train to Innsbruck where we wanted to catch a night train into Venice. It began to rain on our way to Innsbruck and when we finally arrived at the station it was pouring. When we tried to place our reservation for the night train we were struck with the unfortunate news that it was sold out. We had to now come up with a new plan or be stranded in Innsbruck for the night. We opted to book a hotel in Verona and stay there for the night which would position us to get to Venice the next morning.

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We got to Verona just fine and made our way to our hotel which was about a mile walk from the train station.

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We got dinner at the hotel restaurant where we ordered strictly vegetable dishes since we had been pretty much living off of bread and cheese. We turned in for the night and set the alarm for 5:45am so we could catch an early train to Venice. When I woke up in the morning I checked the weather forecast which showed rain all day in Venice. Well that didn’t seem like fun so we decided to sleep a couple more hours and instead just catch a train to Bolognia where we would be able to meet up with an Italian friend of mine, Estafania, who I had met back on my Europe trip in 2005.

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We got into Bolognia in the early afternoon but discovered Estafania would not be home until about 6:30pm so we had some time to kill. We walked around Bolognia for a bit but finally settled at a cafe where we got some drinks and did some more planning for the remainder of our trip.

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Eventually we met up with Estafania in a plaza near her house. She showed us to her apartment where we got to meet her cat and two dogs. She made us dinner which was really sweet and we hung out and talked for a bit. Later that night her girlfriend, Sara, came home, who we also got to meet.

The next day we took a trip to Venice. We checked out San Marco Plaza and wondered around the twisting Venetian streets finally stopping at a cafe where we relaxed, had some drinks, and took in the surroundings.

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In the evening we went back to Bolognia where we grabbed dinner and then watched a movie at Estafania’s house while we waited for our night train to Naples.

Prague

We quickly found our way to our hotel in Prague Wednesday morning. Again, we were lucky enough to check in early and get our room right away. The hotel was super nice and actually exceeded my expectations. We had a huge room and in the lobby there was free coffee at all times, as well as free wifi and a computer to use.

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We decided to look up a restaurant since we hadn’t ate since Amsterdam. We found a tasty sounding vegetarian Indian restaurant only a block away from our hotel and quickly made our way over to it. It was buffet style and you paid by the weight of your tray; this was cool because you could get a little taste of everything.

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I probably ate more than I should have and when we got back to the hotel I passed out for a bit. That night we didn’t do much, just took advantage of the hotel’s lobby computer, trying to plan out the rest of our trip.

The next day we helped ourselves to the free hotel breakfast and then headed out to do some sightseeing.

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Our hotel was pretty close to Prague’s Old Town Square so we were able to walk to all the things we wanted to see.

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It was nice not having to use the metro to get around. I shot a little time-lapse at Prague Castle but people kept getting in the shots.

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We were able to grab lunch at a place called Country Life, a vegetarian restaurant/market, in old town which was also a buffet style place. The food hear was delicious and I was actually able to contain myself from eating too much this time.

At night we went out to a couple of local bars. The first one we popped into was called Café Propaganda; it was underground and they were playing American rock songs. We ordered a couple drinks and they were twice the size we’d get back in the US and cheaper to boot. I guess they don’t mess around in Prague. The next place we went to was called Double Trouble which I had read about online. It was stated that this bar is a good mix of locals and tourists with nights usually ending with people dancing on chairs and tables. When we walked in it just seemed like a techno club with a bunch of drunk English folks. I had their only beer on tap, which was actually pretty good, and then we left. We decided we might as well not stay out too late since we had to catch an early train to Salzburg the next morning.

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We grabbed our hotel breakfast in the morning and made for the train station. Goodbye, Prague, you were good times.

Two Days in Paris

After settling into our hostel we decided to check out the Sacré-Cœur which was just up the street from where we were staying. From the top of the hill where the cathedral is located is supposed to be one of the best views in Paris; I thought it was alright. There were lots of tourists, beggars, and street venders there selling crapy souvenirs. We grabbed some coffee and sat on the hill for a while and then strolled down to see the Moulin Rouge and the surrounding area.

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We then decided to hop on the metro and head over to see the Arc de Triomphe. This was a landmark I was really looking forward to seeing. Coming out of the metro seeing this thing towering over the streets was striking. Of course there were lots of tourist here as well but less trinket peddlers which was nice.

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Since we were on a roll of touristy sightseeing stops we obviously had to make it over to the Eiffel Tower. On our way over we stopped in a market to grab some proper provisions for the park; it would’ve been foolish not to. It was a perfect day to sit next to the Eiffel Tower and have snacks and wine in the park.

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As the sun went down we left our spot in the park and took a bridge across The Seine River to The Jardin du Trocadéro to get a better view of the tower at night.

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We caught the metro back to the area our hostel was in and walked around that area for a bit. We finally retired to our hostel’s patio where we talked with a fellow backpacker named Ignacio who was from Costa Rica. He said he was also on a three week trip and talked about how much he liked Prague.

We woke up somewhat early the next morning around 7:30am so we could head down for the free breakfast. It was a standard hostel breakfast of coffee, juice, cereal, and bread. Not too exciting, but hey, it’s free.

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We headed out into town after breakfast but it soon began to rain on us. We decided we might as well go back to our hostel, grab our belongings, and head to our hotel booked for that night in hopes for another early check in.

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We arrived at our hotel far before check in time but luckily our room was ready.

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After settling in we decided to find a market so we could make some lunch. We picked up some bread, cucumber, tomato, and cheese for sandwiches which we assembled in the hotel room.

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After lunch I passed out for a bit to get reenergized for the evening. After a two hour nap I still wasn’t ready to get up but there is only so much time in a day. We ended up grabbing some coffee and checked out The Notre-Dame and then walked to the Louvre and hung around there for a bit. I took some nice photos and am hoping to put together some short time-lapse movies from the trip.

Tomorrow we catch a train to Brussels.

Madrid to Paris

Our flight into Madrid seemed shorter than we thought it would which was nice. We got in to Madrid pretty early in the morning around 6:30am. Our first line of business was to hop on the metro and head to the train station where we could make reservations for our night train to Paris.

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We bought a couple all day metro passes and headed for the Chamartin Train Station. Getting there was easy but booking our reservations was a little harder. After talking to two attendants and with some scrappy Spanish we were finally able to reserve a couple of beds on a sleeper train. With that all done we headed into central Madrid to explore.

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We got coffee and checked out some of the old plazas which were quite nice. After a while it started getting pretty hot and a walking around with our packs got a little tiring. All we wanted to do was eat and we had one specific vegetarian restaurant in mind, but of course it didn’t open until 1pm. We waited grumpily until it finally opened and ended up ordering way too much food.

Since we were still really tired from our 14 hour flight from the states, and we still had the afternoon left to spend in Madrid, we decided to head over to Retiro Park so we could relax. We found a nice shady spot in some grass where Sayaka ended up falling asleep for a bit. Later we walked further into the park to find an awesome lake with people paddling around it in boats.

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It was quite an amazing park and I wish we could’ve spent more time there, however we had to head back to the train station to catch our train. We got some weird sandwiches there for dinner and finally boarded for our night journey to Paris. I shared my cabin with a couple Australian dudes and Sayaka just had one French girl in hers. I fell asleep quite quickly on the train but kept waking up in the night thinking I was on a boat since the train rocked so much. At some moments I felt as if we were going to flip of the tracks. In the morning I felt amazingly rested. When we got into Paris we headed for our hostel hoping for an early check-in which we got. We booked a private room which is nice to have after traveling with a bunch of other people for so long.

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Our hostel is in The Montmartre area and we have a pretty nice view out our window. We will stay here tonight and tomorrow we move to a hotel in the same vicinity.

Europe in 3 Weeks

So we are gearing up for our summer trip across Europe for 3 weeks (more like 18 days) where we will visit about 8 different countries.  It’s kind of a tall order but I think we can do it. Every time I mention I’m going to Europe people always ask where I am going so I decided I might as well post it here.

The plan goes as follows:  Fly into Madrid in the morning and that night catch a night train straight to Paris. Stay there for a day or two or more then make our way up to Belgium and the Netherlands. Then we’ll head East through Germany to end up in Prague. We will probably stay there a night or two. Then we’ll meander South to Salzburg where we have a quaint little hostel booked.  The plan is to take a 2 hour train from Salzburg into Munich were it will be the first day of Oktoberfest. After the shenanigans there we’ll head back to our hostel in Salzburg to recover; then move down to Venice.  We’ll only stay there a day and then skip down to Rome, maybe down to Pompei, then up the West coast of Italy hitting up whatever seaside villages we can and swing by Pisa as well. The last part of the journey isn’t quite all figured out yet but ultimately we’ll end back up in Madrid to fly home.