Europe Trip: Day 13: Amsterdam, Netherlands

IMG_1762 Au revoir Pairs! Time to rush off through the morning rain to catch our train to the Netherlands!

It is always stressful finding the right train station (especially lugging around all of our luggage) but once on board, we LOVE the train.

IMG_3382I have to take a minute to brag about Annalisa. Ladies, you could learn a lot from this woman!…

Let me just start by saying men need reassurance too. Men sometimes have to be reminded that just because we meant it when we said “I love you” last week, we still need to say it genuinely daily. And we need to remind our woman of how beautiful they are, and help them to feel beautiful not just with words, but with affection and attention.

Just as women need to be constantly reassured of their man’s love, a man needs it too and sometimes in a different way. And Annalisa does a SUPERB job of this. She pulls me aside and lays a smooch on me for no reason at all. And it’s not just a simple peck. With her words and actions, she affirms her attraction for me.  And just to clarify that word “attraction” has nothing to do with exterior beauty. True Love Attraction is something that develops and grows the more you get to know a person. It fosters and flames when your souls intertwine.

I’m so thankful for a woman who reassures me daily of her love through kind words of affirmation and physical touch.

Anyway, we arrived in the city of Amsterdam and set out to explore. All the people we encountered were so kind! One time we ran out of cash and we forgot to pull out more before boarding the tram. I went and explained our situation to the conductor and she let us ride for free. All the locals we spoke to were warm, friendly, and more than willing to give advice as to best places to see.

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Amsterdam-32 Amsterdam-33 Amsterdam-35 Amsterdam-36 Amsterdam-12 Amsterdam-13Most people probably think of the Red Light District when they think of Amsterdam, but there is so much more to the city than that. There are parks, canals, flower fields, and museums galore!

Amsterdam-17 Amsterdam-14 Amsterdam-26 Amsterdam-25 Amsterdam-24Everyone in the city rides bikes! We have never seen more bikes in our whole life. Annalisa noted, “Dang, everyone must have really nice legs here.”

Amsterdam-9 Amsterdam-3 Amsterdam-4Today was VERY cold again. I probably should have worn more than a short sleeve shirt under my jacket because I was freezing!

Amsterdam-30 Amsterdam-40 Amsterdam-42 Amsterdam-39 Amsterdam-21I have not been impressed with European food on this trip. I don’t know if it’s just because I am accustomed to American food or what. For the most part, our pasta at Taste of Italy is better than almost all the Italian food I have had on this trip. I really thought that the Italians would do something better than us, but not even their pizza impressed me. If you want the best pizza in the world, you don’t have to go far… BJ’s pizza is the best I have ever had…and now I can say I have had pizza from around the world. The fondue at Melting Pot is 1000x better than Switzerland fondue, and they are the ones who invented it. The United States has much better tasting bread, burgers, and fruit than any of the countries we visited.

Even the beignets from France were a huge letdown. I was really looking forward to these but instead of serving these fried dough squares hot, they are cold, or at best room temperature. And rather than being doused in powder sugar, they are filled with different types of paste ranging from cheap chocolate to applesauce. If you want the best beignets get them hot and fresh from Downtown Disney in California at La Brea Bakery.

Annalisa and I both agreed that we missed Mexican food… and CHIPOTLE (I separated the two for all you who don’t consider Chipotle to be real Mexican food. Authentic or not, I don’t care, I LOVE it!).

So all in all, I am very thankful to live where I live and I was getting excited to get back to America for the food…

Then we found Amsterdam! Best food places I think we have had on the trip.

In every country we have seen street vendors selling waffles like they are a hot ticket item. So we decided to try them.

IMG_3380Now we see what all the rave is about. They were amazing! Just make sure you get them hot off the griddle. It makes a difference. They try to give you the ones that have cooled for a few minutes, but if you request the hot ones they will give them to you.

We also found a delicious hole in the wall place for dinner.

Amsterdam-45 Before heading back to our hotel we checked out a few more of the touristy places such as the Red Light District. Overall, this place is really sad. This place needs prayer. I feel so bad for all the prostitutes in this area. We spoke with some locals about it and they confirmed that, yes, some of them are prostitutes by choice, but others are sex slaves.

This again physically hurts my heart. I think sex slavery is the worst thing in the world. I don’t know if I feel more of an urge to cry or punch someone in the face (particularly the men who go in there and take advantage of those poor abused women). The men who run these brothels are disgusting.

Sorry to end on a sad note, but another great book to read that has to do with prostitution is Redeeming Love. Hard book to get through in the beginning because it is pretty sad, but it is worth it. Best book I have ever read in my life! If you haven’t read it… you need to. Another great novel by Francine Rivers.

Amsterdam-1Although it has been great to see such amazing sights and cities the saddest part about the close of our trip is knowing that when we return we won’t be able to spend every moment together throughout our days. We are super thankful we were able to take this trip together and see the world. We know these memories will last us a lifetime and cherish this time we have had. Thank you to all who have read and followed our short two-week getaway tour of Europe. Even though it was short, we missed everyone dearly and can’t wait to see family and loved ones when we get home. 🙂

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Europe Trip: Day 12: Paris, France

Paris-106Everyone in Paris seems to be in a hurry. If you aren’t moving up or down even while standing on the escalator someone will yell at you to move to the side. I guess it’s just part of the fast-paced, big-city life similar to that of Hong Kong or New York City.

IMG_3329Annalisa and I try to learn something from everywhere we go and the different cultures we encounter. Last night at dinner Annalisa asked me what is one of the things I learned from the French people and how will it effect my life back at home?

I had to think about it and honestly I can’t say I spent enough time in any one city or country to designate what I’ve learned to a certain region.

My big take away from this trip has been how nice it has been to be disconnected from cell phones all throughout the day. We only have wifi in the morning or at night when we are in our hotel rooms. So throughout the day we can’t be like the typical American who is glued to their cell phone or pulling it out to self stimulate anytime their is a “lag” in the entertainment of our day.

That means no cell phones during subway rides, walks through the city, lines at Disneyland, dinners, or any other time when out of habit I may have pulled out my phone to absent-mindedly scroll through instagram or the Facebook newsfeed. People say they can multi-task but there is a DEFINITE difference going through life unplugged.

You see more. Experience more. Talk more. Explore more. Engage more. Communicate more. Remember more.

We still use our phones to take pictures or listen to music, but we can’t upload anything to Facebook or text our friends, so instead we get to really bond.

That has been one of my big takeaways. To try to live life more unplugged back at home. I experienced this when we traveled to Asia as well, and one of the differences here in Europe compared to America is that more people are living life unplugged. Here in Europe more people are engaging and conversing on the subways or at the dinner tables. I lot of the cultures we encountered were much more community based and WAY less self-absorbed. They don’t just keep to themselves as much as possible throughout the day and race to get home to sit in front of the television the rest of the evening.

Yes, at times it was very inconvenient not having internet access, and it did cause us to get lost a time or two… but sometimes getting lost in the city is the best part of the trip. It’s what led us to the best restaurant in Rome, or to the birds in Venice, or the best Greek gyro we have ever had in Thessaloniki.

Sorry about the tangent. Anyway, today we decided to get a photo shoot in Paris. How could we not? It’s what Annalisa does for a living after all so we had to incorporate it into our trip at some point. Sneak peak at my super model wife from our photo shoot.

IMG_3317It was actually a really good way to see the city. It was like hiring a personal tour guide. As she took as to the most scenic parts of Paris, she explained not only the meaning, but a local’s insights as well.

IMG_3306 IMG_3313 IMG_3303One of my favorite sites we saw was the Notre Dome. Incredible building. I wish we still built structures and churches like this. It reminded me of the movie Hunchback of Notre Dome. The sky was so beautiful I had to sneak a photo even though we were in the middle of our photoshoot.

IMG_3304We found the Love Lock Bridge, Pont des Arts, right next to the Louvre.

IMG_3308 IMG_3309We joined in with the tradition. We wrote our names on a lock and permanently attached it to the bridge. If you are ever in Paris, look for the “JoyRock” lock. 🙂  Then we threw our keys over the edge and into the water… well, at least that’s what we were supposed to do. We had two keys and Annalisa’s made it to the water. I didn’t realize how far away it was and when I lightly flicked it over the edge it almost hit a passerby on the path underneath. It remains on the cobblestone path beneath the bridge. Oh shoot,… our love is now cursed.

The Louvre was stunning. I never realized how large it is! I learned that this principal museum of Paris has so much famous art that if you spent two minutes at each of pieces in the gallery, it would take you 8 months to make it through the whole museum!

IMG_3315We had to grab a cab in order to make it to our final shooting spot of the evening.

IMG_3328 IMG_3324We ended at the most iconic part of Paris, the Eiffel Tower.

IMG_3339It lights up at night and does a twinkle light show for five minutes every hour. Here is Annalisa in her gown still taking photos.

IMG_3341Paris-97This 984 foot structure was built in 1889 for the World Exhibition, and was the tallest man-made structure in the world for many years.

IMG_3342Again, it was a VERY cold day. I was impressed with Annalisa that she was able to pose and model in that thin dress. It’s like her life mantra, “For the photo.” She shivered violently throughout most of the shoot but she held out and looked stunning.

IMG_4463Seriously! How beautiful is she???

After grabbing some dinner we walked beneath the Eiffel Tower. We had the song “Our Last Summer” by ABBA playing through our heads the whole time. Probably because we had listened to the MAMMA Mia soundtrack so many times while in Greece and because it says the line, “…We made our way along the river and we sat down on the grass, by the Eiffel Tower.

We changed hotels and I surprised Annalisa with a room in the Moulin Rouge. This is one of our all time favorite movies.

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Going to enjoy our room! See ya! Wooooooo!

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Europe Trip: Day 11: Disneyland, Paris

Paris-35We came downstairs and the hotel receptionist gave us a look of horror.  “Oh NO, NO!” She exclaimed. She told us to go add several more layers to our outfits before going out into the cold. I thought I can handle a little nip in the air and was about to stroll outside in a t-shirt. Thankfully, we followed her advice and bundled up a little more. Even after Annalisa put on 4 layers and her heavy jacket we were freezing all day.

Just to give you an idea of how cold it was, there was snow on the ground… and it wasn’t melting!

Paris-15We had a nice stroll around the city on our way to the subway.

Paris-1 Paris-2 Paris-3 Paris-4 Paris-9 Paris-6Paris-11Some of the seats in the subway are very small… good thing I have narrow hips.

Paris-12The subway dropped us off directly in the heart of Disneyland Paris.

Paris-13We both did our happy dance upon arrival and as soon as we stepped through the gates, checked it off our bucket list.

Paris-37 Paris-38 Paris-36We raced around the park “ooo-ing” and “aaaaahhh-ing” at everything in true tourist fashion. We kept comparing it to the other parks, looking for the similarities and differences.

Paris-18 Paris-19 Paris-20 Paris-16 Paris-17Like Hong Kong, Paris also has a Toy Story land.

Paris-27 Paris-24One of my favorite rides from the day was Ratatouille, which is one that is unique to Paris. I have never actually seen the movie (Have you ever seen it? Please let me know if it is worth renting?) but the ride was awesome! Also learned that ratatouille is a real word that describes a vegetable dish consisting of zucchini, tomatoes, eggplant, onions, and peppers.

Paris-29Another great ride the Rock N’ Roller-coaster featuring music from Aerosmith. This ride is also in Disneyland Florida.

Paris-34It was seriously one of the coldest days of our trip, not in temperature per say, but in how miserable we were. The wind chill made it feel colder than Switzerland. I bundled up as much as I could but in the end had to buy another sweatshirt to keep from developing hypothermia.

Paris-45For how miserably cold it was, I cannot believe how crowded it was. Seriously the wait for most of rides was over an hour. If it was ever that cold in California, our Disneyland would be a ghost town. Seriously, if it starts to drizzle you can practically walk on to any ride. Californians = cold weather babies.

Paris-50 Paris-48The Disneyland Paris castle was the best castle we have seen. The best part is that you can actually go up and explore the rooms in the castle and look at the view from the top.

Paris-54 Paris-58 Paris-59As you wind your way through the castle it tells the story of Sleeping Beauty.

Paris-90 Paris-92The park is beautiful in Paris and there are hundreds of scenic places to take pictures. Annalisa would have had a hey-day running around and taking pictures if a client ever takes her there. On that note, if you like what you see from any of the pictures, Annalisa said she willing to take the most amazing photos of someone’s trip/wedding/event if they want to fly her out to Paris 😉  Check her out: Analisa-Joy.com

Paris-73 Paris-67 Paris-87Because this Disneyland is technically about 40 minutes outside the city of Paris, they were able to buy more land.  As we walked around, everything felt so spacious. Their Main Street is so wide and throughout the whole park, even on a super crowded day, everything felt enormous.

Paris-77Even though it was crowded, we still managed to go on practically all the rides.Paris-68 Paris-65Something I don’t like about Disneyland Paris is that they let you smoke anywhere in the park. Even in the lines! Practically everyone in Europe smokes so it smells terrible. I was surely developing lung cancer from the second hand smoke. You know that blast of intoxicating smoke you get when you walk into a Las Vegas casino… okay fine it’s not that bad, but definitely annoying at times.

I felt bad for this one girl. Her boyfriend was smoking and kept blowing it in her face. Then he kept trying to kiss her. How rude!

After traversing 10 miles through the two parks, (and shivering when we weren’t moving at a brisk pace) we were famished. Everything in Disneyland is so expensive, we were shocked to find a buffet at Pizza Planet. This turned out to be the best deal! We wolfed down endless pizza, pasta, salad, and desserts until our stomachs hurt. The amount of food I ate would have cost over $200 if it were priced out individually, so I’m so glad we found the buffet.

Paris-94We were so exhausted, we fell asleep on the subway ride home. The nice thing about public transportation is that you don’t have to drive yourself home after an exhausting day at Disneyland.

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Europe Trip: Day 10: Traveling to France

Switzerland-47Our hotel, the Belvedere, offers free ice skating and rock climbing. Unfortunately, poor Annalisa woke up with a terrible migraine. Anyone gets these knows how bad it can be. She was in so much pain she ended up throwing up a dozen times. It was really sad.

During breakfast, Annalisa added rice krispies to her yogurt.  This turns out to be one the best combinations. If you haven’t tried it, you should.

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We decided to walk the town and look around the quaint city of Grindelwald. They are currently having an world wide ice sculpture competition. It was fun to see all the countries competing in this unique “sport”.

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The above picture is one from Italy. The one from USA was not the best. I think they were trying to be too artsy and it turned out to look like what Annalisa would describe as the “poop emoji”.

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The people of Switzerland are super nice. Strangely though, we found they did not take compliments well… Or at least not how we were used to. I saw a man wearing a Davy Crockett coonskin hat and told him I liked his cap. He looked at me with a queer face, retorting, “okay” as if I was bothering him. When we told the waiter at the restaurant we liked his restaurant he simply responded, “Oh” then walked away. I know he understood us because he spoke fantastic English the rest of the time.

We boarded and train and left for France.

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While Annalisa slept I continued reading my amazing book, When God Winks at You. I kept tearing up in the back of the train. Such good stories!

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We had a layover in Basel and we found the most delicious chocolate store, the Laderach.

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Seriously, Annalisa was in love. After eating some, she asked me to take it away from her. I put it into my suitcase. But shortly thereafter I turned my back on the suitcase and later found a trail of crumbs… She had stole it back again! Long story short we had to go back to the chocolate store to buy more.

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While waiting for our next train we stood outside in the cold 15 degree weather. Annalisa asked if she could warm her hands by putting them under my shirt on my belly.  That sounded miserable but I obliged. “Okay, 1 through 15…. Ready? One… two… three… SEVEN!” Of course we both happened to say seven so she got to, and I made a scene as she stuck her icy cold hands all over my bare abdomen.

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Once on the final train to Paris, I was unaware of how fast they traveled. We were going speeds of nearly 190 mph most of the journey.

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In the Paris terminal they have these awesome bikes that as you pedal they generate electricity so you can charge your electronics. I’m sure they have these elsewhere but this was my first time using it and I thought it was the coolest thing ever! I want one of these at my house.

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We arrived in Paris pretty late. It took us awhile to navigate to our hotel. We took it upon ourselves to not take the easy way out and just grab a cab. We wanted to experience more of the Paris life and ride the subways with everyone else… and save a ton of money. Their subway system reminds me of New York: very convenient, you can get anywhere, and so dirty you feel like you need to bathe after riding in one.

So far Paris has been the hardest place to find our way around. Most places it is pretty easy to find people who speak English and most signs have English somewhere on them… not Paris surprisingly.

We found our tiny hotel (our first hotel that is actually “European sized”, well actually the one in Rome was pretty dang small too). We were pretty tired so after strolling the town a little, we grabbed some dinner and went back to our room.

Tomorrow we are going to DISNEYLAND PARIS!! I am so excited. It is one of our goals to go to every Disneyland in the world. So far we have been to California, Florida, and Hong Kong.  Good night and thanks for reading! 🙂

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Europe Trip: Day 9: Grindelwald, Switzerland

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Switzerland-10We woke up to a winter wonderland of snow covered mountains. We rushed down to enjoy a breakfast buffet from our hotel, Belvedere. Once again the hot chocolate was the best thing ever, made with real Swiss chocolate and milk from a dairy right across the street. No wonder all their cheese tasted so good!

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We had to rent our snowboard and skis, but what I didn’t know is that you can also rent gear such as snow jackets, pants, or just about anything you need. Don’t let them tell you otherwise. We asked the first place where we rented our snowboard if we could rent goggles because we didn’t have any. The man at the counter replied, “No one does that. Reusing someone else’s goggles… that would be gross!”

“Not as gross as reusing someone else’s snorkel and they still let you rent those.” Annalisa retorted.  Touché.

They tried selling us a cheap pair of goggles for $100 which we turned down. So we walked two stores down and asked the same question, and they said of course they rented goggles, they rent everything.

With all of our supplies ready we loaded the bus and went up to the ski lifts. The public transportation in Switzerland is fantastic. It is very easy to get around everywhere.

We went up to the top of “First” (pronounced fear-ssst). The view was breathtaking.
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It was hard to even look where we were going because we were stunned by the beauty of the mountains all around. God is marvelous!

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Photos like usual from the amazing Analisa Joy Photography! Best thing ever being married to a photographer who captures all these incredible moments.

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Annalisa posed with my snowboard because her skies were on the rack. She was nervous because she hadn’t skied since she was a little kid. She used to be really good, but obviously that was about 20 years ago. She was told it’s not too bad and that with muscle memory she should be able to pick it up pretty quickly. To be honest the only reason she was up on that mountain with skis was for me. She said, “I’m doing this for love,” because she hates skiing, but didn’t want me to have to go alone all day.

So we followed the advice of the locals and set off down a path of easier slopes. We must have made a wrong turn somewhere because we ended up at a drop-off that would be considered a black diamond in the United States.

I’m not the best snowboarder but I can get down a mountain using the falling leaf method for worst case scenarios or at least just stay on my heels. Annalisa however, got about thirty feet down the hill and realized she was in way over her head. She plopped down into the snow and was petrified.

She tried a few more times but the decline was just too steep. She looked terrified. I really started to stress when I saw her crying.

I suggested several options. We can either (1) hike back up and try to find where we made a wrong turn and go down an easier route (as exhausting as that sounds), (2) take off skis and hike down this giant mountain face (even though I knew this was not an option, we were more likely to tumble down it than successfully trek down it), (3) she could put her hands on my shoulders and I would help slow her down, (4) pretend you are competing in the Slalom and just go for it!

Sometimes, when your loved one is stressed, annoyed, or scared, YOU can’t be the one to give advice or find the solution. For some reason things just sound better coming from someone other than your significant other.

This may have been one of those cases so I took a seat about fifteen feet above her to make sure no one came crashing into her on this giant downhill slope.

The strategy worked. Only a few minutes later a woman skier spotted Annalisa defeated in the snow and sprayed to a halt next to her. At first Annalisa refused her help, but after a few minutes of coaxing the woman was able to help Annalisa slide down the mountain to safety. I followed at a safe distance behind, always within ear shot.

When they got to the bottom the woman asked, “If this is your first time skiiing in a long time, what on Earth are you doing on this slope?” Annalisa explained she must have made a wrong turn somewhere. Naturally, the woman’s next question was, “Are you here alone???”

“No, I’m with my husband.” She said pointing at me. The woman looked back at me and I waved sheepishly. How embarrassing that I couldn’t even help my own wife down the mountainside. The woman must have thought I was a terrible husband. We thanked her, but before she took off she turned to me and said, “You’re a lousy friend.”

Ouch. That hurt. 😦

Most people would have given up at this point, but not Annalisa. I asked if she wanted to just call it a day, but she said we could try again… we just HAD to make sure to find only easier slopes and not make any wrong turns.

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So we went up to the top again, this time being extra cautious the whole way down. On the much more moderate gradients Annalisa was fantastic! I still feel bad about the earlier mishap but I am thankful that she didn’t give up. I am so proud of her and so impressed that she was able to ski for the rest of the day.

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And she looked super cute doing it!

I had the an amazing time snowboarding. I was thankful I was able to do it. I tore my ACL and meniscus last summer in a basketball game and this was definitely the most knee-grueling exercise I have done since. Praise God, no pain and no injuries the whole way down the mountain. Also, of note, I never had to get surgery after the tear… just six months of intense rehabilitation physical therapy.

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The slopes we incredible and we had fresh powder everywhere. The locals we rode the gondola with told us that we came the best day of the year. They said we were lucky to be experiencing perfect weather and snow conditions. More to be thankful for.

DCIM100GOPROHere is a video of my snowboarding… and then falling…

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Our lift ticket also included unlimited access to Jungfrau’s Zip Line.

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This alone was worth the lift ticket price which was very reasonable. I feel like a lift ticket at big bear for all day is at least $65. Here for $60 dollars we got unlimited access to all the surrounding mountains and the zip line.

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Many of the locals (and even tourists for that matter) are so focused on the skiing and snowboarding that most people overlook how awesome the zip line is.

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We rode the zip line several times never getting over the thrill of zooming down the mountain side in the 1 degree weather, 7000 feet up in the Swiss Alps.

We were famished and decided to get some traditional Swiss food. We went for the fondue, which is considered to by of Swiss origin and very popular throughout the region. We walked into a restaurant that was so pungent we almost had to take a step backwards. The smell was so thick you could taste the cheese just from breathing in the restaurant air. We heard this place had the best fondue in town so we decided to give it a try.

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This was no Melting Pot, and authentic or not, I think I prefer the American version. I bet the cheese they served was the freshest I have ever had… or it had been properly molding in an old cellar somewhere for ages and ages to give it that “aged cheese” description.  When they brought the pot of melted cheese it was not the alluring display of fine dining, but rather a bubbling pot of yellow ooze. “Barnyardy”, a word used by cheesemongers, does not do justice to strong smell that was supposed to fill the room with an aroma of filthy animals. I would liken it more closely to a pair of old gym socks, what the cheesemongers call, “funky”. We might not have eaten it and just ordered something else, but it was so expensive and didn’t want to be rude so we had to power through. With baked potatoes, bread squares, and onion rings I think we managed to swallow half the pot of stinky cheese. It helped plugging our noses before bringing each bite to our mouths. Once again, we considered it an “Amazing Race” challenge to help us power through. After all this traveling, I think I would actually do decent on the show… hint hint CBS.

I had get the nasty taste out of my mouth so I ate a lemon.

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After spending another half an hour in the outdoor Jacuzzi, I went back to the room and crashed for the night.

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Europe Trip: Day 8: Traveling to Switzerland

DCIM100GOPROWe had to catch a water taxi at 7:29AM, but we missed it by one minute. Darn! We made one wrong turn while trying to find our way through the winding alleyway streets from our hotel. So we had to catch the next one.

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It was a beautiful morning ride, but this little mishap caused us to miss our first train. And since we were changing rails four times today, this really set us up for a train wreck of a schedule. We continued to miss our connecting trains and had to keep finding alternate routes. Also of note, there are two train stations in Venice. Don’t confuse the two. This really messed us up on the way there and almost ruined the start of our day.

Annalisa took advantage of the time by resting. I’m sure she needed it after the 50 miles we have walked exploring 7 different cities in the past week. Our goal is to walk over 100 miles on this trip.

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I used this time to refresh on some Organic Chemistry. Exhilarating, I know.
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At one of our connections, I waited in line to speak with the train station workers. The woman helping me only spoke 3 words of English, and it wasn’t the words I wanted to hear: “No speak English.”

I asked if she would be able to help us switch our ticket since we missed one of our connections or if anyone around spoke English so they could help us. Obviously, that didn’t translate.

Her only response was, “Mamma mia!” looking around frantically for someone who spoke English but not finding any worker available. I refused to leave the ticket counter though, and found a map and pointed to the city of Spiez, the next city on our route that we needed to get to. She figured out enough to stamp us a ticket and point to platform 3. She rambled something in Italian about “Brig” and I took it to me that we would need to change stations at this stop.

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We changed trains at Brig, and again at Spiez, Interlaken West, and Ost. Our train ride through the Swiss Alps was absolutely beautiful.

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At one of our stops we had a ten minute layover and rushed into one to the Swiss stores to buy food because we hadn’t eaten ALL day. We had to buy some dark SWISS chocolate which was the bomb. And I finally found some good bread. I was having withdrawals.

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After eating the loaf and a huge chocolate bar I turned to Annalisa and said, “Surprisingly, I’m full.” She laughed at me. “Trent, that’s not surprising. That bread loaf was big enough to feed a family.”  Well, not a family full of bread lovers like me.

On the bus we met a very nice Korean woman who was traveling all throughout Europe for the first time as well. We were impressed that she knew how to navigate all around all by herself.

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We finally made it to Grindelwald!

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We checked into our hotel, the Belvedere (Great hotel! I highly recommend it). Funny story, when we were greeted, they asked us what we wanted to drink, “Wine, beer, rum,…?” I paused, looked at Annalisa and we were both like, “uh do you have any Apple juice?” as if we are five years old. HAHAHA. We took some time to unwind at the bar and get to know some of the staff. Again the bar tender was offering us more drinks and I was like, “What’s the best drinks you have here? How’s the juice?” Annalisa bust up laughing. “Probably the same as juice everywhere!” I’m not opposed to alcohol, I just like the taste of juice so much better… and its a win-win because its more healthy for you also.

The bar/lounge area also had a live piano player who was fantastic. One of the best things about being in a foreign country is that no one is around to make fun of you and so you don’t get as embarrassed to do things that you probably would in your hometown. Annalisa swayed her head to the music and nonchalantly said to me, “We should dance.” If you know me, you know I jumped at that notion. And so we did.

It was one of my favorite parts of the day. We slow danced to a few of the songs and picked up the tempo when the music changed key. Sometimes the best moments in life are those not captured on film.

Our hotel has this awesome outdoor Jacuzzi.

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One of my favorite things is sitting in a nice hot Jacuzzi when you are surrounded by snow… not sure how many times I can say I have actually done this, but it was awesome.

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Got to get some rest. We have a big day of snowboarding, skiing, and zip-lining planned for tomorrow.

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Europe Trip: Day 7: Venice, Italy

IMG_3191We woke up and after the gym had breakfast in bed.
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The hot coco was amazing. It was so viscous it had the consistency of syrup. It was as if they melted a pure chocolate bar with hot milk. Most delicious hot chocolate I have ever had.

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We got our bags packed and then strolled around Florence.

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The Piazza del Duomo was the most incredible building in the whole city. We walked around it completely stunned by the intricate architecture of the beautiful building.

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Pictures don’t do it justice.

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Then we boarded train to Venice.

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When we got off the train in Venice we just stopped and stared for awhile. I had never seen a city like this. The whole city seems to be built on water. Annalisa finally shook me from my daze, reminding me that it was cold and we needed to find a way to get to our hotel. I inquired a local about catching a taxi but realized there was no taxi stand. Well, there was, but they were all boats. So it was off to the water taxi!
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This was actually a really cool way to get around. Even though it was cold, it was incredible to ride through the Grand Canal looking at all the buildings on the sides. What an fascinating city!

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Everyone says that Venice stinks. Not stinks like “not cool”, but stinks like “smells bad”.  We did not find this to be the case. To be honest, I can’t smell anything different. I don’t know if I am the best judge because I have a terrible sense of smell. However, Annalisa has a great nose and she said it smells great! … but only if you love the smell of Pirates of the Caribbean ride from Disneyland.  That’s what Annalisa compared it to and that is one of her favorite smells in the world.

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Our hotel was in St. Mark’s Square of Venice and I highly recommend it. Very safe and great shopping if you are into that sort of thing. But the best part of all is the birds.

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They are so friendly! I brought out a few crackers and instantly had 50 new friends!
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This was definitely my favorite part of the day! I love birds!

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Annalisa overcame a fear today!

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We had to sing “feed the birds” for Karen since she loves Mary Poppins so much.

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People started taking pictures of us because we had so many birds on us at one point. The only thing I was worried about was getting pooped on.

I could have been here all day, but eventually Annalisa dragged me away, reminding me that we still needed to check into our hotel. We stayed at the Colombina Hotel on the back side of the canal.

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Our room was awesome with a giant chandelier over the bed.

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We were going to book a gondola ride but instead decided to book a private boat tour. The gondolas are much slower and can only take you a short distance through one of the smaller canals. The private boat took us through dozens of small canals and then took us on a whole tour through Venice. He covered 100x the ground that the gondola would have covered so I am really happy we went with the boat.

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What I didn’t realize is how many canals there are. I always thought of Venice as a small city but it doesn’t feel small when you see just how many canals and different bodies of water envelope the city.

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Annalisa and I decided to kiss underneath every bridge we passed under. There are tons of bridges to pass under… so obviously I really enjoyed this game.

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Annalisa was so adorable. She waved at all the people on the boats as we passed by.
She does this really adorable wink that men find irresistible.

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In the evening we walked through the streets and found a place to dine for the evening.

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For an appetizer, we decided to try French Fry Pizza off a tip from one of Annalisa’s friends.

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It is a combination of Annalisa’s two favorite foods so I knew she would be game to try it.  It tastes exactly like the two items would taste separately. Just imagine taking a bite of pizza followed immediately by a handful of McDonald french fries. The pizza was great, but the combo is not necessarily something I would rave about.

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We figured out the mystery of terrible bread throughout Italy. One of our friend’s messaged us and let us know that ever since the war, Italians no longer add salt to their bread. Well, I guess that explains it.

We are heading to Grindelwald, Switzerland next, followed by Pairs and Amsterdam so if anyone has tips for any of these places, please message us and let us know.

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Europe Trip: Day 6: Vatican City and Florence, Italy

Florence-25It was time to go visit the Pope at Vatican City, the smallest country in the world! Fun fact, Vatican City is barely over 100 acres, which means it is about 1/8th the size of New York City’s Central Park.

Florence-24 Florence-21 Florence-26 Florence-22IMG_3119In this country’s absolute monarchy, the Pope is the ruler. Their government prints its own money, stamps, passports, and licenses. The country has no need for taxation and generates its revenue off of the admission fees to the museums and the souvenir sales.

Once again we saved ourselves HOURS of waiting in lines from taking the advice of our friend Lucca, the hotel manager at Armony Suites. He helped us buy our ticket online rather than waiting in this massive line that wrapped around the outer wall of the country. Seriously, look at this line! I heard people waited in it for hours!

IMG_3135The Vatican museum was stunning. Actually, a bit overwhelming. You could spend all day there and not have enough time to appreciate all the art, beauty, and attention to detail.

IMG_3130 Florence-10I just couldn’t believe that from floor to ceiling the rooms were covered with paintings, tapestries, sculptures, and other works of art.

IMG_3120 Florence-5 Florence-14Florence-17 I was happy I found my favorite painting, “The School of Athens” in what is known as Raphael’s room. This painting features ancient philosophers, such as Aristotle, Plato, Pythagoras, Euclid, and Diogenes, along with more contemporary artists and thinkers including Michelangelo and a self-portrait of Raphael himself.

Florence-13 IMG_3127Works from pretty much all the Ninja Turtles are in here! We found art from Michelangelo, Raphael, and Leonardo de Vinci.

Then it was time to see the Sistine Chapel! This room was breathtaking! This is the first room we actually sat down in just to marvel at the beauty of Michelangelo’s masterpiece.

Florence-15The funny thing is that Annalisa and I both thought that the main part of the Sistine Chapel was the two hand reaching out to each other.

Florence-16In reality, even though it is the center, it is hardly the biggest picture and only takes up a fragment of the whole room’s design. There are many stories of the Christian faith shown on these walls displaying “The Creation of Adam”, “The Fall of Man”, and “The Last Judgement”.

Along the walls there are plenty of other stories. Some I recognized and some I did not. I saw a painting of Christ handing over the keys of the church to Peter which I believe was by Perugino. There is also paintings by Botticelli depicting stories of the life of Moses.

We had one last walk around Rome before it was time to board the train.

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We spent a little bit too long sight seeing and we were running late… again. Shoot. When will we learn? Anyway, we switched gears to AMAZING RACE mode and took off on a frantic pace. We rushed back to the hotel to collect our bags and set off at a jog to the subway station that was only four blocks away.

IMG_1572Then I had to lug our 175 pounds of luggage down two flights of stairs. I almost died. Lol. Which reminds me the day before I tripped on this same staircase and fell down four stairs and two girls laughed at me.  -_-

Bad news. Even though we had EURO cash, they only accepted coins to purchase our subway tickets. So I had to run back up and out of the subway station to break my bills. I was running around like a maniac and three stores later I was able to get change.

We boarded the first subway, then had to get off and change to the B subway at Termini. We were still several stops from our train station and only had ten minutes till departure, yet we were determined to make it.

But we didn’t make it. The B subway has two lines that veer off at the stop “Bologna”, and we were unaware that we had to get off there to switch to the other B line. This costly mistake cost us and we missed our train.

If we were on the Amazing Race, we just got eliminated. Dun, Dun, Dunnnnnnn.

But since we aren’t in a race, we found our way to the station, bought a new train ticket, and boarded the next train 30 minutes later. It may have worked out for the best because we were able to get lunch before boarding and had a delicious panini.

I’m not going to lie, missing the first train was pretty frustrating, but big picture you never know how that ripple in life will effect the rest of your day or even life. Sometimes you don’t ever even realize its effects or it won’t be till later in life. For example, who knows if something bad would have happened to us if we arrived in Florence 30 minutes earlier than we did. We could have been mugged or robbed. Or we may not have met this woman who helped us map out our entire day. The advice from the locals has been invaluable on this trip. She showed us the best places to go in Florence and we would have never known where to go without her.

When we finally boarded, we took the train through Tuscany with a beautiful view of the rolling hillside the whole way. I definitely recommend this way of travel while in Italy. It is better than renting a car because you don’t have the stress of driving and trying to navigate. You can simply relax and enjoy the view. The seats were very comfortable and they offered free wifi.

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Poor Annalisa was so tired, but luckily she was able to get some rest on the train.

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We arrived in Florence. The train station was only four blocks from our hotel so we decided to try to walk rather than taxi. I stopped several times asking for directions getting closer and closer to our destination. After awhile though, we still couldn’t find it and were getting tired of dragging around our luggage everywhere looking for this place. We were just about to hail a taxi, when Annalisa spotted a street name we had been looking for. From the point we walked about fifty feet and found our hotel. I can’t imagine if we actually waved down a taxi… that would have been embarrassing. He would have been like, “You want me to drive you fifty feet to your hotel?” HAHAHA!

We checked in to our place. We both would have been content just relaxing in our hotel room the rest of the day but it was our one day to explore Florence, so immediately after setting down our bags, we headed out again.

First stop the world famous Boboli Gardens, an enormous park behind the Palazzo Pitti.

Florence-45From the top Terrace we had a stunning view over all of Florence and could see the signature dome of the Piazza del Duomo in Cathedral Square.

Florence-54  Florence-57 Florence-48 Florence-47 Florence-49Florence, along with all of Tuscany, if filled with gorgeous scenic hillsides and greenery everywhere even in the winter time.

Florence-41 Florence-40 Florence-59 Florence-60All we do is walk all day. We found more and more stairs but Annalisa said press on. I’m not going to lie, I was very impressed by her nonstop vigor.

Florence-72Annalisa and I agreed that Tuscany is a very romantic part of Italy. If you are looking for a romantic getaway this is the place to go. We both felt more lovey-dovey and amorous than normal, as cheesy as this sounds.

Florence-80 Florence-75 Florence-77 IMG_3144I think we were the last ones in the garden because we were escorted out by the closing staff and we didn’t see anyone else around.

Florence-62 Florence-66 Florence-68 Florence-69 Florence-74 Florence-82So Annalisa sent a picture of this to Amanda and Eric and this was Eric’s response: …”poor guy on a statue. As if he couldn’t get any slower- he decides his mode of transportation is going to be a turtle.” HAHAHAHA

We then walked throughout the rest of the charming city.

Florence-28 Florence-32 Florence-94 Florence-95We watched the sunset from the Ponte Vecchio.

Florence-35 Florence-86 Florence-87 Florence-88 Florence-90 Florence-93 Florence-92 I could definitely go back to Florence again. The charming shops, restaurants, and overall architecture of the city was awesome.

Seriously every other store in Europe is a cafe. Europeans LOVE their coffee and pastries. We noticed that just like there is a massage place on every corner in Asia, there is a cafe on every corner in Europe. Some stereotypes are there for a reason.

Florence-84We learned that none of the restaurants open till 7pm so we went back to our room to relax until dinner.

I spent countless hours researching hotels before our trip and thus far it has really paid off! Every hotel has been the most amazing experience, but this was the BEST one yet.

We stayed at the Number Nine Firenze Hotel and Spa. It was fantastic. Annalisa gave our entire stay a 10 out of 10, and if you know that we our hotel snobs, that means it was really good.

IMG_1579The staff was super attentive, friendly, and helpful to everything we asked. We were greeted with coffee, tea, and water while they took our bags. The hotel had a complimentary mini-bar, complimentary gym, spa, and wifi. Our room was huge, with a super nice bed. It had a large flat screen TV (which even though we never used, it was one of the nicest we have seen while traveling here in Europe). We also had a walk-in closet, huge bathroom, and shower with rainfall  head. The best part is that you are in the heart of Florence. We were right by ALL the main museums, attractions, Dome in Cathedral Square, and train station. I highly recommend this place if you are every traveling to Florence.

After walking over 11 miles today, we decided to take advantage of our spa. First, I went and used the hotel’s gym which was extremely nice for a hotel. Actually maybe one of the best I have ever used. It was 2-stories with anything you could need to get a solid workout. This was my first time in a European gym so I don’t know if this holds true for most but for such a nice facility I was surprised by two things: 1) The lack of people working out (I don’t think going to the gym is as popular in Europe as it is in America). 2) The lack of water. There was no water fountains to be found and I was very parched. Actually, since being here in Europe we have been very rarely served water in cup. It is always served in a bottle even at restaurants and they always charge you. I miss the endless water served in America. Water is my favorite drink.

Then Annalisa and I went down to the spa, which was actually really nice with several saunas, a Jacuzzi, and a steam room. It was the hottest steam room had ever been in. In the center of the steam room was a cold water bath and cold hoses on the side to spray yourself off with. It felt so nice and kept us warm for hours even while walking around later in the cold.

We went to dinner at what everyone told us was the best place in town. It was a higher-end place called Buca Mario that in my opinion was overrated. I’ve had much better Italian food at Olive Garden… so yeah, it was not the best.

IMG_1623We bought this really cool necklace from a street vendor and watched as he created it in front of us. It was pretty neat.

One thing I am disappointed in Europe thus far is their bread. Other than croissants and pastries, we have not had any good bread since we have been here. To be honest, it has been quite bad and we have eaten at a variety of places (from high-end to whole in the wall). Considering that bread is my favorite food in the world I was really hoping to find good bread and oil somewhere. We are heading to Venice, Italy next. If you know of any good places with bread PLEASE message me and let me know. Thanks for reading! 🙂

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Europe Trip: Day 5: Rome, Italy

Rome-13Rome is the coolest city in the world! I’m not exaggerating. When I talk to world travelers, I feel like Rome is down played, but if I were to tell you 5 must visit places, surely Rome would be somewhere near the top of that list. I seriously have never seen anything like it! But more on this later…

We started our day walking down to have breakfast at a cafe.

Can anyone guess what I had for breakfast? If you said a croissant, you are correct and have probably been reading my blog. This one was probably the best of all. Annalisa said she would come back to Rome just to get another one of those delicious croissants.

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I got lost in translation for a bit. I tried to order the breakfast buffet, but instead got charged 3 dollars for one croissant. I’m pretty sure I got swindled because 5 minutes later, a different hostess gave me two donuts, two more croissants, and a water bottle for 4 dollars. I was very confused.

I heard this cafe (and Italy in general) has the best cappuccinos in the world so even though I don’t like coffee I had to try one. I did not enjoy it. I’m sure it was good but it was very strong and I don’t like coffee so it was a struggle to get through it. However, it served as a great pick-me-up and twenty minutes later Annalisa noted that than was an unusual amount of pep to my step… if you know how much energy I normally have then you know it’s probably best that I’m not an everyday coffee drinker.

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Time to roam Rome!

There are two different subway lines in Rome, and we used both to get to the Colosseum.

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I need to take a minute to brag about our hotel (more accurately described as a “b-n-b”, bed and breakfast) just in case anyone is planning to travel to Rome anytime soon (Hotel review: skip if not interested). We stayed at the Armony Suites, Viao Orazio 3, Rome 00193. This is THE BEST place to stay if it is your first time to Rome (or if you have not been in a long time and need some good tips). The location is perfect, right in the heart of Rome and walking distance to EVERYTHING, and not far from the Metro station at all. Plus the accommodations, though small (hey that’s Europe for you), are very well kept. Most importantly, they have the best staff I have ever met in my life. The place is run by a father and son, Lucca and Andreas, who make sure you have the most amazing experience. There is a reason why they have a perfect score for all reviews online. Upon arrival in Rome around midnight last night, Lucca met us at the building to check us in. He stayed with us for an hour helping us map out our day to make sure we maximized our time here in Rome (especially since we only had one day to explore the whole city). He helped us book tickets, gave us maps (even showing us on google maps the best way to get around), helped us with our train tickets, told us about the best places to eat, and gave us some invaluable tips about how to get around the town.

Which brings us to the Colosseum. In summer I hear this place is unbearably crowded. Even in winter, you will wait at least an hour to get inside to get your ticket. Unless of course you follow the advice that we got from Lucca. Making friends with the locals sure does pay off!

So the line at the main entrance wraps all the way outside the Colosseum and then snakes around the inside of the building. It is filled with thousands of people and minimum wait is around an hour.

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Instead of waiting in that line, we walked past the Colosseum to the Roman Forum (go past the Colosseum, under the Arch of Constantine) and bought our tickets for both the Roman Forum and the Colosseum there instead. Total wait time 2 minutes! Thank you Lucca!

Since we were already there, we spent the first hour exploring the Roman Forum. Off another tip from Lucca we downloaded the audio tour guide “Rick Steves Audio Europe” to our phones which was much better than the ones offered at the information booths.

Rome-20This is a large area of ruins that used to serve as the heart of Rome. Several structures are still surviving today such as the Temple of Caesar, the Arch of Septimius Severus, and the Forum Main Square.

Good thing Annalisa brought her umbrella because around midday it started to rain.

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We then went to the Colosseum!

 

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Again we listened to Rick Steves audio tour to guide us through the Colosseum. It was good, but honestly NOTHING will prepare you for Rome and the feeling you would get being inside the Colosseum like Francine River’s novel, “A Voice in the Wind”.

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There is actually three books in the series called “Mark of the Lion” and it is one of the best book series you could possibly read. If you are EVER going to travel to Rome you must read these books. Seriously, it will help you relive the sights, sounds, feelings, and emotions of the gladiator times in a way that no audio tour even comes close to. Highly recommend these books! Not only are they entertaining, but because it is historic fiction, the setting and events that took place are extremely accurate will give you an idea of what it would be like to be alive in Rome during the 1st century.

IMG_3106 DCIM100GOPRO IMG_3101 IMG_3098So many emotions tied to this building. It was incredible to see the structure that was built thousands of years ago. So impressive to think that the largest amphitheater in the world was built around 70-80 AD. However, thinking about what happened inside of this structure is horrific.

IMG_3105 Rome-33It was a somewhat somber experience for Annalisa and I the longer we stayed in there. I don’t think many people realize but is similar to visiting a holocaust museum, but possibly worse. This was a place used for torture and killing, but rather than it just being an execution site or extermination camp, it was used to entertain the masses. People cheered as Christians were devoured by lions. Captured men from Africa were treated like animals and pitted against animals such as bears or alligators. On the note of animals, historians document that over 9,000 animals were slaughtered during the opening of the amphitheater. The Roman people craved blood baths and the Colosseum games climaxed with the mortal battles of the gladiators, who were mostly slaves forced to fight for their lives and/or freedom.

Definitely an eerie and uneasy feeling walking around and reminiscing what took place here thousands of years ago. We had goosebumps several times, but definitely worth the visit.

To me it is a monument to all those martyrs who died for their faith in Jesus Christ. The ones who would rather be fed to lions than denounce their faith in Jesus Christ. That is true faith. I admire that and wish I could say that I have that type of courage.

Rome-29There is now a cross dedicated to the Christian martyrs that was placed by Pope John Paul II in 2000.

Later in Roman history, the Colosseum was used for very different purposes. In fact, during the medieval period around the sixth century a church was built into the amphitheater. By 1749, the Pope consecrated the building to the Passion of Christ, and forbade the use of the Colosseum. In recent years however, it has been used for many religious ceremonies. For example, now each Good Friday the Pope leads a procession that starts at the Colosseum, a torchlit “way of the Cross”.

Rome-25 Rome-27 Rome-23The hardest part of the day for me was our way out from the Colosseum. On the sides of the street, homeless beggars cried out for anything you had to offer. Most of them were crippled, alone, and shivering from the cold. One old lady was cowered on the ground with a permanently hunched back. Reaching out a wobbly hand, she asked in a shaky voice for some money. Dropping a few coins and passing by just wouldn’t suffice.

Annalisa and I stopped and sat down with her. There was a massive language barrier and I didn’t understand a word she said, and she probably didn’t understand us either.

Fortunately, LOVE is a universal language. She smiled when we spoke kindly to her and rubbed her back. When we took her hands to pray with her she started sobbing. How many people pass by this woman everyday without even giving her a second glance? How many times have I done the same to people such as she? Too many.

I felt so bad. I had no idea what I could do for this hurting woman. We stayed with her for a bit more to comfort and console her, but it was really hard with the language barrier. Annalisa gave her a big hug and then we continued on our way.

We didn’t make it far. Every 100 feet or so was another poor, broken-down soul. Once you stop once, it’s hard to just keep walking. So we stopped and prayed again and again, offering all we could.

By the time we finally left the Colosseum area, my heart physically hurt.

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We then walked over to the Altare della Patria (Altar of the Fatherland) also known as the National Monument to Victor Emmanuel II.

Rome-42 Rome-45 Rome-46This building, just like all the architecture in Rome, was stunning. Rome was the most amazing city I have ever been to in my life. There is such much culture, creativity, and wonderful intricate designs on every street, every building,…everything! I simply could not put it into words. You walk down endless streets of grandeur. Even the old alleyways have character. And for how old, popular, and widely visited the city is, I am stunned by how clean and safe it is.

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I heard the best thing to do is walk around and just get lost in the city. So that’s what we did.

Rome-61 Rome-63 Rome-62We found a hole in the wall diner for lunch and had the best lasagna we have ever had in our lives! It seriously melts in your mouth. We also enjoyed some pesto pasta. Love living life on the bread diet.

Rome-68 IMG_3117The nice thing about eating at places off the beaten path (another tip from Lucca), the food is much tastier because it much more authentic and not overrun by vendor tourist traps. And it is much cheaper! I think our meal was half price just because we walked a couple blocks away from the nearest monument. Sure enough just to compare, we looked at the prices at the food at the next main square and it was double the Euro and didn’t look nearly as delectable.

Rome-75Following this super late lunch, we pulled out our map and decided to try to find some specific sights that we were told must-see places. Friends such as Keenan Hochschild gave us great advice as far as places to go.

Rome-74 Rome-81Even though it is winter, we had to get some Italian gelato.

Rome-79For only having one day here in this marvelous city, I am pretty proud of us. On foot we walked nearly ten miles to hit up several historic landmarks. We saw the Pantheon, Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain, Palazzo Chigi, Piazza Navona, and the Ponte Fabricio just to name a few.

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This city puts Athens street performers to shame. I loved watching the artists of various types, floating people, and my personal favorite, the frozen business man. He was fantastic!

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When I put a tip in his jar, he finally acknowledged me and thanked me with a raise of his eyebrows.

We were exhausted after walking over 9 miles today, and over 25 miles over the past 4 days (Coolest app already built in to the iPhone. Check out the “health” section. Under health -> steps, it has been tracking your distance without you even knowing it).

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If you can’t tell already, I HIGHLY recommend that you visit Rome if ever given the chance. This is by far the coolest city I have ever seen in my life.

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Europe Trip: Day 4: Athens, Greece

IMG_1499It was time to say goodbye to the beautiful island of Santorini.

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And bye to Fira Hook who had been sleeping on a chair in our room. We couldn’t find her after dinner last night… that is until she banged on our window in the middle of the night. She scared me at first because I thought she was a burglar trying to break into our room. I prepared to fight someone but when I flipped on the light and looked outside it was just Fira crying at our window to come inside.

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I got part of my workout in by carrying all of our luggage of several flights of stairs. The receptionist bell man offered to carry our bags but I felt bad. He just carried 12 other suitcases up and down those stairs helping others check in/out. His shirt was drenched in sweat. Once again, this is much harder than it looks. Huge props to these guys that do it all day for a living. They must be in great shape. I only had to carry 4 pieces of luggage and I my legs were burning afterward.

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We had a forty five minute plane ride to Athens. Then it was off to explore the city!

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We took a bus to the main part of town.

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Poor Annalisa was so tired she passed out on the bus. As much fun as it is, it’s hard traveling to a new city everyday.

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Athens was extremely crowded. Definitely one of the most crowded cities I have ever been in… and this was their “slow” season!

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Similar to cities such as New York City, there were people playing music on every corner and begging for money.
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There were also character costume people who tried to haggle you for money. The best costume we saw was giant Minions from the movie Despicable Me. We didn’t risk taking the Minion picture even from a far for fear of being hunted down for money.

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The worst and most annoying street vendors (if you can even call them that), is the people from Nigeria who say they are from Jamaica. They at first come up to you acting as if you are their best friend in the world. Without asking, they start putting bracelets on your wrist. We tried telling them “No thank you” and “we don’t have money”. But they wouldn’t listen. “Just spreadin’ some love and peace my friends! No worries!” But then an instant later they were worried… worried that we were actually serious when we said we didn’t have cash. “Anything you can give us? Just a few dollars? Some coins?” Frustrated, we replied, “Uh, no, we just told you that.” They angrily ripped off the bracelets and took them back, storming away. Clearly the whole best-friend act was just what it seemed— a pretense.  This happened several times throughout the day.

Annalisa and I hate to be rude to people, and feel bad ignoring the hecklers no matter how annoying they are. Yet if you don’t do one of those two things, they won’t leave you alone. So Annalisa and I came up with a new tactic… Since we are foreigners, we just acted like we didn’t speak their language. Most people here in Europe are multilingual, so just to be sure they had no idea what to try, we made up our own language. When people approached, we politely waved, smiled, and then with a shrug of our shoulders muttered some incoherent balderdash. As long as we kept our stride, it worked.

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For lunch we were on a mission to find Chicken Gyros. That is what Annalisa was craving, and when Annalisa has a craving it MUST be satisfied. I definitely know how that is. I have a big sweet tooth and after every meal I crave something sweet.

Anyway this was much harder than we expected. We couldn’t find a place that sold gyros anywhere– And we were in the heart of Greece for crying out loud!

After about 20 minutes of searching, we were becoming “h-angry” and almost gave up. We kept asking locals who finally guided us to a part of the city that had more authentic food and we finally found the hot spot. Chicken Gyros! Success! And it was worth it.

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In the main city square there is always live music, dancing, and more street vendors.

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The city was filled with spray paint graffiti. Everywhere! And stray cats. Annalisa and I noticed that unlike many of the other countries we have visited that have stray dogs, it was much more common here to find stray cats. The main things I will remember about Greece cities is the graffiti, stray cats, and stairs that you have to climb to get to everything.

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Then we found Annalisa’s favorite piece of graffiti. It was a camera, naturally.

IMG_3048 IMG_3046 IMG_3045One of my favorite things was just walking around and “getting lost in the city”.  The great thing about Annalisa is she doesn’t mind going off the beaten path… especially if there is a good photo-op involved.

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Then we hiked to the top of the Acropolis, a rocky outcrop overlooking the entire city of Athens. The view alone is worth the hike (and the 12 Euros it cost to enter the historic sites).

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It is truly incredible to look at structures such as the Parthenon that were originally built thousands of years ago. It is noted that the Acropolis was inhabited over 6 thousand years ago! That is crazy!

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I still don’t understand how they built something so magnificent without the modern technology or building equipment that we have today.

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The Parthenon Temple was built in honor of the Greek goddess Athena, and just as her name suggests, she serves as the patron to the city. The original structure was destroyed in 480 B.C. during the Persian invasion. It was then rebuilt by 432 B.C., during the Athenian Empire and the height of their power. For centuries it has served as more than just a symbol for Athena, but also an enduring symbol of Athenian democracy and all of Ancient Greece.

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This structure represents one of the world’s greatest cultural monuments and it was incredible to be able to stand in front of it, and stand in the place where the ancient Greeks stood so many years ago.

Throughout the wars and invasions throughout history the Parthenon has been severely damaged. They are currently carrying out a selective restoration and reconstruction program to ensure the stability of the worn down structure.

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Annalisa and I really enjoy views and stayed a top the Acropolis for hours. In fact, we stayed on top the mountain until they kicked us out because they were closing down for the evening. It was an incredible way to watch the sun set of the crowded city below.

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Now that we have had the chance to explore several vastly different parts of Greece, Annalisa and I can safely say that the best part of Greece to visit is the islands. Santorini was definitely our favorite part. I am really glad we had a chance to explore the other cities but now that I have seen places such as the Acropolis I would probably just go back to the islands if I were to go back again.

Then it was time to fly again. The good thing about traveling to Europe in the winter is that you avoid ALL the crowds. We seriously have had the best time not worrying about long lines or tickets selling out for anything. At hotels we have been getting free upgrades because they have the rooms available. The hotels let us check in early and check out late (as late as early evening at some of them). Plus the weather has been beautiful and most the days I can walk around in a T-shirt. I highly recommend traveling to Europe in the winter if you have the means to.

The downside is the amount of clothes you have to bring. Because we brought several jackets (and snow clothes for when we go to Switzerland), our suitcases are super heavy. They are usually over weight and we have to pull out several items to carry on with us to avoid the extra charges. Then when we collect our bags in the next city, Annalisa uses the “suitcase-sit” method to stuff everything back inside.

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McDonalds was one of the only places open in the airport (but we weren’t complaining). I felt bad not getting authentic food in such a cool country. Then I saw the Greek-Mac (their version of the Big-Mac). Then I didn’t feel bad. It was actually really good (way better than original big mac) and cool because I have never seen a Greek-Mac in the United States.

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When a kind gesture makes things worse… Sorry, one last story. I forgot to talk about this yesterday. We found this really cool restaurant for dinner while in Santorini. Our waiter really liked us and surprised us with free desserts. It was a super kind gesture, however the dessert was a very juicy custard… and both of us HATE custards. Worse, he didn’t just bring us one, he brought us each our own. We would feel so rude not eating it, and moving it around the plate didn’t make it disappear enough. So we had to buck up and force it down. There aren’t very many foods that activate my gag reflex, but this was one of them. I just kept telling myself, “pretend this is a survivor challenge”. HAHAHA I know this sounds dramatic but Annalisa and I were cracking up all night about it. I’m super proud of Annalisa, who hates being adventurous when it comes to strange foods, but somehow she forced down most of hers as well. Super funny experience that had us laughing the rest of the night. So I take it back, it didn’t make things worse. Even though it was disgusting, it brought us much joy, so thank you Santorini Server man.

IMG_1476We are so excited to explore Rome tomorrow! Goodnight!

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