Saturday, July 2, 2011

Europe Part 1

One of the things Jason and I miss most about Colorado is seasons! Especially snow, believe it or not! So we decided to take a “vacation” in Europe over the holiday season.  This was Jason’s first trip to Europe and because we were still under 25 (and Jason is considered a student because of graduate school), we qualified for the Youth Eurail pass and discounts throughout the trip. It was the perfect opportunity for us to go backpacking and see as much as we could during the trip.

We visited Zurich, Milan, Venice, Vienna, Prague, Munich, Strasbourg, Paris, and then looped back to Zurich from December 17, 2009 – January 4, 2010. It was a whirlwind trip for sure and we loved every minute of it!

One more note about this trip – it was a great learning experience for us. Both Jason and I are very thorough people who thrive on organization and planning. One of the appeals of this trip was our decision to play everything by ear. We booked only three hotels and two trains ahead of time – we booked Zurich the night we landed (because our flight got in late), Christmas Eve in Prague and New Year’s Eve in Paris (because we wanted to make sure the holiday didn’t prevent us from getting a room). Trust me when I say this was a challenge! We even debated booking hotels the night before we left, but we told everyone what we were doing just for accountability. In retrospect, we wouldn’t have done anything different! We had a magical adventure and met some incredible people as a result of our not-planning.

Milano, Italy
Our first stop was Zurich – and only for a short time. The following morning we hopped a train to head straight to Milano. We flew in and out of Zurich because of its low cost. Our Eurail pass expired after 14 days so we planned to sightsee in Zurich on the tail end of the trip.

Milano was the hardest place to find an affordable hotel. We walked around for a couple of hours before finding a hotel, The Best Western. We inquired about prices and asked if they had any rooms less expensive. They told us they had one room, usually reserved for singles on business, that we were welcome to have a look at and decide. A room with a double bed that was just slightly cramped? We’ll take it! The room is just a place to crash after a day of sightseeing anyway.

Milano was absolutely incredible! The Christmas trees and decorations outside the Duomo Cathedral were wondrous. We took a tour of the cathedral and walked around the Piazza Duomo, shopped in the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, visited the Museo Civico Archeologico, Teatro alla Scalla, Castello Sforzesco, Ambrosia Art Gallery (which had a special exhbit on Leonardo Da Vinci), Sacrestia Monumentale del Bramante, and walked around as much of the city as possible. We also bought tickets to see The Last Supper painting by Leondaro Da Vinci. You cannot take pictures of the painting and the only way to see it is to reserve tickets far in advance or book a city tour, which are granted a specific number of tickets everyday for tourists.

Venice, Italy
The next stop on our tour was Venice, a place that ended up being one of our two favorites. We loved everything – the food, the people, and the sites! Upon arriving we stopped at tourist information for hotel booking. We found a fabulous hotel, Ca’ Alvise, at a cheap rate that we grabbed up. It was by far the nicest hotel we stayed at during our trip.

Some of the sights we saw in Venice were the Gsllerie dell Accademia di Venezia (a special exhibit with Da Vinci’s original The Vitruvian Man), museums of St. Mark’s Square, Palazzo Ducale, Basilica di San Marco, Museo Correr, Museo Archeologico Nazionale, monumental rooms of the Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana, Doge’s Palace), Campanile di San Marco, and Chiesa di Santa Maria della Salute.

We visited the glass museum on another island around Venice. One of the neat traditions that Jason and I decided to start for our family was to fill our Christmas tree with ornaments from places that we’ve gone. How convenient since we were in Europe during Christmas with markets in almost every city! Except for one tiny glitch…we were backpacking. Three broken Christmas ornaments later and Jason banned me from purchasing anymore. The straw that broke the camel’s back was Jason dropping a glass ornaments in, of all places, the glass museum. The ornament survived the fall, but baby Jesus was rocking around the manger scene. And then I dropped the ornament! Now the baby Jesus AND manger roof are toppling around Mary and Joseph. Makes for a great addition to our tree though!

We also attended Vivaldi’s Four Seasons concert at the Palazzo delle Prigioni Concert. One of the sites we wanted to see was the Gran Teatro la Fenice, but we arrived on a night that had a special program and was not open for viewing. We decided to sneak in… amongst a group of students we got in for free apparently attending an academic lecture. We snapped a few photographs and giggled as we hurried out before having to listen to an hour of Italian on an empty stomach!

We planned to leave Venice on an overnight train to Vienna. The train left from Le Mestre station, a short train ride from Venice. The night that we were leaving our hotel warned us that we might want to get to the train station early because they were expecting rains that was going to flood the city. Light bulbs went off as Jason and I realized THAT was the platforms that we saw scattered around the city from building to building. Our train was scheduled to leave at midnight so we headed to the station early after killing some time at the casino and having a Nutella crepe for dessert!

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