Wednesday, October 9, 2013


It's been a week and a day since we got home. Sorry I haven't posted- life has been busy, of course. I was home and now I'm back in my University town seeing friends and the places I love. So I was home, and now I'm home =). It has been SO NICE!

Mom and dad picked us up and traffic on the way home was nonexistent, which was great. We dropped Jeremy off, and everyone was just so happy to have us home safe. Then we went and got my first meal back in the US, even though I looked a little shabby...

Then we went home.

The first thing I did, of course, was shower. I put all my clothes in a bag, left my backpack in the car, and decided to deal with it later. Then I went to sleep in my own bed watching Lord of the Rings.

It was wonderful!!!

Since then I have emptied out my backpack, and mom is taking it and my tennis shoes to the laundromat for a good washing. I rested for a couple days while getting other things done and seeing friends and family. The hardest thing was figuring out how to get the 2,403 photos off my phone and save them safely. That took a while! But mission accomplished.

Everything has gone as expected. I miss the things I thought I would miss, and I look back on the hardships thinking that it's awesome that I got through them, but I don't need to do it again. It is so fun to talk about the trip with everyone. It's so much more fun than it was before I left. Then it was all hypothetical. Now I can bond with people over where we have both been, reminisce about my favorite moments, and say I DID IT! And that is a wonderful feeling.

I may decide to post again if something comes up, but for now I think this is my last post. I need to get these law school applications done!

So thank you, readers, for being with me on this incredible adventure. For keeping me going with your comments and love from afar. Thanks, mom and dad, for supporting me 100%. Thank you friends and family for all the money and help- it is so appreciated and I think it was put to wonderful use! =)

And thank you, Jeremy, for being the pain in my ass that kept me going every single day ;). I love you and I love that we shared this adventure together. We will forever have those memories, inside jokes, and special moments and no one can take that away from us! Thank you for being my companion and for putting up with me. It's something that most people couldn't do!

I started this blog, and this journey, with a lot of quotes by other people about travel. So now I'm adding my own to the list. I've been working on this for a while, and it may not be profound, but I think it's completely true.

Traveling for a significant length of time is stressful a lot of the time, miserable sometimes, but absolute bliss on those rare occasions that make it completely worth it.

I hope you go on your own adventure, and send me the blog link!

I can't believe it's over. It feels like a dream. Now on with real life, right back where I belong.



Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Plane Thinking

(Written October 1, posted October 2)

We got up at 5, collected our things, and went to the train station. It was still dark, of course. We were both exhausted. Not just from a fun night and little sleep, but from thinking about this day so many times and from our adventures the last 61 days. Checking out of that last hostel felt so good.

We walked a few blocks to the train station, where we caught the 31 minute train to FCO Airport. It was more expensive than the bus to the airport (€14 vs €6), but we had some bad experiences with buses in Europe being late or whatever, and the trains are relatively reliable. The bus also would've been nearly an hour, and we just wanted to get there with plenty of time to spare.

We got to the airport and it was all very weird. Maybe it was just too early for us. We had to take a bus to the terminal, where they first asked us a bunch of questions about our bags. Then we checked in and got our boarding passes, then went through security, and got on another bus to the gate. They questioned us again about our luggage at the gate before boarding. None of the shops or the one food place was open when we got there. There were no outlets to charge things, not enough bathrooms, and the airport was very confusing for us. Nevertheless we made it onto the plane, which took off 30 minutes late. But we were both sound asleep well before take-off. I only woke up enough to glance out at Europe one last time and say a silent goodbye.

And here we sit. 10 hours in coach, in one of the big 2-3-2 planes. We are in the middle 3-seat section. They played Iron Man 3, which was too intense for me during turbulence, an episode of Parks and Rec, and Life of Pi. I've been sleeping most of the time. As I write this now we are off the coast of Canada, a little over 2 hours from landing.

Did I mention I have the best mom ever? She is picking us up at the airport. Dad too. I can't wait. Far better than taking a bus back to them.

This whole flight has felt so weird. The whole time I have felt... Unsettled. I tried to explain it to Jeremy but couldn't. He seems content at least.

I guess I am just really emotional. I have wanted to come home so many times and now I am. I am leaving what may well be one of the biggest adventures of my life. I am going to see my family. I am anxious about unpacking and feeling clean or dirty. I want to shower but I still feel like I am on my way to another dirty hostel. I am happy and sad and anxious and dirty and nervous. I feel like crying but I don't know why!

Maybe I'm just tired.

I think it's going to take me a few days to feel normal, to feel like Europe wasn't a dream and neither was my life before. To feel clean and back on east coast time. Until then I'm still not sure what to say.
And when I'm not sure what to say, the only thing I can say are the facts. The numbers. So here you go- our final statistics.

Some are compared to half time- the post I did half-way through our trip.

Cities we've seen
1. London
2. Dublin
3. Paris
4. Amsterdam
5. Copenhagen
6. Berlin
7. Prague
8. Budapest
9. Vienna
10. Salzburg
11. Munich
12. Interlaken
13. Milan
14. Florence
15. Siena (day trip)
16. Pisa (half day)
17. San Gimignano (half day)
18. Venice (day trip)
19. Rome
20. Pompei (day trip)

Countries we passed through
1. Iceland
2. England
3. Ireland
4. France
5. Belgium
6. The Netherlands
7. Denmark
8. Germany
9. Czech Republic
10. Slovakia
11. Hungary
12. Austria
13. Switzerland
14. Italy

Days we used on our 15 day rail pass- all 15

Walking tours we've done- 6 at half time, 3 since then (only 2 for Jeremy) and I am counting audio guide tours. Guess we got a little tired of walking tours! Haha

Nights out drinking- 6 ish at half time, probably 12-14 now depending on which one of us you ask

Trains we've taken- We have used our rail pass on 34 trains the whole trip, and I think that's what I was calling international trains at half time (when we had taken 13). But some of the ones in Italy were regional Tuscany trains. There haven't been many metro rides at all since half time- a few in Rome, a couple in Milan, but mostly we have been walking.

I'm not even going to do best meals again. Suffice it to say we ate very well in Italy. :)

Hostel/hotel/guest beds I've slept in-17

Nights until I'm in my OWN bed again- 0!!!

Friends we've made (worthy of Facebook friendship)- 4 at half time, 7 more since then! Pretty cool.

Pictures I've taken- 673 at half time, over 2,000 but its hard to say because I have 2,403 on my phone but a lot are not pictures of the trip- screen shots take up a lot of that and a lot are information (maps, flight info, etc). Yes, I had to delete a lot of stuff on my phone!

Pictures Jeremy has taken- 354 at half time, 868 total now

Museums visited- 4 at half time, 5 since then = 9

Days it rained- 9 OUT OF 62- THAT IS AMAZING!!!! And I can say it now without jinxing the rest of the trip! Such good luck.

Best beer we've had- windmill brewery in Amsterdam, Liter of beer at the beer garden in Munich

Best wine- white wine on the bridge in Paris, Tuscan wine in the square in Siena, all of the vino della casa (house wine) enjoyed with friends in Italy

Times our passports have been stamped- still only 3! Thank you European Union for making my passport look pretty boring... At least there was no waiting in customs lines!

Times we paid to use a bathroom- 4-5ish, not bad

Number of rooms we've stayed in with AC- still only 1 (the hotel in Amsterdam)

Showers I have taken since half time (1 month)- 22ish

Showers Jeremy has taken since half time- maybe around 18-19ish

Times we did laundry- 6.5

Days we took off to relax- 4

Our favorite cities in no order because it's too hard:
Jeremy- Paris, Dublin, Amsterdam, Florence
Hali- Florence, Amsterdam, Paris, Berlin

Cities we agreed we wouldn't go back to:
Milan, London, Pompeii

Trip Highlight:
Jeremy- Canyon Swing (the bungee-type thing) in Interlaken
Hali- Italy in general

Favorite sights (not ordered) since half-time
- Dachau Concentration Camp
- The view from the top of our hike in the Alps
- Florence Duomo
- Venice as a whole
- Coliseum
- Vatican

Again TMI but....
Times we've shaved since half time
Jeremy- 3ish?
Hali- 1 (I know. Shaving ASAP. Wearing long sleeves until then)

Favorite hostels:
1. Interlaken
2. Prague
3. Florence

Worst hostels:
1. Munich
2. Milan
3. Rome

And the hostel really makes or breaks the city experience!

September flew by as expected, and as I predicted in my half-time blog.

Things I threw away while packing my bag up to fly home:
- 5 pairs underwear
- 3 pairs socks
- 3 white, gross, smelly, stained t-shirts
- toiletries I didn't and wouldn't use
- maps and tickets for various things
- water bottles and food
... and my backpack is great and light, even with a few things I'm bringing back. But more on that later.

First thing we want to do when we get home after hugging our families:
Hali- Shower
Jeremy- Drive

Hours we've slept on the plane
Hali- 4ish
Jeremy- 2ish

That is all I can think of!

More from home. We have to fill out these papers for customs and border patrol before we land. So close!!!

Monday, September 30, 2013

Weekend in Rome

On Friday we decided to spend the whole day at the Vatican, or at least as long as it took for us to see it before we were exhausted. So we did the usual- got up, had cereal, and headed out. This time our friend Joe from Amsterdam came with us. He's pretty cool! It was fun to have someone else come along. 

The metro is very reasonably priced in Rome- €1.50 for one trip one way- so we took that to the site. I had looked ahead and found out that tickets would be €16/person, but it also seemed to e free on Friday from what the website said. We were pleased to discover no line and completely free tickets for the Global Day of Prayer, which was awesome!!

The first thing we did was wander through the museum for a bit, admiring the gardens, ancient Egypt exhibit, and huge art collection. Here are just some examples of what we saw. 
Notice the strategically-placed leaves...
So that's the art in the museum, but then there's the building itself. 
Yea, that's the floor. 

So after going through all of that incredible, palace-like museum awesomeness, we came to a series of rooms painted by Raphael and his followers. The coolest painting to see, which I didn't even know was here, was this one:
School of Athens. I have studied this in so many classes! And here it is. Took my breath away a little bit. The other walls were adorned with equally large, detailed paintings. But I just wanted to show you this one. 

Then, before arriving at the famous Sistine Chapel (part of the Vatican museum), we walked through a modem art display. 
The coolest one was Van Gogh. I don't know- I just don't get some of the modern stuff. 

And then we finally arrived at the Sistine Chapel! Only catch- no pictures allowed. So I turned to google again to show you, just in case you didn't know what it was. 
The chapel, covered in paintings by Michelangelo and others. The most famous one on the ceiling is this:
And it was seriously so cool to see in real life. I took several deep breaths as I looked around, trying to absorb it. Not the images really but just the feeling of the room. I'm not sure there is anywhere like it in the world. I imagined what it would be like to be alone in that room, no tourists, no guards. It would feel so mystical. 

So then we got some lunch in the museum- just sandwiches- and headed next door to St. Peter's Basilica. 

This was really amazing. 

St. Peter's is the largest cathedral in Europe. It's actually the largest church in the world by volume, according to Wikipedia anyway. It's easily one of the biggest buildings I've ever been inside, rivaling shopping malls and airports. This thing is seriously huge. 

Here are some pictures for you (of course).
Michelangelo's "Pieta"
Said a prayer in this chapel. When in Rome!
The crowd. 
Mass was starting when we left
Jeremy inside
Me :)

We left the Basilica and got a few pictures ofte square before leaving this tiny country. 

It was beautiful just before sunset. 

The three of us got gelato before heading out back in the direction of the hostel. Our day at the Vatican had been a huge success. 

We walked back along the river, and saw the outside of the famous Castel St. Angelo on the way. This building dates from 123 AD, when the Roman emperor Hadrian commissioned its building as a mausoleum for him and his family. It was later used by popes, via an underground passage, as a hiding place and fortress. It's now a museum. We didn't go in though- just admired from outside on the bridge lined with angels. 

We kept walking back along the river. I love cities at this time of day. 

We got to Piazza del Popolo and saw the famous Obelisk stolen from Egypt by the Roman emperor Augustus in 10 BC. Pretty cool! 

We climbed the stairs up to the park and watched the sunset from there. 

The hostel was a short walk back from the park, and we were so hungry. So we got dinner at the little Italian "trattoria" next door. The three of us became friends with the girl sitting by herself next to us, Amparo from Chile. We all talked and drank wine for hours until the placed closed, even getting a discount and some free wine from our awesome waiter Ali. It was a great night. 

But Saturday we were pretty tired! I slept way in and when I woke up I had all the symptoms of an oncoming cold. So I loaded up on vitamins and took it easy. We had breakfast and then planned our visit to Pompei for Sunday. I spent some time on the phone, blogging, and balancing my bank accounts. Lunch was just pizza down the street when I was feeling a little better. Our afternoon was spent relaxing and going to a park nearby after getting our train reservations for Sunday. Actually this park was used by Mousellini during his dictatorship as a residence. It was a peaceful local place full of families. It was nice. 
We were there for a couple hours even though I still had a headache and stuffy nose. We eventually came back to the hostel for showers and then went out for Chinese food nearby. Again, something besides Italian is occasionally a good thing. 

I don't think I mentioned this yet, but we don't like this Rome hostel. It's not as bad as Milan but it's not good at all. The showers are the worst part I would say. Very small and dirty. So we are trying to take as few showers here as possible. Meaning we STINK. I'm pretty sure this is the worst I've smelled the whole trip. And probably ever in my life. So be glad you're not here for that. 

So Saturday was an easy day. 

Sunday we went to Pompei. In case you didn't learn about this in middle school (shame on your teachers!), this is an archaeological site just south of Naples, Italy. Mount Vesuvius erupted during the Roman Empire in 79 AD, covering the surrounding area in ash and preserving entire cities. Eventually many areas were reopened and cleaned up, but Pompei and Herculaneum were completely preserved and are still under excavation and restoration work today. The coolest finds were in the 1800s, when archaeologists found strange holes in the ash they were removing and filled them with plaster before removing the surrounding ash. Plaster molds of people and animals, and even plants and clothing, were uncovered. The bodies had decayed over time, but left something like a fossil behind. So we can see copies today of their bodies when they died during the eruption. Entire buildings are preserved and the result is really cool to see. So we thought we should check it out while we're sorta close by. 

So Sunday we got up early and had cereal and headed to the train station. Our 10:10 train got us into Naples at 11:20, where we got some pizza for lunch and bought a suburban train ticket to Pompei Scavi (meaning excavation). 

This was where the day started to get interesting. We knew Naples was a little dangerous but we thought we would be totally fine. Well right off the bat we were sorta hustled into buying a day pass train ticket instead of just a round-trip ticket, so we paid about twice as much. We were approached by many homeless guys and vendors, and it was just generally really dirty and uncomfortable in the station. On the suburban train there were no seats, so we stood for the 45 minute-long journey. 

We got to the site, which was a very easy walk from the train, and I had to pee. I waited and waited but the line didn't move, so I thought I'd just wait and go inside the site. So we got our tickets (€11 each) and walked up the huge hill to the site. 

We walked and walked, looking for a bathroom. Finally we found it, but the line was about 3x as long as the one at the entrance. I waited for a few minutes until giving up and deciding I just wanted to wash my hands. So I went around and got some soap and pushed the sink button. Nothing happened. Some Americans chuckled and told me the water was off in the whole bathroom. Hence the line. The women were filling a bucket from a spicket in the wall to flush the toilet. And only one toilet was open. 

On my way out I saw two female bathroom attendants sitting and chatting, apparently totally ok with how the bathroom was functioning. 

Jeremy poured some water from his bottle for me to wash my hands. We were getting pretty grumpy at this point. 

We quickly figured out that there were no signs or explanations anywhere and that being here would be pretty pointless without a guide of some kind. 

Fed up, we went back to the entrance. I used the bathroom and we got audio guides. €5 each but absolutely necessary. So that's the catch. 

We went back into the site and started exploring a little. 
Door to the city 
The old basilica (courthouse) before the word was adopted by Christians 
Remains of a temple
The forum (market, government center, town center, etc)
Preserved marble detail 
Outside the meat and fish market
Preserved art
Plaster body- a man hides his face from the settling ash 
Plaster body- a pregnant 17-year old woman protects her face and unborn child at time of death. 
Archaeological finds
Official counter for liquid measures in the forum 
Men's bathhouse 
Bathhouse ceiling
Chariot grooves in the road. So cool!
Continuing work

And now several pictures from a very nice house (missing its original roof)

All the roads 
Preserved store counter
Preserved wall art
Preserved floor
Their own amphitheater 
Vineyards recreated
Sports field, complete with swimming pool. What?!
Small amphitheater, now restored and used for modern plays
Jeremy in the forum with Mt. Vesuvius behind him
Me in the same spot
And showing off my sweet audioguide! 

So that was the site. It was made slightly more complicated by the stray dogs...
...biting flies, hot sun, and lack of benches. All in all we were glad we went, but neither of us would go again. Maybe Herculaneum with our families one day, but we were both pretty done with Pompei. 

Around 5 we left the site, got the worst gelato of the trip at the train station, and caught the train back to Naples. We were back in Rome around 8:30, when it started raining. We got some pasta next door and called it a night. 

Pompei was amazing to see, and I really enjoyed the commentary and the attitude of the place. It's not a sad place so much as a preserved look into ancient Roman life, which is amazing to see. The facilities were awful, but we thoroughly enjoyed our walk back in time. 

So that was our last weekend in Rome! Full of sites and amazing things.