Happy Birthday to the USA . . . and me.

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Happy 4th of July, up there with my favorite holidays (mainly because it means fireworks). Now while I am a big fan of the 4th, I had a very odd Fourth of July experience yesterday that I just can not seem to shake, but in order to really understand why I feel the way I do, you need a little background information.

I grew up on Long Island, in a relatively small town. I went to school, K-8 with the same group of 100 kids. We then moved (for the most part together) to high school in Westhampton, which was a cultural smack-in-the-face, as if starting high school wasn’t stressful enough. Now while my little town was just a drive down the road from Westhampton Beach (WHB), I cannot say that it was somewhere I went before 9th grade. Since then however—up until this summer—I have practically lived there.

Now I would like to believe that rather than avoiding WHB, I was simply too busy working to have time to be there this summer, but that is not the case. I have been known to drive 15-minutes for the sole purpose of getting coffee from my 7-11 in WHB. Gone are those days and today I realized the reason why.

We have a term here in the hamptons for the summer people, cidiots, and today as I rode the train back from work in Manhattan—in a train full of cidiots all sporting catalog Raulf Lauren beach attire and dragging multiple rolling luggage items—I realized that I have become a cidiot in reverse.

20130704-233512.jpgI am practically one of them. I, at least wear normal clothes and treat people with consideration and respect, which in all my WHB experience cannot be said for the typical cidiot summer crowd. All day on the 3rd (my birthday) I was passing people with rolling luggage in the city, and it took me until I was about half way home on the train to realize that all those people struggling to lug around not only a roller bag, but a Vera Bradley as well were in fact headed east for the weekend. Now maybe Europe changed my world view, or maybe I just live my life differently from them but I can pack for a weekend in a large purse. If I am bringing a roller bag you can bet that wherever I am going, I will be there for a week or more.

Well, despite the influx of city people, I had a very nice 4th. I went to the beach, had dinner at a friends, and watched the fireworks, before coming home to write to you. I hope you enjoyed the day!

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And I’m back!

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I apologize for being absent for so long, but once again the chaos of life has caught me under her wing. A few weeks ago (when I disappeared from the Internet) I had a very big, exciting week—I started two jobs and the life of an adult working 6 (sometimes 7) days a week has been my existence ever since.

I am currently working at a North Fork winery in their tasting room as well as completing an internship at a publishing house in Manhattan. Between the two, plus the commute, my free time is rather sparse these days, but such is the life of a struggling college grad/wannabe adult, right?

Now this is going to be a short one, because my to-do list seems to be ever-growing and I need to check at least one item off it tonight, but in these past few weeks there are a few things I have learned about what it really means to be an adult that I wanted to share:

  1. Tired has a whole new meaning. I am ALWAY tired, and not necessarily in a bad way, it is just one of those things that is always there, constantly itching at my eyeballs. Everyone said take naps in college because that is the last time you will have the time, and man it is true! I was always an 8-hour a night kind of girl and now I consider myself content with 6.
  2. Money is ALWAYS on the brain. I understood coming into this whole “adult” thing that being broke was part of the job description, and I was ready for that. What I didn’t anticipate though, was just how often I would find my mind wandering back to my budget and bank balance in the middle of the day. Gone are the days of staring out the window in class, now as I am looking at my computer screen at work my weekly budget is running through the back of my mind.
  3. Alcohol has new importance. I’ve never been one who really understood all the hype over 5 o’clock, but I now understand why so many songs have been written about that lovely time of day. Not only is it the hour to push back from your desk and head home (or at least start considering when you can go home) it is the earliest hour of the day Monday—Friday when having a cocktail in hand is not only accepted but practically expected. I have a whole new appreciation for the after work beverage.
  4. Living for the weekend. When you are working a full-time job there are only so many hours Monday—Friday outside of work, leaving Saturday and Sunday for your entertaining/social/fun/errand-runnning days. Now that we do not live with all of our friends within walking distance, social engagements and outings must be planned and coordinated in advance. Gone are the days of spontaneous parties and get-togethers.
  5. I am one of them. At first it was unsettling, the newfound respect strangers paid me on my way to and from work, but it is like I have entered an exclusive club of strangers and we are all in on a secret that the rest of the world isn’t privy to. Now maybe this isn’t the case for every aspiring adult out there, but I—being a commuter—have a unique going-to-work experience in which 60-year-old men treat me as their equal, as if I am contributing as much to the work force as they are. Now I like to believe that I am an essential component of any workplace, but in my current role as intern I am not that delusional. But when you are in business/business casual attire, no one questions your level of importance.

North Fork Wine Tasting

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This week was Erik’s birthday, and to celebrate we spent Friday wine tasting on the North Fork of Long Island. Now having parents in the wine world has its perks and let me tell you, yesterday was one of them! My dad set up a wonderful day for us and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves!

Bedell Cellars Tasting Room

Bedell Cellars Tasting Room

We started off bright and early at 11 (it was the only way we were going to get everywhere) at Bedell Cellars on the Main Road in Cutchogue where we had a tour of their winemaking facility from their winemaker Richard Olsen-Harbich. We took a look around the grounds and at the vineyard, and then started our first tasting of the day. We tried four of their wines: the 2012 First Crush White (a white blend), the 2011 Sparkling Rose (I am a sucker for sparkling), the 2011 Cabernet Franc, and the 2011 Malbec. In the small world that is the North Fork, Erik’s mom also happened to design the Bedell building and we had a good time looking around as Erik pointed out her signature elements.

We headed next to Sherwood House‘s tasting house, in Jamesport. Here we tasted the 2012 White Merlot, the 2012 Stainless Steel Chardonnay, the 2010 Chardonnay, the 2007 Cabernet Franc, the 2006 Sherwood Manor (red blend), and the 2012 Merliance. Merliance is 100% Merlot, made up of a blend of grapes from a number of different Long Island wineries, to showcase Long Island Merlot varietal. It is a very small, intimate tasting room with in a nice setting, perfect for a picnic and we decided to sit outside and have our lunch with a glass of the 2012 White Merlot which was perfect in the hello-summer weather. I am normally not a White Merlot fan but Erik and I were both impressed with this one. It was made as more of a rose than as strictly a white wine, which may have made a difference, but regardless we both really enjoyed it. I am a big red wine drinker and I also enjoyed the Sherwood Manor and the Merliance quite a bit, although even I have to admit that drinking reds in that humidity was a challenge. Speaking of which, I can’t believe how warm it has been the last few days and Friday the weather didn’t ease up at all, staying in the 90s and high 80s most of the day and there seemed to be no escape from the humidity.

Sherwood House tasting room

Sherwood House Tasting Room

The next stop on our day of tasting was just down the street (which was lucky as we were walking between these two and in that sticky heat we didn’t want to walk far) at Paumanok Vineyards in Aquebogue. I had not been to Paumanok since I was very young and was excited to now be old enough to try their wine, and I was impressed with everything I tasted. With the recommendations of the very nice tasting room staff we tried: the 2012 Chenin Blanc, the 2012 Sauvignon Blanc, the 2012 Dry Riesling, the Minimalist Chardonnay (which was very impressive and surprising), the 2011 Dry Rose, the 2012 Dry Rose, the Assemblage (a red blend), the 2011 Cabernet Franc, and the 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon. It was here that we had our favorite wine of the day–2012 Chenin Blanc. I also enjoyed their Roses quite a bit which for me was a surprise as there are a very few number of Roses that I can say that for. We had a quick look around and each bought a bottle of the Chenin Blanc before we were picked up for our next stop. I was also pleasantly surprised to here have tasted one of the few Chardonnays that I have ever truly liked: the Minimalist. I am not a Chardonnay drinker, which may come as a surprise given the number of them we tried, but I like, especially when tasting, to try at least one everywhere I go in hopes of being surprised and here I was, for the second time in a day.

We then headed up to the North Road and over to Macari Vineyard‘s tasting room in Mattituck. We started with a short tasting of their 2012 Early White, followed by the 2008 Dos Aguas, and the 2010 Block E before heading down to the tank room for a look, where we met with Kelly Urbanik, the winemaker, who is very nice and we had a good time talking to her.

You can’t believe there is more, I know, trust me I know! Let me tell you, I was struggling a bit at this point, luckily we slowed down from here on out.

Lieb Cellars Oregon Road

Lieb Cellars Oregon Road

After a short walk down the road we arrived at Premium Wine Group, where I worked this past harvest. My dad showed Erik around the winery, and gave us a few tanks samples to compare. We tried a few different styles of Riesling and Chardonnay and had a good time discussing the differences. For our next and last stop we went to Lieb Cellars new Oregon Road tasting room, which none of us but my dad had been to before. Eriks’ parents and mine, as well as two friends of ours joined us for a cheese platter and tasting of the 2009 Pinot Blanc Cuvee (a sparkling wine), the 2011 Pinot Blanc (which was my favorite here), the 2011 Bridge Lane Chardonnay, and the 2011 Bridge Lane Rose. It was a very nice ending to our day of tasting.

At this point we were more than hungry and went back to Eriks’ parents house for dinner from Braun Seafood which was perfect and exactly what I wanted. It was a really nice night and we sat outside and chatted for quite a while, a while being until I had been bitten by so many mosquitos that I couldn’t stand it any longer. I am a mosquito magnet and am currently covered in bites from my knees to my toes, but it was a nice night to sit outside so it was worth it. Nothing that a little calamine lotion can’t cure! All in all it was a very North Fork filled day and we had a lovely time touring the wineries.

It was Eriks’ first time going tasting on the North Fork and I think it is safe to say that we all enjoyed his birthday. We are already talking about which wineries we want to visit on our next tasting day! It was also a nice last hurrah for me before starting my real-person-adult internship on Monday, updates on that to come soon I am sure.

If you live in NY or are visiting I highly suggest adding a day of wine tasting into your summer plans!

Back to Reality

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We arrived back in New York on Thursday after an unexpected turn of events in Berlin. As I mentioned in my last post from Prague, I started to come down with something our last day in the Czech Republic and unfortunately it got worse over the next few days. I had a pretty bad sinus infection that left me miserable and in bed for our first day and a half in Berlin. Erik was very nice to me and sat with me in the hostel for most of the time, but on the second day I was feeling a bit better and wanted to venture out so that we didn’t let any more of our time in Berlin go to waste!

We walked around for a little bit but it was cold,  we didn’t really have a plan, it was too late to go into anything, and we weren’t really feeling it so we turned back towards the hostel and went out to dinner. After dinner Erik wasn’t feeling too hot, and he came down with a bad case of food poisoning. That one afternoon was all that we saw of Berlin, as neither of us were really feeling great the remainder of the time. Luckily we had a really nice hostel and a private room so we watch a few movies, slept a lot, and relaxed and recuperated for our last few days in Europe. It was then a nice easy, quick 8-hour flight home and back in New York we are!

Saturday evening my family went over to Erik’s parents house for a lobster dinner. It was a really nice meal and a nice treat after being away. Everyone then sat down around the computer screen as Erik and I gave a digital tour of our trip, telling of course all of the best stories as we went.

It has been a bit of an adjustment back to everyday life but luckily I have had a break week to relax and eat my way through all of the lovely Long Island food (I have already enjoyed a Bacon, Egg, & Cheese, Sushi, Chinese food,  lobster, and BBQ) before starting work at Penguin Books in the city next Monday. Things will get a little less exotic here on out but hopefully not any less exciting!

Prague

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Prague was one of the places we were most excited to visit and while our time there wasn’t spent entirely as I anticipated, we had a really, really good time and thoroughly enjoyed the city!

Inside the Basilica

Inside the Basilica

The first night we arrived in Prague after a bit of a dinner disappointment, we decided to stay in, watch a movie, and go to bed early. Well we watched a few too many movies and an early start (not surprisingly) just didn’t happen. We spent the day at the Prague Castle, which was really very beautiful. We wandered through the exterior courtyards, visited the Basilica of St. George, the Powder Tower, and the Golden Lane. It is a very extensive and elaborate castle and while not the most impressive as in wow-factor, it was in my opinion the most informative and all-encompassing (although there were a few too many details about torture for my taste). After a few hours we exited through the back of the castle onto a terraced hillside overlooking the city. We stopped at a cafe to split a carafe of wine and to fully appreciate the view of the city.

Overlooking the city

Overlooking the city

After our drink we made our way down the hill to “Lesser Town” the area across the river from the main city of Prague. We wandered through the streets for a while, went into a few shops, stumbled across a children’s dance group performing traditional dances in traditional dress, and then walked across the Charles Bridge to Old Town, the historic center. As it was approaching evening this area was a bit too touristy for Erik and I, so we sat in a park for a while and watched the loud American tourists that seemed to be everywhere! As soon as the crowds started to thin we went in search of dinner and had the worst meal of the trip! They clearly forgot about our food, we watch as people who arrived after us sat down, ordered, ate, and left, before finally receiving our dinner which was cold and had clearly been sitting under a heat lamp for the last 30 minutes. Erik was not happy and we decided that we needed to change the course of the night.

Excited in the Ice Bar

Excited in the Ice Bar

We had heard 2 things repeatedly about Prague–that we should go to an Ice Bar and on the Prague Pub Crawl. I was really excited about one and Erik the other, take a minute to guess . . . I bet you guessed correctly, Ice Bar was me and Pub Crawl Erik. Well I won out (mainly because it was too early for the Pub Crawl) and we went to the Ice Bar which was a lot colder than I thought it would be! We were given gloves, parkas, and vodka shots with flavored syrup in ice glasses when we walked in. It was still early so it wasn’t very busy but it was fun. We left there just before the Pub Crawl was supposed to start and decided on a whim to try to make it, and make it we did!

Dancing Building

Dancing Building

It was our last week in Europe and we decided that it was now or nothing, so we didn’t hold back. The deal with the Pub Crawl was the first hour you drink unlimited vodka shots, absinthe shots, beer, and wine, so we did. We met some Australian and Canadian friends and I won’t tell you all the details but to sum it up, we drank a lot, had a lot of fun, and Erik and I lost each other at the last stop which was a 5 story club with hidden rooms everywhere. We both made it back to the hostel safely at a ridiculous hour and we slept nice and late the next day.

Paddle Boating

Paddle Boating

Saturday with our late start we wandered around New Town, saw the dancing building which was cool but not worth all the hype, and then went paddle boating. I appreciate the gimmicky cheesy stuff every so often, but Erik is a no apple picking, no pumpkin picking, no touristy fun kind of guy so I was very pleasantly surprised when he say “Let’s rent a paddle boat,” and it was a lot of fun! It’s one of those things you always want to do but never get around to and Prague was a good place to finally get to it. We paddled around for an hour before taking a walk along the river, stopping for a much needed cup of coffee, wandering around a bit more, grabbing dinner, and then embarking on Prague Pub Crawl Part 2!

Prague Pub Crawl Part 2

Prague Pub Crawl Part 2

We knew what to expect this time and did it right! We made tons of friends from all over, had the correct ratio of absinthe to vodka shots to be drunk but not unhappy, did a bit of dancing, stuck together so we didn’t get lost, and ducked out of the club part early because it was too much to handle twice in a row.

The following day, our last in Prague, we explored another area of the city, ate some street food, saw too many tourists, found a cafe in a square for an afternoon drink, and then had to head back because I wasn’t feeling well. I wasn’t hungover, if this trip has taught me anything it is how to avoid a hangover, no I came down with something and spent our last afternoon in Prague in bed feeling like death. The following morning we said goodbye to Prague, hopped on our train to Berlin, and the count down to the end has unfortunately begun.

My next post will be from the States. All good things must come to an end I suppose. . .

Hungary

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My favorite thing about traveling is the unexpected surprises that you come across along the way. Everything about Hungary fell under that category.

Drinks in the park with Zora and Zille

Drinks in the park with Zora and Zille

We arrived in Budapest on the morning of the 8th and spent the day catching up on our lack of sleep from the night train. In the evening we met up with a friend of mine, Zora, who worked harvest with me at the winery in the Fall. Zora and her boyfriend Gabor met Erik and I for a beer and then we made our way over to a Portuguese bar to meet a few of their friends, for what we thought was a wine tasting and concert. After a while there we were rather hungry as Erik and I hadn’t eaten since breakfast, so we went to a Turkish place for Gyros, at which point Zoras older sister Zille joined us. We decided to make one more stop for the night, and went to an outside park/bar in the city center where I tried a Hungarian orange cocktail which was really good and very girly!

Ruins in the English Park

Ruins in the English Park

It was really nice to see Zora and Zille again and we spent most of our week in Hungary with them. The following day we explored in the morning and then met up with Zora at her apartment where we left our bags and then took a walk through the park before getting on a train heading east to Tata–where her Mother and Stepfather, Dezso live. We spent the afternoon walking around the lake and an English park with Zora, Zille, their Stepfather, and their younger sister Gina before heading back to the house where their mother had dinner ready. We sat down and all had a shot of homemade Palinka, a traditional before dinner drink. I am not a big fan of shots but Palinka falls under a different category. It is made by distilling fermented fruit and is smooth and aromatic, particularly the homemade ones.

Zoras family in the cellar

Zoras family in the cellar

Dezso is a winemaker in his spare time and a very good one, so not only was the food amazing (and our first home cooked meal in a month) but the wine was fantastic as well and it just kept coming. After dinner Dejun brought us down to his cellar, which he built along with the whole house (which was beautiful) by himself, where he keeps small tanks of each of his wines. We tried a few of them again and had a nice end to our night, all talking and laughing in the cellar.

20130516-113228.jpgThe following morning we were up and back to Budapest early as everyone had to get to work. We spent the day doing laundry at Zoras apartment (a much needed activity) and wandering around the area that she lives in. We had lunch by the lake, took a look at a castle, explored the neighborhood, and a walk around the park before meeting up with Zora and Gabor who had rented a car for the 4 of us to head to the country for the weekend. We drove 3 hours to the far western side of Hungary, almost to the Slovakian border, to Zoras family’s vacation house. We arrived rather late and spent the first night drinking Palinka and a chili alcohol called Bull Killer. The Palinka was very nice but being the spicy food lover that I am, I really enjoyed the Bull Killer to everyone’s surprise.

The boys in front of the house

The boys in front of the house

Saturday morning Zora and Gabor made us a traditional breakfast. It was similar to scrambled eggs but with 2 types of sausage, tomatoes, onions, and white peppers cooked in. You eat it with a chili pepper paste that was amazing, as well as with bread and tea. It was a very nice breakfast to start our sightseeing filled day. We first went on a short hike up to a castle where we had magnificent panoramic views of the area. We spent a bit of time there laying in the sun and enjoying the view before making our way back down.

In front of the villa with Zora & Gabor

In front of the villa with Zora & Gabor

We then went for lunch in town before heading to a park with a villa. There was a bit of confusion on how to get into the grounds of the villa, so we hopped the fence and climbed the hill where to our surprise, a Polish hunting festival was taking place. Lucky for us there was a booth selling kurtoskalacs, traditional Hungarian dessert, similar to fried dough. It was a cylinder in shape, hollow in the middle, and coated in traditionally sugar in the outside. We had to try it and got one coated in coconut. We then sat down in the grass with our snack and watched the sun begin to set. Back at the house Erik and I set about making an apple pie while Zora and Gabor started on dinner. I am pretty good in the kitchen and I am definitely one who likes to experiment when cooking, but I always have a recipe for reference, except this time. Pies are pretty easy so it wasn’t too difficult but I don’t make pie crusts too often so that was a bit interesting. It turned out really well, the crust was just a bit bread-y. It was Gabors first American apple pie.

The cell at at the winery

The cell at at the winery

Dezso has his main cellar down the street from where we were staying and after we stuffed ourselves at dinner (both Zora and I made WAY too much food) we walked over to the cellar and I have never seen as many stars as I did on that walk. The town was very nice and quaint in the daytime, but nothing compared to the sky when the sun went down! We again tasted through the wines, although here there were about 3 times as many, as he had both tanks and barrels. Zora had a list of the ones we were to try and we didn’t waste any time. We were all a bit drunk and had an intense table tennis battle before calling it a night.

Wine tasting in Tokaj

Wine tasting in Tokaj

Sunday Erik and I made breakfast, french toast and eggs-in-a-hole with orange juice. It was our last day in the countryside, so we packed everything up and left the house on our way to the Tokaj Wine Region for a few tastings. Our first stop was a Palinka Distillery for a private tour of the facility and a tasting. The tour was all in Hungarian but I understood a surprisingly large amount of what was being said. We then sat down for our tasting and I cannot put into words how wonderful the Palinkas were. They were incredibly aromatic with strong, clear flavors, and were both smooth and warm all the way down. The two we tried were pear flavored, one a normal pear and the other a Hungarian pear that we didn’t recognize. After our tasting we made our way to the center of the Tokaj region and stopped at a winery, Chateau Dereszla. Here we also had a tour of their underground cellar, this time in English luckily. It was so cold in the cellar that we were given blankets to keep ourselves warm, even though it was practically summer outside. The man who showed us around was very nice and told us about the importance of cellar mold, the history of the winery and the region, how they age their wine, and gave us a bit of information about the different varietals grown in the area and the history of how winemaking in Hungary started. It was very informative and interesting and then we sat down for our tasting. The wine of the region tends to be more commonly sweet, which neither Erik nor I would say is our favorite, but every wine we tried we enjoyed and we decided to buy a bottle. We made one last stop for a late lunch before making the drive back to Budapest.

Central Market Hall

Central Market Hall

Our last two days in Budapest we spent sight seeing. On Monday we had lunch at a cafe in a small square where we tried Goulash, a traditional tomato based Hungarian stew. We then went to see the Grand Synagogue, St.Stephen Basilica, and the Parliament building before walking back down the Pest side of the city along the Duna, the river dividing the city into Buda and Pest. We stopped to have a beer at a cafe along the river and watched the sun begin to set before going in search of dinner. We weren’t finding anything that looked good, so we decided on an Italian restaurant that turned out to be filled almost exclusively with Americans. There was a couple in their 50s from Texas at the table next to us who started talking with Erik when I was in the bathroom, who we talked to for a bit while waiting for our food. When they finished their meal and got up to leave they told us to enjoy our trip and that they took care of paying for our dinner which was incredibly nice of them.

The Parliament Building

The Parliament Building

Tuesday, our last day in Budapest we went to Central Market Hall, a two story farmers market inside an old train station, where we tried Langos, the last traditional Hungarian food on our list of things to try. Langos is somewhere between fried dough and a giant savory pancake that you cover in sour cream, onions, and cheese, we added tomatoes and a meat. It was very good, but also incredibly greasy and left us both sleepy and saturated for the majority of the afternoon. From there we went to Gellert Park, a park on a cliff over looking Pest where we went into the Cave Church, and saw the Liberty Statue. We continued walking to see the Royal Palace, the Chain bridge, and the Fisherman’s Bastion before making our way back to Pest to meet up with Zora.

Zora & Gina

Zora & Gina

Zora and her younger sister Gina met us for a ferry ride along the Duna to Margaret Island, where we took a walk and then met up with Gabor and Zille at a beer garden on the island for a drink. We spent a few hours with then before saying goodbye and going our separate ways.

We enjoyed every moment of our time in Hungary and would greatly recommend visiting this beautiful and overlooked country. The people were really nice, the food very good, the exchange rate was fantastic, the countryside beautiful, the wine and Palinka delicious, and the city was unlike any other I have visited. Although after everyplace I seem to claim that that one was my favorite, I can honestly without a doubt say that Hungary was the highlight of our trip, in part because my friend Zora and her family spoiled us, but also because everything about our time in Hungary was a pleasant surprise. We are now in Prague for the beginning of the end of our Euro Trip.

Munich, Germany

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20130510-173411.jpgThis is the last back post and then I am all caught up from my week of no Internet. On May 4th we parted ways with Rachel as she went off to Pisa for a day before flying home to New York and we got on a train to Munich. While I very much enjoyed our time in Italy, the train ride made me realize how much of the country we missed in our short visit. The train wound through mountains, small towns, along rivers, and through vineyards confirming in my mind that another trip to Italy focusing on the countryside is a must-do in my future!

20130510-173419.jpgWe arrived in Munich rather late and after checking into our hotel decided to go down the street for a drink. Erik being ever friendly decided to find us some friends and sat down with a group of people who we wound up spending the rest of the evening with. They were 3 Germans, a sister, her brother, and his wife. They were very nice and after chatting for a while (and yes lederhosen came up in conversation at least once) they invited us to join them at a club, as the bar was closing. The music was. . . different but we had a nice time and enjoyed talking with our new friends. We finally had to bail as we were falling asleep, and made our way back to the hotel. We had a lazy day and didn’t do much as Erik had caught a virus and wasn’t feeling well. It wound up not being such a bad thing to catch up on our sleep as everything seemed to close down on Sundays.

20130510-173427.jpgThe following day we wandered around and saw a bit of the city, ate a lot of pretzels, bratwurst, and beer. We went out again that night to the same bar and wound up sitting next to a large group of people who were speaking in English and talking about the US. Erik once again made friends and we spent the next few hours talking to 2 Germans, and an Irishman. They all worked together at a company down the street and went out for a few drinks and those 3 wound up spending the rest of their night with us. They were a lot of fun and when it was time to leave, one of them, Lars, who also was the boss of the company paid our tab which was very nice of him! He went home and we went around the corner to another bar with the remaining German and the Irishman whose names I cannot remember. We again had a great night and met some wonderful people.

20130510-173437.jpgOur last day in Munich we spent exploring parks, seeing the remaining landmarks that we hadn’t gotten too, and enjoying the beer gardens before our night train to Budapest, Hungary. It was a really lovely day, one that we both agreed might be our favorite so far. The weather was beautiful and all in all everything was very relaxing. At 11:40pm we got on our night train, a night train that we believed we had a sleeper reservation for only to discover that no we did not! Luckily Erik went to explore and found us an empty cabin. We moved out of our fluorescent light normal seat car into this cabin, pulled the shades down over the window, closed the door, turned off the lights, spread out each over 3 seats, and attempted to sleep for the 9-hour trip to Budapest.

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Italy

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Our hostel in Sorrento

Our hostel in Sorrento

After 24 hours straight of travel we made it to Sorrento, which is located south of Naples. We arrived in the most beautiful hostel I have ever seen, just before we were supposed to meet Rachel and her friends for dinner, so it worked out well. We all met up and went in search of food. We stumbled across a small family restaurant and sat down for dinner. We had a nice light local white wine and I have my first Italian pizza. After dinner (which was amazing!) we went in search of gelato and wandered down to the water to admire the view, watch some fireworks, and take a moment to appreciate that we really were in Italy.

The group in Pompeii

The group in Pompeii

The following day we visited Pompeii in the morning which was really very impressive. I had no idea how large the city of Pompeii was. We spent quite a few hours in what remains of the city before venturing out into the town in search of lunch. Now I knew that it would be warm in Italy but I was not prepared to start summer. It was in the high 80s and we were all a sweaty mess. After lunch our group made a split and Rachel, Erik, and I made our way back to Sorrento while the other two girls went into the city of Naples (which based on their later reflections I wouldn’t recommend).

Some of the ruins of Pompeii

Some of the ruins of Pompeii

Back in Sorrento we explored the central part of the city, went in search of something to drink, and then made our way to the water. We spent the better part of the afternoon looking for a way down to the beach but unfortunately failed in that respect.

It was hot, too hot for me, and after a walk through a lemon grove made our way back to the hostel. Rachel and Erik went for a swim in the pool while I took a shower. We spent the rest if the afternoon drinking cocktails and sitting around the pool where we met up with another girl, Dani, who Rachel knew and who was joining the other two girls for a few days. A little after 7 Ariel and Julia returned from Naples and we all had dinner on the water. We found a great little seafood restaurant and ordered things like seafood pizza, seafood risotto, spaghetti and mussels, the list continues. It was a really nice dinner, we had a nice bottle of wine, and everyone enjoyed themselves. At the end of our meal the waiter brought us out each a shot of Limincella, a lemon alcohol that is very popular in the area and absolutely delicious!

After dinner the gelato search began, not that it was much of a search at all, as there is gelato on every corner, the Starbucks of Italy! All of these places have the same basic flavors and I decided to try something different so I went with Pear & Chocolate. While an odd combination it worked quite well and I was very happy with my choice. We walked around the town a little longer before calling it a night.

Roman Forum

Roman Forum

The following morning we were up bright and early and on our way to Rome. We arrived in Rome after not too much trouble, checked into our hostel, and began to explore! After a bit of a wait in line we bought our tickets for the Forum and spent the better part of the afternoon in the Roman Forum and surrounding grounds. It was very pretty and afforded great views of the Colosseum, some terrific buildings, and splendid gardens. That night we had an interesting dinner, we went in search of a restaurant and were talked into a outside restaurant and wound up eating in what they called “paradise” which was a wobbly, crooked table on an incline, in the back of an alley with a fluorescent spot light on us. It was very odd but the food was really good and we got beer in a giant stein as the wines were out of our price range. After dinner we went to see the Trevino Fountain and the Spanish Steps as well as have a gelato, naturally. While both places were quite touristy and crowded, I really enjoyed the Trevino Fountain, as cliché as it might be to say there was something magical about the fountain at night that took you out of the city and transported you somewhere else all together. I couldn’t help the overwhelming feeling of calm that came over me while we were standing there. We of course all made a wish and threw in a coin, some touristy traditions just have to be done! The Spanish Steps were steps. While they were pretty, I believe that is one greatly overrated feature of Rome.

Trevi Fountain

Trevi Fountain

The following day was a public holiday in Italy. With most things closed our options were limited but we managed to still have a busy day. We woke up early and went to the Colosseum before the lines started to build. It is truly a magnificent space and a powerful one. All I could think the entire time we were inside was, how many people died here? It was very powerful and a bit chilling to think of life at the time the Colosseum was in use. There was a terrific information display on one of the upper levels that did a really good job of showing what life would have been like. After the Colosseum we went to the Vatican. It was very crowded and everyone seemed to be either a) in large groups with matching hats/bandanas/capes, b) families dragging around unhappy teenagers, c) nuns and priests, or d) overdressed couples and then there was us. We were a bit out of place, or at least I felt out of place so we didn’t stay long as we’re weren’t interested in paying or waiting on the long line to get in. After that we took a walk in search of a park that we never found, got some gelato, and then went back to the hostel for a while as it started to rain.

Inside the Colosseum

Inside the Colosseum

That night we went out to a fancy dinner that my parents set up through a friend of a friend and we were well and truly spoiled. It was a lovely restaurant outside, luckily with a roof as it was still raining. When we sat down were we’re brought sparkling wine. We ordered calamari to start and they brought us a white pizza ( a common appetizer) as well. We were rather full before our dinner even arrived but we managed to struggle through another bottle of wine and our meals. I had a pasta, as did Rachel, but the shining star of the meal was the steak that Erik ordered which to all of our surprise was about twice the size of his head! They brought us a limoncello at the end of the meal that completed our food coma. It was a wonderful meal and a very nice treat for us to have a nice dinner, but even nicer was that we didn’t have to pay at all!

Florence from the river

Florence from the river

The following day we left for Florence which was my favorite city in Italy! We stayed at a very nice B&B just outside of the city center. The first afternoon we walked around and draw all of the sights, walked along the river, got gelato of course as it was a daily necessity, and explored before heading back early for a dinner of bread, wine, cheese, and sausage in the room. The following day we woke up early to wait in line to see The David which was very impressive. I have never been a huge fan of art museums but it was one of those things you just have to see. We had lunch at a market and then headed to the edge of the city to a park on a hill that offered panoramic views of the city. I got us a little bit lost in the park (one of my favorite pastimes) and we wound up taking a few mile walk around the park and a few old neighborhoods. I really enjoyed it but I think everyone was a bit annoyed with me by the end. We went back to rest our feet for a time and then went out for dinner for our last night in Italy.

Sights from our long walk

Sights from our long walk

We tried pizza in every city, and gelato every day and my vote for Italy’s best pizza (as it is quite different in each place) was in Sorrento, followed by Rome, and with Florence finishing last. As far as gelato goes, my favorite and I everyone else agreed was in Florence. I think we just stumbled across a particularly good shop but everyone had their favorite that day. Erik had Coffee and Dark Chocolate, Rachel had Azteca and Grapefruit, and I had Maya (chocolate chili pepper) and Cheesecake.

Belgium

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Church in Brussels

Church in Brussels

The woes of a traveller–we have not had steady internet in the last few places that we stayed so posting was not an option. Not to worry, I have continued writing the posts and will upload them over the next few days to catch up.

Our time in Belgium was cut shorter than planned and a bit stressful, but I will get to that later. We enjoyed our time in Brussels and Bruges and they are both what I would deem quite livable cities.

20130508-180430.jpgWe left London and ventured out of the United Kingdom and into the continent, headed for Belgium. After a quick shot through the Chunnel, we arrived in Brussels and made our way to our B&B which was essentially a studio apartment. It was beautiful and in a very nice location. We spent the first afternoon getting our bearings and looking around. We didn’t really have a plan and this was the perfect city for the plan to be lacking.

20130508-180447.jpgWith the French influence everywhere you looked, Brussels seems to be designed for wandering. Small, narrow cobbles streets and grand plazas filled the city, making it a great place to get a little lost. We tried our first REAL Belgian Waffles, I got Nutella and bananas and Erik had strawberries and cream. We had dinner in our room: a bottle of wine, bagget, cheese, and salami, watched a movie and called it an early night.

20130508-180456.jpgThe following day I went down for breakfast and was pleasantly surprised by what I found. We have had very standard continental breakfasts: toast, jam, cereal, and instant coffee. This however was a whole new world of travel breakfast: hard boiled egg, croissant, toast, cereal, fruit, yogurt, REAL coffee, REAL orange juice, and a variety of Belgian spreads. Now when you have been traveling for 3-weeks without consistent access to a kitchen and a tendency to sleep through breakfast it is the small things like orange juice and a hard boiled egg that make your day. It really was an excellent breakfast and I got to try a bunch of Belgian spreads: a variation on Nutella, a fruit spread (which was excellent), and Spekuloos which I think was made of graham crackers. We explored the city again, saw the royal palace, visited a church, wandered through the streets, and put my limited knowledge of french to the test when we sat down for lunch. I managed without too many heart palpitations to communicate and we had lunch and tried Belgian beer. Again we had a relatively early night as our feet were bothering us and again had dinner in the room: waffles, wine, and chocolate!

Bruges, Belgium

Bruges, Belgium

The next morning after a second wonderful breakfast we set off for Bruges. This is another beautiful Belgian city with very evident German influence. Whereas French was the primarily language in Brussels, German was spoken almost exclusively in Bruges. We got a weird hotel and wound up spending most of the afternoon there as it was raining rather heavily. It was here in Bruges shortly after we arrived, that we discovered we would not be able to take a train from Belgium to Italy as we had planned. So we were not too disappointed by the wet weather, as we had a new plan to hatch, research, and figure out.

The Bruges waterways

The Bruges waterways

Unfortunately for our budgets we were forced to cut our time in Belgium short and book a flight to Rome. We spent our last day in Bruges exploring the area and wandering the streets as the weather was beautiful! We had a nice morning in historic Bruges before getting on a train back to Brussels and starting our travel day from hell.

Everything worked itself out and we arrived in Italy after not too much trouble where we met up with my friend Rachel.

London Escapades (Part 2)

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Warwick Castle

Warwick Castle

We settled back into London (in a new part of town) at the Astor Quest Hostel. Our first day was quite lazy as we had already seen what we wanted to in the area, so we relaxed. We went out to dinner at a local Indian restaurant-Masala Zone-and the food was utterly amazing! I had been craving Indian since we arrived and it exceeded my expectations. After dinner we went back to the room, watched a movie, and went to sleep so we would be good and rested for the morning!

Warwick Castle grounds

Warwick Castle grounds

The following day was hands down our worst day so far. I really wanted to go to Stratford-Upon-Avon as I had a good recommendation that it was some place I wouldn’t want to miss. However to get there by train was going to be more expensive than we could swing so we decided to do a day tour from London because it was cheaper. We picked a tour that went to Warwick Castle, Stratford, through the Cotswolds, and to Oxford. As Erik really wanted to go to Oxford it was a good compromise, or so we thought. Now neither of us are really the “organized tour” type so we knew this was going to be an experience, but we were not prepared for just how bad it really was.

Our tour guide

Our tour guide

We got on the bus at 8am and were the youngest people by about 20 years, red flag number one. We set off and the guide talked nonstop literally about nothing for the first hour of our 2 hour drive from London to Warwick, red flag number two. The guide then comes to tell us that the wonderfully cheap tickets I bought online do not include admission and that we can upgrade for the small amount of another £25 each, that flag was up and waving hard but given that we were an hour out of London our choices were limited–the guide messed it up and only charged us £18 each so that was a slight plus. We arrived at Warwick Castle to discover a small Disney tucked into the English countryside. While the castle was gimmicky, tacky, and all together terrible the grounds were very nice and as it was a beautiful day we didn’t mind sitting outside and got quite a few nice photos.

Oxford

Oxford

Next stop Stratford-Upon-Avon. Unfortunately it was tourist central and Shakespeare’s birthplace museum/visitors center/thing was another huge let down. The town itself was in a very pretty spot and I can best compare it to a Hampton. It was the kind of place that if I lived in the UK I would like to go to for a weekend and rent a place outside the town center, but unfortunately in our case it was another tourist trap. We had lunch and then hopped back on the bus to drive through the Cotswolds (supposedly the most beautiful countryside in England) before arriving in Oxford. Now in the Cotswolds defense it was a very nice area, but was the kind of drive that you wanted to be in your own car for so you could stop and walk around the little towns and really appreciate the landscape, as opposed to speeding through on a coach bus.

The Great Hall

The Great Hall

The final stop at Oxford was the cherry on top of the shit sundae that was our day. It was here that we discovered that a bus from London round trip would have cost us £11. I couldn’t stop laughing upon hearing that and Erik, well he was mad. We would gladly have gone to just Oxford instead of paying quite a bit for a wasted day. Travelers Note: don’t make travel decisions late at night when you’re sleep deprived We followed our tour guide with her ridiculous yellow umbrella around Oxford and saw the dinning room that was used to film the Great Hall in the Harry Potter movies.

When we finally got back to London we went in search of dinner, and to sum that one up quick for you, the hostel had a weird oven without temperatures and I accidentally set our dinner on fire and ruined it. So after drinking our bottle of wine we set out in search of a pub for dinner where we met a few Germans, a few Brits, and a couple beyond drunk Scott’s. It was an all around ridiculously entertaining night and made up for our terrible day.

Unhappy Erik

Unhappy Erik

The next morning we almost missed our train to Brussels because we mixed up the stations but we made it. There will be a recap of our time in Belgium soon.