Venice proves beauty in the breakdown

It wasn’t until I was en route to Venice and doing some light reading on the plane that I realized what a tourist destination Venice has become. An article published in 2011 that I came across and decided to bring along, depicted Venice as a beautiful place with a unique culture, but that the high volume crowds would soon diminish that lifestyle. As a native Floridian with a natural love for the ocean, any destination that can incorporate that love ranks high on my “Must see” list. 

Besides being known for its seclusion off the mainland of Italy, I can see the allure for the average tourist. Venice boasts a culture like no other city and although a part of Italy, the Venetians have their own traditions and local cuisine. 

This is a destination for those who enjoy simple living and good seafood. But there really is something for everyone, you will also find that the city offers unique and abundant art collections and special exhibits. If you can see the beauty through the thousands of visitors during the day, you will absolutely fall in love with Venice at night. 

There is something so peaceful about the setting; it feels as if time has stopped just for you to be able to stroll across the Rialto Bridge in the moonlight. 

No matter how many tourists frequent Venice, it will still remain a unique and culturally beautiful destination in my eyes. I don’t believe the Venetian people will ever let commercialization take over the island, but I do foresee restrictions being placed on entering in the future if the crowds continue to disrupt the traditional Venetian lifestyle. 

Tips for traveling to Venice:

Getting There: For easy access to the city, fly into Venice Marco Polo Airport and take a water taxi from there. There are two main water taxi services; and for the Budget Traveler I would suggest the Alilaguna Public Service, where you can get a return trip ticket for 27 Euros. If you opt to take a private water taxi you will pay upwards of 100 Euros each way, but you will get into the city twice as fast. 

Getting Around: You can walk absolutely everywhere, but I cannot guarantee you won’t get lost at some point. If you would rather boat as the Venetians do, then Gondolas and water taxis are always available for a fixed price. (If you fancy a Gondola ride, it is best to go during the day if you are on a budget since prices increase after dark!) 

Staying: I highly recommend staying a couple nights to experience the real Venice without the crowds during the day. There are numerous bed and breakfast style hotels available on Booking.com We stayed at the Ca Loredan and felt right at home with the extremely spacious rooms and the owner Marco spoke very good English. 

Experiencing: Don’t be afraid of getting lost, Venice is one of the only places where winding up in an alley alone is actually peaceful. Most importantly, explore and talk to the locals! Most of the Venetians speak English thanks to the overabundance of tourists and they give great recommendations on where to find authentic cuisine. If you are ever in Venice, make sure to try Trattoria alla Madonna. But be advised, the cuisine and service is so good you may be waiting out the door if you do not arrive early for their dinner hours!

Viva Venezia!

As I think about our trip to Paris again I remember how absolutely beautiful the architecture and detail was throughout the city. And for a minute I regret expressing that I never want to go back, that is until I remember the dog crap in the streets and enormous crowds everywhere. And I think mmm better not… but I did get some great photos and this cool video out of our trip and for that, I thank you Paris!

On a side note: You would think the French people would love the tourists since their businesses rely on that income and would treat us accordingly. Ok, I’m done!

Paris: City of love for those with deep pockets

Two things I learned in Paris; my expectations were too high and I never want to live in a big city. That being said, I did not hate Paris and we made the best of our time there with the budget we allotted. 

Visiting Paris reminded me a lot of my first trip to New York City, where I learned you often pay twice as much for less. For example, we thought we had found a good deal on a hotel based on the online photos and reviews but that proved false once we arrived to the hotel. Not only was it not in the famous Montmarte district like they claimed, but the reception was less than helpful. 

Our first day was spent walking what felt like the entire city since TJ was a little leery taking the metro. We stopped by the Arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower of course, as well as many of the historical buildings and monuments along the way. Since we arrived on a Monday we thought it would be better to explore the Louvre the following day when we had more time. Little did we know the Louvre is closed every Tuesday, just goes to show you can never do too much research. I would have never expected that since normally museums close on weekends and holidays only. But a saying we adopted this trip proved true again: “Just when you think you have Europe figured out, it throws you a curveball”.  But sometimes that is half the fun so you learn to deal. 

The second day we exhausted our feet again but not quite as much as the first day thankfully since we decided it was a good idea to take the metro. I was able to navigate the underground lines only using the French map we had. That’s the great thing about maps though they never lie or ask you to make a u-turn like a GPS. We had a great time the second day finally exploring the Montmarte district which was my absolute favorite part of Paris. The local artists lined the streets ready to sketch a portrait for you. If we weren’t backpacking, I would have definitely purchased something but in our circumstances we had no way of getting it back to Heidelberg when we still had to Fly to Venice and Munich. The Montmarte district was still busy but not as crowded as the rest of Paris and was the first time I felt like I was experiencing the Paris I had imagined, there was a sense of romance and history in the streets. It was very cool to imagine all of the famous artists who had walked the streets before me. We also became fond of the area across town near the famous Notre Dame cathedral, It was a quaint area to stroll along the Seine and escape the tourist havens to enjoy the beautiful weather and views. 

In the end it was still a good trip and I’m glad we can say we’ve been but I really have no desire to go back when there are so many other great places to explore!

Paris in 48 hours…. Using my free 15 minutes of WiFi at the airport to share these with you all, but there are definitely French stories to be told. I will say, a lot of the stereotypes proved true which is why we are so excited to be heading to Venice today!

Exploring Heidelberg

It’s Sunday evening and I think we are finally adjusted to the time, that being said it is after 11pm and I’m wide awake while TJ is fast asleep. The weather until today has been very cloudy and cold and we experienced enough rain Friday that the street closest to the Neckar has been shut down since the sand bags couldn’t hold the water back. 

Across the river there is a popular area called the Neckar Visa that is normally filled with people sun tanning and socializing that is now underwater. 

Saturday the weather was better only in the sense that the rain was gone. TJ took me to the famous Heidelberg Castle, where we did some exploring. The Castle is over 700 years old and a lot of areas have been closed off while they try and refurbish the structures but it was still a very cool experience to walk around and imagine what it would have been like to live there. Since Heidelberg is considered the happiest city in Germany, there were more parties than battles fought in the Castle. In fact, the Castle has never been apart of any war.

 

While making our own trail around the outside of the Castle, TJ and I had our first Geocaching experience. Now first in order describe Geocaching I have to tell you about a shopping trip I made to Sunglass Hut a few weeks back. The store clerk and I were chit chatting about my new purchase and  upcoming trip and he was telling me about his experiences in Europe this awesome “activity” called Geocaching and how I had to look into it. It’s essentially a world wide treasure hunt and involves using GPS coordinates to locate “caches” or containers of some sort that hold random items or lists the names of all the people before you to find that cache. The only real rules are not to take anything of greater value than you leave behind, if it is a cache containing actual items rather than a log. 

Of course the first thing I did when I got home that day was google what the Sunglass Hut man had told me. Sure enough, it exists and there are caches all over the world. I have been bugging TJ about it ever since and how I wanted to look for them everywhere we go in Europe. The only problem is, it really works best with a GPS so you can plug in actual coordinates and try to locate the object. The majority of the time, the caches are located off the beaten path and hidden out of sight. Only having access to our cell phones on WiFi makes this task very difficult because we can’t carry them around to aid us in our hunt. That being said I completely forgot about my whole Geocaching plan once we got to Heidelberg. 

That is, until we were walking along in an unfamiliar area of the castle and TJ goes “Hey, is that one of those little things you’ve been talking about?”

Proof that he does listen to me!! Needless to say, I was very excited for our unexpected find! This cache was an old film canister, filled with tightly wrapped paper and a small golf pencil. Either this cache was just placed there or someone just replaced the paper logs because we were the first people to sign our names. I’m hoping for a different outcome next time but it was still so cool to find one of these. I’m hoping that the next cache we find will be like the one that the man from Sunglass Hut found in Paris, which contained the lists of hundreds of peoples names from all around the globe. 

Speaking of Paris….we are headed there early tomorrow morning on a train! I am so excited, this trip keeps getting better and better. To avoid this post reaching novel length, I will just leave you with a few pictures from our hike today up Philosophenweg (Philosophers Way)…where all the Philosophers used to apparently go to write poems and whatnot! 

*If you want to learn more about Geocaching, check out the website http://www.geocaching.com 

Day 1: Heidelberg Arrival

If I had to come home tomorrow at least I could say I’ve already gotten the real German experience. The small town of Heidelberg, which will be our home base for this trip is everything you imagine when you picture Germany. 

We arrived early in the morning Thursday after our First Class experience with Air Canada of course. It’s going to be really tough to fly in other way from now on, amazing and quality experience. The food on the flight was great and there was tons of it as well, accompanied by free alcohol too!

We were greeted with champagne upon boarding and everyone in business class had their own pod where the seat laid out completely flat into a bed.

Very cozy when I decided to watch three movies later on rather than sleep. 

Needless to say by the time we arrived in Frankfurt I was exhausted! TJ’s Aunt Claudia was there to greet us and I was awake within five minutes of driving on the Autobahn at around 200-220km/hr. It was a bank holiday Thursday so the roads were empty making it a very short trip at that speed from Frankfurt to Heidelberg. 

After driving along the Neckar river into town, and down a few cobblestone streets we arrived at the Hip-Hotel and Zum Goldenen Schaf restaurant (The Golden Sheep). The Schaf is the restaurant connected to TJ’s Aunts hotel (which deserves it’s own blog posting) so we had a quick breakfast and then went to sleep by about 9am since we were extremely jet lagged. The plan was to be up by 2pm to meet Claudia for lunch but that did not happen as we slept until 4pm, so instead we met her for dinner! 

I was served an entire plate of German Specialties, accompanied by a Heidelberger (the local brew). I was starved after sleeping through lunch but still couldn’t finish the smorgasbord of sauerkraut and sausages. 

After dinner we visited with Claudia’s father who lives in the hotel and tasted a few different types of Schnapps and sat in his chair that once belonged to Napoleon. I told him he should start charging people to take pictures in that chair. His apartment itself had so many cool figurines and furniture, the place could be a museum. 

The rest of the night was an experience, we attended a German “frat party” essentially. Unlike American fraternities in order to be a member you have to be a resident of the town and prove your ability to sword fight. You are also not allowed into the houses unless you are invited, which thanks to TJ having family here that was not a problem. It was a lot of casual drinking, well dressed men ranging in age from 16/17-30’s and dancing. I was trying to convince TJ to show off our ballroom dancing skills, but he wasn’t having it…Still a great time though!

Were planning on walking around the town today and visiting the Heidelberg castle if the weather holds out. It was very nice yesterday but also very cold for this time of year. It’s been raining all morning so far but hopefully it clears up! 

Euro trip 2013

The day is finally here! TJ and I are waiting to board our first flight from Orlando to Montreal and then it’s on to Frankfurt from there!

I didn’t think I could get any more excited about this trip until we were just upgraded to first class on both flights! I can’t decide whether to sleep on the plane or just relish in the moment…

I am not certain how often I will be able to update my blog, so in the meantime our rough itinerary includes:

Switzerland
Paris
Northern Italy
Germany

The majority of our time will be spent in Germany as we are staying in Heidelberg!

Guten Tag for now!

Till next time Australia…

So I can’t believe it’s taken me almost a year after my return from Australia to write what should have been my farewell to the greatest country I’ve ever visited. Mainly this is due to the fact that I spent my remaining weeks in Oz traveling around to as many places as possible and often not having access to the Internet.

Oh yeah, my mom came to visit and I finally saw Koalas in the wild!

There is so much I have to say about the wonderful country of Australia and it’s even more wonderful inhabitants. The Aussie culture and its people truly are the most welcoming and friendly of anyone I’ve met to date.

For a country whose dollar looks like Monopoly money, they sure have implemented some smart practices that in my opinion, are way ahead of anything we could do here in America. Take their education system for instance; any student can go to college as long as they meet the curriculum or grade requirements. Money is of no issue because the government pays for your schooling. Not until you have graduated and attained a job in your field do you start paying those tuition costs back. Unlike the US though, the fee comes out as a tax and you are not responsible for paying anything until you are making a certain amount of money.

As a recent college graduate, this practice couldn’t make more sense to me. I am lucky not to be in debt from student loans but unfortunately that is a big issue for a lot of college graduates. Not only are Australian graduates entering the “real” world without an initial debt they were not made to take a copious amount of general education requirements that in no way benefited their major like we are forced to do here in the states. Many times upon starting at University, students go right into studying their main desired field. It is about obtaining the best education, not keeping students in the system just to obtain more money.  Per usual, this seems like a rant of mine but being a recent graduate myself now (still weird) if I decide to attend graduate school I would much rather go back to Australia than stay in the US to complete my Masters. Just a little food for thought…

I can confidently say I learned more in my 6 months abroad than could be taught in any classroom.

Maybe in a way it’s better I waited so long to make this post because I can accurately see how my experiences abroad have changed who I am as a person. I’ve always been the obnoxiously outgoing girl who could basically talk to a wall if I had too. Now I find myself a little more reserved, still outgoing but I take more time to observe and listen to others before speaking. It is amazing the things you can learn about someone from simple observation. With language and culture barriers to overcome, observation can sometimes be the best form of communication.

Australia has always been the number one place I hoped to visit as a child and I am so grateful that I was given the opportunity at such a young age. I can’t thank my family enough for the support they offered and the true friends who remained in contact while I was away. For now it’s on to my next adventure exploring all Germany has to offer; but in the meantime Australia, we will meet again!

Working hard or hardly working?? (Taken with instagram)

Working hard or hardly working?? (Taken with instagram)

The Sunshine State….Queensland

I arrived in Brisbane Monday the 14th of May where I met Amanda who flew all the way from Atlanta, GA to visit for a two weeks. We had only a camper van and a plan to scuba dive the Great Barrier Reef, surf, and make sure the van was back in Brisbane by 2pm on  May 25th, and the rest was a mystery.

image

Our JUCY camper van

After picking up the van we headed north…but didn’t make it too far the first day. We ended up only driving for about 2 hours and stopped at Noosa Beach. We soaked up some rays on the beach and went paddle boarding around the canal admiring all the beautiful houses. It was both our first time paddle boarding but we loved it, so relaxing. 

image

We got a lot of sweet deals through JUCY the camper van rental, so we paid $5 to park our van at a hostel for the night and we got to use their bathroom facilities. 

Tuesday was a lot of driving but we stopped in a small country town for lunch where Amanda tried her first meat pie.

image

We also stopped at two beaches along the drive in St.Agnes and the town of 1770. We stayed the night at a camper van park in Rockhampton.

Wednesday we woke up bright and early to start driving to Airlie Beach. We were able to use our JUCY discount to book a 2 for 1 sailing trip to the Whitsunday Islands and had to make it to the Airlie beach marina by 2pm. We made it just in time and set sail for a 3 day/2night trip. Right after the boat left the marina, the skies began to darken. It ended up raining that whole night pretty much so once we arrived to Koala Island, one of the many islands in the Whitsunday’s, we ate dinner and went to bed.

image

The next day we went snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef and then sailed to Whitehaven Beach, which is said to have the whitest sand in the world. It rained off and on all day unfortunately but there was still no denying the beauty of the islands.

image

Hiked up a bit to get this breathtaking view of Whitehaven Beach

image

Saw some native goanna’s 

image

After departing Whitehaven beach and experiencing a real life version of the perfect storm on our trip back to Koala Island, we had dinner with everyone and played drinking games to win free beer which we did and then took some time to gaze at te stars and milky way before calling it a night. 

The majority of the people on our sailing trip were from different countries in Europe. There were however two very obnoxious American ladies from Texas, thanks to them I now know why people in other countries think Americans are stupid…

On Friday, our final day of the trip the weather was finally nice. The wind had died down and the sun was out allowing me to finally get some decent pictures. Before leaving the island we hiked up Spion Kop, rated the #1 bush walk in all of Australia by national Geographic, fed the Bat fish off the dock and even managed to crack open a coconut for fresh coconut milk. 

image

image

Trying to feed the batfish without the seagulls stealing their food.

image

Sailing back to the marina…

image

image

image

Once back on land, we drove to Home Hill where they have a comfort stop where camper vans can park and stay for free. They also had bathroom facilities and a place to cook/hangout/wash dishes. 

image

#camper van life

On Friday night we also made the big decision not to drive all the way to Cairns, instead we planned to stop in Townsville after being given suggestions to dive a famous wreck called the S.S. Yongola. 

So Saturday we drove to Townsville, went to the Queens Botanical Gardens and then went to Alligator Creek (national park area) made lunch and went for an afternoon hike.

image

Since the only kangaroos Amanda had seen at this point were dead and on the side of the highway, we thought it might be a good idea to go to a sanctuary. So after our hike we stopped at the Billabong Sanctuary to play with kangaroos, koalas, and my personal favorite; the wombat!

image

Sunday we woke up early to Scuba Dive.. Finally! They told us to take sea sickness medicine because the forecast was looking rough but I was already ahead of them or so I thought… Even though i took my dramamine, nothing was able to stop me from the vomiting mess I became for the ENTIRE HOUR surface interval between dives. I guess I have had mild cases of sea-sickness before, only experiencing a head ache or slight stomach uneasiness but this was like nothing I have ever experienced before and hope I will NEVER experience again. I felt absolutely miserable and wanted nothing more than for my body to just be still for a moment but that was impossible with the boat being thrown around in the 3 meter seas.

But more about the dives…. The S.S. Yongola wreck dive was actually beautiful, huge fish and marine creatures everywhere. I had the most venomous sea snake swimming between my legs right as I dropped down on the wreck, it was great. Luckily, I didn’t have that knowledge until after the dive. The visibility wasn’t great but it was probably a good 10 meters or so the first dive. We also saw some sea turtles and a guitar shark. Some of the other divers saw a bull shark but I missed him :(

Unfortunately the second dive was not as nice, the current had really picked up and the visibility went down to about 5 meters. It was hard to navigate the wreck because if you got more than a meter away the current wanted to take you.

All in all it was a really cool spot and I would recommend it but just pray the weather is better for you. Apparently the wreck is rated among the top 10 dives in the world, that may be wreck dives… I should probably research that. 

We also met some really cool people on the dive boat, including two college students from Orlando, Florida!!! What are the odds? They both go to school out of state but are from Orlando and studying Marine Biology over here in Australia. 

After the dive we hung out with everyone and had a huge bbq lunch and then started our drive back south. 

We ended up stopping at a few random beaches over the next couple of days when we needed rest or just a change of scenery. Driving on the highway in Australia can get a bit boring but luckily they have plenty of humorous road signs for entertainment. 

image

We also stopped and stayed the night in Yeppoon and hiked one of the circuits at Capricorn Coast National Park the next morning. Sorry if these details are getting a little vague, I misplaced the only writing utensil we had by this point so therefore couldn’t take notes in my journal :(image

image

We also made time to stop and play in the sugar cane fields  

image

We ended up driving into the night to get to Rainbow Beach and since everything closes so early we stayed the night for free in the parking lot where all the other camper vans were outside one of the hostels. Pretty sweet deal until you have to go pee…and you are in a parking lot. 

I think it was Wednesday by this point so we woke up, walked into town and had a very delicious breakfast at the Shak which also made the best latte I’ve ever had. 

image

After brekky as the aussies would say, we headed to the beach to catch some rays. Later on we rented a surf board to share and spent the afternoon surfing with the coloured sands as our background. And just because we are into extreme sports so much, particularly board sports we rented a sand board and hit up the huge sand dune half pipe. 

image

image

image

Thursday we went to Fraser Island, the largest sand island in the world! The tour “bus” as you would call it was basically a 4 wheel drive dump truck that drove through sand and water. It was cool but again when we dished out the cash for something the weather was shit. ( pardon my australian, thats what the aussies would have said)

It was still really cool, the rainforest on the island actually grows directly out of the sand. Its crazy the unique ecosystem that has formed. The island is equipped with entirely fresh water creeks and lakes as well. Apparently the same sand form the Whitsunday’s is found at Fraser Island. This sand is so fine it can take scratches out of glasses,and polish gold and silver. We tested it out on our sunnies and my lenses were definitely clearer than before. 

image

Lake Mackenzie on the island

image

Maheno Shipwreck

image

SAVE THE FRASER ISLAND DINOGES

-Apparently this cute little guy can be quite aggressive

image

After getting back from our day trip to Fraser, we stayed one last night in the camper van at Rainbow Beach. We woke up Friday morning to crappy weather and had to drive the van back to Brisbane.

My friend Mitch who plays tennis at UCF but is actually from Brisbane met us in the city and was so kind to let us stay with him for the night. Even though it was rainy we took a ferry down the Brisbane river to see the city and the bridges lit up at night. 

image

After looking at Amanda’s flight details Friday night we realized she had a 24 hour layover in Sydney. Thankfully Mitch’s Dad just so happened to be a travel agent and helped her come up with an itinerary and a place to stay since she was going to be all on her lonesome.

Saturday morning we dropped her off at the airport bright and early then Mitch and I went for a walk along the South Banks next to the river. The weather was really nice so I was able to appreciate Brisbane finally and so far I think it is my favorite big city in Australia. However, tomorrow I am heading down to Melbourne with my Mom so we’ll see which city ranks first after that.

image

A beach with a view :) Man made beach in Brisbane on the river.

There are so many more photos and little stories to share but I don’t want anyone to get too bored with my blog. Amanda and I had a great road trip and met so many new people and travelers just like us. It was a great break and opportunity for some fam bonding without having to worry about school and lacrosse getting in the way. 

It was very upsetting coming back to Canberra after about 15 days of sunshine and shorts weather…oh well at least I’m still in Australia living it up!!