Giant Calzones and a Rainy Piazza San Marco – Venice, Italy

Arriving in Venice via Paris( and the long layover from there is its own story to tell that involves being ferried out onto a snowflake dusted runway by a very rickety bus jam packed with pissed of Italians) we were greeted at the airport by a private driver that would be taking us to a waiting water taxi- transportation arranged ahead of time by the hotel we would be staying at,the Ruzzini Palace hotel. Having never taken a water taxi before, I can say it was one of the coolest experiences, not least of all because I was pretty out of it from having been traveling for the past 24 hours and watching the city open up in front of us, the twinkling lights from open windows reflected on the waters of the canals was a beautiful introduction to the enchanting city of Venice.

We didn’t do much that first night apart from get settled in, marvel at the beyond gorgeous room we had been given and order breakfast in for the next morning. I poked my head out the room windows for a while, just trying to really believe I was actually there, because it all still felt like something out of a (slightly sleep deprived) dream.

The next morning we woke up somewhat bright and early, tucked into a super delicious breakfast and then got ready to go out and explore the city. There was a light drizzle coming down and we were still pretty bone tired from the traveling and time zone juggling of the day before but, we were ready for this new adventure.

We headed towards Piazza San Marco, a supposed easy 7 minute walk from where we were staying. I say supposed because if you’ve never been to Venice, let me paint you a picture : imagine a maze with very narrow pathways that still managed to be beautiful and is also full to bursting with interesting little shops everywhere you look. We got turned around a good couple of times but eventually we made it to the square and by the time we got there I was already holding a couple of souvenir items I’d bought for friends.

The square and the immediate surrounding area holds some of the top attractions in Venice so we expected it to be fairly crowded but we were pleasantly surprised to see it wasn’t too bad- perhaps the rain was a blessing in disguise? Either way, we didn’t want to do any real in-depth sightseeing that day so we just walked around a bit, did a quick currency exchange (that I recommend against doing btw, unless your bank fee’s are insane just take money out of an ATM, much cheaper) and then headed off back into the maze of pretty and winding streets to seek out some more interesting shops and eventually, lunch.

We stopped by a restaurant called Tratorria Casanova, mainly because the menus were displayed outside and I saw that one of them one clearly marked in English. I pointed this out to the boyfriend in a lightly teasing way, “look, they have it in English for you“, and one of the waiters who was outside came over to us and asked me, curious and giving us a easygoing charming smile, “Ah and for you? Italian?”

My Italian was at that time, according to my efforts with Duolingo, at about 50% so I just laughed along and said I could understand it but I was better with Spanish and English. This btw, was something that would happen a lot in Italy over the course of the next week, people assuming I could speak Italian and then being a bit disappointed in my less then adequate attempts- my goal is that the next time I visit, my Italian will be much more up to par. For this visit though, the basics were good enough and with a menu in English, definitely a good choice for us!

The food was amazing and I got to experience the great joy of eating a rather enormous pepperoni and mushroom calzone that cause a number of covetous looks when it was brought out- both because of its size and delicious smell. We ate, got desert and coffee and then we received complimentary savory sorbets that ended up being even more yummy than the desserts we had just finished. Stuffed to the gills, we eventually got on our way and headed back to our hotel to drop off our bags before heading back out foro one last quick exploration (and to find a local grocery store to buy some bottles of water).

Bottles of water procured and a couple of other treats in the bags as well, we walked back to our hotel, rain still drizzling and making the cobblestone streets fairly glisten and sparkle. I had wished, earlier in the day, for a bit more sunshine, but at the moment I took this photo above, standing on a small footbridge over one of the canals and looking towards our waiting hotel, I was content to have a little bit of rain.

~ m

An Enchanting Bavarian Town and Some Schneeballen- Füssen, Germany

Have you ever been inside a fairytale? Walked the streets of a town or city that you felt would fit so neatly right into the stories spun by Disney or Miyazaki? Füssen was this for me and the word enchanting wouldn’t even begin to describe it.

Located just north of the Austria border and just a short distance away from not one, not two but three castles( Neuschwanstein, Hohenschwangau and even Linderhof are easily accessible from here), a beautiful picturesque lake (Alpsee) and many (many) historic sites, museums and churches to be seen, Füssen certainly deserves more than the few hours Julia and I spent there that afternoon we visited.

After leaving the madhouse that was the Neuschwanstein Castle we headed back here to tuck in somewhere for lunch and then make our way to Linderhof Palace. We found easy parking just off the city center and then picked a direction to start walking towards in the hopes it would lead us to good food.

We got a bit sidetracked of course because I was like a wide eyed child as soon as we had emerged into the town itself- the beautiful bright colors of the buildings, all the interesting small shops tucked in neatly next to each other, even the people walking around added to the magical touch of it all.

Italian food made by Germans- a novelty I hadn’t expected to encounter. After wandering around for a bit we spotted a place with plenty of happy customers eating outside and figured hey, Italian sounds nice. If you’re curious if I ever actually tried traditional Bavarian cuisine on this trip btw, let me go ahead and sate that curiosity by saying I definitely didn’t- but in my defense my own native German friend wasn’t too keen on it either so we decided to save that experience for the next trip.

The food we DID have here was actually pretty good and we finished up our meal happily stuffed and ready to make our way back to the car and head off to Linderhof. But then we got sidetracked- this time by Julia! She had remembered a place from a previous visit that sold a special type of pastry and was determined we should find it so I could sample the goods there. I was more than happy to go on this adventure that might possible end with me eating something delicious.

The shop was found and the restraint exercised because as much as I wanted to buy one schneeballen of each flavor (and they had so many tempting flavors) I still had a week left on my trip and unless I wanted to lug around a suitcase full of these, only buying a few was the best plan. And what are schneeballen? In English you would call them snowballs, they’re made from short crust pastry and then rolled over toppings like caramel or chocolate and they taste heavenly. Also, they keep for a rather long time as I found out when I experimented with bringing some home with me. I brought 3 home for the bf and they tasted almost as good as the day I bought them.

All in all Füssen was a lovely town to have been able to stop in and i’m so beyond happy and greatful that Julia and I missed our turn while navigating to Neuschwanstien and I really hope I can come back one day for a longer stay.

~m

The Best Views in Town, Courtesy of a Local- Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany

The best place to start this post is to state outright and without reservations- I love cows and sheeps. Not in a weird or creepy way, just in a very appreciative I-spent-the-first-decade-of-my-life-in-NYC-and-then-the-next-one-in-suburbia so whenever I’m in what can be constituted as the “countryside”, I get overly excited to see them.

Overly excited to the point where I will point them out when I see them- almost every single time. So by the third day of my stay in Germany with Julia she was very used to this and that morning before we headed out to Neuschwanstein castle she took me on a quick tour to the Garmisch part of her home town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen (located about an hour outside of Munich) and started it off with a view that included not only the tallest mountain in Germany, Zugspitze, but also had amazing views of some happy cows grazing in the fields. Needless to say, it was the perfect way to start the day.

After this we drove back into town and found a good parking spot to go on a quick walking tour of some of her favorite places.

We stopped in first at the Parish Church Of St. Martin, which was completely empty that morning and provided an interesting contrast to the vivid colors of that part of town. I wouldn’t call the atmosphere somber though, maybe more just appropriately pious? In any case it’s a beautiful town church and I’d highly recommend stopping in if you’re in the area.

We didn’t wander too far as we still had plans to travel out to Neuschwanstein Castle but that mornings walk provided an over abundance of postcard worthy views and I left with the impression that Garmisch-Partenkirchen was really and truly like somewhere out of a fairytale. Every curve of the road, every street seemed to be filled with charm, color and culture to the point where I almost didn’t want to leave.

(We would be back later that day of course and do some more exploring as well as visit the Partenkirchen part of town the next day but more on that in a later post. )

~m

A Bavarian Versaille and A Monastery on A Lake- Herrenchiemsee, Germany

The day started out rainy, which was a slight bummer considering we planned to be out and walking around that day. Determined to not let it put too much of a dampener on the day, Julia grabbed her very cute umbrella with cats on it and I grabbed the one I had bought that had it’s own cats and dogs design (this goes toshould show you, more than anything probably, why we get along so well) and we headed out to make the hour and half drive to Prien am Chiemsee where we would board the ferry that would take us to Herreninsel where our final destination,Neues Schloss Herrenchiemsee was located on.

If you’re not familiar with Bavarian history or King Ludwig II then all those names up there might have thrown you for a loop and to be honest, just a couple of months before I took this trip I would also have been itching with curiosity. Thankfully not only did I do some research to make sure I knew where I wanted to visit while in this part of Germany, I also had a fantastically nice and knowledgeable local Bavarian friend with me who was more than up for trying to visit all the castles that King Ludwig II had commissioned to be built between the years of 1869 and 1886. These include Schloss Neuschwanstein, Linderhof Palace and the one we were there to see that day, Herrenchiemsee. 

Sprinkling rain and cloudy skies were definetly not going to stop me from going to see a real- life Bavarian palace and so we happily bought our tickets for the ferry and took the short trip over to the island while making idle plans for the rest of the days I would be there. Once we disembarked, we showed our pre bought tickets (Julia had purchased us tickets that granted entrance to all three castles for one fixed price, a genius move) at the desk and reserved our spots for the next the guided tour. Its a bit of a walk from where the ferry drops you off to where the palace is situated but eventually we found ourselves coming out from the forest that lines the trail to look upon what we had all come here to see.

Just by looking at the front of this beautifully grand building- never mind the fountains that encircle the front- you can easily get an idea of what the king was going for. As quotes from the official tourist info website state (seriously this website is great if you’re planning a visit):

“King Ludwig II’s original idea was to have a copy of Versailles Palace built on the Herreninsel as a “Temple of Fame” in honour of the Sun King Louis XIV of France.”

One thing to note, if you do plan to visit, is that you can only go inside by a guided half hour tour. Also, photography is strictly prohibited inside. As much research as I had done on where I wanted to visit, I had apparently missed this rather important bit of information and was subsequently more than a little saddened at not being able to 1. Tour the palace more freely and 2. Photograph any part of the interior.

The tour itself was really informative and fun though, and as a bonus our group was pretty small as it was the English language tour and the majority of the tourists here were German speaking, so it was a more intimate experience. It’s hard to describe the opulence of the palace, mainly because the word “opulent” seems lacking- enchantingly lavish is perhaps a better descriptor. From the entrance staircase that seems to fairly shine with a fairytale sort of grandeur to rooms covered in the kind of craftsmanship that has you leaning forward just to get a better look to a copy of the Versailles Hall of Mirrors, it almost leaves your heart aching at all the beauty you wish you could linger around.

Thirty minutes is all you’re given however, and after the tour was done we headed back to the front of the palace where we had lunch at the cafeteria thats just off the lobby and decided on the rest of our plans. The tickets we had bought back at the ferry point allowed us to not only visit the island the castle was on but to also take a trip to Frauenchiemsee (also know as Fraueninsel) where a monastery is located. And of course, if you’ve been reading any of my last few posts, you know if there’s a monastery or church nearby , Julia and I will probably go visit it.

The rain let up for a while as we explored this smaller island and there was a bit of a surreal-ness to the experience of coming from one of the most ornately decorated palaces i’d ever seen to a quiet and almost homely island that was centered around a monastery. Also, we got a bit of a kick out of being probably the youngest people touring the island who weren’t there with their parents- the average age of most tourist we saw seemed to be fixed firmly at around 50, and we had this fun moment where we looked at each other like, “wow, we really are very nerdy people aren’t we?“.

Our feet were pretty tired from the walking we had down around the other island and we weren’t too keen on exploring the museum here, mostly because all the placards were in German and my reading comprehension in anything other than English, Spanish or Italian is not so great. The area is full of beautiful houses and gardens though, and being a car-free island we had a nice time just leisurely taking a walk around the winding paths before heading back to the ferry docking point.

Hands cold and feet a little sore we headed back to the mainland on our last ferry ride of the day, talking about all that we had seen and making plans for the rest of the day- which included heading back to her apartment to pack an overnight back as we would be going to stay in her hometown of Garmisch-Partenkirchen, to make our trips to the next two castles a little bit easier and also so I could finally meet her bunny rabbits (yes you read that right, it’s not a typo). As we drove back the way we had come, the large lake fading in the distance behind us, I really wondered what the other castle we had yet to visit would have in store for us.

~m

Foggy Canals and Amex Adventures- Amsterdam

The day started early…ish. It also started with some light rain and a bit of a foggy mist, which really wasn’t the most promising start to my first day in Amsterdam, especially given I had planned to spend most, if not all, of it walking around. I was tempted to think the rain I had encountered in Scotland had followed me down, but that would be dubious logic, right?  No matter the weather, it was still unbelievable amazing to actually be here, in Amsterdam.

Not to say being in Scotland wasn’t amazing and it’s own kind of dream come true but, Amsterdam was the city I had first picked out to visit when I was 16 and only just starting to dream of traveling to Europe. Full disclosure: this probably had a good bit to do with a big and rather inconvenient crush I had on an incredibly sweet and friendly Dutch boy I knew at the time, but the love for the city remained even after that summer infatuation faded.

I had never done any kind of tour before this trip, but after reading about people who’d done them and not wanting to spend all my hours wandering by myself through a new city, I decided to sign up for one just a few days before leaving and hope for the best. The walking tour I signed up for met at 10am at the National Monument in Dam Square and for someone that hadn’t ever had the chance to really sit down and learn about Amsterdam’s history, it was unbelievably informative while still being super fun. Some of the subjects and areas that were covered in the 3 hours:  Anne Frank’s story, the Dutch East India Company, the Red Light District, multiple hidden Catholic churches, Amsterdam’s Chinatown, and the history and reasons behind the leaning buildings & gable stones. While doing a walking tour that consisted of mostly all couples while I only had my camera as companion might have turned out a bit depressing, the guide we had was so chipper and genuinely enthusiastic about teaching us about her city’s history as to make me feel only that much more happy to be there.

We stopped at a restaurant for half and hour (I can’t remember the name of the place but I can tell you it was surreal, purple and very cool) in the middle of the tour so people could use the bathroom, rest their feet and talk to the tour guide about other tours available.  While I was debating whether to take that nights Red Light District tour one of the other people in the group came over to talk to me- she introduced herself as Elsa from Chicago and we started chatting and getting to know each other better as the tour continued.

By the time the tour concluded at the Homomonument (exactly what it sounds like yes- a memorial that commemorates gay men and lesbians who have been subjected to persecution because of their homosexuality) the sun was well and truly out, the fog has dissipated and we set off to try and find lunch together.


Now, if you’ve read the last couple of posts you might remember that I lost one of my credit cards somewhere on my flight from Paris to Edinburgh and as such only had some Euros and one card left to me while I waited for the other two to arrive by overnight mail. The good news was that my other cards were due to arrive that afternoon to my hotel, the bad news was that I still had a whole morning to try and get by with what I had with me…which wouldn’t have been such a problem if I hadn’t decided to take my American Express card with me instead of say, my debit card. Amex, as some of you might know, is not excepted everywhere. Generally i’d been lucky with it being accepted and thankfully Elsa was a good sport about making sure we could find a place that took it but it was still a fun half hour of walking around the streets of Amsterdam looking for that little blue and white “we accept” sticker on windows. Eventually though we found a nice and quiet sandwich shop and tucked in to barbecue chicken and gouda sandwiches and chilled pear juice which was an interesting but surprisingly tasty combination.

After that we walked off in the general direction of the Rijksmuseum, which I had bought skip-the-line tickets for and where we parted ways as she was headed towards the Vondelpark. We exchanged numbers though, and made tentative plans to possible meet up again the next day before she headed off to Geneva and I headed inside to spend the next couple of hours wandering happily through the many (many many) hallways of one of the most beautiful museums i’ve ever visited.

So, fair warning- the next 2-3 posts will probably be about the Rijksmuseum because i’m a gigantic nerd and so if you’re not too interested in that (but why wouldn’t you be, it’s an amazing museum!) feel free to tune back in for the Salzburg, Germany and France posts that will come after that.

~m