I really thought travel planning could be my plan B in life, but after August 18, I’m just not so sure. We landed in Catania, Sicily around 10:15 AM and made our way to the car rental office to pick up our car. The office was packed and everyone had to take a number. Our number was 46. We arrived while customer number 20 was being taken care of.
One hour had passed and our number was called. I walked up ready to pick up the car that we got for a steal (94 euros) for four days and handed the man my booking confirmation. He was struggling to find my reservation until he noticed that I booked the car for July 18th not August 18th…
One hour later, we rented a new car at more than double that price and were finally on our way to our apartment in Taormina. The hour drive went fast and we pulled up to the adorable town starving and in need of showers. We ate some pizza to kill the hour before check-in and then met our apartment host, Riccardo.
After an hour of suggested activities, restaurants and bars, we all showered and got ready for dinner and exploring. If you know Taormina, you know how small the city is, so when we say we walked the entire city in one evening you know we’re not exaggerating. We visited the city gardens, Parco Duca Di Cesarò, walked through the crowded streets and saw some pretty awesome views of surrounding cities and Mt. Etna. We finished the night with the worst gelato I have ever had. Am I being dramatic? Maybe. But I love ice cream/gelato and I have consumed A LOT over the past month, so I believe I am an accurate judge of tastiness. Julie and Derek ate theirs without complaints, though.
We finally enjoyed a full night of sleep and woke up ready to see the Greek theater and have a fat lunch before we got picked up for our Mt. Etna tour. Originally, we had picked an early morning/afternoon tour, but our guide Davide, asked if we wanted to do an afternoon/evening tour instead because he thought we would be able to see the sunset and “something special” (the glowing lava spewing from the volcano).
So, at the prospect of something special and sleeping in, we agreed to switch our tour to afternoon/evening. Unfortunately, the weather took a turn about two hours before we left for the tour and the skies became grey accompanied by thunder. It rained for a majority of our tour, but only a drizzle. The clouds also were not moving the way Davide had hoped and we weren’t able to see the sunset or the lava. Regardless, it was very cool to hike different parts of the volcano and to see the different lava flow from the various eruptions and the mummified trees.
When we got back to town, we had a quick meal. Julie got eggplant parm with a side of caponata (more eggplant). She loves eggplant and ate it for almost every meal. The next morning, we woke up, packed, said our goodbyes to Riccardo, dropped our bags in the rental car and then walked to Bam Bar for some Granita. We had been told by various people to get this slushy looking “breakfast” treat before leaving. We had been hesitant, especially to have it for breakfast, but we decided we couldn’t leave without trying it.
The minute we started walking from the rental car, the rain started. The walk from the car to Bam Bar is probably max 10 minutes, but with the pouring rain, wind, soaked shoes, and missing the turn, it took us about 40 minutes. But oh my god was it worth it. I got chocolate, which was pretty much ice cream, and Derek and Julie got coffee with a little homemade whipped cream on top. Granita also comes with a warm, fresh brioche that you use to dip in the … slushy? Dessert? Beverage? I am not really sure what to call Granita so we’ll stick with slushy looking “breakfast” treat.
It was delicious and so worth the soaked clothes. Thankfully, we had Julie there to remind us as we were freezing and soaking wet that it was “all part of the adventure” and “who else can say they walked barefoot through the streets of Taormina in the pouring rain?”
We arrived in Siracusa around 2:00 PM and found some parking in a nearby parking garage. After checking into our Airbnb, we tried to find somewhere to eat, which was near impossible because all kitchens were closed by the time we were ready to eat at 4:00 PM. With a little sweet talk from Julie and a big smile, we were able to get one kitchen to make us food. After some pizza, we walked along the water to Castello Maniace where Julie and I sat, talked and people watched while Derek went back to get his camera and forget my sweater I asked him for.
Anyways… we spent the rest of the night walking around through the streets and near the water with an 11:00 PM dinner to close the evening.
The next day we planned to go on a boat ride around Ortigia. (Side note: Ortigia is an island that is part of Siracusa and connected to the mainland by three bridges) There was a storm rolling in so there were only two times available 12:00 PM and 1:00 PM. When we arrived to book our tickets, it was 11:00 AM and we hadn’t eaten yet, so we booked the 1:00 PM tour and walked about ten minutes to the Ortiga Market where Caseficio Borderi, a famous sandwich shop, is located. Julie’s parents had visited and raved about the sandwiches so we had to go. The line wasn’t too long, and according to the girl who was in charge of making sure the line didn’t bother the food vendor to the left of the store, the length of the line was rare and it’s usually around the block. We thought we were going to be lucky with a quick wait, but when we told her we had to be somewhere at 12:45 and it was currently 11:45, she said we wouldn’t have time.
Luckily, Caseficio Borderi has outdoor seating that is attended to by waiters and she got us a seat and told the waiter we had to be somewhere at 12:45. So if anyone reading this post plans to go to Ortigia and wants a fresh Italian sandwich, go to Caseficio Borderi, find a seat and skip the line. I’m not sure if this is how it always goes, but we had no say in what was in our sandwich. We had two different ones and honestly, I still don’t know everything that was in them.
We were met with thunder and dark skies as we got into our small boat. Within one minute of getting on the boat, we approached a bridge that had the smallest opening below and if I hadn’t gone through myself, I would say it is impossible for a boat to go through. Without much warning or telling us how low we should get, we were all completely bent over, heads on our knees, and I was on the boat floor. It was super cool, but a tad claustrophic.
Our captain did not speak any English, but thankfully there was a sweet Italian woman from Milan and she did all the translating. If we didn’t have her we would’ve had no idea what we were seeing. The boat ride ended around 2 PM as a storm was rolling in.
After the boat ride, Julie and I walked around, ate some gelato and visited the Duomo. Derek worked out in our apartment. We met back up to shower and pack and then headed to dinner by the water. We woke up early the next morning to drive to the airport for our flight to Rome.
By the time we arrived at our Airbnb it was 5:00 PM and as always, we were famished. A consistent eating schedule is difficult when traveling like we did. We walked around the Spanish steps and found a restaurant to give us some energy so we could finish Julie’s last night in Europe on a high note. After dinner, we visited the Trevi Fountain just in time for some more lightning, thunder and rain! The rest of the night consisted of shopping, gelato and getting soaked in the rain. No umbrella could save us and after wearing my leather sandals twice through a rainstorm, I decided to lose a pound or so in my suitcase.
Julie left early the next morning and Derek and I set out to enjoy what we could of Rome in one short day. Free tip to our readers: Don’t try to do all of Rome in one day. We spent a solid 7-8 hours trekking around Rome in 90-degree weather trying to see the highlights of the city. I visited Rome four years ago, but Derek had never been so we went back to many of the spots I had already seen.
In order to make the transportation between each spot easiest, we bought a one day ticket for a hop on hop off bus tour that took us back to near our Airbnb and to everywhere we wanted to go. Derek and I visited the Colosseum, Pantheon, Piazza Venezia, and Vatican in one afternoon. It was interesting to go back to these places and see them again. To be honest, Rome was never my favorite city, but after Thursday, I sort of fell in love and will definitely return and spend more time there (away from the main tourist traps though).
25 Days later...
Traveling is difficult period. Traveling to 13 cities in five countries over the course of 25 days is tiring. It's exhausting, and it's beautiful.
We learned how to make the best of what time and resources ($$) we had. We were able to share amazing experiences with friends. Derek and I didn't kill each other. And most importantly, we were able to experience new cultures, try authentic foods, and meet people we would have otherwise never known existed.
I think I can speak for both Derek and I when I say these past 11 months have been the perfect combination of both challenging and exciting, and a time in our lives we will always look back on and wish we could go back to. We are both so blessed to have met such wonderful, caring people along the way and I am so lucky to leave Europe with lifelong friends across the globe.
By some luck, Derek and I arrived in Athens around 2 PM. What I mean when I say there was luck involved is that Derek forgot to buy his ticket from Vienna to Athens. He put off checking into the flight until we arrived at the airport. After searching his inbox and trash folders and asking at the baggage check, we found out he forgot to book his plane ticket. So, by some miracle, the flight still had space and he was able to buy a ticket and a crisis was averted.
Mark, Emily and Kevin landed around 3:30 PM and met up with us at the Airbnb. Shortly after their arrival, we realized I forgot to book an extra night for Mark, Emily and Kevin in the Airbnb in Athens the second weekend (August 17 – 19). Then Mark broke the shower.
Luckily, we found an Airbnb for Mark, Emily and Kevin and our Airbnb host also immediately came over to fix the shower. We only had one evening in Athens so we decided to get some food and then visit the Acropolis (the ancient citadel with historically important buildings like the Parthenon). We couldn’t go inside because we got there too late, but we were able to get some incredible views during sunset. After walking around the Acropolis, we went to a nearby rooftop bar to enjoy some more nighttime Acropolis views. We woke up the next morning to repack our bags, have a nice long lunch and then head to Santorini!
Our flight to Santorini was delayed and we ended up landing in the late afternoon. We picked up our rental car and drove 10 minutes to our house in Pyrgos. The house had the traditional white and blue design and a beautiful balcony overlooking Santorini. Pyrgos is one of the highest points on the island and we had some impressive views below and also above. We were able to see so many stars and even Mars, Venus and Jupiter.
By the time we made it to Pygros, we were starving. We went to the main square of town to have a long dinner where we made friends with a cute kitty who suckered us into feeding him/her. By the time we were done for dinner the sun had set. We bought some wine and snacks and went back up to our balcony where we spent the night talking, playing games and stargazing.
The next day we were picked up in town for a half day Catamaran cruise around Santorini. We swam, snorkeled, ate Greek BBQ, and even napped. Our transportation after the cruise took about 2 hours longer than it should have. When we got back we were exhausted and famished so we showered and went down to the car to drive to the city of Fira for dinner and drinks.
After a long day, we were looking forward to a quick drive to some dinner, but we were met with a flat tire and our side view mirror hanging off. Nice! Thankfully, the men were able to change the tire and also “fix” the side view mirror that had already been taped up. Not the most ideal way to start the night, but the situation was handled remarkably quick.
Around 7:00 PM, we drove about 15 minutes to Fira, where we started the night at a restaurant for a nice meal. After dinner, we bar hopped until about 12:30 AM, when we then went to a small club called Tropical to celebrate Derek’s 23rd birthday. We actually made friends with our waiters at dinner and they suggested we go to Tropical. They met up with us at about 1:30 AM and we hung with them until about 3:30 AM.
Unsurprisingly, we all slept until noon. The five of us got dressed quickly and then headed to Perivolos beach for an early lunch and some serious beach time. It wasn’t very crowded, which was great, and we rented some beach loungers and umbrellas. The sand was burning hot and impossible to walk on without sandals, but the water was amazing – blue, clear, clean. We left the beach around 6:00 PM so we could shower and get ready for dinner.
We had dinner at one of the other restaurants in town, played some table hangman and then finished the night on a rooftop bar that overlooked the island. It’s been super windy in Greece so the bar provided blankets and I took two.
Wednesday morning, we left Santorini via a ferry that started off feeling like what I assume the animals felt on Noah’s Ark. We and hundreds of other ferry passengers waited under the hot sun to board the ship through the car entrance. It was like herding cattle. Everyone had to put their bags on the few luggage racks available and then single file bump into the walls in order to find a seat.
We all napped on the ferry until we arrived in Mykonos. About an hour after we got to our Airbnb, Julie arrived!!!! The six of us grabbed lunch at the resort where our Airbnb was located and then went right to the beach/pool. We spent the afternoon and early evening there until dinner time.
We spent Thursday in the resort as well and claimed our beach spot super early because the beach is small. Thursday night we went to the town of Chora (Little Venice) for some shopping, dinner and night life. The town of Chora was stunning with the typical narrow white streets and loads of restaurants and bars on the water.
Our flight Friday was not until 9:50 PM so we had the entire day to lounge and swim. We started drying off around 6 PM and headed to the small restaurant in our resort area for a quick meal before being picked up at 8 PM for our flight. Our terminal was one room with three doors, about four rows of chairs, a duty free store the size of a walk in closet and a small store for snacks and sandwiches.
The flight before ours was delayed so the 20 total seats in the gate were taken. As we sat on the floor and briefly played some card games, our flight kept getting delayed. We ended up leaving around 11:30 PM and landing around 12:30 AM. We got to our Airbnb at 1:00 AM and then Emily, Julie, Derek and I took a quick four-hour nap before our 6 AM cab back to the airport. Emily was catching a flight to the US and Julie, Derek and I were flying to Catania in Sicily for our five-day stay in the south of Italy. Mark and Kevin spent an extra day in Athens before their flight on Sunday.
After one three-hour train and one two-hour train, Derek and I arrived in Salzburg, Austria. It was 11:00 PM. We checked into our Airbnb, which once again did not have AC. I seriously fudged up by not checking to see if our Airbnbs had AC. We woke up early on Wednesday to catch a bus, train and ferry to reach the scenic town of Hallstatt.
Yes. We had to take a one hour and a half bus, a 20-minute train and then a 15-minute ferry in order to get from Salzburg to Hallstatt. All of this traveling and I had a lovely cold that a certain someone who I won’t mention gave to me. I tried to not let it hamper my time in Austria because this country from what we have seen is one of the most beautiful places I have been. I had an inkling that I would love Austria before we visited, but now it’s confirmed.
When we arrived in Hallstatt, we immediately found a place to dip our toes in the water. If there is water nearby you can bet Derek and I are trying to find a way to be in it or next to it, especially in 90-degree weather. Derek was desperate to go in, but we didn’t have our suits so he took off his shirt and rolled up his shorts and went as far in as possible. The lake was a bit chilly for my liking, but I won’t deny how amazing it felt under the hot sun. The town of Hallstatt is super tiny so we did a bit of exploring and also enjoyed some homemade ice cream.
And then we took the ferry, train and bus back to Salzburg just in the nick of time. As soon as we got back into our Airbnb it started to rain. Not just rain. Torrential downpour with…I’ll say hurricane force winds, but don’t quote me. I was feeling super crappy so I told Derek I was skipping dinner and going to bed. I took a Nyquil and was lulled to sleep by the thunder and rain.
The next morning we slept in a bit, which we both needed. We spent Thursday, August 9, walking around Salzburg, eating some apple strudel and enjoying the colorful gardens of Mirabell Palace. We didn’t have a lot of time in Salzburg, but we were able to walk around a majority of the city and enjoy how peaceful it was. I know most of Europe is on vacation in August, but there weren’t even many tourists.
We arrived in Vienna around 10 PM and checked into our Airbnb, which actually did have working lightbulbs in the bathroom, even though we couldn’t figure out how to turn them on until the morning we left. Friday was an absolutely perfect day weather wise. It was sunny in the morning and early afternoon and then the rest of the day was cloudy and windy with some rain in the evening. I know clouds, wind and rain doesn’t sound amazing, but it was. It was probably the first day we weren’t drenched in sweat and we were loving it.
Besides the pleasant weather, we loved Vienna. There were endless elaborate buildings in the center of the city. The streets were clean, the parks were green and the people were friendly. We spent the day walking through the center with an hour or so break in a garden called Burggarten followed by a visit to the Butterfly House. There was no sole highlight of the day as I thoroughly enjoyed each street and I would love to return in the future for a longer trip. There are quite a few palaces I’d love to visit.
We left Vienna on Saturday morning and headed to Athens, Greece to meet my friends, Emily, Mark and Kevin!
Despite being proactive and extra responsible by getting to Split’s airport three hours early, our travel day was long and a tad hectic. Our flight from Split had a one-hour layover in Hanover, Germany because obviously the north of Germany is the most logical route for us. Because we were flying each flight with a different cheapo airline, we had to go through customs and baggage claim in Germany and then go back through security again to board our flight. With that knowledge in mind, we were already a little nervous knowing that our first flight lands at 4:05 PM and our second flight to Budapest takes off at 5:20 PM.
It’s like our early-to-the-airport karma was worth nothing because we were delayed on the runway for an hour in Split and didn’t land in Germany until 5:05 PM. Accepting that we had missed our flight, we trudged through customs, picked up our bags from baggage claim (they were about 10 kg overweight, but thankfully we were not charged to check them) and took our time going to the bathroom. As we went up the escalator at about 5:30 PM, we saw that our “missed” flight was delayed until 6:05 PM! So, we sprinted around trying to find our gate, which of course was on the opposite end of the airport. We ran up to security. I threw open my backpack and suitcase and took out my laptop, iPad, camera and I kid you not four bags of liquids. We chugged our water bottles and impatiently waited for our bags on the other end.
My liquids get stopped. My suitcase gets stopped. It was 5:45 PM at this point. I told Derek to go ahead without me and to see if the gate agents will wait for me as I assume I will simply apologize for the small bag of liquids that I forgot to take out because of my frenzied rush and repack my bag as quickly as possible.
Wrong. Mister mean German airport security agent began to tell me that I have way too many liquids, even though they are all 100 ml. I told him I haven’t had any trouble so far and I am traveling for three weeks so I need all of them. He sternly tells me those are the rules. After five minutes of me explaining that I didn’t know you were only allowed to bring a total of 1 liter of liquids in a carry on and him scolding me and moving around the different liquids, he decides to throw out two of my shampoos.
He moves onto my suitcase and proceeds to thoroughly examine each packing cube, every inch of my suitcase and even my tampons. This whole time I am sweating, on the verge of tears and telling him my flight leaves in 5 minutes. By the time he was satisfied and had completely rearranged my entire suitcase, Derek was back to tell me people are still boarding and we’re okay. Too bad I was already crying at that point.
Traveling is emotional, OKAY!?
However frustrating that travel day was, we happily arrived in Hungary to rainy, chilly weather. We checked into our Airbnb that looked like it belongs in a Jason Bourne movie (interpret that how you will) and went out for some dinner. The next morning, we woke up ready for a full day of exploring. Monday was our only full day and night in Budapest and we tried to make the most of it. We walked to the famous Central Market, which is Budapest’s largest indoor market, where Derek bought some bananas and pastries that were recommended by his Hungarian best friend, Pete (the one who came to Madrid and our trip to Valencia).
Afterwards, we took the cutest tram to the Parliament of Budapest. We walked around the huge building and enjoyed all of the other amazing buildings and the view of the Danube River. On our way to the Danube, Derek was given a free bag of water from the Hungarian Water Aid, which was interesting and generous. We walked along the river until we reached the Shoes on the Danube Bank. It was a beautiful memorial and harsh reminder of the horrors of WWII. We then walked across the Chain Bridge that connects the western and eastern sides of Budapest to visit the Frida Kahlo exhibit in the Hungarian National Gallery and to enjoy the views of the city.
After the exhibit, we walked back across the bridge and into the center of the city for some lunch and more exploring. The city of Budapest is absolutely gorgeous and I honestly was not expecting to enjoy it so much. We planned to end our night with another Hungarian meal, but we were so stuffed from lunch we decided to skip dinner and rest up for our travels to Austria the next day.
More to come soon...
DUBROVNIK : JULY 31 - AUGUST 2
Our flight from Madrid left at 8:35 AM and landed in Dubrovnik at 11:00 AM. We took a 30-minute bus ride to Old Town because I thought we were at our stop, the bus station, but alas we were not. It gave us a good start in figuring out the city bus system though.
We took a bus going in the right direction, just not the correct line. We were supposed to take the number 8 bus, which brings us a 30 second walk from our Airbnb, however we took 1A and ended up at the bottom of maybe 300 stairs with our carry-ons and backpacks full of what is supposed to be a month’s worth of clothes, toiletries and more. All these stairs helped me appreciate the overall flat landscape at home, as well as accounted for my work out of the day.
We spent Tuesday exploring Old Town’s beautiful architecture, streets made of marble and deliciously refreshing (and drinkable) water from the various fountains placed throughout the tiny city. We enjoyed a relaxing lunch by the port and then walked to Fort Lovrijenac where scenes in Game of Thrones are filmed. Before finding our way to the fort, I asked some nice Croatian ladies where “King’s Landing” is…For those who do not watch Game of Thrones, King’s Landing is the name for the fictional city – not the actual fort. Embarrassing, but I’ll have you know Apple maps has the fort labeled as King’s Landing. After exploring the fort, we shared a pizza and I had a 4€ 100ml bottle of ginger ale – curse my addiction.
Wednesday was supposed to begin at 8:30 AM, but really started at around 10:10 AM because of snoozed alarm clocks and the number 8 bus deciding not to show for the 9:40 AM. Our original plan was to have the walk of the city walls done by 11 AM and then head to the city beach, Banje Beach, for a bit. We didn’t get to the walls until 11 AM, but did manage to survive the stairs up. All I could think about was how insane the Great Wall of China is. For those of you who are unaware what I am talking about. Old Town is enclosed by giant walls, presumably created to protect the city from enemies such as, you know, pirates. You are able to walk around the walls and enjoy the panoramic views for only 150 KN.
150 KN (kuna) is about $24. One problem with the kuna, is that it is so annoying (and for me, impossible) to mentally calculate what the conversion to euros/dollars and we end up not realizing how much everything is costing. (To be honest, I knew the ginger ale was 4€…hehe)
After walking the walls, we took a stroll to the other side of the city to get to the city beach. I read reviews beforehand about how crowded it is and how to buy chairs and an umbrella is super overpriced, but you know maybe we’d get lucky on a Wednesday early afternoon. Ha. The beach was super tiny and extremely crowded, but all we wanted was to jump in the ocean. I legitimately had to leave my skirt and shirt out to dry in the sun that’s how sweaty we were. The ocean was a bit chilly for me, but a welcomed chilly.
We ended our night near our Airbnb, which is located near the ferry port, at a waterside restaurant. Our ferry to Hvar, an island off the coast of Split, left at 7 AM the next morning and we wanted a quiet, early night as opposed to the normal crazy, late nights we have…
HVAR : AUGUST 2 - 3
We arrived to the quaint, as Derek would put it, city of Hvar. We spent our time visiting an even smaller island off of Hvar’s coast, which is part of a group of mini islands called the “Pakleni Islands”, and local beaches. The town of Hvar is small and can be covered in about 30 minutes.
Our Airbnb host told Derek and me that we can’t come to Hvar and not visit the Pakleni Islands, which is why on our first day in Hvar, Thursday, we took a boat taxi to one of the islands, Jerolim. We spent the day on a beautiful rock beach surrounded by green landscape. The water was crystal clear and the perfect temperature (for Derek – a tad chilly for me) for cooling off in the 90 plus degree heat and direct sunlight.
We explored the city in the evening and grabbed a bite to eat, which was unfortunately ruined by some sort of small red circle seasoning that was in both of our dishes that gave Derek a peppery taste and me an herby taste. Derek burped it up all night and I really think he was emotionally affected by the meal.
The next day we woke up early, which so far has been the case for every day. Another daily task so far has been climbing Mount Everest via stairs multiple times a day. While I may sound like I am complaining (because I am), I am hopeful the stairs will have some impact on my “summer body”. I am also curious to know if the stairs in combination with the heat is the reason why on Wednesday morning a cramp in my right calf woke me up and had me screaming at 7 AM or why on Thursday morning I woke up yet again to another painful cramp, except in my left calf this time.
*Tiny violin plays for the girl traveling through Europe for three weeks*
Friday morning and afternoon was spent painfully climbing over rocks to get into the ocean or slipping in our wet flip flops while climbing over rocks to get into the ocean. Speaking of the ocean, it. was. gorgeous. It was the perfect temperature and even though we couldn’t really stand anywhere we couldn’t stop going back in. We spent the day walking along the Hvar coast finding spots to sit and swim. Although the sun was horrendously hot, there was a beautiful wind and in the shade, it was the absolute idea temperature. We left Hvar around 4:00 PM and took a ferry to Split. We spent our first night in Split food shopping to pinch some pennies and save money on dinner and breakfast and lunch on Saturday.
SPLIT : AUGUST 3 -5
Saturday was our one true day and night in Split. Unbeknownst to each other, we woke up before 8 AM thanks to our recent early mornings, but forced ourselves back to sleep until about 10 AM. We took a 15 minute bus and 15 minute Uber to get to Kasjuni Beach where we were told from other Americans in Dubrovnik that there was a dog beach that never got too crowded. We couldn’t find the dogs, but we did find a nice spot away from the rocks under the trees for the day. We spent most of the day going in and out of the crystal-clear water and of course keeping ourselves entertained with about an hour of “would you rather”.
The beach was crowded, but beautiful and worth the trip. We went back to our Airbnb to pack up our things, shower and get dressed for dinner. We made our way into the main part of Split (Old Town) and admired the ancient roman architecture, people watched and enjoyed a meal in a charming alley way. Thankfully, our table was under an umbrella because it started to rain about 30 minutes into our meal and we waited until the rain was over before walking around again.
We check out of our Airbnb tomorrow morning and will walk around a bit more before heading to the airport for our flight to Budapest.
Well it’s official. I have graduated from IE and in case you were wondering, yes, “Master Perrucci” is the correct way to address me.
Not only am I happy to have completed another level of higher education, but I am so grateful that I was able call Spain home for a year.
I am thankful to have a supportive family (even if they didn’t exactly love my decision (Hi, Grandma and Aunt Amy)), friends both in Spain and in the US who kept me sane and focused on enjoying each day, and last but not least a loving boyfriend who was willing to put up with a seven-hour time difference.
The tension that has made a home in my shoulders for the past 10 months has finally disappeared and I am now free to enjoy these next three weeks before the real world I have been hiding from appears again.
Momma and Papi Perrucci arrived in Madrid on July 19th – a day before my graduation. Their time in Europe started with Thursday, Friday and Saturday morning in Madrid, followed by a six-day trip to the Amalfi Coast in Italy, and then ended with Thursday night, Friday and Saturday morning in Madrid.
The heat, although dry as Dad repeatedly raved over, was quite unbearable in the middle of the day with temperatures reaching over 90 degrees and made exploring the city during the day a little more exhausting. By the way, this summer heat was the main reason the famous Spanish “siestas” were created. No air conditioning (back then) and a wickedly hot sun made the middle of the day impossible for productivity. Many companies and businesses do still take two hour lunches every day, which was quite frustrating when it comes to store hours and even going to the gym from about 1:30 – 3:00 PM.
Anyways, Mom, Dad, Derek and I did the usual tour around Madrid over the course of the 4/5 days they were here. We also spent a decent amount of time packing up Derek and my clothes for our “Sherpas”, as Dad referred to himself and Mom, to take home with them. It only ended up being two big suitcases and a guitar case (in addition to their one big suitcase and two carry-ons), so I consider that a success on our end.
Moving onto the best part of the trip, the Amalfi Coast. We left Saturday, July 21st, for Naples, after landing we had about an hour and a half drive (thanks to traffic) to Sorrento, where we stayed for the following five nights. Our six days looked a little something like this:
Saturday: Landed in Naples around 7 PM followed by an hour and a half drive to Sorrento. Enjoyed a late dinner and our quaint, porcelain cat-filled yellow hotel room located in the heart of Sorrento, Piazza della Vittoria.
Sunday: Our plan was to do one or two hikes nearby Sorrento, but after discovering the buses don’t run on Sundays and a taxi was going to cost 60€ each way, we changed our plan and took the city’s train to the funicular (cable car) that climbed up Mount Faito. Because of our delays with the buses, taxis and then waiting an hour for the city train, which by the way lacks air conditioning and goes uncomfortably fast, we arrived at the funicular in the middle of the day and to a long line. Americans are very used to air-conditioning and it can take a while to get used to the lack of AC in Europe, especially when you spend over an hour in line under the hot sun to then be crammed into a cable car with lovely-smelling people and few windows for a ten-minute ride up a mountain. We just barely survived the way up the mountain, but the view was worth it even if we went the long way at first and then afterwards figured out the second path we were taking was to the same exact spot just about half the distance as the first path.
Monday: Monday was probably Derek’s favorite day. We went on a lemon, cheese, pizza tour. What does that mean? We visited a local lemon farm where we enjoyed fresh limoncello and olive oil, as well as met the owners who are in their late seventies and continue to hand pick over 60,000 to 70,000 pounds of lemons a year – by themselves. After we walked through the lemon farm, we were brought to the “Cheeseman”, who made fresh mozzarella and ricotta cheese in front of us. We were fed the freshest, yummiest cheese we have ever had in our lives and Derek is still upset he’ll never have it again. We also toured the farm where the cows are housed and the mozzarella is made. After the farm, we were brought to one of the probably two restaurants in the town to make our own pizza. Monday was delicious.
Tuesday: This was probably my favorite day because I love boat trips on vacation. We took a 45-minute boat to the island of Capri and then spent around four hours on the island exploring both Capri and Anacapri, the two towns on the island. Once again, we found ourselves in the hot sun waiting for the bus to take us to Anacapri, and yet again the views were worth the travel. Although, I may have developed claustrophobia thanks to every vehicle (cable car, bus, etc.) being crammed to the max. We then spent a few hours exploring different grottos and swimming. The way back was a little rocky and Mom and I both almost went overboard at least once. Bonine was our dearest friend throughout the whole trip.
Wednesday: Our last day we hired a private driver to take us to other cities on the Amalfi Coast: Positano, Amalfi and Ravello. Just a tip for future Amalfi Coast travelers, unless you are JLo and have a yacht, don’t go to the Amalfi Coast during July and August. Because of the huge number of tourists, each city was packed and every road was crowded. The other tourists did not hamper our experience nor did they affect the gorgeous view of the steep cliffs and blue skies, but if you have the choice – steer clear from July and August. It was quite amazing to see all the buildings that had been built into the cliffs hundreds of years ago and are somehow still standing to this day.
Thursday: We left for Naples early in the morning to avoid traffic and returned back to Madrid for the remaining two days.
The Amalfi Coast was my parents’ first trip to Italy and I know won’t be the last. It was one of the most beautiful places I have been to and I have never eaten so much in my life. I am so glad I got to experience Italy with my American Italian parents. I say American Italian because after living in Spain for a year and becoming friends with “real” Italians, it has become clear to me to emphasize my American nationality before mentioning my Italian heritage, which is unlike in America, where I would say I am Italian, before saying I am American. 95% of the people who heard my last name here in Europe assumed I am a true Italian, including many of my Italian professors, but unfortunately no parlo italiano and I have now learned to put American before Italian.
To close this final Madrid blog post, I will once again say thank you to my parents for being here for the end of our time in Madrid and taking Derek and I on a lovely vacation to Italy. Olivia, we missed you.
“Arriving in Madrid finding two of my children fully immersed in the culture and all the nuances of the city was gratifying. Oh how quickly they grow … I enjoyed the time spent walking in the beautiful city of Madrid, visiting the Royal Palace and sitting down for dinner at 9PM (not). I am amazed at how clean the city is including the Metro which NYC should try to emulate.
Our brief trip to Italy was nice. The coast line, people, food and Mediterranean Sea are all fabulous. The traffic and insane driving of the inhabitants was mind boggling and scary at the same time. The cities built into the side of the mountains are something everyone should see.
I really enjoyed our time together in both countries; however, it was not the same without Olivia … Next time … Congratulations to Amanda on her graduation from grad. school and to Derek on his promotion in Spanish Language class. In closing, I highly recommend Madrid to anyone who wants to visit. The weather was fantastic (hot but zero humidity, delightfully cool and pleasant in the shade).”
What better way to celebrate the end of my master’s program and my time in Madrid than a trip to the last region of Spain I haven’t explored – the North. Our six-day trip included the cities of Santiago de Compostela, A Coruña, Santander and San Sebastián.
Now I cannot say I’ve thoroughly explored each region of Spain, but I have visited the North (Santiago de Compostela, A Coruña, Santander and San Sebastián), the South (Sevilla, Granada, Malaga and Marbella), the East (Barcelona and Valencia), the West (I’ll consider Madrid for this list’s purposes) and even a couple of the Spanish islands (Tenerife and Mallorca). I consider myself very lucky to have been able to see so much of Spain already in my short 24 years of life.
I went on this six-day trip with my good friends Eleonora and Nicole. We started our journey at 5:50 AM the morning after our last day of our master’s program. Our trip started in Santiago de Compostela, the city known for the Camino de Santiago. It is a quaint, old city with plenty of beautiful buildings to admire. Lucky for us, our Airbnb was in the heart of the city. Everything was within a 10-minute walk. Unlucky for us, our Airbnb was in the heart of the city. The noise at night in combination with the heat was definitely not something advertised on Airbnb. We spent about two days exploring the city and then moved on for a quick 24 hours in A Coruña.
A Coruña is a seaside town that is much bigger than Santiago with far less tourists. We enjoyed a lovely night walking around during which we found Reese’s sticks. Naturally, I bought a pack so Ele and Nicole could experience the heavenly deliciousness that is Reese’s sticks. Spoiler alert: they loved it. The next morning, we visited Torre de Hercules, a lighthouse on the sea with remarkable views and a charming beach next to it.
After a four-hour bus ride, our third city was Santander. In order to help you visualize Santander a bit, imagine the hills of San Francisco (or Porto, Portugal), but steeper. Our Airbnb happened to be on the top of the steepest, longest hill I have yet to climb in my life, which was ironically named “Calle Viste Alegre” (which can be translated as happy sight). Luckily there are moving sidewalks. Yup, moving sidewalks up the hill. See picture below.
After our hike up the hill and a much-needed shower, we had dinner at the first restaurant that was more than just tapas and to say we needed it was an understatement. Luckily, our food experience only went up once we arrived in Santander and the rest of the trip we did not have to survive off of tapas. We spent the next day lounging on a long stretch of beach and then later that afternoon made our way to our last destination, San Sebastián.
We definitely saved the best for last with San Sebastián. There are beaches, good food, lots of shopping and yummy ice cream, what’s not to love? We had two nights and two days here and we lucked out with one full day on the beach. The second day it rained so we found a lovely café for a late breakfast, early lunch and then did some shopping before our train back to Madrid.
Santiago De Compostela
I had so much fun with these girls and am so grateful to have made such great friends at IE. And now the trip from Nicole and Ele's perspective:
Everyone was surprised when we decided to travel through the North of Spain, questions such as why not the sunny, party-friendly and beloved by young people South were quite common. But we wanted to see something new a part of Spain none of us three women have been to, we wanted to share a new travel experience together, create new memories that will always be tied to our travels to the North of Spain. And it worked, the North was beautiful and will always remind me of memories of our trip and friendship.
We drove our car in the mountains we saw clouds so close to us it seemed like we were driving through the sky while listening to throwback music playlist and singing to songs which despite our different nationalities we knew the words to. We sat on the sand and sunny beaches, green grass and ancient grounds while always reminding ourselves of the beauty, which was so cinematic it seemed unreal.
There are too many things I could write about which have made the trip amazing, actually, there has not been a single part of the trip which I will look at with regret. The North of Spain was beautiful, but I am sure it would not be the same without my two friends Amanda and Ele.
Thank you, girls, for being my travel buddies and most of all such great friends.
Another team, this time smaller. Another project, this time much funnier. However, not easy: 4 cities in not even 6 days! But this trip definitely got its Honors. :-) After 10 intense months spent together, traveling through the North of Spain was the best choice to have more and different memories. It has been short, but we did so many things that we lost control of time and “what day is today?” was a question as common as tough to answer. :-) But how to forget the cheerful people ending their Camino in Santiago de Compostela, right in front of the beautiful Cathedral? Or the deep blue of the ocean that was surrounding us once we were on the top of the Tower of Hercules, an ancient Roman lighthouse in A Coruña, or the first day at the beach in a pretty Santander and the waves of San Sebastián?
But besides that, I will always bring with me the flavor of my first Reese’s bar that Amanda shared with us. The happiness that me and Nicole felt while we were eating the best peaches in the world bought in a little fruit shop in San Sebastian. The infinite number of stairs we walked together, laughing more than complaining. And all the amazing pictures we took not because we are so good in that, but just because the app HUJI is our new best friend - Amanda can confirm, just ask her.
So, thank you my friends. I don’t know where the next one will happen but it definitely will! See you soon, in some part of the world, wherever we’ll be.
Four cities in six days is no easy feat and I was exhausted the day after. Now we have the few final days before Mom and Dad come for my graduation and our trip to the Amalfi Coast. Once Mom and Dad leave, Derek and I will have only a couple days before we leave for our August travels.
The cities we will be traveling to include:
Various cities in Sicily, Italy
If these six days of travel were exhausting, I expect a week-long coma when I get back home.
May 27 - June 4 through Mandy’s eyes:
Four years ago, Derek and Olivia flew to me in Barcelona for a two-week adventure through France, Switzerland and Italy. Last week, Olivia flew to Derek and me in Madrid for a week-long adventure in Madrid and Mallorca. Although this trip didn’t include as many destinations as our trip four years ago, it was just as fun and beautiful.
Olivia’s trip started on Sunday, May 27 and ended on Monday, June 4, including five days in Madrid, three days in Mallorca and probably over 100,000 steps recorded on Olivia’s Fitbit. Between Derek's client and daily Spanish classes and the last month of my master’s program, Derek and I were pretty busy during the week, so Olivia took it upon herself to walk the entire city in one day. And then repeat it multiple days in a row. I couldn’t even show her anything because she had seen it already. She was glad to do it, but her feet weren’t as thrilled.
On her first night here, Olivia was able to see the full Real Madrid team. If you were unaware, Real Madrid won the Champions League that weekend. After big wins, the Real Madrid players join pretty much every Madrid resident at the Cibeles Fountain to celebrate, as they did on May 27. Luckily, our restaurant was on one of the roads the bus of Real Madrid players took to get to the fountain. I swear Ronaldo, Marcelo and Bale looked at me. I was freaking out for the rest of the night. Olivia kept her cool.
Our trip to Mallorca started bright and early with an 8:25 am flight. Surprisingly, we were only mildly cranky and had an easy, quick flight to the island. Although the weather predicted rain Saturday and Sunday, we got lucky and only had to deal with about 5 hours of rain on Sunday morning and afternoon. Friday, we arrived at our Airbnb in the early afternoon, had lunch and then took a city bus about 30 minutes west to Playa de Illetes. The beaches were packed, but there was entertainment thanks to threee middle-aged American women loudly divulging their personal… “achievements” …For some juicy gossip on what divorced women do on their trips to Mallorca, text me. We ate by the beach and then headed back to the beautiful Airbnb to shower and relax.
Saturday, we enjoyed sleeping in a bit and then took the tren de Sóller from Palma to Sóller, a city in the north of Mallorca. We "splurged" for the train because it is from the 1900’s and takes a longer, more scenic route through the mountains rather than the 3-euro bus that takes less than 30 minutes. Worth it? The train – I guess. The 7€ tram that brought us to see the port of Sóller – yes. We spent the afternoon and early evening soaking up as much of the beautiful mountains and sun as we could before the rain we knew was coming on Sunday.
I booked our flight on Sunday for 11:25 PM thinking that having the entire day of Sunday would mean a whole additional beach day! Whoops. Rain is apparently very rare there and if it ever does rain, it only lasts an hour or so. Well, they said that about Madrid too and it rained the entire month of March. The rain on Sunday lasted from about 9 am until 1 pm, during which we checked out of our Airbnb (we were allowed to keep our suitcases there thankfully) and walked from a café for breakfast to a restaurant for lunch. I also completely wiped out in between the two thanks to horrible grip on my Puma’s and slippery streets. When the rain cleared up we walked around the port and down to Palma’s beach, which was extremely disappointing. Maybe it was the weather, but as expected, it was the not the place for a calm, scenic beach day. Palma is a charming city and perfect for a short weekend like ours, but if our trip had been any longer we would have definitely stayed somewhere else on the island.
May 27 - June 4 through Olivia's eyes:
Going to Spain was the perfect way to start my summer vacation. Madrid was beautiful and it was great to see Amanda and Derek again. Although, I definitely am glad that I don’t have to live in that tiny apartment with them for more than a week. I spent the beginning of the week wandering around Madrid (and walking 46 miles!) while Amanda was in class and Derek was tutoring. I saw all of the different parts of the city and was able to really immerse myself in the culture as much as I could in one week. The hardest thing about my week in Madrid was getting used to eating dinner at 9pm. That is when I usually go to bed so eating dinner that late was very strange. What can I say, I’m my father’s daughter.
Madrid was an awesome city, but Mallorca was paradise. It’s not a vacation for me unless there is a beach, and Mallorca had many different beaches to choose from. Even though it wasn’t warm enough to go swimming, we were still about to spend two days at the beach. One day I’ll have to go back to Mallorca to explore more of the beaches because two days wasn’t enough to see everything.
All in all, my trip was so much fun and I am sad it went so fast! Now I’m back in Nashville, and luckily for me, as TJ puts it, “we don’t need to go on a vacation because life is a vacation”. Thanks for hosting me Amanda and Derek!
May 27 - June 4 through Derek’s eyes:
See video below:
How in the world is it already May? I’m sure you’re all thinking the same. Time is flying and I couldn’t be more conflicted about how to feel. But I do know how it felt going home two weeks ago and surprising my family – amazing.
When my second term ended the last week of April, I had a week off before my third and final term started. I’ve known about this since I came to Madrid, but I kept it a secret in case I was able to fly home and surprise my family. Surprising people is underrated and you will see what I mean in Derek’s video.
I left Saturday, April 28, bright and early to fly to Dan in Wisconsin. One nine-hour flight + one two-hour flight + one three-hour bus ride and I was in Madison for one last trip. I couldn’t surprise Dan because he had finals so I needed to make sure I was able to come and he had time to study for his finals. (Hence no surprise in Derek’s video) I spent Saturday to Wednesday there and then spent Wednesday night to Saturday night at home.
It was a busy week with lots of appointments, visits and a little shopping. If you expect me to be in the vicinity of TJ-Maxx and not pop in for a visit, you’re crazy and obviously not a Maxxinista.
While I was secretly flying back to the states, Jared, also known as JBell and one of Derek's longest friends, was in Europe and decided to pop in to our little shoebox of an apartment for a visit! Unfortunately, I left the morning after Jared arrived and was not able to spend any time with them, but Derek does a good job in his video showing the different things they did together.
Below are some pictures of what we've been up to and my trip home.
Before watching the video below, here are some updates and our upcoming plans:
Mr. and Mrs. Singer (Cara and Julie’s parents) were just in Madrid for a long weekend and I was able to see them for a bit, which was a lot of fun, especially during the San Isdro Festival. San Isdro is the patron saint of Madrid and the city throws an almost weeklong party for him. There were concerts everywhere, traditional Spanish dancing in the streets and lots of flea markets. We hung out at the Royal Palace for some contemporary Flamenco dancing and then spent sunset at Templo de Debod watching the sun go down as a group of classical musicians played in the background.
Olivia will be traveling to Madrid at the end of May (just in time for my birthday) and we will be traveling to Mallorca for one of the weekends she is here!
Stephen Howard and his parents will be in Madrid in the middle of June and then my parents come for my graduation and a trip to the Almafi Coast at the end of July. Derek and I will then end our European adventures with a month of traveling in August. Derek and I will be joined by my friends Emily, Mark and Kevin in the middle of the month for a week in Greece and then Julie and I (and possibly Derek) will meet in France for the rest of our travels.
And then my dear Grandma, Aunt Amy, Mom, Dad, Dan and other concerned parties – we will be home “for good”.
It’s been four years since my first and only spring break trip of college. Four years ago, I spent the week traveling Italy – Rome, Florence and Venice to be exact. This year I spent the week traveling Portugal – Albufeira, Lisbon and Porto. However, the best part of this spring break was that I was able to explore a gorgeous new country with my boyfriend, Dan.
Oh, how things have changed.
I had been waiting for this trip since I found out our spring breaks aligned back in August of last year and had been mentally planning it for the 7 months before. Our six-day trip in Portugal included two days in Albufeira (the south of Portugal), two days in Lisbon (the capital of Portugal), and two days in Porto (the north of Portugal). Only two days in each city left us wanting more, but gave us just enough time to appreciate each city.
In addition to seeing Portugal, Dan had some time in Madrid to see my temporary home. Instead of going into great detail about each city we visited, here is a short synopsis of our time in Albufeira, Lisbon and Porto.
Dan and I were so ready for two beach days under the warm sun and Albufeira did not disappoint. Our Airbnb was located near Old Town (Albufeira’s quaint city center) with a water front view from our balcony. We visited three different beaches, Praia da Falesia, Praia do Evaristo, and Praia da Marinha. Each one was more beautiful than the last. We napped, we ate (according to Dan, the best pizza he’s ever had in his life) and we (Dan) got some sunburn. Albufeira was the relaxing part of our vacation and maybe should have been our last stop given how exhausting Lisbon, but mostly Porto turned out to be.
We drove the two and a half hours to Lisbon Tuesday afternoon. On our way we stopped in Guia for some famous Piri Piri chicken. Once we arrived in Lisbon, we spent the afternoon and evening walking and eating our way through Lisbon. I’m not sure what it was, but Dan and I felt it necessary to eat pastries everywhere we went and although my belly may not have loved me, I loved all those pastries. We woke up early Wednesday to visit a town about 40 minutes outside of Lisbon that is home to Palacio da Pena. The palace is a beautifully colored palace located on the very top of a big hill. After Sintra, we went back to the Airbnb so we (Dan) could have a quick nap. After sleeping beauty awoke, we walked through Lisbon again. Honestly, we walked in circles, but very beautiful circles.
Our last night in Lisbon ended at Restaurante Cabacas where customers cook their own meat on top of a burning hot rock. This super tiny restaurant was filled with tables packed tightly together and smoke visible in the air. Dan thoroughly enjoyed this restaurant despite sitting right next to the door and having to repeatedly ask people to shut the door behind them or get up and shut it for them. Our last day in Lisbon we went to the Jerónimos Monastery and the famous Pastéis de Belém bakery.
Our original plan was to stop at Aveiro, the “Venice of Portugal”, on our way up to Porto. Unfortunately, it was raining the whole ride so we decided to drive straight through to Porto. Despite my hopes that my weather app was wrong, it rained the entire time we were in Porto. The night we got there we spent over an hour just walking around in the rain trying to find a place to eat. (Side note: all my fault – I have a lot of qualifications when it comes to picking a restaurant)
The next day we had purchased tickets for the bookstore Livraria Lello that is said to have inspired J.K. Rowling when she began writing Harry Potter. Lucky for that bookstore, but unlucky for anyone who wants to see it, the line to get in goes on for over two blocks and that was in the rain, so I can only imagine it in nice weather. After eating (pan)cakes for brunch, we went to wait online for the bookstore. About 40 minutes into waiting the rain picked up. It hailed for about two minutes and we were stuck next to a broken drain so my feet got soaked down to the socks. The last 40 minutes in line were not as enjoyable as I would’ve hoped, but the bookstore was beautiful and I can see how it inspired J.K. Rowling. I wonder if she knows what a bumble screw it is to even walk around in there. Regardless, even with the rain, Porto is a charming city that really grew on us. The streets are steeper than San Francisco’s, but the buildings and the scenery made my sore calves worth it.
Overall, Portugal was a colorful, vibrant country with so many things to see and do and I couldn’t have asked for a better trip or person to see it all with. (Even if he made me drink more in one week than I have my whole time in Madrid)