Goals for M4

This is my last year of med school. Probably the last year of official schooling I will ever do. And from here on out, as I was telling my mom, I will likely have at most one month of vacation every year and work long hours. Thankfully, I will also go into the most rewarding profession.

Still, I can’t help but feel like I will be “missing out” a bit. To that end, here are some of my goals for my last year!

m4goals

Read. A lot. — This one was pretty obvious… my biggest hobby is without a doubt reading! I set a goal of 10 books for 2015, and I’ve already more than doubled that. So who knows how many books I can attempt to conquer in the upcoming months. All I can say is I hope to finish at least one, maybe even two, per month until I graduate, which would put me at ~15 books. It seems daunting right now, but I have confidence in myself.

Travel. — My other big hobby, which is unfortunately more expensive (both in money and time). Still, there’s nothing I love more than immersing myself in some place new. Some goals- my friend ES who went with me to Europe before we started med school and I are already planning a two week trip to Japan prior to graduation. I also peripherally discussed exploring Maine with one of my friends here AG. And my family is working on a trip to Nicaragua this winter. That takes up all of my actual vacation days, but maybe I can squeeze in some smaller trips. I already plan on visiting some friends in NYC and Durham in the upcoming month. Here’s to delicious food, amazing views, learning about people and cultures, and some work for my poor camera that has been sitting in the dust.

Purge. — At the end of this school year, I’ll have to probably make another move. It was easy to move across coasts because I knew I could not bring much. This time, I’ve actually bought more things and thus accrued more. Well, I’m not sure where I’ll end up in a year, but I want to start downsizing a bit.

Become a tourist in my town. — Well, I think I’ve done most of the things that my current city offers, but just in case, I’m going to make a bucket list again like I did when I left my college town, and make sure I hit everything before I go!

Establish and maintain good relationships. — A little more nebulous of a goal but just as important as the others. Who knows where we will all end up in a few months, but I know that the friends I’ve made in medical school are friends I want to keep for life, more than just professional colleagues.

Develop good habits. — Follow this: listening to Tim Ferriss’s podcast –> coach.me –> wanting to make myself better one habit at a time. Well, if he can start flossing daily and get off of alcohol with this app, maybe I can pick up some good habits too. Right now, I have largely unambitious goals like meditating, not biting my nails, calling my parents. If this works out, I might add some larger goals.

Wrap-up everything at my medical school. — Even though my residency application is in and up in the air now, I have a few other commitments I need to honor before I leave. These include things like crafting the yearbook for my graduating class and getting a very cool research project started. I can’t get TOO checked out before I finish these other promises!

Here’s to making the last year of medical school the best! :)

EuroTrip 2012: Munich, Germany

Dates: July 13-16

Stayed at: Wombats (hostel)
Thoughts: Way better than the first Wombats. Rooms were well-lit and spacious, the loungey area seemed cleaner, and the breakfast spread was pretty good.

July 13
So we checked into our hostel, and this time we were sharing a 6-bedroom room. ES and I went out to find dinner. Conveniently, we passed by the Glockenspiel as it was turning on the 17:00 hour so we got to see its performance! (We had been wondering why everyone was crowded around it.) People cheered while the lancers were fighting, and it was a pretty nifty little show (lasted longer than I expected). We had dinner at Andescher. Somehow they thought we knew German (what??? I’m Asian) because we were given a full Deutsch menu (only afterward did they figure out we had no idea what was going on so we were given the English menu). We both got a beef and veggie noodle soup, which was so warm and yummy in the cooler weather.

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Clock tower!

We went back to our room; ES napped while I edited photos. Somehow I lucked out with a few of my Florence ones, and I was able to generate a beautiful HDR that was sheer luck (the infamous picture that everyone loves). Eventually, we went downstairs to use the Internet for the rest of the night (I guess it was just one of those nights). When we went back to our room, one of our roommates (we had two Aussies and two Brazilians) was SUPER trashed and throwing up everywhere before passing out. We found out that the two Brazilians (one of the drunk girls) were actually premed/med students!

July 14
Got breakfast at Wombats and then went to the bus meet-up for our day tour of the Bavarian castles. I slept on the ride there to Schloss Linderhof. It was quite pretty but very small (and intimate?). It was ridiculously decadent and rich inside (no pics because we weren’t allowed to).

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Fountain outside.

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The palace itself.

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Part of a garden?

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Nearby lake. They called the King (Ludwig II) the Swan King because he loved swans!

After Linderhof, we went to this town called Oberamagau. Unfortunately, it started raining, so no one really wanted to walk around. The shops were very cool though with really cool woodworkings and cuckoo clocks. I also saw some really pretty handmade cards, but I didn’t buy anything. :(

From Oberamagau, we went off to the main highlight of the tour: Schloss Neuschwanstein! We first had a fast lunch at this hotel where I got goulash soup, and ES got this Tyrolean soup. They were good but pretty small so I think we also split an apple cake. Then we climbed up this hill to the top of the mountain to get to the castle. The map guide thing said that it’d take 40 minutes to get there but we were able to do it in 25! Yay. So because we had time before our tour, we went to all of the viewpoints, including this one that was a very precarious, shaky, crowded bridge between two mountains. They were EXCELLENT views of the castle and the surrounding area. I took many photos to make sure I wouldn’t miss the “perfect” shot although I already “did”… I really wanted to get a picture of the castle with fog/mist around it but by the time we got there the rain had gone away so it was just sunny. Which I guess was nice comfort-wise but it didn’t make my photography self happy… I think it would’ve looked prettier with more muted lighting. ANYWAY…

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From one viewpoint… the yellow thing on the left is the other castle (Schloss Hohenschwangau).

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The Disney castle itself. YES it’s in scaffolding… apparently it’s been like that for years and will still be for a while. =\

The castle was somewhat impressive inside but out of all of the castles I saw on the trip, Schonbrunn from Vienna was still the best. We got out of the tour early, so we took a leisurely walk back down the hill, buying some items along the way. I also got some pictures of the other castle:

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We took the bus back to Munich. Along the way, ES and I discussed everything from school to healthy habits, people we knew, and what futures we expected for everyone. At the hostel we joined up with the two Aussie girls to go out for a drink. We originally wanted to go to Hofbrauhaus, the famous one, but someone at the Wombats reception recommended that we go to Augustine instead for dinner too. So we did… and I got a Radler with lemonade (hah), which wasn’t too bad considering I don’t like beer. I shared dinner with ES, which was VERY yummy. I think we were all a fan of the place. When we got back, we tried to plan our trip to Garmisch-Partenkirchen, but we soon realized that it’d be a very expensive endeavor. SOOOOOOO we decided to go to Innsbruck instead.

July 15
The Brazilians left in the night… everyone else said they woke up to them leaving really loudly, but I didn’t hear anything. We got breakfast and then went to the meet-up point to go to Dachau.

The memorial was very “mundane” in that it was pretty “unremarkable”. I’m putting quotes around these words because I don’t want you to think that a concentration camp is mundane/unremarkable. It was more that the area looked very normal and blended into the rest of the city; you wouldn’t have expected that so many awful things happened there. There was a cool exhibit about this artist featuring some of his drawings while he was there. The sculptures and memorials themselves were very moving. By far the most eery thing of the entire trip was standing inside the gas chamber. I couldn’t be there for long before feeling suffocated myself. It really felt very uncomfortable. I thought it was interesting how our guide (Irish) glossed over American genocides in his tour (Western bias?). It also rained almost the entire time we were at the camp, which was perhaps appropriate.

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Entrance gates.

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The International Monument.

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Zoomed in.

When we came back, we ate lunch at this nearby Italian joint before it started POURING. Thankfully Wombats was across the street, so we raced over and hid inside.

During this time, ES went downstairs to use the Internet while I was reading in the room. When she came back, she said she had met someone JS who went to undergrad at the institution I’m at for med school who was on our Dachau tour. He had lost his passport (!) so he was stranded in Munich while his friends (going to my med school; for the record I have met them here [JJ, CC]). So all of us (ES, me, JS, and the two Aussie girls) went back to Augustinier for dinner and drinks. Along the way I found out that JS not only went to my high school (two years above me) but also lives in my hometown!! CRAZY! The world is too small sometimes. After dinner, we all went back to the WomBar to use our free drink coupons and chat. JS and I instantly connected (perhaps to the point of alienating the others); this only further confirmed to me that my high school really built a strong community for its students to the point where you can run into someone in another country whom you’d never met previously and yet feel like you’re family.

July 16
We checked out in the morning and stored our luggage away before heading to the train station to go to Innsbruck. On the train we ran into SF, a friend of mine from Boston. WHAT THE HECK?! It blows my mind how connected people are these days. We sat in the same cabin and chatted most of the way. We all had to get off at Innsbruck since she had to catch another train/bus there to Rome. There was beautiful Alps scenery all around.

At Innsbruck we bought the Innsbruck Card for 30 Euros and then went to find the lift (Nordkette…something) to go up the mountain. Our walk was pretty great. The town is really cute with pretty architecture and absolutely gorgeous surrounding scenery. We passed by Arko, this sweets store that we knew we were going to make a stop at on the way back. We also saw a Swarovski store (unfortunately, we didn’t have enough time to go to Swarovski World) where we got free crystal pencils courtesy of our card.

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Innsbruck streets. Look at the mountains!!!

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Swarovski flashing lights display thing.

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The lift that looks like a space station.

We took the lift up half the mountain to go to the Alpenzoo. It was surprisingly warm there for being so high up in elevation. We saw lots of animals, and I guess due to the timing of the visit we also saw lots of cute baby animals!!! The best were the lynx! :) They were adorable to watch; unfortunately, they were darting around so quickly it was hard to get good pictures. We also went to this petting zoo with farm animals that ES was somehow very fascinated with… haha. Farm animals aren’t for me (too dirty?) but I took some pictures for her. There weren’t any otters, which was sad, but I saw lots of funny owls.

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Funny owl.

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Pretty bird!

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Cute baby lynx.

From the Alpenzoo we took the funiculare (?!) to the end and then switched over to the cable carts to go higher up the mountain. At the mid-level, we got out. It was REALLY cold by there, windy, and filled with birds. The air was extremely fresh and crisp. Then we took the lift all the way up. We climbed the remaining way to get to the highest point of the mountain. It was so gorgeous and nice up there. At one point the cloud even enveloped us, which was kind of cool! As I was attempting to take pictures for a panorama, I realized that there were some mysterious scratches on my viewscreen… I still haven’t figured out where they are from but they at least aren’t showing up on my pictures.

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Going up…

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Beautiful.. and yes, that’s snow.

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Cloud!

We took the lifts/funicolare back down, ate lunch, and shopped around, buying lots of gifts for people (were you lucky enough to get one?) before racing back to the train station and then back to Munich.

We picked up our luggage from Wombats and then left to the train station to catch our night train to Berlin. The couchettes ended up actually being these really small beds, which was at least an upgrade from what we were expecting (leaning chairs) but it was definitely very cramped and crowded. It also smelled like feet the whole time. I didn’t end up sleeping too well because from my cot, the light from outside kept shining through the shades into my face.

Tips/Suggestions for Munich (and around)
(1) Yeah… we didn’t do too much in Munich.

(2) Definitely you must go to a bier garten; I mean, that’s what Munich is known for! If you have time, I’d still suggest going to Hofbrauhaus, but Augustinier was definitely worth a stop (not as crazy, great food and prices, etc.).

(3) Try to get on a good tour to Neuschwanstein. It might take a full day like ours did but it’s definitely worth it!

(4) If you can make it to a nearby Alps town from any place you stop at (Austria, etc.), you should definitely do it and at least attempt to go to some part of the mountains. It’s so gorgeous, fresh, and cleansing to the soul up there.

(5) Go to a concentration camp at some point. It’s so much more to see and be in one than to just learn about it in a history class.

EuroTrip 2012: Prague, Czech Republic

Dates: July 11-13

Stayed at: Hotel Perla (hotel)
Thoughts: First hotel! Beautiful decor except a little too “modern” — funky showers! Awesome breakfast buffet, pretty good location overall (kind of off of Wenceslas so close enough to get to more exciting parts of town but not too loud).

July 11
Train disaster?! Yep. So first, we learned that you do need reservations so we had a hard time finding seats. I read a lot, and we also munched on many snacks. This proved to be useful because as the train was going, it started pouring. Soon we had an announcement that there was a train delay. Unfortunately, they gave us very brief English translations (or sometimes none at all) about what was happening. The most I could pick up was that we had to get on a new train, there was something wrong with the tracks ahead, etc. The new train ended up being very crowded; we stood the entire time, and I was standing in the corridor, so whenever the doors opened, it was very uncomfortable to shuffle around. Sometimes I also thought I’d fall off the train.

Eventually, we got to Prague. We looked for the metro and quickly realized that you need Czech crowns (Kz). We withdrew money, bought metro tickets at a Relay store, took the metro, and walked to our hotel. We finally found it, checked in, and relaxed a little before attempting to find dinner according to Rick Steves. We went to this place called Czech Kitchen, which was supposed to be very authentic and cheap but good. It was this confusing cafeteria-type arrangement, and language was certainly a barrier, but the food was AWESOME, and you could get a whole meal (main meat dish, side dish, dessert) for ~$6!! Insane!

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Fruit dumpling dessert!

We then wandered around Prague to orient ourselves. We passed a jazz festival in Old Town Square. We walked to the Charles Bridge, took some pictures, walked to the other side to shop and wait for the sun to set, and then we took some night photos on the bridge.

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Prague is called the city of 1000 spires… lots of buildings like this beautiful one.

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The Vltava river is supposed to be a frequent swan spotting place, like these ones we saw.

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Streets of Prague — so beautiful!

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Castle and water at sunset…

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At night.

July 12
AWESOME breakfast. We also took a walk through the Havelska Market and saw some cool items but I didn’t buy anything.

We went to the big Starbucks in Old Town Square to go on our first New Europe Tour, which we had heard about from one of my med school friends. Basically, you get a free tour of the city by locals, and the “cost” is however much you want to tip them, so the guides have an incentive to do well, and it’s designed for any budget. Our tourguide was Kate, and she was awesome. We had a great history session, which was helpful since Americans don’t learn much about beyond the iron curtain or modern history. We also got some language advice, which was very useful.

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Old Town Square

At some point on the tour it started raining, which was sad. The rest of the day was kind of on-off weather-wise. After our tour, we joined New Europe for another tour of the Prague Castle (this one wasn’t free). It wasn’t as great as Kate’s, but it was still pretty good. We got some beautiful city views, exciting history stories, and ES tried some freshly brewed beer.

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Near the senate-house (?) on the other side of the bridge.

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Great view of Prague — and you can sort of see the rain clouds.

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St Vitus Cathedral.

We raced back to our hotel to change into warmer clothes after making a stop to buy train tickets to Munich. We went to this restaurant called Restaurace U Betlemske Kaple (?!). Our waiter was very nice and thoroughly amused at our poor Czech. Food was awesome again; ES says Czech ended up being her favorite cuisine, and I’d put it up there too. We didn’t finish in time to see the clock chime, though, which was disappointing (but we made up for this later on the trip).

Next we ran on this weird errand. ES’s boyfriend’s boss is Czech and always brings back Studentska bars, and he specially requested them. The bars look rather unassuming and a little weird — they’re basically chocolate with fruits and nuts (strange concept). Well, I bought a few out of curiosity, and unfortunately, I didn’t open them until AFTER I had left Prague, because those chocolates are ADDICTING!!!!!! Everyone must try some! I really liked the white the best.

July 13
The next morning we woke up, had breakfast, checked out, etc… on the way to Munich!

Tips/Suggestions for Prague
(1) Even though some stores accept Euros, don’t kid yourself into thinking you can get by with them alone. You definitely need Czech crowns. Plus the coins are pretty and the US dollar is at least strong against it, so why not?

(2) Take some time to just enjoy the architecture and walk around the city. I esp. suggest the Charles Bridge for great views.

(3) Even though Czech is a hard language to grasp, the natives REALLY appreciate the effort so just try!

(4) STUDENTSKA CHOCOLATE!!!!! Enough said.

(5) Prague may seem like an unassuming city, but nearly EVERYONE I’ve talked to (ES, a few med school classmates, a friend from SD, other travelers) said that Prague was either their favorite city or in their top two. This is saying something. SPEND SOME TIME IN PRAGUE. Give it a chance, seriously!

EuroTrip 2012: Vienna, Austria

Dates: July 8-11

Stayed at: Wombats the Lounge (hostel)
Thoughts: Our first hostel!! We got a 4-bed room instead of a 6-bed, which was nice. Staff were very friendly, the common area was pretty clean (although I wouldn’t suggest going on that communal bed), internet was only available in the public area, breakfast was pretty decent (but sometimes there’s a mad crowd there), lots of young people, good bathroom facilities, pretty decent beds with clean linens provided, and good locker availability. The lighting in our room was not too great, and there was no AC, which made it hard in the heat… but we got a fan?

July 8
We got a wake-up call on our train, ate our breakfast quickly (not much time), and then attempted to wash up. We left the train station to find Wombats, which was very close, stored our luggage, and went to buy the 72hr transit pass. We took the U-bahn to the “Ring”. We got lost a bit (saw the Parliament building) but eventually found our way to the tram, and we took the Rick Steves “tram tour” around the ring. We saw the operahouse, the Danube, etc. It was a good orientation to the city.

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The famous Vienna State Opera!

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St Stephen’s Cathedral. Beautiful!

Then we got off and walked around Kartnerstrauss, which is the main “shopping” area (kind of like a huge outdoor mall, or maybe like Times Square). We saw lots of cafes, and we saw Gerstner, this awesome Viennese bakery place, but we didn’t stop, deciding to come back later. We ate at this local restaurant recommended by Rick Steves, sharing this potato and beef goulash dish. It was really good (the meat was very moist and flavorful) but extremely heavy, a characteristic of Deutsch food, we learned. ES also got coffee and apfelstrudel (applestrudel) at a neighboring cafe.

Next we took the U-Bahn to Schloss Schonbrunn, the Hapsburg summer palace. It’s gorgeous, and we got a free audioguide, which was nice. I learned a lot of interesting history, especially about the powerful Maria Theresa.

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Palace exterior.

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Overview of the garden from inside the palace.

After touring inside, we went out to the gardens and the labyrinths first! There were about three labyrinths, two of which had these interactive “games” inside. They were fun to go through but a bit smaller than expected.

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Whole palace as seen from the garden.

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Part of the labyrinth. The reward at the end is you can climb up and watch everyone else trying to get through the maze!

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A fountain in the garden.

Our visit was cut short, however, by these looming storm clouds and the sound of thunder. Since we had essentially done and seen everything we wanted, we decided to make a fast exit.

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“a storm is brewing” indeed….

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Palace in the storm.

So we raced to the U-bahn stop, took it back to Wombats, and just as we were stepping in the rain started. We checked in finally and went to our room. Both of us showered because we felt gross from the night train and wandering around int eh heat earlier. I went to use the internet and was bombarded by emails (thanks, guys)… I guess that happens when you go a night without internet. We also ran into A and K again, yay! We all went out for dinner together at this Mozart-strauss (that’s what I call it) restaurant nearby. A and I got these sausage dumplings, and ES and K got schnitzel. We thought our dumplings were going to be small but they were HUGE. All of us had problems finishing our meals.

After dinner, we went back to Wombats to get our free drink. We tried to go out to find some bars bur we were unsuccessful because everything seemed pretty dead. we finally settled on Zanoni ice cream, which had a huge menu of dessert/ice cream options… it was like Cheesecake Factory. ES and I shared an ice cream/fruit pizza. We then went back to sleep… which I had a hard time doing because it was so hot!

July 9
We got the Wombats breakfast, which was packed due to this tour group that was leaving. We then waited around for our pick-up to the Danube Valley tour. Due to a miscommunication, they thought we were at another Wombats. After we got everything cleared up, we went to the opera, hopped on another bus, went to this station, and hopped on a final bus to Spitz. We met tow Canadians. Our tour guide was amazing. Saw beautiful mountain scenery!

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View from Spitz.

At Spitz, we got off and it was surprisingly chilly. It started raining as we entered the boat. We sat in the middle floor and were joined by this Italian guy. I ordered a dumpling soup and tea because I was so cold, ES got coffee, and the guy got tea. He was very nice and paid for us! The rain eventually let up, allowing us to take some photos along the Danube:

blue danube

castle on the sea

We stopped in Melk and ate lunch with the Italian and the Canadians. I got this small goulash but it was very filling. ES and I also shared an apricot cake. We then entered the Melk Abbey. It was very beautiful, we had a good tour, and the library was ancient and amazing with spiral staircases up and down… basically a dream library. We also got great views of the Wachau Valley.

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The abbey itself.

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The abbey’s motto?

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Melk the city! So cute!

We took the bus back and then the U-bahn to wombats. ES and I went to Akikiko for dinner since it was so highly recommended for Japanese food. It ended up being… mediocre, as expected. It was nice to get veggies, though!

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Japanese food in Austria?

We got rained on as we were leaving. :( And it didn’t let up. So we had to run back to the U-bahn in the rain, hiding under roofs. We also didn’t end up making it to Gerstner because it was closed.

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Sign on the U-bahn. We learned that in Deutsch you can basically stick words together to make new words… as seen by this sign.

July 10
We went to Naschmarkt for breakfast. At first we couldn’t find anything to eat for breakfast and were about ot give up but as we continued, we saw pastries. I guess there are two different sections to the market?

Then we went to the opera house for a tour. We could’ve gotten student tickets, but I gave Wombats my student ID to hold! :( Our English guide was very funny and told lots of cute stories about the background of the opera house. The ball looked beautiful but it’d be really expensive to attend… maybe in my future life.

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One of the state rooms?

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Backstage.

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Chandelier in the viewing area.

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And of course, the seats.

After the opera, we went to take Rick Steves’s tour of the city. We first went to Gerstner for cake… it was so delicious!!! We didn’t eat lunch later because we were too full. We walked around and saw lots of interesting statues…

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Gerstner!!!

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WWII statue/memorial.

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St Stephen’s again.

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Plague statue. Basically it was something like when the plague hit, the emperor knelt and called upon God to save his city, and God listened, and the plague went away (?).

We walked back to the U-bahn station through the hofsburg Palace, where we were very entertained by pidgeon mating rituals in the garden.

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Palace architecture.

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The famous Mozart statue!

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And more of the palace!

We went back to the hostel, did laundry (YAY), and bought snacks at the nearby grocery store. It started pouring! So we hid inside until it stopped. Then we went to get kebabs for dinner = very cheap.

July 11
We woke up, checked out, and went to take the U-bahn to Wien Meidling (another train station), where we joined some other people to get on the train to Prague… where we faced our first train disaster!

Tips/Suggestions for Vienna
(1) The food is pretty heavy. So unless you can really eat a lot, I suggest trying to order smaller portions or sharing with someone if possible!

(2) Don’t try non-Austrian food unless you are okay with sub-par standards. Even though Akikiko was recommended by several sources, it didn’t live up to Japanese food in America, and I’m sure it wasn’t even close to authentic Japanese food. I’ve heard this numerous times, so just don’t try it!! Unless you’re okay with that!

(3) Definitely try to take trips outside of Vienna. ES and I both didn’t think there was much to Vienna the city, so it was great to be able to get out to Melk and then later on our trip we went to Innsbruck.

(4) You only need to go to one of the palaces. I think most people go to the Hofsburg one because it’s the main palace but I really thought Schonbrunn was fantastic (esp. the gardens). In fact, I thought Schonbrunn was the best palace/castle we saw on our entire trip.

EuroTrip 2012: Venice, Italy

Dates: July 6-7

Stayed at: Domus Ciliota (B&B?)
Thoughts: Reviews on booking.com suggested that it was very difficult to find. We took the directions to get off at the Accademia stop — that is NOT the best stop to go when you have luggage! Take the vaporetto to the S. Samuele stop instead! The Accademia bridge is annoyingly full of steps so you basically have to carry your stuff all across. Otherwise, the place we stayed at was the closest to a hotel so far (big lobby, reception, etc.) with dorm-style rooms.

July 6
Arriving in Venice, we bought the 36hr vaporetto (waterbus) transit pass and hopped on the #2 to try to find our place. Like I said earlier, we took the site’s suggestion to get off at the Accademia Bridge stop but this involved carrying our luggage across the huge bridge, which was frustrating. We found the B&B surprisingly easily despite the reviews online. We bought lunch at this sandwich place nearby and walked around to attempt to orient ourselves (we found the other suggested vaporetto stop and decided to use that one when leaving Venice). We checked in, dropped off our things, and went off to explore the city!

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Typical Venice “street”!

The streets are very tiny yet beautiful. We walked to the San Marco Square and Rialto Bridge. There were lots of stores along the way. We also bought very cheap watermelon juice, which was refreshing. St Mark’s Square had a TON of pidgeons. They just flew everywhere with no abandon and had no issues landing on people, which I personally found dirty. The plaza is lined with cafes, and the highlights of the square are St Mark’s Basilica and a clock tower. The basilica was mostly under construction from outside so it was hard to get photos. We continued walking around, roughly following signs for Piazza Romana (?) but not ever finding the place. Along the way, we found this cute cat art store! And we ate at a restaurant with semi-decent food.

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Pigeons!!

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St Mark’s Basilica

We took the vaporetto #1 (slower?) around the city.

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View along the vaporetto.

When we returned to St Mark’s Square, we went to sit at the cafes. At night you get “dueling orchestras” — little mini-orchestras (quartets usually) at each cafe that take turns playing (sometimes they play on top of each other). It costs 6Euro to sit at a cafe (as a “service charge” in addition to anything you order), but they let you stay there however long you like. You could also just stand and listen for free, but the cost is ridiculously cheap if you consider that you’re getting live music (you generally pay way more for recitals). It’s seriously one of the best experiences I’ve had on the trip; to sit in the square at night with the lights around you, a slight breeze (so it’s not disgustingly hot), and positioned such that you can hear two neighboring orchestras. We kept trying to guess what they were playing but we realized the failure of our classical music training… something I must attempt to resume upon returning home. I got a rose tea, ES got this strange mint coffee drink, and we shared a gelato/fruit dessert. Some people were dancing in the square too. At night the pidgeons are all gone so it’s not crazy either!

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St Mark’s at night… notice the lack of pidgeons!

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Outdoor cafes

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Our orchestra!

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Neighboring orchestra!

We took the vaporetto back to our B&B. Along the way we noticed the orange Venice moon. I couldn’t figure out how to take a photo of it so that it’s bright enough and you can see the color (big photo fail #2 after the Blue Grotto) but I did get some interesting night pics in. I also taught ES how to take long exposure pictures on her point and shoot, so we played around with that and getting the vaporetto streaks over the water.

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My night photos. I like that the boats make light streaks over the water (like the ones you see on the highway on roads).

July 7
We got breakfast, the highlight of which were KIWIS, and then we checked out and left our luggage for storage. We went to St Mark’s Square again (stopping along the way to mail out the final batch of postcards) to catch the vaporetto to Murano, the glass island. It’s about a 30min ride.

Murano had a TON of cute glass stores but if you are looking for authentic Murano glass, you need to be careful to look for the certification of authenticity. We essentially went into every store. We didn’t see anyone actually making the glass, although we saw one store that had a furnace going. I was drawn to every story with cute little glass animals, and I eventually caved and bought a mini-octopus and gondola owl (haven’t decided if I’ll keep them or give them out yet but they’re so cute!). We both bought earrings too. I wanted these pink champagne ones but they looked strange on my skintone, so I ended up with a pretty seagreen pair. ES kept finding cufflinks that she liked but eventually found a shop with earrings that looked like cufflinks, so we were both happy with our purchases! We also had lunch at this trattoria where I got fish lasagne = delicious.

Next we took the vaporetto to Burano, the lace island. It’s also known for it’s ADORABLE colorful houses, which you notice immediately as you step off the boat! It looks like a Dr Seuss land. The lace products were also so gorgeous; I’m not too big on lace but if I had more money, I would’ve totally bought some bookmarks and umbrellas.

color my world!
Very fitting description of the island Burano.

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Reminded me of Dr Seuss houses!

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Another typical street

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Beautiful lace umbrellas

We took the vaporettos back to St Mark’s and ate at a restaurant on the way back to our B&B. ES and I shared a pesto pasta (our last meal in Italia) and an apple cake. We got our luggage and went to the train station. Since we were there early, we read outside about Vienna (our next stop) before boarding our first night train. It was SO hot without AC running, I thought I was suffocating. ES and I got a compartment with three beds, but it seemed as if we were going to be alone. Everyone got champagne, water, and towels as gifts, and we also got to order breakfast! As we were getting ready to sleep, we were interrupted by a British family. They said there was something like their cabin’s electricity broke down so they were moved to the rest of the cabins. We got the woman and a younger boy (we couldn’t figure out if he was her grandchild or nephew maybe?). The sleep wasn’t that bad… eventually it cooled down enough to even use the blankets!

Tips/Suggestions for Venice
(1) I recommend getting a transit pass. Even though you can get through Venice by foot, having access to the vaporetto gives you lots of advantages: easier to get around, you can ride on the Grand Canal without forking out a ton of money to take a gondola, you can easily get to Burano/Murano/other islands, and if you DO get lost, you can always find a vaporetto stop and find your way back.

(2) As many say, it’s easy to get lost in Venice. I think they’ve gotten better because at least now, you have street signs, but the roads are very windy, and sometimes they randomly switch names on you. It’s really important to get a map, and pay attention to landmarks like churches.

(3) GO TO THE DUELING ORCHESTRAS at St Mark’s!

(4) It wasn’t really worth it to us to go inside St Mark’s Basilica… probably because by this point on the trip we had seen so many other churches.

(5) I really recommend going to Murano (and Burano if you have time). The glass products there are so great to look at even if you don’t uby anything, but if you do, I would buy the glass from the island as opposed to on Venice (it’s def. cheaper there).

EuroTrip 2012: Florence, Italy

Dates: July 2-6

Stayed at: La Locandiera (B&B?)
Thoughts: Close to train station but a bit farther from central town. I’m not sure if the elevator is broken but we definitely had to climb up some stairs. The doors have creepy handles. Nice owner, breakfast is custom-made and delivered to your room each morning, the beds and decor are beautiful, and the bathroom is very clean/pretty!

July 2
Florence was cooler (weather). We ate dinner at Trattoria Marione. We had a very nice waiter who explained what items were (it was an Italian-only menu). ES got beef, and I got chicken — both dishes were very good, not overcooked, and I liked the rosemary. Then we headed out to town to walk around. We saw the Duomo, which was very pretty. Since we arrived on a Monday (when most places are closed in Florence, and most of Italy), the square was surprisingly vacant so we got to take good pictures. We also walked to the river and around the Uffizi. Overall, Florence was a very charming town. I saw a ton of beautiful street art (watercolors, acrylics, etc.) that I wanted to take back, but I don’t have room/capabilities to do so. :(

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First meal in Florence.

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THE PRINCE himself! (outside the Uffizi)

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Duomo!

I finished reading Incarceron by Catherine Fisher and coordinated with AB (UVA med student in my class) where to meet up tomorrow.

July 3
Great breakfast! I loved the caffe latte (best one I’ve had on the whole trip). We headed off to the Uffizi to “fake David” and found AB + his girlfriend K. We got our tickets from the reservation office and went into the Uffizi!

The Uffizi was slightly underwhelming, considering its comparisons to the Louvre. I learned that (later) this is probably because we didn’t realize there was this whole other section to the gallery that extends from the Uffizi across the bridge to the Pitti Palace. We saw a lot of “Madonna and Child” art, which got repetitive. And I’m tired of sculptures. It was cool to see Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, and I also saw his The Calumny, which was my primary source for my Medici paper in MMW!

Afterward, we went to the San Lorenzo market and Mercado Centrale. We ate “fast” food for cheap and walked around the shops. Then we went to Grom for gelato (recommended by Rick Steves — possibly the best gelato on the trip!)

Then we went to the Accademia to see David. He was basically the only thing worth seeing there. I snuck a photo in — even though you aren’t supposed to take any, if you find a corner away from the guards, you can definitely take some (I saw lots of people doing this). He was very big and tall but also surprisingly beautiful. He’s praised to be the perfect sculpture/Renaissance man/etc., and since I don’t really care for nude male sculptures, I wasn’t expecting much, but being that close to him and seeing him under the dome, and in that lighting… I can’t explain it, but you can truly see the beauty in the art. The gallery also had some modern exhibits, including the famous “pink David”. You really only need about an hour in Accademia.

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Pink David in his glory.

Next we headed across the river to the Pitti Palace. It was huge! We bought the ticket to see the Boboli Gardens, where I got bitten by more mosquitos (ugh). Also after a while, my right ankle really started hurting; perhaps I had stretched the tendon. I don’t know but it made it difficult to traverse the huge property. Being in the gardens, I thought most about what it would be like to live in a palace that big. What would you do with all that space? What would it be like to own a big garden where you could hide in corners and read and think and hope no one will find you?

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View of the palace from the gardens. Yes, it’s on that weird tilt… that’s a ramp to get up to the garden.

For dinner we ate near the Uffizi at Trattoria Nella — *HIGHLY* recommend this place! We had the best meal on our entire trip there. Beautiful Chianti wine, ES got the specialty of walnut ravioli, and I got the special of the day of pesto penne. We also shared garlic broccoli. BEST MEAL EVER. Everything we tried was so delicious, and we were very full (but happy) afterward. Later when we went home we looked up “rucola” or “rocket” and discovered it’s arugula!

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Best meal ever.

July 4
We woke up a little later, which felt good because it was nice to sleep in a little. We walked ot the Duomo, lined up, and realized we forgot to bring shoulder coverings, so we had to buy these blue paper sheets that were like hospital scrubs. It was very dark inside with not much to see; it’s definitely grander on the outside. We also decided against climbing the dome.

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Inside the Duomo!

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The dome itself.

Next we went to the Galileo Science Museum, which is right next to the Uffizi. It was a refreshingly different museum, which we appreciated (everything we had seen was art so far). I really liked the old clocks, watches, microscopes, and physics devices. There were also videos explaining how different contraptions were used. We had lunch at Mercado Centrale again, I bought gifts at San Lorenzo, and then we went back to rest at the B&B to wait out the heat.

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Some Galileo and Medici.

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Old thermometers?

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Clock outside!

Later we went to cross the river to go to the viewpoint on Piazza Michelangelo (supposed to be the best view of the city). It was quite a walk away, and the hike up the hill was annoyingly long and steep. BUT! It was worth every step, and if you know anything about me, you know I hate physical activity, so this is saying something! At first it was hard to take photos due to the sun setting and messing up all the exposures. We took some photos posing with “green David” (copper), and we met two guys LL and JL who first lied about their names (even though I caught one of them!). I took a ton of long exposure night images (my second ones ever!), and then we went to dinner with the two guys at Gusta Pizza. ES and i shared a pizza margherita, which the made into a heart for us! :) We sat at the same table with a Florentine native named Gianni, whom we talked to about the economy, real estate, etc. He told us a funny story about these Russians that got really drunk on one of his boats. The boatguy dropped them off at Florence, told them they were on an “island”, and left them there for the whole day. They had a ton of fun, and then when the boatguy went to pick them up later, they said that they had had the best day! And then he just drove out into the water, turned around, and dropped them right back at Florence, and they had no idea the whole time that they were at the same city. Gianni also gave us some tips on what to do in Florence.

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Florence at sunset.

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And night!

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Beautiful Duomo!

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Heart pizza! :)

We took his suggestion to go to Santa Croce. We saw a few bars/clubs but we all felt underdressed, so we walked around, saw a church with lots of people sitting, drinking, relaxing on the steps, so we went to buy some beers and join them. We met two Florentine guys, one of whom looked like Alex, and two American girls from Maine who were doing a gap year. Next to us was a big Italian group who kept singing, dancing, and playing guitar. There was an especially funny couple that would always dance/sing American songs like “Wannabe” (Spice Girls) and “Barbie Girl” (Aqua). Overall, we had a good time and stayed out till 1:00! We all then walked back and agreed to meet up the next day for more adventures.

July 5
We woke up early to catch the train to Pisa, which was a smaller city without much going on. We walked to the leaning Tower, which was cool with surprisingly nice architecture all around (although everything else gets neglected, I guess). The Tower was smaller than I imagined. We took quite a few photos posing with the Tower, as everyone does, and we bought tickets to climb the Tower. While taking photos, we met two British guys from Bath who helped us take some pictures. We all went to lunch together, during which we discussed the Olympics and accents.

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Leaning Tower!

After lunch we headed back to the tower to climb it. It was surprisingly not that bad of a climb (~200 steps), although there were definitely some parts where you could feel the tilt, and the stairs were pretty slippery. There were some beautiful views from atop.

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View from above. Yes it’s that tilted.

On the way back to the Termini, we got gelato from another supposedly famous place, and then boarded the train back to Florence. We rested in our B&B again to avoid the heat. I wrote postcards and finished reading Sapphique by Catherine Fisher. Then we headed out to meet LL and JL. They were running late, and at first we thought they might’ve stood us up, but then we saw them. They said that Gianni couldn’t join us for dinner, so we walked to a “local” part of town on the other side of the river to wander around. Eventually, we found a place to eat for dinner that was surprisingly good (we had just stumbled upon it). The waiter explained EVERY item to us in English, which was so nice of her, and the food was excellent (another possible contender for best meal). We had some wine and gelato afterward.

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Mine and LL’s dinner.

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ES’s dinner.

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JL’s dinner.

We headed back to the bridge and sat and watched the sun set over the river. We met SH from Louisiana. With the lighting and the breeze and the company, it honestly felt “magical” — another one of those moments that I seemed to have encountered a lot in Europe. After, we walked with SH to this bar to get his free champagne, which he shared with us. Walking the street with the live music and the lights and the lack of people felt… magical. We talked a bit at the bar but ES and I were too tired from our day. We met these two Indian guys there from London, who seemed pretty cool, but we were too tired to stay long so we headed back.

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My arm :P Waiting for sunset…

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Sunset… and…

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Boom, magical.

July 6
We woke up, packed, and went to the post office to attempt to deliver postcards. WELL! It was closed. :( So we just went to wait at the train station for quite some time before we boarded to go to VENEZIA (Venice).

Tips/Suggestions for Florence
(1) When reserving tickets for Uffizi (and Accademia?) — try asking your hotel if they’ll do it for you. We did it online in advance and had to pay extra; most places you stay at will call and do it for free (you still have to pay for the tickets but the reservation is free).

(2) Eat at least some meals at the markets. It’s a little hectic (very crowded) with little English and some interesting smells but you can get lots of cheap good Tuscan food.

(3) On food: YOU MUST GO TO TRATTORIA NELLA!!! And Gusta Pizza seems to be popular with Americans (so everyone says). And Grom gelato was the best!

(4) Go to the Piazza Michelangelo viewpoint (at sunset if possible).

(5) Florence was just a magical city. Several people I had talked to when we were planning this trip said to spend the most amount of time in Florence, and I would recommend the same. The city is beautiful, it’s easy to walk around, the food is the best in Italy, and the people are so nice.

EuroTrip 2012: Amalfi Coast, Italy

Dates: June 29-July 2

Stayed at: Casa Sorrentina (B&B?)
Thoughts: Very close to the train station and can easily access the rest of town. Involves climbing a few small flights of stairs, which might be a problem if you have a lot of luggage. Bright decoration, useful fridge access, nice private bathroom. Shower’s on the small side (and we got no shampoo), and the “towels” were more like huge sheets. Not fond of the coffee machine (spews out weird powdery stuff) but the rest of breakfast is pretty nice. Locks/keys were difficult to work with. Has AC!

June 29
First, from Rome, we learned about Trenitalia bookings: if you have a Eurail pass, to ensure you get a real seat, you still need to pay the 10Euro fee to reserve a seat. Otherwise, you end up sitting (or worse, standing) in the aisle the whole time. Fortunately we got to sit, and our only problems were when people tried to come by with luggage or the food cart came by. I finished reading Quiet by Susan Cain, which I should write an entry about…. Then I edited photos, including crashing my computer when I tried to make a 9-picture panorama of the Roman Forum.

In Naples we discovered that the Circumvesuviana was essentially a very run-down metro. There was no air conditioning, it was very crowded, there was graffiti all over, etc. After a few stops, things cleared up a bit, and we got seats near the open window.

When we arrived in Sorrento, we went to find our B&B first. Then we went to go find (a very late) “lunch”. I got this home-made pasta dish with mussels and clams that was most delicious. After eating we walked around to explore the area. There are great views of the water (which is this beautiful blue). Shopping was awesome! There are so many cute little stores with beautiful porcelain products, anything involving lemons and limoncello (the specialty of the area), jewelry made from corals in the sea, etc.

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Little limoncellos!

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Sorrento Beach during the day!

After browsing, we went to the lemon grove slightly beyond the train station. It was pretty but this was the first to come of bug bites! I think I got about 10 that night.

For dinner we went to this recommended restaurant. We got Lacryma Christi, a well-known red wine drink from the area (with some carbonation?) that tasted interesting (mainly due to the texture of the fizzy). I got gnocchi with salmon, which was SO good and definitely one of my top meals of the trip. It was very filling, so I saved some for later. ES and I also split veggies and this chocolate lemon cake that made us extremely full after. We met a funny waiter who kept shaking and holding my hand.

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Lacryma Christi wine.

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Salmon gnocchi! :) SO YUMMY!

June 30
We again woke up early (0700) to get to the port, buy our tickets, and take the water jet to Capri. It was pretty hot but we got great views again. Overall, the Amalfi Coast is just so beautiful.

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Seaside view of Capri.

Capri had a very pretty seaside with colorful buildings. We walked to another dock to buy tickets for the Blue Grotto, hopped on a boat with an Asian tour group, and rode off around the island to the cave entrance. There, ES, two other travelers, and I climbed into this very small boat to squeeze into the cave entrance, which I think I read was less than 3 ft tall. We had to lie down on the boat to get in, and even then it was very scary how close the ceiling of the entrance was to our faces. The Blue Grotto was BEAUTIFUL but very dark so I had a hard time taking photos (although I have gotten significantly better at shooting in manual mode for low-light settings now). What’s great is our boat sailor person sang to us! :) Even though it’s expensive to make it out there, it’s TOTALLY worth it.

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Outside the Grotto.

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Low entrance!

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A clear photo?!

From the Blue Grotto we climbed up a hill to catch the bus to Anacapri to take the chairlift up to Mount Salero (to people I wrote postcards to: yes, it’s Salero, not Salerno… failure on my part). The chairlift was a little scary since it was single-person and did not have the most secure seats, but it was a relaxing ride up the mountain with good views and time for thought. At the top it was pretty hot and sunny. We bought some postcards, drank some soda, and then headed back down the chairlift to take a bus back to the main Capri city.

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View from above!

At Capri we had planned on walking around to shop but it was just too hot. We ate lunch at a hotel with okay food (I got bolognese pasta) and then walked back down to the port (you also have the option to take something else but we chose the walk since we thought it wouldn’t be too bad). It was only 10mins of walking, but it was fairly steep and it was SO hot. When we arrived at the port, we learned that the jet was on break and wasn’t going to leave again for an hour! So we slothed our way to any semblance of shade, which ended up being this bridge overlooking the free beach. We observed that beaches are pebble, not sand, and on European swimwear: apparently less is more for all genders.

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My lunch.

We took the jet back to Sorrento sitting inside to get AC. I was so tired that I napped. We got back to the B&B and planned the rest of our trip, deciding to add Pompeii. We ate our leftovers from before and then went out ot go shopping for gifts. At one of the stores, this guy and I discussed anti-itch remedies for bug bites, and he called”ciao bella” after I left. :D We then went to get gelato from Primavera, which is supposed to be famous (the walls are littered with photos of famous people eating there, including the Pope!?). I got Twix-flavor, which was interesting. ES ended up getting way too much gelato. We tried to watch the sun set over the water but it was actually not too pretty since the sky was so hazy.

July 1
We woke up early again to catch the SITA bus to Positano. We sat on the right side as recommended by Rick Steves for good views. Positano, as said by all the travel books, was absolutely gorgeous with true blue water and lots of colorful houses along the cliffside. We walked down to Spaggia beach, which was supposed to be the more crowded one but perhaps because we went early on a Sunday morning, it wasn’t that bad. We paid ~10Euro to enter the “private” beach and get umbrella seats. The water was very clean (better than both Atlantic and Pacific Oceans), warm, had no jellyfish/other weird aquatic creatures, and was pretty salty. There were essentially no waves, and the shore is pebbly, which can be rough on your feet esp. in the sun. Being in the water surrounded by Positano was absolutely beautiful; I literally felt like I was in a postcard. Of our photos that we took there, ES and I both agree that we look photoshopped in because it’s too pretty (and we’re… not). We alternated between swimming, “tanning” (yeah, right), and reading. Around noon, we went to get lunch and climb back up to the top to take the SITA bus back to Sorrento.

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Positano from the top.

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Wide view.

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And our beach! SO PRETTY!! Can’t explain….

We showered and attempted to wash our clothes. Then we caught the Circumvesuviana to Pompeii. Pompeii was cooler than expected (in temperature) because I guess there was breeze from Mt Vesuvius? ES and I were really entertained by the “stepping stones” (between sidewalks so that when the streets of Pompeii flooded, Romans could walk on the stones without getting their feet wet) and the “fast food” joints. I also liked walking through Roman houses (that were surprisingly well-preserved) and baths — they were different from what I imagined when I took Latin in HS. We also went to the brothel that had interesting wall decor — a “menu” of services offered.

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Mummified guy.

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Pretty frescoes.

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Fast food joint.

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Forum.

We headed back and attempted to find a place to eat dinner and watch the UEFA final game. Most places had long been reserved but we eventually found a bar that seated us. The food was OKAY (what do you expect from a bar) but we bought drinks that made things better (ES got a “Japanese”, and I got a “Pink Lady” — both were surprisingly strong). We met quite a few British people. I also saw this one dad who kept chainsmoking in front of his children, which I am still bewildered by. Italy lost the game, which was sad, but I feel like I picked up the “art” of watching soccer. Maybe.

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Our drinks + snacks.

July 2
We woke up later than usual, checked out, and took the Circumvesuviana to Naples. We found this (gross) food to eat at a cafe but we were desperate. Then we jumped on the high-speed train to Florence. I ended up sleeping most of the way….

June 30

Tips/Suggestions for the Amalfi Coast
(1) As recommended by lots of travelers I also suggest that if you want to stay in the Amalfi Coast, find living in Sorrento (cheaper) and then take boats/the bus to other areas.

(2) BUG SPRAY IS A MUST!!! Get some hardcore strong ones from the US because I think the European ones are tamer. However, the Italian Farmacias do sell some in case you didn’t come with one. Also they sell “After-itch”, which is semi-decent to help you after you’ve been bitten.

(3) If you go to Capri (which you should!), DON’T be turned off by the high prices of the Blue Grotto trip. It truly is beautiful, not something you can see everywhere, and a fun/unique experience. Totally worth the $.

(4) Try to go to the popular touristy sites on off hours (like how we did the beach in the morning and Pompeii in the evening) to avoid crowds. We were even able to leave our things out on the beach without anything getting stolen (and we had cameras, Kindles, etc.).

(5) If going to Pompeii, you MUST wear decent, low-heeled shoes. It’s all cobblestones, and the entrance/exit is a pretty steep, slippery hill. Also it’s very dusty everywhere. But there *are* water fountains to be found!