Posts Tagged With: abroad

A Tower with a View: Giotto’s Campanile

I struck out on my own to climb Giotto’s Campanile, the tower right next to Florence’s Duomo.

Of course, I meandered around at first and found a bar to grab a quick espresso. (Buongiorno! Vorrei un caffe, per favore. At this point rolling my R’s was getting easier.) I watched a few street vendors painting in the piazza, and heard several fellow Americans attempting their Italian. When I felt I had given the espresso enough time to energize me for the climb, I got in the ticket line for the Campanile.

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413 steps up. 413 steps down.

Luckily there were a few floors between the ground and the very top so I could stop and catch my breath. The stairs were very narrow and winding – if you’re any more claustrophobic than I am it might get uncomfortable when you’re halfway up. But in my opinion, the view was definitely worth it. Each of the five levels had an even more fantastic view.

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Tuscan Vineyard Trailride

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I don’t think I can count the number of hours I’ve spent in the saddle. I can, however, remember every single destination trail ride. Riding a few miles up from our starting point at a barn in Colorado comes to mind. This trail ride kinda tops them all in terms of scenery.

I booked Kate and I a ride through Fun in Tuscany. It included pick up and drop off in the center of Florence, as well as a wine tasting/food pairing lunch (after the ride, of course).

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Our trail guide

The stable was located a little over 30 minutes from our pickup point and surrounded by some of the most breathtaking countryside I’ve ever seen. We drank a few cappuccini as we waited on a patio, and sampled different kinds of honey. I never thought a honey tasting could be all that interesting… but the group we were with discussed in-depth the differences in each type… the hazelnut honey was my favorite. yum.

The previous tour was late getting back, so we hung out in the barn area, saying hi to the old goat. Just from the barn, the view was amazing. The tour guide helped the less experienced people up into their saddles first, and gave them brief instructions on steering, stopping, going, etc.

Kate and I, as we had the most experience, were at the back of the line. When I mounted from the ground and comfortably picked up my reins, he just blinked at me and said, “You’re good.”

Even though I was slightly bummed I wouldn’t be close enough to the tour guide to test 20160614_122018any of my Italian horse-related vocabulary… there’s something to be said for being at the back of the line on a trail ride. You don’t have to be nose-to-tail. We got to walk around a farm, through a slightly wooded area, and right down into a vineyard, going between rows of grapevines. It was sunny with a slight mist, which made the temperature PERFECT.

Of course, Kate and I would have been happy with a 5-hour trail ride, but it was so relaxing to sit in a saddle, in a quiet vineyard, after we’d been averaging 7 miles of walking a day through crowds of tourists. Instead of our feet being sore, now it was our riding muscles.

I’ve never spent this much time in a vineyard, but I definitely didn’t get tired of our tranquil surroundings! By the end, Kate and I were scheming of ways to get hired as the next trail guides. I wouldn’t mind riding that trail every day.

The wine-pairing lunch was just icing on the cake at the end. I now know how to look like a snob at my next wine tasting, as well… And I’m still dreaming about the lasagne they served us. Overall? On a scale of 1 to 10, the day was about a 15. Definitely recommended!

 

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Holy vineyard view, Batman!

 

 

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Florence First Impressions

I’ve trained myself to sleep on public transportation now, so I had to struggle to keep my eyes open on our way in from Pisa. It started raining before our train pulled into the station in Florence, which made it even more difficult to stay awake. (Those 4:30 am wake up calls are always brutal.)

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view from the train

Just as we were a few blocks from our Airbnb, the light rain became a downpour. We managed to find some shelter under an overhang and waited out the worst of it before we rang the bell. Our host had a friend with him and introduced us. He made some tea and we sat and chatted.

He remembered I had used a little bit of Italian when I booked the room and asked me about it. I was excited to have an interested audience to practice my Italian on. He actually used to ride horses and we had a half English-half Italian discussion about it – if he didn’t know the English word, or I didn’t know the Italian, we would switch languages and figure it out.

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After the storm passed

After Kate and I rested and changed, we went out to pizza with our host and his friend. They took us to a local place with absolutely delicious pizza. As soon as we were seated I just had to sit back and listen to all the fast-paced Italian flying by me. Occasionally our host would laugh, look at me, and ask, “How much of that did you understand?” I’d repeat back to him the 5 words out of the last 3 minutes I had picked out. He’d nod and say, “Not too bad. That was fast.”

I was getting my bearings as our host led us back to his flat. So far, Florence seemed pretty easy to navigate. The buildings and streets were sparkling and clean after the rain, and tourists and locals alike were back out on the streets. The restaurants and bars were beginning to overflow with people spilling out onto the pavement. As we said goodbye and piacere to our host’s friend, I decided I liked Florence a lot. The people we had met so far were friendly and very patient with my language attempts, and the city’s vibes were much more small-town than the vast London we had just left.

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(This is why I enjoy using Airbnb. Here’s my AirBnB referral code. You get $35 off your first booking!)

 

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Bucket List Pit Stop: Pisa

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London gave us a rainy send-off, which somehow made my excitement for Italy a bit more bitter-sweet. We were landing in Pisa before taking a train to Florence, the city that was ultimately our destination for the next few days. But who doesn’t have “take touristy photo with the leaning tower” on their bucket list? So I built in some extra time between our train to Florence and when we landed in Pisa… because sometimes you just need to get the iconic photo.

 

It was noticeably hotter than London (of course), so our 15-minute walk in the sun from the train station was a bit sweaty. But it was pretty much a straight shot, and I was glad to stretch my legs after being on the plane. And once we made it through the swarm of people, we had 20 or 30 minutes to admire il Torre di Pisa.

 

Then, it was back to the train and on to Firenze! I was eager to meet our Airbnb host and test out the small bit of Italian I had in my head. (Which, after the Add1Challenge, was certainly more than the ciao! and grazie! I had my first time in Italy.)

 

 

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Rainy Days, St. Paul’s, and Good Timing

Pleasantly overcast turned into a steady rain during our last full day in London, so we broke out our umbrellas and went used book shopping. I can never resist a good used bookshop on Charing Cross Road. (Or anywhere, really. Especially if there’s a basement that smells like old leather and paper with floor-to-ceiling bookcases.)

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Seven Dials in the rain

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Possibly the best free flower crowns I’ve ever seen

 

Then I wanted to show Kate Neil’s Yard, because even though it’s all over Pinterest it still needs to be seen in person. On our way, we passed the Seven Dials area, where a pop-up event was going on. Colorful bunting was strung up, shops were having sales, and there were some freebies floating around, like custom flower crowns, strawberries and creme, and mint juleps.

 

We purposefully avoided the crowds for the Queen’s birthday celebration earlier in the week but decided a rainy afternoon would have dispelled most of the people around St. Paul’s. So we made our way over and had some excellent timing as we stumbled upon the Evensong service.

 

I love Evensong services. They’re so peaceful and calming. (I’ve actually found one back home I’ve gone to a few times now.) So we listened to the choir, I got in line to take communion at the appropriate time, and we emerged from the gorgeous church a little lighter on our feet.

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St. Paul’s after Evensong

 

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Brighton, Round 3

The first time I went to Brighton I was by myself, had missed breakfast, and so happily stumbled on a lovely little privately owned coffee shop… And that is now my Brighton “tradition.” Get off train. Walk past hipster secondhand shops. Get coffee.

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Kate and I both knew our limits at this point in the week. No sightseeing without being sufficiently caffeinated or we will lose steam quickly. It doesn’t hurt when the coffee is also amazing. So we relaxed for a minute with our lattes.

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Looking inland from our spot on the beach.

But I was ready for some (British) sun, so we walked down towards the pebble beach to relax soon after that. You would think it might be difficult to get comfortable on a pebble beach, but it is surprisingly nice… Especially since I had my cardigan for a pillow.

I was disappointed to discover the Ferris Wheel had come down just one month previous. I had been wanting to ride it for awhile and decided this would be the trip for it…. Until it was mysteriously not on the shore.

At least Brighton has some of the most interesting people-watching I’ve ever seen. So we leisurely walked around The Lanes and had some (more) salmon sandwiches and tea in my favorite spot. One of the staff asked if we were locals, so we must have started sufficiently blending in… Or they hadn’t heard us talk too loudly. haha.

Brighton was my much-needed relaxation day for our week in London. We did nothing but wander aimlessly through bookshops, side streets, the pier, and some pubs. For someone who has dipped her toes in the sea in Florida, Mexico, and some Caribbean islands… It isn’t the best choice for a swim. (Maybe you can handle ice cold water better than I. And I’ve never been in Brighton during July/August, so maybe then it’s better?) But the beach and pier are perfect for getting some sun and fresh air after being surrounded by the concrete and stone in London.

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Picnics in Parks

One of my favorite things to do in London is to have a picnic. When the weather is nice, why would you want to eat indoors? It’s always great to see the locals working on their next sunburn during the (slightly) rare sunny and warm weekend afternoon. And I’m (almost) always down for some Pret take away.

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Kensington Palace/Gardens

London parks are the best for people-watching. There are people of all ages, accents, and nationalities riding bikes, walking their dogs, and talking. And there are always so many parks to choose from – you can be in the middle of high rise office buildings and stumble upon a half-acre of grass with a few benches, or you could turn off a busy street and find Regent’s Park.

Since we were based in Notting Hill, Kensington Gardens was our go-to picnic spot this time around. Back in 2014 there was a little green space I loved, right along the Thames near my flat that had a few benches. I would cool off there after a run, or take a book just to enjoy the fresh air. And London weather is very rarely so hot as to make bench-sitting un-enjoyable.

 

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Evening picnics near Kensington

This time around I took my travel journal out, and took the time to have some solid introverted introspection while we people-watched. We must have done a good job of blending in with the locals since I was asked for directions by a few other tourists walking past. And after my Italian studying, I paid more attention to the languages I was hearing… It makes the world feel large and small at the same time. The diversity is one of the things I miss about living in London. But a lunch or evening picnic in a London park with my journal in hand goes a long way towards making me feel at home again.

 

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In Which I’m a London Tour Guide Once More

I’m always in favor of taking a free walking tour. But since I figured I was a local for 5 months or so that one time a few years ago… I could handle showing Kate around without the guide. And there’s something about missing your second home for two years that makes you eager to revisit even the tourist spots.

I had scouted out some great looking cafes on Instagram earlier in the month, so we left our little Notting Hill AirBnB for Farm Girl Cafe, which was a 10-minute walk down the road. If you’re ever in Notting Hill, I highly recommend it. We ended up going twice in the week we were here! The lavender lattes are A+.

From there it was time to show Kate some Royal London! The first stop was, obviously, the Mall and Buckingham Palace.

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It’s amazing how little the crowds of tourists get on your nerves after 10 hours of sleep! Yes I know we were tourists too.

With the jet lag gone, my internal London map and sense of direction was back. We managed to catch the tail end of the Changing of the Guard Parade. (Which I really recommend over squishing up against the palace fence with the rest of the tourists to catch the actual changing of the guard… The parade is much more interesting. There are fewer people to make you claustrophobic, and more ponies! Ponies are always a bonus.)

I gave the tour guide spiel I’ve now memorized about why Green Park is green (3 guesses) as we took a detour through it, and re-lived some of my Longines Global Champions Tour excitement as we passed Horse Guards Parade. We took a stroll through the National Gallery, both of us gravitating toward any artwork that contained horses. (Painters used to have a really hard time with the head to body size ratio.) I mentioned how the lions in Trafalgar Square resemble Cocker Spaniels from the mane down.

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Classic London Tourist, in her natural habitat.

Then, naturally, it was time for some fish and chips, because we were starving. And because London is not just about the royal post codes, we took a bus up to Camden for Poppie’s. I think they will always have my favorite fish and chips… Their sticky toffee pudding isn’t bad either. Camden has a completely different vibe, which I was ready for after dodging tourists most of the morning.

And as became habit for Kate and me over the next few weeks… we went back to the flat, took a late afternoon nap, and then ventured back out for a picnic dinner. With Pret, of course! We parked ourselves on a bench in Kensington Gardens to people watch and enjoy the fantastic weather. Really, London weather has always been good to me on the whole.

As it got dark we continued to walk around to get a glimpse of a few landmarks all lit up. The Royal Albert Hall at night really is gorgeous. I think I did a pretty good job as tour guide. Even if I knew there was some history I knew I was forgetting. I got to revisit some places that have some pretty good memories attached to them. Which is almost everywhere I’ve set foot in Central London, really. So if anyone needs a personal tour guide of London in the future… Take me!

When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life. – Samuel Johnson

 

 

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10 Things I’ll Always Miss About Living in London

I lived in London for a short time and then I was back stateside again, but it still feels like home when I return. Even if your Visa is short-term, London tends to make a big impression – especially once you start to feel like not just a tourist but a resident.

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When I stepped onto the Heathrow tube station platform after two years away, everything I missed came rushing back. I don’t think these ten things are in any particular order, but they are the things I thought about while I was separated for so long from the city that is now my second home. Let’s not stay apart so long next time, okay London?

  1. Public transport. Do I need to say more? London’s public transport system has permanently spoiled me to the point I feel disappointed in every other city’s transportation system. I could live here for years without needing a car at all! Which is good, because there is zero parking.
  2. The diversity. You can walk through Hyde Park, down The Mall, or through a random market and hear 5 different languages spoken in 5 minutes. It reminds me of how small the world really is, and how closely we’re all connected.
  3.  The history. Walk down the street. Almost any street. Look around. Look up. There are historical buildings everywhere. Little “___ person lived here” signs. Memorials. An old medieval church that is still halfway standing after the Blitz. After living in London, the States seem so… young. (Which, comparatively, they are.)
  4. Pubs. Chain pubs, local pubs, pub food, pub TVs with the match on. Pubs are now my favorite place to sit around and write, think, chat with a friend, or simply people watch. There are few people watching opportunities more enjoyable than watching a football match in which you have no loyalty ties, surrounded by fans, from a small little local pub.
    • The fact that half of London goes for after work drinks on every weekday and there are so many people they spill out into the streets for an hour or more of chatting and winding down still delights me. I’ve never been anywhere else that does after work drinks like London.
  5. The Evening Standard. I never really got excited about newspapers… Until that one seat on the rush hour tube opened up and I needed to occupy my hands. Now every time I travel I try to pick up a free local paper. Thanks, Standard.
  6. Food markets. Pretty self-explanatory. Street food anywhere in the general vicinity of Europe is my favorite type of food. And Borough Market? Just leave me there with a wallet full of cash for a few hours and I’ll be happy.
  7. The parks. You can be walking down the most crowded city street, and all of a sudden you’re surrounded by acres and acres of grass and trees and people playing badminton or fetch with their dogs.
  8. Empty tube platforms at night. There’s just something so soothing about them to me. The sound of a train through the tunnel, and the automated voice over the speakers that sounds crisper when you’re surrounded by fewer people. Mind the gap. Not competing with crowds of commuters for a seat. The few hushed conversations half a train car away.
  9. Day trips. Get on a train and in one hour you can be at Hampton Court Palace or on the coast in Brighton. It’s so easy. (And still, no driving required!)
  10. The culture. Museums. West End. Parks. Locally owned cafes and boutiques. London has everything, half of it free, for you to do on any given day of the week. Something is always going on, even if your biggest calendar item for the day is people watching.
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*London is Always a Good Idea

Sure, Audrey Hepburn (in Sabrina!) was talking about Paris… But I think I feel the same way about London. Plus, I’ve never actually been to Paris. London is definitely always a good idea. And after neglecting my poor passport for over two years, I breathed a sigh of relief as we stepped past border control at Heathrow and onto the escalator that took us down to the tube.

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We got quite attached to our little street.

We got quite attached to our little street.I’ve never been in love with big cities, but London is the exception. I felt like I was back home, and my feet still wanted to hit autopilot as we passed Victoria station on my old route to Pimlico.

For the 7 days I got to be back in London, we stayed in Notting Hill. It was an area I had never really explored while living in Pimlico. There’s just too much London to explore all of it in even five years’ time, much less five months! Nevertheless, I really enjoyed Notting Hill!

It’s a posh little neighborhood, full of stereotypical white facades with pillars and tiled stoops. Our host was really lovely, and the room was twice as spacious as the little shoebox I was used to during my internship. It only took until the jetlag wore off for my mental Central London map to start working again, and to get back that instinctual grasp of North, South, East, and West.

It was especially fun showing Kate around central London since she had never been there before. I’m sure I was dragging her from place to place more than was strictly necessary, but I was also eager to see all the sights I had missed in the last two years.

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