Christy and Aaron Tracker

Follow Christy and Aaron on their backpacking trip around the world

Back in Venice… train station

Posted by Aaron in Posts on 08 28th, 2010

As our ferry was docking in Venice we passed San Marco square and we could see the leaning tower of a church near the hotel we stayed in when we were in Venice earlier. It was weird being back in Venice. It was amazing that two and a half months had passed since we were last here. It was also strange to be in this city without my parents. Memories only a few months old came flooding back. Shortly after the memories of Venice,  memories of the destinations between my visits in Venice started playing through my mind. It was the first time we had returned to a city on this trip after leaving its country. I did not feel the deja vu I was expecting, but a feeling of summary and reflection on a phase coming to an end.

The time of reflection did not last long, because straight off the ferry in Venice we went to the train station. We were planning on catching a train later the same day to Paris to get us most of the way back to London. We waited in a long line to get our tickets to Paris, but they were sold out. There were no tickets available for over a week! We felt panic momentarily flush through us. We had to get back to London in 5 days to catch our flight to Cairo. How much was buying ourselves out of this situation going to cost if we needed to get plane tickets? Fortunately the panic did not last and we got out of the ticket line to find an alternative train route. We got out our Eurail maps and timetables and came up several back up plans. We ended up choosing Zurich as our next destination since it is very well connected to other European cities. We were really lucky we were not cutting the timing of our return to London too close. We had already learned that lesson a few times. One and a half hours after arriving in Venice, we were on a train to Zurich.

30 hours on the poor man’s cruise

Posted by Aaron in Posts on 08 27th, 2010

We are almost finished with the European part of our journey. All that is left is to get back to London from Greece to catch our flight to Cairo, Egypt. The first leg to get us back to London was a 30 hour ferry from Patras, Greece to Venice, Italy. Our EuRail got us free deck passage on the boat. We were surprised to find out that we literally had deck passage tickets. There were some small uncomfortable chairs available, but Christy and I figured we would be more comfortable laying of the floor. We were some of the first people on the boat so we choose a spot by the pool and laid out our travel sheets. The cold wind from the boat woke us up during the night. We ended up sleeping in all of our rain gear to keep us warm in the wind. To make things worse, I was already fighting a head cold.

Christy camping on the deck of the ferry to Venice

When we woke up in the morning we were surprised to find the boat had filled up with other deck passengers. People were laying in every available space on the boat. The ferry, which seemed very nice when we got on (it had a pool) began to feel like a poor man’s cruise. Everywhere we walked there were people on air mattresses and in sleeping bags.

People camping on the ferry

People camping on the ferry

People camping on the ferry

Some people even brought tents.

Tent camping on the ferry

Thirty hours later we arrived in Venice. We were stiff and tired, but we could not stop to rest. We went straight to the train station to continue our journey back to London.

Italian Food

Posted by Aaron in Posts on 06 26th, 2010

The food in Italy is amazing. Lots of pasta, sauses, and meats. The menus are all divided into 2 courses. It took a while for us to realize 2 courses is almost always too much to eat. We hear about American portion sizes being large, the Italian sizes are huge. We had too many good meals to remember what they all were. Here is a sample of some of the dishes we have eaten. Buon appetito.

Prosciutto pizza Gnocchi and Ravioli Lamb

Antipasta Veal Bruschetta

Some local dish in Cinque Terra Dessert! Cream puffs and tiramisu

Internet in Italy

Posted by Aaron in Posts on 06 25th, 2010

Our last night in Italy and we finally get an answer to the question we have been wondering, “Where is the Wi-Fi in Italy?” According to the man at the front desk of our last hotel, Italy passed counter terrorism laws in 2005 requiring public internet providers to record the identities of users. The law is designed to assist in criminal investigations. The unplanned result was public Wi-Fi became too costly and complicated for cafes, stations, and hotels to provide, so you have to go to an internet cafe, or register to use the computers in hotel lobbies. Christy and I use the internet a lot to plan our routes and book hotels. We were lucky to be with our parents in Italy because they already planned out the route. We did not expect our first internet free country to be so early in our trip. Hopefully this will be good preparation for some of the countries we will be going to where internet is slow or nonexistent.

The (Not So) Secret Gem of Italy

Posted by Christy in Posts on 06 24th, 2010

Cinque Terre was highly recommended by not one… not two… but three of our friends that had recently traveled to Italy. Having never heard of it, I secretly hoped that the majority of the folks in Cinque Terre would be local Italians, and we would have our first chance to really encompass ourselves in the Italian culture.

I was dead wrong.

The secret is out on Cinque Terre, and i am not surprised that this national park is overrun with tourists. From the gorgeous views, the access to the clear blue sea water and the scrumptious food, it is the perfect vacation destination, and my favorite part of the world trip thus far.

So, for those of you who don’t know about Cinque Terre, here’s an overview:

Nestled in the seaside cliffs just outside of La Spezia lies Cinque Terre, and the five villages that make up the park: Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, and Monterosso. Linking these towns is a 12 kilometer trail that draws international backpackers. We, however, did not hike the trail (much to my disappointment). We opted to get to each village by train and explore what each of them had to offer.

Now, here is a summary of each of the towns, and I have ordered them from my favorite to my least favorite:

1.) Manarola- This is the second closest village to La Spezia. It seemed to be the least crowded and it had the best swimming lagoon of all five villages!

Aaron, Vic and I had the best time jumping off boulders in Manarola! Here are a couple videos:

I would recommend Manarola as the village to spend most of your time if you are planning to visit.

2.) Riomaggiore – This is the village closest to La Spezia and the one we stayed in. there is a beach, but it is not ideal for laying out and swimming because the ocean is rough and the beach is made up of large stones rather than sand. There are plenty of amazing restaurants, and since our apartment was so high up the cliff (seven flights of stairs to get to it – wow!), we had amazing views looking over the town and the ocean.

View from our apartment in Riomaggiore

Also, it seemed to be the second least crowded, and there were plenty of locals in the streets.

3.) Monterosso – this is the farthest village from La Spezia and the most touristy. It has the largest beach of all the towns, and a cute boardwalk with clothing shops and gelato stands.  We spent a few hours on the beach here and we ate at an amazing restaurant off the boardwalk. There is also a great view of the four other villages, especially at night.

Christy and Aaron in Monterossa

4.) Corniglia – This had the least amount of tourists by far of all the villages, probably due to the fact that there is no beach access and you have to climb over 400 stairs to get there from the train station. It is picturesque, as it is set high in the cliffs among the vineyards. I’d say it is definitely worth the climb, but definitely don’t expect to spend more than 2 hours there at most.

Aaron in Corniglia

5.) Vernazza – The last, and my least favorite village is the second farthest city from La Spezia. There is an extremely small beach, and for some reason (at least when we were there) this village draws the most american teenagers i have seen on this trip. I have no idea where they came from, but the shrieks and screams as they ran up and down the village became quite annoying.

Christy in Vernazza

So there is Cinque Terre. For sure don’t miss it, just like everyone else from America.

It’s Gelato Time!

Posted by Aaron in Posts on 06 21st, 2010

One of our favorite things in Italy is the ice cream! Once or twice a day we have to get a gelato fix. Finding gelato is always easy since the stores are on every block.

Christy and her Gelato

Venice, Italy

Posted by Aaron in Posts on 06 21st, 2010

After Florence we took a train to Venice.

Aaron's mom and dad on a train to Venice

Everyone we talked to about traveling in Italy had negative things to say about Venice. The most common comment was only one day is needed in Venice. We were getting a little nervous since we had 3 nights reserved for Venice.

When we got to our apartment we were pleasantly surprised, we love Venice. The roads only allow pedestrians and are as confusing as a maze. Canals are everywhere and the buildings are all old, just like in pictures. All of these factors combine to create a really atmospheric place to get lost and wander around.

It has been raining here but we still had fun walking in our rain gear. We took advantage of a short break in the rain to do the gondola ride my mom really wanted. The gondola ride was amazing. Our navigator sang, showed us important sights, and pretended to tip us over a few times. I thought we were going to fall in when we had to get on one side so the boat would lean and we could fit under the small bridges.

Christy and Aaron on the gondola ride

Aaron's mom and dad in the gondola

We are looking forward to another day of wandering around Venice before we leave for our most anticipated destination, Cinque Terra.

Welcome to Florence, y’all!

Posted by Christy in Posts on 06 17th, 2010

We just finished our stay in Florence, and it had everything the books promised: a fabulous collection of renaissance art, picturesque Italian streets, and a gelato shop on every corner.

What we weren’t expecting in Florence was the number of American tourists and students. Of course, we did not expect to be the only Americans there, but what we didn’t expect was the fact that there are (at least it seems) more Americans than Italians.

With that said, we were excited to see a few infamous pieces of art, including the statue of David (17 feet tall, by the way) by Michelangelo (located in the Galleria Accademia, which pretty much has nothing else going for it), the Birth of Venus by Botticelli, and two and a half (one unfinished) pieces by Leonardo da Vinci. Not surprisingly, the museums prohibited photography, so we couldn’t get any pictures.

My little sister Amber studied in Florence for a semester, so she had some great tips for us. She told us not to miss the Piazza Michelangelo, which has a great view overlooking the city, and has the faux David (we call him Green David), with which you can take photos.

Christy overlooking Florence at Piazza Michaelangelo

Aaron with Green David

About an hour train ride away is Pisa, which we have heard many grumbles about. Well, we just had to see the leaning tower, and in our opinion it was worth the trip. There is something about seeing one of the most famous towers in the world that makes your heart melt. We, of course, had to take the typical posed pictures with the tower (try and count how many other people in the picture are doing the exact same thing).

Christy pushing over the leaning tower of Pisa

Aaron holding up the leaning tower of Pisa after Christy pushed it over

All in all, another magical experience in Italy. Just don’t expect Florence to completely envelope you in the Italian culture, y’all.

Vatican City

Posted by Aaron in Posts on 06 14th, 2010

For our second day of sightseeing in Rome we went to Vatican City.

Christy in front of Vatican City

We went to the museum first to see the Sistine Chapel. Following the signs to the Sistine Chapel led us through over an hour worth of rooms filled with priceless statues and paintings. There were ancient Roman statues from the ruins, paintings by Michalangelo, Raphael, and even a Van Gogh.

Aaron in Vatican City museum Statue in Vatican Museum Disputation of the Holy Sacrament by Raphael

Christy in the Vatican museum Aaron and a Van Gogh

Eventually we made our way into the Sistine chapel where we were impressed with the amazing artwork. The detail is so much more impressive than pictures we had seen. Unfortunately, cameras were not allowed so we have no pictures to share.

After the museum we went to St. Peter’s Basilica. We were immediately surprised by the size of St. Peter’s square. We had seen it on the news many times, but were shocked to see the scale. We could not imagine seeing the square filled, like for holiday masses.

Aaron in St. Peter's Square

Inside St. Peter’s Basilica is even more impressive. The church is massive. It is hard to capture all of the size and detail in photos.

Christy in St. Peter's Basilica

The place was so big we could barely see the mass that was going on in the front. We could hear it immediately when we walked in, but it was still far beyond the velvet rope.

Mass in St. Peter's Basilica

Previously, we had been impressed with the old churches we had seen, especially Salisbury Cathedral. Walking out of St. Peter’s Basilica we felt that no church we would see on this trip could compare. We could also see why the church needed to take (or “repurpose” as described in the Vatican audio guide) marble and decoration from the ancient Roman buildings.

On our way back to our apartment, we stopped by two must see tourist sites in Rome. First were the Spanish steps.

Aaron, Christy and Aaron's mom in front of the Spanish Steps

Finally, we threw some coins over our shoulders into the Trevi fountain to ensure our return to Rome. We were later disappointed when we realized we would return to Rome in just 2 weeks to catch our next flights.

Christy at Trevi Fountain

Ancient Rome

Posted by Aaron in Posts on 06 14th, 2010

For our first day of sightseeing in Rome, my parents, Christy and I explored ancient Rome.

Our first stop was Palatine Hill. Supposedly this was where the ancient Roman ruling class lived. There were not many descriptive signs, so we had no idea what we were looking at. Everything just looked like old ruins to us. We tried to listen to nearby tour guides, but it was too hard to hear. We ended up just walking around and enjoying the ancient ruins atmosphere and the beautiful sights.

Aaron at Palatine Hill

After Palatine Hill we headed to the Roman forum. We got the audio tour this time so we would know what we were looking at. The audio tour ended up being a great purchase. We would have been confused without it. The forum was the central government district in classical Roman times. Most buildings have been reduced to a few columns and walls so the audio guide helped us imagine what the forum would have looked like. We were shocked to learn the ancient buildings were stripped of most of their marble and decorative features by the Catholic church to build St. Peter’s Basilica. Even in their ruined state, the complexity of the ancient buildings was impressive.

Aaron, Christy and Aaron's mom in the Roman Forum

After the forum we headed to our final destination, the Colosseum.

Mom and Dad walking to the Colosseum

Once again we got the audio tour so we would could learn the history of the building. The tour of the Colosseum is short, but the site is impressive. Thanks to the movie Gladiator it is really easy to envision the Gladiator battles.

Aaron and Christy in the Colosseum

At the end of the day we were amazed by the complexity and engineering skills of the ancient civilization. We also kept discussing what the sights would have looked like if they were left in a state of disrepair instead of being stripped of all the decorative features.