Inspired by TripAdvisor horror stories of long lines and scorching heat we chose to split our trip to the Vatican City into two days. The first day we hit only the museum and the second day we focused on St. Peterâ€™s and seeing the Pope. We hemmed and hawed over whether to take a prearranged tour of both in a three hour span but that seemed a bit too rushed and we had, after all, enough time in Rome that we didnâ€™t need to rush. We rented audio guides and bought our tickets in advance â€“ an absolute must we learned after standing in line for hours to see the David in Florence. Buying tickets ahead of time meant we waited approximately two minutes in the queue to get audio guides. We walked right past hundreds of people waiting to buy tickets. However, our journey was not without its own tribulations as Google maps lead us astray from the metro station to the entrance of the Vatican City. Once inside we had another 20 minute walk to the doors for the museum. The whole of St. Peterâ€™s square is rather confusing as there are no maps anywhere indicating where one must go to get to the museum.
Rome was epic. I have no other way to write a good intro for this post. Rome knocked our socks off – with amazing art, history and enough churches to satisfy even the most devout Catholic. We have been to 17 countries and to Italy on two other occasions but if you asked me to recommend one place to visit I would say Rome. I’m not sure if Brian feels the same but he certainly looked happy looking out over the vastness of the Colosseum.
Brian and I have discussed several times the guilt we feel at not being able to speak the language of whatever country we are traveling through. Whenever we’d attempt to use a ticketing machine or an ATM we’d always muddle our way through until we figured out how to change it over to English. Signs read bright and boldly first in Hungarian, or Greek, or Croatian and then, captioned in small print below, English – clearly identifying us as the tourists, the outsiders. How odd, it seemed, to have that guilt and suppression lifted from our shoulders as we landed in Gatwick airport and followed signs for “baggage claim” and “exit”. It is a simple thing to be able to read an exit sign – but the feeling of freedom was far from simple. We lived, for the past ten months, in countries where “Uitgang, Sortie, Ausgang, Salida, Kijarat” meant that we had to pause for a moment to figure out even which door to use. That basic principle of “push” or “pull” was instead “nyum or hoz”, “empurrar or puxar”, “drÃ¼cken or ziehen”, so we’d stand there for a moment looking dumb pushing on a “pull” door. How strange to be in a country where all those minor struggles that had made up our lives for the past ten months were gone. Where at least the reason we pushed on a “pull” door was out of stupidity, not lack of language skills. It seems silly to be rejoicing in stupidity over which way to open a door, but it meant so much to me to make a mistake on my own – rather than the prohibiting fact that I couldn’t read the sign on the door.
With only a birth record and immigration record to go on we set off for Damme, Germany hoping to walk the same streets as Brian’s great-great grandparents. Lois, Brian’s mom, had expressed her desire to check the area out so we grabbed a free weekend and crossed our fingers.
Brian’s mother, Lois, arrived two days before we jetted off to Paris for a long weekend. We arrived early enough in the day that we were able to drop our bags at our fabulous airbnb apartment, and hit the grocery store, before making our way to a boat tour. As we cruised along the Seine I happily thought about my life goal of 12 years finally coming to fruition.
The title of the post sums up the extent of our time in Brussels – no need to read further. I kid, we did manage to see a quality street performer, do a walking tour, score some souvenirs, and have delicious hamburgers. Honestly, we didn’t put much work into seeing the “must” attractions. We just wanted to soak up the Belgianness of the city.
“Whew!” I exclaimed after our landlord’s brother left us alone in our new apartment. We had made it through our 6 week/7 country whirlwind tour. As we slowly checked out our new digs I could feel energy seeping back into my bloodstream.
Our apartment here is gigantic. The owner is a very tall Dutchman so everything is appropriately sized – which Brian loves. I, on the other hand, feel like a hobbit every time I reach up to cook on the stove. I can’t see what’s in 60% of the cabinets in the kitchen, so it’s a good thing my wonderful husband is here to give me a boost.
After a week in Athens, we were on the last leg of our 6-week journey from Munich to Amsterdam: 5 days in Budapest, Hungary. Â Just to bring you up to speed in case you are first joining us, my beautiful wife and I got married last summer, and in an effort of both adventure and building solidarity in our first year of marriage, we left our families, our dog and our home back in Upstate New York to live abroad for one year.
We first settled in Munich, Germany. Â We soaked up the German culture, and traveled throughout Europe for our first 6-months abroad. Â After making the difficult decision to leave Munich for a new adventure, we explored the various options of where to go to next. Â Was it going to be London? Â It would be really nice to live in a city where everyone speaks our language. Â But maybe that would be too easy. Â What about Paris? Â It looks amazing, but also amazingly expensive. Â Amsterdam would be lovely, especially in spring-time. Â We searched and searched, and finally found the perfect flat outside of Amsterdam, in Amsterdam-Zuidoost. Â The only problem was that we had 5 weeks and 5 days between leaving Munich and arriving at our new home. Â So, we hit the road.
If we were impressed by the old mosques in Turkey, then we were stunned by the ancient temples in Athens. From the restored Parthenon to the preserved Temple of Hephaestus we were surrounded by history. Even the elevator in our airbnb apartment building was old – though thankfully not quite as old as the temples. With so much to do in Greece, we felt pressured to take advantage of our time, but I think we managed to hit all the top sights.
As our plane descended, I noticed the skyline dotted with minarets from the mosques that adorned every neighborhoodâ€¦ And there are a lot of neighborhoods. Istanbul has a population of 13 million (and climbing, Brian adds). If it hadnâ€™t been for the towers and domes of the hundreds of mosques I would have assumed we were landing over Washington DC, from the size of the city. Luckily our hotel was located in the middle of most of the touristy places we wanted to go, so we didnâ€™t need to travel far. I was impressed with Turkish hospitality from the beginning of the plane ride when the steward handed us Turkish delights to start the flight.Â Even though it was only a two hour journey from Croatia we were given a full (delicious) Turkish style lunch, accompanied with free wine. Our hotel had arranged a shuttle service for us, so even though the airport was crowded and chaotic, we had no trouble finding a man holding a â€œBrian Loveâ€ sign. Continue reading