For the first day of our trip we left for the airport around 1:30 to catch our 4:30 flight into Philadelphia. I was a little hungry so I ate some McDonalds...yummmm. Two chicken snack wraps and the spot was hit. I do admit, I like McDonalds but rarely have it due to the fact that it is awful for you. On the plane we were set to go...but due to bad weather over in Philly, we were forced to sit on the runway for 1.5 hours. This was really bad news because our flight going from Philly to Brussels was going to leave at 8:35pm. Right before take off they announced we would be landing in Philly around 8:40. OH NO! Now what? Well the flight was fully of worries and questions wondering if we would be able to catch the flight to Belgium. Sidenote...on the plane they now charge even for drinks! First charging to check on bags, now charging for drinks (and no snacks!)..whats next? Charge for the bathroom and carry on luggage? Its really getting to the point that everyone is bringing larger sized carry on items and nobody is able to fit their bags on the plane in the overhead compartments! Well when landing, the time was 8:30. Butttt we were stuck pulling in. I called my mom on the phone and sadly she had announced the flight had taken off already to Belgium. I was very disappointed with US Airways and definitely would not recommend them to anyone. There were many international flyers that missed their flights because ours was late and they could not hold the connecting flights for a few extra minutes..oh well. In Philly there were lines everywhere with people trying to make new arrangements since they missed their flights. After standing forever in a line that wasn't moving, Jacqui went over to the US Airways flight going into London and got us booked on it with a connection from London going to Brussels. So we sat around in Philly for 2 hours and hopped the short 7 hour flight into London. On that plane there were two meals..one of chicken with salsa and rice, a bun, chocolate cake dessert, and a mini caesar salad. Pretty good!! Everyone had their own little mini tv's so I watched an episode of The Office before falling asleep. I woke up and breakfast was being served...just a little danish. I took it and put it in my bag for later. I slept most of the flight which was good because it was about 11 am when arriving in London their time. Also, on the flight we were emergency aisle which meant that we had tooooons of legroom. Pretty close to comparable to first class! I was able to spread my legs out completely without touching anything!! Hopefully we can get that on the way home :)
In London, we had a short layover before catching the flight to Brussels. The flight gave little mini cans of coke (which I love). I slept that whole flight from being tired of all the traveling. Into Brussels the nitemares began. I go over to the bag pick up and of course...my bike and my bag are not there. I wait a while to see if it shows up like it did in Hungary, but nope. So Jacqui and I go over to the bag service line (which is forever long) and end up waiting there for over an hour. Wellll once we got to the front the lady says we have to go to the other airline service desk. The problem was that when we were in Philly we took a new flight and ended up coming in on a British airways flight. So we had to go to their line. Welll, their line was also forever long. After waiting another 1+ hour in that line, the lady could barely understand any english and had us fill out a luggage form. I didn't really care at that point and just wanted to get out of the airport because I had been traveling for way too long, and I was exhausted! So we left the airport and hopped onto a train into the city of Brussels. I had booked a cheap hotel for the night and figured it should be in the middle of the city since we were going to explore a little. But since we got there so late, we just grabbed a taxi from the train and went straight to the hotel. The taxi ripped us off since he didnt take us to the right place. We probably didn't even need a taxi from the train but he figured we were from out of country and could get some extra money out of us.
We checked into the hotel and it was a little dinker. It was fine for us because all we needed to do was sleep and get on their time schedule. We did end up walking around the city to find a place to eat. It was very scary since there were lots of strange people walking around, making noises, and I just wanted to get out of there and into my hotel. We ate at a little Italian restaurant which ended up being really good. I didn't understand any of the menu except for pizza or spaghetti so I went with the pizza and Jacqui did the same. The funny part was that the waiter put the order in and 10 minutes later he opened a drawer in the closet and the pizzas were sitting there! It was like a little magic closet! The pizza was really good and finally a good meal after eating junk for 24 hours. Back to the hotel, we watched a little tv and fell asleep.
The next day we woke up at had breakfast at the free continental buffet at the hotel. Basically it consisted of breads, fruit, and then a ham/cheese platter. I stuck with some bread and coffee. It was more of a chocolate coffee and was ok. I'd rather stick with the normal flavor! After that we packed up our bags and walked over to the train station to catch a train back to the airport to see if my bike and bags showed up. This time we walked about 400 meters or less and ended up at the train station. This is the distance that the taxi driver charged us 10 euros for (about 17 us dollars) the day before! We definitely got ripped off and he was probably just driving in circles making it look like our hotel was far away so that he could get more money! Onto the train we had a quick 10 min trip and were back at the airport. We walked into the arrivals hall and had to sneak past a security guard since they don't let people go into that area. Jacqui stood in the line for baggage service while I walked around the airport looking for my bags. To my surprise (and relief!) I saw my little black bag sitting on the floor randomly. I walked around the corner and there was my bike! I was so relieved that they both showed up! I scooped the bags up and walked over to get Jacqui and get outta that stinkin airport where I spent wayyyy too many hours the day before. We hopped another train to head over to the town of Geel where the race was being held. We actually had to take three trains first leading into the city of Antwerp and then into Geel. It was about 1.5 hours of train trips so a little long but not too bad because if gave me time to write down everything that has been going on!
Into Geel we walked off of the train and had no clue where to go. Luckily a Team USA member saw us looking lost and pointed us in the right direction. It was a short trip down the main street and we were at the team hotel (where we didn't stay at). I put my bike together and threw my bike box into a storage there. After getting that all settled I went over to the registration and got all my numbers and event t-shirt. I met the Team USA elite coordinator where I got my warmups, shirt, and shorts..pretty nice stuff! Before the meetings and briefings Jacqui and I went to a little restaurant to get a quick meal in. We had no clue what anything was on the menu again and had trouble talking to the waitress. There was a picture of a sandwich and we just pointed at it and said two. The sandwiches ended up being alright (just fulllll of mayo, which I can't stand). So I ate around it and figured I would eat something later on. After eating, I had a quick elite briefing, and a short team USA meeting to go over some aspects of the race.
I was pretty tired after all that moving around, so Jacqui and I went back to the team hotel where I stored my bike and we called a taxi over. I figured we were about 6 miles away and it would cost many 10 euros or so to get to the hotel. Welllll, we got ripped off again and it ended up costing 25 euros (over 30 dollars!). I was pretty upset about this because the driver got lost and still charged us for it. I decided I was not going to take a taxi ever again!! The car was pretty neat though because the GPS was built into the car. He pushed a button and it came out of the dashboard. I took a picture of that for sure. Finally after getting to the hotel we checked in went for a 30 minute run to loosen up the legs and get a little workout after not doing any sort of exercise besides walking and lugging bags around forever. The hotel was actually really nice and not too bad of a price. It had a pool, tennis courts, breakfast area, and internet (finally!). We really enjoyed being able to get back on a computer! We took quick showers and then went out to eat at a restaurant about 400 meters down the road. It was a pretty neat place and yet again...we didn't understand the menu. Jacqui ordered some pasta carbonara and I got a caprese salad (mainly because I knew what it was). I was picturing a carbonara pasta to have just a white or red sauce..but nope. She got her plate and it was full of bacon and noodles and a creamy sauce. It actually ending up tasting pretty good! Jacqui also ordered some fries which we split because the Team USA travel agent, Deepak, said that Belgium is known for their fries, beer, and chocolate. Those were really good with a little salt on them. Being the poor kids that we are, we didn't get any ketchup because they charge extra! Just like if you order a water, they charge for that too! I will definitely enjoy my free tap water at restaurants when I go back home. After dinner, we walked back to the hotel in the pitch black and checked into a bus system so that we wouldn't have to pay for another taxi in the morning. Back at the hotel Jacqui and I spent some time on the computer uploading some picutes, writing emails, and just surfing the web. Then it was off to sleeeeep.
Well in the middle of the night we had a rude awakening. All of a sudden there were loud screams, bangs, and splashes! There were a couple drunken men outside that decided they wanted to go swimming and starting yelling, clapping, and jumping really hard on the diving board going into the pool. Our room was facing the pool and the back door opening up right to the pool area. Jacqui woke up and freaked out because she thought something was happening. So everytime she gets scared, it starts to freak me out too. So I ran over to the back door and made sure it was locked before going back into bed. In the morning, we were both so tired that we didn't even wake up to our alarms! Good thing the race was later in the afternoon (1:20 pm start). I was going to get up around 8:30 in order to get a little run in and some breakfast..but that didn't happen. I woke up again to a freaked out Jacqui because she saw what time it was. I saw it was still so early and everything would be fine. We went downstairs to have our European breakfast of breads with jams, chocolate spread, butter, and honey along with some coffee and ham/cheese plate again. I just stuck with a bunch of bread and coffee. This coffee was much better than the last hotel for sure. Went back to the room and packed all my gear for the big race! We figured out the bus system and walked on the first bus no problem and didn't even pay :) Onto the next bus we didn't pay again until 1 stop before the one were getting off at. Two scary lookin Euro dudes walked in looking all professional and started asking everyone for their passes. Well they got to Jacqui and I and were just sorta stared at them. I was pretty scared. I just said the hotel told us to take the bus into town. He spoke a little english and said we have to pay to use the bus. So at our stop we paid 5 euros for the trip (still better than the 25 we paid for the taxi!!).
Once at the race sight I got my bike all together and headed over to the transition area. Wow, there were some fasssst looking bikes and fask lookin dudes. And then there is me..some young kid from a Chicago suburb. I got all my pre race stuff done and felt ready to go for the race.
The race started at 1:20 and my plan was to take it out slow because last year I went too hard and ended up struggling. So I stuck to my plan and it worked perfectly! The first run was 4 loops of 4.5k which totaled 18 kilometers (a little over 11 miles). I was at 5:20 pace or so and was in a great group of guys. By the last last of the run, I moved to the front of my pack and was sitting in 6th place overall! I wasn't even tired and was excited how the race was playing out. Of course I didn't have anything to drink or eat on the first run which may have been a poor choice by me later in the race.
Onto the bike, I was feeling strong and ready fly. The bike course was four loops of 18k. It ended up being just about 45 miles long. From transition a few of the guys in my run pack fell off and lost our pack which had around 10 guys. I was in the last spot of the group of 10 since they all went past me right from the start of the bike. It almost seemed as if they were all drafting off of eachother because everyone was pretty tightly bunched. We were clipping along around 28 mph average!! The only problem was that it was pretty windy in many areas but we still went through those in 24 mph. During the hard streches we would average over 30! I got through the first loop great and took in a bunch of liquid with carbo pro. Onto the second loop the pack split into two and I was at the tail end of the second group, I was still in top 10 contention overall and felt like it was going to be my day. At the end of the second loop I started to feel very lightheaded and my vision was blurred. I was unsure of what to do because it felt like I was going to pass out. I ended up losing the pack on the 3rd loop and become very frustrated. I was tired, but not tired to the point that I would be unable to keep up. I lost the pack and started going around 22 mph and struggled to keep the legs going. At this point I just wanted to stop and say I'm done. I continued to feel that I was going to fall over because I couldn't see straight and I felt very weak. On the last lap a few more guys passed me in groups of 4-5 at a time. It was very frustrating to see because of how well I had been doing. I finally finished up the bike and forced myself to start running.
On the run I felt alright during the first loop but my legs didn't want to cooperate. The run was 2 loops of 4.5 k, which was the same course as the first run. After the first loop I made it another 1 k before I had to start walking. My body was shutting down and didn't want to go anymore. I forced myself to start running again, but a few minutes later I had to stop. I walked into the water station, ate a banana and chugged a lot of water. Wow did that help! I started running again and got my pace up quickly! It was a little too late though because I was already way back and the race was just about over. I got to the finish line and just felt relieved that it was done and over with. I ate and drank in the food tent, grabbed my finisher medal, and looked at the results. I ended up placing 35th overall. The age group racers also competed with the elites but started 2 minutes back. So I guess 35th in the world isn't too bad? I was still disappointed and want to keep improving over the years.
After the race I packed up the bike and hit the showers at a little school in town. There was only freeeeezing water and of course I had forgotten a towel. Well after my shower, I went to open the door and it was locked! I couldn't get out of the shower stall. It was definitely awful. I spent a whole trying to get the door open and nothing was working. Finally I waited until nobody was in the shower area and had to climb over the top which was really high! I jumped down and basically slipped landing right on my butt. Not fun!! After showering, Jacqui and I went out to eat to a restaurant in the market area. This was where the finish line was, and it was a really neat place. There were lots of shops and restaurants in a circle shaped area. At the restaurant, I got a pasta with breads while Jacqui got grilled chicken and fries. The waiter was really good and helped us with alll of the items on the menu because we couldn't understand it. He was good at english because he was a server in the US for a while. After the dinner we went on over to the host hotel, looked at some results, and then went back over to the bus stop to back to our hotel. We had to wait a while but it was still cheaper than the taxi! We didn't even have to pay for that bus ride :) At the first stop we saw a little snack place and got a strawberry and vanilla mixed cone which ended up being really good. We walked the rest of the way back to the hotel since it was only about a 20 min walk. At the hotel we checked out since we would be leaving early in the morning and asked for some breakfast items since it wouldn't start before we left. We packed our bags up with just putting items in a backpack to bring around the rest of Europe while putting stuff we wouldn't need anymore in my check in bag which we would store at the airport with my bike case while being gone. After that it was bed time since we had an early morning the next day!
Jacqui made sure we set a bunch of alarms for this morning because we had a train to catch to Paris at 11:15. So we got up a little before 6, got ready and went downstairs to grab our breakfast on the run. We did the same 20 minute walk over to the bus stop to go back into the race site to pick up my bike. We got the bike and went over to the train station to catch a few trains to make it into the Brussels airport. This was a big pain because I was lugging my bike case in and out of trains all morning. We had to take 3 different trains just to get to the airport :( We checked the bag and bike at the airport and felt relieved to just have our backpacks now to lug around. It was reallllly nice. Onto the train again to get over to another station to catch the train to Paris!! We ended up being early to the Brussels train station where our Paris train was going which was very nice. The station was huge and basically the size of an airport!! There were lots of little shops where Jacqui finally got her Belgian chocolate that she was wanting to try. We also picked up some drinks and candy for the train ride :) Onto the train we had assigned seating and luckily we got seats next to eachother even tho we had different seats. The train ride wasn't too exciting. Just sat and typed most of what has been going on. It was nice and short..only about an hour. Once getting into the Paris train station, it was crazy though!
Into the Paris Station du Nord (North Station), we had no clue what to do. Nothing was planned, we just figured we could walk around and figure things out. So we left the station and of course had crazy people begging for money and following us around because we were the tourists with big backpacks on. One lady even followed us for a few blocks and asked us for money again. It was quite annoying. So after not having a clue on where to go, we went back into the train station and looked around for ways to get into the main city area. After looking for a while, we figured out the train station and hopped on a train that was going to Notre Dame, where our bike tour was scheduled to meet. We were pretty early getting into the town so we walked around looking for a place to stay. The streets and alleys were really neat! Tons of shops, restaurants and other vendors with plenty of tourists walking around. After looking at a bunch of different hotels, we finally found a nice one right in the city for 70 euros for the night. It was actually reallllly nice and the guy at the front helped us a lot. He gave us directions and little maps to get around.
So after settling into the hotel, we stopped to grab a little snack (yummm the sandwiches were soo good, and cheap!). We found the bike tour meeting place (just outside of Notre Dame church), and went into a garage to grab our bikes. The bike tour was Bike About Tours based in Paris. They did an awesome job and it was a lot of fun. Definitely a highlight of the trip so far. The tour was for 3.5 hours and was only 25 euros a person. The tour was neat because they took us to places that normally aren't visited when going to Paris. Most people go to see th e Eiffel Tower and museums but instead we were riding the bikes through little alleys and different passageways leading to many neat areas of the city. For example, we saw one of the most expensive restaurants in the world (over 1100 euros for a meal!!), cannonballs stuck in buildings from peasants revolting against the rich, houses that cost over 11 milllion dollars to live in!, the Louvre museum, and soooo many more neat places. I took a bunch of pictures during the tour while riding the bike. It was definitely a lot of fun.
After the bike tour, Jacqui and I went back on over to the hotel. We took showers and got ready for dinner and a boat tour the was scheduled for the night. We were so indecisive with where to go to dinner because there were soooo many places. Almost every restaurant had a menu that featured three courses. So Jacqui ordered mussels, steak, and ice cream. I wasn't too hungry and just got a salad (but it had lots of potatoes, avocados, corn, and other random things in it). Overall, it wasn't that great of a restaurant and most of the small vendors selling food on the sides of the roads had much better fast sandwiches and such. So after being a little disappointed, we went over to the boat tour area to catch the boat. We made it by only 5 minutes!! It was really chilly and of course I had forgotten to bring my jacket. The boat was fun since it took us down the river past many of the monuments such as the Eiffel Tower, Musee d'Orsey, Louvre Museum, and many others. The bike tour was a lot more fun, but it was still a really neat experience. By the time the tour was over, it was really late and we just wanted to go to bed. Back at the hotel, we did some late planning to figure out our next day and then hit the hay.
Tuesday!! Welllll, we had planned on getting up semi-early to go run and see some more places, but instead, we didnt' wake up to the alarms and slept til just about 10. Oops. We must have been so tired because we slept right through all the alarms. So we still went for a run and went to the Eiffel Tower. It was a little over 3 miles away from the hotel so it was a decent run. We got there, took some pictures, stood underneath it, and then ran back. It was so crowded with lines everywhere to go up into the tower. I was fine with just seeing it and taking a picture by it. Plus we didnt' have to pay anything for that. Getting back, we took some quick showers, loaded up the backpacks and checked out of the hotel. We wanted to see a few more things before leaving so we went to Les Halles (the halls)..which was an underground shopping mall. They basically had many of the stores that we have so nothing too exciting. But it was neat because the mall was underneat the ground. We didn't spend too much time there and then went off to explore a little more. The bike tour guide recommended to go to a little island to get some ice cream...so of course that is what we did. We stopped at a little cafe to give our backs a rest and wow! ...the cafe was such a rip off. Just for two scoops of ice cream it was 10 euros (about 16 dollars!!!). I was not happy about that..so we didnt' order anything. The waiter had brought us bread and little nuts, but we didn't eat any of it and took off running once he went into the back. So we walked a little down the street and found another ice cream place and it was a much better price of 3 euros. I was really happy about that and my rasberry mixed with strawberry was AMAZING. Yumm, I could eat that everyday. Jac got a cherry vanilla scoop and a caramel scoop..good, but definitely not as good as mine :)
It was getting a little late, so we had to head over to the train station. But on the way there, we hit up a few stores where Jac got a sweeet new Paris shirt and a new watch. The prices were good so those were nice little souvies. I stopped and got a banana, sugar, and butter crepe which wasn't as great as I had hoped because it was already pre-made. Those are much much much better when made fresh. But still good nonetheless. I also stopped and got a little tomato and mozzarella panini sandwich..yummmmm. We then made our way over to a train station to make it over to the bus stop. We needed to catch a bus that would take us to the airport since we had a flight to catch to Pisa. So that was just about the whole trip to Paris. It was short but I think we packed a lot into the time that we had there! It was a lot of fun and I would definitely go back.
Our bus ride was about an hour long and it took us right to the airport where our Ryanair plane was taking off from. Unfortunetely I forgot about my contact solution and had to empty it out because of the liquid rule on planes. I then tried to check my bag but they charged 20 euros for that. I just decided that getting rid of my solution and putting some of it into a smaller container was the better option. While waiting for the flight, I picked up some delicious candy and ate it while waiting for the flight. I also had time to write a little more about my trip! And on a side note..the european travelers have no concept of lines. I was waiting in line and they just cut right in front of you..it gets quite annoying, but oh well. I thought Americans were the rude ones? Ok, so now I'm on the plane and getting to take off. Off to Italy!!!
Ahhhh...Pisa! Well we arrived in Pisa just fine. The plane was a little late and we had arrived around 9pm. Instead of staying in Pisa for the night we decided we would go over to Florence since they were selling bus tickets and it was about an hour ride. We had a room booked in Florence right on the river for the following night, but we figured we could go over there and see if they had a room for us to use tonight too. The hotels that we booked were all very cheap..50 euros or lessss! Hostels cost about 25 euros a person, so we were getting good deals. So anyways, we went and bought a ticket and realized that we got train tickets into Florence which wouldn't leave for another 1.5 hours. We didn't want to leave that late and then saw there were buses leaving so Jacqui went and got out tickets switched out for bus tickets. It ended up working well since the buses left right when we got on. So we sat on the bus and I ate some gatorade drink mix because I was sooo thirsty and hungry. I felt like I didn't eat much all day. All the walking around we did makes me tired and hungry!! So eating that packet of gatorade mix wasn't tooo great, but it still tasted great having something in my mouth. Jacqui wrote in her journal and I sat there most of the ride.
Into Florence..we had that new area scary-ness again. Whenever we pull into a new city I am so turned around and unsure of where to go. I don't like to whip out my map because then its pretty obvious we are tourists (not that the huge backpacks don't give it away or anything :) ). So we just started walked down a street in the darkness and hoped that we could find our way. All of a sudden we were standing in front of a HUGEEEE old church called the Duomo. IT was magnificent. Lots of people were still outside wandering around with their maps and such so I didn't feel as bad anymore. We took a main street and it was full of gelaterias (YUMMM ice cream!!!). I was in heaven! We continued to walk down and saw lots of street vendors, restaurants, and people just enjoying night. It really was a neat little town! We made it down to the river and found the hotel fairly quickly. Into the hotel, we had to climb a bunch of stairs and then finally found the hotel desk. We asked if we could check in (it was around 10:30 at this point). He said they were completely full and then proceeded to call a bunch of hotels and said they were all full...just great. He gave us a map and said his friend could set us up with a nice room and breakfast but was unsure if there was any space still available. So we took a map, went out onto the streets and then walked checking every hotel we could see. There are about a million hotels everywhere so we figured it wouldnt' be very hard...wellll we were wrong. We went into probably 30 hotels and every one of them said they were full. I was so tired, hungry, and just wanted to be in a hotel. We did find one hotel that had two single rooms for 55 euros a night, but that was pretty pricey. So we said no and kept going. Then we finally found a place that was 80 euros a night. It looked reallllly nice but I still didn't want to pay that much to just sleep in a room. A few hotels down and YESSSSSSS...one room left for 48 euros. We gladly took the room, and it ended up being just fine. It was realllly hot in the room due to no A/c, but oh well, it was a room. The guy was really nice and got us everything we needed and showed us where we could eat. So by the time we got all settled we made our way outside to find some food. It was past midnight at this time and to our luck, nothing was open...........except for McDonalds. Great...just great, first meal in Italy..guess: McDonalds.. Haha. It ended up being just fine and tasted great because I was so hungry. Plus the price tag was good too :) I got some chicken nuggets, fries, diet coke, and small mcflurry. What a healthy meal huh? haha, it was still so good, and my mood brightened up from that. It was not very happy walking around with my super heavy backpack for 1.5 hours looking for a hotel in the heat. After eating a great opening meal in Italy, we went back to the hotel, went on the internet for a little and hit the sack for the night.
Up in the morning at 7:45 to get over to the museo d'accademia. This is where the statue of David is (the original!). I read in a travel book that the line gets really long for this museum so we wanted to get there at 8:15 when it opened to avoid the longer lines in the day. So we got to the museum and it just looked like a normal door in the side of a building..weird. Paid 10 euros to get in and BAM! The statue was huge. It was really amazing and worth the 10 euros just to see that. No pictures were allowed, but I HAD to have a pic of the statue. We took a quick snapshot and then another one with Jacqui in it. We walked around the museum for a while looking at amazing paintings and sculptures from Michaelangelo. Very neat stuff. My legs and stomach were getting angry so we left the museum to get our stuff from the hotel and head over to the other one to check in. Lugging the backpack around isn't as easy as it seems. I don't know how mine weights so much because I dont have many clothes in there. Ive been wearing the same khaki shorts everyday, haha. Just change the shirt and I'm set. And I'm not working out much because all the walking wears me out! So there aren't really any workout clothes in there either! Maybe its the computer that weights it down, I dunno. So we packed up and went out into the heat. My travel book, and other friends, had recommended a restaurant called Il Latina. It gets crowded so Jac and I thought it would be best to go over there early to avoid the mass of people. Welllll, there is this strange thing that Europeans do in August. They all leave for vacation for almost the whole month. The restaurant was closed for a few weeks..so we were not able to go in. OH well, off to look for another restaurant. Whenever we look for something, we can't see to find it!! No restaurants, not gelato, nothing. We got a little frustrated because the backpacks are not fun to carry in the 90 degree weather! Into a main plaza, we sat down to have a little something to eat. We both got some pizzas which ended up being pretty good. We were stuffed. Then proceeded to get some gelato (you will see me talk about gelato a lot)...its my favorite ice cream ever and is all homemade. There are mounds and mounds of it almost in every shop that you walk past :) Its so hard to say no to it.
Went over to the hotel and finally got rid of the bags. They said our room wasn't ready but we still were able to leave our bags in the hotel. We hit the streets and wanted to find some neat things to look at. I took out my book and we wandered the streets for a while. It is so neat all the little alleys and curving streets that end up taking you into huge open areas full of statues, churches, and areas that have been around for such a long time. Sometimes I have to remind myself that these areas are as old as they are. How can a place so old look so clean? Its really amazing. One adventure that we had was going up to Piazza Michaelangelo. I saw in my travel book that the view is hard to beat..so I figured it would be a good place to go. Jacqui and I had to climb up big hills and lots of steps before we got up to the top. Wow, we were tired after that and of course..a gelato shop at the top :) I got a blackberry and rasberry combo..yum yum. At the top, the view was amazing looking down on the main town of Florence. We took some awesome pictures but of course those dont do any justice at all to what we were looking at. Got some souvies and made our way back into the town. On the way back, there was a store selling hugeeee bottles of water for only .60 euro. So that was the best deal I think we have ever found. I took a quick mental note to come back for that deal steal. Looked at a bunch of more museums that just tower over everything else and then went on an adventure to find Florence's best gelato. My book mentioned it in my book so we made our way over there. Welll, that happened to be closed too due to the August vacation...but my book mentioned another place that is a rival for the best. This one was open (it was called perche no?). Wow, it was amazing. Definitely did not disapoint. I got a peach and watermelon mix while Jacqui got the chocolate with rasberry. Hers was soooooo good. Wow, I will have dreams about that ice cream. I think I could come to Italy just to get gelato..is that bad? Haha, so after gelato number 3 of the day we made our way back to the hotel to get a little rest..we had walked around forever!
Jacqui uploaded some pictures and we rested for a while. I watched a little of the Olympics since I haven't been able to see much. They do talk a lot about Michael Phelps here though and how amazing he is. I showered and got ready for dinner..then it was off to wander more streets. I did forget to mention that there is a main bridge in Florence (the oldest one) called Ponte Vecchio. It has buildings hanging off the edge of it so it almost doesn't even seem like a bridge when walking across. Just looks like another streets. The buildings aren't held up by much (so it seems), but we took a bunch of pictures of this. The buildings are mostly gold and jewelery stores so nothing much of interest to us, but still really neat. Ok, so off to dinner we went. I didn't want to eat in some restaurant that was full of people in the main area. I wanted to go down some alley and find a tiny place to just get some good homemade pasta. I found just the place I was lookin for. It was a neat little place with a strange waiter. He was trying to be funny and such, but I just thought he was pretty annoying. I ordered some gnocchi and Jac ordered veci (pasta with meat). We decided that since we were in Italy, we needed wine to go with it. The waiter of course gave us the most expensive glass (not much of 4 euros, but still). It wasn't good at all. I couldn't drink it. We tried to order a sweet white wine, but he said we couldn't since it was a dessert wine :( I didn't want him to see that I didn't drink it so I started to pour it out on my plate and then soaking it up with my napkin until it was gone :). Jacqui finished hers and was quite proud...but I didn't have to endure the pain of drinking it, haha. The food was pretty good, still think my dad and grandpas are better! And what do you have to do after eating dinner...get gelato. Yup that is right, 4th time of the day. We found a cheap gelato shop..so I got a tropical and grape while Jac got the cheesecake. Yummmm again. Def not as great as the previous place, but still good. We walked around, took some pictures with statues, and then went back to the hotel to get ready for the next day. We needed to plan our trip to ROme. I ended up finding a good lookin hotel by the train station so I booked that. Looked up some train schedules into Rome and we were set!
Up in the morning, we had planned on going running...but still tired. I seriously feel like all of this walking is taking a lot out of me. We had walked for manyyyy hours the day before in Florence, along with backpacks for some of it. Its as hard as running and working out! We wanted to catch an 8:50 train into Rome, so up at 7:58 to get ready. Our cheap hotel had free breakfast which was great! What a good hotel...free internet, free breakfast, nice room, nice bathroom, and only 22 euros a person!! Sheesh, why cant all hotels be like that? I had a bowl of muesli along with some bread n honey. I also had some orange juice..but it is red! Red orange juice is pretty popular and is seen all over. I think its even more common than orange orange juice. We scrambled to get our stuff and basically hauled over to the train station. We bought the tickets to Rome and made it onto the train with only about 3 minutes to spare. It would be no big deal if we missed it since there are trains leaving all the time. We just would have to wait for a while for the next one. The train to Rome wasn't too bad. It was really quick and only took about an hour. I relaxed and took a little nap and before I knew it, we were in the Rome train station. Off the train, and wow! The train station is huge. These train stations are basically like airports with shops and restaurants all over. I was very excited to hit the streets and see what Rome was like. It was hard to believe I was going to be walking in areas from the BC time!! Right off the bat, we found our hotel since it was only about 400 meters or less from the train station. It was hard to see since it wasn't advertised that it was a hotel. I just saw the little buzzer to get into the building. We had to go up 4 flights (over 100 stairs) to get to the hotel. There were only 4 rooms in this little place..but wow it was nice! The hotel operator, Tommosso, was really nice. Since our room wasn't ready, he let us store our backpacks and gave us a map to get around the city. He gave us a quick preview of the room and then we were set. Down onto the streets we made it our first priority to head over to the colloseum. This is basically an arena where the gladiators battled and thousands of people came to watch them come away with a victory..or die in battle. Pretty crazy show if you ask me ! The line outside was pretty long but Jac and I didn't mind too much since it was one of the things we wanted to do. There were fake gladiators standing outside that people could take pictures with (for a fee), so we just looked at them. We had to wait over an hour before getting inside. The only problem was that the temperature was BOILING! Around 95 degrees in the hot hot sun...that takes a toll on me for sure. We got into the colloseum and looked around for a while. Its amazing how the structure is still standing and all of the history behind it. I read that it took slaves over 18 years to haul the huge stones 15 kilometers (almost 10 miles) thru the hot summers over to the area so that it could be built! I started to think that they must've been in amazing shape after doing that for a while. So anyways, the colosseum was really neat and definitely a must see place. After leaving, Jacqui and I were starting to get hungry/tired/thirsty, but we were right next to the Palatine hill. This was basically an area full of sacred land and building set up on a hill. Wow..walking up this hill in the sun was making me exhausted. We walked around the hill for a while, went in the Palatine museum, and then decided it was time to go find some food. We got a recommendation to go eat in a small restaurant in Trastevere (a town in Rome). So we grabbed the map and headed over there. After walking for a while, we found the restaurant but unfortunetely it was closed until 7:30 pm. We were starving and needed something to eat bad! We went into a little cafe and poor Jacqui took something out of her purse and nutella (a chocolate spread) fell out onto her WHITE skirt :( Chocolate on a skirt is badddd news. We left the cafe since they barely had anything and went to a restaurant right next door. Jac got some bruschetta type thing, while I got a panzerotti. It was soo small and didn't fill either of us up...so what better way to cure that than getting some gelato! We both got some and realized it was a much better price than in Florence.
Jacqui and I then made our way back to the hotel since we wanted to get ready for dinner. Being in the sun and walking around all day is tough! While on the way back, I stopped at a little fruit stand and got 2 peaches...guess how much? 4 euros!! That is about 6 dollars. What a jip. I wasn't too happy about that..but at least they tasted amazing. Jacqui climbed a huge set of stairs because I said I should get a picture of her at the top. So after that, we made it back to the hotel to actually see what our room was like. Wow....the room looked like a little room out of ikea. There was a flat screen tv, big bed, laptop to use, and the bathroom had a shower with massagers! What a steal for 60 euros a night (30 per person). We also got coupons to have breakfast the next morning in a little cafe outside of the hotel. We spent some time on the computer and then got ready for the night. Jacqui got allll dressed up in a white dress that she had bought during the day. It was a great deal and looked really nice on her. When she bought it, the store owner also gave her some earring for free, haha. They were little drangonflys..who knows if she'll wear um. So after showerin and getting set, we went on over back to the restaurant we scooped out earlier (taverna trelussa). On the way over, we were pretty hungry and decided a gelato stop was necessary. We only got one and shared it since we were gonna have some dinner soon. Once at the restaurant, they were already a little crowded outside and seemed like a good place to eat. We ordered some prishutta (spelling?) which is a thinly sliced italian meat. It was very salty and peppery..but really good. We also had twoooo big baskets of bread with olive oil and cheese. After the appetizers, I had the ravioli and Jacqui had a type of spaghetti. Their ravioli was supposedly the meal to get and they had won a few awards for it. Wow..it was really good! There wasn't a traditional red sauce..instead it was an orange-ish sauce. According to Jacqui, it tasted like spaghettios. Realllll nice, we go to a nice restaurant and get homemade italian food, and it is compared to spaghettios. I guess now all I have to do to cook a nice meal back at home is heat up a can of the chef boy r deeee and its high quality italian food..and a lot cheaper too! haha. I think that both of the pastas were really good although it was a little pricey. Oh well, my amazing gf took care of the bill :)
After dinner we walked around for a little before stopping into Micky D's for a Coke light (europe's version of diet coke). At McDonald's they give you a big drink for a good price (as we learned in Florence). After gulping that down, Jacqui and I went down to the river and walked along that for a while. There were lots of little carnival type games, stores, restaurants, and bars all set up along the water. It was really neat and many people just walked or sat along the river. It was all lit up and looked really nice. Jacqui ordered a small gelato while walking down the river which I tasted, but just was too full to eat any. It was getting a little late by then, so we decided to walk on back to the hotel (another 2 miles or so). Welllll, on the way back, going past all the gelato shops makes me weak. I gave in and tried a green apple mixed with lemon gelato. Yumm, it ws a good one. So that was 3 gelatos for the day for me..pretty good :) I also stopped to get a few drinks since I was really thirsty in the hoooot weather. At the hotel, I took a quick shower since I was all sweaty from walkin, lookin on the computer for a little, and hit the bed. Jacqui stayed up longer looking up stuff and planning the next day out since we'd be leaving for Pisa in the later afternoon.
In the morning, Jacqui and I went for a short run since we hadn't been doing too much besides all the walking (which is a ton if you ask me!). My legs actually felt really good, and I could have gone longer, but we were short on time and had places to go and things to see. A quick shower and then it was off to get our free breakfast. On that note...I may have found a few extra breakfast tickets at the hotel...which meant we both got two meals :) The breakfast was a cappaccino, crissont, and a juice. So we got 4 of each of those as our breakfast. It actually was really good! The crissont was chocolate chip and plain which we saved for later in the day. After breakfast, we decided we would want to go on over to the Vatican to check it out. It was a really long walk (I'd say about a 50 min walk), but walking allows you to see many things on the way! We stopped in a few shops, got some souvies, and then made our way to the Vatican. Once close, I took a picture on the bridge with Saint Angelo's castle in the background. It was really massive and very neat to see. At the vatican, there were sooo many people. It was a big open circle area with statues around the top and St. Peter's in the middle. We waited in a quick 30 min line before getting right at the entrance. Wellllll, we didn't know there was a dress code to go in. Jacqui was wearing shorts and a tank top..but apparently girls needed to wear pants and a shirt with sleeves. I was ok in shorts and a polo shirt, so Jacqui said to go in while she waited outside. I felt really bad because I like experiencing everything together, but she said to just go in and take pictures so she coudl see. So I went into the church and down below, I got to see St. Peter's tomb. It was magnificent! I took a few quick pictures, then went into the actual church up above and wow! It truly was a sight to see. Pictures can't do any justice to what was in there. Once back outside, I met up with Jacqui and we made our way around the walls of the Vatican to see if we could go into the museum or find another gelato shop that was recommended to us. Wellll, the walk was really long and it took us forever to make our way around it. When we made it around, we saw the museum and saw it was closed. I guess certain days the museum was closed and today happened to be one of those. I guess there is some sort of Italian holiday that was being celebrated where many people get the day off. Oh well...so then just down the street we saw the gelato shop we had been looking for...and it was also closed. Oh well, there were many other things to see and do besides museums and gelato. We hit up a few shops where Jacqui got some souvies for her family, then went on our way over to Plaza Navona. On our way there, we stopped and got a quick gelato which was very good, then found the Plaza. There were lots of little artists, restaurants, and shops in the Plaza. Really neat..but pretty crowded. So what do you know...there was another gelato shop that was recommended, and wow! The place was called Blue Ice and definitely had one of the best. I had a mango, melon, and rasberry flavor while Jacqui had a cherry vanilla type. After chowing those bad boys down, we saw a restaurant that had a recommended dessert. I wasn't much in the mood to have it, but Jacqui was..so she ordered it and of course I ended up trying it. I think it was one of my favorite desserts ever...seriously. IT was a little chocolate sponge looking thing with ice cream whip topping. Wow...sooo good. We got in trouble for bringing our gelato in that restaurant since it wasn't from them..but oh well..we did end up ordering something from them.
After all those desserts, I was sick to my stomach. We walked a little of the ways down, saw the Pantheon (which is a dome shaped temple built in AD 125. It is one of the best preserved buildings in Rome). We got a quick diet coke at a Mcdonalds outside of the Pantheon, then went over to the Trevi fountain. This was a really neat fountain that had millions of people. Everyone was just sitting around the fountain and by the water. Pretty neat, but too crowded. Jacqui's camera was dying of battery so we looked in a bunch of shops but they charge about 50 euros for a new battery. She forgot the battery charger at home :( So we didn't get a new battery. By that time, it was close to 3 and we needed to get back to the hotel, get our bags, and make it over to the train station for a 3:45 train to Pisa. We hurried on back, got the train tickets, and made it with about 10 minutes to spare. Pretty good timing! On the train, there was a REALLY annoying couple sitting right behind Jacqui that were arguing for almost an hour straight yelling very loudly in another language. Not to be mean, but they smelled awful, were very rude, and were just unpleasnt to be around. The guy continued to make noise most of the trip with loud duct tape and pounding on his luggage to try and fix it. OH well..I guess there are just some rude people out there. Jacqui and I wrote a bunch about the trip to recap and relaxed for the 3 hour train trip into Pisa. Next up is the leaning tower of pisa!! We still don't have a hotel booked so finding one might be a little tricky :( ...hopefully it is not as bad as it was in Florence where all the places are sold out. I guess we will see.
After at loooong delay with the train, we got into Pisa late at night. We purposely left early so that we would arrive in Pisa early to get some pics with the Leaning Tower, find a hotel, and go out to eat...but nope. The train was sooo delayed that we got into town really late. First things first, we rushed to find our way to the Tower. After a long walk, we finally found it. I must say, it really is a neat thing to see! We took a few pics, then walked around looking for a hotel to stay at. Of course..every hotel seemed to be sold out. FInally, we found one...but the owner spoke NO english at all. So after trying to point and make signals with our hands, we got a room. It was quite a funny experience. After getting all checked in, Jac and I went to a little restaurant since we were starving. I had a pretty good pizza while Jacqui had a good seafood mixture dish. We walked around a little, got one last gelato and hit the hay for the night since we had an early morning. Woke up early, then the traveling began. We took a few trains and to get over to Brussels airport where my bike and bag were safely stored. We stayed the night in Brussels (actually Charleroi), ate at Pizza Hut and spent most of the day in the hotel not doing much. It was nice in a way to relax for once after such a busy trip. The next day we trained over to the airport, picked up my bike and bag, bought a few last minute gifts, and sat a while since our flight was once again delayed. After finally getting on the plane, we traveled for a LONGGG time and ended up back in town. What a great great great trip that I would definitely go on in a eartbeat. I hope you enjoyed reading about the trip :)