High Rolling in Monaco

Last night we had a 4 course dinner in Vieille Ville, Monaco. Afterward, we walked around for a bit before heading over to the Grand Casino in Monte Carlo. The casino was every bit as glamorous as I had expected, with rows of exotic cars parked outside. It was completely luxe on the inside. The front of the bar was covered in crystal. The main room had a beautiful stained glass ceiling surrounded by crystal chandeliers. It’s a pity pictures aren’t allowed inside!

I’m not much of a gambler, but I wanted to play a little since we were in this epic casino. The minimum bid for a card game was €20. I decided to play the slot machines instead and ended up coming out ahead by €13.25! Although, I did buy a water for €6, so I guess I was only up by €7.25. A couple of people in our group won €350 playing blackjack. Luckily no one in our group lost a lot of money!

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French Perfume Factory

Yesterday afternoon, we stopped at a perfume factory called Fragonard in Eze, a town on the French Riviera. We learned all about the perfume manufacturing process and got to tour the factory.

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Beautiful Florence

We arrived in Florence late Friday afternoon and had a bit of time to relax in the hotel before heading out for a group dinner. On the way to the dinner, it started to rain pretty hard. No one was prepared for rain. By the time we found a sheltered place to stand to wait for it to pass, we were all soaked! I was worried that the restaurant wouldn’t take us since we looked like drowned rats! They didn’t seem to mind though, and we enjoyed a nice dinner.

After dinner, we went to a karaoke bar called Red Garter. It was packed inside, and all the drinks came in huge two liter pitchers. It took a while for the singing to get started, so I actually went back to the hotel rather early with another girl who wasn’t feeling well. I mostly just wanted to get out of my damp clothes, take a shower, and go to bed. Apparently, several people in the group decided to leave the karaoke early to go to a nightclub somewhere either on the outskirts of Florence or outside of Florence. They had a really difficult time getting taxis back to the hotel. A couple of arguments broke out, and it sounded like they had a terrible time. I’m glad I decided to go back early and missed out on all of the drama.

Saturday morning, we went to a leather shop and watched a demo on how they make Florentine boxes. They also told us how to tell the difference between real and fake leather. After that, we had a walking tour of Florence with a local guide. Once the walking tour was over, I had lunch with some of the Australian girls. We had up until dinner for free time. Once again, everyone just wanted to spend their free time shopping. . .and not even in the little shops. They wanted to go in some of the chain stores that are everywhere! We ended up splitting up after a while. I looked in the market stands for some specific souvenirs, found a quiet place to enjoy some gelato, and then went back to the hotel to take a nap. The only thing I didn’t do that I kind of wanted to was to climb to the top of the Duomo. I figured it would take too much time, plus I was tired and it was hot out – not exactly the kind of conditions that inspire a 400+ stair climb.

We went to a place called La Certosa for dinner. It was sort of like a banquet hall. There was live music and dancing, and we all had a good time. Afterward, we went to Space Electronic Discotheque and danced until the wee hours.

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Pisa, The Leaning Tower of

Yesterday morning, we departed Venice for Florence, with a stop in Pisa. I’m not going to lie – I was pretty grumpy when my alarm went off. I did not want to pack up all of my belongings again. I was missing my own bed and shower at home. In general, I was just weary from all of the traveling. I snapped out of it by the time our bus departed from the hotel, though, and was able to enjoy the hour we spent in Pisa. The funniest thing was to look around at everyone making silly poses for pictures near The Leaning Tower. It looked like a park full of idiots!

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Hot Day in Venice

Yesterday was our big day out in Venice, and it was a scorcher! It was so sunny, I couldn’t see what I was taking pictures of, so the pictures below aren’t the best. We started out with a walking tour from a local guide. Apparently there are strict laws in Italy about who can give tours, and our group leader is not allowed to, hence the local guide. Our guide was very colorful and entertaining. I was impressed with how she seemed to know every nook and cranny of Venice like the back of her hand.

After the tour was over, we had a lot of free time. I had lunch with a couple of Australian girls at a restaurant by the Grand Canal, near the Rialto Bridge. We looked in some shops afterward. We crossed paths with another group of ladies from our trip, and I was the only person who wanted to go inside any of the historical places. Literally everyone else just wanted to go shopping! Everyone knows that I like shopping, but come on! We are only in this incredible place for a short time, and you want to spend it shopping??? I felt a little bad ditching them, but sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do!

I spent the rest of my free time going inside St Mark’s Basilica, the bell tower, and Doge’s Palace. I wish I had started out with Doge’s Palace because I would have spent more time there. I ended up really rushing through it so that I would be on time to meet the group for our gondola rides.

Our gondolier was named Marcello. At one point near the end of the ride, he saw a friend of his who was on a motor boat. The friend came over on his boat, and it turned out he had a tiny chihuahua aboard. He handed the dog to Marcello who proceeded to talk to it in a baby voice. It was hilarious to see this tan, muscled, tattooed Italian guy speaking to a tiny chihuahua in a baby voice! After the gondola ride, we had dinner at a restaurant in the middle of Venice where the food kept coming nonstop for two hours while a couple of guys played accordions.

Overall, I had a good time in Venice, but I’m not sure I would come back. The place is completely overrun by tourists. When I was at the top of the bell tower, I squinted my eyes looking over St Mark’s Square and imagined what it was like hundreds of years ago with people walking about wearing masks. Now it is full of loud tourists and overflowing garbage cans. . . sigh.

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Lake Garda – Sirmione, Italy

Apologies for being a little behind on the blog posts. My internet connection here in Italy has been a bit wonky. We made one more stop on the way to our hotel in Venice at Lake Garda in Sirmione. The weather was warm and sunny, so there were a lot of people out enjoying the sun. Apparently this is a popular place for Italians to go for vacation and is the largest lake in Italy.

We mostly wandered on the beach and ate gelato. There were several swans wandering around the beach as well. It was kind of funny because these swans had no fear whatsoever of humans. One of them walked right up to a little girl and put its face right in front of hers. Before getting back on the bus, I decided to check out the Scaliger Castle. I climbed to the top of the tower where there was a really nice view of the lake. Note to self: don’t wear flip flops and a dress the next time climbing a 13th century castle tower!

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Getting Our Bling and Strudel On – Innsbruck, Austria

We stopped in Innsbruck, Austria on our way to Venice today. First we went to the Swarovski store where they told us about the history of Swarovski and we did some shopping. Everything in the store was blinged out, including the staircase! I had a meat and potato strudel for lunch and got an apple strudel to go for the bus ride. They say that they roll the dough out so thin that you can read a newspaper through it. I’m not sure I believe that, but the strudel was amazing!

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