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!
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.
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!
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!
Yesterday morning, we departed Switzerland for Munich. I woke up feeling great. A lot of people were pretty hungover and/or were getting sick with colds though. Our group leader has proclaimed “Can’t Hold Us” by Macklemore to be our group’s official song. He plays it in the morning to get us amped up. Yesterday morning when he played the song, I thought some people were going to murder him.
We stopped for lunch in Lichtenstein. We learned that Lichtenstein is the 4th smallest country in the world. Its population is around 35,000. Its main export is the casing used for sausage. Apparently it is also known for money laundering. So. . .yeah, not a very exciting place. It was just a convenient stop for lunch, exchanging money, a bathroom break, etc. We also had to stop due to the European bus driving rules for taking a break due to having driven over a certain amount of time.
A couple of hours later, I started to feel really sick on the bus. All of a sudden, I got really cold, to the point where I was physically shaking. About an hour before we got to the hotel, I started to get a migraine. By the time we got to the hotel, I thought I was going to die. I cannot remember the last time that I ever felt so horrible. If it’s possible to have a cold, the flu, food poisoning, and a migraine all at the same time, then I’m pretty sure I did.
The itinerary for the rest of the day was to immediately leave for a bike tour of Munich, dinner, and then go to a beer hall. I considered pushing myself to take the bus into town with everyone and just walk around on my own, but by the time I got to the hotel, I felt like death. I took some medicine and went to bed. I literally slept for 10 hours.
I woke up feeling a lot better – not 100%, but a lot better. To be honest, Munich was near the bottom on the list of the stops on this trip that I wanted to see. So if I had to get sick, at least it happened there. I got to see a little of Germany already when we were in the Rhine Valley last week, so I’m not too upset about it. Sorry there are no pictures from yesterday!
10,623 feet high, to be exact! After breakfast, we took a gondola up to the next gondola station. The first gondola was really large, it must have fit around 40 people. From there, we took a second gondola up to the summit of Mt Titlis. The second gondola was just as big as the first, but this one rotates 360 degrees during the ascent/descent. One of the girls started getting really bad altitude sickness during the second gondola ride.
Once we got off the gondola, we walked through a glacier cave. It was awesome. There were a few different tunnels. Halfway through, I realized I was alone because I had stopped to take pictures, which no one else seemed to be doing. Thoughts of getting lost in the glacier cave and freezing to death briefly went through my mind. Luckily the cave is designed so that all the different tunnels converge at the exit.
No one on this trip was prepared for how cold it would be at the summit. Some people didn’t even have tennis shoes! I at least had adequate walking shoes, but nothing in the way of warm clothing. I am now the proud owner of several very touristy pieces of apparel, including two “Germany” hoodies as well as a ski hat and gloves with the Swiss flag emblazoned on them.
There are 4 floors above the glacier cave/gondola stop that include restaurants, shops, and a bar. The top level is where you exit to get to the mountain. At some point going up the stairs, the altitude really started to hit me. Once I got outside, I stood in place for a while and just took pictures until the dizziness subsided. I slowly made my way up to the top. It wasn’t too bad since the snow was really compact, making it easy to walk.
About half of the group is bungee jumping out of a specially outfitted gondola right now. I decided that I am happy with my current relationship with gravity and decided to forgo bungee jumping. Today is the birthday for a few people in our group – a pair of twins and another girl, all from South Africa. We are having a party tonight after dinner for their birthday. The theme is “poor taste,” which kind of sounds like the British version of a white trash party.
We drove over to Engelberg, to the base of Mt Titlis. We caught gondolas up to our hotel in Trubsee. The elevation is almost 6,000 feet. The entrance to our hotel is just off the exit for the gondolas, so it’s very convenient. The view here is incredible. I was glad to breathe in all of the fresh air after being in a bus for much of the day. The hotel is the perfect mix of rugged outdoors and modern European sensibilities. When we arrived, they told us that they keep the bar open as long as we keep consuming alcohol. This is my kind of place!
I was blown away by the view from my room. You can open the enormous windows all the way and let the fresh air in. I love my room here. It’s on the top floor and even has a cute little lofted bedroom, but I’m sleeping on the double bed on the main floor. It’s nice having this huge space all to myself!
We had some time to get settled in before dinner out on the deck. Afterward, we went for a little walk. On the walk, we stopped at the nearby lake and took the rowboats out for a bit. We then walked back to the hotel, where there was a party at the bar downstairs which opens up onto the huge outdoor deck. Words cannot describe how beautiful it is here. Not even my pictures do it justice. I definitely want to come back here some day!
Our first stop in Switzerland was in Lucerne. We stopped in a store that sells watches and Swiss Army knives. I bought one of the white Swiss Army knives that is exclusive to Switzerland. They did free engraving, which was really nice. I’ve been wanting a two-tone watch for a while now and decided to splash out on one I saw in the store. It’s made by Balmain, which isn’t sold in the US, at least it isn’t as of right now. I figured this was better that getting something like a Tissot which you can buy anywhere. When in Switzerland. . .buy watches!
Afterward, we did some sightseeing in town. Lucerne is beautiful, and the weather was absolutely perfect. We saw the Chapel Bridge, a wooden foot bridge that crosses the Reuss River. It was originally built in 1333 and features painted interior triangle frames that date back to the 17th century and depict events from Lucerne’s history. Unfortunately, in 1993, a fire broke out and destroyed much of the bridge. It was restored in 1994, but only a small number of the paintings could be saved or restored. There are still a few burnt panels as a reminder of the fire.
Next we saw the Lion Monument, which is dedicated to the memory of the Swiss Guards of Louis XVI of France who fell during the French Revolution while defending the royal palace at the Tuileries in Paris on August 10th, 1792. In the sculpture, the lion is mortally wounded, with a broken spear in his shoulder. The lion’s paw rests protectively over a shield bearing the fleur-de-lis of the French monarchy. Beside him is a shield bearing the coat of arms of Switzerland. When the artist completed the original sculpture, there was a dispute with those who had commissioned the work, and he was not paid. In retribution, he carved the outline of a pig around the sculpture, as if he were telling the people who didn’t pay him that they were pigs.
We stopped at a rest stop in Germany on the way to Switzerland today for lunch. In Europe, bus drivers have to take a mandatory break if they have driven over a few hours, hence the rest stop. At first, I thought, “Ew, we’re having lunch at a rest stop?” Our tour leader assured us that the rest stops in Germany are nothing like they are in the US, and he was right! You can order real food that is served on real plates with real silverware. I had linguine bolognese, and they made it fresh right in front of me! Another girl had orange juice that was fresh squeezed from this machine that takes a whole orange, slices it in half, and squeezes the juice into your glass. It was pretty cool.
You have to pay 0.70 € to use the restroom. There is a turnstile in front of the restrooms where you put the change to get in. It dispenses a ticket for 0.50 € that is good for anything, e.g., food, souvenirs, etc., at the rest stop. The toilet seats are self-cleaning. The oval seat somehow stretches into a circle, it spins around while this contraption disinfects it and dries it, then it goes back to its original shape. The Germans think of everything!
We drove through the Rhine Valley to St Goar, where we stayed in a German guest house. There are many medieval castles in the Rhine Valley. Apparently the castles here have been the inspiration for several of the castles in Disney movies. The landscape here is very beautiful, and the environment is calm and peaceful.
We stopped at the store of a local beer stein manufacturer and learned about the different kinds of steins and how they are made. We also saw the world’s largest free-hanging cuckoo clock. After dinner, we went to a wine tasting where we had a couple of different Rieslings and ice wine. That was my first time trying ice wine. It is very sweet and delicious. It is also very expensive because of the small quantity of grapes left late in the season when ice wine is made and because the window of time that meets the exact frost conditions for making ice wine is extremely short. The wine cellar where we had the wine tasting was very cool and medieval looking. Afterward, we went back to the bar at the bottom of the guest house. The nice thing about us staying there was that they kept the bar open until we were ready to go to sleep.