Monday, July 9, 2012

Trips & Travels (Of Food and Dessert and Tours, Oh My!)

So, as all of you know, I was on hiatus for the past two Thursdays (and subsequent Fridays) from the blog-review because I was on vacation. In case you are curious about my travels and adventures, the following is a photo recap of my vacation abroad!

Thursday, June 28th

(From left to right: mom, me, my sister [Kristin, from here on out] on our 9-hour flight from Orlando to London)

Thursday afternoon I left work early in order to drive to the airport with the rest of my family to board a 9-hour flight from Orlando to London. Because of the time difference between here and there, we ended up leaving around 5:30 in the afternoon EST and arriving in London (which was surprisingly chilly!) at around 6:30 in the morning. 

(London, baby!)

So, once we arrived in London, we had a 7-hour layover, which was good because that allowed us to take a black taxi cab tour of the city with this awesome guy named Michael. We basically rushed through the airport and hopped a 30-minute train from Gatwick airport to downtown to meet him and he took us through the city, stopping at a few places to let us out and take pictures. Sadly, most of his tours are longer than the hour and forty or so minutes that our layover allowed, and I know he felt bad, so he gave us some keychains and coasters. We did get a chance to see Buckingham Palace, the London Eye, and the House of Parliament, which were all very cool.

(Kristin and her DARSIT. Yes, everything is a Community reference and nothing hurts.)

After our tour -- and profuse thanks to Michael for taking us on the tour -- we all rushed back to the train station and hopped a train back to the airport to wait to board our flight (which was delayed over an hour, so that was fun). By this point, we were all insanely exhausted because -- apart from me -- no one in my family actually slept on the flight. Nevertheless, we got on another plane and headed to Rome!

(The insanely adorable courtyard of the hotel we stayed at!)

And thus, after our driver picked us up from the airport and drove us to the hotel, our first day was ended!

Saturday, June 30th

Between time differences and flying, we were all super exhausted, which was why it was nice that our tour wasn't super early. The first day of our tour (we booked our trip through AAA, so most of the meals and tours were already scheduled for us) we woke up early, had breakfast, and headed to the Vatican!

(To the Vatican, we go!)

(Inside the Vatican)

Quite honestly, I expected the Vatican to be pretty amazing and it definitely didn't disappoint. But I have to say that, even as we toured throughout Vatican City and saw a variety of tapestries, sculptures, and paintings, the thing that I was most impressed with -- apart from the incredible Sistine Chapel -- was St. Peter's Basilica. If you ever go, be forewarned that you are required to cover your shoulders and wear something that falls below your knees (hence all of our long skirts/sweaters, in spite of the insane heat of Rome that day). 

(Inside St. Peter's)


Our tour guide took us throughout the entirety of St. Peter's and let us look around. We then got to go down to the catacombs and see the various tombs of Popes. After we toured the basilica, we went outside to take some pictures and then headed back to our hotel to grab some lunch. After lunch, we had free time alotted. One of the interns at work had suggested a gelato shop in Rome, so my family and I hailed a cab and decided to venture to the Spanish steps and the Trevi fountain, because the shop was quite close to both of those locations.

(Kristin, me, and my mom on the Spanish steps)

(The Trevi fountain!)

Later that night we had our first real Italian dinner with another family who was on the same tour we were (we went south to Sorrento a few days later and they headed north to Venice and Florence). And the food in Italy was -- needless to say -- amazing. Dinners usually consisted of four courses: bread or antipasta, pasta, meat, and dessert. We all marveled, however, at the fact that the portions were more controlled than we were used to. These weren't Cheesecake Factory-sized dishes, so even though we ate a lot, it didn't feel like a lot of food, if that makes sense.

(Poor Kristin wasn't legal to drink in any country -- she's 17, so she couldn't even have wine in Italy. Bummer for her. Not for me!)

After dinner, my family decided to walk down to the river where a carnival/fair of sorts was going on. It was cute and full of lots of tents with jewelry, games, and food. After that, we returned to the hotel where we pretty much hit the hay because we were going to have a LONG day ahead of us the next morning!

Sunday, July 1st

We began on the hottest day of our tour (105 degrees!) and traveled to see the Colosseum, which is perhaps one of the coolest things I will ever see in my life. Apart from being an amazing piece of history, the ampitheatre itself is HUGE. I don't think I wrapped my mind around its size before we saw it.

(Amazing, no?)

In spite of the insane heat, I really did enjoy walking through this bit of Rome's history. Speaking of walking, if you ever DO get a chance to tour the Colosseum, be sure that you wear closed-toed shoes. I am sure glad that I did! 

(Me and Kristin, who -- at this point and from here on out in the trip -- stole each other's pair of sunglasses. I like her aviators better anyway.)

(Pictures can't do most of the trip justice, but I'll try!)

After the Colosseum tour, we got a chance to see the rest of the Roman ruins, which -- admittedly -- would have been a lot cooler, had it not been the middle of the day in sweltering heat. Nevertheless, we got to see where Julius Caesar's grave is, so that was pretty interesting. 

After our tour of the ruins (and a LOT of walking. Did I mention that we pretty much walked EVERYWHERE), we prepared for our final night in Rome. We technically only had two nights to stay in Rome because on the third morning we were going to check out from the hotel and drive to Sorrento, where we spent the rest of the week.

Now, does anyone remember what night Saturday happened to be? If you are into soccer (or football, for all of you non-Americans), it was the night of the Euro Cup. More specifically, it was the night of the Euro Cup featuring Italy vs. Spain. After we returned from dinner, we walked into the square to return to our hotel and found that restaurants on either side had literally dragged tables and chairs out into the square and arranged them so that they faced four flat-screen television sets that all broadcasted the game. 

(I tried to capture, as best as I could, the craziness of the square, and I'm not sure THIS even did it justice!)

I'm not a huge soccer fan, but I'll admit that it was pretty cool to watch the game with a bunch of Italians outside! It was my brother's favorite part of the trip (and yes, even though he is not in the photos yet, I DO have a dad and a 20-year old brother). We left the square at half-time because the cigarette smoke (EVERYONE smokes in Italy, it seems) was getting to me and my mom, and returned to our hotel to finish watching the game before bed.

Monday, July 2nd

Bright and early we checked out of our hotel to travel two hours to our next (and brief) stop -- Pompeii! Since the city was en route to Sorrento, AAA scheduled a tour to take of the historical city. I definitely enjoyed this tour (mainly because our guide insisted on stopping to find shade along the paths), especially seeing Mount Vesuvius. Did you know that people actually live on the volcano? Did you know that the volcano is still active? I did not, and was intrigued to learn both of those things on our walking tour.

(Streets of Pompeii -- no big deal)

I was also interested to find out that 30% of the city of Pompeii has yet to be excavated. Our guide joked that we should grab shovels and start digging after the tour. Still, we walked through some nearly intact houses, and one house that was eerily similar to the one in "The Fires of Pompeii" (and perhaps on purpose, but who knows). 

(Mount Vesuvius!)

We then got back into our van and rode another hour or so until we arrived in Sorrento, which is just the most adorable and awesome place, I think.

I often found myself wondering aloud on the trip how in the world these cities were actually REAL, they were so beautiful. We checked into our hotel which was GORGEOUS. And had a rooftop pool that overlooked the city. And had a second-story garden. And had rooms the size of some of my friends' apartments. I'm not joking about any of those things.

After checking in and cooling down, my sister and I explored the garden and had a fun photo shoot. Later that night, we headed out to dinner, where I had THE most amazing tiramisu. 

We explored the city around our hotel, which was a lot of fun. There were tons of awesome shops within walking distance from our hotel, and that's where I ended up purchasing nearly all of my gifts for my friends back home. Also, at night, the entire town seemed to shut down and walk everywhere on foot (not like they fail to do this during the day because Italians walk nearly EVERYWHERE, apparently), but still it was cool to see everyone about under the stars together.

Tuesday, July 3rd

This was our fun day in Capri! And by fun, I do mean mostly fun (except for having to travel 20 minutes by boat from Sorrento to Capri, which was not entirely fun because I got a bit seasick). We were on another tour with some families, and once we got off the boat which brought us to the island, took a van up winding hills and mountains to the town of Anacapri.

(Seriously... HOW are these real places?)

Apart from shopping (and lots more walking), there's not a whole lot to do in Capri. Trust me, the views are gorgeous, but if you are looking for some historical sights or something like that, this is probably not the place for you. But we did learn one thing in Capri: no one in my family likes Limoncello. Not at ALL. We sampled a bit of it in a store -- because lemons are EVERYWHERE in Sorrento and the subsequent towns of Capri and those on the Amalfi coast. And yeah. Totally gross because it's straight up vodka with a bit of lemon. And I don't like either of those things. 

Anyway, we grabbed some lunch in Capri at a little pizza place, which I actually wasn't thrilled with (but the BEST pizza came later on in the trip), and then headed back on the boat to Sorrento where we spent the rest of the time before dinner relaxing. 

We also took a LOT of sunset photographs while in Sorrento. Look at that view. How goregous is that view? I can't stand it. 

Apparently everyone else thought so too, because the balcony/viewpoint from which we observed the sunset was frequented by MANY people that night. It's also funny because sunset happens around 8:300 in Rome, so all of these people were crowded around the balcony and right after the sun went down, promptly departed.

("Way to go, sun! See you tomorrow? Same time, same place?")

Wednesday, July 4th

Happy birthday, America! And -- more importantly -- happy birthday, Dad! That's right: my dad was born on Independence Day. :) Additionally, Wednesday was our "free day" to do whatever we wanted to around Sorrento. As such, we decided to take the opportunity to sleep in, eat breakfast, and spend most of the morning and afternoon tanning on the roof of the hotel near the pool. This was a good plan until my sister and I realized how sunburnt we were afterward (you'll tell in the next few pictures). 

Our lunch consisted of THE BEST PIZZA EVER. I'm not even joking. The night before, my entire family (sans my brother because he felt tired and sick) went to this little pizza place in Sorrento for dinner and it was fantastic, so we went back the following day for lunch!

(White pizza with prosciutto and mushrooms. Mmmm.)

My sister went with my dad to scope out a restaurant we had read about and made dinner reservations. It was this awesome little place on the Mediterranean (how often do you get to eat on the MEDITERRANEAN?), and the staff was super friendly and nice.

(Family portrait!)

(Happy birthday, Dad!)

The staff sang to him and hilariously tried to light the candle behind him before sticking it into the cake so he wouldn't notice, but it kept blowing out due to the breeze. 

Thursday, July 5th

Our final day began with a driving tour of the Amalfi coast, where we stopped at a few of its cities along the way. Apart from being carsick for the first half of the ride, the views were to die for.

We got to stop to take some pictures, so here's a nice family photo! (Minus the glare on my mom's face... you know, you can never have ONE entirely nice photo, can you?)

One of the stops along the tour was through the Emerald Grotto, which was sort of interesting. I'm not really the type of girl who likes enclosed spaces (especially caves with lots of water), but the view itself was pretty cool, I'll admit.

(Inside and outside of the grotto)

We got the chance to explore the rest of the towns and some shops (and a lot of narrow roads and crazy twists and turns! Seriously, I don't know HOW people drive in Italy!) before we had to head back to the hotel and change for dinner.

For our last meal in Italy, we were driven up into the mountains -- about a half hour or so away from the hotel -- to overlook the entire city and the Mediterranean. And, to be honest, it was the perfect ending to the perfect, relaxing and adventurous week. :)


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