Saturday, November 14, 2009

November Break!

Cagliari, Sardegna

Cinque Terre- the edge of Riomaggiore where we stayed. SO GORGEOUS!!

At night in my favorite town in Cinque Terre- Vernazza

Florence- View from the Ponte Vecchio bridge

Carrie and I at Piazza Michelangelo- behind us is a view of the entire city!!

We had an entire week off from school the first week of November for our fall break at IST. This means trying to fit in as much traveling as we can in the short 9 day break! And we did just was a very busy week of non-stop seeing sightseeing, exploring, and new places :) Its weeks like these that are the reason I took this job.

My friend Carrie and I decided a few months ago that we wanted to take a trip together over the November break, so we had been planning this for quite some time. We knew we would travel well together and this trip proved that very true! Our week started off right after school on Friday, October 30th. Once all the kids left, ready for the Halloween weekend, we started our journey to the airport, we had a 9:50 P.M. flight to Cagliari, Sardegna (which is the island off the west coast of Italy. It is a part of Italy though). We finally arrived in Cagliari late Friday night and the journey began! In Sardegna we planned to do Couch Surfing, which for those of you that do not know, is basically a "worldwide network for making connections between travelers and the communities they visit." It connects people all across the world and all its members open up their homes for travelers, providing a "couch" for them to stay on for free. I had found out about this from Luke, because he did Couch Surfing throughout his entire backpacking trip through Europe last summer. Travel to new countries, meet the people that actually live there, and get a couch to stay on for free? Sounded like a great idea! Well once we got to Cagliari we quickly found out our experience was going to be much different! We stayed with a guy in his late 20's, extremely nice, laid back, and generous guy.....BUT has no sense of sanitation or cleanliness haha. We were so grateful that he opened up his home to us, and he really was a very kind person....but we would just prefer not to sleep in his questionably washed sheets! I told myself I would try Couch Surfing at least once while in Europe, and I am so glad and proud of myself that I did. It was a great experience that actually taught me a lot about myself as a traveler. However, as I told Luke, the only time I would ever try Couch Surfing again is with him...and if I get to see pictures of where I will be staying!

So Saturday and part of Sunday we spent exploring Cagliari, Sardegna. The city is known mostly for its beaches during the warmer months, so the Cagliari itself really does not have much to offer. There were some beautiful neighborhoods, monuments, and churches, but nothing overly impressive. I do not think I would go back there again, it just was not memorable enough to visit again. On Sunday we took a train to Alghero, Sardegna, which is in on the northern coast of the island. Now this city I LOVED! It is a gorgeous, seaside town which has a surprising amount of history. The city is so small you really feel relaxed and welcomed by the quaint beach town. Since our experience with Couch Surfing was not as successful as we hoped, we cancelled our last night of Couch Surfing in Alghero and booked a B&B last minute. The place turned out to be SUCH a blessing...La Terranza B&B opened up a room for us on their last night of the season, set out a huge breakfast feast for us, gave us the entire apartment to ourselves, and allowed us to stay until whenever we needed to...not to mention how nice and clean it was! Our trip was going in the right direction now:) In Alghero we just walked around the downtown area, enjoyed the gorgeous views, and had a phenomenal dinner at a hidden Trattoria (restaurant that serves the area's local food) we found- Paella Alghero style, red wine, seafood spaghetti, and a delicious cheese and honey soaked pastry! I would highly recommend going to this city, it is a perfect getaway for a quick weekend of beachs, a B&B, and local cuisine!

On Monday night we took an overnight ferry to Genova...finally we were on our way to the Cinque Terre!! The ferry was actually much nicer than we expected, somewhat of a lowscale, one-night cruise, but we slept through most of the 12-hour journey. Once we reached Genova we took a train to the Cinque Terre. Luke and Amy have both raved of this place since they each traveled here, both agreeing it is one of the most gorgeous places they had ever been. So this is one place I knew I HAD to visit in Italy before I left, an area that I had anticipated traveling too for a very long I am sure you can imagine my excitement! And oh my goodness my expectations were nothing but blown away! The Cinque Terre is a stretch of 5 cities along the Italian Riviera, labeled a part of the National Park as known for its breathtaking views of the Mediterranean Sea and the hiking path connecting all 5 cities together. Carrie had been here many times before while studying abroad in Florence, so she booked us a great apartment in the most Southern city of Riomaggiore.

We stepped off the train for the first time in Monterosso, the first of the 5 cities, and I literally was speechless. The Cinque Terre is truly the MOST beautiful place I have ever seen. Rocky cliffs dropping off into a crystal blue abyss of water, bright colored buildings stacked on top of each other up to the very edge the coastline....oh my goodness, this place truly is PARADISE!!! I never have traveled to anywhere where I just stood in awe of what God has created, I did not understand how something this beautiful exists! So we had a pretty relaxing 2 days in the Cinque Terre, most of our time consisting of purely enjoying the views. Wednesday I hiked through all 5 cities by myself, it ended up being about 13 kilometers of hiking, nearly taking me from 9 to 4- only to stop for gelato of course :) The hike was difficult and long, but such a unexplainable experience- so quiet and peaceful, breathtaking views every time you turn a corner, walking along the edge of a moutain...ah one of the most memorable things I have ever done! Each city is unique and has a character of its own, but every one has just one main cobblestone road lined with eclectic shops, restaurants, markets, and bars. The Cinque Terre, truly is a hidden jem of Italy that EVERYONE must travel to!

Our time there was cut way to short as we had to leave for Florence of Thursday. We had run into a co-worker and his girlfriend in Riomaggiore who had rented a car for the week. Ironically, they were leaving for Firenze Thursday too, so we got to hop in the car with them and drive through Tuscany on the way to our next destination. What a beautiful car ride!! After only 2 hours we arrived in Florence, a huge contrast to the landscape and tranquillity of the Cinque Terre. Florence has much more of an old Europe feel, such history to every piazza and building. The city is self is just so large, filled with so many tourists! I has not heard that much English in such a long time, the city is flooded with young Americans studying abroad. Although, it was refreshing to hear my own language at first, by the end of the three days I had a deep appreciation for Trieste and its lack of tourists and abundance of a language other than Italian. Its funny how much the "American tourist" truly bothers me while traveling now...I can only hope I becomes less and less like this throughout my year here :)

Carrie studied in Florence 6 years ago and revisited a few time since, so she knew that city like the back of her hand. She gave me a tour of the entire city, history and all, I really felt like we walked every street in Florence! And a walking city that it is....the enormity of Florence is overwhelming at first, but by Saturday I was able to navigate the streets and have a vague idea of where I was! We saw all the typical sights- San Lorenzo Market, the Uffizi Gallery, Palazzo Pitti, Ponte Vecchio, Market Centrale, Academia, St Croce Church, the Duomo, and Piazza Michelangelo. Carrie also got to show me a few hidden treasures of Florence though- like Festival del Gelato (70 flavors!!), the Paperback Exchange-an English language bookstore, Mexican restaurants (oh gosh I had been waiting in anticipation for so long...I'm dying without my Mexican food!!), delicious Trattorias, and great local wine bars. My favorite thing we did was Piazza Michelagelo though. You walk up a steep hill, finally to reach this piazza where you can sit on top of the steps and see the ENTIRE city! It was absolutely gorgeous, such a neat city full of history and culture!

Unfortunately, Saturday finally came and I had to travel back to Trieste. Carrie drove home with some co-workers on Sunday. However, I took the train home alone on Saturday so that I could get back to the apartment and meet Allie's boy that she was dating before she came to Italy. They had just gotten back from a romantic week in Paris and Rome, so it was great to finally meet him and enjoy a dinner together sharing our travels :)

Overall, it was an adventure-filled and relaxing week of traveling to new and beautiful places. Cinque Terre was definitely the highlight of the trip and hands down the most beautiful, magical place I have ever been! These breaks truly are what will make my experience here I think. I am already counting down the days until Bethany and Amy visit during my February break, hopefully we will be seeing Ireland and part of Spain. Then Luke comes in April and we are just going to enjoy actually seeing each other hah...spending part of the week relaxing in Trieste and the other exploring the rest of Spain!!!! I CANNOT WAIT!!! :)

If you want to look through more pictures from the trip, here is the link to my pictures. They are gorgeous, please look at the ones of Cinque Terre!!:

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