Archive for February, 2011

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exploring at dusk in verona, italy

Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011

I had a lot of fun wandering about Verona, Italy all by myself on an early Friday night in early February. I felt free and alive and adventurous. In a wonderfully gorgeous and romantic and very old city, I was the ultimate explorer. I took in dusk and the sunset to its fullest, surrounded by amazing cobbled streets, centuries old buildings, and simply incredible vistas.

Taking in the architecture…
Verona, Italy architecture

Verona, Italy architecture

The Piazza delle Erbe and Tower Lamberti at dusk…
Piazza delle Erbe

14th century fountain in Piazza delle Erbe…
piazza delle erbe

The Roman Theater and hill of Castle San Pietro…
Castle Pietra

River Adige at sunset…
River Adige

River Adige

River Adige

Juliet’s balcony…
Verona, Italy Juliet’s Balcony

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traveling solo in verona, italy

Sunday, February 20th, 2011

One of the funny things about traveling by yourself (and in a place where English is not the first language spoken) is that you suddenly become so much more aware about how you respond to uncomfortable situations.

You spend more time thinking about how you communicate and interact with other human beings. How you watch them, and how they perceive you. How to ask for help in any language you can convey. And you learn more about your own instincts on how to get by when you have to think on your feet.

My first experience with this was when I was boarding my train in Munich. I felt a sense of panic because I didn’t understand my train ticket enough to know which car I needed to be on. The train was about to leave, and I didn’t want to get left behind.

train ticket

It’s all German to me.

When in doubt, decorum goes out the window, and suddenly you are relying on the kindness of strangers and the power of pointing to get you where you need to go. Hand signals go a long way.

My second experience with this was when I had failed to secure a map to figure out how to find my B&B in Verona, Italy. I kept wandering the same streets in the same area because I was sure that the map I had consulted earlier was leading me where I needed to go. But I still could not find the right street.

I ended up accosting a street vendor and using Spanish to ask where I needed to go. And graciously, the street vendor was very helpful. Turns out I was only 2 blocks away, but the alleyway where my B&B was located was at a weird diagonal from where I was looking. I was close, but not close enough.

When I got to the right tiny road and found the address, here was what I saw:
b&b doors

Two huge wooden doors. Locked. And to my left I saw this:
B&B check-in

Suddenly I was in a panic again! Rereading my reservation print-out, I realized that I was supposed to have specified when I would be checking in, otherwise there would be a fee. I had not done that. And now I needed to call to check in, except I didn’t have a cell phone on me.

Where was I going to find a phone, and how was I going to figure out how to pay to make a call? I started combing the street trying to find someone to help. Three doors down there was some sort of travel agency that was open, so I burst through the doors and used a mixture of English and Spanish to communicate that I needed a phone. I was refused a few times, and after asking where I could find a phone (knowing they had one right there in front of me), the lady at the travel desk consented to make the call on my behalf. I think she thought I didn’t know the number, but once I showed her the telephone number I had scribbled down, she relented.

And it all worked out.

When the check-in lady came to the front doors of the B&B 10 minutes later, I apologized profusely. She took pity on me and said I wouldn’t be charged extra. But she was in a hurry because she wanted to get on with her own time on a lovely Saturday, so she handed me a set of 3 keys and was off.

The first big key unlocked the large wooden doors. Once inside those doors, I was in a courtyard leading to another building. The second key got me inside of the B&B. I went up a long staircase to a landing where there were multiple doors to the rooms. I knew I had the right door because my key had a number on it that matched up to right door number. The third key worked and got me inside my own room.

Phew.

I set down my things and took in my surroundings. Quaint. Clean. And perfect. I opened a side door that had a set of long shutters. It led me out to a balcony.
B&B balcony

Ah! So definitely Verona. The balcony overlooked another courtyard. It was quiet and lovely.

I took about 10 minutes to relax. Then I washed up and headed out again to explore. I wasn’t ready to end my day yet. I was learning so much!

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wandering around verona, italy

Thursday, February 17th, 2011

Now, to begin… I have done quite a bit of solo traveling in my day. Including 9 trips cross-country in the U.S. by car. Solo. Without a cell phone. Or GPS. Back in the day, I went to college in southern California, and starting with my sophomore year, I had a car with me at school. So I did many summer trips back and forth to New Hampshire. Alone. I drove all over the place on my trips to and fro, taking in many states and many sites.

And it was glorious. I can say I am at my very happiest when I am traveling.

But here I am at 33, and I had never traveled out of the country alone. Until last week when I took the train from Munich, Germany to Verona, Italy by myself. And this time was really no different; I had no cell phone.

The entire experience was highly liberating. I felt such a sense of adventure and freedom. I think it helped that I had been to Italy before, having traveled via tour bus to Venice, Montecatini, Florence, San Gimignano, and Rome as part of my honeymoon. Craig and I spent about a week in Italy, and I fell absolutely in love.

How could I not choose Italy again as my destination for a solo adventure? I picked Verona because I had never been there. I had researched the city and knew it was utterly walkable, filled with history and architecture, and easy to get to via train from Munich.

So when I got off the train at the station in Verona, I was so excited. First of all, the temperature was a wonderful 60°F. It smelled like Spring! And also a little bit like cows. I had no map on me, but I had researched the city, so I had a pretty good idea of where to start walking. I just followed where everyone else was headed. The old city walls were about a 15-minute walk from the train station. And when I entered the city walls, I immediately got giddy.

Verona is BEAUTIFUL.
piazza bra

I walked into the Piazza Bra and was astounded by the size of the Verona Arena. It is astounding. It was built in the early first century A.D. It is old!
verona arena

verona arena

It truly frames the city. I walked all the way around it, and then I headed further into the city on the cobbled streets… very happy that I had invested in a trusty new pair of Keens before my trip!
Verona, Italy

I was hungry after my travels, and I set off along the narrow streets and alleyways in search of a late lunch. I was worried that I was too late to find a good place to eat, because I knew that Italians were apt to close up shop for an afternoon rest. But, I lucked out when I wandered upon the historic Piazza delle Erbe without even trying. Cafes!
Piazza delle Erbe

I quickly chose a place to eat, based soley on its people-watching potential. I got a seat and waited for the menu.
Piazza delle Erbe

I opted for wine and pizza. The perfect Italian lunch. I chose a nice Chianti from nearby Tuscany, and I picked my pizza based on what the lovely Italian woman in front of me was eating… it looked so good!
Verona lunch

My pizza was huge. It had thinly shaved ham on it, olives, capers, artichokes, anchovies, and whatnot. It was very delicious, although I still cannot say I love anchovies. I ended up picking them off.

It was just so delightful to be in Verona after a 5-hour train ride, eating at a cafe in the mid-afternoon in February without a jacket on. It was so much fun to hear Italian being spoken all around me. I can pick up bits and pieces because I know Spanish, but I definitely felt out of my element.

And instead of feeling apprehensive, I felt positively invigorated.

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on a train through the alps

Wednesday, February 16th, 2011

I am starting to go through all my photos from my trip to Germany and Italy. Did I mention just how much fun I had? I took my very first ever international solo trip. I bought a train ticket to leave from the main station in Munich, Germany to go to Verona, Italy for an overnight trek.
train from munich to verona

My train left at 7:30 a.m. bright and early on Friday morning. Lucky for me, our hotel in Munich was literally 100 yards from the train station. I bought the ticket online from the DB Bahn site. Seemed easy enough to select the Internet special, 2nd class fare. However, no one tells you that when you print your ticket, it will be in German. Good luck trying to figure out how/where you should board the train.

This was my first lesson in going with the flow on international adventure. Luckily I showed up for the train with 15 minutes to spare, because I ended up accosting friendly German men already aboard the train to get them to try to interpret my ticket. After lots of pointing and shrugging, I got the gist. Turns out you have to determine which train car you belong on, and then your seat. Luckily I was only one car off when I first boarded.

But, if you’ve never done this before, it is good to know. I was so relieved to be in my seat and in the right place once we got going. And especially when the conductor came by to punch my ticket. I already felt like a pro. Coffee in hand, book in my lap… 5-hour train ride ahead of me through the beautiful Alps… it was perfect.

Here are some shots of the scenery through the Austrian Alps on my journey from Munich, Germany to Verona, Italy.

train in the Alps

On our way to Austria!


train in the Alps

Just outside of Innsbruck, Austria. Hello Alps!


Train through the Alps

One of many castle sightings along the way. It never gets old.


Train through the Alps

Quick! There goes another castle!


Train through the Alps

This was how I knew we were close to Italy.


Train through the Alps

Olive groves and Dolomites. Ah... Italia!

I got in at 1:00 p.m. and was so thrilled about the train trip and the exploring to come! More soon…

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winter awakening

Tuesday, February 15th, 2011

Hello! I am still very much behind on getting my thoughts together about my latest traveling adventure. This seems to happen to me every time I go away. I tend to have trouble transitioning back into my routine.

So I am still working to catch up. But where did I go? I went to Munich, Germany for 9 days to tag along with Craig on a business trip. I had so much fun. It was amazing to once again get out of town in the middle of winter. To get back to Europe! While I was in there, I took a side trip to Verona, Italy. INCREDIBLE.

I am busy sorting through photos, getting caught up on laundry, and trying to plow through the mountains of work-work that I came home to. All while trying to pick right back up with my running routine. The upside of all of this is that I am pretty darn busy and content.

This is good. Really good.

Normally by about this time in winter I am dragging. Normally I am down in the dumps. Normally I just sort of slog my way home after a long day of work and creep up the stairs to my bedroom and dive under the covers and hibernate. My infamous winter hibernation.

But I am doing so much better this year. No hibernating! In fact, I feel like I am having this truly amazing winter awakening. Granted, this could easily be post-vacation talk, but I do feel very alive and aware. I love that the sky is now the tiniest bit still light out when I leave work. I love waking up to the sounds of chickadees and song birds in the morning and the way the harsh winter sunlight streams through the trees. I love making hearty winter soups on Sundays to last throughout the week (this week’s creation is a southwest black bean).

And I kind of love forcing myself to get on the treadmill when I come home from work. No, seriously, I do. You see, it is all too easy to just resign myself to sleep and collapse on my bed every evening. But the kick and release I get out of going for a run is so worth it. My body feels lighter, less sluggish. My mind feels elevated. I am sleeping so much better at bedtime, too!

This winter awakening is pretty fantastic. I can look at my calendar and see that March will soon be here. And with March comes Spring! It’s not too, too long now. We have endured freezing cold temps and feet upon feet of snow. But there will be an end.

And I will bide my time with work and running and cooking and snuggling and writing until the thaw comes.

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