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Sunday, September 25, 2011

I hear you, you're saying "about time!!!!". I know, I know... it's over 1 month that I've come back from my honeymoon, but I did have loads to do and especially, I returned with 18 extra lbs and I really focused on losing them. I still need to lose 5 lbs, but I'm getting there!

So... we left England on the 9th of July and head to Rome, where the plan was to spend a couple of days for my birthday and start the trip on the Monday. Actually, DH decided that he wanted to make me spend a bit more time with my family (God bless his heart!), so we stayed until Wednesday. I did enjoy spend extra time with my family, but that meant we were behind schedule and that we had "wasted" 2 days of our interrail ticket, which started on the 11th and couldn't be changed.

Anyway... we stayed in Pisa for a couple of days and enjoyed our stay a lot. DH got NEARLY drunk first time in his life after drinking half a bottle of Chianti. It was absolutely gorgeous to be in Piazza de' Miracoli on the night, the white monuments and white tower lit against the black sky were stunning.

Our plan was to move from a place to another, but because DH had the brilliant idea of taking SUPER HEAVY interrail backpacks with us rather than suitcases, we chose otherwise. We decided instead to have a base somewhere and explore the surrounding areas in the next few days and then move on. Our next base was Modena, a town that is not extremely interesting on its own, but which is close to a lot of very interesting artistic towns, like Parma, Mantova and Ferrara. we visited Modena on the first day, and on the evening I had the nice surprise that the concert of a famous Italian pop star was held near Modena, which meant that some of my friends was there in Modena as well. Funny, I hadn't had a chance to see them in Rome... BUT we met in MODENA, quite a few hundred miles away from Rome. Silly things that happen!

Anyway, next stop was Verona. I was looking forward to that, as I had always wanted to go to the Arena to watch a show. The Arena is a VERY famous amphitheatre in Verona where, during the summer, there are shows of Verdi's operas like the Aida and etc. We booked for two shows, one was Aida and the other one was Nabucco. The first day it was absolutely and utterly POURING... we feared we wouldn't have been able to watch Aida. Luckily, we had taken with us two ponchos, and we wore them. We kept them on even after the rain stopped (luckily, or, as we had been told, we wouldn't have been able to watch the show, for health and safety the singers couldn't perform with pouring rain...), as it was cold... and the ponchos just kept the body temperature right.

The following day instead the sun was shining... and Nabucco was wonderful as well. Through Verona as a base, we went to Padova, Lake Garda and we also had a sneak peek to Venice! Both Martin and I had seen Venice already, so we didn't plan to go there, but after visiting Padova we had some time so we decided to go there. That's the magic of the interrail, you're able to just hop on a train and go where the flow takes you. We had seen that we would have had two or three hours in Venice to take a few pics before taking the last train to Verona. Very bad decision... unfortunately what we didn't know was that a strike was about to start on the trainline... which meant that NO train would have departed after a certain time. we arrived in Venice and we saw a LONG queue at the Eurostar booking point, where we realised what had happened. It meant that we only had... 15 MINUTES!!!! to get the most we could out of Venice. Did we despair? NO WAY. Quickly, we ran out, went to one of the bridges, got a few pics. We started running to try to get to St Mark's square, but then we decided it was too much to ask in 15 minutes... we took another couple of pics, bought a very well deserved ice cream and ran back to the train, just on time to catch the last train back to Verona.

Now, after seeing the north of Italy, DH wanted to go to Switzerland. So i had decided that the best way to take advantage of our ticket was to go to Monza as next base, which was close to one of the most beautiful lakes in the north of Italy, lake Como, and half way through the two big towns on the lake, Como and Lecco. We spent a few days there, admiring the lake and then the plan was to get to Milan and head to Switzerland. Sadly, the prices for the hotels in Switzerland were SO expensive we quickly changed our mind. Hence, we decided to skip Switzerland: DH had decided to stay a couple of days longer in Monza, qhich had basically cut the time we could have spent in Switzerland of 1 day only anyway if we really wanted to do what wehwere planning to do. However, DH also wanted to see the mountains, that's why he wanted to be in Switzerland. Well... I knew just the place where he could see that... cheaper. I put on the reverse gear on the train journey, heading back to Verona and from there, up to Trentino, towards Brenner.

We found a GORGEOUS little hotel ran by a family that was extremely friendly in a place that will stay in DH's heart for the rest of his days, a tiny little sleepy village called Colle Isarco, or Gossensass in German (in Trentino the population speaks Italian and German, as it was Austrian territory until after the war and then it had been given to Italy for logistic reasons. In reality there's also part of the population that speaks a very unknown language called Ladino, but that's being a bit too precise with the details ;)). Anyway, in Colle Isarco we stayed around 1 week, cutting completely on the time we should have spent in Switzerland AND Austria, but DH was so happy I couldn't bear to ask him to go... we went off to excursions and in one of them, we had a bit of an adventure. The day started with the guide who was probably in a rush and started driving his car as I was still getting in, resulting in his wheel to go ON my foot. THANK CHRIST I was wearing reinforced walking boots with steel cap front! They saved my poor foot from disaster. Then, as I was a bit wobbly on my feet (well, after THAT treatment!!!!) the guide decided to LEAVE us at the height of 2450m ON OUR OWN telling us to get back down. Thanks very much... luckily we were resourceful enough, we nearly killed ourselves!!!! The view was fabulous though and I was thankful that we were on our own because that guide was in a mad rush to get to the other end of the mountain and we hadn't been able to see anything up to then.

We managed to get down though and I was glad that we arrived before the guide, as his car was still there. Now, you might think "yes, the guide went all the way down" but we had gone through a route not as steep but certainly longer than the one he had taken, and we had gone back FIRST, with NO map and no knowledge of the place. Fair play to us! To celebrate, although knackered, we decided to go to see a mine that was there, to have the paradox of having been the highest and lowest point we could in the same day. The mine was really interesting!

Then, although staying in Colle Isarco as a base, we went to Brenner for the day: another sleepy town, so sleepy and tiny that shop owners leave stuff OUT the shops during the closure day as everybody knows each other and if someone would steal anything, everybody would know. We also found a fabulous "outlet" shopping centre (factory prices) which was also having the seasonal sales. DH bought himself some timberlands boots for 45 euros, and a beautiful wind and rain proof timberlands jacket for 50 euros... and I bought myself a jacket as well. That meant that our backpack was getting bigger and bigger... but you would never find such prices in the UK!!!! Sadly they couldn't deliver stuff to the UK, because DH wanted to uy a couple of designer Italian suits. They were less than 100 euros for 2! We also "crossed the border" of Italy for the first time. Brenner is on the border, and there was a stone with "Italy" on a side and "Austria" on the other side... fun stuff! I've never seen a border like that!

The following day, we went to Innsbruck, finally getting into Austria, although we stayed one extra night in Colle Isarco. The following day, DH said goodbye to his beloved mountains, and we headed into Austria, towards Vienna. We had booked a hotel in Bratislava, which we were planning to use as a base to visit Vienna. In reality we loved Bratislava and DH didn't like Vienna. It reminded him too much of London somehow. Hence, we spent 1 day in Vienna (I brought him to see the palace and the Sissi museum) and then 3 days in Bratislava. I have mixed feelings about that town. I didn't like how "impersonal" and modernised it was. There was a part of the town called "Eurovea" which was a massive shopping centre and it seemed to be in central London... but DH thought otherwise, even if there were Debenhams, WHSmith and even marks and Spencers!!!! The euro had made everything very expensive in a similar way to the rest of Europe as well. However, we loved Bratislava as we found a beautiful 'botel', a boat turned into a hotel where we stayed for a night, and because on the last day we had a wonderful guide who taught us a lot of the Bratislavian's culture and explained to us the reason behind this modernisation, as after they came out of communism they wanted to get a fresh start and forget everything about the soviet domination, that's why they turned to Europe. However, with the medium wage at 400 euro a month, the prices in Eurovea meant that normal people weren't able to afford stuff in there except in special cases, and the centre lived mostly on tourism. It was also interesting to see the reconstruction of the Bratislava castle on a side, faced by a very modern tower from which you could have a great view of the town. That tower looked similar to the little robot Eva from the film "Wall-E" LOL!!!! We also went with that guide to the Devine castle and DH loved the view of the river surrounded by the mountains.

Anyway, that night we went on our first very long distance night journey on a couchette, going towards Poland. we arrived in Krakow the following morning, and we went to the hotel that I had booked. The place was really nice, and people were fantastic. we were treated like king and queen in a way... Krakow is a place where your money are really worth something, we managed to do a beautiful trip on a horse carriage for 25 euros (in Vienna they wanted to charge us 80 for half the time!!! of course I had said no!) , we went to a Chopin concert and we went to see Aushwitz, Birkenau and the salt mines. The first two were a very sad experience, but I'm glad we did it, as it was really worth the visit. I don't think many other places could touch me as deeply as that, the pictures on the wall of hundreds of thousands of people who diet after sometimes days of being registered there, the hair, glasses and cases of people who weren't sometimes even registered, as they were killed before even being "recruited", sadly women and small children, or the elderly or handicapped. DH bought a book about it, and I took from the Wall (the place where people were killed with rifles) a small stone to accompany DH's one, which he got the first time he went there. The salt mines were also great, it was amazing how especially the little church inside had been made all with salt.

After Poland, we had to head straight into Belgium, because our ticket was due to end the following day, and we didn't want to have to pay for a long journey. Hence, we went on a 24-hour long trip from Krakow to Brussels through Warsaw, Kohn and Amsterdam (don't ask!!!!). We arrived in Brussels absolutely knackered, but DH still managed to really like Brussels, a town that renimded him of Dublin in a way, as it's a capital town but it's kept the feeling of a small town, which he likes. We also went to a lovely place called "Little Europe" where there were reproductions of all important monuments in Europe in a scale... although there was NO ROME!!! HOW COULD THEY IGNORE MY TOWN!!!! The following day I took DH to Brugges, a small town I had visited once and fell in love with... and we bought a few laced table cloths, all hand made, as presents for ourselves and my mum. We loved Brugges... Martin understood why I wanted him to see it. Sadly we didn't manage to get into the bell tower, but we saw everything else in a day, which was amazing.

The following day our clock was slowly ticking towards the moment we would sadly need to return home... so we went directly to Hoek Van Holland, the place where we would take the boat to return to the UK. We spent the day lazily relaxing and on the night we were on the ship. WONDERFUL ferry... it gave us the feeling to be on a cruise! We enjoyed the trip, for once, nobody was checking our luggage or saying it was too heavy and asking us to pay for extra weight... no scans, nothing. Also, this was the very first time someone looked at our passports! We managed to go around all Europe without anybody even looking at it. I learnt in Little Europe that this is because the Uk hasn't signed a treaty with Europe for allowing people around the EU without checking documents. Sorry if I say it, but *SO TYPICCALLY ENGLISH!!!!*

And there we were, back to the UK and for the first time in our trip... the train was DELAYED, there were problems with the lines. Go figure!!! Not even in Poland it had been like that, in fact, in Poland we had a WONDROUS trip in a fabulous second class train where we had a lovely meal, with much higher standards than what you would have in a UK train... and the Polish night train was also very classy and comfortable. Not the English one... but never mind -_-;;;;

That was the end of the odyssey... in short, we went to wonderful places, met some lovely people, and of course I wanted to try every bit of the culture... which meant also try the food. I put on 18 lbs in 5 weeks!!! But as I said, I have lost almost all of it now, and I still think it was worth it :)

PS: I'll post more pictures tomorrow!
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