Saturday, July 2, 2011

Taking the stairs

For some reason, Harmony and I became avid stair climbers during our trip to Europe. It all started in Paris...

Arc d'Triomphe - 284 steps
Notre Dame Cathedral - 387 steps

Duomo Cathedral, Florence - 463 steps

St. Peter's Basilica, Rome - 323 steps (after the elevator.)
Okay, so we took the easy way out paid the two extra Euros to take the elevator up the first two hundred steps. It was our last day and our feet hurt...:)

The views were all spectacular and worth every one of the 1,457 steps.

Guess it will serve me well if I do THIS again next year...

Europe! Part 2!


As far as cities go, Florence was probably my favorite. It was less busy and crowded than Rome, and less claustrophobic than Venice. And we found the best food of our trip in Florence.

We spent the two days in Florence exploring and eating. We also visited Michaelangelo's David (unfortunately no pictures allowed) which was much more impressive than you would expect from seeing his pictures in books and postcard. We also spent time at the Ufizzi gallery looking at famous and not-so-famous Renaissance paintings.
The Duomo (the 4th largest cathedral in the world) dominates the city (and my pictures of Florence) and it's dome, marblework, and baptistry doors were simply amazing.

We also maintained our new afternoon routine of stopping for gelato. Everything about the food in Italy was just...better. The pastas and sauces were all homemade, and the ingredients so much fresher. While I don't know a lot about wine, we stuck with the house wine with our dinners and were never disappointed.

Sadly, this is the only picture of food that we actually took. Harmony demonstrates how to eat "Big Salad with Tunafish"


While Florence may have been my favorite city based on the people and it's character, Rome certainly wins out in terms of sights to see. Our first day we devoted to exploring ancient Rome - the Colosseum, Roman Forum, Palatine Hill.

The Colosseum
The Roman Forum...the arch in the background is the Arch of Titus commemorating among other victories the Siege of Jerusalem and destruction of the Temple in 70 AD

And we made sure to stay well hydrated...since it was about 90 degrees in the shade.

The following day (and our last in Italy) we traveled across the Tiber River to the Vatican. We spent the morning in the Vatican museum, which is filled with sculpture and art, including many paintings by Raphael. Unfortunately the Sistine Chapel was another "no pictures allowed" destination.
We then spent the afternoon at St. Peter's Basilica, which is breathtaking. The pictures just don't do justice to the immense scale of the cathedral.

The next day Harmony parted ways for our trips home. In an unexpected turn of events though, it turned out that my sister and her boyfriend were in London during my 18 hour layover.

After finally making it to London I was able to enjoy some pub food and a Guinness with Sara and Marty, though unfortunately we all forgot to get a picture. The next morning Sara and I were able to walk around and see some sights and catch up. Note Big Ben in the background.

And later that day the backpack and I were on a plane headed back home.


Many of you know that I spent the vacation following my trip in Kenya traveling in France and Italy with my friend Harmony. Aside from the night train, it was a great trip. Here are a few highlights!

We spent two nights in Paris, and took the city by storm! Our first night we took a river cruise on the Seine. While the architecture was impressive, even more impressive was our tour guide. In her early 20s, she pointed out all the sights and gave a brief French. And then in perfect English. And THEN in Spanish. She switched between the three languages without ever missing a beat while the boat cruised up and down the river for over an hour! At the end of the cruise we got a great view of the Effiel tower.
Over the next two days we walked Champ-de-Elysees and toured the Arc d'Triomphe, went to the top of the Eiffel Tower, visited the Louvre and the Musee d'Orsay, and Notre Dame and Sainte Chapelle cathedrals.

But don't worry, we still managed to squeeze in macarons, crepes, and lots of excellent French food. Our take on French food is that it's familiar, just better.


Well, you've already heard about the "night train incident" here. After arriving in Venice, exhausted and smelling of train, we had little time for sightseeing. We did enjoy a walk through the narrow streets and exploring this city of canals.
We also had our first Italian gelatto.

We also took a "tour" of the city by vaporetto - the local public transportation. Our guidebook outlined the important buildings and gave us a little overview of the history of the city. Also, it's just fantastic that the buses are BOATS. While we were less than excited to head back to the train station the next morning, we were excited about our next stop: Florence!

Bleeding Room

Having dealt with blood shortages the entire time I was in Kenya, I had planned on donating blood from the beginning of the trip. (However, given that we were living at about 6000 ft elevation it seemed prudent to wait toward the end of the trip) On my second to last day, my friend Gillian and I walked down to the regional blood transfusion center to donate. We were directed here:

The blood center looked much like a blood center here. We filled out a similar questionnaire and watched as the techs opened the donation bags and needle sets from the individual wrapping. A sixteen gauge needle stick later (ow) and I was good to go!

They did take the 450 mL of blood a little faster than in the States, but I didn't really feel dizzy or bad at all afterwards. After donating I got a wristband and a big bottle of Coca-Cola. We chatted with the tech about the blood supply and some of the issues they have at the blood center.
I do have to say that Gillian did an excellent job with her first ever blood donation and was an absolute champ about the needle in her arm! (pictured above)