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To say I’ve neglected this blog is an understatement. Its been almost two months since I’ve done anything but work at 3 jobs. While I enjoy discussing return policies as much as the next guy its time for me to have a few days off and leave the lovely confines of the golden ghetto, Carmel.  A few weeks ago I decided to book another mega bus ticket to Chicago. In two weeks I”ll be back in the city for three days and while I would love to just follow my blog and visit the exact same places in the same order I am seeking out suggestions for what to see and do in Chicago.  That’s not to say that I don’t secretly hope to stumble upon Kelsey Grammer walking the streets with his girlfriend/daughter ( only kidding lawyers for Kelsey Grammer.) If you know of some good places to see leave me a comment so that I may better immerse myself as a tourist in the great city of Chicago. Plus you may just get mentioned in the next blog post. For now I will continue to get berated by Carmel moms who are upset that they didn’t get to use their 50 cent coupon on their $300 purchase just counting down the days till I get to get on the luxurious vehicle that is the megabus.

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What started out as an innocent suggestion to go see Bill Maher in Chicago a few months back turned into a reality this past weekend. That’s right I found myself in the middle of a megabus at 9 in the morning heading for the only city in a 1,000 mile radius that could call itself an international city. That was one of the things that I took away from this trip (along with the sobering fact that some homeless people will threaten to kill you if you don’t give them some change, but more on that later). Ever since traveling through Europe every new destination is seen through that prism, and in many ways Chicago made me feel like I had stepped back onto European soil. From the throngs of tourists to the little corner cafe’s and restaurants everything about the city had a very friendly feel to it. Walking 10 hours a day also took me back.

Lets start at the beginning though. I arrived in Chicago around noon on Thursday to what seemed like a 150 degree day outside. I was met at the bus stop by my friend Leer who dealt with the heat by both taking his shirt off and then putting it back on repeatedly. This was Chicago after all so no one seemed to notice the shirtless man walking through the city and he even had some company with a couple other people who “got it.” The heat in and of itself wasn’t too bad but the big bag that I brought did not help the cause. I think I tried to hold that bag in every way possible trying to find the one comfortable spot (there may have been a five minute window where my forearms weren’t stretched out.) Well after about a 20 minute walk in which it felt like Leer was trying to keep me from knowing how to get to his apartment ( every time I thought we were going to turn left down a street he would at the last second turn right,) we got to his apartment. When I stepped into the room I was greeted by an enormous window in the main room that opened to an amazing view of the Chicago Skyline. This was both the best and worst thing about his apartment, because this would also be where I would sleep every night and wake up around 6 in the morning due to the sun coming in. I think I deserved to wake up so early each day after I confidently told Leer that I can sleep through almost anything and that the sun wouldn’t bother me. Pride is a funny thing.

Chicago skyline

This was the view out the window

After resting for a little bit we decided to head out to Navy Pier for lunch. Navy Pier was probably my favorite part of Chicago and how can it not be. Any place that can have both a stained glass museum and a Jimmy Buffet’s margaritaville is ok in my book. In all honesty I had one of the better meals I’ve had in a while at a little greek fast food type restaurant at the pier. Maybe it had something to do with my love of gyros or the fact that I hadn’tNavy Pier Beach had anything to eat since that morning, but something about that meal hit the spot. From Navy Pier we walked to the beach and up Lakeshore drive. It is pretty cool to have a beach surrounded by skyscrapers so another point for Chicago. We decided to stop for gelato after working up an appetite walking for about an hour. I don’t think i’ve enjoyed an ice cream as much as this one since I was in Italy. The cafe we stopped in was called the Leonidas Cafe and they may have the best tiramisu  gelato this side of the Mississippi. Why was it amazing you ask? because not only did the gelato taste exactly like a perfect tiramisu, but it also was stuffed with real lady fingers. I think I may try to recreate this gelato with a tub of breyers coffee ice cream and some twinkies. From there we took the red line to Wrigley. As a sports marketing student I found it shameful that I had never seen Wrigley field so I would not leave the city without seeing it. Not only the field but the area was very historical. It doesn’t even matter that I really don’t care about baseball it was just one of those things you have to cross off your bucket list.

Wrigley Field

So this is where the magic happens?

After an hour or so of walking through Wrigleyville we walked to the Lincoln

Chicago Skyline

The view from the Lincoln Park Zoo

Park area. This was one of the more beautiful areas of the city so we stopped to explore a bit. We came to the entrance of the Lincoln Park Zoo and debated for ten minutes whether it was free to go in or not. Thanks to technology and my iPhone (you’re welcome for the free plug Apple) we found out that it was in fact free. What we didn’t find out however was that the zoo closes at 5. It was 5:06 so our trip to the zoo consisted of seeing a leopard in a 200 degree zoo house lounge on a rock not wanting to move for fear of dying from heat exhaustion. There were also some great views of water tanks with no animals in them. What I can’t figure out is where all the animals go when the zoo closes, but I’m sure I just gave Kevin James an idea for his next big blockbuster. From the Zoo we took a taxi to Pequads, yes that Pequads, a staple of the Chicago pizza scene. I decided to be blasphemous and get a thin crust pizza while Leer got the traditional deep dish Hawaiian. The pizza was awesome, so awesome that I could only eat two pieces which left me with an amazing breakfast the next morning.

Lincoln Park Zoo

One of the only "animals' we saw at the zoo

 The next day we set off through the city once more. We walked down Michigan Avenue only to discover that walking in front of us was none other than Kelsey Grammer aka Frasier. Little known fact Grammer made $1.6 million per episode of Frasier. Thats pretty remarkable considering no one watched the show. We thought we would follow Frasier, wouldn’t you too? He

Kelsey Grammer

My best attempt at snapping a picture of frasier

was with what looked like his daughter at first but after the open mouth kiss I wasn’t so sure. The best part about the whole thing was seeing peoples reactions to him. There were people who just walked by and didn’t notice him at all as well as people who walked past, stopped, thought for a second then did the whole look back realizing who had just walked past. My trip in Chicago was complete because I had seen a C-list celebrity.

From there we decided to take a boat tour of Chicago’s main landmarks. This is all part of my plan to take a boat ride in every city I visit. I learned much more than I ever needed to know about Chicago’s architecture on the Wendella boat tour. For example did you know that Chicago had an ordinance that no buildings could be built on land past Lakeshore Dr.  But there is a skyscraper past Lakeshore Dr. because the developers claimed that it was built on a landfill fill not land. So as our tour guide said always remember to find the loopholes in life. The tour was pretty cool however as we were able to see the city from a different perspective. It was also a good deal as the tour was an hour and a half for $26.

That night Leer and I went to a “soiree” hosted by Immerman Angels an

Lake Michigan

The view from the Yacht

organization that brings Cancer survivors together with people who currently have the disease. Having had someone in my family die from cancer I think this organization is a great way to help someone going through the disease. The event took place on a small yacht parked in the harbor of Lake Michigan. I thought I should look my best so I braved the 100 degree temperatures in a suit. Not one of my better decisions considering I stuck out like a sore thumb compared to everyone else who was more smartly dressed in shorts and polos. It was all worth it however when I was told my tie looked dapper, whatever that means. In all honesty the event was a great cause that sought to raise awareness for the organization.

The next morning we walked to the bus station to pick up our friend John who would be going to see Bill Maher with us. Along the way we stopped to marvel at the world’s greatest technological feat, The Bean. The bean is the one thing in the world that can unite both little kids and frat guys who both can’t wait to take a picture of their reflection. Once we left the bean we walked by a hotel that had a crowd of people gathered around it. We crossed the street to see what all the excitement was and this is what we saw:

It was either an Indian wedding or this boy’s super sweet bar mitzvah. Only in Chicago does this sort of thing happen. When we picked up John we decided to go to the Chicago Institute of Art. There was a lot of great exhibits such as the one

medieval weapons

Which one would you choose?

on miniature rooms and houses. The amount of detail that went into these little models was amazing. You could look through the windows of the house and see outside in the yard which looked as realistic as a true house. We also walked through an exhibit on medieval weapons which led to a 20 minute conversation on which weapon you would choose for battle. These types of conversations are only too common when in the presence of John. We left the museum and tried to decide what to do. I got the bright idea to walk to Soldier field which turned out to be one of the dumber things I have ever come up with. First of all I thought that Soldier field would be another great stadium to cross of my list, but with its new renovations its hard to tell that it has any historical significance at all. At the same time Manchester United was playing the Chicago fire inside the stadium and we happened to walk there right as the game was over. So in essence I got us stuck in traffic with 80,000 people to take one picture of a futuristic looking steel stadium.

The last part of the trip involved going to see Bill Maher at the Chicago Theater. Even though I had heard most of the jokes that he told I thought Maher did a great job of connecting with his audience. For a two hour show he was able to keep everyone laughing and engaged throughout. No matter your political persuasion its hard not to give Maher credit for continuing to stay relevant all these years. On the way back from the show we were fortunate enough to get hassled by not one but two homeless people in one area. The first was a lady who was talking about a mission she ran in the city, the three of us just kept walking so she took this as a reason to walk next to us and keep talking to us. The other guy decided that if we didn’t volunteer our money to him he would threaten to kill us. So my last night in the city consisted of getting threatened by a homeless man. So this would be how I would end my time on this earth?

Overall I loved the three days I was able to spend in Chicago. It truly is an amazing city that would take weeks to properly visit and dissect. It didn’t hurt that Leer was a great tour guide that was up for anything. This included trying to find an old church in the middle of the city that we could only see from afar. When we found it we found ourselves in the heart of Depaul’s campus. This is the way I love to travel, having no real plan in place, but just walking and finding things naturally. Here’s hoping that Leer and I have more travels like this in the future. Its nice to know that Chicago is just a 3 hour megabus ride away. For now enjoy some of my pictures from the trip, and I look forward to working with no breaks for the next couple months to make up for this 4 day vacation.

Chicago Theater

Garret's Popcorn

Marilyn Monroe

Chicago loves Marilyn?

BP Bridge

The Bean

The greatest thing in the world

Chicago Institute of Art

Chicago Institute of Art

I’ve been dreading writing this post for the last week or so because through this blog its felt like I was back in the cities I visited. Now however is the last stop on the trip, London. Lets start with how we got to London however which in itself is an interesting journey. We drove from Paris to Calais a small french town that is essentially a giant dock for ferries to cross to England. Apparently no one told this to the security guards of Calais who treated every single old lady and small child on the trip with me as a potential terrorist. I remember being asked a ton of questions about why I was going to England and what I had done over the last 21 years of my life. I thought they wouldn’t let me get on the ferry because of that piece of candy I stole when I was 6. The funniest question I got however was how I was able to pay for my trip. I told the guard that I worked at Target back in the states. I might as well have said that I was part of Al-Qaida because of the suspicious look I got to that answer. I guess they don’t have Targets in Calais which may make it my dream retirement spot.

After the thorough strip search and intense line of questioning I was able to board the ferry for England. This was the biggest ship I’ve ever been on considering it fit our tour bus plus 5 others on the lower deck and had three different food courts. This was also my first encounter with fish and chips which were the size of my head. After an hour and a half we were in England and on our way to London. What was interesting about this trip is that it technically stopped in Paris, so

Riverbank Park Plaza

The Pink was a nice touch

we were on our own in London as our tour director went back home. The only bad thing about that is that our group got split up into 3 separate groups and separate hotels. We didn’t know this however so I really didn’t get to say goodbye to half the people that were on the trip with us (don’t worry Hazel and Nina were in the same hotel as I was.) Continuing with my string of good luck on the trip, excluding that little stop in Lucerne, I ended up in the nicest of the three hotels in London. The hotel was a 5 minute walk from Big Ben and the houses of parliament.

The first night in London we decided to all grab a last night dinner to celebrate the beginning of the end of our trip. For those people who now eat sushi with me this is where I learned to love the food. This dinner will also be the best meal I will ever eat. We had an 11 course meal that we shared around the table that included Sushi, duck, steak, and ribs. It was the perfect way to get together and learn a little bit more about each other’s cultures. For example I learned that in Canada you have two different driver’s licenses one for the highway and one for regular streets. This was the one part of the trip that I enjoyed the most, just learning about all the differences there are between countries. This was a group that included Canadians, Australians, Brazilians, and a couple from Singapore. I even found differences between the people from different provinces in Canada. I think its very important to learn about how other people live to get some perspective on life.  Well that’s enough cliches back to London. After Dinner we decided to walk to Big Ben and the houses of Parliament. I don’t need to tell anyone that it rains in London, so this put a little damper on some of my picture taking, but its amazing to see these icons up close. Here are a few of the pictures that I did get.

Houses of ParliamentBig BenHouse of Parliament

The next morning we took a half day sight-seeing tour of all the famous places in London. We drove by the houses of Parliament again and saw Westminster Abbey. We also stopped to see the changing of guards at Buckingham Palace. My favorite part about this tour was the fact that we were grouped with other Trafalgar tour groups whose trips started in London and went to Rome. It was fun to talk with them and tell them what they had in store and what areas they should check out. This was also the moment that I realized just how small this world is. That day I decided to wear my Indiana University hat and when we got out off the bus this older couple saw me and said oh are you from Bloomington. That’s right I was in the middle of London and this couple who happened to live in Indiana for 20 years was on a Trafalgar trip as well. Not only did they know about IU but they also lived in a town that was a huge rival of my high schools. It was a little piece of home the day before the trip ended.

At the end of the tour the bus could drop us off at three different spots either our hotel, Trafalgar Square, or Harrods. I really didn’t want to go back to the hotel because it was my last day so I waited to see who was getting off where. Well I noticed that the two groups that I had spent most of my time with on the trip were just going back to the hotel at the same time I saw Hazel and Nina getting off at Trafalgar Square. How was I going to let these two older ladies walk the streets of London by themselves? I got off with them and little did I know that this would turn into 3 hours of shopping. (I know I should have seen it coming after the same thing happened in every other city.) However there is one way to get back in my good graces and that’s with chocolate. So when Nina bought me a huge piece of chocolate cake all was forgiven. As the day was coming to and end I convinced both of them to come with me see the Tower of London and the Tower bridge. The tower of London was an amazing place to see as was Tower Bridge which just looks like it belongs in London. I ended the night the only way I should have in London with a glass of tea in my room.

Tower of London

Tower of London

I was still in for a little excitement however when trying to get to the airport and back home.  I happened to be flying out of Heathrow the same day that British Airways employees went on strike. Of the 2000 flights over that 3 day period 1100 were canceled. Once again that luck came in and mine was not one of them however I did check my email and the flight information every five minutes before leaving the hotel. Also in the rush to make all my reservations before leaving I did not purchase an airport transfer so I decided to take the tube to the airport. It was supposed to be very simple, I just had to get on the Picadilly line ( reading that never gets old) and it would take me straight to the airport. Well halfway through the subway trip the conductor said last stop everybody off. I was in the middle of London with my suitcase not knowing what to do. Luckily I saw a couple around my age that looked like they knew where they were going so I followed them. I guess the subway line was being worked on so we had to take a bus to the nearest station that was still operating then get back onto the tube. Needless to say there was a lot of comedic running with my suitcase to catch the bus and make sure I got where I needed to be on time. I was grateful to this couple until I found out they were from Boston and were Patriots fans. I guess everyone has a little good in them 🙂

Well that’s it for my European adventure. It was truly one of the best things I have done in my life and I can’t wait to go back to all the cities and most importantly eat those crepes in Paris. For now enjoy some of the pictures I was able to take in the 5 minutes it didn’t rain while I was in London

Tower Bridge

Tower Bridge

Trafalgar Square

Trafalgar Square

Tower Bridge

Right before it rained again for the 100th time

Tower of London

Royal Seal


After the slow day in Lucerne we were off to Paris for two days to see the Eiffel Tower and the Mona Lisa. Before heading off on my trip to Europe I think I had the highest expectations for Paris based mostly on the fact that so many people have an idea of what Paris should be like. With that in mind I thought the best way to introduce myself to the city was to take a riverboat cruise on the Seine at night. The first thing on the itinerary however was dinner. If there is one thing that the French are known for its their food and for the most part it didn’t disappoint. The first course was French onion soup which surprisingly enough tastes better in Paris than it does at Panera. I did notice that the chicken was pretty bland throughout my time in Paris, but who am I to question their cuisine. Finally for desert we had creme brulee, yes I went with the stereotypical French meal b/c is there a better way to fulfill my expectations. So yes the dining experience is what everyone says it is for the most part in fact my biggest regret for the entire trip to Europe was that I didn’t get a chance to get nutella and banana crepes from a street vendor (that sounds much more depressing then I originally thought when I read it back.)

Anyway after dinner we all boarded a boat and took off down the Seine to see Paris at its finest, at night. Most of the pictures from that night didn’t turn out so well b/c the flash didn’t quite work well but I’l see if I can draw a picture for everyone through my beautiful words. It truly is amazing to see Paris at night, calling the it the city of lights is pretty appropriate and it was one of the things that I took away from that night. Another thing I noticed was just how many of the city’s landmarks are located along the Seine. As we rode down the river I saw the Notre Dame Cathedral, the Louvre and of course the Eiffel Tower, which would flash a different color every hour. I would absolutely recommend that anyone that visits Paris should take the opportunity to go on the river boat cruise as its a great way to see the city. It also allowed me to see which areas and icons I would want to go back to visit more thoroughly.ParisEiffel Tower

Paris

The next day we drove through Paris on the bus, stopping at the Arc de Triomphe, the Musee D’Orsay, and the Centre Pompidou. My favorite stop was the Centre Pompidou which is a modern museum in Paris that has all of its plumbing on the outside, so when you drive by it all you see is a building that looks like its built out of tubes. The tour stopped at the gate of the Louvre where we were able to have free time for the rest of the day. I knew that if I was going to be in Paris I would have to stop in the Louvre to see the Mona Lisa. The one thing I didn’t know about the Louvre was just how big it

Louvre

This was on the ceiling at the Louvre

actually was. I believe there are over 15 entrances to the museum (don’t quote me on that). We entered the museum through the early period entrance so it took about 3 hours of looking at mummy’s and clay statues before we walked into this enormous hall which turned out to be the hall of Italian painters. We walked all the way down the hall without seeing the Mona Lisa so we stopped to ask one of the guards where it was housed. To our surprise the Mona Lisa rests in a little room halfway through the hall that you would miss unless you knew what you were looking for. The other thing that surprised me was just how small the painting actually was. To think that one of the most celebrated and famous paintings is the size of a small pizza box. My advice to anyone who visits Paris is to definitely visit the Louvre not only to see the Mona Lisa, but also just the building itself which is beautiful in its own right. Every time I looked up at the ceiling I would see another fresco.

Louvre

The infamous hall of Italian Painters

What visit to Paris would be complete without visiting the Eiffel Tower? As anyone who knows me well is aware I have a huge fear of heights so when planning my trip this was the part that I was both excited for and dreaded the most. While we only went to the second part of the tower that was high enough for me. I believe that put us 100 stories up on a tower that is over a hundred years old that is made out of metal. I swore while I was up there that I felt the tower sway. The funny thing is most of the people in my group knew about my fear of heights as well so I had everyone coming and checking on me every five minutes to make sure I was ok. The cool thing about the elevators of the tower is that they go up diagonally up the side of the “leg” of the tower. I remember not wanting to get out right away as we were all squeezed into that little lift. The six year old girl behind me had other plans and started pushing me in the back to get me to walk. I don’t think I’ve ever given anyone that dirty of a look before. This girl was not going to make me walk out before I was ready. When I first got out I felt fine but as soon as I looked over the edge my knees began to wobble. Needless to say I spent the twenty minutes on the tower tip toeing around. I even had my picture taken by the edge as I clung for dear life.

Eiffel Tower

This is what pure fear looks like

Our last stop in Paris was to see the Sacre Coeur or Sacred Heart church in Montmartre. This was probably the one place that I wish I had more time to see. Montmartre is essentially a small collection of shops and art galleries that is located on a hill above Paris. The people of this area are your hipsters and artists who work out in the open market area painting pictures and drawing caricatures of tourists who will pay for them. The Sacre Coeur was my second favorite church on the trip after St. Peters because of just how imposing it is both inside and out. Unfortunately there were no pictures allowed inside the church which meant that I got 3 pictures before a guard came over to tell me to stop taking pictures. What I can say is that there was a giant mural painted on the dome of the church which was incredible to look at. The only negative thing that happened while up in Montmartre was the fact that one of the people I was with got pick pocketed. Word to the wise if you pass a group of men on the steps up to the church don’t let them put a string on your finger because they will reach in your wallet and take your cash. These are just some things that you can only learn by experiencing them first hand.

Overall Paris met my expectations and it’s definitely a city that I would absolutely love to visit again so that I could see Notre Dame from the inside and go back to Montmartre to visit the little shops that are so common to that area. Most importantly though I want to go back to get those crepes that I missed out on the first time. Like the trip itself my next blog post will be about the last day of the trip in London. For now enjoy some of my pictures from Paris.

Champs Elysee

Champs Elysee

French Restaurant

The French are so descriptive

Mona Lisa

There it is

Sacre Coeur

Sacre Coeur

Louvre

Louvre

Paris

Eiffel Tower

View from the Eiffel Tower

Montmartre

Montmartre

Montmartre

Montmartre

Monmartre

The main square in Montmartre

Eiffel Tower

View from the Eiffel Tower

One of the most important things to know about life is that it doesn’t always go as planned. My route to getting to Europe was very unconventional so I was surprised when the first 3 days of the trip went off without a hitch. I loved every minute of Rome and Venice, but there were storm clouds on the horizon that came in the form of nausea and sickness. We left Venice and drove to the Italian lake district to stay in our hotel overnight before leaving for Lucerne in the morning. Something I haven’t touched on so far in this blog is just how incredibly nice the hotel rooms were on the trip. We’re talking 4 and 5 star hotels which I will most likely never stay in again so I had to enjoy them while I could. What made them even better was the fact that I was by myself so I was in a room with two beds for ten days. Needless to say I switched back and forth from bed to bed.

Lake Maggiore

This was our Hotel in the Italian Lakes. Yeah not too shabby

With that as the backdrop this is what my afternoon in the Italian Lakes consisted of, eating eating and eating. We got to our hotel at around 6 after driving for about 3 hours. This was probably the most enjoyable of all the bus rides for two simple reasons 1. the scenery which consisted of mountains on one side and lakes on the other and 2. all the streets were very narrow so it was fun to see some of the more dramatic women on the trip squirm. There were two ladies on the tour in particular who I nicknamed the fur ladies that had the hardest time with the driving. Now these two were some divas, they may have complained about everything on the trip and my goal by the end of the tour was to get a picture with them with their furs on. This is as close as I got.

I remember eating dinner in this villa turned hotel thinking that life doesn’t get much better than this but i was in for a rude awakening. I woke up early that morning with stomach pains and got a terrible feeling that the bus ride from Lake Maggiore to Lucerne would not be a pleasant one. I was convinced that I was the only one that was sick because as most people know I don’t exactly have an iron stomach. What I discovered when I came down for breakfast was the exact opposite however. Half of the people in my group were clinging to their chamomile tea like it was the last thing to eat on earth. Apparently there was one drawback to this beautiful hotel, a stomach virus. Lucky for me I am always prepared and I just prepare for the worst so I remembered to bring immodium on the trip. I guess I was the only one who did because I ended up sharing the rest of it with the other 20 people who felt like death. That bus ride certainly brought us together as everyone who didn’t get sick did anything they could to make the rest of us feel better. Quick side note this may not be accurate but I think I may be the first person to have Montezuma’s revenge both in Mexico and Switzerland (Again not 100% accurate but it sounds right.)

I was certainly not the worst off however, and by the halfway point of the ride I was feeling like my old self again an it was hard not to with views like this out of my window:

switzerlandswitzerlandswitzerland

It was amazing to see just how many small villages we passed on our way from city to city all throughout Europe. When I say small village I mean what looked like 20 houses and a church in the center. If I ever get the chance to go back to Europe I would want to rent a car and drive from village to village soaking up the different cultures that exist not only from country to country but city to city as well. I’m sure the food wouldn’t be too bad either in these small mountain towns.

One of the advantages of our hotel in Lucerne was its location in the city. Our tour director stopped the best at the edge of Lucerne and told us we could walk from the edge to our hotel which was in the center of the city. I was feeling better and I decided to do the walk which took about 20 minutes. Every part of Lucerne was breathtaking due in large part to the fact that the alps were staring you right in the face everywhere you went. There was very much a fairytale quality to the whole city. On the way to our hotel we walked to the lion monument which is supposed to commemorate the swiss during world war 2. Apparently they give out monuments for neutrality? It was a very cool thing to see this giant lion just carved into the side of a mountain. Lion Monument

We also got the chance to cross the chapel bridge which was built in the 14th century. This bridge was incredible and it gave me the chance to see the heart of Lucerne. This would be about all I saw of Lucerne however. I must have underestimated how sick I was because when we got to the hotel I fell asleep for about 5 hours. When I woke up it was almost time for dinner so I decided I should take advantage of the time I had and went for a walk through Lucerne. I got to the train station and wasn’t feeling well so I walked back.  Thats right my time in Lucerne consisted of a 2o minute walk to our hotel and a 20 minute walk to the train station. As I said at the start of my post life doesn’t always go the way you think it should. Thats ok though it just gives me a reason to come back to Lucerne. The beauty of the city is that even though I only explored it for an hour I was able to get many great pictures. Lucerne is truly a picturesque place and I can’t wait to return and actually dive right in to the scenery and culture, and maybe get down to figuring out what the lion monument was built for. Look for a post on Paris coming soon. Until then here’s some of those great pictures I was talking about.

Lucerne

Lucerne

Go ahead and send me the royalty checks tourism board of Lucerne

Alps

Hotel Schiller

The wallpaper in our hotel lobby, I was slightly frightened

Chapel Bridge

Chapel Bridge

Lucerne

After an exciting day in Rome I didn’t think that anything could top the experience that I had but was I wrong. Venice is an incredible place that is very hard to describe. It is a city that is very easy to get lost in both figuratively and literally.  This was the one place that I knew the most about before leaving for Europe so it had a lot of expectations to live up to and it did just that. Venice turned out to be my favorite city on the trip mostly because of how much free time and freedom we had while in the city.

We were dropped off  in the heart of St. Mark’s square by the tour guide at around 8 in the morning and after a brief trip to a glass-blowing factory we were able to explore the city by ourselves. This is the perfect way to see Venice because of how unique it is you need all the time you can to go down its thousands of alleys and bridges. One of the places that I really wanted to see based on my search before going was the Rialto Bridge and market which are icons of the city. The Rialto market is the stop for hundreds of local fishermen and farmers to sell their products. From what I had read it was important to get there early to see the fishermen get off their boats with all the fresh fish and seafood they had caught that morning in the Adriatic Sea.  As I said before Hazel and Nina were very prominent on this trip so of course I had to have them tag along to see the market and explore Venice with me. As usual they were more interested in shopping so I was essentially there cultural expert for the trip. Our tour guide had briefly described how to get from St. Marks to Rialto, but where is the fun in that? So as we stood in the center of St. Mark’s I saw an older Italian lady with a giant fur coat on who looked like she knew where she was going. I decided to ask her to tell us how to get to the Rialto bridge and instead of telling me she just turned around and started walking without skipping a beat we started to follow her. It turned out that that little walk took about 25 minutes so this kind old lady walked us all the way to the bridge pointed at it then walked down an alley. Apparently I have a kind face that people just want to help because I know that it stunned me that this lady was nice enough to not only tell us how to get there, but to take us there as well.

As we got closer to the market I noticed that there was a lot of people in police in the area so I assumed someone had gotten hurt. What we found out was that Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp were actually filming a movie in the market that day and as I looked up I saw a stunt man jumping from one of the venetian roofs. The movie actually came out this year its “the tourist” which didn’t look like a good movie but everyone should check it out because I’m pretty sure I am an extra in the market scene.

The tourist

Its a good thing there's pictures because I can't speak Italian

Aside from becoming a big movie star I also loved Venice because that was the place in Italy that I finally tried the famous gelato. I chose the tiramisu gelato which was an unbelievable choice. Its hard to describe just how much better gelato is than regular ice cream. Chances are the next time I see someone eating a drumstick or Ben & Jerry’s I’ll make sure to let them know what they are missing out on.

Venice is one of the more remarkable cities I have seen and its a place that I will absolutely have to go back to. We only had that day to check out the city and that is absolutely not enough. Aside from the thousands of alleys that I had a chance to go down I also was able to visit many of the island’s churches. Each church had its own unique character and while small they were very beautiful. On my trip back I would love to see even more of these churches and just generally lose myself in the city.  Venice is one of the cities that will stay with me the most not only because of the gelato but because of the enormous amount of history as well as the uniqueness of the canal and waterway. Remember to check out “the tourist,” and let me know if you see me. For now enjoy some of my better pictures from that day which hopefully will transport you to the heart of the Adriatic, Venice.

Venice

Rialto Bridge

Rialto Bridge

Rialto Bridge

Me on the Rialto Bridge

Gondola

Gondola

Grand Canal

Grand Canal

Doge Palace

If my last post was about the bad of last year then the next couple posts including this one will be about the good. As I mentioned before after the study abroad plans didn’t work out I was in a panic to replace my airline tickets so I chose a Trafalgar trip that went through Rome, Venice, Lucerne, Paris, and London. This post will be all about my day and a half spent in Rome, one of my favorite stops in the trip.

One of the reasons that I think I loved Rome so much was just the incredible amount of history that surrounded me everywhere I turned. For those who haven’t been to Rome, the old parts of the city and the ruins are actually located very close to each other so you are able to see so many of the icons that everyone has heard of within a few hours. I’m getting ahead of myself a little so lets start at the beginning. I arrived in Rome in the early afternoon in early march and immediately got acquainted with one of the families that I would be spending most of the trip with. For the record there were about 40 people total in my group with ages ranging from 6 to 70. The Kinsella family from London, Canada was made up of 3 brothers all close to my age and their mom and dad. They happened to be the only other people who rode the shuttle to our hotel with and we got all of the small talk out of the way on that drive. That initial impression of Italy was not something I was ready for. I was really surprised with how much that part of Italy (from the airport to the heart of Rome) looked like a 3rd world country. There was just tumbleweed and fields with walls covered with graffiti. The ride took about half an hour and after that time the landscape completely changed (all it took was taking a couple round-abouts, which i’m so glad they had all over Europe. Mayor Brainard must have found time to head over to Rome and show them how its done). We got to the hotel in time to have a welcome drink with the rest of our group and then I thought I would take a quick nap before exploring Rome. Well jet lag apparently got the best of me because I woke up 5 hours later. Exploring the city would have to wait till morning.

St. Peters

St. Peter's

That next morning we had a wake up call at 9 am to head out for sightseeing for the day. Our first stop would be St. Peter’s, which much like Rome iSt. Peterstself sneaks up on you. I remember parking the bus and then walking under a tunnel and when we walked up a ramp there I was standing in the heart of St. Peter’s square. Even though it was only 10:00 when we got there there was already a line that wrapped around to get inside. Our tour director decided he would earn those tips and had our entire group cut to the front of the line. It sounds much worse righting that now but it sure did save us some time in the moment. St. Peters absolutely left a lasting impression on me. The feeling would not be unique to that one spot, but I couldn’t help but feel all the history as I stood in that church. It was amazing to see just how much detail there was in everything inside. The walls were covered in gold, and the dome was incredible. I can only imagine what the feeling would be for a devout catholic.

St. Peters

After we toured St. Peter’s it was time for lunch and I had what to this day will be the best pizza in the world in a little shop just down the street from St. Peter’s square (sorry Chicago deep dish lover’s you’ve got nothing on Rome.) When I sat down on a bench to eat my pizza I happened to sit next to two sisters from New Brunswick, Canada. One sister Nina was in her late fifties and she was there with her old sister Hazel who had to be in her early seventies. Keep these two names in mind because a lot of the things that happened on this trip happened with Hazel and Nina. Yeah I bet you didn’t spend your spring break with anyone named Hazel. We got to talking and realized that we both wanted to take the hotel shuttle to Rome after we got back from our planned tour. We agreed to meet in the lobby after we got back and so we left the hotel together to explore some of Rome that we didn’t get to see. What I really wanted to do was see the famous Trevi Fountain and what I didn’t know was that Hazel and Nina wanted to shop as much as possible. We would have to reach a compromise and after looking at leather shoes for about half an hour I talked them into taking the metro to see the fountain. The first thing anyone needs to know when traveling to Europe is that there is only one person in every store or business that can speak English, everyone else just kind of stares blankly at you. In the shoe shop I tried to explain that we were looking for the Trevi fountain but the lady was having none of it. She didn’t understand what I was looking for and I kept trying to tell her you know that famous fountain that Rome is known for but nothing I said was getting through. Finally in an act of desperation I decided to speak in my finest fake italian accent and invert the words to fontana di trevi instead of Trevi fountain of course that did the trick.

We were told to take the 842 train to the Trevi fountain stop so all 3 of us waited and waited on that metro platform for the 842 train to come by. As I said before I’m not so great with directions so trying to find my way around a foreign city was not the easiest of challenges so we decided to ask anybody and everybody that we could to help us. Again no one spoke English so there was a lot of hand signals and blank stares. We finally figured out that the metro in Rome only runs east and west so you just had to get on any train that came and it would take you where you wanted to go. When there was only one stop left before we had to get off a bunch of school aged kids got on the metro and we were all essentially packed in like sardines. When we went to get off at our stop only Nina and I made it out because no one would move out of the way to let Hazel through. As the doors to the metro began to shut Nina decided to stick her hand through to try to grab Hazel out which resulted in Nina getting the door closed on her arm. Yes this was my first night in Rome. All I could do in the situation was laugh because of how surreal it was. The remaining people on the metro were able to pry the door open off Nina’s hand, but they immediately shut and off when Hazel to the next stop. At this point Nina was freaking out telling me that Hazel’s kids had trusted her with her and that she was scatter brained most of the time anyway which I later came to enjoy on the trip. Nina went to tell one of the guards to page for Hazel to find her which once again only one person out of the 8 guards in the booth spoke English. When I say English I mean someone who can speak English with what sounds like peanut butter in their mouths. Hazel ended up strolling out of the next platform and we were all back on our way to the Trevi Fountain.

One of the best parts of traveling to a high tourist area is just how helpful everyone is to each other because of their empathy towards you. When we got out of the metro station we were a little lost. There were other tourists around us and we all set off to find the fountain which might as well have been the fountain of youth with how much effort went in to finding it. The effort was definitely worth it though. It’s hard to describe in words how massive the fountain is and how lively it gets. It essentially is tucked away at the end of an alley and once you walk up to it your smacked in the face by about 2000 people all looking at the same landmark you are. Its an incredible feeling to be that connected to so many people. Hazel and Nina even found time to buy fake purses from street vendors before we headed back for the shuttle and back to the hotel. These are the things that will stick with me about Rome, one the best cities I visited on the trip. I really want to go back to Rome someday and should because I tossed a coin into the Trevi Fountain ( it’s said that if ;you do this you will return to Rome). Tomorrow I will try to post about my travels in Venice where once again Hazel and Nina and shopping will be very prevalent. Until then here are some more photos of Rome.

Trevi Fountain

Hazel and Nina at the Trevi Fountain

Trevi Fountain

Collosseum

The Colosseum

Rome

Last year was one of the most exciting and frustrating times in my life. Since my senior year of high school I knew that I wanted to study abroad and the plan was to go my Junior year of college. For those of you who know my parents you’ll understand why I started planning the fall semester of my sophomore year. The program that I found was based in Cyprus, a small island between Turkey and Greece. I would study in Cyprus for 4 months and then the last month of the program included a visit to ten different European countries to study their business practices first hand, and maybe see some monuments as well. I think I may have read every book the Library had on Cyprus my sophomore year and I couldn’t wait to head out. There was only one problem the program cost about $20,000. I was assured by the study abroad office that this number would be covered by financial aid. So I left Bloomington for the summer before my junior year thinking that i was all set and ready to go. I had filled out all the forms and all I had to do was spend my fall semester in Bloomington and it would be sunny Cyprus for me in the spring.

Life had other plans however. When I came back to school in the fall I quickly realized that things would not be going so smoothly. I visited the study abroad office once a week to try to nail down the funds I needed for the trip. As is so common in huge institutions, the people that worked in the study abroad office in the fall were not the same as in the previous spring. So essentially I was told two different things, one person told me that I could cover the trip with financial aid while the other told me that it wasn’t possible. She even went so far as to say that it was generous of IU to even let me have some of my financial aid to cover the trip. Thats right it was generous for IU to let me have some of “my money.” This went on for about a month or so until it was time for me to make a decision about whether it would be feasible for me to go or not. When I say it came down to the wire I’m not exaggerating. In the same week that I had to pay the full amount on the trip, was my deadline for signing up for classes for spring semester.

Cyprus

This could have been my neighborhood for five months

In the end it just didn’t work out, but out of this situation came a great opportunity to visit Europe during spring break. When I talked about being confidant in my spring break plans I meant it even going so far as buying my plane ticket for Cyprus. So when all the plans fell through I was still left with a thousand dollar credit with British airways. I decided to take a Trafalgar tour through Rome, Venice, Lucerne, Paris, and London. So while everyone my age was in Cancun or Panama City beach doing body shots of each other while on MTV, I was in Europe with old ladies from Canada and Australia.

I am a huge believer in the idiom that everything happens for a reason. I wouldn’t trade my experience in Europe for anything and plan to write about each destination in the coming week. For those who have already heard these stories enjoy them again and for those who haven’t you’ll be in for some good adventures.  Cyprus is still near the top of my list of places I want to visit but it will have to wait till I land that dream job.

Lev

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