• Streetview of Hostels

    I realized Google Streetview covers most countries, so here’s the places I stayed:

    Wombats, London, United Kingdom:

    Plug-inn Hostel, Paris, France:

    Meininger Hotel, Brussels, Belgium:

    Meininger Hotel, Amsterdam, Netherlands:

    Urban House, Copenhagen Denmark (door two buildings to the right, has changed names):

    Private Residence, Stockholm, Sweden

    A&O Hostel, Hamburg, Germany:

    Wallyard Hostel, Berlin, Germany:

    Post Hostel, Prague, Czech Republic:

    It turns out Austria doesn’t like Streetview.

    Haven Hostel San Toma, Venice, Italy:

    One Step from St. Peter, Rome, Italy:

    Ostello Santa Monaca, Florence, Italy:

    Meyerbeer Beach, Nice, France:

  • Nice

    Saturday, July 4th

    Taking the early train out of Florence meant leaving the hostel bright and early at 6:00 a.m. I knew from searching the previous night that my walk would take about 45 minutes to make the two mile trek but I wanted to make sure there was plenty of time before the 7:30 train. Florence was nice and quite in the morning, almost eerily quite compared to most European towns. In a few places around the city I came across the watering crew — as in the crew that waters down the streets! I guess this keeps dirt from becoming dust and helps sweep some of the debris out of the way. I showed up with plenty of time to spare, so of course, the train ran plenty late. The first leg took me from Florence to Genoa.

    At Genoa I had about an hour wait before the train arrived. This second train was set up with groups of three seats facing each other in a pod… and was entirely full. There were some other people who couldn’t find seats, including a mother and daughter from Norway that were backpacking around Europe. After a while we realize that there are pull down seats tucked in the aisle. They are more comfortable than sitting on the ground, but an annoyance when the beverage cart goes by or anyone needs to enter or exit the train. Since this train followed the coast, that meant plenty of stops for little Riviera towns. They were hard to tell apart and felt like nearly continuous development, but they were definitely beautiful. Eventually enough people got off of the train at these little towns that I was able to grab a seat in one of the pods.

    Ventimiglia meant another train swap. The train had the logo for Monaco on the side. I was surprised that Monaco would have any trains for themselves. The train also had air conditioning which was greatly appreciated on a humid day where the temperature was probably above 90 degrees. There were plenty more small Riviera towns along this train ride, and about half of them were in France. The only excitement came at the French border where the police pulled a guy off of the train.

    It was about a fifteen minute walk to the hostel once I arrived in Nice. It was located about a block from the beach, and you could see water from the room if you tried hard enough. The beach wasn’t your normal sandy beach — instead it was rather large gray rocks. Following along the coast for a couple of blocks took me to a park that veered away from the coast, which was probably a mile or so long itself. I followed it until it ended. From there, I found the main shopping street in Nice which really felt like most other shopping streets except the road had been pedestrianized.

    While I had a grocery store close in Florence, it was actually in the same building as the hostel in Nice, so it was even closer! This also meant that it was a good place to find dinner. After dinner was another walk along the beach, as the sun was setting. It felt weird not seeing any fireworks on the Fourth of July.

    Sunday, July 5th

    This would be my last full day in Europe. I spent most of the day in Monaco, which has its own post.

    After returning from Monaco, I was pretty tired. I eventually decided to leave the hostel and search for some food. I started following the long park that I followed the previous night. I wound up at a stage for the Nice Jazz Festival. It seemed pretty good for a free concert. I settle on a restaurant near the stage that was attempting to be an American restaurant, I think. It was called Buffalo Grill. The decor felt very American, complete with country music and an eagle statue. They also had very good hamburgers. On the way back to the hostel I found the bus stop I would need to get to the airport the next morning. I also came across a Slash concert which was just ending.

  • Firenze (Florence)

    Friday, July 3rd

    After the long wait in Rome for the train ticket to Florence, as soon as I stepped off the train in Florence… I was ready to get back in line again. I knew I had to get the connection to Nice sorted out sooner rather than later, especially since I already had my hostel in Nice booked for two nights. Using the Eurail timetable app, I was able to figure out a route that worked, but left from the other train station in Florence. It was also a couple of hours longer than the one leaving from the main station.

    The hostel was only half a mile from the train station but the once again blazing heat made it feel much further. The hostel was in an old convent built in the 15th century or something like that. After resting there and attempting to cool off for a while, I decided to walk around the city. There was a large town hall that looked out of place with its dark stone work and a tower that looked like it was plucked from a castle. It was the original location of the David statue too and a replica stood out front. There was also a neat area full of statues located diagonally from the hall. I also found the main church in town right before it closed and toured the main part of it. The outside was more interesting though. I guess I should also mention that to cross over and visit most of the stuff in town, I crossed the famous covered bridge in Florence. It doesn’t really feel like a bridge when you’re on it and there’s buildings on both sides. It just feels like another street that has a few openings where you can look over the water and realize that it really is a bridge.

    The famous statue of David is also located in town so I decided to go to its museum. It was much smaller than a lot of museums, but was very high quality. While you could get bored at other museums or wonder why certain pieces of art were deemed museum worthy, it was clear that everything in this museum was top notch. The scale of the David statue was surprising, and something that’s difficult to realize when you’ve only seen photos of it. I was expecting a human-sized statue, not something that was at least twice the size of a very tall person.

    I didn’t realize it at the time, but I picked a hostel that was next door to a small grocery store. No more hunting! This gave me a chance to stock up for the next day’s long train ride, which mostly meant buying some butter cookies and Schweppes.

    Leaving this time, I noticed a wedding in the square a few doors down from the hostel. There were a couple hundred people dressed in white. The guys even had white pants. I guess there was a restaurant there next to the church, because they all seemed to be eating. I was on the south side of the river in Florence and decided to continue on towards the east. There was supposed to be a good overlook point, but by the time I got there it was getting close to dusk and I didn’t want to climb the dark hill. I still had not eaten dinner (my last meal was at the McDonalds next to the train station in Rome), so I decided to finally find someplace to eat dinner. I found a reasonable restaurant with outside seating. I had gnocchi. I didn’t realize it was potatoes at the time, but covered with pasta sauce and cheese, it was very tasty.

    Returning to the hostel, the wedding party was still going on, now with more music and dancing. I had a hard time trying to sleep for a while, but the music and noise finally stopped around midnight.

  • Roma (Rome)

    Tuesday, June 30th

    Once we were finally able to escape Venice, it was a fast train ride to Rome. These rail lines were some of the fastest in Europe and the speed was sustained over long distances between stops. The info screens in the car would occasionally tell the speed and it topped out around 250 km/h which is about 155 mph!

    The next task was to find tickets for the metro system. They only have two lines that intersect at one station, but Rome is a big enough city that the metro system is useful. The trains were packed. The cars felt very sterile on the inside but many of them were covered in graffiti outside.

    The subway station we needed to get to was just a couple blocks from the Vatican and a couple more blocks in the other direction was our hostel. It ended up being in one of those typical neighborhood apartment buildings. I guess the people that ran the hostel owned the entire building or something and used one of the floors as a hostel. The lady that checked us in did not speak much English at all, but assured us that her husband knew it much better and could help us if we needed it later.

    One thing that makes Rome stick out from every other city is the amount of ruins around the city. It is rare if you can go more than a few blocks without seeing them. Some ruins are larger than others, but the fact they can keep them and often put them on display in a modern city is great. After wandering around for a while and going down a street that had some really nice shops, we wound up in front of a large set of stairs. It turns out these were the famous Spanish Steps. I think they should be renamed the Spanish Seats, because a good portion of the steps were being used as places to sit.

    The steps also bring up another thing that makes Rome stand out. It’s hilly. Probably more than most cities in Europe. After walking around some of the ruins down by the Colosseum, we came across this huge marble temple structure. It made the surrounding ruins look small. While I thought it was probably ancient, it turns out it was built in the 1800s and unlike the ancient things around it, the “Altar of the Fatherland” was completely closed.

    The very warm temperatures in Italy highlighted a high priority need: deodorant. While it seems like that should be very easy to find, most of the small markets only carried food and had a very small selection of other things, if they carried them at all. There were plenty of stores dedicated to what seemed to be shampoo, but no stores dedicated to deodorant. Luckily, one of the small groceries did carry a couple bars of fine smelling deodorant. I went with the less feminine smelling of the two.

    It was getting dark, so it was time to head back in the direction of the hostel. There were a couple of detours on the way. First, was the Pantheon. It had a really nice atmosphere outside of it, with a couple of street performers and people gathered on the stairs that surrounded a fountain.

    Closer to the hostel was the Vatican, and the whole area was nearly empty. On the long boulevard leading up to St. Peter’s Square there were plenty of shops closed for the day and an unusually high number of homeless men sleeping in front of the buildings. All over Europe it wasn’t unusual to see the homeless stake a place (especially on Sundays) underneath a building’s protective overhang but they would be few and far in between. The Square was mostly clear of chairs and the lighted fountains looked great at night.

    Wednesday, July 1st

    After booking a place in Venice that did not have air conditioning, I made sure to book a place in Rome that had air conditioning. That eliminated a lot of places, but this place definitely had air conditioning, as I woke up COLD. Got my money’s worth.

    The first sight of the day was the Forum. At the suggestion of our host, we went to the side entrance. There were maybe two or three people in line compared to a much larger line at the main entrance. The ticket for the Forum was also good for the Colosseum, which also had a very large queue. It was cool to see such a large grouping of ruins like the Forum provides, but it gets old after a while, as they are just that – ruins. My enjoyment of the ruins was also somewhat affected by my choice to not bring a bottle of water. I’m not sure why I decided to do that, but it was a bad choice. So I was very thirsty after walking around a warm, paved section of Rome for a couple of hours. While there’s people selling stuff everywhere around every European city, they did not allow any sort of selling in the Forum grounds. I bought an expensive bottle of water as soon as I left the grounds.

    After a mediocre lunch was the Colosseum. There was still a line despite having tickets. I was surprised how spacious it was along the concourse for being two centuries old. It’s so massive that it’s hard to take it all in at once.

    I needed a break after all of the walking and heat, so I took a nap for a couple of hours. Dinner was much better than lunch and came from an Italian place suggested by the host.

    Thursday, July 2nd

    The morning started out pretty lazy. We had bought tickets online a week or so earlier for the Vatican that weren’t good until noon, so there wasn’t too much of a rush to get over there. The online tickets were a great choice because there was a line that stretched for at least two or three blocks along the Vatican walls. With our pre-purchased tickets, we could take the “group” entrance and walk right up to the main security line.

    The Vatican Museums combine to form the largest museum I think I’ve ever visited. It’s all planned out so you’re basically in one huge line for the Sistine Chapel, but it just seems never-ending. It felt like Venice, with signs at every turn telling you the way to the main attraction. It surprised me that so many different subjects were covered in the museum and not all of them were church related. There were impressive collections of all sorts of artifacts, statues, artwork, and sometimes that artwork included the rooms themselves as famous masters had painted many of the ceilings throughout the buildings. The Sistine Chapel itself was great too, but it was so crowded it was hard to appreciate. Also for some reason they wanted to maintain silence in the room, which meant they employed guys with loudspeakers to yell at people every minute or so. One absence stood out at the Vatican: Bibles. I don’t know if they didn’t want them on display with that many people around or if they were in a library or being actively studied by the cardinals, but it seemed a bit strange that there weren’t Bibles in the museum.

    The Vatican even has a cafeteria! After walking through all of the museums, I definitely had an appetite. The pizza was probably a bit overpriced, but it was an excuse to eat someplace historic.

    In other Vatican peripheral activities, they also have a post office, which I visited to mail a post card. Up next was St. Peter’s Basilica, the famous domed church in the Vatican. It wasn’t included in the Vatican Museums tour, so it had a separate security line. It is also free to visit. The line moved quickly, and the shade provided by the colonnade in the square outside was a nice break from the 100+ degree heat. I guess this would be a good time to mention that despite the heat, I was wearing jeans because you’re supposed to cover your knees at the Vatican.

    St. Peter’s is a massive church. While other churches may have been more ornate, the sheer enormity of St. Peter’s sets it apart from everywhere else. It’s also nice that they actively hold mass in the church. I think it was at least half a dozen times each day. There were floor grates in a few places, and you could occasionally see people passing underneath. The mystery was solved when I found an entrance to the tombs tucked away in one of the massive roof supports. They were a bit eerie as expected for tombs, but really cool at the same time.

    Dinner took a while to find, and came when we decided to go into a nondescript place. It simply said “PIZZERIA” over the door and I don’t think they even had a menu outside like a lot of restaurants. We had to promise to take less than two hours to eat before getting a seat because there was a reservation for the table at that time. It turned out that pretty much every table in the restaurant was reserved, and although it was almost empty when we arrived, by the time we left, the place was full of reserved seats. Since we were near the door we could see everyone that came in and probably a dozen or so people were turned away because they did not have reservations. The first nice touch arrived before the food — a free glass of champagne. The pizza was also great. I’m not sure if had something to do with the disappointment of the pizza from lunch, or the heat, but it was superb. My pizza had something like spinach and beef. A bonus came with the bill — there was no cover at the restaurant, which was also unusual for Italy.

    A good pizza deserves good dessert, and thus began a search for gelato. Our host had mentioned a good place near the Pantheon, so we wandered around that neighborhood looking for gelato. Not sure of which shop was which, we settled on a place that had 150 different flavors.

    On the way back to the hostel, there was an ancient castle. After briefly considering the nighttime tour, we decided against it. We figured we could still go around the castle and use it as a shortcut. It turns out the castle was on an island, and completely surrounded by a moat except for one place. The shortcut turned into a lengthy detour.

    Friday, July 3rd

    It was time to head out to Florence. While the train office in Venice had set the bar for futility, it managed to be outdone by the one in Rome. The line was longer, there still weren’t any places to wait comfortably, and even worse, the train I would have taken to Nice was already full!