Monday, 24 October 2016

If Venice is sinking, I'm going under

 If you don't know this reference, go youtube the song, now. Seriously though, it was the soundtrack of the weekend (not than any of the others had a choice).

So yet again, I found myself in the spontaneous act of booking a weekend trip out of the country.  When Matt proceeded to pitch the idea of heading to Italy the weekend before, I had no hesitations. After everything that has gone on here with school in Grenoble (as some of you may know) I have decided to take advantage of the last few months I have here and see as much of Europe as I can. It'd be easier to sit here and wish that things had gone differently and sit here counting down the days (honestly this still happens from time to time), but instead I have decided to take on a whirlwind of adventures in the next 8 weeks.

Back to Venice, where I spent this past weekend (if you haven't caught on yet).  Monday morning we met up at the gare once again and headed direction Italy. Leaving the country two weekends in a row? Yes, I know, how casual.  The journey was about nine and a half hours, including two transfers, and three trains in total.  Seems a little bit crazy for one weekend, I know, but the travelling actually gave me some down time to fit some work in (yes, contrary to popular belief I actually AM in school here...).

So we arrived in Italy around 6 pm which gave us (just) enough time to find our hostel before it became completely dark outside.  Google maps said a 15 minute walk from the train station to the hostel, so evidently it would take us a good hour and 15 minutes.

We were pleasantly surprised upon arriving at the hostel, a new experience for all of us.  We have a private room with four beds, and even had a beautiful terrace off to the side.

Friday night consisted of a drop of the bags and a search for some pizza (didn't prove too difficult, shocker).  We found a quaint little resto just a few blocks down from our hostel where we would soon indulge in pizza and red wine.

Not too shabby
After dinner we were headed back to the train station to pick up none other than, Elise!! We figured we had done the route once and we'd only need to give ourselves the 15 minutes google maps recommended to get there. Needless to say we were very very wrong. Swerving through the windy streets of Venice in the dark, even google maps got turned around and in this moment, offered us zero help.

We eventually made back the grand canal where the train station sits (thank goodness), and lucky for us Elise's train was delayed even more than we were trying to navigate the streets of Venezia.  Upon meeting her at the station we were happy to be reunited but were quick to warn her that it would be awhile until we found our way back...I won't even get you started on that one.

Fast forward to Saturday morning.  Day 2 was all about the strategic planning, we needed to decide exactly what you monuments we would agree upon visiting, as one full day in Venice is nearly not enough.

We all had a little bit of a different taste (which is one of the best things about travelling with a group), and decided on the Rialto Bridge, Basilica San Marco (St. Mark's Basilica), Doge's Palace, and of course, my favourite part of the trip that I had been dreaming of, a gondola ride along the canals.

The Rialto Bridge is one of busiest tourist spots in Venice, see for yourself just exactly why.

If this picture doesn't scream Venice, I don't know what does. Gondola boats to the left, taxi boats to the right, and the grand canal surrounded by the typical, old, coloured, Venetian buildings.

The entry to the staircase mounting up to the bridge if where you'll find your typical market in Venice, plenty of fish, in addition to clothes, fresh produce and everything in between.

Next we were onto the Piazza San Marco and Doge's Palace.  The Piazza San Marco, home to the Basilica San Marco, is the main public square in Venice, known as the social, regligious, and political centre of Venice (often referred to as simply la Piazza whereas every other centre in Venice is referred to campi- fields)..So it's an important spot, take the hint.

Piazza San Marco

We even happened to catch a Venetian bride!

The Basilica San Marco is the Roman Catholic cathedral church of Venice.  Although we were not able to enter due to time restrictions (you should've seen this line up), the outside was nonetheless, stunning.

Some mighty fine architecture ft. yours truly

Then right around the corner from the Basilica is Doge's Palace. A Venetian Gothic style palace, which one served as the home of the former supreme authority of Venice (very average living space as seen below), it is now opened as a historical site and art museum (since 1923).  Doge's Palace is one of the main landmarks for Venice as it sits right along the pier.

Hey MTV welcome to my crib
And last but not least, the gondola ride,  I don't know about you guys, but when I think of Venice, gondolas coasting through the waterways is the first thing that comes to my mind. This part of the day is definitely best recounted through less words and more pictures..

Looking out at the Rialto Bridge

Our lovely gondolier (I had to look this word up to be honest), and check out the detailing on my throne ;)

Seriously in my glory, thanks to my awesome pals for letting me have the throne :-)
After the Gondola we decided it was time to head back to the hostel to put our feet up for a bit before dinner.  But wait, it wouldn't be an attempt to get back to the hostel without getting lost would it now???

And that's where the Italian Opera fits into all of this. Yup, we just happened to stumble upon the opera, while looking for our way home.  It took all of 10 seconds of starring at each other to decide "Mhm we're going to an Opera tonight".  So we bought our tickets and off we went, vowing to return in 4 hours for the start of the show.

Of course, before the show came dinner..can't forget that Italian food now can we!! We enjoyed some lovely Italian pasta dishes (honestly no pasta will ever compare now).  One important thing to lookout for in Italy, and in other major tourist cities, is cover charge for dinner. Yes, its only 2-3 euros per person, but yes, you can find great food at restaurants in the city without a cover charge (that 8-12 euros per group could buy you another pitcher of wine, common now!!!).

Prosciutto filled tortellini 

Elise & 1

The lovely Julia and Matt
An we can't forget dessert...Gelato, third times (in one day) a charm??

So as our final dinner in Venice came to a close, it was time to head over to Opera to officially end our Italian weekend.  The opera was of a smaller production and took place in the Concert Hall, as opposed to the Opera House (unfortunately there were no productions going on in the grand theater this night).  This was a special kind of a opera, it was composed of a number of songs performed from a variety of operas, and was officially named Baroque and Opera. Now it can be seen as distracting or frowned upon by some, to take pictures during the show, however the only rule they had announced to was to turn off all flash when taking photographs, and that for the me was a green light (its obviously clear by now that I love to photo document everything). So here's a couple snaps of what I can officially call my first opera, and an authentic Italian one at that.

And with that, my time in Venice was concluded.  A weekend was definitely not nearly enough to see everything I wish to explore in Venice, but giving me a quick taste leaves me so very curious to see what else is has in store for me during my next visit.

Ciao, Italy. Until next time!

Sunday, 16 October 2016


Disclaimer: we may or may not have spent our last 20 francs on Swiss chocolate for dinner tonight.




I woke up Wednesday morning feeling in need of an adventure. A quick proposition to Elise and Matt (my Canadian counter-parts) and the next thing you know, we found ourselves at the Grenoble train station yet again.

This morning we met up bright and early at the gare, with our tickets in hand and two of three passports (luckily Matt didn't get deported) we were headed direction Genève. 

Since arriving in France, a month and a half ago (already I know), I've stuck to what I've known, that being France. Well today I've finally left the country for what I hope will be the first of many times in the next few months.  It was especially exciting for me as I was now able to add a country to my "country count". Switzerland was apart of my original backpacking plan for the summer of 2014, but eventually never made the cut (ragrets, I know), making today the first time I've set foot in the Swiss territory, and it definitely didn't disappoint.

For starters, the Geneva Train Station is nicer than the Toronto Airport.  Well maybe, not quite..but we were honestly in awe..of a train station.  Descending from the tracks you become surrounded by boutiques, small shops and of course cafes.  The atmosphere was overwhelming as you rarely expect to see such a thing (except maybe the Gare de Lyon in Paris), and the best part, it was nearly spotless, so clean. It took us a solid five minutes to navigate our way out, but we clearly didn't mind.

First stop was the Maison de Tourisme, the Tourist Office, of course.

User-friendly, picture-bearing map for directionally challenged tourists such as ourselves

Second stop, flower clock. The second largest of its kind (is that even a bragging right??), the Geneva flower clock was created in 1955 to represent Geneva's dedication to the nature of, you guessed it, watchmaking.

Next we were headed to discover the Red Cross Museum at the United Nations, but not without of course, a detour to hang with the swans.

Squad up

So the "user-friendly, picture-bearing map for directionally challenged tourists such as ourselves" turned out to be rather inaccurate (shocking I know).  After walking for over an hour in search of the museum, essentially across half of the city, which appeared on the map to be "just behind the train station and one block to the right", we had found the United Nations of Geneva (again the second largest of four in the world, but I think that this deserves slightly greater bragging rights than that of the flower clock).  Also featured in the square of nations in front of the UN is the Broken Chair Monument. Positioned on face of the Palace of Nations, the Broken Chair symbolizes the opposition to land mines and cluster bombs, acting as a reminder to politicians visiting Geneva.

Ensuite was the venture to find food (when aren't I on the hunt for food??). We decided that taking the tram back into town from the UN would be a time-efficient option and frankly I was too hangry to navigate our way back for another hour long trek. We managed to take the tram in the right direction and everything (!).

The restaurant of choice for today was "La buvette des Bains des Paquis", located on the end of the pier overlooking Lake Geneva. A almost cafeteria-like restaurant (sounds weird I know), everyone grabs a tray and waits in (the every so humongous) line in front of the counter and then carries their own tray of food (back through the ever so humongous crowd) to attempt to find a table on the pier.

Plat du jour: Squash filled ravioli topped with tomatoes and arugula, and a ginger beer

Needless to say (this is Europe after all), the food was amazing, and well worth the wait.  Upon finishing we began to get hit with the food coma "I need a nap feeling".  Knowing all well we had no time for any sort of break, we hopped up from the table and were on the move again.  We headed further out onto the pier to help wake us up and walk off this lunch!

Would also like to mention we had a photo shoot, however, due to the sun, most of our selfies turned out like the following...

We tried

Once the photo shoot came to an end (a girl can only squint for so long), it was time to explore the old town.

He insisted!

View of the old town, halfway up to the cathedral

Bon appétit!

The staple of the Old Town is the cathedral, St. Pierre's Cathedral (or St. Peter's Cathedral, in English), a 4th century Gothic-style church.

Our tour started with actually walking underneath the present day cathedral, to where some of the remains of the original 3rd century cathedral are still preserved, all the way up until the current cathedral of the 12th century.  Luckily, for us, we had our history and archaeology buff, Matt, along with us to explain well, pretty much everything,

More than likely explaining something uber intelligent to us

I won't go through the entirety of the tour (obviously) because it's something you need to see for yourself, but here a few small details I found particularly interesting:

First are the individual cells of the monks. I was surprised by the size of space allocated to each of them (shown below)- a two story room, with a sleeping space on top and a space for leisure activities, painting, reading, pottery, on the bottom. Monks were known to live very simple lives, and to be honest I was expecting a 10x10 room with a bed! The room was complete with a heating unit found under the ground-level floor (the monks had heated floors in their bedrooms, sorry what??).

Next was the room of the bishop.  What I found particularly interesting here was the detailed mosaic flooring of the bedroom. Who has time to hand place each tile to create this beautiful mosaic, you may ask? Monks, that's who (this was before social media existed, remember).

What remains of the mosaic flooring

In detail

Unfortunately we didn't have time to climb the bell tower (the tallest climbable point in the city and therefore the best view of Geneva) before it closed for the day, but we did have a quick chance to tour inside the present day St. Pierre's Cathedral.

After the old town it was time to call it a day and start heading back to the train station to buy our tickets home (always be sure to give yourself loads of time at the train station during the weekends, as it is always super busy with people travelling every which way- great fo people watching if you've got the time), and to find a quick dinner to take with us on the train.

Hey, I said "quick", didn't I?

The last thing that I want to touch on in this post is the number of public water fountain spots we saw yesterday, with drinkable water. You'll often see this is France as well, however, Geneva had some beautifully constructed fountains.

"Eau potable"

In which we 100% took full advantage of (and I couldn't help but to photograph).

Perfect for you know, filling up you water bottle for free, or better yet? Just sticking you whole head under the tap.

Well with that, I conclude the end of my weekend adventure to Switzerland. What was the best part about Switzerland, you may ask?

Well, I don't know exactly. But I can tell you, the flag is a big plus.

I'm punny, I know,