After Rome we headed up to Switzerland on another impulse. Switzerland is absolutely incredible. Maggie and I lovingly nicknamed it the happiest place on earth, and it really is. We stayed in the capital, Bern, for 3 nights. I think most of the Christmas villages in movies must be based off of Bern, it’s so charming. Every night and 8:30 Maggie and I watched the light show on the parliament building. It was incredible. Everyone who hasn’t seen it should YouTube it, and every government that doesn’t have a light show on one of their buildings is doing something wrong. Anyway, there was a big Christmas fair in town so we spent one of our days checking that out. We also climbed up a little mountain in one of the parks in Bern. Everyone we encountered in Switzerland was amazing, the nicest people out of any of the countries we have been to. Swiss-German is pretty confusing, the Austrians and Germans we met can’t understand it any more than we can. Our second night in Bern we had a pretty frightening situation. I came into our room late at night and the lights were off and there was new person in our room. Maggie told me to quickly close the door and come to bed without turning on any lights. She then told me that the other person in our room is being hunted down by hired hitmen and has been moving countries every few days. I think this is the only point on my entire trip where I felt like I was in danger. The woman left the following morning, we’re not sure what happened. Anyway, the following day we went to Grindelwald to go into the alps. We went up to Kleine Scheidigg which is 7,000ft up. We spent a while wandering around in the alps, it’s so beautiful up there. The only two things we didn’t like about Switzerland were 1. Along with being the happiest place on earth it is also the most expensive place on earth and 2. The food was expensive and not great. While the food wasn’t terrific the chocolate certainly was! I think Switzerland is my favorite country of the 15 we have traveled through.. I definitely plan to come back one day!
After Florence we went to Rome for four days. While we were in Rome we met up with my cousin Erin again and my Uncle Pat and Aunt Ellen. It was really nice to see family in a foreign place. When in Rome (hehe) we went to St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican and walked through the Vatican museum to go to the Sistine chapel. It’s unfortunate but after going to so many ornate palaces and chapels they all end up blurring together. We went to the Pantheon, the Spanish steps, the trevi fountain, the Roman forum.. Most of the tourist places. We also went inside the Colosseum which was amazing. On our second to last day we went to the catacombs where half a million people were buried including a few popes, saints and martyrs. Maggie and I knew the general direction of the catacombs but weren’t 100% sure how to get there. We hopped on a bus going in what we hoped was the right direction and expertly chose a person to follow. We decided to choose a guy around our age with a backpack and a Rick Steve’s guide to Rome book. We figured that even if this boy wasn’t going to the catacombs he atleast knew where he was going, which is more than we could say about ourselves. Luckily the stop he got off on was close to the catacombs, so we ended up going together. Our guide was possibly the least enthused person in the universe but we enjoyed the exploring the catacombs nonetheless. On our last night in Rome we went to see an opera called la Trevietta.
On our way to the train we stopped at Cafe Greco, a cafe that opened in 1760. Here we had amazing cannoli and cappuccino. Mmmm cannoli.
After Venice we took a short train ride to Florence where we stayed for 4 days. We met up with 2 girls we met caving in Budapest and a guy we met in Scotland, which was really nice. We climbed to the top of piazza de Michel Angelo and got a great view of the city at sunset. We also went to the Duomo and piazza de la Signoria. One night we received free tickets to see Arturo Brachetti a famous french illusionist. He is famous for running a one man show during which he changes outfits every few minutes. We explored the San Lorenzo market and headed into the Academia to see the David, the rape of the Sabine women and other pieces of art. While we were looking at the David we also ran into our Japanese friend from our train from Budapest! We were going to head to cinque terre on one of our days in Florence but a recent storm had destroyed two of the five towns and the trains weren’t running as frequently.
After leaving Budapest we took our third (and hopefully final) night train to Venice. We shared a cabin with a boy from Japan who was our age but didn’t speak english and we don’t speak Japanese.. So we spent the entire night teaching our languages to each other. We were woken up 4 times for customs because we had to travel through Slovenia and Croatia. The customs officers brought in drug sniffing inus (aka dogs in Japanese.. One of the words he taught us) and were pretty intimidating looking. I thought sleeper trains would be more conducive to sleeping, but I was definitely wrong about that. We arrived in Venice, where we spent $10 more per night to stay in a hotel over a hostel and it was entirely worth it. After sleeping in rooms with 30 strangers and sharing bathrooms with 60 more, having a private room was fantastic. Maggie and I were so excited when we saw they had hand soap AND towels. Our lives have become pretty pathetic. Anyway, our hotel was in St. Marks square so it was right in the center of everything. The day we arrived there was a marathon happening throughout the city. It was a scavenger hunt marathon so there were places people needed to run to and no one knew where they were going. This made walking down the narrow venetian streets pretty hazardous because there were frantic marathon runners popping out at every turn. We went to the Dodges Palace which in our minds trumped Versailles. It is a pretty amazing palace, it is incredibly ornate and detailed. The Dodges palace leads you over the bridge of sighs, which prisoners used to walk over, take one last look at the beauty of Venice and sigh knowing they would never see it again. Once outside of the Doges palace we decided to find some chips and to feed to the pigeons in St. Marks. Maggie threw the chips all over me so I was bombarded with birds. I’m pretty sure if anyone did this in Bryant Park in New York they would look completely insane. The next day we went to the Peggy Guggenheim museum and took a few hours to explore her collection of art. For dinner that night we had stuffed cod, bellinis which are peach juice and champagne and spritz which are prosecco and campari. Spritz are a little too bitter for me but fresh bellinis are delicious. The rest of our time in Venice was spent wandering around the city, it’s a very unique and beautiful place.