Monday, April 25, 2011

Traveling Woman, pt. 2

Austria is Catholic, and as Catholics, they really believe in celebrating Easter. Luckily for me (and every other TA in this country), that means a 2 week vacation for me! I took the opportunity to get out of Austria and instead head south to the land of carbs, cheese and gelato... yes, Italy.
Guess where this is!

Venice (April 16-17) - I've been to Venice before, with the University of Portland Salzburg group back in 2008, but unfortunately for us, it was pouring rain then. This time around, Taylor, Jenni and I explored the city with about 50,000 other tourists. Really, Venice is kind of crazy... It seems to me that everyone there must either work in tourism or be a tourist themselves. By the end of our 2 days there, we were all nearly tricked into buying an unnecessary mask or glass dish of some sort... but I'm ranting. Venice truly is a city built around the canals, with police vehicles and even ambulances cruising in the water, dodging through the tourists on gondolas. 

Scott scampering on some rocks in Riomaggiore
Cinque Terre (April 17-22) - Oh goodness, there's so much to say about the Cinque Terre. As Taylor exclaimed immediately after leaving the train station at 11:30 PM, "I love it so much!". The Cinque Terre are five coastal towns (hence "Cinque Terre") connected by a train track and hike-able paths. We chose to stay in Corniglia, the middle and smallest of the five towns, with a population less than the number of stairs it takes to reach it (382 or so, which is a lot of stairs after a 4 hour hike.). Our group of ladies was joined by another TA, Scott, and we four followed Rick Steves's walking tours around all of the Cinque Terre and two bonus cities. The views from the hikes were fantastic, the towns were quaint, the tourists were at a minimum, and the gelato was abundant... basically it was five days in heaven. Also, I saw my first real fireflies (!!!) although I may have nearly killed one in my excitement. I truly hope I can return to the Cinque Terre at some other point in my life, because it seems like a place where many new things can be discovered. Thanks, Rick Steves!

A view of Manarola... the colors were fantastic!
A tourist doing the typical "holding up the tower" pose.
Pisa (April 21) - Pisa, as most people know, is home to a rather famous but useless building: the Leaning Tower of Pisa. We took a 2 hour stop in Pisa solely to see this photo-worthy tower and discovered that yes, folks, it really does lean! Construction on the building started in 1178, and they noticed quickly that it was leaning, so, to compensate, the constructors decided to build the next couple levels with one side shorter than the other. Logical, right? Anyway, other than the tower Pisa left a lot to be desired. If Pisa ever tires of its tourist, it just needs to take down the tower to become another medium-sized, somewhat boring Italian city. Problem solved!

A bookstore we found in Florence. I can only imagine
 how difficult it is to find a specific book in there!
Florence (April 21-23) - After our brief stop in Pisa, we continued on our journey to Florence, the home of lots of art and people selling fake brand-name things. We took a nice walk around the city and saw all the sights (which Jenni and I had seen before when we came with UP), but for me the best part of the stay was our hostel (Plus Florence Hostel, if you're curious)! Among other amenities, there was a pool, sauna and Turkish spa of which we certainly took advantage. Returning to the "big" (population: 367,000) city of Florence proved to be a bit overwhelming after our relaxing break in Cinque Terre. Florence is a big study abroad hot-spot, and I can see why. The city is big yet easy to navigate, and there are lots of interesting museums and churches for art history people to study. Plus, it's nice looking.

Anyway, I'm happy to be back in Austria. The strange thing about major tourist areas is that English is spoken more often than the native language, and definitely not just by native English speakers! It's strange to be able to understand everyone around you, since the majority of what people talk about is either complaining or just nonsense. It's kind of nice to be in Austria, where every conversation going on around me is a mystery that I can try to understand or not. Vacations are great because you can see so much and learn a lot about other cultures, but they have a tendency to become a major money-sucker, which frugal people like me tend to stress about.

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