Venice- a maze built on water

After one whole day in Milan we were pretty tired, so on train to Venice we got in some pretty great naps. We arrived to Venice feeling refreshed. Not wanting to waste time, we left our luggage at the train station because in order to afford staying in Venice, you can’t actually stay in Venice. We found an amazing hotel on expedia for $64 Canadian a night versus hostels that charge about 40 euros per person and it was about a 40 minute bus ride away in Mirano.

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Our first order of business in Venice was buying a map because we quickly realized it would be difficult to navigate through tiny passageways, winding streets, and bridges leading to places. It ended up being a great decision, even though we still got a little lost once in a while, but hey, that’s all part of the experience.

Venice was interesting because unlike most places we have been, all of the really impressive things are hidden. You sort of stumble upon them. You can be walking through a dark alley at one moment, and the next you’re standing in a piazza with some of the most impressive buildings you’ve ever seen (see above). This also made it extremely difficult to photograph because of the lack of space. Regardless, the canals, bridges, and buildings were fun to explore, and we have another day in Venice yet to show you this week.

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A Day in Milan

Traveling in Milan was the beginning of our whirlwind tour of Italy that was fueled mostly by pizza, espresso, and the notion that if we could just keep moving south we would miss winter entirely.

Milan is four hours from Nice and the train ride was populated with many stops along the way. Milan is known for it’s fashion and financial prowess but it also has many historical buildings and a well kept old town.

We were there for two nights, and only really had one full day to see the city, but it turned out to be enough and after a full day of walking we had seen most of the notable areas of the downtown.

The best part of Milan by far was the Duomo, a massive late-Gothic cathedral in the very center of town. Construction on the Duomo started in 1386 and was finished in 1965 putting the total time spent in construction somewhere around 600 years. There are hundreds of spires at the top of the cathedral and its surface is completely covered in decorative masonry. Looking at it made my head sticky with just how long it took to get everything where it is today. It’s like each new architect that took the job when the last one died just kept saying “more”.

Very near the cathedral is an old galleria that has some equally impressive views, with a steel-frame and glass ceiling that creates a kind of “inside that looks like outside” atmosphere, where it swallows the light from the outside and seems to trap it inside.

We walked from the Duomo area to the nearest park where we had lunch and dodged the midday heat, and then traveled to another older part of the city that had parks with several cathedrals in the area but none that were 600 years old.

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That night we had pizza and went to bed happy to have seen all that we had, and excited for the next stop on our sprint through Italy.

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Nice, no puns allowed

After Lyon we headed to Nice for a much needed tropical vacation. Neither Chris or I really got a chance to relax this summer with lots of work, saving for our trip, and nowhere to really go it didn’t leave much time for weekends on a lake or swimming and sun. Even though we were in Nice for five days we don’t have many pictures so I am going to cover it all in one post (I hope you are ready to read).
When looking into it, we found places in Nice to be expensive and a little far so we stayed at a hostel in Nice which was a converted monastery which had very beautiful gardens, great food, and friendly people. On the first day we ventured downtown to the fruit and flower market, which happens everyday and is the biggest in Europe. Following that we headed into the streets of Old Nice which are cobblestone and full of tiny little shops towards a hill with a Chateau at the top which promised an excellent view.  There isn’t too much to see in Nice itself so this only took the morning and the afternoon was left for the beautiful beaches of Ville Franche.
We spent the following day in Monaco which is about an hour away by bus. Monaco is probably the richest country in the world, all the houses were excessive, massive yachts in the harbor, and they really like ferraris.  We were both fairly exhausted, at hostels activity ends late and starts early so we hadn’t had much sleep. Consequently we spent much of the day on the beach reading and soaking.

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The third day in the morning we wanted to go scuba diving but the previous day they told us to get up and come to reception for 8, and they would register us an we would make it to the port, but when we did this the morning staff told us we would never make it. So we went back to bed for an hour, got up and went to the Nice beach for tubing and para-sailing on the ocean, leaving the scuba diving for our last day. The tubing was very rough but lots of fun, and the para-sailing gave us a most incredible view of Nice. That afternoon we took a trip to Grasse, the perfume capital of the world. I had set up an appointment for a make your own perfume workshop which was at a place called Gallimard. When I looked it up online the website told me it was right downtown, fairly near where the buses came in. When we got to Grasse, we discovered there were actually 3 locations, quite spread out and it was unclear which one I needed to be at. We tried to get on to a bus to where we thought it was but the bus driver told us we should walk, it was close. Forty minutes later we arrived at the location, 20 minutes past the appointment time and it was the wrong location. So we ended up just doing a tour which was kind of interesting, but also very much a long sales pitch. Grasse itself was beautiful and old so it was a nice day all in all.
Scuba diving in Nice was incredible. We got up early and made it downtown. We got on a boat full of old men, a couple from Las Vegas, and a woman from Montreal who moved to France years before. Because it was our first time we had to stay on the boat while they got to explore. We were given very specific instructions as what would happen, how deep we would go, what we were to do, how to breathe, etc. We submerged slowly and were to do nothing. They would carry us around we just had to look around. The ocean was quite beautiful, we saw several fish and corals. Unfortunately we do not have pictures, but next time I go scuba diving, hopefully we will be able to move ourselves, and maybe get an underwater camera for the experience.

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Leaving Lyon

Lyon is built around two large hills which we climbed to the top of on the third day. There is a large church on the peak which is surrounded by a cliff-side garden and an ancient roman amphitheater.

The inside of the church was decorated beyond anything either of us had seen. There, every surface was outlined in magnificent stonework and golden mosaics. We spent a long time inside simply, and once again, looking up.

Behind the church was a viewpoint that looked out upon the entire city and we walked through the gardens below which were steep to climb but easy on the eyes.

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The day was hot but we enjoyed out time on up in the mountains. The ancient roman amphitheater was our last stop before we descended back into the city and they were set up in a way to continue to host performances.

Our last day in Lyon was spent with relaxing walks in the afternoon and we made preparations to head off to Nice the next day. Staying in Lyon was like taking an extra long weekend; we could have done the same amount of things in a few less days, but it was the pace at which we did them that I very much enjoyed.

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Lyon; Still France

It’s hard to say that Lyon was anything but the exact opposite of Paris, but also in many ways still the same. The similarities of which I am chalking up to the fact that we were still very much in France as we came within view of Lyon’s stunning downtown.

Our first day, was a Sunday and even though we were in the center of the city, nothing was open. We spent most of the day exploring the center area of Lyon which is annexed by two man made canals. There are several massive public plazas and the walk from one end of the downtown to the next was under thirty minutes giving the city the effect of having very much to offer but feeling very connected and people centric. You could look very hard, but there are probably few cities out there that are as beautiful and pristine as is Lyon.

There is a park in Lyon in the north called Parc de la Tête d’Or, which has everything to offer and by that I certainly mean everything. In the park there is nothing short of a wildlife reserve, a zoo, botanical gardens, mini-golf, and a docile lake within its grounds. We took a picnic in the shade of a large oak tree, and the resulting exploration of the grounds seemed only necessary.

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Village on a Hill

We visited Montmarte on our last full day in Paris, a small part of Paris at the top of a hill just north of downtown.

Although part of the greater metropolis, Montmarte still manages to retain its original small town feel, and we enjoyed the various shops and short distances from place to place. Other days we spent in Paris were full of walking, but Montmarte felt like we took a break from the intense speed of the rest of the city, and we were free to enjoy everything the French way of life has to offer: great wine, fresh baguette and adventurous but delicious cheeses.

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We were headed to Lyon the day after Montmarte, but before we left the city, we went to St. Ouen, a suburb which holds the famous Parisian flea market (marché aux puces), where there are several tiny shops with all kinds of vintage prints, furniture, clothing and perfumes. We could have spent a whole day just there.  Each shop had its own personality and unique set of goods, it was difficult to decide what to leave with.

Paris as a whole was a whirlwind trip and one that feels a little bit like a dream when I think back on it. I mean, I’m still trying to get over the size of the Louvre, and I didn’t even go in it.

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Look Down, Look Up

Another fantastic part of Paris is the buildings. As pedestrian as that sounds, we spent a large part of our time in Paris simply walking around and looking up. Except for our second day in the city, where we spent the morning looking up at the Eiffel Tower, then riding to the top and looking at the rest of the city below.

The architecture in Paris is a mix of many different eras, with Gothic buildings sitting next to those of the Renaissance and Baroque periods (and so forth). The result is a city that is layered with all kinds of decorative elements, having every window, doorway, and balcony act as an opportunity to show off.

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After climbing back down from the Eiffel Tower, we walked over to the Saint-Germain area which we saw the St. Suplice church and had some crepes near by, but went home after acquiring some delicious cheese at a nearby market.

The next day, for a change, we spent some time inside a few buildings, such as the Musee d’Orsay and the L’Orangerie, and then we walked over to check out Notre Dame, the Parthenon, and the Luxembourg Gardens. All of which were spectacular places to be.

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