Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Day 58: A visit to Italy (part 1)

Hey everyone!! Sorry I have been neglecting this blog but I've just been having such a fantastic time in Italy and also haven't had access to an actual computer (just wifi on my phone) until recently. Right now I am in Rome for my last day here. I've been going hard the last few days with my sightseeing so I'm taking it a little easier today, although I'm headed out into the city later. It's only 1pm here so I still have plenty of the rest of the day. I'm headed back to France on Saturday morning, but first I'm headed to Naples tomorrow from where I will venture to Pompeii (and maybe Herculaneum) on Friday.

So because I'm relaxing a little bit today, I decided to update the blog with photos and stories from my trip so far. I had an excellent time in Florence (despite a lot of rain and even a bit of snow flurries!). I couchsurfed with a girl named Sara who is really great. She lives slightly outside Florence but it's only about 30 minutes on the bus so it wasn't bad at all to go into the city each day.

So first my journey to Italy was a little rocky. I flew EasyJet, which was probably my first mistake, but it was 90€ round-trip so I can't really complain too much. We were supposed to fly straight to Pisa but got diverted to Bologna for 2 hours of waiting because of a problem at Pisa airport. So I was too late to see much of Pisa before heading to Florence, although I did make it to the Leaning Tower of Pisa for half an hour.


Finally I made it to Florence, and met Sara at the train station. The next morning she had to go to school, so I went into the city on my own. I visited the Duomo (conquered all 463 of those mother effing steps!), the church and the Baptistery attached.


I also visited the Accademia museum, which houses the famous David statue by Michaelangelo. You're not allowed to take pictures of it though (why??). The rest of the museum itself is not very impressive, but of course it's a must-see if you want to see the David.


I DO have this picture of me with the copy of the David outside the Palazzo Vecchio (which is in the location where the David was originally placed), which is the best I could manage.

Next to the Palazzo Vecchio is the Uffizi. It's an art museum, and it was more impressive than the Accademia in my opinion. It's also not allowed to take pictures there, but the artwork is nice and it's much bigger than the Accademia. The famous Birth of Venus painting by Botticelli is there.

On day 2, I went back to the Duomo area and climbed the Bell Tower (Campanile), which is 414 steps. It's lovely, and has a great view which includes the Duomo in it.


After the climbing madness, I then went to Dante's House (which is not that interesting unless you are really into The Divine Comedy and Dante's life), and walked to the Santa Croce church, which has some famous graves in it, namely Michaelangelo, but also Machiavelli, Galileo, and Dante, all famous Florence residents.

Michaelangelo's grave, which he designed
 I then visited the Galileo Museum, which has many scientific instruments like old telescopes and compasses and other Renaissance science-y stuff. I found it fascinating but if you're not interested in that, you may not care much about it.

They also had THIS for some reason.... *SHUDDER*


The next morning, I ventured over the Ponte Vecchio (the famous bridge lined with gold and silver shops) to the Pitti Palace. It's a huge place that once belonged to the Medici family, but has been occupied by various people, most famously Napoleon. I saw Napoleon's bathroom! It has a huge art collection from the Medicis and the rooms themselves are artwork. There's also a costume gallery (featuring gowns from the 17th century onward), a modern art gallery (which I didn't visit), and huge gardens behind it. The Boboli Gardens must be magnificent in the summer, because they are pretty even in the winter, although it's not very fun to wander around them in a rainy/snowy mix!

View of the city from Boboli Gardens. (Note the snow-capped mountains in the back)

Some tips for Florence:
  • Buy the Firenze Card. It is 50 € but it includes all the museums and sights listed above, and also gives you free bus travel if you need it. The card is valid for 3 days, which is a good amount of time to stay in Florence. You can buy it at the Tourist Information Office in Santa Maria Novella church across the square from the train station. I figured up that I saved 16.50 € by using the card instead of buying tickets individually. Also, it sometimes lets you skip lines, which would definitely be worth it in the summer (in the winter the lines aren't bad in most places). 
  • Pay attention to the prices at the gelato shops so you don't accidentally order a 6.50 € ice cream. Ouch, my wallet.
  • It's an easy city to walk around but take a map because it can also be easy to get lost because there are lots of windy side streets. The map I got from the tourist office when I bought my Firenze Card was great. 
  • I would recommend the Rick Steves AudioEurope tours. You can download the app for iPhone or Android (which contains all of the information in one spot, for all of Europe organized by country and city; I have the android one) or individual tours to your MP3 player. He has great walking tours of several museums and around the cities. I've used them in Rome as well, and they are great.
And that's about it!

Stay tuned because I'll be writing about my trip to Rome soon! See you then. :)

Kaylin xx 



















Monday, February 18, 2013

Day 49: Packing for Italy!

Hey guys! So I am headed to Paris tomorrow afternoon for my Immigration New Zealand x-ray appointment, and then on Wednesday morning, I am off to Italy! So, I thought I would make a packing list and share on here with some photos.

First of all, I am going carry-on only because I am flying EasyJet. They have really steep checked bag fees! I usually try to go carry-on only anyway, at least for shorter trips like this, but it is a little harder in the winter in Europe than when I went to Thailand/Cambodia last January. Nevertheless, I have prevailed! I even managed to have room to stuff my handbag in the top of my backpack, because EasyJet only allows ONE carry-on item... they won't even let you have a "personal item"! (How crappy is that? But my flight was super cheap, so I guess I can't complain... too much.)

So here are some pictures and explanation of what all I am packing for 10 days in Italy. Here goes!


All packed! The green folder on the right has all my paperwork for the doctor's appointment and my hostel reservation and train reservation information, as well as opening times and costs for sights. The green bit at the top is my handbag, which has various sundry items like a mini-hairbrush, lip balm, my wallet, etc.



Here is the inside of my outer pocket. My tablet and my converse are visible, flip flops stuffed down in the bottom (for hostel showers). I forgot my rain jacket so I packed it in here after the picture. The small very front zip pocket has my 100ml liquids bag in it.



My travel towel (purple; left), pajamas (lower middle), rain jacket (upper middle-- it stuffs into its own pocket), and my hoodie. Everything else got put in packing cubes.



I have the eBags packing cubes, and they are awesome! These two, which are the slim packing cubes, hold socks and underwear (top cube) and tights, bras, and my fold up flats (bottom).



Here's my "miscellaneous" cube. It is the small cube, from the cube pack with S M and L in it. It has my head lamp, hair ties, Q-tips, band-aids and pepto tablets, a washcloth, a sewing kit, deodorant, and some non-liquid makeup.



And here's my medium packing cube. It has all my other clothes in it, mostly shirts, one skirt, and one pair of jeggings. (See end of post for full packing list)



And here's me, packed and ready to go!

The only things I haven't packed yet are my phone, camera, headphones, and toothbrush. (I packed a travel toothpaste already.)

Full packing list: 
Toiletries-
1 travel towel and 1 wash cloth
1 toothbrush and 1 toothpaste*
1 small bottle each of body wash and shampoo*
1 small tube of sunscreen*
1 small tube of face lotion*
Lip gloss tube*
1 small tube of antibiotic ointment (neosporin)*
1 powder compact
1 four-way eyeshadow
1 eyeliner stick
1 solid perfume tin
1 lip balm (nivea)
1 stick deodorant
Band-aids
Pepto tablets (for stomach ache)
Q-tips
Hair ties, head bands, and bobby pins
Aleve (anti-inflammatory/pain meds)
Mini-hairbrush
*all liquids above are in the 100ml ziploc for carry-on liquids

Clothing-
1 button-up top (gray)
1 hoodie (dark purple)
1 set of PJs (shorts/t-shirt)
1 button-up over shirt (plaid black and purple)^
2 t-shirts (black, purple)
1 long-sleeve t-shirt (gray)
1 3/4 sleeve "heat-tech" layering shirt^
2 light sweaters (black, gray; one is a cardigan to wear over things, one is dressier if I want to go out to a bar/etc)
1 tank top (black, for layering)
2 pairs of tights (black, gray; for layering and wearing with skirts)
2 skirts (both black; one is almost knee-length, the other is a mini)
1 pair of black skinny pants^
1 pair jeggings
1 (faux) leather jacket^
1 scarf (purple and black)^
1 pair converse sneakers
1 pair black boots^
1 rain jacket
A full amount of socks and undies for the trip
3 bras- 1 sports bra, 2 regular
My fold-up slippers/flats for wearing around the hostel, etc.
^these are items I am wearing on the plane

Other-
Camera + extra batteries
Phone + charger
Tablet + charger
USB thingies for uploading/storing pictures
Headphones
Watch
Sewing kit (a couple needles and safety pins, and some purple and black thread)
Head lamp
Money belt (for hiding passport, cards, and extra cash)
Ear plugs
Extra ziploc bags
My folder of paperwork
a tiny notepad + pens
wallet with a little cash so I'm not always digging in the money belt
My green handbag for carrying around during the day

As you can see, my clothing color scheme is black and gray, with a splash of purple (my favorite color). I'm so proud of myself for color coordinating! Everything's all match-y. :D

So that's it! The full list. How do you normally pack, carry on only or checked bag? Do you think this is a lot of stuff, or not nearly enough? Let me know in the comments!

My next blog will be from Italy!!!!
See you then,
Kaylin xx

Friday, February 15, 2013

Day 46: Visiting Lower Normandy- A Journey to the Past

Oh my goodness, I am SO sorry about the super delay in posting about this. I got back on Sunday evening from the trip but was busy with lesson planning Sunday and Monday nights, and have been feeling not so great since Tuesday evening when I got home from school.

I'm finally feeling better today though, and I'm finally on holiday! Today's my first day of "winter break", which is two weeks. I don't go back to school until March 4! Which means.... ITALY!! I'm leaving on Wednesday and get back on March 2. 10 whole days in Florence, Rome, and Naples and I can NOT wait!

Anyway, today I wanted to share some pictures and experiences from my trip last weekend to Basse-Normandie (Lower Normandy) with friends. We visited Caen, Bayeux, and the D-Day beaches nearby.

We got a great rate at our hotel in Bayeux, and it was split amongst 4 to a room, it was only 11€ a night (22€ total, for two nights)! How awesome is that? It wasn't the best hotel ever, but the beds were comfy and clean and for that price, I'm not going to complain about the spotty wi-fi or the smallish bathroom.

On Friday, we left Upper Normandy early enough to get to Bayeux and see a few things. First, we visited the British Commonwealth Cemetery and then went and saw the famous Bayeux Tapestry, and Bayeux's cathedral.

The cemetery is mostly British soldiers from WWII but also houses some from Commonwealth countries, including 18 Australians and 1 South African.

After the cemetery, we went to the center of Bayeux. In the centre ville, we went to the Bayeux Tapestry museum. They have the Tapestry displayed in one long row so you can see the whole thing laid out. It's really neat, and an audioguide explaining the scenes on the Tapestry is included in the price of admission (9€ for adults, 4€ if you're a student or can fake being a student like I did by going with people who still are students). For those who don't know, the Bayeux Tapestry tells the story of William, Duke of Normandy (you may know him as William the Conqueror) and how he came to the throne of England in 1066. It's littered with battle scenes... and a surprising amount of penises, considering the Tapestry was made in the late 1000's/early 1100's.


Spot the phallus!

After seeing the Tapestry, we strolled up the street a few blocks to the Cathedral. It's impressively large and beautiful.


And the organ kinda looks like Jesus. Coincidence?

On Saturday, despite the cold and freezing rain, we headed out to see the landing beaches from D-Day. On June 6, 1944, contingents from Britain, the US, and Canada landed on the Norman coast in a major and decisive battle against the Germans in occupied France. For those of you not so much into history, think Saving Private Ryan and you've got it (the first grisly 15 minutes of the film is set on Omaha Beach, one of the American landing spots). The British and Americans each landed on two beaches, and the Canadians on one.



The beaches themselves contain some memorials, but other than on Gold Beach (one of the British landing areas), there's not much to actually see on the beach itself. On Gold Beach, some of the landing boats, along with such things as spotlights and large guns, can still be seen.

These things smell as nice as they look, BTW.

The major attraction of the D-day beach area is the American Cemetery in nearby Colleville-sur-Mer. Over 9000 American soldiers who died on, or in the immediate weeks following, June 6 are buried there. There's a fantastic exhibit about the war before you enter the cemetery itself. The entire visit is free of charge.

The cemetery itself is reminiscent of Washington DC with its neatly manicured lawns and reflecting pool. Despite being in France, the land technically belongs to the US, and I felt very at home there (which is slightly strange, considering it's a cemetery).

America!

More America!





Last but not least, because one of our party is Canadian, we visited the Juno Beach museum center as well. It costs 7€ for adults and €5.50 for under 25's. It held lots of information about Canada just before and during the war, as well as after, in addition to things about the landing beach itself. It is a must-see for any Canadian visiting the D-Day beaches, but I would recommend it for my fellow Americans (and other non-Canadians) as well. All the people who work there are Canadian (and thus super nice and friendly), and they sell Canadian products in the gift shop too.

On Sunday, we checked out of the hotel and went to Caen, which isn't far from Bayeux. We visited the Mémorial de Caen, which I believe is the largest war museum in France. It covers WWII from start to end, but also has an exhibit about the Cold War and the Berlin Wall which I found fascinating; as well as a section on political cartoons, with commentary on climate change, censorship, and human rights.


Are you my mummy?


One of the more shocking (but correct) political cartoons. It was published 16 Sept, 2001...

"Are you for or against the death penalty?"

Pieces of the Berlin Wall. I can't wait to learn more about this when I visit Berlin in April!

It's a bit pricey (€18.50 full price, €16 for students and other eligible reductions; I paid €16.50 because we had a €2 off coupon from a brochure at our hotel), but I feel it's well worth it. We spent several hours there on Sunday, and I really enjoyed both the WWII exhibit and the other ones. I thought the political cartoon commentary was particularly interesting. The cafeteria is reasonably priced, and my sandwich was tasty, but the wedge fries were horrible (cold and hard) so I'd avoid those. They also have a reasonably priced gift shop. I bought a magnet.

For logistical reasons, namely being all these spots are pretty hard to reach otherwise, I'd recommend driving to and around this area. If you absolutely do not want to rent a car, you can take a train to and stay in central Caen or Bayeux and take a tour from one of the many tour operators to the D-day sights. The Mémorial de Caen even has their own tours to the beaches. From what I can tell, all these tours are pretty pricey (around €70-100 per person), but if you're lacking a car, they're pretty much the only other way to see everything. We were lucky in that two of my friends who went on the trip had cars they had brought over from the UK and were able to drive us down, around, and back.

Aaaaand, that's all! Again, very sorry it took me so long to get this post up. Hopefully, I will be posting more often while I'm in Italy because I plan to take my netbook with me.

Stay tuned for the post coming up this weekend: Packing for Italy in the Winter!

~Kaylin

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Day 37: Hail, upcoming travel, and more RTW planning

Hey everyone. So first of all, there was a crazy hail storm in Dieppe yesterday (like continuous hail for 2+ hours) that left a layer of hail stones on the ground so thick it looked like snow. Wild! I've included some pictures below because it looked so neat. The weather is still pretty bad here today, raining off and on and incredibly windy, but no more hail so far.

Outside the train station

on my street
Up next, I'm going to the D-Day beaches this weekend! Finally! Can't wait to post about it on here and show everyone the photos. I hope the weather cooperates. Right now it is looking like crappy rain and cold temps. :/  Also, in 2(!) weeks, I'm finally off to Bella Roma and the rest of Italy!

Finally, I'm going to continue with the 30 Day RTW planning from BootsNAll. Yesterday afternoon, I meant to blog about this but actually I didn't because I spent so much time doing the exercise on Day 4's email! (More on that later.)

First, Day 3's exercise was ""Choose your pillars." AKA The pillars of your trip, the places you MUST go. In my last blog, I mentioned Machu Picchu and the Taj Mahal, so clearly India and Peru are on my list. I'd also really like to go to Indonesia and do an orangutan tour where you can search for wild orangutans, so Southeast Asia is on the list as well. The last "pillar" of my trip was Egypt, for obvious pyramid-y reasons.

So the pillars were Indonesia, India, Egypt, and Peru and I filled in from there. I'm still working on a final itinerary (which, let's face it, will probably change again still) because I'm trying to balance outrageous visa fees versus how much I really want to go somewhere. But SE Asia, India, Egypt, and South/Central America are on the list. Fortunately, many of these countries have low or no visa fees, and are relatively cheap on daily costs.

Day 4's exercise was "Budget time!" To figure up costs, BootsNAll provided a handy Google Drive spreadsheet for inputting places to go and costs. I researched the average daily costs of various countries on their website as well as other travel blogs. I input all these countries I'm still deciding on (have added some and removed others) to come up with a figure. Right now, I'm at roughly $50 a day on average on the ground (not including flights), which according to Nomadic Matt's new book (which I just got today) is a good figure.



Day 5's exercise was "Trim expenses". I already do most of these things, like not eating out in restaurants often, not having cable, etc. I don't have very much disposable income right now, due to my pitiful salary in France, but when I start getting the CAF from the government (hopefully soon now!) I am going to start saving that. Plus, when I go to New Zealand hopefully I can get a decently paying job and save some money then too. I am not worrying too much about the budgeting and saving part right away, because my potential dates for the RTW trip aren't until 2016, and who knows what will happen in the next 3 years!

So that's what I have so far! Fantasy trip planning is pretty fun, but the US State Department's website is a real downer because, for half the places I want to visit, they're saying things like "BE EXTREMELY CAUTIOUS SO YOU DON'T DIE". They are really helpful with information about which countries Americans need visas for though.

So that's it! My next update will probably be after the mini-break this weekend to Lower Normandy.

See you then,
xx Kaylin

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Day 33: Thinking about RTW trips

Happy Groundhog Day, America! I have no idea if the groundhog saw his shadow this morning or not, but fingers crossed winter's almost over.

So, I've been reading a lot of blogs lately about RTW trips. For those of you who don't know, this is a "Round The World" trip. Many different people take RTW trips-- young people just out of college, professionals on a career break, families, couples... and people like me, who don't really know what they're doing in life.

I signed up for the BootsNAll Plan Your RTW Trip In 30 Days email subscription. It started yesterday. For 30 days, they are sending emails all about planning a RTW trip.

Now, while I don't see myself going on one any time soon (not until at least after New Zealand) it's something I've thought about on and off for the past few years. A lot of my favorite bloggers have done something similar. However, since I don't really know what New Zealand will hold for me, much less what I plan to do after that, I can't really start planning some grand trip around the world yet. But, as the big 2-5 b'day is coming up this year, I thought it would be appropriate to give myself until the next milestone birthday, at thirty, to take the trip. 5 whole years sounds like a long time to wait, but I remember 5 years ago-- being in college and getting ready to go to France for the first time-- like it was yesterday, so I think the time will pass quicker than it seems now.

Yup, me (and my mom) 5 years ago... I've changed so much right?? lol

So this was the Day 1 challenge of the BootsNAll email from yesterday: Tell Someone. So, I'm telling er-body out here.

Day 2's challenge, from today, was "Why?" Why do you want to go on an RTW trip?

Well, why not? I honestly can't really think of a better way to spend my time and money than traveling to new places and seeing new things. There are plenty... PLENTY... of places in the world I've yet to go that I would like to, and places I've already been to that I'd love to go back and see again too. And of course I'd like to do this while I'm fairly young and mobile, not tied down with anything. I don't think anyone regrets a load of traveling on their death bed, but plenty of people regret not going to see Machu Picchu or the Taj Mahal (two places I'm totally going to see one day).

picture via lonelyplanet.com

And that's about it. I'm going to be blogging about these things over the next 28 more days. Probably not every day, I'll toss some other topics in here for variety, but I am going address every challenge from the emails on here eventually.

If you have any tips about RTW trips, or if you've ever been on one or planning to go on one soon, let me know!

Thanks for reading!
xx Kaylin


PS If you're not watching Supernatural, you should be. I just finished season 4 and it's freaking amazing. Plus what's not to like about this eye candy??
picture via fanpop.com