Last Day & Travels Home

Monday, August 9, 2010

Casey had to leave early on Sunday but Jess, Ryan, and myself still had another day to explore.  We put Bert (our 15 year old standard car) to the test by driving it up a mountain and attempting to park it on a hill.  This failed as we almost rolled off a cliff but we eventually managed to find a flatter surface.  We hiked around Chugach State Park which provided us with some amazing views of both the city of Anchorage and the Alaskan wilderness.

Because Jess and I were catching flights home a day later we checked into a hostel and, after dinner, parted way with Ryan (and Bert). We didn't do much once at the hostel except to take a trip to Wal-Mart to buy some towels and McFlurries.
View of Anchorage
Chugach State Park
Saying Good-bye to Bert
My flight was early Monday morning so I got a cab to the airport and made the long trek back home to Boston!

The Wedding!

Saturday, August 7, 2010

We did not have any big plans for today other than exploring Anchorage so we also offered to help set up for the wedding.  We window shopped around the city, visited Kori and her family at the spa, and then headed to the Captain Cook Hotel where the wedding was to be held.  I learned how to cummerbund a chair, arrange a centerpiece, and lay out a runner.  After making sure everything was in its proper place we returned to our apartment to get ready.
Our Masterpiece

Later that evening we came back to the Captain Cook for a beautiful ceremony and a wonderful and fun reception.  Congrats Kori & Dan!

Beautiful Wedding :)

Delicious Cake!

Hatcher's Pass

Friday, August 6, 2010

Today we decided to take a scenic drive to Hatcher's Pass.  It was unfortunately rainy but we were hoping to still get some nice views.  Along the way we stopped in Wasilla mainly because we thought it would be great to say we bumped into Sarah Palin on our trip.  That didn't happen but we did buy snacks at a gas station that she has probably used.  I think that makes me pretty much ready to run for president now. We continued on up some winding roads where we could barely see the hood of the car in front of us.  I'm just very glad I was not driving.
Independence Mine
From there we continued on to Independence Mine which was one of the largest gold mines in Alaska.  It has since then been abandoned but it is now a state park.  You can still walk around and see the buildings that were once filled with people searching for gold.  Some of the old rail tracks still remain that once brought the gold out of the caves and down the mountain.

By then it had started to rain and we had brought Kori's cousin with us who had to be back for the dress rehearsal so we headed back towards Anchorage.

Collapsing Tracks

Old train cars

Girdwood and Glow Bowling

Thursday, August 5, 2010

The weather had not been agreeing with us so far on this trip but we were not going to let that stop us from seeing Alaska.  We decided to take a trip to Gridwood which is a year round ski resort about 35 miles south of Anchorage.  We heard there were some really nice hiking trails in the summer but we weren't expecting to have to take a ski lift to get to them.  When we reached the ski lodge we were already in the clouds.  It was actually a bit hard to see because it was just a constant cloudy haze all around us.   It was also pretty cool to stumble upon snow in August.
Snow in August!

After hiking around for a while we decided to head back to the city where we rented bikes and rode along the coastal trail that led us to the end of the runway at the airport.  It was a little terrifying but also amazing to watch the planes take off right over our heads.

Planes taking off.

After getting some dinner we headed back to the apartment to get ready for our night of glow bowling.  None of us were a part of the wedding party but Kori was kind enough to invite us to a lot of the events that guests to the wedding would not normally go to.  We got to meet a lot of her friends and family and had a great night of bowling.
View of the city from the coastal trail.

The Apartment

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Renting a hotel room in Alaska is insanely expensive and there was not a wide variety of hostels in the area so we decided to rent an apartment for the few days we were there.  We were, of course, taking a risk... but really the risky parts are the best of any trip.  When Ryan and Elizabeth picked me up at the airport they tried describing the apartment to me but they definitely did not prepare me enough. 
Sign outside the apartment.

The apt was above an acupuncturist
Our cryogenic freezer
A great mixture of Christian and Asian decorations

Life size Sermon on the Mount.  Wall plants.
Spaceship toilet with Korean instructions.

 To say the least this apartment is interesting.  Actually I think this place has more character than a lot of people I know...

Return to Alaska

Just a few weeks after our amazing backpacking trip, it was time for me to make a return to the great state of Alaska.  This time it wasn't for a 4 day long road trip but instead to celebrate Kori and Dan's wedding! And thanks to frequent flyer miles my trip to and from was free!  I arrived in the afternoon and was met by Elizabeth (Kori's sister) and Ryan (a friend of a friend who had also studied abroad in Russia through a different program).  We took a quick trip to the mall to pick up wedding gifts and stopped for some tea to catch up.
Lay over in Salt Lake City. It did look salty.

Later that afternoon we picked up Jess (another Russia survivor and former suite-mate) at the train station.  She had just completed a 3 day train tour of Alaskan National parks which seemed amazing but having just returned from a three week trip I couldn't really fit it into my budget.  Before going out for the evening we stopped at our rental apartment to drop our bags off.  All I can say is that this apartment will receive its own post due to the strangeness that must properly be described in depth. 
Sawyer <3

Later that evening we met up with Kori for some wine at Humpy's Great Alaskan Alehouse which I was supposed to love because Sawyer from Lost apparently wears a Humpy's t-shirt at some point in the show.

As usual it had been a long day of traveling so we returned to our apartment to rest up for exploring in the morning.


Friday, June 18, 2010

Yes, THE DAY must be said with all caps.  This was the day we had been dreading since before leaving the US.  Not just because it meant the end of our trip, but because we knew it involved hours upon hours of travel and included almost all types of major modes of transportation.  We had to check out of our hostel at 10am but had a few hours to melt in the heat before our bus to the ferry left.  This time was spent playing chess and laying in the shade.  After the bus we took the ferry to the main land only to find out that the Greek public transportation had been shut down due to one of their many strikes.   After a death defying cab ride we made it to the airport where we had to kill 5 hours.  Here I bought and finished a book before even getting on the plane.  From Greece we flew to Dublin where we had an 8 hour lay over.  It was late at night and there wasn't enough time to leave the airport and come back so we wandered around attempting to find a TV that would play the Celtics in the finals.  When that failed we tried napping in the Starbucks chairs but for 2 out of 3 of us that also failed.  As the sun was rising we finally got on our next plane to London.  Luckily there was not much of a lay over here and we were able to fly off to Boston.  After almost two straight days of traveling and no sleep we made it home.  It was definitely a bittersweet feeling... happy to be able to rest for a bit but sad that the whole experience was over.  I would gladly go back in a heartbeat!

I'm from Dracut, too!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Because we had spent the past 20 or so days running at full speed we decided to use our time on the island to relax and reflect on the amazing trip we accomplished... at the beach of course.  Our hostel had beach mats and umbrellas for us to use and, other than eating, we spent our entire day in or around the water. 

One of the most amazing parts of our trip was when we stopped into a little shop to get ice cream.  The man behind the counter asked us where we were from and we said "United States" and he said yes but where and we "Massachusetts" and he said "Where in Massachusetts?" We laughed because most residents of Massachusetts don't even know our town but when we said "Dracut" he responded with "I lived there for 5 years, own a dozen restaurants in the area, and played for the New England Patriots until I got a career ending injury."  Dumbfounded, he had us turn around to see his Boston sport pennants hanging on the wall then proceeded to show us his Massachusetts driver's license.  We then spent a while chatting about all of his old hangouts in downtown Lowell that are all our present hangouts.  Through the entire trip we rarely met anyone from the United States and there, on a tiny island off the coast of Athens, we meet a Greek man who happened to spend a few year living in our town.  It really is a small world.

Feeling Hot, Hot, Hot

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

In all of my 22 years of life I honestly cannot think of a day as hot as this.  Perhaps it's because I decided to climb a rocky, treeless mountain in 104 degree heat but it was not something I would easily repeat.  Because we had put off sightseeing the previous day we were going to attempt to see all of the Athenian sights in a day.  After walking for what felt like hours we reached the Acropolis.  It was an amazing site however the heat was insane.  I give some major props to all of those tour groups of old people.  I hope they all made it back down alive.  It's most likely that they (wisely) took an air conditioned bus there and back.
Worth the hike!

We decided it was just too hot to wander around for long so we headed back to the hostel to grab our bags and then made our way to the port.  Delirious with heat exhaustion we struggled to find the right ferry but made it on five minutes before it left. Thankfully the ferry had air conditioning!

Because we were on such a tight schedule (and budget) we decided that instead of going to one of the larger and more mentioned islands, we would just go to the closest.  None of us had heard of Aegina before planning this trip but I can honestly say for the convenience and price I would not have gone any where else over it.  It was just as I had imagined a Greek island: beautiful water and cute sea side villages.  It was also apparently just a few days before the Greek children got out of school for the summer so we basically had the island to ourselves.
Beautiful Water
Our hostel was run by a lovely couple and we again lucked out with our own room.  After a quick dinner we headed straight to bed (with the air conditioning on!).

From Ancient Rome to Ancient Greece

Monday, June 14, 2010

Most of this day was dedicate to traveling.  The amount of time spent on buses, in lines at the airport, and general waiting really made me appreciated the simplicity of hopping on a night train, laying down for some rest and waking up in a new city.  We arrived to our hostel to find out that we not only had a private room but it had a balcony that had a view of none other than the  Acropolis.  Alanna was not feeling well and it was well over 100 degrees out so we decided to save our sight seeing for the next day.  We had a lovely Greek dinner  where we got to watch a bike thief get tackled and smacked around by two old men.  We then returned to our hostel and spent the night enjoying our amazing view.
View from the balcony


Sunday, June 13, 2010

Today we got to do all of the things that make my dorky historian heart go pitter patter.  Our first stop was the Colosseum.  I doubt there is anyone in the world who hasn't seen a picture of the Colosseum but to see it in person is unreal.  Even with the thousands of other tourists crowded around me I still managed to get lost in thought imagining what it was like thousands of years ago.  I probably wouldn't have enjoyed the vicious fighting and deaths that took place there but it would have been amazing to see in it's prime.
After the Colosseum we made our way to the Palatine Hill.  Ruins here date back to 1000 B.C. and if you wander deeply enough into the ruins you can almost entirely block out the bustling city around you. What most surprised me about this area was that there are still continuous excavations going on.  It's hard to believe that there may still be pieces of history buried under the earth.

Looking down on the Roman Forum

Next up was the Roman Forum which is the ruins of the government buildings of ancient Rome.  This was essentially the birthplace of Republican government.  So much history!

After an amazing day wandering around some of the world's greatest historical sites we headed back to the hostel to have some dinner and pack up for our flight to Athens.

Pope Time

Saturday, June 12, 2010

We woke up early to catch the Metro out to Vatican City.  Although we wanted to see the Sistine Chapel we decided that we would save our 13 Euro and just view the Basilica instead.  It was massive and beautiful and we spent quite a while wandering around.  I went in expecting it to just be a large and fancy church however there were nooks and crannies and small chapels scattered about the building.  We used this opportunity to mail our postcards.  I don't know if there is any way to impress the grandparents more than sending a postcard from the Vatican.

Instead of taking the metro back to the hostel we decided to walk back to see everything between the two areas.  We stopped at Castel Sant Angelo, crossed the Tiber River, walked through Piazza Navona, and visited the Pantheon.  The Pantheon was originally a temple devoted to the Gods but since the 7th century it has been a Catholic Church.  The ceiling of the Pantheon has a massive hole in it and it is apparently the world's largest unreinforced concrete dome.

From there we visit Area Sacra which is an area that contains four temples that were all built between the 2nd and 4th centuries and was undiscovered until the 1920s.  It was in this area that Julius Ceasar was believed to be killed.  From there we saw the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier/ Monument to Vitorio Emmanuel II and then Colonna Traiana and Mercenti Trainei.  Its amazing how happy just walking around ruins makes me feel.   It's pretty easy to please me.

Area Sacra

Because we are just three girls we had decided to try to be in before dark each night however the US was playing against England in the world cup so we decided to use this night to venture out to a bar.  Luckily our hostel had an event going on at a bar so we were able to go there with a general sense of security.  We met some highly entertaining men that wanted to pretend Alanna was Brazilian and also tried to argue that Lady GaGa was from Finland.   Needless to say it was a fun night and some much needed relaxing after so many days of running non stop.


Friday, June 11, 2010

We took a morning train to Rome and arrived just after noon.  It was again sweltering but luckily our hostel was very close to the train station.   We dropped our bags off, grabbed some quick food, and started our wanderings.  We first walked to Piazza della Republica and then to the Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli.  After that we went to Galoppatoio di Volla Borghese which was a beautiful park that had "Lion King" like trees.  Because we had plans to see the big sites in the next few days we decided to just spend most of this day exploring and it certainly felt that way in the park. Pincio was a garden area that led to a point that over looked the city directly above Piazza del Popolo.  It was fairly quiet in the area that day so it was nice to feel that we had stumbled upon some previously undiscovered part of the city... even if we knew otherwise.   From there we made our way down to Pizza del Popolo and to the Spanish Steps and forced our way through the crowd at the Trevi Fountain which was actually more impressive than I was expecting.
View from Pincio
The Spanish Steps

Trevi Fountain

We had signed up for the free pasta dinner at the hostel so we headed back for that.  We still had a few hours of sunlight after dinner so we headed towards Colle Oppio and Domus Aurea.  On the map this area looks like it is a mass of ruins so the history geek in me was pretty dissapointed when I got there to find that most of the ruins were actually under ground and behind large fences.  While walking around the ruins we just happened to stumble upon the Colosseum.  Although we were planning on seeing it the next day it was amazing to peek through some trees and see the massive walls of the Colosseum rise in front of you.  Because we had essentially been wandering through a neighborhood we again felt as if we had just made an amazing discovery.  This obviously was never actually the case on our trip but the number of times we found things by accident really added a sense of adventure to a trip that for many people is overly structured and planned.
Colloseum through the trees

Pictures in Pisa

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Today we woke up fairly early to take the train out to Pisa.  We took dozens of the obligatory "look at me holding up the tower!" pictures.  Luckily everyone around us was doing the same so we had no problem acting touristy.

After returning by train to Florence we decided that we wanted to trek back up to Piazza Michelangelo to see a view of the city at sunset.  We had been told it was beautiful at sunset and, remembering the amazing gelato that waited for us at the top, we headed up.  We reached the top and waited.  Even in the evening it was well over 100 degrees and it was painful to even sit on the stone steps without feeling like you were burning a hole through your clothes.  We continued to wait and the sun did not seem to move.  We realized that we were going to have to wait another two hours before the sun went down.  We also didn't think of the fact that we would be walking all the way across the city back to our hostel in the dark.  We decided to head back without seeing the full sun set however it was still absolutely beautiful.

Frenzy in Firenze

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Ponte Vecchio
After a wonderfully relaxing time in Venice it was back to non stop action.  Having only a two hour train ride between Venice and Florence was amazing however the temperature upon exiting the train was stifling.   It was actually difficult to breathe at times.  Our hostel was much larger than most of the ones we had previously stayed in (with the exception of Paris, perhaps).  As soon as we dropped our luggage off we began our trek around the city.  We first went to the Bascilica of San Lorenzo and from there to the Duomo.  Unfortunately because we were wearing shorts we were not allowed in.  To be honest it was too hot to wear anything but shorts so we did not plan on going back to change.  We visited the home of Dante then traveled on to Palazzo Vecchio, which is Florence's town hall.  From there we went to Ponte Vecchio which is an old Medieval bridge with shops that line both of its sides.  It was an interesting place but unfortunately it was filled with tourists and so hot that we did not stop to look in many of the shops.

Our map showed a nice area called "Piazzale Michalangelo" that looked like it could give a good view of the city.  Little did we know it was basically a hike up a mountain to get there.  I will say that the view was certainly worth it but it took quite a few stops on the way up to make it to the top (where we were greeted with a gelato stand that we may have stopped at three times during our two days in Florence).  We decided that we would have to come back up here to see the view during sunset.
View from Piazzale Michelangelo
Working our way back to the hostel we stopped at Piazza Santa Croce, Piazza Santa Maria Nuova, and Piazza de Santissma Annunzata.  There are many Piazzas in Italy.

While doing laundry we took advantage of the pool in the hostel and although we had sweat away most of our body weight during the day we still crawled into the sauna for a bit.

When asked by the other girls in our room where we were from we replied, "Boston in the U.S."  They sincerely thanked us for not saying America because they were all from Southern/Latin American countries.  It is so interesting talking to people and seeing how Americans around the world are viewed.  Most of the time it is embarrassing but I hope that after talking with us these people will at least get a slightly more positive image of what a United States citizen can be.

Last day in Venice

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

A backpacker's breakfast

We used our time in Venice to catch up on sleep and prepare ourselves for the week to come.  After a hearty breakfast of oatmeal and instant coffee we strolled through the city to Piazza San Marco.  We sat by the water for a while where we saw a proposal!  The rest of the day consisted of eating Italian food, gelato, sitting in our square, and almost jumping into a canal after €5 flew into the water. 

Venitian Gondolas
Another canal

Piazza San Marco

Winding alleys, lively squares

Monday, June 7, 2010

 After packing our things, eating a light breakfast, and boarding the bus that we could never figure out how to pay for, we headed to the island in search of our next hostel.  I was amazed to find out that it was located right on the Grand Canal.  I don't think the location could have been any better.  Venice is different from other cities in that there are not a hundred sights to see but the city itself is one big sight.  Just walking along the canals without fear of cars and getting lost in the winding alleys that make up the city was something I could do forever.  I do not know what it is about the city but it almost forces you to relax and move slowly.  No one is in a rush.  We loved to get lost in the alleys only to turn a corner and find yourself in a square with 30 restaurants around the edges with children playing, dogs frolicking, and musicians entertaining.  Of course there is also gelato everywhere and it is very hard to go wrong when you are surrounded by gelato.

Grand Canal

wine in "our square"


Sunday, June 6, 2010

 We had to wake up at 5am to make it to the airport for our flight to Venice.  The bus system in Venice was very confusing.  Because we booked this hostel after our plans changed, we were not on the actual island but a 10 minute bus ride off of it.  Our first action after finding our hostel was to get our first Italian pizza.  Following that we took a 5 hour nap and then took the bus to the island for our first gelato.  Just those few things were exhausting so we called it an early night.
Flying over the Alps

Statues outside of our hostel
Venice is as picturesque as you imagine it


Saturday, June 5, 2010

In an attempt to beat the lines that we knew we would face, we got up early to make the trip to Versailles.  Even with our planning ahead it took us a few hours to get into the place.  Walking through the palace was like trying to walk through Epcot on New Years Eve (which I highly recommend against!).  It was interesting to see however most of the original furniture, etc. was destroyed during the Revolution so we were looking at mostly replicas.  We wanted to walk through the gardens however they wanted to charge us more than we were willing to pay.
Entrance to Versailles

From Versailles we stopped at Notre Dame and then walked through the Latin Quarter towards the Catacombs.  We stopped for lunch along the way and by the time we reached them they had already closed.

Notre Dame
 During our walk we passed by a thermometer that said it was 40 degrees Celsius.  After doing the math we decided that it must be broken because, although it was sweltering out, it could not be 104 degrees Fahrenheit.  After walking for 2 hours to get to the Catacombs we would realize that it was, in fact, that hot out and we wouldn't see less than that for the rest of the trip. 

 Later that night, after showers and a nap, we went back to the Eiffel Tower to watch it light up at sunset.
Eiffel Tower at sunset