Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Italian Riviera

Last weekend we went on a last minute road trip to the Italian Riviera. Why? Because...
 1. Why not?
 2. It was a short 2.5 hour drive away.
 3. We don't have the apartment to ourselves on the weekend (that's going to change this week! We're finally moving into our own place).
 4. We both like exploring Italy! Obviously.

We chose to stay overnight in Genoa because it wasn't far away and neither of us had been before. 

It's called Genoa in English, Gênes in French, and Genova in Italian. I like the Italian because it reminds me of the fake country Genovia from the Princess Diaries books/movie. I kept mentioning that all weekend and David was confused every time. What are the odds that I could get him to watch that movie with me?

One of the reasons Genoa is interesting to visit is because of all of the palazzi! It was a very prosperous city around the 16th century, and lots of rich families built beautiful palaces.

We started out our trip by visiting the Palazzo Reale, which was just down the street from our hotel.

It exceeded expectations! It was a lot like Versailles, but much smaller and with no crowds.

There was even a Hall of Mirrors.

We walked through the more medieval part of the city on our way to our next stop, the Duomo. Genoa is full of tiny little alleyways. It reminds me of the Middle East a bit. I probably would have explored more in this area, but for some reason David wasn't a big fan of dark alleyways. I had no problem with it. I'm probably the weird one.

This one was a little cuter!

The Duomo:

They are in the middle of renovations.

Just down the street we saw another church, the Chiesa del Gesù. We ended up being very glad we stepped inside. Italy really does have the most beautiful churches in the world. 

The Piazza de Ferrari is the center of Genoa. 

It took a little while to find the right street, but eventually we made it to the Via Garibaldi. Pretty much the whole street is lined with palaces. Several of them are art museums now. A few of them were open so we could go peek in the courtyards.

On our way back to the hotel we stopped in one more church. No surprises here, it was also beautiful and full of gold and paintings.

It wasn't our original plan, but we ended up with extra time the next morning (thanks to being ready too late to go to church haha). We decided to go to Portofino!

Portofino is a small fishing village/resort town. It was only about 45 minutes from Genoa, and it was a gorgeous drive. I tried to capture some of it.

I apologize for the not so great videography and our dirty windshield ;)

We walked around town by the water, and the colorful buildings were so cute! Every view was postcard-worthy. It reminded me of Cinque Terre, which we hope to see this year too.

There was one last town on our agenda- Dolceacqua, which is near the French border. So near the French border that I think we heard more people speaking French than Italian there.

Dolceacqua has ruins of a medieval castle up on the hill and a bridge that looks straight out of a fairytale. 

We climbed to the top of the hill. I loved the little streets with all the arches.

And of course there's a colorful church.

When we finished exploring we were both kind of sad that we were out of things to see and had to go home. It was a weekend of Italian beauty overload.

The end. And here's a creepy doll in a window picture for good measure.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Solo in Bruges

From Paris, Belgium was only an hour away on the train. I changed trains in Brussels and traveled for another hour to get to Bruges.

In that hour from Brussels to Bruges, I left the French language behind! Belgium is a bilingual country. They speak French in Brussels, but Dutch in Bruges. It's a very adventurous feeling to go somewhere alone you've never been before without being able to understand a word of what's going on. I have to say for me it's a good feeling, but I don't know if it would be for everyone!

As much as I love Paris, it felt so good to be out of the big city and in a small, quiet town. Everything was so clean and there were no crowds anywhere. I love big cities but I can appreciate small towns too. As long as the small town is as adorable as Bruges!

I walked to my hotel dragging my suitcase over the cobblestones. #typicaleuropeprobs

After checking in I set out to explore. The only thing I researched and planned on seeing was the Madonna of Bruges- a Michelangelo sculpture (one of the only ones found outside of Italy) in the Church of Our Lady. I learned about it from the movie Monuments Men- which, fun fact, I saw on my first date with David.

With that in mind I walked towards some church spires. My first try was the wrong church. It turns out there are a lot of churches in Bruges.

The second try was a success! 

Near the church I also saw the first canal of the day- something Bruges is known for.

I had nothing else planned, so I just wandered around town.

Eventually I made it to the Market Square, the center of the city.

It was all so beautiful! It didn't look real. I was on such a Europe high.  I wandered for another hour or two, but called it a night early. It had been a pretty exhausting week of sightseeing in Paris, Milan, Cannes, and Nice.

I still had the next morning to walk around before my flight home. After starting out the morning right with a Belgian waffle, I walked in search of more canals.

My favorite place I came across was Burg Square. The fancy building below is the town hall.

Unfortunately it was raining and I was getting cold. I had no choice but to warm myself up with shopping and hot chocolate.

For a small town, Bruges had excellent shopping. I wasn't planning on indulging after already doing some shopping in Paris and Nice that week, but I really couldn't help it. I 100% blame the rain.

At some point I passed this store that claimed to have the best hot chocolate. I couldn't say no to trying it. French chocolate is good. German chocolate is good. Swiss chocolate is really good. But Belgian chocolate is amazing!!

Around noon, I caught a train to back to Brussels to get to the airport and fly home. There was some kind of problem with the train and all of the announcements about it were only in Dutch. I had to ask if anyone spoke English and could translate for me. Thankfully, everyone on the train was so nice! They all helped me and even looked things up on their phones for me to find a different train.

I have to say, I would be very surprised to see people going above and beyond to help a foreigner in France. It's funny to see how cultures change even when 2 countries are so close to each other. It was also funny to me that everyone spoke much better English than French! It seemed kind of like Switzerland- sometimes in multilingual countries, the common language between people is English.

I made it to the airport and was back on the French Riviera in about an hour (and an only $50 flight). That's why it's good to take advantage of being able to travel this year when it's cheap and easy. I'm trying to get my fill of Europe so I don't have too much withdrawal next year. Who am I kidding, that's probably not possible.

Bruges exceeded my expectations; I loved it! I would totally live there despite the gloomy weather.