Getting Lost in Venice | Part 2

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Because of everyone's warnings about Venice, we spent just one and a half days (and two nights) in Venice, and it felt like a good amount of time (I have a feeling the people who didn't like Venice stayed for too long). If we had another half day, we would have liked to visit Burano, a picturesque island known for it's colorful buildings, seafood, and glass art. You've definitely seen photos of it before.

We didn't really know what you are supposed to see in Venice, so we just set out walking and ended up seeing a lot of the main attractions by accident. There is a giant square called Piazza San Marco where you'll find the famous St. Mark’s Basilica, Doge’s Palace, and Torre dell’Orologio, a 500 year old clock tower with amazing views from the top. The basilica is free (but always has a long line) and was really stunning and worth seeing. It was built a thousand years ago and known for the super intricate mosaics inside. While everyone was looking up, I was busy looking down at the incredible tile work on the floor. There are no backpacks allowed inside and we had a backpack with us (and our camera gear inside), so we took turns going inside and waiting outside with the backpack. With no partner and no cameras allowed, it was a pretty inspirational walk. The clock tower was not free but it was cheap and the views from the top were pretty spectacular and we also recommend it, especially if you're a photographer. All the photos in this post that look like they were taken from above were from the clock tower.

Venice is one of those cities that makes you wish so badly you could travel back in time to see it in its glory days... when it was one of the wealthiest cities in Italy and an inspiring home to so many artists. It was nice to see it, even if to set your imagination off. At the very least, we got a lot of steps and stairs in, walking all around the city and up and over so many bridges.

Up next: Florence 

- Julia and Yuriy

Getting Lost in Venice | Part 1

Monday, September 25, 2017

We drove from Munich, Germany to Venice, Italy, which took us about five and a half hours, and took us through Austria. In some parts of the US, five and a half hours gets you to another part of one state. Someday we'll live in Europe and road-trip to a new country every weekend... 

Renting a car is usually our favorite way to travel, but of course there are no cars in Venice. We left our rental car on the mainland and took a bus to Venice (there is a bridge that connects mainland Italy to the islands), then a water bus to the island where our hotel was. By the time we arrived and found our hotel without internet, it was around midnight and we were starving. Our first meal in Italy? Pizza at an empty hole-in-the wall spot run by an Asian couple, the only thing open at that time.  We got our pizzas to go and ate them in our wooden-boat themed hotel room, happy to have found something to make up for our missed dinner (and it's pizza, so you really can't complain). 

While planning our trip to Italy, a few of our friends said to not even bother going to Venice! We were shocked by that advice, since it's such a quintessential Italian city in such a unique setting. We heard over and over that Venice is extremely touristy and extremely over-priced, that nobody actually lives there anymore but just come to the island to work in the tourist playground. I actually don't know how true that is, but it was indeed very touristy and the first place we saw how infiltrated Italy is with selfie sticks (and we visited in April, the very beginning of peak season). However, if you go away from the main square and the canals with gondolas for hire, it's actually really easy to find yourself all alone in a maze of narrow streets that make no sense, up and over canals on little foot bridges, and sometimes end up at a dead end at the water's edge. There's something about tightly stacked colorful, worn buildings and water that make a city so darn charming and a photographer's paradise (it reminded us a bit of Havana, Cuba in that way). We had no regrets about coming to Venice. But then again, it was on the way for us, coming from north of Italy, and can be a bit out of the way if you're flying into Rome.

Even though we were in Venice for a day and a half, we have sooo many photos. We have another long post from Venice coming up, with a few suggestions of what to see.  

- Julia & Yuriy

P.S. Today is our 7 year wedding anniversary, and roughly 7 years since we started this blog(!) when we traveled around the world for 6 months... that was fast. If you're reading, when did you first discover our blog? Way back when during our honeymoon travels or more recently? 

Around Munich

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Since we weren't planning on going to Germany (until we found ourselves in nearby Zurich), we had just enough time for a couple nights in Munich. The first thing we did was take a free walking tour (again), which was amazing in a city like Munich because it has so much history, especially from WWII and the Nazis' hay day in the city. The guide pointed out various places where Hitler had speeches or liked to hang out. Munich had a lot more personality than Zurich, with interesting shops and trendy cafes with young, cool people. We walked endless blocks and rested with a brat and pint in a beer garden more than once, which seemed packed and lively any time of day.

We also made a trip out to Dachau Concentration Camp, Germany's first concentration camp 10 miles outside of Munich. The camp has a few long low buildings with massive empty fields where hundreds of barracks housing prisoners used to stand (there were 30,000 prisoners at the time of liberation). Stone posts and barbed wire fence enclose the camp. I kept imagining faces behind the fence, like I'd seen in The Boy in The Striped Pajamas. We walked through the barracks, gas chambers, and crematorium, as well as the "museum" part of the camp. There were 32,000 documented deaths at the camp, and many more undocumented (thanks, Wikipedia). We flipped through a massive book that listed the names of all who had died at Dachau. Naturally I flipped to the L's to look for my last name first. I was somewhat shocked to find someone with my maiden name of Lukomsky. That made the whole experience more eery and real, imagining a relative suffering in this place. We are so blessed to live in a country and a time where we are safe no matter what we look like or where we come from. 

Coming up next: Venice, Italy.

- Julia + Yuriy

Dachau Concentration Camp
Beds inside the prisoners' barracks.
Door to a gas chamber.
The crematorium.

A Detour for Castles in Germany

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

After a week in Switzerland, we planned to drive south to Italy, which is what I was looking forward to most. But if you're married to Yuriy and he has his own car, he's going to try to squeeze in as much as possible. He convinced me that we should swing by Germany real quick, because Munich is only 5 hours away (from Zurich). He really enjoyed Munich when he visited with his brother almost ten years ago, and I'd never been to Germany, so I was pretty easily convinced to take a little side trip with the promise of a good brat and beer and some German history. 

Since we were already taking a detour to Munich, we might as well stop by and see some castles along the way, right? That's the problem with Europe... everything is so close and there's always something that's "basically on the way". One week in, and we were already feeling one month in Europe wasn't nearly enough...

We visited Neuschwanstein Castle and Hohenschwangau Castle, both belonging to King Ludwig II, who became king of Bavaria when he was just 19 years old in 1864. What else would you do as a teenage king but build a better castle? The castles are so close, you can walk from one to the other.

Unfortunately, the bridge that offers the best views of Neuschwanstein was under construction, so we missed out on that. We also arrived as the castle was ready to close for the evening, so we didn't get tickets to go inside. There were so many crowds and school groups leaving the castle as we were arriving, so we didn't feel too bad about missing the chaos, and got to walk around the castle with a little more peace and quiet. 

Munich up next!

- Yuriy and Julia

A Sunny Day in Zürich

Thursday, May 4, 2017

We said goodbye to our friends and awesome Swiss hosts, Zhanna and Gary, in Lauterbrunnen, and continued on to Zürich, our first big city and last stop in Switzerland. It was exciting to be in a big European city, even if we were paying $8 for a latte (at least it was in a beautiful cafe that made us feel fancy). We had just one day in the city, and did a free walking tour, which are available in most big cities around the world and an awesome way to get a feel for a new city and see the major attractions in just a couple hours. The city was incredibly clean and felt very sophisticated and nice.

One of the simple highlights of the day was getting pasta and salad from a deli, finding a bench by the Limmat River, and enjoying the food and sunshine amid locals on their lunch breaks.

Next stop: Germany!

- Julia

Into the Swiss Alps

Monday, May 1, 2017

From the village of Lauterbrunnen, we took a cable car up to the summit of Schilthorn (9,744 ft) to get a closer look at the Alps. From the valley floor to the summit, the weather was dramatically colder and we were surrounded by stunning, snow-covered mountain peaks. It was quite the change of scenery.

Once at the top, there are panoramic views of the Swiss Alps, some ski runs, a revolving restaurant, and a 007 James Bond Museum. The revolving restaurant, Piz Gloria, was featured in the 1969 James Bond movie On Her Majesty's Secret Service. If you remember the old film where there is a gun chase on skis, that's the one. It felt silly just how much everything was branded around James Bond... we ate burgers in the restaurant with 007 stamped into the toasted buns. Before the James Bond movie, it was just a stunning place to be closer to the mountains, the real stars here, and I think I would have preferred it that way.

Either way, we loved the experience and the views and would recommend it, even though the tickets to get up there were overpriced. We wouldn't have been able to experience the Alps up close any other way within a couple hours.

- Julia & Yuriy

Lauterbrunnen — a Fairytale Swiss Village

Friday, April 28, 2017

From Lake Thun, we continued our European roadtrip to the fairytale village of Lauterbrunnen, hidden in a deep valley in the Swiss Alps, surrounded by steep rock faces dotted with waterfalls and wrapped in trees where the mountains are less steep. There are 72 waterfalls that run into the valley, some several hundred feet high. This beautiful place inspired Tolkien's mystical Middle Earth in Lord of the Rings. We were here in April before everything turned green after the winter, so we can only imagine how beautiful and lush it must be in the summer.

With only one day here, we visited a place called Trümmelbach Falls, which is a group of beautiful glacier waterfalls inside a mountain and requires a small fee to visit. We’ve never seen any falls like this, running through the inside of a mountain. The waterfalls are super tall and forceful, carving amazing tunnels through the rock. There is a tunnel-lift that will give you a ride to the top of the mountain, and stairs and tunnels that descend down through the mountain, with platforms and lights illuminating the waterfalls in all the right places. There were a few areas where you had to get wet from the incredible spray to get a look at the falls, and yell to be heard over the sound of rushing water. Though it didn't feel very wild, it was pretty impressive how the waterfalls were made accessible with stairs and rails for visitors.

The Trümmelbach drains glaciers from several massive peaks in the Alps including Eiger (3970 m), Mönch (4099 m) and Jungfrau (4158 m). Up to 20,000 litres of water pass through the falls every second. No wonder it’s so beautifully carved!

If we had more time, we would have loved to do some hiking in the area. From the valley, we took a cable car up to the summit of Schilthorn to get a closer look at the Alps. Those photos in the next post.