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Jackie Steves' Blog: Summer 2008 — Part 1

Read Jackie's adventures as she explored Europe for the first time without parents the summer of 2008.

I Survived High School, but Can I Survive Europe with No Parents?

Last week, I marched across the quad with my class of 120 and up to the stage wearing a billowing black gown and a wreath of orchids to be handed my high school diploma.

I survived high school, but will I survive the next month? Tomorrow, I fly to Europe. This time will be different, however, from the past 18 summers of traveling to Europe because I will be traveling with no parents. It will be just me and my friend, Juliana.

I am following in the footsteps of both my dad, Rick, and my brother, Andy, who also went on trips to Europe right after they graduated from high school. Just like them, I have taught piano to fund my trip, I will use a Eurail Pass, and I will be on a tight budget. Unlike my dad when he was my age, I will have much more travel experience under my belt, visiting some cities for the fifth time. Unlike my brother when he was my age, I will follow a thoroughly planned itinerary. He and his friend wanted flexibility, but I want well-planned structure.

I am equipped with a six-day three-country Eurail Select Pass, five Rick Steves' guidebooks, hotel reservations in half of the cities and hostel reservations in the other half, a little black Moleskine journal in which I am writing this "blog"...oh, and it kind of helps to have a dad who knows a little about travel in Europe.

So it may sound like this is just one more trip to Europe for me, but in fact this one is completely different from the rest. People who know that I am the daughter of Rick Steves think I know everything about Europe. I actually know very little about travel in Europe.

Sure, I know how to pack light, how to get over jet leg, how to order pasta with meat sauce in Italian, and how to get around crowds at the Louvre. However, I know little about using a Eurail Pass, about withdrawing money from ATMs, about using a cell phone in different countries, about which museum pass is the best value, and about reservations that are required for this and not that.

During this past spring I worked Saturdays in the Travel Center at Europe Through the Back Door to earn money, and at the same time, while researching and answering customers' travel questions, I learned a fair amount about travel.

To give you the honest truth, I am nervous — not scared, just nervous — about traveling alone. Sure, I traveled last summer to Morocco without my parents, but I was with a school group with adult leaders. Yes, I've been to Europe about 18 times before. However, I didn't have to worry about pickpockets because my passport was safe in my dad's money belt. I didn't have to worry about missing the plane because my mom would wake me up from my nap when it was time to board. I didn't have to navigate Amsterdam because my brother read the map and led the way. Now all of that is up to me and my friend. Also, I have never been to Prague or Istanbul before, where we will be traveling for half of our trip.

One thing is for sure — this trip is bound to be an amazing adventure. Above all else, I am incredibly excited. I'm excited to discover tricks at being thrifty to keep a low budget, excited to make friends in hostels and bars, excited to get lost in Prague, excited to observe the convergence of cultures in Istanbul, and just ready to be totally independent.

Posted by Jackie Steves on June 16, 2008


The Plane: A Good Time for Context

My travel partner this time around is Juliana. We have been close friends ever since the day we met — the first day of fifth grade. I know we are compatible because I traveled with her last spring visiting colleges on the East Coast (when we both fell in love with the colleges we will go to in the fall: University of Pennsylvania for her, and Georgetown University for me) and also to Morocco last summer on the "Global Service Learning" trip we went on through our high school. It was on our trip to Morocco that we began dreaming and scheming about a graduation trip to Europe.

I think we will balance each other out well because she is very no-nonsense and sharp at figuring things out while I am well-organized and optimistic (i.e., I won't be shy about asking someone on the street where so-and-so square is, and Jules will be confident navigating with a map). We also share many interests such as Impressionist art, international politics, and resistance movements. We both want a good balance of museums by day, a couple clubs by night, and a few days of relaxing at the beach.

During the past 24 hours, I feel like my family has overloaded me a little with information.

My dad: "Make sure to call so-and-so when you arrive in Prague — he will be happy to show you around...buy an international calling card to share with Juliana each time you arrive in a new country...little grocery stores offer the best cheap, fresh, nutritious picnics...people are just going to love traveling vicariously through you while reading your blog...everything you want to see in Amsterdam is no further than 10 minutes away by bike..."

My mom: "Don't wear yourself out feeling like you have to see everything. Take some time to relax and take care of yourself, too...wear your money belt!...stick with Jules. Don't walk alone at night...you've planned your trip so well. You're so independent and I'm proud of you...don't forget to wear sunscreen."

My brother: "Watch out for the signals you are sending guys. Some guys over there are much more aggressive than what you are used to...never lose sight of your drink. Don't drink anything handled by anyone but you and the bartender...watch out for thieves in the hostels...don't trust anyone who is friendly for no reason...if someone bumps into you, watch out because you might be getting pickpocketed...observe what locals are wearing and try to match it so you can blend in."

Most of this advice I've heard before, but sometimes I get nervous when my dad recounts a time when he was charged an exorbitant amount while using a phone in his hotel room, or my brother recalls being ripped off at the launderette and having to pay 200 euros to clean a few T-shirts, or my mom reminds me we have travel insurance that would allow me to be airlifted in case of a medical emergency — yes, very reassuring.

As I ponder my packing job, I think I packed one or two outfits too many. I grudgingly sacrificed one item of clothing at a time while coming to grips with the size of a carry-on suitcase and needing to make room for guidebooks, chargers, and travel accessories including a travel towel, a sleep sack, a clothesline, and an adapter. I realize parents who serve the purpose of carrying such travel necessities for the family are a luxury I will miss.

It was a disappointment when I had abandoned all the troops (clothing items) I could emotionally afford and I still couldn't zip up my bag unless it was set to expanded size. Despite my failure at packing truly light, the general packing experience was rather pleasant. I know — I'm a nerd, but I like coordinating outfits and rolling them up together into compact rolls, I like squeezing just the right amount of shampoo and conditioner into travel-size bottles, and I like printing out all my travel information and stapling it to make one neat packet.

I made a discovery yesterday — my parents' investment in my teeth paid for braces along with a series of retainers, so I was left with about six colorful retainer cases, and I realized they are great for holding jewelry and hair things. When customs searches my bag, they will probably think I have especially terrible teeth, but really the containers will hold my earrings, my hair clips, etc.

Posted by Jackie Steves on June 19, 2008


Amsterdam

I'm dangling my feet over the water as Jules and I sit at the edge of a walking bridge, which arches over one of Amsterdam's more than 100 canals.

Yesterday morning Jules and I searched Schiphol Airport for what we needed: our Eurail passes validated; train reservations from Amsterdam to Paris; train tickets from the airport to Central Station; and an ATM to withdraw money.

While riding the escalator down to the train terminal we heard beeps, signifying the train was about to depart, so we rushed to board it. Jules made it, but an elderly man was in my way and the doors closed just before I could hop on. Jules and I looked at each other through the glass, first with shock, then despair, and then we just started cracking up.

Thankfully I was reunited with a not-too-worried Jules at Central Station. What a great way to start our solo trip though — we weren't even successful at boarding the same train.

We battled jetlag by setting out to get oriented and explore the streets of Amsterdam. We perused a smartshop. Never before had I seen mushrooms, ecstasy, and many other mysterious drugs sold in a cute little shop.

While searching for lunch we stumbled into the Red Light District, which took away most of my appetite.

Cannabis College was very educational, with displays of pipes, bongs, vaporizers, medical marijuana licenses, and other cannabis products like teas, ropes, and clothing. We were too cheap to pay three euros to see the marijuana garden downstairs. One wall was covered with small posters showing pictures of the poor families of people imprisoned for what this "college" thinks should be legal everywhere.

We made it through the tulip market over to Leidseplein but lost gas before making it to the Rijksmuseum or Van Gogh Museum like we had hoped. So we went to a coffee shop instead, not to smoke weed like many of the other customers were doing, but just to use the Internet.

Last night we went on the Randy Roy's Red Light Tour. Here's what I learned from our guide, Kimberley, that I found especially interesting:

- Marijuana is actually illegal in Amsterdam. It is just decriminalized, which means the police look the other way.

- They have transsexuals, but no male prostitutes in the windows.

- If a prostitute is unhappy with a customer, she will throw his shoes and pants out on the street so he is humiliated.

- Many prostitutes are members of a prostitutes' union to advocate the government for their needs.

- In the African quarter, 15 minutes with a prostitute is 25-35 euros. Everywhere else it's 50 euros.

- You cannot open up, pass on, or inherit a coffee shop because Amsterdam is trying to cut down on their abundance.

- The Red Light District used to be the most dangerous area before they legalized prostitution; now the police look out for the safety of prostitutes and the area is very safe.

- The oldest prostitute is 85; 60-year-old prostitutes are rather common.

This morning, we ate breakfast at the Pancake Bakery because Jules wanted what her Dutch grandma used to make for her, a food I was not familiar with: poffertjes.

This afternoon we visited Anne Frank's house, a very cool museum. My favorite part was at the end when there was a film presenting quandaries over how much freedom people should really be allowed. Should there be freedom of the press to the extent that newspapers are allowed to publish cartoons mocking Muhammad, the prophet of Islam? Should there be freedom of speech to the extent that music artists are allowed to rap about exterminating homosexuals? Should there be freedom of assembly to protest, to the extent that Northern Irish Protestants are allowed to march through Catholic neighborhoods?

I thought it was cool to follow up the museum with this program because we should be proactive about the lessons we've learned from the Holocaust along with the rest of history. It reminded me of the quandaries I had a few times as the editor of my high school's newspaper over what should be published: issues of student safety versus freedom of the press.

Posted by Jackie Steves on June 25, 2008


Bikes Are Ideal for Getting Around Amsterdam

This morning we rented bikes and biked to the Dutch Resistance Museum, which I found to be very high quality. I learned about one young female revolutionary, Hannie, who was part of the violent Dutch Resistance against the Nazis. It's cool that people didn't expect a girl like her to be involved so she could keep a low cover, yet she actually accomplished so much for the Resistance.

From the way the museum explained the Resistance, it seems the Dutch were very brave during those terrible few years of Nazi occupation. After hearing about all the risks they took looking out for each other, I admire those Dutch very much. It would have been so much easier to surrender to the will of the Nazis, but the Dutch maintained their integrity, leading a fierce resistance. I can't believe Anne Frank was just one in many thousands to go into hiding in Amsterdam.

One of the saddest parts was seeing little things that were made by some concentration camp prisoners: a little Christmas tree made of scraps of cardboard and bandages, a cloth embroidered with one prisoner's life story and even a paper with a verse written on it in blood with a straw.

We ate lunch in beautiful Vondelpark, admiring groups of Dutch school children. Dutch kids are remarkably cute!

We visited the Van Gogh Museum. In the past, I haven't been a huge fan of Van Gogh, but after this museum, I like him a lot more. I like knowing the context about his troubled life and the emotional phases he went through. It's incredible that he had very little formal training and mostly taught himself.

We went to an improvisation show tonight called Boom Chicago. It was so well done that the exaggerated acting style, which I usually find obnoxious, didn't bother me. They employed amazing improv skills — barely ever pausing — and played a lot on stereotypes of Americans, along with other nationalities.

Posted by Jackie Steves on June 26, 2008


Conclusions on Amsterdam

I'd like to revisit the topic of prostitution. When I addressed it before, I only listed several interesting factoids. I didn't elaborate with any of my own opinion because I'm not sure what I think about legalized prostitution.

I would never patronize the institution, and I can't help being judgmental of those who do. I am a feminist who believes a woman should never have to sell her body. I am a Catholic who believes sex is a very special, intimate act that should be reserved for someone you love. But who am I to force those values on others? And if prostitution is going to happen whether or not it's illegal, then why not make it legal so that the prostitutes are safe?

I was surprised there were no male prostitutes in the windows. Obviously there is a gender disparity in the institution of prostitution, but what an incredibly stark disparity to have no males?! This must be a reflection of our society treating women as objects to be bought, and society being accepting of men and men only who patronize the institution.

So I'm torn. I don't want prostitution to become more and more acceptable from being legalized, but it will happen inevitably so it's best to make it a safer, legal environment. I don't know which of the above is the lesser evil.

The price difference between African prostitutes (25-35 euros for 15 minutes) and all other prostitutes (50 euros for 15 minutes) is despicable. I would like to do a sociological study of race and prostitution in Amsterdam. Is the price disparity just because of supply and demand? There are more prostitutes from Africa coming in than what is demanded for by the clientele? Or is it completely and simply racist — Amsterdam's society says African prostitutes are worth less?

So what did I think of Amsterdam in general? I really liked it. It was surprisingly quaint and clean (not including the Red Light District). I love how most people get around on bikes using the city's abundance of safe bike lanes. The canals and green parks are beautiful. The international food is great. Most Dutch people look fit, tall, and attractive. Everyone seems to savor the good life — some enjoy a lazy afternoon smoking in a local coffee shop while others stroll through the tulip markets or take their kids to the nearby zoo. It seems Amsterdam would be a great place to raise your kids. While it has a reputation for drugs and sex, not all Dutch smoke weed, and most customers in the Red Light District are tourists.

Posted by Jackie Steves on June 30, 2008


The Paris Métro System Is the Best!

This morning we grabbed a picnic breakfast and caught a 9:30 train from Amsterdam to Paris.

While taking the Métro from the train station to the rue Cler neighborhood, Jules and I remembered how much we love the Métro system in Paris. It is so efficient, reliable, and affordable. It makes Seattle's public transportation system seem like a thing of the Dark Ages.

We visited the Marmottan Museum. While I walked around the big room, I realized a newfound admiration for Monet and his use of vibrant blues, greens, and oranges. There was a piano and saxophone performance going on. I felt like I was back in the end of the 19th century in the lively art scene, embracing life's beauty with all my senses.

We went to Ile St. Louis for some famous Berthillon gelato that night. At the Notre-Dame there was a strange juxtaposition: crowds of lively young people dancing, drinking, and singing, lines of cops holding big guns, and tourists gawking up at the cathedral.

In the Métro it felt like a party on this Saturday night, with everyone singing together in call-and-response fashion. I envied these Parisian teens. They take the Métro like it's as normal as riding your bike, and they hang out all around the city as if it's all their own playground.

Posted by Jackie Steves on July 02, 2008


Rediscovering the Musée d'Orsay

Jules and I took the RER line (it's like a Métro that goes outside the city) to the suburbs to visit where she used to live in fourth grade. We walked through a colorful, small-town market street and I went to Mass. Even though I couldn't understand anything the priest said, I got to appreciate the stained glass and classic paintings decorating the inside of the old church.

We met some Seattle friends at the Musée d'Orsay. Until a few years ago, I didn't feel this way about art museums — but now I am at a place where looking at these Impressionist paintings is like eating sweet candies that have all the nutrients of vegetables. I used to only really like Renoir, Degas and Chagall, but now I'm starting to also like Manet, Monet, Picasso and van Gogh.

I was thinking about at what age I will want to start bringing my own kids to Europe. Having to drag kids around Europe, like my parents did, doesn't sound appealing at all. I want to raise kids who are cultured from a young age, but I probably won't bring them frequently until they are teenagers and can appreciate the art, the food and the other cultural differences — because all this stuff is expensive!!

Posted by Jackie Steves on July 03, 2008


Dreaming About Being a Nanny Here Because I Could Really Get Used to Life in Paris

We walked up the Champs-Elysées to the Arc de Triomphe. The walk wasn't so exciting because I am pretty familiar with it. Although the last time I was there was two years ago, when the Tour de France came through, so this time around felt much less crowded.

My favorite part was the view at the top of the Arc de Triomphe. Paris has the prettiest skyline.

We visited the Jacquemart-André Museum: a peek into the life of a 19th-century aristocratic filthy rich couple. They had an "Italian museum," more than five Madonna and Childs, the most amazing staircases, and many pieces by famous artists, all in their own home. It seemed like decorating their house must have been a full-time job in itself — it was that amazing.

We grabbed dinner in a beautiful park, Parc Monceau. While watching adorable French kids running around, I fantasized about being a nanny for a Parisian family who wanted their children to learn English. I ate a delicious ham, goat cheese, and onion crepe.

We got a free ride on the Fat Tire Bike Tour, thanks to the association with my dad. Johnny was our very charismatic, loud, funny, and crude tour guide.

The first half of the four-hour tour was not pleasant because it was really hot; bugs were everywhere, sticking to my skin; my allergies were bad; and we were riding on big, busy streets, so I was too stressed out about getting hit by cars to be able to appreciate my surroundings. The second half was great because we biked around the Louvre, which is absolutely gorgeous during sunset when there aren't any crowds of tourists. At the end we got on a boat for a cruise on the Seine (which I think offers the best perspective of many of Paris' beautiful major buildings) and drank wine.

Posted by Jackie Steves on July 08, 2008


Whoops! We Overslept and Missed Our Train to Nice

Yesterday morning we visited the Pompidou Center. Most of the modern art I saw just went over my head. Either my taste is not sophisticated enough — or just not weird enough — to appreciate some of the bizarre "art." I like modern art like Picasso, Matisse and Chagall better than contemporary art. I saw a few completely white canvases in a row claiming to be art — I don't get it.

We visited the Picasso Museum too. I read about him — what misogynist! He used women for inspiration and sex. Many of his girlfriends were way younger than he was too, like the 27-year-old he married when he was 91! I still like his art. It's not my favorite, but I admire his unique style and skill in many different media.

We picked up a Nutella-and-banana crêpe—amazing!—on Rue Cler from the Ulysée crêperie .

We went out last night to a couple bars and I had an amazing time meeting a few cute/fun French guys. The downside, however, was missing our 8:45 train this morning because our alarm didn't go off for some reason. We didn't wake up until 9 a.m. We threw everything into our bags and rushed to the train station.

I was so worried we would never be able to make it to Nice today, or tomorrow, or even all weekend because I had tried to change the reservations a while ago and had been told there were absolutely no other availabilities this weekend. We miraculously got tickets on a train that left at 11:46 a.m. Better yet, the ticket woman actually gave us some money because the tickets were cheaper than our original ones (even though it was totally our fault we missed the earlier train). Also, this train was direct to Nice, unlike the other one where we would have had to transfer. We couldn't believe our luck!

We got into Nice at about 5 p.m. and walked to our hostel. Jules was limping along the way because she fell and hurt her foot really badly last night.

I wasn't sure what to expect because I've never stayed at a hostel before, but it's a brilliant system: the sheets, storage spaces, lockers, shared facilities including laundry, Internet and a kitchen. I thought it would be weird sharing our room with two strangers, but it actually doesn't feel too weird because they are just young female travelers like us.

We walked to the beach — very rocky and uncomfortable to sit or lie on.

We have arrived in the land of gelato! Many gelaterias here have tons of flavors — like 30 plus. I got Nutella and pistachio.

Nice to France seems like Florida to the United States — the kind of place where you would like to retire. It's not a bad place for young people, either.

Posted by Jackie Steves on July 10, 2008


Making Friends: Not as Easy as I Expected It Would Be

I'm kind of freaking out right now because, so far, I've failed to make many friends with strangers. It's easier to just get comfortable without trying, especially since we've been meeting up with friends from back home.

French girls aren't very approachable. When it comes to the guys, I feel torn between being extra safe to the point of avoiding them (because I don't know if I can trust them), and striking up conversations with those I might want to befriend.

I've gotten a very healthy dosage of culture with the insane amount of museums we've visited. I've eaten tons of delicious French food. But I'm afraid I'm missing out on what really makes for a great Eurotrip — befriending fellow young people.

Usually I am pretty outgoing with strangers, but take last night as an example, when I was hanging out in the hostel. Hostels are supposed to be ideal for meeting people. What held me back was that everyone seemed about five years older. I'm a little self-conscious about my age. I usually assume my elders don't have any interest in me, so I leave them alone. A lot of people seem like they are in their own world, or that they are content with just the friend — or group of friends — they are traveling with.

My trip is almost halfway over. From here on out, I am determined to make a tremendous effort to connect.

Posted by Jackie Steves on July 14, 2008


Villefranche: Just as Picturesque as One Could Imagine

We were glad to store our suitcases safely in a locker during the day at the tram station yesterday, but I hated spending €5 on a lame necessity like that. We could have left them for free at the hostel, but those weren't lockers, just unguarded shelves. Sometimes you've got to play it on the safe side. My suitcase is of incredible value to me.

Yesterday we met a friend from back home, Erin, and her friend, Galen, from New York, at the train station. Galen's grandparents are letting us stay at their apartment, which is kind of halfway between the beach and the train station in Nice. The place feels so spacious and comfortable after a hostel!

This is what I ate for dinner last night: one banana and Nutella crêpe, one scoop of strawberry gelato, one scoop of stracciatella (vanilla with chocolate shavings) gelato — so nutritious, right? I'm just living it up here because crêpes and gelato are probably my two most favorite foods and they are found abundantly throughout Nice.

Yesterday morning we visited the Chagall Museum. I think Chagall is my favorite artist. All his paintings are fascinating with symbolism and a jumble of influences: Christianity, Judaism, Russia and France. I really like Chagall's concept that romantic love between two humans mirrors God's love.

We took the bus all the way to Villefranche for just €1 and it took just 20 minutes. What a beautiful town! I agreed with what Jules said: Most places are not as picturesque as you imagine they might be, but Villefranche is. It really is — with its warm, pastel-colored buildings perched on the hillside, the sandy beaches sprinkled with vacationing French families and the glittering white yachts anchored in the glimmering blue, blue water.

Today we returned to Villefranche with Erin and Galen because we wanted to lie on sandy beaches (not the rocky ones found in Nice). This time we bought cheap towels so we could go swimming. It was hot!! The water was the perfect temperature and very salty, so it was easy to float on your back.

Posted by Jackie Steves on July 15, 2008


Four Girls and Three Lazy Days on the Beach in Vernazza

A few days ago we caught a train from Nice to Genoa. I went to the information desk because I didn't know how the Italian train system worked. The woman there told me I would need to transfer in Milan and Monterosso to get to Vernazza.

I went to buy tickets at the ticket window. When I told the ticket man I had a Eurail Pass, he was very irritated and told me I didn't need a ticket if I had a Eurail Pass. Whoops. Well, now I know that you don't always need train reservations in Italy. I guess I don't blame him for being rude to me because he probably has to deal with many clueless tourists asking him the same questions all day.

We have now spent two lazy days in Vernazza, and I have a great tan to show for it. I really love it here. It's the same as I remember from coming here as a little kid, just more crowded.

Two of my friends from back home, Eva and Alexia, have met up with us here. The four of us are sharing one hotel room.

What I love about the beach here is how comfortable everyone is: families with little babies, little boys and girls running around in the nude, lovers holding onto each other in the water, pregnant moms wearing bikinis, rowdy teenage boys playing water soccer, middle-aged women with their tops off, and tourists speaking a plethora of languages.

It's definitely the good life here: sleeping in until 11, eating fresh fruit from the morning market, reading my book, laying in the sun and taking breaks to jump in the salty water or to try two new flavors of gelato, cleaning up with a shower around six, eating a big plate of pesto pasta for dinner at nine, and walking out to the rocks to sit and talk with my girlfriends about putting high school in the past and looking forward to college.

Posted by Jackie Steves on July 16, 2008


I Miss Traveling with My Family, but Only a Little...Night out Dancing in Monterosso

I miss traveling with my family, which is kind of funny because I haven't exactly enjoyed traveling with them in the past. I love my family to death, but teenage brother and sister, a mom trying her best to keep them peaceful and happy, and a busy dad working to research his guidebooks do not do well when stuck in a single hotel room or taxi. It's nearly impossible to satisfy everyone's interests and wants. Everyone is hungry, hot, or tired at different times. It's not pretty.

That's why, for the past few years, I have looked forward to experiencing Europe independently with a girlfriend. I love the independence we have to sleep in more, go to just the museums we want to, choose our own itinerary, and go out at night. I like the feeling of responsibility that comes with doing the travel work, but there are times when I wish my dad could do the talking to the hotel receptionist, when my mom could take care of my stomachache, or when my brother could crack a joke and make me laugh.

The Blue Marlin Bar, where I check my email frequently in Vernazza, is run by three cute, friendly, 20-something-year-olds. Yesterday two of them told me there was going to be a party in Monterosso, and my friends and I should go with them on their boat. So we stopped by later that night, and while we waited until they closed the bar at midnight, they made us exotic cocktails. We drove with them in their little speedboat to the adjacent town. The view from the water of the glowing hillside Cinque Terre villages and the stars was magnificent.

The party was outside in a square, with a makeshift bar and a DJ. We had a great time dancing to European pop and techno. The party ended at what must have been around 2:00 in the morning.

Posted by Jackie Steves on July 17, 2008


Padua Is Only Good for Cheap Pizza and Downtime

Yesterday, we took the train to Padua, a college town in northern Italy. The great thing about a college town is you can find really cheap food. We found margarita pizzas for just three euros.

This morning we visited St. Anthony's Basilica. I immediately remembered the last time I was here because I was so mesmerized by the display of Anthony's tongue, vocal cords, and lower jaw.

We wandered around the university area and sat in the historic Caffè Pedrocchi. We visited Scrovegni Chapel in the afternoon.

Jules and I agreed that if we could go back in time and alter our trip itinerary, we would skip Padua and detour between Amsterdam and France down to Switzerland for a EuroCup football game that would have been going on at that time. There's not much to see or do in Padua. My dad thought it would be a fun young college town, but it seems like many of the youth and students have gone back home or something for summer vacation. At the same time, we don't regret going to Padua all that much because it is a very cheap city to visit, and it gives us downtime to do laundry and such.

Posted by Jackie Steves on July 18, 2008


Not Yet a Fan of Touristy Venice

This morning we took the train to Venice. Upon arrival we boarded a very crowded vaporetto boat to go down the Grand Canal to our hotel near St. Mark's Square.

We visited the Correr Museum, which I thought was pretty lame. I only liked about two pieces of art, and most of the paintings looked the same.

We visited the Doge's Palace, which was pretty incredible, with most of the walls covered in paintings. I had fun imagining all of the rich merchants and members of senate meeting here during the 13th and 14th centuries.

We visited St. Mark's Basilica as well. We were too cheap to pay three or four euros to see the Treasury or the Golden Altarpiece, so we just enjoyed the main free part as best we could while being shuffled along in the tourist sea. It always feels a little weird to me to be in some place holy like a church, but at the same time feel so unholy because you couldn't sit or kneel down to pray if you wanted to. And you are one in many thousands of tourists visiting on a given day to gawk at the art more because it's really old and famous than because it's about God and worship.

So far I'm not the biggest fan of Venice, but that's probably just because we braved a few of its most major sights during the worst time of day to go (early afternoon), with the multitudes of crowds. I agree with Jule's statement that "Venice loses 80 percent of its potential magic because of the crowds of tourists."

Posted by Jackie Steves on July 22, 2008