Can you believe it’s been over a month since we started our journey?
We miss you all but we love that we have this blog to update and share our stories with you.
Thinking back on each individual day and marking off what we’ve seen and done and eaten, it feels like a lifetime worth of experiences have happened in the last four weeks.
But looking back in total, realizing it’s been over a month since we’ve been home, it has actually flown by.
Travel suits me well. Throughout the ups and downs and challenges and incredible rewards I’ve been able to maintain this everlasting fountain of positivity and appreciation. I know we are so lucky and blessed to have the privilege of extensive travel.
Not everyone gets this opportunity. Even out of those that do, not everyone seizes it.
After some reflection and thought here are some of the surprises, highlights and challenges we’ve gone through that we want to share.
French food. Everything about it. The sauces, the preparation methods, the cuts of meat simply not available in most American stores. Frog, rabbit, duck. The Prixe Fixe menus. The knowledgeable and attentive wait staff. The wine. The house wine even! You just don’t get that earthy, mineral, ancient vine taste from Californian wine. It feels like you’re drinking the ground that the grapes grew from. The soil imparts so much flavor.
The friendly people. Each culture is different and represents friendliness in vastly different ways. In France it is making quite, polite conversation and receiving compliments on our accent or patiently waiting with us for a tow truck to arrive. Our hosts at each BnB were so kind and one even did our laundry while we explored some chateaus and wine!
In Greece friendliness is boisterous greetings and yelling across the street to a recognized face. It’s trying to seat strangers together because they speak English and might have things to talk about. It’s loudly proclaiming your food is the best and offering free portions and discounted prices.
Each place has its own ideas of how to be polite and how to be welcoming. We love them all!
The gluten free options in Rome. I don’t know if I’ve ever been to a more gluten free friendly city. Over half of the places we asked offered pasta or pizza “Senza Gluten”. This allowed me to fully immerse myself in pesto and buffalo mozzarella. Hands down the single best gluten free pizza I’ve ever had was in Rome at Voglia di Pizza (link). Not just the pizza, but the pasta, bread and fried dishes were all gluten free as well!
Mercado Centrale in Florence. The bottom floor is a true farm to table market with freshly butchered meats, cheese, fruits and fish. The peccarino cheese with truffle was a life changing culinary experience on its own. Add in to that the legs of ham sliced thin into Prosciutto, the overripe figs bursting with flavor and the incredibly affordable prices, this was where you found us each morning picking out the freshest ingredients to make our own Italian feasts.
Learning a bit of language in each new place. I had a bit of a background in French and it sounds similar enough to Spanish to be able to figure out some phrase and words. It’s familiar even if I don’t speak it well.
Greek was a other beast entirely. They use a different alphabet, obviously, and even the common phrases like Hello and Thank You were unknown to us before this trip. Funnily enough having been in a Fraternity and Sorority we had a bit of untapped knowledge about the letters themselves. Realizing the pronunciation actually helped me read a decent amount of Greek. Sigma is “S” Theta is “Th” Lambda is “L” etc etc.
Even better, my best friend Grayson spent a good chunk of time playing volleyball on these islands and picked up all the essential phrases! I’ve always admired his ability to quicky learn a new language. He sent me the pronunciation and common sayings that allowed us to communicate even more then we would have been able to on our own.
The thing is, everyone still spoke perfectly good English. We truly are lucky that English is the second language of almost everyone in Western and most of Southern Europe. It allows anyone who speaks it to travel the world without diving too much into the local dialect. I suppose that’s a curse just as much as a blessing seeing as many Americans don’t see the need to ever learn a full second language. I’m guilty of it myself, but I’m making an effort to learn a handful of phrases in each different place we are going as a mini challenge to myself. I’m always so impressed by those who can speak multiple languages, so I’ll at least try to greet you in your own tongue.
Canceled transportation is a fact of travel but also quite the pain when it happens. Our broken down car following the canceled train outside of Paris is well documented (link to article).
However we experienced some travel delays and confusion in Greece and Italy as well. Horrible wind conditions forced the ferries to cancel on us and reduce service to twice a day on the Islands. We had to scramble to find an additional night in a hotel and spent longer out there then expected.
When we finally did get a ferry the water was brutal to sail on. Our final ferry ended with several people vomiting in the back just outside of port in one of the most intense boat rides I’ve ever taken.
Once in Italy we also found ourselves on the wrong end of a transportation strike. The day we planned to leave Rome, the nation planned to shut down it’s railways for 24 hours. This actually led to a flexible adjustment and we found another hotel across town in a fantastic location for the night. The bad was really when we tried to get to Pompeii from Naples. According to the train time tables and our phones it was supposed to be a straight shot on TrenItalia from our local station to the ancient site.
However, just like in Paris, the train came to a stop much short of our destination. Most people got off but not everyone did. We looked around confused at those left on board. After a few minutes I got up and asked the lady also on our train “Pompeii?” She confirmed that was her intended destination as well. We walked down a few train cars and finally found an official outside who let us know the train ends here and we needed to transfer to a bus.
The bus wound up making quite a few stops and took well over an hour. It dropped us off at another train station! We had to take one more train one more stop to finally reach one of the bucket list places I had to visit on this trip. What should have been a 45 minute train ended up being over a two hour confusing series of transfers.
No one mentioned that toilets don’t work the same in Greece as they do elsewhere. They don’t allow toilet paper down the drains so you need to throw it away in the wastebasket next to the toilet itself. For whatever reason this has been unique among all the places we’ve stayed so far. It’s a custom I did not get used to, and frankly don’t want to get used to. Additionally the tap water is undrinkable on the Islands. You need to buy and use bottled water for just about everything.
Something about Italian restaurants has been off for us, excluding Tuscany where we had some of the best meals of the trip.
Maybe my expectations were way too high but the pasta, pizza and bread have all been… Good. Not great. It’s not horrible food, of course, but it isn’t life changing either.
We’ve tried doing extensive research and finding popular places and also just wandering around neighborhoods and finding places with lines out the door.
We’re not ordering pepperoni pizza or fettuccini Alfredo or anything “American” as far as I know.
We’ve avoided eating in Piazzas or places where someone tried to get you to sit down. We’ve avoided places with English menus and we’ve been to places where we are the only Americans there.
Actually going to farmers markets and buying ingredients on our own has been absolutely delicious but eating at restaurants… They’ve been, fine.
To be fair we did have the best panino in Florence, insanely good pizza in Naples and an amazing Roman Chicken in Rome but those have been the highlights after our time here in the cities. Risotto has been consistently very good as well.
I was just expecting every meal to be mind blowing.
Some of the most flavorful food here has been Sri Lankan and Indian places.
What are we doing wrong?
Do we just have access to amazing Italian food at home too?
The absolute best thing about traveling throughout Europe for us has been the uniteruppted time we get to spend together! It’s amazing waking up and planning each day, knowing we get to explore and adventure through a new place with the love of our life.
We can spend so much time together without ever getting tired of each other or wanting to be anywhere else. We make a great team. When I miss a sign, Jamie spots the info. When the map gets confusing I’ve already looked things up ahead of time. When one of us is sick of planning, the other picks up the slack. We typically bring out the best in each other and we are so lucky to spend this time together as a team.
For me personally the second best thing about this trip is the food and the effect it has, or doesn’t have, on my stomach. I’ve experienced no random pains or excruciating episodes of nasuae and discomfort.
The quality of the ingredients is unparalleled, especially compared to eating at home. In fact in parts of Europe it is illegal to import US chicken due to the unsanitary conditions we raise them in at home.
The coffee and wine are also held to much higher standards. On our wine tour in Tuscany one of the ladies guiding us through the winery told us about the extensive process they must go through to ensure the highest possible quality of Chianti wine. They are inspected and tested at almost every level. Food too. The ingredients must all be what they say they are. There aren’t hidden soy substitutes or wheat filler in anything. I know when I order a dish I’m getting exactly what I ordered, no preservatives or low quality substitutes. I’ve been able to eat everything and anything, within reason, no gluten filled bread or pasta obviously, and simply enjoy my time!
We are currently just left Gaiole in Chainti, a small village in Tuscany Italy. We explored the region for three days and loved seeing the castles and tasting the wine here. Right now I’m finishing this post up on a train to Venice. We simply cannot wait to see this slowly submerging city!
Austria is up next with a train to Salzberg for some more stunning small town feels. The idea is to then head East towards Slovenia and Croatia. That still may change however, rental cars have been extra stressful for us for whatever reason and Croatia almost demands having a car to get around everywhere we want to see.
From there things get hazy, we have some ideas but things may be re arranged as well. We both love the flexibility of planning only about a week ahead. It really lets us take in the place we currently are, and, if something weird like a train strike arises we can easily add a other night onto our stay without disrupting future travel plans.
We will try to have more Italy photos and writeups for specific places out soon!
If you know anyone interested in following along our journeys make sure to send them a link to the blog!
For now, take care!
Austin & Jamie