Hi! I’m in Italy! I’ve been eating my way through Rome, Florence, and Bologna and I’m exhausted! I haven’t spent much time in Italy in the last ten years (with the except of a January weekend getaway to Turin) and it’s been so much fun to be here. I love having a morning espresso standing up at the counter and trying to speak Italian.
Each city had its own distinct vibe – I couldn’t tell you which was my favorite. I fell in love with the Monti neighborhood in Rome but was overwhelmed by the tourist hordes elsewhere in the city. Florence had its own tourist crowd but it was easier to escape the city center, so it didn’t feel as suffocating. I loved finding little spots for cheap eats, and visiting a few major attractions (they lived up to the hype).
Bologna was the perfect antidote after a week in cities occupied by tourists – it’s a city of locals, gritty, delicious, Italian. I had the best pasta of my life and people actually gave me the chance to speak the little Italian I know. In Florence, everyone in the city center spoke English right off the bat without bothering to find out if you spoke Italian or not, which I found incredibly irritating. We’re in Italy, at least let me try to practice what Duolingo and Bellini taught me!
I’ve been keeping some notes along the way in hopes of writing a more thorough blogging account once I’m back in Lyon. Sometimes I get overwhelmed with everything I have to say, or just with life in general, and I don’t get around to blogging about everything I’d like to. Let’s see if I can catch up this summer, shall we?
I hope your summer is off to a good start, wherever you are!
I didn’t fall in love with Seville, but I also kind of did.
I mean, when I first arrived, Seville didn’t live up to the hype, and I kind of hated the cramped touristy city center, Barrio de Santa Cruz. But once I explored a bit more and got some churros in me, I felt differently.
You know those cities that you love so much that you imagine going back over and over again, or even renting an apartment and staying awhile? I didn’t feel that way about Seville. But I loved a lot of individual things about the city, which all smushed together add up to an awesome week in Seville.
The good thing about #slowblogging is that the buzz of the trip has died down in my mind, and the highlights stand out against the blur of my memory. I don’t remember why I wasn’t excited about visiting San Sebastian when I planned my trip to Spanish Basque Country, but I am glad that I decided to stay two nights instead of making it a lightning-quick trip from Bilbao.
One of my 2015 resolutions was to travel more. I went to nine countries and sixteen new cities, which is not much if you’re a travel fanatic but is still pretty good if you’re me.
For me, it’s always a battle between traveling, saving money, and just taking the time to enjoy life at home. Sometimes I feel like I should go somewhere, but I wonder if I’d actually be happier strolling the cobblestone streets of Lyon with Hugo and gelato (my other main squeeze), than I would be pinching pennies in Rome, even though the latter makes a more interesting story. So I try to be honest with myself and not travel just for the sake of it, just to say I did, or because I think I ought to. I know I’d be kicking myself if I didn’t travel at all, but I also know that I can’t go everywhere I want to and still save and have stress-free time at home, so the hardest part is deciding where to go, because there are so many interesting places to visit just a short plane ride away. OMG MY LIFE IS SO DIFFICULT!!!!!!!
Did I ever tell you that Hugo lived in England for most of last year? He got offered a job in Oxford, and the French economy being what it is, we both agreed that he should take it. I’m so glad that he moved back to France this year, but it did give me an excuse to make a couple visits to Oxford and London.
I visited Oxford for the first time almost exactly a year ago. I know because it was the Toussaint vacation, which was right after my birthday. It was the same temperature as it was in Lyon, but it felt colder. Chillier.
We spent the weekend galavanting in the crisp fall air, visiting really old colleges covered in ivy and crunching golden leaves underfoot.
The colleges are beautiful and charming and imposing all at once… but I couldn’t for the life of me tell you which one is which. Tall stone walls, enchanting courtyards, impressive towers, smarty-pants students coming and going… they all started to look the same after awhile.
The town isn’t too big, but it isn’t too small either. Bikes are clearly the preferred method of transportation.
Hugo lived a bus ride away from the city center, a fifteen-minute bus ride down Cowley Road, if you know the place. The buses confused me horribly. They’re run by a few different companies, but seem to cost about the same, and you have to buy a ticket every time you get on (unless you’ve got a return ticket) and the price depends on where you’re going. It didn’t seem like you could buy a week pass or a monthly pass or anything like that. And really, it was quite expensive – all those £3 tickets add up fast. Everyone seemed to say “cheers” to the driver when they got off the bus, but it sounded weird in my American accent.
No one gave me a particularly hard time about being American, but my accent felt clumsy next to all those Brits, and broader, but in a warm way. England feels just as foreign to me as France. I marvel at some things (cocktails in a can? Pear cider at the supermarket? All the cookies! – I mean, biscuits) and puzzle over others (what is a bap? Why are there beans and mushrooms with my breakfast? How early is too early to have a drink at the pub?) I thought we would be able to have private conversations in French, but it turns out that French is not a secret language and there are tons of French people in Oxford.
Two of my favorite English things are both terribly cozy – pubs and cream tea. I freaking love cream tea. I thought it was just tea with cream in it, but NO, it’s tea with scones with jam and clotted cream. I do not know what clotted cream is exactly, but it’s better than butter and I piled it on my scones on a near-daily basis. It’s a good thing that it’s not readily available in France or I might not live to see 30.
During the week, Hugo had to go to work, so I divided my time between grading translation exams (yay vacation) and wandering the city. I even stopped getting lost after awhile.
Family friends told me again and again to eat at The Trout, which they held very fond in their Oxford memories, but I forgot to go. If you try it, let me know how it is!
Oxford has more than a few cool cafes, but instead of racking up £3 for the bus plus a cafe bill every day, I worked chez Hugo and wandered in my free time. I find that I like the idea of hipster coffee shops more than I actually enjoy cramping myself in a noisy wooden cafe and suffering from heart palpatations because I’m not hardcore enough to properly appreciate “good coffee.” If you’re cooler than me (and let’s be real, it’s not hard to be) hotspots seemed to be The Missing Bean, Quarter Horse Coffee,Zappi’s Bike Cafe,The Jericho Cafe, and The Jam Factory. (Did I get it right, Oxford-dwellers?)
I’ve thought a little about why I decided to write about Oxford, so long after visiting. (#slowblogging). It’s mostly because I love these autumn photos and I wanted an excuse to share them in season. I’m no Oxford expert, and there’s no crazy story here. Just us, wandering this historic English town, crunching the yellow leaves.
Have you been to Oxford? Are you having a golden autumn this year?
I don’t think I could have told you a damn thing about Basel before I went there in May. (Remember, I promised more slow blogging? …As opposed to all the fast blogging I’ve been doing.)
I still don’t know much. It’s in Switzerland. It’s on the Rhine river. They speak German. (Or, Swiss-German – I’m told it’s not the same thing, but I don’t know enough German of any kind to tell the difference.) They love their bikes. OPI nail polish costs 20 Swiss francs a bottle (more than 20 USD). And if you want my opinion, it’s surprisingly quirky.
Not wacky, in-your-face quirky like the colorful Hundertwasser house – just… delightfuly, subtly quirky.
The Blue Sheep
I wandered up a random narrow staircase and happened upon this courtyard with a flock of blue sheep hiding out in the grass. I googled “blue sheep Basel” and found out that it’s a modern art exhibit in the cloisters courtyard and that it’s the #4 tourist attraction in Basel on Trip Advisor, but I didn’t know that then. I just saw a courtyard full of blue sheep. In the Trip Advisor photos, the blue sheep are standing proudly on mown grass, but when I was there, the grass had grown up around them so they were peeping out, not immediately visible. Maybe they’re just not hungry at the moment.
The Funny Fountains
Basel is a historical and beautiful city, with fountains a-trickling all over the place. Indiviually, they’re detailed and often colorful. Collectively, they could be a cast of characters from a ridiculous comedy. Picture all of these fountains guest-starring on Arrested Development.
This one is also a fountain but it deserves it’s own category because it takes quirky to the next level. It’s like in Beauty and the Beast when all the objects come to life, in fountain form. It’s also called the Carnival Fountain (or “der Fasnachts-Brunnen”) but it’s usually called after the artist, Jean Tinguely. He was a Swiss artist who, among other things, created quirky, kinetic fountains and sculptures.
You can’t tell, but all those metal sculptures, made out of parts from old theater equipment, are twitching and spinning and spraying. According to this source, they all have names – dr Theaterkopf, d’Spinne, dr Waggler, d’Fontääne, dr Spritzer, dr Suuser, dr Wäädel, dr Schuufler, s’Seechter, dr Querpfyffer. How’s that for funny German words? Google Translate wasn’t terribly englighting, so all I know is one of them is “Splashes” and one of them is “Spider.”
Don’t tell me that’s not quirky.
Tinguely also created the Stravinsky Fountain outside the Pompidou in Paris and, for Indiana-dwellers, a sculpture called Chaos in Colombus.
This seems like a good time to mention that we had a lovely sunny day in Basel, which means that all my photos have bright sunlight and harsh shadows and I hate them as photos but like them as memories. Except this photo of two ladies at a bakery – they look like old friends gossiping on a weekday morning to me, and I love the pale blue shutters and flowerpots above.
The prescence of a ferry in a city straddling a river shouldn’t be too surprising. Except that the ferries resemble gondolas and they’re powered by the river’s current and a man with a paddle. They’re attached to a cable by a string that keeps the current from making off with a boatfull of people.
The town hall is called the Rathaus in German, and it means council house, not rat house even though that’s what it sounds like. It’s quirky because it’s a bright rust red, and how oftern do you see that?
I found this Pippi Longstocking postcard in Basel. I haven’t thought about her much since I had the movie on VHS. Freewheeling Pippi can lift her horse over her head and she has a monkey for a sidekick, so she pretty much has quirkiness coming out of her horizontal pigtails.
Not all the stuff I learned about Basel was quirky. Apart from all this quirk, it’s also home to architects, pharmaceuticals, a major international art fair, and humanists. Erasmus is buried in the cathedral, which showcases Romanesque and gothic styles of architecture. There’s a tax on trash to encourage residents to throw away less rubbish. (Did I mention I’m learning British?)
Basel is a sizeable city, but with oodles of charm. It seems like a nice place to live (as long as you’re getting paid a nice fat Swiss salary to go along with the big fat Swiss prices). If I lived here, I would picnic along the Rhine in the sunshine and maybe name some of those blue sheep.
Have you been to Switzerland? Did you visit a city as quirky as Basel?
Santander was one of the best surprises of my recent trip to Spain. I didn’t really know anything about it except that the Spanish royals had a summer palace there. I was not prepared for the long stretches of breathtaking ocean views and expansive beaches. (Although, hello, I guess that’s why the royals had their palace there.) I don’t understand why more people aren’t talking about a place so beautiful.
The foamy waves crashing on the rocky coastline reminded me of home. Doesn’t it look a little like Big Sur? Well, except for the busy beaches with blue umbrellas. I don’t know if it gets hot enough in central California for that very often.
I’m writing a longer post on getting around in Santander, the blue cafe I liked so much I went three times in one day, and the storm that rolled in at the end of the day, but I had to share some of these photos first. Partially because I think they’re so beautiful they deserve their own post, and partially because I took so many photos in Santander that they won’t all fit in one blog post. (But seriously.)