2 Lovely Weeks in Italy, Grand Finale 

Jenny here…

For my final place to visit in Italy, I headed to the Cinque Terre. Before I even left on this trip of a lifetime, I knew several places that I absolutely had to make it to, and the Cinque Terre was one of those places. It’s the one place in Italy that was new to me on this visit to one of my favorite countries. The Cinque Terre is a region on the northwest coast of Italy overlooking the sea, that is made up of 5 towns, linked together by a railway and hiking trails. I booked an apartment in the southernmost town called Riomaggiore for 4 nights and was absolutely thrilled to arrive in this adorable town. 

I knew that since it was now the beginning of December it was the low season here, meaning most restaurants and shops are closed, but a few stay open for the locals and rare visitors. This was fine with me, since I’d done more than my fair share of eating out the rest of my time in Italy. Basically, I found a super small but delicious restaurant very near my apartment and ate almost every meal from there, which I’d take to go and eat in the comfort of my kitchen table with music and my Kindle. On the first evening, I bought a bottle of red wine, but came back to my apartment to discover that the wine opener there didn’t work. I seriously took this as a sign, and detoxed for the remainder of my time in Italy. It really was a wise decision to not drink, and to stay hydrated, as the reason I was here in the Cinque Terre was to take advantage of the views and hiking trails and to spend my days here on long hikes going between each of the towns. 

I had 3 full days here and knew the weather was supposed to be great my last 2, so I relaxed and got caught up on laundry and reading my first day, since it was pouring rain out and about 40 degrees (Fahrenheit). My second day was absolutely stunning though! I took the local train to the town that is the farthest north, called Monterosso. In each of the towns at the train station, there is an office that you can go to for directions on how to find the hiking trails, so I visited the one there and found out how to get started. On this day, I would hike from Monterosso through Vernazza and end in Corniglia. The beginning of the trail is by the beach (Monterosso is the only town there with a beach) and I started out all bundled up. 

The beach of Monterosso behind me

Before my first set of stairsKiller views looking back at Monterosso after about 20 mins hiking

It only took about 10 minutes to reach the first set of stairs which prompted me to quickly remove my scarf, coat and sweatshirt! 

The trails are quite exhausting, as they mostly consist of stairs, so you’re either going up or down, with short increments of flat walking. It’s totally worth it when you come upon an opening and can see views of the water or the next town way in the distance. 

Stunning views of Vernazza

The next day I started a little earlier and ended up hiking for nearly 6 hours. I started in Manarola, one village north of where I was staying, then hiked way up into the mountains to a town called Volastra, then down to Corniglia. I had packed a sandwich and fruit for lunch, and made the decision to also do the hike I did the day before, but going in the other direction, starting in Corniglia and ending in Monterosso. I had the time, I had amazing, gorgeous weather and I was in one of the most stunning places I’d ever been and going to take advantage of this. 

Walking through one of the towns to find the next trail

The adorable town of Manarola

Enjoying my yummy sandwich on a trail

On a super narrow trail along the vineyards with a steep dropoff!

Super adorable town of Corniglia

I cannot accurately describe the peace and beauty that you feel and see while here in the Cinque Terre. I enjoyed every second of my time here, hiking along the trails linking the picturesque towns along the coastline, and soaking up every amazing drop of sunlight that I was blessed with. I truly could not have dreamed of better weather for Italy in December while staying in an area famous for it’s outdoor activities and sights! 

Cinque Terre is magical. One thing I know for sure is that I’ll be back. 

Until then, Arrivederci Italia!!!

~Jenny

2 Lovely Weeks in Italy, Part 3

Jenny here…

I was absolutely thrilled to make it back to one of my most favorite cities in the world, Florence. The last time I was here was over 11 years ago, but I remembered it like it was yesterday. The feeling I get when I first step out into the city is one of joy and home. I could seriously live here. The streets are small and adorable, the people are so friendly, the food is incredible, the leather markets are busy and the views found in this city are one in a million. 

My time spent in Florence was similar to the other cities in Italy so far; I would go on a long run each morning again (which is a fantastic way to get the feel for a city) and then casually eat and drink my way through the city, taking in some of the sights the city is known for. Several times I hiked up a hill to the most stunning viewpoint of the city, Michaelangelo Piazzale. 

Running views of Golden Bridge

Views from the top of Michaelangelo Piazzale

My favorite pic from the viewpoint!

Lunch one day – carbonara with a Florentine favorite, fagioli beans in olive oil

Santa Maria del Fiore Cathedral

A recommended restaurant – Il Latino – meat hanging from the ceiling!

Florentine filet mignon…amazing!

On the house! Biscotti and house made dessert wine

The beautifully decorated streets near the canal

Nighttime views from Michaelangelo Piazzale

Italian gelato…there is nothing better when you have a sweets craving!

Loggia dei Lanzi

Homemade pasta with cheese and truffles!!

My favorite thing to do in Florence is to wander the leather markets throughout the city and I typically fall in love with one or two pieces that I just must have. Now, I have been traveling since January and haven’t had the space to buy really any souvenirs, but knowing my trip is coming to an end, I finally allowed myself to buy some items and just have one additional shopping bag to now carry around with me when I’m moving cities. I was on a mission to find Christmas gifts for my brother and sister-in-law, as well as a leather jacket for myself. Over my several days there, I was successful with all of the above and couldn’t be more excited about the fabulous leather goods that I’ll be taking back to the States with me! 

My favorite market in Florence

My new Italian leather jacket made in Florence!

I had the most fabulous time in Florence and absolutely know that I’ll be back (many times I can only hope)! Until next time, goodbye my dear city!

~Jenny

2 Lovely Weeks in Italy, Part 2

Jenny here…

I made my way to Rome and was able to walk from the train station to my hostel. My hostel was unique in that it was only for females and it really was more like apartments with multiple twin beds in each bedroom. The lady that worked there also lived there and we chatted about places to eat and visit in the city while I was getting settled in.

I have been to Rome and really have seen the entire city and toured the Vatican before, so this time I planned to really have a relaxing time in this gorgeous, historic city. If you haven’t picked up on this yet, relaxing would be the theme that I would carry out throughout the remainder of my time in Italy, and truly for the remainder of my journey.  

On my first morning, I decided that only after a few days of eating in Italy so far, I would need to start running in the mornings. I did not want to sacrifice a meal here, the food and wine is too good, but I didn’t want to feel gross each time I sat down for a meal of pasta and vino. Running is the fix for this. I took off for a run around the Colosseum and the Roman Forum, no big deal, like everyone gets these running views daily, right?! Ha!

After the run I got ready for the day and was finally hungry again, so I headed in search of the old Jewish ghetto, an area of town known to have amazing food. 

Approaching the restaurants in the old Jewish ghetto

My brother and sister-in-law recommended a restaurant to me and I decided to try it out first. It did not disappoint! There are 2 dishes that are an absolute must try while in Rome; in the Jewish ghetto you simply have to get the Carciofi, a deep fried artichoke that is a specialty really only here, and in Rome in general, the pasta dish to order is Cacio e Pepe, which happens to be my all time favorite pasta! They were amazing! (Did I forget to mention I may have also indulged in a half liter of the house red…)

Beautiful carciofi and an arroncini ball

My first Roman Cacio e Pepe

Over the next couple of days I would spend my time going on morning runs, walking around the city taking in the famous sights to see, and enjoying wonderful meals and people watching. 

Back by the Colosseum

In front of the PantheonInside the PantheonThrowing a coin in the famous Trevi Fountain for luckGorgeous Trevi FountainSpanish Steps

St. Peter’s Basilica in The Vatican 

Delicious Carciofi!More Cacio e Pepe….. can’t get enough!

Walking back by the Colusseum at night

Paletine Hill overlooking the Roman Forum

Hill overlooking the Roman Forum

On Sunday evening I found a lovely church and went to mass. The service was in Italian, of course, and the inside of the cathedral was beautiful!

I had a wonderful time in Rome, and enjoyed the gorgeous weather and taking in the ages old views of this old and historic city. 

Up next, my favorite Italian city, Florence!

~Jenny

2 Lovely Weeks in Italy, Part 1

Jenny here…

When I was in Budapest, I began to think about wrapping up my trip and ultimately decided to roughly plan out the remainder of my trip. I picked a location to fly back to the States from and found a decently cheap set of flights to get me back to Texas. This left me with about one month left to roam about in Europe. I have been to many of the big tourist cities in Italy before, but was feeling pulled back there. I love Italy. Still, after this incredible year of travel, it’s one of my favorite countries. I looked at flights to see if it would happen to work out so that I could find a cheap flight to get me anywhere in Italy, and somehow I managed to find a flight to Naples, exactly in the region where I wanted to start out, and it was 20 dollars. One zero, not a typo. I booked the flight 2 days out and the decision was made. I would make my way leisurely through Italy and on up to southern Germany to visit my family there, before my flight back home in mid-December. 

I arrived early morning to Naples, but would not spend time in this city (it’s honestly not so pretty and a little sketchy). I hopped on a bus for an hour long ride to Sorrento, or actually a small village located a brief 15 minute walk from Sorrento, called Sant Agnello. I had rented out an entire apartment on Airbnb, found it easily and got settled in. I only had booked 2 nights here, since it’s very near the Amalfi coast, but I knew that many places near Amalfi were closed down this time of year. It would be a place to relax and enjoy the feeling of being in Italy. 

My charming apartment near Sorrento

I found an adorable restaurant that I ended up frequenting twice, and struck up conversation with my waitress throughout the meal. It happened to be Thanksgiving Day back home, and I indulged in a multi-course Italian meal, saved leftovers and ate them for dinner later in the evening, just as we do for Thanksgiving. The waitress was sweet and gave me not one but two Lemoncello shots on the house!

Delicious bolognese

House made Lemoncello! Yum!

On my one full day there, I made my way to Sorrento to really just wonder around and enjoy the gorgeous crisp, cool and sunny weather. I have been here before, and remembered walking down these same streets shopping and haggling for the best price 11 years ago. I made my first leather purchase in Italy (for this trip) and haggled for a good price for a beautiful small backpack to carry as a purse.

My first Italian leather purchase on this trip!

I walked down by the edge of town that is a cliff, overlooking the sea and admired the views. 

I had another fabulous meal at the same restaurant as the day before and enjoyed several glasses of their house red wine…the first of many to come during my time in Italy. 

The freshest tomatoes and yummy mozzarella!

More house made pasta….tasty!

The next day I made my way back to Naples via a local train and had about two hours to kill before my train ride to Rome, so I found an adorable mom and pop deli thanks to Trip Advisor, and had a delicious lunch of whatever the guy behind the counter wanted to bring to me! It was an experience!

Amazing meats and cheeses!

Up next, Rome!

Cheers,

~Jenny

Budapest, Hungary…and walking along the Danube River

Jenny here…

Upon arrival to Budapest, I knew that I’d spend a lot of time outside walking and admiring the views of the city along the Danube River. The city is split with Buda on one side of the river and Pest on the other. I stayed in Pest, and walked over to Buda several times for different viewpoints. 

I walked straight down to the Danube and crossed the famous Chain Bridge to get to Buda. I first climbed up to the palace, then headed over to Fisherman’s Bastion, a place known for it’s views of the city, which did not disappoint! 

Killer views of Pest from the castle

Chain bridge at night!


The Hungarian Parliament…simply stunning at night!



I had a recommendation from a previous tour guide that I must take a tour of the Parliament, which is the 3rd largest in the world, and it was incredible! I’m so glad I booked my tickets in advance because they were sold out for days! 

The back of the Parliament during the day


I found the local Christmas Market and honestly ate most of my meals there, growing tired of sitting at a table for one, sometimes it’s nice to eat in a setting like a market where there is great people watching! I tried goulash soup and several Hungarian sausages (and potatoes and veggies) with lots of mustard and bread. I indulged in more Glühwein, of course. 


One afternoon I walked back across the river to Buda and climbed up the huge hill to the Citadella for more views of the city, this time a bit foggy and wet from the neverending mist that day.

Views atop the Citadella


After an afternoon of walking the Riverside (again) on both sides, I enjoyed a local specialty called Lángos, a deep fried Flatt bread with sour cream, garlic and shredded cheese….yum!

Tasty Lángos!

On Saturday night, I made it to Rudas Bathhouse, which is a very popular thing to do in Budapest. These bathhouses have been around for ages and the water, all different temps, is sourced from local hot springs. It was a relaxing way to end the day, but unfortunately I have no pictures because, well, water. Google it…it’s really neat!

I spent some time in Budapest at my hostel relaxing and doing some trip planning as well. My time overall in Budapest was super easy going, although I walked miles upon miles each day by the river, I truly loved the sights of this city! 

~Jenny

Vienna, Austria and my glorious introduction to Christmas Markets in Europe!

Jenny here…

I made my way to Vienna by bus from Krakow and arrived at my adorable hostel that evening. I was greeted by the reception with a warm cup of homemade apple and cinnamon tea, so nice! I asked the hostel if there were any Christmas Markets on yet, and they gave me a whole guide to all of the markets which happened to be starting up the following day…lucky me! 

In the morning, I started off with my traditional guided walking tour, got acquainted with the city and learned about it’s history. 

I also found out that coffee and tea houses are a big thing in Vienna, and it’s not unusual to hang out for hours at one enjoying cakes and tea or coffee. That day the temps happened to be below freezing, so after my tour I found a highly rated tea House to hang out in for a bit that afternoon until I was ready to go to my first Christmas Market. 

I decided to just go to one market my first night, made my way there and immediately purchased a mug of Glühwein to warm me up and began browsing up and down the adorable cobblestone streets lined with stands filled with locally made products and food and drinks. I had a lovely time and even purchased a new pair of mittens (wool) to keep my hands warm in these freezing temps! 

Entering Spittelberger Nightmarket

Mmmmmmm….glüwein!

After the market, I took the metro to an area of town with lots of old restaurants that was suggested to me by my tour guide that morning. She said to go to this area for local Viennese/Austrian good. I hit the jackpot with an adorable small restaurant with about 10 tables and a wrap-around bar, which I was able to take a seat at and order some beers and delicious schnitzel! Yum!

Typical Austrian (and German) meal

I had one night left and I made it to the 2 largest Christmas Markets in Vienna and had a fabulous time wandering around, observing the lights, festive booths, and stuffing myself with amazing food and more Glühwein. 

The entrance at Rathaus Christmas Market…stunning!

Local sausage in a roll…so good!

Karlsplatz Advent Market!

Delicious cheese spaetzle!

I had a wonderful time in charming Vienna and it was such a fun place to go to lighten up my spirits (after visiting Auschwitz) and started to get into the Christmas mood!

~Jenny

Krakow, Poland and a Visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau Extermination Camp

Jenny here…

I decided to head to Krakow after Prague, to cidit the city but more importantly to visit Auschwitz. I know the importance of visiting all places with a history, however horrific they may be. It’s what makes me well-rounded in my travels; we can’t only go to the fun places, sometimes you have to see the bad to remember how far we’ve come. 

I stayed in a nice hostel right smack dab in old Town Krakow and wasted no time walking around the city. I made some friends and had a nice dinner before calling it a night. 

On my first full day in Krakow, it was below freezing and pouring rain, but I only had 2 full days here and the following would be at Auschwitz, so I bundled up and threw on a poncho and headed out for a walking tour. This was honestly my first day that I can recall on this trip where the weather was really just miserable, but I’d probably only be here once so I made the most of it! 

Papal Window – Pope John Paul II is from Poland and visited Krakow many times. He would stay here and greet people from this window.

Beautiful park in the city

One of the many churches in Krakow

We ended the tour near the castle and I wandered about the grounds for a bit before deciding I needed warmer socks. So I went on a search for warm wool socks and found some within an hour. I then settled in for a couple hours by a heater in a tented bar in the old town square where I got acquainted with Glühwein, or hot red mulled wine. Yum! It was warm and tasted like Christmas in a cup! 

I decided on some local fair for dinner and ordered pierogis from a restaurant near my hostel before calling it a night. They were so delicious!!

Polish Pierogis filled with potato, onion, cabbage and cheese..so yummy!

I woke up the next morning knowing the day would be a gloomy one. I made it to the bus to head to the Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration and Extermination Camp, where we had a guided tour for a few hours, taking us through the grounds of the 2 different camps. We heard horrifying stories of how the people arriving at the camps truly had no idea where they were heading and what was going to happen to them. Some of the Jews even paid the Nazis for essentially their own death, but thinking they were buying homes in another city where they were to be allowed to live. Most people were sent directly to the gas chamber upon arrival to the camp, and walked right into the chamber under the impression that they would be showered. So incredibly shocking and painful to hear, but necessary. 

Arbeit Macht Frei – Work will set you free

Cans of Zyklon-B, the poison of choice used by the Nazis to kill thousands of people at once in the gas chamber

The SS told them to label bags so they had a better chance of returning to the owner, all lies in order to keep everyone calm

A small percentage of the shoes turned in by the now prisoners

A railcar that would arrive to the camp carrying no less than 100 people on it for up to 3 days

One of the crematoriums that the Nazis blew up prior to liberation

That evening I made it to a restaurant recommended by my friend Kim, who I hung out with in Spain, and it was truly adorable and lifted my spirits a bit after such a depressing day. The food and beer were simply delicious! 

Still all bundled up…it’s freezing out!

Delicious Kielbasa (Polish sausage)…Yum!

I wasn’t originally planning on making it to Poland, but I’m so thankful that I did. Krakow is absolutely adorable and I really liked my time spent here, even if some of the history from the region was horrendous. 
~Jenny