All roads lead to Rome

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In our case the above proverb really applied but actually only from our connection from Switzerland to Milan. As every time I have to go to Milan, something happens that my travel plan becomes more complicated. This time, it was a train crash with two cargo trains that happened in Switzerland and therefore the path I wanted to take was blocked. Due to the long weekend, all the other trains were already overbooked anyways and now even more people had to get on them…I wasn’t sure whether I’d make it to Milan in time to make my connection to Rome, but all I could do was try. In the end, my route via Bern – Brig – Milano Expo worked (although I had to stand in the overcrowded isle of the train from Brig to Milan …) and I met my friends at Porta Garibaldi just in time. They also had to make last minute changes to their travel plans and so 4 people had to take three different routes to get to Milan. Good that these possibilities existed and that we had this 2 hour time cushion.

On the Italian train from Milano to Rome, we had pre booked seats and had a very agreeable journey on a clean and fast train with air-conditioning and wifi. We had bought our tickets during a special offer and had a return trip to Milan for only 24 Euros! We couldn’t say not to that.

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Three and a half hours later, we arrived in Rome, where contrary to Switzerland it wasn’t raining and still over 20° C. Summer had arrived J.

Our connection by metro and bus to the airbnb worked without any problems, too. I didn’t really know what to expect of an airbnb since we did this for the first time. It’s an accommodation you book over a website. It can be anything from a private apartment or house to a dormitory room. This time we had a small room with bunk beds in the basement of a house. Good enough if you only need the room for sleeping and the shower was great!

We had a nice café right around the corner, where we went to have breakfast every day and the baristas enjoyed my attempts in ordering in Italian (I don’t speak Italian at all) since they were not used to tourist in this area and we probably were a nice change to the daily clientele they have. Luckily, Myriam (the one I went to Thailand with and not Australia ;)) knew that the Italian way of eating breakfast is having a coffee and something sweet at the bar, without sitting down at the table and so we avoided the almost 100% price surcharge if we had sat down at a table.

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We took the metro to the Colosseo and were happy to really be in the Rome as we had imagined it. We walked once around it to look for a shorter entrance line but then realized that we’d have to wait in the one, really long line near the arch. The tour guides who wanted to sell us their tours said that the line would take 2 hours but in the end we only waited about half an hour until we had our tickets. It’s a two day pass for the Colosseo and the Forum Romanum for 12 Euros or 8 Euros if you are under 25 and from the European Union.

There were hundreds of tourists but it was worth seeing the ruin of this huge stadium from the insides anyways. Plus, it’s also like a museum with old statues and artefacts. About 1,5 hours later, we met up with our friends (yes, it’s possible to find each other in all the tourists) and then went to look for some lunch. My goal was to eat pizza and gelati at least once every day and I achieved it J. The best ice cream we had was on the side of Basilica di Santa Maria. All the pizzas I had were good but the best dinner all in all probably was the one near the Vatican. In that area are many cute restaurants anyways.

Our days were filled with a lot of walking. Rome is like an open air museum, there is sooooooo much to see and at every corner you find another beautiful church, obelisk, arch, stairway, market or garden. Since there are only two metro lines and we didn’t really figure out the bus plan, we ended up walking everything. It was fun to see all these sights you always see on pictures or on TV in nature.

Pantheon by night

Pantheon by night

To round off our Italian experience, the metro was on a partial strike on the second day. A few Italians had been waiting at the bus stop for 30min already, since the bus might come after all (a few buses were running), so we thought, while we waited for the bus, we could also try to hitchhike into town. After only two minutes, a middle aged guy with a nice car stopped and we had a very agreeable ride to the brim of the city center with a stock broker who turned out to be the age of our parents but looked much younger and was really nice to give us loads of tips about good markets in the city. Have a positive hitchhike experience – check. Now that that was crossed of my bucket list, we could fully concentrate on the clothes market in Sannio Street outside of San Giovanni. If you haggle a little that’s probably the cheapest and biggest market in Rome (at least of the ones we have been to).

Forum Romanum

Forum Romanum

Then, we visited the Forum Romanum. If you want to have a look at everything, you need at least two hours but since the ruins are not marked that clearly, you could just have a look from the fences along the outside and would see pretty much the same things you see on the inside. After walking perceived 10’000 miles we took a taxi to Peter’s Square to meet up with our friends again. It was impressive to see the Peter’s Dome and the huge square in reality. Also, the line to get inside the church was impressive but luckily, we didn’t have to wait since one of my friends knew someone that worked as a Swiss Guard (I hope that’s the correct translation) and he was so kind to bring us inside without having to wait in line. He was also the one who introduced us to the delicious restaurant the night before. It was funny to pass all these guards who speak Swiss German and enter the smallest country in the world, in the middle of Rome. The church is richly decorated and the height of the dome very impressive. Near the front left of the church, there is a stairway down to the tombs of the former popes and then you come back up near the entrance to the big cupola. There are 521 stairs to get to the top and it costs 5 Euros to walk or 7 Euros to take the lift for the first 200 stairs. Although our feet were screaming something else, we decided to walk all the way, that we wouldn’t have to wait in line for the elevator. The first 200 stairs were no problem anyways, since the corridor is quite broad with small steps. It’s probably only the last 150 steps that get really interesting.

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First, you arrive just below the dome from where you can look down on the church floor and all the tourists. I didn’t even notice the people up here before! It’s so high! Good that we were in something like a cave with a fence all the way around us. After that, the corridor gets really narrow. You should visit the cupola before you eat too many gelatis. Plus, the walls are on a slant. The last few meters are steep corkscrew stairs. So, getting to the top is actually an adventure on its own and in the end you get rewarded with a beautiful view over St. Peter’s Square and the city of Rome.

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Of course, we then had to walk back down again and my calves still reproach me for that.

The last day of our four day trip, we wanted to take it easy and just visit the Pantheon and go shopping. Well, when is shopping ever relaxed? Again, we walked a 1000 miles but at least we wouldn’t go home empty handed. Even in the shopping streets there were so many tourists that it had the feeling of a street festival. Apparently, the best time to visit Rome to have good weather and fewer tourists is April but all in all, I was quite happy with our Ascension weekend.

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The journey back was a lot more relaxed since there were no train problems and so I even considered going to the Expo in Milan this year by train again.

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City feeling in Porto and surfing in Peniche

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This time, our journey already began in Switzerland. Early in the morning of our first day of spring vacation we Simone and I took the train once across the country fo catch our easy jet flight in Geneva. It was one of the least complicated procedures until I was on the plane that I ever had. For once, I not only worried about the technic of the aircraft but also about the current mental state of the pilot. But despite all the bad news we’ve had during the past year, flying is still much saver than being on the streets and so we landed in Porto without any  troubles.
With the metro, it’s easy to get to the center of town.Our hostel was quite central but the room was so tiny that I wouldn’t recommend it for two people. Since we only had one day in Porto, we strolled down to the wine cellars by the river. We degustated a few port wines from the oldest port wine producer in the Kopke bar. They meant well and filled the big glasses, plus we even received some delicious pralines. The view we had on the streets and the river was a plus as well. Afterwards, we ended up at a weird synchroniced concert with Portuguese folk music and were surprised by a few raindrops.
We had dinner in a small and steep alley and since everything was completly in Portuguese, I didn’t really know what I would receive. But it was ok and plenty of food and for 11€ for two people we were quite happy.
Bookstore that inspired a certain story. Can you guess which one?

Bookstore that inspired a certain story. Can you guess which one?

The next morning, we took the metro to the beach. Unfortunately, it wasn’t  t-shirt weather yet 😦 Actually, the weather the past week in Switzerland had been better.
There was a nice park, a small fort and some surf schools in the water.
In the afternoon, we boarded one of the Rede Expressos buses to Peniche, which worked perfectly. Only when we got out of the bus at our arrival time, we had no idea where we were, since the driver dropped us off at a normal bus stopp. Thanks to two Swiss guys who were on the same bus, we then could hitchhike with the guy who picked them up and drove them to the Surfcastle surfcamp. The office of our camp (Maximum Surfcamp) closed at 7pm already.
From the surfcastle it was only a 2min walk to our camp, where we were welcomed by Simone’s friends whom she met at a surfcamp in Morocco and who now lived in the same appartment with us.

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On Monday morning we had to get our equipment and then got devided into our surf groups. I was a bit dissapointed that I had to go to the whitewater intermediate group yet again but at least I could really work on my turns this week.
The waves are great and we all have lot of fun. I’m surprised how well the wetsuit protects from the cold. Like this we really couls surf in any condition.
In the afternoon, the water is wilder and I have no energy to paddle anymore. When I get hit in hip by my surfboard I decide that it is time to quit for that day. I even need a powernap to be able to function again, my body just isn’t used to so much sport anymore. We have a delicious dinner with a nice view of the bay at Algamar restaurant.
The next day, the water is still wild and so I’m mostly on white water again but the video analysis of us after the course is fun and instructive.
Once we had organized a plate for the oven, nothing was in the way of our delicious selfmade pizza.
In the surfboard factory

In the surfboard factory

On Wednesday, we surfed at a beautiful colored beach with red rocks. The current was quite strong and the waves big, so why did this have to be the first day me and another guy from my group were finally allowed to paddle out to the green water? It took us ages to get past the waves and even once we arrived in the calmer water we only had a short moment to feel proud until we had to start paddling on and keeping up with the current. In the end, I only had the energy to take one wave. By now, every muscle in my body was hurting a lot but the peak of the pain only came the next day and on the fifth day, my body finally started adapting to all this exersise. Because of that, it’s kind of stupid to only attend one week of surfcamp.
After the course on Wednesday, all the surf students were loaded into the vans and the guides drove us around Peniche to show us the beautiful spots this half island has to offer. There are a lot of pretty cliffs and cute fish restaurants. It would be worth it to rent a bycicle and check these places out again.
Afterwards, we had a guided tour in the Fatum surfboard factory, which was pretty interesting.
In the evening, we played one of many rounds of the board game Dog in our appartment.
On Thursday, there suddenly were smaller waves and the current was gone, too. Now it was a lot easier to paddle for unbroken waves.
In the evening we drove to Peniche to have a mouthwatering dinner in the steak house. We all loved our dishes!
On our last day of the surf course we just had one long session since it always started raining again and the wave sets took a long time to come. However, I finally really surfed my first wave…Right in the middle of the green water and in the end I even turned in the right moment to surf on when the wave died at the edge. Woohoo, apparently I had made some progress! I wished I had an ocean at home to keep practicing. In the evening, we even were fit enough to all go out together and dance the night away.
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On Saturday, we made our way to the beach without our teachers and I was happy to be able to catch a few green waves, too. Unfortunately, the find and rain got stronger during the day, that only kite surfers were still on the water and I had my last session without realizing that it would be my last.
On the day I leave, the wheather is still indecisive.
Again, it was no problem to get back to Porto with Rede Expressos, it just took me an hour longer this time because I had to take a detour via Lisbon.
This time I stayed at Oporto Sport Hostel which is right in Rua Catharina and pretty cheap. I can only recommend it.
The next day I started with another delicious breakfast of local pastries and then attended the free walking tour, where I learned a lot about the history of Porto, its foods and drinks.
The guide showed us pretty view points and after the tour I had a much better feel for the city.
I couldn’t stop myself from doing a little shopping but unfortunately, I could hardly buy anything, since I was only travelling with carry on luggage.
For dinner, I went to another tiny Portuguese restaurant which was hidden in an alley. The waitress only spoke Portuguese and I tried to tell her that I wanted a dish with chorizo. She wouldn’t hear any of it and tried to convince me to take alheira (on the tour I learned that this is a breaded sausage with chicken meat, so that the Jews could eat it, too and pretend to be Christians when the Jews weren’t wanted in Portugal.) After the waitress had repeatedly tried to make me understand that this would be the best alheira I would ever eat, I agreed to take it. And oh my God, was this delicious!!! It hopefully won’t be the last one I had.
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Since I read that Oporto airport was open all night, I decided to spend the night there and not have to worry about how to get to the airport early in the morning.
I already went to the departure area at about 10pm, just as the last stores closed its gates. Perhaps I should have waited in the public area a little longer, because there at least Costa Coffee was still open. In the morning, I also realized that there weren’t even any letter boxes on the inside and so I had to hand my post cards to one of the staff who promised to throw them into the mailbox after her shift. Other than that it would be possible to sleep on the wooden chairs if you bring enough warm jackets. It got quite cold. The bathrooms were open, there are some powerplugs and vending machines, so it’s really possible to spend the night. For half of the night I felt like I was alone at the airport except for the cleaning crew (who was friendly and let me sleep) but at around 4am got too cold to lie around and wandered back to the main escalator to find many more people spread out on the benches. The last two hours somehow went by, too and already I was sitting on the plane back to Geneva. Thanks to my new best friends M&M’s I didn’t even have a sugar low on the flight this time and could actually enjoy the view down onto the snow covered mountains.