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    Venice on David’s Birthday

    Spring Break Day Five: Venice – David’s Birthday!
    David is one lucky April Fool and gets to celebrate his birthday all around the world. Last year, we were in Slovenia and Croatia on his birthday. This year, it was Venice!


    David's birthday


    We had our traditional birthday coffee to start the morning, this year with tiramisu! We found a great little restaurant on a canal and soaked up the sunshine as the gondolas rowed by.

    Speaking of gondolas, there’s an official city rate of €80 for a gondola ride. We didn’t have enough to pay for that, but fortunately I came across a great tip! I follow an author on Instagram and saw her post about a €2 gondola ferry. Now, it quite literally takes you from one side of the canal to the other and lasts all of about 60 seconds… BUT! For €2? That, we can do.

    We spent David’s birthday walking around the island and browsing the cute little markets and shops. We had the most amazing pasta for lunch at a hole-in-the-wall joint.

    After lunch, we visited Saint Mark’s Basilica. (Free admission!) Photos weren’t allowed inside the sanctuary, but it was incredible! I spent just as much time looking at the floor as I did everything else. The tiling inside of the church is remarkable. There are so many colors and patterns and designs. (Just Google Image search it!) You can get a glimpse of it from the photos I took just outside the sanctuary.

    We also took the elevator up to the top of Saint Mark’s Campanil for a great view of Venice.

    It was a relaxing day and such a beautiful place to wander!


    Venice canal


    Gondola Ferry


    Leah on a gondola


    Venice gondola ferry


    David holding Del Moro Pasta


    Gondola going under a bridge


    David with a Davide apron


    Leah on Venice bridge


    St. Mark's Basilica


    St. Mark's Basilica floor


    St. Mark's Basilica tiles


    St. Mark's Basilica Ceiling


    View from St Mark's Campanile


    View from St Mark's Campanile


    View from St Mark's Campanile


    Leah and David by a Venice canal


    Where We Ate
    • Ristorante Florida for breakfast. Good coffee and free Wi-Fi.
    • Dal Moro’s Pasta for lunch. Man, this place was so good. They make everything fresh on the spot. David got a red sauce on his pasta and I had pesto. They give it to you in Chinese take-out boxes with a ton of parm sprinkled on top. They also tell you to eat it quickly because it’s best fresh and the taste changes. (And they were right! There was so much we could barely finish, and by the time we reached the bottom of our boxes, the consistency of the pasta had changed.)
    • Ristorante Santo Stefano for a fantastic birthday dinner. David ordered a really great steak and I had one of the menu dinners with the fish.

    Venice Tips:
    1. Avoid all piddles in the street. (There are a ton of dogs in Venice.)
    2. Save money by finding the €2 Traghesso Santo Sofia gondola ferry.
    3. This is an everywhere tip, but buy bottled water from the grocery store. Instead of paying €3 or more, buy the 1 liter bottles for as little as €0,65!



    Our First Views of Venice

    Spring Break Day Four: Venice, Italy Part One

    Venice is a dream! We took a bus from the Treviso airport and arrived in Venice in the early afternoon. We hopped on a water ferry and made our way down the canals.

    I could gush on and on about Venice. It was my favorite city on our trip. Could a place be any more picturesque? (…The answer is probably yes. This place was swarming with tourists. I came across this CNN article shortly after we returned titled “Are We Loving Venice to Death?”) Were it not For the mass of tourists, I would have sold all that I own and moved here on the spot. The canals, the little shops, the colors, the winding streets… I think we should make it a tradition to visit an island on spring break. Being near the water is good for my soul.


    Venice view


    As what I feel might be a right of passage for everyone visiting Venice, we got thoroughly lost before we found our hotel. We spent the rest of the afternoon walking around, grabbing a bite to eat here and there, and taking it all in. The weather was much warmer than Paris and it was bright and sunny!




    Venice canal


    Venice laundry


    Venice masks


    St. Mark's Square


    St Mark's Basilica


    Venice laundry


    Venice canal


    Venice street and canal


    Where we stayed:
    We reserved two nights through at Hotel San Maurizio. We enjoyed our stay. The staff was friendly, it had fast wi-fi, and it had the cleanest bathroom ever! Cons: the walls were a little thin and we could hear the conversations of the people in the next rooms; the bedding was a bit dated, but clean. San Maurizio was around the corner from a store that sold two scoops of gelato for €2,50 and right across from a serve-by-the-slice take out pizza place. Venice is very small, so everything is within walking distance.

    Where we ate:
    We ate pizza and pasta for lunch at the Art Blu Cafe and had pizza for dinner from the place mentioned above (not sure of the name!).



    SB14: Ljubljana, Slovenia

    After our afternoon in Bled, we drove 35 miles south to the capital city of Ljubljana. (One of my Slovakian students who lived in Slovenia for a while attempted to teach me how to say it: “Layub-laya-na.”)

    Where we stayed
    We stayed one night at Hostel Tivoli and highly recommend it. It wasn’t a very big hostel, but it was super affordable, modern, and in a great location. (With a towel rental and free breakfast, it cost €11 per person a night.) We were in the 8-person room. It worked great for our group of six, and there was one other lady in the room with us. The room was really tall and the bunks stacked three high. There were individual storage drawers with keys and the hostel was very, very clean. (One of the cleanest I’ve seen in a while!)

    Where we ate
    After we settled into the hostel, we walked to the downtown area for dinner. It was around 8pm and we had issues finding a place that was open. We finally came across Vodnikov Hram. It was near closing time, but they let us in anyways. The food was so, so good. They had tasty soups and an awesome cheese plate. David got a beef medallion dish and I got pasta. One of our friends had these amazing pumpkin puree rolls.

    The next morning (David’s birthday!), we walked back to the downtown area. We really loved this city:


    Circle art


    Round bench


    Old door




    Everything felt so relaxed here. Our group split up for the morning and we all did our own thing. David and I found a cafe along the canal and had a cup of coffee.


    Ljubljana canal


    Ljubljana Lock bridge


    Ljubljana cafes


    We poked our heads into a few shops and browsed the outdoor markets. Spring was in full bloom!




    After some shopping, we found a grocery store, grabbed a few goodies, and found a spot to sit in the park.


    Ljubljana Park


    Some cheese, crackers, prochutio, and chocolate made for a great birthday snack!


    Snack in the park


    Birthday snack in the park


    After our morning in Ljubljana, we drove to Škocjan Caves Park!


    Here’s a recap of the trip:
    » Day 1 & 2: Zagreb, Croatia
    » Day 3: Bled, Slovenia
    » Day 4: Ljubjlana, Slovenia
    » Day 4: Škocjan Caves Park, Slovenia
    » Day 5: Krk, Croatia
    » Day 6: Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia
    » Day 7: Split, Croatia


    Spring Break Part 2: Bruges

    After our first few days in Amsterdam, we hopped on a couple trains to Bruges, Belgium. I am so thankful our friends took charge and played travel guides. It was nice to just follow along and go with the flow.

    We made a transfer at Antwerp Station. How stunning is this architecture?!


    Antwerp Train Station architecture


    We were in Bruges part of Tuesday, Wednesday, and part of Thursday. Bruges has a very different vibe than Amsterdam. It’s more of a small town. The people were super friendly and helpful as we made our way to our hostel. Bruges has beautiful architecture. We felt like we had stepped into a Disney town! Plus, the weather was warmer and there wasn’t as much wind as there was in Amsterdam.




    We shared an 8-person room at St. Christopher’s Bauhaus and would not recommend it at all. Our room had black mold, there was vomit on the walls and in the sinks of the bathrooms, you had to pay a €10 deposit to rent a towel, the bar adjoining the building decided to move pallets down our hall at 7am… It was fine for the couple of nights we were there, but we advise you avoid this place.

    And on that happy note, see how pretty Bruge’s Market Square is!


    Bruges Square


    We stopped at the open air market Wednesday morning and got warm, fresh Belgium waffles! They were beyond delicious. David said if those waffles were available in Michigan, it’d put the family out of business! (David’s family produces maple syrup.) They were light and crispy, and kind of tasted like a cinnamon roll, even though there was no frosting on the outside. Delicious! We ordered a waffle with a lot of our meals. You can pay extra to get it with Nutella and strawberries or with ice cream, or just have it with powdered sugar.


    Belgium Waffles from the street market


    Speaking of food, our favorite place we ate at was Humpty Dumpty, just off of Market Square. They were very reasonably priced with many things to choose from their menu. I ordered the children’s spaghetti; it was the perfect portion and absolutely delicious. I don’t know if it was because I hadn’t had great beef in a while, but their sauce was amazing! They had yummy waffles, too. David loved their paninis.

    We also climbed the Bruges belfry:


    Bruges Bell Tower


    We followed the steep 366 steps of the winding staircase:


    Bruges Bell Tower Stairs


    Here we are peaking out of some of the windows in the stairwell:


    Inside the Bruges Bell Tower


    The view at the top of the tower was fantastic!


    View of the city from the Bruges Bell Tower


    I’m so glad we went to Bruges. It was a relaxing, beautiful place. They had lots of canals, too:


    Bruges canals at night


    We were so blessed to travel with such a great group of friends:


    Our travel group


    We definitely had our share of Belgium waffles, street food, and chocolate!



    Spring Break Part 1: Amsterdam

    Our school’s spring break was the last week in March. David, Daniel, and I traveled with 4 of our friends to the Netherlands and Belgium. We flew into Amsterdam Saturday night and spent 2 days there.

    I was super impressed with how modern and clean Amsterdam was in comparison to Ankara. Europe is so efficient! When we looked up the weather, we saw it was going to be cold. We had no idea it was going to be freezing. I wore tights under my jeans, double layered socks, had a scarf, hat, and gloves, and was still cold most of the time! We road the tram a lot to escape the cold.


    Walking in Amsterdam


    We shared a 9-person room with a private bathroom at Hotel Van Gogh. The hostel was very modern and provided clean sheets and towels every day. They had a fantastic €5 buffet breakfast. Some of the desk workers were rude, but we  would recommend staying there because of the amenities and location.

    We spent our first full day walking around and checking out shops. Holland is known for its cheese, and we sampled a lot.


    Sampling Amsterdam cheese


    We never really ate “traditional” Flemish food, aside from a croquette appetizer at one restaurant. However, we thoroughly enjoyed the Mexican, Thai, Italian, and English food! Another place to note was Bagels and Beans. I ordered their avocado, tomato, and lettus bagel sandwich. Their honey and walnut cream cheese rocked my world. I told my friends I wanted an ice cream cone filled with that cream cheese it was so good. (I also loved their branding – just take a look at their menu!)

    We also visited the Van Gogh Museum, which was temporarily in the Hermitage. No pictures were allowed in the exhibit, but we saw many of his most famous works including Sunflowers and Almond Branches in Bloom.

    Amsterdam has bikes, bikes, and more bikes! David read there is roughly an average of 1.5 bicycles per person in Amsterdam. We didn’t rent any because it was so cold, but would have liked to. I thought for certain I’d get hit by one, but luckily  most of them had bells and let you know they were coming.


    Brains travel on bikes


    One of my favorite things we saw was the Anne Frank House. This was the annex in her father’s business building where they hid for 2 years. I was surprised how large it was – I had always imagined it as a small, cramped couple of rooms. I was also surprised it was in a row of buildings right beside a canal. It was a moving experience to walk through the house and experience a piece of history.

    Before we started traveling, I purchased The Fault In Our Stars by John Greene. I heard good reviews about the book and several of our students read it this semester. I had no idea that part of the story took place in Amsterdam! It was really cool to read the part about the characters visiting the Anne Frank House after having seen it myself.


    Anne Frank House entrance


    The canals were so picturesque:


    Standing in front of a canal in Amsterdam


    The architecture was beautiful, too. This is Amsterdam’s Grand Central Station:


    Grand Central Station Amsterdam


    I was super disappointed the weather was so cold, because I was hoping to see the tulip fields and the windmills. I doubted the fields were in bloom, and it was really too cold to take the day trip outside the city. We did visit one windmill within the city:


    Windmill in Amsterdam


    And I did see a few tulips in the tulip market:


    Tulips at the tulip market


    And the canals were especially beautiful at night:


    An Amsterdam canal at night


    After a few days in Amsterdam, we took a train to Bruges, Belgium. More to come on that soon!