Eurotrip 2011: My Journal

I’ve finally gotten around to writing up the journal of the month-long trip I took with my uncle last fall to Italy, Switzerland, and Croatia. I had intended to keep a journal while I was over there but it didn’t work out, so the following story is based on what I can remember nearly eight months later. This is one case where facebook’s timeline has actually proved useful in allowing me to go back and see what I posted during that time period. I’m going to release the journal in installments so as not to overwhelm you with a month’s worth of info in a single post. Here is Part 1…

Days 1–2: The Flight and Our Arrival at the Villa

Our adventure began on October 14th when we were picked up at my house by the shuttle service that shall not be named (why they remain nameless shall soon become apparent). On our way to the airport we stopped at a hotel to pick up another passenger, and wound up waiting around twenty minutes because he was late. Finally, he showed up and we were on our way. Upon exiting the turnpike we had to wait in a long toll line because the shuttle did not have E-ZPass (you would think an airport shuttle service that uses the turnpike seven days a week and whose business is to get people to their destinations on time would invest in E-ZPass, but that was the least of their faults).

We eventually made it to Newark Airport, where we had to transfer to another shuttle (run by the same nameless company) to take us to JFK, and this is where the fun really began. They overbooked our transfer shuttle and we almost got kicked off and told to wait for the next shuttle, which would likely have caused us to miss our flight. When we tried to discuss this with the driver he very rudely brushed us off—well, let’s be blunt, he yelled at us. Ultimately, we were allowed to stay on the shuttle (another couple got kicked off) and began the long rush-hour drive to JFK. The driver had the heat in the shuttle turned up so high that everyone was dying, especially the people sitting behind us with no windows. I finally asked him to turn it down, which he reluctantly did (previously, he had actually turned the heat even higher after we had turned it down while he was out of the car).

Finally, we arrived at JFK, leaving the driver (and Voldemort Shuttles, Inc.) behind, though we would have to deal with them again upon our return. After boarding the plane, we sat on the tarmac for two hours before finally taking off, causing us to miss our connecting flight in Paris. At this point, between the shuttle debacle, the heavy traffic getting there, and the flight delay, I had already made up my mind that I would never fly out of JFK again (though my bad experience with that airport had only just begun—more on that later). Anyway, lest this journal seem like a total bitch-fest, I think it’s time we moved on. 🙂

During the long overseas flight I managed to fit in three movies: The Hangover 2 (meh), Bridesmaids (very funny), and Cedar Rapids (just okay). I had a comfortable aisle seat with extra leg room, which was nice. When we landed in Paris, we frantically ran to try and catch our flight, but as feared, we missed it. We eventually secured a later flight and were on our way to Florence. I had a window seat for this flight, and the scenery while flying over the mountains in Italy was gorgeous.

The Italian Alps (I think)

The Italian Alps (I think)

Tuscan Apennines (probably)

The Tuscan Apennines (probably)

After landing in Florence we got a taxi and gave the driver the name of the villa. She proceeded to drive us all over the city, winding up at the wrong place (with the same name as our villa). She had no idea where our villa was located (this would turn out to be a recurring theme among cabbies in Florence). After some back and forth on the phone, she eventually took us to the office that managed our property, and from there the property manager drove us to our villa, located in the hills of the Tuscan countryside outside of Florence.

The long ride into the hills was a neat experience: a narrow, winding road surrounded by olive trees, often just wide enough for a single car to pass. When we would encounter another car driving toward us at one of these narrow passes, one of the cars would have to back up until it found a place where it could get over to let the other car pass. Our driver frequently beeped her horn as she approached curves to signal any potential oncoming vehicles. On our way up the hill we occasionally passed through small villages that reminded me of the Sicily scenes from The Godfather.

Even this part of the trip, however, was not without its little side adventure. Some of our villa mates, who we had met up with at the office, were following our car, but the property manager was driving so fast that she lost them at a fork in the road. We pulled over and waited for them, but they never came, so we assumed they took the wrong turn. The manager turned the car around in an effort to catch up with them, driving through the hills on these narrow roads like a bat out of hell. It was a little scary, I must confess. We drove for a long, long time before the manager finally gave up, turning the car back around and taking us to the villa.

At last, after a long, two-day ordeal, we had arrived at our destination: The Villa Belvedere.

The Villa

This seems like a good stopping point, so I’ll close this first journal installment with a video of the villa and the beautiful surrounding grounds. Stay tuned for part two, which will cover our first night at the villa and our trip into Florence the following day.

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Writer, traveler, photographer, hiker, film/TV addict, amateur chef, casual gamer, and occasional tennis & saxophone player . . . in real life I do web design.

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Posted in Europe, Italy, Travel
One comment on “Eurotrip 2011: My Journal
  1. Interesting, loved it so far 🙂 I hope someone complained to that shuttle company. I would have died driving on those roads, would have been scared to death!!

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Portland, Oregon - August, 2017 This is Mount Hood looming over the city of Portland, shot from my viewpoint in the Japanese Garden. A few days after this photo was taken, I drove all the way out to Mount Hood to stay at the famous Timberline Lodge (aka Overlook Hotel) near its summit. #cities #Japanesegarden #landscapes #mounthood #NorthAmerica #Oregon #Photography #Portland #Travel #UnitedStates #mountains
Portland, Oregon - August, 2017 A rock garden in Portland's Japanese Garden. #Japanesegarden #landscapes #NorthAmerica #Oregon #Photography #Portland #Travel #UnitedStates #rockgardens #zengardens
Portland, Oregon - August, 2017 Waterfall cascading into a pond in Portland's Japanese Garden. #Japanesegarden #landscapes #NorthAmerica #Oregon #Photography #Portland #Travel #UnitedStates #ponds
Portland, Oregon - August, 2017 Portland's Japanese Garden is so sublime that you almost forget you’re in a major city. #Japanesegarden #landscapes #NorthAmerica #Oregon #Photography #Portland #Travel #UnitedStates
Portland, Oregon - August, 2017 This was taken at Portland's International Rose Test Garden, which I passed through on my way to the Japanese Garden. #NorthAmerica #Oregon #Photography #Portland #Travel #UnitedStates #roses #flowers #InternationalRoseTestGarden
Portland, Oregon - August, 2017 Silhouette of the Portlandia statue in downtown Portland. It is the second largest copper statue in the country after the Statue of Liberty. #cities #NorthAmerica #Oregon #Photography #Portland #Travel #UnitedStates #landmarks #statues
Portland, Oregon - August, 2017 Tree-lined street in downtown Portland, near the apartment where I stayed last summer. #cities #landscapes #NorthAmerica #Oregon #Photography #Portland #Travel #UnitedStates
Devils Tower, Wyoming - August, 2017 Another prairie dog shot, this one in the iconic standing pose. Not as sharp as I would have liked, but not too bad for handheld at a 250 mm focal length. #animals #devilstower #nationalmonuments #NorthAmerica #Photography #prairiedogs #roadtrips #Travel #UnitedStates #wildlife #Wyoming
Devils Tower, Wyoming - August, 2017 There is a giant field beneath Devils Tower that is entirely covered with prairie dogs. I was so mesmerized by the little critters with their cute screeching noises that I almost forgot I was there to visit the tower. #animals #devilstower #nationalmonuments #NorthAmerica #Photography #prairiedogs #roadtrips #Travel #UnitedStates #wildlife #Wyoming
Devils Tower, Wyoming - August, 2017 This shot only features the top of Devils Tower, but I liked the variety of colors in the landscape. #DevilsTower #Wyoming #NationalMonuments #travel #buttes #landscapes #photography #UnitedStates #NorthAmerica #RoadTrips #hiking #colors
Devils Tower, Wyoming - August, 2017 A closeup shot of climbers scaling Devils Tower. Pretty soon, climbing will no longer be necessary because, according to a sign I saw at the site, they are apparently installing an elevator to the top. Although it would be neat to see the top of the tower, I think it’s unfortunate that they are going to ruin its appearance with an elevator apparatus. I’m glad that I was able to see Devils Tower in all its natural glory before this happens. #buttes #devilstower #hiking #nationalmonuments #NorthAmerica #Photography  #roadtrips #Travel #UnitedStates #Wyoming #climbing
Devils Tower, Wyoming - August, 2017 A view of Devils Tower from my hike around the base. This is the opposite side of the tower from the shot I posted yesterday. The black dots in the sky are birds. #DevilsTower #Wyoming #NationalMonuments #travel #buttes #landscapes #photography #UnitedStates #NorthAmerica #RoadTrips #hiking
Devils Tower, Wyoming - August, 2017 A lifelong dream sparked by 'Close Encounters of the Third Kind' was finally realized when I visited Devils Tower last August--40 years (and many plates of sculpted mashed potatoes) after I first saw the tower on film. I had no idea as I hiked around Devils Tower that just two days later there would be a 40th anniversary screening of the film at the tower itself. Just missed it! #DevilsTower #Wyoming #NationalMonuments #CloseEncounters #travel #buttes #landscapes #photography #UnitedStates #NorthAmerica #RoadTrips
Deadwood, South Dakota - August, 2017 I chose to stay in Deadwood during my three nights in South Dakota because I was a huge fan of the HBO show and have always been fascinated with the Wild West. I thought it would be cool to walk in the footsteps of Deadwood’s famous residents. The drive in to town was interesting, as I steadily climbed the Black Hills while passing “Bighorn Sheep Crossing” signs. I only had time to explore the main strip because I spent most of my visit taking day trips out of town, so it’s not really fair to render a judgment without having taken the time to fully check out everything Deadwood had to offer. Still, I found it to be kind of a disappointment, mostly just your average casino town, which isn’t really my cup of tea. Nevertheless, I saw several points of interest during my walks around town, such as the spots where Wild Bill was shot and where his assassin was caught, the Bullock Hotel that was built by Seth Bullock after the events of the show, and a few establishments named after notable people and places such as Charlie Utter and the Gem Theater. The recreated “gunfights” in the middle of town were also neat. #deadwood #NorthAmerica #Photography #roadtrips #SouthDakota #Travel #UnitedStates #wildwest #historictowns #blackhills #oldwest
Mount Rushmore, South Dakota - September, 2017 This is a zoomed-in view of Mount Rushmore from a lookout point a couple of miles away on Iron Mountain Road, a scenic mountain drive that I highly recommend taking before heading to the monument. If you go south to north, you will drive through a tunnel that perfectly frames Mount Rushmore; makes for a memorable photo. This shot may not look like a panorama due to its more squarish shape, but it was stitched together from two different photos. #IronMountainRoad #MountRushmore #nationalmonuments #NorthAmerica #panoramas #Photography #roadtrips #Scenic #SouthDakota #Travel #UnitedStates #mountains
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