Thursday, December 15, 2011


On Saturday morning, Nicole and I had a lovely brunch, mainly made up of prosciutto and Prosecco. The next step was to get to Vicenza, where we were visiting a friend. He told us trains were about half an hour so we went to the Venice train station and bought the next tickets. Unfortunately, the salesperson did not explain that this particular train took two hours. We were getting very nervous about missing our stop, but we finally got there. The next hurdle was getting in touch with Alberto. For some reason, our phones weren't working. Once we reached him, he told us to take a cab to the army base.

It was really great to see Alberto, who is stationed in Vicenza with the 503rd infantry. His army ball happened to fall on my birthday. We had fun catching up with him and meeting the people he lived and worked with.

One of Alberto's photos:


Early Friday morning, Nicole and I flew from Malta to Venice. Once we got to the airport, we had to figure out how to get to the actual city of Venice. While you can take land transportation, the most efficient ways are Water Taxis or Water Buses. The taxi would have been 150 Euro, so we opted for the 15 Euro Water Bus. As the bus approached the city, we passed through a cloud of mist, making our entrance feel magical. Luckily, there was a stop right by our hotel. Unluckily, Nicole could not find her passport while we were on the bus. We handled it very calmly. Once we checked in to the hotel, they asked for our passports, which only I was able to produce. When we told them about the problem, the concierge called the police, explaining the situation to them in rapid Italian. 

View from the hotel:

We left the hotel staff to deal with passport issue and ventured out into the city. From everything we heard about Venice before arriving, getting lost was inevitable. So we decided to let ourselves get lost. First, we went to a small cafe in Piazza San Marco. We had amazing and fresh sandwiches (the best part was the cheese) followed by perfectly bitter espresso. 

Our first tourist destination was San Marco's Church. While you could pay to enter certain portions, the main area was free. 

Next, we went to the Accademia. While Venice is full of breathtaking museums, we wanted to see a building full of ancient masterpieces. After the art museum, we were ready for some gelato. We decided to head to the ghetto and pick some up on the way. Unfortunately, we had trouble finding any at first. We were wandering the Venice alleys, hoping to find a store serving ice cream in December. At one point, we mollified ourselves with mulled wine from a crepe stand. Finally, we found the gelato. There weren't many Italians eating it because they thought the weather was bad (we were loving it when compared to Russia and Scotland). 

After another hour or so, we had wandered through nearly the entire city. We did our best to get back to the hotel for naps before dinner, a necessity since we had woken at 3am for our flight. The concierge had gotten the passport back from the Water Bus company, so all was good. Nicole took me out for a delicious birthday dinner at Trattoria Do Forni. We had very traditional Italian meals involving caprese, prosciutto, pasta bolognese, lobster, and red wine. Unbeknownst to me, Nicole had ordered a chocolate cake. It was hilarious and touching to see the Italian waiters attempt to sing to me in English.

Dinner didn't end until nearly midnight, so we just went back to the hotel. At the hotel bar, we had limoncella and champagne at midnight. 

Spending the day in Venice with Nicole was a great birthday present!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011


As I mentioned earlier, Malta is made up of three islands. The largest is Malta, the second largest is Gozo, and the smallest is Comino. On Thursday, December 1st, we decided to take a ferry to Gozo. We didn't have time to go to Comino, but we did go by it on the ferry.

Our budget hotel called us a gypsy cab, which was fairly sketchy and charged us a ridiculous amount. But that was the only way to get to the port because of how far it was from everything else. The ferry ride was less than half an hour and took us into a beautiful part of Gozo.

Going by Comino and approaching Gozo:

The port:

The main goal for the day was to go to the beach and we decided to go to the one below Calypso's Cave. Ancient Greek historians identified Gozo as Ogygia, Calypso's island. You can't actually go inside the cave because it's falling apart, but you can go above it and look below.

 The scaffolding is holding up the cave, which is on the verge of collapsing on itself:

After looking at the cave, we scrambled down the beach. While the path is normally easy, it was still recovering from Tuesday's storm. 

The sand in Ramla Bay is known for its orange-red color:

The water was so cold for Malta, but about as warm as Virginia Beach in the summer. I took the opportunity to go in so I could say I'd been swimming in December.

After the beach, we tried to catch a bus back to the ferry. It turns out that people on Gozo don't really believe in schedules. We ended up waiting nearly two hours instead of twenty minutes. We finally got back to Malta, where we had spa appointments.

After the spa, we went to a seafood restaurant by the hotel where I had the most amazing artichoke soup. We were so happy to have one beautiful and warm day on our trip!

The Sun Comes Out (Malta)

We woke up early on Wednesday and any signs of the storm were completely gone. Since the bus system wasn't the best, we decided to do a hop-on hop-off bus for tourists. 

We learned a lot about Maltese history. Malta has been occupied by the Normans, Arabs, Romans, French, and British at various points in history. This means that remains around the island come from all different cultures and it's one of the most linguistically interesting places. Maltese is a Semitic language, but most residents of the islands also speak English and Italian. 

The first stop was Valletta, where we saw ancient gardens and old buildings used by the Knights of Malta. We didn't have much time in Valletta, but we walked around and saw palaces, a fort, and St. John's Co-Cathedral.

The next city we went to was Mdina, which was the capital established by the Phoenicians. While some people still live there, most people in the area live in Rabat, the adjoining city. Mdina is completely walled in and mainly a tourist attraction. 

The view from the tea rooms on the city wall:

The cathedral:

Inside the cathedral:

Outside the gates to Mdina, there is a Roman villa which is the museum for all the Roman artifacts found on the island. 

The bus tour took us around the rest of the island, where we saw more churches and some beautiful bays.

After a long day of walking we went back to Spinola Bay for dinner. We went to Paparazzi, which Italian-Maltese food with a 1950s movie theme. It seemed very random, but was delicious. 

This is Not a Day for the Temples (Malta)

On Monday, November 28th, Nicole and I flew to Malta. We didn't really know anything about it before going there, just that it was a small island in the Mediterranean. We later found out that it's actually an archipelago of three islands. 

The first day, we were so exhausted from packing and traveling that we only really went out for dinner. Most of the Maltese cuisine is a mix of local and Italian dishes. It was really amazing after being in Scotland for a semester because it was so fresh. 

The next morning, we woke up to horrible weather. Nevertheless, we attempted to see the Tarxien Temples. That required us to take a bus to Valletta, the capital of Malta. By the time we were in Valletta, it was a full-fledged storm. From Valletta, we took another bus to Tarxien. When we asked the bus driver when to get off for the temples, he told us, "This is not a day for the temples." We wandered around and found where the temples should be. We couldn't really find the entrance and we later figured out that everything in Malta closes when it rains because that happens so infrequently. 

A Maltese Church:

Profiteroles at the cafe we stopped in to avoid the rain:

Once we got back to our hotel, we put on dry clothes and went out to dinner. We wandered into a restaurant because we saw that it had a great view of the harbor. The restaurant, San Giuliano, was incredibly nice and we were very underdressed. It was one of the most amazing meals of my life. 

The restaurant is above Spinola harbor:

Christmas in Edinburgh

Nicole only spent one full day in Edinburgh and that was Sunday, November 27th. A lot of our day was filled with going to British shops that Nicole could not get in Russia. In the afternoon, we had champagne afternoon tea at the Caledonian. 

It was definitely the best afternoon tea I've had so far in the UK. 

Later, we went to the Christmas fair on Princes Street. Nicole had never been on a ferris wheel before, so we did that. It was a great view of the city at night! 

The view from the top of the ferris wheel:

The Christmas fair is really fun. They have rides, but there are also carriage rides, mulled wine, roasted chestnuts, and so on. It's very typical for European cities to put have fairs and markets in December, but Edinburgh is supposed to have one of the best Christmas calendars. 

St. Andrew's

On Friday night after Thanksgiving, Nicole arrived from Russia. I hadn't seen Nicole since Nantucket in June, so we were both really excited. We woke up early Saturday morning to catch a train to St. Andrew's. To get to St. Andrew's, we took a train from Waverly to Leuchars and then a cab into the city. 

The first thing we did was visit the cathedral and the castle. They're both in ruins, but still beautiful. While it was a very windy day, we were lucky to get a lot of sun. The cathedral has a tower that contains St. Regulus's (St. Rule) remains, but that was closed the day we went. 

The cathedral:

The cathedral and the castle from the dock: 

The wind was blowing so hard that I almost fell in:

The castle ruins:

Right across the street from the castle is Prince William's old dorm. It was a little stalker-ish, but we took a picture since we were there.

Since we were by the sea, we stopped at a pub for Fish and Chips and a pint. After lunch, we went to a really cool antique bookstore, where we might have done some Christmas shopping. 

At this point it was starting to storm, but we still had to see the Old Course. It's on the edge of the town, but only a few minutes from the center. Despite, the rain, there were still a few people playing. 

St. Andrew's is a beautiful town and I'm really glad I got the opportunity to see it. Even though it was really windy, the weather's only gotten worse so that was a good weekend to go.