Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Krakow, Poland

What do you think of when you think of Krakow, Poland? 

Before this trip, I didn't think of anything, really! 

Which is PERFECT!!!!! I didn't have any expectations at all. My slate was completely blank going in. 

And in the end, I ended up being pleasantly surprised. 

Welcome to Krakow, Poland!

After my elective in Geneva, I met up with my friend Amanda, and some of her friends for a couple weeks of backpacking. 

They were nice enough to let me tag-on to their trip a little late in the game, so the itinerary was already set and almost everything was already booked. Which was GREAT!! It took me to some places I never would have thought of on my own, one of them being Krakow.

We stayed at Greg & Tom Beer House Hostel, which could not have been better located. Right on the main street, steps away from the main square. 

But the best part about this hostel, is that THEY FEED YOU DINNER, FO' FREE! Like a reeeeeeal restaurant quality meal: soup, main course, and even dessert. JACKPOT. 

They also have a pub-crawl which was A TON OF FUN!!!!! 

Krakow is set up like most European cities. There's a main square, a castle, a big church, and a main street. There's also a Jewish Quarter (I did the free walking tour! It's also where all the best bars are at) and an Old Town. 

Despite a somewhat tumultuous history and Nazi occupation during World War II, Krakow emerged largely intact. The Old Town is ADORABLEEEE. I loved the colours (I'm a sucker for pastels)! Buildings in greens, pinks, blues and yellows with intricate white moulding framing the windows and rooftops line narrow cobblestone streets. 

The main square has a market, selling mostly flowers and some tacky souvenirs, and you can find a pretzel stand on almost every corner (you better believe I got one!). 

But my favourite part of Krakow, was the small square just beside the big one. For one reason really: the food!! (and beer and wine!! and music and general liveliness.)

I tried Oscypek for the first time, a traditional Polish cheese that is smoked and made of sheep's milk. Sounds whatever, but is sooooo tasty!! I discovered it on my last day in Krakow, which makes me a sad panda only because I didn't get to eat MORE of it!

I also visited Auschwitz while in Krakow, but decided to leave the camera at home. Something about it just didn't seem right. 

But I will say this, if you ever have the opportunity to visit a concentration camp, DO IT. My day at Auschwitz was completely unfathomable - it's such a dark but important part of our history and finally seeing in real life what you've read about for years in history books gives you a completely new perspective.  

Although I really enjoyed my time in Krakow, I didn't looove everything about it. One thing I noticed (which is kind of minuscule and weird but I still noticed!!!) was that everyone dresses in pretty drab colours. Normally not a big deal, but it's July people!! I walked out in a pretty yellow sundress and walked RIGHT BACK inside and took it off. I stuck out like a sore thumb!

But other than that, Krakow is lovely. A hidden treasure :) 

Aaaaaaand a hunky Polish man (haha) even gave us roses!!!!!

We are lucky ladies!!! 

Now off to the next adventure :) 

Monday, July 21, 2014

A Weekend in Italy

I never planned on visiting Italy. 

Sure, I love ALL OF THE CARBS!!!! Pizza pasta num num num. Italian food is the best!!!!! 

Yet Italy as a destination has never really appealed to me. I know there's some famous art and churches and museums and stuffs etc etc but to be frank that period of history doesn't really get me going. I'd much rather go for a beautiful walk along a coastline than spend hours fighting hoards of tourists looking at old things in glass cases ANY DAY. 

After 4 weeks of hard work in my plastic surgery elective in Geneva, I was ready for some FUN IN DA SUN. I wanted something relaxing and beachy to re-charge my batteries before meeting up with some friends for a couple weeks of backpacking around Eastern Europe.  

So I decided to book for the second time a weekend getaway with bus2alps. Since I was travelling alone and didn't have a ton of time to research hostels and transportation, it was the quickest and easiest solution. 

One of bus2alps' highest rated trips is their Amalfi Coast tour. I'd never heard of the "Amalfi Coast"... but after a quick google images search I was SOLD! Can places actually be that pretty in real life???? Sun, limoncello, black sand beaches and deep blue water, brightly coloured villas speckled up above the shore in the mountains... I had a feeing I was going to be bout that Mediterranean life!!

With the way flights and things worked out, I had approximately 12 hours in Rome before I had to meet up with the bus2alps people at the train station and head down south. So basically one full day to "do" Rome. Which I later found out, is IMPOSSIBU! There's just way too much. So I picked 3 things I wanted to see (the Colosseum, the Pantheon, the Spanish Steps) and one thing I really wanted to eat (cacio e pepe) and just stuck to that. 

The number one item on my Rome to-do list was the Colosseum, so I headed there straight away. Sadly, it POURED rain while I was there!! Like not just a bit of rain, we're talking VIOLENT giant rain drops here. 

But I was still entertained! Hehe get it????

For lunch, I went to Cacio e Pepe

How I wound up at this restaurant was a happy accident.

I asked my cab driver to take me somewhere nearby that had good Cacio e Pepe (a Roman pasta dish that literally means cheese and pepper). 

He thought I said take me TO Cacio e Pepe (turns out it is also the name of a restaurant!). 

Luckily, Cacio e Pepe had a good cacio e pepe (but was not at all nearby... an expensive cab ride but worth it)!!! 

There weren't any menus. 

I sat down and the waitress goes: "For you, I have cheese and pepper, cheese pepper and bacon, or cheese pepper and mushrooms." 

Ooooook, cheese and pepper it is then!

I was the only tourist at the restaurant which I LOVED! It felt so authentic and was DELICIOUS. Who knew cheese and pepper could be so tasty? Something I'll have to try to re-create at home.

After lunch I checked out the Spanish Steps (overrated). 

With my good friend, gelato (not overrated). 

The Pantheon (it's free!!).

The Altare della Patria.

And Palatine Hill with my med school buddie Kim!!!! 

My own little mini Roman holiday. 

That evening I met up with the bus2alps people, bussed it down south, and woke up in beautiful Sorrento, Italy. 

Sorrento would be our home-base for the weekend. 

We stayed at Seven Hostel, which was AMAZING. Cool bar (Dj on Saturdays), clean rooms with personal plug-ins, good bathrooms (see-thru showers tho, heads up!) and decent food (one of the better free-breakfasts out there!!). I loved it! My favourite hostel of life so far. (BUT the wifi was SHIT. Like shittier than hostel average. Couldn't instagram A THING all weekend which hurt me deeply. Maybe because we were such a big group?? Either way Seven Hostel if you see this pick up your wifi GAME!). 

For our first day on the coast, we took the ferry to the island of Capri. This was my favourite day!! It began with a private boat tour around the island, followed by a hike up to Anacapri, a questionable chair lift ride to the top of the mountain, a boozy lunch with a new Canadian friend, and a ride back down in a "topless taxi". 

Ub-sessed with these flowers everywhere!! 

Lemon EVERYTHANG. I was in heaven.

In capri they made these AMAZING lemon-vodka drinks. I think we had ours at the crack of 10:30 am. It's a hard life but somebody's gotta live it am I rite???

Questionable chair-lift ride to the top. 

It's literally just you, a dangly chair, and a little flimsy bar that moves around at will. 

But the views were sooooo worth it!

The best caprese salad I think I've ever had.

And our "topless" taxi ride back down to the shore.

It's a car, without a roof! 

What did YOU think it was!! 

Day 2 was spent in Positano, somewhere I thought would be my favourite, but I guess I left my heart on Capri! 

We went cave swimming, cliff jumping, attempted to swim in the blue grotto (it was closed due to the weather), ate giant sandwiches (I think they even beat La Bottega's) and relaxed on the black sand beach. 

It's hard to describe, but everything was "so" something on the coast. 

The water was so blue. 

The flowers were so purple. 

The air was so fresh. 

Nothing was pale. Nothing was in between. Nothing was grey. Everything was alive. I loved it! 

I adored the mountains of Switzerland, but there's something about the sea that's got me (so corny DON'T EVEN CARE!). If I were to choose my last vacation ever, it would be somewhere like this. When I'm older and tired of slugging it around big cities and seeing the sights, I'm going to exclusively visit towns and beaches like this. The coast is where I'm meant to be!!

Day 3 we checked out the ruins of Pompeii.

Pompeii was ACTUALLY insane. 

It was a Roman city completely wiped out by a volcano, discovered years later eerily well preserved. 

I opted to look around without a guide, which was a mistake, I was looking at a bunch of old rocks and rubble without really knowing what anything was. And turns out, there was an amphitheatre! That I completely MISSED! NoOOOoOOO. Lesson learned. 

I grabbed my last "authentic" Italian pizza (and beer!!) at Pompeii Pizza, a pizzeria recommended by bus2alps (honestly kind of meh, I've had better) before heading back to Rome.

Anyone else drooling??

Dear Italy, I misjudged you.

Take me back!!!! 

And PS: as always, if you have any questions or need some travel advice, leave it in the comments! I'm happy to help :)