Day 18 – Vienna

Today, we got up and enjoyed an English-style breakfast at our hotel. It was nothing rave-worthy, but it sufficed to get us going. We then took the bus – which, disappointingly and despite the tour guide announcement the day before that “Austrian time” is not “Hawaii time” and that the bus won’t wait for stragglers – departed late as it was waiting for late comers. Ay-ya!

Hotel breakfast! 

We finally took off on a blitzkrieg of sightseeing tour, with commands being delivered every two seconds “look left hand side”, “look right hand side”, “look straight ahead,” and facts pouring in at an impossible rate. It was a wonder that our heads were still attached to our necks by the time we parked at the Staatsoper (the Vienna Opera)!

More stretched than our necks were the tour-goers' bladders. Featured here is the 3rd Urinary Battalion, charging a Viennese restroom. 

Bowe deserts the battalion. 

Once on the ground, we explored the Innerstadt (the inner city center). We had some free time to go off on our own and so we decided to go up to St. Stephen’s cathedral. For a modest admission price, we climbed one of the cathedral steeples, from where we could take in panoramic views of the city. After putzing around a little more, Karol, Keane, Michał, and Naomi met up for coffee and toast at a local cafe, where we sampled espressos, lattes, sausages, and beet lemonade!  

Putting our best everything forward on this trip! 

We then headed back to meet up with the bus, and Michał miscalculated how far the restrooms were from the pick up point! Thankfully, Naomi gladly – and with the ease of a gazelle – jogged the entire way back from the restroom, only to find out the bus, again, was bound to wait a long while for other latecomers!

Naomi could not help but smile during her jog back to the bus. 

In the meantime, these guys could not get enough of the wieners! 

From the Staatsoper, we debarked to our rehearsal with orchestra at the Bergkirche – where Haydn was buried – in the town of Eisenstadt, about an hour away from Vienna.

Sunflower fields on our way to Eisenstadt.

The church had wonderful acoustics – surprisingly so for a relatively small space (it did, however, have a very tall dome). The local orchestra sounded fantastic but clearly was very humble –  the quality and attitude of the players made it very clear that the performance standards are much different to what we are used to in Hawaii and the US in general and that music is an art taken very seriously in Austria – we could only imagine what the professional ensembles in Vienna would sound like and how competitive they must be.

It was a bit crowded in the church's choir loft! 

Carlyn's score looked a little different from the others. 

Back to hotel, we went to the Admiral, a local sports bar with some sort of betting machines and games of chance, where we watched another World Cup game – this time between France and Argentina.

Inspired by the match, Karol, Michał, Naomi, Keane, and Bowe decided to watch Portugal face off Uruguay at 8:00 pm, while Sarah, Pat, Carlyn, and Lena went to see Falstaff at the opera.

At the opera. 

Bowe, wearing a Portugal shirt, lead us to the lively Brickmakers Pub & Kitchen. Unfortunately, despite a showing of Ronaldo’s thighs that would soon become an internet sensation, the Portuguese team lost and Bowe joined the growing group of those of us who had to hang up their shirts.

This image sums up the game. 

After the game, we headed home and called it a day!

Day 17 – Au revoir France, Willkommen Österreich!

In the morning of our 17th day, we cleaned up and packed. We then took the RER C train and then the RER B train to the Charles de Gaulle (CDG) airport. We awkwardly had to leave the station at St. Michell–Notre Dame to buy another set of tickets for the airport and then re-enter the subway as we were not able to buy the right ticket at the RER C station (Javel) where we began our trip.

Other than that little detour, our journey went smoothly. Our plane to Vienna was slightly delayed, but the flight itself was a breeze as most of us dozed off. We finally landed in Vienna around 4 pm.

Can you spot Lena, Naomi, and Bowe? 

As we arrived much earlier than the Masterworks Tour group, we ordered our own shuttle to “Mercure” hotel in Vienna (for €60). Upon checking in, we settled into our rooms, and went around to explore. Karol, Keane, Michał, and Naomi stumbled upon a Kangaroo Bar (there is a fair amount of Australian references in Austria, probably poking fun at some travelers confusing the two countries!) where we sampled our first Austrian beers. The verdict was mixed and we decided more tastings will be required to arrive at a verdict.

In the evening, there was some confusion – we would later find out that the itinerary we received from World Projects would often be adjusted –and the dinner was moved from our hotel to a restaurant on the other side of Vienna! The bus also left 15 minutes earlier than what we expected based on the itinerary and, Naomi Lena and Michał had to take an uber, while Scott and Marcus rerouted their airport shuttle to drop them directly to the restaurant!

The famous Wiener Schnitzel!

Apfelstrudel with a dab of whipped cream!

The dinner in the large restaurant hall consisted of a beef broth, wiener schnitzel with a side of potatoes, and an Apfelstrudel for dessert. In case anyone was still not convinced they were in Austria, an accordion player serenaded the group during the meal. With all the stereotypes professionally affirmed by a venue that expertly caters to American groups, everyone surely felt they received an authentic experience!

Scott and Marcus loved their wiener schnitzels! Karolers featured in the background. 
Picture by Katherine Crosier. 

In the later evening, Karol, Keane, Michał went on a night walk around town to explore further and get their bearings for the next day. Vienna was not short on night life and it was both a pedestrian and bicycle friendly. We also noted that everyone seems to observe traffic lights and there are almost no jaywalkers. Having had our first taste of Austria, we got back to the hotel, ready for the next day.

Day 16 – Paris Adventures

With everyone (sans Cliff) finally assembled in Paris, it was time to split up and enjoy some freedom! And so, while Michał and Naomi explored Versailles (which, unfortunately, looked better in the pictures than it did in real life – seems like it has been a hot summer!), Lena and Bowe went to Saint Chapelle and to a Gustav Klimt immersive modern exhibit that Sarah researched a few weeks earlier.

I think the Mona Lisa just got replaced by this crêpe-savoring vixen. 

I think the Mona Lisa just got replaced by this crêpe-savoring vixen. 

Naomi was not a happy camper when she found out that all the entrances around the Versailles are closed! We had to circle back and access the gardens through the main entrance, adding an extra mile or two to our morning! 

Naomi was not a happy camper when she found out that all the entrances around the Versailles are closed! We had to circle back and access the gardens through the main entrance, adding an extra mile or two to our morning! 

Bowe got Klimt'ed!

Bowe got Klimt'ed!

Keane went to the Louvre, and while waiting for the museum to open, he spied a familiar looking group and ended up talking story to with a family from Maui! He spent 3 hours taking in the stupendous collection. He especially enjoyed seeing the Mona Lisa and the Winged Victory in person.

Keane at the Louvre!

Mona Lisa!

Winged Victory!

In the meantime, Scott and Marcus traveled back in time in an antique car ride around Paris and – allegedly – were received like celebrities (that they, beyond any doubt, are in their own right) everywhere they went!

Marcus enjoying some antique pastries after his antique car ride! 

In the evening, Bowe, Lena, Scott, Marcus, and Naomi attended a choral concert at the Cathedral de Notre Dame –  Clare College Choir from Camrbidge and the Notre Dame choir (La Maîtrise Notre-Dame de Paris)  joined for a double choir performance of various works – Britten’s Rejoice in the Lamb, Martin’s Mass for Double Choir, Elgar’s Lux Aeterna, and Tippett’s Five African-American Spirituals. The concert was phenomenal – Naomi, who had to study Rejoice in the Lamb for her graduate auditions, believed it was one of the best choral performances she attended.  

Notre-Dame before the concert! 

Scott posed with Naomi inside the cathedral.

But chose to sit with Marcus instead. Typical.

The group then met up with the three musketeers, Karol, Michał, and Keane at Fréd and Georges’ apartment – just a 15 min walk away from the cathedral – for an apéro-dîner (pupus) and drinks. We all enjoyed a variety of meats, cheeses, and an AMAZING butter from Normandy. Georges’ special of the night was a fancy Martinique rum and lime drink, which Bowe and Naomi especially liked. As usual, Fréd and Georges have been amazing hosts and have outdone themselves yet again!

Time to say goodbye (for now!). Merci beaucoup, Fréd et Georges! 

Some of us (the usual suspects) stayed till almost midnight, and barely caught the very last metro home! Although we were prepared to walk through the entire city, we were glad it did not come to that – after all, we had to squeeze in some sleep before traveling to Austria the next day.

Day 15 – La Madeleine

On Wednesday morning, Bowe prepared a gourmet breakfast for everyone! Eggs Benedict in home-made hollandaise sauce on english muffins with other delicious stuff to eat as well! What a way to start our day in Paris! 

Chef Bowe strikes again! 

Chef Bowe strikes again! 

After breakfast, Karol and Michał prepared a printed program for the Madeleine.  A few of us also went to grab a café crême at our favorite local Parisian café. It was refreshing to be able to get a decent coffee for € 1.00 or € 1.50 and just enjoy the morning over a conversation. We also visited our favorite local printer and agreed on a pickup time for the 100 simple, black and white, two-sided, half-page programs printed on a semi-glossy card-stock.

After we got home from the chores, we held a full-group rehearsal of the 1-hour program at the apartment. We finished just in time to change and get to the Madeleine at a leisurely pace. Karol, Michał, and Naomi, went early to make a stop at the print shop to pick up the programs and say thank you and goodbye to the print master, but within half an hour everyone met up at the Madeleine.

This monsieur has definitely saved us by delivering on all of our printing needs! 

This monsieur has definitely saved us by delivering on all of our printing needs! 

The Madeleine was beautiful and spacious. After talking with the staff of the church, they sent for the sacristan, who led us to a room behind the altar, where we were able to put down our belongings and get organized. We were then greeted by another person (presumably a nun) who greeted us and briefly went over the logistics with Michał, whom she asked to introduce the choir in French as well.

The Karolers at the Madeleine. After the breakfast, Bowe's belt did not fit him anymore. 

The Karolers at the Madeleine. After the breakfast, Bowe's belt did not fit him anymore. 

We were able to have a short sound check in the space and were all amazed by the outer-worldly acoustics we experienced. Shortly after, we lined up for our concert and gave it a go! You can find some recordings below – hope you enjoy!

Karolers at the Madeleine on June 27, recorded by Pat Lambert Connelly

After the concert, Michał and Karol met up with their friend Fréderic. Michał met Fréd when studying abroad in Paris in 2006 and 2007, and they sung together at the Sorbonne with OCUP (Orchestres et Choeurs d'Universités de Paris) – the French university choirs.

In the meantime, Bowe led Lena, Naomi, Keane, Scott and Marcus through Paris. They unfortunately missed the entrance time to the Sainte Chapelle, but ended up having a fabulous after-concert meal at a restaurant off the street.

The crew relaxing on the steps in Paris. The empty cups, represent Karol and Michał who are somewhere else, imbibing. 

The crew relaxing on the steps in Paris. The empty cups, represent Karol and Michał who are somewhere else, imbibing. 

As you can imagine, bottles of wine were immediately ordered and Naomi also spotted escargots on the menu. To everyone’s surprise, they came out on a platter still in their shells! The waiter was friendly and entertaining and demonstrated how to hold the shell with a contraption in one hand and use a small fork with the other to pop out the specimen.

They made it to the S  acré-Cœur!

They made it to the Sacré-Cœur!

The arc! 

The arc! 

A Pyramid!

A Pyramid!

The group climbed up many steps to the Sacré-Cœur, visited the Arc de Triomphe, and went to see the lit up pyramid of Louvre at night. Eventually, everyone ended up in the same place – our large apartment overlooking the Seine river.

Day 14 – Chartres

After having done a lot of driving and a late first night in Paris, the Karolers enjoyed a late morning at the apartment. Karol and Keane, of course, did their regular run around town followed up by floor exercises. Soon after, Naomi, Karol, and Michał went to a nearby copy shop to fix printing mistakes (one page was missing from the score of Down to the River!). The three met up with Carlyn for a café crême and the small group also grabbed sandwiches for everyone for a brunch at home. The group ate and relaxed a bit before a noon rehearsal that we held to prepare for our concert at the Chartres cathedral later that day.

The view from our apartment in Paris was pas mal du tout! 

The view from our apartment in Paris was pas mal du tout! 

We left around 1 pm and took a local metro train before transferring over at the Montparnasse station.  We had some trouble getting tickets but Naomi and Carlyn were able to go up to the window and purchase the correct fare for the regional train, different from the metro or even the farther-reaching RER trains.  

After our train ride, which lasted about an hour and fifteen minutes, we made arrived in Chartres (fun fact: Carlyn insisted on calling the town Chartreuse). We checked the return train schedule, just in case, as there was a railroad workers' strike going on in France and some services were interrupted. We then walked to the church in the hot afternoon sun, which Bowe did not appreciate too much.  

The cathedral itself was easy to find as it towered over the entire city. It was as huge as it was beautiful. Once inside we took the space in while waiting for the music program manager. After a short greeting, we were led to nearby courtyard where we had a little bit of time to prepare and rehearse.

Inside the enormous Chartres Cathedral.

Inside the enormous Chartres Cathedral.

Our concert started promptly at 5 pm and lasted just under forty minutes (Bowe clocked 5:37 pm as the official end time). The cathedral's music manager was happy with our program and – considering there was only 7 of us – I think we did pretty well. We, unfortunately, do not have any recordings from the concert but we will cherish the memory. All in all, we also had a pretty large audience, probably between 50 and 100 people sat down to listen to our short program! 

A banner picture in front of the cathedral after the concert. 

A banner picture in front of the cathedral after the concert. 

After the concert, we made our way back to the train station. Feeling a little hungry, we stopped over at a Kebab place and treated ourselves to a cheap meal. The train ride back took 1 hour and 10 min.  For the first 20 min of the ride we were pleasantly entertained by a young French couple that audibly displayed a lot of flirtatious affection and had as laughing the entire time. After they left we had a quiet rest of the ride.

We made a quick stop for kebabs before catching the train! 

We made a quick stop for kebabs before catching the train! 

After another transfer to the local metro, we walked back to the apartment where we met Scott, who finally arrived – albeit sans Marcus who was not able to get on his standby flight and was due to arrive the next morning. Not much later, Sarah joined us and our quintet – Naomi, Sarah, Bowe, Karol, and Scott, rehearsed Byrd’s Mass for 5 Voices while Lena and Keane went down to the store to buy groceries for the next day.

Having had enough adventures for the day, the group decided against going out bowling, and while Keane and Naomi snuck out for a night cap, the rest of us headed to bed.

Day 13 – Coucou Paris!

Faced with limited cooking options at the apartment, we decided to seek a petit-déjeuner in the streets of Dijon. After accidentally entering a teahouse that only served croissants (apart from a wide selection of tea and coffee), we pivoted to another restaurant across the street. Karol ordered a waffle (un gaufre) with nutella and the remaining five of us ordered an “English breakfast” (déjeuner anglais), which consisted of creamy scrambled eggs, half-cooked bacon, a sliced baguette, and fruit confiture.

The only picture of the café in Dijon that I took! 

The only picture of the café in Dijon that I took! 

On the way back from breakfast, we ordered sandwiches for the road (baguettes, of course) at a local sandwich shop – our trip to Paris would be at least 3 hours long and we would attempt to make it without stopping. Having packed our bags in the morning definitely helped make a a quicker transition. Soon enough, Keane arrived with the van outside the apartment and we were on our way to the City of Light.

The drive from Dijon took us mostly through fields filled by rolled bails of hay and pastures where French cows were grazing or taking their afternoon naps. The two-lane freeway provided for a smooth journey; the road was well maintained and the traffic sparse and moving briskly at around 130 km/h (or around 80 mph, the legal limit). It all felt very comfortable and safe.

As soon as we remarked on the comfort of our journey, we witnessed the aftermath of two major car crashes. The scenes of accident reminded us of the importance of remaining alert and prudent despite the feeling of relaxation and safety invoked by the peacefully bucolic scenery and the carefree spirit of a summer vacation. More than ever we felt thankful for Karol and Keane taking their driving responsibilities seriously.

We distracted ourselves by solving math puzzles, trying to figure out the speed of the tip of the blade of a large wind turbine. The big fans seemed much smaller than they actually were, only a thorough examination of the size of a service door betraying their actual size. We estimated the that the blade of the turbine could be anywhere from twenty to thirty meters long and it accomplished a full rotation in between five and six seconds, and then used some math to find the speeds in miles per hour. It was fun!

Before we knew it, it was time to take a break. Thankfully, a rest stop appeared in the distance, and we pulled over to use the bathrooms and eat our fancy Dijon sandwiches. Making good time, we passed another toll before entering the home stretch to Paris. In the meantime, Carlyn was updating us on her arrival earlier that day and we were looking forward to seeing her in the evening!

We got sandwiches at the rest stop! 

We got sandwiches at the rest stop! 

Bowe was a hungry boy indeed! 

Bowe was a hungry boy indeed! 

We arrived at our apartment, a spacious 3-bedroom flat with a large living room right on the bank of the Seine, a little after 4:00 pm. The place was a little cluttered with little rugs, fuzzy pillows, and blankets, so we picked up a few things and stored them in the closet. We also moved some furniture around and voila – we ended up with a great living and rehearsal space!

We can all rehearse together! 

We can all rehearse together! 

Carlyn and Iam join us in Europe! 

Carlyn and Iam join us in Europe! 

Once we were reunited with Carlyn, we rehearsed our concert program and our group went to enjoy French crêpes at a local crêperie. After an eclectic meal with two many types of fancy crêpes to list, we went to see the Eiffel Tower sparkle from up close (it sparkles for 5 minutes on the hour, every hour between 9 pm and 1 am).

Ooh la la, so many crêpes! 

Ooh la la, so many crêpes! 

There was a lot of construction going on around the Eiffel Tower and in the surrounding Champs de Mars park, and we had to take several detours to climb up to Trocadero to enjoy the view. After the midnight sparkle was over, we navigated our way back home – about a 20 minute walk – and closed shop for the day. Bonne nuit!

Bowe, Lena, Michał, Naomi, Karol, Iam, Carlyn, and Keane! Bonne nuit! 

Bowe, Lena, Michał, Naomi, Karol, Iam, Carlyn, and Keane! Bonne nuit! 

Day 12 – Dole & Dijon

We got up around 7:00 am today and started getting ready for an 8:00 am departure from the chalet. Karol washed fruit and made some to-go sandwiches and we ate yogurt for breakfast while people took showers and packed. Lena, Naomi, and Bowe tidied up the room and the kitchen and Keane went to get the van.

Karol up at 7:00 am, making sandwiches for the road. Michał hoping to catch up on the blog. 

Naomi and Karol waiting for Keane to to bring the van around at the bottom of the hill. 

All set for our trip, we embarked on our journey to France. We made a stop in Lausanne, the fourth largest city in Switzerland, for coffee and a bathroom break. We were also hoping to pick up some Swiss chocolates for family and friends but it was a Sunday and at 9:30 am there were barely any people on the streets and all the shops were closed. Europeans – or at least the Swiss – are taking their time off from work seriously and value peace, quiet, and leisure – we could definitely use more of that in Hawaiʻi and the USA in general.

Making just another stop right before the border to buy some chocolates, Toblerone bars, and a special car liquid meant to reduce emissions, we crossed into France without incident, passport checks, or additional fees. Aiming for Dijon, we traveled through the French countryside and a number of small French towns, the scenery increasingly flat yet charming in a different way.

To break up our commute, we stopped for lunch in the town of Dole. After figuring out the parking situation (there is no through traffic allowed in the town center, with the exception of deliveries (livraisons) and "river people" (riverains), those who live on the river bank. Michał found an interesting public restroom while Karol found a little park where we sat down and ate our sandwiches and fruits.

Bathroom break in Dole! 

Strolling around. 

Our lunch spot. Naomi made some friends! 

Little garden center next to what we thought was the old house of Louis Pasteur (not pictured). 

Taking advantage of our break, we explored a large church – the Collégiale Notre-Dame - with a beautiful organ and acoustics. The church also housed an exhibit of wooden carvings representing scenes from the life of Jesus. After we left the church we went around what we thought was the former house of Louis Pasteur. Bowe and Karol also noticed that the church bells sound a lot like the theme from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.

We came up upon a beautiful church in Dole! 

Immaculate wooden carvings adore the organ pipes! 

An intricate carved wood exhibit - turns it was based on frames from a French comic book about the life and death of Jesus! 

An intricate carved wood exhibit - turns it was based on frames from a French comic book about the life and death of Jesus! 

It was a one-hour drive to Dijon. While Karol and Keane were parking the van in a nearby municipal lot, the rest of us took our luggage up to a recently remodeled 2-bedroom apartment located in an otherwise unassuming and somewhat unkept 3-story building. The apartment was clean and modern, clearly still being worked on (the shower curtain and towel bars were not installed, for example) but which otherwise was very functional and would suit us just fine for one night!

After freshening up, we strolled down a few minutes to le Barbarian, an Irish bar that was broadcasting the 5:00 pm game between Japan and Senegal. Their kitchen was not open until 7:00 pm and the hostess suggested we go around the corner, to the King's Tavern, and so we did. There, we ordered a few charcuterie platters, some burgers, scotch eggs, and a “welsh” – a fondue-like melted cheese served in a ceramic bowl with bread on the bottom. We expertly paired our meals with local beers – except for Bowe, who unwittingly ordered a non-alcoholic Queen Elizabeth. From now on, he is only allowed in the company of alcoholic queens.

At the King's Tavern we were able to get drinks AND food! 

Our evening repas made us all a little tired. After the game finished, we headed back home to rest. Lena and Keane stopped at the nearby “American Store” along the way to buy a bottle of wine, while we marveled at the amalgamation of disgusting sweets, chips, and sugary drinks that became foreign to us on this trip but are so common place in all 7-11’s and American convenience stores.  The stereotype of unhealthy American food is still well and alive in Europe, but – unfortunately – the foundations of that stereotype are even more alive in the US.

Bowe looking for a refund on his citizenship. 

Back at home, Bowe caught the group up on accounting and finances (we are keeping all of our group expenses in a spreadsheet and keeping track of our “I Owe You’s,” which proves to be very helpful) and tuned into the Columbia vs. Poland game game that Keane found on the telly. Karol, in the meantime, knocked out cold in another room. After the game was over (it ended in a resounding defeat for Poland, eliminating it from the World Cup), loud snoring coming out from under the coffee table reminded us that it was Keane o’clock.  Soon, we all found our way to our sleeping quarters and called it a night. 

Day 11 – Les Diablerets

Woken up by the church bells – again – Bowe and Naomi tackled breakfast duty while the boys researched activities for the day. We found that there was a way for us to ascend to the top of a 3000m mountain using a large gondola lift that was located at Col du Pillon, a small base camp at an altitude of 1500m, a one hour drive from our Gryon. We decided that the attraction and views should be worth the hefty 80CH (about $80) per person tab and we decided to check it out – but not until Keane and Bowe duked it out at the foosball table! 

We decided that the popular morning show, "Breakfasts with Bowe," will be renewed for the entire season, running through July 2018. Thanks, Bowe! 

Bowe shaped the eggs to match the baguettes. Or did he shape the baguettes to match the eggs?

Turns out both of these guys' degrees are in foosball, not music. 

On our way we stopped by a Micros supermarket to pick up some provisions and snacks for the road so that we would not have to buy an expensive lunch on the mountain. Without any crazy off-the-road adventures, we arrived at the “Glacier 3000” cable lift with 20 minutes to spare to buy tickets and use the restrooms before boarding the next gondola.

Ready to head out for our next adventure! 

The gondolas of the "Glacier 3000" attraction.

The ascent up the mountain was epic with panoramic views all around. Towards the end of the ride, we were pulled above most of the surrounding mountains, which once passed gave way to more distant snowy peaks of the 4000m giants. We could also see hikers down below attempting the 4.5 hour steep hike from Col du Pillon to Les Cabanes – a stop where we also changed to another gondola, bound for Scex Rouge - our final destination.

Going up, up, up! Our altitude quickly changed from 1500m to 3000m. 

On our way up we could see more and more mountain tops. 

The top of the mountain was covered with snow. To access a mountain-top trail, we had to take a ski lift down from the main gondola's drop-off point. Then, after a mandatory snow fight, we went on a mile walk through the blinding snow to the Diablerets peak. The temperature was around 6 °C (about 42° F), and the snow was slowly beginning to melt, making it quite a workout to push on, our feet sinking a little bit with every step.

Down to the trail we go! 

Second half! 

Clearly, Lena's phone can make anyone look good. 

At least half an hour later, we arrived at the Quille du Diable – the devil’s pin – a large rock on the edge of a cliff, with a view of a beautiful valley. The boys went around the rock and explored the cliff’s edge, while the girls sat down in the sun on the benches of little mountain restaurant.

Lena is taking in the view from a little mountain top restaurant. 

Naomi spotted the boys on the other side of the Devil's Pin. 

There they are! 

Treats for the girls! 

In the meantime, the boys went around the rock. You can spot the restaurant where the girls stopped on the left of the Quille du Diable. 

What a dangerous climb! 

A brotherly selfie. 

And one with Bowe! 

Another one with Keane! The bright Murphy's hats allowed the girls to see us in the distance! 

Bowe being a model. 

Bowe's modeling career coming to a brisk end. 

Now, Karol's turn. 

No shoes were harmed during this photoshoot. 

Back at the mountain-top restaurant, we ordered some beverages and a delicious pastry and took more pictures. Soon enough, the wind picked up and the sun became overcast with clouds. We immediately felt the icy air penetrate our thin layers of clothing and decided to head back. More and more clouds descended, and we started getting worn out – we also noticed that due to the altitude we would run out of breath faster than usual.

Back to safety, sharing some beverages and laughs. 

This is the highest our banner has been so far! 

Almost back at the lift, Bowe, Keane, and Karol decided to make a short detour and have a sled race (there were no winners as all three were disqualified for terrible riding form).Before heading back down in the gondola, we went up to a lookout point that was accessible only by a 108m suspension bridge. Unfortunately, at this point we were in the middle of the clouds and could not see farther than 20ft in front of us!

Back on the ski lift, this time going up. 

Quick snack before heading to the view point. Can you tell that Naomi is freezing? 

We're in for a great view! 

Is that the Matterhorn in the distance? 

As close to the clouds as one can get! 

Having taken in some amazing views earlier, we were not too heartbroken – we also caught some more panoramas once the gondola descended a bit and we came out from under the clouds.

Naomi, tackling her fear of heights the entire day, bravely peeks through the window during the trip down in the Gondola. 

n tie It was about 4:30 pm and we headed back to the chalet, making another stop at the grocery store. For dinner, Bowe planned a corn chowder, which was accompanied by a delicious green salad, and followed by a desert of strawberries and fresh cream. The kitchen crew really outdid themselves this time!

After dinner, Karol, Michał, and Naomi snuck out to the bar the brothers discovered the night before, where we caught the second half of Sweden vs. Germany. Keane joined in time for the last few minutes of the game but was able to catch  all the replays and analysis after. Soon, we headed back home, the 20 minute walk taking only half the time as crisp air propelled Naomi to move faster than ever – for once it was the boys who had to keep up!

Back at home we realized that we all got sunburned at the glacier! In the cold we did not feel the sun as much but it certainly left its mark on us! Another full day coming to a close, we snuggled up in our bunk beds, ready for the tolling bells to wake us up in the morning.

Day 10 – Lucerne & Gryon

In the morning, while Bowe was serenaded by the bells of a neighboring church (the bells ring every hour!), Keane and Karol explored all three nearby castles on an athletic morning run. A little later, Michał and Naomi walked a path that looped around the closest two castles, which took just about an hour.

Bellinzona in the morning light. 

Bellinzona in the morning light. 

Keane ready to defend the castle.

Keane ready to defend the castle.

The Bellinzona guards patrolling the city limits in the morning. All clear! 

The Bellinzona guards patrolling the city limits in the morning. All clear! 

This guard is late for duty! 

This guard is late for duty! 

Looking for enemies. Or is it truffles? 

Looking for enemies. Or is it truffles? 

Can you spot Naomi in front of her castle? (this is castle #2)

Can you spot Naomi in front of her castle? (this is castle #2)

Keane and Karol came back and prepared breakfast which consisted of breads, cheese, deli meats, and strawberries – all purchased at the local store. Naomi also made smoothies from some of the more ripe fruits we had left over, which would likely not make it much longer riding with us in the car. They were delicious! 

During breakfast, we did some planning. Our next stop was booked in the Alps but it turned out that it was only accessible by a series of cable cars. Yikes! Because of our last minute booking, the host informed us that she would not be able to get to it on time to make it ready and we also realized that we might easily get stuck in a very remote location. As Naomi cancelled the booking, Michał found a backpackers hostel south-east of Lausanne, in Gryon – a small town nestled in the mountains.

In the meantime, Bowe looked up things to do in Lucerne, a fairy-tale town in the middle of Switzerland where we were planning to make a stop for lunch and sightseeing.

Another breakfasts for the books, thank you food, and thank you cooks! 

Another breakfasts for the books, thank you food, and thank you cooks! 

After breakfast, Keane and Karol finished their laundry. The European washing machine operating manual turned to be a little bit of a challenge and it took four cycles for Naomi and two cycles for Keane to get their loads washed and dried. By the time Michał used the machine, there was no time left for a full drying session and we ended up getting creative and hanging up and his clothes up all around the van!

Running out of her motion-sickness medication, Naomi found a pharmacy where they prescribed the European version dramamine, Itinerol B6, which works great! We headed out around noon. We made a pit stop at the second castle and then headed straight for Lucerne.

One more look of the castle! 

One more look of the castle! 

The two and a half hour drive was was filled with gorgeous sights – small towns built around azure lakes and nestled in green mountains, small and grand waterfalls gushing water, and an epic backdrop of the Alps. You have to take our word for it, as we didn't take any pictures! 

We also drove through several tunnels – including one of the longest road tunnels in Europe, the 11 mile long Gotthard Road Tunnel. Naomi currently holds the European record for sleeping through the entire 11 miles. As soon as we got out of the tunnel the signs were noticeably auf Deutsch.

Lucerne – or Luzern, as it was displayed on the German road signs – was an incredibly charming town. We walked across a beautiful 15th-century wooden bridge, the Chapel Bridge, that led to the Old Town. The bridge caught fire once, and the some of the burnt pieces were reused during the repairs to remind people of the dangers of playing with fire. 

A group selfie by the lake! 

A group selfie by the lake! 

On a 15th century wooden bridge in Lucerne.

On a 15th century wooden bridge in Lucerne.

We also paid a visit to the Hofkirche, a medieval Romanesque basilica, rebuilt in the 1630’s. We remarked the very different style and decor from the Italian cathedrals. Bowe admired the mighty organ pipes, which seem to get a lot of action – there is an entire season of organ concerts with weekly performances scheduled from July to September!

Walking up the steps to the Hofkirche in Lucerne.  

Walking up the steps to the Hofkirche in Lucerne.  

Bowe admires the organs, Naomi looks very reverent. 

Bowe admires the organs, Naomi looks very reverent. 

The mighty organ pipes! 

The mighty organ pipes! 

We walked a little more and came upon the Lion Monument. A giant sculpture of a mortally wounded lion carved into sandstone quarry. It was designed by Danish sculptor and represents the Swiss guard massacred while trying to protect the French king, Louis XVI, during the French Revolution.

The wounded lion. 

The wounded lion. 

We then split up for an hour to explore on our own. Michał, Keane, Karol, and Naomi got some kebabs (again!) while Bowe and Lena went to an Italian restaurant where they enjoyed tomato soup and salad and a mushroom risotto. We also did some shopping – Michał bought a black button-down concert shirt at H&M (because he forgot to pack one in Hawaii!) and Naomi got some chocolate fudge and truffle treats.

Although the World Cup game between Iceland and Nigeria just started, we had over three hours of driving ahead of us and had to be on our way. The longer we drove, the more mountains we saw. At some point we also realized the signage changed from German to French – we were now entering the French-speaking part of Switzerland!

Before heading up the mountain into the isolated town of Gryon, we made a stop in the town of Bex to pick up some groceries. We arrived there right around 8:00 pm and most stores were already closed. Thankfully, we were able to locate an open Portuguese specialty grocery, where we bought bread, meat, and cheese and had our first exchange in French.

On our way up to Gryon, navigator Keane blinked for a second and driver Karol took us onto an ever-narrowing one-lane road that went winding up the scenic mountain, providing up-close views of many scenic ways for our van to go off the cliff and tumbling down the Alps! That evening, there was more screaming in the van than on an adventure roller coaster ride. Thankfully, we all made it out alive in the end. Miraculously, the van also made out without a single scratch and Karol definitely earned his driver stripes.

Arriving at our mountain chalet in Gryon. 

Arriving at our mountain chalet in Gryon. 

View of the chalet. 

View of the chalet. 

We arrived at the Chalet Martin – our mountain retreat home for the next two nights – around 8:30 pm, and were greeted by a jovial redhead Brit in his mid-30’s named Merlin, who has taken over the operations of the chalet from its Swiss owners. Merlin gave us the tour of the chalet, which had a large shared kitchen and living spaces, and a shared bathroom with three shower stalls. Our private room was small but cozy. We had a mountain view and we were perfectly happy sharing three bunk beds.

Sunset in the Swiss Alps as seen from Chalet Martin. 

Sunset in the Swiss Alps as seen from Chalet Martin. 

As the rest of the group started to unpack the groceries and prepared a dinner snack, Karol and Michał decided to stretch their legs and walk up the road to explore. All of a sudden the mountains erupted with screams! Turns out, Switzerland just scored their a second goal against Serbia, breaking the tie and putting them in the lead! Unable to resist this siren song, the brothers followed the sounds of the Swiss serenades straight to the source – surprise – a nearby bar. The bar featured delicious "blonde" beer and a big-screen broadcast of the match. We only caught the last 5 minutes of the game, and when Bowe texted us threatening to eat the toast that was saved for us, we quickly made our way back.

He can eat AND cook! For booking and to check availability email keane@karolers.org

He can eat AND cook! For booking and to check availability email keane@karolers.org

Toast and peaches for dinner! 

Toast and peaches for dinner! 

Meanwhile, somewhere in the Alps..

Meanwhile, somewhere in the Alps..

Ah, the taste of Switzerland!  

Ah, the taste of Switzerland!  

Reunited at the chalet, the group finished their dinner snack and chatted about the plans for next day. Once in our bunk beds, we felt like we are on a middle school camp. Very happy with Switzerland so far, we fell asleep dreaming of mountains, cliffs, and glaciers.

Day 9 – Genoa and Bellinzona

The next day in Cassagna Michał was supposed to cook breakfast. It could not have gone any better for him – he slept through the entire morning and woke up to the smells of Keane and Karol’s delicious homemade carbonara. Bacon bits, egg yolks, and delicious fresh Italian pasta were all mixed together to produce a hearty meal.

"How Michał   made Carbonara."

"How Michał made Carbonara."

When breakfast was over, we finished packing and went down the winding mountain path, passing small vineyards and the mine that probably employed most of the townsfolk back in the day. After making a few stop to take in the scenery, we were on our way to Genoa with our quest to find the source of Genoa salami!

Goodbye, Cassagna! 

Goodbye, Cassagna! 

One picture with our banner! 

One picture with our banner! 

Karol looking for salami already. Silly Karol, salami is waiting for us in Genoa! 

Karol looking for salami already. Silly Karol, salami is waiting for us in Genoa! 

After an hour drive and squeezing our large van into a tiny garage (and an even tinier parking space, thanks to Keane’s mastery), we decided to split up and explore. Bowe, Lena, and Naomi were set on finding out what the Italian McDonald McFlurries are all about and seeking out the best cut of salami in Genoa. In the meantime, Karol, Keane, and Michał speed-walked through the streets of Genoa to the Porto Antico – the ancient port from which Christopher Columbus departed on many adventures – and then dove into the largest Aquarium in Europe.

We are off to see the fishes! 

We are off to see the fishes! 

The aquarium exhibit was indeed quite large, with about 40 rooms dedicated to different marine and tropical lifeforms, and included a large shark tank and an even bigger dolphin tank. The exhibit was well annotated and there was an emphasis on preservation of marine life and conservation of freshwater.

Michał checking out the manatees! 

Michał checking out the manatees! 

Keane's teeth are as sharp as the piranhas'! 

Keane's teeth are as sharp as the piranhas'! 

On our way back to meet the rest of the team at the Piazza de Ferrari. 

On our way back to meet the rest of the team at the Piazza de Ferrari. 

When other reports came it was confirmed that Italian McFlurries are in fact delicious and that – to our surprise – Genoa is, in fact, not known for its Salami but for its Pesto! Naomi purchased some type of salami, however, and it was fantastic. It can be concluded that Genoa knows what it’s talking about when it comes to food.

They finished their quest with time to spare for some coffee and snacks! 

They finished their quest with time to spare for some coffee and snacks! 

As we headed north towards Switzerland, we passed many road tolls, and had to pay customs (around 40CH, about $40) when crossing the boarded, but we did not go through a search or a passport check. On the way, the group shared a little about their favorite sights and experiences so far.

Favorite Experiences So far

Looking into the nave of St. Peter’s from the dome and having a wonderful conversation in Italian with a lady of the church in a beautiful, golden church in Firenze.
— Keane
Seeing the statue of Achilles in London. It inspired me to work out with Keane on a daily basis.
— Karol
Seeing the Vatican and the statue of David.
— Bowe
Seeing David and reflecting on the craftsmanship, the attention to detail, and the biblical story. Also the experience of walking up to the Dome of St. Peter’s Basilica.
— Lena
First view of the enormity of the Vatican City and walking up to the Dome right when the choir started singing. Favorite experience is also laughing for minutes on end with the group.
— Naomi
Getting out of the big cities, spontaneous discovery of new things, like Puccini’s house, experiencing new things together with friends.
— Michał

When we finally, as Naomi put it, “arrived in the Swiss,” the scenery has quickly changed. Everything was very green and all of a sudden we were driving through valleys.

In the later afternoon we finally arrived at our apartment in Bellinzona, a small town in the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland, which happened to be a UNESCO heritage site, hosting three medieval castles within its city limits. We stayed in repurposed offices of the beautiful Bellinzona school of journalism, right in the middle of town and walking distance from the castle.

Bellinzona

Bellinzona

Our host, Matteo Cheda, explained how the town of Bellinzona was always very literate and even the poorest people would learn how to read and write. He told us that when the Swiss from the region migrated to Northern California, there were many letters going back and forth and a lot of history was documented this way.

View from our balcony. 

View from our balcony. 

View of the balcony. 

View of the balcony. 

Karol pondering. 

Karol pondering. 

The Swiss are serious about recycling! 

The Swiss are serious about recycling! 

After earning our PhD's in history of Bellinzona, we went out to explore the town center where a blues festival was going on. We quickly discovered that everything is pretty pricy in Switzerland!

With the Swiss Crown being an equivalent of the US Dollar, the prices were as high or higher as they are in Hawaii when it came to everything from groceries to restaurant meals. Not being able to find a good spot with a reasonably priced dinner menu, Bowe and Lena headed back to make a meal at home, while Naomi, Michał, Karol and Keane stumbled upon $10 kebabs. Feeling extremely guilty about eating so cheaply, they grabbed a few beers to compensate, sat down by a nearby fountain and talked about their journey.

Up the first castle in search for a meal we go! Turns out you have to be a king to afford one! 

Up the first castle in search for a meal we go! Turns out you have to be a king to afford one! 

Keane's rocking his mountain sandals.

Keane's rocking his mountain sandals.

Bowe's reaction to Keane's sandals. 

Bowe's reaction to Keane's sandals. 

When we went back to our spacious apartments (we were given access to two flats) we were able to quickly fall asleep – despite some noisy Italians conversing loudly in the square right outside our window. In the morning, Bowe would find out that noisy Italians are the least of his worries, but more about that later!  

Day 8 – Pisa & Cassagna

In the morning, Karol went for a run with Keane and scouted out a good area for a later pick up. Today we were all going to try a first for all of us – touring Europe in a 9-passenger van! Karol and Keane went to pick up the van at the airport, while the rest of us cleaned and checked out of the apartment. We met at a bridge and after some muscling of the back seats to allow for all of our luggage to fit in the back, we were on our way! 

View from the pick-up point. Not too bad. 

View from the pick-up point. Not too bad. 

How does this folding seat work?

How does this folding seat work?

Party in the back. Karol and Keane are switching off chauffeur duties. 

Party in the back. Karol and Keane are switching off chauffeur duties. 

On our route to Pisa, Bowe organized some car games. We went around naming animals in alphabetical order, but before adding a new animal we had to name all the ones that came before. This is what we came up with (we had too look up Xenon):

Ant, Baboon, Chicken, Donkey, Elephant, Ferret, Gnat, Hog, Iguana, Jellyfish, Kangaroo, Lice, Manta Ray, Nightingale, Otter, Porcupine, Queen Bee, Raptor, Salamander, Three-Toed Sloth, Urchin, Water Buffalo, Xenon, Yak, Zebra.
— Naomi, Michał, Bowe, Keane, Karol, Lena

Once we completed the animal cycle, we changed the category to movies. It took us all the way to Pisa, and we even had to finish a few letters after. Here are the movie titles that came up:

Alice in Wonderland, Beethoven, Cars, Dave, Ever After, Fight Club, Gangs of New York, Home Alone, Incredible Hulk, Jumanji, Kung Fu Panda, Love Actually, Mean Girls, Neverland, Omen, Philadelphia, Quiet Place, Return of the King, Something About Mary, Time to Kill, Under the Tuscan Sun, V for Vendetta, Where the Wild Things Are, X-Men, You’ve Got Mail, Zombieland.
— Lena, Karol, Keane, Bowe, Michał, Naomi

 

It was a bright, sunny day in Pisa. We found good secure parking close to the main tourist attraction and walked from there. Once we entered the Piazza di Miracoli, tourists from all over the world were taking funny pictures with the Leaning Tower in the background.

Piazza dei Miracoli - captured in an almost-miraculous panoramic shot. 

Piazza dei Miracoli - captured in an almost-miraculous panoramic shot. 

We made it to Pisa! 

We made it to Pisa! 

After our photo shoot, we navigated our way past the touristy stands and butiques and took the opportunity to get grocery provisions for the road, including a vareity of cold cuts and fruits for lunch. We decided to drive a little bit to a beach park to see the Mediterranean Sea. From the beach, we could make out the Gorgona Scalo island in the horizon, and the Apuan Alps when looking away from the beach.

Lunch in the car. 

Lunch in the car. 

Getting our feet wet in the Mediterranean! 

Getting our feet wet in the Mediterranean! 

Group shot with the sea. You can see Italian monk seals in the back. 

Group shot with the sea. You can see Italian monk seals in the back. 

After having lunch on the Mediterranean shore, we went to see Giacomo Puccini’s former lake house which today serves as a museum. Unfortunately, the house was only accessible through guided tours scheduled every hour and we just missed the last one by a few minutes. From the lake shore, we had a good view of the mountain range. There was snow on the peaks of the tallest mountains, while some of the mountain sides seemed to be heavily eroded. As we looked more closely, we saw that in fact the naked sides were quarries. It turns out that the marble from this mountain range is some of the oldest and best-known in the world and that Michelangelo’s sculptures were made from this very marble!

A picture with Puccini! We had butterflies in our stomachs! 

A picture with Puccini! We had butterflies in our stomachs! 

We drove another 2 hours to the town of where we ended up buying groceries for dinner. We then took a breath-taking 30 minutes drive up a narrow winding road (I think I counted 18 hairpin turns!) up to the tiny mountainous village of Cassagna passing picturesque houses and step-farms and the miners’ bar. Once in Cassagna, we were delighted to find our accommodations to be a hobbit house – possibly a remodeled attic. Our host, Aurora, greeted us warmly and told us that today the village consisted of 10 people (aged from 3 to 102) and 25 cats.

Karol's ready to move in to Cassagna. 

Karol's ready to move in to Cassagna. 

Puccini's lake house had some nice views. 

Puccini's lake house had some nice views. 

This is a boat garage. 

This is a boat garage. 

After we unpacked, we reviewed our music and sang to half of the village – the half that resided in the same building that we did. Our European premiere was humble but special. The residents did not speak English, but waved and smiled. Careful not to overstay our welcome, we ducked back into our hobbit hole. 

A little liquid courage before our European debut! 

A little liquid courage before our European debut! 

Bowe and Naomi took on dinner duty. The two made gnocchi and ravioli that we bought fresh at the store (in Italy, you can buy fresh pasta that cook in 2 minutes) and a mix of vegetables, including local zucchini and peppers. A side of Martina’s wine, of course, tied the whole meal together. Compliments to the chefs, the dinner was delicious!

Dinner of gnocchi, ravioli, and wine. World Cup streaming in the background, of course. 

Dinner of gnocchi, ravioli, and wine. World Cup streaming in the background, of course. 

Soon enough, Keane was snoring on the sofa bed and we all followed suit within minutes.

Day 7 – Florence

Having packed our bags in the morning we grabbed coffee, croissants, and sandwiches at a café across the street. Then, Karol, Keane, Naomi, Lena, and Bowe joined the ticket line to the Vatican museum, while Michał decided to skip the attraction to finally catch up on the Karolers blog in some peace and quiet.

Alas, it was not meant to be for Michał to enjoy his peace and quiet. The rest of the group gave up on their quest of reaching the Sistine Chapel after estimating a 2-hour wait in the ticket and admission lines and stormed the apartment back within 15 minutes of their departure. We decided that it would be more worth our time to catch an earlier train to Florence and have more time to explore there. 

Getting ready for a visit to the Vatican Museum. 

Getting ready for a visit to the Vatican Museum. 

We discovered that trains leave every 30 minutes and headed out to the nearest metro station (Ottaviano) and took off for the main terminal (Termini) where we would transfer to a Trenitalia regional train. After buying our tickets from a ticket kiosk (€48 each – yikes!  – it seems that same-day purchases are more expensive than buying ahead of time), we only had 6 minutes to get to our train. Worse yet, we could not easily spot our platform number!

Thanks to what could have only been providence,  an unassuming fairy godmother – a rather heavy set wrinkled woman with gold teeth – has come to our rescue!  Out of the goodness of her heart, she led us to a posted schedule and then even accompanied us briskly to the correct platform. In a fairy godmother-like gesture, she extended her palm and asked for money, presumably a donation for a new magic wand – or a dentist appointment, and as soon as Michał’s two-euro coin landed in her clutches, the fairy godmother disappeared in a puff of magic smoke, which could have only come out from one place. 

The train had assigned seats and was very comfortable. As we sped through the country side and various tunnels, the variations in cabin pressure kept our ears popping throughout the ride. The train offered free wireless service, however, it required a registration through an insecure portal which prompted for credit card information.

Michał decided to chance it and immediately after sourcing the digits to his bank, VISA sent him a fraud alert via text message, reporting a $0.01 charge on his card – yikes!  At this point all he could do is cross his fingers in hopes that his card wouldn't be overdrawn by the fairy godmother (who else!) by time we would debark the train in Florence!

On the train to Florence we got to see the Italian country side for the first time. 

On the train to Florence we got to see the Italian country side for the first time. 

Our apartment in Florence was situated by the Ponte Vecchio – the Old Bridge – which was a 20 minute walk from the train station. We shlepped our luggage through the middle of Florence and ended up arriving an hour and a half before our scheduled check-in time. We sat down at a small snack shop where we ordered something to hold us over. Naomi got a hot-dog on a hamburger bun, while Lena and Keane ordered pasta. Karol got a tasty cheese platter, while Michał quickly chomped on his burger and went around to check out the exact location of our AirBnB, which turned out was on top of a ceramic shop not far from the bridge. 

Ponte Vecchio - a peculiar bridge with apartments and shops built into it. 

Ponte Vecchio - a peculiar bridge with apartments and shops built into it. 

We ducked in for snack in an alley while waiting for our check-in time.

We ducked in for snack in an alley while waiting for our check-in time.

Who would have thought that Florence would offer delicious hamburgers?

Who would have thought that Florence would offer delicious hamburgers?

We still had a little bit of time left after we finished our meal and so we moved our luggage to a gate outside the shop. As Karol guarded the luggage, Keane tended to a bottle of wine that was in dire need of getting some attention, Lena went sought out gelato, Bowe strutted to a stationary shop, and Naomi and Michał found a cute wine shop, where an enthusiastic and friendly Italian shopkeeper named Martina helped the two to a wine tasting paired with bread and cheese. Naturally, Naomi and Michał arrived late (but in good spirits) to the check-in.

Naomi couldn't decide between sparkling rosé and sparkling white (she went with the white). 

Naomi couldn't decide between sparkling rosé and sparkling white (she went with the white). 

Our host, Mery, was very friendly and helpful. After making copies of our passports (which is the preferred identification form here) she led us to our cute 3-bed 2-bath flat. We decided to waste no time and went exploring right away. Keane has been to Florence before and suggested we say “Hello” to David and visit the Florence Cathedral (also known as “Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore” or simply “Il Duomo di Firenze” – the dome of Florence).

Unfortunately, once we reached the cathedral, it was a repeat story from the Vatican Museum. Huge lines turning corners around the church and crowds and scalpers everywhere. Discouraged, we took in the architecture from the outside and proceeded to the Galleria dell’Accademia, to see David.

The Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore was impossible to get in, but amazing to see from outside. 

The Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore was impossible to get in, but amazing to see from outside. 

The lines at the Academia were still substantial but significantly shorter and seemed to move. There were three separate lines – one to buy tickets, one for those with pre-purchased tickets, and one for groups tours. Scalpers and tour guides were everywhere advertising skipping the line by joining their group tour for €30 but we decided against it, because the tickets only cost €8.

When Michał and Naomi left the group in line to get some water at a closeby store, a large number of people were let in, including the rest of our group! We had to rejoin the line and wait another 20 minutes – luckily, someone gave us their tickets and we did not have to pay admission – a small victory we rejoiced!

Full frontal. 

Full frontal. 

And profile. 

And profile. 

After our dose of perfection, we walked to an “Irish” bar to watch a definitely imperfect World Cup game between Poland and Senegal. The match was underwhelming, the menu limited, and Karol’s beer flat. And so we left before halftime to head – this time as an entire group – to Martina’s wine shop! There we talked about group dynamics, division of labor and our upcoming road trip routes – all while sipping on amazing wines and delicious dessert liqueurs.

Tasting amazing local wines! 

Tasting amazing local wines! 

An assortment of delicious liqueurs – can you guess the flavors? (We couldn't, we had to try them). 

An assortment of delicious liqueurs – can you guess the flavors? (We couldn't, we had to try them). 

The wines were top-notch! 

The wines were top-notch! 

Grazie mille, Martina! 

Grazie mille, Martina! 

Martina suggested that for dinner we head to “Alla Vecchia Bettola,” a rustic Tuscan restaurant away from the touristic epicenter. We had to wait a little bit to get a table for six, where – for the first time – we encountered an all-Italian menu with no English translations. We each decided to memorize one item and leave the rest up to chance!

Our plans have slightly changed once we saw a juicy 1 kg on-the-bone steak delivered to the table next to us. In what might have been the quickest financial decision the group made on the trip, we gladly swallowed the €48 price tag to get our hands on the beautiful piece of Italian meat. 

The interior of the All Vecchia Bertola – an authentic Tuscan restaurant in Florence! 

The interior of the All Vecchia Bertola – an authentic Tuscan restaurant in Florence! 

That's an Italian hunk of meat! 

That's an Italian hunk of meat! 

And the chef, another Italian hunk! 

And the chef, another Italian hunk! 

Bowe and Lena could not get over the steak! 

Bowe and Lena could not get over the steak! 

Gorged on food and in good spirits, we strolled home through the streets of Florence, only making a stop at La Carraia for a quick gelato to cool off from all the excitement of the day.  

Day 6 – More Rome

We started the day off a little more slowly today and putted around at home for a bit. After a morning coffee and croissant, the girls hand-washed some laundry in the bathtub (we did not have a washer or dryer at this apartment) and the boys joined in later as well.

Chocolate croissants and a delicious latte! 

Chocolate croissants and a delicious latte! 

Everything tastes better in great company. These three get the breakfast club award!

Everything tastes better in great company. These three get the breakfast club award!

There was a clothesline outside of one of the windows, but it was very squeaky and hard to pull and we did not have any clips that we could use to properly attach our clothes so we abandoned that idea. We laid out the laundry out to dry on chairs, doors, and used any spare hangers we could find in the closets around the house. After the chores were done, just like the laundry we hung around the house for a bit before heading out to check out an alleged pizza sensation that Lena’s friend suggested.

The pizza shop was so crowded, it could have easily been mistaken for the ticket booth to the Vatican. It was clear that the little pizza shop had a robust online presence and attracted people from all over. The pizza itself was available in a variety of toppings that came on top of a thick square slice. It was quite tasty, but I don’t think that any of us would say it’s a “must-eat” during your stay in Rome.

Pizza! 

Pizza! 

Having whetted our whistles with the deep dish slice, our eyes have eagerly scanned the neighborhood for a proper meal. Soon enough, we entered an unassuming but spacious restaurant which offered a large selections of reasonably priced lunch options. The restaurant was surprisingly cool for not having AC and was not busy at all, which suited us very well. The decor was simple with hospital-green seemingly being the overarching color theme. The food itself was very good. The paper-thin pizza, basil pesto gnocchi, and pasta were everything we could ask for. 

Delicious gnocchi and tasty pasta. 

Delicious gnocchi and tasty pasta. 

We even make green tablecloth look good! 

We even make green tablecloth look good! 

With our tummies full, we set out to finally see the Pantheon. This time around, we knew our way already and arrived at our destination fairly quickly – but not without meandering through some charming streets and taking a few pictures.

Navigating Rome on foot. 

Navigating Rome on foot. 

Naomi found her little door! 

Naomi found her little door! 

A charming little cafe on a charming little street in Rome. 

A charming little cafe on a charming little street in Rome. 

We were pleasantly surprised to see that there was no line this time and the inside of the Pantheon – despite being busy – was not too crowded to walk around a little bit and enjoy the experience. The amazing thing about the Pantheon is perhaps the fact that the enormous structure was erected in only 10 years. The gigantic pillars were brought from Africa on ships especially built for the purpose of transporting them – how all of this was managed 2000 years ago is absolutely mind blowing!

Keane showing us the Pantheon! This time, we are going all the way in! 

Keane showing us the Pantheon! This time, we are going all the way in! 

After leaving the Pantheon, we headed to the Piazza di Spagna – the Spanish Square – where a beautiful set of steps is located. Shortly, we used said steps to take in a view of the city scape. Naomi, having spotted clouds on the horizon, research the weather report and found warning of impending rain. Karol and Michał also smelled an European thunderstorm in the air. Not wanting to take any chances, we decided to go home by subway.

A storm brewing over Rome. You can spot the dome of St. Peter's Basilica on the right.

A storm brewing over Rome. You can spot the dome of St. Peter's Basilica on the right.

We are celebrating not getting rained on! Yay! 

We are celebrating not getting rained on! Yay! 

Once we came back home, it was only minutes before pouring rain came down and thunder cracked right above our heads! We quickly collected our laundry and closed all the windows. Seagulls were trying to take cover by our windows, and sudden gusts of wind knocked over flower pots (Michał would try to pick them up later only to see one fall all the way to the ground, shattering into pieces and making all of the neighbors peer through their windows, their faces filled with Italian disdain for what they must have presumed was sub-par amateur home-gardening work – scusi!)

At 5:00pm we watched Belgium face off Panama in the World Cup on a TV at home and then headed out for dinner at a restaurant directly next door to us. The restaurant was quite popular – thankfully we stopped by to make a reservation earlier in the day – but we decided the food was not our favorite. It was very good, but perhaps the combination of the items we ordered did not pair that well together – we ended up slightly overwhelmed by truffles and mushrooms while the tomato sauce pizza and pasta seemed a little on the plain side. Wouldn't you love to have our problems! 

Back at home, we watched another World Cup game before turning in for the night.

Aloha! 

Day 5 – Rome and Vatican

On our first full day in Rome, we decided to get up fairly early and head to the Vatican before the crowds. We found out that on Sundays multiple services were held at St. Peter’s Basilica throughout the day and set our sights on attending the 10:30 am service, in which the mass was sung by the choir. To be respectful (and because the Vatican enforces a dress code), after our morning coffee and croissant delivery by Naomi, Bowe, and Lena, we dressed up a notch, and headed out.

The Vatican was just two blocks away from where we were staying. 

The Vatican was just two blocks away from where we were staying. 

The boys up ahead, walking up to the Vatican entrance. 

The boys up ahead, walking up to the Vatican entrance. 

Thanks to our location, the Vatican was only a 5-minute walk away! When we arrived at the Basilica, it still was not crowded, which made it much more enjoyable for us.

Naomi took a panoramic picture of the St. Peter's square, but no photos really do it justice. 

Naomi took a panoramic picture of the St. Peter's square, but no photos really do it justice. 

Front view of the St. Peter's Basilica. 

Front view of the St. Peter's Basilica. 

Naomi posing by a fountain in the square outside the basilica.

Naomi posing by a fountain in the square outside the basilica.

Marble everywhere...

Marble everywhere...

Lena finding her light...

Lena finding her light...

Everything is a work of art...

Everything is a work of art...

Mystical and mysterious, truly AWE-some. 

Mystical and mysterious, truly AWE-some. 

A view of the nave from up above. This is not the top of the dome, however. 

A view of the nave from up above. This is not the top of the dome, however. 

After exploring the Basilica, we wanted to get inside the dome, since it offered beautiful panoramic views of the city. We decided to have the full experience of climbing 551 steps (there is an option to take an elevator to skip climbing the first 320 steps, but after that it’s you and your legs).

At times straightforward, at times windy, and at times quite leaning and narrow, the stairs definitely worked us well! At the top, we enjoyed breathtaking views of the city of Rome and stopped by a little cafe on the rooftop of the Basilica to get a snack and some water. The stairs down then led us back to the main nave – how convenient as we arrived right in time for the 10:30 mass. 

Up and up the stairs we go! 

Up and up the stairs we go! 

We are ALMOST at the top!

We are ALMOST at the top!

You can see all of Rome! 

You can see all of Rome! 

The basilica is the tallest building for miles.

The basilica is the tallest building for miles.

A panorama shot taken by Naomi – Vatican museum in the center, the square on the right.

A panorama shot taken by Naomi – Vatican museum in the center, the square on the right.

Closeup of the Vatican museum.

Closeup of the Vatican museum.

After we came back down, we attended a sung mass in the Basilica. The deep part of the nave is normally closed off to the tourists, except during the services, and attending the mass allowed us to see the altar, organ, and inside of the nave from up close. We had high expectations but neither the nor the organist were extraordinary.  Bowe and Naomi also remarked that the organ was slightly out of tune.

The choir was amplified, but I don't think it was especially flattering. You could hear the rustling of the pages and whispering projected throughout the entire cathedral! However, the program was very nicely laid out and easy to follow - we tried our best at following the Gregorian chants. The entire mass was in Latin, except for the scripture readings, homily, and prayers.

One last selfie before exiting the Basilica! 

One last selfie before exiting the Basilica! 

On our way out, we noticed an enormous crowd formed in the square. It turns out that when the Pope is in the Vatican he address the crowd and say a prayer at noon. When Pope Francis peered through the window, the crowds went wild. Soon enough, thousands of phones were out and everyone was pushing each other in a most un-Christian way in order to get the best shot. Naomi and I could not stop giggling at how ridiculous the entire situation was!

Oh my gosh, oh my gosh! Can you spot the Pope? We couldn't either! But he was there!

Oh my gosh, oh my gosh! Can you spot the Pope? We couldn't either! But he was there!

The crowd goes wild for Pope Francis! The excitement definitely RUBBED OFF on us! 

The crowd goes wild for Pope Francis! The excitement definitely RUBBED OFF on us! 

Finally, when we broke free from the crowds, we briskly made our way home to change into more comfortable clothes and freshen up. We then set out to walk to the Pantheon and the Trevi fountain - but made a lunch stop first, of course! After lunch, Naomi asked our waitress where her favorite gelato was, and we ended up making a stop at the “Fata Morgana” ice-cream shop before continuing on.

"A Peroni a day... 

"A Peroni a day... 

...keeps the doctor away" – old Italian proverb. 

...keeps the doctor away" – old Italian proverb. 

Is this real or is it a FATA MORGANA? The Karolers are enjoying gelato in Rome! 

Is this real or is it a FATA MORGANA? The Karolers are enjoying gelato in Rome! 

We finally arrived at the Trevi Fountain – it was a quite long walk, with much winding around little streets of Rome. It felt a little bit like a scavenger hunt. Some small streets were extremely crowded, while others barely had any pedestrians in them. I would have loved to see an aerial view of all the human ants "attacking" the major tourist attractions. 

Fun fact brought to you by the Trevi Fountain – Bowe sneezes when there's sun in his eyes. 

Fun fact brought to you by the Trevi Fountain – Bowe sneezes when there's sun in his eyes. 

The Trevi fountain, behind us. Keane tossed in a coin, I guess we will come back! 

The Trevi fountain, behind us. Keane tossed in a coin, I guess we will come back! 

An import from Egypt featured here. Romans were serious about their decor. 

An import from Egypt featured here. Romans were serious about their decor. 

The inside of stone churches in Rome are very cool even on a hot day. Karol and Keane have never before been so religious. 

The inside of stone churches in Rome are very cool even on a hot day. Karol and Keane have never before been so religious. 

Once we arrived at the Pantheon, there turned out to be an extremely long line and we decided that we did not want to wait in the sun. Instead, we walked around a bit and made a stop at an “Irish” bar where we watched Mexico face off against Germany in another World Cup match! 

Another World Cup game – Mexico faces off Germany at an "Irish" bar serving sauerkraut sandwiches on the Scottish section of their menu. In the center of Rome, of course! 

Another World Cup game – Mexico faces off Germany at an "Irish" bar serving sauerkraut sandwiches on the Scottish section of their menu. In the center of Rome, of course! 

After the game, we walked to the Colosseum, and just admired it from the outside. After lubricating during the game, Karol began experiencing nature’s call and we all felt quite tired – we have already walked almost 10 miles at that point – so we decided to take the metro home. The quick-thinking Bowe has researched a return route to our apartment.  After two metro rides connected by a simple transfer and followed by a 5 minute walk, we found ourselves back at our front door.

Tap water is good to drink in Rome and water fountains – founded on the aqueduct systems built by ancient Romans – provide refill opportunities for weary travelers. 

Tap water is good to drink in Rome and water fountains – founded on the aqueduct systems built by ancient Romans – provide refill opportunities for weary travelers. 

Ancient Romans abandoned the above-the-ground rail project a long time ago! They do, however, have a powerful underground transit system. (These are actually ancient columns). 

Ancient Romans abandoned the above-the-ground rail project a long time ago! They do, however, have a powerful underground transit system. (These are actually ancient columns). 

We finally found the Colosseum! Yay! Now we can finally head back home! 

We finally found the Colosseum! Yay! Now we can finally head back home! 

Back at home, Keane, Lena, Naomi, and Bowe made a quick grocery run, and Keane began cooking pasta, while Michał and Karol were the first ones to commence their ablutions. Before long, Keane, Naomi, and Karol fell asleep in their beds, while Lena, Bowe, and Michał caught the second half of the Brazil-Switzerland World Cup game, which ended in another surprising tie! After the game it was definitely time to turn in for the night!

Aloha!

Day 4 – London to Rome

For the first time, we seemed to finally get some decent sleep. Although most of us still got up early, it was not the 4:00 am awakening that prompts you to roll your eyes at the clock while your body tells you that  you have no shot at going back to sleep.  Karol and Keane went on their morning fitness routine, and rested, everyone gathered themselves up and our morning quickly turned quite busy. 

Karol and Keane were spotted on their morning run in a London park!

Karol and Keane were spotted on their morning run in a London park!

Karol, Keane, and Lena headed out to a print shop to print out our boarding passes for RyanAir – printing them at the airport would cost an additional €20 per person! Bowe took on breakfast duty and took on concocting the perfect French toast. Naomi went to get coffee for everyone, and Michał dove into the dark and murky waters of online banking to figure out how to make an international wire to the Madeleine – a donation requested by our concert venue in Paris. 

A breakfast worthy of the Queen of England! 

A breakfast worthy of the Queen of England! 

Delicious toast. 

Delicious toast. 

Thanks to Bowe’s culinary talents we all ate like kings – or queens - as we were treated to a wonderful spread of toasts, fresh fruit, vanilla glaze, and whipped cream. During breakfast we discussed some logistics – we decided on the two performances in Paris and talked about the travel details ahead. 

Before we knew it, it was 10:30 am and time to hit the road! We said goodbye to our apartment and headed to the red underground line, transferring to the express train to Stansted airport at the Liverpool Street station. We had to buy separate tickets to the train, as our Oyster cards were only good for the underground and bus.

Here we go - out of the AirBnb

Here we go - out of the AirBnb

Thank you, Oysters!

Thank you, Oysters!

At Stansted airport, we had to get our visa checks and then head through security. The lines of HUNDREDS of people were moving surprisingly fast, with tight queue management and automated bins cycling through conveyor belts. Karol got a juicy pat-down, while the rest of us had our luggage checked. There was some confusion about what is considered liquid (some deodorant sticks and hair pommade are) and how much liquid can we have with us (exactly ONE 5 oz ziplock bag per person). How everyone ended up with some of Lena’s hair product in their ziplock bag is a story for its own blog...

Lena's hair products were scrutinized at the airport.

Lena's hair products were scrutinized at the airport.

Unfortunately, she had to leave these behind. 

Unfortunately, she had to leave these behind. 

Fortunately our flight was pushed back 40 minutes and we were able to make it to our gate with ample time to spare. We were only allowed one personal item on the plane and our carry-ons were checked at the gate (we could have brought our carry-on with us for an additional €40, but we thought that was excessive). We walked onto the tarmac and entered the plane through two sets of doors. Karol, Keane, Lena, and Naomi boarded  at the front, while Bowe entered from the back. The plane ride itself was about 2.5 hours and was pretty smooth – Karol and I dozed off for most of it.

And we are off!

And we are off!

On the other side - Ciao, Italy! 

On the other side - Ciao, Italy! 

At the airport we were picked up by a driver and took a Mercedes minivan straight to the doorstep of our AirBnb. The service cost us a total of €70, but was worth the peace of mind and convenience. We were greeted by the host of our new apartment – a 3 bedroom, 3 bathroom, high-ceiling flat with view of the Vatican!

Nothing to show off the apartment like a mirror selfie! 

Nothing to show off the apartment like a mirror selfie! 

We dropped off our bags, and headed out to a small Italian (duh) restaurant right next door to us. The thin-crust pizzas, gnocchi with cheese, and pasta were all delicious. The house wine was quite watery, but nothing that a second serving from a proper bottle could not fix. Content and full, we headed home to shower and finally go to bed.

Buona sera e buon appetito! 

Buona sera e buon appetito! 

Lena looked great tonight! 

Lena looked great tonight! 

Day 3 – London, second day

On our second day in London, everyone seemed to wake up at the break of dawn. Well, almost everyone. Lena, who did not get any sleep during the flights, got to sleep in a little bit while Karol and Keane snuck out for a run around the city.

While I was figuring out how to make our blog look pretty and sourcing pictures from the group, Naomi looked up places to get a morning coffee. As soon as she was ready to head out for a little java, Michał – IMMEDIATELY AND WITHOUT ANY DELAY – stopped working on the blog and was ready to go with her. As it turned out, we ended up leaving at the same time as Bowe. His luggage was held up the the airport and he had to go back to Heathrow to pick it up. 

Right as we exited the apartment, we ran into Keane and Karol, who were just on their way back. We went to get coffee together and then headed back to make some breakfast. As Naomi ruled over the kitchen with an iron fist, Keane and Karol got to rearranging “Little Minstrel Boy,” a tune that Naomi, Karol, and I sang together on our choir tour to Ireland with Tim Carney.

Karol and Keane minstreling around in the morning. 

Karol and Keane minstreling around in the morning. 

Naomi's breakfast was so tasty, Keane even ate his own shirt! 

Naomi's breakfast was so tasty, Keane even ate his own shirt! 

Nobody knows exactly when, but Lena eventually woke up. We then sat down to a gourmet breakfast, courtesy of Chef Naomi. After the tasty meal, the girls figured out how to operate the laundry machine, while the boys sang a little bit more. The laundry cycle took quite a bit of time. We ended up hanging our clothes around the apartment partly to save time and partly because Bowe was afraid his underwear would shrink.

With laundry done, it is time to head into town! 

With laundry done, it is time to head into town! 

The sight seeing begins!

The sight seeing begins!

About to cross the Tower Bridge!

About to cross the Tower Bridge!

House chores complete, we headed out to explore. We took the underground to the city center and then walked across the Tower Bridge. We met up with Naomi’s friend, Meghann, at the Horniman riverside restaurant where we also attempted to watch our first World Cup game while Bowe’s waiter struggled to the right kind of salmon for half an hour. 

On the other side! 

On the other side! 

Naomi reunited with her friend, Meghann!

Naomi reunited with her friend, Meghann!

After, we went to a market, where Michał made the mistake of sampling a street clam, duck, cheese, and chased it all with a cheap cider (what transpired later shall not be detailed in this blog). After the market adventures, Naomi and Bowe attempted – unsuccessfully – to figure out the bikeshare system, while Karol, Keane, Lena, and Michał attempted – unsuccessfully – to access a ritzy lookout spot at the rooftop of a skyscraper, only to be turned down because of a ritzy dress code. Instead, the four climbed The Monument – a tower commemorating the 1666 London fires, which destroyed two thirds of the city. 

A proper London market! 

A proper London market! 

The boys really explored the market!

The boys really explored the market!

Lena finally caught up on her sleep!

Lena finally caught up on her sleep!

Up the steps we go! 

Up the steps we go! 

When the six of us reunited, we crossed a few more bridges, checked out the gift shop at the Shakespeare Globe. We then decided to head to St. Paul's cathedral for the Evensong service. The cathedral was enormous and the choir sounded very nice – despite, as Bowe put it – cheating by including women in their ensemble. We were fortunate to sit in the pews in the choir and see (and hear) the singing from up close. On our way out Bowe was admiring the organ in hopes he could lay his fingers on it and Karol remembered singing most of the Evensong settings at St. Andrew’s cathedral under John Renke. Our visit at St. Paul’s cathedral was a nice break from an otherwise busy day.

The impressive St. Paul's cathedral. 

The impressive St. Paul's cathedral. 

No pictures allowed. Karol's camera went off accidentally. 

No pictures allowed. Karol's camera went off accidentally. 

Speaking of busy – we discovered that the underground gets crowded around 5:30 pm when everyone is coming back home and the squeeze was quite tight. Although the trip back was a little uncomfortable, getting home early allowed us to freshen up and – more importantly – secure seats at Prince Alfred’s – a local bar that was broadcasting the World Cup that evening. The Spain–Portugal game was very intense and as Karol and Michał were discussing the sport, Keane, Lena, Bowe, and Naomi had a blast people watching and discovering the European football fandom. The crowd was very lively and a group of Spain fans proved particularly animated and amusing, heckling, standing up, and even taking of their shirts after a goal!

Getting ready to watch the game at Prince Alfred's! 

Getting ready to watch the game at Prince Alfred's! 

The Spain-Portugal game was a hoot! 

The Spain-Portugal game was a hoot! 

After the game we did some shopping for snacks, Lena and Karol prepared a light dinner, and soon enough Keane’s snoring reminded all of us how jet-lagged and tired we were.  Time to get some rest as and prepare for our departure to Rome. Stay tuned as our adventures continue with a RyanAir flight tomorrow!

Day 2 – London, first day

We landed in Gatwick just around 11:30 am. Bowe already arrived, but in Heathrow. He made his way towards the AirBnb office only to find out that he did not neet go to there as there is a lockbox by the apartment! (oops!). As he was waiting for the check-in time to arrive (2:00 pm) we found our way out of the airport and onto the Gatwick Express. At one point, when we were crossing picturesque green pastures, Naomi dreamingly looked out the window and sighed “we made it to London!”

Soon enough we did make it to London. Once we got off at the Victoria station, we took Bowe’s advice and purchased rechargeable “Oyster” cards that would help us navigated the public transport in the city. All of this, of course, after a series of puns and jokes involving shellfish and baked clams.

In line for our public transport tickets. Can you spot the photobomber? 

In line for our public transport tickets. Can you spot the photobomber? 

We were originally going to take the underground, but Naomi researched bus routes and figured we could take the red “148” double-decker right to our AirBnb – they did take our “Oyster” cards, too! Soon enough, we were reunited with Bowe! 

Reunited! One could even say that Bowe was happy to see us! 

Reunited! One could even say that Bowe was happy to see us! 

A mandatory banner picture at the AirBnb!

A mandatory banner picture at the AirBnb!

Our AirBnb was a nice and cozy 3-bedroom with 2 full baths and a kitchen. Bowe managed to trap ALL of the flies in the living room, which made it easy for Keane to fight them off as everyone else was settling into their rooms. First showers in two days felt absolutely glorious! After we cleaned up, Karol was keen on checking out the neighborhood Indian restaurant “A Taste of India”, where we enjoyed a family-style late lunch around 4:00 pm.  After a pint of Cobra beer and with our tummies full, the struggle was real and we almost lost Lena to her bed.

Deciding on the food is always easier with some liquid inspiration! 

Deciding on the food is always easier with some liquid inspiration! 

Ultimately, we decided to stay up for a little bit longer and went for a walk in Hyde Park, where Naomi decided to take a nap. We kept walking for a while and passed the Albert Memorial, the Wellington Arch, stopped by Buckingham Palace, saw some royal Pelicans in St. James’s Park, and on our way to Westminster Abbey we even saw a few red phone booths. Unfortunately, Big Ben called in sick and was surrounded by scaffolding. Get better soon, Ben!

Amazingly, we all needed to make a call at the same time! 

Amazingly, we all needed to make a call at the same time! 

At that point we got pretty hungry but before diving down to the underground we also saw the Palace of Westminster. Although everyone took their turn falling asleep on the train, as soon as we got to the local market we were awakened by the delicious possibilities presenting themselves on the shelves!

Nap time on the train! 

Nap time on the train! 

We could not believe how cheap everything was compared to Hawai’i! Brie cheese – £1.50, tomatoes – £1/lb, prosciutto £2 – for a pack that would be $8 in Hawai’i! We walked out with a few bottles of wine and full bags of groceries without breaking the bank – it felt great and refreshing. We are definitely incorporating making a lot of our own meals for the rest of this trip! :) 

Eating on the cheap in London is not bad at all! Good night! 

Eating on the cheap in London is not bad at all! Good night! 

Day 1 – Vancouver

The red-eye from Honolulu to Vancouver took a toll on all of us, but definitely did not crush our spirits. Once we debarked in Canada, we immediately became giddy – our adventure begins!

Ready for our red-eye to Canada!

Ready for our red-eye to Canada!

The Vancouver airport was very clean and featured nice cultural and nature exhibits. The air was crisp and encouraged us to walk briskly towards customs. We proceeded to use a self checkout kiosk, which handled our declarations and took our pictures. First funny moment – Lena had to retake her picture and was told by the computer that she needs to take off her hat, even though she was not wearing one!

The Karolers have arrived in Vancouver! 

The Karolers have arrived in Vancouver! 

We were able to store our bags at the airport and after a quick research, decided to take a cab to downtown. The morning was cold and rainy and the longer train ride did not sound that appealing (and was not much cheaper) as we already had a goal in mind – breakfast!

After encountering a line at our first destination, Naomi quickly led us to the “Dirty Apron,” a rustic and elegant sandwich shop and deli. We ordered warm drinks and breakfast and while the food was coming, Karol and I decided that it is not too early to start celebrating our vacation with a bottle of red wine. I’m pretty sure everyone agreed.

When we arrived, the sandwiches were being made, so we got a baguette, cheese, and some wine instead! 

When we arrived, the sandwiches were being made, so we got a baguette, cheese, and some wine instead! 

Wine for breakfast? Wine not! It's time for lunch in Hawaii anyway! 

Wine for breakfast? Wine not! It's time for lunch in Hawaii anyway! 

Our next stop was the Union Hotel and Pub, which Yelp recommended as a possibly cheap day hotel. I was hoping to escape the cold and maybe get some shut-eye time; alas, it was not meant to be. The building was quite run down but we did not want to judge the book by its cover. Once the very squeaky door opened to the smell of musk and cigarettes and a local crowd glued to the Price Is Right, the idea of staying at the Union Hotel was met with a resounding NO vote from the group.

Following Keane’s suggestion, we made our way to the train station and bought a $10 (or 7.70 USD) day pass to have the option of roaming a little more freely. We then headed to the waterfront and Naomi led us to the Fly Over Canada experience – a well done immersive projection of the many beautiful sights of Canada that you experience while strapped onto a seat that turns, rises, and falls as you “fly” over the panoramas.

In the spirit of adventure, we hopped a few stop on skytrain and ended up in a less touristy part of Vancouver where we walked for a little bit.

Exploring Vancouver. 

Exploring Vancouver. 

As the rain let up and the sun came out, we decided to take a chance on the Capilano Suspension Bridge. Facing time constraints, instead of navigating public transportation we called a cab and headed past Stanley Park and into North Vancouver. The suspension bridge park was not too crowded – probably because of the weather earlier – but we had to constantly fight a group of tourists that insisted on photo opps at the most narrow of walkways, forcing everyone to wait on them. I think this experience reminded us to be more aware of our surroundings and the space we often take up unintentionally. The park itself was beautiful and we only wish we had more time to spend there.

Naomi has a love-hate relationship with the Bridge. Lena's ballet training pays off.

Naomi has a love-hate relationship with the Bridge. Lena's ballet training pays off.

Time for OUR selfies! 

Time for OUR selfies! 

Taken on our way back. Can you spot Lena Ann?

Taken on our way back. Can you spot Lena Ann?

Unfortunately, the one thing we did not have was time. We called for a cab to the airport (thank you, T-Mobile, for full service in Canada!), narrowly dodging the afternoon bottle-neck created by five traffic lanes merging into one on the bridge leading back to Vancouver.  We made it just on time to pick up our bags and enjoy a last-minute (ask Keane how last-minute it was!) meal before boarding our plane to England.

Back at the airport and bound for London! 

Back at the airport and bound for London! 

Exhausted but happy that we made a full day out of a long layover, we now are now a 9.5-hour flight away from meeting up with Bowe in London!  As we have spent more money in Vancouver than we originally anticipated, we plan to regroup and make more thorough plans for our next destinations. We learned to make sure that we have options for bad weather and budgets and to be more careful when planning routes to avoid back and forth travel. All in all, I would say that although we are a bit poorer after our first day, we already are a bit wiser.

Day 0 – Murphy's!

After putting the final dabs of paint on the walls of our apartment, Karol and I passed the check-out inspection and headed over to Murphy’s to meet up with Jan. On our way, we made a stop at Greg and Lorie’s. We had paint supplies that we borrowed and a few moving boxes and wanted to say goodbye to Greg, Lorelei, and Dexter. Greg offered a hug and a handshake, Lorelei hooked us up with some delicious cookies (which we may or may not have promised to share with fellow travelers), while Dexter spun around happily the entire time. We were then on our way to Murphy’s for our last pint(s) in Hawai’i.

Michał painting. Karol banging his head against the wall. 

Michał painting. Karol banging his head against the wall. 

As it is usually the case, Jan came to his brothers’ rescue. He took an Uber with Jolene to save us an extra trip to drop off Karol’s car (which he is going to ship to California for us). In the meantime, Naomi was finishing her last-minute packing as she spent the last few days helping us move. Without her help, we’d still be in Hawai’i today! 

Naomi is helping.

Naomi is helping.

At Murphy’s, Marcus, Scott, and Marie, were already waiting - but not idly – at the bar. Before too long, Nate and Martina (known to some as Dr. Bingham these days) arrived too see Naomi and us off. Chad, as always, has been the rockstar behind the bar, turning a casual Tuesday night into a 5-star adventure. The MVP of the night award, however, goes out to Katy Plencner as she single-handedly put Charlie to bed so that Joe could share one last beer and say goodbye in person. It was great to see so many friends and members of our families at the place that seemingly became an extension of our living room.

Joe! 

Joe! 

We were also fortunate to run into Mr. Murphy himself. I was very glad that we got to say our goodbyes in person – Don and Marion Murphy have been very welcoming to the Karolers throughout the years and their restaurant was very special to us. As a parting gift, Mr. Murphy has presented Karol and I with pink “Murphy’s” caps – they will definitely be a hit in Europe and we can’t wait to show them off.

Stylish hats – a parting gift from Murphy himself! 

Stylish hats – a parting gift from Murphy himself! 

Before long, it was time to go and Karol, Naomi, and I, accompanied by our siblings, made our way to the airport. After more hugs, we reunited with Keane and Lena at the gate - we will be all traveling together for the next few weeks. But before we reach our first European destination – London – we have to face a 10-hour layover in Vancouver! 

Keane, Naomi, Lena, Karol, and Michał ready to fly to Vancouver!

Keane, Naomi, Lena, Karol, and Michał ready to fly to Vancouver!