For those who personally know me, the next sentence won’t come as a surprise, but for everyone else… I am fortunate to have been born and raised (for the first 7 years or so) just outside of Florence. My dad has been living here for several years now, and since it has been 4 years since I’ve been back to Italy, why not #1 spend some time with my dad, #2 use our home in Italy as a base to explore other European countries and #3 make the eventual trip to Thailand not such a painful one from a flight perspective:)
I know, I know, I sound totally spoiled. But I can’t help where I was born, I can only recognize how fortunate I am in many ways and most importantly to be thankful for what I am able to do and to have such an international family!!
Now that that is cleared up, I am currently still in Italy writing furiously to catch up on this blog from the years past travels so that I can write about more recent adventures and ones that are still to come:) I arrived here in Italy at the end of August (2014- I know, I’m reallyalmost caught up with blogging about my travels to present day!!!) at the Florence airport and was greeted by my dad at the airport with one of his famous “daddy” pick-ups, as we call it in my family. That is simply where he insists on parking the car so he can go into the airport and greet the new arrival from the gate, instead of waiting outside in the car for the new arrival to walk out of the airport:)
We had a lovely dinner at a pizzeria near where my dad grew up and has been going for over 40 years!! Let me just say, for the record that, in my opinion, there is no better pizza IN THE WORLD than the pizza in Italy, and more specifically the pizza in Tuscany!!! The thin crust is to die for!! Now the further South you go in Italy, the thicker the crust gets… Just a warning for those going South wondering why I’ve described the pizzas as being thin-crusted:) Oh and the ham too… I’ve never tasted better ham either (on my pizza of course!!) than in Italy!! Ok, I better stop talking about food for now… I’m making myself hungry!!
We headed to the house (about 40 Km outside of Florence) after dinner and turned in for the night. The next few months were spent catching up, hanging out, hiking in the National Park that we back onto, exploring several surrounding cities, reconnecting with Florence, a trip to the Island of Elba, going to Salzburg, Austria for a few days together (then I left to explore more of Europe on my own), entertaining some friends from Scotland, blogging (for me:)) and now we are getting ready to head out on a cruise that the family organized for my dad’s 75th birthday present!!
It’s been a busy few months for sure!! Not to mention that while I’ve been here I’ve been making sure that my dad has stayed busy making me homemade lasagna, limoncello, meat sauce, arista, crostate di more, pasta with the favorite sauce (can’t tell you the recipe it’s a family secret:)) focaccia, pasta fagioli, and on and on!! It’s a miracle I’m not obese!! Lol!! Actually, it’s not a miracle… I workout vigorously everyday to counter the calories I indulge in while here:)
Oh… I should mention I’ve cheated a teeny bit on the pictures… All are current except for the Florence pictures… They are ones from winter 2010… But in coming posts of Florence I will have pictures from this trip, I promise!! Just wanted to give you a little teaser to start;)
Inverness… Made most famous by Loch Ness where Nessie, the fabled (or real?!?!?) monster of the Loch lives!! I actually really liked Inverness! It was not too large a place, but also not too small. As Goldilocks would say, it was just right:)
I got there on bus and of course started my day there by wandering around hostel after hostel trying to find somewhere to sleep for the night. The hostel by the bus station was full, which was fine by me cause I got an odd feeling from the staff there when I arrived to inquire about availability. So I wandered as always aimlessly toward what turned out to be the main shopping street and in general main street of Inverness: High Street. Well, ok, maybe it isn’t the official main street, but it was pretty central to all things touristy (the castle, museums, tourist info center, and lots of shopping). And perhaps another little thing to mention: High Street was closed off to traffic and was only available for foot traffic, which I quite enjoyed!! Anyway, I found Highlander Hostel after a few other failed attempts just off High Street. I booked a room for the night since it was the first place that I’d come across that had room… I was getting worried again that no space would be available elsewhere and I had better jump on this one! I went to my room to settle in and was not at all impressed with the accommodations. It just had the feeling of uncleanliness!! Though there was a bathroom in the room itself, it was being shared by 9 others (10 including me) and just the sight of hair everywhere… Ick!! I know that you get what you pay for and many times staying in hostels is an absolute gamble, but some places are MUCH more clean feeling and more welcoming than others…
Not really feeling that location (but being stuck there for the first night) and knowing that I wanted to stay in Inverness at least a few night (since I had to get to Loch Ness to see Nessie!!) I set out immediately to find a room for the next night at another hostel. A little down the road from the Castle and just along the river I came across the Inverness Student Hostel. From the second I walked in I knew this place would be great!! And indeed it was!! The vibe was just warm and welcoming, the place felt clean and safe, the staff were friendly and sane (at the other hostel the guy who checked me in, though there was a “no smoking inside” policy later lit one up in the check-in/common area just because no one was around… yeah… great example to set!).
The Inverness Student Hostel was all booked up for the night I arrived (I had half a mind to demand a refund from the other place and just stay there instead) but had a space available for the next two nights. Perfect!! That’s all I needed!! I paid a little extra to be in a room with only 5 others, but it was worth it!! I payed for my nights in advance to stay there the next few nights and on my way out noticed that they had affiliate hostels in Oban (pronounced by locals as “Oh-BIN” where I was planning to go next anyway). Liking the feel of the place that much- I went ahead and booked in advance (what was wrong with me?!?! ;)) a room at the Oban hostel (called simply Oban Backpackers) for a few nights as well!! I must admit that though the whole “find something when you get there” is fun and adventurous, also knowing that I had a place to stay for sure at the next location was quite comforting… Especially since the past few towns I had been in seemed to be short on places to stay!!
After securing my spot at the Inverness Student Hostel and the Oban Backpackers, I headed out to explore Inverness a bit more. Since I was going to stay there for two full days, I figured a trip to the tourist info center would be wise. There I found an all day tour (literally 12 hours long) for the Isle of Skye hosted by WOW Scotland! tours. I won’t go into great detail here about the booking as I will save it for the Isle of Skye post I’m doing next, but needless to say I did book the tour. The tour would not be until that Friday (2 days from my arrival date) however so I had a day in between to simply chill and explore Inverness at leisure.
At this point it was dinner time, so I wandered around for somewhere to eat. On the opposite side of High Street there was an Italian Tapas restaurant. And even though I was going to be in Italy soon, I really wasn’t hugely hungry so the idea of tapas really appealed to me. Plus, I had heard that many of the immigrants to Scotland were from Italy, so I was pretty confident the food would be authentic and not disappointing!
I was right about my instincts- the food was very good!! I had a tapas gnocchi dish with a glass of prosecco. Now mind you, when I would go out for lunch or dinner I would only bring a certain amount of cash with me. This was mainly so I wouldn’t go nuts on drinking too much, because lord knows if I had brought my card I could have just had my dinner and a drink, then another, then another… To my surprise, this is exactly what had ended up happening anyway!!
I was simply sitting at a table for one, enjoying my gnocchi and glass of prosecco when I noticed 3 guys sitting at the bar. Just something about them made me think that they, or at least one of them owned the place. Just the way they looked around and looked at things and moved around every now and again. They had the aura of being invested. I basically finished my meal and sat enjoying my prosecco. One of the three guys came and stood by my table looking out to the street, then asked if I had enjoyed my meal. I replied that I did and to satisfy my curiosity on whether I was right about whether he was an owner, I asked if he was. And indeed, he replied yes. One question led to another and he ended up sitting down with me (a true Italian! Always inviting and entertaining) and asked if I wanted another prosecco. Though I said no, I eventually said yes and was brought another glass. I won’t drone on with every detail but basically what ended up happening was I was introduced to his cousins (the other 2 at the bar) and a nephew and after a BOTTLE of prosecco and a shot of limoncello I was invited to stay for the after party (apparently it was the owners birthday) to which I stayed for a piece of cake and WATER to sober up a bit, lol!! I was also invited to the after, after party at someone’s house but declined vehemently and made my way back to the hostel at some point shorty after. It was a great and unexpected time!! Italians certainly know how to make people feel welcome!! It was also quite entertaining because the owner was Italian but spoke English in a Scottish accent. His cousins only spoke Italian. I spoke English and some Spanish and even less of Italian, but could understand all 3… The bartender was from Guatemala and spoke English and Spanish, so conversations between everyone was just about the most interesting and entertaining thing!! Between one language and another and trying to say one thing then having to interrupt someone during their conversation so they could translate something for you, it was just a mad house of languages!! Lots of fun though!! 🙂
In any event, after stumbling home I went to sleep then left the next morning for the Inverness Student Hostel. The next day wasn’t the best of weather so I mainly just did indoor things like a Natural History museum and caught up on emailing, etc. I was supposed to go back that evening for dinner with one of the cousins, but felt not very social (dang hangovers!!) that day sadly. Plus, I had an early tour the next day and wanted to be 100% for it!! I kinda felt bad about not showing for dinner, but such is life! You can’t please everyone. But I am very grateful nonetheless for their hospitality and the great time that was had the night before:)