The fourth largest church in world; Florence, Italy
I wish I had more to write about Italy. Florence, in particular. I don’t really remember any of it. I remember that there was a huge Duomo, as there are in many other Italian cities. But that’s it. I wasn’t impressed by the food or anything else that was actually there.
I’ve written about this before. It’s an unpopular opinion not to gush over Italy. But there you have it.
On that same note, I wish I remembered more details from my trip around Europe in 2008 after graduating college. It would be my last trip abroad for 7 (seven!) years and I wish I had better photos, or took better notes during my time over on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean.
Now I know what you’re thinking, “Took better notes? Huh? This is a vacation not studying abroad.”
To be clear, I didn’t do much studying when I studied abroad in 2007. We read contemporary British plays and Shakespeare. It was a lot of fun. Study abroad programs are, in my opinion, more about seeing the world and immersing yourself in the culture of wherever you’re living more so than actually studying calculus. (And if you’re taking calculus during your semester abroad, WHY???) Save up all those extracurricular credits that you need to fulfill for your semester abroad. Trust me, you’ll be glad you’re not taking biology and instead going to Paris.
When you travel, it might just be a vacation to you, and that’s totally fine, but I don’t travel to sit back and relax and watch the ocean roll by. I can relax at home (and I never do because I hate the beach). I really don’t need to relocate myself elsewhere to take it easy. I’ve perfected the art of relaxation in my own apartment in my own city.
I travel to learn about places. I love history (is it a surprise I’m dating a man with a masters in American History?) but I also have a pretty shitty memory.
So I make sure to get the most out of my trips by taking a LOT of photos so I can look back at them and then I also take notes on my iPhone.
As you might guess though, I never really reference these notes again. I think I looked back at my notes on Hungary to get a few of them down on digital paper in this post, but that might have been it.
When I scroll through my notes I relive memories from Budapest, Vienna, Israel (I always wrote down our word of the day that our trip guide would teach us), Iceland, and Portugal.
I’ve waxed poetically about the indispensability of walking tours while traveling solo and this is where most of the notes that I’ve taken are written. Hell, even if you are traveling with someone else, or many other people, walking tours are the BEST way to get acquainted with your new city. Yes, they may start earlier than you’d like (10am) but just put down your fourth beer the night before and head to bed a tiny bit earlier so you can roll out of bed by 9am, put your shoes on, and head to the meeting spot after grabbing an espresso. It’s not that hard.
(I’m a morning person, if you hadn’t guessed.)
You can pay for one of those big red bus tours, sure. But I’ve been on one of those before and it’s not the same as all. You’re not casually being led through tiny, winding city streets, places where most tourists don’t wander.
You’re not being led by a local from wherever you are who’s doing this, usually, for donations because they just love their city’s history THAT much.
You’re seeing sights from afar, on a bus, with a bunch of other people who are probably not really interested in what they’re seeing. (It is my personal belief that if they were interested, really interested, they’d be on the walking tour, too – exceptions of course for people who are disabled).
Am I being too hard on the big red bus tours? Probably. But recommend one for me to try and I’ll give it another go. Maybe.
I’m sure you’re asking now, “Yeah, but Allison, I could learn anything on one of those walking tours in a book.” And yeah, sure, you could, but will you seek out that book to read it? I’m going to go out on a limb here and say no. Sure, there are people who seek out obscure history books of Portugal, but most people probably won’t.
Am I generalizing? Hell yeah. I’m sorry, and also, I’m not sorry. Because I know I’m right.
Local walking tour guides often tell stories while you’re walking that come from personal experience, or the personal experiences of their friends. You’re not going to get that on a big tour bus – unless it’s something like, “Yeah, I also visited the Statue of Liberty once and let me tell you, it was a lot of steps to the top.”
I’m sure you’re wondering what kind of tidbits I’ve picked up from these local guides on my travels so I went back through my notes for a few golden nuggets to share here with you lovely people:
- I think I wrote about this in my post about the ghost tour I took but things have trouble staying open at the Celtic. The stained glass windows were brought over from Ireland and are thought to have brought over bad spirits. A lady ghost knocks drinks off tables and a little girl in the photo moves to look at you.
- The movie The Changeling is based on the true story that Cheesman Park on 13th and High was built on top of 2000 bodies when it was a cemetery.
- At the Oxford Hotel, a woman named Florence supposedly haunts room 320. She met her lover there and he told her he was married so she killed him and then herself.
- Denver’s Red Light District was one of the first neighborhoods set up (naturally) and there was the Denver Strangler who killed a lot of prostitutes, hence why there are a lot of ghosts of former prostitutes that haunt the area.
- Because of global warming, Iceland is starting to be able to grow trees for the first time ever.
- A famous Viking lived in the town outside Reykjavík and the last thing he did was bury gold in the mountain next to the town and then kill his servant who helped him. People have been searching for the treasure ever since. The town is called, when the name is translated literally, Moss Mountain Town.
- Catholicism was very popular until the 1500’s when the Icelandic people thought the churches were getting too much power. They lost power completely in 1550 when a priest and his two sons were executed. The Lutheran church took over most of the farmlands owned by the Catholic Church.
- James Radcliffe, who’s the wealthiest man in England, bought up 40 farms and currently owns about 1% of land in Iceland.
- Bobby Fischer is buried in the town of Selfoss.
- There are 8 political parties currently represented in Iceland’s government, out of 16 that exist in the entire country.
- Iceland’s Independence Day is June 17th. They declared independence from Denmark sneakily when Denmark was occupied by the Nazis during WWII.
- Iceland is one of the safest countries in the world and has no army.
- Iceland is considered overeducated and they especially have too many history graduates.
- They don’t tell kids about the myth of Santa Claus; they have 13 Christmas characters instead.
- The symbol of Reykjavik is smoke coming out of the earth.
- There are currently 200 people in prison and about 2 murders per year. Cops don’t get guns. There’s a waiting list to go to prison and while you wait, you can wait at home with no monitoring bracelet. They continue life as normal and it’s like being on parole. If you don’t violate parole, you probably won’t go to jail.
- Iceland grows fresh vegetables in green houses all year long and chemicals aren’t allowed so everything is organic.
- Baby Puffins are called “Pufflings.”
- B’nai Gardens: The Templars were here until WWII. Because they supported Hitler, the British drove them out after the war.
- The Jewish Quarter in Jerusalem was bombed during the 1948 Independence War by the Jordanians and they had an archeological dig in the ruins before they rebuilt.
- The Blue Cave is where King Solomon was crowned king.
- The waterways in the City of David are 3800 years old.
- At Yad Vashem, the Righteous Among Nations have evergreen trees planted in their honor because Evergreen trees never die.
- Tel Aviv is known at the gay international capital of the world and also has the most vegan restaurants per capita in the world.
- The Jaffa district in Tel Aviv used to be the main entrance into Israel.
- There was a giant earthquake in Lisbon in 1755 that killed one third of the population on All Saints Day (11/1), that was then followed by a fire and a tsunami.
- Alfama was the only part of Lisbon not affected by the earthquake.
- The architect who designed the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco also designed the 25 de Abril Bridge hence why it looks so similar.
- You can’t actually take lessons in Fado anymore. You have to stalk an older man and beg him to become an apprentice. It’s like American Blues but more depressing.
- There are orange trees all over Portugal. Because of this the word for “orange” in many languages is a variation on the word for Portugal.
- During WWII, Portugal was an espionage center because it was “neutral.”
- JK Rowling once lived in Portugal and Salazar Slithering, their dictator, inspired the Slithering House in Harry Potter.
- James Bond is technically Portuguese because Ian Fleming was living in Lisbon when he was inspired by a person in the Casino Royale.
- The first ever slave trade started in Portugal.
- The city of Porto is on the same latitude line as NYC.
- Porto became a travel destination after 2014 when there were terrorist attacks in Egypt and Turkey and RyanAir decided to set up an office there.
- Port wine is only made in Douro Valley. It’s 20% alcohol because it’s fermentation process is stopped halfway through and mixed with brandy.
- The Arab Room in Bolsa Palace in Porto has 18 kilos of gold.
- They have a presidential election every year. You don’t have to be born here to be elected president.
See, these are not details you’ll hear from a red bus tour. And maybe you don’t care, and that’s fine, too. Everyone travels their own way.
But for me, and my brain, taking notes helps me remember things because my memory can be really bad at times. (Hence me keeping this digital scrapbook.)