Friday, May 27, 2011

Finally! I can't believe we didn't travel anywhere for 1 year! My mom and I had been wanting to do this trip for a couple years, and I'm thrilled it all worked out for my parents AND for us to go together! This was a combined family history trip as well as my FuN trip before school started. In the words of Mr. Fodor "SLOVENIA MAY BE THE BEST-KEPT SECRET in europe." And we couldn't agree more!

And no trip is complete without doing THIS at the airport. People think having these flight benefits are fun and easy, but let me tell you, it requires a lot of A route, B route, C route planning and a lot of sacrifice!

My pappy. How did my mom have the energy to stay up and take these? Oh...that's right. She was on the phone....AS USUAL. She is never seen without her phone in hand :) Love ya mom!
My mother's twin is really into genealogy and was only able to trace our family back to my great grandfather. They knew from stories that he was from a town called Gomilsko, they thought this town was in Poland. My aunt sent many emails trying to get some informtion , and finally received one email from a woman who informed her that there is also a Gomilsko, Slovenia. There are no microfilms from the former Yugoslavia therefore someone had to physically go to search for family names. Perfect opportunity for a trip! After attending my school orientation in NYC, the 4 of us trekked to Europe.

The closest airport to Slovenia that Delta flies to is Venice. Unfortunately, we had to split up. Joe and I ended up flying into Milan and taking a 2.5 hour train ride to Venice. My parents made it to Venice where they picked up the car rental and awaited our arrival, then we were off!! First stop..Piran, Slovenia.

Piran was a 2 hour drive from Venice. We stayed at the Barbara Fiesa Hotel which was beautiful! Every room had a private balcony that you could sit taking in the gorgeous views! As you can see, it sits on the side of a mountain and behind the hotel is a forest. Gorgeous 360 degrees. My mom couldn't help but test the water.

We chose this hotel because of the views AND the parking availability. This is the view from the front of the hotel. There were a bunch of sailboats and yachts scuba diving, and for good reason. Although ice cold in May, the water was crystal clear.

Slovenia had the typical european breakfast buffets with pastries, meats and cheeses. But don't let the Slovenes trick you. They also had cold fried fish and what appeared to be hot dogs. My mother feeling her SLOVENE blood pumping.....tried it all. No thanks.

We were up bright and early and although you can't really see, we had a beautiful ocean view during our lovely breakfast with the best hot chocolate!
Piran is the birthplace of 17th century composer and violinist Giuseppe Tartini. This is the main square named after him, Tartinijev trg.

View from the Church of St. George looking down into Tartinijev trg and the port.

The streets are so small that you have to park on the outskirts and walk into town. The closer you get into town, the smaller the cobblestone streets become. We would know, we tried...... Luckily we made it out with no scratches or dents in the car! Not a bad view walking to the center of town, I must say!

Piran, the JEWEL OF SLOVENIA, is a medieval walled town on a peninsula surrounded by the Adriatic Sea. Narrow, cobbled streets lead to the main square, where it opens up to a beautiful harbor lined with open air restaurants right on the ocean.

The old medieval walls that we got to explore undoubtedly gave us the best view of Piran. And for free! While my mom and I enjoyed the beautiful views...the men watched the local soccer game that could be seen.......boys will be boys I guess.

Scenes of Piran, Slovenia. We found that due to the proximity of Italy and Croatia, the locals spoke several languages, including Italian and English which made communication easy. For dinner, Joe ordered a pizza (shocker!) and the 3 of us ordered the risotto scampi. Although a simple dish, it was the freshest seafood I have ever eaten!

On our second day, we headed to Croatia! Croatia is not yet part of the European Union, so they had pretty tight border control. We of course didn't mind because this meant we'd get stamps in our passports for Croatia and to get back into Slovenia! I always new it was the European vacation hot spot, but I wasn't expecting the weekend traffic to be so bad! Not to mention half of them were bikers. But I have to admit, it's a gorgeous and warm drive for bikers. Made me want to do it too!

These two crazy love birds.....

Our first stop in Croatia was Umag which was about 30 minutes from Piran. If you look at a map, we just drove down the coast and stopped as we pleased. Umag was small but cute. They were having a mini sailboat race at the port.

Next stop....Porec,Croatia. It was founded as a Roman fort in the 2nd century BC, now it's a bustling little place. SUCH A CHARMING LITTLE TOWN! We totally fell in love with it!
We enjoyed a nice lunch in Porec with ocean views, then devoured dessert at a little bakery. Hmmmm, I wonder which plate is Joe's? Onto the next town.......
We drove down to Pula, Croatia for one smokin' reason......the Roman Arena! Julius Ceasar made this area a Roman colony in 45 BC. There were several Roman ruins to see, but we only had time to visit the largest, most intact one. What does this arena have that the Colloseum doesn't? An incredible view of the Adriatic Sea!

This arena was built in 1st century AD and held gladiator games for 22,000 spectators. In the 16th century, the Venetians were going to move it stone by stone and rebuild it to it's original form in Venice. The plan obviously failed and it is now used for concerts, opera's and an annual film festival. Underneath is a small museum where they keep old Roman artifacts and pottery found. Just as we were finishing our visit in the arena, the weather turned stormy on us and we drove the hour and a half back to Piran for dinner.
After 2 short nights, we checked out out of our hotel in Piran and headed into Trieste, Italy. On the agenda were several things to see, but our friend Lola (GPS) kept sending us into the worst possible 1 way streets to drive. Well, our chauffeur (pappa Mo) had enough of Trieste so we were only able to see 1 castle......but it did not disappoint. I could totally live there!

Castello di Miramare was built in 1860. Not only is the water crystal clear, but it even has its own dock!

Ferdinand Maxmillian (who later became the Emporer of Mexico) was a commander in the navy and had this castle built to reflect the wood workings of his ship. LoVeD iT! For the most part, it still houses original furniture and drapery and the exquisite library is still in the original order.

The outside was amazing! Castello di Miramare is also a garden/park which sits on 54 acres. We walked around a small area, which still hadn't bloomed, but I'm sure it's massive and beautiful in the summer time. There were many groups of locals walking through the gardens and all long the pathway along the ocean.

My cup of tea in Trieste, Italy..
From Trieste, we drove into the heart of Slovenia. It was during this drive that we started to see and feel the adventure of Slovenia. We were floored by the beauty of the country. But nothing would prepare us for how ridiculusly awesome THIS castle was.....PREDJAMSKI GRAD.

Predjama Castle was InCrEdIbLe! In all our travels, we have seen pretty cool castles and palaces, but this was the oldest, most originally intact....and nothing else in the world compares to it. This castle is built "in front of the cave" which is the literal translation of PREDJAMA. All the crevices and cave openings are a part of the interior of the castle. Based on how it was built, they estimate it was built in the medieval 12th century and some parts even earlier than that. We were so fascinated by it that we bought a book about the history of it and it says," This building was not dictated by comfort or luxury. Damp, cold and draughts filled everyday life in this castle. The small windows let in little light, but this was outbalanced by the security of the cliff behind the castle and the cave, which offered an exit to freedom. A walk through the castle is designed to be a walk through a medieval day." Over time, this castle was added onto and was used by many and for different functions. This including knightly families, a hideout for thieves and robbers, and was last used by the Windischgratz family as a hunting lodge. The castles current appearance was done in 1583.

In the castle. It's obvious which parts are the oldest, as you're walking around in a cave versus the newer parts which are cement.

Inside it were very simple rooms, on 4 floors. This included a guardroom, a cellar, kennel, archive, several chambers for sleep/living areas, closets, a prayer alcove, chapel, chaplains room, a kitchen, bathroom, knights bedroom, guest chambers, lookout points and of course....judicial chamber and torture chamber.

We hiked in the cave below the castle. It was pitch black and we only had flashlights! There were only a few bats while we were there but our guide said that if you go in the spring time, the walls are covered with bats. The front of the cave was used as the horse stable but then it unfolds into an incredible underworld where they have ONLY discovered 12,580 meters so far.
The picture on the left shows the opening to the underground cave. Follow the wood railing to the iron gate. They still hold medieval tournaments here. How totally awesome would that be!? This was my #2 favorite place of Slovenia!

After all that hiking we decided to eat at the Gostilna at the castle. Gostilna's: far better than any restaurant you will ever visit. Another one of Slovenia's best kept secret. It's essentially a tavern but cleaner, warmer and super inviting. It is family run, the family lives upstairs and they convert the main floor into a homey restaurant. The mom is the cook and the dad is the waiter. That's it. But oh how delicious and AUTHENTIC! Let me tell you, it was the best meal we had! We all ordered gnocchi. It was so good that my mom went and asked the cook how she did it. She took my mom into the kitchen and showed her the ingredients and she didn't use tomato sauce in hers....she uses grated carrots! TO DIE FOR! Oh yeah, we also ordered the apple strudel. So much better than Prague's! This particular Gostilna was awesome, it's not pictured cuz we ate outside but the inside was designed to look like medieval dining days with long tables with bench seats and torches scattered throughout.

After devouring our awesome lunch at the most awesome castle, we headed towards our next destination....Gomilsko. We meant to just pass through enroute to our hotel, but we ended up starting with family history right then!

At first we drove through the small village of Gomilsko. It is very small, there maybe were only 50 buildings which consisted of homes, church, school, gostilna's etc. We found the church easily and my mom got out to make sure it was the right one (we knew the name) but it was closed. So we decided to try to find the cemetery. Easier said than done as the streets were very small and we weren't sure if it was near the church or not so we drove around. And around. And around. We were almost going to give up and head to the hotel when I noticed a small wooden plaque with a really long word "Pokopalisce" and 3 crosses. We followed the sign which took us right behind the church to the cemetery.
As we got out of the car, there was excitement and nervousness at the same time. What are we going to find? What if there is nothing here? So my mom gave us a list of names to look for: Pikel, Kosenina, Novak and del Negro. As we walked around, we discovered that Pikel originally was PIKL and this cemetery was full of them along with Kosenina. But none of the other 2 names. We combed the cemetery twice and took pictures of all the ones we found. It was in this cemetery that we found ADOLF PIKL. In my email I sent from Slovenia I wrote this to my brother-in-law, "We found an ADOLF PIKL. We thought you'd like that, answers so many questions don't it? He was the priest in Gomilsko for 8 years or so (originally from Zalec). No worries, we properly saluted him AND my mom!"

The church my great grandfather attended.
The Pikel in my mom couldn't stop that night. She decided to start knocking on doors. She went from door to door and the home next to the church was where the Priest lived. He spoke no English but let her in. She showed him the few papers that she had with my great grandfather's name on it linking him to Gomilsko. He ended up calling someone to come translate. She came right over to help. As they talked, we found out that she is the English teacher at the school and that her name was Sasha Pikl (maiden). What? Really? We could totally be related! She helped translate the answers to many questions about where the registration books may be. She ended up calling ahead for us so that we may know where we needed to go. She also took the time to teach us how to read/pronounce some of the difficult Slovene words and actually, it became a lot easier to pronounce words once we figured out basics of the language. In fact, a lot of the long intimidating words were easier to pronounce than the short supposedly simple ones. For my own personal reference, I need to list them so that when I go back, I can remember!

Pokopalisce- pokopalishche

Ljubljana- lubiana

Celje- tselia

Zalec- Jalek

hvala lepa- vala laypah

Lasko- Lashko

My great grandfather's house. Two homes away from the church and practically across the street from the school.
The school in Gomilsko where my great grandfather attended. We were so impressed at the upkeeping of all the old buildings. How is it that a place like Slovenia who has only been it's own country since 1991 is already a part of the European Union and appears to have minimal poverty? Granted we did not go into the big cities, but everything about Slovenia is spotless and well kept. Indoor and outdoor.

We then headed to check into our hotel near Gomilsko. We stayed at Villa Aina in Lasko which was up the canyon from Celje. Lasko is a town that produces Lasko Beer. It's a small Villa with 12 rooms, but it's practically brand new. It was beautiful! Europe is known for tiny rooms but this place was massive and had a beautiful modern bathroom...and my favorite? The tile in the bathroom matched the toilet paper! Speaking of TP, I always judge a country by it's TP and I have been known to pack my own....but Slovenia? Freakin sweet on more than one occasion!

The next day we woke up early and were on our way! We knew the name of old towns and their general areas, though now many names have changed since Slovenia became it's own country. So we drove to the general areas, plugged in "pokopalisce" on the GPS and it lead us to 7 different cemeteries. We spent all day combing these cemetaries and taking pictures of all of the ones that matched our names. It was during this time, as we drove from town to town, that we absolutely fell in love with Slovenia. The country was so beautiful, the people friendly and helpful though they spoke very little English. The scenery as we were on top of these mountains at the churches over looking the valley's was incredible!
Half way through the day we were starving and hot! The small towns that we had been visiting had few stores, let alone restaurants, so we pulled over at a bakery and asked if there was anywhere good and authentic to eat and she pointed us to the best gostilna! We had to take pictures of it because we loved it so much! For 8 euros we got a massive 3 course meal. They first brought us a homemade beef soup (broth with noodles), then they brought us an awesome salad with lettuce, tomatoes, green beans, and lots of cabbage! Then for our main meal, we got this amazing pork chop platter with the best roast potatoes I have ever had that were semi mashed and served in little potato balls all drenched with an awesome brown gravy! Oh it was heaven! We couldn't stop complimenting and thanking the family that welcomed us! We also used this stop as our potty break and we were soooooo impressed at the cleanliness of the bathrooms and the interior of the home in general. Slovenes are spotless! After lunch we continued on our journey visiting cemetaries until the evening.

When we were finished visiting the cemeteries that evening, we stopped at the castle in Celje. Although we only had 1 hour to explore before it closed, we were thrilled we went at that time because there was no one else there. We took another potty break there, and how thrilled was I that they had PINK toilet paper in the stalls!? And between you and me, I totally stole one that was running out :)
The view from the tallest defense tower. We have an awesome video that we took from here. The tower stairwell was pitch black with metal steps. We were totally creeped out by it, but we wanted to check out the view. That is, Joe, my dad and I climbed up to the top. My mom wasn't feelin it so she stayed behind. While we were at the top taking our pictures, we heard this crashing and rumbling. We looked at each other, then looked down at our feet expecting to fall through the floor or something but the noise wouldn't stop! The 3 of us finally decided to book it down the stairs in case it was about to all cave in. As we were rushing down the stairs, we realized that it was thunder and lightning in the tower and we heard my mom's name echoeing. We were totally confused and we looked over the ledge (we were half way down by now) and we saw my mom looking into a fan. WTF? So we got to the bottom and there was a sign that said..."Push here and say your name." She had been bored so she pushed it and said her name into the fan and lightning and thunder started in the tower with "Miiirrrrttttteeeessssss, REMEMBER, REMEMBER, REMEMBER" echoeing for several minutes. We just about died! We have a video of it all happening, it was hilarious. We laugh about it now, but at the moment, we were terrified.

Sasha had called ahead for us and we were set to meet with someone from the archives in Zalec. We got up early, had breakfast and were on our way. When we arrived in Zalec, we didn't know what to expect. They did have several registry books from the surrounding cities, but only since about 1950. We were looking for names way before that. He informed us we had to go to Maribor, which is Slovenia's 2nd largest city, which is where all of the Slovenian registration books are kept from before 1950. We had been told by the Priest that we visited that we might need to go to Maribor so we drove for an hour even more nervous about what would happen in Maribor. Luckily, we knew that at least they would be open to the public. Sasha had informed us this only happens on Monday's, Wednesday's, and Friday's, and we had planned it perfectly because it was now Wednesday.

We drove until we found the building, then spent some time looking for a parking spot (very difficult). We finally found one by the river, then hiked to the building. It was a small office space on the 2nd floor. The door was open, and my mom peeked in but there was no one at the main desk. She did however notice several people in some back rooms with the registration books in hand! This was a HUGE deal. When my parents went to Portugal to try to do some work for my father's side of the family, they wouldn't let them TOUCH the books at all. We waited for the receptionist to come back and she took us outside the office and was a little rude with us. She informed us that we could only be there by appointment and that there is a 2-3 month waiting list to do so. My cute mother.....she played the "but we came all the way from Brasil, we didn't know this" and the lady remained firm and told us we couldn't go in, that there were already too many in there. The rest of us stayed back and let my mom try to convince her. Finally she told us to come back in 1 hour, and if someone had left by then, then we were allowed to go in. But she was sure to tell us that there would only be room for ONE person to be in there. We walked away with prayers in our hearts and feeling grateful for at least a CHANCE. We walked around Maribor for a little bit as we watched the clock, minute by minute. After the hour had passed, we walked back to the office with a game plan. My dad and Joe were going to go to the car and put more money into the meter, and I would go with my mom in hopes that she would let TWO of us in. Those Pikel's I tell ya, they have to get their way ;) When we arrived, the receptionist informed us that they did have someone leave..HURRAY! The next step...convince her to let us both in! So my mom filled out the paperwork requesting a particular book (the lady then keeps it as a record and goes to the archive and brings it back) but we could only have one book at a time, so my mom requested the older of the 2 books we needed. Between my mom's and the woman's English, they had a hard time understanding one another (although they both spoke VERY well). I had been waiting outside, so when I noticed the frustration between both of them, I went in to calm everyone down. The last thing we needed was to get kicked out! So I "translated" to my mother in Portuguese and smoothed things over, which was actually a blessing in disguise because after that, the woman let BOTH of us because she felt my mother might need some help understanding the layout of the pages. PEEEERRRRFFFEEECCCTTT. The woman brought us the first book, which luckily had an index. We went down the index list and wrote down all the page numbers of the family names that had Pikl, Kosenina, del Negro, and Novak. We deciphered the old handwriting and wrote out all the information plus we were given permission to take photos of the pages, so we did. We didn't realize how long it would take though. When we finished that book, we requested the next book. We quickly wrote down all the page numbers from the index and flipped through and took photos of the pages to be deciphered at home. We finished just in time for the office to close! We knew that once we got home, we could start putting the names/families together and start connecting the dots. I cannot express the amazing feeling we had with those two books in front of us. Here is the email I sent to our family that night, it summarized our sentiments of everything that happened to us that day:

But let me tell you, all your prayers have helped tremendously. And tremendously is an understatement. Today was a very emotional day, and every step we took, we felt guided. By this I mean that the sequence of today's events were timed perfectly so that we were able to do the work.

This morning we woke up early and got ready, picked up some breakfast and headed to Zalec where we were told by Sasa (called ahead for us on Monday) that they had a lot of records and whatever we could not find we would have to go to Maribor. Zalec is only 15 minutes away, so we headed there. We met with a man
who was able to show us the Marriage record for Anton Pikl (?) I have looked at so many names I can't remember who is who. Anyway, that was all he could give us which was wonderful, but at the same time were expecting to get more. So we gratefully but swiftly left the community center and booked it to Maribor. We were not sure what would happen there. We arrived around 11:30 and there were people in the office with the books. A woman who spoke English very well came out to greet us and was a little annoyed but informed us that people only go in by appointment. That people wait and book months in advance and that was the only way to get the history. We stood there shocked and told her Sasa had called ahead for us and we came all the way from Brasil (wink wink) to do the work. She sent us away and told my mom to come back in 1 hour and she would see if there would be room for her to do it, but there was definitely not enough room for the 4 us. We went for a walk and came back at 12:30. I strategically walked in with my mother as the men went to pay for more parking. I waited outside the office as the woman started talking to my mom about the paperwork needing to be filled out. They were having a hard time understanding each other so I went in to help the communication between the 2 Slovenian's :) I was hoping but not trying to go in with my mother, but just at that moment someone left and the woman told me I could stay and help. Truly, the windows of heaven opened at that moment. It is a small office with room for 5 people and the records are kept down the hall. We were allowed 1 book at a time. We requested the Gomilsko book from ~1785 to 1824. Luckily that book had an index so we were able to look up all the names and it led us straight to the page numbers. What we weren't ready for was the difficulty of interpreting the handwriting. We did our best writing everything down, also we were able to take pictures of the pages. We hope those pictures turn out, because we are definitely going to need help reading it all! We were able to get 33 names from the first book. By the time we requested and received the 2nd book (1824 to 1862 ish) we only had 30 minutes until the office closed. This book also came with an index and we just wrote down all the page numbers and went through and took pictures of all the names. Literally as we snapped the last shot, she came in to tell us we had to go. There was probably twice as many names in that book. Most of the names were Pikl and Kosenina from those 2 books. We did find one Amelia Negro so we will see if it's the right one :) Although we were able to get a lot of names, and we noticed the connections as we went along, I believe we only scratched the surface of what we need. There are so many small towns....and in 2.5 hours we only saw 2 books from Gomilsko. The Novak's are from a different area, though we did see a lot of Novak tombs. Probably Pressberg area (which no longer exists by that name making it that much harder.) According to my mother, she was hoping to go home with 10 names. Between the archives and the cemeteries, I'm certain we got 10 times more than that. Success! As we drove back we felt humility and gratitude. Our Father in Heaven truly led us at the right time, to where we needed to go. Had we arrived any earlier, we are certain the woman would have turned us away
altogether and we would have gone home almost empty handed. As we were walking back to the car, my dad ran into 6 missionaries (he was waiting at the car) and we felt like that was our stamp of approval or confirmation that this endeavor was not accomplished alone. We had the help from Heavenly Father, from the faith of our family here on earth, and the cheering from those across the veil. It was a very peaceful drive.

That afternoon we visited PEKEL CAVE, how fitting right? Slovenia is known for their caves and this one was escpecially meaningful to us. We were not able to go too deep because part of it is closed for construction purposes. They are building staircases for the tourists that come through. My mommy is clausterphobic, so she waited for us, but we loved seeing the waterfalls throughout the cave. It was the perfect evening to a glorious day!

The entire region where my great grandfather was from grows hops :) Sweet!

Although we loved our few days prior to the family history portion of our trip, there was always concern in the back of our minds about what we would be able to find. After 2 very successful days, we were able to enjoy the last couple days free from worry. The following day (it is now Thursday) we woke up, packed our belongings and left Lasko. It was bittersweet. We grew to love the people and country of Slovenia so quickly, it was now sad that we weren't staying to embrace it even more. We drove through Gomilsko one more time, then headed north towards Lake Bled.

LAKE BLED! What can I say!? Even more beautiful than we were expecting. We headed straight for the castle that sits on top of the mountain, that over looks the lake. The island in the middle of the lake houses the local church. Quite picturesque don't ya think? What makes it even more beautiful is the surrounding ALPS Mountain Range. So gorgeous!!

The happy couple.

Scenes from the castle.

When Joe and I travel, we have to bring a souvenir back, but we are pretty particular about what we bring home. Early in our travels, we fell in love with local art, so for the most part, we bring home paintings of various shapes and sizes. This is not always possible though, and because we were in the heart of Slovenia, we hadn't found anything we LOVED. Lake Bled is the #1 tourist attraction, so we were sure that would be the magical place. Well, we went and didn't find much. Except there was a little printing shop at the castle that I was browsing through. They make the paper there, as well as use an original printing press to press the photos (or whatever you choose) onto the paper as a keepsake. This was it! So we picked the paper, photo, and customized what we wanted it to say. They also allowed me to help the press process which was kinda fun and personable. Just as he was putting ours together, a Japanese tour group came through and they ooohhed and aaaahhhhhed as I helped make it. It was kinda funny. When I walked out with my finished product, they all came running after me wanting to see it and touch it! My dad was sitting outside, and he had heard the Japs gawking, but was shocked when I came out with them behind me. He said they looked like bees swarming me. He caught it on video, it was pretty funny.
My mom loved the idea so much, that she ended up doing something similar for all her sisters and all my siblings so they could all have a piece of Slovenia too. We left the castle and walked around the lake looking for lunch. There were no Gostilna's nearby :( There are also paddle boats you can rent and paddle out to the church, which I SOOOOOOO wanted to do. But my dad was in a rush, so we didn't get to. I was heartbroken. I cried about it even. It was something I was looking forward to the ENTIRE trip. Joe tried to console me, but I was too upset. He promised to bring my back to do that though. I'm going to hold him to it!
So we left Lake Bled and got on the autobahn and drove up through the Austria border and came down Northern Italy to Venice. The drive was about 3 hours which isn't very long. But I have to say, it was incredible. The scenery was beautiful through the Alps, hills, and rivers. We decided that when we come back to Lake Bled, we will stay in the Austria/Northern Italy region. It really was amazing, and I'm excited to experience more raw areas. That's probably why we loved this trip so much. We got to dive into the Slovenian culture, and I would love to do that in Austria. Delta does not fly to Austria, but since we learned it was only a 3 hour drive from Venice to that area, we could totally make it happen again!
Since we had a car rental, we chose to stay outside of Venice, which was a very wise decision on our part. We stayed in a beautiful villa called Villa Foscarini in Mogliano Veneto which was a 20 minute direct train ride to Venice. The train station was close enough to the hotel that we could walk to and from. We arrived in the evening, checked in, unpacked and went for a stroll to grab dinner. After dinner, we of course had to have GELATO! We were pretty exhausted from all the driving, so we went back to the hotel and crashed! We knew we had a full day of Venice ahead of us!

We got up early the next morning and caught the 8:30 train to Venice. Instead of taking a water taxi from the train station, we chose to walk through Venice and explore our way to the main square. It was our favorite part of Venice! As we walked through the small streets and up and over the bridges, we saw the everyday life of Venetians.

Scenes of Venice. I have to say that although it was a once in a lifetime visit and it's neat to see Venice, I'm pretty sure we will never go there again. St. Mark's Square was so packed, you could barely walk! We went through the cathedral and we went up to the top of the bell tower, but as soon as we experienced those places, we left the square. We did walk along the water where we bought our Venetian water colors which were awesome! We then went back and explored more little streets and bridges. It was during this exploration where we ran into fun little shops and Joe bought a really AWESOME tie!

Rialto Bridge was INREDIBLE! That lived up to the hype, it really was beautiful and we went on a Gondola ride which left and returned from the Rialto Bridge, which was fun to see from the water.