Climbing Il Duomo di Firenze on top of Santa Maria del Fiore is a must-do in Italy! We stuck it out through a three-hour-long line to get our chance. The good thing about waiting in line with a group is that you can do shifts. A couple of us would hold the place in line while a couple of us would wander off to explore the Piazza del Duomo, drink cappuccino, go to the bathroom, etc. It was still a looooooong and slow-moving line!
The humongous and intricate Gothic cathedral was begun in 1296, and the dome was engineered by Brunelleschi. The church is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You can climb the dome, climb the belltower, or visit the baptistry. The views from the top of the dome over Florence are amazing!
Fresco of “The Last Judgement”
Florence is beautiful! I can’t wait to go back someday and see more of Tuscany!
After a few days in Rome we managed to secure a hotel in Florence (“Firenze”). This was not an easy feat, as it was Holy Week and everyone and their mother was flocking to Italy’s famous cities. But we found a cheap room and made it to the Trenitalia station bright and early, despite staying up waaaaay too late drinking and chitchatting the night before. Hey, you only live once!
On to Tuscany (Toscano). Due to our pathetic condition, we didn’t get to enjoy the scenery on the train ride as much as we’d hoped. By the time we got to Florence it was cold and raining (these SoCal kids are NOT used to that!) and we were desperate for food and a nap. Several pizzas and several hours later, we were back in shape and ready to go look around the slightly wet city. Florence had a lot more varied food options than Rome did, strangely. We stuck to Italian food though; it was just too good! Florence was much smaller and easier to walk around than Rome, but still packed with gorgeous architecture and history!
Basilica di Santa Maria Novella
The (fake) David, by Michelangelo, in the Palazzo Vecchio. The real one was is inside the Academia Museum (Academia di Belle Arti di Firenze), but tickets sell out months in advance and we didn’t think that far ahead.
“Barthelona!!” we kept whispering excitedly with a lisp, the normal way of speaking in this part of Spain. But this was not Spain, this was Catalonia.
Fresh in the middle of a new independence battle, the people of Barcelona were proudly sporting their flag-striped shirts and we saw several rallies in the streets. Apparently the public was very divided on the issue, polls showing an almost perfect 50/50 split. There’s the obvious question of weather 51% is enough support to divide a nation, and opinions were free flowing, as was the wine. The reasons why Catalans want to be there own country vary, but we gathered it has a lot to do with Catalonia bringing in a large percentage of Spain’s entire GDP. There’s definitely a lot of regional pride.
We spent four days in Barcelona, walking everywhere and seeing very little of the huge city. The food was amazing as was the wine, and we did a good job exploring the eating options. The first day we had a fancy lunch at Michelin-starred Alkimia. (Make reservations in advance.) The “reinventing classic”-style food was amazing and gave Zach great inspiration to get back to work in San Diego.
After 9pm we would cruise the Gothic Quarter, scoping out new bars and tapas joints. The city was bursting with nightlife, everyone out and about.
The Sagrada Familia, Casa Battló, and other works by Antoni Gaudi are scattered about the city. Sagrada Familia, has been under construction since the 1880s. We couldn’t afford to go inside, so maybe we will come back when it’s finished (if ever!)
At the top of a steep hill, the Parque Guell (also designed by Gaudi) features many great viewpoints over looking the entire city. It’s also a great park to walk around and enjoy many talented buskers.
Since Barcelona was the end of our trip, we tried to soak up the relaxed Spanish culture as much as possible. Wine was drunk, tapas were eaten, and many more beautiful streets were explored. Returning home was bittersweet, but we know we found something special in Spain, and we’ll be back.
San Salvador was just…meh. Supposedly it has the best nightlife in Central America but we didn’t really have time or energy to explore that. The city is sprawling, noisy, crowded, polluted, and dirty. We wanted to see more historical sights but everything is so spread out and we were just kind of tired and focused on making it to our flight in one piece. So we wandered around the centro for a few hours and didn’t do much else.
I know we missed a lot in San Salvador, but it wasn’t one of our favorite cities, and honestly, we were pretty burned out. Luckily we made it to the airport and we’re now at home sleeping for about a week to recover from all our 8 months of adventures! Thanks for following along everyone!
As you may recall from Zach’s last entry, he was feeling pretty sickish during our time in Parque Nacional El Imposible. Unfortunately, the day after our epic hike, I woke up with the same bug, and he woke up with the beginnings of a mysterious rash on his hands and feet. So we were definitely in fine form when we got onto the backpacker trail through Antigua, the beginning of our brief stint in Guatemala.
The afternoon we pulled in, I did nothing but lie in bed and feel miserable. What a lame-o. The next morning I pulled myself together enough to walk around a tiny bit and take some uninspired picture of the old city.
Every time we went into a church we had to sit down inside to rest. This picture characterizes how we were feeling:
Fortunately by the end of the day I was starting to feel much better. Not so much for Zach. His rash had spread to his face and was getting worse. Stay tuned for his story of how we ended on the backpacker trail through Antigua…
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La Palma is in the northernmost reaches of El Salvador, just across the border from Honduras. It’s home to world-famous Salvadoran painter Fernando Llort. He founded a style called ” naive art ” which became extremely popular, and then he taught lots of locals how to duplicate paintings in this style, turning them into craftsmen with income-generating businesses! Because of naive art’s fame and brilliance, and the many capable painters in town, La Palma has the most public murals per capita of anywhere in the world! Every wall, business, house, telephone pole, curb, EVERYTHING is painted in this vivid, simple fashion.
La Palma is surrounded by lush mountains and the temperature is quite cool–yay!
Only 12 kilometers away is Cerro El Pital, the highest peak in El Salvador, at 2730 meters (around 9000 feet). San Ignacio, the next town over from La Palma, is the departure point for this hike. The climb is not very daunting, as a road goes most of the way up, so you only have to hike the last 5km of the trail to the summit. Of course we missed the bus going up, but as we started walking uphill from San Ignacio, we saw some people jumping into a pickup, confirmed that they were heading uphill, and joined them! The views as we rode in the back of the truck, climbing higher and higher, were outstanding!
Even better, when we got to the trail and asked the driver how much we owed him, he just smiled and replied, “Nada!” Finally, a first hitchhiking success after many fruitless attempts! The trail up the summit took us about an hour and a half and was steep but not too strenuous. Unfortunately, due to our inability to get up early, clouds were rolling in as we climbed and we couldn’t see anything but white fluff from the top. During clear times (early morning) you can supposedly see into Honduras and Guatemala from the top. So learn from our mistake and if you want to have great views from the summit, go early!
Hiking back down, we got some more partly cloudy views. Again, there was no bus in sight, so we just started hiking down the road hoping a car would pass and pick us up.
Luckily, just as our knees were starting to feel it on the steep slope, a bread truck with two guys in it stopped and crammed us in. They were super friendly and gave us a free ride not only to San Ignacio, but all the way back to La Palma, since they were going that way anyway. Hurrah for hiking and hitchhiking success!!!!!
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Granada, Nicaragua is America’s oldest city. With rich colonial heritage, it was founded in 1524 as the first European city in the Americas.
We spent a few days in Granada, wandering the streets and enjoying the the history. At the top of the Torre de la Merced, there is a bell tower that you can climb up for $1 and take in some good views overlooking the city.
We had a lot of fun just hanging out in the park, watching the people and trying all the random street food.
As with most places in Nicaragua, there are no street names. Well, technically they are named and in Granada some even have signs but, when you ask directions from the locals, their answers are strange and hard to interpret. The way people gave directions in Managua was as follows: there are several landmarks in the city and the directions start there and then they tell you how many blocks and in which direction. North and south are norte and sur but east and west are arriba and abajo. This has to do with the direction of the sunrise and sunset. In Granada east is al lago, “toward the lake.” A bit confusing if you don’t carry a compass around in your pocket!
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