Montpellier, France

I have had a serious case of the travel bug lately.

It’s holiday season here in the Netherlands (aka: vacation season, for all the Americans in the room). It starts around May, when there are a lot of public holidays, and peaks in August. People at work are literally going on their 2nd round of summer holiday and I’m just impatiently waiting – our turn will come.

Case in point – a long weekend spent in beautiful Montpellier, France!

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Shane spent the beginning of the week here for a conference, and I was able to join him when it ended.

One might ask, “What are the things you loved most about Montpellier?”

Well, let me tell you.

Gelato. Everywhere. Even though it’s not Italy.

I lived my best gelato life. I even remembered my lactose pills this time! (hahaaa)

“It doesn’t matter where you go, you always end up somewhere you know.” – Shane

(he’s quite the poet, huh?)

Arc de Triomphe (and no, we’re not in Paris!)
Promenade du Peyrou
Historic city center.
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Statue of Louis XIV

You “wibble wobbled” down the cutest streets.

(wibble wobble: the act of wandering aimlessly until you “end up somwhere you know”.)

Fun fact. Wibbel wobbeling is basically required here because google maps doesn’t work with the public transportation. The tram system is great!… once you figure it out. Which I was not so successful at when I arrived by myself at ~11pm on Wednesday.

Open Google maps. Suggests to walk. Get on tram anyway. Blue dot goes away from city center. Phone battery hits 15%. Shane is in city center. Panicked. Got off in {what felt like} the middle of nowhere. Got back on. Went back to where I came from. Dropped pin. Waited for Shane. Walked 25 min home anyway.

Turns out, tram line went in a circle – should have stayed on in EITHER DIRECTION. Facepalm.

Luckily for us, our Airbnb was in city center. No Google maps, only wibbel wobbeling, required.

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The view from our AirBnb.

There was no shortage of delicious food and rosé.

For instance, the delectable delights found at a restaurant called Playfood. Shane found this place before I arrived, and could not wait to go because of the concept: similar to tapas, small, sharable portions with a variety of flavors (desserts also!). You had “the crab one” and “the zucchini one” and the “I-don’t-know-what-I’m-eating-but-you-better-try-this-before-it’s-gone one”. It was also the type of restaurant where you literally couldn’t have sat inside if you wanted to because all 6 tables for the whole restaurant were outside and the owner was your watier. I always find these places so charming!

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We also decided to expand our eating, drinking, and wibble wobbeling to a new location.

Montpellier is in very close proximity to the beach.

Which can also be accessed by public transportation…without Google maps (Google itself was helpful, just no maps). But we managed, and somehow only paid half of the price we expected for the bus ticket!

We went down the path of least resistance considering we didn’t really have much to go on for directions. The beach we where we ended up was nice, but certainly not the best beach I’ve been to. Lots of places to eat and drink, which was good, and souvenir shops. For those at home, it kind of reminded me of a Myrtle Beach-type beach with clearer water, if I was going to make a comparison.

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Paradon me, I forgot to take off my white bodysuit before I got in the water…
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And lastly, more of a bonus really…

Picasso exhibit at the Musée Fabre!

I will admit I did a pretty poor job at doing any planning before we came. Not that we generally plan every moment of our time somewhere, but we at least have looked up a few priority viewing items. Lucky for us, advertisements for this exhibit were everywhere, and we were happy to have been able to go.

All in all, it was a lovely change of pace from Groningen and work for both Shane and I. (Yes – still working on that thesis. Things always take so much longer than anticipated.)

So, until next time, Montpellier!

Tot ziens,

Whitney

Venice, Italy

Ahh, beautiful Venice!

Last weekend we whisked off to meet some friends at the beginning of their summer holiday, and (if I do say so myself) we kicked it off pretty well! The company, the scenery, the weather, the wine… it was all fantastic.

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Here are a few reflections from our weekend in Italy.

The streets of Venice are really beautiful… and you WILL get lost. 

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That’s part of the fun though (until you’ve been walking for an hour and still haven’t reached your destination). Long story short, get ready to get lost despite signs like ‘per (to) Rialto’ and ‘per San Marco’ guiding you to various parts of the city. We heard it’s easy to walk in circles, and it’s true, so if you’re on a time schedule I would suggest aiming to be there 15 min. before you’re supposed to.

Additionally, don’t seek out the Rialto bridge because

You will cross the Rialto 15,000x in your attempt to navigate the city.

And if you’re very lucky you’ll get to drag your 25kg (50lbs) suitcase up and over on multiple occasions.

but no worries, because when your lost and out of breath…

There is never a bad time for wine and gelato! 

All day. Every day.

Get a little turned around trying to find your AirBNB at midnight? Gelato will fix that.

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28°C (83°F), you’re out of water and you’re only halfway through your walking tour?

Wine is the answer!

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And yes, Venice is crowded, but

If you wander off the beaten path (aka: point number one – get lost) you can find yourself all alone.  

For instance, we wandered to Campo Santa Margherita where it was clear that there were fewer tourists and more students/actual residents. Here, we found a cocktail bar and GUESS WHAT! The bartender’s girlfriend (6 degrees of separation, I know) was from Wilmington, NC and he was flying to Charlotte (my hometown) next week to visit her! What a small world.

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and speaking of finding cool places.

Walking tours are the way to go. 

While the tour we chose this time wasn’t too rich in the history of Venice (in fact, we didn’t really learn anything) we were taken to some places in the city we would have never found on our own. Such as this really cool art shop in the Jewish Ghetto where we ended up purchasing two paintings.

One was titled ‘Cats of the Ghetto’. I mean come on – I had to have it.

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We also walked through a square which was once Muslim, as evidenced (I don’t remember why) by limestone carvings on the wall. Interestingly enough, all of them had their noses broken off. We saw this in Egypt too, for example with the Sphinx, where the pieces of the noses were broken off for luck. Here, one guy had his broken nose replaced with a brass one. Now, it’s good luck to touch the nose.

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We also saw one of two remaining bridges in the entire city without railings (parapet), got a secluded view from a monastery, saw some interesting art, and ended with a spectacular view from above.

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Also, the internet did not lie to me.

If possible, buy your tickets to the major sights online and visit after 2pm.

We pre-purchased our tickets online for Basilica San Marco (St. Mark’s Basilica) and for Doge’s Palace. For both, we went around 4pm and walked straight in.

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The Bridge of Sighs

And no, we didn’t go up the bell tower in St. Mark’s Square. We did, however, take the water bus across the lagoon to San Giorgio Maggiore and climb (lol ok not climb – elevator-ed) up it’s bell tower for a fantastic view over the main island, and the surrounding ones. Again, thank you internet for that suggestion!

View from the San Giorgio bell tower back towards the main island.
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And finally,

No, we didn’t ride a gondola. 

A gondola ride station with San Giorgio in the background.

To be perfectly honest, we talked about it and voted against it.

1) It’s expensive. €80 for 30 min (for up to 6 people). For us – €20 per person. Which we would have gladly shelled out if it hadn’t been for my next point.

2) Everyone looked BORED. Seriously. Maybe it was the heat? Or the fact that all the gondolas seem to take the same route, so you end up in a traffic jam. Who knows.

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Perhaps if we had ventured to a more quiet street we could have found a ‘road less traveled’ gondola route, but for us, it just wasn’t worth it.

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So, in a nutshell, that was our trip! We really enjoyed Venice, and even more so that we got to explore it with friends! We miss you guys already! 🙂

Shane should be making a video of our trip. Until then,

Tot ziens!

Whitney

The Shwits Go to Egypt: Part 1

I know… its a shock. It’s been months since we’ve posted anything, but for good reason! We’ve been laying low and patiently waiting.

…for this

We went on our first vacation! To Marsa Shagra, Egypt to learn how dive to be exact. It’s beautiful right? It’s still kind of hard to believe we just spent a week there.

Marsa Shagra is a small village in the south of Egypt. It’s about four hours south of Luxor, and sits right on the coast of the Red Sea. We flew into Marsa Alam airport, and then it was about a 30 min car ride to the resort. Egypt is literally a desert. Hah, I know that sounds so ridiculous because of course its a desert, but it’s really made apparent when you’re driving on the only road through a sea of dirt and sand.

We stayed in the Marsa Shagra Village which is one of three owned by Red Sea Diving Safari. They aren’t your typical resort as they advertise themselves as “The Eco-diving Adventure”, and this ended up being exactly what we were looking for. For starters, most people stay in “tents”.

There are two types, regular and royal. We opted for the royal tent, and completely lucked out because ours was front row on the Red Sea! They did have electricity so we had 2 small lamps and a mini-fridge. Most importantly, the royal tent came with bean bag chairs.

You could also opt to stay in a one room hut, or a two room chalet. The tents and huts used communal bathrooms around the property, but the chalets had their own. The communal bathrooms really weren’t an issue. Each one had 3 toilets and 3 showers, and were cleaned multiple times per day. The only downfall is having to pee in the middle of the night…

The huts.

We spent a lot of our down time sitting on our “porch” reading and watching. The great part about this place was if you were at your tent then you really felt like you were away from it all. And at night (when the moon wasn’t too bright) you could just stare at the stars. I was pretty excited by this since we don’t see many stars in the city. In my opinion, it was beach camping at it’s finest.

If you compare the two pictures below, the one on the right is the view of our resort, and the one on the left is the neighboring. We walked down the beach and through it one day. Everything becomes artificially green, and the music is going, and people are drinking and dancing. None of this is a bad thing, it just wasn’t the experience we wanted.

If we wanted to have a little social interaction then we spent time either hanging out at the Cafeteria, or at the Bawadi Bedouin Lounge. The cafeteria made for some excellent people watching. This was situated right by the diving area so and was scattered with chairs, tables, and beanbags. It was great, because you could get a little sun, sip on your beer (or all inclusive coffee/Fanta/Sprite/Coke), and watch divers come and go.

The Bawadi Bedouin Lounge was on the property but not run by the resort itself. It was run by people from the local Bedouin tribe in the area. They had beer, coffee, hookas and you could have dinner there on request. Mostly we just stopped by for a beer on our way ‘home’ for the night after a day in the sun.

As I mentioned before, your basic drinks were all inclusive as were meals. Breakfast, lunch and dinner were included and served in the Restaurant which had an outdoor seating area overlooking the sea and the diving area. The panoramic picture in the beginning was our view from breakfast. I think one of my favorite parts of the whole trip was waking up with the sun, going to breakfast, and having coffee with that view!

The food was incredible! Breakfast was usually the same, but lunch and dinner were always changing. Each night supposedly had a nation theme, but we were never entirely sure what nation. Hah. The only one we were ever sure of was Egyptian night because they labeled the traditional Egyptian dishes as such. And the dessert table! Oh sweet glorious dessert table. So much cake! and little cookies! and one night these chocolate cookie dough type balls! We were living the desert dessert dream!

Note to self with all inclusive… you can, and I did, eat myself sick. Literally. Not sure if it was dehydration, food I wasn’t used to, or the diving, but we lost half a day about mid-week to stomach issues. You know you’ve found a keeper when he cleans up your puke in the middle of the desert. #truelove

Other than the one incident, the trip was absolutely fantastic! Shane’s boss recommended this place to us, and it certainly did not disappoint! Everyone should go to the Red Sea!

The main dock where divers would come and go by boat.

Had to have the feet pictures. Just for you, Mom. 🙂

Well, I think that’s all! Now, on to the best part and the purpose of the whole trip…

SCUBA!

Ok, so we’re snorkeling here but that’s not the point.

Check out Part 2!

Tot ziens!

Whitney