Friday, July 27, 2012

Venice and Murano

Our first stop on our month long vacation was Venice. We left for our first cruise in Venice, but we spent a few days there first. We absolutely loved it...but didn't love our hotel so much. Sam booked our hotel online through a Groupon-like offer...never doing that again! The hotel was pretty bad. The room was gross, and we didn't have a private bathroom. We had to walk across the dining room to get to the bathroom. Sam was walking over one morning to brush his teeth, and an older lady apparently didn't realize she needed to bring a towel with her from the room. Sam regrettably witnessed her grabbing a paper tablecloth in the dining room to wrap around herself as she paced to her room...haha. But other than that, our stay there was amazing.

I remember a few years back someone told me Venice was a dump, and to not bother with it. That person couldn't have been more wrong. A lot of the buildings were old and a little dilapidated, but they were BEAUTIFUL! Maybe it is just the artist in me, but I found incredible beauty in Venice. It was definitely one of my favorite cities we visited. It is such a unique city. Sam and I really enjoyed exploring the cobblestone walkways. One thing we sadly did not do while we were there was ride a gondola. We really wanted to, but they were SO expensive! (Even the cheapest ones for a short ride were about $200.) The gondoliers are incredibly talented, and it is considered an art. If we had more than just two people we definitely would have ridden one, as we could have shared the cost. We ended up taking a helicopter tour instead, which was just over half the cost!

LOVE the various building hues!
No roads = no cars
About to embark on our helicopter ride. Excuse my was out of control.
View from the air! Excuse the Holga-esque photo. 
Pretty sure he enjoyed himself in that helicopter...haha
In Piazza San Marco they had these little music groups playing all over the square. They'd switch to another band as soon as one finished. My favorite was their rendition of "Con te Partiro". I couldn't help but think of Andrea Bocelli singing it
Piazza San Marco (which Sam pointed out is in The Italian Job and Casino Royale)
A Venetian parking lot
Sorry for the blurry photo...One thing I learned while traveling in Europe...people do not understand how DSLR's work. We really tried hard to ask someone who had one to take our picture, but it didn't always happen. 
Dozens of bridges throughout the city where you can score views like this
Not much yard work for these families
It's fun taking the water taxi to see the architecture lit up at night.

We also were able to ride the ferry to Murano. I grew up around a lot of glass blowers, so I have wanted to go to Murano for a long time. For a little while I worked for my dad's glass art magazine and gallery. We once hosted a Murano glass artist named Afro Celotto. While he was visiting, he actually came to my birthday party, as well. He didn't speak much English, but he was very nice. So when we knew we were going to Murano, we decided to pay him a visit. We got a hold of him at his gallery, and he did remember us, and especially thought highly of my dad. After taking us out for some gelato* (more on gelato to come), he invited us to come back to Murano the next day to take a tour of his studio and watch him blow glass. He is an incredibly talented artist and we were very excited! Check out his website to see some of his amazing pieces HERE. You might not be able to tell on the website, but those pieces he blows are HUGE! As you can imagine, it was incredibly hot in the studio. Being July on the Mediterranean, it was ridiculously hot outside to start with, and adding in a few super hot furnaces...yea it was roasting.

He also sent us home with a carafe for my dad. We did not have room in our luggage for it...and since this was the beginning of a month long trip, it wouldn't necessarily be safe in our luggage anyway. So we had quite the ordeal trying to ship it home from Venice, but it worked out in the end!

Afro and me in his studio
Venice from our cruise ship
Last views of Venice
Let the first cruise begin....

*Gelato side note...I have always been a big fan of course. There is a gelato place in Los Gatos called Dolce Spazio, and it is great. I have been there a lot...but it does not compare to gelato in Italy. I had amazing gelato in pretty much every Mediterranean city we went to. I even had it for breakfast before going to the Vatican...haha.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Bungee Jumping

Now that I finally have all the right photos moved on to our current computer, I decided to FINALLY catch up on our blog! So for the record, my next few posts will all be from last year. I am so sorry we took such a long hiatus.

One of our last few days in London, Sam and I rented a car to take a bunch of our stuff to storage for some friends who were moving to London the next month. So we decided to explore the area just a little bit more. Most notably, we drove down to Windsor (we had already seen the castle with Jason and Krista) and decided to go bungee jumping! The bungee place was right next to a cute lake in Bray. The whole area was so picturesque. This was something I have wanted to do since I was very young, but I'd always chickened out. They don't  have very many bungee jump sites in the U.S. anymore, so we decided we should go in the UK before we left! Here are some pictures of our experience (captions by Sam). We did a tandem 160-foot drop, and it was incredible!

Bray Lake near Windsor
Sam getting harnessed in
Nerves doing okay just before the ascent

Our launch point, from a crane 160 feet up
Last moment of nerves doing okay (Is that a koosh ball?)
Geronimo! (nerves shot)
Still nothing but gravity here
The required hug position provided a false sense of security.
Screams of excitement/pain (The head rush is a killer.)
Can ya bounce wit' me?
We agreed that, from now on, we'll only fight while suspended upside-down by our feet from a crane.
Eventually our bungee cord snapped, but they caught us. (not really)

As you can see it was a beautiful day for bungee jumping! We jumped through the UK Bungee Club for anyone else interested!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Vote for Brittany!

Brittany recently entered a travel photo contest for the San Jose Mercury News. She entered a few photos, but I'm betting her royal wedding photo has the best chance to win one of the prizes. Click HERE to vote for her. It only takes one click on the page. Thanks!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Some Catching Up To Do

We're way behind on our blog, but I thought we'd just note the fact that we're alive and well, back in the US. When we finished our rotation in London, we took the entire month of July off to travel all over Europe. We have way too many photos and videos to sort through right now, but we just wanted to give you a taste of what's to come! We're getting settled back into "real life" in California--Sam at KPMG's Silicon Valley office; Brittany at San Jose State. As a bonus, we get to have her dad back in the Los Gatos Ward as the bishop after he served in the bishopric of the YSA Ward for over five years.

Here's a preview of what our next several blog posts will consist of...

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Scotland - Highlands and Loch Ness (photos & video)

We did an all-day bus tour of the Scottish Highlands. Our bus driver was Scottish, of course, and had a really good sense of humour. He was fun to listen to, which was good because our tour was about 12 hours long! The Highlands were really impressive. I thought Ireland was green, but I think Scotland has one up on them. I'm used to big, rocky mountains from the time I spent in Utah, but it was really cool to see how high up the green went on these. We also visited Urquhart Castle and did a little boat cruise on Loch Ness. It did get pretty rainy, but that was just part of the experience.

Scotland - City of Edinburgh & Edinburgh Castle (photos & video)

Brittany and I were able to squeeze in a tour to Scotland a couple weeks ago. It's a beautiful country, and I was surprised to find it even more green than Ireland. Go figure! We took a train up to Edinburgh, where they gave us a guided tour of the city. A couple days later, we also took a tour of Edinburgh Castle. I really liked the setting up on the hill, and our tour guide was pretty entertaining. (Probably one of the best accents I've heard over here, too.) The tour company organized for us to stay at a cozy, little bed & breakfast, and our hosts were very thoughtful and welcoming.

The highlight of the trip was getting to visit my friends from high school, along with their little son. Tom and Chandra were high school sweethearts and have now been married for five years. Their son Rory (about a year and half) is pretty adorable. I think Brittany's a little jealous that Chandra has a little model for spur-of-the-moment photo ops! We had a great time with them, though, and both wished we had more time to spend with them. We were kicking ourselves afterward that we didn't get a picture with them, but we'll have to settle for staying in touch on Facebook.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Ireland - Day 3 (photos & video)

Puppies! Our last day in Ireland was really fun--horseback riding through Kilarney National Park and cruising the Dingle Peninsula. Possibly the best part for all of us, though, was the puppies. I'm a little sad we didn't get a picture or a video, but there was actually a little runt from the litter than sprinted up to greet us as soon as we drove up. He would seriously fit in the palm of your hand. I think the hardest part of the trip was coming to grips with the fact that we couldn't take any of them home with us. We were also sad for Jason in his fruitless quest to find berries in Dingle. The coastline on the peninsula was very impressive, though. Very glad we were able to fit that in.

Ireland - Day 2 (photos & videos)

Our first night, we stayed in a 2-bedroom lodge at Blarney Golf Resort. It was really cool! We basically had a nice, big house to ourselves for cheaper than two hotel rooms would have been. We kicked off the morning at Blarney Castle so we could all kiss the Blarney Stone.

Ireland - Day 1 (photos & videos)

One of the highlights of our time over here in UK was a trip we took earlier this month with Jason & Krista to Ireland. We found cheap flights for a long weekend, and drove a car all over the southern half of the country. It was incredible! The landscapes were breathtaking, there were animals everywhere, and the people had an infectious sense of humour (yes, I used a 'u') that always made you smile. I was expecting everything to be green, but my jaw still dropped a few times seeing the cliffs, valleys, and so on. It was also fun to see so much wildlife and farm animals--a nice change of pace after living in one of the biggest cities in the world for six months.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Tower of London and Kew Palace and Gardens (photos & video)

Although Brittany and I had visited the Tower of London a year and a half ago, our membership to the Royal Palaces allowed us to back with Jason and Krista for free. We visited the torture room, enjoyed a tour with a Yeoman Warder (aka beefeater), and saw the Crown Jewels. Afterward, we headed out to the Thames to get a few pictures with the famous Tower Bridge--not to be confused with the more mundane London Bridge. We also made a brief stop in Westminster for a photo op.

Dover Castle and the White Cliffs (photos & video)

We then drove to southeastern corner of England to visit Dover. Brittany and I had been there before, but it was pretty disappointing. This time we got romp around Dover Castle and hike along the White Cliffs. I love castles like this that were designed as fortresses--not some frilly little palace. There was also a Roman lighthouse that was about 2,000 years old. The cliffs were pretty awesome. They drop hundreds of feet straight down to the water. The white cliffs made of chalk can be seen across the English Channel from France on a clear day, but it was never clear enough for us to see France. Our cell phones, for some reason, had no trouble "seeing across." We kept getting messages that we were roaming in France once we got down by the cliffs. We ended getting locked into the park because we cheated a bit with how far we walked out. After jamming to some blues on the radio, a ranger (or the British equivalent) let us out. By the way, if you hear the phrase, "Give me a boost!" scattered throughout our videos with Jason and Krista, you can ignore it. Just one of those dumb things that sticks.

Windsor Castle and Jane Austen's House (photos & videos)

Brittany's brother Jason and his wife Krista came to visit us in June. We didn't go easy on them, either. The very first day after they arrived, we rented a car and hit the road. It was my first driving on the "wrong" side of the road, so it may have been a blessing to have five months off first, getting accustomed to the reverse flow of traffic. I think I did okay, but they upgraded us to a big Volvo, rather than the compact we reserved. It was nice having the extra leg room, but they were some roads where it felt like the car was spilling over line on both sides.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Hampton Court Palace, Westminster Abbey, plus Houses of Parliament and Brittany's Birthday (photos & videos)

Between Easter, the Royal Wedding, and the Bank Holidays, I had two consecutive 4-day weekends. That's why we decided to do our trip to Spain and Portugal in April. To conclude this wonderful season of being untethered to my laptop or Blackberry, we visited Hampton Court Palace and Westminster Abbey. Hampton Court Palace was one of Henry VIII's primary residences, about 12 miles southwest of London. A lot of the videos I took of the interior were even drier than usual, so I trimmed a lot of it out. It was a really interesting palace, though. I think one of my favorite things was the plethora of chimneys. It was like THIS scene from Mary Poppins.

Roehampton University, Shakespeare's Globe, and Arsenal Football (photos)

I have finished my semester at Roehampton University. It has definitely been a different University experience than I am used to, but still a good one! I will miss some friends that I made, taking the tube and bus down to school (even if sometimes it was miserable), and just hanging around the beautiful campus. Sorry if this post is boring to most of you, but I just want to remember my university experience!

Leeds Castle, Canterbury Cathedral, Dover (Round 1) (photos & videos)

The day after the Royal Wedding, Brittany and I went on a bus tour through southeastern England. We first stopped at Leeds Castle. I hadn't really done my research on English geography because I was assuming Leeds Castle was in the city of Leeds. Leeds, though, is actually up north, about halfway up to the heart of Scotland. The origin of the name Leeds Castle is still debated by historians. Anyway, it was lived in until just a few decades ago, so it's still in pretty good shape. The interior was fancy and all, but the most impressive thing about it was actually the setting. The moat/lake really made the castle "pop." The gardens were nice, plus they had an aviary and a hedge maze.