One night in Pisa – is it enough?

One night in Pisa – is it enough to see everything and eat all that pasta?

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Back in May, while solo tripping through the south of France and the north of Spain, I booked a flight to Pisa as a grand finale of what would be my last solo trip as a twenty-something girl, before entering a new decade where society expects me to be a responsible adult (yeah, right).

Eating thousands and thousands of calories in one day and drinking glass after glass of red wine all by myself – all while drooling over sexy Italian men (even though I have a partner waiting for me at home) might not be something a responsible adult would do (yeah, right).

So I went to Italy, and I did exactly that.

My Ryanair flight landed twenty minutes ahead of schedule, which gave me even more time to explore, eat, relax, eat, and explore some more.

From the moment I got in the taxi, I was already starving and just couldn’t wait to sink my teeth into some firm, tasty pasta al dente from the best restaurant I’d be able to find in the neighborhood. Just thinking about it made my stomach growl like crazy.

I stayed at a surprisingly cheap 5 star hotel (Hotel Relais dell’Orologio) in the city center, only a five minute walk from the famous leaning tower. With its very mixed reviews -anything ranging from “it’s dated and dirty”  to “it’s romantic and clean” – I wasn’t sure whether to expect luxury or mediocrity? Cleanliness or dirt?

Well, to my pleasant surprise, it was clean and charming. Old fashioned indeed, but still kind of charming.

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The receptionist was ditsy and gave me little to no information about the room and the facilities. Considering I’m quite ditsy myself, I forgot to ask for the WiFi code and check-out time, and ended up returning not just once – but twice – to the reception to ask different questions. Despite returning to the reception twice to have my questions answered, I did forget to ask about the breakfast. Which I’d already paid for.

As the receptionist hadn’t really given me any information about anything at all, she didn’t say anything about any breakfast buffet either. I did, however, find an in-room breakfast menu on my nightstand, so I filled in the form and hung it on the back of my door. I just assumed they didn’t have a buffet and I’d have to get the food delivered directly to the room.

Thinking about breakfast made me even more hungry and ready for lunch, and I simply just couldn’t wait any longer. Before seeing the leaning tower, before doing anything else, I had to feed my belly with a whole lot of carbs. As soon as I possibly could.

This was my first time in Italy. My first time eating real Italian pasta made in Italy with real Italian ingredients, using real Italian recipes, made by real Italians.

I asked my dear friend Mr. Google to help me find a hidden little restaurant with good reviews and not too much to choose from on the menu. Based on personal experience, the smaller the menu, the higher the quality.

And boy did I sure find a good spot for my first ever meal in Italy!

tagliolini

La Sosta dei Cavalieri served me a plate of delicious freshly made tagliolini with pioppini mushrooms accompanied by a glass of Chianti (Tuscan wine). I wanted to burst out a “Oh my God” while joyfully stuffing my face with the best pasta I had ever tasted in my life.

The couple sitting next to me kept staring at me as if I had arrived from another planet. Especially the girl. She gave me an evil stare, and I’m not quite sure why. Even more so when I opened my camera bag and started photographing my meal before eating it.

Once I’d emptied my plate and filled my stomach, all I wanted was a cup of coffee. With milk. Because I don’t like black coffee and I don’t like to add sugar.

Turns out, asking for a cappuccino in the afternoon in Italy, is just as bad as swearing in church. Maybe even worse. Everyone looked at me as if I was Satan in person, and the server told me he did not have cappuccino so I’d have to drink something else.

Fine, then. Espresso with milk and sugar would have to make do.

My full stomach and I, left the restaurant feeling happy and ready for adventures. Slightly tired and bloated, but as ready as someone who’s eaten way too much pasta, could possibly be.

The leaning tower was obviously my main target while in Pisa, but that didn’t stop me from checking out other things on my way.

pisa square

I stopped and took a moment to admire Piazza dei Cavalieri, a Renaissance square where the magnificent Palazzo della Carovana is located. This late 16th-century palace and university, houses fine art and sculptures. I didn’t enter the building, but I sure took a lot of photos of the beautiful facade.

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Before going to Pisa, I didn’t know there was a botanical garden in the city. Turns out, there is. And it’s gorgeous.

pisa garden

Orto Botanico di Pisa was established in 1544, and is part of the legacy left behind by Cosimo I de’ Medici (the first Grand Duke of Tuscany). The garden is operated by the University of Pisa.

botanical garden

Lose yourself in the art and science of botany, take a stroll with or without your romantic interest, or come to the gardens to let your creativity unfold. I photographed the beautiful flowers, the facade of the Botanical School and the old institute building.

botanic school

I got lost trying to find the exit, and spent maybe twenty minutes wandering around in circles. You may wonder how that’s even possible. Believe me, so do I.

gardens

Once I found the exit, I made my way to the main reason for Pisa being on millions of bucket lists worldwide; the leaning tower.

leaning tower

The tower is not the only fascinating piece of architecture located on Piazza dei Miracoli (formerly known as Piazza del Duomo), as it’s situated next to the amazing Cattedrale di Pisa (cathedral), which again is right next to the Palazzo dell’Opera (palace).

tourist attractions

The translation of Piazza dei Miracoli may be “the square of miracles”, but before anything else it’s the square of tourist traps. Beware of pickpockets and people trying to aggressively sell you things you don’t want or sign petitions you don’t wanna sign!

pisa horse and carriage

And those restaurants that offer a special menu called “tourist menu”, which is basically just lasagna, Carbonara and Bolognese – maybe even a burger and a couple of pizzas – well, avoid them. Unless you wanna spend a lot of money on industrial food served with a large dose of bullshit.

I asked a random guy to take a picture of me in front of the leaning tower, as all my selfies were just bad and made it look like the tower was sticking out of my head or growing on top of it. The guy I asked had a professional camera and was busy photographing his friends, so I figured he’d do a better job than I did.

pisa fail

I’m not too sure about that, anymore.

Even if I hadn’t had time to become hungry again yet, I wanted more pasta. I needed it.

Ristoro Pecorino was the next restaurant of choice.

pastadish

The man who took my order, whom I believe is the owner of the restaurant, was one of the happiest people I’ve ever met. He was laughing, joking and had the biggest smile on his face at all times.

Once again, I felt like I’d just tasted the most amazing pasta in my entire life. Once again, my plate was empty and my stomach was full. Now more so than ever.

That night, I went to bed feeling as full as one would be after a Christmas meal or an eating contest. Just how I always say “I’m never drinking again” when I’m hungover, I wanted to say “I’m never eating again” as I crawled into bed, feeling like my stomach was about to explode.

The following morning was a bit of a drastic change (at first), and I already regretted thinking I’d never ever want to eat anything again ever.

My room service breakfast never arrived. I waited for one complete hour before going to the reception to ask if they offered any kind of breakfast buffet, and informed them about my room service situation. The receptionist apologized and pointed me in the direction of the breakfast buffet, which, did in fact exist.

The buffet ended up being the highlight of my stay at the hotel. The amount of things to choose from was overwhelming. I loved it. Placed on the table, was anything from different kinds of cured ham to pastries to fruits to different kinds of bread to all kinds of cheese. I tried each and every pastry, every sort of cheese, a lot of ham and some fruit – just to add a little bit of vitamins to the mix.

Once again, I said to myself, “I’m never eating again”.

Satisfied with everything I’d seen, done and eaten, I got in a taxi and waved goodbye to the city known for its leaning tower and the country known for its delicious food.

One night in Pisa was all it took for me to fall in love with Italy. So, where do I go next?

red dress

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Happy 1 year Blogiversary! (the story of how it all began)

Today is the one year anniversary of ExploreLoveTravel.net!

I honestly never thought I’d ever reach this milestone, but here I am. Still telling stories, still sharing photos, still climbing up, falling down and getting back on my feet again. Then falling straight on my big fat butt once again, before getting back up and trying over and over again. Ah, the life of a blogger. Incredible, isn’t it?

I wouldn’t have been here if it wasn’t for my muse and my “motivational coach”, my amazing boyfriend who always believed in me and always told me to follow my passion and never ever give up on my dreams. He told me I can be exactly the person I want to be, if only I believe in myself. Such a cliche, right?

But guess what, since one year ago (and for the first time in my life) that’s exactly what I’ve been doing. The road is as bumpy as they get, and boy have I been facing my fair share of obstacles. Nobody ever said it was gonna be easy, did they?

Well, when life gives you lemons, make the most freakin’ brilliant lemonade anyone have ever tasted. Or spice it up with a little rum, and call it a margarita…Because, after all those bumpy rides and obstacles, mama needs her drink!

Thanks to my male muse, I am currently working on my first novel (written in my native language; Norwegian) and I’ve started treating this blog like a business and not just some random online diary.

Still, my blog and I both have a lot of growing up to do in this crazy world of social media marketing and the endless sea of travel blogs, and I hope I’ll one day get to be where I want to be. Fingers crossed.

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And where exactly is that?

Well. Ever since I was a little girl, my dream has always been to become a writer. A writer of short stories, travel novels, memoirs, fiction, poetry, articles.

Writing has always been my therapeutic outlet for my social anxiety and all the darkest moments I’ve had to go through in my life. When I was bullied as a child and when my parents got divorced, I wrote poetry and short stories to cope with the sadness and loneliness I was going through. Just like I did when my father passed away. And all the times I’ve had my heart broken. And all the times I’ve moved from city to city, country to country, to start a new life – a better one – somewhere else, hoping that the grass would be greener on the other side.

I always dreamed it would be.

I dreamed of big city lights and endless possibilities. Those dreams brought me to the capital city, but that was still not enough. I dreamed bigger, and somehow ended up in England. As I continued searching for my purpose, still not satisfied with the path I had taken, I returned to Norway and took a break from it all. I had given up on the idea of becoming the person I wanted to be. I had given up on me.

That is, until the day I got back on the horse again, ready for battle. This is when I decided to chase the American dream, many years after running back to Norway, defeated and disappointed.

In the land of the brave, I landed a job at the happiest place on earth (Disney World, duh), where I spent most of my free time traveling from state to state – and this is when I started getting closer to realizing what I should have known all along.

I am, and always have been, destined to become a storyteller. Well, at least I feel that way.

Yes, I am aware of the fact that I’m no freaking Hemingway. Nor will I ever be as good as Bill Bryson. Nor will I ever win the Pulitzer Prize. Now that’s certain!

But there is room for everyone, even writers like me. Writers who laugh at their own shortcomings and find inspiration in embarrassing moments and awkward scenarios. Yes, that’s me. The girl who laughs at her own jokes and doesn’t have a lot of friends because most people think she’s just weird.

 

In the world of blogging, I’ve found my audience. People who enjoy my style of writing and my sense of humor. People who search for imperfection in a world full of glitz and glamour and pretentiousness.

My novel, as well as future e-books, are/will be written for these people. For the travelers who can’t navigate without getting lost. And those who can’t eat without spilling sauce all over that new, white tee.  And the ones who can’t hike on a rainy day without tripping and falling into the mud at some point. Those who accidentally fart loudly in front of their crush, thinking it would go unnoticed. Those who realize they just told the most inappropriate joke ever and wasted every opportunity they had to become friends with the cool crowd. Those who can’t even form a sentence without messing it up. Or buy train tickets. Or even hold their liquor.

You are my crowd. I write for you.

Ever since the day I created my WordPress account, while on a trip to Sweden with my mother, I knew I had made a life-changing decision. I hadn’t quite figured out my blog’s identity yet, but I knew I was on the right track. I knew how much I wanted to dedicate all my time to travel blogging. I knew how much I wanted to become a writer. I had no idea how hard it would be, but I wanted it. Now more than ever.

In the world of blogging, one year means your blog is still just a baby. But even as a baby, my blog has blessed me with freebies, a couple of paid articles and some sponsorships and affiliate links. Those are the extra compliments I need, in order to stay focused and motivated.

So guess what, I’ll keep that smile on my face and wish my blog a happy happy birthday. May there be many more!

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Cool stuff in the Netherlands: Visit the Alkmaar Cheese Market!

I don’t know about you, but I love cheese. I actually love it so much that I’m sure it’s the main reason why I have my love handles and enormous thighs. Because, not a single day goes by without me eating some kind of cheese at some point of the day.

Last week, my partner and I went road tripping through the Netherlands – and ate A LOT of Dutch Gouda, every single day. We claimed we did it to be cultural, but let’s face it, we’re two fatties who just love everything food-related (and especially cheese).

Being someone who loves to try local specialties when I travel, I am always interested in learning about the traditions, the food culture and participate on local culinary events and celebrations wherever I go. So before going to the Netherlands, we wanted to make sure we wouldn’t miss any kind of event related to Dutch cheese. Because..cheese.

Which is how we ended up visiting Alkmaar for the weekly Alkmaar Cheese Market!

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Uhm.. What exactly is this Cheese Market?

The Cheese Market is the main attraction in town!

From April until the end of September, you can watch the art of cheese trading, according to a tradition which dates back to 1365.

The cheese would be delivered early in the morning, the cheese market masters and traders would then check to see whether the cheeses had been well stacked, and then lots of cheese – something like 30 000 kilos (2200 cheese wheels) would be lined up and ready for purchase.

…And you’ll get to watch all of this at the market!

The most fun part of the cheese market is watching the kaasdragers (cheese porters) identified by their differently colored straw hats, carry the farmers’ cheese on barrows and take them to the weighing house.

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Alright! What else is there to do at the market?

Taste cheese, buy cheese, eat cheese, eat stuff that isn’t cheese, drink beer at one of the nearby terrace bars, buy souvenirs from the artisan market behind the cheese market – or visit the cheese museum. After all this is THE cheese town!

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The Cheese Market sounds awesome! When can I visit?

The Cheese Market takes place from 10 am until 1 pm – every Friday (from March 31st until September 29th). This year there is also an evening market on certain Tuesdays (visit Kaasmarkt.nl for more information)

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I don’t know Alkmaar…How do I get there?

If you’re taking your car, I advise you to park it a bit outside of the main center, or in a parking garage. Street parking can be a bit tricky on busy days like these!

If you’re traveling from Amsterdam by train, there’s a direct connection to Alkmaar from the Amsterdam Central Station (trains depart four times pr hour).

If you’re traveling from Den Helder, Hoorn or Haarlem, there’s also a direct connection to Alkmaar and trains depart twice pr hour.

Shopping for souvenirs?

Pick up a Dutch handmade household item from “the old-fashioned shop”!

BOOM (since 1835) is a family-run traditional shop in the old historic quarter of Alkmaar. For nearly 200 years, this family business has been selling handmade Dutch items including traditional wooden clogs, brushes and ropes in Alkmaar – the cheese capital of the world!

The shop is museum-like and presents timeless Dutch products and good old-fashioned personal service. Loved by locals and tourists alike, this little gem is easy to recognize by its big yellow clog/wooden shoe next to the entrance!

For more information, check out Ouderwetsewinkel.com

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just me being cheesy (oh no, I didn’t just pull that joke, did I?)

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