5 Train Tips for Europe

There are quite a few things Europeans understand better than Americans, one of those things being the train system. Now, during our travels, we opted NOT to use the Eurail trains, only because we were staying in two countries, primary Italy for most of our trip. Having no clue how to begin booking trains in a foreign country, I mentally screamed “YOLO” and got on my computer. Here is what I learned.

If you are going to stay local, then train local.

For local trains, you really don’t need to book that far in advance, especially if you are staying within a couple hours of your destination. Several times overseas, we took a chance and booked the morning of, and it was easy peasy. In Germany, we used the Deutsche Bahn local trains, available at pretty much any train station in Germany. From Munich, we traveled to Garmisch Partenkirchen and Salzburg, Austria, all on the DB Trains. In Italy, we used the Trenitalia trains to each of our destinations. Both trains systems are nearly identical, minus the country and language (duh). English is always an option on the machines. You simply walk up to the machine, type in your destination, time, and coach class of your preference. Most machines take cash or card, but take note before you start the process. Check the departure board to find your platform, and enjoy the ride.

For trips over two hours, book ahead.

Knowing we had longer train rides in our future, we did book some trains in advance. We booked trains in advance from Milan → Cinque Terre, Cinque Terre → Pompeii, and Pompeii → Rome. If you think booking flights is easy, booking trains is easier. We only booked ahead on our Italian trains through Trenitalia, but the website literally walks you through it. The only hiccup I ran into was the Trenitalia website note translating from Italian to English. I was able to cross reference previous reservations and with the help of Google Translate, we had no issues!

Get motion sick? Plan accordingly.

Coming from someone who can’t swing on a damn swing set anymore, make sure you select seats that are comfortable for you. We opted to get seats facing each other on each train, that way I could face the direction the train was moving, while Derek could lovingly gaze into my eyes (really, it was better for playing cards).

You don’t have to get there super early!

My over-planning-paranoid brain was ready to be at the station at least 30 minutes in advance. The trains are very punctual and leave exactly when they say they will, never earlier. There is no security check-ins, some places didn’t even have anyone checking tickets before the platforms. Don’t be a total buffoon about it, but you don’t have to get there as early as a flight.

Be aware of your surroundings at all times!

Train stations are bustling with people coming and going, some just hanging out. Keep your bags close and pay attention to everything around you.

So that’s it! We entertained ourselves with the views and a deck of cards. It’s cheaper, more scenic, and less stress to travel Europe by train.

Bon voyage and keep cheesin’!

-C

trains, europe, travel, italy, germany, cheese

My new favorite way to travel.

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Pompei and Pompeii. Let’s learn the difference. Together.

Odds are, if you’re going to Europe, you’re going for the history. Pompei is a history goldmine. For us, Pompei was our fourth stop. We arrived after wining and hiking (and wining some more) in Cinque Terre’s Corniglia. It was going to be a tall task to top it, and turns out, Pompei didn’t come close, but that’s okay! You don’t go to Pompei for the relaxation, or to get away from it all – you go for the history! Within the city itself lies the ancient ruins of Pompeii (note the two “i’s”) – an ancient Roman city whose citizens lived luxurious, pampered, and alarmingly sexual lives. Oh, and there’s a fucking active volcano here. Let’s dive in, but before that, let’s review:

Pompei = City and commune in the metropolitan city of Naples

Pompeii = Ancient Roman city whose fate was brought to you in part by ash blanket suffocation and molten death

Pompeii, Rome, Ruins, Vesuvius

A statue stares out at the range surrounding Pompeii.

Welcome to Pompei!

We had three full days to spend in Pompei, and our plate was full. No different than our other stops, we booked an AirBnb in the heart of town. Our host was Serena, and although we did not get the chance to physically meet her, she was by far the most accommodating of our hosts. She helped us book trains and travel for nearly all our Italian destinations, and her pal Alfonso even picked us up from Napoli Centrale. This sounds sketchy, but it turned out to be quite the opposite. It was immediately apparent he was not a crazed axe murderer – he was just a life-loving guy with a passion for his city. On our way to the Airbnb, he stopped at a local shop and ordered fresh mozzarella for us – which was such a life-altering, beautiful moment that I was immediately saddened I would rarely, if ever, get to experience such a thing ever again.

Mozzarella, pompei, pompeii, italy, rome, napoli, cheese, gouda life

You can’t buy it like this in the US, folks.

The Ruins of Pompeii

In an effort to combat this unexpected depression, we opted to fight fire with fire and visit the Pompeii ruins the afternoon we arrived. After Alfonso left from getting us situated at the apartment, Cate and I hopped outside to walk there. From Serena’s Airbnb, the ruins are a mere 15 minute walk away. Pompei is a bustling town, and locals stand beside their storefronts desperately inquiring you to buy their things. Fair-skinned and blonde, Cate and I were remarkably American and thus ideal targets for the store workers. Be prepared to say “no thanks” plenty of times. An interesting tactic some of the tour stop workers would employ is asking us if we’re going to Pompeii, and then telling us we’re going the wrong way. Don’t worry – you’re going the right way, they just want you to buy into their tours. Another thing – please do not get frustrated with this – it’s their well-being!

pompeii, pompei, ruins, rome, civilization, vesuvius, europe, italy, travel, gouda life

Once inside the confines of the ruins, you’re immediately hit with the realization that you’re deeply immersed in one of the most historical areas in the world. Excavations are still taking place, and efforts to immortalize the ruins are ongoing. As you venture inward, the understanding of how great a place this once was will hit you. Pompeii, and most of the Roman Empire, was vastly ahead of its time. Technology like running water and warm, community baths will amaze you, and the artistic creations, whether decorative or architectural, will overwhelm you. Then you will realize this entire place was completely buried when Mount Vesuvius blew its top in 79 AD. There are casts of Pompeii’s citizens on display here – people covering their faces and protecting their children – you will also see the casts of dogs, as well. It’s all quite morbid and sad, really, but it’s humbling to observe. The most fascinating of it all is while you wander through the ruins, you will run into ancient depictions of Vesuvius, and you will notice the top goes to a point, rather than the flat-top it shows today. For me, this illustrated the magnitude of Vesuvius’ eruption – it literally blew its top off – encasing Pompeii and its citizens in thick ash for hundreds of years.

History is terrifying, but it’s important. We reflected over pizza and wine.

Mount Vesuvius

IMG_4173

Volcanoes, man. They’re kind of a like a highway to Earth’s core. Occasionally, the Earth gets aggravated and spews its wrath in a demonstration of monstrous power. As mentioned above, Vesuvius had one such eruption in 79 AD, and it did its best to completely erase a once thriving town. If you’re in Pompei, you owe it to yourself to check it out.

We walked the same route we took to the ruins, and the same gal told us we were going the wrong way. NICE TRY. The shuttles to Vesuvius pick you up at Pompei Scavi train station. From there, you start heading up to the rim. About halfway, you stop for a moment and switch into a vehicle better suited for the terrain awaiting you on the journey ahead. It looks like this:

Mercedes-Benz, 4x4, ATV

If you have any tendency to be susceptible to motion sickness, I recommend bringing along some dramamine or rocking some seabands. It’s a bumpy ride. After about 15 or 20 minutes, the bus drops you off, and leaves you with a 15 minute hike to the top. As with any hike, always remember to take your eyes off the ground every once in a while. From up here, you see the cities surrounding Vesuvius spread out around you. In the distance, you can see the Isle of Capri fighting the fog to meet your eyes. You see Pompeii, and you begin to fathom the magnitude of the infamous eruption. Once you reach the rim, you can peer into Vesuvius’ top. It’s covered in gravel, but steam still seeps out in some areas. To be honest, it’s alarmingly ominous, but you’ll notice there are sensors everywhere monitoring Vesuvius’ state, so any eruption can (theoretically) be predicted. Taking in the views around you, you realize that such an activity would pair beautifully with some wine. Conveniently, there’s some for sale up there, and it’s as intoxicating as it is affordable (very). Don’t overdo it though – you’ve got the commute back down to endure.

That night, we enjoyed some pasta and pesto, and cheap wine. The European Soccer Championships were on, and Italy was playing. I had always known that soccer was huge in Europe, but when Italy won that night, Pompei sounded like a war zone. I became a soccer fan that night.

Capri

Capri, Italy, Island, cliffs, ferry, boat, sea, Mediterranean,

On our final full day, we wanted nothing more than to have caprese on Capri, so we did just that. We took some rickety trains, and then a ferry across the Mediterranean to Capri. The sights were breathtaking, and the island became more beautiful as we inched closer. A bustling port greeted us as houses overlooked the bay. The first bit of depressing news hit when we discovered that the Blue Grotto was closed due to the tide. This is one of the primary attractions on the island, so we were left to explore and find Cate her caprese salad.

Before moving on, I need to admit something. The lack of the Blue Grotto, and the outrageously expensive, forgettable merchandise started getting to me. I got wrapped up in the disappointment and failed to absorb the world around me there. If you sense this happening to you, do everything in your power to stop it, or else you’ll end up feeling good about telling people Capri is “kinda like a floating Bonner Springs luxury outlet mall,” – which it most certainly is not.

caprese, capri, isle, italy, naples, centrale, eats, salad, fresh

Caprese in Capri

Anyway, Cate and I found a nice spot with Caprese on the menu. It was well enjoyed, and after a bit more exploring, we took the ferry back to Pompei and the rickety train back to our Airbnb. I would like to go back some time to get a more adequate serving of Capri.

Our final day in Pompei came to a close.

In short, here’s your Pompei to-do list:

  1. See the ruins
  2. Go to Mount Vesuvius
  3. Purchase and consume fresh mozzarella
  4. Eat pizza
  5. Learn stuff!

-D

Champagne and Cheese: Ça Va’s Got It

It has been many moons since our last cheese platter, and we apologize for that. We’re still on the hunt for KC’s best cheese plate. Our latest stop was at Westport’s Ça Va. Ça Va is a French Champagne cocktail hot spot, best known for the exclusive list of bubbles and the like. To be honest, I still don’t know how to pronounce it, but boy did we feel fancy being inside.

cava, cheese plate, kansas city, kc, cheese, blog, food, wine, review, ranking

Oui oui!

Our date turned into a double date. When we called for a reservation, we specifically requested a table in a corner or a secluded area. We arrived and were placed in the first table in front, stuck between the front door and the patio door. Humph. We asked to be moved: wish was granted.

The atmosphere of Ça Va is classic and chic. Very busy on a Wednesday at 7:00 PM, not many seats left empty. There is a huge French flag hanging in the window with corks everywhere for decor. Large candle castles were a nice touch, feeling like this place has been here for 100 years worth of candles. So we sit down and order our drinks from our lovely waitress, Solace. For me- prosecco and for Derek, a Dapper Sipper (don’t tell me that’s not fun to say). We put in our order for their cheese plate and waited in extreme anticipation.

cava, cheese plate, kansas city, kc, cheese, blog, food, wine, review, ranking

So cute.

Then…she arrived. Smaller than anticipated, we were hoping the three tiny cheeses presented in front of us would have enough bang to make us look past their minuscule size. It was pretty to look at, I’ll give them that. Our plate consisted of three cheeses, carrot paste (which I’m convinced was pickled), blackberries, and pickled shallots. Served with a side of pretzel crisps, we were locked and loaded. Hold on to ya butts…

cava, cheese plate, kansas city, kc, cheese, blog, food, wine, review, ranking

Isn’t she loooovellyy?

Camembert from St. Louis
This cheese looks like a love child between brie and feta. It is a soft white cheese, defined by a dusted, thick, white rind. It is fairly “stenchless” (yes, odorless is the word, but we prefer stenchless). When this camembert first hits your lips, it isn’t much, however the flavor sharpens as it makes its way towards the back of your tongue. I would recommend this cheese on a pretzel crisps and only on a pretzel crisp. This cheese is not going to impress your friends, but it won’t be a total L-7 weenie at a party. It is sort of like the second Jurassic Park movie: decent, but not life changing.

Everton
Never heard of it. SO, with my knowledge of the name and that it comes from Indiana, I hit the ol’ interwebs and I am ASSUMING this is a cheese from the Jacobs & Brichford Farms out of southeast Indiana. This cheese has a yellowish tint, semi soft, thick rind, giving the appearance of a white cheddar. To be honest, it was sort of a buzzkill. As the theme continues, it was better with a pretzel crisp. Our friend tried a bit and responded with a definite, “HUH.” Which was followed by, “If this was on a dating app, I would not swipe right.” Boom. Roasted.

Cabrales
We saved this one for last because, well, it looked the most exciting. This Spanish blue cheese is made from cow’s, goat’s, AND sheep’s milk. SAY WHAT. How riveting! All four of us agreed that this cheese is THE inspiration for the Stinky Cheese Man. With the other two cheeses proving to be the co-mayors of Bum-City, I was ready. Give me flavor or give me death. After so much anticipation, the truth was revealed. For me? I enjoyed it. It was soft and smooth, with that kick of blue veins to give it that extra HEYO– not bad, especially on a pretzel crisp. Everyone else? Nope. The other three describe this cheese as, “Your friend that shows up uninvited to your house,” “ Far more overpowering than I anticipated,” and last but not least, “I wouldn’t want that in my mouth.”

cava, cheese plate, kansas city, kc, cheese, blog, food, wine, review, ranking

Dominated.

So that was that. The service at Ça Va was fairly good, the ambiance was elegant, the cheese platter, however, was slightly disappointing. I would not go back to Ça Va for the cheese plate, but definitely for a celebratory drink of bubbly…and the pretzel crisps.

Check out where it falls on our KC Cheese Plate rankings.

Thanks for stopping by, and keep cheesin’.

-C

Penicillin, Blue Cheese, and You

Want to hear a tragic love story? You’re in luck. First, let me give you a little background on this love triangle.

Me + Penicillin
When I was a young babe, the docs gave me penicillin and I more or less broke out in HELLA hives. My parents said, “OKAY NEVER AGAIN.” Now the only burden I have because of that incident is just writing down ‘PCN’ on my medical forms under “allergies.” [Full disclosure, I can’t spell penicillin without my phone so… there’s that.]

Me + Blue Cheese
Blue cheese and I were not friends for most of my life. In my mind, cheese should not be blue and… is it suppose to smell like that? Needless to say, our love slowly grew. It all started at Hi-Dive Lounge when they concocted their Jalapeño Dusted Potato Chips. It was, something from another dimension and I found myself asking for more blue cheese dressing. What had I become? From there, our love blossomed. Salads, eggs, grilled cheese– we were falling in love. But then I wondered… was it too good to be true?

For those of you that don’t know, blue cheeses are injected with a penicillin culture, creating the blue veins so commonly associated with the cheese. So, could I get sick from my newfound love for blue cheese? DUN DUN DUN.

The answer? No. From my trusty new friend at AsktheAllergist.com, Dr. Douglas Johnston told me that the antibiotic PCN is made of the fungus Penicillium chrysogenum, which is different from blue cheese, which is made from Penicillium roqueforti. SO, it’s all good in the hood! Us PCN allergy folk can gorge ourselves to our heart’s content. HUZZAH!

-C

blue cheese, cheese, blog, penicillin, allergies, allergy

Photo by CookBookMan17/Flickr.com