Sunday, February 2, 2014

"Better Things to Come"


There it is, less than 12 hours of having the ad up on Craigslist, little Nellie up and sold.  Posted it late Friday night, 50 inquiries later we had a buyer here Saturday morning at 8am, cash in hand to buy.  Happened so fast kind of threw me for a loop, one of those giant whirlwinds where you're left shaking your head and slightly confused.

Ol' faithful, little Nellie.  My car of 8 years, first car I ever owned.  As I was cleaning her out and handing the keys over to her new owner I couldn't help but feel sad and a little heavyhearted as a huge wave of nostalgia rushed over me.

That car has been with me through some of the best times of my life thus far.  I know it all sounds silly when you think about the fact I'm just referring to a car but regardless it can translate to many things in life.

I spent countless hours either by myself or with friends laying on her hood and roof staring up at the starry night skies waiting for those pretty shooting ones to go by.  So many nights sitting inside or standing outside her consoling a friend or just simply listening to one.  I had my first kiss standing beside her and she was also used in asking me to my first prom.  I spent a memorable 4th of July on her roof watching the park's local fireworks and learned how to do a donut with her in a parking lot.  One time, she pulled out of a parking lot that had turned into a massive mud pond during Steeplechase when every other car was stuck 2ft in.  Got some way dirty looks for that move.  Memories.  Crazy when the time comes how so many can flash through your mind. 

She took me on so many road trips to faraway places just to satisfy my craving for adventure and fun, even up to the point where she probably wasn't quite capable of driving those distances (sowwy).  She was there in college when Nellie was the only car capable of getting out of our neighborhood when a winter storm rolled in, she was the one who made endless trips to so many different waterfalls as soon as we could escape our classrooms.  Sprinting with our bathing suits on headed to the car, backpacks on, music blasting, so excited to traipse around the waterfalls, jumping off the cliffs into the cool, river water deep below.  For years, I packed people, bags, dirty shoes, dogs, random animals, furniture, and anything else into her and still she ran on. 

I had fights with boyfriends and I also had someone tell me they loved me for the first time in her.  She helped rescue some wanderers and delivered them to their destination.  She helped me move off on my own 3 different times to 3 distance places and was with me even when I felt alone, she was also with me when I was forced to come home to get back on my feet.  I experienced pain, heartache, hours of laughing, happiness, love, joy, bad singing, good singing, shopping sprees, adventure, excitement, LIFE.

Again, all this does sound so silly when I realize I'm talking about a car.  However, what else are writer's supposed to do but find lessons in any situation?  Taking something so ambiguous as selling your first car and turning it into a life lesson, part of who I am, can't apologize for that, think it has something to do with me being a big thinker and all..  Nellie was a huge part of my life for the past 8 years, which in my opinion have 100% been the most significant thus far.  Giving her up and moving on has forced me to think about the next 8+ years ahead.  Where will I be?  What will I be doing?  Will I be able to look back with fondness and pride for what I have accomplished?  I have so many hopes, thoughts, dreams for my life and the future is right at the tip of my fingers.  I can feel it.  I have finally landed a job, I am working towards my own career goals, I am able to afford a new vehicle to last me another 8 years, I have glorious friends and family, I am happy, content, and eager.  The world is at my fingertips.

Thank you for being such a great companion for so many years Nellie, I will miss you and all the memories you helped provide but as a good friend of mine put it, "Better things to come" and I could not be more excited.


Sunday, May 26, 2013

For the next time around..

Hey there folks!

I apologize dearly for the silence the past month or so, as all writers do, occasionally I get burnt out a bit and have to take some time to regroup and refocus.  Alas, the itch has returned and I'm back :)

I knew before I even left for my trip I wanted to write a "review" blog of sorts to go over things I would do differently on my trip..

The main topic I want to discuss is the wardrobe I chose to bring.  I did lots and lots of research before I left by reading blog after blog after blog to get a good feel for what was best to bring.  Unfortunately, most of the backpacking blogs I came across were usually male and thus led no insight into how a female backpacker should pack..

I did come across a great blog called that I followed religiously.  As I was anxiously waiting all those months for my trip to take place, a 24 yr. old girl named Devon Mills was backpacking around the world for 3 months.  I identified with this girl as we seemed to be extremely similar in our perspective on life as well as close in age.  She also had a fantastic blog on her preparation for her trip.  I decided to stick as close as I could to her list, even buying the same backpack.

First, what would I not change?

Certainly not the backpack.  It was awesome.  The way the bag unzipped brought gasps from hostel bunk mates far and wide when I would swiftly open my backpack up like a normal suitcase and be able to access everything immediately.

The packing cubes I purchased from EagleCreek were also pretty awesome.  They certainly helped keep everything organized and in its correct place.  Also made for some fast packing for when you have to leave a hostel in the pitch dark because the hostel owner becomes pissed at you for staying up with your bunkmates all night drinking champagne and playing music loudly and she turns off the power in the entire hostel.  Good times.

All my electronics and toiletries were perfect, I wouldn't change any of what I brought with me in that category.

So, what would I change?

Pretty much every article of clothing I brought.  As I mentioned a few paragraphs before, as I had never taken a trip like this before I was pretty much lost therefore I chose a safe route and basically followed the same list of the girl's blog I had been keeping up with.  Small problem I discovered about a week into the trip..all my clothes were so...boring.  Now let me clarify that I am not so much a "girly girl" and certainly have no problem being gross, dirty, and wearing t-shirts all day errday.  But every now and again one does like to feel like an actual GIRL.  Nice clothing wise, I had brought one skirt and one dress with me and let me tell you..those articles got old real quick.  Looking back, my wardrobe was aptly suited for lots of backpacking, hiking, camping, etc.  But for fun adventures at night, bar scenes, dinner, things like that, I literally had nothing.  Because of this I ended up borrowing lots of items from my traveling buddy Nicole.

So how would I repack..

To make life easier on yourself when you don't have access to washing clothes consistently.  I would pack ONE outfit for sleeping only.

I only wore my flats one time, my pair of sandals I had brought along with my chacos were pretty much the only thing that touched my feet the whole time.  I'll leave the flats behind next time.

2-3 short, light, airy dresses.  Super easy to travel in and fun to wear out.

One pair of hiking shorts

2-3 tops (again, light, airy, lace would be a good choice.  Anything you can wad up very small is perfect.)

1 sweater and 1 scarf (due to location and weather you're heading)

A pair of earrings (just because)

A small bottle of perfume  (never knew I would miss this but when you're clothes aren't exactly the cleanest..perfume will cover a multitude of not so nice smells)

2 camis (black and tan)

I would keep my gladiator sandals and chacos and if possible would try to add some ankle boots.

I would also definitely still keep my leggings and the 3 bras I brought (one regular and two sport)

Again, this all depends on the type of trip you're going to be taking...I plan on backpacking around Thailand and Africa and my original packing list there could be better that time around.  However, I also plan on spending some time in Ireland, Scotland, and Croatia in the near future too and I think I would want some more attractive clothes in those places.

All depends.  But for the trip I took I was a pretty disappointed in my wardrobe choices.

So, now that's out of the way we can discuss what I will do differently on my next trip...

 Country hopping was certainly a whirlwind adventure and I loved it.  I would have to say our trip was very evenly split, one half being crazy, go go go, seeing everything possible, moving around, and the other half...extremely relaxed, did what we pleased, no concept of time whatsoever.  This was all dependent on the location and time frame we allowed ourselves in each place.

London:  I've never seen so many sights in such a short amount of time.  Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, Hyde Park, Queen Mary's Gardens, etc. all in about 10 hours.

Santorini:   Completely relaxed in every way.  Read books on the beach, leisurely walked the streets exploring the village, woke up early to watch the sunrise, made many friends, hiked to see the sunset from a castle ruin, drank cheap bottles of wine while waiting for bus rides kind of trip.

Budapest:  With only a day and half spent here it was certainly more rushed feeling than Greece was, but not too bad.  We spent the entire day exploring the city for what it was, not too concerned about hitting up specific landmarks but instead just soaking up the culture.  We shopped (much colder here!), had a fantastic dinner, and frolicked on the famous Budapestian? bridges that night.

Vienna:  Like Budapest, we only had about 2 days here.  I wish we had been able to stay longer in Vienna, it was certainly a city I could totally see myself living in.  We had tons of fun in this city, spent the whole day on rented bikes exploring, visited the famous Schonnburg Palace and had bookoos of fun being silly taking pictures.  The grounds are outrageously beautiful.  Found a fresh, outdoor market and was seriously bummed we hadn't thought to bring baskets to purchase fresh goods to make dinner at our hostel that night.  We opted for some cheap wine instead and had one of the most fun nights of our trip in our hostel room with just us four hanging out.

Venice:  Venice came next, this was when exhaustion started to get the best of us.  We took an overnight train and "slept" 7ish hours in an uncomfortable train car.  Not too fun.  Chris's stomach also had other things in mind besides being cool and he promptly began to vomit consistently for the next 10 hours immediately upon our arrival.  Poor guy.  He slept in the hostel while the rest of us explored.  Venice was beautiful but MUCH too busy for me.  Packed, shoulder to shoulder everywhere you went, lots of tourists and not much "authentic" Italian culture..however the canals were my favorite part and our hostel was luckily off the beaten path a bit and we were able to enjoy a nice, quiet dinner by the water with an adorable Italian accordion player softly playing nearby.  We got a few hours of sleep, hauled everything to the station only to find out we had missed our train at 5am and couldn't leave until the next one arrived at 9am.  (See my previous blog for more details on this story)  Robbie fell ill next, while Chris began to feel better.  Overall, quite the rushed city.

Cortona: Thank the dear Lord above for Cortona!  We all needed a break big time and this was the perfect place to sit back and just enjoy where we were.  We arrived at the villa located in the Tuscan countryside where Nicole and her friends had rented for the week and of course we all fell in love instantly (who wouldn't??).  We spent the next 5ish days drinking wine on the porch, by the pool, around the kitchen table, at lunch, at dinner, and any time in between.  We all recovered from our sickness, read books, took pictures, cooked food, fellowshipped with each other and had amazing Italian dinners.  Probably my 2nd favorite place we visited, just after Santorini.

Rome:  Back to busy busy!  Spent 3 days or so in Rome, making sure we saw most everything Rome has to offer, the Trevi, Forum of Rome, Colosseum, Sistine, Vatican City, St. Peter's Basilica, etc.  I loved Rome and was blown away by how incredible the sights are.

Florence and Milan:  We spent a couple days in each of these cities as well.  We went and saw what you're supposed to see here and had a good time doing so.  The Michelangelo statute of David in Florence was one of my personal favorite things to see throughout the whole trip.  I loved it.  In Milan we spent a lot of time strolling..also eating some really good food.  Best pizza and calzone in Italy along with the Luini Panzerotti (see previous blog for more on this!)  Seriously this thing was UNREAL.  We spent our last night in Milan staying up all night in our hostel with some seriously crazy Polish people. We got 30 minutes of sleep before heading to the airport.  Exhausting to say the least.

Barcelona: Last stop on our trip, we spent a week here and had a blast.  Made some really good friends while here and spent our time working on our Spanish, laying out on the sandy beaches, and learning salsa.  Turned out to be a great way to end the trip by slowing our pace some to match the lifestyle of the Spaniards.

I would also spend more time researching famous sites to see or even obscure sites to visit in each place I go.  Once I returned stateside and have spent a little more time looking into the places I visited I realized how many things I missed!

For my next big venture (not sure where or when yet) I do believe I'd like to change things up a bit.  While bouncing around place to place is fun in its own way, I really really missed the feel of a "home", not necessarily my actual home here in Nashville but just a "home", a place to return to every night where you feel comfortable and relaxed.  

I want to pick one specific location to head to and stay.  I want to really immerse myself in the culture and get to know the people (that's when the best stuff happens)  I will still take the time to travel a bit but as I said, I want a home base.  I also want to choose a place not necessarily known for big world sights..a small village in Ireland perhaps or an island off the coast of Thailand..we shall see!

Until next time!


Hola from Barcelona!

Hola mi amigos!

After our harrowing night of getting just 42 minutes of sleep and then whatever sleep we could sneak in while waiting for our flight and on board our flight we finally arrived in Barcelona, Spain!

We stepped off the plane and headed to the train station.  We arrived at our stop and stepped out into the bright, shining, light, with the sunshine warming the tops of our heads.  We had failed to acquire a map as of yet so we were relying on Robbie's downloaded map on his phone to find out where in the hell we actually were and where in the hell our hostel was located in this huge city..Needless to say we were all a little snappy with each other at this point, tired and hungry with me certainly in my "hangry" stage.  Chris grabbed a sandwich and we wearily laid our bags down and sat on a bench.  We looked at each other without much of a word and nodded.  We headed to the street and immediately hailed a cab.  Walking long distances with our bags was just not in the cards for us today.

We gave our Espanol speaking taxi driver the address and crossed fingers he understood where we needed to go.  As we drove the taxi man proceeded to tell us in broken english that one of the biggest futbol games of the season was happening that night in town!  Barcelona vs. the real Madrid!  Tickets were all sold out in the arena but people from all over the city nonetheless would gather in bars and restaurants to watch the game..yessssss.

Alas!  We arrived safely at the St. Jordi Hostel in the "Gracia" area.  Barcelona is made up of seven different areas, Gracia, Barceloneta, Barri Gotic, El Raval, El Born, Eixample, and Montjuic.  Gracia is a more, laid back, village-like feel.  Very much a friendly, kind neighborhood.   We immediately fell in love.

We walked into what was by far one of the best hostels we had stayed in thus far on the trip.  It was AWESOME.   I would describe it as a hipster's dormitory ha.  The owners apparently had a thing for Fixies and thus had Fixies hung on the walls along with printed quotes on the walls everywhere talking about the joys of riding fixies.  In the common room there were about 9 gigantic bean bag chairs and we immediately collapsed onto them.   We couldn't quite check in yet and so decided the bean bags were as good a place as any to sleep for the time being.  Robbie during this time ventured out into the area to quell his grumbling stomach and happened upon a fantastic bakery around the corner that we proceeded to visit every morning thereafter.

The time came to finally check in and we were lead to a two bunk room.  We all climbed into our beds and fell asleep before our heads hit the pillow.  I woke up around 8pm that night, the Barcelona game had just started, I woke both Robbie and Chris up to go find a place to watch the game.  Chris hopped out of bed immediately but I was unable to successfully rouse Rob.  Chris and I headed off into the night to find a suitable bar for viewing.  We chose one, albeit a packed one, and promptly ordered two beers and settled back to enjoy the atmosphere.  It was so great.  If only we could have actually been time I will be checking the calendars and purchasing tickets beforehand to ensure we go if they happen to be playing in town!  People went nuts over the game, it turned out to not be the most exciting of the games but we still loved every minute of it and I found myself excitedly cheering along loudly with the rest of the Spaniards.  So glad we woke up from our slumber to see it.

We tramped happily back to our hostel and to our empty beds and laid back down with a smile for the days to come.

The next day we woke up feeling exuberant, refreshed, and ready to take on a new city once more.  We ambled along down the sidewalks in the quiet little part of town we were residing and thoroughly enjoyed getting to know the area.  That night we came across an interesting little restaurant just around the corner from our hostel and had huge plates of gyro meat and hummus.  Delish.  Bellies full we headed back to our hostel and just before heading, noticed a bar located right across from us.  We decided to check out the Barcelonian bar scene and headed in.  The downstairs was completely empty and the bartender noticed our awkward selves and kindly directed us upstairs to where all the people were.  Cool.  We headed up and found ourselves in the midst of tons of young people similar to our ages from all over the world.  One guy in particular from New Zealand approached us and struck up a friendly conversation with all 3 of us, eventually he asked us how we had come to hear about the "meeting", he of course immediately received three confused faces as we explained how we were simply staying across the street and merely decided to check out the bar.  He gave a big hearty, New Zealand-y laugh and explained how this was a Couchsurfing meeting, I, of course squeal in delight as I had been wanting to try couchsurfing for quite some time now and lo and behold had literally stumbled right into a whole horde of them!  The couchsurfing organization plans events for those who are interested in meeting other travelers in the same town by posting where and when to meet up for drinks and food, that night just happened to be taking place at the very bar we chose to walk in.  We then met a lovely Dutch gal named Emma and a guy named Alex who lived in the area.  We all quickly became facebook friends and made plans to meet up the next day.

Over the next few days we spent most of our time with Emma, Alex, and Alex's friend named Guillem.  Robbie had also already booked a couple nights for another hostel since before arriving to Spain Chris and I were not entirely sure how long we would be staying and he wanted to guarantee himself a room.  It turned out to be a wonderful thing he moved as we met a wonderful girl named Brigid who was staying at his same hostel.  Brigid was a spunky, quirky girl from Australia who I loved instantly.  She had been traveling every 6 months since she was 18 years old.  She works for a solid 6 months, saves all her money, then travels for the next 6 months, chick had been all over the world and was full of bright, interesting things.

One night Emma and Alex came up with the idea to travel to a nearby town by train and attend a zombie film festival.  We all agreed it would be a fun adventure and decided to meet up first thing the next morning.  The problem with this was that we had no way to contact each other after leaving our wifi.  Chris and I arrived at the station and noticed a couple other people our age hanging out off to the side seemingly waiting for someone as well.  Finally, Alex, Emma, and Brigid arrive and greet both us as well as the other people hanging out off to the side and we realized we were all together then.  Everyone had met through the Couch surfing events and had responded to a post Emma had placed on the site inviting people to join.  We met Guillem, Matt the Australian, and a few others.  We bought our tickets and headed off to the film festival.  The gist of the festival (and the main reason we decided to go) was upon arrival, professional movie makeup artists were on site to do legit zombie make-up on those willing to offer their faces so that you could essentially walk around the town and behave like a Zombie.  Yep, awesome right?  We proceeded to jump in the makeup line to eagerly await our turn then began to realize everyone else in the line had a ticket in hand to receive the Zombie makeover.  Apparently those had been sold prior to the festival and were needed in order to receive the makeup.  Alex charmed his way into getting us some crazy looking blood at the very least put on our faces and we were happy enough.  We began to explore the town and while marveling at the realness of the Zombie-esque people surrounding us, the heavens suddenly opened and a downpour reminiscent of that of the world wide bible flood slammed down upon us.  We quickly ducked into a small cafe along with 10,000 other people, all dressed as zombies of course.  Packed in like sardines we all grabbed a beer to wait out the rain.  After some time it became apparent that the rain was not going anywhere anytime soon and we needed to catch a train out sometime before dark.

We decided collectively to make a break for it and took off into the pouring rain, oddly enough being one of the most fun times of my trip.  We darted in and out amongst cobble stoned alley ways with rivers of water pouring down throughout the stones.  We juked and dived past Fiats, smart cars, and scooters alike till finally arriving at the train station.  The gate was open, we sprinted in and jumped on the train just as it arrived soaked to the bone, hair dripping wet with fake blood running down our happy, smiling faces.  Overall it was a wonderful day filled with fantastic new friends and water.  Lots and lots of water.

Throughout the week Chris and I kept discussing venturing over to the western side of Spain in order to go hike a portion of the El Camino de Santiago which is a famous pilgrimage trail that has been around for centuries running from the bottom of Spain all the way up into France.  Alas the train ticket there and back was too much for us to handle and we were unable to make it.  One day soon we will go back and make the 500 mile trek down the Camino...

One of the best nights of our time in Spain was going to a authentic salsa club.  I was pretty much insistent on experiencing a live salsa club while in Spain.  We heard through the grapevine about a local place and made our way there that night.  The Spanish men seemed to have a ball with us foreigners and we were passed off like candy from partner to partner.  The men in their thick accents whispered the counts to us, uno dos dos tres..alas it was just not meant to be.  I managed the standard dance steps alright but had to slink off the floor once the real Spanish women stepped in to salsa.  It was astounding and beautiful to watch.  I was so excited we had made it and the dancing did not last near long enough to satiate me.  Good good times.

We spent the last few days in Barcelona seeing some of the famous places the city had to offer, went to the beach, got lost looking for Park Guell to see some of Gaudi's famous architecture, stumbled upon a Spanish boy band filming a music video and was thrown right into the midst of that, saw the coolest street band ever called Microguagua, walked by and explored Gaudi's home, the Caso Batllo, strolled the Las Ramblas, ate more chocolate covered croissants than you can ever imagine, cooked homemade Spanish dishes with fresh food straight from the outdoor markets, and made the coolest friends ever.  Overall Barcelona was a magnificent city filled with the kindest people in the world.

Chris and I also finally settled on a date to come home, found ridiculously good deals and booked it.  Mostly because we were both completely out of money...ha.  The last day in Spain came upon us and boy was it ever stressful...To arrive at the airport we had a 2-3 mile hike to the train station with our packs and upon entering the station we noticed a man at the entrance handing out flyers to everyone, we ignored the man as the flyers were completely written in Spanish and we knew we were on a time crunch.  We bought our tickets and took off to the escalators to head down to the trains.  I absentmindedly tucked my ticket away into my wallet while Chris tossed his into the nearby trashcan as we passed by.  We ran downstairs nearly running over armed officials yelling in Spanish for us to show our tickets...I of course pulled mine out of my wallet then realized with dread my brother did not have his..They yelled for his passport as he tried to explain himself and what had happened to his ticket.  They scanned his passport with some strange device then wrote down all kinds of things in a small notepad, I could already tell it most likely wasn't going to be a dandy situation.  We were then informed Chris was to pay a $100 fine for not having a train ticket...WHAT!?  We both flip out, (keep in mind, we are completely broke and need to catch a plane in less than two hours with still a 45 minute train/bus ride to go)  We frantically try and explain to the officials we don't have time to go to the office down the block to pay the fine and that we are literally leaving the country in less than two hours, they bring a translator over as we beg them to give us a break and watch in dismay as our train comes and goes.  They suggest we pay the fee online but unfortunately it would turn into $150 paying online..of course.  With no other options left we throw our hands up, write down the information to pay the fine online and fly to the train with seconds to spare.  We arrive at the bus station, find the correct one and settle in for the 30 minute ride to the airport.  Chris is PISSED keep in mind and I'm stressed to the max thinking we may not possibly make it in time for our flight.

We arrive at the airport, get our boarding passes and take off towards the gate which is of course a million miles away.  We reach the gate just in time to get on the flight bound for London and finally settle into our seats, I finally breath, Chris falls asleep instantly and we're off.

We arrive in London around 10pm with our flight heading out to Nashville the next morning at 5:30am..we knew it would be pointless to try and get a room for the night as London was 30 minutes away by train and we needed to be back in the airport in just a few short hours.  So, we settled into the nice, lovely, cold, hard, concrete floor with our two blankets to try and sleep (unsuccessfully)  for at least a few hours.  I set our alarm to wake up an hour before our flight to ensure enough time to get through security and find our gate.

The alarm goes off, I wake Chris up and get all our things packed up, we head towards the security gates and realize nothing is open for another 2 hours...highly confused we wander all around the airport.  At this point I am becoming extremely agitated and stressed about the situation, just ask Chris, he would love to elaborate for you on this experience...until finally we come across a bus driver.  We approach him, explain our situation and ask what we need to do.  He mentions our gate will be at another location and although his bus was technically done running for the night, he would gladly take us there, saint of a man I tell ya!

We arrive at the other part of the airport, I basically pull Chris along to sprint towards security thinking all along in my head, "holy smokes we have 20 minutes to get through security and make it to the gate"..we arrive, I eagerly scan the monitors searching for our flight but to no this point I start to really freak and fly over to the information desk to demand of the poor English woman why in the world our flight was not listed if it was leaving in 15 minutes.  She calmly informed me that it was in fact only 5:30am and not iPhone had apparently decided to play a nasty joke on me and not change the timezones.  I slowly closed my eyes and hung my head in shame at my scrambled behavior the past 30 minutes, especially towards my brother.  I went and purchased us both coffees and our favorite chocolate croissants as a peace offering for my behavior.  He looked up at me after I had apologized profusely and offered my gifts and said, "yeah I knew what time it was all along, I just thought you wanted to be early? ".  Steam began to blow out my ears for a half second before I decided to calm back after the MOST stressful 18ish hours of the entire trip, we finally board our plane and head stateside, sad to leave our wonderful European adventures behind..

until next time, Hasta Luego mi amigos!


Thursday, January 17, 2013

Roma, Firenze, and Milano


After having a marvelous time spent recovering in Cortona, we decided it was high time to make our way to the beautiful city of Rome, "The Eternal City"

Nicole had also decided to switch her flight to extend her trip by 4 days to experience Rome with us as well so once again, it was back to the fab four!

We took a 3ish hr train ride that was miserably hot. Went through a bit of delirium on this ride if I remember correctly trying to stick our heads out the only open window near us to get the tiniest bit of air flow.

Finally we arrived in Rome..massive train station by the way, we, as always were lost immediately upon stepping foot into the city.  We grabbed the best map we could at the station (remember the #1 rule when you enter a new city, get a map immediately!) and fumbled our way to our hostel in a surprisingly quick amount of time (hey we're getting good at this!)  Threw our bags down and of course headed right back out to explore.

We decided we couldn't wait to see the Colosseum and hopped on the metro.  The Roman people refer to it as the il Colosseo and it is the first thing you see when you step foot outside the metro station.  It literally took my breath away by the sheer magnificence of it.  It is simply stunning.  I still haven't been able to grasp seeing with my own two eyes these incredible sights I'd only ever seen on glossy magazines before.  Astounding.

We only wanted to catch a glimpse of it and luckily caught it just as the sun was setting, beautiful.  See for yourself.

We ran around furiously, full of excitement and pure joy until we finally exhausted ourselves and were content to just simply stand and stare in awe of the luster and sheen produced from the setting sun, splashing the stone with its gorgeous burnt sienna and ochre colors.

We finally realized it would be quite unrealistic for us to stand there all night and our stomachs wholeheartedly agreed,  complaining loudly enough for all of Rome to hear.  We reluctantly turned away with whispered promises to return and headed to quell the gnawing hunger that only comes with all day travel.

We ate our fill and decided what the heck, we might as well see the Trevi Fountain while we're out right?  We looked it up best we could on the map, turns out it is referred to as the Fontana di Trevi, hopped on a train and made our way across town dodging vespas and trying not to trip over cobblestones.  I anxiously walked/skipped with my ears keenly awaiting the sound of flowing water..I began to hear it far off in the distance and quickened my pace when suddenly..there it was in all its glorious beauty.  The largest and most famous fountain in all of Italy.  Big, bold, white statues depicting Neptune, god of the sea, standing atop a shell-shaped chariot drawn by two sea horses and two gods.  Legend has it that tossing a coin into the Trevi Fountain will guarantee a return trip to Rome...I'm not one to discount a legend so in goes the coin!


The fountain is 98% surrounded by couples madly in love.  No seriously, it really is.  Everywhere you look people are staring adoringly into each others eyes, kissing, or holding hands.  Surprisingly it's not quite the gross feeling you'd imagine yourself having from the exorbitant amount of PDA surrounding you..something about the Trevi Fountain just makes your eyes glaze over and leaves you with a stupid, in love, puppy grin on your face and a lovely dewy glow..or maybe that's just the mist..any who, it stirs up a magical feeling within and that is what's important.

We stayed as long as we could before feeling weird then decided hey what the heck, might as well go find the Vatican City as well!

We arrived and stepped out onto St. Peters Basilica.  Lots of people were milling around, some tourists, lots of locals and couples.  Apparently the square is a hot place to hang..pretty awesome.  It was eerily weird for me to walk around at night and see the views as I have both read and seen Angels and Demons.  I easily recognized all the buildings and landmarks and couldn't help but think I might see a poor cardinal kidnapped and tied up at the top of the cathedral..that's what happens when you read or watch too many movies..
We explored the area best we could at night than reluctantly decided it was finally time to head home.


We woke up the next morning feeling refreshed and ready to take on the world! Er..Rome that is.  We decided to head back to the Vatican City and get us a look at the inside of the buildings this time..Sistine Chapel here we come!  I had a bit of a hiccup attempting to view the inside of the popes cathedral, wore shorts AND a short sleeve shirt, *face palm*, luckily I had brought along my rain coat and Nicole had worn a scarf that also worked quite nicely as a weird makeshift skirt.  A kind guard watched me create this atrocious ensemble with a delightful smile on his face and gave me a big thumbs up when I had completed it.  He then waved me on in with pleasure.

We headed inside next and leisurely strolled the hallways complete with the most magnificent ceilings and floor to ceiling painted murals in every room.  Relics and hand carved statues every two feet to stare and marvel at and finally, finallyyyyy we came to the Sistine Chapel.  Must say, the guards were a little bit obnoxious in its a sacred, holy chapel, there is no photography, nor speaking and the guards remind you of this by yelling as loudly as possible...seems odd to me but nonetheless, it was simply marvelous.  I loved examining the art and trying to picture Michelangelo up there craning his neck for hours and hours in order to get the perfect expression on the face of Adam as he reaches out his finger to touch God.  Anyone can certainly appreciate the work of Michelangelo however I like to secretly think those with an artistic mind appreciate and understand just a little bit more ;)

We also decided to visit the top of the cathedral and view the St. Peters Square and all the rest of Rome from the top of the Copola.  Talk about a climb and the narrowest staircase of your life spiraling upward and upward, but what a view!  The first picture below shows how slanted the walls are as you're climbing up and around a rounded dome.  Crazy!

We also of course had to make a stop by the Pantheon which was built as a temple to all the gods of Ancient Rome.  The Pantheon is an architectures dream to see as almost two thousand years after it was built, the Pantheon's dome stills remains the world's largest unenforced concrete dome.  It is one of the best preserved of all Roman buildings and has been in continuous use throughout its history  Fascinating and way cool to see.

We also visited the Spanish steps.  Most of you have probably heard of these so called famous steps, but may not quite recall what they are...
Another history lesson for you..The steps were built with French diplomat Etinne Gueffer's funds which linked the Spanish Embassy and the church together to the piazza below.  The Spanish Steps is the widest staircase in Europe.  One of those "must see's"..

  From the top of the Dome

We spent the next day touring the inside of the Coliseum.  I thoroughly enjoyed walking around by myself and imagining how it was when it was alive and full of life.  People don't always think of the horrors that took place inside the arena, reading the description of the games and of course having seen the movie Gladiator, truly opens your eyes
to how crazy yet completely normal these "games" were.  Imagining the clashing of the swords against the flesh of wild tigers and lions aiming at exposed throats is enough to send chills down your spine when you're actually standing there staring at the arena.  People were literally ripped to shreds, limb from limb while a crowd cheered it on!  Absolutely nuts.

One word of personal advice, this was one of the landmarks we toured where I would have rather been either been on a tour or had the handheld device.  I would have loved to learn more historical facts and heard more stories that happened inside that fateful place.  I'm usually an advocate for doing your own thing but in this particular case, take the tour :) *bonus, no waiting in line either!

That same day we also went to the Rome Forum which was originally a market place but became a place for politics, and public and private businesses.  It is the ruins of several ancient government buildings located at the center of the city of Rome.  It has been called the "most celebrated meeting place in the world, and in all history".  It was simply put, awesome to look at.  With your ticket to the Coliseum you also get the privilege to tour the Forum as well and walk among the ruins.


Alas, our Roma excursion had come to an end, we sadly bid farewell to our 4th companion, Nicole as she headed back across the ocean to home sweet home and the three of us left, headed on to Florence!

Arrival in Firenze:

We came across the Santa Maria Cathedral which is the main church of Florence, Italy.  It contains the Duomo which is well known as one of the most beautiful sights in Florence.  I have never seen so many freaking vespas in my life than when visiting about jealous!


We decided to ask around one afternoon the best place to view a Firenze sunset and we were told the Piazza San Michelangelo by far.  So we hiked our way across the city and proceeded to hike 8,549,403 stairs..or so it seemed.  We purchased two big cheap bottles of beer, a bag of potato chips, and banana's and plopped our happy butts down on the stairs along with other sunset viewers.  It was a wonderful moment shared with both friends and strangers.


The best part of Florence by far for me was getting to see the statue of David.  Pictures do NOTHING to serve it justice.  Michelangelo found the block of limestone abandoned in a church yard, he asked permission for it and was granted it.  He began to carve the statue at the age of 26, after 3 years he finally finished what is now known as The Statue of David.

 On the information sign a quote read something along the lines of, "After seeing and reveling in the majestic beauty that Michelangelo carved from hand one need ever see another statue again"  How true I found this to be!  It was simply stunning and for some reason had quite the effect on me.

A quote from Michelangelo himself reads "In every block of marble I see a statue as plain as though it stood before me, shaped and perfect in attitude and action.  I have only to hew away the rough walls that imprison the lovely apparition to reveal it to the other eyes as mine already see it."

Need I say more?

(by the way, the below is a secret picture taken of the statue by my brother, pictures are forbidden!)

Florence was a beautiful city, less "big" sights than Rome but for certain a city I could see myself living in.  Quite homey, quaint, and comfortable.

We said our goodbyes though and headed on to our final Italian destination, Milan, fashion capital of the world!

Now, if I HAD to pick my least favorite place in Italy, honestly it would be offense to it, just not quite as ancient and beautiful as Rome or Venice, nor quite as quaint and cozy as Florence and Cortona.  But Milan is something of its own.  A horse of a different color if you will.  It was actually incredible to walk down the avenues and see some of the most beloved and well known names in fashion.  Marc Jacobs, Christian Dior, Ferragamo, Tom Ford, Armani, Dolce Gabbana, Prada, Emilio Pucci, there a reason why the majority of the world's greatest designers are Italian..?  Something in the water?

Regardless, enjoyed thumbing through racks of clothes costing in the thousands..mind blowing.

We went to the biggest cathedral in Italy called Mariae Nascenti, saw a few dead cardinals encased in glass boxes..weird and also took a look at the crypt underneath.  Way awesome.


We did get to see a street performer playing the Hang in person!  Incredible instrument, youtube right away!  That night we made our way back to the hostel as we had an early flight out to Barcelona the following morning.


We realized we had new neighbors in the room next to us, they popped their heads in inviting us over if we liked.  We of course moseyed on over and found ourselves in a room full of loud, crazy, LOUD, Polish people.  Music was blasting full blast and they had about 37 bottles of the cheapest champagne Italy had to offer.  Hello, I'm in.  These were some of the most fun people we met on our trip, they listened to awesome old American music and acted liked we had all been friends for 20 years.  We immediately bonded.



The hostel owner was a tiny, angry, Asian woman who was particularly disgruntled that night..can't imagine why?  She eventually got so fed up by our noisy behavior she literally turned off the power in the entire building...oops.  On that note we decided to go for a midnight stroll and all of us took ourselves out to the sidewalks of Milan to laugh and joke in peace.  About the time 2:30am arrived Me, Robbie, and Chris all looked at each other knowing we had to leave our hostel by 4am in order to get to the airport in time for our flight out..awesome

We headed back to the room, packed in the pitch dark (thanks angry Asian woman) and fell asleep for a total of 42 minutes.  We groggily woke ourselves up (no clue how) and wearily hauled our packs up on our backs and headed out into the dark, cold, night.  One of the only times where I truly felt miserable besides feeling sick in Cortona.  We trekked for what seemed miles (maybe 2-3?) to the bus stop.  We waited 15 minutes or so for that to arrive, once it did, climbed aboard and promptly fell asleep for the 30 minute ride to the airport.  I believe we all the spent the next 2ish hours in a catatonic state..lingering somewhere between human and zombie.  We did finally board the plane bound for the last stop of our adventure...Barcelona, Spain!


Until next time,


"We must take adventures in order to know where we truly belong"

Monday, November 26, 2012

Cortona, Arezzo, Italia!

I'm back folks!

I apologize dearly for the silence the past month or so, as all writers do, occasionally I get burnt out a bit and have to take some time to regroup and refocus.  Alas, the itch has returned and I'm back :)

I reviewed my last blog and realized I left you all with quite the cliffhanger..!  So where were we..


Finally arrived in Cortona by train all of us, excluding Nicole, feeling pretty freaking sick.  We stepped off the train onto the station platform and headed into the picturesque town of Camucia.  We were all sufficiently in the "hangry" and tired, not to mention sick stage at this point and desperately searched for an open cafe.  Alas, we had arrived just at the time when everything in Italy shuts down completely.  Approximately between the hours of 2-4pm..awesome

We finally found a small cafe open and all four of us collapsed in chairs with our backpacks strewn around us.  We waited for Nicole's friend Katie to arrive along with her boyfriend (they had just come from Amsterdam) so that we could all take a taxi into Cortona together.  While the others chowed down, me, Chris, and Robbie had about 3 bites total between the three of us of our food.  Upset stomach blows while traveling by the way.  In case you were unaware..

We ordered a taxi and all 6 of us piled in with all our backpacks mind you, and headed off into the Tuscan countryside.

I had been eagerly anticipating seeing gigantic fields of sunflowers and unfortunately we had seemingly arrived literally just as they had all withered up and died..super duper sad face.  My brother however was able to find what I would have to say was the sole single survivor of the mass sunflower death and that made things just a little bit better :)

After following some wacko Italian directions such as, go past-a ah a curve with a-ah tall tree and big-ah house-ah, look for the ah, how you say, vineyards on your-ah left, past the stone-ah house with the-a large ah-barking dogs and you are there!  Perfecto!


No worries, we did in fact make it to the villa and boy was it worth it!  Let me give some background now as to how the villa comes into play..

When I very started planning my trip wayyy back in February ish my lovely friend Nicole informed me that she already had a trip planned to go to Cortona, Italy and stay in a villa with a group of friends.  She wanted to take a longer trip and thus that is why she joined us for the two weeks prior.

Annddd moving on.  Arrived at the villa, again, BEAUTIFUL.  The picture of me with the sunflower is the front portico area.  We spent lots of time out here.  We met all the peeps staying at the villa, wonderful people and thoroughly enjoyed our time getting to know them.  As we had arrived with absolutely no plan on where to stay (oops, I blame the sickness and early morning train trip!) they graciously offered what little room they had to the homeless travelers.  We proceeded to spend the next 5 days or so drinking wine, watching sunsets, reading books, exploring Cortona's beautiful countryside, shopping in the town, and eating wonderful food.  Below are some pictures taken on my iPhone, enjoy!

Also I'm not sure if anyone is aware but if you have ever seen the movie with Diane Lane called "Under the Tuscan Sun", Cortona is where a big portion of that movie was filmed.  

Hard to beat a Tuscan sunset
Tuscan house in the distance and below is the villa we stayed at
Above picture, eating dinner in Cortona's square, below: Pool at the villa
We made dinner one night with fresh meats, breads, cheeses, and local wine. YUM!

everyone eats these sandwiches in Italy..figured we'd make our own too

Let's talk about Cortona a little.  The countryside was absolutely phenomenal.  I can only imagine how much better it would have looked had all the sunflower fields been in bloom.  I don't believe I would have been able to resist running out into the middle of a sunflower field to just throw my arms out wide and twirl.  Next time ;)
Vineyards were everywhere, me and Chris snuck into one to try the grapes of course, delicious!  Downside.  Only one cafe and only one restaurant.  If you wanted variety, you had to take an 8ish minute taxi ride or bus ride up into Cortona's city center located on the hillside.  Problem with that..Cortona only has about 4 taxi's in town..only one of the drivers speaks any English (if you want to call it that) and you must call them to use them.  Luckily the group who had the villa had working phones.  If for some miracle you got one on the phone, most likely you were promptly given the number of the "english" speaking driver who was more than likely busy.  We resorted to the buses more often than not but those stopped running fairly early in the afternoon..more than once we were out in the city late at night after dinner waiting on the one taxi to arrive.  Word of advice, if you come to Cortona or anywhere in the Tuscan countryside, do yourself a favor and rent a car.

The next day me and Chris decided we would do a little cowboy camping to try and save some money.  Chris had staked out a nice area near the backside of an abandoned house.  (Side note: Cortona had tons of empty houses surprisingly.  A couple of the houses in the picture below were actually empty..anyone else want to go live the "Under the Tuscan Sun" dream with me?!)
We threw up our hammocks and began to settle in and to our dismay discovered we had apparently camped in the India of mosquito countries.  Millions of them.  We both looked at each other, nodded, promptly tore our hammocks back down, grabbed our bags and headed into the abandoned villa.  Not gonna lie, was a tad bit creepy at first but after making a nice, warm pallet on the dusty stone floor it really wasn't so bad.  We fell asleep immediately and woke up rested, mosquito bite free.  If anyone has ever read "The Boxcar Children" books before, it felt a lot like that, which I'm ok with :)

The next night we decided we should get a real place to sleep and so we said goodbye to our little boxcar-esque home and headed into the town center.  We booked a room in Cortona's city center at hostel I can't quite recall the name apologies.  However I do know that it once was an old monastery.  So cool!  While me and Chris were hanging out in the common room the first night the little Italian hostel owner offered us watermelon, what a gem.

Needless to say, Cortona was a wonderful time of relaxation, making new stateside friends, drinking lots of wine, eating lots of gelato, reading books, and as always, exploring.

Next comes Roma!