Beer and Relaxation and Beer

The last few days I’ve spent in Germany have been very relaxing and amazing because I have gotten to spend it with the Nowak family. I first met Christian the second semester of my senior year of high school when I hosted him for 6 months as an exchange student who attended my high school. He was two grades below me but we ended up becoming great friends so he told me that any time I wished to visit him in Germany, I could do so. Four years later, here I am having met everyone in the family. Christian’s mother had come to the states briefly while he was staying with me but I had not met any of the other relatives prior to arriving here a few days ago.

Let’s back up for a second and finish up my time in Barcelona. The last night we had dinner with some friends in our hostel that we came to know and love plenty since we stayed for 5 nights. After dinner there was a soccer game and the friends were going to a bar to watch but Eliot and I had decided that it would be best to get some rest and pack since we would have to leave the hostel at 5:45AM to get to our flight to Germany. Earlier in the day, we had given our laundry to a staff member in the hostel to wash and fold for 8 euros. When we returned from dinner that night, I picked up the laundry to find that it was folded nicely but still very wet, and at the time I thought it was fine because I assumed that it would naturally dry after leaving it overnight. I packed and got all my stuff together in order to leave the morning, and I finished doing so at around 10PM. At that time, I wanted to make a brief trip downstairs to our hostel’s common room to chill with some people from the hostel one last time. When I went down, I only intended to stay there for 5 or 10 minutes then head to bed since I needed to get some sleep for the morning. I was talking with three American girls who had recently arrived at the hostel, and one of them and I decided we would hit around a ping pong ball on the table downstairs for 5 minutes then I would head to bed. Not only did we end up playing a full 21 point match, but we hit around the ball afterward, and following that, the other two girls wanted to try to hit around with me as well. So here I was stuck hitting the ball around with 3 different people (who were all great) all while other people who entered the room and watched us play ping-pong were starting other conversations with me at the same time. I felt great that so many people at the time wanted to be around me, but I was thinking about when I would go to sleep the whole time. Ultimately I socialized with all of those people until 12:40AM even though I had to be awake at 5AM to start getting ready to leave for the airport in the morning. I came back to my room in the hostel and warned them in advance that an alarm would be going off very early in the morning and they seemed to have no problem. Ironically enough, I woke up a few minutes before the alarm went off so no one in the room actually had to hear any sounds. I opened my backpack to change into some new clean clothes that had just been laundered, but they smelled absolutely rancid, worse than clothes that I would sweat in. Why did they smell rancid? Because I did not dry them, and as I learned the hard way, wet clothes that have not been dried smell absolutely terrible. I put on a new set of clothes anyway even though I could barely stand the smell. We were advised by our hostel to arrive at the airport 3 hours before our departure time since it was an international flight. At the airport, we found out that we don’t even know which gate we depart from until 2 hours before departure so we had to wait a little while in the part before security before we could even check in. Airports in Europe seem to work a lot more like train stations than like airports in the US. There is a big board listing flight airlines and numbers and departure times, then once we arrived at the gate we had to look at which “sub gate” we would ultimately be taking off from.

We arrived in Stuttgart about 20 minutes after the scheduled landing time due to some minor delays, but we claimed our baggage then were able to find Christian’s mother and father who picked us up, and were very welcoming right off the bat. We caught up a little bit on the ride to their house while they were giving us a little tour and explanation of the surrounding area. We arrived at the house which I immediately noticed was overlooking a beautiful view of Stuttgart, and the town is a quaint area with several walking paths, trees and hills. After getting a tour of the house and setting our things down in our rooms, we grabbed a delicious lunch with Christian’s mother and father, his brother Jonathan with his girlfriend, and his sister Sarah. For lunch I had a delicious sausage item or “wurst” as the Germans call it, but the highlight was the beer I had called a Radler. It was beer mixed with lemonade and I thoroughly enjoyed every sip of it. It was so delicious that everyone at the table wanted to have a taste as well. Surprisingly, the place also had a menu in English, most likely because there is a US military base in the area so there are some American residents as well. Afterward several of us went to a chocolate museum, learned about the origins of chocolate in Germany and we were allowed to taste many different kinds of chocolate in the museum as well. In the US I like a select few kinds of chocolate, but in Germany I thoroughly enjoyed many of the different types. One that stood out was one that had whole milk in it but I call it the Blue Chocolate because it has a blue wrapper on it. For dinner we had a feast with meat and bread among other delicious items. For dessert we had some tasty chocolate waifers as well.

The next morning we decided we would embark on a bike ride to a TV tower in Stuttgart that was about 8 miles away from the house since we had enjoyed a short bike ride on mountain bikes that Jonathan had taken us on right before dinner the first night. We thought that the bike ride would be pretty simple and painless since the distance was not that high and we had a GPS as well as data on our phones to back us up in case we got lost. This bike ride ended up being the biggest adventure of my entire trip to Europe. One thing that we did not think about before going on the bike ride was that a GPS is designed for cars on roads so it might (and did) lead us to roads with fast cars that were essentially impossible to bike on. About a half hour in, we arrived at one of these kinds of roads so we were looking for some bike trails in the woods which we found some that seemed to be going in the correct direction. The problem was that none of the bike trails we rode on went in exactly a parallel direction to the roads that the GPS was telling us to travel on, so we would have to stop often and look at the bike trail vs. the road. Eventually we got to a point where none of the bike trails were even close to being parallel to the road. We rode down those bike trails anyway and began to get lost from our main route. At one point, we arrived at a road where the cars were almost going almost as fast as cars on a highway and we decided that the road was not capable of being biked. The woods next to that road had many thorns, ditches and plants in the way, but we decided to continue anyway. After this portion of the ride, we became so tired and confused that we changed the GPS back to point home. We never ended up making it to that TV tower after all. The way home was a crazy clustering of trying to get the GPS to point us to back roads, and pointing our electronic compass in the correct direction. Ultimately we made it back home by looking at signs that pointed us to the correct town and then following the GPS. As a whole, our bike ride lasted for several hours. I was really happy that the ride happened because it was great exercise!

Speaking of cars going fast on highways, I was taken on the part of the Autobahn with no speed limit a couple of times and boy was it a great time. German cars can go incredibly fast without a problem, so at one point we reached 230 km/h! One other highlight of my time in Germany was watching the Germany vs. Ghana soccer game at a bar with a large screen outdoors. The atmosphere was incredible – people were wearing face paint with German colors, and all kinds of shirts and icons representing Germany. At this bar, I had many beers and a ton of food. I had three helpings of fries and a pork entree, and it was all worth it. The game ended up being a tie so I didn’t get to see a dramatically sad or happy German people afterward, but the game was a great time. I was watching the game with much of the Nowak family and some friends of theirs from the area. During a couple of the days, we made one day trip to France, and visited a castle in Germany which was from the middle ages. This castle had armor, windows designed for war, and a lower area for storing weapons.

Overall, this European trip has been an amazing experience. I’ve learned that I am a very independent person capable of making challenging decisions, and I can make sense of my surroundings in foreign countries even when I am unable to speak much of the country’s language. I have met some amazing people from all parts of the world as well and made some lasting friendships. Today I will venture into Stuttgart with Eliot and that will be my last adventure of this European trip. Soon it will be time to head home and get ready for my new career which I am also excited about.

There are a few people I would like to thank for making this trip possible and such a success. First of all, I would not have been prepared without having read many books from Amazon about backpacking. I would like to thank Eliot for being a wonderful travel companion and putting up with me even when I am sometimes difficult. I’d like to thank people in various hostels for being really social, friendly and welcoming to me during my adventures. I’d like to thank Christian and his family for being such excellent hosts while I have been in Germany. Lastly, I would like to thank my own family for supporting me every step of the way and doing everything they can to make sure I was happy and safe on this trip. I will not write a new entry about my last day in Europe, but when I am back I will be happy to answer questions about my experiences. As you may have noticed, I did not include everything in this blog about everything I did so definitely talk to me to fill in any gaps. This served as a journal and what was on my mind as I was writing. I would be happy to answer anybody’s questions about this style of travel, places to go, among other things. Thank you for reading!

Party Central

Pro tip: do everything you can to avoid arriving in Barcelona on a Saturday night, especially at 2AM. The hostels in Barcelona charge exorbitant prices for Saturday nights because prices of course are based on supply and demand, and demand is highest on Friday and Saturday nights since the city’s nightlife is at its peak. Of course everyone wants to experience the nightlife when it is at its best. So back to us. We arrived to our hostel at around 2AM and we had to pay the crazy Saturday night price, but it didn’t even apply to us really since the nightlife had already peaked that night so we got the bad end of that stick. On the plus side though our hostel is so great that we’ve decided to stay here for our whole time in Barcelona. We hang out with the people in our hostel quite a bit, it’s the first hostel we’ve been to where we’ve actually hung out with others from the hostel during the day in addition to at night. We went together with some people to a relaxing park in the city called Park Guell. The hostel has a huge common room downstairs, a movie room, a ping pong room and an upstairs room. More like a hostel resort if you ask me. The first full day after arriving, we walked around the city a bit and I spoke Spanish to some people just to practice. I was not doing so bad given that I haven’t taken a Spanish class since high school! In the afternoon we decided to take a free walking tour through the city with a group and it was really interesting. It was very chill and we learned a bit about the history of certain areas of the city. After the standard part of the tour, we all had sangrias and I had fish and chips while having casual conversations with some people from the tour. We were still tired from arriving at 2AM so we decided to take our first siesta of many. Now, backing up a bit, the reason we’ve been taking siestas here in Barcelona is because we want to do tours and walking starting in the morning, but as I’ve mentioned the nightlife peaks at 2AM. We can’t stay up that whole time so we take a nap. After the siesta and taking a refreshing shower we got some drinks and chilled with other members of the hostel. When you go to hostels you meet some very interesting people. At these hostels I met people who are living out of luggage for very extended periods of time. Some went all over the US before coming to Europe. Others have been all over the world. Hearing people’s stories is very exciting and enlightening. The next day we went to see La Sangrada Familia which is a geometric and mathematical marvel of a cathedral. Something very important we learned this trip is that booking in advance online saves lives. For this attraction in particular it served us very well. In this cathedral there were shapes like forests, beehives, parabolas and other geometry. Deep down I am a math person so this geometry was one of the most fascinating parts of Spain for me. In Italy we walked almost everywhere because most places we were except Rome had no greater than 2 miles between any two destinations of interest, but Barcelona has more than 3 miles between some points so we’ve been mastering the metro system here. The 4 day metro pass we got is a godsend. After the Sangrada, we grabbed lunch at a nice all you can eat restaurant near the coast since we were about to meet some friends at the beach. 9.5 euros for all the food you want is an incredible deal especially in Europe where everything is expensive. There was all kinds of meet and potatoes, and rolls. It was the meal that I’ve eaten the most food since arriving in Europe.

With a full stomach and tan, we were ready to embark on our biggest adventure of Spain, the nightlife. Before we go on our adventure, let me take a moment to explain what the impressions of the nightlife here were to my friend and I after the first night in Barcelona. Some of the details of what is relevant to this story are so repulsive and disgusting that I don’t want to write them down. Essentially what happened the first night was that some college students in Eliot’s room came back really late in the wee hours of the morning, and when he woke up his phone was damaged and he had to clean it up since the person responsible for the damage was incapacitated. Knowing that all happened, I wanted to experience the nightlife here anyway because everyone talked about it and I wanted to see what the deal was. Before we embarked on our adventure, I was walking around the city with a different friend and I got back to the hostel about 15 minutes before the metro system closed. So when Eliot and I left we tried to catch a train, but we got there after it closed so we had to find another way to get there, most likely it would be a taxi and it was. Now taxis weren’t just everywhere in Barcelona so it was very interesting to try to find one and one that would actually transport us. The first taxi we saw and talked to the driver in Spanish, but he drove away to pick up someone else. The second taxi we saw just drove away and ignored us completely. Feeling a bit tired and discouraged, we sat down and considered going back to the hostel but I was dead set on going out into the district with the nightlife because I wanted the experience. I was convincing enough about this view that we didn’t go back to the hostel right away. 3-5 minutes later, we saw one more taxi pull up out of nowhere and we ran (as fast as I could with a much better but still somewhat injured lower left leg) to it with one last hope of it taking us where we wanted to go. Fortunately, this taxi actually took us and we ended up going to a beach area with a bunch of different clubs. There was one club that was recommended by people in out hostel that we wanted to check out, but we got turned away immediately because we were not wearing dress shoes. We didn’t have dress shoes because we could only fit so much into a backpack. Instead we ended up going to a club that had mostly Americans and some locals and it was all around not our thing. To me even though we didn’t really click with the nightlife, we thought it was worthwhile to give it a try.

The next morning we wanted to go on a bike ride at 11AM but overslept because we didn’t get back from the club until after 3AM. So we missed the bike ride but instead chose to walk around a different area of the city. We walked around a nice indoor market where we had some fish on a kebab stick then we took the metro toward where Spain’s Olympic stadium is. When we got to that metro stop we did a ton of walking. To give an idea, just when we arrived at the property of one of the Castells we walked about half a mile uphill to get to the castle and a surrounding path, and the circumference of that path that we then walked on was just over a mile. But we didn’t only walk the castle area, we also saw the Olympic stadium and an art museum whose outside had kind of a royal feel to it, there were lavish fountains, lots of plants and stone stairways going up. All of the views we saw that day were great, but there was one view that literally made my jaw drop. It wasn’t the view of the Olympic stadium or the view of the city from the top of the stairway to the art museum. It was the view of the shipping port from the path surrounding the Castell. At this shipping port there were hundreds maybe thousands of boxes the size of 16 wheeler trucks in high piles. There were vehicles moving around that transported the boxes and there were huge cargo ships in the background that we saw being loaded with these huge boxes. I tried to take a panoramic of this view on my phone but it did not work out very well. Afterward we met some friends at a dinner restaurant that ended up being absolutely delicious. We got free wine and all sorts of food to share among the table. There were potatoes, lamb, rabbit, sausage, and squid. Every bit of it was tasty and satisfying. The best part was that this high quality dinner was not at all expensive and none of the wine cost anything so we all felt like we found a hidden gem of a restaurant. Today will be the last day in Barcelona and for me the last night in a hostel and we fly off to Germany!

The Invasions

I have not written an entry on this for a very long time because I have been in places with very little or no internet reception at all. But now I am working on writing this offline before publishing it in a wifi zone in case I forget what I’ve done the last few days. Nah, I won’t forget will I? Anyway, I think the previous end of things was when I was between daily activities and the nightlife during my last night in Florence. At that point I was gearing up to have an epic and crazy last night since I had heard that the nightlife in Florence is amazing.

PAUSE. Yes, I can pause whenever I would like since I am the omniscient figure penning this story. I am pausing partially to assert my authority over what is said here, but I am really pausing because I would like to reflect on some feelings I’m having about my style of traveling and how I am doing roughly mid way through the trip.

One feeling I’m having now is a slight feeling of disappointment and regret. What for, you ask? At first I was unfazed, but at this point in Italy I am a bit upset that I don’t know more of the national official language, Italian. All I know now is really hi, thanks, and a few other scattered words. I wish I could speak more Italian so I could communicate more clearly to the locals and have deeper conversations with the residents to learn their perspective. Despite these slight obstacles, I’ve largely managed to get my points across without much of a hassle. I am excited to head off to Spain soon where I know enough Spanish to communicate decently with the locals.

Well that kind of makes me sad, so I’ll talk about something happier instead, a way that my expectations have been pleasantly blown out of the water. People who have travelled in the style I am, hosteling and going largely unplanned, have told me that they meet a lot of people and that is easy to make friends. That is certainly an understatement. Everyone I’ve met on this trip has been unbelievably friendly and easy to talk to. Two people have told me that I can come visit them in their countries anytime I want after meeting them once, and several people have gone out of their way to make my experiences more enjoyable. More on that in a bit.

Something minor, but one last thing I’d like to share is that staying in hostels makes me realize how much privacy I have at where I sleep in my regular day to day life. When I have energy and am out doing things with people, I enjoy being social but usually when I retreat to the location where I sleep, I like to be quiet, reflective and slightly withdrawn to recharge my energy. So occasionally, times have come up on this trip when I’ve become quiet and withdrawn when it’s usually unexpected, but generally I’ve done well at being social at the right times and things work out for the best.

UNPAUSE. Here we are, last night in Florence. The last night in Florence was surprisingly anticlimactic but nevertheless a fun way to end the time in the city. At night we had dinner with Tucker, Sam, and Jane at a nice restaurant and then we chilled for a few hours at Jane’s hostel with her and some friends for a bit. All the friends were tired but Jane, Eliot and I went to a random square with a few bars and food places south of the main river in Florence. We talked to some locals for a bit but we all got tired so we headed back for the night.

The next day Eliot and I got an early start and figured out how to get to where we wanted in cinque Terre. Just by coincidence, we ended up arriving at the exact station we needed to reach our hostel. There are 5 main stations there so it really could have been any of them. I got a bit scared when someone at the train station told us that the hostel was a 49 minute walk away from the stop, but it ended being about a 5 minute walk through a tunnel and slightly uphill. For the rest of the day, I had to convince Eliot that it was better for us to relax by the beach that day instead of going straight on one of the hikes, but he later thanked me for it. The beach was a tiny one with rocks but the water was absolutely clear and the view from there across cinque Terre was breathtaking. I did not know that I could possibly be more captivated than for the views in Florence. A great way to picture the look of the rocks is to think of people being able to cliffdive off the rocks into the water. I did not do this but saw people who did and it looked exciting. I chilled on the beach, read and napped while Eliot went swimming and met some people who we later ate dinner with and talked with at night. The group we met was very friendly and talkative and we had a great time. Walking around cinque Terre has rapid changes in elevation so I went up a set of stairs and looked at view from a higher point which was a unique perspective over and above the views from the beach.

The next morning I went on my one and only hike during my time at cinque Terre but I wish I could have gone on more. I also wish I could have been more in the state and mood at that time to appreciate the sights that the hike offered. Unfortunately during the hike about halfway through, I started to feel pain in my left leg because of the uneven footing of the rocks. I roughed out the rest of the hike, but I really wanted to enjoy it more. The leg was a bit sore the rest of the day but it went back to fairly normal the next day. Why did I hike with a leg hurting? Well I wanted to see things and I stop at nothing to do so. The city I walked around in after the hike was very small and hilly. There were just a few restaurants and places to fill up water bottles. Afterwards, Eliot did some more hikes while a took a train to the beach town of Monterosso and chilled.

I read my kindle for a few hours on a bench along the street but that wasn’t comfortable enough for me so I decided to do something interesting. I saw that along the beach, there were many signs put out by hotels that said “privato”. Well I was not going to have any of this unjust discrimination, so I decided to become a few of the hotels’ private guest for the day. At one of the hotels I was able to park myself in a chair for an hour and a half until a staff member asked me for a “ticketo” and was asked to leave after playing the innocent tourist card. Those chairs were so comfortable and I got great sun.

The next morning we ended up taking a train to Venice via a transfer in Florence, but for the first leg of the trip, about an hour, we forgot to get a train ticket. We almost made it without getting asked for a ticket but on the second to last stop, a woman came around and we got the consequences of our actions. 10 extra euros for the trip as a whole. Please don’t forget to get tickets. We got to our hostel which was close to the train station but in order to get into the main part of Venice, we needed to take a bus. The receptionist at the hostel told us what number bus to get on, but just like Rome we forgot that buses can go in 2 directions so of course we got on the wrong bus the first time. Now the buses in this area are crazy. If you think city buses in the US are crowded think again. The bus was so crowded that I had to keep everything tightly attached to me so that I wouldn’t constantly feel as if I’m being pick pocketed. We finally arrived in Venice and decided to aimlessly wander around a bit. We stumbled upon a bunch of glass shops, jewelry shops, churches, restaurants and squares. When we got to San Marco piazza we had a great time. There were a bunch of pidgeons and tourists with food so we were watching hundreds of pidgeons flock to people as they were fed and I took some pictures of Eliot with three pidgeons perched on his arms and shoulders. We walked around a bit then decided we wanted to find a place called campo San margarita where we had heard that there was great nightlife. But when we started heading there, we realized that it was extremely difficult to navigate around buildings and the rivers. We started heading there around dinner time so we thought we would have a lot of spare time before the nightlife began. We ended up arriving finally at around 9:00 after closely following a convoluted map on the tripadvisor app and having to turn back in different directions multiple times.
We got to San campo margherita and saw a cool group of 20-somethings playing and dancing to guitar songs. One of them who was a friendly Italian local immediately scooted over and invited us to join in the circle. For the next hour it was interspersed with us singing along to songs, laughing, dancing and talking to each other. We were talking with some more local Italians and then we later found ourselves hanging out with two people from France. For the rest of the night, we were dancing, eating, buying each other drinks, and just generally having a great time. That night in Venice was definitely what made our time in Venice worthwhile. Now we have people who told us we can come to France as well in addition to others who told us Italy, Thailand and Germany. Our final day in Venice we went to the glass island of Murano and saw all the colorful, artistic sculptures made out of glass and walked around for a bit before heading back to get ready and fly to Barcelona!

All the Views

The last post I cut off short because there was already a bunch to go over and I was too lazy to write…I mean I wanted to leave a cliffhanger for a special effect that will happen with the description of this next set of events. When we left off, I believe I was talking about our first day in Florence and how epic it already was. Believe or not, it got that much better today and later yesterday. So let’s start with the next scare of the trip. I’m sure all of these troubling situations I’ve been hit with are very comforting to those who care about my safety. Yesterday late afternoon, Eliot and I were walking along the main river in Florence along a beach area because there provided a great view of the city. While I was walking, my foot entered a rut and I tripped. Normally tripping is not so bad, but the foot I tripped on was the same foot right below the ankle I sprained this recent winter so it was PAINFUL. For the rest of that day, my left leg hurt pretty intensely, but somehow we had to get to a restaurant to eat dinner so we just walked very slowly along a street until I could no longer handle the pain and I had to finally sit down on some chairs outside of a restaurant. Once I sat down it would have been obnoxiously painful to get up and explore more restaurants so we decided to eat at that restaurant where I plopped down. We were sitting next to a friendly couple where the woman was English and the man was Italian, and they were giving us advice about what to do in Florence since they had lived in Florence quite a bit. The restaurant’s food ended up being pleasing to me just as all the food in Italy has been thus far. After dinner my foot was still in great pain but somehow we ambled our way back to the hostel to chill a bit and get ready for the night.

Let me set the background for some of what happens next by saying that as a whole, the people in this hostel have been by far the most social out of everywhere we have stayed this trip. One thing I’ve noticed about traveling, especially backpacking, is that everybody you see is so open to being friendly, having lengthy conversations and hanging out for awhile. Anyway, we arrived to the hostel and the first person I saw was an Australian, who is probably reading this now and is wondering what I’ll say about her in this entry, along with another female staying in the hostel. Both of them seemed tired from having a long day the previous day, but to me it seemed like they would be nice people, which is more than true. All of us weren’t exactly sure what we wanted to do that night so we decided to head down to a supermarket and buy some baguettes to eat along with having some “wine” that we purchased. More about the “wine”. On every bottle all the labels were understandably in Italian so at the supermarket we had no clue what the bottles said so we had to guess by the looks what it was. So one friend looks at the shelf and says looking at the shelf of unknown bottles, “so which of these bottles of wine do we want?”. We chose a cheap bottle of…what it was. Back in the hostel, we went to open the bottle and when we opened it we heard a “pop” sound. We then realized that the bottle was not any kind of wine but champagne, oops! It was pretty tasty though, so we had a bit and decided to go check out the nightlife in Florence. On Sundays, we quickly learned that very few places are open in Italy. But there was this one Irish pub that was open and we stopped in. My friends and I were lost as to what was Irish (or Italian for that matter) about this place. Every single person I met at this place was from the United States which was a bit strange but there was no language barrier when talking to people. At around 2AM after exploring for a bit I became tired and got ready for the next day.

For anyone who is thinking of traveling lightly and internationally, I highly recommend getting an app with maps of cities and travel guides that work offline. I have a tripadvisor app that has done wonders for me while traveling. It can detect where you are, has main destinations, and it gives you different possible itineraries for the day. I chose to roll with one of them the next morning and it served us well. We first went to the ufizzi gallery which has beautiful art on the walls and ceilings. I was reading all the descriptions and learning awesome stuff about history! Then we climbed the tower which was one (of many as you’ll see) of the places where I have seen breathtakingly beautiful views of the city.

Our next destination was a place that we ended up going back to 4 times in the same day, piazza del Michelangelo. It is a cliff top area that is wide open and expansive, and you can get a view of the entire city from the top. The first time we went up, we ascended the main stairway which was fun. We talked to some random people who were on their way down and they recommended the top to us so we continued up. Up on top was simply beautiful. It was a view of Florence to die for. When we were there, it was around 95 degrees Fahrenheit so we tried to chill in the shade, but it was all worth that minor inconvenience for the view.

Earlier that day, we went to one other museum which I can safely say is my top 3 favorite I’ve been to in the world, and I have been to quite a few. This museum was dedicated to ancient scientific instruments from the time period of Galileo. There were all kinds of globes, maps, clocks, geometrical tools, among other tools that I had no idea how they worked. What was really cool about our time at the museum though is that we met a family, a couple and their daughter, where the father had worked with cryptography in the military and therefore understood how a bunch of different instruments in the museum worked. Our entire time there, he was explaining how some of the tools worked in great detail and the daughter, who is a medical student, had a travel guide that listed functions of various items in each room so we were also going through some of those. It is not just the fact that we are seeing sites in Italy, but it is people like this who we meet at unplanned times that make trips like this amazing. While at that museum with that family I learned a ton about how various ancient instruments worked.

Later that night Eliot and I met up with our new friend Jane who we had met at our last hostel in Rome. For a few minutes, we were debating where to get dinner because Eliot found a good place and Jane also found a good place. Ultimately we tried to find both restaurants and we found that one of them no longer existed so we ended up going to the other one. At the restaurant, Eliot, Jane and I met up with our friends Tucker, Sam and David who were also in Florence. This was pretty much a pasta place so we all ordered different types of pasta. The most interesting kind of pasta that someone ordered was pasta cooked in wine with oil and garlic. Until then I had not seen purple pasta but it looked cool. My pasta was also delicious, I just got a standard spaghetti with tomato sauce. All of us wanted to watch the sunset at around 9PM on a bridge by the main river but we did not finish our food, white wine and red wine in time so instead we took a quick picture of what the sky looked like. After dinner, Jane, Eliot and I headed off to piazza Michelangelo for Eliot and I’s third time that day, but I’ll admit that being on top of the piazza was a much different experience at night than during the day. The daytime view from the top was nice but the night view was simply captivating because of the contrast of all the lights in the city and the lights emanating from the big buildings. Eliot took a lot of funny pictures including Jane doing a bunch of model poses on the railing. We also took pictures of each other doing poses that made us look like silhouettes against the lights. After Florence we’re heading to Cinque Terre, Venice, Milan and Barcelona before we go to Germany.

It is our last day in Florence until we leave tomorrow for Cinque Terre and we climbed all the way up to the top dome of the Duomo church and then we made our way to the accademia galleria where there was Michelangelo’s David among other art. As we speak in sitting in a park called Piazza Santo Spirito.

Rome and Florence Adventures

Today my friend Eliot and I left Rome today to head over to Florence which we both agree seems more genuine of a city than Rome. There was a lot that I did not yet talk about regarding our last full day in Rome yesterday, so I need to backtrack a little before talking about our already epic time that we are having in Florence.

Up until yesterday, we had seen almost everything in Rome that a friendly receptionist from Eliot’s first hostel had shown him on a map about recommendations for what to do in the city. We decided to stick with those recommendations for our entire time in Rome because the first couple of those things we did turned out very well so we assumed that the rest would turn out just as well, and it did.

The last major tourist site that we hadn’t yet seen in Rome was the Vatican and the Sistine Chapel area. The night before yesterday, we made friends with a German woman named Jenny and she was traveling alone and wanted to see the Vatican as well. Eliot, Jenny and me all ended up traveling together to the Vatican area via the metro since a walk would have been most likely over half an hour. Once we arrived to the Vatican area, all 3 of us were unpleasantly surprised about how touristy and scam-like the streets were. We literally had some street people harassing us about trying to buy whatever they were selling and about buying tour tickets from them. We of course ignored them but all of us felt kind of awkward that all of that had to happen. Jenny had a ticket for later in the day to the Sistine chapel that she purchased in advance but Eliot and I hadn’t bought any tickets so all three of us decided to head to a cool place called Castel santangelo before Jenny had to head back to the Sistine chapel. Castel santangelo was one of my favorite sites that I’ve seen this entire trip. It was very inexpensive but more importantly there were a variety of things to see and do there. There was an art museum with small versions of paintings that kind of look like the ones from the louvre in Paris. There were a number of breathtaking views from high elevations of the city, some mountains and houses in addition to other churches. There were plenty of awesome pictures taken that I’ll show at a later time. There was also a chapel that kind of looked like the Sistine chapel with paintings on the ceiling and on the walls. We did all of that for less than a third of the price it would have been to just see the Sistine chapel so we were thoroughly happy with our investment. Afterward, we all had lunch and then Eliot and I headed over to the most picturesque and beautiful park I’ve ever seen, and Jenny headed over to her tour at the Sistine chapel before we would all reunite in a few hours.

The park we went to was called villa borghese and there was an incredible amount to see and do. First of all, the park is gigantic. I called it the Disney World of Italy in terms of the size, not the fact that it was a theme park. Anyway, we started by walking around the park because it is simply beautiful. The ways the tree look, the layout of the benches, the open fields, and there was a lake to top it all off. This park was the perfect place to bring a date to. There were very many couples, and rightfully so. We even met a married couple who were spending their second honeymoon at this park. After walking around, Eliot and I came across a place where we could rent bikes for an hour, so we did that for 4 euros each and rode along many paths of the park. After that, we chilled on the grass and watched a violin concert as well as an angry old woman ranting in angry Italian at a couple of boy and girl teenagers who were sitting close to the concert but did not seem to be making any sort of disturbance. We proceeded to meet Jenny and our friend Tucker at the main lake in the park and had dinner. The dinner was mostly pretty normal, but while everything about my dinner was delicious, my meal was the most trouble I’ve ever had cutting up and eating a meal. There was lamb that was pretty stringy on bone that was on top of the outside ring of a watermelon which itself was on top of a plain pizza that was so difficult to cut that even a steak knife could not cut it. As you can imagine, my meal got very messy including half of it or more having to end up off the plate. We all laughed about it but I did end up finishing most of it despite the massive struggle involved. Afterward, Jenny and I decided to take the metro back to the hostel while Eliot and Tucker walked around before meeting our newly arrived friend Sam from the train station.

Back at the hostel, I was chilling and I was reading a book on my kindle because I was tired from all the walking. A little bit later, another new friend of ours, Jane came into the hostel and we talked about all kinds of random and cool stuff for about 2 hours or so. Eliot and I are most likely meeting up with her again in Florence. The train to Florence was great because out the window there was beautiful scenery to look at. Our first part of our experience at Florence was the favorite part of our trip so far. We were looking for a restaurant to eat at because almost everything was closed on a Sunday. But our timing was good when we came to a pizza place and the guy with the keys to the place opened it up for us, just for us. And we found out it was the first day the place was ever open! The place was really clean and the pizza exemplifies what Italian pizza should be in my opinion. It was a great day and we’re exploring the nightlife tonight then tomorrow we’ll go to the more famous sites.

The Traversal

Today was a very long and tiring, but at the same time rewarding and awesome day. It was especially exhausting for one of my friends and I because the previous night we had a significant amount of trouble getting back to where our hostels were after traveling with similarly aged students from my friend’s hostel to a bar and a club for some social events and games. The events that night were a great time, but now I realize that it was a huge mistake to stay out at those events until 2 in the morning since we had to deal with some minor issues after we were ready to head back for the night. Of course, being American we have no idea whatsoever how the bus system works here. We took a bus from my friend’s hostel to the bar but on the way back, even after getting told which bus to take and where, we still got confused. At first we got on the right numbered bus but it ended up going the wrong way so we had to scramble off and catch another bus which fortunately ended up going the right way toward the Termini. Then the next adventure was getting back to our hostels. I love technology but unfortunately we had to resort to using old fashioned maps to navigate around Rome since the GPS satellite reception is atrocious here. I was able to read the map fine but the part that was a pain was going through the termini. When we got off the bus, it was late and the termini was closed so to get back to my hostel, I either had to go all the way around it or jump over some parking lot fences. Guess which one I did? 🙂 Anyway, I did end up getting back but then I had to stay awake an extra hour to charge my iphone because it was almost dead, and if I left it charging while asleep, it might have gotten stolen. So yay I went to bed at 3AM.

Waking up bright and early at 8AM, my friends and I had big plans for the day. I grabbed a donut from across the street then we all made the trek to the area with the coliseum and the forum. We went inside the forum and the Palantine which were both gorgeous I probably took over 50 pictures. In total that day we walked several miles, but seeing the ruins of the forum was absolutely worth it. Afterward we went to a sandwich restaurant where I had a salami/cheese/onion sandwich that rocked my world like a sandwich never has before. That sandwich and my tastebuds clicked instantly upon first contact. It was so amazing that I was actually sad when I took the last bite. In total we did vigorous walking around Rome for around 6 hours and keep in mind that was after all the craziness of the previous night. Later we had a lot more relaxing of a day. We went to the supermarket, bought some beverages and enjoyed them at a park for a couple of hours. One highlight of when we were at the park, was there was someone we call “pidgeon man”. He had this bag of seeds and breadcrumbs and periodically threw them on the ground for pidgeons to eat. At one point we swore we saw over 100 pidgeons swarm to that area. Now the scary part for me: some kids came at the pidgeons with a squirt gun and all the birds got scared and started flying right toward us. I swore that one would fly into my face but fortunately that did not happen. We then grabbed dinner and headed back to the hostel.

Oh pro tip we learned today: if you’re an American going to Europe, get a short PIN for your ATM card so that you can withdraw cash. If you want more details about this experience, feel free to ask me. Tomorrow we might stop by the Vatican and later relax one last time then we’ll probably head to the next city. What an awesome adventure this has been thus far!

Arrival and first day

Today I arrived in Rome, Italy safe and sound and made it to my hostel which is located at most 1 km away from the hostels my other friends are staying at. One friend of mine is staying at a hostel right across the street from me and the other friend is staying at a hostel a km away. My experience today made it very clear that my first stop is Rome and what a big stop it was. All the traffic lights have way bigger red lights than yellow and green lights.

20140605-192342-69822815.jpg

Today was mostly filled with trying various food and drink in Rome, catching up with a friend of mine, and relaxing at a park. First of all, the pasta dish that I was served on the plane enroute to Rome was the best pasta I’ve ever had in my entire life and it was served on an airplane. I was pleasantly surprised that on the plane I was served both a full dinner and breakfast. For breakfast there was a chocolate chip breaded food item with Milanos and a cheesecake which were all delicious. When I arrived in Rome, I got a transfer to my hostel and met up with a friend of mine who I hung with for almost the whole day. My hostel is great but the funniest thing about it is that I have a keychain with like 5 different keys on it and they are all meant to pass different doors so it was a bit confusing when trying to get into the hostel. After figuring out that craziness as well as training my GPS to learn European roads, my friend and I went to a pizzeria he discovered yesterday. I got a pizza with salami and extra cheese, and like all the other food I’ve had so far, it was exquisitely delicious! Then we sat at the park, tanned a little, then walked to grab gelato. I got a cinnamon gelato which was of course tasty but it melted while we were looking at a beautiful fountain so unfortunately I ended up throwing half of it out because it got too soupy. Lastly, after we got lost on the streets for a bit, we hit up a bar/restaurant where we drank a whole bottle of red wine. It was tasty and pretty inexpensive for a wine bottle. I drank 3 small helpings of the wine. Before picture:

20140605-193631-70591536.jpg

After picture:

20140605-193704-70624764.jpg

Afterward we relaxed at the same park again and saw a group of 5 people in a writing class talking about essays by various famous writers. It was entertaining, we asked them about what they were doing and they willingly talked about it. Afterward, we headed back to our hostels to relax before meeting our third friend and figuring out what to see next!

Preparation

As I head off to a bar that is in close proximity to my alma mater for a last fun night in the US, I am feeling incredibly excited and ready to embark on my upcoming adventure to Western Europe.

For a while I was considering calling this post Preparation and Packing but I realized that would be inaccurate given how small a percentage of my preparation time actually involved packing. Before I started packing, I expected to spend days on end worrying about every little detail of what would go into my backpack and I expected that I would have to go through several iterations of removing packed items before everything was able to fit. But boy was I wrong. After packing every item I was originally planning on bringing, everything including the backpack itself weighed less than 25 lbs. (ha we’re still in America so no metric system yet) and there were plenty of empty compartments remaining in my backpack.

Perhaps it helped that over 90% of my preparation time was spent reading books, blogs, and talking to people about past backpacking experiences. The most important point I took away from my research was that it is monumentally important to pack light and to keep vital belongings safe. Maybe every single source I looked at emphasized light packing because I have to carry this mother fucker here:

20140603-161223-58343836.jpg

All day every day. The research emphasized that nothing can ruin a beautiful backpacking experience faster than being constantly annoyed about how much weight you are carrying. I believe that I have only packed everything I need and nothing frivolous in order to stay safe and happy during my adventures. Tomorrow I’ll take a good gander at certain things here in the US before I get on the plane to Rome, but I am super ready to head overseas. With my compact cosmetic bag and predominantly quick dry clothing, I am poised to become a foreigner in a region with a child-like curiosity, but with an adult-like mind. More updates to come!

General Overview

I will admit that this is the first trip that I have ever been on where most of it will be about “winging it” and figuring out how things unfold as I go while I wear a wilderness-designed backpack holding all of my stuff.

 

What I do know is that I’ll be starting in Rome, Italy and working my way up to Stuttgart, Germany where a close friend of mine lives that I’ll be spending a few days with. Between when I arrive in Rome and when I get up to Germany will be a period of a little over 2 weeks and I cannot wait to see what unfolds during this time!

Purpose

The purpose of this blog is to keep some friends and family updated on my travels in Europe in addition to serving as a journal for myself. Since this will be about what I find to be the highlights, I refuse to go out of my way to make this “family friendly”. That being said, I think it will end up being pretty wholesome and clean. If you are not friends and family, feel free to read anyway. Enjoy!