how to be alone in greece (and love it)

Thursday, June 28, 2012








the general consensus among my hostelmates seemed to be: it's best to wake up at noon, head to the beach for a quick dip in the ocean, start drinking around 2 o'clock, dinner at 5, come back to the room and shower, out at "the club" by 8:45, come back to the room around 6 or 7 or 8 am. (are you understanding why i refer to staying in this hostel as living in a frat house?)

my plan of action, however, was a little different: wake up at 8:00, head down to the (free!) breakfast (occasionally crossing paths with fellow hostelmates coming home for "the night"), out at the beach by 9:00 - ipod, book, towel, camera in hand - lunch at the beach cafe (the
best veggie burger, the best fries, and the biggest bottle of water with a snickers bar for dessert, of course), nap on the beach/swim until dinnertime, head back to the hostel for a (free!) dinner, watch the sunset on the beach while another snickers bar (if you're feeling extra snickery), head back to the room to shower (or not shower), pass out by 9:00, exhausted and smelling of saltwater.

my new german friends' schedule ranged somewhere between my hostelmates' frat-tastic-ness, and my geriatric-ness. we hung out occasionally at the beach, breakfast table, etc., but ultimately, i was really in my eat-pray-love-see-europe-by-myself element. i made a point to savor the solitude, enjoy the warm-as-bathwater-waves, live "in the moment" (whatever that means), and remind myself, "you're in greece! and it is awesome" as much as i could, while i soaked up the sun day-in and day-out.


and no one -- not one person! -- asked me why i wasn't swimming naked.... greece: 1, italy: 0.

One of my favorite cities in Europe: Corfu, Greece (an intro.)

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The morning after my Euros went missing, I woke up to find a new hostelmate in my room. She was quite friendly and, after she introduced herself to me, I assumed (based on her accent) that she was Australian. I said, "Oh, I just met a group of Australians last night, they're staying down the hall." to which she sternly replied, "Oh, I'm a Kiwi." I then received a a 5-minute lesson on why you should never, ever, ever compare a Kiwi to an Aussie; how, like comparing a Canadian to an American, it is the worst of offenses. Let's all give a collective round of applause to the hostel in Brindisi, Italy, for setting me up with most terrific roommates, shall we?

I packed up my things and headed downstairs for a free breakfast (which wasn't actually that impressive, but it involved Nutella, so I loved it), during which I asked the hostel manager where the nearest ATM was. As I had no Euros on hand, I needed to make an emergency withdrawal at the nearest one, before boarding the ferry that would take me to Greece. The hostel manager told me I didn't have time to go into town, that the car was coming to pick me up for the ferry in ten minutes, but that hopefully, there'd be an ATM near the port.

The car service arrived, drove me to the port, I exited the vehicle, asked, "Do you know if there's an ATM around here?", the driver shrugged, and off he went.

Not wanting to miss my ferry, I walked across the port to the ticket office, ready to board, hoping there would be an ATM conveniently located inside. Right about then, I had one of those moments, where I stopped and looked around and thought, "What in the world am I doing?". Here I was, all alone, in the most random of Italian cities, Brindisi, about to ferry to Greece, with no money in my wallet. Luckily, I had already purchased my ticket and printed it off, but that was only somewhat soothing to my otherwise distressed soul. One source of anxiety: there were several ferries in front of me, and I had no idea which one was mine. I envisioned boarding one, falling asleep, and waking up to hear, "Welcome to Turkey!". I immediately made a mental note to double, triple, quadruple check, upon boarding, that my ferry was, in fact, destined for Greece.

I was informed at the ticket office that, sure enough, there wasn't an ATM on, or anywhere near, the port, which meant that I would not be eating for at least twelve hours. "Eh, nothing I haven't done before", I told myself (sometimes, going a day or two without food is unavoidable for a poor expat, living from one meal to the next), but still, I mentally cursed those evil hostelmates all the same -- wherever they were -- imagining them throwing my Euros up in the air and dancing around as the bills slowly floated to the ground. Don't laugh; you know that's what thieves do after they steal from innocent, unsuspecting young travelers like myself.

When I checked in at the ferry, I had to provide identification to match the name on my ticket, which I was admittedly not prepared for, since, the first rule of traveling in Italy is: there are no rules. I dug through my backpack and produced my passport and then rifled through my wallet while waiting, on the off chance that I'd find some Euros hidden in a secret pocket (not that I hadn't done this a million times the night before, hoping to discover that my stolen Euros were hidden all along). After verifying that I was, indeed, myself, I walked away from the office, ready to board a ferry that I sincerely hoped was the right one. The ticket office man yelled something in Italian and I turned around, thinking, "Ugh, what now?", only to see him waving my credit card at me. Evidently, it had fallen out of my wallet, unbeknownst to me, and this honest man had the decency to report to me, as opposed to pocketing it for himself. I wanted to kiss him right then and there, but I refrained.

I waited in line to board my ferry, where I met two German guys who turned out to be, just, the salt of the earth (read: they didn't steal from me and they told me my German was so great). Once we hit it off, I considered asking them to buy me a second breakfast, followed by lunch and dinner, but figured that might be impolite. We talked, sat together on the ferry, and before I knew it, we'd made it to Greece. (Actually, that's not true -- the ferry was long and exhausting, and the journey did not fly by in the blink of an eye, but for brevity's sake, let's say it did.)

Once we docked in Corfu, I realized the German boys were staying at my same hostel, which was no surprise since there is really only one hostel in Corfu. It's not a clean one (it's actually kind of disgusting -- you feel like you're staying in a frat house), but it's all there is, and they give you free breakfast and dinner, so it's fine. Also, it's on the beach and looks like this (see: below), which sort of negates any doubts you might have about frat house living.

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Plus, on the even brighter side, I had a really great hostelmate from New York. I actually didn't get to know her that well, but I say she was great because when I suggested documenting how tan I was by taking a series of photos next to my bunk bed, she didn't think I was crazy, so I'm thinking we're soul mates?

on not being as tan as you think you are, not swimming in the nude, and not trusting anyone (ever!)

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

On my second day in Brindisi, a bunch of solo travelers at the hostel (myself included) decided to go to the beach again. When we showed up and looked out at the locals who had arrived bright and early that morning, I was struck by how unbelievably tan everyone was! I tend to get pretty brown myself in the summer, but these people were a whole ‘nother level of dark, and I suddenly felt like a ghost. I tried to capture it with a picture but I don’t think the photograph does it justice (although it does sort of remind me of a Where’s Waldo? book).

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The most memorable part of the beach trip?  The moment when an Italian man approached me and asked, “Why are you swimming in clothes?”.  At first, I thought he was confused by my not swimming in the nude (several other men and women there were), so I told him, “I like swimsuits”.  He replied, “Yes, but you swim in clothes on bottom?”.  That’s when I realized; he was confused by my swim skirt.  I explained to him that, where I come from, some people wear one-pieces, some people wear swim shorts, some people wear swim skirts, bikinis, etc., and he was so genuinely perplexed.  He even asked me if it was because I was ashamed of my body!  I’m gonna go out on a limb and assume that launching a modesty-focused swimsuit line would not be the most lucrative idea for swimwear designers in Italy.

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Later that day, after we returned home to the hostel, I decided to rinse my sandy feet off in the shower. I was sharing a hostel room with two young German girls and didn’t want to seem overly paranoid by constantly locking my personal items in the locker next to my bed.  Figuring that rinsing my feet in the shower would take 2 minutes tops, I made the mistake of leaving my clutch inside my pillow case, before returning to find my hostel mates gone, along with the remaining Euros in my wallet. I immediately ran downstairs and reported the incident to the hostel manager. He regrettably admitted that the hostel mates had allegedly stolen from the roommate before me (a little warning would’ve been nice!) and told me the German girls had checked out of the hostel just minutes before I’d reported them….

Stealing is something I cannot even fathom – I just think it’s one of the meanest things you can do to a person – and what I found most maddening is that I hadn’t wanted to offend my seemingly nice roommates by appearing suspicious of them, and in turn, they stole all my money.   Needless to say, I went to bed feeling very sad (and imagining all the things I’d say to these girls in German, should I ever see them again).  Sigh.

Brindisi Beach, Italy

Monday, June 25, 2012

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I took the train from Rome to Brindisi, which is a place no one should ever go unless they are planning to ferry to Greece (my reasoning for going).  Brindisi isn’t the most “happening” of Italian cities; it’s actually quite small and there’s not a ton to do within the city but shop around for stripe-y nautical cardigans (check!) and eat gelato (check, check!). 

On my first day in Brindisi, I made the mistake of thinking there were non-gelato/non-cardigan-related sights to be seen.  I bought a couple of bus tickets (I got to practice some of the only Italian words I know to purchase said tickets!) and boarded a bus I thought would take me to the city center, only to realize there really isn’t a city center.  At one point of the bus ride, though, I was the bus’s only passenger, which wasn’t too unsettling until the bus driver pulled over next to a field, stepped off the bus, and disappeared into thin air.  I sat there for several minutes before beginning to freak out a little.  I had been texting my sister, Jessica, off and on that afternoon and by this point, I was so concerned that I actually called her.  Yes, I made a call from Italy to the U.S. …from my cell phone.  I don’t know what I was expecting her to do about my situation;  I guess I just wanted someone to know that I was on a bus in the middle of nowhere, Italy, in the event that, like the bus driver, I, too, vanish into thin air.

Soon enough, the bus driver returned to the driver’s seat and we went about our merry little way (as it happened, he just needed a bathroom break).  My sister later told me, “Please think twice next time before calling me to let me know you think you’re about to be murdered on the side of a random road in Italy.  That was very scary for me.” 

Duly noted, sister.  Duly noted.

I later met a couple of other lone travelers at the hostel – an Australian girl and an Irish guy – who were really friendly.  We went to the beach together one day, just the three of us, where I took the above photo of my sandy, tan-lined feet.  It is also worth noting that I ate about a million Kinder Happy Hippos during this outing (my favorite of all favorite treats!).  The three of us had gone to a supermarket before heading to the beach; I think they were a little confused when we all met up at the check-out counter, their baskets filled with meats, cheeses, bread and soft drinks, mine filled with Happy Hippos and water bottles.

Later that day, we returned to the hostel, sleepy and all tuckered out.  The hostel manager ordered us pizzas (which I naively assumed were on the house – don’t ask why).  Now, I don’t know how many times I’ve eaten pizza in Italy…let’s just say lots.  Maybe I’ll eventually contradict myself with this statement but I want to say the pizza I ate in this hostel was the best pizza I’ll ever eat in my life.

Oh, and you want to know the most exciting part about that pizza?  The hostel manager ordered the three of us a large pizza each.  And I ate the whole thing by myself.

A large pizza, a bag of Happy Hippos and a day at he beach?  Maybe Brindisi’s not so bad after all…

rome alone (otherwise known as the most exhausting day of my life)

Sunday, June 24, 2012

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this is the story of how i unknowingly almost broke into someone’s apartment in the heart of rome.
after kaitlyn flew back to the states, i opted to stay in rome another day.  i contacted natalie, a friend of a friend and 20-something english girl living in rome “on holiday” for a few months, working the front desk at a hostel in hopes of learning italian.  she sent me directions to her apartment and i showed up with my 100 lb. backpack, looking really put-together, i’m sure (this was only several hours after the lion’s mane wake-up call, mind you).  i unpacked some of my things, changed clothes, drank some water (read: a liter or two) and then headed back out into the city with natalie to grab a late lunch.  we could have walked there or taken the metro, but natalie recommended we go by bus.  as the bus approached our stop, i asked her how many euros i needed to buy a ticket.  natalie’s response to this was unbridled laughter.  she informed me that in rome, you never buy a ticket – that it would be a waste of money because no one ever checks your ticket and only tourists buy them.  let’s all pause for a moment and realize how disastrous this mindset would be in germany or austria, where rules are RULES and if you break them, you die (or something like that).  long story short: i bought one when she wasn’t looking.

we grabbed some salads at an outdoor cafe near the trevi fountain.  i asked natalie what it was like living in rome as a young, single girl who’d moved there knowing no one.  she told me story after story about all the friends she’d found among the young hostel staff, how it’s common for australians to work at hostels during their gap years, or brits to work there on long holidays.  ah, what it must be like to not need a visa to live and work in europe…

i asked her how her italian-learning was coming along (her motivation for moving to rome) and she told me it wasn’t coming along well at all; that working at an international youth hostel is the last place you’ll find italian speakers, which makes sense since mostly all international youth speak english.  of course, she tells me this and then proceeds to carry on a pretty lengthy conversation with the waiter in italian.  i was impressed.

after lunch, natalie had to work a double shift at the hostel, so we parted ways, as she hurriedly gave me instructions back to her apartment that went a little something like this: “okay, so, i won’t get off work until midnight, so here are they keys to my flat, so just take the same bus back in the other direction and then get off at the stop we got on at and walk to the end of the street and then my apartment will be on the left and call me if you need anything and have fun and i’ll see you later tonight and bye!” 

i spent the afternoon sight-seeing, shopping, wandering, taking photos, eating gelato and crepes, and being slightly worried that i would have no idea how to get back to natalie’s apartment.  turns out, i was right to worry.

around dinner time, i decided to head back to natalie’s place and shower, as i was currently dripping in sweat and felt like the temperature outside was maybe 1,000 degrees.  celsius.  so i got back on the same bus (and paid for a ticket), going in the opposite direction, got off at the right stop, and walked to the end of the street.  the only problem was….no apartments looked distinguishable to me.   natalie’s street kind of looked like this and suddenly i couldn’t remember which door was natalie’s.  at this point, i had no choice but to walk up and down the street and try natalie’s key in each door.  and there were multiple keys on her key ring, so imagine me standing at each door and trying a series of keys for several minutes before anxiously moving on to the next – that’s what you would have seen, had you been a random passerby.  (side note: of course my phone chose that moment to go out of service, before i could call natalie and inqure, “WHAT THE EFF!?”).
now, here comes the real conundrum:  i finally did match a key with a door and crossed the threshold, breathing a sigh of relief, only to be reminded that natalie’s apartment was one of many overlooking a courtyard (imagine something like this) and i couldn’t remember under which arch to walk.  (to tell you the truth, i felt like harry, ron and hermione at the end of the sorcerer’s stone, when they have to riddle their way to their destination by overcoming obstacles both mental and physical, which only made me a little bit happy.)  when i had arrived at natalie’s apartment earlier in the day, she had met me at the door to the street and had led the way to her apartment, so i didn’t pay much attention to the arches in the courtyard.  half-laughing, half-cringing, i went from door…to door…to door…trying the keys in each one, knowing that, at any point, one of those doors could fly open, leaving me in a pickle as i try to explain why i appear to be breaking into a home that did not belong to me.  and in fact, at one point, i attempted to put a key through a key-hole, only to hear loud italian voices booming from the other side of it.  i jerked the keys away from the door, turned on my heel and fled the scene, fully aware of how stupidly stupid this failed mission had become.

mad at the world (or maybe just rome), i stormed out of the courtyard and into the street.  i walked into the nearest restaurant, seated myself at a table for one and ordered a plate of food, followed by another plate of food, along with the biggest bottle of water on the menu.  i read my book, tried to relax, took deep breaths, and finally got my phone to work.  i reached natalie on her cell and casually requested the number on the door of her flat.  she told me it was number 54 and then asked, “is everything okay?  are you finding everything okay?”.  i told her, “of course!  rome is great!  everything is great!  this food i’m eating right now is great!”.  she assured me she’d be home by midnight and would love to take me out for a drink when she returned, if i was still awake.  i told her i would totally try to wait up for her. 

….needless to say, the moment i found the right apartment and let myself inside, i was sound asleep within 30 seconds.  sorry, natalie -- maybe next time!

in which rome takes its toll

Friday, June 22, 2012

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left:  kaitlyn’s last meal in europe  (taking place in front of a western union, of course)

right:  saying goodbye to kaitlyn at the crack of dawn, before she headed to the airport

 

summertime in rome is hot, hot, h-o-t hot.  kaitlyn ended her euro visit in the ancient city, which made her all the more ready to get back to arkansas. 

i’ve mentioned before that i don’t care much for italy’s capital, and i think it’s safe to say kaitlyn doesn’t either.  on her very last night, after spending way too much money on gelato (our fault, for choosing a place far too touristy), we walked into a hotel room that felt like a fiery furnace.  i went to bed with soaking wet hair and open windows (what else do you do when air conditioning doesn't exist?) and woke up with a lion’s mane of tangles and curls.  (kaitlyn titled that photo of said lion mane, “saying goodbye to kaitlyn and saying hello to a  mop on your head”.)

i decided to stay in rome for awhile by myself, which was….interesting.  details forthcoming.

 

happy friday!

 

 

when in rome…

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

you start the day looking like this:

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and end the day looking like..... well, i'll let you know in the next post.


the last of cinque terre

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

cinque terre is without a doubt my favorite part of italy. i think we’ve established this, since i can’t seem to stop going thereone reason i love it: when you’re in cinque terre, you get a really italian vibe*, whereas in more touristy italian cities (venice, rome), you sometimes just feel bombarded with street vendors and cheesy t-shirts.  but at the same time, there’s not necessarily a  shortage of tourists in cinque terre, so you don’t feel especially foreign or out of place; it’s the perfect balance.  i hope it never changes. 

*we ate a pizza in vernazza one night and watched a group of little italian children playing soccer in the narrow street (more like a weathered dirt road with not a car in sight), barefoot, while their parents looked on, drinking wine, conversing and loudly laughing with one another in the most animated way.  it seemed like everyone was family and as i watched, i thought, “this is italy”.

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another fun memory from cinque terre:  we stopped at a little art gallery (also in vernazza), where a middle-aged italian man was selling his work.  kaitlyn was interested in buying one of his pieces, and asked him how late he’d be open, as she needed to get some euros from the ATM down the road.  he told her he was going upstairs, where he lived, for just a bit, but that he’d be back shortly.  kailtyn withdrew her euros from the ATM, we returned to the shop, sat in front of it and waited for the man to return….and waited….and waited…and continued to wait.  we resorted to taking pictures of ourselves (we looked really great after hiking all day, let me tell you) for about 90 minutes, before giving up and taking the last train back to riomaggiore.  kaitlyn decided right then and there that she hated that man with all her heart, and probably always would.  but, thankfully, our night was far from ruined, and we have the world’s best nutella crepes to thank for that!  (i get them every time i’m in cinque terre – despite the fact that i may or may not be allergic to nutella.)

sigh.  i love this place.  i don’t even know the next time i’ll be back but i pray it’s within the next year. …….we’ll see how that goes.

my favorite part of cinque terre (monterosso)

Monday, June 18, 2012

cinque terre, which means “five lands” in italian, is made up of – you guessed it – five little villages: monterosso, vernazza, corniglia, manarola, and riomaggiore.  monterosso is my favorite of the five; the beach there might be my favorite beach i’ve ever visited. 
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kaitlyn and i enjoyed dining at my favorite beachside restaurant and people-watching the life guards and swimmers below.
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one thing that always catches me off guard about italian beaches (or really european beaches in general):  you’ll see topless women in their 60s (or older) and very old men wearing revealing speedos.
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you have to pay to rent an umbrella and chairs.  it’s worth it, though!  there’s no time limit, which is especially useful if you stay at the beach from sun up ‘til sun down (what i recommend doing).
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fun fact: i’ve been to this restaurant every time i’ve been to cinque terre, and have even had the same waiter every time, too!  i’ve also ordered the same meal every time, as well…
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you can rent a little wooden stall to lock your belongings in while you swim.  we tried to get a photo of us using the self-timer, setting my camera on a shelf inside the stall, only to realize my wet hair had dripped all over the camera, temporarily blurring the lens and giving kaitlyn a very original “no neck” look.
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we ate a lot, swam a lot, and drank a lot of water.  by the end of the day, we were exhausted, but in the best way possible.  i wish i could re-live this day tomorrow!
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we took the night train back to our hostel, ready to see the rest of cinque terre in the morning.
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***
p.s. for the lomography fish-eye version of another trip to monterosso, click here.

is this a real place?

Sunday, June 17, 2012

if i hadn’t taken these photos myself, i wouldn’t believe it.

nahhh j

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{cinque terre,  italy}

{more photos to come}

after venice….

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

after a day in venice, kaitlyn and i boarded yet another train and made our way to cinque terre.

i’ll post some photos of that asap (and share some stories…one of which involves an explanation of how a certain cinque terre shop owner became kaitlyn’s arch nemesis), but for now here’s one of my favorites: a glimpse of manarola, cinque terre, from afar.

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{past trips to cinque terre are chronicled here}

10 things we learned in venice

Monday, June 11, 2012

there’s an overnight train from salzburg to italy.  it leaves salzburg at 11 something pm and reaches venice by 8:34 the next morning.  kaitlyn and i hopped on said train and rolled right into the city of water on it.  here are some photos taken shortly after our arrival.

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10 things we learned while in venice

1.  venice does not smell great.

2.  the water is really beautiful, but still…that smell.

3.  backpacks feel 500x heavier when it’s about 1,000 degrees outside.

4. authentic italian pizza….there’s nothing like it in this world.

5.  bangs aren’t all that conducive to traveling in the hot, hot heat (there’s a reason you’re not seeing any photos of me and kaitlyn in venice).

6. the amount of cheesy tourist shirts for sale in and around the venice train station is startling.

7.  toms shoes make for some really special tan lines.

8.  one day in venice is enough, if you want it to be!

9.  the italian accent might be the most fun to mimic (i can do a really convincing “grazie! prego!”).

10.  authentic italian gelato… even better than the pizza? it’s possible.

a rainy day in salzburg, a sound of music tour

Thursday, June 7, 2012

mirabell gardens:

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left: the mondsee cathedral (you may recognize it from the sound of music; it’s where maria and captain von trapp got married)  || right:  the sound of music gazebo, located on the grounds of schloss hellbrunn

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lake wolfgang:

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left:  the entrance to schloss hellbrunn  || right: refreshments in the alter markt

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so, there you have it.  kaitlyn’s and my full day in salzburg consisted of rainclouds, mist, fog, and seeing some sound of music sights.  we enjoyed ourselves quite a bit, although the rainy weather was a bit dreary.

when the sun came out, however… it was pret-ty glorious.

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that photo is unedited, too.  it really is that beautiful.  sigh.

happy friday!