As my trip draws to a close, I’ve been thinking back to the incredible moments I’ve had. Coming home is bittersweet for me–I’ve met so many incredible people along the way. You only ever spend a day or two with them, but the experiences you share bring you together so quickly that it feels like you’ve been great friends for a long time. I’m going to miss the freedom of being able to jet off to wherever I feel like going in the world, but am excited to start the next chapter in my life.
I’m fully aware that for the next month, every sentence that comes out of my mouth will begin with “when I was in…” so bear with me.
I developed an affinity for British ale in London.
I attended a soap opera star’s birthday party in Berlin.
I saw a world-class opera in Vienna.
I partied til the sun came up in Budapest.
I got stranded on a broken-down ATV in Corfu.
I swam in the Mediterranean sea underneath the stars.
I climbed a mountain in Tamil Nadu.
I snorkeled an entire reef by myself in the Andaman Islands.
I zip-lined over a castle in Jodhpur.
I got my breakfast stolen by a monkey in Jaipur.
I gazed in awe at the wonder that is the Taj Mahal in Agra.
I saw burning bodies on the Ganges in Varanasi.
I got held hostage in Nepal.
I paraglided in Pokhara.
I bungee jumped off the border of Tibet.
I saw the man-made palm tree island in Dubai.
I rode a camel in the desert by the Pyramids in Egypt.
I discovered the language barrier in Madrid.
I had the best tapas in Seville.
I danced my butt off in Alicante.
I fell in love with Gaudi in Barcelona.
I discovered the mediterranean is bigger than I thought by taking the train.
I learned the art of french baking in Nice.
I doubled my money at the casino in Monte Carlo.
I saw some priceless pieces of art at the Louvre in Paris.
I channeled my german roots at Oktoberfest in Munich.
I got hopelessly lost on the streets and canals of Venice.
I had dinner with a Presidential candidate’s son in Rome (and didn’t even know it).
I was blessed by the Pope in Vatican City.
I explored a lost city in Pompeii.
I laughed so hard I cried, and cried so hard I laughed. I spent money on things I didn’t need, and skimped on things I should’ve sprung for. I brought way too much stuff, and gained about a million pounds in my quest to avoid Delhi Belly in Asia (the only food you know won’t kill you is deep-fried. You do the math.) I learned to trust my gut, and how to say no to people. I became a haggling expert. I made a ton of mistakes. I tried so many things I’ve never done–and never thought I would do (bungee jumping? are you kidding me? I was scared to stand on a chair!) I made some amazing friends. And I learned to be okay with myself.
Coming home is very bittersweet for me. I’ve had quite the incredible journey. This trip was full of highs and lows, and I wouldn’t change a thing (except maybe some of the things I packed…high heels, Katy, really?)
This trip has helped me discover a lot about myself along the way, but some things are still up in the air. I’m sure I have come back a different person, although I don’t seem to notice yet. The only thing I am sure of is that I don’t want to be a lawyer anymore…sure glad I have that Honours degree in Criminal Justice and Public Policy…(that’s what happens when you go to university at 17).
I feel so blessed that I was able to take this trip, and I’m proud of the person I’ve become. I hope that it will carry me forward in the next chapter of my life–whatever that is. (Astronaut? Food critic? Baseball player?) SUGGESTIONS WELCOME! Okay, realistically, I think I want to try my hand at sales. But we’ll see what falls into my lap–I’ve learned that the best opportunities are the ones you don’t even see coming.
I just want to say thanks for reading this blog–it made me feel really connected, seeing how many people were reading every day, especially when I was missing home. It even inspired me to look for things I normally wouldn’t do, or good photo ops, in order to have a good post to write later! (Technically, I can blame you all for allowing me to run off the side of a mountain in Nepal) I just can’t believe so many people were interested in my trip!
I hope you enjoyed all my escapades, and if you want to know more about anything, I am available for speaking engagements, dinner soirees, cocktail parties, etc. (contact my agent for booking fees…) — JUST KIDDING. But seriously–if you want to get together and know more about my trip, I’m happy to oblige. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
I’ll probably be following this up with a few “If I had known before…” type posts, but this is the end to the travel portion. Now I need to go yell at Rogers for NOT telling me I’d get 500 bucks in roaming charges for turning my phone on while away…Thanks for tuning in!
Day 6: Tues 4th – Met 4 other aussies staying in the same room as us, and decided to make a big group and go to see Herculaneum and Pompeii together (note: I always thought Pompeii was spelt with two ‘i’s but in Italy they only use one. Sneaking suspicion they are trying to make the English look stupid.)
We bought day passes for the Circumvesuviana (that stupid above-ground train is the only way to get around Sorrento) for 6 Euros and 30 cents–highway robbery–and were on our way. After declining the whole roast pig for 4.50 we saw along the way, we bought tickets at Herculaneum to 5 sites as it was cheaper if we were also going to Pompeii. 20 Euros later (Southern Italy is not cheap!), we were inside the ruins. We tried to buy audioguides but they were sold out (have you ever heard of that? What a scam!) so we invented our own explanations for things–see that? That’s a bathtub..in the middle of the square…That looks like a stove, this was definitely a bakery then…etc.
Similiar to Pompeii, Herculaneum was also destroyed by Mt. Vesuvius’ eruption in 79 AD. But unlike Pompeii, this town was covered with layers of ash and gas very quickly, so the preservation here is actually better. We saw some buildings that still had multiple stories. It was quite incredible–these buildings survived a volcanic eruption, burial, excavation, and two thousand years of deterioration, and still look like they do. (Maybe Hollywood needs to take some aging tips from ancient cities…)
After we were satisfied with our time at Herculaneum, we headed back to Pompeii. We were more successful with our audioguide search (and even got a deal) and headed inside. The guide was a waste of money, though; it played this cheesy minstrel music before every bit of info–I seriously doubt Pompeiians were running around with lutes in 79 AD. I think they had more important things to worry about. Like getting buried by a volcano.
The ruins at Pompeii were impressive, simply because it’s so big. The books are right; it’s not as well-preserved as Herculaneum, but the scope is incredible. You got to walk an ancient city and imagine what their society would have been like to live in.
We did the two hour walk-through and got really lost. Stops included a rich person’s house, a bakery (for sure this time), a couple temples, and a courthouse. Our favourite part was the Lupenare, or the whore house (betcha didn’t see that one coming, did ya? I thought it was a wolf sanctuary…).
It was getting dark so we scooted over to the amphitheatre before it got too late. We had a ton of fun because it was deserted–the five of us were the only ones there, give or take a few curious tourists poking their heads in. I got to dance on one of the oldest stages in the world!
We wanted to take some group photos of us on stage, but because there was no one around, it was posing a bit of a challenge. In the end, we decided that the four of us would get ready at the bottom of the theatre. Dave would set the self-timer and then book it down the stairs to jump in the picture at the last second. It took a couple tries (and a lot of cardio–those stairs are steep!) but we got the photo.
Band photo inside the ruins of Pompeii…debut album coming soon
Then we decided to take one of us all jumping in the air, from the other side, so the steps would be in the background. This proved to be quite a challenge. After an hour of failed attempts and scraped knees, wipeouts, and lack of coordination, we almost gave up, but then somehow it worked and we got the picture. The struggle was hilarious and now we have the photos to remember it!
This was so worth the blood sweat and tears!
We headed back to the hostel for some more amazing food and a movie–they project onto one of the walls of the hostel in the courtyard, so we watched RED while we were eating. I headed upstairs to pack after that, and managed to condense three bags into two (I have a Ryanair flight tomorrow, so I need to be thrifty). It took a bit of a yard sale–I left four books, a towel, and various other toiletries behind–but I made it. (The other girls in my room were quite happy to take what I was giving away)
It was a fantastic last day in Italy–I got to know some great people, saw some fascinating things, and am almost ready to close the book on this trip!
Group photo inside Pompeii, Mt. Vesuvius in the background. Great day guys!
This morning, we tried to get up early to go to the Vatican museums before our 1:45 train to Naples. However, neither Nez nor I are morning people, as we discovered. After our lovely (and now regular) wakeup from the cleaning lady, we had breakky then went to the station to leave our bags at the luggage place. After a half-hour trek through the depths of the station, we find the longest line ever–apparently it’s no longer DIY luggage lockers. Since we were short on time, we were NOT about to wait in that line.
We schlepped back to the hostel, and instead, left our bags there. At this point, we only had about an hour and a half, and the museums were not going to be visited. We decided to cut our losses and just relax before our train, so we shopped for a bit, and I fell in love with two Italian men: their names were Dolce and Gabbana.
We picked up our bags, and were a bit late leaving for the station. We literally had to sprint to our train, but we made it. Barely. The conductor blew the whistle as we stepped onto the train–now that’s backpacking talent. Just in time!
After we got to Naples, we had to take an hour-long “Circumvesuviana” to get to Sorrento. I figured it was a regional train–slower, but no problem. We got to the station and discovered the 1 hr “regional train” from there to Sorrento is actually an above-ground subway. That my Eurail pass is not valid for. So I had to buy a 4 Euro ticket. (I really think my pass was less and less of a good deal, the more I use it and get told it’s either not valid or I have to pay extra for the reservation).
We get on the train (if you can call it that) and are crammed like sardines, with no ventilation. We discover after boarding that we’ve boarded the wrong train. Of course.
After correcting our mistake and enduring a miserable hour and a half journey down the coast, Nez and I arrived in San Agnello, a small town just outside of Sorrento. The hostel directions sucked so we walked around a bit. We got a great photo of this tiny truck before getting busted by the owner, who turned out to be very proud instead, and offered to take a photo of us on the back–as long as we took one of him after. Got some great gelato then made it to the hostel, which is amazing. Makes the one in Rome look like a halfway house. Met some great people in our room (Aussies, of course) and all had dinner together–did I mention the hostel makes incredible food? A bunch of us are gonna see Pompeii tomorrow. I can’t wait!
Apparently I’m a bad Catholic. I didn’t realize that going to the Vatican on a Sunday means the museums are all closed (Sabbath). Lucky for me, going on a Sunday means you will get blessed by the Pope instead. Repentance! Nez and I stood in St. Peter’s square and watched as a tapestry was hung out of a random window in the Vatican.
Then, at noon, Jesus appeared! Just kidding. But close! Pope Benedict gave his little wave to the crowd, then said a bunch of stuff in latin that no one understood but pretended to anyways. Lastly, he did a bunch of shout-outs in all the languages he could think of, and the crowd reacted accordingly. Most importantly, we were blessed by the Pope!
Just me and the Pope
After the speech, we went into St. Peter’s, which is really impressive inside. I completely understand why it’s the headquarters here. It is a little strange, however, having to cover up my legs and shoulders. I expect that when I go to mosques or temples, but in a church? They’re just shorts!
Me and my improvised cover-up inside St. Peter’s Basilica
Later, Nez and I went for a nice dinner of gnocchi and risotto (and place mats with Whitney Houston on them? Random),
then headed to the Coliseum to take some photos at night. Took about 3 good ones and 300 blurry ones–quite the learning curve with low lighting. Did a handstand and cut my foot on broken glass–not the smartest thing I’ve done this trip.
I rallied, however, and walked to the Trevi Fountain. There were only about 15 other people there, so it was comparatively empty to daytime (when the tourist hordes are out in full force). Almost fell in while taking photos. Fun fact: about 3000 Euros are thrown into that fountain EVERY DAY. Maybe if Italy started collecting it, they would improve their financial situation a little…I contributed to it, but in true backpacker style, I threw in one cent. A Euro is way over my price ceiling, let’s be real here!
<brMy near-miss with the water, caught on film
So I didn’t get to see Sistine Chapel. I know, I know–I went to Rome and didn’t see the Sistine Chapel!–But it’s really fine: I’m so oversaturated with historical sights in Rome that they’re losing a bit of their lustre. I’d rather go back when I have a fresh mind–and now I have a reason to return to Rome!
Me and Nez in front of the Coliseum
Day 3: Saturday Oct 1
This morning I booked a flight to London for Oct 5th, then walked to the Coliseum to use the 2nd day of the ticket the guys bought. Discovered the ticket is valid for 2 days,but not at the same sites more than once. Embarrassing moment! I did the walk of shame past alllll the people lining up who actually had tickets, back out the way I came. Guess I won’t be seeing the Coliseum after all!
Back at the hostel I met Nez, another Aussie solo traveler staying in my room. We got along great and had a nice dinner together before an early night. FYI, Rome is HOT right now. All that walking is exhausting!
Hostel kicks us out at 10 am (til 3 pm) — and I mean literally, 10:01, the cleaning lady’s knocking on the door to make sure we’re on our way. Alright, alright, I’m going! Relax! Nonetheless, the girls and I go grab breakfast at cafe down the street before they caught their train. Still can’t believe they’re doing Europe in 3 weeks…madness!
Hung out for a bit and did some trip planning in the common room–I decided to skip Ireland, going down to Amalfi Coast at the recommendation of another hostel guest–found a GREAT hostel there. This does not work out well with the ticket I already bought to fly from Ireland to England–non-refundable. I decided to cut my losses and just stay in Italy and find a cheap flight from here.
An ancient pillar that has every important battle in Roman history carved into it–bottom line: It’s really old
Did a 2 pm walking tour of the Roman Forum, Palatine Hill, and the Coliseum, which was really neat. It’s so crazy seeing these ancient ruins in the middle of a big city…just imagine driving your BMW past thousands of years of history–this would never happen in Canada! These free tours are great–they take you to the important sights, tell you a bit about the history, and you just tip them at the end if you enjoyed it. Our tour ended at the Coliseum so people could go inside if they wanted, but I decided against it. Funds are running dangerously low and I’ve heard from a lot of people that it’s not THAT exciting to see inside. Maybe next trip.
What I did do was walk down to try and get registered in cooking class at this restaurant I found online, but it was full. After that mission and a half over the river and through the Circus Maximus (remember Ben Hur? That place), I met up with 2 guys I met on the walking tour, a producer from LA and a teacher from Wisconsin. They had bought the ticket for the Forum and Coliseum which was good for two days, so they gave me their ticket saying I could use it tomorrow if I wanted. Sweet! Maybe I will go in after all.
We had dinner together and swapped some great stories (note to everyone on sleeper trains: get the top bunk, or a man will continuously walk his feet onto your bunk while sleeping on the one beside you–or so I’ve been told). We had a lot of fun exploring Rome together!
Jen, Vanessa and I in our room before our night out
Day 1: Thurs Sept 29: Arrived at hostel which was really close to the train station, thank goodness. Caught up on the blog, and just relaxed after the travel day. Early evening I met some great girls (jen and vanessa) staying in the same room who were also from Toronto, and were doing a whirlwind trip thru europe. (you think i’m seeing a lot on my trip, try spending each night in a different city. I dont know how they’re doing it!)
We went for dinner at a place near the hostel. After some delicious pasta and salty broccoli, we attempted to find a pub crawl we had heard about at the Spanish steps but failed. May have been because Rome’s subway sucks–there’s only two lines to begin with, and one of them stops at 9 pm! Naturally, that was the line we needed. We were forced to wait for the bus, which meant we did not make it there by the 10 o’clock cut-off. I wasn’t too upset–I really just wanted the t-shirt. We decided that since we had already come all the way out here, we would just make our own pub crawl. Turns out we picked the worst possible area to do this in, as it was the shopping centre of Rome, and it took a good hour of wandering until we found any type of suitable establishment. Finally near Piazza Navona, some promoters came up to us offering a good deal so we decided to check it out. Open bar until 12:30! Score.
We get there, order our drinks, and then get told that’ll be 15 Euros. Each. Turns out there is a cover charge for this “open bar” which we just assumed was free (don’t ask me why we didn’t think about this). Since it was already midnight, we decided to just pay for the one drink and then go somewhere else. We met two Italians who chatted us up, and as the only other people in the bar, we couldn’t exactly make a quick exit. They started doing dream interpretation (explains a lot) and talking about Italy in very broken english. They wanted to go dancing, and anywhere else had to be better than the place we were currently in, so we went along. We ended up in this club called La Maison, which actually reminded me a lot of clubbing in Toronto, but it was fun. Oh yeah, did I mention we partied with DJ Afrojack?
The state I was in on the morning after Oktoberfest
So it turns out my hostel isn’t actually IN Venice, but in Marghera, which is about 12 minutes away by train. Kind of a sketchy neighborhood, but luckily after Oktoberfest the last thing I wanted to do was go out at night anyways, so it didn’t really matter. The directions listed on the website were undecipherable, so I decided to wing it. Luckily, for once that actually paid off, and was one of the more easy hostels to find. I crashed at about 9 pm and prepared myself for the next day of sightseeing on the island.
I took the train into the city and arrived directly in front of the Grand Canal. Venice is really beautiful–all the old buildings, it really feels like a city from another time (unless you look at the Prada and McDonald’s. Just avert your eyes.) I discerned that Piazza San Marco (the real tourist attraction) was on the opposite side of the island, so I headed off on foot. I could’ve taken a water taxi, but let’s be real, those cost precious Euros I need to conserve if I don’t want to live in a cardboard box for the last week of my trip.
I also decided to forgo the quintessential Venetian experience of a gondola ride. Although I’m fairly certain I could’ve convinced a gondolier to give me a discount, I am beyond frugal these days and decided it wasn’t worth ANY euros to ride around in a gondola, alone. Save that one for the honeymoon, folks.
The closest I got to a gondola
I quickly learned that Lonely Planet makes terrible maps. They might even make the worst maps I’ve ever seen. Entire blocks have NO labels! And since Venice is already enough of a maze with the canals and streets, this is a huge problem. Luckily I had time on my side, because it took me about 3 hours to make it to the Piazza.
Me in the Piazza San Marco
I looked around, imagined I was Angelina Jolie for about 5 minutes (Italian Job, anyone?) then got really tired of all the tourists, really quick. After posing for some photos with some Asians (seriously, do I look like a celebrity on vacation or something? I don’t understand why this keeps happening to me), I began the long trek back to the train station. 3.5 hours later…
I met up with one of my roommates, an Aussie named Pip, who is also on a solo travel mission around the world, for some dinner. She recommended a place around the corner from our hostel, and we checked it out. It was PACKED with locals, which was fantastic–the prices were at least half of what we would’ve paid if we stayed in Venice for dinner, and it was delicious! She was really fun, and I hope we keep in touch–maybe she’ll visit me in Toronto while she’s in the US (peer pressure…do it, Pip!)
I’m glad I budgeted only 2 days for Venice, as I definitely saw enough in the time I was there. Any more and it would’ve been Paris round 2–more of wanting what I can’t have. I’ll come back on my honeymoon or something–or maybe on a seniors’ cruise when I’m 65+–that seemed to be the largest demographic I saw when I was there! It is a beautiful city, although I wouldn’t want to live there; doesn’t seem like there was a whole lot to do. Now, off to ROME! So excited, there’s so much to see here, and so much food to try! Ciao!
WeiBwurst cooking on the stove (Eaten with sweet mustard, they taste a lot better than they look)
Day 3: Sunday 25 – Got up late. Was treated to a traditional Bavarian breakfast with the crew, which consisted of WeiBwurst (a type of sausage I think?), pretzels with 3 cheese dip, aaaand coffee. Lots of it. So necessary.
We looked at the copious amounts of photos taken the day before, then biked around Munich. I did laundry (woohoo!), and bought my ticket to Venice for Tuesday (direct, six and a half hours, easiest train ticket yet!) In the afternoon, we went to the English Gardens, met up with some friends for traditional German food (pork leg, liver, knudeln, mashed potatoes and Radler, then biked home in the freezing cold. Spent half an hour looking for my memory card from my camera (found it) then proceeded to lose it inside the computer. Found it again and watched a movie. A nice complement to the insanity that was yesterday.
Day 4: Monday 26 – Got up late (again). Lazy morning watching Modern Family. Did some trip planning, booked hostels for Venice and Rome, and got ready for Oktoberfest round 2. Had a quick dinner and got going around 5:30 pm. Played some games–got to shoot a rifle–spoiler alert: I didn’t hit the target once.
Went to the big beer tents this time and it was PACKED. No free tables anywhere. But the craziest party I’ve ever seen. Imagine 10,000 people dancing on the tables to oldies and classic rock (summer of 69? how is that Oktoberfest?) straight out of a movie. Totally different from my experience on Saturday, which was really relaxed and casual. This was straight up epic.
Dancing on the tables with ten thousand of my closest friends
We waited at one table for a while but it was clear they weren’t leaving anytime soon, so we tried another tent and gradually edged out the other patrons until we had control. We danced and drank the night away (I only fell once, according to photos, so now I know where the bruises on my knee are from).
Alex and I right before the epic fall
Met some cool Brits, some drunk girl that decided it was a great idea to wear heels to oktoberfest (seriously, come on–you’re standing on a bench that’s like a balance beam! no wonder you’re falling every fifteen seconds…just take them off!). We went out after the tents closed, got a kebab, then danced some more–quite hilarious being at a bar in our dirndls and lederhosen, when no one else is dressed up, but we were too (ahem…sober?) to worry about it.
Had quite the surprise when I woke up the next morning and saw we had taken over 150 pictures that night–I have no idea how my camera survived Oktoberfest round 2, but somehow it did, and I had my own Hangover moment going through those photos (Asian ladyboy not included, all fingers intact, so not to worry).
Visiting Chris was fantastic–I haven’t seen him in so long, and he was the BEST host (He made me sandwiches to take on the train to Italy, how amazing is that?!), took good care of me, and I can’t thank him enough for letting me stay with him!
Me and Chris at Oktoberfest 2011
Now I’m jet setting through 3 countries in one day (Germany, Austria, Italy) to arrive in Venice later this afternoon. München Rockt 2011!