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Part 12: Hawaii — Little Big Trip 2014

Part 11: Tokyo

Why Maui/Hawaii?

It’s paradise on American soil. It’s the vacation for my vacation as the last stop of my trip. I had heard so many nice things about Hawaii and this was my opportunity to see for myself.

Itinerary

  • Wednesday, 12 November: Arrive in Honolulu airport, fly to Maui. Settle in.
  • Thursday, 13 November: nothing
  • Friday 14 November: Lahaina: surfed and explored downtown
  • Saturday 15 November: Hiked Maui tour in East Maui
  • Sunday 16 November: Departed Hawaii, headed home, and ended Little Big Trip

My Impression

Maui was quite nice. The open landscapes with lush green mountains and vast rhythmic seas naturally got me to open up and allowed me to listen to my thoughts more deeply. The island was relatively quiet and pretty low-key, but it did have the conveniences of modern society in each city. It was a really nice place to just slow down and enjoy the ordinary moments of life.

While it was still warm, I would like to spend more time in even warmer weather to get the full experience that most travelers raved about.

Getting There

Starting to see the Hawaiian Islands

I flew from Tokyo to Honolulu, went through customs and immigration, transferred to the domestic side of the airport, then flew to Maui. From there, I rented a car and drove to my hotel in Kihei.

About to land in O'ahu.

I booked the flight from Tokyo to Honolulu as the last leg of my round-the-world ticket, before I decided to go to Maui. I thought the inter-island flights would be cheap and frequent, but I find out later that I had to book them ahead of time just like most flights.

Had I known and decided that I was going to Maui, I would have booked my flight straight to Maui, and I would also have booked the flight straight from Maui home in the Bay Area.

Instead, I had to sneak cellular service while I was landing in Honolulu to check in to my Maui flight, be shepherded into a shuttle, waited through the lines at immigration, and speedwalked to the domestic security check to catch my flight to Maui.

As I filled out my immigration form, I was very excited and proud to put in all the countries I had been to; it was like a badge of honor that only I and a small percentage of people in the world had done.

Summarizing my Little Big Trip on the immigration form.

Getting Around

I rented a car from Maui airport and pretty much drove everywhere. This was made possible when my wallet (which had my California driver license) was found back in Albuquerque, and I was very thankful I had one less thing to worry about during the trip.

Some sort of smoke or clouds in the mountains on the way to Makena Beach.

I couldn’t remember seeing public buses, but it would’ve been impractical to travel in Maui this way, although since I had a very little agenda in Hawaii, I probably could’ve taken my time and taken the bus to different places. I definitely could’ve done it if I had to. Still, it was nice to be able to drive to where I wanted to go in my own time.

Enjoying the vast landscape on the drive back to Kihei.

The one issue was that it was hard for my to drive long distances; I already knew this before the trip but was reminded when I had to drive in Maui. I had a tendency to want to doze off if I drove long distances, like on the highway. And the weather in Hawaii made it easy to relax and be comfortable. The time it took to go from one part of Maui to another would take thirty to forty-five minutes, and while the view of the landscapes was very beautiful look at, they also calmed me down on the road. This was probably my own problem; as most drivers rarely experience this, I believed.

Driving to Lahaina with Third Eye Blind playing. Such a mix of emotions.

Climate/Clothing

  • Time of year: Mid-November.
  • My body composition: 29 years old, 160-ish pounds, 6 feet tall, prefers high 70s/low 80s, primarily sweats during exercise only.


The weather was mildly warm. For a beachy vacation spot, it could definitely be warmer, but it was comfortable temperature-wise.

There was a slight humidity, though. It wasn’t enough to feel gross and sticky, but I could feel it and it made me want to head indoor somewhere or wish there was at least a breeze, like by the shore.

For the most part, I just wrote a T-shirt. I wrote my loose synthetic pants but even that was a bit stuffy at times.

At certain seemingly random times, there was rain for maybe thirty minutes to an hour, and the skies would change quickly between clear to cloudy.

People

The people were pretty much standard American (at least the kind I had come to know in California). Customer service was good and not overly friendly. Of course, some were better than others. The lady who worked at Local Food in Lahaina was very sweet and friendly; it made me feel good to have bought food from her. The college-student-looking folks who worked at the shave ice shop were just busy shaving the ice and finishing orders; they had little time to connect with customers, but the shave ice was delicious so that sort of made up for it.

Language

People spoke English, which was such a relief and made my time in Hawaii more easy-going.

Activities/Sightseeing

Surf

One of the things I wanted to do in Hawaii was surf, because I heard it was much easier to surf in Hawaii, and I needed the confidence boost and practice. However, I realized later that that was probably only true in certain beaches, and probably the popular beginner surfer beaches in the touristy part of Hawaii like Honolulu. Nonetheless, I still wanted to try.

I had breakfast early in the morning at Kihei Caffe. The food was decent, and it felt a little weird to eat at a restaurant where the people spoke English; I had to brush up my normal restaurant social skills.

Breakfast at Kihei Caffe before surfing.

There was so much butter on the biscuit.

Very buttery biscuit.

I then drove up to Lahaina in search for one of the many recommended beaches. Apparently, many of those beaches did not exist or were right next to resorts, so I just went to the public beach near Lahaina Harbor. I rented a board from a man who had car-shop looking store front with a couple of boards and a bunch of tattered rash guards and hole-y booties. He was really laid back, almost to a point where he seemed like he didn’t care at all. I was almost scared to leave him my rental car keys.

I rented a long board as I usually did, and my session started off just like all the other times I “surfed”: mostly trying to surf. There was a lot of trial and error,and a lot of internal thinking, trying to figure out how to do better the next time. Also typical of my surfing experience, the gentle rhythm of the waves distracted me from focusing on catching the waves properly.

Then someone came up to me and started telling me how to catch the waves. Not knowing who the guy was, I tried to ignore him at first, but he continued to shouting instructions. He was a middle-aged man with a totally bald head and seemed to have some tattoos. On the surface he seemed like someone I would not normally socialize with. But being a newbie and naturally following people who shouted commands at me, I did what he said, and I did no better or worse than before. But I did something.

Soon after, he told me my board was too long and that I should use a shortboard. He told me to switch with him, and not knowing how to politely refuse, I took his shortboard. I then tried to catch the next wave and surprisingly, it was slightly easier to do. I still didn’t pop up, but I felt that I could the next time. This man suddenly earned my trust.

The tattooed bald man continued to give me instructions to improve my timing. Still not knowing who he was, I had yet to fully embrace and apply his commands. That reluctance and lack of confidence kept me from fully clicking with the sport, so I continued to fail one time, succeed the next, and then fail again, except it was at a better level than before.

It turned out the man was a surf instructor, and his name was Bully. He told me I had the basics right, and I just needed to improve my timing and refine my form. He mainly did private lessons, and he was curious how long I was in town for and if I would want to take a lesson. He had a plastic baggy of business cards and handed me one. I felt it was too sales-y, but then I switched on my “Take chances” and “Just do it” mindset and started working out my schedule to see if I could do it. He even pulled out a business card from a resealable plastic bag and handed to me. I thought it was going to dissolve in the water, but it held up pretty well. The back of the card advertised his wife’s stand-up paddle board classes.

Business card from Bully during my surf.

But in the end, I didn’t do it, partly because the timing was too tight, though I wish I did if I had more time. His free quasi-lesson made such an impression on me that I would recommend him to anyone if they happened to be in Maui for a few days, including my future self.

Downtown Lahaina

After the surf session, I drove down a few blocks to downtown Lahaina for some lunch. Based on my Yelp research, I stopped by Local Food, which was walk-up window type of joint, and ordered a delicious and filly kalua pork rice plate with piping hot spam musubi (see food section below).

I parked in a paid parking lot in downtown, pretty close to the Lahaina Banyan Court, and became amazed by the incredible banyan trees seemingly interconnected with one another.

Crazy tree network in downtown Lahaina.

Then I just strolled down the street checking out the shops, looking for patches for my luggage and souvenir stickers for my notebook. I also got some shave ice.

The street was by the water, and I had to capture to beautiful scene. I took a vertical panoramic picture that showed the tree above me, the bright sky, calming waves, and smooth sands at the bottom.

The vertical view of the water from downtown Lahaina.

The scene of the water from Lahaina.

Hike Maui

Hawaii - Hike Maui - LBT 2014

For my last full day of the trip, I decided to take a tour of Maui and take advantage of where I was and learn more about it. I found the tour company Hike Maui, which offered a number of tours ranging in length, location, and level of physical activity. I signed up for the “East Maui Waterfalls & Rain Forest Hike” which was supposed to allow guests to swim under the waterfall. It was not in my plans to do that on the trip, but since the option came up, I quickly imagined the cheesy, picturesque scene of me right under the waterfall with my arms wide open, and it suddenly became a goal for me to accomplish.

I booked the tour a little over twenty-four hours before, and the website/company was relatively responsive and gave me a confirmation pretty quickly.

The confirmation email did ask to bring shoes we would not mind getting wet and dirty in, and since I did mind getting my hiking shoes wet and dirty, I bought a pair of water shoes from Safeway just for this tour. I found out at the start of the tour though, that they had a box of water shoes for guests to borrow, so I didn’t have to buy my own pair. After the tour, since I didn’t have room to bring them back home with me, when I checked out of the hotel, I left the shoes in the hotel’s pool supplies room for others to use.

Bought water shoes for the hike.

When I arrived at the pick-up place, which was a random parking lot on the side of the highway near Kahului. When I arrived, it was just my car in the parking lot and it was raining. I was worried somehow I missed the pick-up or that it was canceled. After so many tours on this trip, I was still nervous about a tour going wrong.

But pretty soon, I saw a Hike Maui branded van pull up and I quickly got my stuff and got on the van. We then drove to the Hike Maui headquarters and picked up the supplies, including water shoes and our packed lunches.

The drive to East Maui was a little long; it took about an hour, but like any good tours, the tour guide, Ashley, who was also our driver, filled the time and talked about our agenda for the day, some history and culture with Hawaii, along with information about the towns and natural landmarks that we passed by on the way.

We were told that the area we were hiking was privately owned, and Hike Maui (along with a few other companies) had deals with the owners so not everyone could go to where we were going.

Once we arrived, we loaded our bags with food and other gear, used the porte-potties (because we weren’t supposed to do our business anywhere else, and started our tour.

As I learned from the videos on the website, Hike Maui’s tours were different from most tours I had been on. Throughout the hike, in addition to just talking about local plants and biology, Ashley the tour guide pulled off different plants and fruits to show us more in detail whatever she was saying. It was a really neat format that helped keep guests engaged.

Tour guide getting us guava.

Tour guide making twine.

Tour guide serving avocado.

Not sure what this was but pretty tart.

About forty-five minutes into the tour, we reached our first waterfall. We got to take a dip to cool off, then we continued our hike. The water was cool, and the warm weather made it easy enough to dry off quickly.

Taking a dip in the first waterfall.

At the second waterfall, we took a lunch break, and we were allowed to jump off the short cliff over the waterfall. I wasn’t sure about it at first, but the “Just do it” part of my brain kicked in again and I did it.

Jumping over a short waterfall.

This was also my opportunity to do the dramatic waterfall photo. So I asked Ashley to take the video and photo. I could sense her silent awkwardness as she watched me do this cheesy pose, but I didn’t care nor did I try to diffuse the awkwardness by acknowledging. I wanted the shots.

Dramatic waterfall shot.

After that we hiked some more, checked out a few more waterfalls, ate some things that Ashley pulled off and cut up for us, and unknowingly, we arrived back at our starting place.

The drive back to Kahului was pretty low-key. We did drive by very long, clean, blue waves long the shore, with a couple of surfers hanging out in the line-up. It made me very envious and wish I had more time to check this side of Maui.

Incredibly beautiful waves and colors.

Ashley dropped me off in the parking lot by the side of the highway where I got picked up. I thanked her and gave her a tip. We said our good byes, and she drove off to drop off the other guests.

Makena Beach

After the hike tour, I decided to take up my last chance to hang out at the beach in Maui, since I still had yet to do so. I heard that Makena Beach/State Park in south Maui was pretty popular. But when I got there, the sun was about to set and the temperature was already cooling down. So I made the best of it and enjoyed the sunset instead.

Almost sunset at Makena Beach.

As I watched the sunset, I reflected on the past forty-some days of my trip, especially on the second day, in Albuquerque, when I temporarily lost my wallet. I watched the sun set in the Albuquerque landscape wondering with worry what else could happen in the next forty-some days.

Sunset at Makena Beach, Maui.

Sunset on the second day of the trip.

Food

A note about my relationship with food: I am more of a “eat to live” type of guy. In my regular daily life, I try to eat very healthy, and I splurge a little bit once in a while. When I’m traveling, I loosen my restrictions a bit and eat what I can get, while still trying to select the healthiest choice. However, if there is a dish or a food that is well known where I’m traveling, and it’s within my taste preference and budget, I would put in extra effort to try it. And my weakness is desserts.

Hawaii - Food - LBT 2014

Fish Tacos

The first meal I got after arriving and settling in in Kihei, Maui was fish tacos from Coconut’s Fish Cafe. I never really had a preference for fish tacos but it showed up on yelp for being very good, and I was really hungry, so I gave it a try.

Coconut's Fish Cafe

The fish tacos turned out to be quite delicious. The fish was freshly cooked and pretty filling. The mango salsa was a bit spicy but tasty. It was kind of messy to eat. Still, it was definitely satisfactory. I ordered two and it was a good amount for me.

Fresh fish taco

Hawaiian Foods

On my second day, I was so tired from traveling that I spend the whole day in the hotel, mostly sleeping and TV surfing. But I still had to eat dinner, so I got take out from a restaurant that was probably not the best representative of Hawaiian food, L&L Hawaiian Barbecue. This was normally not part of my diet anyway, but it was one of the places that was supposed to have spam musubi, which I was craving. Unfortunately, they didn’t have it, so I just had the chicken katsu plate. It was still filling, though.

Fast food dinner from L&L Hawaiian Barbecue. Did the job.

After a surf session in Lahaina, I found Local Food on Yelp and got the kalua pork rice plate, as well as the spam musubi.

Local Food in Lahaina after surfing.

The rice plate was so good and filling. The kalua pork had just the right amount of flavor and it wasn’t too salty.

Kalua pork rice plate from Local Food. So good after surfing.

The spam musubi was wrapped tightly in plastic wrap, and it was quite hot to handle. Even after eating the rice plate, it was still piping hot. Also, I was expecting delicious flavors from this neatly packaged treat, but it pretty much tasted exactly as what I could see: rice, spam, and seaweed.

Spam Musubi from Local Food. So hot!

Snacks

While on the flight to Maui, a newlywed couple sat next to me and being natives, they recommended a bunch of Hawaiian snacks with names of businesses to check out. One of them was Home Maid Bakery in Kahului. I managed to find it one night and and picked up a bunch of different pastries and treats:

The mango flavored coconut cream mochi was sweet and a bit tangy, but too soft to hold its shape after biting into the creamy center.

Mango coconut mochi with cream.

The tuna musubi was a mix of diluted rice and tuna flavors.

Tuna Musubi from Home Maid Bakery in Wailuku, Maui.

Inside tuna musubi.

The texture of butter mochi reminded me of a Chinese treat (they were probably pretty similar), but the semi-savory flavor threw me off with what I associated the name “mochi” to be.

Butter Mochi from Home Maid Bakery in Wailuku, Maui.

The mango was pretty much a big crumbly cookie with a little bit of filling inside; there was too much cookie and too little filling for my preference.

Sweet Potato Manju from Home Maid Bakery in Wailulu, Maui.

This was a hand pie of some sort, I honestly didn’t remember what it was, but it tasted okay.

I don't remember what this was.

Shave Ice

The breakout food from Hawaii for me was shave ice. I fell in love with it the first time I had it. The folks at Ululani’s Hawaiian Shave Ice did a good job packing the ice, carving it out, and assembling the cone with flavors and toppings.

Green tea/mange shave ice with mochi and azuki beans

My favorite parts to the shave ice aligned with my green tea and mochi obsession, which conveniently carried over from when I was in Japan: green tea, mochi, and azuki beans. I only wished the weather wasn’t so warm so I had more time to enjoy the shave ice before it melted.

Gelato

Noticing a highly-rated gelato shop in Hawaii, I figured I should try it out.

Ono Gelato in Kihei.

The first time, I got a local favorite, the Sandy Beach. It was basically a very caramel-y sweet, dense gelato with bits of brown sugar and other things in it, making it a bit gritty, like sand. Overall it was good, but it was one of those flavors where I would recommend trying once and then move on to other flavors.

"Sandy Beach" gelato from Ono Gelato in Maui. Quite sweet and rich.

The second time, I got a lemon gelato. Even though I realized I liked milk-based gelato more than fruit-based, I figured I should try it one more time. It turned out I was still right. This lemon flavor was really sour, almost in the lime territory.

Lemon gelato from Ono Gelato.

Getting out

I flew from Maui’s Kahului airport to Honolulu, then flew to San Jose, California.

However, I was having trouble checking in to the flight from Honolulu to San Jose. The flight was co-operated by American Airlines and Alaska Airlines, but there was a slight time change, and somehow that wasn’t updated with one of the airlines or some other reason, and the check-in website said to call the provided number.

I was very fortunate this happened in the States where I had a cell plan, because I ended up spending at least an hour doing the “We can’t do anything on our system, you’d have to call the other airline” back and forth multiple times.

It was quite stressful as the thought of not being able to return home on time was becoming more and more real. Knowing that I could fly direct from Maui to the Bay Area instead of connecting in Honolulu with a very short timeframe, I started toying with the idea of dropping the two original flights and booking a new flight from Maui.

It was somewhat ironic that I was stressed from the potential of being stuck in paradise. But it was also ironic that the flights I had the most problems and was most stressed out with were the ones to and from the most relaxing part of the trip.

Finally, I had to stop the back and forth calls, and decided to go to the airport earlier to sort it out. That would mean I had to skip the final two food runs I wanted to do in the last hours of my trip. Instead, I got McDonald’s breakfast, which was honestly a fine alternative, because I allowed myself to indulge on McDonald’s whenever I went on vacation.

From My Travel Log

October 6 2014, 11:54am, ABQ -> IAH

  • Wallet’s found, but not after I canceled my cards, and had them send replacements.
  • Also, it was found only because I emailed and that I remembered the bus number. At least my ID was recovered so I can rent a car in Hawaii.

November 15 2014, 5:59pm, Hakena State Park Parking Lot

  • Just saw the sunset of the second to last day of my trip. I remember when I saw the sunset of the second day of my trip, when I lost my wallet and I thought about how the rest of my trip would go and what kind of misadventures I would go through.
  • The trip was amazing, And I am impressed I’m proud to have done it and have done all these and so many things in such a short time. I’ll try to get a better sense by laying it out in a collage or video montage, but I know it’ll never capture the real feeling I have. I don’t even know what feeling that is myself.

November 16 2014, 11:39pm, Maui, Kahului Airport Airside

  • Waiting for flight, came in extra early to do with check-in problem with American/Alaskan Airlines. So not going with American next time, and so going to fly direct to the island instead of jumping around.
  • I still have to see if I can make it to that flight with an hour to de-board, run to terminal, go through security, and run to the gate. If not, my back up would be to book a new flight to Oakland overnight.
  • This is the last leg of traveling of my trip. A couple of hurdles. It’s interesting how on the second day of my trip I wasn’t sure if I could leave the country (technically I could but I wouldn’t be able to rent a car here in Hawaii without my driver’s license), and last night I wasn’t sure if I could get back to mainland U.S. on time.
  • With this incident, I realized that I’m often with my foot halfway out the door and use money to solve my problems. Maybe I’m traveling and spend more freely, But I think the principle is still there in my everyday life now.
  • With this incident, I’ve been aching to go home, that I am done with this trip. But I know I’m going to miss it and wished I was still on it when I’m back. I just want to mention that while I’m still on the trip, specifically, that there isn’t anything left that makes me want to stay on the trip, but I still regard the trip as a great success with amazing experiences and incredible achievements.
  • I am modestly proud of what I’ve done, and only time will allow me to realize how much more significant this trip is than I think right now.
  • I think about the first half of the trip and feel so proud or more proud of what I’ve done, and with the Europe and Asia portions, they’re still recent, or feel recent that I feel them less. I know, and I hope that, while I can’t possibly feel it now without deep analysis, I will feel it in a few weeks from now, with some distance, and with sorting of the photos and videos. That’s the most that I can expect, and I hope they’ll come true.

November 16 2014, 1:42pm, OGG -> HNL

  • Hawaii looks small, But still large and islands are far enough apart.
  • For this final flights incident, I’ve called American and Alaska back and forth so many times with very little to no results. In the process, I’d looked into alternative flights, including ditching my two flights and buy one direct to Oakland from OGG, to buy an earlier flight from OGG to HNL, to ensure I make it to the second flight on time with lower costs. After a certain point of calling back and forth and making myself “ask” for what I want, I had to call it and stop calling and hope for the best in the morning (with some resuming of the request to fix issue). And that’s what I did. I went into problem-solving mode this morning and skipped the trip to Home Maid Bakery for more mochi, or any other place for more Hawaiian food. I got breakfast from McDonald’s because it’s safe and predictable, and I went to the airport with a commitment to resolve this. As a result, I should not worry about my ability to resolve issues. I know it’s practically innate and I should focus on doing my best with plan A.

November 23 2014, 11:17pm, SF Home, bed

  • People have been asking me how the trip was, and while I want to go in detail, all I could say was “great” and that it was a lot of things happening in a short time. I’ve also been saying that my favorite spots where Machu Picchu, Eiffel Tower, and Great Wall. My favorite locations were Nice and Maui, coincidentally places with beaches.

Thanks

  • Immigration officer who seemed half curious half serious about where I went and how long it took
  • National rental person who was really nice about my reservation and in general and with my credit card issue
  • Terel who helped me check-in
  • Lady who cleaned my room very quickly
  • Nice guests who say hi whenever we passed by.
  • Marty the massage therapist
  • Tez and Kai who were returning from their honeymoon
  • Lady and young woman at Kihei Caffe who took my order and served me food
  • Weird staff at L&L who seemed to not know much about California’s Asian/Chinese population
  • Lady at L&L who probably has mental problems and she seems to be talking to nobody, even when I’m not responding
  • Guy who rented me surfboard and shirts/shoes
  • Bully the instructor
  • Lady at Local Food who was really sweet
  • Lady at general store who pointed me to the souvenir patches
  • Crew at Uluani’s Shave Ice
  • Ashley and George, the tour guide and tour guide in training
  • Lucy
  • Portland couple
  • SD couple
  • Older lady
  • Staff at Saimin place
  • Staff at Home Maid Bakery
  • National rental drop off staff
  • Lady at Alaska counter who helped me to check in to last flight
  • American and Alaska phone support (Not really)
  • Woman and man next to me on last flight (this one right now) swapping stories about parents in assisted living and diseases and whatnot
  • Alaska airlines crew for being casually friendly and a little funny airlines crew for being casually friendly and a little funny

Tips

  • Don’t book tickets that were co-operated, especially by American Airlines and Alaska Airlines. If they have a change in the flight information, the other airline may not update, and you may not be able to check in online; and you’d have to check in at the counter the day of the flight.
  • There are plenty of flights that fly directly to Maui (OGG) from both Tokyo and the Bay Area. You don’t need to book flights to Honolulu and then shorter flights to Maui.
  • The Honolulu airport seemed to be very spread out, so book flight connections with a lot of time in between just in case.

Links

For More

If you have questions about specific experiences of Maui/Hawaii, feel free to leave a comment and I’ll try my best to answer.

Part 9: Rome — Little Big Trip 2014

Part 8: Venice

Why Rome?

Because it’s a popular tourist destination. The Colosseum. Italian food. And anything else it had to offer.

Itinerary

  • Saturday, 1 November: Arrived in Rome in evening. Checked out Colosseum, Alter of the Fatherland, Obelisco della Minerva, Piazza Navona, Pantheon, Piazza di Monte Citorio, and Colonna di Marco Aurelio. Had a gelato.
  • Sunday, 2 November: Free walking tour starting at Piazza del Popolo, with stops including Pantheon, and Castel Sant’Angelo, ending at the edge of Vatican City. Checked out St. Peter’s Square, walked around District Seven, then Piazza Navona, Pantheon, Palace of Justice, back to Castel Sant’Angelo, Alter of the Fatherland, Colosseum. Had a bready pizza.
  • Monday, 3 November: Went up to top of St. Peter’s Basilica, went though Vatican Museums, including Sistine Chapel, had more gelato with people from the hostel.
  • Tuesday, 4 November: Checked out of hostel, took tour inside Colosseum, visited Parco del Celio next door, walked around District Eight, had a late lunch at a restaurant, had more gelato, got lost near District 22, got caught in a short rainstorm, returned to hostel to pick up luggage, headed to train station then to the airport. Departed Rome, Italy, and Europe.

My Impression

Rome had a very high percentage of ancient structures. If felt like half of the city was ruins that tourists visit, and the other half was a standard urban European city. For people who love history told through old buildings, this would be the city to visit. I could only handle and appreciate so much history, so I thought Rome was fine.

Getting There

I took an ItaliaRail train direct from Venice, and it took just under four hours.

I sat at a four-person table, and people switched out at different stops. First it was two Russian ladies who kept mostly to themselves, then half of an American couple, and finally an Italian mother and teenage son.

From my seat on train to Rome.

The Italian pair were the most lively of the table mates. They seemed to have really open communication and talk about everything like two good friends. At one point, the mother grabbed a 2-liter orange soda bottle from her bags in the overhead compartment, and she tried to open the bottle but the change in air pressure or something made the cap burst out, bouncing off the wall, and landed on me. The mother immediately apologized and we all had a laugh.

I arrived at Termini station in Rome early evening, and the lobby was bustling with activity; it was exciting. Many people had less-than-positive thoughts about Termini, and I couldn’t see why it was so bad.

Based on online maps, the hostel was a fifteen-minute walk away, so I decided to just walk it. I supposed it would be slightly different and more tiring walking with a carry-on luggage on my back. But at least the walk was interesting enough, walking by shops and random sculptures and fountains.

Accommodations

There were plenty of hostels near Termini station, but I read so many mixed reviews that I decided to pick a place a little farther but had a more balanced set of reviews.

La Controra Hostel Rome was (supposedly) a ten-to-fifteen-minute walk from Termini station, and I also realized later that it was a bit out of the way from the major landmarks. Places were still walkable, but it did get tiring near the end of my stay in Rome to have make the trek back the hostel again and again. Nonetheless, the hostel was pretty good.

Rome - Hostel - LBT 2014

Almost like Venice, the hostel was in an apartment building that had a huge lobby. There was no natural sunlight on the staircase, but it was still very classy and grand. I began to realize that Italian architects really liked to establish a high standard in experience.

The actual reception was on the fourth or fifth floor, with a few dorm units attached to it. But there was also another set of dorm units on the second or third floor, which was where I stayed. It seemed that these dorm units were converted from apartment units, and each room in the apartment unit was made to be a dorm.

In my “apartment unit,” there were at least four rooms, and I stayed in a four-person dorm, so if each room had that many people, maybe more, the entire apartment unit could house about twenty people! That sounded like a lot, but to be fair, these rooms (and these apartment units) were spacious. They could very well have crammed two more bunk beds in my room to house eight people per room, and space would still be satisfactory.

The common area of the apartment unit was just a large table with a bench, and a non-functioning kitchen unit, with a half-bath tucked away. The balcony looked out to the central courtyard in the apartment building.

My Room

Hostel room.

I had a four-person ensuite dorm, with a few people staying as long as I did and others coming and going. There were two bunk beds, the same type as the ones in Venice, which led me to believe it was an IKEA bunk bed. And the storage cabinets were the same as well, except these had metal loops to put locks on.

I stayed on the top bunk, for the fourth of six times in a row on the trip. There were sheets and pillow provided, but I had to lay out the sheets myself. A first-world problem was that the power outlet was next to the bunk bed at hip height for some reason, and my cord was just long enough to rest on the edge of my bed almost completely. So if I accidentally pulled the phone, the cord would disconnect, and if I pushed my phone, it would fall off the bed.

Bathroom

The bathroom had the basics: shower, toilet, bidet, and sink with mirror. It also had a trash can from IKEA, which was the exact same model as in my bathroom. It was too mundane to be a homesick moment, but it was funny to see that, and it made me think about how much the people of the world had in common and what not.

Hostel bathroom.

The shower stall had a curved door, and it leaked water between the glass doors probably because the door was off its track. I tried fixing it, but it made little difference. I also noticed that the bathroom was on a hardwood floor, but there were no non-slip mat outside of the shower stall. Details.

Common Area

The main common area in the same apartment unit as reception. There was a dining table area, and an area with tiny floor cushions in front of a TV. There were a few laptops (with Italian keyboards!) on a desk. And the kitchen was a nook on the other side, but it was fully functional. Just a step out of the kitchen would be the balcony also looked out to the central courtyard.

Hostel kitchen balcony view.

The Staff

The people working there were pretty nice and knew what they were doing. The girl who checked me in was named Melody, had blue hair, and was probably in early-to-mid twenties. She looked like someone who would be into manga. She was from a country in the UK, but her accent sounded American. I sort of offended her when I asked “Where did you learn English?” but clarified that her accent made me thought she was from the States. She arrived in Rome recently and took a job at the hostel, and tried to do touristy things there.

Hostel Food

The hostel provided breakfast, but it was very basic: slice bread, jams, butter, cereal, milk, coffee and tea. In the morning, the small kitchen was full with food for the guests.

The kitchen was functional so people could certainly make food. But I never did so I couldn’t say how good the kitchen equipment was.

The Wi-Fi

The Wi-Fi worked, but it was only available in the hostel common area as well as the common area in the apartment unit.

Getting Around

Surprisingly, with the exception of one time when I took the subway, I walked everywhere, often going from one side of the inner city to another. The map of Rome showing winding roads may have made the city look larger than it was, because even with minor slopes, most places were relatively walkable.

With the subway, I originally planned to take the subway, even if it was limited, but upon arrival, fellow hostel mates said everywhere was reachable on foot. So I saved some money and just walked.

But one time, my hostel mate and I were in a hurry to get to the Vatican. I also wasn’t sure if he would be up for walking the distance like I was. So we took one of the two main Rome subway lines. I had heard that since Rome only had two subway lines, it wasn’t really used. But we took in a little bit after the morning rush hour, and the ridership was about medium. It was also pretty convenient, just like a standard subway system in any major city.

Climate/Clothing

  • Time of year: Early November.
  • My body composition: 29 years old, 160-ish pounds, 6 feet tall, prefers high 70s/low 80s, primarily sweats during exercise only.

Rome fluctuated between cool and mild at this time of year. I was told that a month earlier it was still pretty hot And only recently was it just cooling down. I had a light jacket most of the time but when the sun came out with few places to get shade, a T-shirt was fine.

It did rain once or twice though. On my last day in Rome, I was on my way back to the hostel, and it started looking gloomy and a bit drizzly. Judging from my distance to the hostel, I thought I could maybe make it back before it hit really hard.

But the weather turned really quickly. Drizzle turned into consistent droplets to pouring within a minute. It was actually very funny (though scary at the time) to see the pouring rain coming at me like an avalanche. I was crossing a bridge at that moment, and I could see translucent, diagonal lines in front of the sky and the river in the near distance steadily moving closer towards me. I could see people scattering for shelter, but I thought those people were silly running from a little drizzle. Then I suddenly found myself running for cover as well.

I got hit hard with some of the rain in the few seconds it took me to get off the bridge. But the nearest building was still too far. I only managed to get to a standalone shop that had an awning. Fortunately, I brought my rain jacket, so I put it on, zipped and fully covered (my top half at least), ready to go. But I wanted to wait it out still. At the same time, I needed to get back to the hostel, pick up my luggage, and head to the airport for my flight. After a few moments of self-talk, I walked out of the awning and paced as quickly as I could toward the direction of my hostel. My rain jacket was water-resistant but thick, so I could feel large droplets hitting my head and my arms.

At first, I didn’t know if it would stop raining soon. But after ten minutes, it eased up, and then it stopped raining altogether. The weather completely changed within fifteen minutes or so. Still, when I got to the hostel, my head was wet from the initial downpour, and Melody the hostel staff saw me and was sympathetic. I dried up a little bit in the bathroom, and saw that my head was actually more drenched and I looked more miserable that I thought.

People

In my experience, Italians were definitely more expressive than the French, which made them seem more outgoing and friendly. However, in individual interactions, at least with waiters and gelato servers, they seemed to have a straight face as if we were strangers in a professional business meeting. It made me feel like an outsider. Still, the service was mostly fine.

Language

Some people could speak English, but it’s hard to tell who just by looking. There’s a higher chance in touristy places, but even then, the staff would just default in one language (Italian) unless they were helping individual people.

I took an audio course just like the other languages for this trip. It was actually fun to learn, until I took the course for Spanish and I started getting some words, especially the numbers, confused.

While “Buongiorno”, “Grazie”, and “Ciao” could be learned without the audio course, taking the time and effort to learn more than just that really proved its worth when I had trouble finding a grocery store one evening. The places listed on the map online seemed to have disappeared in real life. I was getting hungry and desperate, and then I saw a couple walking by holding grocery bags, so I ran towards them.

In the split-second moment, I pulled from my memory the words “Dove comprare” (where to buy) and started shouting at them while pointing at the bags, “Dove comprare?! Dove comprare?!” Understandably, the woman was startled and immediately resumed pacing past me. To be fair, I would react the same way too. But I persisted and tried my luck with the guy. Thankfully, he responded and started pointing in different directions. All I heard were “sinistra” and “destra” (left, right), but I immediately forgot the order. Still, I gathered enough hand gestures to get the general direction.

Tours/Sightseeing

Many of Rome’s famous landmarks were all a hearty walk away. What helped passed the time was that the streets were often changing direction, giving me a different perspective in where I was going, and that there was often something interesting to look at along the way.

Also, because these landmarks were kind of close together, I inadvertently visited the same place multiple times.

Evening Walk to Colosseum

By the time I arrived at my hostel on the first day, it was still relatively early, even though it was getting dark. So I decided to take a walk to the Colosseum and get a lay of the land. After so many turns, I got to the Colosseum. I realized when I got there that because it was partly surrounded by modern streets and buildings, the iconic landmark felt a little less epic than what I had seen in photos. Still, it was a grand structure and I was finally able to see the details up close.

While trying to take some selfies with the Colosseum without the fence, I noticed an American couple struggling to do the same. I offered to help them out and we started talking about how we missed being in San Francisco when the Giants team won the World Series in baseball. It was kind of cool to randomly meet people like that.

Bay Area travelers bonding over SF Giants win at Colosseum.

After dinner at Café Café nearby, I resumed my walk. I got to the Alter of the Fatherland, or Altare della Patria, or Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II. I helped a Spanish couple take a picture in front of it, and they offered to take my picture too.

In front of Alter of the Fatherland.

The Photo Challenge

I continued to walk in that direction and found the Obelisco della Minerva. I was looking for this specifically because my friends were also visiting Rome a few weeks before, and they took a photo of this Obelisk. I decided to start a photo challenge then (mainly for myself) to hit as many places that they had gone to that I could find, and then recreate the photo as closely as possible.

Here was the photo my friend Leah Ferrer took:
Obelisco della Minerva. Photo by Leah Ferrer.

And here’s the photo that I took:
Obelisco della Minerva. Completing challenge to take the exact same photo as my friends from a few weeks prior. Because elephant.

And two months later, two of my friends were also visiting Rome, and I told them to do the same.

In my head, I thought it would be cool to get people, both friends and strangers, to start doing this and maybe make this a thing. With that in mind, I also took a photo of the spot where I took the obelisk photo:

Where I stood to take that photo for the challenge.

Then I got in the spirit of doing more of these, so I found more photos my friends took and tried to recreate them. I did five more that night, where most of them were at the Pantheon. Here is one of them, again, as close to my friend’s version as possible:

Pantheon.

I did a few more for the rest of my time in Rome. It ended up working out because I had very little plans in Rome, and this was a way for me to visit different places and spend time exploring. That and switching back apps on my phone between my friend’s photos and the camera to get the right shot.

Free Walking Tour

The next day, I went on a free walking tour. I learned about it from a flyer at the hostel. I reserved a spot on the listed website and received a confirmation email with a personalized note.

The instructions were to meet up at Piazza del Popolo, but that was the extent of all I read. I arrived a little early just in case, but I discovered that Piazza del Popolo was huge, and I didn’t know where the group was. I walked around the giant piazza trying to see if there were a number of people bunching up. After fifteen minutes or so, I managed to find some Wi-Fi and opened up the email to reread instructions. I still had trouble finding it at first, but I managed to poke my head around to discovered the group waiting at the entrance of Piazza del Popolo from the north side.

I met Chris, the tour guide, and he was American who was living in Rome. When I asked him where in the States he was from, he listed the cities and states he had studied and lived in before coming to Rome. He had a really laid back attitude that carried through in his tour guide style. He warned us that if he saw a big dog, he would not hesitate to run up to it and pet it. He also had a sense of humor like a beginning comedian, where some jokes earned a chuckle while some went over my head.

He knew a lot about the subject matter, as guides should, but he also had his commentary on it, which sometimes altered the way I looked at Roman history.

Starting free walking tour at Piazza del Popolo.

We started at Piazza del Popolo and made our way south and hit many places, including a few that I had been the night before, except now in the day time, like Pantheon and Piazza Navona. We made our way to St. Angelo Bridge, crossed it while listening to Chris’ presentation about the statues on the bridge, and ended right before the corridor that led to St. Peter’s Square.

At the end of the tour, Chris asked us to friend him on Facebook for a reason that I forgot. Ever since, I had seen his posts, both work- and non-work-related, and it was nice to remember for a moment my time in Rome, including the walking tour, as well as finding out Chris’ obsession with Taylor Swift and special travel adventures in Italy.

St. Peter’s Basilica Dome

The following morning, my hostel mate and I went to the Vatican with the intent of checking out the Vatican Museums. We waited in the line that was forming inside St. Peter’s Square. After waiting for about an hour, we found out the line was to go inside the church, and not the museums. But having waited for so long, we went in anyway.

The Basilica was free, but there was an option to go up to the dome for five euros. There was also an elevator that can take visitors part way for ten more euros. After my hostel mate checked his stuff at a storage room, we paid five euros each to make our up. There were signs showing how many steps it would take to get up. And I thought it was a nice piece of trivia. The amount of scales was pretty large, and it was too many for me to comprehend, so I thought it was the general “a lot”, but I had handled “a lot” before.

At first, the steps were pretty normal. We noticed where the elevator shaft was and were pointing out the silliness. But by the point where the elevator reached its highest point, I was starting to get jealous. From there on, everyone had to walk the steps, which were starting to get more narrow.

There were stretches of long hallways and then a spiral staircase or two, and then more hallways, etc., all the while the width was getting smaller.

Walking up so many stairs to the top of the Vatican.

The stairs got 2/3 as wide as these near the top.

Getting close to the top of St. Peter's Basilica.

When I thought the width of the path could not get narrower, I was proven wrong, multiple times. Near the end, it was almost starting to get claustrophobic for me. And once we finally got out to the top to the dome, there were so many people hugging the fence trying to take pictures. Getting through and around to the other side was annoying.

View from the top of the Vatican.

View of north side of Vatican.

After taking enough selfies, panoramas, and videos, we decided to make our way down. We stopped by a large rooftop area complete with a food shop and souvenir store, and then continued getting back down. The path downward was like walking in reverse, where the halls were getting wider and wider, and it almost felt too much space. It also occurred to me that the path up was completely separate from the way down, since I did not encounter anyone coming up, nor the other way around.

We somehow exited into the church, and noticed that the Pope may potentially be in the house in a roped off area. I couldn’t tell because the Baldachin was in the way.

Crowds trying to get a view of the Pope in St. Peter's Basilica.

The church was very grand and magnificent, but I was exhausted from the hike to the dome, so after a few photos and videos, including this one of the light coming into the church, we left the Basilica.

Marveling at the light.

Vatican Museums

We for some reason decided to go straight to the Vatican Museums. We considered getting lunch, but we couldn’t decide on a place so we just waited in line again, this time for thirty to forty minutes, and with cigarette smoke from the group behind us.

When we saw the light at the end of the tunnel and were about to get inside, we noticed different roped off paths with very little people in them. Some of them were used for tour groups, but I noticed one path with the signed that said something like “online reservations.” Then I saw people holding out a piece of paper to the staff, and they went straight into the museum. That made me regret not purchasing a ticket online earlier and deciding to just wing it.

The Museums, I heard, were a collection of galleries that the different popes curated over the years. I just wanted to see the Sistine Chapel, and the museum map had a route to bypass all the galleries. I tried to follow that path but got lost immediately; the rooms didn’t seem to correspond. So without knowing, we took the regular route like everyone else.

A lot of the museums had paintings; some had sculptures. Each room was very well decorated and filled with artwork, but a lot of the rooms looked old as well. By the end of it all, everything started to look similar, so I just walked as quickly as I good, turned my head left and right, scanning the pieces and moving on.

When we got to the entrance for the Sistine Chapel, there were plenty of signs saying “No Photo.” So we went in, and it was packed and a little dim. The entire room was filled with paintings, both the ceiling and the walls. I could see the part on the ceiling where God and man touched fingers. The whole time, the security guards kept yelling “No photo!” to a point where it started to become funny to me. I kept my camera (phone) in my pocket; my roommate may or may not have taken a photo of the ceiling.

After the Sistine Chapel was a few more rooms of modern art, and that was it. There was a cafeteria in the museum but we decided to get food outside.

Colosseum and Piazza di Santa Francesca Romana

On my last day, I headed back to the Colosseum, but to finally go inside. I waited in line for a reasonable amount of time, especially for a place as famous as the Colosseum, and purchased my ticket. I also purchased a tour so I could have a better understanding and appreciation of the place.

Colosseum tour tag.

There were set times for the tours, and we were told to wait in the waiting area in the corner on the first floor. When the tour started, we received headphone packs so the guide could talk without shouting. The guide was also very good with her facts and tried to make her talk interesting with stacks of photos she waved around.

Scene inside Colosseum.

After the tour, I continued to walk around the Colosseum, taking photos and videos. There were a lot of people, but not enough to feel crowded. In an attempt to get someone to help take a picture of me, I looked for people who were struggling to take photos, or maybe a couple where one person was taking a photo of the other. When that worked, I managed to teach a fellow visitor how to take a panoramic photo of me, and then I saw him trying to do the same thing with his phone.

Panorama portrait in Colosseum.

After the Colosseum, I still wanted a good, clean photo of it. So I figured that I could enter the park next to it, which was free for the day with ticket purchase to Colosseum, and somehow get on that hill that overlooked the Colosseum. I went into that park, which was kind of serene and lovely, totally removing me from the urban-ness of Rome for a few moments.

I made my way to the Piazza di Santa Francesca Romana, and had a few really good, but windy, shots of the Colosseum.

Scene of Colosseum from Piazza di Santa Francesca Romana.

Colosseum from Piazza di Santa Francesca Romana.

Food

A note about my relationship with food: I am more of a “eat to live” type of guy. In my regular daily life, I try to eat very healthy, and I splurge a little bit once in a while. When I’m traveling, I loosen my restrictions a bit and eat what I can get, while still trying to select the healthiest choice. However, if there is a dish or a food that is well known where I’m traveling, and it’s within my taste preference and budget, I would put in extra effort to try it. And my weakness is desserts.

Café Café

This was a restaurant near the Colosseum. It had good rating online so I decided to try it out. It was a nice little place with six to seven tables. When I was there, only two other tables were occupied. There were a bunch of photo frames and trinkets laid out all around, with worn but still working furniture. It felt like I could be anywhere, not just Italy or Europe.

The waiter was nice and patient. I ordered a lasagna and one of the really special teas. The tea I chose had yogurt in its ingredients and I could definitely taste the subtle creamy sweetness, and it made the tea quite delicious.

Lasagna at Colosseum.

The lasagna was fresh and flavorful. Even though it was small, it was enough for me.

Gelato

I had gelato from Giolitti twice (near the Pantheon), La Romana (near my hostel), and Gelateria Oldbridge (near the Vatican). They were all good, though I learned that I liked nut-flavor gelato more than fruit-flavor. There was something about the tartness of fruits that made it too sour for me. I like the more traditional, creamy, nutty, subtle flavors that balanced nicely with the dairy. I enjoyed the Nutella flavor, though not as much as I love Nutella, and I also discovered the deliciousness of pistachio gelato.

Gelato at Giolitti.

Last gelato at Old Bridge. Nutella and Pistachio.

I also wanted to point out that La Romana, recommended by my hostel staff Melody, was probably the best, probably because they served chocolate gelato, and it was so smooth, rich, and creamy. That would be the place I need to go the next time I am in Rome.

Gelato at La Romana

Pizza

After the free walking tour, I strolled through the area, starting to feel hungry. I found a restaurant with some people but not crowded. They also had free Wi-Fi. So I went in and ordered a pizza. I ate it with a fork and knife, and it reminded me of the story Jon Stewart did on the Daily Show about New Yorkers eating pizza with their hands.

Bready pizza at O’ Pazzariello.

I wasn’t sure if it was this restaurant or if it was how Italians do pizza, but the crust was too thick for me, and it felt a little overbaked, at least by American standard. This sort of got me hesitant to get pizza in Italy for the rest of my stay.

Pastas

After the Vatican Museums, my hostel roommate walked for some more before deciding enough was enough: we needed to just pick a restaurant and eat. We went to a standard looking Italian restaurants and I ordered a pasta with carbonara sauce, because I had heard good things about carbonara sauce. Little did I know it was a white sauce, when I was expecting and mentally preparing for a red sauce. I still ate it of course, but the pasta was, like in Venice, really al dente.

Carbonara

On my last day, I walked around some more after the Colosseum visit, and I got hungry and went to Da Francesco because I had heard good things from multiple sources. I order a spaghetti (with red sauce). It was decent. Again, Italian al dente. The sauce was light; I wish there would be more sauce.

Spaghetti from Da Francesco.

Limoncello

With my spaghetti I ordered a limoncello. The waiter asked me if I wanted it at the end, and without knowing much about drinks like limoncello, I said sure. The limoncello is like wine and beer; an acquired taste that would take time. I had a lot of trouble enjoying it. It tasted like margarita mix, except it felt more strong.

Limoncello at Da Francesco.

Getting out

I took the train from Termini station to the airport. It’s a general-use ticket that I bought at the station, and I took the next available train. The ride took about half an hour and costed fourteen euros.

From My Travel Log

28 October 2014, 5:26pm, France, on TGV to Nice

  • In one week, it will be 11/4, and I will be leaving Rome for China. One week from this moment, I will have been in three new cities. This is the most tight section of my trip, and it will be interesting. It may go terribly wrong, or very very fun. Or a combination of both. As long as I stick with my travel safety basics, I should be fine.

3 November 2014, 12:48pm, Rome, in line for Vatican Museums

  • Weird mix of current and really old, sword of a worn out city, with the typical city problems. Walk tour guide says the majority of Rome’s economy is tourism. So what makes Rome Rome without the ruins from before? There will be less reasons to come back.

4 November 2014, 2:59pm, Rome, Da Francesco

  • I would try Scandinavia again, but not that far north because of the weather. It’s the most modern of the places and speaking of which, I’ll have to try Germany next. And Netherlands. Paris and Rome are actually equal in most ways, except I would come back to Paris for the Eiffel Tower.
  • London and Rome I’m least likely to come back alone because London feels too similar (with English language) but it’s not the same and everything smaller, though it has its benefits. Rome is half ruins and historical sites, where I haven’t even taken effort to learn about the first time around. But maybe I should start in Rome and do day trips or quick trips in the area, like Naples and Florence. Europe 2.0 is already unofficially in the works.

4 November 2014, 6:02pm, Rome Termini -> FCO train

  • 11/3: Ibrahim and Salvador already got ready, but I wanted to join them to Vatican. Ibrahim was not to be found. Also checked Viator emails but didn’t get any. Walk to metro with Salvador at Reppublic. Salvador doesn’t speak much, probably because he doesn’t know that much English. I bet he talks more if he spoke in Spanish. Long line at Vatican, found out it’s for church and not museums, but went anyway. Went to dome, lots of steps and circular staircase that gets narrower as you go up. Came down to Basilica, where Pope may or may not be conducting some ceremony. Walked to Vatican Museum and waited longer (40-50 minutes). Also getting hungry. Long route to get to Sistine Chapel, and it was a little underwhelming. Funny guards kept telling people to not take pictures. Then walk to 433, had pasta with carbonara sauce and milkshake, then to Giolitti and got raspberry and lemon gelato. Crowd was restless and disrespectful and worker handled it well. Ate it at Pantheon and then left Salvador and I went back to hostel. Did some online time with pic backups and try to check into flight but couldn’t. Also bought an iceberg salad before getting to hostel and ate at the main hostel floor. Melody (receptionist) was there, Telling me she did the walking tour and I found out I called her the girl with the hair. She also suggested gelato at La Romana, and I invited Paoline then also Ibrahim and Salvador. Walk to La Romana was nice and gelato was pretty darn good! Went back to hostel and started getting ready for Beijing. Gelato flavors: pistachio and dark chocolate (ciocolato fondente). Kenny came back and talked about his goals and future.

Thanks

  • Mom and son on train to Rome who have a really open communication relationship, even though the son is around 16-18. Funny how mom’s giant orange soda bottle cap popped off and landed on my hand.
  • Melody who semi-awkwardly took care of my hostel onboarding.
  • Brigitte the French woman who so friendly but also a bit lively, and her farm stay friend for recommending places in Rome
  • Waiter at Café Café, who is so nice even though I was only a table of one
  • Couple from Seattle(?) who took pic of me at Colosseum
  • Guy at Giolitti who helped me by telling me to get ticket
  • Woman who sold me ticket at Giolitti
  • Ibrahim, hostel roommate
  • Salvador, hostel roommate
  • Chris the free city tour walk guide
  • Couple who took pic of me at Vittorio
  • Lady who served me at that pizza place
  • Pope (maybe?)
  • Sistine Chapel security, who kept yelling “No photo!”
  • 433 waiter for ordering my milkshake
  • Kenny the 18-year-old hostel roommate who’s into hardware engineering (from Minneapolis?)
  • Colosseum tour guide
  • La Romana servers
  • Kyle and Emily (?) from Seattle at hostel about to leave and work for environmental law company
  • Pauline from Finland, who loves gelato
  • Guy left his job and travel to a bunch of different places (from Vancouver?)
  • Guy who exchanged my extra euro to yuan
  • Homeless lady who I yelled at (I’m sorry!) to wait while I get unexchanged money to give her
  • Woman at customs who didn’t even really check my passport before stamping on it
  • Italian guy next to me on plane who makes big expressions but is nice to me
  • Couple in front of me who reclined before flight started and expanded across the aisle in the empty seat, and the woman putting her leg up the window
  • Air China flight attendants who are nice enough to shoot me despite them looking miserable.

Tips

  • The long line in front of St Peter’s Square is for the basilica and the top of the basilica, not the Vatican museums where the Sistine Chapel is. If the line curves half way around the square where you’re standing directly in the middle divide of the square, the wait time should be half an hour-long maybe twenty minutes. The Vatican Museums entrance is on the side, around the tall walls.
  • Buy tickets to the Vatican Museums online. In my experience, people who bought tickets online seemed to just pass right through the lines. I had to wait 40-50 minutes in line to buy tickets.
  • This is common in Italy: If you see a little faucet-like structure on the street endlessly flowing water onto the ground, and there is a hole at the top of the spout, you can take a sip of the water by plugging the bottom hole with your finger to make the water flow up towards you.
  • If a gelato shop is just a store front, you can buy gelato just by ordering what you want and pay the worker. But if the gelato shop is indoors, you have to pay for the amount you want (one scoop, two scoops, etc.), get a receipt, and then head over to the counter where they serve gelato, hand the worker your receipt, and pick the flavor. I don’t know why the process is separated.

Links

For More

If you have questions about specific experiences of Rome, feel free to leave a comment and I’ll try my best to answer.

Part 8: Venice — Little Big Trip 2014

Part 7: Nice

Why Venice?

I wanted to see in person how a city functions when its streets are canals. I also heard the city was slowly sinking so I should visit sooner rather later.

Itinerary

  • Thursday, 30 October: Arrived in Venice by train. Took vaporetto water taxi to hostel.
  • Friday, 31 October: Walked around main island Venice. Short trip in Giudecca.
  • Saturday, 1 November: Took last vaporetto ride around main island. Departed Venice by train.

My Impression

Venice was indeed a unique town. As many people had said, it had become a town of tourists, and it seemed so. I had glimpses of locals when I visited Giudecca, one of the outer islands.

The strange thing about being in city of canals was that after spending half a day in the thick of it, walking everywhere, seeing gondolas float through the waterways, it was quite a shock and almost an insult when I saw cars and buses on roads near the train station, which was where the island portion of Venice that most people knew connected to the mainland and less-well-known portion of Venice.

Getting There

I took three trains from Nice to Venice, stopping at Ventimiglia and Milan. I purchased the Nice-to-Ventimiglia ticket at Nice station when I arrived in Nice, and I booked the other two train tickets on ItaliaRail a few weeks earlier.

Nice to Ventimiglia train

The Nice-to-Ventimiglia train was relatively short, and it felt like a commuter train because the train car looked more like an urban subway’s, and there were people in business attire getting on and off at the same stops.

This train also gave me a final view of the beautiful French Riviera, before passing through Monacao and taking me away from the coast.

Last view of the water in South of France.

Ventimiglia to Milan

The Ventimiglia-to-Milan train was longer, almost four hours. I booked a first-class seat, which just meant I sat in a car that had isolated compartments of six seats (three facing the other), with slightly more room. There was also a trash can and a mini-table by the window, which I sat next to.

From my seat on Ventimiglia-to-Milan train

My seat by the window.

The view was pleasant; it definitely had a southern European look, whatever that means.

Somewhere between Ventimiglia and Milan.

Milan to Venice

My connection at Milan was tight; by the schedule I had fifteen minutes to disembark one train and board another. I looked up Milan’s train station platform map online, which looked relatively straight-forward. Depending on the scale, I could probably make it if I half-ran.

I did make it, with surprisingly some time to spare. I booked a first class ticket as well, but that had a different style from the previous train. The car had an open plan. I sat on one side of the train in a one-seater behind another one-seater The other side of the train had two-seaters with tables.

View from my seat on Milan-to-Venice train.

There was an attendant pushing a cart down the aisle asking what the passengers would like to drink. Everyone also seemed to get a bag of cookies, with a choice of flavors. I believed the choices were cream or chocolate. I chose cream because I knew I didn’t want chocolate but I figure “con panna fresca” was the generic option, even though I didn’t know exactly what it was.

Complementary cream flavor cookies from Milan-to-Venice train.

The view of Italy from the train continued to be quaint, especially with the sun starting to set on this day of train travel.

Somewhere between Milan and Venice.

Arriving in Venice

By the time I got to Venice, it was already dark. But it was only about 6pm, so there were still a lot of people inside the train station as well as outside. Even though I looked up the vaporetto water taxi system before, it still took me a while to figure out which of the three stations (routes) I should go to, where to buy my ticket, how the boarding process worked, how to read the real-time electronic schedule.

After a bit of back-and-forth, I figured out the station I should board and took my first vaporetto ride. The vaporetto went down the Grand Canal, through a large, important-looking bridge, which I found out later was the iconic Rialto Bridge.

I got off near the San Marco stop and walked through Piazza San Marco (before I realized what it was) to my hostel.

Accommodations

I discovered early on that hostels were rare in Venice. And they either had bad reviews and horror stories or expensive. So I looked to Airbnb and found a few places, including one where it’s set up like a hostel. I was a little concerned because the listing felt kind of scrappy and unofficial, but I placed my faith on the reviews and booked it.

I was given turn-by-turn directions in the confirmation to get to the hostel. Part of me thought how thoughtful, and the other part wondered why there wasn’t an address. In retrospect, this was probably a good idea, since Venice rarely had street names, so the directions definitely won over any address that could be provided. I even tried to rehearse the route on Google Maps and Street View, but the layout was too imprecise and photo quality too poor to figure it out. When I finally arrived at night, I followed the directions very closely and was surprised to find it after only a few mis-turns.

Photo slideshow:
Venice - Hostel - LBT 2014

I buzzed the hostel from the entrance and, as usual (like in London), awkwardly explained in the intercom as quickly as I could that I had a reservation and implicitly asked if I could be let in. Once in, there was a large dark empty lobby with a closer path on the right and a farther path on the left. I went to the path on the right first and noticed the name of the hostel, so I took the tiny little elevator up to the correct floor. The elevator car was slightly larger than a phone booth, and I likened it to a music recording booth.

At the door, I was greeted by a young woman, and I repeated what I said on the intercom while she looked at my with a blank face. Looking back, she probably thought, “I know you had a reservation. Why are you saying the same thing?”

She was finishing up helping with another group of guests, and then it was my turn. We were in the living room at this time. The woman pulled out her records, asked for my passport, told me about the hotel tax, which I could pay in cash or credit card, but for simplicity, I just paid in cash right then and there. She checked me in, gave me a set of keys, showed me and around the “hostel”, which seemed more like a large apartment reworked to be a hostel that could sleep more people.

The Staff

The young woman’s name was Mirabella, I believe, and she spoke English with a different accent than Italians. She ended most of her sentences with an inflection as if she decided at the last second to turn the sentence into a question. I found out later on she was from Poland, and she was in Venice to work for a few months before moving back.

Perhaps it was the language barrier or the culture difference, but she was soft-spoken but very direct and serious, almost to a point where she had no sense of humor. On the second day, I was having lunch in the kitchen and she was preparing and cooking a full meal, seemingly for either a guest or the owner. I complimented her for making something that was smelling so good, and I said as a joke that I was jealous. She was a little amused and smiled, but continued concentrating cutting vegetables.

It seemed that she pretty much did the day-to-day chores and tasks, from checking in guests to changing sheets and housekeeping for the next guests. She did these things so swiftly that it looked almost effortless.

The Room

According to the listing, I was supposed to be in a room shared with another person. But I found out quite quickly that one wall in our room was completely open to the multi-bed room next door. There were no curtains or anything to divide the rooms; it was just open, almost like one room. I didn’t mind so much, since it’s so blatantly open, everyone knew to be respectful of noise and general chatter.

Conjoined hostel room.

The room was pretty spacious. It could definitely fit another bun bed and that was still be enough room. It had a bunk bed, a tall closet, a standing fan, a chair and a long table. There was an power outlet near the bunk beds, but it was used by my roommate who was already there. The power outlet was on the opposite side of the room next to the chair and table. So I had to plug my flimsy universal power adapter, which wiggled a little bit from the outlet, and I had to protect my phone by sitting in the chair and couldn’t go anywhere else.

There were two large windows that look out to other buildings, separated by a canal below. From my window, I could see the Campanile of St. Mark’s church sticking out from St. Mark’s Square, and I could hear the bell quite clearly at certain times of the day.

View from hostel room.

The bed was pretty standard. Judging by the other furniture in the hostel, the bunk bed was most likely also from IKEA. The frame was made of thin metal strips, and that made a noise with big movements.

There were two large cupboards next to the bed to serve as storage, but there were no metal loops to attach locks to.

Bathrooms

There were two bathrooms we had access to. One was closer to my room so I used that more often. It was a standard household bathroom (though somewhat spacious) with a bathtub, sink, toilet, and bidet.

There curtains in the bathtub was actually too short in width, so I had to be careful where I aimed the showered when I took showers.

The toilet was next to a large window, and opening it would allow me to look up to other buildings, and presumably others to look into the bathroom. But it was possible to leave the window open a little to get some ventilation without being exposed.

Common Area

There was a living room with couches and coffee table in the middle of the hostel. There was a radio playing local stations during the day, and there were also plenty of literature about traveling and Venice.

Living room in hostel

There was no food provided, but the kitchen was fully stocked with equipment. I assembled my store-bought salad using the dishes and utensils, and I also made tea using an electric kettle. After I was done eating, I washed my own dishes and dried it next to the sink. Mirabella later came and put the dishes away, which I felt bad for.

The kitchen had a world map with little arrow-shaped Post-its for guest to mark where they were from. Mirabella told me I could put mine. At first I was hesitant, thinking it was silly, and Mirabella chuckled at me. But later on, I thought it was such an awesome idea I put my name up there. This map went on to inspire me to do something similar in my home.

Marking my origin on world map at hostel.

There was Wi-Fi available, and it was medium-to-low speed compared to urban areas in the States. The login information was written down and put up in a picture frame in the living room.

Right outside of the hostel apartment was the staircase to the ground floor. There was a skylight that captured a lot of light that trickled down to the bottom floor. That, combined with the open ground floor lobby, the hostel’s spacious layout, and the window views, this unit was designed very well, and I felt that this was just how Italians design buildings to take advantage of the lighting and to make daily life more grand and beautiful.

Amazing lighting on the stairs to hostel.

Getting Around

Walking and vaporetto. I pretty much walked everywhere. There were no cars beyond the train station area. It’s all foot traffic, especially through narrow alleys and little bridges. It was actually quite nice to just walk freely and not have to watch out for cars or have the air polluted with exhaust.

I used the vaporetto four times: oonce to get from the train station to the hostel, twice to get from the main island to Giudecca and back, and once to take a tour around the main island before I left Venice.

Each vaporetto station had an entry path and an exit path. Most stations would have a ticket booth or machine at or near the entrance. Popular stations would have digital signs listing waiting times for the next arrival. At the entrance of each station, there was a plastic box on which to place the ticket for the RFID or something to mark the ticket as used. Then passengers would head to the waiting area for the next vaporetto. A vaporetto would arrive, passengers on the vaporetto would get off first, then waiting passengers would get on.

In the center of the vaporetto was the boarding area, but during the ride, passengers could stand in the open air. At the front of the vaporetto was also an open area for passengers to check out the view. In the rear was covered seating with clear but weathered windows, and the area would often get humid, especially if there were lots of passengers. Depending on the station, passengers would disembark on different sides of the vehicle, so passengers standing in the middle would be asked to move. All that would protect passengers from falling off the boarding zone during the ride were thin, sliding metal guard rails.

Climate/Clothing

  • Time of year: Late October/Early November.
  • My body composition: 29 years old, 160-ish pounds, 6 feet tall, prefers high 70s/low 80s, primarily sweats during exercise only.
  • The temperature was generally cool. Perhaps walking a lot in the middle of the day required taking off layers until the body cooled off.
  • On vaporetto rides in the open water, it actually got kind of chilly from the wind, even with my jacket on.

People

The people working in Venice were usually very straight with customers. I think it’s because Venice consisted mostly of tourists, and the workers were used to being direct and clear to avoid any confusion because of language differences. They would ask me to double check I knew what I wanted. At the grocery store, the cashier made sure I was aware I was on a cash-only line. At a gelato shop, the lady made sure before she scooped that I knew the caramel flavor costed 2 Euros instead of 1.5. At a bakery, the lady made sure I was paying for the takeaway (to-go) price and not the eat-in price. By each incident, it felt almost rude to ask me the obvious. But collectively, it’s more understandable why they would do that, and it actually seemed kind of courteous of them.

Language

Again, since Venice was such a tourist town, most people who worked there could speak English, even with limited vocabulary. But I still made a solid effort to say “Grazie” with each interaction. I was able to recognize words from a few signs through repetition, like “ristorante” (which was obvious) and “trattoria” (which I didn’t know exactly, but it was similar to a restaurant).

Tours/Sightseeing

Getting Lost on Purpose

Since I was only in Venice for less than forty-eight hours, I did not book any tours. Like Nice, I decided to just walk around and explore by myself. After grabbing a buttery croissant near the Rialto Bridge, I started my deliberate plan to get lost in Venice. I basically walked down roads and alleys as I wished, picking a path that looked interesting, turning around at dead ends, checking out shops, and repeat. There were plenty of restaurants, gelaterias, bakeries, and Venetian mask shops, but very few places interested me.

Initially, I tried to remember my direction and the path that I took. But after a few turns, I would have forgotten anything before my last turn. I was totally lost, but I felt totally fine, because it was my intention to get lost, and I had no agenda for the day, other than to eat when I got hungry.

Somewhere in my quest to get lost, I stopped by a bakery and got two craisin buns. It may be because I was a little hungry from only a croissant for breakfast and I was walking to get lost, but those buns were fresh, warm, and delicious.

Delicious craisin bun from a local bakery

Starting somewhere between Rialto Bridge and Piazza San Marco, I managed to make my way to the other side of the island at the train station.

Giudecca

I wanted to get to Giudecca, the southern island, so I could get a photo of the main island. Since I was already at the train station from my meandering morning, I bought a 24-hour pass and took a vaporetto over to Giudecca.

Getting close to Giudecca

The ride went down a long canal slowly before reaching the “open” water. But once out of the canal, the boat sped up, picking up the wind. The breeze felt nice at first, but the constant stream got annoying and also a bit chilly.

About to dock at Giudecca.

The vibe in Giudecca was the opposite of main island. There were very few people around; the shops were less nice-looking and looked partially open. It almost felt like an abandoned port city.

I only walked on the road by the water, but looking down alleys and canals showed a different side of the island. The sunlight was hitting the walls and the water a very gentle way, and instead of looking abandoned, it just looked like a quiet town relaxing and savoring the afternoon with the sound of slow-flowing canals and birds playing above a welcoming alley.

Canal with great light in Giudecca

Quiet alley in Giudecca

I tried to take photos of the landmarks on the main island, but it was too far away. With little else to explore on Giudecca, I took the vaporetto back.

Final lap around the island

On the morning of my departure, I had a bit of time between checking out of the hostel and getting on my train. So I decided to make my 24-hour vaporetto pass worth its money by taking a water tour around the north side of the main island. I tried to make the most of the ride by standing in the center/boarding area of the vaporetto and taking in the view.

There were many stops along the way, and it occurred to me then that there were a lot of outer islands that looked interesting that I could have explored. Like Nice, I discovered these things only after I arrived and it was too late to do anything about, because I had done less research than the other places on my trip. However, even with more planning, I would still probably do what I did and just take it easy and wander.

Near the end, the chilly open-air wind was getting to me, and I had to get inside to warm up. The vaporetto ended its route by turning into one of the canals, which had rows of brightly-painted buildings, almost as a way to welcome me back to town and to send me off.

Food

A note about my relationship with food: I am more of a “eat to live” type of guy. In my regular daily life, I try to eat very healthy, and I splurge a little bit once in a while. When I’m traveling, I loosen my restrictions a bit and eat what I can get, while still trying to select the healthiest choice. However, if there is a dish or a food that is well known where I’m traveling, and it’s within my taste preference and budget, I would put in extra effort to try it. And my weakness is desserts.

Gelato

After checking in and dropping off my stuff at the hostel. I did a little exploration of the area, and somehow ended up near the Rialto Bridge. I passed by many gelato shops, glancing at the flavors and the prices. I was still getting used to Venetian prices so I was kind of picky and holding out on a reasonable price. Finally, I just picked a place that was open on my way back to the hostel.

First gelato in Italy.

To be honest, I had trouble telling the difference between gelato and regular ice cream. The gelato was good, and it satisfied my sweet tooth. It was plenty good enough for me.

The next day, I got another gelato, this time at a shop at Piazza San Marco. I got caramel flavor, which costed extra. It was very sweet and full.

Croissant and Craisin Bun

I bought a plain croissant at a bakery-cafe near the Rialto Bridge for breakfast on my second day. It tasted fine, though it was a bit buttery and too airy to be filling.

So in my morning of intentional wandering and getting lost, I stumbled upon another bakery-cafe near [square] that was selling craisin buns, among other dessert pastries. I bought two just in case, and I was glad I did, not because it was airy like the croissant, but it was dense with soft doughy bread and little drops of sweet craisins and I wanted to eat more than one.

Delicious craisin bun from a local bakery

Self-assembled grocery store salad

For lunch, I was going to try to go to a restaurant, but nothing really interested me. So I resorted to going to the grocery near my hostel and assembled my own salad like I did in Nice.

The grocery store was well stocked and had a wide range of goods, from fresh meat, seafood, and produce, to processed foods and typical home supplies. But it had tight aisles that can easily get clogged if someone stood at an intersection.

I got a prepackaged salad, canned tomatoes, and a pack of sliced salmon. I went back to my hostel and assembled it in the kitchen. Just like in Nice, the salad pack was too much for one plate, so I split the portion into two servings. It tasted as a self-assembled store-bought salad would, although the canned tomatoes were very sweet and juicy.

Self assembled salad.

It was also nice to make the salad in the home kitchen at the hostel, with the faint sounds of the the crowds a few blocks away magnifying the calmness of the hostel. At the same time, the early afternoon sun drew a lot of indirect light into the kitchen, giving the space a more even glow. It almost transported me to another time, either my childhood or a the “olden days” portrayed in movies.

Having lunch at hostel kitchen.

Fresh pasta

Before I arrived in Venice, I came upon a recommendation online for a place in Venice that sold fresh pasta. I thought I should check it out if I happened to be in the area. It turned out that that place was literally around the corner from my hostel. It probably took twenty to thirty steps to walk to that place. But it only opened for a few hours in the afternoon every day.

So after some more exploring around town in the afternoon, I headed back to the hostel to pick up some pasta on the way. When I got there, there were people outside with white cups of pasta in hand. But fortunately, there weren’t that many people inside. In fact, the customer area and sales counter was a tiny space, probably the size of a king-sized bed, with the kitchen in the back. There was a few big TVs hung from the ceiling showing the menu. There were also printed signs that request customers to not take photos.

The menu showed many types of pasta and sauces, as well as meat and vegetarian add-ons. It also recommended that customers eat the pasta immediately or on the go instead of saving it for later. I supposed that was to preserve the quality. I was not concerned because I could just bring it to my hostel a few steps away instead of sitting and standing in a narrow alley outside of the store.

While I was waiting to order, I noticed that there were a bunch of guys behind the counter working, but they seemed really casual, just talking amongst themselves. Once in a while, one of the guys would come up to the counter to serve out an order, and many of the guys would watch the customer pick up the food, probably out of habit. While they seemed to know what they were doing and were doing it well, the way they carried themselves reminded me of slightly more mature college bros who had little experience with customer service, or the stereotypical young men from Boston exhibiting a lot of bravado and overconfidence. In some incidences, they seemed to have little patience and wanted customers to pick up the food as soon as it’s called. To be fair, maybe it had to do with Venice being a tourist town and the people who worked there learned to be direct.

After I ordered, I got some coins for change. So I tried to put them back in my wallet, which already had more coins in it. Before I could drop the coins in, my order was ready. Not wanting to make the guy wait, I gripped my open wallet of coins with one hand while trying to grab the pasta with the other. But I loosened my grip of the wallet in the process and dropped all my coins on the floor. The guys behind the counter made an “awww” sound in a way that sounded like a combination of ridicule and sympathy: “Aww, look how klutzy you are, making a mess in the store” and “Aww, I’m sorry that happened, I hope you recover quickly, partly because we have a business to run here.” I shook my head smiling, acknowledging my unclassy moment.

Freshly made pasta from Dal Moro's.

I ordered a fusilli with marinara sauce. Honestly, it tasted fine. it was the first time I had pasta in Italy, and I thought it was a little undercooked. I had come to realized this was Italy’s definition of “al dente”. It probably meant the same everywhere, but it was a level of doneness that I was less used to. It was fresh indeed, but the sauce and steaming fresh pasta ended up leaving a lot of water at the bottom.

Having had a taste of hot food for the first time in a few days, I went back later that evening for dinner. I got a spaghetti with another tomato sauce. Again, the harder-than-I-was-used-to al dente pasta with sauce that watered down near the end. Still, it definitely filled me up, and I would still go back and try the other pastas and sauces if I ever return to Venice.

Store-bought raisin buns.

After getting the freshly made craisin buns in the morning, I developed a craving for buns. So I picked up a bag of many, many raisin buns, thinking I could fill also up on it on the following day’s train ride.

Second-rate store-bought raisin buns.

But somehow I managed to eat most of the bag that day, leaving only a few left the next morning that I figured I should finish, especially since I had little room in my luggage. The buns were definitely store-brand quality, and the raisins were few and far between. At least they were cheap and filling.

My Roommate’s Squid Ink Pasta

One food I didn’t know about was squid ink pasta. I only found out about it when my roommate came back at night and told me he had some. He also showed me by sticking out his black tongue. He told me it was a thing in Venice and he sought it out as one of the things he wanted to eat. He showed me pictures he looked up online, and I squirmed a little but was impressed by him.

Getting out

I booked a ticket via ItaliaRail direct to Rome. While waiting on the platform, I checked out a few convenient stores and bought some overpriced snacks. I was going to get a pre-packaged sandwich for the train ride, but I could see the condensation on the inside of the clear plastic film, and the texture on the cut of the sandwich looked like it had been sitting out for a bit too long. So I only had my snacks to last me the nearly four-hour train ride.

From My Travel Log

30 October 2014, 11:04am, Ventimiglia, train heading to Milan

  • There are two Italians traveling and sitting across from me. The old guy kept looking at me, so he’s probably wondering where I’m from. The lady next to me left the room so I took the chance to ask the two travelers where they’re from. They looked really friendly and the different from the lady I sat across from on the way to Nice. I kept looking up how to say “going” for you plural. I never learned it so I assumed it’s “andiete”. Finally, I asked “Dove andiete” and the lady responded a place that I’ve never heard of. Then the guy asked in English “Where are you from?” And I said “the States” but they didn’t understand. So I said “Stati Uniti” after a bit of thinking and remembering, thankful that I looked it up earlier. I’m glad I made the effort and now I feel more comfortable (though still awkward!) since we didn’t say anything else other than that I’m going to Venezia.
  • I also feel home when I’m on the train or a plane because I feel like I belong there, like I’m supposed to be there, and people are there to serve my needs and they speak English. When I’m where I’m supposed to be, I feel safe. That sounds very obvious, and the converse is true. But it’s kind of important to me, I realize.
  • That said, I’ve had those “I am here” feeling many times, Cuzco in that spot from Google Street View, Tromsø a little when I look out airplane window and when I saw the Arctic Cathedral, Paris a little when i see it in that park area. The moment comes and goes and I try to hold onto it but still try to experience it instead.
  • For the past week, I realize more the today is short. I tried to think about what I’ve done in the past few days and why it’s gone by so fast, and it seems that I haven’t done that much. I sleep relatively less, I go online more. I spend time waiting for lines, traveling on the train. I take time to shop and buy groceries, I take my time getting to spots. My regard for time is so minimal that I feel like I’m wasting it on this trip. But being in Italy, I’m supposed to be mastered the art of doing nothing. If I’m not doing anything, what should I be doing so I don’t feel so guilty. I should be doing something that makes me feel good. So maybe take a nap, take a shower, watch movies. Heck, I’m on f-ing vacation, I should do whatever I want. So that should set me up for Italy.

30 October 2014, 4:07pm, Milano -> Venezia train

  • The trains are so relaxed about seats switching. Also, first class is nice. We’ll see how second class feels when I ride to Rome. It boggles my mind how quickly the day has gone by. It’s almost 5 PM and I started taking the train at around 9:30. Seeing the sun on its way down already makes me feel like I’m not spending a day and my time wisely.
  • Looking at the sunset, I remember how it was just as beautiful in South Africa in Kapama, in Paris on Montparnasse, on the train from Paris to Nice, ABQ.
  • For some reason, I still hold the mentality that I’m going to be miles away from easy access of food. I guess that’s from both my trip to Nicaragua and from flying long flights. But every place I’ve been to, except Thornhill lodge in SA, have easy access to food whenever I want. But in the next places, Venice, Rome, Beijing, Tokyo, Hawaii, they should all have food access, like supermarkets. The parts I need to watch out for I guess are train from Venice to Rome, flight from Rome to Beijing, Tokyo to Hawaii, and Hawaii to SJC, and maybe the trips to and from the great wall.

Thanks

  • Italians on Milan -> Venice train who were nice and offered me treats
  • Lady next to me on train who spoke/knew English and made me feel fine without saying a thing to me.
  • Mirabella (Airbnb staff)
  • Korean roommate who was nice and answers questions with a smile
  • Guy who sold me croissant
  • Lady who sold me two raisin buns and tried to clarify in English that it’s takeaway
  • Lady who rung up my groceries of sad salad and explained in English it’s a cash-only line
  • Lady who sold me two-scoop gelato and made sure in English that caramel is €2 a scoop
  • Manager-looking dude who tried to clarify if it’s fusilli or spaghetti even though I never said spaghetti
  • Guy who handed me the pasta while I had an open wallet and made me drop my coins
  • The other guy who sold me pasta but was much nicer about it.
  • New roommate from Beijing and Germany who told me about squid ink pasta and gave me advice about Beijing subway.
  • San Diego friends who gave me a small sense of home
  • And the girl who traveled for three months with two more to go who gave me a small sense of motivation subconsciously to keep going on my trip.

Tips

  • Give yourself extra time from getting lost.
  • Better yet, don’t have a destination in where you’re going, except maybe for a general direction. If you’re mentally ready to get lost, it’s very fun walking around. If you get tired of being lost, there are signs all over town leading you to landmarks, like “Ponte di Rialto” and “Piazza San Marco.”
  • Travel to at least one of the outer islands for a different atmosphere and probably a lot less people.

Links

For More

If you have questions about specific experiences of Venice, feel free to leave a comment and I’ll try my best to answer.