Italy

The Triple Importance of Cinco de Mayo

There are three reasons why I really love this day on the calendar, and aren't the final reasons in these sort of lists always the best?

First Meal in Florence Alone

Reason #1

Four years ago today, I flew solo across the Atlantic for the first time in my life...solo meaning without family or friends, not Amelia Earhart-style. After having studied abroad in Italy during high school, I found it absolutely necessary to return to Florence, my favorite city in "the boot," and study that which inspired me: art and the Italian language.

What began with that memorable flight was a sequence of events that eventually propelled me toward Semester at Sea and the lifestyle I now call my own. Living in Florence, I took the constant inspiration and my favored style of impromptu prose writing and created a travel voice for myself. The world and its elements became the ingredients of my artistic movement. I became an aspiring travel writer. That was May 5th, 2006.

Reason #2

Two years ago today, I boarded yet another plane to Italy; however, this ticket wasn't round-trip, unless you count round-the-world as such.

I suffered yet another travel-induced bout of insomnia, vibrated with anxiety, and took off on my solo venture toward self-understanding and global experiences. May 5th, 2008 marked the day I started my Big Journey, when only two days prior I moved a tassel to the side and earned my college degree.

Reason #3

Today, I'm not flying to Italy, nor am I bound for the boot anytime in the foreseeable future. Instead, this year marks the first time I understand what the holiday is about. Because the classroom wasn't my optimal learning environment (and my memory stinks), I never really grasped the holiday until now...now that it's my job to know all things Mexico.

I recently revealed how I landed my next travel endeavor, and now it's time to explain this dream job in a little more detail.

I'm going to Mexico in June, not because I decided to spend all my money again or because I got a free trip somehow. ProjectExplorer has deemed me worthy, thanks to my various venues for my travel documentation, of being a traveling producer, shooter, and photographer for their online educational programming for children.

I'll be one unit in a team of five, all collaborating skills and passions to create dynamic and innovative media that will educate classrooms around the world about the country of Mexico. Why Mexico? Because they invited us, silly!

Prior to take-off, I've been studying Mexico's many facets: its pre-Columbian civilizations, the grand capital of Mexico City, its legendary revolutionaries, and all things contemporary south of the border. Because of this duty, I know that Cinco de Mayo marks the day 148 years ago when:

Mexico drew its forces before the city of Puebla and began their assault on the French. The battle, lasting from daybreak to early evening, ended with a French retreat at their loss of nearly 500 soldiers, while Mexico saw less than 100 killed. The win represented a great moral victory for the Mexican government and her resistance to oppressive powers.

...in case you wanted to know.

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I've been frantically reading narratives on Mexico, such as David Lida's First Stop in the New World, as well as chatting with friends who would call Mexico their home tomorrow if they could. My training in academic research paid off for the job thus far, and soon I'll be applying my other learned skills in videography and education to the creative side of this gig.

Through our 80+ short films, hundreds of photographs, and numerous blogs on Mexico (see example site page here from the Jordan project), we're hoping children understand better the culture, history, and people of Mexico, and with that kind of education, we all know what awesome things can result. I dare say world peace, but world citizens also works.

And so, on this Cinco de Mayo, I may just learn how to make mole poblano (the classic meal of the holiday) or dumb it down to a simple celebration of Mexico with a cerveza in hand. Regardless, this year's holiday is a thrilling reminder of my immediate future with ProjectExplorer and our first trip together - to Mexico.

If you'd like to be a part of ProjectExplorer, participate in the Good Global Citizen campaign (the one that eventually landed me the gig) by making a video answering the question: What does it mean to you to be a good global citizen? You'll join the ranks of Ziggy Marley and Desmond Tutu if you do!

Source: History.com

Journeys of a Lifetime in May

Welcome back to my new monthly series on Nomadderwhere, one which highlights the incredible trips one could take in that current month - thanks to a vibrant book called Journeys of a Lifetime by National Geographic. Each month I pick a couple adventures from each section in the book in order to provide you inspiration for 365 days from now. Read the brief description to whet your appetite, and click on the trip name for further information (links provided by National Geographic...of course you could be a gritty backpacker and make it on your own).

Across Water

Frontier Country: Hug Indiana's southern border via river barge to experience the wild, the musical, the historical, the classy and the rowdy. I'm talking about Nashville's music scene, the natural surroundings of former Native American land, and the Kentucky Derby, which takes place during the first week of May!

Cruising Milford Sound: Thank you, Ice Age, for carving out this amazing landscape. Waterfalls cascade from the mountaintops where rain forests cling. Sail, fly, walk, drive - there are seemingly no bad ways to experience this place.

By Road

Route 66 Through Arizona: Blare your Bob Dylan and rev your old fart engine. Cruise down America's "Main Street," and you may say some thoughts like: "Gee, that's a big canyon" or "Are these guys gunfighting for real?"

The Riviera Corniches: Rent a car and drive these coastal highways that carve into the famous French Riviera. I've got a feeling, if this is your kind of trip, you'll be doing a lot of chewing and swallowing between each drive. Sounds lovely.

By Rail

The Bolshoi Express: St. Petersburg to Moscow. The Hermitage, the Kremlin - see everything amazing from both cities, including the amazing scenery in between while aboard Russia's first post-Soviet luxury train. Won't you take me to SWANKY TOWWWN!

The Andean Explorer: From the old capital of the ancient Inca world to the highest navigable lake in the world, enjoy every high altitude chug to the clear skies from your cabin window. Stops are made to increase appreciation for the fresh air and local markets selling soft alpaca wool. I hope they play the Emperor's New Groove on the train!

On Foot

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Everest Base Camp: My friend's grandparents took this legendary journey on foot twice in their last decades, so don't write this off just yet as something you cant handle. Acclimate to the Nepalese world for a few days in Kathmandu, take the 8 day trek up 18,000 feet to base camp, and visit the tea houses and quaint high altitude villages along the way. The photo to the right shows my view of Everest from 107 miles away (it's the little pink dot above the blue mountains. She's a tall sucker.

Samaria Gorge: Herb-scented air wafts through this wildlife-littered cut through western Crete, and you could too, if you only knew it was there. Pass through the Iron Gates in May, and you'll be walking amongst many wildflowers and past very few people. The taverns at the end near the southern coast make for an excellent and compelling finish line!

In Search of Culture

Frank Lloyd Wright in Oak Park: The May tours fill up quickly for this bike trip through a western suburb of Chicago filled with the highest concentration of FLW architecture. Admire his radical Prairie Style creations with Cubist influences while also burning some cals! And it doesn't hurt that Chicago has quite a lot more to admire.

Renaissance Italy: If I tried, I don't think I could do Italy's Renaissance evidence justice. Florences streets and many, many palaces, museums, and churches; Siena's cathedral, town square, and civic building; Rome's Sistine Chapel and other works scattered across the Vatican...you know you need to go. It's just about finding the time. Well, next May will be your time to explore Italy back in one of its many hey days.

In Gourmet Heaven

Depachika Shopping in Tokyo: A depachika is a basement of a department store in Japan, and these floors are stuffed to the brim with top quality food merchandise, including cured meats and cheeses from Italy, cigar wafers, chocolates, and the most expensive and juicy melon you'll ever taste. Though you don't have to wait until May; this is year-round shopping.

The Baltic Gourmet: I find the cultures between prominent cultures fascinating. So what happens when the culinary traditions of Germany, Poland, Russia, and Sweden collide? You get the palette of meat, fish, root vegetables, sour cream, and dill that is enjoyed across the Baltic countries. Bus between Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia for the full gastronomic experience.

Into the Action

The Trans Canada Trail: Wow, this thing really is TRANS-Canada. Stretching from the Pacific to the Atlantic, and even up to the Arctic Ocean, you can either jump on for an hour of wildlife spotting and nature admiring or you can strap on a backpack and hike a massive chunk. And if you start in May, you've got the whole summer to blaze the trail. Keep in mind that in the Yukon region, summer offers 24 hours of daylight!

ATVs in the Namib Dunes: The ATVs just denote the tip of the adventure sport iceberg in Namibia, while adventure sports only cover some of what's available in this southern African nation. Visit the atmospheric Skeleton Coast, watch for dolphins, eat top notch oysters, stalk animals, and don't forget to motor around the dunes looking for that landscape of the Atlantic on the horizon.

Up and Away

Hoover Dam Air Tour: Take off in the morning to ride smooth air waves over this modern civil engineering wonder of America. Of course, if you take the sunset tour, you return to the neon-happy Las Vegas cityscape. After this trip, you'll finally be able to tell your friends you know what 5 million barrels of cement looks like.

El Teleferico: All other cable cars will feel puny compared to this one in Merida, Venezuela. Ascend the longest and highest of the global litter to sit atop Pico Espejo, an Andean peak. Block off your morning, because the cars only run from 7am until noon.

In Their Footsteps

Captain Cook's Polynesia: Jump on a ten day cruise of some lovely, isolated islands that surely beat your home landscape. Black pearls, underwater kalidescopic wonderlands, and evidence of Gauguin can't top the gorgeous surroundings, but they can certainly top the cake! The South Pacific isn't a place to see in a hurry. Sandwich your cruise with some extra days to be an islander and slow your life down.

Pilgrimage to Santiago: Join the thousands who have blazed this trail before you and become a medieval pilgrim to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. If you want to be really authentic, nix the shoes, but if you're not crazy, enjoy your hearty soles as your traverse the Iberian peninsula's north. Your first stop could include a bull run in Pamplona, but don't remember...a swift jab of a horn could do your pilgrimage in!

How's that brain? Spinning with innumerable desires to traverse continents and climates? Pull out a pen and prioritize your life by putting one or more of these trips at the top of the list. And by planning a year in advance, you'll be quite able to save, prepare, and anticipate the rigors of your adventure in every way. Check back in June for the Journeys of a Lifetime you could partake in next year!

Where are you inspired to travel to next year? Leave a comment and be my new friend.

Journeys of a Lifetime in April

Welcome back to my new monthly series on Nomadderwhere, one which highlights the incredible trips one could take in that current month - thanks to a vibrant book called Journeys of a Lifetime by National Geographic. Each month I pick a couple adventures from each section in the book in order to provide you inspiration for 365 days from now. Read the brief description to whet your appetite, and click on the trip name for further information (links provided by National Geographic...of course you could be a gritty backpacker and make it on your own).

Read More

Journeys of a Lifetime in March

Welcome back to my new monthly series on Nomadderwhere, one which highlights the incredible trips one could take in that current month - thanks to a vibrant book called Journeys of a Lifetime by National Geographic. Each month I pick a couple adventures from each section in the book in order to provide you inspiration for 365 days from now. Read the brief description to whet your appetite, and click on the trip name for further information (links provided by National Geographic...of course you could be a gritty backpacker and make it on your own).

Across Water

Sampo Arctic Icebreaker: Crunch across Finlands waterways in this 75 meter ship, and psych yourself up for a quick dip in the icy sea - protected by a thermal watertight suit, of course. Book well in advance. This looks awesome.

The Lower Zambezi River: What an incredible ride in between Zambia and Zimbabwe, where I actually saw elephants swimming, massive crocodiles sunning, and hippos pop out of nowhere - scaring the living daylights outta me.

By Road

From Cairo to the Cape: Africa is a trail map, and this is the main route. Bike it, overland it, drive it, but I beg you...don't walk through the Sahara. Give yourself at least two months, more like four, to make the trek, and you'll really feel like you know Africa.

From Delhi to Agra: Try shrine-hopping in India, avoiding the bulk of the heat and rain in March. Aside from the usual must-dos like the Taj Mahal and Agra Fort, be sure to visit Fatehpur Sikri to see a well-preserved palace complex with an interesting history...no, really!

By Rail

The Shinkansen: The mother of all train systems. The Japanese are so time-efficient, the driver will humbly apologize if the train arrives even a minute behind the expected TOA. All you'll be thinking on this trip, aside from how clean and swanky everything is, is scenery...scenery...scenery...ooooh, cherry blossoms!

Venice Simplon-Orient-Express: Definitely not for the backpacker type, this line from London toParis to Innsbruck to Venice is possibly the most luxurious train in the world (ex: bring your black tie). Mark off two days and one night in March 2011 and take one of the year's first rides across the Alps and Dolomites.

On Foot

The Grand Traverse: Amble the great divide between Fiordland and the Southern Alps in New Zealand's South Island, and make sure you get there in time for the clear views in March. A five day trek with camping lodges on the way; it sounds like you need to book ahead to witness this masterpiece of nature.

The National Mall: After Japan, why not doing the Grand World Tour of Cherry Blossoms (not a real trip) by hitting up D.C. thawing trail. Bring some stellar walking shoes to visit all the memorials, but don't forget your artsy scarf and cat-eye glasses for the museums next!

In Search of Culture

Venetian Legacy: After taking the luxurious train from London to Venice, why not continue onward by stepping back in time, to when the Venetians were on top of the trading world. Take a ferry to Cyprus, via Greece, to view the cultural and economic influences on the harbor cities - town halls, mansions, fortresses, and all things tall, flashy and handsome.

Moorish Spain: Wind around Sevilla, Cordoba, Granada and Ronda to observe the remnants of the region once called the most civilized and properous in Europe (for 400 years, I might add). The Moors were partial to using Arabic architectural elements, bling in the form of gold leaf, and serious tricks with water fountain construction.

In Gourmet Heaven

Malbec in Mendoza: I don't think I need to do too much convincing with this one. Here's all you need to know: Argentina, mountains, wine, meat...done. Oh, and I can't forget, the first weekend of March holds the Vendimia, or harvest, festival. Don't you dare miss that!

Margaret River Wine Region: Man, I'm all about the wine this month. Visit the very bottom left of Australia in March, and you'll not only have beautiful red teeth from all the lovely wine tastings but also ears ringing from the sweet music of local events and festivals. While you're there, why not check out where the Indian and Southern Oceans converge. Kir-Splash!

Into the Action

Dogsledding in Alaska: Go just about any cold month and experience your mushing fantasy; however, venture up to Alaska in March and try your skills on the Iditarod trail, which will be held at that time. Not sure how much of a spectator sport it is, with its 1,151 mile course, but surely the scenery and will of the competitors is awe-inspiring.

Vermont's Catamount Trail: Can you ski across an entire state? Why not give it a try? Because it's hard...but, boy, what a story you could tell your friends back at home, through your chapped lips. Take a month and meander up or down the trail through the Green Mountains, stopping in country inns along the way. Be sure and carb load with lots of maple syrup!

Up and Away

Heliskiing the Alps: It's exactly what it sounds like: skiing on new snow overlooking the entire mountain range of the European Alps. Whether you go through France, Austria, Switzerland, or Italy, it doesn't matter. Base yourself at one ski resort or move around across borders. All you're going to remember are the amazing views and the adrenaline rushes.

Microlight on my Golden Birthday

Microlight on my Golden Birthday

Victoria Falls by Microlight: I was fortunate enough to experience this on my golden birthday, when I turned 23 on the 23rd. Get up early in the morning, put on a helmet, and board a kite with a lawn mower engine attached. Fly into a surreal world above the trees where you can see hippos swimming, elephant herds wandering, and the world's largest waterfall spew water of gigantic proportions.

In Their Footsteps

Route Napoleon: Why march in March along Napoleon's footsteps post-exile in Alba? Why, for authenticity of course! Make your way from Cannes to Grenoble, although I imagine you won't be greeted by mobs of supporters calling you "emperor," Oh well, at least you'll see some pretty cool scenery.

Tolstoy's Russia: Witness what inspired Leo Tolstoy to create work, such as Anna Karenina, by following his trail of museums and influential cities. Be certain you take a day (or two) trip to Tula, where he was born and now lies today. Tula also marks the location of his experimental school, friends, favorite natural surroundings, the peasants he worked with, and his novels' conceptions and creations. Enjoy the brisk winds of Russia in March!

How's that brain? Spinning with innumerable desires to traverse continents and climates? Pull out a pen and prioritize your life by putting one or more of these trips at the top of the list. And by planning a year in advance, you'll be quite able to save, prepare, and anticipate the rigors of your adventure in every way. Check back in April for the Journeys of a Lifetime you could partake in next year!

Where are you inspired to travel to next year? Leave a comment and be my new friend.

Journeys of a Lifetime in October

journeys

I welcome you to a new monthly series on Nomadderwhere, one which highlights the incredible trips one could take in that current month - thanks to a vibrant book called Journeys of a Lifetime by National Geographic. Every month I will pick out a couple adventures from each section in the book in order to provide you inspiration for 365 days from now. Read the brief description to whet your appetite, and click on the trip name for further information (links provided by National Geographic...of course you could be a gritty backpacker and make it on your own).

Across Water

Yangtze River Trip to the The Three Gorges: A trip in early fall through some incredible, mountanous landscapes could coincide with October 3rd and the Chinese Harvest Moon Festival.

The Mangoky River: Madagascar's baobabs and the "slowly-slowly" mentality of the land give me two reasons to desire floating in an inflatable raft across the tip of the big island. October is the last month of reasonable weather before the ghastly heat sets in.

By Road

The Fall in Vermont: Does my longing to going on a fall foliage drive make me an old lady? Either way, I don't care if it means I get to log miles around a beautiful chunk of America and potentially camp out in the cool nights between drives.

The Dolomites: Northeastern Italy gets great weather and less tourists than usual in October, which is perfect if one desires to see sky-splintering peaks, Alpine pastures, and still speak l'Italiano all the live-long day.

By Rail

The Reunification Express: After reading Catfish and Mandala, making the 1,000 mile jaunt across Vietnam seems like a trip worthy of filling numerous journals and marking off loads of "once-in-a-lifetime" experiences from the list. This train would make this trip possible, that is if you're not a crazy/cool cyclist relying on your two wheels.

Trans-Siberian Railroad: Fall colors, warm days, and cool nights - that's quite a list of benefits for traveling from Moscow to Beijing in October via a world famous train ride. The trip takes one week

On Foot

Greenwich Village: True, this area can be enjoyed any time of year, but the crispy atmosphere of fall makes pleasant a couple days of perusing galleries, visiting Edward Hopper's house, and eating at former speakeasies, like Chumley's. Maybe you'll get inspired to "keep moving" while taking in Figaro Cafe, a hang-out of the "beat generation".

The Inca Trail: Dry weather meets the hearty soul that wants to trek through the thin air of the Andes in October. Machu Picchu, Huayna Picchu, and loads of misty sights are calling you...

In Search of Culture

Treasures of Jordan: October is just as great a time as any to hire a car in Amman and hit up some ancient relics of the past in the Middle East. Fancy yourself an Indiana Jones as you bound around the ruddy sandstone of the Treasury of Petra.

India's Golden Triangle: I can attest to the fact that going on this trip in the heat of summer is just plain mean to your boiling spirits, but alas, the relief that comes in October! Agra's Taj Mahal at sunrise, Jaipur's Amber Fort and Rajasthani culture, and Delhi's urban jungle are real experiences to be photographed, reflected upon, and absorbed into the mind forever. Read my blogs from the Golden Triangle here.

In Gourmet Heaven

Bourbon Trail: Another prime opportunity to see good fall color while sipping some classic American spirits. Even though we Hoosiers are supposed to make fun of Kentucky, I've always been a fan of the horse farms and Appalacian foothill country, and I'd imagine pumping some whiskey into the equation wouldn't hurt it!

Central Valley Wine: Go from fall to spring, harvest to planting season, with a trip to Chile for some grape guzzling. The Andes are supposedly visible from every vineyard in this region, which has a unique climate sure to cause some exciting fermentation to occur. Go skiing, walk along the beach, and then go find some good wine in the hills.

Into the Action

Polar Bears in Canada: October marks the start of a great bear-watching season annually, and Churchill is known for their outsized bears. Not as elusive as the tiger, but apparently just as easily camouflaged into their surroundings; a couple days looking for polar bears sound like thrilling days well spent.

Sea Kayaking off Baja: I know I'm going to be taking full advantage of being around Baja in October by partaking in a gorgeous and exciting activity: sea kayaking. Rocky cliffs edging an ample marine world in the blue Pacific waters; it's the stuff of dreams. Check back for upcoming blogs on this very activity.

Up and Away

Flying High in Paradise: Take a heli for a spin (don't worry, you're not driving) around the volcanic islands of Hawai'i, where you'll be dumbfounded by how green and undulating the converging ridges appear. Great weather and better prices will please you in October. I've experienced this flight and loved it.

Fly the Coral Route: Tahiti, Rarotonga, Samoa, Fiji, Auckland, Dreamland - it sounds like purging your wallet for an aerial island-hopping experience in the South Pacific couldn't disappoint if it tried. And with October providing some drier conditions, you'll be able to see the blue silk in 360 degrees around you.

In Their Footsteps

On The Road after Kerouac: Though my opinion on Kerouac's instant classic novel is still unformed, I can't deny the pulsing urge inside me to hop in a car and take I-80 as far as it will take me. Maybe that makes his work a success in that it instills the desire to move for the sake of moving. From New York to San Francisco, such a road trip would be quite a thrill to take while reading the novel and hitting up Denver and Chicago along the way, not to mention the great weather October would bring across the entire stretch.

The Silk Road: Avoid the extreme weather conditions by traveling in October through western China to Turkey and some of the world's oldest inhabited cities. The spanning cultures are sensory-linked with landscapes that could slap a yak with amazement.

How's that brain? Spinning with innumerable desires to traverse continents and climates? Pull out a pen and prioritize your life by putting one or more of these trips at the top of the list. And by planning a year in advance, you'll be quite able to save, prepare, and anticipate the rigors of your adventure in every way. Check back in November for the Journeys of a Lifetime you could partake in next year!

As this is a new series, I'd love to hear your feedback on the effectiveness of this concept. Leave a comment and be my new friend.

Consume and Update: Life, Tolerance and Free Guides

If you're always learning, hopefully you're never bored. Here's my attempt at bringing you the quality information I'm learning by this week. Christine created a series this month on what she knows best: giving a lifestyle some massive alterations to become one's dream life.

This series seeks to give you the practical, real world steps you need to take to get from wherever you are, to exactly where you want to be– traveling the world and living the lifestyle you want.

Today marks her 20th day in the series, and even if you don't harbor a desire to drop what you're doing to live at large in the world, reading her steps toward being location independent can uncover whatever dormant lifestyle shifts that are begging to be released in you. I personally enjoy Day 16: Becoming a Digital Nomad, The Freelance Edition as well as some assorted tips from Day 15: The Not-So-Secret Trick to Finding Cheap Airfare.

Brave New Traveler's Ian MacKenzie brings to our attention a video about tolerance and diversity that is worth the 8 minutes of attention.

Spiritual Enlightenment

Spiritual Enlightenment

Christine Garvin continues to think philosophically about travel's influence on personal identity and self-respect. It's the underlying theme of it all, and there's no point in continuing whatever mission you have if you don't have a conscious emphasis on this in your life. It helps to read these works regularly.

l now feel in my bones something that has been said to me time and time again over those last 10 years: to have others look at you with appreciation, you must first appreciate yourself. And the way to attain that appreciation for the self and connect to spirit is to gain some understanding of all those other people out there roaming the earth.

Other Discoveries This Week

Elance.com and Guru.com: As I'm beginning my freelancing career, it's important to know there are websites like these making it easier to bridge connections between suppliers and demanders.

Kayak Buzz: I've been looking for something like this. It's almost like having an eject button.

The Happy Planet Index: An independent think tank that believes in economics as if people and the planet mattered.

Phoenix: Four French dudes that make up a quality band

Update on Nomadderwhere

Speaking Engagements: On Thursday, October 1st, I will drive to Northern Indiana to present my travels to interested Hoosiers. If you're a friend of my grandparents, you'll be seeing me in a Peabody conference room, chatting about travel photographs and the dramatic stories behind them. If you live in Wabash, Indiana, be sure to reserve your space at the Honeywell House fast, because the room is already filling to capacity for my later presentation. But there will be no lectures, because in the spirit of lifelong learning, I won't for one second pretend I'm not there to learn from the audience as well.

Free Guides: I receive e-mails fairly frequently from friends and family asking for tips on certain travel destinations. In an attempt to offer what I know to those who may benefit, I've created free guides to cities and countries I've visited, which will continue to grow in number as I continue to get those kind of e-mails. Thus far I've offered my city guide of Florence, a first timer's guide to India, and some pointers and background for the Greek isles. With each guide, there is the option of the pretty or the printer-friendly version, depending on how you will read and enjoy the material! Email lindsay {at} nomadderwhere.com if you have a request for a free guide!

Arrivederci, Pipi: Day 21

Four hours after a late, post-clubbing bedtime, poor Garrett and Alexis were summoned to rise for Cinque Terre with my parents. A gorgeous four more hours later, Caro and I awoke, sparkling, to a room filled with golden light and wandered down to the pool. A hectic day of sunning and lounging was to begin. We floated, read, enjoyed Italian coffee, lunched for hours on the patio, and slept on our pool chairs, covered in towels, feeling the occasional trickle of rain on an exposed toe. Every activity was blanched with the warmth of satisfaction. The Burgassi family came during the afternoon to prepare the exterior of the villa for the next tenants. I took this opportunity to accept their offer for housing in July. I made an effort to delay my affirmation prior to this, thinking I was being responsible to think of all sides of the spectrum. They must have thought I was crazy not to consider this option as divine intervention. Caro and I spent the rest of our lazy afternoon inside, drinking wine and playing gin until the entire Burgassi family (Otto included) stuck their heads in the door "Brady Bunch-style" to say they were so excited I was coming to live with them. It was a moment for the scrapbook.

Around 9pm, I heard the four Cinque Terre goers approaching from outside, and immediately we became cooking machines for dinner. Oven on, pop in the rolls, chop every vegetable and meat product sitting around, open loads of beans and, well, what do we make with beans and chicken and cheese and veggies? Chicken surprise and garlic fritattas! And be sure to drink up the wine, so it all tastes somewhat edible! Genius ideas went hand in hand with dancing around the kitchen to Earth, Wind and Fire, loud enough to hear from the next hilltop town. It was a memorable last supper.

The next morning we squeezed five large pieces of luggage and five travelers into the car, all bound for Milano; the end resulting feeling being a universal one of stress and sleeping keisters. The city of Milan didn't meet my expectations coming in, as its ugly webbing of streets seemed to lack history, tradition, or that Italian charm. However, with only a few hours to spend in the fashion industry capital, our time was spent wonderfully with Alexis' childhood friend, Katie, who had been studying there for the past semester. She showed us a good time with cheap pizza, castles and parks, the Milan metro, the majestic Duomo and Galleria, our last gelatos, and revealed to us the perspective of an American in Milano. We returned to a hotel room with two sleeping parents and camped on the floor.

The next morning was quiet. Showers, packing, sitting, reading...we waited for time to arrive at 10:40am, when we left to board our train to Interlaken. The moment of embarkation was reminiscent of February 4th, 2007, the departure date for SAS S'07 - blubbering. 178 days until I reconnect with my family in Hawai'i. Until then, I think the Dead would agree: it's gonna be a long, strange trip.

Rome on Two Wheels: Day 15

Scooters in Rome

Scooters in Rome

Every once in a while, parents forget how old their children truly are and all the times they’ve proven themselves responsible. After being denied the chance to experience a dance club in Florence or even a small pub in a Tuscan hill town, my brother, his wife and I (ages 27, 28 and 22 respectively) decided to embark on a side trip to the Eternal City for the weekend. It’s not to say my parents are hard to travel with. There’s just an unexplainable thrill in doing what would make your mother sweat a little. Ian, Allison and I walked only a few blocks down Via Cavour from the train station before deciding Vespas were essential. Scooting past the Coliseum, it was clear that this is the way to experience Rome. With one day in a city as tremendous as Rome, the only thing that beats the luxury of time with these buildings is flying past them, seeing them all within minutes, and knowing you’re joining the likes of Audrey Hepburn by partaking in this hair-rustling, tire-squealing activity.

St. Peter's

St. Peter's

We came all the way to Rome without hotel accommodations [on a Saturday night], so we parked, ordered beers at an alley eatery, and skimmed the guidebook for suggestions. Ian volunteered to scoot to the Colors Hotel by the Vatican in order to book our room, but when he didn’t return in an hour, we began twiddling our thumbs anxiously. I sat staring into the darkness of the summer dusk, realizing only after some time that Ian’s silhouette stood in front of me, his massive Marvin the Martian helmet sitting askew on his head.

When it began raining an hour earlier, the cobblestone streets became slick as ice, making it impossible for Ian to maneuver the scooter safely. Squeezing the brakes to avoid getting smacked by a bus, he flew over the handle bars and sprawled in the middle of a busy road flanking the Tiber River. The Lonely Planet Italy book he had between his feet, propped open by his alien toes, caught some incredible air and landed some yards away. The broken brake sliced a life line across his dirty palm. Buses and cars honking for Ian to fix his predicament, he scrambled to gather the guidebook and his unstrapped helmet (which flew off the other direction) only to forget that scooters don’t work like wave runners. He grabbed the throttle and twisted before his body sat atop the vehicle. Ian flew over the handle bars a second time, his bruises now certain to turn the color of the cobblestones.

At that moment when Ian appeared out of the midnight blue evening, I began laughing. His drenched clothing, the “I did something bad” childlike look on his face, his inability to sit normally on his now sensitive derriere, the entire retelling of his scooter incident, it all caused me some very happy crocodile tears. Not that I’m malicious towards my family members. For decades, I’ve loved finding the humor in my brother’s slapstick moments. Once dinner concluded and we successfully relocated to our hotel room without injury, we dedicated the night to numbing Ian’s travel wounds with Irish lager.

Ian, the Tourist

Ian, the Tourist

The next morning, Via del Corso, the Pantheon, the Piazza della Venezia...all at a speed of about 5 mph in the misty patches of rain. And then the Piazza Navona, where we witnessed in real life and time the 17th century rivalry between Bramante and Bernini. We returned the scooters, after I schmoozed with the local police to let us down a closed street, to find a nearby pub broadcasting the Roma-Catania final playoff game for the Schudetto. Unfortunately, a tie left the Roman fans unenthusiastic, and the bar cleaned out, that is except for three Americans, three Brits, and an odd Ukranian. Ian began the bonding over soccer, an experience he doesn't often get in America, and Allison was intrigued by the Ukranian's perception of America, his own life, and gypsies, of course.

Piazza Navona Lunch

Piazza Navona Lunch

Mom found out 16 months later our seemingly pleasant scooter experience in Rome was actually riddled with moments that would have made her gasp and squeal. Had we told her upon returning to our vacation rental outside of Florence, it would have been proof her worries were legitimate and we weren’t as responsible as we posed. Luckily, after 16 months time, she’d completely forgotten all the warnings she gave us for riding scooters, the “I told you so” reprimand completely avoided. Even in your twenties, it still feels rewarding to get away with a dangerously good time without getting your nose rubbed in it by your mother.

My Life in a Blender: Day 11

It's 8:00am, and I just got 12 hours of sleep. I flopped into bed around 6 or 7 in the afternoon, thinking a short nap was in order, but 10pm was the time of my first waking breath. We picked up Ian and Allison at the train station, after which we returned to the Poggio and sent them off to bed. The day was so short, hardly anything from which to need relaxation. However, there must be some reason why I continue to sleep so intently. My dreams are grand, memorable, and completely transparent here. Every night, I relive a blending of all my different educational backgrounds. I receive awards that I'm too unprepared to accept. I'm somewhat left out of the celebratory activities after the year is done. Those whom I feel I've escaped from return to my subconscious to make me sort out the feelings I would rather repress. It all just makes me think this is a truly monumental transition that I have yet to actualize.

I am no longer in competition with grade school comrades, nor do I have to deal with those who manipulate me. There are so many places now where I feel out of place even though I tried my very best to be an honest and upstanding member of each circle. Am I an escape artist? I ran out of Wabash without a thought, left college the moment I got my diploma. That lingering feeling feels like a waste to me, but obviously a part of me understands it's essential to my mental stability. I dealt with all my recent "ailments" with the understanding that in a few months/days/hours I wouldn't have to deal with it. When your brain shuts down like that, it's difficult to decide whether some things are worth attempting to salvage.

Now is the time I've allotted myself to spend digging into my own desires and potential. I'm encouraged also by others to utilized this time of discovery and not factor in the pull home. I'm told to be a little selfish, but others are sure to let me feel the guilt. Am I overly sensitive or undecisive? And at the end of this phase, will I be enlightened by what I see and who I meet, or will I be struck by my own privilege of having the ability to wander?

What is my life supposed to be all about? Smaller and simpler, familiar and pre-existing is one compelling choice supported by so many. But I hear a voice that leads me to experience a scary world and become something I may not be strong enough to be. I must think my entire development should be accurately preserved in order to publish and broadcast when I self-actualize, but is this the thought of a self-centered ego or a prediction of unforeseeable things to come? As my idol, Jerri Blank, would say..."Guess we'll never know."

The big decisions keep on coming. Do I take up the Burgassis on their offer of a home for my childcare services? Do I promise them my 2009 in exchange for a beautiful arena for careers and a fulfilled life? I guess I assumed going into this I would have time after the journey to sort it all out and choose then from a bottomless list of life options. Now, even before I leave Europe, I am to decide if Florence is my choice.

I see 7am in rural Tuscany as a great ambiance for these sort of questions, a fog putting to rest all its workers and casting da Vinci's perfect atmospheric perspective. Maybe tomorrow, I will arise after only 8 hours of rest to the painted abyss and feel a real air with solid answers.

Sloppy Giovanni: Day 09

My lunch of a slurp-worthy tomato, aged parmigiana, and foccacia bread caused me to make the most unattractive and satisfied noises. With each bite of the magical combo, I licked six fingers clean. An occasional sip of frizzante water washed it down with excitement. Lying in the sun, my book on Tuscany makes me think less about my present location and more about my age and what I aim to milk from this experience. What is my idea of the sweet life? Mine is passion: for friendships, the air, the food, the wine, the sweets, the meals made by hand, the time spent thinking, walking without destinations or time tables, the language, writing, and more. My sweet life also brings me to a yogic-like state of self-awareness in the present: by the wind, moving water, the flicker of light, a taste, a smell, an internal understanding of my own being.

At a moment of rest, I feel my body shake as though I am seconds before going on stage. So much to be actualized and all the magic I envision, I beg to come true, if only to set my mind free and establish this city and country as my Mecca.

Old Stompin' Grounds: Day 08

What thrills me today? The cool, green smell of rain blowing through every Tuscan vineyard and smokehouse, past our patio. Florence summoned us this morning to relive my past and satiate Dad's architectural curiosities. Everything was exactly as it had been, give or take a few minor changes to my favorite panini joint. Today was not about the points of interest and getting our fill of each but creating a wish list: picnic and drawing in the Boboli gardens, catch an early bus into town to hike up the Duomo's cupola, sunset at the Piazzale Michelangelo, spots of interest Allison would enjoy, and discotecas for the occasional late night. The sky was a little dreary for my reimmersion into Florence, but the clouds, questionable smells and ballsy Florentine men enveloped me with a feeling most New Yorkers must experience with the subways, car exhaust, and public urination of their beloved city.

Today we bought every type of wine in Tuscany from a sweet old man that has run my old wine stop for the last 50 years. He had a darling smile, sour breath, and a true desire to treet us sweetly. He doesn't live to work, but if he has to, he makes it an opportunity to make dear acquaintances.

The rain now coats every visible hillside with a thin slick that just barely gives the dry but hearty soil a satisfying gulp. Just enough wind to turn a page of an idle book or brush the hair back. Enough to send the parents inside and leaving me with the slow and natural arrival of spring. A one hundred year old olive tree that sits next to me has a single twig fluttering under the light stream of the rain gutter, and since this house and that tree haven't moved for a century, it appears I am watching a tiny moment of perpetual history in this little Tuscan town.

It seems quite evident that the Italian mind is primally connected to the nature that surrounds it, and this union makes me long for the understanding to feel what I sense, the highest regard for passion and the present - two words I hope will characterize this journey of mine.

A 'Cha-ching' Opportunity: Day 07

After a morning of reading the lyrical prose of the Tuscan countryside by Frances Mayes, I felt like my magic would come from cooking the best and freshest Italian meals of the season. But I experienced a moment of pure divine magic later on that made this expectation of good home cooking so miniscule in comparison. I feel somewhat compelled to explain the whole day in perfect detail, but I doubt I will really care in the long run about these pure moments that now fall completely into the background - like saving drowning moths during my first chilly swim or our big lunch of garlic frittatas and basil tortellini, surrounded by thunderstorms in the distance. No, I would rather focus my written attention to the wonderful coincidence of the day: the new job opportunity.

The patron's baby gets bored. I pick him up to bounce on my knee and prepare him for his midday meal. I get a job offer to be a live-in nanny for nine months. Sounds like a dream, no? The couple, that not only would house and feed me in exchange for child care but also encourage the start of my art career in Florence, also understands the need for travel and experience as a young adult. Is there a downside in sight? Millions of miles away among the dimmest stars? Even those distant gas balls are cheering for my Florentine nanny idea. Such a rare possibility in my mind before and now my most promising post-travel plan. The benefits of free room and board, possible local travel, beautiful surroundings in the best part of Florence, my favorite city on Earth, an awesome baby and equally great parents, free time for tutoring, learning, or just living - all amazing perks.

And to make it even more appealing for both sides, I can use July as a trial period to live this life with them and see if it works for all of us. How to make this decision...what a tough dilem--done!

Death by Stick Shift: Day 06

For the last two years, I've had a reoccuring dream. I have just arrived in Florence, Italy with my parents in tow, and I can't recognize a single landmark. Highways in the sky suspended over modern buildings and massive tomato sculptures - sort of a 'paved paradise' situation which makes me cringe. Today's early morning bus boat through the Grand Canal next to a Grecian cruise ship was no big deal. Speaking with the train ticket seller in perfect Italian was cause for a mini 'cha-ching' motion. But to return to that city of concentrated culture and passion, one my heart would gladly withstand the greatest amount of hardship to be in, had a moment of a sweet release for me yet also one of over-waited deja-vu. My memory hardly lost a street corner over the past two longing years. The perfection of the moment also came with the realization that we had a perfect Tuscan villa to get to. It's cliche for a reason. But first we had to reach the driveway.

Stall...a little movement...stop sign...and stall...confusing street...hit a few pylons...a hideous/hilarious curse word or twelve...drive in circles...drive the wrong way on a one way...stall...wrong turn...and finally, smoke billowing from under the hood of our 2009 Alfa Romeo. Dad's face grew as red as the Chianti of his dreams and his mouth became that of a sailor's. And when comedy or therapy couldn't help his 30 year rusty stick shift skills, he threw up his hands and flipped on the hazard lights.

Since Mom was busy burying her head in the backseat luggage, I very reluctantly got behind the wheel for the first time in a new country. Zooming past me were the weathered Florentine racers who enjoy testing your next move and leaving you to quiver in their dust. I was scared to the point of pre-scheduled vomitting and moments of terror that produced songs and humming from the depths of my most primal being.

When you can only expect failure from yourself but seem to slip by unharmed, it feels like pure joy while running through an active and unpredictable minefield. Once I escaped the pee-in-your-pants phase of Florentine traffic, I reached the organically lain backroads of Tuscany. Steadily crawling to each small town in second gear, I waited for the imminent, drunken fool to fly into my lane and send my Italian car flying into tree after olive tree. Foliage-covered death cliffs taunted me on one side throughout the country weave. But once I was no longer blocked in on all sides by Ferrari-red hot-blooded Kenevals, I began to enjoy my drive on the wild side. In fact, awe-inspiring views spread around us in 360•. I threatened the parents to encourage their enjoyment of the sights a-plenty because this drive, which was giving me crow's feet, needed to have some worthwhile benefit.

And with driving instructions only dictated from irrelevant starting points for us, the game plan was to use street signs and just smell our way there. After all that time searching on mapquest and identifying our little street on my phone map, it seemed like a do-able task, especially with the help of our palpable anticipation. Giorgio and Lizzi at a nearby bar had to ultimately steer us in the right direction after lending us a WC and our first Birra Morrettis.

Pure luck of our aimless wander and I stalled in front of Poggio al Pipi. It felt like the end of a relentless pilgrimmage, even though it included flying across the ocean, training and ferrying around Lake Como, and a €200 per night Venetian hotel from a National Lampoon movie. I'll skip over the obvious part about our patrons being gems with a darling bambino and a loveable little Dachshund. I'll also skip how perfect and authentic our villa turned out to be - surpassing the most lofty expectations with the charm of burning wood barbeques and 110 organically grown olive trees. I don't know how else to say, without using regurgitated and expected vocabulary, that whatever sense of Italy this place recalls, those moments are presently ours. I can only hope that the price we pay to live like a Tuscan allows us complete rights of every basil infused moment of this experience. I sauteed some vegetables as my parents chugged Italian beers and sopped up juicy olive oil with their crispy bread. I think the air of rural Tuscany brings out the full aromatic colors of garlic and basil.

Pages and pages scribed without a moment to rest my tired hand while others read up on their most recent Italian inquiries. And as I relish in the retrieval of my first (of many) obligatory foot massage, I can only believe we have interpreted the meanings of our own dolce vitas and lived them fully within these first few hours. Tuscany waits untainted and unaware we are here, and my laughable aspirations to run the gravel roads or imbibe the sweet, sun-ripened air of the morning still have an inch of possibility...mi scusi...a centimeter. Where's my Bella Tuscany book?

Venezia? ...Beh: Day 05

I'm so glad to say that the fog has lifted. I found a way to release the anger stewing inside me yesterday. And the only reason its icy core lifted from my soul was because my parents affirmed even the most obvious concern of mine.

This city is a little much.

Did I not warn you adequately? There are prominent, salient differences between the exploitation of Venezia and the effervescent culture of Firenze. It's as if each business has sold its soul to the tourism devil and their jaded and weathered employees can't even muster up civility towards those to whom they must cater. Everyone must have tried to speak to them in their broken Italian and expect the luxuries they receive in their home countries, regardless of whether they are normally present here. This place, if not worn to the tip, could be an honest treasure left from the development of medieval Italy.

I loved the relentless bashing of Venetian culture that occurred last night on the shore of the Grand Canal. Ma with her quarter-liter and Dad and I with our liter nightcaps had just settled on a lie to get us out of Venice, stat! And our frantic run around this rat maze of a city should have made me burst with laughter, Mom in desparate need of two gelati and Dad needing two bottles of vino and a little boy's room. We were three middle school children, thrilled with the freedom of our own hotel room, our own Euros, and the ability to eat and drink as much junk as possible.

€200 a night to stay on the Grand Canal in a room reminiscent of a Griswald family Euro-vacation, but after a day of anxiousness and mistakes, it was a night I truly appreciated.

Why does everyone feel the urge to travel to Venice? Is their city slogan "Venice...come feel the love." With expectations so high, this city tries too hard to deliver and in turn forfeits their own culture and tradition. If they want such an ambiance, they should haul in Disney's management team to swoop in and create the dream effect.Tomorrow will hopefully be an early morning. A 6:43am train ride that delivers me to my soul's homecoming, like my very own parade.

Gosh, this writing style had better quickly improve before these inspirational moments seap through my fingers into just a pile of poorly dictated thoughts.

[Piu' tarde...]

At three in the morning, the city of Venice is a city for the purse vendors and gypsies. Windows wide bring in no sounds of laughter, footsteps, or blaring TVs. The only clunks in the night come from the tightly packed boats in the Grand Canal. Crossing the threshold into a completely silent Venice is a haunting idea. So peaceful and completely ominous, a surreal environment pulling me in like a dangerous country or a seedy bar. That's the only Venice I care to believe in.

This Is How You Make Italy Ugly: Day 03

Mountains near Lake Como

Bellaggio, where are all the cruise ships? This city screams of elderly tourism and unfriendly locals. It may have been the crowd on our ferry over from the ever-pleasant Lenno - and I hate to be ungrateful - but it pains me that such a view, such mountain and lake air, such green and flowering beauty is witnessed and exploited by so many, like a young prodigal musician. Such visual noise and distraction causes the natural music of the Alps to be muted as I sit here on the boardwalk.

It's the view of my bedroom painting, and from now on, the experience of just looking at it will also be an audible one, bringing back memories of grandeur and unpleasantries. It seems one cloud is slowly growing from within, beginning a slow and steady reach toward my bench, like a flower toward the morning sun.

Ugh. I just witnessed the brutal homicide of a winged insect by an inquisitive finch. In his dance to impress me, he found the poor thing resting on the iron railing, without thinking, grabbing him completely in his beak and brought him to the gravel where his wings were ripped from his body. It sort of pleased me to find the tiniest smidgeon of nature and life in this city supposedly screaming with it. This is a Great Wall moment.

Where is my dormant passion, the flutter that feels nothing like indigestion but of utter joy. Tiny increments of hope arise more and more each day, and I hope they continue. But I worry the death of a student has produced the most unaware adult - at least temporarily. A little girl and a monster tulip - a good image, maybe I'm getting closer to my heart.

Unattainable Tuscany: Day 02

Lake Como Cruise

Purple teeth, full belly, numerous moments of complete contentment... Multiple times today, I worried I was dead inside. I had yet to feel the heavy weight on my heart that was supposed to come with my exit from the Western hemisphere. I was hardly nervous, a little apprehensive, but didn't feel any fluttering of the heart. I had no idea what this meant.

I do, however, know that I have felt many a deja-vu today when I thought of how close I was to Florence but couldn't get there yet. It's like so many of my dreams in the past two years; I don't recognize where I am, running in circles, unable to find the loveable sights of my memories.

I look forward to the heartfelt moment of realization that I am in the country of my heart's desire. The sights and lifestyle feel so right to every cell in my body, besides those of my gastro-intestinal tract since they've already purged themselves of their firsts tastes of Italy.

My dry hand scribbles the forced words out of my head, as my head lamp illuminates the blank slate. My journey has begun, and I can only concur that the lack of true understanding of this trip is only because of its lengthy duration. It's too much to fathom.

My furthered linguistic skills have yet to do me wrong here in Lago di Como. La vita e' dolce e bella e spero che stia sempre stessa.