My hostels think I’m an idiot… And a bit more from Piza.

Don’t do that.

We’ll print the same sheet horizontally for impact purposes.

Please don’t do that.

Not these either.

Please, especially theses.

We’re okay with pondering, but please no exploding rockets, no puking and/or praying, no playing leap frog, no fishing, and definitely no missing your dog at home.

Please do not take too long. More importantly, please do not fear men with towels.

Pisa today… Pisa is generally a half-day trip – not much going on besides the tower, which does not disappoint with its ability to lean. Most of tomorrow will be spent on trains to Nice, France. Stories the next day, I’m sure.

Less than five weeks to go.












Fly Me To The Moon

I’m on the top bunk. The girl below is on the phone with her boyfriend, and I must say, any phone call that includes this many I love yous starts to sound a little “No really, I do…”

My roommate, a Canadian girl, is very sweet. She fist pumps every bit of good she shares. Over dinner, she told me she and her boyfriend just met.

“Yeah, we’ve actually just been dating six months…”

Aw, when did you guys meet?

“We met on July 3rd back home.”

Everyone pause and do math.

I didn’t burst that bubble.

“It’s been really hard to be away from him.”

She’s been traveling for three and a half weeks, and he met her in Paris.

Green is not a good color on me, I realize.

The girls in my Florence dorm room like to wake up at what Frank Sinatra refers to as in the wee small hours of the morning. I can’t fathom where you need to be at 7:15a.m. in Florence that doesn’t require bringing your luggage with you, but two days in a row, the girls have been headed wherever that is.

The hostel offers free tours – really, really free tours. The tour guide doesn’t mention tips, doesn’t wait to collect them at the end… free. Today’s tour crossed the river.




Our tour guide asked us if we’d had gelato in Florence yet and told us she’d brought us to a place where it’s made in house, fresh, daily. Don’t mind that it was just 11a.m… Who doesn’t start their day with coffee, cream and sugar?


After the tour, Melinda, my tour friend from yesterday, and I wandered a market at the end of the bridge. Yesterday, I’d walked through a long pedestrian street, narrowed by vendors on both sides selling genuine leather jackets, purses, wallets… And the scent was amazing. I spent a good chunk of time today smelling leather wallets – I won’t pay to see real David but I will buy myself my first (and last) real souvenir, especially when it involves haggling with a sweet old man. “Excuse me, is this wallet for men or women?”

“Yes, it’s a wallet!”

Good enough.


Melinda and I split up so she could go to a museum and I could go climb things again. The Piazza Michelangelo today. Many, many, many steps up a long hill, but as good as the view from the very top of the Duomo dome was yesterday, I wanted a better view of the Duomo itself.

Got it.





By 2:30p.m. I’d climbed, I’d gelato’d, I’d free walking toured, I’d haggled for leather goods. I sat for an hour across from a gorgeous fountain listening to Sinatra, because I found out last night I had two greatest hits collections in my iTunes, and wondered what the passersby with headphones were using as their days’ soundtracks. I’d share today’s view but my camera was charging at the hostel. I was here last night, on my 5:30p.m. pitch-dark evening stroll.


I sat. I thought.

I love when local tour guides refer to everything as “our palace” and “we built this in the fourteenth century,” etc. as if they were there or have ownership in it. I love the pride they have in their homes and wonder from what perspective I’d tell my hometown’s story.

I hate listening to other travelers give travel advice. I heard one girl tell another Amsterdam is bizarre because everyone, even the locals, are stoned (not true). A woman in my dorm last night told another girl to absolutely not go to Turkey because it is very dangerous there. Well, in the “I got groped on public transit twice in one week” sense, yeah, I guess, but the woman was saying she’d never go to Istanbul because of all the Al Queda influences there.

That said, I got introduced to one girl by another today with “This is Janae, she’s been everywhere.” I shot that down – no, no… Ten minutes later, when the newest girl told of her five fabulous days spent in Brussels followed by how she wouldn’t have time to go to Prague, not-know-it-all me let out a big “oh you’ve got to be kidding me.”

I told a girl today I don’t go to many museums. She said she doesn’t either – she just tries to hit the top two or three in every city. Really, I rarely go to museums at all. I just don’t appreciate paintings the way I do seeing what’s real. What’s now. I’d rather climb stairs to find the view, or walk the streets.



I have seen countless beggars on this trip. Old women, crooked noses, warts, missing teeth, just as you’d picture them in storybooks… Except today one was wearing Crocs. I’ve seen missing limbs, deformed limbs, every kind of limb except extra ones.

On a street in the old center of Salzburg, a man with a severe facial disfigurement played a haunting, slow version of Amazing Grace. I listened for a minute before starting a figure eight around town. Returning to him, I listened for what he was playing. Amazing Grace. I continued my figure eight.

Forty minutes later. Amazing Grace. As haunting as ever, and now chilling.

This was it. This was all he knew, all he had. As far as I knew, this was, is and will be his life for countless years past and present.

It makes all recent worry about future, crossroads, those coming “real life” decisions seem entirely ridiculous. The future decisions and the risks are just like this trip… Worst case scenario, you don’t like this route as much as you thought you would. But was it still a brand new situation for you? Did it still thrill you? Scare you? Challenge you? Educate you? Did you get to choose between two potentially great options?

Today, in this month of thanks, I’m grateful for where I’ve been, where I am and where I’m going, because even if the 2012 geographical where is not nailed down, the stress is going to end today because I’m going to feel fine going wherever my leaping of faith gut tells me.

In Switzerland, a man on the train told me I speak English very well. I said thank you and told him I practice everyday.

He told me Turkish women are the most beautiful women in the world, and that is just a fact.

There is a line in the movie Cyrus where John C. Reilly and Melissa Tomei tell her adult, living-at-home son Jonah Hill their intentions to be together. His response is simply “I accept that information.”

The man then asked if I’d been to Asia yet. I’ve slept in 22 countries and I’m 22, but his response to my answer was “Oh, forget it, you haven’t even started to explore yet. Haven’t seen a thing yet.”

On this magical day that is November 11, 2011, my hope (I know you’re not supposed to share your wishes but sharing is what I do best) is pretty simple.

No matter what I’ve done, no matter what I’m doing, I hope that, forever, the best is yet to come.



When I got to Florence last night, I hadn’t downloaded the e-mail with my hostel’s directions to my mail app. I couldn’t even tell you the name of the hostel I was staying at. I just knew it was in Florence and breakfast and dinner was included.

You know what isn’t outside Italian train stations? Starbucks. You know who has wifi for people with Italian cell numbers only? Italian McDonald’s.

I spent my first half hour in Florence walking a main street with my iPad out, stopping every twenty feet to see what unlocked wifi signals I picked up. I found one! Such a victory. Such an unnecessary little process.

Today was free walking tour day. It was a rather quick tour around the city’s classic landmarks. Duomo. Statues. Old churches. Dante’s house. Beautiful Europe, as always.






Melinda and I met on the tour and ended up grabbing lunch together, trading stories about backpacking, travel, laundry woes, cares you stop caring about. Today my outfit was black thermo leggings under my black Banana Republic Outlet shorts – not an outfit I ever thought I’d put together. I am so, so sick of my jeans. I bought one secondhand pair too large, the other too small, shrunk them both (shortened one pair) in a laundry mishap, then wore them so much they’re huge. I can’t wait to see where we’re at after tomorrow’s laundry. In other news, it was 67 degrees Fahrenheit today and I wore my Greek sandals. The strap broke in a new spot today. I badly need a tube of super glue.

Lunch: Spaghetti carbonara and iced coffee



Melinda and I went to the Duomo and paid the 8€ to get to the top of the dome. It’s 463 narrow, often spiraling steps up to the top. It’s dizzying. The physical act wasn’t terrible but the spinning would make anyone woozy.






Exhausting. Dizzying. Oh, and absolutely worth it.





Somewhere, immediately, the theme of the trip became “get higher.” Climb. Park Guell with Dad, the platform in Cappadocia with Andrea, two fortresses in Bulgaria, the tower in Brasov, my view of Cinderella’s Castle in Füssen, the wall in Salzburg. I know there were others I’m forgetting. Every time I’m not quite enchanted with a city, I climb something and everything is suddenly better. Florence was already great, but this was something else. Melinda and I were up there for well over an hour. You don’t climb 463 steps for just a photo.

Florence is wonderful. Everything is a-okay here.


Just My Backpack and Me, Simple and Free… In Venice

I love Chicago. The band. I’ve never been to Chicago.


Two boys in Interlaken:

1: Dude, what’s your favorite Muppet?
2: I don’t have one.
1: How do you not have a favorite Muppet?
2: I don’t know.
1: Not even a Sesame Street Character?
2: They’re not Muppets.
1: Jim Henson, man, they’re all Jim Henson.

Giggling boy in Milan

Two ladies sitting on a bench in Venice
“Okay. Ready, one, two, three…” Stand. Glance at me. “DON’T EVER GET OLD.”

Photo from Switzerland train ride I never posted here…


Since the clocks changed, it gets dark early over here. I can’t take the late morning train, check-in at the average 14:00 check-in time, and have a full day exploring. I’d only have two hours of daylight by the time I drop my bags.

I got to the Milan station for the 9:35 train, paid 10 euros, about 20% of my daily budget, for the “compulsory reservation.” The train broke down while in the Milan train station and at 10:15, we were told to change trains.

The gentleman across from me was very nice. Barely spoke English, and do I speak Italian? No. French? No. A little Italian? No, I know, I suck. But he was nice.

When we changed trains, ours hands got grease on them as the door to the train had been entered by the repair guys. My friend stepped away for a smoke and returned a few minutes later, handing me handy wipe… And a Kit Kat.


For the following two hours, we held a friendly, if very, very limited conversation.

Him: Venice. Love city.
Me: Aw.

When we arrived, he asked me to join him for pizza – he said pizza and mimed eating. Thank goodness he can’t speak English, because my lamer than lame response was just that. “But… But we can’t talk…”

Twenty minutes after parting, I was tracking down the ATM my hostel directed me to when I heard a psst. I had managed to end up right next to the bar my friend did. He motioned for me to sit down and I glanced at the table. I love company, I would have dinner with any boy or girl, young or old, can’t, I can’t, I just can’t sit and drink a half liter of Beck’s with a man if we can’t talk to each other. What would we do?

I’m sure declining this offer I finally offended him. There’s no love left for me in Love City.

Having to avoid him and thus the main tourist path, after checking in to my hostel I wandered the back alleys and streets for quite awhile. I ended up where people weren’t, where shops weren’t, but where roads suddenly ended at the water and laundry was hanging everywhere. I couldn’t take a bad photo in Venice. It was all perfect.

I spent the evening dazzled by the Piazza San Marco. It was also the only place I could get Internet, which meant train schedule searching, online hostel booking for the following night and many a “Can you hear me now” Skype call was made in a world heritage site.
















This morning, I bought a water bus ticket for 6.50. Line #1, the main and slow route that stops at every stop along the Grand Canal.

Venice is not overhyped.
















My “compulsory reservation” was never checked yesterday. What a bummer. What a waste of ten euros.

Today, on the way to Florence;

“May I see your reservation?”

Okay, this train didn’t even show “subject to (any) reservation” online.

“You may buy one now. It will be eighteen euros.”


“Yes. Next time, buy in the train station and it is only ten.”










Monday at the (Milan) Office

Yesterday, this trip almost lost me. I don’t know that I would’ve booked a flight home six weeks early, but I was stir-crazy in my hostel. I might’ve caught a train to just about anywhere.

Six weeks left of this fantasy reality, honeymoon with myself trip. Six weeks I’ll never get back, never have again. Six weeks.

But pent up in my hostel room, as the rain poured down in buckets, bonkers. I wish I could say every rainy day inspired a poem, a children’s book, something out of the artsy side of me I’m slowly embracing a little more each day, but I haven’t had somewhere I’ve needed to be in three months. I love having a cell phone that rings. I quite enjoy having an inbox that is never empty. I like a walkie talkie in my pocket at a big event, meetings at inconvenient times and tasks that people will get mad at me if I screw up. I like being busy.

So on a raining buckets day, stuck inside, I might definitely have craigslist searched freelance editing jobs. I ache to correct spelling errors and cross out overused commas. I job searched on both sides of the United States. I flight searched both roundtrip and one-way tickets for plans and said job I don’t have yet. I did not focus on On The Road. I held complete attention on a bag of gummy bears.

Yesterday was not my best. Yesterday was a bit rough.

Today, the sun came out… Barely. I got outside for the first time in sixteen hours and walked to the Duomo, and I’m embracing this trip again. If this is my Monday morning, the Duomo can be my office. Sure thing.



I walked to Castello Sforzesco, wound my way through the park and had quite a good time hanging out with myself. To be honest, I’m a little sick of myself at this point. Three months is a long time to hang out with anyone daily.






I’m happy. The sun is peeking through, I took a photo of a couple who were self-timing photos and running to pose, I took one of someone taking a crooked arm MySpace shot of herself… I was helping people!


I was in a torrential downpour five minutes after that photo was taken.

I ducked into a sporting good store, as I’d been told the umbrellas off the street vendors weren’t worth their cheapness for even an hour of rain. They had one type of umbrella, and it was big. How big? Four reflections big.



After another hour, I had to go back to the hostel because my right shoe’s sole is unglued at the toe end, and thus until I acquire superglue for the second shoe fix of the trip, rain goes right through.

And it rained, and it rained, and I found a job in San Diego I positively drool over (a staff writer position for an organization I love, seeking people who can walk the line between professional and snarky-humored writing)… Yes, please. Of course, the job is for immediate start and, well, I’ve got a room booked in Venice tomorrow. That said, I feel more qualified for this job than the job Erin and I found in Amsterdam.


The rain stopped and I made myself venture back out, wet shoes and all. Job search later, future later, now is now. I finally got to experience the high-end fashion district of Milan, I found a giant Milan park, and as I pondered how to spend my endless free time, I found these spots to spend it.





But the real reason I’m glad I ventured back out when I did…


Because that happened.

And it only cost me 20% of what the guys asked me for after, because I went out for a stroll in Milan, Italy with a single 2 euro coin on me. Also in too-big secondhand jeans I’m now rolling at the waistband.

I’m never going to get this trip back. I’ll spend it wisely. Celebrating a newfound happiness that had been swapped for about 36 hours of crabbiness, I grabbed dessert. As the bartender presented it to me, he said “My heart, for you.”

All I heard was “four euro,” so I handed him a five.


I’m so clueless sometimes.

Finally, in case that bird photo wasn’t enough… Enjoy this.










I think the last one is my favorite.


Flashback to Rome, because it’s Pouring in Milan.

As usual, I left the Milan Centrale train station and intended on walking however far it was to my hostel. As I paused to prove I could in fact capture two McDonald’s in one 16:9 photograph, I heard the hisses and “hey lady” of a sketchy Italian man. Fine. Metro it is so I’m done looking like a tourist.

Upon arriving at the one ticket machine near the metro entrance I’d gone through, an old man is standing there with a girl. When she leaves, he looks at me. “Need a ticket?” Yes, but I got this. “English?” Yes, but I’m going to push the British flag on the touch screen myself, because I’m not a moron. “One ticket?”

I could probably figure out a metro machine in any language by now. I’m going to own that. The buttons could be blank and I’m pretty sure I’d hit the right one. If there was any other machine, I’d leave this guy, but there’s not. He tells me to put the money in the money slot. Ooohh.

We’re now both hovering for my change. Fun game. Not. I’d put in a 5 euro bill, it shoots out a 2 coin, 1 coin, 50. He reaches for the 2. “2 for me” he says. The words out of my mouth were “Hah! Yeah. Right.” I grabbed my 3, handed him the 50, he made a sad face and I cruised.

Welcome to Italy.

Leaving the metro at the Duomo, I had very basic directions. Just follow (street) and it’s on your right.


Yes, except the Duomo plaza is massive, with what feels like seventeen streets shooting off it. Oh, and it’s raining. I know I am five minutes from my hostel, in some direction. I’m tired, the bag seems filled with rocks, and a chorus of salesmen on the street are saying “umbrella for the lady.”

Looked for a map, need to examine the area surrounding Duomo. Found… this one.


I made it to my hostel about an hour after getting to Milan. Soaked. Tired. Cranky.

It’s pouring. Not fun wandering weather, not even “suck it up and go” weather, so I’m inside today. Luckily my hostel is brand new and awesome. Grocery store dinner, reading On the Road… and reading old travel stories…

I’m not going to Rome this trip, so an excerpt from another day it rained in Italy – July 2009.





Getting back to Ottaviano, my hostel’s street around 6:15, I did some more window shopping, before coming across a small caffeteria- basically a super low-key restaurant. The waiter is cleaning outside, waves me over. “I know what you are thinking and no we are good. It is not too expensive. Where are you from?” “United States.” “No way!” Except his no way was more “Duh I gathered that much…” So I said CA. He says he has some friends there. My waiter is named Flore.

I sit down at a table, planning to read my book, near a table of 5 college students from University of New Mexico. After a few minutes, I end up joining them at their table, and split the only male of the group’s pizza- he’d been brave, getting a mushroom, olive, ham, salami, and egg pizza off the menu the others didn’t want to share. It was fantastic, and way cheaper than eating on my own.

This group is incredibly nice, super funny- it was their first day in Rome for their 5 week study abroad program.

Okay meal was great, food was great, blah blah blah…

The waiter. Flore (Floor-ay). Funny guy… definitely loving his American customers. He checks in every 5 minutes the entire dinner.


An hour later, it’s time to go, I say “Flore! I need a picture.” Another girl had already taken one, and I obviously like to document these things. So I stand up, and he says “Okay, but I only take pictures if there is a kiss. She was an exception.” (first off, if I was the other girl, I’d be like what the..?) so, in a When in Rome moment, I say “Okay, so who kisses whose cheek?” “No no no, a normal kiss!” Well, alright, it makes for a good story, plus it would humor me and I havent kissed anyone in awhile… the girls grab their cameras.

He says, “I must warn you. I taste like coffee.”


I lean in for this little peck on the lips, one that would last just long enough to get on camera.

He goes in, FULL TONGUE. I’m so incredibly caught off guard- he must think Americans suck at kissing, because my mouth was in the WHOA position, and the others are just DYING with laughter. Because according to my camera, it took 3 tongue jabs 6 pictures and 7 seconds for me to burst out laughing. Like, legit, bust up.




I had to bolt from the restaurant about a minute later. Because thats when I noticed that just outside our secret little nook of the cafe where it was just our group, there was a family of five (three young boys)… who totally saw the whole thing. Hahahaha.

The rest of the night (I ended up skipping the hostel and staying with them) conversations were “remember when Janae made out with our waiter?” and “Flore mi amore”… Nathan looked up the word for kissing in Italian, “Oh you betchya you bechare’d that guy”….

Because that is what happens when you hang with me.