Twenty-two and Four Months: Going Home

A spider traveled the world to see where she should make her home. She left her heart in so many places, she created the world wide web.

If you thought that was corny, you should see the children’s books I’m trying to publish.

I made that video two years ago and had forgotten about it until last night. The individual clips were never intended to be anything- had they been, I would have held the camera steadier. I was just playing. That said, the sentiment matches tonight’s.

This is it. One day and three plane rides separate me from home. I’m the oldest of five children. I took these photos in August just before I left.





I’ll have to come up with another group photo idea – thoughts welcome. The last time I came back from a trip abroad, I got them to do this. They were 3, 9, 11 and 13 at the time.

California, August 2009

I went on this trip with no plans, no itinerary and very little knowledge about any of the places I’d be going. I had no agenda for the trip or this blog, no preconceived themes and not even the confidence I’d stay the whole four months (which, looking back, goes quickly). I left with just enough money in the bank, no job lined up upon return, and even so, the full support of so many of my family members and friends.

I arrived in Europe one day shy of my 22nd birthday. I remember talking to people that were at the ends of their trips, talking about how wise they felt, how different they felt, what they had learned and their nerves about going home. I remember thinking how far away that point – home – was for me, and how cliche the “This is how I’ve changed” comments seemed.

I’m twenty-two and four months old, and I think I’ve changed.

Here’s what I know.

Cafe Zurich

I like that I don’t give a damn anymore what kind of milk is in my coffee. You’d never sit outside Cafe Zurich and order a “cafe con ‘skim’ leche.” I’m happy I’ve been pushed to be flexible. To deal with minor inconveniences, and not feel inconvenienced. To accidentally stay on a train too long, and roll with it. To say “pork Hungarian style? No idea what that means, but sure!”

Bulgaria, September. I don’t have a webcam. This was a response to someone needing an explanation of when I said my hair was “getting big.” E-mail subject line: This is where I’m at.

I like that I’ve put on mascara six times in 122 days. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll buy a tube and it’ll get used when I get home. I’ll do it because I like that look, too, not because that is what makes me feel like a complete, acceptable female. I like that I’ve made friends everyday regardless of cheap backpacking t-shirts, no foundation and hair that air-dried.

Today, Park Guell, Barcelona.

I like that the photo above wasn’t posed. I like that real life can look like that, and it’s just a matter of how you approach it. How you frame it. What you see when you really start looking at people.

I like that talking to strangers gives me more inspiration that the best Hallmark cards.

I like that I sat next to a man on a train yesterday for three hours without speaking, offered him gum, fought my way through fifteen minutes in Spanish and when I asked him to repeat something, he said it in perfect English. I like that we both laughed. I like that I said my school is known for basketball and he asked if I played, then said, “Well, maybe you will still be a playmaker.”

I like that the girl from Mexico I talked to in the cafeteria last night talked of her problems traveling, and said, “You know, sometimes I think things happen and it’s destiny telling you something.”

I like that I tell people where I’ve been, but at “no, not Asia, no, not South America,” I’ve been told I haven’t seen anything yet.

I like that the world is so big.

I like that I met a man in Istanbul, who a month later recognized me in Bucharest. Backpackers I met in Göreme, Turkey, who I ended up at a bar with in Plovdiv, Bulgaria, before we recognized each other. My Milan roommate again in Pisa, six days later. A college friend studying in London, in the Museum D’Orsay in Paris. Clinton and Sally on a train to Nice. Clinton and Sally again in Paris.

I like that the Brazilian cashier at dinner last night said he lived in California once. It’s a big state and I figured it would be one of those “You go to Massive State College X? You know my cousin?” moments. But no, he lived just two major streets over from my family.

I like that the world is so small.

Göreme, Turkey

Assen’s Fortress, Bulgaria

Füssen, Germany

Sintra, Portugal

I like that guardrails stopped being necessary. I’m not patting myself on the back like I climbed Everest. I like that I have faith that getting on hands and knees and holding onto tree roots is an okay route to something great, and that I’m capable of doing it without a clumsy moment. As one American said at the top of the castle in Sintra, “This would never pass code back home.”

Also, I like that I’m wearing the same shirt in two of the above photos. I like that I “need” less now.

Lennon Wall, Prague

I like, though it scares me, how this trip has changed the way I think about writing and future. I’ve never been one to embrace being an “artist” or choosing any route toward publication. I have a degree in public relations and political science and intend to use it. Art – writing, for me – is such a scary concept. You put so much time and effort into something hoping someone will want it, but there are no guarantees until it’s done… And there are a million people just like you doing the same thing.

Some 150 posts, 5 children’s books drafted, 2 Freshly Pressed days and a few poems later, maybe I’m up for the challenge now.

Göreme, Turkey

Budapest, Hungary

Salzburg, Austria

Florence, Italy

Nice, France

Paris, France

Lisbon, Portugal

I love that I learned the value of getting above the consumer junk, which is probably a literal and figurative life statement. Tourist shops and luxury stores are ugly.

East Side Gallery, Berlin, Germany

I have been overwhelmed by the support from family, friends and strangers over the last four months. People ask me how I handle being alone so much – well, I spent a lot of time looking for more to share with everyone. I never felt alone, and on walks where I might have, I had good thoughts of home to distract me. I have always been impressed and in awe of the backpackers who go just to see for themselves – their own heads, their own satisfaction. No blogs, no personal websites. Of course, I did this trip for myself, but I needed to fill time with writing and photography. It kept me company, it kept you all close.

2,400 hits later, the post Freshly Pressed the other day has gotten just one negative comment, and this one comment has made me think a lot today. It certainly didn’t ruin my day, nor do I put much stock into his opinion, as the comment made fun of my first name along with its critique (and it wasn’t even witty). Also, accused me of “downloading” photos, as if I didn’t take them.

That said, the comment made me think and provided the perfect way to sum up my rather long thoughts.

It accuses me of being naive, dismissing responsibilities, hiding behind “freedom” and running from family and friends. At 22, it accuses me of already being behind in taking responsibility for myself.

I’m twenty-two and four months old, and this is what I know.

I am blessed to have the closest friends and family I could imagine, who have supported this trip from the start.

They’ve read every post, every e-mail, seen every photo, and barely questioned it when I brought the idea of this trip up as a thought in January.

At points, they have had more faith in me than I have.

They push me to see more. Write more. Observe better. Dream bigger.

I have parents who put up with the questioning their peers and friends had for them, questioning why they’d allow this to happen.

I have siblings, aunts, uncles and cousins who are a constant source of inspiration.

I had a summer romance to rival the best scripted ones in Hollywood, and yet, on this once-in-a-lifetime trip, dare I countdown the days to a reunion, I get harshly admonished.

And after all this, if I told them I wanted to go this route again, I’d have their support.

So NYTimes, MSNBC, CNN, National Geographic, Time, USA Today, Jon Stewart, Ellen DeGeneres, PR travel agencies throughout the world, send me where you need me. All I need are new shoes and a new pair of jeans.

And if mass pleas for employment don’t do the trick, I have family and friends who lead beautiful lives, and capturing their special moments, and being there to share them, is a far better use of my time than television.

“May God bless you and give you the wisdom to settle down someday.”

Someday, this travel blog, life blog, might be a road to wedding blog, and with all my heart, I hope I get to author the best darn Mommy blog out there. But those are goals, and those are dreams, and they will never happen because I’ve settled.

You know, I haven’t been to church a lot lately, and I tend to focus more on being a good person whether it makes me a good Christian or not. I believe a smile can change someone’s day and laugher is the best medicine, that volunteering at a hospital on a Sunday morning can be as gratifying for me as church is for another, but…

I’m twenty-two and four months old, and this is what I feel.

In 2011, I graduated from a great school with a dual major, magna cum laude, with experiences I’ll remember for a lifetime. I had the honor of co-chairing an event raising $174,000 for the American Cancer Society that, more than being a personal or professional dream, taught me that each day is a gift and life should never be taken for granted. I have a personal blog with 20,000 hits in four months, and I have no complaints.

I have friends I became closer with even as I flew 8,000 miles away from them. I have friends who have put up with terrible Skype connections, rambling stories and far too many e-mails.

I just spent four months in Europe, three months alone, and I never had one issue. Not a pick-pocketer, not an overwhelmingly frightening situation (rush hour man in Istanbul, you sucked but it wasn’t traumatizing), not a lost passport or ATM-eaten debit card, not a sprained ankle or open blister.

So you know, I think God and I are on pretty good terms.

I think He approves.

Thank you all for being here, and coming on this journey with me… We did it!!!


What is that feeling when you’re driving away from people and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing? – it’s the too-huge world vaulting us, and it’s good-by. But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies.

-Jack Kerouac, On the Road

Interlaken, Switzerland


“People All Over The World (Join Hands)”

Nothing backpacking-wise today was so spectacular that it can’t wait for tomorrow’s post, which I can tell you already is going to be a long one. Instead, 27 hours after being Freshly Pressed, I’m stunned and ecstatic that Round Two is kicking Round One’s tail. 3,600 hits, the post has been read over 2,100 times, and… Hey 50 new subscribed friends! The backpacking trip is just about over. I hope people go back and catch up on some of the fun.

More important than any of the statistics, however, are the comments. What has been written, both on the Freshly Pressed post and so many others in the past day, has been kind, flattering, surprising and exciting. Someone mentioned how much fun is to be had in my “line of work.”

Here’s hoping I can make this my job in 2012.

Today seems like a good day to celebrate the beauty of life and people, so below is the complete collection of photos of love, wonder, solitude and togetherness I’ve gotten to witness over the last four months. It may look like a lot, but nothing new- it all was somewhere in past posts before.

Göreme, Turkey

Göreme, Turkey

Göreme, Turkey

Belgrade, Serbia

Belgrade, Serbia

Bucharest, Romania

Brasov, Romania

Bran, Romania

Budapest, Hungary

Vienna, Austria

Vienna, Austria

Vienna, Austria

Vienna, Austria

Prague, Czech Republic

Prague, Czech Republic

Berlin, Germany

Berlin, Germany

Amsterdam, Netherlands

Mondsee, Austria

Strasbourg, France

Venice, Italy

Pisa, Italy

Paris, France

Paris, France

Paris, France

Paris, France

Lisbon, Portugal

Lisbon, Portugal

Lisbon, Portugal

Lisbon, Portugal

Madrid, Spain

Seville, Spain

Cordoba, Spain

I took my 58th and last train ride of the trip today. I’m checked into my 43rd hostel/hotel/bedroom. One more day, and I fly home on Thursday.

Uno mas.

With a heart full of that word on my shirt, goodnight friends.



Twice in a Lifetime, from Cordoba, Spain.

At five o’clock today, the post was going to be called “Greetings from Cordoba, where not much is happening.”

Things changed. Tonight’s post might be long, but broken into two parts told in reverse order.

First day off the Semester at Sea ship in June 2009, in Cadiz, Spain. It was my first time in a foreign country, excluding one night in Canada. Cameron and I ended up in a toy store.

With dreams of being a writer, a friend told me to write something everyday. Something. Blog. Journal. Write a cliché poem if need be – put words on paper or screen.

On September 30, I checked my e-mail and had forty. Comment after “like” after comment on a post titled “A Look at Budapest.” One e-mail congratulated me on being “Freshly Pressed,” a concept of which I was not familiar with and immediately assumed had something to do with being a Syracuse University “Orange” Class of 2011 graduate. Freshly squeezed? Freshly juiced?

I went from 7 WordPress followers to 53 and 2,500 hits ever to 4,500 on what was a once-in-a-dorky-little-blogger’s-lifetime day. I had a good laugh that WordPress chose, of all posts, the one that captured me eating Chinese food in Hungary, which more than one commenter rolled their eyes at and left me saying “No, no, no! Look at the other posts- I’m six weeks in, sometimes you just need what you know!”

I figured it would never happen again. Not only are the 10-per-day in 500,000 odds against me, but I assumed WordPress had some policy much like how you can’t be Line Leader in your kindergarten class again until everyone has their turn.

Along with the excitement, I panicked when it happened. I wrote my friend who’d told me to write everyday, stressing out. “It’s the best thing ever! Except, what do I write about now? Certainly not my opinion, I’ll make people mad… And I can’t tell facts. I can’t tell history – what if I’m wrong? People will fact check me!”

I was told, “Believe in yourself. Only good will come of this.”

I relaxed. That said, the blog immediately went through a design revamp and I tried to imagine the possibility that it could happen again. First and foremost, more interesting titles – I like traveling and I wouldn’t have clicked on “A Look at Budapest.” So dry, so boring sounding… and I wrote the thing!

And then, two and a half days from the end of my backpacking trip, it happened tonight, again. “I Did It (And So Can You!) Thoughts From Lisbon.” I logged onto my e-mail at the very start of the rush. There were four e-mails, all about a post from three days ago. One congratulated me on being Freshly Pressed, and I thought that’s sweet, but are you really catching up on FP posts from September?

Oh, wait… Oh… My.

Twice in a lifetime. Twice in two months and thirteen days.

With two days of backpacking to go, I’ve been wondering what this blog will look like in the new year. How do I keep people interested? What do I talk about? I’m 22 and job searching. What do you want to know?

Another friend had it. “Just tell a good story, Janae, and the people will come.”

Thanks for being here, everyone. Stories from Southern California and Upstate New York to come, unless someone wants to send me to South America…

I’ll even cut coffee from the budget.

This window made me giggle in 2009. Yesterday, what made me giggle was a department store floor labeled as “Shoes, Lingerie and Travel Agency.” Just your basic backpacking necessities, right there.

When I arrived in Seville yesterday, flashbacks to my Semester at Sea trip reminded me of when I’d been there before, but I was suddenly aware I hadn’t seen Seville the last time. I had forgotten that my June 2009 stint was a half-day trip. We saw the sights – most importantly Plaza de España and the Seville Cathedral – but those are merely the highlights at the front door of a larger city that earns its own bold dot on the map. I distinctly remember being given forty-five minutes of free time. I watched a bunch of girls go into Starbucks, decided it was too expensive, got an ice cream cone, and with ten of the forty-five minutes left, safely sat myself on the bus so as to not be left behind.

Running out of Europe time, this trip wasn’t going to be much longer, but I was determined to see. I woke up early and walked through the town and back to the Plaza de España. I took the same photos as last time, framed the same way, in worse weather. I walked, I wandered, I saw.

Back at the hostel, I was told to catch bus C4 to a street that started with an M and from there, it would be a five minute walk to the train station.

At the bus stop, minor crisis. In keeping with the other nights theme, one of the “we” all on this journey dropped a 5 euro bill in Seville. I won’t name names (I think it was Jacob). Digging through pockets, the only small change I had left was 1.30€. I hoped it covered the bus fare, because pulling out my last 20 was going to tick off the bus driver.

¿Cuanto cuesta?

“Un euro treinta.”

Ah, life, you’re going to be good to me today. Not sure I’d be able to pick out the street that starts with M, I asked the driver to let me know where to be dropped for the train station. He gave me directions too quickly, but I got enough to know get off at the next stop.

I was back at the Plaza España. Huh?

A quick conversation with another bus driver got me to realize part of the quickly told directions was to get on bus C2, which stops directly at the station. Great, if I had another 1.30€. I started walking.

And then, because you can’t always be a hero, I got a cab for myself for the second time this entire trip. The first time only happened because rush-hour-crowded-Istanbul-metro-guy was getting too handsy.

I arrived in Cordoba an hour later. It’s fitting I am in Seville and Cordoba last. When I did Semester at Sea during the summer of 2009, Cadiz, Spain, was our first port and Seville and Cordoba my first organized trip from the ship. They were the first “different” places I’d been in my life. It was my first time outside of the United States.

I left Spain thinking I could move here, based on these three cities. I loved the food, the language, the culture and the buildings.

All still true feelings – but after forty cities this trip, am I packing my bags and moving to Cordoba? Hardly.

Nothing against it. It’s just fine. It’s just… Fine. I’m not infatuated like I was with Prague or looking up grad school options like I was in Berlin. It’s funny how things change.


Cordoba, June 2009. I thought these were awesome and spent a bit of time acting them all out to the embarrassment of the friends I’d had for ten days. That part hasn’t changed in two-and-a-half years. The hair color has.

I found everywhere I’d been before. I really didn’t take all that many pictures during the daylight. I’d visited the Mosque (and loved it) but knew I was in a sleepy apathetic mood and didn’t want to drop the money just to say I did it. Sometimes you’re feeling a World Heritage Site, sometimes you just want a cerveza and Snicker’s.

I had none of the above. I’m just stating a fact.

I ended up at a coffee shop, content to do some reading and writing while I waited for the sun to go down and holiday lights to light up. We all know what happens next. I drank multiple coffees and refreshed my e-mail for a long time.

And then I dragged myself off Wifi to go see so I had more to share. Just a few holiday photos – Cordoba certainly earns “Honorable Mention” in the holiday lights competition, which I’ll rank 1) Barcelona, 2) Seville and 3) Madrid. I may have just not known where to go tonight. Besides being a bit distracted, I got lost and got to ask the man at the mini-mart tonight the very smart sounding question of “¿Donde estamos?”







Finally, this never was supposed to be a theme, but I kept finding it and I’ll post the full collection soon. Today, all I had to do was open my hostel’s door. It makes the game I play to pass time almost too easy, but you’ll never find me complaining there’s too much love.


Thanks, everyone. Sweet dreams and dream them big. That’s what I like to think all the hostel dorm snorers are doing.

Three more nights in hostels.

I Don’t Have An Inspired and Alliterative Title For This One (aka It’s 1:30a.m. In Sevilla)

With four travel days to go, had I been smart, I would have been on the 8a.m. train from Madrid, or at the very latest, the 9a.m. That said, I got to the train station at 10:15a.m. for the 11:00 train. I’d spent the night up in my room hanging out with a group of Portuguese 17-yr-olds. They thought I was old.

At the train station at 10:15, I found out I wouldn’t be getting a seat until the 2:00 train, meaning I’d be hovering in Madrid another few hours then on the train during peak sightseeing hours of 2:00-4:30.

Blergh. I went to go store my luggage and saw on the sign there were small, medium, large and extra large lockers. Braced myself to pay for an expensive large one, but… Hey wait… All my stuff fit in the small! Yay backpacking!

Back in Madrid, each landmark is closer to all the other landmarks than it seemed in August. I went running around town, starting at the park.


After the park and other sightseeing, still with time to kill, I ended up in an H&M, so very tempted to buy three shirts for the next three days. I’m ready to never wear any of these backpacking duds again.

I didn’t buy the shirts… But I bought socks! Little known fact, it was very, very cold in Berlin when Erin and I were there, and I had to buy black knee highs because that was the best warm option in the discount store. Then, my jeans shrunk and I had to stick with the less obvious black socks anytime I wore that one pair…

All the black knee highs went in the trash today. Never again.

It’s the perfect time to be going home. I’ve loved every minute of this trip and I’m pretty sad it’s ending/nervous for real life… But new clothes and overall normalcy will be great. It’s not all roses and sunshine. Sometimes it’s rain and it pours – correction, it’s pores. I have the acne of 14-year-old me and I’ve got to get a grip on how to get rid of it fast.

Forget that image. Prettier people.


I finally got on the train and gleefully watched Toy Story 3, in English. Also, watched Spain.






I’m a big, big believer in fate.

About a half hour from Seville, the woman across the aisle saw me drawing the latest line on the map and asked about my trip. I told her about it and she said she is planning a trip by trains with her husband – she hates to fly. We go through the facts that I’m 22 and alone… The usual.

She was amazing.

I have no idea how old she was – mid-thirties? Late twenties? She could comment on here and say early 40s. I have no idea. But she was the nicest, bubbliest woman, full of advice, stories and happiness. She was on her way home from a ten-day trip and had family coming over tonight.

She recently had back surgery and pointed out that her neck is fully supported and reinforced by titanium. Young, bubbly and everything that she is, she needed a wheelchair to get from the train to the taxi, and it never seemed to make her frown. She insisted I take the taxi with her as far as her neighborhood – shaving fifteen minutes off my twenty-five minute walk. Along the way, she pointed out her office, her aerobics place, and we swapped stories. She has a PhD in English literature.

She said, “Someday, you’re going to have two kids and work all the time, but you’re always going to have this to look back at, and be so glad you did it while you could. These are the times you never forget for the rest of your life.”

She was wonderful. My time with her was everything I’ve wanted this trip to be all about.

I’m only in Seville one night, then Cordoba tomorrow. No Grenada – that was an overzealous thought the other night.


Tonight, I went out Christmas light searching in the crowds, got a 10:00p.m. dinner of various tapas, and then retook the exact same photos… without the crowds! The only way I know how to take pictures at night of lights is to lower the exposure settings, and I realize it makes all the cities look like, but for Christmas lights, you’d need a flashlight to walk around… Not the case. It’s just all I know how to do.

Three more days.














Frigid Madrid

I love when people write me saying they’ve enjoyed taking the journey, too, and are sad to see it end. With that in mind, here is what we all did today.

We were really sad to leave Lisbon last night. House Grandma fed us soup and cake and gave us a big hug. We’ve loved House Grandma ever since the “Who got better English training debate” between her and house guy.

Portuguese House Grandma: “I know American English.”

Portuguese House Guy with British Accent: “I was taught proper English.”

Grandma: “You sound like the QUEEN!”

Guy: “Well… you sound AWFUL.”

We were excited to get on the night train to Madrid, and even more excited because our ticket said window seat, which is nice because we can’t afford the sleeper compartments and window seats let us lean on our snow coats and sleep well.

Except an old man is in our seat. Ugh, we don’t want to fight with the old man. Aisle seat it is.

There is a man, woman and two-year-old child in our coach. The little girls name is Sarah – “Saw-rah.” Sarah, like any child stuck on an overnight train, is miserable and wailing. “Aguaaaaa! Aguaaaaa!”

Everyone is a little annoyed, but what are you going to do, families need to go places too, of course. Except we all hate her mother, who – if Sarah is talking “this” loud – mom is responding harshly “THIS” loud. It would be silent in the compartment but for Sarah’s little whimpers and Mom would loudly and out-of-the-blue snap. Heads would jerk from their almost-slumbers, everyone was annoyed… Mom was terrible.

“Aguuaaaa. Aguuaaaaaa.”


Oh my… I think she wants AGUUUAAAAA.

Mom and Dad got in a fight in the middle of the night, too. Dad’s elbow slammed into my (our) chair, just missing my (our) head as he stormed out the door while we were at a stop.


Anyway, we’re in our aisle seat and we’re sore. Something has taken a toll on us, maybe all the walking and climbing, or just that we’ve been sitting in a chair for six hours, and it is now impossible to get comfortable.

We don’t look at a clock to see what time it is. Our ticket says we arrive at 9:03a.m. We’ll get there.

Sun rises, Sarah is awake, mom is harshly loudly annoying again… We’ll get there. We’ll get there.

We’ve got to be close.


When we pulled into the station, a look at the clock informs us it’s 11:39a.m.

We get to our hostel by 1 after a very musical metro trip. Upon arrival at the first metro stop, doors open and a girl is singing “Fly Me To The Moon” – our favorite! On the next ride, a man has an accordion. He hops off and another woman with a microphone and karaoke machine hops on. She’s singing something serious. Something Spanish. Something sensual.

It was probably about Christmas. What do we know.

The hostel is alright. It’s in a decent location, but it’s not one of the homey hostels full of love and cookies. It’s the generic “Here is your key, lock your valuables, and your room is the one with seven bunk beds, we’ve given you the most basic of sheets and blanket.”

It’s fine. We’re here one night.

We try to sleep, but we need both sleep and food, and without both the headache is going to persist, so we give up on the nap and wander into town.

It is cold in Madrid today. You could see your breath. We realized quickly that we’d have to turn around for more clothes before being able to be out after dark… But first, we found our friend.

August with Dad





December with Strangers






Five more days of this life.

Back at our hostel, we shower (okay, so this just got WEird), and upon arriving back at our dorm room, the door is wide open. Odd, but whatever, nice girls are standing right inside. We walk in and leave it open. As we’re kneeling over to open our safety deposit box, making a slight bit of noise, but whatever it’s not even 6:00p.m., harsh words come from across the room, in Spanish. We look up with our face that says “Hablamos español, pero no bueno.”

A late-twenties early-thirties man laying in his bed gives us the death stare and snaps. Close the door.

Ugh. We don’t like you, Mr. Man.

Venture back out (code for “Get the heck out of that room and away from that guy). It’s still cold, and now it’s raining… Christmas lights in Madrid!

Not the best shots, but the combination of stay dry, hold massive umbrella in massive crowd, adjust exposure/lighting settings and not get pick pocketed was too much.

















And finally, on our way home, we all did something grossly Upstate New Yorker of us… We wanted hot chocolate from the Dunkin’ Donuts next to the hostel.

But to our surprise, this wasn’t your Syracuse Dunkin’ hot chocolate… In Europe, hot chocolate is thick as fudge.


Off to bed, hopefully not getting yelled at by our roommate.


Repeat the Sounding Joy (December in Barcelona)

I’ve adequately set myself up to not sleep tonight. At only 9p.m. in Barcelona, I wandered across the street to get a small hot chocolate and ended up with a medium peppermint mocha. Tis the season. Tomorrow, I’ll rise early for a three hour train to Madrid and I am getting myself on the night train to Lisbon no matter what the rail company tells me the price is. I’m so excited for Lisbon.

I just went online to look at hostels in Lisbon. I’ve been a hostel snob, always picking a top-rated one (never more than $25 a night, generally picking one of the lower-priced but still top-rated). The top-rated ones come cleanest, best showers, internet, but most importantly, the best chance of being bedbug free. Usually in every city, there are a couple in every city that hit the 90% rating mark. In Paris, it was 82.

I might backpack through Lisbon hostels.




I’m so excited for Lisbon.

A few quick things promised from yesterday- my darling Toulouse hostel bedroom, what replaced the red purse (Nancy says I must be ready to get home, it’s “pretty”) and my new knife.




Back in Barcelona, where holidays are in full swing. As I said yesterday, so much has changed since I was here last. I remember the day Dad flew home. I walked from our hotel, checking out hours after he left for the airport, backpack on in blazing heat across town. It was my first resistance of public transportation and it was hard. The bag was heavy, I broke a sweat within ten minutes and I felt like all eyes were on me. All I could think was This is really going to be something. This is hard. I didn’t post pictures back when I was in Spain – I only found a memory card adapter existed by chance while I was in Istanbul. I can’t believe I went into this trip thinking I’d never post pictures. These were the first backpacking friends I ever made – two being Ron Weasley and Neil Patrick Harris.



Today, I sat out on the lawn of that same last hotel Dad and I were at. It was a gorgeous day – enough wind by the water to give me goosebumps but otherwise perfect for reading On the Road and thinking.


I liked this couple. If oddly positioned, comfortable with each other.


The thing I’m going to miss most about this trip is the conversations. I had such a fun time chatting with Pele. Short on details last night, the reason I felt safe were the multiple references to his twenty-one year old son and wife. The offer to stay in my own master suite in Bangkok “and hang out and talk to my wife about all the girly stuff you want, I’ll just be there to give you the key to the house.” I’ll never forget one moment. He was telling me about a trip to Southern California “in 1990, so that would have made you how old then?”

“1990? An infant.”

Pele broke into giggles he couldn’t contain. He obviously knew I was young, but I think 22 surprised him. He’d already called me an obviously very social and brave person and told me law school would be a very good future for me… But at “an infant” he was off laughing.

Today, I woke up at 7, listened to some songs and wrote a few emails…and fell back into a deep slumber. I woke again at 11:15. An hour and a half later, I’d walked far too far without food or water when a waiter talked me into an all-you-can-eat lunch buffet for 9 euros. I’d wandered into the otherwise very expensive Port Vell area and the only other option was going to be equally expensive McDonalds fast food. I said okay to the buffet.

Oh, it was such a good call. Not just because it was all you can eat greens and pasta and soup, main course chicken and paella and pizza, dessert… But the waiter serving dessert made me laugh. Out of the blue, he asked if I was a part of “the Obama party.” I laughed and hedged, saying technically yes but semi-jokingly said I don’t really like any of them at the moment. He asked me if I thought the future was good.

I hope so. One of my favorite pictures from this entire trip sums up my feelings right now – Barcelona in August.


I ended up at Cafe Zurich, where Dad and I shared so many coffees, and it really is the best cup of coffee I’ve had on this trip. I sat at our exact table, wrote down some thoughts I’d been thinking over all day, people watched.

I remember telling Dad I’d be spending a lot of time everyday just writing. Maybe pick a bench, write a story about that person. Write a poem about that boat over there. Yes, I’ve done plenty of writing, but it never came in the fashion of daily hours sitting pouring over thoughts of a random object. I’ve been far more mobile than I ever imagined.

I said I’d be indoors by dark every night. Solo girl, I’d explore by day and stay in and read at night. False. So false. The nights (not necessarily night-life, but night-time) is stunning. I’m two-thirds through one book on this trip.

I also thought there’d be no pictures of me from this trip. False. It’s how I make half my contact with humans.

Those are just a few, but this post is getting long. I’ll leave you with Christmas lights in Barcelona because the city is stunning and life is magical.

And because I’m counting my blessings it was nighttime and I didn’t get mugged for these shots, because we all know I’m not pulling Pele’s knife on anyone.













That Time a Man Gave Me His Knife in Barcelona

This is going to be the first time in awhile there are no photos. Once upon a time, these posts relied on words alone to be interesting. My iPad won’t connect to the hostel wifi and I’m on the hostel computer. I hope this will suffice.

I’ve been short on posting in the past day or two because the days have been relatively mundane. I spent five hours on a train yesterday to get to Toulouse. My hostel was a young couple’s home- a condo turned into a hostel. Their living room was my common space, their computer my computer. It was darling. Tomorrow I’ll share a picture of just how cute my room was. I ventured into Toulouse, walked in every direction before picking which of the seventy crepe places I’d eat at, and ended up at one of the first ones I’d seen. Ham, cheese, mushrooms… and then they served a Nutella one for dessert. It was the first time I’d eaten Nutella that hadn’t followed a friend saying, “You don’t eat Nutella???

I can’t find half the punctuation marks on this keyboard. Don’t mind me.

Today, one three-hour train to a one hour break to a three-hour train to Barcelona. I’d gotten on one of the local trains that stops at every single little stop between two bigger cities. It was tedious, but beautiful between Toulouse and Barcelona. Mountains, snow, land…

When I arrived at my hostel in Barcelona (9 euros a night!!!) I immediately threw all my clothes into laundry (11 euros a small load, how disgusting is that). The woman said, ¨You’re sure you need to do laundry?¨ I needed it five days ago.

Not wanting to sit around my hostel all day waiting for laundry, I put on the only clothes that had escaped the wash process. My black shorts and blue tank. Not bad a) if my black shorts hadnt shrunk to the too short stage months ago and b) if it was a respectable month to wear shorts. Its not.

But I ventured out. Broken Greek sandals, too-short black shorts, blue tank… snow coat.

Wandered, wandered, wandered. Barcelona is the first place Ive really returned to on this trip. Munich I did, but within a week, short of any big life experience happening between visits. A lot has changed since Dad and I were here three and a half months ago. A lot. In all forms, physically, mentally… simply reality…

The sun was going down and I still hadn’t picked the perfect paella to eat. I realized my outfit wasn’t going to fly much longer. Too many whistles were being heard and I was afterall getting pretty cold. I leaned in to read one more menu in the window, ten minutes from my hostel.

The man at the table asks me if Im Swedish. I said no. He guessed another nationality. No. American. ¨Youre kidding!¨ He said my red hair makes me look Swedish.

Now its red.

He asked if I was on holiday. Hes a middle-aged man. He offers to buy me a drink, I decline, we talk five minutes more. He says oh come on, please, I’m a happily married Swedish man with a big presentation here tomorrow, just throwing back a few whiskeys. One beer.

Such a funny beer. We exchanged travel stories. Wouldn’t you know I’m sitting drinking with the engineer featured on Discovery Channel’s Megabuilders – Bangkok Megabridge episode. Hes kinda a big deal. Without telling him my interests or last name, he tells me the head of marketing at his company is named Janae Russo.

He can’t believe I’ve been traveling alone for two and a half months. With no problems. No muggings. He tells of the last time in Barcelona when he had a knife put to his neck. Earlier today, he’d bought a knife so he’d been prepared.

Im weary of being in my too-short shorts for too much longer, after dark, and he says ¨You cant go out like that after dark.¨ I explain I know! That’s why I declined your first offer for a drink. He said we’re going across the street and buying you a dress. I crack up. No we’re not, my clothes are just in the laundry.

He says he’s walking me home. He’ll shake my hand at the door, points at his wedding ring.

We get another beer. He says he cant believe I have had no issues traveling yet, and then says two pretty cool things.

One, he’s realized if you’re going down a dangerous street and don’t realize it, they’re less likely to mess with you. You don’t know to be afraid, and thus, you don’t look afraid.

Two, I apparently look ¨leather-backed.¨ Like my backpack is made of leather, not some crappy nylon. Been there, done that, Im not an idiot.

Finally, he said, I know why you’ve had no problems. It’s that smile. You’ve smiled your way through Europe, haven’t you.


It was the funniest two drinks I’ve had. When the waitress came out, she said ¨God answered your prayer!¨and they laughed. Apparently, three minutes before I showed up, she’d asked how he was and he said fine, but drinking alone sucks and wouldn´t it be nice if someone, say a woman 1.65m and 53kilos arrived.


Ridiculous. Our new friendship, these drinks completely unexpected, and now we’re walking back to my hostel. I promise, short on details here, I knew it would be completely safe. Plus, it’s realistically only six o’clock. I’d turned down the third beer because I’d only eaten a blueberry muffin and pain au chocolat all day. Beer and pastries.

ZARA. Next thing you know, he’s pulling me into the upscale clothing store. ¨You need a new pair of jeans.¨ Im cracking up. He’d just been flummoxed I have for four months what he has for four days. ¨You must be… size 24.¨ Yeah, right. 28 on the best day.

We’re giggling. I tell him we’re not buying me a pair of jeans, and luckily Zara seemed to only have jeans that came with built in spandex/underwear/something that made us laugh. We left.

He had to use the restroom and walked into a bakery. ¨Um, restroom for me and drink for the lady.¨ The bartender asked me what I wanted and I told him I didn’t really need anything. We chatted instead.

At the door of my hostel, Pele, as promised, shook my hand.

And then strongly insisted I keep his knife. His brand new, rather large, protection knife.

I now have in my pocket what I assume is a very expensive blade. Picture to come.

My life doesn’t stay mundane for long, does it.

***edit – for people who hadn’t read yet, I can upload the photos now… Pele’s knife. Now in my pocket.***


Este, Esa y  el Otra Cosa:  Final Thoughts From Spain

One night, Dad and I got to a cafe and when I tried to ask for two minutes in Spanish, she said “¡Sí, dos mohitos!”

Stretching when you’re walking all day every day is vital to keeping you healthy and in shape for the next walk. And if you ask me, after watching Dad, there is no better room to do it in than a circular room at the Prado museum with a bunch of Roman statue men facing inward.

I had a great conversation in Spanish with a taxi driver, who asked me which was more beautiful, Santa Monica or Santa Barbara. When talking about how I live in NY (state), too, he said “New York. The city with all the electricity.”

Prostitution is legal in Spain, but the question that never needs to be asked out loud is “but do they hold licenses and certificates of good health?”

Waiter: “English menus?”
Us: “Yes, how did you know?!?”
Waiter: “…You said ‘two, please.'”

Best bad Spanish moment:
Cashier: “one of these?”

My last conversation in mimed Spanish: I reclined my seat on the plane to Istanbul, to the loud and talkative reaction of everyone sitting behind me in row 11. After profusely apologizing because I was certain I’d slammed the knees of the man behind me, but being confused because they were all smiling… Ahhh. They want to know how to recline their seats, and I will act out that they cannot, because they are in row 11 which does not recline because row 12 is the emergency exit row.

I’m such a nerd.


Spain friends!

I spent my last night in Barcelona at a hostel, and immediately met fantastic people. 

Zach, 23, Florida, UCI and Fordham. Quit his job to travel.
Kat, Canada, traveling for a few months until she gets her nursing job assigned in Australia.
Ben and Hugh, Australia buddies, “on holiday.”
Arpie, Armenia.
Tau, Germany.
Raphael, Switzerland
Sebastian, France.
Jeremiah, SoCal, UCBerkeley.

Istanbul update comes tomorrow. It’s just a whole lot of love.

A Different Kind of Writing Day

I taped my metro and Museo del Prado tickets on the same page of my journal, and with thoughts from a friend, ended up with this – written at breakfast on my last day in Barcelona hours after Dad left for the airport. I hope you enjoy. As always, any feedback, comments or ideas you have will be greatly appreciated. Writing better is always the goal.


By Janae DeRusso, August 2011

He created her with bold strokes-
heavy with the brush though the details faint.
He focused on her bright eyes in particular,
as though she’d been made to see rather than be seen.
A modest success, if no tour de force,
she holds her place in the museum,
but she’ll not be a Rembrandt to be remembered.
A face among a thousand frozen others,
her frame rests in one of the hall’s less looked-upon spaces.

Six-o-one. Her palm hits the alarm
and she exhales a sigh as it falls silent.
In the mirror, she paints her face-
she uses awkward hurried strokes-
and focuses on her tired eyes the most.
She’ll run late for work but pines to be seen.
En route to the cubicle, she boards the metro,
among countless hurried faces just another,
and her frame shares another’s personal space.

The sun sets; the crowds board the metro home.
Once more, alone. Her story hangs on the wall,
as much as most people care to know, anyway.
A name, a date, an accomplishment shared.
Seven seconds- the average attention span,
though a few will linger, if only to bide time
before their next meal or to tie their shoes.
A few will ask questions about her to feel important
only to be easily distracted from her all the same.

But the image of her is recalled by one,
as conceivable among a crowd of many.
It’s a captured moment of a longer story past,
and as only time will tell, perhaps future,
as someone beyond the frame of daily routine
and the walls of tempered expectations
uses a photo of her painted face as a bookmark,
saving his spot in the unfinished story
with the intentions of returning one day.

We Can Do The Tango Just For Two

Tonight’s post coming from someone hoping you check out talented friends from upstate New York… Give a listen to Karma’s Army’s latest EP. Everyone loves a tribute to Grandpa… Check out “Hey There Pop.” Listen, download and share if it moves you. If you’ve made it to this blog, I think the writing will.

Somewhere in the last five days, Good Old Fashioned Lover Boy became my Spain “getting ready” song. Don’t know if it’s the “dining at the Ritz” line, or that from my iPad and as seen here, I “write my letter, feel much better, use my fancy patter on the telephone.”

But Spain, six days in, let me feel your heart beat (go faster, faster) can you feel my love heat?

Cons of the get ready song is the next track has Dad and I walking down the streets with “I want to break free” as our walking-with-purpose theme song, which we occasionally “break” into.

You know, Spain’s parks do not disappoint. Parque del Retiro is absolutely amazing, with its palaces, rowboats on the lake, statues, green. So green.

Life continues to be a series of very cool things falling in place. As we stand overlooking a garden in the park, a parade of people enter, singing, chanting, playing instruments in what appears to be some sort of demonstration. We notice at the front a huge American flag. And wait, could it be? A second flag, the California State one!

Well, we’re obviously about to be very popular people, I think.

Or we’re about to get sacrificed.

Nope. On the one day in our lives Dad and I will be walking end-to-end through Madrid, it is the last day of the World Youth Celebration, an event held for Christian youth every three years in a different city. This year, this week, Madrid. There were over 1.5 million people from countries all over the world in Madrid for the festivities. All singing songs. All carrying their nation’s flag. All celebrating in every plaza we walk through.

The energy was incredible- I don’t think we could’ve picked a better single day in our lives to be in Madrid.