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When It All Begins To Feel Normal!!

In the Beginning

Back in school I was the epitome of nerd, I loved school, was president of the Wildlife club, in choir, participated in the speech and drama festival and if that wasn’t enough was Head Library Prefect/Monitor. In fact, I actually won a trophy for service to the school in my final year. As a result I was bullied and suffered low self esteem. Thinking back most of my fellow classmates, and the teachers too in fact, would most likely have expected me to be married and settled fairly soon after graduating or completing college. After being accepted into the Horticulture program at Natal Technical College it seemed like that was a likely path. However, Fate had other ideas by giving us the opportunity to immigrate to the USA.

Alter Egos

Four years at Oregon State University ended with a 2 month trip to the UK. I believe this was around the time my alter ego began to emerge. For years I had had a plan, to find a good job in the environmental field and… well… save the world… But suddenly I was starting to explore the world… and so my organized responsible side now had a sister, the world wide traveler…. 3 years teaching English in South Korea fed that alter ego with numerous trips around Asia.

My alter ego allowed me to feel free and more confident while abroad and seemed to thrive among different cultures and fascinating history.

On the contrary, my responsible side followed society expectations and parents always feel more comfortable when their kids have a good job and are settled.

However, social situations still made me uncomfortable and my inability to come to terms with my dual personalities constantly made me feel guilty about traveling and yet stressed over not taking the opportunity to explore more.

Sanity

Lucky for me I have a great friend, mentor and fellow traveler. He always seems to be online in my darkest hours, when I feel like a stranger in my “responsible” job, and… when I decide to buy a ticket to somewhere new. (I can help anyone else buy a ticket but when it’s my turn I am completely indecisive). If I owed him a beer for every time he has calmed my fears over letting down my responsible side I would most likely owe him an entire brewery. It is his advice that has kept me sane year after year, and as others have got used to the idea that I don’t necessarily fit any mold and they can live vicariously through me, they too have begun to keep me sane.

When It All Begins To Feel Normal!!

This past year has really been a turning point for me. For years people looked at me as this confident world traveler but inside I remained that bullied library prefect, and my two egos were constantly at odds. But, at the encouragement of amazing friends and my parents, I completed my PADI Dive Instructor course in Thailand last July. The moment I was told I had passed I cried, became weak at the knees, and said “does this finally make me cool??”. I don’t think I had ever realized just how much I had been affected by those long ago bullies, how I still considered myself as always that “nerd who won a trophy for service to the school”… my confidence began to grow…

Then, while at a hostel in Bangkok, fellow travelers, many abroad for the first time, seemed to be drawn to me asking my advice of where to go and what to see, and surprised when they mentioned a destination I had not yet been to… and my confidence grew…

Returning home, I decided to return to the cruise ships for another contract, and instead of feeling embarrassed about working on a cruise ship, a job many would think a joke, I found myself confidently stating the fact, “I am a social hostess on a cruise ship in Europe”. Never once was I faced with a sneer, but rather genuine interest and envy… and my confidence grew…

I am not exactly certain when I came to terms with the fact that travel is who I am, at least for now, when it all just became normal for me and everyone around me… But for now it has… I feel at peace and most importantly confident… that is until I need to pack for this upcoming contract….. 😉

Dedicated to my amazingly patient parents, my phenomenal travel guru mentor and fantastic friends who have believed in me all this time …. I think I may finally have begun believing in myself!!!

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Luang Prabang, Laos

Visiting Laos was almost completely by accident. I had hoped to visit when I first arrived to do my scuba instructor course in Thailand, but as time went by it just seemed impossible… Then, one night, sitting on the beach and drinking beers with friends I said “I wish I could go to Laos…”. My good friend, Monique, replied with “Well, why can’t you??”…. That is when the seed was planted… yes why can’t I go???

In truth it had been many years since I had traveled anywhere new by myself, even though that is my favorite way to travel, but another friend hoped to join so that ignited the fire of excitement even more and I soon traded some old books for a used Lonely Planet and got on with planning. Ultimately he couldn’t join but by then the train was rolling and there was no way to stop it!

My original plan was thus:
– Travel by overnight bus to Bangkok, stay at NapPark hostel where I could store luggage.
– Travel by overnight train to the border then on to Vientiane, the capital, for a night.
– Another 13hr odd journey to Luang Prabang and spend a few days before the return journey.

But you never know how plans might change so it is never worth carving things in stone. As it turned out I met a great bunch of folks at the hostel and we planned to do a day trip to Ayutthaya, the old capital of Siam, and at the same time the travel agent who happened to have his little office in the restaurant suggested I fly to Luang Prabang instead….

With the prospect of not only getting a chance to see Ayuthaya but also spend more time in Luang Prabang I was sold!! The cost was around $189 (US) for the ticket vs about $100 and a total of 4 days of travel…. yup no brainer!

Luang Prabang was phenomenal, stunning, chilled, friendly…. one of my top 3 for sure.

The People You Meet….
Among the amazing experiences was meeting up with one of the Terrific Ten, Denise from Holland, who met up with me after visiting Chang Mai. Was like having an old friend to hang out with and to go on a kayak/trek with. The kayak trip was with White Elephant Adventures and was brilliant, post food poisoning and all. Another incredible opportunity was learning to weave with a German girl who was staying at the same guesthouse.

However, I think my all time favorite experience was meeting my “Smoothie Family”. Every night as you walk down the main street towards the night market you pass around 10 families all selling smoothies of various flavors. Well on my first night I wondered down trying to decide if I wanted one, when this young chap calls out “You want a smoothie?” with a cheeky little up swing in the tone as he said it. It caught my attention and I was hooked for the rest of the week. At some point I ended with a smoothie buddy, an older lone traveler, we had a smoothie date at 8pm 3 nights in a row… one of those rare memories you can only have through travel.

Smoothie Family and Smoothie Date

Smoothie Family and Smoothie Date

I hope to return some day!!!

 
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Posted by on March 2, 2016 in RTW, Thailand, Travel

 

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30+ is Never Too Old For Adventure!!!

Expectations of the Civilized World

There is a certain stigma to being over 30 in the Western “Civilized” world. You are expected to:
– Have a steady job
– Be Settled
– Be Married, preferably with children
– Have a dog and a cat
– Have a car or 2
– Have a nice house
– Be financially settled without debt

In truth most people who follow the stigma are:
– Hate their job
– Don’t feel settled, grass is always greener
– Have a rocky marriage
– Can’t stand the dog or cat
– Have a house mortgage threatening to bankrupt them
– Have student loans and car loans and fake financial security by having multiple credit cards

When People Ask Me How??

People often ask me “how I do it, how do I travel and live all over the world??”, I reply that I just “do”! 15 years ago I was still paying off $25 000 US in university fees, had a car payment, rent. I paid most of it off by working as an English Teacher in Seoul, Korea and getting to travel at the same time. Then in 2009 (6 years ago) I was working 3 part time jobs and on unemployment. But I found a way of saving, I gave up my car and used the bus, I shopped at the charity shops, I learnt to reuse things for other purposes, finally I moved back in with the folks and managed to find a great job as a vet nurse and then I saved! I didn’t buy name brands or expensive cars or felt embarrassed that I lived with the folks at 32. Heck, I paid a small rent and helped around the house. I paid off my school loans and without a car or a home loan I had no debt… which meant I could explore the world.

At Machu Pichu, Peru

At Machu Pichu, Peru

True I am not married or have kids, yes that does make things a little easier. But I have met people from all over who sell everything that society “requires” you to have and takes their kids on an amazing worldwide adventure. Experience is often the best education.

Bathing in Thermal Mud in Rotorua, New Zealand

Bathing in Thermal Mud in Rotorua, New Zealand

Creativity Makes the Difference

Another important note is that I travel creatively, I find ways to save money from couchsurfing, to work trade in hostels/ backpackers, volunteer work where accommodation is provided, eating locally, not drinking in excess and spending money that way. I spent less than $20 000 total on a year long adventure to 8 different countries from South America to Australia to Nepal.This adventure led me to to work on cruise ships for 2 years all over the world, and, ultimately, to my present job as a dive instructor with Scuba Futures in Thailand. It might look easy every time I try something new or move halfway across the world on another crazy adventure, but I promise you, if you had to watch me trying to decide to buy my air ticket you would see someone who is crazy nervous and on the verge of hyperventilating, and having an internal battle between my “responsible” side vs. my adventurous side. It is never easy to decide to change, but 9 times out of 10 it is worth it.

Working on a cruise ship - Zakynthos, Greece

Working on a cruise ship – Zakynthos, Greece

Doors are always open if you look and even if the path seems difficult and weaves away from the “required” path of 30+ year olds, it’s one hell of a fun path to follow, so give it a try and do something different.

Working as a dive instructor, Koh Phangan, Thailand

Working as a dive instructor, Koh Phangan, Thailand

Go ahead, follow Alice down the Rabbit Hole and see what LIFE has in store for you!

Kissed by a Dolphin in Jamaica

Kissed by a Dolphin in Jamaica

 

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Landing in Laos

Why Don’t You?

Laos has long been one of those mysterious countries I never thought I would get a chance to visit. Even though I hoped to during my stay on the island in Thailand for some reason it hadn’t occurred to me to leave the island early and visit this stunning country until a friend said “Well why don’t you??” (Thanks Monique). It had been quite a few years since I had gone off exploring alone to a completely foreign country and, although I was nervous, as soon as I found a guide book I was hooked and so the Laos plan developed.

Farewells

The bittersweet truth of leaving to explore is the farewells that need to be said. I have made amazing friends on our little island of Koh Phangan, but since it’s magic seems to draw us back I am sure I will be seeing you all soon…ish! For now it’s off to another adventure, LAOS!!

Getting There

Researching the best way to get there from Bangkok was a little intense, there were flights (quite expensive), busses (over 12hrs or more), trains (with a sleeper bed at least) and so on… I had planned to take the train to Nong Khai, just below the Laos border in Thailand, then take a shuttle to the border, go through immigration, take a shuttle to the capital Vientiane, spend the night and then take a 13hr bus journey to Luang Prabang, my planned destination. Total cost would run around $120 US, total time 2.5 to 3 days.

This would leave me a total of 3 days in Luang Prabang with 6 days ish of travel. The travel agent suggested flying and spending a full week in the town. I agreed and we found a ticket for $279 US, double the price but also double the time.

I am so happy I opted for flying!!!

Immigration

Arriving and getting through immigration was a lot easier than expected, for US citizens it is $35 or 1450baht. I had been told that I had to take new crisp US$ notes or they wouldn’t be accepted, but it turns out they take pretty much anything with a conversion rate. Just be sure you have a passport photo. If not they will charge an extra $1 to take a photo of the passport.

It’s Sunday of Course the Money Exchanges are CLOSED!!!

At Bangkok airport I stopped at 2 or 3 money exchanges to see if I could get Laos Kip, apparently none of them carry it, but no problem right? I can exchange at the International Airport of Luang Prabang, Laos…. right? WRONG!!!!

Once through I went out to exchange money and find a taxi. What do you know??? Arriving on Sunday meant all the exchange offices were closed, what are the odds! Luckily the taxi guy in charge of taxi payments exchanged some money for me, he seemed to be trying to do it quietly and gave me a rate of 8,000kip to $1, so I was pretty certain he was getting a good deal. As it turned out he gave me the same exchange rate as everywhere else, most country’s the guy would have been sure to give a terrible rate as we had no other choice. It cost 50,000kip ($6) to get into town per taxi, so find people and go in a group, I had met a French couple from the Comoros Islands on the plane and so we were able to split it 3 ways.

Finding a Guesthouse

For the first time ever I had not booked a hostel or a guesthouse or anything, I figured I would try practice what I preach, in the sense of “don’t worry, all will work itself out”, plus since I only had my day pack with me it meant I wasn’t lugging all my stuff through town with me….

The French couple had the name of a guesthouse and the taxi driver dropped us off and pointed in that general direction. We were a bit confused as we didn’t see it until I looked up at a building that was definitely not in use! Yup the guesthouse had been closed for 2 yrs… how funny is that.

We went to the one next door but the rooms were too expensive, they had one room for 120,000kip ($15) and the French couple were thinking of taking it. I sighed and said I would keep looking and the clerk said maybe he could give me a discount on the $25 rooms upstairs and make it the same price. It looked great so I agreed (more than I wanted to spend but it was the first night)… then the couple wanted to get the same kind of room at the cheaper price (they claimed the cheaper room smelled funny)… wow! there are 2 of them and 1 of me…. in the end the clerk called the boss and he said no to discounted rooms, so we moved on.

We found a place offering a room for 60,000kip ($6), but they only had 1, so the couple said they were going back to take the cheaper room at the first place (even if it smelled funny)… these people were starting to crack me up. The room I looked at was not all that good so I kept walking. Suddenly I cam across the French couple again talking to a guy on a scooter about a place down the road for 100,000kip ($12). The conversation went something like this:

Guy: We only have 1 room but we can add a bed
Me: I don’t want to impose I can keep looking
French: oh no that is ok, that sounds good
Guy: it is just 20,000 kip more so 120,000 total
French: no no give it to us at 100,000
Me: I don’t mind you are the couple you decide
French: 40,000 ($5) each is too much we take if 100,000kip total
Guy: not possible
French: talking in French look at me
Me: you decide!
French: no we do not want to pay more we think we just take the room for 100,000kip
Me: no problem I go look somewhere else cheers….

They were arguing about paying 40,000kip ($5) instead of 33,000kip ($4.50) and ended up paying 50,000kip…. I am sorry but sometimes the French are weird.

In the end I found this great little place just down the road, 80,000kip ($10), free tea and coffee, wifi (when it is working) and it is in a room with 2 beds so when my new friend from Bangkok arrives it will be perfect! What an adventure!

Pak Huay Guesthouse

Pak Huay Guesthouse

Night Market

I went to the night market to find something to eat and am pretty certain I squealed with delight at the sight. Everything was so well organized and beautiful and when I got to the food section there was so much to choose from I didn’t know what to take, I ended up eating a sausage on a stick and buying a fruit shake… just too much to take in!!

Night Market

Night Market

I was loving Laos already!!!!

 
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Posted by on November 19, 2015 in Thailand, Travel

 

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Seoul, Korea – Week 2

Revisiting Olympic Park – Peace Gate

When I lived in Seoul I was part of an inline skating group called OOPS. Now, many might think this name perfectly appropriate especially for first time skaters, but in truth it means Out Of Park Skaters and they never even realised the irony of the name until I kept repeating it every time I fell.

Being part of that group was another reason why my time in Korea was so fantastic. They accepted and made me part of their inner circle without a moments thought or hesitation and I got to experience far more of the Korean culture (especially the drinking part) than I would have without them.

We used to meet every night at the Olympic Peace gate at Mongchongtosong subway stop on the pink line. There was always a sense of peace and relaxation at this park with reflecting ponds and the eternal Olympic flame. Returning to meet up with one of my closest friends from OOPS seemed like the perfect combination. I couldn’t wait to sit under the arch and relax, so leaving early to have some time to contemplate I headed that way. Unfortunately when I exited the subway I discovered a massive event going on, people and security everywhere. Well there goes the contemplation idea. Security was super tight and everything was blocked off, but I managed to find a spot to sit and watch the goings on.

So Young arrived a little late but we recognised each other immediately! It was amazing to see her, and it surprised me again how seeing someone after so long with only minimal contact can still feel like I met them last week. We giggled and talked and laughed and headed off to find some lunch. Behind the Olympic Park area is a back alley section with tons of restaurants and bars, walking through there was like dejavu. I even remembered us all visiting some of the places (my mind sometimes amazes me). We went to one of our regular hang outs from 8yrs ago and had Korean BBQ. Delicious as usual.

So Young and me at Korean BBQ

Then a short walk to Jamsil station area and coffee and cake. Not quite sure how we managed to fit in the massive slice of honey cake, but it was delicious. So Young agreed with Number 1 that I should return to teach… who knows, maybe I will.

Honey Cake

So Young and Honey Cake

We planned to meet for dinner the next night and said farewell. I truly hate saying goodbye.

The Dangers of Korean BBQ

Sunday was a very chill day, I made a big breakfast for everyone and then relaxed most of the day. Later Jamie and I explored some of the neighborhood and then headed off to meet So Young for dinner. We went to the same Sam Geup Sal (Korean BBQ) place we had been to the first night. The owner remembered us and especially Jamie being vegetarian.

We had a great evening and while Jamie practiced Korean with So Young, I ate… and ate… and ate. It was so yummy and even though I was full I thought just one more piece. Also it is very Korean to pass pieces over to friends and you can’t say no, So Young and I were doing this to each other all night. I ate so much my stomach hurt to breathe.

Later Jamie headed home and we headed for cake and coffee. We found a place with a slice of chocolate heaven and sat down to enjoy. About mid way through I had a stabbing pain in my upper right side of my back when I inhaled. It was like someone had punched me and bruised my ribs. So Young and I walked around a bit to see if that would help but finally had to say goodbye. I will miss her tons and hope to see her again before I leave.

I hobbled home and as I got in I collapsed on Jamie’s bed clutching my back and hyperventilating saying “I…. think….. I …. hurt…. my ….back”. She looked really concerned and then said “do you think you have to fart?”. Ummm well I hadn’t thought of that since it was so high up. But yes, in the end it turned out to be severe indigestion… note to self, moderation…moderation!!

Boston Campus Revisited

During my 3yrs in Korea I worked at a hogwan, after school program, called Boston Campus. I came for 11mths and after 3yrs my mom asked if I was ever going to return home, I simply renewed my contract each year and flew home for a month in between to keep my green card active.

Hoping onto the number 5 purple line I headed towards Sangil Dong. After some confusion trying to remember how one of the transfers worked I arrived. Up till now my memory had been pretty good at finding the right exits and such but I had to admit, nothing looked very familiar. I took the exit 4 and then decided it must have been exit 1 so walked above ground till I found it. Still nothing! Finally I called number 1 (my code name for my first taekwondo master) and asked. As I started asking I remembered it might have been the stop before, Godeok. Damn it all to heck, so close and yet so wrong! So back on the train and off to Godeok. This time I remembered the exit and found the school no problem.

I couldn’t believe how much it looked the same after 8yrs, everything was the same, from the art work to the plastic flowers. Janet, the head teacher was still there and she remembered me, so did the art teacher. Janet and I chatted a bit and she told me how bad the economy was and how they don’t pay very much, but if I ever want a job I am welcome back.

Then I went upstairs to find the Principal, we called her the Professor. She wasn’t there but one of the cleaner ladies went to find someone. It was Mr. Lee, he remembered me, but not my name, and he was so happy to see me. He called the Prof and said she was coming. Then we stood for a few minutes with him just smiling, his English is still non existent even after all these years working at an English School.

The Professor arrived a few minutes later and was thrilled to see me, she just stared and me at first and then pointed to a picture of me from a calender that was taken in 2002. “Every now and then I look at it and think of you!”… Awww that’s kind of sweet. She also insisted that I call if I decide to come back and work in Korea.

Afterwards, I walked around the old ‘hood for a bit and explored the shopping center I used to get steamed Mandu in. Finally stopping for a bite of donkas (fried pork cutlet).

Luggage Games
I spent the evening playing luggage tetris on Air Asia, trying to figure out the cheapest and safest way to check my bags. I opted for 40kg checked from Seoul to Bangkok and 15kg checked with 20kg sports going through to Surat Thani.

What’s in a Name

I was meant to meet my good friend, and language exchange, Jinsoo, for lunch. I went to spend some time at Olympic Park without the thousands of people from the week before and was thoroughly enjoying the memories when Jinsoo texted me that he had to go out of town for work. Always, Korean’s work way too hard.

Olympic Park Eternal Flame

I met Jinsoo through my Korean co-teacher, Esther. He was her brother and wanted to have some English practice and since I needed to learn Korean, Esther thought it was a perfect fit. I think he had more work to do than me as his English was fantastic. He taught me to read the symbols of Korean, and now prefer to read it that way than with the western alphabet, he taught me the sounds and the inflections and made it possible for me to pick up a reasonable amount of Korean.

He also gave me my name, Park Da Hi. Park being his last name and Da Hi meaning “big happy, always happy”. When he first told me he wanted to give me that name he said he couldn’t because it was the name of his hamster. And we all know you can’t be named after an animal…. 2 weeks later he arrived to our study session literally beaming!

He proudly announced “I have great news! My hamster is dead!”
I looked at him in confusion and said “why is that a good thing, I am sorry.”
Response, “but that means now you can have the name!”

So, yup you guessed it, I am named after a dead hamster…

Namdaemun Revisited

Wednesday I went to Namdaemun Market again in search of postcards and to see if I truly could find the curio shop I used to frequent all those years ago.

Instead of following my instincts from the subway I looked at the sign and promptly got myself lost. I forgot how truly big Namdaemun was. Eventually I found exit 5, my usual location for exiting the subway and then could orientate myself.

I had a flashback to the past for breakfast. Flat dough fried on a griddle filled with cinnamon and sugar that is hot and melted, truly spectacular.

I kept thinking I was finding my store but there was just something that didn’t feel right about them. Also finding just 5 postcards seemed impossible, only packs of 15. Guess the age of letter writing is going out the door. Then one of the sellers suggested I look down the row and 2 streets over and there was a store that had single cards. I walked down but didn’t get far as low and behold there it was… My Store!!! I couldn’t believe it. I was 100% certain it was the right one. I asked the guy if the store had been there for over 10 yrs and explained how I used to come in almost every week with teachers and even brought my parents here. He wasn’t working back then but he was thankful that I came back. I ended up buying a fan, a pack of postcards that was half the price every other seller had them for, and he also included a little cell phone dangly of a little Korean Drum as “my gift to you”. Yup, this is the place I remember.

On my way out I stopped to pick up a box of yummy delicacies. The maker takes honey that is spun into fine strands like spider webs and then encase some peanuts or almond filling inside them. Absolutely divine. Although when I mailed some home one year, there was an anthrax threat for letters and here came a box to my parents with fine white powder leaking out the one side. Something to remember when boxing them next time.

The honey candy guy – all comedians I am sure

Returning home on the 1hr subway ride home, I felt exceptionally satisfied with myself. 1hr there , 1hr exploring and 1hr back, and all worth it!

I had my favorite spicy chicken pieces and some left over rice for dinner. Think they put extra spice this time, as I lost feeling in lips for about an hour.

Spicy!!!!!

Sisterly Reunion

Today I get to have a reunion with one of my closest friends during my time in Korea. Esther was my co teacher during the first 2 yrs and we became very close. I went to her parents for Korean Thanksgiving one year and spent lots of time with her. I have not spoken or emailed her for almost the full 8yrs. For some reason we just sent messages through Jinsoo, her brother, who uses facebook. Esther tried to use Facebook but never got the hang of it.

I also get to meet her daughter, Christine.

While I waited I grabbed a subway waffle, used to love subway travel just for the food stalls. So yummy and filled with cream like stuff.

We met in the artsy market of Insadong. I used to love coming here just to walk around and look at all the different paintings and paper works and curios.

Lanterns made of Paper

For lunch Esther insisted on buying, I had mandu soup (like chinese dumplings).

Esther had a beef bulgogi broth type thing. So yummy.

We explored Insadong, found the post office and mailed my postcards. Then we took a taxi to Myeongdong as I wanted to show Esther and her daughter the cat cafe. Turns out her daughter loves cats and really wants one, but Esther is nervous as she has never had a cat before. Well, visiting the cafe is great practice.

I looked for Juno, my friend from the last visit and found her hiding in the back of a dark spot on top of a fridge that was keeping her extra warm. She did pop out to say hi though.

There are so many pictures I would be loading them all day. The easiest way to see more is to click on the blog where my flickr photos are. Hope you enjoy them.

All too soon it was time to say goodbye, only after a photo op with the mascot of course.

 
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Posted by on November 3, 2012 in Korea, RTW, Travel, Uncategorized

 

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Naples Bound!!

Italian Train Ride

European living involves going to bed closer to the following morning than the previous evening… Me on the other hand tend to me a bit of a home body and head to bed closer to that evening than night! Am seriously suffering from lack of sleep. Luckily Italy has a fabulous cure, and Kate and I went for a morning tradition of a cappuccino and a pastry.

I was heading to Naples today and after very careful and clear instructions on what to do to get my ticket we said cheers. There are days that I am simply astounded at what good friends I have around the world, now if only I could have them all in the same place.

Somehow, in my diminished state of sleeplessness, I found the train station, got my ticket and found the train. Of course opening the door was a little beyond me, but with some help I got in and got a seat. Hopefully I am on the right train.

I was this close to getting a free seat, but with a minute to go a young man, straight out of a Jersey Shore extra Italian series, sat down next to me placing his numerous bags in such a way that there was no escape. He sat straight back with brillo’d hair, square jaw, huge muscles tattoos, tight white tshirt and blue and white striped pants. I think he was bordering on Guido status.

Luckily he only stayed on for a couple of stops and then I was able to spread out a bit…at least for about 20min till the next person arrived.

Never Know Who You Will Meet

During the last half hour of the trip a guy from Taiwan who is crew on China Air started chatting with me and asking if I knew anything about Naples. He was doing a day trip from Rome during his 3 days off between flights. We chatted about travel and opportunities and he was shocked at how much I had done. It always neat when you meet a stranger and just chat to pass the time.

My Lack of Direction Astounds Even Me

Holding very clear and concise instructions from the hostel explaining exactly how to get to them… I found myself getting lost almost immediately.

The instructions had said to walk to the end of piazzo and take the trolley to the harbor. Once there you essentially turn around, walk 20feet and the hostel is right there. However they failed to mention the huge construction site that now covered said piazzo and completely obscured it. I saw buses and honestly wasn’t sure if that’s what Italians called trolleys. So clutching the address in my little hand I went and tried to pronounce it and ask where to go. The men there were very helpful and soon I was on the bus. In no time at all, and with the help of fellow bus goers I found my stop. But when I turned around there was an old castle, and no sign of a hostel anywhere.

An Unexpected Tour of a Naples Neighborhood

So I headed towards the street, then turned left up a walk way that went passed the castle. Asking a few locals they all directed me in the same direction of straight across the road and then right. I turned right and headed that way, then asked some cops directions, they had never heard of the street or the hostel and had to get out a map to find it. They said keep going then cross the road to the right. This is starting to feel like a rather square circle…

I kept walking, going down some small streets, and, about 20 min later finally saw some signs that matched the map, and there, down a little alley right near the harbor and about a 5 min walk from where the bus dropped me off was the hostel bathed in a glorious light… I swear I heard angels singing. Good lord I think my mom held a magnet to my inner compass when I was born.

Hostel Of The Sun

Hostel of the Sun was set in an interesting location. Prime spot for anyone wanting to be near the harbor or the waterfront, but in a larger office building. You went up an ancient elevator that between the hours of 9 and 1 (or something like that) you had to put in a 5 cent piece (these aren’t made in Italy anymore but luckily the hostel had a supply). Lucky for me I was there during the free time and after about 5 min of trying to figure out how to make it go up I found myself on the floor of the hostel and found the door to the front desk, common area, bar and some of the rooms.

My room was on a lower floor. The English girl checking me in was super helpful and gave me lots of information of where to go and what to do. But before I could explore I had a mission to complete!

My Mission in Naples

Now as some of you may know, the whole reason for my coming to Italy was to join my boyfriend on a cruise, he was a bartender on MSC and was paying for me to come and see him. In addition, I was attempting to make contact with someone at MSC to talk about getting a job with them so that, hopefully, we could be on the same ship. Long distance is a killer.

Now as some of you may realise, writing these particular blog entries has been very difficult for me, as… let us just say things ultimately did not work out between us. For those of you who missed this little piece of news, please refer back to my Love Story entry a few months back, it’s a doozy!!

So, back to the task at hand. My mission for this afternoon in sunny Naples was to go to the offices of MSC cruises in Naples, which just so happened to be around the corner from the hostel.

I got myself tidied up, took a deep breath and headed to the office. As I entered I saw 2 guards, the following exchange is hilarious in hind sight, but at the time…
Guards: Appointemente?
Me: No, MSC office?
Guards: Appointemente?
Me: No, I need to speak to someone at MSC please.
Guards: You appointemente!
Me: How, how do I get an appointment??
Guards: you call, you appointemente!
Me: What number, who do I call.
Guards point upstairs… cause that helps me out I guess.

Finally, seeing how distraught I was getting at having been running in circles trying to speak to someone, anyone who knew something about employment at the blasted company, they got someone on the phone for me. Someone who was just upstairs and spoke perfect English and kindly explained that the Naples office only does reservations but I can try call this number. Taking a deep breath I said thank you, wrote it down, smiled (kind of) to the guards and said thank you and left.

I was so unbelievably frustrated, I had spent the first day in Rome playing phone tag with these people and getting no where.
Call this number
No, you call this number
No, you need to call this number (that was the number that just gave me their number).

Now it turned out, the lady from the office I couldn’t enter had given me the first number I had dialed back in Rome. Maybe they secretly tape these efforts and only hire people who are that determined to get on the ship. Or maybe it’s just Italian customer service at its finest.

Time to Explore…

Or not. By the time I got back to the hostel to drop off some stuff and go exploring I felt completely and utterly exhausted. The kind of wave of exhaustion that hits you from your toes to the ends of your hair, emotionally and physically. I had been so certain I would get somewhere with someone at the office so that I could tell my love that I was making progress to be with him… but nope, not to be. At least not yet. I sat on my bed and woke up 3hrs later with a fairly impressive drool stain on the pillow. Guess I needed a wee nap then.

Grumpy the Dwarf

Being on 5 ft (1.5m) and decidedly grumpy, I fear I may have given off the impression of a character from Snow White. But pulling myself together I went in search of some kind of food and managed to get to the store just before closing. After the amazing mozzarella and cherry tomato pizza I had had in Rome, I wanted to see about getting something similar. Apparently, Naples is the home of buffalo mozzarella. I found some cherry tomatoes, a yummy loaf of bread and a small container of buffalo mozzarella balls. I figured I could make some toasted cheesy tomato type thing.

New Friend

As I was sitting exhausted and waiting for my crustini invention to broil, I was joined by a Canadian girl and we soon struck up a long conversation that led to a travel partner for Pompeii the next day. And that’s how I met Kristin… someone who would become a great friend.

After my yummy meal, am now addicted to buffalo mozzarella, a good chat and a hot shower I decided to try be a little social and headed for the hostel bar. The official “Drunk American” guy offered me a free shot. Sure why not. Not to sound like a generalist, but I fear there always seems to be an official drunk guy and he is usually American…or Australian. Luckily for me, the Americans are more generous with free drinks.

I spent the next couple of hours chatting to folks, and being entertained as the drunk American tried desperately to seem cool and mysterious and trying to pick up Kristin. Eventually it just became too painful to watch, I think Kristin (who has a wicked sense of humor) was rather enjoying baffling him at every turn of phrase.

Is That Noise Human

I wanted to try stay awake to the end of my boyfriend’s shift, usually around 2.30am, I made it to 2.40am and then had to go to bed.
As I walked into my room I regretted not going to bed much earlier, I had a dorm room goers worst nightmare, other than bed bugs, I had 2 snorers.

The one was a “nice” light regular snore. The kind you can actually time and get in sync with. But then I had the other kind. The kind made, most often, by a male middle aged hostel goer, who possibly has some sinus congestion. The kind that is grating and uneven and occasionally sounds like he is struggling to breathe. The kind that lulls you into a false sense of peace and then jars you awake just milliseconds from sleep. Not only that, but it was interspersed with groans… Solution attempts were as follows:
– headphones
(I could hear him over the music)
– I went to the front desk and asked for earplugs
(didn’t have any)
– I asked if I could sleep on the couch
(hostel policy not allowed)
– I woke him up
(he apologized and went right back at it within 5 min)

Finally I could see only one dreaded option. THE BATHROOM!

Yup, I grabbed my pillow and blanket and went to the farthest toilet/shower combo I could find. Curled into an uncomfortable ball and fitfully got less than an hour of sleep. Then someone tried to open it and I was just too unnerved to stay.

My final option was coffee, by now it was after 6am and the coffee was on. After a couple of cups, I went back to the room and discovered them packing. Thank the heavens! I passed out!

 
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Posted by on September 30, 2012 in Italy, RTW, Travel

 

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Coliseum!

First Espresso

We had a bit of a late start today but it was certainly a jolt when it was started, a jolt of coffee that is. I guess if you are going to have your first cappuccino and your first espresso, Italy would be the country to do it in. The Espresso was so strong I thought I would bounce off the walls.

Please note, I am the girl who when ordering a tall latte that normally comes with four shots I ask for 2 and make one of them decaf. Once a coworker brought me a coffee and after having 2 sips I felt like my heart was going to burst from my chest and my couldn’t focus on anything. She said she couldn’t remember if I had 3 or 4 shots, so she got me 4… So one little teeny tiny mug of espresso was me set for the whole day!

Svet and I having an Espresso

I made us some lunch, Pasta Italiano (taught to me by Nicola when we were both at the wildlife refuge in the Amazon). It was a little too much pasta and not enough Italiano unfortunately, but still yummy. See recipe below:

Pasta Italiano (as taught by Dr. Nicola DMV)
Fresh Tomatoes
Garlic
Olive Oil (generous helping if going true Italian style)
Oregano
Salt and Pepper

Heat olive oil in pan, lightly brown chopped garlic, add tomatoes and let simmer for about 20min until they are broken down. Add oregano, salt and pepper to taste. Best served with spaghetti pasta and a generous helping of parmesan cheese.

It is so simple and yet so amazingly delicious, the amount of garlic and tomatoes all depends on your taste and how many people. I have made this for friends and family all over the world now as it is a great alternative to my family’s spaghetti bolognaise when staying wither vegetarians.

Art

Italy is known for its great works of art, The statue of David, the Cistene Chapel and many more. However, it was the local art that had me captivated as we walked around town. Before the small shops opened you were faced with closed metal doors, but it was what was painted on these doors that had me bemused. No signs needed as it also gave away what the store was selling.

Jewelry Perhaps?


Clothes and Stuff I Suspect!

Coliseum and So Much More

Finally we hopped in the car and drove downtown towards the Coliseum and some much anticipated culture. I couldn’t believe it, it was huge. It blew my mind that it was 1,932 years old. Started in 75 AD and finished in 80 AD. Guess the don’t build them like they used to and it is still in pretty good nick, except for side of course.

It was Cultural Week in Italy and that meant all government run Historical Monuments, Museums etc.. were FREE!!!! Woohoo… until you realise that 90% of all these things are run by private groups, including the Coliseum. It was rather expensive to get in and so we opted for an external view, which was still pretty damn impressive if you ask me.



This is one of my favorites for some reason

The weather was a bit crappy, but coming from Eugene Oregon where we have 6mths of grey rainy winter, I was used to it and at least it wasn’t pouring.

There was literally history oozing from every corner you looked, there were times you almost tripped over it.

Walking Down the Main Drag

We past a line of statues depicting different rulers and I found myself correctly guessing most of them. I seriously need to get out more.

Julius Caeser

We walked past the Monument to Victor Emanuel II, also known as the giant marshmallow building, we crossed the main road of traffic (and an amusing traffic officer) and into the back streets.

Kate and I in Front of the Marshmallow


Stop Stop I am a Speed Cop


Italian Cars are Just My Size

A Wish To Return

The back streets were brilliant and confusing. At one point I popped in to buy some postcards and walked out promptly losing Kate and Svet in the massive crowd. Being barely 5ft (1.5m) tall I had no hope of finding them. But what I did find instead was the famous Trevi Fountain. That is, I found it after I had to elbow about 500 tourists out of the way. I promptly forgot I was lost when I saw it.

I found an intelligent looking girl, who spoke English, and asked her to take a picture of me and my coin and the fountain. The silly twat took a photo of me and my coin, seriously????? Maybe I should have rather chosen someone who didn’t speak English.

Me, my coin, and…

My Aunt had down right ordered me to throw my coin in the fountain telling me how my wish would come true. Later I learnt it wasn’t so much a wish in general, but rather the wish to return to Rome. Well I guess I wished she could return to Rome, so maybe it will work.

Suddenly realising I was still lost, I found something to stand on and called Kate, they were still standing outside the postcard shop. Oops!

Organised Crime… Italian Style?

All feeling rather exhausted from a long afternoon of walking and exploring we headed back to the car. Only to discover that it had been broken into and they had stolen the GPS and some foreign coins. They had left the radio though.

Not wanting it to spoil the rest of the day, we headed off to a vintage and artists market, very retro with hand made goods from locals.

Vintage Clothes and Bags Made from Vinyl Records

Back at home I cooked up some pasta vegetable something or other for dinner, it was actually rather good, and we settled in to watch a movie. Tomorrow is a day on my own and I think I shall head to the Vatican City.

 
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Posted by on September 19, 2012 in RTW, Travel

 

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