Death of My Youth

Or, Tops (and a few Flops) of 16 Weeks of Travel

I’ve been asked what my favourite place was from my trip, and it’s a hard question to answer because there are so many! So when I started giving this question some more thought, I started to ugly cry a bit over it, because the realization that the trip was over also led to a more disturbing thought – my youth was also over!

But then I remembered that I look like I’m about 10 years younger than I actually am, so I still have my fake-youth to hang on to and exploit. And hopefully I’ll travel again someday (soon) and continue to put off the responsibilities that society (and by that, I mean women’s magazines which are clearly authoritative on the subject) tells me that I should be hankering for. Suck it, society, I’m not ready to fully abandon my youth just yet!

So yes, back to that question – I can’t pinpoint one specific place as my favourite. I pretty openly bashed Australia but the truth is, I had some great experiences. And while I was horribly ill in Laos, I still loved the country. So every place holds special memories for me that are somewhat hard to explain, but they were all pieces in my mad-dash puzzle that spread across three continents in four months.

And so, in no particular order, here are some of those pieces:

Continue reading “Death of My Youth”

Impressions of Italy

Now that we’re in France (I’m a bit back-logged with my blogs, due to sporadic Internet and pulling marathon travel days – more on that later), here’s my thoughts on my first Italian extravaganza:

  1. The stereotype of Italians smoking is in fact not a stereotype at all. I imagine when a child turns 12 his or her parents likely give them a gift-wrapped carton of smokes and a slap on the back. People smoke everywhere!
  2. The stereotype of the uber-stylish Italian is 90% true. Scarves tied just perfectly with a smart jacket, loafers and no socks, perfectly coiffed hair…it all looks effortless and chic. The other 10% look like they’ve been attacked by the love child of Christian Audigier and the person who created the Bedazzler.
  3. The pizza, pasta and gelato really is as good as it’s cracked up to be.
  4. So is the wine.
  5. The trains, if they run on time (or at all), are quite efficient and useful for non-Italian speakers. Stations are announced ahead of time, and our rail passes have been readily accepted which is an enormous relief after our initial confusion over how the hell they worked.
  6. Don’t cross an Italian woman.
  7. In Naples, don’t leave ANYTHING in your pockets, don’t wear open-toed shoes, and don’t take your eyes off the prize, which in this case is the ground. You will walk in something unpleasant, guaranteed.
  8. Don’t be afraid to go into non-touristy places to eat. The best meals we’ve had have been from small bistros on side streets. While there might be some language barriers, “yum” seems to be fairly universal in its meaning.
  9. Traffic laws seem to be open to personal (and regional) interpretation. Vespas will take you out in Rome if you try to cross (on a green light!). Don’t even think about it in Naples. But in Florence, people seem to generally obey lights and respect that pedestrians can’t always leap out of the way.
  10. Rome overcharges you for everything. You are forewarned.

A Piece o’ Pisa

As I write this, I’m sitting on a high-speed train, staring at the Tuscan countryside on one side and the Mediterranean on the other while sipping a Peroni. I’m going to have to take up drinking on the GO train when I’m home, and perhaps tape some photos of mountains to the windows to cheer myself up. Life really doesn’t get any better.

It’s quite miraculous that I have this Peroni. Two Germans practically cleaned the stand dry of beer and chianti and had a heck of a party on the platform as we waited for the delayed train. Needless to say, the shopkeeper had a good afternoon.

At any rate, today Megan and I took a sidetrip to Pisa on our way north to Genoa – more on that in a second. Pisa, in my opinion, is a good side-trip kind of place as it was only an hour train ride from Florence and there are SIGNIFICANTLY more things to do in Florence than spend an hour or two creating what you think are hilarious photos of you holding up the Leaning Tower.

But let’s be real – they are hilarious photos:

High-five Pisa fail

Hurray we figured out the self-timer!

Too cool for holding-up-Pisa-shots

One of the things that I have learned on this trip is the ability to be more flexible. I like planning things out and having a clear itinerary of what I’m doing – I do this in my day-to-day life with to-do lists and blocking out sections of time for tasks. On weekends I sometimes used to pencil in naps. I am a BIT ridiculous. At any rate, our original plans post-Florence had consisted of a few days in the beautiful Cinque Terre region, but due to train schedules that weren’t exactly accommodating (plus looming strikes and delays) we decided to sadly axe it from the trip and go to Genova and Nice, France instead. Sad, but I’m rolling with it as there’s not much we can do about it (and really, it’s not like Nice is anything to mope about).

So, what’s in Genova?

I’ll let you know. I think there’s an aquarium, and apparently an area we should avoid due to “odours”. It can’t be any worse than Naples, which is our benchmark for everything at this point. Go Naples.

Florence!

Ah Florence. My favourite place in Italy. Despite having a raging cold (not allergies, after all) and being somewhat off my rocker due to the Thai cold medication I was taking, I absolutely loved the place for the following reasons:

– Streets that are well-organized and easy to follow. Everything generally runs in a grid pattern, streets are named (imagine that!), and tourist offices are happy to help point you in the right direction if you toddle off.

– The food! This spaghetti was so full of flavor and made me almost forget that I had a cold, and the owners of the restaurant were lovely. And the prices were a steal compared to Rome and Naples.

– Markets and shopping – little boutiques, markets, stationery shops – we could have spent a week there.

 – Culture! So many museums, galleries, statues (David, anyone?), piazzas, churches etc. etc. etc. Every turn produced the same response – a lot of “oooo” and “ahhhhh” sounds.

Florence was, essentially, the Italy that I had been waiting for. Great food (truffle sandwiches, cheese platters, etc. etc.), nice chianti, friendly people, beautiful Tuscan scenery and architecture.  We only had two days there, but made the most of it by just wandering side streets and getting off the beaten path. Afternoons spent sitting on curbs eating sandwiches and drinking wine, window shopping at little boutiques, marveling at fountains. Florence has restored my faith in Italy! Best of all – no Jersey Shore cast sightings, so my trip remains thankfully GTL-free.