My Fantastic Packing Mistake

Perugia, Italy - Traveling Boots

I had a comfortable late-morning flight to Rome.  The route to Copenhagen airport is an easy one.  Hop a reliable bus for a 5 minute ride, switch to the metro for a 35 minute trip and boom. Next thing you know you’re at Copenhagen airport ready to move quickly through their efficient security lines and on to your destination of choice.  The whole process is an easy one and something that I’ve gotten the hang of.  But, what’s the old saying? Complacency is dangerous? That sounds about right.

Perugia, Italy - Traveling Boots

Many of you probably found your way to VirtualWayfarer because of one of my packing videos or blog posts.  Both are an area I specialize in and consider myself a bit of an expert in.  So, when it came time to pack for my 5 day visit to Italy I didn’t stress out about getting things pre-packed.  Oh, sure, I  did the basics and made sure that the laundry was done. I even spent some time the night before fretting over what formal clothing to pack.  You see, I was heading to Perugia as a finalist in the Perugia International Journalism Festival’s ‘Stories on Umbria’ contest but there in lurked my pitfall.

The Colosseum - Rome - Traveling Boots

As I fretted over which suit to pack … to go formal or casual … which tie to take … and how to get it to Italy without turning it into a wrinkled mess in my backpack I neglected actually packing the essentials.  When morning came and it was time to leave I launched into a flurry of motion tossing clothing, electronics, and the usual assortment of items on the bed.  I was confident – and dare I say a bit cocky – chatting on Facebook and chuckling when friends asked if I’d packed yet.  After all, I’m an expert – I only need 30 minutes.

Rome - Traveling Boots

Sidetracked repeatedly by conversations and general distractions I eventually realized that I was running a bit behind.  I made the last minute decision to wear a sports jacket, dress shirt, jeans and a pair of leather dress oxfords for the flight. I’d only have about 30 minutes between when I was scheduled to arrive in Perugia and the welcome reception/dinner so I ruled out changing upon arrival.  I also packed a full suit and dress shirt which I took in a hanging bag as a carry on for the following day’s official ceremony.  This meant I needed to pack my normal walking shoes in my backpack.  Which I did. Quickly.  Grabbing a pair of my signature Keen Targhee IIs, tossing them in an old supermarket bag, and burying it deep inside my bag all took about 45 seconds. Then in went the rest of my clothing, camera chargers, spare batteries, dopp kit and the like. I paused, and with a flourish tossed the bag over my shoulder, snagged my camera bag, my suit and was out the door.

The Vatican - Traveling Boots - Rome

I made my flight to Italy with oodles of time.  The trip from Rome to Perugia was uneventful. I applauded myself for my efficiency.  The dinner was delicious and provided an incredible opportunity to socialize with veteran journalists from the likes of the AP, New York Times, and Telegraph.  The following day’s award ceremony was equally enjoyable. Though I didn’t win the prize, being in the final three was an incredible honor.  Particularly because I was the only blogger in attendance.   I spent the remainder of the day walking around Perugia in my black dress oxfords.  It was only the following morning as I transformed from semi-formal journalist to relaxed travel blogger that I realized I’d made the worst packing mistake in my personal history.

Last Minute Packing

As I sat in my dimly lit hotel room, still a bit groggy from the night before, I pulled on my jeans, tossed a black v-neck t-shirt over my head and then dug around in my bag for my walking shoes.  Unceremoniously I yanked them out and dumped the yellow Netto bag out onto the floor.  With one hand pulling my t-shirt down over the rest of my body I slipped my left foot into my shoe and then kicked the right shoe into position.  Then, as I went to slide my foot into the right shoe I realized it felt odd.  I re-positioned, still not focusing on it, and tried again.  That’s when I looked down and paid closer attention.  That’s also when I realized that in my haste I had made an impressive error.  I had packed two Keen Targhee IIs, true.  Unfortunately the two were also two left shoes in similar, but slightly different colors.

Rome - Traveling Boots

That’s right.  I packed two left shoes. Two left shoes that were also different colors.  Sure, it would have been bad if I ended up with one left shoe and one right shoe from different pairs – that I could have passed off as being creative, or gritty, or…hell, I don’t know.  Instead I was left with one simple conclusion.  I was an idiot. Not only was I an idiot sitting in a dark hotel room, 2 days into his trip laughing at himself, I was an idiot that had three days of hardcore walking around Rome scheduled.  Not something you typically want to do in a pair of black dress oxfords with minimal support, smooth souls, and stiff leather. As far as just wearing the two left shoes?  Fat chance.

The Pantheon - Rome - Traveling Boots

Too stubborn (and perhaps cheap) to buy a replacement pair of shoes for a mere 3 days I pressed on and wandered Rome alternating between my shower flip flops and my Oxfords.  To make matters worse the Oxfords were relatively new, which meant that the leather was still quite hard and hadn’t formed to my feet. So, my penance for rushing out the door and not packing properly?  Blisters, sore feet, and a bit of blood.

Monument of Vittorio Emanuele II - Traveling Boots

Oh, and for those of you that might wonder why I have two pairs of near-identical Keens – it’s because I picked up a replacement pair right before my 50 day Africa/Europe trip this past summer.  The old pair were still good, but not quite good enough to risk the trip.  The end result: two near-identical pairs of keens which sit like old dogs at the foot of my bed. The latest in a long line of shoes which have been featured repeatedly in the 320+ photos that comprise my traveling boots album. So, if you noticed that the shoes in my recent Italy Boot Shots were a bit out of place…now you know why.

Moral of the story?  Even if you think you’re an expert, it’s still a good idea to pay attention.  After all, no one is perfect.

I’m Sorry, Did You Say Travel Disaster? I Heard Adventure: Why I Travel for the Disasters

Sunken Pink Boat - Bergen, Norway

Life is comfortable. Chances are you’re not starving in a third world country or digging ditches in Sub-Sahara Africa. Most Millennials reading this are students, working desk jobs or have embraced the life of an entrepreneur. We live comfortable lives and are grateful for it. Sure, we face challenges – we all do, but those challenges are seldom balanced. Most tend towards insignificance or life altering.

To advance as a person, we all need to periodically find that middle group between “Oh no my phone fell in the toilet, my life is over” and “my friend was just killed in a car accident”.  A life enriched by moderate disasters better prepares us for the big things, and reminds us how insignificant the little things are.

Beyond that?  Travel disaster stories make for some of the best stories out there and let’s face it: I’m sure you’re interesting, but it definitely wouldn’t hurt you to be that much more fascinating, would it? To fulfill these types of needs and missing experiences some people dive into extreme sports, others advocate more benign ways of pushing our comfort zones.  At the end of the day though, I’ll take an excuse to travel the world over signing up for a public speaking class in a heartbeat. The best part is both are equally as effective.

So, what the hell am I talking about when I say travel disasters?  I’m talking about when things go implode. I’m talking about when it’s 10PM and the hostel/hotel loses your reservation, when the “waterproof” hiking shoes you bought for $10 fall apart a mile into a partially submerged subterranean cave, when your ferry gets shipwrecked, or when you lose your travel partner in a foreign city and neither of you have cell phones that work.

Don’t get me wrong, I also travel for the food, for the culture, for the history and for the scenery but at the end of the day when I sit down for coffee with someone – it’s the misadventures that were terrifying and miserable which come to mind first.  They’re the ones that forced me to sink or swim and taught me to take action. They’re the ones that develop us as individuals and which stay with us as important life lessons. I’m sure someone told you as a child that fire was hot, but you only truly understood it and related to it after you burned yourself the first time. It was in the aftermath of the burn that you came to understand the power, benefit and beauty of fire. Similarly, some experiences must be experienced before we truly understand them and better understand what we are capable of and need as individuals. It’s not always pleasant, but essential.

The next time you plan a trip and start worrying about everything that could go wrong I want you to pause, smile and get excited.  Sure, shit may hit the fan but you’re ready for it. You can handle it. That’s what you’re there for.  Granted, there’s no reason to seek out disaster but if it finds you?  Well, that’s just part of the experience and a trip well traveled.

Ready to embrace your next disaster? Consider documenting it with a Canon G12 or a Canon T3i.

*This post was originally published on GenJuice.com

 

Goodbye Denmark, Hello Germany

The Old Harbor - Copenhagen, Denmark

My final day in Copenhagen was a brief one.  After a fantastic night spent exploring the city’s nightlife with Kevan and a few girls from the hostel I downed a hearty breakfast, showered, read for a while and then struck out for the train station.  From there it was onto a fast train bound for Hamburg, Germany.  As I boarded my train I couldn’t help but let out a slight sigh.  My stay in Copenhagen and Denmark as a whole had been far too brief.  With a grin, I mumbled under my breath “I’ll see you soon” before boarding.

Every trip has it’s own mini disasters. In truth, that’s part of the joy of travel. As it turned out the Denmark -> Germany leg of my trip would end up being my Scandinavia trip’s mini-nightmare.  Unfortunately, there was a massive heatwave hitting the region.  Not the “oh boy it’s hot” type, but rather a heat wave significant enough that the national media was covering it. Which wouldn’t have been a problem, except for the small fact that the air conditioning on the fast train I was on was out.  That posed a major problem since bullet trains are largely sealed and don’t have windows that open or secondary ventilation.  The solution?  Transfer us to an older train about halfway through which had an odd mixture of windows (lifesavers), strange compartments, a tacky lime green paint job, and rattled along at a grandfatherly pace.  Sadly the train also seemed to pre-date air-conditioning.

Ride of Doom - Denmark/Germany Train

The ride itself was brutal.  Between the delays and slower pace of the older cars the 4 hour trip quickly turned into a 6.5 hour trip.  On the positive side of things, we still got through.  As it turned out the authorities were forced to cancel a large number of trains due to heat stroke concerns.  I’d later learn that some 30+ people feinted from the heat.  For my part, I sat as close to a window as I could manage, tried to read and baked slowly.   I’d guess that the temperature in the cabin was in the neighborhood of 120+ degrees Fahrenheit with a high humidity rate. Even as an Arizonan/Phoenician it was almost too much for me to bear.

Ferry to Germany

After an hour or two on the rails we pulled in to the harbor. There the train was carefully loaded onto a ferry and secured for the 45 minute trip across the bay to Germany.  The ferry was massive (it swallowed a train whole after all) and afforded us all an opportunity to stock up on water, grab some food, dry off, and desperately try and lower our body temperatures. I grabbed two hot dogs, a coke, and a liter and a half of water before heading up to the sun deck. There I was greeted by the smell of fresh sea air, and a view of a haze filled bay, periodically decorated by the hulking forms of large ferries, tankers and transports. With book in hand I settled in and rested for the duration of the maritime segment of the trip.  Then it was back into the train cars.

The rest of the trip was rugged.   I befriended the German woman traveling with her two kids who had the seats across from me.  Before long I an idea struck: to improve ventilation we could tie the doors open, which we did using her son’s shoe laces.  It helped a bit, and made life bearable.  From there we chatted a bit. She would periodically pause, listen to the announcements, and then translate them from German into English for me. Meanwhile apologetic and somewhat concerned crew members would make their way through the car, checking to make sure everyone was ok, responding to questions and suggesting anyone feeling light headed head to the dining car for water. In typical form the Germans all took it stoically.

By the time I decided to seek out something cold I’d already burned through and sweated out most of my liter and a half of water.  The salty hotdogs definitely hadn’t helped.  As you might imagine, the dining car was already sold out of water and most of their sodas.  The only thing they had left?  Juice…but it was luke warm which was good enough for me.

The rest of the trip was dreadfully hot, soaking wet and uneventful.  The good news is, I was definitely grateful when I eventually arrived in Hamburg. In the grand scheme of things, it was also probably fairly healthy.  After all, don’t people pay good money for extended trips to ritzy saunas?  Mine came with one hell of a view of the German countryside!

Shipwrecked on the way to San Pedro

Shipwrecked in Belize

After a relatively early start I set off to catch the 11AM bus from Playa del Carmen, Mexico down to Chetumal, Mexico.  The plan was to cross the border into Belize, head to Corozal and then catch a water taxi or cheap inter island flight from there out to the famous barrier islands – most likely to San Pedro.

The truth is I didn’t have a hostel lined up, was a little anxious about the lack of a guide book and had no clue how the border/ferry/bus was going to work out.   After overshooting the bus station I backtracked and eventually found it, pausing only at a Walmart like superstore to pick up batteries, albondegas and a small thing of Spanish rice from the deli counter which I intended to eat as an early brunch.

Once at the bus station, however, I ended up spending about 25 minutes in line waiting to purchase my ticket.  Hungry but more concerned about missing my bus I left the food in my bag and watched the minutes tick by.  Just before 11, with ticket in hand I let out a resigned sigh and made my way from the ticket counter to the bus gate.  Seconds later I was on board a nice ADO bus located behind the only window in the bus that had the ADO logo painted across the glass (completely obscuring the view).  Slightly frustrated that I would be spending the next 5 hours crossing Mexico without a view I settled in, smiled at the elderly Hispanic woman sharing the row with me and pulled out my book.  My stomach roared from time to time but without a fork I dared not pull out the food and dive into it until I saw a sign that others were doing the same.

Three hours into the bus ride the bus stopped for 5 minutes, people rushed out and returned with tacos.  Wishing I had taken the opportunity to grab a taco i contented myself by finally diving into what had been intended to be a late morning snack.

Chetumal

The rest of the bus ride was uneventful.  I read the first book in C. Descry’s Spy Trilogy, watched an animated movie or two in Spanish and listened to music. At the Bus station in Chetumal all of the tourists on the bus were quickly approached by a large man who spoke excellent English.  He said there was a new direct ferry from Chetumal straight to San Pedro that cost $30.  Eager to bypass the border hassle, added expense of Corozal and headache most of us opted to give it a try.  As we disembarked I noticed two travelers, who I’d later learn were Canadian.  I introduced myself, asked if they were doing the ferry and if they were interested in sharing a cab to the harbor – as luck had it they were.   The ferry left at 4 we were told leaving us just 15 minutes to get our ticket, get a cab and get to the harbor.   The three of us (myself, another Alex and Jenna) quickly found ourselves in a cab racing across the streets of Chetumal. In typical form the cab also had another random passenger which he dropped off about halfway across town.  We took the brief 10 minute drive to get acquainted.

Fisherman at the Chetumal Pier

Once at the pier we anxiously watched our watches, wondering if we’d be forced to go through customs and miss our boat.  It was 4:00 on the dot.

The San Pedro Ferry
We shouldn’t have bothered worrying.  We stood in line for a good 20 minutes on the end of the pier.  Customs consisted of a small kiosk set up in front of the boat with 4 military personnel reclining lazily with automatic weapons and a desk clerk behind it.   By 4:30 we had our exit stamps and piled onto the ferry.  There was a storm blowing in from the ocean bringing with it stunning clouds with gorgeous rays of light piercing through to spotlight various pieces of the surrounding country side.

Sunset in Chetumal Mexico

Luckily, despite the weather on the horizon the water in the bay was flat and absolutely gorgeous.  Running pleasantly late we started what we expected to be a 1.5 hour high speed ferry trip on a relatively small boat to San Pedro.

We pushed off and began to get to know each other better.  Working through the usual questions about work, school, passions and trip duration.   About 15 minutes into the boat ride we all paused as one of the local ladies began making noise and running around going through her bags.  Unsure and with a little anxiety, we quickly spotted a boat approaching from the shore at high speed. The captain cut power as they approach and we quickly realized it was customs – not pirates.  They searched the boat quickly before sending us back on our way.

The first hour was delightful.  The sunset was incredible, the clouds continued to offer a stunning backdrop to beautiful scenery and the fresh scent of the open ocean was invigorating.  The sunset was spectacular.  Then there was a crunch.  A second louder crunch and then a smack, crunch, thump, thump, crunch.  The boat went from blasting across the smooth open waters inside the great barrier reef to a total standstill.

San Pedro Ferry

We’d run aground. In the dark.  In the middle of the channel. It was one of those things that takes a while to settle in.  How could a ferry line that runs the route twice daily run aground? We quickly learned that it was the first time they’d run the 4:00 route (after dark) and that we were only in the first throes of what would be an eventful adventure.

The 20 or so locals around us let out various cries of alarm and began throwing on life jackets while the young children in their group cried.  I looked at Alex and Jenna and talked through what was going on.  The boat was made out of fiberglass, much like a giant Pangaboat. I knew from past experience that they were almost indestructible.  We’d hit a number of rocks, but none that stopped us outright so the blow was glancing or only to the prop.  Whatever we’d hit was submerged…in a shallow area.  It was unlikely that the boat would actually be able to sink more than 4 or 5 feet even if the hull was punctured.

Once we talked it through we let out a slightly relieved laugh, opted to put on our life preservers just-in-case, and looked out the windows into the dark for a nearby island.  The barrier coast was about a mile away on the left.  A small group of islands was about the same distance away on the right.  The boat was poorly equipped for running at night…and by poorly equipped I mean it wasn’t.  There were no running lights, no flood light, no powerful on board lights. Leaving the crew to look into the murky water with small hand-held flashlights as they guessed how to get us off the rocks.

Before long a member of the crew appeared, it turned out the boat had an on board motor which meant it ran deeper than it’s outboard siblings.   They had us all move to the front of the boat which lifted the back up and off the rocks long enough to back the boat off of the submerged mount it had hit.  We then re-dispersed across the ship and were revealed, if a bit surprised, when they announced that we’d continue to make for San Pedro and wouldn’t be switching boats.

The impact itself had bent the prop which made for a rough ride and slow going.   As the hours stretched by and we slowly crawled the remaining leg of the trip we ran aground three more times.  Though luckily, these were on sandbars and not rocks.

Our faith in the captain shattered, with anxious but amused laughter driving around the cabin we waited as the boat grounded out a 4th and final time.  This time even re-locating passengers front to back wouldn’t dislodge us.  When I glanced over the side it quickly became apparent why: a glance over the side revealed a smooth, sandy bottom just a few feet under the surface.  We were in water so shallow that even at night we could see the bottom.  I’d place it at between 4-5 feet deep, max.

Finally at a loss for a solution the captain and crew called out a second boat, this one far smaller and with a set of 3 powerful outboard motors. We were told that customs had been a big issue and that they were unwilling to separate us from our bags.  Twenty minutes dragged by before the second boat arrived.  Our bags were transferred over first, then the 30 or 40 of us on the boat began to pile into the small cabin.  The end result was comical.  Sandwiched knee-to-knee, shoulder to shoulder and back to back in a dimly lit cabin cruiser it looked like a scene straight out of a news piece about illegal immigrants trying to boat from Cuba to the US in overloaded, cramped quarters.

Going through customs on the ferry

The customs agents carefully waded through the seated crowd with passport stamp and pen in hand filling out forms, stamping passports all the while moving people around to create small flat surfaces they could write on.  The cabin was so dim they had to use flashlights held by whomever was nearby to see what they were doing.

Boat 2 San Pedro Ferry Disaster

Some four hours later we arrived in San Pedro. A beautiful town situated on a large sandy area of the outer barrier reef.  The town is a resort town and picturesque with wood dock after wood dock jetting out from white sandy beaches into the crystal clear Caribbean water.  Even as we waited for our gear on the dock we were able to spot stingrays and baby barracuda in the crystal clear water below.

Tired. Relieved and eager to eat and find lodging I  got a few recommendations from Alex and Shannon’s Lonely Planet and struck off.  Before long I’d found an odd, but helpful guy who showed me where the hotel was and introduced me to the night-man who could set me up with a room.  $50 Belize dollars later or about $25 USD I had a private room with a bed, fan and shower.  From there it was for a $9 BZD ($4.5 USD) taco stand meal: The national dish.  Stewed chicken, beans and rice.  All served up with a coke to drink.  It was both delicious and a successful finale for what had ended up being an unexpected adventure.

Pisa, the Cinque Terre & Verona

Before I start up again I just want to make a side note that hostels really are odd places. Last night was the worst hostel experience I think I’ve had thus far. Though that sounds overly negative as the vast majority of my hostel-based experiences have been fantastic. Due to the ridiculous nature of the experience I feel it’s worth mentioning. It occurred here in Trento at the local hostel. The hostel itself is great, 14 Euro for a clean bed in a 7 bed room with an attached bathroom and shower. The catch was, that I was the youngest in the room by a good 15 years. Initially I figured that would mean it was going to be a quiet night. If only…About 2 hours after I got there and checked in I returned to the room to find two guys arguing over which bed was which. The bunks in the unit were poorly marked and the two spent a good 20 minutes at least passionately discussing who got the cot. One of the guys may have been drunk and was annoying and over the top. The other was from Albania and turned out to be the only sane guy in the room.

As the argument over the bed finally was grudgingly resolved peace temporarily returned. I went for a walk, wrote an update, then got back to the place and prepared to go to bed. I had a nice chat with the Albanian guy who was in Italy working as a hotel concierge. The conversation was constantly interrupted by the Italian guy who had also been involved in the previous bed debate. He tried to debate geo-political and religious issues with me…in Italian. Those conversations wound down and we prepared to go to sleep. Another older, portly fellow had showed up during the discussion and made a B-line for bed. Shortly after we finished our discussion two other men showed up. One was a thin older gentleman who was probably in his 60s, the other was a rather large, cartoonesque looking man that I would put in his late 40s. The larger guy smelled horribly and as luck would have it…ended up in the bunk underneath mine. Those of you who know me can guess how thrilled I was. Think it ends there? Oh, not even close.

We turned off the lights and went to bed…turns out the guy underneath me and the other gentleman on the other side of the room snored…that I could have dealt with but these two managed something closer to a bellow than a snore. The older gentleman’s apparent response was to randomly shout what sounded like a dog noise. That collectively made it difficult to sleep…as if one wasn’t keeping me up…the other was waking me up. An odd phenomenon which was made that much more interesting as the original drunk Italian guy had his phone volume way up and somehow received 3 calls during the course of the night. Why he was getting phone calls at 3 in the morning…I don’t want to know. Even THAT should have been enough, but the night got that much more spectacular around 3:30 when the larger individual underneath me went from snoring to yelping, shouting and muttering. He jumped out of bed, frantically ran over to the light switch and turned on every light in the room. He then rustled through his bag for something…presumably some sort of pills. Five or so minutes later the lights went back off and things returned to normal. Needless to say, tonight I paid an extra 6 Euro for a private room!

Now that I’ve shared/vented on to the stuff that really counts.

From Florence Emily and I caught a cheap train to Pisa. There we figured out that we had a 1 hour layover before we split up. She was headed back to Milan/school and I was off to the Cinque Terre. We got off the train, made our way to the local bus, figured it out and caught it out to the cathedral and tower. We had about 20 minutes to poke around the grounds, take in the sights, take funny pictures holding up the tower and do the general tourist thing before jumping back on the bus and making it back with about 10 minutes to spare. The leaning tower is an incredible thing. The degree to which it leans really is fascinating. One of the best parts was the lack of weights or other obstructions around the base of the tower. When I had been there in ’95, in an effort to save the tower, they had large blue weights and fencing all around the bottom. This time the only thing that marred the tower’s beauty was a small set of netting around one stage of the tower.

From Pisa my train took me to La Spezia which is one of the mid-sized towns just off of the Cinque Terre. I had initially planned on using La Spezia as my base of operations, from which I’d planned to take quick day trips out to the Cinque Terre and surrounding country side. However, to my dismay there were no hostels or one star hotels around that had availability. A bit frustrated and unsure what to do I finally found someone who suggested a hostel located in the 2nd City – Manarola – along the Cinque Terre. I paid the 2 euro for a quick train pass and made my way there.

The train station for the town is located in a different cove than the town itself and connected by a long foot tunnel that goes directly through the mountain. I inquired at the station and then made my way to the hostel. It was located at the top of the town, which also was towards the back of the cove and at a significantly higher elevation than the water/train station. Oblivious to the beauty, I was on a mission and in dire need of a place to stay. The sun was starting to set and it had been a long day. I got to the top, found the hostel and was relieved to find an affordable room. I booked two nights, threw my stuff down, and headed back into town to explore a bit. I picked up some water, something to nibble on and then made my way down to the docks.

The town itself is tiny and you can walk from one end to the other in about 8 minutes. It would take less time if not for the steep hill it was built on. There is one main street, which is a raised/paved section that appears to run over an old stream which still runs under the road. As a result, as you walk down it you can constantly hear the sound of falling water. The terraced hills on either side are covered by grape vines and the town itself is full of small gardens that are green with flowers, kiwi vines, grape vines and fruit trees.

The harbor itself is a small thing, with a small breakwater and a path that winds down through 15 vertical feet or so of black jagged rocks. The water was a crystal clear blue as the sun set. The sea was calm, as the rose light of the sunset cast everything in hues of reds and gold. All the while the sea sparkled richly as golden light lit a stretch of it up. When the sun finally set I finished my conversation with two older Australian travelers also staying in the hostel and made my way back up. I ate a plate of penne, then headed to my room to read my book for a bit. The hostel was very quiet and far from a party hostel, as a result I took it easy.

The next morning I was up and out the door by 10. The day was slightly overcast but still bright, inviting and friendly. It suggested a sunny afternoon. I picked up a 1.5 liter bottle of water and told myself that it needed to be done and gone by the time I finished the hike. The water was smooth, the air slightly crisp. The fresh scent of the ocean filled my nose as I gleefully made my way down to the harbor and began my walk along the path as it traces its way along the coast between the villages. The water was clear with what I would guess was about 15 feet of visibility. The rocks a beautiful dark color. The hillside itself was a beautiful mixture of colors. The area between each town slightly different. The path traces along usually between 15 and 50 feet above the water. Though at some points, usually as you get closer to the towns, it climbs up the mountainside to considerable heights.

The walk itself is far from easy, but is well worth the energy. It snakes its way up and down the hillside with no apparent consideration for a hiker’s weary feet. In some points you are surrounded by low bushes and cactus laden with ripe red fruit…at other points you wind your way through olive groves that shade the path and cover it in the dark stains of fallen/smashed olives. At other points the path meanders through the small towns themselves as they perch, sometimes precariously on the side of the hills and at other times you find yourself in the midst of rich gardens, vineyards, and fern-covered valleys cut by tiny creeks that cascade down the hills. The towns themselves are something else. All of them are tiny, sandwiched onto the mountainside and they barely have room for a train station. More often than not the stop stretches into the tunnel.

The buildings are beautiful, picturesque things painted different colors, with laundry hanging from the balcony wherever there are not flowers or other random objects present. Most of the towns also have several cats which keep a lazy watchful guard on the tourists as they wander through. Because the tourist season has wound down many of the smaller fishing and tour vessels are pulled up and have tarps over them. They litter the streets around the harbor and add to the ambiance. The vineyards are incredible as they dot the rugged sides of the hills. It’s hard to imagine walking along harvesting the grapes. It seems like country created for goats…not men.

As I was walking I began talking to a couple moving at a similar pace. The conversations started and we ended up walking to the train together. Their pace was a little slower than mine would have been had I continued on my own. I figured that was probably a good thing as it encouraged me to pause and look at things I might otherwise miss or breeze by. The conversation wandered about as much as the path, which was nice. Something that both distracted slightly from the walk and my surroundings and by doing so enhanced my appreciation. It’s always been one of those things that truly frustrates me…the balance between experiencing and seeing everything you want to…and should see…and the glaze-over effect that goes with it where you start to loose appreciation.

After making my way to the last village I poked around a bit, got something to munch on and then caught a train back to La Spezia where I walked around with hopes of finding a book store with English books. As tends to happen while on the road, I’d forgotten that it was Sunday. As a result most of the book stores etc. were all closed and those that were open were too small to have an English section with anything I was interested in reading. I snagged a second dinner and waited for the train. It got back right as the sun was setting which gave me a chance to wander down to the docks again where I took it in and sipped on my water. From there I headed back up to the hostel and settled in for a quick nap. An Australian fellow I’d met the day before and who I shared the room with was doing the same and we ended up chatting for what ended up being a few hours. Apparently we both loved to talk and managed to talk about the most peculiar things… from fishing stories to stupid traveling antics. I think both of us were just bored, eager to chat instead of read, and wishing there was something more to do at night in the town. He was quite the character, a rough Australian from the north country…he was missing a few teeth and had some crazy stories.

Ahh, one other point – this one’s for Dad. As I wandered through the olive groves I thought back and chuckled at the time when we were all walking it as a family back in ’95. Dad, I just want you to know that for old times sake I reached up, picked a raw olive and ate it. It tastes every bit as bad as it did then and the taste stayed with me for a good hour!.

From the Cinque Terre I made my way northeast to Verona arriving around 6 in the evening. During the trip however I stopped briefly at Sestri Levante where I took two hours to walk around and made my way down to the beach. There is an old picture of me and Nate taken there years ago on the previous trip. In the photo we are both sitting on a big rock looking out to the sea. I had hoped to re-locate the rock and snap an updated photo…though it would have been different without Nate there. Unfortunately, I could not locate the rock but snapped a few off on the beach anyhow.

Darkness was settling over Verona when I arrived. The air was cold and humid, it had rained slightly recently and was threatening to do so again. I duplicated my now well established ritual for rough landings. I gave myself a bit to get my bearings and prepared myself for the stress of trying to find a place with no clue where to start by grabbing a Big Mac…ironically enough one of the few meals in Italy that actually fills me up and leaves me satisfied. After finishing my meal I hiked up my pants and wandered out the front door. I saw a sign for a hotel that was nearby and started towards it…100 yards or so later I was at what turned out to be a 3 star hotel. Frustrated and starting to feel a bit stranded I headed inside to investigate their cheapest room. 70 Euro wasn’t going to work, but the concierge was incredibly helpful. She looked up a hostel for me (I wasn’t even aware there was one in Verona) and even called ahead for me. Then directed me to a cheap taxi which got me there for 6 Euro.

The hostel itself was an odd thing…an old manor house of sorts. The dorms were in a long room with low vaulted ceilings. The hostel had a lockout at 12:00PM and closed the doors between 9:30 and 5:00. The bathrooms were down in a weird basement and the showers were old, school, gym-style group showers. I wasn’t thrilled about the place, but I was really excited to have a bed. I dumped my stuff off and set into the city to find an internet cafe and explore a bit. The good news…Verona is an incredible city. The bad news…there are no internet cafes…at all.

I walked down the old cobblestone streets and made my way eventually to one of the main bridges into the old town. As I approached it I was greeted by an incredible sight. It was dark out, crisp, and slightly damp. The water was running smoothly which provided a glassy surface. That surface reflected both a beautifully lit bridge and an old romanesque building with a tower and large beautiful dome framed by spear-shaped trees. It was a stunning sight, one that caused me to pause, stand against the stone railing and watch the river run by below me.

The bridge itself, when I finally continued on, turned out to be a pedestrian bridge that led into the old city. There I wandered the city streets aimlessly. It was about 8 o’clock in the evening. I’m quickly growing to love late night walks through European cities… especially ancient Italian ones. There are usually very few people around, the buildings have a majestic look to them, especially those made out of marble. The yellow lights, and everything else that goes with them, creates magical walks. Parts of the city were alive, others were ghostly quiet. I enjoyed both equally. Eventually I found myself at the old colliseum. It was lit by neon rose lights which highlighted the ruins and served as a subtle reminder of the blood that must have been shed there so many years ago. As I wandered along I found my way back to the river and there walked past a cathedral built in the red brick Veronesque style. With it behind me, there were golden colored trees that lined the path along the river. It offered another beautiful view looking back the way I had initially come.

That night was an an annoying one. I shared the dorm with two other random travelers and a large group of what I assume was some sort of French school group…though I think they were also some sort of a religious group as most were dressed in very conservative full body outfits (men and women) and none of the girls were showing much skin. That didn’t stop them, however, from being incredibly loud and annoying. It cemented my dislike for the hostel. The next morning I rose early after trying to sleep through the racket they were raising. I made the decision to see as much of Verona as I could and then that I would head out and make my way to Venice. There I hoped I could find a room over Halloween. Initially, I had hoped to use Verona as a base from which I could explore the northern country (Bolzano, Trento etc.) but now turned my eye toward Venice.

I put my backpack in storage and set off to see Verona by daylight. It was gorgeous. The architecture is fantastic and you can see the power and wealth that must have radiated from the city several hundred years ago. I made my way to the castle which is a beautiful red bricked creation with tulip-leaved castle walls. The bridge that leads into it is beautiful and has been used in several movies. As I crossed over it and looked at the castle I had the scenes from the movies playing through my mind.

Unfortunately it was raining off and on throughout the day which hindered my exploration somewhat. Despite the rain I walked back through many of the areas I had covered the night before and eventually found the balcony that has been attributed to Juliet. There I paused and enjoyed the beauty of the small area and chuckled inwardly as young kids and adults alike posed for photos next to the bronze statue of Juliet that sits below the balcony. The bronze statue has had the right breast worn to a shiny hue as people slap/grab it for good look as they pose with it.

I’m not sure why but I remembered the balcony and square being a lot different from when I’d been in Verona when I was younger. Then i would swear it had been on the opposite side of the small yard and that it had only been 5 or so feet off the ground. This one was on the opposite side and a good 15 feet up. The walls of the tunnel leading into the courtyard are covered in graffiti…from names to lover’s pacts. Even if it’s not real it’s a fantastic spot.

I made my way back through town and got my bag, then caught the bus through the rain to the train station where I caught a regional train to Venice.

There I’ll leave you for now. I’m off to catch my train back to Florence. Because of the hostels there and since I missed the Uffizi the first time I’ve decided to try and use it as a central base to explore the region around it. I may change my mind, but hopefully it will work out well.

Ciao!