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Exploring, creating, & reflecting one day at a time

I realize this is about a month late. Actually, a month to the day. But, this post is more a favor to myself than a desire to actually share my experiences with anyone, for I’ve found since coming back from this trip that I don’t like sharing my experiences all that much. It gets kind of old and repetitive and downplays all my memories at a certain point.
No, this post is necessary because I was stupid and chose to not bring my notebook with me on this trip, for whatever reason, unlike with my recent trips to Iceland and Indonesia. Instead I kept a sort of journal on my computer, but I will probably never look at that again, even if I print it out, so I will now recount the last 4 days of my trip before it all leaves my ever-aging mind (so sad, I know).The most prominent aspect of my traveling from Saturday morning until Wednesday morning was that it was non-stop. Quite literally.The title of this post includes a question mark because only once I was home in LA did I realize I had been “backpacking through Europe”. Yes, I had finally lived the prototypical American young adult dream, but sort of unintentionally. The last leg of my trip was really a product of the fact that I chose to buy a roundtrip ticket into/out of Lyon and needed to get from Montalcino to Lyon somehow, so I thought I might as well stop along the way.First stop was Florence, which was only a ~3 hour train ride from the vineyard, but i had to make 2 transfers. I had been to Florence before on my senior year high school graduation trip with about 25 other friends and classmates so I wasn’t too excited to be back. It’s a relatively small city—I walked from end to end, crossing the river, in just under an hour. Of course the duomo is gorgeous, like all the other duomos in Italy, but the thing I was most excited for was Grom. Yes, I know I went to Grom in Siena, but it seriously never gets old. I went twice in the two days I was in Florence. Overkill, perhaps, but I know I won’t have access to delicious, authentic, organic gelato any time soon so I think it was a wise decision.Florence was a lovely 105 F the entire time I was there and the hostel I was staying at (Ostello Archi Rossi) didn’t have air conditioning during the day (WHY!?). The hostel (my first hostel ever!) was pretty nice though and supplied free walking tours every morning alongside a hot breakfast. The beds may or may not have had fleas, but I woke up with about 15 new bites on my legs to add to the growing collection of centipede, spider, and horsefly bites already present. I found refuge the first day by napping during the warmest hours of the day before heading out for an aperitivo at Piazzo Santo Espirito on the southwest side of the city. After that, I went to Zeb (found via TripAdvisor) for an amazing and authentic Tuscan meal. The joint is owned and run by a mother-son duo and since i was the first customer of the night (though it got much more crowded later on) they gave me stellar service. I had homemade pear and pecorino ravioli, meatballs, and a lovely cream-and-pastry cake/dessert accompanied by a glass of red. They also served a Brunello di Montalcino there which gave me an odd feeling that can only be described as success for having finished 6 weeks on the farm.

Though I’m not the biggest fan of Florence, on the way back from dinner, something very lucky happened that did change my mind about the city a bit. I noticed a group of people starting to crowd around a stage set up in front of the duomo, only to find that the Florence Opera was putting on a free show for the public, complete with a full symphony orchestra. It was truly one of the most magnificent things I’ve ever witnessed (maybe until I got to Milan…) and they even played songs from my favorite opera of all time, Carmen! Seriously mind blowing.

The next morning I went on half of a complimentary walking tour before grabbing Grom and heading to the train station. Surprisingly, the group on the tour was comprised of no other Americans. I thought Americans and Australians were supposed to be everywhere all the time, but I found myself amongst a group of Brazilians and Canadians; I was even gifted a Canadian flag that someone had obtained because it was Canada Day.

I set out for Milan that afternoon, jogging with my pack to reach car 9 of my train which was labeled as the last car of the train, only to stick my head back out of the car and see the labels had entirely flipped and now train 9 was the first car. I feel like this kind of thing happened to me with every train ride I took throughout this trip, but I won’t complain too much because the train rides were some of my favorite parts of the trip—I absolutely love staring out of the window at unreal scenery for hours at a time.

Milan wasn’t all that impressive when I arrived except for the GORGEOUS baroque style duomo in the city center, right where the train station exits. It was extremely hot here as well, and so finding my hostel was a bit of a chore with sweat dripping down my face. The shishi and stylish MIlanese folk probably thought I was a homeless person or something, but at this point I had gotten used to those confused stares.

I stayed at Ostello Bello, which was tucked in an alleyway off the city center. It was really clean, the staff was really friendly, and most importantly, it was air conditioned. I was so tired from traveling at this point that I only ventured out to grab a gelato at Ciocoolati Italiani down the street, a gelato place that fills the bottom of your cone with a chocolate of your choosing before covering it with delicious gelato.

That night I was again greeted by a stroke of luck as the Euro Cup finals were taking place, Italy vs. Spain. I made friends with a group of kids ranging in age from 17-25 at the hostel, including an Oakland native. After an aperitivo at the hostel bar with free dinner included, we headed back out to the main piazza underneath the duomo. It was a truly impressive sight: thousands and thousands of die hard Italians decked out in flags, faces painted, cheering in front of a large makeshift screen beneath the omniscient white spires of the cathedral. Though Italy lost, the spirit in the piazza was amazing–it was really something you don’t see too often in America, even at big football games and the likes.

The next day I hopped on an EasyJet plane and finally made my way back to Lyon. I stayed at what Brianne deemed “the only hostel in Lyon, probably,” Cool and Bed. It was also very clean and air conditioned, though it wasn’t really necessary in Lyon. I ventured out that night to grab an authentic Lyonnaise dinner. Brianne was supposed to take me to a bouchon when I was there at the beginning of my trip but we ran out of time. I dined alone in a cute alley way full of bouchons and got to practice my French (listening) skills. I actually understood pretty much everything the waiter said to me! It’s kind of crazy to realize how easily you can pick up a language when you’re immersed. I know people always say that but it’s really neat (yes, I just said “neat”) to finally experience it first hand.

My meal consisted of a typical Lyonnaise salad with a poached egg, delicious fish-dumping in lobster sauce, and mousse au chocolat. Tres bon.

I got to bed early because I had to wake up at 5 (though I was quite used to this by now) to catch the train to the airport. I was disappointed to find none of the boulangeries open, so I had to settle for grabbing my last baguette and pan au chocolat at the train station bakery. It was still much better than anything in the states, just a bit more expensive.

Now here comes the whining:
My flight from Lyon to Frankfurt was delayed almost an hour, and the service reps wouldn’t tell us what was going on and when we would be able to board. We finally got on our way though and I made it to my connective flight, narrowly. When we arrived on the tarmac, we had to get on buses to enter the main terminal, but the buses got stuck for, I kid you not, 30 minutes, in a traffic jam ON THE AIRFIELD. HOW COULD AN AIRPORT SERIOUSLY HAVE A TRAFFIC JAM ON ITS AIRFIELD? it was insane. It was more insane that I realized that our last 10 minute stall was just about 20 feet from the unloading zone but that they wouldn’t let us off because we weren’t quite there. Ugh.

Once we got off the bus, the automatic doors wouldn’t open, probably because there were too many bodies around for the motion detector to sense any real movement. After a 5 minute wait in a herd of people, I, along with a 60-ish year old couple and a 40 year old man, started our sprint to the other terminal. We all started out in A but needed to be in Z. Ya…

So the 40 year old man fell on a flight of stairs, one of 4, but got up like a trooper. We all continued sprinting and when I got to my gate, I realized they had changed the gates without informing me. I finally found my gate only to see a line of about 100 people in front of it. They were doing some secondary security check. While waiting in line with some Portlanders, I told them what a bad day I was having and one of them joked that it would be terrible if we didn’t have any on-board entertainment systems. We didn’t.

So when I finally got to San Francisco and had to wait for stupid BART, I wasn’t a very happy camper. Nobody in my family was picking up their phones and by the time I got to my house in a state of delirium and frustration, I decided it would be a good idea to drive to LA, after not having slept for about 24 hours.

Yikes. But I made it home in one piece, narrowly, and finally got to rest my head on a pillow for the first time in over 30 hours. It was like heaven, except for the fact that my weird sleep schedule in Italy made it so I couldn’t sleep past 7 every morning.

I enjoyed a nice fourth of July in Redondo Beach and got my fix of a lot of the Asian foods I had been missing so much.

And so now I’m back in Berkeley, working at the old CCHC teaching English to high schoolers. I’ve been trying to recreate a lot of the Tuscan dishes I enjoyed while I was over there and though not quite the same, I’m content with my efforts.


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