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Chiang Mai Sunday Night Market: Sights, Sounds, and Smells.

Everything sizzles and pops around you. Steam floats into the night sky like aromatic clouds carrying scrumptious smells of marvelous treats like various meats, or grilled vegetables, or spicy soups — all to the song from a lute; cracked leather-like fingers pluck the instrument, that long necked worn cherry-colored lute called the sueng, releasing a melody of ting-tang-tong-tang-ting to add sweet soundtracks amongst the chitter-chatter of the throngs.

Here and there and everywhere  is food porn galore. From spicy papaya salad to buttered garlic bread, pork balls and chicken balls (not testes) to kababs with zesty yogurt — everything your tantalized taste buds can salivate over.

Needle and thread dive in and out of colorful fabrics with a delicate urgency under soft yellow light as young and old create intricate gifts before your eyes. Maybe you’re looking for a poncho, or a scarf, or a hat — whatever it may be, it can be found as far as the eye can see.

This is the Sunday walking street market in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Once you enter Ratchadamnoen Road; near Thapae Gate cutting through the center of Old Town, you are lost in the ebb and flow of the Thai and tourist slow moving river. And there is almost no turning back — though you probably won’t want to anyway.

Do what I call the Chiang Mai Market Shuffle: right foot slides forward two inches, left foot slides forward two inches, rock your body one way to glance at trinkets, rock the other way to fiend over drool-worthy food, and repeat. It’s packed in the market so you’ll have to do a little shuffle.

The Chiang Mai night market is a place bursting with people, but this river of buying and selling is a treasure trove of Thai and exotic street food and hand-made arts and crafts.  Much of it that is rarely found cheaper or of better quality than here. There is a reason why even Thai people fight the current of bodies to shop here.

Photo of crowds in the Chiang Mai Sunday Night Market in Thailand.

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Thai curry Chiang Mai Night Market

Police officer playing guitar Chiang Mai Night Market

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The Chiang Mai Sunday night walking street is definitely a busy place, but one of my favorite things in the city to do each weekend.

HOW TO GET THERE

The Sunday night walking street market is located directly across the from the Thapae gate on the eastern side of Chiang Mai, the entry into the old town. The stands begin to pop up in late afternoon and around dusk, and begins to get overly packed around 7:00pm to 9:00pm.

WHAT TO BRING

Make sure to come on an empty stomach and with smaller bills — many of the vendors cannot break 500 baht and 1000 baht notes. You will also be walking for quite a bit so wear comfortable shoes. Since the market is teeming with people, bring a back that has secure zippers and straps so you can keep your belongings safe.

WHERE TO STAY

Since the walking street market is in the heart of old town, most of the available hostels in hotels are close by and within walking distance. During peak season, Chiang Mai accommodation can fill up fast so make sure to book your hotel or hostel a few days in advance.

Have you ever been to the Chiang Mai Night Market? 

 

5 Secrets to Exploring Los Angeles on a Budget

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Los Angeles: the city of glamour, fame, and fortune. It can be a “hella” fun place to visit — but it can also bottom out your bank account if you aren’t careful.

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Traveling to Los Angeles? Then take note of these simple hacks to save money in the City of Angels. Some travelers come to LA expecting to spend tons of money on the clubs and clothes, and if that’s your intention for a vacation, fine. Splurge on the high-end restaurants and wax museums and “Star Sightings” buses.

Are you a backpacker or budget traveler? Then this guide is for you. If you want to take in all Los Angeles has to offer AND save mad moolah while doing it, here are some ways to make your dollar go the distance.

<< Hunt for Cheap Eats >>

FOOD TRUCKS/STALLS: Los Angeles streets are dotted with food vendors, food trucks, and carts that cater to the fatty in all of us, and also means there are plenty of cheap eats too. Get your nom on by eating at places along the streets you see construction workers and locals grabbing a bite. These are the food trucks and stalls that they eat at every day because they are cheap and tasty. Favorites — Los Angeles has amazing Mexican food, but also keep an eye out for fusions things like Spanish and Korean mix. Also, don’t forget about the quick-grab fruit stands that you usually see in Southeast Asia — they’re in LA too and still only $1-$2 for a bag of fruit.

FIND A FOOD TRUCK: Roaming Hunger Tracker

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MEAL DEALS: Like most cities around the US, even the glitzy restaurants sprinkling Los Angeles have specials too. Scout out the happy hours and meal specials before you arrive, or do a quick search for best happy hours in Los Angeles. There are 1/2 price burger nights, Taco Tuesdays, and Thirsty Thursdays abound and easily found. My favorite go to is Cabo Cantina on Tuesdays for all you can eat tacos and cheap beer.

One week, while testing how far I could stretch my budget, I went out with a friend and had dinner and drinks for under $10 each night. Here are some of the places we hit.

Monday’s at The Stand the deals is $1 hot dogs and $2 house Honey Blonde Ale, so we scoffing down some dogs and beers and moved on.

Tuesday in Santa Monica we went to All-You-Can-Eat Taco Tuesday at Cabo Cantina ($4.99) and ate until our bellies threatened to burst.

Friday night at Maui & Sons in Hollywood we hit happy hour and their $3 import beer deals.

<< Hit the Vintage Shops >>

The City of Angels is a bit grungy…but it’s also littered with good things like consignment shops, thrift stores, vintage clothing stores, and shops that sell wardrobes from movies.

What does that mean for you? Super cheap clothes. Get your hobo-chic on.

While wandering Hollywood, Santa Monica or Venice Beach, make sure to step into the numerous vintage clothing stores lining the streets to score some deals on clothes. Some places are just old-school digs, but others get all of the wicked cool props and costumes from studios that don’t need them anymore — even articles like jeans or leather jackets.

These shops around Los Angeles are packed with every era of style your heart might desire. I was short on warm clothing before my trip to New Zealand, so I stopped by a favorite of mine, Iguana Vintage Clothing in Hollywood, and scored an awesome Mexican poncho for only $10. It lasted me for years until someone stole it.

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<< Master the Metro >>

If you’re in Los Angeles with no car, you aren’t completely helpless. The Metro bus and rail system, like most of the US, isn’t top notch compared to some European and Asian countries, but it will take you where you need to be.

The Metro rail is a huge money saver. Grab an all day pass good for bus and metro for $5 and you can go most anywhere in the city. The buses come more often and more on time than cities like Washington DC, but don’t expect the Metro rail to follow suit.

Planning on some late nights out? Some buses in Hollywood run 24/7 every 30-60 minutes too.

Most places of interest around LA will have a bus stop or metro link to that destination. You can get to South Bay, Santa Monica Pier, Hollywood, China town, Venice beach and more all by bus or metro. If you’re a picky about taking buses and metro because the are dirty and grimy, get over it or spend loads on taxis and rental cars.

<< Budget Beds >>

While the United States isn’t very accommodating when it comes to backpacker style guesthouses and hostels, Los Angeles is one of the few spots that I’ve seen in the US that has them. There are a few around the city, one being a hostel located right in the heart of Hollywood. But the hostel that I’ve stayed at and loved was HiHostel just off of the 3rd Street Promenade. Here you can get away from the mayhem of the city and be just a few blocks away from the beach.

As always, some alternatives are AirBnB and Couchsurfing. Obviously the best budget choice is Couchsurfing, but remember that Los Angeles is a tourism epicenter and you’ll need to start looking far in advance. For AirBnB, just remember that peak season for summer and times when there are festivals or events, prices will hike.

<< Do Free Shit! >>

Everywhere you look, someone will be trying to sell you something in Los Angeles. Not like Southeast Asian countries, but take a stroll down Hollywood Boulevard and you’ll come out with a million flyers. Ignore all of the paid tours and cheesy attractions, because Los Angeles has amazing free things to do.

You have feet right? Then wander!

Los Angeles has a storied history from its rise by gang influence, to becoming the center of the entertainment world, to the eclectic and unique hippie culture that seems to be stuck in the 70’s.

SANTA MONICA: Hang out on the pier and watch a sunset or lay out on the beach all day. Go to the 3rd Street Promenade to people watch or enjoy a street performer.

VENICE: Gawk at the hippie RVs, fascinating weirdos, and street performers. Hang out in a pop-up drum circle on the beach, or take a stroll along the Venice Beach canals.

BETWEEN: All along the boardwalk from Santa Monica Beach to Venice, there is sometimes a festival or show going on like this car show I stumbled upon.

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HOLLYWOOD: Walk the streets night or day and fight the crowds while following the stars. You don’t need a car to get to the Hollywood sign, just follow a maps app and you can walk there. Head up to the Griffith Observatory, opened in 1935, to have the best view of LA from above, and attend a stargazing night that they put on during the week.

PACIFIC COAST HIGHWAY: This you’ll need a car for, so let’s hope you have friends. The PCH is one of the most beautiful drives in the world, so pack a lunch and drive all day up the coast and back.

HIKING: You’ll also need a ride for this, but there is some incredible hiking opportunities just outside of downtown Los Angeles. Santa Monica Mountains and Malibu Creek are national parks close by the city where you can spend all day trekking on and off trails through the rugged landscape taking in the views of the mountains like these below.

<< Getting there >>

Getting to and from the City of Angels can be pretty freakin’ cheap…IF you give effort and search for deals. Los Angeles is a hotspot for domestic and international travel, and being that Mother Nature decides to stay beautiful for majority of the year, it’s always busy. Even with that, there are so many flights coming and going from LAX that airlines are competing for the lowest fare.

Give yourself a few months in advance to look for tickets for flights and trains, and get on a mailing list for airfare alerts when prices drop. Southwest, Virgin, US Airways, and American are the most popular airlines. I’ve personally flown to Los Angeles from DC for $150, but it depends on your timing. If you’re already in the United States, get on AirFare Watchdog and you can schedule alerts for price drops when they happen for the best deal possible.

[x_alert heading=”DISCLAIMER” type=”muted” close=”true”]All links and companies in this article are solely mentioned because I have used them before.[/x_alert]

<< What are your budget travel secrets in major cities? >>

 

 

Get Green! Explore Fontanaro Organic Wine and Olive Estate in Umbria.

The moment I stepped foot in the backyard of Il Fontanaro, I knew I was going to quite enjoy myself. Maybe it was Bob humming along as he cut the lawn, or maybe it was the pool beyond the hedges the overlooked the green gum-drop dotted hills around, or maybe it was the hammock swaying in the breeze (after all, hammocks make everything better). Maybe it was the drive through the valley that did it, or the old brown dogs that greeted us after passing by the family vegetable garden. Even under the grey washed sky it was a beautiful place set in the valley above Paciano, Umbria, and there was much to gawk at.

It could have also been Alina asking if I wanted a glass of wine on arrival. It’s possible.

Oh, and meet Bob, well as I named him…

Welcome to Il Fontanaro Olive and Grape Estate, almost 100 acres of protected wood and land crawling with vineyards or sprouting with olive trees perched in the rolling hillside of Umbria, Italy. After arriving late night to our villa Campodalto where we would be staying during a 10-day blogger tour, day two introduced us to our base of operations in the area where super secret blogger pow-wows would happen. Or, in reality, where we would meet up for lunch or dinner and go over plans for the day and experience what the estate has to offer with its award winning wine and olive oils.

But before we delve into some of the experiences over 4 days around the estate (and my wine glass count which may or may not top 100) I want to share some of my first impressions in photos as I noted above, which are some of the details that made Il Fontanaro such a special place.

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Everybody loves dogs. That is the only reason they are on here to get oohs and ahhs out of you. No, I’m kidding, Fontanaro brings out the big guns in first impressions with the welcome committee consisting of these two. I can’t tell you how many photos us bloggers took of them.

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Hammock hung from an olive tree overlooking the hillside. Enough said.

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Care for a swim in the secret garden?

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All around Il Fontanaro life and color was bursting everywhere you looked. Beside the large family garden in the front of the property where the family gets the majority of ingredients they cook with, all over were lilac and flowers and even artichoke growing. By the way, the crazy awesome purple flower above is what an artichoke in bloom looks like! If you already knew that, go away. I didn’t, and it was exciting for me. Don’t crush my enjoyment.

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Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil (Award winning at that!)

One of the days on the estate, we had the opportunity and pleasure of getting a tour of the olive orchard and mill where they make the award winning olive oils. We were led through the orchard and told of the history of the farm, the process of growing and maintaining the olive trees, and the process at which they produce the extra virgin olive oil. Our guide, the one and only true Mamma Lucia, told us of how the estate only had a small portion of olive trees growing on it, and now they produce some 2,000 liters of it annually.

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Momma Lucia explains how the olives are harvested, carefully of course, and how the trees are decades old and they have used no chemicals at all on the farm.

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Olives in growth, just beginning to pop their little green heads out into the world.

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Our other guide, Ciccio, always followed us about the estate and knew of the best places to relax.

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Some of the bees in the bee hives just below the olive trees. Not only to they produce olive oils, but also 300kg this year of organic raw honey.

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The valley splitting open, revealing the rolling hills of Umbria and the town below. Quite a view from the mill.

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Mamma Lucia takes a moment to show us photos of the estate and of baby Alina so we could embarrass her later by telling her how cute she was. Apparently, all throughout their childhood, the kids of the household were always eager to help with whatever they were producing.

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Some of the machinery involved in the olive oil pressing.

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While on the olive oil tour, we had a chance to take shots, of olive oil of course, to see if we could guess the cheap store bought brand versus their organic oil. Instantly I could see the difference; the store bought was a transparent golden color, whereas their olive oil was a thicker consistency and was slightly green. Alina told us how to sip the oil specifically, and doing so I could feel the oil triple down my throat and burn all the way to my stomach. Not in a painful way, but almost like I would sip a fine whiskey.

“I use it for everything. If I feel sick, or have a stomach ache, I take a spoonful of olive oil.”

Now that is something the United States won’t back — organic natural medicine? That would probably be deemed blasphemous. Yet, I believed it, and when she explained all of the benefits of olive oil, and the nutrients and vitamins in organically produced olive oil, it was something I would definitely be using back home.

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Wine Tastings (and my new found love for it.)

Another part of the experience at Il Fontanaro is the wine tastings of their own wine produced from a small vineyard on the property. I can definitely say I love my wine, with their brand being called by the exact same name of My Wine, and no doubt there is reasoning behind it because I never wanted to give it up.

Alina, during the wine tasting, went through the history of wine in the region and the main types produced there, with Il Fontanaro’s stock being exclusive to the guests who stay there.

I remember asking Alina at one point a question that completely baffled me, “Why is it that I haven’t gotten a hangover yet?” I inquired. Truth be told, I get headaches from wine even if I only have two glasses, let alone the first day when I had upwards of ten. Exaggerating that claim or not, she filled me in on the blunt reason behind my lack of hangover, and with her thick Italian accent she retorted, “Because you aren’t drinking shit wine like America.”

We all laughed, but it is potentially true, given her explanation that organic wines from Umbria and Tuscany wouldn’t have preservatives in them, and more importantly, sulfates that cause headaches in wines. With a gulp of My Wine, I nodded and felt enlightened.

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After the clanking of glasses and sipping of more wine, we were taken into the kitchen where we were to learn how to make authentic Italian pasta from scratch. To my relief, it didn’t appear that I was the only one lacking experience in this field as Alina instructed us each step of the way. And usually delegating the hand-cramping task of making the dough and folding and massaging it to the “strong men”. I think the girls just wanted to sit back and sip wine and laugh at our attempt at cooking.

Pasta Making (I learn how to cook! Kind of.)

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Soon, the floor began forming a volcano…well, we formed it into a volcano to stir ever-so gently pesto into it to create the pesto ribbon pasta.

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In Umbria, everything has got to be hearty. Raguout means hunks of meat chucked into a pan and simmered together in glorious carnivorous synchronization of flavor. The kinda’ food that will keep you warm during the cold winters there. I’m sure the red wine helps too.

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Just as our dough was settling, we were taught two ways to slice them into pasta: Momma’s and Alina’s. There was a reason why both were never in the kitchen at the same time, since Alina refused to use a hand-crank pasta slicer whereas Momma Lucia snuck us out back to show us how.

 

Bloggers Assembled!

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Here around the table daily, us bloggers sat and talked and ate and drank and laughed, all in the good company of Fontanaro Estate’s family. Everything they do on that farm and around the other guesthouses they own is done with a long-lasting passion you can see in their eyes and hear in the enthusiasm in their voices. Though we were visiting for four days, four was not enough since I wanted to stay and actually help with a harvest. At some point I will. Or, mainly sleep in that hammock out back. But it was the perfect location to launch our amazing blog tour from, and a place that helped us all get familiar with the roots of tradition in the Umbria region and history of an ancient art like olive oil.

 

*Special thanks to Linnea of This Is Your Time and Alina of Slow Living Vacations for inviting me on this blog tour, and Il Fontanaro for hosting us. All opinions and use of the word “gnarly” are my own.

Weekly Photo Mojo: Fireflies light up the hillside in Umbria, Italy.

Up in the hills above the 15th century town of Paciano Italy and overlooking the countryside of Umbria sits the villa of Campodalto. At the beginning of my 10-day blogger tour through Italy, this sight was one of the more unexpectedly memorable ones — and it happened on day one after arriving late night to Campodalto where we would stay during our time in Umbria. I just remember wandering outside and into the back lawn that was pitch black. The distant town lights glowed, but the sea of fireflies overpowered even that. There were thousands around us flaring up and fading black, like the visual representation of the heartbeat of the hillside around us, and with the cloudy sky above, it was as if the stars had descended so we could still see them.

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Read more about the 10-day blog tour around Umbria and Ponza Italy HERE!

Weekly Photo Mojo is about stimulating your cortex with retina rupturing and awe-inspiring photos from around the world to help you reach Terminal Vicariosity (The point where the mind reaches maximum capacity from living vicariously through someone else, and chooses to start actually living.)

*This blog tour was sponsored by Slow Living Vacations and This Is Your Time, but all opinions and stories are my own*

Paradise in Italy: Staying at Frontone Beach Villa on Ponza Island

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It’s not every day that you get to look out of your window and see the ruins of a 15th century palace. Or fortress. Or house of a wealthy family. Whatever it was atop that hill across from our villa on Isola di Ponza — that crumbling structure barely clinging to whatever historical moment in time it came from — it was a magical sight. Something out of one of my fantasies. I always dreamed of exploring ruins and castles as a young boy, but I had never thought I’d bee sleeping across from them.

Let alone have a hammock to relax in on the porch of a white-washed villa set in the rocky, green-brushed volcanic hills of Ponza Island.

Our crew of the This Is Your Time blog tour, all bags in tow, plodded along the winding pathways that snake through the hills of grey and orange rock, passing the white painted villas which seemed almost to be carved straight out of the hillside. This was after a winding truck drive down the small hairpin turns which rim the coastal cliffs that were incredibly treacherous and equally adventurous, with our whole blogger crew holding on for dear life.

Which made arriving all the more rewarding and the location even more fantastical.

After a brief hike (around Ponza, you definitely need to have good legs under you) we came up the hill and through the gate to our sweet getaway, our own bright white villa above Frontone Beach overlooking the sapphire blue Tyrrhenian Sea. A gentle breeze brought up the salty sea air and cooled our brows as we all heaved our bags down happily, ready to take in this beautiful place and relax.

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All of us immediately went exploring the house. Or flopping down on our faces on the comfy beds. Maurizio Musella, owner of this villa and head of TuristCasa on Ponza Island, was nice enough to let us use both connected guesthouses while we were on the island. And wow, was it awesome. It had been a long day of traveling, leaving Umbria and the first half of our tour behind, taking a train 2 hours into Formia, and a ferry to the island over 3 hours. There was space to stretch out, plush couches and beds, and the setting sun shining through the doorways.

This felt like home away from home.

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What I loved most was the décor; vibrant and lively and totally fitting for an island paradise, with fish painted on the walls, maroon and royal blue ceramic tiles, and handmade plate-ware.

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I think I could sit there every morning for breakfast, couldn’t you?

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Though we were all “oohing and ahhhing” at our accommodation for the next 3 days, it wasn’t long after arriving and dropping our bags that the beds and couches were enticing us it was nap-time for all.

For most of the time in Ponza when at the villa, besides having some family-style dinners cooked, or a few hangouts, this was mainly our spot to relax. And we were all fine with that. Of course blog tours are hectic, so it was nice to come back each day to such a homey and fantastical villa where we could all enjoy the views and decompress — whether it be from snorkeling all day, exploring the island, or waddling back with stuffed bellies.

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Here is our villa above the pink house as seen from the ruins I gazed out at every morning.

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Most of our blogger crew hanging out relaxing in the sun and eating lunch whipped up by Federico or Linnea. That table was our gathering spot when we all did work or just wanted to sit around and chat.

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This is my “I’m going to destroy this plate of delicious pasta” face.

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When I had heard we were going to be staying in a villa on Ponza Island, I couldn’t imagine it was going to be like this. The views alone were breathtaking, with panoramic scenes of the sea in front of you. But also the hospitality of Maurizio was stellar. He was kind enough to give us lifts to and from the port when possible, and even a day excursion by boat exploring the Island (much more on that to come!). And of course I can’t forget the company, with the other members of the blog crew really making it a fun place to stay. How often can you get a group of strangers together in a house and have everything be smooth?

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Unless we had to ride into town, or if we didn’t bus it back, then we followed the path down the cliff-side to the beach and small port below the villa where we could catch a boat. That’s right, we could boat taxi from our villa! Since I was so fascinated by the ruins nearby I tried to do some sleuthing, and apparently it is called Fort Bentick or Fort Gable, built for defense of the port against raiders. But there isn’t much else. Now overgrown and a wind-swept shell of its former self, but still nonetheless nifty.

I mean, seriously, swinging on a hammock looking at these ruins and the Tyrrhenian Sea, can it get any better than that? Though I’ve stayed in every accommodation you can imagine from 5-star resorts with every amenity you can imagine to treehouses with no electricity, this was one of my favorite places I’ve stayed.

*Disclaimer: This trip is thanks to This Is Your Time blog tour and Slow Living Vacations, with our stay courtesy of Maurizio at TuristCasa. All opinions are my own.*

Weekly Travel Photo: Il Trasimeno Lake in Umbria, Italy.

Long golden grass dancing on a gentle wind, bright yellow and purple wild-flowers peeking out of the hills, dark green-brushed mountains in the distance climbing out of the horizon and surrounding the turquoise lake shimmering under the summer sun.

This is Il Trasimeno Lake in the region of Umbria in Italy. Here, our blogger group on tour around Italy began a hike with UmbriAction that would take us through the hills around the lake, showing us the beautiful and unique agriculture and wildlife. Though we had quite a hike ahead, I had to pause and take a moment to admire the view. This was a place I could have seen myself spending an entire day on that very bench writing.

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Read more about the 10-day blog tour around Umbria and Ponza Italy HERE!

Weekly Photo Mojo is about stimulating your cortex with retina rupturing and awe-inspiring photos from around the world to help you reach Terminal Vicariosity (The point where the mind reaches maximum capacity from living vicariously through someone else, and chooses to start actually living.)

*This blog tour was sponsored by Slow Living Vacations and This Is Your Time, but all opinions and stories are my own*

From Umbria to Ponza: 10 Days of Travel Around Italy

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Oh how the adventures of backpacking can swing dramatically from lows and highs. Trust me, I would know, because for a chunk of my time in Italy and across parts of Eastern Europe I was living on bread and ketchup as my budget bottomed out and I was left pondering what to do next. Well, slightly freaking out.

And then, the next thing I knew I was on a blog tour around parts of Italy with a group of bloggers, dining on some of the best culinary traditions of Italian cuisine, and exploring the country in ways I wouldn’t have been able to afford. Luckily, I had met a person with a similarly adventurous spirit who was setting up her first blogger tour around the country based around the sole idea of living your life to the fullest.

We met on one of the historical tours I had taken in Rome, and after meeting up a second time to hear about her idea for her blog tour, she invited me to come along. To say I was stoked is an understatement, because what she had told me for the goal of her blog tour fully encompassed the sprit of adventure and inspiration.

That is where Linnea and Alina come in — the two who incubated the idea of a tour through Italy that would embody the ideas of taking advantage of every moment in life, to explore Italy into the deep roots of its culture by taking in everything in a slow-paced and relaxing way, and to get the real Italian experience by spending time with locals. And of course the would be our marvelous guides for the week and half.

With their powers combined, the Slow Living Vacations and This Is Your Time blog tour was formed! It would take us outside of the bustling Eternal City into the countryside of Umbria, amongst the rolling hills and endless olive orchards and vineyards, where we would discover the very essence of Italian cuisine by seeing first hand how hearty pastas, award-winning olive oil, and robust red wines are made. We would hike around the turquoise Il Trasimeno Lake learning from the locals how the flavors of Italy are grown in the fields around us, and what a fisherman’s life is like on the lake.

Then, we were off south of Rome to the Island of Ponza for a complete contrast of culture and flavor. Here the white wine and Proseco flowed, and meats and red sauces became fresh-caught seafood in spices and white sauces. We would explore the island by boat, taking in all of the geo-gasmic natural beauty, and underwater by scuba diving to see what lies beneath.

There wasn’t much mention about this tour on the blog as it happened in June because well, the majority of the tour we were busy doing epic things, and my hands were tied with copious amounts of wine. So for the next few weeks I will be sharing all of the tour on the blog.

But who is this “we” I keep mentioning? I can’t be rude and not introduce the rest, so without further ado I give you the gnarly blogger crew!

Roster of awesomeness in no particular order:

Ryan (why that’s me of course!)

DJ of Dream Euro Trip

Serena of Wishversilia

Anna of Green Holiday Italy

Diana of Browsing Italy

Claudia of Travel Stories

Gillian of Gillian’s Lists

Now let me introduce you to some of the delicious and adventurous tidbits we experienced that we took part in while on this blog tour as a teaser for what is to come!

Part 1: UMBRIA

 

Campodalto 

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It was such a contrast going from an uncomfortable and hot hostel, to a villa in the hills above Paciano that felt immediately like home. Though the home of my past never had views like those outside my window, nor did it look this nice, I instantly felt warm and cozy. The villa, Campodalto, is where DJ and I stayed while the other bloggers were split up into other locations around the area. From high up in the hills it overlooked the valley below, with fireflies that would light up the darkness at night, and our host Marliza with the biggest smile and sweetest heart. One of my favorite aspects of the trip happened here, which was the massive Italian style dinner she cooked up for all of us, which was my first true experience of Italian hospitality. Read about the heart-warming experience HERE!

Giacomo Mori

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One of first activities that we did, which was fitting since we were staying on or around vineyards, was to take a winery tour and tasting of Giacomo Mori. A historic winery set in the hills of Umbria, we were taken below the house into the brick-lined cellars where we learned about their process for making wine, how long their blends are aged, and a bit of the history. Then we went upstairs into the dining room where the table was lined with meats and cheeses — and of course wine! The view out the window was breathtaking, and the wine maker gave us tastings of their best wines, and even their reserve. This was the beginning of my love affair with wine, which I normally do not drink at all!

Paciano

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Marked as one of the most beautiful historic towns in Italy, Paciano, dating back to the 15th century, is an incredibly well-preserved town in the Province of Perugia in the Umbria Region. With the mayor and the head of tourism of Paciano, we were led around the cobblestone streets and learned about the rich industries of agriculture, metal work, and textiles in the region, while admiring the rustic architecture.

Fontanaro Farm

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One of the blog tour guides, Alina, also helps run Fontanaro Farm which is owned by her family and the place she grew up — and was our main base of operations while in the Umbria region. Here, Aline showed us how their families award-winning olive oil is produced, and cemented my appreciation of Italian wine by letting us taste the delicious red wines produced on the farm. Also, a big perk for me seeing that I lack a bit in the cooking department, Alina taught us how to make homemade Italian pasta and how to stew up a thick Umbria argue that would easily keep you warm in the winters. The property was surrounded by the vineyard and olive trees, with mountains ranging being and the valley sinking below into golden fields. To be invited into someones house, whether she was our guide or not, was something very special.

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Cantina de Redi 

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Deep below the stone street of the mountaintop town of Montepulciano was the wine cellars of Cantina de’ Ricci, which were carved into stone below the city by the Etruscans dating back before ancient Roman times. In the silent darkness, massive oak barrels lined the vaulted stone corridors which led us into the modern-day Cantina de’ Ricci where we tried fresh-cut prosciutto, cheeses, and other meat while trying their red wine selections. The building, inside of a historic Palazzo or palace, holds onto the traditions the now extinct Ricci family guarded hundreds of years prior.

 

UmbriAction

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Ruins in Umbria Italy

Organic farming Umbria Italy

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Umbria Italy wine tour

What’s the best way to really explore a region? To hump it. No not that kind of humping ya’ pervert, but a real long hike or trek throughout the region to really experience it. On our last full day in the Umbria region we met up with the team of UmbriAction, a company specializing in eco-tourism and adventure tourism in the area. When we first me up with them, we were off to do some bird watching around the marsh area of Il Trasimeno Lake populated by tons of local and migratory birds. After, we went off for a hike into the hillside to see first hand the natural beauty sprouting in the region, and an ancient tower overlooking the lake. We hiked all the way to Azienda Agrarian, the farm of Flavio Orsini where he explained the agriculture in the region, showed us what is unique about his own farm, and gave us a taste of some local flavors. Then we headed around to one of the villages where we met up with local fisherman who took us out onto the lake to show us how they making a living fishing.

 

Part 2: Ponza 

Roman ruins Ponza Italy

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The second portion of our blog trip began. I was sad to leave Umbria and the villa that we stayed in, but as we left the harbor of mainland Italy 2 hours south of Rome and pulled into the port in Ponza, I was slapped by the incredible beauty of the island. Ponza greeted us with its dark blue waters, brushed green hills, rocky cliffs, and colorful villas sprouting about. We took a dinky van from the port to the villa where we were to stay, and to say that the route was treacherous would be a light statement. Treacherous but worth it as the roads on this island were snaking up and down cliff-sides.

 Il Tramonto

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Il-Tramonto-ponza

It had been a long day of travel on the train and on the ferry, and after we were done unpacking in our terrace overlooking the harbor, we were all famished. It was grub down town and Linnea had something special planned for the dinner. We hiked into the hills rising above our terrace and to the highest point in Ponza to the restaurant Il Tramonto, where we were greeted with this breathtaking view from our seats. As the sun set the sky afire, we tried the specialties of the restaurant with buttery melt-in-your-mouth octopus and potatoes, white wine, and other amazing seafood dishes. Oh, and a full desert spread to top it off!

 Boat Tour around Ponza

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One way to truly see a region is to hike it like I mentioned in Umbria, but on an island, to truly take in the beauty is to boat it! Day two in Ponza we explored the island by cruising around, taking swims in the warm Tyrrhenian Sea, and had a chance to explore ancient Roman sea caves carved into rocks around the island. My favorite part though was when our boat guide took us over to a natural sea cave, where you had to dive beneath the water and swim under a rock arch to reach the interior cave, it was like something out of a movie!

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 Orestorante

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ponzu-hot-rock-fishIt had been a long day at sea, so after a couple naps and showers it was time to feast again! We boated into town from out private dock and walked atop the hill to Orestorante, a restaurant hugging the cliffside and overlooking the port as the sun set. The restaurants brightly colored and hand-made plates immediately grabbed my attention, but later the seafood would grab hold of my taste buds. From calamari pasta to skewered fish cooked on hot rocks, we sat around enjoying the flavors of the sea we had explored that day while getting to know the owner and chef and hearing his stories about life on the island.

 

Ponza Diving Centre

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scuba-diving-ponza

Our last day on Isola de Ponza was an extremely special one for me, and I can’t tell you just how giddy I was. Because I was going scuba diving! For years I’ve dreamed of scuba diving and while in Thailand I figured I would get my certificate, but I never took the time to. After boarding, the crew of Ponza Diving Centre took us out into the sea, where the certified divers went down exploring depths we weren’t allowed to. But the sun was beaming and we were treated to some snack while we hung out and waited for our turn. Once they were done we cruise on over to an area with massive rock crags jutting out of the sea. I geared up and waddled to the edge of the boat and my destiny, and leapt in. At first, I struggled a bit to get acquainted with the gear, but with their help I was swimming 20 meters down with ease through underwater caves. And this has now become an addiction. See the awesome video HERE!

 

Da Enzo al Frontone

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fried-fish-ponza

The last piece of our blog trip in Ponza was dinner at Da Enzo al Frontone, a candlelit restaurant carved into the rock face beside the beach. Here we were treated to the zero-kilometer style cooking of the restaurant, where they served us tastes of the sea caught that very morning. Now, I’m not huge on seafood normally, but Ponza had really changed that for me. We ate whole grilled anchovies, skewered of white fish that was breaded and served with sweet peppers, and so much more. We were all pretty bummed that the trip was coming to an end, but one last dinner on a beautiful summers night in Ponza eating fresh seafood and drinking wine, you can’t beat that.

And so it ended (sad face)

So, as we cruised back toward mainland Italy and Ponza shrunk into the horizon, our Slow Living Vacations and This Is Your Time blog tour came to an end, but those experiences that I have from it are forever engrained in memory. And of course the awesome people who I met on it! As my budget neared empty I feared that I wasn’t going to be able to experience Italy in an in-depth way, that I’d be stuck just seeing Rome and that’s it, but this tour gave me the opportunity.

*Special thanks to Linnea and Alina for inviting me on this blog tour. All opinions and use of the word “gnarly” are my own.

Banner for the Roman Forum in Italy

Want to see more of Italy? How about Umbria and Tuscany, or Ponza Island, or Rome? Check out these Italy guides for all things history, culture, culinary, and adventure.

HAVE YOU BEEN TO ITALY? WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE REGION?

 

 

Eating Italy: A tantalizing food tour in Trastevere.

Someone once said, “The best way to experience a culture is to taste it“. As it turns out, searching all over the interwebs for this tastebud philosopher who said this turned up no results. So, I am claiming this quote, since it is truly the way to experience Italian culture.

And my backpacker belly definitely says I indulged…

Across the Tiber on the western bank of the river sits Trastevere, a neighborhood of winding corridors and a labyrinth of tight cobble-stone lined streets with deep-rooted history to Rome. Though the people of Trastevere will never say they are from Rome. Originally occupied by the Etruscans, after being conquered and taken over by Rome’s expansion, fisherman took up residence opening markets and bringing in the products from around the empire on the banks.

Soon, Trastevere became a literal melting pot of cultures and flavors, as no foreigner could own property in the city of Rome. Even Julius Caesar’s mistress, that sultry Egyptian Queen Cleopatra, had to stay in Trastevere in a villa they owned. With the fisherman and butchers and markets popping up in Trastevere with tastes from all over the world, it would survive to become one of the oldest Jewish neighborhoods in Rome and a place still known for traditional Roman recipes.

And this is where I am taking you today — on a tantalizing food tour through Trastevere, where I had a chance to try out local and traditional Roman style dishes that have survived the test of time.

 

DA ENZO AL 29

The first tasty stop on the tour was to Da Enzo Al 29, a family run hole-in-the-wall restaurant that feels more like a home. Our group walked in and the table was already set with Proseco and bread, with one of the family members in the background making homemade tiramisu. “I hope we are here for dessert first” said someone in the group, as we were all watching him make it. But no, we were not here for the tiramisu, but another house specialty — traditional Jewish fried artichoke.
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I had never seen an artichoke in its entirety up until this point, and when fried it honestly doesn’t look that tasty. I really didn’t know what to do with it, as the others felt in the group as well. “Can you eat the whole thing?” another asked, and our guide reassured us it was all edible. And damn it was. I dove in and cut it up, trying fried artichoke for the first time in my life — it was smoky and crispy on the outside, crunching as you bit into the fried flower, then soft on the inside. I finished mine in about 2.5 seconds.

Another one of their house specialties we heard was an oxtail stew, though we wouldn’t be trying it this day.

 

Spirito di Vino

Deep below the cobbled streets of Trastevere is a historical secret, and one of the oldest wine cellars in Italy. In a predominantly Jewish neighborhood in ancient Rome, Spirito di Vino sits inside the shell of an old synagogue, with the original four walls remaining that makes it the oldest synagogue in the world with all four original walls. Beneath street level is their famous wine cellar with no alterations made to the original cellar besides bringing in free-standing wine racks.

The wine cellar is actually 150 years older than the Colosseum of Rome!

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It was almost completely dark inside as out group crowded in the cold cellar, looking about in awe. In the entrance, old pottery shards sat in a tray that had been found during excavations. Hundreds of bottles off wine, some wrapped in plastic to preserve the label as they sat aging to perfection, lined the dark wood racks.

Before us was a spread of appetizers; lintels and succulent meatballs that were my favorite, alone with break and sliced meat. But the best aspect of all was drinking their red wine in the oldest cellar in Rome.

 

Innocenti 

Who doesn’t love a mid-day sweet? In the United States, we think a biscotti is one very specific type of cookie, but ask for a biscotti at Innocenti in Trastevere, and Stefania will ask you, “which one?” That is because biscotti simply applies to a sweet or savory cookie. Stefania is the owner of the shop now, but it has been in her family since it opened in the 1920’s, and still uses the same custom 16-meter long oven to cookie these scrumptious morsels.

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It’s okay to be drooling, because all of us on our food tour were salivating at it. We tried three different types of biscotti, and you could tell by the deliciousness that all of them were made with love. Nom nom.


Antica Caciara

Saying that Italy is a pretty cheesy place is an understatement. I really do think cheese is in the Italian DNA, and it is something that is somewhat of an art form. So much so that there is a Cheese Master that listens to the cheese when tapping on it to see if it is aged enough or cracked.

Now, I freakin’ LOVE cheese, though that dirty shoe smell still punches me in the nostrils when I enter a shop…

Inside a bustling meat and cheese shop down a side street that smelled, well, quite pungent, stood Roberto beaming ear to ear while serving locals and customers that specifically come to see him. And Roberto has been working there since 1963 starting when he was 13 years old, and works nearly 16-hour days. His philosophy, “You only work half the time when you love what you do all the time.

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In Antica Caciara, opened in 1900, all types of specialty cheeses and cured meats lined the walls, with the Italian favorite pecorino romano to be our sample. As our guide told us about Roberto, the shop history, and cheese, we indulged in the salty and tasty pecorino romano — made from sheep milk from Roberto’s Uncle’s farm, that they are known for.

 

 

I Suppli

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No, it is not a new Apple i-food, but it is as traditional as you can get for Roman munchies. Inside one of the tiny grab-and-go style style shops in Trastevere is I Suppli, considered the best supplis in Rome, whipping up traditional style comfort food, and also slinging out these fried snacks. What the hell is a suppli? Though they are sometimes stuffed with veggies or meats, the real Roman style snack is a ball of rice with tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese fried into a flavor grenade.

Best part of it? One will likely fill you up, and they are usually only 1-2 Euros.

 

La Renella

Though Rome wasn’t the birthplace of pizza (that being Naples) it has definitely become the staple street food or meal around Rome. And with that, the concept of pizza has evolved to the all different types of toppings and thicknesses and flavors — all things that might seem to be the norm in the US (we do love our options and pickiness) but aren’t traditional.

La Renella is a local institution, known for having some of the best baked bread in all of Rome, as well as a brick-oven that dates back to the 1800’s. Stoking the flames and making their dough in the back is owner Massimo, still at it today cooking the same way his family did when it was opened in 1860. You might not know, but at one point in the history of Rome, nut shells were used to fuel that fire in ovens all over the city after a ban on cooking with wood. It was the cheapest and most available fuels, and added a very unique flavor to baked goods. A flavor lost otherwise, except at La Renella, which still uses shells to this day in the oven.

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When the group entered through the back door of the bakery, immediately you could feel the heat of the flames on your skin. In the hall, stacks of flour, with Massimo in a side room using a massive machine to home-make their dough. He led us into the oven room, where flat-bread pizzas lined the wall cooling off. In the corner, a container filled with shells that fueled the fire before us. He opened it, showing just how hot it was and the fresh baking bread inside.

When we were done checking out the back, we had a chance to try some of their famous pizza, and only the classic mozzarella. The crust was slightly charred, and had an amazing flavor I had never tasted to the bread from the shells, with molten cheese and a slightly bitter tomato sauce.

I couldn’t help but have seconds.

 

Osteria der Belli

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Inside Osteria der Belli, traditions from Sardinia are apparent as this family-run restaurant in the heart of Trastevere serves up some of the freshest seafood dishes in Rome. This was our dinner portion of the tour, where serious chow-down was to happen with pasta and wine. Though the pasta was phenomenal, especially their penne pasta, it was gobbled up too fast to take a photo. But I did manage to snag one of the fried zucchini, equally tasty, with fluffy breading.

 

Fata Morgana

Gelato is serious business in Rome, and it is such a popular dessert that locals have it at least once a day. Sometimes twice. Or three times. It’s popularity also comes at a dire price — nearly 85% of the hundreds of gelato places in the city serve of fake gelato. True gelato is dense and made with fresh ingredients. Most “gelato” places in Rome serve up gelato my with cream and not milk, and it tends to be artificially sweetened and fluffed. Otherwise meaning its crap.

Want real gelato? One of the most famous gelato shops is Fata Morgana, where the gelato is made with the freshest (and sometimes whackiest) ingredients out there. Take the chocolate flavored with Kentucky tobacco, or basil, or black rice. Even rose-buds.

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This culinary spectacle was nearing to a close, but not before stopping at one of the favorite gelato shops of Romans. When we entered, I noticed how this gelato sat in smaller pans than other shops, and that there wasn’t crazy designs or elaborate fruit stuck into it to make it look schzazzy. An indicator that this was the real deal.

Even though there was a plethora of flavors, I can’t help but get coffee flavor anytime I go. But, along with the coffee and homemade whipped cream, I got a scoop of tiramisu flavor. Which now has become my favorite.

After my Eating Italy Trastevere tour ended I waddled full-bellied back to my hostel, but I’d find myself in Trastevere many times after just for a snack — it is truly a haven for traditions still surviving thousands of years.

*This food tour was offered by Eating Italy, but all options and scrumptious views are my own* 

 

Have you ever been to Trastevere? What is your favorite traditional Italian food? 

 

Of Blood and Sand: Wandering the Roman Colosseum and Hypogeum

The Roman Colo-freaking-sseum. It was finally about to happen. I had waited almost 18-years of my life after the fateful day when I picked up one of those ginormous glossy “History of Ancient Rome” books bigger than my torso that, in all honesty at age 8, was fascinating only because of the nifty section chock full of weaponry. My eyes were dazzled by the scenes of brutal arena combat, the fascinating architecture, the kick-ass photos of armor and weapons, and the perfectly executed warfare of the Romans.

Oh, and of course the pages that would show a cut out comparison of the exterior and interior, with the ever hilarious images of a person on an ancient toilet going #2.

Hey, it was funny to my immature miniature-self ages ago. It also made Ancient Rome and the colosseum a fantastical obsession. Not the poo part of course, but the combat and architecture. Now, mind you, to my 8-year old brain it didn’t seem possible that I would ever lay eyes upon the real deal, even if my imagination would take me into the center of the blood-stained arena to battle it out against ruthless gladiators and vicious tigers to the roars of thousands.

Mainly, it was lil’ Ryan in the woods leaping and jumping and slashing at make-believe warriors with a stick. And after a long day of being the hero of the Roman world, I would return home to normal life where none of that really existed.

Just a young boy’s silly fantasy.

Until fantasy became reality 18 years later, and my Walks of Italy tour group was standing under the tall archway of one of the 76 entranceways into the Colosseum of Rome. We had just explored the Roman Forum in its entirety, but all the while I was thinking about the second half of the tour.

I had unknowingly stumbled across the Colosseum by accident days before while lost in Rome, trying to find a hostel, until I glanced up from my phone’s map and saw the towering structure silhouetted by the setting sun behind it. The child-like giddiness struck me, and no matter how tired I was from wandering lost all day, I couldn’t help but walk around that ancient wonder at least once before moving on. I had already set up a tour for the Colosseum before I arrived in the city, but it finally hit me once I found myself standing beneath the arch.

So, come with me as I take you through my own childhood dream come true on my tour from the depths of the hypogeum, to the apex of the Flavian Amphitheater below!

Old stone arches and holes where iron had been stolen from them in the Colosseum of Rome, also known as the Flavian Amphitheater. Built of concrete and sand,[1] it is the largest amphitheatre ever built. The Colosseum is situated just east of the Roman Forum. Construction began under the emperor Vespasian in AD 72,[2] and was completed in AD 80 under his successor and heir Titus.[3] Further modifications were made during the reign of Domitian (81–96).[4] These three emperors are known as the Flavian dynasty, and the amphitheatre was named in Latin for its association with their family name (Flavius). The Colosseum could hold, it is estimated, between 50,000 and 80,000 spectators,[5][6] having an average audience of some 65,000;[7][8] it was used for gladiatorial contests and public spectacles such as mock sea battles, animal hunts, executions, re-enactments of famous battles, and dramas based on Classical mythology. The building ceased to be used for entertainment in the early medieval era. It was later reused for such purposes as housing, workshops, quarters for a religious order, a fortress, a quarry, and a Christian shrine.

HISTORICAL NOTE:  Each one of the entrances into the Colosseum was marked with numbers above, and shards of pottery which acted as tickets marked which entrance you would enter to make seating 50,000-80,000 spectators fast. Construction began in 70AD by Emperor Vespasian and completed in just 10 years by 80AD by Emperor Titus. Though it is known as the Colosseum, the actual name is the Flavian Amphitheater. It was referred to later on as the Colosseum because of the Colossus, or gigantic statue of Nero which once stood beside it.

Old stone arches and holes where iron had been stolen from them in the Colosseum of Rome, also known as the Flavian Amphitheater. Built of concrete and sand,[1] it is the largest amphitheatre ever built. The Colosseum is situated just east of the Roman Forum. Construction began under the emperor Vespasian in AD 72,[2] and was completed in AD 80 under his successor and heir Titus.[3] Further modifications were made during the reign of Domitian (81–96).[4] These three emperors are known as the Flavian dynasty, and the amphitheatre was named in Latin for its association with their family name (Flavius). The Colosseum could hold, it is estimated, between 50,000 and 80,000 spectators,[5][6] having an average audience of some 65,000;[7][8] it was used for gladiatorial contests and public spectacles such as mock sea battles, animal hunts, executions, re-enactments of famous battles, and dramas based on Classical mythology. The building ceased to be used for entertainment in the early medieval era. It was later reused for such purposes as housing, workshops, quarters for a religious order, a fortress, a quarry, and a Christian shrine.

After we entered through the entrance archway, one of only a few still open to enter through, we bypassed the line that stretched nearly a hundred yards inside (hehe, suckers) and since we were on this VIP tour, we went straight through the interior gate past everyone. Once through, we were led outside again through another gate specifically for out tour and into a small clearing near the entrance that gladiators would pass through.

HISTORICAL NOTE:  Those gaping holes in the columns and arches above you see we actually made from pillaging the Colosseum after Rome fell and the invaders striped everything precious, including the iron brackets that used to wrap around all of the supports. In the later years, those wretched and greedy Popes (sorry, but they were greedy) stripped whatever marble was left in the Colosseum to outfit their own structures.

A photo of the Roman Colosseum support brace. the Colosseum of Rome, also known as the Flavian Amphitheater. Built of concrete and sand,[1] it is the largest amphitheatre ever built. The Colosseum is situated just east of the Roman Forum. Construction began under the emperor Vespasian in AD 72,[2] and was completed in AD 80 under his successor and heir Titus.[3] Further modifications were made during the reign of Domitian (81–96).[4] These three emperors are known as the Flavian dynasty, and the amphitheatre was named in Latin for its association with their family name (Flavius). The Colosseum could hold, it is estimated, between 50,000 and 80,000 spectators,[5][6] having an average audience of some 65,000;[7][8] it was used for gladiatorial contests and public spectacles such as mock sea battles, animal hunts, executions, re-enactments of famous battles, and dramas based on Classical mythology. The building ceased to be used for entertainment in the early medieval era. It was later reused for such purposes as housing, workshops, quarters for a religious order, a fortress, a quarry, and a Christian shrine.

Catholic church plaque photo on the Colosseum of Rome, also known as the Flavian Amphitheater. Built of concrete and sand,[1] it is the largest amphitheatre ever built. The Colosseum is situated just east of the Roman Forum. Construction began under the emperor Vespasian in AD 72,[2] and was completed in AD 80 under his successor and heir Titus.[3] Further modifications were made during the reign of Domitian (81–96).[4] These three emperors are known as the Flavian dynasty, and the amphitheatre was named in Latin for its association with their family name (Flavius). The Colosseum could hold, it is estimated, between 50,000 and 80,000 spectators,[5][6] having an average audience of some 65,000;[7][8] it was used for gladiatorial contests and public spectacles such as mock sea battles, animal hunts, executions, re-enactments of famous battles, and dramas based on Classical mythology. The building ceased to be used for entertainment in the early medieval era. It was later reused for such purposes as housing, workshops, quarters for a religious order, a fortress, a quarry, and a Christian shrine.

Before entering the Colosseum we halted to get a brief lesson (though I was anxious like a little kid) and it was explained that after a massive earthquake, parts of the exterior wall collapsed which is why it now stands incomplete, or that it was also used as a stone quarry itself and stone was stolen from it. What punks. The massive brick triangle was added to support the walls and prevent further collapse.

HISTORICAL NOTE: Sometime around 1789, a swell guy by the name of Pope Benedict XIV decided to slap that big ole’ cross above onto the Colosseum. At first, I assumed it was just the church claiming everything as their own because they liked to do that back then, but plaques like these marked a building to pretty much state, in words like MC Hammer used, “Can’t touch this!”

Entrance to the battlegrounds or arena interior of the Colosseum of Rome, also known as the Flavian Amphitheater. Built of concrete and sand,[1] it is the largest amphitheatre ever built. The Colosseum is situated just east of the Roman Forum. Construction began under the emperor Vespasian in AD 72,[2] and was completed in AD 80 under his successor and heir Titus.[3] Further modifications were made during the reign of Domitian (81–96).[4] These three emperors are known as the Flavian dynasty, and the amphitheatre was named in Latin for its association with their family name (Flavius). The Colosseum could hold, it is estimated, between 50,000 and 80,000 spectators,[5][6] having an average audience of some 65,000;[7][8] it was used for gladiatorial contests and public spectacles such as mock sea battles, animal hunts, executions, re-enactments of famous battles, and dramas based on Classical mythology. The building ceased to be used for entertainment in the early medieval era. It was later reused for such purposes as housing, workshops, quarters for a religious order, a fortress, a quarry, and a Christian shrine.

The interior of the Colosseum of Rome, also known as the Flavian Amphitheater. Built of concrete and sand,[1] it is the largest amphitheatre ever built. The Colosseum is situated just east of the Roman Forum. Construction began under the emperor Vespasian in AD 72,[2] and was completed in AD 80 under his successor and heir Titus.[3] Further modifications were made during the reign of Domitian (81–96).[4] These three emperors are known as the Flavian dynasty, and the amphitheatre was named in Latin for its association with their family name (Flavius). The Colosseum could hold, it is estimated, between 50,000 and 80,000 spectators,[5][6] having an average audience of some 65,000;[7][8] it was used for gladiatorial contests and public spectacles such as mock sea battles, animal hunts, executions, re-enactments of famous battles, and dramas based on Classical mythology. The building ceased to be used for entertainment in the early medieval era. It was later reused for such purposes as housing, workshops, quarters for a religious order, a fortress, a quarry, and a Christian shrine.

 

Panoramic Colosseum Interior. The Colosseum of Rome, also known as the Flavian Amphitheater. Built of concrete and sand,[1] it is the largest amphitheatre ever built. The Colosseum is situated just east of the Roman Forum. Construction began under the emperor Vespasian in AD 72,[2] and was completed in AD 80 under his successor and heir Titus.[3] Further modifications were made during the reign of Domitian (81–96).[4] These three emperors are known as the Flavian dynasty, and the amphitheatre was named in Latin for its association with their family name (Flavius). The Colosseum could hold, it is estimated, between 50,000 and 80,000 spectators,[5][6] having an average audience of some 65,000;[7][8] it was used for gladiatorial contests and public spectacles such as mock sea battles, animal hunts, executions, re-enactments of famous battles, and dramas based on Classical mythology. The building ceased to be used for entertainment in the early medieval era. It was later reused for such purposes as housing, workshops, quarters for a religious order, a fortress, a quarry, and a Christian shrine.

I will admit — as I walked though the tunnel and onto the platform the stretched out like the original arena battlefield, my imagination got the best of me. Though I did’t start fighting off throngs of blood-thirsty imaginary gladiators where the rest of the group would think I’m a lunatic, it played out in my head as such. From the outside, the Colosseum is quite something to behold, but you don’t experience just how freakin’ big it is and just how overwhelming it is until you stand inside.

We were on the arena floor. I was in the Colosseum. I couldn’t believe it.

A photo of myself in the Colosseum of Rome, also known as the Flavian Amphitheater. Built of concrete and sand,[1] it is the largest amphitheatre ever built. The Colosseum is situated just east of the Roman Forum. Construction began under the emperor Vespasian in AD 72,[2] and was completed in AD 80 under his successor and heir Titus.[3] Further modifications were made during the reign of Domitian (81–96).[4] These three emperors are known as the Flavian dynasty, and the amphitheatre was named in Latin for its association with their family name (Flavius). The Colosseum could hold, it is estimated, between 50,000 and 80,000 spectators,[5][6] having an average audience of some 65,000;[7][8] it was used for gladiatorial contests and public spectacles such as mock sea battles, animal hunts, executions, re-enactments of famous battles, and dramas based on Classical mythology. The building ceased to be used for entertainment in the early medieval era. It was later reused for such purposes as housing, workshops, quarters for a religious order, a fortress, a quarry, and a Christian shrine.

This is my I-know-those-people-wish-they-were-on-the-arena-floor-too selfie.

Imagine 50,000-80,000 rabid spectators screaming as you entered the arena — screaming for blood and battle. Your blood. Through the coin-sized sights in your helmet, which baked your head like a kiln under the heat of the high Roman sun, you might have seen any frightening scenario waiting before you. The

HISTORICAL NOTE: Colosseum held events of large-scale re-enactments from famous Roman conquests, to full-scale ship battles, to the parade and slaughter of even 9,000 different exotic animals in one day. However glorious it was to stand on that platform of sand, it was also a heavy experience knowing that the ground that once stood there glistened with the blood of thousands. As a gladiator, this was hell. Though some, whether it be from owed debts or to seek fame, chose to fight in the largest arena the world had seen.

And I thought getting on stage to play trombone in elementary school was terrifying.

Soon we were led out of the arena and descended into the underground and through dimly lit stone hallways. Unlike the fine craftsmanship that would have gone into the architecture above and the portions adorned with marble, here the structure was crude and uneven.

Our Walks of Italy tour guide telling us more information about the Hypogeum below the Colosseum of Rome, also known as the Flavian Amphitheater. Built of concrete and sand,[1] it is the largest amphitheatre ever built. The Colosseum is situated just east of the Roman Forum. Construction began under the emperor Vespasian in AD 72,[2] and was completed in AD 80 under his successor and heir Titus.[3] Further modifications were made during the reign of Domitian (81–96).[4] These three emperors are known as the Flavian dynasty, and the amphitheatre was named in Latin for its association with their family name (Flavius). The Colosseum could hold, it is estimated, between 50,000 and 80,000 spectators,[5][6] having an average audience of some 65,000;[7][8] it was used for gladiatorial contests and public spectacles such as mock sea battles, animal hunts, executions, re-enactments of famous battles, and dramas based on Classical mythology. The building ceased to be used for entertainment in the early medieval era. It was later reused for such purposes as housing, workshops, quarters for a religious order, a fortress, a quarry, and a Christian shrine.

The hypogeum beneath the Colosseum of Rome, also known as the Flavian Amphitheater. Built of concrete and sand,[1] it is the largest amphitheatre ever built. The Colosseum is situated just east of the Roman Forum. Construction began under the emperor Vespasian in AD 72,[2] and was completed in AD 80 under his successor and heir Titus.[3] Further modifications were made during the reign of Domitian (81–96).[4] These three emperors are known as the Flavian dynasty, and the amphitheatre was named in Latin for its association with their family name (Flavius). The Colosseum could hold, it is estimated, between 50,000 and 80,000 spectators,[5][6] having an average audience of some 65,000;[7][8] it was used for gladiatorial contests and public spectacles such as mock sea battles, animal hunts, executions, re-enactments of famous battles, and dramas based on Classical mythology. The building ceased to be used for entertainment in the early medieval era. It was later reused for such purposes as housing, workshops, quarters for a religious order, a fortress, a quarry, and a Christian shrine.

We had entered the Hypogeum, the labyrinth beneath the arena, the underworld of gladiators and animals. There was no need to make it look pretty down here or to worry about what it looked like, most of the time it was pitch-black, besides an occasional lamp passing by as the gladiators awaited combat. There was no constant flame light here since it was filled with animals and with gladiators and would most likely suffocate them.

Our guide sat us all down on the ancient stones beside massive wood columns, now which support the mock aren floor, but previously were a part of an elevator that could bring you into the arena. As she explained what life was like in the hypogeum, all information I gobbled up of course, I also couldn’t help but wander off.

And yes, I wandered off a bit past those ropes that you are supposed to stay behind…

A photo of the hypogeum beneath the Colosseum of Rome, also known as the Flavian Amphitheater. Built of concrete and sand,[1] it is the largest amphitheatre ever built. The Colosseum is situated just east of the Roman Forum. Construction began under the emperor Vespasian in AD 72,[2] and was completed in AD 80 under his successor and heir Titus.[3] Further modifications were made during the reign of Domitian (81–96).[4] These three emperors are known as the Flavian dynasty, and the amphitheatre was named in Latin for its association with their family name (Flavius). The Colosseum could hold, it is estimated, between 50,000 and 80,000 spectators,[5][6] having an average audience of some 65,000;[7][8] it was used for gladiatorial contests and public spectacles such as mock sea battles, animal hunts, executions, re-enactments of famous battles, and dramas based on Classical mythology. The building ceased to be used for entertainment in the early medieval era. It was later reused for such purposes as housing, workshops, quarters for a religious order, a fortress, a quarry, and a Christian shrine.

A photo of the hypogeum structure beneath the Colosseum of Rome, also known as the Flavian Amphitheater. Built of concrete and sand,[1] it is the largest amphitheatre ever built. The Colosseum is situated just east of the Roman Forum. Construction began under the emperor Vespasian in AD 72,[2] and was completed in AD 80 under his successor and heir Titus.[3] Further modifications were made during the reign of Domitian (81–96).[4] These three emperors are known as the Flavian dynasty, and the amphitheatre was named in Latin for its association with their family name (Flavius). The Colosseum could hold, it is estimated, between 50,000 and 80,000 spectators,[5][6] having an average audience of some 65,000;[7][8] it was used for gladiatorial contests and public spectacles such as mock sea battles, animal hunts, executions, re-enactments of famous battles, and dramas based on Classical mythology. The building ceased to be used for entertainment in the early medieval era. It was later reused for such purposes as housing, workshops, quarters for a religious order, a fortress, a quarry, and a Christian shrine.

Hypogeum tunnels beneath the Colosseum of Rome, also known as the Flavian Amphitheater. Built of concrete and sand,[1] it is the largest amphitheatre ever built. The Colosseum is situated just east of the Roman Forum. Construction began under the emperor Vespasian in AD 72,[2] and was completed in AD 80 under his successor and heir Titus.[3] Further modifications were made during the reign of Domitian (81–96).[4] These three emperors are known as the Flavian dynasty, and the amphitheatre was named in Latin for its association with their family name (Flavius). The Colosseum could hold, it is estimated, between 50,000 and 80,000 spectators,[5][6] having an average audience of some 65,000;[7][8] it was used for gladiatorial contests and public spectacles such as mock sea battles, animal hunts, executions, re-enactments of famous battles, and dramas based on Classical mythology. The building ceased to be used for entertainment in the early medieval era. It was later reused for such purposes as housing, workshops, quarters for a religious order, a fortress, a quarry, and a Christian shrine.

A photo of thirsty birds drinking water from a pool inside the Hypogeum deep below the Colosseum of Rome, also known as the Flavian Amphitheater. Built of concrete and sand,[1] it is the largest amphitheatre ever built. The Colosseum is situated just east of the Roman Forum. Construction began under the emperor Vespasian in AD 72,[2] and was completed in AD 80 under his successor and heir Titus.[3] Further modifications were made during the reign of Domitian (81–96).[4] These three emperors are known as the Flavian dynasty, and the amphitheatre was named in Latin for its association with their family name (Flavius). The Colosseum could hold, it is estimated, between 50,000 and 80,000 spectators,[5][6] having an average audience of some 65,000;[7][8] it was used for gladiatorial contests and public spectacles such as mock sea battles, animal hunts, executions, re-enactments of famous battles, and dramas based on Classical mythology. The building ceased to be used for entertainment in the early medieval era. It was later reused for such purposes as housing, workshops, quarters for a religious order, a fortress, a quarry, and a Christian shrine.

As I walked around, the voice of our guide faded and I found myself wandering alone. The noise from above the Hypogeum was barely noticeable, and I was in complete awe passing thought the maze of crumbling passageways in this sprawling underworld.

Birds here and there sipped water trapped in circular cut-outs — which used to hold the wooden beams of elevators that could bring up animals, props and set pieces, gladiators, and even special effects.

Rome had special effects for their spectacles. Kinda’ crazy to think about.

Photo of the archways and supports of the hypogeum beneath the Colosseum of Rome, also known as the Flavian Amphitheater. Built of concrete and sand,[1] it is the largest amphitheatre ever built. The Colosseum is situated just east of the Roman Forum. Construction began under the emperor Vespasian in AD 72,[2] and was completed in AD 80 under his successor and heir Titus.[3] Further modifications were made during the reign of Domitian (81–96).[4] These three emperors are known as the Flavian dynasty, and the amphitheatre was named in Latin for its association with their family name (Flavius). The Colosseum could hold, it is estimated, between 50,000 and 80,000 spectators,[5][6] having an average audience of some 65,000;[7][8] it was used for gladiatorial contests and public spectacles such as mock sea battles, animal hunts, executions, re-enactments of famous battles, and dramas based on Classical mythology. The building ceased to be used for entertainment in the early medieval era. It was later reused for such purposes as housing, workshops, quarters for a religious order, a fortress, a quarry, and a Christian shrine.

A secret passage inside the hypogeum of the Colosseum of Rome, also known as the Flavian Amphitheater. Built of concrete and sand,[1] it is the largest amphitheatre ever built. The Colosseum is situated just east of the Roman Forum. Construction began under the emperor Vespasian in AD 72,[2] and was completed in AD 80 under his successor and heir Titus.[3] Further modifications were made during the reign of Domitian (81–96).[4] These three emperors are known as the Flavian dynasty, and the amphitheatre was named in Latin for its association with their family name (Flavius). The Colosseum could hold, it is estimated, between 50,000 and 80,000 spectators,[5][6] having an average audience of some 65,000;[7][8] it was used for gladiatorial contests and public spectacles such as mock sea battles, animal hunts, executions, re-enactments of famous battles, and dramas based on Classical mythology. The building ceased to be used for entertainment in the early medieval era. It was later reused for such purposes as housing, workshops, quarters for a religious order, a fortress, a quarry, and a Christian shrine.

I explored a bit more, losing my place and my time in the experience. I leaps over a deep crack in the ground separating one of the outer chambers which may have once been a stream, and found myself almost in darkness. It was light in the hypogeum now, though once it was covered and completely dark, with the sounds of animals in the blackness from the 32 animal pens beneath.

Here is an excerpt from a description of a photo I shared previously, which was some of the scenes that the hypogeum evoked:

Imagine yourself as a gladiator of Rome, a slave warrior, deep under the enormous Flavian Amphitheater awaiting battle. The thunderous noise of 50,000 rabid Romans rumbles the roof above. You cannot see a thing. Their stomping and shouting sounds the exact same as a storm rolling toward you. It is pitch black, besides the brief and fleeting light of a dim lamp that occasionally flickers on the uneven stone walls, casting long and ghastly shadows which crawl over the ceiling like demons from the underworld.

Somewhere in that darkness, the feral roars from hungry caged lions and tigers echo, haunting that blackness. You cannot see who sits beside you, but you can smell them. You can smell the sun-burnt olive oil on their skin slathered on everyone to make them glisten in the sun. You can smell the sweat beading and dripping from yourself and the warriors around you.

That immense stench of sweat, a salt smell like a vast ocean as if you stood on a beach with your eyes shut — yet no cool breeze to cool your brow or culls from seagulls to calm your nerves. Just blackness and sweat. And in that blackness is the smell of death. Even though none have died yet, many have before you after leaving that blackness. The smell of death is of the piss and the shit and the sweat that happens before battle — the fear takes hold of some more than others and they lose their bowels and minds before being released into that sand-pit of death.

Soon the ceiling will crack open, raining dust and sand onto our heads. Light will pour through the opening and we will rise up to the cheers of thousands. And with that light, we do not rise up to meet life, but death.

Sometimes the darkness is better.

Hypogeum hallways in the Colosseum of Rome, also known as the Flavian Amphitheater. Built of concrete and sand,[1] it is the largest amphitheatre ever built. The Colosseum is situated just east of the Roman Forum. Construction began under the emperor Vespasian in AD 72,[2] and was completed in AD 80 under his successor and heir Titus.[3] Further modifications were made during the reign of Domitian (81–96).[4] These three emperors are known as the Flavian dynasty, and the amphitheatre was named in Latin for its association with their family name (Flavius). The Colosseum could hold, it is estimated, between 50,000 and 80,000 spectators,[5][6] having an average audience of some 65,000;[7][8] it was used for gladiatorial contests and public spectacles such as mock sea battles, animal hunts, executions, re-enactments of famous battles, and dramas based on Classical mythology. The building ceased to be used for entertainment in the early medieval era. It was later reused for such purposes as housing, workshops, quarters for a religious order, a fortress, a quarry, and a Christian shrine.

My imagination broke when I realized I had been wandering around for a while and suddenly spotted that my group had gone. Whoopsies! Another tour was entering the Hypogeum, so I ran off through the hall and up the stairs where I was able to catch up to my group.

We were now heading back up above ground, but not just to one of the upper tiers, but to the very top tier of the Colosseum that was restricted access! We were let through a locked iron gate (oh yeah, I felt special) and were led upstairs after locking it behind us.

Upper tier hallways of the Colosseum of Rome, also known as the Flavian Amphitheater. Built of concrete and sand,[1] it is the largest amphitheatre ever built. The Colosseum is situated just east of the Roman Forum. Construction began under the emperor Vespasian in AD 72,[2] and was completed in AD 80 under his successor and heir Titus.[3] Further modifications were made during the reign of Domitian (81–96).[4] These three emperors are known as the Flavian dynasty, and the amphitheatre was named in Latin for its association with their family name (Flavius). The Colosseum could hold, it is estimated, between 50,000 and 80,000 spectators,[5][6] having an average audience of some 65,000;[7][8] it was used for gladiatorial contests and public spectacles such as mock sea battles, animal hunts, executions, re-enactments of famous battles, and dramas based on Classical mythology. The building ceased to be used for entertainment in the early medieval era. It was later reused for such purposes as housing, workshops, quarters for a religious order, a fortress, a quarry, and a Christian shrine.

It was mind blowing to be walking through a hallway more the 4-stories up in a structure over 2,000 years old, naturally lit by the sun beaming through windows. As we ascended another staircase and came out into the light, the sheer height and scale of the Colosseum hit everyone in the group. We all quickly ran over to the edge (okay, I ran) and looked out over the entirety of the arena.

You really don’t realize it’s vastness until you see it from above. Just look at the people in the distance for reference! It was crazy to think that an ancient civilization, without modern machinery, made something so huge that still stands 2,000 years later. And seated more than most sporting arenas do now.

A photo from the 4th level, the upper tier, of the Colosseum of Rome, also known as the Flavian Amphitheater. Built of concrete and sand,[1] it is the largest amphitheatre ever built. The Colosseum is situated just east of the Roman Forum. Construction began under the emperor Vespasian in AD 72,[2] and was completed in AD 80 under his successor and heir Titus.[3] Further modifications were made during the reign of Domitian (81–96).[4] These three emperors are known as the Flavian dynasty, and the amphitheatre was named in Latin for its association with their family name (Flavius). The Colosseum could hold, it is estimated, between 50,000 and 80,000 spectators,[5][6] having an average audience of some 65,000;[7][8] it was used for gladiatorial contests and public spectacles such as mock sea battles, animal hunts, executions, re-enactments of famous battles, and dramas based on Classical mythology. The building ceased to be used for entertainment in the early medieval era. It was later reused for such purposes as housing, workshops, quarters for a religious order, a fortress, a quarry, and a Christian shrine.

Interior viewing platform of the Colosseum of Rome, also known as the Flavian Amphitheater. Built of concrete and sand,[1] it is the largest amphitheatre ever built. The Colosseum is situated just east of the Roman Forum. Construction began under the emperor Vespasian in AD 72,[2] and was completed in AD 80 under his successor and heir Titus.[3] Further modifications were made during the reign of Domitian (81–96).[4] These three emperors are known as the Flavian dynasty, and the amphitheatre was named in Latin for its association with their family name (Flavius). The Colosseum could hold, it is estimated, between 50,000 and 80,000 spectators,[5][6] having an average audience of some 65,000;[7][8] it was used for gladiatorial contests and public spectacles such as mock sea battles, animal hunts, executions, re-enactments of famous battles, and dramas based on Classical mythology. The building ceased to be used for entertainment in the early medieval era. It was later reused for such purposes as housing, workshops, quarters for a religious order, a fortress, a quarry, and a Christian shrine.

HISTORICAL NOTE: The people below on the mock arena floor are sitting on marble blocks to show what seating for the upper-class and important Roman citizens sat on. The higher up you got, the lower the classes. Since the Colosseum sometimes held battle with fierce animals like lions and tigers, the arena floor was ringed with a high wall topped with stone rollers that, if something let up to grab hold and escape, would just spin and throw it back down.

A selfie from the 4th tier of the Colosseum of Rome, also known as the Flavian Amphitheater. Built of concrete and sand,[1] it is the largest amphitheatre ever built. The Colosseum is situated just east of the Roman Forum. Construction began under the emperor Vespasian in AD 72,[2] and was completed in AD 80 under his successor and heir Titus.[3] Further modifications were made during the reign of Domitian (81–96).[4] These three emperors are known as the Flavian dynasty, and the amphitheatre was named in Latin for its association with their family name (Flavius). The Colosseum could hold, it is estimated, between 50,000 and 80,000 spectators,[5][6] having an average audience of some 65,000;[7][8] it was used for gladiatorial contests and public spectacles such as mock sea battles, animal hunts, executions, re-enactments of famous battles, and dramas based on Classical mythology. The building ceased to be used for entertainment in the early medieval era. It was later reused for such purposes as housing, workshops, quarters for a religious order, a fortress, a quarry, and a Christian shrine.

Cheesy GoPro selfie was a must.

 the Colosseum of Rome, also known as the Flavian Amphitheater. Built of concrete and sand,[1] it is the largest amphitheatre ever built. The Colosseum is situated just east of the Roman Forum. Construction began under the emperor Vespasian in AD 72,[2] and was completed in AD 80 under his successor and heir Titus.[3] Further modifications were made during the reign of Domitian (81–96).[4] These three emperors are known as the Flavian dynasty, and the amphitheatre was named in Latin for its association with their family name (Flavius). The Colosseum could hold, it is estimated, between 50,000 and 80,000 spectators,[5][6] having an average audience of some 65,000;[7][8] it was used for gladiatorial contests and public spectacles such as mock sea battles, animal hunts, executions, re-enactments of famous battles, and dramas based on Classical mythology. The building ceased to be used for entertainment in the early medieval era. It was later reused for such purposes as housing, workshops, quarters for a religious order, a fortress, a quarry, and a Christian shrine.

HISTORICAL NOTE: At one point, the Colosseum was said to have had a retractable “roof” constructed of wooden beams over the seating with sails that could be extended to provide shade from the sun. Of course this didn’t cover up the arena floor, we wouldn’t want the gladiators to cool off.

Interior stairway of the Colosseum of Rome, also known as the Flavian Amphitheater. Built of concrete and sand,[1] it is the largest amphitheatre ever built. The Colosseum is situated just east of the Roman Forum. Construction began under the emperor Vespasian in AD 72,[2] and was completed in AD 80 under his successor and heir Titus.[3] Further modifications were made during the reign of Domitian (81–96).[4] These three emperors are known as the Flavian dynasty, and the amphitheatre was named in Latin for its association with their family name (Flavius). The Colosseum could hold, it is estimated, between 50,000 and 80,000 spectators,[5][6] having an average audience of some 65,000;[7][8] it was used for gladiatorial contests and public spectacles such as mock sea battles, animal hunts, executions, re-enactments of famous battles, and dramas based on Classical mythology. The building ceased to be used for entertainment in the early medieval era. It was later reused for such purposes as housing, workshops, quarters for a religious order, a fortress, a quarry, and a Christian shrine.

We had a decent bit of time up there, but after about 10-minutes, and to my dismay, the tour came to an end and we had to leave the top tier. After everyone parted ways, I stayed a bit longer on the main level of the Colosseum that is general access just so I could take in a bit more of this fantasy. Even with the Colosseum teeming with tourists, none of that mattered because it all dissolved away.

Perfect brick archways inside the Colosseum of Rome, also known as the Flavian Amphitheater. Built of concrete and sand,[1] it is the largest amphitheatre ever built. The Colosseum is situated just east of the Roman Forum. Construction began under the emperor Vespasian in AD 72,[2] and was completed in AD 80 under his successor and heir Titus.[3] Further modifications were made during the reign of Domitian (81–96).[4] These three emperors are known as the Flavian dynasty, and the amphitheatre was named in Latin for its association with their family name (Flavius). The Colosseum could hold, it is estimated, between 50,000 and 80,000 spectators,[5][6] having an average audience of some 65,000;[7][8] it was used for gladiatorial contests and public spectacles such as mock sea battles, animal hunts, executions, re-enactments of famous battles, and dramas based on Classical mythology. The building ceased to be used for entertainment in the early medieval era. It was later reused for such purposes as housing, workshops, quarters for a religious order, a fortress, a quarry, and a Christian shrine.

The architecture and perfection of the brick-work of the Colosseum fascinated me.

Broken statue inside the Colosseum of Rome, also known as the Flavian Amphitheater. Built of concrete and sand,[1] it is the largest amphitheatre ever built. The Colosseum is situated just east of the Roman Forum. Construction began under the emperor Vespasian in AD 72,[2] and was completed in AD 80 under his successor and heir Titus.[3] Further modifications were made during the reign of Domitian (81–96).[4] These three emperors are known as the Flavian dynasty, and the amphitheatre was named in Latin for its association with their family name (Flavius). The Colosseum could hold, it is estimated, between 50,000 and 80,000 spectators,[5][6] having an average audience of some 65,000;[7][8] it was used for gladiatorial contests and public spectacles such as mock sea battles, animal hunts, executions, re-enactments of famous battles, and dramas based on Classical mythology. The building ceased to be used for entertainment in the early medieval era. It was later reused for such purposes as housing, workshops, quarters for a religious order, a fortress, a quarry, and a Christian shrine.

Broken pillars inside the Colosseum of Rome, also known as the Flavian Amphitheater. Built of concrete and sand,[1] it is the largest amphitheatre ever built. The Colosseum is situated just east of the Roman Forum. Construction began under the emperor Vespasian in AD 72,[2] and was completed in AD 80 under his successor and heir Titus.[3] Further modifications were made during the reign of Domitian (81–96).[4] These three emperors are known as the Flavian dynasty, and the amphitheatre was named in Latin for its association with their family name (Flavius). The Colosseum could hold, it is estimated, between 50,000 and 80,000 spectators,[5][6] having an average audience of some 65,000;[7][8] it was used for gladiatorial contests and public spectacles such as mock sea battles, animal hunts, executions, re-enactments of famous battles, and dramas based on Classical mythology. The building ceased to be used for entertainment in the early medieval era. It was later reused for such purposes as housing, workshops, quarters for a religious order, a fortress, a quarry, and a Christian shrine.

Old remnants of statues or marble pillars lay scattered about. Ones that weren’t stolen.

A photo looking down into the hypogeum of the Colosseum of Rome, also known as the Flavian Amphitheater. Built of concrete and sand,[1] it is the largest amphitheatre ever built. The Colosseum is situated just east of the Roman Forum. Construction began under the emperor Vespasian in AD 72,[2] and was completed in AD 80 under his successor and heir Titus.[3] Further modifications were made during the reign of Domitian (81–96).[4] These three emperors are known as the Flavian dynasty, and the amphitheatre was named in Latin for its association with their family name (Flavius). The Colosseum could hold, it is estimated, between 50,000 and 80,000 spectators,[5][6] having an average audience of some 65,000;[7][8] it was used for gladiatorial contests and public spectacles such as mock sea battles, animal hunts, executions, re-enactments of famous battles, and dramas based on Classical mythology. The building ceased to be used for entertainment in the early medieval era. It was later reused for such purposes as housing, workshops, quarters for a religious order, a fortress, a quarry, and a Christian shrine.

A go pro photo of the interior of the Colosseum of Rome, also known as the Flavian Amphitheater. Built of concrete and sand,[1] it is the largest amphitheatre ever built. The Colosseum is situated just east of the Roman Forum. Construction began under the emperor Vespasian in AD 72,[2] and was completed in AD 80 under his successor and heir Titus.[3] Further modifications were made during the reign of Domitian (81–96).[4] These three emperors are known as the Flavian dynasty, and the amphitheatre was named in Latin for its association with their family name (Flavius). The Colosseum could hold, it is estimated, between 50,000 and 80,000 spectators,[5][6] having an average audience of some 65,000;[7][8] it was used for gladiatorial contests and public spectacles such as mock sea battles, animal hunts, executions, re-enactments of famous battles, and dramas based on Classical mythology. The building ceased to be used for entertainment in the early medieval era. It was later reused for such purposes as housing, workshops, quarters for a religious order, a fortress, a quarry, and a Christian shrine.

Though the tour was over and I was about to exit the Colosseum, that experience will forever be one of the most gnarly and memorable attractions I had been to. Even if thousands of people wait in line to see the Colosseum, being on a VIP tour through the hypogeum and top tier made it feel as though you were only with a small number of people inside of it. And of course if you wander off by yourself like me…

Explore the Roman Forum and a historical epicenter of Ancient Rome and Italian culture. Banner to see more of Italy from travel photos to videos, scuba diving, and more.

*This tour was sponsored by Walks of Italy but, as always, my thoughts, reactions, and use of the word “gnarly” are my own*

INFORMATION: The Walks of Italy VIP Colosseum tour gives restricted access to the arena floor, the hypogeum underground, and the top tier. Prices for the 4 -hour tour are €89 and include the Roman Forum tour as well. Make sure to bring sun-glasses and a hat, and plenty of water and snacks. Street vendors are plentiful, but plenty expensive as well.

Have you been to the Roman Colosseum, or dreamed about a visit?

Why I suddenly returned to the US early after 8 months of travel.

Photo Jul 17, 3 30 37 PM

It was a strange feeling sitting atop the jagged rocks in Great Falls National Park — fighting for breath after running and jumping and climbing through the Billy Goat Trail. I was beside one of my best friends and we had just scaled a rock face 20 meters high. We were exhausted. Sprawled out and catching our breaths, we looked out over the river below; at some points it was rabid, frothing and surging through the gorge, and others it was calm and flowing gently. The water from millions of years ago in the ice age had carved its path through solid rock, little by little. Now it was following a path, sometimes calm and other times ferocious, that it had created against an otherwise opposing element.

A path it had created little by little.

I sat there thinking about all that I had done the past 8 months abroad, all of the places I had seen, all of the amazing people I had met, and all of the experiences I had. Also on my mind was the path that led to my unplanned return to the United States. My mind rewound through it all during that short rest.

Two days ago I had arrived back in Maryland after taking a 15-hour long bus ride from Toronto.

A week before, I had taken a flight from Munich to Madrid where I stayed overnight, and then flew Madrid to London, and London to Toronto over the course of 24-hours.

Two weeks before, I had taken a train from Rome to Munich where I spent my last week in Europe where I had decided to ultimately return.

A month before, I was just beginning to travel around Italy.

Two months before Italy, I had arrived in Europe after being forced to make the decision to leave Thailand just as I was about to begin teaching English.

And it was a little more than 8 months from this very date that I had taken a 7-day train journey across the United States, DC to Los Angeles, and flown out to Thailand to teach English.

Somehow it seemed so long ago, yet at the same time still raw in my mind. Not nostalgia, because it wasn’t a stinging pain that hit me thinking about an adventure coming to an end.

 

So why is it that I’ve found myself back in the United States?

There were many things that contributed to my early return:  a lot of cause and effect that factored in, a lot of missteps on the road and mistakes made, and many things that I hadn’t planned for that I should have.

The main reason comes down to money. I had almost completely run out of money after returning to Italy for the second time.

When I first left Thailand I had a vague idea of what I would do next, and even less of an idea of what to expect in Europe. I wasn’t headed back to Thailand any time soon, and though I thought about teaching English in another Southeast Asian country, I had a friend’s wedding to attend in two weeks in Slovakia. I figured I’d find a cheap place in Europe to lay low, somewhere in Eastern Europe that wouldn’t rock my dwindling budget that was causing me a slight bit of angst. I knew nothing at all about Europe in terms of travel; it was a new and unknown place and one I had dreamed about seeing as a little boy.

Sometimes the world steers you in different directions, ones completely opposite than what you had planned. It turned out that the cheapest last-minute flight into Europe from Thailand was Rome. Sure, Rome wasn’t the main destination in Europe I was headed for, and it damn well wouldn’t be the cheapest, but excitement filled me. I was veering off from my original plan and leaving Southeast Asia and I didn’t know what would happen next. Italy was always the country I wanted to visit the most. I would go to Italy.

Teaching English

(Teacher Ryan in Thailand)

 

When I arrived in Rome, I immediately began on the wrong foot.

As is my normal travel behavior, I didn’t plan a single bit for Europe. I would just roll with it and figure it out as I went along. Immediately I was gobbled up by the new surroundings and spat out. The first few hours were filled with self-induced misery as I wandered lost about lost in the Eternal City since I hadn’t pre-booked a hostel, my electronics were dead, and I had no clue where to look for accommodation. Oh, and that I had lost my adapter in route from Thailand to Italy. So, besides nobody around the city knowing where a hostel was, I couldn’t charge my electronics to search for one.

 

Then the shock of the Euro slapped me.

You cannot compare Italy to Thailand at all. Just don’t. Well, maybe with the insane drivers and the bum-guns on toilets, but price wise it is drastically different.  Right away I could see my wallet weeping as the cheapest hostel I could find was 30 Euro a night. That cheap flight to Rome would be outweighed by the prices to stay there. I kept trying to tell myself that I shouldn’t compare prices, but I couldn’t help but think about how I was paying $3 USD a night in Thailand. Even trying to eat cheap I was spending well over 50 Euro a day with hostel and food.

I was freaking out a little.

But I told myself it would be fine. I’d enjoy being in the city I always dreamed about visiting, and in a week I’d head over to Slovakia and spend much less.  And I did. I visited the ancient Roman sights, explored the Colosseum, and wandered the city for hours in the day.

Except I left Thailand with $2,000 left which was my budget for 4 more months at least, but within a week in Rome I spent nearly a quarter of that in accommodation and food.

Instead of heading directly to Slovakia, I took a flight to Prague and met up with a friend from the US who had been traveling with me in Thailand. We hung out and explored Prague for around a week until heading to Slovakia after enjoying the gloriously cheap food, beer, and accommodation in Prague.

10297852_2953528516962_6492149580816000801_n

(exploring the Colosseum of Rome, and super giddy)

 

Fast travel makes a slow traveler panic.

At least, it makes me freak out a bit when I didn’t know what to do next, and I’m one to usually call myself chill about most situations. But, I’m usually quite the slow traveler. Spending months on end in another country is what I like to do, and it isn’t often I bounce around from country to country every week. And after going from Rome, to Prague, and then to Bratislava, I could feel a slight anxiousness settling in. I was pin-balling from one country to the next without a plan, and that turned out to be more expensive in doing so. I had no clue what to do, and I was watching my budget sink from a comfortable $2,000 to below $1,000. When we arrived in Bratislava, we were both shocked at how expensive the country was. Hostels were on average 20 Euro, and food was comparable to Italy in price. Both of us were low on money, and had to think of how to last it out until the wedding.

We went to Hungary for a few days since I had found a few hostels that were advertised for 6 Euro a night. A bus ticket to Budapest and sleeping in those hostels, and then busing back, would be cheaper than staying in Bratislava. But when we arrived in Budapest, these cheap hotels seemed mythical. They didn’t exist. The only ones we could find wanted 20 Euro, so we were again in the same predicament.

In a predicament, but still in Europe, and still exploring as much as our broke asses could.

 

This is when the bread eating began.

We did eventually find one of those cheap hostels in Budapest, but they are so hidden and usually tucked into an apartment complex with no sign that it was only within the last few days we discovered one. They do exist! But it was too late. We both had been eating cheap rolls of bread and only drinking water since we both couldn’t afford much else. Though my friend had already planned on returning to the US after the wedding, I was hoping to keep the adventure going afterwards and find a place to base myself to keep traveling.

Though staying in Europe or continuing traveling was fast becoming unlikely.

I was getting extremely low on funds and I didn’t even have a ticket back to the US even if I did run out of money. I attended the wedding, and went back to Prague since it had been the cheapest destination I had visited in that part of Europe to come up with some sort of emergency plan to keep going.

invisible hostel sign

(one of the “signs” for the hostels, painted on the ground where we didn’t look)

 

There was a back-up plan. Though not a great one.

Just before leaving Thailand, I had announced that I was brought on by a popular travel booking company to be a content writer. It was, and still is, a sweet gig with a high pay-per-word rate and a promise of a long-term writing contract. I assumed that this would be the ticket to traveling long-term around Europe and offer me a bit of padding while I figured things out. Well, I had fully banked on this, but it would turn out to be a bad gamble. Not bad at all because of the company, but because I was relying on a job that was just starting, and if you are a freelance contractor, you know it doesn’t happen quickly. And I had naively thought it’d be instant return.

Since they are a major travel company, I hadn’t realized I would need to be added to a payroll and file taxes in the US, which means payout wouldn’t be as soon as I wanted

*I still write for them and love it, and it was silly of me at the time to think I could just hope for them to pay me a huge amount after only a couple of weeks on board.*

 

What was I to do when faced with no money left?

While I was in Rome the first time, I had attended a few Walks of Italy tours around the city where I had met a guide who was setting up her own travel blog tour in Italy, and she had invited me to attend one in June. I promised her that I would attend, it seemed like an amazing opportunity to explore more of Italy. Yet, here I was in Prague, broke, and I had to figure out a way back to Rome while only having around $200 left. Once on the trip, most of the expenses would be included, so I gambled again. I told myself that if I could make it to Rome and get on this trip, I should have my paycheck by then. And after, I could decide better how to make my next move.

I used $175 of my remaining budget for a flight to Rome, and used my last bit of money to book a hostel. For a day and half my only food was a sole banana.

 

Finally I could eat again.

For that week and half before returning to Rome, I had been living on bread rolls and ketchup (for flavor) and stayed cooped up in hostels since I had no money. I had already explored every inch of Prague and most parts of Rome that I could walk to, so I just waited it out until the blog trip. I couldn’t even afford a coffee so I could go to a café and write. And cafés are my creative zones. To be honest, I felt a bit trapped leading up to it. But the day came where I linked up with the group of other bloggers to kickstart our gnarly #ThisIsYourTime blog tour of Umbria and Ponza. I was stoked. If I had to leave Italy without actually exploring other parts of the country, I would have been super bummed.

To say I gorged might be an understatement. We were in red wine country and I drank my weight in wine from vineyards like Fontanaro Farms and stuffed myself full of pasta and meats. Sometimes people would comment with something around the lines of, “Wow, you must love to eat!” and my response would be to smirk through my bulging cheeks and declare, “You never know when you’ll be living on bread and ketchup!

South of Rome we visited Ponza Island where Prosecco flowed like water and I ate some of the most delicious seafood of my life. I was again in the company of amazing people, tasting the flavors of a country and of the sea, and sleeping in comfort knowing I had a bed for the night.

Me in Ponza, Italy

(cheesing in Ponza, and happy to have food again!)

 

Of course it wouldn’t last. It couldn’t last.

The blog tour had been an amazing 10 days, and during that time my worries had faded and I was enjoying the experiences to the fullest. What else should you do in that case of course? I had to soak it up baby! But once it was over, I was back in the same position. I had no money and I was in Rome, the most expensive place I had traveled thus far. Linnea, our amazing blog tour guide and now a person I am happy to call friend, had a boyfriend on the tour that was equally an amazing person. Knowing my situation, he offered me to stay in a tiny loft above a theatre he owned in the heart of Rome. It would save me from finding a quiet alleyway to sleep every night, and would give me time and a bit less pressure off my shoulders to figure out my next move.

Again I was eating bread and ketchup to save the bit of cash I had. Some family sent a bit of money at random to which, they may not have known, helped me eat for the day. And allowed it to not be just bread once or twice a day.

Campo Dalto Picadillo Theater I slept above.

(my little theater window)

 

This was the moment where I began to think that I might have to return back to the United States.

However much I wanted to try to keep traveling, and however much I stubbornly didn’t want to return earlier than I had intended, I had to consider my position. I had little to no money and no income at the moment. Living on a tight budget is not at all a difficult thing for me. Though I love eating the dishes of all the countries I visit and exploring, I also have no problem surviving on instant noodles and toast and exploring. But when you have no budget at all, when you are completely bottomed out, and you know that bread roll is what you’ll eat for the day because you can’t afford something else, it saps a lot of the fun out of the experience.

Some people can do that, and I definitely have been down that road in New Zealand where I slept in my hammock above Wellington and nibbled on what I could afford because I was out of money. Even though bits of that were wonderful, like waking up in the woods everyday to the sun rising over the city, most aspects of being forced into that position weren’t pleasant.

I sat each day atop that theater looking out of my small window watching people wander around, and each night watching groups heading to go grab a drink or a bite to eat. It was an absolutely romantic scenario living above a theater in the heart of Rome, but I still felt trapped. If I wandered around and met new friends, I couldn’t do anything they would be doing around town. I couldn’t explore parts of Rome I hadn’t seen since I couldn’t afford the subway. And I couldn’t relax in a café in the city while I wrote.

Even though there was a play every night in the theater I lived in about a brothel romance with ladies in lingerie strutting around.

Yes, the theater came with lingerie clad ladies...

(why yes the theater came lingerie ladies & nightly plays about a romance in a brothel)

 

That’s when I decided it was my time to head back to the United States.

If I was going to explore more of Europe, I wanted to have a budget that would allow me to do even the most minimal things around the city. Some opportunities presented themselves for possible work, and working in Rome would be a dream come true, but I had already used up 2 months of my allotted time in the Schengen Zone and I would have to leave soon anyway.

Now it was time to figure out how the hell to get back to the United States. During that last week in Rome I finally received a chunk of my pay from my freelance contract, but it still wouldn’t be enough to pay for a last-minute flight back. A friend I had met while traveling in Thailand invited me to come visit them in Munich, and after realizing flights were drastically cheaper from there to the US, I said farewell to my friends in Rome and took a train to Munich.

During the week spent in Germany, I sucked up my pride and asked friends back home if they could help spare a little cash for the difference I needed for a flight. I knew that in Washington DC I had friends I could stay with and that I could have two jobs in a jiffy, so that would be the plan. Return, work my ass off again, save money, leave.

And after three flights in 24-hours and a 15-hour bus ride, I was back in Washington DC. I was somewhere I never thought I’d see myself again that soon.

But, I also had never thought I’d see myself living in Thailand or exploring Europe either.

We are dreamers too

(at the John Lennon wall in Prague)

 

So, was running out of money all a mistake?

Or going to Europe a mistake?

The thought of course had crossed my mind a few times. I could have planned better, or come up with one that would have allowed me to stay abroad. There are times when my thoughts about this beat me up, and that I feel bummed about returning to the US. Maybe I should have gone back to Southeast Asia to teach English. Sometimes I think “dammit, I could have saved money better here by not doing this” or “if only I would have done this than I’d still be traveling.”

Then I have to shake that bad mojo off. I left what-ifs and I-could-haves behind, they are all useless thoughts.

This is the essence of travel. This is what makes it exciting and demanding and difficult. And ultimately, why traveling is so rewarding. If it were easy and everything was laid out before you, then the soul of the adventure wouldn’t be there. Was it all for naught? Absolutely not. Are there things I would do differently? Yes.

Lessons on the road are the best lessons learned, because it is a trial by fire. They are situations you may never find yourself in at home, and whether it be figuring out how to save money for something special you want to do, or budgeting just so you can make it to the next destination. Traveling the past couple of years after leaving the United States for the first time taught me to open up my mind to the possibilities that are out there once you begin to look for, and follow your dream.

I gained knowledge and important lessons about Southeast Asia and Europe that couldn’t have been read in a book. And being quite new to travel, each lesson will make the next trip better.

Mistakes quote by Oscar Wilde

(looking out over Loh Dalum Bay in Thailand)

 

This trip also showed me another key piece to my life.

When I began traveling just a mere 3 years ago by going to New Zealand, my heart and mind were filled with sudden possibility and inspiration. But my heart was also still filled with things that always held me back. Though that first trip was life-changing, it had also been used as an escape from something I was running from most of my life — however much I told myself I wasn’t running.

When I had to leave New Zealand after 9 months of traveling the country because I was out of money, I berated myself for failing. I had told everyone that I was going to travel for a year or two, and I snubbed my nose at my brother after he had disowned me for wanting to travel. I would prove the world and my brother and society’s demands that I was better than it all and could chase my dream. In that sense, my dream became about other people and other things, it was no longer in pursuit of my own happiness. When I returned early from New Zealand, I faked that it was no big deal, but inside I was crushed. I had felt like I failed at pursuing my dream. And worst of all, I was thinking about how I had set out to prove others wrong and failed.

By being consumed by this fear of failure, something I always struggled with growing up, it had taken the true meaning of my dream and replaced it with self-loathing. The fact that I had traveling nearly across the world, and the fact that I was the first in my family to leave the US, and the fact that I did it for 9 months — that all didn’t matter. I had failed at something I set out to do. I had failed at my dream.

As was one of the first articles to be published on this blog when I began it again last year, I shared how this exact mentality and demoralizing view of my own self drove me into a dark place, a place filled with depression and monster that I had hidden away. It was a place where self-worth did not exist, just personal demons I created and that I succumbed to. During this period, things I had never dealt with — the deaths of my parents, the feeling that I would never be good enough, and the feeling that I had failed myself — it brought me into an abyss where the choice of living or dying was the only thing left.

When I shared the affects of keeping this all hidden in far corners of my mind since I was a child, it was after a time when I had hit the lowest point in my life. My drinking had gone beyond bad. I felt worthless and ashamed. And I was also facing a possible jail sentence because I had been drunk and broken into a house, one which I thought was mine that I had simply and drunkenly locked myself out of.

After months of facing the consequences of those actions, and looking at the internal monsters for the first time that manifested, I knew I had to make that decision to live and change, or else end up dead. There was a choice to be made, a choice that could only be made by me and carried out. The day I walked from the courtroom found not guilty, I vowed to live my life for myself and do whatever possible to chase my dream. A vow I had said before when leaving for Thailand, but one I had said while still holding onto things from my past.

Quote about failure

(standing atop a temple in Angkor Wat)

 

The significance of this trip was that, this time, I don’t feel like a failure.

Months before I had even began planning my trip to Thailand, I began to share personal memoirs about those struggles I had faced, and some of the most personal events from my childhood that had haunted me for years. That had led me to that dark place. By sharing the stories, it was almost like self-counseling. I finally revealed to myself the things I never could face before, and it helped me discover clarity and strength.

Sure, before I left I had told people that I wanted to travel for a year, teaching in Thailand, and then maybe moving on to explore other parts of the world. It was a rough plan, and though teaching in Thailand was a main goal of mine, everything was truly up in the air. I was just ready for another adventure. Even with my trip only lasting 8 months when I wanted to travel for a year or more, it was still 8 months abroad. I still lived for 8 months in other countries. I was able to experience multiple cultures and make friends from all over the world and share experiences and laughter with them.

I was pursuing my dream. I still am pursuing my dream. Because a dream isn’t a destination or a finish line, it is the journey of the body and mind and heart and soul in pursuit of what makes you happy. In pursuit of what you love. It is something that, if you are truly chasing, you can never fail by not reaching some peak or apex, since the glory of a dream is never-ending. You can only fail if you choose not to follow it.

And this is why returning. Though it is something I didn’t think to do this early, it wasn’t something I am going to let bring me down this time. The choice was made by myself to return, and though eating bread and ketchup everyday could have helped with that decision, I know that I will make my time back in the States another piece of the adventure. A catalyst for continuing my dream.

Photo May 07, 7 56 03 PM

What comes next in the journey?

Well, I’ve come back “home” as I can say, though I know that even if I grew up in Maryland, my home is somewhere else out there. It’s in the wind and the mountains and the forests and the road and everywhere else. Fernweh, that longing for a place I’ve never been still holds on tight. So my goal (which I don’t often set goals unless relating to travel) is to work and save and travel again soon.

To be honest, I am also very excited to be back for fall in the Untied States. Autumn in the US has always been magical for me — Halloween is my favorite holiday, pumpkin flavored everything is my obsession, and the beauty of the changing leaves. And since I will be in the US for a bit, I’ve been considering going much more in-depth about travel around the US and places I’ve been. This is the perfect time to add this aspect to the blog, and maybe a perfect time to become a tourist of my own home country.

Everyday is a journey

 

Where might I be looking to go next?

Since I had always wanted to visit Europe, the good thing about traveling there and spending two months hopping around different countries is that it gave me a sample. A tantalizing taste. Of course I want more. And it also clued me in on what to expect and what to plan for when I do save specifically to travel Europe. So that is an option, but there are many others. Each time I embark to a new countries, my mind changes and grows and evolves, and I discovers different possibilities that suddenly change my desire or course.

Maybe I’ll want to return to Southeast Asia and explore and teach in Vietnam or another country. I also will be researching what it takes to stay longer in Europe without having the 3-month cap to worry about. Also, I’ve always wanted to explore Central America and South America, and Africa. Hell, I want to see it all!

During my time back I’ll be doing exactly that: deciding where to go on the next trip. I’d like to give myself 6 months to save up, so I’ll be working hard to accomplish this. I’ve already had two interviews at previous jobs, and this month my freelance writing contract should finally have the kinks ironed out.

There is also the idea of moving to New Orleans after fall when it cools down and the festivals take over. New Orleans is one of my favorite places in the world, and I’ve been wanting to spend a few months living in that city for a while. It’ll be crazy busy and should be a great place to make some money.

Travel quote by Robert Louis Stevenson

 

All of this did, in fact, pass through my head during that brief rest in Great Falls.

Not nostalgia at all, but a pang inside my spirit of a sudden excitement — the excitement of a new adventure and continuing the chase.

We had been scrambling up fissures in the stone formations, leaping over moss-covered logs, bounding off angled boulders from one to the other, scaling sheer rock-faces, swinging from branches, and running full sprint while dodging sharp outcroppings. We were hot and tired and slightly cut up, but invigorated. We had been running free for the sake of the spirit and for the challenge. We were creating a path where no path existed. Sometimes head-on, and sometimes with caution.

We were creating our own path in that forest and in the gorge even though obstacles stood in our way. Yes, it felt strange being in Maryland again and sitting atop the high jagged rocks, but as the water below us flowed forward, and the breath came back to my lungs, and the memories raced through my mind, I knew one thing for sure — little by little I would keep carving out my own path.

Though the adventure seemed to end, it hadn’t. It never does if you don’t let it. Step by step, little by little, I will keep pushing forward.

Here is to today, and the adventure it holds wherever I find myself, and wherever you find yourselves chasing your own dream every today following.

dream on

If you also want to check out another article by a travel friend, Flora of Flora the Explorer Blog, it shows another perspective as she suddenly is returning home after traveling 3 years. Read: After two years of travel I am returning to London

 

Fail Tale: Lost in Rome on Arrival

There I was, frumped down on a gum-covered curb, arched backward by the gravitational pull of my now encumbering backpack, with my tech bag (which weighs a hefty amount on its own) sagging down my chest and in between my spread out legs — not much unlike a fat and floppy baby.

A bead of sweat crept slowly from beneath my fedora, one which I had purchased in Thailand as my shining new adventure hat, now bent and beaten and grimy. That bead of sweat made its way across the squished ridges of my forehead, up and over the furrowed hills of my brow, took a swift dive down the crest of my nose onto the plains of my cheek — where it seems to pause a moment, as if to admire some sort of unique feature on the landscape of my face, then decided to scurry forth into the thicket of my scraggly backpacker beard where it was lost.

When it had given that pause on my cheek, I imagine it was probably looking back over the plains and furrows and the ridges at the agony on my face under the hot Roman sun — and in its tiny sinister saltiness, it probably laughed at me.

I was utterly lost in the Eternal City after bumbling along for what seemed to be an eternity in itself, hauling about my human mobile home which nearly weighted 40 kilos, searching desperately for some place to lay my head at night, until my dragging feet and aching back begged me to stop. On my left was a sour-smelling dumpster, on my right a typical Roman patio café with Italians sipping their second or third or fifth espresso of the day, and ahead of me triple parked cars blocking most of a main road — which come to find out is just the nature of Italian drivers in the city who tend to establish a parking lot where they’d like.

All I could mutter was a pathetic, “what the fuck” under my breath as I wiped away more sweat that raced down my face before it could pause and mock my stupendous stupidity like the other. I must have been some form of impressive from the way Romans passed by me and gawked at the presence of this sad and sweaty blob slouched on the curb.

It was all chaos and madness flying at me that first few hours the moment my train had pulled into the Termini train station and I waddled off the hissing steel behemoth with the eagerness of fulfilling a childhood dream. But instead of trotting off happily with a hop in my step and confidence of where to go, the realization occurred that I had no clue where the hell I was.

People scurried about like frantic ants. Motorbikes bobbed and weaved and zipped around as if they were in a race. The homeless and the hawkers both hankered for money I didn’t have. And most of all, it dawned on me as I scampered across the cobblestone street after dodging honking cars, that a travel sin had been committed.

After spending almost 8 months in Thailand one might think chaos would be incomparable in most other countries — if you’ve experienced (and survived) the ebb and flow of Bangkok traffic on the back of a motorbike you’d think you could go forth head on into most things. But each busy city has its own unique kind of chaos, and the kind felt a few moments of arrival wasn’t Rome’s fault, it stemmed from being utterly unprepared.

The travel sin committed? Not booking a hostel before I arrived in Rome.

Not just that, but for the sake of a bigger and better whammy I did not look at a map of potential hostels preemptively, and I did not look at the layout of the city.

Sometimes you can wing it and things just work out. Other times, you’ll find yourself between a café and a smelly place like myself. It was only a few days prior that I had been forced to leave Thailand and book a last-minute flight. Rome, my childhood dream, was somehow the cheapest flight into Europe from Thailand as if the travel fates urged me to fulfill that dream. There was no way I couldn’t leap at the opportunity presenting itself. And with the arrogance of my go-with-the-flow attitude, I decided that I would arrive and see where the next adventure would take me.

Oh, how that turned out to be an amateur decision to make.

I started off downhill from the train stain with the momentum of my mass carrying me forward, stopping every so often to admire an old piazza or unique architecture. Each cross street passed seemed dedicated to businesses and pizzerias, and on occasion I would veer off course and trudge halfway through a side-street thinking I had spotted a hostel sign, only to be fooled by the mirage of a low-quality hotel sign.

This is when the chaffing began.

And so did the blisters begin to poke up their translucent and annoying heads on the bottom of my feet.

You might ask, “Why the hell didn’t you stop someone and ask them for directions?” and I will tell you, “dammit I tried!

It must have been the end, or beginning, of the Italian lunch hour because as I stood there, wearing my best puppy face (which doesn’t work with a big beard and a sweat-drenched shirt) everybody that passed by seemed to be in a gallop as if they were late to some important meeting. With a wave or a “Ciao!” I hoped someone would pause for a moment, but nobody did. There was no escape from the high-noon sun cooking me so I trudged on, determined that something, somewhere would pop up. The road that literally carried me downward seemed to stretch on into a hazy infinity, yet I marched on.

A few times I ventured into what seemed to be a café, odd to me at the time that they called it a “bar“, in hopes of finding a place proper enough to throw off the bags and charge my phone. Except all of these “bars” I was poking into, usually by squeezing through a compact doorway, instantly went silent when I entered. The locals would stop their shopping or chewing or sipping and stare, and the staple Italian elder behind the counter, with a sudden and disapproving glance at the clumsy monstrosity strapped to my back and chest, always seemed ready to spatula me over the head and out the door.

This was a whole new jungle I was lost in, a jungle where no touristy shops were located to plead for directions and the cafés weren’t for sitting around on a laptop, but for grab-and-go quickies. Just old-school locals that gave me weird looks. Hell, I’d give myself weird looks at that point too since the twisted wedgie that had formed gave me an awkward walk. This was exactly the type of neighborhood I’d love to explore, local and not touristy, yet it wan’t the neighborhood I needed at the time to find accommodation.

Demoralized and with thoughts flooding through my head like, “fucking idiot, you should have looked up a hostel first” I sank down onto the gum-covered curb and sulked. And though the sun still cooked me, there was no way I could keep wandering. It had been at least a couple of hours for all I knew, so I plopped down.

Then, before me, I saw something shimmer across the street.

It may have been the heat mixed with the decaying food in the dumpster or that I hadn’t drank water all morning, but it appeared to me — “free Wifi here!” I hadn’t seen a single sign for Wifi around the city yet, but I knew that my laptop had a bit of a charge and possibly my iPad, so I jolted upright and swiftly made my way across the street.

Okay, who am I kidding…

It took about a minute to build up momentum to rock back and forth enough to sit up. To anyone else watching it probably looked like a turtle on its back attempting yoga for the first time. Why I didn’t unstrap it from my back and just stand up will forever be a senseless mystery. Finally upright, I squeezed through the scattered parked cars in the middle of the street over to the small panino shop which potentially held and end to my self-inflicted misery.

But alas, that would not be the end just quite yet, because of course more “excitement” had to be juiced out of the day.

An empty table with an outlet seemed to be waiting just for me to flop into, so I quickly scurried over and took it. As I rummaged through my bag, a sudden fear grasped me — I couldn’t find my European adapter. Of course the waiter approached asking for my order, and in my craze I blurted out “latté” and kept digging. Nearly emptying my entire pack onto the table of this tiny panino shop, I discovered that I must have forgotten the plug adapter in Thailand. When I pulled out my laptop, it was down to almost 15% battery left, and my iPad was at about 3%.

The waiter returned and set down a frothed glass of milk. At that moment, confused, I stopped him and asked if it was coffee. The waiter replied, “you order latté” and shook his head as if to end an argument that had never even begun and walked away. I don’t need to type out the amount of fuckity fucks that flew through my head at that moment as everything was dying and my comfort was a warm milk, so immediately I got to work trying to find hostels nearby.

Dammit man, at least give me some cookies with the milk!

My phone was charging off of my laptop, so as it suckled battery I watched the percentage on my laptop quickly tick down like a time-bomb. As the results came in for the cheapest hostels, it was something new that slapped me in the face. Europe would surely be more expensive than Thailand, though I never expected the cheapest hostel in the city to be 25 euro.

Talk about a different kinda’ culture shock.

But there was no time to waste and I booked it. The life of my laptop and iPad exhausted, so I looked up quick directions on my iPhone to the hostel, and with its measly 8% battery I hauled my packs on, chugged the latté, and went forth — milk mustache and all. Since I had been in such a panic to look up directions, I completely missed the fact that there was a blaring and obvious monument on the way the the metro station I needed to go to. And the fact that “Colosseo Metro” didn’t quite compute at that moment. I reached the bottom of that seemingly endless hill I had been barreling down all day and rounded the corner, where I paused for a moment to get my bearing.

The I noticed something in the distance.

There it was, something I had only seen in books and online, and something I had dreamed of as a little boy to see. Only, I didn’t realize it immediately. The sun was beaming down into my eyes, and below the brim of my hat I could only see the base of a stone structure in the distance. So I tipped the hat up to see what was in the distance, and gazed up and up and up.

Suddenly all of the nonsense of the day was gone: the mocking bead of sweat, the chaffing, the blisters, the wedgies, the sticky shirt, the smelly dumpster I sat by, the spatula terror, the awkward stares, the self pity of being unprepared, and even the warm cookie-less milk all disappeared from my thoughts — I was looking at the Colosseum of Rome.

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I stared in awe at the ancient stone structure climbing out of the grounds ahead, and though some may not be impressed by this tourist attraction, I had waited for a very long time for that moment. Nothing could ruin it. Well, for a few seconds at least, until the hawker with some squeaky gelatinous toy shoved it my face with a “5 euro only, come on.

Truth be told, I was still a quite bit cranky and eager to get the hostel, but before I hopped on the metro I had to get a closer look.

It was as if I was drawn to it, pushing through the throngs of hawkers — the hat guy trying to sell me a hat when I already had one, the creepy faux gladiators wanting me to take selfies with them, the guys trying to sell me silk scarves like I was some sort of hipster, the souvenir guy trying to sell me rocks that he said were pieces of the Colosseum, and even the terribly cheesy floating guy that all easily distracted tourists flocked around.

After admiring it for as long as I could stay upright, I made my way onto the metro and to my hostel. Unlike Thailand, I discovered after the hours of waddling that hostels in Rome aren’t as numerous and way less obvious than some other countries I’ve been to. In Thailand, you toss a Baht in any direction and it will hit a guesthouse. It wouldn’t be until after this ordeal that I realized hostels and guesthouses in Rome are tucked into apartment buildings with the most frustratingly discreet signs, making it nigh impossible to just stumble onto one.

And though my lack of forward thinking and planning before arriving in a completely new country with a vastly different culture sent me on a half-day long miserably mission, seeing the Colosseum made imagination into a reality — and everything else was forgotten.

Oh, and yes, I made up the word frumped =P

Have you ever had an experience like mine from not planning ahead? Tell your fail-tale below! 

Weekly Travel Photo: Meeting an Octopus in Italy

On a recent blogger tour around Italy, we visited the island of Ponza, about two hours south of Rome and a three-hour ferry ride. While there, I had the chance to go scuba diving for the very first time and took along my GoPro to capture the moment. And one such moment was with this little octopus that we found under a rock at the sea-bed.

Now, personally I’ve never met an octopus, but it seemed much obliged to meet me. Given the uber cuteness and subtle hilarity of this photo, I want you to come up with a fitting caption for this photo!

CAPTION THIS BELOW!

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*Special thanks to #ThisIsYourTime and Slow Living Vacations, as well as Ponza Diving School who included me in this experience*

Weekly Photo Mojo is about stimulating your cortex with retina rupturing and awe-inspiring photos from around the world to help you reach Terminal Vicariosity (The point where the mind reaches maximum capacity from living vicariously through someone else, and chooses to start actually living.)

What feeling does this photo evoke for you?

 

Weekly Travel Photo: Prague Castle and the Charles Bridge

Welcome to Praha AKA Prague AKA the City of Spires. This week’s photo mojo comes to you from the fabled capital of the Czech Republic. In the distance the spires of Prague Castle pierce the sky, with the Charles Bridge spanning Vltava River and its own tower and spires opposite. Both are important landmarks to the capital city of the Czech Republic with a history that is every bit beautiful as it is bloody.

More to come on the Czech Republic soon!

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photo 4

Weekly Photo Mojo is about stimulating your cortex with retina rupturing and awe-inspiring photos from around the world to help you reach Terminal Vicariosity (The point where the mind reaches maximum capacity from living vicariously through someone else, and chooses to start actually living.)

The most beautiful landscapes from around the world

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This week’s #Frifotos theme on Twitter is the subject of landscapes. And even though I’ve just began traveling, I’ve had the opportunity to gaze upon some absolutely jaw dropping scenery from North America to Canada, Haiti to Thailand, and Cambodia. And now, as I begin traveling through Europe, I have finally been able to take in some landscapes in Italy as well.

Here are my picks, in no certain order, from my own photos of the most beautiful landscapes from around the world that I have visited.

CAMBODIA 

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Angkor Wat pokes above the tree tops in the distance as the sun sets.

 

NEW ZEALAND

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Lake Tekapo glistens in the sunlight, golden grass sways in the wind, the smell of fresh mountain air and pines fill your nose.

Check out more from New Zealand

 

HAITI

la-citadel-haiti

High atop the mountain fortress of La Citadel the land drops 3,000ft into a lush and green valley below.

Check out more from Haiti

belly-beach-labadee-haiti

The morning sun climbs over the hilltops above Belly Beach, nearly untouched paradise surrounded by the crystal clear Caribbean.

Check out more from Haiti

 

 THAILAND

sunset-over-pai

The valley of Pai fills with orange and gold as the sun descends behind the mountains.

Check out more from Thailand

 

ITALY

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Aqueducts from ancient Rome climb out of the landscape in the countryside outside of Rome, still defying time and the elements.

Check out more from Italy

 

CANADA

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A fiord splits the mountain range past a dark lake on a cloudy day in Gros Morne National Park, Newfoundland, Canada.

Check out more from Canada

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Amongst the pine trees and thick hills outside of Gros Morne National Park, a wood-plank trail disappears into the distance.

Check out more from Canada

 

UNITED STATES

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Everything was wiped away in this once-upon-a-time resort getaway — the Salton Sea was created by man, but nature denied the reward. It is the contrast to an era long gone; the silence, the desolation, the salt-crusted land and inhabitable lake, the dead fish, the seagulls squawking, and the skeletons of houses leftover that makes this oddly beautiful in its demise.

Check out more from the United States

 

What was your favorite landscape from above? And what is your favorite landscape from around the world?

 

Arriving in Rome: Was my childhood dream fulfilled?

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And so the lost boy arrived in the Eternal City. But I hadn’t actually arrived yet. Having an aisle seat made me envious of the red-shirted woman with the views out the window. But the worst part of that envy wasn’t because her face was smushed against the window and she was wide-eyed at the Italian landscape below — it was because that woman was dead asleep as we began our descent. Oh how I was tempted to just lean right over her to peer out the window. But I suspected that if she were to suddenly wake up, I might appear to be sneaking a smooch instead of my simple desire to see Italy unfold below.

She’d be wrong though, I’m not quite into stealing a secret kiss from a drooling elderly woman with a slight mustache and a snore worse than mine.

We arrived on a reasonably smooth landing, with only a few jolts and shakes exciting my fear of flying before screeching onto the landing strip. After that mad rush subsided that happens when all flights come to an end and people scramble for their luggage, I was waddling with my bags toward the exit door.

Finally, I was staring out at a land (which arguably didn’t look different from most airports) that I had waited all of my life to see. I took a deep breath, my nostrils full flare and filling up my lungs with as much of the brisk Roman air as I could take in. It smelled more like burning rubber and jet fuel than fresh air, but it was still marvelous. Then I realized I was causing an annoying jam while exiting the plane, so I continued on waddling down the stairs. Though there was a slight anxiousness in me that I couldn’t explain. Stark shadows of our figures cast long across the tarmac from the early morning sun just beginning to peak over the Roman umbrella pines in the distance.

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I stopped into a bathroom once inside the Fuimicino airport terminal to change out of my spiffy clothes and throw on something much more normal for me (leather jacket, jeans, boots). Reading about a trick online that says it’s possible to get upgraded to first class if you dress nicely, I decided to give it a shot when checking into the airport in Bangkok before leaving for Rome.

 

Did the dress-nice-for-an-upgrade trick work?

 

Well, with a button up shirt on, a vest, dress pants, and schnazzy shoes, I approached the Sri Lanka air counter with confidence.

At first it didn’t seem like I was making any leeway with the girl at the counter. I was smiling. I complimented her. I asked her how her day was going. But all I received in return was business attitude. She went through the standard routine of asking me for my passport and credit card. She really didn’t even look up at me after the initial greeting I received. But, after putting my backpack on the weighing machine and cracking a few jokes, the barrier broke down finally.

You look like a rock star.” she said and smiled.

I laughed, “I get that a lot.

Are you in a band” she asked.

No, just a writer

Oh wow, so you have a book or something?” she asked.

Not yet, but I write a blog though

Maybe I can read it sometime” she said.

So, of course feeling like a cool cat, I pulled out my wallet and I passed her my blog business card.

This is my website if you want to read it

Okay I will. By the way, I moved you to seat 20H” she responded and flashed a smile.

With a thank you I walked away — a small bounce now in my stride. I had no clue what my seat was changed to, but she told me she had changed it. Could it be to first class? I’d only know when I boarded the plane.

 

Ultimately, it was not first class.

 

It was an aisle seat that allows you to just peek past the curtain and see the happy people donning suits in first class. I wondered whether first class seats while wearing dress pants gives you less of a wedgie.

Mextures

So, either this was a failure at the attempt at an upgrade, or a victory. Though I was teased by seeing the “greener grass” ahead of me in first class the whole flight — she had also placed me in an exit row which gave me more space to stretch out my legs than I’ve ever had on a prior flight. And there was nobody in front of me to flop backward and crush my laptop.

After I was out of my stuffy suit I headed eagerly for the train that would take me into the heart of Rome. A great big green and white and red colored beast huffed and puffed on the platform waiting to take people into the city center. I nearly missed the train as I stood in front of a door waiting for it to open sesame, until someone pushed past me and pressed the button on the door to enter.

 

I would have totally missed that train otherwise.

 

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We pulled out into the rural Roman countryside. Small farms and more Dr. Seuss-esque “truffula” pines flashed by while the occasional graffiti that was rebelling against the bland concrete buildings it was sprayed on broke up the views. An Italian flag flapped in the wind , except unlike the American flag in the United States, it would be the first and the last I saw that day.

As I sat on a fold-down seat by one of the doors, I scribbled observations in my leather journal. One observation was someone who I deemed The Man with Overblown Expectations. It can get exhausting having expectations about places you visit. Sometimes a city or a country can exceed expectations, and sometimes the expectations are crushed by disappointment. So I try not to have expectations, just an excitement from the mystery of a new and unknown place.

This is why I don’t read guide books about places I visit. It sets expectations for the place to be sunny and beautiful and that going there will be flawless. That isn’t really how travel is. So, instead, I wait until I arrive to really begin the experience, and whether or not it is good or bad, it isn’t influenced by an outside force. Usually at least.

Standing over me was The Man with the Overblown Expectations; flowy white buzzed hair, bushy eye-brows, tan pressed slacks and a golf shirt, giant Nascar-like glasses dominating he face. He had a gold watch on, alligator skin shoes with little gold plates on them. He looked uncomfortable standing in the crowd of strangers on the train. He had tucked himself into the corner near the doorway and strategically place his absurdly large rolling luggage as a barricade between himself and the rest of the car. His wife sat on her luggage with what seemed to be a permanent frown that had hardened over some years.

Gardens. Gardens everywhere you look. Do you see these gardens?

The train was now passing by older apartment complexes or smaller houses alongside the tracks that had little patches of flowers or vegetables sprouting in their back yards.

Gardens. Do you see these?” he asked his wife.

Gardens, yes, I see them” she said without looking, and obviously not as amused as him.

We finally made it to Rome” He said with excitement.

It seems those small and not-so-Roman gardens had triggered it. And it made me glad I had not waited until I was much older to visit, even though I most likely had 1% of his budget to explore with.

I was excited as well, but peering out at that window I was observing something much different.

Life; the beauty and the bad. It seemed as though he was blind to this. Blinded by his expectations I believe. Everything had to be the way he imagined it to be. And however cookie-cutter perfect that may sound, that can take away from the unexpected joys and surprises. He refused to see anything in the landscape other than what he wanted, which I think takes away from the actual soul and life of a place. Its reality.

We passed through an area now lined with small tin-roofed shacks close to the train tracks; half rusted or half collapsing but fully occupied. Stained and tattered clothing hung on the clothes lines outside. Rusted bicycles lay unused and overgrown with weeds. Trash strewn across their yard which was a 5×5 patch of dirt surrounded by a chain-link fence and barbed wire. I guess there wasn’t much neighborly love there. The tin shacks were half hidden by infertile corn stalks growing all around them.

Oooh! Little balconies! Look honey, everyone has little balconies!” He said.

Apartment complexes with exteriors of faded paint rose up beyond the tin shacks which were hidden from view, except by a passing train like ours. They did have balconies, but had nothing distinctly Roman about them. Nothing out of the ordinary. The area more resembled pulling into Bangkok train station which had the same tin shacks lining the sides of the tracks with the dated high-rises behind.

Balconies…wow. Beautiful” the man said under his breath.

The train screeched to a halt into the Roma Trastevere station. The station was shaded by a massive metal awning; pieces of the cracked and aged black paint has chipped away to show the rust beneath. The wrought-iron construct was adorned with twisted metal, spiral designs, and intricate hammered iron leaves — beautiful in its day surely, and beautiful in its decay still.

The Man with the Overblown Expectations seemed to quiet after a while as his wife was ignoring him and wearing her seemingly standard frown. But he still would whisper to himself in amazement at the cute hanging laundry and balconies. He didn’t ever mention the graffiti, or the people living on the side of the tracks, or how this landscape had shown centuries of the numerous rises and falls of this region.

 

After all, Rome is one of the most war-torn cities of the past 2,000 years.

 

We left the station and passed more embankments covered with the same infertile cornstalks like the ones that had hidden the tin houses before. Not producing anything, yet still growing. It made me think about how this region may have been a vast farmland in ancient Rome before the urban decay that has sprouted up all around.

 

It reminded me of when I was a little boy and would help my mother with the gardening.

 

We used to grow corn in a small patch of flat land at the bottom of a hill in our yard, and I used to help my mother tend to them. More like I would sneak newly ripened cherry tomatoes into my mouth. Over time after my parents split up, nobody planted anything there. Weeds grew, but still even without care those corn stalks sprouted each year to the dismay of my father. But infertile still, the only thing they could bear was the memories of a time past just like these alongside the tracks.

It began to seem as though we were passing through different decades as the train continued to close in on Rome. Through the 1920’s to the 1980’s, buildings with distinct styles for their era rose up around us. Some with the pre-war pastels, some with the cold-war staunchness.

We had been leaping forward through decades shown in a timeline of aging apartment complexes, and then history unraveled before me and we plunged back centuries.

Above us towered an ancient aqueduct, the first of its kind I had ever seen. Bricks nearly a third of the thickness used in modern construction, stacked perfectly upon each other and held together with mortar to a height above most buildings in the surrounding area.

We passed under one of the archways holding up this aqueduct and I marveled at how old the structure was, yet how dominating it was to the modern buildings around. That arch towering above was our gateway to the Eternal City as we crept into the Termini station.

Though I had stifled my expectations that had been building up since I was a very young boy, I couldn’t help but secretly hope that it was just as the books had made it look when I flipped through them at age 8.

Years and years of wandering the history sections of libraries and always finding myself pausing at the books about Rome. Years of hearing stories about Italy from other people who had visiting and thinking of Rome as a fantasy place. Something only in imagination and on pages. Years of that feeling of fernweh, the longing for a place I had never been.

Even though the train had just pulled into the city, the sight of that ancient aqueduct made it unbearable to hold back the excitement. I had a big ole’ cheesy smile on my face.

No longer was it just for books and stories and photos, for I had arrived in the Eternal City.

*The next part of my Rome series will be landing soon, so make sure to keep stopping by, or sign up for my weekly newsletter!*

How was it when you first came to the place you always dreamed of? Did it live up to your expectations, or like me, did you try not to have expectations? Share your story and your place of your dreams below!

 

Weekly Travel Photo: Immersive panoramic bubble of the Pantheon in Rome.

 

Here is an immersive photo bubble of the Pantheon in Rome — one of the most important and best preserved structures from the ancient empire dating its construction back to between 118 AD to 125 AD. This temple was dedicated to the pagan gods of Rome and is one of the best examples of Roman engineering and architecture with the massive and detailed dome and oculus at the top.

*Ignore the partially dismembered people, creating a bubble in this busy of an attraction was a tad difficult!*

Since the bubble wasn’t very crisp because of the people and lighting, here is a better look at the dome.

pantheon-rome-dome

More photos and articles on the pantheon to come, so stayed tuned!

Weekly Photo Mojo is about stimulating your cortex with retina rupturing and awe-inspiring photos from around the world to help you reach Terminal Vicariosity (The point where the mind reaches maximum capacity from living vicariously through someone else, and chooses to start actually living.)

What feeling does this photo evoke for you?

 

Best Travel Blog Articles of the Week – May 18th-24th

People-youre-not-shopping-for-but-should-be-paper-boy

Welcome to your weekly travel digest. Just like a young chap in the early 1900’s, I will be playing the role of town cryer telling you all of the best travel articles hot of the (word)press.

Each week I will be posting up my favorite blog reads that catch my terribly low attention span. No, I will not be in overalls and a golf cap like this dapper young lad on the left.

When I’m not wandering around the world, I’m reading about it, so I want to collect some entertainment to light that travel spirit under your ass!

There will be no “Top 10” posts here, no “Best Beaches” bullshit, just straight up travel adventures and motivation.

Motivation

Are you a real traveler? How the trip can change your approach to people
by Clelia Mattana of Keep Calm and Travel

Excerpt: “People travel to faraway places to watch, in fascination, the kind of people they would ignore at home.”

There’s a punch in the stomach for a lot of travelers. Many of those who travel for leisure or vacation go to places abroad and gawk at everyday life of other cultures. Hell, backpackers can be guilty of it too — especially snapping photos of everything that catches our eyes. One thing that travel can change in you though, if you allow it to, is the ability to notice and acknowledge other human beings around the world — who are quite similar to ourselves. The only thing separating us is our refusal to interact with one another.  Clelia does an awesome job of analyzing the disconnect and showing how travel can change how we interact with each other.

READ ARTICLE

 

Adventure!

Falling for a traveler: My on the road relationship 
by Flora of Flora the Explorer

Flora has quite an adventure spanning multiple countries over an extended period of time…but an adventure not of the romance of travel, but of travel romance. From the unexpected beginnings and the intense and passionate rise of feeling, to the struggle of keeping the spark alive as they part ways numerous times — Flora chronicles an emotional tale of fleeting love abroad.

READ ARTICLE

 

What I learned from my round the world trip 
by Hayley of Love Puffin

Travel is full of ups and downs, moments of ecstasy and agony, and most importantly — life lessons. On a round the world trip encountering all sorts of cultures and experiences, Hayley details all of these lessons that have shaped her since embarking.

READ ARTICLE

Travel Photography

Cities of the dead — Exploring a New Orleans Cemetery 
by Letty of Bella Vida

Though some might say it is a morbid fascination, I absolutely love walking through old, historic, or unique cemeteries. Letty takes us through one such city of the dead in New Orleans and the above ground crypts.

READ ARTICLE

 

Kutna Hora Bone Church  
by Roam at Dawn

I guess the photo section will be undead themed! Cue the organ music for this one. Since I am in the Czech Republic at the moment, I was REALLY looking forward to seeing this Bone Church, or Sedlec Ossuary, has massive pieces of the church “decorated” or adorned with bones. But in very elaborate and somewhat chilling designs. Tis will have to do until I get to visit.

READ ARTICLE

 

Palazzo Sacchetti, Rome
by Gillian’s List

Off of the dead topic and onto Rome where I just spent an awesome week wandering the city. Gillian shows us around Palazzo Sacchetti with stellar photos of the beautiful architecture and decor of a hidden gem in Rome.

READ ARTICLE

 

Cartagena Street Art
by Bianca of Nomad Biba

Hi, my name is Ryan and I am a graffiti-haulic. I absolutely love street art and this photo essay is chock full of some o the most vibrant and gnarly street art I’ve seen from a destination I am not familiar with the least. Go have your retinas rocked by this art.

READ ARTICLE

 

30 photos that will make you want to visit Italy 
by Robert of Leave your Daily Hell

Since I just came from Rome, a city I fantasized about visiting since I was a youngin’, I just had to include Robert’s photo essay in this mix. It was images like this (though not seen from a blog 15+ years ago) that filled my imagination about Italy and made it my top country I wanted to visit.

READ ARTICLE

Travel Videos

Let’s get lost!

by Zara of Backpack Me

Here is a video which I will simply will call upbeat — one of those travel vids with the catchy music and the adventure footage that makes you just want to get up and go. Love it, and I like the overall message of inspiration to go travel.

READ ARTICLE

 

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The do-it-yourself tour of Pompeii
by Jennifer and Tim of Jdomb’s Travels 

I just experience my first taste of the rich history of Italy with a last-minute trip to Rome. Though I am not a fan of tours, I did take part in quite a bit of tours while in the eternal city to take advantage of my short time there. But, as some of us know, tours can be bloated as well — especially to a place as famous as Pompeii. Here, Jennifer and Tim give you an extensive guide and history lesson of this fallen city so you can do it yourself!

READ ARTICLE

6 Photography Tips from a National Geographic Seminar
by Phila Travel Girl

Videography had always been something of a passion of mine growing up, but moving from a mini-DV camera and a digital HD movie camera to learning a DSLR and picking up still photography — I am still learning new things each day. As a traveler a perfect photo can come along at random and you have to be ready. Here are some great tips learned from a National Geographic seminar.

READ ARTICLE

 

How to make an Italian neighborhood your own
by Penny of Adventures of a carry-on

One thing about Rome when I visited was just how disoriented I was. Coming from Thailand, I was obviously in for a bit of culture shock, but walking around neighborhoods in Italy made me feel a bit self-conscious about my lack of knowledge. It seems like every place I went in, the locals were in and out and knew exactly what they wanted, whereas I was spinning in circles trying to figure out what was what. And most people I encountered did not know much English. So, Penny gives a great guide on how to get acquainted with an Italian neighborhood like you’ve been there forever.

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