Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Fair Verona

With my heart still firmly in Amsterdam, it was a challenge moving on to Italy.

You read that right. A challenge. Being in Italy. What's wrong with me, huh?

Well, that's a loaded question, and one I'm not digging into right now.


I left Amsterdamn Friday morning, dragging my feet the whole way. I made it to the airport with no problem, got on my flight, and off I went. It was smooth-going the entire journey. Touched down in Milan that afternoon, hopped on a bus to the train station, where I caught a tram to my hostel (here's a secret: I accidentally stole my tram ride. I was unsure of where to buy a ticket, so I got on, thinking maybe I could purchase one there. Nope. I spent the entire ride afraid the Italian police were going to cart me off to jail!). Found my hostel and checked in with absolutely no problem.

And then I burst into tears.

You won't find any pictures of Milan here, because I didn't leave my hostel. I sat on my bed and cried. Ate a granola bar, sure that it was hunger bringing on the emotions, called my best friend, who Googled the nearest restaurants for me so that I could get some real food in me, and when we hung up...I cried some more.

At some point, my roommate wandered in. A middle-age Austrailian woman. She seemed sympathetic at first, asking if I was okay. I assured her I was. Just hungry and tired. I got my tears under control long enough to go downstairs to the hostel's bar and eat a hot dog and fries (that's right...my first meal in Italy was a hot dog and fries). 

When I came back to my room, I sat down and...yep. Started crying again. My roommate's patience ran out. She sort of rolled her eyes and said, "Oh, no. Are you going off again?" And then rattled on about how I must be a water sign, because I'm really sensitive.

We had a nice conversation once I stopped crying, and then I got a full night's sleep. The next day, I was off to Verona. I woke up, packed my things, and headed to the train station. I was okay until I got to my B&B.

And then I cried again.

I don't know what my deal was, guys. Maybe it finally hit me that I was thousands of miles away from home? Maybe I was sad about leaving Amsterdam? Whatever it was, my onslaught of tears took two days right out of my itinerary.

But you know what? The next day, I got up, got dressed, and hit the streets. Once I got into Verona, I was so caught up in the sights and sounds that those tears were long gone.

The first day, I did the requisite Casa do Giulietta, where it is believed Shakespeare's Juliet lived. I groped the bronze statue in the courtyard below the balcony (it's supposed to bring you luck in love...which is weird, if you think about it. That story did NOT have a happy ending), stood on the balcony, and left a letter for Juliet. Touristy as heck, but still fun!

I followed up with some gelato:

(WHITE chocolate...stupid autocorrect)

And a visit to the Arena di Verona:

This place was really cool. It's smaller than the Coliseum, and way more preserved. To this day, it's still used for concerts (you can see the floor seating in the picture). In the summer, you can attend operas here...makes me almost wish I'd gone then...

I was back in my room and ready for bed by 630pm. My feet were tired, my brain was overloaded with beauty and history, and I needed a rest!

I started bright and early the next day with a hike up the 200-something stairs to Piazzale Castel San Pietro. I'd heard the view was not to be missed, and, well, it was free, so...of course I was in.

The stairs, though.

I couldn't feel my legs, definitely couldn't breathe (I started to get a cold this day), but that view...

I sat on that ledge for what seemed like minutes, but was actually well over an hour. The church bells rang, the breeze blew by, and I sat there, soaking it all in. I didn't want to leave, but I had started shivering, so I knew I had to get moving.

The rest of the day consisted of tours of a couple of churches, a delicious plate of Lasagna Bolognese, more gelato, and a trek across the Castelvecchio.

All in all, a very successful two days in Verona! The next morning, I packed up and hit the road. Next stop: Venice!

Side note: If you want to follow my antics live, my Snapchat is meika622. You're missing out!

Friday, October 7, 2016

Amsterdam Love Story

If you've been following me on any of my social media, you know that I've been planning a trip to Europe for about a year. Well, I'm on that trip right now. I'm writing this from a darling little room in a B&B in Verona, Italy. I arrived this afternoon from Milan, after three glorious days in Amsterdam.

I'm still getting my bearings here. Italy is completely different than Amsterdam, and DEFINITELY different from the US. I spent my afternoon decompressing after a long train ride, followed by a long bus ride. Let me tell you, public transportation here, while plentiful and convenient, is CROWDED!

But that's another story.

Let me tell you about Amsterdam.

My flight touched down early afternoon on Monday. I made a beeline to the bathroom (because I really had to pee, and I needed a moment alone), and immediately burst into tears.

I was thousands of miles away from home, all alone. What was I thinking? Why would I do this to myself? I'd be lying if I said it didn't occur to me to hightail in the opposite direction and buy a ticket home.

But I'd come all this way. I was at least leaving the airport, dammit!

So, I did. And that was the best decision I've ever made.

Amsterdam, guys...


I arrived in the city mid-afternoon, and proceeded to get thoroughly and spectacularly lost. I got off at the wrong bus stop and wandered the streets with my three-hundred pound backpack for two and a half hours (one of those things is true, the other is a huge exaggeration, guess which is which).

I must have looked really lost, because I was stopped by a guy offering directions who just happened to be from New York. "It's the street right next to Vondelpark," he said. Sounds easy, right? I'd wandered by the park a few dozen times by this point, so I was confident I'd find it. I thanked him and went on my way.

And kept going.

After a few back and forth trips, I wandered down what I thought was an alley. Super narrow, cars parked along one side, the park on the other. Surely my hostel wasn't down here. I was about to turn back when I ran into a lovely Mexican woman. I asked her what the name of the street was and she said she didn't know and kept walking. Luckily, she paused and asked me what I was looking for. I told her the name of my hostel and her eyes lit with recognition. She was staying there, too! It was right down this alley/street!

There were more tears when I finally made it to my room and sat on my bed. Pure exhaustion after my adrenaline wore off. But I was here. In Amsterdam. I did it!

I did a walking tour the next morning--my guide was a super hot Austrailian guy who'd moved to the city for a girl seven years before. He took my group through the Red Light District, to the house Rembrandt used to live in (it's a museum dedicated to the artist now), which was also located in what used to be the Jewish neighborhood before WWII, and we ended just outside the Anne Frank House. I learned so much about Amsterdam's history, and, really, I was captivated by the way my guide spoke about the city (and not just because he was pretty). He seemed to really be in love with the place. At the end of the tour, he said something that stuck with me: "Amsterdam is a place where you can really be yourself." The whole point he kept driving home was about how Amsterdam was a city of tolerance. It welcomes people of all different types with open arms, and it always has. It welcomed HIM with open arms.

And I felt welcome, too. 

Even that first day, wandering lost and alone, I didn't feel afraid. Every person smiled (except for the cyclists...I can't tell you how many times I almost got flattened by a bicycle), and everyone I asked was willing to help.

I even made a friend! I'm a member of a solo female travel group on Facebook, and I had posted about my bathroom crying incident, and a lovely soul that lives in Amsterdam offered to meet me and show me around. She was amazing. We walked all around the city for hours, and she treated me to appetizers and dinner, and I got to see much more than I would have wandering on my own. I'm super thankful for her!

My last day was my most victorious. Even now, thinking about it, I'm smiling.

I had plans: I was going to see the Van Gogh museum, and the Rijksmuseum. I already had my tickets, I just had to find the places. So I left my hostel that morning, spent about an hour wandering Vondelpark (which was so lovely, guys).

And off I went. I found the Van Gogh museum and I fell in love with a painting I had never even heard of (Vase with Cornflowers & Poppies -- such a nondescript name for something so beautiful). I was so captivated I took a ton of pictures of all the little details, until a museum attendant scolded me. When I walked away, I felt like I was leaving a friend behind. 

You can study Van Gogh all day long, but until you're standing in front of his work, leaning in to see the layers of paint, the almost-manic brush strokes, the chaos that creates something beautiful...well, it's hard to really appreciate the man.

After, I went on my hunt for the Rijksmuseum. And I found it! This building was breathtaking. I sat on a bench for so long, just staring at the stained glass windows, high ceilings, tiled floors...so beautiful! A few more hours wandering this massive building and I was spent.

I ended my last day with a canal tour. It was super windy, and I was freezing, but the sights were beautiful, and I had a nice conversation with a pair of British girls on vacation. 

Once that ended, it was only 630pm, but I was exhausted. So, sans map, I made my way back to my hostel--without getting lost! Success!

(I know both museums AND my hostel are in the same area, but shhhh...don't take this victory from me!)

Part of me stayed behind in Amsterdam. I fell in love, and I look forward to returning. But for now, I am in Italy. Fair Verona. Tomorrow, I take to the streets and explore. I'm ready to fall in love with another city. Show me what you got, Italia!

Thursday, September 22, 2016

In Which I Freak Out About My Trip

I leave in nine days. Just over a week from this moment and I'll be boarding a plane aimed for Amsterdam. I'll be in Europe. An entirely different continent.

I've been planning this trip for a year. Dreaming about it for a lifetime.

(This is from a couple days ago, but it still stands.)

I can't see myself there. I try to imagine getting off the plane, leaving the airport, taking a bus (or something...still need to research this) from the airport to my hostel. Checking in. Wandering the canal-lined streets.

I can't see it.

But I can feel it.

Every time I try to envision it, my heart races, my feet cool, my face heats. I can almost feel my stomach drop as the plane ascends. I try to think about doing all the things I've dreamt about--and I'm utterly overcome with disbelief that it will happen.

It's happening, though. It's real. The tickets are bought, the hostel is booked. I'm going to Europe. Alone.

HOW did this happen? How did I sum up the courage and/or stupidity to buy that first ticket?

I don't feel brave. I know I've said this, but it's still true. I'm so scared. What if I can't do it? What if I get there and I freeze? Break down? What if I have to book a ticket back home before I even leave the airport?

I think that's my biggest fear. Not pickpockets, or running out of money, or not being able to communicate, or getting lost. It's the fear that I won't even give myself the chance to try.

It's one thing to book the flight. An entirely different thing to actually get on the plane.

I have to do it. Not because I don't want to disappoint anyone or waste the money I've already spent. But because I owe it to myself. I need to make this dream a reality. I need to go out in the world--alone--and find out who I am. I need to give myself the chance to try, to claim that independence, that confidence, those experiences for myself.

This trip is for me and only me. It's not to reclaim these places from my past or to make anyone jealous. I know that on the other side, when I come back, I'll be a different person.

And while that is a thrilling thought, it's also a scary one.

Change is scary. New things are scary. The whole damn world is scary.

I just want to be brave enough to face it.

I hope I will be.

I KNOW I will be.

In the meantime, I should probably put all this nervous energy into finishing the revision on my damn book...