It’s in the Eyes

I don’t know if everyone else feels this way, but I’ve always had a maddeningly insatiable thirst for knowing where I come from. There’s a deep, visceral part of me that still belongs in Italy, in Germany. I took Italian in college in order to feel closer to the culture; with my mom, I poured over old family photos, trying to decipher who was who, and how we were related. On both sides of my family, we’re either in contact or have been at some point with extended relatives. We can trace our ancestors back, and we know names and dates and places – except for my great grandfather’s relatives.

My great grandfather (my mother’s grandfather on her father’s side) came to the states in 1916 from the Piemonte region, specifically a place called Settime right outside of Asti. He’d been born in 1893 – or so we thought. He was the only one in his family to leave for a new life in America, where he met my great grandmother who’d grown up a mere 16 miles from him. We knew the name of his mother, and that his brother was the captain of the guard to the King of Italy at the time. When he was alive, my great grandfather didn’t talk about his life in Italy that much, at least to my mother. And when he died, contacting this part of our family fell to my grandparents, my nonna and my nonno. And when we lost my nonna, we lost the letters and the contact information as well. We lost that side of the family in one fell swoop as they sat on one side of the world, and we hopelessly stared back across the ocean.

What all that amounts to is that we hadn’t spoken to this side of the family in nearly 20 years, and had never had the chance to look for them. None of our family members in the states have been to Italy in that time. So when Em and I decided that we’d spend 2-4 weeks exploring the land of our ancestors, my mother posed an important question: would we go find them? Would we go reestablish the link between our families? She needn’t have asked; I had already assumed we would try. Since we weren’t planning our trip more than 2 stops ahead, we had the freedom to make a detour. But where would we start? How would we look? Asti is not a big place, but I wasn’t about to go into every shop or restaurant and ask, “Do you know anyone with the last name Roggero?” It could take days, and we were only staying two nights.

20160823_174108212_iOS

Countryside in Settime

Settime is a small community of houses on the outskirts of Asti, so I figured that we could start our search in Asti and ask for regional information. Our Airbnb host recommended we try a public building which turned out to be somewhere they stored information and could help find things. The first day we were there, they had just closed, so we wandered around this tiny city that I was from, knowing that we’d have to wait a little longer for answers – if there were any to be had at all.

The next morning, we returned to the public office. At first, it seemed like nobody spoke English well enough to help. My Italian is garbled and halting, and I didn’t know how to explain what I was looking for. Never had I more regretted not taking more Italian classes or continuing the study of the language. They fetched a nice Italian woman from her office, and she explained that she knew some English, enough to understand. Apart from her surprise that there was a young American woman sitting in her office, looking for long lost family, she seemed eager to help, and soon she was on the phone with a contact in Settime. She asked me questions, asking if I knew a name or another date that would help with the search, but I had next to nothing. Her friend on the phone, a cop, did not have much to go on.

20160823_172845733_iOS

One of the few roads in Settime

How her contact found the information, I don’t know, but the ensuing onslaught of facts was like a bright ray of sunlight filtering through dark clouds. She confirmed the date my great grandfather was born, and from there the information sounded too similar to what I knew; it couldn’t be coincidental. His parents were Louisa and Giovanni. His brother was Filippo, who had been in the military and then a mayor. And then: I had a cousin in the area! And it was only seconds later that she was telling that he would meet me back at the building at 6pm, and would I like to spend the evening with him and the rest of my (newly re-found) family?

There are very few moments in life that feel like a movie script. Your mind tells you, “This is crazy. This does not happen to people. Real life does not work this way; you can’t go searching for family with just a last name to go on. This is not happening.” Except, after we had profusely thanked Vera, our new friend and helper, and left the building to walk back through Asti, it was happening. 

That evening, we met with Tullio back at the office. He didn’t speak any English, and as he drove Em and I through the countryside to his home in Settime, I tried to understand him as he spoke. I would estimate that I understood 30% of what he said. When we reached the house – where, as I later learned, my great grandfather had been born and raised – there were people waiting. Tullio’s sister was there, as well as her daughter. Tullio’s own daughter was there, not even 10 years older than me. Any suspicions floating around that I was not who I said I was, or that we had found the wrong family, were dispelled the second that pictures were brought out: I had pictures of Annibale, my great grandpa, and they looked nearly identical to the pictures of his brother. They also brought out old pictures of one of the women in the family, and pointed out how I shared her eyes, her lips, and her jaw bone. “Roggero eyes are always blue, or green.” This was it; this was my family.

20160823_174506987_iOS

Near the family crypt

They showed me lots of pictures of my great uncle; he stood at attention in his captain’s uniform, the tallest man in any room at 2 meters (about 6 foot 7). As I looked around at Tullio and the others related to me by blood, I began to see the resemblance between them and Annibale. My mother, who I’d called earlier to relay the good news, told me that she cried when I posted a Facebook photo of the whole family; Tullio was practically the spitting image of her grandfather.

After trying to explain the lack of contact all these years, and catching up as best we could, they drove us to the cemetery, where we saw my family’s crypt. Then, we ate dinner at a local restaurant, where the food was locally grown – and had 7 courses! We tried to trade stories, and while we had limited success, there was one thing we all knew and agreed on: we were happy. We had found each other again, and it was nothing short of amazing. A miracle, indeed.

20160823_182725871_iOS

Red wine from Asti at dinner

Unfortunately, we had to leave the next day for Milan. Now that I know what I do, I feel a sense of belonging in Asti. It was hard to say goodbye, but I know that I’ll be back someday.

Look out for my next post about Milan! I spent most of our time there sick and not feeling well, but it’s still a beautiful, awesome place.

Ciao Asti e Settime!

Kayla

 

 

 

Long-Awaited Waves

On Aug 19, we left Lyon and took a train into Nice. As the train rolled through the countryside, the thought of being on the coast was forefront in our minds. Our only change was in Marseille, and as we stepped onto the platform, we got our first breaths of salty ocean air. It was delightful, refreshing, and invigorating. Our train to Nice gave us a beautiful view of the glittering water, right outside the window, laid out before small, coastal towns. I would have stopped at every single one if I could have.

People told us that Nice is nice, and it very much is. Whereas Lyon was beautiful but overlooked, and therefore not very tourist-ridden, Nice had people from everywhere. As we stepped out of the station that afternoon, it presented itself as a busy vacation spot. Our hostel was a tall building nearby with tiny, sloping rooms, spotty Wifi, and an abundance of Australians. We shared a dorm with two young Australian girls, who we happily made friends with immediately.

Our first night, Em and I treated ourselves to a delicious dinner at a local Italian restaurant. She ordered a plate of mussels while I got ravioli filled with spinach and ricotta. For dessert, we shared chocolate fondue and fresh fruit. The entire meal was fabulous and a nice break from cheap street food.

20160818_192141965_iOS

dinner at Le Luna Rossa

The next day promised to be hot, a perfect day for the beach. Our hostel was a 15 minute walk, so we put on our suits, grabbed the hostel towels (which we technically weren’t allowed to take out of the hostel), and set out on a mission. We’d been dreaming about jumping into the ocean for weeks; it was time.

The beach we went to was unlike any beach I have been to into California. Instead of sand, there is a 20 foot walk from the sidewalk to the water of smooth rocks the size of eggs. People crowd onto every inch of this space, even right up to the water. Women wear bikinis or one-pieces like any place back home, but men in speedos are everywhere. This took a little getting used to. There were also women tanning topless, but since that is something I have done at Pirate’s Cove near San Luis Obispo, I barely noticed.

The water in Nice is spectacular, composed of two jewel-like tones of blue waves. It is wonderfully clean, though startlingly salty (I would definitely avoid swallowing any, as your stomach will be upset afterward). In between our tanning sessions, we spent a lot of time in the water, letting the gentle waves rock us back and forth.

20160821_142334874_iOS

Not even trying to be cute; the ocean was trying to make us fall over

That night, we went out to some of the pubs with one of our roommates, Hanne (hey girl!). We tried several bars, finally settling on the most crowded one. Wayne’s had groups of people hanging out outside, beer in hand. Inside, the front room was packed with people trying to get drinks from the bar and then trying to find a place to stand after. We got some beer, and met a couple of nice American boys as we sipped our drinks. Finally, we moved to the backroom. Instead of a dance floor, this room has 3 long tables lined up, with benches or stools on either side. Almost nobody dances on the floor, as there isn’t much space: bodies are gyrating up on the tables, fighting for space amid the flashing lights and deafening American music. A couple guys gave up their spots on the table so we could get up, and we didn’t come off those tables for 2 hours. It was a sweaty, loud, and sometimes scary time (only because there was a very real chance of falling off the table), but we had a great night dancing with each other and saying no to the many French boys asking us to dance. The next night, we had a repeat evening as we went back with both of our roommates, Bonnie and Hanne.

Our second full day in Nice saw the four of us taking a short day trip to Cannes, home of the famous film festival and a crazy number of fancy places to eat, sleep, and lay on the beach. When I say lay on the beach, I mean that in Cannes you have to pay for a spot on the beach unless you want to sit on the sand with the hot sun beating down on you. Emily and I were recovering from sunburns from the previous day, so the four of us rented beach chairs and umbrellas on one of the “paying” beaches. This was a very laid back day, as we were all tired from travel and dancing, and so we laid on the beach for a couple hours, grabbed some dinner, and headed back. I decided that while the actual beaches in Cannes are better (sand instead of rocks), the water in Nice is much better and looks a lot cleaner.

The last day in Nice was my favorite. We got a late start to the day, but after getting lunch with the girls, we headed down the beach to the left. At the end of the beach is a wall, with a cluster of rocks hanging over the ocean. You have to swim out near the cliff side to reach them, and climb up out of the water. Emily and I joined a bunch of locals and other adventurous vacationers on the rock, and jumped off one of the lower spots. Even though we couldn’t understand each other, the locals shared our excitement and gibbered at us in French or Italian while we nodded and said “Oui! Oui!”Cliff jumping is an experience that I was very excited to have over in Europe, and we’re hoping to find lots of it in Italy.

20160821_142348651_iOS

The rocks we jumped off of are at the very center of the photo

As I write this, I’m lying on my third tier bunk in Milano. A lot has happened, and it’s been tricky so far to keep up with everything (which is why this post is late late late) but I’m speeding through this post so that I can get to the most important and exciting part of the trip so far: Asti. Keep an eye out for my next post as I detail how I found some long lost family members in unlikely circumstances.

Au revoir, Nice!

-Kayla

Bonjour, mini Paris!

(I am writing this entry as we take the train from Marseille to Nice on August 18. Though I have plenty of time, it is hard to take my eyes off the French countryside and coast that flies past the train window. It is beautiful and green out here, so close to the coast. We have already passed one town that sat right on the ocean)

The best way to describe Lyon is that it is a smaller version of Paris. Two rivers, the Rhône and the Saone, run through the center of the city, separating the Old Town and the new section. We had two nights booked, but extended one day because Lyon is just one of those cities that has a lot of to see that shouldn’t be missed.

Our first night, we got to the hostel and found it to be probably our cleanest one yet. There was a small, grassy courtyard with a hammock and some bean bags and a picnic table. There was usually always someone hanging out down there, chatting on the phone or to another traveler, or dozing after a long night of drinking. We met our roommate, a woman named Jules who we got along with immediately (love you Jules!) and drank wine with her and other visitors at a dinner they held for us that night. The wine flowed, we all got to know one another, and soon someone was suggesting a bar for us to go to (keep in mind, this was a Monday night. There’s never really much going on). There were 11 of us, but at the end of the night it was our group of 6 girls that we didn’t want to part with. Jules was the German girl who’d lived in Australia for the last couple years and was now going to work for a winery in France; there was Marwa from Virginia but originally Sudan, who was only in Lyon for that night before she had to catch a plane to Amsterdam for the weekend before she returned to Lyon to study abroad; there was Maddy from Germany and Kim from Korea, roommates in another dorm of the hostel who helped us polish off a basket of frites at the next bar/club; and me and Emily. We danced, helped each other ward off creepy French guys and get to know the nice ones, and basked in the ecstasy of travel and freedom. We took a picture on the bridge on the walk home, drunk off of the feeling of France, making new friends, and life in general (ok, so there may have been several shots adding to our happiness as well!). It continually stuns me how people of different backgrounds, nationalities, ages, and languages can fall so seamlessly into friendship.

20160817_184631696_iOS

“Starfishing” after we ate: they’re too full to move!

The next morning, Emily, Jules and I woke up late, bodies tired but minds alive with the happiness of being in Lyon. Emily and I extended our stay one more night, knowing we couldn’t leave the next day. This is the great thing about not planning things out; we had nowhere to be and could stay if we wanted. A little hungover, we started the hike up to the Basilica of Notre Dame de Fourviere, a beautiful cathedral that overlooks Old Town. We quickly sweated out any lingering alcohol as the sun beat down on us relentlessly. On the way up, we rounded a corner to see the Roman ruins that we’d seen in a “Things to do in Lyon” article. You could enter at will, and walk among these stone amphitheaters that have been around since ~1200 B.C. There is so much here in Europe that you can touch and know that it’s something that has been around for hundreds of years, and endured. History at your fingertips, indeed.

20160816_145543627_iOS

either the Rhone or the Saone; I don’t remember!

At the top of the hill is the Basilica. We were happy to get there, due to the fact that we were sweating buckets, but when we stepped in the main room we nearly forgot all of that. There are mosaic masterpieces everywhere: the floor, walls, ceiling. We tried to take a couple pictures, but nothing can accurately capture what it looks like. It was dark and cool, and we just sat in there for a good 20 minutes, cooling off and looking around. The inside is beautiful beyond words, and no matter how much I wanted a good picture, cameras just can’t capture how amazing it was to see it.

20160816_125239055_iOS

la Basilica of Notre Dame de Fourviere

Outside, there’s a lookout point so that you can see all of Lyon, which is stunning. When we were too hungry to stay, we went back down the hill to find an eatery. I stopped in front of one in Old Town, and we stared at it for a minute, confused. I was given advice to only eat places where you can’t understand the menu because it’s in the native language, but you don’t realize till you’re doing it how hard it is to order when you have no idea what the dishes are!

After a kind employee took pity on us, we sat and ordered a late lunch. Emily got a salad and a crepe, while I decided to try authentic Lyonaisse food: saucisson chaud de Leon. It was a thick sausage, sliced and marinated in a red wine sauce accompanied by cheesy potatoes (best ones I’ve ever had, sorry Mom), asparagus, and a small salad. My bet paid off because the entire dish was absolutely delicious and one of the best meals I’ve had in Europe. We went back to the restaurant the next day for dinner, and I had the same thing – no ragrets! (Le Petit Grouton in Old Town Lyon, for curious food lovers)

20160816_135838723_iOS

saucisson chaud de Lyon

We spent one more day in Lyon, doing a walking tour and taking a boat back up the river, followed by nap/rest time. Meaning Emily took a nap while I watched a couple episodes of Orange is the New Black.

As of 2 hours ago while writing this, we reached the coast. We have encountered so much bad weather in the past couple weeks (Paris was lovely the whole time, but this morning in Lyon we woke up to pouring rain!) that we have been itching to reach the coast and the beach. Despite what happened in Nice a couple months ago, we’re very excited to take a couple days and relax. Even just changing trains in Marseille earlier, we breathed in the air and agreed that it felt incredibly good to smell the sea. Read on to my next post to find out just how nice Nice is!

Au revoir Lyon!

-Kayla

 

To Love, or Not to L0ve…

I skipped a couple stops on our trip for this blog due to tiredness, laziness, or possibly-maybe-definitely being a bit drunk, but basically between this post and the last we’ve been to Brussels (1 night), Brugge (2 nights), and this is the last of 5 nights in Paris. I didn’t blog about Brussels because there really wasn’t much to blog about, except for Georgette’s Cafe that had AMAZING frites (which will never again be “French” fries to me because THEY’RE NOT FRENCH, they’re Belgian; and Delirium Cafe, a bar known for its pink elephant logo). And then there was Brugge, which I will blog about and explain why I didn’t have the heart to blog while there, because when you love something deeply you don’t want to be on an electronic device for even a second.

And then… there’s Paris.

I received a lot of opinions about Paris. There were the, “Oh my goodness, you’ll LOVE Paris!” people, which I appreciated because these people then added that they could see me fitting in there. These were also the people that seemed very excited for me to go and wanted me to love it as much as they did. Instead of telling me HOW to feel about Paris, these people told me why they loved it, and knew me well enough to know that I would love it in my own way. Basically, these people wished me well in Paris, and hoped I would enjoy it.

Then there were the people who told me what they didn’t like about it: how dirty it was, how the people were rude and how touristy it was. I’m not going to say it isn’t those things (to an extent), but what city isn’t?? I didn’t think it was any dirtier than San Francisco, any more touristy than New York, and these are places that I love! The rude part, you just deal. There is a huge difference between someone trying to convince you to hate a city, to talk about it in a way that they hope you had as bad of a time as they did, and someone dreamily saying, “Oh, you’ll fall in love with Paris.” Sorry, but I won’t be validating your dislike of it anytime soon.

In Paris, we got lucky with a cheap Airbnb, across the Seine River from the Eiffel Tower. The flat had 4 bedrooms -of which ours was the largest with a big, comfy bed – and we had free reign of the kitchen and the living room, which contained a piano, a samurai sword, a mask collection, and a tiny balcony with a small table and 2 chairs. With plants and books everywhere, and the way the light streamed in, the place looked beautifully and stereotypically… French. It was amazing. And then there was the bunny.

20160813_182143916_iOS

Our host was helpful and accommodating, despite the fact that we never saw him. He did, however, fail to mention his bunny. Its name was Patapouf. He was adorable, but also kind of an asshole. The entire 5 nights we were there, we barely saw him eat or drink anything. He hopped around with no clear goal, and once he’d warmed up to our presence he would proceed to get very… friendly with our legs. I know for a fact that my leg doesn’t resemble a female bunny. At all.

The first full day in Paris, we visited the Louvre. It’s essentially a giant maze, containing sculptures and paintings and art on art on art. We made a mad dash with what seemed like half the population of Paris to see the Mona Lisa, and stood near it for a couple minutes just thinking about it (who’s she smiling at? Is she constipated? WHAT’S THE SECRET????). We moved along pretty quickly, however, as the entire room was full of people waving their selfie sticks around trying to take 5 billion pictures that they’ll never look at again. The Venus de Milo wasn’t as crazy, but much of the same was happening everywhere.

 

20160813_182805000_iOS

Disclaimer #1: I hate selfie sticks.

After we left, walked down Rue de Rivoli for food, and hopped on the metro, we went over to Notre Dame Cathedral. It was beautiful, situated on an island in the middle of the Seine. The Gothic style building was massive and breathtaking… and then you see the line to go in, as long as a football field. We settled for taking a couple pictures in front and getting ice cream.

Disclaimer #2: We’ve eaten a lot of ice cream. And gelato. And croissants.

Looking for the next metro stop, we crossed the Seine and happened to come upon the bouquinistes! These are people who make a living setting up stalls along the river, and then have hundreds of worn, old copies of novels/books, all in French, for less than 10 euro. They’ve also started selling prints, keychains, small trinkets, and old maps. I saw an article a couple months ago saying that these businesses were in trouble, due to digital reading; my purchase won’t make a difference, but I did pick up an old copy of The Alchemist. It’s in French, and my French is terrible, so it’s going to be lots of fun to read.

20160810_174133374_iOS

That night – and two other nights of the five we were there – we grabbed some take away (food to go) and sat on the lawn in front of the Eiffel Tower. We claimed our favorite spot, and enjoyed the beautiful weather as the sun went down, accompanied by a bottle (or 2) of cheap wine. We made numerous friends doing this, including a just-married couple and several adorable little girls who gave us kisses on the cheek. This time also included people-watching and telling the men hawking cheap bottles of wine or Eiffel Tower key chains: “Non, merci!”

Perhaps our favorite day was Versailles. We left late – which is not recommended by anyone and you should really get there as early in the morning as possible –  and took the wrong train, which actually ended up working out just fine. It stopped at a different section of the city, and so we walked through the town of Versailles, got a sandwich, and picked up delicious nectarines from an open air market. The line into the palace was an hour long, followed by a tour through the opulent rooms and chambers. What person needs three sitting/receiving rooms, a private room, AND a bedroom? Our favorite room was probably the Hall of Mirrors, decorated with hundreds of gold-gilded mirrors and crystal chandeliers.

(Funny anecdote: you could use one of their audio guides for free, and as we walked into one room that looked like the King’s bedchamber, the guide explained that it was not, in fact, the bedchamber. This became hilariously funny as a horde of people without the audio guides crammed in front of the bed, trying to get pictures and selfies of it. It was just a bed)

The tickets we bought were only good for the actual palace building, but what intrigued us were the gardens. The Versailles Gardens are famous, beautiful, well-kept, and huge. Many of the palace windows looked out on them, and they spread for miles and miles. Everything was a vibrant green and the hedges were perfectly trimmed. From above, the gardens look like a forest, but one too precise to be natural. Deciding to splurge, we paid to explore.

20160812_143035965_iOS

The only way to really see the gardens is to wander through them, randomly choosing which grove to venture into. It was a beautiful summer day, and we just strolled until we came upon a café sitting in the middle of the trees. We had already been discussing what we wanted to eat (crepes, as usual) and figured that a nice glass of rosé wouldn’t hurt as well.

Em ordered a crepe, but one of the waiters convinced me to try their house dessert, something called a melba which turned out to be vanilla ice cream swirled with raspberries and topped with French cream. One of the French waiters, a charming man with brown hair and a teasing spirit, kept coming over to our table to talk to me. One of the greatest regrets of this trip so far is that I walked away without his number.  There is something about Paris that makes it so easy to fall a little bit in love with everything around you.

Other highlights of the 5 days:

Hiking up a bunch of stairs to get to Sacre Coeur, a beautiful cathedral with sweeping views of Paris

Hanging out with my friend Elle from Italian class at Cal Poly (thanks Elle!). We met her at the Shakespeare & Co. bookshop, then went to lunch in a Parisian café where we enjoyed croque monsieur. The next morning, we met her at the Paris Catacombs, a series of caves under the streets where they moved bones from nearby cemeteries in order to make space in the 1800s. They were creepy but such a powerful and interesting experience
20160813_125926358_iOS

20160813_111838008_iOS

On our last night, we finally bought Eiffel Tower keychains from one of the men selling them around the Eiffel Tower itself as they yelled “One euro! One euro!” So to the people back home getting souvenirs, you’re welcome

Alright I need to stop this post before it takes you an hour to read it. Stay tuned for the next one, coming in hot!

With love from Paris,

Kayla

Sum of Its Parts

As we left London a couple days ago, I thought to myself: How can I leave this city? Even though we’d had unlucky mishaps, I’d fallen in love with London and its inhabitants, its food, its old buildings, and its historical sites mixed in with new wonders. Now, as we prepare to leave Amsterdam tomorrow, I’m having that feeling magnified by 10. I don’t know how I can stand leaving the cobblestone streets with their sweeping canals, the way we can walk anywhere, and with no destination in mind still see so much.

Processed with VSCO with 1 preset

I had no idea Amsterdam was a bike city! They get around on these cute bikes, mopeds, and a very few have cars

Today, we witnessed a combination of events that few can say they’ve experienced. Despite a lack of planning for this on our part, it was their huge Pride Parade. And even though I haven’t been to a Pride Parade/Celebration before (I always miss the one in San Francisco), I doubt that any come close to Amsterdam.

After breakfast this morning, we ventured to the canal two streets away, and were met with a wave of color, noise, and people. Lining the canal to the right and left were people sitting, standing, dancing, and drinking. The lucky locals were in their boats parked on the canal sides, partying harder than anyone else. Pink was everywhere, while certain boats stuck to a theme. We watched a boat overflowing with people in a tropical theme – some took it as far as dressing up as bright birds – as they pulled out the biggest bottle of Absolut Vodka I’ve ever seen and proceeded to pour shots for the entire boat. As the parade came down the river toward us, we realized we needed to leave for our special date… with Anne Frank.

20160806_113958542_iOS

This was what the entire length of the canal looked like – and it’s a couple miles long!

I would hope that Anne would approve of us visiting her house on this day. If there’s anything I learned from walking through the three small rooms that hid her and 7 other people (and I learned much, felt much, and reflected much), it’s that a lot of people suffered so that others could progress. From her writings, I could see the way that oppression and hate had touched this innocent girl, yet it hadn’t broken her spirit, it hadn’t broken her. She grew up much faster than any teenage girl should have to grow up, yet she never gave up hope that she would survive the concentration camps, the war, the Nazis. As I read what she had written, 72 years ago, a quote by Emily Dickinson resonated within me:

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all

       – Emily Dickinson

As we walked around and let the walls tell us their stories, the sounds of the party outside randomly filtered in. The juxtaposition of somber, violent history against jubilant celebration of equality and love was nearly overpowering, and definitely humbling. I couldn’t help but think how far we have come, and yet how far we have to go as there are those who choose hate over love.

After the Anne Frank experience, one that I will not soon – or ever – forget, we walked through the centrum of the city to one of the markets, the Waterlooplein Market. We had enough time to browse some stalls and find a choker necklace for me (overpriced, but now I can say “it’s from Amsterdam!”) before the market closed, the second time that has happened to us. Obviously, we need to start going to these earlier.

With nothing to do, we found a spot to sit with our legs dangling over the canal, and sat looking at the water, talking about the day, and waving at passing boats. The sun finally came out, making the water glitter and making the canal even more beautiful. The joyful vibe from the parade had filtered throughout the whole city, and we sat there, happy to be right where we were.

20160806_145610433_iOS

There weren’t a lot of people around, so it was a good time for a photo op

In order to save some money on a meal (though I’m not entirely sure we did, but whatever), we decided to visit the grocery store and make our own meal. We ended up dining on chicken mixed into pasta and spinach, covered in a sauce of two different kinds of cheeses. The fact that there are cheese shops on practically every corner has had us going a little nuts.

Processed with VSCO with 7 preset

Delicious dinner + wine at the adorable apartment we’re renting!

As the night wore on, we realized we hadn’t yet been through the Red Light District. For anyone not familiar with it, the RDL is composed of a few streets where it seems that anything is legal. People – men, mostly – walk up and down the streets, looking into neon-lit windows or ducking into shops to buy whatever they desire. There are the sparkling, magical parts of Amsterdam, and then there are the gray areas.

Though some of may not be comfortable to see, I felt it was an important part of the city and shouldn’t be missed. For a long time, I’ve struggled with taking people as they are and not expecting them to be someone or something they aren’t. I’m the opposite with cities. I can see the parts – the light and the dark and the in between, the good and not so good – and put them together to accept them, to love the sum. That, I think, is why I love exploring a city at night as much as I love exploring it with the sun: there is so much that comes out of the dark, and a city transforms under the moon.

Tomorrow we travel to Brussels. I am excited for the adventure to continue, yet sad to leave a place that I feel I understand, a place I could spend a significant amount of time.

Lessons learned from today: love one another, and when the light in the world is dim, don’t let anyone steal your hope.  Hope endures, and creates a legacy for others to inherit.

Happily eating a stroopwaffle before bed,

Kayla

 

P.S. Happy first day of the Olympics! Haven’t watched anything yet, but you can be sure I’ll go through hell to see the USA Women’s Gymnastics team SLAY.

 

 

What They Never Told Me

Sometimes in life, things don’t go the way you’ve planned. The same goes for traveling. Ideas and goals change, but it’s the bigger stuff, too; the stuff you didn’t expect. When I was prepping for this trip, I knew there was much I hadn’t thought about, I just didn’t know how much. Turns out, there’s a lot.

I’ve had people tell me, “Oh what a wonderful vacation!” After what we’ve experienced so far, I have to politely disagree on that description of what we’re doing. Vacations are a relaxing time, a time to unwind and take a break from the world before diving back into your daily life. This trip is different; it’s an adventure, where good and bad things happen and you don’t just go home afterward – you have to keep going, and carry the mistakes and frustrations with you.

There’s more to backpacking, too. You don’t anticipate the sweat from walking to your hostel from the train station; if you experience one kind of weather, you’ll get sick of your clothing options in a week. You leave for the trip excited and resolved to keep up the blog, keep up the blog, keep up the blog – and then somebody asks if you want to go get a beer or late night pizza, and that’s the rest of your night. Or when you get to your bed at the end of a long day of walking – 5 miles, 8 miles? – and fall into bed to get the most amount of sleep possible before getting up to do it all again the next day. And unlike a vacation, when you know that all of the shit you’re going through is only temporary because you’ll be back in your comfy house and walking around in sweats and slippers to find the cereal in the cupboard, this doesn’t stop. We’ve planned on three months; the comforts are small and fleeting. Once you become relaxed, it’s off to the next stop.

Why am I going on and on about misfortunes and disappointments? Well, dear reader, it’s because we suffered our first travel mishap. Okay, more like… disaster.

We didn’t technically miss our flight from London to Amsterdam. When we got to Gatwick Airport, the bag drop had closed 7 minutes before. It wasn’t enough that we were tired – London is an extremely exhausting city – not to mention a little hungover, and sad to be leaving a place we’d fallen in love with. Add to that the crushing realization that because our bags couldn’t make it on the flight, we couldn’t either. After an hour and a half of scouring the internet for options that did not include buying another flight for over 200 pounds, we realized that there was no way we were getting to Amsterdam that night.

Fortunately, we were able to spend the night back at our hostel due to some overbooking we’d done months earlier. Knowing that we had to get to Amsterdam and not wanting to waste even more money, I turned to an app I had only heard about: Bla Bla Car, an international rideshare service. I had no experience with the app, but after searching London to Amsterdam I found a single ride for the next morning, leaving at 11am. He had two seats left; I booked them quickly, and only stopped to caution myself after. Everybody had warned us about being “Taken,” and I’m certainly not trying to prove anyone right on that one.

We met the driver and his friend the next morning, and picked up another guy soon after. It was squishy in the car, but our fears were dispelled right away. The three were Londoners on their way to a techno festival in Amsterdam for the weekend. Conversation slid easily from topics like travel to music to the things they wanted to buy in Amsterdam. These weren’t a bunch of creepy guys looking to kidnap us; they just wanted to take a lot of drugs and dance to their hearts content for three days straight. Personally, I think we got a great deal.

The drive took about 8 hours, as we traveled through 4 countries. We spent 1.5 hours in the car to the port of Dover, where we drove on to a giant ferry. Despite all of the disappointment about missing a day in Amsterdam, wasting the flight money, and generally messing up, this ended up being a crazy and wonderful alternative. As we left the port, we could see the White Cliffs of Dover fading away in the distance. It’s definitely not something I had ever expected to see, and it makes for a great story, right?

20160804_142838605_iOS

Strait of Dover

After two hours spent relaxing in the lounge and eating ship food, we got back onto land at Dunkirk, France. From there we spent about 4 hours driving through France, Belgium, and the Netherlands to finally reach the much anticipated Amsterdam. I don’t remember a happier moment than meeting up with Kassidy (Emily’s friend!) in the street and going up to the flat to set our packs down. By this time it was 10pm, and we went out into the streets. Giant pita with falafel has never been so welcome, nor scarfed down so fast.

As I write this, we have just finished our first full day in Amsterdam. After waking up late (it was the first morning I’ve woken up later than 6:30am, so yay!), we went downstairs to a highly recommended coffee shop called Bocca. Around the corner, we grabbed giant crepes filled with nutella, strawberries, and bananas; with nowhere to sit down, we found a dock floating on the edge of one of the canals and sat with our toes dangling over the water, trading stories all the while. The threat of rain had us grabbing our rain jackets, and then we were off into the city.

20160805_094632373_iOS

Fat crepes!

 

If anyone’s ever been to Amsterdam, or heard about the Anne Frank Huis, you might know that it’s always busy. Tickets sell out amazingly fast, and the line to buy tickets at the door is insanely long. We got there around 1:30pm today, and people can buy tickets at the door starting at 3:30. Not wanting to wait 2 hours in line, we decided to walk around the city, and try again later. We bought a hunk of goat cheese and a baguette, eating on the canal again; we took pictures of all of the many tree-lined canals and the beautiful buildings on either side. Completely by chance, we happened upon the Banksy museum; the three of us love Banksy, so we decided to pay the euros and go through. Safe to say I was in awe, and it was a fun museum.

20160805_144115820_iOS

Banksy’s “Pornography of War”

For dinner, we went to Nes 41. Their menu changes daily because they get their food fresh, so we dined on a charcuterie plate followed by tender beef with goat cheese and a raspberry sauce. This was all accompanied by Fanta cocktails (shoutout to Auntie Lori and Omi! The fanta is just as delicious as it was 10 years ago, although the Spanish liqueur they put in it really added to it).

I took a walk through the city alone today to go back to the Tulip Museum we’d seen earlier.  As I walked among the canals and the casually – but still fashionably – dressed people of all ages and creeds, I realized that within less than 24 hours, I had fallen in love with Amsterdam. The city is large enough to have lots of things going on, yet you can easily walk everywhere. The people are nice and the food is wonderful.

IMG_6706

My favorite photo so far – it’s the troll looking to exact his toll!

I  bought myself a pink tulip from the museum today. As a sentimental traveler, I’ve decided to pick up one small memento from each city, my way of remembering what I most loved. The tulip will remind me of the quaint buildings squished together; the music as the Pride celebrations began Friday night and people began to dance; and the way the sun set as I stared down the length of a canal, watching the light beam across the water and set the trees on fire.

I don’t know how I’ll leave, but at least we have one more day.

Your wayward, but most importantly alive traveler,

Kayla

If a Bear Shits in the Woods…

Since Europe is still more than a month away, I figured it would be helpful (and fun! ) to tell some stories about other trips I’ve been on. This one is from the summer after my sophomore year of college. For anybody interested, the program is called Wildland Studies – I highly recommend it!

A drop of rain, cold as ice, manages to find a way inside my tightly zipped jacket, trickling a triumphant path down my spine. As the skies above continue to dump torrents of water on us, more beads of water follow. Water, sweat – at this point I don’t know what it all is; everyone in our group, myself included, is hustling as fast as they can. I’m trekking across the top of a mountain with fifteen other people I’d just met a week and a half before. We’ve all got backpacks of at least 30 pounds, making running clumsy. Oh, and did I mention – we’re in the middle of a lightning storm that seems intent on killing all of us? In the middle of bear country?


I’ve always been a nature girl, which seems at odds with the fact that I like dressing fashionably and enjoy trips to any big city. Those who know me may say I’m more cosmopolitan, but my roots – and my heart – belong to the woods. So when I heard about a program through CSU Monterey Bay that set up trips all around the world for college students looking to get into nature, I was stoked. I didn’t have anything else to do that summer, so why not?

Continue reading

It All Started with Food and a Phrase

There’s a saying on the Italian side of my family: “Mangia veni grassa!” I grew up hearing this phrase at mealtimes, so often that when it wasn’t said I felt something was missing. People asked what it meant, and my mom always shrugged and said, “Eat and get fat.” There was also something about a sumo wrestler in there, but I’m pretty sure my mom was just being funny. Nice one, mom.

When I was younger, I was fascinated by this phrase. It made up the few Italian words that my mom knew. My grandmother (who’d spoken Italian) had passed when I was 9. The three words heartily yelled during mealtimes with my family were all I had. Still, I couldn’t shake the feeling of wanting to know more – or, better yet, to go abroad and hear it firsthand. I wanted to learn it, I just didn’t know how.

Fast forward to college. When I switched out of my first major of Animal Science and into English, I was told I needed to take a language. When I found out Cal Poly (my alma mater) offered Italian, I didn’t stop to think. Studying the language ended up motivating me to want to go see the country even more, leading me to the first big decision I’ve made (on my own) in my life: I would backpack Europe. I would see everything I’ve ever read or heard about, and finally visit the beautiful country my ancestors come from.

This is all the lead-up to today. There are only 60 days left until I leave for Europe, and I figured it’s about damn time this blog got started. Keep up with my posts to learn about me, my travel companion, our lives, and why we’re going to be living out of backpacks for 3 months through 10+ countries. It’s about to get really wild.

Until next time,
-Kayla