The People of Amalfi

As many of you know, one of my inspirations regarding photography is a man named Brandon Stanton from Humans of New York. He runs a blog he nicknames HONY that features everyday people who he meets and chats to in the streets of New York City. He finds a way to get down to the core of who they really are or what they stand for. Sometimes it’s as simple as a short quotation or a brief story but often the picture he takes alone speaks a thousand words.

I wanted to do something similar while away on my trip. At first I thought it was going to be easy but as soon as I crossed the boarder, the thought of the language barrier hit. It’s a wonder I never thought about it being a problem before hand.  It proved to be a bigger struggle than I expected, even though English seems to be the most worldly renowned language around here. In Amalfi, I was finally able to muster up some courage instead of silently stalking from afar and speak to these people directly. I found that the atmosphere and the relationships between people was so much more welcoming on the islands as opposed to the tourist areas of Italy. There, everyone seems to be rushed, always stuck on getting from one place to the next as quickly as possible and the business wasn’t as personal, depending on where you go of course.
 The people here, they were different. They were inviting and open and most of all, they were all happy. Truly happy. I’m certain it attests to their lifestyle because in a place like that, how could you ever be anything but? I found they really respected the fact that we both came from a different part of the world. So through broken but heartfelt conversation, I was able to uncover a few things about who these people were. Passing them by in the city centre, you would never know their stories. What I love the most about speaking to these people is I often come out of our meeting with an entirely different perspective on them than the one I had at first glance. It just goes to show that everybody has a story, we all have something behind us to share.
Gilda was the first lady I photographed closely. Her and I met at the hostel in Sorrento moments before I departed for the coast. I was disappointed that I wasn’t able to get to know her more since she seemed to have a lot of experience behind her and was an incredibly gentle soul.
On my first walk through the Amalfi city centre, we passed by each other in the crowd on the way up the hill. She happened to be traveling there that day and it was shocking that out of all these people and all the times we could have been walking, we crossed paths.
She immediately said that she had been worried about me and hoped I had found a place to stay. It touched my heart that she cared about someone she had just met and I shared with her the story about my arrival.
After we said goodbye and parted ways, I had an impulse and ran back to find her standing at the fountain. I quickly asked her if I could photograph her for my blog. It was the push that I needed to start my own personal project.
She was camera shy, but I continued to talk to her as I photographed. She told me that her ex daughter in law was fascinated with taking photographs of abandoned mental institutions. What a niche!
I asked her if she had any words of wisdom she wanted to depart on the young. What was one thing that she had learned about life? She responded with
“I’m still learning.” 
I hope the rest of Gilda’s trip was everything she had dreamed.
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I came across this man while exploring a narrow staircase I had stumbled upon on my walk. He was standing outside of a restaurant that he seemed incredibly proud of. He was intriguing so I approached him and asked if I could take his photo. He was more than willing and spoke very little English but laughed the whole time, smiling and hamming it up for the camera. His name was Anzo and he was the owner of the pizza shop. He was very adimate that I come in and try his food. I tried to explain that I had already eaten but he was persistent showing me his low prices.
I decided to ask him if he had any advice he wanted to give as well. He hesitated for a while and there was at least a minute of silence before he responded with,
“Take away or eat in?” 
You can take that advice in whatever way you please! Image
I met Carlo after my third time walking up to the end of this path in the centre. Every time I walked back and forth, I saw something new. In this case, it was the concentration of this man on his water colour paintings. I watched as he sat there by his little stand and painted a colourful picture of the city. I noticed that he didn’t seem to be using anything as a guide. I first told him that his work was beautiful. Then I asked him if he painted from a photo or from his mind. He told me that most of his paintings are done by memory. Very few are done with a photo as an example. He told me that when he’s not selling his work here, he’s a teacher in Rome for a Mosaicista class.
He then proceeded to open a small black box and pull out a charcoal sketch he had done of a human body. It was very elegant and simple. He said he hadn’t used a model at all and this too was by memory alone. It was what he did in his spare time, a pleasure for only himself.
His favourite thing about painting?
“Everything”
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Marella and I met in a book shop that held leather bound journals with beautiful homemade paper. I spent quite a while looking at them displayed along the walls because they were so interesting to me. She noticed how much I seemed to love the books and began telling me that they were hand made by her grandfather over 25 years ago. Her mother had helped him make the books as well and they had a second shop run by her brother in the square. I was able to meet her mother Ana just a few moments later. After I took her photo, she put it back on the wall and told me,
“he’s in paradise now.”

You could tell he left a very strong presence with his family and I was happy to have learned about it.
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Irenzo and I never really got to know each other because he had to grab someone to translate who wasn’t able to stick around for very long. In the short time that we did chat, he told me how to get into the beautiful church up the way and that his favourite part of Amalfi was a small town near Positano called Revello. Also that he was the owner of the gift shop and lived in the upstairs room. What drew me to him was his constant smile that he shared with customers. He sat at the door in his little chair and warmed the hearts of everyone who walked through. Or, he at least warmed mine. He was a pretty cool dude.
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This man was not a local at all but he caught my eye because he was taking a photo of one of the main statues in the square. A few kids scurried out of his way but he told them he would rather have a few bodies in the picture since he was looking to paint it later. I told him that I couldn’t agree more and I also wouldn’t mind some life in the photo as well.
John W. Gaines IV is from Pearland Texas and does oil paintings and prints of photos that he takes himself. He told me that his work is featured in a French gallery and one of his potential clients is Oprah. He seemed to have made quite the name for himself and was very proud of his work. I shared my story of wanting to head into photography so we had a very similar connection. I liked the way he turned one form of art into another. When we finished talking, he laughed and told me that I had made his entire day. He definitely helped to make mine. His work can be found at http://www.johngainesfineart.com
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I would never have met Dominic had Kate not pointed him out in the Atrani Piazza one night. We were having drinks and she whispered to me, “you should take that guys photograph over there. He’s the most Italian looking man I’ve ever seen!” She was right about that. He had the beret and the little red scarf around his neck, more French than anything actually. I have to admit, I was a little nervous to approach him at first since the people he was with seemed to give off a vibe saying they weren’t too keen on talking to a curious tourist. But, I had learned already not to judge a book by its cover so I headed over. The man with Dominic who I had immediately thought was going to be unapproachable, ended up being a super nice man. He translated for me as I asked to take Dominic’s photo. He seemed so kind. He had that sense of kindness that just oozes out of a person. I asked him what he liked to do, if there was something he wanted to share. He too is an artist, like a lot of the people I had been meeting. He told me he lived in a house with over 200 wall murals he had painted on his own. He made a living off selling his art in the street and when I asked him what his favourite thing about art was, he told me that everything he ever painted was done in the moment. He loved painting when the sun was just barely setting over the rooftops and he worked with whatever struck him as inspiring at that time. In the moment, in the moment. He was sure about that more than anything.
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I wanted to end with this guy because I really enjoy what he told me before we went our separate ways. His name, if you can believe it, is Golem. He is a digital graphic artist and he was in Italy for a festival where he was featuring his work. He travels all over the world to promote what he does and said he was even in Montreal at one point in time! As I was taking his photo, his friends were laughing behind him and in turn, so was he. Before I left, he gave me his card and I asked him like I had everyone else, if he had anything he wanted to share. If there was something he loved about what he did. He told me,
“For me, it is a pleasure to be creative. Creation is our mission in our lives.” Image
I want to share with you one final quotation that I believe fits really well with these stories. It’s something that Benoit shared with me in Atrani. A french phrase. The saying goes,
Les Voyages Forment La Jeunesse
Journeys Shape Youth. 
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Sorrento and Sunshine in Capri

Can I just say that my “hostel” in Sorrento had me living the life. The number one reason for this was I was actually given a towel every morning. It’s the little things, oh the little things. 
 
I chose to stay in Sorrento because a lot of the popular islands are very easy to get to by a conveniently placed harbour. Capri was my main destination, but I discovered that the beauty of Sorrento was equal to Capri when I expected one to trump the other. That’s usually how it goes, the places that are less talked about end up having their own special charm. 
 
The first thing I noticed was the night life. Every night had that carnival feel. Performers lined the streets and restaurants were open until mid morning. I don’t know why I always seem to think that each place I show up to late at night is going to be dead and abandoned. Seeing this at 12am still caused me to release a huge sigh of relief. 
 
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My time in Capri had its moments, although I’ve taken some tips for the next time I visit and if anyone is planning to go, listen up. The trips they plan to the Blue Grotto are a tourist trap at its best. That’s the main attraction of Capri. The Blue Grotto is a beautiful cave where the light hits the water in such a way that it glows a bright, florescent blue. There are swarms of boats taking in tourists like me who pay whatever they need to so they can have the experience. 
 
I did love it, only because I managed to once again imagine I was the only one there. Before we entered, the driver of my boat leaned over to point at the “NO SWIMMING” sign and told us that if we didn’t say a word, he would let us swim in the grotto. Then he quickly added it would cost 10 Euros. Yeah, right. Of course it does! But who’s ever going to say no to that? 
 
It was such an experience heading into the grotto.  I was squished  up like a sardine beside this girl I had never met and we laid on our backs in a tiny row boat to enter the cave. It takes a few minutes for your eyes to completely adjust, so the boat joined the others as we circled around for a while. It happens in literally the blink of an eye and suddenly the water is glowing a bright and sparkling turquoise blue. Almost like there are millions of little pool lights placed at the bottom. What makes it so surreal is that it’s a completely natural effect! I struggled to adjust the settings on my camera and capture even half of what I was seeing.  I hadn’t put on my bathing suit before entering the cave so when it was my turn to swim, I jumped right in there with everything on. It was a really cool experience, watching your body glow completely blue under the ice cold water! Definitely a stand out moment and so amazing to see the crazy things that nature holds. 
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What I hear people have done and what I wish I had thought of was heading to the grotto early in the morning before they send out the boats. People spend the morning swimming in there all on their own so it gives you a lot more time. But, that’s a lesson learned for next time. Learn to find your way around the ordinary. 
 
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 The flowers in Capri were exceptionally bright and beautiful which was one of my favourite traits. Oh, and the out of the blue moments keep happening. This time it wasn’t a man with budgies, but two waiters who just wanted a photo with me. My face says it all. 
 
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ImageImageThere were also eccentric accordion and tamborine players on the metro like this. 
 
ImageMy final day was spent on the beach with two Canadians I had met from Toronto.  I knew we would hit it off the minute I met them and we shared a common ground of desperately having to do our laundry (backpacking life at its finest). Laundry time may have been more exciting than the beach, actually. I’m totally kidding, but it was a highlight. We had met later on the night of Capri and spent the evening sharing wine at this stunning look out over the opposite islands. They’re both very fun loving and easy going and were doing this trip as a celebration of their University graduation. A trip they had talked about since they started high school. I can’t thank them enough for the great times! 
 
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Tomorrow I will be posting about the people I met up close and personal while in Amalfi! 
 
Stay tuned and all my love! 

Atrani, I Think You Found Me

I’m far too anxious to share my moments from Atrani and Amalfi so we’re going to take a little bit of a jump ahead. My time in Capri and Sorrento will be shared over the next few days. Instead, I want you all to come with me and experience this paradise in the best way that you can. 

Atrani is a small little village just steps away from the infamous Amalfi Coast in Italy. There’s one hostel located in the small piazza and it provides the absolute best local feel you can get as a tourist. The view of Atrani from afar is even more breathtaking than the Amalfi view with its bright buildings and docked boats all tightly stacked together on the hill. The feeling of community is forever constant and you’re always greeted with a smile from the shop owners. It’s truly something out of a fairytale book and my introduction to this gorgeous gem is something I’ll remember for the rest of my life. 

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It’s time for another story. One that I hope you can feel and visualize as if you were there yourself. The funny thing is, when I booked my hostel in this little town, I was disappointed that I wasn’t able to stay in the Amalfi centre. The unknown town of Atrani was all I could find available and when you learn to take what you can get booking on the fly, I had no choice. It was the night before I planned to leave and I was having a few wifi troubles in my hostel in Sorrento so my confirmation email hadn’t gone through. The confirmation email normally states the check in time which I usually assume is open 24 hours (and we all know what assuming leads to). 

I spent the day at the beach with two fellow Canadians from Toronto (who will be featured later on) and I planned to catch the 10pm bus to Amalfi from the station. When I arrived home around 8pm, my email came through saying that the check out closed at 6pm and all guests must check in prior to that time. That time had already long past and I was suddenly at a huge loss. Remember how I said that everything always works out in the end? My first real taste of that was with the sunflowers in Pisa and ever since then things have seemed to fall into place when I feel like they’re about to fall apart. For once, I thought “this is it. My luck is up.” I couldn’t imagine what could possibly make this work and I was going to have to pay for a bed I didn’t even get to sleep in. 

The girls suggested I sneak a night in and sleep in one of their beds. The hostel I found had been booked solid for that night so it would have been a great idea, except something was telling me otherwise. There was a little voice inside my head telling me to go to Amalfi. I laughed at it at first since it didn’t seem to make much sense. Was I really going to completely wing it? Maybe it was the thrill of the unknown that drove me to take that bus, but I said my goodbyes to my new friends and headed to the station. 

When I got there, I missed the bus by a minute and was forced to wait another hour. If that hadn’t happened, I wouldn’t have seen a familiar face out of the corner of my eye. A lady was standing there, someone with very distinct features that I knew I had seen before. I racked my brain until it came to me. That same lady had found me looking frustrated in the lineup for the ticket office at the train station in Rome. A sweet, older man had generously picked her from the crowd as someone who knew what she was doing and tipped her to help me out at the kiosk with my Eurail pass. She speedily allowed me to skip the lineups and got me my ticket in seconds. A bit of a faerie in my time of need! 

Now in Sorrento together of all places, a train ride and an hour long metro trip away from Rome, I tapped her on the shoulder and said, “excuse me, but didn’t you help me with my tickets in Rome?” A blonde lady sitting next to her with a heavy Long Island accent said, “she probably did! She’s a hard face to forget!” The lady who had helped me didn’t speak very great English but she did remember our encounter after some heavy squinting and we both couldn’t believe we had found each other again here! 

I briefly over heard the two of them chatting with a couple on the bench next to them and realized that the blonde lady and my ticket faerie were a couple. It never would have crossed my mind since one was significantly older than the other and they seemed like they came from entirely different worlds. I was so intrigued and without even realizing it, I joined into the conversation to learn more about their story. They really did have quite the age separation and the lady from Long Island (who I later found out is named Vicenzo), was previously married with children and a husband. The two of them only get to see each other three times a year and eventually would love to get married. Of course, the biggest problem with that is the Italian culture and their views against gay marriage. Their two families are, as they put it “stupid” and very against their relationship. I found it sad but amazing that the two of them, through all of that, were able to see each other at least a few times a year and keep their obvious love for each other. The conversation was brief and had I been there longer, I would have loved to talk to them more. In a flurry, my bus had arrived and I quickly explained how I would love to get their photograph for my blog. My ticket faerie was very reluctant and after Vincenzo pulled her into a hug and a dance, I snapped a very quick photo to the sounds of “you’re going to miss your bus!” before booking it down the hill. 

ImageStill a little shaken and amazed from that experience, I was suddenly thrown back into reality and headed on this bus down to Amalfi. I had met a lady in my hostel moments before I realized my issue with the reception who had asked me if I was easily carsick. I didn’t understand why, until the bus started moving. I realized that in order to get to Amalfi, the bus had to take a route around and around this hill going at top speed with only a small concrete wall guarding the edges. I was sick not only from the worry and excitement of not knowing where I would sleep that night but also from the crazy and wild ride down. That being said, the view was stunning but there was no air conditioning and the bus was packed with people. I kept wondering why in the world I had decided to go. What could have possibly possessed me to be on this bus?

Finally, I had arrived. It was almost midnight by the time I got there but I was thankful to see an immediate night life. Actually, it was strange. I looked up to see hundreds of people lining the edges of the railing leading up and around the hill to where I assumed Atrani was located. It looked like the entire town was there looking over the edge. “That’s cute”, I thought. “They all go to watch the moon over the water at night!” I was certain that was the reason since nothing seemed to be going on, they were all just gathered around with kids and the occasional balloon. It took me a while to find someone who spoke English. Everyone there was a local and as soon as I found my way up to Atrani, it became harder and harder to find someone that understood where I wanted to go. 

I was able to find someone to lead me down to the piazza square where there were tons of huge bright lights set up surrounding a live band. With that were several vendors selling lemons, drinks, cotton candy and even cadged rodents. But still, there was no big event, no indication of why this was happening. I asked a local if this is something that happened every night and he said, “yes, yes!” 

The hostel doors were closed shut and the lights were off by the time I found it. I raced over to the restaurant across the square and asked the lady if there was any way at all that she could let me into this hostel. She replied with a quick, “just a minute” and continued working. I’m serious, she just continued to serve and didn’t seem to be grabbing anyone else for help. I waited for ten minutes with my backpack standing aimlessly amongst the tables.

Out of the blue, I suddenly heard this massive bang. It seemed to shake the entire island! Instinctively I started to run. I ran and ran through this dark tunnel and the second I emerged from the darkness, in front of me over the mediterranean sea was the biggest and brightest fireworks display I’ve ever seen in my entire life. I’m certain these fireworks wouldn’t even be legal in Canada. It was choreographed like you wouldn’t believe and so low to the water that it felt like they were being lit off directly in front of your eyes. It was marvellous and when I saw it, I started to cry. I cried because I was so overwhelmed by what had happened over the past few hours, because I still didn’t know where I was sleeping that night and because fate had proved itself once again. Everything happens for a reason and this was it. 

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Just when I thought the moment couldn’t bring any more magic, I headed back through the busy crowd with tear stained eyes and struck by beauty. I felt a tap on my shoulder from a man I had never seen before. “Excuse me”, he said, “are you Samantha?” I responded with a hesitant yes and he said, “come with me, I’ll show you to your room.” Yes. Yes that actually happened. I still can’t explain it. The second I walked into my room I was greeted by three travelers Kate, Josef and Benoit. They invited me to head out with them and they grabbed a bottle of champagne along the way. It turns out that over the past few days, they had been holding the biggest festival of the year celebrating Maria Maddalena who is the patron of Atrani and I had arrived on the final night of celebration, just in time. They then told me that this owner of a restaurant in the square claimed he could open the bottle with a samurai sword so we went to see if he could prove himself. Keep in mind, I had just met these people and this is the first thing we did together. He didn’t end up doing it at all, I think he was just talk but we all sat on the stairs and drank the champagne straight from the bottle and it was wonderful. 

Then Tim Roth from the Tarantino movies showed up steps away from me and I was left wondering how all of that could have possibly happened in the past four hours. The world has a funny way of teaching you some great lessons. 

My time here was so blissful. It was relaxing and adventurous and full of people and surprises. The owner of the hostel and his brother Phillipe were so kind and greeted me every morning with a cheery “Samanthaaaa! Americano this morning?” It was comforting to have such a personal touch.

 I spent the first day out talking to the locals personally and taking their photographs. I was finally able to break that discomfort with the language barrier since people are a lot more approachable on these islands. It was so rewarding and I am just as anxious to post about the people I met soon. You may not believe it, but I ran into that same lady who I had met in my hostel in Sorrento before I left. Suddenly these coincidences weren’t surprising me anymore. They just seem to happen. I spent some time taking a hike up the road with a guy named Nick who I met that morning and later, him and his friend Nat along with some other travelers we met all went out for a dinner in the Amalfi square. We ended up watching this fantastic show with a mime who had absolutely no filter with what he did. He was jumping in passing cars, taking peoples phones, imitating the walks of strangers and occasionally making children cry but aside from all that, he was brilliant. He communicated using a squeaky toy in his mouth alone and was a completely unexpected joy in the middle of the night! 

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Later that night I ran into Kate, Josef and Benoit from the evening before. I had an extraordinary peach cocktail and got to know them a little more. They were all single travelers, Kate and Joseph coming from Austrailia and Benoit from Paris. I felt extremely comfortable around them and it was relaxing company, no conversation required work to keep up, it just flowed. At this point, I decided to extend my stay for just another night. I could have stayed there forever. 

ImageThe next morning we all decided to go on a hike through one of the popular trails over the hills. It was very similar to Cinque Terre with it’s constant incline and complete worth when you reach the tallest peak. We hiked toward our destination of a huge castle like tower and a lookout where you could see for miles. The day was finished with some lounge time on the beautiful beach and an amazing homemade pasta dinner which was followed by more peach cocktail. It was the perfect end to a peaceful day with the best company I could have wished for. 

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Aside from the view, we managed to find some pretty neat sights along the way

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At breakfast the final morning before I left, Josef had told me that he finally understood the meaning of the Piazza in Atrani. It was their biggest sense of community, almost like a second home to a lot of them. If you really looked closely, you could see the common relationships between the locals in this square and the friendships that people shared every day. It’s such an important part of their town and truly the centre of living for them. It was quite something to watch and realize that we were able to be a part of it, even if it was only for a little while. 

 

On the way back from our final dinner, Kate turned to all of us and said, “I feel like we’re going home.” And she was right. 

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Two days and an Evening in Roma (with my best friend)

First off, I apologize for the lack of posts over the last couple of days. Believe me, I’ve been dying to share my experiences! The dodgy hostel wifi has a different idea. Hang in there with me!

I arrived at my hostel in Rome later than expected. Hasn’t it always worked out like that? Actually, things have been falling into place in just the last second lately. The very last train ticket, the last minute before reception closes, the last ferry trip to the Blue Grotto…yeah, I think I’ll start knocking on wood now.

Rome certainly has a charm at night. The people seem happier, the buildings seem to sparkle just a little bit more. I’ve found that everywhere I’ve been, the city explodes past 9pm. Not to say that it turns back into a pumpkin during the day, but you can’t help but smile while walking past every artist and street performer on your way down the cobblestone.

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When I arrived at my hostel Roman Holidays, I was immediately greeted by several friendly travelers, a welcome shot of Greek liquor and limoncello, air conditioning and clean linens. The luxuries of the world these days (I’m speaking specifically about the linens). I met this great guy named Gioros who lives in Athens who was very friendly as well as two friends who were traveling together. Both were twenty three, one of whom was going for her PhD and the other was already a sixth grade teacher in Los Angeles! They are superheroes. It was great to have some unexpected company that night since I assumed everyone would be in bed by the time I got there. It was certainly the most homey hostel I had stayed in yet and I was almost sad to leave!

I decided to spend the next day taking it easy and exploring the city. I’ve started to realize how important it is to take at least one day to walk around on your own and discover the culture and the atmosphere without a map to guide you. It’s also a good idea to get to know the main streets at least vaguely so you don’t get terribly lost every day. That usually ends up happening to me anyway though no matter what I do! I wandered off first to visit the famous Trevi Fountain, make a wish and toss in my coin. Despite the large amount of tourists flooding to the scene, I wanted to have my own special moment while there. It is possible. I closed my eyes, made a very well thought out wish and tossed my coin behind me. It was a Swiss coin that I had been given by a fellow traveler Anna in Venice. I figured it would stand out amongst the others and was better kept in those waters than the depths of my money belt. Image

I found that the lines in Rome were the longest of any I had seen. I was debating on what attractions I wanted to spend money and time on seeing in detail. I figured it wouldn’t hurt to walk to a few of them that evening and admire them on my own time first. I walked past the beautiful St. Peters Basilica and the Colosseum which were both so grand. I found it crazy to think about a time when these buildings weren’t tourist attractions, they were just an every day part of the city scape. I’m sure it’s still like that for the locals, but I doubt the novelty or the beauty ever wears off for them. How could it? Once again, another city with stunning architecture at every turn.

I think I had gelato more than twice that evening before heading back to the hostel. Yes, my first day was simple but beautiful and I was beginning to fall in love with the random encounters I would run into when I least expected it. For instance, this guy was walking around with two budgies he named Julia and Alexander. He walked up to me, placed them on my head, grabbed my camera, snapped a photo while telling me it was free of charge and then left. Image

I chose the Colosseum and the Vatican as my two destinations for the next day. I had met a guy staying at my hostel named Edsel. We got to chatting and decided to see the Vatican together that day! He’s close to thirty and has his degree in English Literature, living in South Carolina. I’ve been trying to spend at least one day wherever I go with new friends. We didn’t talk too much, but even the comfortable silence was nice and it was a change to have a walking buddy!

The second we arrived at the Vatican, it started to pour rain. It was the first time I had seen rain since I left so I think a nice down pour was needed. Below is a photo of the Basilica seconds before the rain started to fall. Image

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The Belvedere Torso

The Vatican is a never ending building. I spent a solid two and a half hours admiring the paintings and artifacts and I’m sure I could have spent an entire day there! It’s the large murals that get to me the most. My favourite of course was the famous ceiling painting by Michelangelo, The Creation of Adam and other leading painters in the Sistine Chapel.

Edsel and I parted ways after the Vatican and I headed to the Colosseum. I ended up taking a tour so I could skip the massive lines and to be completely honest, I listened for a while and learned some interesting facts then I ditched the group. It was all too rushed and I wanted to walk around and get my own feel, like usual. Some of the Colosseum had been restored while there were other parts that were completely original and you could see the difference. I was surprised to hear it was finished in only eight years! Eight. The amount of time it takes to finish all these paintings and buildings is astonishingly short. Image

On the way to the direction of Celeste’s hotel, I got lost. But the beauty of getting lost is that it always leads me to something amazing. This time, it wasn’t a cute boy giving me a ride on his Vespa (and that was certainly a highlight), it was this great group of kids singing and dancing to Colombian music (and quite well, I may add). It was such a ball and the happiness was infectious! I loved every minute of it! If you’re interested, check them out at http://www.migras.orgImageImageImage

Finally, it was time to see a familiar face and thank goodness. I was skipping all the way there  and her hotel couldn’t have been closer to mine either! What a reunion that was! I admit, I cried a little bit and held on a little too long. It was refreshing to be around somebody that I naturally connected with on a best friend kind of level. We all know the kind. The one you really only have with a soul sister. Her and her Mamma and I had a great dinner at a rooftop garden then Celeste and I went out on the town to (you guessed it), have some gelato. If you cut me open, I would bleed gelato. I’m telling you right now. We even headed back to the Trevi fountain and got to make a wish together which is something I’ll always remember. The time may have been short, but every minute of it was perfect and we couldn’t stop repeating “We’re in Rome. Together. I can’t believe we’re in Rome.” Image

I had one final day there and spent the morning photographing and the early afternoon visiting the Tivoli Gardens. I’ve been finding lately that it’s a very difficult task to take someone’s photo without them scowling, looking away and becoming less candid, or mumbling Italian profanities. It’s a test on my end, that’s for sure. It’s forced me to take a closer look at the body language of the people around me. Sometimes I think it tells a lot more than a face does.ImageImage

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I didn’t realize how far away the gardens actually were. You may recognize this setting from a few movies (okay, of course The Lizzie McGuire movie is one of them…I know you all thought of it). I expected the gardens to be a lot bigger and a little brighter but there were some really neat fountains and it was definitely a peaceful atmosphere.

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With a Zen mindset, I headed back to the train station and ordered a ticket to Naples. It was time to say goodbye to Rome and hello to the islands of Sorrento, Capri and the Amalfi coast!

Cross your fingers for stable wifi and I can’t wait to update you all again soon!

Cinque Terre e Cinquemila Passi: Five Lands and Five Thousand Steps

Cinque Terre is not for the weak! Consisting of five very small villages, visitors are able to walk from one to the other to experience the colours, swim in the bright blue ocean and buy a lot of lemon scented products! I was thrilled to be here. I had heard so many praises from friends and other travelers that there was no way I could miss it!

Of course, the time that I decided to go was the exact period that they were doing major construction on four of the five paths so the main trails were closed. You were still able to see the villages and there were ways to travel to each of them but they weren’t for everybody. They were a little more strenuous, a little more adventurous and definitely off the beat and track. Exactly what I was looking for.

The names of the five towns are Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso al Mare. If you look on a map, they travel upward from Riomaggiore to Monterosso and you can start walking from either one. I started in Riomaggiore which exploded with colour. It doesn’t take long to walk through the towns but if you want to get a view of the whole village, everything is up hill. Just to give you an idea about how these places are built, this is Riomaggiore from what I thought was the best view!

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The gorgeous view never stopped blowing me away. You were constantly surrounded by amazing cliffs and the bluest water I had ever seen stretching for miles. I had the best salad of my life right over the water at this beautiful restaurant called Bar with a View that I recommend to anyone who decides to visit!

Seeing as the trail to the next village was closed, I needed to find another way there. Where there’s a will, there’s a way, right? So I took a kayak! Why not! What a way to feel small…I can’t explain how grand the scenery was compared to me in my little yellow piece of plastic. It was an experience I’m so glad I had and oh so peaceful.

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When I got to Manarola, I knew already that it was my favourite of the five. It had something special about it and I can’t exactly place what it was. There was a beautiful cove where tons of people were swimming and jumping off cliffs. Independent shops lined the streets and despite the large amount of people, it didn’t seem as tourist filled as the rest of them did. This one provided the best distant view and I spent a lot of time just basking on the rocks by the water taking it all in.

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I was told that from Manarola I was able to take an alternate route through the hills to Corniglia and it would take me about 3 hours. As I took my first step, I wondered how long it would really take me..maybe they decided to base it off a slow walker? I traveled until I saw a hand painted sign along the fence saying that turning left would provide a panoramic view (not shown on the map) and right would take you through the valley. Always choose the path less traveled! I went left in hopes that someone wasn’t messing with me.

As I walked further and further up the hill, I was able to see the entire village from above. I couldn’t believe how high up I had gotten, and in such a short time too! As I was walking, I saw a woman taking the same path. “You’re making the trek too I see!”, I yelled out to her. She told me that her family, who are all hikers, had taken the bus this time but she was determined to do it. She was very fit and said that she absolutely loved to hike when she could. We became each others company on the long walk up. Oh and when I say up, I mean way up. These were stone steps slanting at an 80 degree angle at times. I considered it a true test for the 800km Camino trail in September! Her name is Irma and she had studied Literature and Psychology for some time in Paris and now has her Doctorate. Her family had also lived in Florence for a year while she was completing some requirements and they now resign in Iceland. How cultured can you get?! I felt so boring having lived in my hometown my entire life. She told me about her two children and her husband who wasn’t able to hike as much due to his illness. “So you’ll do it for him!” I told her. “Yes, I’ll do it for the both of us.”

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While she seemed to be taking every stride with confidence, I was dwindling. She acted as amazing motivation and kept remarking on how glad she was to be doing this. I felt the same way. Through the heaving and sweating, the view took away any feelings of regret that may have been lingering. I debated going any further. She was only planning on heading to the town in between Manarola and Cornigila while I was initially planning to head all the way to the end. As we were half way up the steps, I had decided to stop in the same town as her and bus home. I was exhausted and afraid of passing out on the second half but she really encouraged me to keep going. “I really think you can keep going to Corniglia”, she told me.

When we finally reached the top, her family was waiting. I was able to meet them, got her email, we said our goodbyes and they headed off to reach their next destination. I decided to sit and write while I decided what I was going to do next. I debated heading in the direction of a few people who had taken the next trail. Maybe more company would keep me motivated to continue? I didn’t end up following them and instead I sat on the bench, still catching my breath. I believe there was a reason that I didn’t take the trail at that moment. Just as I decided I was finally going to get up and walk the rest of the way, for her, they came walking back. “I think I’m going to do it!” I told her. “Us too”, she said and smiled. So, we walked. It was an estimated hour and a half more and it was all down hill so it wasn’t as hard on the legs. The view also managed to become even more beautiful as time went on and we were literally scaling the hills on very narrow paths. It was a very long way down.

I ended up bonding with her 17 year old daughter quite a bit. She is so down to earth and one of those gentle souls that you feel safe around immediately. Her name is so unique and when I email her Mom I’ll get the correct spelling but her Father told me that it translated into “Strong Warrior” which fit her perfectly. She told me about the places she had lived and her life in Iceland. Forests are not common where she’s from. She said that a common joke (which I thought was super funny) was “What do you do if you get lost in a forest in Iceland? You stand up.” I laughed. So what we were walking through wasn’t something she was used to at all. I also developed a greater understanding for the phrase, “It’s all downhill from here.” Walking downhill was almost harder than walking up. It’s very easy to lose your balance and you feel like you’re being pushed most of the time. It was so much easier talking to my new friend along the way. Her whole family was so great to be around and I never would have gotten that far had I not met them.

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When we reached Corniglia, I received a kiss on both cheeks from Irma and her daughter goodbye. They told me to let them know if I would ever be in Iceland (I plan on it).

I called it a day at that point since the sun was setting and planned to do the next two villages tomorrow.

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I forgot to mention that on my way to Riomaggiore that morning, I met two great girls at the train station from Switzerland. They were staying, coincidentally, 5 tents down from me at my campsite. We planned to have dinner that night at the campsite but by the time I got back, it was late and dark and I was disappointed to think they had probably gone to bed. When I arrived at my tent door, there was a beautiful note and some prosciutto, fruit and bread on a chair. It read,

 

Hello there Sam, 

Hope you enjoyed a sensational day and that you were able to take all the pictures you needed. Here are some refreshments (to consume as quickly as possible). Was a pleasure meeting you, enjoy the rest of your trip! 

Ashley and Marie.

I almost cried because it was so thoughtful. I wish I had gotten the chance to know them a little more but I was leaving the next morning.

The next day, I walked from Corniglia to Varnazza and then took a train to Monterosso (which was  the least interesting village in my opinion). Corniglia had this gorgeous little market with the freshest fruit and sandwiches and it was so inexpensive (a rarity these days). I loved it almost as much as Manarola just for that! The main path was open so I took the hour and a half walk and then took the train back to head to Rome that evening!

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If you take a look at these three hills, that is the distance I walked on foot

It’s crazy how much I can get done in a day and even more amazing how many people I meet in a day as well. I met this great couple on my way to Rome. Their names are Linda and Anders and they invited me to sit with them for the 3 hour ride there. They are such amazing people. He is from Denmark while she is from Norway. Both of them are Physical Therapists and met in University. Anders said that he deals with patients at the hospital who are then sent to Linda next. They essentially work together and help a lot of the same people. The job seems incredibly rewarding. Anders told me that a simple “I appreciate what you do” makes his entire day worth it. Even a small success of helping an elderly man stand for 3 seconds is a moment that is cherished by them both. They are both 25 and so easy to talk to. It was a blast spending time with them on the train.

ImageI arrived in Roma last night and can’t wait to share my experiences already!

Keep in touch and so much love!

Bright Memories of Pisa

 

It’s time for a bit of a story. Sit back, relax and enjoy the magic. I hope you can feel it like I did. 

Once upon a time, I took a trip to Pisa. Pisa is about an hour away from the Florence central station and one train can take you all the way there. My Austrian friends were visiting family in Pisa that morning so we all took the train there together at the crack of dawn. 

Somebody once told me that Pisa is incredibly small. They said it would take you about 30 minutes to walk through the entire city to reach the Leaning Tower and that was pretty much all there was to see. I trusted their judgement, having not found a legible/free map and walked straight ahead, hoping I would hit the tower. In just a short period of time, there it was! There weren’t very many people in the city on my walk there and I quickly discovered why. Everyone seems to flock to the tower alone. Otherwise, Pisa is just a scaled down version of the Florence streets. Much quieter and cozier, it seemed. 

I was wondering how I could possibly get a photo in front of this thing. Especially one with the classic illusion of holding, kissing or kicking the tower (it was hysterical watching hundreds of people grabbing and kissing the open air). Luckily, a girl slightly younger than me asked me to take her photo and it turns out that her and her Mom were from Toronto! They were the first Canadians I had come across. I was beginning to think we weren’t big travelers! We even got a quick photo together before parting ways! 

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The tower was very neat and I made sure I took some time without my camera to sit in front of it and admire the view. I’m trying to balance that a lot lately. I want to appreciate these things from both sides of the camera fully and completely. Image

This is where the story comes in. I had it in my head that I was going to see a field of sunflowers even if it killed me. There were photos on post cards and framed in my hostel and they always looked so vibrant and inviting. I thought it would make for some great photos but most of all, I just wanted to run around and dance in one. Wouldn’t you? What is happier than a field of big, yellow flowers in the Tuscan countryside?

I felt like I was the only one with this idea. It certainly wasn’t something people rushed to see. Probably because you aren’t able to find them unless you travel closer to the hills on the outskirts of the Pisa area. I was more than determined. I asked several locals but they all either laughed at me (it happened twice) or directed me to the closest florist. Whoops, not at all what I wanted. Then there was the struggle of finding the tourist booth. I was pointed in several different directions by several different people. 

But along the way, I met this stunning lady! She tried to sell me a bracelet but instead I took her photo and gave her one euro. A fair trade, I thought. 

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When I finally found the tourist office, the lady there told me that the sunflowers were late to bloom this year but there may be some out where her parents lived. She told me to take a bus down to its last stop, get off and walk along the arches until I found a field. There was no estimated time given or even reassurance that there was definitely going to be a field in bloom but I needed to see this. I had the thought in my mind and I wasn’t leaving until I made it a reality. 

First I waited for my bus for an eternity, not knowing if it even came on Sundays at all. When I got off at the correct stop, there were two different directions I could have headed. I really should have asked her which one and at that point I was hitting myself for not doing so. They both seemed to stretch on and on. My gut said left but my feet said right so I listened to them instead. Haven’t I learned yet that my gut always knows? I walked for a long time until I realized that I was heading further into a residential area and the chances of a field were slim. So, I turned around and walked all the way back. Damn, I do a ton of walking in a day! The town was also completely dead. There wasn’t a person in sight and all the shops were closed. I guess they shut down the city on a Sunday afternoon so there wasn’t a soul I was able to ask for directions. I was praying and wishing for my IPhone to fall out of the sky with the Google Maps app open. 

When I reached my starting point again, I walked along the arches and kept walking, walking, walking, walking and walking. I was ready to give up. Even after my first mistake I had thoughts about calling it quits. But I thought ahead to what future Sam might think if she left Tuscany and didn’t see a sunflower field like she wanted and I knew I would deeply regret it. Hell or high water, I was going to find one. 

I started losing track of my steps and just continued to go. Then I saw it. It was in the distance on a small path that I wasn’t planning on heading down. Had I been on the other side of the arches, I wouldn’t have seen it. It was like an angel in the distance. I know it doesn’t seem like much, but I was so close to throwing up my arms and turning around. It came at the perfect moment and restored my spirits immediately. 

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The next thing I knew, I was laughing and running towards the field. I couldn’t stop laughing, actually. It was such a light after my tiring mission and made the whole thing worth it. Lesson number two: It’s always worth it. 

I’m telling you all now that the moral of this story is to never give up… because you just might find the sunflowers. 

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Love, Art and a little bit of Tuscan Wine

 

There are two major themes in Italy that are constantly present at all times. Love and Art. They are everywhere. They fill the city and are entirely infectious. Every moment I go out to seek human interaction, those themes appear in front of me and I can’t help but capture them, to save them in my camera for a moment when I need some inspiration. 

ImageImageImageImageImageImageMy immediate introduction to Florence was a little unnerving. Booking hostels on the fly can be really difficult during high season, so instead of going to Cinque Terre like I had planned, I decided to head to Florence on Thursday and make Cinque Terre my destination on Monday morning. The hostel I booked was supposed to meet special hostel standards so I figured it would be a fine place to stay, even though it was a tad of a distance away from the city centre. No big deal! 

Luck was on my side when I booked my train tickets Thursday afternoon. I arrived in just the nick of time after a mad dash to the ticket office. The lady at the station gave me the very last second class ticket and laughed in relief as she did so. Someone was definitely looking out for me. 

After arriving at my stop, directions in hand, I found a bus that seemed like it was going in the right direction. I politely mumbled some half Spanish to the bus driver who seemed like he absolutely hated his life and asked him if it stopped at Salvatino. He grunted a loud “si” and slammed the doors behind me. Okay…not the greatest greeting from the locals, but I went on my way. 

I was practically thrown off the bus in the middle of nowhere outside a gate that read Ostello. I was given a name for the hostel but it appeared nowhere. I assumed it was the correct entrance so after confirming with the man at a cafe near by that it was, in fact, the right destination, I hesitantly creeped in through the doors. I half expected those to slam behind me as well like they do in the horror movies. Did I mention it was pitch black? I began walking further and further up a very steep hill. The winding path seemed to be never ending and I walked for who knows how long  completely terrified that someone was going to pop out of the bushes (please god let it be Ashton Kutcher). When I finally heard the sound of voices, I asked some confused campers where I could find the entrance doors. Nobody seemed to speak any English which didn’t help my case. 

In the end, it was late and I was tired but I did find my room in one piece. Thankfully. But what a weird experience…I’m getting ready for more of those dingy locations! 

I was greeted inside by two girls around my age from Austria. They were traveling together and seemed to speak great English! How sweet were they! Their names are Carmen and Magdalena and they’re from a place called Tyrol. We bonded quickly and I was so happy to hear they were staying until Sunday and didn’t have to leave so soon! 

I traveled to the city centre the next day. I had been awaiting Florence for quite a long time before my trip and it didn’t disappoint. The streets have a fairytale air about them. You can’t miss the centre of Florence. There lies the grandest, most wonderful, breathtaking Basilica of all time. It could eat the St. Mark’s Basilica for breakfast. The formal name for it is The Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore but everyone calls it the Duomo.  I couldn’t fathom what I was seeing when I approached it. The detail and art on the outside of the  cathedral is so intricate and it took just about 140 years to complete by two separate architects. Doesn’t seem incredibly long when you think about it. The inside represents a ton of Renaissance movement and the pushing of boundaries with both art and architecture.  I decided to take a free walking tour since I was fascinated to hear about its history. This ceiling mural below was painted in only six years and represents a major theme within the church: the end of time. Half of the cathedral has more of a simplistic, one dimensional look about it inside while the other half introduced the idea of realism through windows, paintings and structure. It’s fairly clear when the second architect took over. It was actually built on top of an older cathedral that I was able to see parts of underground. 

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A really neat thing that I had the chance to do was climb up to the very top of the dome. Yes, climb. There are 463 steps up a very narrow, sometimes spiral staircase and I climbed every one of them. Luckily, while walking up, I met an Italian named Enrico who was showing around a family he stayed with in the States. We chatted along the way which made the time go much faster. It really wasn’t too strenuous at all! Of course, the view at the top of the dome is entirely worth it. There’s really nothing like the view of an entire city. Especially one like this. 
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There were names written up the entire indoor staircase and all over the walls at the top of the dome. I walked around and around for ages just waiting for people to clear so I could write mine. I don’t know why I thought I would get scolded, there were too many names and phrases to count but I quickly scribbled mine in pen and was glad I made my mark! Image

My all time favourite was written in big, bold letters. 

“Compare these stairs to your life. THIS IS NOTHING.” Image

Earlier that day I had met a guy selling jewelry in the market named Roy. He saw my Canadian flag and said he had friends in Canada and thought we were very nice people (you thought right, sir). He pointed out some great spots to go during my stay, one of which was a huge garden called Piazza Michelangelo. “If you climb up the hill before sunset”, he said, you’ll have the greatest view!” I couldn’t miss that, could I? 

I decided to make it a special night. It was my first night in Florence, after all. I went to one of the many wine shops and got the cheapest bottle of wine I could find. Its price was equivalent to 5 Canadian dollars. But you guys, it was from Tuscany! I don’t think it matters! I bought a cheap pocket knife with a cork screw and headed in the direction of the garden. A lesson I’ve learned: maps are super deceiving. I could have sworn it wasn’t far away from where I was but I just kept walking and walking and walking until I finally reached a massive hill. I heaved my legs up the top but once again, it was all worth it in the end. I was in the hills of Florence, overlooking the water and the roof tops and dammit I drank that wine all by myself and it was perfect. The sunset was stunning and I thought then that nothing could be more peaceful than where I was at that moment. Benvenuto Firenze. Image

Classy is as classy does, I stumbled slightly drunk but super happy down that beautiful but stupidly steep hill to have dinner. Maybe I should have done that whole thing the other way around. 
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That moment brought the nights end and although my time alone was exactly what I needed, I was hoping to spend some time the next day with my new friends. 

The three of us planned to spend the day together, taking a walking tour though the city and possibly visit an art gallery. We decided to go to a cute coffee shop a ways away from the tourist area and had some true European (and very strong) cappuccino. Oh and mark my words, I actually paid to go to the washroom that day. I’m not even sure what to say about that! 
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The walking tour lead us to two amazing places. One was the Ponte Vecchio which is a famous bridge that has houses built along the edges and tonnes of expensive jewelry shops. Living there would either be cool or exhausting. I haven’t quite decided. You can barely move over the bridge but if you look above, there is a concrete corridor that was built for the Medici family to attend mass away from public view and to ship supplies during the second World War! 

The second amazing place we were lead to was a shop with the absolute best gelato I believe I will ever have. The tour guide specifically recommended it and it seemed to have won awards for the number one gelato in Italy. It’s called Gelateria della Passera. I dreamed wonderful dreams about Kiwi gelato last night. 

After a lovely picnic in the park, we parted ways. The two of them left this morning but I’m so glad I got the chance to know them. It was so exciting to learn about the different ways our countries run, the different foods we eat or even each others favourite books and hobbies. I had to fill them in on the poutine deal. How funny is it that no one in my room of six girls knew what a poutine was?! It makes complete sense that they wouldn’t, but when it’s something you’re so used to…you just don’t realize how exciting it is to talk about your life with someone who knows absolutely nothing about it! 

With blisters on my feet that I continue to ignore, I will venture to Cinque Terre tomorrow to walk the beautiful hike up through the 5 villages! 

Keep in touch for a special story from Pisa soon to come! 

Ciao amici! 

Grazie Mille Venezia

Well Florence, I finally met you. I arrived late Thursday night after a terrifying introduction to the city. But before I head into that story, I have plenty to share about my time in Venice! ImageOn Wednesday, I decided to head to Lido for the day. Lido is a quaint, suburban island in Venice that seems to have one popular main attraction: the beach. I figured I would spend the early morning with my camera and walk around the streets of San Marco first, finding my bearings and exploring the hidden passage ways. The hilarious part about this is, I really thought I would be able to locate Piazza San Marco when I was ready to head to Lido. The Piazza San Marco is the famous, central square within Venice filled with tourists. Easy to find, right? I couldn’t be more wrong. Just when you think that walking down one street will allow you to meet up with another, it takes an unexpected turn. I was surprised at my ability to keep calm through the entire maze. They tell you to get lost in the streets of Venice, yeah? Consider it a check off the bucket list. I think I was walking for about 3 hours until I finally managed to find a sign that pointed towards San Marco and continued to lead me through the streets for another 20 minutes. The entire walk was beautiful and historic and to be fair, I did welcome the adventure. My mentality of “I think I’ll go that way”, is bound to lead me in the direction of being terribly lost multiple times. ImageI headed to Lido as soon as the sun began peaking through the clouds after an overcast morning. I found the beach fairly quickly and after sitting in the sun for no longer than 25 minutes, I was black. Or at least, a lot darker than I was when I arrived. The sun was blaring. The absolute coolest part about that trip was that I was able to swim in the ocean for the very first time! It was a quick swim since my camera was sitting on the shore. It was way saltier than I expected and warm as bath water! A perfect mid day break.

During my final evening, I met a really nice guy named Jian. Much to my surprise, he was 37 (didn’t look a day over 20) and seemed to be a very experienced traveler. He mentioned something about being a diplomat in Egypt? I know, right? (Jian, correct me if I’m wrong). We met at the hostel and decided to take a climb up the bell tower to see Venice from the best view in the city. Traveler icebreakers are the greatest, I’m telling you. “Hi, my name is Sam, let’s go see a famous monument in Italy together.” The connection is always instant. The night ended with dinner and that was it, another passing friendship. Something he said really stuck out to me though and I’ll try my best to rephrase it like he did.

“When one travels, it’s almost like traveling on the sea. Everyone is their own boat and you’re all holding a light. Every once in a while, your boat collides with another and it’s almost like you’re using your light to warm them, to show them the way. When you’ve finished, you continue on your boat until the next encounter.” 

A simple and beautiful way to describe the very short but meaningful friendships along a journey. ImageWhen I arrived home, a girl and her Mother from Australia were staying the night in my room. Now that was a short encounter, unfortunately. They were super sweet and I thought it was so cool that they were traveling together. They gave me some great tips on place to visit in Italy and were quickly on their way the next morning.

My morning brought a trip to see the Saint Mark’s Basilica in the square and a visit to Burano before I headed to Florence.

The Basilica was out of this world. I tried so hard to capture the beauty but it was close to impossible. The whole inside was covered in beautiful gold like this photo of the inside below picturing one small, very small section of the massive ceiling.
ImageImageImageNow I get to Burano. How can I describe Burano to you…imagine you’re Dorothy and you’ve just been thrusted into the land of Oz. I know, that was really lame, but it doesn’t stray far from how I felt. It didn’t feel like I was in Venice anymore. Burano is one of the islands within Venice and famous for its spectacular, rainbow coloured houses and shops along the waters edge. The entire island is filled with gorgeous colour and so many stray cats. Maybe that’s why I liked it so much. It was the cutest and happiest little island I bet I’ll ever walk upon and I could have set up camp and lived there. You’re lucky I didn’t. ImageImageImageYes, Venice was all that I hoped it would be. I am shocked that I managed to do all of that in the span of only one night and a day and a half. Wait, was that really only my first stop?

Florence stories are on their way!

That’s Amoré

After many delays and about 15 hours in transit, I finally managed to land and locate my hostel successfully. It was a triumph, you guys! The directions I was given were so incredibly precise (walk 10km over this bridge until you reach a canal…fly over the canal for 5km). They weren’t quite that crazy but I didn’t feel lost once! I quickly noticed the street names are often printed on the side of the wall and street signs seem to be non existent so after taking a city bus, a water bus and walking about 20 minutes, I reached a huge green door and asked a very nice waiter if he was able to help me get inside.

Then there were the stairs. I walked up about 5 flights (which felt more like 10 because at that point, no matter what was in my backpack, it felt like a million pounds) and was greeted by a really friendly, blonde Italian woman who treated me like a true house guest instantly. I’m almost certain that this will be the nicest hostel I ever stay in so I’m going to enjoy the luxury while I can! The view is beautiful, the beds are clean…it’s more than I could ever ask for. Image

My bedroom window view 
Immediately, I was greeted by 4 people around my age who were staying in two of the rooms. It wasn’t long before we introduced ourselves, decided to split a gondola ride and the rest as they say, is history. Lucy, Anna, Heather and Will. They all just happen to be from London except for Anna who was raised in Los Angeles and Hawaii (how cool is that?).
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Our gondola ride was beautiful and a super introduction to the city. Venice really is like they portray it to be in the movies. People really are singing, riding boats and yelling from the windows. Hollywood, you didn’t let me down! On top of that, the architecture is phenomenal. Every single piece of this city has a history attached to it, you can just feel it in the air. I was also quite surprised to see how high the water level could reach. During our ride, our gondolier showed us the mark on the wall that indicated the highest tide that climbs to reach that point about 3 times per year! How do you even prepare for that?
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We were disappointed to hear that singing on the ride cost an extra 30 euros (they squeeze in an extra cost wherever they can), so we provided it. Well, our gondolier was nice enough to join us and attempt to sing That’s Amoré so it’s the thought that counts! ImageImageImage

After our ride, we stopped at a restaurant along the canal and I treated myself to pasta and wine as we learned about each others lives. We turned out to be quite the eclectic group. Heather is in her third year at med school, Lucy is studying human biology, Will graduated from with what I think he said was a degree in Geography but took a job in financing and Anna is similar to me. She took a semester of school and left, taking a job in Los Angeles and of course, traveled. We spent most of the time exchanging our best Canadian and British accent imitations which I found hilarious. Something I know I’ll have to get used to is saying goodbye. All of them are leaving tomorrow so our time together was short. Social media will be my saving grace. 

After one of the hottest sleeps of my life that only jet leg could help ignore, I already find myself on my second day. I knew time would go by extra quickly over my time away. All I can do is continue to savour every moment possible! 

Today I will be setting off to photograph and plan to go to Lido di Venezia to visit the beach! 

Ciao! 

Birkenstocks and Beginnings

It has been a twinkle in my eye for a few years now, as travel normally is for us all. We all want to see the world one way or another. It doesn’t have to be in a big way. It can be as simple as a day trip to a city just hours away from you, but it seems to be that thing that everyone either does at that opportune moment or spends forever wishing they had. I never wanted to find myself saying that, not even for a second. One minute I’m posting photos of Greece and Ireland on my vision board, and the next I’m boarding a plane. What an amazing feeling.

It’s the night before I leave and of course, my creativity, or lack thereof, decides to strike at 2am. I guess my first thought when I sat down to write this post was, “well, where do I begin?”. I’m thinking something quite similar to that thought will be running through my mind the second I walk off that plane in Venice, Italy. That and the classic, “what the hell am I doing with my life?!”.

Okay, so maybe I would be lying a bit if I said I didn’t know what I was doing. I’m fully aware. In fact, this idea to backpack solo isn’t something I ever thought twice about. I never pondered about leaving or battled with the fear of facing the great unknown. I just knew I had to. An instinct, I guess you could say.

As an option I had nixed in order to go to university when high school ended, the thought to travel never stopped nudging. I knew back then that it wasn’t the right time. I needed to learn what I did over my past year before I could truly appreciate it in the way I know I will.

Just like I expected and entirely when I least expected it, the opportunity to backpack the world fell flawlessly into my lap last Fall, and I suddenly find myself here today, taking off in a mere 18 hours.

It’s funny… I really, truly thought that I would be able to throw some shit in a bag, sling my camera around my neck and peace out.

I promise you guys, it isn’t like the movies.

Unless you want to be careless about your health and safety and give every one of your family members a patch of extra grey hair, there were far more things to consider than I expected. Can’t anyone be spontaneous anymore? I guess you could say I learned a lot about necessities and how little anyone truly needs in life. When it was all said and done, I did end up throwing some stuff in a bag after all (or neatly folded it, I should say) but only the bare minimum (yes ladies, I did leave my heels at home this time)._DSC9519

Trust me, it all fits in one backpack

People always ask me if I’m nervous for this experience, gawk at my  “no itinerary plan” or exclaim my personal favourite, “you’ve got some serious balls”. I was beginning to think there was something terribly wrong with me for not feeling the nerves I maybe should have. Well, it turns out I’m completely normal! Because you better believe I woke up with some butterfly friends this morning! They were all very positive though, mostly revolving around the realization that I am completely in charge of this trip. I am one hundred per cent responsible for the outcome of my experiences. There will be no tour guide to show me around or an air conditioned bus to get me from one place to the next. I won’t have built in friends or a crowd to hide behind while walking. It’s all on me. Which, of course, is exactly what I want, but the reality of it hit me a little bit more this time. Again, positive butterflies, excited nerves.

I hope that this blog gives my family and friends the best insight they can get into my journey while I’m gone and keeps their minds at ease (yes Dad, I’m talking to you!) Most of all, I hope that the people who are getting to know me through this blog for the very first time are inspired to go on an adventure of their own or seek out the stories in their community that they didn’t know were there!_DSC9518

Thank you to my beautiful friends who gave me wonderful pendants and messages to keep me safe. A part of you will be with me the entire time! 

It’s all about the storytelling folks, through photos and words. I just know the world has something crazy in store for me, and I hope you’ll follow along with me as I discover what that may be.

Here’s to the next 143 days and whatever they may bring! It’s going to be a wild ride!