Work in Progress

“In the best travel, disconnection is a necessity. Concentrate on where you are; do no back-home business; take no assignments; remain incommunicado; be scarce. It is a good thing that people don’t know where you are or how to find you. Keep in mind the country you are in. That’s the theory.”
–Paul Theroux

I'm just a girl who loves the world, finds beauty in the unknown, and can't keep her feet on the ground. I like finding unique (and cheap) ways of making my way around the globe. Interacting with people while living, learning, and loving the culture I'm surrounded by.

This is my attempt to keep my friends and family updated, to keep track of my experiences, and to serve as an inspirational resource for all those travel addicts like me out there.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Firenze Frenzy

Nicola & I - Florence, Italy

Ah, Florence. How I wish I had more time with you. Two days was nowhere near enough. 

One of my favorite things about Italy (other than the laundry that's always strung like ornaments across peoples homes) is how easily accessible fresh, mouthwatering sandwiches are. There are so many good places to eat scattered throughout the adorable little streets of this place that it's hard to not find something delicious everywhere you go.




We visited the Bardini Gardens instead of going to the more popular, Boboli. The Bardini Gardens have just recently been open to the public, so I thought it would be cool to check it out. Definitely go to both if you have time, I can never get enough of gardens or parks while I am traveling. It was an incredible day, paired with the unreal panoramic view of Florence from the balcony and strolling through the garden itself easily made this a highlight of Florence.

Neptune's Butt - Piazza della Signoria, Florence, Italy

While planning for Florence I had intended on Couchsurfing with a fellow named Niccoló. I ended up traveling with Nicola (hehe), who was working with me in Montefegatesi. He didn't have room for us both, but we still decided to hang out! 

It's a funny thing, waiting to meet someone you don't know in a foreign country when all you've ever seen is an image of them online. From afar I thought I spotted him, simply because there was a guy by himself that seemed to be looking for someone. I goofily tried waving to this man. Thankfully my attempt went unnoticed because not long after the guy's friend (who he was supposedly looking for) showed up and they walked off. 

A few minutes later Niccolò came into view. He took us to his favorite local bar, Eby's. It was obvious he had frequented this place a lot, Eby seemed to know him quite well. We had a few drinks, got hooked up with a few specialty shots and made our way to Niccolò's where he made us a delicious dinner. You can not ever go wrong with home cooked meals in Italy, especially when followed by affogatto (ice cream topped with espresso) - which this particular dinner happened to include.




Niccolò, being the gentleman he is, walked us back to our hotel. I was also slightly intoxicated at this point, so I was thankful that he humored me as I tried to learn Italian by pointing to words and guessing what they meant. Surprisingly I wasn't too bad and Niccolò helped me learn some new vocabulary. 

The next day was a holiday, which we had no idea about until arriving in Florence. It was St. Giovanni's or something, and as we were walking up to visit the Duomo there was a procession leading into the church with music and banners and guys all dressed up. Needless to say, I got excited. I pulled my phone out of my wallet and was simultaneously snapping shots with both my phone and camera. We walked into the church and quickly walked back out, it was very crowded and a ceremony was about to start. I wanted to go to the top of the tower and as I went to grab a few euros I realized my wallet was gone. The only logical explanation is that it got pick pocketed after I pulled my phone out of my purse, because I never zipped it back up.


The picture of the Duomo above was taken moments before my wallet was stolen. No pictures can do this thing justice. To the right is a photo of a mask shop I stumbled into while walking around. I managed to save a postcard like business card, which is the only reason I remember it is called Alice Masks. The man at the desk was diligently working away at masks, all of which had so much character.

REACT HAPPIER

Moral of the story: It CAN happen to you, all those horror stories about having things stolen or lost while traveling abroad. BUT IT DOESN'T HAVE TO BE A HORROR STORY. There are tips and tricks to avoid this, or at least worsen the blow. I'll write a post about this eventually :)

Luckily, I had Nicola with me and she covered me till we got back home. Luckily, I had absolutely no expenses while workingaway so not having access to my money until by debit card arrived wasn't that big of a deal. I could survive, that's all that mattered. LUCKILY, I was able to maintain a positive attitude and stay calm while sorting my situation out - that's the key to avoiding horror stories. Remember, YOU'RE the one writing the story - it could turn out however you want, really. It's all about your reaction. Things aren't always going to go as planned, especially while traveling. That's why it's important to take it as it comes, and appreciate it for all that it is. 

So next time you get lost or something gets stolen - react a bit happier. It will make a difference.




Monday, February 24, 2014

Simple Exchanges

Montefegatesi, Bagni di Lucca - Italy


When I found out my working opportunity over the summer fell through knew I had to get creative. Nothing would stop me from getting on that plane, especially not having enough money.

Workaway.info is a database of people and families around the world who are willing to exchange work for accommodation. There is something for everyone on workaway... from gardening to teaching English, nannying or helping with a bed and breakfast. 

I spent a good few weeks sending out inquiry emails, all very short notice considering my circumstances. It was hard for me to set something in stone for my first few weeks in Italy, but shortly before I left it all came together. It definitely helps to start planning in advance if this is the type of thing you are interested in. A lot of the ideal hosts book up their workawayers quickly. Most tend to prefer long term stays, at least a few weeks at a time. 



An Italian-English family hosted me in their Tuscan village with a total of 143 permanent residents. Montefegatesi, as the highest village in Bagni do Lucca, is situated at the top of a hill and overlooks magnificent Tuscan mountains. I watched over two kids (six & eight), 5 hours a day 5 days a week. In exchange they set me up in an small apartment they owned in the village and stocked my fridge. It was the exact thing I needed. My own, beautiful space. 


There were two other workawayers being hosted while I was there. A girl from New Zealand and one from Germany. It was fun being able to connect with people all around the world for those few weeks. They definitely made lasting impacts on me.


In the evenings the other workawayers and I would make dinner together, drink wine at the Dante monument at the tippity top of the mountain, and play games and share stories with old locals. I learned so much about the history of the village by talking to people. Hearing personal stories. One of my favorites comes from my soulmate Candido. I'll write him his own separate post soon. He is that special. 

We were able to travel on the days we weren't working and planned a trip to Florence! Also deserving of it's own blog post. 

I loved this experience. It gives me the warmest feeling when I think back to the time that I spent there. I felt so comfortable and at home from the beginning. I was able to really submerge myself into what I was doing, not thinking about things back home. No stress. I loved waking up in the morning to tend the garden in the crisp, mountainous air. 


Above is the view from the top floor or my apartment, which was at the very top of the village. You can see the surrounding villages tucked away into the hills if you look close enough. The other picture is from a community camping even that family took me too. It was quite cold outside, despite it being summer - so we indulged in mulled wine (my first time, ever!) and watched the daring walk across fire. 

DIG DEEPER AND GET DIRTIER

If you have the time to do plan something  like this into your adventure. DO IT. Whether you do it for a week or for six. Don't pull a Tiffany the Tourist. Don't follow your free city map to all the main attractions. Don't eat at that restaurant right on the beach. Dig a little deeper and get a little dirtier. It is much more meaningful and exhilarating to be challenged while outside of your comfort zone, trust me. You'll get more out of your experience.

This extends beyond just traveling. In all aspects of your life, don't settle. Don't graze over the surface effortlessly, letting life pass you by. Life happens in the challenges, when you try a little harder and put more of yourself out there

With that being said, sometimes the "leave it all at home" approach to traveling doesn't suit everyone. If you have been dying to visit the Eiffel Tower, you wait in that line for a few hours to get to the top. I was just as happy to sit underneath it and drink a bottle of wine to myself ;) My advice to you touristy types: don't try to do it all. You can't, and you will wear yourself out trying. Prioritize and mix things up! Leave space in your plans to be flexible, it will make your trip a lot more enjoyable. 

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Is this real life?

Manarola, Cinque Terre - Italy
Traveling abroad for the first time can be difficult based solely on the fact that you are time warping across the country. After flying for 16 hours and finally arriving in Nice, France I still had a good 6 hours on trains to get to where I needed to be in Italy. I was thrilled for my first train experience. I knew exactly what to do and where to be and when to be there and BAM! Train station closed due to maintenance: Challenge Accepted. I found my way to a bus and a lovely English couple who led me in the direction of another train station. I then utilized the help of a study abroad student walking to the station, who actually bought my ticket for me and set me off on the right train. After a few sketchy connections, thinking the train was going backwards, and 6 more hours of traveling I finally arrived in Cornigila (the village with the highest altitude)   and had to walk up THESE...

Corniglia, Cinque Terre - Italy

Luckily, my new friend Mike who I was meeting up with had a bottle of wine and sandwich waiting for me off of the train. We hiked our way up these steps, cracked open the bottle of wine and ascended even higher to the roof of our lovely room rented off of Airbnb. By this time it was nearly midnight and after 24+ hours of traveling and a half bottle of vino, I was spent. 

I couldn't have picked a better place to start off my journey! I am sure most of you have seen the images of these colorful and vibrant Italian coastal villages, and probably had similar daydreams to me. Let me tell you, waking up that morning felt like magic. I woke up exhilarated, stepped out on the balcony and breathed in the fresh Italian air. A little old woman peaked her head out of her vibrant yellow shutters and I smiled while taking the chance to practice my Italian by muttering a quick, "Buon Giorno". I didn't want to seem like I was trying TOO hard.   


Cinque Terre translates to Five Lands. All of these quaint little villages are nestled together along the west coast of Italy separated by amazing hiking trails, gardens, and incredible views. Each has something a little bit different to offer so if you go, make sure you explore all of them. There were tons of places to take a nice, cool dip along the coast. We settled for a rocky area with a cave off to the left that we explored. The hiking is really what sold me on this place. I can't even begin to explain it, it's unreal. 



We hiked and ate as much as we could, wandering throughout the villages in-between. We were booth supposed to leave on a Monday, but one of the trains was delayed so we would both miss our connecting trains. Instead we settled down at the closest bar to the train station and started drinking, naturally. That night ended in me losing my phone and a whole compression pack of clothes, and a pair of boots (which I didn't even realize until I found them). Yes, after searching the next morning for a few hours - trying to retrace our steps - we found my boots underneath a table outside a bar with my phone tucked neatly into them. The bar had my sack of clothes. Lucky is an understatement. 



You can not go without eating melon and prosciutto - it is the perfect combination for those of you start drooling at the though of anything sweet and salty. I used to hate tomatoes, literally hate. But since I knew I was coming to Italy I trained these taste buds of mine to sack up. I stopped asking to have them taken out of things and gradually worked my way up to ordering plates of them while traveling.   

I bought chickpea flat-bread from a little side shop in one of the villages. Apparently it is a local specialty. It was delicious! If you find it, give it a try :)



Sunday, February 16, 2014

Europe or BUST

I decided in 2011 that I wanted to finish my last semester of undergrad doing my Student Teaching Internship in England instead of at home in Vegas. My last semester of school wasn't until Fall 2013. I had lots of time to dream. 

Originally I planned on spending the summer prior teaching English in Italian summer camps, but the program fell through less than a month before I was planning on arriving. The economy there was in the decline and there wasn't enough enrollment to give me a job. I wasn't just NOT going to get on the plane, but I had been counting on the money I would have made working. I went from having 6 weeks paid with accommodation funding my 6 weeks frivolous travel to having nearly 3 months in Europe with practically no money. I knew I had to get creative.

Google led me to plenty of blogs that got my creative juices flowing on how I could make my trip work with very little planning. (If I can remember the specific blogs I checked out, I will link them!) 

My Couchsurfing and workaway profiles went up almost simultaneously and emails were being sent around the world at the speed of lightening. I looked at a map of Europe about 75% of the time my eyes were open and my mind rarely strayed from the subject. Within a week I had a rough outline (and I mean ROUGH) of where I wanted to be and when. 



When I finally returned home I came across my rough draft while cleaning and thought it would be fun to go over the plans (with orange pen) with where I had actually ended up being. Being flexible allowed me to tailor my trip as I went along. I loved not feeling confined by plans. 

I traveled alone the majority of the time, only meeting up with friends every so often. By no means did I ever feel truly alone. There was always someone, or something to keep me company. Hostel roommates, strangers, store clerks. People watching, park dwellings, and cemetery wandering were a few of my favorite pastimes. 

Couchsurfing was a savior! I am going to get into way more detail about this online wonderland of international friends in a separate blog post, eventually. There is no easier way to make new friends and experience local culture. 

For the beginning of my summer I found a host through workaway.info (which will also get its own blog post, respectively). I lived in a little Italian village for a few weeks and took care of some kids in exchange for accommodation and a stalked fridge. Thinking about these first few weeks of my trip brings back such fond, humbling memories. 


View of Bagni di Lucca from Montefegatesi - Italy

Then I partied my way through Portugal and Spain with friends. A LOT of friends. 10 of us in the group total. There were a lot of lessons learned on this portion of the adventure. 

Mallorca, Spain

I took some down time with a friend who lives in Germany. He is stationed with the army in Kaiserslautern. Wine festivals were plentiful and we went to Nature One, a music festival where we camped and partied and got pleasantly rained on. 



Burg Litchenberg Castle, Kusel - Germany

Spent a whole 16 hours in Zurich because a friend and I decided last minute to take a seven hour train to Switzerland for the Street Parade. We had nowhere to stay and no money to afford anything in Zurich (McDonalds was even out of our price range), but our hopes remained high! Plus, neither of us saw the harm in sleeping at the train station if it provided necessary. Which it did. I wish I had photos of us curled up along the lockers along with hundreds of other parade-goers who had the same carelessness. 

I made my way slowly but surely through Germany, peaking over to Austria and Amsterdam. I had a pit stop in Paris on my way back down to Spain (I HAD to go back), where I couch surfed and bathed in tomatoes. 



Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Paris, France

And then to my host family in Sheffield, England. I lived there for three months while teaching 9 year olds about King Henry VIII and the metric system. Money at this point was dwindling, so the amount that I would have liked to travel England was minimal - but it just made Sheffield feel that much more like a home away from home. 


Ecclesall Woods, Sheffield - England
Manchester, Durham, and Liverpool were lucky enough to enjoy my presence. Scotland got a big dose of me as well. I took a tour from Edinburgh through the Highlands to the Isle of Skye for my half term break. It was literally magical. 


Sligachan, Scotland

Our tour guide told us this river contains Faerie magic. Upon sticking our faces in the water for 10 seconds, we would be granted the blessing of not aging for a year! 
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And there you have a very condensed summary of what my 6 months in Europe looked like. It's crazy to think about all that time, all the things I did and people I met, summed up in one blog post. 

Hopefully I will have more in depth accounts of my experiences abroad, as well as advice and tips and resources and anything else I can think of to flood this blog with and occupy my time. 


Might as well...

Give it a try, right? 

I just got back from spending 6 months abroad, living my (and apparently everyone else's) dream. I was WAY too preoccupied with uhh, I don't know... traveling the world... to worry about keeping anyone at the home front up to date about my 5 W's (and sometimes how). Unless you count Instagram posts a few times a week. Which my mom didn't. 

I wasn't bothered. I was on the other side of the world doing MY own thing. I didn't keep anyone updated and I was clueless as to what was going on back home.

Now that I'm back home I realize how out of the  l o o p  I was (and still am). It makes it easy for me to jump right into another adventure, not having anything holding me down. As the ever so popular inspirational text over scenic image on your favorite social media site goes, "No reason to stay is a good reason to go". RIGHT? 

But I feel guilty. There are a lot of people in Vegas that I love to the moon and back, people that I assume have a slight concern invested in my whereabouts and well-being. 

So for these people (however few they may be) and for fellow traveling addicts, I am going to give this blog thing a try. Might as well xxEllie

 The Overlook - Zion National Park, Utah, USA - February 2014