Category Archives: Italy

TMB, Days 7-8

Day 7 – Val Ferret to La Fouly: This was the coldest and windiest day. I put on my Under Armour cold gear, a beanie and wool gloves before we set off down to Arp Nouva and then on a steep climb up across the Grand Col Ferret (2537m). The moon was still out in the morning.

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The one thing that kept me going through the cold winds was the promise of an Italian hot chocolate at Rifugio Elena (2061m), a refuge where we would take a break to thaw out. An Italian hot chocolate is much thicker in consistency, almost like the chocolate you dip Spanish-style churros into but, a little more liquidy that it’s drinkable.

After about 1-2 hours, we finally reached the refuge. HAAAAALLELUJAH! HAAAAALLELUJAH! HALLELUJAH! HALLELUJAH! HALLEEEEE-LU-JAH! And, guess what? Yup, it was the best damn hot chocolate I ever tasted. My body felt frozen and my nose was a leaky faucet so, the first sip of freshly made hot chocolate felt like a revival. It was also the last chance we could drink an Italian hot chocolate before we headed down to Switzerland. Every last drop was savored to the very maximum.

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The view of the glacier was spectacular. Clare admitted that we were the fastest group of hikers she’s ever led so, even with Nabeel stopping to smell the roses, we were usually ahead of schedule. Whoop. Whoop.

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Before descending into Switzerland and into the hamlet of Ferret (1705m), we stopped for our lunch break. The refuge we stayed at the night before sold lunch so, most of us bought from there out of convenience, meaning we didn’t have much choice. We thought it sounded like a good deal when we heard we were getting 2 ham & cheese sandwiches (or 2 cheese if you were vegetarian) for I think EUR 4-5. But, when they gave us the packed lunches, we saw that it consisted of bread that was slightly larger than your palm and about one slice each of ham and cheese per sandwich.

As we sat here, the wind was at its strongest and our need to keep our frozen fingers inside our pockets trumped our need to address our hunger. We quickly ate whatever we could manage and began to make our way down. There was another group huddled here for lunch who actually opened up a bottle of wine and poured them into cups for each person. I guess that could’ve kept them a little warmer although I think some whiskey or vodka would’ve done a much better job.

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Wasim: “Hey guys! I have another group photo idea! How about 6 of us line up on one side of the path and the other 6 line up on the opposite side, the 2 lines parallel, and we all hold up our hiking poles like this…with one pole touching the pole on the opposite side, creating an arch?”

No one even turned to look at him or even commented or laughed out of sheer courtesy. No one reacted in the least bit. Everyone just kept on walking.

Wasim: “Guys?”

Silence.

We eventually made it to another refuge, La Peule, for a break and since we were now in Switzerland, Clare suggested that we try this soda called Rivella. Apparently, there’s an ingredient in it that none of us would guess but, Clare wouldn’t reveal it until we tried. So, a few of us tried it at the refuge. It tasted kind of like Red Bull..or kind of like Inca Cola in Peru. Not something I’d ever really crave. So, what was this mysterious ingredient? Milk whey. Hm.

Finally, we made it to La Fouly where we were to stay for the night at the Auberge des Glaciers. La Fouly is a very small ski village and at the time we were there, 90% was closed down/vacant. We did our usual pick a bunk, drop off our stuff and run for the shower bit. These showers were great since there was an actual knob (not a button you had to press every few minutes) and the hot water never ran out. However, the 2 showers on the main floor were in the same small bathroom, meaning 2 people had to shower at the same time with a good chance of seeing each other naked or, 1 person showered at a time but at the expense of creating a longer wait time for others. Luckily, the couples and the girls went together. We later found out that there were more showers downstairs.

After the bodily cleansing came the grocery shopping for the next day’s lunch. We hit up the small grocery shop underneath the auberge (the only food mart open in town) and picked our usual spread. Once my eyes laid upon the buckets of Haribo gummy candy, I grabbed a plastic bag, a set of tongs and went to town. Then, one by one, we all lined up at the cash register and paid for our things. All of us had some sort of bread, cheese, meat and bag of junk food.

Yuko and I walked out of the grocery store together, and our hands went into our respective bags and pulled out the gummy candy simultaneously. We looked at each other to talk about something but, as we caught each other eagerly pulling out the candy, we pointed to each other and broke out into laughter. “You, too??” Nothing can stand between us and a bag of Haribo.

With all our duties completed, all we had left to do was drink in the lounge, eat dinner and drink some more. This night, other than me, Yuko and Nabeel, Jackie and David also stayed up. In our drunken stupor we talked about our past and gossiped about the present. Jackie and David told us how they met and finally got together and, although I don’t remember the details, I remember it being one of the cutest stories. When he first pursued her, he had sent over flowers to her house and she responded with something like “Thanks but, I’m not looking for a boyfriend right now. I’m quite happy with where my life is and I’m concentrating on my sports activities.” And, so she did. And, they finally started dating maybe a year or two later. What’s meant to be will be. (Photo credit for the above 2 photos: Nabeel)

Estimated Hiking Time: 8hr
Approximate Distance Hiked: 20 km
Elevation: Start 2025m; Highest 2537m; Finish 1456m

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Day 8 – La Fouly to Trient: In the morning, we actually rode a bus through the Swiss Val Ferret, through small cute towns and the gorgeous countryside, until we reached the lakeside town of Champex. The ride was about 30 glorious minutes. We took a coffee/hot chocolate break before continuing on our hike.

Clare: “If you guys want to pick up some more food or snacks, there’s a boulangerie up the block.”

Nabeel: “Is someone doing laundry here?”
Me: “Um, what are you talking about?”
Nabeel: “Didn’t Clare just say something about laundry?”
Wasim: “I think she said ‘lingerie’?”
Me: “I have no idea what you guys are talking about.”

We walked up the block.

Clare: “So, here’s the boulangerie. Last chance to get something.”
Nabeel & Wasim: “Ohhhh, ‘boulangerie’!”

Yep.

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We took the Bovine Way, an old path that was used to access the cow pastures high above the valley, and passed the Col de la Forclaz (1526m).

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The Bovine Way living up to its name. Moo. Moo. Moo. And, moo. Moo? (Photo credit: Nabeel)

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I loved lunchtime. We stopped at another refuge which was closed for the season but, had picnic tables with an awesome view of the massif and…a cross. When we arrived, a British group of hikers laid out on the tabletops of the other picnic tables, one to each person, and took a nap in the warm sun. The sun felt so, so nice.

We set off after lunch toward Trient (1297m) where we were to stay for the night. We hiked another 2 or so hours before we reached a small town where we stopped for drinks. Some of us thought we already reached Trient and so, the panaché that some of us drank felt extra refreshing. Unfortunately, we were still another hour or two away from our final destination.

Aline and Ellen stopped at a small souvenir shop to browse around. Upon seeing the cashier, they both said “Bonjour!” out of courtesy, albeit with an American accent. The cashier was one of the grumpy kind and insulted both of them for saying the greeting incorrectly. The man did not get any business from us.

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Soon enough, Nabeel wasn’t the only one lagging behind. It was also me, Yuko and Alex. A bull had gone rogue and was running away from the herd with the farmer and his wife running after him. The 4 of us watched with the greatest amusement and I secretly was rooting for the bull. It ran down the hill, then up another, and the farmer/wife were panting with exhaustion. Eventually, the bull realized it had nowhere to go and it slowed down enough for the farmer to catch up to it. You can’t hate him for trying.

We reached Trient (above) and stayed overnight at the Auberge du Mont-Blanc.

Estimated Hiking Time: 8hr
Approximate Distance Hiked: 16 km
Elevation: Start 1466m; Highest 1987m; Finish 1297m

TMB, Day 6

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Day 6 – Courmayeur to Val Ferret: We went into town after breakfast to buy/pack lunch for the day – a bread roll from a bakery, a small block of blue cheese, sausage link, sun-dried tomatoes, a slightly pickled portobello mushroom and peaches. Although I was sad to leave our little luxury, this day of hiking was one of my favorite and no, not just because it entailed flatter paths and was a shorter day but also because it was one of the most scenic and the weather was warm and breezy. Above is a view of Courmayeur as we ascended into the mountains.

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You can see us becoming more of a family. I mean, after bunking together in the same room, hiking together for 8 hours a day and doing everything else together except bathroom activities, how could you not? We continued along below the Mont de la Saxe and the balcony path facing the ridge of the Grandes Jorasses.

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Our view at lunch was unreal. It’s an amazing feeling to sit on the grass, face the mountains and eat local foods made with almost no preservatives or unpronounceable chemicals. I quickly realized that the grass housed a lot more grasshoppers than I was comfortable with (meaning none) but, Yuko, who loved playing with bugs and nature as a little girl, picked one up and placed it on her hand for everyone to see. The grasshopper was unusually calm and probably developed a momentary trust for humankind. Upon closer inspection, it looked like a toy replica and was actually really beautiful.

Before I discovered the continuous shooting function on my camera, we took jumping photos based only on human finger clicking speed…leading to the above failure of a photo. Flo, Yuko and me.

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We stopped for a bit to pick some berries and Clare pointed up to the mountains (above) to point out a small red cabin.

Me: “Where??”
Clare: “I apologize for explaining it this way but…you see those two testicles up there [and the penis]? If you look closely at the left testicle, the small red cabin is perched up there.”

I grabbed her binoculars, found my way to the left testicle and spotted the tiny red cabin. Who makes it up there and actually stays there for a night? Crazy people, that’s who. And maybe a mountain bear.

Alex: “Where is this cabin?”
Me: “You see the two testicles?”
Alex: “Uh-huh, oh yea, I’m looking at the testicles.”

Can you spot it? It’s literally smack (haha) in the center of the photo. If not, let me know and I’ll post a close-up.

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By the end of the day, we made it to our next lodging, the Rifugio Bonatti, overlooking the Italian Val Ferret. This refuge felt the most spacious and modern and because it was very eco-friendly, it limited the amount of hot water per shower per person. Everyone was given only one token which you inserted into a box in your shower stall that generated the hot water. I think the limit was around 10 min or around 12 liters of hot water (although I don’t remember exactly), and once the limit was met, the shower became ice cold. My strategy was:

1. Rinse body, then turn off water
2. Lather up the body wash
3. Rinse off, wet hair, then turn off water
4. Lather up the shampoo
5. Rinse off, then risk conditioning the hair
6. Let the water run until the water temperature started to cool
7. Dry off

Now that you thoroughly know my eco-friendly shower strategy, you can now live in peace as your life’s purpose has just been fulfilled. During my turn-on-turn-off phase, I heard someone shivering and breathing heavily in the next stall as she continued her shower. She should’ve asked me about my shower strategy. (Photo credit: Nabeel)

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Looking back at what we left behind was so satisfying. After we showered, drank and ate dinner, the usuals went to bed early while Nabeel, Yuko, Clare, Jackie, David and I stayed up to watch the moonrise among the stars. The night was really cold and we laid out on the benches of the wooden picnic tables outside the refuge. The moon was beautiful that night and, with our faces toward the night sky, I finally got to see a hint of the Milky Way.

Me: “Ahhh! The Milky Way!!”
Yuko: “You’re such a New Yorker.”
Me: “What do you mean?”
Yuko: “I see better views of this all the time in Australia.”

Yea, New York is lacking in some ways but, it’s still my hometown and the center of my heart (along with Madrid). I still am planning to move back abroad someday though.

As we continued to lay out on the benches, I saw a head torch moving in the distance. It was a mountain runner still running the Tor des Géants…in the pitch black darkness. I don’t know how these runners don’t trip over a rock and roll down the hills. We cheered him on as he stopped at our refuge (one of the checkpoints) to log his time and location and then continued on. I haven’t said this since maybe high school but, mad respect.

Luckily, after we got our clothes and gear washed in Courmayeur (I think we paid about EUR 5 each which is really cheap), new bug bites stopped appearing in random places and our existing ones started to slowly heal. Crisis averted!

Estimated Hiking Time: 5-7hr
Approximate Distance Hiked: 14 km – 20 km
Elevation: Start 1240m; Highest 2125m or 2500m (route dependent); Finish 2025m

TMB, Days 4-5

Day 4 – Les Chapieux to Courmayeur: This day was the “hardest and longest day of our trip,” according to the itinerary, and also the day we crossed over into Italy. We had the first half of the day to decide if, at the 20km marker, we wanted to go a little further and catch the bus to Courmayeur (our final destination) or hike another 8km (half going extreme uphill and half going extreme downhill) to our final destination, weather permitting. Guess which one I chose despite my shaky willpower and sore knees? Yea, there’s no feeling bad for me.

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We set off in the morning with our warm baguettes and croissants, as modeled by Alex above. The storm had passed and the sky began to clear. The croissant break came after about an hour of hiking and I really felt like I was in France. We then passed by glaciers before reaching the border of Italy at the Col de la Seigne (2516m).

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I looked one way towards France and turned my head the other way to look towards Italy. I took in a deep breath and breathed out, “Wow, Italy…

…looks just like France.”

Ha, ha.

After we crossed the border, we went from saying “Bonjour!” to “Buongiorno!” to the passing hikers.

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We ate lunch by a stream and this was probably the most memorable lunch I’ve had. The goat cheese and apricot jam was such a tasty combination that I offered it to the others and Nabeel, the only one who tried it, kept sneaking his bread into the jam jar and sneaking in bits of cheese.

Thirty minutes later, we had to get going. We were quickly reaching the break-off point where I would need to ultimately decide if I wanted to torture myself…I mean take the amazing journey over Mont Favre Spur (2430m) to the Col Checrouit for another 4 hours or, take the very last bus to Courmayeur. Lucky for us, it was the last day of the season for the bus to operate at more frequent times. That was another theme to our trip – that we’d always get lucky with getting things on the very last day that it was offered. At a later day, we hit up a small grocery shop (the only one in the general area) to buy our lunch and we realized that it was the last day it was open.

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Clare: “Whoever wants to do the extra 8km, raise your hand.”

Wasim. Yuko. Nabeel. Me.

I rose my hand without even thinking about it and I felt like I was having an outer body experience, where I was watching myself raise my hand and wondering why it felt like it was done out of my control. I guess the larger part of me reasoned that this was a once in a lifetime experience and if I had made it this far, what’s an extra 8km? Also, the sun struggled to peak here and there through the clouds and it seemed like we successfully escaped more rain.

As the 4 of us rose our hands, I was surprised that more didn’t. Ellen and Aline, the 2 girls from California, were the youngest of the group and always at the front of the line and even they didn’t want to do the extra 8km. The honeymoon couple from Canada were also fast hikers and they declined. I think that rattled me a little bit. I wondered if I could handle it after all.

We parted ways. The first of the 2 above photos was our view of the others walking towards the bus, and the second [bottom] photo was their view of us making the ascent. A few steps up, I was teetering between ambition and slight regret.

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Reaching the top was _ – FREAKIN – _ _ _ _ _ _ . Let’s play a round of hangman. Hint: I write this word in almost every sentence on this blog, it starts with an “a” and rhymes with craving. The clouds rolled in and we barely caught a glimpse of Mont Blanc’s peak but, I felt such a sense of accomplishment that it didn’t matter. We ran into a group of French coworkers who regularly go on hiking trips together. They looked like they made it up the steep inclines with no difficulty and were sitting there relaxed, snacking and passing around a flask. I, on the other hand, was fanning myself despite the large growing sweat stain on my back. We asked them to take a photo of us and after returning the favor, they insisted that we take a swig from their flask. Yuko and I were the only ones to try and while they all watched in anticipation, our faces slowly distorted as the burn went down our throats and lingered for minutes after that. It was some apple schnapps…the strongest I’ve ever tasted. They all broke out into laughter with our reactions but, I must say, I felt warm and cuddly right after it. Hug, anyone?

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On the descent, we encountered a rainbow and everything was great. It started to drizzle shortly after and I still felt great. And then, it began to rain harder. We stopped on the path and quickly put on our waterproof pants, jacket and bag covers. Wasim had put on a rain poncho that went over him and his backpack which made him look like Quasimodo or…a moving boulder. Of course, when we put on our rain gear, the rain gradually went back to a drizzle. And, as it became too hot and we started to shed some of the rain gear, it rained harder. We kept teasing Wasim that it was his fault and that he should never take off his Quasimodo poncho or else he’ll displease the rain gods but really, we just liked seeing him look like Quasimodo and being oblivious to the fact that we were getting a kick out of it.

But, as it started to pour, it stayed that way and the paths became muddy and super slippery. We stopped at a lodge on the way to fill up our water bottles and to munch on some snacks but, soon after that, we were back out in the rain. Clare had to take us down a longer path since the original path was too steep, muddy and dangerous. We ended up trekking down a slope which I soon realized was a ski slope without the snow. The out-of-service ski lifts towered above us as we hiked down in a zigzag pattern. With our hiking poles and the slippery grounds, it felt like we really were skiing down the slope. I slipped once and my knees, particularly the right one, were gradually becoming busted and sore. We gradually saw Courmayeur in the distance but it was still almost another hour to the destination.

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We made sure that Wasim (second from the left) posed sideways to show off that hump. (Hehe.)

We finally made it to the hotel in Dolonne, a small village next to Courmayeur, where we were supposed to stay. Unfortunately, there was a mixup with the bookings and we had been moved to a sister hotel that was a short drive (or another 30-40 min walk) away. Our dinner reservations were still in this hotel and we had about an hour until it was time. There was no use in checking into the other hotel and coming back so, we decided that we could just spend time at the bar in our grime and dried sweat. A drink sounded reallllllly good at the time.

But, Clare had a talk with the hotel management and they agreed to let us all shower in the basement spa. After all, they DID screw up the hotel bookings. The guys, being gentlemen, let me and Yuko go first so, we stripped off all our wet gear and left it in the foyer to dry. We went downstairs to the spa and I may have let out a slight cry at the sight of it. It was clean and tranquil, and the hotel staff laid out fresh, clean towels for us and small bottles of shampoo, conditioner and body wash. Yuko jumped into the shower and let out a confused “uhhh” noise. The shower head turned different colors throughout your shower and it felt as if you were in a rave. I didn’t know what the changing colors was supposed to achieve but, the joy of being in a shower alone made me feel like I was in a euphoric state, laser lights and all. It felt so good to put on dry clothes afterwards and we went back upstairs with looks on our faces as if we had really great sex.

As the guys went downstairs to take their showers, Yuko and I situated ourselves at the bar and ordered glasses of Prosecco. I remember proclaiming that the particular glass of Prosecco that I was drinking was the best glass of Prosecco I’ve ever had. Maybe it was the 4 hours of extra hiking in the pouring rain or the glorious shower that I just had but, I’ve never had a more refreshing drink ever in my life (this is probably a lie but, this is exactly how I remember the moment). We fell into a nice buzz and the rest of our group started to trickle in from roaming around the town or taking a break at our actual hotel. All of them asked us how the extra 4 hours went, and all I could say was “I don’t know what your experience would’ve been like but, for me, IT WAS SO WORTH IT.” I could tell that some of them felt a tinge of wonder and/or regret.

We were finally seated at our dinner table and we ordered pitchers of table red wine. Table wine in Europe is delicious. The courses came out and I fell deeper and deeper into a nice drunken stupor and all I could think was “I am soooo happy right now,” and I wished the moment would last forever. But, all good things come to an end. And, new ones begin.

Given that our actual hotel was a sister hotel, the hotel staff in Dolonne gave us a ride to the other one, La Grange in Entrèves. Before we trickled to our hotel rooms (yes! actual hotel rooms! with its own showers!), we all agreed to come back down to the hotel lobby for some more drinks. Only Yuko, Nabeel and I showed up. The people who hiked the extra 8km for 4 extra hours. We ordered another bottle of wine and my favorite night continued on as we began talking about love and failed relationships. Yuko and I had gotten out of failed serious relationships because the guy couldn’t commit. Nabeel, to our surprise, had already been married for 9 years to a Chinese girl. The root of our surprise was that he got married around 22 – 23 years of age which, in these days, is pretty young.

Yuko and I: “Why did you decide to get married so young?”
Nabeel: “Because the love was pure and we wanted to get married before we started to overanalyze about the practicalities.”

The best answer anyone could give. I think I almost teared up over his answer. Me, the once robotic, reserved Asian girl who broke out of her shell during a relationship with a Spaniard. I think both Yuko and I were in awe over the sheer simplicity of his response. And then, we began talking to our bartender, a big gray-haired teddy bear of an Italian man who was also the hotel keeper at night.

Yuko and I: “So, Gianni, what is love?”
Gianni (in his thick Italian accent): “Lov-uh…lov-uh…it’s seemple.”
Me: “But…”
Gianni: “No ‘but.’ Lov-uh is seemple.”

This is probably the first time I met guys who gave the most sincere, non-bullshit answers about love. Gianni, who is in his 50s, then went on to say that he didn’t get married (for the first time) until a few years back. It’s never too late to find love. And, once you find it, it’s never too late to find it again should you lose it. What better way to live life than to keep loving? And what better way to end the night than free shots of genepy? We also got to meet Gianni’s wife who also worked at the hotel and his family who was visiting from Sardinia one of whom was his adorable niece Clara. She was maybe in the third grade and shy at first but, once she warmed up to you, she became a motor mouth. We all felt like family.

As it became late, we all parted ways and went back to our rooms. Yuko and I were put together in the same room so, we went back and began snacking on whatever rations of food we had leftover from lunch and giggled as we gossiped like high school girls. It felt refreshing, haha.

Estimated Hiking Time: 8hr

Approximate Distance Hiked: 28 km

Elevation: Start 1789m; Highest 2516m; Finish 1240m

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Day 5 – REST DAY in Courmayeur: We were pretty much free to do whatever we wanted. After dropping off 90% of our stuff at the laundromat (especially those of us who got the mysterious bug bites from the first refuge), half of us, me included, decided to hit up the luxurious spa, the QC Terme in Pré Saint Didier, with its thermal baths and massage treatments. This was simply HEAVENLY!!! There were multiple bubbly thermal baths outdoors with a view of Mont Blanc or, rather, Monte Bianco since we were in Italy. There were small waterfalls which you stood underneath and had the falling waters massage your shoulders, saunas both indoors and outdoors, outdoor lounge chairs and many more options indoors…a quiet thermal bath where you lay on floating noodles and kept half your head (particularly your ears) underwater and heard the vibrations of classical music and were surrounded by changing colors under the water, a room where strong bursts of water just hit you from all sides (think of a 360 spray tan for Ross), ice baths, nap rooms, etc. etc. and lastly, massage rooms.

A better photo with outdoor baths…

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After we all checked in, most of us parted ways. Nabeel and Alex separated but, Aline and Ellen stuck together for half the time while Yuko and I partnered together for most of the time. It felt great to relax but, it was also a tease since we were only halfway through the hiking. Either way, I’ll take whatever spa comes my way.

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Nabeel, Alex, Yuko and I decided to book massages as well.

Alex: “Um, they made us wear these disposable thongs! I’ve never experienced that before… I actually saved it so that I can show people.”

This obviously wasn’t a big deal for me and Yuko since thongs are a natural occurrence of life. What wasn’t a natural occurrence was that the male masseuse literally had his hands at the edge of inappropriateness that it might as well have been sex. I did fall asleep at the end.

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We took a bus from the main square in Pré Saint Didier to the city center of Courmayeur (again, we caught the buses on the last day of its more frequent schedule) and ran into a crowd of people waiting at the endpoint of the Tor des Géants, an endurance race involving trail runners running through the Aosta Valley. I don’t know how these people manage to run through the rocky paths and steep descents for several days but, as they passed by, they smelled pretty bad.

Looking up at the above photo, our hair actually looked silky smooth and well-groomed and our faces super relaxed. We grabbed a quick coffee before catching the next bus to our hotel and roamed around the small city center for postcards, souvenirs and, for me, knee support at the pharmacy.

Tip: For the bus from Pré Saint Didier, there was a tourist center in that main square where you could ask for the schedule. The bus stopped right at that square and I think the direction marked on the bus said “Courmayeur” (I don’t remember exact details). The bus from the Courmayeur city center to our hotel in Entrèves (direction: La Palud, I think) was also in a main bus stop area with an office where you could purchase the bus tickets and ask about the schedule. The bus rides were only a few euros and maybe 10-15 min long each.

When we got back to our hotel, we met up with the rest of the group to grab dinner at Ristorante La Palud which was about a 10 min walking distance away. The pizza and pasta were both so delicious and I was sad to realize that it was our last night in Courmayeur and our last night “living it up.” Later that night, the others tried to stay up for late night drinks at the hotel bar but, alas, it ended with me, Yuko and Nabeel. It was only fitting since we had one last bonding session with Gianni. When everyone went to bed, Yuko, Nabeel, Clare, Gianni and I went outside to watch the moonrise. It was truly magical.

Project Wild Spirit

Milan, Italy

Kat arrived a few days earlier to explore Lake Como and, of course, to warm up the full-size bed that I would later be sharing with her. Wink wink. Kidding.

Whenever people ask me about Milan, I always say to skip it. Three years earlier, the duomo was covered in scaffolding. Our wallets looked too pathetic to even consider walking into designer stores. And, we weren’t very well-prepared for our trip and missed all the awesome gelaterias.

On top of that, we didn’t even realize that Da Vinci’s The Last Supper was in Milan. We saw it in the guide book at the last minute, and thought, ‘hey let’s stop by and see if there are tickets.’ Um, tickets had been sold out for months and need to be reserved way in advance. So, we tried sneaking in with Japanese tour groups. When that didn’t work, Jenn kept insisting to the ticket booth lady that we made reservations but obviously, she didn’t believe us. Shady? Nahh.

This time, when I met up with Kat at the hotel, she already had the gelaterias listed out (e.g. Rivareno) and the confirmation for The Last Supper tickets printed. She is the master planner fo sho!

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First stop, The Last Supper. Usually I like to sneak in an illegal photo (no flash, of course), but the room was too heavily guarded. So, I spent my time just taking in the history, afraid that my breaths of air would somehow increase its fragility.

Second stop, the duomo. The rooftop is simply amazing, or rather, complexly amazing? It boggles my mind how some people are just so creative with designing architecture, let alone constructing it. W-o-w.

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I ended up missing the panzerotti at Luini because it closed by the time I went. They basically look like empanadas filled with deliciousness or, what you wished hot pockets were like . If you’re in Milan (which I think is worth visiting now), please eat two (or more) for me 🙁

And then, we were off to meet Jackie and Jason at the airport to catch our flight to…

Palermo, Sicily (Italy)

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…and met up with Paul at the hotel in Palermo.

Paul: “Was your flight light?”

At least that’s what I swore he said in his Aussie accent. I’m thinking, “huh you mean ‘light’ as in the opposite of heavy?” Idiot.

Paul: “Was your flight late?”

I was always bad at deciphering accents. Back in high school, I volunteered at my dad’s hospital which had many, many thick-accented Russian, Indian and Southeast Asian doctors. You have no idea how many times someone hung up on me (or I hung up on them, or hid in the nearby bathroom at the sound of the phone ringing) because I kept asking “What did you say again? Excuse me?” Hm, bad memories.

Palermo looked beautiful as a landscape seen from the hotel rooftop, but when walking through the alleyways, you realize that the city is quite slummy. Paul was in the city a day or two earlier, and met a Norwegian guy whose name I forgot and whose university and major I forgot. His name might’ve been Peter and he was specializing in something regarding brain mechanisms. We invited him to dinner and drinks, and I now regret not taking down his info.

35_Mercedes A Class

We rented a Mercedes A Class, and were worried if all our luggage would fit into the trunk. Originally, we rented a bigger car, but there was only one available and it wasn’t functioning. I figured if anything, we could tie the luggage to a bike rack, or pretend we were just married and tie them to the back like cans on a string. Luckily, it all fit 🙂

Cefalù

05_Cefalu

Driving along the coast of Sicily felt, in some ways, unreal – as if I was on the Hogwarts Express choo-ing and chugging along light blue waters and through tunnels that venture into the mountainside, en route to some place mystical.

Salina (one of the Aeolian Islands off the coast of Sicily)

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During dinner at a nearby hotel restaurant, we bumped into an American camera and production crew sitting at the table behind us. As they started to trickle out, we struck up enough small talk to find out that they were filming “Authentic Sicily,” a TV program not yet picked up by a network. My awesome googling powers (meaning typing ‘Authentic Sicily’ into google) brought up a video clip preview on facebook. Cool beans, indeed.

Next morning, we rented a dinghy for the day and drove around the island’s perimeter as the sun warmed our faces and the wind salted our hair. The water was such a beautiful blue and we decided to anchor in one area to swim. Bright pink and purple-veined clear jellyfish. Hm, maybe not. We sped to another area, and took the sight of other boats as a good indicator of safer waters.

Splash. Jumping into the water felt equivalent to drinking freshly squeezed lemonade on a hot summer suburban day.

“By the way, you probably don’t want to swim near me. You might feel something warm.”

Stromboli (a neighboring Aeolian Island)

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It must’ve been fate or something to have met the Norwegian guy in Palermo. He had done the three-hour climb up to the volcano’s craters to see the eruptions, and strongly recommended that we do it. Jackie and Jason decided to stay on the dinghy around Salina, while Paul, Kat and I explored our adventurous side on Stromboli.

First, we were worried that we didn’t have the proper footwear to go climbing. I decided to stick it out in my Old Navy flats, while Kat went out and shopped for a cheap pair of sneakers. Paul already had his own pair. Turns out, neither of the three of us had the proper footwear, and luckily, there were hiking shoe rental shops at the base of the volcano.

27_hike   23_hike

The climb felt amazing, and…perspiratory. Kat was behind me, and gratefully decided not to tell me until the next day that I had sweat marks on my butt. Did I secretly pee in my shorts, or was I really sweating? You will never know.

Okay, it really was sweat.

The beginning of the climb was through greens and vegetation. Then it became treacherous-looking rocks. At times, the climb seemed like neverending rock after rock. Then I would look back to see the neverending sea. Ah.

Finally, we reached the craters, and saw the eruptions against the quickly sunsetting sky. Fifteen minutes later, we walked over a bit closer, and saw the eruptions against the dark night sky. Unreal. The next twenty minutes or so, all you saw were bursting lava, glowing ashes and flashing lights.

37_eruption

It was time to go downhill.

“Everyone, turn on your flashlights.”

It was pitch black, except for the stars and one or two boats in the distance. Never have I seen a dark sky speckled with so many stars. This definitely surpassed the starry sky during the Inca Trail in Peru. All I wanted to do was lie down, back against the ground, and just stare.

The going downhill side of the volcano was pure volcanic sand. We were slip sliding down for about an hour or two, and no matter how high your socks were, sand somehow got inside them. Though thigh-trembling, the sliding was unbelievably fun. My helmet flashlight was so flimsy at times, I thought I was sliding into a black hole.

We stopped midway, so that the second half of the group could catch up to the first half.

Guide: “All the children should go to the front of the line. Both of you, get to the front of the line.”

He pointed at me and Kat. HUH? Little did he know that we were actually in our mid-20’s. We listened anyway and laughed in disbelief.

We finally reached the bottom, returned our gear and took the hour-long midnight boat back to Salina. We drove off in the inflatable motor boat into the pitch black sea. The neighboring island was miles away, and we were left with nothing but the light from the stars. I looked onward into darkness, looked over the edge to see black waters, disturbed by our passage, then looked up to see the night sky, overflowing with stars. I reached out my hand, thinking I could touch them. It felt like an indoor Disney World ride. Magical. I had to remember to breathe because I was in complete awe. I tried to blink away the surreal, but it was real. I was happy.

Next thing I know, I woke up to my head dangling, as we docked into Salina.

Taormina (back to the mainland of Sicily)

10_view from Piazza IX Aprile

On the spiraling drive up the hill, we caught a glimpse of Isola Bella in bright sunshine. It caught my breath because it reminded me of a dream I had. I don’t know how else to describe it except that it looked like an island that could’ve been in Lothlórien (completely geeky Lord of the Rings movie reference). Maybe it was the hazy lighting or, the unusual brightness of turquoise that surrounded the verdant island, which had a connecting path to the mainland half-engulfed by sea water. I was too mesmerized to remember to take out my camera at that moment, so it shall remain fantastical in my memory.

We grabbed lunch in town, visited Teatro Greco, and took a cable car down to the shore to cool off in the sea. On our way back to the hotel, we didn’t realize there was a bus and, instead, walked along the uphill spiral road for about forty minutes. Chances of getting hit by a car were, um, pretty high. The positive? Buns and thighs of steel.

Catania, Piazza Armerina and Caltagirone

03_Gambino winery

Wine tasting for breakfast at the Gambino Vineyard in the town of Linguaglossa, Catania. Sweeeet. This led to a really nice sleep in the back seat of the car. Having little to no driving experience can have its perks.

18_Piazza Armerina

Nearby Piazza Armerina, we stopped by the Villa Romana del Casale – a wealthy person’s villa with mosaic flooring that had been restored after a long forgotten landslide. We stood near a tour group whose guide spilled water onto the tiles to show them better color clarity. We were impressed and tried to do the same, but with saliva. Classy.

On the drive over to Caltagirone, there was a panoramic view of Piazza Armerina with houses built upon houses like Lego’s. It was quite the beautiful site along a local road.

30_Scalinata di Santa Maria del Monte   34_Scalinata di Santa Maria del Monte

Candles were strategically placed along this long staircase in Caltagirone, a city known for its pottery and ceramics. Looking up, you see the ceramic artistry. Looking down, you see normal concrete stairs. The candles lit up on Fridays. It was a Thursday.

20_Caltagirone

On the drive to Syracuse, we squeezed through the narrowest street with cars parked on both sides. One parked car forgot to fold in their left side view mirror. Next thing you know, we’re driving through and POP! I looked back to see a sad dangling mirror, like an eye out of its socket hanging on by the optic nerve. We felt incredibly bad, but what could we do – stand there and wait for the owner? Leave fifty euros underneath the windshield wiper? So, we continued to drive in guilt. I guess karma hit when we got lost for a couple of hours on roads lit up only by our own headlights.

Syracuse

08_Piazza del Duomo

I love fresh produce and local food. Restaurants are great but, it gets tiring and expensive. So, we rejoiced and clicked our heels in the air a la Einstein at the sight of a street market. A vendor let us sample a locally grown peach that was the sweetest and juiciest peach to ever grace my taste buds. The meat and cheese were also drool-worthy. This is what I imagine the food of the gods to taste like. On top of that, we found watermelon granita. SO DELICIOUS!

28_Teatro Greco   34_the ear

We visited yet another Teatro Greco and became super crispy from the sun’s rays. Luckily, there were stands selling freshly squeezed orange and lemon granita. Serious thirst quencher. We then walked into Dionysus’ Ear, a huge cave and former abode for prisoners, and took advantage of its echoing ability.

“Please sir, may I have some more?”

“MORE?!?!?!” (more, more, more…)

Before flying out of Sicily, I made sure to eat a cannoli at i dolci di Nonna Vincenza. Normally, I’m not a huge fan since they’re way too sweet but, this one was soooo good :9

Mykonos, Greece

65_Mykonos town   77_Mykonos town

I felt like I walked into a large vanilla frosted cake, and we all know that I. love. cake. and vanilla. I salivated as I imagined myself biting into the walls, until it dawned on me that in reality, it would break my teeth. Hm.

Embedded throughout the labyrinth of white and blue alleyways were stores selling vibrant summer dresses, brightly beaded leather sandals and sparkly jewelry. We considered buying some but the price tags were displaying 80-100+ euros, while the clothing tags revealed “Made in China.”

59_Mykonos town

Dropping off our luggage at the hotel, we went straight for Panormos Beach, without a care in the world. Sun, sand and time to actually enjoy them. Why can’t real life be this way?

12_ass tapper   47_loukoumades

Post-beach: infinity pool. We were having our fun, taking advantage of the many photo op’s.

[Enter: little German boy]

He and his father, in little speedo and big speedo, respectively, come into the pool. We strike up friendly conversation with the father, switching where-we’re-from’s and vacation details. The little boy starts throwing around a plastic bag and fetching after it. I thought I’d bring on the fun and throw around the plastic bag for him to the other side of the pool. Not a good idea. He starts following me around the pool, obnoxiously spitting water. It came to a point where I needed to leave the pool to get some peace.

-tap-tap-

Um, did I just feel that on my ass? Yup. Little German boy tap-tapped me on the cheek. I turn away in slight shock. Tap tap. Except this time, I turn around to see him, his back towards me, pulling down his little speedo to reveal a white moon.

His father kind of scolded him at first, then proceeded to blame us for egging him on.

“Just don’t give him any attention, then he’ll stop bothering you!”

Nope, that didn’t work either. Eventually, the father had to pull his son away. Yea, paying him no attention sure did us a lot of good. Ha.

33_atv

We ate at Caprice for dinner, and although I remember the food being good, the only thing I remember being spectacular were the loukoumades. Fried spherical goodness, crunchy on the outside and doughy on the inside, drizzled in honey and cinnamon. Mmm…

Stuffed with food, it was time to go pah tee at Cavo Paradiso. 2am, barely any people. 5am, tired. We left just as the party was getting started. The Europeans have a completely different party schedule than the Americans, that’s for sure. (Or maybe we’re just getting old…)

Next day’s plan: rent ATV’s, grab Jimmy’s gyros and go beach hopping. Though in fear, I drove the ATV with Kat sitting behind me. It felt like Mario Kart. I have a driver’s license, but something about motorized vehicles does not register with the synapses in my brain. I will surviveeee. I survived!

43_Kalafatis Beach   54_Elia Beach

First stop – Kalafatis Beach.

Jason: “The water is so clean, and it’s so turquoise! Wow, the water is so clean. It’s really turquoise. Hey, look, the water is very clean!”

Yes, we had you at the first sentence.

Pit stop: loukoumades and water break

Second stop – Elia Beach.

A good two-beach hopping day. It may seem lame that we hit up only two, but it was more than enough sun exposure to my increasingly itching-to-peel skin.

Santorini

063_donkey ride

We walked along the edge of the island towards Fira, where we caught a boat ride to a nearby dormant volcano. Stromboli puts this one to shame, a million times over.

On the boat ride back, we stopped at a hot springs on some remote shore. The boats anchored a distance away, and everyone had to jump into the waters and swim to the muddy hot springs. Jump. Shock of cold water. Ack! One girl jumped in, realized how far of a swim she had to do, freaked out, cried and had her boyfriend help swim her back to the boat. I went on from shocking cold to lukewarm and found my footing on squishy mud-clay floors. One guy was innocently standing when he suddenly felt something swish between his calves. Perhaps an eel. -shivers-

The mud is supposed to be good for your skin. Upon hearing that, everyone proceeded to rub the mud in every nook and cranny of their bodies and pose sexually in front of cameras. These people were far from sexy.

Back at Fira, we met Eeyore and friends for an enjoyable (and crappy-smelling) donkey ride. He later thanked me by inadvertently whacking me in the face with his tail. His rear weaponry looked deceivingly soft.

101_Oia

111_Oia

Sunset

at
Oia.

The narrow alleyways were stuffed with people trying to squish in for a better view of the sunset over the sea. The second the sun dipped into the water, the entire audience applauded.

It felt oddly unifying.

133_Perivolos Beach   145_Red Beach

The black sands of Perivolos Beach seared my feet and forced monkey noises out of me [ah ee oo ah]. The maroon pebbles of Red Beach, on the other hand, caused a different podiatric pain. Wonder if anyone ends up getting these pebbles lodged in between the butt cheeks while swimming. Ha ha…

Overall, Red Beach reminded me of a large piece of red velvet cake. (By the way, this is my second reference to cake when describing the islands of Greece. Yum.)

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My group photo plug.

Athens

25_Acropolis

20_Parthenon

Sadly, this city tops the cake (haha) as one of the most boring cities I’ve ever visited thus far. Frankfurt is first. Regardless, I was sad to leave. Departing from Europe is never an easy thing.

Italia

I think it’s fate that empire waists and oversized, loosely flowing tops are in style now. Otherwise, with all the food and gelato consumption involved on this trip, we would’ve been mistaken for four pregnant, Japanese tourists traveling around Italy without their babies’ daddies.

So, overall, this trip was pretty tame, minus an argument here and there with a native Italian over “where we’re REALLY from.” The nicest Italians we’ve met were from the much smaller towns. You would think Italians living in the bigger cities would be a bit more cultured, but I guess that would be hoping for too much.

I think for the first time in awhile, I was outnumbered. The attendance on this trip: one Korean, three Chinese. Or rather, one Korean-American, three Chinese-Americans, and there’s my political correctness for the day.

Venezia, Italy

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We bargained a gondola ride from 100 to 80 euros, only to end up getting ripped off with a 15 minute ride instead of the promised half hour. But I figured I’d enjoy the ride, no matter how brief…

…until I felt something sudden and heavy on my head. I couldn’t deny the smell. If I could really have my vengeance, I’d poop on a pigeon and see how it would feel. But I figured that would be too vulgar and barbaric. So instead, I’ll be optimistic for once and wait for this so-called good luck that’s supposed to result from being a pigeon’s temporary W.C.

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In all honesty, I’d say Venice was the most overrated city in Europe thus far. It has a smell worse than that of Staten Island (which I’m ashamed to admit is my hometown). Most of the food is generic, and the environment is cliche. Going once would be for the purpose of saying “Oh, I’ve been there.” But going twice, shame on me. And no, I’m not saying this out of bitterness towards Mr. Pigeon Poopypants.

Cinque Terre (which is comprised of five small villages.)

I’ll start south, and go north.
1. Riomaggiore

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The first of the two photos above looks like a giant zipper had been opened up in the mountainside, exposing the houses within. We continued walking along the Ligurian Sea towards…

2. Manarola

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Houses upon houses upon houses, like Lego blocks.

3. Corniglia

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On a nearby pathway, we bumped into a retired couple. The husband kept taking pictures of his wife walking alongside these fuschia flowers. When he saw us, he pointed to himself and said “How is an old guy like me with such a beautiful woman like her?” Then he stayed a little behind and snapped away some more, taking candid pictures of his wife just simply walking.

4. Vernazza

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We walked into a wine shop owned by a guy I will always refer to as “jolly man.” We were standing by the counter, and after looking at us for a few seconds, he opened a cookie jar and took out four amaretti cookies for us to nibble on. Oh boy, they were so delicious. His jolly man persona made the cookie even more enjoyable to eat.

We came back later that night to buy a bottle of local white wine to drink by the shore. One bottle was about 13.50 euros, which made it a little difficult to split the payment among the four of us. So, the jolly man said “just 12 euros.” If I were a rich woman, I would’ve bought the entire stock of the store to thank him for his jollyness.

and finally… 5. Monterosso al Mare

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All I remember doing is eating, drinking, eating some more, then napping in the sun. Lou and I became obsessed with a particular brand of balsamic vinegar and searched high and low for it in a shop. We finally found it at the airport and nursed that bottle, rationing its use until it ran dry. That was a sad day, indeed.

Lucca

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I couldn’t remember the last time I rode a bicycle that wasn’t inside a gym.

With a relatively mild sun shining on my face and a cool breeze against my skin, all I could do was look up at the leaf-lined sky and smile. I never felt more at peace…until we obnoxiously rang the bell at passing strangers and at each other.

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Firenze

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Ponte Vecchio, over the Arno River

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Piazza San Lorenzo: I have no idea what the occasion was but, free watermelon makes a happy and satisfied tummy.

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He did one magic trick, so we’d thought we would stay and watch some more. After all, we just had the best meal of our lives and I had enough red wine in me to make the happiness last the night. But then…he picked on random spectators and pulled them out of the crowd. He lined up one mid-aged man, a little girl, and a twenty-something Asian girl. In the midst of his performance, he proceeded to pull the shirt off the man, rub his hairy stomach and grab his crotch. I didn’t drink enough wine.

As we headed back to the hotel, an Italian ni hao-ed us in a mocking tone. Already losing the buzz from the wine, I turned around and yelled “CHING CHONG WONG MOTHERF*CKER!!” Now that’s what you call being ladylike.

Montevarchi & Rignano

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So small and peaceful a town, yet so hurtful the credit card damage.

[Montevarchi : Prada outlet. Rignano : other designer outlets.]

In Rignano, most of the taxi drivers took August off for vacation (meaning 2 out of 3 drivers). One man, a jewelry shop owner, saw that we were stranded and invited us into his shop. He called up his one taxi friend that was still in town. The taxi took so long to come for us, the jewelry man offered to drive us to the mall outlet at no charge. While we waited, he began to show us how he makes Florentine engravings in gold jewelry. After hearing we were from New York, he managed to tell us in his limited English that he’s been to the Javitz Center in the past for a jewelry tour. I think I’ll name him jolly man #2.

Finally, the taxi man came…but then this young Korean couple came up to us and wanted to share a cab. But before I knew that…

Korean guy: (in Korean) “Are you a Korean person?”
Me: “Yes (in Korean)”
Korean guy: “Are you going to the duomo?”

Okay, at least I thought he said ‘duomo.’ Even when his girlfriend was talking, it sounded like duomo. I mean, come on…both their lips were in a constant “O” position. There IS no “O” in the word “mall,” nor is there an “O” sound at the end of the word mall. But they kept saying it.

Me: “No, shopping mall”

I even said “shopping mall” in a deliberate Korean accent. But I swear, they kept saying duomo. They couldn’t understand “shopping mall” in either regular English, or with a Korean accent. Maybe it was really something like…

Korean guy: (in Korean) “Are you going to the MOLO??”
Korean girl: “MOLO? MOLO? MOLO?”

Moley moley mole. Okay, no…I didn’t say that. But it would’ve been funny if I did. Regardless, they just jumped in the cab with us towards the mall, and sat in the front row of the cab/van. During the 5 minute ride there, the Korean guy kept speaking to his girlfriend in Korean “But, when I asked if she was Korean…she said yes! Is she really Korean? Do you think she’s Korean?

Meanwhile, I sat in the back with Kat (who’s Chinese) and translated everything he said in English for Kat. He didn’t even realize.

Fiesole

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Gorgeous panoramic view of Tuscany. So gorgeous…it made me forget the argument we had earlier with a waiter regarding our nationality.

Waiter: “Where are you from?”
Us: “New York”
Waiter: “Pshhh, then I’m from Africa.”
Me: “What language am I speaking to you with right now? Yes, correct. It’s ENGLISH.”
Waiter: “China? Malaysia? Philippines?”

He even called over another waitress, said something to her in Italian…then she looked at us and laughed.

I got tired of saying “New York.” So I gave in and said, “FINE. My parents are from Korea.” He seemed smug after that. Even the food sucked there. Working at a place called Blue Bar, maybe it’s indicative of some other problem he has…

Siena

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Last stop, Roma

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Pantheon

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Piazza di Spagna & the Spanish Steps

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Trevi Fountain

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Lucy, me, Kat and Lou. As we walked toward the Bvlgari store, these two doormen opened the doors for us…and when I laid my eyes upon them, I thought I was staring at two male Calvin Klein underwear models. I don’t even remember what was inside the store.

Post-graduation goodness

Now that I’m back, I feel a greater anxiety to head back to Europe. Sure, we’ve encountered more than a fair share of racist mofos…but where in this world do you not pass by an ignorant bastard one time or another? Other than Antarctica that is…

But let’s focus on the juicy details of our 3 week suitcasing trip to Europe. Remember during spring break two years ago…when I literally just packed everything into ONE regular-sized North Face schoolbag for a two-week backpacking trip? I wish I had done that again. Lugging around a suitcase, no matter how small, is the biggest pain in the ass. And I have quite a big one (ass, not suitcase)…so you can imagine just how annoying a suitcase must be to create such an impressionable pain.

To start off, I will now type out a brief list of the most frequently used vocab on this trip:
1. motherf*cker
2. shit (as in gotta take one)
3. teets
4. bitch

Four girls, embracing the beauty of the extensive English vocabulary. Use all four words in one sentence…and wah-lah! You’re on your way to great verbal etiquette.

London, UK

We took a one day breather before heading off to Bordeaux.

029_view of Buckingham

View of Buckingham Palace from St. James’s Park

We walked around Bloomsbury, around Russell Square and Gower street where I used to live. As we hesitated outside of 6 Bedford Square (the NYU in London building), we wondered, Hmmm…can we use the computers?? We managed to get Christina (the only one of the three of us who hadn’t studied abroad) to go inside and ask the guard if we can. Jenn and I just nervously laughed at each other outside the entrance in anticipation…and guess what? The guard kinda remembered us, even after 2 years. Then again, I bet all Asians look the same but, whatever the circumstance, we were able to go inside. What luck! We save 2 pounds worth of internet time. Score! (Hey, that’s equivalent to $4 or 6 Onken mousse).

We went to bed at like 8pm, so that we could wake up at 2am, catch the 3am Thameslink to London Luton airport, to catch a 6am flight to Paris CDG…then take a metro ride to the Paris Montparnasse station to catch a 3 hour train ride to Bordeaux. This all looked much simpler during the planning phase.

Before boarding the Thameslink, we bumped into a bunch of black guys who work at the Kings Cross station, graveyard shift. They ni hao’ed their asses off, which pissed us off a great deal. I yelled out JAMBO! (the exclamation for the clicking noise in African tribal language) but, I was already down a flight of stairs when I yelled it out…and didn’t think they heard it. Next time, I gotta do some quicker responses.

Bordeaux, France (which Jenn pronounced as “boudoir”)

012_cours du Chapeau Rouge

014_cours du Chapeau Rouge

I’ll readily admit that we came here thinking it was wine country, only to realize that we had to venture outside of the city to get into that grapey territory. Did we feel dumb? No better way to put it than…yes. We hit up a wine shop instead and pretended we were getting our desired wine experience even though this was easily something we could do in any city, in any country.

024_colonne des Girondins

An intense water fountain sculpture in Place des Quinconces, one of the largest city squares in Europe.

Giverny

 

016_house & garden

Soo green and beautiful. I wish my dad could’ve been there. He loves gardening, while my mom loves sitting on the couch, watching sports and drinking beer. There’s no question as to who the man of my family is: my 5′ tall mom.

046_water lily pond

I wish my pictures at least remotely resembled Monet’s paintings. But alas, my point-and-shoot capabilities and 3.2 megapixels can only do so much good.

Paris

070_Arc de Triomphe

Arc de Triomphe

058_view of Eiffel Tower

We finally met up with Liz at Gare du Nord.

Guys, remember during the spring break trip two years ago…when we were too cheap to pay 3-5 euros for bedsheets at that dirty Paris hostel? And we wondered why we were too cheap and stingy to even protect ourselves from diseased mattresses?

Well, I realized just how badly stingy we were deep inside…when Jenn came up with the bright idea of squeezing through the metro turnstiles just so we could save money and avoid buying subway tickets. Then one night, we were caught…and fined 25 euros. The fine was originally 35 euros…until Jenn got angry enough for the ticket people to lower it to 25 euros.

I was impressed with Jenn…until I remembered that time in Barcelona when we were incorrectly charged at that Indian-owned paella place. We tried to argue the price of that pitcher of coke down to its true price (from like 9 euros to 4 euros)…and Jenn said to the manager, “Can you just lower it to 8 euros?” We were like “NOO JENN!! The waiter told us 4 euros before!” But I digress…a little too much.

112_Stina & Beans replica   113_Liz & Jenn replica

We grew a little bored at the Louvre. So here we are, being replicas of a replica.

029_Notre Dame

Passing Notre Dame on a river boat cruise

Milan, Italy

Stupid Raileurope put us down as “males” on our overnight train tickets from Paris to Milan. Luckily, Jenn, Liz and I were put into the same sleeper car. On the other hand, Christina was put into a sleeper car with 2 bulky men with smell and sound issues (snoring, not farting). As the bottom bunk, I shared my bed with Christina…only to wake up blanket-less while Christina was burrito wrapped in warmth.

023_Duomo

The duomo in its scaffolding glory

033_Galleria Vittorio Emanuele

Florence (or, Firenze)

013_Duomo area

Our favorite city. Chianti wine is soo good.

At one of the restaurants, an Indian waiter failed to woo Liz, who told him her name was Veronica.

Indian waiter: “Any desserts Veronica? Would you like some chocolate…like me?”

I forgot his exact wording…but it’s all the same in its ridiculousness.

045_view from Campanile

043_view from Campanile

Pisa (seventh stop…and also eighth stop)

Let’s not discuss why I wrote “and also eighth stop.” All you need to know is that I never want to see Pisa EVER AGAIN!

021_Leaning Tower

I tried to be angularly artistic…and it came out mediocre. Boohoo.

022_Pisa

Salzburg, Austria

075_Salzburg

066_Old Town

We arrived at the Firenze Campo di Marte station about 2 hours prior to departing to Vienna. Then as it neared 1 hour prior to departure, something inside my mind brought up the idea of looking at my train ticket again…and when I did, I was in for a shocker. I was supposed to be leaving from the Santa Maria Novella train station instead (not the Campo station). Stupid Raileurope screwed up my ticket again. The rest of the girls were leaving from Campo. Luckily, I was able to buy another ticket for the train I was SUPPOSED to take.

In addition to that, Raileurope gave me a seat instead of a sleeper car (this was another overnight train)…and so, I had to sleep overnight in a seat. You can imagine the number of yoga positions I had to sleep in. Good thing I’m pretty flexible.

055_Old Town

On a separate train ride from Vienna to Salzburg, fate had it that we meet Constantine. Hahaha. He was an Austrian from the suburbs, twice our height with chubby hands. Kinda cute, with very little hair on his arms and legs…though he claimed to have a lot more somewhere else. Puaha. After some small talk, he just had to ask us…

“So, do American girls shave their legs? Because my girlfriend doesn’t, and she gave me the excuse that because American girls didn’t shave she didn’t have to.”

Of course, we immediately debunked that monstrous claim. And I had my smooth legs to prove it, haha. We asked him if the hairy legs bothered him…and he replied “only when we, uh….”

You get the picture.

Vienna

079_Old Town

071_panorama

We got so tired of people saying ni hao and konichiwa, that we started snapping back…even to teenage kids.

Teenage boy: “Ni hao ma”
Me: “Oh! you speak Chinese? Because I don’t!”
Teenage boy: “Don’t? (in a confused tone)”

Christina: “Do you speak English?”
Teenage boy: “Yes (with some sort of pride)”
Christina: “Yea, with an ACCENT!”
Then, all four of us: “GUTEN TAG GUTEN TAG GUTEN TAG!!!!!”

Obnoxious. And not very clever or witty either. But it was fun nonetheless.

057_Belvedere Palace

Belvedere Palace

036_Galerie Belvedere

Budapest, Hungary

078_along the Danube

The Hungarians are the nicest people ever. Even when we stopped for the briefest moment on the sidewalk to look at the map, someone would come up to us to see if we needed help.

We booked an apartment for two nights, and the owners were two Hungarian business partners who seemed like the most mismatched pair. I describe them as Dr. Frankenstein and his monster. One man was shorter and normal-looking…he seemed to have the most sense. The other man was taller and looked like someone who could easily have been a character in one of Edgar Allen Poe’s short stories…except, he had this odd jolliness about him. He kept mumbling stuff like some sputtering motor.

Anyway, Budapest is really two areas (Buda and Pest) separated by the Danube River and connected by bridges. Buda is the greener side, and Pest is more city-like.

074_izan family

On Margaret Island, we took a bike ride…in the form of a car. We role-played…Christina and Liz as dad and mom…and me and Jenn as obedient children.

London, UK (first and last stop)

081_view from bridge

London Eye, Big Ben and the Palace of Westminster

035_rehearsal parade

050_rehearsal parade

We accidentally ran into the rehearsal parade for the Queen’s birthday. If you look closely at the middle of the picture, you’ll see a splatter of horse shit…and the band proceeding to march into it. Yummy.

Spring break 2004

Five cities in four countries, jam-packed in 2 weeks.

Five girls and five guys (in descending luggage size order):
GQRich, Dave, HKJay, Jenn, HyeMi, Stella, Chinjay, Foon, Jess, me

Paris, France

In an attempt to diversify, I will try my best to post pictures that NO ONE ELSE has posted which therefore makes my entry extra special. I think.

Paris 01

Louvre 23

View from the Louvre

Eiffel Tower 15

View from the Eiffel Tower

Eiffel Tower 04

Eiffel Tower - group pic2

Carousel2

Clearly inebriated and stuffing our faces with cotton candy while looking completely unflattering.

And now, a memorable quote –
On the metro: “Open it. Open it. Open it. Open it. Open it. Open it.”

Portbou, Spain

Portbou 04

Portbou 03

We had a brief stop in Portbou en route to Barcelona and were clearly wowed.

Portbou 08

Not posing…

Barcelona

Port Vell 01

Port Vell, with beautiful flip-flop weather

Temple de la Sagrada Familia 03   Temple de la Sagrada Familia 12

Front and back facades of La Sagrada Família

aquarium 09

At the aquarium, which falsely advertised having seals.

Quotes –
Sitting on the pier, Jenn points to the water: “Hm. Little fish.” ::silence::

In the communal bathroom, taking a shower next to 3 LOSER guys:
“Hey Christine, are you naked now?”
“Have you ever been between two naked guys before? It’s a sandwich!”

Rome, Italy

Colosseo-Palatino 10

Colosseum

Colosseo-Palatino 22

I don’t understand why we did the things we did.

Colosseo-Palatino 36

Colosseo-Palatino 35

Roman Forum

Vatican City

Vatican City 05

Vatican City 08

St. Peter’s Basilica

[Sistine Chapel]

I secretly took a picture of the ceiling (which is forbidden)…so I will not post that in case I get reported, and then imprisoned for copyright theft, and then sent to hell, as everyone keeps telling me.

Quotes –
On the train, Chinjay says with such assurance: “It’s ALL about who you know.” ::attempts to snap fingers but fails::

At Il Tunnel, Stella tries to translate the word strawberry into Italian: “Strohberry” HAHAHA.

Jenn (which I didn’t think was funny): “So I’m NOT alone…in this funny world.”

Jenn, AGAIN: “You don’t need to know what I did in the bathroom. All you need to know is that it got clogged.”

Venice

San Marco 10

San Marco

San Marco - Basilica1

St. Mark’s Basilica

gondola - girls pic2

A perfect day for the girls

gondola ride 03

And the romantic, yet non-romantic gondola ride

Quotes –

Jess, on the gondola: “:::water botttttleee:: :::gaaarrrbage:::”

Jenn: “I have a surprise for you….a pigeon leg!”

Zurich, Switzerland

Zurich 07

Zurich 14

Zurich 23

I don’t remember any quotes from here…but I DO have a video clip of Peter trying to hit the green balloon at the Eurostar station. HAHAHAHA.

Okay, that is all.