Category Archives: Europe

The Occasional Travel Blogger

When I told family and friends about my idea to finish out the year in Europe many of them asked if I’d be starting up my blog again. My stock answer was “If I feel inspired to write then I’ll write.” I enjoyed blogging during my last trip, but I quickly realized after returning home that I wasn’t interested in being a “lifestyle blogger”. I’m a dude, and I don’t think any other dudes care to read about the cute boots I bought or see selfies of my new hair color. If you kept up with my previous blogging attempts then you may have noticed that I’ve been a lot less prolific this go-round. In my downtime I’ve been trying to figure out why that is. Here are a few reasons why this trip hasn’t been quite as inspiring as my last.

I bit off more than I could chew

I don’t like planning things. Call it procrastination or laziness but I prefer the positive spin of calling it spontaneity. I like to plan trips in a big-picture style. So with two things in mind: 1) my cousin is in Rome and 2) “it’d be cool to see friends in England”, I booked an outbound flight 1500 miles from my inbound flight, with two months for the journey. That was dumb. Now a month in I feel less like a traveler and more like a tourist, checking off cities like to-do list items. I hop off a train in a city, spend two days taking photos of all the sights, hop on another train, repeat. The fact that I locked myself into a far-away departure point means I can’t be very spontaneous (multiple travelers have told me not to miss Berlin and Prague, for instance).


  • Plan your trips to allow for getting the feel of a place. Two months in the UK would have made more sense.
  • I don’t travel to shop

    Most of the cities I’ve been through are all about two things: museums and shopping. I don’t mind a bit of shopping—I feel good in new clothes just like anyone else—but I’m willfully unemployed and there’s room in neither the budget nor the backpack for more clothes. I’ve walked the streets of shopping districts in Florence, Cologne, and Amsterdam that would make a fashionista’s heart skip a beat but I’d prefer to be hiking up a mountain. I do like architecture, however, and you can’t beat European cities for stunning cathedrals and top-notch museums (save these for the rainy days).


  • Plan your trips around activities that excite you. I like a mix of cultural exploring and wilderness exploring.
  • I picked the wrong time of year

    Related to the above; I like to be outside. I don’t mind being in the cold, preferably in the snow, but I like trips that allow me to hike, explore an area by bike, take a surfing lesson, go caving, swim in the ocean. It’s tough to lazily stroll around a city or read under a tree when temps are 0C (that’s 32F for the Americans). Thankfully Italy was warmer than expected but it’s getting colder as I head north later in the year (funny how that works).


  • Plan your trips so the weather cooperates.
  • And finally, not really a lesson here, but blogging takes time. If I’m blogging a lot then I’m probably in a boring place or not being very social with my fellow travelers. I’ve met some great people on this trip: a couple from Barcelona with whom I shared two dinners, wine, and gelato in Florence, traveling duos from Mexico, South Africa, Australia, and some new mates from the UK who I’ll see again in about a week.

    I regret not having done any work exchange on this trip (HelpX, WWOOFing). I tried in Switzerland but the guy got back to me after I had already hopped a train to Germany. It’s a great way to meet locals, get out of the tourist grind, and save a few bucks, or euros, or swiss francs, or pounds.

    Some absolutely inspiring moments while biking around Lake Brienz, a surprise waterfall, and a few shots from the hostel in Interlaken, Switzerland…

    Making Lemonade

    Back home in Kentucky, as I began to plan my trip to Europe, I decided that “Ski the Swiss Alps” was definitely a bucket list item. Now I’ve never really been one to have a bucket list; in fact, I can’t even think of another item on it. I did my homework and learned that three mountains would be open around the time I’d arrive in early November. Sure, there’d be limited lifts open and the conditions wouldn’t be ideal but I’d take what I could get. It’s the Swiss Alps! After my surprisingly warm visit to Italy I chose Lucerne as my jump off point because it’s a short train ride to the Engelberg Titlis ski resort, and they were open for business. I got super psyched because they also have the highest suspension bridge in Europe at 1500 feet (you’re already in the mountains upwards of 10,000 feet) AND they have a rotating gondola! With my train to Lucerne booked, five-night hostel stay squared away, and ski resort determined, I was set. Except for a little detail that Engeblerg shuts down for maintenance the first two weeks of November. There will be no skiing the Alps on this trip.


    Surprises will come up when traveling without much of an itinerary and you just have to roll with it. You’ll pick a boring city or hostel full of teenagers or miss your train. Don’t sweat it. You’re still doing what many people only dream of.

    So now I find myself in Lucerne with a little more time to kill than I expected. It’s a nice city centered around a beautiful lake, reliable public transport, and incredible, beckoning mountains within sight. This is Switzerland, don’t forget, so things can be a bit pricey. A Burger King Whopper meal will set you back nearly $15 USD. The pace of the city is nothing like Rome or Florence. Hardly any scooters and very few honking horns; I’d feel comfortable driving here. Bicycles are everywhere and it’s quite a sight to see hundreds of them lined up in custom bike parking corrals.

    Day one I just strolled around the city, which is what I pretty much do in every new city. I don’t like to have a set itinerary on the first day. I prefer to get the feel of the place at my own pace. My favorite way to explore a city is by bike but I’ve found it difficult to find a place to rent one. I guess everyone has theirs already. The city reminds me a bit of Queenstown, as both are on a beautiful lake with mountains in the distance, though Lucerne is much bigger.

    One of Lucerne’s most popular sights is the “Lion of Lucerne”, carved in 1820 to commemorate the massacre of Swiss Guards during the French Revolution.

    After confirming with a staff member at the hostel that I wouldn’t be able to reach Engelberg he suggested that I check out Pilatus Klum, which is a mountain just a $10 train ride away. The draw to this place, besides the incredible views, is that you can go up the mountain via something called a cogwheel train, which was new to me. It kind of looks like a regular train car set at an angle, and it rides along tracks with gears that grab a toothed track in the center. Google it. 🙂 The end result of all this is that you can go up crazy steep grades, the Pilatus Klum journey being the steepest cogwheel track in the world.

    The train and the view from near the bottom (sunny and green):

    Ascending through low-lying clouds and starting to see snow on the mountain:

    The payoff… spectacular views from around 7000 feet:

    I almost forgot to mention the couple I met on the train ride from Lucerne. She was a Doctor in Dentistry, he was a lawyer, both from India and living in Dubai, practicing Muslims and as warm and friendly as could be. We marveled at the mountains on the cogwheel train ride up, took photos for one another up top, snacked on dried fruit they had brought and just had a really good time.

    If you’ve been reading my blog for a while then you know that my favorite aspect of travel is probably the people I meet. My own stereotypes get challenged, my world expands, and (hopefully) I represent my country in a humble and respectable way.

    On to Interlaken next!

    Finishing up Rome

    Since our last exciting episode I spent another full day in Rome checking out the Colosseum (awesome), had dinner at an Irish pub with a Kiwi hostel bud, hopped a train to Florence, and walked for miles and miles. It can be hard to find the time (and energy) to write a blog post but it’s good for me to journal thoughts and impressions that will surely fade.

    Every major Italian attraction has an admission fee and usually a very long line. This even includes the cathedrals, cappellas (small churches), and lavish houses and their gardens. I’m typically opposed to lines and fees so, unless I really want to see something from the inside I’ll just check it out from afar. In hindsight I probably should have bit the bullet and paid to get the full experience more often but I really can’t complain about all that I’ve seen in just one week.

    There are a couple ways to save a bit of cash and time by either a) booking online for a reserved entrance, b) taking advantage of a guided tour for usually five euro more which gets you to the front of the line, or c) buying a card that gets you into multiple attractions. The latter costs 72 euro in Florence and gets you into 60 sites, but is only good for three days. That’d be some serious speed-museuming.

    On my last day in Rome I took an easy, cheap (1.50 euro) train ride to the Colosseum because it’s just one of those must-sees. Unfortunately I was there on a Saturday so the place was packed. It’s really a pretty stunning sight and would have been cool to walk around in. The only smear on the experience, and much of Rome, are the roving guys pedaling crap on the plaza. No, I don’t want a crappy lucite replica of the Colosseum or a scarf printed with the Last Supper. Oh, you just walked 10 feet, maybe you changed your mind on the crappy lucite replica? Yes? No!!!

    Other Random Thoughts On Italy

    It’s probably just a tourist-city thing, but the locals won’t acknowledge you when passing them on the street. This is a bit unsettling to me. I typically nod or smile or say hello to strangers but here they look and you with no expression at all. It’s hard to get a read on the people of a city when you’re an outsider and you mostly interact with the service industry (who, regrettably, are dealing with us dumb tourists).

    Speaking of the service industry- expect to wait a while for menus, ordering food, and you will most definitely not get a water refill without asking. None of this is a big deal, just different than what Americans are used to. Some Londoners I met said they actually didn’t mind the tipping culture in the States because the wait staff is friendly and right there anytime you need something. It’s all a matter of perspective I guess.

    It’s really nice to be in a city where public transportation is readily available and relatively cheap. I can hop on an intercity bus for $2 or go an hour outside of town for about $20 on a bus that runs about every 30 minutes. I understand that the Italian train union is well-known for occasionally going on strike but luckily I haven’t run into any problems. Also, it seems that validating your bus ticket is based on the honor system, as I haven’t seen a drive check anyone. I would be the one to get caught, I’m sure.

    Lastly, Rome has lots of water fountains around the city for the public to use. They’re a bit different from what I’m used to though; more like a constantly-running spigot that you stick your bottle, mouth, or finger in (to make it shoot out the top like a fountain). I think it’s a bit gross and didn’t use one but they seemed pretty popular. What do you think?



    It’s been so long that I’ve almost forgotten how to blog. After my trip to Australia/New Zealand I came home, learned how to program Android apps, visited Colorado and Oregon, played around in Louisville and now I’m in Italy. I figured why not make my sabbatical a true year-long deal? The plan is Rome to Dublin over two months. And……. go!

    I’ve never been to Europe. I’ve never been to a country whose primary language was something other than English (Aussies and Kiwis don’t count). This will be a challenge. That’s the point.

    I landed in Rome at 8:30 AM, which is EST 2:30 AM, with no sleep. There’s a six hour time difference between Louisville and Rome but I wasn’t about to lose daylight in a hostel room. When my head finally hit the pillow I’d been up for 37 hours with a one hour nap. Blame the fun-loving folks I met at the hostel (two Brits, an Aussie, a Kiwi, and a Korean).

    First Impressions of Rome

    I’m only in Rome for three days and then it’s off to Florence so I’ll be the typical tourist doing typically touristy things. Riding into the city on an airport shuttle you see what appear to be remains of huge city walls and I thought to myself… These are probably the oldest man-made structures I’ve ever seen. Not a lot of 1,000 year old buildings in the US.

    The next thing you’ll notice is the traffic. It’s a perfectly orchestrated symphony of madness. Tiny little cars merging, honking, scooters zipping around pedestrians, busses, each other, and not a single accident that I have seen. It’s like they’re all plugged into The Matrix. If you should find yourself in Rome, be acutely aware that crosswalks are mostly for show. This isn’t Portland, kid, and no one will stop just because you’re standing there looking pitiful. Locals saunter across, gazing into the drivers’ eyes or putting up their non-cigarette hand in defiance, but that takes guts.

    The best advice I can give for surviving Rome is to be aggressive. It runs counter to American sensibilities but it’s kill or be killed here. There are no lines or queues: when the bus/train pulls up you just shove your way on, little old ladies be damned. I assume that if you’re comfortable with the flow of NYC or similar then you’ll do just fine.

    Days One & Two

    The hostel is within easy walking distance of lots of interesting things as well as the main transit terminal so getting around is a breeze. Day one was spent checking out the Trevi Fountain, the stunning Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels and the Martyrs, and just generally checking out this buzzing metropolis.

    Day two started with a bit of a panic thinking that a hostelmate had checked out with my phone in his possession but it was later found behind the dresser. A real-world reminder about the importance of security is necessary every now and then.

    After this life lesson I hopped on the subway and spent the day at the Vatican. I knew the Vatican was an independent city-state but I didn’t expect it to look like a fortress with 30-foot surrounding walls. It was both impressive and imposing. The museum was definitely worth it even though I don’t go nuts over the visual arts. I wish I had taken better pics!

    I leave you with the first two photos of my new collection: Asian Couples Who Dress Alike. Aren’t they cute?

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