I was sitting at the dinner table eating a sandwich. A couple of my cousins where there in the kitchen with me goofing around like we used to do many, many years ago. We were in my grandparent’s old house; Grandma and Grandpa Stout were sitting in the living room in the two rocking chairs.

When I finished eating, my grandma asked me to clean the crumbs off the table. In my little boy mind, it made the most sense to move all the items off the table and take the table cloth outside to shake it out. When I came back inside, my grandma thanked me and asked me to close the kitchen window because she was getting cold. Almost at once, something clicked inside my head and I immediately began to panic. My grandma passed away a couple years ago. I had no idea what was going on anymore. I screamed and ran over to jump into my grandpa’s lap. “Grandma’s not here! Grandma’s not here! Grandpa, help me!” I yelled. My grandpa, with his arm around me, he looked down at me and said, “Wake up, son.”

I woke up this morning with a big, violent shake, literally gasping for air. It was the first dream like that I’ve ever had, so I quickly went over to grab something to write it down. It felt so real.

I was in Prague in my hotel room and breakfast was being prepared in the little restaurant next door. I tossed on some clothes and my shoes to go outside to find where I could find breakfast. I went around to the back of the hotel and there was a deck with a couple people sitting outside eating. I went inside and saw some meats, cheeses rolls, and cereal along with juice, yogurt, and milk. I took at least one of everything and found a table to sit down to eat.

When I got back to my room, I hopped in the shower to get ready for the day. I tried the wifi to contact the people in Prague going to Austria, but it wasn’t working this morning. I asked the lady at the front desk if there was a McDonald’s nearby. She didn’t speak English, so I repeated “McDonald’s” and traced the two, golden arches on the wall. “Ahhh”, she said, and pointed down the street in the direction where I’d find it.

After a fifteen minute walk up the road, I found a McDonald’s in a large shopping mall. I got online and replied. My main point of contact up to that point had been a Chinese girl who organized the event. She gave me the phone number for her boyfriend, Jackie, and said I could message him on WhatsApp. I installed it and messaged him, and he replied almost immediately. He said we could meet up later that night and offered me a place to sleep as well if I needed it. It was time to explore Prague.

I was on the outskirts of town so I located the nearest metro station and rode into the city. As I began walking around Prague, it didn’t take long to realize just how beautiful of a city it is. The architecture was just amazing. I crossed a bridge headed for the castle that sat atop a hill. After a short walk and a steep staircase climb, I found myself next to the castle in a large, green lawn that overlooked the city.

I continued around the castle and ended up on the back side. This is where I discovered my favorite building in Prague, the St. Vitus Cathedral. The design of the building was amazing. While the entire cathedral was a huge building, it was actually just one end of the cathedral that caught my attention. It was built with an architectural style that I’d never seen before in person. I had to take tons of pictures.

I started walking back down the hill towards a small tower that sat atop another hill near me. In pictures, I noticed this tower resembled the Eiffel Tower to some degree, so I wanted to head over and see it for myself. Nature trails zigzagged all the way to the top of this next hill, and for the most part I was the only one on them. I reached the top and found that I was on the backside of the tower.

There, while taking pictures, I kept hearing a huge crowd yelling and cheering. It seemed like an odd place for a huge crowd, so I followed the cheering to see where all the commotion was coming from. There was a wall with an arch over top in the distance. When I reached the arch and saw what was on the other side, I was quite surprised. There sat a huge, temporary arena had been created in a park. “Battle Of The Nations” the sign read. It was a medieval style event set up to simulate battles from the middle ages. All the fighters were wearing armor and their crew wore Renaissance-era clothing. It was an all weekend event. I didn’t pay for a ticket to enter because I there still a lot I wanted to see, but just standing on the outside listening to the battles I could get a sense of what was going on inside. Each round started with horns followed by what sounded like a stampede of wild elephants. The crowd absolutely loved it.

Continuing past the battlegrounds, I came across an observatory surrounded with flower gardens. It was the perfect spot to stop and rest for a bit. As I sat there I realized just how much I really liked Prague.

When I began down the hill again, I kept seeing signs for something called the “Magic Cavern”. I had no idea what this was, but it didn’t take long to find out. Standing on the side of the path, I came across a woman dressed with in interesting attire. She was advertising the Magic Cavern as she stood in front. As it turned out, the Magic Cavern was actually an art gallery for a French artist, Reon Argondian, whose art pieces looked like they were painted by a man who went swimming in a pool of LSD before he picked up his paintbrush. I had to see what was inside.

The entrance served as a sneak peak to what lied ahead. It was a small entry way with a spiral staircase leading both up and down. The woman at the entrance, Zuzanna, suggested starting in the basement first. I descended the stairs, passing paintings for each sign of the zodiac. When I got downstairs, I was transported into a crazy hallucination-inspired world. Most every square inch of wall space was taken up by paintings. Beautiful, half naked blue and green skinned goddesses. Twisting demon dogs. Landscapes that only existed in dreams. Some paintings portrayed no recognizable elements, though they still served to demonstrate just how crazy this fantasy world was.

Slow, melodic music with a female singer played throughout the cavern from hidden speakers. Sangria and was sat on a table available for all gallery guests. So many of the paintings made me wish I could climb through the canvas to experience this wild world firsthand.

I made my way back up the stairs, stopping to chat again with Zuzanna on my way up to explore the attic. Upstairs felt less like a cave but still contained just as many paintings on the walls. Taking photos was allowed and encouraged. In the end, I think I photographed almost every single piece of art in the place.

It was around 5:30PM when I finally made it back down the hill into town. I decided to stop at a McDonald’s to message Jackie. He asked me if I could be at his place by 7PM because he had to run some errands later that night. Luckily I found a metro route connecting to a bus route that got me there just in time. After arriving, my instructions were to cross the street from the bus stop, head around to the back of the apartment building there, and look for Jackie’s name on the buzzer next to the door. Just as I rounded the corner to the back of the apartments, I heard my name. It was Jackie.

I introduced myself and went upstairs to his apartment. He showed me the guest bedroom where I’d be sleeping. He said he had some extra time before he needed to leave tonight and suggested we go grab something at the grocery store. I got just enough stuff to make a couple of sandwiches that night and some donuts for the next day. We went back to Jackie’s house and ate before he needed to leave; he was taking his cats to his parent’s house for the weekend while we were going to be gone. He said I could stay at his place if I wanted, but I had him drop me off at the nearest bar instead.

I ordered a beer. “10 or 12?” the bartender asked. I had absolutely no idea what this meant but chose the bigger number. I found a seat as far from all the smokers as I could and took a sip. A German bartender once told me there was one country that made better beer than Germany: the Czech Republic. I was not let down. This beer was so smooth, it felt as if it flowed into my mouth faster than I was pouring it. As if the liquid was fighting its way to be in my stomach. I was happy.

After a couple of beers, Jackie messaged me to find out if I was still at the bar. He met me there where we had one more beer before heading back to his house. We talked for a short while about the trip the next day. We had quite a drive ahead of us, but what we had planned would make it all worth it.


I woke up in Lucern, Switzerland, and to my surprise there it was not raining. While not blue skies, it was nice enough to go exploring. I found a Blablacar ride in Basel, Switzerland, leaving later in the day which gave me some extra time to explore Lucern before I had to leave.

It was a 45 minute walk from the hostel to the train station. It was only after this walk that I realized I had left my jacket behind. With only a few hours to explore before I had to catch a train, I decided to hop on a bus back to the hostel. My jacket was waiting for me in the lost and found. Another bus ride back to the train station got me back to where I wanted to be but I had lost an hour.

I didn’t get to see as much as I wanted to in Lucern, but I kept reminding myself that it was going to rain that night. There was no way I could stay another night when it meant most of the time would be sitting around inside. I walked around, seeing some of the main sites before heading back to the train station.

It didn’t start to rain until just before I reached Basel. I arrived at the station and just as I got off the train, I realized I had left my hat, sunglasses, and water bottle back on board. I had plenty of time to go back and grab them all, but I’m not sure where was head was today.

There was a bus sitting out front of the train station that I knew would get me to the airport, the pickup point for my Blablacar ride. I still had just over an hour to kill when I arrived and a pocket full of change that was only good in Switzerland, so I went inside and bought a bacon and tomato sandwich and a banana. Ten minutes before my scheduled pickup time, I went outside and waited. Standing next to me was another backpacker.

“Are you waiting for a Blablacar ride?” I asked. He was. We talked for the next ten minutes while waiting for our ride. He was a Swiss guy with a Tibetan name, Dorji, who had just finished backpacking across France and Spain for the last 3 months. He went on a hike known by the locals as “Camino de Santiago”. Americans call it the “French Way”. He had nothing but the best things to say about the experience and said of all the traveling he’s ever done, this was his favorite. Now he was heading to Vietnam. It was nice to meet someone who was backpacking like me.

Dorji received a phone call from our driver, Sanaz, as we waited. By coincidence, it was the same Sanaz he had met years prior; Sanaz was Dorji’s sister’s roommate for a year. Sanaz was waiting inside the airport in line to get a rental car so we went inside to meet her. There we met her friend Sabina, got the car, and took off.

This has been my favorite Blablacar ride yet. Since Sanaz and Sabina were friends, Sanaz and Dorji already knew each other, and Dorji and I talked for quite awhile before meeting with the girls, the entire ride felt like a road trip with friends. No one was in a hurry, so we even stopped half way to Frankfurt for awhile to have coffee and snacks.

When we arrived, Sanaz showed us around the city. She was so excited to be there; it was one of her favorite cities in Germany. She told us about some clubs and bars, one of which was supposed to be a metal music bar. The girls had plans of shopping and dancing that night, so they left us in downtown Frankfurt. Dorji’s flight to Vietnam wasn’t until the next morning, so him and I booked a hostel and decided to go out that night. We dropped off our things at the hostel and set out to find something to eat.

We were both looking for something cheap. Kebab was becoming a theme for this trip; anytime I didn’t care what I ate and just wanted to save money, kebab was the answer. Dorji agreed, so we wandered around Frankfurt in search. After half an hour, we still hadn’t found anything so we began asking the locals. No one seemed to know for sure, but they all had guesses. After another hour of following guesses and wandering about, we still hadn’t found anything. I didn’t care. I was having a good time hanging out with a fellow backpacker who spoke both German and English. We finally stopped and asked someone who had a sandwich in his hand. Obviously this guy knew where to find food. He pointed us in the right direction and told us we’d find plenty to eat there.

He was right. There were several cheap restaurants on both sides of the street in this neighborhood. In the end, we both decided on a cheap Chinese restaurant. For less than five euros, we each ended up with as much chicken fried rice as you could possibly pile on a plate. I barely finished half of mine, but somehow that crazy Swiss ate the whole damn thing.

Now, barely able to walk, we set off for a bar Sanaz had told us about called “The Cave”. It was supposed to be a metal bar, and that’s all I wanted to do that night was hang out with a bunch of German metal heads. Earlier in the night, Dorji and I found the bar on our quest to find food so we knew exactly how to get there.

In the beginning, there actually weren’t many people. A few very young girls were dancing on the dance floor. I was suprised that they would let such seemingly young people in a place like this. Dorji ordered the first round, and we sat around the bar talking for awhile. The music started off with pop punk bands from the early 90‘s, all American bands and most of it was stuff I recognized. As the bar began to fill, the music got more and more aggressive until they actually threw in a few metal songs every now and then. At one point, Dorji and I met a crazy German guy named Andrei. Round after round, we danced around on the dance floor for hours.

It was at least 4AM and the bar showed no signs of closing anytime soon. At this point, Andrei and Dorji were completely hammered. Just as I was getting ready to leave, I met a girl named Nicola. We talked for awhile before I left and decided to meet up for coffee the next day. I left Dorji at the bar. He asked me to make sure he didn’t miss his flight in the morning. I told him I wouldn’t as long as he made it back to the hostel that night. I walked back to hostel just before the sun came up. I wouldn’t be getting much sleep that night, but it was totally worth it.

Lucern In The Rain

Rain. All day it rained. Hard.

Apparently today’s lesson was that not all days are going to to be full of excitement. Today was exactly the opposite, in fact. I was feeling unmotivated and wandering around outside in the rain was the the last thing I wanted to do.

I lay around the hostel for most of the day. I wrote. I wandered around the hostel. I ventured out into the rain to get something to eat (more kebab).

I finally got around to watching that James Bond movie that took place in Switzerland. In the end, James Bond sleeps with two different women two nights in a row. The next night, he just happens to run into his British girlfriend on an ice skating rink as he’s escaping from the bad guys. That night, he proposes to her. Charming.

I wanted to take a nap but I couldn’t sleep. I grew restless and played games on my phone. I was killing time until it was late enough that I’d feel OK about eating again even though I wasn’t all that hungry.

I ventured out into the rain again, this time eating at another restaurant next to the kebab place. It was labeled as a “family restaurant” and had several different types of food from all over the world. When the server learned I was from America though, he insisted I had their signature burger, “The Atlantic”. I must admit, it was pretty good.

That night I checked the weather reports for other cities in Switzerland. Zurich… rain. Bern… rain. The forecast for pretty much every city in Switzerland called for rain not just the next day, but for the next 7-10 days. I checked the radar and the entire country was covered in rain clouds.

As much as I loved the picturesque countryside of Switzerland, seeing it in the rain just wasn’t an option. I had to find somewhere in Europe that wasn’t raining. The southern border of Germany was still covered in rain clouds according to the radar; the first major city with clear skies was Frankfurt.

Heading to Frankfurt led to one of the best nights I’ve had on this trip so far.

Ride To Lucern

There was no part of me that wanted to leave Lauterbrunnen, but the weather reports were finally starting to be right. It was raining when I woke up and showed no signs of stopping anytime soon. The reports predicted rain for at least the next ten days.

Today was going to be a moving day. So far, it seems like I have two different types of days. There are moving days, where I spend most of my time looking for wifi networks in order to find rides on Blablacar or trains (very time consuming), booking a place to stay in the next city I travel to, walking to a train station or another place to meet a driver, and then riding to another city. By the time I usually arrive at the next city it’s early evening, leaving me little time to explore. Moving days are followed by exploring days, where I stay in a town and spend the next day or two walking around and exploring the area. This has worked well so far. I’m not sure how other backpackers do it, but I’d love to find a way to cut down on the time I spend looking for rides and spend more time exploring new places.

Occasionally I’ll book a room for two nights, giving me an entire day to explore, knowing that I have a place to leave my bag all day and a place to sleep that night. I booked two nights in a hostel in Lucern, Switzerland, without checking the weather first. Looking back at it, this turned out to be a mistake. I’ll certainly be paying much closer attention to the weather in the future. I didn’t have any luck finding Blablacar rides in Switzerland, so I walked down to the train station in Lauterbrunnen and took the next train to Lucern. It rained on and off for the entire ride.

It wasn’t raining when I arrived in Lucern, so the walk to the hostel was nice. It was late and I was hungry. Considering how expensive everything Switzerland is, I decided to look for something cheap. The girl at the front desk told me about a kebab place just up the street. The prices were still more than twice the kebab place in Italy, but I knew I wouldn’t be able to find anything cheaper. I ate and walked back to the hostel.

At this point, it started raining heavily, and I spent the rest of the night hanging out inside. It was a nice place with a big common area and even a game room, but no one was down there. I checked weather reports and realized it was definitely going to rain all day tomorrow. I shouldn’t have booked two nights in Lucern.

Can’t Get Enough Of Lauterbrunnen

Today I planned to spend the whole day relaxing and taking it easy. The weather was supposed to be rainy so I decided I’d stay indoors most the day and catch up on some reading and writing. However, I woke up to another beautiful day in Lauterbrunnen. I knew I’d feel terrible if I let it go to waste.

I did spend the morning doing some writing and was still in a mindset of laziness, but eventually I grew hungry enough to venture into town. There was another restaurant in town that received great feedback online so I really wanted to try it out. The meal was quite small, especially for the price. So I had a look at the dessert menu afterwards. I’m glad I did; the Swiss ice cream I had made the whole trip to this restaurant worth it!

I was still feeling lazy as I sat there in the restaurant finishing my ice cream. I thought about going back to the hotel. I paid my bill and walked out, but as soon as I got outside and looked around me, I wanted to go on another hike. I walked back to the same cable car I rode up yesterday, but this time I hopped on the train at the top. I rode the train halfway down the same trail as the day before with the intent to walk back to the cable car I rode up in and ride it back down to Lauterbrunnen.

This hike was an entirely new experience compared to the day before. By this point in the day, much of the snow had melted around me. Without the clouds, I could see for miles and miles to the surrounding mountains and villages below. I hiked, enjoyed the view, and took a few pictures along the way.

By late afternoon, I had made it back to the cable car. The rest of the day, I relaxed at the hotel and took care of some things I had been putting off. I washed laundry. I phoned home and ordered an International cell phone so I didn’t have to keep relying on wifi everywhere. I downloaded a James Bond movie. There were advertisements all over town for it. Apparently it was filmed there back in the 70’s. I didn’t watch it.

A Winter Hike In April

The weather was nothing like the today before. Today, clouds had rolled in and sat just on top of the cliffs around Lauterbrunnen creating a puffy ceiling above. Weather reports showed no indication that it was going to change today, but there was no way I was staying indoors. I threw on the warmest clothes I had and set out.

Near the train station in Lauterbrunnen was a cable car to the top of the cliffs. I had a map of the hiking trails above and was ready to explore the cliff tops. What I wasn’t ready for was the amazing atmosphere created by the clouds and snow. As the cable car neared the cliff tops, I slowly ascended into an eerie fog. Here, visibility was reduced to around 40 yards. The silent cable car began to hum as silhouettes of evergreens passed in the distance.

The cable car came to a stop at a small train station above. I hadn’t had breakfast yet, so I bought a bag of trail mix at a vending machine and started down the trail. In half a minute, the train station disappeared behind me.

The whole hike was an incredible experience. I couldn’t see anything past the distance I could throw a rock. While the trail was well kept and mostly free of snow, the mountainside around me was covered in it. It felt like winter and, without even thinking about it, I found myself whistling ‘Winter Wonderland’. As I walked along, I could hear waterfalls but of course could see nothing.

After a couple of hours, I reached a small mountain village. I knew I was getting close to the cable car that would take me to the bottom. As I continued to hike, the trail took me downhill until I was out of the clouds and I could start seeing more around me. There were a several farms around me now along the way with sheep, horses, or cows. One farm had a “self service” sign selling cheese. I was curious and had to take a look. The sign pointed to a back door. I opened it and took a peak inside of the house where a refrigerator sat. The refrigerator was empty. I guess it wasn’t cheese season.

Passing through one last mountain village brought me to the last cable car station. This time, instead of hovering just above the ground like the last cable car, this one moved hundreds of feet off the ground out away from the cliffs as it descended. It was actually quite scary looking down and seeing how high I was. The station at the bottom had a little nature room highlighting some of the animals found it the area so I popped in to have a look around. Having hiked a few hours on the cliff-tops, I was now quite a ways from Lauterbrunnen and decided to take the bus back.

That night I walked to a restaurant downtown. I ordered a traditional Swiss dish of lamb sausage with rosti. Quite good. On my walk back to the hotel, I decided against going out that night. With all the hiking I did that day, I was worn out and got a good night’s sleep.


The Swiss village was Lauterbrunnen. I had seen pictures and knew it was going to be a beautiful introduction to Switzerland. What I didn’t know was the profound and long lasting effect it would have on me.

It was still raining when I awoke at the hostel but the weather reports predicted a short break in the rain around 10 or 11AM. This would be the perfect time to head out. With my new iPhone app, I had my course plotted to Lauterbrunnen with ease. Buying the tickets was not as easy. I arrived at the train station with what I thought would be plenty of time. Unfortunately the automatic ticket machine wouldn’t allow me to buy tickets to Lauterbrunnen or even anywhere near it. No problem, I thought, I’d just ask the help desk for a ticket and be on my way. The wait at the help desk was over an hour long. Luckily they used a queue system so I grabbed a number and went back into the train station to have breakfast.

The tickets were expensive, especially compared to the cheap BlaBlaCar rides I had been taking, but the trains were extremely nice. Even in second class, my seats in the three trains I rode in to arrive in Lauterbrunnen were better than any I’d ever had on an airline in the past.

Most of the train ride to Switzerland was rainy but I didn’t care. I was happy to be heading to another country. Halfway on the ride, as I was switching trains, I met a couple from “the Hawaii of the east coast” as Mark put it. Mark and Susan were from New Jersey and were a very nice couple visiting Susan’s family in Switzerland. We talked for rest of the train ride. They even shared some food with me and were excited to hear about my trip. Once again, it was nice to be able to have a conversation with someone of the same language, and it made the time fly by. Just as soon as we crossed into Switzerland, someone came around to check our tickets. Not once did anyone ever check my tickets while I was in Italy. Then came a crew of police with what I imagine were drug sniffing dogs. I wasn’t in Italy anymore.

There was a long tunnel just before we arrived at Brig. We were all thrilled to see sunny skies on the other side. At Brig, Mark and Susan were taking a different train so we said our goodbyes. Susan was so nice she even hugged me goodbye; she said it was the mother in her.

This next train was a double decker and was just as nice as the others. I decided to sit on the top and luckily sat on the side with the best view. I stared out the window the entire time and couldn’t believe just how beautiful this country was. Somehow in Switzerland, the grass is greener, the clouds are whiter, and the skies are bluer. The water was a perfect greenish blue; it almost looked fake. Everything just seemed to be so much nicer here.

I was amazed at the scenery on the way to Lauterbrunnen, but when I arrived there, I can no longer accurately describe the experience. A heavy wave of emotions poured over me as a climbed out of the train and gazed at my surroundings. I was now standing in a small Swiss village sandwiched between two enormous cliffs. Scattered across the cliffs here waterfalls on both sides. The temperate could not have been a single degree nicer and there were just enough clouds to make the sky interesting. It was just so mindblowingly beautiful, and I walked to my hotel in complete awe.

I arrived at the hotel after short walk down the main village road. There was a large group of people sitting out front of the hotel drinking and hanging out. I must’ve picked a good spot. I walked inside and there were Swiss chocolates on the counter available for all the guests. A girl named Sonya helped get me checked in and showed me around. I was staying in a dormatory style building with 14 beds on the upper floor and a kitchen, washing machines, and showers on the first. Though the building had 14 beds, I was the only one staying in the entire building. I dropped off my stuff and went back out to have a couple beers with the group. I found out most of them were Australians, and all of them were part of a “Top Deck” tour of Europe. After a couple hours, the group left to go eat dinner. It was growing dark so I went back to my room to unwind.

I lay around for a while in disbelief that this entire floor was mine. I phoned home and talked with my mom about Lauterbrunnen and arranged having some things mailed to me. I searched online for things to do the next day. I played music and relaxed.

My excitement must have kept me awake because I was normally asleep by 11:30PM. This time I was awake and I was hungry. During my tour of the hotel, Sonya had mentioned that one place to grab a bite to eat late at night was the local pub. I decided to check it out. By then, the weather had changed to a light mist so I tossed on my jacket and headed in to town.

The pub was still open. When I walked in, a few locals sat at one end of the bar having a few beers while In Flames played on the jukebox in the background. Awesome. The bartender mentioned that at this point they were only serving snacks and slide a small menu down the bar towards me. I was happy to see a cheeseburger and fries on the snack menu. I ordered this with a beer and sat down at the bar.

The first sip of my beer reminded me I wasn’t in Kansas anymore. It was a Feldschosschen Amber beer on tap and was amazing. The cheeseburger came shortly after piled with tons of Swiss cheese: not too bad for the ‘snack’ menu. As I ate, the locals began to leave until it was just me and the bartender. I learned her name was Bernadette, an Irish woman with a husband who loved to base jump, which is what brought them here several years ago. We talked for quite awhile until I finished my beer. There was still half an hour before they closed, but I was ready to head back to the hotel.

That’s when in walked a group of travels from another tour group. This time, none of them were from the same country. Mexico, Canada, Turkey, Dubai, South Africa, and the one language they all spoke: English. They were a great group of folks and I decided to stick around with them to have another beer. They told me about their trip so far and how they all came to meet. One thing I realized is how close everyone on these guided tour groups seems to be. Both this group and the Top Deck group from earlier that day had only known each other for four days. If I didn’t know this, I would have guessed they were all old friends.

The pub closed and the group left. There were two girls from the Top Deck group at the pub that I walked back to the hotel with. When I got back, I checked the weather before finally going to bed. The rainy, misty weather was supposed to continue into the next day but I didn’t care. This place was amazing.

Milan One More Time

The last time I was in Milan, I saw signs that a new exhibit about Leonardo da Vinci was opening up at the Royal Palace. The opening day was well after I planned on leaving and I was pretty bummed. After all, Leonardo was an artist I had always admired, especially all his crazy drawings of the mechanics and inner workings of machines. I’ve always thought about getting tattoos inspired by his work. I was back near Milan again and this time I wasn’t going to miss my chance to see this exhibit.

I woke early and found a place in Milan to sleep that night. Then I looked for apps on my phone that would make it easier to navigate the trains in Europe. Finding this app has helped considerably ever since. I took a hot shower and, after enjoying a nice breakfast provided by the hotel, left for the train station. By this point, I was feeling quite confident about getting around in Italy.

I couldn’t help but notice on the train ride that morning how much this part of Italy reminded me of Kansas. As I neared Milan, rain drops appeared on the train windows. Just my luck. I arrived at the station in Milan and went down to the lower levels into the metro station to catch my ride to the hostel. The only time I was in the rain was the short walk from the metro station to the hostel. I checked in, found my room, and decided that a little rain wasn’t going to stop me from seeing the exhibit tonight.

I hopped back on the metro and headed towards the Milan Cathedral. This time the scene around the Cathedral had radically changed. Of course it was raining but besides that, a huge stage with enormous sound equipment had been set up directly in front of the cathedral. The Milan Expo would be starting soon so I could only assume it had something to do with that. The Royal Palace was on the other side of the stage and soon I found myself standing in line for the Leonardo da Vinci exhibit.

I spent hours and hours walking around looking through his artwork, so much time that my legs were hurting from standing and staring at his artwork by the time I was finished. The entire time I kept wondering ‘what was going on in your mind while you were creating this’. Needless to say the artwork was absolutely amazing. It was my first museum visit on the trip and it was worth every minute.

By the time I got out of there, it was night. Back at the hostel I asked the receptionist where she liked to eat. She told me that her and her daughter actually ate at a little kebab shop just down the street. I had seen kebab shops all over Italy everywhere I went and decided that I had better try it. I took the metro to one stop past my hostel and had no problem finding the little restaurant. This was the cheapest and one of the best meals I had during my whole time in Italy! I was so nice to have a break from all that pizza and pasta.

I went to bed excited knowing the next day I was was finally heading to a new and beautiful country, Switzerland. My buddy, Tyler, back in California had told me about a little village in the Swiss alps he said he’d love to visit some day. I decided it would be my first stop.

The Five Lands

Last night’s sleep in the hammock was nice. I only woke up once in the middle of the night around 4:30AM which was typical for me anyway. I lay there for awhile and kept hearing noises around me I couldn’t identify. At first, I thought it was an animal walking around and crunching branches beneath its feet. The weird thing is that I’d only heard the noises for a couple seconds and then it would be silent for seven or ten minutes before I’d hear it again. I decided there wasn’t any way this was an animal; I’d hear then walking around for awhile, I thought. I convinced myself it was probably twigs and branches falling from trees around me caused by the wind. At any rate, I was able to ignore the sounds long enough to fall back asleep.

I awoke around 8:30AM and started packing my hammock, sleeping bag, and air mattress back into my backpack. It was neat seeing the place I picked in the day time after having no idea where I was last night. I walked back down the hill to the train station and hopped on the next train to Monterossa al Mare, one of the five Cinque Terre cities that was farthest from me. My plan was to start there and hike back through each city, ending up back near La Spezia where I could take a train to Milan to see the Leonardo da Vinci museum the next day.

Monterossa al Mare was a small Italian city nestled into a beautiful landscape of mountains and sea. The hike through each city would take me up through the mountains along the coast of the Mediterranean. Here’s a word of advice, I don’t recommend this hike with a 25 pound backpack. It was brutal, but the view around me more than made up for it. At some point along the trail an old man was selling fruit, and I ended up buying a couple oranges from him. He threw in a lemon along with it, which reminded me of my buddy who told me about Cinque Terre in the first place, Patrick. This man lives off of sour citrus fruit. I ate an orange and tossed the rest in my bag for later.

There were a few signs marking how much further the next city was. At some point along the way, I started hearing other hikers mention the trails were closed to the next city. No one seemed to know for sure, but if that was the case, I could always hop on the train and head out.

Near the end of the two hour hike from the first city to the next, I met a guy from Chicago. He asked if I’d snap a picture for him, and we continued to hike to the next city. There we grabbed some lunch and found that the trail to the third city was actually open. We learned that it was the trails to the four and fifth cities that were closed due to mudslides a few years back. We decided to continue on together, but it didn’t take long before I was well behind The backpack was slowing me down but I wasn’t about to quit. I met back up with Chicago near the third city. We stopped near the city center and I checked on my phone to see if there were BlaBlaCar rides to Milan. There weren’t. I also messaged my Italian buddy Davide telling him I’d be back in the area. He said I was more than welcome to stay with him if I liked.

Chicago and I found out that, while the main hiking trails to the next cities were closed, hikers could take the high mountain trails up and around the closed trails. At this point, I decided against it and Chicago and I departed ways. I never did ask the guy his name.

I hopped on the train and started my way back to La Spezia. As the train grew closer, I decided that I’d stay on for one more stop past La Spezia to see if it was the right train bound for Milan. Unfortunately it wasn’t. I needed to go north but the train turned south, so I hopped off at the next train station. This was a mistake. There were no signs or any other indications there at the little train station that gave any clues as to how to get to Milan or anywhere else for that matter. The only cool thing about stopping there was that while the train station obviously wasn’t being used to help people travel on trains, I could hear a drum teacher and his student inside receiving drum lessons.

I waited for quite awhile before another train showed up headed in the opposite direction. I didn’t care where it was going. I knew I wasn’t going to get anywhere standing around at a (mostly) deserted train station. The train took me back to La Spezia and this time I made sure I got on a train heading to Milan.

That wasn’t the only train-related mistake I made that day. The ride back to Milan was a long one, and once there all I wanted to do was get to Luino where I’d have a place to stay. I checked the signs for the next train to Luino and climbed aboard.

The wrong train. This one was heading to Turino, though I had no idea at the time. All the signs said “Turin”, and I simply assumed it was smaller town on the way to Luino. Nope. The train traveled for over two hours before finally reaching Turino. While on the ride I met a family of whatever the French equivalent of rednecks are. The were goofy as hell and while I couldn’t understand a word they were saying, that didn’t stop them from trying to interact with me. It certainly helped the long ride to Turino go by quicker.

I realized my mistake just before arriving at the Turino train station. It was around the same time I would have been arriving at Luino, but I was nowhere near it. I was hours away and wasn’t about to take anymore trains that night so I left the train station and, without a wifi connection, started searching for hotels. There were about five near the station, so I went and asked each one for their cheapest rate. The first place I talked to ended up being the cheapest so I walked back and booked a room. After screwing up my travel plans as bad as I did that day, I was relieved to be staying in such a nice hotel that night.

The Leaning Tower

The best part of staying in hostels is the people you meet. I woke up this morning to see a handful of people I met the night before and another guy getting ready for the day. We all discussed our trips so far and were explaining where we were all going. Cinque Terre was next on my list, or so I thought. After talking with them that morning, I decided I’d stop in Pisa to see the famous Leaning Tower.

I absolutely love BlaBlaCar. There’s always several drivers in Italy going anywhere you want to go, and today was no exception. This time, my driver and his passenger were both in the Italian military. The driver was a helicopter pilot and spoke great English so we talked for most of the way to Pisa. He had been to the states before so we talked about the differences between the two countries. As we drove, I couldn’t help but think how much this part of Italy reminded me of Kansas with its lack of hills and farms scattered all about.

During the time we weren’t talking, I began thinking about life. One thing I realized is that rarely did I ever have deep and meaningful conversations with the people in my life. The BlaBlaCar driver asked several questions that really made me wonder where I stood when it came to certain aspects of my life. The truth is, I hadn’t ever thought about many of these things before. By the time the ride was over, I felt like I needed to make stronger connections with people, not only to get to know them better but to get to know myself.

The driver dropped me off at the train station in Pisa. This seemed to be a common theme for all BlaBlaCar drivers. I guess it makes sense; most people are probably just using BlaBlaCar for one leg of their journey. Before being dropped off, I could see the Leaning Tower in the distance. It was now hiding behind the buildings around me but I knew which way to start walking. Pisa is not a very big city, especially when comparing it to the cities I had visited so far, and it didn’t take me any time at all to reach the famous tower.

I took several pictures, but like the hostel buddies had told me that morning, there wasn’t much more to see in Pisa. I thought about making my way up to Lucca, a city still surrounded by it’s anxient city wall. Considering how much time I had left in the day, I decided to make my way up to La Spezia instead. La Spezia was just outside of Cinque Terre and I knew staying there that night would make it much easier to make my way to the five cities in the morning.

For the first time, there were no BlaBlaCar drivers heading that way. I’d have to do things to old fashioned way… train. I walked back to the train station and headed hopped on the next train heading to La Spezia.

Earlier, I had decided that I would stay in my hammock that night. I got off at the train station just before La Spezia and while it was already dark out, I decided I was still going to try it out. I started walking towards the hills from the train station and down the city roads for at least half an hour. I still wasn’t completely out of the city, but I was close enough. There, just off the road and as far away as I could be from the surrounding houses, I trekked out into the woods. I actually stayed in my hammock several nights in Kansas while preparing for my trip just to make sure I knew what it would take to set it up and what it would be like to sleep in it. I’m very glad I did. It took me a short while to find the perfect place to set it up; the only light source I had was my flashlight, but I was able to get it hung without any problems.

I climbed into my hammock that night with a huge, goofy grin on my face. Other than the occasional unidentifiable rustling in the distance, it was completely silent. I lay there staring up at the stars for awhile before I finally drifted of to sleep.