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Bellinzona and Valle Verzasca – Pinterest Success!

pinterest-valle-verzascaIn Como, I made up my mind that I was going to try to find this swimming hole that I had pinned on Pinterest that mapped out as pretty close by. Pinterest has a new mapping feature, which is pretty cool if you’re traveling! So I used the hostel wifi at breakfast to pull up Google Maps and see what the transportation situation was like. I found out that while this place wasn’t very far away, I was going to need to change trains in this town called Bellinzona and because I would likely be getting in mid-day, I would need accommodations for the night.

Researching Bellinzona I found out that it actually is a UNSECO World Heritage Site with three castles! Pretty awesome! So I packed up my backpack (which was extra small as I had left my backpacking one in Milan and was traveling with a school sized backpack… yeah, I wore the same clothes over and over… but it’s good to travel light), booked my hostel and I walked to the Como train station. Well, first I walked to the wrong train station, but they straightened me up over there. Because I walked to the wrong station, I missed the first train and spent the majority of the afternoon hanging out at the train station.

I point this out because people think that traveling or vacation is all glamourous and pleasant all the time. Yes, it is wonderful, but part of the reason why I’ve seen so many amazing things is because I’ve been ok to eat PB&J, stay in and work, sleep in my car, accidentally go to the wrong place, hurry up and wait, wear the same thing over and over, ride long distances.

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Ciao Milano

The Prologue

People have been asking a few different questions recently. Where is Whitney? How come you haven’t blogged in a while? What have you been up to? How can you afford to travel?

I’m attempting to answer these questions here:

1.) I am currently in Tampa. Plan to see some “How to do Florida like a local” posts in the future. I really like it here and I’ve started to accept how Floridian I am.

2.) I’m all full of excuses of why I haven’t blogged in a while. Mostly it’s because my life is busy, but in a more mundane sort of way.

Ecclesiastes 3 “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:

A time to be born and a time to die…”    …A time to surf and a time to host

Yes, I’ve been doing lots of hosting. I have a map of the U.S. that was hand embroidered by my Great Grandmother hanging in my living room. We use it as a reference point. “What states have you visited?” “I’m on holiday in the U.S. for two weeks, where should I go?” “I’ve been there.” I love hearing about other people’s journeys. Every Couchsurfer does it differently: foreign exchange students, long-distances bicyclists, au pairs, freelancers, conference attendees, vacationers, hitch-hikers, WOOFers and those lucky Germans on sabbatical.

3.) I’ve actually been up to quite a lot and that’s why I’m trying to get back in the swing of things!

4.) I know this may blow your mind, but traveling is not expensive. NOT AT ALL! In fact, it can be cheaper than staying in one spot.

So without further ado, I bring you my Italian adventure!

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Nashville and Asheville

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Nashville was truly my last stop, as in Asheville was meeting my family and Elliot, the guy I was dating back home, in just a few days for the 4th of July. I arrived at the very welcoming home of my Couchsurfing host Jacob, and his roommate Ken.

Timing does really mean quite a lot in life. In Kansas City I had been surrounded by people at the International House of Prayer and listening to their opinions. Like most conservative Christians, they found issue with the fact that back home I was dating a Jew.  I didn’t really find any issue with it, and neither did my family. Jews do have great reputations after all, they are known to put out hard-working, respectable, financially responsible men who treat their women well. What’s not to like? And besides Jesus was Jewish! But I did understand where they were coming from, it wasn’t something I hadn’t heard before and I began to wonder if I maybe should only date Christian guys.

Coincidentally, about a week later in Nashville I landed on the doorstep of two attractive young Christian men. Little did I consider (it was pretty obvious once it was pointed out) that one of the effects of traveling the country by yourself is that you become more interesting, and therefore more attractive. People love to live vicariously through travelers, traveling solo makes you seem very secure in yourself and since this was the last destination really, I had plenty of stories to tell.IMG_20130701_183017_649 Read the rest of this entry

St. Louis – Back to the South

Apparently there is a debate across our country on whether St. Louis is really Southern. From my experiences it is – though my thoughts on whether a place is Southern or not is largely culinary based. Do they brew the sugar in the tea or do they stir it in after the fact when you order? I can taste a difference! Do they traditionally have their own distinct style of BBQ (Pulled Pork Carolina Mustard Style, Texas Cut Brisket, ect.) I grew up sticking my head out the school bus window to smell that savory smoke billowing out the front screen of BC’s BBQ – the pride and joy of all the Yalaha, Florida locals. I’d smell it down the road on Saturdays and hear the vroom of  biker groups speeding by on their pilgrimage. We had to stop by grab the meat, a coke from the long wall cooler and a mini sweet potato pie at the cash register. I later worked at Sonny’s serving up the good stuff – smelling of sweet sauce. I couldn’t wait to get my hands on some authentic St. Louis style ribs!

I was directed to this place called Pappy’s by my Couchsurfing host Mark. I was fortunate to have a spare bedroom in the apartment of my freshly college graduated and surprisingly platonic roommates Mark and Laura. I was told to go to Pappy’s at an odd time of the day, because it is always packed. I headed over at around 2:30. There was a line out the door, but the BBQ was worth the wait! Ohh… it was some good stuff!

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Praying for Home

I covered a lot of ground between Laramie and St. Louis. It’s mapped at about 13 and a half hours of driving, but it took me several days. I left Laramie hoping to make it to Kansas City. That thought was a little over ambitious as for the record I don’t drive over 7 hours a day by myself and it’s a 10.5 hour trip. I ended up driving just about as far as I could.

Nebraska is a rather boring state. It’s filled with farms and towns that are barely a speck on the map. The terrain is flat and doesn’t contain many large trees or bodies of water. I stopped to stretch my legs at Fort Kearney. I jumped in the air after almost stepping on a snake and I took a ton of photos of my adorable little prairie dog friend.

Around sunset I stopped for free camping in a public park. I was surrounded by RVs and locals playing baseball. It was a nice park, but I couldn’t tell you where it was. I don’t think I could’ve told you where I was at that moment either. Settling in for that night I was hit in the face with humidity for the first time in months. Before I left on my trip, I didn’t really understand humidity. Growing up in the South people like to talk about humidity, but it’s just that there’s indoor air and outdoor air. I thought all outdoor air felt a certain way – because well, it isn’t air conditioning! That night I finally understood it was like someone had decided to throw a warm bucket of water in my face, I couldn’t sleep in my car without being damp, I couldn’t sit outside without moisture. It wasn’t the most comfortable night – I don’t like sleeping under bright lights anyway, but a long day was ahead.  Read the rest of this entry

Laramie and the Landlords

I made it to Laramie and decided to check out the Wyoming Territorial State Prison. Laramie is a small college town and there isn’t a whole lot to do there, but there is the prison. I was actually really happy I checked it out! There are a ton of cool old buildings on the site and the audio tour is very informative. Some outlaws make infamous by western movies (such as Butch Cassidy) were incarcerated there and the truth was normally not quite as exciting as the legends. The prison ran a broom factory on site and part of the prison had been used by the university at one point, so not only could you learn about prison life, but you could also find out about farming and old-fashioned broom making.

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The Town of Jackson

I was fortunate to get a last-minute Couch Surfing acceptance from Seth in Jackson, Wyoming. Locals call it Jackson, not Jackson Hole. I made that mistake and put Jackson Hole in my GPS and ended up at a parking lot of a resort I couldn’t afford to stare at. When I finally made it into town I walked around and swung into the Grand Teton Gallery. Seth was out in the woods and I needed to kill time before meeting him. I found the right gallery as they were having a magazine launch party that evening! I lucked out! Bar! Who needs a bar! I found a social place with free food (and good stuff – shrimp cocktails, cheese, meat, crackers, watermelon…), wine  and lots of art! A few of the pieces in the gallery were from some of the same artists that show at the Plantation Wildlife Arts Festival in Thomasville, Georgia. I do work for the arts festival, so I was so excited to see the work of some artists that I knew!

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Boise and The Oregon Trail

I have always wanted to head west. In elementary school I had a guinea pig named Fievel and I loved playing Oregon Trail. I always knew that the real Oregon Trail was going to be a highlight of my trip and I planned to stop at as many landmarks as I could. One of these landmarks that was featured in the game was the Whitman Mission. There wasn’t really any of the mission left to see, but they had a nice museum and it had a park atmosphere great for leg stretching.

I was happy to get out and stretch my legs. The scenery changes drastically from eastern Washington to Idaho. The desert makes way to vast green hills. I had underestimated the size of the hills in my mind. I was driving along some elevation, but you would look over large amounts of flat land too. I’m so grateful for interstate highways and motor vehicles. Seeing those tracks winding over the sides of hills looked precarious enough without a wagon on them.

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Paths Crossed in Gold Beach

Paths Crossed in Gold Beach

I found my way to the house in Gold Beach and pulled in right after John. I saw that old red 4-wheel drive with the platform bed inside and felt so excited that I had the opportunity to see one of my friends from the road again. In Vegas (Viva Las Vegas post) we discussed the possibility of our paths crossing at some point, but by this time I had began to doubt that it was going to happen.

Bless the good folks that let us crash at their houses. We were one in the same. Two sun-tanned road bums show up with loaded down hatchbacks, long hair that we trim ourselves, in dirty clothes, with dirty bodies… having not washed in days. Both not entirely sure when we are going to leave. Both happy to sleep on the floor or in the car. Read the rest of this entry

Left My Home in Georgia, Headed to the ‘Frisco Bay

San Francisco is the weirdest place I’ve been. I heard I would love it. I heard I could make way more money if I lived there. Well, I suppose I could make more money if I lived there, but considering the price of rent it wouldn’t really mean very much. The hostel was twice as expensive as any hostel on my trip. In addition to being more expensive, I also had to pay $24 for 24 hours to park my car in a nearby garage. I did the math and determined I wasn’t going to be staying in San Francisco for very long.

The HI San Francisco City Center was one of the most beautiful hostels. I rolled my suitcase across the marble floor of the lobby in the old 1920s hotel feeling elegant. The hostel was filled with unique and beautiful decorations, a chic romantically lit bar and a mezzanine on the second story that overlooked the lobby. They played old black and white movies at night, but I didn’t stay in very much.

I spent some time walking around the neighborhood aka Little Saigon. San Francisco is filled with beautiful architecture, there were interesting shops and galleries in the area to stop in, murals to take pictures of and TONS of homeless people. Actually all of San Francisco is filled with people living on the street, which makes the entire city kinda dirty (um… that poop on the sidewalk probably isn’t dog poop. Dog owners are pretty good about scooping up in California. Sidewalk squatters aren’t quite as considerate.) Feeling a little overwhelmed, I decided to call the one person I know in San Francisco – my friend Robin I met at the hostel in Austin during SXSW. Here’s the recap if you want the background story.

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