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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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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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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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Seeing Seattle

I booked a bed at the local American Hotel HI in the Asian side of Seattle. Being the friendly hostel veteran that I am, I quickly made friends with another solo traveler – a really sweet girl from Uruguay who was traversing the U.S. after her study abroad. We checked out a local noodle shop and then walked to the harbor. Next door to the hostel was also a dessert shop. It was so colorful that you just had to walk in. The shelves were lined with beautifully decorated cake slices of every flavor. The menu also included every kind of Boba Tea you could imagine.

 

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Tillamook, Sauvie Island and Portland

I left Gold Beach on another overcast and drizzling day and made for Tillamook State Forest. I knew I wanted to visit Portland, but also that I would need to stop somewhere in-between according to the distance I am willing to drive and the money I had. I knew free camping and a coffee shop would see me through. I was also buying time wondering if I should contact my second cousin who I thought might still live in Oregon. Five years my junior, she had always been to me a spoiled princess that required babysitting. When I last saw her she had grown from an attention-needy child into a boy-crazy teenager and I was debating whether I really wanted to visit with someone who I plainly took as annoying.

I stopped at a farmer’s market in Coos Bay to stretch my legs and then in the late afternoon pulled into the state forest. Finding a secluded camping spot turned out to be quite a challenge, as the free camping available was mostly for ATV enthusiasts who were out in full force. I unfortunately damaged my car backing into what I thought was a campsite and into a rock.


The next day, I brushed my teeth and cleaned up in the coffee shop bathroom before going to work. The coffee shop did lack one thing though… outlets. I decided to go find a more suitable work location and stumbled upon the generous and spacious Tillamook Public Library. I also decided to connect with my cousin, after all she is older now and it’s not right to judge someone by their youth.

I grabbed some cheese curds from the Tillamook Cheese factory on my way out-of-town and headed off to meet my cousin Olivia when she got off work. She was very excited that I was in the area and was beyond welcoming. I have several first cousins close to my age and I never really thought about how lonely it must be for her. After all my dad is her first cousin and he’s close to the same age as her dad. Also, all of our family lives in the South and she’s all the way on the opposite end of the country! Read the rest of this entry