Theme: European Christmas HolidayCountry: Italy Language: English & Italian Unit of Currency: Euro Location: Milan, Rome, & Venice Year: 2011 Bucket list: Entering Rome’s Colosseum
DO: BROWSE EUROPE’S MOST FASHIONABLY PRICED DESIGNER CLOTHES
Exploring the city and setting the scene for creative photography
DO: TOUR THE COLOSSEUM
Touring the Colosseum and adventuring into other ruins for the day
DO: EXPLORE THE FLOATING CITY
Walking through every nook and cranny that the city has to offer
A little life lesson I learned– When traveling you have to be flexible. Sure I have an itinerary on the locations and dates that I should be in the following countries; however, you cannot prepare for some hiccups along the way.
After my train from Ljubljana, Slovenia I woke up to find myself missing my train connection in Villach Westbf, Austria and ended up in Spittal – Mattersee, Austria (merely 45 minutes away from my anticipated arrival train station!). At 0300 this was not what I wanted to deal with, but fortunately I was able to get a train back to the original train station in Villach Westbf and later continue my train ride to Venice, Italy! If this was the worst thing that happens to me during this Eurotrip, then I will be grateful!
Ventures of Italy:
Venice – The city’s labyrinthine network of islands, bridges, pedestrian alleys, and canals made this location one of most unique and spectacular places to visit! If the fact that Venice sits upon a body of water was not amazing enough, the entire city prides itself on the festival where locals wear masks (resembles Mardi Gras).
Every shop sold masks; some of the most beautiful and creative pressed paper designs that I had ever seen. And therein lies the beauty of the destination: afternoons spent wandering from palace to piazza, exploring the small art museums, shopping the stalls that line the streets, and encountering a fresh side of Venice, a fascinating amalgamation of influences—Roman, Byzantine, Ottoman, and Italian—every time you round a corner.
Venice or as locals acknowledge this city as the perpetual love affair has over 118 small islands that create this watery world of mystery. It was super easy to forget the map and get lost amongst the Byzantine domes and palazzos leading to an amazing slew of mystical possessions and great treats!
Milan – the famous location known for the completed works of Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Last Supper.” The locals referred Leonardo da Vinci as the “genius of a renaissance man” with compelling captivation of his power, depth, and humanity of his masterpieces.
It was evident that along with the great combination of architecture, artists, and a keen fashionable sense, Milan is the perfect example of a place that enjoys the finer things in life. For example, a stroll across its Piazza del Duomo and the endless streets of local shops corroborates the city’s love for fashion, which consequently folded Milan into a city of an epicent of fashion, design, and good living. The Duomo itself captured the city’s creative energy with its size and ornamentation
Rome – Several years past its third millennium mark, the warmest of European capitals was more captivating than ever. Rome’s dramatic physique, from her majestic antiquities to her sinuous baroque curves, had been thrown into even higher relief by a modern trend that had made its presence felt in a major way: in hotels, restaurants, and shops that have adopted a more current, international aesthetic. Traditionalists needn’t worry, however—Rome was still very much enamored of her past, and you can find old-school establishments all over town if you know where to look.
While the Colosseum and the Vatican still loom large in the skyline and identity of Rome, you’ll discover the true soul of the city away from the big sights—in neighborhood coffee bars and trattorias, and from riders of Vespas exchanging boisterous greetings while passing on cobblestone backstreets. For a city this stylish and accomplished, Rome’s remarkable accessibility, even for first-time or short-term visitors, is her most generous asset. Not to mention that Vatican City, the smallest country in the world, was a barrier to the visitors of Rome, but home to the residents who pride on this mysterious and intriguing location.
At the time of Christmas Cheer and Good Tidings, the traditional and more decorative Christmas Markets come to light. Romans erect elaborate presepi (Nativity scenes) across the city, from life-size tableaux on the Spanish Steps and before St. Peter’s to countless crèches in church chapels, all populated by papier-mâché or terracotta figurines and most with a pizza parlor tucked between the shops of the Bethlehem backdrop.
Market action centers in Rome on Piazza Navona, its Bernini fountains surrounded by stalls hawking toys, handmade presepio figures, carnival games of chance, ciambelle (dinner plate-size doughnuts), and 101 variations on peanut brittle! Talk about a great way to introduce Christmas to the lovely month of December!
I could go on forever about the unforgettable time that I had in Italy, but I thought one post would suffice.
Theme: Greek Island Hoppin’ Venture Country: Greece Language: Greek Unit of Currency: Euro Location: Athens, Chania, Mykonos Island, & Santorini Island Year: 2012 & 2013 Bucket list: Photographing sunsets from Santorini Island
DO: SCOPE OUT GREEK ARCHITECTURE
Hiring a tour guide and exploring the city
DO: ISLAND HOP
Having a proper night out with a diversity of people all over the world
Spending a few days on the island, and making sure to hit every secret cobble-stoned path
Theme: West Balkan & Turkey War Tour Country: Republic of Macedonia Language: Macedonian Unit of Currency: Macedonian denar Location: Matka & Skopje Year: 2013 Bucket list: Signature jumpin’ photograph in a lake cave
DO: SAIL TO THE CAVE ON THE LAKE
Visiting a cave on the lake only by a boat
DO: TAKE A STROLL AROUND THE CITY
Walking around a populated city, encountering a small taste of Turkey’s culture, and exploring the city’s creativity
The Best of Republic of Macedonia:
First impressions of Skopje at night: After the 4 hour bus ride from Pristina, Kosovo I was relieved to arrive in the early evening. Once set on exploring the city’s nightlife, I quickly checked-in to Urban Hostel. My quest for the night was to view the silhouette of Fortress Kale. To my surprise, the shape of the fortress stood out against the light-shaded moon and background. It was definitely a beautiful, and unexpected sight!
There were a lot of great highlights during my time in Republic of Macedonia, but these top three are the ones that stood out the most:
1) It really is a small world – Consequently, I met up some girls in Pristina, Kosovo who were living in Macedonia for quite some time. Since Skopje was on my list, it was only natural to take the opportunity and visit with them during my travels. Once I was introduced to their international friends, I had my first Macedonian dinner. And that started the tale of how I lost my favorite purple-collared shirt!
2) The cave hidden in the mountains – Since I love caving, it was penciled in my itinerary to journey to Matka (roughly 45 km outside of Skopje). During this time, I was the only tourist located on the mountain, but my tour guide definitely made it worth my while when we went by boat to enter the cave. In the end, I even took a signature jumpin’ photograph and managed to not disturb the bats lurking in the cave!
3) High energy of the Old Bazaar protesters – The trek across Stone Bridge with the whispered warning of protesters in the area made it an interesting experience in this unique location. Not only did this place help create the “Turkey” experience that I longed for, but on this particular day, I had also gotten a taste of the hate within the Macedonian and Albanian groups – fortunately, many civilians came together and wrote positive messages on balloons expressing their love and devotion on ending war between the two parties.
Theme: West Balkan & Turkey War Tour Country: Kosovo Language: Albanian & Serbian Unit of Currency: Euro Location: Pristina & Prizren Year: 2013 Bucket list: Hiking to the Fortress of Prizren
DO: TOUR THE CITY
Drinking, eating, photographing, and hanging out with the locals in the city
DO: TREK TO THE FORTRESS OF PRIZREN
Witnessing city views from the hill sides
The Amazing Adventures of Kosovo:
It is incredible how you meet people, and traveling around the world reminds me of this quite often. My time in Kosovo will be intertwined into three stories (individualized into three posts).
This post will unfold my first story and will capture the perfect moments during the first time in Pristina, Kosovo.
SO THERE I WAS walking within the alleyways of Pristina, with plenty of daylight and no set itinerary in hand. I stumbled upon the University of Pristina, where a National Library was conveniently placed in a courtyard and Christ the Saviour Cathedral was close by.
I remember thinking how amazing it would be to have a signature jumpin’ photograph in front of this famous Serbian church. Once the thought crossed my mind, a nice engaged couple approached me and asked to take my photograph.
After traveling to quite a bit destinations, I am a bit hesitant about lending my camera for someone to photograph me; however, after making a joke and mentioning that I can run fast in my trainers if they decide to steal my camera, I let my guard down and happily accepted their offer.
I am really glad that I did! I spent the entire afternoon and evening tagging along on their routinely “Sunday afternoon walk” around the city. Not only did I get to visit the places that were a ‘must see,’ but I also was able to experience the city through their eyes.
It was fate that led me to this unique city. Unlike all the cities that I have planned to visit in the West Balkan states and Turkish regions, I knew very little about this hidden gem. With the depth of history embedded into Pristina and the genuine kindness that seeped from individual characters that I met during my first day there, I can honestly say my impressions of Pristina were incredible. I am thankful that I trekked to this city and met the most amazing people during my journey.
The next two stories include a loving and generous family in Prizren, Kosovo and an amazing group of university students whom define why communication does not always have to be verbal.
This post will illustrate how sometimes at the most unexpected moments in our lives, we come across a string of individuals that display a kindness and warmheartedness that is rare to find. Fortunately for me, I was at the right moment and the right time.
It all started when I just finished a walking tour in Prizren, Kosovo with one of the hostel owners that I had anticipated staying with that night.
In order to continue learning about the historical significance of each country and the difficult obstacles that the West Balkans have faced during the time of war, I had to complete my tour in Prizren with discovering its most famous fortress.
The quest was to find the Prizren Castle, since it was destroyed during the First World War. This unique structure was built to protect Prizren from foreign attacks and consists of a great number of underground tunnels.
I thought that this was proved to be an easy task, but to my surprise there was a 90 degree up-hill trek that was in my way. After over-heating from the multiple layers of winter attire shaped to my body, I stopped to take in the view. As the cobble-stoned pathways welcomed my feet, I remember thinking how beautiful this cityscape really was.
Once caught my breath and started the treacherous climb yet again, I heard a faint “Hello” behind me. Startled as someone just spoke English in a non-speaking English city, to my surprise turned around and found a row of smiles looking at me. One of the oldest female siblings approached me and we begun to speak little English and display hand-gestures as if we were long-time friends.
At the top of the hill, we had all reached our final destination – the Prizren Castle. A few moments later when I had begun my capturing the beauty of the city within the images that I had photographed, I was asked by the young girl about my travels, university attended, and what my occupation was. Consequently, this information was being translated from English to Albanian to her entire family.
After a translated session of communication, I was politely offered to visit with the family in their home, which turned out was quite close to where my hostel was located.
I can honestly say that I have met dozens of locals in various travel destinations that I have been to (especially traveling solo), but I had rarely taken the offer and opportunity to visit their residence. When I thought about this invitation, I gazed at their facial expressions and focused on the range of ages that was eagerly awaiting my response. A family of six consisting of 3 children, 2 young adults, and 2 adults excitedly and wholeheartedly showed their enthusiasm when I said “Yes, I will come visit with you and your family in your home.”
And that was the story of how life-time friendships were formed. I will forever be grateful for the company that I had during my time in Prizren, especially having one of my best travel experiences with a local family in Kosovo.
Without further delay, here is my favorite image of the Hoxha family!
This post ends my time in Kosovo, but it would not be a great travel story if it did not have an incredible ending!
Once I met the Hoxha family, I became instant good friends with their oldest daughter, Elona.
I could have stuck around and explored Prizren’s nightlife, but I decided that I would chill with my new friend and her mates instead. This would include a bus ride back to Pristina and a proper night out.
During the course of my time learning about the girls, their studies, and what their common interests were, we had spent the time speaking slower English, gesturing, and even I had absorbed a tad bit of Albanian words to help the communication.
Regardless, I was not able to clearly communicate my thoughts and ideas to them, but I can honestly say that this had made my experience so much more meaningful.
Communication does not always have to be verbal, and though I had a few minutes of discussion on Beyonce and Lady Gaga, I really enjoyed the challenge of embracing a new culture and appreciated their patience while I slowly exchanged my new Albanian dictionary of words.
It turns out that my time with the girls was one of the coolest experiences I had with some local university students during my West Balkan states tour.
The best moment was when we had to say our goodbyes – each of the three girls had bought me a small gift of appreciation. In addition, I made a promise that I would back to visit again. In return of their generosity, I purchased 4 blue bracelets (represents their American Marine Biologist friend). It is awesome to think that we will always have a treasure from the moments that we spent in Kosovo together.