Rome X: Saltwater

4:30am last Wednesday, I was dragged out of bed by the promise of an island, thronged with the other sleepwalkers onto a charter bus and slowly pulleyed away from Rome. Morning bus rides have been one of my favorite things here – everyone is so quiet and sleepy, it has the peace of night with the light of day. It also has rest stop cappuccinos, which never hurt, although they are not quite as effective in providing energy as a good gaze into the seafoam from a ferry deck, which is where we eventually ended up. So does the effectiveness of a cappuccino even matter? In this case, I guess, it does not.

We were headed to Ponza, a white-and-pastel island in the Tyrrhenian Sea, her cliffs and grottos knee-deep in the bluest water I’d ever seen (I’ve now seen bluer… but that’s beside the point). Because of this, there was sort of a collective gasp as we pulled into the main harbor. Just a slight change of scenery, little different than Rome. Karly and I shared a hotel room with a balcony overlooking that harbor, that harbor being a spectacular stage on which the sunset glowed. I don’t think a Fairfield Inn in central Washington is going to cut it anymore. Take note. I’ve been spoiled. In addition to the balcony, the woman who worked in the little breakfast nook is also to blame – she gave me coffee and chocolate croissants. And a hug when I left. Everyone stay at Hotel Mari!

Going out on boats played a large role in our time on Ponza, as is only appropriate. We rented giant bins of flippers, goggles, and snorkels (you never realize how ridiculous the words are until you type them in succession), donning them when the time was right and plummeting into the water. It was cold. It was also really salty, and I was a little shocked to find that no one else shared my enthusiasm for the taste of saltwater – you know, when you lick your lips, or chew on your hair or whatever. It’s good stuff. Plus, it makes styling my hair so much easier; post-snorkeling, had I wanted to mold my hair into the shape of Italy, I probably could have done so. The actual act of snorkeling is also good, of course. I’d never seen the bottom of the sea before, or swam into a cave, or experienced the tenfold-increased intensity of blue between above-water and below-water. I remember reading a book in a poetry class a couple years ago – it was the only book I liked that quarter – about the color blue. Bluets, by Maggie Nelson. I was introduced to ultramarine, the richest and bluest of blues, but I didn’t actually feel it until Ponza. It just kind of engulfs you, and ten minutes later you can’t remember it. I think blue is my favorite color.

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I’ll remember Ponza for the seafood dinners where I didn’t eat seafood, instead opting for half a basket of bread and bouts of laughter which actually made me feel like maybe I was going to die, like my eyes would literally pop out of my head and my abs would catch fire. Not altogether unpleasant, although a little concerning. I’ll remember sitting at breakfast for two hours, and standing in the tide as the sand was swept from under my feet, and finding a cactus that mysteriously captured the same movement of Bernini’s Apollo, and perching myself at the front of various boats, hardly dreading the inevitable struggle of brushing my hair later. A song for Ponza? “Crawled Out of the Sea,” Laura Marling. And as for poems, it will always be “Love Calls Us to the Things of This World,” as discussed in that cave-like room that smelled of pastries. Next?

Capri. Getting there from Ponza was a jaunt – ferry, train, cab, ferry – and for a few hours there were doubts that we would even make it. With our time constraints, it felt like the Amazing Race. I mean, I’ve never watched the Amazing Race, but a girl can imagine. The eleven of us sat at the Formia train station plotting out the journey: who was going in what cab, who was buying ferry tickets, who was standing off to the side pretending to be an Italian stranger in case our airbnb guy figured out we had an extra person… the list goes on. But we made our train to Naples, and our taxi drivers were quick to get us to the ferry terminal, and no one had to pretend to be anyone else. It was beautiful. And it got more beautiful.

The boat took us across the water, past Mt. Vesuvius, not cutting the waves but rollicking with them. With the salty wind accosting our hair, we stumbled around the rocking ship like drunks, laughing at the bigger waves and trying to capture the sunset on our phones. I tried jumping in one of the aisles to see if the boat would move under me – it did. Not recommended. We were on the boat for about an hour, meaning the last light in the sky was just leaving when Capri started growing on the horizon. Uh HOLY SHIT. This is the kind of stunned-breathless you only feel a few times in your life. We pulled into the harbor sideways, and I could feel the winding cliff-lights reflecting off my glasses just like the myriad lanterns on the docks stretched out and shone on the water. Like damn. Just because I know I can’t carry on this description without swearing myself into oblivion, I will show you a picture:

UGH

UGH

Starry-eyed (at least in my case), we walked off the boat and routed ourselves to our villa. On a cliff. Overlooking the sea. HOW IS THIS MY LIFE? Anyway, supposedly this journey involved upwards of 35 flights of stairs, and although I did not count, it wouldn’t surprise me. It was a hike. But we got there, and it was incredible. The house slept eleven people very comfortably, there was a garden, plenty of flat rooftop space for sitting and/or passing out from the beauty beheld by your eyes. We didn’t really know how phenomenal our view was until the next morning when we woke up, though – the sea and the valley between the two hills, a cliff behind us, trees too, and an unbelievable number of seagulls swooping over the land below us. I think we were all pretty confused: on the one hand, we are college students, and on the other, we were people staying at this villa. It just didn’t make sense.

The view, with a bowl of Cocoa Puffs.

The view, with a bowl of Cocoa Puffs.

Our first morning, we went on an Unintentional Hike Through the Wilderness. We were trying to get to Anacapri by following spray-painted red dots on boulders, but the spray-painted red dots on boulders led us up treacherous paths, narrow and winding, slippery and riddled with metal rods protruding from the ground. Eventually we came to a a giant rock which the spray-painted red dots wanted us to climb – like, vertically – and since none of us had climbing gear/experience, and a few of our band were in flats, we decided to trek back down the mountain and take the less forest-y stairs. Probably a good decision.

A decision which ultimately led us to ritzy shopping districts and quiet beach grottos – no complaints. I remember climbing back to the villa that night, dusk time, and finding my travel mates scattered around the yard, some on rooftops, a few on the patio, others wrapped in blankets on the grass. We were clustered in various places, with our potato chips and bottles of wine, but all were looking in the same direction. And, like that, we watched night settle in over Capri and her salt-spray sky.

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Capri Day Two began with a start: I was the first “chairlift to the sky” customer of the day, which meant I was first in line on the loading dock, which meant I had no idea that “loading” consisted of standing on a mat confusedly for a few seconds until a gruff man shoved you backwards into a moving chair and – poof – you were in the air. No warning. I busted out laughing and looked back to see my friends’ faces, still on the ground, all of them equally shocked with jaws dropped ever so slightly. On the way up, I swung my legs and appreciated the invention of chairlifts because, as we all know, this girl loves an aerial view. The view from the top of the mountain was even more stunning, but I’ve probably given you your fill of flowery cliffside descriptions, eh? There were seagulls and, as was pointed out at the time, it kind of looked like Jurassic Park. So there you go.

We also visited a small museum (as we do) and took a lengthy boat tour around the island, which included a pit stop at THE blue grotto. Blue Grotto? It should probably be capitalized. When I offhandedly mentioned a bluer blue than Ponza’s earlier, this is what I was talking about. It’s an odd experience, being pulled from one boat into a much smaller one, practically lying on top of your friends, and being serenaded in the cheesiest way by a man called “Antonio Casanova.” For some reason I was expecting a grotto detached from the mainland, like a giant rock in the sea with a gaping mouth through which these small rowboats could bob, but that’s not what it was at all. To enter the Blue Grotto, which is attached to the mainland of Capri, passengers crouch as the boat magically slicks through the tiniest opening in a rockface. It’s a little unbelievable. And once inside, it is an echoing darkness of black and blue, except in the opposite order you would expect: top half is black, bottom half the most vibrant ultramarine. If you stick your hand in the water, it adopts a similar hue.

Disclaimer: pictures never do anything justice

Disclaimer: pictures never do anything justice

Like anything wonderful and fleeting, you leave with the fear of forgetting it. And so I did.

Monday morning, the last on Capri, I woke up and went into the yard to clip my nails. While certainly not being the worst activity, clipping my nails has never been in the running as a personal favorite – it’s pretty mundane. But if I could clip my nails in the yard of a Capri villa for the rest of my life, I would not hesitate to do precisely that. This is what I was thinking as I reluctantly walked through the gate, down the countless stairs, all the way to the ferry port. Back to Rome we came.

I’ve come to the conclusion that I really love islands, although I’m not surprised by this. Humans need water for a reason, not just to drink it but to see it too. And while I found certain things in Capri problematic (you know something is up when there is literally a store called “Snobberie”), my island days here in Italy have been some of the most beautiful of my life, and that probably won’t change. Visiting Ponza and Capri never crossed my mind when I’d dream up travel plans in years past. But I think that makes the fact that I did get to visit them doubly special. It’s like surprise! beauty is in the places you don’t even know exist.

And now I’m down to nearly four days left, which is exciting and heartbreaking all at once. I will try to post again before I leave, but if I get too busy beaching and going on night walks –

This has been the best.

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Montana, Part I: the Hike

I am relatively new to the joys of hiking: the dirt, the horse flies hellbent on devouring human flesh, the oxygen produced by trees in the wilderness (thanks, trees!). I’ve always enjoyed standing witness to nature’s beauty, but actually, physically traipsing through its brush and uneven terrain hasn’t played a significant role in my life until quite recently.

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It’s always a befuddling mix of happy and sad when you realize you’ve been missing out on something wonderful for pretty much your whole life, whether it’s a song or a person or the view from the peak of Mount Aeneas. I’m no stranger to this feeling.

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While it’s regrettable that I’ve spent so much time not experiencing the world like this in the past 20 years, I’m incredibly thankful for my newfound desire to go out and kick up some dust with my tennis shoes (I’m not pro enough for hiking boots yet). I am also very thankful to have a camera to take with me on these excursions, and, it goes without saying, people around me who actually know what they’re doing in the great outdoors. I should probably invest in a camelbak, huh?

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My annual trips to the family cabin in Montana are always sun-filled and gorgeous and undeniably entertaining. But it’s easy to fall into the routine – paddleboard, read HP7, buy dorky souvenirs in gift shops – especially when I’ve been doing this my whole life. Traditions are great, don’t get me wrong. I’m just grateful for the opportunity to do something I’ve never done before, that something being an 8-mile hike with killer views of glaciers, lakes, and farmland. #THEBEAUTY

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“Yonder, Flathead Lake!”

In conclusion: the earth is beautiful, I have a lot of bug bites, I want to go on more hikes. Also, there are more stories from Montana to come this week! Life has been moving quickly, my blog is in the process of catching up.

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How to conquer Disneyland and prevent sunburns

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At this point in my life, my summers have become fairly predictable: I spend roughly two weeks reorganizing everything in my room, I read Nick Hornby novels, I drink iced tea, and inevitably I visit a Disney theme park with my family. I don’t know how, it just happens this way.

While many families opt for relaxation in their vacations, mine prefers the grueling challenge of conquering an overpopulated theme park in 90-degree weather – for some crazy reason, we have a lot of fun doing it. After so many visits, we have learned how to smooth over any hiccups that may occur in our plans – cheetos, for example, are our go-to cure for any feelings of nausea caused by rollercoaster inversions or excessive spinning, and occasionally you can hear my mother in the background mumbling, “cheetos… cheetos…” If the rest of us need a Dole whip break, we send Mr. Mission Mode (my father) to get fastpasses for Big Thunder. If my sister gets tired, we throw her a mocha and drag her onto the spinning teacups. If we miss the shuttle back to the hotel, we take a nice long walk past Vidcon at the convention center and have a chance run-in with GloZell (yes, this actually happened). We are effective, and we are fun. We are unstoppable. Except during the fireworks, because no one can navigate those crowds.

There were a few highlights from this year’s trip, and if you care to read, I will share them with you:

  1. My sister and I went on the Tower of Terror five times in a row. I can honestly say that after this experience, no drop in all of the Disneyland Resort even came close to fazing me. Falling twelve or thirteen stories felt like nothing after a few times. The reason we kept getting off the ride and looping around to the entrance again was the friends we made, the delightfully creepy bellhops Scott and Moses. I mean, we took selfies together, so I guess you could say we’re all pretty close.
  2. That same day, we all got on Big Thunder Mountain Railroad right when the nightly fireworks show started. Best way to watch, in my opinion.
  3. I managed to bring my ten-year-old cousin to the dark side, meaning I unknowingly taught her to sing the chorus of “Get On Your Feet” by Gloria Estefan (used in one of the funniest Parks and Rec scenes ever) at completely random times. If you didn’t know, I usually break into this song when I want to really annoy my sister, and it really works. So now she has me humming the chorus while we’re going to sleep, and my little cousin singing “here comes THE BUS” to Ms. Estefan’s melody when the shuttle pulls up to the hotel. Oops?
  4. We ordered what we thought was cheese pizza from a place called Oggi’s, and ended up getting LIFE. That four cheese eighth wonder of the world was LIIIIFE. I have always thought pizza crust and cheese to be a great combination, but now I think it might be the greatest combination.
  5. I took on Disneyland by myself for a few hours one day (evidently I’m too hardcore/insane for a midday break) and it was magical. Sat on the lower deck of the Hungry Bear Restaurant, eating Dole whip and watching the amateur canoers struggle with their paddles; sat at the bow of the Mark Twain and soaked all the fake, albeit beautiful, scenery in; pretty much booked it through the Sleeping Beauty Castle walkthrough, because that shit is terrifying when you’re by yourself. And, my favorite part, shortly after embarking on a solitary tour of the park’s perimeter, I discovered Space Mountain had opened two days early from its lengthy refurbishment – we didn’t think we’d be making any trips to outer space, since it was our last day. But I had the immense pleasure of standing in line for 40 minutes, by myself, sending pictures to my family and just imagining them banging their fists on the walls of the hotel room, weeping jealous little tears. I mean, they got to ride it later that night. But evidently I’m a little more competitive than I believed myself to be.

There was one terrible thing to happen, but it had nothing to do with anything but my own idiocy. Apparently I was a little too eager to emulate the “true Southern Californians” I saw at Huntington Beach, and this desire combined with the assumption that they don’t really use sunscreen resulted in yours truly only putting SPF 15 on the shoulders (already burnt) and (randomly) the toes – nowhere else. Later that night, seeing and feeling the dreadful outcome, I walked out of the bathroom in a towel and told my sister, “this is the worst thing to ever happen to my body.” While this is, admittedly, one of the more melodramatic things to come out of my mouth, it really was an unpleasant couple of days. So I guess the moral of the story is this: the sun is great, but it can hurt you. Wear sunscreen or you’ll look like a dumbass.

Despite the truly expansive sunburn still wreaking havoc on my back, the trip ended beautifully. Our plane took off from Santa Ana at 8:20pm and, as you can see above, we had a pretty phenomenal view of the sunset from our terminal. From the plane itself, that sunset turned into one of the most incredible things I’ve ever taken in. We had this every-colored sunset over the ocean on one side of the plane, and the sprawling, glittery vastness of the city on the other side – LA traffic jams have never been so captivating. And of course there’s that characteristic haze, which is probably pollution but I think it’s really pretty. From the second we took off, I knew it’d probably be one of my favorite flights… ever.

And now I’m back and ready to read and rollerblade and blog. So that’s how it’s going to go.

On the subject of lazy rivers…

Don't you feel like you're here drinking tea with me? Isn't it nice?

Don’t you feel like you’re here drinking tea with me? Isn’t it nice?

I decided to ditch the comfort of my bed today, instead electing to sit at Starbucks with a venti iced green tea and a chocolate croissant just waiting to be voraciously consumed. Yes, this is a really half-assed attempt to get the creative part of my brain to come out of hiding. But honestly I think it’s afraid of the overly garrulous women’s book club gabbing in the corner. So we will see how this goes.

Long story short, I just got back from a very fun and very humid trip to the one and only Orlando, Florida. I am jet-lagged. I am tired. I am recovering from an unfortunate sunburn. But I also have many a tale to tell.

First off, let’s have a chat about lazy rivers. Before this trip, my feelings in regards to lazy rivers were, you know, normal… neutral. I mean, they’re cool if you’re lazy and you have an innertube and there aren’t too many punks splashing around. But within the first day of floating along the river’s gentle currents, I was smacked in the sunburned face with a very telling epiphany: lazy rivers were created to aid stalker-type people. Really. Let that sink in. I don’t mean the dangerous, illegal type of stalking, but rather stalking of a flirtatious nature. Lazy rivers make it so incredibly easy to follow people around – in a normal pool, it is more justifiable to accuse people. Like, hey, you are purposely following me around this unmoving water. In a lazy river, however, you can’t say that. Literally everyone is going in the same direction at the same speed, at least generally speaking. Also, it is possible to touch people and be like, oops, sorry, I flail when I swim. Somebody’s (my) butt is bound to be swatted in a lazy river.

Here she is, the famous/infamous lazy river.

Here she is, the famous/infamous lazy river.

As you would probably expect, my family did the whole Disney World thing again. The first day, we went to the Magic Kingdom, which is as crowded as a theme park can possibly get. For some reason, my first thought that morning was “I’m just gonna be chill today, I’m not going to get pissed off at anybody.” Maybe I thought that because I know I’m a pretty irritable, albeit outwardly tolerant, person… but I’m willing to consider alternate reasons. Anyway, despite having many many happy moments involving castles, Peter Pan, and outer space, my brain was in rage mode that day. Does anyone else internally flip out at the people around them in line for no apparent reason? Like, a lady will be taking a picture of Scuttle from the Little Mermaid with her iPad, and I just silent-scream oh my god you look ridiculous GET OUT. I don’t know. I probably need to start meditating eight times a day or something.

We stayed at a very nice hotel, the JW Marriott Orlando Grande Lakes, which is sort of a mouthful so I nicknamed it the JDubs. My sister chose it because a) she is unhealthily obsessed with lazy rivers, and b) the hotel’s silhouette vaguely resembles that of Atlantis, which is her dream vacation destination (thanks a lot, Mary-Kate and Ashley). The lobby is grand and beautiful and it smells very nice, and our room was unexpectedly huge, with two balconies looking out over the expansive grounds of the resort. It was sort of ridiculous, but in the best way. There was much to be explored, and rest assured, we explored it all. Including the Ritz-Carlton next door. “Unnecessarily lavish” is the only descriptor I have for that establishment.

Lastly, I will try to bring some element of conciseness to this post with some “miscellaneous things I just can’t not talk about, also sorry for the double negative”:

  • I love squirrels and little lizards, both of which are abundant in Florida.
  • To Hugo from the French crepe stand: vous avez les yeux gorgeuous, and you can make me crepes ANYTIME.
  • I’m sorry to say it, but the Wizarding World of Harry Potter really wasn’t built for effective crowd flow.
  • The Beast’s castle in New Fantasyland is disappointingly dinky.
  • … But Prince Eric’s castle is superb and I’d like to live there. Preferably with Prince Eric, and also can I have Ariel’s hair?
  • If you want to irreversibly mess your hair up, riding in a convertible on the freeway is certainly the way to do it.
  • 80’s music is appropriate for every occasion.
  • Lots of Scottish people vacation in Orlando. Who would have guessed? Not me, obviously.
  • Sometimes religious chanting parades take place in lazy rivers. I also would not have guessed this.
  • There was a boy in the pool who kept throwing a ball at my sister every time she floated by. Really takes me back to the second grade, when flirting involved tossing rocks in your crush’s general direction. How suave of you, pool boy.
  • I go into a total depressed slump when I have to leave Epcot.
  • The only way to survive six-hour plane rides is to watch Friends and stare out the window with wonder in your eyes.

Alright, gang. I’m running low on tea and I have nothing left to ramble about. Sounds like this blog post is over.

Apparently, I’m a Wandering Soul.

If my soul (and clothing) could wander in this, I might be a little happier.

Today, I came to the slightly upsetting realization that I have been out of town for a good thirty days this summer.

If you have above a kindergarten-level education, you will know this is the equivalent of a month. That’s a long time, even if I’ve been home for a few days between trips. Seriously. Half of my summer has been spent in beds that aren’t my own… wearing clothes out of a small suitcase… using other peoples’ shampoo (which I always feel guilty about)… also: being away from my friends and boyfriend, eating embarrassing amounts of junk food, and always ending up in a room with my sister. She sleep talks, you know.

Don’t get me wrong; it has been fun times. Fun times indeed. I have had some marvelous adventures, and definitely gotten up to some crazy antics. Oh, you want to hear about it all? I’ll give a few examples.

  • I weathered a tropical storm and made salamander friends.
  • I chased birds on a jet ski.
  • I almost pulled apart a Redbox and smashed every piece to the ground.
  • I impersonated Paula Deen… a lot.
  • I got Spider-Man wall decals at Target. I am a little overly excited about this.
  • I paddled in an innertube for a total of probably three hours.
  • I survived the Montanian-Bug-Bite-Apocalypse.

I was going to talk about my countless dance performances to MIA’s Bad Girls, which really must have mesmerized my sister, but I don’t want to give you all nightmares. Oops. I talked about them anyway. Sweet dreams tonight, readers.

Anyway, as you can probably guess, I am home right now. And I’m listening to Bad Girls because I linked it. And I’m really distracted. Excuse me while I go krump.

Aaaand done. I leave again tomorrow night (sigh, make that thirty-five days), so I probably won’t be writing again for another week or so. Oh, I am so inconsistent!