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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Rome VIII: Venezia

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Where do you even start with Venice?

You get up at six to catch a train, where the tunnels make your ears feel like they’re on the verge of exploding and a kid who’s in the process of losing teeth actually loses his breakfast into his baseball cap. The American woman across the aisle from you watches 2012 on her iPad. You move forward to Florence, but upon leaving Firenze S.M.N. you are shot backwards to the sinking city, watching the mist-gulping valleys and fields shrink from view. You arrive dead-tired at Venezia Mestre, and you have a sudden realization that Venice is a lot bigger than “Venice.” You’re not on an island with picturesque canals. There’s a lot of graffiti. And no one is wearing stripes?

Skip a few hours, you’ve checked into your airbnb and you sit on another train, this time gliding across a swampy expanse of water. Tiny islands, verdant, sit still as you pass them – seriously, you should have brushed up on the geography of this place before visiting, you are way too surprised by the layout of all of this. You screech into the station, disembark, hop down some steps, and there it is. That’s the Grand Canal, framed by neverending rows of rust- and blush-colored buildings, broken up by barnacled wood beams reaching out of the water and, predictably, selfie sticks. Walk down the main drag, squeezing through the crowd – there’s a Disney Store here? – and then you sit down to eat a pizza and drink your first espresso shot. You don’t add any sugar or cream because you are a rebel with a cause. What cause? Proving that you are a strong woman who likes strong coffee. An honorable, noble cause.

Aha, the energy hits as you wind into the depths of the island, crossing at least a dozen small bridges. The canals decided the angles and curves of the streets and the city didn’t argue, so you end up going in circles and reaching dead ends where staircases descend into murky water. You take pictures of the shuttered houses lining the waterways, one from one bridge, one from another, but when you look back later, all the pictures will look the same. There’s something that doesn’t want to be captured. The two foot-wide alleyways, Venus in the night sky, the sea foam rushing to and from a mossy boat launch – completely untranslatable, especially with an iPhone as medium.

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You spend four days getting lost – impulsively turning down Isolation Alley, sitting on docks, drinking juuuust enough prosecco to start seeing Van Gogh’s brushstrokes in the ripplings of the Grand Canal. You muddle your way through St. Mark’s Basilica, surprisingly not as much enchanted by the golden mosaics as you are amused by the woman openly snapping pictures with her iPad (always the damn iPads) right next to a “no photos” sign. You wince as you hear the words “pleasure combo” coming out of your mouth at the Magnum cash register, but how else are you supposed to get your salted pretzel ice cream bar and shot of espresso? Later, you shell out twenty euros and no regrets for a gondola ride – you learn that hardly anyone lives on the ground level in Venice because of flooding, and you immediately want to rent a ground level apartment just to show how tough you are. Honestly, you probably wouldn’t last there. No offense.

You see the mainland at dusk, hazy lilac over dry grass. Even after lovingly gazing at canals all day, you are still somehow charmed by the suburban chunks of concrete that many families call home. You’re glad to see a different dimension of Venice, and you’re glad it’s accompanied by the sound of crickets and back-garden get-togethers. In the morning you traverse the city again, admiring papier-mache masks through windows and, come noon, drinking more of that sparkling white wine. Maybe one afternoon, you take a water taxi to one of the smaller islands. Burano? Sure. You skip across the swellings of the sea and find yourself in Candyland, where the only law is that if your neighbor’s house is bubblegum pink, yours must be the color of a canary (unverified, there are probably other laws on Burano). You say to yourself, “two nutella crepes in one day? why not!” and then kind of/sort of regret it as a boat bounces you back to the big island.

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On your last night, you take the elevator to the top of the tower in Piazza S. Marco, and you think about how much you love mist and how thankful you are that it is practically a universal phenomenon. Unlike other cities you’ve seen from an aerial perspective, this one doesn’t even pretend to be on a grid. You stare at the buildings and alleyways below you and acknowledge that, nope, you have no clue where you’ve been walking the past few days. Venice is enigmatic. But you like it, don’t lie.

You sit by the open water and watch the sun set gold over the island, intently studying the movements of the waves as they weave into each other. And when you take the water taxi back to the Piazzale di Roma, you feel the sea breeze in your hair and the goosebumps on your legs and you can’t stop yourself from blurting to your friend: “our lives are so unreal.” The sun slips into low-hanging clouds on the horizon, like a coin being dropped in a pocket.

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You take the train back to Rome in the morning, letting Jenny Lewis – “I’m as sure as the moon rolls around the sea” – drown out your rumbling stomach, your constantly popping ears. And soon enough, you are back in Rome and Venice just feels like a book you read in high school English class. In a good way. In a confusing way.

Story, Goal, Song: part IV

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I made a mistake last week. I started watching Aerial America again. And now, while everyone else has come down with a cold, I have come down with yet another bout of wanderlust.

So today my mom and I hopped in the car and drove toward the mountains. She probably just did this to shut me up, because whenever I’d caught sight of them earlier in the day it was all I could do to not thrust my hands in the air and yell “HOLY SHIT” (not an unwarranted exclamation – they were seriously majestic). But anyway, we drove toward the mountains, and then we turned around and headed toward the water, practically chasing the sun at this point, and one of the pictures I took during this leg of our journey is up yonder. I don’t know why my natural response to a beautiful day is to shout swear words, but HOLY. SHIT. What a breathtaking day.

Just had to get that out. Moving on! (if you missed them, part I can be found here, part II here, and part III here)


A story: Spring break trips are sort of a rite of passage for college students, as I’m sure everyone knows. Most, understandably, migrate toward the equator for that week – my friends and I decided to go north, to Vancouver BC. Vancouver is a beautiful land where the drinking age is only 19 and every building looks like this:

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The four of us arrived in this gorgeous city and settled in (shout-out to my dad for hooking it up with the Marriott points), soon venturing out again to find sandwiches and, more importantly, explore the Granville Island market. Many photos were taken – the background/wallpaper for this very blog is actually a picture I took of the water around Granville – and we discovered the soap shop of all soap shops. Feeling pretty grand about our touristing skills, we went back to the hotel to do some crucial pub/bar research; we are four young women who do not settle for mediocre cocktails. And we kind of wanted an Irish pub atmosphere. Priorities.

On a sidenote, the restaurant where we ate dinner had the coolest bathroom ever (so cool, in fact, L-dawg sent me on a secret mission to take a picture of the sink, which could be turned on by stepping on a pedal):

Canada, you really have it  all worked out.

Canada, you really have it all worked out.

By 7:30pm on that Monday evening, we were sitting at Doolin’s Irish Pub, not even getting carded for the drinks we ordered because those who “go out on the town” before 10 are probably harmless. Worked for us. There was live music. We had fries. We left by 9:30, grabbed some fancy dessert from a local cafe, and fell asleep watching the Food Network around midnight. This is good because, first of all, it’s kind of my ideal night, and secondly, we definitely needed our energy for the next day. I mean…

TOPSHOP is paradise, and it basically doesn't exist in the US (for those of you who don't know)

TOPSHOP is paradise, and it basically doesn’t exist in the US (for those of you who don’t know)

After taking advantage of the continental breakfast (since that is the point of staying in a hotel, after all), we went on a shopping spree and then a walking spree. Overestimating our speed/endurance/patience and underestimating the amount of rainfall that would occur that day, we attempted to walk all the way to Stanley Park. I cannot even give a rough estimate of how many blocks we traversed on our way to this so-called gem of Vancouver, but I can tell you that by the time we actually reached the park we had all silently agreed that a picture of a few ducks in the first pond we encountered would suffice, and we turned around. If there was ever a day, in the whole year of living together, when there was a nearly-palpable feeling of annoyance bouncing between the four of us, this was it. But a hot cup of tea with a towering tray of pastries can pretty much solve anything, and luckily that was next on our agenda.

This was my spring break, and these are my friends (all of whom I get to see on SUNDAY! *shrieks with happiness*). Such good memories – even walking in our rained-on misery.

A goal: Today’s goal, believe it or not, is actually related to both my intro and my story. When does that ever happen? Soak it up, guys.

Maybe you’ve already picked up on it, but I have this desire to see cities and mountains and canyons and grassy hillsides and practically everything. You know, the spirit of a traveler. Regrettably, though, I do not make enough time to really get out there and do stuff. I want to get out there and do stuff. I see these pictures of people I know road tripping and going on hikes and whatnot, and I always have that what-am-I-doing-with-my-life moment, when suddenly you can see very clearly your priorities have somehow been thrown askew. I’d like to get them back where they should be. And one of my top priorities is seeing and experiencing places. (I’ll start off strong by watching the Aerial America marathon all day on New Year’s, Smithsonian Channel if you’d like to participate from your own couch)

A song: Now we come to yet another song that has stayed with me through all the seasons: “I Can See Your Tracks” by Laura Veirs. In February, I sat on various benches and listened to it on repeat. It was on our spring break mix CD. I listened to it on the bus over the summer, and it is (predictably) stuck in my head now, at the very end of December.

It is so relaxed and sweet and makes me feel like I’m wandering around a prairie at sundown. If that doesn’t make you want to listen to it, I don’t know what will.


As always, thank you very very much for taking the time to read, and stay tuned for the final part of this series (and final post of 2014)!

Also, I would like to wish a very happy birthday to my dear Olivia Rose – can’t promise I won’t cry when I see you

LET’S GO TO THE BEACH

Usually when I stay on campus for the weekend, I end up doing a whole lot of nothing – the most exciting it ever gets is when I find out there’s new Disney propaganda on Netflix. Or when I eat a giant cookie dipped in chocolate. Or when I have an interaction with other human beings (kidding… kind of). This weekend, however, I went to the beach with my dear friend Olivia. We had quite the adventure.

Let me just start this story by saying we left around two in the afternoon and got back to our dorm at eight, making our trip a total of six hours. How long were we at the actual beach, you ask? Probably less than an hour. But a blissful hour it was, and I have pictorial proof:

You jelly?

You jelly?

So we took a bus downtown, and then we took another bus to some sketchy semi-suburb, where we were planning on taking yet another bus to our sunny, beachy oasis. Yeah, that plan didn’t work out. The bus was late, so naturally I, who had never been to this particular beach before, suggested we take the trail to the beach. Little did we know that trail consisted of four miles of sweat and tears. A lot of you are probably thinking, “oh my god you are SUCH a baby,” and though I can’t really deny the accuracy of that statement, I will say, in my defense, I am not an athletic person. Olivia is more in-shape than me, and that is probably why was the one to blow a gasket when she pointed out the end of the beach to me, which was nothing more than a speck on the horizon of my misery. I said something along the lines of “Are you kidding me?! ALL THAT WAY? How far have we walked already?!” And for this out-of-character and somehow hilarious outburst, I apologize, Olivia. Thank you for putting up with me even though I’m a neurotic four-year-old.

Anyway, we eventually made it to the beach where we sunk into the warm sand and enjoyed the only ten minutes of our entire afternoon that were peaceful. Before long, there was some dad in a black wifebeater, who clearly thought he was the dictionary definition of badass, flying the craziest kite I have ever seen on some sort of murder mission. I am not kidding, this kite was insane. It looked normal, but when it caught the wind, it sounded like a helicopter and twisted and turned so fast I couldn’t even capture it on film. It was all over the place – divebombing children, looping around, crashing next to a group of teenage girls with lethal force. After a few minutes of observing the chaos, parents started yelling at their kids, “get over here! stay away from that thing!” The whole beach was in a ruckus, and a particularly angry mom went and confronted the guy, waving her finger in the air and screeching “THAT IS IT!” And with that, the pandemonium ceased.

Aside from the sore feet, the kite debacle, and the questionable characters on the bus ride back, I had a very nice day. I got my first hints of a tan AND massive amounts of quality time with one of my favorite people. Next time, though, we are taking the water taxi. Lesson learned.