I’ll Do it My Way

Ciao Lovers! This Love Letter comes to you as I glide along the Northern Italian countryside on my way from Florence to Modena. I’m out in the world again, and this time around, I’m doing it my way.  I’ll dip in and out of solo travel, backpack 10 cities in 30 days, stay put for 3 months, learn to snowboard, scuba dive, drive a motorcycle, and who knows what else.  I’m out here for me, and I’m living this life, my way (which will inevitably include some bumps and bruises).

Before we start in the Italian adventure, let’s acknowledge the fact that I am cheating you out of the last two months.  Recall Imma Li-ma Heart Here…, when we established that I was doing neither of us favors by rushing through an account of event that happened months ago, a slave to a perceived timeline, bound to recount every second of the adventure.  I won’t do that to you again my Lovers, I care for you (and my literary integrity) too much.

So, what will you miss by the omission of Spain and Bulgaria?  Quite a lot I’m afraid… there was street art and new friends, music festivals, missed trains, road trips, not one, but two traffic tickets in Spain (and stupid hot Spanish cops), the French baker (sorry DL), paella dates, horchata, paddle boarding, the Italian paddle board instructor, architecture, markets, Madrid, Valencia, Barcelona, to Bulgaria for mountains, lakes, bungee jumping, sail boats, mountain biking, more road tripping, Serbia, Belgrade, Kanyini, Mokrin, archery, the Serbian star gazer,  Nation House, Romania, Timisora, castles, churches, waterfalls and more.  But don’t worry, you can see all the pictures here.

Now, after that horribly lacking forward, let’s dive into the next chapter fuck it, let’s start a new book on this wonderfully random adventure I call life.

Italy is somewhere I have ALWAYS wanted to go.  My patriarchal side of the family hails from the country, and, I mean, do you really need a reason to want to go to Italy?  Tired of waiting for someone to take me, invite me, or even just go with me, I decided to take the month between Sofia and Cape Town and just take my damn self. I’m actually checking two bucket list boxes here, as while I will assume that I’ll still prefer having a community around me, solo travel is something I want to be able to say I’ve done.  I took short trips sans amigos nearly each month during Earhart, but this would be 4 solid weeks of just me – figuring out trains, busses, sorting my accoms, finding a workspace, seeing sights, eating all the foods and drinking all the wines.  Ask my fellow Earharts though, and they’ll tell you I was made for this – side trip planner extraordinaire, BNB game strong, the only part that worries me is my social creatureness crashing head on with my social awkwardness.

A week before leaving Sofia (after the debacle that was cancelling Turkey for work), I booked a ticket into Rome with a general plan to snake my way first north then south.  A fellow Remote was living in Siena for a few months, so I was headed to crash with her in the Tuscan Valley for a couple of days, but not before doing when in Rome things with my first Kairos roomie who was in Rome for a night before her homeward departure.  We dropped our stuff at the hotel and juiced up our devices before heading out to hit the highlights – the Spanish Steps (pretty), Trevi Fountain (crowded) and the Pantheon (mind-boggling). As we passed through the massive concrete columns into the Pantheon, my jaw crept closer to the floor as I marveled at the architecture, this massive stone structure, constructed nearly 1,900 (that’s one THOUSAND, nine HUNDRED) years ago, still standing, still awe-inspiring.

 

We wound our way back to the hotel to freshen up for dinner, stopping at piazzas and churches along the way, surmising what their importance may be, slightly embracing and certainly making fun of our own lack of knowledge for what we were looking at.  I’m fully aware I can be a bad tourist when it comes to the education of the history of the cities I’m in, but my brand of tourism is to walk out of my accoms, turn left or right, and see what I can stumble across.  Don’t judge me.  Also remember that this is life and not vacation for me, so as a Remote recently said in an RY article, “Im living everyday life, just with better scenery”.

After a quick change of clothes and me watching Erica try to whittle her bag down to the acceptable 23kgs she had to fly back to NYC, we headed out to Trastevere for some dinner.  After wandering a bit and being turned away for not having a reservation, we stumbled across Dar Sol Olimpio al Drago where we had a great bottle of local red, truffle pasta, Carbonaro, and meatballs that knock mine/my dad’s outta the park.  We rounded out the meal with tiramisu for both and a grappa for me before hitting the waterside for a nightcap.

 

The next morning my bus departure is rather early, and of course I overslept.  I’m throwing myself in a cab and praying Rome traffic at 7am isn’t a thing.  Thankfully it’s not and I even get to the bus station with enough time to grab a pastry and some postcards.  I board the bus and immediately realize that springing for the panoramic seat was a waste of funds as I plan to use this transport time (like most of my in transit hours) to catch up on the lack of sleep that accompanies this lifestyle. Sleep when you can, where you can, however you can.  Luckily the oversized Kairos hoodie I’ve buried myself in along with my sunglasses on and headphones in convey to the chatty Kathy next to me that I’m not in the mood, and I catch a good siesta en route.

IMG_20180902_092159

Katherine has already procured us a sweet whip, so she scoops me up at the bus station and we head into the hills to a winery known for its architectural structure being built into the hillside it sits upon.  When I say Tuscan Valley, your heart swoons, doesn’t it?  Even if you’ve never been, or seen pictures, somehow you just know in your bones that it will be breathtaking right?  Well, obvi, it does not disappoint.  Lush, green, rolling hills expand for miles and we stare out over the rows of grapes as sip our flights, Chianti for me and white for Katherine. After lunch we hit the switchbacks for sweeping views, Tuscan towns, and another winery set in a castle.  This second winery is a fan favorite, not just for its quaint little courtyard where we sample their offerings, but there’s a chardonnay we both love (even though neither of us are chardonnay fans), a gin that is rosemary heavy and oh so smooth, and a Chianti reserva that blows my mind.  Needless to say we left spirit heavy, both in the figurative and literal senses.

 

We round out our day in San Gimignano,  a walled city with narrow stone alleys set atop on my the many Tuscan mountains.  We do some exploring, popping in and out of tiny stone doorways catching glimpses of the valleys below before trying to find a spot for dinner.  We’re tired and hungry, neither of us really in the mood to pick, so we waffle bit before settling on Osteri Enoteca Quattro Gatti, a fabulous find with a back patio courtyard showcasing a valley sunset view. Its pici (the regional pasta speciality, a thick spaghetti like noodle) cacio e Pepe for me as we chat with couple from Boston there for their anniversary (whose travels mirror my own plans closely).  Satiated and saturated (mostly me, mostly with Chianti), we head back to her beyond cute villa and settle in with the previously procured gin and a Maggie Gyllenhaal movie that’s as funny as it is predictable.

 

The next day, after hearing about Katherine’s decadent spa day at a local mineral bath spa, we decide to make it a day of relaxation.  The previous night Katherine had done some research on spas near the small towns we planned to visit, so that morning I picked one and we headed out.  Our arrival was promising, and we each booked a massage and a facial with entrance to the thermal pools.  The waters are warm and a bright aqua blue, and it only takes a moment to get used to the squishy sediment that settles at the bottom of the pools.  We take advantage of having a companion (er, photographer) and snap some new Tinder profile pics before heading to the spa.

 

The first thing I notice about this spa is the temperature.  Its chilly to say the least, and we’ve just come from thermal pools, so we are in wet bathing suits, and having not been given towels to this point, we are relying on thin paper-esque robes (also wet) to keep us “warm” in this environment.  After waiting nearly 20 minutes past our facial appointments, I ask the front desk when we are going back (mainly to get under the covers on that heated bed).  They had indeed forgotten about us, and asked if we wouldn’t mind getting our facials after our massages.  Whatevs, but at this point I’m hungry and would have used the additional time to grab a snack had I know this would be the case.  My hangriness is exacerbated when we get to our couples massage room and I see beds with no covers.  And this room isn’t any warmer than the last.  We giggle at the predicament (because what else can you do), undress and hop on our respective tables, open and exposed to the frigid air with nothing but a paper thong to contain our dignity.  As massages go, this one left a lot to be desired. Or maybe I was just too focused on that fact that my nipples could have cut glass to enjoy it.  After our massages, we’re hustled into separate rooms for our facials, which are also found wanting.  Not to mention I got to undress and lay on another table, freezing my ass off. 

I left trying to keep good spirits, and we immediately hit the sauna to thaw out from our “luxurious” spa treatments.  In an attempt to right my mind-frame back into a pattern of grateful and positive thinking, I wandered out to the edge of the resort to take in the Tuscan valley views under the (thankfully) warm sun.  That and a sandwich had me back smiling, so we rinsed off and hit the road.

IMG_20180903_162708

Next up was Montepulciano, another small, walled town a top a mountain of switchbacks.  Montepulciano is even cuter and quainter than San Gimignano, with an epic sunset view.  We hear the sound of opera and piano, so we wander toward the sound, which we find is spilling out of a random window,  Though we couldn’t reach the source, across the street was an antique book store, a dusty old shop with 50,000 books dating back to the 1800s.  We rifled the shelves and pages, still in hearing distance of the melodic sonata and velvet voice from across the street.  I’ll honest, it was a little surreal.  Dinner at Ristorante Ai Quattro Venti in front of the Duomo and we head back for another movie night where I once again, pass out mid-film.

 

After a magnificent couple of days full of soul warming conversations, it was off to Firenze, only this time I didn’t bother with the panoramic upgrade on my bus and just took the $5 seat instead for the hour long ride. I hopped the tram into town and hiked the 20 minutes to my Florentine neighborhood. Another early morning bus meant my apartment wasn’t quite ready yet, but I found Hemingway’s, a quaint little coffee bar just across the street and got a caffe latte while I perused train schedules and booking.com in anticipation of my next move. I was a little nervous about my apartment – it was on the cheaper side for Firenze, and had gotten some bad reviews, but I’m ballin’ on a budget for now and this place was a stones throw from a Coworking space, so I rolled the dice. There was a stone stair case leading up to the 1br apartment, steep and narrow, but at the top I found the cutest simple apartment, complete with little green shutters that opened to the plaza streets below, a chandelier and TWO big ass fluffy towels (this is worth noting – I’ve been in plenty of BNBs that give one threadbare piece of shit that wouldn’t dry crocodile tears). I dropped my bags and took off to explore.

 

In this case, I took a right out of my apartment and headed across the river where I began to wind myself through the streets, left here, right there, chasing bell towers in the skyline. I had not one, not two, but THREE people ask me if I knew where the Duomo was.. which I suppose means it looks like I knew what I was doing, even though the only difference between them and I was that I had no specific destination in mind. I did happen to stumble upon the Duomo though, and my goodness, what a sight to behold! I caught a glimpse of it while walking parallel a block away, redirected my course and exited the alley to see the glory of the structure. Little did I know this wonderment and architectural would continue for several “blocks” revealing a dome, a tower a cathedral front, the beauty just never ended. I’m pretty sure I circled it twice, mesmerized by the enormity of it, the detail in the facade, the sheer SIZE of it. I’d give you some history…. but you know I don’t know any.

 

It was getting close to la hora de trabajo (I realize that’s Spanish, but I keep mixing them up on the streets here, so its only fair I do the same with you), so I zigzagged back to my area to scope out the workspace to prevent finding myself in a subpar, 2up 1down situation. The thing that strikes me about Florence is that in between the historic piazzas, the classic cathedrals, the streets are dotted with Gucci, Fendi, Salvatore Ferrigamo, and yes, even an Apple store. I can shake my head at the juxtaposition, but it doesn’t stop me from dropping into the Fruit to (FINALLY) get an iPencil. Handwritten notes incoming. After my obligatory $100+ drop on tech, I verify that the workspace is indeed fitting (and fancy AF to boot), so I grab my laptop and get to the grind for the day alongside a fellow Remote and staffer that’s living here for the month.

IMG_20180904_140633
Cowork got swagga

After a day of back to back calls (managed even with a 7pm kick out from the workspace) and an hour long CPE on sales tax (thanks Wayfair), my aforementioned counter part Brad invites me to his fav spot for some dinner. Why am I entrusting this man with my nourishment? Well, he lived here for 3 years, and it shows when we round almost every corner to a familiar face and enthusiastic hello. Of course dinner is on point, and we finish the night with Negronis and chats about Remote life. I use my walk home as an opportunity to catch up with my favorite yogi Taryn before dropping like a rock into bed.

The next day my go go go style (and the negronis) seem to have caught up with me, so I work from my adorable apartment while ordering delivery McDonalds to curb the hangover. I’m a bit concerned, as we didn’t drink that much (I mean, I have certainly drank more on occasion), but I listen to my body and take it easy for the day. I pop out for a bit to Hemingway’s, look into a trip to Mauritius, and get back to the grind until after midnight. Luckily my AM train isn’t until nearly 11, so I can sleep in a bit before shlepping myself to the train station that’s 20 minutes away. All my bags in tow comes in at about 15 kgs, which isn’t unmanageable, but I’m starting to regret some of my packing decisions. Sadly I packed all my favorites for the month, so nothing will be sacrificed, and I will suck it up. We cruise to Bologna where I switch lines (btduz, that station is MASSIVE) before rolling into Modena, a renowned food town in the hills of Reggio and home to the best restaurant in the world, Massimo Bottura’s (of Chef’s Table) fame Osteria Francescana. This is where things go sideways a bit.

First, I don’t even want to talk about the fact that I was a sweaty mess with my greasy hair piled on top of my head when an adorably cute boy plopped down next to me on the train. Italian meet-cute properly sabotaged by my inability to make myself presentable during travel, I let him off the train ahead of me and still manage to fluster with my bags (great, 35 years and I still haven’t figured out how to behave like a normal human). In my state of frustration, I have failed to properly seal my water bottle… which proceeds to empty itself into my bag. Guess who points this out to me? Kill me now

I recover from Watergate to find my way to the bus that takes me close to my hotel. Clearly defeated from my previous display, I’m not paying attention and fail to press the button for my stop request and end up two stops too far from my hotel, an extra 20 minute walk. I’ve confused my check in time and can’t get a room for another 2 hours. There’s no WiFi in the lobby. At this point, I take a temporary time out to walk into town and walk off these minor inconveniences.

Modena is a gorgeous little town (are there any towns in Italy that aren’t a 1000 on the WOW scale?) lined with pastel colored buildings and the required cathedrals and bell towers. After dropping into Osteria Francescana and dropping my best southern sickly sweet request (I had fixed my hair) to be put on the wait list, I took my usual zig zag route to my lunch destination, stumbling upon churches and plazas and well, you get the picture by now – if not, they’re posted below. I grab lunch a da Danali, order the tortellini suggested by the only English speaking waiter (I’m trying my Italian, but I’m not even close) with a glass of Lambrusco – very Modena. Post lunch, I wander back in a different zig zag pattern on my way to work.

 

Here comes the second set of challenges for the day. I’m elated at the prospect of getting to my room and stripping out of my now sweat soaked clothes. For September, its still quite warm during the day here in Northern Italy. I specifically (and not randomly) booked this hotel for the AC, but a sign in the elevator had alerted me to the fact that the AC was not available. Ugh, but not the end of the world. I get to my room and empty the aforementioned soaked bag and hang everything to dry while I set up for work. The WiFi is, well, hotel WiFi, and this is why I have Project Fi, so I hotspot my phone and go to plug my converter in because it drains the battery on both my phone and computer. POP. SNAP. Sparks fly, and the room fills with that acrid burnt electrical smell. Great. Now I have to call the front desk. Only I can’t figure out how. The instructions on the phone are clearly outdated. Fuck, now I have to put on pants. Maintenance checks out the outlets in my room and in the only words (gestures) that I understand, move me to a new room. Good news: this room has a balcony. Bad news: my converter is fried. Good thing I have two. Thankfully the excitement for the day seems to be over, so I settle for the grind before taking myself to dinner where I once again eat whatever the waitress recommends, although this time no one speaks English, so I have no idea what I ate. Pumpkin tortellini, I think… and something that if I understand her gesture correctly is pork calves.. do pigs have calves? Who cares.. They are playing Moon River and I have Lambrusco in front of me.

The next day I take myself out for another Modena stroll, and after my breakfast plans are thwarted by a closed shop, I park at a nearby coffee shop to catch up on some writing and do some work.  Im transferring myself from coffee shop to lunch before my train to Venice when…

fuck

not again….

My dress is suddenly soaked as the ENTIRE CONTENTS of my water bottle have emptied into my computer bag… this time with all of my electronics in it. I was literally on the sidewalk in Modena, my dress saturated, with the entire contents of my computer bag splayed out on the ground screaming “fuck fuck fuck!” when a super sweet pharmacist came out and gave me napkins and a bag to put my stuff back in.  By the time I reach a table where I can assess the damage, my iPad refuses to acknowledge the power button usage, and my laptop is just flashing a big circle with a line through it at me.  My stomach sinks as I realize that I have reduced myself to my phone for tech, and the closest Apple Store is a 3 hour train ride away.  With no other options, I pack away the useless hunks of junk and head to the hotel to grab my bags and catch my train.

I arrive in Venice, immediately drop my bags and head back off the island to the Apple store, a solid 45 minutes of public transit away.  Upon my arrival I do indeed get the stomach gnarling news that my tech is in fact deceased, and I’m so upset I’m nearly in tears, which earned me 10% off my replacement laptop from the Apple employee that felt bad for me.  New laptop in hand (and now iPad-less, glad I bought that iPencil), its closing time and there are no cabs in sight, Uber is not a thing, and there is only one bus left to the train station, but the kiosk to buy tickets is closed, so after nearly breaking down again, the bus driver is sweet enough to let me ride fare free.  The universe is throwing me curves, and I may not be knocking them outta the park, but I’m at least fouling them off and avoiding a strike out.

After a sketchy walk to the train station and getting back onto the island, its all I have left in me to boot and set up my new laptop (with a European keyboard, which has taken some gettin used to), answer pressing Slack messages and emails, and turn in my expense report for the Euros I just dropped on the new work MacBook Air.

7 days in Italy and this is what I have to report.  The highs have been high and the lows have been manageable, and there are three weeks left on this solo adventure.  Stay tuned Lovers. Its gonna be my way, and its gonna be good.

download

Randomly yours,

SR

The Only Constant is Change

Hola mis Amantes!  Last weekend, I took a quick jaunt over to Mendoza to hang out with the ever so lovely ACs while they were on their South American Tour.  Determined not to repeat my Aerolinas Argentinas error from my departure from BA, I left my Còrdoba apartment with ample time to get to the airport…. but without my (forgotten) iPad, my usual method of entertainment on flights, even one as short as this one.  After a quick check-in misunderstanding clear up, I quickly realized my phone was my only method of distraction from the boringness that can be solo travel.  So I pulled out my notes app and typed up this gem for you.  Its not the epic adventures I usually portray, but instead a depiction of the journey between who I was when I left for RY and who I am now – a trip just as read-worthy as the rest imho.

How has Remote Year changed me?

This isn’t the deep stuff or the monumental growth – both personal and professional – that I’ve achieved on this trip.  Its not the life changing moments I’ve had, or the self realizations that have made me a better version of myself.  This is the superficial stuff. The day to day.  The shit that you might not give two flying fucks about, but hey, its my blog and I’ll write what I want.

Schedule

What’s changed

So far on this trip I’ve been fortunate enough to live in the future from my friends, family and co workers, and the only time it really bit me in the ass was New Zealand when I was 21 hours ahead and therefore starting my days at 4am and working “weekend” days.  Overnights in Asia were rough too, but Europe and South America are kinda my jam, where I am/was 3-6 hours ahead of the curve. This means that the girl who used to routinely rise for 530 am Iron Tribe classes now doesn’t dare rise before 9am, which is beneficial because here in Argentina, nothing starts before 10pm. Dinner party? Show up at 930 and you’re early. Empanadas are served at midnight and goodbyes are said in the wee hours of the morn. We showed up to a club in BA at 2am one time and it was devoid of souls besides us and about 15 others… within an hour you couldn’t move in the place…. and by sunrise, it was a madhouse with no signs of slowing down.  Europe wasn’t much different.  It seems the US is the only place where ‘early’ is a thing.

What hasn’t changed

No alarm weekends.  I cherish at least one day a week when I don’t have to be risen by the bleating chirps of my phone. Tomorrow is one of those days, and I can’t begin to tell you how excited I am to get to sleep and not be woken until I’m ready.  Do not disturb is your friend, especially when a good portion of your friends live in worldwide timezones and text you at all hours of the day and night.

Workouts

What’s changed

Your girl was a beast when she left on this journey – everyone said exercise routines would be the hardest routine to keep up with, and despite locating Crossfit gyms in each city I traveled to before even leaving AND running TWO separate fitness challenges (Lisbon and Thailand), I only find myself back in a regular gym routine here in month 8, where I’ve found a box that I really like and there are 6-8 of us going a day and shaming each other for not making it to class.  To be semi-fair, I injured my shoulder in Lisbon, and without access to my favorite orthos and PTs, it was more of a self-med sitch, and we all know I’m not the best at ‘laying off’…. but it has really been more of the side tripping, partying, and general exploring that’s contributed to the demise of my former cut AF physique.  My return to the barbell has been humbling to say the least, and not just because I’m nursing a back injury that I can only trace back to skydiving… or sleeping in a camper van for a week.  Having a core group that pushes each other helps, but even then I still find myself hitting snooze on the workouts sometimes…. and the rule is if you don’t Crossfit, you can’t talk about Crossfit…..

What hasn’t changed

I still have desire and the will and the want to participate in physical activity. It is still my best form of stress relief, so I swam the Adriatic in Split, ran the sights in Prague, trekked the river in Lisbon, traversed the parks in BA, snatched axels in Thailand (ok, it was just that once), and gotten in what I can where I can.

Water

What’s changed

I used to be the biggest water snob in the world. If it wasn’t Smartwater or Evian, I turned my nose up at it. At the very least, it had to be filtered from the fridge. Now, when I get to a country, my first question is whether or not the tap water is safe to drink, and I’m usually ecstatic when it is. I have no problems filling my water bottle up in an airport bathroom sink, something that I would have found appalling before. Water is an important thing to all of us, and knowing the boundaries of that staple in each country is imperative. Just ask Duffs about Bali Belly.

I also used to load my water down with ice.  Tons of it.  I spent the first two weeks of Croatia looking for ice.  Turns out there, they make it in plastic bags.  In Budapest, we had *an* ice tray for three of us… by Lisbon, ice was a thing of the past.  Here in month 8, I realized I had an ice bin and three ice trays… and didn’t even use them until two weeks later after the ACs gifted me with a fun size pack of Heaven Hill whiskeys.

What hasn’t changed

My love for water.  Cold water.  In lieu of my ice failures, I still attempt to keep my water as cold as possible while chasing summer.

Beauty

What’s changed

Because we are chasing summer, embracing the flip flop lifestyle has been one of my favorite parts of this trip.  Top that with walking almost everywhere, and you can get some rough soles.  When I lived in the states, I wouldn’t dare bare my feet without biweekly pedicures, and if I was treating myself, a nice shellac mani. It’s month 8 and I’m pretty sure the last pedicure I had was month 3 (despite wearing flip flops every day) and even then I was scolded for the status of the skin on my feet.

Additionally, my level of give a fuck about the status of my mane has dropped dramatically.  Although I do have my favorite shampoo and conditioner muled in from the states, my general attitude about the tameness of my curls has decreased immensely.  Most days I don’t wash my hair and just throw a little water on it and hope for the best.  Managing this mop in a myriad of climates had generally produced what Marky refers to as my lion’s mane – a heap of golden curls that are messy and tangled a far cry from the carefully crafted ringlets I strove so hard to achieve while living stateside.  Oh, and anything but curls?  Forget it…. my straightener died with a pop that blew out a fuse in Thailand and my curling iron decided to stop heating up in BA… I’m left with my travel hair dryer, but most days I don’t consider it even close to worth the effort.  So lion’s mane it is.  Roar.

Make-up…. ugh make-up, shmakeup… what’s the point? I throw on some eyeliner and mascara if I want to feel pretty, but it’s mostly reserved for nights out. In this heat it mostly just melts off, so, like I said earlier –  what’s the point?

What hasn’t changed

I’m still a product loyalist.  Ever since Birchbox sent me my first sample of Beauty Protector, the only time another shampoo and conditioner has touched my hair is when I’m in the salon and don’t get to choose.  I’ve had friends restock me and even risked Vietnamese customs to have my signature product in my possession, not to mention the precious suitcase space and KGs I’ve sacrificed for that delectable scent.  Don’t get me wrong, I tried in Split to use something I could find on the road, but some things are with the hassle, and BP is one.

Another item worth it, my Forever After Lotion.  I’ve been using this product for over 15 years, and as long as I can still get it shipped from Amazon and muled to my location, I’ll pay a decent price for the comfort of my favorite skin product at my disposal.

Travel 

What’s changed

I used to despise traveling, and god forbid there was a bump in the road concerning my travel plans. Delayed flights, forgotten items, and crying babies used to send me into a travel tizzy. 8 months in, nothing really phases me anymore. I just left an airport where my reservation had been cancelled because the airlines domestic site had not accepted my foreign credit card despite sending me a confirmation. NBD, head downstairs and re-book the flight. Volcano erupted and stuck in Bali? Ok, book another flight and contact your travel insurance. Flight delayed 8 hours? Leave the airport, find a bar and taste the local brews. Got drunk the night before and missed your flight?  There’s another one in a few hours. Pay your stupid tax, grab a hangover nap and try again (this has happened to me twice now – whiskey is the devil).  Didn’t get the window seat you wanted on a 13 hour flight? Take a whole xanax instead of a half and sleep that sucker out.

Grabbing a taxi to my destination from the airport (or anywhere at all for that matter) used to make my heart race, but now I walk out with ease, locate the taxi line, negotiate the rate and hop in. Uber isn’t always a thing and taxis will try to rip you off, so of I want that extra empanada or glass of wine, I have to be able to show the local chariots I can’t be pushed around. It’s helpful to know flat rates to and from airports, and ALWAYS have the meter running otherwise.

I’ve begun to work as many travel hacks as possible too. How to sneak your overweight carry-on onto any flight.  Most airlines only allow 7kgs of carry-on, and my tech alone weighs that.  When not traveling alone, leave your carry-on with a friend and check in without it.  The alternative is getting caught by Air Asia in Osaka and getting smacked with fees for bags you now have to check. How soon do you really need to be there beforehand? You’ll learn more from the fails on that one. Figuring out if said airport has food and/or drinks once you pass security – not always a thing. Best packing job to have the items you want accessible. I’ve also abandoned the use of my Apple Wallet for boarding passes too. It’s much easier just to have the paper pass. Travel pants – complete with pockets for phone and passport so I always know where those are. Displaying said passport in key moments to convey I may or may not speak the local language. Always have a pen handy for customs forms. Always – ALWAYS – be nice to customs agents, even when the scold you for not speaking Spanish after aforementioned 13 hour flight in a middle seat after being delayed a total of almost 10 hours (I’m learning, damnit).

What hasn’t changed

I still carry my script of low dose Xanax for two reasons: hangover anxiety and travel.  I don’t care how used to the travel mishaps I am, airports are still stressful places.  Judge me if you want, but it is in everyone’s best interest and enhances travel experiences for all for me to down that half of a little blue pill that brings me back to zero from a seven or eight. I’m not the only one taking advantage either… I’ve facilitated a much more enjoyable flight experience for more than a few of my fellow Earharts by prescribing to the sharing is caring method (see what I did there?).  Also, my travel essentials: a bottle of water, a bag of Sour Patch Kids and noise cancelling headphones.

Reliance on technology

What’s changed

Sometimes you land in a country and for whatever reason, your phone doesn’t work.  Most airports have wifi, but having a game plan in place regardless is a fantastic idea.  T Mobile had a worldwide outage last weekend while I was roaming Mendoza with the ACs.  We grabbed a map and did it old school.  Worldwide data is great, but 2G speeds are bullshit.  I have recently cut ties with my US based SIM to go the international route VIA Google Voice, Hangouts, porting and local SIMs… I’m not exactly sure what this means for my text messages yet (even though Johnny Boy has tested it and explained it numerous times), so to be safe, if you need me, hit me on WhatsApp.  Its how the rest of the world sends text messages.

That said, when landing in a foreign country that’s not on the itinerary, grab a local SIM, find an ATM and get moving because there is limited time and lots to see.  Always.

What hasn’t changed

My need to rely on technology.  I am a digital nomad after all.

There you are my Lovers, a little insight into the changes in your SR that aren’t really important, but fill up the space of a short flight to Mendoza (plus a bit extra for editing).  Stay tuned for more adventures along the way – Abuela’s empanadas, mountain biking the Sierras, Asado and more…. all in the next episode.

 

Until then, as always
Randomly Yours,

SR

Lisboa

Dearest Lovers of Random – I promised a post about my latest city of habitation, Lisbon Portugal.  As referenced in my past post, Lisbon has been a different feel for me.  I’m an employed woman now and I am throughly enjoying being an accounting badass again.  I’m running a fitness challenge and have started a new weightlifting program, so I’m enjoying slinging weights again (thanks Dustin!). Budapest may have felt like home, but Lisbon feels much like my old life…. with a European twist, of course.

What can I tell you about Lisbon? Well, for starters, its dirty. In the midst of an economic rebound, there is construction everywhere, which means there is dust everywhere. Also, most of the drinking is done in the streets. So is the male relief of the by-product of that alcohol. Speaking of the drinking in the streets, Lisbon is also loud. At least my home is. Situated between the two bar districts in town, Barrio Alto and Pink Street, and having a few lively places of our own, there is always a chorus of drunken madness wafting it’s way up to my windows. Also directly beneath my window, a tram rail and a bus stop. Both run frequently. The sidewalks are narrow. The locals hate tourists. In the dead of summer, every day is hot and there are hills everywhere. But all of this is just as much a part of the unique charm of Lisbon as the tile buildings, towering staircases, stone walkways and street art filled walls. I’ve learned that Lisbon is a lot like me…. you love it for what it is, or you move on. It does not apologize for what it is.

In most cases, this dedication to culture is heartwarming and satisfying in the form of decorated plazas, delightful local dishes (I recommend the duck rice at Castro), and a wine culture that rivals any I have ever seen. Seriously, two buck chuck has nothing on the bottles you can get here for 3 euro. Some if it is better than a $50 bottle at home. There is a craft cocktail bar – 4 Caravelas – where I can walk through the door and order a Bulliet rye, and the Australian expat who owns the place automatically puts the dash of bitters that I enjoy so much and only had to ask for once. We can talk about the subtleties and differences of rye, bourbon and scotch while I sip my cocktail and it reminds me of HBG at home, because my glass is never really empty. There’s Helio, the local who runs the aforementioned Castro’s, a quaint bar and eatery offering open air seating in vintage upholstery served with a side of conversation about local culture. There’s Red Frog, a speakeasy that reminds me of Death & Co in NYC, although the door guy is a midget instead of a towering ape in a tux. There is Foxtrot, with it’s open courtyard and smoky old fashions. And one of my personal favorites, Baguettes & Cornets, a French corner bakery with the best baked treats and the friendliest staff in Europe.

But Lisbon also has a dark side, and it is ugly. I never personally experienced it, so I don’t feel I have the right to write about it, but you can read my tramily’s takes on the events of one horrible evening here and here. I have no respect for those who fuck with the people that I love, and I love my fellow Earharts deeply, so Lisbon will always carry a scar on my heart. But if I were to lump all of Lisbon in with the few neanderthals that perpetuated the events of that night, I would be no better than them.

In the spirit of open mindedness, I climbed the hills of Lisbon and watched sunrises and sunsets. I peered down it’s picturesque alleys and enjoy local wine in it’s parks. I ran along the river and watched the rising sun sparkle across it. I boarded a sailboat with friends old and new to see sunset from the Tagus and eat homemade stew between bouts of uncontrollable laughter. I wandered Pink Street and Barrio Alto after late night shifts. The Goddess visited and we sipped sangria with DL on top of a parking deck while watching the sunset over a bridge that resembles the Golden Gate. She and I swank it up at the Palácio do Governador with pool time, spa visits and girl talk in hotel rooms. I enjoy meals and drinks and late night deep chats with the 11 other souls living in my building. I do my best to make the most out of my time in Lisbon. That said, I’m not disappointed to leave.

My European adventure has come to an end. I’ll spend a few days in the Middle East before starting my life in Southeast Asia, and I don’t even have a clue what to expect, so I’m ready for anything. Stay tuned for the Random adventures: Vietnam addition.

Specifically Yours,

SR

 

Sintra in 4 hours (or less)

Boa tarde meus Amantes.  In an attempt to keep you up to date on the adventures, I’m doing something I’ve never done before: writing about a side trip the moment I’ve returned from it.  You would think that this is the most logical step: the events and sights of the day fresh in my mind, thoughts and words just ready to tumble out with precision…. but considering I haven’t even started my post on Porto yet (that trip was nearly three weeks ago), consider yourselves lucky that I found a few free moments to address you, my ever so faithful Lovers.

As my time in Lisbon is winding down (very quickly, I might add), I find myself with a laundry list of things I wanted to do while here that have not been checked off the list yet, and Sintra was one of them.  Sunrise is another, so after missing yesterday’s monthly sunrise hike with the crew (snooze and stop are too close together on my alarm), I rounded up Marky and Isaac (who also failed the initial trip) and we drug ourselves out of bed and up the hill this morning to watch the sunrise over Lisbon.  You can read more about this in my Lisbon post, but after the big ball of fire was adequately high in the sky, I made my way through the streets of Alfama to the Santa Apolina station to catch the 7:45 train to Sintra.  It is an hour train ride, and I have to be back at 2pm to knock out some work before tonight’s farewell junction, so when the train hits the station in Sintra, I’m off to the races to fit everything in before catching the 12:36 back to Lisbon.  Throw in me getting off at the wrong stop initially, and I’m down to less than 4 hours….

My first piece of advice for doing Sintra in 4 hours or less: don’t be that asshole.  Sintra deserves so much more, and I am kicking myself in the ass for not giving this castle and garden laden city it’s proper due…. alas, I vowed to do the best I could, and stubbornly did it all on foot.  From the train station, I set out and began the 1,477ft ascent to the Pena Palace, ducking into the woods at my first chance to hike the majority of the way through woods so quiet, I felt my labored breathing was disrupting the serene environment.  It is still early when I arrive at Pena, but the ticket lines are already long and a Remote Citizen who visited the day before has told me she didn’t think it was worth the wait, so I duck around the corner and make my way up to Castle of the Moors instead.  I don’t regret this decision at all, and I’m like a kid at Christmas climbing all over this castle, along the walls and up the watch towers to see all of Sintra from above.  The view is fantastic and the castle has expansive walls and nooks and crannies a plenty –  I want to stay there all day, but I’m a dick and I only have 2.5 hours to go, so it’s down the hill into the city center I go.

My previously mentioned amazing city team member Tomás (who happens to be from Sintra) has provided me with some must dos, should dos, and if-you-have-the-time dos.  I obvi only have time for the must dos, and one of those is hitting Piriquita to sample the local pastries, travesserio and queijada.  After my insane trek up the mountain and rather fun walk {hop/skip} back down, I’m famished and order one of each and an iced coffee.  Here’s the thing about Portugal: you never know what you are going to get when you order an iced coffee…. sometimes you get an iced coffee.  Sometimes you get hot coffee with ice.  Today, I got a hot cup of coffee and a glass of ice beside it… but it all works out, and the pastries are delicious.  If I didn’t have more walking to do, I would not have hesitated to order an entire box of travesserios and brought them back…. to share of course….. But I have castles to see and gardens to walk and only 1.5 hours left, so I pay the check and move on.

IMG_3174

I’ve been previously warned about how crowded Sintra is, but I’m still pretty amazed at the sheer number of people all going to do the same thing.  The next stop on my list is Quinta da Regaleira, and it is absolutely mobbed with people, even though it is just coming up on 11am.  I’m still high from my castle adventures earlier in the morning, so not even the line gets me down, but it does eat into my allotted time, so once I get through it, I kick it into high gear again so I can cover as much ground as possible.  I open the map and quickly realize that even at my fastest pace, I can only afford to hit about 10% of this place, so I steer away from the main (read: crowded) attractions and spend my time dipping through the gardens in hidden staircases and off the path trails.  The gardens are intricate and expansive, with waterfalls, lakes, grottos, caves and everything in between.  The statues are especially breathtaking, and include a hall of the gods, and my particular fave, the lion {who does not concern himself with the opinion of the sheep}.  Sadly, my time here in Sintra is fast approaching it’s end, so I exit stage {garden} left and head back the the train station via the National Palace of Sintra and whatever this place is:

IMG_3191

Back safely on the train, I attempt to grab some shut eye, but a woman and her two young boys post up next to me and the younger one is still learning spacial relations, so I abandon hope at a nap, open the blinds for him and switch seats so he can plaster his face against the window.  Once I hit the Oriente station, I plunge underground to take the metro the rest of the way home, because let’s face it… you haven’t mastered a city until you’ve conquered the subway.  I navigated my two line ride back to Cais de Sorde and slid into my home office chair taking only 14 extra minutes over my planned return – leaving just a few moments for my current Love Letter to you.

As far as Sintra goes, if you come to Portugal, do as I say and not as I do.  Make time for Sintra.  I’d say 4 days.  Visit the castles early to beat the crowds.  Take Tomás’ recommendations and besides Pena and Mouros, hit Palácio de SeteaisChalet do Condessa, and Palácio de Monserrate.  Spend your afternoons on the coast at Praia da Ursa, Praia da Adraga and Praia Grande.  Spend an ENTIRE day seeing every corner of  Regaleira.  Eat your weight in travesserios.  Every day.  Don’t be an asshole like me.  Give Sintra it’s due.

Randomly yours,

 

SR