Gordy in France

After travelling for four years, people were always surprised to hear that I hadn’t ever been to France. Apparently it’s pretty popular, so I decided it was finally time to go.


The first time I set foot in France was last year. My travel buddy McKay came to visit while I was living in Spain. We rented a car and drove north through the Pyrenees to Oloron-Sainte-Marie (I assume people just call it “Oloron” or, in French, “Ugh”).

It was early November; the weather was a tinge drizzly and the leaves were the perfect shades of green, orange, and brown. A clean river ran through the town and there was a nice square surrounded by shops and restaurants. I could see for the first time why people rave about France.


The next time I was in France was for a three-week trip from Marseilles to Paris in February. After having such a pleasant trip to Oloron, I expected the rest of France to be just as surprisingly charming. Marseilles was surprising, but not quite charming.

In The Count of Monte Cristo, Alexandre Dumas describes La Canebière, a large street in Marseilles: “If Paris had La Canebière, Paris would be a second Marseilles.” Back in his day, Dumas regarded Marseilles as superior to Paris. As I walked down La Canebière, however, I wondered what Dumas would think if he could see it now: instead of shops and restaurants, what draws the eye are broken windows, graffiti, and the homeless sitting in every vacant spot. It’s the worst city I’ve seen in western Europe.

Not that Marseilles is without any redeeming qualities. The protagonist of The Count of Monte Cristo is imprisoned in the Château d’If, which is a short boat ride away and very worth the visit. The Massif des Calanques, a small series of mountains and hills next to the city, is also worth exploring.

Also in Marseilles, for the first time I felt the Mistral, a strong, cold wind that blows from the mountains down to the Mediterranean. I’ve never felt any wind so strong or miserable (and I served my mission in Russia). Even though it supremely sucks, feeling the Mistral really aids in understanding French literature and culture; it’s referenced pretty often.

La Ciotat

From Marseilles, I took a bus to La Ciotat, a coastal village on the other side of the Calanques.

You know that old-timey feeling you get when you see someone wearing a swim cap with curls poking out or a lady wearing a sundress riding a bike with a basket? That’s basically what it feels like to be in La Ciotat. My only complaint is that it wasn’t summer and I didn’t actually see any of those things.


I got a ride from La Ciotat to Avignon.

Avignon is the former seat of the Catholic Pope (which I think means a bunch of them used to live here), making it a big deal in the Middle Ages. I sat at the Palais des Papes (the castle where the Pope once lived) looking down at another castle across the Rhone, imagining horses pulling wooden carts through the narrow stone alleyways below while peasants were herded into orderly lines in the courtyard to await execution. It was almost magical.


From Avignon, I took a train following the Rhone just a short way down to Arles.

Arles is interesting for several reasons, but the biggest two are its importance to ancient Rome (you know, 2,000 years ago) and because Vincent Van Gogh lived and produced over 300 paintings here. I spent a week taking pictures of Roman ruins and visiting the sites that inspired many of Van Gogh’s paintings. This is also the town where Van Gogh chopped off his ear. Neat stuff.

Paris and Versailles

The unfortunate thing about visiting Paris is that there are just so many things to see: the Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, Louvre, Paris Opera House, catacombs, Notre Dame (what’s left of it), Sacré-Cœur, Versailles, and that mini Statue of Liberty from National Treasure. Everything is so spread out that unless you plan to stay for at least a week, you’ll spend your entire visit surrounded by other tourists, most of whom are American; it basically feels like being in New York with an unusual number of French people.

On the upside, I’d always heard Paris was extremely dirty, but aside from a constant haze of pollution hanging over the city (Hello, Paris Climate Agreement.), it was as clean as any other major European city. The homeless and beggar situation wasn’t even as intense as I expected.

Versailles is actually a whole city. It was built by King Louis XIV for his rich friends. It houses the Palace of Versailles, which is adjacent to the Garden of Versailles. During sunset, the sun shines directly on the palace, which is gilded in gold; it’s nearly blinding.

I flew from Paris to the UK and spent two months living in Scotland, but I flew back down to Toulouse in May. I rented a car and drove through the south of France, visiting Carcassonne and Limoux, but there was one town that stood out the most.


Driving from Limoux to Fourtou, I saw a sign for hot springs. I pulled over and spent an afternoon chilling in a warm hot spring and the cool river beside it. When I came back to my car, I realized my tire was flat. This led to me spending the night in the little hot spring town where I was now stranded: Rennes-Les-Bains.

A small river divides the town in half, and a mix of bridges, side streets, and narrow passages connect guesthouses, shops, spas, and restaurants on either side of the river.

When I got the flat tire, I had no phone number or data (I’d only planned to be in France four days), so I had to hop in and out of different shops, trying to see where my wifi would connect and who had a working phone. Even though I can’t speak French and most the shopkeepers couldn’t speak English, everyone was really nice and accommodating, which was consistent throughout all my travels in France. The stereotype is that the French are very snooty to tourists, especially if you can’t speak French, but that wasn’t my experience at all. Maybe it’s because I’m so handsome.


You hear people talk about French food, but can you actually name a French dish aside from snails or croissants? I came to France with an open mind, mouth, and wallet. In each new place I visited, I tried the plat du jour of whatever moderately-priced restaurant I could find. I tried everything from aioli to escargot to polenta to fig pies to moelle.

Polenta with calf marrow.

Let me tell you: the reason you can’t name any French dishes is because they’re weird. They’re good (except for escargot — honestly tastes like a meaty, chewy, kinda fishy mushrooms), but nothing out of this world.

There’s a snail on my fork.

The only French food I really fell in love with were pastries, which makes sense; we already eat all those in America because they’re good: croissants, eclairs, beignets (donuts, basically). Buttery, flakey, sugary — America takes what it wants and leaves the rest.

So be willing to experiment, but save your money for the bakery.


You should go to France.

Perfect day in Taipei: Top 6 things to see

Say you want to have an awesome time in Taipei, but only have a day or two to be there. What do you do? What do you see? How can you plan the perfect day in Taipei?

While living in Taiwan, I went to Taipei almost every weekend and discovered the top 6 things to do and see in Taipei. If you’re limited to only a day or two in Taipei, doing these 6 things will maximize your time and make your trip a hit!

 1) Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall

Chiang Kai-shek is a huge figure in Taiwanese history, so of course there’s a giant memorial for him.

The Chiang Kai-shek memorial is one of Taipei’s main attractions and an awesome photo op. There’s also a museum inside and it’s FREEEEEE!

Chiang Kai-shek aka Asia-braham Lincoln

2) Taipei Taiwan LDS Temple and Yongkang Street

Right smack in the middle of Taipei’s hustle and bustle is the Taipei Taiwan Temple.

It’s actually very small inside and doesn’t function all hours of everyday, so be sure to check the temple schedule before showing up if you plan to do a session.

The temple is also right next to Taipei’s famous Yongkang Street food district, so after visiting the temple, you can stop for lunch.

Jianbing: The BEST Taiwanese food.

Also, if you want to attend church in English in Taipei, the English ward meets in the stake center next door.

3) Taipei 101

Named for its 101 floors, Taipei 101 was the world’s tallest building from 2004 to 2009 and is currently the 8th tallest in the world.

Obviously, you should be several blocks away from the building itself to get a good view of the whole thing.

Or you can hike Elephant Mountain (Shiangshan) to get a view of it sticking out of Taipei’s skyline.

You can also go inside Taipei 101 itself. You can shop, eat, and (if you’re feeling adventurous) take a high-speed elevator to the top (cost 500-600 NTD).

View from the top.

4) Maokong Gandola

The Maokong Gandola is a cable car suspended in the air that takes you on a journey above the forest between the Taipei Zoo and the outskirts of Taipei. You can enjoy a nice view of Taipei and the surrounding hills.

5) Beitou Public Hot Springs (aka Millenium Hot Spring)

Taiwan is covered in hot springs and Beitou is the best place in Taipei to soak in one. Beitou Public Hot Springs is a short walk from Xinbeitou MRT Station. Changing rooms and showers are available. Entry is 40 NTD.

6) Shilin Night Market

A night market is a place where you can buy cheap stuff and eat weird stuff. Visiting night markets is a famous Taiwanese pastime.

Shilin Night Market is one of Taipei’s most popular night markets. It’s right off of Jiantian MRT station. You can’t miss it.


And BAM! There’s your guide for the perfect day in Taipei! If you follow this list, you’ll hit Taipei’s top hot spots and go to bed feeling like a Taipei pro.

Note:  Everything on this list is easily accessible from the Taipei MRT and is organized in order of what you should see leaving from Taipei Main Station. If you follow this list in order, you’ll see everything in the most efficient way.

P.S. I recommend buying an EasyCard if you’re going to spend any time in Taipei. They’re cheap and make using the MRT super convenient. You can buy one at any 7-Eleven and most MRT stations.

I almost drowned in Taiwan.

It was a rainy day in Taiwan and I was chilling in a hot spring. Cool rain splashed down onto my face like angel kisses as my body lay reclined in a warm pool of water. I felt like a precious baby in the womb.

Next to this hot spring ran a river. It wasn’t a big river, but people liked to swim in it. A rope ran parallel from the riverbank to a pole fixed in middle of the river’s stream. Another rope was tied to another pole a little ways downstream. The idea was to walk into the water while holding the first rope, let go, then let the river’s current carry you downstream where you would grab hold of the second rope and pull yourself back to shore.

I watched as a couple people got into the river and floated from the top to the bottom rope. It seemed fun, so I decided to give it a try.

The water was colder than I expected but I was surprised to find that the river was actually pretty shallow – barely waist-deep. I walked out holding onto the rope, tucked my knees up against my chest, then let go, giving myself up to the river gods.

The current was strong because of the rain and my butt kept hitting rocks because the river was so shallow, but it was decently fun; like going on a waterslide while having your butt hit over and over again.

As the ride was coming to a close, I stuck my hand out to grab hold of the second rope, which hovered about six inches above the water. Unfortunately, I have the hand-eye coordination of a newborn baby’s tongue, so when I tried to grab the rope to stop myself, I missed completely and the current continued dragging me downstream.

I’d been counting on that rope to get me out of the river, but since I missed it, my only option was to swim out. I turned my body and began swimming toward the bank, but the current was too strong and wouldn’t let me out. I’d always considered myself a good swimmer, but no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get any closer to shore. I just kept bobbing downstream, my legs and arms bumping and scraping against rocks on the riverbed.

At this point, I wondered two things.

First, I wondered whether I was drowning. I decided that maybe I was, cuz I’d never experienced this helpless feeling while swimming before, and that’s probably what drowning feels like.

Second, I wondered whether I was going to die. I’ve always thought that I would have an earlier premonition about when I was going to die, like I would wake up knowing that today was the day. Since I hadn’t had any inkling earlier that day, I figured that, no, I was not going to die.

After deciding I was drowning but not dying, I debated whether I should call for help. Since I knew I wasn’t going to die, I figured there was no reason to be overly dramatic. On the other hand, how was I going to get out of this river on my own?

While I was debating all this in my head, I bumped into a small island of rocks close to shore that stopped my progression downstream. I got hold of a big rock, then pulled myself to my feet. I walked ashore, a little tired and scraped, but not drowned or dead (I was right!).

I walked back up to the hot springs and sat down. I watched the river and wondered whether anyone else would try floating down and what would happen in they missed the bottom rope.

Sure enough, another man walked into the river holding onto the first rope, let go, then floated down and missed when he reached out to grab the second rope. I perked up. Would he almost drown like I had? What would he do to get out of the current?

I was amazed to see his solution: he stood up and walked to the shore.

The whole time, the water had barely been waist-deep. I should have realized because my body kept hitting rocks on the river’s shallow bottom. But I’d forgotten and hadn’t realized how simple the solution had been the whole time.

So I almost drowned in Taiwan. Cuz I’m an idiot.

Super Chicks

My plan was to visit a place called 60 Shih Shan (60 Stone Mountain) in Hualien County, Taiwan. I was gonna take the train to a small village, then take a bus up to the mountain. When I got off the train, though, there weren’t any buses … or literally anything else. No buses, no taxis, nothing. Just me, two old dudes, and a rice field.

As I was checking my phone to figure out my options, two chicks showed up and somehow saw that I needed help (I think I just have a really confused-looking face idk). When I told them where I was trying to go, they told me the buses didn’t run there this time of year. Before I could figure out a backup plan, though, they offered to drive me up in their car cuz “we have nothing better to do.” They drove me up, told me all about the mountain, then drove me to another train station so I could get home. And they took real good pictures of me too.

64 60shih

These girls were so nice and they reaffirmed what I already knew: Taiwanese people love me so much.

Traveling in Taiwan is the best. People not only want to help, but are excited to help. It’s really given me a pay-it-forward attitude. Now I look for opportunities to help others too. Thanks, Taiwan.

Here are some pictures of 60 Shih Shan. Apparently, it’s best to visit during summer, but I think winter is an alright time too.

65 67 66 68 62

Do burritos make us American?

I’ve been wanting Mexican food ever since I flew into Taiwan. In fact, the last meal I ate before flying to Taiwan was a burrito, chips, and salsa.

So, this weekend, after TWO MONTHS of not having Mexican food (two months and four days to be exact), I found a place called Macho Tacos in Taipei.

I was skeptical of how tasty the food would be and whether it’d be worth my money (you can get a decent meal here for 2 bucks but a burrito at this place was 5ish), but the pictures and menu online looked authentic, so I was optimistic.


Because the menu and pics online looked so authentic, I expected to see Latinos behind the counter when I walked in (Taipei is pretty international, so I wouldn’t have been surprised), but there were just the usual Taiwanese people. That made me less optimistic, but I figured I’d give it an honest shot anyway. I ordered a macho-sized burrito with taco meat.

Mis amigos, I was not disappointed. The lettuce inside the burrito was crispy and fresh, the tortilla held together well and tasted normal, the ground beef was perfectly seasoned, the cilantro-lime rice tasted just like Cafe Rio, and the salsa had all the right juices and flavors. It was muy delicioso, but could have benefited from some sour cream, guacamole, and a side of chips (which you can order separately and I’ll definitely do that next time).


While I was eating, I felt a connection with the burrito. It felt like I was eating my people’s food, a piece of home.

I remembered working with other missionaries in Russia to make Mexican food: cooking and seasoning ground beef and chili, making homemade tortillas, chopping and mixing vegetables to make salsa (which we’d eat with crackers since tortilla chips aren’t a thing in Russia).


Why do so many Americans love Mexican food? Why did we work so hard to make it on my mission?

Americans eat lots of pizza, hot dogs, and hamburgers too, which you can also buy at restaurants here, but I think Mexican food is different. Mexican food has a homemade quality and feel that other “American” foods don’t match. Homemade pizza doesn’t taste the same and to make hamburgers or hot dogs at home, you basically just buy packaged meat and buns. But you can make all the parts of a Mexican meal at home without thinking twice about it (except tortillas — homemade tortillas are a pain).

I understand that Mexicans and Americans eat different kinds of Mexican food: Americans mainly stick with tacos and burritos, along with some of our own spin-offs like nachos and chili, while Mexicans have A LOT more than that. But what we call “Mexican” is actually American to me.

So thank you, Mexicans, for giving us your best.

And not to get political but I’m going to: America is such a great country. Sure I get annoyed that the bread and chocolate aren’t as good as they are in Europe and that Americans like to whine a lot on Facebook (“MY freedoms say I can do this!” “Well MY freedoms say you can’t!”), but comparing it to other places I’ve visited (like Russia and Mexico and even Italy), it’s SO clean, SO safe, and there’s SO much less corruption that it’s selfish and unchristian that immigrating into the US is SO difficult.

I have friends from other countries who have college degrees or have even married US citizens (legitimately) yet struggle to maintain a visa or get a green card. They’ve had difficult lives and worked hard to come to America, leaving behind family and culture in exchange for the American dream, but in America they’re getting even more difficulty and harder work with little reward. If their native governments can’t recognize them for their hard work, then the United States should. They can help America out just as much as burritos can.

Anyway, Macho Tacos in Taipei is very tasty and authentic. I saw some Latinos and other Americans there too, so I’m not the only one who thinks so. Walking out of the restaurant, I had to remind myself that I was still in Taiwan, my burrito having temporarily transported me home.


Taiwanice people


Taiwanese people are the nicest. According to my Taiwan boss lady, Taiwan is the second safest country in the world (rumor has it that Norway is #1, but we’ll let Google be the judge of that). Of all the countries I’ve visited, this one is the only one that hasn’t had random nasty teenagers wandering around the streets (except for Norway). They’re all too busy doing school.

Seriously, these poor kids go to normal school, then they go to “cram school” so they can study to get accepted to high school, where they’ll only study hard so they can go to a good university. 🙁

That’s not the only rough part of Taiwanese life. Taiwan is an island the size of Delaware and Maryland combined (I don’t actually know how big that is, I just know it’s SMALL). A lot of these people have never left the island. Can you imagine spending your whole life in a area that small????

On top of that, they eat the same thing for every meal: rice. Rice with cabbage, rice with sausage, rice with noodles, rice, rice, rice, rice, rice. What the fetch? How about mixing things up from meal to meal? Maybe some pancakes for breakfast, a sandwich for lunch, and a whole pizza to eat by yourself for dinner while you think about how all your old roommates and friends are married now? Butt rice is life for them. Bummer for them all.

Anyway, I feel very safe in this country. I wake up every morning, run to the park, and do some intense muscle pumping. I feel completely fine wandering around alone any time of the day. I know I stand out like a man in bra shop because I’m white and don’t know any Mandarin Chinese, but they’re all very welcoming. A lot will wave and say, “Hello!” in English. My first morning when I was looking for a 7-11, a little dude handed me a badminton racket and wanted me to play. (I took a swing at it, but ran away when I missed my own serve.)

I’m been staying in a city outside of Taipei called Taoyuan. I went to Taipei on Saturday and it was very cool. I haven’t gotten out of the city to see some plants and stuff yet (which is a big bummer for me), but I hopefully will be able to next week!

Stuff I seen I want you to see:

Detail of a temple roof in Taoyuan.
Street art in Taoyuan.
Welcome to my cave of wonders.
Taipei 101 (a VERY tall building in Taipei)

Breakfast+Lunch+Dinner. NOT COMPLAINING
LDS temple in Taipei.
A neat building in Taoyuan.
View from up top. (Taiwan boss lady’s apt.)
  1. Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall in Taipei.
This dude just sits in the CKS Memorial Hall all day. I call him Asiabraham Lincoln.

Humidity + Sharknadoes

I got Blogger to turn back into English. Thank heaven. It involved several lucky clicks, turning the language to Russian, then turning it back to English.

I mean, I’m still logged into my Google account, so why does it change the language based on my geographic location? YOU KNOW MY WHOLE LIFE, GOOGLE. LET’S JUST KEEP EVERYTHING ENGLISH, OK???

When I found out I was going to Taiwan this July, I told a friend who had served her mission in Taiwan. She said (of course), “You’ll love it!!” But also, “It’s the hottest time of the year. It’s super hot and humid.”

Butt I didn’t really know what “humid” meant.

I’d never visited a tropical climate before and I’ve only lived in California, Utah, and Russia, so saying that something was”humid” didn’t really have any meaning for me.

Well, when I stepped out of the airport in Taipei and really experienced humidity for the first time, there are no words to express what I felt. The closest I can come to explaining it is waving my hands in front of my face with my tongue out. It’s like being in a badly ventilated male dorm room. It’s not a good feeling at first. Or ever.

But you can get used to it.

At first, all I could do was shake my hands and stick my tongue out to deal with the humidity (it didn’t help), but over these past couple days, I’ve grown accustomed to it. Thankfully, God invented houses and those sacred edifices keep that stale air outside away. Also, air conditioning is a big plus. But your body just gets used to to it. At least my skin’s not dry!! (#Utah)

The humidity isn’t the only new thing.

Since I’m in a tropical climate and it’s July, that means a bunch of typhoons are headed this direction. A typhoon is a hurricane except Asian (but NOT in a racist way). Again, being from California/Utah, hurricanes/typhoons aren’t really a thing I know about. The only time I hear about hurricanes or typhoons is when they’ve flooded entire cities or have sharks flying around in them,

So when, on my first day here, my Taiwan boss lady announced, “Today is typhoon day!” like it’s just laundry day or time to clean the fridge, I’m like, “So I SHOULDN’T be wearing a life jacket just in case?”

Typhoons are just very rainy and windy storms (duh), but as long as you’re away from the ocean, you should be able to avoid any sharknadoes or flooding. For this last typhoon, we were in a sweet spot where we only got a lot of rain and a little wind. So I guess that typhoons can be fun even if they aren’t deadly.
So Taiwan’s fun! Lots of new stuff, but none of it has killed me. So now what?

Pics from my morning runs:

Going to Taiwan

Google automatically translated Blogger into Mandarin Chinese for me. Thank heaven or I’d I have a real struggle reading anything right now* (*I’m having a real struggle reading anything right now).
My flight to Taiwan was supposed to take off Tuesday at 1 am, BUTT the travel gods had something different in store because right after my boarding pass got printed out, the computer system crashed and the airplane’s engines stopped working and the pilot spontaneously died. I don’t actually know what went wrong, I just know that the flight was delayed until 12 pm on Tuesday, which means I got put up in swanky hotel for the night (LAX Hilton, baaaaaaby!). After being shuttled back to the airport the next morning, I hopped on an airplane bound for Shanghai, China!
Why am I going to Taiwan, you ask? 12 other American lucky ducks and I will be spending the next three weeks practicing conversational English with Taiwanese high schoolers in the greater Taipei area. Our compensation is free travel (including the flight to and from Taiwan), housing, food, and sightseeing while we’re here. So it’s a sweet dill pickle!!!!
Anyway, the thirteen-hour flight was pretty great. I LOVE movies, so 13 hours of just me and a screen is pretty great!!! I watched four and a half movies, two of them rated R (so edgy!!) because they’re edited (most the time) on airplanes (cuz I’m that Mormon). (The King’s Speech made me think-cry. Twelve Years a Slave was just depressing and made me want to punch Michael Fassbender.)
Right before landing in Shanghai, we were shown an instructional video of how to perform in-seat tai chi to return regular blood circulation to the body. (Basically, it’s just Deb from Napoleon Dynamite telling you to imagine you’re in the middle of the ocean surrounded by tiny little seahorses but it’s an Asian and he’s a man.) After 13 hours of sitting, the tai chi legit did make me feel really good!!! I recommend it for everyday people!
The Shanghai airport was a nifty place. Some people are so small they can fit in their own suitcases, you get a little emotional realizing that this is where Mulan saved the world, and I couldn’t help but feel a sense of awe that basically everything I own was originally from China. Such a great place!!
After getting Shanghai’ed (lol!), we jumped onto the three-hour flight to Taipei. That was cool because most the members of my group got bumped up to first class since we’d missed our original flight. It was an experience like no other: chairs that recline to a horizontal position, complimentary dragon fruit, enough leg room to do real tai chi, and coasters. First class is lyyyyfe!!
We landed in Taiwan at 10 pm-ish. I smelled so bad and was so tired. Thankfully, I had a nice hotel room bed to sleep in (with my main man Bruce Mangelson #LoveWins).
Now we’re getting ready for English camp next week and (apparently) a typhoon. I probably should have brought more socks.

Such a struggle to post pictures.

Me and Jacob (friend) about to fly out of LA.

Bear (BUTT?) Lake

JK. BUTT I did moon someone (aka my sister) over Snapchat last week. That’s what it’s for, right?

So my broth Stanley came to Utah (he NEVER comes to Utah) because his cool wife’s family was up in Cache Valley for a family reunion. WELL, since I live in Utah and my sister lives in Utah and my other sister always come to Utah for 4th of July week, we all decided it’d be cool to crash their reunion because he’s our brother and he’s way legit.

So we all drove up to Bear Lake (“Bear” not “Bare” lol) to play in the water and have a good family time.

Bear Lake is on the Utah-Idaho border, so I was expecting to be be horrible because
1) Idaho
2) I googled pictures and there were no trees
3) It’s WAY north = FREEZING water
4)  Family time  jkjkjkjkjkjkjk

We hopped in the car at 11-ish and got to Bear Lake at 2-ish, but the drive is pretty pritt (because Cache Valley is pretty pritt) so the three hours weren’t too bad. I just sat in the back of my sister’s minivan and read Harry Potter while my nephew told me how lame I am (but it’s okay because he’s SIX and I’m TWENTY-FIVE so I can handle it).

We stopped at a shake place by the lake (there’s about fifty, so just choose one) and got raspberry milkshakes because (apparently) raspberries are THE THING here. It was really good and I liked it. ~Mmmm. So creamy. Mmmmm.~

Random child crawled onto me begging for a milkshake.

After that, we headed to the north shore because that’s where brother said to go.


Yes, it WAS Idaho, but there were SOME trees (so it was pretty) and the water was WARM.

The water was crystal blue and SUPER shallow for about 100-feetish out, so it was SUPER warm. I could just sit and pee anywhere and no one would notice because the water was already warm. We literally just sat in the foot-deep water for four hours, throwing mud at each other and trying to move as little as possible. No children drowned because the water was so shallow AND nobody got sunburnt (too much) because we applied sunscreen every hour (SO IMPORTANT).

Me and the sibs having a good time.

It was a great time I would do it again if someone drove me (but it’d be nice to sit next to a nice six-year-old this time).

Didn’t love Italy

The port of Lazise on Lake Garda. It’s way pritt.

Honest truth about Italy: lots of pros, lots of cons.

Let’s start with the cons.

Cons: Tourists up your wazoo, creepy hobos, don’t Couchsurf here, you have to pay to get into almost everything, and train stations are crazy confusing.

Italy is a pain. Of all the places I visited, I felt the most unsafe in Italy.

First, you’re constantly surrounded by people. I visited MILAN (not even Rome, which I’m sure is crazier) in the middle of freaking JANUARY (it was 40ºF) and there were tourists EVERYWHERE. It was frustrating because I like to avoid the crowds and experience the country as untouristy as possible, but I don’t think that’s possible in Italy. The crowds are huge and people are everywhere. Summer must be straight CRAY. (BUTT: I was able to escape the crowds in smaller towns like Verona and Lazise.)

Verona at twilight.

Second, you’d think you’re safe because of all the crowds, but the hobos aren’t afraid to single anyone out. I was walking with my host in Milan and I had hobos shove birdseed in my hands, try to tie a bracelet to my wrist, and try to “help” me buy a ticket at a train station. After doing stuff like this, hobos try to get you to pay for whatever they’ve forced on you (“Ten euro for the birdseed!” “You stole that bracelet! Pay me for it!” “You owe me this much for helping you buy your ticket!”). You have to be very assertive and just be like, “No, I don’t want it, I’m not gonna pay for that.”

In general, I tried to share my money and food with the homeless I saw in other countries, but these guys were so obnoxious I didn’t want to give them anything just in case they tried to pull something on me.

Thanks to this hobo, I got this sweet picture of me being attacked by birds. Also, he tried to take 10 euro from me.

Also, the Couchsurfing options in Italy are iffy. Half the profiles I read while looking for a place to stay either said they were nudists or nudist-friendly, which isn’t inherently bad, but can turn bad real easy (especially since you don’t know these people IRL). So, unless you feel REALLY comfortable with naked strangers, stay in a hostel or hotel.

Another downside of the country is that the economy is based mainly on tourism (which makes sense –> see four paragraphs above), so it costs money to get into EVERYTHING. Take pictures in the Duomo? Three euro. Go to the roof of the Duomo? Six euro. Go into almost any cathedral and you’ll get charged an entrance fee (UNLESS you’re with a local — then it’s free). So be ready with a lot of pocket change to get into what you want to see.

On the roof of the Milan Duomo. That’s my host up front with the hair.

Also, Italian train stations are worse than American DMV’s. Get in line to get a number, get a number, wait for your number to be called (in Italian), then get your train ticket without any platform number or departure time printed on it (it’s basically just a blank piece of paper). It’s silly. I’d recommend getting a local to help if you can (but NOT a hobo — remember).

So that’s what sucks about Italy, but let’s end on a positive note.

Pros: Everything is super old, there’s lots of history; it’s a very small country, so you can land in any airport and be in another part of the country in a couple of hours; and the food is fantastic!

A Roman arch in Verona.

Italy has had a huge influence on the world since before Christ was born. For over 2,000 years, this small country has influenced the ENTIRE world’s art, government, food, education, architecture, and religion. That’s crazy! Because of this, it’s worth taking a little looksie at Italy if you’re planning a trip to Europe.

Because people have lived in Italy for forever, there are cities built on cities built on cites and cathedrals built on cathedrals built on cathedrals. In some areas, you can see an older city’s foundation under the streets of the current city. In Chiesa di San Fermo in Verona, one cathedrals sits on top of an older cathedral underground (that you can go down and look at), which is on top of another older cathedral! It’s like a Catholic sandwich! (But old and made of stone, so don’t eat.)

The foundation of an older city under the streets of Verona, Italy.

There are multiple cathedrals in every city you’ll visit, and at least one of them is bound to take your breath away. The most amazing churches I saw were the Milan Duomo and the Cathedral of St. Anastasia in Verona.

The Duomo is legitly hugenormous outside and covered in intricate carvings and statues (you could spend hours looking at the outside walls of the Milan Duomo), but you don’t completely appreciate how big and beautiful it is until you go inside. It’s dark and cavernous, gives you Mines-of-Moria-esque feelings, and amazes the living butt off of you.

Milan Duomo

The Cathedral of St. Anastasia is also huge, but I mainly loved its architecture and paintings inside. The inside is full of arches and the ceiling is painted with a real cool floral pattern.

Inside St. Anastasia’s.

**NOTE: I’m not usually an artsy person who appreciates things like architecture and culture, but Italy (one of the birthplaces of western art and architecture) straight-up knocked my socks off and made me notice things I’d never appreciated before.

Also, real Italian pizza makes a day in the country worth it. It tastes nothing like American pizza: the crust is thin and bubbly, the sauce is tangy, the cheese isn’t greasy, and the toppings are completely fresh. (If you want a taste of authentic Italian pizza, visit Terra Mia in Orem).

It’s really Italian and really pizza.

Overall, I’d say that Italy is worth a two-to-three-day stopover. One day to see a big city and get annoyed by tourists/freaked out by hobos, and one day to see a small town and appreciate the slightly less-touristy part of Italy.

Norwegia, Norway

When I first met Nils Andersen, I was living in Izhevsk, Russia, with Zhenya Kazakov. I asked Nils where he was from and he said, “Oslo,” and I said, “Where’s that?” Then he and Kazakov laughed at me for being a stupid American who didn’t know anything about geography and told me that OSLO is the capital of NORWAY. (P.S. I accidentally called it NORWEGIA half the time after that anyway, so jokes on them.)

Highlights from my mission aside, Oslo is the capital of NORWAY which is in EUROPE which is where I went in January. I decided to visit this beautiful country after seeing Internet pictures and watching “Frozen” a lot.

So, after England, I snuck over to Oslo for a three-day visit. It was snowy, icey, and rainy, and my feet STILL hadn’t dried from England, but I loved it. The snow, ice, and rain made for some beauti-freakin-beautiful scenery and some GREAT pictures (my favorite pics from my trip are from England and Norway).

Plus, the language is no big because everyone there speaks English. So cool!!!

I honestly think Norway would be better to visit after March, but that’s only because  tours of the Royal Palace and boat tours of Oslofjord were closed and wouldn’t open until mid-March, so now I know.

BUT I did see some pretty sick stuff and here’s what it was:

Oslo City Hall

I accidentally stumbled onto this building. The outside looks really soviet (gray and depressing), BUT there is a cool clock and wood carvings outside. Anyway, I went inside and my jaw DROPPED. There’s a MASSIVE great hall and every wall is covered in murals. Also, each bathroom stall has its own sink. It was WAY fancy and nice and one of my top 3 buildings in Europe (don’t ask what the other two are).

Royal Palace

Like England, Norway still has a monarchy and just like England, I’m not sure what it does. Anyway, like I said, the palace was closed when I was visiting, so be sure to stop by and tell me about it if you’re here after March!
Vigeland Sculpture Park AKA Naked Park in Oslo

Pro tip about Norway: there are a lot of naked statues and murals everywhere. To the Norwegians, it’s not weird. So the fact that there’s a park full of nude statues of men and women doing weird things (like juggling babies) doesn’t really throw anyone off. And asking why the statues are all naked doesn’t really get an answer.
Apparently, this place is the #1 tourist attraction in Oslo. So don’t miss it. But be prepared. FOR NAKED.
Kulturkirken (pronounced “kultur-sheer-kin”)

This building is so amaze-balls inside and out. Look at the intricate carvings on the outside door, then look at the ceiling inside and listen to the organ. Usually, I HATE the organ, but the whole building feels special and great. And there’s an altar where you can write a prayer and the priests will pray for you.

Oslo Opera House

Again, another thing that’s cooler after winter. The opera house’s roof slants down so you can walk from the ground level to the top, BUT in winter, it’s too icey. So. Also, fancy bathrooms.

Eat the seafood

This guy’s selling shrimp out of his FISHING BOAT. I don’t even LIKE seafood, but even smelling it made me want to try this stuff because it’s so fresh! (I didn’t, cuz I forgot to eat half the time on this trip. I was TOO BUSY DOING THINGS.)


Skiing was basically invented in Norway, SO I HAD to go skiing. Pro tip: spend the first two hours falling over, then spend the last hour actually having fun! Ride the metro up to Frognerseteren and spend a day enjoying the scenery, exercise, and ground.

Explore Oslofjord and take sick pix!

PRO TIP: Oslofjord isn’t a real fjord. It doesn’t have hills on either side with water in between: it’s basically just a bay with no hills around it. But it’s still beauty-ful. Even though the tourist tours were closed, I jumped on a random ferry to a random peninsula in Oslofjord and took lots of pictures. It was a good time. But I did get hungry.

Go shopping at Underground

I lost my beanie on the bus from the Rygge Airport, so I got on google and found a close-by thrift store, hence I came to Underground (UFF). It’s actually a vintage shop, which means they don’t take anything newer than 1980. There were sweet sweaters, reindeer bags, sealskin boots, and all sorts of other things. I bought a sweet hat and wanted to buy everything else.

Eat the weird crap Nils gives you.

Norway has a weird cuisine. Aside from the seafood smelling good, they also like to eat liver, jam on meatballs, lots of frozen pizza, and bacon in a tube. The pic above is “brown cheese” with jam on bread. It tasted like old-ish cheese with jam on it. The combo of cheese + jam made it a little creamy, but still weird. So take your taste buds on an adventure!

Find this random statue of Franklin D. Roosevelt.


Norway was a blast and a half! I want to give a big shout-out to Nils and his awesome wife Natali for letting me crash on their couch for three days and helping me find and do all the cool things to do in Oslo! And honestly, Nils is lucky to have scored a girl as sweet as Natali. It was so great to stay with you guys! Until next time!

When your dreams come true in England

Ever since I was a young Gordy, I’ve wanted to go to England. I love Narnia, am a big fan of the queen (J.K. Rowling currently), and have spoken the English language almost fluently for most of my life.
And I’m not the only one who loves England. I’ve talked to lots of others who would love to skip rocks on the other side of the pond.
So what’s it like to be in England? What is there 2 doo? WHAT WAS IT LIKE TO MAKE YOUR DREAMS COME TRUE? Well, I’m about to let you kno.
My first three nights, I stayed on the beautiful London Temple apartments (or FLATS lol). The temple is 30 miles (or KILOMETERS lol) from London proper, but it’s still a pretty rural area.
My face and the London temple!
View of the London Temple from a footpath.

I stayed here Saturday and Sunday and literally just walked around looking at how old, rural, and green (LUSH) everything is. I visited the nearby villages and pubs within walking distance of the temple.

The oldest buildings in East Grinstead, a village close to the temple.
England has a super nifty thing called “footpaths.” They’re just public trails that go through forests and fields, across pub decks and people’s yards. Even though people have lived on this small island for thousands of years, the government has gone to great lengths to preserve its natural beauty, so there’s plenty of trees and greenery to love. It’s like being in a Beatrix Potter story. Just look for a “footpath” sign and follow.
A cool thing I saw on a footpath!
I went to London on Monday. I don’t love big cities, so I only stopped by for a day visit. I rode into Victoria Station at noon-ish and walked to King’s Cross Station by the end of the day. Walking is the absolute best way to see EVERYTHING — touristy and otherwise. Along the way, I saw Westminster Cathedral, Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, Trafalgar Square, the National Gallery, ate at an Indian restaurant, and went to Platform 9 3/4.

Westminster Cathedral

Westminster Abbey lol

It so big.

Me and one of them Trafalgar Square lions.

Supper at Emmaus by Caravaggio in the National Gallery (J.K. Rowling’s fave painting).

Indian food! It was very good.

It’s straight magic, promise.
From King’s Cross, I took the Tube to Paddington Station, then rode a train up to Oxford to visit C.S. Lewis’s home.
Oxford was one of the most amazing parts of my trip. The university is almost literally Hogwarts. It’s hundreds of years old, but it’s still going strong and its ancient buildings are still in use.

A library at Oxford University.

Just like Hogwarts.

Literal Hogwarts.
C.S. Lewis’s home was great. I toured it and learned a lot about his life. A nature reserve dedicated to Lewis is right next to his home. These woods are said to be inspiration for Narnia. I definitely uglycried walking through them as I thought, “I’M IN NARNIA!!!”

Me in front of C.S. Lewis’s home.

C.S. Lewis Nature Reserve.

I also visited the Eagle and Child, the pub where Lewis used to bash around story and philosophical ideas with his mates, including J.R.R. Tolkien. 

A great place to get drunk. jkjkjkjkjkjk!!!
In general, Oxford is such a cool city. It’s very old and there’s just such a cool feeling there.
England was everything I’d dreamed it would be and more. It was like stepping into my favorite books and stories I had as a kid (and still have). It rained at least twice a day, my feet weren’t dry for a week, and I absolutely loved it. DREAMS COME FREAKING TRUE.

If you wanna see more Anglo pix, check out my tumblr: gordyyates.tumblr.com.