Picture vomit: Taiwan

These are some pics I took of some places I went during my last week in Taiwan. 😉
Sun Moon Lake Wen Wu Temple
After being in the big city for two weeks, it was nice to bust out and get into nature. We (my fellow white American teachers and I) were able to visit rural areas, including this temple on a secluded lake in the foothills of Taiwan. The grounds are pritt, the temple is made from granite and jade with super cool carvings, and there’s a stairway with 365 steps leading down to the lake (one step for every day of the year). You gotta check it out.
View of the lake from the temple.

Steps leading down to Sun Moon Lake.
Took the liberty of taking a shot with my birthday stair.
Alishan
The word “shan” in Mandarin Chinese means “mountain,” so Alishan just means Ali Mountain. This mountain is part of the mountain range that creates the spine of Taiwan. It’s a real popular place for peeps to come and watch the sunrise. Just be sure to bring a jacket or sweater so you’re warm enough. Also, bring running shoes so you can appreciate the scenery on a jaunty little morning run.
View from up top.
The forest.
The beach!
I got my fingers in this pic for artistic purposes.
Honestly, I don’t love Ocean (because sharks and fish), but when it’s hot and humid outside and you haven’t been swimming in three weeks, it feels pretty good to put on some jaunty European swim trunks and dip in water for a bit. We took our tour bus down to Kenting, which is a party destination on the southern coast of Taiwan. We swam in the evening and partied all night. It was trick.
#jaunty
#nightlife
Crowds block traffic because #nightlife.
So these were my some neat places places in Taiwan. I appreciated them.

I cried in public and all the Asians filmed it.

Everybody’s afraid of something. However, we don’t always know what we’re afraid of until we find ourselves facing that fear.
For example, once I was on a date at the park. We were doing a picnic by a pond when ducks started approaching us. At first, it was just a couple ducks and I thought it was pretty cool that they were getting so close to us. But then it was five, then a dozen, then at least twenty ducks swarming around my date and me. To be clear, SHE was fine. But the closer and closer the ducks got to me, their beady little eyes staring at me, their nasty beaks pecking and quacking for food, the smaller and smaller I involuntarily curled into a ball. I was curled into a ball of fear surrounded by ducks while a girl (who actually did go on more dates with me) laughed.
So that’s when I found out I was afraid of ducks.
Tonight, I had a similar experience.
Some people in our group have been wanting to do that Asian thing where you have fish eat the dead skin off your feet (or whatever) and, while we were out tonight, we saw a tattoo/body-piercing/massage/spa place with a tank of those fish outside on the street. There were families (parents and children) just sitting knee-deep in the tank, swarms of little fish gathered around their feet.
While getting my feet manicured by fish wasn’t on my Taiwan bucket list, I didn’t have anything better to do and I was tired of walking, so I handed over 100 dollars ($3-ish USD) and got ready to put my feet in the tank of water.
My expectations were: tiny fish will come and eat the dead skin and junk off my feet.
What happened:
One fear I KNOW I have is SHARKS. Hate them. This summer has been the worst because there have been lots of super-publicized shark attacks. There were a couple in North Carolina last month and there was another one at a televised surf competition last week. Holy crap don’t go in Ocean.
Anyway, so I took off my sandals and rinsed off my feet before putting them in the water. You have to walk to the tank of fish in a specially-provided clean pair of flip-flops after you rinse off to keep your feet clean to prevent the tank from getting contaminated. After walking to the tank, you sit on a bench on the edge of the tank and slowly lower your feet into the water. It’s important to do it slowly and not move your feet once in the tank otherwise you’ll scare away the fish and ruin their appetite (an Asian told me).
So I lowered my legs into the tank up to my calves and the fish started surrounding them. They were little fish, about the size of small goldfish but brownish-colored.

The fish quickly swam up and started eating the dead skin and junk off my body. And then I started freaking out.

THERE WERE LITERALLY DOZENS OF FISH EATING MY BODY. I WAS ESSENTIALLY BEING ATTACKED BY A SHARK IN THE FORM OF HUNDREDS (AT LEAST A HUNDRED) LITTLE FISH LATCHING THEIR MOUTHS ONTO MY SKIN AND EATING ME. I HAD ENTERED THE FISH’S HOUSE AND I WAS GONNA GET ATE.

It didn’t hurt, but it didn’t feel good. It felt like they were biting me, but their mouths were so small that it didn’t hurt, but KNOWING they were BITING me drove me bananas. (And no, it didn’t feel ticklish, I just felt TERROR.)
Not only was it terrifying that they were latching onto and eating me, but I saw that when people took their feet out of the water, sometimes a couple fish would stay stuck on and they’d have to wipe them off. The idea of having to do that scared me so bad.
Even though I was being attacked by a million little sharks (essentially), the “treatment” was supposed to be 20 minutes, so I figured I’d just grin and bear it.
Except my form of grinning and bearing it was a mixture of heavy breathing, sporadic squeals, burying my face in my hands, yelling things like “OH MY GOSH” and “WHO INVENTED THIS?”, and stroking the beard of the man sitting next to me. In the middle of a public street in Taiwan.
I guess my reaction wasn’t typical (there was a little girl sitting three feet away with her feet in the tank —  she mainly just looked embarrassed for me and tried to avoid eye contact) because a big crowd of Asians gathered around. They just laughed and laughed, I imagine the same way white people watch Japanese game shows. I think they really enjoyed it cuz a lot of them took pictures of videos of me.
In the end, I hadn’t stayed very still, but I’d kept my feet in the shark tank for the whole 20 minutes. I had done it. And no fishes stayed attached THANK LITERAL HEAVEN.
Of course, I had a little headache, my throat was sore, and my eyes were bloodshot. Even though no tears came from my eyes, I had essentially cried in public in Taiwan and the Asians filmed it.
The dude who ran the shop seemed a bit annoyed because I’d made so much noise, but there was a 40-minute wait after I came, so I think it’s safe to say I attracted attention to that tattoo/body-piercing/massage/spa shop.
And I discovered that I’m afraid of ducks, sharks, AND small fish.

FEAR

A travel expert’s advice on Taiwan

It’s me. I’m the travel expert. I’ve been in Taiwan for TWO WEEKS, so that makes me a tiny expert on how to travel here. So sit back and relax: I have your whole trip planned.
1) Language: In my travel group, there are about five Mandarin Chinese-speakers and they’ve been a big help, especially since Chinese tones make anything written in pinyin impossible to pronounce correctly (for example, “Tansui” is pronounced “Dan-shway”), HOWEVER a lot of people in Taiwan know simple English. The main things you need to know are directions and how much stuff costs.

Because so many people know simple English, they know how to say numbers, so figuring out how much something costs isn’t a big struggle. Also, it’s very easy to learn the Chinese finger counting system (hand gestures they use to count from 1 to 10). It’s very handy (pun!) and helped me buy a smoothie once (click here to learn).

Directions are tricky regardless of whether or not you’re speaking the same language, so using a combination of your smart phone and finger pointing is the best bet (kinda like dating in Provo).

Not pronounced how you think it is.
**On a side note, Taiwanese people are so nice. They’re very polite and (a lot of the time) excited to speak/help with Westerners. Also, I’ve been in a big city for two weeks and I’ve only seen ONE drunk person. So.
2) Transportation: Get an EasyCard or TaipeiPass. These cards allow you to use public transport and get into state-run places (like museums and the zoo). The TapeiPass only works in Taipei, but is very cheap (about $25 USD for a week’s use or $7 USD for two days). The EasyCard works like a debit card: you put money on it and use it to get on any public transport anywhere in the country. It only requires a minimum deposit of $100 NTD (New Taiwan dollars) to get one.
Taipei MRT (metro)
3) Bring extra deodorant and TP. In Taiwan, deodorant isn’t really a thing, so they don’t really sell it. A lot of people don’t wear it, so if you want to stay fresh, be sure to bring your own. Also, many bathrooms don’t have toilet paper, so be sure to have some with you AT ALL TIMES.
4) Avoid effing stinky tofu. Stinky tofu is fermented tofu. It is the most repulsively regurgitative thing I have ever smelled. It smells like crotch sweat mixed with dog breath mixed with rotten milk. Terrible terrible blegh blegh blegh. It’s sold at a lot at street markets, so be prepared to be smacked in the nose by the devil and all his angels.
Y DO U EXIST ?
5) Eat at bakeries and fruit stands. As I’ve mentioned before, the food here is a strugg for me, BUT I’ve discovered that if you want a quick tasty meal, bakeries and fruit stands are the way to go. The bakeries here make breads with a variety of flavors: sweet and sticky, savory and cheesy, chocolatey and nutty. It’s all very delish and I highly recommend it if you’re a weenie when it comes to Asian food (like me).
The fruit here is way good. Stop by any fruit stand and grab a mango or dragon fruit to eat with your bread and you’re on your way. Just be sure to bring your pocket knife and get ready for sticky fruit-covered hands (I’m duh-rooling right now).

6) Bring sandals and a raincoat or umbrella. It doesn’t rain every day here, but when it rains, it POURS, so be sure to have a something to keep you dry (if you’re into that type of thing). Sandals are also a must because they dry a lot quicker than shoes when they get wet.
7) This phrase: The most useful and only thing I know how to say in Mandarin is “mon-go bing-shah” which means “mango smoothie.” Just walk up to the smoothie bar, say the magic words and bingo! You got yourself heaven.

Coco is bae.
One more thing: Once you’ve made it to Taiwan, you can fly to other parts of Asia for hecka cheap. Taipei to Bangkok roundtrip for $329, Taipei to Hong Kong roundtrip for $225, Manila for $268, Sydney for $700, I’M CRYING WHY DIDN’T I PLAN THIS BETTER????? But, once again, the lesson is: Once you get out of the States, flights are a lot cheaper.

So that’s Taiwan. It’s a great place except for the stinky tofu. Avoid avoid avoid. 

I locked myself on a roof in Taipei.

View from ZhuWei High School

Me and the other white folks I’m with have been working at a high school on the edge of Taipei near the very tip of Taiwan. It’s jungley and lush and the ocean’s close by. It’s beautiful.

Every day, I thought, “I need to take some pics so I can show the peeps back home,” but every day I didn’t.
But since today was the last day at this school, I set out to take those darn pictures.
The high school has five levels (it’s an outdoor high school made of concrete). I wanted to get pics from the fifth level to get the best view, but when I reached the fifth floor, I saw there was another flight of stairs going up, so I thought, “Sweet! Rooftop view!” and went up.
On the landing, there was a door with a sign (in Chinese) leading to the roof. I wasn’t sure whether the sign said that I was allowed on the roof, but my rule while traveling is “I’m American so it’s OK.” So I ignored the sign and went on the roof, making sure not to shut the door behind me just in case it locked.
Just as I got on the roof, I got a message on my phone telling me I was needed in the school gym. So I turned around to go back through the door, but it was a closed. I tried to open it, but there was no knob, just a key hole and I didn’t have the key.
I looked around and found another door leading off the roof, but it was only open a little bit and wouldn’t budge no matter how hard I pulled. Since it’s summer, we were the only people at the school, so there was no one around to shout to.
So I called the only other person in our group with cell phone service, but his phone answered the call without him knowing, so I was yelling, “Can you hear me??” while he sang to himself. (?)
The only other people I could call were Asians and I didn’t know how well the language barrier would facilitate a conversation about my current situation. Plus, they’d be like, “Why’d you go on the roof?”
I don’t really panic ever, but this is a situation where I kinda started panicking. I was sure people would notice me missing after an hour or so, but it was humid and especially hot on the roof. Plus, my data has been super sketch and I didn’t want to sit on the roof for an hour without internet. 🙁
 
So I noticed a ladder leading to a higher part of the roof, so I climbed it, thinking maybe there’d be a door leading down.
And there was! There were two trapdoors in the floor. I opened the first and saw a tiny room full of water (I’m not making this up). I opened the second and saw the same thing. I was like, “What the fetch is this place? Some torture chamber? Some Asian video game simulation thing?” (In hindsight, I think one was cold water and the other was hot. They were probably containers for the hot and cold water in the school.)
So the view was incredible, but I was still stuck. I was so panicky I didn’t even take pictures.
In my mind, I only had three options: climb off the roof somehow, post a plea on Facebook (if my data worked) and hope someone in Asia saw it, or pry open that second door that was stuck mostly shut.
I went back to the second door and tried pulling again. Nothing (again). I calmed down a little bit and thought, “Jason Bourne’s been to Asia. What would he do in this situation?”
I looked around for something to pry the door open with. I saw an old chair lying on its side. All I needed was a long stick to pry the door. So I threw the chair against the wall and broke off a long piece of wood. I tried to use it to pry the door open, but the wood was too old and the door was too stuck.
So, summoning the strength of Jason Bourne, I pulled on the door again. I put my foot on the wall I was pulling so hard. This time, it came loose and opened.
I was uber sweaty, but I outsmarted the roof.
And no, I never got the pictures.
Literally one of the two pics I got of this place.

Is the food in Taiwan good????

I kno I already talked about this, but I don’t love the food in Taiwan, BUTT I like to keep things positive on PFB, so I’ll get the negative out of the way real quick:
Do you ever see Asians post pictures of food? No because it’s all just rice.
Have you ever seen a fat Asian? No because all they do is sweat and eat rice (see this post about humidity).
What I’m saying is that all they eat is rice. There’s some steamed veggies and meat too, but everything is rice. I’m able to eat until I’m full, but overeating is a struggle because the food’s not super tasty and that’s what gets me. 🙁
But let’s move on to what’s tasty in Taiwan:
Dragon fruit
Sometimes white, sometimes purple inside, it has the texture of a kiwi and is mildly sweet and juicy. If you eat a whole purple one by yourself, it dyes your poo purple for the next day or two.
Mango
Tbh, I never really had a mango until I came here, so I can’t compare them to the ones in the states, except I know these ones are at least twice as big and (duh) a lot more fresh. Hecka juicy and squishy. So sweet. I love them. FYI: I’m eating it wrong in this pic. The best way to eat them is to try to chop it in half (avoiding the big white pit in the middle), cutting it into squares (like a checkerboard), turning the skin inside out, then eating it. That’s confusing.
Basically any fruit here
It’s all good and fresh and juicy, but pro tip: bring a pocketknife so you can chop up and open the fruit you buy from fruit stands.
Anything mango-flavored
Mango ice cream, mango smoothies, mango shave ice, mango juice, it’s all good. And mangoes are so sweet that I SWEAR they don’t add any sugar if it’s mango flavored. I’ll swear it a million times.
.
Pot stickers and dumplings
They’re the same thing, just pot stickers are fried and dumplings are boiled. They usually have pork or some veggies inside. I prefer pot stickers because SALT butt w/e.
Dolphin water
I don’t really believe in non-water drinks, but in Taiwan you sweat so much (because it’s so HUMID) that it’s worth throwing some random electrolytes back into your body. There are a lot of waters that have extra energy-boosting junk in them. This one is dolphin water and it’s good and tastes like dolphins.
Steamed pork buns
Who knew you could cook a whole bread thing just by steaming it? Asians, that’s who. The steamed roll is really spongy and the pork is side is v tender. It tastes a lot like pulled pork. All it needs is some BBQ sauze.
Asian burrito
It’s just a giant spring roll. I don’t actually like spring rolls, but I know lots of folks do, so I thought I’d show you a pic.
This whatever
Next to mangoes, this is the most delightful thing I’ve had in Taiwan. It’s like a naan bread with eggs, ham, cheese, basil, and a spicy sauce inside. It might be Vietnamese, but it’s REALLY good.
So, even though I’m not gonna get fat here, there are plenty of goodies to snack on. Yes plz!!

Taiwanice people

Taoyuan

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.

新增說明文字
新增說明文字
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.

AND IT WAS PERFECT.

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. Also, I think Nils is pretty cool and he invited me to visit.

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 here 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.
BUTT 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 like the bass at your mama’s birthday. There’s a MASSIVE great hall (HP lingo because europe) 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


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 off anyone here. And asking why the statues are all naked doesn’t really get an answer. And apparently, this place is the #1 tourist attraction in Oslo. So don’t miss it. But be prepared. FOR NAKED.
Kulturkirken (pronounced “kultur-heer-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 to 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, BUTT 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 raw 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.)

SKI!


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! That’s what I did! I rode the metro up to Frognerseteren and skied. I made lots of mistakes, but I have videos about how to do it WITHOUT making mistakes. And I should post those.

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 toUnderground (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 that would make PETA mad. 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.

Riiiiight?

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.