Florence, Italy

Florence among the Apennine Mountains. My Italian instructor had us hike up to San Miniato al Monte for this city view.

Three years ago, I boarded a plane on my way to a study abroad in Florence, Italy, equally terrified and excited for the next five weeks to come. I bought my ticket — my first huge purchase as a 22-year-old — and it would take me from St. Louis to Montreal to Rome and back.

When I arrived in Rome, the plan was to take the train to Florence. However, almost every piece of advice that I religiously followed from Google was wrong. Not every Italian spoke English. You didn’t get your train ticket to Florence from where it said I should. Jet lagged in a foreign country, I did the only thing I could: I followed the signs.

The signs took me from immigration to a red ticket kiosk. “To Florence on the fast train?” I asked a nearby employee. One hundred euros later, I had two train tickets. One was to the main train station, the other was for the Frecciargento to Florence. I followed the signs to the airport train station and my departing platform. When I settled down in my respectful train, I realized there were no maps inside to tell me to where I could connect to Florence. I panicked. The sunlight was jarring as my body begged for sleep. I stared at my train tickets, but they didn’t make sense either. I was lost.

An older woman boarded the train with her husband and sat next to me. “Are you off to big adventures?” She asked gently, gesturing to the tattered Delta airport tag on my weathered baby blue suitcase. I told her I was going to school in Florence. This was my first time in Italy, or Europe for that matter. She was Australian and came to Europe a many times before; she told me where to hide my money, to be protective of my passport, and most importantly, where to get off for my next train. My Frecce ticket even told me: Roma Tiburtina.

Speaking to her was a relief to my exhaustion. I found my train stop and validated my ticket (something I had read: if you didn’t hole punch your ticket prior to boarding and a train conductor checked your un-validated ticket, you’d get a fine). Finally, I had about 15 minutes to spare when the hunger kicked in. All I had was cigarettes (a habit I’ve long kicked) so I smoked one. I’m in Rome, I thought, incredulous at the fact that I had made it this far. All I had to do was get on this train and make it on time for orientation at Florence University of the Arts. Nothing could stop me.

Except maybe a tourist’s need to overpack. I had boarded the wrong car on Le Frecce and ended up in a hallway of massive suitcases. The train began to move and I had no other choice but to hoist my full sized luggage over and through to get to my car. Strangers of all nationalities helped me lift my suitcase as I dragged it two cars down; when I arrived at my assigned seat, I passed out.

About an hour later, I woke up in the rolling farm hills of Tuscany. “Are we in Florence?” I asked the lady next to me. “Firenze?” She corrected me. “Si.” I collected my belongings as the train rolled into the city’s main train station, Santa Maria Novella. I had finally made it to Florence.

Capri, Italy

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MAY 30, 2015

After a nauseating ferry ride from Naples to Capri (what a way to learn that you’re prone to sea sickness), we finally arrived at the base of the famed Mediterranean island. We noticed that everyone was jumping into white vans that shuttled them off, but we opted to walk instead.

Four flights of stairs in, the city was still nowhere in sight. We trampled through makeshift rock steps that trailed up Capri, surrounded by white artsy beach houses (owned by the rich and famous, no doubt) with views of baby blue skies and cerulean waters. We emerged from another flight of stairs and came out into a road, where I spotted a local man. Centro? I asked, out of breath. He pointed up.

Hundreds of steps later, hungry and ready to give up, we were almost to the top when we smelled it. Warm sugary scents wafted down the stairs toward us and instantly, we picked up the pace. What was that smell? we wondered. Was it fresh baked chocolate croissants? Was there some new Italian delicacy waiting for us at the top of the stairs? We finally broke out into the centro of Capri and sped walked past the high-end boutique shops and restaurants when we saw it.

The source of those delicious aromas came from piping hot waffle irons, conveniently placed by an open window, churning out just-baked waffle cones for Buonocore Gelateria. In awe, I watched as they took those thin crepe-like waffles and rolled them into a perfect shape of an ice cream cone. It was the most memorable welcome to Capri.

la la land and a van

I fell asleep to the steady whoosh of cars that would rock our van every time one would pass. The traffic lulled me to sleep and before I knew it, the sun was rising and the fog was lifting from the bay. The van was perspirating and had it not been for the limo-tinted windows, our illegal presence would be given away. But it didn’t matter. All the cars that surrounded us on this strip of parking space had sleeping inhabitants, and it also struck me that quite possibly half of L.A. was homeless. No, not homeless* like the man who dug into the trash can a few feet away from us and ate the remainder of my In-N-Out Double Double. Homeless as in didn’t care for a home and would rather wake up to the waves crashing on Santa Monica’s beach.

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Tiny Town Tastes: Lula’s Tavern in Moberly

Lula’s Tavern was recommended to me from the very beginning by my friend’s husband who is a Moberly native. Moberly is not a tiny town compared to Missouri standards, population roughly around 13,700, but Lula’s fit the requirement nevertheless. Upon research of this place, the words “warm beer and lousy service” kept appearing in contrast to it’s high ratings and outstanding comments. What was going on?

via Tiny Town Tastes: Lula’s Tavern in Moberly | Food & Drink | Vox Magazine

Tiny Town Tastes: Iron Horse Hotel & Restaurant in Blackwater

You’re in for a history lesson. My tiny-town travels have taken me to the quaint historic town of Blackwater, which is so small that if you blink, you might miss it. Located 40 minutes west of Columbia, past Boonville and a couple exits, Blackwater was once a refueling station for the Missouri Pacific Railroad between Jefferson City and Kansas City.

via Tiny Town Tastes: Iron Horse Hotel & Restaurant in Blackwater | Restaurants | Vox Magazine

Tiny Town Tastes: the Claysville Store in Hartsburg

After a slew of suggestions, I had a handful that pointed me in the direction of Claysville Store, 5650 E. Claysville Road in Hartsburg, located north of Jefferson City by the river and Katy Trail. I headed south on U.S. 63 and took a right at Claysville road down yet another winding path to find out what the rave was all about.

via Tiny Town Tastes: the Claysville Store in Hartsburg | Food & Drink | Vox Magazine

Tiny Town Tastes: Chim’s Thai Kitchen in Cooper’s Landing

Chim’s Thai Kitchen is my go-to place for pad thai in Columbia. Once upon a time, they had three locations — downtown, off Nifong Boulevard and down by the river at Cooper’s Landing. Last fall, I called to to put in my weekly order and the phone rang and rang. No one picked up. I drove to the restaurant, and it was vacant. What was I supposed to do? Where was I supposed to get my pad thai? The other Thai joints had to suffice. I didn’t know where Chim’s went.

via Tiny Town Tastes: Chim’s Thai Kitchen in Cooper’s Landing | Food & Drink | Vox Magazine