I can’t recommend enough to journal during your trip. You should have some major downtime and it is a great way to document the experience. Below is my first journal entry
April 21, 2019: Easter Sunday
I’m not sure what day it is, but it is Easter and I’m in Italy where Pontious was born, so basically the land where the Jesus killer was from. He is Risen, yall. Thank you for the day off from work and the amazing meal we had to celebrate it in Italy.
Going into this trip I was rather , maybe inefficiently, nervous. Only for a few reasons…
First, I quite literally packed my bag to perfectly fit the dimensions for a carry on, but there is always the risk that the person running the desk isn’t going to let you take your bag. I recommend being ultra nice, prepared, and early so that you can have plenty of time to rearrange your bag in order to carry it on if at all possible. This saves on fees and obviously lowers the risk of your bag getting lost. I advise dressing comfy and looking like a backpacker. You probably won’t get upgraded to first class, but the person running the desk may empathize with you if you look broke.
Second, I don’t speak French or Italian and I had to navigate the Paris airport in order to make my connection. I’ll also be spending two weeks in southern Italy, where basically no one speaks english.
Third, I had to take a bus from Catania to Piazza Armerina after my 27 hour trip to the Catania airpot. There was one bus at 17:40 and one at 19:10 and I landed at 17:15. All I wanted was to the execute the 17:40 bus purchase and arrive perfectly where Vitto told me to at a reasonable hour. Then, somehow, I needed to shoot a text/call to Vitto to let him know I had arrived and then it would be downhill from there. However, the smaller the airport and the poorer the country, the less of a shot that you are going to run into free WIFI, making it difficult to communicate. I definitely lost sleep over these items leading up to the trip, but they were all manageable and involved a reasonable amount of risk.
Well, mission accomplished.
I drove to Houston because the flights out of Austin were miserable. I had to Uber from my childhood home to IAH despite my dad, sister, and brother-in-law having no work that day (Sister just had a baby, husband was on dad leave, and my dad is retired). I arrived at the airport three hours early and was able to carry my bag on the plane. There was a metal “practice bin” that you could put your bag in to see if it met carry on standards. I told the lady I stuffed it in the practice bin and she believed me. Quite honestly, she didn’t care at all and I actually didn’t test it. I am pretty sure it would have fit though. You can also take out clothing items and put them on to make your bag smaller or lighter and then repack it after you get through security (or even before).
There was a jazz trio at the gate and the pianist played exactly like my friend Jacob would have, ultra square. She played Cantaloupe Island like there was a stick up her ass. I left a tip because, well, you got to support your local musicians. It was a nice rendition, all things considered. I also got Wendy’s because, well, ‘Merica. I had already purchased an isle seat when I bought the ticket (despite my roommate making fun of me for dropping $30 or so on that luxury) and no one was sitting next to me. Jackpot. I watched The Godfather, The Departed, Instant Family, and two episodes of Brooklyn 99. I strategically didn’t sleep because I knew I was landing around bedtime and I believe that is the best way to beat jet leg. In additional, drinking tons of water and walking often during the flights and layovers can have a positive impact on your sleep schedule.
I had five hours in Paris where I listened to Bill Simmons and Jalen and Jacoby. The Houston Rockets looked great at 2-0 over Utah in the playoffs. I also got my bonus letter from my work and figured out where to invest that. You can check that out here. My goal is to take it easy in May 2020, so I am investing and saving very strategically. I hope for a nice hike down the Appalachian Trail.
In Paris, I bought a chicken sandwich and a latte at a cute French looking place in the airport. However, while eating it a piece of chicken fell in my latte, so after I went to Starbucks and got me a grande blonde roast because I really am that simple despite being in a fine coffee hub.
I met two New Mexicans on the flight. Of course, they treated me like I was 22 despite being 30, but I suppose I look rather young walking around the Paris airport with a hiking backpack on and in ultra casual clothes. I told them my pals from NM were great soccer players (shout out to Allan and Dougie). The flight to Catania was on a smaller domestic looking airplane and I think I slept for an hour or so, but I had been up about 24-27 hours at that point. They made me check my bag to Catania, but it was like a Southwest airlines “at the gate” check. I should have argued to keep it since I was trying to make the early bus, but I was at peak tired and just said yes because trying to speak French was totally out of my skill set at this point. Luckily, baggage claim was quick. I was able to find the bus station ticket area and buy an $8 bus ticket. It was pretty difficult to figure out which bus to get on, but I just kept trying to get on and then they would yell at me in Italian and motion me to get off. Finally, the right bus came and I took a seat.
The bus ride was beautiful. Sicily is covered in rolling valleys and I even saw a wind farm (I work in wind and solar energy in the USA). Catania didn’t have free WIFI and everywhere I tired to connect, they wanted an insane amount of information and additionally, a two-step verification. That usually entails an email or a text, and when you don’t have data or WIFI, that is an issue. However, I planned for this. I told AT&T I needed basically one day of an international plan. They said that would cost $10. I could get unlimited talk and text and one GB of data for $10 at my own convenience, just send a text and it enables it for 24 hours. I was like “kobe.”
However, despite enabling this function, I couldn’t get Vitto’s phone number to work via text.
Enter Whatsapp. Thank you for actually working! I put that 1 GB to use and was able to text my family and friends that I was in Italy and was going to be off the grid for roughly 20 days in a few hours.
Vitto said, via Whatsapp, “meet me at the petrol station bar at ENI.” I came to learn that ENI is the national oil company of Italy, thank you Daniel Yurgen (Like I said, I work in energy so this stuff is neato mosquito to me). Upon arrival, I bought some gas station pizza and waited for Vitto. There was a very popular bar in the gas station and many people were there just slaying drinks. As I took my first bite, Vitto walked in. He looked surprised and asked “how do you eat?” Profoundly judging me, as the Italians do, he said “I only eat good things.” We hopped in his car and drove out of Piazza Armerina and into the valleys where he lived.
It was late, so we had some French onion soup he prepared, a little red wine, and I went to bed. It was in a loft right next to him (very romantic). It was cold, quiet, and very dark: literally the perfect sleeping scenario. I read “A Walk in the Woods” for about 30 seconds and fell asleep.