Thursday, May 20, 2010

That's Amore!

I read a great blog post about a dining experience that may have lasted too long and cost too much, but ended up being a memorable meal, not only in the food itself, but in the hospitality and service. The writer asked for readers to share their stories and I felt compelled. After writing it all out, I was having trouble posting it for some reason, so I thought I'd at least share it on my blog:

This reminds me of a dining experience I had in Melbourne, Australia at Mulatta, a quaint, authentic Italian restaurant on the upscale Chapel Street. I took a train and trekked about 20 blocks after a full-day in the St. Kilda sun. I was more tired than hungry and definitely had already spent my weekend's budget. However, I promised my aunt and uncle that I would go try "the best pizza in the world" (this coming from my aunt who was born and raised in Abruzzo, Italy and is probably the best Italian cook I've ever met). They had spent a few months in Melbourne and after discovering Mulatta, would frequent there a few times a week, and soon became a part of the staff's family. So being that it was my last night in Melbourne, I felt obligated...

I got an uneasy feeling walking down Chapel Street unable to ignore the plethora of designer shops and people out dressed to the nines. This was not going to be a cheap meal. And to add to it, my hostel roommate was originally going to accompany me, but decided to save her dollars and stay in. This was all on me.

I finally found Mulatta. It was a perfect spot for a nice date with the candlelit white table cloths. Too bad I was by myself. The owner wasn't in, but I found the manager on duty and mentioned the names of my aunt and uncle. When he realized who I was talking about he almost leapt for joy. So passionate; so Italian. He immediately had a table set for me and as I was looking over the wine list, he had a full antipasto platter sent to my table.

I couldn't help but get caught up in the romance of the Mediterranean atmosphere so I ordered a glass of Chianti. The menu was extensive to say the least- the pizza alone took up about four pages (each one somewhere around $20). At least I'd probably have lunch for tomorrow? The food was phenomenal. The mozzarella was so light and creamy, the meat was so fresh, the flavors out of this world. As I enjoyed my delicious starter and the colorful conversations around me, my waitress came around and topped up my wine (uh-oh, I hope she knows I didn't want a bottle). The pizza came and I was already filling up, but one slice was definitely not enough. I swear I forgot I was in Australia for a minute.

As I indulged in the "best pizza in the world" and my second (or third) glass of wine, the manager came and sat with me for a while and we exchanged stories. When he had to tend to his job, another waiter came and took his place. He knew my aunt and uncle well and had so much fun telling me stories about their time there. This night was picking up. I came in alone, but over dinner, had the pleasure of TWO dates with very attractive Italian men. Meanwhile, the waitress made sure my glass was never empty... I could only eat half of the pizza and I was busting at the seems, but I was so so happy. Of course, they insisted I had dessert. I could not physically endure another bite. I resisted. I was perfectly content with my wine and my company. I guess I stuck around too long though because eventually they persuaded me to "try" a "little" gelato. They brought out THREE scoops of gelato! And I'm pretty sure I ate all of it.

Almost three hours had passed and this had become such a highlight to my weekend, I didn't care how large my bill was (plus I had a whole bottle of Chianti in me- nothing could upset me). I approached my waitress on my way back from the restroom to ask for the check. She told me not to worry about a thing. What? Nothing?! Not even the pizza??? I couldn't believe the hospitality. I got a chance to go back to Melbourne later in the year and brought a friend with me so I had someone with whom to share the amazing food, atmosphere, and people.

Salute... mate!

Where has the time gone?!

This seems to be the theme of my life at the moment.

1. My last blog post was over a week ago! Apologies (to whoever reads this thing aka Dad). Sometimes life gets crazy, no? I'm not complaining. I actually had somewhat of a social life last weekend...

Friday I spent all day shopping and crafting with college roommate Coco in preparation of my first Bay-to-Breakers experience (more on this later). It's been a while since I've made costumes (since Australia is not as into theme parties and Halloween- what I live for), so it was very fun, but also stressful due to the time crunch. This was reminiscent of my college years- costumes, procrastination, spending way too much money with Cokes. (PS. I just realized college was THREE years ago! What?! Seriously, when/how did that happen?)

It was my aunt's birthday so some family came up and we spent all of Saturday wine-tasting in Napa Valley. This was another exciting first for me. I had only been to Napa a couple times prior, but this was my first tasting there. For a lover of wine, I was in heaven at this event at the Napa Wine Company which featured hundreds of wines and amazing food to complement. I don't even want to think about how many glasses I probably ended up having. That evening I caught a ferry into the city to meet Lindsey at her Team-in-Training fundraiser. But went to bed early so I could wake up at 5:30am... to drink! (I didn't even do this for Picnic Day.)

Coco picked me up before 6am with the top of her friend's BMW convertible down and the music blasting (thank goodness for seat warmers). We go to her friend's place and start to get festive in our "party animal" costumes we worked so hard on. We got some bagels in our bellies to anchor the alcohol we were about to consume. I had two tequila shots by 7:30am. Oh man...

We filled up our 2 liter water bottles with "skip-n-go nakeds" (amazing combo of vodka, lemonade, and beer) and headed to Washington Square Park to meet the 160 "partymelons" and start the long B2B walk... You can probably guess how the rest of the day went. Needless to say, it was a great first B2B for me. :) But I think I'll lay off the booze for a little while...

2. I have a very intimate relationship with my computer. We have so much fun, time seems to just fly by when we're together...

Despite my recent lack of blogging, I am actually ALWAYS on my computer (when I'm not frolicking the streets of San Francisco in a kangaroo outfit). I have become OBSESSED with social media sites, travel blogs, start-ups, etc. I can't get enough. I flip open my macbook, and it's not just facebook I catch up on anymore, but twitter, StumbleUpon, the blogs I subscribe to, plus anywhere these sites take me. Turns out there is a whole other world outside of facebook! Crazy. And all of a sudden, it's five hours later and I've outlasted some of the Starbucks employees' shifts.

Don't worry, I am fulfilling a cause. I am actively networking and promoting Tripping. It's amazing how much you can do with social media nowadays. (I'm just hoping I will get paid for it someday.) I have also had a couple of meetings with the CEO of Tripping and she has given me even more ideas on ways I can spend quality time with my laptop. The love affair continues...

3. Umm, I'm 25 in three weeks?! W.T.F.

It's been my plan for over a year now that I would celebrate my 25th birthday in Vegas with my girlfriends. For one, it seems to be a good setting to deal with the "quarter-life crisis," but the main reason is that I've never been! And I think I might be the only one. I've been struggling with the mixed emotions about getting older; late-twenties is a big deal! I go back and forth with how and who I'm supposed to be at this point in my life. I'm still young, but getting past that point when "Vegas behavior" is acceptable. But that's the beauty of Vegas- in Vegas, nothing matters. And if I had a choice, I'd want my turning 25 to stay in Vegas.

But whoa. It's coming up! I have been so caught up in my relationship with my computer, that I've neglected my Vegas planning! This will hopefully be remedied tomorrow when I meet with Lindsey, my planning hero.

4. My blog posts always end up longer than intended, and thus, take a lot of time to write! Thanks for taking the time to read them. :)

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Day Four- Hey Soul Sister


quote of the day: "A journey is best measured in friends, rather than miles." -Tim Cahill

today's destination: Regent Street, Paddington, Sydney, NSW

I received a text message at 6:45 this morning from my dear friend, Cass in Australia. I decided to dedicate this blog post to her and our experiences living together in Sydney.

First Impressions
Looking at several apartments and houses trying to find a place to settle in my new city, I had my share of interesting encounters. Plenty of nice people, but there weren't any with whom I particularly clicked. Cass was the one who answered the door at the share house on Regent Street... in a towel... dripping wet. Looking back, this was the perfect introduction because Cass is one of the most honest, uncensored, and approachable people I know. Luckily, the other four flatmates were lovely as well and I immediately agreed to move in.

Kindred Spirits
Right away, I knew Cass and I would be great friends. We balanced each other in a way that I don't think we even realized until we established this great friendship. And as much as we like to talk, it was one of those unspoken things. I found a sister in my sister city.

Tourists in Her Own Town
One thing Cass would constantly tell me was how me moving to her home made her recognize how much she loves it. She was ecstatic showing me around and introducing me to the Sydney she knows. She was as fascinated as I was about the differences between our cultures and loved learning from one another. We fed off of each other's excitement of Sydney. She would play hookie on a sunny Friday to take a ferry with me. She came home early from work to help me prepare a traditional Thankgiving dinner and I got to experience my first summer Christmas at her family's house. She also took advantage of her holiday time and we road tripped up the coast of NSW to Byron Bay, where we set up camp, got tattoos, and I learned how to drive a manual. :)

Helping Hands
When I stopped working, Cass found a smaller apartment and offered for me to stay there rent-free so that I could save money to travel. For this I am forever grateful and I can't wait to return the favor someday...

I can't guarantee that everyone will meet a Cass while tripping, but I hope that they do meet people that add balance and depth to their lives in some way, enjoy where they are at that moment, and lend a helping hand with even the smallest gesture. Whether a tripper or a host, there are never enough ways to appreciate and explore.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Day Three- Lost in Translation


quote of the day: "To travel is to discover that everyone is wrong about other countries."- Aldous Husley

today's destination: Tokyo, Japan

I will never forget the culture shock I experienced in the outrageous city of Tokyo. If there's such a thing as a utopia, this place is the closest I've come to one. A few reasons why:
  • guns are illegal
  • 12 million people in a city and NO ONE gets in your personal space
  • you don't have to hold on to your valuables with a death grip
  • there is no trash on the street!
  • spirituality and serenity are present amidst the traffic and technology with the beautiful parks, temples, and gardens scattered throughout the city
  • people will never approach you to bother you, try to sell you something, or beg for money; however, if you need help, they won't leave your side until they get you to where you need to be
In regards to the people of Japan, I would describe them as incredibly helpful, efficient, and respectful. My family and I went to Japan through a AAA travel package. Everything was scheduled from our hotel check-ins to Mt. Fuji tour. Our itinerary would read "be in hotel lobby at 8:30am" and upon arrival we were greeted by a friendly Japanese man or woman who escorted us to a bus that took us to a train station where we were greeted by another person who had our tickets and took us to the tour company where we were passed off to our guide, etc., etc. Everything was structured and on-time, it was unreal.

Despite the extreme efficiency and organization, we had a very real experience with a local who was not on our itinerary and this encounter revealed how their linear way of thinking can almost be counter-productive...

I had a friend living in Tokyo at the time. He had been teaching English for a couple years and thus, was fluent in Japanese. He wanted to take us to a shop in Shibuya, but couldn't remember exactly which street it was on. So, naturally, he approached a lady on the street to ask for directions... in Japanese. She responded to him (in Japanese) saying she'll be right back; that she will get someone who speaks English. She quickly came back with a friend who spoke very broken English. While she was trying to give us directions with exaggerated gestures and few more words than "straight" and "right," Luke was responding in Japanese to show he understood. However, it never seemed to register that she could speak to him in the language he was speaking to her.

To add a bit of a visual, Luke is probably about 6'2", redhead with freckles- a "sore thumb" on the streets of Tokyo. My mom is Japanese (doesn't speak Japanese). My dad is white. Making my brother and I 'hybrids.' My mom was approached the most, followed by me and my brother, and the two white guys were barely noticed, even when Luke initiated the conversation... in Japanese!

There are many levels of culture shock and they affect all parties involved in different ways. It is most important to be sensitive to these differences while traveling. In addition to hosting and making connections with trippers around the world, don't pass up the opportunity to learn another language! Possibilities are endless while tripping!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Day "Two"- Going Down?

DAY "TWO" (I apologize for failing the SECOND day of my blogging quest; however, I did not have access to the internet yesterday.)

quote of the day: "Like all great travelers, I have seen more than I remember, and remember more than I have seen." -Benjamin Disraeli

today's destination: Melbourne, VIC

This weekend I stayed with Lindsey and joined her for a happy hour gathering with her running friends. One of these new acquaintances mentioned the word "Australia" and my ears perked. She's moving there. I just moved back from there. We bonded. She will be getting her Master's degree in the lovely, fashionable, artsy city of Melbourne. I was lucky enough to visit this enchanting city twice in my year down under.

I treated myself to a long weekend in Melbourne for my birthday last year. It was my first trip outside of NSW and I was going by myself. I checked into the new Central YHA early Thursday morning and walked ALL over the city. There is nothing quite like the excitement of the first day in a foreign city. And Melbourne is so delightfully different than Sydney. It has a different aesthetic, charm, and intimate feeling.

After a day of befriending Melbs, I befriended Sarah- my roommate for the weekend; a funny girl with one of the most entertaining accents from Oxford, England. Not only will I always remember the sing-songy way she talked, but I will never forget all the talking we got to do in the first hour of meeting, for we had the fortune of being stuck in the elevator on our way out to meet her friends for dinner. We were going down two floors by the way. Just as Sarah realized she left the beer in the fridge and had to go back up to the kitchen, we were halted by an unsettling jolt, followed by silence.

Of course the emergency phone wasn't working and we were forced to yell for help. Luckily the guy at the reception desk could hear us and we all established that we were stuck between floors. They had to call for support and we were told to hang tight... for an hour. Talk about a great way to get to know a person very quickly. It's just too bad she forgot the beers. They would have really helped settle our nerves for when the mechanic came and had to hoist us up little by little, each abrupt pull scarier than the last.

After climbing out of the lift once we were a few feet above the first floor, we gathered ourselves and thought of a plan B for dinner. Actually, we insisted the hostel treat us and they did :) a jug of beer and a couple pizzas in the restaurant downstairs. Sarah and I continued our "first date" and once our nerves were calmed with the first sips of James Boags, we actually had a great night. After dinner, I found myself so exhausted from the day's activity and the evening's commotion, I decided to stay in. Back up to the second floor. For the remainder of the weekend and the weekend I spent there three months later I only took the stairs.

*Don't forget to sign up for Tripping! Maybe the next time you're stuck in a lift in a foreign country, you'll at least be in good company...

Friday, May 7, 2010

For the next two weeks, I will be dedicating a blog post every day towards my promotion of an up-and-coming hospitality and travel website called This may ring a bell from my previous post about the Around-the-World Contest. Well, unfortunately I was not crowned the winner; however, I would like to thank those who did reference me and let you know that you still helped me out tremendously. Soon after the contest was completed, the CEO contacted me inviting me to try out for their Social Media Board. This is a company and a cause I am very passionate about so for those of you who didn't get a chance to help me out in the contest, you can still make a profile and help me in promoting Tripping and getting a seat on the board! And really, it will benefit you more than anyone in the end.

So every day until May 23rd, I will be posting up facts about in addition to travel quotes and anecdotes from my own travel experiences. One of my biggest regrets is not documenting my trips in writing. But I figure, why not do it now? Luckily, I have always been good at capturing my travels on "film" so I have plenty of photos to help me tell these stories...


quote of the day (from one of my favorite authors): "To my mind, the greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted." - Bill Bryson

today's destination: London, England

Almost four years ago, a new friend and I decided to travel together for a couple weeks before our respective study abroad programs. Our first stop was London, a first for both of us. This was also the first time either of us had traveled by ourselves and landing in a foreign country gave us an overpowering sense of freedom and courage. After a nine-hour flight (side note: happened to be the day of the liquid bomb scare at Heathrow airport- luckily we were in the air when all this was going on) and figuring out the "tube" system, we dropped our bags and hit the town.

We cheers-ed at Cheers (a touristy bar in Picadilly Circus) and toasted to a new adventure, one where we could do anything and be anyone. With all the new-found courage (with a push from my shot of tequila no doubt) I decided to be daring and go up to an attractive young chap on the other side of the bar. He turned out to be a lovely Londoner having a boys' night with his brother and friends. We ended up having a few drinks and dancing the night away. Their friend picked us up from the bar and they all decided to give me and Lindsey a tour of their beautiful city. They showed us all the famous spots- Big Ben/ Parliament, the Eye, etc.

In the midst of our tour, we had an encounter with the London police. We were pulled over for having too many people in the backseat. Really? We're gonna get a ticket our first night in a new country? It was really difficult to take these guys seriously- not only were they wearing these ridiculous hats, but they were SO cheerful and friendly. We made friends with them, took photos with them, and were let off with a "warning." So far, London rocks.

We continued to drink and dance the night away at one of our new friends' flats. He had a beautiful view of Ben and we danced on the balcony until the sun came up. Perfect first night of our trip.

Since that night... I traveled around Western Europe for six weeks and had an overnight layover in London on my way home. I had gotten in touch with the brothers and they invited me to stay with them for the ten hours or so until my flight. When arriving at the flat, I was greeted like an old friend. They had friends and family over, bought me a bottle of tequila remembering that's what I was drinking that first night, and we celebrated in our old fashion until I got back on the plane. Full circle.
The following summer, Lindsey and I (now the best of friends from our traveling) found ourselves in Europe again and were going to stop in London for a few days on our way home. We hadn't spoken to our London friends much since we last saw them, but thanks to facebook, we got in touch and they were more than happy to host us for the weekend. Being at the end of our trip and seeing as how expensive this city is, we were more than grateful. And we ended up having the best time not doing anything touristy and just hanging out with our local friends for three days.
This past week, that attractive chap I approached all those years ago happened to be in Los Angeles on a business trip. It was his first time in the states and he asked if I could be his host this time. It was so fun being a tourist with him. I hadn't looked at LA in the eyes of a foreigner before. So not only was I able to return the favor and catch up with an old friend, I was able to enjoy LA in a new way.

This is what Tripping is all about. Making friends and contacts all over the world. Gaining new perspectives. Saving money! was created in January of this year and already has thousands of members from over 80 countries! Join the party.