I was cleaning out my closet the other day and found a journal that I kept while traveling through Europe solo in 2004. As I reread each page, the sights, the sounds, the tastes, and the emotions all came back to me as if it were just yesterday. My journey through the streets of London, Florence, Venice, Rome, Nice, and Paris alone was something I really needed to do at that stage in my life, and it was an experience that eventually changed the way I viewed the world, as well as myself. It was the best two weeks of my life.
I decided to create a “Travel” section on this blog as a place to document my journey (this is so much better than scrapbooking), not just my European trip but travel in general. I think it would be a good idea to keep all my memorable pictures and precious experiences chronicled in one place, so that I can relive the experience whenever I have the desire to go back in time.
Deciding on the destinations for the trip was truly the most exciting part of the planning process. Here, I had a blank canvas with all the freedom in the world to create my dream itinerary! It can, of course, be terrifying as well, knowing that what I decide here will ultimately make or break my entire travel experience! Yikes!
Before I finalized the locations, I conducted a little exercise where I wrote down all the things I adored about Europe and what I truly wanted to get out of this experience. I tried not to worry about how silly the answers were or cast any judgment, and let my heart do the navigating. Some of the things I wrote down were: Les Miserable musical; singer Michael Ball; chocolate croissant; writing; Herve Chapelier; spaghetti bolognese; red wine; Liberty; walking aimlessly; Aoki Sadaharu; gelato; solitude; cobble stones; flowers; baguette; cute men with British accents …
It was pretty obvious at this point that my heart (and my appetite) was pointing toward Paris, London, and several cities in Italy. I was surprised that I didn’t write down beer and sausages, or I could have easily ended up on the streets of Berlin!
So, my trip began in London …
London is beautiful. I fell in love with the city the moment I got off the plane. I took a 45-munite tube ride from Heathrow Airport to King’s Cross, a less touristy-dense area which made it a very peaceful home from two days. Several things I remembered most about the neighborhood were that it was packed with McDonald’s, Starbucks, and Boots (I love, love, love Boot’s original cosmetic lines)! Oh, and lots and lots of Indian restaurants.
London is the home of some of my most favorite things in the world. It is the birthplace of my favorite musical, Les Miserable, which I’ve watched more than 20 times (no joke), Liberty of London, a legendary department store that brings breathtaking fabrics and other beautiful things, and Fortum and Mason in Piccadilly for quality teas. Checking out the famous landmarks in the city like the Buckingham Palace and Big Ben is great but there is nothing like shopping (even the window kind) until you drop in this super hip, fashion capital of the world.
I will be honest … I didn’t like Rome much at first. I didn’t really want to leave London after spending two wonderful days there and Rome looked like a very, dirty armpit of Italy.
I took a flight from a little city called Standsted, located about an hour train ride from London the night before, spent the night in a little Bed and Breakfast there, and landed in Rome’s Clampino airport in the morning. I really wanted to turn back and go back to London during my bus ride from the airport to the hotel.
I was already tired and it took a little convincing from my father over the phone to get my lazy butt out of the hotel room and go venture out in the city. He reminded me that I didn’t come all the way to Europe to stay in a dinky hotel room and watch some silly television shows. So I sucked it up, put on a coat, and headed to the city. Of all the places, I was most impressed with The Spanish Steps. I bought a gelato and pretended like I was Princess Ann, played by Audrey Hepburn, in one of my favorite movies of all time, Roman Holiday. Oh, and I bought a Prada bag there! YAY! So all in all, Rome wasn’t all that bad. No, not bad at all.
Sao Paulo, Brazil
I had the opportunity to visit Sao Paulo, Brazil, for a week on business, in July 2008. I was working at Yahoo! at the time and I was sent to this South America metropolis to train on a new system. I was a bit nervous because I spoke no Portuguese and didn’t know anything about Brazil, but new colleagues and now friends made me feel at home immediately. They all took me out to lunch every day while I was there (where I experienced some of the most delicious food in the world) and took a real, good care of me. They were some of the kindest, sweetest, and smartest people I’ve ever met and I will forever be grateful of their generosity.
I didn’t have that much free time during my stay, but I managed to squeeze in a visit to Liberdade, a larger version of Los Angeles’ Little Tokyo. Did you know that Sao Paulo is the home of the largest Japanese community outside of Japan? I really enjoyed walking around the streets of this South American Japantown because it reminded me of Fukuoka in Japan, where I spend the first seven years of my life. The city was full of Japanese flags that year because it was celebrating the 100th anniversary of Japanese immigration to Brazil. July meant that it was wintertime in Brazil but the weather was very pleasant, just like autumn in Southern California.