Literary Influences in Italy

Posted: September 10th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: ATW Updates | No Comments »

As someone who actively enjoys both reading and writing, I find a particular delight in visiting literary spaces whenever I can. Italy offers many places for a book nerd like me to enjoy, ranging from Dante in the 13th century to Keats in the early 19th century.

Rome: The Romantic Poets

Many writers, through the years, have made their home in Rome. During the Romantic era, the Percy and Mary Shelley spent the mornings wandering around the streets and exploring the nearby countryside before withdrawing in the evenings to write (which sounds like bliss to me). They became good friends with John Keats and Lord Byron, along with a large number of other creatives working at that time.

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We’re Back!

Posted: September 8th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: News | No Comments »


All right. You can’t see me, but I’m hanging my head. I haven’t updated in a long time, even with all your support and encouragement. So long, in fact, that we’ve actually returned all the way home! Don’t despair (if you are), because I’ve settled back into our life here which gives me a little more time to organize my thoughts (and pictures!). I do want to resume posting, more for myself as a way to capture these fleeting memories before time takes its toll. So, I’ll still be making my way slowly through our trip, albeit in a more contemplative rather than immediate sense. Also, I’d like to open up this website as more of a general travel site with a focus on young married couples with an interest in offbeat topics (so, essentially, the type of people we are now). Thanks so much for your patience, my few loyal readers. I hope you’ll keep hanging around while I get everything a bit more organized.

Traveling from Split to Rome

Posted: May 24th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | No Comments »

Of course a plane is the easiest way to get from one city to another, these days.  However, we wanted to experience something new and a ferry certainly fit the bill.  Regular ferries depart from Split, heading to Ancona, Italy.  We booked through Jadrolinija online, which included a small private room for the night. 


The day we were set to depart was a Sunday, and apparently everything is closed that day.  The landlord was kind enough to let us relax in the apartment long past check-out, and then around 5pm, we dragged our luggage to the dock where the ferry floated.  We passed through the main facility, showed them our ticket confirmation and received boarding passes in return.  Customs consisted of two narrow glass booths set to each side of the back exit.  A cursory check and we were free to board. 

We made our way to the open maw of the ferry.  After a few minutes of helpless wandering among the cars being loaded, one of the workers took pity on us and directed us to the right door that led to the reception area.  We received meal vouchers and a plastic punchcard as our key that looked like a more durable version of early computer programming punchcards.  Since we paid for the least-expensive private room, we descended into the bowels of the ship, metal doors lining the hallway.  Our door opened up into one of the smallest private rooms we’d ever had the privilege of sharing.  Two narrow bunks connected by a metal ladder on one side, a small sink and shelf on the other, and a passageway just wide enough for one person running through the middle.  Neither of us could move past each other at the same time and there was a great deal of head-bumping as we settled ourselves in.  On cue, the rumbling grew in power, and we felt the boat begin rocking as we settled into open water. 


I tried to do some freehand writing (no internet), but soon became overcome with nausea, so instead I turned in early, setting the alarm for our early 6am breakfast.  However, when I awoke, the nausea came back full force, which was surprising since I’d never had a problem with seasickness before.  Perhaps it was the lack of windows, or sleep deprivation, or any number of other factors, but my greatest disappointment was the fact that I was unable to enjoy our free breakfast buffet.  Rick downed his full plate with gusto while I barely managed a few pieces of ham and cheese before I laid my head on the table in misery.  Good thing we soon arrived in port.  As soon as I stepped back onto dry land, my nausea whisked itself away. 


Customs, again, was a quick straightforward affair and soon we stood in a random parking lot in early-morning Ancona with a light misty drizzle falling down on us.  I knew we had to take a bus to the train station but had absolutely no idea where that bus station was.  A couple of nice people in reflective vests directed us in the general direction, and somehow, we muddled our way onto the correct bus.  I walked over to the bus driver when we boarded, money in hand, but he paid no attention to me, and was, in fact, completely blocked off from me in a plexiglass enclosure.  How were we to pay for bus tickets then?  There was only one other passenger on the bus, a pretty girl with long dark hair, and I staggered my way on the moving bus in her direction.  “How do you pay for the bus tickets?” I asked.  She shook her head.  I mimed a rectangle, held up some money, and pointed at the bus driver.  She shook her head again.  I looked at Rick.  He shrugged, so I sat beside him until we reached the train station.  “I think the bus driver was nice enough to let us get on without paying,” he said later.  I still have no idea how much that bus ride was supposed to be or how I was supposed to pay for a bus ticket. 

We went over to the train information office and bought a ticket from Ancona to Rome.  After a couple hours of waiting, our train pulled up and we boarded.  “How long is this ride supposed to be?” Rick asked.  My answer was “An hour, I think?  Two?”  It turned out to be a 4 hour trip.  Which isn’t too terrible really.  We’d been on 11 hour bus rides before.  But when you’re expecting 2 hours and it turns into 4, every minute after that second hour is excruciating.  During the course of the ride, we passed through a series of pitch-black mountain tunnels and for each one, this incredible pressure would descend upon our eardrums.  For one particularly long one, I pressed my hands to my ears and looked over at the others on the train, their motions mirroring mine.  Somehow that made me feel better, that it wasn’t just a tourist thing. 


But, as excruciatingly long the ride felt, before long we were pulling into Rome’s Termini station, the last stop.  Rick turned to me and, fittingly, said, “Roma Victor.”

Observations of Split, Croatia

Posted: April 27th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: ATW Updates | No Comments »


To be truthful, Split was an afterthought to its more famous counterpart of Dubrovnik.  The name had popped up over and over again in my research of Croatia, and so we decided that we should check it out.  Our host in Dubrovnik, Luka, said that it would be an easy walk to the bus station, so we decided to go that route.  What he failed to mention was that it was entirely uphill and at one point, the sidewalk completely disappears.  We finally made it to the main bus station and boarded the next bus to Split.  We passed briefly through Bosnia where officials boarded the bus to check everyone’s identification.  They took our passports with them, and when returned, they bore new passport stamps.  We arrived late at night, and our new host waxed enthusiastic when he came to pick us up, pointing out a grocery store there, the best pizza restaurant there, and the 24-hour bakery. 

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Observations of Dubrovnik

Posted: April 8th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: ATW Updates | No Comments »


In winter, unless your vacation intention is for some peace and quiet, Dubrovnik (and Croatia in general) is not a prime place for tourists.  I mean, there’s low season in places like Istanbul when the prices are cheaper and the crowds less, and then there’s low season in Croatia which is basically as dead as it gets.  The nightclubs are closed, most of the restaurants are closed, half the museums are closed, and many day trips and tours don’t get going again until April.  In fact, the manager of the property we rented actually spent a good majority of his time with us alternately apologizing for the deadness of Croatia around this time of year and asking us why we were here in Croatia at this time of the year anyways. 

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New Directions

Posted: March 29th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Thoughts | 2 Comments »


Over the last month, I’ve struggled.  And I’ve struggled with the fact that I’m struggling.  The only English channel here in our Viennese hotel room is CNN.  And everyday I’m inundated with images of the lost Malaysian flight, the burgeoning protests sparking across the world, the deadly landslide in the US.  Everyday, as I walk down the streets, I’m faced with people begging.  I think to myself, “What right do I have to struggle?  I’m so incredibly blessed in my life.”  Yet, I’ve been forced to face that though my issues aren’t on par in terms of objective distress to many others, that doesn’t make them any less real to me. 

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Reflections on the 6th Month

Posted: March 12th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Thoughts | No Comments »


We spent the entire 6th month of our trip in Europe (as usual, I’m behind on the blog, if you couldn’t tell).  Europe is a different beast compared to America in so many different ways.  Here are a few we’ve noticed that have made an impact in the way we choose to live our daily lives:

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Walking on Water: Nazareth & Galilee Tour

Posted: March 10th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: ATW Updates | No Comments »

Israel has a lot of places holy to the Christian faith outside of Jerusalem.  While I wanted to avoid Bethlehem because crowds & I don’t mix well, we did decide to go on a Nazareth & Galilee tour departing from Tel Aviv.  A bus picked us up across the street from our hotel, and then we were transferred in a larger bus.  Our tour guide was a middle-aged man with a sly sense of humor (which Rick always appreciates) who not only gave us a lot of great information, but drove as well.  Much kudos since I can’t even talk on the phone and type at the same time. 



We started in Nazareth, visiting the church built on top of Mary’s house where the Annunciation (when the Angel announced to Mary she was to bear a child) took place.  The church has colorful stained glass windows which give off a reddish glow to the interior that makes it look quite otherworldly.  Mary’s childhood stone house is at the center.  It looks simple in contrast with the extravagant church surrounding it. 

Nearby, is the home that Mary, Joseph, and Jesus lived & worked in.  It’s quite a simple series of rooms.  I’m assuming Joseph also came from the nearby area, but I’ve noticed no one talks about him much.  I once played Mary in a church nativity play and had a major crush at the time on the guy who played Joseph (mostly because he was pretty much the only boy around my age who spoke to me on a regular basis), so Joseph (the father of Jesus) has always been of interest to me.  I think he gets short shrift in terms of people becoming giddy over him, which is a shame.  I mean, he had to be a pretty upstanding guy when his fiancée came to him and basically said, “I’m pregnant.  But, I swear I’m still a virgin,” and he still tried to do the right thing by her.  (The angel dream probably helped too.)  Ok, enough about Joseph.  Onwards!


Church of the Multiplication


Lighting prayer candles.

On the way to the Church of the Multiplication, we drove by Megiddo where the Apocalypse is supposedly going to take place.  It looks like a normal mountainous region, nothing spectacular.  But then again, most battlefields don’t.  And the battle hasn’t taken place yet anyhow.

The Church of the Multiplication is on the site where the miracle of the fish & bread supposedly took place.  This is according to Emperor Constantine’s mom who wandered around Israel building churches on what she deemed to be the sites of the important events of the Bible & then taking the choice bits back to Rome.  There’s actually a rock near the altar where the miracle took place but when we arrived, it was fenced off due to being defaced by tourists.  Oh tourists, the singular greatest cause of troubles to other tourists.  Regardless, it’s a lovely church to visit. Don’t miss the original Byzantine-era mosaics on the floor of the church.  Gorgeous. 


Sea of Galilee


Tilapia! I’m pretty sure they didn’t eat fries during Jesus’ time though.

Since we’d just visited the Church of the Multiplication in which we spent a while talking about bread & fish, we stopped for lunch afterwards.  Of course, we had to enjoy the tilapia (the fish said to be used in that miracle).  Those less into fishy foods, enjoyed chicken kebabs instead.  While we ate, we enjoyed the view of the Sea of Galilee.  Afterwards, we frolicked on the edge of the large sea.  Rick decided to walk on water, in homage to the miracle of Jesus walking on the water.  We had to attempt it in a less holy manner since Rick didn’t have any clothes to change into in case his faith failed.  The water is so clear and clean-looking.  We could’ve probably enjoyed hanging out there for another hour or two, but we had more to see, so we climbed back on the bus. 


Walking on water.



Capernaum is the site of a ton of miracles, with people getting healed left and right.  No one was healed on our tour (at least none that I know of).  However, we enjoyed seeing the Roman ruins, especially a large synagogue built in the style of a Roman temple.  The Jewish symbolism is woven into all the decorations, very subtle and quite surprising once you spot it. 

Jordan River


Finally, we ended our tour at the Jordan River.  What is most surprising about the Jordan River is how tropical it looks.  Ok, it makes sense there’s vegetation everywhere because it’s a large river, but I’d always pictured it being a desert.  Instead, if you plonked me on a boat in the middle of the river, I’d feel like I was back on the Jungle Cruise ride at Disneyland (minus the animatronic animals).  You can get baptized just like Jesus in the river, but only wearing a certain white robe that must be rented (or purchased if you want it as a souvenir) from the shop there.  Just be aware that while you’re enjoying your baptism (or swim), there’s actually a video camera that videotapes you the entire time.  Without knowing.  But, of course, you can purchase it afterwards.  The only reason we found out is when I pointed out a video playing onscreen nearby the gift shop to Rick, and then realized that we and a couple of people from our tour group were IN the video.  We didn’t want to splurge on the robes, so we made our way to the edge of the river, as close as we could get without going in, and flicked water over each other’s heads.  The rest of the time, we wandered around enjoying the beautiful landscape.  There’s also a large number of plaques there with the baptism passage from Mark 1:9-11 written on them and translated in practically every language. 

We arrived back in Tel Aviv, late in the afternoon, tired but happy.  It was a good tour by a competent tour guide.  Rick and I always like ending our day knowing we’ve gained some fun knowledge to bombard other people with later. 

Observations of Tel Aviv

Posted: March 7th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: ATW Updates, Thoughts | No Comments »

Days before we were taking a bus to Tel Aviv, we received a notice from the US embassy (courtesy of signing up for STEP so that our gov’t knew we were in Israel in case something happened), that a bomb had exploded on an Israeli bus in the outskirts of Tel Aviv.  Thankfully, someone had spotted the suspicious package and alerted everyone to get off in time, so no one was hurt.  However, the US embassy was urging caution, and we took their advice on hand.  While I admit we were nervous on the whole bus ride, with our eyes peeled for any suspicious packages and/or people, we ended up having a very smooth, very quick ride. 

Our first impressions of Tel Aviv is that it’s very different from Jerusalem, even the Old City part of it.  It’s quite a modern city, with a laid-back open-minded attitude towards life.  In fact, we met a man who enthusiastically told us about all the best spots in the city, and he describes Israel’s three biggest cities in this way: “Haifa works, Jerusalem prays, and Tel Aviv parties.”  While we’re not big party people, we definitely enjoyed the laissez-faire atmosphere. 


The gorgeous Mediterranean Sea.

The first thing we did was lounge around on the beach.  The beach this beautiful ombre color, shifting from pale turquoise to dark blue.  Gorgeous.  We spend many hours listening to the sounds of the waves and talking.  As you’ll have noticed, Rick and I like talking with each other a lot.  The tension unknotted from my shoulders and we lazed around doing very little. 

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Observations of the Old City of Jerusalem

Posted: March 4th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Thoughts | 2 Comments »


On our way to Jaffa Gate.  The rail track is to the right.  See the snow?  It snowed a foot the week before we arrived.

Rick and I had high expectations for Jerusalem, and perhaps, that’s what doomed us from the start.  We’d only heard good things from other people, how the experience had been life-changing.  I, in particular, longed to walk through the places I’d only read about.  It’s a particular thing of mine, seeing the same sights, breathing the same air, and matching up scenes from books, from my imagination, to the real deal.  And, yeah, the Bible is a pretty epic book (regardless of your belief, it’s got some crazy stories in there and some interesting Truths).  Jerusalem, well, met our expectations in some ways and defied them in others.  Not necessarily in a good way. 

Soldiers & Guns


Now that is a bad-ass police vehicle.  We stayed down the block from the police station.

The first thing we noticed about Jerusalem, and Israel in general, is the preponderance of guns everywhere, and the soldiers carrying them around. In fact, on our bus ride from the Tel Aviv airport to Jerusalem, half the bus was full of young soldiers. We quickly became used to them, and their huge black guns slung across their shoulders. In fact, it became slightly ridiculous how many large black guns we’d see each day. We once stopped by David’s Tower to check the admission price, and there was some guy lounging in front of the door dressed in jeans and a t-shirt with a large black gun swinging on his side, just casually, like it was no big deal. I think it was supposed to make us feel safer, but it had quite the opposite effect on me.


This represents Jerusalem to me: tourists and soldiers coexisting side-by-side.


The second thing we noticed about Jerusalem is that, for the exchange rate, Jerusalem is quite expensive, especially in the old city. We talked to our tour guide and he said that he’s had to move out of the immediate city of Jerusalem because it was getting too expensive to live there on his income (though he hopes to move back as soon as he’s able). We splurged on Chinese food one night, and it was the most expensive Chinese food we’ve ever paid for in our life (tasted good though). Which is saying a lot, considering how much Chinese food we’ve had in our lives.

Overly Touristy

Not only is everything quite expensive, but much of it is overly touristy. We’d go to holy sites and there’d be hawkers yelling out about SD cards and batteries, about silver necklaces and bracelets (I overheard one tour guide telling his group they were all fake). There was stalls near the Via Dolorosa, selling crowns of thorns and faux copies of the “widow’s mite”. Now, if you know the story of the Widow’s Mite, buying a copy of it is, to me, the height of irony. Everywhere we looked, there was someone trying to profit off of someone else’s religious pilgrimage. Fine, it’s to make money to support their family, and I have no problem with that reasoning. And, of course, it wouldn’t exist at all if tourists didn’t buy it all up like crazy.  It just left a bad taste in my mouth and marred the sanctity of many sites for me. Jerusalem, the Holy City, seemed like a tourist trap. That’s economic reality, but it sucks.

Don’t get me started on the actual tourists, but that’s not Jerusalem’s fault.  I’ll just leave you with this picture to illustrate:


These are the tourists following the Franciscan friars along the Via Dolorosa.



The bench with bread.

Ok, this is more Rick’s issue with Jerusalem. But, it’s worth a mention. The thing with living most of your life in California is the variety of cuisines to choose from. Call us spoiled if you wish, but we’re used to changing up our meal routine quite a bit over the course of a month. And, Jerusalem doesn’t have a HUGE variety of meals. Mostly, it has bread. A lot of bread. Which sucked for Rick, because he gets tired of bread very quickly. And after a while, so did I. In fact, we saw a huge bench completely full of bread, and even the birds and nearby animals (or homeless people) seemed uninterested in the bread. That’s how much bread is in Jerusalem. Which is why we splurged on Chinese food in order to save Rick’s sanity.

Simmering Tension

Jerusalem is actually the only country in which we felt remotely physically threatened. At one point on our walking tour, a few kids chucked ice balls at our head from the second story of a house, the ice missing us and smashing into the ground a few inches away. Another time, something else crashed at our feet, again narrowly missing our heads. We have no idea whether it just fell from the roof or was intentionally thrown, but it rattled us. We’ve had an Orthodox Jewish man running towards us full-tilt to tell us we were trespassing. I swear it was an honest mistake. We were looking for the Room of the Last Supper and the only signs posted were in Hebrew. But, nevertheless, the man look pretty pissed. At many of the major religious sites, there are ramps for bomb-defusing robots and bomb-defusing containers. At the end of each day, my neck and shoulders and back would be knotted up with tension.


Bomb-defusing container near the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

Jerusalem tries to be a place of religious tolerance, but the tolerance clings on with the sheerest of veneers. Let me explain my reasoning. When I was at UCI, I took a Chemistry Lab class. I had two lab partners, one Jewish, the other Muslim. We weren’t the best students in the class. Truthfully, we were all lost most of the time. So, we’d joke around, saying, “Let’s all pray that we finish this experiment semi-correctly. God’s bound to listen to one of us.” I’m not saying America is so much better. We have our own problems (too many to name), but the way I grew up, the environment in which we lived, allowed us to accept the many differences around us as natural, so natural as to be virtually unnoticed.  To us, our beliefs are important to us, but we accept & respect that the other person believes differently and it makes no difference how we treat the other person. This is the way we’ve been taught. And we can joke about it, as long as we don’t cross into mean/intolerant-territory.  In Jerusalem, beliefs are no laughing matter, not even a little. The balance of tolerance is too shaky for that. Riots have started, people have lost their lives, from something as simple as drilling a hole 6 inches too far (I’ll tell you that story another time if you’re truly interested). . 



Candles in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

Ok, I have to end this post of a good note. It wasn’t all bad. We met some genuinely nice people in Jerusalem. Rick and I enjoyed many long conversations, just the two of us, while lounging in the gardens of the Garden Tomb. I do love how literary the inhabitants of Jerusalem are, with bookstores everywhere. I always enjoy diving into a used bookstore and not surfacing for air for a couple hours, especially if I stumble upon treasures. And, it’s super easy to communicate with everyone. Everyone we encountered had a basic grasp of English, with most having a very good grasp of English, so we never had any communication difficulties.


While this is definitely a once-in-a-lifetime city to visit, especially as a religious pilgrimage site, you can probably tell that this is one of the few cities Rick and I have no desire to revisit. At least anytime soon. One, we’ve seen most of what we came to see and it’s highly unlikely the sites will change much within our lifetime. Two, the constant tension we were under along with the generally unfriendly vibes we encountered personally doesn’t really lend itself to something I’d want to experience again. Perhaps, if we leave the Old City part of Jerusalem, things would’ve been much better, but I’m not too sure of that.

I hope any future visitors aren’t deterred by this post if they truly want to visit Jerusalem.  It’s just one experience among many.  I know others have had different experiences than us, and I’m glad for them. Perhaps your visit will be different.  I hope it’s different.  The city is so rich in history and culture, I hope Jerusalem can step out of its shadowed history and be an example to the world of how tolerance is supposed to work.