My first Euro vacation starts tomorrow. I’ll spend the weekend in Milan with a good friend of mine from the States, who has been studying in Florence, and a former roommate who now lives in Turin. I’m not meeting up with them until Friday, so this means a day of solo exploring. Which has turned into this:
In true Sarah Champ fashion, an Internet search for a hotel outside of Milan turned into making a non-refundable reservation at a hotel in the Italian Alps. A hotel that is — so it turns out — unreachable by train or bus. Oops. To get a cab or a shuttle would run me roughly $100 one-way (for this price, I actually considered walking/hitchhiking, but Mike Champ would absolutely not approve). Photos of wine, Italian food, a mountain range and a fluffy double bed (a far and enticing cry from this Fri/Sat’s stay at a Milan hostel: a bunk bed in a 10-person dorm) must have mesmerized me, as I failed to basically check any other details prior to confirming my billing information. (Disclaimer: do not let this be a reflection of my journalistic skills.)
So naturally, this accident has unraveled into a European car rental. Please just take a moment to picture me, the 22-year-old who gets carded in a place where the legal drinking age is 18, on my own, chugging along the Italian mountain roads in a Smart car. Laughable, but possibly one of my best accidents to date (assuming I successfully navigate my way there).
So my non-refundable mountain accommodation lies (remotely, apparently) in Fuipiano Valle Imagna. I don’t really have any additional details to offer as I never had any to begin with. I will provide a full review upon my return. I’m hoping that traveling alone will lead people to believe I’m a travel writer or food critic. I’ll keep a notepad visibly on me at all times. And rest easy everyone; Italians drive on the right side of the road, and I will have a GPS.
Also, because I have one blog post to show for my seven weeks in London (what a crap ratio), and because I’ve got a knack for skimping on personal details, here are 10 random life tidbits that lack context.
1) I got turned away from the U.S. Embassy. Uh, and I’m even American. Also, the U.S. Embassy is so subtly decorated with gun-holding guards, a giant gate all the way around the property and a massive bald eagle adorning the entrance’s roof.
2) Speaking of “How American,” I decided to buy a stars and stripes iPhone case. Coincidentally, I had to make a trip to the Afghan Embassy on Lucy’s behalf and the woman at the visa desk needed to speak to her. So I dialed Lucy’s number and handed the Afghan woman my flamboyantly American phone. So basically it’s like the Sarah Champ version of the aforementioned massive bald eagle, except in a room full of Afghans.
3) My stint as a Marie Claire UK intern starts next Wednesday.
4) I walked on a 700-year-old, Roman-built wall in York last weekend (posted some photos below).
5) I went to a Viking museum where I saw a 1,256-year-old wooden fence (of all things, random, I know), among loads of other cool Viking things. The experience left me wondering if my dad’s got some Vike in him. Also, fun Viking fact: they drank so much beer, even the children, because the proximity of their toilet, shower, well, etc. made for incredibly dirty water.
6) On the topic of booze, I drank beer inside the House of Parliament.
7) I randomly spent last Thursday evening with a couple of Missouri graduates (one of whom is from St. Louis). We didn’t even discuss basketball, conference realignment or exchange any catty remarks. See, I really am growing up; it’s not just the rental car.
8) I had tea in the room where the Treaty of Paris was signed.
9) Thanks to my mom shipping my Rosetta Stone Disc 4,300 miles, Lucy and I will soon start learning Kiswahili. You know, in case one of us decides to move to Africa.
10) Lucy introduced me to something called “cat breading” (worth clicking the link). We do not have a cat and we eat too much toast to be proper “breaders” anyway.
I’ll end this with an Atticus photo from a glasses shopping trip.
Under the not-so-watchful eyes of my oldest brother and our teenage babysitter, I wandered across the street from the church we were at to Sonic. Alone. Somehow, unbeknownst to me, I wound up in the hands of a police officer who later returned me to my panicked parents, balloon tied to my hand.
That was 20 years ago.
My insatiable appetite for adventure and my curiosity about the world has only grown since then. The same instinct that led my two-year-old self into the unknown territory of Sonic, America’s Drive-In, has recently brought me to London, England.
Looking like a Kansas City Sherpa, I flew out of MCI one month ago today. After a worthwhile pit stop in New York where I rang in 2012 (even on central time by singing the KU alma mater and Rock Chalk chant with about 10 other Jayhawks), I made it to Heathrow on Jan. 6. When I tried getting in the driver’s side of Lucy’s car, I think things finally sank in a bit. It was no longer just a plane ticket, a reason for a giant going-away party or a muse for Photoshopping myself in front of the Union Jack flag — I’m actually here.
It has sunk in more and more each day. Old-school taxis, double-decker buses, pubs on every corner, going to an Anglican church, meeting with editors, going to Harrods (where I bought some exceptional earl gray dark chocolate), seeing Big Ben (and mentally replaying the scene from “European Vacation”), having afternoon tea, and visiting the mother of tennis Grand Slams, Wimbledon (I was not moved to tears as anticipated), all remind me in one way or another how fortunate I am to be here.
It’s an incredible thing to experience another culture, regardless of how, but I know I’ve fared well given the position I’m in — living with a Brit who’s well acquainted with America and is also a stellar journalist; looking after a sweet 9-month-old who provides endless entertainment and makes the miles between my nephew and me easier to handle; and getting to experience the journalism industry outside of the States. I’m learning more and more every day. Perhaps my favorite part of traveling, living somewhere else and abandoning my comfort zone is discovering just how big the world is and, in the grand scheme of things, how little I really know.
And I will say that it’s easy to think of home, my family, my pillow-top mattress that I’m really attached to, the comfort of routine college life and maybe the reassurance of knowing —even just a little bit — what tomorrow, next week or next month hold, and want to click my heels and be back in Kansas City. While there’s no place like home, there’s also nothing like a leap of faith. Sure, the big question mark that is my future sometimes makes me wonder how crazy a person has to be to pick up her life (all that will fit into four bags, anyway), move across the globe and just wing it. But ultimately, I know I’ll gain more from this whole journey than I ever could from the anticipated or from college life on repeat.
Sarah Champ 2.0.
It took me nearly a month to actually blog about all of this. Funny thing — even though I’m a “journalist,” I’ve discovered writing about my own life is a different story (yes, literally and figuratively). I’ll get the hang of it.