Being an (Ex) Prague Freedom Foundation Scholar

Four years ago I had the honor of participating in a Journalism Program that Prague Freedom Foundation sponsored. The program brought students from Kent State University and Anglo American University together to study journalism. After winning the Excellence Award for my piece on Abortion Laws in Ohio I went on to receive a grant from PFF to report on the war in Ukraine…

Four years ago I had the honor of participating in a Journalism Program that Prague Freedom Foundation sponsored. The program brought students from Kent State University and Anglo American University together to study journalism. After winning the Excellence Award for my piece on Abortion Laws in Ohio I went on to receive a grant from PFF to report on the war in Ukraine.

After returning from a week of interviewing protestors and veterans participating in Maidan – Ukraine’s revolution against corruption and Russias’s interference in local politics – members of PFF supported my photo exhibition to raise money for the Organization for Aid of Refugees.

My photos of from the heart of Maidan in Kiev, Ukraine helped raise a humble $650 to help Ukrainian refugees living in Prague. Several members from PFF attended, donated to and participated by giving a speech at the event.

Although my career path has shifted from investigative journalism and I am no longer active in any political causes, I am eternally grateful to the Prague Freedom Foundation for giving me the training and tools to make a difference in the world and in my home country.

Here’s a video about Prague Freedom Foundation’s Cause – spoiler alert, I make a brief appearance in between US Ambassadors and Radio Free Europe Journalists.

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My 10 Favorite Excuses for Not Going to the Gym

Rainy weather can be pretty depressing. And wet. But…

You have an umbrella, don’t you? You’re not a witch so you won’t melt if a droplet falls on your head, right? I hope so…

My goal is to go to the gym 5 times a week: Monday – Friday during my lunch break. I began this routine in Prague when my gym was a 10-minute walk from my office. Now I live in China and I work from home which makes me lazy and full of excuses.

Here are my favorite ones:

1. I have WAY too much work

This is one of my most popular excuses because it’s the easiest to justify. I can’t just walk away from my unread emails and intimidatingly long To-Do list to go to the gym, right? WRONG!

Taking a break, especially one involving physical activity helps clear your head and work more productively. Plus you can always stay later to finish the work!

2. My head hurts.

That sucks but how bad is a headache? Will taking a walk in the fresh air help it go away? You can probably still take it easy and try the elliptical or stationary bike. Or you can just do some stretching, yoga or even meditate.

If it’s a bad headache, exercise can make it worse – but it can also decrease pain due to the release of endorphins. Just walk on over to the gym and see what happens.

3. But it’s raining outside… 

Rainy weather can be pretty depressing. And wet. But…

You have an umbrella, don’t you?
You’re not a witch so you won’t melt if a droplet falls on your head, right?

Just make sure to keep your sneakers clean or you might not be let into the gym!

4. Ouch! I’m sore from going to the gym yesterday :'(

Good! You’re doing something right!

Do your legs hurt? Skip the treadmill and lift some weights or do some sit-ups.
Do your arms hurt? Hit the treadmill.

Does your ENTIRE body hurt? Really? Well, then you’re probably doing something wrong… and you should stretch more before and after exercising.

5. There are too many men at my gym O.O

Most women don’t enjoy being ogled by sweaty men. And I happen to be one of those girls. Luckily I live in China where men (and women) are generally more interested in starting at their phones… or poking each other’s six-packs. So at most, they will glance at you and then leave you alone.

6. Ugh, there’s no air-conditioning!

It’s ALWAYS either too hot or too cold

When it was 40°C (and felt like 50°C) the gym was almost unbearable with no air-conditioning. But it was still possible to do a little of everything: run a kilometer, lift some weights, do some stretching.

Unfortunately, it’s a myth that sweating more helps you lose more weight – but there are health benefits.

7. My knees, hips and/or back hurt. I can’t do it…

I’m only 24 but I have deformed kneecaps, gout arthritis and lots of other fun problems. Sometimes I start running and my knees hurt immediately.

On good days I’ll continue running until the pain stops. On bad days I’ll get off the treadmill and do something else. There is ALWAYS something else you can do at the gym.

8. My hair looks great! I don’t want to mess it up.

I just washed my hair and I don’t want to have to wash it again. Yes, this is really one of the excuses I use. Go to the gym – if you’re really too lazy to wash your hair again, don’t do cardio and just lift weights or do something that won’t make you sweat as much.

But seriously, how long does it take to wash your hair?

9. My hair is gross… I’m too embarrassed to be seen!

Yup, another ridiculous excuse I like to use. First of all, gyms are NOT runways. You’re expected to look gross at the gym. Just put a hat on or something. Or go wash it…

10. But my sports bra is in the wash… *wobble*

It’s either my sports bra, my favorite running pants or my sneakers. Wearing the wrong clothes CAN make it harder to do certain exercises. You can fix this from the start – buy two or three sets of everything.

If you need to wear something uncomfortable, just focus on exercises where it doesn’t matter. Just don’t ever run in the wrong shoes or without socks – you will 100% regret it and it can even injure you.

What are YOUR favorite/most convincing excuses???

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Insects on the Menu – Entomophagy in Prague

Jiskra loves to experiment with food and began cooking with insects five years ago. The lunch menu was much more extensive than the average insect tasting with mealworms, crickets, grasshoppers and cockroaches on offer. You could eat a three-course cricket meal with crickets in the soup as well as the typically-Czech fried cheese but also covered in chocolate as dessert…

Wednesday, March 16th was a special day for Prague-based HP and Microsoft employees who were offered insect meals for lunch. The seemingly ordinary cafeteria was decorated with plastic spiders, allergy warnings and facts about entomophagy.

“The six-legged menu attracted people who really wanted to experiment,” said Martin Jiskra, head chef and manager of Momento DELTA restaurant. “I was nervous at first but it turned out to be a great success.”

Jiskra loves to experiment with food and began cooking with insects five years ago. The lunch menu was much more extensive than the average insect tasting with mealworms, crickets, grasshoppers and cockroaches on offer. You could eat a three-course cricket meal with crickets in the soup as well as the typically-Czech fried cheese but also covered in chocolate as dessert.

“It was the first time I organized an insect-eating event in a restaurant like this,” Jiskra said, “but the outcome was so good that we’ll probably do it again.”

Although it was the first insect feast at Momento DELTA, insect tasting events are fairly common in the Czech Republic, however, selling them as food in a supermarket isn’t exactly legal. According to Czech law, insects arenot considered a food which makes them unsuitable for human consumption.

This law doesn’t make serving insects illegal at events – however, it prevents restaurants from having them on their permanent menu. However for events like this, if you follow all the hygiene laws and regulations, there are no problems. Jiskra has proved this before when he served other exotic meals including bear and zebra meat.

The chef points out that cooking with insects is much safer than handling common meats such as beef and chicken. There are no GMOs or antibiotics in insects and they cannot carry any diseases that are harmful to humans because they would die from them too. There are no safety concerns from an insect from a certified breeder that is handled correctly – with the exception of allergies: people who are allergic to shellfish are warned that they may react similarly when eating insects.

Before cooking insects, Jiskra recommends that chefs and culinary enthusiasts read published literature about the topic. There are currently four books about entomophagy in Czech and they explain how to handle the insects prior to cooking them.

The insects served in Momento DELTA were closely watched to ensure that they look healthy, aren’t eating their excrements and were fed oregano for two days to enhance their flavor. The feedback on the event was great and approximately 480 insect meals were served. While the restaurant received fewer visitors than usual, very few people asked for insect-less meals.

Two days before the event, Jiskra organized a presentation to explain the benefits and history of insect-eating around the world. Insects contain proteins, minerals and enzymes that are great for the human body. They can also be bred, reared and processed much more sustainably than other meats which could have a large positive impact on the environment and the economy. Currently, the largest issues are the legal and bureaucratic ones.

“If people’s attitude and understanding about eating insects changes; laws will too,” concludes Jiskra.

Originally published here:

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Volunteering at a Dogsled Farm – Snowdragons, Austria – Part 3 (Guest Post)

This week started very with a training where I could be the co-driver for Lukas. This time, we took the smaller cart with eight dogs, because Birgit did also train and she took six dogs. It was very cold, no wind, perfect conditions. Unfortunately, I didn’t know that I could be the co-driver so I wasn’t very good prepared with my cameras…

It is kind of strange, in between I think there is somehow a routine in my day or there were lazy days with not much action, but then again, there is always something happening, so there is ALWAYS something to tell 😉

By Sheida Nasseri (Guest Blogger)

Please find the original blog post, and all the cute photos, here:

Week 17. – 23. October 2016

This week started very with a training where I could be the co-driver for Lukas. This time, we took the smaller cart with eight dogs, because Birgit did also train and she took six dogs. It was very cold, no wind, perfect conditions. Unfortunately, I didn’t know that I could be the co-driver so I wasn’t prepared with my cameras. I just had my iPhone 6 with me and there is no rely on that smartphone as soon it is a bit colder. The battery just dies, I guess, it somehow must have been damaged when I was in Norway where it was -18°C. The training’s duration is much longer now, the dogs already run 11/12 km. I could see a big difference; the dogs are so much stronger than two weeks before. On our way we saw a few deer, rabbits and even a stag, very close by!!! And my iPhone was DEAD aaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrggghhhh – I must complain to Apple =P

I told you already that Lukas is evil, didn’t I? He loves to tease us and prank us. We (Maria and I) went on the next morning for a walk with Aliy and Laska. On the way, it started to rain. Maria and I though, didn’t stop, we said we will go for a big walk, so that the girls are more chilled in the house. The rain just got stronger and stronger, nevertheless, we walked an hour and even had fun. We were playing music, danced and sang.

We were soaking wet! When we returned, we were standing in front of the entrance to dry up the dogs, when the door opened and a wide grinning Lukas was standing in the door with his laptop in his hand and played “Why does it always rain on me?” seriously? He waited at his window for our return so he could play us the song, and while we were undressing and drying the dogs, he gave us some more rain songs from his playlist…”It’s raining men” and “singing in the rain” 😀 he is crazy! 😉 the rest of the day, we pretty much spent lazy at home.

Therefore, the day after, we were really busy! Despite the training in the morning, we helped a little bit with building the new kennel (for the puppies), went on a hike and did some more work.

On that morning, Lukas said we shall let the puppies stay with Artac and Arthur, because Atreju is lately a little bit tense because of the puppies. I think, he doesn’t like to play the babysitter all day long =P so we let them in the kennel and they also seemed to get along. Then we did our lunch break. When we returned, we wanted to check on the puppies and noticed that somehow, only Star was left in the kennel. Hmmmm… but where was Nova? We know that she loves to crawl in every hole or corner which exist, but we couldn’t discover one. We almost wanted to look for her outside the kennel, when we noticed that between the wooden wall and the fence, there is a little bit space. There she was.

Obviously she crawled inside and couldn’t get outside anymore. I was trying very hard to get her through, but she was so scared, that she didn’t dare to come too close. We called Lukas and we were trying and thinking of a way. Then, I said the only way how we could get her out, would be, if someone would climb over the wall, grab her, lift her, someone else take her and climb back again. Well, the only person small enough for that was me – of course =P So I got my jacket and shoes off and climbed over and got her. She was sooooo relieved to be back outside 😀 of course, no one took pictures of my heroic action… well, I guess we all were concerned about Nova 😉

Stuck in between wall and fence, I had to jump on the dog house, and get over the wall to lift her up!

So much action on one day and I still had to drive to Prague. YES – I got four days off, to go and visit my boyfriend in Prague and see my friends. I went with the bus to Brno, where my boyfriend picked me up and we drove together to Prague. I won’t tell too much about Prague, I met a lot of friends, old colleagues, new acquaintances (my friend got her Baby :D), slept a lot, went partying, got new inspirations about my future plans and enjoyed just some alone time with my boyfriend. I must admit, at one point there were too many people and I sensed also a lot of negative energies (not towards me, in general) which kind of got me unbalanced, but in total it was really nice seeing all again.

Week 24. – 30. October 2016

Back in Gnadendorf, I was really happy to see the dogs again. You get attached to them (damn, what will I do when I leave for good?). The next morning, we should have had a training with the big cart. So we harnessed all dogs, started to set them up on the main line when suddenly they started to move – we all were puzzled, looked up and saw that the panic snap (additional break which is attached to a pole) just dissolved itself from the carabiner.

We got it somehow tight again and when all dogs were set up, I ran the hill up to open the gate, I was just about to touch the gate when I suddenly heard Lukas screaming my name. I turned around and just saw a mess! All dogs were standing completely mixed up and not in line, I ran down, holding the dogs and Lukas told us to unleash all dogs. So, we did, the loop of the mainline which is attached to the cart, ripped. Wtf…. Seriously, first the panic snap, then the main line – what was going on??? We were so in luck, that this happened within the yard and not outside on the track! How on earth could you get the dogs back then? Hardly possible. Training cancelled. What an excitement in the morning.

Rest of the day, was pretty lazy. We went for two hikes, but besides that nothing special happened on that day. Ah wait… there is something, Lukas does sing sometimes new versions of already existing songs. And he loves to put my name into that song. Well, first of all, he calls me SheiShei, then he started singing “Shei Shei Shei, Shei Shei Shei, shake your booty” from the song “Shake your booty”. His newest version is (a little bit early) “Sheida bell, Sheida bell, Sheida bell rock” from “Jingle bell rock” and then he is walking on the place and shakes his arms (I guess it shall be dancing :D) I need to film it, then you will see what I mean 😉

The next day, I drove with Lukas to Vienna, he had some business over there. It was a very rainy day, that means most of the time, lazy day for us 😉 The day after, we had to take preparations for the race which took part in Reingers from Friday to Sunday. We had to pack all kind of stuff, Lukas gave Miriam and me, two sport bags to clean which were lying in the shed. We carried it to the hose pipe to clean it. When I turned around the bag, I saw that there was a butterfly on the bag. It had its wings closed. It seemed as if there were stuck to each other. I didn’t know if it just hatched or it was getting ready for its winter sleep, no idea, but it had to fly away so that I could clean the bag. I didn’t dare to touch the wings; they are so sensitive. So, I touched its legs with my finger, and very slowly, it tried to open its wings and just watch what beauty I discovered:

The next day, we did a few preparations and around 11am we had to bring the dogs into the transporter in the boxes. OMG – why do I always imagine that something like that could happen quiet and easy? Such chaos and stress! It was almost impossible to get the dogs singled out of the kennels. There was always at least one dog, who escaped and you just saw us all the time running after dogs – Lukas thought that it was very amusing – of course! =P and of course I hurt myself! Two dogs pushed against their kennel door and it hit me on my knee – outch L after all dogs were placed, the cart was put inside, the caravan attached to the transporter, and Lukas, Maria and I started our way to Reingers.

It is just Maria who should come to the race, but because Birgit had to work that day and wanted to join Maria and Lukas in the evening, Lukas said, I should join them and help to set up everything over there. When Birgit arrives, I could take her car and drive home. Said, done. We drove there and it was interesting to see how many people and dogs were there.

I talked to an older couple, Bianca and Ernst, who were there with their Hounds, Alaskan Huskies and Siberian Huskies. They used to live 20 years in Düsseldorf, moved then to Austria and now they are just about to move to Sweden/Lapland. They bought a house with a big yard for them and their dogs. I was delighted to hear that, I told them that I always wanted to visit Lapland to see the Aurora Borealis and maybe I could visit them over there 😉 they took my word, and gave me their contacts so that when I am about to go Lapland I just shall give them a call J There you go, you’ll never know who you will meet! Loved that. It turned very late until I came back to Gnadendorf, but everything turned out quite well.

The day after, Miriam and I had a very relaxed day. We went for walks with the dogs which stayed here, cleaned a bit the house, cooked together, watched movies and we talked a lot. While telling her a bit about my past, I found out WHY I changed my plans concerning tourism. I was always wondering, why I went another path but tourism, because I remembered that I had that idea in the very beginning. I always said it was something like my parents told me to do something serious. In the end, it was partially true, but the real reason why I didn’t study Tourism was, that all study courses existing including Tourism are private! At least in Germany. You must pay a lot of money, which I didn’t had. I went to business fares to inform myself about my possibilities and was devastated to find out that there is no option for me L at least not without taking a big loan from a bank or to win lottery. At one point, I decided to go in direction economics and business, to have a certain basic knowledge and I would then adjust in the right direction. Obviously, I forgot on my way what my original plan was. Well, it took me a while but I found back somehow 😉

At the weekend, Miri and I were going on hikes, Miri wrote on her short stories, I wrote on my blog, watched movies, I tamed the brown chicken – oh yeah – I think I never mentioned that we have chickens, did I? Six chickens. They are really funny, I think they have no names (sad) but every time when I got on their place to collect some wood for fire, they follow me and come really close because they think I could have something to eat 😀 I noticed, that the brown one, let’s call her “Little brownie” is more tame than the others, so I tried to pet her and then to carry her, see yourself what was the result 😉

All in one, very easy going. I was laughing today because my idea of a relaxing time is to have JUST five dogs, but I think when you usually deal with 18 dogs that’s natural 🙂

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Mealworm Monday: What is the Hive’s Green Light?

This week’s Mealworm Monday features dealing with the green light of the Hive, the world’s first edible insect desktop farm by Livin Farms! The Hive is the world’s first edible insect desktop farm that can provide 3-600 nutritious grams of mealworms every two weeks, perfect for entovegans like my husband or anyone who wants a more sustainable form of protein in their lives…

This week’s Mealworm Monday features dealing with the green light of the Hive, the world’s first edible insect desktop farm by Livin Farms! The Hive is the world’s first edible insect desktop farm that can provide 3-600 nutritious grams of mealworms every two weeks, perfect for entovegans like my husband or anyone who wants a more sustainable form of protein in their lives. You can read more about the Hive in my past articles or on the Livin Farms website. Check out the video below!

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To Japan (Guest Post)

On Sunday, March 01, I stood next to my husband as we waited for the bus. It was early and his eyes were still squinting at everything as he wasn’t fully awake yet. I squeezed his hand in the cold, feeling the warmth. My stomach felt like it was in my throat with nervous energy. The bus for the airport pulled up and I shoved my way through the crowd of people squeezing through the doors…

Today, I will travel to Japan after dreaming about it for years! I won’t have time to write about it until a few weeks later, so let me share a blog post written by a dear friend about her journey to Japan a few years ago.

On Sunday, March 1st, I stood next to my husband as we waited for the bus. It was early and his eyes were still squinting at everything as he wasn’t fully awake yet. I squeezed his hand in the cold, feeling the warmth. My stomach felt like it was in my throat with nervous energy. The bus for the airport pulled up and I shoved my way through the crowd of people squeezing through the doors. I grabbed a support pole and turned in time to see him standing alone outside as the bus pulled away. I stared out the window on the way to the airport and took deep breaths as I forced myself to hold back the tears.

By Rachel Kitai (Guest Blogger)

Please find the original post, as well as more pictures, here:

Rachel Kitai is a traveler and an artist, check out her art here:

The Prague airport is one of the easiest and relaxed airports I have ever been through; it’s also one of the smallest. With my carry-on bag and purse I was through security in less than 5 minutes. No taking off my shoes. No pat-downs. No mean glances or rude comments. I made my through the airport, grabbing a pastry on my way to the gate on the other side of the small airport.

About 2 hours later, I was in Amsterdam. With only a 3-hour layover, I focused completely on getting to my gate. My stomach was churning with the thought of missing my flight or being delayed in any way. I followed sign after sign, walking quickly pulling my bright pink bag behind me. After 20 minutes of walking, I got to a series of windows/booths. I took out my passport and waited in line for my turn.

When I got to the front of the line, the passport agent squinted at my passport and I handed him my biometric card which shows that I have gone through the mess that is getting a visa to work in live in the Czech Republic. He stared at both for a long while before saying, “You know this is about to expire, right?” Before I could respond and explain that I know and that I’m a good citizen of the world with plans to follow all the rules and renew it when I got back from my trip, he had stamped my passport and handed it back to me, calling the next person in line and ushering me on my way.

Still doing my best to follow the signs to my gate, I turned left and followed the crowd down a flight of stairs and through a hallway to a very huge crowd waiting in a series of lines. After 30 minutes, I finally made my way to the front of the line, only to be told that I had been waiting in line with people trying to exit the airport. I had apparently followed the wrong signs. Shoving my way through the crowd, down the hallway, and up the flight of stairs, I saw my error. With all of the construction in that one area the hallway I was supposed to walk down was partially obstructed. Sighing in relief, I continued my way down and through the airport.

I eventually made my way to the gate which had it’s own set of security and metal detectors. I waited in line with a large number of Asian people. It’s safe to say I was the tallest person in line. 30 minutes later, we were allowed to go through the security for this gate which felt like a miniature version of the one I went through earlier that day. The security for this gate was significantly more strict than the security in the Prague airport. I had to take off my belt and shoes. In addition, I had to take every single electronic device and cord out of my bags and into it’s own bin.

After another 30 minutes of waiting, they were finally boarding. Knowing that this was a 10 hour flight, I had chosen an aisle seat ahead of time so that I could get out and stretch my legs with ease. I didn’t want to constantly ask my seat-mates to move simply because I develop spontaneous restless leg syndrome on planes. Unfortunately, this notion did not deter the two women sitting next to me in the middle and window seats. Clearly a mother and daughter duo, I had no success at falling asleep or even making it through a full movie as they were asking to get out every 1-2 hours.

I don’t remember all that I watched or did on the plane for those 10 hours but I do remember watching You’re Not You with Hillary Swank and Emmy Rossum. I remember this primarily because of how much I was crying. If you don’t know, the movie is about a successful pianist that develops ALS and the dysfunctional college student that ends up taking care of her. Super emotional. I mean, me. Well, the movie did have its moments but my reactions were merely exacerbated by how I was feeling being separated from my husband. In a nutshell, it was a salt-waterfall down my face for a solid 2 hours.

At one point, I was fed. The airline gave each person two options: A Western option and an Eastern option. Before I tell you which option I chose, I actually re-read a lot of my blog posts recently and I noticed one thing in particular: I force myself to try new foods quite often. More often than not, the meal is only okay and I don’t eat half of it because I don’t like a particular spice or sauce but despite this, I try it and then I continue to try new things. I asked the flight attendant to describe the dishes to me and I foolishly chose the Eastern dish. In the moment, I was proud of myself as the Asian flight attendant raised his eyebrows and nodded in surprise. I thought that he thought, “Wow, the white girl is trying the Eastern dish. Impressive.” Smiling, he handed me the Eastern dish, which I only ate 1/2 of. Now, I say I foolishly chose the Eastern option not because it was bad or unpleasant but because I am a notoriously picky eater and I was on a 10 hour flight without many other food options, if any at all.

At 12:35pm on Monday, March 1st, I landed in Fukuoka, Japan. Before exiting the plane, everyone was handed a small document and I was clueless. I had no idea what I was supposed to do with that document or where I was supposed to go. I had done research before traveling but I didn’t see anything about having to fill out any special document or have any information prepared. Plus, as I only had a 3.5 hour layover before going to Osaka, my stomach was in my throat again.

I followed the massive amount of people and waited in line and then did my best to fill out the document which was confusing and unclear. In fact, I ended up grabbing extra copies and filling it out three different times. When it was my turn to talk with the customs/documents people, I clearly screwed something up. The agent did not speak English well or at all and she was very adamant about having the address where I was staying. I kept on saying that I was staying with my sister in Osaka and I didn’t know her address or what hotel we were staying in. I wrote down half of her address in Hiroshima from what I remembered but it was probably wrong and not all there and not in Japanese. She asked for my sister’s phone number and I nearly threw up my hands in despair. How was I supposed to know any of this information! Two agents ended up coming over and saying very softly that it was okay this time but I needed to be prepared next time. After a firm finger wagging, Japan became the second country after the Czech Republic to get my fingerprints. That’s right the good ol’ US of A doesn’t even have my fingerprints. With that and a photograph, I was given a 90 day tourist visa.

I walked down a hallway, and then down an escalator to another section where I had to wait in line for something that I didn’t know anything about or understand. I grabbed a form and started to fill it out as I slowly made my way to the front. The customs agent looked at my form and my bag and my face before he spoke words that were so soft and low it was as if he was whispering in a movie theater located inside of a testing center inside of a library. After asking him to repeat himself three times with no success I decided to nod my head which satisfied him and then he gave me my passport and bag and let me go.

After this, I had to take a bus completely around the entirety of the airport. I had entered in the international terminal and I needed to go to the domestic terminal so that I could fly to Osaka and that required a 20 minute bus ride around the entirety of the airport. I hoped and I prayed that I was on the right bus going to the right place and I guess I was because I got there. I entered the domestic terminal, found my check-in area and waited in a long line so that I could send my bag through an x-ray machine again. Apparently, the airplane was SO small, that they had to check my bag. It was just way too big to fit in the overhead section of plane.

After this, I made my way upstairs so I could go through security. This security looked like it was from the 1970s. It was both bulky and really small. All of the baskets were way too small. I had to put every single item into it’s own bin and even then, they were all too small., I had to scan my ticket at an electronic point and I apparently scanned the wrong bar code because it flashed red and someone had to come to help me. After going through security, I made my way to what I thought was my gate which looked like saloon doors in front of a large hallway next to a bunch of shops. I bought a sandwich from one of those shops and sat down to wait. After 30 minutes or so, I made friends with a German and we went to the saloon doors to ask if we were supposed to do something. Apparently, we were just supposed to know that we had to walk up and scan our ticket to go through the saloon doors and through a hallway and down some stairs to enter a shuttle to take us to our plane.

One hour and 20 minutes later I was in Osaka, Japan.

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Throwback Thursday: Italian Adventures

How canceled flights, stolen deposits, and ankles sprained by angry volcanoes made our trip to Rome, Naples and Pompeii impossible to forget!

How canceled flights, stolen deposits, and ankles sprained by angry volcanoes made our trip to Rome, Naples and Pompeii impossible to forget!


“Ickily! Easyjet is offering flights to Rome for less than 2,000CZK!”

This was the excited exclamation several months ago from my girlfriend Olena, who is an expert when it comes to finding cheap deals on travel, food, going out and the like. At first I was naturally skeptical, “Yeah, of course, then there’s all the hidden fees, right?” Well, it turned out (as she loves to hear me say) that she was right. A few clicks of the mouse later we had two tickets to Rome Fiumicino airport in June. Aside from the cheap accommodation we booked through Airbnb, we had absolutely no itinerary planned and nothing booked, but that didn’t matter. I would reschedule some lessons and we would leave on a Thursday night and arrive on Monday evening, only missing a bit of work. Satisfied and filled with excitement for the coming journey, we shelved the rest of the planning til later, only occasionally bringing up the trip as the weeks went by.

Flew by would probably be a much better way to describe how the following weeks passed. One minute we were still freezing in Prague and the next we were lying on a beach under the Italian sun… But I’m getting ahead of myself. This all sounds very well and good, but our journey was not at all without its complications…

Thursday, June 11th, 2015:

The Travel Gods first strike while I’m sitting in my last lesson of the day, three or four hours before our flight. My tablet is playing a listening text for my student whom I am preparing for the FCE exam. While the listening plays from my tablet, a message from EasyJet pops up. I’m not usually in the habit of checking my emails during lessons, but I cannot ignore the preview of the message: “We regret to inform you that…” My heart immediately starts racing, Attempting to hide my suspicion of an impending disaster, I open the email to find that our flight has been cancelled.

I continue the lesson with my student, but I can’t really focus. What are we going to do? Can we reschedule? Will there be another flight we can take? How much is this going to cost? Will we even be able to go on our trip? Over the past week we’ve spent a great deal of time planning this trip, and in my backpack are not only our flight tickets but several entrance tickets to the sites we are hoping to visit…

Finally the lesson ends and I have a few minutes to review the email in detail before catching my train back to Prague (I work in a small town south of Prague, about 40 minutes away by train). It turns out that it isn’t our flight there that has been cancelled, but the flight back. This comes as a relief, but only a small one. Many things still need to be worked out.

Jump ahead to my train ride home, where I am on the phone via Skype, talking into my headset to a Customer Service representative in India who claims to go by the authentically Indian name of “Tom.” Apparently, there is great news! We can simply leave on the same EasyJet flight the next day, arriving Tuesday night instead of Monday. An extra day in Italy, isn’t it great?

My impatience starts to escalate, “I’m sorry Tom, but unfortunately we have jobs and we can’t just call out of work as we please…”

“I understand your situation sir,” says ‘Tom,’ “but because I can offer you a flight within the next 24 hours, we are not obligated to pay for a ticket on another airline for Monday night. You can leave on the Tuesday night flight with no problem.”

Our conversation continues in circles like this for nearly half an hour and after various threats of bad feedback and of flooding social media with EasyJet horror stories, I’m finally able to convince a representative to let me find a flight from another carrier, for which they will ostensibly reimburse me. I call Olena, who is also on the way to the airport, and explain the situation. We decide to wait and figure it out after going through security at the airport. After all, we have several days to figure it out while in Italy.

Our arrival in Rome proves to be later than we expected because, of course, the flight is delayed for three hours. A very nice woman notices us talking and informs us of the delay, and we thank her for the information. Well, at least that gives us time to conduct research into possible flights…

…which yield very poor results. If we want to leave Rome on Monday night as planned, it would mean not arriving in Prague until Tuesday morning with an eight-hour layover in Paris. I’m not one who can sleep in airports, so that is not an attractive option before a seven-hours day of teaching.

Several Customer Service calls later (This time I speak to “Linda” and “Peter”) we decide we’ll just have to call our bosses, explain the situation, and come home Tuesday night. For me this means a loss of 1,500 crowns (about $60) and a few disappointed students, but for Olena it means over-using her holiday time and missing important face-time with Tomáš Baťa, the founder of the fashion company Baťa for which she is a new employee. She’s been looking forward to meeting this fashion guru for some time, so it comes as a real let-down. Now find ourselves reciting a mantra that will become familiar to us throughout the trip, “It could be worse. Let’s not let this ruin our trip.” After all, we had an extra day in Italy!

We then turn to the next problem at hand. We are going to be too late in Rome to get normal public transport to our accommodation, so we have to find another way. Our host informs us that a taxi would be over €60, and we prepare for the first of many extra expenses on the trip.

Fortune begins to shine a small ray of line upon us when we arrive in Rome at 2:00 AM Friday morning. As we wait for our luggage, we spot the same woman who told us about the delay. We ask her how she plans to get to the center, and she said by taxi. We agree to share the ride with her, cutting the cost in half for all of us.

Waiting for a taxi outside in the pleasantly warm Roman night, our new companion realizes that she has no cash and goes off to find an ATM. Olena and I are having a hard time locating the taxi, so I decide to run over to a bus that’s loading on passengers and ask where it’s going. The driver says they’re going to the city center, and the cost is €7. We’re now left with a moral dilemma: Let the bus go and wait for our new cohort, or take the bus and leave her in the dust. Well, we’re already feeling our wallets thinning, so we take the latter option.

“This is gonna follow us for the rest of the trip, you know.” Olena says as our bus pulls out. “Karma is gonna pay us back for this.”

“Don’t worry. She will understand… right? Besides, our karma can’t be that low. Let’s just call this strike one…”

A half-hour journey later brings us to the central train station, where we have to pay for a €20 taxi ride to our host’s apartment. The bill I plan to send EasyJet now stands at €34, and it will continue to rise.

Our host is understandably annoyed at our late arrival (nearly 4 AM) and leads us to our room. The accommodation is great, but she could have been a bit nicer. Oh well, we thought again. It could be worse. At least we finally have beds to sleep in… for about four hours. We are scheduled for entrance into the Vatican at 10:30 tomorrow, so our sleep after such a long day of travel ends up being less than satisfactory.

But we made it, we’re in Rome! Ahead of us we have a tour of the Vatican, the ancient Colosseum, the Roman Forums, sun-drenched beaches, and a trip to Pompeii to cap it off. We are not to be brought down!

Friday, June 12, 2015:

Seemingly five minutes later, I awaken to the Chocobo theme from Final Fantasy VII that serves as my phone’s alarm clock. I’m not particularly exhausted; I seem to have slept fairly well in the last four hours. I turn over to make sure Olena is awake and get a groan in response, which in her language means only kisses will wake her up, and I am happy to oblige.

We shove some croissants down our throats and brew up some instant coffee and are out the door by 9:45. We finally figure out where to buy a ticket for the bus and are on a packed bus minutes later. We barely have room to move, and it must be over 30 degrees in the bus. Nevertheless, we’re excited for our trip to the Vatican, a country to which neither of us has been.

We head in the general direction of the Sistine Chapel with the help of Google Maps, but it turns out the whole city is surrounded by a ten meter-high wall with one entrance half a kilometer away. We have about five minutes to get there…

Having purchased tickets online, we pass the throngs of people waiting in line with well-deserved schadenfreude. They will be waiting the better part of an hour while we sail through the front entrance. The extra €4 we paid for advance tickets were well worth it. Things are looking up after all.

I may be an English teacher, but I am not nearly eloquent enough to describe the beauty of what we saw in the Vatican and the Sistine Chapel. I will let Olena’s skillful photographic eye guide you through our winding journey through halls of statues, tapestries, ancient maps, mosaics, and of course the Sistine Chapel itself. I encourage you to look at her Facebook page, where she will undoubtedly post pictures from our trip. I’ll put up a link at the end of this post. She got some great shots, and we even managed to sneak in some forbidden pictures in the – “Silencio! No photo, no video!” – sorry, that guy is really giving us a hard time. We would NEVER take pictures in the Sistine Chapel. No way, no how.

Our eyes still dazzled by the wonders of the Vatican, we head to a nearby cafe to meet up with Hana, an acquaintance of Olena. She works as a tour guide in the Vatican and is from Ostrava, in the Czech Republic. The information she gives us is incredibly helpful, and she even leads us around down a few streets to find some cheap pizza, our first of many pizza lunches. On the way, I pick up a sun hat for €5 which, knowing myself, I will undoubtedly lose in no time.

So. We’re still exhausted despite the overpriced yet delicious espresso but it’s only 3PM. We need to take advantage of our limited time in Rome. So what do we do? We take a metro as far as we can to the outskirts of Rome. A short walk from the metro station and we’re lying on the beach, relaxing. We still have another two days in Rome, so why try to force it on us while we’re so tired? Besides, the beach is nice, even though it’s a bit cloudy and windy. The water is nice too, and we enjoy a quick dip. We even buy one of those giant fabric tapestries that the meddlesome vendors are selling and sip cheap wine as we watch the sun set over the Mediterranean Sea. The stressful journey to get here seems distant, and we let the evening wind wash away our troubles of the previous day.

Saturday, June 13, 2014:

The chocobos wake us from deep sleep after a hot but restful night back in our little room. After some breakfast and coffee, we’re still not exactly sure what we’ll do today. After lots of Googling we decide to hit the Colosseum first. Most of the sites we want to see are in that area, so it’s a logical place to start.

We make a pit-stop at the central train station to pick up our Roma Pass which will not only give us free entrance without lines to the Colosseum and the Forums but will also give us unlimited access to Rome’s rather extensive public transport system. That done, we head to the Colosseum. Outside the entrance I pick up another €5 hat because, yes, I lost the first one. But don’t worry, I’ll lose this one too in a few days I’m sure.

We experience that familiar feeling of schadenfreude as we float by the lines of people waiting to buy tickets. We do a circuit of the ancient amphitheater and are amazed by the size and splendor of this structure which was built such a long time ago. The word “awesome” is one of the most overused words in the English language and thus has lost its true definition which perfectly describes the scene around us. This isn’t the first time this thought crosses my mind.

My camera is acting up, so I decide to stop using it for the rest of the trip and let Olena be the photographer. She not only has a much better camera but also a better eye for photography. I still snap the occasional selfie with my phone’s camera though. Again, check out her Facebook page for some pretty fantastic pictures.

Our next stop is the ruins surrounding the Forums, where we pass temples to various gods. Olena intones that the gods better appreciate how much money was spent on their worship given the multitudes of people who could have been fed with the same money. I agree, but hey. That’s ancient history. (bada-boom-TSH!)

It’s 33 degrees and we are starting to get really tired again, but we trudge on past more gorgeous ruins. We end up in Piazza Venezia and find ourselves jaded by the wondrous things we have seen. After all we’ve experienced, it’s getting more and more difficult to appreciate the smaller buildings. “Meh” we say, as we pass the Basilica di Santa Maria. “Psh” we mutter as we saunter by the Trajan Forum. “I think it’s time for a pizza break, huh?”

A short tram ride brings us to a small pizzeria where we enjoy some more cheap yet delicious pizza. We sit by the river and munch while discussing what to do with the rest of the day. We know we want to watch the sunset near the Castel Sant’Angelo, but it’s too early for that. We decide to go and relax in a park for a bit, while seeing the famous Spanish Steps on the way there.

Again, we seem to be a bit jaded by what we’ve already seen, so the Spanish Steps honestly just seem like a glorified flight of stairs. I’m sure it would be more impressive if we knew a bit more about them, but for now we just curse the heat as we trudge up the ancient staircase. A quick look at Google Maps shows us that the Hard Rock cafe isn’t far, so we head there. It’s kind of a tradition for Olena and me to get a drink at the Hard Rock in every foreign city we visit.

Well, we visit the Hard Rock, but we definitely don’t have a drink there. The smallest bottled beer would run us 6.75€ and a large draft beer would be more like 13€. Yeah, no thanks. But the place was pretty cool and the bathrooms had toilet seats. Seriously, you’d be surprised what a rarity that is. For some reason, most public toilets in Italy don’t have toilet seats. If you’re more learned than we are, please enlighten us as to why this is…

We head to the nearby Villa Borghese park to relax. We make a few organizational calls, arranging our trip to Pompeii and our last night in Rome. It’s here that the Travel Gods strike again.

Our plan has been to head to Pompeii via a ride share service, then head back Monday night to stay at a really nice hotel room in Rome that we’ve booked for an amazing 600CZK each ($25). Turns out that has deceived us and this is no hotel but some kind of vacation home that you’re supposed to rent for more than a month… The stay is €44 for one night, which is a great price, but we are informed that there will be a €50 cleaning charge plus a €7.5 “tourist tax” and a €20 fee for arriving late in the evening.

We decide to cancel this booking, but we still have to pay the €44 for the stay. EasyJet’s bill continues to rise…

Anyway, it works out okay because we decide to just stay an extra night at our hostel in Pompeii and go straight back to the airport from there on Tuesday. This will prove to be a good decision because we will need the extra time in Pompeii.

So, back at the park. We head towards what looks to be a small lake on Google Maps, and it turns out there are some rowboats you can rent for a 20-minute romantic voyage around a small yet beautiful stone temple to Asclepius, the god of medicine. Olena assumes the Cleopatra position as the front of the boat while I do the dirty work. It’s all very romantic, yadda-yadda-yadda =P

Now it’s time to watch the sunset so we take a bus close to the St. Angelo Bridge, one of the oldest bridges in Rome. We buy a couple cheap bottles of wine (come on, give us a break, we’re in Italy) and sit by the river. We play music from our smartphones, reflect on the beautiful day, and clink our glasses (well, bottles) as the sun sets on a toast to another fantastic day.

Sunday, June 14, 2015:

It’s not even 7:00 when the chocobos rouse us from our rest, and we hastily get ready to leave Rome behind. In less than two hours we’re meeting up with our driver with whom we arranged a drive to Naples. If you’re ever in Italy, Blabla car is a great way to get around. 10€ each gets us to Naples in less than three hours. The driver and his girlfriend are really nice and they even take us exactly where we need to be in Naples. We pick up a Pompeii card, a similar pass to the Roma Pass, and schlepp our luggage through the narrow streets of Naples. Our walk takes us by some stunning views of the city. “So, when are we moving here?” Olena asks, not for the first time.

We were informed by our driver that we were not permitted to leave Naples without trying some of their famous pizza. Apparently the Margherita pizza was invented here in 1889. According to rumor, famous chef Raffaele Esposito of Pizzeria Brandi created the pizza to resemble the colors of the Italian flag. He made the pizza for Queen Margherita of Savoy while she was visiting Naples.

We find a reputable-looking place and decide to sit down because we have a bit of time to kill before catching our train to Pompeii. We order up two of the best pizzas we’ve ever had for only €6 each. I’m no George R.R. Martin, so I won’t go on for three paragraphs about these pizzas, but I easily could if I tried. We even manage to save a bit for later.

Our bellies content with these oily yet scrumptious delights, we descend into the metro into one of the coolest stations we’ve ever seen. It’s got an “under-the-sea” type theme, the tiles and paint making wave patterns on the ceiling. “I would totally be making fun of someone in my shoes in Prague” Olena remarks about her touristy camera-clicking, never missing a photo op.

From Napoli Centrale we hop on a commuter train with the catchy name of “Circumvesuviana” (can you guess where it takes us?) It being a nearly cloudless day, we are treated to fantastic views of the volcano as we roll by. It’s an active volcano, and we joke about it erupting with only half smiles and nervous giggles.

The train station in Pompeii is a circus of street vendors selling any kind of souvenir you can imagine. My second hat is already gone, left in our Blabla car driver’s Subaru, and I’m not going to buy another one. There’s a line, and I’ve crossed it.

After politely shaking our heads at the hordes of vendors in this carnival of consumerism, we hop on a bus, courtesy of our Pompeii Pass. It’s only a five minute ride to our hostel.

And what an awesome hostel it is! We are greeted by the friendliest couple we’ve met so far who welcome us with stereotypical Italian friendliness. We have found so far that Italians are quite friendly in general, and these two don’t disappoint. Every time we have a question they are happy to oblige. They lead us to our private room complete with a double bed and a private bathroom and best of all, air conditioning. These hot nights have been brutal, and the AC is a welcome addition. Best 600CZK ever spent. If you ever stay in Pompeii, look up Agora Hostel.

It’s already 4:00. Our plan was to go up Vesuvius tonight by bus, but our host suggests waiting until tomorrow because it’s getting late. Instead, he recommends something completely unexpected: a trip to the romantic little coastal town of Sorrento. We take his advice and hop on a 20-minute train ride.

The town is absolutely gorgeous. I’ll say it again: look at Olena’s photos to see what I mean. The view of the Bay of Naples is breathtaking. At the very least, look it up on Google Images.

We walk down a narrow path to the beach area maybe 30 meters below us and look for a place to swim. There are many paid beaches around, but it is Italian law that each town has to have at least one free beach. We find just the one, a very small and crowded patch of sand, but we don’t care, we just want to dive headfirst into that beautifully clear blue water. With the corner of our eye on our belongings, we make the blissful plunge.

We stay at this beach for several hours, until the sun touches the horizon and we start to get a bit cold. As it goes down, we reflect on the wonderful trip we’ve had so far. The Gods of Travel may have got the upper hand at the beginning, but we are making the best of it, and the best definitely is the best.

Monday. June 15, 2015:

It was a blessing in disguise that we had to stay an extra day, because it would have been a shame to pack up and leave from here. We still had a lot to see. There was Vesuvius, and of course the ruins of the ancient city destroyed by its eruption.

After a delicious breakfast and some coffee, we hop on a bus that takes us up the mountain. We get some amazing views on the winding road and are almost to the top after only 45 minutes. We’re informed that it’s about a 20-minutes hike up to the crater at the summit. On our way up, the clouds start to move in and our view is completely obstructed. At first I think this is a real shame, but Olena reassures me, saying that it’s actually pretty cool how the clouds are moving. The frequency of her clicks from behind me confirm that she’s enjoying the sights, clouds or no clouds. I decide that she’s right. Why complain about the conditions we’re given? It’s a blessing just to be up here.

Olena has told me that she was not allowed to take any sand from Hawaii back to the USA because the gods punish anyone who does so. She almost took some sand home anyway but discarded it at the last second, apologizing to the gods. We haven’t been told such a thing about Vesuvius, so we select a particularly colorful handful of volcanic rock from the ground and tie it up in a baggie with plans to take it home. I’m starting to get a little bit nervous about the level of bad karma beginning to surround us. First there was the woman we left high and dry at the airport, now we’re stealing from Vesuvius… That’s two strikes, and perhaps there are more gods than just the Travel Gods…

Finally at the top, we make the circuit around the crater. It is a truly unbelievable sight. The crater is more than 250 meters deep and up to a kilometer across. The mountain used to be three times its current height of 1200 meters before its explosive eruption in 79 AD which destroyed the surrounding towns and killed 16,000 people. The molten rock shot 33 kilometers into the air at 1.5 million tons per second, the temperature of which was 1.5 million times the temperature of the nuclear explosion in Hiroshima. Those numbers might be unbelievable, but not as much so as the spectacle before us. It was truly amazing.

On our way back down the mountain we stop at a souvenir shop, where I haggle quite a bit with the vendor. Olena buys a really nice ring made of volcanic rock and I buy her a heart-shaped necklace of the same material. A bit more haggling gets me a hematite ring thrown on top, and the woman gives me a really dirty look and clearly doesn’t like me. “What if she cursed you?” Olena jokes. I laugh along with her, but the edge of my mouth shows a nervous tick. I can think only one thing: strike three.

As we walk down the mountain towards the buses, we realize we only have about ten minutes until the bus leaves. If we want to see the ruins of the city too, we have to hurry. We begin to jog down the hill, in the face of the looks of concern that we keep getting from the people who see us doing so. Oh well, I just don’t want to sit around in this heat for another hour while being badgered by street vendors. We’ve got ten minutes and maybe another 600 meters to go. Then we’ll be on our way. If we can just- CRACK!

My vision goes blank as a howl of pain escapes my throat. I’m vaguely aware of several people surrounding me to check what happened, because now I’ve fallen to the ground and am still involuntarily moaning in pain. As my thoughts clear I locate where the pain is coming from. It seems I that, while running, I caught my foot in an uneven patch of rock and landed directly on my left ankle, which is where the cracking sound came from. My first though is first   and then the more immediate question of “How the hell will I get down from here?”

Okay, time to start thinking logically. I gauge the pain and realize it isn’t quite as bad as it was right after the fall. Maybe it’s just adrenaline, but I can use that. First I need to try to stand on it, because if I can’t it’s probably broken.

I am able to make some stumbling steps, and yes, I can stand on my left foot. Good sign, but it’s far too painful for me to walk all the way down to the buses. Plus, the bus comes in six minutes, and the next one isn’t for an hour. What can we do?

Olena flags someone down and tells them to call a car to take us down.  We have seen one going up, so it’s definitely possible. Not long after, fortune shows a wan smile as a park ranger’s car comes from the top of the mountain. We flag it down frantically and it takes us to the buses.

I sit down at the small cafe near all the buses and can’t help sobbing in pain. I’m trying to stop, but it’s some of the worst pain I have ever felt in my life. I’ve always been a bit reckless, but I’ve also been really lucky and have never had a very serious injury. I quickly pop three ibuprofen from my bag and eat a Mars bar to go down with it.

A very nice Italian man offers to call us an ambulance because the bus will take a long time, and won’t go straight to the hospital. My ankle could easily be broken so I definitely need to get it checked out. We agree, but my American brain can’t help but picture this bill for this. We’ve already paid much more than we’d expected on this trip. I don’t know how much I can afford. But there is no escaping the fact that this is the only way.

It’s almost an hour before the ambulance comes, but luckily by then the pain has subsided to a dull ache and I am no longer humiliating myself by sobbing. I could probably get into the ambulance myself, but they put me on a stretcher. I’ve never been in an ambulance before so I’m pretty scared. Especially because I am in a foreign country and have no idea what their policies are.

Right when I get into the ambulance the medic takes out a needle and a tourniquet. I start to panic, demanding to know what they are going to do to me. The medic doesn’t speak English very well, so he just keeps saying “Don’t worry, don’t worry.” I finally get him to confirm that they’re not giving me any drugs, and it’s just an outlet for quick access at the hospital if they need to use it. Standard procedure. But still, the panicked feeling is there.

Olena has climbed into the back of the ambulance with me and is holding my hand, God bless her. She won’t even sit in the back of cars because it makes her nauseous, so I am very grateful that she’s there. I know it isn’t easy, especially on the windy roads down Vesuvius. As the sirens blare and we speed on towards the hospital, I catch a glimpse of Vesuvius and think again: strike three. Touché, Mountain God.

At the hospital, they wheel me into a room where we wait for about ten minutes. Now my ankle doesn’t hurt so much and I’m worried that we’re just wasting time. I finally get an X-Ray and wait in suspense to finally be told that nothing is broken. It’s just a really bad bruise. I am told to take ibuprofen and no to walk on it for five to six days. I can’t help but think of the ruins we wanted to see today, and the Cat Empire concert I have coming up in two days. Still, I’m happy it isn’t broken, and I’m glad I got confirmation.

Now we’re left with the problem that we’re eight kilometers from town and have no way to get back. I have one of the guards call a taxi, and in thirty minutes, around 4:00, it arrives. The meter is already at €25 when he arrives because of the drive there, and a trip to the ruins costs me a solid €40. But amazingly, the ambulance ride and the X-Ray were free. I wasn’t even asked for an insurance card, only my passport. Point one for the Italian healthcare system.

I still haven’t given up on seeing the ruins, especially knowing how badly Olena wants to see them. For her Pompeii is a life dream and the main purpose of our trip. I’ll be damned if I’m gonna ruin that, so I stumble with her up to the entrance. It hurts a bit, and I really shouldn’t be walking on it, but I can get by.

I don’t see as much as Olena does because I’m mostly sitting while she walks around taking pictures, but it’s still really cool. It boggles my mind that this was once a bustling city whose life was cut short in an instant, not to be discovered for 1,700 years.

We walk through the main square, into private homes complete with baths and fireplaces, through public bath houses and temples to various gods. The temples are plentiful, but clearly the gods were not sated in the end. As we walk towards the exit (well, as Olena walks and I hobble) we pass by the amphitheater of Pompeii which is having a special exhibition of the bodies that were excavated from the ruins. Plaster casts were able to preserve several bodies in exactly the same position they were in when they died. One shows two people huddled together, many with their hands shielding their faces, and even one mother with a child on her lap. It’s horrifying yet fascinating at the same time. I can’t imagine what those last moments must have felt like, futilely trying to fend off the inevitable. The exhibition is called “Stolen from death” – a very fitting name.

Somehow I manage to stumble my way back to the hostel with Olena’s help and we enjoy a €5 carbonara dinner. I am utterly exhausted from the stress my body has sustained, so we call it a relatively early night, especially since we have to be up for a big day of travel the next day. We cap it off with the season finale of Game of Thrones and hit the hay.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015:

We wake up around 8:30, and I examine my foot. It seems to be in just about the same condition it was in before: a dull ache and not too painful to walk on. I think I will make it home without damaging it more.

We have breakfast one last time at the hostel and begin our long journey home. It’s a pretty uneventful trip on several forms of transport: A bus to the center of Pompeii, the Circumvesuviana to Naples, a train to the Rome main station, a bus to the airport, a plane to Prague, and a bus a and tram home. I check on my foot when I get home, and it’s starting to get really purple in some places, but it still doesn’t hurt to walk and I know it’s not broken, so all I can do is wait and stay off it as much as I can.

The Travel Gods cost us quite a bit of money, the Mountain God messed up my foot, and we spent quite a bit more money than we’d meant to, but it was a fantastic trip. Olena and I have been to many places together but never have we had a trip as action-packed as this one.

I am happy that I don’t have to work until later tomorrow, because I have a lot of things to do. Maybe I’ll even sit down and write up a blog about our trip. For now, we drift off to sleep with dreams of ancient ruins, Italian beaches and romantic sunsets swirling through our minds.


Well, thanks for reading. I hope you enjoyed it. Special thanks to Olena for being an awesome travel companion and for finding the tickets in the first place. Feel free to post any comments or questions, and be sure to check out this page because I’m sure there will be photos sometime in the next few days. Give it a “Like” while you’re at it:

For those worried about me, don’t. This was all a true story, and it was quite bad when it happened, but I promise you I’m fine. I think my foot should heal in a week or two, and I’ll never run down an active volcano again 😉

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“That’s the real trouble with the world: Too many people grow up,” Walt Disney (Guest Post)

On the next morning, we had a quite early breakfast and got ready to take the bus to Disneyland. It is really nice, that there are free shuttles which are bringing you directly to the park. We decided we will go first to the Walt Disney Studios, because it is a little bit smaller, so we could do it in the morning and later on we go to the park…

OMG OMG OMG finally, the moment arrived that we are flying to Walt Disneyland Paris!!! We are SO EXCITED! Worse than children 😉 on the 28th we got up around 5.30am, got ready and drove to the train station in Mistelbach an der Zaya. Everything worked out just fine, got there in time, got our train tickets, the train was on time (just a few minute delay) and we arrived at the airport approx. 1 ½ hours before our flight. We even had a bit time to have breakfast, then boarding started. Maria and I were seated separately, but that didn’t matter. After arriving, we quickly found the right bus which would bring us to our hotel close to Walt Disneyland.

By Sheida Nasseri (Guest Blogger)

Please find the original post, including all the photos, here:

The weather seemed very promising. We arrived at our hotel, Vienna Dream Castle Hotel, which was not maybe one of the best I have been, but it seemed very huge from the outside and the entrance room is very impressive.

We had a very late lunch at the hotel bar. OMG I have to admit; this burger was so absolutely delicious! I have just eaten once in my life a burger which was better than this one, and that was in Budapest. So, well done 😉 rest of the day, we were so full and tired that we just lay in bed and watched TV and were absolutely lazy.

On the next morning, we had a quite early breakfast and got ready to take the bus to Disneyland. It is really nice, that there are free shuttles which are bringing you directly to the park. We decided we will go first to the Walt Disney Studios, because it is a little bit smaller, so we could do it in the morning and later on we go to the park. We were running around like little kids and taking pictures of everything. When you arrive, you first don’t know where to look at, there is so much to see. We got us a map and decided we will only do the adrenaline stuff and maybe some shopping 😉 so for a wake-up ride, we thought we go to the Hollywood Tower Hotel or also known as Tower of Terror. To be honest with you, we had no idea, what exactly would be in a Tower of Terror.

Well, as it said, it is a tower, they wrapped up a nice story about a hotel where a family went into the elevator and then somehow they got into the twilight zone and they dare you to enter the elevator, where you can sit down and then it will rise up and fall down, over and over again, and in between you even have a panorama view over Walt Disney Studios

When we came out … how can I describe that feeling? I think only people who love that adrenaline kick really know this feeling. You kind of feel boosted,  super high and super super happy 😀 and the best or worst part of it? You want more! So, we directly went to the second adrenaline attraction, the Rock’n Roller Coaster Aerosmith! I LOVED IT! Rollercoaster in the dark, with Aerosmith rock music and some light effects! AWESOME!

Unfortunately, when I got out, I noticed I lost one of my gloves. Luckily, I went to the small shop (because Maria and I bought us Mickey hats and I got myself some cool gloves) and the lady told me to go back and ask if the staff found it. I went back and if you believe it or not, exactly at that moment, the wagons which arrived, one guy, sitting on my spot got my glove! That was all that was exciting at the Studios, and it also was almost lunchtime, so we went to the Walt Disney Park.

We just wanted to search our way to the next attraction – Space Mountain, when we noticed that the parade was about to pass. Therefore, we decided to have a look before we brace ourselves for the next adrenaline kick 😉

“Remember that this whole thing started with a Dream and a mouse” – Walt Disney

On our list of possible attractions were still two stations; Pirates of the Carribean and Indiana Jones. Pirates of the Carribean was quite a disappointment. It was a boat cruise, where you could have a look at different pirate scenarios which were built with some puppets moving around. It was very short and there is no other word – boring. Though, I loved the detailed picture they gave you of that scene. Indiana Jones was a roller coaster outside, it was cool, but it was too cold for that! And my head got shaken all the time from the left to the right side and I always hit my ears against the cushions (which weren’t very soft). After we managed to tick all adrenaline stuff, we decided to go back to the hotel and have a late lunch and lay down for a while, before returning in the evening to see something of the light shows.

We went back, I had again my delicious burger, and we had a wonderful nap! Around five pm we returned to the park. The people were already gathering around the big Christmas tree. We could have had a better spot, though the light show was very nice,

We walked a little bit around and took some pictures of the beautiful, glittering castle. Probably, most of you will know, but for those who don’t know it, the castle in Walt Disneyland is a copy from the German Castle Neuschwanstein in Bavaria. Actually, we wanted to wait for the firework, but with the sun gone it turned very cold so we decided to leave and go home and sleep early to be fit on the next morning.

On the next morning we packed all our stuff, had breakfast, and before we checked out, I said to Maria that I didn’t take any pictures of our hotel, so I wanted to go on that big balcony to take some. We were looking for an entrance. We went out (without jackets, because we just came from breakfast – so very chilly) took some pictures and then we tried to get in again. Without success. You couldn’t open the glass door from the outside, I had really to laugh, so typical 😛 I knocked on the glass and we were saved by an employee of the hotel. The sad part about that is, that I somehow deleted the pictures! :-O I cannot even show you what pics I took 🙁 but you can go on the webpage and get an impression 😉

Well, after this little adventure we checked out and went to the train station in front of the Park. We locked our luggage into a locker and went again, first to the Walt Disney Studio. This time, we knew where our way was leading us, so we were much earlier at the Tower of Terror and the line was also much shorter, therefore, we directly went twice on it!!! Just love the feeling 😀 After that we also went twice … or was it three times? Never mind, several times on the Aerosmith Rollercoaster J it gets just better J Within the park, we watched the parade again (poor people), went into some of those awesome shops for some souvenirs, and also went a few times on the Space Mountain. The best ride was the last one. We asked to be seated in the first wagon, in the very front! Amazing, what a big difference it makes. You don’t see in which direction it goes, or you see first how the loop looks like, gives you just a bigger kick J after we had enough of the rides, we took some more pics and slowly said goodbye to Walt Disneyland.

We got back to our luggage and took the bus to the airport. We were so tired! I will not explain too much, just let’s say, it was a long way and we were staying in one hotel in Vienna, because around 10pm, there is no train going to Gnadendorf. I just took some final notes for my post, checked my pictures and went very tired to bed. I tried to edit a youtube video, to combine all the videos I made at Walt Disneyland, so you get a picture of how it was. 🙂

I hope you enjoyed this post and I will see you hopefully again for my next post.

Until next time!

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How to Wear Food-Themed Earrings? Part 1

My second tasteful outfit consisted of rainbow lollipop earrings with a simple black dress. But I was quickly bored with wearing black so the two dozen pairs of earrings gathered dust while I brainstormed more colorful solutions…

My recent obsession with food-themed earrings resulted in numerous “just one more” purchases at This Czech online store opened up a whole new world of accessories for me while presenting a unique challenge: how can I incorporate food-themed earrings into my daily life without alienating friends or getting fired?

Pink ice cream cone earrings were my first experiment. Fortunately, there is no dress code at my office and casual clothing is perfectly acceptable. Paired with a pink top and with black pants, the sweet earrings were a success.

My second tasteful outfit consisted of rainbow lollipop earrings with a simple black dress. But I was quickly bored with wearing black so the two dozen pairs of earrings gathered dust while I brainstormed more colorful solutions.

Several weeks without inspiration and my excitement for the delicious earrings fizzled, turning dress shopping into my new favorite pastime. That was when I discovered the perfect red and white stripy dress. Hoping to wear it to work I tried it on in the morning but realized that even with a plain sweater the dress was a bit too much for the casual environment at my office.

The solution came to me as I admired the red and white color-theme: Kinder Eggs! It had been against my better judgment that I order earrings that would make me crave chocolate every time I saw my reflection. But it was the mini Kinder Eggs saved my wardrobe crisis: they matched my outfit perfectly while dressing it down several notches.

Next challenge: bacon and egg earrings!

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Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, Japan (Guest Post)

The Children’s Peace Monument (just below) was built in dedication to all the children who died as a result of the bombing. The sculpture is based on the true story of Sadako Sasaki (佐々木禎子), a young girl who died after the bombing due to radiation. She truly believed that if she folded 1,000 cranes, then she would be healed…

By Rachel Kitai (Guest Blogger)

One last post from Rachel Kitai about Japan. Please visit her blog to read more about her travels in Japan, Europe and the USA the original post also has some beautiful photos:

Rachel is a traveler and artist, please see her art here:

After visiting the Hiroshima Castle, we biked over to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. The Coopers started by playing a game of keep-away while I photographed them and kept an eye on Alex.

Once we were finished playing, jumping across rocks, and building imaginary forts, we made our way to the center of the Peace Park. Our first stop was the A-Bomb Dome, also named the Hiroshima Peace Memorial. Before the bombing, this area was a thriving commercial area and this building, the Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall, was the only building in the area that remained standing after the bombing. It’s now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and it’s currently being audited/checked to ensure that it’s not structurally unsafe. Apparently, four years to the day after the bombing, it was decided to make the downtown area a peace memorial instead of redeveloping it.

There are several other memorials/statues in the area in honor of specific groups of people. The Children’s Peace Monument (just below) was built in dedication to all the children who died as a result of the bombing. The sculpture is based on the true story of Sadako Sasaki (佐々木禎子), a young girl who died after the bombing due to radiation. She truly believed that if she folded 1,000 cranes, then she would be healed. Around the statue were thousands and thousands of folded paper cranes. Children from all around the world send their folded paper cranes. There were several clear plastic boxes stuffed full of cranes. It was beautiful. I was so mesmerized that I forgot to take a picture. Sorry, guys.

The monument below is the Memorial Tower to the Mobilized Students. Around that time, thousands of students were “mobilized” to help with the war effort by completing primarily factory work. This was built to honor nearly 7,000 of those mobilized students that were killed in the bombings.

Pictured below is the Memorial Cenotaph. It is made entirely of concrete and has the names of every person who was killed by the bombing. If you look in the center of the picture, below the arch, you can see the Peace Flame (eternally lit) and the A-Bomb Dome. Written on a plaque in front of this arch is “安らかに眠って下さい 過ちは 繰返しませぬから” which was translated as “Let all the souls here rest in peace for we shall not repeat the evil.”

While thoroughly exploring the area, Aly and I each sipped on a Fuzzy Navel. When finished, we went to an underground shopping center to eat an amazing lunch/dinner. We started the meal with a huge mountain of a salad topped with a perfectly poached egg. Aly and Will weren’t fans of poached eggs so I scooped that off the top and ate my salad drenched in the delicious yolk of an amazingly tasty egg. Then, we ordered a bunch of stuff and shared it between all of us – a seafood pizza with pesto, an amazingly good Japanese bento box, and some other stuff that is clearly being overshadowed by that poached egg and seafood pizza. It was so good ya’ll.

After eating our fill, we biked home in the dark. It was so lovely. While biking, we were singing “I got my tight pants on..” but a few minutes into it, I changed the lyrics so that it was Wyatt wearing the tight pants. “Everybody sees Wyatt in his tight pants. He’s got his tight pants. He’s got his tight pants on.” Wyatt giggled non-stop. I was kinda scared he was going to fall off his bike. He kept on trying to sing, “Aunt Rachel has tight pants…” which just didn’t work but A for effort, Wyatt.

Aly and I went to a grocery store while the boys went back to the Cooper home and it. was. glorious. Czechs aren’t really into snacks… well, they are but it’s just chocolate and candy; Like, it’s impossible to find decent crackers anywhere. I’m way more into the savory. This store had so many savory snacks. I wanted to buy them all. They had so much seafood, guys! SO MUCH. And it actually looked good. I miss good seafood – not ridiculously puny shrimp that look like they layed out in the sun for too long but huge prawns. That’s right, they were so big they have to be called something different. And scallops and lobster and such beautiful goodness. I think I bought only one or two snacks though. And then we biked home with grocery bags hanging from our handlebars.

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