Thursday, November 29, 2018

Fighting the addiction: two months without TV

I’m giving up TV, social media, and cell phone games for two months.

Why do this?
I work 6-7 days a week, 50-60 hours a week. I come home exhausted, and my first inclination is to lie down and watch TV. I get comfortable, pull out my phone, and play a cell phone game while the comforting computer screen flashes with images of TV shows or movies or Youtube videos.

An hour goes by. Then another. I force myself to get up to eat dinner, and then watch more TV. I look at the clock and see it’s 10:30 pm. I have some time before bed, I tell myself; I can use this time to work on the novel, or study Chinese, or paint, or clean my room, or do anything productive.
But I don’t. Despite the hours I have spent ‘relaxing,’ I don’t feel any more energized than when I first came home. If anything, I feel MORE drained than before. So I just keep watching TV until it’s bed time. Another evening wasted. I tell myself that I’ll be more productive tomorrow, basking in the comfort of my obvious lie.

So I decided to make a change.

The rules
This challenge is in effect from October 28th - January 1st.
1. I cannot watch any movie or TV show.
2. I cannot play any cell phone game, EXCEPT for chess. (I love chess.)
3. I cannot watch Youtube.
4. I cannot go on Facebook. (I do allow myself to post important things to Facebook, but I cannot scroll through the feed and look at everyone else’s posts.)

Do you consider yourself an addict of electronic stimulation?
I spoke with a family member about this, who used to have a problem with drugs. And it made me realize that yes, I am an addict, and I need to start viewing my behavior as that of an addict. It’s not harmless fun to come home and watch TV every day, especially when this is behavior that I want to change, but struggle with. This routine sucks time and energy out of my life, and it may not seem harmful in the day to day minutia of life, but to step back and look at the time lost over years- decades… this behavior has dramatic, real world consequences, and it has cost me a lot.

In the ONE month that I have given up TV/social media/video games, I’ve written a 50,000 word novel, started taking boxing classes, and committed to exercising twice a day- WHILE working an extremely demanding job.
What have I failed to accomplish over the last decade because I was devoting my life to TV? What novels did I not write? What classes did I not take? What languages did I not learn? What friends did I not make? What books did I not read? What life-changing experiences did I miss out on because I was watching TV?

What sacrifices has my little addiction cost me?

Is this life style sustainable?
I don’t know if I can keep this up. I miss Youtube. I miss TED talks, and videos that discuss writing, and comic books, and science. I want to go on Youtube and learn more about boxing form and technique.
I also miss my favorite TV shows. Game of thrones. Vikings. Handmaid’s Tale. Atlanta. Cosmos.

So will I continue my old life style in January? I don’t know. The idea of wasting all my free time over TV and cell phone games scares me.
So I plan to use this time of asceticism to figure who I want to be when the challenge is over.

Final thoughts?
I’ve tried several times to limit my time with TV, cell phone games, and social media, but I always fail. I’ve tried no TV in the A.M., only from 12 P.M. to 11:59 P.M., but I couldn’t commit. I tried no TV on Saturday and Sunday, but I couldn’t commit. I tried giving myself a schedule- one hour of TV per day; I couldn’t commit. This has been the LONGEST I've ever gone without TV, video games, and social media.

It’s an amazing, horrifying feeling to know that you control the ship that is your life. Every time you get an urge to feed your addiction, whether it’s television, or over-eating, or online shopping, you are holding the self-destruct button that is your future. You are making the decision not to push it.

Note of common sense: By calling myself an addict for watching too much television, I don’t mean to equate my plight with those who suffer crippling chemical dependencies like heroin or alcohol. I honestly struggle with my challenge, so I cannot even imagine what it’s like to go through a REAL addiction like meth or gambling.

Monday, September 10, 2018

My first safari!

Hippos are terrifying.

I went on a safari in Tanzania with my girlfriend. It was probably the coolest trip we’ve ever taken. 

Day 1. Arrival.
We arrived in Arusha, Tanzania.

Wen (girlfriend) booked the safari before arriving, and these guys were great- they took care of airport pickup, hotel, safari meals, EVERYTHING. I really can’t recommend them enough. World Tours Safaris.

The hotel lodging was simple, but clean, and convenient. The power went out a few times, but that’s kind of what we expected in Tanzania.

When we arrived, there was a rambunctious church congregation meeting in the dirt-parking lot of the hotel. The preacher wailed and yelled and his congregation just went nuts. There was no physical church- their church was the parking lot. Mainland Tanzania is largely Christian, whereas Zanzibar- a large island, is mostly Muslim.

A wooden statue outside the
cultural heritage museum

 Day 2. Rest day.
Our second day was spent relaxing. We walked to a craft market and bought some cool paintings. We bought a sim card (highly recommended). We also went to the cultural heritage museum. It's free, and there are a lot of beautiful paintings. There's an overpriced gift shop, but the trinkets there are of higher quality than the other shops in the area.

Inside the cultural heritage museum

Day 3. Serengeti.
Our first Safari day!

The first time I saw a zebra running I thought it was one of the most beautiful things I’d ever seen. Nothing like in a zoo. To see this incredible animal, healthy and in its natural habitat, running to catch up with its herd… it really blew my mind.
And this was true for all the animals. “They’re just so healthy looking!” My girlfriend exclaimed. The animals had rich, shiny coats of fur, with muscles that flexed and moved. And their eyes were alive.

Zebras came into our campsite. And some buffalo
came into the campsite at night.

Here are some of the animals we saw in the Serengeti.

A female lion. Notice the blood on her leg.
She had been eating a few minutes earlier.

Zebra with some antelope.

A thomson gazelle. The gazelle are smaller than the antelope- 

easy way to distinguish them.

A giraffe.

Moonrise over the Serengeti. The view from my tent.

The first night, we slept in tents. Normally, I'm fine with camping, but we saw lions about a mile outside our campsite. We could hear the lions and hyenas throughout the night. The hyenas made this very unsettling 'yooo... yooo' sound. The lions made several low rumbles and grunts. The bathroom was about 50 meters from our tent, and our driver warned us not to leave the campsite, because, you know, lions. So even though I had to pee, I just kinda dealt with it all night. Didn't sleep much that first night.

Inside the crater.

Day 4. Ngorogoro Crater.
Ngorogoro crater is an ENORMOUS volcanic crater, technically a caldera. In the Serengeti, the space is massive, and so you may drive for an hour without seeing an animal. But Ngorogoro keeps the animals clustered a little closer together, so you’ll see something worthwhile every 10-15 minutes.

Here are some of the animals we saw in Ngorogoro crater.

A buffalo. Notice the mangled testicle? It had been attacked,
and our driver told us it may have been a honey badger.

More lions.

An elephant. Notice the "fifth leg?"

Giraffes and vultures. And a baby giraffe.

Day 5. Tarangire National Park.
Tarangire National park was my least favorite place on the safari. There were a lot of trees, so the number of animals we could see was limited. Tarangire also didn’t show us any new animals, except for some vultures. We were also just so tired from the two previous days- most of us actually took naps on this day.

Baby monkeys grooming their monkey.

Tarangire is nice- it has herds of elephants, and there are monkeys, and some nice views. But it just can’t compare to Ngorogoro crater.

Our driver posing with our truck.

Go intimate 
We saw a wide variety of safari vehicles. My girlfriend and I were in a very sturdy jeep, which had 6 seats. The cook and the driver sat up front. Wen and I sat in back, along with two lovely visitors from Hong Kong. We saw other vehicles that held 8, 10, even 25 people.
 Don’t go for these big vehicles. Go with as small a group as possible- it’s worth it. A bus with 25 people isn't going to stop whenever you want to take a picture. 

Day 6.
We spent this day relaxing. Not much to report.


Day 7. Stone town.
We took a quick flight from Arusha to Zanzibar- highly recommended, instead of the bus / ferry option.

Stone Town was really cool, and completely different from Mainland Tanzania. For a long time these were two different countries, and only recently became one.

Stone Town is this very old town, and one of the most famous stops on the African slave trade. Not exactly something to be proud of.
Most people are Muslim, and the food is very good.

Forodhani gardens. This is a large, outdoor street-food market. Vendors come here and set up stalls and cook. The food is good BUT BE WARNED! You need to ask the prices of the food before ordering. You need to compare stall prices, and maybe even haggle a little. Once these people smell money on you, they will jack up the prices and rip you off like you wouldn’t believe.
Wen and I ate here, and ordered a bunch of tasty food. The guy charged us 60,000 Tanzania shekels. The following night we went to a very fancy Indian restaurant. The fancy restaurant charged us 45,000 shekels. You would expect the street food to be a lot cheaper than the fancy restaurant- it probably would have been if we’d been smart and haggled a bit.

Day 6. Bwejuu
We took a taxi to Bwejuu, a small town on the east coast of the island. It was a 60-90 minute ride, with a driver that drove way too fast on a road with way too many potholes. 

It rained a lot when we were here, which was fine- we mostly used this as a time to rest and recoup before going back to the real world. 
Bwejuu has a very large tide, so at low tide, the water goes way out. You can see the locals wandering the recently exposed sand looking for crabs and other sea food.

We went snorkling in Bwejuu and we're so glad we did! Bwejuu is near a large cove, which keeps out larger sea creatures (sharks), and keeps the water very calm and stable.
I've snorkled in Thailand and Cambodia, and this was so much better! The water was clear, and the fish were so colorful.

Things to take away from this experience.

Make sure you get your vaccinations a month before arriving. I got vaccinations for cholera and yellow fever, as well as malaria tablets. When getting off the plane, security checked everyone for proof of yellow fever vaccinations before allowing us into immigration.

Plan ahead.
Book a safari before you arrive. It makes it all SO MUCH easier. 

Bring American dollars with you. You will need to pay for your visa on arrival, which cost me $100. Hotels will accept both US dollars, and Tanzanian shekels. Also, we paid for our safari tour with US dollars.

Bring extra camera batteries!

Wen with her Pentax.

Our first night was spent in a tent, and there was no way to charge our batteries. The jeep did have an unreliable and SLOW generator that we used to charge our batteries- but it was such a pain in the ass. And there was no guarantee that your jeep will have this. Bring an extra camera battery or even two. And bring a power bank if you feel you'll be using your phone a lot.

Dress for a safari
Things to bring: hat, sunglasses, sun block, bandana (it gets dusty and you'll want something to cover your mouth and nose) long sleeve shirts (the temperature went from cold to hot throughout the day- you'll want to wear layers that you can add or remove. You'll also want to keep your skin covered to protect against the sun.)


This is why you bring the good camera.

Bring a good camera. Preferably with a zoom lens. I brought my Nikon D7100 with a zoom lens of 70-300. It was a really good lens. Not too heavy, and sharp quality. Also, the Serengeti is SUPER dusty. Bring a dust blower. You're going to get specks of dust on your sensor, and you'll be miserable if all your pictures have little black spots all over the photos.

Enjoy yourself.
Safaris can be tough. And stressful. And exhausting. Don't let it get you down. It's a wonderful experience, and years later you won't even remember how bumpy the truck ride was, or how little you slept, or how many pictures you missed because the animal turned its head at the wrong second. Put your camera away for a few minutes, look at the majesty of it with your own eyes, and enjoy it.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Going without plastic for 7 days - what I learned

A roadside in southern China. 
How the challenge started…
I realized that every single piece of plastic I have ever touched, since the day I was born, still exists on this planet. It has either been recycled and turned into something else. Or it has been dumped into the ocean. Or it is somewhere else that it shouldn’t be. That’s my legacy. That’s what will be on my tombstone. Here lies Julian- he used a bunch of plastic, and then he died. Nothing else worth mentioning.

And I thought, hmmm, there must be something I can do to help with this problem. I wonder if I can give up plastic. Can I last a week?

So in typical Julian fashion, I jumped into the challenge without any thought or preparation.

The challenge was hard.

I had no idea how difficult it would be to give up plastic. It required a complete change of my habits and lifestyle. I had to change my diet. I had to plan my meals in advance, because it wasn’t like I could just go to the 711 and buy food from there (99% of the things in 711 are wrapped in plastic). I had to actually go to restaurants, instead of ordering out. I had to bring plastic bags with me to the supermarket. I had to actually wash my silverware, instead of getting plastic forks from the restaurants when I got take out. And I had to go without things like yogurt, kimchi, peanuts, and so much more.

A field in Calcutta.
Going without plastic is healthy.

What I didn’t realize is just how healthy giving up plastic is. Instead of snacking on chips, and chocolate, and other junk food- all of which are wrapped in plastic- I ended up snacking on apples, bananas, and oranges. Instead of getting sugary drinks, I ended up drinking water. I used a glass bottle, and refilled it from the water-jug at work.

You need preparation to go without plastic.

To go without plastic for any duration of time, you need some preparation. You need to have bags with you, so that when you buy things from the supermarket, you don’t need to use their bags. You need a reusable bottle so you’re not always buying plastic water bottles. You need a glass Tupperware container if you’re going to get food to go from a restaurant.

A train in India.
People throw trash out the windows
So where do I go from here?

I’m not ready to give up plastic entirely. I still want to have my junk food occasionally. I still need to buy toiletries. I still need to buy yogurt, and rice, and cooking oil from the supermarket. So I’ve decided that I’m going to allot myself ONE plastic purchase per day. One bag of chips, or one bottle of toothpaste, or one cup of tea from the cafĂ©. If I need to go shopping for a bunch of things that involve plastic, then I’ll make a plastic budget and go without plastic for however many days I need to, to keep my one plastic item per day ratio.

Tips for lessening the plastic in your life

If you have to buy toiletries, buy in bulk. Rather than buying a small container of mouth wash every month, buy a massive one three times a year.

Get a glass bottle, and a glass container to get take out.

Stock up on a few plastic bags, and keep them in your backpack / work bag / suitcase. So whenever you’re out and about, you can stop by the supermarket and have bags ready to go. I was so frustrated to be on my way home, walking past the supermarket, when I realized I had no bags- I had to walk all the way home, then head back to the market.

Change your state of mind. Recycling is not the answer to the plastic problem. I will recycle a bottle after I use it, but when that plastic is recycled and turned into another bottle, the next person may not decide to recycle it. On a long enough timeline, all plastic will eventually end up somewhere it doesn’t belong- either the ocean, or a landfill, or on the side of the road. The answer is just to not use so much plastic.

Put out the modicum of effort to make our world better. It’s worth it. Reliance on plastic makes us lazy, and gets us too comfortable with eating shit food. It’s worth it to put in a little bit of energy to use less plastic.

Do you have any ideas about how to use less plastic in your daily life?

Monday, May 8, 2017

A letter to my ten year old self- on privilege

The date is May 8th, 2017. You are 30 years old.

In time, you will get to drive a car, and a motorcycle. You will hold a girl’s hand, and fall in love, and have your first kiss, and have sex, and have your heart broken. You will break someone else’s heart- and hate yourself for it.

You will spend 6 years moving around Asia and Europe- working, volunteering, traveling. You will go to at least 30 countries. You will see the sun rise on the Himalayas, and the Ganges, and Prague, and a tiny Laotian village. You will see the sun set over Sri Lankan mountains, and a Cambodian beach where you will live briefly, and a castle in Spain. You will get scammed by a taxi driver in Bulgaria. You will have rocks thrown at you by children in a refugee camp. After having sushi in Myanmar you will vomit and see a black worm wriggling in the toilet. You will move to Korea because of a girl, and she will dump you within a week of your arrival. For better or worse, you will have a good life.

No one will give you this life. No one will pay for your travels- you will pay for them, with money that you will earn and save. You should be proud, because you will make it, on your own, without help from anyone.

Except. That’s a lie. You see…

You are privileged.

You don’t understand this word, but I’ll tell you about it. Privileged means that you have things in your life, helpful things, which most people do not have. In fact, you have so many helpful things, that it’s almost guaranteed you will grow up happy, healthy, and comfortable. I’ll give you some examples.

You think that everyone has a big house and a loving family, because you have one.
You think that everyone grows up with a kitchen that is always full, a bedroom that doesn’t have to be shared with anyone else, a home that is safe, and a family that is full of love- because you have this.
No one in your family hits you, or yells at you, or says mean things to you, or does drugs, or has been to prison. You think that every family is like this, because yours is.
You think everyone has a loving mother who will sacrifice for your education and have open, honest discussions about any topic you wish. Your dad will drive 60 miles a day to coach your soccer team, and your grandfather will push you to examine the world. You are loved so much, by people who are educated, independent, and hard working.

These are helpful things that many other people do not have- and they were given to you when you were born. Your privilege will continue as you grow.

You will go to college, not because you care about your education, but because your mom makes you. Many people borrow money from the bank to pay for college, and they have to pay that money back. Sometimes it takes them twenty years to pay it back, sometimes they spend their whole life paying it back. And because they have to pay all this money, they can’t travel like you will. But you don’t have to worry about that. You will not have to pay for your college tuition- your mom will pay for it.

With all these helpful things, it does not mean that you will succeed and make lots of money- but it means it will be much easier for you to succeed and make lots of money.

Think about your life, compared to someone without privilege. You live with parents who love you, and want the best for you. You have a friend who lives with parents that hit him, and say mean things to him, and who never encourage his education. You live in a safe, quiet house, with many books. Your friend lives in a house that is loud, he will never have a quiet space to study, and he will not feel safe in his own home. Your parents warned you about the dangers of alcohol and drugs- your father talked to you about sex and told you the importance of using condoms. Your friend did not have these talks, so he will try drugs, and he will have sex without a condom. He will spend a lot of his money on a drug called opiods, and he will have a child when he is young. You will go to a private high school where you’ll be surrounded by people who want to succeed, and you’ll be pushed to study hard. Your friend will be stressed from his home life- he will not study, he will not do well in school, he will yell at his teachers, and get into fights. You will go to college, for free. Your friend will not graduate from high school.

When you are 24 years old, you will be working in Japan, earning twenty five dollars an hour, and saving so that you can travel and get a teaching certificate in Europe. It is possible that your friend, too, will be earning twenty five dollars an hour and traveling the world- but he will have to work so hard for it, and the very idea of it sounds almost impossible. But you will achieve this life, and you won’t have to work that hard to get it.

Your privilege gives you access to things your friend cannot even dream about, and the sad thing is that you appreciate none of it. You are ten, and none of this is your fault. You did not choose your family or your upbringing, just like your friend did not choose his.

When you are a man, you will think about all this. You will think about how you were lazy in school. You will think about the fact that you never got good grades. You will think about how your mother sacrificed so much so you could get an education and give you more opportunity- and you will make no effort to go to a good school, or work hard, or learn a valuable skill.

This will make you sad.

And one day you will look back at other people who have succeeded. People who were not privileged. People who really had to struggle for everything they achieved. You will look at them, and their work ethic, and you will think: “Wow, look how much they’ve accomplished. I wonder what I could have done if I had pushed myself and actually tried. I wonder what I could have been. I could have been so much more than I am now…”

This thought will keep you up at night.

But you are ten. The world is vast- still fair and moral in your eyes. You want to play four-square with Christian. You want to play video games with John, and Steven, and Matt. You want to watch TV with your sisters and have grown-up conversations with your mom. You are still two years away from meeting your best friend, who will die when you are 22- his death will destroy you. You are a few months away from your parents getting divorced, and Christian moving away, and Morgan’s biological father dying- this will destroy your mother and sister. You are more than a decade from getting diagnosed with depression, and seeing the homeless masses in India, and watching as an amputee begs for change on the streets of Shanghai, or Bangkok, or wherever. You don’t know how harsh the world is. But the love and support of your family will shield you like a steel cocoon and keep you safe.

You are privileged. You are loved. Do not feel the need to apologize for this, but always appreciate it. Always understand that you have been given the world. Be thankful for what you have, and all that you may become. Show your appreciation by working hard. When you are a man you will try to find a way to give back to the world, and to those in need.

Do not be afraid of what lies ahead.

I love you,

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Photography 101: How to take good photos

Photography 101: How to get great travel photos
Hi everyone. I LOVE photography, especially travel photography, and I’d like to help you guys out with some basic photography tips so you can start capturing the world with your DSLR.
The three most important terms in photography:
- Shutter speed
- Aperture (also called F-stop)

These three things are the pillars that any great photographer builds his masterpieces upon. And when you know how to make them work together you will start creating some wonderful photos.
Shutter speed:
Shutter speed is the amount of time that your shutter is open. When you take a picture and hear that ‘click,’ that’s the sound of the shutter opening and closing. The shutter covers the camera sensor- basically the eye ball of the camera- and when the shutter opens we get a picture.
Shutter speed is measured in seconds, and if you see, 1/1000, that means the shutter is open for 1/1000 of a second. This is a pretty fast shutter speed. 1/125 is a fairly average speed. A slower shutter speed would be something like 2 seconds.
Why is shutter speed important? Two reasons. Movement and Light.

Sometimes we take pictures of football games, or playing babies, or running horses- and these things all move. We can’t really stop them. So we have to input the right shutter speed to get them just how we want them.
I have three photos below that are centered around movement. Let’s look at the difference between the photos and their shutter speeds. The shutter speeds are 1/5 (Very slow). 1/50 (A little slow). 1/400 (A little fast).
Thailand fire show – Shutter speed: 1/5   This is a slow speed, and this allows you to see that the sparks are long and stretched. This creates a beautiful blur across the photo.

Thailand Fire show – Shutter speed: 1/50 – This is about ten times faster than the previous speed, and the sparks are not so blurred here. You can see each individual spark as it flies off the hot, spinning coals. The sparks are still slightly blurred, but not so much as the previous shot.
My friend in the Ganges  – Shutter speed: 1/400 – This shutter speed is 8 times faster than the previous pic, and 80 times faster than the first pic. This is a photo of my friend in the Ganges river- here you see him coming up for the first time and tossing the wet hair out of his face. This picture is much sharper than the previous two- there is no blur. That is because 1/400 is so much faster than the other two. If this picture had been at 1/50, he would have looked a little bit blurry. And at 1/5 he would have been too blurry to recognize.

So you need to consider if your subject is moving or not. My friend in India was moving very fast, and I wanted a very sharp picture, so that called for the fast shutter speed. However in Thailand, I wanted a beautiful, bright photo, with lots of color smeared across it- so I used 1/5.
You must also consider the movement of your own hand. If you have a steady hand, then you can do well in the slower shutter speeds, such as 1/5 or 1/50. If you know you have shaky hands, then you will need to keep a quicker shutter speed.

It’s important to consider the movement of your subject, but now you need to think about light as well.
Your camera won’t work without any light present, so we must ALWAYS consider how much light there is when we’re looking at our settings. A slow shutter speed, such as 1/5, lets in a lot of light, and so this is ideal for a night scene.
1/50 is a little slow, and is ideal for photographing indoors, as well as sunsets and sunrises- anywhere with minimal light.
1/400 is fast, and this lets in only a little light. Because of this, 1/400 must be used in a very bright area.
Below are some examples of bad photography. I used the wrong shutter speed intentionally, so you can see how shutter speeds can be misused.
 – 1/5   This is a cat in my Grandpa’s back yard. But it’s hard to tell what it is. A 1/5 shutter speed lets in SOOO MUCH light that the picture is almost unrecognizable.

 – 1/50   Here, too, you can see that there is just too much light coming in through the shutter. The picture is recognizable, but it just doesn’t look good; the dust is practically white because there is so much light coming in.

 – 1/400   This is a photo of the same cat from above. While the 1/5 lets in A LOT of light, the 1/400 only lets in a little so this photo is too dark. A picture with a 1/400 shutter speed needs a lot of light to work.

In summary:
 – 1/5   Lets in A LOT of light.Good for night shots.Makes moving objects blurred.
 – 1/50   Lets in a good amount of light.Makes moving objects a little bit blurry.
 – 1/400   Lets in only a little light.Ideal for daylight.Makes moving objects clear.
So remember, when you're in a place with a lot of light, you want a fast shutter speed.
Shutter speed: 1/320
When you're in a place with very little light, you will need a slower shutter speed, and a tripod. The photo below would have been pitch black at a faster shutter speed
Shutter speed: 30 seconds

Thanks so much for checking out the blog. You can always comment below if you have any questions.

Coming soon: ISO settings. How to make pictures brighter, even at a fast shutter speed.

And please check out my friends' blogs! They're fantastic.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Four days. Five countries. 1500 kilometers.

I was in Slovenia- a tiny country that borders Croatia, Austria, and Italy. I needed to be in Spain in four days, to meet my mother, who was flying in to see me.

Due to Europe’s budget airlines, a flight to Spain would have been cheap, quick, and simple. But that’s too easy- and boring. I wanted to see more of Europe, and try new food, and meet great people. So I decided to take busses, trains, and ride-shares from Slovenia to Spain. I traveled during the day, stopped in hostels at night, and got very little sleep through all of it. But hell, you’re only alive once- I say you go for the more interesting of the options you’re given.

Day 1. Ljubljana (Slovenia) to Milan (Italy). 

Ljubljana is a wonderful capital city. It’s modern, it’s clean, it’s small, and it’s a lot of fun to wander around.
Sadly, I only have three pictures of Ljubljana-

Refugees Welcome. (As they should be.) 

The best travel companion you could ask for. (She gave me the last piece.)

The river that cuts through LjublJana.

I took a bus from Ljubljana to Milan. The fare wasn’t much- around 20 dollars.
Milan was an interesting city. Much more graffiti than I would have expected, and REALLY good pizza. As always, I opted for the cheapest hostel, booking it from my wi-fi equipped bus. I was let off in the center of Milan and made my way to the hostel with Milan's metro system.

When you book hostels through websites such as, or, or, the hostels generally give you directions on how to get there. I’ve found that they’re accurate about 90% of the time. I once spent two hours wandering around a coastal town in Vietnam because the hostel had posted the wrong address.
But I arrived at this hostel without incident, and found myself sharing a room with a cool Mexican guy named Arturo. And that night I dined on pizza and beer (yum…)

Day 2. Milan.

I spent the next day exploring Milan with my new friend, Arturo.
Milan had lots of touts, as I expected, and the public parks were wonderful. The architecture was also great, and the city was fun to explore. While on our way back to our hostel, Arturo and I were stopped by two Indian tourists- a man and woman. They had paid for a city bus tour but were leaving Italy and had no use for the tickets. We gladly accepted the tickets, and then rode to our hostel in style, inside a double-decker bus. 

Milan Cathedral

Day 3. Milan (Italy), to Monte Carlo (Monaco), to Nice (France).

Milan had been pretty good to me, but I was excited to go to the next city. Monte Carlo. And after that, Nice, in France. I found a hostel in Nice, and decided to take a ride share to Monte Carlo, which is only a quick train ride from Nice.
Milan has lots of grafitti

I LOVE the ride-share website I’ve used it a number of times, and have had really good experiences. Allow me to explain BlaBlaCar- it’s a ride-share program. So imagine that you’re driving from Paris to Brussels, and you need a little gas money. You would go onto BlaBlaCar and sell the available seats in your car- and anyone who needs to go from Paris to Brussels would buy a seat in your car. So if you have four available seats in your car, and you sell all four seats for $20 each- then you make a cool 80 dollars, and you get to drive with four nice people in your car. The website is in a number of countries abroad, but I am still waiting for it to come to America.

I met my driver at the bus station in Milan, and we were off. He was a stout, bald man who reminded me of the bar owner that had robbed me in Istanbul. He drove an old van, which was packed with 7 people- I made 8. Our driver was lovely. He was driving with his sister, mother, and father to Monte Carlo, and had sold the additional seats using BlaBlacar. Each seat costed roughly $25, which was much better than the bus ($37 - 72) and train ($50 - 65).
We hit heavy traffic while leaving Italy, but it was the best place to hit traffic. This is because the section of Italy near Monte Carlo is BEAUTIFUL. It’s honestly more than beautiful- it's a medley of rolling hillsides, covered with rocky outcrops, tiny houses, and bits of foliage here and there. The colors- luscious green and light brown and earthy orange blend together and paint the countryside- this is all opposite the rocky cliffs of a robust coastline. It is truly one of the best looking bits of scenery I’ve ever seen, and I think that only sections of western China can compare when discussing beauty of this magnitude.

No pictures for you- sorry. I was so mesmerized by it that I didn’t want to block my view with a camera.

I wanted to explore Monte Carlo more, but the traffic in Italy was so bad that we were late and had to hurry to catch our train. The last train out of Monaco is at something like 8 or 9 pm, and if you miss it there’s no other form of transportation to Nice- save for a hundred dollar taxi ride. We got there just in time to catch the train.

The ride to Nice was nice (see what I did there?), and a few of the passengers from the BlaBlaCar ride were also going, so it was fun to exchange pleasant conversation while winding through the countryside on our train. The land from Monte Carlo to Nice (the French Riviera) was truly astounding. Beautiful blue beaches nestled in between rocky cliffs. I would love to go back and visit the French Riviera- I always assumed it was a place for pretentious westerners with too much money, but it really was wonderful.
I arrived in Nice after the sun had gone down, and slowly made my way to my hostel. I stayed at a GREAT little hostel called Hostel Baccarat, and I highly recommend it. It had a fun, casual atmosphere, and was 20 euros a night (cheap for France), and it has its own kitchen so you can cook your meals and save money.

Nice was a great little city. I only had one day there, so I didn’t get much time to explore, but it just had such a wonderful feel it. The restaurants, and cafes, and the vibe of the city streets- it was really something. This is why I’m so saddened, because just a few days after I was in Nice, it got hit by a terrorist attack, which left 84 dead.

A few places I’ve visited have also been hit by attacks, such as Istanbul and Ankara, both of which I missed by a few days. Narrowly missing these attacks makes me nervous, but it does nothing to dissuade me from traveling- nor does it make me look at Muslims any differently. I have met many wonderful Muslims in my time abroad, and it’s not fair to punish a whole religion for the actions of a few assholes.

Day 4. Nice (France) to Barcelona (Spain).

I took an early morning train to Barcelona. I wanted to use BlaBlaCar, but all the available cars had been filled up by the time I searched for a ride. The train was expensive, costing me over a hundred dollars. The busses, much like my beloved ride-share, had all filled up. The train was comfortable and quick- not a bullet train- but close to it.

(Why the hell can’t America have trains like Europe?!)

Anyway, rolling into Barcelona felt like returning home, because I had already spent so much time in the city. And as I arrived, exhausted and hungry, I reflected back on my previous few days.
The wonderful little capital city of Ljubljana, with its unique architecture and fun, polite people. Milan, with its great cathedrals, rampant graffiti, and delicious pizza- and there was the day I had spent wandering around with Arturo. (I spoke with Arturo at some length about my time in a refugee camp in Greece, and he actually joined me when I returned there to volunteer. What a friend!) And then I thought of the amazing countryside in Italy, and the all too brief time I spent in Monte Carlo. And the great little hostel in Nice, and the fun vibe of the town.

As I made my way to the Barcelona airport to meet my mom, I reflected on all of this, and knew I had really had a wonderful four days.

My mom! Isn't she lovely
: )

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