2017: A Year in Review

I started 2017 off a little rocky.

Two weeks into the new year, I got laid off from my first professional job outside of college.

I was working at a tech startup as a content writer. Only nine months into the gig, they decided to eliminate the junior position for something more senior.

Eh, that’s okay.

It happens.

But, man, being out of a job is not a good feeling.

Luckily, things started looking up almost immediately thereafter. Before I knew it, I started at a new company, where I currently work full-time as a content marketing specialist.

As I creep up on my one-year anniversary of starting at this absolutely awesome company, I can’t help but think about everything else that was packed into 2017 — at least, until my head starts hurting.

There was so much that went into this past year. I mean, so much. I wouldn’t even attempt to address it all here. Although, there are a few things I’d like to call out.

2017 Brought Love, Travel, and First-times

The ‘Love’ Part of 2017

Before going any further, I have to say the highlight of the year was getting engaged to Ashley Elizabeth Perron — a beautiful and strong woman, with whom I’ve already spent seven years of my life. Most of that time has been spent laughing, traveling, and figuring out this convoluted world.

We got engaged on the North Shore this past June, just after my 23 birthday. I had been telling her over and over that I had this plan.

Naturally, she didn’t believe a second of it. To humor me, she would say nod and look at me with a mix of disbelieve and cynicism. In most cases, that would be fair I’ll admit. But, this time was different.

I worked with the fine folks at Knox Jewelers to craft a ring that I thought would be worthy of a “yes.” For the record, it definitely was.

Overlooking Lake Superior on a sunny June day, I knelt down on that hard granite palisade and shakily proposed my question. Thankfully, she agreed to marry me.

We finished out the day walking along the shore before making it to Cascade River State Park, where we camped for the weekend.

The ‘Travel’ Part of 2017

Basically, any time we have time off and the money to go, Ashley and I are traveling. Sometimes it’s “locally” and other times it’s somewhere far, far away.

In 2017, our bigger trip this year was to Portugal, but we also visited about a dozen of Minnesota’s state parks, and I took a few trips on my own to bear witness to some of the spectacular views this Earth has to offer — along with one other-worldly sighting.

As for Portugal

Portugal is so underrated, it’s not even funny.

Before we got started planning a trip, we kicked ideas back and forth as to where we wanted to go. A lot of it came down to timing. We only had about 10 days to travel.

When you’re spending over eight hours of that time in an airplane each way, it goes fast. Too fast.

I talked to my older sister about Portugal. She had been a number of times with her husband who’s a native of Spain. (They met during her time studying abroad in college.)

With nothing but great things to say about the culture, the food and the sights and sounds, we booked our tickets. Only, we still didn’t really know what we were getting with Portugal.

Since we only had the 10-ish days, we decided to basecamp in Lisbon and day-trip elsewhere. That was the way to do it.

Getting around the city was a cinch. Public transit was easy to navigate and cheap too, especially if you had the Liboa Pass. But, for much of the city, we simply walked, which was time and energy well spent because it gave us the opportunity to see a lot more of the city and learn about its history.

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Ashley is standing just outside of the main entrance to the Pena Palace in Sintra, Portugal. When you entered the palace, the fog — which was blown in from the Atlantic Ocean that morning — was so thick that you couldn’t see across the courtyards.

We also went to Sintra, which was magical (literally, I’m not even exaggerating), drove around the countryside and stopped at a fair number of towns, including Fatima, Nazaré, and Óbidos — all of which I would revisit in a heartbeat.

Portugal had some of the coolest museums I’ve had the pleasure of moseying through and some of the most amazing buildings from times long past.

I published a blog post about my time in Portugal. You can read more about it here.

As for Minnesota’s state parks

I’m working on visiting every one of these parks, and I covered a fair amount of ground this year. Let’s see, here’s a list of the parks I visited for the first time in 2017:

  • Cascade River State Park
  • Split Rock Lighthouse State Park
  • Tettegouche State Park
  • St. Croix State Park (<– A quick guide to the park)
  • Wild River State Park

(I also completed two new sections of the Superior Hiking Trail with my good friend Macklin Caruso. Cheers to that.)

I plan to post reviews and guides to these parks in 2018. But, for the time being, you can’t go wrong in any of these parks. Only, each one offers something better suited to what you’re after.

Cascade River State Park, for example, was excellent for car camping. The sites are spaced out and divided by a good deal of nature. On a quiet summer evening, sitting out by the fire, you’d think you were alone out there. That’s saying something for car camping.

But, the Superior Hiking Trail also runs through the park. And, there’s catch-and-release trout fishing too. So, anglers, backpackers, this park is for you.

The same could be said for Tettegouche and Splitrock Lighthouse. Although, full disclosure, we didn’t camp at either this year. We only visited for the day.

Split Rock Lighthouse State Park on the North Shore in Minnesota, USA.
The Splitrock Lighthouse on June 23, 2017

The main thing to take away from the North Shore is it’s an amazing place to be. People from all over fall in love with it and for good reason. You confront the beaches of the Lake Superior and feel each wave bring that calming sense of the outdoors to your presence.

Hiking through Superior National Forest is a magical place too, with big, gnarled trees, dense brush, and protruding granite. It’s an immersive experience, and it’s rejuvenating.

But, if you’re based in southern Minnesota or the Twin Cities, you might be looking for something closer to get your fix for the weekend.

Both Wild River and St. Croix State Parks are good for that. They are an hour to an hour and a half away. They both have campgrounds, many trails, and enough river to go around.

These parks might appeal more to kayakers or paddlers of some kind, anglers included in that bunch, and bigger groups.

St. Croix State Park had a wide open campground that catered to young families, with the option of tent or cabin camping. The sites weren’t so sharply divided, so you had a bunch of running around the room and a clear view of your surrounding.

And, in the likely case that it rains, there was a pretty cool nature center less than a mile away.

For me, all of these parks helped me hike off steam, reset my mind and find balance, and get closer to the outdoors. I had great memories of each park, and I’m looking forward to revisiting some of these this year.

The ‘First-Times’ Part of 2017

Mountains

Forewarning, it’s going to sound corny.

When we moved into our current place in St. Louis Park, Minnesota, after college, my parents bought me these word magnets for the fridge. You’re supposed to make poems with them.

We’ve mainly used them to write out inappropriate sentence fragments and funny, almost incoherent prose. But, I made productive use out of the words. I spelled out: Climb a Mountain.

Mountains to me represent this mystique, this draw, this idealistic wild place that both welcomes and rejects us. Only, before this year, I’ve only seen a handful — none of which were like the snow-capped peaks in the Rocky Mountains.

Living in Minnesota and growing up in the Midwest, we’re deprived of mountains. Lakes, yep. Rivers, yep, got some of those. Forest, yes, thankfully. Corn fields, don’t get me started.

The Sawtooth Mountains of the North Shore are as close as I’ve really gotten to mountains in my adult life. (Although, the volcanoes in Costa Rica were unreal, no doubt about it.) And while there’s nothing bad about the Sawtooth Mountains — they’re really quite amazing during the fall — they’re not the snow-capped beauties often displayed in National Geographic.

Given this lack in high peaks, I’ve been craving them. For months I wouldn’t shut up about it, much to Ashley’s annoyance I’m sure.

Finally, I threw my hands up and marched over to my computer one late-summer morning.

“Wanna go to Colorado,” I said to Ashley.

“Um, sure,” she said. “When?”

“This fall,” I replied. “We can camp too!”

The rest of the conversation and my talking points didn’t quite convince Ashley that the fall was a good time to go — especially now that we have a wedding to plan.

So, we didn’t go in the fall. But, I didn’t manage to go in December.

My friend Macklin and I managed to get the time off and booked a very inexpensive flight out to Denver.

We had two goals in mind: Stand on a mountain and do it on a budget.

For the most part, we accomplished both of these goals. All in all, the trip set me back about $600, which included lodging, airfare, food and a bunch of other random stuff like an awesome hoodie from Rocky Mountain National Park.

And, most importantly, we stood on top of a mountain!

Win. Win. Win. Win.

Alec Kasper-Olson is on the summit of Deer Mountain in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, USA.
Me on my first mountain, ever. Deer Mountain, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, USA.

We humbly asked the Midwest-native park ranger which would be friendliest for low-elevation dwellers like ourselves, and she happily pointed us to Deer Mountain, a 10,000-foot mountain that offers a panoramic view of the park.

And what a view it was.

I’ll write more in another post.

Hunting

I’ve been hunting in Lodi, Wis., since I was 15. In high school, as much as I dreaded — absolutely dreaded — getting up at the crack of dawn, it was all worth it as my boots crunched on dead leaves as I entered the woods.

Every year since has been something of a call of duty for my stepdad Brian and I. Our mission: Bring home dinner.

For those who go deer hunting in Wisconsin, you know that some years the woods crawl with them. Others, nothing.

I ended up missing a few years while I was in college. The timing just didn’t work out for one reason or another — midterms or whatever.

Last year, like many before it, I didn’t see anything — but I only went out a few times. This year was a similar story. I only had a short window to go, but I could just feel that I was going to get one this year.

Up long before the sun, I took my first post in the morning overlooking “The Big Hayfield.” We had it pretty good and covered.

We waited for hours. Nothing. Not until… damn, too quick.

A doe slipped into the field and out before I could blink.

They do that.

It was a missed opportunity, maybe. But, at least I knew they were around.

Well, that and the day before my stepdad shot a buck in a cornfield we sat in during the morning.

Eventually, the afternoon came on. Brian dosed off. I ended up taking a break by the truck before wandering around the farm.

The day grew on, and if it was going to happen, it was going to be soon. I woke Brian up. We decided on a change of scenery.

Into the swamp we go.

We posted up at the edge of the cornfield that hugged the swamp. Time dragged on and I was ready to pack it in, but I knew if I did I’d be mad for not sticking it out. Good thing.

Standing about 150 yards away, we saw a doe grazing. The sun seemed to buy me just enough time. I took the shot.

We were late for dinner that night.

Freelance Project

One of the things I loved most about working for the newspaper in college was running around like a maniac with 100 different assignments vying for priority in my mind, with six different bags attached to me somehow, with a notepad hanging out of every pocket and a clunky DSLR repeated hitting my chest as I went.

It was mad.

But, it was pretty fun.

In college, I was a reporter and editor for the University Chronicle, an independent newspaper ran solely by students (don’t let anybody tell you otherwise).

What I loved most was digging deep into a story. Talking to sources. Organizing my notes. Typing my story out. Slashing it with red ink. Typing some more. Taking photos, and dreaming of a killer video to pair with it all.

Reporting gave me the opportunity to learn about my community and about things I would’ve never run into otherwise.

For example, I would cover some of the culture nights at the university, like Pakistan Night or Japan Night. At those events, you learn about the culture through food, dance, dress, and insightful presentation.

I would also cover public affairs and environmental issues, which gave me a greater understanding of the solutions people are working on to better the lives of the greater community.

To me, it was always fascinating; there was never a dull day.

Street art in Uptown, Minneapolis
A mural in Uptown, a growing neighborhood in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA.

This year, I had a chance to relive my days as a student report when I picked up my first freelance writing assignment for a blog aimed at restauranteurs. I wrote a story about Uptown’s (Minneapolis) competitive restaurant market and the impacts that come along with that.

You can read the whole story here.

Working on that story was great in so many ways. It gave me a taste of what it’s like reporting as a professional writer in a big city. More importantly, though, it gave me a greater understanding of what the local market is like, what struggles restaurant owners face when they enter a market like Uptown’s, and much, much more.

Hmm, what else?

Let’s see. Ah, right.

I tried sushi for the first time. Tried duck and pheasant for the first time too. I went to Boston, Mass., for my first Inbound. That was, wow — as in, a good ‘wow.’ I bought my first tent as a grown up, carved my first spoon, began work for a video game, and so much more.

This past year was definitely one to remember. A whole lot happened, as it often does in a year’s time. But, much of it felt like it was building me up for more adventure, more time on the road, more time learning and trying new things, more time with Ashley, and more confidence to embrace the future.

As 2017 was closing, I felt good and ready for the New Year. And now, a few weeks in, I’d say I’m off to a pretty good start.

Although, the trick is to keep the good going, right?

 


*Disclosure: The opinions expressed in this article are mine and mine only. Nobody else’s, including past and present employers, friends or family mentioned.

Quinta da Regaleira is straight out of a fairy tale, seriously

When was the last time you heard a fairy tale?

My parents used to tell me and my siblings stories. Some were about ghosts or trolls. Others were about dragons, knights and wizards. I was always so wrapped up in them as a kid.

It was disappointing to know they had an ending. I wanted them to go on and on, and I wanted it to be real. Now, as a grown traveler, I’ve found that these places are real.

If you’re after a fairy tale-like trip, make a stop in Sintra, Portugal.

Being only 40 minutes away from Lisbon by train, Sintra is accessible to travelers, which, if you took a trip like I did, makes it nice to go back and forth between cities.

Getting there is the easy part. It’s deciding what to do once you’re there that’s difficult.

Sintra is built at the base of the mountains, featuring brightly colored palaces and buildings that stand out against the densely forested area. Looking up at the peak of the mountain sits a castle that’s thousands of years old.

This is what you see upon arrival, so you haven’t even scratched the surface.

Here’s what you must see in Sintra:

Related: Walking Lisbon: What you should see first

Pictured: the Moorish Castle in Sintra, Portugal
Pictured: the Moorish Castle in Sintra, Portugal

The Moorish Castle

The Moorish Castle sits atop the Sintra Mountains, noticeable right when you step off the train.

Built in the 10th century, the castle features high towers stone walls and towers, with narrow passages where knights and guards could overlook the town far below.

You can walk around the grounds to take in the entangled, forested landscape that exposes large gray rock, upon which the castle is built. Excavations and exhibits are open for visitors to take a closer look at the tools and artifacts from the hundreds and hundreds of years ago.

Within the castle walls, you can enjoy a packed lunch in the cafe area, before taking in more of the ancient architecture that’s being taken over by the forest.

And then, grab a tuk tuk and zip off to the next destination:

Pictured: Looking toward the Sintra Mountains from Quinta da Regaleira
Pictured: Looking toward the Sintra Mountains from Quinta da Regaleira

Quinta da Regaleira

This 20th century, gothic-styled summer home is surrounded by tangled gardens and surreal natural wonders that tie into myths and legends around the world.

The grounds made the visit for me. You can spend hours wandering around, hiking up and down the hillside, exploring caves and peering at waterfalls.

My trusted travel companion and girlfriend Ashley went down into the unfinished well on the grounds of the Quinta da Regaleira. These wells are a part of many myths, containing witches and entrances to both heaven and hell.
My trusted travel companion and girlfriend Ashley went down into the unfinished well on the grounds of the Quinta da Regaleira. These wells are a part of many myths, containing witches and entrances to both heaven and hell.

Myths and Legends Museum

After walking the wild gardens of Quinta da Regaleira, we stopped at the Myth and Legends museum, which features interactive exhibits that tell old tales long known to the area.

Visiting this museum really tied our visit to Sintra together. We spent a great deal of time walking the grounds, visiting palaces and hiking in the forest, and this museum tells about what these local features translate to in the city’s story and history.

If I were to do it over, though, I’d visit this place first. You’d have a better understanding going into some places.

Pictured: the Palace of Pena
Pictured: the Palace of Pena

The Palace of Pena

You might have to pinch yourself when you get here. Yes, it’s real.

This brightly colored palace houses some of the most intricate work in Sintra, with Moorish and Manueline architectural influences. (It’s a must-see — hands down.) It’s as extraordinary on the outside as it is on the inside, containing countless works of art and historical exhibits. Don’t leave until you’ve seen the gardens, either.

Follow me on Instagram for more on Sintra, Lisbon and other great places around the world.

Walking Lisbon: What you should see right away

Portugal has a lot to offer: UNESCO World Heritage Sites, interactive museums and old-world buildings that survived the 1755 earthquake.

It’s a beautiful country with a lot to choose from, so naturally, I had a hard time figuring it out at first.

But, the planning process went smoothly — for the most part.

My girlfriend Ashley and I knew we wanted to take a trip this spring. After finalizing where we wanted to go, we booked our flights, going from Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport to Paris ($584 on Delta for me), then to Lisbon (about $100 each).

This turned out to be much cheaper than flying direct to Lisbon (but it depends how many airports you want to visit).

While the flying seemed a little busy for my taste, the hotels part was easy. Since we planned to stay about a week and a half, it made more sense to call Lisbon home and rely on the metro to visit the surrounding area. We booked one room at the Vincci Liberdade, near the Praça dos Restauradores, which made it easy to walk the city and access public transit.

After our flights were booked, hotels done, we still had to figure out what we were going to do.

Admittedly, planning out an itinerary isn’t always a strength of mine. Sometimes, I prefer to just show up and figure it out as I go.

Approaching the trip this way didn’t prove to be issue because of all the sights and sounds you can take in by simply strolling the streets of Lisbon.

Related: What to Know About Backpacking in Southern Italy

Wandering Around Lisbon

One of my favorite aspects of Lisbon is how walkable it is. The first few days in Lisbon, we didn’t grab a taxi, step onto the metro or flag down a tuk tuk (a small city-zippin’ vehicle for tourists).

Instead, we walked out onto the intricately tiled sidewalks and made our way around the city, often spending long days on our feet. It was easy enough, too, as Lisbon isn’t difficult to navigate.

Here’s a list of places in Lisbon best seen on foot: 

You don’t have to go in order, and the 25 de Abril Bridge is still a sight to be seen from afar, so you don’t necessarily have to march all the way there. Many of these are also fairly close together, and there are other great places along the way (like I said, there’s a lot).

When visiting these places, we brought a day pack and enough cash for lunch. We hit the streets and took in the scene. It was a relaxing way to get used to our surroundings, shaking off the jet lag, and also covering a substantial amount of ground.

Some of these attractions, like the Santa Justa Lift, do have a small cost attached to them. However, the Lisbon Card not only gets you in for free, but you’re also able to ride the metro for free too, which I highly recommend.

The metro has multiple lines that travel within the city, stopping regularly. After a long day of walking, it’s a great option to get from A to B quickly, while giving your feet a break.

Here’s a map to start plugging in coordinates and routing your trip. Safe travels!

5 of Rome’s Top Attractions [Guide]

Rome: The Colosseum, Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps, Roman Forum, and the list goes on. Here’s a quick guide to what you’ll see when traveling to Rome, Italy.


On every corner in Rome (it seems), there is something to look up at in amazement.

As you plan your Rome itinerary, here’s a quick guide to some of the top attractions.

The Colosseum

The Colosseum in Rome, Italy

Arguably the most iconic standing structure in Rome, the Colosseum attracts hundreds of visitors from all over the world.

When it’s busy, lines can be long, even during slower times of the day. However, there are a few ways to beat them, including the Roma Pass, which gets you into some museums and ruins for free. Transportation is included too.

What to know:

  • You can’t bring liquids in with you
  • There is a security check
  • It’s flooded with people

You might want to try catching the last tour of the day. That way, you’ll be able to go through with more freedom, while also learning about a good deal of its history, some of which you might not pick up if you’re going quickly during peak hours.

The Trevi Fountain

The Trevi Fountain in Rome, Italy

Ashley, my girlfriend and trusty travel companion, and I marched straight to the Trevi Fountain first thing after checking into our hotel in Rome. Bottom line: It’s an incredible experience.

You reach this well-preserved compilation of carvings after passing numerous shops tucked into alleys and side streets. Around the corner, you’d hardly guess what you were about to run into.

There are what seem like thousands of people sitting, standing, crowding and picture-taking around the fountain — they throw change in there too, for one reason or another.

I’m not sure if there is a good time to visit this place without dozens of people gathered around, but even if, the experience of visiting this monumental place in Rome is worth every bit of rubbing shoulders and the many “Excuse me’s” that are required to get near it.

The Pantheon

The Pantheon in Rome, Italy

By the time we reached the Pantheon, it was getting late and we had been traveling for a good portion of the day. And, it was closed when we arrived on scene.

So, unfortunately, we didn’t actually make it inside. Next time.

It wouldn’t have been a long wait, but there weren’t many people nearby so we managed to see inside, walk around and take in this massive building. There was also a street musician covering songs from American bands, like Nirvana. So, despite not making it inside, it was still a great time visiting the Pantheon.

The Spanish Steps

The Spanish Steps in Rome, ItalyThe Spanish Steps were closed off when we went, which, I think might’ve diverted some of the afternoon foot traffic away.

However, the Trevi Fountain, Pantheon and Spanish Steps aren’t all that far apart from one another. Your plans might not take you in that order, but when you’re looking for a day’s worth of sightseeing, these three bundle together quite well.

St. Peter’s Basilica

St. Peter's Basilica

I’m not big on joining tour groups when traveling, but the Vatican — which, is in Vatican City, surrounded by Rome — is one instance where I highly recommend it.

We also visited the Vatican the day after Mother Teresa was canonized, which brought in droves of people from everywhere.

What to know:

  • Our tour costs about €100 for the two of us.
  • You skip the lines
  • You learn… a lot

Without the tour guide, I don’t think I would have taken in half of the Vatican’s history, interpretations, and the sort. Overall, it made for a fuller experience.

And again, you skip the lines.

What To Do After Sightseeing

…Go enjoy yourself at a nice restaurant with great people.

The atmosphere in Rome was much different than our stay in Sorrento but in a good way.

One of my favorite times in Rome was sitting down outside on the patio of a restaurant near the Colosseum, eating great food and enjoying a much-needed break from the city’s hustle.

Cheers to a great time traveling in Italy.

Ashley Perron, my traveling companion

 

Visiting Pompeii, Skipping the Guided Tour

“A hot sun shone down on 24 August 79 A.D., but the Pompeians, who were engrossed in their work and in the frantic life of the city, did not know that they had seen that wonderful sun for the last time,” writes Enrika D’Orta, in the self-guide book titled, “How to Visit Pompeii, Guide to the Excavations With a General Plan.”


Our rented apartment was on the fourth floor with a balcony overlooking one of Sorrento’s busy, cobblestone streets. The buzz of scooters, compact cars and shuffling pedestrians never seemed to leave, and we gladly joined the hustle to visit Pompeii.

We took the regional train toward Pompeii. It took about 20 minutes or so, not long. The train drops you off right outside an information office, which is connected to a street-side cafe (which only accepts cash, at least when we went).

After deboarding, we made our way upstairs, where we were able to buy a 12 guidebook in English that contained a detailed map of Pompeii: “How to Visit Pompeii, Guide to the Excavations With a General Plan.”

For the money, the book is a great deal, because it costs less than a guided tour, and it’s a great souvenir to pass along to friends or colleagues taking a similar trip. It’s concise too, making it a digestible, quick read as you’re walking along the unstable ground.

Pompeii, given its renown, deserves a fair amount of time to fully take in its history and remaining sites. But that doesn’t mean you don’t have to scrutinize every wall, crevice and pebble to get a thorough experience of this ruined city.

If you’re like me, I like to take things at my own pace, moving faster at points, and slowing way down at others. I avoid shuffling from exhibit to exhibit in a crowded tour.

Arguably, however, if visiting a place like the Vatican, it’s borderline necessary to take a tour.

On this book’s cover page, it does exactly as it says: it gives you a general plan. There are three tours that you can take on your own. The first, it’s a two-hour walk through highlighting many areas of the city. The self-guided tours go up to four and six hours, giving you a much more thorough visit of Pompeii.

Also read: Here’s a Quick Guide to Rome’s Attractions

This book caters well to the must-see-everything history buff to the person strolling along taking photos of interesting statues and ancient architecture (a.k.a., me). Personally, I had a filling experience at Pompeii, especially for a first time around.

That’s what I did, and I can say confidently that I got more than enough for a first go around.

It took us about two to three hours to see what we wanted before getting hungry and making our way back to the cafe for pizza and a drink.

Mount Vesuvius

Entering the Ancient City Through Porta Marina

Whichever route you decide to take when visiting Pompeii, eventually you’ll make your way through the line, grab your ticket, which costs about 13, and pass through Porta Marina, the entrance to the ruins.

As we walked over the threshold, we decided to blend the guidebook’s itinerary with our own leisurely way through the city. The cover page of the book gives you a page-by-page guide to follow to maximize your time through the ruins. When you get there, take a few minutes to read about the history and significance of where you’re standing.

Earlier in the day, it’s fairly easy to avoid big crowds, where you’ll be forced to share and take turns gazing at the aging artwork and preserved living quarters. However, as the day continues, dozens and dozens of people wait eagerly for their turns to circle and zigzag the city.

Mixed in with a hot sun, I’d say it’s best to wait until a low point in the day to visit to get the best chance at a non-rushed and self-paced tour of Pompeii.

Since it was just the two of us, our strategy was to see as much as we can, without spending the entire day there. That turned out to be was a walk around the perimeter of the city, mainly, while diving into points we were particularly interested in, like House of the Vettii (read on).

Ashley stands near the Basilica in Pompeii, Italy

2 of My Favorite Sections of Pompeii

The Basilica, once the bustling economic center of Pompeii, is among the first sections of the city we walked through.

Walking in, you can weave through Greek-inspired sections of columns. The bases of which still stand, while other sections lie broken on the ground. What’s particularly appealing about this section is that it gives you an idea of just how established this city was.

That, too, was reflected in the House of the Vettii. The owners of the house — Aulo Vettio Restituto and Aulo Vettio Conviva — were rich merchants, and the preservation of their home shows it to this day.

“The essential value of this dwelling is the rich and complete wall decoration which are almost unique in their miraculous survival,” writes D’Orta.

You walk into a dim house. A reinforced roof protects the works of art, which appear worn and beaten from destruction and time.

What struck me most about walking through is how intricate the art was, even in its decaying state. And, this house, unlike the Forum or Basilica, seemed to stable, partially because of the reconstructed roof, but the walls stood tall and firm, keeping the art alive.

The same can be said for Pompeii overall, really. Even though it was once covered in ash due to the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, the work of people remains hundreds and hundreds of years after they’ve gone. Remnants or not, that speaks to the lasting effect these people have had on the land.

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When You Go to Pompeii, Remember:

  • Try to go during the day’s low points. Around 11 a.m., foot traffic really picks up. It lasts throughout the afternoon too.
  • I didn’t want a guided group, so the book was a great alternative. Going with a guide helps and can make a night-and-day difference. But, I don’t recommend it for Pompeii, unless you’re a history buff.
  • Take your time, watch your step, and enjoy the day. Wearing good, stable footwear when traveling is a must. That goes double for Pompeii. But, it’s worth it without a doubt to see the magnificence of this city.

How to Take the Trains to Sorrento, Italy

I’m certain there isn’t a better way to get around Italy than the trains.

I did a decent amount of research before traveling to Italy, because I heard the trains could be a little hit or miss at times. Meaning, you might get turned around once or twice.

Luckily, it wasn’t twice for us.

Getting from Rome’s airport to Termini was a breeze. The same could be said for Termini to Naples. It’s just a straight shot.

Arriving in Naples after a long day of traveling was stressful, though. It’s a busy train station, with many people going all different directions on different levels.

It’s not that bad, but you should stay aware of what’s going on at all times.

I read about theft on Italian trains and in the train stations before going abroad, only to find that as long as you’re aware of your surroundings, you and everything in your bag will make it to the next destination.

A few things to keep in mind:

  • Only ask officials questions about getting from A to B.
  • Wear a money belt. (Easy one.)
  • Take out cash beforehand.

When we got to Naples train station, we just kept one foot in front of the other. We didn’t linger and we headed to where we needed to go.

If you decide to take a similar route we did, the ticket office for regional Italian trains headed toward Sorrento is downstairs. The railway is called Circumvesuviana.

Worth mentioning, only cash was accepted at the ticket office.

After getting our tickets, we made our way down another flight of stairs to the platform. One step closer now. We were on the right train headed toward Sorrento.

We didn’t know that the train we just boarded would turn into the wrong train. It’s a little confusing. But there are maps posted inside the train cars.

Also read: Visiting Pompeii: Skip the Guided Tour, Buy A Book

Jumping on the regional train out of Naples, we were supposed to get off and switch trains at Barra train station. Luckily, we managed to meet others on the train who were headed the same way. They realized after passing a few stops that we overshot it.

A local told us to get off, take the train going back to Barra, wait another five minutes or so, and then hop back on the right one. That’s what we did, only it took about 45 minutes. So, since you’re reading this, consider yourself warned.

What to Know About Backpacking In Southern Italy

Time and time again, I’ve heard people rave about Italy. The way some people talk about it, I can’t help but wonder why they don’t just live there.

And now, I understand.

My girlfriend and I gave ourselves one week to visit two cities in Italy. It was our first time there, so we wanted to see what you must see.

Our first destination was Sorrento, similar and close to Amalfi. It sits atop high bluffs that look far out into the very blue ocean – and for those who’ve seen the pictures, yes, it’s really like that.

The brightly colored hotels, restaurants, and apartments stand next to one another, blending together to give Sorrento a very inviting feel. More or less, Sorrento is a laid back city. It’s easy going and much slower than some other modern Western cities.

But, people on scooters and in compact cars zip along the narrow, cobblestone roads quickly, making their way from one end to the next.

Traffic does get busy during the week, but luckily for us, high holiday season was over. We had a fair amount of open space, and a warm welcome by everybody (yes, everybody) we encountered.

I was warned on the plane by a professor who’s been conducting research in Italy for some time now that during this time of the year, some Italians are worn. The high travel time came through like a big wave and receded back into the ocean.

In some areas, I can see how this could happen. In fact, I traveled to Germany during mid-August years ago and ran into a similar situation. But, and I’m not sure how surprising this actually is, people were pleasant.

People in Sorrento were readily available when you needed assistance. Like other European cities, food service was hands off, but excellent when you asked.

And, in this day and age, the language barrier in many European countries isn’t an issue. It wasn’t in Italy, and we even managed to pick up on some basic sayings as we went along.

Getting From Rome To Sorrento

We left Minneapolis-St. Paul International airport Tuesday, Aug. 30. I took my first step in Rome the next morning.

Overnight flights are the best, in my experience, if you’re trying to avoid jetlag.

Rome’s airport can be busy, and it certainly was when we arrived Wednesday morning. The hustle and bustle wasn’t unmanageable, though. If you’ve been to places like New York City, Chicago, or other large metros, Rome was easy.

Also read: Here’s a Quick Guide To Rome’s Top Attractions

And, despite many internet warnings of theft, I thought the airport was just like any other – if not better – than many I’ve been too. It wasn’t overly shady or sketchy. It might’ve help too that there was a very noticeable security presence at the airport.

The long and short of it, just keep your wits about you. Stay aware of what’s going on, and keep one foot in front of the other.

Stepping away from the gate, we went to purchase our train tickets to Termini, the main train station in Rome. There are many self-service ticket machines that have different language options, English included.

Our tickets were about €30 for two. We went to the train platforms and onto the next part of our journey. So far, so good.

The high-speed train ride lasted about a half hour, if I remember correctly. The ride didn’t feel that long. The train itself had a bright staff and was nearly spotless. It sailed smoothly too.

Termini train station was busier, of course, being the central place for many in the area. Like the airport, there were dozens of self-service ticket machines.

Our plan was to go straight from Rome to Sorrento. We would spend half of our trip there, then come back to Rome and spend our remaining days in the city.

That said, from Rome, we needed to go to Naples in order to connect to a smaller, regional train to get to Sorrento. Once we did that, we were permitted to relax.