by @kelsocks

Category Archives: Travel

A Ridiculous Italian Bus Ride

Least obeyed street sign.

This spring I visited my sister in Italy, and we decided to visit the Amalfi coast for some siblingtastic beach bonding.  The journey required two trains and one stupid bus ride down a winding cliffside road.  Imagine Pacific Coast Highway through Malibu only half as wide, twice as twisty, and with much more lax public transit laws.  (Keep in mind we made this journey on only a few hours of sleep and a hefty vino + spicy Italian liquor hangover)

We, along with the other tourists and stressed newlyweds, board from the train station after a brief but intense scramble for cabin space that sets a nice aggressive tone for the trip.  Immediately one American man establishes himself as the token douche of the group by shout-talking at the other passengers to move.   For some reason he and his wife thought this was the perfect kind of vacation to bring a 6-month old infant on. Who wouldn’t want to drag their own luggage, a stroller, diaper bags, and a helpless human child through various italian trains and overcrowded busses?

Within minutes two old Italian men start screaming at each other with the douchey American couple in the crossfire.  The more fiery of the pair only settles down when a random stranger talks sense into and/or whispers sweet nothings to him.

We speed along the narrow road past rented vespas and various euro hatchbacks as our driver honks feverishly to alert oncoming traffic at each turn. My hangover, which had settled after train naps and shamefully scarfing down MacDonalds, is reignited by the bus reeling around each corner.   I look over at my sister who has a rich history of motion sickness.  Her face is sullen and serious, and she begins emptying the contents of her purse.  “Want me to ask if anyone has a bag?” I offer.  “No it’s fine.”

A few moments later I look over just as her chest and throat heave and her hand cups her mouth.  Like a champ, she swallows it back down with only a small bit of Micky D’s laced saliva escaping. I want to help her, but I also want to laugh.  Then I realize I need to stop thinking about it or I’ll vomit myself. There’s still 40 minutes of windy, horn-honking bus ride left.

Soon we stop to let an Australian family off at an earlier town.  I tell my sister to watch that no one takes my bags because I have about $2000 worth of camera equipment in an unsecured tote under the bus (In the scramble I didn’t think to take my camera bag out).  They don’t steal it, of course.  But a few moments later my sister, recovered from the near-spew, is forced to blow her nose into what will henceforth be known as the Barf Scarf to remove a bit of french fry caught in her sinuses.

We continue down the road until the driver jams on the breaks to avoid a head-on collision with another bus.   It’s a battle of the wills to determine who will be the alpha bus and who will have to reverse to a wider stretch of road.  We win the faceoff and barely squeeze by- the mirrors scraping through lemon trees on the right and just inches from the other bus on the left.

By this time everyone has about had it and my own nerves are killing me.  We whip around a corner and zoom down a hill when suddenly there’s a loud THUD followed by gasps.  We screech to a halt and everyone jumps to the windows to see what’s happened.  My first thought is “Oh fuck we hit a vespa!” but then I overhear that the luggage has just flown out from under the bus.   “Fuuuuck my camera! Those goddamn Australians didn’t close the hatch properly!”

Next we see the driver and a random pedestrian retreiving a couple generic roller suitcases so I can breathe a little easier.  “At least it’s not my shit,” I think along with everyone else whose stuff didn’t fly out onto the street at 40 mph (kmph? eh).  Minutes later we arrive at our destination and I book it out of there as fast as I possibly can.  My luggage is intact and my camera unscathed.  All that’s left is a mile long uphill hike to the hotel– a breeze by comparison.

Worth it though, right? (Saturation has not been adjusted)


As with any vacation, there’s an inevitable return journey.  My sister and I planned ahead to avoid a hungover bus ride back, but after three days of cheese, mussels, wine, and cappuccinos, my digestive tract was not happy with me.  Waiting for our ride, my stomach ache grew but I couldn’t find a restroom in time.  I popped an Immodium and hoped the sharp pains would subside long enough to make the 75 minute journey to Salerno.

While my sister enjoyed a nice bus nap, I spent the entire duration in a cold sweat trying to hold the elastic waistband of my tights as far away as possible to avoiding adding more pressure to the situation.  With each excruciating minute, I debated which was worse: diarrhea-ing my pencil skirt and dealing with that aftermath, or demanding the bus pull over so I could shit in a lemon grove on the side of the road.  By the time we reached Salerno, I was in tears, but I made it to a tiny unisex bar bathroom just in the nick of time.  Neither the impatient knocks of the line forming behind me nor the weird Italian toilet seat could diminish that sweet, sweet sense of relief.



Good Luck From Whitby

Whitby, UK is home to my favorite postcard [pictured below].  The seaside town, located on the eastern coast of North Yorkshire, is mostly known for two things: Dracula and Captain Cook’s whaling endeavors.  I’m not normally one for freezing rain, but for some reason I found the cold sea spray quite refreshing that day.  It didn’t even deter me from a triple serving of delicious Yorkshire ice cream.   Read more of this post

Malahide, Ireland is Lovely

Last July I visited a small town north of Dublin called Malahide.  We were only there for a few hours, but it was beautiful.  Here are some of my photos from the trip.

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If Heaven Exists, It Looks Like Hawaii

Hawaii is one of the most beautiful places on Earth.  Now, I can’t say that definitively since I haven’t been everywhere, but I feel pretty confident that it ranks at the top (especially among relatively accessible places), plus it’s a personal favorite.  I was lucky to live there as a child, but back then I was too stupid to handle a DSLR so I had to return on vacation.  Here are a few photos from my most recent trip.

Most of these are on/near Oahu’s North Shore.

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Last year I was truly lucky to visit Venice, one of the most beautiful cities on the planet.  I was only there for a few days, but I’ll always cherish the opportunity to frolic and lose myself in the city’s winding paths and waterways.

Venice is on the north eastern coast of Italy along the Adriadic Sea and receives about three million visitors a year.  The city has a rich history of commerce and the arts, but by far my favorite part of the trip was simply the experience of walking around it.

Here is an arial view of Venice.  Notice two things: First, it’s shaped like a fish!  Second, notice the density and (dis)organization of the buildings.  There are no cars.  Everyone walks or takes water transport which makes for an exciting experience for an American used to driving everywhere. (everything after this picture is my own photography.)

This is a bus stop.



Had a delicious little espresso-Nutella-hazel nut drink for a few euro.


Piazza San Marco


Geocaching is a game for well-traveled nerds.


View to the west from St. Mark's Campanile


View to the northeast from St. Mark's Campanile


View to the east from St. Mark's Campanile





This was a normal width for a walkway. The narrow paths create both a sense of isolation and excitement as it's impossible to see more than a few yards in front or behind you.



Slivers of sky


Venice has a lot of whimsical (read: creepy) trinkets for sale.



I was so grateful for this tiny Italian toilet after a long day of drinking €1.50 cartons of red wine.


Beautiful even while overcast.


And of course while sunny.


Word of warning: don't drop your lens cap off a ferry.



I realize this is hasn’t been a thorough tour of such a wonderful city, but I can only speak from my experience. I strongly suggest everyone make their best effort to see Venice before it rots and slides into the ocean. It’s definitely the most romantic, whimsical place I’ve ever seen. I can’t wait to go back!

Japan is Magic

Japan is one of my favorite places and here are some reasons why:

1. It’s beautiful.  Snowy mountains, lush forests, and winding waterways make up Japan’s breathtaking landscape.  It’s easy to see why the Japanese have a tradition of harmony with nature.











2. Japanese culture is an exciting blend of old and new.  Though known for being on the technological cutting edge, Japan also has cultural traditions thousands of years old. It’s a mix of nostalgia and forward-thinking.





3. Delicious food.  Everyone knows sushi is great, but Japan also has amazing soups and noodle dishes and rice dishes and treats… they boast some of the best cuisine on the planet.  Just check out this delightful bento box.










4. Art.  I use the term broadly to encompass everything including painting, architecture, music, gardens and more.






























5. An appreciation for detail and novelty.  Ok, this bullet point could be biased because I had a child’s perspective while living there, but Japan loves indulging in toys and fun, light-hearted things. Just look who is constantly inventing the latest cool gadget or toy trend. Or just look at the Japan level of any video game. 








6. Finally, perhaps most importantly, CATS! CATS CATS CATS! Japan has deep reverence for cats which makes them great in my book.  Cats can be train conductors in Japan.  People pay money to play with them at cat cafes.  And let us not forget Japan’s iconoclastic celebrity, Maru.

















Minus the illegal whale hunting and weird Lolita fetish stuff, Japan is a magical place.  Futuristic thinking combined with a rich cultural heritage and a reverence of nature makes Japan the embodiment of the spirit of SimCity 2000.

Calling Orlando (Maybe)

This weekend was the first ever Orlando Calling music festival. I had the privilege of getting whisked away on a free weekend package (thanks @Grooveshark and @QuietCompanyTX!) that turned into a free VIP weekend package (thanks @fcsdotcom and #iScored!). With a lineup including Pixies, The Killers, Doobie Brothers, Gogol Bordello,  The Roots, The Avett Brothers, Dr. Dog, Bob Seger and my personal favorite The Raconteurs, we were obviously excited. But this isn’t about the bands, it’s about Calling.
I’ve been lucky enough to attend several fests including ACL, Voodoo, Jazz Fest, and Bonnaroo and each is unique– somehow embodying the spirit of the city (or farm, in the case of Bonnaroo) in which it’s held.  ACL encapsulates the happy-go-lucky music and food loving attitude of Austin; Jazz Fest celebrates Nola heritage while Voodoo showcases Nola hedonism; and Bonnaroo appeals to that suppressed hippie deep down in all of us that just wants to drop everything and dance in the grass with our friends.

Calling is different. The city built on Disney tourism unsurprisingly doesn’t have a strong music scene besides chart-topping arena shows.  I think this commercialization came across in the experience.  Despite the stellar lineup, it didn’t sell out. There was just something missing.
The festival was put on by Melvin Benn known for Reading and Leeds festivals in England.  Perhaps the fact it was created my a non-native resulted in a lack local charm- the kind that makes other festivals so special.  Some concert goers (and Orlando residents) blamed insufficient promotion for the weak turnout while others blamed the high prices/bad economy. I’m sure in the days to come plenty of people will be trying to figure it out.
None of this is to say it was a bad festival (I had a real blast) but just that something was missing if Calling is ever going to be a staple of Floridian live music pride.  But of course slack must be given considering this is the first year…

Here’s a breakdown of the good and bad.
The Good

•Fast turnover between sets. Only 30 minutes as opposed to an hour
•REAL bathrooms (hand washing, what!)
•Great weather
•Casual atmosphere. Because it’s less established, there are no competitive super fans staking territory or pushing children into the mud to get a shady tree spot.  Though obviously this will change as people grow familiar with the protocol.
•Custodial staff keeping things clean
•Main stage is inside the Citrus Bowl which means fantastic visibility/acoustics.

The Bad

•No local charm (with the exception of a delightful Art tent and a few food trucks).
•No super fans to heighten the excitement surrounding the event.
•Terrible food/drink prices. Obviously festival concessions are always bad but $10 for a tiny burrito or $9 for a single cocktail is too much.
•Awkward layout. Concrete parking lot isn’t fun to loll around in and standing on plastic flooring at the main stage is strange.
•Dividing the lineup based on their appeal to different ages means less incentive to buy a weekend pass which means less time for people to hang out drinking $8 beers. Not a smart business move.

One of the highlights, however, was the Art tent.  Artists painted wall-sized album covers while canvases and paint were available to fans to let their creative side out.  I also had the enjoyable experience of seeing the outstanding local band The Mud Flappers.  These guys really know how to put on a show and I genuinely hope they do well so I can see them play again.

In sum, Calling was a good time (hard to go wrong with these bands) but there are plenty of kinks to work out. Right now it’s too much like a blatantly commercial arena style show. At least have the decency to veil the commercialism in idealism and whimsy!

Good Ol’ Stubb’s

Perhaps the Austin music venue closest to my heart is Stubb’s, located between 8th and 9th on Red River.  I can’t count how many shows I’ve seen here, but some standout performances (in my experience, not historically) include Rilo Kiley, The Dead Weather, Flogging Molly, and Portugal. The Man.  I even had my first legal beer at Stubb’s during a Spoon show.  Needless to say, I’ve had some good times on this red dirt.

Stubb’s is an icon.  The Waller Creek Amphitheater setup is perfect for the beautiful year-round weather.  Even in the blistering middle of summer, once the sun goes down and there’s a slight breeze, it’s hard to complain.  I also love the size of this venue because it’s big enough to attract successful performers while still providing an intimate experience for the die hard fans.  The indoor stage is a good time, too.  I’ve seen a few shows get crazy in there, perhaps because the smokers and schmoozers can segregate themselves outside from the serious dance party people inside.

Like all venues, drinks are overpriced but not exceptionally bad.  The economical drunk might consider their Texas Tea or  a few 24-oz Fosters (if you’d like to be extra gassy).  Did I mention the delicious barbecue?

I’m certain I’ve spent at least a day’s worth of time standing around looking up at the white canopy of Stubb’s between sets.  It always makes me think of being swallowed by a giant shark.  But maybe a friendly shark… like a whale shark.  What a perfect mascot for Austin.

And while waiting for Modest Mouse last night, I drew it. Chomp!

Why Austin Is One Of the Greatest Cities On The Face of The Mother Fucking Earth

This post is entirely redundant for anyone who lives or has been to the city of Austin.  I would like to take this opportunity to explain to those who have never been or have negative preconceptions about this here town, the capital of the Lone Star State.

Part 1: Texas

Texas has a bad reputation.  In fact, the only people who seem to appreciate Texas are Texans or fans of cowboy movies. But there’s a lot more to Texas than just George W. B.

First, Texas boasts (as it tends to do) one of the most consistently strong economies in the Union.  Why? An emphasis on hard work and free market economics might have something to do with it.  Our natural resources might have something to do with it, too.  Regardless, people in Texas have jobs (for the most part) and we get shit done.

Texas is also in a weird transitional area between the deep south and “the west.”  As a result, there is the best of both worlds.  We have the southern hospitality that makes notherners gasp upon return from vacation “Everyone is so NICE!” yet not nearly as much racism or shitty accents as Alabama or Mississippi.  We also favor the more liberal tendencies accepted in the west. [the Texan favoritism toward Libertarianism should be an indication…]

Fact is, Texas has some of the largest, most modern cities in the country.  Yes, there are a plenty of shitty backward towns in the middle of nowhere but really? Dallas? Austin? Houston? 4 of the top 15 biggest cities in the country are from Texas.  We’re ready for the future. Bring it.

Part 2: Hippies

Ok, Let’s be honest: hippies are disliked in a lot of circles, almost as much as Texans. Whether my conservative relatives want to admit it or not, hippies are super nice ass people.  They are sweethearts and that is undeniable.

Austin is full of hippies. Result? Austin is full of super nice people. Come here and experience it.  Cut someone off in traffic? Instead of someone honking their horn and threatening to murder you, chances are you get an apologetic wave. You just need to walk around here for a few hours and experience those miniscule moments to realize “Hm… everyone is nicer here. WHO KNEW?” I knew.

Aside from being nice, what good are hippies? Non hippies can be nice… But you know what? Hippies are good at preserving the environment.  As a result, Austin is one of the greenest, most environmentally conscious cities in the country.  Bikes, parks, farmers markets, and so much more.  With a river running right through downtown and dozens of parks scattered throughout, Austin has managed to be technologically advanced while remaining environmentally conscious (and beautiful).

Part 3: Food

There’s a reason Texans are known for being fatties.  There is so much good food here, and Austin combines the delicious traditions of barbecue and Tex-Mex with organic/free range/etc.  Magnolia Café, Salt Lick, Shady Grove, Stubb’s…. not to mention the delicious local/Texas chains.  Come to Austin and eat yourself to sleep, you will not regret it.

Part 4: Artists

Austin is full of artists. Musicians, film, studio artists, writers, designers… you name it, we got it.

Part 5: Shit To Do

You cannot be bored in this town.  There is almost too much to do. From festivals, themed karaoke, bars, improv, outdoor activities, dog parks, athletics, exhibits, performances, gatherings… There is always something going on down.

Part 6: Diversity

There are all kinds of people in Austin.  Like all big cities, there is a melting pot of cultures and ideas.


FINALLY AND PERHAPS MOST IMPORTANTLY.  Austin is the self-proclaimed live music capital of the world.  It’s a bold claim, yes, but it will not disappoint.  One can’t walk more than 15 feet on Red River without hearing a kick drum.  Besides the fact there are multiple live shows per night, often free or under $5,  Austin has fantastic festivals.  ACL Fest is one of the biggest tent-pole fests in the country (Outdone only by SoCal’s Coachella, Chicago’s Lollapalooza, and TN’s “We really wish we were at Woodstock instead” Bonnaroo.)

Other than ACL’s ten year old, 3-day fest, South By South West (SXSW or “South By” as the cool kids call it) is one of the most important industry weeks in the country.  If you’re in the music or film industries, you’re bound to have an eventful week.  If you’re not, there’s still the option of RSVP’ing to one of the dozens of free entry/free booze parties across the city.

In sum, there’s a reason Austin is an obligatory stop on cross-national tours.  It’s one of the best places for music, food, and people.  For those of you from/in the area: Congrats and enjoy it.  For those of you who have never been: make a stop here. It’s cheap and I guarantee a good time.