New Blog

It’s been a while since my last post, and that’s very disheartening for me. I miss writing! And I really miss Europe. However, it’s time to move on. I am finally in the midst of creating my newest blog PR Movement, it’s a professional blog that will be my take on PR in the travel & hospitality industry. I also will be providing insight on social media and online branding, plus some surprises! I hope that you will learn something new from it, and offer me feedback like many of you have here on Crossing Borders. 

Check out my new blog here and please tell me what you think in the comment box.

I’ve had a blast writing Crossing Borders, but it’s not over, I will keep it up for my next travel experience.

The Weekend Send Off

This past weekend was my final weekend abroad, this weekend I will be heading to Florence to catch my plane back to Seattle. Fortunately, time and money permitted me to visit many places while I’ve been studying. My original plan was to stick to Siena, and only travel with the AHA program for pre-planned excursions. But, I’ve been blessed to be able to make it to my top three European countries. I’ve been studying in Italy, I traveled to Spain only a couple of weeks ago and this past weekend I made my way to Dublin, Ireland.

Weekend trips aren’t enough time to fully enjoy a city, but going for two days is better than none. The trip was short, but extremely sweet. I went with a few friends of mine and we all had the same agenda: eat good food, visit the Guinness factory, visit the Jameson factory and see what the Dublin night life is all about. I am proud to say that in two days, we accomplished all of these tasks and more.

Day one, we settled into our hotel and headed out early to catch a nice Irish breakfast. Let me clear something up before I go into detail about our delicious meal; I love Italian food. However, being American, I’m a big fan of large breakfasts, I’m talkin’ sausage, eggs, biscuits, potatoes, the works. In Italy, the daily coffee and small pastry really doesn’t cut it.

Dublin breaky

We found a little hole-in-the-wall restaurant with a delicious spread of breakfast foods: meat, potatoes, and sweets lined up in a buffet style. This wasn’t your average, run of the mill buffet where most everything tastes like the grease and preservatives that the food has been swimming in, on the contrary this food was very fresh and palate pleasing. I’m craving it now as I type this. My plate included some classic sausage links, potatoes, scrambled eggs, some thick cuts of homemade Guinness breads, some English tea and these little dark patties that I was told was bread pudding. Everything looked phenomenal, the boys and I were in an Irish-breakfast heaven. The place was so good, that we made sure to wake up early the next morning to try it a second time before leaving.

Next on our agenda was a quick train ride to the coastline in a small port-town called Howth. It’s a beautiful little salty sea town. It reminded me of the Puget Sound back home, the smell of the northern coast, seagulls flying every which way and the sound of boats rumbling by. It was beautiful. Luckily there was a Saturday market happening this weekend, so we made a quick stop to check things out. Although we had just stuffed ourselves at breakfast, we found enough room to buy a couple of these delicious hand-made cupcakes, I bought the sinfully good red velvet cake one and Michael got himself a coconut vanilla raspberry one. With our desserts in hand, we walked out to the boardwalk to stare out into the water and soak up the sights and smells. We only stayed a couple of hours but after snapping a few pictures and walking around we had taken full advantage of the time we had.

marshmallow sweet cupcakes cupcake guy Dublin

Our last obligation was to head to the Guinness factory. When we arrived, I seriously felt like Charlie when he spotted the gates into Willy Wonka’s factory. I could barely contain my excitement. Guinness is my favorite beer, and I’ve waited over six months to even have one, just so I could try the real thing in the factory. We easily spent several hours touring the factory, learning about all of the ins and outs of the company; from its history, to its influence and importance to the city of Dublin. It was all very interesting and the tour was very interactive and modern. My favorite part of the tour –besides the free pint of Guinness at the 360 degree bar at the top — was probably the advertising and marketing section. Guinness has had some of the most influential marketing campaigns in ad history and it was very cool to get an inside look at all of these tactics at the source.

Me at Guinness Gate

The night was coming to an end, but we still needed to finish off strong. We made our way downtown to a stretch of pubs and clubs that we wanted to see. The first pub we went to was straight out of a movie. It was a small little pub with a group of old men and women playing fiddles and flutes in the corner, singing Irish drinking songs, while the bartender stood on the bar screaming out orders and collecting money. The place was perfect, everyone was cheerful and the mood was just right. We even had a chance to meet a group of people, around the same age as us, that were doing their own sort of pub crawl. They called it the “12 pubs of Christmas”. They all dressed up in ugly Christmas sweaters and were making their way through 12 different pubs, grabbing a Guinness in each one and making sure to make themselves known along the way. It was a memorable night that I will cherish.

The second day, after eating breakfast, we headed to the Jameson factory. It was in the early afternoon, but we had a game plan to stick to, and besides, when in Dublin! So we made our way to the factory, took the tour, had a nice Jameson tasting session which was very interesting and it all ended so quickly! At this point we had the rest of the day to make a plan, we made our way to Europe’s largest park, Phoenix Park, where we walked and talked enjoying the scenery. Eventually we made our way to a restaurant to get a late lunch. We were welcomed into the place with smiles from the bartenders. We placed our orders, and were lucky enough to get the bartenders to dial the TV’s  onto all the soccer games playing that day and even the American football games. We ended up staying there for nearly five hours, eating, drinking, playing darts and watching sports. It was one of the highlights of my trip abroad. It was so simple but it really encompassed everything that I loved about this trip. The sweetness of doing nothing, really staying in the present moment, not worrying about what’s coming next but just enjoying the ride along the way. We had plenty of laughs and made some great memories here.

Jameson tree Bench at Phoenix parkGoose at Phoenix Park

The next morning we were headed on our Ryan Air flight back to Rome to make our final stay in Siena. The Dublin trip did not disappoint. Every time I go to a new city it seems like it always one ups the one before. But truthfully, Dublin was my favorite city of all the major ones I visited. Mainly due to the people. The people there are so ridiculously friendly, helpful, and caring. We were often asked by random people if we needed any help getting around — because for some reason they thought we looked like a bunch of tourists, I wonder why — and whenever we asked for help or directions, people were always so kind and patient. The city wasn’t the most active, and didn’t have the most elegant buildings or fancy museums or anything, but it was just right. It is how it is, it’s beautiful in its own way, it’s fun, the food is great and the people really make the difference. I can’t wait to go again. I think that the next time I’m in Europe, Ireland will be my main destination.

Only one week left, but I’m glad I’ve been able to see and do all of the things I’ve done while I’ve been in Europe. Cheers.

Ringraziemento: Giving Thanks in Italy

Thanksgiving, November 27th, 2014. It’s one for the books. Why? Well it’s the most unique Thanksgiving I’ve ever had, considering the fact that it was the first time I’ve celebrated without my family, and in a country that doesn’t even recognize it’s existence. Turkey day is an American holiday — obviously — but I was quite surprised to learn that nearly everyone in the city of Siena had no idea what Thanksgiving even was. Call me ignorant, but I was a bit shocked! However, I have to say that I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way — but yes mom and dad, and Taryn, I missed you all, I’m sure you’ll be reading this — but it was a way to really count my blessings from afar.

The day unfortunately was full of classes, from 9:00 to 5:00, needless to say my class schedule didn’t recognize Thanksgiving either. It’s odd being in a city during this time with not a single turkey on display, no pumpkin pies in the bakery sections of the grocery stores, no pilgrims in the shopping windows, there are only Christmas displays — which are also enjoyable. But the day felt different, new place, new community, and new friends to spend the holiday with, I was curious to see how the dinner would stack up to the American one.

Thankfully, the AHA program set up a Thanksgiving feast at a local restaurant where we enjoyed a full course meal with the Italian spin on our beloved American tradition. There was of course the bruschetta antipasto, and our chef created a nice Autumn spin on the classic cheesy risotto by adding  chunks of pumpkin to the mix, next came our main course — in my opinion a fantastic rendition of the classic turkey, stuffing and cranberry sauce we have in the states — it was a delicious sliced turkey, baked to perfection with a mixture of sweet dried fruits, nuts and veggies in a gravy like stew that covered the meat, and we finished off with a yellow pear and pumpkin vin santo dolce vino cream cake, it was delicious. Touché Italy.

Family, friends and food are an essential part of Thanksgiving, don’t get me wrong, but in my mind with all of those aspects being thrown for a loop this year, the one thing that I couldn’t help but keep to American tradition is taking time to reflect on my life and what I’m thankful for. The question this year should have been what am I not thankful for? I feel absolutely blessed. Traveling to Italy has been a dream of mine since I can remember, and not only did I make it here to study for a few months, but by the grace of God and the support of my family, I was able to come with the money I needed to take full advantage of the trip without a second thought. Prior to the Summer, I signed up for the program without any idea how I was going to pay for it, but I just knew I’d find a way. Luckily I was presented with an opportunity to do door-to-door sales in Missouri for the Summer where I made a killing and was able to fund my way to Italy with much more money than I ever anticipated. Plus, with my parents and my extended family and friends, I received donations to get me here and help pay for any extra fees that would make their way into my bank account while I was away. I made it.

I also am thankful for the new friends I’ve made here who I know will always hold a special place in my heart simply for the times we’ve shared together and the life long memories we’ve formed. We all come from different social groups, different walks of life and yet we blended so well. I wouldn’t ever ask for any other group to partake in this amazing adventure with me. I also am thankful for the AHA and especially our program director Silvia Minucci who has been like a second mother to us all on this adventure — and set up our Italian Thanksgiving meal for the evening. She has been here for us for anything we’ve needed and always goes the extra mile to make sure we are happy. I’m thankful for my health — I’ve become a bit more “healthy” over here from all of the delicious Tuscan food but all is good. And I’m thankful for my education. It’s a privilege to go to the University of Oregon, a fantastic school that has given me many opportunities, including this travel experience. I know that there are lots of young people my age that aren’t able to go to a school like the one I’m in, and don’t have the means to travel abroad and see the world, so I need to say that I’m tremendously thankful for the opportunity.

Unfortunately everything comes to an end — even more unfortunate is that my dream adventure is ending in 6 days. But I’ve lived it up here in Italy, I’ve even got to see some other countries in Europe. I know that this won’t be the last time, and maybe someday I’ll be able to bring my family over here to experience the Italian Thanksgiving: ringraziemento.

Not Enough Time

So Much to do, So Litte Time

“So much to do, so little time”. This expression is the definition of traveling, it’s exciting, it’s a lot of fun and it’s definitely exhausting. Yet no matter how much you can fit in your schedule while traveling, the more you realize that you want to do. It’s an endless circle, but it keeps us buying those plane tickets and seeing the world over and over again.

This past weekend was a complete blur. It was full of sleepless nights spent on either bus, train, or plane, hopping from one hostel to another and from city to city, but it was outstanding. Earlier in my trip to Italy, me and a couple of friends bought tickets to see the Barcelona football club play another Spanish team, Seville.  This was the sole reason, for us, to head over to Barcelona for a weekend. Sure, we figured on our day off, the day after the game, we could get some drinks, hit a restaurant maybe lay by the beach and just chill. But this football match was going to be the cake and the ice cream.

Let me just say, the game was mind blowing. It was my first ever soccer match — shoot I haven’t even seen my Seattle Sounders play yet — and unfortunately it’s going to take a lot for any other match to compare to this one. We arrived extremely early and got to feel the anticipation of the crowded streets preparing for the game. When the gates opened, we climbed the stairs to our seats, using the calories from our foot-long hot dogs, and large buckets of popcorn to keep us moving. The atmosphere was terrific; screaming fans from all over the world, chants, ridiculing and arguments being spoken in over four different languages — from what I interpreted — gave me a very high appreciation for the sport. The game was close for the first half, Messi scored Barcelona’s first point via a free kick and Seville went into the half with nothing. Second half, Seville scored quickly with another answered goal from Barcelona. At which point the rest of the match was dictated by Barcelona. Amazingly, Messi scored a hat-trick (click to see the highlights), and with it he broke the Spanish goal scoring record that was set in 1995 by Telmo Zarra. Like I said, it’s going to be hard for me to find another soccer match that will add up to this one. The game was enough for me to say that I came, I saw and I conquered Barcelona. But oh I had so much more to learn.

With the boys, naturally
With the boys, naturally

The next morning, I woke up early and decided to take a tour — offered by my hostel — around the city. It lasted a few hours and during which I learned how incredibly complex, culturally rich and historically influenced the city of Barcelona is. I was, as I said before, mind blown. Even with this tour I knew I had only scratched the surface of the city, and the more that I explored and learned I realized how in love I was falling for it. I mean, I love Barcelona. Call me Romeo, but this city is definitely my Juliet. It intriuged me so much that regardless of my energy level, from the tour I went to the hostel and bought tickets to see the Segrada Familia, according to the tour guide the second most popular church in the world. Designed by Antoni Gaudi, it’s been in construction for over 100 years and is still in the midst of construction. Through the creative mind of Gaudi, the building takes on such an organic and yet surreal look and feel. The outside looks absolutely fake. I will be honest, it’s hard even to wrap your mind around the magnitude of the place, it’s quite literally “dripping in stone” as my friend Lacey put it. It’s astonishing. The inside is a whole different ballgame, it’s fresh, it’s natural looking, it feels like a peaceful cave with clean cut pillars and the most beautiful stained glass windows I have ever seen. If you ever get to see this church in person, I would advise you to pay the extra money to climb to the top of the towers because the view from up there is gorgeous. I have to say that this is the most beautiful building, let alone religious temple, I have ever seen.


Quickly after running through the church, Lacey and I headed for the metro to head down to another part of the city to meet our tour guide from earlier for a special cooking class. In the class we learned how to make sangria — the correct way — we ate some fantastic Tapas including basted anchovies, Spanish omelets, pan con tomate and others. But, the best part was that we learned, hands-on, how to make arguably the most traditional Spanish dish, Paella. We made a sea-food paella, with mussels and shrimp. Don’t get me wrong, I love me some Italian food, but holy cow was I happy to try Paella and get a different style of cooking in this course. It’s amazing, it’s fresh, it’s filling, it’s complex and it’s memorable.

IMG_4413 IMG_4415

All in all, I went to Barcelona for a weekend, to see a soccer match; when I left, I had a whole new appreciation for the city, it’s people, it’s culture and it’s beauty. I will never forget my two days here, and I cannot wait until I get another chance to visit it again. Unfortunately, I have learned that even when planning on keeping things simple, traveling always includes so much to do, but I seem never to have enough time.

Money Well Spent

VENEZIA: A waterlogged city renowned for its architecture, cultural history and geographical beauty. It’s a city that has been depicted in my head since I first learned about Italy. Since I was young, whenever I imagined Italian culture, food, it’s people and any other fact about Italy, I always had an image in my head that was based solely on the Venetian lifestyle.  I would imagine Italian men dressed in black and white striped shirts and a red bandana traversing along a liquid street standing on the rear-end of a gondola.  Unfortunately, being able to physically walk along the Venetian streets while living here in Italy seemed unlikely in the short amount of time I have.

Last weekend I had the opportunity to take a day trip somewhere. I figured, in order to save some money, I would just check out a place close to Siena. Maybe I could take a bus to Montepulciano or San Gimignano perhaps, but something inside me wanted more.

My friend Taylor went to Venice for a weekend by himself earlier this month and told me that it was quite literally his favorite experience thus far. He was raving about it for days, but his only trepidation was that it was expensive. I wanted to go to Venice, but I’m cheap, and expensive is a very frightening word to me. So, naturally, I procrastinated on planning for the trip. I wouldn’t even take the time to look into the price because I knew that it would only turn me off from the idea. For two weeks I planned to research the price of the trip – but never got around to it. Finally, on Friday night, I worked up the nerve to open my laptop and figure out what it would cost to go to Venice.

Travel alone was going to run me about 110 Euros – I could just imagine how much lighter my wallet would weigh after this hit – then when I factored in my hostel, my food and my entertainment, I was going to be spending much too much.

Eventually I came to my senses and aksed my self a single question, “will I regret not going to Venice when I came this close to making it happen?”. The next morning at 7:00, I was on a 300km/h train North to Venice.

The question for me at this point was whether or not the image of Venice I’ve kept in my head all of these years would turn out to be a better depiction of the actual thing and disappoint me, or would seeing the city completely overrun my preconceived notions. I advise you, – yes you, pal – go to Venice. It will blow you away.

Coming into the city was like entering a mythical land. The train sped across acres and acres of earth and then suddenly, when I looked of the window, all I could see was water. The tracks themselves stretched across the sea leading into the city. The train station overlooked one of the most interesting panoramic scenes I’ve ever viewed. Busy streets full of shoppers and vendors that were lined up in sync with an infinite canal that was inhabited by boats of all shapes and sizes. It was beautiful and although the weather sucked, I didn’t mind because the city made up for it.


I only had a day and a half here so I did what every tourist does in a new city, I explored. I probably walked 10 miles that evening, trekking along the streets, looking at the shops, getting lost, and it was great. Eventually I found a beautiful church, – I can’t remember the name of it, shame on me – that was holding a classical orchestra performance that night. I bought a ticket – yay! more money spent – but it was well worth it. The church was gorgeous, the artists were phenomenal and it was a great way to spend my evening. The next morning I got lost some more. I enjoyed a good book while sitting  next to the canals, watching the gondolas pass by. It truly was an experience I will cherish forever. I can’t wait to visit the city again.

Overall, this was a good learning experience. I had the opportunity to trust my gut in spite of my fears and worries. Had I not gone to Venice I may have seen another cool city, saved some money, and been totally ok; but the regret I would have had after I returned to American would haunt me. I know myself too well, and luckily I’m pretty adept at recognizing good opportunities when they come my way. Needless to say, I made the right choice.

And yes, the real Venice was better than my preconceived idea of it. Until next time Venice.

Humpday in Siena

In the States, humpday is a day to be recognized simply because it marks the halfway point through the week. With classes, responsibilities, homework, etc. Wednesdays are a gentle reminder of the upcoming weekend shenanigans that are quickly approaching. Humpdays are a nice milestone in the week, but nothing special. However, in Siena Wednesday has grown to be my favorite day of the week.

There are two reasons why Wednesdays are so special to me. The first, is the street market. Every Wednesday there is a gigantic street fair of sorts that extends all the way to the fortezza walls and wraps itself around the outside of the city limits. Markets like this exist in a lot of places  throughout Italy, and even in America, but what makes this market so special is it’s significance in the city. Everyone seems to get involved with the market. Of course there are tourists hopping from shop to shop, looking for that perfect Italian made handbag, or leather jacket, but what’s special about the market are the number of Sienese people that stroll through the streets week after week. The market is a major part of Sienan culture. Locals come here to buy a number of things: clothing, some decorations for the home perhaps, but there are even locals that come to get their food at the market. There are families that line up outside of the streetside pet market – yes there is a street vendor who sells birds and other small animals. The market represents a history of a long engrained cultural phenomenon that seems to take the city back to a time long forgotten in the U.S., days before Walmart and similar supermarkets existed. Days when shops thrived on four wheels, and strolled from town to town via horse and buggy. The market is a time capsule and it’s mine to take advantage of, every single week.


pici leila

My other favorite part of humpday is a mere sliver of the 24 hours that make it up. For the past few weeks my classmates and I have had the pleasure of enjoying an amazing course in Tuscan food at a cooking school just down the street from our apartment. Every Wednesday night at 6:00 my friends and I walk down the street to visit a very friendly Italian woman named Leila. It is here where she teaches us the ins and outs of traditional Tuscan dishes. At every class, we cook a full four course meal, and spoil ourselves. The first class consisted of hand made pici pasta – sort of like a hand rolled, thick and chewy spaghetti – and we covered it in a traditional pomodoro e aglio sauce (tomatoes and garlic, with some other fresh herbs intertwined). We’ve also created hand made gnocchi pasta with a Gorgonzola cream sauce, bomboloni (Italian doughnuts), bruschetta, lasagna, spinach ravioli, and a couple of traditional Italian soups; one of which is my all time favorite, the Papa Pomodoro (a soup that soaks stale bread in a tomato broth that simmers for hours until the bread mixes and becomes a part of the delicious blends of herbs and tomatoes).

poppa pomodororavioli leila

Tonight was our second-to-last class and I will have to say this is one of the most memorable experiences thus far on my adventures. For only 255 Euros, I couldn’t pass it up. I cannot wait to go home, pop open a few bottles of wine, and cook some traditional meals for my family, friends and my lovely girlfriend. I might just need to open a restaurant.

Wednesday are a great day of the week, but while I’ve been here in Siena, they’ve been all the more sweet.

Happy Humpday!

November 8

I’m officially 22. Yeah say it with me TWENTY TWO, it’s very uncomfortable to say it out loud. To be honest this is the first birthday that I’ve had that I actually feel older. I’m not saying I’m an old man but I am willing to admit that this birthday seems a little less special than ones in the past. Sadly after my 21st, birthdays just aren’t as eventful. Yeah at 25 I can rent cars – cool – and then I guess at around 55 I get senior benefits – 3D IMAX for $7 ain’t too shabby – but things are definitely starting to change.

This year also through me for a loop because I’m out of my native land. Being in Europe has been a very different, but I must admit, my birthday here has been one of the best.

For my big 22, my friends and I had a little taste – wink, wink – of the Chianti Classico wine region. We hopped on a van driven by an awesome Italian dude named Mikele, and we explored four areas throughout the region including a winery.

It was interesting going on this trip for us because just last night we had the pleasure of visiting the very famous Brolio Castle and tasted some of the world famous Brolio wines as well. The place was magnificent, the view from the castle’s walkway was tremendous. Unfortunately, we’ve experienced some crazy weather lately, but at just the right moment the clouds broke and we witnessed some of the most beautiful sunbeams I’ve ever seen.

They danced their way over the yellowing grape vineyards below us and up and over all of the rolling hills in the distance. It was very magical. We also had a chance to check out the castle itself and see the armory as well as some other artifacts that belong to the family.

So I was a bit nervous. It was going to be hard to top the Brolio tour. Thankfully, it measured up.

Our first stop was at a very small town named Monteriggioni. The castle here was built solely for defensive purposes by the Republic of Siena. It was built atop the hills in medieval times, in order to give defensive men a view of the incoming Florentine troops.

Our next stop was over to the winery at the rural farm of Poggio Amorelli. The winery is owned by Adriana and Marco Mazzarini and they have only been in business since the late 80’s. Their wine was fantastic, we tried four of them: a very light white, a traditional Chianti Classico DOCG, a Super Tuscan and another red – which I unfortunately forgot the name of – all the wines were delicious. What really got me excited though was the variety of balsamic vinegars and oils we tried. The cool thing about this winery is that they also specialize in producing fantastic truffle oil, olive oil and aged balsamic vinegar. I got to tell you, the balsamic and the olive oil were out of this world. The vinegar was oddly sweet, it reminded me of a tangy, southern influenced BBQ sauce but with more complexity. It was aged for 20 years in the bottle and served atop some fantastic picorino cheese. The oil was another fantastic addition, it needed nothing more than a piece of bread and a dash of herbs for some extra kick.

foto 3 (2)

After our taste bud expedition, we headed to a small area of Castellina Chianti where we enjoyed a delicious lunch with pastas, traditional cold cuts, bread, veggie and – of course – some more wine. Afterwards, we stopped one last time to enjoy the view of the valleys from Radda in Chianti before heading home.

The wine tour was fun, the food and the adventure was well worth the 55 euros spent, but what made today so much more enjoyable was having good friends there to experience it all with me. Although I’m getting older, and I’m not able to spend my birthday with my family, it’s nice to know that I have people here that care about me and know how to put a smile on my face.

P.S. I apologize for my lack of posts lately, I am actually studying here, not just out having a blast –SHOCKER! – and my midterms got the best of me these past couple of weeks. However, I did do some very fun things in between that I will definitely write about soon.