Tag Archives: Italy

Year in Photos 2016

Sometimes pictures are better than words. They can tell more of a story, inviting the reader to infer their meaning, ask questions about their significance to the writer, and wonder what happened before and after the snapshot was taken. I’ve been telling a story of my year in photos for the past couple of years (click here for my year in photos for 2014 and 2015), and it is an exercise I enjoy, looking back through my year’s photos, deciding which ones to include and which ones are better left out. Without further adieu, here is my 2016 year in photos, in chronological order.

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Unexpected Bump in the Road

If you know me or read my blog, you know I love to travel. Let’s be real…I live for it. Traveling is this amazingly fun adventure where you get to explore new places you’ve never been or familiar places with a different perspective. With travel comes adventure, but not always the kind you are looking for.

Case in point: Last Thursday my friend Callie and I departed for our trip to Pisa and Florence for the long weekend. We’ve had this trip planned for months. And by planned, I mean we bought our airplane tickets in December. A couple of weeks ago we booked our accommodation, too. We flew in and out of Pisa, but decided to spend the majority of our time in Florence because it’s much cooler, plus it has so much more to do. Our time in Pisa was pretty much spent on the Leaning Tower and pizza. I mean, what else do you need?

Anyhow, we arrived in Pisa later than expected due to flight delays. We hopped in a cab and headed to our hotel, this cute little B&B a stone’s throw from the tower. After being dropped off, we realized the hotel was closed. As in the door was locked, lights were out, no one was there to check us in closed. Cold, tired, and ready to crawl into our beds, we began to wonder what we should do. Of course, our phones don’t work in Italy, there was no free wifi in the random alley we happened to be in, and it was 11:30 pm, so Pisa was pretty deserted. The sign on the door said “For check in after 11pm or for emergencies, call {this number}.” That’d be cool…if we had a phone.

Selfie with the hotel…proof that we were there!

Being the resourceful people that we are, we noticed a young woman looking out of her open window about 3 stories up in the building across the alley. “Hello!” we called, “Can you help us?”

“Yeah, what do you need?” She speaks English! I thought.

“We booked this hotel for the night, but they are closed. We need to call them, but don’t have a phone. Could you call the number for us?”

After relaying the number to her, she tried twice, but no one answered. So much for emergencies.

At that point, she told us she thought she knew the building code. We tried the code she gave us several times to no avail. At that point, I was cold and frustrated and didn’t want to wait around or sleep outside, so I made the executive decision to find a new hotel. Not knowing our way around Pisa, we waited on a cab to pass by and take us to a nearby place. Luckily, it didn’t take too long. The first place we were taken was a bit bleh and not the cleanest place ever. Moving on, we decided to take the taxi driver’s recommendation of The Tower Plaza, the best hotel in town. It was definitely nice– and expensive! Oh well, at midnight, after working all day and traveling all night, I was willing to fork over the 100 Euros for a warm shower and a clean, comfy bed.

Once in the hotel room, Callie signed onto wifi and checked her email. Whaddya know, the hotel had sent her an email to explain that late check in, which is any time after 11:00 pm, means that you have to have a code to get in the door (which was included in the email). The email was sent at 10:54 pm. 10:54 pm. Six minutes before check in ended. At 10:54 pm, we were getting off the airplane, getting our bags, and making our way to the taxi rank. How in the heck is that an appropriate length of time for us to get that information? Sheesh! Oh well, we had already checked in, paid for the night, and were in our pjs. We decided to rest and deal with it the next day.

The next day was glorious. The sun was shining, yet the air was cool. We had a nice walk to the Leaning Tower, took way too many selfies and touristy poses with silly faces, and had the most delicious salad, pizza, and gelato for lunch. 

Come on…how delicious does that look?!?

After that, we walked over to the first hotel to explain the situation and ask for a refund. After much cajoling on our parts, Juliano, the front desk clerk, caved. Callie’s card would be refunded. Even though it took a while to convince him, it was a victory for us!

This was just the first of many bumps we would encounter during our 4-day weekend in Italy. Stay tuned for the other little adventures!

A Year in Photos- 2015 #sol16 20 of 31

Last year, I wrote a post sharing my favorite photos from 2014. This was a really great way to reflect on my year, and to relive some of my favorite moments. So here goes 2015’s year in photos (in chronological order). I hope you enjoy! 🙂

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All photos copyright of Jennifer Kesler. Please do not use without permission.

18 Hours in Rome #sol16 9 of 31

11454297503_e27946e4ff_hDuring the summer of 2014, I traveled in Europe for a few weeks- mainly the UK, Ireland, and Greece. On the way from London to Athens, I had an 18 hour layover in Rome, and I decided to make the best of it.

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My first stop, after dropping my stuff off at my hotel, was the Colosseum. To say this structure was awe-inspiring is an understatement. It’s beautiful and breath-taking and powerful. After the Colosseum, I made my way to Trevi Fountain, via the metro.

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Upon exiting the metro, I found myself in this gorgeous piazza. After snapping a few pictures, I sat down on a bench to rest and take it all in. Sitting about a meter away from me, reading, was Maurice, a little, old Italian man dressed in a pressed blue short-sleeve button-down tucked into oversized pleated gray slacks. Somehow, we struck up a conversation. Exchanging pleasantries first, he learned that I lived in Shanghai. “Why would you want to do that?” he asked. I shared a few of the reasons why I loved Shangers, but he wasn’t buying it. That’s when I learned that he was fluent in Mandarin! Like…he can read and write it, too! Obviously intrigued, I asked him if he’d ever been to China, to which he promptly informed me that he hadn’t and that he had no desire to go to China. “Why, then, did you learn Chinese?” “I was bored,” was his reply. Who does that?!? Oh, I’m bored. I think I’ll just become fluent in Mandarin. Needless to say, I was impressed. And bewildered.

Next, the conversation changed. His next question caught me off-guard, and was the sweetest question I’d ever heard. “Do you have a love story?” (Cue the “awwwwww” from the audience.) Not only was I melting from the sincerity and Italian-ness of his question, but I was suddenly sad to answer that, no, I did not, in fact, have a love story.

“I had a love story. But my wife of over 40 years died a few years ago. It’s just me.” Now doesn’t that just hit ya in the gut?

He shared more of his love story and his life in Rome with me before I realized that, while I was enjoying this conversation, I was on a timeline and needed to see more of Rome. The sun was slowly lowering in the sky, reminding me of my dwindling time left in this lovely city. I politely asked Maurice to point me in the direction of Trevi Fountain, a place I’d be told I must see while in Rome. Instead of showing me which way to go, he insisted on walking me there. I realized that putting up a fight didn’t matter. He was going to show me anyway.

Trevi Fountain was unfortunately under construction, so it was a bit of a let-down. Sweet Maurice felt personally responsible for not knowing this. Taking my friend Linner’s advice, we found a gelato place near the fountain where I got the most delicious gelato ever. I tried to pay for it, as a thank you to Maurice, but he insisted, saying this was his city, and I was his guest. Being so independent, it was hard for me to accept. But I eventually just said thank you.

Gelato cups empty, our stomachs wanting more, Maurice asked me what I had planned for the rest of the day. “Ummmm…I’m just gonna wander around and figure things out,” I replied.

“Do you want a tour guide?” he timidly asked.

For a second, I contemplated saying no. What if he’s a serial killer? OK, that’s a bit extreme. But still. He could have ulterior motives or something. Hemming and hawing over the decision, I figured, why not?

Maurice and I then proceeded to have a lovely evening. As we strolled through the cobblestone streets, I was in constant awe of the beautiful buildings, adorable Vespas, and foliage. The only photo I managed to take of Maurice that day was on one of these streets.

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How cute is he? He sorta looks like an Italian version of my grandpa.

I lucked out with my tour guide! Not only did I see the typical touristy stuff in Rome, I got to see the stuff “only Italians do.” One of my favorite experiences was when we tried to throw a coin on the top of the ruins for good luck. I made several attempts, but didn’t quite make it.

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We wandered down by the river, where Maurice helped me bargain for 2 watercolor paintings- one for me and one for my friend Melissa who I was meeting up with in Greece. Crossing a bridge, we happened upon a very famous restaurant whose name escapes me at the moment. Anyhow, the door was covered in Michelin and other food awards. The foodie in me really wanted to try it out, but Maurice wanted to see what else there was to eat. After checking out a few places that didn’t seem quite right, we headed back to the Michelin restaurant. This was a good choice for sure.

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We both ordered the spinach ravioli, and let me tell you…it was divine. Italian food in Italy cannot be beat! Seriously. Determined to repay Maurice for his kindness, I tried to pay the (quite pricey) bill. He, again, fought me on it and insisted that it was his treat. It was his city, after all, and I was a visitor. This man was a gentleman! They don’t make ’em like this anymore.

As the night drew to a close, Maurice proved to be a gentleman one last time. After warning me that Rome isn’t that safe at night, he rode with me in a cab to drop me off at my hotel. (He let me pay the taxi ride, so that was good at least.) We said our goodbyes. I thanked him for a lovely day, and I never saw him again.

I had 18 hours in Rome, and you know what? I wouldn’t have wanted to spend it any other way!

Things I’ve Collected in my Travels- SOL#26

As a traveler, I collect lots of things. Most of these are memories, stories, new friends, and photographs. But I also collect art. Whenever I visit somewhere new, I’m on the hunt for something that calls out to me, begging me to bring it home and be a constant reminder of my time in that special place. Here are some of my favorite pieces that I’ve collected over the past few years.

Walking barefoot through the temples of Bagan, Myanmar, I came across this unique piece of art, a sand painting of monks. Instantly I was drawn to the texture and uniqueness of the piece, and the monks were definitely a part of the Myanmar culture that I would remember long after I returned home.

I found this gem in Seoul, South Korea, as I sifted through some antiques in a little shop in Insadong. Initially looking for an antique Buddha or teapot, the shop owner showed me this 100-year-old writer’s notebook. While I can’t read a word in it, it’s such a treasure to have a piece of someone’s writing.

This picture captures a few pieces. The umbrella lamp was a recent purchase from my second trip to Myanmar. I was drawn to the brightly-colored umbrellas on display in the little shop in town. Shaggers and I stopped in for a look, but kept moving. Later that night, we saw the shop again, only this time, the umbrellas were lit up, casting a lovely glow. I wanted one! But again, I resisted. I didn’t need more stuff, I told myself. At dinner, Shaggers said I should just go get it; that I would regret it if I didn’t. She was right. I dashed down the street and picked it up, happy I did.

After living in Shanghai for two years, I realized I didn’t have any art from China yet. Jody, a friend of mine from back home, was visiting. As we walked around Tianzifang, we came across an art gallery. The artist was there, and he talked with us about his artwork and his techniques. The paper-cut doll was so beautiful, I had to take it. I love that I have a contemporary piece of traditional Chinese artwork.

Last summer, Melissa M. and I traveled to Greece, a beautiful place that I can’t wait to return to, and while we were there, we took a trip to Santorini. If you haven’t yet been, I highly recommend it. Its picturesque views, traditional blue and white domes, and unbelievable natural beauty make it so memorable. As we meandered through the tight pathways cut into the side of the mountainous island, we happened into a shop with paintings of Santorini. This one, with the vibrant colors and the peaceful view, called my name. I love remembering our special time every time I see it on the wall.

Also last summer, I visited Rome. I was on my way to Greece from London, and I was blessed with an 18-hour stopover in Rome. Making the most of it, I spent the day roaming around the city. Walking along the river at dusk, I came across a man selling his water color paintings of everyday Roman life. This one, of a doorway, caught my eye. I’m not sure what I loved about it, but it made me happy, so I supported this local artist and bought it up right away!

My trip to Egypt was one of the most amazing trips I have ever taken. As you can imagine, we saw loads of hieroglyphics while we were there. I loved the ancient artwork, and took countless photos of walls full of stories told through pictures. What I was most drawn to, though, were the ankhs, or keys of life. There was just something about them that displayed beauty and symmetry and life. While in Abu Simbel, we visited a shop that sold handmade pieces made of stone. I didn’t have any intention of purchasing anything, but when I laid eyes on this ankh, I knew I had to add it to my collection. Not only was it an ankh, but it was handmade and it was a beautiful color. I absolutely love it!

These last two pieces are also from Myanmar. While I generally stick to purchasing one piece per country, I simply couldn’t resist picking up more than that in Myanmar! The watercolor painting of sunset at U Bein Bridge was a gem I found on my most recent trip to Myanmar. Shaggers and I headed out on the back of some motorbikes from Mandalay to the bridge to catch the sunset. Missing it by a few minutes, we decided that we’d walk the length of it anyway, since we were already there. On our way across the bridge, we passed by a shop selling paintings. My eyes were instantly drawn to this piece, and while I stopped to gaze at it for a bit, I moved on. Reaching the end, the sun had completely set, and we turned around to head back. Mentioning to Shaggers that I should have bought that picture, she said we should stop by on our way. Noticing that most of the shops we had passed earlier were already closed up, I thought my window of opportunity had closed. Nearing the end of the bridge, we found them putting everything away, ready to head home for the day. Luckily they let me look through the paintings until I found the one I had wanted. Now it is mine! Once I frame it, I’ll display it in my home.

The other piece, the wooden carving of a long neck lady, was picked up on my first trip to Myanmar in Inle Lake. Stopping into a shop on the lake, I was taken aback by the native people who adorn themselves with gold plates around their neck, stretching them more and more each year. They were simply beautiful. As I walked around, this carving stood out out to me, and I loved the profile.

I love that I am brought back back to my travels as I look around my apartment at the beautiful pieces I have (and will continue to) collected over the years. When I’m old and grey, I will be able to share my stories with others and recall these wonderful memories.

The World Through My Eyes… SOL#25

IMG_0555The World Through My Eyes…

The United States is family, friends, good food, and home.

England is not sure the first time, but oh so much better the second.

Germany is meeting people in awkward places and my first taste of independence.

Fiji is adventure and pristine, so-beautiful-you-think-they’re-photoshopped beaches.

Australia is where my heart is happiest, oh and hot accents that make me weak in the knees.

China is weird smells, craziness, ‘The Bridge,’ and my second home.

Hong Kong is civilized China and home to my favorites Shaggers and Jeezy.

The Philippines is beautiful people and juicy mangoes.

Malaysia is lime juice and getting lost.

Vietnam is “beep! beep!” and night markets.

South Korea is my favorite salad, used bookstore love, and meeting my SOL friend.

Macau is long immigration lines, casinos, and Portuguese architecture.

Cambodia is explorations, biting fish, and begging children.

Thailand is tuk tuks, sketchy trains, and golden roofs.

Japan is confusion and sushi and where did my friends go?

Egypt is camel-exchange proposals, koshari, and the call to prayer.

Nepal is roaming cows, do-anything-to-help-you people, rice fields, and peace.

Italy is the kindness of strangers, gelato, and cobblestone streets.

Greece is baklava and feta, blue and white domes, and restful relaxation.

Scotland is rain and beautiful buildings and more rain.

Ireland is old castles, lush green, and Dirty Dancing.

Myanmar is long boats, temples, daily tea leaf salads, and love.

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A Year in Photos

A couple of weeks ago, I came across a post from one of my friends, Jee Young, where she reflected on 2014 through photos. It was such a unique way to show the past year, and I just had to give it a try! Now that I’m back in Shanghai with my laptop that has all my pictures, I can. I’ve sifted through the photos I’ve taken over the past year, and have narrowed it down to my favorites. These pictures make me smile, show an interesting perspective, or carry a certain memory. Here’s my year in photos…

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