Backpacking the Tahoe Rim Trail

The Tahoe Rim Trail is 165 miles long and goes around the entirety of Lake Tahoe. You can choose to complete the thru-hike in one fell swoop, you can do day hikes on portions of it, or you can choose to backpack just parts of it. I have done the latter two, but I want to talk specifically about backpacking from Mt. Rose Summit to Spooner Summit on the Tahoe Rim Trail.

The Trail

You technically start just south of Mt Rose Summit (within walking distance) at Tahoe Meadows. There is a huge parking lot where you can leave your car and a proper toilet before embarking into the wilderness. This section of the TRT is about 25 miles long. We hiked around 15 miles the first day and 10 miles the last day. I recommend you leave a car at the Spooner Summit Trail head. You might be able to hitch a ride back, but I was so beat after this trek, that the last thing I wanted to worry about was how I getting back to my car. The trail takes you up along the east shore of Lake Tahoe, and the highlight of our first day is when you reach the summit above Marlette Lake. Here you get a view of Marlette and Tahoe in one shot. If you are keen on visiting Marlette Lake, read my blog about the Lake Tahoe Flume Trail. From this point, your first day of hiking is almost complete. There is a campground you can stay at called Marlette Peak Campground. They have vault toilets, bear lockers, a picnic table, a fire ring and most importantly – potable water. We made dinner, played cards and enjoyed some whiskey after a long day of hiking.

On day two, you’ll wind alongside a mountain offering picturesque views of Lake Tahoe before you head into the trees until you reach Spooner Summit and the end of the hike. Do look out for the TRT signs. At one point we ended up on the Flume Trail and had to back pedal. We probably added about 1 mile to our overall hike with this little detour.

The Essentials

You might be a seasoned pro at backpacking and not need a list. For me, this was my first trip. I had a backpack – it was the one I had trekked all through New Zealand, Europe, and Peru – and that was it. It’s a little small compared to some traditional backpacking backpacks – 46L – but I am just over 5’, and when that thing is stuffed, it’s heavy for me. Outside of my backpack and hiking clothes, I didn’t own anything needed for backpacking. I borrowed a sleeping bag from a friend. I opted for her warmer bag because I get cold easily, and we were going to be camping high in the Sierra. I didn’t have a stove, so I brought food that didn’t require heat. I packed tortillas, peanut butter, nuts, jerky, protein bars, and a couple of Mountain House’s freeze-dried meal Granola with Blueberries and Milk – just add cold water. One of my friends brought his Jet Boil and ended up trading me one of my Granola meals for a Steak and Pepper meal. It was pretty tasty, but then again anything is pretty tasty after a 10-mile hike carrying a 15 lb. backpack. I also brought a tarp to sleep on that night (I didn’t own a tent, nor would a tent fit in my backpack). However, one of my friends brought a tent but didn’t care to sleep in it, so he let me borrow it. I also packed an ultra-lightweight sleeping pad (borrowed), and whatever toiletries or clothes I thought I needed. Lucky for me, my friends had packed the playing cards and the whiskey.

Do pack extra socks! The last thing you want is your feet to develop blisters on this long trek, so a fresh pair of socks is mandatory! Also mandatory is water. I brought 4 water bottles. I did not bring a filtration system because the campground had potable water (and lots of bees, but that’s beside the point).

I don’t have a packing list for backpacking to share with you (though I most likely will end up creating one), but if you have any thoughts or questions about what to bring, or what life is like on the TRT either leave me a comment below or tweet me at @keeliec5. I’d love to hear from you!

Until next time…..

Cheers!

Keelie

The Amazon and Back Again

As I sit on this extra-long plane ride home from Dallas, (thanks Air Force One) I have decided to finally finish writing about my trip to Peru. I left off returning home from Machu Picchu tired and excited. I had a free day before I had to go back to school and then that night I would take the bus to Puerto Maldonado (Peruvian Amazon). I did most of my packing before school, but it didn’t even dawn on me that I was supposed to check out of my room and remove my belongings since I wouldn’t be sleeping there. I ended up having to pay for the extra night, but luckily it wasn’t expensive. My silly mistake. I grabbed my bags and took a cab to the bus stop. The bus we were on was pretty fancy in my opinion, and I had a killer seat. I sat on the top level, right up front. It was a single seat with no one behind me. The closest people were across the aisle. They had free movies, and I was getting into my book. It was an overnight bus, meaning I left at 9pm and was arriving at 7am, so I knew sleep was crucial. In between cat naps I would look out the window and watch the rain fall and the scenery change. I was going from 11,000 feet high in the Andes to Sea Level in the jungle. I could see the condensation on the bus windows and feel the humidity. I finally dozed off for quite some time only to be awoken by the bus making a sudden stop and people getting on board. It was the Peruvian Military, and when they came on I could vaguely understand they were asking for passports. I handed the man my passport, he looked at it, looked at me and then returned it. He did the same to my neighbors across the aisle and then asked me for mine again. I assumed he was looking for my visa slip which I kept in a different location so it didn’t slip out of my passport. Everywhere and everyone in Peru wants to see your passport. I handed it to him a second time, he checked everything out and then returned it back to me. He left the bus with some of the local’s id cards and returned later to hand them back. I guess he was cross checking their names on some database. I found out later that he also took some passports from the lower level off the bus and returned them later. I think I would have been nervous had a scary looking foreign military man that I cannot communicate with took my passport out of my sight. Everything ended up okay. I guess they do random stops to make sure no one on the bus had been reported missing or is on a known list. Safety precautions. I arrived in Puerto Maldonado and boy was it humid. I hadn’t felt that type of humidity in a long time. Luckily I showed up during a “storm” (it was overcast), so I wasn’t getting all the heat. I found the man with the sign waiting for my group and he took us to our destination. We were to hang out at the headquarters of our lodge while we waited for everyone else to arrive before we could take the boat to our lodge. I was definitely tired and ready for a shower. We got a home cooked breakfast from the neighbors who were originally from Morro Bay, California. It was delicious. The boat ride down the Made de Dios River and it was was long. It felt like forever before we reached Planet Amazon. I liked the lodge. I got my own private bungalow (because I was travelling solo), and we had all our meals cooked for us. I was there for two nights and everything was led by a guide.  I thought the main lodge area might have wifi but it did not. I was okay with the idea of being separated from the online world for a while, but I had told a few people I would take to them that night, so I was hoping they wouldn’t worry. We went on guided walks looking at the flora and fauna and keeping an eye out for wild life. We visited a wildlife sanctuary, went Cayman spotting and on a night nature walk. We climbed a tree bridge that gave us an incredible view from the tree top. Since it was overcast the whole time I was there the weather was perfect and I didn’t have a problem with bugs. I had some pretty awesome people in my group, and luckily a few of them were taking the same night bus as I back to Cusco. Because of flights, we had to take the boat back to the main town quite early. Puerto Maldonado is not as big of a tourist town as Cusco, so it was nice getting a different view of Peru. I slept like a baby on the bus ride back, and this time no cops came aboard. The only bummer was we got back at 7am and you can’t check in until after 12, so we dropped off our bags, grabbed some breakfast and explored more around Cusco. This was it for me. I was going home the next morning. I bought any last minute trinkets and headed back to my room. I took a much needed shower and nap. Even though I slept on the bus, there is nothing like sleeping on a non-moving bed. I grabbed one last meal and hung out at the bar in my hostel one last time. I had an excellent time in Cusco. I was a little sad I wasn’t getting to explore more of Peru or South America, but I had been travelling for a long time and was ready to go home.

 

Machu Picchu

I arrived for my briefing the Tuesday before my Machu Picchu Trek. I met the other people I would be hiking with and my guide. We had 5 people in total. Two Greek girls, one lives in Zurich, the other in Edinburgh, and an Australian couple who were on their honeymoon. We were given the run down for our trek. Turns out I only needed to take my small day pack and carry my essentials. My clothes, toiletries, and anything else I needed would be carried in a duffel bag by a horse. My first backpacking experience was proving to be a fancy one. Not only was most of my stuff going to be carried for me, but I was going to have all my meals cooked for me, and they were going to be proper meals. No MREs or boiled noodles. We woke up bright and early the following morning. I decided to rent trekking poles because I wasn’t sure how my knee would handle the steep decline. The last time I did a steep decline was in Big Sur, it hurt quite a bit, and since I was going to have to hike for about 4 days I didn’t want to take any chances. I don’t know if it was the hiking poles, or better use of my brace, but my knee never hurt. The only thing that suffered on my trek was my feet, but I’ll get to that. After renting any last minute equipment we might need, we got into the van and started our journey up the mountain. We made one more stop in a town for any last minute snacks and breakfast. The hot chocolate I ordered was terrible. Awful. We needed to get toilet paper. Some toys to hand out to children we would see on our hike if we wanted to, and any other last minute snacks we wanted. We continued to drive up the hill and boy was the scenery pretty. The mountains were so jagged and majestic. They were green, brown, black, and had all sorts of grass grazers roaming the sides. It was a long drive to where our hike was beginning. We left Cusco at about 6:30, and didn’t start hiking until 11ish. The 5 of us hiked with our guide Percy, and our stuff was tied to the three horses who were lead by the horseman and accompanied by the cook and his assistant. The very beginning was quite steep, and I feel my breath shortening and my heart pounding. We started our hiked at about 12,000 feet. Maybe more. It eventually leveled out so we could catch our breath and rest. After a few hours, we stopped for lunch. The horses and crew had taken a road while we hiked on the trail, so by the time we showed up to camp they had a lunch tent set up and food was just about ready. We had juice, guacamole, trout, rice, really fancy food for a hiking expedition. I don’t usually eat this fancy while camping. We sat around for a bit after lunch to let everything digest and then started hiking again. We eventually did walk right through the middle of a small village and yes the kids saw us coming. They are used to hikers walking through their village and giving them treats of some sort. I had a few toys I had bought to give out, and then I shared my bag of M&Ms. I didn’t realize there would be so many kids. I would of brought all the gum my mom gave me and handed that out, but I had left it behind for the school kids. Our camp for the night was just at the outskirts of the village. I watched a girl run up a mountain and cross a creek just to get to us and see what we had. Luckily I had a few M&Ms left. It’s almost like a permanent Halloween for these kids. They live a simple life. Miles from anywhere. Definitely self sufficient. We did see a school, but they live in small homes, and no wifi. We arrived at camp around 5pm. I should of brought a deck of cards, but at least I had a book. The cook puts on a happy hour for us around 6 which is basically tea and crackers. Then we have another 3 course meal, and after we chat for a bit, discuss the following day, and return to our tents for bed. The first night I read for a bit and went to bed around 9 or 9:30. I froze all night. I tried really hard to sleep without socks so my feet could breathe, but I couldn’t take it any longer. I was wearing yoga pants and a ski thermal, and I froze. So I didn’t sleep so well. Our morning wake up call came around 5 or 5:30 with one of the helpers tapping on our tent, “Buenos Diaz Senorita, muna tea.” And I would unzip the tent and he would hand us a cup of hot muna tea. I was originally supposed to sleep in a tent by myself, but I ended up switching with one of the Greek girls because I thought it would be warmer. Day two of our hike was meant to be the hardest. We were going to summit to about 15000 feet before lunch. It was also the most beautiful day, besides Machu Picchu. It was freezing when we first left, but as soon as we started hiking and the sun peaked out from behind the jagged mountains the layers started coming off. One of the hardest things for me was going to the bathroom. It had been over 24 hours since I’d last had a proper toilet, and we had done quite a bit of walking. Squatting and trying to your business was not that easy. Our hearts were still pounding, so we took it slow. We admired the landscape, the llamas and alpacas. It was just us and nature and a few villagers. You would see the farmers in the hills running after their flock in sandals, and here we were in proper hiking attire, walking slowly, and about to keel over. It was a long slow hike up, especially the last part which was the most steep, but it was so worth it. The view of the Lares Valley was calming. After spending time is a busy, firework loving, car honking Cusco, it was nice to be in a more remote and peaceful part of Peru. I felt more connected to the country and what it represented. We left camp before the helpers had finished taking it down. They had packed up camp and zoomed passed us on the mountain. At the end of our trek I called them loco for running up the mountain. After summiting, we took a nice well deserved pow wow. Photos were taken, food was eaten and I stretched. We were going to descend basically everything we had just walked up and then some for the rest of the day. Lunch was after the initial decent. The view for lunch was probably my favorite of the hike. I did acquire a bit of a headache and had some coca tea with lunch and took an Advil. I felt better, and then proceed to whack my head on my way out of the lunch spot. So mixed with lots of walking and high altitude, my head was throbbing. We left lunch early because it had started to rain. It was only a light rain, and it stayed away just in time for us to reach our next camp for the night. It was on the edge of another village. We arrived at 4, but I had to take a nap. My head hurt. Plus it was raining, and there wasn’t much else to do. After happy hour and dinner, we retired to our tents for bed. This place had about as proper of a toilet you can have in the middle of the Andean Wilderness and helped alleviate some stomach cramps. We were awoken the following morning with the same wake up call. Buenos Diaz Senorita, Muna tea. I slept much better that night. I wore socks. I wore my yoga pants and rain pants. And I wore my ski thermal and a fleece. I was toasty. We were only walking half a day on day three. Once we reached Ollantaytambo for lunch, we would have the day to explore before taking the train to Aguas Calenites or Machu Picchu Pueblo. And for night 3 we would be staying in an actual hotel, where we wouldn’t freeze, a true bed, proper toilet and we could shower! It was a dream come true for my group. The hike into town was a downhill gravel road. And it destroyed my feet. Since I wasn’t able to let my feet breathe because there was a lot of horse poop around, so I always wore my boots, or it was cold so I always wore my socks, my feet looked like they had been in the shower for to long. I had blisters all over my toes, the one on my pinky made the toe double in size, and the balls of my feet. I think the worst part was the athlete’s feet I started to develop. It was tearing my sensitive skin. As soon as we reached Ollantaytambo, the boots and socks came off. I apologized for any offensive smells. We didn’t explore the town. In our defense it was pouring rain, but we were also beat, and my feet hurt. So we sat in the cafe and drank awful coffee until our train. The train ride was gorgeous. Even with its misty atmosphere. Our guide picked us up at the station and showed us our hotel. We had 20 minutes to shower before dinner. Luckily I had a room to myself. It was an amazing shower. And I was really excited that I could wear shorts and no socks to bed. We got back from dinner late. It was a great time, but we all missed our cook’s food. He was an amazing cook, and earlier that day we had said our goodbyes to our team except the guide. We went to bed around 10 or 10:30 that night and had a morning wake up call at 4:00am. The reason for our trip had finally arrived. We were going to Machu Picchu. Our guide did not knock on our hotel doors and hand us a cup of tea, but the hotel did provide us with a sack breakfast. Everyone looked clean and refreshed from our days in the Andes. We had to get in line for the bus which wasn’t leaving til 5:30. Even though we arrived at about 4:50, the line was already long, and we were on the 6th bus. The bus ride up was steep, windy and gorgeous. There were some people hiking up. We were glad that wasn’t us. We had done enough hiking, and still had some more to do at the site. We waited until the gates open at 6am, and watched the sunrise over Machu Picchu. Just like the Incas. We took some tourist photos, and our guide gave us the run down on the incomplete ruins. Thank goodness the Spanish never found it. We said our goodbyes to our guide, and decided to climb up to sun gate. Basically its another gigantic hill you climb, in the heat, to get an epic view of the site. Sun Gate is where the Inca Trail trekkers first see the ruins. It’s where the “sun first hits”. It was another long and hard hike, but beautiful. Everywhere you looked was beauty. Everything was so green, and ridged. We ate our lunch at the top and then made the climb back down. We took a few more tourist photos and decided we were ready to relax. After taking the bus down we grabbed lunch, did a bit of shopping in the market, and waited for our train. The next 3 to 4 hours were long. It was a train ride, and then an exceptionally long bus ride home. It was after 9pm when we got back to Cusco. And by the time we ate dinner and showered we all were going to bed close to midnight. It was a long but magical day. One I will remember forever.

My Hitchhiking Tips

I had been in New Zealand for over a month and had not tried to hitchhike yet. I only had a few weeks left in the country, so I thought if this is something I want to try I better get to it. I was heading to Hokitika, and had read all about the Hokitika Gorge in my Lonely Planet book. It was definitely a place I wanted to visit. My only problem was I had no car, and the gorge was about 35km (22 miles) one way from my hostel. It was my chance to shine and hitchhike for the first time. I succeeded. I even hitchhiked again in Wanaka when I wanted to hike Roy’s Peak. My personal experiences are documented in my blog which you are welcome to read. But now as an expert hitchhiker, I would like to share my tips to make your hitchhiking experience a smooth one.

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The Hokitika sign at sunset 

 

  1. Have a plan. Whether it’s a backup plan, like if no one picks you up how will you get to your destination? How long are you willing to wait for someone to pick you up? And if you are walking with your thumb out, remember in the event you don’t get picked up you will have to walk back. So don’t walk to far away from home. I never knew of someone who didn’t get a ride in New Zealand. The kiwis and their tourists are some of the friendliest people I know. But I would like this guide to be a universal one you can use all over the world.

 

  1. Pick a bad ass place to go. It just makes everything that much more exciting. You are headed to some awesome, one of a kind location, and getting a ride from a total stranger. It’s exhilarating, and makes for a hell of a story. As someone who travelled exclusively by bus, hitchhiking got me to places I would have never been able to see otherwise.

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Swing bridge across the Hokitika Gorge 

 

  1. The thumb or the sign? I would use the sign in the event that from your current location you can get to multiple destinations. This prevents people from pulling over just to find out you aren’t going in the same direction. If you are on the main road, and it only goes to your desired destination then I believe your thumb will work just fine.

 

  1. Walk on the same side of the road as the cars going in your desired direction. I think this is common sense. Also, if you happen to be on a narrow road with little to no pull outs, I think you should stay still at a good pull over point. Maybe stand just before the pull over point (in a safe location obviously), so the driver has time to see you and pull over.

 

  1. Make eye contact. I think this is important because it creates a relationship with the driver before they pull over. They could have thought, “Don’t really want to pick up that hitchhiker.” But then they see you making eye contact with them, and they see your smile, and it could just change their mind. I would walk facing the direction I was headed, and when I would hear a car, I would turn to make eye contact. Sometimes, my one arm got tired, so I would walk backwards.

 

  1. Smile, think positive and have fun. Think about when you are driving down the road and you see someone with their thumb sticking out. Who are you more likely to pick up, someone smiling and happy? Or someone who looks miserable and frowning? You will be surprised how far a simple smile can get you. Also, if you think you are going to fail, you are more likely to fail. So keep sticking your thumb out and know that someone is going to pull over for you. But most importantly have fun. Hopefully no one is in a dire situation, and you are just looking for a new experience to write home about.

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The summit at Roy’s Peak (Wanaka)

 

So get out there. Be safe. And experience something new!

Change for a 20?

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It was March 1st; my last day in Rome, and the weather was beautiful. The sun was out. There was no wind. I wish it had been weather like this my entire trip. Baking in the sun I felt happy. I decided to sleep in as late as possible, and not leave my room until checkout. My flight to London wasn’t until 8:30pm, so I had some time to kill. I had basically seen what I wanted to see. I could have visited a museum, but with the weather so nice I felt guilty about spending it inside. I decided to revisit the places I liked most, and pick a few spots to enjoy the sunshine and read a good book. I decided to get breakfast. Italy was the first place I saw signs that read, “No sitting fee.” You would charge me more to sit in your café? Why would I ever sit there? It might be the cynical American in me speaking, but if you charge me to sit in your café, you can better believe I won’t be tipping, but more likely I won’t be eating there. So in places like that, everyone crowds around the counter and drinks their coffee or eats their biscuit. I was tricked when I ate breakfast. I don’t remember seeing a sign about a sitting fee. The guy asked if I wanted to sit and I said sure. Sure enough when I got up to pay a $2 fee was added to my bill. And I only had a coffee and a croissant. I thought that was a cheeky move. My first stop in the great sunshine was to the colosseum again. I really liked that place. I saw the queue to get in, and was glad I didn’t have to wait in it. Rome did seem a bit more crowded, and I’m sure it was because of the abundance of sunshine. I walked around and took more pictures. You know, typical tourist things. Then I made my way up the main road, past the Roman Forum, and to Palazzo Valentini (which was that large museum I was describing in my previous blog). I then went to the Campidoglio, and just chilled for a bit. I could sit on the wall and gaze at the ruins below. People watch. I could have read my book, but decided not to. It had actually been a few hours since I left my room and decided it was time to figure out lunch. There was an outdoor market plaza place I had gone to everyday and I really wanted to get some food there. I hate it though, when I am looking at a menu and some guy comes up to me and says “come to my restaurant”. “Come follow me”. I really don’t like being told what to do. And I like to make my own decisions. So I went into the restaurant next to his. I went with the homemade pasta fettuccine alfredo. And it was good. Not quite like the raviolis I had in Florence, but still good. Better than the tortellinis I had which I’m pretty sure came from the same package that I buy at the grocery store. After my pasta, it was time for one last gelato. There was a plaza of ruins I liked, and decided to sit and eat it there. But before gelato, I went to the ruins and saw more cats. Tons of cats this time. And they were lying out in the sun all over the ruins. I was really confused why there were so many cats. I pet about 3 cats before I saw the sign that said “Cat Sanctuary.” It all made sense. I went in and checked it out. There were cats everywhere. But at the sanctuary they feed them, and take care of them. Make sure they aren’t sick or and that they can’t make more cats. Some cats were disabled and had to be kept in a special room. All the cats were friendly. So after the cat sanctuary, I went and got my gelato, and came back to the ruins to eat it. I had invented a cool game of I spy a Kitty. And you could really find kitties hidden all over the ruins. My first night in Rome, I stayed in a different place than where I had been staying recently. I also left my book there. They had it. I just needed to go get it. My time in Rome was coming to an end, so I decided to go and retrieve my book. It ended up being quite a walk. And I was sweating by the time I got there. And when I looked at the time, I felt like I was running out of time. I needed to collect my book, walk back to my new place, collect my bag, walk to the train station, take the train to the airport, check in, and then relax. And that is what I did. All that walking in the Italian sun made me sweat a little. Opps. But everything worked out. I was on an empty airplane headed back to London for the last time. It was after 10pm when we landed. So it was after 11pm in Italy. I took the train, and decided I could walk from the station to my hotel. It was maybe a 15 minute walk. The Paddington Station was confusing to get out of for someone looking to walk. I ended in a plaza type thing, and decided to follow this large group of people. Well they were headed to their hotel which lead to nowhere. So I had to pull out a map and figure out where I was. The hotel clerk gave me some direction which was nice. I finally found the main road after wondering around aimlessly for 15-20 minutes. So my 15 minute walk turned into a 40 minute walk. All while lugging my suitcase in the dark through London. The area I was in seemed pretty empty to, so I kept looking over my shoulder just in case. Really I had been walking since 11am in Rome, and it was now almost midnight in London and I was still walking. Once I got on the main road I could sort of tell where I was. And I was headed in a direction I was familiar with, so I wasn’t worried. I finally made it to the hotel at midnight. Checked in and went to sleep. I was going to see the Lion King play the following day, and my friend from America was coming to meet me. It was going to be another long day. The play was at 2, and I didn’t get out of bed until almost 11. It poured rain all morning, and I had experienced enough of that in Italy. The play was amazing. I loved the songs and the visuals. I could totally be a play goer if they didn’t cost an arm and a leg. After the play, I decided to hang out in the Covent Garden area and wait for my friend. She was scheduled to land around 7:30. I found a neat bar that sold 3 pound Stellas. I hung there until about 8, and decided to head to the hotel and wait for Wilma. I arrived at 8:30 and no sign of her. 8:30 turned into 9 and still no sign. We had dinner plans. I only ate a small salad after the play to hold me over til dinner. At 9:30 I was getting ready to eat my arm. I finally had to leave a note and go to Tesco’s for something to snack on. At almost 10pm, I was getting ready for bed. I suppose I could have turned the TV on, but didn’t think of that. Instead I sat there in silence, and every time I heard footsteps outside I ran and opened the door to find my neighbors coming and going. And after the third time of that happening, I’m sure my neighbors think I’m a freak. At 10pm I heard a knock. It was Wilma. She was finally here! Turns out the subway I told her to take was on a delay. So she went to a different stop and decided to walk. I think she didn’t realize how massive Hyde Park is, and so she walked for over an hour. She was about to eat her arm off as well so we went down the road for some Indian. The curry was good. Spicy but good. I asked the worker if he could break my 20. He said he didn’t have enough bills to do so. Basically the story is the bill was 22 pounds. Wilma and I each owed 11. We both has 20s, and I had a 10. The worker refused to break a 20. He saw my 20 and 10, and basically said you have enough money to pay for it. Use this. Well that would consist of me paying for the whole meal. Then Wilma asked if he could split the check, and he almost got angry. So I ended up paying for it, and Wilma and I worked it out later. But now looking back, we should have each thrown in a 20. Since the bill was 22 he would basically have to break a 20 anyway. And what type of restaurant doesn’t have change for a 20! My second thought was I should have put it on my card. Something to say forget you for being difficult. I left no tip. Though I think the worker being difficult about the bill was different from our waiter. I was upset and couldn’t really tell. Thus concluded my second night and Wilma’s first in London. What respectable establishment doesn’t have change for a 20?!

The Final Go

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It was Thursday, and on Saturday I was scheduled to participate in the Nuts Challenge. It is 14k (two laps) in the cold, sloppy mud, and about 50 obstacles or something. Bottom line, I really needed to go on one final run to prepare my body for torture on Saturday. I told Wilma my plan, and gave her some suggestions to do while I was out. She was sleeping when I left, and 10k later she was still sleeping. In all fairness, she had been consistently traveling for the last few days, and probably hadn’t had a proper night’s sleep to adjust to the time difference yet. Plus she was getting sick. Anyway, it worked out. Because I did my run, and still had time to shower and get ready, and then we could hit the town of London together. I had already done most of London tourist things before, so I let Wilma pick what she wanted to see and guided her there. We got lunch, checked out Parliament, Buckingham Palace and then went to Harrods. Harrods was a recommendation of my Nana’s. It’s her favorite store even though she can’t really afford to shop there. I think most people can’t afford to shop there. We both needed to use the restroom and searched for it in Harrods. I don’t know why the bathroom was so difficult to find there, but it took about 4 floors, two workers and almost 20 minutes to find it. Harrods reminded me of a casino. The décor was Egyptian Jungle themed. Wilma described it as the Disneyland of department stores. We went to a café on the 6 floor or something and had some overpriced coffee and hot chocolate. Earlier in the day we had tried to buy our train ticket from London to Worthing. This would have been my third ticket I bought with them. For some reason we could not purchase the tickets online. I thought it was their website, but it was now 5pm and I still couldn’t purchase train tickets, so I decided to call them. The lady on the phone said she could see where I had tried to buy my train tickets 3 different times. She said their restricted my account for fraud. I explained it was not fraud. I had bought tickets online with them before using the exact same credit card. She said there was nothing she could do and the restriction would be removed tomorrow. I became angry because tomorrow I would have to pay full price for a train ticket which was over 4 times the price I had been quoted online. I argued with them about restricting my account when I had used them before no problem, and the customer service rep started giving me attitude and asking me if I would prefer they did nothing to monitor my account and let random people buy train tickets under my name and card. And I said it’s not FRAUD! You are preventing ME from buying a ticket. It was not a pleasant phone call, as we both started getting rather sassy. I basically told her thanks for nothing, she said you’re welcome and we hung up. I then had a brilliant idea to go to the train station and buy the tickets there. There was no way they could say anything about fraud because I would physically be there with my card and ID. In the kiosk I could only see full price tickets so I waited in line to talk to someone. He searched his computer and could only find full price tickets. I started to argue again. I was looking at my phone maybe ½ hour ago and saw the discounted tickets. He said there was nothing he could do. We saw another customer service place for Southern and Wilma asked if I wanted to go in there and talk to someone. We were headed to a Jack the Ripper tour that night and had originally planned on stopping by the hotel before going to the tour. We were running out of time now and would probably have to head straight to the tour. I went inside the office and complained again. The lady said she understood my frustration, was confused why Southern put a fraud warning on my account and told me there was nothing she could do. The only good thing the lady said was at 6pm the systems reset and advance tickets were no longer available. Why couldn’t anyway tell me that earlier! I hung up the phone at 5:25 and was talking to this lady at 6:30. I was beyond frustrated with Southern Train and I wish there was another way to get from London to Worthing because I would do it just so I didn’t have to take their service. Unfortunately there wasn’t and I was forced to pay full price for a train ticket. I tried to buy my first train ticket from them at 11am online. It still gets me boiled up thinking about it. I filed a complaint. I’m sure nothing will come from it, but I hope anyone reading this can learn the cheeky ways of the train companies so they don’t get scammed like me.  So after paying a ridiculous amount of money for a train ticket, we went to East London for our Jack the Ripper tour. The tour was pretty cool. It was a history lesson about the era, the area and the famed killer all in one. After the tour we finally made it back to our hotel to drop off some shopping and I needed to brush my hair. It was now after 10pm and definitely dinner time. I thought we might go for a few beers afterwards and decided to head to Camden Town. The only place still serving food was the kebab joint but oh well. We made our way into a local pub and quickly made friends with a group of boys there. We were chatting and having a good time when one of the boys got creepy. Think Italian Creepy but even more abrasive and up front about his intentions. He even pulled some of the same lines as the Italian like, “what kind of adventures are you looking for.” And I rolled my eyes and thought to myself not again. So again I said no, no, no and no. But he wouldn’t drop it. I had no idea how to get Wilma involved in the conversation. It wasn’t like I could text her an SOS. The creepo finally asked a question about her and I said, “How about you ask her yourself.” Wilma heard her name called and turned to us. The Turkish boy now living in London asked Wilma his questions and she was quite taken aback. WTF is what she was thinking. And thank goodness I’m not in this alone anymore is what I was thinking. I would have left a long time ago, but I really wanted to finish my drink. And for a second there I thought the guy was kidding with his advances. But after he received more nos from both Wilma and I he said, “Well why you don’t guys leave then.” At this point the rest of his friend had gone out for a cigarette, and Wilma said, “Don’t you smoke?”  The boy left for a minute, I started chugging my beer, and when he returned he said, “Why are you two still here?” It wasn’t funny anymore. I finished my beer, went to the bathroom and we left. We said goodbye to the normal boys we met and they were confused as to why we were leaving so soon. I thought in my head. Your friend is a freak. That’s why. Chilling at the second bar we saw two of the normal boys show up and I shook my head. Please don’t let the creep be here. He wasn’t thank goodness. They even admitted to him getting perverted when he is drinking. Thanks for warning us aholes. We basically shut everything is Camden Town down and then took a cab home. I called the front desk to ask what time check out was and he said whenever, just not before 7am. Since it was 3:30am I don’t think checking out after 7am would be an issue. But for me to check out whenever. That clerk might regret telling us that.

When in Rome

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It is my last day in The United Kingdom. Today I will head back to NYC, and then make the journey to my beloved West Coast. I remember when it was my final day in New Zealand. That seems like ages ago now. New Zealand flew by so fast. When I was leaving, I felt as if I had just arrived. Now as I am getting ready to leave the UK, I feel like I have been here forever. Before I recall my final week in England, let me finish up with Italy. I woke up early and made my way to the Colosseum. Because I was so early I didn’t have to queue for long. I got my audio guide and started exploring inside. The first view was spectacular. I could imagine myself being thrown back in time and gathered in the colosseum for a fight. You can now see the stage floor and what lies beneath. I envisioned the ferocious beasts roaring below, and the gladiators preparing for their next fight. I could picture where the nobility would sit and the peasants. You get a sense of how loud the colosseum would get, and the cheers and boos echoing off the walls. Anytime I would throw myself back into Roman times, I would be thrusted back into the present as I ducked to avoid a selfie stick being handled by a giggling girl. This was the colosseum now. Home to thousands of visitors and selfie sticks daily. Although it was crowded, it was manageable. I couldn’t imagine this place in the summer. Hot, and about 5 times as crowded. For how massive the colosseum is, you can only view a small portion of it. I’m sure it’s for safety reasons, and to help preserve the ancient ruins. After the colosseum, I wondered around the surrounding area and ticked sights off of my checklist. I made my way up the main road and gazed at the ruins on each side. I visited a few more piazzas, and saw statues similar to those in Florence. There is a giant museum, dawned with flags, heroic statues, and I was memorized. I walked to the Pantheon and had a cappuccino at Saint-Eustache. The birthplace of the espresso. At this point it starting pouring. I didn’t bring my umbrella. It was too heavy to carry both my umbrella and water bottle, so each morning I made a decision which to bring. Yet each time I didn’t bring my umbrella it poured, and when I did bring it, it never rained. I stopped by the Trevi Fountain one more time. This time there was only about 50 people around since it was pouring. I didn’t stay long. I was getting soaked. After my “linner”. Late lunch, early dinner. I dried off, changed and went back out to wonder the streets of Rome. I went back to stroll through the ruins on the main road again. I explored on the other side of the river, and stepped inside of a church when Mass was in session. This church must be used to visitors because people were coming and going from the back seats frequently. I hung out for a bit and then decided to make my way back to my side of town. It had been a long day walking around Rome, and tomorrow was going to be another long day. I was going to Vatican City. I didn’t wake up as early the following morning as I had hoped. Instead of arriving at the Vatican at 7am like it had been suggested to me, I finally arrived around 8:45am. I took the subway. I was very cautious of my surroundings. Everyone’s warnings came rushing to me about pick-pocketers, or people who would hold a knife to you for 20 Euros. I really didn’t want any of that to happen. The subway was packed. We were honestly packed in like sardines. I didn’t have a thick coat on thank goodness because I was sweating. The lady standing next to me was getting overheated as well. Each time we stopped I prayed no one else tried to get on the subway. I don’t know how we would fit in another soul. Luckily it thinned out. I got off at my stop, and when I emerged from the subway there was a man waiting there. Are you going to the Vatican? And he rambled off directions and told me about the different queues. I made my way closer and could see the queue. I tried to pull out my map to make sure this is where I wanted to be. My goal was to see St Peter’s Cathedral first. A groups of guys at the corner started shouting more directions at me, and asking if I wanted to pay for a tour to skip the queue. I tried to ignore then and they started asking, “Do you speak English?!” I really wish I knew a line in some uncommon language like Klingon and could pretend I didn’t speak English so people would leave me alone. I got in the queue which turned out to be the line for the Vatican Museum. I had no idea if this was the line I needed to be in to see St. Peter’s or whether I would have to queue again. And thus my issue with Vatican City. I was ill prepared. I didn’t have a map. My only tips were about visiting St Peter’s, and now I was heading into a museum. The best thing about Vatican City was the abundant supply of bathrooms. Rome lacks public bathrooms, so it was nice being in a place where I could drink as much water as I wanted and know a toilet would be nearby. It also may have been beneficial taking a tour through the Vatican because I had no idea what I was looking at. I saw so many tapestries and religious paintings while in Italy. I made my way into the Sistine Chapel which was crowded, an Italian theme. I didn’t know anything about the Sistine Chapel expect it was famous, but I didn’t know what for. The museum didn’t offer any reading material, so I couldn’t tell what I was looking for. I stared at the walls and the roof which I found very busy. I was looking for a way into St Peter’s Basilica, and was hoping I wouldn’t have to wait in another queue. One guard told me I could get there through the Sistine Chapel. Instead of going left like I did, I needed to go right. I couldn’t backtrack to the Sistine Chapel; I had to go through the museum again. So I walked swiftly through the museum again, passed all the same artifacts, and was back in the Sistine Chapel. I looked at the walls again and headed for the door on the right. The sign said guided tours only. I asked another guard how to get to St Peter’s and the guard said through the door on the right. So I walked through the door for guided tours only. I was promptly presented with a fork in the road. One was the cupola, the top of the Basilica, and the other was for the Tombs. My friend recommended the tombs, so that is where I went. I thought I might have a chance to visit the cupola later, but I never saw another entrance to it that didn’t include queuing up again outside. The tombs of the past Popes was a sight to see. I wasn’t disappointed, and when I finally made it inside St Peter’s it was magical. The floor, the ceiling, the walls, the decor, everything about it was stunning. It was huge, and looked like it could host multiple Masses at once. I walked around every nook and cranny that I could and tried to absorb all the good juju around me. Being inside such a magical place took its emotional toll on me, and I was ready to go. I spent some time in the square outside which was just as spectacular as the inside. The sun started to come out as well. It was still early in the day. I had a lot of time to see what was left of Rome, so I decided to walk back to the other side of the river. I saw Rome’s castle. I went to another square that had Egyptian looking cats all around it. Then I decided to check out Leonardo da Vinci’s museum. For a few reasons. One was, I really needed to use the restroom, and I figured a museum would have a bathroom. I never saw any public bathrooms in Rome, and most of the time I either went where I had lunch, a museum, or I walked back to my place. And two, I thought a Leonardo da Vinci museum would be cool. The museum was in a church and had no bathroom. The workers pointed me in a direction of a public bathroom which I never found and a Burger King which had closed their bathroom for cleaning. I did eventually find a bar that let me use their restroom without having to buy anything. I then decided Rome smells like poo because there are no public toilets. I went back to the museum which ended up being quite cool. As I emerged from the museum, I saw the rain. It was raining cats and dogs. I did have better rain pants on, and a rain coat, but I knew I would still get drenched. At this point I was just ready to go home. It was probably a 45-minute walk in the rain, but I eventually made it back. My under layers were dry, but my pants, jacket and shoes were soaked. I changed into something dry and relaxed for the rest of the night. I sat in my room and watched the rain pour down from the window. Not the most exciting way to spend my last night in Italy, but it’s what I did.