Thank you

Fuck you Liz Gilbert!

My idea to travel began over a year ago, and since the movie based on her book Eat, Pray, Love was released in August of 2010, all I hear from people is, “Oh, you are traveling the world just like Liz Gilbert did.”  For the record, the book and the movie had nothing to do with my travels.  I went to Bali because I was in southeast Asia and it’s a place I’d heard was like paradise.  I went to Italy because my best friend Antonello lives in Florence.  I purposely didn’t add India in to my trip just to spite Liz Gilbert.  And based on reading the book and seeing the movie, she should have skipped that part as well.  It was difficult for me to get through.  I mean, how interesting could hearing about someone else finding their faith in God be?  I want that hour of my life back.

The idea to travel had been brewing in my mind for some time.  What really solidified the idea was a different movie, called Revolutionary Road starring Leonardo Dicaprio and Kate Winslet.  In this film, Kate and Leo have a pretty boring life, but both agree that they want something more out of it.  They said that the suburban lifestyle they were living was just temporary, and the only reason it was tolerable was that they felt removed from it; above it, like they were better than it and it wasn’t really who they were.  They decide to up and leave to go to Paris to live, but there were a few things that happened that stopped that from becoming a reality.  She got pregnant with their 3rd kid, while he got a very tempting offer for a raise and promotion at work.  They ended up stuck in their unhappy life and became trapped in it.

After watching this, what most people would consider a “depressing”, movie, I was moved.  It spoke to me.  I vowed that I wouldn’t let the same thing happen to me.  Upon giving my one-month notice to my job the day after watching the movie, the CEO called me directly and asked me to stay.  He offered me a raise, a promotion, and even went as far as to offer me the ability to only work Tuesday through Thursday.  He was offering me 4-day weekends for more money!  As tempted as I was, the fate of young Leo and Kate was etched into my mind, and I quickly but respectfully declined the great offer.  As tremendous as the offer was, I was scared out of my mind that something would come up in a few months that would make me stay at work even longer, and my travels would never really start.  I knew that I would regret waiting to travel, and if I didn’t just pull the trigger and leave work to do it now, I never would.  I refused to have any regrets, and instead of just hoping that it happened, I put myself out there on the line, into a situation that wasn’t “normal”, and I took a chance.

I took a lot of criticism for my decision to leave.  I heard I was ruining my career, that there would be a massive hole in my resume and why would I want to throw that all away.  I should just take a 2 or 3 week vacation somewhere and then go back to work afterwards.  To leave work turned out to be the best decision of my life.  However, the decision to leave was just the start…now I actually had to start traveling!  Deciding to take the year off and travel the world was great.  There are so many people that I need to thank who made the year off possible, and as great as it was:

First and foremost, I need to thank my parents.  I don’t know how to start to list the sacrifices they made for me.  The lease for the apartment I lived at in NYC was up at the end of February, so I spent a few months living with my parents and my brother again before I started traveling.  This is also while I was studying for the level 3 exam of the CFA Program.  I was stressed, exhausted and extremely moody, but somehow my family stuck by me, dealt with my crazy mood swings, and supported me to the fullest.  Because I was sleeping in a loft area with no doors, everyone made sure to be really quiet all the time so as to not disturb me.  My parents changed their coffee maker because the old one would beep loudly every morning and wake me up.  They moved the cat litter and the dog’s water and food bowl into their bathroom, so feeding the animals in the morning wouldn’t wake me up.  On the day of the actual exam (June 5th), I came home in between the morning and afternoon session (Morning session was from 9 – 12, afternoon was 2 – 5pm) to eat some lunch.  My father knew to not ask me how the test was going (as I warned him the night before), and went so far as to retreat to his room and not say a word at all, so I wouldn’t get out of the zone.  Little things like that showed me how much they cared about my success and how they would do anything for me.

My brother also somehow put up with me, and sacrificed a lot as well.  In addition to being quiet when I was sleeping, he would be there to unwind with me after I spent 15 hours in the library that day.  He gave me his car for a month or two so I could drive to and from the library while he had to rely on rides to and from work every day.  From the beginning of this process, he has been the best teammate ever.

After the exam in early June, I really started traveling.  The best part of being away and traveling on my own was that it forced me to meet and connect with people from all walks of life.  I met so many amazing people, and the year off truly made me believe that the human spirit is inherently good-natured, and despite the bad seeds you read about in the news, most people are kind and willing to help people in any way they can.  It started in Africa with Jean-Luc, and hopefully there will be no end to it.

Here are my thank-yous, in chronological order:

  • Jax – Bonnaroo wouldn’t have been possible without you.  How could you possibly been that prepared?  Thanks for letting me wake you up all night and not getting mad.
  • NG – For starting my travels with me and trying to show up in every other city I went to.  And also thanks for having such a great last name.  As much as I was joking about your name showing up everywhere I went, it must have been a symbol of something more, because I truly felt that you were there with me and were such a part of everything I did.
  • Dave and Jean-Luc – I am convinced I would be in a ditch in the middle of Tanzania, Africa right now without you guys!  I still need to reciprocate the dinner and drinks you guys took care of for me.  I wouldn’t have reached the top of Kili without your support!
  • Shereen and Brian – I definitely wouldn’t have reached the top of Kili without your help, and the help of the fine folks at Professional PT.  Thanks for working so hard to make my dream of hiking the mountain 8 months after ACL surgery a reality.
  • Hussein, Rama and Saleem – For not letting me quit, and for pushing and motivating me to a level I didn’t know about before.
  • Kevin O’Rourke – For instilling values in me that made me such a “tough motherfucker!”  I refused to let my ancestors down.
  • Michael Jordan – For your words of wisdom that became my mantra during the most challenging moment of my life.
  • Luda – You are the bravest, craziest woman I know.  Who the hell hikes Kilimanjaro the day after finding out they are pregnant!?!?
  • ATM – Good looks on the tickets to the World Cup games.
  • Nello – For organizing our trip to South Africa.  For insisting on going cage-diving with great white sharks, which turned out to be such an incredible experience.  For going around Dubai with me for a few hours instead of staying at the airport during our layover, even though you had already done it and it was rushed.  For the hospitality you showed me in Italy last summer.  For the hospitality you showed me in Italy the beginning of this year.  For showing me around, introducing me around, and making me feel at home for the first time in a long time, in so many cities in Italy.  For letting me into your Italian world.  For being my personal tour guide / translator during my stay, for teaching me some awesome dishes that I still cook on a regular basis now.  For helping to put everything in perspective for me.  For not letting me thank you for anything in person, because “Saying thanks for hospitality is what strangers do.  Family doesn’t thank each other for things like this.”  Actually, I take my thank you back.  BFL.
  • Daniele – The gnocchi with pesto you made is still my favorite meal of the year, and you know why.
  • Mark from Amsterdam – For the great company on my first flight, and for later showing me around your town and taking me out to lunch.  I’m very happy to have met you.
  • Marie – For being the most supportive girlfriend imaginable.  Being cool with me traveling around the world is one thing, but being as supportive as you were while I was traveling is quite another.   One story sticks out in my mind that exemplifies what kind of person you are.  During the summer, we competed in what was both of our first triathlons.  Not caring about the times we got, we agreed to do the running part together (whoever finished the swim and bike first would wait for the other before starting the run).  You fell off of your bike after going over a huge bump, and since your hands were still on the handlebars, broke the fall with your arms and face.  Rather than worrying about your health and safety, you told the people working there that they needed to notify me that you wouldn’t be there to meet me to start the run.  You didn’t want me to just be standing around waiting for you.  Given that I had a rented bike with a huge “Blazing Saddles” logo on the front of it, it wasn’t hard to spot me out.  In addition, the main announcer of the race called my name out over the microphone.  3 different volunteers stopped me to ask if I was Matt, and then proceeded to tell me the situation.  They told me that you weren’t able to finish the race, but wanted me to continue.  I said that I didn’t care about the race anymore, and wanted to just go to the medical tent you were at.  The part of the story that I will never forget is that instead of going to the nearest medical tent to get assistance, you made them bring you to the tent next to the finish line, thereby forcing me to finish the race.  You knew that I would stop the race to see you if you were at one of the other tents, and you wanted so badly to ensure that I finished the race that you put off getting immediate medical attention (you ended up needing stitches on your upper lip).  Your selflessness in this situation exemplifies the mentality you have in all situations.  Rather than being a selfish girlfriend who wanted her boyfriend with her at all times, you encouraged me to continue on my travels because you didn’t want me to miss out on any experience I had planned on having.  Although I joke about how terrible the timing of our relationship was, in retrospect, it couldn’t have been better because it allowed me to see the type of person you really are.  Thank you for being you.
  • Vicki – For screwing Ryan on the bill in Boston.  You set the bar for how bad people can actually be, and made everyone else I met look good by comparison.  You essentially made $350 in 61 hours, or $5.74 an hour.  Prostitutes in Thailand make more than that.
  • Tiff and Ryan – For the great Robibero Family Vineyards wine, and for giving us a place to stay in the wine cellar.
  • Adam Jensen and the rest of Mission Hill – For putting on an awesome show in Boston (opening for Kid Rock and Bon Jovi), and then another awesome show at the Hard Rock in Pittsburgh, the first night of my cross country road trip.  Thanks for the extra hotel room you threw in for me, and for partying all night with us!
  • Gele and Holly – For coming out to the show and sharing some drinks and fun times.
  • Dre – You took a few days off of work to show me around Cleveland.  That was above and beyond what I was expecting.  As the first real host during the road trip, you set the bar extremely high.
  • Lally – For hooking me up with Dre.  Also, for being in constant touch throughout both of our years off.  For the awesome advice on travel insurance, visas, and a lot of other planning tips during our fake meetings in the Dune private conference room.  For inspiring me to grow a beard, and most importantly encouraging me to write this blog.  As you prognosticated, it allowed me an awesome medium to keep in touch with everyone back home, and really did force me to “do cool shit”.
  • Eli Manning and David Tyree – For “The Helmet Catch” which got me choked up while seeing the actual helmet in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
  • Stash – For putting up not one, but two people on your couches.  The air and water show was great, but I hope next year you actually get some air before falling into the water in rollerblades.
  • Luke – for making our relationship more pleasure than business.  It was great to finally meet you and Wera in person.  Also, thanks for providing the location for where I found out that I passed the level 3 exam of the CFA program.  And yes, Marie and I were drinking Johnny Blue at 9am when I found out, so thats why our coffee mugs might have smelled funny.
  • Presidents Washington, Roosevelt, Jefferson and Lincoln – For all of the service you gave to make America the great nation it is today.
  • Matty and Kelly Firing – For driving up to meet us for dinner in Denver, and for mailing me the refrigerator magnet from Denver that I forgot.
  • Kristen (Denver) – For the books you gave me knowing I would have a lot of reading time, and inscribing those books with your kind words.
  • The couple at the restaurant outside of Yellowstone National Park – You guys were great company, and our lengthy conversation was well worth setting our tent up in the dark that night.
  • The bears in Yellowstone – For deciding to not attack anyone during the 3 days we were there.
  • Binford – For putting us up in Seattle for 4 nights.  For helping me perfect my BB Gun shot by practicing on glass bottles placed on top of a propane BBQ.  We are not smart.  For taking the ride with me to San Fran.  Thanks for literally driving through a tree with me, and an awesome night camping in the redwoods where you Maguyvered that soda can into a lantern.
  • Steph Whelan – For putting me and your brother up in San Fran, and for putting up with me and your brother.  Connor is awesome.
  • Lisa O. – Thanks for the great list of suggestions for San Fran.
  • Jamie K and Beiner – For meeting me out in San Fran and making my experience there that much better.
  • Pem – For meeting me for drinks.  It was great to finally meet you after 7 years of talking fantasy football.
  • Mike Whelan – For running over the Golden Gate bridge with me and showing me around San Fran.  For riding with me from San Fran to LA, and extending your trip so you were in LA with me to celebrate my birthday.  You are a great friend.  Remember the bike ride along the pier in LA where we were talking to Little Carmine from the Sopranos.  We looked like the cutest couple.
  • Selom, Ryan and Marie – For flying across the country to be there with me during my birthday celebration.  If a man is judged on the greatness of the company he keeps around him, I could be the greatest man to ever live.
  • Tia Dos – Thanks for coming out for my birthday dinner, and then coming out to Spain and Italy to visit!  Your friends in Barcelona were awesome, and I’m so grateful for that introduction.  Such fun times!
  • Spiro and Beardmore – My west coast family!  Enough said.  You guys are the best, and you are the reason LA was my longest stop during my road trip.
  • The waiter at that restaurant in San Diego – For serving me a 40 of OE on a tray at a nice restaurant.  And also for hitting on my girlfriend in front of my face.  You reaffirmed the fact that she is really hot.
  • The Papa Johns delivery guy in Albuquerque, New Mexico – Thanks for the extra green chili peppers.
  • Mary – For finally meeting me in person after talking over the phone for the past couple of years.  I’m glad our relationship is now a personal one instead of strictly work-related.
  • Laura and Tony – Where else could I do a man-vs-food hot wing challenge and then drink wine out of a princess cup?  Between that and our homemade golf course, I’ll have memories for a lifetime.  And thanks Laura for going to the undergrad tailgate party with me while we left Tony with the boring MBA people!  Love you guys.
  • Sarah Jean and Dylan – I wish my time in New Orleans was longer.  To be continued…
  • Nana Connee – Your passing was the worst part of this year off, but being able to talk to you on the way from one city to the next was my favorite part.  I always thought you were being nice by rushing to get off the phone because you didn’t want to be a bother to me.  I had no idea you spoke to so many people each day that you didn’t have time for a long talk!  After you passed, everyone told us, “Oh, I just spoke to her!”  As a follow up to our last conversation, I did everything I set out to do, and accomplished every goal I set for myself.  I had Thanksgiving dinner with some dear friends of mine and wasn’t alone during the holiday.  And as you reminded me every time we spoke, I know that you love me and are so proud of me.  I love you and miss you.
  • Aunt Donna, Devon the Godfather, Nana Kay, Tim and the rest of the aunts, uncles and cousins in the Florida fam –  More on you guys later, but thanks for your love and support during the time of Connee’s passing.  Knowing my parents had you all there for them made leaving the country to continue my travels possible.
  • Jonny – It is incredible what you endured.  Your strength and courage during cleaning out Nana’s apartment is otherworldly.
  • Alex B – Thanks for the advice on traveling around China.  You were definitely a part of the reason I extended my trip around there, and I used your blog as a reference on more than one occasion.
  • Wolpe – Thanks for introducing me to Alex B.
  • James Ashley Evangelos – Where do I start.  More than showing me all over China and making some amazing memories, you encouraged me to be bold and experience things outside of my comfort zone.  Without your encouragement to try things alone, I wouldn’t have made it out of China.  Thanks for touring Beijing and Hong Kong with me, and not letting me settle for anything.  You lit a fire under my ass and motivated me to do everything to the fullest.  Providing me with a family to celebrate the holidays with in China was great, but having a home base on the other side of the world was even better.  Thanks for introducing me to your awesome crew out there, and making me feel at home when I was so far away from my actual home.  And while the red mark on my arm from the police in Hong Kong may have washed off, the memory of our time out there together will last forever.
  • Penny – You helped me with so many things (mailing something at the post office, bargaining the price of souvenirs, engraving the butt-scratcher I got for Marie, showing me how to order food in Chinese, using an ATM machine, exchanging money (and remembering to get my passport back when I did!), giving me your backpackers backpack to go all over China with, driving me all around town as my own personal tour guide, etc etc etc).  What will stick out the most for me is the times we spent together getting to know each other while James was working.  I am honored to be able to call a woman such as yourself my friend.
  • Lionel and Sophie – Randomly running into you guys at the airport turned out to be one of my favorite times in Hong Kong.  Thanks for keeping in touch and sharing your traveling experiences with me.  I’m still looking forward to meeting up again in the near future.
  • Vickie – Your goddaughter Krystal was right about you…you are the best.  Thanks for the amazing meal and for showing me around all over Hong Kong (even though I was battling a terrible hangover).  Your family is great, and I’m so grateful you let James and I into it.
  • John – The story of getting kicked out of 4 strip clubs because you were dancing on the pole lives on in infamy.  Thanks for showing us an amazing night out on the town!
  • Elton – My Guilin experience would have been terrible had I not met you.  Thanks for offering up your room so I could use your internet despite your being sick, and the recommendation of the hotel so I didn’t have to stay in that terrible place another night!
  • Matthias – For being the only other person in the Kunming airport that spoke English.  And thanks for sharing that taxi with me back in Tianjin.  Having some companionship during that time was great.
  • Ben – I had an awesome time partying with the locals in Chengdu with you.  Thanks for introducing me to street-meat delivery!
  • Wen-Ting – For not catching on to my poetry emails.
  • The Chinese tour group in Xi’an – For showing me what I needed to see, and for making me feel like a celebrity because you all wanted to take a picture with the foreigner.
  • Gurba – Thanks for running over the owner’s Mercedes so I was able to write the most entertaining blog entry of the year.  And our time in Tokyo wouldn’t have been the same without you.  I’m looking forward to year 2 of “Desination New Years”!
  • Horacio (proprietor of the Pandora Resort in Koh Samui) – For accommodating my schedule (or lack thereof) and for running such an amazing establishment.
  • Dave and Cynthia – For letting me tag along with you guys to Haad Rin and the Muay Thai boxing fights.  I still can’t believe we were drinking with the fighters after!  The fat Thai girl was the best!
  • Alex from England – Fun times with the French girls in Koh Ma.  Thanks for letting me be a part of it.
  • Somsak – For taking Marie and I out to a fantastic, authentic Thai dinner, and welcoming us into your home with your incredible family.  I am looking forward to seeing you in New York in a few weeks!
  • Jit and Pitak – To this day, I still say that my favorite destination during my time away was Thailand, and you two are a huge part of why.  You guys were the friendliest, happiest people I encountered.  Also, usually the people staying at your place as guests give you the gifts, you aren’t suppsoed to give us gifts for staying with you.  I think you may have been confused!
  • Meg and James – For hosting an amazing Christmas party and for having us stay with you during a busy weekend.  And Meg, your advice on Bali completely altered the experience we had there in a great way.  We are so appreciative.
  • The Happy Buddha Bar in Bali – The Tshirt I bought from you guys makes me smile every time I wear it.
  • The couple next to us at dinner in Kyoto – For showing us the proper way to eat whatever the hell we ordered.
  • Miki – For showing us around Tokyo, and for making New Years Eve unforgettable.  I’m so happy you and your family are all OK and safe.
  • Nello’s family in Lido – For the most amazing homemade food in the world.  The celebration of La Befana was so great.  For putting the pressure on me to learn to speak Italian, and I want to especially thank Nello’s grandfather for his kind words when he told me that he considered me a part of his family.  I was so touched.
  • Appolonia/Monia – Grazie Mille for waking us up with a 4-course brunch, and for having me over to your home for Sunday dinner with your family.  Also, for the tour around your village and for making my best friend a really happy man.
  • The Dans, Maria and Christina – My Naples Family!  The homemade meals and the restaurants in Naples would be the highlight of most people’s trips there.  As great as the food was, just spending time with your family was my highlight.  You let me into your lives like I had been a part of them for years, and that openness is what family is all about.  I was real happy to assume the role of big brother to Dan and Christina, and even happier to spend time with Dan talking about books, movies and traveling.  That was the beginning of our beautiful friendship, and I am extremely grateful that it has continued.
  • The random table of people at the restaurant in Lisbon – For inviting me over to your table and for going out for drinks afterwards, even though you had work in the morning.
  • Anna and Raul – For being such great hosts and showing us around Barcelona.  Obviously, the highlight of my trip was the dinner with Anna’s parents.  I have used the Tortilla de Espana and Sangria recipe at least 5 times each, and somehow still can’t get it to come out as good.  Such an amazing night!
  • Pasqualino – Even though our reuniting was 6 years in the making, it more than lived up to the expectations!  It was so great to hang out with you, and I really appreciate you leaving work early to ensure that Kristen and I saw as much of Barcelona as we could.
  • The couple from the train from Florence to Rome – Sorry we couldn’t meet up for drinks, you guys were so nice.
  • JR – For the recommendation to stay in Radda in Chianti.  It totally lived up to the hype.
  • A Durmi hotel in Cinque Terre – For an awesome stay and the advice on Genova.
  • The host of Trattoria del Galeone in Genova – For taking us in and feeding us even though the restaurant was technically closed!
  • The “twins” from the hotel in Venice – For being 1000 times better than the Milan hotel staff.
  • Luca and Carlotta – For taking us up on the float during Carnevale, and taking Marie and I out to dinner afterwards.  Carlotta, your poem “Dies Slowly” still hangs on my wall, and Luca, I am so grateful for your friendship.
  • Nello, Daniele, Julian and the rest of the Florence crew – For making me feel like an insider in a city full of outsiders.
  • Rera – For making my transition back so much easier.  Your help with everything will never be forgotten.
  • To anyone I may have missed – In all fairness to me, I met so many people during the year that you can’t blame me for forgetting one here or there.  Whoever you are, you had an impact on my life in some way or another and for that, I thank you.

As great as all of the people I met along the way were, it was incredible to know what kind of people I was coming home to.  Coming home was a surprise to everyone, including me!  I wasn’t expecting to run out of money in February, and when I booked my flight home, only my mom and Antonello knew about it.  Its not because I was ashamed that I had no money that I kept it a secret, I actually was proud of it!  I set a goal to travel the world until I ran out of money, and I accomplished it.  By not telling anyone, it offered a great opportunity to surprise my loved ones with my arrival, and nothing is more fun than a great surprise.

The first one took place in Cinque Terre, Italy.  My beautiful girlfriend and I were out to dinner about 4 days into her 10 day trip.  The first few days were great; we were in great spirits and enjoying the best that Tuscany had to offer.  The night before Cinque Terre, we were in Chianti and after a bunch of wine, Marie expressed how she was sad because even though we had another week together, she knew that after that week she would be without me for at least another month.  I let it pass and told her not to think about that.  At the dinner in Cinque Terre the next night, the topic came up again.  My original plan was to just start packing my bags the morning she was leaving and tell her I was coming with her then, but to endure another week of her being sad wouldn’t have made any sense.  I wanted her to enjoy her vacation!

But I wasn’t about to let her off the hook so easy.  With a serious look on my face, I asked her how the last month and a half alone was for her.  She said that she didn’t say anything while I was away because she didn’t want me to get distracted from enjoying my travels, but she had been really upset.  I told her the time away was difficult for me as well, and that I didn’t think I could go through it again.  I stopped talking and let her mind do the rest of the work.  Then to drive the point home, I told her that I had made my decision; I wasn’t going to do the long-distance thing any more.  When the look of despair came over her face, I told her that she hadn’t let me finish what I was saying, and that I booked a flight home and would be coming with her when she left on Monday.  I feel bad now for messing with her emotions like that, but her reaction was worth it:

Tears of Joy (I swear)

I emailed my brother’s girlfriend Heather.  Jonny was the next victim.  I told my brother that I was planning on flying directly from Rome to Miami to surprise my dad, in the middle of March.  He booked a flight to arrive in Miami at the same time and we would surprise my dad together.  He had no idea what was coming.  Heather set up a dinner for them at a restaurant in the city at 9pm.  Heather got there a little early to let the staff know what was happening.  When Jonny arrived, she requested that they sit on the same side of the table.  At 915, Marie and I walked in.  It took my brother a second or two to recognize me when I walked up to the table.

Heather loved surpising Jonny almost as much as I did. Best teammate ever!

Brotherly love

The next day, my good friend Greg was my co-conspirator in surprising my dear friend Krystal.  You may remember Krystal from: every blog entry where I mentioned the word “NG”.  The stage was set at the PrimeBurger, my favorite burger joint in NYC located on 51st st, a few blocks away from both Greg and Krystal’s offices.  Greg and I were in constant communication in the hour leading up to the surprise.  He set it up perfectly.  He sat them in the back room of the restaurant, and had Krystal face away from the door, so she wouldn’t be able to see me coming from the front.  He described his table’s location perfectly, which was reiterated by Big Mike, the owner of the fine establishment, upon my arrival.  I walked up to their table with a hoodie, my beard and a Guinness ski cap on, looking like as much of a bum as possible.  I had spoken to her a few days earlier and told her that I was coming back in mid-April.  I even made her put it in her calendar.  I tapped her on the shoulder and asked if I could join them for lunch.  She couldn’t comprehend that I was standing there in front of her.  It took a few seconds to register that it was me, and then she yelled as loud as she could in front of the whole restaurant, “Shut the FUCK up!!!!”.  The other customers dropped their silverware, a waiter dropped a tray of dishes and the entire restaurant came to a complete stop.  Everyone peered over to see what just happened.  Krystal jumped out of her seat and gave me one of her patented rib-crushing hugs.  A few waiters came with Big Mike to check on us.  A waiter questioned, “have you not seen each other for a long time or something?”  Big Mike filled his staff in on what was going on (he’s been a good friend of my family for over 20 years now) while Greg and I relished in the perfectly orchestrated sequence of events.  Then I sat down and consumed what I had been craving for over 5 months: a big, juicy, all-American bacon-cheeseburger.

Shut the Fuck up!!!!!!

NG tried to show up at every city I went to, but I finally showed up where she was

I hid out for a few more days and then flew down to Miami to surprise my family.  I attended the Hoboken St. Patty’s day celebration, but made certain to not be in any pictures.  I didn’t want my surprise to be ruined!  The Sunday right after Hoboken St. Patty’s, I flew down to Miami and my mom picked me up at the airport.  It was so great to see her after so much time!  We drove back to their place and she went in first while I hid outside.  She grabbed Honey, the best Golden Retriever ever, and went upstairs to the bathroom.  After a minute, I threw on my hat and rang the doorbell.  My mom was perched in her hiding spot inside, holding the dog while she yelled, “Steve, can you get that?”  He opened the door with a blank stare on his face.  He said, “Yea?”, meaning, “Yes, I don’t know who you are or what you want, can I help you?”  This was perfect, he had no idea who I was.  I replied, “Hi, I’m homeless and unemployed and looking for a place to stay tonight.  Can you help me out?”  A second later he repeatedly shrieked, “Oh my god, oh my god…”

I would have felt bad if he had a heart attack here, and I'm pretty sure he was close

The philanthropist and the bum he is putting up for the night

The next day my mom and I took a ride up to visit my Grandma.  Nana Kay knew I was coming back because my mom had told her a week before.  We were trying to surprise her that weekend, but she was going to cancel on the plans with my mom because her and her husband Tim were going to enter a car show instead.  It wasn’t a surprise, but it was so good to see her again after such a long time.

Me and Nana Kay

The next stop was my Aunt Donna.  My mom called her and told her she was going to stop by.  She was vacuuming when we got there:

With a vacuum in hand

Me and my Mama's sister

That night, my mom made plans to go out to dinner with my Dad’s cousins, Ross and Diane.  My dad was at work so my mom used that as an excuse to go out to dinner with them “by herself”.  We were sitting at a table waiting for them when they arrived.  They were shocked to see me since they thought I was still in Italy.  Before I left 9 months ago, I asked Ross if I could bring anything back for him.  He requested an egg-roll from China.  After searching all over town for an egg-roll doggy rubber toy, I settled on buying an egg-roll from a Chinese restaurant and telling Ross it was from China.

Diane in the middle, covering her mouth in shock

Me and cousins Ross and Diane

My brother got extremely jealous of all the surprising I was doing and wanted to get in on the action himself.  He took the next flight down to Miami (in actuality, he booked it a few weeks earlier but lets stick with the ‘next flight down’ thing for the story) and I picked him up at the airport.  We decided to show up at my dad’s job to surprise him.  We told the receptionist that we were considering membership, and that we wanted to speak to the executive director.  She knew who we were, but played along.  My dad’s reaction when he walked through the door was great.  At least this time he knew who his son was…

Noooooo.....not again!!!!

"A 3rd surprise and I'm definitely gonna have a heart attack"

Father and sons

That night my brother and I went to the airport to pick up my sister.  She had no idea that either of us was in Miami.  My mom told her that she couldn’t pick her up herself, but she was going to send a car so her and her college roommate could ride in style back to my parents’ house in Miami.  She said the driver would be holding a sign that she would know was for her.  Rachel saw us near the baggage claim and ran over to us.  Halfway to us, she screamed out for me to shave.

She said later, I saw some homeless guy holding a sign, standing next to my brother Jon, so I knew that they were there for me

Me, Rachel, Jon and my mom's license plate of Honey

We got home and were one big happy family again.  That was only with 5 of us.  That Sunday we were going to go up to Nana Kay’s, but since us kids wanted to see the whole family, decided to have my entire Mom’s side of the family over to the house instead.  There were 26 of us there:

26 of us in all - the happiest moment I've had in the past year

*****Lots more Family Pictures Below*****

During my time away, I had different families take me in and make me feel very welcomed.  I was very happy because it gave me the feeling that I was feeling now.  Being home was amazing, and I think Marvin Gaye said it best:  “Let’s get it on”.  Wait, no, his other song:  “There ain’t nothing like the real thing”.  I had traveled over 80,000 miles (See calculations below) in the past 9 months, and found that my favorite place was at home with my family.  They say home is where the heart is.  Well, my heart was at home.

My travels have come to an end.  I got the job offer and am starting work in a couple of weeks.  I met some of the most amazing people, and learned so much about the world, different cultures, and myself.  Out of the many things I learned, I think the most appropriate at this time was that I learned how to say “Thank You” in so many different languages.  The following picture encapsulates exactly what I want to say to the world:

Exactly. Couldn't have put it better myself

*****Family Pictures*****

The Ladies

Mom and Daughters

My cousins Jazzy and PJ

The inside of the house was packed

And so was the outside

My 2 Uncles loungin' around. Bobby and Devon. Don't you see the resemblance?

Aunt Donna, me, Mama and Jonny

My girlfriend's parents just happened to be in the neighborhood, so they came by as well!

All of the ladies!

I was doing some heavy lifting all day

Tim invented his own way of saying goodbye - the upside-down bowl hat wave

*****How I got where I was going*****

Flights:

LGA –> ATL (765 Miles)

ATL–>LGA (765 Miles)

EWR–>AMS–>JRO (3666 + 4311 = 7977 Miles)

JRO–>KGL–>JNB (492 + 1683 = 2175 Miles)

JNB–>CPT (794 Miles)

CPT–>JNB (794 Miles)

JNB–>DXB (4004 Miles)

DXB–>FCO (2711 Miles)

FCO–>AMS (810 Miles)

AMS–>JFK (3653 Miles)

JFK–>PEK (6858 Miles)

PEK–>HKG (1243 Miles)

HKG–>KWL (319 Miles)

KWL–>KMG (459 Miles)

KMG–>TSN (1296 Miles)

TSN–>CTU (959 Miles)

CTU–>XIY (389 Miles)

XIY–>TSN (571 Miles)

PEK–>SHA (671 Miles)

PVG–>BKK–>USM (1809 + 291 = 2100 Miles)

USM–>BKK (291 Miles)

BKK–>HKT (421 Miles)

HKT–>SIN (613 Miles)

SIN–>DPS (1044 Miles)

DPS–>KUL–>KIX (1227 + 3087 = 4314 Miles)

NRT–>HKG–>FCO (1851 + 5798 = 7649 Miles)

FLR–>MAD–>LIS (794 + 320 = 1114 Miles)

LIS–>MAD (320 Miles)

MAD–>BCN (302 Miles)

BCN–>FCO–>FLR (529 + 149 = 678 Miles)

FLR–>FCO–>EWR (149 + 4304 = 4453 Miles)

EWR–>MIA (1093 Miles)

MIA–>EWR (1093 Miles)

Total Miles Flown = 62,698 Miles

Bus:

ATL–>Chattanooga,TN (118 Miles)

Chattanooga. TN–>ATL (118 Miles)

Florence to Chianti (38 Miles)

Chianti to Siena (22 Miles)

Total Miles by Bus = 296 Miles

Train:

Rome to Florence (182 Miles)

Florence to Rome (182 Miles)

Tianjin to Beijing (79 Miles)

Tianjin to Beijing (79 Miles)

Osaka to Kyoto (27 Miles)

Kyoto to Tokyo (320 Miles)

Rome to Florence (182 Miles)

Florence to Naples (294 Miles)

Naples to Florence (294 Miles)

Florence to Rome (182 Miles)

Rome to Florence (182 Miles)

Siena to Cinque Terre (161 Miles)

Cinque Terre to Genova (50 Miles)

Genova to Milan (114 Miles)

Milan to Venice (199 Miles)

Venice to Florence (218 Miles)

Florence to Viareggio (63 Miles)

Total Miles by train = 2808 Miles

Car: Cross Country Road trip –> 15,000

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Florence – Arrivederci!

Florence, Italy was my home for the past couple of months.  After hopping all over Africa, the USA and Asia for the past 7 months, having some stability was exactly what I needed.  When I met Antonello at the train station in Florence on January 3rd, he almost walked right by me.  I guess he wasn’t expecting to meet a bearded guy wearing all sweats, looking like he just spent a week in the woods.  In my defense, I had traveled for 30 hours from Tokyo to Hong Kong to Rome, then took 2 trains to get from Rome to Florence. Continue reading

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Carnevale di Viareggio – I’m on a Float!

The Carnevale di Viareggio is an annual event that lasts for 5 weeks during February and March.  I have been hearing about how great Carnevale is since Antonello and I became friends when we were 5 years old.  For 5 Sundays in a row, there is a huge parade with gigantic floats made out of paper-mache that go up and down Viareggio Avenue (the main road in Viareggio).  The street is literally like a boardwalk, located right next to the beach.  I mentioned Viareggio in my entry about La Befana since Viareggio is right next to where Antonello’s grandparents live. Continue reading

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Venice

During my trip around Italy in August of 2006, my friend Brandon and I stopped in Venice for a day.  I remember feeling excited to see a city that had water instead of concrete for streets.  I was also very excited to be spending time in one of the most romantic cities in the world with….one of my guy friends??? Continue reading

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Milan

Milan Sucks!!! Continue reading

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Genova – Homeless, Unemployed and Starving

Genova is known for 2 things: Pesto and the aquarium.  Pesto, a sauce that originated in Genova, is derived from the verb Pestare, which in Italian means to pound or to crush.  It is made by using a mortar and pestle (another form of the verb, to crush) to crush garlic and pine nuts, then adding basil leaves, salt, cheese and a little olive oil.  Antonello recommended we stop in Genova on our way to Milan to try some pesto dishes.  Although he watched his family eat it his whole life, his first experience with pesto happened in Genova.  It is now his favorite meal.  That sort of a recommendation along with Europe’s largest aquarium put Genova on the map for me. Continue reading

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Cinque Terre – The 5 Villages

The Cinque Terre are 5 villages located on the coast of the Italian Riviera in the Liguria region.  The 5 towns from north to south are: Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore.  The Cinque Terre area is known for small villages set atop beautiful steep cliffs that overlook the Mediterranean sea, and the hiking trail that combines all 5 of the villages. Continue reading

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