The Fry Adventures in Italy: Prologue

London, Paris, Rome, Barcelona, New York City, Tokyo, Athens, Prague … the list goes on. These are all major cities that millions of people travel to each year to experience the myriad of sights, sounds, cultures, and foods. Some go just to say they have been. Others go for the immersion; living among the locals. My wife and I went to do a little of both.

Our dream of traveling the world started in college, pre-wedding cake. We both went on mission trips to different parts of the world for over two-and-a-half months. She went to Thailand and I went to southeastern Europe. When we returned from our trips, we were both inspired to make this type of travel a consistent theme in our lives.

Over the course of the next few years, we visited Jamaica, Mexico, Grand Cayman Islands (via cruise ship with her family), and Costa Rica. We were glad to have gone to those places, but we wanted to go on a big overseas trip before we started to settle down, e.g. buy a house, have kids, etc. Our goal was to plan a two-week trip with a reasonable budget and visit as many places as we could. We started the process by deciding our destinations.

Aside: My wife grew up in Germany. Her family had taken her to see many European places of interest as a small kid. We would either be overlapping some places she had been or going somewhere new to both of us.

Week in and week out, we mulled over many different places. We finally landed on a few options: Amsterdam, Paris, and Italy. We chose Amsterdam for its canals lined with industrial brick-littered houses, dense Germanic culture, tulip-filled parks, and the Van Gogh Museum. Paris tugged at our hearts with its Eiffel Tower, French cuisine, Arc de Triomphe, and the famous Louvre Museum. Lastly, Italy lured us with its worldly acclaimed food genre, romantic charm, rich history, and animated culture that uses the hands for everything.

The original plan was to fly into Amsterdam and spend a few nights there. After Amsterdam, we would hop on an early train to Paris and make a stop in Brussels along the way to snag a delicious Belgian waffle for breakfast (because…waffles). We would then spend another couple of nights in Paris and hop on an overnight train to Venice, Italy, to explore a few nearby cities for the remainder of the trip.

At first, we wanted to visit all of them. We soon realized it would be too much ground to cover, and the budget would be busting at the seams from the transportation expenses alone. However, throughout the planning process we knew one thing for sure: we wanted to spend most of our time in Italy.

We racked our brains to try and figure out the best possible route to minimize costs while getting as much out of the trip as possible. After much debate, it was settled. We decided to cut everything else and embark on a grand tour of Italy. We knew exploring one country would give us a more immersive experience than crossing multiple borders. Moreover, it would give us a chance to learn a little bit of Italian instead of attempting three different languages (and yes, you do not have to learn the language to get by. I just think it is more fun when you do).

Things started to get exciting when we checked this big thing off our list. The trip was slowly becoming a reality. Our destination mystery was solved. Now we needed to start booking the travel and housing. We decided to purchase the airline tickets first; to get the best deal and also prove to ourselves that we were actually going (because when you throw down thousands of dollars on something, you tend to take it seriously). Later that week, we mapped out all the cities we would visit and bought train tickets for each leg of the journey. The last action item on our list was to find places to stay.

Luckily, we had already tried out Airbnb in prior months for the sole purpose of understanding how to best use it during the trip. We picked out a place to stay in each city and reserved them (we were surprised how cheap it was). Now that we had taken care of all the essentials, it was time for the fun part.

We had done it. We were going to Italy. It was time for the fun part: to figure out what we were going to do when we got there. We asked our friends, our family, and did research on our own. Only time would tell what would happen. We could already smell pasta in the air.

 

Keep your eyes peeled. Each future post in this series will highlight a single day of our journey to share the amazing things we got to do and see while there.

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A Gears of War Legacy

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“I want to chainsaw someone!” Those were the frustrated words out of my sister’s mouth as she sat back in her chair and readjusted her grip on the Xbox One controller. This is the type of phrase you might hear when you sample a gaming session of the gory, bullet-brazen, Gears of War 4.

My sister and her husband traveled to stay with me and my wife last weekend to take a break from the fast pace of their lives. It was time for a change of scenery and they wanted to relax away from the stress of being at home (some of my “working adult” peeps know what I’m talking about). They had planned on checking out the local scene by exploring downtown and nomming on some street food. However, I am not sure they had accounted for the amount of time spent reliving their gaming pastimes on an Xbox One.

The Gears of War series – or “Gears” for short – has been a gaming staple in our household since I was in high school – or at least for my sisters and me. I could try to take credit for influencing them to love such an amazing game, but the idea of wielding a gun, affixed with a mounted chainsaw, really sells itself. In addition, I believe Gears transformed my relationships with my siblings for the better. It went from being something that distanced me from family for countless hours, to something we could fully engage in and enjoy together. So why all this hype about Gears of War? I’m glad you asked.

Gears of War is a third-person shooter that is set in the fictional world, Sera, where the human alliance, COG (Coalition of Gears), are fighting against hordes of sentient creatures, called the “Locust” race, who have emerged from the planet’s surface (Gears 4 later introduces the “Swarm”). The game spotlights a ragtag team of burly, meat-and-potato types who destined themselves to save the world by means of activating a Lightmass bomb at the heart of the Locust dwelling. This was the kind of storyline that definitely resonated with my teenage self.

The game really set itself apart from others when it hit the shelves in 2006. For starters (and as previously hinted), the primary weapon used by the main protagonists, called the Mark II Lancer Assault Rifle (“Lancer” for short), is fitted with a functioning chainsaw bayonet, which is used to grind an enemy down to a pulp …

How sick is that? I mean come on, a bloody chainsaw gun!

Moreover, Gears was also one of the first to successfully execute and deliver a polished cover system within a shooter (honorable mention going out to Metal Gear Solid). Having the ability to use objects in an environment as cover for both stealth and strategy in a fast-paced gunfight, gave this gaming title a completely different dynamic. It felt new and refreshing, which contrasted with the typical gameplay of another Halo or Call of Duty.

The multiplayer experience is what really drew me in, though. I loved being able to play with people from different parts of the world, who wanted to stack their skills up against mine. It made me want to be better at it and not only that, but I wanted to utterly destroy my opponents. I dug my heels deep into the game, learning the techniques of pop-shotting with the Gnasher shotgun, drag scoping with the Longshot sniper, and mastering the skillful art of wall bouncing.

Check out this Gnasher shotgun tutorial for those of you who are curious

 

One day, a random player in a public lobby asked me to team together and compete in GameBattles, a competitive gaming community. When I agreed, we immediately started recruiting other teammates and hopping into games with the intention of rising to the top of the leaderboards. This eventually became a social circle of gamers who hung out with one another online, often in different time zones. We won some, lost some, but overall had a blast doing it.

For me, Gears was all about the satisfying sound of landing a headshot, or the massive hype from your teammates when you body three people with the shotgun in a clutch situation, or laughing hysterically at someone’s poorly placed pun. The memories from those days are the foundation to a Gears of War legacy that is still alive in me today, and Gears will forever hold a high place in my “hall of games.”

Whether it be with my siblings, friends online, or just by myself, Gears has proven itself over and over to be a timeless, competitive, yet social game. Here’s to another great year of chainsaw revving and roadie running!

 

Stay tuned for a new blogging series recounting the adventures my wife and I had in Italy this past summer.

 

Gaming in retrospect

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A-B-B-A-A-B-B-A.

Few people can recognize this combination of letters, but the phrase will forever be ingrained in my memory.

I have had an obsession with console gaming from early childhood. I can remember the joys of schooling my older sister in Super Mario Bros. on the original NES, speeding through ring-filled levels as Sonic on my 16-bit SEGA Genesis, and all-night Halo LAN parties with my buddies, braving through sticky grenades and sniper rifles on the iconic Xbox.

Each time my family planned a trip to the store, the first words out of my mouth were, “can I go to the electronics section?” That was code for: find the demo console on the video games aisle and play until it was time to leave (even if it left an awful crick in my neck). I may or may not have been called to the front of the store over an intercom by some lucky employee because my parents wanted to leave.

Spoiler: that happened on more than one occasion.

Gaming for me was its own microcosm, where the imagination could be set free to experience new joys and make exciting discoveries. It gave me an avenue to set aside my inhibitions and express myself free from reproof. Moreover, I was fully committed to whatever I played, and I would put legitimate hard work into the games I favored more. That dedication garnered a competitive nature in me, which meant merely beating a game was not enough; I had to master it.

Adding friends only made the experience more entertaining. It gave me the chance to share my discoveries with other people and have them teach me new things about a game (whether intentional or not). Pooling my friends’ imaginations with my own was like ripping off the hinges of a door that led to an open playground. I wanted to explore every detail of a game by testing its limits and boundaries. I remember creating new scenarios and raising the stakes with my friends to the point where the game took on an entirely different dynamic from what the game was initially developed for.

You may recall the combo of letters at the beginning of this post. I bet you didn’t know it was the cheat code, “level skip,” for an Aladdin game on the SEGA Genesis console – unless you already cheated by typing it into a search engine, of course (how ironic). You can bypass an entire level just by pressing those buttons in sequence via the in-game pause screen. Surely you could imagine the mad scientist-like smile on my face when I greedily beat the game in less than 2 minutes. I could go on and on about the shenanigans that ensued with the introduction of cheat codes, but this would turn into a much longer post.

Video games have been an integral part of my life and also brought me much joy. Nonetheless, society influenced me to believe that playing video games was just immature or childish. The topic of gaming was a conversation I could engage in with certain friends, but a sore subject for any grown up (or girl for that matter). I felt the need to withhold this one from my list of interests when getting to know people. To be blunt, the subject was a conversation killer. Still, I continued gaming (secretly) with the same enthusiasm.

Today I still have a huge passion for console gaming, and I continue to add to the countless great memories I have made with a controller in my hands. The nostalgia that comes with those memories is priceless; like when my dad and I had an ongoing competition to hold the high score for Tetris in elementary school; or the moment I finally defeated the almighty Ganondorf, after solving a myriad of challenging puzzles in the quintessential Ocarina of Time. The list continues, but the message is the same: Gaming, in retrospect, is a deep-rooted part of who I am.

If you enjoyed the read, please feel free to follow along! I plan on posting every other week. Feedback is welcome, so go ahead and leave a like and/or comment. I’d love to hear your thoughts.