November 25 2012

Traveling the King’s Road from Montreal to Quebec City

Man oh man, do I love a good road trip.  Especially short, one day trips.  Why take the express route when there is a scenic, more enjoyable route available. And renting a car in foreign country always make me feel like an international princess.  Even if that foreign country is Canada–wait…. what?  that’s totally a foreign country… They even speak a language I don’t– French.


quebec king's highway 2

What’s even more spectacular about the King’s Road is that it can be bicycled in its entirety safely.  Not be me of course; I barely know how to ride a bike.  But if that’s your thing,  grab your bike and prepare for 160 miles of charm.  I’d stick to summer if I were you though  because Quebec can get quite chilly during those other three seasons.

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Lots o’ charm on the Kings Road

The King’s Road was the first navigable highway in Canada dating back to the 1700’s.  It is a charming way to travel from Montreal to Quebec City. It passes through little hamlets and hugs the St. Lawrence River making for some excellent photography… especially during the fall foliage season

Quebec king's highway 5

Beginning in Montreal, head north towards Berthierville.  Join up on Highway 138, which is the King’s Road. But if you have the time, stop at Lake St. Pierre Archipelago, a UNESCO world heritage site, which has amazing scenery such as this.

Continuing north on 138, you will reach the city of Trois Rivieres or Three Rivers, founded in 1634 with its amazing stone cathedral.

After exploring Three Rivers, (and stopping for lunch) continuing north along  highway 138, you will go through the oh-so-cute village of Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pérade, and its amazing church of the same name. Built in 1855 and bearing the features of a neo-Gothic cathedral, the church was modeled after the Notre-Dame Basilica of Montréal.

 


Continuing north on 138 you will come to a region known as Pontneuf. It is home to the municipalities of Neuville, Cap-Sante, Deschambault, among others, all of which are members of the Most Beautiful Villages of Quebec association.  Neuville was one of the first villages established in New France around 1665. Cap-Santé got its name from the sudden healing of the soldiers posted in the region. Its church is on the historical monument register and it is one of the last buildings of the French Regime in the region. Deschambault, where Jacques Cartier stopped on his second voyage because of the rapids, which were too dangerous for his ship and prevented him from going farther up the river. In each of these villages, you will find magnificent architecture dates back to the 18th and 19th centuries.

And finally, continuing on 138, you will reach Quebec City, a beautiful city of its own.

wandering around vieux quebec city in the fall

sometimes the weather gods are in your favour and you get not only spectacular blue skies but also incredible leaf colour*.

Leaves covering an old stone building

a white house, a slate roof, and a lime green door…next to a house covered in orange ivy

New England and by New England I obviously mean Quebec and eastern Canada know how to do Halloween. South Carolina is too hot for pumpkin carving. They turn to mush real quick.

more cities should have walls complete with cannons…way to go QC

chateau frontenac…in fall’s glory

Quebec City–early morning goodness


Stopping along the King’s Road to gaze at the beauty of driftwood…in Canada, and not near the ocean

more driftwood-y goodness


I hope you’ve enjoyed the visit to Quebec City by way of the King’s Highway. I know I did. I was quite taken with the charming city and even more so by the drive to get there.

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stone cottages, red roof… I have died and gone to heaven.

 

*Sometimes when writing about Canada and to a lesser degree, England, I like to use the British/Canadian spelling and add in that -u- and reverse my -er to -re. Just one of many, many quirks.

May 13 2012

Communing with nature: hiking the Grand Canyon part 2

A twist on the popular saying: What goes down must come up. After two days of descending into the canyon, I could think of just one thing: it was time to go up… on an ankle that was most likely broken.  Fabulous.

I was as rested, iced, compressed, [and well, elevated was going to be a problem] as one can be and by 4:30am, with the ankle wrapped, boots tied, and backpack on, I, along with the rest of the group was ready to start the upward climb out of the canyon.

grand canyon floor
One last view of the Grand Canyon floor and the Colorado River that runs through it

I puttered along, using my stick more like a crutch, but putting one foot in front of the other and more or less keeping up with the group. It wasn’t long until we reached the Colorado River and came to my Kryptonite.  I’m not sure why crossing bridges on foot scare the bejeezus out of me, but for some reason, I almost stopped dead in my tracks, turned around, and went back the way I came.  The bridge was not the most sturdy [but certainly not what it could have been considering what it is], but what I can only attribute to nerves of steel and some deep, well-hidden vat of courage, I crossed the Silver Bridge to begin the ascent toward the South Rim.

Silver bridge colorado river

silver bridge
The bridge… that caused me to act like a stubborn mule who refused to plow

The early part of the hike followed the Colorado River on a slight incline, alternating shade and sun. Temperature was manageable, probably in the 80s-90s, but the hardest section for me was a series of switchbacks and stairs which nearly brought me to my knees. But I am a stubborn wench, and I refused to be med-a-vac’ed out of the canyon.

One stubborn gal I am

stairs
Stairs that made me want to cry

Five or so hours later, I limped into Indian Gardens, the campground for the night. I debated the wisdom of removing the hiking boots that were acting a a de-facto cast for my ankle. I compromised. One boot on, one boot off. And I elevated, rested, and compressed. Icing was a no-go with the foot still in the boot. But I lunched and rested and later in the day, I took some time to wander around the campground to take some more photos because a good patient I am not. It was much greener than I had anticipated, with a plethora of flowers adding even more color.

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A pretty white flower

grand canyon cactus flowers
pretty red flowers

grand canyon catcus flower
I often say I’m as cuddly as a cactus, but upon seeing these, I might be *slightly* more huggable.

mule corral
Oh look.. apparently there are some of my relatives. Did someone mention being as stubborn as a mule?

Nap, foot propping, photo shoot, dinner, then a short hike up to Plateau Point for the sunset.

plateau point
Perspective.

Sitting on the plateau looking over the canyon gave me perspective on how far we had come in three days and how much of the canyon remained. On the walk back to the campsite, I could see flickering lights far in the distance.

Grand-Canyon-sunset-at-Plateau-Point
a fabulous colorful sunset

Here’s the thing about hiking a canyon: the hardest part comes at the end, when you are the most tired and you have to go up to get to your destination. And because I like to make things extra difficult for myself, I get to hike up and out of a canyon with only one good leg/foot. Yay me.

We were up once again by about 4a eating breakfast, packing up our gear for the last time and getting our feet taped up. I made the executive decision to sleep with my boots on, because I have the feeling that once that left boot comes off, no amount of ace wrap at KT tape will make it fit in again.

tent in the woods
last night of sleeping in the tent for a while

It wasn’t a terribly long and arduous hike from Indian Gardens to the Bright Angel Trail Head. This particular section is popular with day hikers and the like. ANd by 10 am…we were D.O.N.E

indian gardens
More people, more need to display the obvious

A lot of people don’t like for group activities to end. They’ll hang around, take picture with, exchange numbers, and promise to stay in touch. It rarely happens though. For me, though, after being with strangers for four days, I really just want to be alone. However, this time, I had to hang out with people just a little while longer so that I could hitch a ride to the nearest urgent care clinic to confirm the obvious.

bright angel hike
The last hiking I will do for a while, just take it in, OK.

May 6 2012

Communing with nature at the Grand Canyon

It was twilight by the time I finally dropped my pack on the ground nearly twelve hours after my day had begun. My legs didn’t ache as bad as I anticipated and my neck and shoulders didn’t pinch the way I feared. Considering how nervous I was in the days leading up to my “rim to rim” hike through the Grand Canyon, I considered Day One a resounding success.

I arrived in Las Vegas four days earlier, jet-lagged, road weary, exhausted and increasingly worried that I would not be able to handle this trek. However, at the orientation meeting the night before, the guides went through our itinerary and emphasized the importance of going at a comfortable pace. With two of them, one would always be at the front and the other at the back, meaning I didn’t have to worry about getting left behind if I went too slowly!  Score!

The group departed Flagstaff shortly before 7 a.m. for the drive to the north rim of the Grand Canyon. After one stop at the Navajo Bridge crossing the Little Colorado River, we arrived at the north rim just after noon.

By just after 1:00 p.m., we hit the trail.

Day 1:  This day’s hike is entirely downhill… 7 miles and drop 4,000 feet! . I was immediately amazed and surprised by the scenery – so much more colorful and so much greener than I expected! The trail was dirt and rock, but not nearly as slippery as I thought it might be. I rarely felt like I would lose my footing. With a fairly narrow trail, my little group of 6 hiked single file.

grand canyon hike
The narrow trail, and my little group making the way one-by-one.

I caught my first glimpse of the agave plant and of tiny circular shaped cacti with flowers of yellow or fuchsia. I had to control my urge to stop at every turn to take pictures!

cactus flower
Cactus Flowers!

As mentioned earlier, the hike didn’t start until about 1p. It was overcast when we started, and like clockwork, soon after the hike began, it started to rain. The rain wasn’t entirely unwelcome as it helped to cool me off. We were already lucky to be walking in the afternoon shade. It was probably the best possible weather we could have asked for. It was just a shower, and unlike at home, the air didn’t turn unbearably humid after the short lived shower, and the skies were clearing as we reached camp.

Home for the night was a campground where we had a group primitive campsite reserved. Nearby was a water fountain with potable water and toilets that, while not flush-able, were at least composting so we could put the toilet paper down. Pack in-pack-out is kinda nasty when that includes carrying around used toilet paper.

grand canyon hike agave plant
Agave Plant!

Day 2 started out with a bang. Literally. It was about 4AM on day 2 of my rim-to-rim hike.  Pitch black dark, chillier than I would have liked, and I had to pee.  I grabbed my headlamp and boots [but didn’t lace them all the way up!] and made my way to the toilets.  No spiders. No scorpions. No snakes.  Completely uneventful until BAM!  The Earth jumped up and hit me square in the face.  I slowly got up and wiped the dirt off my pants. Sitting down at the picnic table in the dark, I aimed my headlamp at my foot to get a good look at my ankle. I had just tripped over a large root between the picnic tables at our campsite, turning my ankle in the process.  It hurt, but nothing major.  I’d sprained my ankle many times in my sports career so I was sure that was what had happened this time. So I applied the ankle brace that I carry with me in my first aid kit on all hikes.  Socks on.  Boots laced up tight, and on my merry way.

The goal was to be on the trail by 5:00, arriving at Phantom Ranch at the bottom of the canyon by 9:00 or 10:00, escaping as much of the canyon heat as possible. Despite the early rising, we didn’t get everything together to actually leave camp until after 5:30 a.m. Needless to say, by the time we got going, I was ready to hit the trail.

Day two was another mostly downhill hike, although much flatter than day one. Early on, we made a detour to Ribbon Falls, a small waterfall tucked away several hundred feet off the path.

grand canyon hike ribbon falls 4

grand canyon hike ribbon falls

grand canyon hike ribbon falls 3

grand canyon hike ribbon falls 2

We alternated between shade and sun and followed mostly red dirt paths through the canyon. The scenery continued to amaze me with its diversity and the rocks continued to change as we descended further into the canyon. I smiled at the sight of sparkly quartz along the path – such a contrast to the rough limestone and the red dirt. The final leg into Phantom Ranch and to our campsite at the Bright Angel Campground was the toughest because it was the hottest. Can you say 104F – in the shade! But it’s a dry heat, they say. They can suck it. It was hot as blazes. Luckily, the campsite came with a stone shelter so we quickly dropped our packs and took off our shoes to relax in much needed shade. As I did, I checked out my ankle, which was suddenly throbbing as I removed my boots and brace. The skin around had turned a bunch of pretty colors. And then I realized I could hardly move it. Well,fuck! It suddenly occurred to me this *might* be more than just a sprained ankle.

left ankle
oops!–look at that bruising and swelling

Luckily, Phantom Ranch has a cantina so I was able to buy a bag of ice for me to ice the foot a bit. The campsite was also near a creek so I could sit on the edge and soak my feet in the cold water. Because we arrived so early, I had the whole day free and I took advantage of the opportunity to enjoy some alone time – for an introvert like me, it was much needed after being around other people for the last 36 hours. I hung back at camp before heading to the cantina for some air conditioning and lemonade. Then I returned to camp to read, snooze and ice my ankle once again.

Here’s the thing about the hiking the canyon: Personally, I think everybody who can, should. The Canyon is truly one of the wonders of the world; one exhausts superlatives describing it. Every twist in the trail brings a new wonder; one walks in beauty and lives in awe.

The Canyon is also humbling, incredibly so. Our egos, our self importance, our absorption in the fleeting concerns of our lives, all shrink into insignificance before the awesome magnitude of the Canyon. The scale is beyond comprehension; we reveal ourselves to be the tiniest motes of dust within its walls.

The Canyon reminds us not only that we are tiny specks, it tells us that the vanity of our existence is but a blink of an eye. When travelers reach the Canyon’s bottom, they walk among rocks formed 1,800,000,000 years ago. A third of their time has passed in the sterility preceding this planet’s first life. Humans have been around for barely one ten-thousandth of that time; what loosely passes as civilization accounts for only 1/200,000th of that period.

Humility and awe. It’s good for the soul. Hike the Grand Canyon to discover wonders you’ve never imagined, to realize how small we humans really are.

Coming Soon: Communing with nature in the Grand Canyon: Part 2

March 4 2012

Best.Day.Ever

Today just happens to be my birth day.  I just happen to be in Italy.  It happens to be Carnavale.  How is this my life?

You know, I was thinking back to this day last year.  It pretty much sucked.  The lowest of the low. It was the last day I ever talked to my dad.  On my way home from the hospital, I saw my then-boyfriend riding around with another chick in his truck.  Then called him and said ‘what the actual fuck is goinig on?’ We broke up that day. A mere 365 days later, I am in Italy. I’ve been to the Olympics.  I’ve explored a medieval castle.  I’ve consumed more wine than I can remember. I’ve participated in Carnavale in Firenze.  I bought a masquerade mask.

carnavale

carnavale maks

I took a train ride through the Alps.  I kissed an Italian.  And I still have three weeks left on my Italian vacation.  I’m going to Rome. And Naples. And exploring Pompeii.  Maybe I’ll learn more than a few words in Italian.  Maybe I’ll learn to cook.  Maybe I’ll become a expert wine drinker.  Maybe I’ll ride on a Vespa.  Who knows what will happen.  This I know for sure:

  • Italy is awesome.
  • The Winter Olympics are amazing.
  • The Alps are amazing
  • The history is exciting.
  • The food is orgasmic.
  • Snacks are orgasmic.
  • Gelato is orgasmic.
  • People are friendly.
  • And so full of life.
  • I could probably live here.
  • I could never dress as well as Italians do
  • I could never wear high heels like those Italian women do

But today is my birthday.  And this is what I did…

–>I concocted the best [portable] meal I could conceive of…
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a small vat of green olives, a passel of green grapes, fresh bread, chucks of cheeses, clementines, and a large vat of Chianti.  Throw in a view of the Mediterranean and it is quite simply amazing.

–>I took a train from Rome to Sorrento
–>I had an amazing meal
italian-dinner

 

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What an incredible way to celebrate another trip around the sun.

February 26 2012

Gaining perspective on Cinque Terre paths

Most of last year sucked. Like straight up sucked. Yes, I graduated from school and got an amazing job, but other than that 2005 was shitty. Watching my father die, seeing my boyfriend tool around town with some floozy, having a fling with my boss, and moving to a new state–none of those things made me happy. I decided early on that 2006 was going to be a much better year. I’m going to explore my new surroundings, take real vacations, go on actual dates with appropriate people, make new friends…you know all that stuff that is supposed to make life more fulfilling.

cinque terre 4

Real vacation #1–hanging out in Itlay.

One of the things that always helps me to see things clearly is getting back to nature… getting outside and communing with the trees if you will. After being surrounding with throngs of people at the Olympics, I needed some alone time… Enter Cinque Terre, a coastal area of five little villages. This part of Italy is usually DEAD in the winter, but courtesy of the Games, some areas have opened up, providing a much needed escape from the Alps. Don’t get me wrong, mountains are awesome. The Alps are amazing, but I’d take a cold, sunny day on the coast over the snowy mountains any day.

One of the main draws to Cinque Terre aside from its location is the interconnect hiking paths. Some of them are easy, more like leisurely strolls through the woods.  Other trails are actual hiking trails complete with mountains and steep climbs.

cinque terre 2

A lot of people just hike the leisurely trail;  I opted to hike the entire network of trails. Hiking the entire length of the trail took about  8 hours or so. I went at an easy pace; it was bright and sunny except for the early morning fog, and temperatures were awesome for February. I had a lot of shit to sort out in my head. So I walked. And walked. And walked some more. Those paths are amazing. And snapped photos [2016 Michelle here: with FILM]

cinque terre 10

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cinque terre 13

cinque terre 3

cinque terre 7

I took the train back to my room after hiking all day and indulged in a massive plate of pasta, all the bread I could get my hands on, and a carafe or two of the most wonderful red wine ever. Of course I say that every day… today’s wine was the best ever… today’s pasta was the best ever… today’s gelato was better than yesterday’s gelato. But the hike… the hike was amazing. The towns are pretty cute too.

Also I am amazed at how green everything is.  You’d never know it was February.
cinque terre 5

Fresh clementines rock.

February 19 2012

A castle, a conspiracy, and a love story

Here’s the thing about Tuscany: it’s so freaking beautiful and historic. And tasty. Wine, bread, olives, olive oil. I’m sure it’s beautiful… especially in spring/summer/fall. Winter is pretty awesome too.

After spending some time taking in some winter sports with the best athletes on the planet and searching for my soul against the tiny coastal villages nestled against the Mediterranean, it was time to get down of discovering what Italy is known for:  good food, good wine, and good art.

A Castle

But first a side trip to back in time.  Enter Trebbio Castle, built in 1184!  1184.  That was the dark ages for crying out loud.  Anyway back to the story…

trebbio 1

The castle was built in 1184 by the Pazzi Family, [Italian language lesson=‘pazzi’ means crazy]. In fact, the family was pretty crazy to even attempt such a thing, but these were different times.  Ever hear of the Medicis–you know the family that rules these parts back then? The Pazzis and Medicis were rivals.  Somewhere deep in the castle [IDK if this part is true, but it sounds good] Francesco and Salviati Pazzi, with the help of Pope Sixtus IV and his newphew Girolamo Riario concocted an plan against the Medicis. The Pope was upset that the Medici’s were attempting to thwart his Papal power over the North-central Romagna region. And if you’re wondering whether it was successful or not, just check to see whose balls are all over Florence… a little hint, they’re not the Pazzis.

trebbio 2

Here’s the thing about a time before photography or the internet.  You can use your imagination to picture how things happened.  It was April 26, 1478.  Easter morning.  The most sacred of sacred mornings.  It was beautiful–spring in full bloom–warm even.   All the Florentines were in the Duomo for High Mass.  The Pazzis snuck in to the Duomo and managed to get a seat near the Medicis.  Catholics being catholics the homily was probably eerily similar to Easter homilies today.  I like to think it happened right as the priest was offering communion to the Medicis. The Pazzis managed to fatally stab one of the Medici brothers, Giuliano, but Lorenzo ‘The Magnificent’ managed to escape. The Florentines side with the Medicis and killed the present Pazzis on the spot.  And all sins were immediately forgiven…

You might be wondering what happened to the castle after the demise of the Pazzis; it fell to disrepair. A caretaker lived there for 15 years [contractually], but as soon as he was able, he skedaddled off with a young missy in tow.

The love story

Fast forward 500 years or so…A young Austrian girl come to Italy to learn Italian.  Whilst on the train, she meets the the man who would become her husband.  They married and settled in Milan.  Never-mind the 40 year age difference [I’m all about the older men, but I don’t think I could do 40 years older].  She was 19; he was 59.  Six years of marriage = 5 children.

One day he came to her and said “A few years ago, I was a lonely man, so to thank you for all that you have given me, I bought you castle in Tuscany with over 800 acres.’  [Sidenote:  If ever a man wanted to buy me a castle in Tuscany, I’d let him].  I’m sure he didn’t quite expect the turn of events that set the castle’s restoration in motion.  You see, there’s no heat in that castle; I’m sure he expected that the Missus would only want to live in the castle in the summer, but oh no–give a girl a castle, she’ll want to live there for life.
SONY DSC

And so they did.  Restorations began in 1968. They started the wine and olive oil production. The castle is now in the hands of their daughter, Anna Baj Macario, who took over the estate with her husband Stefano Casadei, who is the winemaker. They live full time in the castle, which still doesn’t have heating, and is really quite cold, especially in February.

It takes over 100,000 euros a year to maintain this place so in addition to making wine and olive oil, they give tours, offer cooking classes, have apartments for rent and host events like weddings at the castle.

The moral of this story:  Life can start at any age usually when you least expect it. [Or how it applies to me; don’t give up on life just yet].

And a bonus:  A recipe for homemade pasta

Ingredients: EGGS ( 1 egg per person), FLOUR (*100 grams per person), EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL (1 teaspoon), SALT

trebbio 5

On a wooden board, put the flour in the shape of a volcano, and the eggs in the middle. Add the extra virgin olive oil and some salt. With a fork, start mixing the eggs, taking the flour from the side, little by little or it will result lumpy.

Then, start mixing the dough with the hands. Don’t work it too much, because the pasta must result porous, in order to better absorb the sauce.

Then, when the dough is homogeneous, leave it to rest for at least half an hour.

Then, roll out the dough: firstly by hand, after with the rolling pin. Put a handful of flour on the dough in order to roll it out better, or it will stick to your hand/to the rolling pin. Turn the dough once in a while in order to give it a round and not oval shape. When the dough is very flat (*1-2 mm), leave it again to rest half an hour.

Then, fold the dough. Now you can cut the dough to prepare the shape of the pasta that you prefer: tagliatelle are wide stripes, tagliolini are narrow stripes.

Open the stripes, and let them dry.

Handmade Tagliatelle with “Sausage” Sauce:

Put some onion, celery, thyme, and rosemary in a pan with extra virgin olive oil. Then add fresh sausage: when the meat gets a nice brown color, add peeled tomatoes. Let it boil for about 1 hour and 30 min.

Handmade Tagliolini with Vegetarian Sauce:

Put some shallot (kind of onion) and celery in a pan with extra virgin olive oil. Add grated carrots and zucchini, some thyme and some fresh basil. Add some fresh cream, and chili (if you’d like).

*Metric measurement  because, you know, Italy ain’t America.

February 12 2012

The Lover’s Walk

2016 Michelle here. Here I sit… older and wiser and all. 2005 was a particularly low spot in my life, and going in Italy in 2006, while not the best idea I’ve ever head, was really what jump-started my love of travel.  And also here I sit, older and wiser and all, dating a special dude.  One day I may even commit  to something more serious… like a love lock.

As a single, late-20-something suffering 3! break-ups in the last year, I’m pretty cynical about love these days, and not even being in the undisputed romance capital of the world is changing that. In the last 12 months I’ve caught a boyfriend with another person, had a few months’ long fling, and returned– against better judgment– to hook up with a previous partner. If my judgment is any indication of how my life is going to go, I should run, not walk away from any man that approaches, but me being me, hope springs eternal.

cinque terre 12

The Lover’s Walk is one of the easiest trails in the Cinque Terre. It’s just over a mile, flat, and connects Riomaggiore with Manarola. It could be the perfect trail to stroll with a lover… not very private if you catch my drift, but wide enough for two people, and the views are amazing.

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Like nearly everything, there’s a story that goes along with the trail.

Built between 1926 and 1928, the Via dell’Amore was born out of necessity and not at all with love in mind. As workers blasted through the rock in order to upgrade the railway line, they found it necessary to build a gunpowder warehouse safely away from the two towns. They created a pathway from both villages that lead to a central storage area. After the railway was finished, locals rallied to reinforce the pathway, cover part of it, and keep it open as a second link between the two very isolated villages.

The story goes that, apart from aiding in commercial dealings, the new pathway also made it easier for young men and women from Riomaggiore and Manarola to meet and fall in love. Thus the pathway came to be known as the Via dell’Amore. Through the decades, the Via has stayed true to its name with lovers from all over coming to enjoy a stroll through its cliff side galleria, which displays breathtaking panoramas to visitors in any season. Approximately halfway along the Via sits the Bar dell’Amore, the original gunpowder warehouse that is now a quaint and welcoming café where visitors can rest, sample a glass of local wine and enjoy 180° views of the coastline and the turquoise waters below.

bar

lover walk

Decades’ worth of amorous graffiti painted onto or carved into the rock adorn the cliff face and the walls of the path’s galleria. Although off-putting to some, true romantics seem to find the sentiments behind the graffiti endearing. “Lucchetti d’amore” or love locks — padlocks marked with a couple’s name and locked in a public place for all to see — are a frequent sight as well.

kissing statue on cinque terre

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You know, one day I’d like to lock a lock somewhere special with some as of yet undetermined male.

February 5 2012

An Olympic Adventure

I was lucky enough to attend some of the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta. Winter 2006 was a lot different… winter sports vs summer sports.  Torino, Itlay vs Atlanta, USA.  Olympic village vs my own house.  4 days + opening ceremony vs random days spread out over the two weeks.

2006-winter-olympics

Opening Ceremony:  There’s nothing quite like seeing the opening ceremony in person…The pomp and circumstance, the parade of athletes, the cool costumes, and the lighting of the Olympic flame—it’s all pretty amazing.  There’s such a feeling of hope and opportunity in the air.  It’s the only time–especially at the Winter Games when a lot of events are some distance from the host city–when everyone is together.  All [or nearly all] of the athletes, the spectators, the media–everyone is in one space for the opening.  After the opening ceremony, people scatter, and they don’t always meet back up at the closing.

Seeing the flame be lit  and watching the parade of athletes was awesome.  I always wanted to be an Olympian, but when it comes right down to it, I don’t have the competitive nature to push myself day in and day out.  Sure I always played sports… even went to college on athletic scholarship, but at the end of the day, I played sports because they were fun… and I enjoyed the camaraderie with my teammates.

Bardonecchia:  I stayed in Turin for the day prior to and the day of the Opening Ceremony and then next morning high tailed it up to the mountains courtesy of the free Olympic shuttle.  I based myself in Bardonecchia because 1).  Mountains…skiing…the cool winter sports 2) closer proximity to the other winter villages than Torino 3) free shuttles to and from the games and 4) It’s where I could find a place to stay that didn’t use up the entire monthly budget at one time.

The games:  I grew up in the southeastern part of the USA.  Skiing, ice hockey, ice skating, ect are not things that I could have participated in easily.  I mean we were always taught to never walk on frozen ice because it never gets cold enough to freeze solid and then we’d drown and/or get hypothermia.  SO that being said, winter sports have always fascinated me and I thought that had I grown up in the appropriate environment I’d would excel in biathlon.  I mean I can shoot like a champ and though I’ve never been on skis, cross country skiing doesn’t terrify me like down hill skiing does.

Biathlon does not get any love in the USA.  Its not fast or glamourous or shiny.  I mean they don’t even use real bullets when shooting, but for whatever reason, it fascinates me.  I was beyond thrilled to stand in the freezing cold and watch the biathletes ski and shoot their way to Olympic Gold.

torino biathlon

I also got to see some snowboarding… which terrifies the snot out of me… as well as bobsled and luge. No pictures from those events as they were whizzing past much too past for me to get a decent shot.

But bilathalon, though…it was beyond cool to see it.

January 15 2012

The adventure that almost wasn’t

In case you’ve been living under a rock for the last year or so, or in case you’ve just stumbled across this blog, I’ve recently returned from an amazing 16 month trip around South America where I visited every single country on the continent.  Some for only a day; some for a few months. But did you know that this trip was almost the trip that wasn’t? It almost didn’t happen due to my own incompetence.  You see, I lost my passport in the days before departure.  When?  who knows.  How?  don’t know.  Where?  well, if I knew that, I  wouldn’t have lost it, now would I.  My only guess is that it got lost [threw away, destroyed…] while I was making copies of the front page to distribute to friends at home. [Travel tip #1:  Make copies of the front page of your passport. Take one or two with you. Leave one or two with someone back home.  It’s immensely easier to get a replacement with that copy.]

I almost didn’t get to see the sun set in the Pacific all the way down the Pacific coast.

I turned my entire house upside down multiple times looking for a document the size of an index card.  I never found it. So I did a little bit of research and found out that you CAN get an emergency passport as long as you meet certain requirements–the main one being that you must have proof of international travel within two weeks.  Two weeks, you say?  That sounds a little risky–to have an international trip scheduled without a passport.  Risky it is, but that’s the main requirement for getting an emergency passport.  Oh and $$$.  The regular passport fee + the expedite fee.

At least I had a layover in Miami

My situation was as follows:   I had a flight from Charlotte to Bogota with a 8 hour lay-over in Miami.  As luck would have it, the IS an emergency passport office in Miami. Their hours are 8a-3p.   The flight to Miami is 2 hours and with my flight leaving at 6A I would have time to make the detour.  So I made an appointment at the Miami passport office for 8:45A.  Oh yea, it was a tight timeline, but I guess this is the definition of travel emergency.  As fate would have it, I met another girl on the place who was in the same situation, and we became buddies for the day.  We both had early appointments, forms filled out it advance, pictures in hand, and appropriate  funds.  We took public transportation [there’s a metromover station very close to the to the passport agency], had our appointment [and let me say, for government agencies, fairly efficient], and  were done [except the waiting] by 10:30A.  We were instructed to return after 1p to pick up our passports. The Miami agency is located in a business area so we grabbed lunch, chatted, and waited for time to pass.  At 1p, we returned to  the agency, and were greeted with bright, shiny, brand-new USA passports.  Then the mad dash to the airport ensued.  My flight left at 4p so I had time, but my new friend’s flight left at 2:30p.

Spoiler alert:  We each made our flights, me to Bogota, her to Costa Rica.

Several things could have gone wrong on this trip.  What would I have done had there not been a way to get an emergency passport?  Or had a non-stop flight?  Or a lay over in a city without a passport office?  Or a super tight connection that would not have allowed me to make a detour?  I don’t know. I  know that any one of these things could have halted my trip before it even started.  And none of the experiences of the last 16 months would have happened.

 

It’s the little things that can change our life’s course.

 

January 8 2012

5 steps to survive taking an electric shower

2018 Michelle checking in here:  The electric shower is a scary occurrence in several areas of central/south America.  One one hand, I’m grateful for hot, flowing water; on the other hand, I was seriously scared for my life. BUT figuring out how to work this calamity was one of my greater travel achievements.  I don’t think there will be electric showers in Rwanda, but if there are, it’s OK. I’ve figured that out once before.

It's a toss-up: You may get clean; you may die
The shower in my hostel in Bogotá. It’s a toss-up: You may get clean; you may die

Either this was such a traumatic experience for me before that I’ve put it out of my memory or this is some Colombian designed torture device; this is what greeted me the morning after my arrival to Bogotá.

It’s a large electrical time bomb hanging above my head; luckily all the ends of the electrical wires were covered in electrical tape. I have since found out that this is not always true nor is this device confined to Colombia.

5 steps to surviving an electric shower

  1. Is it high enough so that you will not hit your head?  I’ve had problems with showers before that were mounted for people no taller than 5 feet tall. Luckily, all the electrical showers I’ve encountered are way up there out of the way of an errant splash.
  2. Are there any bare wires that could come in contact with water?  Did you bring electrical tape?  If not, a  wash cloth and the sink might be the best option.
  3. Get naked. Do your thing, and get out.  If you have rubber soled sandals, wear them.  This is not the time to reminisce about the day.  Chances are the water won’t be at optimum temperature anyway.  The only way I’ve found to control the temperature of the water is to control the flow of the water.  There’s a science-y explanation for this but essentially the water needs time to roll through the metal plumbing to heat it up before it before comes out.  So you can have warm water flowing like maple syrup in winter or cold water flowing like a fire hydrant.  But not both. Your choice.
  4. If the pop off valve does indeed pop off– DO. NOT. SCREAM. Like I did the first time this happened to me. Uninvited visitors will show up and cause some slight embarrassment.  It is supposed to keep water from spraying up into the wires which could save your life,. However, I have found that they just pop off whenever they feel like it.
  5.  Yay! You are clean, but also soaking wet.  How to turn off the faucet?  You will only reach for the metal knobs once before muscle memory kicks in and you will remember why you never want to do in again. Nobody in these parts have ever heard of grounding wires.  My suggestion is to have a small towel–hand towel sized–that you use for turning off the knobs.

No need to fear the electrical, non-grounded shower.  I, like several before me have survived; you can survive it too.