Yearly Archives: 2015

Surgery, history, and chemistry, oh my!

I LOVE all things related to medicine–especially the history of medicine and the science that goes along with it so given that I was ecstatic to visit 6! nerdy, science-y, medical-y museum in a span of two weeks. Not a super well known fact, but IRL I am a registered nurse and before that I worked as a registered respiratory therapist. There isn’t a single area in a hospital that I haven’t spent time in as a professional…Emergency rooms, YEP. Operating Rooms, YEP. Morgue during autopsy, YEP. Pharmacy Prep areas, YEP. Delivery Rooms, YEP. Intensive Care Units, YEP, and regular ole patients’ room. I’ve worked in them all at some point or another. SO, it should come as no surprise to anyone, that I LOVE all things related to medicine. Enter the Operating Museum and Herb Garret, Science Museum, Hospital Museum, Pathology Museum, and Florence Nightingale Museum. All located in London and all open to visitors. [However, they are not all free].  The Semmelweis Museum in Budapest makes up the sixth museum in this sext-fecta of historical medical museums.

First up…The Old Operating Theatre and Herb Garret aka one of the coolest and best museums in LONDON.

operating museum 10

In the shadow of the Shard, near all the cool and modern construction that is going on near London Bridge, lies The Old Operating Theatre and Herb Garrett.  It is a spectacular little museum filled with tons of historic and interesting items related to medicine, pharmacy, and surgery; it is also one of those museums that you don’t necessarily hear a lot about and even if you do, you are still not really sure where it is.  It’s hidden away in the roof space of what was once St. Thomas’ church. It was closed last time I was in London, so I made sure that I’d be able to go in this time. Missing the old Operating Theatre twice probably would have killed me. Thankfully, we won’t have to find out.

The Old Operating Theatre is a bit hard to find.  I found it as I find most things, by wandering, but that’s not the recommended way of getting there. It’s a bit off the beaten tourist path in London [still Zone 1, still in the city].  If you can find the fabulous Borough Market, which is celebrating 1000! [let that sink in a moment] years in Southwark, then you can find the old operating theatre. I whole-heartedly recommend visiting the market for food and drink and then some more food…[perhaps after the museum if you tend to be a bit squeamish] Anyway…you wander down St Thomas Street and as you do so, you are greeted by this ever-so-slightly alarming skull. And this is one of the many reasons I love London. It’s not often that a skull greets the visitor at a proper museum. operating museum 1

What’s far MORE alarming, at least to me and my propensity to trip and fall on staircases and hurt myself, is the never-ending spiral of stairs [32 tiny, narrow stairs, in case you were counting] that lead up into the old operating theatre. It DOES take some effort, but it IS worth it.

operating museum 8

First is the herb garret. The heady scent from the big bowls of medicinal herbs and spices will smack you violently in the face the second you go inside, so be prepared for that. Once inside there are numerous displays of herbs, spices, medicinal plants, distillations, tinctures and powders, all with thoughtful hand-written explanations and thoughtful captions such as this description for Motherwort, taken from Maud Grieve’s A Modern Herbal (1931): “Especially valuable in female weakness and disorders…allaying nervous irritability and inducing quiet and passivity of the whole nervous system. Good against hysterical complaints.”  [because you know those damn Victorians were obsessed with curing ‘female weakness and hysterical complaints’]

operating museum 5

There isn’t a square inch of free surface space in the place – it’s an apothecary of chaos. The ambiance created by the smell is absolutely fantastic – there’s a sense of life and of discovery, purely down to the mixing aromas of all the ingredients in the room. It is visually stunning, and somewhat overwhelming, but it *feels* real. I can almost imagine I’m in the old-school apothecary where they just grab a little of this and a bit of that, call it a prescription and send you on your way. And whether or not they’re sure of which herb goes where, who knows? But you get a real sense for the magic and the experimental spirit that lead us to modern pharmacy we have today.

herb manual

 

Potion making at old operating museum

Once you’ve had your fill of the apothecary [or if the smell starts to get to you], head on to the back to the Operating Theatre. This is the earliest surviving example of an operating room in Europe, [circa 1850 or therabouts] ,and it’s pretty impressive. This one was a teaching theatre, and you really feel that priority was given to the spectators in this environment.

operating museum 2

At times, I tend to have an over-active imagination, and it is easy to picture the gruesome scene– well-attired medics sawing through flesh, blood squirting everywhere, scholars craning their necks for a closer look, and for those without strong stomachs– swooning, or making a mad dash for the nearest bed pan; and let’s not forget the blood-curdling screams of the patients…imagine this…a patient is lying on the operating table…wide awake and staring wide-eyed right back at the surgeon. Anesthetics hadn’t been discovered yet and patients were given the option of whisky, opium, or being knocked out by being hit on the head with a mallet.

Surgical technique was still a bit of a idiomatic expression; surgeons relied on swift amputation techniques, the faster you could remove a limb the better a surgeon you were. Most patients died of infection rather than the actual blood loss or surgery and the old frock coats worn by surgeons during operations were, according to a contemporary, ‘stiff and stinking with pus and blood.’

hospital museum 6

Patients often had injuries which prevented them from taking the spiral staircase up to the theater, and were therefore transported into the theater via a pulley system and an opening in the wall behind the current chalkboard. The ground would also be covered in straw to help prevent blood from dripping onto patrons of the church below the theater. [because that would be rude…taking communion to received the body and blood of Christ only to receive the ACTUAL blood of John Smith or some other mere mortal]

Museum visitors are also provided with a first-hand account for good measure:

The first two rows… were occupied by the other dressers, and behind a second partition stood the pupils, packed like herrings in a barrel, but not so quiet…The confusion and crushing was indeed at all times very great, especially when any operation of importance was to be performed, and I have often known even the floor so crowded that the surgeon could not operate until it had been partially cleared. There was also a continual calling out of “Heads, Heads” to those about the table whose heads interfered with the sightseers.

Having observed [and had!] surgery up close and personal as well as from a gallery [in the 21st century], I much prefer the 21st century way of doing things.

Exit the theatre and one can examine the instruments of torture: tools for trepanning; row after row of blades, designed for every imaginable variety of amputation; and even a physician’s stick, used for walking, but also held across the patients mouth as a restraint during surgery – as evidenced by the surviving teeth marks. This was by far my favorite part of the museum.

hospital museum 5

Elsewhere, there are areas dedicated to the use of animals in medicine (leeches or maggots anyone?), bizarre Victorian contraptions for the hard of hearing, and a number of human organs pickled in formaldehyde, including a pair of lungs blackened by the London smog.

operating museum 11

The most important disccovery of the 20th century

Apologies…more science

feel free to skip if science bores you, but I think it’s fascinating…

What do you thing the most important discovery of the 20th century was?  Flight?  definitely an important one, especially for us travellers. Einstein’s theory of relativity?   Sure, it’s important, but how often does the average person use it.  I’m going with the discovery of penicillin by Alexander Fleming in 1928.  Yes, I’m a science nerd [I have a degree in microbiology] but the discovery of penicillin is arguably one of the most important discoveries if you think of its effects on the health of everyone.   So number three in my medical museum adventures in the Alexander Fleming Laboratory Museum opened in 1993  Its centerpiece is a reconstruction of the laboratory as it was in 1928 in the actual room in which Fleming had made his discovery.  How cool is that?

Since photography isn’t allowed in the museum, let’s take this opportunity to learn a little bit more about our hero.

Fleming was born in a farming community in rural Ayrshire [Scotland] and had a very basic education – but he developed his powers of observation during the early years. Bored with being a shipping clerk in London he applied to be a surgeon but was turned down. [We can all be grateful for that ironic twist of fate.  He’d be the one spreading the germs instead of killing them.]

However, following receiving a small inheritance, he re-applied and became a medical student at St Mary’s excelling at all his exams. After graduation he joined the department of Bacteriology, headed up by Almroth Wright. He was one of those caricature flamboyant physicians who believed passionately in research, especially into typhoid, but not in keeping statistics [much like myself…I love experimenting, but keeping records, not so much]. His work was in immunization and this is the department that Fleming joined–working on lysosomes, one of our natural defenses against—wait for it— BACTERIA.

Everyone loves the story of how Fleming came to make his first major discovery regarding lysosymes. He had a cold and a drop of snot fell out of his nose on to a culture plate of bacteria which began to dissolve. Who would have ever thought snot would be the answer.

From there you probably know the  rest …  In the summer of 1928, Fleming left the lab for vacations but left some petri dishes containing the bacterium Staphylococcus aureus [a naturally occurring skin bacteria] on his laboratory bench. He was done with them, but for whatever reason didn’t clean up his work space before he left. On his return to work on 3 September 1928, he took one last look at them before asking his laboratory technician to sterilize them.

In a today’s lab, petri dishes are plastic, used only once and then destroyed. In 1928, they were made of glass and reused after being soaked in a shallow bath of disinfectant followed by a quick wipe. Let’s just say if lab hygiene in 1928 was similar to today’s standards penicillin may not have been discovered…. Anyway….. Something peculiar caught his eye and he said, “Hmm, that’s funny”, he said. The petri dish had been contaminated by a mold which had inhibited the growth of the bacteria.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Fleming went on to publish his findings – that the mold penicillin seemed to kill Bacteria – in 1929 and he continued to practice at St Mary’s. The problem then became how to manufacture ‘enough’ mold to be able to use it to combat sepsis, which was of the main killer of the times.

Ten or so years later the work continued at Oxford where two researchers, Howard Florey (from New Zealand) and Ernst Chain (from Germany), worked on the manufacture of penicillin. The start of world war II added impetus (and money) to the research project with the thinking being that wounded service personnel could be saved and turned round to fight again – by D-Day there was enough penicillin for every combatant.

Public recognition came in the shape  of a Nobel prize for all three men. [yay!]

Hanging out in Bogotá

Ok, I’ll admit it: I was not enthusiastic when my flight to Maricaibo was canceled and Bogotá became my first stop in South America. I  planned to skipped the Colombian capital altogether and I was not at all excited to visit Bogotá.  In hindsight, Bogotá most definitely was a better ( and probably safer) introduction to South America than Maricaibo.

La Candelaria, Bogota

My original plans were to skip Bogotá because I had read so many horror stories of muggings and I hadn’t found any articles in which people were raving about the city. It seemed like most people were rushing through Bogotá, hitting up the most important museums, using it as a transit stop and moving on quickly to the next place, whatever that place may be.

Part of the reason for choosing South America was that, in theory, I speak Spanish fluently, or at least I did 10 years ago. I’m feeling a little isolated since I am trying to not speak English unless it is absolutely necessary, but today that changed. Not that I magically became fluent overnight, but it is coming back to me, especially if the person with whom I am speaking speaks slowly (for Spanish).

For example, today I took the Transmileno to the other side of Bogotá for no reason than to see another part of the city.

transmilenio bogota

On the return trip, I had conversation with an elderly gentleman who sat next to me. It was nothing serious, weather, I’m new in town, ect, but it was a chance to practice Spanish with someone who didn’t speak crazy fast. I’m feeling a little more confident. After successfully ordering lunch [3 courses $5500 ~3.25], I stopped in the frutería. I only wanted to get a few snacks for the road, but I was talked into a fruit salad. Nothing like I’ve ever had. It included mango, papaya, pear, banana, and a couple other fruits I have never seen before. Before leaving, I ask the fruit man Que es esto? esto y esto, and very patiently he shows me all the fruits in the store, both in the natural state and the cut up state. So while my fruit salad was only slightly less than lunch, the education about fruit was worth the $2.75 price tag.

fruit salad bogota

Bogotá is a city of more than 8 million people, and I am not a big-city person, but as if often the case, big cities are full of fascinating history and people.  I arrived at El Dorado airport at 2a, a full one day + 18 hours after my intended arrival time.  I just wanted to get into a bed as quickly as possible.  So I took a taxi, which I hate, to my hostel in Candelaria, where I promptly crashed for a few hours.

The next morning, I started to explore the city, and I noticed two things right away: the altitude [O.M.G breathing is so hard] and the thick layer of gray clouds that hover over the city on most days. The altitude – Bogotá sits at 8,675 feet caused me to huff and puff my way up and down Candelaria’s steep streets like a chain-smoking asthmatic; I never got used to it during my two weeks in the city. Bogotá is not exactly warm;  I can see why it’s off the radar with most travelers – especially when you were coming from sea level, tropical temperatures and perfect weather.

I joined a few of the free walking tours during  my stay; they are excellent for getting bearings straight in a new city, finding out a few more details about the city, places to hit up, and adressing safety concerns.  They are also good for traveling by yourself but having saftey in numbers.

candelaria

Bogotá blew my mind as an interesting destination and I was always a little bit happy when I had to return to the city for various reasons. Stay tuned for more posts about Bogotá, and how it beyond exceeded my expectations and really got me excited for traveling again.

Swimming with fairies and the beauty of Skye

When I was a little kid, I used to love to play make believe, and play in the creek behind my house. I’m sure that I wasn’t the only kid in the world who liked to play make-believe or play in creeks, but being as how I was an only child who lived out in the country far away from other kids, playing make-believe was a great source of entertainment for me. I loved to pretend that I was either invisible sea monster or a witch or better yet, an invisible sea monster-witch. Skye would have been a great place to grow up.

Can you imagine all the fun someone with an active imagination could have here?

Just imagine being an invisible fairy with eternal life and the power to enthrall people.. it’d make sense to live here, bewitching visitors to take off all their clothes [because now I’m a bawdy wench]. The spell of the Fairy Pools is that they look as if they must be warm…

I mean with that kind of vivid blue water it must be like the Caribbean Sea, but having come straight down from the Black Cuillins, they are anything but warm. The saying goes: temperatures in Scotland are either cold, bastard cold, or damn freezing cold. And checking in at a balmy 43F, I say these swimming holes are bastard cold.

Skye, Scotland
Skye, Scotland

Perhaps it is the fairy mischief that makes me want to jump into this amzing clear blue water. Water that is face-smackingly, lung-contractingly cold…wet-suit be damned… I jump in…ohmygod thisissofuckingcold…I clamber back out to catch my breath. Fairy magic…I haul my carcass out of the swimming hole, warm up, and dive in again and again. This is river swimming at its most magical.

The Isle of Skye is the largest of the Hebridean islands. It is easy to navigate, easily reached from the mainlaind village of Kyleakin, and has a huge variety of landscapes packed into a relatively small space. Scottish Gaelic is the predominate language of this part of the country , and in this area of around 10,000 people spread out over the islands, is raw wilderness.  Each sight is slightly more awe inspiring than the previous.

Just let the beauty of it all soak in for a minute, will ya?

Leaving Skye, I passed probably the most famous castle in Scotland. In my less than humble opinion, Eilean Donan Castle is the most beautiful castle in Scotland.  It’s even movie famous. Chances are you recognize it from a film or two.  Eilean Donan starred in Highlander, served as Sean Connery’s home in Entrapment, and was the Scottish Headquarters of MI6 in The World Is Not Enough. Anything related to the world’s most famous spy has my stamp of approval.

Off to see the wizard…

What I am about to say might be considered blasphemy to some… I didn’t travel the yellow brick road to see the land of Oz and meet the Wizard until very recently… as in I read the books Wicked and Son of a Witch before I ever knew of Dorothy and crew.

the way to oz

I KNOW… what can I say?  I missed out on a lot as a child by not having a TV or living in a town without a movie theatre.

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So not being a huge fan and being an infant when it closed, I hope I can be forgiven for never having heard of Autumn at OZ. In its heyday the Land of Oz could attract 20,000 visitors a day, but now the neglected Yellow Brick Road is missing some bricks, the Wicked Witch of the West’s castle is empty and the Emerald City has all but disappeared.

yellow brick road


Truthfully, it’s a little bit creepy.

Local actors dress up as characters from the book/movie. Kids [and some very strange adults] dress up in costumes. Parents take pictures of kids with Dorothy and crew as if they were Santa Claus.

cast of oz

What it is:   From 1970-1980, there was a Wizard of Oz theme park not too far from where I live now. It’s located in Beech Mountain, NC and is open to the public for one weekend only… usually the first weekend in October,although that varies as they are having a few more events for the general public. [This year is was open on Oct 3 & 4].  I say open to the public because it’s current owner is Emerald Mountain Properties and they rent out the cabins, property, ect to people who want to have private parties at the land of OZ.

If you want to go: Ticket usually go on sale in the beginning of August, and sell out quickly. This year they sold out in just TWO short Weeks. I’m not saying go or not go, but if you do, be aware that this isn’t a theme park by 2015 standards, or even 1975 standard; it’s a quirky, weird little park best suited to real, devoted Wizard of Oz fans.

My bucket list–rediscovered

I’ve been packing up things and in true Michelle form, I take time to explore all the little pieces of paper I pull out from strange places. One of those little scraps of paper had the grandiose title of ‘THINGS I WANT TO DO BEFORE I DIE’,and while I’ve read quite a few blog posts about other people’s “bucket lists”, I hadn’t thought of writing a list of my own.  Oh how the past comes back to bite me… my own list was written in December 1999–as a joke among friends when we all thought the world would succumb to the Y2K bug.

THE LIST OF THINGS I WANT TO DO BEFORE I DIE

PLACES TO GO

THE USA:

  • Visit all 50 states [42 down, 8 to go]
  • See a Broadway play on Broadway [OCT 2011–acted as an usher and saw Wicked” for free–well, most of it anyway]
  • Climb to the crown in the Statue of Liberty [I climbed to the pedestal before it was closed for repairs in OCT 2011–close enough for me]
  • Ride a cable car in San Francisco [MAY 2012]
  • Go to Disney World and have fun as an adult [I never really had fun there as a child so maybe it would be different as an adult]
  • Kayak down the Everglades River in Florida [March 2000]
  • Party at Mardi Gras in New Orleans
  • See the Kentucky Derby live at Churchill Downs
  • See fall foliage in New England [OCT 2011]
  • Visit every professional baseball stadium [Camden Yards, Baltimore 2001, Yankee Stadium 2010, Turner Field 2008, AT&T Field 2012, Safeco Field 2012, Fenway Park, 2011, The Ballpark, Arlington, 1996, Citi Field, 2011, Wrigley Field, 2014, Citizens Bank Field, 2011, Tropicana Field 2005] *This is no longer a goal of mine… I’ll still go to a baseball game if I’m in an area and there’s a game available, but it’s no longer a top goal.
  • Visit every National Park in the US [I am about halfway there. Smoky Mountains NP was the first way back when I was a child in the 1980’s and the latest was  Mt Rainier National Park in October 2017]
  • Visit all the state parks in North and South Carolina [started August 2015; finished SC State Parks Jan 2017 currently working on NC state parks]
Sassafrass Mountain–SC’s highest state park

Canada/Mexico

  • see Niagara Falls (from both sides)
  • spend time in Quebec [Oct 2011]
  • visit Vancouver  [October 2016]
  • explore the Atlantic Islands
  • see the Northern Lights
  • go dog-sledding

Central/South America

  • Cross the Equator [September 2010, December 2010, June 2011]
  • Attend Carnival in Brazil [February 2011]
  • Visit Ushuaia on the Tierra del Fuego [December 2010]
  • Travel across the Salar de Uyuni [December 2010]
  • Take a boat on the Amazon River [April 2011]
  • see exotic animals in their natural habitat [visited the Pantanal April 2011]
  • explore the Amazon Jungle [May 2011]
  • cross the Panama Canal

Europe

  • Eat pizza in Naples, Italy [February 2006]
  • Climb to the top of the dome of St. Peter’s, The Vatican, Italy [February 2006]
  • Witness the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona, Spain
  • ‘authentic’ Spain in Andalucia
  • Attend La Tomatina in Valencia, Spain
  • Lay on a beach in Croatia
  • go to Ischia
  • Sail around the Greek islands
  • Island hop in Croatia
  • Experience the true Oktoberfest in Germany [Oktober 2015]
  • Drive on the Autobahn, Germany
  • Ride in a hot air balloon in Cappadocia, Turkey
  • Hunt vampires in Romania [January 2013]
  • ride on the Trans-Siberian Railway
  • cruise the fjords in Norway
  • see the reindeer in Lapland
  • attend the White Nights festival in St Petersburg
  • visit the Christmas markets in Germany [December 2014]
  • see the Matterhorn in Switzerland [Jan 2013]

Oceania:

  • Hike around Uluru in the Australian Outback
  • Climb the Sydney Harbor Bridge in Australia
  • visit one of the islands in the South Pacific

Africa:

  • Climb Table Mountain in Cape Town, South Africa
  • see the kitty cats in their natural environmnet
  • Go on a safari
  • visit Casablanca in Morocco
  • cruise the Nile
  • surf in South Africa

Asia:

  • Climb the Great Wall of China
  • visit Tokyo

Things to See

The U.S.:

  • The Grand Canyon [2012]
  • Redwood trees in California [2000]
  • Times Square, NYC [2011]
  • Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, New York City [2011]Las Vegas Strip [2012]
  • National Mall in Washington, D.C. [1990 again in 2011]
  • Space Needle, Seattle, Washington [2012]
  • St. Louis Arch
  • Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco [2012]
  • Alcatraz [2012]
  • Mount Rushmore
  • Pearl Harbour, Hawaii
  • The Alaskan Wilderness
  • South Beach, Miami, Florida [2010]

Europe:

  • Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, Turkey
  • Hadrian’s Wall, England [Aug 1997]
  • Abbey Road, London, England [September 2015]
  • All the cool sights in London [finally!] [2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016]
  • Trevi Fountain, Rome, Italy [2006]
  • Colosseum, Rome, Italy [2006]
  • St. Peter’s Basilica, The Vatican, Italy [2006]
  • Ruins in Pompeii and Herculaneum, Italy [2006]
  • Leaning Tower of Pisa, Italy
  • Acropolis in Athens, Greece
  • Diocletian’s Palace Croatia
  • The bridge of Mostar, Serbia
  • The ‘NEWBORN’ scuplture, Kosovo  [January 2013]
  • Red Square, Moscow, Russia [February 2009]
  • St. Basil’s Cathedral, Moscow [January 2009]
  • the LENIN, Murmansk, Russia [March 2009]
  • The Hermitage, St Petersburg [2009 and 2014]
  • Auschwitz, Poland [2014]
  • Dachau, Germany [2014]
  • Eiffel Tower, Paris, France [2012 and 2013]
  • Notre Dame, Paris, France [2013]
  • Rila Monastery , Bulgaria
  • Lake Ohrid, Macedonia/Albania

Asia:

  • Forbidden City, Beijing
  • Elephant Nature Park, Thailand
  • Pandas in China
  • Mount Everest
  • Angkor Wat, Cambodia
  • Taj Mahal, India
  • Temples in Bangkok, Thailand

The Middle-East

  • Petra, Jordan
  • Dubai, UAE
  • Jerusalem

Africa:

  • The Pyramids of Giza, Cairo, Egypt
  • Victoria Falls

South America:

  • Machu Picchu, Peru[2010]
  • Galapagos Islands, Ecuador [2010]
  • Iguazu Falls, Brazil/Argentina [2010]
  • Angel Falls, Venezuela [2011]
  • Easter Island, Chile

Oceania:

  • The Great Barrier Reef, Australia
  • Uluru, Australia
  • Sydney Opera House and Harbor Bridge, Australia
  • Tasmania

Adventures to have

  • Hike out on a glacier [Patagonia 2010]
  • Ride in a hot balloon [that’s not tethered to the ground]
  • Go white water rafting [Nantahala River, NC 2012]
  • Ride in a helicopter
  • See an active volcano up close
  • Drive in a country where they drive on the opposite side of the road [Ireland 1997]
  • Attend a professional sports game in another country (football, baseball, soccer, rugby, hockey, tennis, cricket, ect) [soccer, England 1997 and Peru 2010, baseball, Venezuela 2011, ice hockey, Canada 2011 and France 2013]
  • Celebrate Christmas in a different country [Argentina 2010, Lithuania 2014]
  • Celebrate New Year’s in a different country [Brazil 2010, France 2012]
  • Go on a cruise
  • See a favorite band in concert [2012, 2017]
  • Participate in a wacky cultural event/tradition/race
  • Be a balloon handler at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade
  • Take part in an archaeological dig
  • Stomp grapes to make wine
  • Visit vineyards [Argentina 2010, 2011, California 2012, NC/SC 2015, Washington/Oregon 2016, 2017]
  • Visit a nude beach and go nude!
  • go skinny dipping
  • stargazing at an astronomy tower
  • jump off a cliff into water [OK so I sort of halfway did this…I jumped off a bridge–about a 40 ft drop– into a lake, and DO NOT want to repeat the experience at any distance higher than that]
  • Climb a volcano [Ecuador 2010]
  • go SCUBA diving
  • volunteer at an animal park
  • attend the Olympics *bonus if it’s in another country [I went to the ATL ’96 games and the Winter Olympics in Torino in 2006]
  • Go to the World Cup
  • attend Wimbledon
  • go kayaking in the arctic

Cool things to see:

  • Redwood trees in California [2000]
  • The Grand Canyon [2012]
  • Yellowstone National Park
  • Great Smokey Mountains NP [1980s]
  • Fall foliage in New England [2011]
  • Times Square, NYC [2011
  • Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island [2011]
  • New York City [2011]
  • Las Vegas [2012]
  • The Alaskan Wilderness
  • Alcatraz [2012]
  • Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco [2012]
  • Pearl Harbor, Hawaii
  • White Sands National Park in New Mexico

Other:

  • Antarctica
  • Earth from space
  • Icebergs up close [2011]
  • A geyser explode [Chile 2010]
  • Become fluent in a third language [perhaps Russian or German–I’m currently stuck in beginners level with both]
  • Learn how to drive a manual car
  • Fill up an entire passport with stamps [2010-2017 AND I had to have extra pages added]
  • Take surfing lessons [nearly died in Peru 2010]
  • Learn to snowboard or ski [FRANCE 2013]

Non-travel related things:

  • Design my future house
  • Become a homeowner and have a house party
  • Get certified in wilderness medicine
  • hike a multi-day trail solo [Foothills Trail 2017]

What can I say–I’ve always been an overly-ambitious soul…

Adventures of DJ and M | Tourists (and refugees) in Budapest

Days 2-4 in Budapest… Let’s go adventuring, shall we, but first, a little history lesson. Budapest is a fascinating historical city seperated into Buda and Pest by the Danube River. This area represents the Hungarian part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire which fell at the beginning of WWI.  After WW2 in 1949, Hungary was declared a people’s republic and was ruled by communism. The iron curtain fell in 1989 but when touring Budapest, you will see that there are reminders of the Communist regime scattered throughout the city today.

Today, Hungary is part of the European Union which is part of the reason it is facing its current refugee crisis.  DJ and I narrowly escaped Budapest ahead of Hungary closing its borders in an attempt to stem the influx of these invaders. Authorities in Budapest are trying to help the refugees [migrants, illegals, ect..] by providing shelter, water, and facilities at the train stations, but the migrants want more.  More handouts from not-exactly-wealthy governments. More demands from people not vetted by any type of security.  It’s quite the sticky situation… but I digress…


One of the few remaining Soviet Monuments is Liberty Statue on Gellert Hill. This statue was originally erected to honour the Soviets who sacrificed themselves to free Hungary from the Nazis occupation. As we all know, that liberation came with a price and the Soviets ended up locking out the Western world. The statue was damaged in the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, and in 1989 after the fall of communism, the statue was kept to honour all those who gave the ultimate sacrifice for Hungary. An inscription in the statue states: To the memory of those all who sacrificed their lives for the independence, freedom, and prosperity of Hungary.

Ruin Bars are a popular spot that came out of the fall of communism. These are trendy hipster pubs that are decorated with retro furniture and have a very cool vibe.  Known by locals as ‘romkocsma’ (ruin pub in Hungarian), these pubs have been a part of the drinking culture for over a dozen years. Each one is unique but, more often than not, a ruin pub in Budapest will have a rundown and slightly sketchy exterior that completely contradicts the vibrant colours and unique ambience you’ll find inside. Filled with second hand furniture and nearly anything funky picked off the curb, these formerly abandoned buildings are now pretty integral to Budapest. And it all seems to have started in the city’s 7th district.

 

The neighbourhood was largely damaged and neglected after World War II and it’s said that ruin pubs are what changed the district’s future for the better. Where many saw abandoned factories and deteriorating apartment complexes, the people behind Szimpla saw potential. Over the years, the transformation of these buildings (and now others across the city) led to an entirely new concept in Budapest that super cool.

Budapest is in a major transition right now and an interesting part of traveling there is that you can see a contrast between the communist era and the modern day society of today. Communism is very much a part of the conversation in Budapest. People that are the same age as I am remember growing up during the regime. It has been slower to develop than other communist cities due to lack of funding, but this has allowed it to stave off the dreaded gentrification that is affecting so many cities today. It won’t be long until the West invades though, even now you will find McDonald’s and Starbucks. As a matter a fact, Budapest was the first city in the Eastern bloc to open a McDonald’s. They had a more relaxed form of communism than other countries, giving it the nickname Goulash Communism. They enjoyed a certain freedom and amenities that weren’t available to other countries in the Eastern Bloc.

Not the fancy one

Our train to Prague was nearly 2 hours and 45 minutes late getting in last night. It originated in Budapest, then went to Prague. For the first time in 10+ years of traveling, the police boarded the train at the Czech border, and checked passports. It reminded me a little bit of when I was hanging out in Zapatista territory– at least these police didn’t have machetes attached to their hips.

The migrants are now, shall we say, pissed. They are now attempting to block trains from coming and going by standing on the tracks unless they are allowed on them… without a passport… Without a ticket… without any type of security checks. And they all want to go to Germany. Germany. Does. Not. Want. Them. and neither does anyone else after these antics. To riot against the very people who have literally given you shelter, water, and a place to pee because you did get want you “want”, is a bit like cutting off your nose to spite your face. It makes no sense. They are acting like children who got their candy taken away.

What’s the answer? Idk, but Greece and Italy can’t patrol all the islands that these people are arriving to. Hungary put up a razor wire fence on its border with Serbia but it can’t cover the railway which is being used as a highway. Romania isn’t strong enough to police it’s borders. The Austria / Hungary border is ground zero. People are trying to get into Austria by any means necessary since they see it as the gateway to Germany.  And people are dying–hiding in truck shells. And sealed refrigerators.

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.

quebec king's highway 4
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.

quebec king's highway 7
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.

Adventures of DJ and M | Shoes

My first visit to Budapest was a frosty sojourn where I tried to be either inside or in the toasty warm thermal baths at all times. I learned a lot about Budapest’s cafe culture, walked around the city with my head wrapped in hats and scarves, learned to use Europe’s second oldest subway efficiently, attended some grade A classical music concerts, and made a lot of mental notes to ‘look up’ the significance of what I saw, and explore more in detail should I ever return.

I have returned.

budapest snow
January 2013…Oh, what I would do for a little ice in the Danube today.

 

August 2015–Danube River–basking in the summer moonlight

Anyway…

One of the things that I saw on my January walk along the river, was several pairs of cast iron shoes pointing towards the river.  Interesting, yes, but what is it’s significance.

I only snapped the one photo because…cold, and frostbitten fingers were a very real possibility.

Interesting…curious….something I’d like to investigate further.

It’s hard to look at a monuments like this–sometimes called ‘dark tourism’–especially in areas where life has gone on, but I think it’s important to look at them, ponder the significance, and reflect on the meaning.  Budapest, in 1944 was not a place you wanted to be if you were Jewish. But then again, most of central Europe was not a place you wanted to be either.

shoes on the danube 5

Rusted cast iron looks like real, used leather, and these shoes in all shapes and styles represent some of the victims of the Holocaust.  In the winter of 1944, several Jews from Budapest were rounded up and stripped completely naked on the banks of the Danube River.  That would have be torture enough. January in Budapest is not balmy. Trust me, I was there in January and nearly froze to death despite my wool hat and coat. These Jews–men, women, and children– were told to face the river. A firing squad shot the prisoners-of-war at close enough range so that their bodies would fall into the icy Danube and be washed away from the city.  If the gunshot didn’t kill them, the river most certainly would.

shoes on the danube 8

Leather was such a precious commodity that even shoes were taken from the victims. After the victims fell into the river, the shoes were rounded up, either re-distributed or the leather re-worked into something else.  Today there are 60 pairs of cast iron shoes modeled after 1940’s footwear lined up on the Pest side of the Danube.  The memorial was commissioned in 2005.

The monument is located on the Pest side of Budapest, Id. Antall József rkp., 1054 Hungary.

 

Adventures of DJ and M | Traveling with friends

This adventure has been a long time in the making and it’s nearly polar opposite from what I usually do or how I normally travel.

More than a year ago, my work mate DJ said “I want to go to Europe with you” and like everyone who says that I say OK and figure absolutely nothing will happen. Because nothing ever does. So I was somewhat surprised when she brought it up again, and this time my response was ‘where do you want to go?’ because if someone only wants to go to Rome or Paris, I’m not the person they should go with.

Her response “I don’t know… I’ve never been to Europe…”  Great… I have got a geographically challenged person with no idea of what they might like to do.  Europe is pretty big, I say.  It include Istanbul, Greece, London, Moscow, Stockholm, Barcelona, and many places in between.  I begin to think that this may not be happening.

Over time, DJ and I become good friends.  She cons me into running a 5k at home and a 10K in Charleston; I conned her into staying in a hostel while running said 10K.  And driving. It was a wash. Eventually we decide on summer 2015 as when we should  go. My vote was May or September (shoulder season and not 1000 degrees); her vote was July or August, based on kid’s school schedules (hers, obvs).  We finally decide on last week of August and first week of September.  I should mention that I’ve never been to Europe in the summer and what I know I know from reading and talking to others.

We probably did about 50 trip combinations before settling on out actual route.  She wanted to go to the beach; I wanted to go somewhere I haven’t been before. Croatia, Italy, and Spain were some of the finalists, but in the end, the planes, trains, and boats just wouldn’t work out financially. DJ really wanted to go to Barcelona, Paris, and London; I explained that those cities were probably the most expensive and with the budget we were working with, we could do one, maybe two, but not all three.

Paris and I are not friends

I got an email alert for a really good price on a flight to Budapest. Normally, I fly into one city and out of another, but this time, we did a round trip for <$700 in August/September. I call that a win.

Now from Budapest, we could go south, or north. I was pushing for South… Serbia, Croatia, Montenegro, Albania, Greece. DJ was deterred by the lack of tourist infrastructure and the Cyrillic alphabet so we went North.  We eventually settled on Budapest–>Vienna–>Prague–>Berlin–>Copenhagen–>London–>Budapest circuit over three weeks.

I was a little bummed to be missing out on Spain… yet again, but London for the 5th time was an acceptable substitute.

London is awesome

Because London is awesome, and no matter how many visits I have, there will always be more things to do.  And Berlin is awesome too. So I knew that at least those two cities were going to be OK. The other cities were a toss-up. Even more interesting would be the accommodations. I’ve always stayed in hostels and if I am really feeling flush, I’ll get a private room.  DJ was a hotel girl.  We settled on guesthouses and apartments plus a hostel in London with two beds and a bathroom.

Different styles… different expectations… let’s hope the friendship survives.

Parts 2 and 3

Three flight delays from Greenville, a close call in Washington DC, an uneventful overnight flight to Munich, a much-loved [and craved] pretzel during the Munich layover, a short flight to Budapest, a visit to passport control, and DJ has her first ever passport stamp.  Currency exchanged [dollars to fornits], train tickets purchased, subway passes bought, and a 15-minute walk while carrying our luggage in the 100 degree [no exaggeration] heat, we’ve arrived at our first stop.

I’m always nervous booking places on-line.  Now for me, my expectations are low, and whatever the place looks like, as long as there are no visible bugs or drug needles, I am generally OK with it.  DJ’s standards were a bit higher. Luckily, my first guest house was a winner… two beds, and in-room bathroom, and a central location.  What’s missing is air-condition.  Now, while I expected this, I did not expect it to be 100 degrees.  DJ is dying; I’m surviving but only barely. Thank God for the small, but powerful fan inside our room.

For our first meal in Budapest, DJ wants to go to… McDonald’s. For a cheeseburger. No street food for that girl. No sidewalk pizza will do.  A plain cheeseburger.  We traveled 6000 miles for McDonald’s. [me… shaking head in disbelief]  Luckily, I have been here before. I know there are multiple McDonald’s in Budapest, including one just a five minutes walk away, but that’s not the one I suggest we go to.  Budapest has quite possible the world’s nicest McDonald’s [or at least the nicest one I’ve ever seen] inside the Nyugati train station.  I discovered this gem when I was in Budapest in January 2013 freezing my ass off. [Irony upon irony:  first visit to Budapest I nearly froze to death; this visit I may die of heat stroke]  I was just looking for some heat when I happened upon this mirage inside the train station.

DJ agrees. And it has air condition. I am a hero… At least for a little while.

Michelle in Budapest. Never mind the bra showing through the t-shirt. Or the purple hair. The FitBit said we had done more than 30,000 steps, and I was celebrating by eating a deliciously (cold) coffee flavored gelato.