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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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]
see Niagara Falls (from both sides)
spend time in Quebec [Oct 2011]
visit Vancouver [October 2016]
explore the Atlantic Islands
see the Northern Lights
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
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]
Hike around Uluru in the Australian Outback
Climb the Sydney Harbor Bridge in Australia
visit one of the islands in the South Pacific
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
Climb the Great Wall of China
Things to See
The Grand Canyon 
Redwood trees in California 
Times Square, NYC 
Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, New York City Las Vegas Strip 
National Mall in Washington, D.C. [1990 again in 2011]
Space Needle, Seattle, Washington 
St. Louis Arch
Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco 
Pearl Harbour, Hawaii
The Alaskan Wilderness
South Beach, Miami, Florida 
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 
Colosseum, Rome, Italy 
St. Peter’s Basilica, The Vatican, Italy 
Ruins in Pompeii and Herculaneum, Italy 
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 
Dachau, Germany 
Eiffel Tower, Paris, France [2012 and 2013]
Notre Dame, Paris, France 
Rila Monastery , Bulgaria
Lake Ohrid, Macedonia/Albania
Forbidden City, Beijing
Elephant Nature Park, Thailand
Pandas in China
Angkor Wat, Cambodia
Taj Mahal, India
Temples in Bangkok, Thailand
The Pyramids of Giza, Cairo, Egypt
Machu Picchu, Peru
Galapagos Islands, Ecuador 
Iguazu Falls, Brazil/Argentina 
Angel Falls, Venezuela 
Easter Island, Chile
The Great Barrier Reef, Australia
Sydney Opera House and Harbor Bridge, Australia
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
What is this place?
Hi, I’m Michelle and this is my own little corner of the interwebs where I write, share photos, and interact with others in the blog-o-shpere. So in addition to that–Who am I? I am –in one way or another– the following: hiker + backpacker + swimmer + pediatric respiratory therapist + registered nurse + avid traveler + cat parent + gardener + photographer + medical science junkie + adventure-seeker + DIY enthusiast + voracious reader + history and science nerd + football fanatic + aging athlete + wannabe chef + trying not to succumb to the trappings of a 9-5 life. And beginning in 2018, a Peace Corps Volunteer in Madagascar.
Everyday life doesn’t have to be routine. Anyone can do just about anything he or she wants to do– sometimes one has to find creative ways in doing it. Sometimes one has to tear down the barriers that might stopping them. Everyday is an opportunity to choose your own adventure. That is what I ultimately write about.
Charleston + Portland + Vancouver + London + Cardiff + Bristol + Asheville + Wilmington + Atlanta + Richmond + Savannah + Knoxville + Thru-hike the Foothills Trail
Charleston + Reykjavik + Stockholm + Orlando + St Augustine + Seattle + Columbia River Valley WA and OR + Portland + Pacific Crest Trail + Wales Coast Path + Charlotte + Ocracoke Island + Kitty Hawk + Great Smokey Mountain National Park
Charleston + Asheville + Tybee Island + Budapest + Pecs + Vienna + Prague + Berlin + Copenhagen + Stockholm + London + Washington DC + Montreal + Quebec City
Italy + England + Venezuela + Mexico + Jamaica + Dominican Republic + Haiti + Peru + Colombia + Ecuador + Bosnia + Albania + Serbia + Kosovo + Russia + Czech Republic + Croatia + Argentina + Chile + Paraguay + Bolivia + Brazil + Uruguay + Slovakia + Austria + Switzerland + Slovenia + Netherlands + Belgium + Romania + Montenegro + Ireland + Wales + Scotland + Macedonia + Northern Ireland + Belize + Guatemala + Costa Rica + Poland + Finland + Panamá + Nicaragua + Honduras +