Monthly Archives: October 2015

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.


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.




  • 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


  • 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


  • 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
  • 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]


  • 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


  • 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


  • 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


  • 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


  • 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.

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


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.