Breaking the rules in Aberdeen, Scotland

Ignorance is no excuse

One of the very few things I remember from my Business Law class is ‘ignorance of the law is no excuse,’ nor is it a valid defense.  However, in Aberdeen not only did I unknowingly break several laws, had I been caught, ignorance would have been my only defense.

Aberdeen is not quite the Scottish Highlands, but it is getting closer. Aberdeen is Scotland’s third largest city behind Edinburgh and Glasgow, and its location on the North Sea gives it an amazing coastline and busy shipping docks.

Nearly everything in the town is constructed with granite mined from the Rubinslaw Quarry. The quarry was active for nearly 300 years, but was closed in 1971. Now it’s a big giant hole in the ground filled with 40+ years of rainwater.

Sheriff’s court

History Nerd Alert #1:

Robert I, popularly known as Robert the Bruce, was King of Scots from 1306 until his death in 1329. Robert was one of the most famous warriors of his generation, eventually leading Scotland during the Wars of Scottish Independence against England.

Marischal College–now a civic building in Aberdeen

History Nerd Alert #2:

A mercat cross is the Scots name for the market cross found frequently in Scottish towns, cities and villages where historically the right to hold a regular market or fair was granted by the monarch, a bishop or a baron. It therefore served a secular purpose as a symbol of authority, and was an indication of a burgh’s relative prosperity. Historically, the term dates from the period before 1707 when Scotland was an autonomous kingdom, but it has been applied loosely to later structures built in the traditional architectural style of crosses or structures fulfilling the function of marking a settlement’s focal point. (Thank you Wikipedia)  Aberdeen’s cross was constructed from granite and was designed by local architect John Montgomery in 1686.

History Nerd Alert #3

The Gordon Highlanders was the name of a British Army Infantry Regiment. It was active from 1881 to 1994, and I always thought that Gordon Highlander was a single person in Scotland’s history.

They used to hold public executions in the spot across from Old Blackfriar’s pub. Nothing like a good public execution to stir up an appetite for fine Scotch and good grub.

St. Nicholas Church

Courtyard at St Nicholas

I’m not very good at following rules. It’s a badge of honour that I have not yet ever spent time in jail.  I certainly have done some things in my time that could have landed me there. In my wanderings out and about in Aberdeen, I have inadvertently broken the following Scottish laws today:  [I can only hope that I don’t end up at the roofless Scottish prison in Edinburgh]

  1. Took pictures in a shopping center
  2. Took a picture of a police car and perhaps a police man[person]
  3. Touched an old rusted propeller in a museum that had it labeled as something “too fragile to touch”
  4. Read an article in a magazine in a store without purchasing it
  5. Took pictures in a church
  6. Took pictures of Scottish people without their permission [ In my defense though, no one will be able to recognized the aforementioned Scottish people.]

Aberdeen–you are a beautiful, unexpected breath of fresh air.

US National Parks | Chaos at Ninety Six

2018 Michelle here:

I am a #historynerd.  There;  I said it.  I often choose destinations based on history and in destinations I don’t choose, I seek out history.   Y’all can bet the farm that I’ll be exploring Rwanda’s [and its neighbor’s] history while I’m there.  As of now, I know exactly one thing about Rwandan history:  the 1994 genocide.  Not the best impression is it.  I’m determined to discover more about this progressive, modern country in the middle of Africa.


History and a [short] hike

I have begun to expect the unexpected whenever I decide to go for a hike.  It doesn’t seem to matter if it is a long, planned months in advance hike or a spur-of-the-moment trip 30 minutes from my house. Something unexpected is going to happen.  Such was the case when I tottled down to Ninety Six, South Carolina to wander around the Ninety Six Historical Site.

Ninety Six is an easy day trip from midlands or upstate South Carolina. Piedmont or low mountains North Carolina, and upper Georgia.  Ninety Six is also an important historical part of the Revolutionary War.

The History:

Ninety Six began as a crossroads between the English/Scottish Irish/German settlers that left Charles Town in search of a more prosperous way of life and the Cherokee that already lived in the area.  Ninety Six was the only town [early 1700’s] in the Carolina back country and Cherokee Indians traded deer skin for guns and metal with the settlers who then took the deer skins back to Charles Town and sold it to merchants who then shipped it to England.  Ninety Six was an important strategical location as nearly all Indian tribes west of the Cherokee traded with the French and all tribes east of Ninety Six traded with the English. Over time the Cherokee began to distrust the English [and French] which lead to the Anglo-Cherokee War of 1760.  The Cherokee reclaimed almost all of the back country but Ninety Six remained under British control.

The lingering tensions from the Cherokee-Anglo War contributed to the backcountry’s division.  Feeling neglected by the government in Charleston, facing high taxes, crime, and Indian raids, settlers on the frontier demanded more law and order in the back country.  Vigilantes took justice into their own hands: patrolling roads, hunting criminals, and whipping offenders.  Eventually the crisis ended without much violence, but unrest among settlers lingered.

By the early 1770s, Ninety Six contained approximately twelve houses, public buildings, and a few businesses.  The town boasted an imposing two story brick jail and a courthouse.  An observer noted: “Ninety Six is situated on an eminence in a flourishing part of the country, the land round about it is generally good.  Natural growth is Oaks, Black Walnut, Hickery, etc., which are very large and thrifty.  The land is cleared for a mile round the Town.  It produces wheat, Indian Corn, oats, Hemp, Flax, Cotton, and Indigo.”

There happened to be some re-enacting going on…and demonstration of weapon firing.

Twenty years later:

The fledgling American colonies have declared its independence from Great Britain.  The war has been on-going for 5 years.  Great Britain’s latest strategy is to retain control of the Southern Colonies while admitting defeat in the Northern ones.  The Siege of Ninety Six in 1781 was the longest siege of the American Revolution and pitted American vs American in the form of Patriots vs Loyalists.  It was as if the truce agreed upon a mere six years earlier had never happened.

The STAR FORT and THE MINE [from the National Parks Service website]

When you walk out to the Historic battlefield, you’re walking on hallowed ground. The siege trenches are partially reconstructed, but the Star Fort is original.   Construction of the Star Fort started in December 1780 and finished in early 1781. It was built by Loyalist soldiers (loyal to the King of England) & slaves from nearby farms and plantations. It wasn’t a very popular design because it was hard to build, and couldn’t hold many troops, but Loyalist engineer Lt. Henry Haldane decided that an eight-point star fort would be better for the site than a tradition square fort. The star shape allowed musket and cannon fire in all directions.   The Start Fort had a gun battery which was located near the bottom center point in the picture. The long mound of dirt in the center of the picture is called a Traverse and was built during the Patriot siege of Star Fort (May 22- June 18, 1781). It was to be used as a second line of defense in case the Patriots breached the Star Fort walls. The Start Fort was an earthen fort. As you see it today is pretty much how it looked in 1781. The Star Fort walls were originally about 14 feet high with sand bags around the top giving it a height of about 17 feet during the battle. The walls are a little weather worn in places, but are original. No major reconstruction has been done to the fort.

The Mine has nothing to do with traditional mining, instead it was used by the Patriots (those fighting for independence from England) during the Siege of Star Fort at Ninety Six, May 22- June 18, 1781. The Loyalists (those living in the Colonies that were fighting for the King of England) held the Star Fort and General Nathanael Greene and his Patriot Army tried to take the Star Fort away from the Loyalists. Under the direction of Colonel Thaddeus Kosciuszko, the Chief Engineer of the Patriot Army, the Patriots dug a mine gallery out from the 3rd parallel. The idea was for the Patriots to dig the Mine underneath the Star Fort, pack it with gunpowder, and then blow it up, thus allowing the Patriots to storm the Loyalist held Star Fort. Patriot Sappers (trench diggers) and slaves borrowed from nearby plantations dug into the hard red clay to dig the mine. They had to suffer from the heat, bugs, broken shovels, Loyalist cannon fire, and Loyalist sorties (attacks made from a place surrounded by the enemy). After dark on June 9, 1781, a small group of Loyalists, under Lt. Colonel John Harris Cruger, attacked the Patriot sappers digging the mine. A British account stated that the Loyalists “discovered a subterraneous passage in which. . . miners were at work, every man of whom was put to death, and their tools brought into the garrison.” (The Royal Gazette,August 25-29, 1781) It was during this sortie that Colonel Kosciuszko was wounded in “his seat of honor” with a Loyalist bayonet, but was able to make it back to safety within Patriot lines.

In the 1973, archeologists actually found a bayonet blade near where Kosciuszko was wounded. The Mine was never used for its intended purpose because the siege was lifted before it could be used. In the 1920s, the entrance to the Mine was stabilized with brick. During the 1940-60s, local children used the Mine as a playhouse before the National Park Service took over its care. In the 1970s, archeologists wrote that the Mine was still intact except. Only 35 feet of the right gallery had collapsed. The Mine was re-opened again in April 2004. Today we know that the Mine starts with a 6 foot vertical shaft from the 3rd parallel then 2 galleries (or branches) go to toward the Star Fort. On average the Mine is 3 feet tall in most places. As the above picture indicates shovel and pick marks can still be seen in the walls along with niches that were carved out for candles for the Patriots to work by. The Mine at Ninety Six National Historic Site is the only mine that was used during the American Revolution.

One of the log cabins on site at Ninety Six Historical Site

The Hike:

The hike is a moderate hike using parts of the Cherokee Trail, Charlestown Road, and the Goucey Trail.  Parts of the trail allow for horses while parts are fairly rustic. An unidentified cemetery lies just off the marked trail that leads to Ninety Six Lake.  The entire loop was just over 6 miles. It took 3 hours including stopping for lunch at the lake, searching for the unidentified cemetery, and reading historical markers.

daffodils along the trail


1780’s men weren’t very big.

The Unexpected:

The unexpected isn’t always a bad thing.  Sometimes it is serendipity and my hike through the trails at Ninety Six certainly paid off.  At the beginning of the hike the temperatures was around 50F, and by the end there were snowflakes.

 

**image credit of the skeleton from nps.gov**

Sinners, Saints, and the Drink in Dublin

A person can learn a lot about a country by the symbols the country uses to represent it.  It tells you a lot about Ireland that the symbols of the country is a musical instrument , a harp facing in one direction. And the unofficial symbol of Ireland may just well be a pint.  Of Guinness to be exact.  A Beer that uses the National symbol isn’t all that uncommon, but music and beer–well, that tells you a lot about Ireland, doesn’t it?

 

The Guinness Harp–a symbol of Ireland

 

AND the gates to the Guinness brewery… Notice the similarities

See, music and beer. Throw in a few writers, poets, and books, and you have Dublin in an overly-simplified nutshell

Trinity College:   Nowhere in America is there a 400 year old college much less a 900 year old book. Trinity College is a contemporary college still accepting students; its building are a mix of architectural styles from 400 years to present. And during spring and summer, it’s elegant gardens are truly a sight to behold. I love visiting college campuses… especially well done ones, and ones with spectacular libraries.  The Old Library at Trinity is amazing: stack and stacks of ancient wooden bookshelves filled with ancient (and not so ancient) books that seem to go on endlessly.

And while Trinity College is certainly something to be seen, my absolute favorite part of the college is the Long Room in the Old Library at Trinity College. The room is a book-lovers dream (and downstairs you can see the famous Book of Kells).

The Sinners:

Kilmainham Gaol: Maybe it’s my dark, twisted soul that has me visiting things like cemeteries and jails wherever I go, but Kilmainham Gaol is Irish revolutionary history in living color.  Constructed in 1796, and used as a prison for the city of Dublin through 1924, the uprisings of 1798, 1803, 1848, 1867 and 1916 ended with the leaders’ confinement here. Robert Emmet, Thomas Francis Meagher, Charles Stewart Parnell and the 1916 Easter Rising leaders were all visitors, but it was the executions in 1916 that most deeply etched the jail’s name into the Irish consciousness. Of the 15 executions that took place between 3 May and 12 May after the revolt, 14 were conducted here. As a finale, prisoners from the Civil War were held here from 1922.

While the revolutionaries are certainly the most (in)famous citizens of the prison, Kilmainham Goal hosted men, women, and children during its nearly 130 years in operation.  While some inmates were there for crimes such as murder and assault, others were there for theft of food to feed a starving tummy. The jail closed in 1924, but happily these days, one can tour the jail and the tour leads you through old, crumbly prison cell-blocks and ends in the yard where the  hangings used to occur.  I’m not one to be superstitious, but if any place is haunted, I’d imagine this place would be.

 

The site of executions at the gaol–yes, it’s a little bit creepy

The Saints:

St. Patrick’s Cathedral:  Construction began in 1191; it became a cathedral in 1224.  Yep, it’s over 800 years old… kinda makes the 400 year old college [Trinity] look like a spring chicken, and most surprisingly [to me] it’s not a Catholic church.  The most famous church in a country known for Catholicism is Anglican.

 

The Drinks:

Take a tour of the Guinness Storehouse, which may just be Ireland’s top tourist attraction. Yes, more people come here than visit the Book of Kells or the Cliffs of Moher. For around 15 Euros, you can tour the 7-story building, learning  important things like the history of the Guinness, how it’s produced, and how the it has evolved over the years. At the end of the tour, there is the chance to enjoy a complimentary pint at the Gravity Bar (although for 15 euros, in my opinion you should get something).

I was 19 years old the first time I visited Ireland and some of my first alcoholic drinks were in Dublin, because how can you not? While the taste of a Guinness never took,  Irish Whiskey most certainly did. Especially in the form of Irish Coffee… There’s a reason Irish Breakfasts are a thing, and Irish Coffee is a great addition to it.  Jameson’s distillery was the first distillery I ever visited and those smooth triple distilled grains are like sweet honey. Even though I’m not a huge coffee drinker, the combination of whiskey, Irish cream, and coffee is pure magic.

Jameson Irish Whisky

The Temple Bar, I guessing at one time, was authentically Irish.  These days, its just another overpriced bar, with a great location, that caters to tourists.  For the love of all things holy, go somewhere (anywhere) else to get an authentic ‘pub experience’.  The are literally hundreds of pubs in Dublin and I’d wager than any one of them not located in the city center would be a better experience than the Temple Bar. I’m not saying to not go to the Temple Bar, just know that these days, you’ll rarely find a local hanging out there.  One cool thing about the Temple Bar, is there’s always live music playing so pop in, if for no other reason than to listen to a tune or two.

The HaPenny Bridge–Dublin

Cat Sanctuary in Rome

2018 Michelle here:  I love, love, love kitty cats.  I love cat cafes and attractions that feature cats. The cat sanctuary in Rome was my first experience with a ‘cat attraction.  While I don’t know the feline situation in Rwanda, I’m hoping to see the big cats while abroad, perhaps while on vacation in Tanzania?


There are two kinds of people in the world: cat people and dog people.  And cat people are way more interesting than dog people.  And if you can’t tell by that statement, I am a cat person.  Big cats. Little cats. Basically if you are in the feline family, I love you.  And Rome is a cat’s paradise.  Hundreds of cats haunt the place where Julius Caesar was murdered in 44 BC.

Known as Largo di Torre Argentina, this archaeological wonder was excavated as part of Mussolini’s rebuilding efforts in 1929, revealing extensive multi-level temples that lie sunken 20 feet below modern street level. Besides several different temples, Torre Argentina also contains part of the famous Theater of Pompey, upon whose steps dictator Julius Caesar was betrayed and killed. Today, volunteers at Torre Argentina care for approximately 250 cats. After the site was excavated, Rome’s feral cats moved in immediately, as they do all over the city, and the gattare, or cat ladies, began feeding and caring for them. Since the mid-1990s, the population has grown from about 90 to the current 250, and the organization has ramped up with care for sick or wounded cats, as well as an extensive spay and neuter program to keep the feral population in check. Most of the permanent residents have special needs – they are blind or missing legs or came from abusive homes.

On any given afternoon a small crowd gathers here to watch the cats sunbathe on ancient pillars and steps. At first it may be hard to spot the cats, but once you start to see them, they are everywhere.

Also, in my next life, I plan to come back as either a pampered house cat like Lucy or Molly, or if I can’t get that gig, I would like to be one of Rome’s pampered felines–I mean lounging around ancient architecture having someone to come feed me every day– what’s not to love about that?

Museums of Broken Relationships

2018 Michelle here:  This museum I found in Zagreb, Croatia is perhaps one of the more interesting museums I’ve ever been in [The Sex Museum in Naples is another].  While Zagreb is no uber charming city, this museum had me enthralled.  The end of a relationship is always a trying time for everyone involved even if it’s just a ‘whew, I dodged that bullet’ thought. But I’ve never thought of putting my relationship detritus in a museum for other to look at.  Let this be a reminder that atypical museums can be some of the more educational/informative/pleasurable.

 


A break-up is like a broken mirror:  it’s better to leave it alone than to hurt yourself picking up the pieces.

 

His name was Michael. Today is his birthday. I shouldn’t remember that, but I do. When we met he was 32, and I was 24. We met at work.  I loved his sense of humour and he loved my adventurous spirit.  We were friends first.  Nearly a year, before anything more than friendly happened.  But as is often the case between men and women, something did happen.  I practically dared him to kiss me, and when he did, it was as if time stood still. July 19, 2004…after lunch. The kiss lasted exactly 42 seconds.  I know because I had a digital atomic clock on the wall in my office.  The kiss touched every neuron in my body, and for the first time in my life, I felt alive.

I named him “Nobody” and he called me “Girl. ”  If people asked me who I was dating, and they did because people love to meddle in the affairs of others, I’d say “Nobody.” If people asked him who we was seeing, he’d say “Just some girl.”  It was our secret, and it was exciting.

We carried on our secret affair for 18 months –until I moved away…co-workers weren’t supposed to date. And even after moving to a different state, the thought of him was like a drug.  We were like addicts addicted to each other; couldn’t stay away, yet couldn’t get enough.

broken relationship 4

The first step in recovering from an addiction is admitting that there is a problem, and oh boy, there was.  Michael was as strong as any drug I’d ever encountered, and willpower alone wasn’t enough to make me quit him.  Over time I came to rely on a power greater than myself and contact with Michael became more and more sparse.  Withdrawal is a painful master.  There was physical pain.  There was emotional pain. There were tears.

broken relationship 5
There were no stuffed worms. No legs were broken in this break-up.


The last conversation I had with him was right before I left for Moscow.  He said “you always did want to go places.” and I said “I will always love you, but this will be the last time I tell you that.”  And I haven’t had contact with him since.  After returning from Moscow, I wanted to call him.  I wanted to tell him all the amazing adventures I had.  Instead, I got a cat.  I named her Lily. She was a sweet cat.

 

Lily helped me heal.

 

I still have a post card he gave me. And ticket stubs for various events. And a necklace. And various little notes.  What can I say, I’m a sentimental soul.

broken relationships 1

I knew before I went to Zagreb that I wanted to go to the museum of broken relationships. I find it  fascinating to see what people keep as mementos from relationships.  Not every relationship ends on a sour note.  Some have other obstacles that time just could not overcome.  Some just aren’t meant to be.  Some exist solely to prepare you for the future.  Michael was not my first boyfriend, but he was my first love, and without that relationship, I wouldn’t be where I am today.

I’ve held on to the mementos of the relationship with Michael for 15 years, and karma, good energy, and such being what it is, it’s time to release that energy into the universe. Good bye Michael.


PS...I have a slight confession to make.  One time I was dating this guy.  His name was James. Now I knew that the relationship with James was never going to be long-term, but he was ummm, fun, and I had recently broken up with a cheating bastard I caught with another woman.  I made James brownies for his birthday.  I left them on the kitchen table with a ‘Happy Birthday’ note.  I came over the next day to find everything in the trash. I was pissed to say the least. Livid. Irate. Incensed. A seething cauldron of raging fumes; you get the idea. He was being such an ass. I went to the local World Market, bought a bottle of cheap $7 Il Bastardo wine, and switched it out for his fancy $200 bottle of French Bordeaux.  My friend and I drank the rich, velvet wine while sitting in her hot tub cursing all the shallow men in the world.  I still feel no shame in taking Il Bastardo’s prized bottle of red wine.

In retrospect, the Il Bastardo was still probably pretty good.  After all it comes from Tuscany and is a Sangiovese so probably still good. I really would have like to have smashed Il Bastardo over the bastard’s head, but I got my revenge in other ways that even though the statute of limitations has passed, I’ll still keep my mouth shut because some things are just better left unsaid [or in this case… things are better left un-typed].

at least no axes were ever involved in any of my break-ups

PPS…Names and dates have been changed to protect the innocent…Except Il Bastardo.

PPPS...If I dated women, I’d totally give every.single.one I ever broke up with this bar of chocolate.

broken relationship 6

 

My Favourtite European Cities

I have traveled a lot. Not as much as some, but a lot more than most of the people I deal with on a daily basis. I often get asked what’s my favorite city/country area, and it’s hard to say.  Sometimes it depends on my mood.  Sometimes it depends on the reason they are asking.  So, I’ve come up with a list to answer what’s my favorite.  OK two lists:  one for smaller cities and one for European capitals.

First up, my favorite European cities.

  1.  Kotor, Montenegro
  2.  Belgrade, Serbia
  3.  St. Petersburg, Russia
  4.  Krakow, Poland
  5.  Bwets-y-Coed, Wales
  6. Cardiff, Wales
  7. Quedlinberg, Germany

Next, my favorite European capitals.

I’ve made no secret of the fact that, in general, I don’t love large cities. Luckily for me, some of Europe’s capital cities are quite small.  Europe is so diverse and every country is so different that it is often impossible to make fair comparisons.

 London, England

 

I have been to London 5 times, but only in the last two years have I gotten out and truly explored the city.  I have barely cracked the surface, and there is so much more to explore. I am absolutely head over heels for it. If I could magically get a work visa and a job offer in London [not sure if the NHS hires foreigners or if I’d want to work there, but I digress], I would move there tomorrow; that’s how much I love it. I’ve never pictured myself living in a big city — until I finally explored London for the first time.

Things I love about London:

    • The variety — neighborhoods, food,  museums, parks, historical sites; they’re all here
    • The location — London is situated perfectly to explore Europe, which this traveler loves.  The only time I haven’t flown into London for a European holiday was when I solely toured Italy.
    • The Englishness — the Tube, the castles, the red  double decker buses, the black cabs, the pubs, the tea… it’s all so quintessential English!

Berlin, Germany

At the Olympic Stadium in Berlin

 

 

Berlin doesn’t get the attention than Munich or Bavaria does, but that’s OK by me…  I’ve never been one to fall for surface flashiness, and on the surface Berlin is grungy, but it’s OK.  I’m not ashamed to admit it: I am in love with Berlin.  You could actually say that it was love at first sight, as I felt an immediate connection with Berlin from the moment I arrived. I don’t know if it’s the alternative culture, the history, or a mixture of the two that draws me to Berlin. But there’s no denying that it’s a place I can see myself spending a lot of time in in the future.

Things I love about Berlin:

    • The history — from Nazis during WWII to the  Berlin Wall during the Cold War, Berlin has a fascinating (and very recent) history
    • The creative side — because I have a soft spot for hipsters and street art
    • The vibe — it’s a little gritty and a little alternative, but Berlin is evolving in a way that I find very  exciting.

Budapest, Hungary

August 2015–Danube River–basking in the summer moonlight

I never planned to go to Budapest at least not the first time, but a cheap flight  from Geneva on EasyJet had me landing there one  January afternoon, and my oh my was is bone-chillingly cold.  The capital of Hungary was a bit of a surprise for me — I never expected to like it as much as I did. But, whether it was strolling along the Danube, visiting the Semmelweis Museum, or soaking at the Szecheni Baths while watching snow fall,  I found myself loving everything about Budapest. It’s also seriously awesome ( and hot!) in the summer.

Things I love about Budapest:

    • The two halves of the city — the Buda and Pest sides of the city have completely different feels to them.
    • The bridges — which are attractive and offer up nice views of the Danube.
    • The buildings — from Parliament to Fisherman’s Bastion to Buda Castle, there’s plenty of amazing architecture here to view.

Edinburgh, Scotland

 

The capital of Scotland is one city that I probably will never tire of visiting. It’s not a large capital like the others listed here, but it still has a unique character all its own. Whether it’s roaming around the Old Town or climbing up to quieter parts like Calton Hill, Edinburgh is always enjoyable — even in that unpredictable Scottish weather.

Things I love about Edinburgh:

    • The architecture — with the gorgeous Victoria Street being my favorite example
    • The history — the entire city is recognized by UNESCO, which tells you something
    • The people– Scottish people are a treasure

Cardiff, Wales

Cardiff Castle–Cardiff is home of the 2017 champions league and the Welsh dragon is guarding the trophy.

Cardiff, the smallest capital in the UK doesn’t get near as much attention as London, Dublin, or even Edinburgh, but it’s still pretty amazing. Only two hours by train from London, and 45 minutes to Bristol, you can easily get to a bigger city quickly if the small town feel of Cardiff starts to get to you.

Things I love about Cardiff:

  • The size–For a capital city, Cardiff is small.  And that makes it easy to navigate. And that makes me happy.
  • It’s location–Cardiff is perched on a river, quite close to the Atlantic Ocean, and on the Wales Coast Path.  Coastal Welsh weather is unpredictable, but on nice days, Cardiff is close enough to the beach to make an afternoon of it.
  • The Language–Welsh is a language I’ll probably never master, but I love that every single sign is in both Welsh and English.  The history and architecture are pretty great too.

It’s no secret that I prefer small cities to large ones, but this list is a good mix of both large cities and small villages.

 

Happy New Year 2017

A long December and there’s reason to believe

Maybe this year will be better than the last

– Counting Crows

That’s one of my favorite songs from the Counting Crows.

I am ever hopeful that 2017 will be better than 2016.  2016 was rough. In some ways, it seemed as if the black cloud that appeared in May 2015 carried over until May 2016.  So while the first half of the year kinda sucked, the second half seemed to be improving. My health is finally on the right track [even if not as fast as I would like].  I’m working to finish school in order to change my career [even if it’s not the one I originally thought I’d be in].  Other areas of life are getting on track too [turns out dealing with issues is a lot better than sweeping them under the rug]. I’m finding out who my real friends are and who doesn’t deserve to be counted in that group.

Winter flowers in bloom are my favorites… especially the white ones.

I’m employed.  I’m in school. I’m currently sitting in a hammock overlooking the South Carolina marsh.  It may be 35 degrees at night [which in all fairness, is not too bad for January], but I’m away, exploring new parts of my home state… [little tiny coastal communities plus a couple of  the state parks I missed out on back in October due to Hurricane Matthew.]  I’m dating a person I love and who loves me back [and who is spending the weekend with me in this beautiful house].

My AirBnB rental for the long weekend in Rockville, SC… A small coastal community about 30 minutes south of Charleston.

 

My cats are only minimally psychotic; life is good.

Today was a good day in the animal kingdom… They are getting along instead of chasing each other around the house like the wild animals they think they are.

Reflections from 2016

As per usual, I’m late….especially when it come to reflections about the past. I’ve spent the first few days of 2017 reflecting on 2016 and projecting about 2017 and beyond.  I am always surprised when it gets to the end of the calendar year. I am yet am not ready to leave 2016 behind. As much as I look forward to the future, I’ve always been one of those people who struggles to let things go… in all aspects of my life good, bad, and ugly.

2016 was the year I was wanted to do this and that. Some of which I accomplished, some of which I totally forgot about, some of which was denied to me due to things beyond my control, and some I just put off until later. Sigh, some things never change, and my ability to procrastinate is one of them.

As much as I try to have goals and make them happen, I don’t like to feel structured or worse, feel like I’ve failed at something. I like to keep things positive. I also don’t like to measure out my year in countries, photos, numbers, or ticking things off a bucket list. Travel means more to me than that.  It’s my sanity…my escape, and how I stay sane.  I believe in the power of travel to transform a person or at least their outlook on life.  Travel can shape you; it can make you a better person.

On that note, instead of recapping where I went, what I did, ect, I thought I’d delve a little deeper and share some of the more personal things that occurred during 2015 and what I’ve learned over the last year or so.

1.  Some things are beyond your control.

In 2013, I was diagnosed with a rare blood disorder.  Some days I slept 18 hours.  Traveling anywhere except the physician’s office and hospital was more than I could do.  I had trips planned to Cali, Colombia, and Yakima, Washington.  Neither happened.  After a rough 18 months of tracking my blood counts like a statistician, I was cleared for airplane travel on December 02, 2014.  I was in London, England on December 6th. I had managed to have a few weekends away from home during the year, but nothing like December.

In April 2015, I tripped while trail running on a local hiking trail.  I broke my left wrist and right ankle.  I was down for the count for a good five months.  I could hardly walk. My balance was totally off.  I couldn’t type, and life in general was 100X harder than it is with two functioning limbs.

Whether or not I stay healthy is largely outside my realm of control.  How I deal with the situation in 100% under my control.

I spent a large chunk of 2013-14 looking like this and a large chunk of 2015 in casts.  Thankfully 2016 had me looking somewhat normal.

2.  I’m not getting any younger.

I am five years behind the goals I made for myself in 2006 when I was travel through Italy.  That’s what travel will do for you.  I don’t regret any of it because I am a much more interesting person for having traveled like I have and being exposed to all that I have seen and been able to do. BUT I’m not getting any younger and if I want to achieve all my medical-related goals, I need to get my ass in gear.  That being said I *should* complete my BSN in July, and that will open up a whole different set of doors.   Being in school full-time is not only a financial commitment, but it’s a huge time commitment.  I feel lucky that I’ve been able to travel as much as I have this year.

3.  My travel style is ever changing.

I used to be OK with with sleeping on buses for a few days at a time. Or in airports. Or bus stations. Or on strangers’ couches.  Or anywhere that was free or really cheap.  And then I wasn’t.  Then I was OK with sharing rooms with strangers in hostels.  But now, if I had my preference, I’d rather rent an apartment and stay somewhere a few weeks at a time, or at minimum stay in a room all by myself.

I used to not care where I stayed, but now I really need my own space when travelling because sometimes I end up do yoga in my room.

Travel is exhausting. I don’t want to be on the go 24/7.  I prefer doing a region at a time, and s-l-o-w travel is much more preferable to seeing 24 countries in 9 days.  I still enjoy getting off the tourist trail and challenging myself, but I’m starting to enjoy the area that surrounds me too.  The southeastern USA is amazing…historically and photogenically.

Fall in the Great Smoky Mountains is amazing.

People often ask me where my favorite place of the places I’ve been or what’s the coolest thing I’ve ever done.  I am usually silent because I’ve done a lot of cool shit and I’ve been to a lot of cool places, but my favorite depends on the mood I’m in or what they are looking for?  I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve had this conversation in the last week.  So, Michelle, what was your favorite part of your trip? [I don’t know…I’m still processing it]  What city did you like the best?  [Ummm. Berlin was really cool, but I think I enjoyed my serendipitous layover in St Petersburg more than anything]  How does this compare to previous trips? [It doesn’t; the purpose was completely different].  I know I sound like a tool when I don’t want to talk about my travels, but who stays in a castle.  Or hikes in the wilderness alone.  Or goes swimming with sharks. I hate that I can’t just say this was the coolest things I’ve ever done off the top of my head. I feel like I’ve gotten to do so many cool things I can’t even remember them all! I mean who has a life like that?!


Wandering around German Christmas market was the cure for 2 year hiatus from international travel. It was cultural, fun, beautiful, and amazing on so many levels.

I want my future trips to be special…not just doing them because I can.  I want them to have meaning.  I’d like to do some sort of  volunteer healthcare experience at some point in the next few years as part of my masters program, but where, when, or in which fashion is still unknown.


Montenegro is one of those cool, off-beat places.

4.  I’m stronger than I thought I was

For me, 2016 was a year of facing my demons, pushing my boundaries, stepping out of my comfort zone, and overcoming specific fears.

So many times I found myself saying god, I don’t want to do this… but I sucked it up and did it anyway.

This year I spoke in public for the first time, traveled somewhere where I didn’t speak the language, went actual backpacking BY MYSELF for the first time, delivered a baby, worked in an alcohol/drug treatment center, and did pediatric clinicals in a non-English speaking area. I moved in to a living space of my very own sans roommates for the first time since 2005.

That joy that comes from accomplishing something you weren’t sure you were capable of doing is my new drug of choice. It’s awesome, and I want to keep striving for moments like that in the future.

5. I can’t do it all. I can’t do it all by myself.  It’s OK that I can’t do it all.

I definitely stretched myself too thin in 2016; I felt like I was constantly pulled in a million different directions which made focusing on things I really wanted to accomplish really hard. I said yes to too many things and that is when I get into trouble.

In December 2013, I accepted my first full-time time job since 2007, and in 2014 I started an accelerated program to become a registered nurse.  My full-time job was hospital based and between work and school I got burnt out. But I soldiered on and in 2015, I became a RN, and got a job in a different hospital. The change of scenery did not help, and I left the hospital for good in June 2016.

These were tough lessons to learn but I have decided I am going to really sit down and only do the things that I really want to do.

Maybe 2017 will be the year I finally decide to enter the grown up world.

Then again, maybe not.

Kindness of strangers

I am trying to live my life in a state of gratitude. Some days are easier than others. And sometimes, when I think about the past, I realize how truly grateful I am.

No traveler lives completely in a vacuum when traveling.  I suppose it is possible to travel somewhere and so strictly follow a schedule that it is nearly impossible to get lost or need help, but that’s never happened to me.  I have had to ask for directions at minimum on every single trip I have ever taken.  Sometimes it has been much more involved than simple directions.

We hear all the time that the world is a dangerous, scary place.  In fact, the most common question I was asked is “Won’t you be scared/Weren’t you scared?”

No, I am not, and No, I wasn’t.

I may have been a little nervous at times, but I was never scared. Okay, maybe I was scared a little when I was kidnapped by two guys between the Peru/Ecuador border when they were trying to extort $250  from me.  Maybe I was scared a little when I was caught by rouge waves that held me under water when I was learning to surf.

But I was never scared of the people. Even amongst strangers, I [almost] never felt like I was in danger.

I kept my guard up in the beginning, but I soon realized that I needed to learn to trust the people I met along the way. I think that is just part of me.  I am used to being alone [only child and all] so I don’t always think about needing to rely on others.  I have learned how to do so many things for myself.  Time and time again, I needed to rely on the kindness of strangers to get me through.  So this Thanksgiving, I want to thank all of those strangers who went above and beyond to help me in my journeys – from people whose names I never knew or soon forgot to those who I am now happy to call my friends.

Thank you to Missa and Jamie who helped me celebrate my birthday in Rome with a bottle of Chianti, a plate of pasta, and a birthday cards and flowers from the market. It was so nice to not be alone on my birthday.

Thank you to the elderly lady on the train from Rome to Naples or at least I thought it was to Naples.  It was actually headed to the other side of Italy.  I would have figured it out eventually, but she saved me time and money.  I don’t speak Italian great [and even less in 2006] but I know Spanish and between my Spanish and her Italian, she got me pointed in the right direction and I made it to Sorrento during daylight hours.

Thank you to the women in at the Ecuadorian border.  After being kidnapped and missing my bus, two women in their 40’s asked me if I needed a ride somewhere.  They were headed to Guayaquil and offered to take me anywhere along the route.  I had a great time, met some amazing women, had an awesome lunch, and relaxed for the first time that day.  After seeing the ugly side of human nature, it was a blessing to see the good.

Thank you to Javier….the teenager who came and picked me up on his moped after I couldn’t get the bus driver to stop.  I ended up about 2 km past my intended destinations and carrying the 65L backpack plus the daypack loaded down with my tools for  jungle-work would have made a sucky end to a very long day.

Thank you to Massimo…who taught me to cook on a gas stove.  I have always either cooked on an electric range or a grill and gas tended to scare me a bit.  Thanks to Massimo, I didn’t starve during my weekends alone in the jungle lodge.

Thank you to the lady in Trujillo who made sure I didn’t get cheated by the taxi driver.

Thank you to all the people who have hosted me during my travels.  By not spending a ton of money for accommodations, I have gotten to visit so many more places, see how people really live–not just as a tourist, and spend time in places I would have never dreamed about staying.

Lynnley in Charleston, Corinna in San Francisco, Cameron in Seattle, Emily in Vermont, Jeanette in Florida, Angie in Chicago, Emilie in Chamonix, France, Marta in Bratislava, Slovakia, Tomas in Wroclaw, Poland, Alex in Mendoza, Argentina, Steve in Stafford, England, and Sophie in Kokkola, Finland. All strangers at one point; all friends at another.

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Thank you to everyone who has helped me in my travels.

Remembering to remember

Today is Veterans Day in the USA.  In the UK it’s known as Armistice Day as it is the day that WWI ended–on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918 the guns fell silent. It is a day to remember our soldiers, from the Revolutionary War to the latest conflict.  Remembering the sacrifices these men and women made allow me to pursue the life I do.  I don’t have to fulfill traditional gender roles if I choose not to.  I can speak my mind because of free speech.  I have the right to own, carry, and use, if necessary, my .40 caliber handgun.

I’ve seen a lot in my travels but one of the more haunting rememberes was the Ceremic Poppy Installation at the Tower Bridge in London in 2014 (the 100th anniversary of the beginning of WWI).

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The poppies represent the blood spilt during the Great War, and when complete on 11/11 there will be 888,246 poppies in the moat surrounding the Tower Bridge.  I visited in October for the specifc reason of seeing the poppy installation.  And it was amzing.  It was moving.  To think that many young men lost their lives in a single conflict is incredible.  Humans are very visual people and to see this loss of life represented so visually was breathtaking.

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Freedom is never free and sometimes, we, in the USA forget that.  There hasn’t been a conflict on our soil in nearly 100 years. [OK, if you want to be technical, some of WWII happened  in American territories–Hawaii, Alaska, and Philippians].  If you haven’t seen up close and personal the devastation war causes, it’s hard to imagine its consequences.

So in an effort to remember to remember, I visited three Revolutionary War battlefields over the last few weeks.  Without the sacrifices these brave men [and a few even braver women], the USA would never have become the USA.

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Cowpens battlefield circa 1780

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A group of South Carolina militia along with a few army regulars under the command of Daniel Morgan beat the British at Cowpens. The victory kept the British from expanding westward.

Kings mountain

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They were doing some reenacting at King’s Mountain this weekend.

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A 3lb British cannon hanging out inside Star Fort at Ninety Six

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My feet, just slightly smaller than the average revolutionary war soldier. I wear a US women’s size 8 and at 5’9, I’m a few inches taller than the average Revolutionary War soldier.