Apr 16, 2017 - Wanderlust    No Comments

Wanderlust

Wanderlust

I do not think that means what you think it means… Inigo Montoya, The Princess Bride.

 

The English word “wanderlust” already existed in German dating as far back as High Middle German. The first documented use of the term in  English occurred in 1902 as a reflection of what was then seen as a characteristically German predilection for wandering that may be traced back to the  German system of apprenticeship, as well as the adolescent custom of the ‘Wanderbird’ seeking unity with Nature.

 

The term originates from the German words wandern (to hike) and Lust (desire). The term wandern, frequently misused as a false cognate does in fact not mean “to wander”, but “to hike.” Placing the two words together, translated: “enjoyment of hiking”, although it is commonly described as an enjoyment of strolling, roaming about or wandering.

 

I am a wanderer… both in the historic sense of the word and the modern.

 

I grew up an introvert, sensitive, an only child, and a bookworm with a keen desire to explore beyond my boundaries.  Pictures exist of me, I could have been more than three years-old, packing a bag and leaving home. Of course, at three, I never really went anywhere. I saved the real adventure until I was five. [ but that’s a story for another day].  I was athletic and sporty;  I lived for summer basketball and soccer camp.  Then later, volleyball and softball camp. I loved being away from home, hanging out on college campuses, and imagining when I would finally be able to leave my small town for good. I was 8 and already imaging life at 18.

I come from a long line of homebodies, inwardly jealous of friends and classmates who went to ‘the beach’ every summer. Or Disney World. Or anywhere really.  My dad’s idea of a vacation was a weekend trip to Atlanta to watch the Braves or a fall Saturday to Clemson or Columbia to watch college football. Week-long or even multiple week vacations were unheard of in my family.  My fondest junior high memory was of being left behind at Martin Luther King center in downtown Atlanta.  Upon returning from the restroom, my entire class was no where to be found. Cell phone were in their infancy; no one had one. But I knew the city well enough, or at least how to get to the ballpark.  I was 13, and on my own in the big city (at least for a while). It. Was. Fucking. Awesome. Right then and there I knew I’d been bitten by the travel bug.

 

There’s a word in Korean that means the inability to get over one’s addiction to travel, a perpetual case of wanderlust. Once the travel bug has bitten, it indicates, there is no cure.

 

The fixation with traveling that began with memorizing world capitals and drawing country flags on notebooks took on a life of its own. At 14, I managed to sneak away from home for two days, take the train to Baltimore, watch a baseball game, and get back home without my absence  being noticed.  And once I’d gotten my driver’s license, the back roads and hiking trails of South Carolina, North Carolina, and Georgia became intimately familiar.  I was determined to go everywhere….working on a bucket list that didn’t yet have a name.

 

I’ve never been one to advocate for quitting one’s job in order to see the world. Yes, I have worked in jobs I hated and companies I hated even more. I’ve worked in jobs or positions that I absolutely knew was just a paycheck. Hell, where I am working now I feel my skills regressing daily.  But I know that this is temporary. I am waiting for one of two thing to happen and then I am out of there.  I’ve always known that working these jobs would allow me to pursue my dreams.  I worked PRN-status for 11 years so that I’d be able to create my own schedule and take time off when I wanted to.  Everything I’ve done has contributed to my seemingly disparate goals of 1: seeing as much of the world as possible and 2: becoming a nurse practitioner.  One is not mutually exclusive of the other.

 

I got my first real job, other than the odd thing here and there, when I was 18.  It was working in a home improvement store where I learned to mix paint, use a commercial saw, and do basic electrical things.  I also had to count nuts and bolts by hand during inventory. I was by far the youngest person working there although there were a few guy that worked there on their college break. For most of my co-workers, this was there career.  They were satisfied with their two weeks’ vacation and only being closed three days a year.  I made nearly $5000 that first year I had to file taxes and thought I’d amassed a fortune.  I made another $4000 working in a factory spring semester of my freshman year.  Oh God, how I hated that job. I sat there, loading parts on a machine, conjugating French, German, or  Spanish verbs in my head, thinking ‘this is why I’m in college…’

The ultimate goal was to earn enough money to spend my junior year of college studying abroad in some as-of-yet-undetermined major.[Spoiler alert: that never happened]

At 19, I had the chance to go to England for two weeks; I jumped at the opportunity.  When things didn’t go as planned, instead of coming  home and working at the factory yet again, I stayed three months. I still have the journal I wrote it when I left Atlanta. It’s funny now…and telling.

“I’m on a plane to London via Amsterdam. I AM ON A PLANE.”

“I JUST ORDERED A JACK AND GINGER FOR DINNER.  AND THEY BROUGHT IT. I HAVE ARRIVED*”

“TRAVELING IS AMAZING”

 

A series of travel mishaps later, I end up at the flat of a friend of a friend of a friend. The flat was empty. The landlord came and asked how I knew of this place. I told my story. No, I’d never met the previous tenant. Yes, I was only visiting. No, I didn’t want to rent it, but then, I was offered the deal of a lifetime–200 pounds/month for June, July and August for a 1 bedroom/1 bath in Stafford, England. My dorm room cost more than that. I said yes and after some international finagling of funds, I had $5000 transferred to me** and that is what I lived on that summer.

 

That summer, I traveled. To Wales. To Scotland. To Ireland. And around England. I ate and drank in pubs. I learn to play darts. And cricket. And drink whisky. I met up with different people every week.  It was the life I’d always wanted. The day before I was to come back, I was in the pub with the friends I’d made this summer when I saw a guy I’d never seen before  He was scruffy and despite drinking a pint of Guinness, was clearly out of place of the regulars.  I went over, dart in hand, and said “hey, wanna play?”

 

His name was Nick or Mick. Or maybe it was Mark.  I don’t remember. He was from Australia. Or New Zealand. Those details are fuzzy now.  But he was well-traveled. Meeting up with a cousin before heading back home. Or something like that.  He was tanned in a way you can’t get in England and spoke of places like Chaing Mai, Nha Trang, and Angor Wat. I was mesmerized. And impressed. “Wow, you travel a lot.” He took a long swallow of his Guinness before answering me, foam still on his lips.

“Trying to. The world is an awfully big place and there’s always more to see.”

“That’s true.  Well, do you play or not.” I was trying not be be impressed by the late 20 something sexy stranger.

“Why not?”

“Good. You can be on my team.”

He told me about his running with the bulls in Spain and working on a farm in France. How he worked his way through Thailand and Vietnam. He told me about the spice markets in Istanbul and Marrakesh.  And about eating guinea pigs in Ecuador and piranhas in Brazil. I had never met anybody like him.  I had never met anyone who was doing what I wanted to do. I was spellbound.  Amid pints and double old fashions, he  grabbed me around my waist and pulled me away from everyone, kissed me hard on the mouth. At that moment, my world stopped. Mesmerized by those green eyes and mop of black hair. I had one throw left, and it was almost too perfect that I hit the bullseye to win.

 

I spent the rest of the night nuzzled in the pub, making out with the cute boy from far away, listening to his enticing travel tales telling myself that one day I’d be the one telling those tales. The details of that night have faded, but the feelings of knowing a life of adventures were waiting for me if only I had the courage to see it through has never left me.

 
*My very first alcoholic drink was at 30,000 feet flying over the Atlantic Ocean.  I have never felt more adult… more cool in my life than when I ordered and subsequently drank that first alcoholic drink

**International banking was a lot more complicated in the late 1990’s than it is now.  I had $5000 wired to me and stashed the cash in a secret place in the flat. The secret place is the same secret place I stash cash in my current apartment.

Apr 10, 2017 - Life    No Comments

Rainy days and Mondays…

Today is a rainy day; it’s also a Monday, the first Monday I’ve had off work since October.  The calendar reads April, and the temperatures are in the 70s… even with the rain. Today is the kind of day that calls for curling up with a cat while reading books, cooking homemade soup, or taking a short hike. The rain is not torrential… just the perfect kind for splashing in puddles or sliding in mud puddles.  I used to do that a lot as a kid. And as a teenager… not so much as an adult.  Perhaps what they say about rain is true:  “Some people walk in the rain, others just get wet…”I love walking in the rain. Rain is such a blessing. The water falling from the sky. Creating growth, creating beauty and yes, even at times creating destruction… Have you ever slowed down enough to see the beauty that the rain creates all around? From the drops on the window, to the drips off a plant. Or the sound of rain in the silence of the evening? Maybe the beauty is from the drips hitting a puddle, in the way it ripples across the puddle, [or lake, or ocean…]

Urban hiking is what I call strolling around the city.  Looking at the sights. Or not.  Watching the people scurry about their day. I had packed my rain jacket with me, but even if I had not, it would not have mattered.  It was a slow, steady rain on a warm day.  It felt… refreshing.  I watched as people ran to and from their cars, shaking off like wet cats as they darted into Starbucks. The same Starbucks that is currently serving as my temporary office. How many people will see the colors that come out when it rains. The colors that the rain creates… that the sky creates. The lighting, soft and at times… mysterious.

Usually there is a lot of rain in the spring and spring is a time for renewal, for rejuvenation:  physically, spiritually and mentally.  There are so many new things on the horizon, so many books to read, so many adventures to have, so many plans waiting to unfold.  In more ways than one, spring has sprung.  Bring on the rainy days.

Mar 18, 2017 - Wanderlust    No Comments

Hanging with manatees in Crystal River

In forth grade, I discovered coelacanths.  At the time, coelacanths were thought to be extinct, and I became fascinated with extinct and endangered species…especially water animals.  I had just given up my astronaut dreams for marine biologist dreams–trading the wild blue wonder for the deep blue. Manatees were endangered; coelacanths were extinct (since my time in 4th grade, coelacanths have been rediscovered in the Indian Ocean). I made it my 4th grade passion to learn everything possible about these two animals, and since this is about manatees, not coelacanths, here are my 4th grade reasons for falling in love with these critters.

  • Manatees are called ‘sea cows’, and they are just as cute as land cows
  • Manatees are herbivores and spend their waking hours eating
  • Manatees breath about once every 3 minutes…up to once every 5-6 minutes when they are sleeping [fascinating fact for someone who used to be all about how people breathe]
  •  Manatees can live in both fresh water and salt water, but can’t pressurize their ears so you’ll always see them on the surface or just below.
  • Manatees are related to elephants and still have little nail on their flippers
  • Manatees prefer to move at slow pace but can swim up to 25 miles per hour in short burst if they need to get away–quick!
  • Manatees can live to be 60 years old.
  • Manatees have no natural predators…meaning they are naturally curious and humans can be their worst enemy.
  • Manatees prefer their water to be >70 degrees, but can tolerate temperatures down to about 60.
  • Early explorers thought manatees were mermaids.

 

See. All perfectly good reasons to love these gentle giants.  But gentle giant babies.  I can’t even.  Like most babies and toddlers [or kittens, puppies or whatever] baby manatees are very curious.  I say baby, but it certainly isn’t like a kitten. This little guy make 300 pounds look awful adorable. The little guy would come  right up to me and nibble at the wet suit.  It’s quite an odd feeling to have this 300 pound baby nibbling and mouthing at you like it’s going to eat you alive.  But these creatures are vegetarians so my meat carcass was totally safe.  The little guy either a) thought I was it’s mommy and could produce food or b) like the feel and textures of the wet suit material.  And just like a baby kitten, the little guy often like to nibble on my toes as well.  Here’s the thing about my feet:  they are so super sensitive and ticklish that the lightest touch makes me move them about.  Cats love to attack my toes in the middle of the night but given the choice, I’d take the 300 manatee-baby nibbling on my toes with it plant-eating gums than my little 6 pound house panther on nightly patrol for anything that moves.  I got lucky and spent nearly 20 minutes playing with the little guy.  And we [the baby and I] were away from the crowd so it was just the two of us.  Hanging out like old friends…

While manatees prefer a comfortable 72 degree water temperature, this water baby likes it about 10 degrees warmer and despite the 5mm neoprene suit on my body, after an hour or so, I was a frozen Popsicle.  So back on board it was for me.  And hot chocolate and dry clothes were waiting for me.  Once the wet suit was off, and I was back in normal clothes the 75 degree air temperature felt just fine.

Mar 16, 2017 - Wanderlust    No Comments

Playing tourist at home

Welcome basketball fans! We are glad you are here.

falls park
What Falls Park looks like in the summer.

Creepy clowns and high schools not allowing in the American Flag notwithstanding, Greenville and South Carolina in general are pretty cool tourist destinations.

This year we were lucky enough to score both the SEC Women’s Basketball tournament (last weekend) and the First Round of the NCAA Men’s Basketball tournament so for a sports junkie like me, I’m in heaven, and contrary to popular belief one cannon spend four whole days in a gym. [Trust me, I’ve tried]. So what can you do if you need a little escape from THE WELL?  Here are a few ideas [a bring a jacket…Mother Nature is being a bitch right now. We’ve had maybe 10 days of weather below freezing since January including the last four days]

The first thing you should know is when tweeting, instagramming, or otherwise talking about Greenville, use #yeahTHATgreenville.  It was something dreamed up by the tourist board to distinguish our Greenville from the 30 or so other Greenvilles in the United States. The Bon Secours Wellness Arena aka THE WELL is where the games will be played.  From it’s construction until a couple of years ago, it was known as the Bi-Lo Center so if you hear someone talking about the Bi-Lo center, it’s the WELL.

Places to escape the arena [but still really close by]

Falls Park, Main Street,  Greenville

If you want to take a scenic stroll, walking through downtown is pretty scenic, but so is an urban hike on the Swamp Rabbit Trail. They are doing some construction on the trail so stick to the falls park area. Under normal conditions you could go from Travelers Rest to Greenville Technical College on the trail [about 30 miles] but with the construction, parts of the trail is closed, and the detours take you through not the scenic parts of downtown.

This tree is near Falls Park and the Governors’ School. It’s famous for its exposed root system, and looks really cool in black and white. Or with the few snowflakes that fell last Sunday.

Trip Advisor recently named the world’s top landmarks and parks and Greenville’s Falls Park came in at #10 in the US for parks.  Rather impressive for a small park and is in the same category as Central Park in NYC, Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, and Millennium Park in Chicago.

Springwood Cemetery/Christ Church Cemetery, Main Street, Church Street, Greenville

If you are one of those people like me who seek out cemeteries wheverver you go, Greenville has you covered. Both Springwood Cemetery and Christ Church’s Cemetery are within walking distance of the WELL. Springwood Cemetery first opened to the public in 1829.  More than 10,000 being call it their final resting place.  In addition to many of Greenville’s founders, there is a section for Confederate Veterans, Unknown Soldiers, and a pre-1865 African American section.

Christ Church is the final resting place to Greenville’s founder, several former mayors, senators, and priests.  Christ Church was founded in 1820 by a group of Charleston Episcopalians who ‘summered in the upcountry’.  It became a full parish in 1826 and the cemetery was laid out not long after that.

Fluor Field at the West End

Greenville’s baseball-only stadium is located in the heart of the revitalized west end.  It seats 5700 and is almost a exact replica of Boston’s Fenway Park [dimensions wise].  The Greenville Drive are a Class A affiliate of Boston Red Sox.  The stadium opened in 2006 and is an awesome place to catch a minor league game.

Mice on Main

If you have kids, or are curious about the bronze mice you might see, here’s their story:  They mice were created in 2000 by a local high school student for his senior project. The book,loosely based on Goodnight Moon, was written in 2007. Today there are 12 of them hanging out in various locations on Main Street. There’s a book, a game, and even T-shirts with the cute little mice on them. This webiste tells the history of the mice, provides clues on finding them, and even has a link to their Facebook page.

One of the 12 mice hanging out on main st

Are you a coffee fan? Greenville has you covered.

Coffee Underground is coffee-house cool with fresh roasted coffee, amazing desserts, couches, and a theatre. It was one of the first business to open in the newly revitalized downtown [1995 y’all; I had desert here on my first Valentine’s Day date] and truthfully, Greenville was still a little bit scary then.  But without a doubt it’s the one place I always recommend to visitors.  And the desserts are amazing.

Spill the Beans is probably my favorite. It’s a coffee-shop/ice cream parlour in a cool, old brick building located right at Falls Park, and while coffee has never been my drink of choice, their coffee ice cream is to die for. Coffee ice cream is nectar of the Gods for me and it’s never too cold for ice cream.

Coffee ice cream + Fall Parks = perfection

Interested in what others have to say about Greenville?  Check out these links below

  • 3 Days in Greenville from the March 16th edition of the Boston Globe about traveling to Greenville…obviously written for Bostonians who would like to make Greenville their new southern tourist destination, it features some Greenville–>Boston links most notably Fluor Field, the home of Greenville Drive, a Class A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox.  Fluor Field is sort of a mini Fenway Park, seating a little less than 6000.
  • Best Towns 2013  Outside Magazine‘s online edition lists Greenville as one of the best towns in the USA [shocking, I know].  This article talks about all the opportunities to get outside and do things…biking, hiking, white-water rafting.  I have to admit–the Swamp Rabbit Trail is pretty cool.
  • America’s Greatest Main Streets–from Travel and Leisure Magazine noting how Main Street turns all pedestrian friendly on Thursday and Friday during Spring, Summer, and Fall for Main Street Jazz.
  • The Next Big Southern Food City –from Esquire magazine.  Did you know that there are 112 independently owned places to eat just in the ‘downtown’ area of Greenville?  Me neither, and I live here.
  • The Impulsive Traveler–Even the Washington Post gets in on the Greenville action with a short little article
  • The Frugal Traveler–from the Orlando Sentinel  talks about how dog-friendly and cheap Greenville is [Although coming from an area that hosts Disney, everywhere is cheap]

and my favorite article of all [not that I’m biased or anything] comes from Budget Travel  where Travelers Rest, South Carolina was a finalist for the 2013 & 2014 & 2015 & 2016 title of America’s Coolest Small Town.  It hasn’t won yet, but I feel it will soon.

Enjoy your visit to our fair little city, and come back when you can stay a little while longer.

Feb 13, 2017 - Wanderlust    No Comments

Let’s get naked

Let me preface this was that I never intended to get naked. It was a frigid January day in Budapest, but I wasn’t going to let that stop me from exploring.  Bundled up in all the clothing I had with me, I set out from my hostel in the historic part of Buda. The steam rising out of the drain cover caught my attention first. I paced along the walkway, limbs mechanical yet numb, face frozen, eyes rimmed with weather-induced tears. All the while thinking ” was not made for this kind of weather.”

budapest snow
Everyone was cold. I saw it in the hunched shoulders and stooped spines of the commuters who huddled past, bundled beneath thick fur coats, scarves and fur hats.  Which was why the drain surprised me.

Whimsical fingers of mist curled through the gaps, growing thinner as they spiraled up towards the sky. The sky which experience told me still loomed overhead, but which I avoided looking at in case I inadvertently exposed another sliver of my neck to Budapest’s biting air.

budapest-thermal-baths

Clouds of steam teased me from the outside–“Was it because the water was really that warm or because it was really that cold” I wondered.  I knew with absolute certainty that the concrete surface surrounding the thermal baths was freezing cold.  I had no idea whether the ‘thermal’ pool I had just paid money to use would be steaming hot or just slightly warmer than the below freezing winter air temperatures. Hoping that the steam was not a false promise, my toes tested the water below.  A split second passed before I internally began singing the Hallelujah chorus.

Warmth tickled my toes. And it was a small piece of  heaven. I stumbled down the remaining steps sliding deeper and deeper into the warm water.  I am sure people stared at me when I let out an audible sigh of relief. Luckily, it wasn’t too crowded at this bathing suit optional bath I had chosen to immerse myself in. Not knowing exactly what to do, I just sat there, naked, in my pool of hot water…watching snowflakes get eaten up by the steamy waters.

Budapest is well know for its thermal baths and Szechenyi didn’t disappoint.  It has held the title “City of Spas” since the year 1934, as it has more thermal and medicinal water springs than any other capital city in the world. There are 118 springs in Budapest, providing over 70 million liters of thermal water a day. The temperature of the waters is between 21 and 78 Celsius.  Budapest’s thermal waters were enjoyed by the Romans as early as the 2nd century, but it was only during the Turkish occupation of Hungary in the 16th century that the bath culture really started flourishing.  Today, there are 15 public thermal baths in Budapest, not counting the private thermal spas established in some luxury hotels, such as the Ramada Plaza, Thermal Hotel Margitsziget and the Corinthia Royal, which have their own spas that you can enjoy.

In some of them you can even keep your clothes on.

Jan 10, 2017 - Life    No Comments

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.

Jan 5, 2017 - Life    No Comments

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.

Dec 23, 2016 - Wanderlust    15 Comments

Flashback Friday | A Christmas Miracle

I tightly clutched my St Christopher’s medal, and whispered a prayer “protect me”.  Even though I consider myself Catholic, I’m not a very good one.  Perhaps all this time in these heavily Catholic countries is wearing  off on me.  I gave Christopher one last squeeze, and tucked him safely under my shirt.  In reality, I was praying for a miracle.  A miracle that I would 1. finish and 2.not crash.

I took a drug test [they don’t let anyone under the influence of drugs or alcohol ride], took a swig of some vile-tasting alcoholic beverage, [oh, the irony] sprinkled some of the same liquid on my bicycle tires and the ground, and said a prayer to PanchaMama.  I wouldn’t want to go pissing off Mother Earth with my prayer to the patron saint of travel.

I solemnly swear that I am up to no good.

I  loaded up on the safety gear…elbow pads, knee pads, helmet, bright safety vest, wind-suit….  Had there been more, I would have put it on too.  What in the world had possessed me to sign up for a 40+ mile bike ride from La Paz, Bolivia to Senda Verde, Bolivia…a bike ride that changes in elevation from 15,900 ft to 3600 ft…a bike ride that travels a road with the moniker World’s Most Dangerous Road?  Did I mention that I didn’t learn to ride a bike until I was 18, and I have never been very graceful on 2 wheels? Did I mention it was Christmas Day? In Bolivia?

To be fair, it’s technically not considered the “World’s Most Dangerous Road” anymore. Due to the construction of a new highway close by, which directs most traffic away from its path, they’ve recently upgraded the trail’s nickname to a much more simple, passive and inviting moniker… “The Death Road”.

I’d hate to see the new road that has earned the name of World’s Most Dangerous Road

The ‘Practice’ Death Road

The start of the Death Road is located around an hour outside of La Paz, high up in the mountains.

The road’s twists and turns through the jungle as it winds down the steep road make it a scary path to travel. There are very few barriers stopping you from falling off the edge which makes it more dangerous than roads in other mountainous areas. The dirt road is full of potholes and scattered gravel meaning you have to stay focused for the entire four hours it takes to bike the road, bouncing over dips and bumps.

It was cold and rainy and as we sped down the highway I became soaked to the skin and started wondering why I’d even signed up for this in the first place. It was so misty that I could hardly see the view of the valley below which gave me a false sense of security because I couldn’t see how steep the drop off was to the right side of me.

All of a sudden there was a large BANG!

The tire of the person who was riding in front of me burst and rubber flew into the air.  As a side note, whenever I am driving on the interstate, this is my worst fear.

We pulled over and the we had a look a the damage. The tire had completely exploded, leaving nothing but loose rubber flapping around the metal rim.

At the top of the Death Road we received another briefing.  “Try not to stand up on your bike if you’re not a confident mountain biker. Try not to grip the brakes the entire time. Leave a good 10 meters between yourself and the person in front of you. Stay alert,” our guide told us.  I mentally calculate how far 10 meters is.  [about 30 feet or so for those wondering]

Under the guide of our tour leaders, we rode slowly five minutes further down the road before stopping for a sandwich and getting a new tire put on the damaged bike.  We piled into the van after this biking practice and snack and set off for the Death Road. It was eerily quiet as we drove.

I’m not sure what was going through everyone else’s head, but I had visions of my tire bursting and me losing control of my bike, being thrown to my death in the valley below.  Or someone else taking me out.  Either would be bad.

Dramatic, yes.  Out of the realm of possibility, absolutely not…

What they don’t tell you:  The Death Road is Quite Stunning

Perhaps one of the biggest dangers of the Death Road is that it’s so damn beautiful.  Valleys of green surround you and with each twist of the road there’s a chance you’ll come across a waterfall  or two cascading down from the top of the mountain.

When the rain stopped and I got hot from the exercise, it was easier to notice the beautiful vistas around me.  But I didn’t want to look too hard – I needed all my concentration to stay safe on the Death Road.

As we bounced down the beginning of the dirt track on the most dangerous road in the world, I began to realize that it was near impossible NOT to hold my brakes the entire time.  I’m the girl who rides my brakes on the Swamp Rabbit Trail; I most certainly was doing it here.  As soon as I let go, I picked up speed and felt as though I was going to lose control.

So the whole way down the mountain I gripped the brakes. Gently at some points and more vigorously at others.

Perhaps this gives you an idea of why I clinched the brakes so much.  At times, I could hardly see the rider in front of me.

My hands are not the strongest part of me.   So listen to me now: gripping mountain bike brakes for four hours was extremely painful.  Excruciatingly painful, but necessary.

So many times I was tempted to give up and ride in the van that was slowly following us down the road, but I held out.

No, we did not all fall over the edge of the cliff…we’re just taking a break.

Almost the end of me

The only time I managed to let go of the handlebars was when I wanted to fiddle with my camera which was slung across my chest…

And this was nearly the death of me.

I’d been recording video on my camera for awhile and wanted to preserve the battery life. So I let go of the handlebar with my right hand and, while looking down, I tried to feel for the off button.  BIG mistake.  

HUGE MISTAKE.

All of a sudden I found myself on the other side of the road, dangerously close to the edge. As I tried to swerve away from the cliff below, I jerked the handlebars too hard and fell towards the edge.

I felt as though I was moving in slow motion.

I think I screamed and tried to right myself but to no avail.

I was falling.

Thud.

I had landed on a patch of ground that jutted out over the cliff. Just behind where I’d fallen, entangled in my bike, was the open air leading to the bottom of the mountain.

In front of where I’d fallen was a sharp drop.   I watch the camera tumble over the cliff.

I’d literally fallen within centimeters of my death or serious injury.

“OH MY GOD. Are you okay?” the guide pulled up behind me, out of breath.

“Yeah, I’m fine.” I tried to laugh. It sounded strangled.

“You scared me!” he said as he helped me up.

“Sorry!” I replied.

The End of the Road

I was shaken after my fall but not too shaken to keep on going. With hands tensed on the brakes, sending shooting pains up my arms, I managed to finish the Death Road with the other people in my group.

It felt like a massive achievement.

But the biggest reward for me was that I was still alive. My fall was a close call and really put a new spin on the term ‘living on the edge’.

Is it an experience I’d ever repeat?  Hell no.  Am I glad I did it when I did?  Absolutely.  Let’s just say I was never as happy to see a suspect swimming pool as I was when we got to Senda Verde lodge.

Dec 15, 2016 - Wanderlust    8 Comments

When in Cork…

Encounters with Blarney

I am not above being a cheesy tourist.

And one of the more cheesy, more touristy things I have ever done occurred a few years ago when I spent a few weeks tooling around Ireland.  After taking the ferry over from Anglesey, Wales to Dublin and tooling around Dublin for a few days, I headed south out of the city towards Cork.  I’m not a bad driver, but I don’t do so well with the manual transmission or driving on the opposite side of the road than what I’m used to.  Let’s just say it was baptism by fire, and I probably shaved a few years off my life and perhaps some of the other drivers on the Dublin-Cork highway.

I am a small town kinda girl, and while Cork is a pretty big city, but it’s fairly navigable.  Cork has a fair amount of charm, but it main draw in the Blarney Stone and to a lesser extent–Blarney Castle.

So the question of the day is did I kiss the stone? Did I really put my lips on that wet slab of germ-infested rock where thousands…maybe millions of people have done the same thing before me? Did I actually DANGLE my body off the side of the castle and risk my life?!  People have actually DIED doing this.

Yes. Yes I did.

I mean, how can you not? It’s there; I’m there. A lot of other people were doing it, and while it may be cheesy and touristy… occasionally I’m cheesy and occasionally touristy.

The Blarney Stone is a block of Carboniferous limestone built into the battlements of Blarney Castle, Blarney, about 8 kilometres from Cork, Ireland. [Thank you Wikipedia] According to legend, kissing the stone endows the kisser with the gift of the gab (great eloquence or skill at flattery). The stone was set into a tower of the castle in 1446. The word blarney has come to mean “clever, flattering, or coaxing talk”. John O’Connor Power’s definition is succinct: ‘Blarney is something more than mere flattery. It is flattery sweetened by humour and flavoured by wit.

The Blarney Stone gets all the press, but the castle itself is actually rather interesting and the surrounding castle grounds are gorgeous. The tiny, winding staircases are not for the claustrophobic, but the sweeping views of lush green country and manicured gardens are worth the trip to the top.

Kissing the stone is not for the faint of heart -– you have to dangle yourself over the gaping hole in the castle floor, death-grip the handrails and the man assisting unceremoniously grabs two fist-fulls of your clothes and shoves you close enough to kiss the stone. A second later you’re hauled upright and sent on your way.

Tell me, would YOU have kissed the stone? Or do you now think my lips are now tainted for a lifetime. Leave a comment and let me know.

 

Dec 9, 2016 - Fabulous Food    No Comments

Irish Potato Soup

When temperatures drop below freezing, I reach for the crock pot.  Of course in my mind, there is no wrong time to eat soup, but cold days are definitely a right time to eat soup.

Untitled

I first visited Ireland nearly 20 years ago, during summer, and even then one of my favorite pub meals was potato soup.  Pub life is a huge part of Irish culture, and even if you forgo the pints, there’s still a lot to love in a pub.

I’ve made potato soup before, but it’s always been a really basic version–potatoes, stock, cream, salt, and paper.  This time I wanted to spice things up a bit.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 stick of Irish butter (I used Kerry Gold)
  • 1 medium sized onion-chopped + dried onion flakes
  • 6 large potatoes, washed & peeled
  • 3 stalks of celery, chopped
  • 1/2 cup shredded carrots
  • Chicken stock (I used one can of prepared + 3 cups of homemade)
  • 1 pound of bacon
  • heavy cream
  • 1 bottle of Irish beer (I use Guinness)
  • smoked paprika (to taste)
  • ground black pepper & salt (to taste)
  • 1 teaspoon (or a few shakes) of Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 ½ cup of grated cheese–extra sharp

Method

Wash vegetables. Chop potatoes, celery, onion, and carrots. Add chicken broth. Add butter. Put ingredients in crock-pot, and cook for several hours until potatoes are soft.

Cook bacon. Add a bit of bacon grease to the pot. Use the bacon for garnish.

When vegetable are soft, use an immersion blender to puree the soup. Add Guinness, Worcestershire sauce, and paprika. Add in cheese. Cook soup another 30 minutes or so. Salt and pepper to taste.

Garnish with bacon, chives, sour cream, cheese, croutons.  Whatever looks good and enjoy!

Irish Potato Soup