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.

tower bridge ceremic poppies 3
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.

Ninety six cannon
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.

39 photos of spectacular places to be dead

     It’s October…one of my favorite months.  For starters, college football is in full swing.  Baseball is in its play-off period.  European football has gotten over its opening schedule shockers, and ice hockey starts up at the end of the month.  It’s also one of my favorite seasons for traveling.  For a few years, I took the month of October off from work and traveled, and those were some of my best trips.   The weather is nice …cool, but not cold…surprising warm days mixed in, and Halloween…my favorite holiday of the year.

   

So to celebrate my favorite month of the year, I’ll be featuring some of my favorite cemeteries in the world.  I LOVE, love, love, visiting cemeteries. [and I love cats…any coincidence that cats like to hang out a cemeteries….I think not] They fascinate me [cemeteries not cats]… Fancy ones like Pere LaChaise in Paris and Recoleta in Buenos Aires. Solemn ones like Arlington National just outside Washington DC and the Old Jewish Cemetery in Prague. Old ones like Magnolia in Charleston, SC and Bonaventure in Savannah, Georgia. Eclectic ones like merry cemetery in Săpânţa, Romania, and the Mayan cemetery in Xcaret. Odd ones like the crypt of the Capuchin monks in Rome… None of it matters.  If I hear of an ‘interesting’ cemetery…whether its old and crumbly or happy and bright or austere and serene, I’m there.

Some of my favorite final resting places from around the world

1.  Pere-LeChaise Cemetery, Paris France

I spent a day in Paris.  I know what you are saying…’Only one day, impossible’, but it’s true.  I  watched fireworks at the Eiffel Tower and hung out with the dead.  Paris is awesome.

2.  Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Argentina

years ago, I was in Buenos Aires.  It was my birthday.  Instead of doing something fancy like going to a tango show, I went to Recoleta and hung out with the dead.  And the cats.

3.  Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, VA, USA

I stand up straighter and walk a little taller when I visit Arlington.  It’s impressive, quiet, and simple.  American soldiers. Clean white tombstones.  A Marine guard.  It doesn’t get more solemn than this.

4.  Jewish Cemetery, Prague, Czech Republic

On a snowy day in January 2013, I visited the Jewish Cemetery in Prague.  I think I was the only living thing around.

5.  Magnolia Cemetery, Charleston, South Carolina

Southern cemeteries are awesome.  Spanish moss hanging down gives everything a spooky appeal, and the humidity makes everything rust and age rather quickly.

6.  Bonaventure Cemetery, Savannah, Georgia

They say Bonaventure is haunted.  If you go there at night, it certainly feels that way.

7.  Mayan Cemetery, Xcaret, Mexico

Confession time:  this is a fake cemetery.  It’s a creation of what a lot of Mexican cemeteries do on El Dia de los Muertos….this one is a lot cleaner, though.  The Mayans didn’t actually bury their dead.

8. Merry Cemetery, Săpânţa, Romania

It’s happy.  It’s bright.  It’s weird.  Go there. See for yourself.  These dead peeps are having the time of their lives.

9.  Crypt of the Capuchin Monks, Rome, Italy

Eerie.  Spooky…Bone-chilling…Fascinating…I wonder if the Monks know their bones are being used as decorations.  I’m not a Monk, but I’d love to donate my femur [you know, once I’m done with it] for a clock or better yet, the handle of the scythe of the Grim Reaper

10.  Monumental Cemetery, Milan, Italy

Morbid statues.  Fascinating pageantry.  Marble slabs of decaying flowers.  Ingenious.

11.  Hanging Coffins, Sagada, Philippines

If heaven is up, and hell is down, wouldn’t you rather be hanging on the side of a cliff instead of buried in a hole?

12.  Novodevichy Cemetery, Moscow, Russia

Boris Yeltsin, Anton Chekhov, Gherman Titov…I’m a bit fascinated with Russia and the dead Russians.  If you can’t qualify for the Kremlin, Novodevichy is a fantastic second choice.

13. Hallstat Ossuary, Hallstat, Austria

Oooh…more bones….since I’m donating my femur to the Monk, the Ossuary can have my skull, but only if they paint a pretty design on it.

Unexpected Love: Seattle

2018 Michelle here:  I first visited Seattle in 2012 because I had friends there.  I never thought I like the city, but I fell in love with it.  Seattle was the first major city that I could *theoretically* live in.  Rwanda wasn’t my first choice; I was married to Madagascar, but this post reminds me to give a place a chance.  You never know what the outcome may be.


Opposite attract, they say. Whoever ‘THEY’ are, they are right, at least in this case.

Me:  Small-town Southern girl, likes quiet nights by the bonfire, wide-open spaces, tree-frogs and cicadas, roads with no traffic, sunny, summer days, and hot, sultry, summer nights.

top of Seattle
Seattle: One of the top 20 largest cities in the USA, compact, traffic everywhere [but certainly not unmanageable], modern, progressive, cool, drizzly in fall and winter, crisp in Spring/Summer, insanely pretty… pretty much opposite in every way what I am used to.

I’m not sure why I’ve never visited Seattle before because there are so many things about the city that is awesome. My first visit in May 2012 I did all the touristy things like visit the Space Needle, hang out at Pike Place Market, go see the Seattle Sounders match, and visit some of the city’s best museums. I was also staying in a neighborhood [Green Lake] with friends so I got a different perspective than staying a city hotel.  I went back to the city in October 2014, stayed in a different area [Queen Anne] and explored a slightly different side of Seattle [and then again in July 2015, October 2016, and May 2017 for a quick visits before exploring more of Washington].  I did a city hike, explored gas works park, took a ferry across Elliott Bay, ate some amazing food [It happened to be restaurant week], and said hello to Lenin and the troll in Fremont.

Home of Starbucks and the Space Needle, Jimi Hendrix and the grunge movement [hello Everclear, my favorite 90s band… yes, I know they are from Portland], Pike Place Market and the Seahawks, Sounders, and SuperSoncis, Seattle is definitely a place worth visiting. Despite its stereotype of being gray and wet [it rained like 5% of the time i was there], Seattle is a place that I could conceivably call home… you know, if I ever leave the South and want to live in close proximity to a big city.

First tip: I’ve used CityPasses before is some of the other larger cities I’ve visited and found it to be a good value in terms of sites and cost. So I sought out a Seattle City Pass, which let me visit 6 of Seattle’s top destinations and activities, and though not part of the City Pass, my friend Cameron had a season pass to the Sounders, and couldn’t make it, so score! I got to go to my first Major League Soccer match.

The pass covers the Space Needle [2X–once during the day and once at night], the Seattle Aquarium, a harbor cruise, EMP, Woodland Park Zoo and Pacific Science Center or Chihuly gardens.

Here’s what I got to squeeze in:

    • Space Needle–The best-known feature in Seattle’s skyline, the Space Needle was built in 1961 in time for Seattle to host the 1962 World’s Fair. The 605-foot structure was a bit of an engineering feat [nerd factor:  the “bottom” of the Needle is actually 30 feet underground to bring its center of gravity lower], and it has come to represent Seattle in everything from postcards to television shows. You can dine at the revolving SkyCity Restaurant, 500 feet off the ground, or check out the Observation Deck at 520 feet, which gives views out over downtown Seattle and Puget Sound. With your City Pass, take the elevators up once during the day, and then return at dusk to witness darkness falling over Seattle and the city lighting up.

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check out those blue skies and high cirrus clouds

top of Seattle

    • Starbucks [the original one]–While at Pike Place, head across the street from the market and visit the world’s very first Starbucks. It was from this unassuming location that the coffee giant began its world domination in 1971. After hours, is about the only time you can get a photo without a ton of people standing in line.

The Original Starbucks

    • pretending to be Jimi Hendrix at Experience Music Project

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    • the glass garden–Glass artist Dale Chihuly is originally from Washington, and the Gardens and Glass at Seattle Center is a permanent exhibit of some of his work. Indoors, you’ll find large glass exhibits lit up in darkened rooms, and outdoors are glass sculptures that blend in to the gardens. It opened the week I was there so I can say I was among the first to visit the museum.

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    • Seattle Aquarium–With the pass in hand, pop on in to the Seattle Aquarium. You’ll see all sorts of fish and sea creatures, but the real must-sees here are the room of Puget Sound natives (fish and plant life), and the otters and fur seals. Learn about the kinds of life found in the waters around Seattle, and then head into the building next door to watch some adorable sea and river otters frolicking, and some massive fur seals swimming around in zoo-like enclosures.

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    • Harbor Cruise in Eliot Bay

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    • Museum of Flight at Boeing Field–I am such an #av8geek, that this was a must for me. The Museum of Flight covers all aspects of flight history – from the very first airplanes to space travel. There’s one gigantic warehouse space filled with all manner of aircraft, a mock control tower, a space exhibit, rooms dedicated to WWI and WWII, and even commercial jets and an old Air Force One plane outside that you can walk through. It not only includes planes of all shapes and sizes, but also interactive features and tons of history to read about. You can book bi-plane rides outside the museum, or (if you’ve really got the money), sign up to ride in a B-17 or B-24 bomber.

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And beautiful mountain ranges surrounding the city.

Oh and nearby vampires in Forks.

Someday

We are all visitors to this time, this place. We are just passing through. Our purpose here is to observe, to learn, to grow, to love… and then we return home.                                                                        Australian Aboriginal saying

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The world is a rather large place, and I love exploring new cultures, places I’ve never been, and seeing new things. And since the world is a large place, new destinations generally take precedence over places I’ve been before. Often, I say [in my head] “I’d love to come back here. Someday.” Which places are those, you ask? Places that hold a special place in my heart. There are the easy ones, like London, England where there is so much to see and do I doubt I could do it all in one lifetime. Or Charleston, South Carolina, which is an international tourist destination, but is relativity close to my current home. And Huanchaco, Peru where there isn’t a whole lot to do, but it’s where I was first part of an international community of backpackers. I’m not so naive to believe that if I went back to Huanchaco it would be the same as it was when I was there. Part of the charm of living in a tourist/backpacking town is the continuous influx of new people, but that’s also what makes it hard to fit in. Excluding the obvious, here are five places that I’d love to return to. Someday.

Mendoza, Argentina
There’s no other way to put it–Mendoza is simply amazing. The wineries

The food… [try the parilla for a plate full of delicious grilled meat]…

The scenery…

The mountains…[the tallest in the Western hemisphere]

The ruins… [some Inca ruins are all the way down to Argentina].  I only hope that someday I will make my way back to Argentina.

Isle of Skye, Scotland
Nestled up in the Scottish Highlands is the Isle of Skye. Other-worldly. Beautiful. Remote. Amazing. Skies that go for miles. Castles. Ruins. Stone footbridges.

Cartagena, Colombia
Colonial. Colorful. Safe. Fortified. Tropical. Magical. Botero statues. oh so Colombian. White, sandy beaches nearby.  Someday…

St. Petersburg, Russia

Russia in general isn’t known for its friendly, welcoming attitude towards visitors. But everyone I’ve known who has taken the time to deal with Russian bureaucracy has thought it was completely worthwhile. In 2009, I studied abroad at Moscow State University. My sole reason for doing that was to get to Russia. I didn’t care so much about the program as it was an agriculture program, and I have zero interest in farming, but from January until June I was in possession of a student visa which allowed me access to most of European Russia.

I made it to St Petersburg 4 times over the course of 6 months–each time different than before. I’d love to go back in the fall. Moscow is interesting; it is just too big of a city for me to enjoy. St Petersburg is more manageable with the added bonus of imperial Russian history. Moscow is historic in a communist sort of way. St. Petersburg, though, is more to my liking.

Kotor, Montenegro
I only spent one day and one night in Kotor as a last minute detour to defrost after being in Hungary, Romania, and Serbia. I was so glad I made time in my schedule to see this amazing small town. In January, it was as if I was the only one there. I’m told that even in summer, it gets none of the craziness like Split or Dubrovnik, Croatia. YET.

As the country of Montenegro, it has only been in existence since 2006, but its civilization dates back as far a 9th century, and it has been, at times, ruled by Italy, Ottoman Empire, and Yugoslavia. It is being “discovered” by tourists and is the second fastest growing tourist destination. Go now before it becomes just another blip on the European tourist trail.

Honorable Mention:
The Alps…any part, any country, any time of year.

South Carolina State Parks | Hampton Plantation

South Carolina State Parks | Hampton Plantation

Last summer, a friend and I started the quest to visit all 47 of South Carolina’s state parks.  We made it about halfway by the end of December. Since then, South Carolina is helping the National Parks Service celebrate its 100th birthday by adding an incentive:  visit all 47 parks + 8 National Park Monuments in the sate, get a free pass ($75 value).  I’m a sucker for a quest with prizes.

The friend and I are no longer friends [there’s been a lot of changes in my life lately], but I’m continuing the state park quest on my own.  After all, I only have 12 parks to go; it’d be a shame to give up a quest just because I no longer have a partner.

First up, Hampton Plantation State Park just outside McClellanville, SC. McClellanville is about 30 minutes or so north of Charleston so if you happen to be in the city, and want a quieter outing,  this state park would be an easy day or half-day trip if you have transportation. Siri led me seriously astray… 13 miles down a sandy, one lane ‘road’ with top speeds of 20 mph. So if you’re headed here, and GPS directions say go down ‘Farewell Corner Road’, just don’t. Take my word for it.

Of course, it was raining… because that’s exactly the weather you want when driving down a sandy, dirt road

The Park
Hampton-Plantation-Historic-Site

Tucked away among live oaks and magnolias in the Santee Delta region, located on the banks of the Wambaw Creek, Hampton Plantation State Historic Site is home to the  final remnants of a colonial-era rice plantation. It’s not hard to imagine the rice fields that once stretched as far as the eye could see.  Started in the early 1700’s, the house and the fields were built and maintained with slave labor.

The property also tells the story of the freed people who made their homes in the Santee Delta region for generations after emancipation.

The park has various activities such as hiking, cycling, and kayaking.  There are also less strenuous activities like sweet grass basket weaving and bird watching.  Also mosquito swatting could be considered an activity as they are numerous and viscous in the summer.

The House

Hampton-Plantation

Hampton Plantation is a beautiful old Georgian style mansion built in 1700’s. The first family moved in while the house was still under construction….  1735. The plantation grounds cover 450 acres and was once South Carolina’s largest rice and indigo plantation.  The Rutledge family lived in the house until the mid 1900’s, and the the house and land was given to the SC State Park system.

Hampton plantation inside out

Hampton-plantation basement

What’s at Hampton Plantation

  • Fishing:  catfish, bream and bass
  • Boating/Kayaking:  the park has Wambaw Creek access
  • Bird-watching:  woodpeckers and swallow-tail kite
  • Geocaching
  • Hiking:  An easy, two-mile loop trail begins in the parking area and circles around the abandoned rice fields directly behind the Hampton Plantation Mansion.  Descriptions along the way also offer historically significant information as well as information on local plants and animals. Take my advice:  Mosquito repellent, bug hat, bug jacket all are recommended as there are massive quantities of ticks, horseflies, mosquitoes, and chiggers.  And they will bite you. Many, many times.

 

Long-term travel? It’s not for me

No one realizes how beautiful it is to travel until he comes home and rests his head on his old, familiar pillow.

aberdeen-alley

There are thousands of travel blogs out there.  A lot of them are written by people whose job is to travel full time.  They are digital nomads. These people are even paid [in the form of free trips, freelance writing or photography, doing product reviews] to travel.  A lot of these same travel blogs have similar posts:  How to… Top 10 reasons… Best things about… Worst things about, ect… I am trying NOT to be like these blogs.  You see, I am not a full time traveler, nor do I ever plan to be.  I’ve never made a dime from traveling. In spite of that, I get out the door occasionally.

  • I’ve traveled the UK and Ireland for 3 months.
  • I’ve lived in Campeche, Mexico for a year.
  • I backpacked around South America for over a year.
  • I’ve lived in Moscow for 4 months.

but I still don’t consider myself a long-term traveller.   Why?  Because in almost all these circumstances I’ve had a home base [South America was my most nomadic existence, but even then I rented apartments, did home stays, and did a lot of ‘slow travel’].  Living out of a suitcase sucks.  Packing and unpacking every few days suck as well.  I know because I spent most of my childhood staying with various relatives.  Being in a new environment, not knowing where things are, hanging around bus/train stations–all of that sucks.

For some, the thrill of a new environment gets them going.  They love nothing more than to be constantly on the go.  I love nothing more than relaxing…whether it”s in my bed, on a beach in Thailand, or sitting in a coffee shop in a new location.  I love having a home base…somewhere to come at the end of a hectic day [whether its all day exploring or a challenging shift at the hospital]  that’s ‘my space.’

a-hairy-coo

I am an introvert.  I need alone time to recharge my batteries. I don’t necessarily like routine, but I do like familiar circumstances. Traveling, being on the go all the time, meeting new people, is exhausting.  It’s even more exhausting when you are constantly moving.  I don’t really have family roots, but I have strong geographical roots.  South Carolina is where I will always consider my ‘home’ to be.  Even if I’m living elsewhere.  I am at a point now where about the most time I can squeeze into a vacation is a month [and that’s really pushing it].  I know that getting to Point B from point A is the most expensive part of traveling.  Spending $1500 for airfare seems like a lot for a 2 week vacation; not so much if it’s spread across of 4 months. A lot of travel expenses are like this.

In a perfect world, I’d work for 3 months and travel for 6 weeks.  6 weeks in one location [or region] is enough time to really explore a region.  Still, 6 weeks travelling is not the norm [especially in the USA], but any longer than that, and this guy may forget who I am.

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If I weren’t a muggle

Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times if one only remembers to turn on the light.                                                          Albus Dumbledore

muggles can't see it

On July 2, 1997, I wandered into a bookstore in Manchester, England looking for a book to keep me company on my train ride to Edinburgh.  The sales clerk suggested a new book that had just come out three days ago called ‘The Philosopher’s Stone’.  I flipped through it and thought–seems interesting enough…probably written for middle school aged kids, but it will be a quick read and I’ll have a book to trade when I get to Edinburgh. On my train trip north, I became immersed in the wizarding world of Harry Potter…of how boy of 11 found out he was a wizard and he and his friends were able to thwart the most evil wizard of all.  I finished the book right before we pulled into Edinburgh and promptly put Harry Potter out of my mind. We weren’t re-acquainted again until 2006 [when I plowed through almost the entire series in a two week period and then had an agonizing year wait for the finale]  But by now, you could say I am a bit of a Harry Potter nerd.  I have read all the books and seen all of the movies [including the midnight premiere of Deathly Hallows-Part 1 in Trujillo, Peru] multiple times.  I feel as if I KNOW Harry Potter. The following is how I’d imagine my life would be if I weren’t a muggle. If I weren’t a muggle, my life would be completely different, but somehow still familiar.

  1.  If I weren’t a muggle, I could go shopping in Diagon Alley…instead of just Target.

This is what I imagine Diagon Alley to look like..the real Diagon Alley is in Leadenhall Market which today looks nothing like Diagon Alley.

   2.  If I weren’t a Muggle, I’d be able to access Platform 9 3/4 at Kings Cross Station.

          3.  If I weren’t a muggle, I would either be teaching potions [my                         favorite class] at Hogwarts or be employed as a healer at St Mungo’s              Hospital for Medical Maladies.  My ideal job, however, would be taking          over for Madame Pomfrey at Hogwarts.

         4.  If I weren’t a muggle, I could have gone to Hogwarts for middle and                  high school.

Old Hoggy, hoggy Howgwarts….

  5.  If I weren’t a muggle and had gone to Hogwarts, I would have had to be sorted into a house. The sorting hat would have encountered a little bit of difficulty deciding where to place me, but according to this quiz, I’d be placed in Slytherin–which is ok because green and silver are my colors… [I wouldn’t be one of those Death Eater Syltherins though].

In my Slytherin sweater
In my Slytherin sweater

6.  If I weren’t a muggle, I wouldn’t have to use the visitor’s entrance at the Ministry of Magic.

            7.  If I weren’t a muggle, I could have eaten all my meals in an oh-so-elegant dining hall instead of the very generic one at Clinton High School. I fully expected to see The Bloody Baron or Nearly Headless Nick floating through the room or Dumbledore sitting at the head of the table.

  8.  If  I weren’t a muggle, I could have received mail via owl instead of            the Arden Post Office.

9.  If I weren’t a muggle, I could have brought my cat to school.  Lucy would have loved that, and she could have helped me study for my OWL exams.

kaos-loves-the-computer-too

Just a few ideas about how my life would be different if I weren’t a muggle and here are a few other photos from The Wizarding World of Harry Potter:

The cafe that started it all…Where much of the first books were written in Edinburgh.

Alnwick Castle in Northumberland taken during my 1997 trip to UK before it was Harry Potter famous [the learning to fly on broomsticks lessons were filmed here]…I went to see the Poison Garden [which in my opinion should have found its way into the HP books]

and finally the beaches of Pembrokeshire, Wales [taken before HP fame during the ’97 trip]…In my opinion some of the prettiest beaches in the world…For the films, they built the Shell Cottage.  I am not sure if it is still there or if they took it down after filming was completed.