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.

Endings, beginnings, and what’s next

Mid-year-end review 2016

In some ways, 2016 has been great; and yet, it’s been rough in lots of ways.  I have had four physical addresses in the last 6 months. 4 times of packing up my stuff and moving to a new location. 4 times of unpacking boxes. 4 times of trying to get the kitty cats comfortable. 4  times of trying to get settled.  4 times of buying duplicate things because I couldn’t find what I needed at the time. 4 places where I’ve tried to make a home.  On top of that, I’ve had three jobs + some freelance work in the last year. It was the opposite of what I needed, but in reality, I had no choice.  It was either move or be homeless.  It was either work or end up at the *poor farm.

The Endings

In June 2016, I quit my toxic hospital job. I had worked in a hospital (not necessarily the same hospital) on some level since 2003, and it was a big deal to leave.  Even though that was one of my goals for becoming a RN.  Even though my latest work environment was toxic; even though my co-workers were cruel and hateful.  The hospital had been my one constant my entire adult, working life.

Also in June, I left a living situation that was no longer working for me.  And it didn’t go well.  In the time from telling her I was moving until the day I left, it was beyond stressful.  The cats were mistreated; my things were mistreated when I wasn’t there [and let’s be honest, I was only there to sleep because I felt so unwelcome.] A few things went missing or were broken.   A number of mutual friends, while still cordial when out paths cross, aren’t exactly people I’d call friends anymore.

And in July, one of my closest friends, for lack of a better term, ‘broke up’ with me.  He was my main camping buddy and hiking partner, and while it sucks not to have a person to do that kind of stuff with anymore, it certainly won’t stop me from doing these things.

I’ve always been more on the private side even in real life. I strive to be truthful and honest in all my interactions, but here lately, I’ve been even more reserved.  One of my goals in this new rendition of the blog, is to be more open and transparent.  But some things will always be private.

The Beginnings

I started a new job at the end of June. It’s been three weeks now, and I’m still loving it. It’s crazy busy, and keeps me on my toes.  It’s still healthcare, so what I can say about what I do and where I work is quite limited. I now work in physical rehab.  It’s so different than what I used to do, and I get to use both of my skill sets.  I have a lot more freedom to do what I need to do, to do what I think is the right thing, and I love that. I love that my skills and knowledge is valued, but what I love more, it that it feels like what I do matters. And I haven’t felt like what I do matters in a long time.

just a little note from one of my patients

I also have new living quarters. It’s palatial by New York City standards, and more space than I really need, but the price was right, the neighborhood is good, and the landlord is chill.  After living with roommates since 2006, it is nice to finally have space of my own… where it doesn’t matter if I empty the dishwasher the second it’s done or if I leave clean clothes in the dryer for a week. A place where I can decorate as I choose, and a place where the kitties and I can relax however we see fit. And most important, a place where I can start to feel settled.

The Next Steps

In August, I head back to the classroom (metaphorically speaking–all my classes are online). Depending on which option I pursue I could be finished by the end of next summer (with a BSN) or three years from now (with a MSN or DNP)  Who knows what direction my life will go, but at least for the next year, I’m going to be pretty stationary.  I’ll still find time to do the things I love, and hopefully, deepen relationships with all my friends.

I don’t know where the road is going to lead me, but I hope you will hang around for the ride.

 

Take Photos of What You Love

From time to time I get reflective and think about what real motivates me to get out of my [oh so comfortable] bed, and while I’ve pursued many hobbies over my life, the one consistent one has been photography. I got my first camera in first grade, and have been happily snapping since.

My ‘day’ job doesn’t allow for much creativity, my written notes aren’t meant to be creative. In fact brevity and details are praised much more than creativity and embellishments.  This blog [and its predecessors] was started as nothing more than a creative outlet.  I like being a writer and photographer; I also like saving lives. My ‘day’ job requires me to talk to people all day long, and for a natural introvert, that’s hard. Writing and photography are more solitary pursuits and combined with hiking, these are the passions that have stuck with me throughout my life.

I love storytelling, and I love being creative. I thrive on taking risks, stepping into the unknown and exploring new places, and if I end up inspiring others to do the same, well that’s just the icing on the cake. I would never call myself an ‘artist’, but in some way I think all photographers are artists to some degree.  I may not be able to draw a straight line with a ruler, but perhaps I can see things in a different way, and that may inspire someone in some way.

I do almost no post-processing.  I used to use Flickr a bit, but they had some issues last year, and I do love the new flickr. However, I have nearly 4000 photos on the site so I still visit it from time to time. I’ve never used Lightroom or Photoshop but I’d like to learn . This is what I’ve learned in 30+ years of snapping photos

  1. Animals are where it’s at

I don’t like taking pictures of people.  Maybe it’s because I live alone.  My entire family could fit inside a thimble.  I don’t want to take photos of strangers, and I don’t want to be one of those self-obsessed selfie taking insta-grammers either.  So yeah–people aren’t my favorite subject.  But animals. How many  people say that they do not like animals?  Almost no one. And those people who say they don’t like animals, well I probably wouldn’t like them either.

Glance at almost any travelers’ bucket list and you’ll see animals predominantly featured. Maybe not explicitly, but ask anyone who has listed African Safari on the list what part of the African Safari they’d  like to see, and most will respond ‘Lions’ or ‘Elephants’.  My point being, the animals are the draw.  Same with visiting the Arctic.  The main draws for the frozen tundra are northern/southern lights and polar bears, grizzlies bears, penguins and puffins. I mean even I’d brave the cold for a chance to see that.

I think seeing wild animals is a great appeal to travel. And for me it certainly makes a good story. How can you begin to compare seeing a lion sleeping in a zoo with tracking a pride of wild lions on safari in Africa? Or seeing lemurs on fake tree branches versus seeing them in the wild of Madagascar.  And most of the time, animals carry on about their business paying you no attention so you can shoot to your heart’s content.  And after about 100 shots, you may just get ‘the one.’

2. Have the right equipment

Despite what people say, there is no “right” camera. The best camera is the one you have with you. Growing up, I would have sold my soul for a Nikon D90,  but I never got one.  Instead, I once I had enough money, I went to the local pawn shop and bought two Pentax camera  bodies and 3 lenses. I learned a lot using those cameras, and some of that knowledge sticks with me today. I’ll shoot with whatever is in front of me. I used to be staunchly anti- camera phones, but have been in situations where that was  the only camera I had available.  I’ve used all sorts of different cameras and lenses over the years when shooting wildlife and I have only one piece of advice – get a good zoom.

 

Using a telephoto lens, I’m talking more than 100mm or its equivalent, is something I feel strongly about; I’ve seen too much bad behavior concerning wildlife and personal space. For example, National  Parks have signs all over the place telling you what distance to keep between you and animals, but do people listen? Nope. They do not.  And then they wonder why the bear takes a swipe at them.

I currently use an Olympus Mirrorless 4/3 camera set-up, and one of my favorite lenses for animals in the 150-300mm.  I can safely keep my distance, yet get up close and personal.

3.  The right time, right place, and lost of patience is key.  On that note,  be proactive and eager.

You can’t force wildlife photography – that means being in the right place at the right time. Whether you  plan your trip around a specific event or make sure your schedule is  flexible enough to accommodate spending extra time here ort her, it’s up to you. Also make sure you’re prepared with all the equipment you might need including enough memory cards and batteries. You can never have too many batteries.

Giant pandas at Edinburgh Zoo

Always take more photos than you mean too. Always. When you are out in the elements looking at the tiny screen on the back of your camera, it is really hard to tell what’s in focus, what isn’t, and if you have it composed how you want to, and if it’s properly exposed if you are in a harsh environment or if the animals are on the move.

Even when I want to stop, I fire off a few more clicks of my camera. Sometimes I even go back another day if possible. Everything is changing, and wildlife photography is so unpredictable so it’s important to keep trying because even when you think you nailed the shot, you might not have or there’s an even better shot just around the corner.

If you are really passionate about wildlife, then it’s easy.

4. Practice and focus

If I know that I am going to be snapping animal photos, I like to use my portrait lens. It’s a Olympus 25mm [50mm DSLR equivalent] and I wish it was the first lens I ever used. It’s perfect to learn on. Because you can drop the aperture down to 1.4 (which is really big) and you can get the most beautiful portraits with stunning depth of field. This means that the face is really sharp and focused and the background is blurry.

In fact, if you are shooting at f/1.4 it’s so sharp that you have to focus on the eyes because the nose will blur a bit and vice versa. Learning to shoot focusing on the eyes is hard, especially with animals and takes practice – the details are always in the eyes. In fact, shooting wildlife in general takes practice because you have no control over their behavior and you have to be fast and prepared for anything.

So if you have any pets, practice taking their photos. I’ve spent hours practicing with my new lens on my  cat. Anad not just my cat either. I take pictures of friends’ cats and neighbor’s cats too.  I want to get as much practice as possible photographing animals that aren’t familiar with me so that when I encounter animals in their natural environment. For me, the hardest thing is getting the focus right so I practice as much as possible whenever I can.

To me, wildlife photography is essentially the same as portrait photography, except animals don’t listen  and might eat you given half the chance. Kind of like photographing children, I guess.

5. R-E-S-P-E-C-T

Wild animals are in fact wild animals.  They deserve our respect and when we are in their territories, we should play by their rules.  We live in a world where people are obsessed with the perfect selfie or snapping the most amazing photo ever–consequences be damned. But if an animal bites you or scratches you, then you are at fault and  have no one else to blame when you end up in the hospital for months receiving IV antibiotics. Be patient, give them space, and let the animals come to you.  Unless it’s a bear. Or a lion.

 

6. Keep learning, be open

Just when I think I’ve mastered the art of taking photos, someone shows me something I never seen or even thought about before. So much of what I have learned has come from talking to other photographers, asking questions, trial and error, and watching video tutorials online. Even now I still download courses and am always Googling photography tips trying to get better.

The story of Szimpla Kert

Budapest is an odd little city, and part of what makes it odd also makes it cool. Budapest is home to ruin bars, and a visit to the capital of Hungary isn’t complete without a drink (or two) at one of these bars which are unique to the city and unlike nearly anything else I’ve ever seen [and for the non-drinkers among us, most of these places have offerings such as  fresh lemonade,coffee, or devine hot chocolate].  I visited my first ruin bar during my first visit to the city in January 2013. Back then, I did Budapest’s version of a ‘pub tour’ and got to visit quite a few of these establishments. My favourite by far is Szimpla Kert, a garden/pub/cafe/souvenir shop/farmer’s market/local hangout/shisha bar.  Whatever you can think of, it’s happening here.

 Budapest Ruin Pubs

Known by locals as ‘romkocsma’ (ruin pub in Hungarian), these pubs have been a part of the drinking culture for over a dozen years. Every one is unique but, more often than not, a ruin pub in Budapest will have a rundown and slightly sketchy exterior that completely contradicts the vibrant colours and unique ambience you’ll find inside. Filled with second hand furniture and nearly anything funky picked off the curb, these formerly abandoned buildings are now pretty integral to Budapest. And it all seems to have started in the city’s 7th district.

The neighbourhood was largely damaged and neglected after World War II and it’s said that ruin pubs are what changed the district’s future for the better. Where many saw abandoned factories and deteriorating apartment complexes, the people behind Szimpla saw potential. Over the years, the transformation of these buildings (and now others across the city) led to an entirely new concept in Budapest that is pretty darn cool.


The Story of Szimpla Kert

Szimpla originally opened in 2002 as an indoor cafe in a location a few blocks away from its current location, but the ruin pub trend didn’t actually begin until 2004 when they relocated to their current address at 14 Kazinczy Street.  Before Szimpla moved in, the area was a relatively quiet spot in the VII District or Jewish Quarter, and the future ‘pub’ was a dilapidated building was a former stove factory. Through the magic of vision, it was transformed into one of the coolest, most eclectic bars I have ever seen.

It was first opened as Szimpla Kertmozi [kertmozi means garden cinema in Hungarian] and their large courtyard was the place to hangout and watch underground/indie films. While they’re still known to play the occasional outdoor movie, Szimpla Kert has come a long way in the last 13+ years.

Szimpla Kert

One of the criticisms of Szimpla Kert is that approximately 80% of the guests are non-Hungarian.  In fact, while the menu and signs were in Hungarian, the languages I heard most often were English [Australian version], German, and maybe Czech [I’m a little fuzzy on that one]. Nonetheless the place represents the rebirth of Budapest.  It represents entrepreneurship and making use of the architectural opportunities of the city – even if that means the city’s ruins. Szimpla Kert changed Budapest’s international image and unintentionally created the “ruin pub” genre, for which Budapest is now famous around the world.

It’s hard to put the atmosphere into words but I’ll try… Narrow hallways and spiral staircases take you through the indoor/outdoor are where you’ll encounter dozens of rooms varying in size and usually with their own theme. When it comes to the decor,  anything goes; don’t be surprised to see a bicycle hanging from the ceiling, a clawfoot tub being used as a loveseat, a robot dancing in a phone booth or a Trabant car smack in the middle of the garden. You’ll find graffiti, funky art and pretty much everything that doesn’t ‘belong’ in a pub. And yet, it all makes perfect sense. Everything fits. Even the row of seats taken straight out of a theatre. And the neon kangaroo that was probably once part of an amusement park.

Countless other ruin pubs have followed in the footsteps of Szimpla. So much so that there are now even specifically designed venues aiming to be romkocsma-esque. The idea of converting buildings that lay in ruin into lively venues seems so simple in its resourcefulness that the idea has taken off in other cities in Europe too.

The Sunday Farmer’s Market

I’m a sucker for a good market and the city of Budapest has many. But most are closed on Sunday and only one is inside a ruin pub. Each Sunday, from 9am till 2pm, Szimpla Kert transforms into a garden of charming farmers’ market stands. There are several local vendors selling everything from fresh bread to veggies, organic spreads and even truffles. There’s also a new all-you-can-eat brunch Sunday morning in their salon upstairs with local ingredients served buffet-style.

Szimpla farmers’ market breakfast meat spread

 

Szimpla for Coffee

They have great coffee. They have free wifi. Need I say more? Most wouldn’t think to take an afternoon coffee break at a ruin pub but I actually think Szimpla is a really great place to visit during the day. You get a chance to see how bizarre some of the decor is and you’ll be sure to discover a corner or an entire room you might have missed while visiting at night. You can even bring your pet in with you (except during the farmer’s market). Another reason Szimpla Kert is great for that coffee date is it’s nice and quiet. Because silence is something you can bet you won’t find here on a Friday night. Or any night actually…

I hope by now you’ve come to realize that Szimpla Kert is more than just a bar. It’s an iconic place in Budapest with an obvious presence in the community and you can be sure if I ever find myself in Budapest again, I’ll be looking forward to seeing what cool and amazing things they have added there.

Szimpla Kert is cash only and for more information, opening hours and all current events, you can visit their website.

Women traveling alone-A different point of view

Women are in the news yet again.  These days it has to do with the current US president’s views on women (and other marginalized populations), but honestly, it’s always something. A few years ago, it was the media giving women traveling along a hard time.  This post is from my previous travel blog and seems like a good time to keep in mind that for women every day life boils down to one thing–personal safety.  It doesn’t matter if it is the president of the US talking about ‘grabbing the by the pussy’ or female genital mutilation [a subject I wrote a paper on in college], daily life for women is all about personal safety.

Women traveling alone are in the news again [A woman hiking the Camino de Santiago has had her body found months after she went missing along with the woman who was killed while CouchSurfing in India] so it seems like an appropriate time to revive this post from my previous travel blog.

It seems like every few months or so something happens and all the news outlets rush to make up stories about why women shouldn’t travel alone. I am referring to the latest story to attempt to scare people [especially females] away from traveling alone.  Almost every news outlet has an opinion on the subject.  [comments from the NBC  site–““A woman has no business traveling alone,” FOX news’ take, another FOX gem, CBS has an opinion too, let’s not leave out ABC] The current theory is that the victim was ‘hanging out with criminal element‘ and therefore, it shouldn’t be surprising that she got her skull bashed in.  Several travel bloggers [who travel much more frequently than I do] have already weighed in on this issue,[see the posts here, here, here, here, here, here, and here,] but I am more inclined to go with this viewpoint.  It is the violence directed at women, not necessarily the traveling abroad, that is the real issue.  For whatever reason, women are a target when it comes to violent crime–not just abroad, but at home too.  As for me, I would not be the same person I am if I hadn’t traveled solo at various points in my life.  Truth be told, I’ve experienced violence directed at me at home, and I’ve experience less subtle attempts at violence  while traveling. At home sometimes we let it slide because it’s someone we know; while traveling, we usually have out guard up–at least to some degree.

Traveling solo has helped me to:

  • not feel guilty that I majored in foreign languages in  college and didn’t add a teaching degree with it
  • end a relationship that was seriously bad news
  • meet new people that I wouldn’t have ever had the opportunity to meet before [people that are definitely different that the crowd I normally meet in South Carolina]
  • develop a quiet independence
  • come out of my shell [It’s hard NOT to talk to someone, anyone when you are traveling alone]
  • make decisions about where I want my career to go
  • be confident in making decisions
  • explore my photography passion
  • go where I want and do what I want
  • be a better citizen of the world
  • build self-esteem
  • develop an inner voice
camellia in winter

Traveling alone isn’t rocket science. Use common sense.  Let someone know where you will be.  Trust your instincts.  Don’t advertise that you are alone. Don’t be a idiot.  Don’t flash around jewelry, electronics, or cash.  Know where you are going, or at least act like you do.  Research your destination ahead of time.  Just be smart about being out there by yourself.  These tips apply whether I am traveling in Charleston, SC, Cape Town, South Africa, or even my hometown.

Tandem

Tandem Creperie and Coffeehouse

2 Main St., Travelers Rest, South Carolina

864-610-2245

tandemcc.com

Tandem opened its doors to the public in August 2014 and its owners have never looked back. The first creperie in the Greenville area has everything one could ask for in a coffee shop / creperie.  Fabulous crepes? Check. [Sweet and savory, in case you’re wondering]. Locally sourced coffee? Check. Handcrafted sodas? Check. Fresh squeezed orange juice? Check. Things on the menu that aren’t crepes? Check. Modern decor? Check and check. [gray and yellow + exposed brick and open shelving. Free wi-fi and outdoor patio? Absolutely. Good location? One of the best locations around, conveniently located right off the Swamp Rabbit Trail. Never mind the park lot is almost always full, just stroll or bike on over as the shop is just a hop, skip, and a jump from the SR Trail.

I used to work with one of the owners [she was a RN before the opening] and we were often treated to potential menu items ahead of the shop’s opening.  I knew then that it would be an amazing place, and when I lived a lot closer and worked in a different hosptial, it was one of my favorite spots to stop in on the way home from work to grab a post-work breakfast [hours are 8a-4p]; it’s also one of the few places I recommend to out-of-town visitors when asking for ‘something unique’.

Tandem has one of the 10 best crepes in America according to the Daily Meal which is pretty impressive considering Travelers Rest, SC has a population of around 5000 people. Tandem has found that perfect mixture of coffee shop and restaurant. It provides a third space away from work and the home by being both a casual environment and offering full meal options, and there truly is something for everyone on the menu–whether you like desserts or not or coffee or not.

 

 

 


Know before you go

  • Hours are 8a-4p; Wi-fi is available
  • Tandem serves sweet and savory crepe, coffee, and a couple of things that don’t fall in these categories
  • Seating is limited, but there is one long table [big enough for a group of 12 or so] and an outside patio


LOCATION

  • 2 Main Street, Travelers Rest, South Carolina 29690

Looking for bears

It’s fall…and in my opinion one of the best things about fall is leaf color. We don’t always get a lot of color in these parts mostly because of our schizophrenic weather patterns [yesterday it was 80 and sunny…this weekend 50’s and cloudy] BUT the mountains of North Carolina aren’t too far away and the magnificent Blue Ridge Parkway is an easy drive away.

A couple years I heard about a phenomenon called Shadow of the Bear.  It’s in an area of NC more famous for its spectacular waterfalls and day hikes, but in the fall, it’s famous for the leaves.

Let’s go bear-hunting…

no, not those bears [all though those bears are very cute if you come in contact with them in a zoo, not so cute if you come across them while on your afternoon run]…

these bears…

One of the wonderful things about living in Arden, North Carolina is its relative proximity to both the southern Appalachian mountains, the South Carolina coast, and the major cities of Charlotte, North Carolina and Atlanta, Georgia.

Less than an hour away, nestled in the southern corner of the Nantahala Forest, in southwestern North Carolina, is one of the coolest natural experiences around…the shadow of the bear.  It happens twice a year–once from late February to mid March and the other from mid-October to mid-November.  The fall event is by far the most popular since it combines fall color with the bear’s appearance.  I like to imagine that the bear is slowing making its way across the mountain on its way to its winter hibernation…or waking up

It’s starts off with just a small peak of the bear’s head.

The bear makes its appearance for about 30 minutes each day [when it’s sunny, of course] each day revealing a little bit more.

If you happen to be into hiking exploring Whiteside Mountain can make this a worthwhile day trip.  The mountain’s cliffs look like sheets of ice draped across the mountain. The rock is somewhere between 390 to 460 million years old [what’s 70 million years between friends]. The 2-mile ‘moderate’ trail starts as a old logging road and takes you on top of sheer 750-foot high cliffs [plenty of railings for safety].  Follow the road for about a mile until you reach the top. The trail continues about 1/2 long the ridge of the mountain, plenty of places to enjoy the views from the rock face. There are quite a few “educational” signs along the way to add interest. Toward to end of the walk along the mountaintop, look for the highest point with the rock carved “Alt. 4,930 ft.” The last 1/2 mile part of the trail is a steep downhill section that leads you back to the logging road near the parking area.

The best viewing spot for the shadow of the bear is right off Highway 64 at Rhodes Big View Overlook.

Follow your travel dreams–one weekend at a time.
Weekend-Wanderlust-Logo

Adventures of DJ and M | Prague and Berlin

I don’t love Prague; I find it a bit touristy for my taste, but we had to make a quick exit out of Budapest due the political situation going on.  It seems as if we had waited one more day, we would have been trapped in Budapest since the refugees have decided to stake out the train track to attempt to hijack departing trains.  I’ve traveled by train in Europe several times and this was the first time where police boarded the train, checked passports, and tickets.

So Prague…

I first visited Prague in January 2013… snowy, winter, cold.  In retrospect, that was probably Prague at its best. Beautiful blankets of fresh white snow covering the tourist sites, the red tile roofs, the airport runway… Prague in August/September 2015 may have not been Prague at its worst, but it certainly wasn’t the Prague I remember from just two short years ago.

Touristy Things

The Clock: The clock was built in 1410 and is the oldest operational astronomical clock in the world. Even back then Prague was proud of their clock. Instead of  saying ‘thank you’ to the man who built it by offering money or fame, these Bohemians promptly bludgeoned his eyes out so he could never make another one for another city. How charming!

The clock face itself has different dials that identify that date and month both in ancient Czech time and today’s time, zodiac signs, the position of the sun and moon, and other such data. The real attraction, though, is that every hour on the hour during the day, two little windows at the top of the clock open and the apostles parade by. While this is happening, figures representing vanity, greed, death, and pleasure [the four biggest fears in 1410] also move, and a cock “crows.”

See death hanging out over there on the right side of the clock

The clock was built in 1410 meaning it’s 605 years old. The fact that it still works is little short of a miracle. It survived many wars and innumerable tourists crowding around and in it for hundreds of years. Considering that at the time electricity, the internet, cars, and power tools were still centuries from being invented, the technology is pretty remarkable. That being said…it’s a clock. If you want to see the display and it’s not the middle of winter, you probably need to get there at least 10-15 minutes early to get a good spot under the clock, and then the “excitement” lasts for all of about 20 seconds. If you’re looking for Disney magic, you’ll probably be disappointed.

The Bridge:

The Charles Bridge is, like everything else called Charles in Prague, named after Charles IV, officially the most beloved figure in Czech history This guy is like George Washington, FDR, and Abraham Lincoln all rolled into one Medieval package. Charles not only built this bridge, he founded Charles University [one of the oldest universities in the world], created much of the infrastructure for Prague, and was generally a good guy. There’s a random wall going up one of the hills in Prague. It’s not designed to separate properties, or keep people in or out: it’s a hunger wall. There was a famine and Charles wanted to help his people, so he commissioned this totally useless wall to create jobs.

Anyway, back to the bridge. It’s a bridge. A very old bridge with a lot of statues on it… but it’s really just a bridge. Until the nineteenth century it was one of the few bridges that crossed the Vltava river, which divides Prague… but today it’s one of many and most denizens of Prague give it a wide berth.

The bridge is architecturally striking  and quite pretty. There are some of the statues are cool and old/supposedly bring you luck if you touch them. BUT the bridge and the areas immediately on either side of it are usually completely crawling with tourists and people whose lives revolve around tourists. And these people can make you hate Prague.

Prague Castle:  You can’t come to Prague without seeing the Prague Castle. Literally. It’s visible from about half the city, easily the most striking silhouette on the Prague skyline. What’s known as “Prague Castle” is really a large complex of buildings that includes, in addition to the actual castle bits, St. Vitus’ Cathedral, St. George’s Basilica, and The Golden Lane. In fact, the most prominent part of the “Castle” when seen from a distance is St. Vitus’ Cathedral.

My winter visit to the Castle yielded a much better view than in August… when it was 100 degrees and full of people.

This is one of those attractions that you really should see at least once. The two churches make it entirely worth it for me, and lots of people enjoy the Golden Lane, where servants and later alchemists associated with the castle lived throughout history, as well. St. Vitus’ is really something of a fascinating tour through architectural history. It was commissioned by – guess who!? – Charles IV in 1344, but due to intervening wars and financial issues, the church wasn’t entirely complete until 1929. This means there are styles from about 600 years of history all combined in one building. It’s stunning from the outside, and also gorgeous from the inside, even if it is in a sort of over-the-top Gothic style. It’s not a place where I feel particularly spiritually moved, but there is tons of glorious stained glass, an intricately-detailed carved relief of The Battle of White Mountain, and the hilariously overdone tomb of St. Jan of Nepomuk. St. George’s Basilica and Convent, on the other hand, is the polar opposite Romanesque predecessor to St. Vitus’. It’s small, intimate, peaceful, and maybe one of my favorite places in Prague.

Not-so-touristy things

Just wander.  Prague is a good city to just wander around in.  The tourist part is really compact, so it’s not too difficult to get out of or find your way back to.

I found the ‘sex chair,’ and it said I was wild.

I also found these amazing statues

These amazing berries from the farmers market hit the spot when it was 100 degrees.

DJ even found a chair to sit in on our walkabout.

Sometimes by looking up you can see cool things too.

We found dancing buildings.

and a golden penis…

supposedly if you rub it, you’ll have good luck

And I may have had to go all the way to the Czech Republic, but I finally found a Coke with my name on it [or at least some version of my name].

 

South Carolina State Parks | Jones Gap State Park

Well, that was unexpected

‘Oh thank God, I made it’ was my first thought when I reached the top of Rainbow Falls at Jones Gap State Park two hours after I started.  To be fair, I stopped a lot, took a lot of snaps, and played with all the friendly puppies that crossed my path.

upper rainbow falls

It isn’t the highest peak in South Carolina nor the most strenuous, but with 1200 ft elevation gain over a fairly short distance, it was hard enough.  Especially with humidity in the 90% range and temps in the upper 80’s.  I checked the weather forecast before I left and with only a 15% chance of rain, I threw a lightweight rain jacket in my backpack, packed myself a decent, trail-worthy lunch, filled up my Camelback with water and set off.

Walking the trail

And that was the last time my day went according to plan.  The main road to Jones Gap was washed out resulting in a 30-ish minute detour.  There was a yellow jacket advisory [which I should have paid more attention to].  The sky was overcast, but not threatening, and so I was off.  I hiked through rock beds.  I criss-crossed streams.  I crossed bridges. I navigated tree roots. I walked across a narrow board.  I went through boulders.

trail-to-rainbow-falls

Not 5 stinkin’ minutes after I reached my glorious summit, I heard a low rumble.  At first, I ignored it.  After all, I had a lunch of a deluxe turkey sandwich, trail mix, granola, grapes, and water to enjoy. I heard the low rumble again; this time is was just a little bit louder. I looked up.

storm clouds

And then I started to curse…loudly. As in F-bombs flying The last thing a novice/intermediate hiker wants is to be stuck on the top of a mountain when a thunderstorm comes rolling in. The very last thing I wanted was to get struck by lightening. Rain I could deal with; thunder and lightening, not so much. Not even two bites into my sandwich, I had to pack up. I barely broke into my granola, and I didn’t even get to eat one little grape! I was pissed at Mother Nature, but I didn’t want to inspire her wrath. As if I needed prodding, the low rumble rumbled again…this time a lot louder. I packed up my sandwich, pulled out my rain shell, and set off back down the trail I’d just made my way up. I hadn’t even rested good, yet! I practically ran down the trail, or at least as safely as I could manage, considering the rocks and roots. I didn’t even get to enjoy the small waterfalls that appeared sporadically on the trail.

Small falls

Trouble…just ahead

About 1/3 of the way down, I hit trouble. Raindrops so big and hard they stung as they hit my exposed skin. I also inadvertently disturbed a yellow jacket nest. I never saw it, but my God, they saw me. A small army flew after me, and at least a couple managed to find their way under my clothes. And that’s when the real fun began. Off came the backpack. Off came the rain shell.  And off came my t-shirt. The bees were still swarming. Off came my shorts. Luckily I was near one of the many creek crossings, and general safety and common sense be damned, I jumped into the creek. It was a part where there was a small plunge waterfall and a shallow pool. I screamed like a little girl getting her ponytail pulled on the playground. The water was icy cold. Icy may be a tiny bit of exaggeration, but 55 degrees still feels like the frozen tundra. Sports bra, socks, hiking boots were all that I had on as I submerged my head! and body! in this shallow pool. Might I remind you, it is 1) still pouring 2) thundering and lightening and 3) I’m still about 1.5 miles or so from my car.

small falls at jones gap

Bees stung me 5 times; once on the neck, once on the leg, and 3 times higher up the leg in a slightly more delicate area.

yellow jacket sting

After drowning the bees and freezing my ass off in the water, I resumed my descent still faster than I’m comfortable with because now, as a soaking wet thing, being struck by lightening was still a very real possibility. I successfully navigated the boulders, the steep decline, and the roots. My God, the roots. They always seem to be out to get me. I have a fear of falling. This is a real fear, not just one that COULD happen.  I HAVE actually broken bones while trail raining:  two to be exact [a wrist and an ankle], sprained an ankle multiple times, required stitches, and have cut, scraped, and bruised myself way  too much.

DSCF1176

But I keep coming back. Because there is beauty in nature. I find answers to the questions of the universe when I am in nature.  There is peace in nature. Even when Mother Nature shows her ass and reminds us mortals who’s boss, a day in the woods is better than a day cooped up in a building any day.

rainbow falls

Pills, poop, and parasites…oh my

Disclaimer #1:  I am not a doctor, but I do work in a hospital in the USA [at my real job] and have volunteered/visited  several health clinics in my travels.  I DO consider myself an expert on all things related to green snot.

Disclaimer #2:   I do not advocate unyielding doctor avoidance or rampant self-medication. Sometimes,  there can be something seriously wrong that you can’t fix on your own, but quite often, there are simple ways to treat what ails you without spending piles cash on tons of medicine either at home or abroad.

Without further ado:  an around-the-world traveler’s guide to poop, parasites, pulmonary related issues , pokes, motion sickness, headaches, birth control and women’s health, cuts, breaks, sprains, scrapes, burns, and all things snot related.

At home, I am a healthy, but clumsy individual.  I attribute it to all the time spent around snot-nosed kids who happen to be sick and in the hospital.  My immune system is in overdrive.  All the time.  Flu-schmu.  I almost never get sick beyond a simple sore throat and cough.  But when I travel, it’s a difficult story.

Evidence #1:  Every time I change environments, this guy sets up in my chest [or more accurately, my nose].  I don’t freak out, run to the nearest pharmacy, or do anything out of the ordinary.  He just has to run his course.

Evidence #2:  While living in a low-malarial risk area [and on prophylaxis],  I inexplicably caught malaria.  Even though mosquitoes rarely bother me at home.  I thought I might die.  It was really that bad.

Evidence #3:  This little guy must live on my passport.  He always follows me out of the country.  Even to Canada.  Even though I carry a supply of metronidazole with me at all times.

[a member of the Giradia family]

Evidence #4:  I have had stitches and broken bones in five separate countries [USA included]

Evidence #5:  A particularly nasty little bout of diarrhea acquired in Mexico in 1999 that robbed me of my will to live.

All of these incidents occurred outside the friendly confines of my home state.  So I know a thing or two about travel related maladies.  For #5, I called my boss [who was a Mexican doctor] and he called a friend of his who lived in the city I was visiting who brought me some oral rehydration solution.  That saved my ass — quite literally.  It’s no fun pooping mucus.  Take it from someone who knows.

So after you have traveled all over creation, battled a few bugs, completed two health care degrees, got accepted into a health graduate program, worked in a hospital for a few years, worked and volunteered in hospitals and clinics all over creation, you come to know a few things. Or at least you think you do.   Or at least your friends and family think you do.  And they ask questions.

So here goes–a list of common travel illness scenarios, where they are likely to occur based on my limited experience, how you might want to treat what is going on, and some secrets on how to acquire drugs inexpensively.

Problem #1:  My snot is lime-jello green.

green snot

 

  • What it is:  More than likely it is a sinus infection.
  • Where it often happens:    In public places, touching stuff and not washing hands afterward.  In large, heavily polluted cities.  Anywhere air quality is poor.
  • What to do: After 7-10 days with no improvement, go for a round of an antibiotic like Amoxicillin. Amoxicillin [for sinus infection] is currently out of fashion in the US, but it is cheap and easy to get in most of the world.

My disclaimer about antibiotics: I try to avoid taking antibiotics if at all possible because they kill all the bacteria in your body [not just the bad bugs]. Additionally, over-prescription of antibiotics in recent years has helped lead to drug-resistant strains of bacteria such as MRSA and VRE.

Problem #2.  I’m pooping all the time! (and it brings its friend–vomit)

  • What it is:  More than likely it is traveler’s diarrhea. [or vomiting]
  • Where it comes from:  Most cases come from an intestinal bacteria or viral infection.  It could come from food, water, dirty glasses, pretty much anything.
  • Where and when it happens: Countries throughout Latin America, South America, Asia, and Africa.
  • What to do: Avoid getting sick, but if you do get sick, try the following:  Treat the emergent: You are about to board a night bus for _____.  You have a queasy tummy.  You know bathroom breaks will be few and far between.  Take loperamide [Immodium] or diphenoxylate/atropine [Lomotil].  But not both.  Or your intestines will turn to cement.  Crisis averted for the next few hours.
  • Address the cause: If you have bad traveler’s diarrhea doesn’t go away in a day or two, it’s likely you’ve got a bacterial or viral infection.   I always carry a supply of Ciprofloxacin (Cipro) — an antibiotic easily found almost anywhere in the world cheaply — as my first line of treatment. Often, you’ll see your body recovering in 24-36 hours. However, once you begin taking an antibiotic, you MUST take the full course. Never stop after you feel good.  This also contributes the the multi-drug resistant bacteria  surge.
  • If you can’t keep anything down, including medications–hydrate, hydrate, hydrate:  Don’t drink plain [bottled or boiled] water, but find yourself some packets of hydration salts, make your own using this formula, or buy some Gatorade and cut it with water. This will help replenish your system with salts, sugar, and minerals that your body has violently kicked out.  It’s all too easy to end up in the hospital from dehydration.  [I would have–twice–if I didn’t know how to start my own IV and carry a saline bag with me.  Not always, just to remote places]
  • If you have a virus, antibiotics will not help you. Period. If it lasts more than a couple of days without improvement, suck it up and go see a doctor.  They are almost always cheaper than in the US.  Especially if you have travel insurance.

Problem # 3  My burps smell/taste like rotten eggs.

  • What it is: When you’ve got a case of burps that smell and taste like rotten eggs or sulfur, there’s a good chance you are dealing with a water-borne protozoa like giardia.
  • Where and when it happens: Latin America/South America, Asia, Africa–any where that can’t purify the water system.
  • What to do: Take a full dose of  Metronidazole or Tinidazole (4 tablets at the same time). If you have this particular parasite, the burps will go away and you’ll feel better pretty quickly. If they don’t, get yourself to a doctor.  As a bonus, Metronidazole can be used to treat bacterial infections in the genitals. [should you need treatment for that sort of thing]

Problem #4  I can’t poop! [or my poop is really hard]

  • What it is: Constipation
  • Where and when it happens: USA/Canada… Pasta belt in Europe… Dumpling Belt of Central/Eastern Europe…anywhere where there is heavy food
  • What to do: Back off the pasta, dumplings, bread, and cheese. Eat as much fruit, greens, and water as you possibly can. If that doesn’t work, bring out the big guns and eat a bag of prunes (with another few liters of water).

Problem #5  Jackhammers are being used inside my skull.  

jackhammer

 

  • What it is: Depending upon the intensity and location of said jackhammer, you could be experiencing a garden-variety headache or a migraine.
  • Where and when it happens: After a series of overnight buses with blaring music and jerky stops. Sleeping in cheap hotels with giant pillows. People yelling outside your room ALL. NIGHT. LONG.
  • What to do: For regular headaches, Tylenol or Advil will usually do the trick.  For tension headache/migraines, try Tylenol with caffeine.   And quiet.  And darkness.  And not moving.

Problem #6  I don’t want to get malaria.

  • What it is:   A parasitic disease transmitted by the bites of infected mosquitoes
  • Where it happens: Africa, parts of Asia, select parts of Latin America, the Caribbean
  • What to do: Once you have an itinerary, consult the CDC malaria map to determine malaria risk for the regions where you are traveling. Two things will matter most: where you are going and in what season.  Not all malaria is created equal, so you’ll need different medication for different parts of the world.  [I contracted P. vivax  malaria in the Amazon even with Chloroquine–so take this advice with a grain of salt]
  • Doxycycline: Insanely cheap when purchased locally and fairly cheap in the USA. Two things to note: doxycycline tends to make people more sun-sensitive. It can also conflict with some birth control pills.
  • Malarone: It’s insanely expensive, but its chemistry supposedly messes with your mind and body less than larium or mefloquin.
  • Chloroquine:   Not really cheap. Chloroquine tablets have an unpleasant metallic taste.
  • On the cutting edge of malaria remedies is the Chinese artemisia plant (or qing hao, “sweet wormwood” or “sweet annie”).  It appears to be commercially available from Novartis as the drug Coartem (Artemether 20 mg, lumefantrine 120 mg). It’s now on the WHO essential medical list.

Problem #7 I don’t want to catch Dengue fever/Typhoid fever.

  • What it is:  A viral infection transmitted by A. aegypti mosquito [dengue] or a bacterial infection caused by Salmonella typhi [typhoid].
  • Where it often occurs:  sub-tropic regions such as  Indonesian archipelago into northeastern Australia, South and Central America, Southeast Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, and parts of the Caribbean [dengue] Most of the world except USA/Canada/Australia/ Western Europe. [typhoid]
  • What to do:  There is no prophylactic medicine for dengue. The best thing you can do is avoid being bitten.  These are the ones that come out during the day.  There is a vaccine available for typhoid, and it can be treated with good old Ciprofloxician. And wash your hands. Frequently.  Like become OCD obsessed with it.

Problem #8  I’m going to vomit on this bus/boat/plane/donkey cart/ect.

  • What it is: Motion sickness
  • Where and when it happens: On windy buses in the mountains of Ecuador, Bolivia, Peru.  In a donkey cart in Guatemala. On a research boat headed to the Galapagos Islands in a storm.
  • What to do:  Option #1– If you’re prone to motion sickness, keep a stash of Dramamine or my personal favorite Bonine  (aka Antivert, Meclizine) handy and take it 30 minutes before departure. If you take it once you’re on the road, it’s too late. As a side benefit, Dramamine will usually knock you out so you don’t have to watch the death defying acts of the bus driver.
  • Option #2:  Purchase a pair of pressure point wrist bands (usually go by the name of Sea Bands). Not sure if their effect is psychosomatic or real, but some people swear by them.

Problem #9 . I’ve gone too high. My head is going to explode.

  • What it is: Altitude sickness.
  • When and where it happens: Hiking or walking anywhere above 2500 meters, particularly if you’ve just arrived by air, train, or bus. The worst I have ever experienced was taking a bus from sea level in Ecuador up to Quito. I felt as if my head was going to blow right off.  La Paz, Bolivia and Bogota, Colombia were no picnic either.
  • What to do: If you can, take altitude slowly, acclimatize. Outside of that, try local remedies like coca leaves (recommended in the Andes, chewed or in served in coca tea) before resorting to traditional altitude sickness drugs like Diamox [which is a diuretic].

 Problem #10 .  I’ve got blood spurting from somewhere it shouldn’t.

  • What it is: Scrape, cut, gash, road rash.
  • Where it happens: Being smashed into rocks when trying to learn to surf in Peru.  Falling off the sand board in Chile.  Getting too close to the reef in the Caribbean.  Running into trees while skiing. Ect.
  • What to do: I always carry an assortment of band-aids, bio-occlusive dressings, gauze, steri-strips [for wound closing], ACE bandages, hydrogen peroxide, neosporin, saline, and iodine. And Cortisone cream–for rashes and bites.  I may be going overboard, but then again, I am pretty clumsy.

Problem #11. I don’t want to get pregnant and/or a souvenir I can’t get rid of…

  • What it is and where it happens: Me hopes you should be able to figure this one out on your own.  But beaches, booze, and bathing suits are a heady combination.
  • What to do: Contraception options are many, but if you choose to take birth control pills, here’s some advice:  Before you leave home, ask your doctor to put you on a pill with a hormone formula that is more universally known.  Drugs are known by different names around the world, so write down the commercial name of the drug as well as its chemical and hormone structure.  Condoms are available [can be expensive], but especially if you need the non-latex variety, bring some from home.

In my experience, many countries outside of North America and Europe (and I assume Australia) will sell birth control pills without a prescription. Along your journey drop into pharmacies and ask if they carry your particular pill. Birth control pills are rather expensive (especially by local standards) and choices are limited in many Central and South American countries. However, they were relatively inexpensive and easy to find in Argentina. So, when you find yourself in a country that carries what you need for a good price, stock up.

How do you get all these drugs on the road?
Most pharmacies outside Europe, North America and Australia will sell you whatever you need without a prescription and at a much lower cost than you’ll find at home. My advice: if you’re going on a long journey, travel first to a country where prescriptions are not required for basic medications.

  • Prescriptions: not necessary.
  • Prices: much cheaper than back home
  • Medicines (at least based on my experience): the real deal

I have only had to buy medicine in countries where I speak the language, but knowing the generic name for a drug will help immensely.   Write down the chemicals (and percentages if you can find it) that go into the medication you need instead of just the commercial or generic name of it. The chemical names translate roughly the same in all languages even if the medication is called by another name in that country.

There it is.  My best advice for staying healthy on the road.  Take it or leave it, but it has kept me alive and mostly healthy.