Oct 8, 2015 - Wanderlust    No Comments

Baseball. October. Orioles.

I have been a Baltimore Orioles fan and a baseball fan for as long as I can remember.  I’m not sure why as I live more than 500 miles away from Baltimore, but there it is. As far as baseball goes, I started playing it at 4, was the first girl to play in our town’s Little League, and played high school softball 7-12 grades.


I’m on the bottom row all the way on the left. I’m a whopping 5 years old.

While other girls had posters of the latest teen heart throbs decorating their childhood bedroom, I had posters of Cal Ripken, Jr, Brady Anderson, and Mike Mussina.

We didn’t have cable when I was growing up, and even if we had, I sincerely doubt Orioles games would have been broadcast in South Carolina. Instead, I listened to the games on WBAL radio [AM station…I was still barely within reach].  When Camden Yards opened in 1992, I was ecstatic. It is [in my humble opinion] one of the best baseball stadiums in the USA.

In 1995, the streak captivated me.  I was glued to the TV every time I could find an Orioles game. [which wasn’t very often, mind you] How could one person play in more than 3000 consecutive baseball games is beyond me, but Cal Ripken did it.  I still remember watching the unveiling of 2131. As a youngster in the mid 1990’s, I saved up all my pennies [and I do mean pennies] in a cardboard box creatively called ‘The Baltimore Box’ and when I had enough I bought a round trip Greyhound bus ticket to Baltimore and a ticket to an Orioles game.  [For better or worse, I was a sneaky child.  Each parent thought that I was at the other parent’s house, and neither knew that I had essentially run away until I mentioned it once I had become an adult.] That was September 1995. I watched it on ESPN. I was in awe. After Cal Ripken broke Lou Gehrig’s record, ticket prices went down considerably.  I saw the Orioles beat the Detroit Tigers 12-0. I was gone just under 24 hours. And it was awesome.

Even though for the past 15 years the Orioles have been one of the most laughable teams in the major leagues, they have still been the team I rooted for…kinda like a marriage…for richer, for poorer…and it’s been hard times, people, hard times.


Gold gloves and Cy Young’s are nice, but they are individual honours.

I mention the walk down memory lane because recently I did something just as crazy as my 14 year old self did.  Thursday morning I boarded a plane at 8am, [you get very strange looks when you arrive at the airport without luggage], arrived in Baltimore in plenty of time for the opening pitch for game 1 of the American League Divisional Series.  Baltimore won 12-0.  I got to try out my new camera, and I was back home in just under 20 hours. No Greyhound bus needed [I did have to take the train from the airport to the stadium though].  I even did the Camden Yards stadium tour before the game.

Camden Yards has one of the coolest entrances in all of baseball.

and if I ever move to Baltimore and become rich enough, I’ll invite you to a game from my box…we can eat cracker jacks on Orioles’ tables.

I am full of hope that 2014 will be the year Baltimore brings another World Series trophy to Camden Yards.  1983 was a long time ago…I was barely alive.

Oct 3, 2015 - Current Events    No Comments

Modern Medicine, circa 1900

 

Eric Johnson, Eve Hewson, Clive Owen in ‘The Knick’/Image © Mary Cybulski/Cinemax

I admit to being a nerd…especially when it comes to medicine, or more accurately the history of medicine.  Medicine today is strangled, but this is not about that.  I have recently discovered the TV show The Knick.  As per usual, I am late to the party as season 2 finished up last fall and it is uncertain whether of not, despite it’s good reviews, it will return for a season 3.  For those who have been living under a rock (much like myself) or completing nursing school (much like myself), here’s a quick synopsis:  Medicine, or more precisely surgery, in 1900’s New York City at a hospital  called The Knickerbocker or The “Knick” was a dangerous proposition. (To be fair, surgery anywhere in 1900 was a dangerous proposition.)  The Knick’s chief surgeron is a fellow named John Thackery (very loosely based on Dr. William Halsted, who happens to be one of my medical heroes). Thackery has a very serious cocaine addiction (because in 1900 cocaine was a wonder drug and it’s addictive properties were not known at all) as well as revolutionary – if not mildly terrifying – ideas that turn patients into guinea pigs at a time when doctors were only slightly more knowledgeable about medicine than barbers.

credit

I travel a fair amount, and not just to the beach for R&R, and in my travels, I’ve been to Semmelweis’ lab in Budapest, and the Old Operating Theatre Museum in London (you should totally go by the way, especially if you like The Knick)

operating museum 2

The old operating theatre museum, London

you see, ust like the TV show.

Summary:  The Knick is awesome.  It’s bloody; it’s gruesome.  It’s realistic.  But there’s only two seasons, and I have binged watched it in a whopping two days.  I have had to turn to books to get my fix.  A few I’ve discovered so far:

Fever by Mary Beth Keane: The search for Typhoid Mary, who is responsible for a massive outbreak of typhoid fever, is a fascinating side-plot during the first season, and Keane writes a great fictionalized account of the actual Typhoid Mary.

Genius on the Edge: The Bizarre Double Life of Dr. William Stewart Halsted by Gerald Imber: The character of Dr. John Thackery is loosely based on Dr. William Stewart Halsted, and this biography is a fascinating examination of his personal and professional life.

Blood and Guts: A History of Surgery by Richard Hollingham: Though it covers a broader period than The Knick, having a sense of where these surgeons and their work sit in the larger history of medical history is helpful for context. And it does shed some serious light on surgery during the Victorian era.

Dr. Mutter’s Marvels: A True Tale of Intrigue and Innovation at the Dawn of Modern Medicine by Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz: Often described as the P.T. Barnum of the surgical theater, Dr. Mutter’s flamboyant approach to medicine is a great primer for appreciating Dr. Thackery’s methods

Sep 23, 2015 - Wanderlust    1 Comment

Adventures of DJ and M | Part 10| Nurse’s Museum

So here’s the thing. DJ and I are both registered nurses. We met while working at the same hospital, her as a RN, me as a respiratory therapist. The timing of this trip was such that both of us should have graduated (me initial RN; her BSN). We almost screwed that up–me by breaking the bones, not working since May, and pushing back my externship for a block, and DJ is actually taking a chemistry class as we travel that will be her last class.  It would have been better had things gone as planned… So–as part of out London tour, we had to visit the Florence Nightingale Nurse’s Museum.  We went to the museum right before the Miss America pageant aired.  One of the contestants, as her talent, performed a soliloquy in her scrubs talking about her job.

She was mocked endlessly by talking heads for wearing her ‘doctor’s stethoscope’ and just talking.  As a person who has worked in healthcare better part of 10 year, I can definitively say that being a nurse [or respiratory therapist] takes talent.  It takes skill to take care of sick babies. It takes skill to insert an IV on someone who is dehydrated.  It takes talent to make someone comfortable when they are not in comfortable situations, and it takes talent to help someone die with dignity and grace.  While certainly an unconventional talent, being a nurse [or any health care provider really] is most definitely is a skill and a talent and not everyone can or will do it.

She did not win.

But from pageants to TV shows to corporate sponsors, nurses have been in the news in the last two weeks more than possibly at any other time in recent history.  And that’s good for nurses.  It’s good that the public at large are getting to see what nurses do.  I worked for ten years as a respiratory therapist before I became a nurse and people know even less about that profession than they do nursing.  Anyway…as luck would have it, I have been spared most of the nurse drama because I was in London, visiting the nurses’ museum…oh the irony.

How can I say this nicely?  The nurses’ museum wasn’t my favorite.  It is small.  It costs 7.50 [many of London’s museums much bigger, better, and are FREE], and doesn’t do the best job of depicting nursing.  It’s mostly historic, but unlike the Old Operating Theatre, it’s not full of many artifacts.  It consists mostly of photographs… displayed much like they would be if you were looking at microfiche [I feel so old just knowing about microfiche]. The Fleming Museum consisted of his laboratory; the Semmelweis museum (in Budapest) is located in his former family home. Those are all much better scientific/historic museums, and the surgery museum depicts surgery a time when surgeons were just slightly better than butchers.

How could the museum have been better?

What I would have like to seen is a small section focused on Aunt Flo, a small section cataloging the history of nursing, a small section of historic nursing artifacts, and maybe an interactive ‘can you be this patient’s nurse’ set-up using a current model of a hospital room or  ICU room.  That would have made for a rocking nurses’ museum.

It did have the lamp, which is a pretty important part of the graduation ceremony [or so I’m told.  I skipped my graduation… remember broken arm, broken ankle?  yea, I didn’t get to graduate with my original class and was in the new class for only the internship part…which didn’t really foster warm, fuzzy feelings towards my new classmates… anyway…]

I wonder what the design thought was in using fake grass to adorn the walls, or if there even was one.

It does have toys.  And toys are a good thing.

 

 

 

Sep 9, 2015 - Wanderlust    5 Comments

Flashback Friday | 70 years later

“Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little freedom deserves neither and will lose both.”

Benjamin Franklin

auschwitz 2

I used to love to watch the news.  I think it was because 1. as a kid, we only had 5 channels and 2. the news was always so exciting with reporters in such foreign sounding places.  So, it was as a kid watching the news that I first heard the word ‘genocide.’  At that time it was referring to Slobadan Milošević and the ‘ethnic cleansing’ occurring in the Balkans in the early 1990’s. At the time I remember thinking the Balkans might as well be another planet and that could never happen here…or at least not in a place I’d heard of before.

So imagine my surprise when I learned about Germany and World War II.

The end of World War 2 has different endings, depending on who you ask. Some consider May 8 [V-E day] to be the end; others consider V-J day [Aug 15] to be the end and still others don’t call the end until the final surrender [September 2.]

It’s been just over 70 years since the liberation of Auschwitz from the Nazis.  Poland was home to the world’s largest Jewish community for centuries. Before WWII there were 3.5 million Jews living in Poland. Between the German invasion in 1939 and the end of the war in 1945 over 90% perished.

Work does not, in fact, make one free

About 50 km from Krakow is the town of Oświęcim, Poland.  It’s better known to the world as Auschwitz. The Polish were the first to be brought to Auschwitz.  They were not there for racial reasons but instead under the broad term of “resistance”: for listening to foreign radio, reading illegal leaflets, absence from work, aiding Jews. They were killed for further resistance within the camp, shot dead for minor disobedience.  Then came the Soviet POWs and POWs from other countries.

At first it was not a death camp.  People were released as their sentence was completed.  At first, it was just another prison, ordered to be built by Hitler, but unable to be built by the SS.  Supplies were stolen from outside of Germany in order to just construct the camp.  In the beginning, it did not seem to be destined to become the most infamous death camp of the 20th century.

No mass killing just yet, that was to come later.

The Jewish didn’t arrive until 1942.

Within two years of building Auschwitz, it was the most notorious of the six extermination camps in Poland (Belzec, Chełmno, Majdanek, Sobibór and Treblinka are the more unknown ones).

There were three primary to the concentration camp. Auschwitz held between 12,000 and 20,000 prisoners. Due to the overcrowding at the primary site, Auschwitz II-Birkenau was built in 1941 and is located 3 km away. Birkenau was by far the largest section and in 1944 there were over 90,000 prisoners.

In 1942, Auschwitz III-Monowitz was established. However, only Auschwitz and Birkenau remain. By early 1943 there were four crematoria operating 24/7 at Birkenau. Over 20,000 people were gassed and cremated every day. The exact number of people killed at Auschwitz and Birkenau will never be known but estimates put the number between 1.1 – 1.5 million people from across Europe. There is still one gas chamber at Auschwitz but the gas chambers and crematoria at Birkenau were blown up by the Nazis in 1944 in an attempt to cover up the mass killings.

The Beginnings

In the original plan, the Nazis said that Jews would be resettled in the east. Or south…somewhere like Madagascar…just somewhere other than Germany and Europe. Many people actually had to purchase tickets for the trains that took them to their deaths.

All arrivals to Auschwitz were immediately stripped of their belongings. Luggage was taken and stored in various spots of the camp.  You could tell who would have immediately been taken to the gas chambers based on the markings smeared on the luggage cases. Hannah, age one ,would have immediately been marched [or carried] to her death.  Same with Otto, age 83. The very young and the old and infirm suffered the same immediate fate. They were no good for work, you see.

90% of children went straight to the gas chambers. A few were kept for work, and others to have medical experiments conducted on them.

A small display showed tattered clothes the kids wore to the camp. Another showed the many, many pairs of shoes, of all sizes, left behind.

The most disturbing part of Auschwitz I was the mounds of bundled hair that sat in a very long container of glass. The prisoners were shaved upon arrival, or if not done immediately, then another prisoner was forced to shave their heads after they had died in the gas chamber.

After 2,000 of them had been crammed in a chamber and after the excruciating twenty minutes passed following the cyanide being dropped in. When life was finally squeezed out of each of them, the hair would be taken, some used to make fabric other to be uses as stuffing for pillows and the like.

Up to 1.1 million bundles of hair, from 1.1 million people murdered.

I confess that I am an unabashed history nerd. I read history textbooks for fun. I ‘learned’ about the Holocaust in school. I’ve read Elie Wiesel’s “Night” and the ‘Diary of Anne Frank’. I’ve heard about Hitler, Himmel, and the SS. I’ve seen Schindler’s List and read about the horrors that took place at concentration camps across Europe. But I grew up a million miles away from that…in a small town in South Carolina. Standing there, in front of the gas chambers that KILLED over a million people or in a room of discarded personal effects, it’s as real as it gets. Nothing prepared for me for that.

Walls displayed pictures of prisoners on their arrival. When the photos were taken, the new arrivals had no idea what was waiting for them. Some were smiling. Some showed obvious fear, others, defiance. Many were indifferent. Most looked defeated.

I had been warned ahead of time that this would be emotional, that it couldn’t be understood…that the best thing to do would be to experience it and feel whatever it is you feel whether it’s sadness, anger, or nothing at all. Some people say that when you visit a place that is so devastatingly dark and depressing, you may feel nothing at all. I am not the most emotional person out there, but I didn’t expect to be numb.

I went on the first day of winter. It was mind-numbingly cold, but also breath-takingly beautiful covered in a blanket of fresh white snow. I don’t know that there is a “good” time to visit Auschwitz. In the summer, it can be crowded and bright and sunny. A place that claimed so many lives shouldn’t be bright and sunny…or at least that is what my mind says. In the winter, it isn’t crowded, but that’s because it is so cold. I was bundled up in long underwear, my thickest wool sweater, a wool coat, wool socks, North Face fleece lined boots, a hat, scarf, and wool mittens…and I was still cold. Most of the prisoners at Auschwitz had no coat or shoes. After about 30 minutes, I couldn’t feel anything. Not physical discomfort nor could my mind process all that I’ve seen.

Auschwitz was the only concentration camp where inmates were tattooed on their arms. However, the vast majority of people were never tattooed because they never made it beyond the initial screening.

My thoughts

Visiting a place like Auschwitz is not a pleasant experience. Nor should it be. It’s not happy and it will change you in some way. I completely understand how some people will never visit a concentration camp because of how utterly depressing they are. BUT, I feel that visiting places like this — facing this reality — is important. It helps us recognize the cruelty inherent in the human race. And hopefully helps us understand how important it is to never let something like this happen again.

Sep 3, 2015 - Wanderlust    No Comments

Adventures of DJ and M | Part 6 | Prague

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].

 

Adventures of DJ and M | Part 5 | Refugees

I am less sympathetic toward the plight of the migrants today than I was last week. I’ve never been forced from my home due to war but to turn against those trying to help you might be some small part of why their country is in turmoil. There are more migrants than citizens on some of the Greek islands yet these migrants demand services. They demand passage to Germany. Authorities in Budapest were trying to help by providing shelter, water, and facilities at the train stations, but these migrants wanted more. And they kept coming. It’s gotten much worse since we left Budapest for  Prague. As of yesterday,  police have kicked the migrants out of the train station so that legitimate passengers can use it. The migrants aren’t having it.  So, yeah, tension is rising.

budapest train station

Our train to Berlin was  nearly 2 hours and 45 minutes late getting in last night. It originated in Budapest, then went to Prague. For the first time in 10+ years of traveling, the police boarded the train very near the German border, and checked passports. It reminded me a little bit of when I was hanging out in Zapatista terrority– at least these police didn’t have machetes attached to their hips.

The migrants are now, shall we say, pissed. They are now attempting to block trains from coming and going by standing on the tracks unless they are allowed on them…without a passport… Without a ticket…without any type of security checks. And they all want to go to Germany. Germany. Does. Not. Want. Them. and neither does anyone else after these antics. To riot against the very people who have literally given you shelter, water, and a place to pee because you did get want you “want”, is a bit like cutting off your nose to spite your face. It makes no sense. They are acting like children who got their candy taken away.

Upon arrival to Berlin, people at the station stopped us and asked us about the situation in Budapest. We had just spent three days in Prague so truthfully, we only knew about what had happened on the train. I didn’t realize why until today when I saw the news and saw migrants had been evicted from the station and were rioting on the tracks.

What’s the answer? Idk, but Greece and Italy can’t patrol all the islands that these people are arriving to. Hungary put up a razor wire fence on it’s border with Serbia but it can’t cover the railway which is being used as a highway. Romania isn’t strong enough to police it’s borders. The Austria Hungary border is ground zero. People are trying to get into Austria by any means necessary since they see it as the gateway to Germany.  And people are dying–hiding in truck shells. And refrigerators.

Aug 26, 2015 - Wanderlust    No Comments

Adventures of DJ and M | Part 3| Shoes

My first visit to Budapest was a frosty sojourn where I tried to be either inside or in the toasty warm thermal baths at all times. I learned a lot about Budapest’s cafe culture, walked around the city with my head wrapped in hats and scarves, learned to use Europe’s second oldest subway efficiently, attended some grade A classical music concerts, and made a lot of mental notes to ‘look up’ the significance of what I saw, and explore more in detail should I ever return.

I have returned.

budapest snow

January 2013…Oh, what I would do for a little ice in the Danube today.

 

August 2015–Danube River–basking in the summer moonlight

Anyway…

One of the things that I saw on my January walk along the river, was several pairs of cast iron shoes pointing towards the river.  Interesting, yes, but what is it’s significance.

I only snapped the one photo because…cold, and frostbitten fingers were a very real possibility.

Interesting…curious….something I’d like to investigate further.

It’s hard to look at a monuments like this–sometimes called ‘dark tourism’–especially in areas where life has gone on, but I think it’s important to look at them, ponder the significance, and reflect on the meaning.  Budapest, in 1944 was not a place you wanted to be if you were Jewish. But then again, most of central Europe was not a place you wanted to be either.

shoes on the danube 5

Rusted cast iron looks like real, used leather, and these shoes in all shapes and styles represent some of the victims of the Holocaust.  In the winter of 1944, several Jews from Budapest were rounded up and stripped completely naked on the banks of the Danube River.  That would have be torture enough. January in Budapest is not balmy. Trust me, I was there in January and nearly froze to death despite my wool hat and coat. These Jews–men, women, and children– were told to face the river. A firing squad shot the prisoners-of-war at close enough range so that their bodies would fall into the icy Danube and be washed away from the city.  If the gunshot didn’t kill them, the river most certainly would.

shoes on the danube 8

Leather was such a precious commodity that even shoes were taken from the victims. After the victims fell into the river, the shoes were rounded up, either re-distributed or the leather re-worked into something else.  Today there are 60 pairs of cast iron shoes modeled after 1940’s footwear lined up on the Pest side of the Danube.  The memorial was commissioned in 2005.

The monument is located on the Pest side of Budapest, Id. Antall József rkp., 1054 Hungary.

 

Aug 24, 2015 - Wanderlust    No Comments

Adventures of DJ and M | Part 2 | Arrived in Budapest

Three flight delays from Greenville, a close call in Washington DC, an uneventful overnight flight to Munich, a much-loved pretzel during a Munich layover, a short flight to Budapest, a visit to passport control, and DJ has her first ever passport stamp.  Currency exchanged [dollars to fornits], train tickets purchased, subway passes bought, and a 15-minute walk while carrying our luggage in the 100 degree [no exaggeration] heat, we’ve arrived at our first stop.

I’m always nervous booking places on line.  Now for me, my expectations are low, and whatever the place looks like, as long as there are no visible bugs or drug needles, I am generally OK with it.  DJ’s standards were a bit higher. Luckily, my first guest house was a winner… two beds, and in-room bathroom, and a central location.  What’s missing is air-condition.  Now, while I expected this, I did not expect it to be 100 degrees.  DJ is dying; I’m surviving but only just barely. Thank God for the fan inside our room.

For our first meal in Budapest, DJ wants to go to… McDonald’s. For a cheeseburger. No street food for that girl. No sidewalk pizza will do.  A plain cheeseburger.  We traveled 6000 miles for McDonald’s. [shakes head in disbelief]  Luckily, I have been here before. I know there are multiple McDonald’s in Budapest, including one just a five minutes walk away, but that’s not the one I suggest we go to.  Budapest has quite possible the world’s nicest McDonald’s [or at least the nicest one I’ve ever seen] inside the Nyugati train station.  I discovered this gem when I was in Budapest in January 2013 freezing my ass off. [Irony first visit I nearly froze to death; this visit I may die of heat stroke]  I was just looking for some heat when I happened upon this mirage inside the train station.

DJ agrees. And it has air condition. I am a hero… At least for a little while.

Michelle in Budapest. Never mind the bra showing through the t-shirt. Or the purple hair. The FitBit said we had done more than 30,000 steps, and I was celebrating by eating a deliciously (cold) coffee flavored gelato.

 

Aug 20, 2015 - Wanderlust    No Comments

Tybee Island

Tybee Island is one of the few places in the world [London is another place, but it requires an airplane ticket as it is much further away] that I return to on a regular basis. In the last 20+ years, I’m certain that I’ve covered the entire island on foot. The boyfriend and I have been there a few times… once in winter, twice in spring, and once when it was a miserable 110 degrees and the sand was too hot to walk on. I’ve taken family trips there. I’ve been to Tybee on Spring Break solo.  It’s a perfect beach for me.  Not crowded. Not commercialized. And close to one of my top 5 favorite cities in the USA.

Tybee Island’s Landmarks

The fishing pier

Tybee Island Pier

Tybee has a fantastic fishing pier. Sometime people even fish from it. I , like many other couples I’ve seen, have made out with my boyfriend at least once on the pier. I’ve hung a hammock from the underside and watched waves roll in. And I definitely have used it as a guide when I’ve gone kayaking. Tybee is a great place to learn ocean kayaking. The waves are never to rollicking and the currents are usually gentle.

Tybee Island Lighthouse

tybee lighthouse sunset
There’s also a lighthouse on the north end of the island. You can tour the grounds and even climb up the 143 steps to the top. I’d recommend not doing that in August, when it’s over 100 degrees though. That’s what I did, and I almost passed out from heat exhaustion.

below-the-tybee-island-lighthouse
Looking up at the lighthouse gives an idea of just how tall it is

Cockspur Lighthouse

There’s another lighthouse on the island too…Cockspur Lighthouse. As far as lighthouses go, Cockspur is quite tiny, measuring only 46 feet from base to the top of its cupola. But this structure is no slouch; it has endured high tides, hurricanes, waves from ever-growing container ships, careless individuals, vandals and – for a deafening 30 hours – the bombardment of nearby Fort Pulaski during the Civil War.

Cockspur-Lighthouse1

Remarkably, the lighthouse suffered little or no damage during the April 10, 1862, Union bombardment of Fort Pulaski. Crews manning 36 guns on 11 batteries stretching along the western end of Tybee Island likely used the lighthouse for sighting as they pounded away at the fort located about 1 mile beyond.

The Cockspur Lighthouse is one of the five surviving historic lighthouses in Georgia. It was re-lit in March 2007.

Ft Pulaski

ft pulaski

Fort Pulaski National Monument is located on Cockspur Island near the mouth of the Savannah River. Fort Pulaski was constructed between 1829 and 1847 [Robert E Lee was one of the principle engineers] to defend the port city of Savannah from foreign attacks and invasion. However, early in the American crisis that became the Civil War [or as some say–The War of Northern Aggression], Georgia state troops seized this masonry fortification.

On April 11-12, 1862, [exactly one year after the events at Ft Sumter] events at Fort Pulaski forever changed defensive strategies worldwide. Union forces deployed bullet-shaped projectiles from rifled artillery batteries on Tybee Island. After only 30 hours of bombardment the 7.5 foot thick brick walls of the fort were breached and the Confederates surrendered.

Today, the fort is a remarkably well preserved example of 19th century military architecture.

Ft Pulaski wall

Tybee Turtles

tybee turtle hatchlings

The Tybee Sea Turtle Project is a conservation project on the island. Its goal is to ensure hatchlings on Tybee have the best chance for survival. The average length of incubation is 60 days and so observation of the nests becomes a part of the daily dawn patrol. As a nest’s hatching time approaches, cooperators are assigned to “nest sit” during the night until that nest has hatched and the hatchling turtles make their way to the ocean. Loggerheads are the most numerous turtles on the east coast, but their population is still in decline. Nothing makes me happier than to see hatchlings headed towards the sea.

turtle tracks

 

Aug 13, 2015 - Wanderlust    8 Comments

Getting away from it all

I’d rather wake up in the middle of nowhere than in any city on Earth.                                                                                                      Steve McQueen

mt rainier

I have always been an independent sort.  As I kid, I often ‘ran away from home’.  I never went far –usually exploring the outer reaches of our 25 acres.  Many times I had my school backpack and stuffed it with a sleeping bag, snacks and a book and had a good day.  Summers were great as I often set up a tent somewhere on the property and was ‘gone’ for a few days at a time.   A couple of times, I  built a little raft a floated it on the creek pretending to be Tom Sawyer.  As a child, my fondest wish to be a boy scout…just one problem, I lacked a penis.  Our town didn’t have a girl scouts, but that didn’t stop me from checking out books in the library on ‘wilderness survival’.  I  taught myself cool things like how to build a fire, how to set up a tent, and how not to get attacked by bears.

Up until my mid 20’s I considered myself to be pretty outdoorsy, enjoying to spend as much time outside and under the sun as possible, hiking, biking, communicating with nature and all that crap. But somewhere along the line, things changed. It’s hard to put a finger on exactly when this happen, but I think it had something to do with getting my first big girl job. Working 6 days a week with minimal vacation time sucked the life out of my soul, and after about 2 years, I couldn’t do it anymore. It had been 2 years since I’d had a vacation so just after my two year work-anniversary, I took off to the North Carolina Outer Banks.

The Outer Banks is awesome. The northern half where Cape Hatteras Lighthouse is by far the more popular part of the Outer Banks. Ocracoke Lighthouse is gleaming white. It was built in 1823, the second oldest still in use in the nation. It’s not a tall as Hatteras or as famous but nevertheless it is an awesome site!

Ocracoke Island sits 23 miles off the North Carolina coast and a quarter mile south of Hatteras Island. It usually measures 17 miles long and a mile wide. The deserted, windblown beaches of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore make up the northern 90 percent of the island, and a small village of hotels, restaurants, shops, homes makes up the southern 10 percent. It’s a great place to get away from it all.

Going to the Outer Banks helped me re-assess my priorities in life. Did I want a life of relative security and stability? Did I want a life where taking a vacation was more of a headache than a means of relaxation? Hell no. I didn’t want that when I started, and after two years I didn’t like where that life was leading. Subconsciously I guess I realized how unhappy I was with my life, and deep down I was yearning to get back to my childhood roots, and to the last time I was really happy with life. I needed to get dirty, sleep under the stars again, and paddle about around on a body of water on a regular basis.

And where did I have this profound, existential realization? In a tent, under the stars off the coast of North Carolina in an area where the one of the most infamous pirates in history roamed.

I sure know how to pick my moments.

There is something incredibly cliche, but true about laying out under the stars, way out in the middle of nowhere, hearing waves crash on the shore that triggers some scary deep thoughts, right? Right? Please say this is not just me.

Seeing the sun rise over the ocean…

watching dolphins play in the ocean…

observing patterns in the sand…

These were the kinds of moments I had been missing over the past few years. Taking a step back away from all the craziness, all the rush, all of the stress that is involved with chasing the “American Dream” and realizing that simple, peaceful quiet moments abroad are often the most meaningful and profound. I exited the rat race at that moment [even thought it still took a while to start chasing MY American Dream].

It’s been 8 years since I’ve had that revelation. In that time I’ve traveled to more than 20 countries. I’ve had short adventures and long ones. I’ve become a registered nurse. I’m on my way to becoming a nurse practitioner. As I paddled around and explored the barrier islands off South Carolina’s coast, I felt the stress of the last few weeks melt away. I was light years removed from the stress of the last few weeks. With each stroke of my kayak, I felt so far removed from the hustle and bustle of life, I could feel a smile creep on my face for the first time in a while.

This was my kind of travel.

And I need to do it more often.