Browsing "Wanderlust"
Sep 11, 2016 - Wanderlust    12 Comments

Someday

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

cocora

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

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

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

The scenery…

The mountains…[the tallest in the Western hemisphere]

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

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

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

St. Petersburg, Russia

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

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

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

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

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

Sep 4, 2016 - Wanderlust    5 Comments

Flashback Friday | 70 (ish) 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.

Aug 21, 2016 - Wanderlust    3 Comments

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

Aug 14, 2016 - Wanderlust    No Comments

Long-term travel? It’s not for me

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

aberdeen-alley

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

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

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

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

a-hairy-coo

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

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

img_20150725_005821

Aug 14, 2016 - Wanderlust    No Comments

Hampton Plantation |South Carolina State Parks

South Carolina State Parks | Hampton Plantation

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

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

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

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

The Park
Hampton-Plantation-Historic-Site

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

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

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

The House

Hampton-Plantation

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

Hampton plantation inside out

Hampton-plantation basement

What’s at Hampton Plantation

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

 

Jun 5, 2016 - Wanderlust    No Comments

Paris is a bitch

This
paris-nye-2012was my introduction to Paris. And to be honest, it was a bit much. Beautiful, but excessive. I’ll be the first admit that I came to Paris, not wanting to like Paris. I knew it is an expensive city and I didn’t need yet another expensive city to be crazy about [London, I’m talking to you]. I didn’t know a lot about Paris before I came here, but I knew that if I didn’t resist its charms, I would regret it later. Sort of like that extra bottle of wine at dinner.

If cities were people, Paris would be a supermodel. Super hot, but incredibly high maintenance. It’s unreasonably expensive if you want to take full advantage of what the city has to offer. Compare that to Krakow, Budapest, or Prague; they are just as amazing– just not as famous.

4583420057065

Yes, Paris is beautiful. Gorgeous even. But still I think it’s overrated. But tourists seem completely infatuated with the city. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Eiffel Tower gets dry-humped a few times a day by overzealous tourists. [yes, I realize I am being crude].

 

Perhaps if Paris had been my first adventure instead of London [although to be honest, it took me years to warm up to London], I’d have a different opinion. Or maybe one needs to visit Paris as a couple. Or in the spring. Or perhaps I just have a completely different idea of romance than most.

Admittedly, I am sure I missed out a lot by not knowing French or not having a background in art history or not being a culinary snob. But I can see the city  as a very livable city, if you are earning a local wage. The public transport system [it was free over the holiday, vomit-covered, but free] and bike-sharing system are among the best I’ve encountered.

paris vomit
Parisian Metro vomit–not quite the introduction that I was looking for

I can see the appeal of Paris as a vacation spot for tourists. Amazing art and architecture are everywhere so it’s like a massive orgy of tourism.

notre dame gargolye

And I guess therein lies the problem. I stopped being a tourist about 5 years ago. My ideal way to travel now is slow and easy…to feel a city as a local. And when you try to do that in Paris, you feel like a serf. Cheap in Paris is still expensive.

In the two days I was there, I found people pretty helpful especially considering I can’t speak any French apart from “Bonjour, parlez-vous anglais?” and “s’il vous plait”. I mean strangers weren’t exactly inviting me home for glasses of wine, but I didn’t find them any more rude than say people in New York City. What I did see was rude tourists rambling on in English without any introduction. And if they weren’t understood, they would just speak louder. Parisians aren’t fucking deaf – they just don’t or won’t speak English.

<a data-flickr-embed=”true” href=”https://www.flickr.com/photos/127203703@N03/15376878432/in/album-72157648063462756/” title=”Pere-LaChaise Cemetery”><img src=”https://farm4.staticflickr.com/3861/15376878432_a164224834_b.jpg” width=”684″ height=”1024″ alt=”Pere-LaChaise Cemetery”></a><script async src=”//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js” charset=”utf-8″></script>

My favorite parts of the city were Pere LaChaise cemetery and Notre Dame cathedral. Maybe it says more about me that I preferred hanging out with the dead than engaging with shopkeepers, waiter, or merchants.

Pere LaChaise Cemetery Paris, France

Should you visit Paris? Sure, it’s definitely worth visiting. Especially if it’s your first time to Europe. Would I go back? Probably not, but I’d glad I checked it out.

If you’ve been to Paris, what did you think?  Would you go back? What am I missing?

 

May 15, 2016 - Wanderlust    No Comments

Monsters and legends in Inverness, Scotland

Let’s get one things straight right off the bat:  Scotland is awesome. The more places I visit in this beautiful country, the more I fall in love with it.  I came to Inverness for two reasons:  to see the monster and to be in the Scottish Highlands.  I was only partially successful. Inverness has about 50,000 people and it is considered the capital of the Highlands.

I searched Loch Ness for the Nessy the monster [didn’t find her, but the lake is quite pretty]

loch ness

I heard a plethora of bagpipes. The local college in the town that I grew up in had a mascot that was a ‘Scotsman’, and he played the bagpipes at official college functions. I’m pretty convinced that there is only one song  [+ Amazing Grace] that is ever played on the bagpipes.

bagpiper edinburgh

Made my way to Culloden Battlefield… It was hauntingly beautiful. In the mid 1700’s a very violent and bloody battle occurred between the Scotsmen and the English… Today it is a beautiful, lush windswept moor

Culloden marker

I am horrible at genealogy, but as my ancestors are from the Carolinas [and Carolina was settled mainly by Scots, Irish, and English] for as far back as the USA can count its history, I’d wager that some of my distant relatives died on that battlefield. Either as a Mac-something…

culloden battlefield 2

or as an Englishman…

English burials

The Inverness footbridge allows for viewing of the River Ness from the town…

inverness footbridge

and serves to make it postcard pretty.

inverness-scotland

and no town is complete without a castle

inverness_castle_and_river_ness_inverness_scotland
Apr 17, 2016 - Wanderlust    No Comments

US National Parks | Everglades National Park

Everglades National Park

Diverse, unique ecosystem. Peaceful co-existence. Nature. These are the words that come to mind when I think of the Everglades.

Everglades NP kayaking

Everglades National Park contains an impressive variety of animals, plants and ecosystems. There are tropical hammocks, coastal lowlands, marl prairies, pine and cypress forests, mangroves, and several different marine environments. Such a vast array of life all hanging out together!

everglades dolphins
Hey cute little dolphins

Everglades memories

I first visited the Everglades while in college.  While other co-eds were headed to Florida’s beaches, my (then) boyfriend and I headed to the woods [and marshes and swamps].  We spent the days kayaking down the 99 miles of waterways and the nights camping in the parks.  Because who doesn’t want to spend a week in the swamps .  With a boy…Instead of on a beach. I was terrified I’d get eaten by an alligator. But like a true Nat Geo Photographer wannabe, I took the SLR[film] camera[s] and accessories out in the kayak, and took some amazing shots of  birds, alligators, crocodiles [I hit one on the nose with my kayak paddle. He’d gotten a little too close for comfort], manatees, snakes, turtles, even  cute little dolphins.

everglades kayaking 1

Requisite kayak photo

While it’s not necessary to be an animal lover [but really, how can you not be] or Ranger Jane, it certainly helps you fall in love with the Everglades.

everglades alligator

 EVERGLADES NATIONAL PARK TODAY

Everglades National Park is huge, huge (1.5 million acres), and most of it can only be explored by some form of  boat.  Kayaks are excellent for getting around and getting up close with nature, but you still need to prepare ahead of time. In order to maximize time and sights, I’d recommend visiting the south/ southeastern areas of the park.  It seems to have the best combination of activities, trails, and tours.  Bonus points for being near the cities of Homestead and Florida City so you can sleep in a hotel instead of under the stars among the wildlife should you choose to do so.

Everglades boardwalk

Apr 17, 2016 - Wanderlust    No Comments

2770 and still going strong

Unpacking is never ending. I was recently going through some of my boxes, and found photos and other mementos of my trip to Rome [and Italy] over 10! years ago. Time flies when you’re busy traveling the world, writing a blog, going to graduate school,working an actual real job, and doing all the other things that occupy life.

Anyway… I came across a little statue I had bought of Romulus and Remus… which got me thinking [it’s always the smallest details…] when EXACTLY was Rome founded. And so I did a little sleuthing and discovered a bit about Rome’s discovery. [Because, yes I am #ahistorynred]

The stories

romulus and remus

Romulus and Remus… more than 2770 years ago

I remember snapping this photo at one of the [many] museums I visited in Rome. I remember the guide telling us the story of Romulus and Remus. I remember the cold, the rain outside, and it didn’t matter how long the tour lasted I was there until it quit raining. Yes, I had an umbrella and raincoat, but it was COLD and I don’t like the cold. So museum-ing I went.

According to one story, the founder was a Trojan hero, while another tells of 2 brothers fighting it out for the prize. Whatever the truth, Rome celebrates its birthday – known as Il Natale di Roma, the Birth of Roma – on 21st of April, and has done so for 2770 years.

Story #1

Our Trojan hero, Aeneas, achieved fame fighting the Greeks in the Trojan Wars. He was son of the goddess Venus and a mortal father. He escaped Troy before the death of Laocoon and the destruction of the city in 1220 BC. And according to Roman poet Virgil, Aeneas then went on a bit of a wander before finally landing in Italy. Virgil’s epic poem Aeneid, [which I have never even attempted to read] written between 29 and 19 BC, stretches over 12 books and 9896 [wow, count them!] lines of dactylic hexameter rhyme.

The first six books tell the story of Aeneas’s wanderings from Troy to Italy.  The second six books describe his victory in battle in Latium. The victorious Aeneas set up home in Latium and married the daughter of a local ruler, King Latinus. How and when Aeneas set up Rome is a bit vague, but Virgil and the Ancient Romans saw him as their ancestor, founder and, most importantly, a link back to the legends of Troy and ultimately, therefore, the gods. And historians of the day recorded that Aeneas named his new city “Rhome”, meaning strength. But sadly for Virgil and Aeneas, however, there is a more popular founding tale that has taken over; the story of the she-wolf and the twin brothers.

While Virgil’s story certainly is plausible, I prefer the other story.

Story #2

Before we can get to the boys, though, we need to backtrack a bit.  Their story starts with King Numitor of Alba Longa, an ancient city of Latium. Numitor, son of King Procas was a descendant of our old friend Aeneas. On his father’s death, Numitor inherited the throne.  Unfortunately for him, his brother Amulius coveted the position. In 794 BC, he overthrew the new king, and murdered his sons in order seize power for himself.

Numitor’s daughter, Rhea Silvia, was forced to become a Vestal Virgin. The pagan god Mars, however, had other ideas as he had fallen in love with the new priestess and decided to sneak into her temple to sleep with her. Rhea bore him beautiful twin boys and named them Romulus and Remus and so the story begins. Still with me?

Amulius was furious, as any evil uncle would be, and promptly threw Rhea into the River Tiber [sarcasm font: because it’s ALWAYS the woman’s fault]. Fortunately the river’s waves caught her, she married the river god who saved her.

The twins were similarly thrown to the river’s mercy. Set adrift in a reed basket, the babes floated gently downstream until finally being caught in branches of a fig tree at the bottom of a hill named Palatine in honor of Pale, goddess of shepherds.

And this is where the story gets a bit unusual.  According to legend, the she-wolf, an animal held sacred to Mars, found the twins, fed them until a shepherd arrived and took them home to his wife. Over the years, the twins grew up knowing their story. In 753 BC, at 18, they decided to start a new city near to the site of the fig tree that had caught them. Sadly, they couldn’t agree on which of 7 hills in the area that they should build. Romulus favored the Palatine hill whilst Remus preferred the Aventine. Kids!

romulus bas relief

So to settle the argument the twins turned to religion. They read signs from the gods to resolve the fight. The boys took the presence of birds on the hills as an indication of favor and so Palatine won.  Romulus saw 12 birds on his hill whilst Remus only saw six on his.

You’d think that after all the family conflict down through the years the boys would have learned how to play nicely.  Sadly, they did not. Remus teased his brother by repeatedly jumping over the low settlement boundary. And whether in jest or jealousy, his actions represented a bad omen for the new city suggesting that the city’s defenses could be easily overcome.

Romulus took the jeering badly.  The joke finally turned sour when Remus was murdered either by his own brother or one of his followers on 21 April 753 BC, 2770 years ago!

temple of rome
Temple of Rome…not Temple of Reme

The victorious Romulus named his new settlement – Rome – after himself. He oversaw the growth of his new city, and captured Sabine to help populate his dream. There’s no record of when or how Romulus died. The Greek historian Plutarch wrote that Romulus may have vanished in a violent storm in 717 BC at 53. The Romans clearly still venerated Romulus though, and declared him a deity after his death.

roman forum

So Happy 2770 th birthday, Roma. You don’t look at day over 2000.

Apr 10, 2016 - Wanderlust    2 Comments

Cats, Hemingway, and Key West

I have a confession to make that will put me squarely in the literary hall of shame–I have never, not even once, read a book by Earnest Hemingway.  It’s not as if I haven’t tried…I just find them incredibly boring, but to have been Hemingway, to have lived a carefree life of travel, whisky, women [ok, not interested in that part],  and writing, that part is appealing to me. And a giant house full of cats.  The only thing that keeps me from adopting all the strays in the hood is the fact that I do like to pack my bags and head out for a bit.  I can find kitty-sitters for  Lucy and Christopher; if I had 10 or so, it might be a bit more difficult.  Anyway, I digress…

Key West is well known for it’s unique and historic houses, but I’d wager the Hemingway House is the most popular if for no other reason than its former [and current] occupant[s].

hemingway house

The Hemingway House

The house was originally owned by Asa Tift, a marine architect and captain, who built the house in 1851. The estate didn’t become Hemingway’s home until 1931. He purchased the property, which by then had been boarded up and abandoned, for $8,000 in back taxes owed to the city.

Hemingway, his second wife, Pauline, and their two sons lived together in the house until 1940, when Hemingway left for Cuba. In 1951, Pauline (now his ex-wife) died leaving the house vacant, apart from the caretaker that lived on the property.

For the next ten years, Hemingway used the house as a place to stay during his trips between Cuba and his home in Ketchum, Idaho. When Hemingway died in 1961, his sons agreed to sell the estate.

During his years in Key West, Hemingway completed about 70% of his works including A Farewell to Arms, Death in the Afternoon and The Snows of Kilimanjaro. [of which, I’ve read none…hangs head in shame]

heminway study
I *might* could get some writing done in an office such as this.

After his death, the house sold at a silent auction for $80,000. A local business owner, Bernice Dixon purchased the house. She lived in the main home until 1964, when she moved into the guest house and turned Hemingway’s home into a museum. After Bernice’s death in the late 1980’s, the estate was passed onto her family who have kept the property open to visitors wanting to learn about the life of Ernest Hemingway.

My interest in visiting the Hemingway house was not because I’m a Hemingway fan , but because I love old architecture. I especially have a thing for buildings with wrap around porches and wooden shutters.

heminway house porch

Hemingway’s Cats

And the cats.  Oh yes, I knew all about the cats ahead of time. Any place that has cats roaming around is my kind of place. Each cat [and there are more than 40 fabulous felines roaming the house and grounds] has six toes or at least the genetic trait to pass on to future ancestors of Hemingway’s favorite pets. These polydactyl cats live all over the grounds. They were all born here and are completely used to camera wielding tourists. They can sleep through any shutter speeds, but occasionally want to be pet or scratched behind the ear.

During my walkabout the house, a cat pranced into the bedroom and clawed at the carpet [just like Lucy does]. She was permitted to do so [unlike Lucy]. She then plopped down at the feet a group of tourists … quite certain that no one would step on her [Much like Christopher. Cats really are the same no matter where you go]. Another cat was asleep on the master bed.

Hemingway cat 4

Legend goes that Ernest Hemingway was given a white six-toed cat by Captain Harold Stanley Dexter. Rumour has it six toed cats are good luck…kinda like cute little four leaf clovers. The gift-kitten was from a litter of the captain’s cat Snowball, who also had six toes.

Hemingway’s boys named their new kitten Snow White and as Hemingway once wrote, “one cat just leads to another”. Even today, some of the cats that live at Hemingway Home are descendants of the original Snow White.

hemingway-cat 3

Argghhhhh….I can’t even stand the cuteness of this guy.

There are so many cats at Hemingway’s house that the museum has its own veterinarian to care for them. How cool is that job. A Cat only veterinarian. Sign me up! Cats, unfortunately, do not live forever. However, there is Cat Cemetery behind the house where one can pay respects.

Hemingway House, cat 5
This guy looks just like my sweet Kaos.

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