To date there are 195 different countries in the world and I have visited roughly 1/3  of them. To some that’s simply an amazing accomplishment; to others, it’s a drop in the bucket. When I think that I’ve yet to visit anywhere in Africa, Oceania, or Asia, there’s still a lot of the world left for me to see.
Even though there is still a lot of the world left for me to visit, there are a few corners of the world that I find myself returning to again and again. Within the US [and to a lesser extent, Canada], I find myself drawn to the Pacific North West. PNW is almost as foreign in every way to South Carolina as say Berlin. We speak the same language, but that’s about all we have in common. I love this region so much, that I’ll probably live there at some point in my life.
I’ve also been to Mexico several times, even living there for a year. Germany, especially Berlin, feels like home, and surprisingly so does Budapest and St Petersburg. I’d love to return to Mendoza, and I’ve set foot in some part of the United Kingdom every year since 2012. London is amazing, but the area of the UK that has totally won my heart is the often overlooked western part, the wild and rugged Wales.
There are so many things to love about Wales, from the UK’s smallest capital, Cardiff, to the incredible Wales Coast Path. North Wales boasts of the Isle of Anglesey and the incredible Snowdon National Park. Sheep and cats rule the countryside, and the Welsh language is difficult beyond measure, but sounds amazing when spoken by a native. The Welsh accented English is my favorite English dialect. The best part of Wales is how relatively few tourists go there, and how sparsely populated the country is
I freaking LOVE Wales [although I do admit, Scotland is a close second].
And to convert you to #TeamWales, here are some of my favorite photos from one of my favorite places in the world.
[A word of caution: These photos may indeed make you want to pack your bags and move to Wales ASAP. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.]
The Anglesey Sea Zoo is one of the coolest aquariums I have ever been to. And the fact that it is called a sea zoo instead of an aquarium just makes it that much cooler. Let’s just go with awesome. It’s awesome.
There is a very striking stained glass window in the entrance.
As you walk in, there are open ponds which contain fish and mollusks. These first pond contain all fish and such from cold seas like these wolf eels.
Wolf eels are not, how shall we say it nicely, cute. They are quite hideous; only their mothers love them. Mama wolf eels and their future mates. We humans could learn a lot from wolf eels. Wolf eels mate for life, and the pair takes special care of its eggs as they develop. Beginning around age seven, the female lays up to 10,000 eggs at a time, then coils around them and uses her body to shape the eggs into a neat sphere roughly the size of a grapefruit.When she’s settled, the male coils around her as an added layer of protection. The female continues massaging the eggs periodically as they develop, helping to circulate water around the eggs to keep them supplied with oxygen. Eggs take about four months to hatch.
Males and Females. Together for life. Working together to ensure a successful outcome for their children. All 10,000 of them. Good thing they don’t have to send the kids to college.
And these well camouflaged flounders merging with the bottom of the tank.
These flounders are masters of disguise, able to blend into a variety of backgrounds. Their skin can imitate the different colors and textures found on the seafloor. They can look like sand one minute, and a rocky bottom the next. The can change colors in 2-8 seconds. The color of the little fishy can also indicated their mood; threatened little fishes are usually pale. Just like me. When I’m threatened all the color drains out of my face. The flounder is an ambush predator. He lays motionless and waits for potential prey to appear and grabs it in a blink of an eye. Little shrimpies have no chance.
The next room contains tanks set into the wall where some striking sea anemones call home.
And some very fine looking starfish.
Clownfish–made famous in the movie Finding Nemo—I found him…
In the next room there is a dogfish
Anglesey Sea Zoo was the first aquarium I ever visited. Even now it is still one of the coolest aquariums I have ever seen.
I have traveled a lot. Not as much as some, but a lot more than most of the people I deal with on a daily basis. I often get asked what’s my favorite city/country area, and it’s hard to say. Sometimes it depends on my mood. Sometimes it depends on the reason they are asking. So, I’ve come up with a list to answer what’s my favorite. OK two lists: one for smaller cities and one for European capitals.
First up, my favorite European cities.
St. Petersburg, Russia
Next, my favorite European capitals.
I’ve made no secret of the fact that, in general, I don’t love large cities. Luckily for me, some of Europe’s capital cities are quite small. Europe is so diverse and every country is so different that it is often impossible to make fair comparisons.
I have been to London 5 times, but only in the last two years have I gotten out and truly explored the city. I have barely cracked the surface, and there is so much more to explore. I am absolutely head over heels for it. If I could magically get a work visa and a job offer in London [not sure if the NHS hires foreigners or if I’d want to work there, but I digress], I would move there tomorrow; that’s how much I love it. I’ve never pictured myself living in a big city — until I finally explored London for the first time.
Things I love about London:
The variety — neighborhoods, food, museums, parks, historical sites; they’re all here
The location — London is situated perfectly to explore Europe, which this traveler loves. The only time I haven’t flown into London for a European holiday was when I solely toured Italy.
The Englishness — the Tube, the castles, the red double decker buses, the black cabs, the pubs, the tea… it’s all so quintessential English!
Berlin doesn’t get the attention than Munich or Bavaria does, but that’s OK by me… I’ve never been one to fall for surface flashiness, and on the surface Berlin is grungy, but it’s OK. I’m not ashamed to admit it: I am in love with Berlin. You could actually say that it was love at first sight, as I felt an immediate connection with Berlin from the moment I arrived. I don’t know if it’s the alternative culture, the history, or a mixture of the two that draws me to Berlin. But there’s no denying that it’s a place I can see myself spending a lot of time in in the future.
Things I love about Berlin:
The history — from Nazis during WWII to the Berlin Wall during the Cold War, Berlin has a fascinating (and very recent) history
The creative side — because I have a soft spot for hipsters and street art
The vibe — it’s a little gritty and a little alternative, but Berlin is evolving in a way that I find very exciting.
I never planned to go to Budapest at least not the first time, but a cheap flight from Geneva on EasyJet had me landing there one January afternoon, and my oh my was is bone-chillingly cold. The capital of Hungary was a bit of a surprise for me — I never expected to like it as much as I did. But, whether it was strolling along the Danube, visiting the Semmelweis Museum, or soaking at the Szecheni Baths while watching snow fall, I found myself loving everything about Budapest. It’s also seriously awesome ( and hot!) in the summer.
Things I love about Budapest:
The two halves of the city — the Buda and Pest sides of the city have completely different feels to them.
The bridges — which are attractive and offer up nice views of the Danube.
The buildings — from Parliament to Fisherman’s Bastion to Buda Castle, there’s plenty of amazing architecture here to view.
The capital of Scotland is one city that I probably will never tire of visiting. It’s not a large capital like the others listed here, but it still has a unique character all its own. Whether it’s roaming around the Old Town or climbing up to quieter parts like Calton Hill, Edinburgh is always enjoyable — even in that unpredictable Scottish weather.
Things I love about Edinburgh:
The architecture — with the gorgeous Victoria Street being my favorite example
The history — the entire city is recognized by UNESCO, which tells you something
The people– Scottish people are a treasure
Cardiff, the smallest capital in the UK doesn’t get near as much attention as London, Dublin, or even Edinburgh, but it’s still pretty amazing. Only two hours by train from London, and 45 minutes to Bristol, you can easily get to a bigger city quickly if the small town feel of Cardiff starts to get to you.
Things I love about Cardiff:
The size–For a capital city, Cardiff is small. And that makes it easy to navigate. And that makes me happy.
It’s location–Cardiff is perched on a river, quite close to the Atlantic Ocean, and on the Wales Coast Path. Coastal Welsh weather is unpredictable, but on nice days, Cardiff is close enough to the beach to make an afternoon of it.
The Language–Welsh is a language I’ll probably never master, but I love that every single sign is in both Welsh and English. The history and architecture are pretty great too.
It’s no secret that I prefer small cities to large ones, but this list is a good mix of both large cities and small villages.
I’ve been doing a lot of hiking lately some local, some a little further away, and hiking, especially alone, is always introspective for me. I’d gotten away from it lately, but having covered nearly 30 miles on foot over the last week on the Pacific Crest Trail in Oregon and the Wales Coast Path, I’ve realized that it’s as essential to my well-being as a good night’s sleep.
I haven’t been hiking much lately because I lost my main hiking partner last May, and as much as I like traveling by myself, I don’t love backpacking by myself. Maybe it’s because all the quiet and solitude gives one ample time to think and with ample time things you’d rather not think about come bubbling to the surface.
It’s been nearly a year; I should have forgiven him by now. People make choices in their lives and those choices sometimes affect other people. And his choice profoundly affected me. In ways I hadn’t noticed until quite recently. Until I was sitting on top of that huge granite slab looking out over the beautiful aquamarine lake.
I can hold a grudge like a champ and in some cases have been doing so for years. Some things are my fault, and those things I have to take responsibility for; however, some things are not my fault and I need to recognize that too. I’ve been thinking a lot about forgiveness lately. I suck at forgiveness. I want people to know that they hurt me and to be sorry, and like most people I have a hard to admitting when I have hurt someone. I’ve been going back through situations where I have felt slighted – situations where I was sure that I was the innocent one – with a new perspective and often times seeing that I am not completely blameless.
So while I’m back to hiking solo, and backpacking solo, I do it with a clean conscience. I’ll probably never know the real reason this person dropped out of my life. This person will probably never know how much pain they caused me, but that’s OK. We recently met for lunch and that helped provide closure. He was still oblivious to the pain he’d caused and I realized that he always probably would be.
I have forgiven this person. We lead different lives now and I have moved on. If I did see the person again, and most likely our paths will cross since we live a mere 7 miles from each other and have mutual friends in common, I don’t want to dive head first into the muck of the past but instead I’d like to start fresh… even if we could never get back to where we once were as friends. I’ve learned a lot of lesson from that friendship, some were painful but necessary.
So, why did this failed friendship trouble me so much? I think it’s because I had not forgiven myself. Only recently did I realize this and I have been able to scoop myself up like a loved one and remember that just because this friendship didn’t work out doesn’t mean I’m incapable of having real friends… that just because this situation has brought up a lot of negative feelings doesn’t mean I am not a good person. I am human. I make mistakes. It is how we grow.
The only way I have been able to move on is through forgiveness. .. forgiveness of self and of others. Forgiveness is a powerful tool and I am using it in other relationships that gnaw at me.
Forgiveness of self doesn’t need to be saved for big things like the end of relationship but we should practice in all aspects of life. It is OK to forgive ourselves when we forget the keys, eat the extra bowl of ice cream, or spend a little too much on an evening out.
As humans, we will never not make mistakes. That is part of our design. Yet, we’ve been given this great gift of forgiveness so that we can see our mistakes as blessings. It’s remarkable when we forgive others but it is astonishing when we can forgive ourselves. It’s the glorious acceptance of who we are and that who we are is enough.
I have always kept a record of my travels. It used to be with a pen and paper and 35 mm film. Now it’s all digital. Occasionally, I reflect back on some of my past travels and travel mishaps before I started this blog.
Holyhead, located on the Island of Anglesey and Irish Sea, is the jumping off point for Ireland and for nearly 4000 years people have been making the journey from the Welsh outpost to Ireland and vice-versa. The town is the largest town on the Isle of Anglesey with a population of around 11,000. It’s a mere hour from Bewts-y-Coed that I featured previously in my post about Snowdonia. Holyhead is a cute little town located on the Irish sea. It has been continuously occupied for over 1000 years. The town center is built around St. Cybi’s Church, which is built inside one of Europe’s few three-walled Roman forts (the fourth wall being the sea, which used to come up to the fort). There are only three remaining three walled cities in all of Europe.
The church of St. Cybi was sacked by the Vikings in the 10th century, damaged by Henry IV’s army in the 15th century in an assault on the holdings of a Welsh prince and much of the interior destroyed by Cromwell’s army in the 17th century. Despite this, most of the church remain intact.
If you’ve ever been to or seen the Cliff of Moher in Ireland, then you might have an idea of what Holyhead Mountain is. It is not, as I thought, a mountain with subtle gains of elevation. It is, however, a giant rock formation surround by water.
If rock climbing is your groove, this is the place for you. We all know that that would be an excellent way for me to injure myself, but I do think it’s an awesome sport.
Today Holyhead and Anglesey are famous as the former home of Prince William and Duchess Kate… they’ve relocated to London with the kids, but for a few years, Anglesey was their home. I can certainly see why… It’s beautiful.
I have always kept a record of my travels. It used to be with a pen and paper and 35mm film. Now it’s all digital. Back in 1997, I spent a summer living in the UK…actually, I had a place but nothing to do… so I wandered…and wandered, and one weekend I ended up at Snowdonia National Park in Wales–where I spent more than a couple of weekends while I was in the UK.
Taking on Wales’ tallest peak
My first weekend away landed me in the charming village of Betws-y-coed, North Wales, a village of about 500. Bewts-y-Coed is located in the heart of Snowdonia. Wales may not be home to the tallest mountain peak, but it still has some challenging hiking.
It has charming waterfalls.
But really what I came to Snowdonia National Park to see was Mt. Snowdon, and it did not disappoint. You see, I like to think that I’m a bad-ass hiker chic. I have visions of hiking the Appalachian Trail or some other multi-week trek. Or climbing Aconcagua. Or Denali. In reality, I’ve rarely done much more than overnight camping and nothing more than a day hike on my on. Certainly not scaling any peaks anywhere. But back when I spent an entire summer in Great Britain, I was a 19 year old college athlete who thought I could do anything, and anything included climbing mountains without any preparation and only minimal supplies.
You see those little squiggles… that’s the hiking path… It’s none too wide, and a bit scary the higher up you get. I didn’t know that these peaks were also ski paths in the winter.
If I’d known what I was in for, I might have been content to hang around the lake all day.
Tips for Climbing Mount Snowdon
Entrance to the park is 100% free. It costs to park, but some B&Bs offer shuttles to the park so if you can snag one of those, total cost is F-R-E-E.
Bring lots of layers! It was quite chilly on the summit and this was in June! — bring a water-resistant parka, gloves, and a hat. All I had with me was a light windbreaker, a long- sleeved shirt, and a baseball hat. Clearly, I was expecting better weather from June.
Try to climb on a clear day. Your photos will be so much better. I got lucky. With minimal planning or prior knowledge of Welsh weather, I had a great day. As I have since learned, weather at the bottom of a mountain is no prediction of weather at the top of a mountain.
Snacks, water, and for me ibuprofen are crucial. I only had 1L of water, a few power bars and fruit, and zero painkillers. I crawled up into a ball when I got back to my room, and finally, after a hot shower or two, I could walk normally again.
Believe in yourself. Before I started, I NEVER thought that I couldn’t do it. I didn’t research it. I just heard about it and it sounded like a cool thing to do. Once I got started, I didn’t think I’d make it. But I’m too stubborn to quit.
This is Wales’ tallest peak; had I known I’d be hiking a ridge, I probably would not have done it. Balance has never been my strong point.
Climbing Snowdon is absolutely worth it. This is one of Wales’s best adventures, and one that you’ll always remember.
Be prepared for anything when you are hiking in the Welsh mountains. The weather can change in an instant.
The view from the highest peak in Wales–simply breath taking.
I have always kept a record of my travels. It used to be with a pen and paper and 35 mm film. Now it’s all digital. On Flashback Fridays I reflect back on some of my past travels and travel mishaps before I started this blog.
More Wales…though this time farther south than Anglesey and a little more north than Cardiff and Swansea.
A lot of the charm of Pembrokeshire lies in its remoteness. It seems as if it is a different world. On the edge of the Earth. Rocky coasts. Charming little towns. The craggy coastal towns on the Atlantic Ocean. Castles. Sleepy little towns.
Some of the best walks on the Wales Coast Path runs through Pembrokeshire.
If I had to choose one are of Wales to visit over and over again it would be Pembrokeshire. Cardiff is nice for industry and Snowdonia is mountainous and wind, but Pembrokeshire gets my vote. It is wild. And beautiful. And sparsely populated. And of all the places I’ve ever visited, this land speaks to me more, and I could one day, you know, immigration laws notwithstanding, call it home. I’d even commit to learning as of now the unpronounceable Welsh language.
What is this place?
Hi, I’m Michelle and this is my own little corner of the interwebs where I write, share photos, and interact with others in the blog-o-shpere. So in addition to that–Who am I? I am –in one way or another– the following: hiker + backpacker + swimmer + pediatric respiratory therapist + registered nurse + avid traveler + cat parent + gardener + photographer + medical science junkie + adventure-seeker + DIY enthusiast + voracious reader + history and science nerd + football fanatic + aging athlete + wannabe chef + trying not to succumb to the trappings of a 9-5 life. And beginning in 2018, a Peace Corps Volunteer in Madagascar.
Everyday life doesn’t have to be routine. Anyone can do just about anything he or she wants to do– sometimes one has to find creative ways in doing it. Sometimes one has to tear down the barriers that might stopping them. Everyday is an opportunity to choose your own adventure. That is what I ultimately write about.
Charleston + Portland + Vancouver + London + Cardiff + Bristol + Asheville + Wilmington + Atlanta + Richmond + Savannah + Knoxville + Thru-hike the Foothills Trail
Charleston + Reykjavik + Stockholm + Orlando + St Augustine + Seattle + Columbia River Valley WA and OR + Portland + Pacific Crest Trail + Wales Coast Path + Charlotte + Ocracoke Island + Kitty Hawk + Great Smokey Mountain National Park
Charleston + Asheville + Tybee Island + Budapest + Pecs + Vienna + Prague + Berlin + Copenhagen + Stockholm + London + Washington DC + Montreal + Quebec City
Italy + England + Venezuela + Mexico + Jamaica + Dominican Republic + Haiti + Peru + Colombia + Ecuador + Bosnia + Albania + Serbia + Kosovo + Russia + Czech Republic + Croatia + Argentina + Chile + Paraguay + Bolivia + Brazil + Uruguay + Slovakia + Austria + Switzerland + Slovenia + Netherlands + Belgium + Romania + Montenegro + Ireland + Wales + Scotland + Macedonia + Northern Ireland + Belize + Guatemala + Costa Rica + Poland + Finland + Panamá + Nicaragua + Honduras +