Hello, all. For 2014 and beyond, I am staring a new feature called Flashback Friday featuring previous travels and pit stops. It will be on the first Friday of each month, and hopefully enjoyable for all, including me since I see my travel days being limited the next few years while I am headed back to the classroom. First up, my adventures in Mexico and especially Chiapas, where I visited several times while I lived in Mexico during my last sojourn as a student.
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.
In 1999, 2000, and 2004, I spent a large chunk of time traveling in Mexico. Visiting Chiapas was one of these chunks of time. I was here in 1999 and 2000.
Chiapas is not one of my favorite places in the world. It is one of only a handful of places in the world that I did not feel welcome or safe thanks to the Zapatistas who live in the area yet not only did I go, I went twice.
I was also there with my dad– who stood out negatively in every way…speaking English too loudly, making inappropriate eye contact, wearing socks with sandals, you name the infraction, he probably committed it. Needless to say, my stress level was at an all time high, with the constant boarding of the policia searching for who know what, and my dad saying, much too loudly I might add, ‘why do you think the police took those tourist off the bus?’ Not for a guided tour, I can bet you that…now will you just pretend to read the magazine and SHUT UP. I was at my wits ends, and really wanted to ship him back to Cancun, but he really wanted to spend time with me, and I thought it best that we be out in nature rather than try to explain intricacies of Mayan history to him. And let’s be honest, for anyone not overly fascinated in art and architecture, what I do on a daily basis, it boring…especially when it comes to writing my thesis–who wants to watch someone do that?
Misol-Ha is a spectacular 115 foot waterfall right smack in the middle of the jungle…nature at its best. At its base is a huge plunge pool surrounded by lush vegetation; it’s perfect for swimming. [Movie note: It’s the waterfall in the Predator movie, or so I’m told. I’ve never actually seen the movie].
A wet, slippery path leads behind the falls to a cave. You can pay 10 or so pesos to explore it or wow the gatekeepers with your knowledge that 1. you are an American who happens to speak Mayan and 2. have blonde hair and speak damn-near perfect Spanish in a Castillo accent [at least according to the Mexican I encounter on a daily basis.] Either way, I kept my pesos. At one time, a plank of wood was balanced precariously over the cliff edge. It looks like it could be a diving board or a lookout spot from which to view the falls, but it’s neither. It’s just an unsafe piece of wood hanging out over a cliff. If someone hasn’t already toppled off the edge, they will one day. Don’t be that person.
Cascadas de Agua Azul
About 40 or so miles from Palenque, the Cascadas de Agua Azul – exist. They originate in the municipality of Tumbalá, where the Shmulia, Otulun and Tulia rivers meet. And boy are they beautiful.
The turquoise water gathers in cool natural pools that are perfect for a refreshing dip on a hot day. Some areas are cordoned off and can only be admired from man-made boardwalks and viewing platforms. The swimming areas are clearly marked and easily located thanks to the shrieks of people flinging themselves from rope swings. Only swim in the designated areas and don’t get out of your depth as the currents can be strong and people have drowned. Don’t be one of those people. Just enjoy their beauty.
As a side note: the nature in Chiapas is raw and beautiful. I noticed that I used the phrase ‘don’t be that person’ twice. It’s a place where nature is so beautiful, so wild, you just want to touch everything, be as close as possible, but seriously, be careful.
Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times if one only remembers to turn on the light. Albus Dumbledore
On July 2, 1997, I wandered into a bookstore in Manchester, England looking for a book to keep me company on my train ride to Edinburgh. The sales clerk suggested a new book that had just come out three days ago called ‘The Philosopher’s Stone’. I flipped through it and thought–seems interesting enough…probably written for middle school aged kids, but it will be a quick read and I’ll have a book to trade when I get to Edinburgh. On my train trip north, I became immersed in the wizarding world of Harry Potter…of how boy of 11 found out he was a wizard and he and his friends were able to thwart the most evil wizard of all. I finished the book right before we pulled into Edinburgh and promptly put Harry Potter out of my mind. We weren’t re-acquainted again until 2006 [when I plowed through almost the entire series in a two week period and then had an agonizing year wait for the finale] But by now, you could say I am a bit of a Harry Potter nerd. I have read all the books and seen all of the movies [including the midnight premiere of Deathly Hallows-Part 1 in Trujillo, Peru] multiple times. I feel as if I KNOW Harry Potter. The following is how I’d imagine my life would be if I weren’t a muggle. If I weren’t a muggle, my life would be completely different, but somehow still familiar.
If I weren’t a muggle, I could go shopping in Diagon Alley…instead of just Target.
3. If I weren’t a muggle, I would either be teaching potions [my favorite class] at Hogwarts or be employed as a healer at St Mungo’s Hospital for Medical Maladies. My ideal job, however, would be taking over for Madame Pomfrey at Hogwarts.
4. If I weren’t a muggle, I could have gone to Hogwarts for middle and high school.
5. If I weren’t a muggle and had gone to Hogwarts, I would have had to be sorted into a house. The sorting hat would have encountered a little bit of difficulty deciding where to place me, but according to this quiz, I’d be placed in Slytherin–which is ok because green and silver are my colors… [I wouldn’t be one of those Death Eater Syltherins though].
In my Slytherin sweater
6. If I weren’t a muggle, I wouldn’t have to use the visitor’s entrance at the Ministry of Magic.
7. If I weren’t a muggle, I could have eaten all my meals in an oh-so-elegant dining hall instead of the very generic one at Clinton High School. I fully expected to see The Bloody Baron or Nearly Headless Nick floating through the room or Dumbledore sitting at the head of the table.
Alnwick Castle in Northumberland taken during my 1997 trip to UK before it was Harry Potter famous [the learning to fly on broomsticks lessons were filmed here]…I went to see the Poison Garden [which in my opinion should have found its way into the HP books]
and finally the beaches of Pembrokeshire, Wales [taken before HP fame during the ’97 trip]…In my opinion some of the prettiest beaches in the world…For the films, they built the Shell Cottage. I am not sure if it is still there or if they took it down after filming was completed.
Archaeology has always fascinated me. Stories of mysterious ancient civilizations and their fascinating architecture has always made me want to grab my pick and machete and go exploring. What could be more thrilling to this Archaeologist Wannabe, a lover of art history, than an ancient city nestled in the Mayan jungle on top of a limestone cliff, with a magnificent view of the blues and greens of the Caribbean.
Ah, Tulúm! “Walled City” in Mayan, it was built on a natural platform of cliffs that rise 40 feet above the Caribbean, with the north, south and west sides of the city protected by stone walls five meters high and three meters thick. It was originally called “Zama”, or “City/Place of Dawn”, and once you see the breathtaking east view of the Caribbean from there, you can certainly imagine how fitting that must be. The Spaniards, on their first trip along the shores here, wrote about this city with the highest tower they had yet seen, describing it as a colorful city compared to Seville, with many Indians calling to them. In some buildings, you can still see traces of paint. I can only imagine what it must have been like for the Spaniards!
Amongst bits of relentless jungle, there are about sixty structures within the ancient city walls; the oldest dating to 433 BC, the youngest, 1200 AD, and I wander and wonder amongst them for a bit. Tulum is such a magical place–especially if one is lucky enough to stay in the cabanas just south of the ruins. Walking along the beach you can approach Tulum just as the Spaniards did–you can also get there a few hours before the masses from Cancun descend on the site. There in its unpopulated glory, Tulum shines.
The actual ruins are small compared to some of the other Mayan sites, but the beach and the scenery make up for the lack of things to do and I could easily spend weeks living in my thatched-roof cabana escaping from life and existing without a care in the world.
The first time I saw you I was intrigued. There was something there that was definitely missing from the long term relationship I was in. We met at the most common of places: my work, not a crowded bar, at a grocery store, and certainly not anywhere romantic, like a white, sandy beach. You were tall(ish), with black wavy hair, green eyes, and an olive completion. I speak first–the most banal–of opening lines, ‘Can I help you?’ and on the surface, his reply was just as common– ‘oh, yes ma’am you can’. But it was the way he said it, the glint in his eye, the accented English, that flirty smile. I knew I was in over my head.
Weeks later, after heavy flirting, I finally agreed to go out with him. The LTR was still hanging on by a thread, and you knew this and liked to tease me about this. ‘What would your boyfriend do if he knew you were out to dinner with me?’ you asked. ‘He’s not my boyfriend.’ I’d reply. “So it’s OK if I kiss you?” as you lean over to do just that. ‘Oh that’s definitely OK’ I replied as I kissed you back. In that moment fall in lust. It’s everything I’d hoped it might be and more, and it was so incredibly different than before.
Two days later, I finally end the LTR, and that weekend we were back together for another hot sultry summer night. We drove down to the river, and open the moon roof of the car. I crawl on top of you and we kiss, and occasionally, I stick my head out of the moon roof for a literal breath of fresh air.
“Come home with me” you implore. “I can’t do that. I have work in the morning” I try to explain, but you interrupt. “No, no, my darling Micaela. Come home with me to Cartago.” “To Costa Rica?” I ask. “Yes, mi amor. To Costa Rica. You will love it there.”
Suddenly I can’t breath. It’s as if all the air is sucked out of me. Despite the 80 degree temperature and near 100% humidity, I am shivering. Even the heady combination of tequila, salt, and sweat can’t shake this chill. Although the full moon is nearly as bright as the sun, everything in my world has gone dark. All I can hear is the sound of my own heartbeat echoing in my ears.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way. You were a breath of fresh air. You came around just in time to save me from a catastrophe. You were supposed to be a short term fling. A summer romance. And now. Now you are asking me to go to Costa Rica with you.
In that moment, I hate you. You know my weakness for far-flung places. Places I’ve never been. You know how I hate monotony and routine. You know that I’ll say yes to Costa Rica even if I’m not exactly saying yes to you. You are a beautiful man. So sexy. So sensual. So what I needed in the moment we met. But I cannot go to Costa Rica with you. I. Can. Not. Leave. The. Country. Again.
*** *** ***
Three weeks later I have quit my job and I arrive in Cartago. I call you, and you seemed surprised to hear from me. A little distracted, perhaps, but you agree to come pick me up. I see it in your face: despite your words, you are not happy to see me. “What’s wrong?” I ask, as I reach over to kiss you. You turn your head and my kiss lands on your cheek. “I did not expect that you would come. Micaela, you said you could not come. You have work. You said you had no vacation available. I have many things going on. I have work…”
“But I did. I came to see you. I want to meet your family and I want to see where this goes.”
“But Micaela, where will you stay?”
“With you, of course”, but I knew as soon as the words we coming out of my mouth that it was not to be.
“Let me make a some calls. You stay here. Micaela, mi amor.” The way the said my name was almost a threat.
A relationship ending just as it’s beginning is never quite what one imagines it will be. One imagines it will be painful, and it is, but it isn’t painful all at once. There is the surface cracking… where all the hopes and dreams one may have had disappear shattering the illusion of perfection, and then there’s the deeper cracks. The things that pop up after the initial injury. The ones no one else can see, like the fracture of a bone. It hurts much worse than imaginable.
The next two days are torturous as we spend time together, each knowing that this–all of this– was a mistake. You show me the volcanoes, and around San Jose.
The volcanoes are beautiful, just like the beginning of the relationship, but there’s hardness here too. A stumble, a fall; it could be the end. And I’m acutely aware that I am in a remote place with a man that seemingly has much to hide. I don’t want to be here anymore. Not with him. I don’t want to look into the green-eyed abyss any more. I used to think that I could stare into those eyes for an eternity. Now those green eyes stare back at me with an emotion I can’t quite place. Not hatred. But certainly not the lust from the summer.
After coming back from the volcanoes, I say “I don’t want to be here anymore. Not with you.” Even though my heart is breaking, I refuse to cry. His jaw tenses, and he put his hand on top of mine.
“Micaela.” Just the sound of my name in his accented voice almost causes the dam to break. “Micaela. I did not want to hurt you.”
I pull away from his hands, look into those green eyes, now heavy with regret, turn around and walk into the city. I do not look back.
I imagine, as I am walking away, that you feel sadness. Sadness of what was never meant to be. Sadness for taking a chance. Sadness for keeping secrets. Whatever those might have been.
*** *** ***
I had to the bus station seeking to the first bus to the coast. Caribbean? Pacific? It doesn’t matter. I just want–no need– to be surrounded by salt water. I get seated on the bus, my backpack on my lap, and the tears start to fall. Slowly at first, almost as if they are waiting their turn, and then, much more rapidly.
I opt for the Caribbean side of Costa Rica’s and end up in the sleepy town of Puerto Viejo Limon. It is a hippy, dippy kinda of place where some people come to visit and never leave. It had a small guest house, a bar, beaches as far as the eye can see, and some very interesting neighbors.
The first two days I ate nothing but fresh fish, rice, and a variety of fresh fruit, and drank nothing but passion fruit and vodka. I tried not to think of him. You try not to remember the way his green eyes sparkled in the morning sun. I tried not to remember how those green eyes faded to black when you saw my at the San Jose airport. I tried not to remember how incredibly sexy you were, shirtless your brown sweaty skin glistening in the moonlight, down by the river on those hot summer nights. I tried not to remember that I was also shirtless. I tried not to remember how you took ice cubes and melted them on my skin. I tried not to remember how the coldness of the ice melting and the heat of your breath drove me mad with desire. I tried not to remember how time stopped when our lips met.
But remember I did. All these moments and so many more. No amount of passion fruit and vodka could make me forget. But I wanted to forget. I wanted to forget so badly, and so I looked at the bartender and said ‘Uno mas, por favor.’
*** *** ***
Somewhere around day 5 I notice you staring at me. You are definitely not Costa Rican or even Caribbean. I look at you and you stare back, our eyes locking.
“I’ve been watching you” you tell me. Your English is good. Definitely not North American, but it doesn’t sound quite British either. I tend to notice things like that.
“Oh? Seen anything interesting?” I reply.
“You’ve been drinking entirely too much vodka.”
“Obviously you haven’t been watching me too closely or you’d know I haven’t been drinking enough vodka because I still remember.
“What do you remember?” you ask.
“Everything. Everything I want to forget.”
“Walk with me” you implore.
“I can’t go with you. I know nothing about you. You could be a serial killer for all I know,” I reply.
“I’m not” you say. I notice that I’ve hurt you. The expression on your face is that of a small child who has just has his favorite toy taken away. “Walk with me.”
I get up… Slowly, partly due to the vodka, and partly because I’m just now noticing how attractive you are.
“But I still don’t know anything about you…” I say as we begin our walk along the white sandy beach. “Why are you in Costa Rica?” I ask, then ponder as to why that’s my first question as opposed to something more useful like ‘what is your name?’
To be honest, I don’t even remember your reply… something about Costa Rica and biodiversity and research. I realize I am drunk, and wonder how long the copious quantity of vodka I’ve consumed will stay down. I also wonder if you will kiss me. And if drunk vomiting is the worst turn-off imaginable.
“I need to sit down” I say, probably slurring my works. I notice you steering me towards another beach-side bar. There seems to be one about every 500 meters or so. “No… no more vodka” I muster. I noticed you talking to the bartender and you come back with water. Nice cold water.
“Why are you drinking yourself into oblivion?
“Because I’m trying to forget”
“Forget what?” you ask.
“The reason I’m in Costa Rica. Everything about Costa Rica. Just everything.” I look at him with sadness. There are no more tears. The sea has swallowed them whole, but there is still sadness inside.
At the random beach-side bar, where the not quite English, yet definitely not North American cute ecological researcher gave me water, I notice a dart board. Suddenly I’m feeling better. “Wanna play?” I ask. He’s not so sure about letting a drunk person throw sharp, pointy objects. “Where are you from, anyway? I ask.
“Wales” he replies “It’s near…”. I cut him off and asked “beth yw dy enw?” His jaw dropped to the floor and said ‘You speak Welsh? Where are YOU from? I just smiled and said ‘I asked you a question?
“My name is Matthew. I grew up in Ceredigion.” “I’ve been there” I reply. You look at me, curious. Curious as to whether I am telling the truth or just trying to impress you. “It’s near Pembrokeshire” I reply. I can tell you are impressed. In that moment, I forget about Costa Rica, the reason I came, and everything that has happened in the last 10 days. I look into your eyes, green with a hint of gray, and kiss you. And finally, I forget.
*** *** ***
Two years later on a cold dreary November day, I hear the version of my name that only you used… Micaela.
I turn around and look for you. Two years have aged you a lot. I stare into the familiar green eyes and feel nothing. I always wondered what it would be like if I saw you again, and now I know. There’s no bitterness. No hatred. No feelings of lust. Just you, smiling, searching for something in my expression. He says hello, and I reply in kind. How about a drink, he asks. No thank you, I say for the first time. It was good seeing you. And it was.
I will forever be grateful that he came into my life when he did. Sometimes, even now after all these years, I wonder what he’s doing, and where he is. In my mind, the entire country of Costa Rica will forever be linked to heartbreak, a green-eyed lover, vodka, and the one who made everything OK.
When I was little, my fiercest desire was to be a National Geographic Photographer. [Or a veternarian] I was the elementary school kid reading National Geographic and being mesmerized by the stories and photographs on those pages. I stalked my cat–hardly taking National Geographic-worthy images, but getting some really good shots of her. I took my little camera everywhere and there were tons of pictures to prove it.
Fast forward 20 or so years… I still take a camera with me everywhere. I still stalk my cat. [not the same cat] I know that I will probably never be published in National Geographic, but that doesn’t stop me from traveling. And taking pictures. And making up stories to go with the pictures. The only [well, not the ONLY] difference between me and those National Geographic photographers–I don’t get paid to do what I love… not one little cent. In fact, every trip I take, costs money $100 for a weekend trip away to $1000 or more for a month away. I could play golf or tennis or go out, but I choose traveling as my hobby of choice. I absolutely loved my time in South America. I would do it again in a heart beat.
Part II… [The ‘normal’ life]
I have a job that I love. It is not travel related at all. It is not location independent. I rarely have weekends off. I have to be where I have a license to practice [currently SC and NC]. I have to be where there are sick children. I am in graduate school to hopefully get to what is my dream job… As it is, the program will take me about 4 years or so to finish. I have an address. I have a car and a cat. And I like that.
Part III… [Straddling the line]
How do I make it work? I work in a field where 3 days a week is considered full-time. I choose to work on an as needed basis [I am almost always needed somewhere so there no fear there] so that I can make my own schedule. Do I get paid time off? Nope. Insurance paid partly by the company? Nope. Participation in the company’s retirement plan? Nope, again. Do I get ‘guaranteed’ hours each week? Nope, but neither do the full-timers [I may be the first to go, but not usually the only one].
So how do I make it work?
First, I buy insurance as if I were self-employed. I have a catastrophic health plan with a Health Savings Account attached to it [Tax benefits#1]. I am generally a healthy person and don’t take any medications on a regular basis. Second, I opened up an IRA on my own. Non-profits generally don’t have the best plans anyway, and I don’t have to wait until I am vested should I want to leave. [Tax benefit #2]. Third, I work in different facilities. This way, if one place slows down, I can usually pick up more time at the other place. It’s a win-win situation. Fourth, I have a $100 a week deposited into a separate account. This is my discretionary income. I could use it to go shopping or out to eat or whatever; I choose to use it to travel. $5200/year can go a long way. Fifth, I let my boss[es] know that traveling is a priority for me. When I am home, I am available to work 95% of the time. When I go away, I am not. It’s that simple.
Since starting this way of life in 2007, I have managed to take 16 months off to travel in South America, one month off to travel in New England and Quebec, Canada, another month to enjoy Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon, Yosemite National Park, San Francisco, Seattle, and Mt. Rainier National Park, and another month to travel in Central/ Eastern Europe.
People constantly tell me how jealous they are of all my travels. They tell me how “lucky” I am. They say they wish they could travel like I do.
But you know what?
They absolutely can do it.They just choose not to. For whatever reason. [Usually it’s a job, relationship, home, money, or some combination of these four things that holds people back]
A lot of travel blogs are written by professional nomads who are actively traveling. Or people who have been professional nomads at one point. Many of them lack a home address, and can fit most of their worldly possessions into a [somewhat large] backpack. [I have one of those too] They flit from here to there to back again, and we ordinary people think –“wow, I wish I could do that”, or “this is so awesome that I will never be able to do that”, or “I would do that if I didn’t have significant other/mortgage/car payments/ kids or whatever.”
We psyche ourselves out and buy into a lot of misconceptions about living a life full of travel. We begin to believe things like:
You must be rich to travel.
You must be single to travel.
You must be brave and outgoing to travel.
You must be free from responsibility to travel.
We convince ourselves that we can never be one of “those people” because we have a job and debt and a family and pets.
These misconceptions are just that — misconceptions. You can travel without being rich and single. [Although I am currently single, I am certainly not rich. I traveled for nine months with a boyfriend at home] You can travel without being particularly adventurous [ I am not the most outgoing soul. There are things that I will never do voluntarily such as jumping out of a plane or off a bridge with a rubber band on my ankles] And, most of all, you can travel without completely setting aside responsibility. [Find a good pet sitter/house sitter. Find a job that allows a modicum of flexibility. Work two part-time jobs if necessary.]
There are ways to have a normal life and a traveler’s life…you just have to be more creative to make that happen than you do in either one.
I’m not going to lie and say it’s easy, though. Because it’s not. If you have a strict work schedule or a young family or a lot of debt to pay off, it may be challenging to live your “ordinary” life and still manage to fit in travel.
But just because something is challenging doesn’t mean it’s impossible.
Here are some tips for how to fit travel into your ordinary life:
Start saving now. It’s never too early to start saving for a trip. Even just setting aside $25 per week can go a long way quickly [$1300/year and you will probably never miss it]
Plan your dream vacation. Even if you won’t be able to take it right away, planning a vacation can keep you upbeat about traveling and give you something to look forward to. I really, really, really want to go to Spain, but I want to have the time to do it right. The right time for Spain is not now, but it will happen…someday.
Make the most of vacation time and holidays. Americans get a raw deal in my opinion when it comes to vacation time. 2 weeks is a joke, and if it’s like most places I know, you can’t even do the two weeks consecutively. If your employer isn’t cool about letting you work overtime or giving you unpaid days off, you’ll have to get creative in order to make the most of the vacation time you have. You can stretch your 2 weeks much further if you plan travel around paid holidays, or if you can elect to work your holidays and save them up for later.
Don’t wait for someone to travel with. I would love to have a travel partner, but no one I know wants to travel the way I do. They all have full-time jobs and/or small kids. Sometimes it’s hard enough just to be able to coordinate dinner with friends. But that doesn’t mean you should forego travel. It just means you may need to consider adding “solo travel” to your vocabulary.
Pick up new hobbies. I am a shutterbug. Part of my reason for traveling is wanting to capture a fresh perspective on life. And see some amazing scenery along the way. I have taught photography in Peru, public health in Brazil, and English in Mexico. I have helped with sea turtle conservation in South Carolina and Uruguay and animal conservation in Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands. I have volunteered with big cats in Bolivia. My goal is to volunteer my way around the world.
Take advantage of all opportunities. Right along with picking up new hobbies, be sure to take advantage of any travel opportunities that those hobbies might afford you. For example, I traveled a lot during college because I was on our the fencing team. We weren’t great and didn’t get to compete internationally [like Notre Dame’s football game in Ireland this year–so jealous], but we did get to go to a lot of places in the USA that I would have never thought of visiting before… and it was [mostly] paid for by the school.
Most of all [and this one is important]
Don’t make excuses. Any excuse you can make about why you can’t/don’t travel can be overcome. I’ve seen parents eschew traditional schools in favor of the education traveling gives. I’ve seen professionals take jobs in other countries. I’ve seen couples travel in a RV [or motorcycle] from Alaska to Argentina. I’ve seen people start location independent businesses so they can be anywhere. In the famous words of Nike–JUST DO IT.
Let me preface this was that I never intended to get naked. It was a frigid January day in Budapest, but I wasn’t going to let that stop me from exploring. Bundled up in all the clothing I had with me, I set out from my hostel in the historic part of Buda. The steam rising out of the drain cover caught my attention first. I paced along the walkway, limbs mechanical yet numb, face frozen, eyes rimmed with weather-induced tears. All the while thinking ” was not made for this kind of weather.”
Everyone was cold. I saw it in the hunched shoulders and stooped spines of the commuters who huddled past, bundled beneath thick fur coats, scarves and fur hats. Which was why the drain surprised me. Whimsical fingers of mist curled through the gaps, growing thinner as they spiraled up towards the sky. The sky which experience told me still loomed overhead, but which I avoided looking at in case I inadvertently exposed another sliver of my neck to Budapest’s biting air.
Clouds of steam teased me from the outside–“Was it because the water was really that warm or because it was really that cold?” I wondered. I knew with absolute certainty that the concrete surface surrounding the thermal baths was freezing cold. I had no idea whether the ‘thermal’ pool I had just paid money to use would be steaming hot or just slightly warmer than the below freezing winter air temperatures. Hoping that the steam was not a false promise, my toes tested the water below. A split second passed before I internally began singing the Hallelujah chorus.
Warmth tickled my toes. And it was a small piece of heaven. I stumbled down the remaining steps sliding deeper and deeper into the warm water. I am sure people stared at me when I let out an audible sigh of relief. Luckily, it wasn’t too crowded at this bathing suit optional bath I had chosen to immerse myself in. Not knowing exactly what to do, I just sat there, naked, in my pool of hot water… watching snowflakes get eaten up by the steamy waters.
Budapest is well know for its thermal baths and Szechenyi didn’t disappoint. It has held the title “City of Spas” since the year 1934, as it has more thermal and medicinal water springs than any other capital city in the world. There are 118 springs in Budapest, providing over 70 million liters of thermal water a day. The temperature of the waters is between 21 and 78 Celsius. Budapest’s thermal waters were enjoyed by the Romans as early as the 2nd century, but it was only during the Turkish occupation of Hungary in the 16th century that the bath culture really started flourishing. Today, there are 15 public thermal baths in Budapest, not counting the private thermal spas established in some luxury hotels, such as the Ramada Plaza, Thermal Hotel Margitsziget and the Corinthia Royal, which have their own spas that you can enjoy.
In some of them you can even keep your clothes on.
When I’m at home, I hate all things winter. Being from the southeastern United States, winter [meaning snow, skis, cold] is still a bit of a foreign concept. Just the threat of snowflakes sends everyone scurrying about buying up all the milk and bread in sight. Should the grass actually be covered, expect the entire city to shut down. For days.
An example of a recent snow that shut down the town for 4 days.
So my position statement on winter has always been I like to visit winter; I do not like winter to visit me.
My previous adventures on skis consisted of one adventure when I was 16 to the North Carolina mountains and my recent trek in the French Alps where I discovered that I LOVED cross-country skiing So, bolstered by success in the Alps, I knew skiing would be on the agenda when I ended up in Sarajevo. Why Sarajevo you ask? Sarajevo [as Yugoslavia] hosted the 1984 Winter Olympics than Sarajevo, and if you know me, you know that I love all things related to the Olympics.
Sarajevo is a city surrounded by mountains which makes for some awesome outdoor adventure activities. These mountains have seen a lot in their day–from being a world-class Olympic destination in 1984 to being occupied by Serbia in the 1990’s to being used to attack the city in the Siege of Sarajevo. Sarajevo the city has experienced peaks and valleys just like the mountain that surround it. Sarajevo’s popularity is surging yet again as it is much less expensive and much less crowded than say -France and Switzerland, and it’s mountain are just a good for a variety of winter sports.
Jahorina and Bjelašnica are the two of the most popular ski resorts in the area; both are approximately 30 minutes’ drive from Sarajevo city center. If you are new to skiing, I’d recommend Jahorina Olympic Center. It’s perfect for skiers of all levels, offers ski equipment rental, but not clothing rental, and has cheap ski lessons for 10 euros/hours. A day pass can be had for less than 20 Euros.
The great thing about this resort is there are fewer crowds.This resort is probably Europe’s best kept secret. I am not a downhill skier. And I know my limitations, so lucky for people like me there are other options such as hiking and snowshoeing and just riding the ski lift. On this trip I opted to try snowshoeing, and man, is that a workout. My heart was pumping; my lungs were screaming, and my legs were crying by the end of the trail.
But to see these views, to do something new, and to experience these mountains…
It was completely worth the time and effort and expense it took to visit the mountains surrounding this city on the rise.
Ah yes, the church of bones. I’d heard about it before and even visited other crypts and ossuaries, but I knew that I’d have to visit Kunta Hora if given half a chance.
Less than a day away from Prague, lies the hauntingly beautiful chapel of Kunta Hora–a chapel decorated with thousands of human bones. The Sedlec Ossuary is a chapel in a suburb near Kutna Hora about an hour’s train ride from Prague. Several travel companies offer packages from Prague but it’s none to difficult to go about it on your own giving you the benefit of doing what you want when you want.
Traveling in winter in the Czech Republic often leads to nearly empty streets and tourist free site, especially when you get away from the larger cities and more popular destinations such as Prague, and it being January, Kunta Hora was practically deserted.
Entrance to the Sedlec Ossuary is about $5 and in my opinion, totally worth it. It’s estimated that the remains of 40,000 people were used to adorn the walls of the chapel. The story goes that during the Black Plague of Europe, they essentially ran out of places to bury people. So they dug up the already dearly departed, and used their space to put the new, plague-infested corpses in. The solution as to what to do with all the much older dead was to use the bones (skin was already long gone) for ‘decoration’. To think that you were walking among real human skeletons was bone-chilling.
Being the #sciencenerd that I am, I tried to identify which bones were the most used. Clearly skulls make the biggest impression, but I found an impressive number of long bones such as the tibia, fibula, femur, and humerus. These long bones were used to make the ‘X’s and
After my self-guided tour of the chapel (you get a printed guide in the language of your choice as long as it’s English, Czech, German, Russian, and a couple other languages I didn’t recognize), I explore the town, the outdoor cemetery, and the impressive St. Barbara’s Church. If you know anything about me, you know that I love exploring a new (to me) city’s cemeteries, reading tombstones, and imagining their past lives.
Reading tombstones is much more difficult when they are snow-covered, but still hauntingly beautiful.
The next spot that piqued my interest was the massive gothic style St Barbara’s Cathedral. Started in the 1300’s and completed in the 1800’s, the cathedral consists of several architectural styles, but gives off mostly gothic vibes.
St Barbara’s Cathedral
It’s not a gothic cathedral without stunning stained glass adorning the windows.
The town of Kunta Hora with St Barbara’s dominating the landscape
It’s always a bit eerie walking around a deserted town in the snow and frosty temperatures, and it being January, most things were closed so you can imagine my surprise when I stumbled upon the amazing (and not because it was one of the very few options open) Pizzeria Piazza Navona Restaurant. A delicious Italian-like pizza in the heart of Bohemia was pure heaven.
I *may* have eaten the entire pie. Or not. I’m not telling
Kutna Hora is a UNESCO World Heritage Site for both St. Barbara’s Church and the Cathedral of Our Lady at Sedlec. If you have a day to spare when visiting Prague, I recommend getting out of the city and exploring the odd and unique Sedlac Ossuary and with it the rest of the town, Kunta Hora.
I’ve had a few blogs over the years. All were the free kind with a very specific focus. Like when I went to south america–my blog was more like a travelogue… travels to Europe– more travelogues. So I’ve learned a thing or two about blogging. I am still no expert, but…
THINGS I’VE LEARNED:
Blogging is hard. It’s time-consuming. The learning curve is steep. There’s a lot to learn even if you are technology guru. Which I’m not. Finding ‘your voice’ takes time [I’m still finding it. How ‘authentic’ should one be? What constitutes over-sharing? Ect, ect.]. Writing for an audience is a lot different than writing in a journal. Editing photos [and videos too I’d imagine, although I haven’t gone down that road yet] isn’t as easy as applying a filter and hitting ‘publish’. Design is hard. Getting ideas from your head into html code isn’t easy. Reading other blogs, seeing cool features you’d like to adapt but have no idea how to do so is frustrating. Thoughts like ‘is it stealing if I use the same plug-in as someone else?’ ‘Will they mind?’ ‘How do I adapt it to make it different, but still what I want? ect, ect’ are ever present.
So what have I learned in since starting this blog? I am glad you asked.
1. Defining your purpose is crucial
If you can answer the question “why do I want to start a blog?’ [this goes for any type of blog], it will make your life a whole lot easier. People start blogs for many different reasons. Some to showcase a house remodel; some to showcase fashion ideas. Some blogs are set up to keep friends and family up to date on trips around the world. Other people want a blog to show their photography to the world, and some people have a blog as their career. They network with other travelers, bloggers, products and companies and actually make a living blogging. Whatever your goal may be having a clear purpose at the beginning will help you create a blog to address those goals.
I really wanted my first blog be like a travel journal. It’s took a few weeks of design trial and error to decide that. Some blogs are really cool, but they have features I’d never use, and by not using them, the blog loses something. So for now, my blog is a ‘personal’ blog. I’ve got a lot going on. My blog reflects that.
Of course blogging purposes may change over time. If you think you might want to blog long term, try to develop your site with flexibility in mind. Know that a re-design is always possible, but changing things like the title, web address, and type of blog may be committing [blog] suicide.
2. Consider your audience or who you’d like your audience to be can help you ‘find your voice’
For most people, the first few blog posts will be aimed at friends and/or family…especially if the blog is set up prior to a long trip or housing remodel. However, if you’d like to reach a broader audience, consider who you’d like that audience to be. Backpackers? Luxury travelers? People with kids? First timers? Retirees? 20-somethings? Somewhere in the middle? A unique niche? If you are looking to get traffic on your website, write with your audience in mind and let them know what you can do for them.
For example, my short-term goal is to finish nursing school, get experience, eventually sign on with a travel company, work as a travel nurse while earning my nurse practitioner degree. That goal is so far away right now it wouldn’t make sense for me to target people who want to do travel nursing. None of that has anything to do with travel blogging. But right now I CAN target students–especially older students, people who have limited time and/or money for holidays, and people who want to travel– just not travel long term. All of that has to do with travel blogging and going to school.
3. Thinking about your blog name now will pay dividends in the future.
Choosing a blog name is hard. Real name vs fake name? Full name vs Partial name? Something with the type of blog in it or not? Something completely different?
I went through at least 10 names before I decided on Adventure Adikt, and I’ll get to why I decided on it in a minute.
First, I didn’t want use my full name as my web address, and besides, I have a fairly common name with a teeny tiny twist on the spelling of my last name. If I type my name is a google search, the first few pages are other people with the same name as me. However, if you want to blog under your real name and that name isn’t all that common, you shouldn’t have problem.
If you decide to choose a pseudonym [aka something other than your real name], there are two main things to consider:
Is that name available [as a domain plus any other platforms you might want to use such as [Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Google+, Reddit, ect]? I didn’t have Twitter before I set up my blog so once I decided on a name, I set up a Twitter account with the same name…[@Adventureadikt in case you are wondering…I’m still not very Twitter savvy yet, but I’m working on it.] I created a Facebook page as an adjunct to my personal page. My Instagram account was already set up. I just changed the name and have to refrain from posting pictures of my cat everyday, but I’m finding Instagram the easiest to use. I’m still debating the usefulness of having Google+, Pinterest, ect account devoted to my blog, but I have already created a Adventure Adikt borad for my Pinterest account
Is someone else using the name you want? If so, in most cases, it’s prudent to choose another name to avoid creating audience confusion and blog confusion. I’m sure there are cases where it exist, but imagine the confusion for someone coming to your site but perhaps going to a porn site instead…
I first thought of creating a blog using the name Peripatetic Michelle. I thought it was snappy. Most people didn’t know how to spell ‘Peripatetic’, or what it meant. I spent a lot of time spelling that word then explaining it meant essentially the same as nomad… which is a lot more common word and a lot easier to spell.
I then thought something like Out and About with Michelle would be cool. That’s entirely too long of a name for a web address. Out and About was taken, and I didn’t want to change the spelling too much in order to claim it. I them thought of names like Michelle’s Big Adventure [oh wait…I don’t have a big adventure] On the road…[taken]. I went in a different direction thinking of my favorite travel quotes, poems, ect…
Two roads diverged[taken] The road less traveled [from Robert Frost’s poem… taken]
All who wander [taken… from a Tolkien quote]
I’m not lost [also taken… also derived from the same quote]
Ultimately, I decided on Adventure Adiktfor a couple of reasons. Life can become very stagnant without having adventures. I think everyone should have a dream–whether it’s something lofty like visiting every country in the world or trying to find the perfect grilled cheese sandwich and that can constitute an adventure. Traveling is by far my favorite activity, but I currently have a job at a hospital, go to school full time, and have two kitties at home that keeping me on my toes.
4. Platforms and hosting has nothing to do with shoes and parties
I am so glad I researched this before my first blog. Everyone said use WordPress. It will make your life easier. I like easy so I used WordPress from the start. I have never used anything else and I have not had any issues…
If I have any problem with WordPress, and really I don’t, it’s that there are SO.MANY.OPTIONS …widgets [not just -something discussed in Economics class] and plug-ins, themes and menu…it’s a bit overwhelming in the beginning. There’s also the free [with wordpress.com] or the paid [just the name of your site].
For this blog, I use the self-hosted one at wordpress.org. I do have to use a hosting site and I use SiteGround… I’ve never had issues, but I really don’t know enough about them. I just googled ‘self-hosted servers’ read the reviews, and picked one. I’ve used BlueHost in the past and while they were OK, contacting customer support usually turned into an all day affair.
Do yourself a favor though, use wordpress from the beginning. Seriously.
5. Choosing the right technology will make your life easy
Technology is advancing every day, but choosing the right tools makes life a lot easier.
On my first big trip to the UK, I had a 2 SLR cameras and a point and shoot camera [OK… my first, first adventure was still on film! I sound so old!] and a CD Walkman. I used PIN telephone cards to make phone calls and sent my negatives back home. It was frustrating. It was slow. Then I upgraded to a DSLR… It was still mind-nummingly frustrating to get my photos off the camera onto my Facebook page. My next adventure was a month long trip through the north eastern US and parts of Canada. I traveled with a netbook and the same cameras. I used my regular cell phone, but it didn’t work for the nearly two weeks I was in Canada.
For my next adventure [6 weeks in Europe in winter], I took my Kindle and the cameras. I could upload photos taken with the kindle directly to Facebook and while writing on a Kindle isn’t the easiest thing in the world, it’s better than depending on others for technology.
I’m still working out the right amount of technology for a trip, but I’ve got a head start on what’s too much.
6. Blogging is hard
It’s even harder if you are doing it on the road. It takes time to come up with ideas, write them out, take pictures, edit them, and post it all to a blog consistently. A blog is not a blog without content. And yet content–or I should say GOOD content– is the hardest part of any blog. There are millions of blogs on the web these days, and content is what makes one blog succeed while another one fails. Content and consistency. My goal is to blog content twice a week and add a photo post in once a week. I have found, from reading other blogs, that it is important to let the reader know how often new content will appear. Whether its twice a day or once a week, it’s a lot easier as a reader to say ‘oh, it’s Wednesday…let me pop over to Chasing Dreams; Herding Cats and see what’s new’ than to randomly check in and get frustrated when there’s nothing new.
I have read that it helps to have a months’ worth of posts ready before you publish the first one. I don’t have that many, but I do have a couple weeks’ worth of posts ready.
Good, regular content is the key to successful blogging.
My dad passed away in 2005, but the memories live on… Mostly through sport, and especially through baseball which I played in some form from age 5-25. Happy Father’s Day to all the sport-loving and sport-sharing dads in the world.
“Whooo!” my dad shouts, cheering loudly with the fans sitting next to him. I look at him like any teenager looks at their parent when said parent does much more than breathe. A player for the Orioles has just hit a home run, bringing in the two guys already on base home making the score 5-2. The crowd, evenly split between Orioles and Red Sox fans, is a mix of cheers and groans.
I look at him strangely, questioning, “Wait,” I turn to my dad. “Who are you rooting for again?” From early childhood the Orioles have beenmy team. This game was sort of a peace offering. We haven’t attended a sporting event together in nearly 10 years… before I was even in high school. His reply “I just want it to be a good game.”
I started playing organized baseball in the form of T-ball at age 5, but I’d been playing at home much earlier than that. My first T-ball stand was constructed from a wooden table leg. I got pretty good a whacking the ball because too many misses damaged the stand. I started league play at 5, was the only girl playing Little League at 8 and switched to softball to play on the high school team beginning at age 13, in 7th grade. Baseball has always been a part of my life.
I’m on the bottom row all the way on the left. I’m a whopping 5 years old. And 12 years later, the boy on the top right would be my prom date. [Ahhh, the joys of small town life]
I have been a Baltimore Orioles fan and a baseball fan for as long as I can remember. I’m not sure why Baltimore became my team as I grew up more than 500 miles away from Baltimore. While other girls had posters of the latest teen heart throbs decorating their childhood bedroom, I had posters of Cal Ripken, Jr, Brady Anderson, Mike Mussina, and a few of my favorite Cubbies too.
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 the radio… WBAL to be specific [an AM radio 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.
I was determined to see a game during the inaugural season. As a youngster in the 1990’s, and by youngster I clearly mean a time before my driver’s license, 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 for a baseball ticket, snacks, and transportation, I bought a round trip Greyhound bus ticket to Baltimore and treated myself to an Orioles game. I saw the Orioles beat the Detroit Tigers 12-0. I came and went in just under 24 hours. And it was awesome. [Oh, I was such a sneaky child. I look back on some of the things I did as a kid and am amazed that I did not die. In my defense, I said that I was running away; it’s not my fault no one actually believed me.]
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. That was September 1995. I watched it on ESPN. I was in awe. 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.
We found our seats – right behind home plate. As a former catcher, I staunchly refuse to sit anywhere other than behind home plate. Maybe higher than field level, but sitting behind home plate is a must. A few drinks, hot dogs, and pretzels later, we settled in, intently watching every pitch, predicting where all the fly balls would land, and analyzing strategy. For a few hours for two days, we had something to talk about. Something that we both loved; something that used to unite us. Sport– it this case baseball, a game that I know intimately.
I think it’s for this reason that I always seek out sporting events when I travel. I’ve been an athlete or fan my whole life, and I know the power it has to unite [and divide] families, communities, and friends. Whatever the sport, even if it’s one I don’t truly understand, I find that I really get into it and really enjoy the passion and zeal of the fans and the strategy of coaches.
I’ve never been one to shy away from doing things on my own, but going to sporting events alone is hard. I’ll still go, but it’s hard. Partly because sports remind my of my childhood, and partly because sports are a community event. I will go to sports pubs on my own to catch some games on TV when I’m out on my own because I think sport is fabulous insight into a community’s culture.