no matter where you go, there you are

Monday, December 20, 2010

but the sun rolling high through the sapphire sky keeps the great and small on the endless round

The inspiration for this first post of course comes courtesy of Molly, my wonderful travel companion and best friend. She sent me an image from a tumblr account earlier today and bang, I had the subject for my first post: sunset on the Grand Canyon.

The two days Molly and I spent at the canyon was the mid-point to our trip and on the evening of our last night there, we somehow motivated our stiff and sore bodies to get in the car (walking the mile or so was out of the question), drive over to one of the lots, walk to the Rim Trail and find a spot overlooking the canyon. Hopefully without many people around. It didn't take too long to find a great overlook; a jut out into the canyon with the nature-made rock-formed seats. There was one other family nearby and the view consisted of the vast canyon and surrounding jut outs. Sunset was still 20 or so minutes away so I pulled out a book I was enraptured in and Molly wandered the area a little.

All of a sudden, as we were sitting there amongst the peaceful serenity of one of the seven natural wonders of the world, came the most amazing thing either of us had ever heard. A young male belting out the opening to "The Circle of Life" from The Lion King out into the canyon. He and his group of friends were over on the neighboring jut, but we could hear his chanting clear as day. It was glorious and hilarious and amazing. The saddest part probably was that within the first "nahhh" I knew he was singing "Circle of Life," and not just yelling into the canyon.

Nothing more came from the group after that intitial singing, and no more was sung past the first few lines, but they became the highlight of the evening. Yes, the sunset was very nice...but I thought the canyon looked much prettier in the midday light rather than the harsh colors of sunset. The sun was also setting on "our" side of the canyon so maybe viewing sunset from the other side of the canyon, or sunrise from ours, would have been nicer. The light cast on where we were sitting was wonderful though; that beautiful orange glow from the setting sun illuminating the beginning of the end.

the green patch in the bottom center is Indian Garden, where we'd hiked to that afternoon

Friday, December 10, 2010

life is a highway...i wanna ride it all night long

So for the retelling of my adventures across the grand ole US of A, I'm going to try a different format from that of Europe. With Europe, I got tired of writing in chronological order and wanted to change how I did things, but my OCD wouldn't let me. It made me way too anxious. So I'm changing it up this time. I'll touch upon everything at some point or another, but there won't be an "order" to it.

From July 27th - August 31st, my best friend, Molly, and I lived in her 2003 Toyota Camry (who we end up calling Betty) as we traversed across the country. We drove about 12,000 miles and did a LOT! As we both don't have "real" jobs, we were able to get the time off and take a loooong vacation. It was terrific! I'm going to put our driving itinerary below so you'll know the general path we took and can always resort back to it since I'll be blogging "out of order." And I provided a visual as well. Hope you enjoy everything this time around!

July 27th: Hingham, MA to Richmond, IN
July 28th: Richmond, IN to St. Louis, MO
July 29th: St. Louis, MO to Omaha, NE
July 30th: Omaha, NE to Badlands National Park
July 31st: Badlands National Park to Black Hills National Forest
August 1st: Black Hills National Forest to Yellowstone National Park
August 2nd-3rd: Yellowstone National Park
August 4th: Yellowstone National Park to Portland, OR
August 5th: Portland, OR to Tillamook, OR
August 6th: Tillamook, OR to Brookings, OR
August 7th: Brookings, OR to Berkeley, CA
August 8th: Berkeley, CA to Yosemite National Park
August 9th: Yosemite National Park to Independence, CA
August 10th: Independence, CA to Las Vegas, NV
August 11th: Las Vegas, NV
August 12th: Las Vegas, NV - Grand Canyon National Park
August 13th-14th: Grand Canyon National Park
August 15th: Grand Canyon National Park - Arches National Park
August 16th: Arches National Park
August 17th: Arches National Park - Amarillo, TX
August 18th: Amarillo, TX - Tunica, MS
August 19th: Memphis, TN
August 20th: Tunica, MS - New Orleans, LA
August 21st: New Orleans, LA
August 22nd: New Orleans, LA - Orlando, FL
August 23rd-24th: Orlando, FL
August 25th: Orlando, FL - Great Smoky Mountains National Park
August 26th-27th: Great Smoky Mountains National Park
August 28th: Great Smoky Mountains National Park to Williamsburg, VA
August 29th: Williamsburg, VA to Arlington, VA
August 30th: Arlington, VA to Philadelphia, PA
August 31st: Philadelphia, PA to Cohasset, MA

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

the time to enjoy a european trip is about three weeks after unpacking - george Ade

Make that 52 weeks. Exactly one year from today I returned to Boston after an exhilarating, eye-opening, fantastic adventure in Europe. I got to visit four countries, twelve cities, an abundance of landmarks, and made my way through the wonders and history that define western/central Europe. I'm pretty sure I covered everything I saw so by reading this blog from the beginning, I hope you get a sense of all that I experienced.

Paris was better than I expected or hoped for. Though on my sister's travel radar for years, Paris never really interested me that much. I don't really know why, and if it hadn't been for the flight availability, I would never have thought about visiting. My eyes were set on Southern France, Prague, Croatia or Greece, all of which I unfortunately couldn't fit in. I certainly don't regret the choice now. Paris had sooooo much to see and so much to choose from. Yes, it was a little on the expensive side, but it offered an abundance of historical museums, churches and landmarks to visit giving me plenty to do in my short time there. Highlights for me were the Notre Dame, Eiffel Tower, and Louvre. Yes, cliche and probably typical answers. But there's a reason they're so popular. They're outstanding.

Tours was nice, and I liked being in a smaller city, but if I were to go back, I'd give myself a few days and I'd rent a car. The chateaus are very spread out and each is unique enough that I'd want to see the different designs so I'd need to go at my own pace and not that of a tour. Pompeii was a definite highlight and a must-see if you're in the Rome area. You can definitely make it a half-day trip, but I'd allow myself the entire day to travel from Rome, see and explore the entire place, and return back. Maybe I'd give it two days and spend the 2nd climbing Mt. Vesuvius.

Rome had plenty to do to fill up two days and I think I certainly covered most of it. I didn't feel rushed which was nice but If I had one more day, I would have gone to the Borghese Museum and maybe spent a little more time in the Vatican and St. Peter's as well as giving myself more time to explore Palantine Hill. But other than that I have no regrets about things I wish I'd seen. And even a year later, I still think the Capuchin Monk Crypt was one of the coolest things ever in Rome...and in Europe.

I didn't quite realize until I was there that I'd planned much of my Italian experience in Tuscany, but because I was to rely on trains and public transportation, I purposely chose large cities rather than smaller ones. So Rome, Florence and Venice immediately shot to the top of the list. Siena ended up being a "transition" city, and though the first part of my day there was awful, the view at the top of the Duomo complex more than made up for it. Rolling hills...the wind in my hair...I'm such a cliche. Florence gave me "David" so no matter how shitty the rest could have been (it wasn't, but IF it'd been) "David" more than made up for it. I don't know if I've ever seen a more perfect piece of art. Venice was such a change from Tuscany and it really felt like a completely different culture. While the other cities felt foreign because they had this essence of being "old" and "classic," Venice was it's own little world...a water planet according to Anne and I. And I loved every minute of it. Venice was beautiful, yes...but overall it was just really, really cool.

Munich was a great change of pace from both France and Italy. There was such a different cultural feeling to it that I didn't feel when transitioning from France to Italy. Yes, Italy was different from France, but Munich really gave me this "look you're in a new place" kinda feel. The Bavarian architecture with its onion domes and more streamline designs was quite different from that of Venice, Tuscany or Paris. I don't know the correct terminology for architecture, but visually you could see, and even feel, the difference. My visit to Dachau, though very sad, was a great learning experience. There are many concentration camps open throughout Europe but by finding one in my "path" of travel, I lucked out. I definitely think you should try and visit at least one throughout your lifetime since they are such an iconic piece of history and a great visual as to why an atrocity like the Holocaust should never happen again.

I don't want to assign beauty, as each and every city was gorgeous in its own way, but Innsbruck would take the crown in a fight. The snow-capped mountains surrounding this small, Alpine city makes for a picture perfect vacation spot. Not to mention the kindness of the Hotel Weiss Kruez's staff. Everything about my single day there was perfect. If the weather had been worse, my opinion would probably be different, but the sun was out and shining gloriously!

Salzburg...oh Salzburg. You had the crappy weather, yet you still got me to fall in love. What a classic, endearing place. It's with me every day, and not just cause my panoramic poster hangs above my closet so I get to look at it all the time. I got to live out a childhood dream of living The Sound of  Music and every time I watch it now, I think of being there and that excitement I felt. Salzburg is somewhere I would return to in a heartbeat. The lakes region and the surrounding mountains would be a terrific place to spend a week exploring.

Finally, there was Vienna. A gorgeous city that doesn't need much more discussion from me. Overall, I really, really loved my adventure in Europe. I'm the kind of person that wants to see and do everything, all dependent on cost of course, so it was ridiculously hard trying to figure out my itinerary because I wanted to go everywhere in Europe. I barely scratched the surface of my "to do" list. I think I need at least a year and a completely disposable income next time. But with what I did see and experience, I would never give that up. I saw history and iconic landmarks...places where I could have easily spent the entire day staring at their amazingness. There's not much more I can think of to say, but I will leave you with the quote below. My blogging isn't over, but my European recollections have come to an end.

the rewards of the journey far outweigh 
the risk of leaving the harbor - unknown

Sunday, December 5, 2010

people travel to faraway places to watch, in fascination, the kind of people they ignore at home – dagobert d. runes

Towards the end of my trip last year, I wrote out a long list of topics that I wanted to "blog" about, yet a year later the more eloquent thoughts about such topics have dissipated from my mind. And looking at my notes, some things I wrote make no sense at all. Yet,  I do want to comment on some of them so this is going to be a multi-topic post.

Women in Art
Although I only really went to two large art museums, each church or iconic landmark contained numerous paintings so I saw quite a bit of artwork and there was one thing that really stood out to me. I've never studied art and really know nothing about it as a critic, but I can tell you I really liked how accurate the depiction of women was. In a society obsessed with dieting, beauty and airbrushing/photoshop, it was so nice to see women with curves and that little pudge of stomach I know I have around the belly button. It was so shocking to see every single bare skin painting have this aspect of a woman's body. Even the Egyptian statue made of stone had the belly pudge. I know that being skinny was bad back then cause it meant you were poor, but I still wish girls were raised with these images instead of all size 0 models and celebrities. Its funny how the image of "ideal" has been completely inverted.

Cece's Advice #6 - Don't feel guilty about not doing everything you want, or feel you should.
I already wrote out my apology for not enjoying Vienna that much, but I want to give a little advice for those out there like me with obsessions about utilizing and not wasting time/money. With everything I did I thought about whether each activity was worth the admission cost or the time and effort; or whether I was utilizing my time during the day well enough. So in Vienna, when I did a day and a half of activities in three, I just kept having to remind myself "it's okay not to do everything...I'm tired...I'm on a budget..." This way, the guilt was suppressed. I occasionally had to tell myself that same thing in Paris or Rome because there was just so much to do, but there's only so many hours in a day that places are open, and I just had to accept that its alright that some things were missed. Its like picking and choosing your battles. And I only ever had two days to do "everything." 

He who would travel happily must travel light - Antoine de St. Exupery 
While I already said my spiel about the suitcase vs. backpack debate, and what is the best way to hold all your belongings on a trip, I didn't talk about what goes inside. If I recall correctly, this was the contents of my suitcase: 7 long-sleeve shirts, 3 jeans, 7 pairs of underwear, 3 bras, 7 or so pairs of socks, 1 pair of sweatpants for sleeping, 1 or 2 t-shirts for sleeping, 1 sweatshirt, 2 fleece zip-up jackets, 1 windbreaker, 1 hat, 1 scarf, 3 pairs of gloves, 1 pair of hiking boots, 1 pair of sneakers, 1 belt. Sounds like a lot when all listed out, but for 21 days, it's actually not that much. Especially since I didn't do laundry at all (I understand if you think I'm completely disgusting right now). My clothing decision was probably the most "down and dirty" one I made, but it saved me a lot of money and time/effort in not having to find a laundromat. In the end, it was a good decision and I had thick enough skin for the worst of the dirty laundry. But...had I not had a shower available at least once a day, my feelings may have been different.


When preparing to travel, lay out all your clothes and all your money.  Then take half the clothes and twice the money - Susan Heller
I've touched upon keeping a tight budget in many posts and how I'm really cheap, therefore decided not to visit certain museums or eat because of that. But I thought I'd mention it one more time because it's important. And I really liked the quote. It kind of goes along with the packing/laundry piece above. Besides my plane ticket, which was purchased with frequent flyer miles, I spent about $2000...that's less than $100/day. Before I even left, $500 was spent on my EuroRail pass which was my main source of transportation and all my lodging was $300. That's almost half of my total expenses. Add in the $400 I planned to spend based on my research about city passes and tourist cards plus the $150 I budgeted in advance for the "big events" like the bike tour, chateau tour and "Sound of Music" Tour and you've got a grand total of $1350. Which means I spent $650 on food, souvenirs, gifts, train reservations, other transportation and anything else I needed. That's only $30/day, which I think is pretty good for a vacation like that especially when I think about all I did and accomplished. Although I budgeted for a total less than $2000, I can tell you that I wasn't way over and easily could have spent more if I wasn't so cheap.

Airplane Behavior
This one is not related to Europe specifically, but travel in general. I think people's behavior in airports and airplanes is fascinating. You go to the airport and sit at the gate, and the second they warn you boarding will start in 5-10 minutes, people are already standing and getting in line. Even if they're in the last boarding group. It's really funny. They're trying to be the first on in order just to sit some more. And unless you're flying Southwest, its all assigned seating so it's not like being early is going to get you a better seat. Best choice in overhead baggage storage, but that's about it. I do think part of it comes from nerves and anxiety around flying, but sitting in the Vienna airports, I was just really astounded and absorbed in all the "craziness" I was witnessing.

Pros/Cons of Traveling in Low Tourist Season
I traveled from November 18th - December 8th, certainly not prime tourist season (though by the time I hit Vienna, it was much busier due to the Christmas season). And as such, there were definite pros and cons I discovered to traveling at that time of year. The biggest pro of all was fewer people, fewer people, fewer people. If you got the hint earlier, I'm not a huge fan of crowds. I love cities, but being pushed and shoved and surrounded by people in small spaces stresses me out. And less people also means more availability with lodging therefore more choices, shorter lines...all great things. Hotel/hostel rates were another pro. I'm not certain, but I'm pretty sure the rates I got at my hostels were less than during prime tourist season. Especially in Venice, when our hotel in Lido cost almost nothing for 3 people. It's an island, so like Nantucket, is dead in the way to great lodging rates. The cons were few and far between, but the one that kept popping up for me was limited hours of operation, and in some cases complete unavailability for some attractions. Many places didn't open until 9 or 10am, and then they also closed at 4pm rather than 5 or 6. Another battle I had to overcome in terms of scheduling.

Money belts/Saftey
Before I left for Europe, a lot of what I heard from people were bad things about items getting stolen, and warnings to be careful. I should bring a mace, or a weapon or something. I listened, sure, and did my research about safety; but in the end all I brought for security was a money belt, my laptop security cord and a small TSA approved lock for my suitcase. The money belt was a great thing to have because I was never paranoid about my wallet, passport or any other important document being stolen or falling out of my bag. It was always on me no matter where I went. Sure the money got a little sweaty and my passport a little warped and I looked like an idiot when paying for stuff, but it took so much nervous anxiety away and allowed me to enjoy myself much more. I wasn't paranoid or scared about anything else except losing my money, or passport, or driver's license, so quelling these fears by wearing the belt was an excellent decision. I had one fright on the Paris-Milan night train that I'd lost my license, and had accepted it was officially lost when I departed, until I pulled it from the pages of my passport.

The laptop security cord was from college and is used to lock laptops to desks to prevent stealing. I used it to lock my suitcase to my hostel beds. Each night I would organize everything and pack it all up tight, loop the cord through the handle of the suitcase, around my bed post and then lock it, along with the zipper of the bag, with the TSA lock. It may have looked crazy and paranoid but it helped me sleep at night. When I was 13, I was a victim of attempted pick-pocketry in Bolivia so robbery scares me more than anything else. A friend's mother thinks I'm an absolute nutjob that I shared co-ed hostel rooms, and in Munich's case my roommates were all male, but that didn't phase me at all. It was whether or not my belongings would be there the next morning that freaked me out.

Walking everywhere
Everywhere is walking distance if you have the time - Stephen Wright 
So true, Stephen Wright, so true. With each city I came upon, I was one with the streets. In Paris and Rome I would take a train to a "starting" point for the day, but each city was easy to navigate and I could find an efficient walking route that hit all the landmarks and led me back around to the hostel by the end of the day. All that walking, combined with all the tower climbing, gave me thighs of steel by the end.