My First Solo Trip – Italy (Part 4)

Throughout the days leading up to my solo trip, I had been worried, anxious, and actually dreading the fact that I would need to take a train from Florence to Pisa, as I would be flying out of Pisa and it was about an 1 1/2 hour away by train or car. I couldn’t miss out on seeing the Leaning Tower, either! So I booked a hotel for my last night in Italy in Pisa. 

I’ve only ridden a train once, in Europe, many moons ago, in Paris . . . with my husband. I know people take trains all the time, but when you’ve never done something before, it can be quite intimidating. I kept going over all the things that could go wrong. I would get on the wrong train. I wouldn’t find a space for my luggage. I’d get really anxious and have a panic attack on the train. Or I’d get sick on the train. What if I did take the wrong train and ended up miles away from where I wanted to be. What if I tripped as I walked into the train and fell flat on my face? Oh man . . . anxiety! Instead of the quote about all the things that could go right, when you’re anxious then you think of all the things that can go wrong. I had gone to the train station in Florence the day earlier to meet my friend Amy, and I was so overwhelmed. By all the people. The signs. The voices on the speakers. I was thinking, “there’s no way I’m going to be able to ride on that train tomorrow.” I had already bought a ticket online, but my palms were sweating at just the thought of riding the train. 

I know I am an advocate for facing your fears (wasn’t this what all this trip was about – facing fears and stepping out of your comfort zone?) but there also comes a time when you have to have some wisdom in listening to your body. I had been through so much as in facing so many “new things” and “firsts” and little challenges along the way, that I felt like my heart and body were telling me I needed to give myself a little break and not push myself so hard, at least not concerning whether or not I take a train. 

So, when I awoke that Friday morning, and my body was literally shaking with nerves, I then, with resolve, made a decision. A decision on my own. I decided to not take the train.

 

“What? You didn’t face your fears and do that which you didn’t think you could do?” You may be thinking. What I did was made a decision that I knew would be best for myself in that moment. I almost think of the word “self-care” . . . I knew how I was mentally and emotionally feeling that morning, and that if I had gotten on that train, that might have honestly been too much for me. Maybe that sounds like taking the easy way out or being a coward or not a true traveler, but I am so proud of that decision I made. I think I’m even more proud because I did make it on my own – I didn’t call up my husband and ask him what to do or ask his permission to take a taxi instead to Pisa.

 

It’s kind of ironic, because one of my inspirational quotes that I kept thinking of and that I had written down in my journal that I took with me, was from the movie, “The Polar Express.” 

“The thing about trains… it doesn’t matter where they’re going. What matters is deciding to get on.”

Well, folks, I didn’t get on the actual train from Florence to Pisa. But, I did get on the train. The train was every step that I took that WAS outside of my comfort zone. The train was the plane. The train was the taxi. The train was wandering through the streets of a foreign city, alone. The train was walking outside of my hotel room each day, when I desperately wanted to stay inside and be safe and comfortable and protect myself from any “anxious feelings”. The train was this entire trip. Every moment. 

It was an incredibly liberating feeling as I rode in the back seat of the taxi and looked out the window at the beautiful Tuscan countryside. For I had taken matters into my own hands and looked after myself. It was a relaxing car ride that took a little over an hour to get to Pisa. Of course, taking the taxi ended up costing much more than the train, but we had allowed room in the budget for unforeseen circumstances that might arise. I do not regret it, and I truly believe it was worth every penny. 

Anyways, at last, I arrived in Pisa! The sun was shining which brought happiness to me after seeing so much rain in Florence the past few days. I arrived at my hotel, The Grand Hotel Duomo, which was in a pedestrian-only area. I breathed a sigh of relief as I stepped out of the taxi. It was quiet here. Peaceful. A pizzeria was right across from my hotel. 

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I needed this day in Pisa. I was so happy here. It was a night and day difference environment when comparing Florence to Pisa. I of course loved Florence, but it was what my soul, heart and mind needed after being in the hustle and bustle of a big city. The pace was much slower here in Pisa. I found myself walking slower and really taking every little detail in, like the lavender wisteria that draped across the doorway of one of the local shops. 

After checking into my hotel, I immediately walked over to the main attraction. To see the Leaning Tower in person after seeing it my entire life in pictures growing up . . . again, there really are just no words for those kind of moments. Surreal, really. It towered above me and I was one happy girl. The tower does lean, yes, and I laughed at myself and all the other people doing silly poses and trying to get that “perfect shot”. 

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I tried, lol!

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For lunch, I ate at a little cafe that had a direct view of the Tower, and I had spaghetti and roasted chicken. That afternoon, I was quite tired, and just relaxed in my room, with the window open, listening to the birds singing outside and watching the clouds change shape. It was wonderful! 

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I had a smorgasbord of cold cuts for dinner as well as a delicious pizza. That day was truly spent just relaxing and enjoying what little time I had left in Italy. I bought souvenirs for my family and dropped postcards in the mail. The excitement of returning home was welling up within me. I was so ready to come home and be back with my husband and daughter. 

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And so, the next morning, Saturday, I took my taxi to the airport that had my plane waiting for me to take me back home. I was less anxious this time about flying and this time the adrenaline that ran through my veins was because I was so excited to embrace my husband at the airport and to hold my daughter again.

 

I flew into London Heathrow Airport where I had a two hour layover and then boarded my final flight that was to take me back to Texas. 

Again, I don’t like flying, but this time I wasn’t as nervous as my flight across the pond a few days earlier. However, about 45 minutes before we landed we encountered extreme turbulence, and I was gripping the armrests for dear life! I think those moments make getting home all the sweeter! 

When the wheels hit the tarmac, the most powerful emotions washed over me and tears started streaming down my face. That moment, when we landed, and I knew that I had done it, that I had accomplished this solo journey, is a moment I will never forget. I will forever be grateful for those moments when the tears fell down and I didn’t care that I was crying in front of strangers. They had no idea what my story was. It will be etched in my memory for all of time. I was so thankful. My heart was filled with gratitude for this beautiful journey I had just taken. And, just about more than anything, and this is what my soul had needed, was . . . I was proud of myself. My heart overflowed with pride for what all I had accomplished on my own. It boosted my confidence in myself again – in my capabilities. It made me believe in myself again. As I mentioned in Part 1, a few years ago I feel like postpartum depression had taken so much away from me. It had made me feel like a failure. Like I malfunctioned. Like I was incapable.

 

But, I learned this – I AM CAPABLE. 

Events that happen to us in life can hold us back and hold us down. They can leave us feeling stuck. They can damage us and warp our reality and how we see ourselves, or it can allow us to see ourselves in a negative light. PPD was that event for me. I think we all have our “events”. And, if we find ourselves living and dwelling in the past, and holding onto these negative perceptions, maybe we need to do something about it. Maybe something drastic. Like taking a solo trip thousands of miles away from your comfort zone. You never know what may happen when you take that first step. 

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” 

~Lao Tzu

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Much Love, 

Lindsey 

My First Solo Trip – Italy (Part 3)

The next morning I felt very jet lagged, nervous and anxious, and just flat out “weird”. I wanted to stay in my hotel room – all day. I felt all bravery that I’d been having since getting on the plane a couple days before had left me. I called Josh (waking him up at 2:00 am!) and he encouraged me to get out – to step outside. I finally found the courage and forced myself to leave what little comfort zone I had there by leaving the hotel. And I was so happy I did! I found a beautiful church called Basilica di Santa Maria Novella, which had me in awe of its high ceilings and ornate frescoes and stained glass. There hadn’t been a line to get into this lesser known and less popular church in Florence, and that was exactly what I needed at that time. Jet lag can really make you feel weird and I was feeling the need to be away from people and have as much space as possible. Those moments taking my time walking through the church were so calming to me and just what I needed. I meandered through the courtyard outside and breathed in the fresh air. It was so quiet and peaceful. I loved my time there and that I was on no time clock . . . no one there to rush me, or to tell me what to do next. That is another glorious thing about traveling solo that I learned . . . you call the shots. You can be “selfish” for a few moments. And that’s okay. I’ve always been an advocate for self care, and I feel like solo travel is the ultimate form of self care. Sometimes, we NEED to get away. By ourselves. We get lost in the busyness of life, and so it’s nice to take the time to slow things down and be present in the moment, and taking a trip is an avenue where you can do this. 

 

At the same time, it’s kind of funny because before I arrived in Florence, for months leading up, I had been researching that city to death. I have learned about myself that I like to plan things, especially when it comes to travel. Which I know is what you’re NOT supposed to do. Perhaps it gave me more of a sense of control, which I needed to feel, more so because I was traveling by myself, and I wanted to feel a little more familiar with the big city before I got there so that I wouldn’t be overwhelmed. Well, so I had therefore made a list! A list for each day that I’d be in Florence. I seriously had like 15 attractions listed for each day! Very unrealistic I know. And because of that, I think I had inadvertently added pressure on myself to see everything and do everything on my list. I even had the restaurants listed out that I felt like I “had” to go to. In retrospect, yes, a little research is good, but not to the degree I took it. Leaving room for exploring and spontaneity is much more freeing and releases you from pressure and expectations and a “schedule” that may even just be in your head.  

 

At this point, also, because I was feeling so tired and jet lagged, and a bit overwhelmed by my list that I felt I had to tick off all the boxes . . . it was then that I actually realized I needed to slow down. Once realizing this and taking it step by step was so good for me.

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So, after visiting Basilica di Santa Mario Novella, I then had pizza in the square/Piazza that overlooked the church…it was so peaceful and felt perfect. I ate at a little cafe that even had the red and white checkerboard tablecloths that I imagined Italy would have! There was Italian music playing, the weather was fine, and I inhaled the most delicious margherita pizza I’ve ever had! Life was good, and I was feeling calm and better after eating. 

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Then, something happened that afternoon that I would call a challenge. It ended up being a challenge for me. Let me tell you the story. 

 

I was headed to the Duomo to see all of its attractions, and along the way, in the Piazza del Duomo, I saw many vendors selling souvenirs. I saw some paintings being sold and so I stopped to look at those. The man selling them was bargaining with me, which was fine. I bought a beautiful painting, and then, he was trying to sell me another painting. He got close to me and even started whispering, I guess he was talking about the prices, but it was a foreign language, and so I had no idea what he was saying. At this point, I was feeling uncomfortable, and so I was just like, “No grazie!” And so he gave me my painting, but as I turned to walk away, he hugged me! I had my back to him and my intuition told me that he was even trying to kiss me, but I pushed him away and grunted, “Ugh!!!” And walked away from there very fast. It was crowded in the Piazza and I felt my heart pounding. That really shook me up and scared me and I felt very uncomfortable and didn’t know what to do. I was going to just go on about my plan and see the Duomo, but I felt uneasy. So I walked back to my hotel.

 

I told the lady concierge about what happened and started crying as I told her. She was mad that this incident had happened and she advised that I go to the police station and report what had happened. And so, I walked to the police station. I waited over an hour in vain, because the police officer on duty told me he spoke little English and to come back the next day between 8 and 11 am when his chief would be there who spoke better English. I did talk to him, with difficulty, but he understood what I was saying happened. So I left, and was feeling overwhelmed but glad that I had tried to do my part at least. I debated about whether or not I should go back to the police station the next day to report it or not.

 

Anyways, the situation really shook me up. I felt scared. I didn’t feel as safe as I once did upon first arriving. And so, what did I do the rest of the day? I let fear stop me. I stopped back at the piazza where I had eaten earlier that day, and found an outside cafe and had creamy risotto with asparagus. It was raining at this point. The risotto was steaming hot and warmed me up inside, but I scarfed it down. I felt like my nerves were shot. I rushed eating because I was feeling so anxious about what had happened at the Piazza and all I wanted to do was to go back to my hotel room, and not come back out. I’m just being totally honest about how I was feeling in those moments. I wasn’t able to savor my food, or to truly take in the moments of people watching while the rain fell down all around us. The things fear and anxiety can do to us!

 

The next morning, I woke up and I felt very emotional and I REALLY did not want to leave my hotel. I wrote my friend Amy, who lived 45 minutes away in Bologna, and told her about what happened and how I was feeling. (It was so amazing by the way, that Amy was there, for we had once lived in the same city, and she had actually been my daughter’s music teacher! Her family had moved to Italy a few months prior to my visit, so I would call it providential, which will make more sense later). 

 

Anyways, so Amy called me, while I was sitting in my hotel room feeling and looking like such a mess because I’d been crying, and one of the first things she said and that caught me off guard, was that she would not waste the day away at the police station. She said what happened was atypical and basically that that doesn’t usually happen and that I didn’t need to feel unsafe because of this random incident.

 

But then she said something that struck a chord with me. She said, “I believe that was an attack by the Enemy.”

 

The Enemy of course being Satan. She said that Satan is wanting to rob me of my joy and of my time of enjoying myself in Florence. She said this was supposed to be a journey of healing for me, coming on this trip.

 

Wow! Her words changed my mindset and comforted me and gave me a newfound determination. I then called Josh and we discussed about what Amy had told me. He also gave me another pep talk and he told me to be like the bearded lady (minus the beard!) in “The Greatest Showman” movie when she sings with courage and confidence, “This is me” and stomps through the streets of the city singing:

 

“When the sharpest words wanna cut me down

I’m gonna send a flood, gonna drown them out

I am brave, I am bruised

I am who I’m meant to be, this is me

Look out ’cause here I come

And I’m marching on to the beat I drum.”

 

The “sharpest words” part was that of Satan or anxiety telling me I couldn’t do it, that I was weak and scared and fearful.

 

And so, I left my hotel room, walking down the long hallway and feeling scared, but brave. So determined. I was not going to let my time, my joy, my happiness be robbed of me while I was in Florence. I listened to this song as I braved walking through the streets of Florence again. My goal was to see the Ponte Vecchio, the iconic bridge on the Arno River. I knew it was far from my hotel and that there was a possibility that I might get lost, but I kept on walking. And that is a memory that will forever be ingrained into my mind. For I found that I was enjoying myself and having fun walking amongst all these people….it was one of the most EMPOWERING feelings, because I was facing my fears head on.

 

And when I finally came upon my destination/goal, which was the river, I felt incandescently happy and SO proud of myself! That is why the picture of me standing with the headphones in my ears and with Ponte Vecchio in the background is such an important picture to me. There’s a story behind that big smile on my face. That is why I am so happy and smiling so big because of what all I had overcome, and how it ended up being one of my most favorite memories of all the trip. I was reminded of the quote from The Lord of the Rings, when Gandalf says to Frodo:

 

“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”

-J.R.R. Tolkien

 

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The day ended up getting even better, because I got to see my friend Amy. She took a train and came down to visit me that afternoon. It was just what this girl needed! That’s why I say her being there in Italy at the time I was there was providential. A God thing. Without her words of wisdom, I’m not sure I would have pushed myself and seen past what was really happening. I think I would have just stayed in my hotel room the entire trip, being sad and missing out. She and I had the best time together, strolling through the streets, taking our time. I even had my first Italian gelato! It was so great to catch up with an old friend and I’m so thankful for our friendship.

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I forgot to mention, that earlier that morning, I did go visit the Medici Chapel, which its beauty was absolutely beyond words. 

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That day is a day I will never forget. When challenge and adversity crosses our path, what do we do? Do we give in, and give up? Or do we use it as a catalyst to propel us forward and onward? Because, when you do face that challenge, whatever it may be, head on, your confidence then soars through the roof. As I’ve mentioned in Part 1, my confidence in myself in some ways had basically been shattered after going through PPD. Maybe your confidence in yourself is shattered or almost nonexistent. I would encourage one who feels this way to DO something about that. We can’t just sit there. Do something that scares you, that is completely out of your comfort zone. And when you do, you will find out just how capable you really are. 

 

Anyways . . . back to the rest of my day. So after parting ways with my dear friend, I went back to my hotel and I treated myself to room service. And yes, I ordered that “melt in your mouth” steak from the hotel’s restaurant that I had had my first night there. It was so nice to relax and reflect back on the adventure I’d been having since first leaving Texas a mere 3 days before. The best part was knowing that my adventures were not over, because the next day I would be spending the last day of my Italian holiday in Pisa. 

***

My First Solo Trip – Italy (Part 2)

After saying goodbye to my husband, and walking through the airport by myself, I already felt a newfound bravery within me. I went through security, and felt relieved (that’s never fun). I found a quiet place to eat, and began to realize already that this is all new to me . . . ever since I’ve been married to Josh (we celebrated 7 years of marriage this past April!) . . . he has been with me on my travels 90% of the time. I missed him already, but I also felt an independence that I hadn’t felt in many years. At this point, I was trying not to think too much about me stepping on the plane in a couple of hours, and so I distracted myself by playing solitaire and Tetris on my phone . . . exciting stuff! Not really, but I was doing whatever I could to not feel too nervous and anxious! 

 

The time finally came to get on the plane. 

 

I found my seat and was still pretty calm. I have flying anxiety, and so as soon as the plane started speeding down the runway, I felt my palms start sweating and my body felt weak and shaky. It was a LONG flight. I felt like I was never able to fully relax, but that my body was tense and trembling off and on. Still, I had to just push through it (I had no other choice!) and so when we made our first stop in Madrid, Spain, I felt slightly relieved that I had made it this far. There was a huge group of people, fellow Americans, that were all traveling together with a tour company. I rode on the underground tram to the other terminal alongside these people, and I felt comfort in their company. I was still anxious as a cat, but they were talking to me and they were amazed when I told them I was traveling solo. One lady even said she would never be brave enough to do that. That boosted my confidence in myself, which I believe I was needing at that point, because my nerves were on high alert. 

 

I went through customs and eventually this group of people parted ways with me, and I felt a little sad. They were starting their tour somewhere in Spain, and a part of me felt a little bit alone for a moment. It was almost like a marathon . . . one thing on to the next, and you just have to self-talk the whole way through until you make it to the finish line. 

 

After another 2 1/2 hour flight, my heart started racing with excitement as we started descending. That’s my favorite part of the flight, is when you can feel the plane start its descent, and of course, my absolute favorite moment is when we land. I let out a big sigh of relief when the wheels hit the tarmac. 

 

I stepped out of the plane and into the fresh air and looked around me at the hills. I was in Italy! I was in Tuscany! I was in Florence! I had made it!

 

There is nothing like the feeling when you arrive at your destination. Especially when you have never been there before. I can always literally FEEL the adrenaline in my body and a feeling in my chest like it could burst! I just want to jump around and dance! The anxiety left my body and I was smiling so big and smiling at everyone I passed by. 

 

I grabbed my suitcase from the conveyor belt, and then stepped outside to go find a taxi. I stood in line and waited for mine. This was another first for me. I have never ridden in a taxi by myself. It was like every little step was a huge accomplishment for me and boosted my confidence. As I rode in the backseat, I looked out the window and felt like a little kid again. I listened to the driver talking on the phone in a foreign language, Italian, and it all began to sink in of where I was at and what I was doing. I felt so giddy! 

 

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The taxi finally arrived at my hotel, the Grand Hotel Baglioni, and as I walked up to the front door, I’m pretty sure my jaw dropped. It was absolutely beautiful. So elegant and sophisticated looking. And I was right in the middle of the city, which made the hotel’s location a perfect spot to just walk out your door and go explore the city. 

 

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I checked in and felt like I was treated like royalty. There were frescoes on the walls of the lounge area, where I relaxed with some aperitivos after my very long journey to get there. The hotel had an old world charm to it. I loved it. 

 

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My hotel room was quaint, but cozy and comfortable. It had a stained glass window and wooden beams on the ceiling. 

 

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At this point, I became overwhelmed. I could hear all the city noise through my window and I desperately wanted to go see the Duomo. But, fear set in. Anxiety welled up within me and I felt overwhelmed. 

 

I had to call my husband. I told him I didn’t know what to do . . . should I just relax in my room (it was about 3:00 pm in the afternoon at this point, by the way), or should I go start exploring? I was finding every excuse in the book to stay inside my comfortable hotel room (it was raining, was one excuse) but thank goodness for my husband. I had woken him up from his sleep, but that man still gave it his all to encourage me. He said, “Go explore the city!” Fear can keep your feet glued to the floor. Glued to where you are at in the moment . . . where you are in life. But, after talking to him, I mustered up the courage to walk out my door. 

 

I didn’t know where to go. How do you solve that? Ask questions. I asked the hotel concierge where the Duomo was, and he said to just turn left outside the hotel and walk down the street. Sounded easy to me. 

 

When you push through and cast your fears and anxieties aside, and do what you are afraid to do, the results that can happen because of pushing through . . . well, it’s almost beyond measure. If I had stayed in my hotel room, I wouldn’t have the beautiful memory that truly warms my heart as I reflect back on it. 

 

The rain was gently pattering down upon my umbrella, and I took my time as I walked amongst the crowd of people. I felt calm. I felt excited. The energy of the people all around me was contagious. I walked across cobblestoned streets and stepped in rain puddles, and didn’t care that my feet were almost already soaking wet. I just kept on walking. I had a goal . . . and my goal was to see the Duomo that Florence is renowned for. That I had been seeing on pictures covering my Facebook and Instagram for months before this trip. 

 

And when, at last, I rounded the corner and saw the red Duomo (the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore) towering in the sky in the distance, I literally gasped out loud. Seeing it for the first time was even better than I could have possibly imagined. I was in absolute awe. It was almost larger than life. And the detail and beauty of its creation could make one want to cry. I thought my heart was going to burst out of my chest. In that moment, I felt incandescently happy. When you work hard to get where you are going, it makes achieving that goal worth every step it took you to get there. 

 

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I stared in wonder as I walked through the Piazza del Duomo and asked strangers to take my picture for me. This city was alive. It was beautiful. Breathtaking. 

 

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After taking in the sights, sounds, and smells around me, I took my time walking back to my hotel. Again, did I mention how happy I was? 

 

That night, I had made dinner reservations at the hotel’s restaurant, called B-Roof. I had requested a table by the window, and when I walked into the restaurant and saw the panoramic, floor to ceiling windows that had a view of all of Florence, including the Duomo, I again couldn’t help but gasp out loud. It was one of the most amazing dining experiences I’ve ever had. I’m all about views, and this view might be at the top of the list of places I’ve dined. The service was incredible. I felt like a queen. This is what I had: “Tagliatadi manzo alla griglia, fagioli all’olio e contorni di stagione” (or, in English – “seasoned, sliced grilled beef, cannellini beans in olive extra-virgin oil and vegetables in season.” Oh man, I do believe that is THE best meal I’d ever had. The steak sprinkled with sea salt and flavored to perfection was so tender it just melted in my mouth. I love to eat, by the way, and so I was in heaven as I savored every bite. The glowing candlesticks on the table added to the romantic ambiance, and my heart longed for Josh to be sitting across the table from me. It made me happy at the thought of bringing him back with me one day, and sitting at this exact table. As night settled in, the Duomo became illuminated in the dark sky. I took my time enjoying these moments, and then finally headed back to my room where I soon fell fast asleep. 

 

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Central America : Belizean Adventures

For anyone who’s explored Central America or the Caribbean, the beautiful country of Belize has probably been in the queue for potential places to visit. For us, Belize was the only choice – more specifically, the small settlement village of San Pedro located on Amergris Caye. Just for a little bit of history: Belize was formerly British Honduras, and is now an independent Commonwealth realm on the eastern coast of Central America. Belize is bordered by Mexico to the north, and to the south & west by Guatemala. The beautiful waters of the Carribean Sea surround the east of Belize.

The 30 minute flight in our puddle jumper aircraft from Belize City (the capital of Belize) to San Pedro on Ambergris Caye was one [flight] which we’ll never forgot! The plane seemed to just barely clear the end of the blacktop runway and catch enough uplift for takeoff – but, it somehow happened . . . and we were on our way! We’d never flown in such a tiny aircraft – one which was equipped with a whopping 8 seats. Despite the size of the aircraft, which only seemed to become increasingly smaller as we gained altitude, the views were huge – sweeping panoramas of the verdant jungles, snaking rivers and crystal clear waters – outstandingly beautiful.

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IMG_0083 Flying above the jungle near Ambergris Caye – a jungle which is filled with every type of flora including the beautiful Red Tail Flowers as well as a variety of fruits, such as Annato and Allspice.
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Outside of San Pedro

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As we landed in the tiny Central American city of San Pedro, located on the southern-most region of Ambergris Caye, we were instantly shocked – not only by the beauty we’d witnessed from the air, but also the third-world feel as we stepped off of the airplane. Everything about San Pedro was different from any other country we’d visited during our travels around the globe, including the primary mode of transportation, which is golf cart – everything was perfect and we knew an adventure was ahead of us!

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As this was our first visit to Central America, we were unsure as to what we’d find upon arrival. To our pleasant surprise, we were greeted by friendly faces, including the immigration officers, shop-keepers and locals, all who welcomed us with open arms to their small country. We knew immediately we had chosen well in terms of the country we wished to visit during our first trip to Central America.

Upon arrival to San Pedro, we were taxied via golf cart from the terminal a/k/a ‘garage’ to the most incredible, relaxing, and accommodating resort on the Caye, being Ramon’s Village. While we did take advantage of the affordable jet-ski rentals and the thrilling open-water shark scuba dive at the Aug Hol Chan Marine Reserve, our Central American getaway was primarily gear towards R&R. Ramon’s Village was perfect and suited our every need, including booking excursions as mentioned above.

 

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Ramon’s Village – Perfecto!
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Ramon’s Village : the beach “hang-out” area

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Ramon’s Village offers dive site trips, including the famous ‘Blue Hole’ at their dock located on-property!

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The food – ahhhh . . . so wonderful and so fresh. The fish tacos were out of this world!

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After filling up on fish tacos, we headed out to the Reef for the dive of our lives! A big thumbs up and thank you to our guides! Just a 30 minute boat trip from Ramon’s Village to the Hol Chan Marina Reserve on the Reef will yield an experience of a lifetime! A must-do when visiting Ambergris Caye.

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All in all, Ambergris Caye was fantastic and the ultimate destination for anyone who’s looking for relaxation and/or adventure!

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Thanks for stopping by – safe travels!

Magical Oregon

I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again. There is nothing like the feeling you get when first arriving to a new destination – a place you have never seen before. There is so much to discover. Travel makes your heart race and adrenaline rush throughout your entire being. It’s so exhilarating!

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And so, our hearts raced with excitement as we stepped off the plane and found ourselves in the Pacific Northwest – a place that neither Josh nor I had explored yet.

 

Our destination was Cannon Beach, Oregon. But first, we had to see something amazing. We picked up our rental car from the airport, and then drove a few miles outside of Portland to see Multnomah Falls. As we drove along the highway, clouds covered the sky and fog was on the horizon. We were not used to this kind of weather and scenery, and to us the weather was what one would call “moody.” We reached the parking lot for the falls, and felt excited for what our eyes were about to behold. Our shoes crunched in the snow and we passed under the highway through a tunnel where a local was playing some tunes on his guitar. It felt perfect, and just added to our excitement. At last, we gasped for breath when we looked up and saw the Multnomah Falls crashing its water thunderously down with such great force. It was foggy, creating an eerie and mysterious effect. We stared in wonder for several minutes at this beautiful site, took pictures, and then got back on the road as we were ready to get to our destination.

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The 2 hour drive to Cannon Beach was slow, but the scenery made the time pass quickly. We finally arrived to the sleepy beach town as the sun had just set a few minutes earlier. I instantly fell in love with the town because it was quiet, had a main street with cute shops, and it sat right on the ocean. We checked into our accommodation, The Waves, and were blown away by the panoramic views of the ocean from the windows of our hotel room. A storm was brewing, and when we opened the back door of our room to our private patio, we felt in awe of the ocean as the sound of the waves crashing against the shore was almost deafening. We were right on the ocean – such a prime spot. Our room had a cozy fireplace, which we were thankful for as it was in the middle of February.

 

We ventured a mere couple blocks away and found the perfect place to eat dinner – Driftwood Restaurant and Lounge. It felt like the restaurant was filled with locals, and I felt instantly at ease and calm when we walked in the doors. The restaurant was dimly lit with a dark wood interior. Candles and vases with fresh flowers adorned the tables, which made me happy as I am all about a romantic dining experience. It was so nice to be in a warm and cozy restaurant, away from the cold and brutal wind outside. I had clam chowder which was amazing, as well as a steak and baked potato. Our server was a gem – she was so nice and friendly. We knew from first stepping foot into this town, that Cannon Beach was a unique place. We loved it!

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The next morning, the wind was blowing mighty fiercely. We walked along the beach, struggling against the wind, and having the sand hit our faces. But we were having fun, and didn’t care. We had our GoPro and camera in hand, and did our best to capture the moments.

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View of our accommodation – The Waves
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Another view of our accommodation

I walked a block over to the main street (North Hemlock) to go to the Cannon Beach Yoga Arts, and had a calming yoga practice. A great way to start the day off right!

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After breakfast, Josh and I put our hiking boots on and drove a few miles outside of town and, after getting lost a time or two, finally found the Cape Falcon trailhead. Despite the cold, we did a short photoshoot of me in the magical-looking forest, where I felt like I was a fairy. It was so much fun! Then, we embarked on what we thought was going to be a short hike, as in 2 1/2 miles roundtrip, but we ended up hiking further than we intended, and it turned out to be an 8 mile hike! That’s quite a difference! Nonetheless, we had fun walking through the mystical rainforest. It was so quiet and peaceful, and we hardly saw any other hikers along the way. Towards the end of our hike, the sun finally appeared, and it was absolutely glorious as it peaked through the trees and warmed our skin.

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After our exhausting hike, we ate lunch at Pelican Brewing Company where I had delicious fish’n’ chips.

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I spent the rest of the afternoon, still filled with adrenaline, wandering in and out of the shops and art galleries of Cannon Beach. I then went to a local coffee shop, and did some reading. Josh later joined me and we walked next door to a pizza cafe (Pizza a’ fetta) where we shared a delicious barbecue chicken pizza. Amazing!

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The rest of our time in Cannon Beach was filled with exploring the town some more, and relaxing. We were amazed again by the natural beauty of this place, especially the iconic Haystack Rock. While gazing in wonder at Haystack Rock, the waves crashed brutally against the shore and the wind was relentless. It made standing there all the more inspiring. I had found a place of mystery. I think it was then that I discovered that my heart longs to live near the sea.

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Indeed, we will never forget our time in Cannon Beach, Oregon. And our hearts cannot wait to go back!

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Another place we found with great seafood – The Local Grill & Scoop
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Absolutely divine creamy, clam chowder at The Local Grill and Scoop
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Crab cakes at The Local Grill and Scoop
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An energetic, little photo bomber – haha!

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Trekking the Peaks of Colorado

The state of Colorado is graced with beauty unsurpassed by many states within the USA. This western state is graced with a landscape full of valleys, mountains, lakes, plateaus, deserts, and rushing rivers. Needless to say, Colorado has it all, especially if you’re keen to get outside!

There is no shortage when it comes to activities for the outdoor/extreme sports junkie, including mountain climbing, white-water rafting, SUP, and of course snow skiing/snowboarding.

I am sharing with you our experience hiking some of the most beautiful scenery in Colorado, during summer and winter months…and, of course, with our trusted k-9 companion, Olive, the shiba inu.

Exploring the craggy mountains a/k/a ‘Rocky Mountains’ requires a certain level of physical and mental strength. Many of the tallest mountains “14ers” as they are called, allow for the most breathtaking scenery and photo opps (photos below).

Side note here: as with many geological/natural/environmental questions, those who are interested tend to argue – this is the case with the ‘true’ number of 14ers. There is an ongoing debate as to exactly how many 14ers truly exist in Colorado. As per the Colorado Geological Survey, there are 58 peaks which exceed 14,000 ft. in elevation. So, we’ll go with this number for now . . .58 it is!

While most all 14ers are indeed difficult to summit for even the most experienced mountaineer, there are several [14ers] which are, for the most part, ‘family friendly’, including Grays PeakMt. Bierstadt, Mt. Democrat, Mt. Evans, and Mt. Sherman, all of which are above 14,000 ft (4,267 meters) in elevation. And yes, it’s difficult to breathe where the air is rarified! Note ‘family friendly’ assumes the hiker is in moderate-good physical and mental health.

For more information on the above-mentioned four 14ers, visit www.14ers.com. This website is chock-full of helpful information such as up-to-date mountain weather reports, route maps, photos, and trip review. Check it out!

Below are a handful of our favorite photographs which we took during our adventures backpacking/trekking/climbing in beautiful Colorado. As with any journey, one must be equipped with the right gear. For the majority of the hikes we have done in Colorado, and surrounding states in the USA, we have been incredibly pleased with gear from Kathmandu (check them out by clicking the following link HERE) – Enjoy!

Grays Peak

Elevation: 14,270 ft. / 4,350 meters

See MAP HERE

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Grays Peak: near the trailhead. Crystal clear waters one will pass whilst trekking through this beautiful Rocky Mountain land!
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Grays Peak: yes, there are wildflowers. . . and lots of them!
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Grays Peak: Olive just taking in the beauty surrounding us as we begin our trek towards the mountain
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Grays Peak: Olive and I just getting warmed up for this hike!

 

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Grays Peak: view from the lowlands below the summit
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Grays Peak: Nearing the saddle between Grays and Torreys Peaks…Olive telling me to “move quicker!”
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Grays Peak: the ‘saddle’ which connects two 14ers, being Grays & Torreys and is at 13,707 ft (4,178 m). One can summit both 14ers during the same hike if weather & strength permits! We submitted Gray’s only which is 14,270 ft / 4,350 meters.
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Grays Peak: resting on summit with fellow mountaineers before descending
Friends atop Gray's Peak
Grays Peak: hanging out on summit with a team hiking the Continental Divide trail, which extends from Mexico all the way to Canada and runs 3,100 miles / 5,000 km. The Continental Divide trail follows along the Rocky Mountains and traverses five states — Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, and New Mexico
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Grays Peak: friend showing off his rock climbing skills. They don’t call the Rockies ‘rocky’ for nothing.

 

Mt. Sherman

Elevation: 14,036 ft. / 4,278 meters

See MAP HERE

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Mt. Sherman: Olive and I making headway as we climb – what a view we had!
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Mt. Sherman: scrambling up the craggy rock face of this mountain. . .Olive is a trooper!
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Mt. Sherman: Nearing the summit. A view of the route behind me
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Mt. Sherman: Fellow dog and their masters – making new friends
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Mt. Sherman: Olive feeling quite proud after having reached summit! 
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Mt. Sherman: On summit…chowing down on a banana with Olive!
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Mt. Sherman: Fellow mountaineers on summit
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Mt. Sherman: On summit…just a ridiculously photogenic dog!
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Mt. Sherman: Cairn letting Olive and I know we had reached the summit

Mt. Quandry

Elevation: 14,265 ft. / 4,347 meters

See MAP HERE

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Mt. Quandry: stunningly beautiful!
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Mt. Quandary: mountain goat checking us out as we hike upwards to the summit

Mt. Democrat

Elevation: 14,148 ft. / 4,349 meters

See MAP HERE

 

 

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Mt. Democrat: view of the valley below as we climb closer to the summit
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Mt. Democrat: olive nearing the summit, before her masters, as usual!
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Mt. Democrat: cairn on summit
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Mt. Democrat: we’ve made it to the summit! 

 

 

Mt. Bierstadt

Elevation: 14,060 ft. / 4,285 meters

See MAP HERE

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Mt. Bierstadt: us after just having trekked across the lowlands (in background). Now on the trail which leads to the summit!
MT. Bierstadt view from Mt. Evans. Mt. B was the first 14er we accomplished summit
Mt. Bierstadt: view of the summit (which we reached)

Mt. Evans

Elevation: 14,264 ft. / 4,347 meters

See MAP HERE

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Mt. Evans: checking out fellow hikers and tourists before embarking on the route to the summit!
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Mt. Evans: Olive and Josh – geared up and hiking towards the trailhead
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Mt. Evans: the classic ‘fly’ pose overlooking Summit Lake
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Mt. Evans: one of the many mountain goats which threatened to charge (just threatened)

 

His final look before he charged..
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Even near the cities of Denver and Boulder one can find beautiful half-day to full-day hikes, such as these pictured below.

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Indian Wilderness – near Boulder, Colorado

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Rocky Mountain Nat’l Park: the elk bulls were not at all shy
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Taking in the sights of Boulder ‘open space’
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Rocky Mountain Nat’l Park: hiking over Bear Lake (yes, under the foot of snow and ice there is a lake)

 

Bavaria : Neuschwanstein to Lake Königssee

After a grueling 5 hour 260 mile/420 km drive from Frankfurt, Germany to Hohenschwangau, Germany, near the town of Füssen, located in the southwestern region of Bavaria, bordering Austria, we finally were able to gaze upon the magnificent castles which we had set out to discover – Neuschwanstein and Schloss Hohenschwangau. Both just a glorious as all photographs we’d seen prior to arrival. The day was bluebird – not a cloud in the sky to shield the view of these magnificent structures. It was a perfect day, minus the few dozen tour buses on our tail as we walked to the horse-drawn carriage. Luckily, we had beat the crowd and were able to hop on the horse-drawn carriage in a short amount of time and were on our way up the driveway of Neuschwanstein!

Of course, while traveling anywhere, especially in/around the Bavarian Alps, one must be prepared with all essentials, notably your backpack! For us, the Cotopaxi Luzon 18 L Del Dia day pack is a perfect choice to hold everything one needs for this type of travel! Check out Cotopaxi and their gear by CLICKING HERE. Cotopaxi is fine group who use those leftover scraps of fabric to create their wonderful masterpiece jackets, backpacks, and more. Perfect for, well, any type of traveling and proven to be solid products that last even through the harshest elements. They even insulate their jackets using llama fiber – how cool is that?!

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Hohenschwangau, Germany (View from hotel Alpen Stuben)
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Neuschwanstein Castle
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Castle Hohenschwangau
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View from one of the main balconies of Neuschwanstein Castle

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Day 2:  Departing Hohenschwangau

After a great night’s rest and departing Hohenschwangau, we embarked on the next leg of our journey towards Ramsau, Germany. The beautiful route we took, part of which was via the famous German Alpine Road (Deutschen Alpenstraße), provided us distant views of the beautiful Neuschwanstein Castle resting on the mountain side, as well as the baroque-style church pictured above. Saying goodbye to this region of Bavaria was difficult, however we anticipated with excitement what extraordinary places lay ahead!

The drive to Ramsau took all of 3.5 hrs (140 miles), and took us through towns such as Bad Tolz, Waakirchen, and Miesbach, before reaching the final town of the Deutschen Alpenstraße, being Inzell. Upon reaching Inzell, we continued a short distance further down windy, narrow roads through towering alpine trees until we reached the tucked-away most extraordinary town of Ramsau, Germany (see our blog post “Ramsau“). Ramsau is a village worth an entire blog post!

Below are a few photos of Ramsau, including the seldom witnessed/explored Church of Saint Sebastian.

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Playing in the Alps!

Ramsau to Lake Königssee

The drive from Ramsau to Lake Königssee is short, a mere 30 minutes to be exact. Lake Königssee (or Königsee) lies a couple of miles south of the town of Berchtesgaden and boasts to be Germany’s deepest and cleanest lake. Most of the lake is within the Berchtesgaden National Park.

To properly experience this Lake and all it offers, one must embark on the electric boat which glides across the water to the baroque-style pilgrimage church of St. Bartholomä, located on a peninsula about halfway down the western lake shore.

IMG_9146Backing up to the electric boat ride: during the approximate 45 minute drift to St. Bartholomä, the guests aboard the vessel will witness the echo-creating rock walls which surround portions of the Lake. “Echo-creating” rock walls which allow for the trumpeter aboard to play his flugelhorn to demonstrate just how “echo-creating” the rock walls really are. The flugelhorn melody reverberates up to seven times! It seems as if there are seven trumpeters, rather than just the one (just an interesting side note).

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Arrival at the dock to visit the pilgrimage church of St. BartholomäIMG_9158
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Lake Königssee
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Taking a break at the on-site Münchner Hofbräuhaus

Another side note/word of caution: due to the steep shore of Lake Königssee, St. Bartholomä and the southern edge can only be reached by boat, or via hiking trails up the surrounding mountains. The only exception to this is during harsh winters when the Lake freezes over – but of course with any frozen lake, caution is advised! Stepping on the frozen Lake, could result in a very, very cold bath, or worse. This happened in 1964 when a motorist thought it might be safe to drive his Volkwagen Beetle across the Lake to reach St. Bartholomä. The Beetle was found in 1997 at a depth of 100 m (330 ft). So, in short – do not walk (or drive) on frozen lakes!

To end our journey in Bavaria, we took a hike along the Konigsee + Obersee , Parque Nacional de Berchtesgaden trail. Such natural beauty surrounding our every step as we ventured into the alpine forest.

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