New Orleans Through the Years

Attach60152_20191117_091814-01

At this point in my life, I’m incredibly well traveled. Inevitably, I will often be asked “what is your favorite place in the world?” I haven’t been to everywhere in the world, but I’ve been to 25 countries in counting and dozens upon dozens of cities. While most travelers say, “Ugh, I hate the question of my favorite place” I’m not afraid of it. My favorite place in the world, is New Orleans. Hand’s down and no contest. This Thanksgiving, will be my fifth time in the Big Easy (also my good friend’s college nickname.) I’ve been scanning through my photos from 2014 to now, and it’s so interesting to see my love affair of New Orleans through the years.

There is nothing pretentious about New Orleans. Even at its most exclusive and upscale of institutions it is welcoming and inclusive. New Orleans is admirable in the lengths it takes to preserve its culture and the uniqueness of its identity. While many cities are chameleons, trying to be like Paris, or New York, or Rome, New Orleans knows it is not those places and does not try to be, because it’s better than those places.

20191013_143606

I’m amazed at the taxi cab drivers. Every single one has mastered the art of conversation and for 15 minutes to an hour, I get a no holds barred look into the life of a complete stranger. On my most recent trip I met a refugee and former attorney from Venezuela who indulged in all of the ways that he was pursued by the Venezuelan government for his speaking out against them. I had another cab driver pass me her phone where I watched videos of the dancing she does in her free time. Yeah, try striking up a conversation with a New York cabbie about dance moves, see how that goes.

I love the way the intricate and unique architecture and bold colors of creole cottages mixes with the undeniably palpable feeling of residual other wordly energy lingering from the Yellow Fever days. It feels as though the people who once lived in the city have never really left. You are never alone in New Orleans, even when you’re the only person on a block. The city turns even the biggest skeptics of ghosts into believers. The magnitude of their stories lingers heavily. There is an air of mysticism in the city; one sees it as he passes the tarot card readers, wanders into Boutique du Vampire for some herbs, and examines a dizzying array of voodoo dolls in VooDoo Authentica.

FB_IMG_1573906202230-01

The city is so damn eccentric. Let’s start with the fact that the first inhabitants, Native Peoples aside, were convicts and prostitutes who traded prison sentences for freedom if they built up the city. Once you understand that, everything else falls into place. There is something not disturbing, but poignant about the tales of The Big Easy’s history of Storyville prostitutes, coffin girls, madams, psychics, druggies, writers, and Bohemians.

As much as New Orleans is a tale of wantonness, it is also, as Tennesee Williams once said, “an easy intermingling of the races.” In this city there are cultures of people simply not found within the United States. There are Creole people of mixed descent, people of Native, African, and Spanish heritage. There are French Cajuns and a true Francophonie society where French culture and language is preserved; French immersion schools exist here.

Nowhere in the world has better food than New Orleans. Yes, you can find your share of gumbo and jambalaya. But, the city also procures the best hummus I’ve ever had. It also churns out exceptional bahn mi and pho thanks to its Vietnamese population. A large part of acclimating to the New Orleans culture, is holding tight to your mother culture and sharing it with the city. What is more beautiful than that? Just as delicious, savory, and fulfilling is the music of the city. As essential as water and oxygen, music is present at all vital passages of life, New Orleans is the city of Second Lines and jazz funerals. Everything, everything, is celebrated and expressed with music.

I’d like to take a look back on some grainy photographs, and at some points even grainier recollections of my time in New Orleans through the years!

My first trip was in February of 2016. My husband and I drove down from Brooklyn after severe winter weather grounded all flights out of New York City. After 13 hours in total on the road, none we reached the Crescent City. From the very first night time looks from the car it was gritty, it was gray, it was raucous. It was a city made for me as far as I was concerned.

I was in my early twenties and completely content with doing the Bourbon Street thing, and that is exactly what we did starting early the next morning. We waited in line for Jimmy J’s Cafe, and I’ll never forget my first New Orleans meal: crispy bacon and bananas foster french toast. The restaurant was jam packed, but the streets were even more packed. I remember leaving Jimmy J’s just in time to catch a glimpse of a parade passing by, one krewe member looked right out from the float and threw a frisbee. I was all the way in the back of the crowd with at least a hundred people in front of me, and yet, the frisbee floated over the heads of the masses and directly toward me, and landed right into my non athletic hands. It was in that moment, clutching the bright yellow frisbee, my jaw hitting the floor, that I knew New Orleans was magical. I still have that frisbee.

FB_IMG_1573906331305-01

I get a brain freeze just thinking about all of the slushee drinks, the hurricane after hurricane that I pounded down. That is what I really remember about that day, and that’s what got me into a lot of misadventures. I remember after already slamming something like 5 or 6 of them, a woman from Slidell stopped us and said, “I’d slow down with those. Remember, it’s a marathon not a sprint. I made the same mistake you’re making now my first time down here.” I scoffed in her face and pounded the drink as I walked away. This was no mistake, this was NAWLINS. I spent a lot of that evening with my head in my hotel toilet. I hope she’s reading this now and laughing at me.

FB_IMG_1573906242771-02FB_IMG_1573906251894-01FB_IMG_1573906245617-01

I promised random adventures, there were quite a few. None that really make sense now as a sober person several years later. I remember taking photographs with a topless older woman with an exquisite Mardi Gras mural painted across her chest. I remember a random llama roaming the streets and taking photographs with it and thinking, “is Mardi Gras really this crazy? We got llamas up in here now?!” I remember women flashing for beads, but being really disturbed by the amount of photographs being taken of these revelers. I think more women would have had fun and bared it all if there weren’t perverts encircling them with cameras. Mostly, I remember how disgusted I was with a group of protestors who marched in with their anti gay nonsense. I got in the faces of one of the protestors, and my husband was pepper sprayed by the police as a consequence.

FB_IMG_1573906310607-01FB_IMG_1573906259123-01FB_IMG_1573906275695-01

I had way too much fun, and got into way too much trouble. I slept off the day hangover, and was treated to the New Orleanean dinner of my dreams later that night. Enter, my first shrimp and grits in the city, and samplings of crawfish etouffee and jambalaya. I still remember the creaminess of the grits and the rich, smokey dark brown roux.

That first trip was mostly drinks, but it wasn’t entirely drinks. After hearing about bayous in so many rock and country songs, I finally saw one. We did a cruise through ominous waterways full of twisting, turning, bare trees and all sorts of wildlife. I saw a gator, our tour guide straight up grabbed him out of the water by the snout, petting him like the family dog. Louisianians are crazy. CRAZY. (In the best way.)

I was introduced to Marie Lauveau for the first time, and she has captivated my attention and heart ever since. Marie Lauveau is known as the voodoo priestess, but she is actually and literally one miracle short of being a saint. Her major life’s sacraments are recorded history in the Catholic church. She exuded the manifesto of “love thy neighbor” by allowing those with no place to be buried to rest forever in her family crypt. She was an entrepreneur who used the gossip she often overheard as a hair-dresser, as well as word from enslaved people, to put on the appearance that she had powers that were beyond worldly. She would hear a piece of gossip about a person in the city, and confront the person about the new fact leaving the person stupefied as to how she could possibly know such an intimate secret. Once she built faith in her clientele, she was able to sell them potions and charge money for readings.

After just three days it was time to move on with our road trip and leave New Orleans. I knew I’d be back soon. I returned several more times.

20160723_185921

I returned for a bachelorette party where we carried an inflatable man and his giant penis into every bar on Bourbon street, his name was Bad Boy Brad. At one point, someone stole him and he crowd surfed all the way up to the main stage at a live music event, it was really difficult getting him back, but we did it!

Attach60139_20191117_091720-01

That same weekend I had drank two giant hurricanes and a dozen jello shots and danced in the same bar on Bourbon Street for FIVE HOURS. Five solid hours dancing with no breaks. I don’t know how many middle aged random women that we pulled onto the dance floor and forced them to be friends with us, but it was probably at least fifteen.

20160724_172444

FB_IMG_1573905985538-01
I rode the streetcar.

20160722_120234-120160722_124344

I visited Mardi Gras world and saw how the parade floats are made and learned about the history of the holiday. I had no idea that designing and decorating the floats are full time careers for some artists, and the opportunity to work on these floats attracts real artists from all over the country!

I ventured into the Treme and had the best friend chicken in all of the United States.

FB_IMG_1573905942939-01

I visited Muriel’s and had no idea it was haunted. But, we also lived our best life ordering champagne and the best food ever. The savory gorgonzola cheesecake makes its way into my dreams at least once a week.

FB_IMG_1573905974889-01

I went in the winter, during January, and found more things to fall in love with.

FB_IMG_1573905856810-01

I tasted crawfish for the first time and while I still freak the fuck out that they look like mini cockroaches, and I feel like they’re going to re-animate and come back to life every time I pick them up, they’re damn delicious. My favorite place for them is the Original French Market restaurant and bar on Decatur. In fact, they offer my definition of comfort food and one of my death row meals. Crawfish plate, crab legs, their creamy and generous portion of mac and cheese, and a tap beer.

FB_IMG_1573905908882-01

I returned to the bayou, and came face to face with my long lost twin, seen below.

FB_IMG_1573905842213-01

I found Frenchmen street, and my tastes are now such that I really prefer it to the madness of Bourbon Street. I heard a second line for the first time on Frenchmen, and it brought me to tears. The diversity of crowd it attracted, the hard work of the performers, people from all walks of life coming together to enjoy the music, these are the most magical moments of travel.

However, I was 25, and so a rendevouz down Bourbon Street seemed appropriate. We said we were just going to take a quick stroll and then…

I met the love of my life…the Central Grocery Muffaletta. Being Italian, this was always bound to happen. A huge delicious loaf of bread stuffed with all the meats and cheeses and olive tapenade…yes please.

I met a random restaurant owner on the street who knew my name without ever having met me and told me that angels told him to tell me that I have a blessed and protected life.

monkeymeme.jpeg

I ate approximately 9,234 beignets during both my January and July trip.

I whole heartedly enjoyed every second of jazz brunch at Antoine’s. Once of the oldest restaurants in the city.

After a few year hiatus, I took a trip last month with my cousin, Nina (who you remember from my Wales escapade.) This was my first girls trip after having a baby, and you could say I really let loose.

20191013_164457

We got wigs, spread a gaudy amount of glitter on our bodies, caked on purple eye shadow, and became new people. Fifi Mahony’s on Royal Street is THE best place for wigs. They charge a five dollar capping fee, but it goes toward the purchase of a wig. We must have tried on a dozen, and the women who work there were incredibly patient and helpful.

We had a bougie French meal at Justine’s complete with champagne, a cheese plate,duck and oysters.

I had possibly the best meal of my life at Shaya, an incredible Israeli restaurant which if you follow what’s hot in the gastronomic world, tops the charts of New Orleans constantly. Shaya made cauliflower taste good. I couldn’t stop eating it. This is the kind of magic that this place creates, guys. The hummus had to have been made by gods. I can see no other way to understand the perfection of their hummus. Seriously…get on a plane and go there.

Attach57770_20191015_212025-01

I tried the Cafe DuMonde in City Park and I risk my life by saying…the cafe mocha is so much better than the cafe au lait.

20191014_105245

We visited New Orleans’ Arcadian book store where books are sold in both French and English. The works are piled high and you’re bound to find something (or someone) interesting. I’ve never been in a bilingual bookstore, but I think we need more of them.

In New Orleans through the years, I’ve always been content to just do the tourist thing each time I visit. But, locals keep saying that the best way to experience the city is through the many festivals that the Big Easy offers. Enter…mac and cheese fest! Live music and a multitude of different types of variations on the classic. Not to mention, a mac and cheese eating contest!

I’m a huge fan of AirBnB experiences. Here are some that I did during my trip in October:

Champagne Destiny Reading: I’ll be doing a separate write up for this entirely because it was so great, and linking it to this article once I get it done. Briefly, the experience starts with a bottle of bubbly (as every morning should) which was appropriate because the organizer, Mika, is so much fun and so full of life! She was down to earth and easy to talk to, she shared about her own background and how she became involved in the mystical practice of card reading and astrology. I will say, my reading was eerily accurate. The entire practice is based on birth dates. I’m now a believer!

20191014_120406

Frenchmen Street Pub Crawl: I’ve been on Frenchmen Street, but never knew which clubs and music spots to dive into. Quay changed all of that for me. He was our guide on our big night out in the Marigny, a respected musician, and his mother used to sing back up for Aretha Franklin! He took us to several music spots throughout the night and timed everything perfectly so that we would always be listening to the best live music. We saw jazz, classic rock, blues, and even danced to Zydeco thanks to a lot of liquid courage. He led us to places I would never have known to visit, and we always had the best seats in the house! We even stopped at the Art Market to pick up some souvenirs. He really opened up my eyes, heart, and what’s left of my soul to the huge range of diversity in New Orleans music which makes the city so unique. I feel way too old to be partying on Bourbon street anymore, but there’s a new life for me and my antics, and that life is on Frenchmen Street with world class music!

Drag Queen Tour: It’s difficult to pick a favorite experience of my October trip to New Orleans, they were all outstanding. However, I might have to go with my drag queen tour! I try to pick the wackiest, most fun, most unique activities when I visit the city, I love all things drag, so this seemed like a great option. As a humanities teacher, I welcomed the opportunity to learn about the history of marginalized people. This tour was packed full of the history of people of color, the LGBTQ community, sex workers, and WOMEN! Quinn was our guide and she was so full of knowledge and humor, I was captivated from the get go. Quinn exudes a style of teaching which makes it impossible to forget the stories she tells. However, please don’t think this experience was anything like a boring history class! We learned about women who danced seductively with oysters on their bodies, the sex workers of Storyville and its history, violence, and all the raunchiness! I’m a proud ally of the LGBTQ community and so I loved learning about the struggles of the community, but also its history and how members of the community have overcome bigotry. I enjoyed learning about how women used their limited opportunities in the city to become entrepreneurs. It was inspiring, educational, and SO much damn fun!

Attach58759_20191030_154343-03

Drunk and Haunted tour: New Orleans just does everything in such an incredible fashion, and this was no exception. The city is full of unbelievable story tellers and we were lucky enough to have one as our guide. I learned so much and after hearing about all of the stories truly felt the spirits of those who passed walking among us. Not in an eerie way, but a matter of fact way. In every location we went to, Nina was able to see green orbs on her phone! If you’re not a ghost nerd, orbs are said to be spirits floating around. I learned the real story of Marie Lauveu, and the heinous story of Madame LaLaurie, even visiting her old mansion. There is said to be so much residual energy there that people actually faint when visiting. I ran this past our tour guide, and she thinks they faint from drinking too much. I REALLY appreciated that she herself is a historian and only shared what was factual and did not fabricate for the sake of the tour. There were two stops on the tour which were opportunities to get drinks and the Pimm’s Cup I chose was a pretty boss move. The sky was a midnight blue, the white moon shone bright, the air had a crisp chill and rustled the leaves on the streets. Other tour groups walked excitedly from place to place like adult trick or treaters. Autumn was a perfect time to take this tour! I’ll be sharing more in a separate post!

I also got MY FIRST TATTOO! Shout out to Downtown Tattoos and Piercings who did such a phenomenal job. I came in with an embarrassingly gaudy and hideous idea for a tattoo, and they gave me suggestions and ideas which saved my foot from pretty much looking like a giant king cake. For their creativity, for their professionalism, for their great humor and conversation, I’m so thankful! In an ode to the city I love the most, I got a fleur dis lis.

Attach58706_20191029_161550-01

New Orleans through the years has certainly changed. When I first visited, it was still legal to smoke in bars! That’s mostly a thing of the past. When I first visited, I was mainly interested in the drinking and partying scene, as any proper 23 year old should be. Nowadays, I try to visit at least once a year for different reasons. The cocktails will always be an integral part of my experience, but I also love the history, music, and culture. It will be interesting to see what experiences I have in November going with my husband, parents, and 6 month old baby. Talk about a change! Any ideas on what to do when I visit for Thanksgiving? Let me know in the comments!

How Fear Factors Into My Travels

FB_IMG_1573489259502
The amount of times I nearly walked away from a flight is staggering and would probably surprise you. I would say in recent years, I have seriously considered losing thousands of dollars I pay for trips in advance, leaving it all on the table, to walk away from flights. While I’m making strides with my anxiety and OCD, it is also no joke. Sometimes, I’m entirely convinced that the worst situations that can happen to a traveler will happen to me. Muggings, stabbings, murder. The bitch about anxiety is that we who suffer cannot rely on trusting our gut. If I did that, I’d never leave my house. My gut is always telling me that everything is terrifying and risky. What helps my anxiety is consciously reminding myself that my worst fears have never happened on a trip. This normally works, until it didn’t.

Before departing for Spain in 2017, I lamented to my husband that I might be the victim of a terrorist attack. He rolled his eyes. “Stephanie, I’m stuck here working. You have an incredible opportunity. The odds of you being involved in an attack are incredibly slim. Go and relax, a reward for all of the hard work you do.” Oddly enough, a terrorist attack did happen when I got to Spain. I was out at Mercado de San Miguel when I looked at my phone and received dozens of texts and calls. Before I could even open any of my messages, a frantic petite woman sidled up to my best friend and I. “There’s been a terrorist attack in Barcelona! Someone drove a van into Las Ramblas and the attackers are on the loose!” I would be heading that way in two days. I couldn’t believe it. My immediate thoughts were of course terrified. I felt like the attackers were pervasive. They could be anyone and they could be anywhere. I briefly texted my mother and husband before pounding glass after glass of sangria with my bestie trying to numb our fear of what might happen next.

FB_IMG_1573489219097

Heading back to the hotel, we Skyped our moms and had a lot of decisions to make. Do we switch countries? Do we skip Barcelona, a place I’ve always wanted to see? Do we fly home? Amanda offered that we should stick to our original plan. She felt that when people switch plans is when bad situations arise. I received an alert on my phone that yet another attack had happened at a resort town in Spain. We decided we would stick with our original plan. At around midnight we made our way to Joy Teatro Eslava, an amazing nightclub in an abandoned theater. As much fun as I had, I’ll never forget the constant unnerving feeling I held until the drinks caught up with me. The constant need to stand by the closest exit. To scan the room for places that a person might pop out from unexpectedly. It was eerie. I remember walking home from club through Plaza Mayor and seeing a group of people, mostly families gathered around a street performer and speed walking past them feeling that such a large congregation was inevitably a target for a terrorist who might be lurking in the shadows.

FB_IMG_1573489322943

To make a long story short, our trip was nearly perfect, and unforgettable, but I was scared for sure. When we ate outside, I never had my back to the street in case a car drove up onto the sidewalk, I would be able to see it. I recall being alone with Amanda on a bus with a sketchy group of guys who were huddled in a circle and whispering. I made us get off at the wrong stop because I seriously considered that they might be assailants in some way. My heart was in my throat sitting in the Plaza del Sol knowing that it was so heavily frequented by tourists, and what if someone decides to do the unthinkable. My mind had become a microcosm of McCarthyism. Everyone was the enemy. We took a train from Madrid to Seville and shared a compartment with a (probably) 17 or 18 year old kid. I’ll never forget that either one of us couldn’t rest out eyes despite being SO tired because what if he’s one of them. He went rummaging through his bag at one point, and I death gripped my seat handle knowing…just KNOWING he was about to pull out a weapon and end it all. Actually, he was pulling out a carton of cigarettes.

FB_IMG_1573489299001

Fear did not end with my trip to Spain. I vividly remember sitting on a plane from Mumbai to Udaipur with my husband when a young man pulled out two cell phones. Why did he need two phones? What could he need two phones for? I remember tugging at my husband and demanding he ask the young man why he needed two phones. I remember digging my nails into my jeans just knowing that he had one of those phones wired up somehow to hurt us all. This…this is what anxiety makes of a person at its worst. It wasn’t until my husband reminded me that he himself carries two phones, one for work, that I calmed down and was bathed in a river of my own stupidity and embarrassment.

To be fair to myself – I have been in some very hairy situations involving flying. One situation involved my best friend and I flying home from Vegas on Spirit Airlines. The man assigned to sit next to us kept asking my friend about orgasms and cliter-i. When I demanded that he stop, he calmly told me that the entire plane was going down and going to kill us all.

I still don’t have an answer for the question I’m about to pose, but I thought I’d open up the floodgate. To what extent do we and should we allow fear to play a role in our travels?

I’m in a really good position in regards to travel. My husband is a huge fan of travel and supports all of my wanderlust wishes. We prioritize travel above most things. Our baby, at six months old, is already incredibly well traveled. He does excellent on long car rides, adjusts well to new surroundings, and is generally very well behaved and curious in places like museums, restaurants, and tours.

FB_IMG_1573489245408

Having won the lottery on this, the opportunities are endless. One such opportunity presented itself recently, and I’m torn. Recently, we’ve been given the choice of visiting Costa Rica for four to six weeks this summer while my husband works remotely. Do you know how many people dream of doing the digital nomad thing, and here we are with an opportunity? We are deeply in love with the country, in fact, the novel I’m working on is set there! This is an amazing opportunity in so many regards both professionally and personally for our family. We have the funds, the drive, the ability, and still, I can’t pull the trigger. I don’t know if I ever will. Why? Fear.

What if my son gets sick and contracts some weird Costa Rican illness? Would I ever forgive myself? Would society ever forgive me, or constantly look down on me as an irresponsible and unforgivable mother? What if we wind up hating it there and feel isolated? What if my parents and family are heartbroken that we’re leaving for such a long time? What if a severe storm sweeps through the area and tears our home apart? What if we love it, and returning to a conventional lifestyle absolutely breaks our hearts?

Nearly everyone in my life lives a conventional lifestyle. No one I know travels as much as I do, except a few of my husband’s friends. People talk about it with me, dream about it with me, but never actually pursue a life centered around travel. Every person I know is focused on marriage, kids, a house with a mortgage that will never be paid off until near death, taking care of family, and career. Some parts of that really excite me, such as having a big family, celebrating holidays together, and having a home. Others are unfathomable to me. I don’t want to work only to be able to afford a mortgage and nothing else. I don’t want to keep up with the Jones’ family for the best furniture and best clothes. I don’t want to spend my free time, the little time I have on this earth painting walls and fixing plumbing and going to the same bars and restaurants. My whole life I have been an outlier, someone who does things differently, and my whole life I’ve been sneered at. I typically do not care what others think of me, but the criticism to be normal and step into line with others can be intolerable sometimes. People seem to have no problem spending hundreds of dollars on birthday parties, Abercrombie clothes, Christmas presents which get cast to the side after days, and zippy after zippy at Fire Island. When I spend my money on travel instead, I’m doing the unthinkable. I must be a millionaire. I must be in debt. I must have my head examined. I must be doing myself and my family wrong. Traveling the world ain’t got shit on owning a home and a minivan, apparently. I want to give my family experiences, not things. If I had to choose between a hundred top selling toys or the gift of confidence, joy, and learning that experience brings, I will pick experience every time. There are family and friends of mine reading this who, I assure you, definitely think I’m an asshole for feeling this way.

FB_IMG_1573489286819

Recently, I lost my godmother. The process of finding a diagnosis to losing her was very quick, very overwhelming, and very unfair. I don’t think I realized how much she meant to me until I lost her. When family felt loud and wild, she was a beacon of quiet and safety. She thought everything I did was impressive and would genuinely listen to me when I spoke. She loved me, really loved me. Not out of a sense of familial obligation, but choice. I remember laying in her arms on a cool day as she told me about all of the birds who lived in the tree in my other aunt’s backyard. She was calm. She was peace. She was love. I’ve been battling with her loss tremendously, and once a week I break down in tears over it. My godmother was so radiant, so loving, and So. Full. of. Life. Seriously. She wasn’t someone who did nothing with her days, waiting for it all to end. She was energetic, she partied, she traveled, she loved, she always smiled and always laughed. She told great stories. She danced side to side with a glass of wine in her hand. She lived life so fully. Typically, I am pretty rational and understanding when it comes to death. Death comes for older people, yes. Death comes for people who overdose on drugs, or get into a car wreck, ok. This shook me. I still do not understand how someone so full of life, so vibrant in all that they do can suddenly receive a diagnosis and be gone. Thinking of my godmother helps me keep my life in perspective. I’m very careful about where I channel my energy and my efforts. I’m very aware of making the most of the time I have with the people in my life who mean so much to me. This is also perhaps why I think Costa Rica might me a “no” for me. Six weeks away from family and friends seems like a lot. Will I regret leaving my family behind if something were to happen?

When I think about how much I could have missed out on had I let fear stop me, I am sick to my stomach. Most of what gives my life purpose, has kept me going, and makes me happy stems from travel and experience. No matter whatever becomes of me in the future, or how it all ends, I live knowing my life was one of purpose and fulfillment. I currently walk the earth not having a single regret or, “I wish I would have” thought. However, I know that every trip I’ve taken in some way has involved risk and could have ended so badly. On the tragedy in Barcelona, a heartbroken father said of his son, he would have never thought in a million years it could happen to him, that he would be the unfortunate victim in a seemingly random terrorist attack on his travels. This sentiment is not lost on me either.

FB_IMG_1573489416859

When I consider what to do with my life each week, when I consider which thoughts to focus on, which plans to pursue, I keep in mind how finite and uncertain the course of life can be. Do I extend my time on earth by all means necessary? Do I avoid taking risks, going off course, getting in planes as much, and spending money in case a war breaks out? These ideas do not seem unreasonable when you have a child. I’m so damn afraid of bringing any kind of harm to my child, sometimes I do consider staying put and doing what is safe. On the other hand, does the uncertainty of how long we have mean we should be doing the most with our time? Taking the risks, rolling the dice, moving away, changing careers, saying hell yes, and giving a middle finger to convention? I’m still not sure. What do you think?

The Summer Day
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

—Mary Oliver

FB_IMG_1573489263957

Trip Tales: Facing My Fears In Romania

FB_IMG_1572478502622-01

As I write this, we’re days away from Halloween, and I’ve been thinking a lot about fear. I’ve been considering fear not in a goblins and ghouls way, but in a very macabre Robert California from The Office at the Halloween Party way.
robertcalifornia

I went to Romania well over a year ago, and writing a blog post on the adventure has been on my mind ever since. I always assumed that I’d be writing about Romania from a SpOoOoOky angle, focusing heavily on my visit to “Dracula’s Castle”, but nothing would ever come to me each time I sat down to write.

It was time to look at fear in another manner. When I consider what makes me afraid, what keeps me up at night, it’s not witches and monsters. I have five very specific fears, and ironically, I had to come face to face with each one of them during my trip. To many, haunted mansions or hotels are the most frightening places imaginable to visit. For me, the place I’m often most afraid to travel, is deep within myself. Even more frightening, is sharing these deepest fears with you, dear reader!
FB_IMG_1572464498509-01

Fear of the Unplanned Adventure: I plan everything. I’m hyper aware of the fact that we are given one life to live. There are so many countries to visit, and I’m not sure I’ll ever return to Romania. When I found out that I would have the chance to visit, I wanted to do it right. One of my biggest fears would be wandering aimlessly and wasting time when I could have been experiencing something meaningful and exciting, something I would be proud to talk about with family and friends. However, for reasons I’m sure had to do with over fatigue from my job, I dared to get outside of my comfort zone, and leave day one of Romania…TO CHANCE. (Thunder and lightning crash ominously/bats fly out of a cave.) Most people fear speaking the language of a new country or understanding the currency when traveling to a new country, I fear not having a comprehensive and well planned adventure. It keeps me up at night. For once in my life, on a whim, I rolled the dice and said, “let’s see what happens today.” I’m still a fan of well planned journeys, but, guys…day one was the best day in Romania. I had few expectations of where to eat and what to see, and thus, everything I witnessed for the day and well into the evening was exciting and new. Romania’s capital city of Bucharest has no shortage of amazing restaurants with plenty of outdoor seating for summer, adorable and uniquely themed coffee shops, and NIGHTLIFE. I was SHOCKED to discover that Bucharest can get DOWN! I would put Bucharest’s nightlife up against any city in the world. It has glamour, craziness, and incredible booze and music, but in a cozy, intimate, and approachable atmosphere. The city is small and easily navigable. The streets are flooded with people sitting outside eating dinner and bouncing from bar to bar.

Bucharest isn’t just a night owl’s haven. There is plenty to do during the day! We walked to the Palace of Parliament thinking it was the House of Ceausescu. The notorious home of Romania’s communist leader in the 1970’s, Nicolae Ceausescu. Ceausescu is known for his totalitarian style of ruling and using tax dollars to fund his mega-mansion. I heard mixed opinions about his house as a tourist attraction, I was even scolded on one occasion by a man who felt, “it’s not right what they’ve done with his house. They’re glorifying him.” Evil dictator or not, I find large mansions interesting to wander regardless of circumstance. I could only imagine the shock on the revolutionaries faces upon seeing how Ceausescu had been living. Moving backward, I was a bit perturbed by the error of mixing up the sights. I hadn’t the least bit interest in seeing the Parliament building, but my husband did, and so we pressed on. I enjoyed the tour a lot more than I thought I would, although some of the figures and events mentioned were ambiguous to me as a product of someone who only has been taught history in the United States where history like Romania’s is largely neglected.

Fear of Missing Out on an Instagrammable Moment: I’m really terrible at anything involving physical exercise. However, for a unique Instagram shot, I was willing to climb the (what felt like) 3,000 stairs to the top of the Pura Vida sky lounge. The journey upstairs is so arduous, that many of the steps are painted with words of encouragement to keep going even though it’s difficult. I have to admit, we stopped to laugh at a few of the sayings on the steps. Pura Vida Sky Lounge was the first place I had ever heard of which featured “blue wine” on their menu. I am always looking to showcase experiences that are unique, and I knew that none of my friends, family, or two followers had probably ever heard of blue wine, THIS WAS MY OPPORTUNITY FOR A MOMENT OF GREATNESS. Leonardo da Vinci had his art, Luther had his reformation, and my legacy would be the first of my circle to throw this wine into my mouth and up on the ‘gram. My husband went to get us two glasses. I literally polished my phone’s camera lens and adjusted the settings to showcase the azure alcohol in all of its glory. I imagined (pathetically as I look back) how interesting people would find this photo to be. The bar even offered a unique paint splattered counter to rest drinks on which was in and of itself an interesting background for the star of the photo. Then, utter defeat. My husband put his hand on my back and returned with nothing. “No..no this couldn’t be possible.” I thought. “So, they ran out of blue wine. Is white wine ok?” NOOOOOOOOO! My chance at being an influencer had come and gone. I pouted, I made overly loud comments wondering “how a bar which showcases something so unique could simply run out” at prime drinking time. I pounded my fist against the paint splattered bar top. “Fine. I’ll take the vino blanc” or better yet….vino BLAND. I drummed my finger tips, and stared out into the night air. It was refreshing after such a long climb. I swiveled in my seat and watched the other people at the bar and wondered about their stories. I especially remember a group of friends who were celebrating nothing in particular, seemingly just reveling in the happiness of a Friday with friends and drinks. Their smiles were genuine and their voices joyful. I couldn’t help but smile myself. This trip wasn’t about blue wine, or pleasing the Insta-masses. After all, they hadn’t worked hard to get me here, my husband and I did. Pouting over something so fucking stupid wasn’t bringing me joy, and blue wine wasn’t going to skyrocket me to Insta-stardom. Until this point, I always admired influencers. However, the real influencers of the night were the random people sitting at the table across from me. Without even speaking to me, they persuaded me to adjust my attitude, change my outlook, and to have a good time and be grateful that I was even in Bucharest.
FB_IMG_1572464889711-01

Fear of No Sleep: For the past several years I’ve been dealing with a weird form of illness. I’ll spare you the details and quickly tell you that no one has been able to get to the root of the illness, but it’s believed to be a weird form of migraine. When I have an “episode” I feel extremely dizzy, develop severe brain fog and forgetfulness, sensitivity to light, and become very faint. I’ve noticed that lack of sleep pretty much guarantees I will have an episode the following day. Knowing this association, I’ve inadvertently created a situation where I put myself into an episode by becoming anxious when I know I’ve had an inadequate amount of sleep, or when I know I am about to face an inadequate amount of sleep. A twelve hour layover in Lisbon coupled with being unable to get into our AirBnB upon arriving in Bucharest culminated in me facing a fear…I was awake for 36 hours without any chance to sleep. As we drove from the airport to the center of Bucharest, my anxiety at having an “episode” of sickness was palpable. My palms were sweaty, my hands shook, I found myself going on about how I felt I could possibly faint, I felt the severe brain fog, almost as if I were dreaming.

We tried to check into our AirBnB, and the young woman we woke up by pounding on the door told us that she still had not checked out, and we had to wait for the cleaning crew. I found myself in a full panic, on the verge of tears blaming EVERYONE (inappropriately) for the impending episode of sickness I was bound to face that afternoon. We were forced to sit in a restaurant’s abandoned outdoor seating area, and watch the city come to life slowly. I’ve read that apple juice calms people who are having a bad high on marijuana, and so, I’ve convinced myself that is calms panic too. Luckily, I had a small bottle of apple juice in my purse, and I sipped it slowly. I put my feet up on my suitcase and was forced to be in the moment. I noticed things I probably would have neglected entirely had the universe permitted me to rush about to my room, get ready for a tour, find the cutest breakfast spots, and so on.

I noticed a woman dressed exquisitely in all black doing the sign of the cross as she passed by, and no less than a dozen others who also would make the sign of the cross as they passed us at our table. I’m still not sure the precise reasons for this seemingly impromptu entertainment, but I have to assume I had my back to a church. I noticed the sounds of birds and how good the cool breeze felt in the air. Soon, I became excited about having had the opportunity to have Bucharest to ourselves. We busied ourselves with sightseeing and tours, and although I was tired, I no longer felt a sense of panic, but excitement having seen much of the city and thinking about all there was still to do.
FB_IMG_1572464504588-01

Fear of Not Being Enough: I have a really great personality. I’m funny, witty, generous, fun, interesting, and nice. I’m not entirely sure, but I may have developed such a substantial personality as a way of coping with what I feel I lack in physical looks. For a very long time, if a noticeably beautiful woman would walk in the room, I would suddenly question my own worth. I would feel like a brightly shining candle who is blown out and forgotten, if only in my own mind. Admittedly, for a long time, no number of good deeds or triumphs in life could compensate for what I felt I lacked in physicality. Romania is full of beautiful, leggy, fashionable, confident women. The kind of women who would make a very recent version of myself want to blend into a wall in fear of being compared unfavorably. We visited one of the most charming and popular restaurants in Bucharest called Caru’cu bere. The food was filling and there were a ton of options. Ordering nearly everything off of the menu and an entire bottle of wine barely put a dent in our pocket. I’ll be honest, I felt special. Romania is one of the few places in Europe that an average, middle class person can feel wealthy and important. Most importantly, we didn’t feel ripped off in any way. We toasted and took in the rustic and kitschy atmosphere around us, celebrating the kickoff to our honeymoon.
FB_IMG_1572464760579-01

Then. Entertainment. Beautiful, well – polished young women, and frail young men poured onto the dance floor to show off traditional Romanian dance and eventually, to pull participants on the floor to slow dance. A young woman, with a beautiful dress, flawless skin, and fluttering eyelashes immediately came to our table and asked my husband to dance. I was tempted to do what I normally do which was critically examine all of the ways we were different, and how that made her better than me. But, I chose happiness over fear. I told myself that this was not a malicious act, but a wonderful way for the restaurant to share a beautiful part of their culture with the guests of the restaurant. I snapped photos and laughed as soon other men were brought onto the floor to be lead around by experienced dancers. I noticed other wives and girlfriends clapping along and smiling, and I found myself doing the same. Eventually, women were invited up and I was asked to dance as well. Looking back, we were sitting closest to the dance floor and we were doing a good job of celebrating (our recent marriage) I would not be surprised if the dancers were actually going out of their way to give us an extra special memory. Choosing to see myself as enough that night in hindsight was one of the most important things I could have done. I now have a completely different outlook on myself to the point that this story is almost cringy to write, but I like to keep it real. In fact, that night we went to an awesome dance club where eventually a gorgeous topless dancer made her way to the stage. Rather than running the other way out of the club, I wrote off the dancer as “an interesting part of the atmosphere” and instead engaged in conversation with the bartender (pictured in a selfie which he took below) who was friendly and made damn good drinks. Also, shots were absolutely free that night! Beauty is not exclusive to an upper echelon of people. Beauty lies within all of us, and what makes us especially beautiful, no matter who we are, is a strong sense of self confidence and letting it shine like a beacon when we walk into a room instead of cowering in the corner and comparing ourselves.

Fear of a Travel Mishap: I book all excursions in advance. It has been my experience that activities fill up quickly. If you book activities in advance, you have a guaranteed, (usually) awesome adventure for the day. There is a higher chance of meaningful memories and well planned, stress free, adventures. I booked Arthur and I for a full day adventure. We were to visit the Brown Bear Sanctuary, Brasov, Rasnov fortress, and “Dracula’s castle”, which every self righteous traveler will have you know is actually and technically called Bran Castle. Our guide and fellow travelers were nice enough, and the day started off with pleasant exchanges. However, matters suddenly took a turn for the worst.
FB_IMG_1572478766965-01

Our driver and guide kept re-stating the fact that we had to be at the sanctuary promptly, and that we were only narrowly on time. The kicker was, HE had set the time for everyone’s pick up! Why not set the time for the tour earlier then? The thought of missing even a moment of this well planned excursion nearly set me over the edge, he kept reinforcing that time was of the essence and I grew more and more frustrated over his constantly saying this, and us passengers having no control over making it there on time. Then – the worst for any type A planner. A traffic jam. On a one lane highway.
FB_IMG_1572478760383-01

A tree had fallen down, and there was no way off of the line of traffic. Still, I remained hopeful that soon the cars around us, and eventually ours would begin moving. There was no way that the universe would allow for such an egregious mishap in my well laden plans. After one hour, our guide had informed us that we would not be seeing the brown bear sanctuary. He wondered whether we would like to see brown bears at the zoo instead. “That’s the opposite of a sanctuary” my husband protested, and a passenger in the back strongly agreed. “Let me ask you this, why do you want to see the bears?” Why? What the fuck did he mean why? I had my reasons for why I wanted to see them, but I didn’t feel like I should have to explain or justify why I wanted to see them. I signed up for the tour, why press me? He proceeded to tell us that the sanctuary was nothing special and that the rest of the day would be wonderful.

However, we remained locked in traffic for another hour.

Finally, we began moving, but I’m sure I still have indents on my palms from where my fingernails were stabbing into my hands as I balled my fists in frustration and anger. Nonetheless, I must have had an extra xanax that morning, because I decided that today would be a good day regardless.

Brasov was our next stop. Upon exiting the van I immediately fell in love and wanted to photograph everything. Charming is the only way that I could possibly describe Brasov. It was jovial and lively with a multitude of tents set up in the main square selling everything imaginable. I use that phrase in good faith because I was able to locate and buy a freaking Joe Bonamossa CD for my father…of all things to find! Brasov is storybook-esque with brightly colored buildings, beautiful fountains, and cobblestone streets.
FB_IMG_1572465054483-01 (1)FB_IMG_1572465049924-01 (1)FB_IMG_1572464725041-01

Getting back into the van, morale had returned and brown bear-gate was water under the bridge. We all talked excitedly and compared the souvenirs we had purchased. That is until the grim reaper, our tour guide, gave us more bad news (his nickname is apt.) “So, since we spent so much time at Brasov, we’re going to have to rush through Bran Castle to make it to the last stop. I suggest we snap some photos of the castle and leave.” Once again, my heart began to beat and I could feel my blood pressure skyrocket. My husband, who is normally the least argumentative person on earth put his foot down. He announced that we came all this way to see the castle and that we would be looking inside, no exceptions. Grim asked, “Why do you want to see the inside of the castle? It’s not that interesting, it’s not like in the movies.” This constant questioning of why I wanted to see the things on the tour was maddening. I was ecstatic to get out of the van after awhile and get to the castle.

FB_IMG_1572464581836-01

It was haunting, chilling, and beautiful. However, our guide did not allow us to do a guided tour, so I was not able to learn too much. I got some decent photographs and got to scour each and every room. At the very least I was able to make the most of the situation and let my imagination run wild in each new room that I discovered. To me, this was the most important piece of the day, and getting to see the castle was an experience that I am truly grateful for in any capacity.

FB_IMG_1572464700788-01

Once back in the van, our guide informed us that we had missed Rasnov fortress, but that he would get us to Peles castle in time to tour it and take photographs. I’m sure you can already sense the finale…we didn’t make it and simply walked around the grounds. Our guide feigned understanding of our situation, but ultimately felt he bared no responsibility and did not issue us a refund. I feel that he did at the very least due to his mismanagement of time.

In the end, this whole mishap was the worst thing that I could imagine happening to me while traveling (other than murder and stuff.) I spend hours…HOURS meticulously researching activities to do and then more hours re-reading my itineraries and dreaming about my plans. By the time the trip comes, I have the schedule etched into my memory. To me, situations like the aforementioned are equated with a waste of time and a terrible experience, certainly not one to treasure.

As frustrated as I was, the opportunity to practice gratitude unfolded. Unbeknownst to me until this point, we cannot always have what we desire. If God or the universe decided that the day in its entirety could not happen, they gave a damn good compromise in letting me see the one piece of the day that I longed to see the most. While sitting in traffic, I was able to sit on the guardrail of the highway and look out into the woods. The same woods I had seen in every corny film made about Romania. To me, those woods were synonymous with Romania. Staring out into them and into the mountains, I was able to take a few deep breaths and realize…I’m here, I made it. However today turns out, tomorrow is a new one in the same place. What matters is, I’m here.

Romania was everything I could have ever hoped to discover and more. Its identity is rustic, rugged, and unique. Its history and folklore is rich. Before leaving, I had images of Romania being vaguely haunting and spooky. However, I stood against fears that I was not prepared for and would never had guessed I’d be coming up against. There is so much more behind the impeccable Instagram photos and wise quotes that people post. Every person who travels winds up facing some fear or level of discomfort. I wound up facing so many of my deepest fears unexpectedly and all within three days. At the same time as this trip, I was experiencing one of my most significant bouts of anxiety that I ever recall grappling. Working through these challenges in Romania put me in a great place for the rest of my honeymoon. Ever since this trip, I do not tense up in the face of adversity or difficulty, but embrace it calmly and work through it logically knowing that everything will always, for the most part, work out just fine, but only if I believe it will. I’m curious, what are your travel related fears, or any fears for that matter!? Tell me in the comments and HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

FB_IMG_1572464557326-01

The Short of It: Small Layovers and Trips – CARDIFF, WALES

LRM_EXPORT_15810922070417_20190913_165337319

Third time’s the charm, and from this experience, I can tell you this sentiment especially rings true when one gets their nose pierced.

bubbles8

The first time, I was a freshmen in college taking advantage of “free piercing week.” Free is so for me that I also went back to get a lip ring. Flash forward to my mother giving me 24 hours notice that she would be visiting me, and my room-mate is pouring me vodka shots to numb the pain of her boyfriend pulling my two part lip ring out in time for mom’s arrival. The nose ring, I kept until I got a job as a teacher. Both sad and symbolic for me, my nose ring represented my care free days of my college years. Pulling it out wound up being a waste of effort, as my school is awesome and cares not that teachers have piercings and tattoos.

The second time, I got the nose piercing done RIGHT before traveling to south east Asia. I swam in dirty water in Thailand and neglected to clean my piercing entirely before it became infected and I had to eventually yank it out in Laos.

Why would the third time be different? Well, I was in an altered state of mind, and the spirit of revolution and rebellion burned within me.

I sat in front of a questionnaire and warning sheet that I barely took the time to read. Are you under the influence of alcohol? Yes, very much, but I’ll circle no. Are you pregnant? I actually WAS, but had no idea at the time, so I circled no. Some minutes later an extremely painful pinching/yanking pain of a giant needle stabbing through my thin nostril raged on, and VOILA, nose piercing #3 in all places….WALES was complete. My cousin went next, which is bad-ass considering she watched my body thrash around on the table while I got mine!(Then again she’s suffered the pain of countless tattoos and rides motorcycles – so I shouldn’t be surprised!)

So, how the fuck did I wind up here?

“Let’s do a day trip somewhere,”

“I’m diggin’ it, where to?”

“I don’t know…somewhere fuckin’ unique…What about Wales?”

“Yeah, let’s do that.”

Was exactly how I think the conversation went. We booked our bus tickets in advance, slept through a four hour journey, and arrived in the dreamy city on a random Wednesday in August. We would be documenting just how awesome Wales – and in particular the city of Cardiff could be for a day trip.

LRM_EXPORT_16786906798950_20190913_170953189

“Do you consider Wales a country?” was the question I, and my travel companion repeatedly (and tipsily) asked every native Welsh person we met on our day long journey to Cardiff. The answer, as you can imagine, was confusing at best. One person would passionately shout that Wales was indeed its own country as one could describe themselves as Welsh. Less than five feet away, a person would disagree stating that Wales was not an independent and autonomous country, but technically under the control of the United Kingdom. Nina and I jokingly decided that we would do our best to rouse a spirit of rebellion among the citizens, to break away from the UK and incite a spirit of Independence! Here’s us doing that:

Turns out, we had little work to do as a fierce spirit of Welsh pride is already abysmal. All who participated in the question of Wales being a country agreed that no matter what side of the debate one falls on, Welsh pride is abundant. The culture and language of Wales is without a doubt unique to the (I’ll call it) country. It’s a point of pride to know and speak the language. I agree that anyone who is comfortably fluent in this language should inherently feel pride in being so, more so than any other language. Wales has had it rough considering their letter combinations are largely the ones that no one else in the world wanted (presumably.) Take a look and tell me I’m lying:

LRM_EXPORT_16590825564285_20190913_170637667

(I am lying.)

We only had one day in the city, and wanted to see as much as possible. I’m not a fan in any capacity of walking a lot, so we opted for the big, red, tour bus as our means of transport. Normally, you can ride a sheep around Cardiff, but the Queen of England was in town when we visited, and her as well as her Calvary were using all of them for a grand parade later that day. If you follow this blog, you’re probably my mom, and besides that, you probably know that I’m absolutely terrible with directions. Taking the bus around eliminated the fear of not being able to see all of the city.

LRM_EXPORT_15881463075129_20190913_165447861

Cardiff Castle is worth the visit, even if it’s the only thing you do all day. It is exactly how I picture most of Wales to be. Rolling green hills with a piece of history built right in the middle still standing after thousands (2000 in this case) faithfully. Visitors are free to climb, marvel at, and explore. Cardiff Castle is reminiscent of any decent medieval fairy tale, and allows one the feeling of stepping right into the story. It is tranquil and spacious enough that it gives every visitor the opportunity to feel that he or she is discovering something unique, untouched, and all their own. As I always do, I looked out from the windows of the castle and wondered what early people must have felt when looking out those same windows a thousand years ago. I daydreamed looking among the green fields and thought it amazing that such a castle stands in the middle of a major city. I wondered and pondered dreamily, until someone shouted, “GET THE FOOK OUT OF THE WINDOW, YOU’RE HOLDING UP THE LINE.” No one said that, but it would be absolutely amazing if they did.

LRM_EXPORT_16687544040550_20190913_170814385

The interior of the castle is even more of an immersive experience. It looks largely untouched and identical to all the images that the mind conjures when we think of medieval fairy tales. It looked as though the residents of the castle had simply left for an outing and would return home soon. Spoiler alert, the residents are the three little bears. “SOMEONE HAS BEEN DRINKING OUT OF MY CHALICE!” exclaimed King Arthur bear.

The castle offers guided tours, none of which we took because I like to immerse myself in the culture and try to read the local language. So far, I’ve learned “gehguwrgurhwiuhfwun” which means “hi.” There are also movies shown on the castle ground which is a highly unique experience, one I’m sure all of the ancient royals enjoyed thousands of years ago. But, really. How many opportunities do you get to attend a movie on castle grounds?! I didn’t get to partake, but if you ever go…please do this for me! (And tag me in a picture!)

Time traveling is difficult work, and thus, a stroll through Castle Quarter Arcades to find food. A fair amount of options are available within the arcades, which by the way is a term used to describe a building with many shops. We settled on waffles for breakfast which didn’t thrill me initially because…typical choice. When they arrived I realized just how wrong I was. Enter…the pop banofee and strawberry sundae waffles! A filling and cozy breakfast alongside a giant mug of coffee with booze was the perfect way to settle into a cozy, rainy, vibe of a day in Cardiff.

I can’t overstate enough that the red bus was a fantastic way to see the city. Not only does it stop at the castle, it also stops at the National Museum of Wales and Cardiff Bay. The Roald Dahl plaza named after the famed Welsh author is a performing arts center which also hosts outdoor events in the summer.

LRM_EXPORT_15928717734226_20190913_165535115

I should mention that the bar scene in Cardiff is incredible. The watering holes in the city are right there with the best of them. We spent the better part of the afternoon throwing back fancy infused drinks and talking about life in a secluded section of a sexy and artistic lounge. Who knows how many beverages later, we enlisted the help of the bartender to pose in our #WhatAboutWales photo series. We had a good laugh about it afterwards, and made good friends with both him and another bartender about the autonomy of Wales, the Russian language (don’t ask), and life in Cardiff.

Returning to the exposition of the story, Cardiff is littered with piercing salons. The sheer volume of piercing pagodas next to an equally high number of bars nearly begs visitors to get something…anything studded after a quality day of drinking. Through a booze fueled haze, we pressed forward with our #WhatAboutWales photo series. This was becoming more and more entertaining, and more and more ridiculous as the day continued.

bubbles3

Freshly punctured, what better way to numb the pain other than more imbibing? We ducked into a spacious, casual bar for some giant ciders, Welsh cakes, and fooseball. We were having such a great adventure that we couldn’t remember how to find the bus to get back to London. You know the feeling of everything seeming like a good idea when you’re intoxicated? Well, we came frighteningly close to saying, “screw the bus” and staying over night in Cardiff with no accommodation whatsoever. Not to mention, we would be leaving my husband and his best friend who were working during the day in London. Literally as we were excitedly talking about what a grand plan this was, the bus to London pulled up right in front of the castle. A sign.

Four plus hours later, we groggily got off the bus and rushed to a dinner reservation to meet the guys. Hungover and noses pierced, we sat at the booth exhausted. I would have a lot of explaining to do.

bubbles7

What I Learned Is: I saw a lot less of London in the week that I was there because I took an entire day to visit Wales. Sometimes, the long road around is worth it. In this case, I feel that it was entirely worth it. Wales, and Cardiff especially is not England. I was fortunate enough to get a sampling of the culture, history, and language of Wales and to intimately meet the Welsh people who show a fierce love and pride for their country. Nearly everyone I met in Cardiff had a manner which made me feel as though I were the only person who mattered in that moment and at that time. They are skilled in story telling, incredibly helpful, and skilled in the art of meaningful conversation. Cardiff is ethereal and comfortable. I feel as though I may have found the only city that is not frenzied, bitter, and chaotic. A day in Cardiff spreads out before the adventurer in a slow and tranquil manner. It is a place that one can explore at a relaxed pace with plenty of time to lounge in the pubs and watering holes before, in between, and after a day of delving.

LRM_EXPORT_16369958556765_20190913_170256800

Trip Tales: BUDAPEST

“…coffee and cake can become a habit…”

– A random Trip Advisor review

LRM_EXPORT_64553321829043_20190819_180207417

I’m not what you’d call…cinematic-ally adventurous. Nothing too violent, but if it’s true to, or based on history (Narcos, Vikings, war movies,) I’ll watch it. I don’t like violence for the sake of violence. I hate romance movies and even worse romantic comedies, that genre feels like it’s made for people who don’t like thinking. I don’t like anything that’s going to make me cry or feel emotions deeply, I already do too much of that in my time as it stands. And for fuck’s sake I will never watch a movie of ANY type with my parents again. The number of times we’ve been surprised by a random sex scene that I’ve had to endure watching in their company has created more trauma than can even scratch the surface in my therapy sessions. I’ll not be burned by those moments ever again.

No – I like films which transport me to places. I’m incredibly appreciative of a director and writer who can capture an entire era, destination, and zeitgeist in words and film – that type of genius is not lost on me. Therefore, when I saw The Grand Budapest Hotel, for one in a handful of times in my life, I fell in love.

The film captured the magical, whimsical – yet hearty and stern essence of Budapest – if not central Europe entirely. Thus, a new item crept onto my bucket list WAY before the hype over Budapest took off. Despite my desire to visit simmering long before the Buda-movement, I was only able to get around to going last summer. I was on the hunt for the Budapest of my dreams, the Budapest of one of my favorite films, that Budapest. I imagined eating pastries and goulash, riding the funicular, lounging in the baths which haven’t changed since the World Wars, and strolling around art museums. I wanted quirky. I wanted artsy. I wanted historical. But, would I get it?

Well, here’s a photograph from day one.

LRM_EXPORT_65070314645357_20190819_181044410

Some people can jump right into the vibe of a city – I can’t.  I am always thrilled the first day, but also terrifyingly aware that I am a small fish in a big pond. In every aspect of my life, it’s usually the opposite, well not when visiting a new destination – cities in-particular. In this case, as my readers will know, my type A, over thinking, over anticipating mind got the best of me. I looked forward to seeing the version of Budapest I had fallen in love with from a fictional film instead of seeing Budapest for what it was – a city which wound up being even better than I hoped once I let it show me who it was.

LRM_EXPORT_189418869618260_20190810_165657035

Day One Disaster:

My best friend and I allow each other each a “cranky day.” We are each allowed one day to be cranky, annoyed, frustrated, tired, but that is it. Today was my day. I’ll chalk some of this up to the heat wave sweeping central Europe, some up to my impending period, but mostly, my aforementioned impossible expectations. Much like an ungrateful spouse or parent, I wanted my version of Budapest, and while I enjoyed what I saw, it didn’t match the movie in my mind. Oh yeah, and all of this happened:

Another city, another day of having no idea how their public transportation works and using precious time trying to understand it. A heat wave blasted through central Europe at this time and we were drenched with sweat before accomplishing anything for the day. To make matters worse, we functioned on the littlest bit of sleep imaginable. When we finally DID figure the tram out, we took it in the opposite direction of where we intended to go. We wanted to take it to see the highly rated Buda castle, and eventually, we did make it there, only to find out that it was closed as it was a Monday. This was after waiting ridiculously long to ride the funicular, to the castle. I threw myself into the grass and declared my utter frustration before re-grouping and taking some selfies which underscore that I should never be considered petite.

LRM_EXPORT_187061282371867_20190810_161739447

The trek was not a total waste, as the universe aligned to bring me something up my alley, an exhibit on Frida Khalo. Frida and I are kindred spirits I like to think. We both, at times, walk the line between creative genius and utterly insane. We both feel things deeply and are drawn to chaos and madness. We both see ourselves in everything we produce, creatively and otherwise. We both don’t wax our eyebrows ever (screw the haters.) Amanda is not such a huge fan of Frida, but patiently waited on the bench while I read every little description of each of her work and uttered, “oh wow” after each one.

LRM_EXPORT_189345454998965_20190810_165543620

After, we decided to head over to Fisherman’s Bastion. A mecca for selfies and photograph taking with little else to do, as I saw it anyway. It was beautiful, picturesque, but overall a tic on an Instagram driven to-do list. While we were able to snap some pretty decent photos, let’s be real. It was a bajillion degrees out and besides taking photos, the only other option is to look out over the water and stare, wishing you were submerged into it. It was getting to be that time, booze o’clock, when I remembered the underground wine labyrinth suggested to me by a friend. We agreed that would hit the spot and as I goggled the location, I could not believe my luck, the place was within walking distance! We walked in the heat searching feverishly, yearning for the cool darkness of a wine cave and the lighthearted conversation and relaxation that polishing off a bottle of vino brings. Our GPS told us we had arrived, but the cave was nowhere to be found. We wandered up and down the street for a solid 45 minutes before realizing the cave was inside of a hotel. After searching the entire hotel for an additional 45 minutes, we were told the wine cave was closed for the season. Enter, two incredibly frustrated, annoyed, and worst of all, sober travelers.

We headed back to the hotel and decided to “nap it out.” We agreed that we would wake up refreshed and laugh about all of this over a delicious Hungarian dinner and cold drinks.

Except later on that night, everything was closed. We couldn’t find a single place near us to enjoy dinner. If you know me, you know I deal with frustration and disappointment extremely well. Except I’m obviously fucking kidding. I’m a miserable beast when faced with even the slightest, minor, inconvenience or deviation from my plans or dreams. And as you can see, this was way more than a minor deviation. We’re talking about not eating dinner for fuck’s sake!

Then, like a shining beacon of hope, the bridge shone and stood out. We decided to head that-a-way. On reaching the bridge, tons of young people were hanging out ON the bridge itself. It looked edgy, it looked fun, it looked like I’d never be able to haul my ass up there as per my complete lack of arm strength. That is where my love affair with Budapest begins.

LRM_EXPORT_64393128965251_20190819_175926862LRM_EXPORT_64359401044743_20190819_175853134

Young people apparently hang out on the bridge and drink, chat, and just relax as traffic whizzes by. A group of women we met there suggested crossing over it and we would find a wealth of restaurants and bars. Before departing in search of sustenance, I vowed I would return and I would too chill upon the bridge at some point.

LRM_EXPORT_66051114937429_20190819_182705253

Finally. Budapest delivered. We enjoyed one of my most memorable meals to date – the infamous chicken paprikash. A perfectly cooked piece of chicken smothered in a creamy paprika sauce and served with Hungarian gnocchi. As if that weren’t enough, a cream sauce is served on top to even out the spice. This definitely makes its way into the top five meals I’ve ever had while traveling. Sheer perfection.

LRM_EXPORT_66270142902398_20190819_183044281LRM_EXPORT_65123659030909_20190819_181137519

New York Palace Cafe: Bougie in Budapest. Frequented in days ago by writers well known and never known, the cafe as of 2006 has been fully restored to its original splendor. Some call it, “the most beautiful cafe in the world” and I’d be hard pressed to find a counter argument. I had an incredible experience here soaking in the decadence and opulence of a Budapest stuck in time. A string quarter serenades diners as they sip coffee, enjoy a delicious lunch, and of course nosh on renowned pastries and cakes. Of course we ordered Hungarian goulash (no better place to try it!) and finished with an assortment of desserts to satisfy the devil which was what my impending menstruation.

LRM_EXPORT_189092084415468_20190810_165130250

Nightlife: Budapest’s nightlife scene is insane. To start, the ruin bars/pubs are unique to Budapest and a must hit. Ruin pubs/bars are so called seemingly due to their appearance. Usually housed in some form of shanty building with random decor and lawn ornaments which give it a look of an elevated trailer park meets garage sale, yet aesthetically somehow works marvelously as each one gives an outdoor art museum vibe. We didn’t want to wait on line for hours, so we hit a random one and had several beers while musing over how good life could be. The beer was cold, the people were interesting, the decor was unique. What wasn’t to love?

With every intention of heading home afterwards, we stopped in a more typical pub after for one last beer of the night. Sitting next to a window which opened up to the street, we met a group of travelers (who themselves had just met) from Scotland and Ireland. They were incredibly friendly, fun, and suggested coming with them to a nightclub, and so we did.

LRM_EXPORT_11732186214374_20190812_191406807

Woah. Instant-Fogas was PACKED. Laying in a tin can with sardines would have felt more spacious. One of our new Scottish friends was able to get us in the door quickly where we immediately proceeded to the nearest bar. In fact, this night club mega club has several bars, all themed. All difficult to get to because again…PACKED. Due to the spontaneity that drinking a lot brings, Amanda and I found a bar, ordered some red-bull and vodkas, and found our way onto the dance floor practicing our coolest (not cool) new moves. The crowd definitely felt like it had a college/just graduated college vibe and so we kept each other entertained and tuned all the children around us out. Possibly one of the greatest moments was getting asked to dance/hit on by someone who had to be no older than 21. When I flashed my wedding ring at him, he stumbled back as though shocked. “You’re married and everything? That’s crazy.” Yeah, bro, trust me, I know. I sent him on his way and realized that the friends who were our own age and older, well, we’d probably never see again. We enjoyed each other’s company and complete ridiculous-ness as we continued to tear up the dance floor, sip red-bull and vodkas, and disappoint an unusually high number of frat bros that we were in fact married and off the market.

Upon leaving the club sometime in the early morning, we passed a restaurant which serves fried chicken in a waffle cone. Genius. Alas, it was closed, and so I practiced my incredible dance moves right there in front of the storefront for no apparent reason at all.

LRM_EXPORT_11663739700025_20190812_191258360

Hotel Gellert and Baths: At this point, I should mention that we were staying at the famed Hotel Gellert and Baths. It was truly, the closest imaginable place to the hotel in my favorite movie. I found it. A scene out of the Budapest of my dreams. Old worldly and yet refined, Hotel Gellert stands luxuriously and is in itself, a sight to behold. Although it lacked air conditioning, it was a welcomed stay after roughing it in hostels in the cities prior. There is no greater amenity than a private bathroom.

LRM_EXPORT_187438900963181_20190810_162357066

The day after our evening of dancing til dawn, we decided to relax in the Gellert baths located within the hotel. To start, we ventured outside and cooled off in the giant pool. Luckily, every hour the giant pool becomes a wave pool and you get to participate in trying not to drown and the collective whooping of, “WoooAAAhhhh” that people from all places and backgrounds all manage to scream unanimously. When the waves were at their highest, it literally looked like a scene out of the Titanic. A small girl clinging to the side of the pool was ripped out to sea (her dad laughed), strangers were thrown about and smashed into each other, people tumbled up on “shore.” I’ve never laughed so hard in my life. I’d worked my abs out enough from giggling and we bathed in the outdoor hot tubs.

After the fun of watching humanity in peril at the wave pool, we “sampled” each and every bath indoors. The indoor baths look exactly as though they could easily fit right into The Grand Budapest hotel. The baths have done a great job of preserving the beautiful look of antiquity made up from the tile and stone work. It feels exactly as though one has been transported to another era, perhaps the second World War.

Wine River Cruise: How do I even begin to describe the amazing-ness of this experience? It was one of the greatest nights of my travels.

LRM_EXPORT_64754589921779_20190819_180528686

As the heading suggests, we embarked on the classic wine river cruise around Budapest at night. Included was live string instrument music performance, some snacks, and 8-10 tastings (pretty much full glasses) of wine. Luckily, we were sat with the most incredible group of fun loving travelers ever who became our friends for the night.

We had entirely too much fun getting to know each other, feeling good from the wine, singing, dancing, and sneaking glasses of champagne from the floor above us. The sites were a wonder to see from the boat, and we were able to get some pretty memorable photographs.

Our tickets included transportation back to our hotel, which we said “hell no” to and asked the driver to drop us off at another location. Two of our new friends wanted to come, but didn’t pay for round trip transportation. So, in solidarity, we each took a piece of our yellow wrist band (which indicates we paid for transport) and made two full size bracelets for our friends to board the van with us to…

Street Food Karavan I’m not a food truck fanatic. I hate standing and eating. Eating is synonymous with relaxation and therefore needs to be done sitting. HOWEVER, run, don’t walk to Street Food Karavan. Seemingly endless amount of choices of food trucks serving many of the Hungarian treats on our “eat it list” including:

LRM_EXPORT_66097260441995_20190819_182751398

Langos – deep fried dough with cheese, sour cream, and an endless possibility of choices of toppings on top, probably much bigger than your head (not mine, I have the biggest one in the known universe)

LRM_EXPORT_187554482726158_20190810_162552648

Kolbice – The ULTIMATE drunk or comfort snack. I’m rolling my eyes in this pic because I didn’t want to stop eating it to take the picture. A bread cone filled with mini sausages or hot dogs topped with roasted onion and tons of cheese sauce. This is not a drill…it’s everything girls like me dream about.

LRM_EXPORT_187754055994520_20190810_162912221

After we met some random girl who invited us back to her hostel to use the toilet (I think she even came into the bathroom with me???) We headed to the…

Erzsebet Square – Prior to arriving our new friends and us stopped at a late night convenience store for more snacks and even more drinks. I will never…NEVER forget sitting with our feet in the water on the edge of the giant pool which overlooks the Budapest eye. We shared snacks, jokes, and personal stories about our lives back home as though we had always been friends. One of the guys and I jumped into the pool (it’s ankle deep) and raced from one end to the other which we found hysterical, but the police guarding the area did not. (We go off with a warning, naturally I’m pretty sure I did it again anyway…damn heatwave)

After Party on the Bridge – Wrapping up the night in proper fashion, what better way to say goodbye to such an amazing city other than drinking champagne and sitting on the bridge overlooking the gorgeous view in our pajamas? We hung out for hours.

A little over 48 hours was up, and it was time to move onto Berlin. I wish so desperately that we stayed longer as Budapest is one of my favorite places in the world to have visited.

My Little Melbourne: I have to give a shout-out to this adorable breakfast and coffee spot. Not only for the epic and random street fight I witnessed on the way there at 8:00 in the morning, but because their iced latte was literally perfection. Sweet (not too much so), creamy, and energizing. It was quite possibly, the perfect iced coffee!

What I Learned:  I learned that Rome wasn’t conquered in an instant…so neither would be Budapest. I was so desperate for the city to stand at attention and reveal itself to me from the moment I landed, and I had to accept that the city is not that way, most places outside of London and New York City are not that way. The treasures are hidden within and take some time to discover, but once I found them, I finally found the Budapest of my dreams. Budapest was not an instantaneous love for me, but it became a genuine, deep, love nonetheless. It is a work of beautiful sculpture left over from days gone by. In so many ways it does embody the opulence of the past while surprisingly modern in areas. The nightclub I visited could rival any of that in New York City. It doesn’t serve me to have a grand expectation of what a city will “be like.” Rather, I would like to work on visiting a new place and enjoying it for what is truly is. Our next stop is Montreal and Quebec City. As much as images of maple syrup shacks, moose, and French speaking folks carrying baguettes laden my mind…I’m inclined to reserve my expectations.

LRM_EXPORT_64907773067971_20190819_180801869

LRM_EXPORT_187720444039272_20190810_162838609

The Short of It: Small Layovers & Trips – OSLO

0708-2019-0522301118751334294141

Oslo. A deep, thumping, primal, desire to visit thumped within me. It could be the 0.3% of Scandinavian blood in my hereditary line, or it could be my obsession with the Viking era (and mostly the characters from the show on the History Channel) which compelled me to visit.

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to visit Iceland – where the price of just about anything froze me in my tracks way more than chilling temps, but I loved it something fierce all the same. I didn’t know when I would be able to afford another full length adventure to Scandinavia – my assumption was probably never. However, my husband and I embarked on a 12 hour layover on the way home from our honeymoon to the capital city of Norway as a compromise.

0708-2019-0517010118746043754351

I knew that the summer of 2018 would mean the end of long summers of international travels for a while, as we anticipated moving forward with doing things like increasing our savings account and starting a family. Ending our trip with such a bucket list destination, helped put me at peace with such a major shift in my life. In fact, being able to add many bucket list destinations in the form of long layovers has actually helped me feel more than comfortable with reducing the rate at which I will be traveling in a grandiose fashion for a while. I’ve been able to see a lot of place in the world that would have otherwise only been dreams filed under “someday.”

Viking Ship Museum: I’m obsessed with all things Viking. I won’t lie to you, this was largely instigated by History Channel’s show, Vikings. For sure the story line and the sex appeal of so many of the characters draws me in, but it’s not just that. It’s their true to life entire way of life, their government, their clothing, and especially their religious beliefs and culture that fascinates me. Every winter I re-read a book of Norse sagas and stories, and whenever there is a thunderstorm outside, I give a little wink to the small statue of Thor that I have in my room. (Image of me creepily winking unavailable, check back later) I’ve read books on the Vikings and seen many of the documentaries available, and I’m enamored to say the least; I’m hooked. I’d love to be able to time travel to one of their holy ceremonies, or to witness the building of one of their massive ships.

0708-2019-0516714118745747851122

While I can’t literally time travel, the Viking Ship museum provided the second best way to take a look into the past at this civilization. From taking off in Santorini to actually arriving at the museum, I was FULL of energy and the phrase, “when the fuck are we going to get there!” definitely left my mouth more than once. Upon arriving, I pushed wide eyed children and the elderly out of my way as I RAN to the entrance. Don’t judge me, as I was showing an appreciation for the Viking culture. Do you think the Vikings were polite and would just allow slow moving people to stand in the way of their endeavors? No, and I wasn’t about to either. It’s called cultural immersion, sweetie.

The museum was everything I’d hoped it would be. My first mission was to see the famed Viking ships, one of which is the Oseberg ship. This ship is one of the most well preserved and was discovered nearly in its entirety within a burial mound. There were two female skeletons on board dressed in luxury garments indicating that at least one of the women was of high importance in society. Many commodities found on board the ship also support the theory. I cannot imagine the shock and awe of uncovering an entire and massive Viking ship during an excavation, but the thought makes me want to pee my pants, if only a little.

0708-2019-0518243118747276630132

Upon the ships entering my line of vision, I ran away from my map getting, logic using, plan having, husband who was moving too slowly, I couldn’t have any dead weight holding me back on this mission and thought it was best to leave him behind entirely whatever the cost. There are two staircases which lead you up to a platform where you can see the actual, resurrected Viking ships in their entirety. I noticed that people who were engaged in full on chatter upon entering the museum were stunned into silence upon viewing the ships. Although I didn’t cry, I did become teary eyed. The realization that I was actually seeing something that has been on my bucket list was humbling. You might not see the big deal if it’s not on your list, but any traveler who has seen one of their “must sees” in real life knows this feeling. I’m a big believer that God makes most if not all opportunities possible for me, and the fact that He consistently thinks I’m worthy of seeing so many unimaginably remarkable experiences on my travels fills me with such gratitude, that it absolutely felt appropriate to become filled with tears at that moment. It’s incomparable. I let myself become lost in my imagination. I imagined the Vikings walking back and forth across the ship. I thought about their painted shields hanging off the sides of the boat, and I pictured their loved ones saying goodbye before an arduous journey. I envisioned the excitement they faced on their adventures and if they felt the same thumping in their heart as I did flying to Oslo to visit this very ship. I spent a good amount of time walking around the ships themselves, and I nearly had to be pried away to move onto the rest of the museum. I came back several times smiling stupidly at the ship, like I do at the cheeses in the cheese aisle when I’m on a diet. “Funny seeing you here again…”

0708-2019-0640555123569054463656

The rest of the museum displayed various artifacts from within the ships such as grave gifts, religious pieces, and ordinary items such as cooking utensils. You can also see an immersive film about the Viking way of life three times every hour at the museum. I had waited so long to see this place, anticipating everything from my emotions at seeing the ships to which souvenirs I would buy and I’m so entirely grateful that I had the experience.

Polar Fram Museum: I’m a trip-tator, I admit it. I do not “roll with the punches.” I have little to no interest in hearing about how my travel buddies would do things if they conflict with how I would do things on our trip, but I’m working on it. My husband said, “How about this place” and I instantaneously felt myself panic as it wasn’t chiseled into my tediously planned agenda for the day. This was one of those museums that I really had zero interest in visiting, but left the experience thinking, “Thank GOD I didn’t miss that one.” I’m a fan of immersive museums, and I can’t think of a better experience in that than this place! You could spend at least half, if not an entire day at the Polar Fram Museum. Hell, I could live in the Polar Fram Museum – it’s that cool. (No pun intended.) The museum tells the story of Norwegian polar exploration and it’s impossible not to find it fascinating. The interior of the Fram is entirely intact and you can explore the whole thing – and it is HUGE. You start by climbing on the deck of the ship and you’re free to check out every single nook and cranny within – from the bedrooms to the kitchen to the engine room and beyond. We spent so much time on board and the ship and museum is decorated in such a painstakingly detailed manner than I actually felt as though we were transported to the arctic. There are SO many artifacts scattered about that it’s honestly dizzying, and you wind up spending so much time within that boat that you get a complete feel and understanding for how the explorers lived for months on end. Outside the polar ship, you can explore what the polar region is like by venturing inside a model igloo and coming face to face with taxidermy wildlife. Around every corner of the museum there is something to climb, jump over, pull, push, and marvel at. This museum is way more than I expected and I cannot recommend it enough! A MUST experience if there ever was one!

0708-2019-05202551187492881003390708-2019-05208001187498333122140708-2019-0503102118792135021573

City Walk (free): If you’ve been keeping up with this blog (SO much more fun and disturbing than keeping up with the Kardouchians) than you know some of the dynamic between my husband and I. He LOVES walking tours, and I believe has taken some form of one in every place he’s ever visited and is proud of this. I like food tours and just eating food in general. I’m proud to say I’ve eaten a lot of food in every place I’ve ever visited. Well, there was no food on this tour, not even a snack, so it’s already not a ten star experience as you might imagine. I’ll keep it brief since there’s no, I want to reiterate, no food involved. The tour was free of cost and the guide was very knowledgeable and friendly. We definitely got a better feel for the layout of the city and a lot of information on the culture and history of Oslo.

There were a lot of highlights such as walking down by the water to check out the boats and seeing the Oslo Opera House which rises out of the water like an iceberg. I walked away from the lecture momentarily to throw my arms around the Henrik Ibsen statue and take selfies, much to the embarrassment of my husband and dismay of our guide. (English nerd, me, not him) I really liked visiting city hall because there is an amazing mural depicting scenes from the Norse sagas outside, it was fun to read the descriptions and give kudos to the artistry. We also passed the Nobel Peace Center and it was interesting to hear much of the history about it. Obviously not interesting enough to remember any of it, as I haven’t written anything that I learned, but I remember in the moment, being very interested and I don’t actually mean that sarcastically. Does this happen to anyone else on walking tours? As you’re hearing the guide you’re like THIS IS ALL AMAZING, YESSSS! As soon as you return home, you can’t remember a single thing he or she has taught you?

Let’s pause here to note that it was excruciatingly hot on this particular day, and we decided that walking to all places was a good idea, and even better, we had not slept in over 24 hours. On our arduous journey back to the center where we began, we passed a supermarket and hung out in the walk-in fridge for 20 minutes pretending that we were looking at prices of meat. It’s one of my favorite memories…ever. I NEVER miss an opportunity to be corny and laugh with my hubs!

0708-2019-0643179123571678697874Folk Museum: By the time we’d gotten to this museum, it had been OVER 24 hours since we last slept. My love of history and culture was getting me through just fine, my husband, however, was coming down with a vicious case of the “sleepies.” Be prepared that if you are to visit this museum, you can spend an entire day here, probably two days, there is a massive amount to see. The Folk Museum is a HUGE open air-museum which was perfect for summer and enjoying the great weather. Visiting in the summer offers the opportunity to see many of the animals, like horses and pigs. There are over 100 historical buildings and houses that you can visit and tour the inside of, and there are some costumed actors that walk around. With costumed actors, it’s sometimes fun to play “ghost, or real person?”

0708-2019-0504157118793190347145

The vast variety of sites to see ensures that you are not standing shoulder to shoulder with many other tourists and makes for a peaceful day of self exploration.The highlight, for me, was the 1200 year old stave church, as a matter of fact I literally ran uphill (which you all know I’d never do under any other circumstances – there is a Viking connection here) to get to is faster. Stave churches are not ornate and elegant, but rather, wooden and harken back to the medieval days. It is believed that Stave churches were old Viking places of worship turned into Christian churches, and some also believe that they are constructed out of pieces of Viking ships as per their winged roofs. The one we visited reminded me a lot of an episode from Vikings (SEASON ONE, EPISODE EIGHT TO BE EXACT) While there were Christian images all around, I kept imagining tall wooden statues of Odin and Thor. (Because I have an unhealthy obsession and I can’t just let things go and accept that this was a church and not a Viking pagan temple. I’m sure my Italian – Catholic mother will be thrilled to read that.) Following the Stave church, we sat and watched a performance of traditional folk song and dance. The lead performer stressed how important this type of art was to their culture and that it goes back hundreds of years. Naturally, Arthur took this seriously as he fell asleep several times and did his best impression of bobbing for apples with his eyes closed. I can’t tell you how happy I am that we were in the front row where the performers could all see this. Super. fucking. thrilled.

Egon restaurant: The restaurant so nice (and reasonably located and cheapest in price) we ate here twice. We spent both breakfast and lunch at the Egon restaurant near the main rail station. Food and drink in Oslo is expensive, it’s not a secret. The all you can eat breakfast included a HUGE variety including smoothies. There was a mix of both traditional Norwegian and common breakfast foods and eating so much definitely kept me full throughout the day. I don’t usually give out “tips” but I’d say in coming here for breakfast – you get your bang for your buck. Egon offers both indoor and outdoor seating and during both meals the wait was not long at all. To me, smoked salmon is the quintessential Norwegian food. I wanted to like it so bad, I put it on my plate, onto my fork, onto my tongue and EVERYTHING…I just couldn’t enjoy it. I like fish…I like sushi…I like smokey flavors…why not smoked salmon? I guess I’ll never know. Anyone have an opinion on smoked salmon? Also, where do we stand on lox?

0708-2019-0517804118746837946434

What I Learned:

I was extremely sad to see our honeymoon ending, but knowing that we were off to see another country – even just on a layover before stopping home provided a way to “ease into” ending our once in a lifetime adventure. I highly suggest adding shorter layovers to your journey as a way to get the most out of your trip by seeing more of the world! Tired as I may have been, I learned that adding a small layover is a cost effective way of seeing more of what the world has to offer.

0708-2019-0558015118787048357877

Oslo holds tight to its history, while being one of the most forward thinking and progressive cities I’ve ever visited. It’s clean, efficient, and friendly. It feels safe and there is no shortage of things to learn and see. While incredibly expensive, it’s a city that I felt definitely lives up to its “hype” and to all of my expectations. Oslo is a city where even I felt confident navigating (and I’m THE WORST at navigating) and to boot I felt more than safe, it’s not a terrible large city and nature is easily accessible. One of my favorite moments was strolling by the seemingly endless fjord very early in the morning.

0708-2019-0519265118748298026850

Looking back, I feel bad that I made such a big deal about the importance of sticking to my plan when my husband suggested the walking tour and visiting the Polar Fram museum, because at least one of them wound up being an opportunity I’m incredibly grateful to have had. I panic about following my schedule because the likelihood of me ever returning to a place like Oslo is very slim, and I want to make sure I do it right in the little time I have, and see everything I want to see. In order to make that happen, I still think it’s important to be well organized, planned, and scheduled. However, I’m learning that it’s important to allow other people to have a voice on trips and to be open to new ideas, the ideas of others which you never would have considered. Traveling as a couple or group means it is everyone’s experience, it is everyone’s one shot at checking items off a bucket list, it is everyone’s chance to make memories that are meaningful. Sometimes the old adage is right, at the end of our comfort zone lies our greatest opportunity for growth, or in my case new opportunities I would have never had.

0708-2019-0502408118791441774594

Excursions & Expeditions: Savannah’s Prohibition Museum

First of all, shout out to my followers who indulged me in my #picklegate challenge! A huge thank you to The Travel Architect, as well as Divya from TravelSavingsAddict for participating. I often participate in blog sharing sites where members are supposed to THOROUGHLY read and comment on each other’s posts. I know that barely anyone actually reads mine. This is annoying because after taking the time to read the posts of others, I often receive comments on my work which show no evidence of having read my writing. “Glad you enjoyed the taco place” when I actually wrote that I hated it. To prove my point I wrote a random section which has nothing to do with anything, within this section I requested that those who saw it should comment #picklegate under my post for a shout out. The only people to clearly have read my post in its entirety are the two bloggers/followers above! 

Second, sorry for the lack of posts! On April 29th I left for the hospital to deliver my 1st child and on May 1st he was born! Welcome to the world Henry Marius! We are so excited to take him on trips to anywhere and everywhere. Now that a month has passed, I’m finally getting into a routine and hopefully blogging more will be a possibility!

Without further tarrying…The Prohibition museum!

LRM_EXPORT_57808397928519_20190412_152345000

If I could travel back in time, I’d want to visit the 1920’s in the United States. Jazz, the Charleston, the Harlem Renaissance, the Cotton Club, the Lost Generation Writers, Al Capone, Speakeasies, Flappers…I’m here for all of it. I wasn’t expecting to travel back in time when I visited Savannah, Georgia, but that is nearly what happened. I visited the Prohibition Museum and engaged in a fully immersive experience on a time in our nation’s history when the purchase and manufacturing of alcohol was illegal. (A thought which shakes me to my CORE) The museum does an excellent job of displaying all of the different ways that Prohibition influenced the country, I hope you enjoy this post nearly as much as I enjoyed visiting!

The Temperance Movement was made mostly of women who criticized alcohol and the consumption thereof. These women claimed alcohol was immoral and was responsible for the destruction of the family unit, as well as the poor physical and emotional treatment of women at the hands of their drunken spouses. The movement lead to Prohibition which lasted from 1920 to 1933. While the movement may seem noble in some regards, it also pried on the fear of Americans by scapegoating new immigrants to the country. Bars were portrayed as harbors of safety for immigrants who got drunk and took money from the government and were dangerous to the public.

One woman, was particularly passionate about the Temperance Movement and Prohibition. Her name was Carrie Nation, and she was considered to be especially radical in her beliefs. Her claim to fame was attacking institutions which sold alcohol with a hatchet, normally by smashing all of the bottles behind the bar. She famously was almost always dressed in conservative all black clothing. Her husband was an alcoholic and this inspired her to become involved in the temperance movement and to such lengths. She often drew an audience by holding public lectures and called those who followed her, “Home Defenders.”

LRM_EXPORT_57703453868403_20190412_152200056

Those who worked at breweries and alcohol manufacturing plants soon found themselves out of business and unable to feed their families. Some of the most famous breweries in our country began selling ice cream, soft drinks, cheese, nearly anything to make money. Soda Fountains opened up and those who worked behind the counter tried to create zany ice cream and soda based beverages that were delicious, visually appealing, and would keep customers coming back. Soda jerks did tricks and tried to create “performance” behind the bar similar to what a bartender might do.

LRM_EXPORT_57535419300811_20190412_151912021

Some people who had lost their jobs in alcohol manufacturing decided to use Prohibition as an opportunity. These people distilled alcohol in their backyards or out in the woods and used their own recipes and equipment. Since they worked by the light of the moon, they were called Moonshiners and their products were called moonshine. Since ingredients were obviously not regulated by the government, it was not unusual for people to become sick, paralyzed, or even dead from consuming moonshine.

LRM_EXPORT_57485981442601_20190412_151822583

Prohibition also ushered in a new era of organized crime. Famous gangsters such as Bugsy Siegel, Lucky Luciano, and of course, Al Capone made their fortunes by peddling in the sale and distribution of alcohol. The field for alcohol was extremely competitive and thus there was a lot of violence and murder happening during this time. While some mobsters stayed in the shadows to safely be able to continue their operations, Al Capone enjoyed the spotlight and nearly always made himself available for photographs and press reports.

It was not unusual for common people to create their own booze within the safety of their own homes. There were tips, tools, and recipes shared all around the nation between neighbors and friends.

LRM_EXPORT_57382979939150_20190412_151639582

Doctors got away with selling booze under the guise of using it for “medicinal purposes.” The government usually did not second guess or interfere with a doctor prescribing alcohol as medicine. Thus, people began obtaining alcohol as a means for dealing with various ailments – everything from a twisted ankle to the common cold.

LRM_EXPORT_57410719377056_20190412_151707321LRM_EXPORT_57443600135742_20190412_151740202

At the museum, facets of life in the 1920’s are pervasive, but there is a section dedicated solely to culture. You are able to see artifacts from the 1920’s such as clothing worn by people during this time. You’re able to see actual flapper outfits and try on some clothing yourself. Charleston music plays through the speakers in this part of the museum, and you can follow the footprints on the floor to learn how to do a proper Charleston!

The reward for having made it through the museum is giving the password to a mysterious man at “the door” and walking into a 1920’s speakeasy! Here you can order authentic cocktails from the 1920’s and 1930’s, and if you’re pregnant, the bartender might give you some popcorn to go with your sparkling water. There is live entertainment in the evenings, and the speakeasy also offers classes in how to make some of its cocktails.

Trip Tales: SAVANNAH

“Lots and lots and lots of Spanish moss”

— A Random TripAdvisor Review

LRM_EXPORT_55505427699242_20190412_144522030

Big Fan (I Liked These Things!):

Ghost City Tour – If you do one thing in Savannah…let it be this, particularly the “Beyond the Good and Evil” tour. This ranks up there with the top three best tours I’ve ever taken; it was the perfect amount of unsettling and comedic. For starters, I happened to be having a bad bit of anxiety and was extremely uneasy about taking this tour. Hearing about death and murder usually makes anxiety worse. After hemming and hawing about if I should cut my losses and skip the tour, I could not have been more relieved and thankful that I decided to go ahead with my original plans. Our tour guide was an Aussie, and as such, had an incredible sense of humor and a lovable and sarcastic style. We were doubled over in laughter within the first five minutes of meeting him. He was theatrical, immersive, and kept the attention of our entire group the whole tour, I had tears in my eyes too many times from laughing so hard. Our guide brought us to several sites, including the Mercer House, and explained the fascinating and intense horror-filled history of each place, but laced jokes and humor into every story. The history of one house scared me a lot, a scene where nearly every family who moved in has experienced a mysterious death in the house. I felt really unsettled by hearing the stories and it bothered me to even look at the house, I felt my anxiety coming on again. However, our guide finished the tale with a story about there actually being a nice family moving in recently, and putting up a Christmas tree in their window in December and them loving the house entirely. He joked that for the month of December, his credibility in bringing guests there to hear about the terror was not as effective. To be honest, I’m not sure how much truth there was to ANY of the stories he told, but I enjoyed every moment of this tour. The guide’s ability to work impromptu, on the spot occurrences that unexpectedly happened throughout the night into his bit as comedy was nothing short of genius. Savannah is known for its pervasive haunted history and spooky vibe, and I felt I had the best opportunity to see so much of that, and in a unique way on this tour.

Juliette Gordon Low House – From a young age, my mother knew it was her job to help me develop into a strong and independent individual and woman. Although she’s consistently horrified at my sense of humor, salty language, and running after her in the supermarket with a pouch marked “cock soup” and shouting “MOM, IT’S YOUR FAVORITE, COCK SOUP” as strangers look at her, I think she’s proud of who I am as a woman. She enrolled me at five years old into a local girl scout troop, and I have genuinely good memories of being a Girl Scout. Although it was something I only did for a few years, I feel that my experiences really helped me develop into a person I’m proud to be. I grew up an only child, and I remember screaming and crying at my first girl scout meeting because I had to sit in a different room from my mother, I had to sit with all the other girls and I was not used to making new friends. Plus, the other little girls were basic bitches, and I knew from the moment I saw them we had nothing in common. (Joking. About some of them.) On that day and from that day forward however, I learned how to interact with others, initiate conversations, to rely on myself when I need to, and to be brave. The rest of my days in Girl Scouts taught me similar lessons, and I have many happy memories of creating, exploring, and learning. I also have memories of needing to draw a scene of a jungle on Poster Board, my mom drawing the most ridiculous looking elephant in an attempt to help me out, and then making me tell me troop friends and leader that I had drawn the elephant myself, with his mighty penis looking nose. If she reads this she’s going to say it’s not true, BUT IT’S 100 PERCENT TRUE, GUYS.