20 Years of Travel #10: Milan

The 20 Years of Travel series continues with a visit to Milan, Italy. Even though our trip to Milan in 2015 was brief, it was very memorable, including checking two things off my lifetime bucket list.

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Duomo di Milano

We did not waste any time going to see the Duomo in Milan. We got up early and had a coffee at a cafe off of the Piazza del Duomo, while waiting for the cathedral to open. We bought tickets to not just tour the inside but also to do the rooftop tour, which I highly recommend. I’m not going to lie, I am absolutely terrified of heights (major vertigo) and found the rooftop adventure a bit difficult, but it is still worth it. I’ve been to a lot of cathedrals and this is one of my favorites. Expect to spend many hours exploring the Duomo di Milano.

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Da Vinci’s The Last Supper

No trip to Milan is complete without a visit to Santa Maria delle Grazie to view one of Da Vinci’s most famous pieces of art – The Last SupperI would definitely plan on purchasing tickets to see The Last Supper well in advance. I don’t know if everyone has had this experience, but we were given a certain amount of viewing time, which I wish had been a bit longer. Other than that, I enjoyed every moment of learning about this piece of artwork and spending as much time as I could looking at every part of it.

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Teatro alla Scala

When I was in high school, I wrote a paper on the opera singer, Maria Callas. Through this report I learned a lot about the La Scala Opera House and have wanted to visit it ever since. Knowing this, my husband bought us tickets, as an early birthday surprise, to see one of the best Puccini operas – La Boheme – at La Scala. We had great seats; the onstage sets were really impressive; the acoustics were perfect; and for those who don’t appreciate operas because you don’t understand the language, every seat had individual TV screens that have subtitles translated into your language of choice.

World’s Fair Exposition – and my brush with death

The first movie I ever owned when I was young was Meet Me in St. Louis with Judy Garland. This movie is about a family living in St. Louis during the time when St. Louis is about to hold the World’s Fair (The Louisiana Purchase Exposition) in 1904. Naturally, attending a World’s Fair has been on my travel bucket list for a long long time. As if finally seeing an opera at La Scala was not enough, our trip coincided with the 2015 World’s Fair Expo in Milan, so we also spent a day at the World’s Fair. The theme of this fair was “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life.” Attendees were provided with food from all over the world. As we were currently living in Tuscany, Italy at the time, we were unable to get many foods that were not strictly Tuscan, so we were super excited about trying food from all over the world.

However, I think I got too excited. I unfortunately had an allergic reaction to something I ate, which could have been at some point while I was indulging in Belgian fries, Dutch pancakes, Food truck BBQ, Mexican tacos and Chinese noodles. The attack was bad and luckily we found a health clinic on site that I could go to. I didn’t have to wait at all before they had me lying on a clinic bed, hooked up to a few machines, with an IV in my arm. I had at least three doctors looking at me.  At one point they asked me what I had had to eat, so I started giving them the list, and they just shook their heads at me. They gave me some medicine, which they thought would work, but the lady doctor noticed that I was still having trouble breathing and the rashes on my chest and legs were getting worse. They actually kicked my husband out of the room at this point, so he was actually a bit nervous about my condition. The doctors opted to give me a big booster shot of adrenaline, and in 10 minutes I was doing fantastic. I cannot remember ever feeling as great as I did at that time. The doctors released me with the advice that maybe I should just stick to eating chocolate gelato from now on. For those that have not experience health care outside of the United States, I did not have to fill out any paperwork before being treated or after I was treated. I just signed a document at the end, saying that I was treated, and that was all I had to do. A big thanks to those doctors who treated me. They were awesome.

Since I was feeling amazing, we did wander around the expo a little more. I did not eat any more food though and was a bit sad that I missed out on Ethiopian food and trying the crocodile at the Zimbabwe tent. However, I was not about to risk ending up in that clinic again. While that was a scary situation, I guess it made the day even more memorable, beyond seeing all the amazing exhibits and architecture.

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Milan was such a lovely weekend adventure and very memorable.

HAPPY TRAVELS!!!

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20 Years of Travel #9: African Safari

The 20 Years of Travel series continues with an African Safari. Below you will see pictures from our adventures in the Serengeti, Lake Manyara and the Ngorongoro Crater in 2014. If you want a bit more detail of this our adventures through Tanzania, please see the blog links at the bottom of the page for other posts related to this.

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The Serengeti

First of all, I am not known among my friends as a person who loves camping. However, I loved this kind of camping, which I would classify as glamping. I did have to figure out how to take a shower with only two buckets of water, but I learned quickly and the water was a warm temperature. Plus, a tray with a pot of coffee would be waiting for us in the morning just outside our tent. It was lovely!

Second, I feel like I have a whole new respect for wildebeest. I just thought they were ugly large goats, but I miss waking up to their sounds. I wish I had recorded them and could set their sounds as my alarm clock in the morning. If you can plan your Serengeti adventure to include the Wildebeest Migration, I highly recommend it. It is absolutely thrilling!

Finally, I loved watching all the different animals from just a few feet away. They didn’t seem all that concerned with us, which allowed us to watch them for long periods of time. You definitely get to witness the circle of life up close and personal.

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 Lake Manyara

My takeaways from our time at Lake Manyara was how much I adore baby monkeys, and that you should always have your camera ready in case thousands of birds get scared and take flight all at once.

The Ngorongoro Crater

Who doesn’t enjoy a crater filled with beautiful animals, including lion cubs and a pond filled with hippos?!

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If you would like to read more about our amazing experience in Tanzania, please see the following posts:

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HAPPY TRAVELS!!!

20 Years of Travel #8: England Road Trip

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The 20 Years of Travel series continues with a road trip I took with my girlfriend a year ago to England. As any follower of my blog knows, I love reading as much as traveling, so when I have an opportunity to combine my two favorite things, it is heavenly. This road trip through England was inspired by my love of literature, in particular, my love of Jane Austen. 2017 marked the 200th anniversary of the death of Jane Austen, so my friend and I decided we wanted to see Austen’s England.

Day One: Brighton

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After a very affordable and comfortable flight on Norwegian Air from Miami to Gatwick airport in London, we took a train to Brighton.DSC_0023

“If one could but go to Brighton!” observed Mrs. Bennet.” ~Austen’s Pride and Prejudice

We decided that a little seaside escape, which Austen loved, was the perfect way to begin our adventure. We lounged on the beach, ate cod and explored Brighton Pier.

Day Two: Winchester Cathedral, Jane Austen’s House & Chawton House Library

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We rented a tiny car in Brighton (see picture on right), which would be our main means of transportation forDSC_0045 most of the trip. My friend offered to be the driver and I was the somewhat adequate navigator. We left Brighton and headed for Winchester Cathedral (pictured above), which is the burial location for Jane Austen. As this was an anniversary year, her burial site was respectively decorated.

After a nice visit to Winchester, which is such a peaceful place, we picked up another friend of mine in Southampton and headed for a visit to the Jane Austen House in Chawton.

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We were able to look around the house and see where Austen would write and visit her garden in the backyard. This was her last place of residency, and some say her happiest, before her untimely death. Here you can also get your picture taken in period costumes.

Just a short walk down the street is the Chawton estate, now the Chawton House Library, where Jane Austen’s brother once lived. This is worth a visit if for no other reason then to just explore the vast grounds.

Day Three: Stonehenge & Bath

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If you are going to be traveling around the outskirts of London, you might as well stop at Stonehenge. While Stonehenge does not have a Jane Austen connection, it was featured in Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles, so there is at least that literary connection. My friend and I got up early and made it to Stonehenge just when it was opening, so we were on the first bus to get there, and that is why I was able to get the picture above with no people in it, as it is tends to be heavily packed with tourists on a daily basis. Also, after a bit of clouds and rain, the sun started to beam right down onto Stonehenge, which was glorious timing.

We moved onward to another hometown of Jane Austen – Bath.

“Sir Walter had taken a very good house in Camden Place (pictured just below), a lofty, dignified situation, such as becomes a man of consequence; and both he and Elizabeth were settled there, much to their satisfaction.” ~Jane Austen’s Persuasion

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We were able to find plenty of parking just inside the town and walked to the main cathedral. From there, we decided to take the Hop On Hop Off bus, to get a bit of anIMG_20170727_151433364_HDR overview of Bath and get our bearings. As we disembarked from the bus, we snuck into the tourist center just in time to avoid getting drenched in a sudden English downpour. This worked out marvelously, because we were able to find a Free Jane Austen Walking Tour at the tourist center that began as soon as the rain lifted (see picture on the right). While Bath has embraced Austen as one of their own, it is clear from her writings that Bath never quite felt like home to her. She often preferred the countryside or seaside to the city. Living in Bath consisted less of peace and quiet and more of social engagements.

“Another stupid party last night; perhaps if larger they might be less intolerable, but here there were only just enough to make one card table, with six people to look over, and talk nonsense to each other.” ~ Jane Austen writes to her sister Cassandra (May 13, 1801).20431214_469196570121574_8993274907938043534_n

After the walking tour, a stop at the Jane Austen Museum in Bath is a must for all Jane Austen fans. Here you learn more about Jane Austen’s Bath and what inspired her to write about this place in her novels Persuasion and Northanger Abbey.

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After the Jane Austen museum, we relaxed outside the Crescent (pictured above). From there we decided to take a bit of a Jane Austen break and explore the Roman Baths of Bath in the Abbey Church Yard. This was my friend’s idea, and I thought the Roman Bath museum, that displayed what life was like during Roman times, was fascinating.

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Day Four: Bath & Drive to Matlock

20376083_469654430075788_20054859827624028_nSince we enjoyed learning about the Roman Baths so much, we decided to go back into Bath the next morning and have a bit of a soak in a Roman Bath (see photo on left). It was just the kind of relaxation we needed before our 4-hour+ drive to Matlock. They limit the people allowed in the bath at one time, so there was never more than six people in there and for some of the time, it was just my friend and I. 20180702_115024We decided to eat a quick bite before leaving bath and found out about Sally Lunn’s Historic Eating House & Museum. When I think back on this trip to England, I don’t often think of the food, but Sally Lunn’s buns and coffee (pictured on the left) was so delicious that I still dream about them.

20374269_469654833409081_2748795384544147043_nOur drive to Matlock in Derbyshire felt long, because there was a bit of traffic, and it rained the whole time, but we finally made it to the place that would be our accommodations for the next two nights, and it was even more adorable than I imagined. It was a family owned B&B called Pig of Lead (see photo on the right). We arrived pretty late, but the hosts were nice enough to provide us with some hot beverages by the fire before we retired for the night.

Day Five: Chatsworth House & Matlock

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This was by far my favorite day of the trip. The weather was just perfect with a lot of sun and comfortable temperatures. After having a quick homemade breakfast at the Pig of Lead, we drove into the Peak District to the Chatsworth House first thing in the morning. We parked outside St. Peter’s church and took a walk on a trail through the countryside. As the path curved around the hillside, the trees parted, and you could clearly see the Chatsworth House (pictured just above and at the very top of the post). For Jane Austen fans, the estate served as Mr. Darcy’s Pemberley estate in the 2005 Pride and Prejudice movie. In reality, this estate belongs to the Cavendish family. Some Americans might be familiar with the Cavendish name, because John F. Kennedy’s sister, Kathleen Kennedy married William Cavendish. Just weeks after their marriage, William Cavendish was killed on the battlefield in Belgium during World War II. Not long after that, Kathleen Kennedy was killed in a plane crash. Her grave is near the Cavendish estate in St. Peter’s churchyard, which we visited once the we were done touring the Chatsworth House. We spent a couple hours wandering through the many rooms inside the Chatsworth House and learned a good deal about the Cavendish family, saw exhibits from a member of the Cavendish family who was a famous clothing designer, and marveled at the intricate statues, which were shown in the Pride and Prejudice movie. Then we spent even more time wandering around the grounds, which are extensive.

After our long trek around the Chatsworth House, we headed back to Matlock famished. However, as nice a town as Matlock was, we found it difficult to get a substantial meal and ended walking even more than we desired too, but at least we had pretty views.

Day 6: Oxford

We drove to Oxford and completed our driving portion of our trip. After getting settled at our Hotel, we headed toward Oxford University. No literary adventure would be complete without a stop Blackwell’s bookshop, a Harry Potter walking tour that included a stop at the Bodleian Library, and a beer at The Eagle and Child pub, where the informal literary group called The Inklings would meet on a weekly basis. This group included C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien.

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Day 7-9: London

As no trip to England is complete without a little stop in London, we took a train from Oxford to London, where we spent the last remaining days of our trip. As it was the end of our trip, we were pretty exhausted but continued our walking and exploring with some literary stops like the British Library, 221b Baker Street, Westminster Abbey (which memorializes many famous British authors, poets, and playwrights) and Harry Potter’s Platform 9 3/4 at Kings Cross.

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This was an amazing Austen-inspired adventure with some other literary stops. The English countryside is stunning, and I hope to visit it again soon. Many thanks to the friends that housed us, fed us, drank with us, and gave us a London literary pub tour. You are all awesome and we really appreciate it!

HAPPY TRAVELS!!!

20 Years of Travel #7: Dubai

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The 20 Years of Travel series continues with my trip to Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE). This trip made my list simply because it was such a unique adventure for me that really took me out of my normal travel comfort zone. I decided to go visit a friend from grad school that lives and works in Dubai. I had never been to the UAE or anywhere in the Middle East, so I had a lot to learn about the culture. While I did travel there on my own, I was fortunate to have my friend with me for much of my time in Dubai.

Since Dubai has become a major trading and business hub between Europe and Asia, it has become an appealing travel destination for tourists because of its skyscrapers, theme parks and resorts. However, in reality Dubai is a location where women are treated as 12764762_185284661846101_4258686595052618337_oinferior to men and should always be accompanied by men. Luckily my friend informed me of this and gave me some tips for traveling by myself in Dubai, starting with my arrival at the airport. My friend was working, so I was on my own for the day and was going to be meeting her at the largest mall in the world: The Dubai Mall. I thought about taking a taxi, but my friend informed me that for my safety, to look for pink taxis. Pink taxis are for women with women drivers. I waited for a while for one to show, but didn’t see any so I decided to take their Metro train, which has a stop at the Mall. It was very convenient. At the Dubai Mall, I was able to find a baggage check on a lower level for my bag, so I could wander the mall without carrying any heavy luggage. I had a lovely meal too that afforded me the amazing view of the Burj Khalifa (the tallest building in the world), which is pictured above.

When my friend and I met up, she had gotten us At the Top tickets to the observation deck of the Burj Khalifa. This was high on my bucket list, as I would truly be on top of the world. It was fantastic experience. When you get to the observation deck there is a lounge and waiters passing out juices, which was a good idea, since the altitude could definitely affect people and eventually started to make me a little sick. We went outside and realized quickly that that may not be a great idea, as there was a lightning storm and we were right below the spire. It was an amazing view though. At the base of the Burj Khalifa is the Dubai Fountain, which is worth a stop. It is similar to the fountain outside of the Bellagio hotel in Las Vegas, where at certain times there is a water and light show that follows along to a song. The show was magnificent.

DSC3932If you are looking for an interesting meal to try while you are in Dubai, I would suggest having a camel burger. As a stereotypical American, I will try anything that might look like a hamburger. It was not bad at all. I would, however, not try the camel milkshake. That was pretty disgusting.

If you are looking for a good educational and cultural experience, I would check out Sheikh Mohammed Centre for DSC3947Cultural Centre for Cultural Understanding. It is a collection of museums that contain a wide variety of historical artifacts. There is a coin museum and a pottery museum. Here you can learn a lot about the history of Dubai. It was always a huge trading port. Abu Dhabi was the big oil city, but in the 1960s a smaller amount of oil was discovered in the waters near Dubai. Prior to the discovery of oil, one of Dubai’s biggest exports were pearls. Divers would comb the floor of the waters around Dubai for mollusks that would produce these pearls. Besides history and economics, you may also find some art galleries that are worth a stop.

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When you think of animals in Dubai, you may think only of camels, but there is a huge wildlife sanctuary near the downtown area called Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary. In this peaceful setting, you can view thousands of birds, including flamingos.

Another fun thing to do, which you will most likely experience if you are staying at the Atlantis Hotel on the Palm is to ride the _DSC3995Palm Jumeirah Monorail. The views are stunning as you head directly for the Atlantis Hotel. Even though we were not patrons of the Atlantis Hotel, we decided to stop there to have a look around, and so I could see my very first Gold ATM (pictured on the left). I really never believed that those existed, and stood there trying to figure out if I could get a gold bar home with me – I did not attempt this.

If you are looking for additional fun family things to do in Dubai, you should check out the waterparks and Ski Dubai. Ski Dubai is located in the Mall of the Emirates and is an indoor ski resort. Even if you do not ski, it is worth checking out.DSC3906

Nighttime is stunning in Dubai. Besides checking out the Dubai Fountain at night, you can view the unique, five-star hotel: Burj Al Arab (pictured on the right). Even if you are not staying at the Burj Al Arab, you can still try to get restaurant reservations there, but you should think of doing that well in advance of your visit to Dubai. Another good evening stop is the Global Village (pictured below). It is a large outdoor world market that is lit up at night. There are places to eat and of course….camels. At the end of the evening there is a lovely firework display.

I loved Dubai and can fully understand why my friend continues to call this her home. This is also an exciting time as the city prepares to host World Expo in 2020-2021. A few side notes to new travelers to the area:

  • Be careful what you take pictures of. You can get arrested for taking pictures of planes, accidents, and other people without their consent.
  • In some local eateries, men eat on the ground floor or a special area, where women and families eat in a different designated area.
  • The division in restaurants also is applied in other areas. For example, if you are taking a bus to Abu Dhabi, women and families stand in a different line from the men.
  • Wear respectful clothing.
  • Solo female travelers, heed my friend’s warning about taking taxis with male drivers. If you are assaulted in the vehicle, the courts would say that it is your fault for getting into a male-driven taxi without a male escort. This has been such a prevalent problem in the area that taxis in Abu Dhabi now have cameras installed in them.

Find more tips before you travel to Dubai here. Dubai was not like traveling around Europe or the US, and that is part of the reason I liked it. I think it is a special and unique place in the world.

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20 Years of Travel #6: Lucca, Italy

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The 20 Years of Travel series continues with an obvious location, as it was our home for 3 years: Lucca, Italy (in the Tuscany region). This is actually a difficult post to write, because how can I put down into words how much Lucca has meant to us.

I’m going to start with the obvious….
Food/Wine

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My husband and I loved starting every day by going to our local cafes for our cappuccini

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and pastries…normally a cornetto or sfloglia. We would frequent Piccola Soave during the week and Da Sara on the weekends. It is worth mentioning that food shopping can be a bit different there. If you want the best vegetables, you go to the vegetable stands; for the best meat, you go to your local butcher (pictured on the right – preparing our turkey for our Thanksgiving celebration); and for the best “unsalted” bread, you go to your local bakery. The food there is so flavorful and fresh.

You can’t visit or especially live in Tuscany without having some wine! It is really hard to

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find bad wine there. Plus, for €3 you can get a great local wine that would cost 5x that in the USA. The nearby hill-town of Montecarlo has its own wine festival and is home to the well-known Fattoria di Fubbiano winery. However, the hills around Lucca provide some of the best wineries. We enjoyed our trip to Fattoria Sardi, but our ultimate favorite place for wine is the Fabbrica di San Martino. We’ve been there many times and never leave without cases of wine. Even my friend, who is not a wine drinker, found a wine she loves there.13055839_10153604589492986_7423048710852422585_o (1)

Favorite eatery options:

  • Risto-Bar il Caffe on Corso Garibaldi – was a favorite spot for lunch. I BIG hello to the owners: Roberto and Sabrina. I miss your food and company so much!!!
  • Trattoria da Ubaldo – it is possible that you may find a local comic book series that features the owner of this restaurant. He is an interesting character and a favorite with the locals.
  • Ammodonostro – provides a great sharing meal that includes bistecca alla fiorentina.
  • Osteria Miranda – located in Piazza Santa Maria is one of the few restaurants around that serves our favorite San Martino wine.
  • Trattoria da Leo – a favorite restaurant of the locals. Make sure to have the table wine and the after dinner refreshment of limoncello and grappa that is offered to you before you leave.
  • L’isola Che Non C’era – a great place to take a lunch break while your shopping on Via Fillungo.
  • Le Bonta – everyone in Lucca has their favorite gelateria (gelato stand) and this is ours. It is located right outside the Lucchesi walls.

Our second favorite thing about Lucca are the festivals, holidays and celebrations…

Festivals

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During the summer and fall, it feels like Lucca has a festival or celebration almost every day. Drums and flag throwing are included in many holiday festivities. These are some of our favorite celebrations:

  • Luminaria di Santa Croce – a candlelit procession takes place from the Church San Frediano to the Cathedral of San Martino (Duomo – pictured above). This processional represents the miracle of the Volto Santo (holy face crucifix) relocating 17011_10153061958712986_8573529136269828547_nfrom San Frediano to the Duomo.
  • Lucca Summer Festival – a large summer music festival that has brought many bands and musicians. During my time in Lucca, I got to see Stevie Wonder, Elton John, the Eagles, Backstreet Boys, the Script, Gary Clark, John Legend and Lenny Kravitz (pictured on the right).
  • Effetto Cinema Notte – a celebration of cinema with musical performances all around the town from movies like Grease, Labyrinth, Chicago etc.
  • Verdemura Lucca – a portion of the Lucchesi wall is set up to sell plants and flowers and other organic products. It always made me wish I had more of a green thumb.
  • Lucca Film Festival – where directors are honored for their work and cinematic features. David Lynch and George Romero were previous honorees.
  • Il Desco – a market to sell local foods and wines.

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Favorite Highlights of Lucca

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So many wonderful things to see and do in Lucca. If you like churches, there are more than a hundred of those in this tiny walled-city. Here are some of our favorite things to see and do in Lucca:

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  • The Lucchesi Walls – Lucca is a walled-city. These walls are more than 500 years old.13407250_10153717328072986_8324403784892229909_n The top of the walls have been converted into a park for pedestrians, runners and bikers to wander around the city. My husband and I use to walk the walls almost every night. My friends and I would also take a walk around the wall after enjoying a hearty lunch.
  • Cattedrale di San Martino (Duomo) – the main catthedral of Lucca. This is also where you can view the Volto Santo (mentioned above).10516688_10152228726137986_4388737566867241416_n
  • Home of Giacomo Puccini – Lucca is the birthplace of the famous opera composer, Giacomo Puccini. Puccini created operas such as Madame Butterfly and La Boheme. I highly recommend seeing one of the daily Puccini performances. The singers are just amazing!
  • Museo di Arte Contemporanea Lu.C.C.A. – This is the Lucca Center of Contemporary Art. I got to see a display of Henri Cartier-Bresson’s work, who was a famous French photographer. The museum did a good job displaying such a large collection.
  • Villas & Palaces – Within the city center, you can visit Palazzo Pfanner and Palazzo13466250_10153717336682986_5258876858347279934_n Orsetti. Outside of the city center, you can visit popular villas, such as Villa Mansi and Villa Torrigiani.
  • Torre Guinigi (pictured on the right) – This is a tower in the center of Lucca that has a botanical garden on the top. It is a bit of a climb but worth it.
  • Lucca Italian School – When I first moved to Lucca, I decided to take a two-week Italian course at the Lucca Italian School. While I was nervous at how intense the classes were, because I didn’t know any Italian at all, I was blessed with a great class filled with wonderful people that I still communicate with on occasion. This course includes classroom work in the morning and then an afternoon excursion (field trip to nearby location) or event (cooking class, movies, etc.). It was a great experience, 1932335_10151990359127986_922716397_nand one I would recommend even if you are just coming to visit for a few weeks. This is the best way to immerse yourself in the town and Italian culture.
  • The Anfiteatro (pictured on the right)- a piazza completely surrounded by apartments and restaurants.
  • Shopping on Via Fillungo – there are many popular and also boutique shops on Fillungo. However, my favorite place to shop is a leather store called Officina della Pella, located right off of Piazzo San Francesco.
  • Chiesa San Michele (see picture below) – This ornate church is located on what used to be the town square. It is nice to just sit in one of the nearby cafes that overlook this church, but on a side note: you will pay for the view.

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If you are looking to explore Tuscany a bit, I highly recommend using Lucca as your main hub, as much of Tuscany is accessible via train from Lucca. It is hard to really describe how much our time in Lucca meant to us, and I hope this post does it justice.

For more information about things to do and places to see around Lucca (mostly day excursions we took), see the following posts:

20 Years of Travel #5: Berlin, Germany

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Next up on my 20 Years of Travel series is one of my favorite cities: Berlin. I first visited Berlin when Germany hosted the FIFA World Cup in 2006. I cannot even begin toBerlin Pictures 106Berlin Pictures 107 describe how vibrant and alive the atmosphere in Berlin was during this time. Welcoming us to Berlin as we disembarked the train at the Berlin Hauptbahnhof train station were crowds of Germans singing and cheering, for their team had just won their game. I knew right then that our time in Berlin was going to be a wild ride. We got to see the Brazil v Japan game, which was an amazing experience. I loved every minute from the energy of the city to all the friendly people.

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Things to see and do in Berlin:

  • Visit the Reichstag (see photo at the top of the page) – The Reichstag is the German Parliament building. On the right side of the building (if you are facing the front of it) is a moving memorial to all the political leaders who were assassinated for fighting against the Nazi party. You can reserve your visit to the Reichstag by visiting this page.
  • Berlin Wall – What remains of the Berlin Wall that divided Berlin into East and West 1780750_10151950832792986_1162444489_nBerlin after WWII has now basically become an art installation with displays of political statements, as well as statements of love and peace.
  • Brandenburg Gate – This monument was built in the 18th century and has since been the site for many historical and significant political events.

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  • Checkpoint Charlie – After WWII, Berlin was divided. The Soviet Union took control of East Berlin. This is how you can still tell if you are in East Berlin…check out the pedestrian traffic lights:
    The United States took control of West Berlin. They set up a border check called Checkpoint Charlie, which is now an outdoor museum display.

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  • Museum Island – This is a tiny island in the middle of Berlin that houses five museums, which are all worth a visit:
    • Altes Museum
    • Alte Nationalgalerie
    • Neues Museum
    • Pergamonmuseum
    • Bode-Museum11209378_10152871875932986_239430252201884767_n
  • Berliner Dom – This is a church that honors the reformationists of the 16th century, which include martin Luther, Huldrych Zwingli and John Calvin. The Dom is located near Museum Island.
  • Gemäldegalerie – This gallery houses stunning artwork by famous painters such as Raphael, Rembandt, Caravaggio and Vermeer.
  • Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe – One of the things that makes Berlin such an interesting and special place to visit is that it does not deny its horrific past. I believe the memorials, such as this one, represent a peaceful future where we learn from the evils of the past.

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  • DDR Museum – This is an interactive museum that represents life in the Soviet East Germany. It is located near Museum Island and is definitely worth a visit.Side trips from Berlin:

Day Trips from Berlin:

  • Dresden – The city of Dresden is less than 200km outside of Berlin and accessible by train. During February 13-15th in 1945, Dresden was heavily bombed and almost10830921_10152770679987986_4315638381600018905_o complete destroyed by the Allies. Almost every building was damaged or demolished. This includes the three sites we visited: the museum complex called the Zwinger, the Royal Palace (pictured below) and the Frauenkirche (pictured on the right). The Zwinger includes a picture gallery, a porcelain collection and the royal cabinet of mathematical and physical instruments. Fortunately, even though the Zwinger was destroyed, the collection was removed prior to the bombing and saved. The baroque architecture gives Dresden an ashen look, which I find fitting after the WWII bombings.

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  • Sachsenhausen – During WWII, this was the site of a concentration camp that held mostly political prisoners. During the war, this camp housed a few notableBerlin Pictures 082 individuals including Stalin’s eldest son, who ended up dying at this camp under uncertain circumstances. However, our guide leans toward the theory that Stalin was offered a trade – his son for two high-standing Nazi officials that had been captured by the Russians. The theory states that Stalin refused this deal, and his son was dead a short time later. Another individual that was held at Sachsenhausen, Martin Niemöller wrote the following quote that has been immortalized in the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC:
“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”
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  • Potsdam – This town is a short train ride just outside of Berlin. It is home to the Sanssouci Palace. This was the summer palace of Frederick the Great, who was the King of Prussia from 1740-1786.

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As you can see, there is so much to do and see in and around Berlin. It is a city rich with culture and history. My husband and I have been to Berlin multiple times and each time we have an unique experience. This is a very special city and 100% worth a visit.

20 Years of Travel #4: Cuba

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My fourth destination on my 20 Years of Travel series is Cuba! As many of you know, as an American, this destination was not open to US visitors during my lifetime until recently. In 2015, Americans were allowed with some restrictions to travel to Cuba, so my husband, his parents and I jumped at the opportunity to visit. At that time you still had to provide an reason for being there, so we were on a People to People Excursion, which was also a photography tour.

I’ve never been on a photography tour like this before. It wasn’t just walk the streets and 10629491_10153326903992986_2203594805029205430_otake pictures. It was get up before the sun to learn how to take sunrise shots. There were no naps on the bus rides, because that was when you learned about your camera’s features and editing features by professional photographers: Brenda Tharp and Jed Manwaring. Then you get to have your photos critiqued (nicely…of course) by the other members in the group. It was a very intensive course, but I learned so much. I hope I am still using at least 10% of what I learned about photography during that week..

Trinidad

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I loved this town. It was comprised of vibrant colors and interesting people. We spent a lot of time wandering the streets here, getting a real taste of the Cuban culture. We found a few musicians, who were very talented. That convinced me that I should check out one12370645_10153326900147986_5447113127593441798_o of the Cuban salsa clubs in the evening, which was interesting and definitely not something I had experienced before. While taking a break on one of our daily walks, we found a man who was telling us about his daily routine of walking many miles down a hill outside of town to come and sell a few bananas for not even the equivalent of $2 US dollars. Then he would walk back up the hill every evening. His shoes were worn almost completely through, and it was a bit heartbreaking. Shoes that cost us $50 US dollars would cost Cubans 5 times that, since at the time they were imported from China. I really felt that I was gaining a huge understanding of basic Cuban life during our time in Trinidad.

Cienfuegos

If you have read Hemingway, Cienfuegos might sound familiar. It was featured in The Old Man and the Sea, which I read for the first time while I was in Cienfuegos. I thought it1933246_10153326904842986_8162388911926568875_o was quite appropriate. This town is located on a bay, so you will see a lot of boats – both yachts and fishing boats. While we did have some luxury time to indulge in some of Cuba’s famous liquor (see photo below), we spent a portion of our time at an art school. These young people were so talented. They just blew me away on how they could take any item and turn it into an amazing piece of art (see picture on the right where they were using just clothespins). They were so happy to tell us about their school and what art means to them.

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Viñales

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This part of Cuba was the biggest shock to me. The lush greenery reminded me of something I would see on a South Pacific Island. I wasn’t expecting this. As we headed 12366043_10153326907947986_173294949960655377_ointo the hills, we saw a lot of farm land and stopped at one such farm. This farm grows crops, raises animals like chickens, and produces coffee (see picture below). The owners of this farm were really welcoming. It was interesting to experience farming without the giant machinery, though it has to be such hard labor (see picture on the left). The land in this part of Cuba seems to get enough rain that an advanced irrigation system is not necessary at least. I felt a little bad for invading on this family during their work day, but they were so friendly and even brewed some coffee for us.

After getting a true taste of rural Cuba, we headed into the hills. If you enjoy biking there are some great biking trails in this area. The scenery is just amazing. While our hotel (Hotel Los Jazmines) did not produce the most comfortable night’s sleep, the views were just stunning (see below). I almost didn’t regret getting up before the sun to capture these amazing photographs.

Havana

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We ended our trip with a few days in Havana. It has been a dream of mine to see Havana12377523_10153326893612986_8703232530813394301_o since I was a little kid (thank you Guys and Dolls), so I was really looking forward to this. Havana is not just a great place to learn about Cuba’s history (though we did visit the Revolution Museum, which was great) and view it’s amazing architecture (see picture on the right), but the arts are prevalent in Cuban culture as mentioned in my Trinidad section. We started our exploration into their arts scene by visiting the studio of Compas Dance. They performed for us as well and just blew me away.

We also went to visit a Cuban ballet company, where they were rehearsing for a performance of Giselle.

I enjoyed this trip so much! It wasn’t about being a tourist. It was about exploring a culture that had been so unfamiliar to me. Cubans are such hard workers with so much passion. The people there opened up their homes and their hearts to us, and I just couldn’t be more grateful for the opportunity to finally have explored Cuba.

Stay tuned for the next feature in the 20 Years of Travel series. Until then….

HAPPY TRAVELING!!!

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