24-hour Readathon for the 2nd time!

I participated in Dewey’s 24-hour Readathon last October and loved every minute of it, even the late hours when I was super tired. Since it was my first readathon I was a bit unprepared for things, so I am making up for it this time. Here is a picture of the reading station I have prepared for myself before the readathon was to begin.

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I now have a station prepared with lots of book choices that I can choose from depending on my mood. May I recommend not reading a horror novel at 4am? That was one of my rookie mistakes last year. I creeped myself out. I also have prepared some snacks that I can just grab when I get hungry. I have candy on the reading station, but also fruit and other snacks already prepared in the kitchen. There isn’t a lot of time to worry about food, so being prepared with that in advance is a good plan. I am excited to use this readathon to have some quality time with lots of different literary characters.

 

HAPPY READING!!!!

 

 

Charming Town of Sintra, Portugal – December 2015

“Lo! Cintra’s glorious Eden intervenes

In variegated maze of mount and glen.

Ah me! what hand can pencil guide, or pen

To follow half on which the eye dilates

Through views more dazzling unto mortal ken

Than those whereof such things the bard relates,

Who to the awe-struck world unlock Elysium’s gates?”

~Lord Byron stated in “Childe Harolds Pilgrimage”

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You really should not be spending time in Lisbon without taking a day trip to Sintra, Portugal. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is worth so much more than the 5 Euro train ticket from Lisbon.

I was pleased that the train station not only had tourist information, but also plenty tour options. Normally I try not to do tours, but as I looked at the map I realized how much of Sintra we could see if we did a sightseeing tour. It would take a long time for us to hike to all the places we wanted to go. Plus, Sintra has a lot of hills to climb. After debating our situation over a coffee, we decided to pay the 20 Euros a person and hitch a ride on the City Sightseeing Tour bus. The bus took a circular route around the city, including the coast and all the highlights. If you just stay on the bus, the ride is approximately 2 hours. (Just a note that if you want to just do certain nearby sights like Pena Palace, you can take local buses for cheaper.)

On the bus, we enjoyed the audio description of all the sights and especially the12640278_10153395155602986_6697546238175227216_o information on the production of unique wines in the area. When we reached Cabo da Roca, the western most point on the European mainland, the bus driver waited for 20 minutes, giving us time to explore the area without having to wait for the next bus. The lighthouse (pictured on the right) and the cliffs dipping down into the Atlantic Ocean (pictured at the bottom of this page) are worth the visit.

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We continued on the bus to the Moorish Castle stop. We got off and bought our tickets to Pena National Palace and the Moorish Castle. (This turned out to be a great plan – even though the hike up to Pena was a bit steep – the line of people trying to get tickets outside of Pena was very lengthy.) We actually enjoyed the hike uphill to the Pena Palace (pictured above and at the top), which is located on top of a hill overlooking Sintra. This palace is colorfully painted and tiled. You can spend hours just wandering around this palace and admiring the design. When we arrived there, we were a bit hungry, so we ate at the restaurant at the Palace and really enjoyed it. One of the workers behind the counter at the restaurant was more than happy to give us extra information regarding wines, which we loved. Also, the cheesecake was amazing! After lunch, we explored the palace a while and enjoyed the wonderful views of Sintra from the highest points of the palace.

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We then walked to the Moorish Castle (pictured above). It is actually a wonderful walk on a trail through a wooded area with bright greenery everywhere. The12622012_10153395158692986_2457399089914444790_o Moorish Castle is a fort built by the Moors. There is a stairway along the fort walls to connect the towers of the castle, where you can enjoy 360 degree scenic views. On your way to exit the castle, make sure the check out the cistern.

If you have more time in Sintra than we did, you can also explore sights like Monserrate Palace, Sintra National Palace, Seteais Palace, Capuchos Convent and more. Sintra’s City Center also has some adorable cafes and ceramic and antique shops.

Basically if you love amazing walks and amazing sights, you will fall in love with Lord Byron’s “Eden.”

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Christmas Holiday in Porto, Portugal – December 2015

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Unable to spend the holidays with our family, my husband and I decided to take a little relaxing getaway to Portugal. We decided to spend Christmas in the town of Porto. We just pre-booked our accommodations and that was it. Everything else we were just going to figure it out as we went. We spent five full days in Porto and loved every minute of it. Just going with the flow was not a problem. There were plenty of things to do and see. Porto was far from boring during Christmas. Here are the highlights:

Food

francesinhaTry the Portuguese dish called the francesinha (pictured on the right), which is a sandwich with layers upon layers of different meats, covered in melted cheese and topped with a cooked egg. I do not want to think about how much cholesterol there was in that meal.

Not surprisingly, many restaurants are closed Christmas Eve night and Christmas night. Plan accordingly. We found that kabob stands around the city and hotel restaurants are open.

Drink

The Cafe Majestic is the perfect place for a great cup of coffee (though slightly more expensive than other cafes in the area). It is a stunning cafe but is very popular and well-known so do not be surprised if there is a line out the door.

port tastingAn absolute must in Porto is to take a port wine tour. There are many vineyards and cellars to choose from across the Douro River from Porto’s city center. We chose to visit Taylor’s Port Wine Cellar. For 7 Euros a person, we were given a lesson in the origins and creation of port wine, a fantastic tour of the cellars, and three tastings that we were able to enjoy from a scenic veranda that overlooked the city of Porto. Such an amazing deal for this wonderful experience!

The Christmas Scene

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treeI loved the Christmas decorations found all over Porto, from the Christmas tree in front of City Hall (pictured above and on the right) to the ice skating rink in the park to the markets and finally the street lights (pictured below). On Christmas Day we sat inside Clerigos Church and listened to popular Christmas songs being played on the organ. We were surprised to find after the organ concert that the Clerigos museum and tower were open on Christmas, so we climbed the 240 steps for some breathtaking views of Porto’s city center and the Douro River.

street lights

Sights

bookstore

As a book lover, I really enjoyed visiting the Lello & Irmao Bookstore (pictured above). It is said that the ornately decorated inside of the bookstore inspired parts of Hogwarts in the Harry Potter movies. It is simply stunning!

tilebuildings

Porto has unique architecture. Its buildings are coated with tiles (pictured above). You will find grand tile murals located inside the Sao Bento train station.

If the weather is nice, like it was for us, then take a nice relaxing boat cruise down the Douro River. It is a great opportunity to get a different visual perspective of Porto and take lots of pictures.

river cruise

Seaside Excursion from Porto

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Since we were so blessed with sunny and warm weather, we decided to take the 500 bus from Porto’s city center (across from the Sao Bento train station) to Matosinhos, which is a nice beach town on the Atlantic Ocean. We got to Matosinhos in time to have a wonderful seafood lunch at Restaurante Lage do Senhor do Padrao. The seabass is fantastic (pictured on the right). foodMatosinhos has a wonderful walking path along the coast where you can people watch and enjoy the waves crashing on the shore (picture above). It is a great place to view an amazing sunset (picture at bottom).

We loved Porto! If it isn’t on your travel bucket list, it should be!

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Why I Travel

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For years I have been asked in many different ways by many different people the following question: “Why do you Travel so much?” This question always takes me down memory lane a bit, and there is by no means a quick answer.

I would not say that I was born to travel, but instead learned to love traveling. My family took some vacations in the United States when I was growing up, but we did not travel much. I think we were all too busy with work, school, activities, friends, etc. My grandmother and grandfather were the only ones in my family that traveled outside of the United States, that I was aware of. I would spend many hours with my grandmother’s photo albums looking at all her adventures including pictures of my grandfather with a snake wrapped around him in Morocco, my grandmother riding a camel in the Sahara, tulips in bloom in Holland, the sandy beaches of the Cayman Islands, the white Cliffs of Moher and Passion week in Oberammergau. I always thought I would love to see those places and have those experiences.

It wasn’t until I was sixteen years old that I got my first opportunity to travel abroad. With my parents’ support and some money from my after-school job, I traveled with my high school German class to Europe. While that was quite a while ago now, I will never forget my first wine tasting on the Rhine River, the snowball fight in the Alps in July, the dancing with giant mugs of beer at the Hofbräuhaus in Munich, singing “I am Sixteen going on Seventeen” at the Von Trapp house in Salzburg, and renting a speedboat on Lake Lugano (which we did without our chaperones’ knowledge, but it was so worth the punishment we endured afterwards).

While that was a memorable trip, and I was very fortunate to have that experience, my true passion for traveling began in college. My junior year, I spent spring break in London with my college’s theater group. I was not part of the theater group, but I had friends who invited me. I got my first acting course on the stage of the Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, saw the Rosetta Stone at the British Museum, visited one of the most famous addresses in the world (221b Baker Street), saw countless broadway and off broadway shows, and salsa danced with a DJ at a local club. From that moment on I knew that I would never turn down the opportunity to explore more of the world, and I signed up for a study abroad semester the next year.

My semester abroad took me to Belgrade, Serbia, which was at that time still recovering from the Balkan War of the 90s. This was a very different travel experience than what I had been accustomed to before, and it changed my life forever. Traveling was no longer just about visiting museums and other sights, but it was about the people and the different cultures. That was when traveling and exploring the world went from being a fun hobby to being part of who I am. I developed a new found respect for the world and the people of the world.

I signed up for another study abroad course in graduate school that led to more international travel. Then, in 2007, I met the person who would become my husband and permanent travel companion. We have together traveled through 4 continents and visited more than 25 countries.

So over the course of the last two decades, I have developed a passion for travel. I love the adventure, exploring the world, educating myself, and most importantly learning about myself. Through each travel experience I have discovered what kind of person I am, what my interests are, and how to overcome my own personal barriers. I hope that I never stop learning and growing – and that is why I travel.

Normandy, France – October 2014

As 2014 marked the 70th anniversary of D-Day, visiting Normandy and especially Omaha Beach was very high on our travel bucket list that year.

CAEN

Caen Abbaye

We made the city of Caen our base as we traveled around Normandy. Our accommodation was super affordable, and Caen was right in the middle of all the sights we wanted to see.

Day One: We explored Caen. Our first stop was the Saint-Jean Church. Inside you will find images of this church before WWII and after WWII. This church was almost completely destroyed. They did manage to save part of the crucifix which is still displayedDSC_6918 (pictured on the right). We then wandered around the Chateau de Caen, which is stunning. We were most interested in going to the Caen Memorial WWII Museum. It is quite a distance to walk, but we were blessed with wonderful weather and enjoyed a nice walk through a park, where the leaves were turning beautiful colors. I believe that Caen has one of the best WWII museums I have ever visited. While this museum does focus on the events that led up to D-Day and beyond, such as military strategies and wartime atrocities, it also has a huge section that focuses on the importance of diplomacy and peace to avoid such horrible wars. It is moving and inspirational.

“The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you.” ~General Dwight D. Eisenhower, Order to his troops for D-Day, June 6, 1944 (Featured on a stone outside of the Caen Memorial WWII Museum)

We took a long walk back to our hotel, passing the grand Abbaye aux Hommes (pictured above) during sunset. Caen is a pretty big city, so you will have no problem finding plenty of restaurants and bars at which to spend your evenings.

BAYEUX

Bayeaux Cathedral

Day Two: We took a train to the town of Bayeux. I really loved this town It is smaller and more walkable than Caen. Plus, the people there were friendly and very helpful. The woman that we spoke to at the Tourist Information center helped us figure out exactlyTapestry what public transit we needed to take to get to Omaha Beach. She also called and reserved us a private tour to Mont Saint Michel (leaving from Caen, since that is where we were stationed) for our final day. While wandering the streets of Bayeux, we noticed a lot of pro-USA, Britain, and Canada propaganda, as the French people of that town view them as the ones that liberated France from the Nazis during WWII. Before catching the bus to the beach, we had enough time to check out the Bayeux Tapestry of William the Conqueror (pictured on the right). My husband was the one that wanted to see it, but I will admit that it was shockingly impressive. It is worth taking your time to look at every deal.

OMAHA BEACH

Omaha BeachThe bus from Bayeux drops you off a good distance from the Omaha Beach, but we were able to navigate our way without a problem. We climbed uphill to take a look at a monument and found this amazing view of the beach (pictured above). We descended the hill toward the beach, passing bunkers that have remained since WWII. As we walked along the beach, I felt that everything was calm and peaceful. It is hard to believe that so many lives were taken on that beautiful beach. For a final stop, we headed up to the American Cemetery (pictured on the right). When we got to the top of the hill, before entering tAmerican Cemeteryhe cemetery, we noticed that they offer guided tours. We decided to wait for a guided tour and were fortunate enough to end up having a private tour. The American Cemetery overlooks the beach. The grounds are well-maintained. You will find that the eldest son of President Teddy Roosevelt is buried there. There is also a small number of American women buried there as well. Our guide told us a story about one of the women, named Elizabeth Richardson. She worked for the Red Cross as a “donut dolly,” where she served donuts to the servicemen. She survived being in the midst of combat in France to see the end of the war. As she was flying to head home, her plane crashed into a mountain. I can’t help but feel sad that someone so caring and generous had to die when she was so close to seeing her family again. The American Cemetery is such a special place – full of so many emotions.

ROUEN

RouenDay Three: We took the train from Caen to Rouen. Rouen is famously known as the town where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake. We decided to do our own self-guided Joan of Arc tour of Rouen, which began with the Joan of Arc Tower, where she was imprisoned before she was put to death. We then visited St. Ouen Cathedral. It waClocks here that we started to just wander down the streets looking at all the remarkable buildings (pictured above). There were so many wonderful shops. We stopped at the Creperie Restaurant for one of the most amazing crepes I have ever had. From there we walked by the Cathedrale Notre-Dame and the Tour du Gros-horloge. The Gros-horloge (pictured on the right) is an astronomical clock that was first constructed in the 1300s. We continued our Joan of Arc tour by visiting the Church of St. Joan of Arc. In the courtyard of this church is a cross, which stands as a memorial to Joan of Arc, who was burned at the stake in that spot. From this location, they deposited her remains in the Seine River, where a plaque now stands with a description of this action.

Mont Saint Michel

Mont St Michele

Day Four: On our final day, a private car and guide came to pick us up in Caen and take us to Mont Saint Michel (pictured above). While the weather was not ideal when weTrekkers arrived, it did eventually clear up for some amazing photos. Since we were visiting on a Sunday, we got to visit the abbey free-of-charge and attend a church service. Mont Saint Michel is an island that is only accessible during low-tide, so our time there was limited. Many people actually make a pilgrimage to the island by foot during low-tide. A guide has to be with you on this pilgrimage as timing and footing is very important and can be dangerous. We got to witness a group making the pilgrimage (pictured on the right). Almost made me wish I had done it myself.

Things I would do differently if I could do it all again

If I were to take another trip to Normandy to explore a little bit more, I would do a few things differently. First of all, I would stay in Bayeux. It is such an adorable little town, and it is much easier to access the beaches from there. Second, I would rent a car instead of relying on public transit. We almost got stuck at Omaha beach overnight. We were waiting for the bus to take us back to Bayeux. We were trying hard not to panic when it did not come. Luckily, someone must have been watching out for us, because a nice French couple stopped their car and offered us a ride back to Bayeux. We were very fortunate. The other benefit to having a car is being able to access Mont Saint Michele. It is quite a distance away from Caen and Bayeux. If we had had our own car, we could have saved money on the tour and guide and left earlier to have more time there. Maybe we would have seen Mont Saint Michele at high-tide. Last, we learned that while we have grown accustomed to being able to purchase train tickets at the last minute, sometimes trains fill up. We did not plan ahead and almost didn’t get on a train one night, because all the trains were full. I try to say that going with the flow can be fun, but there is something to be said for planning in advance as well.

Once again Normandy is another example of a destination that, even though we saw all the sights on our list, we would return to see other places that we learned about while we were there. The travel bucket list never gets smaller. It just changes.

St. Petersburg, Russia – August 2014

Overview

While visiting friends in Moscow, we all decided to take a weekend trip to St. Petersburg. I am so glad that we made this trip, because St. Petersburg turned out to be one of my favorite cities in the world to this day. One long weekend is not long enough to see all the wonderful things that St. Petersburg has to offer. You could spend one full day just at the Winter Palace and Hermitage Museum, and that is where I will begin my description of some of the sights I experienced in St. Petersburg.

The Winter Palace – The Hermitage Museum

Winter Palace

The Winter Palace is a massive, ornate building, located on Palace Square. While we were there, there was a unique display of Russian armament in the square in front of the Winter Palace. This included tanks and anti-aircraft missiles. Not something you see everyday in other parts of the world. I felt a bit uneasy about this display, but mostly I was uncomfortable seeing kids climbing on the tanks and missiles.

Beyond this display though is an amazing palace. You must walk through the many rooms within the palace. Formally, the home of such leaders as Peter the Great and Catherine the Great, the palace includes rooms of such grandeur. It is simply breathtaking. The grand staircases and elegant chandeliers continue in the Hermitage Museum.

I’ve been to a lot of museums and art galleries in my life, and each one is unique and special. However, I absolutely adore the Hermitage Museum, and as unpopular as I amDaVinci going to be for saying this, I loved it more than the Louvre in Paris. You could spend a full day wandering the halls of ancient relics, sculptures, and paintings. I was amazed at the large collection of paintings by the most famous painters in the world, including Monet, Renoir, Pissarro, Van Gogh, Rembrandt, Gaugin, and so many others. At one point, I turned the corner into a room that was void of people but filled with numerous Picasso paintings. I was simply in heaven. It was just me and Picasso’s art. I also really enjoyed viewing DaVinci’s Madonna Litta. To make myself even more unpopular, I will also say that I think this DaVinci painting is better and more stunning than the Mona Lisa.

Peterhof Palace

Peterhof

I realize that after a full day of wandering through the Winter Palace, you may not want to visit another palace, but Peterhof Palace is worth it. Peterhof Palace is located on the Gulf of Finland. To get there, you can take the Peterhof Express (hydrofoil) from the mainland. Try to pick a nice day to visit Peterhof, so you can enjoy a nice cruise to the palace. Plus, the palace is surrounded by a park and gardens that you will want to walk around. While taking a stroll, we stumbled upon an area that gave some information on the Peterhof Palace during WWII. The palace was severely damaged, and at one point during the war, it was used by the Nazis. We found a nice restaurant with outdoor seating for lunch before continuing on to get a better view of the palace.

Samson FountainPeterhof Palace was modeled after Versailles in France. Many years ago I visited one of King Ludwig’s castles in Bavaria, Germany called Linderhof. Linderhof looks very similar to Peterhof, so I guess many leaders tried to create their own Versailles. Like the others, at Peterhof Palace you will find an ornate fountain with a gold statue. Here it is called the Samson Fountain and is my favorite feature of this palace’s decorations. Just like the Winter Palace, you could spend a full day wandering around the inside and outside of Peterhof Palace.

The World of Russian Literature

As a huge fan of literature, I adore Russian authors. It would be hard to be in St. Petersburg and not dive into the lives of such notable authors, including Dostoevsky (Crime and Punishment), Pushkin (Eugene Onegin), Gogol (Dead SouPushkinls), and Nabokov (Lolita). Many people visit Dostoevsky’s house and museum. I did not get a chance to do this, but I am sure I would have loved it had I had time. Before this trip, I knew very little about Alexander Pushkin. On this visit, I quickly became a Pushkin fan. I purchased one of his stories at the Dom Knigi bookstore and in the evening had a drink at the Literary Cafe. This is the location where it is believe that Pushkin had his last moments before meeting his death in a duel.

The Church of Our Savior on Spilled Blood

Church-Day

The Church of Our Savior on Spilled Blood is another famous site in St. Petersburg. This ornate and colorful church is located on the Griboedov Canal. I highly recommend going inside and taking a look around. Not one surface appears to be free of religious artwork. It is very impressive and also has an interesting history.

The Monument to the Heroic Defenders of Leningrad

Leningrad

During WWII, Leningrad (now called St. Petersburg) was attacked by the Nazis. The people of Leningrad defended themselves heroically and eventually were victorious at the cost of many casualties. If this historical event interests you at all, do not miss a visit to the Monument to the Heroic Defenders of Leningrad, accessible by metro train. This monument also includes an exhibit that walks you through each stage of the devastating siege that lasted years before the people prevailed and defeated the Nazis. The exhibit is very informative and heart-wrenching.

Victory

It is hard to believe that we discovered all these beautiful gems in St Petersburg in one weekend. It is an amazing and beautiful city.

Moscow, Russia – August 2014

Sain Basil's Cathedral

Saint Basil’s Cathedral

We were very fortunate to have good friends living in Moscow and decided to visit them. The visa process was not fun, but the trip was 100% worth it. The flight was a bit rough, because the only flights from Italy were red eyes. We landed in Moscow around 3:30am. We are not very functional at 3:30 in the morning, and there was no one there to give us directions on how to go through customs, so we were definitely the last two people through customs, but we managed it. Well, when we got to our friends’ place, Gorky Parkwe chatted with them for a bit and then napped for most of the day. We did manage to pull ourselves together long enough to have a relaxing afternoon stroll through Gorky Park. Gorky is an extensive park along the Moskva River. It is a great location to go rollerblading or lounge on some bean bags.

The next day we were far more rested and ready to see some sights. We headed to Red Square. Along the way, I noticed many florists and booksellers, even on the side of the street. As a book lover, I absolutely loved seeing all the bookstands and people reading on the train and in coffeehouses. When we reached the Red Square, we saw an interesting military march, I believe in preparation for a political event that was to happen a few days later. From there we walked toward the State Museum to visit Lenin’s Mausoleum. When you go to the mausoleum, you will walk along the Kremlin wall, passing tombstones of former Soviet/Russian politicians. When you enter the mausoleum, you will be walking in the dark. The officers guarding this area forbid you to use any light. Then you circle around Lenin’s preserved body. That was one of the strangest things I had ever seen, so I was happy to move away from the Kremlin.

Unfortunately, there are no performances at the Bolshoi Theater during the summer, but you can still get a tour if you book in advance, which I didn’t think to do, so we spent the afternoon at the wonderful Tretyskov Gallery. This gallery displays a large collection of stunning Russian art. One of our favorite paintings from that gallery is Ivan Aivazovsky’s Lunar Night on Capri.

Boat Ride on Moskva River

Boat Ride on Moskva River

With our friends, we took a sunset boat ride on the Moskva River. I highly recommend this as it is a great way to view so much of Moscow. Seeing the Kremlin at night with all the cathedrals lit up is just a beautiful sight.

State Museum

State Museum

Our final full day in Moscow was spent at the Kremlin. We started at the Armoury Museum, where you can view the large collection of faberge eggs. Then we moved on to the area with all the cathedrals. We saw the Archangel’s Cathedral, Annunciation Cathedral, Assumption Cathedral, the Tsar Cannon, and the Tsar Bell. Plan to spend quite a few hours viewing all these sights at the Kremlin. We had some time left in our day, so we got some food at the Moscow Gostiny Dvor. This was formally an old indoor market and is now a fashionable mall. We then decided to investigate Moscow’s underground train system a bit more. Each station is so elaborately designed with sculptures and chandeliers. Definitely take the public train system as much as possible to view these grandiose stations.

The Cathedral of the Annunciation

The Cathedral of the Annunciation