A Day on St. Kitts – January 2019

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St. Kitts was our 5th and final port stop on our Caribbean Cruise. After a pretty chaotic experience on Barbados, we decided to take it easy on St. Kitts. We wanted to just find a beach where we could soak up some sun and breathe in some fresh air, while on solid ground, as we would be sailing nonstop for a few days after this.

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After disembarking from our ship, we found an information desk right inside the port entrance. Everyone was so helpful, and we easily found transportation to Cockleshell Beach. This beach was on the other side of the island, so we had a nice drive around the island. I was pleased to find that the beach had a restaurant attached to it, so we immediately decided to eat and have a few drinks at the Reggae Beach Bar before lounging on the beach. This was our first time eating conch, and we both agreed that conch is not for us, but we are happy we tried it.

After we finished eating, we took our bucket of beers and went to go claim some loungers on the beach. The beach staff was super helpful and got us hooked up with an umbrella. We would relax here for most of the afternoon, and it was glorious. Secretly, we may regret not taking advantage of the jet skis and having some water fun. There is always next time.

This may not have been the most exciting part of our vacation, but it was a nice and relaxing way to end it. Plus, the beach and water was beautiful!

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Until next trip….HAPPY TRAVELS!!!

 

St. Lucia – January 2019

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What better way to start the new year than by spending a day having adventures around sunny St. Lucia. St. Lucia was the third port on our Princess Cruise in the Caribbean.

While it may be scary to book an excursion outside of your cruise line (for fear that the excursion won’t get you back to your port in time for departure), we are so glad we did, as it was the best time of our trip! We managed to do just a little research before leaving for the Caribbean and found a wonderful excursion option suggested by Excursion Everywhere. This excursion was hosted by Cosol Tours and was an adventurous way to see so much of St. Lucia in a day. We were given clear instructions on a meeting point near where our ship docked. Here we met up with our guide, Cassius. He was fantastic! Here are some highlights from our day:

Banana Plantation: Cassius gave a tutorial on the production of bananas on St. Lucia, which is the second highest source of income for the island. Here we also got to try banana ketchup, banana bbq, and banana spiced rum.

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Fishing Village of Anse La Raye (see picture on the right)

Brunch: Multiple tables full of local cuisine

Overlook of the Twin Pitons (see picture at top of page)

Sugar Beach: We gook a water taxi to a beach located between the Twin Pitons, where we had plenty of time to relax on the beach, swim and snorkel.

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Soufriere Volcano & Sulphur Spring Park: We drove into the volcano, the world’s only drive-in volcano, and then took a mud bath in the hot 20190112_211452springs. (see picture on the far right)

Toraille Waterfall: We of course did not get all the mud off from the hot springs, but a quick soak under a rapid waterfall helped with that problem. (see picture on the right)

Another meal: We worked up quite an appetite after all those wonderful water activities. We were fed delicious bread and cheese and enjoyed some local beer.

They certainly filled our day with lots of adventures and got us back to our ship with plenty of time to wander around the port a bit, though to be honest, we were pretty exhausted. It was the best $75 per person we spent on this trip!

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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 #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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20 Years of Travel #3: Sahara Trek

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To continue with my 20 Years of Travel celebration, my third location feature is: The Sahara. In 2012, my husband and I decided to honeymoon in Morocco. This decision may have been completely inspired by the movie Casablanca, which we both love. However, while we enjoyed immersing ourselves in the cities like Casablanca, Rabat, Fez and Marrakesh, our favorite part of this trip was our trek through the Atlas Mountains into the Sahara, where we camped overnight.

Though the roads leading through the Atlas Mountains were windy and dangerous, the views were just stunning:

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Of course no Sahara trek is complete without a little bonding time with some camels!

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I really liked my camel. It was sweet to me (though a bit wobbly) – makes me almost regret eating that camel burger in Dubai a few years later…almost.

As we road a jeep into the Sahara, it was a roller coaster of sand dunes (see picture at very top of the post), and I prayed that the driver knew where he was going, because all I could see were miles and miles of hot hot sand with a few dust devils. I knew no matter how much I had my camera protected, with plastic bags and everything, there was no way I could avoid getting sand in it.

What seemed like at least an hour of driving we came to a tiny campground. How our driver found this place is still beyond me. There were just about seven tents total with a fire pit in the middle.

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That night I felt like this had to be the most peaceful place on earth. No noise except for a few individuals place music by the fire pit and no lights except for the fire in the fire pit. Thanks to a Reese Witherspoon movie I saw as a child called A Far Off Place, I was aware that deserts, while very hot during the day, get very cold at night, so I had brought my sweatshirt with me. Unfortunately, my husband had not and had a very cold restless night. I slept like a baby.

The next day was just beautiful, so we told our driver that we would like to explore the sand dunes a bit. He said he would meet us on the other side. It took us a good hour to get to him. Sand makes walking difficult. It was worth it though!

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It was one of the most amazing adventures I’ve ever experienced and would do it again in a heartbeat. I would like to give a shout out and huge thanks to the Naamani Groupe for organizing and guiding us on this part of our Moroccan adventure. You guys were the best!

HAPPY TRAVELING!!!

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20 Years of Travel #1: German Class Trip

Per my last post, I am celebrating 20 years of travel by writing about my top 20 travel destinations over the last 20 years. It seems fitting that I would start with my first oversees travel experience.

In July of 1998, I got to go on a trip to Germany, Switzerland, Austria and Italy with my high school German class. While that was 20 years ago, I’m going to list the places and events from this trip that I remember most. Enjoy a look at these places through the eyes of a sixteen year old (including pictures taken with disposable cameras):

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Cities visited in order of the Itinerary (see picture above):

  1. Frankfurt, Germany
    • To overcome jet lag, our teacher/tour leader signed us up for a Rhine River boat tour with a wine tasting. That may have been my first taste of wine. Lesson learned: drinking wine might not be the best way to overcome jet lag.
  2. Rothenberg, Germany
    • What I always pictured a European town to look like.
    • Largest Christmas store I’ve ever seen.
  3. Munich, Germany20180604_214421
    • Seeing a 1998 World Cup Soccer game on a big screen in the main square
    • We stumbled across a large crowd of people outside Planet Hollywood. I sat on my friend’s shoulders for 45 minutes. We had know idea what was going on. Eventually, we realized that this crowd was waiting for Arnold Schwarzenegger. He threw me a t-shirt that I actually still have.
    • My teacher bought us giant mugs of beer at the Hofbrauhaus.
    • The Glöckenspiel. – Munich was one of my favorite places, and I would finally revisit it 18 years later.
  4. Berchtesgaden, Germany
    • Saw my first mountains as we headed in to the Alps.
    • We all had a snowball fight in July.
  5. Salzburg, Austria
    • Obviously the birth place of Mozart, but I’ve always been a huge fan of the Sound of Music. We took a Sound of Music walking tour, which I thought was perfect as I was “Sixteen Going on Seventeen”.
  6. Lake Maggiore, Italy
    • The lake district of Northern Italy is just gorgeous. We stopped on Isola Bella and toured the stunning Palazzo Borromee.
  7. Innsbruck, Austria
    • I was unimpressed with Innsbruck. It was a brief stop anyway.
  8. St. Moritz, Switzerland
    • My first of many European train rides. The train from St. Moritz to Tirano, Italy has the best views (see picture above).
  9. Lugano, Switzerland20180604_212955
    • With some allotted free time, a few friends and I rented a speed boat on Lake Lugano. See pic on the right of me driving the boat. My friends and I also got into a lot of trouble for this, because we missed our curfew, and apparently everyone was looking everywhere for us. However, I have no regrets. It was amazing…just sitting in the boat with the wind blowing your hair and looking at the mountains coming out of lake. It was the most memorable moment of the trip for me.
    • While Lugano holds a special place in my heart for the enjoyable boating experience, I have not returned, which may have something to do with the cockroach infested accommodations we stayed at while we were there. Insects everywhere…in the shower, in the beds….
  10. Zermatt, Switzerland
    • It is pretty remarkable that my first experience with mountains also included viewing the Matterhorn (see picture at the top of the page). We took a train to a higher elevation to view it. Then some of us walked back down to the town of Zermatt, which was just a beautiful little Swiss town. I loved it there.
  11. Gruyere, Switzerland
    • CHEESE!!!!
  12. Lucerne, Switzerland
    • Kapellbrücke (Chapel Bridge) – I remembered seeing this bridge in picture albums my Grandmother had, and it was really amazing to be able to see it in person.
  13. Heidelberg, Germany
    • I vaguely remember a boat ride, but I think I was so exhausted by the end of this tour that I have little recollection of doing anything in Heidelberg.

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Since this trip almost 20 years ago, I’ve been back to Germany, Austria, and Switzerland many times and lived in Italy for a few years, so this area of the world has always meant so much to mean. While this trip was not the beginning of my love of world travel, it was the beginning of making world travel a reality and a way of life for me.

I hope you enjoyed this walk down memory lane with me. Next post on the 20 Years of Travel series will be a location a bit closer to home.

20 Years of Travel

Travel

2018 is a special year for me, as I celebrate 20 years of travel. Traveling is something that has been important to me since I was very young (see my post Why I Travel). I think I was always meant to be “a goer,” as my mother-in-law calls it. 20 years ago this summer, I had an amazing opportunity to go abroad for the first time with my high school German class. Since then, my travels have taken me to 38 countries on 5 continents.

To celebrate my last 20 years of travel, I will be posting my top 20 favorite travel locations and experiences from now until August 31, 2018. To receive updates on these travel posts, please use the side bar options on the home page to follow this blog or follow the Facebook page.

It is only fitting that my next post will be about that infamous first trip abroad, so stay tuned and HAPPY TRAVELS!

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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.