Published on January 1, 2015, by

Happy 2015!  The new year is a great time to reflect on what you want out of life, which is why so many people create New Year’s resolutions.  Well, I don’t care for resolutions. Instead, I like to set a New Year’s intention. Less of a list, more of a theme. Resolutions make you “should” on yourself, they bring you down if you break them. But having an intention just shifts your thinking. In a way, it’s easier & more productive than making a list (says the woman who started a blog based on a list, haha) because it can take any form. You choose a part of yourself you want to grow and you don’t have to do anything more specific than considering your intention and trying to act on it. The actions can be large or small, significant or insignificant, and still add up to change.

My intention for 2014 was fearlessness. When faced with an opportunity to set fear aside, I acted with my intention in mind. I was mostly successful! It was at the forefront of my mind when I decided to do karaoke, to work in Belfast, to cross a rope bridge on rocky cliff, to backpack in Europe, to continue driving after my car accident, to do an obstacle course, to be more honest. My year was better because of those experiences and if I hadn’t been actively thinking about fearlessness, I might have missed out. I can honestly say that I am more fearless now than I was a year ago.

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For 2015, my intention is STRENGTH. I want to be stronger in any way I can. Mentally stronger – I want to learn more, read more, be more productive, and invest in my mental health. Physically stronger – I want to lift weights, see muscles, and eat healthier. Spiritually stronger – I want to meditate, practice yoga, and explore my spiritual side.  When given a choice, I want to choose whatever option is going to make me a stronger person.

What I don’t want to do is beat myself up for being weak. I think many people, myself included, have a habit of thinking strength stems from pain. Stress a muscle, hurt it, and it will get stronger. Well, we have to quit thinking the same process applies to mental health. Mental and emotional suffering doesn’t build strength, contrary to a million “inspirational” quotes (seriously, don’t even get me started on things like “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” and similar insulting tropes); instead, strength is what we use to overcome suffering. I have learned that the strength it takes to deal with things like tragedy, depression, and anxiety comes from love, positivity, support, self-care, openness, forgiveness, kindness, and (counter-intuitively) vulnerability.

So I am going to love myself this year. I know the more I tear myself down, the harder it is to build back up. Anxiety, in particular, can dig me into a bleak mental hole. I need to stop negative thought patterns before they start so that I don’t end up in that hole as often. That is the very first thing I’m choosing to do with strength as my intention. The second thing? Well, the best part about having an intention is you don’t have to think that far ahead.

I think this will be another great year. I am excited to see where it takes me; I am open and receptive to any and all good. Welcome 2015, my year of strength.

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Published on December 17, 2014, by

“It’s a fairytale town, isn’t it? How’s a fairytale town not somebody’s fucking thing? How can all those canals and bridges and cobbled streets and those churches, all that beautiful fucking fairytale stuff, how can that not be somebody’s fucking thing, eh?” – Harry, from In Bruges

Have you seen the film In Bruges?  If not, stop reading this blog and Netflix it ASAP!  The movie is a wonderful black comedy that stars the little city of Bruges, Belgium.  Part of our decision to go stemmed from Tim’s love of that movie.  But could the real thing compare to the movie sets?

Bruges From Above

Uh, yeah.  It was BEAUTIFUL.  Stunning. Charming.  And yes, totally fucking fairytale.

Bruges Square

Bruges is a UNESCO World Heritage site, which means it’s a place of historical and cultural significance.  Why?  It’s location, on the northern coast of Belgium, made it a busy trade center and the influence of diverse cultures is evident in the architecture, art, and language of the area.  The buildings are medieval, elegant, adorable, and OLD.  When you live in a state that’s barely celebrated its 100th birthday, seeing buildings that have been around since the 14th century makes a huge impact.  We couldn’t get enough of the scenery – in fact, we spent most of our time just wandering around, staring open-mouthed at how absolutely lovely everything was.

Bruges Windmill

We explored the windmills near our hostel first – a sight many people miss when visiting Bruges because they’re far from the main square.  Walking along the canal and looking at the giant windmills was the perfect afternoon stroll.

Bruges Clocktower

The whimsy of the windmill park was matched by the medieval charm of the city square.  There’s almost too much to look at – the Gothic government buildings, the giant clock tower, the quaint little shops, all encircled in swan-filled canals.

Bruges Bridge at Night

You’ll stand there and think it couldn’t get more magical, then you’ll see the main square at night.  Everything is lit in yellow, it’s quiet and dreamy, and the lights sparkle off the water.  It looks like a movie set, too perfect to be real.  As an American fed a diet of cinema and advertising, it felt (and this wasn’t the first time I’d feel this way on our trip) like Disneyland.

Bruges Restaurants

Bruges Street

Bruges Fountain

Keep in mind that I don’t use photo editing software – Bruges simply looks this good, even better in person.  We didn’t DO a lot, so there’s not much to write about; we SAW a lot, so our Bruges journey is actually best shared in photos.  We saw…

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A castle that was actually a drawbridge! How fairytale is that? And it was just up the road from our hostel.

Bruges Canal

Canal streets, just like Venice!

The clock tower, looming over shops.

The clock tower, looming over shops.

A prettier town hall than any I'd seen before.  The statues that decorate it are all completely unique!

A prettier town hall than any I’d seen before. The statues that decorate it are all completely unique!

Clock Tower

The clock tower…. again.

A church that claims to house the blood of Jesus.

A church that claims to house the blood of Jesus.

Tim took a picture inside even though it wasn't allowed.  Shhhh, don't tell Jesus.

Tim took a picture inside even though it wasn’t allowed. Shhhh, don’t tell Jesus.

A bar they in which filmed In Bruges.  They weren't open either day we were there - guess we will have to go back!

A bar they in which filmed In Bruges. They weren’t open either day we were there – guess we will have to go back!

Is this the clock tower again?  Yes, because we decided to climb it.

Is this the clock tower again? Yes, because we decided to climb it.

We saw the bells!  They even went off while we were there and we got to see the mechanics that make them chime.

We saw the bells! They even went off while we were there and we got to see the mechanics that make them chime.

We also got the best view of this charming little town.

We also got the best view of this charming little town.

We saw the city at night, completely deserted.

We saw the city at night, completely deserted.

And we saw it by boat - which is highly recommended, by the way!

And we saw it by boat – which is highly recommended, by the way!

There were lots of swans.  And lots of swan poop!

There were lots of swans. And lots of swan poop!

And we saw the dog!  The famous Bruges dog, who naps in his window and watches boats float by.  What a life!

And we saw the dog! The famous Bruges dog, who naps in his window and watches boats floats by. What a life!

And that’s a short summary of Bruges! Our next city is a big one – Paris! Getting there wasn’t easy, though I guess we had an easier time than Ray… (That’s a reference to the movie.  If you didn’t get it, watch the dang movie already!)

 
Published on November 11, 2014, by

I’ve been trying to decide how I wanted to configure my posts about Europe.  Should I write in chronological order or should I write about whatever inspires me at the time?  I think the reason it’s been difficult to choose is because Brussels, the place we started and ended the journey that I loved, was so absolutely uninspiring.  It might be the ONLY place on the trip which, if given the chance, I would not visit again.

Katie in Brussels

We chose to fly into Brussels because it was less expensive than flying in to Germany (when the plan was still to visit my aunt), not because we were particularly excited about any of the tourist attractions there.  I barely did any research since we’d only be there a day, but I did get some feedback from friends who had been – they mostly said it was dirty, dangerous, but still kind of pretty.  I couldn’t IMAGINE how Brussels could be dangerous – I thought it would be a cute European village, all old buildings and chocolate.

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I was so wrong.  It was a city just like any other major city, with the griminess, uneasiness, and homelessness included.  Perhaps because our first event was getting utterly lost in Midi station trying to find our trolley, the immediate impression of Brussels was… yuck.  It didn’t improve much after finding our hotel, as we proceeded to get utterly lost on our way to Grote Markt (probably the second most popular tourist destination after Manneken Pis, a statue of a boy who pees) and ended up in a very sketchy neighborhood.  The problem was that my map was in French and all the street signs in that area were in Dutch.  It took me a while to figure that out, sad to say.

Grote Markt

When we eventually did find the Grote Markt area, I have to admit – the buildings and architectural details were stunning.  But there was a beer festival going on in the middle and it was also jam-packed and loud.

Mannekin Pis

After walking around for a while, seeing that oh-so-famous peeing boy (which is WAY smaller in real life than in depictions – why is this thing famous again?), we finally stopped for lunch.  What better than Belgian frites?  Well, pretty much anything could have been better.  Our first meal in Europe was a total disappointment.  The frites were boring and the sausages tasted like wet cigars.  YUCK!

Belgian Frites

After lunch, we did more walking, and as we ventured outside of the main tourist area, there was a little relief from the crowds and we enjoyed it a bit more.  Little flashes of beauty started to seep in.  The window displays for all the shops were gorgeous!  Chocolate jewels, piles of fluffy meringues, artfully stacked cookies of every variety!  Sweets as art is something you know I can get behind.  I wanted to eat everything!  So, burdened by choice (and by outrageous prices – Brussels was easily one of the most expensive cities we visited), I settled for some chocolates from Neuhaus that bordered on run-of-the-mill, despite the price tag.

Window Display in Brussels

We returned to our hotel room, exhausted.  I should mention that the hostel we stayed in, the Meininger, was one of the best of the whole trip.  It was spacious, the beds were not awful, the shower was great, and the breakfast was top-notch.  While I’d avoid Brussels in the future, I would stay with them again in another city.  Highly recommended!

Meininger Hostel in Brussels

Our room may have been too comfy, because I couldn’t avoid napping.  Unfortunately, we slept right through the closing time of the restaurant where we planned to eat.  We took a recommendation from the desk clerk and visited a French bistro close by.  It was a punch in the wallet, but it was excellent.  Mom had a delicious lamb, I had beef confit, and Tim had white fish with squid ink pasta.  We were all very happy after that, and returned to our hotel for more wonderful sleep.

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In the morning, we ate at the Meininger’s breakfast buffet, which was lovely (and included cream cheese, which did not exist in Belfast), and then we retraced our steps to the awful Midi station, to continue on our way to Bruges.  Considering the confusion about where/how to catch the trolley into town when we first arrived, I expected the process of catching the train to Bruges to be a nightmare.  Luckily, it was cake!  We activated our rail passes, found the next departure time for Bruges, got on the train, and we were whisked away to a much different, much better side of Belgium!

 
Published on October 20, 2014, by

I’ll be doing a more detailed post on each of the cities we visited in Europe, but here’s a listicle of our Bests and Worsts:

  • Favorite Country – Italy!  The color, the food, the energy, the beauty!  Italy was absolutely amazing and the first place that felt truly foreign.

Riomaggiore

  • Favorite City – Riomaggiore was amazing.  Right on the ocean, bright colors, fresh air, fresh sea food, nice people… it was near perfect.
  • Most Livable City – Amsterdam, which was just like a European San Francisco.  Beautiful, artistic, with just enough grit to keep things interesting.  Everyone was friendly and spoke English, there was a large variety of foods, and you can get everywhere without needing a car.  I would definitely move there!
  • Least Favorite City – Brussels.  It wasn’t very pretty, it didn’t feel very safe, and everything was too expensive.
  • Favorite Train Ride – Milan to Rome via Trentitalia.  It was beautiful, plus they gave us biscotti and espresso!
  • Favorite Hotel – The Beehive in Rome.  Super cute, friendly staff, wonderful café for breakfast, and located in a very good spot.
  • Least Favorite Hotel – Moulin Vert in Paris.  It was shabby, run down, and you had to leave the key behind whenever you left the hotel.  Weird!

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  • Most Fun – I’m just going to say Amsterdam and let you draw your own conclusions.
  • Most Relaxing – Traveling by train.  Kick back, read a book, stare at the beautiful country side, and get to a new place will way less hassle than flying.
  • Most Surreal – Venice.  All of it.  Everywhere you look, it’s like being on a movie set.
  • Most Romantic – Kissing at the top of the Eiffel Tower at sunsetRome - the Forum
  • 5 Best Views
    • Bruges, from the clock tower
    • Paris, from Notre Dame
    • Rome, from the Forum
    • Monterosso, from the hill as you hike out-of-town
    • Germany and Switzerland, from the hills of Freiburg


Katie and Tim in the English Garden

  • Favorite Hike – Through the English Garden park in Munich which is so big and so beautiful and has a beer garden in the middle and surfers in the river.
  • Favorite Museum – I think it was the Peggy Guggenheim in Venice because I saw good art that was new to me, in a totally incredible location.
  • Favorite Church – Hands down, the Sacre Couer in Paris.  No contest.  The stained glass was so unique, I wish I could have gotten more pictures (photography isn’t allowed inside).  And everything inch of the place was done up in mosaics.  It was so beautiful, I got a little misty eyed, and I am NOT religious! Mussels from Restaurant Ciak
  • 5 Favorite Meals
    • Duck Confit in Paris
    • Pasta from Taverna dei Quaranta in Rome
    • Mussels from Ristorante Ciak in Monterosso
    • Bratwurst at a street fair in Freiburg
    • Sandwich we made in our hotel room in Freiburg

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  • 5 Favorite Sweets
    • Waffle on the street in Bruges
    • Gelato from Grom in Venice
    • Raisin bun (not sure of the German word) at Cafe Frischhut in Munich
    • Haribo Gummi Bears in Germany (way better than the American version)
    • Almond tart from a fancy bakery in Amsterdam

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  • Best Alcoholic Beverage – For me, champagne at the St. Regis in Paris, but for Tim is was the beer at Hausbraurei Feierling in Freiburg.  It’s the only place in the world you can get their beer!  It was one of the most mild, sweet beers I’ve had – great flavor and mouth feel.  Even I would drink that beer!
  • Best Non-Alcoholic Beverage (and My Favorite Foreign Word) – Frizzante!
  • Favorite Thing I Bought –  A small glass dish from Venice is my favorite non-cheese thing I brought back to the states.

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  • Favorite Thing I Brought – A polka dot dress from Old Navy.  It looked good, was comfy, didn’t wrinkle, and fit every occasion.  Perfect travel dress!
  • Funniest Moment – In retrospect, it was probably when the desk guy at our hotel in Amsterdam accidentally gave our room to another couple, who then walked in on us… after I had already taken off my pants.
  • Biggest Surprise – Loving Rome!  I didn’t expect to like Rome, as I’m not a huge history buff, but it thrilled me to be there.  The day we spent at the Forum/Colosseum was one of our best days on the trip.

  • Best Special Guest – My friend Felicia made an appearance on our last day in Paris and we went to the crypts together!
  • Most Stressful – It’s a tie between trying to find the tram when we got into Brussels and trying to find anywhere to eat in Germany.  Letting patrons choose their own seating is madness!
  • Health Hazard – I started getting a cold on the 4th day and it stuck around for almost the whole trip!  I didn’t let it ruin my fun, though.  Also Tim got horrible mosquito bites – apparently he is a rare delicacy to European bugs.
  • Scariest Moment – The only time I felt even remotely unsafe was walking through a Middle Eastern neighborhood in Brussels, and that was because we were very out-of-place, lost, and everyone seemed to be giving us the stink eye.  Nothing bad happened, though!
  • Worst Moment – To give you insight into how wonderful our trip was, the worst moment is probably using the squat toilets in the train station in Vernazza.  SO GROSS.
  • Biggest Regret – I wish we had more time.  I think we did the best we possibly could with the little time we had, but an extra week would have been nice.

Palatine Hill

  • Overall Feeling – I did not want to come home.  I love my house and my dog and my job (most of the time), but I’d trade it all for life as a vagabond.  There was a moment in the train station in Amsterdam, where I was crouched on the platform eating a very odd sandwich, that I just felt completely at ease with everything.  For someone with an anxiety disorder, that’s huge.  But I was with my best friend, we were on our way from one amazing place to another amazing place, and I didn’t ever want it to end.
 
Published on October 15, 2014, by

I did it.  I went to Europe with a backpack & a rail pass, spent three weeks wandering, and had the most amazing time.  The trip was wonderful, fantastic, soul-enriching, happiness-inducing, super fun… madness.  Pure crazy.  Stressful and strange, at times, but I loved every single damn minute of it.

Backpacking in Venice

And then I came home and bought a new car in the 3 days between landing and going back to work.

And then I got a tattoo!

So it’s fair to say that the last month has been a whirlwind – trip to Europe, new car, and a new tattoo!  I am not the Katie who got on the plane on September 6th.  I’m actually having trouble processing the whole experience – which may be best done in small pieces – but I know that I’ve changed.  If it had just been the trip, maybe I wouldn’t have felt such an extreme shift.  But I guess the car was part of my identity, too, a relic of a past life I’ve been trying to escape from, a piece of the person I’ve left behind in so many other ways.  And the tattoo – well, I’m not even the same person on the outside.

Watercolor Compass Tattoo

I highly recommend getting a tattoo right after having a life altering experience, by the way.  It’s incredibly gratifying to SEE a change.  When I returned from Belfast earlier this year, it was jarring to feel so different when nothing had changed outwardly.  I didn’t plan on getting a tattoo at the end of the trip, but things just worked out, the way they do sometimes.  I saw an artist on Facebook while I was in Amsterdam, we sent some messages back and forth, and suddenly I had an appointment for the Sunday after my return.  It all came together like it was meant to be!  Thing #15 is Finish a Half-Sleeve and this was a step in that direction – a compass on my right arm to celebrate my love of travel.  Now, whenever I look at it, I’ll remember how wonderful it felt to be in Europe.

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The car was a whole other thing.  It’s a shiny red 2013 Honda Fit – not the car I thought I’d get, but I compromised my desire for a hybrid car for my desire not to blow all my savings after having the travel experience of a lifetime.  The gas mileage is good, I can fit my bike in it, and I think I got it for a fair price, so I’m happy with that.  Not to say I didn’t cry when I turned in my old car, which I’m sure they’ve crushed into a metal cube by now.  In fact, I may cry again – who knew I was so attached to that car!

At the Forum in Rome

But the trip!  I’m sure you (my 2 readers) want to hear all about the trip.  That’s so much harder to talk about because it was so… much!  There are so very many things to say.  I’m going to do a Best/Worst list to sum it up, then get in-depth on each city, but until then I’ll leave you with the overall feeling: I did not want to come home.  I love my house and my dog and my job (most of the time), but I’d trade it all for life as a vagabond.  There was a moment in the train station in Amsterdam, where I was crouched on the platform eating a very odd sandwich, that I just felt completely at ease with everything.  For someone with an anxiety disorder, that’s huge.  But I was with my best friend, we were on our way from one amazing place to another amazing place, and I didn’t ever want it to end.  So this is how I’ve been changed by the trip, and this is why I can’t REALLY get back to normal.  I feel, more strongly than ever, that my place is in the world.  Workaday, domesticated, live-for-the-weekend life just isn’t going to cut it for me.  I know what real freedom – soul-level freedom – is for me, and I want more of it!

 

 

 
Published on September 2, 2014, by

I’ve found that when I don’t want to move forward, life pushes me that direction anyway.  Usually, it looks tragic at first but ends up being just what I needed.  For example, when my department was shut down at work just after closing on our house, I thought it was a disaster, but we were fine and now I have a job that I love.  That was one of my 30 goals – to get a meaningful job – but I hadn’t been ready to take the leap until life gave me that push.

Well, life pushed me again on Sunday.  In the form of a big brown truck that quite literally pushed me and my car into another car.

Rear Ended ZX2

I was rear ended while stopped at a red light at a high enough speed that it did serious damage to my car and sent me to the hospital.  I also tapped the car in front of me, though only enough to shake up the driver – her bumper just had a few scratches.  My car is well and truly wrecked – undrivable and, at its advanced age. unrepairable.

And the really awful part?  The driver who hit me drove away.  As soon as the light turned green, they took off.  Cops are looking for them, but I have no hope they’ll be found.  That means no insurance company to hold liable for the damage and no help with any of my expenses.  I am furious at the person who did this… but since there’s nothing I can do to find them or visit karmic retribution upon them, I’m trying not to dwell on it.

Instead, I’m trying to see this as a push towards Thing #21, getting a new car.  I put this on my goals list to give me an incentive to fix my credit and save up some money.  I planned on completing this goal in 2017 – I figured at 14 years old, my car would be on her last legs.  I didn’t count on some hit-and-run jerkface taking her out.  Life doesn’t care about plans, right?  The good news is that I have worked on my credit.  When I created this list, the likelihood of me getting a loan was probably pretty low but I’ve been responsibly using a few credit cards and now my chances are much better.  And I have saved money.  It was earmarked for other goals, but it’s there and I can use it if I need it.

So, when we get back from our trip (just 4 days away, eeeek!), in the couple of days before I head back to work, I’m going to buy a new car and cross another goal off the list… even though I didn’t want to.

 
Published on August 19, 2014, by

Less than 3 weeks to go until our big European adventure trip and I am feeling so unprepared that I don’t even know how to start thinking about how to prepare.  Did that make sense?  Probably not.  I can’t make sense of my own thoughts on this trip.  I flit from one thought to the next with nothing connecting them.  For example, I started up my computer intending to do some research on a few of my favorite travel blogs, then suddenly needed to figure out where out hotel was in Amsterdam, then decided I better write this blog post, then had to look at my mom’s itinerary and text her about Paris… I feel like I have ADD.

This is a big problem for me.  Typically, I love to do trip research.  I can spend hours on Trip Advisor and Yelp, choosing the places we’ll go and the food we’ll eat there.  In fact, it was one of the things I was really excited to write about for this blog.  But for some reason, I have a block.  I just can’t do it.  I start thinking about one thing and then my brain shift gears to something else before I can finish it.  I can’t even get an itinerary together!  I DON’T EVEN KNOW WHERE I WANT TO EAT!  This is unheard of for me.

So far, I have managed to figure out where all the train stations are in all cities and find directions from the train stations to our hotels and back.  Other than the information that the lovely Jill from St. Germainia put together for me and some scattered thoughts, that’s about it!  It isn’t even super organized – I’ve used a combination of Google Drive and Evernote that I wouldn’t recommend.

The only tool I’ve actually found useful is Tripomatic.  It’s a web app that syncs to your mobile device that’s used to create trip itineraries.  It’ll show you a map of your destination and the major attractions show up as little bubbles, which makes it really easy to see where everything is.  It also integrates hotel and tour locations.

Munich Map - Tripomatic

I tested it on Munich because we’re only going to be there for a short time – we’ll be limited to what’s close to our hotel.  I searched for the hotel and added it to the itinerary (you can also book from the app) then looked at the attractions close by.  When you click on a bubble, it gives you helpful information – a description of the attraction, a link, its open hours, and even the cost of admission.  VERY handy!  You can also add custom hotels and attractions – I put all our train stations on our itineraries so that I could get a good visual of the distance as well.

Info on Tripomatic

 

Tripomatic is the only thing keeping me from feeling totally lost at the moment.  I may even end up paying for offline access to the maps, though it does let you create PDF files of your itinerary for free.  The only thing I wish this app would add is a partnership with Yelp so you could add restaurants as well!

I hope my brain is able to get it together so I can do more thorough research. We have just 2 weekends left before we leave, which feels like no time at all!  Of course, the more I think about how little time there is, the more I freak out and can’t think, so… EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEKKK!

 

 
Published on July 29, 2014, by

With less than 6 weeks to go, we’ve finally finalized our European itinerary and made all the necessary train/hotel bookings.  WHEW!  That was not easy.  Here’s our plan:

Euro Route

We’ll fly into Brussels and stay one night, then take a train to Bruges and stay for 2 nights.  To get to Paris, we’ll take local trains and stop briefly in Lille and/or Amiens.  After three nights in Paris, we’re off to Rome (with a brief stop in Milan) for another 3 nights.  Then it’s on to Cinque Terre for two night and then Venice for one.  A night train will take us to Munich where we’ll only stay one night (this is the biggest disappointment to me, but Oktoberfest put a longer stay out of our budget) and then it’s on to Freiburg via Mannheim for two nights.  We’ll head to Amsterdam (via Frankfurt) for two nights, then finish with another night in Brussels before we head home.

ARE WE CRAZY?  Yes, probably.  This is certainly going to be more of a whirlwind adventure than we had initially planned.

This trip is longer, more fast paced, and more expensive than we thought it would be a year ago.  I’ve come to terms with that.  Most of our bookings after Italy allow for cancellation and we’re travelling on train passes, so if it really does get to be TOO MUCH, we can make some adjustments.  Does that make us any less crazy?  No, probably not.

I am very excited but I’m also nervous and overwhelmed.  There are so many unknowns and a lot of things that could go wrong.  I have to change my perspective – this isn’t about the destination, it’s about the journey… and there is a LOT of journey on this trip!

 
Published on July 1, 2014, by
*Europe planning continues!  While I research train passes and cheap eats, please enjoy a flashback to our time in Hawaii.*
When people ask me what I liked best about the Big Island, I don’t have to think about it – it’s the snorkeling!  And the best thing about the snorkeling?  We saw SO MANY turtles!  When we went to Maui the year before, we saw 1 or 2 turtles and it was mind blowing.  It was one of our highlights (along with almost being breached on by a whale – such a cool trip).  On the Big Island, I think we may have seen a dozen.  It was almost barely notable by the end – oh, hey, there goes another sea turtle.
Hawaii Sea Turtle
On our first day on the island, we saw 2 or 3 turtles just hanging out by a wall while we were walking down the street.  If we’d been wearing the right gear, we could have just hopped in and hung out with them.  A couple days later when we attempted to swim at the ugly, gray sand beach near our condo, we saw another turtle just chilling on the rocks.  Maybe he had also heard about the shark sighting?  When we went back a few days later, we saw 2 more turtles there.  We finally got close to some turtles at the first beach where we snorkeled, Kua Bay.  At one point, we think there were 5 turtles eating around some big rocks near the shore.
Turtles at Kua Bay
We saw another turtle at Beach 69, my favorite of all the beaches we visited.  It was a long drive – you couldn’t get there without a rental car – but there were fewer people, easy parking, and a lot of shade.  There were so many trees that you could barely see the water from the parking lot, but when you finally got a peek… WOW!  It was that glowing turquoise blue that you see in ads for impossibly gorgeous resorts.
Beach 69, Hawaii
That color is real and it’s all over the Big Island (to compare to Maui yet again, the Big Island has much more clear, prettier, and warmer water with weaker currents).  We set all our stuff up under a tree and got in the water expecting nothing in particular – it looked like a regular sand beach to me.  But as soon as we started to venture towards the rocky areas, we found an amazing coral garden.  It was stunning – tropical fish were everywhere, dodging as you swam at them, darting around colorful coral formations.  We even found a little hidden beach in a cove!  I kept losing the group because I was too enthralled with my surroundings (and I’m also an idiot – NEVER EVER lose your snorkel buddies, it could be way dangerous), but Tim and his brother Ted saw a fish that changed colors to match the sand.  I saw a few pufferfish, which are my favorites.  And I followed a turtle around for a while, just to see where he’d go.
Yellow Tang at Beach 69
I felt like Ariel!  If a crab and a seagull had started singing to me, I would not have been surprised.  I’ve wanted to be a mermaid since I was 8 years old and saw Splash, so this was pretty much a dream come true.
Snorkeling at Kua Bay

Clearly I’m NOT a mermaid!

Kua Bay and Beach 69 were self guided snorkels where we pretty much lucked into seeing decent sealife.  If you’ve never snorkeled before, I wouldn’t recommend it – you’re better off starting with a tour group.  We did a tour on our final day – I think it was 5 or 6 hours long and went to 3 locations with some scenic stops in between.
Lavarock beach in Hawaii
We saw our first turtle at our first stop, almost immediately.  I believe it was Kealakekua Bay but I’m not 100% on that. The area where we jumped in was very deep and there wasn’t a ton to see.  Like the other snorkel tours I’ve been on, this one started at the least impressive spot.  We were swimming for just a few minutes before we saw a very large sea turtle swimming up from the bottom, slowly and gracefully. He was practically posing for us and I got one of the best turtle pictures of the trip.  After exploring a bit more, I found a much smaller turtle and followed him around for a bit.  I love the way that turtles swim – they’re slow and easily knocked around by currents, almost clumsy (especially in the rough waves around the eating rock at Kua Bay), and yet still somehow dignified and cool.  They truly, literally go with the flow, and they don’t seem to mind being knocked off course a bit.  I could take a lesson from these guys, I tell ya.
DSCF0596
Our two other stops on that tour were Place of Refuge and the renowned Captain Cook’s monument.  I didn’t see any turtles there, but they were incredibly beautiful.  They both had clear water and huge reefs with tons of fish.  Captain Cook’s was particularly impressive – we saw spinner dolphins and a giant eel, among other neat things – but it was also very crowded with people.  I wouldn’t skip it, but I’d definitely do a snorkel tour that went to more than just Capt Cook’s.
School of fish at Captain Cook's Monument
Sidenote: I really loved the tour company we went with, but I’ve completely forgotten their name.  The boat was nice, the food was good, and the crew were kind and very funny.  There was a hilarious incident that involved Tim peeing off the back of the boat but he might get mad if I write about it, so shhhhh.  Anyway, I’ll update when I remember the name because they deserve a shout out.
Tim and Ted on the Tourboat
So, not all the places where we swam had turtles, but they did all have one particular species of fish – Rhinecanthus rectangulus. HumuhumunukunukuāpuaʻaThe rectangular triggerfish, otherwise known as Hawaii’s state fish.  These little guys and their other triggerfish cousins, like the Picasso, Lagoon, Black, and Lei triggerfish, are all over the place.  We saw them in every place we snorkeled.  They look pretty harmless, don’t they?  With their long, odd triangle snouts and the eyes so high up on their little fish faces.  They certainly don’t look like they could bite you with their tiny little toothless mouths.  And yet…
Triggerfish
Let me back up and say that Tim’s brother Ted was worried about sharks.  He was a bit on the paranoid side.  I have to give him credit, it never stopped him from getting in the water, but he was extra wary.  Who would have thought he had to be worried about being attacked by a triggerfish?!
We were finally able to go for a swim at the aforementioned ugly beach near our hotel.  What we found out when we stuck our heads under water was that while the beach, called Kahalu’u Beach Park, wasn’t very nice looking, the underwater part was beautiful.  There was no current because of a sea wall and there were coral, rocks, and fish EVERYWHERE.  It was like sticking your head in an aquarium.
Fish on the Big Island of Hawaii

This wasn’t taken at our ugly beach – I didn’t expect much from it so I didn’t bring my camera that day!

I have vivid memories of going to work with my mom as a child and being totally captivated by the aquarium one of the lawyers had in his office.  If we went in on weekends, I’d break into his office just to look at it.  He had a triggerfish, yellow tang, butterflyfish, wrasse, pufferfish, and even a little moray eel.
Guess what we saw at Kahalu’u?  Triggerfish, yellow tang, butterflyfish, wrasse, pufferfish, and moray eel.  All much bigger than they had been in Mister Lawyerguy’s tank and not at all freaked out that a bunch of weird humans were swimming beside them.  These fish had almost no fear, which is what lead to one of them getting stepped on.
Pufferfish at Beach 69
Accidentally, while standing on some rocks and trying to get our bearings, Ted stepped on an eel that had been hiding out.  It got understandably mad and swam away.  A few minutes later, Ted felt something pull on his reef shoe and thought he caught it on something.  Then it happened again.  Then it happened to Tim.  Then I swam up and it happened to me.  When we got a look at what was going on, we saw a rectangular triggerfish trying to bite our toes!  We kept shaking him off but he kept coming back for more.  The little guy just didn’t want to give up!  We’re pretty sure the eel enlisted his friend for a bit of revenge.  We got a good laugh out of it – who gets attacked by a triggerfish?  After we got back, we found out that it’s pretty common.  In fact, a friend of Tim’s mom had been “bitten” by a triggerfish at the exact same beach years earlier.  Turns out they’re very aggressive, so beware – the bigger ones, like titan triggerfish, can actually do some damage because they have a hard ridge over their mouths.  If it’s a small one and you’re wearing reef shoes, let the hilarity ensue.
The fish attack inspired Tim’s mom to gift us a tile with a triggerfish on it, which I absolutely love.  Whenever I look at it, I think about the surprise of that underwater world – a nasty gray beach hiding a wonderful coral garden that housed all the pretty tropical fish I stared at when I was a kid, plus a few fearless sea turtles and one very pissed off triggerfish.
In the next installment of my random Hawaiian musings, I’ll talk about everything we did and ate outside the water.  And because I couldn’t fit in all the snorkeling pics I took, here’s a slideshow!  (I used a very cheap underwater camera and have done no image processing – I hope you’ll forgive me for that.)
 
Published on June 21, 2014, by

I pretty much just got back from Belfast and it’s already time to start to counting down to the next adventure!  In exactly 11 weeks, I’ll be on my way to Europe with Tim and my mom.  We initially planned the trip to meet up with my aunt, but now it looks like she may not be able to join us.  And that mean we have to re-plan everything!  We’ve got to decide on an itinerary, figure out how to get from place to place, book hostels and hotels, research places to eat and shop, and buy backpacks and travel equipment.  There’s a lot to think about and not a lot of time to do it in!  I love travel research but whoa.

My #1 most anticipated place on our itinerary - Cinque Terre as photographed by Felipe Beiza on Flickr

My #1 most anticipated place on our itinerary – Cinque Terre as photographed by Felipe Beiza on Flickr

So here’s what I already know.

We’ll be going to:

  • Brussels
  • Bruge
  • Luxembourg
  • Paris
  • Rome
  • Cinque Terre
  • Freiburg
  • Munich
  • Amsterdam

We may need to put a city in between Paris and Rome, and one in between Munich and Amsterdam – we haven’t decided yet!  We’ve got only 20 days, we don’t want to put too much stuff in, but since it’s likely the only European trip my mom will take, we need to make the most of it.  It’s a tough balance.

I’m excited to get started with the day-to-day planning!  I’m also looking forward to digging into information for a true traveler, not just a casual vacationer – like travel backpacks and shoes, easy rinse clothes, rail passes, cheap eats… things for the wanderer.  It will good practice for next year, when I wander through Spain, and hopefully for wandering through Thailand and Vietnam in the future, too.  Yep, I’m really going to make a dent in my 10 countries goal!