I’ll let the pictures of Prague do the talking…. but we walked over 35 miles in just Prague ALONE. Please do yourself a favor and go here. Immediately. #biketours #getlost
The most underwhelming clock tower… but it was built in the 1500’s and quite impressive animation for back then!! But thousands of people crowd around it every hour to see it change around. I am more fascinated with people watching… Ha. Praha is absolutely stunnnnnnning, yes?!
We randomly decided to stroll down this road b/c it resembled my last name so much… and BOOM! I see my last name on the wall. Fyi – I am NOT czech. My grandfather died when my dad was only 5 years old and was adopted by his stepfather who bore the name “Tomasek” – My real last name should be Foust (which is insanely German), but alas my dad really never rocked it and therefore neither will we. 🙂
Bike group photo courtesy of our wonderful travel mate, Leslie.
Every trip I take, I make an effort to watch the Sunrise at least once… I thought it would be perfect to do so in Prague. Prague had other ideas, but I was still stoked to be able to cartwheels across an EMPTY Charles Bridge (which past 7 am… would NEVER happen). Major props to Grania and Jessie for walking the trek back down to watch the sun “rise” that day. <3
Sedlec Ossuary and Vienna are next on the blog. After 3 wonderful days in Prague, we set a bit further south to explore Sedlec Ossuary and Vienna.
The Sedlec Ossuary is a small Roman Catholic chapel, located beneath the Cemetery Church of All Saints in Sedlec, a suburb of Kutná Hora in the Czech Republic. It is one of twelve World Heritage Sites in the Czech Republic. The ossuary is estimated to contain the skeletons of between 40,000 and 70,000 people, whose bones have in many cases been artistically arranged to form decorations and furnishings for the chapel.
Perhaps the best-known attraction in the Prater is the Giant Ferris Wheel. Now this entrance to the Prater amusement park is a nostalgic theme world reminiscent of the Prater in the year 1900. Our little group felt like kids in here (bumper cars, rollercoasters, etc). Super fun night!
The weather drastically changed when we arrived in Vienna. From 95 degrees in Berlin just 6 days prior – we were trying stay warm amongst the rainy, 55 degree weather. None of us were prepared for such a temperature drop. Brrrrr.
After our tour ended, I still had a day to explore on my own. I check into my adorable little hotel – The Ruby Sofitel Hotel – absolutely amazing! Housed in the historic Sofiensäle, a former concert hall just a 5-minute walk from the Landstraße-Wien Mitte metro hub and the famous Hundertwasserhaus.
Oh travel, I adore theeeeeee. Friday, August 28 marked the start of my latest wanderlust adventure (Berlin, Prague and Vienna). Due to the excessive amount of photos I took in each city, this trip will be broken into 3 separate posts. So with that, let’s chat about BERLIN! Berlin was not a city that was necessarily on my bucket list, but I was super excited to have the opportunity to check off a new country whilst planning this adventure. Particularly one that my lineage hails from… Crazy.
The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe also known as the Holocaust Memorial consists of a 4.7-acre site covered with 2,711 slabs in a grid pattern on a sloping field. The stelae are 7 ft 10 in long vary in height. They are organized in rows, 54 of them going north–south, and 87 heading east–west at right angles but set slightly askew. An attached underground holds the names of all known Jewish Holocaust victims.(Source: wikipedia). It is quite humbling to stand amongst these towering slabs and kinda leaves you a bit speechless.
The Berlin Wall was a barrier that divided Berlin from 1961 to 1989. Constructed by the German Democratic Republic/East Germany in 1961, the wall completely cut off West Berlin from surrounding East Germany and from East Berlin until it was opened in November 1989. The first version went up OVERNIGHT. Let’s just say it was definitely WAY taller than I pictured, but also not what I pictured. I had no idea that there was something called a “death strip” between the walls. I thought it was literally just ONE wall, but nope it was actually TWO – with varying space between it. Anyone that crossed would be shot and killed. The history of this city is shocking, revolting and mesmerizing all at the same time.
Walking tour of Berlin: FYI – You always know when you’re in East Berlin, b/c the street lights feature Ampelman – the cute little guy with a hat.
FYI – The building on the lower left is where Michael Jackson hung his son over the balcony… Our entire group, flipped around and snapped this shot too. Haha. Speaking of my group…. bam! There is all 50 of us. Primarily Aussies and Americans – but a fun group of like-minded travel folk. Thanks for sharing your stories, lovelies. Mad props to our Tour Manager, Katie who wrangled us all up from place to place.
Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp // “Saxon’s Houses” was a Nazi concentration camp in Oranienburg, Germany, used primarily for political prisoners from 1936 to the end of the Third Reich in May 1945. Camp punishments could be harsh. Some would be required to assume the “Sachsenhausen salute” where a prisoner would squat with his arms outstretched in front. There was a marching strip around the perimeter of the roll call ground, where prisoners had to march over a variety of surfaces, to test military footwear; between 16 and 25 mi were covered each day. Prisoners assigned to the camp prison would be kept in isolation on poor rations and some would be suspended from posts by their wrists tied behind their backs. In cases such as attempted escape, there would be a public hanging in front of the assembled prisoners. Some 30,000 inmates died there from exhaustion, disease, malnutrition, pneumonia, etc. due to the poor living conditions. Many were executed or died as the result of brutal medical experimentation.Sachsenhausen was intended to set a standard for other concentration camps, both in its design and the treatment of prisoners.
On the front entrance gates to Sachsenhausen is the infamous slogan “Arbeit Macht Frei” // Translation: “Work makes (you) free.” (Source: wikipedia)
When we pulled up, a somber mood overtook the bus. However, it was sunny and it felt a bit weird.However, within an hour the skies turned black and the sky opened up… and we all got drenched (like drowned rat, drenched). We all pretty much chose to walk the grounds on our own // Taking it all in. Getting lost in the stories on the walls. Let me just tell you this place is MASSIVE. I barely covered even half of it before we had to go. It felt even more somber and raw with the weather change // It was an experience I’ll never forget.
Night Street Art Walk // After drying off and getting changed, we were taken on an Street art walk through Berlin (Was this East?) by a local guide. Street art can be found everywhere in Berlin. On screens, façades, doorways and on walls, but also in places where one might not expect to find art. Corners of houses, bridge piers and the roadside become canvases for art that often has a political message. Unconventional forms of art such as urban knitting and guerrilla gardening offer new options for aesthetic expression that serve the common good. Public art inspires Berliners and visitors alike. It makes the cityscape more colourful and is clearly appreciated by everyone. (Source: www.visitberlin.de)
Wandering around Berlin // Our last day in Berlin we were free to do whatever we wanted — so a few of us set off and explored the churches, domes, street art and even went up in the Berlin Flyer (Basically a hot air balloon tied to the ground… but goes up 400 feet in the air) – which FYI… terrified me for some reason. In my defense, a little girl was running around on it and the weight shifted enough that we tilted a bit. AHHH! Hoewver, once we got acclimated – we were able to take the sights in. FYI – Berlin is absolutely GORGEOUS.
On our final night in Berlin, we went on a Progressive Dinner crawl via bike through the “Middle” of Berlin. We stopped at 2 restaurants and participated in a massive ping pong tournament in a hole in the wall pub (which I apparently forgot to take photos of – dang it). Note: I did not bring my good camera, so iphone pictures will have suffice. I wasn’t sure if I could pedal and not fall off my bike while battling the cars of Berlin. <3 Super fun way to wrap up our travels in Berlin! WOOT!
Post bike ride Champagne… WHAAAT? 🙂
Confession: I fell in love with Berlin.
Up next? Prague, Czech Republic – which blows pretty much every city I’ve ever visited OUT.OF.THE.WATER. Wellllll maybe not Switzerland, but darn close. Stay tuned.
I think you’ll quickly understand why South Thailand takes the cake when it comes to Thailand. The south is fullllllllll of beaches, blue water (ok, clear water), white sands and just generally emotes peacefulness and happiness. When we first got on the ferry from Surat Thani to Koh Phangan I was pretty pumped – the water was sky blue (which is pretty, but I know now pales in comparison to the rest of the south). Cue: I’ve entered my happy place. After two weeks of temples and walking, I was ready to just relax and take some time by the beach. But as always, trips are never about where you are… but who you are with and I was with a pretty fabulous group of people.
Where we went:
TruTravels – 18 Day (link )
When I first got to the hostel/hotel to meet up with the group, I am not gonna lie — I was a little worried. The hotel was a bit of a step down from what I had just come from (i.e. mattresses on the floor, door was ajar upon walking in), but I had to quickly remind myself – the whole point of this journey was to get outside of my comfort zone as much as possible. I was backpacking and I had to embrace the backpacker life… so onward I went! Within an hour of arriving, I was greeted by Luke, our tour charming British tour guide. Long story short – 18 days is a long time to spend with people, but when you do it right… it all just works out. We met up with the entire group that night at an Indian restaurant nearby (uhhhhhhhhhhmazing) and had a fun night out on Koh San Rd (Vegas for backpackers). I didn’t last terribly long, the week of traveling in the north caught up with me pretty quickly.
We had a few days in Bangkok to get to know one another and explore parts of the city I hadn’t seen yet – the JJ Market – whichis like the biggest farmers market in the entire world. Massive, crowded and pretty cool to experience. I had seen fish spa’s before, but I kinda wanted to try out… so I somehow got my two new friends (Lili from the UK and Sarah from New Zealand) to experience it with me. Let’s just say it was the the weirdest 15 minutes of my life… but I can check that off the bucket list! Ha.
As you can see, I quickly jumped into thai aparrel. Elephant pants? Elephant tops? LOVED THEM ALLLLLL. Plus, it was too hot to really wear the random stuff I had packed. For real, if you’re going to Thailand – pack the essentials and just buy things there ($3 tees, $5 pants). Everything is lightweight and you can toss/donate when you’re ready to leave. Plus, things disappear in the laundry all the time. Tip: Cheapest clothes are in Bangkok. Pack more dresses!
Let’s just say these were terrific. Kinda like a crepe, but betterrrrr. Didn’t have them too often, but they were delIIIIISH.
Koh Sok was an absolute highlight. All 23 of us fit on this little longtail boat. Luke took us on an hour boat ride, along with some cliff diving and swimming off the boat. Buuuuuut then we arrived at our adorable floating bungalows for the night. While we had no hot water, electricity (till after 8pm) or wifi – it was a wonderful experience. We kayaked, chilled out, read and just veggggged out. The food here was absolutely ridiculous as well – Massaman Curry is my [now] faaaavorite and these peeps did it RIGHT. Yummmo!
Bottle Beach // Koh Phangan (COH-Pan-YANG)
After spending a few days on the road (overnight train, sleeping in bungalows, little to no showering) – our group took off further south to Koh Phangan – a small island widely known for the “Full Moon Party” – aka this insane rave that I have absolutely zero interest in. Hahaha. Thankfully, we were not on the island when this party was going on. Typically 30,000+ people come from various islands and crowd the place. There is always some sort of party happening, but thankfully we got to experience a very chilled out version of Koh Phangan.
After a 3 hour ferry and an hour truck ride through the Thai jungle, we were brought to a stunning beach… where we were once again staying in a bungalow. LOVEEEEEEE. This time we were sleep steps from the beach…. we could hear the waves crashing all night. Man on man, I was in heaven. Again, we had no wifi, water or electricity in our bungalows – but it was a very unique experience and I was very lucky to be there! Plus we knew it was temporary.
I introduced the group to s’mores (Only the North Americans knew what they were)…. crazy! So on the drive out I was able to track down marshmallows, Hershey’s and a thai substitute for graham crackers (not that easy in a Thai grocery store, FYI). Later that night, we had a pretty epic group party that involved releasing lanterns, roasting s’mores and just generally having a good time.
Koh Phangan- Part II.
After 3 days of not being able to take a warm shower, we were brought to the other side of the island and stayed at this amazing little hotel – which to us felt like a 5star resort (But it’s only $30 US a night). Things in Thailand are insanely cheap, but this one just blew my mind… and we were so happy to have warm water. Ha! A group of us took a boat ride to the northern part of the island and did some snorkeling, waterfall hiking and kayaking. A long but relaxing day.
I swear the islands just kept getting prettier and prettier each day. Koh Tao was NO exception… honestly, this might have been my favorite thai island. I would go back in a heartbeat. We had four wonderful days here to do whatever we wanted. And after 15+ days of traveling at this point, I wanted nothing more than to lay around and do nothing. Soooooo that’s what we did.
Note: I also got one of the best massages of my life on this island – right next to the beach. Nice find, Sarah.
Overnight Ferry (Koh Tao to Suri Thani – 2 hour van ride to Krabi)
So this was a bit of a shock…. and a huge reality check. We were told we were taking an overnight ferry and I pictured something similiar to a cruise ship. HA – I did not picture us all sleeping side by side (along with a bunch of random people, mostly backpackers) with only squatter toilets as a bathroom option. FUN TIMES. We boarded at 9pm and docked at 4am, but it got us to Railay Bay faster than if we had done it during the day. The overall ride wasn’t too bad, the only thing that really stunk was that I had a drop of water drip on my leg all night. Needless to say, this was an experience. One I’ll never need to repeat again. 🙂 <3
Railay Bay // Krabi (RAYLAY)
Soooooooo yah, Railay Bay kinda takes your breathe away. THIS is the Thailand you’ve seen in pictures and we got to spend four fabulous days here. However, some of the group got pretty sick… and I mean SICK. Supposedly there is some dreaded illness that just takes hold for 24-48 hours and there is basically nothing you can do to prevent it (Luke suggested we skip chicken and veggies – but it didn’t work). 15 out of 16 people were hit by the bug by the time the tour was over. I got it whilst in Koh Phi Phi…. and it was the most miserable thing I’ve ever experienced. However, while on Railay Bay (east and west), I spent my days either learning how to cook Thai food (Mango sticky rice? Massaman Curry, Chicken Satay – alllllllll delish) or laying by the pool/beach. A few of us (most of the group was just not healthy at this point), spent the daily sailing around from island to island on an old japenese sailboat. Snorkeling, cliff jumping, swimming with glow in the dark plankton and jumping off the boat. It was absolutely magical.
Koh Phi Phi (COH – Pee-Pee)
Oh man, I waaaaaaanted to love Koh Phi Phi —- buuuuut this is the point where I got horrrrribly sick. And I mean SICK. Fortunately, it didn’t hit me till day #2 – so I was still able to hike to the lookout point, but this illness took me OUT. It unfortunately hit just as we were heading out on the boat for the day. A day that was taking us to Maya Beach – aka where the Beach was filmed. I HAD to go… but I quickly wished I just had skipped it. I was literally puking at every stop we took. Basically I fed a lot of fishes this day. A LOT. I might look happy at “The Beach”- but I was constantly running to the rocks to puke. Mad props to my travel mates (Rosie and Alex), for trying to help me along the way. Once we got back (late that night), I spent the next 12 hours in bed and onwards to Phuket we went.
Soooo our 18 day tour wrapped in Phuket, I sadly said goodbye to my travel mates one by one. I’ve made the mistake in past travels, by not staying a few extra days to mentally detox before boarding a long haul flight home… so this trip I decided I wanted to splurge on my last few days. I had the opportunity to do so in a place that wasn’t terribly expensive… EVERYTHING in Thailand is crazy cheap – this hotel (which would easily cost me $1000/night in the US, cost me $150). One of my awesome travel mates, Lili (who was spending the next month working with rescued elephants— aka she is amazing), joined me for some laughs and excellent conversation. We laughed a lot, pampered ourselves, ate thai delicacies (which I thought were incense) and got a few shades darker. Excellent end to a wonderful 32 day trip. When the time came, I wasn’t ready to go… but I was at peace was heading home. I laughed a lot, lost track of days and felt wellllll rested. Couldn’t ask for more than that.
“…there’s no way to reach it unless you slow down, get quiet and stop for a little while to notice.”
Accommodation: Bandaras Villas Phuket
In my life, there’s been a single, reliable constant: I want to travel. The only thing I want, to put it simply, is the world. “
Sometimes, it REALLY is that simple. If you’ve read my blog (or talked to me) at all, you know that my injury early last year rocked my world. But what you probably don’t know is that, contrary to the superficial veil of social media, I was swallowed up by depression for most of 2014. And I absolutely positively didn’t know how to shake it. We all have ups and downs and I can assure you… I know it’s all about your mindset and how you react. However, this was the first time I can say EVERYTHING that was normal in my life got flipped, slapped and thrown around. I didn’t know how to cope. I couldn’t walk, cook, live on my own, let alone workout to burn any sort of energy for almost 9 months. I just had time. Something I apparently fear. “Time to think? Analyze? No thank you.” I was typically spending 14 hours a day working (my full time job and photography). On top of that I was spending 3 hours a day commuting; which was slowly stealing my soul. I love, love, love what I do – but I lacked any sort of balance and it had taken its toll. So when everything just stopped? Ahhhhhh!!! I had nothing but time to really get to the core of what I wanted… or more specifically needed.
So I started with what I did want and what I could do to make them happen.
So with allllll of that? I can honestly tell you this trip is hands down one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself. I literally hit STOP on all the chaos and just LIVED. I found the answers I’ve been searching for, I found happiness in even in the smallest moments, I learned to love myself (every flaw) and mostly, I just learned to let go. I invite you to follow my journey below. Something to note: I did NOT bring my professional camera along. It was left behind at the last minute because I wanted this trip to be more about the moments and less about being behind a giant camera (and stressing about it along the way). I’ll be honest: During the first few days I regretted not having it. BIG time. But once figured out how to work my new location scouting camera (Fuji X100T) I was happy.
Where did we go?
Everyone told me that 5 days in Bangkok was probably going to more than enough. I had thought about hopping over to Cambodia or Vietnam for a few days, but I really was just in need of some sunshine and relaxation. As you can see from a few photos below, my wonderful hotel (which I splurged on for the first few solo days), was an excellent place to start. 🙂
Bangkok is fulllll of wonderful nooks and crannies and I began my travels there with a private tour guide ($50 US) that took me around the city in all forms of normal transit (basically anything the locals would take). Tuk tuks, trains, klong boats, canal tours… it was a wonderful introduction to the city.
After a few days, I was ready to meet my first group – G Adventures. Per usual, I had the normal jitters before a tour (what if no one is my age, what if I hate my roommate… etc). But yet again, as soon as I met the smiling faces at our little meetup – all stress went out the window. From there, began our journey to Northern Thailand. Some hotels were sketchier than others, some were lovely and some were what they were (Haley, can we talk about the air conditioning unit in Chang Rai?) Haha. As always, I’ll let the pictures do the talking – but please reach out if you have any questions on where I was and what I was doing! 🙂
Before I met up with the G Adventures group – I had taken my own little day trip to Pattaya because I wanted a little sunshine + beach combo before we headed North. I met some great people from all over (Bali, Oz, etc) and got some wonderful beach time in (PLUS I got to parasail for the 3rd time in my life). Beautiful spot… but I later found out it’s a hot spot for gay men. To each their own, but everyone laughed when I said I went there.
Beginnnnnn the temples, bowing and general respect for a country rooted in so much tradition and honor. I was absolutely fascinated by all the buddha’s and what they represented. Our group rented bikes for the day and strolled around the old capital city and got a wonderful lesson in Thai history.
ELEPHANNNNNNTS!!! Obviously you can’t miss how ridiculously huge my smile is and how insanely pumped I am to see these guys. G Adventures took us to an elephant conservation hospital/grounds where we got to feed the elephants first hand and interact with them (knowing they were taken care of in the most humane ways possible). While my dream was to help partake in washing the elephants in the river, I was equally excited to feed these guys bananas and sugar cane. Such a cool experience.
Below is the White Temple – CLEARLY. Haha. This is essentially just a tourist stop as we learned. While its ornate and insanely detailed on the outside, it has some very modern designs on the inside (The Simpsons, Terminator… a lot of weird cultural references).
The Golden Triangle: the very northern part of Thailand – where Burma, Laos and Thailand all meet (and the sun finally was HOT). Night markets were amazing. Bartering is expected. Lady Boy shows are common (and accepted). I wish I had more to say about Chang Mai – but for the two days we were there it absolutely POURED. Some of our group (and myself) went off and waterfall hike (in the rain), elephant rides (which immediately just felt all sorts of wrong) and white-water rafted (which was freezing, but absolutely amazing). We took an overnight train back down to Bangkok and just as quickly as this tour began… it was over. The only thing that I disliked about my camera is that the focal range was difficult to take wide angle shots – aka shots with other people.
If you’d like to see more of my Thailand trip – aka the SOUTH (beaches/sunshine and more beaches)… that post is coming tomorrow! 🙂
Having just returned from an amaaaaaaaaaaaazing 6 week sabbatical – I am getting asked quite a bit about the “how’s, where’s and what’s” of my Thailand trip. Sooooo to answer a lot of questions all at once (and some unasked questions), I thought I would help push others to travel on their own by sharing my knowledge/experiences. Note: I am NO expert and I am sure there are a million other ways to do things, but this is what has worked for me over the years.
First of all, I travel solo quite often and it always seems to shock people. But let’s get this out of the way now — I am RARELY ever alone. It is amazing and it just works. It pushes me outside of my comfort zone, it challenges me in the best ways and it also allows me to choose to be as involved as I’d like… or not at all. There have been countless (amazing) bloggers that have chimed in on the subject. I am not out to recreate the wheel, but I am just here to share how I make something like this a reality.
Growing up, my family took advantage of our summers off and we were lucky enough to see most of America as children. I’ve been to every US state (except Alaska) and have been to most of the Caribbean and all over Mexico (in my 20’s). My overseas travels began shortly after college and it was a wonderful introduction to life outside of the “American” mindset. However, my “solo” travel adventures began in mid 2008 with a 14 day trip to the Mediterranean (Spain, France and Italy). While it was slightly terrifying, it was even more exciting to be totally on my own. I’d say my only regret is that I didn’t start sooner…
Traveling Totally Solo
Again, while yes —- technically you’re alone, you’re not really by yourself. You just haven’t met your new friends yet. Granted, I am a very outgoing (and independent), but it isn’t about that. You just have to step outside of your comfort zone for a minute and trust it will all work out. On my Thai trip, I spent 5 days in Bangkok by myself. I used the hotel concierge and a website I’ve used in the states (Viator.com) to find unique things to do. Not only do you meet people on these fabulous day adventures, you get to explore off beaten paths with them. Sometimes this leads to evening adventures, but mostly it means you have new friends. 🙂
Funny story: My sister had text me whilst I was solo in Bangkok and said that she felt bad that I was all alone. (Awwh sweet). Buuuut, I laughed and told her not to worry — I was perfectly happy! I was taking this break knowing what was to come. I knew I’d have alone moments and I would welcome them. It was only a matter of time before I met up with my travel groups and would meet new friends from all over the world.
Traveling with a Group
Travel groups tend to have a stigma – retired folk, older singles, couples and long bus rides… or at least I thought that is what they were all about. I always wanted to travel, but it got harder to find friends that could take off the same time and/or friends that want to see the same parts of the world. I didn’t know there were others ways to travel. Then everything changed in 2008: I learned about Contiki.com – a travel group specifically tailored to 18-35 year olds. Naturally my first concern was that I was going to be traveling with a bunch of 18 year olds. Or worse, that no one would be my age?! Ahhhhhhhhh!
Yessssssssssss – we all want it and we all need it to do the travel thing… I get it. Personally, I work a lot; Something I am cutting back on this year. I have a second job/business where I earn a “disposable” income. But working a lot definitely has adverse side effects. I put my business ahead of social gatherings, dating (oops), ahead of my mental health and to be honest (while I love it), I end up being tired allllllllll the time. It was just easier to stay at home and do nothing on my “off nights” and edit to stay on top of my workload. But all of those sacrifices = savings.
Ways To Save (even without an extra income):
Most of these companies cater to people OUR age – aka lots of fun and social experiences. Sommmme more than others (I am looking at you, TruTravels). The good news… every trip I have taken has been amazing and unforgettable.
Tip #1: Most of these companies have catalogs of their adventures for the year. Go on their websites today. Order their book(s) (Hint: They are FREE) and in a week you’ll have a pile of travel catalogs awaiting you at home. Having something tangible to flip through (and tab)? Helps the planning become a reality.
Tip #2: Tours typically do NOT include airfare and airport transfers… but typically everything else (transit, food, FRIENDS).
This will always be the most expensive part of any trip (unless you’re going to Australia/New Zealand – which is a VERY expensive place to visit). Personally, I LOVE the planning stage – it’s a game and it gets me excited to see what’s possible. Then when I have a base price, I try and beat it. (Insert: I am soooo not competitive at allllllll).
Where to start:
Other websites to stalk for flights:
Length of Time
Sometimes, all you have is a week. I get that. Hell, a week is still AMAZING. But please note when traveling to the opposite side of the world, jetlag is gonna take you OUT for a few days. So if you’re only there for 8 days… 3-4 of them will possibly pretty hard…. unless you’re a rockstar and jetlag doesn’t hit you. If so, can you share your secrets?!?
I’ve done 1 week, 2 week, 3 week vacations and more recently 6 weeks (partially unpaid). Hands down, if you can somehow negotiate at least 3 weeks off or more… DO IT. ((Of course… who wouldn’t want to?)) But that first longer trip was the first time I felt myself truly relax, I stopped thinking about work and just BREATHED. Again, I know it’s not always possible… especially if you’re an American. So remember that ANY break is a good break. See your state, the US… the world. Whatever it is for you — but just make that first step and GO.
Let’s talk a little about Thailand
2014 was a year that propelled me towards some massive change and it all stemmed from that damn achilles rupture. Talking is therapeutic for me and sharing the little milestones of my recovery with my “fb world” helped. But contrary to what social media presents, it was a really rough year emotionally and mentally. We all have ups and downs in life, but I had never felt anything like that. I was crying all the time, felt stuck and due to the injury – I had lost a lot of my independence. But the crying… gah!? That I couldn’t stop. I rarely cry!! Of couuuuuuuurse, I didn’t want to feel that way… but I didn’t know how to start to feel better.
So I first started by talking to a therapist… weekly. Something I had never done regularly (even when my dad died). This was, hands down, the best thing I could have done whilst in that situation. It was the first of MANY changes, but it was the most important first step. Fact: I am not the same person I was a year ago (before my injury) – Not even in the slightest bit. So in retrospect, I can hate the injury… but I am thankful for it. There are very few things that can slow me down the way that did (literally and figuratively).
A huge part of my journey forward was planning this trip. To get totally uncomfortable and shake things up (yet again). Soooooo with that goal in mind, I officially decided I’d explore Thailand with just the items on my back (i.e. Backpack). Having always been the “overpacker”… my family and friends thought I was crazy. But.I.was.so.excited.
Thailand trip itinerary.
If you’d like to see more photos, I’m still working on the blog posts… but they are coming soooooooon. Six weeks worth of memories is a lot to encompass in two posts!
G Adventures Tour (Northern Thailand Discovery)
This was my first G Adventures tour (really my first tour besides a Contiki trip). It was a good, slower change for pace of me. Contiki’s can be filled with those “party, party, party” kinds of people – but I wasn’t looking for that on this journey. I wanted culture, experiences and down time… and that’s what we got. I think 2 weeks in the North was plenty. I saw more than my share of temples and had a really chilled, good time. Highlight: Releasing my first Thai lantern into the sky? #bucketlist
TruTravels (Thai Island Hopper – 18 day)
This tour company is unlike any other tour I’ve taken… in a good way. The dynamic is verrrrry laid back and there is a schedule, but it’s not insanely strict. We experienced TRUE backpacking in Thailand, without the hostels. We took every form of transportation possible (buses, ferrys, overnight trains, tuk tuks, klong boats… you name it? We were on it). Additionally, we experienced some of the coolest little known Thai spots (Koh Sok, anyone?!). It truly was a wonderful 18 days… minus getting the dreaded Railay Bay bug — that had made its round through 15 other people before it hit me in Koh Phi Phi. Worst stomach flu everrrr.
Note: Thailand, as whole, is a very poor country. Everything is VERY cheap (food, clothes, you name it). Ex: Clothes are $2, Bottled water is $.10, Two HOUR massages are $15; Meals cost $2-$3. Soooo once you’re there your expenses are very minimal. It’s the number one backpacking country in the world… for good reason.
There are far more adventurous people than me and there are certainly better ways to do everything. Ideally, I’d love to take a year off of work/life and travel – but THAT kinda terrifies me. I have a great job and a great boss… I am not ready to walk away from all that. Maybe one day, but for now I love my trips and all the fabulous people I meet along the way. After all it never is about the location you visit… it is about the people.
I’ve been back for just about 3 weeks and I am still in that euphoric state that I cannot really describe. I am happier, lighter, confident and I keep making little changes that get me closer to my goals. Things that keep me movin’ forrrrward. <3
Best of luck in your travel planning and feel free to leave some travel tips below – I am always eager to know what works for others!!
“Once in awhile it really hits people that they don’t have to experience life in the way they have been told to.” ~Alan Knightly
Fact. There is sooooooo much world out there to see and experiences to be had… I want to see as much of it as I can!! This quote resonates with me in ways I cannot even begin to explain. This year has been incredibly weird, tough and joyful all at the same time. As you all know by now, I ruptured my achilles tendon back in February. It knocked my world upside down and around again. While I am fully healed up (thaaaank goodness), it was a long road with a lot of forwards and backwards steps. I was challenged mentally, emotionally and physically… professionally and personally.
Now that I am able to walk/jog… I am back to feeling like myself. But I desperately needed a little break, a little clarity… Soo what do I do when I need a little clarity? Travel, of course!! I booked this trip on a TOTAL whim… Decided at 10 am I wanted to go overseas again (hey, it’s been a YEAR). Asked my boss for the days off and by 11 am, I had booked my flights and trip. I was set to go to IRELAND. Picked solely on the fact that it was far enough away (7 hour flight), yet close enough to justify only a week vacation. I am always interested in maximizing my time off, however, this was juuuuust enough of a getaway to get a fresh perspective on all things and see a new piece of the world — which always makes my heart feel full.
Soooo sit back, put on some Irish tunes (Personal favorite: Galway Girl, by Steve Earle) and take in all things that are Irish and magical. Side note: We were some of the luckiest bunch of misfits… we had nearly perfect weather all 7 days. Irish luck was on our siiiiide!
Dublin–> Belfast–> Londonderry/Derry–> Galway–> Limerick–> Aran Islands/Inishmore Island–> Cork–> Cobh–> Kilkenny–> Dublin
Though we started the tour in Dublin, I neglected to take any photos on my real camera… I am gonna go head and blame the jetlag. Oops. After a night in Dublin, we headed North to Belfast, Northern Ireland. A city that is completely and utterly segregated based on religion (catholic vs protestant) . As we toured the streets, we also saw that the town was divided by a giant wall and a GATE; that is closed EVERY night to separate the two sides. Insane. The street art is also quite the statement piece, we even had a chance to stop and write our own message to the world… I just snapped pictures. Ha!
While in Belfast, we learned that the Titanic was constructed in Belfast (a fact I did not recall… apparently) and as such, they have a huge museum dedicated to it. A few of those on my tour jumped off and experienced the exhibit (and said it was amazing), but since we only had a short amount of time available, my friends and I took off for lunch while we could. Even as we drove around the Titanic exhibit, I was in awe of the design of the building and the little touches they put into it. Stunning to say the least:
“Made in Belfast” Cafe: The most ADORABLE place I’ve ever set foot in. And being the foodie that I am… I was overjoyed to learn they were “farm to table!” LOVE. If you ever swing through Belfast, Northern Ireland (b/c ummm I am sure you will, right?! ) – definitely add #madeinbelfast to your list of must places to check out! Obsessed. I ordered the most delicious ham and cheese croque – I mean… LOOK at that melted cheese?? Yummmmtown.
I’ll admit it, I didn’t do much research into Ireland before I arrived. However a few of my co-workers mentioned a few must do things and luckily enough, as we went along… I discovered they were on our agenda! And as such, we made our first stop at Giants Causeway. “According to legend, the columns are the remains of a causeway built by a giant. The story goes that the Irish giant Fionn mac Cumhaill (Finn MacCool), from the Fenian Cycle of Gaelic mythology, was challenged to a fight by the Scottish giant Benandonner. Fionn accepted the challenge and built the causeway across the North Channel so that the two giants could meet. Fionn hides from Benandonner when he realizes that his foe is much bigger than he. Fionn’s wife, Oonagh, disguises Fionn as a baby and tucks him in a cradle. When Benandonner sees the size of the ‘baby’, he reckons that its father, Fionn, must be a giant among giants. He flees back to Scotland in fright, destroying the causeway behind him so that Fionn could not follow. Across the sea, there are identical basalt columns (a part of the same ancient lava flow) at Fingal’s Cave on the Scottish isle of Staffa, and it is possible that the story was influenced by this.“
Londonderry/Derry, Northern Ireland
Londonderry was an interesting stop filled with mixed opinions. We arrived after dark so we didn’t get to see anything or do much. Our only experience was dining and visiting a few local pubs. While they were fun, we all felt it was a bit of a let down. A place that felt a little on the “trashy side” wellll…. until the sun rose. The next morning, we experienced a wonderful walking tour by a local man named, Ronan. A man who filled us in on the history, tragic past and the horrors that still reside within (and outside ) of these city walls. Yet again, another city that was separated by religion and beliefs. I was floored… the children of this city do NOT interact with one another. They will never play together, go to school together, be allowed to even TALK to one another…. all because they have a separate beliefs. But as the sun rose, we saw the beauty of this city and all the wonderful history (albeit, sad) this place offered. I only wish that one day this city will be at peace.
Oooooooooooh Galway, you have my heart. Ps. Feel free to turn up “Galway Girl” by Steve Earle here… b/c ummmmm we did every time we drove around this town. Yet again, a charming little coastal town full of rich Irish history. Pub-lined streets streaming live Irish music at every turn, I LOVED it. Oysterfest happened to be going on whilst we were there. I am not sure if the streets were always this busy, but it didn’t bother me one bit. I felt like I was apart of something special and beautiful… and I think we genuinely were. Unforutunately, we only had one day here so we didn’t get to explore the city at night… but my goodness, I’ll be back.
Hands down my favorite day in Ireland. Afraid it was going to be a crappy, rainy day, we reluctantly piled on extra layers, rain jackets and warm clothes. We then moseyed on over to our meeting point to grab the 40 minute ferry over to Inishmore Island. As we were docking, the Irish gods yet again smiled upon us. The skies thinned out and we had the most wonderful greeting — full sunshine and blue skies. We hopped on our bikes (complete with BASKETS!!!!) and began pedaling all over the island. Granted, every 10 feet we all would stop and snap a picture of the view. A DONKEY?! YES. COWS?!! Cute little houses?!!! A stunning BEACH!! Crazy insane cliffs!! It was all beautiful, we didn’t know what to do. After we hiked, biked and strutted our stuff all over the island we were all due for a lunch and a drink (or two). We found a cute little bar in the middle of the island, plopped down for a drink/fish and chips and sat back and enjoyed the live irish music that filled our ears.
Yetttt another day that began with drizzle and heavy clouds, but as we arrived the clouds parted and out came the sunshine and blue skies… AGAIN. No complaints here, but I, once again, dressed wrong. Mostly we just all snapped pictures of the view and talked about how ridiculously amazing it all looked. Because honestly… it kinda just takes your breath away, right? Incredibly thankful for the wonderful weather — Everything is better with a bit of sunshine, ay? The Aussie boys, once again, provided endless hours of entertainment.
Confession time… I had no idea about this until my co-worker, Stacey, mentioned the “Blarney stone” the day I was due to depart. Lucky for me, this was an included stop on our little journey. Everyone has all these tall tales about these things. For instance – that people pee on it and that we shouldn’t kiss it. THANKS, Stacey. Whaaatever. Ha! For those that don’t know about the Blarney Stone: “At the top of the castle lies the Stone of Eloquence, better known as the Blarney Stone. Tourists visiting Blarney Castle may hang upside-down over a sheer drop to kiss the stone, which is said to give the gift of eloquence. There are many legends as to the origin of the stone, but some say that it was the Lia Fáil—a magical stone upon which Irish kings were crowned.” Soooo – you bet… I kissed that sucker.
Again, this tour moved sooooo quickly we only had a few hours in each spot and it was no different for Cobh and Cork. Cobh was the last port of call the Titanic stopped… 3 days later it sank. There were a few wonderful exhibits full of historic photos and tales of stories of those immigrating from Ireland to the states (or elsewhere). Fascinating stories of those that were lost, how immigration, in general, evolved and other historic ships that have notoriously sunk. I love looking at old photographs and this was no exception. After Cobh, we were on our way to Kilkenny… a beaaautiful little town that I did not capture on camera. I reluctantly forgot to bring camera out and about with me… I know, WORST photographer ever… but if you follow me on instagram, you can sneak a peek at this adorableness.
Our last and final stop is where my portion of the tour began, Dubssss. First up, the Guinness Storehouse tour. If you know me at all, you know I don’t drink beer… unless required to do so for a competition. HA! However, I decided to partake in this tour after hearing nothing but amazing things about it. FYI: I highly recommend it. The view up top alone, is worth it. After that we had the day to roam the city and off we went… in search of the best bloody mary in Dublin. This ended up being an epic fail, but we discovered a delish Irish restaurant (again, with wonderful music) and we got FREE hats. Ha!
At times, I didn’t have my camera with me because I wanted to just sit back and enjoy the view. I wanted to savor the REAL moments and take it all in through my own eyes (vs. the viewfinder)… which is definitely hard for me. However, I still think I captured a little bit of the soul of Ireland… at least I hope! All in all, this trip went by incredibly fast, but I made some wonderful friends along the way. For the next four weeks, I will be incredibly slammed with photoshoots (happily) and then I’ll be moving and sorting the rest of my life out. Haha – so stay tuned on that. Bottom line… if you have a chance to go to Ireland, I highly recommend it!!!!
Friday, February 7th three friends and I played in a competitive 4’s volleyball tournament. During our second match of the night, I went to dig a ball, as I have done at least a million other times in my life. I stepped back and went to step forward into the dig. Right as my body hit the floor, it felt as if someone stepped on the back of my left foot. I looked around, but didn’t see anyone. It mostly felt like a sting of pressure, but mostly it just felt numb. I tried to get up and I couldn’t… Insert: Pure panic.
In less than 6 days, I was due to get on a plane to Hong Kong, crash there for the night. Then on to Bali for 10 days and then on to Thailand for another 10 days. A trip I had been planning for MONTHS. A trip that I had paid in full. A trip in which I was meeting a friend – who was ALREADY in Indonesia.
With a quick stop at my apartment to grab my insurance card, Ingrid, one of my bestests, drove me to the ER. After about two hours, we were seen by a nurse. A quick exam, drug test and another 30 minute wait, the ER doc came in. While she couldn’t do an MRI that night, she informed me that I likely completely tore OR partially tore my achilles tendon. Super.
I was put in a splint, given a pair of crutches and sent home. She recommended that I follow up with an Ortho and get an MRI ASAP. Gotta love 1 am ER visits on a Friday/Saturday morning – nothing was open till Monday. I had two days to wait and wonder.
I was able to get into an amaaazing sports injury doc first thing Monday at Castle Orthopedics in Aurora. They fitted me with a walking cast/boot and I quickly realized how hard this was going to be. I discovered that a walking cast is not exactly that. I couldn’t actually put much weight on it – without my foot/leg hurting. The boot was HEAVY. Crutches were difficult for me to manage. If I was planning on going on this trip, I would need to find ways to make it happen. I spent much of the afternoon researching knee scooters, per the doctor’s recommendation… thinking I could just scoot my way through airports and the streets of Bali. But seriously, WHO was I kidding??? My head knew what I had to do… but my heart hadn’t fully caught up.
Traveling and seeing the world is a drug to me. I LOVE new adventures. I love the thrill of feeling lost in a new place. I love experiencing new cultures. It was so close… I wasn’t ready to give it up. But once I had some time to actually sit down and think, I started to process what was happening. I really thought about what I was about to get myself into. From boarding the plane, getting from the Hong Kong Airport to my hotel… on crutches. Getting ANYWHERE. Not being able to run along the beach, jump in the pool, swim in the ocean, etc. I slowly realized it wasn’t going to be the trip I had imagined.
And that is when reality set it – late Monday night. Where I had a good, hard cry that my trip was going to be cancelled… by me. I next to never cry, but I straight up sobbed my eyes out. Not only was this trip not happening, but more importantly, I realized this wasn’t [in general] going to be an easy road.
The MRI showed that I completely tore my achilles tendon… aka a complete rupture. But I tore it at a point that I was not a candidate for surgery (I didn’t even know that was possible). I would need a cast right away; for which I need to wear for 3.5 weeks and then I’d be back in a boot for another 5 weeks. I cannot put any weight on either cast/boot for the next 8 weeks. Super.
It takes 4-6 months to fully recover from an achilles tendon tear. I could re-rupture it again and be in the same situation a year from now if I don’t let this heal properly. The timing sucks, but there are so many worse things out there that could have happened.
I am only a week and a half into my recovery, but I am BEYOND grateful I have family close-by. I have had to move home for the next month. My apartment in Bucktown is a bit too tricky to get in and out of with crutches. But mostly I have help at my mom’s house. My mom (and sister) have been amazing and step in whenever I need an extra hand… which is about every two feet. As an extremely independent person, it is very hard to ask for help. But there is a lot I just simply cannot do. So I am beyond thankful for all the little and big things people are able to do for me. Thank YOU.
There are several positive things I’ll choose take away from this. 1) I’ll be back to 100% in about 6 months (hopefully) and those locations aren’t going anywhere. 2) I don’t have to have surgery. 3) I had trip insurance and I am 100% covered. 4) Most importantly, my arms and abs are gonna be RIPPED from rocking these (sheep-skin covered) crutches for 8 weeks. All I can do is look forward and work on getting better. In the meantime, I get to rock prime parking, Target scooters and watch a lot of Netflix.
If anything this is an eye-opening and humbling experience all around. I’ve stumbled, slipped and tripped. Not only in reality and metaphorically-speaking as well… but let’s be honest, that’s life in general. We all trip up, we all fall a little – it’s how you handle those types of moments that defines who you are. So as far as my injury is concerned, it’s just one little bump in the road. #bringit
I had to break this into to two posts, b/c I just have too many pictures to share. Part I, was the first three days of the trip. This is the rest…
I had no real agenda going into Switzerland, I knew I wanted to see Lake Geneva, Basel, Lucerne and Matterhorn… but beyond that, I was up for whatever – I just told Nola – “Let’s go to places you haven’t been before if/when possible.” While the highlights of Switzerland definitely include the stops below (Interlaken, Lucerne, Basel and Zermatt/Matterhorn).. we did a few things Nola hadn’t done just yet. First and foremost, a ferry ride to Mt. Rigi. GAME ON. I really didn’t care WHAT we did exactly… I wanted good food, good company and SWISS life. We got that and then some… whoop, whooop!
Luckily, as you can see, we had pretty spectacular weather the whole week I was there. For the most part, not a single cloud in the sky! Crazy, blue skies. I think for the first time all year I haven’t religiously stalked the weather. (Note: Any one in the photography business can understand what I mean here. I roll out of bed every day/weekend trying to decide if 30% chance of rain will crush my shoots or not – its a vicious cycle that I often don’t win). But nonetheless, I just rolled with it and the weather worked out perfectly.
On our 3 hour trip/train ride from Wengen up to Basel (where Nola and Christian live), we stopped in Interlaken so that we could break up the ride and to experience THIS city and do fun interlakeningy things! A boaaaaat ride sounded fabulous. You get to see a lot, all whilst taking in the views… all while NOT hiking. HA. I love a good hike, but a day off was a nice [needed] change of pace for me.
Switzerland is one of those places you know is pretty and amazing, but you have no idea how RIDICULOUS it actually is until you see it first hand. I am very fortunate to have friends all over the world – two of which live in Basel, Switzerland. My college volleyball teammate, Nola and her husband moved over there last November and are always up for visitors. (WOOHOOO). I currently get about four weeks of vacation at my full-time job, so I try to plan any of my trips around the “free” holidays as much as possible. So when Labor Day came rolling around this year, I decided to make the plunge and buy a ticket to Switzerland. Turns out a few of their other friends had the same idea… which is just AWESOME. More peeps equals amazing little adventures.
I had a few bumps on my journey to Geneva but it was all worth it. Note: I had a pretty awful reaction to Ambien. ALWAYS, ALWAYS eat before you take it. Otherwise you’ll be the sickest you’ve ever been in your life. Trust me. Not fun. Nor ideal if you sit on the tarmac for three hours only to find out the flight will be cancelled. Let’s just say I threw up pretty much all night. Ouch. Alas, our flight was rescheduled for the next morning. By then, I was feeling better and almost fully recharged. After a 7 hour flight from Montreal, I got to Switzy about 11:30 pm and had to take a few trains out to Vevey, where the rest of the group was staying. I got in about 1:30 am and woke up at this reDONKEY place:
Two months of planning… and it WORKED! 🙂 I have to admit, I am not the best at keeping secrets or hiding anyyyything… so this surprise birthday weekend was a HUGE success.
About two months ago, I received an email from Stacie, Lisa (my BFF)’s other BFF about meeting up in NY to surprise Lisa for her birthday. Welp, you don’t have to ask me twice. After running the weekend by her husband, Kevin, and getting the official OK – plans were in the WORKS. Since Kevin is a NY police officer and works nights (and needs to sleep during the day), we needed to reinforcements to help us steal her away for the day. Kevin enlisted her in-laws to take care of their two little munchkins (4 and 2) so that we could give her a weekend full of relaxation and girls time. Reservations were made. Plans were coordinated. My plane ticket was booked. This was happening!!!