Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year, Bunnies! (2011 Highlights)

Here we are at the end of 2011, the year I started this travel blog.  Looking back at this past year, I wish I'd written a bit more about my travels but am happy with most of what I did write and am thrilled with my 2011 travel experiences.  Starting the year on the steps of Sacré Coeur in Paris and ending it somewhere in Rome, 2011 has been an amazing travel year for me and below are some of the highlights.

Best Travel Experience: Sóller to Deià

Outside castle ruins, Baden-Baden
Best Travel Moment: Stumbling upon a beer serving cafe mid-hike in Baden-Baden, and then another one outside the castle ruins, and another one inside them.

Most Disappointing Travel Experience: Brighton, England 

Most Challenging Travel Experience: We've had a few bad experiences with landlords this year.  Both in Paris and London, our experiences were dodgy and trying and our current Dundee landlord is non-responsive. Happily, having learned from our experiences, we're enjoying a lovely relationship with our current landlord here in Rome.

Most Rewarding Travel Experience: Spending 19 glorious days in Mallorca with no money, proving money isn't necessary when surrounded by a beautiful beach on the Mediterranean.

I have a few travel dates set aside for 2012 (April, June, July/August, December) and only one confirmed destination (Baltimore).  I'll be chasing cheap fares for the other dates and am looking forward to sharing those experiences with you.  Until then, happy new year, bunnies!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Rome: First Impressions

Borghese Gardens
Clean - Rome is very clean.  Yes, we've seen a few empty wine bottles littering the streets but, for the most part, the fountains are clear, the streets are clean, and there is no dog shit to dodge.

Fashion - Almost everyone is dressed well.  Not to the same degree as we had expected (I was scared to wear trainers for fear of being identified as a tourist), but still definitely more fashionable than we're used to.  Black, shiny, puffy coats are all the rage.

Not Super Cheap - We had expected the same economic spectrum as we experienced in Paris and New York but that is not possible in Rome.  There is no super cheap here.  There is sort of cheap, middle of the road, and expensive.  Our first meal, at 1am on our arrival date, was a slice of fungi pizza and a beer each which cost €8.  Our first real sit-down meal - cacio e pepevino rosso di casa, and tiramisu for dessert - was €32 for two.  There are no €3 poulet rotis nor €1 litres of wine but we're managing to find some good deals (I'm writing this while enjoying a €4.99 bottle of Limoncello).

Very Picturesque - Every corner turned is another ruin or ancient building to marvel.  It's overwhelming.

Laid Back - The Italians are super laid back.  We've knowingly mispronounced countless Italian words but have not been corrected once.  They seem friendly, happy, and welcoming.

vending machine on Via del Corso
Liquor Laws - Any day, any time, you want wine, you've got wine.  You want that pizza takeaway?  You want a beer with that?  Awesome.

Honest People - We love the Italians!

Weather - Romans have no idea how great they have it.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Literature While Abroad

A recent blog about Great Books from one of my favourite travel bloggers has inspired me to write about my own literature while abroad experiences.

view from the balcony in Quepos, Costa Rica
My first memory of reading whilst on holiday is from my 2006 trip to Costa Rica.  I was spending a week in a rural village on a volunteer vacation.  I read "Snow Flower and the Secret Fan" with a headlamp, underneath mosquito netting.  Afterwards, I detoxed at a resort for a few nights and read "The Time Traveler's Wife" on a balcony, with an amazing view of the Pacific.

For some reason, the combination of reading while travelling created a deeper memory for me and I remember aspects of that trip because of those books that I would've otherwise forgotten by now.

At Shakespeare and Company
A more recent example of this would be my trip to Paris over Christmas 2010 and New Year's 2011.  Reading "Gertrude and Alice" provided me with a whole new level of understanding of my new location.  After reading it, I was able to visit their grave at Père Lachaise Cemetery and stopped in at Shakespeare and Company fully aware of its history, allowing me to feel more connected to the city; like a resident rather than just a tourist.

Similarly, reading "Down and Out in Paris and London" and "The Sun Also Rises" while in Paris allowed me to see a different side to the beauty that I was experiencing.  I remember both the books better because of where I read them and I remember Paris better because of the books.  Plus, every time I think of those books I'll think of my trip to Paris and vice versa; they are forever entwined in my mind, allowing me to visit Paris again simply by picking up one of those books.

As I prepare for another trip, this time to Rome, the books I decide to bring are as important as any other item I pack.  After consulting with Geraldine at Travel Oyster, I've decided to bring "Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling" and "A Traveller in Rome".  I'm looking forward to discovering how these books will wind up impacting my experience and my memories.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The End Is Nigh

This month marks the half way point for our time in Dundee, scheduled to end June 2013.  Although I can't be certain, the odds are very good we will not be sticking around here once Mike graduates in May that year.  Thus, the end of this month means just 1.5 years left to get the most out of our Dundee adventure.

Once we leave Dundee, it's very possible we'll never visit this part of the world again.  Although we plan to stay in the UK for another couple of years, most likely in London, we probably won't be using any of that time to visit Scotland, not with both England and Wales to entertain us, along with the rest of the world.  Thus, with just 18 months left in Scotland, we need to start strategizing how we spend our time so we get the most out of this opportunity.

In addition to all the places we have yet to see, we still hope to 'bag a Munro' and witness some Highland Games.  We'd like to go to a ceilidh, spend more time at the Edinburgh festivals in August, and experience the North Sea (e.g. kayak, SUP, etc.).  Our monthly rambles allow us the opportunity to see the countryside, and provide us with some guidance as to what and where, so we plan to continue those.  But, we also hope to manage a couple staycations to tackle those things on our list which will take more than just an afternoon.

Seaton Cliffs
In addition to looking ahead, it's good to look back and review what we've accomplished in our first 18 months in Scotland.  Our rambles have really provided us with the best memories of our temporary home; the Fife Coastal Path and the Seaton Cliffs were both beautiful walks and Pitlochry and Crieff were both lovely towns.  Glamis Castle is still one of our favourite castles and both Edinburgh and Glasgow are great cities.

As this is our first step on a long journey, I'm really happy with how we've structured it.  Living slightly outside ones comfort zone can be difficult and trying at times but also rewarding.  Though we long for the days of comfortable couches and close friends, the new experiences and awkward interactions on a regular basis are their own reward.


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