I'm a 37-year old Seattle girl who was bitten by the travel bug on my first tour of Europe in 2004. This personal blog follows my attempts to visit as many countries as I can, as often as my budget will allow. Since starting this blog in 2007, I've also worked as a freelance copywriter for an online travel publication. This only served to add even more must-see locations to my already extended list.
Follow me as I try to balance "real life" with exploring the world, all while trying to conquer a wickedly ironic case of homesickness.
Many people firmly believe the only way to test a true friendship is to travel with that person. And why is that? Our differences become entirely unavoidable once we’ve left the comfort and familiarity of home. What really makes you tick will be laid out on the table far before you get home and start making your holiday slideshow. So…which type are you?
The first category of traveler would be the Pigheaded Patriotic, many of which we unfortunately see coming from the undeniable direction of the USA. This person comes through customs wearing an Old Navy tee emblazoned with the stars and stripes and socks underneath his sandals. He’s very difficult to ignore, as he is usually loudly voicing his frustration at the signs being in the local language or his confusion as to why something isn’t set up “the way we do it back home.” He has a tendency to pack way too much, wear his money belt outside his clothes and only participate in activities that cater entirely to his comfort. Even weak air-conditioning in his hotel room has him hoofing immediately down to the front desk to demand, at the very least, a fan for his comfort.
The second category of traveler is the Ignorantly Blessed. These travelers have money and lots of it. They travel frequently and always in first class. You might call them discreet, except that they also frequently pack way too much, but it’s okay because it’s all resting quietly in a expensive, new matching luggage set. They stay always connected to home through their Blackberry and they never take public transportation; it’s a chauffeured town car or nothing. Meals are always taken at the best restaurants followed immediately by tickets to the best shows. They are a concierge’s dream, and they tip to impress. Their friends frequently comment on how lucky they are to experience so much of the world this way, but they don’t understand why. To them, every town is essentially the same…and it would be in such a posh bubble.
The third category of traveler is simply called the High and Mighty. This is the traveler that sees themselves as the embodiment of Frommers themselves and loves to preach the travel gospel to anyone that won’t roll their eyes and run away. Their next trip is always far more exotic than the last, believing places like Venice and Paris are nothing more than tourist traps. They pride themselves on bonding with locals, especially when it involves eating something the western world would consider a pet. They despise chain establishments and tacky souvenirs, and they’re certain Starbucks is taking over the world. They firmly believe they are the only real travelers; everyone else is just pretending. And the extraordinarily pushy ones are usually offered their own show on the Travel Channel, as Anthony Bourdain loudly demonstrates.
The next category of traveler is the Laid Back Wanderer. Often the spouse or travel partner of the other travel types, nothing much bothers this traveler. Delayed flight? No problem. Lost reservation? Okay. No dinner? Whatever. They roll with the punches and often enjoy themselves entirely by accident. It isn’t unusual for this traveler to carry bags and operate cameras for others without any fuss; after all, isn’t a vacation about having fun?
The last and final category of traveler is where I seem to find myself. And it is from this place I found the name of this blog: Homesick Wanderlust. This traveler is fueled by dreams, hungry to see and despises a lack of appreciation and an excess of cynicism. Funds aren’t plentiful, so each and every trip is treasured. Armed with research and dog-eared journals, this traveler will do what it takes to have the best experience possible. With a slight naivety and craving to be knowledgeable, this traveler always absorbs every piece of advice they can get. But unlike the brash counsel that usually comes from the High and Mighty, this traveler gives themselves the permission to be balanced and vulnerable. They realize people are different and are going to experience places differently, and that’s okay. Even the nuances at the local McDonalds are a thrill to this traveler. But most importantly, this traveler lets their encounters deepen both their appreciation for this new culture and her own back home.
Samantha Brown just said something with quiet profoundness: "When you travel, you really have to live in your discomfort zone."
Touché, Miss Brown, touché.
I think everyone with a pulse needs to get on a plane, train or automobile and go far. Don't stop until you cross a border into a place where you don't know the language, where the customs are completely foreign, where the world takes on an entirely new flavor.
There is an epiphany one has if, and only if, they've entirely removed themselves from their comfort zone. And with this revelation, you can start to see what a gloriously choreographed world we live in. That vulnerability will force you to look honestly at your true self as the mutually exclusive vastness and smallness of the world is revealed to you. The overwhelming rationale of our excessively detailed lives melts away when you see the world outside of your personal bubble.
I have never had such awe and respect for our Creator and His creation as I've had while abroad. Not only do you realize what an amazing planet we inhabit, but it's almost impossible to not feel a kinship with humanity and a longing for us to be unified the way were meant to be.
Some of my personal moments of perspective include * glimpsing out a tiny airplane window down 37,000 feet of atmosphere at ice sheets floating off Greenland * seeing the sunrise over London, knowing people at home are still enjoying yesterday * meekly testing my broken college French at a restaurant in Paris, while the waiter responded meekly and entirely in broken English * running for dear life across congested streets in Rome when all logic is screaming at you not to plow in front of moving vehicles * watching a 17-year old Australian discover snow and squirrels for the first time in his life * smiling as gondoliers stop singing operatic arias to answer their vibrating cell phones * touching the wall of a two-hundred year old chapel freckled with damage from German WWII bombs * standing on stones you know Julius Caesar has also stood on * grazing my fingers across seventeenth-century graffiti inside a Venetian prison * doing charades inside a Florentine pharmacy in order to acquire much needed tampons and cold medicine * watching the sweet sincerity of locals after sneaking quietly into an evening church service inside a warm, Swiss cathedral * Looking centuries into the past in a fog-covered Scotland valley where the Scots won their freedom *
How anyone can honestly believe our existence is a giant cosmic accident - unrelated and entirely random - is completely beyond me. My travels have only strengthened my faith and comfort that God is still in control.
"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover." -Mark Twain
“Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson
"There are two ways of getting home, and one of them is to stay there." -G.K. Chesterton
”Wherever you go, go with all your heart.” -Confucius
“I would rather live in a world where my life is surrounded by mystery than live in a world so small that my mind could comprehend it.” -Henry Emerson Fosdick
“It is not death that a man should fear, but he should fear never beginning to live.” -Marcus Aurelius
“Life is a promise; fulfill it.” -Mother Theresa “It is good to have an end to journey toward, but it is the journey that matters in the end.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson
“The beckoning counts, and not the clicking of the latch behind you.” -Freya Stark
Beyond the East, the sunrise, Beyond the West, the sea, And East and West the wanderthirst Will not let me be. -Gerald Gould
“I resolved to abandon trade and to fix my aim on something more praiseworthy and stable; whence it was that I made preparation for going to see part of the world and its wonders.” -Amerigo Vespucci
“A place has almost a shyness of a person with strangers; its secret is not to be surprised by too direct interrogation.” -Arthur Symons
“Travelers always buy experience which no books can give.” -Anonymous
“When a traveler returneth home, let him not leave the countries where he hath traveled altogether behind him.” -Francis Bacon
“He who returns from a journey is not the same as he who left” -Chinese proverb
“The real voyage of discovery is not in discovering new lands, but in seeing with new eyes.” -Marcel Proust
“Since life is short and the world is wide, the sooner you start exploring it, the better.” –Simon Raven
“I was not born for one corner; the whole world is my native land.” -Lucius Annaeus Seneca
“When you leave a country, you leave behind something of your heart.” -Belgian Proverb
“Life is not about the breaths you take, but the moments that take your breath away.” -Unknown
“The happiness of London is not to be conceived but by those who have been in it.” –Samuel Johnson
“…When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life…” -Samuel Johnson
As you drive north through England, the hills roll higher and more dramatically, as if they're showing off. High on the novelty of achieving my childhood dream of seeing Sherwood Forest, I was struck with the beauty of Yorkshire as we put more of England under our "tyres". On the left, the hedge rows framed fields of cheerfully yellow rapeseed climbing higher and higher, balanced gently by the vast blue of the North Sea on the right.
Almost immediately after we crossed the border into Scotland, it was as if the land knew it was Scottish and was eager to flaunt the fact. The heather and craggy terrain made an immediate appearance. The hills grew immensely and the greens became inexpressably vibrant.
Your approach to the capital city of Edinburgh is like a movie preview; the small tastes whet your appetite for more, and the city center doesn't disappoint. The crags and cliffs steal your attention first. You find yourself craving a closer look just to determine how these buildings continue to cling to their resting spots and don't come sliding right down the side. Upon this closer look, you realize just how steep these hills are and just how clever the engineers that built this city must have been. The heights of Edinburgh Castle overlooking the depths of Princes Garden, all the way past New Town to the North Sea in the distance...this is one of the most unique cities I've ever visited. I don't think there is a single bad view in the entire place. Due to the coal mining, many parts of the city are still crazy dirty, but it works. Somehow the eerily gothic Scott Monument just wouldn't be the same without the years of grime embedded in it's surfaces. I could have spent many more days here; it was hard to leave.
The morning of our venture further into Scotland was graced with a heavy fog, setting the stage for the Scot's proud stories of William Wallace, Robert the Bruce and the Battle of Bannockburn. As we got closer to Stirling, you could hear the honor in our guide's thick Scottish accent: this was his country, his culture, and he wanted us to understand what these men died for. Standing on a hill next to Stirling Castle overlooking the valley shadowed by the massive William Wallace Monument, you feel an energy of Scottish pride in the air. This beautiful place meant something to these people. I didn't want to move from that spot; I could have stayed there for hours.
The Highlands are also unlike anything else I've seen. Lochs of all sizes surprise you around almost every corner. The heather grows everywhere; during blooming season, the blanket of purple must be spectacular. Creeks follow the single lane road that winds its way up one hill and down another. The number of sheep that call this land home must be in the hundreds of thousands. A stop in Aberfoyle gave us the opportunity to meet some true Highlanders and experience how they live.
Our final stop was a cruise on Loch Lomond, with rays of sun poking through the clouds to create patterns on the deceptively large canvas of rolling hills. Castles were buried in valleys, standing proudly on clifftops and falling in ruin where they had met their demise so long ago. And if you close your eyes, you can actually hear the bagpipes.
As we drove south through Glasgow on our way back to England, I was struck with the distinctive beauty of this country and the kindness of its people. You've made an idelible mark on me, Scotland, and I thank you.
By the time my 27th birthday rolled around in November of 2006, I was absolutely foaming at the mouth to get out of town! But we were wedged between the financial depletion of a wedding and saving like mad for our upcoming jaunt to the UK in the spring. So we decided to take advantage of our local resources and hop on the Victoria Clipper for a mini international weekend holiday up to Canada.
As luck would have it, one of the worst storms of the season rolled in right behind our departure from the Seattle docks. While our friends and family were sloshing through the worst of the flooding back home, our experience with Victoria was still very wet. Very, very wet!
We'd chosen to stay at the number two hotel in the harbor, the Hotel Grand Pacific. It wasn't as pricey as the Empress, but their Romance Package was very reasonably priced. And we weren't disappointed by the hotel, either! It was a bit of affordable elegance, and the harborside location next to the beautiful Government building was fabulous, as well. Even the horse-drawn carriages were close by!
Michael and I got the chance to wander through town a bit before the deluge hit us. We found the bookstore...of course! I squealed and played in the year-round Christmas store, dug through bins of sweaters in the Irish wool store, ate too much candy in the chocolate stores...you get the idea! We watched the boats in the harbor and visited the museum where we scratched our heads at the Mating Animal exhibit.
And of course, we had afternoon tea at the Empress. The drawing room is beautiful, the ambiance can't be beat. We ate (almost) everything on the three-tiered platter and drank our fill of their scrumptous tea. We wandered around the hotel and it's perfect grounds a bit before returning to our hotel, where we spent the rest of the weekend hiding from the weather. Have I ever mentioned how much I love room service?
After the sheer madness of a wedding, this bride needed a haven where she didn't have to make a single decision for the entire duration of her stay. Oh...and it had to be affordable! So, I called my fabulous TA, and off we went to The Vallarta Palace in Nuevo Vallarta, Mexico.
Not many people know where Nuevo Vallarta is. The town of Puerto Vallarta sits on the coast of the Mexican state of Jalisco. But they're developing an area of coast just 20 minutes north in the state of Nayarit into quite the posh tourist mecca, appropriately called Nuevo Vallarta.
(Okay, perhaps I should preface...I'm a city girl. A slightly spoiled one. I'm not big on outdoors and the like, especially the "wee little beasties", as the Scots like to call them. So a beach vacation was a major change for me. Heck, "relaxing" is a major change for me! And a Mexican beach vacation was almost more than I was prepared for. My personal favorite guide warning went something like this: "The golf here is wonderful...except the crocodile. But don't worry! He runs 30 miles an hour, and our golf carts can go 35.")
Standing at the customs baggage terminal, I was surrounded by lots of already-drunk college kids wearing Corona shirts and bikini tops. A bad sign for a quiet girl that doesn't drink. Climbing the stairs to the exit, the bold frankness of the Mexican taxi peddlers and the sweltering jungle heat made me a bit edgy. I think I actually embedded some fingernails into my husband's hand during the seatbeltless cab ride, otherwise known as "dodge everything in a Chevy Nova". The only thing that distracted me from my imminent death was the lack of life in the surrounding countryside: scattered chicken carcasses, rotten trees, homes with no floors or windows. It was as if someone turned on a filter in my vision; everything was literally brown, a major contrast to my green Seattle home.
I've never felt more American than I did pulling past the security gate to the Nuevo Vallarta complex. I wondered how the security guard kept from passing out in this heat as he waved us through a very large stone gate allowing access to a huge walled community. Immediately, the grounds were impeccably lush. Everything was new, even the stripes on the roads. I didn't know whether to be embarrassed by the blatent contrasting oppulence...or downright relieved!
We stayed up in Nuevo Vallarta for most of our honeymoon, not for snobby reasons (though the idea of what I'd seen earlier was intimidating). But we were terribly broke newlyweds 20 minutes out of town, and our pasty Seattle skin could only handle so much of this proximity to the equator. Fortunately, we greatly enjoyed our resort...especially the food! I ate so much grilled steak, taquitos and fresh guacamole that week, I should have turned green. And the staff was superb; I've never met such a kind group of people. One in particular was the woman that turned down our bed every night. She didn't speak any English, and my rusty Spanish wasn't getting me very far. We kept trying charades to understand why this woman continued to request entry to our room every night. With the sweetest smile on her face, she finally brought chocolates, the international symbol for "I turn down the bed".
I was fascinated watching these people keep our hotel looking so perfect; absolutely nothing was ever out of place. I was challenged at how fulfilled they seemed with their work. I wondered where they lived, if their homes had real floors, while they came here in the 410% humidity to make sure my drink hadn't melted and my towels were folded like a swan. I was grateful for what I had back home and made a note to tip big.
You want to know what REALLY happens on a honeymoon? Yes, there are moments that, frankly, are none of your business. :-) But in truth - we slept most of the week, no joke. We were so exhausted from the wedding and the planning and the showers and the parties and the moving and the painting... One of our favorite activities quickly became simply curling up together and taking a nap. (We don't drink, remember?) Otherwise, Michael fell in love with boogie-boarding in the ocean. I discovered I love to read on the beach. And many, many episodes of Smallville in Spanish. And ironically, "Spanglish" isn't any different when you watch it in Mexico.
You'd be proud to know we did eventually venture into town. The history and architecture was just too much to pass up. It was late morning and a bit overcast by the time we hit Puerto Vallarta's beach front, so I think we completely missed the key element. But the friendly mariachi band made the heat almost bearable! We also wandered down to Mismaloya and got to see a bit of the jungle and coastline, too. By the time we were driving back north, I was glad when this area's strange beauty started to reveal herself to me.
Overall, it was different for me. I honestly didn't fall in love with Mexico, but I did enjoy myself. And occasionally I find myself wishing I was sitting on that beach with that slushy, sweet drink and the gentle roll of the waves. Oh, and the sunsets...
Just a bit of footage from my week with Michael in Southern England in May of 2005. To any true English or Anglophiles watching, please pardon my naive mispronunciation of the word "Leicester". Many a Brit have corrected me since (some not so nice!), and I have seen the light!
My second trip to London was simply magical. After my wonderful introduction to the city in 2004, I convinced my boyfriend to come back with me and spend a week wandering in and around the city. I was so excited to share everything I'd fallen in love over with the man I was hopelessly in love with...but he had other plans.
Late on a rainy Saturday afternoon, we rode the elevator to the top of the Tower Bridge straddling the mighty Thames. The clouds were finally starting to clear and I was distracted, watching the city from the catwalks above. I finally snapped back to reality after Michael's uncharacteristic insistence that we descend back down to street level.
Once at the bottom, the lift door opened to reveal a small landing and lookout over the river. True to London form, the wind was whipping by, and I was enjoying the freedom it carried, lost in watching the water of the river churn beneath us when I felt a tap on my shoulder.
"Lisa," I turned around into a very awkward hug from Michael, "Wait...I have something special to give you," he said, as he began to take off the backpack and hand over all the shopping bags he'd been so graciously carrying all day.
The spot he'd chosen to give me this "special thing" was very deliberate. In the center of my favorite city, on the river I loved to walk along, in the windy weather I enjoy so much, in the shadow of one of the most incredible pieces of architecture on this earth, Michael had purposely created a symphony of my passions, a memory I would never forget.
I can't quite define the strange feeling that washed over me as he reached in his pocket; a recipe of hope, anticipation, unbelief...and a little nausea. In my mind's eye, I can still see it in his hand: a small, fuzzy, forest green jewelry box. It was at that point the entire world stopped...which is rather unfortunate, because his proposal was beautiful. I just wish my mind was working properly so I could remember it more clearly!
But the moment he went down on one knee and opened the box to reveal his great-grandmother's vintage 1920s engagement ring that he'd snuck over the ocean in his shoe - in the middle of the chaos that is London with onlookers and traffic and a sharp ray of sunlight breaking free and spilling out onto the city as if on cue - I heard these words loud and clear:
"Lisa M____ K____, will you make me a happy man? Will you marry me?"
That isn’t my ceiling. I know my ceiling pretty well, and that is not it. And these are definitely not my sheets. They’re starchy. Where am I? I feel like I’ve been asleep for years.
The sound of a toilet flushing interrupts my investigation. I turn toward the sound, only to be met by the ache of stiff muscles. A sliver of glaring light pierces my eyes, shoving its way out of the crack of the closed bathroom door.
Wait. It’s all coming back now. The plane, the passports, the luggage…suddenly these hotel sheets seem rather luxurious.
I gingerly turn my head the other direction to discover a hideous drapery covering the entire wall. A dull orange glow illuminates the floor beneath, spilling light from the street onto my open knapsack.
“Mornin’,” I hear after the bathroom door opens. I flop back toward the bathroom as Kim shuffles toward her narrow twin bed.
“Hi,” I quietly respond. Somehow, the dark calm of the early morning seems too sanctified to disrupt. “What time is it?”
"About 4:30,” she says, as she glances at the travel alarm on her bedside table.
“How’d you sleep?” I inquired, as she climbs back into her scratchy sheets.
“Like a rock. You?”
“Really well. Are you getting up now?”
“Mmmmm,” she moaned, as she snuggled deeper into her blankets. “Not this early. Besides, it’s really cold in here.”
She was right. In the twenty short hours we’d been in England, it was clear that their central heating systems were about as dependable as the weather.
Wait, again. England? I’m in England. I closed my eyes and let the realization seep in. I’m in England. A bolt of energy shot through my body, and any remnant of fatigue disappeared. The aches that had weighed so heavily on my short frame only moments ago mysteriously subsided. I sat up in my bed, only to be slapped with the crisp, cool air outside my blankets. I considered, only briefly, crawling back in my warm cocoon. No, London was waiting for me.
The orange light from behind the curtain seemed to call my name. This was no ordinary streetlamp illumination. This was London. A city so steeped in history that my forefathers admired its determination. The stories these streets could tell, the changes these walls had seen. And today, I would join the ranks and become part of London’s history.
I heard Kim’s steady breathing as she surrendered rather willingly to slumber. As quietly as I could, I crossed the dark room and tugged back the heavy fabric of the curtains. Immediately, I was filled with awe as the birth of dawn leaked hundreds of blues on the horizon. I tried to comprehend how far past that horizon home was. I took in all the details I could absorb: the distinctive street markings, the different trees, the unique cars; even the concrete seemed foreign.
I stood there for almost an hour, watching the city wake up. The street below began to murmur with the sounds of buses, joggers, commuters, and delivery men, like an orchestra warming up before a great performance. When I finally crawled back in bed, shivering from the cold of an English single-paned window, I drifted back into sweet sleep, soaked in the anticipation of what l lie ahead. Many people have known this city over many years, but today London was mine.
“I really miss the tube. I’ve always been taken with the tube. I used to fall in love on the tube all the time. You sit there opposite someone, your eyes meet, nothing is said and then you both get up and go off into your own worlds. It’s like this weird underground network and I’ve always found it fascinating. It’s quite romantic in a bizarre way because people don’t talk. They are there one minute and gone the next.” -O.B.
London has its own smell; musty, lingering and completely unlike any other smell I know. Sometimes it smells more like coffee, sometimes perfume, sometimes gas, or "petrol" as the Brits prefer.
Almost every building has a history. Corners are worn with age, streets are far from level, damage from World War II freckles the walls. The scale of the architecture is immense and impressive. Even Starbucks has acanthus leaves flanking its doorway. And if it isn't very old, it's very new. Geometrically-shaped modern architecture peppers the city. And though it seems that these would seem out of place, they aren't. Such is the quirky charm of this place.
London is massive, and its contents are tightly packaged. People move like well-oiled machines through The Tube, on the buses, down the sidewalks or the streets. Yet, simply cross the street from the focused insanity and escape into one of the many Royal Parks. Geese flock in man-made lakes, locals play fetch with their dogs, people whip by on bicycles or rollerblades. Inside these parks, its truly difficult to tell you are in one of the world's largest cities.
Outside London, rural England is exactly as I've always imagined. Broad rolling hillsides extend beyond the horizon. A patchwork quilt of deep brown soil, vibrant green grasses and cream-colored crops. These patches are defined by short, fat shrubs, aged stone walls and large leafy trees. Lazy cows gather in one field, a herd of sheep seek shelter from the rain under a cluster of trees. Quaint tudor or brick cottages are scattered all over this tapestry, so cliche you have to look twice.
Bath is simply breathtaking. It's a stew of architecture, much larger than I anticipated. It's built on a series of hillsides, and this unexpected landscape takes your breath away. City regulations make it a beauty based on uniformity, but the countryside hills framing this picture give the city unmistakeable charm.
Kent doesn't disappoint either. It is a beautiful part of this English quilt. The sheep have been replaced by ponies and horses frolicking in early morning sunlight. Large round haybales speckle the fields. There are more gardens here, splashing bits of lavendar and pink all over. And if you glance to your right as you drive along the motorway, you see the Eurostar rip by on its way to Paris.
My fellow travelers have fallen asleep, and it's a shame. A rainbow has followed us for the last 20 minutes...
How do I describe Paris? To be honest, I'm a bit undecided about the city right now. Sarah put it best this afternoon while resting high above the city on the top of the Arc de Triomphe: "Paris is like a movie preview; you've already seen all the good parts."
Okay, let's get the negative out of the way - - Paris is dirty. Everyone smokes like a chimney and throws the butts absolutely anywhere. Everyone owns a dog and allows them to relieve themselves anywhere they want. Graffiti abounds. The French aren't all rude, but when they are, it's excessive. While other areas embrace their history without neglecting the upkeep of the city as a whole, Paris seems to spit-shine the major attractions while the rest of the city falls apart.
Once you learn the city, accept the locals and filter through the less desirable bits, Paris does indeed have a charm about her, especially near the Seine. Boats glide by slowly making the water lap up against the sand-colored stones. Lovers cuddle together along the riverside walkways, some sitting on the edge kicking their feet over the sides. Large leafy trees shade people on benches having a picnic lunch. Shouts of "bon soir!" can be heard as locals greet camera-toting tourists floating by on the boats. Throngs of people cross the bridge overhead, walking casually over gold-leafed emblems and Napoleonic seals.
Above the river, the streets are lined with cafes and shops. You can't escape the bustle of French conversation as you pass crowded tables, piled high with cafe, fromage et crepes. Large Baroque statues softly and silently watch you as you pass. High above you, through the trees that line the street, the Eiffel Tower glows a rustic orange against a deep blue sky. Parisiennes stroll by, always taking advantage of the party that always starts when the sun goes down, baguette in one hand, cigarette and dog leash in the other.
At the top of every hour, everyone crowds into the Champs du Mars, and when le tour begins to twinkle, everyone stops their laughing and playing to clap and cheer.
Additionally, among generous helpings of French attitude, we've also met some exceptionally nice people. Le Palais du Versailles was a living design lecture; I finally got to experience what I've learned so much about. Montmartre is also fun, the street art fair has a very pleasant energy about it.
Crawling out from under my warm down comforter this morning, I pulled open the terrace curtain, and a torrent of sunlight immediately drown me. As I pulled open the door, the cold, crisp Alpine air reminded me of where I was. I gazed out, slowly taking in the mountains, the lake, the Swiss village... To my right, Sarah was enjoying the same view from her own terrace, wrapped tightly in her own fluffy white blanket.
Luzern has 2 areas, making up a much larger city that I anticipated. One area is rather modern, with high end shopping and contemporary architecture. The Lamborghinis that politely stop to let you cross the street remind you of how much money this country has control of. This city is a major tourist stop, and the bustle of people lasts into the night along the lake and into the squares. The area of Luzern that we are in, however, is a bit more "quaint European".
Steep rooflines are framed by high, green hills and the blue expanse of Lake Luzern. Bunches of pink and red flowers spill out of windowboxes of homes that climb the hillside. The immensity of these hills and mountains are stunning, but the fact that the Swiss people live on them is unbelievable. The tree line is so high, their towns and villages extend way up the mountains. The farms are at such a steep incline, but the animals still comfortably graze on the green grass that gently blankets this entire country. I'm still uncertain how they travel to and from these farms, as there are no roads visible to the naked eye. Each cow - and there are many! - has its own bell, and the gentle clanging can be heard everywhere. And the cherry on the top of this sundae: the Swiss people are very friendly, waving to you as you pass by.
One of my biggest dreams has just come true: we've just passed over the border into Italy. I'm here; I've made it. There is a lump in my throat as my environs swallow me, welcoming me as if part of me belongs here.
Buildings are a gentle balance of grandiose proportions and humble decay. They are surrounded by fields of plump purple grapes arranged in straight rows that seem to go on forever. In the distance, villas climb the hillsides, and church steeples mark the town centers. The weather is much warmer, and lines of laundry flap in the comfortable breezes. On the motorway, we are passed my a large truck overflowing with bunches of grapes. Long lines of tall trees separate the properties, mirroring the arcades of the villas with balanced uniformity. Small puffs of dust hang in the air behind tractors and trucks in the fields. Most of the homes have wooden shutters on the windows, and the red tile roofs are distinctly Italian; you'd know where you were without being told.
Venice had a reputation to uphold, and I was afraid to have high expectations. This was foolish, however, as the city on the lagoon couldn't possibly disappoint if it tried. The pictures, the movies, the songs and the poems simply can't prepare you for the magic of this place. You are first greeted by the canal, the color of balsam trees and smelling strongly of the sea beyond. Water laps up against the stone edges as gondolas and vaporettos pass by. The awaiting gondolas bob up and down, side by side together, to the rhythm of the water. Soft accordian music fills the space as it drifts out of busy cafes where people enjoy their meals. The sounds of their conversations are accompanied by the sound of boats knocking gently together in the waves. The architecture is a feast for the eyes; you almost regret having to blink. Ornate detail enrobes everything; the elegant decay of time humbles the penetant visitor. You can taste the stories in the air, you can feel the history all around you. And still, Venice opens her arms to welcome you in, and she'll keep a part of you when you go.
Tuscany also brough tears to my eyes. The patchwork hills capped by ancient towns, the fields of sunflowers, long rows of tall, narrow cypress trees, aged villas with laundry lines drying between olive trees...it's as if I've stepped into a postcard.
Rome embodies history, but to see it, to touch it, to breathe it...it's humbling. Design elements litter the city. Chunks of broken capitals, friezes and pediments sleep gently in their resting places next to McDonalds, ATMs or The Gap. Formerly grand monuments slowly melt away, stubbornly resisting the effects of their age. Fountains freely pour, spout or simply drip clear water everywhere you look. The streets are buzzing with activity, Romans and tourists alike. Every other person clutches a gelato or a panini, bought from one of the hundreds of sidewalk cafes. Locals wrestle along in the unbelievable traffic, in a hurry to relax. Vespas line the streets like a barricade, protecting the tourists while trying to cross the busy street.
Finally, Hadrian's Garden and Tivoli were pleasant surprises. Framed by fields of silver olive trees, the fountains, mazes and moss make you feel like you've landed in the forests of Shakespeare. Our Tivolian dinner was simply perfect, under the sunset next to a lit fountain. Courses of pasta and chicken flowed freely. A trio of charming musicians kept us singing and dancing until we couldn't stand. Our group has bonded, and we celebrated together like family. Shared stories of clashing cultures had us doubled over in laughter, as Italian men flirted with the ladies. I'm going to miss these people...