As about 10% of College Students in the United States do, I did a study abroad program. I chose Italy before I started college, and stuck with Italy, specifically Florence. While the fees were high and the time away from my partner (now husband) was hard, it was worth EVERY SINGLE PENNY and every hard day to have the experience.
Reflecting on this trip is a constant aid to my work today, and a reminder of just how much I have seen and enjoyed since I graduated from high school in 2009.
Today, I share a little video on the PERFECT Day in Chianti and where you should head on your next journey to Tuscany.
We get a lot of tourists to our part of Colorado and for good reason. We’re neighbors with Rocky Mountain National Park, we have some fabulous white water rafting, and we’re enroute to many other natural wonders. That being said, many people hit the Rocky Mountains without much knowledge or understanding of safety and comfort. Here are some tips and tricks to keep you safe, and happy when you hit the woods.
Many times we are reminded that theme parks are for kids. They are money sucks of candy and cartoons and memorable characters and wild rides that make many adults queasy. We are reminded to take our kids to this and that so they have fun and memories and pictures. But I say, hold up, theme parks are as much for adults as kids, and you damn well can have a great time.
This year, if anything, is becoming my year of theme parks. For a long time I shied away from the parks. Well, I didn’t actively shy away, but I didn’t try to go to theme parks. I had not been to anything since 2015 on my last trip to Florida, and I decided to change that.
The last eight months have been a stressful, but mostly positive experience in my family. My husband had a job change, I am having two surgeries this year (more on this later next week), I have had promotions and job trainings. It has been crazy, an emotional roller coaster (pun intended), and stressful. I decided that my stepdaughter and I needed some fun on a day we had free together and that’s what we did.
We took a whole Saturday, grabbed Lily’s friend Josiah, and spent a whole day eating junk food, riding rides, and weaving through crowds at Elitch Gardens in Denver, Colorado. It was silly, it was fun, we made goofy jokes, we laughed at the rides, we got dizzy on the tea cups and we had an overall great day.
We enjoyed it so much we are looking forward to going next week with our Girl Scout Troop! There is even a new ride based on Meow Wolf, the Kaleidescape, which is an amazing art installation! It’s classic fun, in a local setting, full of all the grease and Dippin’ Dots that made a 90s childhood amazing.
So, fellow adults, and adult adjacents, get off your ass and enjoy the insane stupid fun of your local theme park this year. You will blow off steam, you’ll get some sun, you’ll walk like five miles so don’t stress about the calories, and you will make some memories.
Think FAIRYTALE and most people immediately think of Disney. Disney capitalized on the tales of fairies with their movies and theme parks, television shows and other media connections. Their stories have all the pixie dust and wands and touch of spirit that make children dream and adults long for something better.
Yet, what sometimes gets forgotten is the REAL reasons, stories, and places that brought breath into what we know as fairytales. Some of the legends date back millenia in some form or another, while others are were brewed by our 19th centuries great-great grandparents. Regardless, the roots of out legends come not from the animated world, but from deeper folk legends that were published and share decades before Snow White was even a sketch in Disney studios.
Many people know the Brothers Grimm and that they had the darker, scarier versions of our beloved tales like Cinderella and Hansel and Gretel. Which is true, but the layers to their creations are much more than coming up with ideas. These stories came from folk legends that were originally compiled, and were deeply inspired by the areas that the Grimm Brothers lived. It is much of the methodology that was used by others like George Washington Irving in an early United States and countless others in Europe and further afield.
No doubt in travels and in reading and listening to tales that little towns like Rothenburg ob der Tauber (Red Fortress above the Tauber River) were inspiration for that epoch of literature and the centuries of stories after.
Rothenburg was founded in the 13th century and to this day the foundations and much of that original medieval town stand today. Walk around the city and you will see a wide variety of placards that mark the dates of buildings that were constructed. Somehow a vast majority survived centuries of wear and tear and a world war that almost leveled them.
Rebirthed after WWII the city transformed from a nazi village to one that is a beautiful stop on the Romantic Road. The city is transformed seasonally with garlands, and full of old world charm that is unmatched in most the world.
Good or bad, the history and stories in Rothenburg are quintessentially German. The architecture is timbered and warm, the clocks and stories are quaint. Each corner reflects the past and a preservation for the future. The best part is seeing the diverse population that now walk the streets. Turkish immigrants next to Japanese tourists, and everyone in between.
Those that are looking for treats need not travel far, baked goods are sold on every corner and carts selling hot apple cider fill the main square. Stop into a cafe for some gluhwein (warmed spiced wine), something potatoes, and schnitzel for you carnivores. You won’t be disappointed.
Small shops ad to the charm, a toy store sells German-made stuffed toys, while the Christmas shop is sure to make the biggest scrooge smile. Other novelties and artisan goods exist in jewelers, grocers, and other small family businesses.
For those seeking education the town is not sparse on church or museum. For families, the Christmas museum (along with the shop) are safe bets. For those interested in the darker corners of history, like myself, the Torture Museum is a great choice.
While the torture museum seems macabre, it does have more than metal death probes. Perhaps most interesting is some of the pages from a 15th century song book, or the large collection of royal seals. Medieval history was not all iron maidens and spiked chairs, mind you*.
All around I can’t suggest a stop in Rothenburg enough for you history, photography, and travel geeks. It’s unlike anywhere I have ever been before or since, and it’s worth every moment to explore some cobbled alleys and eat delicious regional dishes. Go in the off season, and early in the day to avoid crowds. Make it a pit stop as you explore southern Germany, and most importantly, Happy Travels!
*Iron Maidens have been pretty much discredited as a hoax from the 18th century, from people wanting to pass them off as historical, when they were really a novelty item meant to perpetuate how awful the middle ages were. Because plague wasn’t bad enough?
The first castle I ever visited was not one I ever expected to see. It was never on a list, but it was a pure treasure!
Circa 2010 when my trip was interrupted by a volcano, I found myself with an extra week in Germany.
My amazing host friends, military based near Stuttgart, decided it was a great time to help me explore more of Germany.
The first choice was to get me into a castle and southern Germany has some of the best examples of castle architecture in the world! The magnificent Hohenzollern is no exception. While many people head to Neuschwanstein Castle near Munich, few recognize the choices and variety of castles that exist in and outside of Bavaria.
Hohenzollern is just south of Stuttgart in Bisingen, and it’s a fabulous example of what Prussian architecture created. Parts of the castle date back to 1267 with some structures in place as far back as 1061. Often referred to as the “Crown of all Castles in Swabia”all was lost in 1454. While other owners built up the fortress at times, the castle was never fully restored and was practically abandoned by the 19th century.
It was then that Crown Prince Frederick William of Prussiadecided to rebuild the castle. Started in 1850 the castle was built to reflect the heritage and culture of the region and the Prussian monarch. For reference, Neuschwanstein Castle was built around the same time by the Bavarian monarchy.
Hohenzollern shocked me on numerous levels, the first was the way it reflected the fantastical ideals we encompass about castles in Europe. Hohenzollern has majestic spires, endless walls, and magical paintings and frescoes.
The vast and rich green forests that also surround the area are amazing. As the landscape moves into being the dark forest you see where imagination could run wild. It was these forests and these castles and beautiful buildings that so deeply rooted Germans and Victorians and Americans to a love of fairytales and medieval revival. These forests birthed Grimm’s fairytales and much more to a Euro-American psyche.
If you are looking for an escape from the tourist trail, stunning views, and some prime architecture of the medieval reimagining of the 19th century, this place is for you!
HOURS: Monday to Sunday: 10:00am to 5:30 pm (4:30pm November to March) (closed most holidays)
Five Ways to Celebrate Cinco de Mayo – without being disrespectful
It’s Cinco de Mayo today, and no it’s not just a holiday about drinking tequila and listening to a mariachi band. While those can be fun aspects to the day, the entirety of the day is not Cinco de Drinko or Drinko de Mayo.
In fact, the holiday has very specific and cultural roots that are often forgotten on the day and the surrounding celebrations. It’s important to remember these nuances should one decide to celebrate, for the sake of a better historical understanding of our neighbors and the cultures that influence our one.
Here are the ways I am personally celebrating Cinco de Mayo and how I would encourage others to as well:
Learn The Story Of Cinco de Mayo
Commonly misunderstood as Mexico’s independence day, Cinco de Mayo often gets labeled as “Mexican 4th of July”. News Flash: Mexico’s independence day is September 16 and harkens back to 1810.
The fifth of May is from the Anniversary of the Battle of Puebla. This marks the date that Napoleon III’s army (French) in 1862 was defeated by a militia of Zapotec and mestizo peoples. It became a symbol and story of resistance during a time when foreign bodies were trying to establish power over Mexico.
As these things go, people in the state of Puebla celebrated the victory, but much of Mexico did not. As celebrations and events evolve, it became a celebration of Mexican culture and identity, especially with Mexican-American families in the United States.
The broader United States’ love of Cinco de Maya came with alcoholic drink promotors marketing alcohol sales and parties on the holiday.
Appreciate Mexican-American Influence On Your Community
With so much hate in our current landscape it’s even more important to bridge gaps and be friends to all people.
In my community in Colorado we have a large Latinx and Mexican-American population, and they make some of the best food and have some of the best parties you could ever imagine! When I travel to countries without much Mexican food, I long for these treats of homemade corn tortillas, roasted tomatillos, fresh guacamole and smooth tequila. If you have these gems in your community, seek them out, and make friends. I know everyone I have met is warm and loving and wants to make you feel like you’re at home.
Celebrate local Mexican-American artists, designers, architects, philanthropists, community organizers, and overall great people. Read about your community history and see just how many amazing and diverse people made your world better.
Be grateful for the food, music, groceries, and festivals that Mexican-Americans help put on. Whether it’s for Cinco de Mayo or any other time through the year, their influence and work is a treasure!
Celebrate with Kindness and Consideration
If you are one that likes a good party, and wants to celebrate Cinco de Mayo (because yes, it’s a GREAT time) then do so with consideration. Go to an authentic restaurant (it will be way better than Chipotle or Qdoba, I promise) and have some drinks and food with people that poor their heart and soul into their food.
Don’t wear crappy costumes or reinforce negative stereotypes. Please for the love of god leave the mustaches and serapes at home.
Care About People – Every. Single. Day.
It’s easy to have a party and feel closer to Mexican culture and Mexican-American peoples then go home the next day and leave it in the past. The better part is to connect with people in your community and learn their stories, learn how to support each other, and care about our global needs.
Donate to organizations that are aiding people with settlement in the United States. Donate you time and supplies to groups working for immigrant rights. Read up on the reasons why people are fleeing north (of course there are many places they come from, including Mexico).
I am very blessed to have a mother-in-law that is part Mexican and that has a giant, wonderful, and warm family that always opens their arms to anyone. Many years they have their own Cinco de Mayo party where everyone eats food, enjoys margaritas and has a lovely time. There is an unbelievable amount of love and consideration with these people and every family get together is filled with that warmth. While the food is always amazing, and the margaritas are stellar (thank you grandpa Hank) the best part is the connection and care in the room at any event. That is my favorite part of Mexican culture, is that no matter who you are, what you look like, what you believe, someone will always give you love, a hug, a plate of food, and a giant smile. All of which is the culture I want to celebrate and integrate every single day.
There are times in life where preconceived notions have to
be put to the test and nothing has challenged me more than the subject of day
trips (in regards to travel anyway). Well before I started venturing into the world
on my own I had in my head that the best way to travel was to travel with no
rules, no script, and no one telling you where and when to do things. I thought
of all the school trips and family vacations I had been dragged around on and
knew that there was no way I wanted to travel in a massive bus with less than knowledgeable
guides trying to sell people on things. No, I wanted to explore on my own and
find the best things without rules. I wanted to wander and forge my own path
and take the path less taken and be amazing! All without any knowledge or experience!
In 2010 I obsessively made my own plans and scheduled in times to pee and blow my nose and shove an apple in my mouth. Read more here. Which in reality all went to shit within one week, because of nature, thank you Icelandic Volcano. The truth was that I had no idea how to plan or manage two months, let alone a week, or a day traveling because I didn’t have a clue. My trip went okay, I saw plenty of things, but I also learned where to worry and what to forget, and how to get help when I needed it.
Fast forward to 2013 and a study abroad trip opened my eyes
to the value of guides in foreign countries, especially when you don’t speak
the language. What I realized is that no matter how many signs or guide books
or snippets I read, I was missing valuable information whenever I looked around
at the world, the castle, the street, the odd carving in a wall. I missed the
stories, myths, and legends that made different corners of the world
remarkable. It was then that I realized that, in fact, guides are invaluable
and important people when visiting a city for the first time.
Even in a day of endless information and content, guides
offer insight, and an intimacy that no amount of paper and signs can ever give
to an experience. Having a guide walk you around Florence will allow you to
truly experience the details of the experience, versus aimlessly wandering
trying to make sense of everything that is around you. Having a guide takes you
to the best gelato, or the tastiest lunch in a town, and it lets you better
understand the people that are hosting you in their home. Since 2013 I make
sure every trip has at least one tour, but I am very selective on how and where
I take these tours. Here are some of my fast tips on selecting the best tour
for you and your travel companions!
with researching and finding as many tour providers as you can that will
cover what you need. This includes group and private tours, and companies like
Viator, or independent companies that you find.
all of the itineraries and inclusions, then figure out what seems like a
reasonable price for the tour either for a large, small, or private tour and
then decide what is friendliest for your budget.
private tours you will likely need to email guides, and explain what you want.
However, they will be able to fully customize your adventure from the locations
seen, the time spent in each place, and the routing taken. This is definitely worth
paying extra for, if you can afford it.
on the vehicles being offered. This seems silly, but sometimes something
will be listed that won’t actually work with your family of six, and two car
seats. Read up, email with questions, and call if you have any concerns.
My husband can attest to the discomfort of small
Mexican vans for 5 hours of driving to Chichen Itza, I majorly failed on
researching that one. My short self is now much more mindful that 6’4” doesn’t
fit in cars as well as 5’2”.
many reviews as you can, either through TripAdvisor, Facebook, viator, etc.
this will give you a better idea of what to expect and what to watch out for.
Remember, most people will complain before they complement, but it’s important
to check all the resources for consistency and safety.
travel companions about their preferences. Sometimes they won’t care, but
brain storming may mean they think of unforeseen issues, or other ideas to make
the trip better.
expert for advice! This is especially important if you are working with a
travel agent for your trip. They will likely have direct connections to some of
the best guides and experts in an area, and if they don’t they will know who to
ask for help.However, experts can
be other people like friends that know the region, a hotel concierge, or your
credit card concierge and travel departments!
Make a choice – yes you have to pick. It’s
far better to pick SOMETHING and not have the best tour, but get to SEE
something versus never going at all. I say this because so many people hesitate
to take a tour and then they don’t ever get the experience they should have
tried for. It’s scary to put trust in another company or guide, but I promise
that it’s worthwhile more than staying behind.
Sometimes it feels like a cliché to say such and such thing or personality or idea is in “one’s blood”. At times this attitude has been used for a variety of horrific crimes on humanity. It’s been justified to cause pain and harm, promote superiority, or enhance nationalistic nonsense.
I’m cautious to say anything is “in my blood” when in fact
one could consider DNA and relatives as a major contributor to disease,
intelligence, talent and skills, preferred foods, and probably more than we
even know. Yet it is far from an only determining factor. One’s nurture is
probably as much, if not more important than nature. Yet there is no undeniable
connection that a part of our existence is determined by genetic factors.
With all of this in mind, and with hesitation, I acknowledge that some part of me loves the sensation of exploration and adventure, and that part is inherited. Inherited from grandparents, and a grandfather that has never set down roots even as he ticks towards 80. Inherited from parents that chose to pack horse ride from Washington state to Colorado for their honeymoon (they had to give up in Oregon because my mom was having morning sickness…thanks to me). My dad’s parents traveled on road trips every chance they got, original weekend warriors before it was cool, between state lines to national parks and camping adventures. These grandparents also camped in the Maroon Bells on their honeymoon, after one night at the Brown Palace in Denver.
My family home was full of National Geographic magazines and picture books from other distance places. Some of them were okay to be books, moments frozen on paper in ink. Some of them my family actively spoke of visiting. For my family, it was escapism in tough times, in poor times, or portals to relive past adventures.
Other aunts and uncles were prolific travelers, other
cousins have lived overseas for most of their adult lives in England and
Germany and Haiti and Rwanda and Japan. Travel a branch of the tree and
someone’s kid was living abroad. Many of them I have never met or spent real
time with, some of them are only known from Facebook profiles and stories. Our
family tree branches far and wide, beyond oceans, and continents, and to wild
places many would dare not visit. Their wonder and excitement was no doubt fuel
for my own desire to go beyond and explore.
If I go back further in my family myths and legends, there are great great aunts that took a cruise around the world. There are 400-year-old relatives in the roots that left everything in the Netherlands and England to come to the “New World” to establish Puritan rule. There are Ulster Scots that left British overreach to fight them in the American Revolution. There are poverty stricken Scottish peasants that left to try something better in a new home. All of them have a story on uprooting, all of them faced immeasurable challenges and stories on the way, all of them are connected to me, whether by culture, or something deeper.
I don’t always know how to explain my love of exploration; I just know it has always been a part of me. There are flashes of memories of me reading National Geographic. There are pieces of playing pirates on the backyard picnic table. There are snips of me digging in the dirt for rocks and semi-precious stones. If I remember anything from growing up in the woods, it was that I was always looking for something to do and always seeking out something interesting. This trend has been a true part of my adulthood and I doubt I will ever leave it behind.
I haven’t been to Paris in nine years. When I was 19, I went to Paris for the first time, and like most 19 years olds, it felt like I was seeing the whole world in one city. Like most 19 year olds, Paris was the epitome of culture, art, and food. We saw what we could, we basked in its glory, we imagined the past. I loved Paris before I arrived there, full of ideals from Madeline to Moulin Rouge, I left Paris forever changed.
The glitz of the tourist trail was stunning. Tears were shed at the Mona Lisa in the Louvre. I “wowed” my way through Versailles, and I acted like a giddy child at the Musee de Cluny. Yet with all the power of other places the Cathedral de Notre Dame had a power that no other place I’ve been to does.