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bear-ly SECONDs away: blue ridge escape

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“A taste for the beautiful is most cultivated out of doors”
― Henry David Thoreau, Walden

SECONDs of silence: mountainous voids was my why, now here is the adventure that came of that.
If you haven’t gone for a country drive in a while I urge you to go! I’ve obviously been on a Thoreau kick lately but his words accompany my recent trips so exquisitely that I couldn’t skim past them. As Mr Thoreau so completely points out, our world is beautiful. Art that we pull into our homes stems from the desire to imitate this beauty. Immersing yourself in such magnificent work is quite refreshing and absorbingly electric all at the same time! It is an experience that though we try can’t truly be imitated.
My drive into the Blue Ridge Mountains was another one of those short weekend trips. I’m determined not to waste the next six months that I’m working in SC. While the area I am staying is lack luster, it is centrally located to some pretty amazing things including those majestic mountains in western NC. Before trekking up to a site I had only read about prior to, I made a stop into REI to prepare a little better. Since all of our gear remained across the pond I bought a few basics, including a tent. While there, I was approached by several helpful sales people who clearly loved their job! Not only were they helpful in selecting my gear they also gave me direction and suggestions for my hike. It was at this moment that I learned of the current bear problem near my carefully selected destination and nearly got back in my car to go home. If the husband had been with me I don’t think I would have hesitated but camping solo is a different feeling altogether! With the REI staff vote of confidence I pressed forward on my solo adventure.
After driving for an hour along the Blue Ridge Parkway, which is like the ultimate Sunday drive stretching across hundreds of miles of breathtaking panoramic mountain views, I arrived at the trail head for the Black Balsam Knob. I was faced immediately by the looming fields of berry bushes, the berry bushes that the REI staff warned me were the bear preferred snack. I strapped on my pack and briskly hiked until I could see the edge of a clearing beyond the trees. After you emerge from the tree line you are greeted by grassy knolls scattered with boulders and 360* views of the Blue Ridge Mountains.


blue sky comp


I settled onto the top of the second of 3 knolls along the trail and soaked in the hazy Blue Mountains stacked in the distance. Now all I had to do was to wait for the sun to sink behind the horizon and expose the photos I had come here to capture. As I waited a few other hikers passed by on their way to other areas for their own tents to be pitched, I was happy to have already staked my claim of such a prized spot. Then Alex and Chris came along. Alex and Chris were scoping out the area looking for a site of their own but with most of it overgrown with shrubs weren’t having very good luck. While the REI staff warned me about the bears native to the area, the husband warned me about the weirdos also native to the area. Camping alone can be dangerous regardless of how confident you are, one of those dangers is encountering people who wish to do you harm. Well, Alex and Chris didn’t seem weird or maybe they were just my kind of weird. I invited them to set up camp in an area close to mine. They politely protested wanting to give me space but I really didn’t mind and I selfishly wanted some protection from Yogi and friends.


tent comp


Travelling is not just about the sites and food; it is also greatly about the people you encounter along the way. I’ve met a wide spectrum of people along the roads I’ve travelled and each one has taught me something. You’d be surprised what you can garner even from a 15 minute conversation with someone on the train. Alex is actually an adventurer and avid traveller, she has a lot of great tips and beautiful stories of her own. You can find them here at Passports for Peasants! I’m already lost in her world of travel finding inspiration for my next trip! Lesson learned- step outside your comfort zone, look away from your phone for two seconds and meet those that occupy the world around you. We don’t have to live in isolation and it’s a beautiful thing. Even though I initially ventured to the mountains for some of that isolation I’m glad I returned not finding it.


 
starry sky comp


Alex and Chris were friendly and all around lovely. Alex pulled out her camera just as I had and we basically commandeered the mountain as our studio for the evening. It was wonderful to experiment with the light and to practice all the things I’ve been learning. The sunset was perfection and the immense starry sky that stretched over our tents later was all so remarkable. I wish my camera could actually do it justice but I can only ever try to imitate God’s handiwork!
The following morning, after a relatively sleepless night thanks to paranoid bear rampage thoughts and a damaged tent that only amplified those bear driven nightmares with its rustling in the wind, I woke to a magnificent sunrise. All the colors were used that morning and hung softly over the misty valleys below. Here was my silence.


newtry


I left that mountain top and dipped into Asheville once more to explore the Biltmore Estate. This estate is remarkable in its own right. If you are in the area it is worth the price-tag to meander through the house and gardens. (If you decide to go get the audio guide! The most interesting part is the story behind the details. You can always get one and share with your family!) Of all the magnificent stately homes I’ve seen across Europe, including Versailles, this American dream is my favorite. Not only does it have a great amount of history spread across the 250 rooms it is beautifully constructed and designed, complementing the natural beauty surrounding it. Mr. Vanderbilt couldn’t have picked a better backdrop to frame through his windows.
My short jaunt into the mountains wasn’t without its glitches. Somehow it all fell together and I walked away with more in my experiences than I had bargained for. I knew it would be beautiful but it was beyond my expectations. You don’t have to sleep on the hard ground or drive 4 hours to find that beauty. It may require you to look upon your own back yard with new eyes to appreciate that beauty but it’s there. So go for that Sunday drive whether it’s the Blue Ridge Parkway or just into some state land. Immerse yourself in the world, it’s waiting for you!

~cheers~

 
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the most important trip you'll ever take – coming home

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Why coming home will always be the most important journey you take:

 It will make you wonder why you ever left and remind you exactly why you did.

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Something I’ve learned from uprooting my life every few years is that home is not a place. It’s an idea. It’s a feeling. When I moved to Washington I instantly felt like I had found something that I always knew was missing, I felt at home. The first time I flew to London I turned to the husband and said, “I feel like I’m home” not because of the city but because I was reunited with him after months of being apart. It didn’t matter that I had never been there before or that we were staying in a hotel. My heart was exactly where it was supposed to be in that instant.
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I spent 8 years growing up in Canaseraga, the majority of which I refused to claim that I was from NY. I never quite felt like I belonged there. It probably didn’t help that most of the time my head was in far off lands that I found more enticing than small town America. The moment my feet landed in one of those far off places, that all changed. My first twinge of homesickness wasn’t for anywhere but that one-horse town that I now proudly proclaim as my own! I’ve discovered that this is indeed where my roots took hold. What makes them so strong is not the years I spent in that place, it is how I spent those years. Being a preacher’s kid the expectation is that your butt is in that pew on Sundays. The truth is that it pretty much always was but more due to the candy in Ms Tina’s purse than any societal expectation. My best friend sat next to me and the women that surrounded us have shown me what love and enduring friendship can be. That kind of atmosphere is intoxicating and kept me coming back.
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I have 8 years of those types of memories. From the basketball courts to the bus rides to the Saturday mornings at Wilson’s. These are all similar places I could have seen elsewhere, what makes them part of my home are the people that were there. While that stretch of valley will always be familiar it wouldn’t necessarily always feel like home. Unless I can find my way into my grandparent’s arms or fall into a deep conversation with my best friend on the sidewalk outside her house it won’t be home. I can feel at home across the pond or on the streets of Charleston as long as the husband is there to hold my hand. I can feel at home climbing the stairs to Mont St Michel because my parents are beside me. I can feel at home in any airport if I simply pick up the phone to call my sister. It’s always about the people. Knowing that is what makes leaving possible. There are other places to find a home in. There are different people to learn from and to grow with. Nothing and no one will ever be able to replace the beauty or nostalgic past we have in that stretch of valley but that doesn’t mean that the future doesn’t hold possibility for equally as beautiful things.
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Coming back I have seen the streets are mostly unchanged and the faces still familiar. As I read about the chaos that engulfs our world it gives me a great sense of stability and security to know that there are corners of it that can remain unscathed. Life is simpler in a small town and ya know what? Life really can be just that simple. That is one of the best lessons those summers riding my blue bike down to the Old Mill or scouring the house for pennies to buy those tootsie rolls from Mastin’s taught me. Life can be full of simple joys and we should take the time to enjoy them. I am blessed to call Canaseraga home and I am grateful to be able to come back and visit those who make it home for me. Devouring a ‘small’ ice cream cone the size of my face before going to dinner with Ms Tina is a nice reminder of why I miss this place but my head will forever be in far away lands because as long as I am surrounded by amazing people whom I love, I am home.
 

~cheers~

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JUST fly – almost misadventures on the blue ridge parkway

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No matter where we go or what the plan is trips with my sister are always an adventure. We did a road trip from Washington to Crater Lake in Oregon a few years ago. We made a pit stop in the land of the Goonies along the way and it was awesome! So when the opportunity for another road trip came up I was excited, well until we hit the first gas stop. The bathroom was something of nightmares. I am pretty sure you need to show proof of vaccination and bathe in hand sanitizer before being allowed to get back in the car! It definitely set a low standard that made every other stop on the trip seem like we were in a 5 star resort. After surviving such misadventures, my favorite part of road trips has to be the endless singing (badly on my part) and dancing in the car in between catching up on the latest gossip or stupid things we’ve done since our last adventure.  We drove through the night and ended up in Ashville, NC very early or late depending on which way you look at it, but it was just in time to fuel up before we made our way up the mountain for sunrise.

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Hiking is different depending where you are. Most of my experiences have been in NY, WA and OR with my sister. This little hiking excursion we were setting out on was a learning experience. I am a bit of an anxious person about snakes, bears, and spiders (basically things that can kill me).  I have heard of bear repellent/pepper spray for bears, but is that what we armed ourselves with? No! On our hike out to the top of the mountain IN THE DARK we were armed with a bear bell. A BELL! As my sister is telling me about this bell I was envisioning something similar to a cowbell that I assumed that if we encountered a bear I would throw to distract them while I run. Nope, this bell is essentially a Christmas jingle bell on a Velcro loop. Apparently this Christmas ornament is all you need to warn the bears you are around and it keeps them from attacking you. At least this is what the man at REI said. I’m not sure if it’s just a fun thing that they like to sell gullible city folks or if there is something to it. I am sticking with my theory that it’s basically a small dinner bell that just lets the bears know where their next meal is going to be.

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To add to this adventure that I had a feeling could be turning into a misadventure, my sister hands me a folding knife slightly opened to which she says “just in case.” She never elaborated, I am assuming for bears or the thugs that may be waiting for us out in the middle of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Honestly, it made me feel like I was a tough ninja ready to take this mountain and wilderness in my fancy yoga pants. Note to you adventurers, if you have 2 left feet, it is dark and rocky- opt to be the one carrying the bear bell instead of the knife.   Fortunately this story has a happy ending and we made it to the top without any injuries or helicopter evacuations to the nearest trauma center!

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The climb in the dark/twilight was worth every stumble and second of feeling like my lungs were on fire. The pictures can explain more than I ever could, but I will forever be thankful to have that time with my sister. Being able to watch the sun come up and to experience those moments as the light starts to change the dark cold grassy mountaintop into this magical, almost surreal landscape was perfection.

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The trend these days seems to be taking pictures in beautiful yoga poses in epic places and I decided I wanted to try… I discovered I have no yoga skills and they are even worse when attempting to balance on rocks and in clunky hiking boots. What I learned was that the best pictures and moments are when you do what is natural and more fitting for yourself. I guess that goes with life as well. Instead of trying to keep up with the trends and being like everyone else, you are always most beautiful being yourself. For me, that was wearing mismatched clothes picked out of the back of the car in the dark and trying to fly with my blanket.  

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Thinking about it now it seems almost perfect, as it’s a pretty accurate reflection of me.  My life is like that-using whatever I find in the dark to help me get outfitted for the challenges ahead regardless if they are things that are meant to be together. When the light finally shines it’s not perfect, but it’s beautiful and somehow ends up complete. It is amazing how just a couple of hours with my sister taking pictures and just being free, uninhibited by the fear of judgment in one of the most serene landscapes can give such perspective and help refocus life.
~Just Jes~

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golden skies and a SECOND sunrise

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The allure of the mountains of NC is boundless. My first visit mere weeks ago left me captivated, so much so that I ventured once again to this illustrious landscape.
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If you happen to find yourself drawn to these mountains as I have, do yourself a favor and find a peak to view the sunset AND the sunrise from. It may steal moments from your beauty sleep but God will return that beauty to you ten-fold atop that mountain! While I don’t think you can go wrong with whatever peak has drawn your heart to but I highly recommend two locations for your viewing pleasure:
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Sunset: Craggy Garden Pinnacle Overlook Trail
The trailhead is about 35 min north of Asheville along the Blue Ridge Parkway. You’re going to want to head up the .7 mile trail about an hour before sunset. It’s a relatively short, moderate trail and the view is perfect as the sun begins its descent behind the surrounding mountains. There’s a generous helping of stable rocks and benches to perch yourself upon. The panoramic view is breathtaking and the perfect backdrop for the picnic you should bring along. You may run into the occasional high schooler seeking a bit different connection with nature along the way but that will hardly detract from a sky so golden it would make King Midas jealous!
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Sunrise: Mt Mitchell Peak
Nestled behind the gates of the Mt Mitchell State Park gates is the very accessible Mt Mitchell Observation Tower. You can drive to the base of the 280 yd paved trail to the peak. The only catch is that the gates to the park don’t open until 7 am. To catch the sunrise you’ll need to either hike the 3-mile road to the top or camp in the park campground, which will cut that hike down to less than a mile. As the highest peak east of the Mississippi, on a clear morning you can see for miles. The bonus of having the gates closed until 7 am is that your only companions will be the early birds vying for that worm and any other overly ambitious morning people. If you can muster the motivation to get up early and hike a mile, then this view can’t be beat!
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Accompanying these gorgeous mountains is a town full of quirky artists as enamored with them as I am. I dipped back into Asheville for lunch and found myself sitting amongst Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson sipping on Champagne! The Battery Park Book Exchange & Champagne Bar is on the end of the Grove Arcade in Asheville. You can relax on the oversized leather couches after you’ve selected one of the many books from the endless shelves to peruse while you munch on a platter of cheese and fruit. I’m convinced that champagne is the happiest drink out there. It’s so overwhelmed by its happiness that it can’t contain it to the point that it results in an audible POP! upon opening. Overflowing happiness that tickles your throat as it bubbles up into your eyes until you yourself are overwhelmed alike! What a delightful way to spend an afternoon!
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On my long drive home I reflected on all that I had seen. The ability of God to produce such beauty in an ending only to turn around every morning and provide an even more amazing beginning to each day is truly awe inspiring! For anyone struggling with whatever challenges have been placed on your shoulders, take hope in that. To begin anew there must first be an ending. Trust in God’s ability to give you something even more amazing!

My photos can never do his work justice. I am only blessed with the ability to go and see it. To see more of what I have seen check out the PhotoBox below!

Until our next encounter, my beloved Blue Ridge Mountains…

 

~Cheers~

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See more of the spectacular moments
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JUST turn right- a little Buffalove

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Buffalo, NY is well known for snow and chicken wings, for good reason. We have buckets of snow falling almost any time of the year and the chicken wings, well you can’t get anything like them anywhere else! In case you were wondering, there is a lot more to Buffalo!
I have lived in Buffalo for the past 4 years and I was getting bored. I felt like I needed a change of cities to find an adventure, but then I realized that I just needed to stop going to the “usual” spots. I needed to step out and discover what else there was for my city to offer. As simple as it sounds my rediscovery and love affair with Buffalo started when I went out for a bike ride and took a right turn. Instead of taking my usual route straight down the road from my house I turned and that right turn took me over a bridge, onto a surprisingly well maintained and paved path into the Outer Harbor. It was like night and day! I couldn’t believe that within a mile there could be congested downtown streets and nature trails with so much open space.
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There is so much I want to gush about and don’t know where to start. So her is a short list of some amazing city escapes:

But my favorite right now has to be Wilkeson Pointe. It’s maybe 2 miles from my house, but really feels a world away its amazing. All I need is a book, my outdoor blanket and water bottle for a perfect day! I don’t know if everyone has this problem, but there are many days I just need to unplug and escape! I don’t always have a lot of time because of a busy work schedule and just life in general. Wilkeson Pointe is the perfect spot for me.
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I think that there is something to be said for traveling alone. Solo traveling I have found to be a very emotionally, physically, even mentally soothing and revealing experience. I love traveling with people, but sometimes to just be alone with your thoughts and your surroundings can be just what I need to help settle myself and get a better handle on all the things going on in my life. I have found one of the calmest and mind opening times for me to do this is at sunset in Wilkeson Pointe. Everything seems to reach an ultimate calm. Laying on my blanket with my book or just staring off while there is a breeze can take the events of today, yesterday, or the whole week and just make me realize how insignificant they are. I realize how important moments like enjoying my city, appreciating my life, and where I am in my life adventure really are. That, to me is what traveling is about and not how far you go, how much time you spend, or how extravagant the trip; but rather, traveling is about the personal experience, growth, and memories made. What I am learning is that you don’t have to wait until your travel buddy is free or until I get vacation time to go somewhere. Just go! Even if it’s just around the corner and by yourself, go. I feel like we have our separate adventures that just add even more to our adventures we have together!
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So before you write off your city as boring and lifeless make sure you take a step out of your daily routine and all those well-known spots. Take that right turn instead of left, you might find something new about your city and about yourself.

-Just Jes- 

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a SECOND room to stay: unexpected brussels

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Chocolate and waffles, chocolate waffles! That was the extent of my understanding and expectations for Brussels. How could a city disappoint with such simple standards! Well it did, at least for the first 24hrs. But don’t dismay Belgian enthusiasts; it had a quick recovery with some of the most beautiful unexpected experiences too.
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2 hours is all it took to get to the Belgian capital and in case you didn’t realize it is also the headquarters of the European Union so this city is kind of a big deal, kind of a snooze fest by the sounds of it but nevertheless important. Here is the 24hr shock and disappointment of Brussels. I thought it was dirty and this coming from a girl who loves filthy Paris! I did however enjoy the French influences in the city to include the language. We stayed at another AirBnB close to the train station which fell into the weird, uncomfortable category of accommodations. The host was chatty and relatively friendly on initial contact. She toured the apartment with us pointing out all the details and work she had done in renovating the flat. This included using reclaimed golden tin foil type substance stuck to the courtyard walls. Her intent was to reflect more light into the bathroom basement which didn’t have a curtain across the full length glass wall….this apparently is a popular design in Brussels as I’ll point out in a few minutes. Luckily the courtyard was tiny and didn’t have much viewing capability from above into the bathroom. We progressively became more uncomfortable as the tour went on, there was just something off about the whole thing. We were about to set off to a recommended local restaurant for dinner. As we turned the key in the door it was violently yanked open from inside! The host had not only returned to the flat after we left through an adjoining door but began to scold us for leaving the lights on! Blaming it on our ungrateful American ways instead of our distraction from discomfort by her constant presence listening through the walls! I cannot begin to convey how weird the atmosphere actually was. I’m just thankful we weren’t robbed by her with her secretive tunnels and listening devices that I’m certain she had! Needless to say I couldn’t sleep for fear of her creeping around in the darkness of the night.
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We promptly left once the sun was up. We relocated to a trendy hotel, Be Manos, closer to the downtown area. Upon check-in I noticed a man acting shady around the elevator. I am still convinced that he was following us as he only disappeared once we had reached our room at the end of a maze of hallways. The room was roomy which was only amplified by a lack of proper walls. There was a full length, I’m talking floor to ceiling, wall to wall, glass wall for the shower area. Apparently they don’t believe in privacy in Brussels with transparent walls and stalkers galore! I can’t say I share the sentiment particularly when it comes to my grooming habits! The hotel did have a friendly bar staff and some pretty delicious room service, although the success of the bar may contribute to such a positive view of that food!
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Accommodation experiences aside the city held a few more exciting and positive surprises for us. If you’re looking for chocolate and waffles like I was you can find an abundance of both around the main tourist area. From small boutique to cheap chains you can’t stumble across a cobblestone without one catching your fall. Be sure to reserve waffles for one of the small street side services. They are much less expensive and just as bit delicious as that $10 one you’ll order at the restaurant. We wandered around the ornate Grand-Place with its intricate gothic architecture. During warmer weather this is where you will find enormous floral displays in elaborate patterns, pictures are impressive so I can only imagine the effects in real life. A much smaller display but equally as famous is the Manneken-Pis. It’s fairly close to the Grand-Place and some delicious waffle shops so it’s worth the short walk. If it wasn’t around the corner I’d say don’t go. It’s a small statue of a naked boy taking a leak in the fountain. Apparently other nations have gifted outfits to clothe the boy on special occasions and there’s a girl version across the city too! It’s amusing but I’d rather spend my time having an extra beer at Delirium Café than peak over a crowd at a boy relieving himself.
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We wove our way to a back alley to find the Delirium Café thanks to a recommendation from my friend Jason. It boasts more than 3000 beers and may have become a tourist haven but it’s still awesome and with 3000 beers you can’t not go! After sampling our fair share we stumbled back through the alleys into the Grand-Place. In the spirit of the holiday season the whole place was lit up! The lights danced across the Town Hall perfectly choreographed to enchanting music. It was a beautiful display that was able to erase Brussels past lodging transgressions from my mind, I instantly loved the city! Maybe the beer influenced that admiration a bit too but I really like pretty lights!
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On our way back to the hotel we passed by a few more bars some bustling and others sparsely filled with people. One such sparse bar had booming Latin music pouring out its doors. Intrigued we ducked our heads inside. It was at this point that I realized the husband could salsa. I had heard whispers of this from talking to his friends but had yet to witness said skills. Never having danced the salsa before in my life I tried to scoot into a corner and sip on my rum and coke. That didn’t last long. The husband eagerly pulled me onto the floor and patiently waited for me to catch on at the detriment of his toes! His poor toes! Eventually I loosened up and we were dancing our little white butts off! The peppy Latin instructor loved us! His energy and affection towards our efforts (really my efforts since the husband is pretty decent already) helped fuel my ambition for the dance! It was amazing fun and it reinforced my love for Brussels. Salsa dancing in Belgium was not on my to-do list but it should be on yours! It was perfectly unexpected and a wonderful way to end the trip.
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We left Brussels a little more cultured, thank you awkward AirBnB lady, and a bit plumper than we came, thank you Nutella drenched waffles. It lived up to my simple expectations, threw a few curve balls and pleasantly surprised. It might be the most dynamic trip we’ve had so far in terms of balancing the good and uncomfortable. This is a perfect example of learning to travel better. I’m looking forward to returning to Belgium again but I might opt for Bruges next time. So here’s to the unexpected experience, being the salt of travel and pushing us out of our comfort zones.
 

~cheers~

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Find out more about the city and resources to help avoid crazy hosts here
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you don't have to leave home

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One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things – Henry Miller

Travel is not something that just takes you to a different country. While that is a very exciting experience and something most of us spend our lives dreaming of, that’s not all there is to it. Travel encompasses everything from the vast world beyond our borders to places already within your reach.
I move around, a lot! Before I started living in new places an hour drive to get somewhere seemed daunting and would require meticulous planning for that day away. Now one hour is a daily commute and driving four and five hours for a weekend or even a day is nothing out of the ordinary just to see something cool. “Let’s go somewhere, let’s go see something cool” is a phrase that often slips off my tongue and is enough justification to get us out of the house.
Talking to people who have lived in places like Washington or even England their whole lives it becomes apparent that comfort zones easily translate into stagnation. When it is convenient to see things we often fail back onto the notion that we can do it tomorrow. Tomorrows can turn into a lifetime. Knowing the limits of my tomorrows in a location drives me to explore and do more. I have seen more of Washington State than some of the “locals”. It doesn’t have to be that way!
There is so much in our surroundings that begs to be discovered. Take a second look at your back yard, and by back yard I mean things that are within your reach without boarding a plane. Simple day trips whether by car, bus, boat or train can be unexpected and amazing experiences. Don’t think that you have limitations on your ability to travel. Really you just need to adjust your definition of what that means.
When I think of backyard adventures I instantly look to my sister, Jes. She inspires me in so many ways but particularly when it comes to taking advantage of the world at your fingertips. She is my constant go to travel buddy to both near and far locations. In between our big adventures she has become an expert in seeking out those hidden gems around Western NY. If you need a bit of inspiration in taking off on your own backyard adventure you should check out her posts here.
To me travel is about seeing new things, seeing familiar things in a new way, connecting with the world around us and tasting its delights! You don’t have to travel far for any of that to happen! Never stop exploring!

~cheers~

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SECONDs of silence: mountainous voids

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“I am convinced, both by faith and experience, that to maintain one’s self on this earth is not a hardship but a pastime, if we live simply and wisely”

― Henry David Thoreau, Walden

 
I like silence. Not the silences muddled by the buzz of the lights or slow blinking of my phone charging. I enjoy the silence you find on a mountain peak. It is the type of silence that is such a stark contrasted void to our everyday lives that your mind begins to wane. That moment is so shocking that when every thought vanishes from your mind, struggling to grasp this void, you’ve reached an unfathomable silence; that is the moment I yearn for. As the shock subsides and you’ve grasped once more your thoughts, you can begin to hear the stars humming in your ear because you are indeed close enough to graze their edges.
To be truly alone with oneself is a courageous endeavor. You might be surprised at how difficult it can be to stand on the edge where the earth meets heaven and be alone. It is hard to know what to think when there’s nothing around to give you a hint. This is sometimes a fleeting moment as you are not the only one in search of this mountainous cathedral but nevertheless you are alone for that moment. Below in the valleys we are bombarded by reflections every day. These reflections are of us but they aren’t us. These mirrors that we look upon to “discover” ourselves and “measure” ourselves come in the form of ads, magazines, books, music, movies, and other people. Often when I stop to think about why I don’t like someone I find that I see a reflection of myself in them, of things I actually don’t like about myself. That is a hard pill to swallow, admitting that you don’t like a quality of yourself. It is much easier to hate and deny it in others than to face it in ourselves. But what about what this world makes us into? We are after all a product of our environment, right? I’ll agree with this to an extent. When you are caught in the middle of this maze of mirrors all you know is your reflection.
You know about yourself what you have seen and can relate to in this world. Whether that is echoed back to you by reading something you can understand or what someone tells you it suddenly becomes a “fact” that you “know” about yourself. These multitudes of reflections have created what we consider to be who we are. We build who we think we are by piecing together the various images of ourselves that we are happy to focus on. Each of those images though is just a sliver of the whole, focusing on just an angle or aspect of ourselves. This is where the sum really doesn’t equal the total. I feel like there’s still something missing no matter how complete of a picture we try to draw from these worldly reflections that we think we identify with. We “identify” with so much in our world it makes my head spin. Too much dissection occurs by creating ourselves this way; it’s too granular, too magnified in certain areas which aren’t always authentic to begin with. Even if the reflection you choose to focus on is coming from what seems to be the most pristine, glassy lake, it’s still a reflection and not the real thing. I’m constantly racing through my career and life working hard to build my world based on these things I “identify” with. It’s exhausting and doesn’t really make me happy.
That silence though, that emptiness that surrounds me in that moment, that is what renews my soul. I crave that loneliness. It is a freedom to gaze into myself and see not a reflection through the lens of what societies say I should be but to see ME through MY lens. To see nothing but the reflection of the light and love of the heavens above in me and for once not my reflection in society, that is the epitome of a calming experience.
This is why I went to the Blue Ridge Mountains last weekend. One night alone in a tent on a grassy knob in the middle of the Pisgah National Forest does more for me than a week at a spa. Just me and my camera and the freedom to create, that’s all I need to be happy. I’m thankful for the ability to go and do what I love. I’m blessed to have the life that I do and a husband who celebrates who I am in this life. I am happy that some of my photos can convey the beauty that I experienced and that you are looking at them right now.
I encourage you to find your mountain top, find your peace. Not everyone enjoys cold hard ground to sleep on or fearing that the rustling outside is a bear rummaging through your camp, but everyone should have their own mountain top. So find it and visit it often. Rely not on what reflections you see every day but on what you discover and feel all on your own!
 

~cheers~

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luca lives on the SECOND floor

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Same trip, different cold.


What better way to follow a freezing Copenhagen than with a frozen Stockholm? A five hour train ride later and that’s where we landed.
By time we would have waited through security lines and boarded a flight that would only last an hour then found our way to downtown it’d equal out. So rather than subject ourselves to airport tortures we found ourselves in first class five hours from Sweden. Five hours goes by really fast when you’re sitting in oversized chairs with ample leg room and free snacks. It wasn’t too much more expensive than a regular ticket, so we splurged but when you’re stuck for five+ hours it should at least be a consideration! We left from downtown Copenhagen mid-morning because I like to look out the windows. Night travel is great if you want to sleep while you gain miles but that’s not me. I prefer not to be the driver for that same reason; I like to see the world as it passes by. Trains are the best because you can get up and stroll down to the café car for a beverage and still get to see the tiny towns that dot the countryside. You can glimpse so much more of a country by just looking out the window.
As the train skated, and by skated I mean the Apollo Ohno type, over frozen fields and iced lakes I found myself in a winter wonderland. The train leaned ever so slightly on the turns around the lakes, it felt like bird gracing the frosted water ever so slightly with its wings. Entranced by the elegant motion I blinked and found myself in Stockholm. The cold in Sweden is accompanied with much more grandeur than Denmark. Bolder waterways and larger buildings set the stage for the second half of our Christmas escapades.
I can’t keep surprises, particularly when I’m really excited about them! I have given every birthday, Christmas and anniversary present to the husband at least two weeks early, regardless of his protests for wanting to wait till the day. Since I ruined his gift two weeks prior I decided to treat him to something we both love. We love doing the cliché. You eat pasta when you go to Italy, attend Oktoberfest in Germany and wear kilts in Scotland. So what do you do in Sweden? Get a Swedish massage of course! I never understood what people did for spa days before. Seriously what do you do all day when a massage or facial only takes sixty minutes? Nothing. You do nothing and it’s glorious! You do nothing in the sauna, then you do nothing in the steam room and follow it up with nothing in the pool. They even have quiet rooms so you can do nothing in silence, pampered silence. Since it was a special Christmas present, purely because I didn’t spoil it too much before, we went to the Grand Hotel Nordic Spa. Doesn’t it just sound divine? Divine indeed! Cliché Swedish massage, check! Ultimate relaxation, check! It may sound cliché but countries are known for those specialties for a reason so enjoy them, regardless of anyone’s eye rolling!


 
This is Gustaf. I always make the weirdest friends.
This is Gustaf. I always make the weirdest friends.


 
Hours after arrival we still hadn’t been to our hotel. The poor spa hostess must have been bewildered by our disheveled appearance, full packs in tow.  After getting a little Nordic recharge we made our way past the life size electric moose display to our hotel, the Story Hotel Riddargatan. It’s described as urban Swedish chic. With modern furniture including purple velvety booths at breakfast and bold décor, I’d say that was accurate. We were greeted by Luca in the elevator. Maybe greeted isn’t the best description. Every floor had a theme. Our second floor room was accompanied, with every push of the button, by a booming voice telling us, “My name is Luca. I live on the second floor.” Now every time we go to a hotel’s second floor we still mimic our friend Luca! Luca lives on every second floor as far as we are concerned.


 
sweden town


Have I mentioned that Stockholm was cold? Oh right, just in case you didn’t get that, December in Sweden is freezing! We continued our unpreparedness from Copenhagen into Stockholm. That of course didn’t stop us from walking the city. From the old town with colorful rows of delicately topped buildings to the Nobel Museum and the Fotografiska, we walked it all. The Nobel Museum was fascinating. We are also the types that like the boring stuff but seemingly find it enthralling. Alfred Nobel’s vision for the future of humanity is inspiring and gives hope for all of us. One of my favorite quotes can be found on the wall:

The mere formulation of a problem is often far more essential than its solution, which may be merely a matter of mathematical or experimental skill. To raise new questions, new possibilities, to regard old problems from a new angle requires creative imagination and marks real advances in science.

– Albert Einstein

I find those words so insightful into so much of my life, both professionally and personally. If you are unfamiliar with Nobel’s story I encourage you to look into it!
After learning to our heart’s content about the history of the Nobel Prize and the amazing things people have done over the years (people are awesome by the way! Faith in humanity restored!) we set off to another museum, Fotografiska. This photography gallery was set on the opposite bank of the city to where we were staying so we were thoroughly numb upon arrival. Photography is my favorite form of art. I find it both beautifully technical and perceptively unique.  There was a Jimmy Nelson exhibition that I was eager to see, it did not disappoint! His work documents those rare cultures that are struggling to maintain in both our ever evolving natural and created worlds. Beautiful, exotic and narrative, the images he captures are breathtaking. If you ever have a chance to see his work in person, go! It’s worth it.


 
sweden metro


 
The art in Stockholm isn’t confined to the stark white walls of museums. If you’ve read any travel material on the city you’d already know that they have adorned the rugged subway walls with magnificent murals. The sheer size and saturation of these works is worth pausing to gaze. Even if you choose to walk the streets above it’s worth an hour and a couple bucks to hop around the subterranean just to take it all in. My favorite stop is the famous T-centralen station.  You can see all the amazing stops here to help map out your tour of the underground.
My creative curiosity satisfied once more, we shuffled back to the hotel to warm up… again. The whole trip was exactly that, a cycle of freezing and unfreezing. Contrary to our temperature, cyclical our experiences were not. Similar to how waiting to have time to go and experience life is nonsense, waiting for perfect conditions is too. Sun drenched days are limited and there are too many places to choose from to fill that calendar. The trip will be amazing any season, the important thing is that you just go.


 
Gustaf hitchhiked his way back to NY
Gustaf hitchhiked his way back to NY

~cheers~

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