All posts by Lindsey

A Glimpse of Melbourne

Everyone has an opinion about Melbourne.  It gets a lot of flack for the “bad weather” this time of year, since it is in the south and the winter is colder and rainier than Sydney or other cities along the East Coast.  However, the creative and conscientious vibe and the endless things to do in the city and surrounding area definitely outweigh any adverse weather that might be experienced.  While I was there it was a pleasant 65-75°F and only rained a few of the days. The people were really friendly and I loved the diversity and progressiveness here. Some people call it hipster, and hipsters get a bad rap, but there is something inherently progressive behind the hipster subculture that I like and can relate to.  So long story short Melborne is ahhhmazing and I want to come back soon.  There is art in everything in Melbourne, which means you can basically walk around for days on end unearthing cool buildings, sculptures, grafitied walls, listening to street music, eating delicious food, and drinking really great coffee and beer.

IMG_1547IMG_1572IMG_1550IMG_1563IMG_1567

IMG_1576I went on a coffee tour in Melbourne because it’s known for its coffee culture.  It was with Walk Melbourne and it was really informative and fun! I really didn’t know too much except for a few types of roasts and single-origin coffees that I tend to gravitate toward, but the walking tour taught us all the basics of coffee brewing and ordering and we went around to a few renowned coffee shops in South Melbourne.  Perfect way to spend a Saturday!

IMG_1751IMG_1750IMG_1753 IMG_1756
I hadn’t seen any Koalas while in Australia so I thought I should probably fix that before I head back home, so I went on a wildlife tour. We saw an Emu, Koalas, Kangaroos, Wallabies, Tasmanian Devils,  Kookaburras, Little Penguins, and more!

IMG_1582 IMG_1592 IMG_1613 IMG_1619 IMG_1625 IMG_1628 IMG_1636 IMG_1642 IMG_1681The highlight of the day was definitely the Penguin Parade.  Phillip Island, just to the Southeast of Melbourne, has one of the largest wildlife attractions in Australia. The Little Penguins (yes, that’s their name), arrive back from feeding in the ocean at sunset and march their way back up to their little penguin homes.  We weren’t allowed to take pictures, but this video gives a good recap. It is the cutest damn thing you will ever see.  Ever.

A must on any good tour of the Melbourne area includes a trip along the Great Ocean Road. I went at sunset for to enjoy the spectacular scenery.

IMG_1660IMG_1666IMG_1674IMG_1682IMG_1698 IMG_1702 IMG_1705 IMG_1711 IMG_1719 IMG_1730 IMG_1740

As I get ready to head back to my home in the US, I am feeling grateful to have been able to share all the fun I’ve had.  Thank you for following my journey abroad over the past three months!

With love (and wonder!!),

Lindsey

 

 

Sailing the Whitsundays

In Queensland, about 8 hours by car south of Cairns is a small beach town called Airlie Beach.  It is exactly how beach towns should be done.  It is so small you can walk the town in about 15 minutes. They have really great beaches, the storefronts are nice and the town is clean. The people are friendly and helpful and laid-back.  I was excited to arrive here after 11 hours in a bus.  It’s a little odd that I have absolutely no problem travelling this way abroad but you probably would never see me taking an 11 hour bus domestically in the US. Maybe I should though….  Anyway, I stayed one night in the cutest little studio cottages at Airlie Beach Apartments.  

The next morning I went for a shorter run, only about 3 miles since my legs felt heavy from the marathon still. IMG_1474 IMG_1476 IMG_1463

I then went shopping for a bikini, beach towel, bug spray, sea sickness tablets, a hat, and for canned alcohol to bring on the boat trip I booked. I needed a lot of stuff that I didn’t bring for my Europe tour, but I signed up for 2 nights and two days on Wings 3, a catamaran that tours the Whitsunday Islands for diving and snorkeling along the Great Barrier Reef.  I had heard from various people I met in Sydney and Cairns that this particular tour and boat is the best spot for scenery, reef snorkeling, beaches, stargazing, and for having a laid-back and fun crew.  All were true!  It was soooo nice and fun.  I won’t be able to recommend it enough!

IMG_1481 IMG_1527There were about 29 guests on board, and 3 crew members that hosted us.  The crew consisted of the captain, the chef, and the dive instructor and guide.  We had the opportunity to snorkel in 4 different locations along the reef over the two days, plenty of time in the sun, and for sailing around, and there even was cricket and soccer on the beach for those who wanted to play.  During the snorkeling trips, we had a dinghy to ferry us out to the snorkeling spots from where we had tied the boat up, or we could swim. day 1 host cam 020day 2 dive cam 033

IMG_1502

day 2a host cam 071

The other guests were all fun, nice, and laid-back which made the trip extra enjoyable. There was a good mix of guests aboard from all over the world Germans, Brits, Welch, Norwegians, Austrians, Americans, Canadians, Irish, Italians,  and probably more that I’m missing. I know one thing is true: everyone loves being in the sun on a boat. Everyone. I met a fellow vegan and yoga/running enthusiast and a few other people that work in various areas of Clinical Research, like I do, so it was fun to connect with people with similar backgrounds and interests.  day 2a host cam 084

Attempting a pyramid
Attempting a pyramid…
Attempting to all jump at once...
Attempting to all jump at once…

And there was vegemite.  We took a lot of pictures using the vegemite jar, which I thought was super cute and funny.  If you don’t know what vegemite is, it is a spread that people either love or hate.  It’s really healthy for you and is made out of yeast extract and malt extract, both from barley (so it’s basically concentrated beer in a spread form).  It’s really salty and most people use it sparingly because the flavor is really strong.day 2a host cam 078

Another really awesome part of this tour is that they catered to everyone’s dietary needs.  They had alternatives for vegetarians (vegans, too!), lactose-free, and even gluten-free diets, which was super nice.  And it wasn’t just a green garden salad alternative either, they really made sure we were all fed well, even with dietary restrictions.

On the boat it was BYOB for alcoholic beverages, which was good to be able to pick how much you want to drink and bring it aboard instead of paying a lot for alcohol service.  I noticed they sell these mixed drink cans here, which I haven’t seen before elsewhere.  I chose the whisky and ginger ale variety but they had loads of other options like whisky or bourbon and coke, vodka or gin and tonic, and more… They were pretty light on alcohol content which was nice for me since I definitely did not want any type of hangover getting in the way of snorkeling and laying out in the sun!IMG_1475

The ocean was mostly clear so we got to see a lot of cool fish and plants around the reef.  It was my first time staying on a sailboat, ocean swimming, snorkeling and it was also my first time in a wetsuit!  All fun firsts 🙂  Oh and first time taking a one-minute shower!  I honestly got better sleep on that boat both nights than I have at any hostel on my entire trip. IMG_1484aaa Top 50 Richi (27)

aaa Top 50 Richi (9) day 2 dive cam 167We were lucky enough to have a couple of clear nights to sit out at night and look at the stars, of which you could see a really clear outline of the Milky Way.  I haven’t been able to see that in such a long time. And there were shooting stars everywhere. It was so pretty.

IMG_1485

IMG_1517This type of sailing tour is popular from a few different locations the East Coast but I have heard that this trip from Whitsunday Sailing Adventures is one of the best.  It was so good that many of us kept saying “This is the life!” all weekend, and I think we all wished we could just hang out on that boat forever. 

IMG_1505

Running in the Rainforest

I arrived in Cairns, Queensland which is in the North and a popular jumping-off point for excursions to the Great Barrier Reef, and is also situated near the rainforest. Sounds good, right? It was a different from anything I’ve experienced so far.  I hated it. I even used the word shit-hole to describe it a few times.  And I didn’t take any pictures the first two days because I just didn’t think there was much to see.

20140521_100337

But it did get me thinking about why we only take pictures of the beautiful things and how we sort of ignore things when conditions are not as ideal. This mirrors how we often deal with our feelings as well: ignoring or suppressing the “bad” feelings and only feeling like we are on the right track when we are laughing and having the time of our lives.  But that’s just not the world we live in. I’d like to recognize the so-so scenery, just as I try to recognize negative feelings that come up from time to time. Nothing is constant anyway. It seems to make life a little more enjoyable when you just give recognition to the fact that things may not be ideal, and instead make the best of the situation and move on.  So that’s what I did.  My hostel was one of the nicest hostels here, which was surprising since it wasn’t that nice. When you add to it a few less than desirable roommates for, like, the 8th night in a row, with the people in Cairns being the last straw, I decided to switch it up to a hotel after the first night. And booked another trip to get out of Cairns after the second night.  At which point this town regained some charm.

It rained almost constantly the first two days.  You know what you get when you are near the rainforest and it is amost winter? Rain! So I spent a lot of time indoors just hanging out. And on my third day there, when the rain subsided for longer periods of time, I decided to do my first run post-marathon in the rainforest! I went 5 miles up through the Botanical Gardens and onto a path called Red Arrow.  It’s in the North of the city between the city and the airport.

20140521_092640 20140521_092045 20140521_093518

The view from the "top" of Red Arrow....
The view from the “top” of Red Arrow….

There were a lot of stairs but the stairs only lasted for about a mile, so it wasn’t toooo hard for my first run back.  Side note: You can also go much deeper into the Daindree Rainforest, which is further north outside of Cairns, but since it was my last day, this was good enough for me.  I even saw some wildlife! There were a few of these guys hanging around….

20140521_093834

Another great running or walking location is along the Esplanade, which is a long path along the beach.

IMG_1442IMG_1443IMG_1452

And they have nice little workout areas to do some strength training. I’ve seen these in so many cities. They are so nice!

IMG_1456

And then you can meet your friends after for a dip in the pool at the manmade beach…

Cairns Esplanade Lagoon
Cairns Esplanade Lagoon

But first, check if it’s safe to be in the sun…

Extreme seems high, but maybe that's just me?
Extreme seems high, but maybe that’s just me?

And then grill out with your friends at the public grill stations! Or alone, whichever. There were multiple grills at the one station, and multiple stations. So a lot of grills.

IMG_1444And enjoy the wading birds…

IMG_1454IMG_1447

Overall Cairns didn’t end up being so bad, but if you have limited time in Australia I think there are better ways to use your time.  If you are able to stop in, then 2 nights is probably all you need unless you spend more time out exploring the reef and rainforest than back in town. I wasn’t able to do any reef exploring here since I am going on an excursion for all of that later! So there were a lot of factors as to why I didn’t necessarily like Cairns.  You may just want to check it out for yourself to decide if it’s for you. 🙂

Until next time, loves!

 

For the Love of Sydney…

Tomorrow I will have been traveling for 11 weeks, and my expectations have been tested the whole way.  Some cities didn’t live up to my expectations and others far surpassed them. Sometimes I had preconceived notions (built from TV, movies, the news media, and friends or family), and other times I had no idea what to expect.   It’s really always a surprise what you will get because no matter how much you think you know, you really don’t ever know how a city will make you feel and how you will experience that city.  It’s a really personal thing.  It will always be different from other people’s experiences, even if you do similar things or see the same sights.  We are all different, our preferences are slightly different, and our perceptions are surely different.  This is why travel for yourself is so fun, because the things you are experiencing are new to you. Even if you’ve been somewhere before, you can always experience a place in a new way.

I always thought I would like Australia. For one, I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone say they don’t like it, and there is so much to see.  I didn’t know too much before I got here, just that the weather seems really warm and good, the Great Barrier Reef is here, and there are interesting and different animals to see.  And of course I wanted to see the Sydney Opera House.

Sydney lived up to my expectations and surpassed them.  There is a laid-back, peaceful atmosphere here that makes me feel so at home and relaxed. I’ve only ever experienced the same feeling in Madison, WI and I’ve missed that feeling!  Even though I’ve been on my own, the people here have been very friendly.  I constantly hear couples or family members talking to each other very respectfully and with genuine care, which oddly I find different from the States.  It is so nice to hear and I’m glad that people are so open and kind to one another here.

I also love how many outdoor activities there are to do in Sydney!  This week I walked all around George Street, Darling Harbour, Circular Quay, and the Royal Botanical Gardens, checked out Paddy’s Market, went to the Museum of Contemporary Art, window-shopped at Westfield Sydney, went hiking in the Blue Mountains, hung out at the beach, and went whale watching.  It was between 70 and 75°F all week. For mid-autumn, this seems too good to be true!

I was staying just off George Street, the main street in Sydney, and did a nice long walk down to the Harbour.

IMG_1294
Queen Victoria Statue on George Street
George Street
George Street

I got down to the water at Circular Quay, and walked along the path along the water.  There were loads of runners everywhere, so much so that I had to remember to walk on the left side in order to not get run over.  A note for traveling in countries where they drive on the left: they walk on the left too, so be courteous when taking up the walking path which side you are on.  I even witnessed a guy so angry about it that he was yelling “LEFT!” at everyone he came up on that was walking on the right.  Pret-ty amusing… and a little disturbing.

Sydney Harbour Bridge
Sydney Harbour Bridge
Sydney Opera House
Sydney Opera House
Sydney Opera House
Sydney Opera House

Then I came upon the Royal Botanical Gardens, which are right next to the Opera House surrounding Farm Cove.   So beautiful. If I was back to running, this is where I would have run for sure!

IMG_1311 IMG_1312 IMG_1314 IMG_1331 IMG_1323 IMG_1344 IMG_1339 IMG_1346

The last picture is of the Government House, which they also hold tours of. I just admired the outside, and kept going on my all-day walk.  I also went to the Museum of Contemporary Art, also on Circular Quay. I think it was the best art museum I have ever seen. It had so many different exhibits and pieces. Usually galleries are focused on one medium or style per floor or exhibit (paintings, sculptures, photography, etc), and I like this one because it mixed it up, there were sculptures next to photography, down the corridor from a video playing, next to really cool paintings, next to a room completely done in rainbow stripes. It was good.

On my way home, I checked out Westfield Sydney, a shopping area on Pitt street, just a block or so over from George Street that runs the length of the main downtown area.

IMG_1353

The next day I did a tour of the Blue Mountains.  It looked like this at the top.  We did a pretty good hike; with a total of something like 3,000 stairs.  My legs were not thanking me for working them out again so soon!  We basically walked like half-way down into this valley and back up. It was worth it though!

IMG_1358

IMG_1362 IMG_1366 IMG_1376 IMG_1373 IMG_1384

Trying to capture what we walked down
Trying to capture what we just walked up…
This guy looked like an ape
This guy looked like an ape…or a person… whichever.

 

IMG_1386

Then we ate lunch and hiked more over in Katoomba, where we went on the steepest train ride in the world. They assured us it was made in Switzerland, and having already ridden on a pretty steep train up to Harder Kulm, I thought it would be no big deal. But it was actually quite a thrill…. basically you had to hold on or else you’d probably fall down onto the people sitting below you. I was almost completely vertical in my “seat”. It was fun though and had awesome views, though I was holding on so couldn’t get any shots! The train looks innocent, but it is not. It starts out horizontal and then goes vertical up or down the mountain. Kind of cheesy, but check out their promo video here.

IMG_1389It was also the location of The North Face 100K race that was starting the following day. It was fun seeing them set up for that.. maybe someday an ultra marathon is in my future…. but not now!

IMG_1390

Oh and we saw Kangaroos! One actually jumped along our van for a while, too! It was awesome seeing how fast they get going in person.

IMG_1355

The following day was low key because my legs were tired and so I visited Paddy’s Market, which is a market in chinatown.  Then I went down to Darling Harbour.

IMG_1392 IMG_1398And last but not least I needed some beach time!  I spent the day lounging at Manly beach, and then hopped on a boat with Ocean Extreme to go whale watching.

IMG_1405 IMG_1404
The whale watching boat was really fast and there is literally nothing better than being out on the water, going fast, on a sunny day. Add whales to the mix and it is heaven!  It was so fun watching for the whale to surface. We just saw one humpback whale, said to be a juvenile male whale, which was about 9 or 10 meters long.  The whale actually fully jumped up and out of the water completely, which was so awesome to see in person!  I guess that is pretty rare so we got lucky!

Growing up on the river, where there is a lot of etiquette to be learned in boating, it was interesting to learn the rules of whale watching.  You are supposed to ride along side the whale, keep about 100 meters away from it, and never go directly at it in your boat (head on or come up behind it).  If the whale comes to you, then you are supposed to just sit idle with the engine off and let it do its thing and check you out. They won’t touch or bump the boat (unless provoked) because they are really spatially aware and smart mammals.  A couple of times recreational boats could be seen not following the rules, which aggravates the whales, so it was good to be told what we were supposed to be doing.  It was also nice that we were closer to the water in this type of boat, which is why I chose this tour instead one of the bigger tour boats. We were faster and more agile and were able to stay out on the water longer.

IMG_1420 IMG_1422 IMG_1425IMG_1417IMG_1410 IMG_1429

Even though I did a lot, I feel like I only scratched the surface!  Australia’s not usually high on the list of places to travel for Americans, because the airfare is so expensive and it takes a long time to get here, but it definitely needs a place at the top.  You can thank me later for planning your next vacation. 🙂

IMG_1431

Prague and its Marathon!

Hey you guyyyyss!

Prague is my last stop in Europe, and this past weekend I participated in the Volkswagen Prague Marathon.  Yep, the full marathon. Marathon #4 for me. It was a bit of a question all throughout my travels whether or not to run the marathon since I was dealing with a nagging IT band injury and I didn’t want to hurt it further. Not to mention the fact that the most I ran in any one week between the injury and the marathon itself was about 17 miles total in one week. Some weeks I would only run once. And trust me I would exaggerate my mileage if I could, but just trying to keep everyone honest here.  That being said I definitely was not very prepared to run 26.2 miles.

Had I never run a marathon before, I probably would have just not started, but my body does know what it is like to run that distance so I thought it might not be too bad. If nothing else I wanted to do it to see what the expo was like, start the race to see how they do it in Prague, and so be it if I had to drop out or walk the majority of it and just treat it as a long sightseeing day.  I was in a beautiful city with a lot of things to see, of course! And I felt good doing 14 miles two weeks before sooo all logic pointed to completing it, no?  I’m really glad I did it though.  I finished, and didn’t do terribly bad with my pace (4:12:44-still within about a half hour of my normal range), and only had to walk a few times towards the end, to my surprise.  I think this was in large part because while traveling we are on our feet nearly all day most days, and a lot of days lugging around a huge pack, so I’m going to attribute part of being able to complete it to that.

It was pretty hard towards the end, and I’m glad I did it in this case, but I definitely wouldn’t recommend anyone to skimp on their training OR try to train for a marathon while doing an extended backpacking trip. It’s fun to run while traveling, but most of the fun of training for marathons for me is to train with my marathoner friends and without a group of people to train and do the race with it’s just not as thrilling. The thrill for me on this one luckily came from being in a new city, with new sights, and to complete it with my cousin, who is a first-time marathoner!

The Volkswagen Prague Marathon 2014 was definitely a great experience.  The Expo was awesome, the course was FLAT and beautiful, and they were really well organized. There were about 6,038 racers that finished and only about 1,102 were female, I noted. 9,500 runners were listed as registered prior to the race.DCIM101GOPRO

I’ll share some things I liked and didn’t like about it. I’ll start with some things I didn’t like so we can end on a happy note.

  • A lot of doubling back in this course.  For the most part I enjoyed the course, and the fact that the course went back and forth throughout the city was sometimes good because I got to see my cousin from time to time AND got to see the elite athletes pass by while running, however it made the course feel a little longer to do so much doubling back and running back and forth with two-way runner traffic on the same road.   

IMG_1251

That was it! And for the things I loved….IMG_1252IMG_1253

  • The Expo! Their sport expo was pretty good with all the regular exhibitors like nutrition experts, energy concoctions for pre-and post-race, running coaches, booths with a lot of cool gear, elite athletes, and lots of music and race information.  I got to meet Barefoot Ted McDonald at the expo which was really cool. He spoke first about the benefits of minimalist footwear in running and about his time with the Tarahumara in Mexico.  He then signed copies of Born to Run, and he showed us the solowheel. It was a good time.

IMG_1259They also had a decent pre-race pasta party the day before, complete with nonalcoholic beer. Because you can’t do anything in Prague without a beer.

IMG_3662

  • Salt at most refreshment stops. The other thing that really helped me make it through this marathon was taking salt capsules and taking salt when it was offered on the course.  I learned about the benefits of salt capsules (like these by Saltstick, that I used) at Gear West after I had horrible cramping at Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth, MN in 2013.  There is nothing worse than cramping up half-way through and not having anything to help with it. Salt capsules to the rescue! I did feel my muscles tighten a little so started using the capsules around mile 10 and took probably one an hour. The Prague Marathon also had plates filled with salt set out at the refreshment tables and runners would dip their fruit (bananas and oranges) into the salt for a quick salt shot.  I was glad they had this available for runners.
DCIM101GOPRO
And PINK toilets. So fun.
  • Live Tracking!  I think this is becoming more and more commonplace, but I was excited to see that the Prague Marathon had live tracking so you could look up and watch a runner run across a map on your screen from the comfort of your home. It looked like the screen shot below. Even though it was very early in the morning back in the US, I still had some family that got up early to watch me at the end of the race!

Prague Marathon Map

  • Flat course! Prague can be hilly so it was really nice that the course officials mapped a course that was really flat.  Almost no hills at all. It would have been a good course to PR on!

DCIM101GOPRO

  • Free massages!  There was a half a city block of massage tents and massage tables set up for a 5 minute leg massage before or after the race. It may not seem like much, but I think my recovery was much better and I had less pain than normal due to the quick rub-down post-race.  The 15 minute wait in line was worth it and the lines went pretty quickly since there were so many tables.
  • Personal message booth!  This was by far the coolest aspect of the race for me that set it apart from others.  They had a booth set up at the expo with videocamera and microphone where you could record a short message for your friends or family that were running.  They would record the runner’s bib number and your message here…

IMG_1255

And then the video message would come up on the screen and speakers at the 36K point during the race (a little over 22 miles), just for your runner to view. It was cool to have the option for that personal encouragement we all need during mile 22.  SUCH an awesome idea!

20140511_123851

  • The language may not translate but the enthusiasm of fans does!  While I was running there were a lot of different languages being yelled in my general direction, and I didn’t see any personal messages from the message booth in English, so you could really tell how international the marathon actually was.  I read somewhere that 91 countries were represented. Even though I couldn’t understand most of what was said, things like “go, go, go!” were easily understood, and high fives were always welcome.  Although the fans weren’t as numerous as other marathons I’ve done, the fans that were there did have fun signs and would yell or clap for encouragement.  They also had a lot of music along the route, and many cheer squads to cheer you along.
  • Photos and videos of you during the race!  This is also regular at all the races I’ve done, however this race had a race video that I could purchase as well. Since  I didn’t have anyone in town to cheer from the sidelines, I did purchase all of the digital photos and videos.  And the price was much more reasonable than what I’ve experienced at other races, at only €40 for all HD digital copies.

As you can see from my use of exclamation points that I was very excited about the race overall. I’d highly recommend it for anyone hoping to PR!

DCIM101GOPRO

Afterwards, I went to this AMAZING vegetarian restaurant, called Lehká Hlava.  The name means Clear Head in English, which I love.  I had a pret-ty large meal post-race.  The meal after a marathon might be the best thing ever. So choose wisely. I definitely did this time!

IMG_1273
Beer!
IMG_1274
Olives, and Beet Carpaccio salad!
IMG_1275
Veggie Beef Stroganoff (served with mushrooms and rice)! This is how fake meat should taste… really juicy and grilled to perfection!

And I also had a raw vegan strawberry cheesecake made out of cashews and walnuts, but I didn’t even manage a photo because I ate it so fast.  It was soooo good!!!

The rest of the time in Prague I did see a few sights. Prague was definitely near the top of the list of cities that I’ve visited so far, due to it’s relaxed and friendly atmosphere.  It was a great city to hang out in after the race and just enjoy.

IMG_1243 IMG_1247 IMG_1249 IMG_1238

IMG_3677
hedges!

Interlaken: Let the adventure begin…

So I started this blog by proclaiming I am an adventurer. I guess that is because I set out on adventures and journeys, small and large, however I haven’t done any real adventure activities, per se, on this trip yet. It’s mostly just been traveling around, meeting people, experiencing different cultures, running, and seeing the sights.  But then I arrived in Interlaken, Switzerland, which was like a dream, and I could probably take every vacation the rest of my life in a place like it.

When I rolled into the city by train I was basically on a train journey that started from Rome that built up the anticipation of Switzerland by becoming more and more beautiful along the way.

I could also probably vacation the entire time on trains, I love them so much.  The beauty you see from minute to minute is unimaginable. My train ride from Milan to Interlaken was definitely the best train ride I’ve been on so far.  First of all, I love mountains.  And when you go from the mountains in Italy to snow-covered mountains further north it is such a fantastic transition. All the little mountain towns are so quaint and I wanted to stop at every single one of them. I saw one river town that had one sole boat on it that looked kind of like my family boat from my childhood back in my hometown: a cruiser with a red top. It was raining but those people were out on the river anyway. Because they could be. I saw an island packed with buildings in the middle of a river as well. In some of the tunnels there were openings so you could sneak a peak of the landscape which felt like an awesome little treat. I saw a marble mine through one of them.  The train also passed by a big lake with houses and houseboats, which also reminded me of my homeotown. If you have never been to La Crosse, WI in the US it definitely rivals the beauty here in Italy and Switzerland.  It makes me so grateful to have grown up where beauty was all around me.  I was lucky to have grown up on the Mississippi and lived the river life every summer and the ski bum life every winter (Thanks, Mom and Dad!). If you were lucky enough to live this life you know what I mean. 

I couldn’t exactly capture very many (or, any) good pictures since the train was moving very fast.

IMG_1067
my attempt at capturing the island with the buildings on the river…

IMG_1060

IMG_1072 IMG_1075

I usually don’t think scenery is that great if it is rainy, but it was still. so. beautiful.

Interlaken itself was heart-stoppingly beautiful. I’m going to have to get better at my adjectives because beautiful and picturesque don’t quite capture the serenity that I experienced as I arrived.

IMG_1091 IMG_1093 IMG_1095

Interlaken, and Switzerland in general, is at the top of many people’s lists of their favorite places.  There is so much to do in the way of outdoor activities, but I only have limited funds, and time, so I had to pick and choose.  Luckily the weather sort of chose for me. I went at the very beginning of their summer season, which started May 1st. It was quite cold and snowy up in the mountains above around 5,300 feet. It was a little warmer in Interlaken itself which is at 1,864 ft.

In my time in Interlaken I chose to hike at Harder Kulm, hike some more at Grindelwald towards First, run along the Aar river and lake Brienz, took the the train ride to the top of Jungfrau (the highest point by train in Europe at 11,332 ft), and I did something I was scared of: paragliding! You can also go canyoning, experience skydiving, explore caves, hang-glide, rent bicycles, go rafting, and ski just to name a few.  I already know I’ll have to come back in the summer, or in the winter, or both to do more of these activities. 🙂

Harder Kulm had a really great view of Interlaken.  You can take a train up to the lookout point, which I did, and then hike from there. The trails were really muddy and steep so I didn’t get too far but the views were worth it. 

IMG_1102 IMG_1105 IMG_1106 IMG_1112 IMG_1113 IMG_1116 IMG_1119 IMG_1123 IMG_1124

I also spent another day hiking from Grindewald up towards First.  We hiked to Bort, and continued a short distance further until the amount of snow prohibited us to go further.  It was cold, but the cool weather kept us a good temperature since the hike was a really good workout.

IMG_1129 IMG_1130 IMG_1134 IMG_1136 IMG_1139 IMG_1140 IMG_114310295727_10152837941139156_1876445843232034079_n

The next day I went paragliding. I was a little nervous since I have never done anything like that before, but it was awesome!  It was seriously so relaxing I barely even felt like I was running off a mountain and into the clouds. The pilots at least have to be able to see the ground before they take off so we waited about 10 minutes at the top for the clouds and fog to lift a little.

we went paragliding through ParaGliding-Interlaken. I highly recommend them, especially my pilot, Nick!

The pilot was awesome and made the ride really fun.  He was really instructive so I felt really comfortable with the procedures of running off the mountain and upon landing.  I barely was nervous at all when we were in the air since the scenery was so amazing.  It wasn’t a sunny day, but it was at least clear to see the mountains and both lakes so it was definitely worth the trip. We went paragliding through ParaGliding-Interlaken. I highly recommend them, especially my pilot, Nick!

Later that day I took the trains up to Jungfrau. You have to change trains three times but it was really easy and there were so many tourists doing the same thing that it wasn’t hard to get up there.  The train takes you up to the “Top of Europe”, which is the highest point with train access in Europe. It was a really scenic train ride to the top and it was a partly sunny/partly cloudy day. It was sunny and of course snowy on top!  It was fun to walk around in the snow outside.  The ski area didn’t appear to be open and even if it was (meaning I just couldn’t find it), I had absolutely no gear (hat, gloves, etc) so it likely would have been very costly, but I did try to find it because it would have been fun to ski up there, and one last time this season!  I was short on time as well, and I’d recommend leaving that as an all-day activity. It takes 5 hours round trip and I didn’t get up there until 3:30 PM.

IMG_1155 IMG_1159 IMG_1163 IMG_1164 IMG_1166 IMG_1169 IMG_1171 IMG_1173 IMG_1174 IMG_1175 IMG_1176 IMG_1178 IMG_1184 IMG_1185 IMG_1193 IMG_1195 IMG_1198

Upon leaving Swizterland, I was told multiple times and very genuinely, “enjoy your journey” by various Swiss people on trains and at the hostel I stayed.  There is something profound yet simple about saying “enjoy your journey”. It is a kind sentiment since I am on a travel journey, but we are all on a journey of one kind or another, so I hope you enjoy your journey as well today, whether you are on your way to work, replying to that next e-mail, or are traveling to the next city.  The journey is constant, so make it a good one and enjoy it fully! 

Roma, Italia!

Rome to me was like Disneyland. The whole city is packed full of monuments and things to do and see.  There is basically a monument every 2 blocks.  It was a must-see city with really historic monuments and beautiful buildings.

Even though it was a little crazy in the city, I was lucky to be in Rome starting on the day of the Canonizations of Pope John Paul II and John XXIII. It was an interesting day to arrive in Rome and I was excited to check out the action.  The trains were not as jam-packed as I thought they might be from all of the news coverage.  The first thing I did when I got into town was walk over to Vatican City to see if I could get close to St. Peter’s Square. The closest I got was to the Piazza Risorgimento. I also walked around to the other side, but there were a lot of people there and I stopped trying to get closer when it got too thick and I had to start worrying about pickpockets because of the closeness…  I retreated, but still could hear the choirs singing and if I listened closely enough, I could even hear the mass.  This was in large part because almost everyone had headphones in streaming the mass.  It seemed that most people that were attending for the canonization mass were in groups, and most had a group leader with their country’s flag as representation.  One million people were said to be in attendance.

IMG_0944 IMG_0945 IMG_0946 IMG_0950

As you can see (if you’ve been there before) I couldn’t really even get close to the square at all.  But it was still cool to see all the people and to hear the service through everyone’s portable music players (I think these are just called phones actually) on the street.  There were definitely people with sleeping bags and backpacks that had stayed the night to be there in the morning for the service.

In case you didn’t catch the news surrounding the canonizations of  John Paul II and John XXIII , it was a significant event in Vatican history because two popes were canonized at the same time.  This means they were declared saints by the Church. Read more about it here. It was also significant because Pope Francis presided over the mass, but also Pope Benedict XVI was in attendance, resulting in the day being dubbed the “day of four popes”.

Aside from the canonization craziness, I did visit the Spanish Steps,  Vatican Museum (including the Sistine Chapel but no pictures were allowed), St. Peter’s Basilica, the Colosseum, and other various monuments. Here is my show-and-tell for Rome! Ciao!!

IMG_0935
Spanish Steps (Piazza di Spagna)

IMG_0936

IMG_0952
IMG_0953

Vatican Museum Garden
Vatican Museum Garden

IMG_0967 IMG_0970 IMG_0973

Vatican Museum
Vatican Museum

IMG_0977 IMG_0981

St. Peter's Basilica.. the day AFTER the mass. They had a thank-you mass... so still busy!
St. Peter’s Basilica.. the day AFTER the mass. They had a thank-you mass… so still busy!


IMG_0983

Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri
Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri
Third try's the charm!
Third try’s the charm!

 

Dome-shaped stairwell to the top of St. Peter's dome.
Dome-shaped stairwell to the top of St. Peter’s Basilica dome.

IMG_0999

IMG_1001 IMG_1017 IMG_1010 IMG_1012 IMG_1011 IMG_1022 IMG_1029 IMG_1030 IMG_1039

Altar of the Fatherland
Altar of the Fatherland

IMG_1043

Colosseum
Colosseum

IMG_1046 IMG_1047 IMG_1048 IMG_1055 IMG_1056 IMG_1058