Our running tour of Prague

winged lion prague 2The Winged Lion Memorial – a thank you from Great Britain honoring the 2,507 Czechoslovak airmen who served in the Royal Air Force during WWII.

Hello from the Czech Republic! I’m currently biking around South Bohemia with two girlfriends (follow my adventures on Instagram here) – if you haven’t been to the Czech Republic, add it to your list! It’s a beautiful country with warm, friendly people – we’ve had so many great experiences! We flew into Prague and spent a couple of days there before we started biking. I found this running tour of Prague, and it sounded like so much fun that we booked it for our second morning. Our guide, Marek, met us at our apartment at 7:30 am, and took us around the tourist areas of the city, pointing out landmarks and good places to eat.  We covered about 4.5 miles, but Marek let us set the pace, which as a beginning runner I greatly appreciated. It was a great way to get some exercise, especially after being cramped in a plane for the overnight flight just a day or so before, and as a bonus, we saw the tourist areas when they were blissfully uncrowded! Here are some of the things we saw…

babies with face

The Babies – these sculptures used to be “climbing” up the side of the TV tower in Prague, but now reside in a park on Kampa Island. We never did figure out why they have no faces…if you know, please enlighten me!

lennon wall prague

The John Lennon Wall – a spontaneous tribute to John Lennon when he was assassinated, this wall became an expression of hope for freedom during the Communist years. Every night, the government would paint over the graffiti, and every day, new graffiti would appear. We saw it with one other tourist at 8 AM; later that afternoon, we returned and there were close to 200 people at the wall.

wallenstein gardens 2

The Wallenstein Garden – built in 1623, this geometric, early Baroque garden used to be private, belonging to the adjacent palace.  Now, open to the public, the garden is a peaceful place with free-roaming peacocks, including some rare white peacocks.

white peacock pragueThe white peacocks of Wallenstein Garden

radio memorial prague

Memorial to Dr. Milada Horakova –  a Czech politician, she was convicted of fabricated charges of conspiracy and treason, then executed by the Communist Party in 1950. The memorial is in the form of a microphone like the one she stood in front of during her show trial, where she was given 30 seconds to speak in her defense. It honors her and all those who stood up against totalitarianism.

fruit market pragueA local market, founded in 1232!

And last but not least…

Charles Bridge prague

The Charles Bridge – the most famous bridge and an iconic sight of Prague, the bridge was practically empty when we ran across. Later that afternoon, it was full of caricaturists, souvenir stalls, street performers and tourists!

We loved our running tour of Prague – if you’re a runner, I highly recommend it! If you’ve done a running tour somewhere, let me know where and whether you enjoyed it!

**This post is not sponsored; we just had such a good time we wanted to spread the word!**

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

7 reasons why women need friendships with other women

amigas with bikesThe Three Amigas – my biking buddies!

Happy National Women’s Friendship Day! I’m so glad there is a day to celebrate the friendships of women, because these are some of the strongest, most important relationships in a woman’s life. In honor of my amazing, incredible girlfriends, here are seven reasons why women need friendships with other women…

Emotional Support – Women are wired for emotional relationships, and we communicate differently than men. Men want to fix things; they see a problem and immediately start thinking of solutions.  Women think with logic AND emotion – sometimes, I just want someone to understand how angry/sad/confused/frustrated I am feeling. If I say “Can you believe this just happened?!”, I’ll immediately get an understanding and sympathetic “AARGH!” right back. And sometimes that’s all I need.

Honest feedback  True friends act as a sounding board and help us figure out how to deal with troubling situations. If I’m tangled up with emotion, my girlfriends can help me clarify WHY I’m feeling the way I am, whether my actions in response to those emotions are reasonable, and which actions might make more sense. And when needed, they’ll just give me the brutal, honest truth, whether it’s “That was a crap thing to do” or “You’re being unrealistic in your expectations”!

women's marchShared experiences led these dear friends and I to the Women’s March in Washington, DC, Jan 2017

Shared life experiences  There are some things that men and women just experience differently, and sometimes we need to tell our story to someone who can understand every step of the way.  Feminine health issues, childbirth, working in a male-dominated field, sexual harassment/assault, or figuring out how to deal with the children and men in our life are just a few examples. To quote one of my dearest friends, “We love each other’s children as if they are our own, and gladly cheer when they triumph and support them and each other when they stumble”. Men can certainly support us and talk about these things with us, but our shared experiences with other women bind us together in a unique way.

Stress relief – Women are nurturers – it’s what we do. We make meals for friends with new babies, have coffee dates where we vent about our current worries, and organize each other’s linen closets (making sure they’re stocked with toilet paper) without being asked. When life is exceptionally crazy, my women friends help take the load off, whether by helping me decorate for a holiday party, pulling me out for a coffee break, talking through my list to help me prioritize, or reminding me to make time for exercise, nutrition and sleep. 

Rellies!Some of my favorite shopping buddies – my family!!!

Common interests – While men and women might share any number of interests, I don’t have many men in my life who honestly love spending a day shopping, chatting and enjoying coffee. I, however, love spending time this way! I like romantic comedies and dramas; my husband and children (both my sons and my daughter) prefer action adventures and westerns. I like to read different kinds of books and do different kinds of workouts than my husband does. I could travel 200 days a year and be quite happy; my husband doesn’t love it the way I do. My husband will do these things with me, of course, because he loves me; and I do the same for him. But doing the things I love with other women who are having JUST AS MUCH FUN adds an extra layer of richness to my life. 

IMG_5070My daughter will forever be my partner in fun!!

Fun, laughter and mental health – To quote a wise friend of mine; “Spending time with girlfriends, laughing and having fun, can be like a retreat and reinvigorate you and make you a better parent/wife/partner, etc”. Women need social connections and to feel part of a larger community; taking the time to be silly, have adventures and laugh with our tribe is a vitally important piece of life. When we do this, we are re-energized and can jump back into our daily life with enthusiasm and patience. 

amy and I keukenhoffThis woman has shared my life since the day I broke down crying from stress in grad school – so many memories we’ve created over the last 30 years!

Self esteem and empowerment – we women are hard on ourselves! We deal with self-doubt and insecurities on a daily basis. My friends help me see my strengths instead of my weaknesses. They will be the first to cheer when I do something amazing, without feeling jealous or competitive. I have learned to be more accepting and compassionate toward myself when I make a mistake, and to appreciate all the powerful things my body can do (bike 240 miles through Austria? Done!) rather than criticizing the things I can’t do (pull ups? no way – and that’s okay!). My women friends know exactly how to build me up when I need a boost, and how to encourage me to reach for a goal that I may think is unattainable. And let me tell you this; if you’re hanging around with women who like to tear each other down, you need to ditch those women and make some new friends – you deserve better!

**Thanks to all the women in my tribe, wherever you are! I treasure your friendship – you have added immeasurable joy to my life!**

Ten Tips for a Successful Visit with Your College Student

IMG_E4599.jpgVisiting my son in Rome was the highlight of his first semester in college (For me, at least!)

Well, it’s that time of year…college students are settling in for the fall semester and freshmen parents are missing their kids ever so much! I’ve sent three kids off, and love visiting my kids at school! I’m not an expert by any means, but over the years I’ve come up with a few tips to make visits with my children smoother and more enjoyable for all of us. I’m sharing them here in hopes that they might help some of you – if you have any of your own, I’d love to hear them in the comments below!

**All of these tips are college student approved by my three adult children**

# 1 – Timing is everything.

Schedule your visit during a time that is convenient for your student and keep it to 2-3 days. Visiting during exam week won’t be fun for anyone!  Schedule your visit a week or so AFTER exams, however, and your daughter will be caught up on her sleep and happy to see you! Keeping your visit short also avoids disrupting classes, studying, extracurriculars, etc.

**If your student is studying abroad, the expense is far too great to go just for a weekend, so my recommendation here would be to arrive on a weekend, spend a couple of days with your student, then sightsee on your own midweek, meeting up for another couple of days before you head home.**

#2 – Be prepared to spend some time on your own.

Your daughter will be thrilled to see you, but she won’t have unlimited time…studying, club activities, socials, rehearsals, and other commitments may interrupt your visit. Be flexible and willing to spend time on your own while she’s in class. I’ve enjoyed many a peaceful hour in the gliders on the campus of University of Miami with a good book! I also once took a Segway tour of South Beach while my daughter was in rehearsal.

UM GlidersI spent many happy hours in these gliders while my daughter was in class!

#3 – Always let your student be the one to decide whether to invite friends to join the fun.

Don’t invite their friends along without checking with your student in private first. Sometimes they just want to be with you, and other times they’ll want to introduce you to friends or a new love interest.

eastman Quad at UREastman Quad at University of Rochester

#4 – Ask them to show you around campus.

My kids always loved showing me where they had their classes, the dining hall, their dorm, etc. I enjoyed getting that mental picture of where they spent their days.

#5 – Get a hotel room big enough for your student to stay with you (but don’t be offended if he chooses to stay on campus).

Sometimes your son will want to get away from the dorms or his roommate and stay at the hotel with you to chill; other times it may just be more convenient for him to stay on campus. Don’t take it personally. 

#6 – If your visit is for longer than one night, consider renting a place with a kitchen so you can cook some of their favorite foods.

During my oldest son’s first semester, we visited for a long weekend and rented a nearby cabin. All he wanted that weekend was home-cooked meals after two months of dining hall food!

# 7 – Take her on a Target run to stock up on snacks and supplies.

This is self-explanatory, but especially welcome if your student doesn’t have easy access to Target or her favorite stores. You’ll also win points if you bring her favorite homemade goodies (make sure to bring enough to share with her friends)!

# 8 – Family pets are always a welcome surprise if it’s feasible to bring Fido along!

Seriously…we visited our younger son when he was studying abroad, hosted nine of his friends for dinner, and they ALL said the thing they missed most was their pet (and Chick Fil A)!!

IMG_2544.JPGWho wouldn’t miss this face?

Tip #9 – DO tell their friends what to call you.

College is a tricky time; do they call you by your first name or by “Mrs. So and So”?  Your daughter’s friends will be much more comfortable if you tell them what you’d like to be called. The easiest way I’ve found is to say “You can call me Deanna” when my daughter introduces me as her mom.

Tip #10 – Leave some free time in the schedule to sleep and just hang out.

College students are so busy that they often don’t have enough time to rest and recharge. Go out for dinner, but then go back to your hotel and watch movies together in your pajamas. Or sleep in and have coffee and bagels in the hotel rather than going out to breakfast. Unscheduled time is a luxury for college students!

morning-1092771.jpg

Bonus tip: DON’T sleep through scheduled activities! Yep, been there, done that – I forgot to account for the extra noise of the hotel A/C unit and didn’t have my alarm loud enough…slept right through a scheduled breakfast with my son and his friends *Gulp* !

What tips do you have for great visits?? I’d love to hear them!

**Thoughts on Family Weekend**

There’s no right or wrong here. Some families love going to Family Weekend; some families don’t. My kids wanted us to visit when the campus was less crowded, hotels were less expensive, restaurants had shorter waits and we had more free time together. Other families love going to the football games, meeting the department heads, and all the other social activities that are planned. Ask your student and then decide together – some families only go freshman year, some families go all four years and it’s a fun annual event for them!

Great September Events in Winston Salem, NC!

bailey parkBailey Park is the site of so many fun events!

Of all the places I have lived (I have moved 20 times!), I think Winston Salem is one of my favorites! It’s big enough that it seems like there’s always something fun to do, but small enough that we don’t usually deal with major traffic. Today, I’m rounding up some of the great happenings in September. When I started searching, events just kept popping up, so I’m actually kind of sad that I’m going to miss most of these (I’ll be biking the Czech Republic)  – if you go, please let me know which events you enjoyed the most! I’m thinking of making this a monthly series, so let me know too if this is something you’re interested in seeing.

**I thought about titling this post “The BEST September events in Winston Salem”, but MY best may not be YOUR best; so it’s just going to be a list of some GREAT events in Winston Salem**

Here are some of the cool events I found, in chronological order:

This weekendBookmarks Annual Festival of Authors and Books runs through tomorrow, Sept 9th. Today is chock full of panels, book signings, author talks, and tons of other great stuff! I’m super excited to meet Anne Bogel, author and blogger over at Modern Mrs Darcy.  I’ve been a faithful reader of her blog for several years now and participate in her reading challenges each year. She’ll be talking about “What Do I Read Next?” at 1 pm in the Mountcastle Forum at Hanes Brands Theater – come join me and say hello! For full details and schedules, click here to go to the festival website.

Tonight  Looking for something fun for a date night tonight?  You’ve got a couple of choices! The second and fourth Saturdays of the month, AFAS (Arts for Arts Sake) holds a Salsa Social on the second floor of their building downtown at the corner of Liberty and Seventh St.  Cover is $10…click here for full details.

Your second great choice tonight is Viva Italia! The Piedmont Wind Symphony opens their 29th season with music from Italy at the Stevens Center on Fourth St, starting at 7:30 pm.  There are still some great seats left, and prices start at just $15! 

Wednesday, Sept 12thPicnic in the Plaza – Corpening Plaza is playing host to Simon 98.7 and the Make a Wish Foundation – for $1.98 you get a lunch and ALL proceeds go to the Make A Wish Foundation, which grants wishes for terminally ill children. For full details click here.

Stay downtown for the afternoon, because also on the 12th, Bailey Park hosts Sunset Salutations, a monthly free yoga class on the bottom level lawn of Bailey Park.  Class starts at 6:30 pm.

On Thursday Sept 13th, the United Way of Forsyth County is joining with A/perture Cinema for a showing of Homeless, a film about homelessness, filmed locally here in Winston Salem. A discussion and panel will be held after the showing…for all the details and tickets, head over here

The weekend of Sept 14-15 is full of awesome events, many of them free movies!

Friday evening 9/14  – Head back to Bailey Park for an outdoor showing of Zootopia! Bring a picnic or buy dinner at the food trucks. Food trucks open at 6:30, movie begins at dark. Full details here.

IMG_4014Movie nights in Bailey Park are one of my absolute favorite things to do in WS!

Saturday 9/15 – SO MANY GREAT CHOICES TODAY! You’ve got the Historic Bethabara Park’s Apple Festival AND the 2018 International Village Food and Music Festival during the day (why not hit them BOTH??) then THREE choices for a free movie night! You can choose Coco at BB&T stadium with the Winston Salem Police Foundation; Wonder at the Jerry Long YMCA out in Clemmons; or Field of Dreams, part of the new Films on a Farm series at Crossnore Children’s Home. The latter is a collaboration with A/perture Cinema – admission and parking is free; drinks and popcorn will be for sale to support Crossnore.

wsdashInstead of watching baseball, enjoy a movie in the stadium!

Wednesday, Sept 19thCommunity Yoga in the Atrium at the Innovation Quarter – a monthly free indoor yoga class in the Atrium of the Wake Forest Biotech Place! Click here for all the info.

Thursday Sept 20th – Historic Bethabara Park has a free Summer Nights Concert Series this evening at 6 PM…here are all the details!

Friday, Sept 21 – Friday Fun Day! How to choose –  you’ve got a Grape Stomp Harvest Party at Childress Vineyards, a FREE Fall Film Screening of the best short films produced by UNCSA Film Students on the beautiful UNCSA campus and the Moonlight Madness 5K at Bailey Park, the annual kick off Fundraiser for the United Way of Forsyth County.  I’ve done Moonlight Madness for the last three years and am sad to miss it this year – it’s always a fun event with music, beer and pizza for the participants after the run!

moonlight madnessMoonlight Madness is always great fun!

Sat, Sept 22 brings both Fiesta 2018, the Hispanic League’s FREE street festival – all day fun with food and music from many South American countries. Stop by the festival and then hit up Oktoberfest with Wise Man Brewing and the RamKat. If you’re still standing after Oktoberfesting, you can head over to the Salsa Social at AFAS!

For some midweek fun, check out A/perture Cinema’s showing of Joan Jett: Bad Reputation (Wednesday 9/26) or Pay What You Wish Thursday at Reynolda House Museum of American Art (9/27) – if you haven’t been to Reynolda House before, now’s your chance to visit for free.

Friday Sept 28thSunset Thursdays Free concert at Bailey Park, Mt Joy and Arlie are the featured bands. Don’t let the name confuse you – usually these concerts are on Thursdays, but September’s concert is on a Friday!

Celebrate the last Saturday of the month, and hopefully cooler temps, on  Sept 29th with a Whiskey and Wine Bar Crawl. From 2-7 PM you can wander downtown Winston Salem with a portion of the proceeds going to a local non-profit.

Wow! SO MANY HAPPENINGS in September! let me know if you’d like to see this as monthly series and which events you loved if you go to any of them! 

 

 

Three Days in the Dordogne region of France, part 2

burnt out car oradourHello again! If you’re still reading, I’m glad I didn’t scare you away with my last post! But these things happen, right? We have these images in our head about how it will be the perfect vacation, and it’s never quite the same…real life happens instead.  This trip was very different from others I’ve taken, and I ended up LOVING the differences! Because I wasn’t feeling well for much of the trip, and our son wanted to sleep late most days, we ended up moving more slowly than I normally do in Europe.  But it was so relaxing, and I enjoyed it even more than past trips where I’ve put pressure on myself to see more sights.

This time, I still did lots of research ahead of time, but we had a very loose schedule. Each day, we’d meet up with our son for a late breakfast/early lunch, and while at the meal, we’d discuss options for the day and make a plan based on what we felt like seeing that day.

danijela-froki-391486-unsplash.jpgDaily plans always involved cappuccinos!

We only pre-booked two activities, and those were the prehistoric caves with the cave paintings. My husband and son went to the Lascaux International Centre for Cave Art on the day I was sick in bed. They said it was fantastic and the interpretive center was amazing, although the actual cave is closed to visitors, so you walk through a replica of the cave instead. I was sad to have missed that, but on our third day in the Dordogne, we went to Pech Merle, another cave with paintings and a small museum. I studied the paintings in both Lascaux and Pech Merle during an art history class, and I have to say it was incredible to stand in the actual cave itself and see the prehistoric cave paintings from over 20,000 years ago. I thought they’d be faded and hard to see, but they are still vibrant – this was easily one of my favorite experiences of the trip (and probably on my top five list of all my trips to Europe). Pech Merle is very strict about controlling the number of visitors per day, so I highly recommend booking ahead, especially during the summer high season. I booked about three weeks out so that we could get an English tour, as there were only two or three per day. In order to preserve the paintings, they are very strict about no photos in the cave, so I don’t have any of my own to share with you, but you can click here to see some of the paintings

Gouffre di Padirac 2 Part of the underground river at Gouffre de Padirac 

After our tour at Pech Merle, we drove to Gouffre de Padirac, an underground cavern with a river and a lake. We did not book ahead, but were able to walk right up to the ticket window and get tickets for the next time slot. It is super crowded, but the line moves very quickly, so don’t panic if you get there and it looks like there are thousands of people in front of you! They have two options to travel down – you can take a lift (elevator) or hike it down (and back up) hundreds of stairs! We chose to hike down the stairs, after which you walk through the cavern (with an audioguide) until you get to a lake. Then you get into a boat with a guide, and travel across the lake to continue the journey through the cavern. The whole experience is otherworldly – you’re 130 meters underground and walking along a river…it was completely touristy but super cool at the same time (and a great stair workout)!

IMG_1911The stairs at Gouffre de Padirac – but don’t worry, there’s a lift as well!

**Day three in the Dordogne – Skipped my planned morning bike ride because I’d only had one light meal in the previous 48 hours. By end of day could eat normally again…yippee! 10,991 steps for the day, most of them up and down the stairs at Gouffre de Padirac**

Thursday was a travel day…we were leaving the Dordogne and driving to Poitiers to turn in the rental car and take the train to Paris. I FINALLY got to ride my rental bike, but we wanted to stop at Oradour-Sur-Glane on the way to Poitiers, so I rode from 8-9 AM, then turned in the bike and away we went. Added to the list for my next visit – schedule a full day to rent a bike and ride the entire trail, stopping along the way for coffee and lunch!

bike path sarlatThe Sarlat Voie Verte bike path – so beautiful!

Oradour-Sur-Glane is midway between Sarlat and Poitiers, so it made a perfect stopping point to break up the drive. The town lies along the line which divided Occupied France from Vichy France during World War II –  a few days after the D-Day invasion in Normandy, Nazi officers gathered up all the people in town, shot the men in the streets, locked the women and children in the church then burned the entire town, including the church. In all, 642 people died that day (I think only 1 person escaped). As a memorial and a reminder of the atrocities committed by the Nazis, the town has been left as it was the day the Nazis burned it.

church bell oradourThe remains of the church bell…

A new town was rebuilt just next to the old, and there is now a museum as well as a portrait wall with photos of most of the people killed that day. They are still collecting photos and hope to eventually have a photo of every man, woman and child who perished.

portrait wall oradour.JPGThe portrait wall at Oradour-sur-Glane museum; white squares represent victims for whom they don’t have a photo yet…

We spent about 90 minutes here, but could have easily spent four or five hours if we didn’t have a deadline to return our rental car. You first enter the museum, where the exhibits talk about the rise of the Nazi party and the history of the invasion in France. Exhibits educate visitors about other massacres committed by the Nazi’s – did you know that the Nazi officers were never held accountable for any of the massacres that were committed? Then you walk through the portrait gallery into the town itself.

cafe oradourCafe tables and chairs in the ruins of a cafe

Silence is requested, but a hush naturally fell over the crowd as we entered the town. It was hauntingly eerie and sobering to see cafe tables overturned, sewing machines sitting on ledges in houses, and burned out cars parked in the streets. It’s not an uplifting day, but oh so important to remember and mourn.

Have you traveled to any WWII sites? Which ones have you seen? I’d love to hear about your experiences….and as always, thank you for reading!

Three days in the Dordogne region of France, part 1

beynac 2The riverside town of Beynac-et-Cazenac, with the church and chateau perched at the top of the town

Happy Monday all! We recently got home from ten days in France –  this trip marked a transition for me, as it was the first family vacation we’ve taken without our two oldest children, who now work and live in different cities. I think our youngest may have missed the company of his siblings after spending ten days alone with his parents….

Anyway, I’m planning to write a blog post about each segment of our trip, plus a post about driving in France. I also have a few other ideas swirling around in my head, so if you have any questions, let me know and I’ll do my best to answer them!

Early in our trip, we spent several days in the Dordogne region. The Dordogne refers to both a river and a department (county) in the southwest/south central part of France. It’s a beautiful, mostly rural region with small towns, villages, castles, canoeing and prehistoric caves, many with cave paintings from over 20,000 years ago. The river itself is amazingly lovely, with some of the cleanest water in France. The villages rise steeply along the river, and chateaus and castles are dotted along the hillsides.

dordogne river 2The beautiful Dordogne River

We spent four nights at Hotel La Hoirie, just south of Sarlat la Caneda (the main tourist hub, often just called Sarlat), which I chose for two reasons. First, it had air conditioned rooms, and at the time I booked our trip, the temperatures in the area had been in the mid-high 90’s for several weeks (self-knowledge is a wonderful thing…I knew that without A/C at those temps, I wouldn’t be able to sleep and would be a total grump, thus negating the idea of a fun vacation). Second, despite being on vacation, I still needed to train for my upcoming bike tour through the Czech Republic, and the hotel is only one kilometer away from the Sarlat Voie Verte bike path, a 29 km railway line which has been converted into a pedestrian and bicycle route. I arranged a four day bike rental from Liberty Cycle, with visions of getting up early’ish each of the four days and riding 20-30 miles each morning before heading out to sightsee for the afternoon and evening. The path passes through several towns, so my husband and I had even planned to ride together one morning and stop for breakfast along the way.

**You can feel that there’s a story coming, right? RIGHT???**

We arrived at the hotel in the early evening, after stopping to pick up my rental bike. At that point, my stomach was a little upset, but I attributed that to being carsick from the windy roads. The hotel is GORGEOUS – it’s an old thirteenth century hunting lodge, with several old stone buildings, beautiful gardens, a swimming pool, and a restaurant with a lovely outdoor terrace. We had dinner reservations at the hotel restaurant (really good food, if a smidge pricier than other places we ate), so after checking in and dropping our bags in our room, we walked out to the restaurant. Before we even got a chance to order, my stomach started feeling worse, so I left without eating and returned to my room and went to bed.

**You KNEW there was a story coming – if you are easily grossed out, you might want to skip the next paragraph!**

Around midnight, I woke suddenly with that horrible feeling that I was about to puke. My side of the bed was about five feet from the bathroom door…but nope, I didn’t make it. If you’ve ever seen The Exorcist, it was like that – vomit spewed forth all over the floor, the walls, myself, and the bathroom. My husband is my hero…rather than running over to sleep in our son’s room for the rest of the night, he gamely got up and helped me. I think we finally got back to bed around 4 am, after which I fell into a restless sleep.  Once we woke up, my hubby ran and picked up ginger ale, Sprite, crackers and Rice Krispies for me. I slept most of that day…finally dragging myself into the shower around 6 pm, then venturing out to the hotel garden for a brief respite in the fresh air before taking the dirty towels (securely tied up in the plastic laundry bag from the room) to the front desk and trying to say in French “Please throw these towels away and charge them to my room; I was very sick and used them to clean up vomit” (Thank goodness for Google Translate!)

**First day in the Dordogne – no bike ride, no food, 719 total steps for the day, but successfully covered hotel room in vomit, showered and sat in garden for ten minutes before getting rained on**

hotel la hoirieJPGThe one photo I took that day, while sitting in the hotel garden

The next morning, I was able to get up and gingerly participate in the day’s activities, although I again wasn’t able to do my planned bike ride. We drove along the river to the town of La Roque-Gageac (considered one of the most beautiful villages in France, for good reason), where we tried to get tickets for a boat tour along the river. The tours were sold out for most of the day, (the months of July and August are high season) so we jumped back in the car and continued on to Beynac-et-Cazenac.

beynac crepe myrtlesBeynac had the prettiest crepe myrtles!

We were able to get an afternoon boat tour in Beynac, then wandered up the village’s steep streets to the church and the chateau. Once we got back down to river level, we sat and watched the multitudes of canoes heading down the river. Canoeing is a very popular pastime on the Dordogne…if I had been feeling better, I would have loved to float down the river in a canoe, but the one hour boat ride was fun and interesting – the narration was in French, but the guide gave us quick highlights in English and also gave us a copy of the narration in English so we could follow along.

beynac canoersCanoeing along the river is a great way to enjoy the region!

After our boat tour, we drove to Chateau Castelnaud-de-Chapelle, which is a medieval chateau/fortress with a museum of weapons. It was a fascinating look at medieval warfare and I learned lots of details about the Hundred Years War. From the tower of the Chateau, you could see three other chateaus/fortresses – they really could all keep an eye on each other! These are the kinds of things that get the history nerd part of me excited, so I loved our visit here.

castelnaud

For dinner that night, we drove back to Beynac and ate at La Petite Tonnelle. The food was absolutely delicious, the staff was friendly, and we thoroughly enjoyed our dinner on the terrace.

**Second day in the Dordogne – no bike ride, stomach still queasy, ate one light meal, failed to get pics of restaurant, but sat on a boat and somehow managed to survive 12,350 total steps for the day without fainting**

Since I’ve reached 1200 words, I’ll stop here for now…stay tuned for the next installment in the adventure! As always, thanks so much for reading!

A Day Out in Baltimore

water-3199668Photo courtesy of Pixabay

I’m adding a new post to my Wednesday Wanderings series today. For Mother’s Day weekend back in May, I traveled to Baltimore to spend time with my sister, aunt and cousins. All of our mothers are gone, so we spent Friday and Saturday that weekend celebrating the fact that we had, and are, kick ass moms. We laughed, shopped, chatted, ate and just generally celebrated being together for the first time in over a year. On Sunday, I met up with my son and a family friend in downtown Baltimore for a day of exploring. It was such a fun day!

me and boysMe and the boys!

We started late morning at Miss Shirley’s Cafe at the Inner Harbor for brunch. They don’t take reservations, and of course everyone was eating out for Mother’s Day, so we were told it would be a 90-110 minute wait. No worries! We walked a block over to Barnes and Noble, where we spent a lovely hour and a half browsing (and buying) books. I’ve read that due to Amazon, brick and mortar bookstores like Barnes and Noble are in danger, so was happy to do my part to keep B&N alive 🙂 Once our wait was over, we headed back over to the cafe.

Miss Shirley’s focuses on southern food, and does it extremely well. Their menu is extensive, which makes it so very hard to choose. I debated between breakfast and lunch; cinnamon danish waffles were calling my name, but I decided to go with a cup of vegetable crab soup and the jumbo lump crab & corn grilled cheese sandwich. I figured I was in Maryland, so I should enjoy the chance to have crab while I could! I also tried a Shirley’s Crush – the Orange Crush is a Baltimore alcoholic specialty and Miss Shirley’s version was oh so yummy! The service was great and our food was delish; we longingly eyed the dessert menu before deciding that we were just too full to order anything else. If you’re in Baltimore, I highly recommend a stop here for breakfast, brunch or lunch (Miss Shirley’s is open 7am-3 pm). They have three locations, but the Inner Harbor location is handy for exploring the waterfront after you eat!

water-3279614Fells Point – Photo courtesy of Pixabay

Afterward, we drove down to Fells Point and walked around, poking into some of the shops and enjoying the waterfront views. Fells Point is an area along the harbor which was first settled in the 1760’s by William Fell, a Quaker, who built a store here. After the ship yard was established, the neighborhood expanded to include homes, stores, and bars. The Fells Point Ship Yard produced over 800 ships, including the Continental Navy’s first frigates and the speedy “Baltimore Clippers”  (Click here for more details). The area was home to seamen, sailmakers, merchants and sea captains. Now a residential area, there is an open air market along the waterfront that has been operating since 1786. It was also the setting for Annie’s house and the pier where she sits along the water in the movie “Sleepless in Seattle”, starring Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks.

Fells point

One of my favorite activities when traveling is to find hidden, quirky places and things to see.  I dug around on Atlas Obscura and found quite a few in the Fells Point area, so the boys indulged me. “It’s Mother’s Day; we’ll go anywhere you’d like” were their exact words; what great people they are! We found the Fell Family Cemetery, tucked between two townhouses at 1609 Shakespeare St; the “Vote Against Prohibition” ghost sign painted on the side of a building at the corner of Shakespeare and South Broadway; and the Shot Tower, where lead shot was made by dropping molten lead from a platform at the top, forming perfect spheres as it fell into a vat of cold water at the bottom. Built in 1828, the 234 foot high shot tower was the tallest building in the United States until the Washington Monument was completed after the Civil War (for more details, click here)

**Fun fact: Back in the 1910’s-1940’s, companies would pay building owners for the use of their walls, and hired roving street artists, called “wall dogs”, to paint advertising signs on the walls. Now they are fading so have become known as “ghost signs” – there is actually a book titled Ghost Signs: Brick Wall Signs in America**

Fell Family Cemetery

Fell family cemetery 2The Fell Family Cemetery, 1609 Shakespeare St.

IMG_9878 2“Vote Against Prohibition” Ghost sign

shot towerThe Baltimore Shot Tower

That morning, my husband sent me a text, saying, “Tomorrow is our bulk trash pickup; is it okay if I put our living room out?” Yes, indeed, he put the entire living room into the bulk trash…the rug, sofa, two chairs and ottoman included! After our much-loved sectional succumbed to the effects of boy and dog jumping on it, we had cobbled together an old sofa from my dad and a couple of garage sale/discount store finds as a temporary measure while we hunted for new stuff.  Our “temporary” solution lasted four years; my husband decided that putting it all out in the trash would force us to finally get our behinds in motion and buy a new couch. So the boys and I even did a little couch shopping at Su Casa Furniture, a fun and inviting furniture store.

**Three months later, we still don’t have living room furniture, but we have bought a new rug – baby steps!**

old couch with dogThe “temporary” couch – dog approved, but not terribly pretty!

fort-2498672Fort McHenry – take the water taxi out and enjoy the history!  Photo courtesy of Pixabay

The Inner Harbor at Baltimore is a great destination – there are shops, restaurants, free music performances, a huge Barnes and Noble for book lovers, the Baltimore Aquarium, the Maryland Science Center, Fells Point, etc.  A water taxi takes you to various points around the harbor and out to Fort McHenry, bombed by the British during the War of 1812. It was during this battle that Francis Scott Key wrote our Star Spangled Banner; he watched the bombardment from a ship in the harbor. Camden Yards (Baltimore Orioles baseball) and M&T Bank Stadium (Baltimore Ravens football) are very close to the Inner Harbor as well. History, entertainment, good food, sports and shopping; all in all, a fun city in which to enjoy a weekend!

baseball-3363346Camden Yards – home of the Baltimore Orioles.  Photo courtesy of Pixabay

As always, thanks so very much for reading and let me know if there are any places you’d like me to explore and write about!

Serendipitous Detours – Old Sheldon Church Ruins, SC

Sheldon Church Ruins better

Today’s post is the first in a new series – Serendipitous Detours. Have you ever noticed that sometimes the BEST things in life are the unexpected twists and turns? On my first bike tour in 2016, we hit a detour along the path, and it ended up being one of my favorite biking days. We rode extra miles that day, but experienced quiet country roads, lovely little villages and even found a WWI/WWII cemetery that looked like it was just a place where a battle took place and the dead were buried right there.

Sheldon Church gate good one

While on a road trip, I love to find quirky, cool places to stop. My family has come to expect this from me (as they get older, they appreciate this talent of mine more); they either tolerate or enjoy my finds depending on the day and the place. Register Cliff, in the southeast corner of Wyoming, is one of my all-time favorite road trip finds. Originally a stop on the Oregon Trail, thousands of travelers stopped to camp and carve their names into the cliff as a remembrance. In one spot, you can see where three generations of one family passed through; the Unthanks engraved their names in 1850, 1869, and 1931. If you ever drive through Wyoming, I highly recommend a stop; it’s not far off the route from Rocky Mountain National Park to Mount Rushmore.

Sheldon Church Side view good

Last weekend, moseying home along I-95 from a week in Florida, I made another such serendipitous find; the Old Sheldon Church Ruins. Believed to be the first building in America built to resemble a Greek temple, and originally named Prince William’s Parish Church, it was built in the 1750’s, and burned by both the British during the Revolutionary War and the Union Army during the US Civil War. All that remains today are Greek Revival columns, walls & scattered graves amongst noble live oaks dripping with Spanish moss. As Lt. Governor William Bull paid for much of the church, locals gave it the nickname “Sheldon Church” after the Bull family’s ancestral home in England.

Sheldon church graves with spanish moss

Today it is owned by St Helena’s Parish Church, and members of the church can get married in the ruins (think Ross and Emily’s wedding from Friends). It’s open from dawn to dusk for visitors. These evocative ruins are just ten-fifteen minutes off I-95 from exit 35 or 33 in Yemassee, SC (depending on whether you’re coming from the north or south). Three picnic tables are tucked off to the side, and in a cooler, less buggy season, the ruins would make an amazing lunch stop, although there are no restroom facilities. I wandered about for 20 minutes or so, but then the bugs drove me back to my car (if you plan to stop in the muggy summer months, bring bug spray). Even so, I quite enjoyed reading the gravestones scattered about and taking photos from every angle. Sharing the spot with only two other families, it was blessedly peaceful and atmospheric. If you are ever passing by (it’s not far from Beaufort), make the time to explore!

Sheldon church baby grave

I’d love to hear about your roadside discoveries! Leave a comment below and let me know about your favorite places!

Lessons learned from my first (and tenth) trip to Europe, part 3

IMG_7692Sydney Opera House at sunrise

Hello and happy Friday! I hope all my USA readers had a Happy Fourth of July. This is the third and final installment in my “Lessons I’ve Learned from Traveling” series – I’d love to hear if you’ve enjoyed my stories! If you missed the first two installments, read them here and here!

Make jet lag work in your favor – When we traveled to Australia, our body clocks were all messed up.  We took advantage of being wide awake at 5 am and scheduled an early morning backstage tour of Sydney Opera House. My daughter, who is a stage manager, loved getting a peek at the backstage workings and hearing the stories of things gone wrong during shows. It was a great chance to experience something I normally might miss. On a normal day, I never see the sunrise; but seeing sunrise at Sydney Harbour was spectacular! If you know you’ll be awake earlier than usual the first day or two of your trip, make full use of those mornings to enjoy sightseeing with fewer crowds or to schedule a special tour that you wouldn’t otherwise consider.

adult-1868988Picture courtesy of Pixabay

Shoes must be comfortable – If you’ve ever gotten horrible blisters on the first day of a trip where you are walking 10-15K steps a day (or more), you’ll understand this one! When forced to choose, prioritize comfort over style – sometimes you can find the holy grail and get shoes that are comfy AND cute, but sometimes you have to settle for shoes that are cute ENOUGH in order to get comfort, which is key. I have learned through trial and error to always pack blister bandaids, moleskin (pack scissors or precut pieces sized for heels and toes) and a pair of flip flops. 

Try to learn a few basic phrases in the language – Anywhere I’ve traveled, people have appreciated my efforts to say “Hello” “Please”, “Thank You”, “Where is the toilet”, “May I have” and “Where is” in their language. Even when I butcher it, I laugh and smile and try my best and generally get smiles and help in return.

**When traveling by bike, I also learn “Please help, my bike is broken”!**

IMG_2340Our hotel room in Austria

Beds may not be what you expect – In some countries, you will get a bottom sheet and a duvet, with no top sheet on the bed. I’ve found this particularly in the Germanic speaking countries. You will also sometimes get two twin beds pushed together for a double, with a space between the two mattresses which can make it hard to cuddle if traveling with a significant other.

Yes, we have no bananas – Many hotels with a breakfast buffet in Europe have stopped serving bananas. I’ve been told this is because Americans take them for later in the day. In Europe, hoteliers generally expect that you will take what you need for that specific meal, not stash extra food for snacks.

IMG_7961Making memories!

Pictures of you and your travel companions will provide better memories than pretty pictures of landmarks and scenery – so make sure you get pics of yourself and your loved ones!

Currency – the best place to get currency is the ATM at a bank. I used to always get cash at the airport ATM’s, but lately the airport ATM’s seem to be connected to the currency exchange booths (which are horrible places to get money) so I’ve started bringing a small amount of the local currency from home. I generally bring enough to get me from the airport to my hotel, plus the price of one meal in case I want to check in and eat before finding a bank. Another tidbit – when given the choice between paying in dollars or the local currency at a store, choose local currency for a better exchange rate.

IMG_1636One of my favorite restaurants in New York City

If you find a place you like, make a note of the address/location so you can go back – This lesson was reinforced  for me on our last trip, when we spent several hours wandering around Venice looking for a restaurant that we thought was “right around the corner” from our hotel! Try to grab a business card or jot down the address when you find a place you like, to make it easier to find if you decide to go back.

Always carry your hotel name and address with you – So you can show it to a cab driver or use the street name to ask for directions if you get turned around in a new city.

IMG_8416First time in first class!

Don’t fly 17 hours straight in coach if you can help it – three years ago, we flew from Dallas to Sydney (17 hours nonstop) in coach, and I will NEVER do that again – it was absolutely miserable! We broke the flight up on the way back into 8 and 9 hour flights with an overnight break in between…so much better!

IMG_2161Windows that open are a wonderful thing!

A/C is not as prevalent in Europe as it is in the USA – If you are traveling in the summer, and air conditioning is important to you, make sure you confirm that the hotel you are booking has air conditioning. Also, in winter, many hotels and restaurants will have the heat blazing. In your hotel room, you will sometimes have a radiator which is adjustable – on our last bike trip, my friend spent an entire night hot and uncomfortable, only to find in the morning that her radiator had been on full blast all night long!

IMG_2412Who says you can’t spend an afternoon reading at an outdoor cafe?

You don’t HAVE to spend every waking minute sightseeing – it’s perfectly valid to sit at an outdoor cafe and read for an entire afternoon. I’m just saying – it’s YOUR vacation, so do what makes YOU happy!

Keeping a trip journal is so worth it – even if you just make short notes about best/worst thing each day, where you ate, etc. I used to try to write several pages each night, but found that impossible to maintain; so now, I jot down best, worst, good restaurants, best quotes, funniest mistake, etc. Super quick notes but they are so fun to look back on and even short notes jog my memory!

Be wary of over scheduling – Try not to jam pack your itinerary. Traveling between attractions will take longer than you  think, and you may not have as much energy as you anticipate. If you’ve been moving a mile a minute and just can’t stomach one more museum, change your plans and sit at a cafe for an hour instead. Allow time for bathroom breaks, coffee stops, and spontaneity. I like to travel slower than some…I break my schedule into morning, afternoon and evening segments, with only ONE planned activity per segment. I do, however, jot down lots of notes about nearby sightseeing options in case we have extra time.

 

Rental cars are usually manual – When renting a car, you must request an automatic if you want one and it will often cost extra. And not all manuals are created equal; I once got stuck in a rental car lot in Pisa because the manual I was driving had a funky trick for getting into reverse! Don’t be afraid to ask for help from the rental car attendant. When driving, it’s also nice to know the city names along your route, as road signs in Europe often point toward towns rather than route numbers.

IMG_2216 (1)This detour sign led to a great day – and gave my blog its name!

Above all, roll with the punches and be flexible – You WILL experience frustrations, hiccups, and giggles. My husband and I stayed in a hotel in Heidelberg where the light over our bed fell down on us, so we slept with our feet at the head of the bed and our heads at the foot of the bed. We’ve gotten parking tickets because we didn’t understand the payment system and the signs. We‘ve made five circles through a roundabout because we couldn’t figure out which exit we needed to take. I told a policeman at the Eiffel Tower “I have a little stink” when I was trying to say “I speak a tiny bit of French”. But if you think of it all as a grand adventure and bend to accommodate these unexpected hiccups, you’ll end up with great travel stories and meet amazing people along the way.

**As my dad always used to say when things went wrong…”we’re making memories!” Here’s wishing you incredible memories!**

 

Lessons learned from my first (and tenth) trip to Europe, part 2

salzburg-708762

Thanks to everyone who liked and commented on Part 1 of this post! It was great to hear your thoughts…I’d love to hear what you think of this next group of life lessons!

For those of you who may have missed part 1, I’m posting lessons I’ve learned from my travels, whether my first trip to Europe or my tenth. I’ve made lots of mistakes over the years…I’m sharing them here so you can avoid them!

funicular-railway-117281

There are times when the best decision is to throw money at the problem and make it go away – you will invariably run into problems that can be easily solved with a reasonable amount of money.  In my last post I mentioned that my husband and I spent 24 hours in Germany not speaking to each other; we got into a HUGE fight over the 5 euro charge for the funicular at Heidelberg Castle. I was exhausted and did NOT want to hike up the 315 steps to reach the castle; my husband said there was NO way he was paying when we were perfectly capable of taking the stairs. Guess what happened? We hiked the stairs, and I was so exhausted and mad by the time we got to the top that I didn’t speak to him again until we were at the airport the next day! On the flight home, we realized I should have paid the 5 euros and met him at the top, but in that moment, we were SO tired that our brains were not working correctly. Our fight also illustrates that “reasonable” means different things to different people. When I went on my bike trip across Austria with friends two years ago, we discussed this issue ahead of time. And after two days of biking in second-day stinky biking clothes because we hadn’t found a laundromat after six days of searching, we decided it was worth the 75 euros our hotel charged us to do an overnight load of laundry. Was it a lot of money? Yes.  Would we rather have found a laundromat and done it ourselves? Yes, of course, but we split the cost three ways and felt SO MUCH BETTER with clean bike clothes! With no laundromat available, it was our best option at that moment. We made the decision and moved on with no regrets.

**for more topics to discuss before traveling with friends, read this post**

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Don’t be afraid to split up – My husband and I don’t spend 24/7 together at home, but when we first traveled, we stayed together ALL. THE. TIME. Over the years, we have gradually come to the realization that because we have different interests (plus I need alone time to rest and recharge), there are times when it just makes sense to split up for an afternoon.  Florence Nightingale was my childhood hero, so when we went to London, I was super excited to see the Florence Nightingale Museum. My husband had zero interest, but wanted to spend more time at the Imperial War Museum than I did, so I went to the Florence Nightingale museum alone and met up with him a few hours later for a quick look at the highlights of the Imperial War Museum. 

london street-259174

When walking alone, listen to your gut – You know that gut feeling that something is not right? Maybe the hairs stand up on the back of your neck, or you get a weird feeling in the pit of your stomach? LISTEN TO THAT FEELING!!! On my way to the Florence Nightingale Museum, I walked through a slightly sketchy area of London. I was on an empty street when two men came up and started walking behind me. The hairs on the back of my neck stood up, and I got a VERY strong feeling of danger. Luckily, there was a convenience store on that block, so I dashed in and stayed there for several minutes. I told the clerk about the men and that they gave me the creeps; he helped me check to make sure they had gone before I continued on my way (looking back, I should have called a taxi to get the rest of the way to the museum, but luckily, I had no further issues). That’s probably the most scared I’ve ever been when traveling. Sometimes we (women, especially) discount that feeling, thinking we are just being silly, but I’m a firm believer in listening to your gut!

london map help janis-oppliger-178385-unsplash

It’s amazing how much you can communicate with smiles, nods and pointing – My aunt mentioned this one, and she was so right! My favorite travel stories are of people we’ve encountered along the way, like the man who came up to my husband in Salzburg and commented on the fact that my husband was wearing shorts and a winter coat in December. We understood nothing he said except “lederhosen” and “BRRR”, but when he wrapped his arms around himself and faked a shiver, it was obvious that he thought my husband was a little nuts for wearing shorts! In Berchtesgaden, we stayed at a Bed and Breakfast run by a husband and wife who spoke almost no English. Despite this, we were able to understand the directions he gave us to the Berchtesgaden Salt Mine, through gestures and pointing left and right. A smile and a nod, along with a quick game of charades, can get you a long way!

Most people are basically helpful (except for the ones who are trying to scam you) and how to tell them apart – Over and over again on our travels, my faith in the goodness of people has been reaffirmed. When our rental car broke down in the Lake District of England, our  Bed and Breakfast host drove us a half hour to the train station. When my friends’ luggage got lost as they were about to start a 100 mile hike along the West Highland Way, their Bed and Breakfast host took the hiking boots off his feet and gave them to Jeff to use until Jeff’s gear arrived. We have experienced countless examples of kindness, but have also been the victims of a few scams. How do you tell them apart? Scammers will usually approach you in a busy tourist spot (train station, ATM, crowded plaza, etc) asking you to sign a petition or hand your money to them as they ‘help” you. A favorite scam at a train/metro station is to offer to buy the tickets for you at the ticket machine. The scammer wants you to give them your money and they will buy you the one week pass, for example. When in reality, they buy you the one-ride ticket and have just made a profit.  **Someone who is truly trying to help, however, will usually just point to the right buttons on the ticket machine and let you do it yourself.**

train station noah-naf-663541-unsplash

We learned the hard way to be particularly wary when the currency is unfamiliar to us, and to NEVER let a stranger give you change at the ATM. In the Czech Republic, where the currency is the koruna, a man came up to us at the ATM and offered to make change (the ATM’s there spit out 1000 koruna bills). He gave us two 500 unit bills, which turned out to be Hungarian currency and worth WAY less than the 1000 korunas we gave him. But the money was very decorated and unfamiliar to us, and we were busy trying to get to the airport to go home, so we didn’t realize the switch until later.  We also learned not to sign any “petitions” in touristy areas. We did ONCE and congrats, you’ve just given your email, name and address to scammers who will then send you “phishing” emails and steal your credit card number!

cheese baguette jez-timms-90838-unsplash

A bottle of wine, cheese and dessert on your balcony can be dinner – Some nights, we’re exhausted after a long day of sightseeing. Other times, we’re traveling with a pretty strict budget and choose to spend it on activities rather than food. For whatever reason, we are perfectly happy picking up a bottle of wine, some cheese and bread, and a small dessert at the local market and having a picnic dinner on our hotel bed or balcony. You can find really fresh ready-to-go meals in the local supermarkets and save tons of money on food – we also love exploring the outdoor produce markets for fresh fruit.

I still have a long list (it’s amazing how many things I thought of once my mind got going), so part three will be coming soon! In the meantime, I’d love to hear from you! Drop me a line in the comments section below and let me know which of these resonate with you! And as always, thanks so very much for reading….