a london arrival

This summer I spent a good bit of time in London.  I went abroad from June 10th to July 24th and spent time in London, Malaga, and various parts of Italy.  At just over six weeks, this was my longest trip yet (outside of my time spent studying abroad).

I used London as my launching point. I started there, and spent almost two weeks there before going on a vacation-within-a-vacation to Malaga, Spain. I returned to London, and met up with my sister, Melody, for a sisterly adventure in Italy. We returned one more time to London to spend a few more days before flying home at the end of July.

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A typically cloudy London day in June, by the Thames.

I also used London as my Hemmingway-esque retreat.  I sequestered myself away in the anonymity of travel with the hopes of finishing the first draft of my first full length novel.  I was successful, and Book One of Katerina Fairy’s story is officially underway.

But despite the lofty writing goal, I managed to find time to explore London a bit. I won’t say I’d be comfortable calling it home yet, there’s far too much to see and explore in a few short weeks, but I’m confident I was able to scratch the surface and taste a hint of everything that incredible city has to offer.

I thought about writing one mega-post about my time there, but quickly decided that that route would neither do justice to the city, nor be entertaining and manageable for you, dear readers. So instead, I’ve broken it down into a series of posts.  This week I’ll talk about arrival at Heathrow Airport, the public transportation system, and general getting around and getting settled tips and tricks. In the following weeks I’ll explore the different neighborhoods and parks I frequented; the museums, marketplaces, and entertainment I enjoyed; my favorite bars (tough choice I know!); and my favorite eateries. If you’re considering a trip to London, or you’ve already been and just want to compare notes, please read on! I’d love to hear your favorite places too, so I can start my list of places to see for the next time I’m in The City.

So, arrival. I have found that whether I am coming from across the ocean, or just one country away, getting through Passport Control at Heathrow Airport can be atrocious. I have never gotten through in under an hour and most times it has been closer to a three hour process.  It’s not that the process itself takes that long; a couple of questions, some proof of intention, and a stamp in your passport and you’re on your way. But the line has always been demoralizingly long. So, of these settling in tips, Tip #1 is pee before you get in line.  Get off that plane and find a restroom near your gate. Don’t think you can make it to baggage and be happy about it. Tip #2 is add three hours to your travel time before making any plans for the evening of your arrival.  If you land at noon, don’t think you’ll meet your mates at the pub for a pint, or collect your key from your AirBNB host by 2:00 or even 3:00 pm. Maybe 4:00 pm if you’re lucky.

Once you’ve passed Passport Control, congratulations! You’re officially in London! Your next step is to get to your lodging and drop your bags.  If you are traveling with too much to travel comfortably by yourself, make your way to the taxi pick up station, hop into a famous Black Taxi, and be on your way.

If you travel light, like I often do, taking London’s incredible public transportation system is a convenient and far less expensive option.  There’s a tube station right in the airport.  At the station, pick up an Oyster card.

Oyster cards are a refillable payment card useable on all public transportation options in London. We’re talking the Tube, the Overground, busses, trams, and most National Rail Services.  The card costs something like £10 to buy, but it’s a deposit you can get back at the end of your trip if you return your Oyster card.  Put enough money on it for it to be convenient, but don’t go loading your whole trip’s public transportation budget on there all at once.  If you loose that card, its like cash- i’s gone and lost.  If you register the card there is a little more account security, and balances can be transferred to an new card. But if you aren’t there long, and don’t bother registering it, you’ll feel the sting when a £10 card with £30 in travel funds on it falls out of your pocket in the middle of the street. So Tip #3 is Get an Oyster card, but don’t keep more than £15 on it at a time. Thats more than enough for a day or two of public transport travel. Especially since the city has this great capping system where after a certain point, any future journeys in a given day are free. Learn more at the Oyster Card Website. You can top off the cards at any tube station.  You can’t add more funds on a bus, but if you get on a bus with insufficient funds they give you one courtesy security ride, putting you in the negative, which will be repaid when you next top off funds.

So, Oyster card in hand, you climb into the next Tube car that arrives, grab a seat, and make your way to your new temporary home. This time I stayed in AirBNBs and CouchSurfed, but we’ll talk more about lodging and London neighborhoods next week.

Once you’ve checked in and dropped your bags, its time to begin exploring! A great way to explore the city is by riding the infamous red double decker busses.  Each ride is only £1.50, and the network of busses canvasses much of the city above ground; giving you a better chance to learn the layout of your new neighborhood than you might get if you only ever ride the Tube underground. That’s why Tip #4 is Tour the City from the Top of the Double Decker Busses! If you have the time and the patience, hop on a bus and just see where it goes. You might find your new favorite restaurant, park, shops, or bar that way.

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How will you find awesome street art like this happy octopus in a bowler hat drinking a pint if you don’t ride random red busses around the city?

From here, get to call the shots. What do you want to see? Do? Explore? Discover?

From history and the classics, to modern art, to art so modern its still underground, you’ll find it in London.  Which is why my Tip #5 is See the Big Sights, but Don’t Stop There.  London is so much more than Big Ben and Buckingham Palace. There are museums, and marketplaces, gardens and theatre, concerts, bars, restaurants, clubs, and more.

So, go explore!

And check back in next week for some of my favorites in art, culture, cuisine, and architecture shrouded by the London Fog and waiting to be discovered.

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306545_10100339996775636_297841040_nHave you ever had the urge to just drop what you were doing, pack a bag, and set out on an adventure? Seven years and over two dozen countries later, Aeri Rose is proof that excitement, independence, and discovery await those who are bold enough to say “yes” to life’s craziest choices. When not exploring the world with her little grey backpack, Aeri Rose an be found living a nomadic lifestyle traveling the United States as a writer and entrepreneur.  To follow Aeri on all her adventures, check her out online at travelingwithaeri.com, on Facebook at www.facebook.com/aerirose, and on Instagram @travelingwithaeri.

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travel destination oktoberfest; FLiP W Magazine october 2016

This article is being re-posted from FLiP Magazine October 2016.  FLiP Magazine is a great publication with insight into pop-culture for both men and women! Aeri Rose is a regular contributor to FLiP W, the female focused half of the magazine.  You should definitely check it out, and subscribe for the free digital editions! Even if I’m quiet here…I’ll always find something to say there!

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Travel Destination: Oktoberfest

By: Aeri Rose

“O’zapft! Prost!”

“The barrel is tapped! Cheers!” two men in lederhosen and white shirts shout as they clank their massive glass beer-filled tankards together. Others around them are singing traditional German drinking songs, tankards sloshing in one hand, legs of roasted chicken waving in the other.

Welcome to Oktoberfest.  Where each year in late-September and early-October millions flock to Munich, Germany to celebrate beer and Bavarian life.

Beer is a lot of what Oktoberfest is about.  There are over 30 beer tents at Oktoberfest, though the term “tent” doesn’t do justice to  the massive wooden structures temporarily erected at the Thereseinwiese Fairgrounds. Each tent has a different theme and different beer served, hinted at by the elaborate decorations at the entrance. Inside, traditional German music plays, while festival-goers sit at long wooden tables with long wooden benches, drinking German beer, specially brewed by German beer companies for the festival.  Barmaids in dirndls walk the halls balancing heavy trays of full masses (what the full liter glass tankards are called) rapidly bought up by drinkers with empty or nearly empty cups. Traditional Munich brewers that adhere to strict Bavarian Purity Requirements are the only beers served at Oktoberfest. There are only six brewers that serve beers at the festival, the youngest of which was founded in 1634.  These are old giants of the German beer industry.  They are Augustiner (the oldest Munich brewery, founded in 1328), Hacker Pschorr, Hofbrau, Lowenbrau, Paulaner, and Spaten.

But beer is not all that Oktoberfest is about. Its also about the food, the clothes, the song, the shopping, the games, and the rides. Some beer tents sell hot food inside. Try foods like roast chicken, pork, sauerkraut, and specialty German white sausages.  Or take a break from the hall and wander outside where a carnival atmosphere fills the air with excited energy.  Vendor stalls sell traditional foods like pretzels, bratwurst, and fried potatoes; and sweets like fried cakes, ice cream and pastries. Try a carnival game or two and win your beau a stuffed bear as a prize. Decide that you too need to look the part and outfit yourself in a completely new Bavarian look: leather breeches (lederhosen), suspenders, and a white shirt for him; a below-knee length skirt with blouse, bodice, and apron (dirndl) for her.  Or maybe a traditional alpine hat is enough for you.  These hats are made of a thick wool felt with a small brim and a decorative braided band, sometimes enhanced with a spray of feathers.

Properly attired, return to the beer tents for another round.  Before 6:00 pm the music is quieter, with traditional German folk bands playing on center stage. In the evenings things get kicked up a notch, with modern electronic music replacing the polka bands.

Oktoberfest can be enjoyed fully in one day, or make it a weekend adventure. If you are traveling far, consider adding a couple extra days to spend exploring Munich itself as well. It is a beautiful town full of history, culture, and ambiance. Always bustling, you’ll catch it at its most excited and energetic when filled with other curious travelers like yourself, trying to experience all this lovely city has to offer.

Start your day at the Altstadt (old city), at Marienplatz, the main square in the center of the city. From here wander towards the Viktualienmarkt, and graze your way through your favorite food vendors for lunch. Sample fresh produce, cheeses, and traditional German foods. Car buffs should visit the BMW headquarters with their famous BMW museum where visitors can see classics, race cars, prototypes, and many others in the BMW family. For dinner check out the Hofbräuhaus, a traditional beer hall and Bavarian restaurant.

Whatever you decide to do on your trip, be prepared to eat, drink, and be merry in Munich.

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306545_10100339996775636_297841040_nHave you ever had the urge to just drop what you were doing, pack a bag, and set out on an adventure? Seven years and over two dozen countries later, Aeri Rose is proof that excitement, independence, and discovery await those who are bold enough to say “yes” to life’s craziest choices. When not exploring the world with her little grey backpack, Aeri Rose an be found living a nomadic lifestyle traveling the United States as a writer and entrepreneur.  To follow Aeri on all her adventures, check her out online at travelingwithaeri.com; or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/aerirose.

spas around the world; FLiP W Magazine july 2016

This article is being re-posted from FLiP Magazine July 2016.  FLiP Magazine is a great publication with insight into pop-culture for both men and women! Aeri Rose is a regular contributor to FLiP W, the female focused half of the magazine.  You should definitely check it out, and subscribe for the free digital editions! Even if I’m quiet here…I’ll always find something to say there!

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Spas Around the World

By: Aeri Rose

We had been at a bar in Copenhagen the night before; talking with some fellow travelers, swapping stories and sharing recommendations.  They had been at a spa on a coast in Sweden that day and were encouraging us to go.  We had been traveling hard for a good week and a half at that point and the thought of a peaceful spa day with practically no museums or statues to gawk at sounded pretty refreshing.  Maybe they glazed over the details. Maybe we were so intrigued by the thought of a traditional Swedish Spa that we only heard what we wanted to hear.  They did say that the spa used the salty sea water in its treatment.

They neglected to mention the fact that they didn’t bring the sea water to the spa…they brought the spa-goers to the sea water. In the form of an ice cold dip in the frozen Baltic sea, with one small ladder going down into a sizable hole hacked through the frozen surface.

Not quite what we were expecting, but those travelers had looked pretty relaxed, and we were already at the spa, so we might as well embrace the local traditions and dive right in. Literally.

In many of the Nordic/Baltic countries their version of a relaxing spa day involves lounging around naked in large dry heat rooms until you’re sweating out of every pore and can’t stand a moment longer. Then you dash outside, across the snowy deck, and jump into an icy hole. The theory is that alternating dry heat with cold salt water is good for the circulation system, helps you sweat out toxins, and then cold shock your pores closed, keeping them out.

It is definitely invigorating. And after a couple of rotations we got used to both the hot sweaty nakedness of the saunas and the shocking coldness of the sea. We could even be found lounging on the still snowy deck between rounds, or walking to the very edge of the pier, barefoot, wrapped only in what was little bigger than a hand towel, relishing the invigorating yet calm energy we felt coursing through our veins.

Our spa day was an immense success. In part because we let it be. We could have turned away at the first snowy pier, or the first old naked sweaty man we passed, or the first sight of that hole hacked in the ice. But we didn’t. We embraced the newness of the experience and just went with it.

I highly recommend just going with the flow. Try out things you’ve never tried before and learn something new while learning about yourself.

Spas are usually a pretty good way to try something new. Every culture has a way to relax, and most of the are quite unique and area specific.  I mean, it would be pretty hard to make the Nordic spa day work in muggy Florida, where the water is often lukewarm at best.  Not nearly as refreshing as a cold dip in the Baltic Sea.

Some of my favorite spa days have included Turkish Baths, Korean Spas, soaking in Hot Springs, and exploring Chinese Medicine treatments.

In Turkish Baths you enter a big heated room with a giant heated marble slab in the center and small wash stations all around. You wash off, then lounge and relax on the marble slab for as long as you like. You can return to the wash stations at any time and can use extreme exfoliating soaps and sponges to really scrape off every dead cell.

Alternatively, Koreans use their spa experience as a mini-vacation.  Whole families go, and are allowed to stay for up to 24-hours. The spa house is open all night long.  There is a wet area, segregated by gender, with baths, hot soaking pools, and steam saunas.  Then, clad in little cotton uniforms, families can reunite in the dry area. The dry area is a collection of hot rooms of various temperatures and different energies. There are pine rooms, and amethyst rooms, and gold rooms, and more. Each room is designed to tap into a different healing practice. There are often comfortable chairs to lounge in in the common areas, and delicious cafes where you can get snacks and meals.

Hot springs can be found all over the world.  Small or large, these bubbling pools are often mineral filled and very healthy. Some are just holes in the ground at the end of a trail. Some have been tapped into and plumbed into large well-maintained swim centers.

In China it is easy to find a spa house specializing in massage, ear candling, cupping, acupuncture and more. Ear candling uses a lit candle to suction the ear wax and dirt out of your ear canals. Chinese Cupping Therapy uses small cups and heat to suck to the skin and to create a vacuum. This is thought to promote healing and blood flow.

I could go on endlessly about the many different spa traditions of cultures around the world.  But I think you get the point.  The next time you take a trip, look into the local spa traditions. It could be a fun way to immerse yourself in the local culture. You might find yourself relaxing in ways you never thought possible! You might even get home and install a steam sauna in your garage you love it so much!

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306545_10100339996775636_297841040_nHave you ever had the urge to just drop what you were doing, pack a bag, and set out on an adventure? Seven years and over two dozen countries later, Aeri Rose is proof that excitement, independence, and discovery await those who are bold enough to say “yes” to life’s craziest choices. When not exploring the world with her little grey backpack, Aeri Rose an be found living a nomadic lifestyle traveling the United States as a writer and entrepreneur.  To follow Aeri on all her adventures, check her out online at travelingwithaeri.com; or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/aerirose.

 

travel destination: stratford-upon-avon; FLiP W Magazine May 2016

This article is being re-posted from FLiP Magazine May 2016.  FLiP Magazine is a great publication with insight into pop-culture for both men and women! Aeri Rose is a regular contributor to FLiP W, the female focused half of the magazine.  You should definitely check it out, and subscribe for the free digital editions! Even if I’m quiet here…I’ll always find something to say there!

 

“This is very midsummer madness.” – William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night

This April marks the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare. To commemorate, theaters and groups around the world are performing and exploring the great poet’s many works of art. Whether you journey to the village where it all began, or you’re just searching for something in your own backyard, its easy to be a part of the celebrations.

If you’re looking for an adventure this summer, consider a trip to Stratford-upon-Avon. This little town in the English countryside is celebrated as the birth place of William Shakespeare. Spend a weekend visiting historic sites like Hall’s Croft (his childhood home), New Place (one of his adulthood homes), and Anne Hathaway’s cottage. Take in one of his plays, now performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company, and spend your evenings dining at rustic English pubs like The Lamplighter and The Garrick Inn.

If you’re looking for a celebration closer to home, the possibilities are endless. In New York City alone a quick internet search will turn up Central Park “sonnet slams,” summer theater performances, parades and festivals.

Museums and libraries are getting into the festivities too! Take the Shakespearian Birthday Celebration hosted by the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington D.C. Each year they host an exciting event commemorating the works of the great poet and celebrating with cake, short performances, stage fighting demonstrations, lectures on costuming and history, and more.

Some Shakespearian enthusiasts aren’t content to just watch performers on a stage. They strive to look the part of the Elizabethan noblemen and noblewomen with elaborate, intricate, and accurate costumes. Take the time to don each layer, and think about the exciting life Shakespeare led in Elizabethan London. To find your own high quality costumes like the ones in our feature photos, check out the creations of Leslie Harris and Noblesse Oblige Costumes (https://www.facebook.com/noblesseobligecostumes/).

This summer, whether you’ve read every work of William Shakespeare, or you’ve never even picked up a one act play, try to learn one new thing about this incredible playwright. Or, as the great bard himself once wrote, “We know what we are but know not what we may be.” Enjoy the chance to learn something new about Shakespeare, and maybe even about yourself too!

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306545_10100339996775636_297841040_nHave you ever had the urge to just drop what you were doing, pack a bag, and set out on an adventure? Seven years and over two dozen countries later, Aeri Rose is proof that excitement, independence, and discovery await those who are bold enough to say “yes” to life’s craziest choices. When not exploring the world with her little grey backpack, Aeri Rose an be found living a nomadic lifestyle traveling the United States as a writer and entrepreneur.  To follow Aeri on all her adventures, check her out online at travelingwithaeri.com; or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/aerirose.

so here’s the plan…

Remember those pesky details I mentioned in the last post? Well, it seems that details spawn faster than the Easter bunny’s slutty cousins in the spring.  Cause boy oh boy is it going to be a crazy summer for me.  Wanna hear all the details so far?

Well you better, cause I want to tell you! If you don’t I guess you could just stop reading. Go away!

Still here? Awesome.

So.

Right now I am in Waxahachie, Texas.  I got here about a week and a half ago after a hastily, though skillfully, completed pack down in Arizona.  Here, I quickly moved into the super wonderful booth I am renting for the season and prepared for opening weekend of Scarborough Faire.  I do love the booth. I’m rather proud of it, honestly.  The clothing racks are curvy branches and really give the shop an organic flow.  And I put them up myself. With a power drill!  The skirts look colorful and wonderful hanging on them. Roxanne and I have had a great time playing fairy, and I have every confidence that she will be awesome when I have to drive away and leave her in charge of things.

Look at my racks!
Look at my racks!
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Aeri Rose, Scarborough 2014

So when am I driving away and leaving her in charge of things? In two days. Aah!!

On Sunday afternoon I will climb back in to Shelly the Sportvan, who is currently full of everything I’ll need to set up a booth at the Virginia Renaissance Festival and all of the things I hopefully will not need when I return to Scarborough at the end of this mad adventure.

After I climb into Shelly and turn her on I will proceed to drive from Waxahachie, TX to Denton, MD- approximately 1500 miles and/or 22 hours of straight driving.  I will need to do that drive within 48 hours in order to catch a flight to Italy from Dulles Airport by 11:00 pm Tuesday night.  I am hoping to do it in about 30 hours, leaving me “plenty” of time to catch up on necessary things like renewing my business license and/or sleeping.

So I climb on the airplane and delight in the ability to sleep, or read, or do anything other than pay attention to where I am going.  Ten hours and fifteen minutes later I land in Istanbul, Turkey where I will probably try to go explore  the city for a bit if they will let me out of the airport. I have a heinous 24 hour lay over after all.  I am certainly not spending all that time staring at other bleary-eyed travelers near Gate B30 of the Ataturk International Airport.

Anyway. So flight to Turkey. Mini Turkish Adventure. Short flight from Istanbul to Rome. Hopefully manageable navigation of customs, etc. Catch commuter train from Airport to Termini Station. Catch 10:30 pm train from Rome to Cefalu, Sicily. Enjoy train ride down Italian coast and Train ON A FERRY ride across the bit of water separating Sicily and Italy.  Get to Cefalu. Get picked up by family in Cefalu.  Yay family!

Operation: Crazy Family in Sicily Adventure begins. Yippie!

Operation: Crazy Family in Sicily Adventure ends. Boo!

Return to Annapolis again via heinous Istanbul layover. Return the evening of May 1st.  Sleep, or something.

May 2nd I drive out to the Virginia Faire Site near Lake Anna and meet up with Team Wonder-Fairy to set up our booth.

After that it starts to slow down. I just have a wedding on the west coast to catch, and to get back to Scarborough for the end of the faire. And then get back to Virginia. Somehow. Even though I’m probably leaving Shelly with the Wonder-Fairies to use as a safe and dry storage spot. And then there are some more shows and festivals along the east coast I might do. Or maybe I’ll be running out to help in Colorado.  Or maybe back to Italy with my sister.

Who knows!

I’ll be somewhere on the planet. That’s good enough for me!

Bring it on summer! I have caffeine and glitter! I’m not afraid of you!

Wonder-Fairies Unite!
Wonder-Fairies Unite!

 

Wish me luck and stay tuned for updates, mishaps, adventures, and mushrooms! Mushrooms? Sure, why not?

 

With Love,

~Aeri

traveling like a vacationer

I make a great traveler. I make a terrible vacationer.  If this is what planning a trip feels like for most people, than I don’t blame them for not traveling very often.  I had no idea. Honestly.

This April my mother (blessed saint that she is) is taking her husband, Jeff, and my Grandma, Anna, to San Ambrosio, Italy, to visit our Sicilian Family.  (On a side note there seem to be an excessive amount of commas in that sentence but I can’t seem to ditch any of them.)

They all really hoped I could come along.  I really hoped I could too.  At first I thought I couldn’t. April is a busy month for me, because I am a vendor at the Scarborough Renaissance Festival.  Last year I ran the tent by myself and barely had a helper to take a pee break, let alone an epic international family adventure. But through a clever and convenient series of events it seems I actually WILL have the opportunity to go with them.  I have a great employee whom I am fully confident in leaving alone for extended pee breaks, and even for epic international family adventures.  And I have a booth. With real walls and a real roof under which my awesome employee can work with ease.

So with excitement and a slight feeling that I was somehow playing hooky, I visited my trusty travel site, Kayak.com, and began searching through options.

My initial instinct was to drive up from Texas to Maryland and fly from Dulles International Airport. Mostly because I was going to be vending at a Renaissance Festival in Virginia in May and it was a good excuse to drive the tent and some stock up early.  It also seemed to work out because flights from D.C. to Rome were the cheapest I’d seen (around $850).  But then I really started to think about the details.  Details”, I am learning, are a traveler’s worst nightmare. The more needy, clingy, bossy “details” you have to entertain, the more stressful and less pleasant travel seems to become.

First there was the details of timing.  My flights weren’t on the exact same days as the rest of my family’s because I needed to leave time for the drive north and I wanted to try to be away from the festival in Texas for as few weekends as possible.  But once I factored in flight time, lay overs, and extra time spent taking the train from Rome to Cefalu (the nearest train stop to my Sicilian Family’s tiny village of San Ambrosio), I realized that I would only really have 5 days in Sicily at the same time as my family.

Back to the drawing board.

It was right about this time that I realized how many more details were secretly latched onto my first “traveling as a business professional trying to fit in a little family vacation time” trip.  Like tiny leeches you don’t notice at first, suddenly these details had gorged themselves on my stress and grown to massive pulsing blood thirsty little buggers.

There were departure times to consider.  If I flew from Dallas instead of D.C. I could cut out the drive north and depart a few days earlier…but then who could take me to the airport?

There were arrival times to consider. If I flew directly into Palermo instead of Rome I could cut out the extra time on the train up and down the Italian coast. But it was still a two hour drive/train ride to Cefalu where my Sicilian Family could pick me up in the car.  But that meant an arrival time that allowed time to take a bus to the train station and catch a train…that arrived at a reasonable time for a “young girl” traveling alone to arrive.  Similarly, all flights home from Palermo seemed to leave at 6:00 am, which would require taking the train into the city the night before. I felt a headache beginning to throb just thinking about trying to convince my Sicilian Family to let me spend a night in The Big Scary City all alone.

Let me catch you up to speed. In 2006 (2007 maybe?) I visited San Ambrosio by myself.  And when I left, my Uncle Sarro somehow got a hold of my mom’s work number and called her to find out why she hadn’t called yet to tell them I had arrived at home safely.  She hadn’t called yet because I was still in the air! They miscounted the time difference and literally expected me to arrive home before I was physically capable of doing so.  I can only imagine how much they worried (needlessly of course, but worry and guilt are an Italian’s greatest talents) while I traveled that time, and how much more they would worry with every step that kept me alone and in transit this time. Explain to them that I had traversed continents alone with nothing but a backpack and, well, a backpack? No. NOPE. Not even going to go near that with a 10 foot pole wrapped in rosaries.

Convincing them to “let me” fly in and out of Rome instead of Palermo and take the train in and out of Cefalu was a fight I was leaving to my mother. (Did I mention she was a saint?)

What blood thirsty details am I leaving out? Train time tables, hotel and hostel reservations probably, my awesome employee and her sufficient stock of inventory, oh right and price.  Flying DC to Rome was coming in at $850 or so, where as flying Dallas to Palermo was coming in at around $1400.  And that wasn’t even for a great flight that kicked all those other nagging details to the curb.

ARGH! Is this how hard it is to plan a trip for a vacationer? I like the trips when all I need to know are sort of kind of the days I have free, a starting point, and and ending point.  I now truly appreciate the family that has gotten used to me coming and going, and at this point just hopes for a list of addresses and a copy of my passport.  I will never snicker at those I consider homebodies when they admit they’d rather just stay home and relax when they have holiday time off from work.  If THIS is the gauntlet they have to fight through just to get on the plane than I really don’t blame them.

I still don’t know what flight I’ll end up on. I know I have to book something soon. I’d just like to throw a tantrum a little longer first.

With grumbles and pouts,

Aeri

Aeri Rose? No! фея Роуз!!

Sometimes travel surprises you. In Estonia I wasn’t expecting much more than a lay over between calm Helsinki and crazy St. Petersburg. In Russia I was expecting a break from the Baltic’s high prices, and the chaos and confusion of illiteracy when faced with a foreign alphabet. In both cases, I was dead wrong.

Tallinn was the most delightful city I’ve visited in a long time. I want to repeat everything wonderful I had to say about the adorable sea fortress island in Helsinki. Historic Old Town Tallinn has the well preserved, clean, cared-for quaintness that any tourist hot spot should have, while still maintaining it’s life and authenticity. Sure, the main tourist squares have young kids in costumes hawking sweet nuts and post cards in front of a Medieval Times-esque restaurant, playing the kitschy “Preserved Medieval Village” card. But just off the main square, less than a block away in some cases, are delightful and unique cafes, restaurants, and modern art galleries that care for the historic exteriors of the buildings while not being bound by the time period.

I wandered through galleries filled with surrealist paintings and fantasy landscapes. I dined at incredibly Eco-conscious and delicious neo-Indian restaurants. And I made the most fantastic discovery in the form of a little court yard off of a side street. The courtyard itself looked like the scene out of a Wonderland Tea party, with little tables, and chairs, vintage couches, and beautiful pillows. Vines grew along the buildings and across power lines. Surrounding the court yard was a cafe, a chocolatarie, a hotel, and a few shops selling hand crafted goods like wooden jewelery, sheepskin shoes, and metalsmith fixtures. I took a break on a pink couch with blue pillows and enjoyed an incredible hot chocolate while taking in the energy.

Such a delightful little court yard

Though I only had one day in Tallinn, perhaps it was for the best, because the wide variety of high quality hand made goods available really tapped into my wallet. I would wager a bet that Tallinn as a whole will end up being that “thing that sucked me in” on this trip. I left with a much heavier bag, laden with wooden and amber jewelery, wool cloaks, furry accessories, and more.
When I left I took the bus from Tallinn to St. Petersburg, a journey that takes between 6 and 8 hours, depending on the back up at the border crossing. There, all passengers must give up their passports for inspection, collect their things, walk through passport control and meet the bus on the other side. I made it through without a hitch, and arrived in St. Petersburg a few hours ahead of my friend Sandra, who was meeting me there later that day.

Once Sandra arrived we went out for a dusky walk around town, to catch some of the sights and find some dinner. Be prepared to spend a lot on food in Russia’s big cities. Meals were averaging at least $10 (300 RUB) each in low quality Russian chain restaurants, and even there could easily climb to $20 if drinks or desserts are included.

I felt overwhelmed by the foreign alphabet at first, seeing words that just looked like gibberish with no discernible clues for translation. But by the end of the second day I had a decent grasp of the alphabet and could slowly and laboriously sound out words, many of which were very similar to English. Suddenly the Cyrillic alphabet was little more than a puzzle to work out.  I think my favorite are the ones that actually ARE English words, just respelled using the alternate alphabet.

One of my favorites…both sides say the same thing!

The next day was full of sight-seeing. We started at the Hermitage, then visited some churches and cathedrals, and ended up at a train station to buy our tickets to Moscow. In Russian tourist sites, be prepared to buy two tickets: one to get in, and one to take pictures. Though if you if you don’t plan on taking a lot of blatant pictures, it seems you can slip in a few subterfuge shots easily enough.

It seems you can hit most of the main sights in St. Petersburg in a day, so on Wednesday we headed out into the suburbs to visit Catherine’s Park and Palace. More castles, more opulence, more well tended gardens, and amazing wooden floors. If you have the time and the leisure, the park is a nice place to bring a picnic lunch to enjoy around the lake or on a bench after taking in the palace and the Amber Room. The Amber Room is, as it sounds, a room whose walls are made all of amber. It is certainly incredible. What is even more incredible is that this is the second amber room. The first one was disassembled and hidden, and then lost, during the German invasions in WWII. This one was restored between 1987 and 2003 by Germany to improve German-Russian relations.

The dress that Catherine was wearing when painted! That’s COOL!!!

That night we took a canal cruise, to see St. Petersburg by water and appreciate the well-lit grandiose buildings. It was a very pleasant little hour long tour. Now I am sitting on a fast train, hurtling it’s way towards Moscow. We have only two days and lots to see there before we again find ourselves on the train, treking eastwards on a daunting three days journey to Irkutsk and Lake Baikal, our last stop in Russia.

всегда приключение

~ фея

is a sea-faring travel angel a travel mermaid?

Sorry sauna and cider review. Today was so great that I need to talk about it first. Right now.

TODAY WAS GREAT!

I mean, the whole trip has been great, but today was REALLY AMAZING!

I think it started out this morning with a change of attitude.  Or maybe it started last night with my sauna detox and centering, I just didn’t realize it.

This morning I was awoken, again, by the same woman who has woken me up for the last three days.  She was in her mid to late 50’s, and one of those chatty types.  They’re great in hostels, typically, to break the ice and get all the shy kids talking.  I usually love them. I don’t love them when they need to talk about their Danish study abroad at 8:00 in the morning in the dorm room.  That’s how I woke up the first two days. To her nervous laughter and rapid fire chatter.  This morning she didn’t have time to wake me up with chatter, her machine gun snores woke me up at 6:30 am instead.  So I was a little disgruntled and inhospitable when I saw her in the breakfast room sitting by herself.  I could have sat at another table, by myself as well, but that really would have been insulting in hostel culture.  So I didn’t.  I sat down across from her with a smile and took a sip from my coffee.  And to my chagrin I had a delightful conversation about art, fashion, and aging that lasted until I just had to leave or I would miss my ferry to Estonia.  OK Universe. Fine! She was delightful and I was no longer disgruntled.

That alone would have made for a good day.  But wait, there’s more! When I arrived at the docks I discovered that ALL of the ferry trips were canceled for the day, due to rough seas.  Yikes!

Not to fear! There was another ferry, a BIGGER ferry leaving in an hour and a half from the other docks . The docks across town? Yeah, those docks.  “You can make it,” they said.

“OK, I’ll go for it,” I said.

“I’m going there too.” said the woman in front of me.  “If you don’t mind a squeeze, you are welcome to ride in the car with us.  We have room for another.  I think if you try to take the tram you will not have enough time to change your tickets.”

Yep, THANK YOU Travel Angel! Travel Mermaid! Again you are there when I need you  most.  With the help of the Travel Angel and her boyfriend the driver, who happened to be from Estonia and recommended some good restaurants to check out, I arrived at the other docks with plenty of time to get a new boarding pass and stroll onto the BIG ferry with style and swagger.  Or maybe just a little swaying as my top-heavy-backpack-laden self found her sea legs.

The ride and arrival in Tallinn were uneventful, and before too long I had dropped my things at the hostel.  I was out roaming the streets in search of some grub when I wandered past the Opera House.  Just like Helsinki, there was an Opera about to begin, this time Carmen, and this time I was able to get a rush student ticket  in the ninth row for only $5.00!

How, you may ask, did I get a student ticket?  Babson College, my alma matre, does not put an expiration date on their student ID cards. As long as I have to put up with people asking me what high school I go to (yep, about three weeks ago at a festival I was asked not once but twice what high school I was attending) I’m going to take advantage of my assumed student status and rock those discounts at every opportunity.

And that was my super amazing day.

1. New energy

2. New friend

3. Travel Mermaid

4. Practically free fantastic performance.

 

Remember, in travel and in life, the energy you put out is the energy you receive! 

Think Happy!

travel angels can show up anywhere- land, air, or sea!

 

~Aeri

now you helsinki me

I have spent the last two days exploring Helsinki. It’s been a bit slower than some of my trips, but it was exactly the speed it seems I needed to travel right now. Recognizing when you need a slow trip and when you need an active action packed trip is an important skill for a serial traveler to have. Otherwise you’ll just burn yourself out.

Though it was leisurely, it certainly wasn’t boring. I started off yesterday with a brisk walk to the historic center of town. Passing my first “tourist shop” I stopped in to have a look around and was delightfully surprised by what I saw. Finland has had a great idea! They put hand made crafts in their tourist shops. All those little hand made bags, jewelery, and funky clothes that tourists and hippies love to buy are now what tourists are forced to buy if they want to get “chintzy” souvenirs. Ok, so I did see a “magnet, bottle opener, flags and socks” kiosk a little later, but at least the majority of the shops were filled with these hand made goodies.

I spent the rest of the day taking in the main sights and getting a feel for the town, which really is beautiful. I wasn’t mislead when I claimed it was clean and green. It is! And you can even drink the water! Their tap water is more delicious than many bottled brands I’ve tried over the years, which made me all the gladder to have my reusable water bottle with me.

I lunched on smoked salmon and a reindeer sausage at a dock-side tent market, tried some linden berries, and picked up a cinnamon pastry from the Old Market House. Market Houses are great, they are usually long buildings filled with little specialty vendors selling specific things like breads, pastries, cheeses, meats, fishes, etc. You get the picture.

After lunch I bought a round trip ferry ticket to Suomenlinna Island and Sea Fortress. There was a hostel I wanted to check out there, as an option for an extra night in Helsinki, and I heard the island was pretty too.

Pretty is an understatement.  It was EXTREMELY PRETTY. But it wasn’t beautiful. Beautiful landscapes are natural and wild and chaotic. This was a naval fortress so no blade of grass wasn’t consciously planted, but where the landscapers did decide to plant was well done. The buildings were adorable and quaint. The trails were well kept, and the rocky beaches and bluffs (at least, those not adjacent to a rocky wall) were just secluded enough to let a traveler think they stumbled upon a real find. Sadly the hostel was booked full for the next night, so I couldn’t stay, but I spent most of the four hours I had left hatching plans and schemes of how and when I would get back too the island and how long I could stay. I’ve decided that I’m giving myself two years to write a full length novel, and if I haven’t done it by then than I’m moving to this beautiful peaceful manicured little homestead and staying until the book is written. I am definitely adding this place to my list of 1001 places I think you should visit. I recommend planning a ghost hunters tour.  Between the hidden glens, and dark military tunnels, this island was seething with unseen energies.

Anyway, after this very pleasant day full of walking I realized another very important thing on the boat ride back to Helsinki. Pack what you know. What I mean is this. On my Mediterranean trip last winter I packed things I thought would be a good example for other travelers: comfortable flats (chucks) and a good day bag full of zippers, pockets, and clips, newly bought from Sears for the trip. The Chucks were alright…until I lost toe nails after a long day hike in Goreme, Turkey. The bag was terrible! It split a side seam less than three days into my trip. This time I knew better. I packed things I use daily, things that have seen hard use and held up just fine, things that I was comfortable in and knew I could rely on. I packed my Medieval Moccasin shoes, closed toe high tops to be exact, and my Moresca satchel.

On my walk back to the hostel I was at loose ends. I was still pretty full from my Finnish Feast, but I wasn’t ready to go home yet. Luckily, I happened to pass by a bar I remembered being mentioned in a visitors guide provided by the hostel. The bar was called Storyville, and was the “best jazz bar in town.” And it was really pretty great. I enjoyed an amazing cider called Crowmoor that isn’t in the States yet and really should be because it was amazing. Did I mention it was great? I don’t want to be cliché and say it actually tasted like fresh sweet apples but, aw hell. It tasted like fresh sweet apples! It didn’t have that sugary tartness that promises hangovers to come the way most other ciders do. The band, yes there was a live band, wasn’t too bad either. Though I arrived to an instrumental version of Johnny Cash’s Folsom Prision.  “Its a small world after all.”

Dinner that night was a travel favorite of mine: warm soup, hard bread, and strong cheese from the market. This time it was carrot soup, a dark rye bread, and Prima Donna cheese. And a few more ciders. Aparently they love cider in Finland, because there were at least a half a dozen different brands. I might have picked up one of each to conduct a serious taste review. All in the name of travel research of course. I’ve been having a couple each night. There have been some wins and some misses. I’ll let you know the final results when I’m done.

A few minutes (well, the internet was slow so it was more like an hour and a half) spent planning the next few days, and I was ready for bed. And that was all yesterday.

Today I had plans to visit the open-air museum on another island nearby, but it was grey, cold, and raining intermittently; so I decided to check out the Finland National Museum instead. I’ll be honest, I’m pretty partial to a good history museum every once in a while. I always find something to inspire me creatively, and I learn a few cool new facts. This time my design idea was inspired by cave man wall paintings. I really like the thick white strokes and simple animal shapes. I think I’d like to experiment with painting white shapes and patterns on leather fairy clothes. My favorite fact? In the 1390’s there was a band of pirates who roved the Baltics called The Vitalians, or “The Victual Brotherhood.” I like that. I think it is a great name for a traveling foodie’s website, or a secret group of extremely severe food critics.

Anyway, by the time I was done with the museum it had cleared up outside, so I took a stroll back down to the docks, this time to buy a ferry ticket for tomorrow. I’ll be leaving Helsinki to spend a couple of days in Tallinn, Estonia. From there I’ll take the bus to St. Petersburg. In addition to adding another country to the trip, planning this little excursion in has saved me tons of money. Rather than a 150 Euro train ticket from Helsinki to St. Petersburg, and 46 Euro for two more nights at the hostel; I’ll be paying 33 Euro for a ferry ride, 17 Euro for two nights in a hostel, and 25 Euro for a bus ride. That’s almost 200 Euro plus food to stay in expensive Helsinki vs. less than 80 Euro plus food to stay in inexpensive Estonia. Yay!!

Ticket in hand, I felt that my brief yet wonderful time in Helsinki was coming to an end. I knew there was only one more thing I had to do…SAUNA!! I try to sample a country’s spa and relaxation customs whenever possible. In addition to keeping me stress free while traveling, it is a really fun way to get to know a new country. So far I’ve tried Turkish Baths, Swedish Saunas, Korean Spas, Chinese Massage, and now Finnish Saunas. I think that soon I should dedicate an entire post to spa days, but since this post is entirely too long already, I’ll just keep you in suspense.

Kippis!

 

~Aeri

PS- I’m sorry there are no pictures yet.  The internet is very slow here.

 

 

 

 

first star on the right and straight on till morning

Last night I began my Great Railway Adventure. After a day filled with last minute errands and quickly hemmed pants, my dad and trusty airport chauffeur dropped me off at Dulles International Airport yet again- this time headed for Helsinki, Finland with a layover in Iceland. The planes were small, but I guess that’s alright considering that via Iceland, the trans-Atlantic crossing is split into two short flights.

The first flight last night was pretty. We silently glided through the darkness, with puffy white clouds below us hiding the choppy ocean waves I knew were there. The moon shown incredibly brightly in the sky, but it was not too bright to drown out the stars. I felt like I could be traveling to Neverland, following Peter’s directions: just follow the first star on the right and head straight on till morning and there adventure awaits.

The constellation Orion seemed to lead the way. I saw the full constellation out the window, just over the right wing, like I was looking straight across and not up at him like I have done from the ground so many times before. Were we equals last night, Orion and I? He seems like a good man to have in my life. He’s the only one I seem to look to for guidance, and certainly the only one I’ve chased around the world or even around the block. Aloof and unattainable, he has seen and known more than I ever will. Yet he has remained steady and controlled throughout his vast experiences, where I sometimes crave the chaos and instability that my travels offer me.

I thought I would continue this contemplation of my perfect star man, but as soon as I touch down in Helsinki I was overwhelmed by different thoughts entirely- mainly wonderful, “This is so EASY! This place is so BEAUTIFUL!” thoughts.

Because it was and it is. I landed, grabbed my backpack from the conveyor belt, and stopped by information for some directions to the Olympic Stadium, where I had reserved a bed at the hostel within- the aptly named Stadium Hostel. The bus ride was so easy that I barely had to focus on the stops and was able to let my mind wander out the window and take in the wide, amazingly clean streets of Helsinki. This was a city that was so green and blue! It was full of trees and lakes and streams. The weather was a perfect sunny 17 decrees Celsius. For 6.20 Euro I was dropped off a block away from the hostel, and the brief stroll told me that this might be called a city, but it didn’t smell or sound like one. I felt relaxed and comfortable immediately. I wasn’t overwhelmed by the stress and chaos that usually surrounds the first few moments in a new city when you’re trying to find your way to your lodging for the first time, disoriented from the loud sounds and unfamiliar landmarks and still groggy after a recent mind numbing flight.

I practically skipped through the front door of the hostel, checked in, and found my bed ready to be made up in the crisp clean white sheets I had been handed. I had so much extra energy, saved for the stressful first journey that was anything but, that I took a quick shower to wash off the last of my travel cobwebs, repacked my purse with the essentials, and hit the city streets once again.

I was in search of food. Finnish food. A quick stroll through a grocery store and I had an idea of what food prices might be like (expensive!) while I was here. I was also delightfully impressed with their large hard cider selection, a collection I shall be exploring in depth while I am here.

After wandering for a few more blocks I settled on a Nepalese restaurant, not Finnish, I know but a new cuisine none the less. It was a good decision. Nepalese coffee is AMAZING. It is everything I wanted Turkish coffee to be. It was strong and sweet and flavored with exotic spices that I couldn’t place. I think I detected cardamom, but I’m not sure what else.

Now I am back at the hostel and rapidly crashing. I think I’ll take a few moments to plan out the next few days and then I will turn in early. I was happy to find that the festival gods were favoring me again. I landed in Helsinki at the start of World Design Week 2012, celebrating Helsinki as this year’s Design Capital of the World. There will be a lot of fun, interesting and FREE things happening in the next few days. I can’t wait to find out what. When I know, you’ll know!

Cheers,

Aeri