Author Archives: curlygirly

Milos, Greece: The Island of Colors and Venus de Milo



Due to its volcanic origin, this horseshoe-shaped island in the Western part of the Cyclades has over 70 beaches with white and black sand that sit alongside white, pink, and red rocks. Most of these beaches — with clear waters of blue, azure, emerald, green, red and violet colors — are accessible by roads and dirt paths.

However, some of the most beautiful features of the island can only be reached by boat. One such gem is the famous cove of Kleftiko (Bandit’s Lair), which is said to have been an old pirates’ hideout. With its imposing rock formations and crystal-clear water, swimming and snorkeling through the natural caves are popular activities.


Venus de Milo

Venus de Milo

One of the most famous marble sculptures in the world, the Aphrodite of Milos, better known as the Venus de Milo, was discovered within Milos’ ancient city ruins by a Greek farmer in 1820. The statue, which dates from ~100 BC, was purchased from the farmer by a French Consul. It was then presented to King Louis XVIII of France, who later donated it to the Louvre Museum in Paris where it still stands today.

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The Ancient Theatre of Epidaurus

Imagine standing center-stage in a theatre, dropping a coin, and someone sitting 55 rows up clearly hearing the clinking of the coin on the stage’s floor, all without the aid of a microphone or speakers. This must be a multi-million-dollar, state-of-the-art building in a major city, right? Wrong. This is the Ancient Theatre of Epidaurus.

The Ancient Theatre of Epidaurus

The Ancient Theatre of Epidaurus

Designed by the architect Polykleitos the Younger in the 4th Century BC, this outdoor theatre is located in the Peloponnese on the side of a mountain. It is renowned for its unparalleled and perfect acoustics, architectural symmetry, lush landscape, and unobstructed views for the ~14,000 spectators it can seat for performances.

For centuries the theatre had been covered in trees and soil, which helped to keep it nearly intact. In 1881, based on writings from an ancient Greek geographer that mentioned a theatre at this location, a prominent Greek archaeologist was confident he would unearth it among the hills. After six years of excavations, the theatre was revealed. And since 1938, it has been in use hosting plays, yearly summer festivals, and thousands of tourists.

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Aesop and His Fables

Little is known regarding Aesop’s place of origin or his life in general for that matter. It’s believed he was a Greek slave, and may have been born around 620 BCE.

However, what we do know about Aesop are his over 2000-year-old fables, with their long-enduring moral lessons. Mostly told through animal main characters, some of these famous stories include, “The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse”, “The Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing”, “The Tortoise and the Hare”, “The Boy Who Cried Wolf”, and “The Goose that Laid the Golden Eggs.” Many phrases and idioms can also be attributed to Aesop, such as “sour grapes”, “crying wolf”, and “lion’s share”.

Scroll with Fable

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Pausanias: The Original Travel Writer



Born in ~110 CE, Pausanias was a Greek author, traveler, and geographer known for his 10-volume book, Description of Greece. The oldest cultural travel guide in existence, the book describes ancient Greece’s important sites and historic places from his own first-hand observations.

Based on the details of what he saw, archaeologists have retraced Pausanias’ footsteps, leading to great discoveries and excavations of ancient sites. Historians have used his invaluable book as a resource to reconstruct what life was like in antiquity, as Pausanias’ writings took place while cities were still active.


Athena Parthenos Replica

Athena Parthenos Replica

One of Pausanias’ best-known descriptions is that of the virgin goddess Athena’s statue that once stood inside the Parthenon. He said:

The statue itself is made of ivory and gold. On the middle of her helmet is placed a likeness of the Sphinx . . . and on either side of the helmet are griffins in relief. . . . The statue of Athena is upright, with a tunic reaching to the feet, and on her breast the head of Medusa is worked in ivory. She holds a statue of Victory about four cubits high, and in the other hand a spear; at her feet lies a shield and near the spear is a serpent.

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New York State’s Capitol Building

* The capitol took 32 years to build (1867-1899), and cost $25 million (equivalent to $500 million in today’s dollars).

* The Great Western Staircase, famously known as the Million Dollar Staircase, is a masterpiece that took an astonishing 14 years to build.

* The Capitol Flag Room has a large collection of flags, including those from the Civil War, the Battle of San Juan Hill, the Spanish-American War, and World War I and II.

Some building details from the capitol’s interior:

New York State Capitol Building

New York State Capitol Building

New York State Capitol Building

New York State Capitol Building

New York State Capitol Building

New York State Capitol Building

New York State Capitol Building

New York State Capitol Building

New York State Capitol Building

New York State Capitol Building

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When You’re A Guest, Leave It Better Than You Found It

We’ve all encountered the guest who knocks something over and pretends like he didn’t see it. Or the overnight guest who leaves her wet towels in a heap in the corner of the bathroom.

When you are traveling, and you are a guest in someone’s home, there is no specific manual with a list of bullet points to follow on how to be a good house guest. And there is no rule on how to be a good host. However, no matter what your relationship is with whomever you are visiting, near or far, you will leave a lasting impression on your hosts with every step of your behavior, and most notably how you treat someone’s space while you are there.

I’d like to believe that most hosts  prepare their home even just a little when they know they have guests coming to stay, whether it’s for a few hours or many days. When arriving at a host’s house and it looks clean, it’s easy to forget how much work it took to get it to all look so effortless for your arrival and enjoyment. Remember: it took a whole lot of work and love to get it that way, probably several hours and many, many dollars.

In terms of how a guest should conduct ones self in the space being allotted to place things, to sleep, to shower and dine, I have, over the years, whittled down the non-existent, formal, bulleted list to one key point that’s also an old adage:

leave it better than you found it

I take this life lesson’s meaning in a couple of ways:

1) If you must use/move/do to something that is not yours, make sure you return whatever it is to its original state, at the very least, or even better than it was originally to show your respect for the item that wasn’t yours.


2) If the thing you are contemplating using/moving/doing will require you to then have to leave it better than you found it, then maybe the best course of action is not to use/move/do anything in the first place.

A Personal Account

Some family came to visit my home, which I share with my parents. Since the family visiting consisted of two parents and a toddler, I gave up my large bedroom for them because a) I felt it was the courteous thing to do and b) I figured they would appreciate the extra space. I wiped down everything, put unsafe things away from the child’s reach, switched out the bedding, put coasters on my desk, and placed runners on top of my dressers, desk and nightstand. All of this was in an effort to make things comfortable for them and so I wouldn’t have to say common sense things like, “Please don’t put drinks directly on my furniture… again.” These visual cues would surely do the talking for me, right?

One day they left to visit other family for a few hours. While they were gone, my father said I should open the door to their bedroom so more heat could flow into that room for their comfort.



I stood shocked upon opening the door. There were dirty diapers hanging out of the filled-to-capacity trash can. The runner I had purposefully covered the nightstand with was violently shoved back to the wall; in its stead were the wife’s used earplugs sitting flush on the bare nightstand. My dresser had been visibly moved away from the wall. A large mirror that normally leaned against the wall on top of my dresser had been moved across the room, and was now lying flat on my desk. And the pièce de résistance… a painting that has been mounted on my wall for at least 15 years had been taken down. It was replaced with a video camera to monitor the
baby. Because of the height of where the camera was, I knew this meant someone had to stand on the dresser in order to mount the camera. The wife had asked me if she could use the blow dryer that was clearly made available for any and all guests in the bathroom, but logic told her that climbing on furniture to remove a painting required no such similar permission.

When they left our home to return to their own home and I went to change my bedding, I was given the lingering gift of a used earplug. I swear I threw it out, but it somehow wound up in my washing machine.

Overflowing trash

Overflowing trash

In prior visits, these guests have left behind breast milk stains on my dressers, nightstand, and computer, as well as breast milk inside one of our daily use drinking glasses that was left sitting on my father’s desk in his office. They’ve spilled coffee on both the dining room carpet and my bedroom carpet years ago, both of which still shine bright today. Plates are left with food on them on the dining room table. When the air conditioning blew too cold near them in the summer, vents were closed, leaving my father to worry about a possible mechanical issue. And when the air temperature in their bedroom was too cold in the winter, the thermostat was jacked up to as high as 76 degrees in order to warm up one room in a large house, leaving my father to jump up out of his sleep in a sweat. And my favorite has to be the overflowing trash can in the bathroom, where our guests were clearly trying to make a basket from the other side of the house.

All that said…

leave it better than you found it

When you travel to stay at someone else’s home, your manners and etiquette do matter – they do affect people. They affect the people who have to clean up in your wake, it creates hostile feelings when a mess is left behind, it leaves behind a feeling of hurt that your hosts weren’t respected. And it forces a writer to write an entire story about it.

Most importantly, make sure that you feel proud of the positive impression you make on others while visiting their home. Make sure that you’re proud of yourself and that you respect yourself for the behavior you put forth towards anyone you encounter in this lifetime, but especially if you’re a guest in their home.

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Why Don’t New Yorkers Eat?

Forgive the sweeping generalization, New Yorkers, but why don’t you eat? Why are your refrigerators empty? I genuinely want to know.

Now, when I say “New Yorkers”, I’m referring to those of you in New York City. I’m also a New Yorker, but I live upstate. I love our great state of New York, and New York City is truly one of a kind.

Every time I think of visiting New York City, I immediately get very excited at the thought of the great city, its energy, and all of the magnificent things to do and see. Then the dread of visiting my friends and family living there sets in: I know I will starve in their apartments.

For years, each time I’ve gone to visit, no one I know has had any food in their refrigerators. There is no offer of food or drink, and there is no effort to buy food or drink for the special occasion of someone visiting their home.

So I wonder: are New Yorkers super humans who require less food than the rest of us, are they too broke to afford food, or is it just too hard to carry bags of food into walk-up apartments and even ones with elevators?

I recently decided to take a weekend trip to the city so I could see my nephew. I knew the risk of starvation, but I did it anyway. The day before my trip I baked a dozen apple cinnamon muffins that would both serve to feed me as well as provide a polite gift to share with my hosts upon arrival. My hosts would be presented with the muffins under the guise of “Look, I baked you some muffins because I thought you’d like them!”, but I knew I’d be shoving them down my throat in the bathroom.

I packed my small cooler bag with muffins, bananas, apples, and a container of nuts so I could sustain not only my health but also my energy until my hosts decided it was time for me to eat. And this leads me to a second point on New Yorkers not eating…

How can New Yorkers not have their first meal, let alone their first bite of food, until 1 or 2 in the afternoon? If you get up at noon, then yes, this makes sense. But if you are up at 7AM how can your body be fueled enough to even carry you in an upright position to a restaurant 6-7 hours later?

During my 2-day visit, I was offered exactly 2 times a piece of fruit and ice cream at random, odd, late hours, which I inhaled to try to show them that if a guest accepts the offering it’s because they probably really wanted it. But on both days, my hosts didn’t even attempt to bring up the first meal of the day until noon. No, we wouldn’t be eating upon the mention – it was actually more of a forewarning that we would really be leaving by 1 or 2 to get to said meal.

When my hosts went into the bathroom, or took a break to change their baby, I dove into my bag, and down went at least 2 muffins. By the time they got back, I was on to my piece of fruit. As I ate my own food, and they saw me eating my own food, I couldn’t help but wonder what they thought of me bringing my own food. Did they think I was weird for bringing my own food to their home, or for being so hungry like a non-New Yorker? And, more importantly, didn’t they stop to think that maybe they had failed as hosts on some level?

I’ve often wondered if it was “just me”, but, alas, I am not the only one to have experienced this food issue while in New York. One of my best friends has told me for years that whenever she and her husband visit their friends in New York City, they have learned to pack loads of food. She told me they scarf down their energy bars in the mornings on their air mattress or while in the bathroom as their hosts just sip on coffee until late afternoon. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard her exasperatedly say to me, “They just don’t eat!”

I realize that everyone has a different take on being a host and there is no formula for being a great one. But please, please, I beg you please, for those of you in the world who ever plan on having a guest in your home ever in your life, at the very least, please keep a loaf of bread in your freezer and some peanut butter and jelly in the cupboards just in case. You may keep a future guest from starving to death.

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The Albany Mummies

* In 1909, Samuel Brown, a board member for the Albany Institute of History and Art, purchased two ancient Egyptian mummies and their coffins from the Cairo Museum in Egypt.

* The mummies date from the 21st Dynasty and the Ptolemaic Period.

* A study of the hieroglyphs on one of the coffins revealed that it contained the mummy of a sculptor and priest named Ankhefenmut.

Albany Institute of History & Art Mummy and Coffin

Albany Institute of History & Art Mummy and Coffin

Albany Institute of History & Art Mummy and Coffin

Albany Institute of History & Art Mummy and Coffin

Albany Institute of History & Art Mummy and Coffin

Albany Institute of History & Art Mummy and Coffin

Albany Institute of History & Art Coffin

Albany Institute of History & Art Coffin

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Aegina, Greece: The Island of Artists

According to myth, this island’s name comes from a nymph who was one of the river god Asopos’ 20 daughters. Zeus fell in love with her and brought her to this island.

The Monastery of Saint Nektarios

The Monastery of Saint Nektarios

Aegina has attracted the likes of photographers, scholars, painters, sculptors, poets, potters, and musicians. Internationally acclaimed writer Nikos Kazantzakis (Zorba the Greek, The Last Temptation of Christ) was drawn to the peace and quiet of this Saronic Gulf location that is ~16 nautical miles from Athens’ main port of Piraeus.

Built between 1904-1910 by Bishop Pentapoleos Nektarios, The Monastery of Saint Nektarios draws a large number of visitors every year. A Greek Orthodox saint, Agios Nektarios, was recognized as a saint in 1961. Many people visit his tomb to pray and ask for blessings, as he is known to perform miracles for those seeking help.

The Monastery of Saint Nektarios

The Monastery of Saint Nektarios

Since 2008 the island has hosted its annual Aegina Fistiki Festival, which promotes the cultivation of the “Aegina pistachio” as it is known internationally. The first organized commercial pistachio nursery was created on this island, and residents were encouraged to plant this tree in their gardens, around their houses, and in the fields. Because it was easy to grow and yielded high prices from buyers, the pistachio tree eventually replaced grape vines as the major crop, and Aegina became the leading location for pistachio production in Greece.

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Cretan Herbal Remedies

Common remedies the people of Crete use for aches, pains and more, as well as remedies from the past.

  • Rosemary assists in stomach ache and earache relief.
  • Lemon juice and lemon leaf tea aid the digestive system, and also soothe sore throats.
  • Spearmint (in tea, compress, or oil form) helps with stomach ache and bleeding gums. It can also be used as an antiseptic for wounds.
  • Artichokes are good for the nervous system and asthma.
  • Sage infusion helps with colds and high blood pressure.
  • Garlic relieves tooth pain when crushed and applied to tooth.
  • Blackberries assist with gastrointestinal problems.
  • Vinegar reduces swelling from insect bites.
  • Mountain marjoram calms nerves and combats insomnia.

In the old days…

  • … Cretans warmed dry mallow in a frying pan, and then tied it over the throat with a handkerchief to soothe soreness.
  • … raki, a local clear alcoholic beverage, was used as a compress against fever, and was rubbed on the back to relieve pain.
  • … sore eyes were comforted by boiling an egg, cutting it in half, and placing the warm egg on the eye.
  • … burns were treated with milk curd.
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Hydra Island, Greece

The Island of Hydra

The Island of Hydra

Meaning “water”, the name Hydra refers to the ancient springs that served as this island’s water source at one time. Today, most of the water is imported or consumed from bottles.

In the 1950s, well-known Greek and foreign artists of all kinds (musician Leonard Cohen, poet George Seferis, painter Marc Chagall) began frequenting or residing in this tranquil location.

With ~2,000 year-round inhabitants, the law prohibits anyone from using cars, mopeds, and bicycles; only donkeys and boats are allowed as acceptable means of transportation. There are also strict building laws in place for development to protect the traditional architectural style.

Cypress, olive, eucalyptus, fig, lemon and orange trees abound in addition to plumbago, cyclamen, irises, thistles, red poppies, hibiscus, cacti, and prickly pears.

Admiral Andreas Miaoulis

Admiral Andreas Miaoulis

Every year near the end of June the Miaoulia Festival commemorates Admiral Andreas Miaoulis, an heroic naval commander during the Greek Revolution of 1821. The multi-day celebrations include folk dancing and exhibitions. The last day closes with “The Happening”, a reenactment of Miaoulis’ men sinking the Turkish flagship, a siege and burning of a real boat in the harbor, and then culminating with fireworks.

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Dreaming in Poros, Greece

“Coming into Poros gives the illusion of the deep dream.”
– The Colossus of Maroussi by Henry Miller

Poros Town - Clock Tower

Poros Town – Clock Tower

Meaning “a small sea passage” or “narrow straight” in ancient Greek, Poros originally consisted of two islands – Sphairia and Kalavria. It’s believed that the Methana volcano exploded in 273 BC, and cut off Sphairia from Methana, creating the Poros of today.

With a population of ~4,000, Poros boasts numerous sand and pebble beaches, traditional foods, unique shops, and a clock tower visible from almost everywhere on the island. The location makes Poros a perfect home base for day trips to Athens or other nearby islands.

Historic Poros

* The Monastery of Zoodochos Pigi site is built on the slope of a pine forest. Founded in AD 1720 by Archbishop Iakovos the 2nd of Athens, it’s said that he was miraculously cured of lithiasis (stony concretions in the body) after drinking the holy water near the monastery.

* Built in the 6th century BC, only ruins are left of The Temple of Poseidon, where religious and civic issues were dealt with for city states. Demosthenes, one of the greatest ancient Greek orators, killed himself here in 322 BC by drinking poison hemlock.

* Because of its strategic geographical position, Poros was important during the Greek Revolution of 1821. It was considered the safest harbor, and the ideal place to hold committee meetings away from massive crowds.

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Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Site – Hyde Park, NY

* This mansion boasted having electricity before all other homes in the town.

* With its prime location, the estate has majestic views of the Hudson River and the Catskill Mountains.

* This country retreat was built in 1898 for Frederick Vanderbilt (grandson of Cornelius Vanderbilt, who built the Vanderbilt fortune) and his wife Louise, and donated to the National Park Service in 1940 for the public to enjoy.

Vanderbilt Mansion in Hyde Park, NY

Interior room in Vanderbilt Mansion – Hyde Park, NY

Vanderbilt Mansion in Hyde Park, NY

Vanderbilt Mansion – Hyde Park, NY

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Hayden Butte Preserve Park – Tempe, Arizona

Actually a mountain, the Hayden Butte Preserve Park provides stunning views of the city of Tempe and Camelback Mountain. It’s also great for a quick, yet moderate-level, hike.

Hayden Butte Preserve Park

Hayden Butte Preserve Park

Hayden Butte Preserve Park

Hayden Butte Preserve Park

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A Hunka Hunka More Than Just Elvis

A few years ago, my best friend of 20+ years and her family moved to Alabama after living in the northeast for their entire lives. One day it dawned on me that I should be a good friend and go visit.

The thought of the deep south didn’t excite me (not that I actually knew anything about it). Once she moved to this self-perceived black hole, I thought, “Well, she’s in Alabama now. That’s that. Clearly, the only thing I can do is replace her.”

As I planned my trip, I couldn’t find any direct flights to Tuscaloosa. One layover location that kept popping up in my flight results was Memphis.

Didn’t I know something about Memphis? A quick Google search revealed that’s where Elvis lived. Elvis = Graceland. I had always wanted to go to Graceland but never really thought about where it was.

I looked on the map to see Memphis’ distance from Tuscaloosa and it wasn’t too far apart. Well, considering I was already traveling ~1,300 miles, what was another 200 miles, really?

Dreaming about the land of Elvis, I quickly revised and expanded my vacation plans. I’d have four solo days in Memphis before taking a bus to Tuscaloosa. (Ironically, when I tried to get a direct flight to Memphis, none were to be had.)

I arrived at the Memphis International Airport in mid-October to lovely weather. Unfortunately, the public transportation system wasn’t quite what I was used to in the northeast, so the only way I could get to my hotel downtown was via a cab, which ran me about $30-$40 for the 12-mile drive. Note: don’t just wing getting, well, from anywhere to anywhere, let alone from the airport to the hotel. Look this up in advance.

I was going to be on foot for my entire trip, so I chose to stay at the Sleep Inn at Court Square, which was in the heart of the city. With a one-track mind for Elvis, it was a treat to open the blinds of my hotel room window to discover a view of a lovely, small park and a trolley gliding by along a picture postcard tree-lined route.

It was dinner time on a Sunday evening. I walked and walked and couldn’t find food. Again, being from the northeast, not seeing ANY restaurants or fast food places open was baffling to me. BUT, this is what travel is all about – taking yourself outside of your comfort zone, and briefly living and conforming to another way of life. Not only is this the type of thing one should research before traveling, but you should always have some non-perishable food with you just in case.

So, how did my story end? After a while, I did find a hotel nearby that had a little sandwich shop open inside that was closing for the evening after my order. Crisis narrowly averted.

Soul Satisfying Southern Meal

Soul Satisfying Southern Meal

The food slate was wiped clean the next day as I excitedly toured the city. Not only did they have food, Memphis had GOOD food. I’m not embarrassed to tell you that I ordered the meal you see to the left just for me and devoured all of it. Oh, the barbecue pulled pork, the corn bread, the macaroni and cheese! I was in food love. I repeated similar gluttony each day for my dinners, ordering large portions of food – with desserts – to go. I didn’t want to be out alone once it got dark, so a dinner-to-go-for-three as I watched local TV would suffice.

One day I stumbled upon the Greek revival style historic landmark Arcade Restaurant. This frozen-in-time 50s style diner/restaurant is located at the corner of South Main Street and G.E. Patterson, and was clearly the place to be for lunch. From the marker outside on the sidewalk, it also turns out that movies like The Firm, 21 Grams, and Walk the Line all filmed scenes inside this restaurant. Not a bad accidental find in the South Main Historic District.

My own private trolley car ride

My own private trolley car ride

One day I decided to take a ride on the lovely trolley I had seen from my hotel, and whose tracks I walked alongside for many of my excursions. For $1 I rode around for the longest time, getting in a nice view of the city. At one point, I was the only passenger on the trolley.

The driver asked me, “Are you in a hurry?”

I answered with a hesitant “no”. I found it odd in the funniest of ways that I was on a form of public transportation whose sole purpose was to regularly take people from point A to point B, but the driver hoped I wasn’t in a hurry to do so.

He then asked if I minded if we stopped for a little while so he could go get a sandwich. Assuming that he meant he’d run in somewhere, and grab a sandwich to go, I agreed. I sat there by myself for about 20 minutes and realized that this was a sit-down sandwich where the bread was being made fresh. Not one car, not one person passed by. I wondered if people were watching me, laughing at the fact that I was sitting there. I wondered if the driver was actually playing a joke on me, testing to see how far he could push me. And, then I wondered if something happened to me, would anyone know because I was literally on a deserted street in a deserted trolley car. I hopped out and continued walking just for the pure sake of forward motion.

A few quiet streets later, I turned to the right and saw a colorful, old-fashioned familiar sign standing high above the building behind it. Why did I know the name on the sign and why was the logo on it so familiar? I walked down and as I got closer, it all unfolded in front of my eyes. For the most part I was looking at a generic two-story building. I shivered a bit as I got closer and realized what I was looking at, where I was, and what had taken place there.

The Lorraine Motel / The National Civil Rights Museum

The Lorraine Motel / The National Civil Rights Museum

Those blue-green doors and huge floor-to-ceiling windows for each room… I read the plaque in front. This, the Lorraine Motel, was where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had been assassinated up on the second level. Oh my God. Because of what I knew had happened, I immediately felt like I needed to look around me for danger. Silly, I know. And then my mind wandered as I turned around, wondering where behind me the shots had originated from back on that day. I suddenly felt very emotional as my thoughts swirled around trying to accept this very historically significant place that I had no idea was there before I planned my trip.

On the exact opposite end of the spectrum was the boisterous Beale Street. Boy, why hadn’t I researched beyond Elvis for this trip? What an amazing street! I was traveling by myself so, as a single woman, I made my way up and down this street a total of once during the daytime, wishing I’d had some friends with me. There was music blaring from all parts — in some restaurants, and even in an outdoor park with a live band. There were colorful characters, great shops, and lots of great southern-style food.

Another day as I walked, I saw a lovely riverboat in the water. I trekked down to check it out. It was the Memphis Riverboats, which offered Paddlewheeler cruises up and down the “mighty” Mississippi. I thought, “When will I ever get the chance to be here again, and to cruise along the Mississippi?” So, I took the 90-minute cruise for $20, and enjoyed the informative and historic commentary given by our trip’s host. I will have to admit that I thought the cruise would physically go much farther than it did. I was disappointed in how short of a distance the boat went from the dock. I would have loved to have seen more. But it was still a nice experience.

What a great place Memphis was. I’d love to get back there again someday, and hope others will find their way to the deep south as well. It’s worth the trip.

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Don’t Go on Vacation If You Can’t Afford It – Especially If It’s Free

(This post clearly doesn’t apply to backpackers since the whole point of your travel is to do it without money! 🙂 )

Don’t go on a free trip, you say? In what world does this make sense, you say?

I’ve heard many a cash-strapped friend tell me that they are going on a free trip to some tropical destination. Someone — maybe parents or friends — has offered up free lodging in order to get them to join in on the fun.

“How could I pass up a free trip?” I’ve heard them say.

“I’d actually be saving money on a hotel for that whole week. Do you know how much hotels cost?” they try to convince themselves.

If these are your worldly possessions... consider staying home

If these are your worldly possessions… consider staying home

As long as they can get themselves to the destination, they say, there’s a “free” trip on their hands. (Oh, and the flight. The cost of parking at the airport. And the gas and tolls to get to the airport. Uh…also a rental car will be needed for the trip too. And, gas for the rental car. Food… dining out for most meals, and maybe having some groceries in the room just in case. Maybe a new swimsuit. And entertainment and sightseeing. Oh, nuts – the dog needs to be put in a kennel.)

Suddenly, this “free” trip can cost hundreds or thousands of dollars for a trip that you never planned to take in the first place, and that you might not be able to afford at all. You’ve now put yourself in debt just to get a free room, when everything you need to pay for in order to participate in the trip probably adds up to way much more than the value of the room.

And this is just you. What if you have a spouse and/or children? Factor in all of those extra costs, and suddenly spending all of that money to save a few hundred bucks on a hotel seems kind of silly, doesn’t it? One step up, and two steps back.

What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

Additionally, you never know what you’re going to encounter while you’re on vacation that might call for extra cash. If you have exactly $1000 to spend on a vacation, including all costs, and can’t go over that amount, you shouldn’t go on vacation. Inevitably, more costs always creep up. What if you get sick and need medicine? What if you need a cab because the designated driver got too drunk and you have no way home? Or, the hotel charges an additional daily fee to park your car? Things creep up, and you need to be prepared.

A Personal Account

Once I went to New York City with a friend. We were staying for one week — for free — with my brother. Did I mention it was New York City, one of the most expensive places on Earth to vacation? I was always very good with my money, and lived with my parents. So, a week in the big apple? No problem. My friend and I decided to stock up on some groceries to make our trip a little more affordable. How responsible of us. When the time came to fire up the stovetop to boil some pasta… nothing. The stovetop didn’t work. My brother never cooked, and therefore didn’t notice the problem. All of that money spent on expensive groceries for nothing. It was annoying, but I could afford to take that risk because I could afford the trip along with any nonsense, like the situation we faced, that might come up. We’d just take the food home with us, I said. My friend, however, was very upset. This was a big deal to her. Over a meal that we were then forced to eat out at a restaurant, she told me how she was on the verge of losing her house and her car. In my head I screamed, “WHY ARE YOU HERE? YOU CAN’T AFFORD THIS VACATION!” Her parents had actually told her to get away to clear her head over her troubles. Wrong advice. Wrong. Just wrong.

Another time, I stayed for “free” at my cousin’s summer house. She insisted on it. Cha-ching! While there, the refrigerator broke. In the shower was a small multi-paned glass window that could open and close to let the steam out. One day, I turned the handle to open it and one of the glass plates in it slid out and shattered on the floor. Dish soap, coffee, the washing machine – I used them regularly. It wasn’t right to just walk away with broken items, and used up household items. So, even though I hadn’t planned on doing so, a good amount of cash was left for her out of respect and for repairs.

Free things are very rarely truly free!

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Choosing the Wrong Travel Partner: A Firsthand Account

One day while at work, a coworker acquaintance was talking to me in my office, and mentioned she was going to Hawai‘i.

She said, “You should come.”

I liked to travel and was always looking for a travel partner.

I casually responded with, “Sure.”

I immediately felt an ominous whoosh sweep over me.

I knew this coworker in light, general ways. Over the many years I “knew” her at work, she would stop by my office to mull over generic topics like the weather, how slowly the trains were running that day, or how she wished to meet someone.

She had lived in Hawai‘i many years earlier and had visited regularly ever since. She knew a lot about the best airlines, places to stay, where to go, car rentals, etc. I truly appreciated all of this first-hand knowledge, and was even a bit relieved at having a kind of personal tour guide.

Some of my close friends did try to politely inquire as to why I was going with someone I didn’t really seem that excited to travel with, but it didn’t phase me at the time. Like any dysfunctional and unhealthy relationship, I chose to see only the good things and shove the dark spots deep down; in this case I was focused on the trip itself and not so much my travel partner.

Once we landed in Hawai’i, the rigidity I knew was lurking below in her sprung to life. At the car rental lot, she had made sure to reserve us the most practical, family-friendly, gas-efficient Mazda sedan two single gals in their 30’s could want. As she drove us to our rental house, her hands were firmly planted at the 10 and 2 positions, she literally told me she refused to drive over the designated speed limit, no radio was allowed, and every move was straight out of a 1970s instructional driving safety video.

OK, so being safe is a good thing, right? Right, I get it. But add it on to the rest of these and behold my tale…

Her Friend’s Going to Join Us … For the Entire Trip

Driving along in our sweet ride on our first adventure of the trip, my travel partner turned into an apartment complex. When I asked what was in there, she said her friend would be joining us. She didn’t ask if I minded, and clearly set the tone that she would be making the calls on this trip. Fortunately the friend was very nice. However … the friend wound up joining us almost every single day of our trip, not once chipping in for gas as we picked her up, dropped her off, made coffee runs for her, and escorted her all around the island.

Let us Pray

I think religion is fantastic. I believe in my own ways and do not force my thoughts on anyone, nor do I want them forced on me.

The 3 of us went out to a nice restaurant for dinner one night. Once our meals were set in front of us, each girl grabbed one of my hands (again without asking), they bowed their heads down, and began a prayer that went on for what seemed like eternity. I sat there stunned (and slightly embarrassed, I’ll admit, since I did not grow up this way), and just stared at them as they clutched my hands in a prayer that made me very uncomfortable.

Silence is Golden – But Not When You’re on a 4-Hour Car Ride

Both of my travel partners also had a tendency to clam up and not say anything. I find sitting in silence very strange when with people and, more importantly, why sit in silence when you can chat and have fun? You’d think that with 3 people in a small space, there would be nonstop chatter. Nope. I can’t tell you how many dead silences I endured with them while driving, eating, you name it.

At one point the silence was so painful I decided to… wait for it…turn on the radio. Of all the songs in all the world to be playing at that exact moment, Dishwalla’s “Counting Blue Cars” was on. These lyrics permeated our silent car with my 2 super religious pals listening on:

Tell me all your thoughts on God.
‘Cause I would really like to meet her.
And ask her why we’re who we are.
Tell me all your thoughts on God.
‘Cause I am on my way to see her.
So tell me am I very far, am I very far now?

My travel companion was NOT OK with these lyrics and very nervously said, “We need to change this.”

Again without asking, she abruptly turned it to a classical music station instead. I’m not going to lie – I kind of loved that she was so angered by the song and that I could not have planned it better had I tried.


My view of Waikiki as the sun set and enjoyable, laid back people all around me.

Just Like a Child, If You Tell Me Not to Do Something, I’ll Want to Do it Even More

My travel partner kept going on and on about the “real” Hawai‘i and how Waikiki was “fake”. She told me that I would hate it so we wouldn’t even bother going there. She clearly knew me better than I knew myself!

One night, while she was at church, I had the car all to myself. I sped off like I’d just been set free from prison and went … straight to Waikiki. I loved it. There were tons of people around, lots of performers, shops to browse for souvenirs, many eyesore skyscraper hotels, and lovely palm trees. An Asian man made me the absolute worst “authentic” Greek food this Greek girl has ever had, but I savored it and had a great time. All by myself. In Waikiki. And I relished telling her all about it the next day.

Ha ha ha!! That’s Not an Accent Mark! Ha ha ha!

In case you haven’t been to Hawai‘i, there is a whole distinct language there. Words like “‘A‘ala”, “Kalaeoka‘ō‘io” and “Līhu‘e” are everywhere. How would you pronounce them? A little challenging maybe?

As a fairly intelligent woman who’s studied French and Greek for years, when I see a mark like “ō” or “‘” within a word, I know it’s altering the word in some way. Maybe the sound of the letter changes, or maybe this is the part of the word that gets emphasized. These are my best educated guesses, for I am a college-educated woman who majored in Communications and minored in common sense and life awareness.

One day as I drove and, yet again tried to find a way to engage my 2 silent companions in conversation, I figured asking them about this language would be a great talking point since they sold themselves as such experts (putting my Communications degree to work!). I had just seen a street sign with a tough, long name on it. I inquired about what the “accent” mark I had seen meant – was it where the emphasis went, and, also how should I pronounce that word? Not only did I not get an answer, I was semi mocked and given a pseudo-intellectual speech about the fact that it wasn’t an “accent” mark (har har, it was THE funniest thing she’d heard all year!) and it was, in fact, a “diacritical mark”. Oh, how we all laughed at that one! Oh wait, no we didn’t.

Sunny, 80 Every Day, Warm Breeze Blowing, Beachfront Property. Perfect for Staying Inside on the Couch!

When traveling with someone I always like to travel with the caveat that “it’s OK if you want to do this, and I want to do that. I won’t be offended.” But, I must say… when you’re in one of the worlds most PERFECT weather environments and you’re vacationing from a place that NEVER has weather even remotely like this, wouldn’t you go outside for a bit?

Nope, not my travel partner.

When we weren’t out sightseeing, she stayed inside our rental house and read on the couch. We had lounge chairs, a driveway, and a private beach about 50 feet away. Bring the book outside? I would take off and go walk the beach, talk to the local neighbors and call my friends on the East Coast while she sat on the couch.

In Summary…

Were all of my stories “horror” stories that were too awful to be true? No, not at all. But I had a stressful time with this person. She was always talking down to me, the couple of days I got to be by myself were relished beyond belief, and I couldn’t wait for the trip to end. I spent thousands of dollars on a trip with a person who didn’t add to the joy of the trip. That’s no way to spend a trip in paradise or anywhere else.

The moral of the story is to choose your travel partners wisely. A lot of time, money, and anticipations go into vacations so plan the best you can with the right travel partner for you. If you’re “iffy” about your options and aren’t sure, I truly advise that you go on your own or look to travel with like-minded people through travel groups. Make sure your trip ends wishing you had more time there instead of wishing your trip away!

Categories: Advice, Memoirs | Tags: , , , , , ,

A Street Art Lover’s Treasure Hunt

Bristol, England - City Walking Map

Bristol, England – City Walking Map

Tattered map in hand, walking around an unexpectedly hilly Bristol, I searched feverishly for Park Street and the treasure I sought there. Did the spiky-haired teenager working in the mall purposely give this American tourist wrong directions? I only had eight hours on this day trip from London, and time was running out to find what I was looking for.

I finally made it to Park Street, gasping at the thought of walking up this hill too. I might never be in England again, I thought, so I took a deep breath, prepared to continue on with my search, and then…there it was. A passing bus revealed the pseudonymously named Banksy’s famous image of a naked man hanging from a window, which was painted on the side of a sexual health clinic. This anonymous graffiti street artist’s works are what I came two hours by bus to see firsthand. Score!

Believed to be a native of this largest city in the south west of England, Banksy is arguably the most popular graffiti street artist around. With the use of stencils, he quickly and efficiently (and illegally) sprays his satirical artwork on walls all over the world and in some of the most interesting locations. His works have gained such popularity that, instead of being painting over, Plexiglas walls have been installed to preserve the images.

I continued up Park Street, wandering into shops where it became apparent this artist’s neighbors were full of hometown pride for him. Copies of his works were everywhere on items from mouse pads to T-shirts, wall art to mugs. I asked the shopkeeper if she knew of any other Banksy images in town and, before I knew it, I was climbing those hills again. I was now on an unexpected Banksy treasure hunt to find two more well-known images courtesy of the shopkeeper’s hand drawn directions on my map. On Park Row I found the Police Marksman stencil, which has since been painted over. On Stokes Croft I found the Mild Mild West stencil, one of Banksy’s most famous and earliest known pieces of graffiti.

Music: “God Save the Queen” by The Sex Pistols

While on my art hunt, I found more magnificent graffiti that blew my mind. What was going on in this city? There was so much, big and small, some 5 stories high on the outside of buildings, and others neatly tucked away in unexpected corners of the city. It turns out that Bristol not only loves Banksy’s work, but it also encourages graffiti in general. In fact, located on Nelson Street is the UK’s largest permanent street art project, showcasing the world’s leading street artists.

In my 8 hours in Bristol, it’s safe to say that I found what I was looking for and then some. I was exhausted but thrilled with how my day trip turned out. And then I realized my hunt wasn’t over. Somehow I needed to find my way down all those hills back to the bus station.

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Categories: England, Memoirs | Tags: , , , , , ,

A Side Street Awakening

As I leaned against the impenetrable Buckingham Palace gates, my gaze locked on the statue-like Foot Guards on the other side whose responsibility it was to protect all inside that grandiose building. I felt their lifeless expressions and rigid warrior exteriors connecting with me on a profound level. After my recent failed engagement to be married, I had also been listless while hiding behind an emotional barricade. I immediately pushed my thoughts aside and soldiered on around the palace grounds.

After years of just thinking about it, I was finally in England, a country with which I have been fascinated for as long as I can remember. I decided to go alone, and was ecstatic about this adventure that was all mine. I had planned and researched for months, vowing to make the most of my nine-day vacation.

I purchased the £18 adult ticket for a Palace tour. The voyeur in me said that I would hate myself if I left England and hadn’t gone inside.

(Music: “They’re Changing Guards at Buckingham Palace” by Max Bygraves)

It was 11:30 a.m. and my tour didn’t start until 1:30 p.m. With two hours to kill, and that vow to fulfill, I walked to the busy Westminster area. Not in the mood for the tourist crowds, I detoured myself to the desolate side streets just behind Westminster Abbey and the Dean’s Yard.

My mind wandered to my ex-fiancé and the “what ifs”. If we were still together, would we have walked down this street? I’d never know…

I suddenly felt terribly lost; not geographically, but as a person spiritually and emotionally. Away from the traffic and tourists, the commotion in my mind was louder than any crowd as I ruminated over my personal loss.

Out of nowhere, a gentle, soothing female voice shook me from my thoughts and asked, “Where are you going?”

I looked up to see where this voice was coming from.

“I don’t know,” I said, in a very trance-like state.

As I said the words, I heard the many meanings our two-sentence conversation had in that moment.

On the other side of the street stood a petite, elderly nun. Where on Earth had she come from? She asked if I would walk her back to her church. She had sprained her ankle and needed the assistance. I was suddenly walking arm in arm with a nun down the side streets of London.

“God sent me to you for a reason,” she said.

My heart skipped a beat, and I squeezed her arm that was intertwined with mine as we walked. Was I going to die on this trip, and my family was never going to see me again? Why did she say that to me?

As we walked she inquired about me, where I was from, my family, how I was enjoying London, and what other plans I had while in the country. I told her that I had hoped to take a day trip to the city of Bristol, and that I would also like to see the White Cliffs of Dover. In response to my comment, in an angelic voice she sang:

There’ll be bluebirds over
The white cliffs of Dover
Tomorrow, just you wait and see
There’ll be love and laughter
And peace ever after
Tomorrow, when the world is free

We arrived at her church where she capably pushed open the front gates and climbed the stairs on her own. Inside, she sat in a pew behind me and recited prayers for me. I shed some tears and thanked her. She repeated that God had sent her to me for a reason.

She asked if I would like her mailing address. I quickly reached for my notepad, and as I wrote it down – Sister Barbara Clarke, Abbey Orchard Street – I froze.

Just above a whisper, I responded, “My address is also Orchard Street.”

She didn’t hear me and asked where I was going next. I desperately wanted her to understand our spiritual connection but instantaneously I realized that if God had sent her to me for a reason, then she already knew.

Categories: England, Memoirs | Tags: , , , , ,

Witch Way to the Historic Sites?

When one thinks of Salem, Massachusetts, immediate images of witchcraft spring to mind. While the 1692 Witch Trials are an infamous part of its history and the bulk of the city’s tourism is centered around it, Salem also played a large part in the early development of the United States. Some lesser known historical attractions worth a visit in this coastal City of Peace include:

  • Salem Maritime National Historic Site – Comprised of nine acres of land, buildings, and wharves along the waterfront, ships from Salem carried cargo back and forth from the West to Asia during the United States’ early days. The overseas trade helped build the new nation’s economy and made Salem home to America’s first millionaires. This site includes: a tour of the Custom House built in 1819 that collected taxes on incoming cargo; the 171-foot Friendship of Salem, a scale replica of a 1797 East Indiaman merchant tall ship; and domestic homes of early successful businessman, the Narbonne House and the Derby House.
  • Nathaniel Hawthorne's Birthplace

    Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Birthplace

    Architecture – Thanks in large part to Samuel McIntire, Salem is home to one of the most impressive collections of Federal style architecture and ornamental carvings in the world. Named after the celebrated architect/wood carver, the famed McIntire Historic District includes Chestnut Street’s Federal Era townhouses. This beautiful street provides a glimpse into the powerful mercantile and maritime history of Salem.

  • The Peabody Essex Museum – Founded by Salem’s sea captains in 1799 in order to share their explorations, this is the oldest continually operated museum in the country. The museum includes: collections of objects obtained from the Northwest coast of America, Asia, Africa, Oceania, and India; books, manuscripts, and documents; and Yin Yu Tang, the only complete Qing Dynasty house outside of China.
  • The House of the Seven Gables – Built in 1668 by sea captain and merchant John Turner, this house still has many of its original period features and is significant to American architectural, maritime and cultural history. This campus also includes five other structures which were moved to this site: The Retire Becket House (1655); The Hooper Hathaway House (1682); author Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Birthplace (c. 1750); The Phippen House (c. 1782); and The Counting House (c. 1830).

The House of the Seven Gables House

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