I’m Baaacckkk!

Hey, y’all!!! I know it’s been a few months since I’ve last blogged. Did you think I broke up with you? No worries, I only do that via a text message that basically says “it’s you, not me…kick rocks, sucka”.

Honestly, my sabbatical was really due to a combination of writers block, an extremely hectic work schedule and general apathy. Also, I was suffering from mental rickets caused by mud cancer which I contracted during my failed Tough Mudder race in April. Mental Rickets (or “MR” as it’s known in the crazy community) causes dementia & delusions of grandeur which end in the inevitable sobfest that everybody but the sufferer knew was coming because…well, you are crazy. Sorry. I’m a sufferer too. Now that I’m in recovery, I will probably be some poor soul’s sponsor.

Get ready to ride with me again. More posts are coming! I’ll be writing about Tough Mudder (which I have renamed the “Ain’t Nobody Got Time For That 5K”), Japan, Hong Kong, Switzerland, London & Amsterdam!! I’ve missed y’all ūüôā

In the meantime, check out my passport. She’s got 24 new pages…so we ain’t calling her fat…but pleasantly plump & ready for travel! Just like me. Ha!

Photos of the Day: Life’s a Beach

It’s been less than a week and I’m already missing the beach.¬† Something about water calms me…it’s like an instant shot of happiness ūüôā¬† Maybe I need to get an “ocean waves” app or something…but then I’m nervous that it will make me want to pee all the time.¬† Hmmm…I guess the next best thing to being there is staring at pictures!!!¬†¬†As I started looking thru my online photo albums, I realized that I’ve been BEYOND BLESSED to visit so many amazing places!¬† And I’d like to share a few of them with you.¬† So, get your pretend swimsuit, a very real cocktail,¬†sunglasses and let’s go!!!

Mimosas on the beach? Yes...please & thank you! (Cancun)

Mimosas on the beach? Yes…please & thank you! (Cancun)

A Hilton Head sunrise...best way to get your day started!

A Hilton Head sunrise…best way to get your day started!

(Santorini) A view of an infinity pool AND the Mediterranean Sea? Heaven!

(Santorini) A view of an infinity pool AND the Mediterranean Sea? Heaven!

The Norwegian fjords! While it was cold enough for Frosty the Snowman when I visited in March, it's absolutely breathtaking during the summer!

The Norwegian fjords! While it was cold enough for Frosty the Snowman when I visited in March, it’s absolutely breathtaking during the summer!

I know this may be a stretch...but I fell in love with this dam in the Scottish Highlands...and this was before I had any Scottish whiskey :) So serene & peaceful!

I know this may be a stretch…but I fell in love with this dam in the Scottish Highlands…and this was before I had any Scottish whiskey ūüôā So serene & peaceful!

The famous Santorini caldera sunset...

The famous Santorini caldera sunset…

The sunset over a lagoon in Cancun

The sunset over a lagoon in Cancun

Beautiful Lake Bled (Slovenia)

Beautiful Lake Bled (Slovenia)

The amazing Amalfi Coast in Positano, Italy!

The amazing Amalfi Coast in Positano, Italy!

The marina in Monte-Carlo

The marina in Monte-Carlo

Waves on rocks in Monte-Carlo

Waves on rocks in Monte-Carlo

Sunset over Chateau de Chillon

Sunset over Chateau de Chillon

Sweet Swiss Alps

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Hands down, one of the most spectacular views on Earth is in the Berner Oberland region of the Swiss Alps. The air is so crisp & clean; the snow is fluffy & white; and drinking hot chocolate while looking at people ski or sledge by is oddly comforting. I’ve uploaded a TON of pictures to share because the region is so breathtaking!

SwissIf you ever get to Switzerland (and really…just go because I promise that it’s worth the money), be sure to take the Top of Europe¬†tour. It is worth every cent. My day started at 6am. Once I was up & dressed, I hit Starbucks and then on to the rail station so I could catch the train from Zug to Lucerne. After purchasing my ticket, I had about 10 minutes to wait for the train and you know some crazy man found me. Out of all the people on the platform, he has to come chat with me. I’m not sure if it’s because I was the only person of color and just stood out or what. But, Swissangelo¬†(that’s what I’m calling him) starts speaking German and I was like, “I don’t comprehend that. Sorry.” and thought he’d go about his business. Nope. He apparently is a multi-lingual crazy. How can you be crazy and speak more than 1 language? Seriously? So, he starts mumbling something about songs. I’m half listening until he steps directly in front of me and into my personal space making me take a couple of steps back. Now that he has my full attention, he repeats his early comment about songs and starts singing something in Italian. If you are keeping count, he’s up to 3 languages. I look around and was like, “oh, that was pretty. thanks!” and try to inch away. But no! He starts with, “I wrote 2 songs I want to perform for you!” I was like, “okay.” I mean, at this point, we are already the star attractions for the morning commuters and I didn’t want to hurt his feelings. He performs one of his “compositions” and Lord help me…liquor + performing = disaster. Save it for the Grammys. I’m looking around slightly embarrassed once he starts getting on one knee and holding out his hand to serenade me. All I want to do is drink my coffee. But, hey, at this point, I figure that I gotta roll with the crazy. I mean, they find me in every country I visit so I might as well be some sort of Ambassador to Sanity for them. Luckily, before he was able to bring the song home with a glory note, the train arrives and he thanks me for listening to his song. Crazy can be sweet. I should know…I’ve dated enough of them.

So, after my 20 minute train ride to Lucerne, I exit the station and start trying to figure out the directions to the tour meeting point. Which weren’t that difficult. While walking around outside, I keep wishing I had brought my big down coat because it was FREEZING! Little did I know that the weather in Lucerne would seem tropical to what it was in the alps.

There are 7 of us on the tour and everybody happens to be in Switzerland on business so we had something in common. We leave Lucerne and take a van to Interlaken (population 5500). Being in Switzerland was a great change of pace after China. Whereas you had 15 million people residing in 1 city, the population for the entire country of Switzerland is around 350K! Another fun fact I learned is that they elect a new president EVERY YEAR! However, this is more for figurehead duties. Apparently, Switzerland is made of up “states” called “cantons” which can have their own language. The government has ministers from all cantons and the presidency rotates between these ministers on a yearly basis based upon a vote.

We ride up to Lauterbrunnen to take the cog-wheel train up to Jungfrau.

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You can see that they elevation continues to go higher and higher.

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We pass the beautiful town of Wengen!

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A couple of the ladies on the tour with me!

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Ski lifts & skiers & trails.

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Breathtaking beauty!

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This is the first time I’ve seen a conveyor belt for skiers! In addition to ski lifts (in the¬†second pic below), they have this conveyor belt (which is partially covered with snow) that brings skiers up the trail in the 2nd pic.

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Then I had the chance to go to the Ice Palace!

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On the way back, we stop in Gimmelwald.

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All in all, this has to be on of the best adventures of my life! Totally fell in love with Berner Oberland would like to spend a long weekend in Wengen trying to learn to ski. While looking out over the snow-capped alps, all I could think of was that I am truly blessed to be able to have the opportunity to see so much of this beautiful world we live in.

Swiss Miss: The Olympic Museum & Lovely Lausanne (Switzerland)

While visiting Geneva, I decided to take a quick trip to Lausanne (which is 40 minutes from Geneva, 30 minutes from Chillon).  Lausanne is MUCH better than Geneva so my advice is to skip Geneva and spend your time visiting Lausanne, Montreux and Chillon.

Lake Geneva is in¬†the southwest corner of Switzerland and separates the country from France.¬† This area is known as the Swiss Riviera and the predominant language is French.¬† Lausanne calls itself the “Olympic Capital”¬†(it has been the home to the International Olympic Committee since 1915).¬† This colorful city was first founded on the lakefront by the Romans (and really, what city didn’t they discover???).¬† Once Rome fell, the original Lausanners¬†fled to the hills to escape the barbarians and established what is today referred to as “vieille ville” (old town).¬† Lausanne has 2 parts:¬† 1) the lakefront Ouchy¬†(which has restaurants & the Olympic Museum) and 2) old town¬†which has an Old World charm and other museums (i.e. Collection de l’Art¬†Brut).¬† These two areas are connected by the Metro funicular (source Rick Steves’ “Switzerland”).

Lausanne is absolutely beautiful and very serene.  You can walk along Lake Geneva during the breathtaking sunset.

  

Or, stop to view the flower displays as you stroll the main boulevard.

   

We arrive in Lausanne and take a taxi to the Olympic Museum (which is AWESOME!).  This museum is interesting to both Olympic enthusiasts and those of us who like to watch the games every 2 years.  As you enter the museum, you will pass by the Olympic store which has shirts, posters, etc. from previous games (and the future London 2012 games).  After you pay the entrance fee, you are given a ticket which you will need to insert into the turnstiles to enter each exhibit.

They have several small theaters which recount the history of the Olympics.¬† In 1894, Pierre de Coubertin¬†founded the International Olympic Committee and restarted the games after a 1,500 year lapse.¬†¬†Barron de Coubertin¬†was a teacher who was born into a French aristocratic¬†family.¬† He was really into physical fitness and channelled that passion into restarting the games.¬† During the film, you hear him ask the nations that will take part¬†in the games to respect each other.¬† Now, I do have to give Mr. de Coubertin¬†the side-eye because he felt that the inclusion of women would be “impractical, uninteresting, unaesthetic, and incorrect.”¬† Whatever, Pierre. ¬†Women eventually were allowed to compete in the 1900 Summer Olympics in Paris.¬†

The ground floor traces the history of the Olympics from its start in Greece through about a century’s worth of ceremonial olympic torches.

 

Upstairs has medals and information/highlights from each Olympics.

Muhammad Ali’s shoe from his gold medal win in boxing at the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome.

Wilma Rudolph’s track shoe that¬†she wore to win three Olympic titles (the 100 m, 200 m and the 4 x 100 m relay) at the same 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome as Muhammad Ali.

The basketball signed by the U.S. “Dream Team” led by Michael Jordan at the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona.

And, Shannon Miller’s leotard from her gold medal win for balance beam at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta.

Charming Ch√Ęteau de Chillon (Switzerland)

The majestically beautiful Ch√Ęteau de Chillon (Chillon Castle) is located on the shore of Lake L√©man (Lake Geneva) in the commune of Veytaux, at the eastern end of the lake, 3¬†km from Montreux, Switzerland. The castle consists of 100 independent buildings that were gradually connected to become the building as it stands now (source Wikipedia).¬† The cities along Lake Geneva make up the fabulous French Swiss Riviera!¬† I took the train from Geneva to Montreux.¬† Then, hopped on a bus to Chillon.

Incredibly,¬†Ch√Ęteau de Chillon is very well-preserved.¬† Unlike many other castles in Europe, it has never been damaged or destroyed.¬† Per the website, the history of the castle was influenced by three major periods:

  • The Savoy period (12th century to 1536)
    The oldest written document mentioning the castle dates from 1150; it says that the House of Savoy already controlled the route along the shores of Lake Geneva.
  • The Bernese period (1536-1798)
    The Swiss, more precisely the Bernese, conquered the Pays de Vaud and occupied Chillon in 1536. The castle retained its role as a fortress, arsenal and prison for over 260 ans.
  • The Vaudois period (1798 to the present)
    The Bernese left Chillon in 1798 at the time of the Vaudois Revolution. The castle became the property of the Canton of Vaud when it was founded in 1803. The restoration of the historical monument began at the end of the 19th Century and continues to this day.

All in all, the castle has been used in a variety of ways:¬† as an armory, warehouse, prison, hospital and tourist attraction.¬† As you enter the grounds, you feel like you have gone back in time.¬† The people who work at the castle all wear period-era clothes so as you tour the castle, you feel as if you have stepped into life in the 1500’s.

Chillon Castle is surrounded by a natural moat so you cross a bridge to get to it.

 

Then, as your walk down the path, you come upon the castle and beautiful Lake Geneva.

  

As you enter the castle, you walk into the main courtyard (there are 3 courtyards in total).  This is where the main action took place.

      

I picked up an audio guide then started the tour.  First thing I see is a model of what the original castle looked like.

Then, I tour the “Underground” which is spectacular!¬† It held the wine and prison.¬† It’s most¬†well-known for the imprisonment of Bonivard, made famous by Lord Byron, who made him the hero of his poem “The Prisoner of Chillon”.

   

Next stop was the great halls which had beautiful windows with seats to look out over the courtyards or Lake Geneva.

Chambre bernoise

A comfortable bedroom, with rather subdued decoration, a large four-poster bed, heating, private toilet and even running water!

  

A quick note about the potty above.¬† First, you see that 2 people can go at the same time…with no barrier between¬†them.¬† Reminds me of Ephesus where there were 10 potties like this.¬† I can’t imagine talking to Mary while doing #2.¬† Shoot, I don’t even like doing that when there is someone in the bathroom with stalls!¬† Second, if you look down into the lid, you will see that it empties straight into the lake.¬† So, um…I’m not thinking a lot of people went skinny-dipping.

Views of Lake Geneva from the castle.

  

Torture¬†Chamber.¬† While I was there, I was able to view the Temporary exhibition: “Witch-hunting in the Pays de Vaud, from the 15th to the 17th centuries”.

The Pays de Vaud was the site of major witch-hunts between the 15th and the 17th centuries. During this period, there were more than 2000 death sentences!

On a larger scale, Switzerland within the current borders if the time holds not only the record for the longest-lasting repression of witchcraft but also for the largest number of people persecuted for this crime, in relation to the population. In almost three centuries, 5,000 people were accused and 3,500 of them were put to death, mainly by fire, with 60 Р70% being women.

Chillon Castle was an important detention centre for people¬†suspected of witchcraft, either when awaiting trail or carrying out their sentence. During the term of the Bernese bailiff, Nicolas de Watteville, from 1595 to 1601, some forty-odd people were executed at Chillon, La Tour-de-Peilz¬†and Vevey. And 27 more in 1613! Their Excellencies of Bern noted “…with regret and sadness the extent to which the negation of God and submission to the evil spirit was growing among our subjects in the Romand (French-speaking) country.” (source Chateau de Chillon website).

Finally, some photos I took while walking around the castle.

     

Overall,¬†I thought¬†Ch√Ęteau de Chillon was fascinating and beautiful.¬† It’s¬†a great tour idea for kids!¬† If you are ever in the Swiss Riviera region, check it out.¬† Try to go in the late afternoon so you can see the sunset at the castle.¬† Absolutely amazing!

What to Wear When Travelling Abroad

Coco1One of the most popular questions asked when getting ready for a trip overseas is ‚ÄúWhat should I wear?‚Ä̬† I always suggest researching what the locals are wearing (with a few exceptions notated below).¬† Not solely for aesthetic reasons, but also for safety.¬† Most pickpockets target tourists.¬† Looking like you belong goes a long way.¬† Here are a few suggestions to help you look like a local on your travels abroad.

1.       Dress for the Country/Culture.  Each country has its own style.  Some countries are more lax (the U.S., England, Ireland, Scotland) while others take their fashion seriously (France & Italy).  With the exceptions that I have noted below, you can usually get away with a nice pair of jeans/black pants/skirt and plain shirts/sweaters.  Don’t wear anything outrageous or loud (leave the catsuit at home).

  • Middle East/Egypt/Morocco (& other Islamic countries)¬†= First and foremost, you want to respect the culture of the country you are visiting.¬† Which means no Daisy Dukes while visiting¬†the Pyramids of Giza in Cairo (and, yes, I have seen it).¬† Make sure you dress conservatively (covering most of your skin).¬† Yeah, it may be hot, but you can find breathable and dry-wick fabrics pretty easily.¬† Trust me; you do not want to stand out in a conservative country.¬† Women from western countries are viewed as being ‚Äúloose‚ÄĚ, which can invite sexual harassment from the local male population.¬† By keeping your goodies covered up, you take the attention off of¬†you (and your valuables).¬† In Morocco, most women (and quite¬†a few men) wear djellabas¬†(a hooded robe).¬† These can be either heavy or light weight in fabric (according to season).¬† I didn’t wear one when I was there, but it is definitely an option which will reduce¬†the amount of stares you get.¬† I tend to buy breathable tunics from Old Navy (most are 3/4 length sleeves), long flowing skirts, loose capris and convertible cargo pants.
  • France/Italy = These 2 fabulous countries are homes to the most famous fashion houses around.¬† This means they take their fashion seriously.¬† While the Italians are a bit more accepting, the French will turn their nose up if you walk past them wearing any of the items listed below in #3.
  • You can never go wrong with basic black.¬† It‚Äôs easy to coordinate and you can interchange with stylish accessories (like a scarf or costume jewelry).
  • The French love black, navy and brown.¬† I suggest using those as your base colors.¬† You will notice that most of the French will pair up their dark wardrobe with a colorful scarf.¬† Don‚Äôt have one?¬† Buy one when you get there‚Ķit‚Äôs a souvenir & fashion accessory all in one.
  • The Italians love color and you can get away with a lot more.¬† Most of all,¬†it is¬†attitude.
  • Quick everyday tip = Get your clothes tailored.¬† I noticed that many people look better in clothes that are altered to fit their shape.¬† I picked this tip up while visiting Paris.¬† Everybody there looks like a million bucks (or euros) and it really is because their clothes fit impeccably.
  • Spain = The Spanish love color & flowing maxi dresses/skirts.¬† I also noticed some ladies wearing cowboy boots with shorts but we will pretend like I didn‚Äôt see that because I don‚Äôt think that‚Äôs a good look personally (I like to call that seasonal dyslexia).
  • England/Ireland/Scotland/Holland/Czech Republic/Switzerland/Scandinavia = Pretty much anything goes.¬† I can‚Äôt say that I have seen a huge difference in what they wear vs. the U.S. (with the exception of the ‚Äúdon‚Äôts‚ÄĚ listed below).¬† A popular look during the summer of 2011 was shorts with tights & Chuck Taylors (*shudders*).¬† Don‚Äôt emulate that.¬† Hopefully that was a 1 season only look.LBD

2.¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† Dress for the Season.¬† Be sure to check the weather before you go.¬† Weather Underground¬†is a good resource.¬† I have typically found that you will need to dress in layers no matter when you travel abroad.¬† A light jacket, colorful scarves, stylish cardigans/sweater coats are a must for spring, summer & fall.¬† Going in the winter?¬† Bring along a warm coat, some snazzy boots & a cute hat/scarf/glove combo. ¬†¬†I had left my puffer coat at home during a winter trip to Milan‚Ķonly to realize that everybody (and I do mean everybody) was wearing one.¬† First and foremost, you want to be warm.¬† Don‚Äôt take an unlined peacoat¬†when visiting Finland in the dead of winter.¬† Your health trumps fashion.¬† Plus, you will stand out as not knowing how to dress properly for cold weather ūüôā¬† ExOfficio is now offering a snazzy sweater¬†jacket that doubles as a travel pillow when folded.¬† This jacket is so cozy & warm!¬† I recently wore it during a winter trip and fell in love with it.¬† The jacket packs very easily, is super soft AND rain-resistant as well as keeping you warm & toasty.¬† This is now my go-to jacket both here and abroad!

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3.       DO NOT WEAR…

  • Baseball caps!¬† If you want to protect your head & face from the harsh sun, opt for a stylish wide-brimmed hat (during the summer) or cloche/fedora (during the winter). Baseball caps scream tourist. Don‚Äôt bring your favorite sporting team to France unless you are actually on the team, k?
  • Baseball/Football Jerseys, High School/College T-shirts, etc.¬† Do I really even to explain why wearing a baseball or football jersey is a no-no? Again, you don‚Äôt want to stand out as a tourist for pickpockets. T-shirts are fine if they are plain or have a cool graphic. Bottom line, you want to look nice‚Ķnot like you are getting ready to workout. If you just don‚Äôt think you can survive without wearing sporting apparel, buy a soccer/rugby jersey. You can fit in and it will be a conversation starter.
  • Fanny-packs!¬† Seriously‚Ķjust no.¬† It‚Äôs not cute.¬† Tell your mother to leave it at home with the rest of the 80’s attire.¬† I don‚Äôt even know how this item became popular.¬† Never carry your money and valuables in a waist¬†contraption that is easily seen.¬† You are begging a pickpocket to take a knife, cut the strap and steal it from you.¬† Use a money belt instead.¬† It‚Äôs similar to your beloved fanny-pack; it just goes under your shirt/waist¬†of your pants instead so it will not be seen.¬† This protects your valuables from curious onlookers.
  • Expensive jewelry/bags!¬† A pickpocket will tackle you to steal your Rolex or Louis Vuitton.¬† Leave your valuables at home.
  • White sneakers???¬†¬†I have actually seen quite¬†a few locals wearing sneakers (though not usually white) around London & Paris.¬† My preference is to bring a pair of running shoes (as I like to workout during my trips abroad…even running races like the Paris-Versailles 10K) as well as a¬†comfortable & stylish walking shoe (i.e. Hush Puppies, Mephisto, Clarks) that can transition into an evening shoe. I highly recommend walking shoes that have a rubber sole¬†to minimize the impact of walking on cobblestones.¬† I love the Hush Puppies Sonnet flat which you can buy at Macy’s for almost half of what it retails for at other locations as well as the Makena Ballerina shoe.¬† Bottom line is to wear a shoe that you will be comfortable walking in for hours at a time.

Emma

4.       Must Haves.

  • Light jacket/cardigan/wrap = If you plan to wear tanks or sleeveless tops during the summer, be sure to bring something to cover your shoulders when visiting a place of worship.¬† You will not be allowed to enter with shoulders (and sometimes legs) exposed.¬† I bought Magellan’s Sun Protection Wrap for my recent trip to Morocco and fell in love.¬† So soft and it provides the necessary protection (both arms and head) when you enter places of worship.¬† I even wear it around at home.
  • Secure purse/money belt = I have been using a PacSafe purse (stylish & secure) to carry around my valuables, guidebook, umbrella & bottled water for a couple of years now and it is awesome.¬† Highly recommend!¬† The shoulder straps are reinforced with steel so it cannot be cut and the zippers lock into place.¬† It will take a pickpocket a few minutes to figure out how to gain access to your valuables.
  • Comfortable walking shoes = As I stated above, cobblestones can be harsh on your feet.¬† A stylish rubber-soled shoe will save your tootsies!
  • Dark colored pants & skirt = Use these as your base pieces.¬† Dark colors camouflage stains & are great to pair with funky accessories.

MM

5.     Handy resources.  Here are a few websites that focus on travel-related items:  While ExOfficio & Magellans offer stylish options, you can certainly find great travel clothing from cheaper stores (i.e. Old Navy, Target, etc.).

While these tips may not prevent you from being identified as a tourist, it will keep your bag lighter and you safer.¬† Hope it helps!¬† Safe travels.¬† Do you have any travel fashion tips?¬† If so, please comment as I’m always looking for a fresh perspective!

Also check out my posts on Nikki’s Favorite Things: Fashion Accessories and Essentials for Stress-Free Travel.