Through the Turmoil

The hands on the clock of this adventure are beginning to wind to end. An impromptu trip to Holland gave way, rather quickly I might add, to our ten day trip through Germany.

The most significant amount of time was spent in the capital city of Berlin, in the northeasterly reaches of the country. Today the city is hailed as a hotbed of artistry, nightlife and progressive social movements. However, just a little over 25 years ago Berlin served as the forefront for the Cold War. Alas, Soviet occupation and iron-fisted rule of East Germany dissolved with the removal of the Berlin Wall and the dissolution of the USSR in the late 80’s and early 90’s- all while I was just barely out of my Pull-Ups – yes, I am a big kid now! Rewind the clock another 45 years and this city played stage to one of the most dramatic defeats in all of modern war in Nazi Germany’s fall and Hitler’s shameless taking of his own life. Forgive the gruesome and rather down-trodden approach to the beginning of this post but our experience with the city of Berlin was marked by the feeling that the city has yet to fully shake off it’s dark and fairly recent past. This is not a judgement but rather an opinion based on my short stay in this large, international city.

Our apartment was very near the center of town and the infamous Checkpoint Charlie which served as an entry point into East Germany during the Cold War period of 1961-1989. Very nearby was an outdoor exhibit of the Berlin Wall, with a small portion of the wall still standing.


As an East German citizen, you were forbidden to cross the border into West Germany without consent of the state, and you were sure to die at the hands of a mercenary should you attempt. Standing in the middle of the once “neutral zone” sent shivers down our backs.

We tended to stay very near this central part of town as there was so much to see in relation to the history of Berlin – the previous location of Fuhrer’s Bunker, Brandenberger Tower, The National Memorial for the Murdered Jews of Europe, to name a few.

Striking was the contemporary look of the city. As a result of the bombings which took place during the later campaigns of WWII, the majority of the buildings we passed and roadways we walked were much more modern than that of those in other countries we have visited in Europe. The city required a near-complete rebuild once Hitler’s regime had been defeated, which came with an incredible financial burden. In order to mitigate the cost, many of the buildings throughout the worst-affected areas were prefabricated; out of these institutional-flavored neighborhoods flourished street artists aplenty, akin to The Rose That Grew from Concrete. These grey-colored buildings have provided a near endless canvas for graffiti artists to leave their mark. While many cities in the US label this medium a blemish on their perfectly clean appearance, Berlin seems to have accepted it as a means of reconciling the rather drab appearance of their function-over-form infrastructure.

Just outside the city of Berlin was the Sachenhausen Concentration Camp which we visited for a couple of hours on a very cold and foggy afternoon. This camp served as the administration headquarters and the architectural model for all concentration camps under Hitler’s reign and as such, the German Democratic Republic (GDR) made a concerted effort to preserve this camp. There is very little which remains today but the GDR have gone so far as to reconstruct some of the buildings in order to allow visitors to see how prisoners lived, where they bathed, ate and received medical care. We wondered around the camp, glued to our audio guide as we learned of the deplorable conditions people lived in.

Throughout the tour and the multiple exhibits, signs were posted in memoriam of those held in this camp and to serve as a reminder that the people of this world must stand united in the face of would-be oppressors in order to prevent such an atrocity from ever happening again. I don’t think we can say that we ‘enjoyed’ this tour but we certainly found it to be deeply moving.

The city of Berlin is thriving, even buzzing today and serves as the symbol of the progress which can be made, even after great tragedies; through hard work, perseverance, and an open mind anyone in this world can cast aside preconceived notions.

Cycles, Canals and Coffeeshops

Arriving to the Hook of Holland by way of overnight ferry, Tarin and I took the first train headed in to Amsterdam. The trains became more and more crowded the nearer we drew to the city and we found ourselves having to separate in order to make room for our gigantic backpacks. We landed at Centraal Station in Amsterdam  just after 11am. Yes, that extra ‘a’ is supposed to be there, according to the Dutch.

This would be the fewest days we were to spend in any one of our destinations on this entire trip and the time flew by. We found the city itself easy to navigate, but the transit system didn’t necessarily make it very easy to understand which bus/tram/train connected with one another so we did quite a bit of walking. Our apartment was fairly close to the Anne Frank Haus and just far enough away from the Red Light District that we didn’t hear the raucous crowds. Given the good fortune we’ve had with the places we’ve stayed, I suppose the universe has now balanced itself; the apartment we stayed in while in Amsterdam was, how do you say… a bit of a polished turd. Let me expand just a little: the kitchen lacked the basics needed to cook a meal, the washer smelled like Humphrey Bogart’s trailer & looked like a science experiment and we were awoken every morning at 6am to the sound of Tram #10 whirring by our front window. We ended up eating out for every meal which we ordinarily wouldn’t mind, except the extra cost and the time lost to the entire process of finding somewhere – “what do you want?” I don’t know, what do you want” – but we did enjoy nonetheless. All was OK!

While killing some time before a reservation, we wandered up a street thinking we were headed to a park when bells sounded, lights flashed and two barriers swung down in front of a bridge; moments later, the bridge rose to let a couple of house boats pass through.

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Tarin took great pleasure in the ability to not only peer into someone’s home but also to view this wonder of engineering.

One late afternoon was spent at the famous brewery Brouwerij’T Ij (now you pronounce it) connected to the iconic windmill design associated with Holland.


Proof I didn’t make up the name

I fumbled along trying to order with the bartender and a couple of flights of the haus brew magically appeared at our table.

Their amber was by far the best, characterized by it’s hazy color, a creamy head, with a taste of malt and caramel hints. Smooth and easy to drink! 

After our libations we enjoyed dinner at one of the many Mediterranean restaurants in town. I had a huge plate of meats – lamb, chicken and beef – and Tarin had a baked, whole sea bass. Full and happy bellies carried us through The Red Light District and back to Centraal Station where we caught a ride on a canal boat for Amsterdam’s Festival of Lights. The nearly 90 minute boat ride was surely the height of our experience in Amsterdam.


The diversity of the people in Holland was also something in which we took great pleasure. As nearly professional people watchers, we can assure you that a walk through the Red Light District provides a viewing populous like no other. We walked over a ridiculous amount of bridges, dodged countless bicyclists and passed by multifarious coffee shops. Some of the coffee shops had this awfully strange but familiar odor emitting from their doors – they were certainly roasting something, but not coffee beans. Hmm.


Welsh Paradise

Attempting to take in every last bit of the seashore, I’ve got the windows open at Gunfort Cottage, once a small fisherman’s abode in the town of Tenby, Wales. Literally, this place must have been a small fisherman’s home. It’s a pint sized apartment with extremely low doorways (I’ve got the bumps on my noggin to prove it). Although compact, it served it’s purpose well and we’ve enjoyed having a kitchen for home cooked meals. This was the first time in a while that we didn’t have a big agenda for a destination. We’ve slept in, had our morning coffee and made an egg breakfast every morning. Our view out the front door is jaw dropping and we enjoyed a nice long beach walk a couple days ago – working out all the problems of the world, of course.


After our jaunt on the beach, we stopped off at the local museum where I inquired about my family heritage. Unfortunately, the local historian who specializes in family genealogy was not in this week so I left him my contact information. For now, I’ve been relegated to the wealth of information available on the internet through the many websites offering to “find your family history here!”. To say the least, the amount of information is overwhelming and quite impossible to make sense of, much less corroborate. I’ve got my fingers crossed that I will hear from the local historian sometime soon.

We spent our last day exploring the area, driving through the myriad pastures along some dangerously narrow two-lane roads. We stopped off for a morning stroll along the Wales Coast Path which carried us through three separate tunnels once used for a small-scale coal mining railroad over 100 years ago.


The rain was unrelenting, so we broke off the uncovered shore path and headed for the woods. Muddy and soggy yes, but we found comfort in the forest as we reminisced about our time spent in Dash Point State Park in Western Washington.


This Way to Your Death

Those of you who know Tarin well are probably familiar with her fascination of someday flying an airplane. A few years ago, I found a small regional airport offering introductory flight lessons for aspiring pilots. A few weeks after receiving the certificate for her first flight lesson, Tarin took to the skies with her instructor while I kept my feet on solid ground to take pictures. Needless to say, Tarin still dreams about getting her pilot’s license some day. On our way to our next destination, Tarin spotted a sign that indicated a monument for Amelia Earhart was nearby. Doubling back in our rental car, we found our way to a spire erected in the female pilot’s honor and to commemorate her stopover in the small Welsh town of Burry Port. Viewing this monument while traveling through Wales served as a reminder for Tarin to continue chasing these dreams.

This travel has been not just about experience but also about discovering; having the chance to explore the physical world and our often-jumbled inner thoughts has allowed us to bring in to focus our aspirations, both as a married couple and as individuals. For the first time in our adult lives, we have had the opportunity to ponder with no regard for necessary action.

A Grocery List on a Vomit Bag

Speeding south along the highway in our five-door Skoda Fabia, we left Westport in search of the southern part of Ireland. We had a quick bite to eat in Ennis, a small town just south of Galway, before landing in Killarney. We arrived to our second B&B just after sunset and were greeted by Anne and her husband Paudie – the Horgan’s. Again, we were quite impressed with our accommodation and the hospitality.

The following morning, we rose early to hot porridge (oat meal with fresh fruit – super tasty) and lots of bread. I ate as much as I possibly could as we were headed out for a 7 mile hike along Dunloe Gap. Paudie helped us find a boat ride across a series of lakes and rivers to reach the trailhead. He phoned a fella named Dux and we were off to Killarney National Park where we were to meet our for-hire boat in front of Ross Castle.

Sharing a ride with a nice couple from NYC, we rode with Dux across lakes, up rivers, and under bridges to make our way to Brandon’s Cottage.

Parting ways with the couple we met, Rob and Lauren, T and I proceeded to begin our hike while our fellow Americans hitched a ride from a horse-drawn buggy. The trail was actually a paved road, used by locals of a TINY town called Black Valley. We passed the schoolhouse – all six children out in front playing soccer – a few curious pups who weren’t terribly interested in us, and the local postman. Finally we started the ascent up Dunloe Gap. Quite honestly, words nor pictures do justice in trying to represent our experience. The rugged beauty of the countryside, the smell of clean air and the sound of countless babbling brooks was incredible.


A hot cup of tea or two and a bowl of vegetable soup at Kate Kearny’s Cottage on the other side of Dunloe Gap marked the end of our three hour journey. Tarin and I both agreed that this was the pinnacle of our time in Ireland, quite possibly equal to our Serengeti safari.

Rising early again the following day, T and I headed out to the Dingle Peninsula for some site seeing and a horseback ride I had scheduled. We stopped off at Inch Strand for a beach stroll before making our way to the stables.

Unfortunately, the stables no-called, no-showed and we were left with a half day to kill. It was a bummer, but not enough to ruin the day by any means. We went back to town, cleaned up and had a nice evening of pints and pub food back in town. After hearing the stables on Dingle Peninsula stood us up, Paudie went out of his way to make some calls on our behalf to find another horseback ride. As we left for dinner, he informed us that he had made a reservation for 9am the following morning at a stable just outside of town. Tarin and I arrived to the stables the following morning to find a nice young lady who showed Tarin the way to  some riding gear and eventually her horse. I decided to forego the ride as I wanted to catch on up some blogging.

Our last morning with the Horgan’s was spent around the breakfast table. We talked with their 14 year old son, Michael, about his schooling and aspirations to become a carpenter. We truly enjoyed the company of the Horgan’s and fancied the opportunity to be around a family.

A four hour drive landed us in Waterford, the southeast part of the country and the oldest city in Ireland. We originally planned to stay in another B&B but upon arrival we knocked several times, and rang the doorbell to no avail. I decided to change course and we made haste for downtown Waterford. We grabbed some lunch at a local café, and asked for advice about where to find a hotel. We stopped off at the first one we saw, Granville Hotel on The Quay, and were pleasantly surprised to find that someone had just cancelled their reservation! We quickly took action and found ourselves on the third floor of the hotel, overlooking River Suir. We learned that the original owner of the building was the designer of the Irish Flag, adding a touch of prestige to our accommodation. It just so happens that this time of year in Waterford is known as “Winterval”, the annual Christmas celebration. Tarin’s favorite Christmas movie, Elf was playing at The Reg, a local pub with a projector and a couple speakers. Now, I could make plenty of critiques regarding their setup (I am an AV nerd, after all) but watching Tarin enjoy the night like a little kid was too great an experience. We finished the night with a ride on the carousel and dinner.

Did I mention we had a few drinks?

Our last day in Ireland was spent at the Waterford Crystal factory and store, where we learned about the process involved in making the renowned artwork the world has come to love.


I began to write this post on board deck eight of the Irish Ferry known as the Isle of Inishmore, or half-wrote it anyway.


The ship was listing a great deal as the crew were battling gale-force winds to ensure we crossed St. George’s Channel en route to Wales. Neither Tarin’s nor my stomach handled the waves well so I had to put the computer down until we reached our next destination: Wales. Here we sit, at the Gunfort Cottage in Tenby, Wales. We prepared a Mexican feast (we’ve missed our favorite food!) and have enjoyed having our own space again. On to the next…



Some of the Black Stuff, Please

Staying north of the River Liffey in a small studio, we made a quick trip of Dublin. Having arrived late on our first of two nights in the big city, we arose early to yet another new climate – biting cold with a whirl of wind as well. We enjoyed bundling up for our early morning stroll as we finally had a chance to dig into our winter and rain gear, which we nearly regretted lugging around for the past seven weeks.

We headed over River Liffey on Ha’Penny Bridge and into the Temple Bar district, Dublin’s buzzing pub scene; we had a hearty breakfast at The Merchant’s Arch pub which we had all to ourselves. I just couldn’t resist an Irish Coffee and Tarin enjoyed a hot cup of coffee with real cream… and a homemade scone of course!

We found our way to the well known landmarks of Dublin including Trinity College, St. Anthony’s Green, Merrion Square, Christ’s Church Cathedral, and St. Patrick’s Cathedral.


We also carved out some time to see the National Archaeological Museum of Ireland. Here we saw and learned a great deal of the history of Ireland. Our favorite exhibit included some of the finest examples of Irish goldsmith work, like this broach used to fasten a cloak around one’s neck.


As big fans of Anthony Bourdain’s TV shows, we took his Dublin advice for a lunch spot and it did not disappoint. We had a simple lunch of soup and salads at Bear, a restaurant at the edge of the Temple Bar District. Good food and a unique setting.

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The highlight of our time in Dublin was surely the tour of the Guinness factory at St. Anthony’s Gate, near the Liberty District. Here we experienced well designed tour which included audio/video presentations intertwined with machinery set inside the former fermentation facilities. The mixed media delivery was very engaging, not to mention the fact that we learned how to properly pour – and drink – our very own glass of the Black Stuff.

The Land of Flamenco

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

10:39 PM

As Nick mentioned in his previous post we were taking a lovely train down to Seville, this was our first time being on a train since the Japan Railway system and for us the ease of train travel is much more enjoyable and allows for a lot less stress when it comes to travel days. There isn’t the fear of losing a bag with the airlines, and thankfully, given all of the various airlines we have taken on this adventure, we have not had a single issue with bags! Major thanks to the universe for that statement. But, the calm nature of which trains are in and out, it’s something more desired to be travelling by ground (rather quickly, I may add). We did purchase a Eurorail Pass for the rest of the time in Europe, which after Ireland and the UK we will pick back up and use again for the remainder of our travels.

Arriving in Seville, we quickly realized how much warmer it was compared to Madrid and certainly Italy for that matter; it was startling because we had let go of our summer clothes and really only had fall and winter gear. Knowing that Ireland, with rain and cold, was just around the corner we did not take for granted the few days of sunshine and warmth! It was once again a very calm environment. The Spaniards do enjoy their siestas, with shops closing for three hours in the middle of the day and a continued sense of calm just as Madrid. We also know that Spain has one of the highest unemployment rates, somewhere around 20%, which isn’t surprising given that the rest of the global market works through the whole day…

We knew that Flamenco was born in Seville and while trip planning months and months ago we had pinned the Flamenco Museum as a must see, which also had a Flamenco show you could attend. I love to dance and Nick was more interested in the Spanish guitar, which Flamenco incorporates, so this was an easy yes for the two of us. Once finished with the museum, we landed ourselves at almost front row seats in this 70-80 person venue. We were told before the show started that this was the first and only flamenco museum in the world! They say that the final piece of flamenco is the audience, if you feel that a breath has been taken away from you by the dancer, you know that you are watching true flamenco. It was truly exhilarating. I love dancing period, but this is something I can hardly relate to, which brings such a sense of thrill watching a dance and listening to music so unique that it’s unlike anything you have ever seen or heard of. The show incorporated two dancers, one male and one female, who were both given the stage together and separately. We were both surprised as the male dancer evoked more passion that the female dancer. They also showcased the guitarist and then brought in the singer for a duet which was breathtaking as well. Hopefully our images will allow the story to come alive.

Flamenco Collage3

A not-so Foreign Land

The sun is gleaning off the tracks parallel to our Renfe highspeed train en route to Seville. Small towns and innumerable olive plantations south of Madrid fly by the window as the train and our trip whir along. Having just popped in some headphones, I threw on Neil Young’s album Harvest to help me reminisce…

We just spent three nights in Spain’s capital city. We encountered yet another brand new culture but were very thankful for the ability to speak a little, I mean poquiotitito, Spanish. Having traveled to Mexico a few times, I have become familiar with the dialect of our neighbors to the south; while helpful, it’s also made it a bit difficult for these Spaniards to understand the version of the Spanish language I know. We give it our best shot and everyone we have come across has been incredibly gracious. Just this morning, while navigating the Metro station near our apartment in the city center, I had to ask a gentleman for help. My question yielded a puzzled look and the universal gesture of confusion – a shoulder shrug with the palms of his hands held upwards. I attempted again to ask my question, he strained to understand and then the lightbulb over his head shown brightly. He wasn’t sure exactly where I should be headed but asked some of his compatriots for advice when a well-dressed woman kindly offered to walk us to a nearby catwalk overlooking signage to our platform. We found the platform and successfully made our way to the train station. The people of Madrid had a very laidback and calm nature about them, something we found to be quite different in comparison to the Italians who, at times, were a bit overly-passionate. As Tarin has always maintained, “it’s not wrong, it’s just different”. The statement could not be more true about these EU countries.

There was no particular itinerary in Madrid, so we simply treated our days as we would any Saturday spent at home. We shopped at the supermarket for daily provisions including fresh produce, meat, eggs and bread. Mornings were spent trying to figure out how to work the coffee maker, a three pieced puzzle we likened to a reverse french press. We sampled churros (without cinnamon and sugar) which is a morning snack dipped in coffee or hot chocolate in Spain. We stopped to sip on local beers and wine while feasting on tapas as we strolled the city streets. Our AirB&B host, Jose, was an older gentleman who had prepared an incredible amount of information which was separated into two spiral-bound notebooks: one for a sightseeing itinerary complete with a suggested route map and the other a collection of he and his wife’s recommended restaurants and markets. We made regular use of this info and found our way around the city quite easily. We found Madrid to be extremely walkable as most of the major destinations weren’t more than a 25 minute walk from our centrally located apartment.

We visited the Royal Palace, current home of the recently appointed King Felipe VI as well as the rest of the Royal Family. My favorite section of the tour was the Royal Armory which housed examples of nearly 600 year-old tools of war used to lead the Spanish conquest carried out over the vast oceans and seas of the world (turns out the world isn’t flat) as well as throughout Europe. It was quite interesting to see how quickly the materials and techniques used progressed from armor strictly war-purposed in the early 1500’s to plate armor covered in goldleaf, more fashion than protection as the weapons progressed during the late 16th century. The latter provided a physical representation of the rise of the Spanish kingdom in the 16th century; as a result of their gold-lust born out of their exploration in the Americas, as well as their conquest of Europe. The Royal Family’s use of their wealth was ever-present as we visited the rest of the 2800 room palace (only 51 rooms were available to the public for viewing). Each room presented a new form of opulence which the Spanish obtained throughout their kingdom. It was simply overwhelming to see how gaudy the Royal Palace had become in a relatively short period of time. Clearly, they needed a room completely made of porcelain (and I mean COMPLETELY – not even a wooden seam is visible), followed by a room with silk walls, hand-woven rugs depicting the Spanish conquest, and gold-adorned furniture, clocks and mirrors not to mention the hand frescoes upon the ceiling of every room. They commissioned the most skilled craftspeople of their time to complete this palace which represents work from the most well respected artisans of the 16-19th centuries. Aside from my obvious distaste (I laid it on a little thick, eh?) for the over-the-top nature in the construction of the palace, the Spanish Royal Family holds an important place in the documentation of art throughout this time period. Their concerted effort to collect the finest artwork and materials still encourages the youth of today’s Spain to carry this component of their culture forward as these works of art continue to be displayed and made available for public viewing. The collection was nothing short of impressive and the quality of workmanship was magnificent.

We awoke on our last morning in Madrid to learn of recent terrorist attacks in France, and we have started to explore the option of removing Paris from our travels. While it may seem like commonsense to avoid an area which has succumb to several terrorist attacks this year, we are left with something we began to hold very near to our hearts as we executed the planning of this travel: we will not let fear rule our lives or make decisions for us. Fear of not having something, fear of failure or fear induced by others cannot control us. We will not allow this to shape who we are or where we will be physically.

Stay tuned while we continue on this journey!

Half Way Home…

We have already been travelling for 6 weeks! After speaking with our loved ones for the first time since week one in Japan, we all agreed that is was hard to believe how quickly time has passed. Nick and I have been reflecting with one another and have been trying diligently to write in our journals. Most of our thoughts have been little notes about each place. It’s difficult to sit and compose thoughts when our journey has seen us jumping from one city or country to the next within a matter of days. As we have started to reflect on the enormity of this world adventure we now understand that perhaps we didn’t allow ourselves enough time between destinations, but through writing our blog and photographing our memories, we hope that our adventures will be captured and relived.


I am so grateful to finally have my best friend with me on my third overseas adventure, because I can finally share these experiences for years to come with someone who was by my side experiencing them as well. Unlike in years past, where I felt as though I was talking at someone when I would recount my travels.

We have encountered quite a few people who have asked us about our travels and Nick has graciously divulged that he hasn’t really traveled outside of North America; people’s common response is generally pure amazement that we have embarked on a three month world journey given that it’s Nick’s first international experience. Living out my personal dreams of international travel once again and being with the man I love – watching him experience the world – is something I have a hard time putting in to words. It’s truly incredible to watch your best friend light up over a soccer match, a historic building or a car for that matter. We are so lucky to have been able to carve out time in our life to be on this travel, and to have established the teamwork, so that renting a car and driving without directions ends up making us laugh and then finally sharing a drink to unwind. We are grateful for the journey which every passing 24 hours brings, whether it’s in the same country or onto our next destination.

One of the best parts of this travel has been thinking about our family and friends throughout our journey and envisioning them sitting next to us enjoying the moment. My Mom was passionate about food and I was passionate about eating her food. As I got older, her knowledge grew and her ability to create different cuisines continued to expand. In traveling through Japan, specifically, I had her in my thoughts constantly. Her and I would enjoy sushi as much as possible, often times when we were in the Seattle area. She even learned how to make sushi at home and bought Nick and I fancy chopsticks and sushi rollers. Now, we haven’t ever used them, but we still have them! Honestly, throughout this whole journey my Mother has been with me – she is with me everyday. Her support of my adventuresome nature and her willingness to live through my independence was always something I loved. I signed Nick and myself up for a pasta making class in Italy with her in mind, after all. Although she did not bake, regardless of the amount of subtle (or sometimes not so subtle) hints my family would give her, I have certainly taken that aspect of the kitchen on myself. For me, it’s my way of recreating her in the kitchen; a place where her and I bonded. So, what better way to learn a new skill than signing us up for a pastry making class in France?! We haven’t gotten there yet, but we hope to soon.

We have also been able to enjoy our love of cheese in Italy. My little sister and my husband will tell you simultaneously that you can never have enough cheese! When we were given plates of meats and cheeses all we could envision was our little sis eating her heart out.


All of the various salamis and delicious aged meats (Antipasto) has left us wanting to teleport Terry, Mr. O’Day himself, to enjoy a few pieces with us. Each time we have a new ham or a new salami all I can say to Nick is, “get your Dad here!”. We have had the pleasure of eating some fabulous cheese and meats in both Italy and Spain. I am in a personal heaven with all the various meats; pour me a glass of vino on the side, and oh my lord – we are in food heaven.

We spent a morning in Madrid at a small restaurant famous for their churros and couldn’t help but remember how Mary O’Day, Nick’s Mom, searched desperately for one of these deep fried treats during a family trip to Riviera Maya in Mexico last December.

Spain’s middle name should be Tapas, and their go to tapas is olives. Some may know of my fondness for these, others may not. However, just as Nick has turned me into a tomato lover, I believe Italy and Spain (and my little nudges) have turned him into an olive lover. As he has stated each time we are served a little dish, “goodness, I just needed to travel around the world to find a good olive!”. This is where his best man and best friend comes into our thoughts. On one of our first trips as a group we found ourselves in little Italy, San Diego; we ordered a dish of several olive varieties and that was the first time Tyler and I bonded over something Nick didn’t enjoy. We politely shared the dish of olives together and we have been olive buddies ever since! I hope you remember that time Tyler, if not…pretend…

Both Nick and I could list off several of our loved ones who enjoy their glass of vino or two! For those of you, please come to Italy! Please enjoy, in my opinion, the best wine in the world. And don’t forget where we live: Nor Cal is famous for theirs too, but the romanticism and this Chianti Classico is something you just won’t get stateside. We have both stated that we will return to Italy for their food and wine!

Thank you for your continued love and support through our life journey. We are so lucky to have family and friends to support us and our new marriage. We are so in love and are loving every minute of this crazy adventure.

Opportunity Seized

About three years ago, dreams of travel to lands far away began to flood my mind as I listened to my future wife talk of her time abroad. I had a few ideas in mind, namely a visit to the land(s) of my heritage – I am a standard American-European mutt afterall. As dreams from the depths of my mind came to surface during long night’s sleep, other visions slowly became more clear. Eventually, the persistence of planning and the saving of money paid off and we were in fact able to set in stone an itinerary which would see us travel the world.

The beautiful game, A.K.A. soccer, is something that holds a special place in my heart. I played my first game as a youngster with my Dad as Coach. Since the age of five, the game has been a continued interest of mine. While continuing to dream of our travel, I felt as though I could not miss an opportunity to see the game played on the biggest stage so that I might experience the passion shared by the world over. Luckily enough, I was able to find a competition in the famed Champions League, an annually held tournament of the top teams throughout Europe, occuring during the calendar months we had planned to travel.

Of nearly equal passion to the sport of soccer, anything with wheels and an engine have always stirred my soul. In fact, some years ago a good friend of mine and I went so far as to purchase and begin making modifications to a late model Japanese car we had planned to race in the Hertz Hornets league near Marysville, Washington state. Our vision failed utterly and sadly we never competed. Thankfully, we are still good friends to this day as this pie-in-the-sky plan didn’t quite pan out and we ended up junking the car. I digress.

Naturally, very near the top of my list of desired destinations was Italy given their passion for both automobili and futbol. Morever, Tarin had never stopped talking about her love of the country – the food, wine, and people, not to mention the beauty of the architecture and land. Perfect, let’s add this destination to our list, I thought. The day-to-day itinerary would most certainly consist of food, wine and the typical sightseeing. The Vatican, the myriad museums and hopefully some of the countryside were to be included. An absolute for me was a visit to the land of Enzo Ferrari, the creator of the artistic and engineering magnificence bearing his last name. The sight and sound of these creations evoked such curiosity that I actually wrote a paper on Enzo in my very short lived college life. Surely I would have to visit the museum and perhaps I might have the opportunity to sit behind the wheel of one of these simply sublime creations.

Enter Rome, a massive city wrought with history, filled with people and the everpresent stench of cigarettes. We had planned a fairly typical trip including the aforementioned Vatican but I was most excited for an opportunity to see a Champions League game played between Serie A (top professional soccer league in Italy) team Roma and Bundesliga (Germany’s top professional soccer league) giant Bayer Leverkusen. The game was to be played at the famed Stadio Olimpico, home to the world’s first Olympiad. We arrived early to find a stadium of rather modern appearance, which was a bit surprising. True, these were the same grounds once used to showcase the very first Olympic games, but I had expected a much, much older building. My initial disappointment at the grounds quickly faded as the fans filtered in and the Roma team song began. None of the seats were used as every single Roma fan stood and proudly held their team’s scarf high whilst belting out the lyrics. The passion was palpable and I was instantly glued to the pitch and the players. The game’s first goal came at the two minute mark from a breakneck Roma counterattack via a throughball to the dynamic midfielder Mohammed Salah – he slotted the ball past the outstretched appendages of the Leverkusen keeper and the stadium simply erupted. Mind you, I’ve not been a lifelong fan of Roma but I, along with the true fans, exploded in a fit of cheers, so much so that I nearly lost my voice for the remainder of the match. The game ended with a Roma win as a result of a penalty kick awarded in the closing minutes of the match.

I was happy the team walked away with the win as I don’t think the Roma fans would be terribly happy, or civil, without!

Fast forward to our final day in Italy, spent in the northern regions of Modena and Maranello, land of the automobile for Italy. Of particular importance for me was a visit to the two Ferrari museums. The first museum we visited detailed the life of Enzo and his love of the automobile. I am certainly no expert of museums, but Tarin and I both agreed that this was a very well executed exhibit which included physical representations of his life’s work in the form of some of the most infamous models of Ferraris as well as an immersive audio/video presentation completed by a total of 19 video projectors and a surround sound system. The visuals of Enzo’s childhood and his prolific racing career were accompanied by the operatic sounds of Luciano Pavarotti, the world famous Modena-born tenor; Enzo and Luciano shared a friendship and admiration for one another in their adulthood as they were both hailed as the best of their craft and also grew up in the same region. This production playing out amongst the presence of the most beautiful cars to grace this earth moved me immensely, and left a feeling as though I had visited a world-class museum.

Enzo Ferrari Museo. The car in the foreground is the 1984 Testarossa - the one that started my fascination.
Enzo Ferrari Museo. The car in the foreground is the 1984 Testarossa – the one that started my fascination.

We then made our way to Maranello, home of the Ferrari factory and the official F1 Ferrari museum where I was delighted to find several third-party companies offering the chance to drive one of these works of art. I snapped up the chance and hopped behind the wheel of a 2009 Ferrari California, the “Family Car” produced by the Maranello-based design house. The experience didn’t disappoint and I had a couple of opportunities to open up the engine, even passing a slow-going sedan in the vineyard covered hills of Northern Italy. All the while, I had my best friend and wife in the back seat to enjoy this once in a lifetime experience.

Behind the Wheel of the 2009 Ferrari California
Behind the Wheel of the 2009 Ferrari California

Throughout my time in Italy, I often thought of my Uncle Joe who had recently been battling cancer. He underwent a significant surgery to remove the cancer earlier this year and was healthy enough to attend my wedding, which was very special for me as he was one of two uncles who was always present in my life. Unfortunately, after the intense surgery and recovery to remove the cancer, he fell out of remission and passed away just a few days ago. He had recently retired from a physically demanding and long tenured career and I can only imagine that he had plans to live out some dreams of his own. On two occasions in as many weeks, I had a chance to live out dreams of mine. I am incredibly thankful for the opportunity to do so and if not for my own personal enjoyment, I also lived these moments in remembrance and in honor of my family and my Uncle Joe. These experiences only solidified the need to truly live in the moment and take the opportunities life affords oneself.

Sleep Tight, Don’t let the Elephants Bite

It’s 12am and I am fast asleep in our luxury tent sitting high atop the Terengire valley. The ever-increasing strength of Tarin’s grip on my hand wakes me to a cacophony of animals just outside our canvas tent. I quickly sit up and realize that whatever is making the sound, it’s LARGE and it’s no more than 18 inches from where our heads had just laid. We sit on the bed, hands held tightly, and prepare for the worst; I reach for the aluminum extendo-pole for our GoPro, anticipating that I may have to fend something off. We hear the beast ripping off foliage and chewing, all while a constant “thwack, thwack, thwack” against the canvas of our tent lets us know that it’s definitely on top of us and wouldn’t have much trouble dispatching our tent through the air. Suddenly, a deep and slow rumble from the beast’s throat echoes through the air. We spring from this near-certain death bed and decide that we should hide behind something a little more substantial. The rear of the tent is partially constructed from concrete, so we think we would be safer back there. Shuffling to and fro and convinced that this was it, we ride out a period of about 45 minutes when the animal seems to finally move on. We peer out of the tiny screen windows to find a small family of gazelle appear, almost on queue with the departure of the much larger animal we had just heard. This seems odd, we think – wasn’t there some sort of a snarling beast here only moments ago ready to kill anything nearby? We continued watching the gazelle, in pure amazement of these beautiful animals when in the blink of an eye, they disappear as fast as they had showed up. I continue to look through the window when I see an elephant trunk appear from the left, and grab a tree branch in search of food. It was then that I realized that terrifying collection of sounds which caused our panic was an elephant! The longer we watched, the more elephants we saw. At this point, our fear dissipated and turned to pure wonderment at this rather peaceful looking family of elephants. They exercised their muscle power to snap off tree limbs to feed themselves and eventually moved on. By this time, it’s nearly 3am and we crawl back in to bed in order to catch a couple more hours of sleep. We poked our heads out of the tent at sunrise and waited for our required escort (a man quite a bit smaller than I with a flashlight – watch out one-ton elephants!!!) and make our way to the main lodge to find our safari guide, Mosses, waiting for us. We tell him of our incredible experience and he assures us that we were safe. He then follows this period of reassurance with a real fit of laughter. “Bwahaha…Mzungnu!” he exclaims. He and another guide continue to laugh for a period of several minutes and all we can do is smile and laugh along. Welcome to the safari mzungus (white people).

Our safari was nothing short of amazing. We managed to see nearly all of the big five: elephant, lion, hippo, cape buffalo and the black rhino (never did get to see the rhino!). They are categorized as the “big five” not only because of their large size, but also because of their strong ability to defend themselves and their family members. We witnessed gaggles of  grant gazelle, tons of tiny thompsons, lots of lions, zillions of zebras and enumerable elephants, among others (we’ll have plenty more where that came when we get home)!

Perhaps most special were our sightings of the normally shy and elusive cheetah and leopard. It was my birthday morning when we spotted our first cheetah walking along the road seemingly careless to our presence. We continued to follow the cheetah for several minutes when our guide told us that this was an animal on the hunt; not more than two minutes later, the cheetah bolted on a pack of small Thompson gazelles and disappeared over the horizon – all tail and elbows. Later that day, we were bouncing along the dusty road when we noticed a collection of other safari vehicles huddled around a group of acacia trees. We stopped and peered through the binoculars to find a well-muscled male leopard sunning himself on the large branch of an acacia. Not more than a few minutes later a family of unknowing warthogs came just a little too close to this opportunistic cat and we watched as the leopard leapt from the tree and scooped up a days-old warthog! He brought his prize back to the tree and devoured the snack just out of sight, behind the tree from which he was slumbering. We finished the day back at camp where Tarin had organized a small celebration of sorts with the camp staff. I had already enjoyed a few Safari lagers and had no problem joining in with the staff as they sang and danced as their way of saying “Happy Birthday”. *Pictures to come*

The following day, we witnessed something that Tarin and I both agree was the most special part of our trip. We were headed down a well traveled dirt road when a leopard stepped out of the long grass to show itself. As it continued directly in our path, our guide informed us that this was a female. While she sauntered along, she would occasionally let out a deep and short growl – this, we were told, was her call to her young. We followed her for quite a few minutes but eventually lost sight as she stepped back into the camouflage of the grass. Our guide didn’t waste a moment, and pealed out towards the opposite end of the field which the female leopard had disappeared. We continued along this stretch of grass for 10-15 minutes when I shouted to Mosses – “there she is”! We noticed the mother first and not more than a few steps behind her was one of her young she had found in the grass.


Mama and Baby 1

She continued along, still calling out. Just beyond a line of acacia, another baby appeared and all three were reunited. They played and rubbed against one another, clearly happy to be in each other’s company. We didn’t get a chance to watch much longer as they quickly made their way out of sight.

We woke before sunrise every day and were treated quite well by all our hosts. Coffee, yogurt, bananas and eggs were made available every day before we would head off into the plains. All said and done, we visited Terengire National Park, Serengeti National Park, and the Ngorogoro Crater Preservation spread out over five days. It was truly an amazing experience, one that we are grateful to have included in our honeymoon adventure.