VOTE! Help us win a WEDDING in MEXICO Giveaway!



Hi travel/blog friends!  I’ve neglected the blog for ages and ages…failed to tell you all about my amazing adventures in the US (FL, WA, CO, CA) and a big South Africa trip in the past year, but I’m back to plead for your HELP!

I SAID YES!  Paul proposed last month on our anniversary at the same spot we had our first hiking date, with a touching photo book filled with two years worth of adventures together and then popping the question on one knee with my grandma’s engagement ring in hand.  Nala-dog was there to witness it all too!


Flash-forward to this month when I saw a local tv show (Twin Cities Live) was giving away a wedding in Mexico and got the wild idea to apply.  You all know I’m crazy about travel – the food! the people! the beauty! – but apparently it’s contagious because Paul has developed wanderlust now too.  What better way to say “I DO! I DO!” than from an amazing destination with family and close friends, sharing our love and love of travel!

From 100 couples, our story made the top 5.  We were called in for tv interviews last week and then the staff picked us for their top 3.  Now the open voting has begun to pick the winner!  This is where you come in!  You can vote every day, through Sunday the 25th.  It takes seconds to do – a few clicks – no need to enter personal information/email address/sign-up for anything!  Please vote for us and consider sharing the link with everyone in your network, strangers at the store, etc.  Thank you, thank you, thank you in advance!  Winners are announced next Monday – fingers and toes are crossed!


WATCH THE TV VIDEO CLIP HERE (fast-fwd to 4:57 for us!):

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Blog Hiatus – Flash Fwd to 2014

Well, it’s been a few months.  The calendar rolled over to 2014; my year of 30 is almost over; life has changed a lot in a few short months.  My fantastic blog fans, Kelly and Court, persuaded me to finish the travel tails so I’m going to recap all the crazy changes since I came back from traveling and then slowly, but surely, I’ll keep posting about my adventures from the 2012-2013 travels.  There are plenty of destinations I failed to cover yet and plenty more in store for this year and beyond!

After Italy (the end of my world tour), it was back to the good ol’ US of A.  A quick stop in Chicago and then I stayed with my lil sister and her husband up in Duluth, MN for most of August and September.  These months were filled with family time, hanging out with my dog, exercising, cooking and eating healthy foods again…oh and applying for jobs.  It took Nally a few seconds to recognize me, but then we were back to being as thick as thieves (click for reunion video).  She ended up needing surgery shortly after I came back so I was grateful for the timing and being able to take care of her!  It also helped distract me from the transition of being home.  Plenty of blogs warned me of the culture shock and post-travel blues upon returning home, but I was still blown away when it hit.  It just took awhile to replace the pace of traveling with new routines and goals.

Unemployment bliss couldn’t last forever, though.  I accepted a contract job in Mirabel, QC (just north of Montreal) and loaded up the car once more in October.  I’ve been living here for four months now and while I’ve managed to only pick up a handful of French phrases, I’ve eaten plenty of crepes and poutine.  It’s back to the ol’ flight testing routine now…long days and long weeks.  I’ve met some wonderful people at work who help keep me sane and I have the world’s best neighbors who help look after Nally (and me!).  I’m also in a new relationship with a Minnesotan, which translates into fun weekend visits, exploring Montreal together, and more visits back home too.

Now it’s the end of January and I’m completely immersed in a Canadian winter.  Winter tires and all.  I remember years ago doing aircraft testing in an indoor chamber at -40degC and asking myself why on earth we were testing down to those temps –  who would possibly operate/live in conditions like that.  Me, apparently.    All this cold weather is good for staying indoors to go through travel photos and formulating blog posts.  Stay tuned!

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Singing Dead Sea in the Dead Sea

SunsetDead Sea Sunset – Jordan

I adore the song “Dead Sea” by The Lumineers.  While floating in the Dead Sea off Jordan, it was impossible not to hum this tune as I experimented with the hilariousness of struggling to fold my legs under me, only to watch them shoot up to the surface.

My travels have included adrenaline filled adventure and mind expanding culture, yet this was one of the coolest things to date.  Floating in the Dead Sea instantly made me a kid again.  A bucket list item completely worth the stop!

Dead Sea Facts (thanks, Wiki):

  • 1,388 ft below sea level
  • lowest land elevation on earth
  • 33.7% salinity
  • 9.6x saltier than the ocean

Dead Sea Tips:

  • Heed the warnings about keeping the water away from your eyes and mouth. I saw tears shed.
  • Prepare yourself for feeling slimy. Literally. The super salty water leaves you covered in a film.
  • Prepare yourself for burning. Open cuts especially.  Doobeedoo.
  • Apparently you can die from swimming on your stomach.  Really?!
  • Real tip, you can find day access at Amman Beach for around $22usd (much cheaper than nearby resorts).  They have locker rooms, showers, pools, etc.  It was acceptable to wear a bikini here; several women were in full up robes and hijabs too, though.
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The Perfect Lunch in Rome

Everything in Europe seemed expensive to me this time around.  Maybe it’s the Euro doing so well against the dollar or maybe after Nepal nothing would seem cheap again.  Either way, I love a good bargain and it was between hard to impossible to find them at restaurants surrounding touristy areas in Rome.  Then the lady I was renting an apartment room from pointed me towards a fresh pasta shop near the Spanish Steps that has started serving lunch.  

On Via del Cruce, this shop just says ‘Pastificio’ above the door.  There are two options each day and they vary day to day.  For 4 Euro, I received a massive plate of pasta and my choice of wine or water.   The line was usually out the door, but moved fast.  You can get it to go or wait for a stool to open up.  This is a quick, eat-and-go type shop, not a restaurant.  Yum!

After demolishing a plate of delicious homemade pasta, time to walk it off 10 minutes down the road to my favorite gelato stop, Giolitti.  From what I picked up, this is arguably the best gelato in Rome.  I went back twice in one day so that tells you what my review is of the gelato here.

When you walk in, pay at the stand-alone cash register by desired size (doesn’t matter if you want a cup or cone).  Then walk to the back room with your receipt and you’ll see two massive cases filled with gelato.  There were half a dozen men helping behind the counters to keep up with the demand!  My tip is to skip the fruit flavors and head straight for the good stuff (pistachio, nutella, quadruple chocolate something or other).  Bonus round, they add a dollop of fresh cream on top as well!  Yum!

If you want to stay in the area around the Spanish Steps, though, or you need a double helping of dessert, you can walk west from the pasta shop to the corner and you’ll see Pompi, a famous tiramisu chain.  Even the locals eat this one at 4 Euros a box.  The takeaway boxes make it easy to head to the steps to enjoy! I thought it was tasty, but ultimately preferred the fresh stuff I was getting in smaller restaurants around town.

And that was my favorite lunch in Rome!

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Searching for Zeus on Mount Olympus, Greece

Whether it was my friend, Russ, or I that came up with the idea to make a detour to hike Mount Olympus (home to 12 Olympian gods of ancient Greece), once the ball was rolling there was no turning back in my mind.  I was flooded with confidence from trekking around Nepal for 3 weeks and ventured that I could handle this summit, especially since it was split up over two days.  The plan was to catch a morning train to Litohoro, cab it to the trail, hike to the refuge, stay the night, leave early for the summit and be back down by lunch.  Booya! We’d leave Athens to meet Zeus and return less than 48 hours later.

day 1 beauty

it's in there somewhere the mapFrom the train station outside Litohoro, the taxi took us to our starting point of Pironia.  It was possible to begin from town, but this would have added an additional 4-5 hours to our afternoon start.  In 2.5 hours we ascended around 1000m (3280ft) in ideal weather up to the refuge, which was quite nice.  There was a giant room with bunk beds, a restaurant, an eating area with a fireplace and common bathroom.  While I tried to keep my pack as light as possible (agony) by bringing only a daypack, Russ managed to find room for a glass bottle of vodka in his pack for that night’s entertainment. Good thing the bottle wasn’t full and everyone headed to bed early for a somewhat early summit start!

We were on the trail by 6:40a the following morning and just below Skala peak by 8a, nearly a 900m ascent (2952ft).  We sat on a pile of rocks in hopes the morning clouds would burn off, but the wind was chilly and after 30 min of teeth chattering (on my part), we moved on and hit Skala a few minutes later.

At this point I should mention that when it comes to outdoor activities, I generally push myself way beyond my comfort zone when I’m with Russ.  He is much more knowledgeable and experienced about this stuff; therefore, I force myself to relinquish control over every situation and trust him.  So far, so good.

over into the abyss

Just follow this path into the abyss

Despite being socked in, Russ assured me we could handle the Mytikas summit.  90% of people (complete guess) were turning back or not bothering to attempt further. Two guys appeared out of the clouds with the warning, “Carefully consider what you’re about to do.  You can’t even see a path.”  While the lazy side of me was utterly ready to turn around and head back, the side that refuses to live with regrets won out and I agreed to press on anyways. The first 5 minutes were easy breezy – what were those two jokers before talking about?  Then the real scramble section started.  While classified as a class 3 scramble, my raging heart beat and shaky limbs would classify it higher.  The parts where I hung over the abyss, gripping to the rock released a special little adrenaline pouch I would label ‘panic’.  Of course, Russ was cool as a cucumber, providing lots of ‘you got this’ and ‘no, put your foot there and grab on here’.   I wanted to be a chicken (read: smart) with those other two guys during so many points of this scramble.

In the end, success.  2917 meters (9570ft).  We reached the highest peak in Greece…and couldn’t see a thing, not even Zeus or his buddies.  The peak was still socked in.  Our names made it into the log and triumphant summit shots were taken next to the Greek flag.  Naturally I then started chit chatting with some fellow hikers…anything to avoid the scramble down.  Just when I thought we’d made it down the toughest part and were nearly to Skala again, we decided to take an alternative route that involved a steep scree field.  It was a gorgeous view and in the end worth taking, but I shredded my thighs in the process and was officially terrible company, nothing but fear and complaints out of me!

*Let me narrate these photos a bit. Left: Loads of head gear, total crazy lady. Bottom right: Contemplating how not to slide off into oblivion.

*Middle left: That is not a fist pump. Top right: Completely spent.  And physically hot, but too terrified to stop and remove any of my 10 layers.

After making it back down nearly 2000m (6000 ft), we waited an hour for a ride back into town and then walked aimlessly trying to find somewhere to eat.  Food rage had set in and it wasn’t pretty.  Once the baklava happened, though, life was good again and I could appreciate the beautiful hike we’d just accomplished and the beach we were headed to for the night!

baklava! summit #1

Russ might think twice now before hiking with me on something with a scramble, but it was a brilliant hike overall and I’m happy with it.  Mount Olympus definitely added a different twist to our tour of Greece; going beyond the city and island landscapes, which I’ll write about in upcoming posts.  Besides not meeting any of the 12 ancient gods, the only regret I was left with was not having more time to spend in this picturesque area of Greece!  Maybe I’ll head back to the summit again one day when the forecast calls for clear skies!!!

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Diving with Manta Rays in Komodo National Park *video

Swimming back to the liveaboard boat on the Great Barrier Reef, I became lazy, put back on my mask and snorkel and rolled back over into the water.  That was when a huge dark shadow moved towards me, underneath me.  My brain was slow to respond, but when recognition registered my face popped out and I started screaming ‘MANTA RAY! MANTA. RAY.’  My two dive buddies frantically swam back in time to catch the blur gliding away.  The visibility wasn’t the best; it moved by so quickly. Yet everyone on board assured me I should be thrilled because it was incredibly rare to sight a manta, at least on the GBR.

Komodo NP

Flash forward a few weeks to diving in Komodo National Park off Flores, Indonesia.  On the ride out that morning our group pondered what the chances would be of spotting a manta ray since this area was known to be a manta ray cleaning station.  We had no idea what was in store for us.  The first time our divemaster pointed into the abyss and made the manta signal I was blown away at the ~4m manta gliding behind us. As we approached the 10th sighting, I lost count, but my awe had in no way diminished towards these underwater giants.  For minutes upon minutes we’d hover just above the floor in the strong current and watch as one after another checked us out, circled for a cleaning or with one quick up and down flap of their wings disappeared into the blue.  An incredibly special dive to say the least!

Here are just a few of the gentle giants we saw while diving.  The last guy is my favorite!

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I Grew Up Eating Pasta (A Trip to the Italian Countryside)

I grew up eating pasta.  Lots and lots of pasta.


My granny’s mother and father came over to Chicago from Rivisondoli, Italy over 100 years ago.  While I never met them, the family tradition of making homemade tomato sauce and lasagna noodles (on a special occasion) was not lost with my Granny or with me.

There are many European countries that I could point to as part of my ancestry, but it has only been Italy that has influenced my nightly meals and dating life.  When I finally started dating in college (yup, late bloomer), inevitably the first question that was asked by Granny was “Is he Italian?”.  And I would have to crush her precious spirit just a little by replying that I had no idea!

There’s always been a curiosity within me to see where this side of my family came from and my association of Rivisondoli to Granny only intensified after she passed away in 2007, even if she wasn’t born there.  To see where the Italian Royal family used to ski back in the day; where scamorza cheese is made; where our family names, Romito and De Capite, are everywhere; where fresh pasta shops are still surviving.   These were the things I had to see for myself.

For my very last week of traveling 14 months around the world, I coordinated a visit to Rivisondoli. This was my third trip to Italy and I made this pilgrimage my sole priority.  What would take 2.5-3 hrs by car took me nearly an entire day by train and bus to this under-serviced village on the side of a mountain.  It was worth it a hundred times over.


I rented an apartment for an entire week.  I wasn’t going to breeze in, check it out and breeze out.  I roamed the tiny streets or simply stared out at breathtaking views and soaked it in.   I consumed heaps of scamorza cheese (think mozzarella) and local red wine.  I walked to the two nearby towns of Rocarasso and Peccorastanza too.  I hiked up the small mountain and stood amongst the bees at the summit.

I’ve been all over Italy from the north to the south and this was the Italy of my dreams.  I would walk the streets and experience complete heartbreak.  Not a lover’s heartbreak, but the kind when something sings to your soul and your soul sings back.   The flower-lined houses; the shudders; the two little old ladies stopping every 20 feet between public benches as they gossip; weekends in the main square; wooden doors shorter than an average person; a (my?) family crest above a doorway.  It didn’t matter that there was a complete language barrier for me.  I understood enough.

It was the perfect week – a perfect last week to so many amazing weeks traveling around the world.

There are many more stories to tell from this past year and pictures to share!  Stay tuned and thanks for coming along on this journey with me!

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