Adventure Wish List #1

Oh, Pinterest.  You are so much fun to look at, but you suck so much time from my day without me realizing.  Damn you.

I don't know about users, but when I log into Pinterest, my home screen is FILLED with gorgeous pictures of faraway places that people have repinned.  It's like Pinterest knows how much I like to travel, and it decides to taunt me with all of the places I haven't been to yet.  It prompted me to make a board of 'Places to Go' that is pretty full.  
Here is what I was greeted with today.  Sigh.

So instead of pinning every pretty pic of places to go, why not focus realistically on one place at a time?

First Item on the Adventure Wish List - Carnaval in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

¡Vamos para o Carnaval!

I am choosing this first since it recently became a near-future possibility.  My best friend's husband, Chester, had missionaries for parents.  He was born and raised in a rural area of Brazil before his parents moved him and his family back to the United States in his late childhood.  He has since married my best friend Ashley, and now wants to take her to Brazil to see his home country.  While at dinner a few weeks ago they asked Dustin and I if we would be interested in going to visit Brazil with them, and I mentioned how crazy it would be to go there during Carnaval, which is Brazil's national celebration during the six weeks before Lent.  It is Brazil's biggest holiday, and the country pretty much shuts down to party and throw elaborately costumed Samba paradesInteresting fact from Wikipedia:  80% of Brazil's annual beer consumption and 70% of tourism happens during Carnaval.  

So, it sounds like Mardi Gras on a much larger scale.  Who wouldn't want to do that?  Plus, we have a Brazilian native and fluent Portuguese speaker to travel with.  Perfect.

Besides the festivities of Carnaval, the beaches are amazing, you can visit the Amazon rainforest, and Brazilian food is delicioso. 

I am hoping we can make this trip happen, so we better start planning soon!  In the meantime, feast your eyes on the beauties of Brazil and Carnaval :)

Wiki Page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brazilian_Carnival
Official Carnaval Page: http://www.rio-carnival.net/


Necessities - Microfiber Travel Towel

One of my favorite must-have accessories is the Travel TowelDoesn't seem very exciting, I know, but it is one of the most useful purchases I have made for traveling.

If you travel frequently and are always looking for space saving items, a must have is the microfiber travel towel.  Super compact and lightweight, these towels dry extremely quickly and are still able to absorb as much liquid as a regular towel.  They can also be used for more than just a towel.  I have used mine several times as a blanket and as a makeshift umbrella. 

Mine has traveled with me for 10 years now through the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, twice through Europe and other trips, and the thing still looks brand-spanking new.   I use a MicroNet Suede Microfiber Towel (you can find them on Amazon here: http://www.amazon.com/MicroNet-Suede-Ultra-Compact-Microfiber-Towel/dp/B003V4MK28


Planes, Trains, and Street Fights in Nice

I think it would be ideal to start the blog off with a bang with one of the craziest travel adventures I have had (yet) in Nice, South France.  It’s a fantastic account complete with daring rescues, street war, celebrations and feats of great heights.  Looking back, I still laugh and shake my head in disbelief and awe.  But before the meat of the story, let’s have some context.

Back in 2006, a friend Colleen and I took a whirlwind summer backpacking tour through Europe.  Our jaunt hit some of the best European destinations:  London, Paris, Amsterdam, Rome, Nice, and Barcelona (and everything in between from the window of a train, of course).  This is by far my favorite trip undertaken yet, and but also the one with the most complications encountered.  I will elaborate on that some other entry, but let me foreshadow by suggesting that it may involve missed flights, strikes, sleeping under escalators, getting robbed, lost passports and more…but let’s tackle one saga at a time.

While traveling Europe, we met countless remarkable people.  The thing about traveling abroad with only one other person is that you tend to get sick of each other very quickly, which in turn makes you a little more open to meeting new people.  You get to know a travel companion on a new level, and sometimes we don’t always like what we find.  Well, we really must have wanted to kill each other with all of the fresh people we sought out (sort of kidding, Colleen).  The most interesting people we met as we explored each country led to the best memories on the trip, and our trip to Nice was no exception.

The afternoon of our departure to Nice, Colleen and I lugged our heavy backpacks on sweat-soaked backs to the Termini train station.  The heat that had enveloped Rome that day was stagnant, heavy and wet. We both severely regretted skipping our morning showers that day.  Not a great situation when facing a long, overnight train ride (without showers) in close proximity.  We dodged and weaved through the thick masses of Romans and tourists coming and going to the ticket office.  Tickets in hand, our next move was to find a somewhat clean and unoccupied space of cement to sit near our train departure platform.  For any of you who hasn't been to the Termini of Rome, you should know that it is chaotic and not always readily apparent where to go or even who to ask for help.  Our exhaustion had us nearly spent,  so we decided the best bet was to ask some people who looked like they spoke English and knew what they were doing what to do.  

We found a group of three young guys, looking to be about our age, and overheard them shouting English (British English at least, close enough).  As we walked over, we picked up on a lively exchange about their previous night's escapades, which must have been quite amusing given the animation in their voices, crazy hand gestures and the big smiles on their faces.  I stopped a few feet away and hesitated to interrupt, but the red head immediately noticed my presence  as I was listened in awkwardly waiting for a pause.  I got one, along with quizzical looks, and I smiled apologetically.

"Excuse me, I'm sorry to bug you guys, but do you have any idea how we find out which platform we need?"
The red head one smiled warmly. "'Course, no worries, where you off to?"
"What time?"
"No shit, so are we!" he yelled.  "Platform 4, right here.  Take a seat, Americans!"
Relieved, we dropped our heavy packs and began the standard "where are you from and where have you been" conversation that all fellow travelers have until our train began to board.  As the train slowly pulled up to the platform, we stood to collect our belongings,  and Colleen asked them which car they were assigned.
"Oh, we don't buy train tickets, we just get on."  said redhead, who had told us his name was Sam.  "We'll just stay with you ladies in your car."  And that was that.

Faced with a disgruntled ticket man on board, the boys did eventually have to buy their tickets, but our car was only spotted with a handful of other backpackers.  Sam and his two companions, Jamie and Mark, squeezed into our compartment for the long train ride.  We crammed in, and laid out like sardines across the compartment benches in a futile attempt to get comfortable.  The train was jerky, the seats minimally padded, everyone smelled and even with the windows cracked and the sun set, it was hot.  

If that wasn't miserable enough, around 1 am the screams of an old woman cut through the silence of our car in an unfamiliar language, waking everyone abruptly from half sleep.  She and a man down the hall were having an argument, but her screams reminded me of the sound a rabbit makes when caught by a predator.  After 15 minutes without any signs of stopping, despite protests from several car member for her to shut up, I resigned.  I crammed my earbuds into my ears tighter and cranked up my iPod to the max, letting the Postal Service muffle the screams and lull me back into a half sleep.
This is me, just after waking up from the screeching woman.  Obviously, not happy.
I awoke early and crawled over legs and arms to exit our compartment to the bathroom.  On the way, I found Mark sitting Indian style in the connecting area at the back of the train car.  He was smoking and chatting with a man wearing a newsie cap and who sounded American.  I was introduced to Johnny from New York, who Mark proclaimed was the best roller of cigarettes he'd ever known.  We chatted for a while and decided that upon arrival in Nice, we would all get together as a group for some beach time and a night out on the town.  Our hostels were within blocks of each other, and Johnny...well, Johnny said he would figure something out, or would crash on one of our floors.  

Left to right - Johnny, me, Jamie, Sam, Mark, and Colleen
Our train arrived to a sunny morning in Nice, and Colleen and I went our separate ways to check into our hostel.  We made plans to meet at the beach an hour later.  The streets were bustling with tourists and much to our dismay, the heat had followed us from Rome.  After walking a few circles around a block of apartment style buildings, we found our hostel name on a door.  We pressed the buzzer, and a petite timeworn woman named Pauline answered the door.  She waved us in with a loud "Entrez" and motioned to our room and the bathroom, her English obviously limited to a few useful expressions.  The 'hostel' was Pauline's two bedroom apartment, and we were the only other occupants, besides her cat.  Every room was painted pink or had pink flowered wallpaper.  Figurines, knickknacks and doilies everywhere.  Pauline ushered us to our room, and much to my allergies' dismay, a fluffy orange cat lounged on our double bed.  We settled in to our temporary home, bathed, and left for the beach.
Our hostel room in Pepto Pink
The beaches of Nice are rocky, but smooth and stunning.  The gray stones led down to the unblemished blue waters of the Mediterranean Sea.  The calm breeze was just strong enough to diminish the heat to a comfortable level.  Speedboats, catamarans, and sailboats speckled the blue expanse.  We laid out our towels on an open patch of beach near the water.  Soon, our four train companions arrived.  We spent the afternoon swimming in the sea, soaking up the sun, and buying fresh coconut slices from a walking beach vendor.  

We watched nearby as tourists went out to para sail, and Colleen and I decided we had to do it. We strapped ourselves into the harness, and before we knew it, we were floating over a serene view of south France under a rainbow sail.  The experience was terrifying and exhilarating all at once, and we both agreed it was money well spentSoon after our para sailing adventure, we walked about a half mile down the beach to the cliffs.  We climbed to the top and took turns with some local kids, taunting each other to leap the 20-some feet down to the sea below. 
Colleen and I taking off
Nice Beaches

Cliff Jumping with Sam
Jamie being silly
And to think this was only the beginning of our day.

As the sun sank lower in the sky, we packed up our beach settlement.  A fellow tourist had told Jamie about a great English pub in the heart of Nice, and since our Brit friends couldn't resist the idea of a pub, we decided to start our night there and went our separate waysThat evening at the pub, we danced, laughed and met many other backpacking tourists, and after a couple hours we took to the streets of Nice.  We found a little town square filled with people and street performers to hang out at.  Jamie found his calling as a tambourine accompanist to "Miss Stephanie," one of the performers.  We laughed and clapped along as Jamie and Miss Stephanie performed American show tunes for the square

Jamie and Miss Stephanie

We were so busy laughing and singing that it took us a moment before we realized that a group of 5 French 20-something guys was approaching our group.  We turned to find sour looks on their faces.  Now I don't speak french, so I still have only a vague idea of what was said, but before I even knew what was happening, Mark was up on his feet as the closest member of the unwelcome group began yelling.  The French guy got in Mark's face yelling in broken English, and the word "hooligan" was thrown around.  I thought this was a funny word to use, but apparently the British find it quite insulting.  That little word prompted all four of our travel friends to their feet, and I grabbed Colleen to move away.  Suddenly, a punch was thrown.  Before our eyes a street brawl broke out.  We watched in horror, unable to do anything.  As Mark and one of the French guys came close to us, Colleen instinctively stepped in front of his attacker and pleaded for them to stop.  The french guy took no notice of her, and a punch intended for Mark landed squarely on Colleen's head.  She cried out and reeled back into my arms before we crumpled to the ground.  As I tended to Colleen, the fight ended abruptly with our attackers retreating, and our friends trotting over bruised and bloodied. 

"What happened? " Jamie asked as he wiped a streak of blood off his forehead. 
"I'll tell you what happened," Mark yelled, a smile on his face, his shirt missing.  "Colleen took a punch for me!"
Colleen was OK, thankfully, but she was obviously shaken. The boys all congratulated Colleen on taking her first punch with grace, which got a smile and a laugh out of her, and then they proceeded to congratulate each other on a good fight. 
The guys celebrating their victory
We decided our time at the square was over, and since we figured the French guys could come back with reinforcements,we went to the largely unlit beach to relax and regroup. On the way, the boys bought a bottle of vodka to celebrate, which probably wasn't necessary considering that they were pretty well intoxicated already.  We arrived and found a spot to sit near the cliffs we had jumped from earlier, and began reliving the nights events.  It seemed our night was winding down.  Suddenly, Sam jumped up and ran to the ocean, Mark following close behind, for a night swim.  We laughed and watched as they splashed around and  reenacted the night's victory in battle, dunking and tossing each other around dramatically.  Jamie, Johnny, Colleen and I stayed behind and began having a lively discussion about who knows what.  After a few minutes, I realized that we couldn't hear or see Mark and Sam anymore.  
"Guys, do you see them anywhere?" I asked.
We all stood up and walked down to the still water, scanning the dark for any sign of them.  Nothing.  We called out their names.  Nothing.
"My god.  They are in no state to be swimming.  What if something happens?"  I asked, squinting out at the inky black water.
Colleen turned to me and grabbed my arm"You're the sober one, and you're a lifeguard!  Do something!"
"What am I supposed to do?  I can't swim out there!  It's pitch black!"
"Liz please!  I cant see them!"
I shuddered as neither Johnny nor Jamie protested Colleen's plea.  Yes, I was a strong swimmer, and yes I was sober, but the thought of that dark water and of not seeing what was under the surface terrified me. 
"Mark!  Sam!"  Johnny yelled at the top of his lungs one last time
Still nothing.  Everyone was now looking at me to see what I would do.  I let out an exasperated sigh and stripped down to my bra and underwear.  

As I began to walk into the cool, inky black water, all I could think about were sharks.  Scenes from Jaws began flashing in my mind.  The water reached my knees and began to shake.  I walked slowly and by the time the water hit my waist, my heart was pounding in my chest.  The water finally deepened to my chest and I kicked off the bottom and began to swim into pure blackness.  A few strokes out, I gasped and stopped abruptly, my fear almost forcing me to turn around.  I collected my breath for a few seconds of treading water, reassured myself that sharks don't eat people in Nice in the middle of the night, and continued forward.  About 100 yards out I looked back again, my friends waiting anxiously at the waters edge and shouting in support on the beach.  They seemed uncomfortably far away.  

About another minute of swimming I began to call out for Mark and Sam as loud as I could.  
With the silence that followed each call, my panic increased.  I desperately scanned out to sea, continuing my calls.  The water was too still.  Just as I began to think the worst, I heard a splash in the distance and figured Jaws was finally coming in for the kill.  I turned to the left, and instead saw two pairs of arms splashing towards me.  Thirty seconds later, Mark and Sam popped their heads up for air.
"Hey, fancy meeting you out here!" Sam called in a cheery voice. 
My fury swelled.  "What the hell is the matter with you guys?!  I thought you drowned!"
"Nah," Mark said as he laughed and splashed the water.  "We're too good to drown." 
I couldn't respond with anything but a laugh of relief.  We swam back to our cheering friends waiting on shore, and had a good laugh about the whole thing as we made our way back to our hostels.  As exciting as the day was, I had never been so happy to see a cat-hair covered bed and pink pillow in my life.

Don't Drink the Water!

“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” – St. Augustine

Hooray, I am a blogger!  I blog.  I have a blog.  No one yet reads my blog.  Hopefully someone will read my blog posts and be entertained and intrigued.  Blogging could be fun.  Have I mentioned this is my blog?  

Now that we have that cleared up, let's move on.  I love to travel.  Who doesn't?  Actually, wait, I do know a couple people who don't (Grandpa Tom, I'm side-eying you) but I know few people who don't enjoy a good travel adventure now and then.  I have had my share of adventures abroad over the years, and yet still consistently have the 'travel itch'.  My husband Dustin and I just returned from a 2 week backpacking trip to Europe with our friends Ryan and Kari Hannay, and I am already excited to think about our next big adventure, which just might be to Rio, Brazil (see here and here) with my best friend Ashley and her husband Chester!  That's what I want my blog to be about.  I want to document the memories I have and share some good stories, while planning for and exploring future adventures.  

Why the blog's nameBecause, not only is it one of the best Dave Matthew's songs of all time (enjoy) but it seems everywhere I have ever gone outside the US, you encounter this warning.  Sometimes it's not warranted, and other times, it is (cough cough Ryan Hannay).

There.  Blog intro complete.  Nothing fancy, but it will do.  So let's dive in.