London on Empty


My flight arrived in London at Heathrow just before 7 AM, London time. Yet, I was unable to check into my hotel until 2:30 PM. This meant I had quite a few hours to kill before I could rest properly and I hadn't slept, but for maybe an hour on the plane. So what could I do to pass the time? Explore the classic tourist sites, of course!

I dropped my luggage off at the Sheriff Hotel and set to walking about London at 8 in the morning. I knew I needed a currency exchange, breakfast, and tourist attractions and thanks to Google Maps... that's exactly what I got!

It took me a little while to learn how to navigate the winding, flat bordered streets, but I eventually got sorted and made my way down the two miles of roadway to Westminster Abbey, Westminster Palace, Big Ben, and the River Thames.





It was a damp, chilly morning with a stiff breeze, so I gladly paid the 20 pounds necessary to tour Westminster Abbey. You think the outside is stunning? Wait until you get inside! I'm speechless, really. I wish I could have taken photos to share with you all, but they requested we not and, it being a holy sanctuary for the many parishioners and those buried there, I respected their request.



I can tell you this, though... I spent the morning lingering over the Unknown Warrior, Sir Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, Queen Elizabeth I, Mary - Queen of Scots, Robert Browning, and Geoffrey Chaucer.... along with many others who are entombed within and beneath the church. I can also tell you that I've never really cared about ceilings until I walked into this cathedral of a church. While I couldn't take photos inside the main building, they were permitted in the cloisters and outer connected chambers.





It was absolutely spellbinding. If you are ever in the area and have a chance to spend a good hour or two, I highly recommend this one. It'll bring back a strong dose of understanding and appreciation for craftsmanship and spirituality.

After leaving the Abbey I walked across the street to see that big ol' clock and take a peek at the Thames. Westminster Palace (also known as the House of Parliament) is also an architectural masterpiece. I didn't go inside, but walking it's land-side perimeter certainly added a graceful awe and respect in my gaze.





By this time I was freezing. Absolutely frozen to the core. Shocking, really, since I left Wyoming in negative degrees and it was 51 in London. I suspect the moisture in the air has much to do with the chilled feelings. A hot meal and some tea would do the body good, so I set out to seek refuge in a local pub.


I ordered a pie, immediately tracing my thoughts back to Sweeney Todd, and opting for a vegetarian one... you know... just in case. The gravy was to die for. And the herbal tea brought life back into my bones. The problem was, by then, I had been up for 24 hours straight and the warm, satisfied, full belly was putting me to sleep quickly!


I scuttled (yes, scuttled) to my hotel and begged to be let into my room early. They kindly obliged as it had just been cleaned. When I opened the door I was greeted with the most beautiful thing I would see that day - a bed.

Look how happy I am to see that bed!
A brief overview of the room and I hit the pillow hard at about 1:45 PM. I woke up briefly around 8, but went back to sleep a few hours later. Exhaustion had fully taken over. But hey! I beat jet-lag in the process and am now right on schedule with the new time zone!



I have to admit, arriving at the airport and getting in a cab was about all the courage I had in me at the beginning of that day. It could have been the long day of travel, the lack of food, being there alone, or just the sincere desire to be able to relax, but I was spent. My adventure tank was on empty and my confidence was really low. I was determined not to be spotted as a tourist; I really just wanted to blend in. I didn't really feel comfortable in London until I turned a corner and found myself in a throng of other tourists doing their tourist thing - taking classically cliche photos of all the sites... exactly what I wanted to do. So even though I was alone, I had a community there filled with members from all over the world. It was a great feeling, to feel at home with strangers, and I'm grateful for the boost in confidence it gave me.

Next stop - Paris!

Review: Fahrenheit 451

I know, I know, I'm totally late to the show on this one, but you know me - I'm a sucker for the classics. I didn't have to read this one as required reading in high school. We read Catcher in the Rye, instead. No time is better than now, so I picked up a borrowed copy and dove in.... and finished it in one sitting. Wow.

Enter a world where firemen destroy rather than save. Where TV's span the entire wall... all four of them, in fact. Where little radios buzz away in the ears of our loved ones non-stop. Where the world is at war, but the people are too distracted to see it. Where a beautiful young woman, deemed anti-social, has the power to make a man question everything.

Montag is just a man, born into the line of duty as a fireman like his father before him and his father before him. His soul duty in society is to protect it from the confusion of critical thinking required to process fake stories and contradicting theories. Books. His nemesis is literature. And so it must go. But what happens when he starts to sneak a volume or two home, hidden away where no one can see it? How will the world change for one man, ignored by his wife, inspired by martyrs, bitten by curiosity?

Ray Bradbury is nothing short of a lyricist. The words of his accomplished novel string together with melodious cohesion to such a degree that you forget you're reading the words and ingest them, instead. It's beautiful writing. A story I would cling to with my life in order to protect it if a fireman came snooping around my hidden attic space.

If you haven't read it yet, please do. If you read it back in high school, revisit it. The amount of foreshadowing into the world our society is flying towards is astounding... and a little terrifyingly accurate.

Surviving a Coach Tour

So you're thinking about  booking a tour to travel around your home country or beyond. Wonderful! Before you start daydreaming too hard about how you think it's going to go, let's get some reality out of the way first. Tours aren't all about you. There, I said it. Deal with it. You aren't the one planning every detail of the trip - where you are staying, what landmarks you'll be seeing, and how you will get there. Someone else is in charge of your itinerary, so brace yourself for that fact. If you like to be in control of every aspect of your life, perhaps a tour isn't for you. Consider traveling on your own or with a small group of friends and take a pass on the tour group full of strangers hosted by a tour company who aims to please the general consensus rather than the individual.


That being said, if you're still on board for a guided tour, here are a few things that'll help you get the most out of your experience and make it a positive one... not only for you, but the people around you!

Be adaptable!

Let's think critically of what a coach tour implies... you're going to be on a tour bus, probably sleeping overnight on it at some point, with a lot of other people. Lots of people. That's a lot of personalities and needs to satisfy. So the more you can just take everything for the adventure it is, the better off you will be. We are all human here, so keep that in mind. Sometimes traffic dictates alternate routes, holiday crowds are overwhelming, and hotels make room assignment mistakes. It just happens. It's not the end of the world.

The coach on the train which took us through the EuroTunnel from the UK to France!

Tight quarters, but a crazy cool experience to be riding in a train beneath the English Channel, beneath 35 meters of bedrock!
There were times when our tour was derailed for hours by the timing of trains, traffic, and legalities of driving code. We weren't always able to see everything that was suggested we would see on the itinerary, but that's OK! We couldn't control everything, so we just went with the flow. And those who did, enjoyed themselves more than those who didn't. In the end, you won't look back on your trip and remember what you missed. You'll remember what you saw, tasted, and experienced.

Attitude it everything!

I cannot stress this enough. Honestly, I can't. The more positive you can keep yourself, the better time everyone is going to have. Nobody likes a Negative Nancy, so snap out of it! Focus on the opportunity you have rather than how you would have done it differently... unless the tour company is genuinely awful, don't stress the small stuff. Think about how much work goes into planning the tour and then be grateful that all you had to do was sign up for it rather than doing any of the heavy lifting.

Make friends!

Who doesn't like making friends? Well, on a coach tour, you're going to be in cozy quarters so it's best to be friendly than off-putting. Connect with your fellow travelers! It's almost the best part! You will be spending the next "x" amount of days with these people, so have a good time and get to know them.

Venice, Italy... yes, my bag, Giorgio, made it into the photo.
My tour included 57 people from all over the world. Sharing in the culture of others, having a chance to ask questions about their piece of the world, and build lifelong friendships with them. I met people from Bangladesh, Australia, New Zealand, the UK, USA, and South America. Our little clique explored the cities of Europe together, laughed, sang, ate delicious food, and created so many inside jokes that all I need to say is "banana" and I know I'm being heard. My tour around Western Europe would have been no where near as inspiring and life changing if it hadn't been for the people I shared it with.

Always Be Prepared!

Bring a travel blanket and pillow. Heck, bring some sleeping pills if you'll be overnighting it ever. And if you snore? Bring anti-snoring whatevers to keep your fellow passengers happy. Anytime the coach stops to refill or offer a stretch-break, pick up refreshments so you will always have a snack. Keep your electronics charged and bring a book. Seriously, the simplest things will keep you happy. You're embarking on a roadtrip, plan accordingly.


Plus, when you pop into those gas stations and rest stops you just might be surprised by the quirky snacks and impulse buys you'll find... like paprika flavored potato chips!



Heed my advice: Focus on having a good time, and guess what, you'll actually have one. It seems common sense, but sometimes a reminder can help prepare us for what's to come. Now go out there and start planning your next adventure!


Review: DUNE

Now, I'll be honest, I'm a little out of my depth in the sci-fi category. It isn't what I typically read and only picked up DUNE after it was suggested to me by a close friend. It's his favorite book, you see, and how could I have never read it before?! He was incredulous. I felt out of the loop. So purchase it, I did. And read it, I must! It's no short read, so be prepared to invest some time and brain power into this novel. It took me a little longer than usual to read because I was mixing it with textbooks and European vacations, but I eventually conquered the tome. So, to the point, right? Let's go.

Follow a young ducal heir as his family walks into a trap they each know has been laid and conquers the injustices against a people, a planet, a dream at the hand of those in higher power. A religious demi-god, a warrior, a counselor, a leader. Will you survive the red hot sands of the water hungry planet of Arrakis?

I'll admit, I probably wouldn't have persevered through this novel had it not been for the prodding of my friend, but it has very little to do with the content and everything to do with my taste in literature. That being said, I'm ready and eager to pick up the follow up novel, DUNE MESSIAH, without his encouragement. I'm wholly satisfied with the story, the plot, and the wild new world that the author, Frank Herbert, built for us out there in deep space. The writing is thoroughly inspiring and imaginative - original on a scale I haven't seen in decades.

My recommendation is simple, whether or not sci-fi is your "thing," read it. I'm sure you could find an allegory or two in there about today's current foreign affairs and government, and if not that, then at the very least an out of this world experience.

Touring Western Europe with Indigo Travel

Since it was my first time escaping the borders of my home country, America, I felt nothing short of intimidated. Sure, I'm a spontaneous spirited, independent woman who seeks adventure at every turn, but... leaving my comfort zone so completely and plopping myself down in foreign lands loaded with foreign currencies, languages, and customs, I felt it would be best if I met up with a tour group rather than just going at it alone... and I'm so happy that I did!

I booked my European Magic Tour through TourRadar, a website I love to window shop on during cold dreary days in Wyoming's unending winter. The price tag, locations, and inclusions screamed "book me!" when I stumbled across it this last November, and so I did! The great thing about TourRadar is that they allow you to put a small deposit on the tour upfront so you have a little time to pay off the whole package (and book your flights!)

TourRadar is simply a holding place for tour companies, much like Expedia or Orbitz are for flights and hotels, and the interface is super easy to navigate, but that's not why we are here...

My tour was hosted by Indigo Travel, a company headed by a husband and wife who just so happened to be our guides during our coach tour of Western Europe. To break it down, we spent eleven days traveling via bus to 9 cities in 7 countries!

Where We Went:

We adventured forth from London, England straight to Paris, France where we explored the inner city, celebrated Christmas at our hotel, scaled the Eiffel Tower, tried frog legs and escargot, and really had a chance to introduce ourselves to our new temporary travel family.


Milan followed Paris, and then Venice before we left Italy and stretched our legs in Salzburg, Austria with spellbinding views of the Austrian Alps. Prague, Czech Republic was next and a full day exploring this incredible city on our own. Berlin, Germany's once in a lifetime New Years Eve Party was chilly, but invigorating, and the Berlin Wall will strike compassion into the heart. An overnight drive to Amsterdam, Netherlands had everyone ready to go for a walk along the canals and partake in Amsterdam's festivities. Brussels, Belgium capped off our trip with delicious waffles and chocolate before we arrived back in London on our last day together.

The Duomo in Milan, Italy

Salzburg, Austria

Canals in Amsterdam, Netherlands

My Favorites:

My friends have asked me what cities I liked the most and my answers came much easier than I thought they would. "Easily," I would say, "Prague and Venice. I would go back in a heartbeat!" I need to sneak Paris in there as well because I need at least two more days exploring and soaking in The Louvre.

Prague was such a beautiful city filled with wonderful people. The architecture was everything you imagine old Europe would be and the cobblestone alleys and streets add to the quaint, small village in a big city feel. The food? Delicious! And the prices, unbeatable! Since the Czech Republic uses the Krona rather than Euros, the conversion was much in our favor knocking prices down to manageable, while at the same time making you feel like a complete and total baller. (Do we still use the term "baller"?) For example, the meal to the right was for three people and included coffees and entrees for each. Though it is listed at 903 kronas, it is actually about 35 euros, which, for us Americans, is about $36. Not too shabby. Oh, and you don't have to leave a tip. We were able to do the conversions simply in our heads, too, because we realized about 25 kronas were equal to one euro, making it an easy way to see exactly how much we were spending while buying souvenirs and food!

Venice, oh Venice. My heart was left in a Venice leather shop... And yes, that's probably the main reason why I would go back... for the leather. For the bags! OH THE BAGS!!! I had no idea I had a "thing" for purses and bags until I set foot off that ferry boat and onto the concrete slabs of that island city. My friends practically had to drag me out of the store before I bought it all, but I was able to walk away with three pieces I don't think I will ever be able to live without! The best thing about it? The bags were so unbelievably affordable! I'm not even kidding! Next on my list is to get a pair of boots. I guess I'll have to go back, and soon!

OK, bags and boots aside, the city itself was pretty marvelous. We ponied up for a gondola ride, because how can you not? And ate pizza, cannoli, and tried spritzers. There will definitely be more to follow as I dive deeper into this city in a future post.

Review:

Where do I begin? It was amazing.

Andrea and Omar, owners and operators of Indigo Travel and our tour guides, did an amazing job keeping 57 people as happy as is humanly possible! With so much travel and so many different personalities and needs to satisfy, I'm blown away at their ability to make this trip one we will all remember for the rest of our lives. The bus drivers, Fraser and Joe, were excellent at getting us from point A to point B safely and in as timely a manner as possible... and with a crazy sense of humor to boot! Candies and soft drinks were provided throughout the trip so you were never really without access to refreshments, and the coach was always clean when we came back from our daily excursions.

Granted, not everyone is going to get along out of 57 people, but Andrea and Omar both made for successful mediators and problem solvers. Our hotel rooms were always clean and comfortable, the breakfasts filling and delicious, the brief walking tours informative and pertinent.


Overall, it was a great experience that I wouldn't trade for the world. I highly recommend this tour company to anyone looking to travel and get a sample of some of the best cities Western Europe has to offer!

These Boots Were Made for Walking

I've officially been home for a week now and I still feel like I'm trying to catch my breath! If you were following me on Instagram then you saw how fast paced my holidays were and what I have been up to for the last three weeks. Now that I'm home I'm back to work, nursing a cold, and trying to reassure my dogs and cat that I am, indeed, back and not leaving anytime soon. I'm not sure who missed who more.

With many posts to follow about the amazing people I met, the wonderful tour I experienced, inspiring architecture I sat beneath, and the delectable food I devoured here's a reminder of all the places I adventured:

DENVER, COLORADO, USA: Time to take off from Denver International Airport! Adventure awaits!

PARIS, FRANCE: Standing on the glass floor of the first floor for the Eiffel Tower. The black dots are the people below.

PARIS, FRANCE: Cobblestones in the courtyard of The Louvre.


MILAN, ITALY: Standing on the roof of the Duomo.

VENICE, ITALY: The wet tile stones of Venice after the tide had receded.

SALZBURG, AUSTRIA: The steps of the Hohensalzburg Fortress.

PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC: Wood cobblestones down an alleyway.
BERLIN, GERMANY: Standing on the Berlin Wall.

TROPICAL ISLANDS, GERMANY: Sandy beaches and swim suits inside a zeppelin hangar bay?

AMSTERDAM, NETHERLANDS: Bricks cobbles line the canals of the Floating Flower Markets.

WINDMILL VILLAGE, NETHERLANDS: Old grinding stones littered the grassy areas in the village of still working mills.

BRUSSELS, BELGIUM: Colorful cobbles in the courtyards of Brussels.

LONDON, ENGLAND: Play anyone? It was a spellbinding production, I assure you!

We stayed in hotels and hostels, slept on the coach, and ate breakfasts that would put US hotels to shame. We explored cathedrals and back alleys, tried local cuisine and made lifelong friends. It was an adventure I will cherish for the rest of my days.... and I can't wait to show you!

Tourists Beware - Scams We Were Warned About


While our coach rolled through the center of Paris our tour guide offered us a few insights of what scams he himself or others on previous tours experienced in Paris and other major cities.

These included:

  • Theft: Warnings about protecting our passports and cash so far as to pin them under our clothes. If it's easy to grab, it'll be grabbed.
  • Make-shift Bracelets: Men walking around swinging strings which they quickly attach to your arm and while you are struggling to remove yourself from their grip, they have already created a bracelet which they will then charge you for.
  • The Golden Ring: A person will point out to you that you dropped your gold ring on the ground. You will deny it is yours and the person will encourage you to take it anyway as a lucky find. They will hand it to you and explain it's purity and monetary value. They will tell you they are giving it to you rather than keeping it themselves, but then tell you to give them 50 pounds for giving you such a valuable piece of jewelry.
  • "Free" Roses: Men will give women roses for free as they walk down the street and then badger the men accompanying the women for payment after the woman has accepted the rose.
  • Deaf Children Petition: A group of small children will feign deafness and pretend to sign to each other while asking tourists to sign their petition. While your kind heart is doing so the little fakers will be picking your pockets and robbing you blind.

But don't be discouraged... the best ways to combat the scammer is to keep your hands in your pockets, don't ever accept anything for free, and, in general, keep to your own business. Stick with your group and when you see someone approaching, don't make eye contact. Ignore the vendors trying to hock their junk toys and cheap souvenirs. Be aware and walk confidently.


We had our chance to test this out almost immediately as we stopped for a photo op with the Eiffel Tower. We were hardly off our coach when the first vendors approached us. Just power through, don't stop, don't engage.

It doesn't feel natural to me to be so distant from people, but I honestly have zero patience for such a practice. I understand these people are just trying to make a living for themselves and their family, but the ethics and extortion of it all frustrates me to no end. It's a bane of any traveler and it certainly hinders one's opportunity to properly appreciate the foreign land they are in and it's culture. This adventure will surely test my faith in humanity, but I will forever strive to focus on the light rather than the dark - never allowing the actions of a few to deter me from exploring the world.

Eiffel Tower selfie-fail! LOL!