Need a Vacation? Your backyard awaits!!!

Sunset from the back porch in Eden Utah

Well it’s finally happened. That exciting roller coaster of travel that I have been on has come to a brief pause and those “post travel blues” I was warned about are slowly to starting to creep in. The crystal blue waters of the Red Sea, the stunning red sands of the Sahara, the uneven cobblestone roads of Europe now seem but a distant memory as I face the all too familiar mountains of Utah. It’s funny how you always seem to want what you don’t have. When I was away, I longed for a place that I could call “home,” and now surrounded by the family and friends that make up my “home,” I am beginning to feel like a caged bird, my wings eager to fly again.

 And then a familiar quote came to mind. “Life is not about the destination but about the journey.” The journey is something I am still on, regardless of what country I am in. My “journey” was not only the goal to reach thirty countries ( I am currently at 24) but to pursue my dream as a writer and to continue to inspire people to pursue their own passions, whatever that might be. A friend of mine posed an interesting question on Facebook which was, “I wonder if people in Monaco (my last temporary home) are as interested about Utah as people in Utah are about Monaco (or anywhere else for that matter?) Hmmm…I wonder?

I thought about the new friends that I have made all over the world and I realized that I still had adventures to share. As familiar and boring as Utah feels to me, it is still new and exciting to someone else. There are places to explore right here in my own backyard that in all my ten years of living here, I seemed to take for granted. It gave me the challenge to be a “tourist” right where I am. To be curious, more aware, to go down unexplored roads, and to look at things in a fresh new light.

The morning hike looking over the beautiful mountains of Utah

High in the mountain tops of Eden, the untouched snowflakes sparkled in the morning sunlight like a million diamonds. I took a breath of crisp winter air as I looked down on the valley below, covered in a blanket of clouds that cascaded over the mountains. A tiny set of tracks led the way to a warm place where a furry family nestled together. I thought of the love that filled the condo where my own family was waiting, enjoying the short getaway with me. I have seen a lot of amazing vistas over the past 18 months, but this one was right up there with them. Instead of being thousands of miles away, I was 30 minutes from my home for the moment (which more and more I am realizing IS where the heart is.) An afternoon snowboarding in the fresh powder with my siblings and then a drive to Salt Lake to visit the world-famous Christmas lights at Temple Square rounded off my “staycation” in Utah.

A frozen waterfall heading back down to Salt Lake

When I really stopped to think about it, I was so grateful in that moment to have the best of both worlds. Hopefully that will appease this little travel bug of mine until I am back on the road again. For those of you who have never had the chance to get away, or maybe are starting to feel a bit of that “caged bird” feeling yourself, no matter what your financial situation or where you are in the world, adventure can be found right in your own backyard. All you have to do is go find it!

The beauty of Temple Square at Christmas time

Where did Liz Go???

Hello friends around the world! I hope you all had a Happy New Year! If you are wondering where I’ve been, check out the video below. It should explain alot!

If you haven’t already, please head to the new site and subscribe. You don’t want to miss any more exciting adventures!

Yes Virginia, There was a Holocaust

The sign at entrance of the visitors museum at Auschwitz

The sign at the visitors museum in Auschwitz

My thirteen year old niece recently came to visit before the holidays. Even though we were meeting on grim circumstances (my 94-year-old grandmother passed shortly after I returned home) it was quality time with family to share the holidays as well as the stories and pictures I have had from my travels so far. As we delved further into the souvenirs and memories, photos of my travels through Germany and Poland came up, and before I knew it a history lesson began right there on the kitchen table in the snowy mountains of Utah. Haley had recently studied the Holocaust in school and I felt it appropriate to show her the photo of her great great grandmother that me and my dad had discovered on our trip last winter through Auschwitz.

We continued through the photos and instead of sending her to bed with visions of sugar plums filling her head, she thought about gas chambers, piles of eyeglasses and shoes collected from prisoners, crematoriums, and the fear that this could one day happen here. If it had been a “Freddy Krueger” movie, I could have just turned on a nightlight and told her it was all pretend.  But the cycle of history I relearned as I made my way through the rise and fall of the Roman empire, the beginning and end of WWII as well as the conflicts in the middle East and Egypt  had me wondering. Could our own country be heading down the same destructive path?

I remember watching the inaugural ball, and for some reason the song “Be Prepared” from Disney’s “The Lion King” just wouldn’t get out of my head. Was it the music? The lighting? The clueless hyenas following along with Scars’ maniacal plan? The familiar choice in words used to convey his message? I can think of a few orators in history who weren’t half as influential as our current president, and the outcome wasn’t very favorable. Everyone was so excited for the “change” that Obama promised our country, and indeed changes are definitely taking place. Freedoms that our founding fathers (and our troops) have fought so hard to create and defend are slowly being taken from us for the sake of protecting us from “terrorists.” Anti-gun laws as well as our freedom of speech have been in jeopardy for a few years now, and most shocking was the “indefinite detention bill” (otherwise known as the National Defense Authorization act) which was just recently passed by congress. 

 For those unaware of what this means, when this bill is signed into law, the president has the authority (via the military) to arrest and detain without trial, any American (yes I said AMERICAN) accused of having “supported al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces.” What exactly determines if someone is a supposed terrorist?  And what about our constitutional rights? I thought of my travels again, and the “Enabling Act” passed in Germany during Hitler’s rise to power. Another act to “remedy the distress of the people,” which completely deviated from the constitution. And what happened after that? Well  soon the people were no longer allowed to defend themselves, (our right to bare arms) books were banned and burned (the gradual control over the internet and radio happening now) and before they knew it, millions of people were detained and had no way to stop it.

Reflections of 9/11, my visit to the world trade center

After 9/11, I wanted just as much as anyone else to feel “safe” in my country, but at what cost? As Benjamin Franklin once said, “If we restrict liberty to obtain security, we will lose them both.” Maybe I wouldn’t be so concerned if I hadn’t been stopped and questioned on my visit to the World Trade Center Memorial last month on my way home. The tall, caucasian blond. Yep, she has terrorist written all over her face. (All because my passport looked “suspicious” because of where I traveled to.) And what if I had come through after this bill had passed? With no voice or power to defend myself, could that same questioning land me in a F.E.M.A. camp somewhere  if they didn’t like my answer, meeting a similar fate to my great-grandmother in Poland?

I have tried to stay away from conspiracy theories, but the turn of events is beginning to look too familiar and if we don’t wake up soon, it’s going to be too late. I AM proud to be an American, but I am not proud of our government. I love this beautiful land and the opportunities and freedoms that we have enjoyed here for so many years.  But like my 13-year-old niece, I am afraid of  what the future holds. If we don’t start becoming more aware of what’s happening, then who knows where this country is headed. As Thomas Jefferson once said, “Educate and inform the whole mass of the people. They are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty.” I suppose all I can do (besides use the platform of speech that I still have) is to count the blessings and freedoms that still remain, and in the words of Lee Greenwood, stand up next you and defend her still today. God (yes, I did just say that) bless the U.S.A!

Lizzy Ate a Bloody Lamb

It’s always interesting when a festival or holiday takes place while visiting a new country. I look at it as an extra window to view new customs and traditions, opening the door for a cultural exchange not even the best tour company could arrange for you. Lighting a torch in Scotland during Hogmany, counting down Lent and dressing up for “Carnival” in Holland, collecting a hat full of candy on St Nicolas day in Poland, and most recently experiencing Eid Al-Adha (or sheep festival) in northern Morocco.

The festival is celebrated by Muslims around the world to commemorate and remember the trials of the prophet Abraham by slaughtering a sheep (or goat ) to show their obedience to the faith as Abraham did. Alright, so a few fluffy sheep would be sacrificed the first day, but how many billions of turkeys are killed each year for Thanksgiving? Does the news broadcast images around the globe of their heads being chopped off? No, instead we pick up a nicely frozen packaged bird at the supermarket without even thinking twice, and immediately begin thinking about all the deals we will get the next day on “black friday.” And for those who may not eat meat, how many pine trees are chopped down each Christmas just to toss out on the curb a few days later (with no religious purpose associated to either holiday?) It was for these reasons that I decided it might be beneficial to stay around for the “festivities.”

Goat heads and brains in the food stalls of Marrakech

As the start to the festival approached, you could sense the anticipation and excitement much like those last few shopping days before Christmas. Wives bustling around the markets collecting ingredients to begin preparing for the big feast, husbands and sons selecting the finest sheep to bring home to their families and the somewhat comical methods of getting the sheep home. I watched as they  crammed sheep and goats into car trunks and back seats, stowed them in luggage compartments on local buses, and even tied them to the roofs of cars (a little reminiscent of our Christmas tree tradition.) Throughout the markets you could hear the grinding of steel on wet-stone as knives were sharpened to prepare for the big day.

One of the many sheep markets before the festival on the way to Casablanca

I quickly realized after trying to leave the small village I was in just how big the holiday was. The stations and roads were full of people trying to get home to celebrate the occasion with their loved ones, making it very difficult for a “tourist” to get anywhere. The people were incredibly nice, with no agenda but to extend a warm welcome into their country. When I reached my final destination of Casablanca, I was fortunate to be invited by not one, but two families who invited me into their homes for the feast. I decided to divide my time between both, spending the earlier part of the day with an old shopkeeper Abdel, and the afternoon and evening with my younger “brother” Yassin (who had taken the time the evening before to introduce me to his family and the sheep they would be killing and eating the next day.)

The morning of the festival I walked outside to meet Abdel at a coffee shop and was greeted with the smell of BBQ and smoke in the air. As we walked through the much less crowded streets, I began to fully take in the carnage around me. Makeshift bonfires set up and down the streets illuminated the horns of sheep heads that had been tossed in the fires (young boys poking at the remnants still inside.) Donkeys and horses pulled trailers with mountains of slightly blood stained skins as housewives began mopping the red water out into the streets. Abdel looked up at me a few times and softly chuckled at my horrified face as I watched the gutters literally run with blood.

From an outsiders perspective, I could understand how the scene could be misinterpreted. It felt more like a scene from “Friday the 13th” than a holiday that was full of love and gratitude. With all the images we get through the media of Jihad and terrorism, some could even  associate the  scenes from that morning as training for some infidel group. While I certainly didn’t enjoy viewing the carnage with my virgin eyes, I did think for a moment that if I had ever stepped foot in a slaughter-house here in the states I would think twice about that next bbq I had. And putting the  blood and carnage aside, my eyes were also open to the love and kindness of the Muslim faith that the media chooses NOT to focus on.

The meaning of the holiday is to show the sacrifices that are sometimes required to stay on the right path. There are some families who even borrow money to buy their sheep, and much of the meat is given away to those even less fortunate. It didn’t seem like a single thing went to waste that day (except the bits of sheep stomach and other unknown body parts offered to me, yet discretely wrapped in tissue and hidden in my purse when I could no longer stand the taste.)

It has been interesting returning back to the states since the festivities. So many warnings were given to avoid the “muslim terrorists” while I was traveling through areas such as Israel and Palestine as well as Egypt and Morocco. But when you really begin to understand and look at the religion and it’s teachings, it is just as opposed to terrorism as anyone else. Sometimes I think it is so easy to take things out of context and distort the meaning of something instead of gaining a full perspective for yourself (and it is something believers of a faith do as well.) Are there “bad” muslims out there? Yes, just as there are “bad” christians, catholics, and many other religions. (Hello, do we not remember David Koresh or the countless catholic priests guilty of child molesting?)  I’m not justifying the acts of terrorism that do occur, I am just saying that if we could all be a little more open to our differences and make an attempt to understand each other’s beliefs rather than letting the media and others dictate those beliefs for us, maybe this world would be a happier place.

New friends I met in the markets in Casablanca

But we have the BEST crap!!! Can someone give me a tourist break?

I remember the first time I was“abroad.” I was 14 years old and took a day trip with my dad over the border of Arizona and Mexico into a little town called Nogales. Compared to some of the places I’ve visited over the last year and a half, it’s really not much to write home about, but for a young girl who really hadn’t seen more than my own backyard, it was an eye-opening experience. Seeing young children in the streets selling gum and clay necklaces, the garbage and poverty that appeared almost immediately after crossing the border, and the streets lined with vendors selling postcards and trinkets was enough to make me feel like we had taken a jumbo jet miles away.

As we were walking through the town perusing the shops for the perfect souvenir to remember the day by, my dad in frustration leaned over and loudly whispered, “All of these shops just have the same cheap crap.” A shopkeeper, hearing my dads comment and rather quick on his toes stopped us in front of his store and said, “Well come in here my friend. We have the BEST crap!” Laughing at the fact that he had not only understood us but decided to make a joke about it, we couldn’t resist and stopped inside, emerging a few minutes later with our“crap.”

One of the many markets in Italy

 

I often think about that day as I’m exploring a new city. From the markets of Jerusalem to the cobbled streets in Europe, shopkeepers stand outside enticing you with their own knickknacks, knock-offs, and whatever cheap souvenir that will help you remember the city by. From the “I love” (whatever city you’re in) t-shirts, purses, towels, and underwear, to the one of a kind handmade specialty (that the next 5 stores in a row seem to have magically gotten a copy of) it does seem to give you more of that commercial Disneyland feeling, than the “cultural” experience that one should hope to get by traveling. It isn’t enough that I have already shelled out my hard-earned money in getting there, I am then expected to throw out even more for some useless trinket that would eventually end up in a garage sale.

A beautiful selection of Italian belts...We'll give you good price!!

Now don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with being a “tourist.” My camera strap seems to be permanently fixed around my wrist, snapping pictures of cathedrals, monuments, and postcard perfect landscapes as I make my way around the world sharing my adventures with those who can’t come along on the journey with me. And while there isn’t much room in my suitcase to load up on souvenirs, I am guilty of picking up the occasional handbag or scarf (which normally gets sent home as a gift anyway.) But after a few weeks in Italy hitting the essential points of interest on my way through the country, I decided to take a breath of non-tourist air and get away from the crowds for a while.

My first stop was to a town on the west coast called Ostia Antica, which is near an old Roman port abandoned around the 5th century due to barbarian invasions and an outbreak of malaria. There were no tour buses parked outside or vendors waiting to haggle me. Just me, a few students and potential archeologists there to study and learn about a civilization that had been there so many years before. Not as dramatic as a volcano erupting and killing all its inhabitants as the nearby city of Pompeii, but it had just as much mystery and so many more quiet corners to stop and reflect about what life could have really been like.

The remains of a Roman bath in the city of Ostia Antica

From there I continued south towards the Amalfi coast, stopping at a hostel a fellow traveler recommended to me. It was a small town that doesn’t even show up in my guidebook, but when I arrived I knew it was just the right place. As I walked through the narrow streets I didn’t see a single postcard or cheesy t-shirt in sight. Just the everyday life in the south of Italy. Fish markets, produce stands,teenagers making out on a bench, mopeds whizzing by, the occasional old man sitting on the corner with a beer, and best of all the sound of kids laughing and playing in the alleys nearby. A normal town, a normal place, and the chance to finally feel immersed in a culture (which I think we forget to do so often when we are rushing around to see all the sights.)

And now as I am sitting in Pompeii (being this close I couldn’t miss it, even if it is a little touristy) I am happy to say that I have found a nice blend of both. A hostel just outside of the main tourist area and full of Italian hospitality (and the delicious fresh tomatoes and limonchello that I have come to love about southern Italy.) This morning was a catholic mass which brought swarms of people into the city consuming me into the crowd as they recited their prayers in front of the cathedral which I found out has a “Black Madonna” inside. They celebrate the occasion every first Sunday of October since it appeared over 100 years ago. I had no idea what was said (besides the frequent “amen”) but the Italian was music to my ears. Another culture, another language, and an impression that will last much longer in my mind than any figurine ever would on my shelf or even photograph taken for that matter. A small taste of a real place in the south of Italy.

The crowds dispersing as the mass ends in the town of Pompeii

 

 

The Search for the Naked Man

Maybe it’s because I’ve been single for a while, but I couldn’t come to Italy without meeting the sexiest man in all of Europe. He’s tall, handsome, and has abs I could wash my growing pile of dirty clothes on. He’s an extremely good listener, and the best part about him is there’s no language barrier. Without saying a word we completely understand each other. But there is one small problem. Because of his highly successful career, I would have to stay in Florence to be with him, which kind of puts a damper on the rest of my traveling plans. Oh David, whatever shall we do?

I come from a family where art (in some form) runs through our blood. With Italy being where many of the great artists such as Michelangelo and Leonardo come from,

The small town of Vinci (a short day trip from Florence) Where I visited the home of Leonardo

I had to come admire the chiseled body (not to mention all the amazing architecture) while I was here. When I was in Belgium me and my dad came across the original “Madonna and Child” and if David was anywhere near as beautiful, I knew I would have to suck up being a “tourist” and probably stand in line for hours to see him. So after a late sleep-in and a lovely machiato overlooking the beautiful city, I headed out on my quest.

The first thing I discovered is that David is actually all over Florence in some shape or form. Between the tourist shops full of postcards, figurines, and mugs, (some a bit more classy than others in displaying the male anatomy) you really don’t have to look hard to find him. Besides the original which is
located in the Galleria dell’Accademia, there are two other full size replicas in the city. A bronze statue in the plaza Michelangelo overlooking the city below,

Enjoying the sunset with David up at Plaza Michelangelo

and another in Piazza della Republica (where the original was first kept.) I managed to stumble upon both quite easily and while some people would have gotten their fix and probably moved on to other sites, it actually made me want to see the original even more.

So after wandering around the city aimlessly, I stumbled into a long queue just outside the Cattedrale di Santa Maria. The dome of the church was quite impressive from the outside, and even though I knew I wasn’t in the right place, I was curious enough to have a look inside. Luckily the line moved quickly and I found myself inside the cathedral, looking up at the most beautiful fresco I had seen to that point in Europe

Vasari's "Heaven & Hell" Fresco inside the Duomo

(I hadn’t yet made it to the Sistine chapel.) As I was admiring the view from the tower I heard thunder in the distance. A storm on the horizon? Perfect! Rain always has a way of dispersing crowds. Maybe I wouldn’t have to wait in line after all.

I made my way down the steep stairs to the plaza below, dodging the gypsies running around selling overpriced umbrellas.  I took out my shitty tourist map to try to orient myself with the city just as the sky opened up. Not a slight drizzle, but a proper late summer afternoon thunderstorm. I found shelter under the canopy of a cafe and sat down for a cappuccino, then a glass of wine, and then another, but no luck. I was stuck for a few hours, getting wet even sitting under the shelter of the canopy. Another gypsy came by begging me to buy an umbrella, which at that point I decided might be a good idea. I reached for my purse but the waiter came over and chased her away. (I guess it’s as illegal for me to buy as it is for them to sell, and yes we are talking about umbrellas here.) Having only an hour before the museum closed and the museum being closed the following day, I decided to brave the storm. The waiter came back with my check as well as a small gift for me (a free umbrella.) I love the kindness of strangers when you’re traveling.

My new umbrella, braving the storm in Florence

So off I went umbrella in one hand, map in other trying to navigate my way through the narrow streets. (At least I didn’t have to fight the crowds.) Finally I spotted a sign pointing to the museum. I was nearly there, 40 minutes before closing and not a tourist in site. I walked right through, paid my 10 euros, and with little time to spare went directly to the man himself.

There he was in all his naked glory, the light coming in from the domed ceiling above giving him an angelic glow. I was in love. He really was much more impressive than what I could have imagined. From the dimples in his elbows to the veins on his hand, the incredible detail created by a man just a few years younger than me had me doing laps around the exhibit, noticing more each time I went around. The definition in the muscles of his back, the cuticle on his fingernails and toenails. Somehow I seemed to miss all that as I was snapping pictures of the other two imposters. Maybe because I couldn’t take a photo of the real one, I was forced to soak in every last chiseled detail, (the artistic version of stopping to smell the roses.)

I found a seat in the corner in the last few moments before the museum closed and stopped to think about the man who stood before me. A symbol of courage and freedom for the people of Florence, but in that moment (before his victory) was a boy about to face his giant. Stuck in that space and time after a decision is made, but before the confidence and faith comes in knowing that victory will come. I thought of myself and the giants (big and small) I have faced on my journey so far. I know undoubtedly there will be many more not only on my travels, but throughout life. I can only hope to face and defeat them as my dear friend David did, and who knows? Maybe someday they’ll carve a sculpture out of me… I guess a girl can dream.

A t-shirt I found in a museum giftshop (they had the translation next to it.)

What do you do for a living?? I TRAVEL!!!!

A painting I bought from a local artist here in Florence that will one day hang on the walls of my real "office" or home.

Yesterday began the start of another adventure. After a 3 month pit stop in Monaco to refuel my travel funds, I packed up my dusty suitcase and headed back on the road towards the beautiful Tuscany region of Italy. It occurred to me somewhere between hauling my over packed suitcase, trying to decipher the train schedules and new language once I crossed the border, and the exhausting 12 hours it took me to finally get to my destination, that this traveling stuff is hard work!!! And as the question often gets asked about what I do for living (besides my little pit stops working in boats and hostels) I realized the answer yesterday. I travel! Which actually, if you look at the origin of the word means “work or suffering.”

Now I’m not expecting you to feel sorry for me as I sit here sipping on a macciato admiring the beautiful city of Florence, but as with any “job” there a pros and cons and some sacrifices you make to get to do something that you really enjoy. Let’s just take sleep for example. The other night I was up til nearly 6 a.m. with the arduous task of planning out all of my upcoming trips. Checking out flights and train schedules, looking at hostel and hotel reviews, reading up about places and activities to do while I’m there, the list goes on. Yes, I suppose I could hire a travel agent to work everything out, but who knows better of what I really want than me? And the excitement of it all kept snowballing until I looked out the window to see that the sun was already coming up. Oh well, who needs sleep, really?

And then comes the annoying task of packing. How do you fit your life into the contents of a bag? This isn’t a vacation where I can just pack a few t-shirts and undies and my toothbrush. Yes, you can always pick up things along the way (which is what I have been doing) and then all of a sudden you have to look at what you’ve acquired and simplify again. The high-heeled wedges I picked up in Tel Aviv for a girls night out (as sexy as they were) unfortunately had to be left behind. I have no closet to put things aside for next season, and when you are changing back and forth between climates (Scandinavia one week, Portugal and Morocco the following) you can hardly wear the same thing. Of course, I could always change the itinerary around and stay in areas where the weather is more closely matched, but sometimes when you find cheap air fare (60 euros to go to Sweden this month with Ryan air) I’m willing to put up with a slightly heavier bag to make room for the long pants and winter coat (which I will probably remove from my suitcase as soon as I hit the beaches of sunny Portugal again.) And the workout of carrying that ridiculously heavy pack around is what allows me the ability to get my fill of gelato and pasta as I eat my way through Italy.

Yes, there are bumps and frustrations along the way. Missed train connections (when the train you are riding on won’t let you off) railway strikes, long rides on crowded buses (carrying the ridiculously heavy pack and trying not to hit the old woman sitting behind you on the bus,) getting lost in a new city trying to find your accommodations and then not being able to finally get that much-needed sleep because of the disco playing music next door until sunrise. Yesterday was a hard day of “work.” And now as I sit on the terrace, listening to the chiming of bells from the cathedral and admiring the view of the beautiful city below me, I think of the “work” that needs to be done today. Museums to see, art to admire, towers to climb, new connections to make. Yes, it’s going to be another busy day at the office. I might need to put in a request for some vacation time soon.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

%d bloggers like this: