Saturday, November 8, 2008


Well, writing about this trip has been a long time coming. My procrastination is due in part to the craze of life, but can most be attributed to sheer intimidation. You see, I've had a hard time figuring out how mere words can do this trip justice. It was a ridiculous feat...looped lake Erie in 72 hours, witnessed Niagara, traversed 6 states and 2 countries, and camped in upstate New York. Whew...

So, here goes. Two of my best friends and I headed out into the great unknown back in August. None of us had been to Niagara Falls and when we realized that it was a mere 9 hours from Chicago, we set out to conquer this collective dream.

Armed with weekend totes, 3 awesome playlists and a 2lbs each of trail mix and intoxicating puppy chow, we set out on our journey. Britt's Rav4 became our simultaneous karaoke/comedy club for the weekend.

Day 1:
We leave Chicago at 5pm, head over to neighboring Indiana, and then make our way into Michigan. Upon finishing my TOPS Pop mix made especially for the trip, which included the C-A-N-A-D-A song, Linds attempts to play her mix from her ipod. We soon find that her ipod is imprisoned in it's case, and thus she cannot hook it up to the ipod player....frustration builds. After a good 20+ minutes of passing the ipod around the car we eventually stop for dinner. Plan A - we stop at a Big Boy (I am excited at this point b/c i've never been to one), but then we realize that it's a sit down restaurant and don't want to forfeit the time for that, so we head back to the car, snagging some Big Boy pics on the way. While outside the restaurant, Linds calls her sis for instruction on getting the ipod free and the solution relies on a butter knife - leading to the next turn of events. I must preface this part by stating that i'm the farthest thing from a klepto or thief ever, but dire circumstances call for desperate measures...A light bulb goes off. Big boy has butter knifes. So, i went back for a bathroom break, borrowing a butter knife on my way out. The only problem was that upon inserting the knife into the case it got stuck and we ended up with a ipop! haha. Then finally, after much perseverance, Linds got it free. What luck.

We then opted for plan B, McDonald's, to grab something quick. I happen to get a Happy Meal with the most awesome toy - Wicket L'Ewok! Needless to say, he became the center of the next hour of laughs and our official TOPS trip mascot. Back on the road again, we eventually stopped for dessert at one of my fave places, Culver's Frozen Custard, yum! (similar to Shakie's for all you Oklahoma peeps). So...all the talk of looping Lake Erie must have made me a bit loopy b/c i had the bright idea of pulling a prank on the poor kid at the cash window in the drive through. Remember the in the movie Home Alone when Kevin plays the movie that has the guy with the gun who says "keep the change, you filthy animal!" Well, i thought it would be a fun idea to say this to the guy when he tries to give me back the 20 cents or so that he owes me...yep...i did it. The guy was certainly caught off guard and gave such a confused look and then proceeded to retract his arm and indeed keep the change. The funniest part is I was in the back seat and on his side of the window and after the joke i was yelling at Britt to go, go, go...and she unknowingly made me sit there for a good 30 seconds (which felt like an eternity) bright red and laughing hysterically.

Five plus hours later, we decide to stop just short of the border in Port Huron, Michigan to get a hotel room, so that we can fully embrace the grand entrance into Maple country in the daylight. One would think that it would be fairly easy to get one room at a cheap hotel in a no name town in Michigan at 1am. WRONG! It just so happens that Billy Bob Thorton had performed that night in Port Huron, and all the hotels were pretty much booked except for like 1 smoking room at each. Tough luck right? Well, fortunate for us, we attempted one last hotel, The Best Western and they did have the Jacuzzi suite available and it was non-smoking, clearly a no-brainer!
Britt strangely offered to take the pull-out couch (ya, the one the lady at the desk said didn't exist) so Kirkbride and I gladly accepted the king as our fate, while reminding Britt to check the sheets for hairs, haha. It was a short stay at the BW. Didn't make much use of the Jacuzzi either. Yet we did cash in on the complimentary breakfast - love the places that let you make your own Belgian waffles. - For the record, real waffles in Belgium are quite disappointing compared to our large fluffy imitations.

Day 2:
Obviously, this day started with the free breakfast, and then we were headed toward the bridge that would take us to a monumental moment...first time in Canada, ever! Cameras ready and the loony CANADA song blasting we rolled to the boarder patrol. To backtrack a second, this awesome Canada song basically praises all the wonderful things about Canada, one of which is a Tidal bore, which of course we had no idea what it was. So, naturally we decide to ask the border patrol man (who happened to be quite the looker). So, Linds asks "Do you know what a Tidal bore is?" Clearly confused, he says "no". Hmmmm..."Well, are you Canadian?" asks Linds. "Yes, we can't hire Mexicans to guard our border" replies the guard. Haha. Fair enough. After all this, he still let's us enter his country. Crazy. A few minutes later, we realize that he never even asked for Linds' photo ID, haha...we should remember not to let Canadians control OUR border!!!

A few hours pass and then Google maps leads us straight to suburbia Niagara...what? We have to stop and ask a few fellas how to get to the main attraction asap...time was waning and we only had a few hours to spend with this natural wonder. Back on track, we roll into Niagara around 2 or so and are surprised to find ourselves driving amidst casinos, restaurants, high-rise hotels and stores. A mini Las Vegas if you will. We soon catch sight of the steam rising off the falls and steer toward it. Our first glimpse of the falls was from a lookout above the falls and it was truly breathtaking. Clearly the work of a mighty and loving God. The crystal green waters, cascading over rock into a pool of foam and white caps, rising again to repeat the cycle. The sound, a faint roar, mighty and calming at once. Here we attempt capturing it's vast beauty on film and then proceed to the base of the falls to embark on the Maid of the Mist tour. Or "$14 of fun" as I so joyously called it. And yes, I was surprised to get my change in quarters after i paid...i mean seriously. I was in Canada. Shouldn't they give me Canadian currency? Or is that too much to ask in a tourist trap? After a decent sized line, we take one of the most awkward group photos in front of the green screen (you know the ones they try to sell you after with the superimposed background?). Basically, Linds and Britt were holding hands and I for some reason wasn't even looking at the camera, haha! Oh well...we didn't buy it anyway, but Linds did get reprimanded for taking a photo of our $20 photo they took. of the best moments of the trip! For the boat ride, we all donned the cobalt blue ponchos they provided us, did I mention they were souvenir ponchos? Yes, that's right...Britt kept hers. So, all 100+ smurf-like people boarded the boat and we were off sailing toward the majestic waters. Passing by the American side first (yes, Linds...the American side, yep, same as the U.S. And no, we're not kidding!) and then to the more aesthetically pleasing Canadian falls. Despite the hilarity of wearing a blue poncho, i was super grateful for it when we reached the base of the falls. Pellets of rain beaded down and i had to carefully snap my pics as not to ruin my camera - i really should upgrade to one of those fancy waterproof ones. Thirty minutes later, mission accomplished. MOM was over and we were back on dry land. Apparently, Linds wasn't too impressed "I wouldn't want to do that again, no offense". Can't win em' all I suppose.

50 pictures later, we decide to walk into the strip and get some grub. Plan A - Ruby Tuesday's...we go in, sit down, get water and menus from the waitress, and then remember we are being cheap on this trip and leave without notice, with our eye on Wendy's. Do you see the pattern? Yes, it definitely wasn't' the healthiest trip of my life and my stomach hated me for a few days after. Following dinner we stopped in at this interesting shop that sold pipes (not the tobacco kind) and other interesting objects. While Britt was enamored by some of the merchandise, Linds and i were completely distracted by the HE/SHE working there. Seriously, one of the strangest individuals I've ever seen. To this day, his/her sexual identity remains a mystery. We press on and decide that our time in Niagara has come to an end and take the Rainbow Bridge (funny, huh) back to the U.S. We timed it perfect leaving at sunset and were able to steal some amazing views of the famous falls.

Our next destination? Houghton, NY. Why you may ask? Well, it just so happens that Linds' twin bro lives in Houghton with his wifey and it made perfect sense to bunk with them. However, to mine and Britt's surprise, Linds had arranged for us to camp outside their dorm hall (yes, they live on a college campus that was desolate b/c of summer). Albeit I wasn't too key on the initial idea, i must admit it was likely a top runner in the best moments of the trip. First off, we left the least experienced camper (ahem, Britt) out there by herself for about 15 minutes, which she swears felt like an eternity. Ok, i know there were woods on one side of us, but really, how scary can it be? Then, when asked who was sleeping in the middle, I jumped at the opportunity (literally, i jumped into the middle). This is rare because the middle is not really ever preferable (think planes, cars, birth order), but this night it meant warmth and security. Linds documented the camping experience with a photo shoot that produced gut wrenching laughter that surely echoed through the woods of Houghton. Did we sleep well? Depends on who you ask :)

Day 3:
We rise and shine (well the sun shines in on us) in our tent. Then head inside for coffee and chocolate chip pancakes - delish. What kind of coffee was it Linds? "Ooh, I can tell this is Caribou" says Linds. "Actually, it's Starbucks" replies Emily (bro's wife). "Oh"...Linds is confused. We get ready and head to church where Linds' bro is preaching, which was quite a treat! Afterward, we load up the Rav4 and point our compass toward Chicago! Another 9 hours, but we aren't phased. Nope, we actually all agreed that the car ride was the most fantastic part of the trip! During this drive we finished off the trail mix and puppy chow, and hit up Steak and Shake (my first time ever) where B & L decide that I have to do it right if i'm doing it. So, i get a patty melt with the famous chili, you have to try the chili, right girls? Fries, the fries are the they said, and of course you can't get the full experience without a shake right ladies? Well, i promised myself i'd never do that again, haha. But I was quite impressed by the low prices and deliciousness of their beloved S&S! i forgetting something? Ahhh...that's right, at S&S, Linds used her Tide pen for the 3rd time that day...2x being for coffee spills on the way to church.

Taking pictures at every state line, we make our way back to Illinois with only 1 minor detour caused by my concentration on what the letters of the Myers Brigg test stand for instead of the road. Arriving at the cusp of midnight. A fun-filled weekend with memories that I've only scratched the surface on. Easily one of the best 72 hours of my life!

As we pulled into Chi we are welcomed by the song Wide Open Spaces. "ooooh a fitting end" - Britt..."Don't say end" - Linds..."Oh...a fitting...(silence)" - Britt

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Energy on Your Terms

These days you can customize just about anything...The arena of accessories such as your Nike's or Starbucks Tall Non-fat Chai Latte with extra foam are a given, but your energy source? That's a whole new ball game...but it's for real, so check it out!

Chicago-based Element Bars aims to give users a simple, step-by-step process for designing their own energy bars from scratch. Using the site’s drag-and-drop interface, customers begin by selecting a chewy, oaty, crispy or datey "core" that defines the bar's texture and base. They can then add nuts, fruits and sweets as well as protein, fibre, Omega-3 and vitamin boosts. The site warns users if they have selected incompatible ingredients, and it will even recommend a mix for users who answer a few lifestyle-oriented questions. Meanwhile, a Nutrition Facts box is updated each step of the way to reflect the user’s current selections. Once the customer's order is complete, Element Bars will hand-make and deliver them in about a week; pricing is USD 3 per bar, with a minimum order of one box of 12 bars. After trying their bars, users can rate and comment on their creations, as well as sharing them with their friends for voting or further customization. Popular bars are sold for a discounted price of USD 2.50 per bar. For corporate buyers, co-branding opportunities are available, Element Bars says.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

I just can't stop...

I just can't stop...

Writing that is.

Since I was just a spring chicken I've loved to write. And even though
I had the awesome opportunity to be published at the age of ten, I
thought i'd take full advantage of my new self-publishing endeavor
(blogging) and resurrect some of my old creative expression!

"Tommy Girl" - A Song by Michelle Slape & Ashley Charles

I'm a Tommy Girl,
and I can't help that
I'm a Tommy Girl,
and Lord knows that's that.

Don't want no flowers
Or pink champaign.
You can't buy by love,
With a diamond ring.

Cause I'm a Tommy Girl,
I can't help that.
I'm a Tommy Girl,
And Lord knows that's that.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Norway in a Nutshell

"What is a fjord?" I found myself asking as I embarked on my 6 hour train ride from Oslo to Voss, Flam & Bergen (Norway in a Nutshell).
Well, according to, it's "a long, narrow arm of the sea bordered by steep cliffs: usually formed by glacial erosion." Pretty cool, right? The anticipation of experiencing these magnificent_creations with all 5 senses was enough to make me downright giddy!

During the train portion of the trip, there were several stops with photo ops for us to get out and digitally chart our adventures. A nice guy from Brazil, named Ivan, happened to be traveling solo, so we bonded and became tour buddies for the day. He was a rather interesting guy, very kind, funny and
interestingly enough had gone 25+ years without ever seeing snow! Well, lucky for him, as our train climbed the mountains that lead to the west coast there was plenty of snow for him to absorb. When we arrived at a midway point where we had to switch trains I was able to reconnect with Thelma (who I met in Stockholm) and she, Ivan and I enjoyed the 2nd half of the train ride together. One point of interest along the way was the GINORMOUS Kjosfossen Waterfall (free fall of 305 ft) and a prime Kodak moment spot! The kicker with this attraction was the unexpected dancing "Maiden of the Mist" singing her alluring song and frolicking about on top of the waterfall - definitely a tourist gimmick, but appreciated nonetheless!

At last we reached Flam where we mosied about for a bit awaiting the boat trip through the fjords. After saying "I'll see you later" to Thelma, Ivan and I
boarded the vessel and we were off. A quick disclaimer here: Neither words, nor pictures can do this portion of my trip justice, but that won't keep me from trying. The best reference I can mesh together in my head is that the western part of the country with the fjords and mountains is most similar to a hybrid of Colorado and New Zealand...seriously! Snow-capped mountains that cascade into emerald fortresses of flourishing fauna sporadically interrupted by rushes of white water here and there. AMAZING! Even the profiles of the mountains, so smooth and delicate, yet intimidating were a wonder to my eyes. Upon seeing a group of people kayaking, I knew that some day I must return to get a more authentic experience! Ivan and I just snapped away for hours taking breaks only for rain and hot chocolate (it was cold)!

Finally we reached Gudvangen where we disembarked and waited for charter buses to take us to Voss where we would board one last train to Bergen (our final destination). Here we passed the time with an impromptu photo shoot (with a viking statue, mini viking ship, a troll, and a grass roofed hotel). Good times! I loved that Ivan was up for all of my nonsense!

Upon reaching Bergen, I had no idea where my
hostel was...ok, i mean i had a hint of an idea, but never actually wrote down directions (Ulf had shown me a video online that traced the path to the hostel and i just figured I'd remember) ha! The point of telling you this is that this is TOTALLY out of character for me - to be so carefree - but I love it! Ladies and gents...this is what Europe can do for I sound like a walking ad? Therefore, I accompanied Ivan to his place only to find a loooong line of patrons waiting to check in. I (still being impatient) decided to just "go look for my hostel" and meet back up with him at a predetermined spot for dinner. Well, while I was walking, God blessed me with running smack dab into the tourist info center. What luck! I went in only seeking guidance to find my hostel, but came out with a Glacier hiking tour itinerary in hand! Ya, I hiked a glacier, haha! So...the background - A friend of mine in Chicago had been to Scandinavia and hiked a glacier and when looking at her pics I thought it would be super cool to do this too, but didn't see it fitting in during my limited stay and on my limited budget! Well, it turns out, a 3 hour hike isn't that expensive and I was seriously like "What the heck! When am I going to have this opportunity again?" So I made the executive decision to splurge and push myself out of my comfort zone a bit and just go with it! That night I did find my hostel and it was super nice! Met up with Thelma again too - she was staying at my ho
stel!!! The 3 of us went for dinner at Pepe's pizza splitting a half Thai, half Mexican Taco pizza (in Norway), haha! We also saw a famous blond American actress at the restaurant, but none of us can put a name to her, frustrating! My two compadres were leaving the next day, so we said our farewells and parted ways!

I was somehow awake and conscious the next morning at 7am and boarded the bus for my 2 hour
trip (bus/boat/bus)! I was surprised to see that the location of my glacier hike was actually a ski/snowboarding resort and was a bit bummed that I wouldn't be skiing! I did however take my first snowmobile ride. I must say that hiking the glacier was one of the most thrilling things I've ever done! It was so serene, peaceful and stunning that all I wanted to do was soak it up with every part of my being! I met some nice people on the trek...a few Americans, French, and Germans. We learned the basics of survival on the glacier and were given the necessary gear (helmet, pick axe, clampons, and harnesses). I must admit that I had my reservations on roping myself to 14 other people while traipsing about the ice, but luckily for us all, there were no falls! Whew! Another funny note: It didn't occur to me that I should have told my parents or another family member that I was hiking a glacier until I was standing atop it in all it's glory! Haha...thankfully I was able to tell them when I returned!

After a full and exhausting day 7-7, I was pooped! I arrived back at the hostel in Bergen and changed out of my sopping wet jeans and headed to the local 50's style diner (Capella) for some grub of traditional Norwegian pancakes, brown cheese and a much deserved milk shake! Then went to my first "Cyber House" to use the good ol' internet to inform my loved ones on all my adventures!

My last day in Bergen I slept in a bit and headed to the local grocery to buy breakfast (a great savvy shopping tip). Upon checking out, I found that there were free computers to use for customers, which was most convenient, but made me regret my cyber experience a bit, haha! The rest of the day I spent falling in love with Bergen. It's such a quaint picturesque town. I visited an intriguing cathedral with a spell bounding organ playing. I contributed to an outdoor rainbow art display, visited the fish market for a snack and was able to try 2 kinds of caviar...a little salty for my liking. My favorite part of the day was the view from the outlook atop the funicular. The perfect way to get your grounding and see all the town has to offer. I sat up there and breathed it all in and read for a while before reluctantly taking the funicular back. At this point, my time in Bergen was waning so I just poked around here and there. Saw some old churches, a fort and randomly ran into my roomate from my first night in Bergen. Small world! Before I knew it, my fairytale time in Bergen had come to an end and I was boarding a train back to Oslo to see Ulf an Norma one more night before hopping another train/bus/train to Copenhagen.

Arriving in Copenhagen with a 4 hour wait time till my flight I was antsy to get to London, my layover city for the night. Reason being, I was meeting back up with my two Texas friends that I met on the plane ride from JFK to London. Angela was actually flying out of Heathrow the same day and time as me and I invited them to stay at my luxurious Crown Plaza Hotel with me. Arriving late that night, we made the most of our time together...telling hilarious stories, scheming on an opportunity to move to Europe, and taking an hour long photo shoot incognito (we were ninjas) haha! Ahhhh...needless to say, I was going to be more than ok if I missed my flight the next morning and had to stay a month in London with afran (Aaron from TX)! Oh well, all good things come to an end right? Booo...Don't fret, I have many many plans to return to these glory days! Keep tuning in and perhaps I'll give you the scoop!

Monday, August 4, 2008

Velkkomen Till Norgay!

"Save The Best For Last"...this old adage rang true during my Scandinavia tour.

Norway, the 3rd and final leg of my trip was by far one of the most picturesque places I've ever been. Upon immediate arrival, I hopped a train to Larvik - a small town on the coast of the Oslo fjord - about 2 hours from Oslo. After staying in hostels for several days at this point, you can imagine my excitement when I found out from my dear Auntie that I would have my own room and bathroom for 3 whole days!!! Whoo hoo! I also enjoyed being greeted by my Great Aunt at the train station with a big smile and a hug...there's just something about familiarity that soothes the soul.

My three days in with the fam, were so sweet. I was treated like a princess by my generous hosts and thoroughly enjoyed the quality time with my Aunt and Uncle. Uncle Ulf was so excited for my arrival that he had a whole 3 day itinerary planned out for me, which of course he said I could modify, but he was so excited I wouldn't, they were all things that I would enjoy! So as not to bore you, I'll just give you the rundown of our activities with a few details here and there. We scoured the whole town of Larvik, stopping at the Larvikete Quarry where they mine, you guessed it, Larvikete, which is basically a type of granite (shades of blacks, grays and blues) that's very pretty when shined. I was also introduced to other quaint towns, sleepy harbors, beautiful beaches, a viking ship dig (where a real ship was excavated), Morel - a viking stone burial ground (basically a beach comprised of stones with real tombs below) kinda eerie to walk over the mounds and feel the hollowness below, a navy church, German barricades, gunners & bunkers, meeting Chamille (Ulf's pregnant daughter, and tons of Norwegians eating "is" (ece) aka ice cream. The days were jam packed, but leisurely (if that's possible)...every day was started with a hearty breakfast, compliments of Aunt Norma and filled with grand tours by Ulf. I especially enjoyed returning home in the evenings to lounge around, hike, listen to Ulf play piano, eat good veggie food, and sleep in!

At this point I am feeling recharged and ready to tackle my next adventure! Fortunately for me, my Aunt and Uncle planned to escort me to Oslo and planned for us to stay overnight at his son's house there. This day we accomplished what Ulf liked to call "American Sight-Seeing," which he believes is worse than the Japanese...i beg to differ...Basically, Ulf was our chauffer all day, driving us from attraction to attraction. Hitting up the Ski Jump, Kon-Tiki Museum and Viking Ship Museum. My favorite stop by far was the Vigeland Sculpture Park! An amazing feat.... The park contains 192 sculptures with more than 600 figures, all modeled in full size by Gustav Vigeland . The Monolith is especially interesting bc it towers 14.12 meters (46.32 ft.) high and is comprised of 121 human figures rising toward heaven. This is meant to represent man’s desire to become closer with the spiritual and divine. It portrays a feeling of togetherness as the human figures embrace one another as they are carried toward salvation. Wow...pretty deep, I mean high :)

We ended the Oslo in a Nutshell in what Ulf affectionately called "Oslo's Living Room". A central pier that encompassed restaurants, street vendors, condos, shops, statues and the like.

We spent the evening with Ulf's son and his family and enjoyed watching one of the EuroCup semi-final games (Spain vs. Germany)'s kinda a big deal i hear!

Then the next morning I was off to the train at 8:11am for my solo adventure on the Norway in a
Nutshell tour. Lucky for me, I knew I wouldn't be alone on this one...I met Thelma (a girl from Purdue) in Stockholm who happened to be taking the same tour as me on the same day and staying at the same hostel in Bergen! --If that's not a God-incident, I don't know what is! Before I met her, I had felt lonely and prayed for God to bring someone "a friend" in my path...and i met her literally seconds later!

With mountains of memories behind me from Denmark, Sweden and Oslo, I was in for a treat - memories IN the mountains of Norway!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Seizing Stockholm!

Stockholm - The Windy City of the West...

That's right, Stockholm turned out to be a rather windy stop on my adventure, and i don't think that politics had anything to do with it. I was blown away not only by the forces of nature, but also by my distant, unrelated Swedish cousin Charlotte, who my Uncle had put me in touch with. She had just returned from a 4 month adventure in India and shares my passion for travel!

-- Funny side story - Prior to meeting Charlotte, I had only seen one picture of her and knew that she was middle-aged with red hair. So, I go up to the lobby of my hostel at the pre-appointed time to meet her and i see this lady sitting alone as if she's waiting for someone...and she has red hair! So, I kinda slowly approach her and make eye contact and she reciprocates my inquisitive looks. And I say, "Charlotte?" and she nods and gets up and steps toward me and I say "Hello, I'm Michelle. Nice to meet you." And she kinda smiles and says something unmemorable and I lean in and embrace the woman as if I've known her all my life. Then we sit down and make small talk and before I know it, she is asking me where someone is...Some guy of whom i have no earthly idea...And I must have looked ridiculously confused, so I cleverly say, "I don't know." And within 20 seconds, the man who apparently is with her comes in the lobby and says that he found the people they were looking for. Talk about AWKWARD! We both looked at each other, smile, and laugh nervously and she gets up and proceeds to leave with her "real" person. Haha...afterward, I just sat there with the hugest grin on my face chuckling inside at my error and the fact that I will just hug anyone, haha! --

Luckily, a few minutes later the real Charlotte arrives and she is younger, prettier and more energetic than my former "Charlotte" and I am ever thankful that Charlotte #2 is mine! We went to the waterfront that night for a nice & pricey (not to be confused with the "nice price" menu at Burger King) meal on a floating restaurant. This meal was basically the equivalent of what I had hoped to spend in 2 days...but sometimes life calls for being flexible and I just opted for enjoying every savory moment. Unfortunately, as luck would have it, rain was in the forecast and we ended up back on the shore for an after dinner tea under heat lamps and fleece blankets. At this point, I couldn't help but question my decision to come to such a mild climate during summer (my fave season). But Charlotte's warm and cheery demeanor lifted my spirits and dissolved any doubt. She was a blast to be around and has lived a fascinating life full of travels and adventure. I walked away a bit jealous of her experiences, but also encouraged and motivated for my own adventures ahead!

Day 2 - Began with a tour of the Stockholm City Hall Tower. It was quite a beautiful thing. Not only are there 3 internal observation balconies, but you can also continue up to the top and outside to get a 360 view of the city central, which was quite the sight! Despite the fantastic view, I didn't stay out there long because the winds were pretty ferocious, it was cold and my nose was pretty much a leaky faucet. I snapped some quick photos and made my way down the winding brick maze.
After the City Hall Tower climb I finally gave in to the Scandinavian fetish for hotdogs and feasted upon a French style hotdog. Basically, it's a baguette with a hole in the middle in which they pour your condiment of choice (mine being ketchup) down the hole first and then insert an oversized hotdog. So basically, after you eat all the way to the bottom, there is no meat left and I found myself eating just bread and ketchup (which is fine with me b/c I loooove that sweet red stuff)! And of course, I washed it down with a Coke Light!

Next I was off to tackle the Vasa Museet (museum) - home of the Vasa warship built in 1628 that sunk in the Stockholm harbor on her maiden voyage, and not salvaged until 1961. This impressive museum was one of my favorites from the trip b/c the museet was built around the ship and they have done a rather impressive job of engaging onlookers in the boat's rich history. The whole time I was there I just really wanted to reach out and touch was so big and just looked like it came straight from the movie "Pirates of the Caribbean"!

Finishing up the Vasa, I headed to nearby Skansen - the first open air museum and zoo in Sweden. It was founded in 1891 to show the way of life in the different parts of Sweden before the industrial era. All that being said, I particularly wanted to go this night because every Tuesday of the summer Skansen hosts a live TV show called "Allsong" in which a celebrity singer performs and interacts with the crowd and it's taped live. So, after wandering around Skansen checking out the cute little cottages and interesting animals like peacocks and long-haired guinea pigs, and meeting a family from Northwest Indiana, I made my way over to the stage to catch the rehearsal. It was a pretty cool thing to witness. Mostly young teenagers and families were packed into the outdoor amphitheater and it was good people watching. I just sat back and watched and listened and was delighted when the one song I could understand came on..."I Love Europe", yep that's right...I just beamed and sang along! I had planned to meet Charlotte that night and go over to her place so i could have an opportunity to see how Swedes really live. She had a quaint pseudo 2 bedroom place with a small kitchen, bathroom and no living room (bc her Greek roomate occupied what was once a living room that now had a door). She treated me to homemade punch (sprite, fresh lemon and kiwi, and something else) and some yummy snacks. We sat out on her balcony forever (it stays light until midnight) and shared pictures and stories wrapped up once again in our fleece blankies. It was another great night in a great city!

Day 3 in Stockholm, was a loooong and busy one! I was off to a late start due to the dungeon room I was staying in and had to walk twice as fast as normal to get to the docks to catch the 1130am Historical Boat Tour. After making the boat, I enjoyed gliding slowly through the water while listening to the headset tour in English, although slightly bummed that the guide was a recording. I did learn some super important things about Stockholm though, like that Ace of Base, ABBA, and the author of "Pippy Longstalking" are all from Sweden...and I'm sure there were other less interesting tidbits I missed :)

Next I had my sights set on a lookout tower called Katarinahissen or Katarina Lift, which takes you to a perch that extends 38 meters over the waterfront overlooking Galma Stan (Old Town) complete with breathtaking views. From here I spotted the youth hostel that is on a boat and decided that was a good point of interest and I'd be stopping there later. Making my way down from the lift around lunchtime, I noticed a rather long line at this particular food vendor stand. Realizing that it was probably locals on their lunch break I decided to follow suit and get me some Scandinavian they say..."When in Rome...". It turns out that all the fuss was for something called NYSTEKT Stromming. I quickly figured out that they served fish (the sign was in the shape of a fish) despite having a menu strictly in Swedish. I was forced to go off the not too aesthetically pleasing food photos. Perhaps it was my fondness for Mexican that swayed my decision but I decided to go with the "Stromming Rulle" (roll). Let me just tell you...this thing was huge, rivaling a Chipotle burrito and was filled with seared or fried fish patties, mashed potatoes, coleslaw, sprouts and herbs all mixed together. Quite a lot going on there if you ask me. But overall, it was quite tasty and filling and I felt local:-)

This particular day, 6/25/08, happened to be quite lovely in respect to weather so I got gutsy and broke out the Birkenstocks for the first time of the trip. I was relishing the sun and decided to cop a squat and get in some good reading of the book I had brought with me (The Glass Castle - quite an amazing read).

My next stop of the day was the boat youth hostel, but this idea proved rather disappointing - the hostel was only accessible by tenants and thus I was shut out of my planned mini-adventure. So, I headed on to my next boat tour, the Royal Boat Tour, for some additional laid back entertainment. On the way, stopping at the Swedish Tourist Office (headquarter) acting confused so that I could use their restroom for free, hehe (i was tired of paying to use the restroom!). On the Royal Tour, a most interesting God Incident occurred...I had been kinda lonely that day and prayed that God would bring someone in my path to hang out with. And low and behold a few minutes later I am waiting in line for the boat ride right behind an American girl with a Purdue shirt on! I immediately strike up a conversation with her and find out she is from Indiana and is in Scandinavia for her friends wedding. So, I sat by Thelma (new friend) and her friends during the tour and before long we found out we were both taking the Norway in a Nutshell tour on June 30th to Bergen,NO and staying at the same hostel that night!!! How crazy and amazing is that??? We parted ways after the tour and exchanged info so we could get in touch on our next leg of the trip!

That night I stopped in the hostel to check email and met a nice Texan from Austin. We chatted a bit and I invited him to watch the semi-final futbol game (Turkey vs. Germany) with me, Charlotte and her college friend. We went to a Spanish Tapas restaurant by her place and all enjoyed the game and camaraderie, despite the multi-minute lapses of game footage due to power failures, lol. During these periods we had to listen on the radio in Swedish and Charlotte would interpret :) As it turned out, Germany won (to my dismay) and they were on to play Spain in the finals. It was a fabulous last night in Stockholm, and I was ready to press on to Norway the next day!

BTW...Stockholm was my favorite "big city"! Especially Galma Stan...I just loved the narrow cobblestone streets and pastel row houses - very quaint!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

50 Travel Quotes...I love quotes.

After sleeping in "Heaven", i suppose one deserves a night or two in "hell"...well, not actually, ha, i only say this bc my room here in Stockholm is in the basement and is as dark as one would imagine hell being! But i love it! There's no windows and i slept like a baby until 9:30, which after Sunday night is a blessing!

I've got a long list of places to see today, so i'll make this brief. A friend sent me this site on 50 Best Travel Quotes and I love it! For all those ardent travelers and even those seeking inspiration, check it out!

Monday, June 23, 2008

Köbenhavn Part 2

My time in this quaint city turned out to be quite enjoyable. I couldn't have found a better travel partner than Gavin. He was totally flexible, laid back, liked to talk, obsessed with pictures and quite versed in business, politics and history. Needless to say, I learned a bit from the kid.

We covered the city in a mere 12 hours...including lunch at Christiania (the free hippie commune), and checked out the Parliament building, took a boat canal tour, pictures at the Little Mermaid statue (including Gavin crawling up on the statue and kissing it on the lips, which was quite hilarious and earned a few stares!), checked out a few churches, ate at a Mediterranean Buffet (complete with belly dancers and loud music) and strolled down Stroget making fun of the goofy outfits these Danes wear, all before collapsing at the King's Gardens around 9:30pm and soaking up the beautiful skies while laying on our backs and breathing in the sweet grass. There's just something about Europe that makes me yearn for laying in the grass to read, nap or relax.

My fave thing about Copenhagen is the calm vibe. I feel at ease, and less rushed. The casual bikers and lazy strolls of the residents surely caught my attention. I made effort to join them in their slow saunter. Women even wear dresses and heels while riding bikes, and no one wears helmets...and many a bike goes unlocked. It's a beautiful thing...just hope to bring some of it home with me!

Day 3 in this fine city began with a pleasant and by no means coincidental meeting of a Chicago guy during breakfast at the hostel. It's pretty easy to pinpoint the Americans. We began chatting and when we found out we are from the same hood, he asked me to join him and his new Boston pals for a day at the Botanical Gardens and touring the city. Seeing as i had no plans (yes, believe it!), I took him up on the generous offer. It was a wet day, so after the gardens, we proceeded to the National museum to take in some fine art for FREE!

The Boston folks had to depart for Germany, so Rob and i headed back to the hostel to recharge and then went for'll never guess...yes, Mediterranean again - only pizza this time! So crazy, yet o so yummy! (I guess i realize now that the reason I ate so much of this food while there is not solely bc i love it, but because it's CHEAP, haha!) Anyway, we were planning to head to Tivoli, but the rain would not relent, so we opted for a huge cultural experience of watching the Eurocup with the regulars at O'Learys Sports Bar before I caught my 10pm overnight train. It's crazy how passionate futbol fans are!!!

Saying goodbye to my Chicago friend (whom i have plans for sushi with back in Chi-town), I met another fellow backpacker from Denver on the train who was very helpful in guiding me on my first Eurorail experience! I like the train, but sleeping on them, however affordable, is not ideal! I like to think i got 6 full hours, but the truth is they were very interrupted every time the train stopped to pick up more folks.

Oh well, I reached Stockholm at 7am, got my money changed and my train to Oslo on Thursday booked and even did a little cleaning up in the Toiletter that cost me 2 Kroner! I treated myself to a sausage and egg mcmuffin and a small diet coke, which cost way too much, but was justified in my groggy state. Then headed to the FTP Friedhelmsplan Hostel to drop off my gear.

With my extra day, I had to figure out what to do and how best to allocate my time...I decided that seeing Drollingham Palace was a priority and a bit off the beaten path, so i opted to go spend the day at the home of the Royal Family. It was remarkable, stunning...simply breathtaking! I got a guided tour, in English, and learned much of the history. I then proceeded to walk the grounds which were a mixture of lovely French and English inspired gardens, ponds, statues and other buildings that accompanied the castle. By this time, my legs were growing weak and my sleepless night was weighing heavily on my eyelids, so i found a nice sunny patch of grass in a field and lay down to nap for a bit. And no sooner than 20 minutes into my snooze, little pellets of water, interrupted my slumber. A bit dazed and confused, I arose to find a fast moving summer storm approaching and ran for the base of a gigantic tree in the gardens. Finding suitable coverage, I sat there and read "The Glass Castle" happy as a lark and unaffected by the storm. ---This happy-go-lucky feeling is exactly what I so badly want to bottle up and take home with me...I mean, I could sell it and be filthy rich, haha...It's been such a blessing to be without a phone and immediate communication vehicles, should try it! Hopefully, it will break me of my compulsive email checking, etc!

Ok....times up. More to come of Stockholm!!!

Saturday, June 21, 2008

The "Great" Danes

Copenhagen or Kobenhavn as they call it here marks the first stop on my Scandinavia Tour! The 7 hour time difference from Chicago left me rather jet-lagged upon arrival yesterday afternoon, but I rallied and went walking about town to get my bearings.

First stop was, of course, Heaven...Ok, not literally, but the hostel I reserved is perhaps not so fittingly named "Sleep-in-Heaven". I have a locker and a 6 bed room the size of my tiny Chicago one. Guess I
won't ever be complaining anymore ;) The spot is complete with a big communal area with a pool table, 2 computers and coed bathrooms...that's a whole other story. Pics will be provided at a later date. Although it's not Heaven, i did sleep well due to an eyemask and earplugs!

Next I visited the Round Tower for a 360 view of the city. Met some more Texans there! It was interesting and fun to be by myself, and lots of good people watching...the Danes don't exactly have good fashion...

Met some great people already and am about to head out to tackle the sights with a Canadian from Vancouver named Gavin!


Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Back Where I Come From

Oklahoma - Kenny Chesney says it best in his song Back Where I Come From..."In the town where I was raised, The clock ticks and the cattle graze. Time passed with Amazing Grace, Back where I come from." And although he's talkin' bout Tennessee, these words still get to me.

Returning home to Tahlequah, Oklahoma from my busy urban perch was a much needed respite for my weary soul. There's nothing that grounds me more than the smell of freshly bailed hay blowing in the wind and watching the town I know and love tinker on the verge of progress and regress.

The purpose of this Oklahoma pit stop was to attend my sisters' HS graduation. Watching them graduate from my high school was a bit emotional. Not only did it seem just like yesterday that it was me walking across that stage, but also I was hit with the reality that it's actually been 6 years! "How could so much time pass? I'm glad I'm past this. But these days were so great! Ya, but I love my life now." I thought to myself...pretty much a mixed bag.

It's funny how the relatively simple things can have such an effect on the freedom to cruise down the highway at 80mph (speed limit is 75), or holding my new baby niece and breathing in her sweet smell, or gorging myself on my fave "white dip" at El Chico(s) - i say it with an "s" - the Mexican restaurant in Muskogee to which I happily drive 30 min to get my fix.

Now you can lie on a riverbank
Paint your name on a water tank
Or miscount all the beers you drank
Back where I come from"

Throughout the duration of this long weekend, the great outdoors lured me back places o so familiar to me. I joined friends for a day out on Lake Tenkiller, braving the sun-worshipping crowds gathered for the holiday weekend. There I was in awe of the beauty that beheld me in this often-overlooked gem of a destination. The emerald rolling hills submerging themselves in the almost equally green waters contrasted with the bright blue sky painted with cumulus nimbus puffs - an idyllic day for boating and swimming.

In an effort to reclaim some of my most fond childhood memories, I joined my younger sister on a 4-wheeler excursion (in my sundress). The familiar vrooom of the engine sent sparks through my chest as the exhilarating ride began. It had been a few years since my last ride and I was feeling a bit anxious and rusty, but as is true with riding a bike, it came back in no time. Following her through trails, around ponds, and (unwisely) into a muddy field - i got stuck and mud was flying up all around me...i was at a crossroads btwn saving my fave yellow and white dress or getting the 4-wheeler out of the mud - amazingly making it back safe with only a drop of mud on my dress!

The past four days taught me a lot about little. It truly is the "little" things in life that make a life great. Family to love, good friends to laugh with, new life, the great outdoors, favorite foods, small towns, absence of time, and all that is home.

"Back where I come from
Where I'll be when it's said and done
I'm proud as anyone
Back where I come from"

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Lessons from Nonna

In celebration of my (BBBS) little sis Mia's 10th birthday, we visited our friendly neighborhood mom and pop pizza shop. Nonna's Pizzeria offered us not only a deliciously cheesy good time for a bargain price of $22 for 5 people, but also great memories and life lessons on the house.

Mia and I were joined by her mom (Bobby) and two neighbor friends for the birthday feast. As we ate the whole wheat crusted cheese pizza to our hearts content, I was able to get to know Bobby a little better and learn about Mia as well.

Mia beamed over the hodgepodge of gifts I stuffed in an oversize birthday bag, equally as excited for each gift, as if they were each little treasures in a newfound chest. I just love the simplicity of children...they are amused by the smallest most seemingly insignificant things...I believe what is left most to be desired for many kids is simply attention. This they crave just like a big slice of gooey pizza.

After consuming the whole pie, everyone still had room for chocolate on chocolate cake - a special request from the birthday girl. The generous employees at Nonna's were kind enough to supply us with extra utensils and even sing along the all to familiar "Happy Birthday" song. A song that everyone knows, yet no one seems to grasp the right pitch...making it all that more special.

I'm sure the evening looked quite different from the eyes of outsiders...the lone yuppie entertaining folks from the Marshall Fields Garden Apartments, but from my perspective, all was right with the world - A world where love conquers race, culture, education and class.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Live Your Dreams

"Live Your Dreams," that is my goal this year, my mantra, my battle cry. I set out in 2008 to move beyond the acceptable, to never settle for complacency and to strive for the adventure that's promised in living life to the fullest.

So far, I feel I've made some decent strides - I have resurrected a childhood dream of playing the piano and dove headfirst into a travel writing class to see if the marriage of my two loves (travel & writing) could coexist in a healthy and fruitful manner. I've also had the opportunity to satiate my strong appetite for good food and new restaurants through a secret diner rating program. All while simultaneously planning my "big trip" to Scandinavia this year. Whew...just writing this makes me tired.

In just the first five months of "living my dreams" I have learned a lot about myself and how much it really requires of a person to do this. It's funny that doing what you love/want requires sacrifice. Guess it's true for all things. I've sacrificed sleep, time with friends, money, sleep, and other "good" things in striving for my "best." I have a newfound appreciation for ambition, goals, success and all they entail.

I guess I can look at the first half of this year of actualization and be happy with my progress, all the while knowing that the race is not over, the prize is not won, and look forward to the next seven months. As it turns out, "Living Your Dreams" is not a sprint, but a marathon...and I will press on and relish the journey!