Thursday, December 2, 2010

To be continued...

It’s time to head back to reality for a few weeks.  Yes, I’m going back to Chicago and my job for awhile before jet-setting off to my next destination and then multiple countries across the pond!  This was only a preview into my much longer adventure beginning in January!   I had heard that traveling to various parts of the world for extended periods of time changes you.  I feel that it has already happened to me, even though I have only been a couple places so far and have only traveled for 3 weeks.  I’m happy to announce 3 significant changes I’ve noticed in myself thus far:

Stuff – Why do I have so much stuff?  I was perfectly happy living out of a backpack for 3 weeks and had everything that I needed – clothes, toothbrush, toothpaste - and even some things that I wanted – computer, iPod, camera.  When I returned home to my parent’s condo where a small portion of my stuff was stored I was mad at myself that I had accumulated so many things over my life.  For the most part, things just cause clutter, unless you are extremely organized and have lots of space.  Experiences are what matter, not things.  What are you going to remember when you’re 90 years old?  Those 5 different kinds of lotion you just had to have or the day at the baseball stadium you spent with your grandparents?  I kind of just want to throw everything away…although, I think if I got rid of my scrapbooks, Michael Jordan autographed basketball, and track medals I would have a coronary.  It’s a work in progress.

Food – Prior to my trip every time I went out to eat, and sometimes even at home, I somehow convinced myself that I would never eat whatever food I was eating again and I had to eat the whole thing!  Well, news flash to anyone, including myself, who has that same philosophy, the food will still be there tomorrow, next week and even next year!  On my trip I found myself eating only when I was hungry, and only eating what I was hungry for, which was usually exactly enough to fuel my body.  That, combined with my copious amounts of walking, led to a 5 pound weight loss and a drop in a pants size, without even trying!  I think I like this new mindset!

Courage – I’ve never liked flying, didn’t fly for over 4 years after September 11, and was so scared to fly solo throughout my travels.  However, I have somehow almost overcome my fear already!  I don’t want to jinx myself for the rest of my trip but on my flight to Toronto and home from Boston I had a completely different mindset about flying.  I realized that flying is just like any other type of public transportation, and the turbulence can be akin to going over a pothole on the highway or bouncing around as you go over uneven tracks on the train, which are no reason for alarm.  Airplane travel allows you to get so many places so easily - I’m glad I’ve finally embraced that!  And it’s at the perfect time too because otherwise this could make for a very unpleasant trip around the world. 

I can’t wait to see what other changes traveling brings!  I love the new me!  I already know that this trip is the best decision I’ve ever made!  

"This is your world. Shape it or someone else will."

Friday, November 26, 2010


I’ve fallen in love…with Boston!  Particularly the neighborhoods of Back Bay, the North End and Beacon Hill.  In each city I’ve visited thus far I’ve decided where I would live if I ever decided to call that place home.  I’ve found so far that I always pick the most unrealistic, most expensive neighborhoods.  So it was no surprise that in Boston I chose Beacon Hill as my intended.  The streets were cobblestone, the houses were Federal style rowhouses, the street lights were gas and constantly burning, the downtown was picturesque and charming.  And it was all on a big, steep hill lined with fancy cars.  I could have spent all day wandering around that neighborhood!  My next favorite neighborhood was Back Bay which consists of beautiful Victorian brownstones.  There is a pretty wide grassy parkway leading to the Public Garden and Boston Commons, which is the setting of one of my favorite childhood books, Make Way for Ducklings.  The North End in Boston is home to Little Italy and has some of the oldest buildings in the city.  Hanover St. is filled with hundreds of amazing Italian restaurants and bakeries.  Yum!  I’m getting hungry thinking back on them all!

You can’t go to Boston without walking The Freedom Trail to revisit our nation’s history.  I realized about half way through my trek that I was not only following The Freedom Trail but my dutiful self was literally walking ON The Freedom Trail path marker in the middle of the sidewalk.  I guess being the obedient type who has always followed directions to a T never really leaves you.  As soon as I realized, I tried my hardest to walk on the right side of the sidewalk but somehow always found myself back in the middle.
I knew there was a reason why I was a history major for a semester in college – I really love this stuff!  It was amazing to imagine what life was like during the American Revolution.  What it must have been like to witness the first public reading of the Declaration of Independence at the Old State House, the Boston Massacre, the Battle of Bunker Hill, etc.  I visited Paul Revere’s house which had been standing since 1660.  Parts of the original walls were exposed, period furniture adorned the tiny rooms, and pictures hung showing what life was like at the time.  My second dose of history came when I visited the John F Kennedy Library and Museum.  I am generally not a huge fan of museums or politicians, but I was absolutely fascinated by this museum, its contents and all the information about JFK!  The next day I walked across the bridge to Cambridge, passing the campuses for the famed MIT and Harvard.  Harvard’s campus town was much more appealing to me than the campus itself - it’s a good thing I didn’t have the SAT scores to get in there!  Everywhere I went I saw advertisements for the production Shear Madness which has been running nightly in Boston’s Theater District for 30 years, so I figured I had to check it out.  It was in a tiny theater in which you sit so close to the action that you feel like you’re a part of the show.  In fact, you become part of the show as the cast interacts with the audience.

Boston is crazy for its sports teams as I witnessed when I attended the Celtics game on my last night in Boston.  The cheering never stopped, the support never wavered (even when the Celtics were down by 10), and you could feel the love the town has for its beloved team.  I even became a Celtics fan!!

"Life begins at the end of your comfort zone."
-Neale Donald Walsch

Monday, November 22, 2010

New York City - Part II

“You’ve gotta leave wanting more” – That’s what my mom says about traveling and what I keep I telling myself because each time I visit New York I want to do everything!  I was busy during my last few days in NYC ‘cause I tried to pack a lot in!  I walked across the Brooklyn Bridge one sunny morning and spent a large chunk of the day wandering through Brooklyn.  The bridge itself is so intricately designed that it’s fascinating and the views looking back at Manhattan are breathtaking.  I was stopped on the bridge by a group of third graders who were doing a school project about the bridge and asked me what I liked about the bridge, why I was crossing the bridge, where I was from (when I said Chicago the little girl circled ‘Other country’ on her paper) and if they could take a picture of me.  So cute!  I love love love Brooklyn Heights and decided that if I ever lived in New York I would find a way (probably by winning the lottery) to live in Brooklyn Heights.  Also in Brooklyn I thwarted my first pickpocket attempt (as the pickpocketee not the pickpocketer)!  I was in a crowded elevator in the subway station and I felt something going on in my pocket so I reached down and grabbed a woman’s wrist while her hand was still in my pocket!  I looked back at her ‘cause I wanted to see what kind of idiot would try that and be so bad at it that the potential victim clearly felt it AND had time to grab her wrist, and she was just staring straight ahead like nothing was going on.  I have never wanted to hit someone more in my life than I did at that moment.  Who does she think she is?!?!

I got my dose of history by going to the Museum of the City of New York and the American Museum of Natural History and taking a Greenwich Village walking tour.  All of these were packed with interesting facts about New York City and the origins of many customs and sayings throughout the country.  If you’d like, I’d be more than happy to share these with you, but I figured those can be requested on an individual basis rather than subjecting everyone to all of them.
I took myself out on my 29th birthday to dinner in Little Italy then to a comedy show.  The restaurant I picked did not sound very authentically Italian, Rocky’s Italian Ristorante, but it was very good.  I am often wary when it comes to comedians, as I’ve found in my experience that many comedians resort to being raunchy and rude in an effort to appeal to the public, which I find very off-putting.  I found the National Comedy Theatre online that boasted that the shows are “clean and appropriate for all ages”.  I didn’t read though that it would be an improve comedy show that pitted two teams against each other, which other than Whose Line Is It Anyway? I’ve found to be rather low quality.  But I was wrong!  I was practically rolling in the aisles laughing!!

I attended an incredible show on Broadway on my last day in town.  It wasn’t great because of the quality of the story, or even the acting ability of the cast, it was great because of the nostalgia surrounding it.  The audience was filled with people my age and people my parent’s age with a few others sprinkled in.  The roar of the crowd when the star shuffled out on stage was deafening!  When the lights went down and the set was revealed there was thunderous applause and screaming.  Three members from the original cast (when it first debuted 29 years ago) were in this production.  Have I built up enough curiosity yet?  It was The Pee Wee Herman Show!  Paul Rubens is 58 years old and still plays Pee Wee perfectly!  “I know you are, but what am I?”, “Whatever you say bounces off of me and sticks to you”, “Ahhhh!”, “That’s my name, don’t wear it out”, “Mekka lekka hi mekka hinny ho”, “So funny I forgot to laugh”, “Then why don’t you marry it?”.  We screamed whenever anyone said the Word of the Day, which was “fun” and cheered as each familiar character made their appearance on stage (Conky, Jambi, Cowboy Curtis, Mailman Mike, Miss Yvonne, Globey, Chairry, and the King of Cartoons).  Ah, I loved it!  The other Broadway show I saw was The Scottsboro Boys which was very good, but much more serious than any of the other shows I had seen.  The theater it played in was so old that the balcony had sunk a bit and the aisles were literally angled down from the center.  I was sitting on a slant and I spent the first half of the show worrying that I was going to plummet through the floor to the mezzanine seats below!  I also took a tour on Broadway given by a self-proclaimed “starving actor”.  He was overly dramatic and loud and awesome.  I learned about the haunted theaters on Broadway, the various superstitions of theater people and how common show-mances (romances between the leading lady and leading man) are.
Until next time New York! 
"Go confidently in the direction of your dreams! 
Live the life you've imagined!"
- Henry David Thoreau

Thursday, November 18, 2010

New York City - Part I

I’m so glad that I decided to take the train from Montreal to New York City.  It was the longest, but most pretty, train ride I had ever taken.  I had no idea that upstate New York was so breathtakingly beautiful.  I tried to take pictures of the serene magnificence, but no picture could capture it just right.  11 hours later I arrived in NYC!
The feeling that I had as I surfaced in New York City from Penn Station was one I didn’t expect.  I instantly felt calm, comfortable, at home, and incredibly familiar as I joined the lively streets of NYC.  I can’t tell you how happy I was as I walked through Times Square on the way to my hostel the first night.  New York just does something to me!
I arrived at night so my NY adventure didn’t begin until the next morning.  And it began with a costly reminder of the differences between Chicago and New York.  In an effort to find a cheap place to get my haircut, I used Yelp! to find something in the one $ sign range.  I had momentarily forgot that one $ sign in Chicago means something completely different than one $ sign in New York.  $95 later I had my haircut and a hole in my pocket.  I attended church at the 4th Universalist Church on the Upper West Side across the street from Central Park Sunday morning and afterwards took full advantage of the 61 degree mid-November day and took a nice long stroll through Central Park.  It was so gorgeous with the leaves changing colors and falling.  People brought out their rowboats in the lake and the street performers were out in full glory taking advantage of one last day before the weather turned cold to earn some money.

I’ve been spending a lot of my time taking in the different neighborhoods of NYC.  So far I’ve walked the Upper East Side, Upper West Side, the Theater District, Midtown West, East and South, SoHo, Chinatown and Tribeca, and I’ve only been here 4 days!  I could spend every day in NYC and be happy. I’ve found myself waking up earlier and earlier each day so I could have more time to do things each day.  My body is adjusting to that and got me up this morning at 6am, and while normally that would annoy me, I couldn’t have been happier about it!  So far I’ve seen two Broadway shows, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson and Memphis!   The first was pretty good, but Memphis was simply incredible!  I loved loved loved it!!  If you go to NYC you MUST see this musical!  So high energy and the stars of the show have amazing voices that give you goosebumps!
In my lifetime I have been known to seek out a celebrity or two especially when in LA or NYC, but somehow this time I have been in the right place at the right time because so far I’ve seen 11 celebrities, having only actively sought out one.  On my first night here as I walked down 53rd St, Sean Hayes and Kristin Chenoweth walked out of the stage door for Promises, Promises just as I passed by.  Then a few blocks later I was waiting to cross the street and David Letterman came driving by in his Land Cruiser, which caused me to wonder what a late night host was doing at his office on a Sunday night…or should I say who??  Hmmmm.  As I was walking from my hostel to Times Square for a tour I passed Columbus Circle and heard someone yell, “Rolling!” and I turned around and there was Ben Stiller filming his movie Tower Heist.  Next up, later that afternoon I was walking down the street to go to the Hello Deli and I saw a huge crowd of people so I walked over and a few minutes later out walked Jamie Oliver, Jay Z and Rihanna (who had all been on Letterman)!  That was a big one!   Jay Z got in a $500,000 Rolls Royce to drive not even 5 blocks away to where he lives at Columbus Circle.  As Jamie Oliver drove away he rolled down his window and blew us a kiss and said, “Hello my lovelies!”  After Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson as I was leaving I saw my favorite Australian, Curtis Stone, in the audience!  I turned to float back to my hostel and just as I did so Patrick Stewart and T.R. Knight walked out of the stage door from the theater showing their play.  And finally I spent a considerable amount of time waiting outside a certain TV show set in the cold wind to see a certain actor/singer only to learn that he had gone to a different location.  Anyone who knows me should know who this is!  If you’d like a clue, I did see Tom Selleck there on set as well!

Monday, November 15, 2010


Is marijuana legal in Montreal?  Because I smelled it everywhere I went.  I thought I might get high myself after walking behind a guy who was puffing away.  A couple other observations while I’m at it: people in Montreal don’t wear gloves to prepare your food, fencing around construction sites is lax (which I learned when I almost fell in a two foot deep trench alongside the road- it’s a good thing my athletic prowess saved me) and people don’t have their cell phones glued to their head or smart phones glued to their hand like us silly Americans do.
I don’t know if Montreal is supposed to be a walking city, but I made it one.  Over 3 days I covered about 38 miles by foot, which was incredible to see everything, but also incredibly painful on my legs.  I’m not as young as I used to be - Did I really just say that?!?! 
When I arrived in Montreal I felt lost for the first time, and I’m sure not the last, during my travels.  I couldn’t find a map for the life of me, so I had to navigate pretty much on my own, which was difficult because it was already dark out and all the signs were in French.  I eventually found my way and was relived once I reached my hostel.  Montreal is a beautiful city with miles and miles of shopping and restaurants and landmarks and churches.  It’s never-ending and is fascinating in that respect.  It’s interesting how parts of the city are very French and other parts of the city are very English.  I found myself forgetting often that I was in Canada rather than in France or somewhere else in Europe.  I definitely got into the French mindset though, because before I knew it my thoughts started to take on a French accent!!  I explored the beautiful campus of McGill University, the affluent neighborhood of Westmount, the Olympic Stadium from the 1976 Olympics (which is a FAR walk from the Latin Quarter where I stayed), Old Montreal, the infamous Underground City, which is truly amazing, and so much more.  It kind of blows you away at how much there is to see. 

In the Underground City at one of the many food courts I met a man named Ali who was so excited to talk about travel and showed me his pictures that he just got developed from a recent trip to Hawaii.  Normally this would leave me shaking my head at the randomness of the situation, but instead it really enhanced my overall experience!  In addition, I’m really enjoying all the people I’m meeting in the various hostels I’m staying at and hearing their stories.  A few have come to Canada on work visas with the hopes of finding a job because they couldn’t find one in their home countries of Ireland and Scotland.  Another recently graduated from college in Australia and has been traveling around the world for the last 7 months and has no plans to go home anytime soon.  I loved looking at his pictures from Egypt, Amsterdam, Greece, Vietnam and China.   Another was spending her last day in Canada before returning to Germany after a year-long stay traveling across the country.  Staying in the hostels alone provides an amazing global experience!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010


First thing first – I survived the flight to Toronto on a tiny little plane!!  I am afraid of flying, which adds just a hint of irony to this whole trip!
I think I’m starting to understand why everyone loves Toronto so much!  The people are incredibly friendly, the food is delicious, the neighborhoods are cozy, the city is immensely diverse and it’s compact and easy to see in a few days.  My friends, Bridget and Laura, came to Toronto with me and we had a great time. 

Laura has a few friends who live in Toronto so we got to hear about life in Toronto – 37.5 hour work weeks, their healthcare, expensive home prices and outrageous real estate fees, their very nice public housing, Toronto Island and its refusal to build a bridge to the mainland (a few hundred feet away), prime ministers, etc.  Her friends were incredibly nice, as was pretty much everyone we came across.  On our first day, trying to navigate the city, before we could even ask for directions a gentleman on the street made sure we knew where we were going.  In some ways Toronto is like a mini-New York, complete with high end stores and Yonge Dundas Square which rivals Time Square, complete with a TKTS booth, but on a much smaller scale.  Amazingly, the Chicago Bears were playing the Buffalo Bills in Toronto on Sunday.  There was no way we could pass that up, so we scalped some tickets and got seats on the 40 yard line.  We met a number of people from Chicago who had flown up for the day and there were many more Bears fans in the crowd than I had expected. 
We visited the CN Tower, which gave beautiful views of the city.  I, very bravely, laid down on the glass floor of the Observation Deck with nothing but 1,222 feet of air beneath me.  That was pretty scary to look straight down to see nothing but the concrete ground that lay below…WAY below!  And even though the glass floor could hold the weight of 14 hippos, I was positive that the glass was going to give way just as I set foot on it. 

My friends made me go to a sushi restaurant, and although I didn’t eat any raw fish, it was still an experience and I had my first maki. 

On my first day of solo travel I logged 13 miles in one day (!!) traversing the city, and took in the sights of the beautiful campus of the University of Toronto, the hustle and bustle of the business district, the quaint neighborhoods, busy Chinatown and the historical St Lawrence Market. 

On my last night in Toronto I passed by The Bay department store, which has Christmas scenes in its windows.  It reminded me of the good ol’ days of Marshall Fields at Christmastime and made me feel like I was at home…well, at home 5 years ago before the whole Macy’s debacle!

Monday, November 1, 2010

I quit my job to TRAVEL!!

Why am I doing a seemingly crazy thing like quitting my job and setting out on my own across the world??  It's because I want to have new and unique experiences, grow through the encounters I have with people in different parts of the world, and see first-hand the wonders of the world.  I’ve always traveled, thanks to my parents, who whisked me off on my first international trip to England when I was 8 years old, and a number of places before and after that.  Travel became an integral part of my life and I couldn’t be more grateful for that.  I suppose I got bit by the travel bug in August of 2004 when my mom went on an Alaskan cruise for a writing seminar and I tagged along.  Who knew what a beautiful and eye-opening experience it would be.  The moment that stands out in my mind is how the temperature dropped drastically as we canoed up to a glacier, and how beautiful the untouched landscape was.  To think of how the entire area was previously covered in a sheet of ice one mile thick is almost too much to wrap your head around.  The height of the glaciers and mountains and depth of the fjord that we glided through was an awe-inspiring experience.  I think this was the moment that helped me to realize that there is so much more in the world than your own little universe in which you exist every day.  Or maybe it was the moment when I swam with stingrays in the Cayman Islands, saw a volcano erupt in Italy, or explored the fascinating ruins of Pompeii.  It all came to a head late last summer when I spent two weeks in Europe (Italy, Greece, Montenegro, Croatia, France and Monte Carlo).  I loved that my only responsibility each day was to do nothing more than discover the beauty and magnificence of these countries.  I wanted to see more, stay longer and fully experience the different countries.  This world is so diverse with so many different cultures and languages, and there are so many things to see and do!!  It’s just too much for me to let go idly by, unexplored by me.  Travel is where my passions lie and that is why I’m taking the next 6 months to see what this vast world has to offer!!