Tag Archives: adventure

A New Adventure!

When I initially made the decision to move abroad and teach internationally, I can remember telling my parents (and everyone else) that it was just going to be for 2 years, and then I’d move back home. At the time, I actually believed that’s how it would play out. Fast forward to now, ten years later, and I’m finishing my contract in my fourth country, with no plans to return home anytime soon.

The life of an expat, while not for everyone, is my preference. It’s afforded me many opportunities I never would have had living in the states. Apart from the obvious travel opportunities, I have been able to meet some truly remarkable people, learn a great deal about myself, become a better educator, teach in the PYP, immerse myself in new cultures, develop some long-lasting friendships, and work through some very challenging times. In the past ten years, I’ve lived in Shanghai, China; Tirana, Albania; Bangkok, Thailand; and Jakarta, Indonesia. While I’m sad that this chapter is coming to an end, I’m so excited about my new adventure!

I’m thrilled to announce that this summer, I’ll be moving to Jeju Island, South Korea! To be honest, Korea was never really on my radar because, despite loving it when I visited Seoul in 2011, it was too dang cold for me! What I’ve learned about Jeju is that while it does get cold (and even snows a few times a year), it’s generally 10-15 degrees Celsius warmer than Seoul. Plus, Jeju is known as “the Hawaii of Korea,” and you can’t go wrong with that!

Firstly, I am really looking forward to joining my new school, Branksome Hall Asia (BHA), which is a prestigious all-girls boarding school. It’s all girls and boarding in the Secondary School, but there are a mix of boys and girls in the Junior School, which is a day school. What first drew me to BHA was that it’s a full continuum IB World School, offering the PYP, MYP, and DP. They are known for being innovative and they push the boundaries of what most schools think is possible. BHA was recently awarded the International School Award for “Initiative to support students as future-thinking innovators.” During the interview process, I was so impressed with the Head of School and the other administrators I spoke with about the work their students are doing. I’ll be joining the Junior School team as the Deputy Head of Junior School and PYP Coordinator, tasked with leading the integration of transdisciplinary and innovative practices in the younger grades. I can’t wait to be a part of it!

Branksome Hall Asia’s mission is “Each day, we challenge and inspire girls to love learning and to shape a better world.” This is something I can get behind! 🙂

This video highlights so many things I love about the school, including the gorgeous campus!

Now that you know more about the school, which is the reason I chose to move there, let me highlight what I’m looking forward to exploring in my new home on Jeju Island!

Aerial view of Jeju Island Source
Jeju Island is the purple island south of the mainland. Source

Jeju Island is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and as such, it has so much natural beauty with plenty of opportunities to be outdoors. A quick Google image search of Jeju revealed these amazingly beautiful images, and I have to say, after seeing these, I cannot wait to explore all that the island has to offer. I did mention it’s the Hawaii of Korea, didn’t I?

I’ve been researching all that I can about my new home. Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

  • Jeju has over 360 volcanoes, most of them dormant.
  • The island is small, with a surface area of 1,846 sqkm and a perimeter of just 274 km, so it’ll be, by far, the smallest place I’ve ever lived abroad. Jeju is even smaller than Rhode Island, USA!
  • Not much English is spoken in Jeju, so I’ll be learning Korean. I’m really excited to learn another language, although I’m a bit intimidated about this one! So far all I know how to say is hello and thank you. I’m going to use my quarantine time to start learning Korean using an app.
  • The population of Jeju is roughly 600,000, which is a far cry from Jakarta’s population of 10 million+. Guess this means a lot less traffic to deal with!
  • I’ll need to drive a car there, which I’m actually anticipating, since I haven’t owned a car while living abroad. Of course, I’ll be getting a Hyundai!
  • Being an island, it has tons of fresh seafood. There are also lots of other food options on the island that I can’t wait to try.
  • I’ll be less than a 15-minute drive to the beach, where I can watch the dolphins jumping in the surf.
  • After living in an urban area for the last 10 years, I’m looking forward to being close to nature, where I can go for walks and hikes in my free time. I’m not a hiker, but this is something I hope to change.
  • I can get to Seoul in about an hour and for less than $50, which means I can get my big city fix whenever I want! Fun fact: The Seoul to Jeju flight path is the most regularly flown in the world, which means there’s always a flight coming or going.
  • Shanghai is only an hour and 20 minutes away and about $150. Looks like I’ll be getting a 10-year tourist visa for China!
  • The currency will be easier to deal with since 1 USD = 1,2335 KRW (Korean Won).
  • The cost of living will certainly be higher than in Indonesia, but I’ll be able to save more than 50% of my salary, which includes my travel expenses throughout the year. Hello retirement!
  • Jeju has a humid subtropical climate with 4 distinct seasons, which I am actually looking forward to experiencing again. After 3 years living in a climate that’s either hot and dry or hot and wet, with no need for a sweater ever, I’m excited that I’ll need to wear boots and a coat for part of the year! Jeju’s yearly temperatures range from 3-30C (38-86F), with mild winters and hot, humid, and rainy summers. Annual rainfall is 58-75 inches. After Jakarta, I think can handle some rain!
  • The lifestyle on the island is much more laid back than in big cities like Shanghai, Jakarta, or Bangkok. This will be a welcome change.
  • I’ll be able to breathe clean air, as there’s no air pollution on the island. What a bonus!

I know there’s so much more to learn about my new home, and I’m really looking forward to exploring it in a few short months!

So…who’s coming to visit?

Five Stages of Grief: Bangkok Traffic Edition

After landing in Bangkok, I breezed through immigration, and having traveled with only a carry on, I was chuffed with myself that I wouldn’t have to waste precious time waiting on my luggage. Ready to get to Callie’s, I made my way down to the taxi queue. What in the world are all these people doing just sitting around? Maybe they’re waiting on people to come pick them up, I thought.

Making a bee line for the booth, I asked the attendant for a taxi, showing them Callie’s address in Thai. She gestured for my ticket indicating it was my turn in line. Thoroughly confused by this new system, I grabbed a ticket from the machine. Number 614. Ah crap! The number on the screen was 567. The realization hits me that this is why all these people are waiting around.

Surprisingly, the wait only took 20 minutes, after which I was loaded into a taxi on my way to Callie’s. Since it’s Bangkok, I know I’m in for about an hour’s worth of traffic. As anyone who’s lived in Bangkok or Jakarta can tell you, travel time has nothing to do with distance. ‘How far away are you?’ is never a question met with 5 km. It’s always explained in time. Being 5 km away could be anywhere from 10 minutes to 2 hours depending on traffic.

Cruising along the toll road, we were making good time. The sun was out, so I picked up my book, diving back into the stories of Jack and Libby. As the sun started to set, I switched my book for some tunes, happily lip syncing along while I smiled at the city passing by outside my window. We’re making good time. I should make it by 7:00, just in time to go to dinner at one of my favorite restaurants in the area.

No sooner had the thought passed through my mind, we came to a complete standstill. Red lights as far as the eye can see. Feeling myself getting frustrated, I tried to think happy thoughts, but the stop-go-stop-go wasn’t doing anything to calm me down. In fact, it only made it worse.

Well, maybe we just need to get past this one jam. We’ll pick up speed again, making up lost time. As the minutes ticked by, I kept making deals with myself, guessing what time we would arrive, adjusting the time frequently. Unsuccessful attempts to communicate with my taxi driver only fueled the frustration. How far away? “Close,” he said, whether he really believed it or not.

The maximum speed of 10 km per hour was taking its toll. I became antsy and resentful. Frustration built up in my chest. My jaw clenched. Looking at my watch only increased my anxiety. Staring at the red light we’d been stopped at for what felt like eternity, I willed it to change. Of course, it didn’t. Finally, I gave in.

I’ll get there when I get there. We’ll miss dinner. Callie’s probably wondering what happened to me. She’s probably starving and ready for a meal, too. Maybe she’ll have given up and eaten at home by the time I arrive.

After my driver missed the turn to Callie’s, I refused to let him make the u-turn and try again, knowing that would add even more time to the journey. Directing him with hand signals, I led him through the back streets and we eventually made it. Two hours after getting in the taxi, I was finally able to give Callie a hug! And, we made it for dinner.

My Favorite Things

I got this idea from another slicer to make lists of my favorite things (the number for each list, 11 in this case, is the number of the date). I had so much fun the last time I did it, I thought it was time to do it again! 🙂

Everyday Things I Wouldn’t Want to Live Without:

  1. Books
  2. Internet
  3. My favorite water cup
  4. Go-Jek
  5. Music
  6. Good quality lip gloss
  7. Glasses
  8. Toothbrush/toothpaste
  9. A good quality writer’s notebook
  10. House plants
  11. Flipflops

Adventures to Have Before I Die:

  1. Another week in Nepal at the Little House in the Rice Fields, where I can connect with nature, relax, write, read, and rest.
  2. Visit Antarctica and South America before I’m 40
  3. A month in Inle Lake, Myanmar, riding my bike all around, taking boat trips out on the lake, eating my weight in Burmese tea leaf salad, volunteering at a local school, and getting regular massages
  4. Stay in a villa above the water in The Maldives
  5. Eat my way through India, traveling around to all the different areas to try all the flavors they have to offer
  6. At least a month in Bali, focusing on my health, eating smoothie bowls for breakfast and vegan food for lunch and dinner, swimming and exercising every day
  7. Learn how to skydive on my own
  8. Live in a small town in Italy, learning how to cook pasta, pizza, and desserts from scratch
  9. Fall in love again
  10. Scuba diving in Raja Ampat, Indonesia
  11. Ride the Trans-Siberian train

Pasttimes I Never Tire Of:

  1. Traveling
  2. Slicing
  3. Reading
  4. Trying out new restaurants
  5. Photography
  6. Jigsaw puzzles
  7. Cooking for others
  8. Spending time in the sun
  9. Dreaming about where I’ll travel to next
  10. Listening to music
  11. Learning new things

Treats I Could Eat/Drink Every Day:

  1. English Breakfast Tea
  2. Goat cheese (on almost anything!)
  3. Freshly baked chocolate chip cookies
  4. Smoothie bowls
  5. Bagel sandwiches
  6. Mango sticky rice
  7. Pavlova with fresh cream, passionfruit sauce, and luscious, ripe berries
  8. Freshly cut fruit
  9. Berries, yogurt, and granola
  10. Fresh lime or mango juice
  11. Pappadum with mango chutney and tamarind sauce

People I’d Be Lost Without:

  1. Mom & Dad
  2. Randi & Logan
  3. Michelle
  4. Linner
  5. Shaggers
  6. Callie
  7. Lisa
  8. Wayne
  9. Miriam
  10. Nicole
  11. Kathy

Places I Want to Visit:

  1. Perth, Australia
  2. The Maldives
  3. Topas Ecolodge in northern Vietman
  4. Luang Prabang, Laos
  5. Iceland to see the Northern Lights
  6. Barcelona, Spain
  7. Cape Town, South Africa
  8. Lisbon, Portugal
  9. Chile- Santiago, Easter Island, and the national parks
  10. Buenos Aires, Argentina
  11. Calgary, Canada to see Shaggers, Jeezy, and Marlowe

Words I Believe Hold Magic:

  1. Hope
  2. Serendipity
  3. Joy
  4. Wanderlust
  5. Wonder
  6. Love
  7. Authenticity
  8. Gratitude
  9. Enough
  10. Adventure
  11. Vulnerability

Gestures that Make Me Smile:

  1. Unexpected gifts, like a plant or a book they know I’ll love
  2. A thoughtful thank you note, preferably handwritten
  3. An invitation to dinner at someone’s house
  4. A hug when I most need it
  5. An offer of help when I’m sick or not feeling well
  6. An invitation to go on a spontaneous adventure in my city
  7. Being tagged in a funny meme
  8. A conversation where no one looks at their phone
  9. Spending quality time together
  10. A well-timed joke
  11. A text to say they’re thinking of me

Favorite Songs (as of this publication):

Click here to listen to my favorite songs

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The Magic of Camp

There’s just something about going on camp that sparks a bit of magic. Breaking out of the normal routines of school, pushing yourself mentally and physically, disconnecting from technology, surrounding yourself with nature, all the while working as a team, brings about a sense of connectedness and excitement.

A 3-hour bus ride with 30 ten and eleven year olds doesn’t sound like much fun, but when they all randomly burst into song, a boring bus ride turns into a good time. Between the bouts of singing, we told stories, played cards, made each other laugh, and ate all the snacks! Before we knew it, we had arrived in Lembang. Checking into our hotel, students set up their rooms, excitedly making the space their own. Being able to share your own room with your friends is definitely fun!

From there, we headed up the mountain in our huge bus, barely fitting on the narrow, winding roads. More than once we caused a traffic jam and nearly got into a wreck! While the adults were stressed, this only added to the students’ excitement.

Our visit to The Bandung Treetop Adventure Park was a true adventure! Not only were we tasked with a physically challenging ropes course high up in the treetops of a forest, where we walked across swinging logs hanging from thin wires, climbed rope ladders, crawled through too-small wooden tunnels (my knees!), walked across wires that swayed in the breeze, and shot through the air on zip lines, a thunderstorm blew in quickly while we were all in the middle of our courses! Thunder boomed and lighting cracked as the sky opened up. Being high up in the air next to tall trees and connected to metal wires during a storm isn’t anyone’s idea of a fun time. The workers scrambled to rescue everyone by bringing us down one by one using a rope/pulley system. I was one of the first ones down, so I provided comforting words to stranded children who were understandably scared. We eventually all got down safely, and although we were thoroughly soaked and coming down from an adrenaline high, we were proud of the risk-takers we were!

Our first evening, after we were all showered and rested, was loads of fun! We had a traditional Indonesian dinner followed by some outdoor play, journaling about our day (nearly everyone wrote that the thing they were most proud of is not getting struck by lightning and dying!), and playing an intense few games of Mafia, a game they fell in love with and begged to play throughout the rest of the camp.

Day Two was full-on! Following an early morning wake-up call and a quick breakfast of Bubur Ayam, we piled onto the bus and headed for Tangkuban Perahu, a volcano with three huge craters, that last erupted in 2013. Hiking around the volcano, seeing the craters up close and hearing the history and myths surrounding the volcano, was exciting. The students (and me) were in awe!

After seeing the volcano, we spontaneously decided to go on a hike to see the natural hot springs. Not knowing what to expect, we headed off down the steep trail, with uneven steps carved into the path. The bulk of the group quickly went ahead, leaving a few of us behind. We hoped we were going in the right direction, but the stillness and quiet surrounding us was eerie, and more than once we doubted ourselves. Deciding to take it easy, we stopped and took photos of the natural beauty surrounding us. Craig is a budding photographer who captured a few amazing shots!

The hot springs were worth the trip down, and the students eagerly rolled up their pants to wade in the warm, muddy pools. Fearing that we had to make our way back up the trail that took us about 45 minutes to come down, I was excited to hear that a bus would be picking us up. Little did we know that the pick-up spot was another 1.2km hike away, about a third of it uphill! Bracing ourselves, we hit the trail, huffing and puffing our way through. Coming upon a natural spring with cool, clear water gushing through a pipe, we stopped to drink the delicious water. After making it to the bus stop, everyone was surprised to hear that we’d hiked nearly 10km (based on my FitBit). Boy were we tired, but at the same time, energized. After stopping for lunch and a quick swim at a hot springs resort, we headed back to the hotel, our bodies spent.

After dinner, the real fun started! We built a campfire, told scary stories under the stars (made more scary by Mr Marc’s well-timed screams), and roasted marshmallows to make s’mores. Many of our students, having lived in Jakarta, a major urban city, most of their lives, had never roasted marshmallows before. The excitement and sheer joy of this new experience was rewarding to watch. Fully hyped up on sugar, students danced to their favorite songs, ran around outside, played Jenga, and discovered what happened when you heated up a stick in the fire and swirled it above your head (it makes an orange circle!). We ended the night with a few more games of Mafia, staying up past our normal bedtime. But it was definitely worth it!

The next morning, after a nerve-racking room inspection by Mr Marc, where the students were rated on the cleanliness of their rooms in an over-exaggerated way, we had breakfast and played a few games before the students loaded up on the bus for the long ride back to Jakarta.

Earlier this week, I was able to attend camp with our Year 6 students. Being from America, camp is something that occurs over the summer, so the concept of students attending a camp during the school year is foreign to me. Until this week, it’s not something I necessarily bought into. But now, after getting to experience how camp bonds students together, allows students to partake in new activities, and gives them a chance to shine in different ways, I’m a camp convert.

Little India #sol18

Craving a taste of Indian food, I headed toward Little India. The bright, in-your-face colors, vibrant aromas, exploding flavors, and make-you-wanna-dance songs drew me in.

After stopping for lunch, I hit the streets, following my whims. Pulled this way and that, distracted by the Indian music blasting from every other shop and the sights, colors, and smells grabbing for my attention, I meandered through the streets, in and out of shops.

The midday sun beat down on me, forcing me to retreat to the shade whenever possible. Passing a small shop, a man outside chopping coconuts caught my eye. As I stopped to watch him artfully maneuver his knife with quick, successive movements, I noticed the sign claiming “the best coconut milkshake in Malaysia” was sold there. Hot and dripping with sweat, I gave it a try. Watching the lady mix fresh coconut water, fresh coconut meat, ice, and vanilla ice cream together, I just knew it was going to be tasty. It was indeed! I was so busy drinking it, that I forgot to take a picture. Guess I’ll have to go back tomorrow to get a pic!

As I wandered through the streets, I happened upon some of Penang’s famous street art. The whimsical paintings mixed with real objects drew a small crowd of tourists all vying for their turn to snap a photo. I was no different.

As I sit here, alternating between writing this slice and sopping up my Paneer Butter Masala with naan, I am wondering what tomorrow’s adventures will bring. While there’s no plan, I know for sure it’ll include some delicious food!

Amsterdam in a Weekend

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Can I just tell you how much I love Amsterdam? Like I’ve been back a few days, but I’m still on a high from the loveliness that I experienced love. Like I wanna pack up and move there right now love. Like I can’t stop talking about how amazing it was love. Seriously…when can I move there?

Last Thursday, I headed to Amsterdam for a work conference, and decided to stay the weekend. It was a last minute trip, so I didn’t really have time to look into what I would see or do, nor have I ever really given much thought to traveling to Amsterdam. It was one of those “if I go, I go. If I don’t, I don’t.” situations for me. The only thing I had really heard about it was that you could do drugs there. Well, that’s not appealing to me at all, so I didn’t think much about it. Boy was I wrong! There’s so much more to Amsterdam that the drugs and the Red Light District!

My favorite things about Amsterdam can be summed up in these categories: Bikes, Food, Cheese (yes, I realize it’s food, but let’s be honest, it really needs its own category), Canals, Flowers, and Architecture.

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Bikes. First of all, they’re everywhere! All around town, you can find them chained to bridges and fences, crammed into parking lots (just for bikes), crowding sidewalks, and of course, being ridden. I love their sturdy design and the front apparatus for attaching all sorts of baskets. There are separate bike lanes on all roads, and they always have the right-of-way. I would be in heaven here!

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Food. OMG! If you are a foodie, Amsterdam is for you! I have to go back just for the sheer fact that I didn’t get to try all the foods I wanted to with the limited time I had. Not only can you get amazing cuisine from around the world (I had some pretty bad ass Thai food!), you can get some local delicacies only found in Holland! Two of my favorites were the poffertjes, pillowy little pancakes that are tasty with just a touch of butter and powdered sugar, and the most delicious cookie I’ve ever had, a double-chocolate confection that, when broken in half, reveals a melted white chocolate center. Both are pictured above. Apologies if your mouth is watering now.

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Cheese. Seriously, this was one of the highlights of my trip! I love good cheese, and I did not come across a cheese I didn’t like while I was there. In addition to my cheese plate for dinner, I visited the cheese shop three times to sample and purchase the variety of cheeses and sauces you see above. I brought home a spicy chili gouda, pesto gouda, 6 month and 12 month goat cheese, 4 month and 24 month gouda, apple cinnamon gouda, cranberry gouda, Maxima, and Old Amsterdam cheese. Additionally, I picked up some whole grain mustard, balsamic mustard, and pomegranate jam to go along with them. I cannot wait to break into them! Yumm!

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Canals. Who doesn’t love the novelty of beautiful canals running through the city? Amsterdam’s canals reminded me of Venice. I didn’t have time to take a cruise around in a boat, but next time, I’m definitely going to do it!

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Flowers. I missed tulip season by a few weeks, but that didn’t matter, flowers were everywhere! Beautiful blooms dotted the city in planters, vases, flower shop stalls, gardens, and balconies. The vibrant colors and gorgeous varieties caught my eye everywhere I went!

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Architecture. The old European feel of the city came through in the architecture. I loved the ornate designs on the old churches, the rows of townhouses and shops that lined the canals, and even the occasional leaning building. Amsterdam is definitely charming!

Overall, I highly recommend putting Amsterdam on your list! This beautiful, surprising city has catapulted to my top 5 cities around the world!

Brought in 35 with a BANG!

So…my birthday was last week, and I celebrated on Saturday night with an epic theme party (oh how I love a good theme party)! My friend Keri and I planned one of the best parties I’ve ever had! The theme was Prom, and the plan was a scavenger hunt bar crawl. The best part was that we actually had a surprise prom set up at the last bar, complete with decorations, a photo booth, snacks, cake, and spiked punch.

It all began with the invitation…including a picture of me at my Junior Prom (19 years ago!!!). Oh man, I had such a baby face back then!

IMG_1904Next up was planning the scavenger hunt…this was definitely the most fun part of the planning process! We categorized the tasks into photos, videos, things to collect, and drinks to drink. The best part was that all photos and videos had to be uploaded to Instagram throughout the night with the hashtag #keslerprompubcrawl so we could follow the other groups and see what they were up to!

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We all met up at one bar, got into teams (we were Team Spice Girls), and began working our way through the scavenger hunt. Along the way, there were checkpoints where we would see our friends/competitors and trash talk one another. Some of my favorite tasks were singing “I’m a Little Teapot” (with motions) in front of a slew of people at a crowded bar, finding a stranger to play Rock, Paper, Scissors (we had to teach him first!), and me convincing a stranger to let me try his food (it was good, by the way).

The Prom party at the end was AMAZING! Not only did it look (almost) like a real prom, but we had hired a DJ to play music that would have been at my prom, so everyone was dancing and singing along to songs like Will Smith’s Getting Jiggy With It, K-Ci & Jojo’s All My Life, and N’Sync’s Bye, Bye, Bye! Everyone had a ball taking selfies and group shots in front of the photo booth display. At the end of the night, we even crowned a Prom King and Queen…and guess who was Prom Queen?!? Yep…you guessed it! It was me! 🙂

Here are a few of my favorite pictures from the night…it was definitely hard to narrow it down to just a few!

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35 was definitely one to remember…I had a BLAST! 🙂

 

Unexpected Bump in the Road

If you know me or read my blog, you know I love to travel. Let’s be real…I live for it. Traveling is this amazingly fun adventure where you get to explore new places you’ve never been or familiar places with a different perspective. With travel comes adventure, but not always the kind you are looking for.

Case in point: Last Thursday my friend Callie and I departed for our trip to Pisa and Florence for the long weekend. We’ve had this trip planned for months. And by planned, I mean we bought our airplane tickets in December. A couple of weeks ago we booked our accommodation, too. We flew in and out of Pisa, but decided to spend the majority of our time in Florence because it’s much cooler, plus it has so much more to do. Our time in Pisa was pretty much spent on the Leaning Tower and pizza. I mean, what else do you need?

Anyhow, we arrived in Pisa later than expected due to flight delays. We hopped in a cab and headed to our hotel, this cute little B&B a stone’s throw from the tower. After being dropped off, we realized the hotel was closed. As in the door was locked, lights were out, no one was there to check us in closed. Cold, tired, and ready to crawl into our beds, we began to wonder what we should do. Of course, our phones don’t work in Italy, there was no free wifi in the random alley we happened to be in, and it was 11:30 pm, so Pisa was pretty deserted. The sign on the door said “For check in after 11pm or for emergencies, call {this number}.” That’d be cool…if we had a phone.

Selfie with the hotel…proof that we were there!

Being the resourceful people that we are, we noticed a young woman looking out of her open window about 3 stories up in the building across the alley. “Hello!” we called, “Can you help us?”

“Yeah, what do you need?” She speaks English! I thought.

“We booked this hotel for the night, but they are closed. We need to call them, but don’t have a phone. Could you call the number for us?”

After relaying the number to her, she tried twice, but no one answered. So much for emergencies.

At that point, she told us she thought she knew the building code. We tried the code she gave us several times to no avail. At that point, I was cold and frustrated and didn’t want to wait around or sleep outside, so I made the executive decision to find a new hotel. Not knowing our way around Pisa, we waited on a cab to pass by and take us to a nearby place. Luckily, it didn’t take too long. The first place we were taken was a bit bleh and not the cleanest place ever. Moving on, we decided to take the taxi driver’s recommendation of The Tower Plaza, the best hotel in town. It was definitely nice– and expensive! Oh well, at midnight, after working all day and traveling all night, I was willing to fork over the 100 Euros for a warm shower and a clean, comfy bed.

Once in the hotel room, Callie signed onto wifi and checked her email. Whaddya know, the hotel had sent her an email to explain that late check in, which is any time after 11:00 pm, means that you have to have a code to get in the door (which was included in the email). The email was sent at 10:54 pm. 10:54 pm. Six minutes before check in ended. At 10:54 pm, we were getting off the airplane, getting our bags, and making our way to the taxi rank. How in the heck is that an appropriate length of time for us to get that information? Sheesh! Oh well, we had already checked in, paid for the night, and were in our pjs. We decided to rest and deal with it the next day.

The next day was glorious. The sun was shining, yet the air was cool. We had a nice walk to the Leaning Tower, took way too many selfies and touristy poses with silly faces, and had the most delicious salad, pizza, and gelato for lunch. 

Come on…how delicious does that look?!?

After that, we walked over to the first hotel to explain the situation and ask for a refund. After much cajoling on our parts, Juliano, the front desk clerk, caved. Callie’s card would be refunded. Even though it took a while to convince him, it was a victory for us!

This was just the first of many bumps we would encounter during our 4-day weekend in Italy. Stay tuned for the other little adventures!

Princess Traveler #sol16 23 of 31

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The other day, over dinner, Mel and I were telling stories of our travels together (we’ve been to Egypt, Myanmar, and Thailand), and the story of our 12-hour overnight bus ride from Inle Lake to Bagan, Myanmar came up. In this story, I play the “princess traveler,” as she tells it.

Over the years, while living abroad, my friends have lovingly joked that I’m a “princess traveler.” Let me clarify this by saying that when compared to typical American travelers, I am far from princess-like, but when compared to backpackers and seasoned international travelers, I tend to fall further along the princess line. I admit that I tend to over pack, but that’s just because I like to be prepared and have options when it comes to fashion. I also admit to preferring (ok…demanding) that the place I stay have hot water. Furthermore, I admit to a minimum standard of food and food cleanliness, which means that I may not eat from that street vendor I saw cooking without washing his hands first. But, I am not sure that these things make me a “princess traveler.” I’ll let you decide.

Let me preface this story by saying that our trip to Myanmar was almost completely unplanned, as we got our visas a day before we were set to leave. That being said, we didn’t research much of the travel between places in Myanmar, nor did we book any accommodation beforehand. See…totally not princess-like! Now back to Mel’s story.

We had already been to Yangon, and had just finished up our stay in Inle Lake. Our last city in Myanmar would be Bagan, the city of a thousand of temples. Our 16-hour bus ride from Yangon to Inle Lake was pretty luxurious, by developing country standards, so we had high hopes for our 12-hour ride to Bagan. Mel got the window on the first bus ride, so this time it was my turn. Unbeknownst to me, Mel had just eaten something that would later disagree with her stomach big time, giving her food poisoning for days to come.

To say this bus was a disappointment would be an understatement. The VIP treatment we received on the Yangon bus was long gone, as were the comfy recliner seats. We were basically on a school bus. For 12 hours. Overnight. On the worst roads ever. But, determined to make the best of it, I settled into my window seat. Using my neck pillow, I nuzzled up next to the window, getting as comfortable as I could. I donned my eye mask to block out the light and my ear buds (playing soothing classical music of course) to block out the sound, and settled in for some sleep.

Mel, who was getting sicker and sicker as time went on, was not as cozy and comfy as me. Her stomach, which was already gurgling and flip flopping all over the place, thanks to the bout of food poisoning settling in, was made worse by the bumpy roads and, as you can imagine, poor quality shocks on our bus. Without a window to lean on, and no neck pillow to use, she was left to try and sleep by laying her head back against the non-reclining seat. Anyone who’s ever ridden a school bus knows this is not really the most conducive position for sleep. To make matters worse, Mel had the unfortunate experience, being on the aisle where a small seat folded down next to her, to be seated next to a Burmese man who thought her shoulder was perfect for sleeping on. So, here she is, sandwiched between two people, one of whom was encroaching on her space by sleeping on her shoulder, on a bumpy bus, with a gurgling stomach, unable to sleep, and she looks over at me, with my neck pillow and eye mask on, snoozing away, while she’s in utter pain, and she is struck by my utter princess-ness. The way she tells it, when we arrived in Bagan at just shy of 5:00 am, I pulled the eye mask off, scrunched up my face, and said in my most whiny voice, “Ugh! I am so tired! I had the worst sleep ever!” I can’t imagine I’d ever do that, but my memory fails me at the moment. 😉 Boiling over, she regales me with her trip, complete with sleeping-on-the-shoulder guy and the fact that she had to have the bus stop twice, in addition to the scheduled rest stops, so she could throw up on the side of the road. OK, she wins. Her ride was worse.

Once in Bagan, with the sun not yet out, we get into the only available taxi- a horse drawn carriage. In case you were wondering, this isn’t an ideal form of transportation for a sick and grumpy passenger. OK, remember when I told you that we were adventurous, fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants travelers? Well, that means that here we are at 5:00 am with no place to stay, and no Internet on our phones to look up a place. Huge dilemma. We asked the driver to take us to a nearby hotel, and when he drove up, I was a little taken aback by the look of it. I asked the driver to go ask if they had hot water (yeah, yeah, I know…princess). It turns out they didn’t. Back to the bumpy road we went, in search of a bed and hot water. The next place didn’t have any either. Mel, by this point, had lost her patience with me, and said, in no uncertain terms, that I had one more shot. Remembering I had downloaded an app for Myanmar that worked offline, I found a hotel whose reviews were pretty good. It just so happened it was on the opposite end of town. Mel acquiesced, and off we went. Lucky for me, they had hot water and vacancy! We checked in, had a hot shower, and took a much-needed nap.

Upon waking, we spent the rest of the day in awe of the temples. I wish I could say that the bus ride was the worst thing that happened on our trip, but as it turns out, I was wrong about our return flight times, and we had another adventure!

I’m not that much of a princess, am I?

A Year in Photos- 2015 #sol16 20 of 31

Last year, I wrote a post sharing my favorite photos from 2014. This was a really great way to reflect on my year, and to relive some of my favorite moments. So here goes 2015’s year in photos (in chronological order). I hope you enjoy! 🙂

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All photos copyright of Jennifer Kesler. Please do not use without permission.