Pembroke Castle

As a bit of a Tudor history nerd, I was pretty excited to learn that I could visit the birth place of King Henry VII, the first of the line.

As with many historical sites in Great Britain, Pembroke Castle stands on the site of a Roman fort. Even further back though, the site has been occupied for the past 12,000 years!

Initially built in the 11th century by the invading Norman’s, the first stone building was built in the next century.

The Castle is probably the most complete one I’ve ever been to, with most of what is standing dating to the 13th century. It’s also just a lot of fun to roam around, get lost in, and people watch!

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The Keep and main living area. Ancient map of Wales 😉

View from the top of the Keep

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Cardiff Castle & Bay

The last time I was in the UK was 2001 when I was studying and living in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Having not yet been to Wales, and with a dear friend living in Cardiff, I decided to swing by on my way to Prague. On my first full day here, we explored Cardiff itself and let me adjust to the time difference.

Cardiff Castle

The castle complex was originally built in the 11th century by Norman invaders on top of a Roman Fort from the 3rd century.You can still see the base of the Roman wall, in fact. The castle itself was rebuilt in stone in the 12th century which was probably smart considering the castle was a constant state of battle in the 12th and 13th centuries between the Welsh and the Anglo-Normans.

This is the Norman Keep, a “shell” which provided protection for the buildings within. It’s surrounded by an actual moat (I was a little excited about a real moat). 


Note the terrifying dragon in the foreground (I mean, how can you miss it)? The Welsh Dragon has been on the Welsh flag from the 5th century, but it’s first official use on the flag happened probably when Henry Tudor defeated Richard III in battle, beginning the Tudor Dynasty.  There’s some fun mythology surrounding the dragon, which you can read about here.


The lodging that exists was started in the 13th century with a remodel in the 15th century and more additions in the 1800’s with money from the booming coal industry in the area. The entire interior was completely redecorated by the Marquess of Bute, with a whole lot of eclecticism inside. Every room has a different theme, all designed and tailored by William Burges, an eccentric architect and designer. 


I’m not going to lie, the inside of this place is crazy. You could visit every day for a year and see something completely new. My favorite room was the Arab Room, it brought me right back to Iran!

Cardiff Bay

After a stop for Afternoon Tea (because you can’t go to the UK and not have high tea, we took a boat to Cardiff Bay and enjoyed the sites before heading home for a rest in preparation for a drive to Pembrokeshire tomorrow!

Impromptu Road Trips – MacKenzie Pass Oregon

I love camping with my friends, but I also love my alone time. So after a night of camping at Suttle Lake here in Oregon, I decided to take a roundabout way getting home, a solo impromptu road trip, if you will. I ended up on the MacKenzie Pass Scenic Highway, not knowing what I would see. I was completely blown away!

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Starting from Sister’s, OR, you begin to gain elevation as you transition from the dry side of the Cascades to the wet side where you’ll notice the forests getting thicker. Until suddenly you turn a corner and see miles and miles (50 square miles to be exact) of volcanic rock!

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The highway apparently follows the path of a Wagon Trail Route from the late 1800’s, that’s right, Wagons went over these rocks. Wagons full of people’s belongings, furniture, musical instruments, babies too! (I recently learned that a Dulcimer came over from the East to California with my ancestors).

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Somehow, trees have managed to grow here. They’re very short despite some of them being over 80 years old. This environment is very harsh – freezing and covered in snow in the winter, blazing hot but very windy in the summer.

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Safety, Travel, and Fear

When I am traveling and I feel afraid (for example, on a really bumpy flight), I take deep breaths and remind myself that if I die traveling, I at least die doing something I love. (Just remember that if I die while traveling, please).

Fear is a natural response that helps keep us alive, but it can also keep us from living. Fear sometimes needs to be overcome. If I feel afraid of something but can’t identify a rational reason for the fear, I work to overcome it. For example, after falling down a flight of stairs, I developed a fear of heights. Even walking down a hill caused anxiety. So I learned to rock climb safely and reclaimed my brain from that fear.

Travel can be very scary, but it can also be incredibly rewarding. So how is it that I travel as safely as I have? I’ve been to 14 countries, 5 of which are level 2 travel advisories or higher according to the US State Department. This includes France and Italy. Yep, France and Italy have travel advisories. Here are some ways that I determine if a place is safe and how to increase my chances of being safe:

Choosing a Location:

Everywhere you go has potential for danger. It’s called living. So I take calculated risks. Before going on my last 3 big trips (Turkey, Iran, and Mexico), I reviewed a variety of information to help me make the decision to go:

  1. CDC and State Department websites. These tell me what vaccines I need if any, what travel warnings are there for which areas. I start with these sites but always with a grain of salt. Politics are almost always involved in the State Department warnings, for one thing.
  2. Travel guidebooks. There are some amazing guidebooks to places even like Iran because despite what the state department says, the average American will be fine in Iran. (Admittedly, this is not true for Iranian-Americans). These guidebooks help you understand how to act, what to wear, and where to go in order to stay safe.
  3. Blogs. I google and devour as many recently written blogs by Americans who have traveled to these places. How did they do it safely? Where did they go? Would they go back? Never use just one blog, read lots, and if possible, email the writers to ask questions.

Staying Safe:

Keeping your person and your stuff safe requires some diligence, and you can never guarantee success (even in your home town), but here are ways that I mitigated risk in actual scenarios I’ve encountered.

  1. While waiting for my friends to purchase train tickets for us from France to Italy, I was left in a busy waiting area with all of our luggage. I was exhausted, and what I would’ve liked to do was lay down and chill out. But because I stayed aware, I noticed a man who was casually watching me for any signs of distraction. It was clear to me he was waiting for me to let my guard down so he could swing by and swipe a bag or two. So while keeping my eye on him, I also scanned the room for co-conspirators. It felt like forever, but eventually security also noticed him and asked him to move on. Keep an eye on your things, but more importantly, keep your eye on others.
  2. In Mexico, I noticed a man lingering behind me. To test, I would periodically move to another location and discovered he was definitely following me. I strapped my purse close to my body and sat calmly as I determined my next move. I waited for a group of English speakers (in this case they happened to be American) to pass by and I politely explained that I was being followed and could I join them for a few minutes until he goes away. It worked, he went away almost immediately. If the group had not come by, my next plan was to go into a shop and tell the shop owner of my predicament.
  3. I hate that this has to be said, but I can’t tell you enough. Follow all of the rules. You are a guest, and it’s not hard to read up on rules and follow the lead of others. When going to Iran, you bet I made sure I knew what was expected of me. I asked before taking pictures of building that could’ve been Governmental, and I respected my guide and hosts. This should be true in all countries.
  4. A friend of mine had his luggage and camera stolen right out of his rental car while he was in Croatia. This can happen anywhere, of course, but try not to leave things unattended and especially not unattended and visible.

I do wonder what advisements other countries tell their citizens about travel to the US? Do they warn people about the measles outbreaks in areas of the West where vaccinations have decreased? Is Washington D.C. to be avoided because of the high rate of drug abuse? I have been to cities in the US where I have felt way less safe than abroad. Even in Portland there are areas I avoid after dark. The above should be practiced no matter where you are. And remember, taking risks is good for living, just make them calculated!

 

Sunnier Times – Puerto Vallarta

I’ve been going through a bit of a rough patch, and so I’m tempted to complain about the 17 hour train ride through a snow storm that I’m about to take. Instead, I think I’ll focus on the positive and tell you about a last minute trip I took to Puerto Vallarta a couple of months ago. Remembering it will very likely give me the perk up I need and maybe inspire you to take a trip to beautiful Mexico!

Puerto Vallarta has never been high on my list of destinations. It’s too touristy. But when I suddenly found myself with some free time, I researched cheap sunny destinations and Puerto Vallarta it was. And now, I’m in love. The city is easy to get around, warm, friendly, and you can easily visit on a budget.

Because I didn’t take any time to really plan this trip, I had expected that I would spend the majority of the time laying on the beach. In reality, there is much more to do in PV than lay around! Here are my top recommendations:

Choco Museum

That’s right, there’s a Chocolate Museum. The museum itself is small but definitely interesting. However, the real reason to visit is to take a chocolate making class. They have a couple of options, I took the combo class “Beans to Bar” where I learned more about the history of chocolate, made chocolate drinks and truffles. My teacher was a professional chef who spoke perfect English. I was the only person in the class that morning, we had a ton of fun.

I roasted these beans! We used the peel to make a delicious chocolate tea!

Cooling the chocolate down to just the right temperature for truffles!

Botanical Gardens

The Puerto Vallarta Botanical Gardens are a bit of a trek outside of the city, but absolutely worth it. I took an Uber there (only about $5) and then caught the bus back to the city. There are tons of hiking trails, be sure to bring good hiking shoes. I ended up only doing a small amount of the hiking that was available due to the fact that I was in sandals. Also, they will sell you bug spray, but it’s probably better to bring your own (cheaper). You will need it.

There’s a restaurant where you can feed hummingbirds!

Be sure to bring your swimming suit, the water is great!

Fortunately you don’t need good hiking shoes to see some beautiful things!

Birds of Paradise. My favorite!

 

Bioluminescence and Paddle Boarding!

I will have no pictures that can truly do this activity justice, but it was by far the highlight of my trip. Paddle Zone is located on Mismaloya Beach (definitely not my favorite beach, but worth it for the Paddle Boarding). I had intended on just renting a paddle board for a couple of hours during the day, but then I found out that they have a 3 hour night time bioluminescence tour. Worth every penny (about $50 USD). Don’t worry if you have never been paddle boarding, the crew takes great care of you and will help you feel comfortable! There’s absolutely nothing like paddle boarding at sunset only to come back in the dark. But the miraculous part is paddling through the Los Arcos National Park where you see the bioluminescence plankton. It’s like somebody spread glitter all over the water. When we returned from the excursion, a feast of pizza, fruit, and sweets was prepared for us – you definitely work up an appetite! Photos can be purchased at the end of the tour…

Turns out paddle boarding on the ocean is easier than I expected!

 

We had some great light belts to make sure we were visible in an emergency.

Heading into the cave!

 

 

 

Finally, be sure to leave some time to wander the city and relax on the beach!

Art on the Malecon

Our Lady of Guadeloupe (in the background)

There are lots of restaurants with views!

I spent a good 8 hours doing this. It was glorious.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Newest Dream – Africa!

Almost exactly one year ago, I was leaving to head to Iran for the trip of a lifetime. But with luck, I’ve got a whole lifetime still ahead of me, so it’s time to start dreaming about the newest journey. Of course I have my bucket list of places still to go, Croatia, Romania, etc., but once again, I am dreaming of a more exotic locale for my next trip.

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That’s right. Queue Toto. Africa!

I started thinking about Africa because a friend of mine is in the Peace Corps in Namibia, a country in Southern Africa, just to the NW of South Africa. Of course, I could go to South Africa, but as you know, I’m always up for something a bit different. So, I’ve decided to focus my goal on Tanzania, on the East Coast of the continent, just south of Kenya.

How did I choose Tanzania?

  1. It was recommended by a friend who has been there and knows me well enough to understand that I’m looking for more than just a pretty place and a relaxing vacation.
  2. The country is a fascinating mix of different cultures including over 120 indigenous groups, Pakistani, Indian, Arab, and European. Should be enough history and culture to keep my brain buzzing.
  3.  Zanzibar (islands off the coast of Tanzania) and beaches. For some reason, ever since my trip to Iran, I’ve been craving turquoise water and palm trees
  4. Multiple National Parks and Preserves make seeing African wildlife easy and more environmentally friendly.

Now that I’ve chosen my country, I need to start narrowing down some other logistics through research and further dreaming.

  • Begin by planning some sort of itinerary. I usually look at guided tours to start, review the most popular destinations, decide what is most interesting to me, and then start looking at things off the beaten path after that.
  • Save the money. This is going to be the hard part for me. Due to rising rent increases in Portland (mine went up over 50% last year), I ended up buying a house. The American Dream, right? Not mine! But here I am, and now I need to balance savings for home emergencies with a travel fund.
  • Save my time off. I’d love to take 3 weeks for a trip like this, so I either need to save all of my time off for the year, or I need to be prepared to not get paid for a few days. Worst case, I only go for 2, but I’m going to set my goal at 3.
  • Stay motivated! Read lots of books set in Tanzania, both travel books, but also histories and historical fictions. Find blogs by other people who have traveled there recently.

Be prepared for more blogs on my planning process, hopefully they’ll be of some help and inspiration for you to explore new places. Don’t know where to start? Let me know, I’d love to help!

 

Tulsey Town!

As you may have noticed, my posts have, for the most part, focused on International destinations. I love to travel in general, but my preference is always to go as far outside of my own culture as possible. Alas, I can’t afford to do that more than every couple of years, and then only if I’m careful with my spending. So, I’m trying to learn to appreciate traveling within my own country more. Thus, the next two posts will be a bit more “local.”

Let’s start in Tulsa. That’s right, Tulsa! Not on the top of your list, is it? Well, I can tell you that I was pleasantly surprised.

First of all, let’s talk about what brought me to Oklahoma in the first place. My dear friend and graduate school roommate who is British was on sabbatical and doing a tour of US cities he had not been to. Long before he actually purchased his tickets, I knew I had to come see him, considering that it had been at least 8 years since I’d seen him last and he was coming all this way. The least I could do was meet him in Middle America. I had hoped to meet him in Chicago, but due to my work schedule, I had to meet him in Tulsa. It was really fun telling people in OK why a Brit and a Portlander were visiting Tulsa. We got had some laughs there for sure.

I’ll 100% admit that I did not think Tulsa was going to keep me captivated in any way, but I was absolutely wrong. Not only was it wonderful to catch up with an old friend, but there were some surprising gems. In addition, I can easily say that Oklahoman’s are the NICEST people I’ve ever met. Seriously, one woman apologized to me for not smiling back after I had smiled at her.

The Philbrook Museum of Art

First and foremost, you absolutely must go to Philbrook, a mansion built in 1927, including all of the stunning elements you would expect of an expensive home built during that time including an expansive formal garden which is a museum unto itself. If I lived in Tulsa, I would buy an annual membership just so I could go sit in the gardens any time I wanted.

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It helped that the weather was spectacular, not too hot, not too cold. Perhaps a rarity here.

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View of the house from the gardens.

The mansion itself was my favorite part, although their collections and exhibits were excellent. You can definitely get a taste for my style here.

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Bet you didn’t know that Tulsa was at it’s height during the oil boom of the 1920’s and 1930’s? The massive quantity of money coming through the area made Tulsa a shining gem in the landscape, with architecture that will make any art deco fan swoon. I definitely recommend walking around and seeing some of the art deco style buildings in downtown, but do not miss going to Boston Avenue United Methodist Church.

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If you’ve got some extra time or special interest, here are a couple more options!

Woody Guthrie Center

If you’re a fan of folk music and/or American history, you definitely need to go to the Guthrie Center. To be honest, I didn’t know much about him outside of a couple of songs prior to visiting the center. Not only did a learn about the breadth of his music, but I also learned a lot about American history during the dust bowl. Ironically, we read about how our over-use of the earth and poor farming management actually caused the dust bowl…ironic because later that weekend we experienced an earth quake caused by fracking.

Redbud Valley

Just outside of Tulsa is a nature preserve that is an excellent excuse to get out of the concrete jungle. There’s some great hiking, fascinating rock formations, and fossils to seek! Not at all what I expected to find in Oklahoma…

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The Blue Whale

And last, but certainly not least, if you’re going to check out the famous Hwy 101, you need to stop to see the Blue Whale.

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Overall, I don’t think you really need to spend more than 3-4 days max in Tulsa, but it has some delightful spots, fascinating history, and amazing architecture that I highly recommend!