Road Trip Scotland

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Ok, this is the bare bones blog to get the information out there to friends like CJ who are headed to Scotland and can’t wait for my procrastinatin’ arse to get this all down in a blog.

Useful apps, tools and websites
Google Maps
Trip Advisor
Rome 2 Rio
dual USB car charger
cell backup charger
Power converter

www.calmac.co.uk (excellent ferry system site with tourism guide)

Know before you go

  1. If you don’t already have an international plan for your cell phone, get one. It makes navigating and communicating so much easier out there.
  2. Wifi is crap in the UK/Scotland (and most of Europe for that matter). It’s spotty, weak and oftentimes “Free Wifi” is just a sign hanging out front like a “Beware of Dog” when there’s a poodle or no dog at all.  Deep cleansing breath and upgrade the memory on your phone to fit in all the pics and videos you’ll take.
  3. Public transport is good there. You can easily get from place to place on buses, trains and ferries and cabs, but driving is fun there. Expensive, but fun.
  4. In real Scotland, most hotels are older, with brass keys for your rooms, lot a lot of elevators and there’s lots of cobble stone streets, so keep the heels at home and make sure you pack worn in, comfortable shoes for walking everywhere.
  5. It rains, suddenly and comes down in buckets, then the sun suddenly appears, so keep a light rain jacket in your water resistant purse/bag at all times.
  6. The Scots aren’t really known for their cuisine. However, they are catching on to the whole farm to table thing. I mean, they and the Irish have been doing farm to table for centuries, but now they get it’s profitable to call it that and are dressing up their plates.
  7. Expect slow service. That’s just their speed. Don’t tip at the bar, ever. Never tip more than 10% for food/entertainment service unless it’s Michelin star level. It’s imposing our culture on theirs and we’re there to experience Scottish life, not American life with a Scottish accent 😉
  8. If you do rent a car (you don’t need one when you’re in Edinburgh. You can walk the whole city or hop on/off buses or Uber) it is better to go for their all out coverage for worry free driving.  The roads are rough on tires and wing mirrors get dinged here on the narrow roads.  It’ll end up costing you in time/hassle if you don’t.

Towns visited

Edinburgh

This is the prima donna of Scotland.  Love this place. Just gotta watch out for the tourist traps.

Where to dine: Avoid restaurants near the castle. Touristy, $$$ and stale food.

Grassmarket Area

  • Divino Enoteca – Great Italian. Great Atmosphere
  • Petit Paris – Real French cuisine made by real French people. Charming.
  • Michael’s Steak & Seafood – popular. Didn’t eat here, but every local said it was one of their favorites for steak and seafood.

Newtown(ish) area

Gillie Dhu – The cool place for a Scottish ceilidh (Kaylee) experience with pipers and highland dancing and the full dining experience. Sits on the west side of the castle on the edge of New Town.

The Royal McGreggor – try Haggis here. I didn’t make it there, but I’ve heard from locals theirs is the most authentic and tastiest.

Things to do:

  • Hop on Hop off bus. Do this first thing, to get your bearings of the town
  • Hike up Arthurs Seat to get killer views of the city – pee first. No toilets or taxis up there anywhere.
  • Take the tour of Scottish Parliament – really fascinating
  • Wander through the Castle – trust me, worth it.
  • Take this walking tour. Brutally honest, but totally cool. Easy meeting spot by a statue near the Castle on that main street.
  • Gillie Dhu – The place to experience a true-ish Scottish Ceilidh
  • Pub Crawl along Rose Street in New Town (parallel with the main/Princess Street)

Bonnyrigg  Just 30 minutes south of Edinburgh.  Worth an overnight stay if you’re looking for a castle experience. Dalhouise Castle hotel is a one stop shop. They have excellent high tea (be hungry) and a falconry experience where you get up close and personal with all kinds of owls, hawks, etc., as well as dining in a dungeon.

Kings Barns  Cool little historic town just south along the coast from St. Andrews. Another option for an overnight on the way to or back from St. Andrews with a pretty cool, newer Whisky distillery that offers daily tours and tastings.

Where to Stay:

The Inn at Kings Barns. Totally remodeled, modern rooms with it’s own pub and dining area. The owner is a character and worth talking to for entertainment. He likes to wind people up and watch ’em rant or squirm 😉

St. Andrews

Where to stay:

The Russell  Has a cool little pub on the first floor. Nice dining in the back and some of the nicest people ever run it.  Ask for the sea view room. We ordered a bottle of champagne and watched the world turn from up there.  It was totally worth it~

The Ardgowen I stayed at the Russell but heard the Ardgowen was a great one as well with on site chef.

Where to Dine: Either hotel offers good dining, but we were totally hung up on this unique one about 5 minutes drive down the road.

Balgove Larder. We literally came back to St. Andrews twice, just to dine here again. Be sure to check their opening days/hours though.  “The Barn” isn’t open every day.  The rest is cool, but the Barn is the place to dine.

Things to do:  If you’re a golfer then well, it is St. Andrews.  If not, go with Jamie and Guy, the way cool and very Scottish twins of Blown Away Adventures. We went land yachting on the beach and it was so much fun~

Dunkeld 

This town is in-between Inverness and Edinburgh/St. Andrews. It’s really worth a stop at least for lunch, but worth a stay over.  It’s the non touristy alternative to the popular Pitlochery down the road.  Dunkeld is where you’ll get a feel for real Scottish history.  Just walk over to the old church and along the grounds you’ll see signs that spell out it’s history. I don’t want to give it away, just go there and walk all the way around the church.  If you stay over, I think all hotels there are well kept, the whole town is, but I stayed at the Atholl Arms twice and liked everything but the long trudge up the stairs to my room. It’s right across from the riverfront where you can take your drink and just chill. It has a pub and restaurant, but for dining/music experience, I went with the Taybank just around the corner for fresh grilled fish (if they or any place in Scotland has Hake, try it).  For the road, there’s a cool little place called The Scottish Deli across the way that has yummmm single servings of Whisky cake among many other goods worth filling a picnic basket or car snack pack with.

Inverness

There aren’t any special accommodations up here that I could find, so expect 3 star, dated, but friendly places.

Things to do:

Cruise Loch Ness of course~  Jacobite Cruises are modern and really well organized. I really liked the narration too. I thought it was very insightful as well as entertaining.

Where to Dine:

The Doors Inn. I discovered this place on a random road trip 25 years ago.  Back then it was a dirt floored pub with ducks wandering through it. Now, it’s all Artisan fare, modern fixtures and a warm fire.  Great food, but also right next door is a British nutter who lives in a hut and devotes his life to finding the Loch Ness Monster.

Glasgow

I love Glasgow. It’s the big city, but if you’re only in Scotland for less than two weeks, I’d come back to it another time.  It’s worth staying a week here. Maybe during one of the festivals.  If/when you do go, definitely go to a Scottish football match.  Glasgow is home of Partick Thistle.  These fans are the epitome of loyalty and love for their underdog of a team.  Rangers and Celtic are more popular in the press, but Partick is the real deal, the heart and soul of European football.

Tarbert

Ferry town that takes you to the northern tip of the isle of Arran.  One horse town, but unique accommodations at the Anchor Hotel where you can spend on a refurbished barge and friendly locals at the pub next door. It’s pretty cool. No wifi on the barge, but there is in the hotel and nice restaurant. Everyone raves about the charming chef, but it was his night off when we stayed there. *If you stay here, be sure to book through the hotel website and confirm you are getting a barge room.  The travel sites don’t clearly state which rooms are in hotel and which are on the barge.

The Outer Islands.  Best way to discover any of the outer islands is to use the Scottish Ferry System’s website/guide, CALMAC.

Isle of Arran. Quaint island and worth an overnight stay. Famous for their cheeses.

There’s a ferry that lands at the north end and one that lands at the East end, depending on which direction you want to come from and leave. There’s a place to stop and try n buy, Island Cheese Co.  To stay: The Auchrainie Spa Hotel or the friendly mid level, Douglass Hotel, both within walking distance of a great, cozy place called The Fiddlers Music Bar and Bistro right by the ferry that offers great food, atmosphere and live entertainment most nights.

Isle of Mull

Supposed to be a great place for live music, but touristy.  The only thing I liked about it was the little farm at the top of the road that offered local cheeses and baked goods with an honesty box where you dropped your payment for whatever you took from the shelves.

Isle of Bute

We stayed one night because the local, grande dame of a hotel had an Elvis impersonator show, which was fun.  Cheesy, but fun.  We were the youngest people there for the most part.

Mallaig

This is the port town where you catch the boat to one of six islands including the famous Isle of Skye. It was well worth an overnight stay or two at the endearing West Highland Hotel and their restaurant was brilliant with great views of the sea.  If you can time your visit to Mallaig on a sunny day you’ll pass by the Silver Sands of Morar, which is a beach that when the light hits it, the sandy shores look stunningly beautiful, almost tropical which is such a contrast to its surroundings.

Isle of Skye

Steeps in history, lots of filming locations to stop and stare at and really touristy. Worth a drive through if you’re staying a few weeks in Scotland.

Suggested Route

So, if it were me and I only had 12 days (the average) or less to experience Scotland, I would fly into Edinburgh and go this route:

Edinburgh (4)  St. Andrews (1)  Dunkeld (1)  Inverness/Loch Ness (1)  Mallaig (2) visit an island   Tarbert (1)  Isle of Arran (1)   Bonnyrigg (1)  Edinburgh Airport

If you need to shave some time off of that you can skip staying over in Loch Ness and just drive around the lake on the way to Mallaig.  If outer island trekking isn’t your thing, you can skip  Mallaig and St Andrews and KingsBarns can be day trips from Edinburgh. If you’re not into castles then skip Bonnyrigg, but you’ll need to find someplace to stay near Edinburgh if that’s where you fly out of, so might as well make it unique.  The other option would be that inn at Kings Barns for a last night stay depending on how early you need to get up and to the airport.  It’s just over an hour’s drive NE of the airport.

There you have it, my quick quide to Scotland.  More coming along with another home spun film about the place, but this should be enough to ensure you see some of the best of what Scotland has to offer and avoid the pitfalls of the time wasting tourist traps~

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MUSH – Learning to Dogsled

MUSH – Learning to Dogsled
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It’s official. The first of the 12 bucket list adventures in the 12 Adventures film series, MUSH,  is complete and up there on Amazon.com for all to see.

How cool is that~

The thing about short films though is there’s not a lot of room to cram in all of the (many) cool moments and lessons learned or even the much needed how to’s so others can easily follow suit. That’s where these blogs come in. Here is where I can break down the where’s and how to’s.

THE WHAT

Dog sledding/Learn to Mush

THE WHERE

We decided on Bigfork, Montana because it was closer to home (San Diego, CA), which made it more affordable and less of a pain to get to. It also happens to be the state my beloved Pop was from and he passed away the year we tried to film this, so there’s a great sentiment attached to the location.

Things to love about Bigfork? It’s less touristy (yeah, so if you go there, you have to promise to be a good guest and not an obnoxious, demanding tourist, because they’re proud of their authenticity and want to stay small enough to keep it real).

The people are incredibly genuine and friendly, neighborly and the restaurants are chock full of fresh ingredients and picture perfect presentations and most with low to mid-range pricing.

THE WHY

Because there’s something magic about putting your life in the paws of 6 semi-wild dogs as they pull you along the snow driven, wintery landscape. Plus, I grew up in Seattle. We didn’t get a lot of snowy winters growing up, so that’s an added curiosity for me.

THE HOW

For details watch our film (well, yeah), but the gist of it is this; book it, show up in proper dress (they’ll guide you), follow instructions, then get onto or into the sled, hold on tight and prepare for the ride of your life. The adventure itself can take anywhere between 2 hours to overnight depending on how in-depth you want the experience to be.

THE WHO

There are a couple of different dog sledding outfits in the area and all with great reviews, but I was particularly drawn to Base Camp Bigfork.  I liked the voice of the owner (Mark Schurke) when I called. Talking to him just really put me at ease. I also really like that his dogs were unique to me. They weren’t the typical huskies one would associate with dog sledding.  They’re called Inuit and were near extinction in the 70’s, so he got points for helping to ensure their survival. the more we talked, the more I knew this was where I wanted to go. I also liked the fact that his outfit was year round. Not just dogs, but all kinds of outdoor adventures. Plus, he has one of the few outfits that lets you actually stand at the helm. Most only let you ride along in the sled while they mush. I assume for the risk of all that could go wrong and that’s cool, but my bucket list wish dream was to drive a team of sled dogs, not go for a ride in a sled, so Base Camp Bigork, it is~

THE CHALLENGES

Everyone has their obstacles.  For me, after 40-something cycles of chemo over the last few years, my body is in less than ideal shape. I’m overweight, got a gut hernia and my joints ache (which make bending a problem) and I have really limited flexibility all around (especially in my neck). My brain doesn’t learn new things very well either, which can be dangerous when attempting adventures where you need to remember when to pull a cord or to hold onto a safety bar, etc. Y’know, that kind of thing.

After several years of on again, off again treatment and a pretty big loss of income I’m also well, broke-ish.  I can afford to live simply as I chip away at the pile of debt incurred, but pocket rich holidays are a thing of the past for the foreseeable future (never give up, never surrender).  These adventures need to come in at under 3K per year in order to keep my head above water and most people are in the same boat I’ve found, so I’m all the happier to be able to shed light on deals I’ve found, making these once in a lifetime experiences actually do-able in the here and now.

THE COSTS

What surprised me the most about this adventure was that getting there was the most expensive part. I’m still baffled by this, but winter is considered their low season for tourism in Bigfork, so prices are way below market, e.g. hotel rooms for under $100/night and a solid 3 hour Mushing experience for less than $200 per person. They’re hopping busy in the summers because of their gorgeous lake and the activities that go with it, but it’s yet to catch on that this place is a winter wonderland on par with the likes (cooler/better than, I’d say) Whistler BC or Whitefish, MT.  Excellent restaurants, art n culture, excursions and they even have their own distillery.

The whole trip can easily be done for under a grande (depending on where you’re traveling from) and the season is from November to Mid March (depending on the weather).

GETTING THERE

There are two airports near Bigfork. Glacier International [FCA] in Kalispell (not to be confused with Kalispell city airport) is the closest and the next is Missoula International Airport [MSO] is just under 2 hours south.  Both have rental cars onsite and you’ll need one to get around unless you plan to just cab it there and stay put. If you do rent a car, trust me, go for the all wheel drive SUV. The last thing you want is to get stuck in the snow or spinning your wheels on that terrain. This is a once in a lifetime, let’s do it right.

WHERE TO STAY

Trip Advisor will tell you, there are lots of charming places to stay, but I’d been eyeing this one place in particular for a couple years prior, ever since my sister and I thought up the idea of a road trip back to our Pop’s home town of Havre, MT. We have a semi-annual tradition of jumping in a lake and Bigfork has a great, big one, so it’s been on my radar.  There are several good options in the area. Marina Cay Resort was the place we chose to stay and it didn’t disappoint.  It sits right on the lake, practically guarantees a wild deer encounter, has a laid back bar and restaurant with an inventive menu and is owned/staffed by some of the most down to earth, coolest people you’ll ever meet. And their rates are great. I’m still shaking my head over how reasonable it all was (in the end they opted to become sponsors (they so rock) of the film, but we’d chosen Marina Cay long before and can’t wait to go back).

WHERE TO DINE

Okay, I know this isn’t dining per-say, but in town near the grocers they have a Dairy Queen and I haven’t been to one since I was young, so a double dipped soft cone just had to happen. For finer dining, there are so many really good restaurants to choose from though. Here’s where I ate and all of ’em were stellar:

Marina Cay Resort | Raven Pub | Grill 459 | When in Rome | Saketome Sushi

From start to finish this was an amazing adventure. Not just the mushing, but the people I met were just plain beautiful inside and out. I fell in love with the country…

LAST BIT

If you haven’t yet, go watch the film (click on your area amazon link below), then start planning it today. It’s never too early to plan for it. And when you book your dog sledding adventure with Base Camp Bigfork and your stay at Marina Cay, be sure to tell ’em Ali from 12 Adventures says hi and, (sniff) and I hope to see ’em one day again soon~

amazon.com | amazon.co.uk  | amazon.co.jp amazon.de

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Adventure – Ancestry. Trace family roots to their most interesting story, then go there.

Adventure – Ancestry. Trace family roots to their most interesting story, then go there.
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Have you ever wondered just exactly what you’re made of? Most of us assume we’re a mix of some kind. Some associate themselves solely by their religion, place of birth or known/preferred ethnicity, but we are far more than that underneath it all.

Whenever faced with the stress of social events out of my comfort zone (public speaking, getting in front of a camera, fancy dress) I use the mantra, “We’re all just piles of DNA” to help put my anxiety in check.  Well, maybe piles isn’t the best description, but we are definitely a fascinating mix.

I love a good story and what could be a better story than how each of us came to be?  Over the past few years I’ve been doing searches here and there at the ancestry websites and working with a cousin is really knows what’s she’s doing (thanks Laine :-). She’s on my mother’s side of the tree, so that part is really clear, but my father’s isn’t as much. Even though they were both born with the Surname of Gilmore, who’s mothers were of French descent, we knew there was more to the story than that.  Whenever I strayed too far from the norm of our white-bread, Catholic upbringing, my mother would say, “You take after the Bohemian.” The known parts were also often referred to. When I would fall into a trance whenever bagpipes were playing she’d say “That’d be the Scotch-Irish in us.” And, whenever I fell in love with something we couldn’t afford she’d say “You have champagne taste on a beer budget,” referring to our French heritage and Irish-Catholic upbringing.

When I saw the results of my recent DNA test, I thought back to how much she enjoyed making tea and had quite a collection of fancy tea cups and pots. She was also a fan of British television series like Alistair Cooke and Upstairs/Downstairs. “Was this an inherent trait of a Brit?” I wondered, half knowing the silliness of the thought.

So, Anglo Saxon isn’t a surprise. I’m blonde and rather pale skinned with Hazel eyes, but Iberian Peninsula was a surprise as well as North Africa and Middle East.  Is this why I’m drawn to these regions? I recently visited Portugal/Spain for the first time and felt an odd sense of belonging. Very much so for Italy. Of course these are the least strongest lines, but sometimes we are more drawn to the whisper than the roar…

So, now I’ve got a wider map to peruse through for my adventure, “Trace the family tree to it’s most interesting story, then go there.”

The test? I went with Ancestry.com’s DNA test because it was cheaper and I already have a tree I’m building there (and yes, I was half afraid they’d come back and tell me there was an anomaly, as in something unfamiliar they couldn’t trace – cue X Files theme), but there are several testing sites to choose from. Here’s an article I found that helped spell out the differences in DNA test choices. There are even options now for test medical background, a great tool for those who are adopted or have an unknown parent. Isn’t science amazing~

If you’re interested in finding out more about what makes up the sum of you genetically speaking, I highly recommend taking one of these tests. I takes a few weeks to get results, but I found it was worth the wait (and rate).

Ok, back to planning…

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Ireland – Lahinch

Ireland – Lahinch
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Just a few miles down the road the famed Cliffs of Moher you’ll find the seaside town of Lahinch (also spelled Lehinch). I found this place on my first to Ireland when I asked a favorite waitress at our hotel where she would go if she could take a week and she told us about the great memories of family holidays when she was a kid.  “It’s windy” She warned us, “Very windy, but if you don’t mind a little wind and rain it’ll be grande.”

We spent a week there in a really nice, modern, 3 bedroom condo that sat at the bottom of the hill on the 2nd floor, so we could sit around the living room windows and look down on the entertaining activity on the steep hilled road that the town is built on.  Lahinch is well known for two things; Surfing and Hen n Stag parties. They even have the hashtag #SurfCity on their town’s sign and though they’ve discouraged the more out of control versions of ’em, the better behaved Stags and Hens (bachelor and bachelorette’s) are still encouraged to celebrate there which makes for great people watching.

Lahinch is another friendly town with a lot packed into the steep hill it’s based on; clothing shops, hotels, pubs, gifts, pharmacy, tourism and leisure center, a world class golf course, a beach promenade to stroll on, surfing lessons and kayak rentals. It has some great live music coming from Kenny’s.  I’ve yet to make it up late enough to catch a show myself, but I’ve seen tapings and am determined to make at least one show on the next update.

Places to stay.

Places to eat, drink and be merry.

  • The Captain’s Table – Fresh seafood, great views from the upstairs dining and lovely people who run it.
  • Kenny’s – You must get the lamb taco and come back for the live music~

Things to do.

  • Go Kayaking
  • Take Surf lessons
  • Visit the Moher Hill Open Farm
  • St. Bridgid’s well
  • Beach walk for miles and miles
  • Visit the shops
  • Get a 99 at the ice cream shop
  • Take a yoga class
  • Walk over to Ennistymon to visit the shops, bakery and pet the donkeys at their sanctuary (drive there for grocery shopping –
  • Play golf

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Ireland – Galway City

Ireland – Galway City
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In county Galway lies Galway City (where the girls are so pretty, I first set my eyes on sweet Molly Malone). Driving around Galway can be a little hair raising with it’s cobble stone streets filled with crowds and narrow pathways the barely fit one car let alone two and foot traffic, but once you find a parking spot and head out on foot, you’re going to love it. It’s modern and magically historic all at once. My favorite thing to do is just spend half a day wander the streets, popping in and out of shops and stopping to check out the buskers (street performers) that are spread out strategically throughout the city centre.

Whenever I come to the west coast, I usually stay in Spiddal (near friends), but if there’s a festival going on or late night plans are in order, it’s nice to stay over in the city and avoid the 20-25 minute drive along the dark and winding coastal roads back to Spiddal.

Here’s a list of places I’ve stayed and would recommend, but I’ve heard most of the hotels are great stays and reasonable rates:

All of the above are next to or in Eyre square, which is walking distance of all the happenings in town. One of my favorite things to do is just walk around and check out the vast array of street performers and pop into shops to see what’s going to be my next “oh this? I got this in Galway.”  Galway is a great place to meander, with more shops, pubs and restaurants than I can fairly list, but I set out some of the favorites I know, first hand.

Shopping. There are lots of shops to wander in and out of. These are must stops every visit.

  • Pennies – cheap and cheerful dept store (right in Eyre Square) to get souvenirs or stock up on stuff you forgot or didn’t bother to pack
  • Maloney’s Music Shop – beautiful music instruments from around the world

Restaurants/Pubs. Again, it’s hard to find bad food/drink in Galway, but these are my trusted favs

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Ireland – Spiddal

Ireland – Spiddal
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SpiddalSpiddal is a peaceful little village about 25 minutes drive up the coastal road from Galway city. I probably never would’ve noticed it if it hadn’t been for friends moving there.  What I like about it most is that staying there truly gives you a feel for Ireland and living like a local. The locals are genuine, interesting and welcoming. It has one church, a butcher, pharmacy, bank, convenience store, fast food burger joint, a couple pubs, a beauty salon, one hotel, a spattering of B&B’s/vacation homes and some of the finest food and music you’ll find in all of Ireland. It’s in a region where most everyone speaks “Irish” first, English second and has a school renowned for teaching the ancient language.

The heart of Spiddal is only about 2 blocks long, but I could spend a week there and not get bored for a moment. It’s also home to the popular Irish soap opera, Ros na Rún. For movie buffs, their pier was featured in the film, The Guard and was the hometown of John A. Feeney, father to the famous Western movie maker, John Ford.

Spiddal is also a gateway to the Aran islands. Just a few miles up the road is Connemara airport where you can hop a commuter flight over to any of the 3 islands. If getting on a tiny plane-let isn’t your cup o tea then there are two ferry options from either Doolin in Co. Clare, near Lahinch (Seasonal) or Rossaveal in Co. Galway.

 

Where to stay:

Where to eat, drink and be merry:

  • Tigh Giblin – Exquisite lunch, dinner and almost nightly live music including open sessions where you’re encouraged to join in
  • Boulin Blasta – Great breakfast and lunch spot (love their liver pate)
  • An Cruiscin Lan – Simple fare. Hearty breakfast, lunch and dinner with stellar views of the bay and cozy bar

 

Things to do: besides eat, drink and be merry

  • Stroll down along the beach pathways and take in the crisp, salt sea air
  • Go on a fishing excursion and ask the folks at Tigh Giblin about their “You catch it, we’ll cook it.” feature
  • Ever wanted to learn how to play the Concertina or Accordion or fine tune your guitar skills? Take a music lesson at Gannon’s
  • Check out the unique and high quality local artwork (for sale) at the Spiddal Craft Centre

I’ve yet to meet a person of Spiddal who wasn’t kind and inviting.  Like any town, it has its characters, but that’s also part of its appeal. If experiencing the best of Irish life is on your bucket list, then make sure to put a stay in Spiddal on your Itinerary.

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Ireland – The First Timers’ Guide to the Emerald Isle

Ireland – The First Timers’ Guide to the Emerald Isle
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Ah, Ireland. Where the land is green, the whiskey free-flowing, the people are spirited and the music lively.  Or, Oh Ireland…where it pours down on you in buckets, the roads are dangerously twisty-windy and the tourist spots ye dreamt of visiting are hokey, crowded and overpriced.

It’s all how you look at it.  To date, I’ve been to Ireland five times.  Lucky, lucky me. I have friends who moved back there, so I’ve been seeing it through the eyes of locals for the most part (I did partake in some of the aforementioned touristy stuff on the first visit). And hey, some people love all that touristy stuff, but if you want to travel like I do (good food/booze, get to know the locals and learn/try something new) then read on.

sample of deals being offered in 2017.

First things first, do NOT try to see all of Ireland in one trip. Especially if you’re taking a 10 day or less trip. I’ve spent a month there in one go and barely scratched the surface.  Time moves slower there, so maybe at home you can get to 10 things in a day, but Ireland runs at a much easier going pace. This is where you go to re-learn how to savor. Remember this before even embarking on your first visit; Ireland will make it easy to return, so start with your top three places you want to see/experience and let the rest of the adventure unfold as you go along. Just a few years ago I would’ve advised you that some airports are much cheaper to fly into, but these days they all seem to be competing for travelers, so pick you destination and go for it~

 

click on image to enlarge. Green routes are primary. Black routes are suggested alternate routes.

For your first trip, I’d recommend the following route.

Dublin ( 2 nights)

Dublin is considered “the big city” in Ireland. It’s cool. I prefer the smaller towns. Less touristy and more of chance to get to know locals, but it def worth a visit.

  • The Post Office – history
  • Stephen’s Green – beautiful stroll
  • Guinness Warehouse Tour – touristy goodness
  • Jameson Distillery Tour – touristy goodness
  • Cobblestone pub – traditional music (right by Jameson)
  • Restaurants – Check TripAdvisor.com. Too many to list here

Spiddal (2 nights or 1 week)

Spiddal is a small, coastal town with amazing food/music and homeland of filmmaker John Ford-The Quiet Man. I could spend weeks here and just get lost in it. Quiet, but magical kind of town and close enough to other destinations (20 minutes north of Galway) to make it a great base camp.

  • Galway City (smaller and easier to navigate than Dublin – great day to evening outing)
    • Sheridan’s cheesemongers – upstairs wine n cheese bar with great people watching windows
    • Penneys – cheap and cheerful department store with great souvenirs and rain gear
    • Tig Coili (prod. chi koley) – very popular pub with live music
    • Tigh Nichtains (pron. tee nocktins) – very popular pub
    • Kumars – some of the best indian food you’ll ever taste
  • the Aran Islands (famed for their wool sweaters and landscape for such films as The Matchmaker, Leap Year and the Father Ted series) – flights daily near Spiddal.
    • Inishmore is biggest of the three and overnight suggested – horse carriage ride is worthwhile and historical treks.
    • Inisheer is smallest, but stunning beauty with swimming (brrr) beach and great pub (Tigh Ned) for lunch
    • Inishmaan is the middle one. Dull in comparison. a post office, a pub and the pub is the only public toilet so hope it’s open~
  • Tigh Giblin – Brilliant pub with artisan foods and great, nightly music – you’ll want to go back again and again…
  • Spiddal Pier – great stroll from town and film location for The Guard
  • Vacation Rental: Tigh Lal Hotel:
  • Hotel: An Cruiscin Lan – quirky, but right across from Tigh Giblin, so you can easily stumble across after a night of great food and music.
click on map to enlarge

Lahinch (2 nights or 1 week) (coastal surfing town with great food and live music)

  • Cliffs of Moher (famous landmark and respected tourist destination. Movies filmed here: Princess Bride and Hear my Song)
  • Kennys bar– great food, live music from up and comers (try the lamb taco.  One word: addictive
  • Raviolo Verde: excellent Italian dine in or take out
  • Activities: beach walking, surfing, kayaking, nature walks
  • Joe’s Cafe – great breakfast and lunch spot with fresh ingredients and solid wifi.
  • St. Brigid’s well – ask the locals…
  • the Aran Islands (if you don’t want to fly out of Spiddal there’s a nearby ferry in Doolin that’ll take you there
  • Moher Hill Open Farm – cool petting farm
  • Ennistymon – reality check. Read the signs around town spelling out the bloody history, stop in at Byrnes restaurant for lunch by the river then walk over to the Fall’s hotel to visit the Donkey sanctuary.

If you love to drive just for the sake of it, the the Ring of Kerry is a beautiful drive, but to me, just about everywhere I’ve driven in Ireland is beautiful, so don’t think you’ve missed out on a chance of a lifetime if you decide to give it a skip on the first trip and just stick around other places long enough to get to know ’em better.

If Ring of Kerry is a must-do on your list then I’d suggest, either driving down to Dingle Bay (2 hour) or Killarney (1 hour) for the night before or driving straight to from Lahinch (3 hour) and stopping in Cork (2 hour) after for an over night stay. From Cork, your last stop would be either 2 or 3 hours drive.

If you’re flying out of Shannon then, last stop should be: Bunratty (1 night)

  • Bunratty Castle (the good kind of touristy offering themed dinners, tours and nice hotel and shops just across the road)
  • Hotel: Bunratty Castle Hotel

If you’re flying out of Dublin, then your last stop should be: Dun Laoghaire (1-2 nights) (pron. dun leary). It’s a quaint harbor town about 40 minutes from Dublin airport and perfect spot to wind down and recap.

  • Walk along the pier, read the memorial sign.
  • Hotel: Haddington House.  Recently remodeled, really cool place and right by the harbor with excellent restaurant and outdoor picnic area.

 

GETTING AROUND

You can get by without a car by using a combination of public transport and Uber (in cities), but I find driving in Ireland part of the adventure.

If you’re heading straight to Galway, both airports (DUB or SNN) offer the same great bus service (most with with Wifi, outlets and toilet) into Galway City and drop you off right in the heart, next to Eyre (Air) square, running about every half hour in Dublin (3 hr trip) and every hour in Shannon (2 hr trip) and costing about 25 euro each way. Rome2Rio is a great site for mapping out your travels showing you transportation options in detail. The Trip Advisor app is a great tool for finding nearby restaurants worth stopping at and hotels worth staying in while on the road.

 

KNOW BEFORE YOU GO

  • Ireland is not big on WIFI. Oh yes, you’ll see signs that say “We have Wifi” but that doesn’t mean it works.  It’s often spotty at best. Some will even turn it off if you’re taking up a valuable table during peak service times. Go easy. They don’t get our obsession with it. “If I’m lost, I just ask someone the way.” People there are conversational and always happy to help.
  • It’s easy to get lost. Check with your cell phone provider and get international coverage if you can. Google maps has saved me on more occasions than I care to admit. Also, texting your friends makes it easier to wander off, but find each other easily. Though it’s true. You can ask anyone directions and they’ll be happy to help.  They are a naturally curious and friendly people.
  • Renting a car can be an obnoxiously expensive and frustrating experience.  Sure, they offer $12/day rentals, but then they’ll insist you get “super coverage” which adds as much as 40 euro/day to your bill.  On short needs like 3 day rental, going over terrain you’re not comfortable with, go for the super coverage. Otherwise, use a cc that has rental car coverage and get proof of coverage you can hand them when they start their schpeel or you’ll hear “We have no way of knowing if you are covered or not which means we’ll have to place a 2,000 euro hold on your card.” They’re highly adept at convincing you to go for the coverage with tales of poor dears who lost all their holiday money because of  little fender bender. Be confident, be soft spoken (nothing they hate worse than you boasting to the others in line that you’ve caught onto their act) get your car and go. If you do rent a car, know that manuals are far cheaper and to stay on the correct side of the road repeat this mantra “keep the white on the right” (meaning the white line in the center of the road should be to the right of you).
  • It rains.  A lot. You can spend an hour there and get rain, hail and sunshine in that hour, so pack a light rain jacket that you can bunch up into a ball and keep on your person or better yet, buy one there as a personal memento of the trip.
  • Unless you were born in Ireland or parents were, you are NOT, I repeat NOT Irish.  You are of Irish descent, but that doesn’t give you license to suddenly don an Irish accent.  They’re just as interested in the accent you naturally have (and are probably unaware of) as you are in theirs. Same goes for “Scotch-Irish.” You may think it mean you’re both Irish and Scottish, but it actually refers to Scots who came over by order of an English king to basically sit on Irish land (previously owned by their new and unwelcoming neighbors).
  • Pack light (with room for newly acquired stuff).  Ireland is full of shops and well priced goods.  No need throwing your back out lugging half your closet there.  Launderettes are incredibly scarce though, but most vacation rentals have washer/dryers and are much cheaper than hotels (live like a local). A well traveled friend once told me, “All you need is a passport a credit card and your phone to travel well.”
  • If you’re staying anywhere more than 3 nights, go for a vacation rental.  Also, many of them rent strictly from Saturday to Saturday, so be sure to ask, but even a week’s rate is often cheaper than a 3 night stay at a hotel. Plus, they have washer/dryers. Hotels don’t and most towns don’t have launderettes either.
  • Make sure your passport is up to date. Nothing ruins a holiday faster than an expired passport and there’s no such thing as a quick fix to that.  Also, apply for Global Entry (which includes TSA Pre-check).  It’s only $100, but will save you frustratingly long Immigration lines getting back from your destinations and it’s good for 5 years. Takes about 8-10 weeks to get so plan ahead.
  • Information is currency there. The Irish love a good story.  If you’re in one town, looking up family history, you can expect your friends in the neighboring town will have heard about it by nightfall.  Be open about your own stories, but let others tell their own stories. That’s the best motto.
  • If you’re a walker or cyclist please be aware there are very, very few roads that have side walks or even bike paths, so wear reflective gear at night or during grey days. Even a stick on reflector to your windbreaker will help.
  • You can throw a stone and hit a castle in Ireland.  They are all beautiful and rich in history, with some offering the touristy (but still pretty cool) themed dinner. Pick one, enjoy it, then check “see a castle” and move on. There’s so much more to Ireland dan dis~

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Italy-Amalfi Coast

Italy-Amalfi Coast
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I’ve had the immense satisfaction of checking this location off my bucket list twice and before 12 Adventures came into play, so for adventures B12 (before 12 Adventures) I’ll post the stories here along with guides and insights on making the most of these particular adventures.  I don’t think the Amalfi coast has seen the last of me either, so updates to come I’m sure. Why Amalfi? Swimming in the mediterranean is like nowhere else. Your body is lighter in the water and no sharks, so for a sea chicken like me it’s heaven. The people are real, friendly and it’s a seafoodie’s heaven on earth.

Links are to my favorite *product/service sites and Trip Advisor reviews. TA is my go-to for travel and where I document all the Highs and lows of my adventures.

WHEN TO GO

Just off season.  September/October is my favorite, (though I hear spring in nice too) because the weather is still warm and sunny and the rates are really reasonable (flights under $1,000 from San Diego) and their annual Festa del Pesce (Fish Festival) is on the last Saturday and not to be missed.  I had the honor of singing at it (bucket list-check) back in 2014 after writing a song about the town from my first visit. Positano.

WHO TO GO WITH

Italy is for romantics. It’s where a tom-girl like me loves dressing up and where the men openly appreciate and flirt with women (harmlessly), so I’d say it’s a perfect place for girls’ getaways, but not so much for honeymooners (saw a lot of ’em arguing there). Leave the Eeyore’s, bean counters, nit picky eaters, drink counters and the control freak/hyper-organized ones behind.  Leave the stresses behind and allow yourself to truly enjoy the simple, extraordinaire beauty of Italian life.

KNOW BEFORE YOU GO

Before you travel internationally always:

  • Check to make sure your passport is good and not about to expire. Sometimes renewals can take weeks, even months, so don’t risk it. Take a photo of your passport with your phone and a photo copy of it at home where it can be easily found.
  • Take at least 2 credit cards or a credit card and a debit visa and let them know you’ll be traveling to where and when.  Nothing worse than having your cc declined and going through the hassle of getting your card unfrozen while shop keepers stare at you like your some kind of criminal wannabe.  Keep a photo copy of these at home for safe keeping too.
  • Get an international cell plan.  This allows you to use cool apps like google maps, so you don’t get too lost and other important features on the fly.  Wifi isn’t all that great in Europe, so don’t count on it.  Txting keeps me in touch with my friends while I’m traveling too.  Easier to meet up.
  • Download useful apps ahead of time:
    • Rome2Rio (shows you how to get anywhere from anywhere)
    • Trip Advisor (great tips on things to do, places to stay and eat)
    • Google maps (I’d be lost without it)
    • Google Translate (on the spot translation – Not everyone on Amalfi speaks fluent English. Most, only broken which to me is great. I come to Italy to experience Italian life. If I want perfect English I’ll go to little Italy in my city)
    • I also have my bank app, cc apps, travel site apps like Kayak, Expedia and Booking.com. And I use FB a lot, but whatever social media you use, download that app if you plan to share your holiday during it.

PACK LIGHT AND SMART.  It gets old dragging around 50lbs of stuff you’ll probably never wear or use. Here’s what’s hard to find and oh so needed:

Here’s what I suggest packing. Snorkel gear is great, but unnecessary bulk.  Just a pair of water goggles will do.  There are a few snorkeling excursions where the equipment is included.

  • Clothing
    • Dresses: 2-3 for day, 2-3 for evening.
    • Very light, roll up in a ball rain jacket (if you care about getting wet. It does suddenly rain from time to time there, but you’ll dry pretty quickly)
    • Light sweaters (2)
    • Shoes/Sandals (3) water shoes (the rocky beaches are hard to walk on and they’re not readily available to buy), casual sandals or flip flops, dressier sandals but make sure you can walk on cobble stone with them, so lower heal, maybe wedges.
    • Swim wear – 2 swimsuits, 2 cover ups, 1 pair of waterproof, thicker soled flip flops (beach towels provided or buy one there) and def swim cap. Almost all hotels require the use of swim caps.
    • Light or capri pants
  • Bug repellents:
    • Cinnamon sticks. Place them near bed outlets and doors to patio – ants hate Cinnamon, who knew??
    • Vibrating clip-on mosquito repellent works best, bracelets are ok too. Only use spray in your room, not in a crowd.
    • Purell to dab on bites you’ll inevitably get. Untreated, they’ll get very red and ugly.  Good news is you won’t be alone on that. You’ll see women walking around in $1,000 dresses with huge welts and scratch marks.
  • Sun/skin protection: pack your favorite sunscreen, a floppy hat and one more hat according to your style (I love baseball caps) and sunglasses for sure. A nice pair and a beach, I don’t care if they get scratched up pair. really great moisturizer like the BodyShop’s beautifying oil (watch for the frequent deals on their site or sometimes they have ’em for sale ($4) at places like Marshalls or Ross) to counterbalance all the salt water and sea air.
  • Misc

Do your best to go for carry-on baggage only.  Especially if you’re going to fly within Europe. All Euro flights are very strict on how much you can carry on. Those rules change a lot, but here’s Ryan Air’s rules and they are probably the strictest:

What you CAN bring on board

  • One small bag e.g. handbag, laptop bag etc. not exceeding 35cm x 20cm x 20cm
  • One cabin bag, not exceeding 55cm x 40cm x 20cm in size and 10kg in weight, plus can be carried per passenger who has purchased priority booking or a Plus/Flexi Plus ticket.

If you go over, they will force you to check your bag and the price at the airport is double what it is if you pay before you fly. Like up to $75 per bag vs $35. Oh, and learn the metric system.  Nothing they love more than being asked “What is that in inches?” You’re there to experience their culture, not the other way around. Many of the cheaper bags in the US are higher than that and it’ll be mean paying about $50 to check that bag over a measly 1.5-2 inches so, pack light. Plus, dragging your bags up and down the cobble stone streets is a pain in the arse, so ehm…repeat after me, “pack light, pack smart.” As my friend Siobhan K. smartly says, “when traveling all you really need is a phone, your passport and a credit card.”

Ants and Mosquitos are prevalent on the Amalfi coast, so listen up when they say don’t leave any food in your room and use the screens on doors and windows. Also, most beds are small and hard. Just the way it rolls there. If that bothers you, bring something like Midol to help offset/minimize the aches.  If you’re allergic to animals, bring your favorite allergy med. Cats are the keepers of most establishments and the reason you won’t see any mice.

LEARN SOME LINGO. Italians love it when you try to communicate in their native tongue. You’ll get a smile for your efforts.

Some of my favorites are:

Come va (komay vah)? = How are you?

Buongiornio~ (big smile) = Good morning~

Bona Sera = Good afternoon/evening

Bona Notte = Good night

If you see something you love, clothing or speciality item, get it. On the spot. Ship it home on the spot whenever possible and grab their card for future orders. The things you’ll find here aren’t exported to where you live and some are only regional. That was a hard lesson for me to learn and probably why I’m always jonesin’ to go back.  Examples:

  • Rucolino (Arugula based herbal liqueur) – excellent digestive and taste and proudly “The official liqueur of the island of Ischia)
  • Limoncello (lemon based digestive liqueur) Positano and Sorrento are the places to get it, though Augostino at Miramare on Ischia has a good batch.
  • Finochietto (fennel based digestive liqueur) Sorrento or Capri
  • Seafood – all kinds, but Octopus salad is very popular and tasty~

HOW TO GET THERE

Fly into Naples or Rome, then either take the train to Sorrento or hire a driver like Franceso Marrapese. Driving in Italy is insane with all the twist and turns, guard rail-less roads and speed monster drivers.  Best leave it to a pro so you can relax and enjoy the view.  He can arrange personal tours (wait till you’re over jet lag), is a wealth of info, like…”never have a cappuccino (milk w coffee) after a meal. that is only for breakfast. From Positano you can take water taxi’s or busses just about anywhere. Plus, it’s kind of cool to step out of the airport luggage claim to a handsome man holding up a sign with your name on it…

WHERE TO STAY

Positano and Hotel Pupetto, hands down.  It’s got everything you need; beachfront, beach activities, 3 restaurants, reasonable rates and star treatment from the staff. Positano is built on a large, steep hill so many of the reasonably priced hotels are a hike up, way up that hill, where Pupetto is a short walk along a relatively level path.  Or Francesco will drop you off at the top entrance where a young man will take your bags down and you’ll need to walk down about 100 cobble stone steps (wear comfortable flats~). Ask the front desk staff to make reservations anywhere and help figuring out transportation to/from day excursions.

POSITANO HIGHLIGHTS

  • Da Adolfo – cool, beachfront restaurant with lounge area, a short water taxi ride from the main pier.
  • Cafe Bruno – small seaview restaurant worth the climb to the top of the hill
  • Music on the Rocks – 3 levels of piano/sushi bar, lounge and underground disco.

DAY TRIPS AND EXCURSIONS

  • Amalfi/Ravelo – Explore the artful town of Ravelo (buses go from the waterfront), then wander Amalfi square before dining waterfront at Stella Maris and/or Da Gemma.
  • Sorrento – Spend a night or two here on the way back to Naples. Great shopping and food walking tour and port to the Isles of Ischia and Capri. We stayed at Chiro’s place, Casa Dominova Bed and Breakfast, who also owns Ristorante Da Gigino (and his brother makes some excellent limoncello) the room was a little harder to find, but nice, apartment style with courtyard where all guests gather for breakfast.
  • Isle of Ischia – a walking tour of the Castle by the sea is the highlight. Rabbit is their specialty along with Rucolino. If you stay over, make it Miramare e Castello Hotel and splurge on an oceanfront room with balcony.  Say hello to Augustino in the bar for me and ask for an Aparol spritz.
  • Isle of Capri – start the morning with a tram ride up to the top (Ana Capri) for a nice walk with stellar views, then load up on picnic goods and bevies at the local, marina shop and spend a 1/2 day private boat tour with Capri Whales di Wendy to the grottos (blue is super touristy, green is much nicer), snorkeling before hopping on the ferry back to Sorrento.

 

* Unless otherwise noted, all recommendations are based on my personal experience and without compensation in exchange for recommendation.

My ideal route? Go straight to Positano from Naples. Spend the majority of your stay there.  Then to Sorrento for a couple nights.  Capri only for the day (super touristy), Ischia for a couple nights and stay outside of Naples if you can. If not, stay someplace like Palazzo Caracciolo Napoli MGallery by Sofitel and hit the little pizza joint in the movie Eat, Pray Love or any pizza joint because Naples is known for their pizza.

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A Cowboy, 2 Angels and a Fortune Cookie

A Cowboy, 2 Angels and a Fortune Cookie
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Pops MugBack home, at my desk with a (very big) coffee mug that belonged to my Pop and a fortune cookie one of my best friends left for me to find when I arrived home last night. A writer’s inspiration.

Over the past couple of weeks I let the series’ blazing campaign trail grow a bit cold and for reasoning I wasn’t completely aware of until now. There is always a point when you’re going after something new; a job, career, skill, language, big holiday, whatever,  where you start to question the wisdom of your decision, your ability to succeed and whether those you hoped would be are really on board or just being polite, so don’t push it.  There are also external “signs” that make you wonder yourself if you should put down the baton, shuddup and sit quietly in the corner.

Why do we do this to ourselves and how do we stop doing these things that stunt us, hold us back?  Good question and I’m working on the answer, but this I’m sure of, I must break through this barrier myself if I expect any of you to follow along with me on 12 adventures. More so, to take the leap yourselves into your own bucket list of 12 adventures.

I had a pivotal conversation with one of my brothers about this while I was home, in Seattle.  What I got from it (besides learning I do NOT like the smell of single malt scotch) is that we humans are highly receptive creatures.  If enough people transmit the message they don’t believe we can, should or worse, are silent in response to our search for affirmation, we will be inclined to step back or stay in a holding pattern until the momentum dissipates and the opportunity passes.  Sad.  Our lives here are so brief.  Too brief not to make the most of them.  I made case in points of people with less ability who are doing what they want.  I myself am a case in point to a certain degree.  I may have yet to be wildly successful in my endeavors, but I am a scrapper and I do somehow by hook or by crook, finish what I set out to do.

Which brings us to the question, “Who’s holding us back?” The first thought might be, “All those people around us who tell us we can’t or shouldn’t.”  Maybe. Humor me for a sec and Thomas-Edison---Giving-upgo look at a light bulb. Pass by a lamp and peer in or pick one up from the cupboard so it’s fresh in your mind. Got it? Right then, listen up. When he was a child, teachers told Edison he was “too stupid to learn anything” (seriously, who the fk says that to a kid??). He was fired from his first couple jobs for not being productive enough and he made over 1,000 unsuccessful attempts at inventing the light bulb. Now, look around you. They’re everywhere. They brighten our nights, light up our Christmas trees and the roads guiding us safely to our destinations.  If Thomas Edison had listened to those voices outside of his head, how very dark and dreary our lives might be… Every time you see a light bulb think Thomas Edison and ask yourself which voice he listened to? Unless someone can prove you would cause irreparable damage to yourself or others by following your dream then full steam ahead I say~

Gina-Wilbanks-Swanson
Gina Wilbanks Swanson

Sometimes what holds us back feels completely beyond our control. It can be hard to celebrate and take greater chances in life when those you love or admire stop living. My father’s passing earlier this fall left a gaping hole to be sure.  He was my biggest fan and quick to encourage my far fetched ideas. For the past few years, being a Stage IV cancer fighter has been the fuel I use to drive home the message, “life is short, so go for the life you want now,” but it’s hard to say that when other Stage IV fighters, ones I know, don’t survive.  It’s heartbreaking. It fcks with your head and brings a twinge of shame for not only surviving, but boldly marching on, when what it should do is spur you on to push yourself even further, reach even higher.  Gina Wilbanks Swanson and Sandra Sundari Greer are the names of these two, new angels.  Gina, I knew from high school and Sandra, from my theatre days in my 20’s. Both bright souls, deserving of long and illustrious lives. Both died recently from the effects of Stage IV cancer.

When someone we care about passes away, how do we honor their memory?  Do we sit quietly or do we make bold gestures?  Everyone is different, but for me, I want to pick up their batons and take them with me to places unknown, on a big adventure maybe we all three dreamed of.  And this is a small gesture I know, but their names will go next to my beloved Mom and Pop’s, in the dedication credits of the premier episode of 12 Adventures.  That is my way of honoring their bright and inspirational spirits.

Sandra Sundari Greer
Sandra Sundari Greer

To those who knew them and are asking yourselves the same question, first I’d say to check in on their family and offer your support.  Whether it’s cash or a casserole, a whole lot of people offering what little they can makes a mountain of difference to the ones receiving. The other, brilliant way you can pay tribute (and I’m sure Gina and Sandra would agree) is don’t just hate cancer, fight back.  Fight back by never allowing it to ever get past the initial (highly treatable) Stage 1, by getting screened now (as in today, pick up the phone, make the appointment and then show up for it).  If they say it’ll cost you $300 (or more) out of pocket, say “No problem.” You have friends whose cancer treatment “out of pocket” costs are well over $30,000 and you can think of a hellova lot better things to spend 30k on. If your doctor asks if there is a history of cancer in your family say, “Yes” because even if you don’t have actual proof of it, the chances are 1 in 2 (if not greater) there is history of cancer in your family and it doesn’t matter what kind (did you know there are over 100 types?).  My mom had endometrial cancer, one cousin had breast cancer, another pancreatic and mine was colon. Often, back in the old days, no one really talked about cancer. I only found out after four years into treatment (and a bit of ancestral digging – thanks cousin Laine, xo) that my grandfather on my mother’s side died of colon cancer (Ahaaaa).

Now we know, knowledge and preventive measures are the best defense.  Speaking of knowledge, did you know that colon cancer is 100% preventable?  It starts as a little polyp in your colon and slowly grows (taking up to ten years) before spreading to other areas of the body.  So, if I had been screened by the age of 35 (the recommended 10 years before anyone in your family was diagnosed), I wouldn’t have had to go through five years of nearly 50 chemo/radiation sessions or these now life affirming PET scans every 90 days.  I think about how much more life affirming it would be if I could convince everyone (ok, in the world would be a bit much to expect, so let’s say) who is friends with Sandra, Gina and myself on Facebook to take action and get screened right now and then every year. That’s at least 1,200 lives wouldn’t be lost to cancer. I think I would like that on my gravestone (when I die from too much good living), “She convinced over 1,200 people to not risk death by cancer.”

How do I know this will happen, that I’ll convince that many people and more to get screened? How do I know my big idea for the 12 Adventures series will come to fruition?  Simple.  Because the fortune cookie (I kid you not) just told me so 😉

12 adventures web series

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What are you waiting for?

What are you waiting for?
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Every year around this time, I get a sense of heartfelt introspectiveness.  In those moments, as the thoughts and feelings come pouring out of me, I set them down here hoping someone out there will connect with them.

Today I pack. Tomorrow I hop on a plane and head back home to spend Thanksgiving with my family as I have for many years, but this one is different. This will be the first without our beloved Pop who passed away in September.

We’re all gathering at my sister’s house again as she’s done an amazing job hosting it for many years now, but with one (not so) small addition. There, at the end of the holiday extended table in her living/dining area will sit Pop’s baby grand piano.  The piano we all sat at countless times growing up, turning the pages for him or making our best attempt at playing a song (I’d say for entertainment purposes, but none of us ever took our piano studies too seriously).  We’re not even sure the thing can hold a tune anymore, at least not since my mom put a beautifully hand made, leaky terrarium on top of it for decoration.  Poor mom, she always meant well.

me-n-pop-n-eddyMy dad was the kind of man that would be the calm while everyone is chattering.  When any one of us would impulsively spout out my grandiose plans or incredibly unfeasible schemes, there would be no shortage of naysayers or realists about, doing their best to help us “think clearly…wake up…get real…”  Best intentions, of course, but though it may alter some behavior, the core being remains the same and I was, by nature, always going to have one foot in so-called reality and the other splashing about in the waters of my own world.

No matter how sensible a life creatives try to make out for themselves, the essence of who they really are eventually seeps through.  I found a happy medium within the grey areas.  Naysayers on the other hand hate grey areas, they leave wiggle room.  “It is black.” and that’s the end of their discussion.  How frustrating it must be for them to be around creatives, constantly countering with, “That’s not how I see it.”  Or worse, just continuing on making splashes of color after the order of black and white has been well established for all. Still, I am very grateful for my experiences in the black and white world, because it taught me how to be self reliant.  It teaches all the importance of balance, that a little mix of black and white is just as good for our world as a brushstroke of color is for theirs. And if you are constantly going against the grain, you are either in the wrong or in the wrong place.

Only we can answer whether we are where we need to be and only we can take the steps necessary to put ourselves in the right place (though the universe has been known to give us a good kick in the right direction from time to time).

Ali at Tromos
Ali – Arctic Circle – Northern Lights – Nov., 2015

For years now, I have been taking risks only the unfeasibly optimistic kid in me would have agreed to.  She went from being a vague memory to front and center, the pied piper.  Thanks to her influence I/we’ve experienced several firsts since 2010; publishing 2 humorous cancer survival guides that prepare and inspire others to fight the disease, becoming a sports photographer with a highlight of covering David Beckham and many other MLS greats, recording a full length CD of our original songs, traveling to places we’ve been dreaming of our whole life and most recently, standing in the arctic circle, in awe as the northern lights danced around us.  She didn’t let financial or physical limitations get in the way.  She dreamt it up, then we went for it and whenever a road block came up, she put our inventive mind to work and found a way around it.

So, that said, What are you waiting for?  You’ve got some pretty amazing ideas yourself, whether it’s a career change, a dream holiday, invention, design and more. So, make it happen~ Ah, but that’s a naive outlook on life, I know.  “If I took more than my 2 weeks off I’d lose my job.” “I’m too old for that now.” “No one will go with me.” “I can’t afford that.” Maybe, but this “naive outlook” is coming from someone who accomplished all the above improbable things AFTER being diagnosed with late stage cancer, with several physical/mental constraints and on a very minimal income, so let’s put it another way, “If I did it, pretty much anyone can do it, so what are you waiting for?”  Seriously, I was talking to a woman yesterday who sighed as she said she couldn’t afford to travel to Europe then later, I saw her drive off in a high end SUV…

Ok, so Rome wasn’t built in a day nor will everyone’s mind change about flipping the bird at improbability just from reading one blog post.  Like in the movie What About Bob, “baby steps.” Start thinking now about the possibilities and then, do this:

Step 1 – Make a list

Write down 12 (bucketlist) adventures you’d like to go on in your lifetime.

Step 2 – Ask others to make a list

For the Thanksgiving gathering, ask the others to write their own list.  If anyone laughs or nay says, pay no mind.  You’re just saying something that scares them and that’s how some people deal with things that scare them or make them uncomfortable.  Remember, to lead a more adventurous life you’ve gotta step out of your comfort zone and if you’re going to embark on a far more adventurous life, you have to be willing to make an ass of yourself from time to time (not be an ass, make an ass, big difference).  So invite, encourage and if they still won’t get into the spirit of it, don’t worry.  To expect everyone to go along would be very black and white now wouldn’t it…

Step 3 – Pick one

Pick one.  Pick one of the 12 adventures from your list and make a pact that you will make this one happen within the next 12 months.

Step 4 – Share with others

At some point on Thanksgiving day either before, during or after the meal, ask everyone to share their list and top pick. It’ll be entertaining, enlightening and who knows, you might learn something new about someone you thought you knew everything about~

At this point you can keep your discovery to your inner circle or you can come over to the 12 adventures webspace and share them with fellow adventurers for mutual support, encouragement and inspiration. No adventure is too big or too small as long as it’s the one you genuinely want to make happen. Just post the short list of 12 adventures on the 12 Adventures Facebook page and if you don’t mind, end it with any of the following hashtags: #WhatsYour12?    #WhatAreYouWaitingFor?    #12Adventures

Later in the year, when your mission is accomplished, come on over to the 12 Adventures contact page on the website and tell us all about it.  What hurdles did you overcome?  How did it feel to accomplish it? Who was with you and what’s next on the list?  Maybe someone out there googling to see if their bucket list adventure is possible will come across your story and be inspired to go for it too.  Now, how cool is that~

me n popIt is scary to put yourself out there.  Not everyone will be supportive or encouraging.  I brace myself every time I announce I’m going to bring another one of my outlandish dreams to fruition. My favorite response is, “She has no idea what it takes to (insert thing I’m about to do: live abroad, change careers mid-life, publish a book, record a CD, make a web series, etc.). It’s incredibly uncomfortable to ask people to support something improbable, for perfect strangers to put their trust in you and even more so at the thought of being in front of the camera, putting my imperfections on display for all to see, but all the more rewarding when you follow through with it. And when I start to doubt my ability or direction I remember these words Pop said to me when I was afraid to make the first, big, improbable leap, “If anyone is going to do it kiddo, it’ll be you.  You’re my great, white hope.”  Feel free to hold onto those words if you ever need them.  Pop was always willing to be shared among those who needed a wise-old, great uncle Bulgaria.

Right then, back to packing for me and pen to paper for you~

#WhatAreYouWaitingFor?

Thanksgiving Day

piano

piano in room

piano receipt

 

 

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