A Semester in Prague: Week 1

Its no secret that I’ve been a traveler since I knew what the word meant. I’ve spent quite a few summers abroad, exploring the world less known to me. When the opportunity to study abroad first became known to me my mind went wild with possibilities. Would I stick with something comfortable like London, go as far as I could to Australia, or place myself in an entirely foreign environment like South America or Africa? While Australia really tickled my fancy for a while, a program offered by my university caught my attention. You see, NC State has a foreign campus in the cultural hotspot of Prague, Czech Republic. I had never been to Eastern Europe and the comfort of having a piece of my family just a short plane journey away really appealed to me. I submitted my application and within a few months and a fair deal of planning, visas, and stress, I was on a plane to the Czech Republic.

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Monday (Jan 8th) started the first day of orientation for NC State Prague. We hopped on a tram and took it to Wenceslas Square (Václavské náměstí). It turns out the school is located directly in the center of Prague, just a few feet off of the Old Town Square. After what seemed like endless meetings about expectations, rules, and academics, a few awkward ice-breakers, and a quick history lesson we were free to explore the city. It gets dark at around 4:30 here, so most of our exploring was done in the dark, but this city looks beautiful lit up at night. We wandered around the Old Town Square, made our way to the Charles Bridge, and managed to get back to our accommodations without getting lost or asking for directions.

The next day we were given a guided tour around the city. Our tour guide was American and had moved here after her studies, and knew a heck of a lot about the city. It was interesting to learn about the history of the city through the world wars and the communist regime in the Czech Republic. Since the city was occupied by the Germans before WWII began, much of the city was left unharmed in the war. A good majority of Prague is centuries older than the United States and its crazy to think of all the life that has been lived on the streets of Prague.

After a full day of touring the city, my friends and I wandered into a so-called speakeasy in the center of Prague. It was recommended by our tour guide as a good spot for a beer away from the typical tourist destinations. It was located within an apartment, on the very top floor and was cool and quirky, the way you’d expect a speakeasy to be. After a beer and some good conversation, we headed back to our dorms and called it a night.

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On Wednesday, we left the city for our first out-of-city excursion. We headed north in the Czech Republic for a ski trip in the mountains. On our way we stopped at the Sychrov Castle for a tour. The castle was owned and occupied by the Rohan family from the early 19th century, when they reconstructed the castle that previously stood here, until the WWII when it was nationalized. It was absolutely beautiful, but oh so cold within the castle walls. I guess central heating wasn’t popular in the 19th century.

After our tour we headed to Černý Důl, a small ski town in the northern part of the Czech Republic. Once we had checked into our hotel, we went to the ski shop to rent our skis. Later we had dinner, and the whole group met up for a night of games. The restaurant/pub had 9-pin, pool, and table football. We played these games late into the evening, then went to bed, getting well rested for a day of skiing.

The next morning, we woke up to a fresh dusting of snow and a winter wonderland in Černý Důl. We put all of our gear on and walked to the ski lift only a short walk away. Unfortunately I sliced a good chunk of my finger on the bottom of my skis, but a quick rinse and bandaid later, I was ready to hit the slopes. The view from the top of the ski lift was worth the terror of making it down the slope. I am no rookie skier, but I was not prepared for the steepness of the hill. I managed to make it down the hill a few times with only one fall before deciding to call it a day. I wanted to stop while I was ahead and before I took a huge tumble or exhausted every muscle in my body. But my goodness, it was a beautiful ride. We ended the day with a traditional Czech meal of meat and potatoes, and my friends and I all pushed a few beds together and watched The Shining.

The next morning we hopped back on the bus and made our way back to Prague. On the way we stopped at a Czech brewery for a tour and tasting. The Svijany Brewery is one of the oldest breweries in the Czech Republic, dating back to 1564. There they showed us the process of brewing their beer and even let us try their malt and hops (which I would not recommend). I’m not a huge fan of beer, however I did try the beer because why not, but all I could taste was hops from trying a hops pellet earlier in the tour (that taste really lingers). After our tour we made our way back to Prague, sleeping most of the way home. I decided to call it an early night to recharge my battery.

On Saturday, my friends and went on a city adventure. We walked almost all day and saw quite a bit of the city. We took the metro into town and headed straight for the Charles Bridge. It was a bit more crowded than earlier in the week, but the views were still gorgeous. We made our way into Malá Strana which is the smaller part of Prague across the bridge. While the English translation for Malá Strana is Lesser Town (for its size), it certainly is not lesser in beauty.

At the top of the hill sits the Prague Castle, surrounded by palaces and ecclesiastical buildings. Below sits a wide variety of shops, churches, and gardens. We wandered through the residential streets for a bit before deciding to make the trek up to the castle. The views from the top were magical, and you could see the entirety of Prague. We didn’t manage to make our way into the castle, agreeing that it would be more fun when the crowds were fewer and the weather was warmer.

We made our way back down the hill and wandered among the tourist-y streets until dark. We crossed back over the Charles Bridge back into Old Town and found our way back to Old Town Square. We had some time to kill until dinner so we headed over to the Palladium shopping mall to escape the cold. There I found some post cards to send to my family and spent quite a while roaming a Czech bookstore, looking at pretty books, unable to understand anything. We braved the cold once again to head to dinner. We took the metro to Praha 3 where we found a underground Vietnamese restaurant away from the hustle and bustle of the center.

My first week in Prague has been chock full of exploring and culture. I’m still getting used to living in a city abroad, and I’m starting to plan my first ventures out of the Czech Republic. So far, I’m loving the adventure, not crazy about the traditional cuisine, and forming a strong group of friends. I still have a week until classes start, but my school has prepared a few activities for us to get to know the city like a local.

I’m looking forward to learning to live in this city and exploring all there is to see. And I hope you come on this adventure with me!

 

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Amalfi Coast

When you google search “Italy” you are greeted with thousands of images of Rome, Venice, and a stretch of coastline called the Amalfi Coast. Just seeing the photos made my travelers itch grow intensely strong, and I knew we wouldn’t be going to Italy without visiting this paradise. It was a love at first sight sort of experience, and the pictures just don’t do it justice.

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In this beautiful landscape mountains plunge straight down into crystal clear bright blue waters, pastel houses hang onto the sides of sheer cliffs, and a sweet lemon fragrance follows your every footstep. The beaches are filled with rows of brightly colored chairs that so beautifully compliment the warm waters of the Tyrrhenian Sea. The cobblestone streets lined with small boutiques, secret hidden stairwells, and constant chatter of voices gave me an immediate sense of belonging… like this was where I was meant to be.

Because of time constraints, we opted for a day tour of the four major cities along the coastline, Ravello, Amalfi, Positano, and Sorrento. We left Pompeii early in the morning, and weren’t home till late that evening, and it was incredible how much we were able to see that day. It was quite a bit of driving on winding, sides of cliffs types of roads, but the views were well worth it. We stopped several times along the way and between towns to get photos and our driver was very eager to slow down for us to really enjoy the scenery.

Our first stop was Ravello, a small town perched on a cliff overlooking the Amalfi Coast. The town was essentially just a few streets centered around a cathedral and a large open square to wander. It was the only town we visited that was perched on the top of the mountains and it felt as though we were on our own beautiful planet.

We then visited Amalfi, the main town on the coast. We spent the majority of our time on the piers that jutted out into the water, looking back at the gorgeous town. It was such an incredible day, and we managed to sneak in a impromptu photoshoot before wandering into a very mediterranean cafe and ordering frozen lemonades (an absolute must if you are ever in the area). We only had an hour or so in the town, so we didn’t manage to make our way into the center, but the views from the water were just to good to pass up.

As we travelled on to the next town, we stopped along the way to see the Emerald Grotto, a beautiful cave named for the color reflected in the water through a small opening to the sea. I couldn’t manage to get any decent photos of the light, but it was quite magical, and the commentary after we explained that we were American was hilarious.

 

After our short boat ride around the cave came to an end, we stopped for lunch at one of the most gorgeous restaurants I have ever been to. Clinging to the side of the cliffs, we had a front row seat to the beautiful coastline.

After a bit more driving, we found our way into Positano which much like the other towns on the Amalfi coast clings tightly onto the side of the cliff and falls straight into the turquoise waters below. A healthy set of stairs and narrow paths lined with boutiques led us to the seaside where we sat on the pebble beach and soaked up the sun. I stuck my feet in the water (not wanting to be wet and salty for the rest of the afternoon) and searched for sea glass while my siblings escaped to the water.

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The last stop on our day trip to the Amalfi Coast was Sorrento, the birthplace of Limoncello liqueur. At this point in the day, we were all worn out, and I didn’t manage to take any photos of the town despite carrying my camera around my neck the entire time. We wandered the streets of the town, stopped in a few shops to try Limoncello and other fruit flavored liqueurs, and saw lemons on practically everything in sight. It was a lovely town, but we were all wishing that we would have been able to spend more time in Amalfi or Positano. Maybe it was because we had already seen so much, but Sorrento didn’t really impress me.

As the day came to an end, we headed back to Pompeii where we would stay one last night before heading off to Venice. We didn’t plan appropriately, or anticipate how much we would all fall in love with the Amalfi Coast, and quickly realized that a one day tour was far too short. Since the rest of our trip was already booked, we could not extend our stay, but it would be safe to say that we will be back soon. I’m already looking forward to spending more time exploring and hiking the quaint Italian towns on this coastline.

I made a short video documenting our tour through Italy that you can watch here.

Pompeii, Italy

When Italy was mentioned as a potential country to visit, it was my brother who suggested we visit Pompeii. It hadn’t really crossed my mind as a option, but once he brought it to my attention, I was obsessed with the idea. I’ve always been fascinated history and I think it stems back to my love for Magic Tree House books as I was growing up. Visiting Pompeii definitely made me feel like I was going on an adventure with Jack and Annie and their magic tree house.

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We got to the city of Pompeii, found our AirBnB for the night, and then started walking around the town a bit. We were almost immediately approached by a tour company, and as the bunch of polite southerners we all are, we stopped and let them give us their spiel. We usually aren’t the type of travelers that explore with a tour group, but it became apparent that the cheapest and easiest way to get to the top of Mount Vesuvius would be to go with them. So we got in their van and they drove us to the top of the volcano. This is where I discovered that I could in fact get car sick and after the 20 painful minutes of being whipped around the tight curves of the Italian roads I was so grateful to be on solid ground for a minute.

Unfortunately, when we got to the top of the mountain, a big cloud rolled in and we completely lost all visibility. I felt a bit disappointed that we had gone through all the trouble to get to the top of Mount Vesuvius and couldn’t actually see anything. But the cloud did lend itself to an other-worldly experience of the top of the volcano and it felt a bit like we were on Mars! And anyway, I don’t know many people who can say that they’ve been to the top of Mount Vesuvius! … an active volcano just waiting to erupt! (after discovering that Mount Vesuvius is in fact an active volcano, I immediately felt more bad ass and just want everyone to know that I live life on the edge. haha)

After another tummy-turning ride back to the bottom of Vesuvius, we headed to a recommended restaurant I Matti and had our first real Italian pizza. And let me tell you, you have not had pizza until you have had an authentic Italian pizza. I have never tasted something so delicious and fresh.

The next day, after a relaxing morning, we headed to the entrance of the Pompeii ruins. It was so surreal to see the city and walk the streets that I had read about in history books. It didn’t feel real! When we walked in and just started exploring. There was nothing that was off limits, and we soon found ourselves lost in the ruins of a house on a small road. It was kind of fun that within this very touristic site, you can create your own experience of the place without a large crowd constantly around every turn. We only had a small map of the site with very little detail but we managed to find our way to all the major sites within the ruins.

After walking around for several hours, we finally found the casts of the preserved bodies that make Pompeii so famous. It was crazy to think that those people lived in the houses we had been exploring all day and walked on the very same cobblestone streets that we had walked. We finished our self guided tour around Pompeii, and finished by visiting the amphitheater that looked almost perfectly preserved. It is also the oldest surviving Roman amphitheater, older than the Colosseum in Rome by over a century!

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After a long day of walking, we were all exhausted and headed back to the AirBnB. We walked to the grocery store and picked up a few snacks, then called it an early night and watched Shrek until we fell asleep. Pompeii was such an experience, and I couldn’t wait for the next few days in Italy and all the pizza and pasta that we were sure to consume.

I made a short video documenting our tour through Italy that you can watch here.

Barcelona, Spain

The second city on our Europe tour was Barcelona, one of my new favorite cities. We had a little bit more time in Barcelona, and I feel like both the addition of half a day and a bit more planning lead to a much better experience in Barcelona.

We were staying with a family friend, and they gave us a few suggestions on places to go, and things to see. The first day we got there we wandered down to Las Ramblas in attempt to go down to the beach. Las Ramblas were fairly crowded, so we walked quickly down to the bottom and grabbed an ice cream before walking for a bit on the boardwalk. About halfway on our walk to the beach it started to rain, so we turned back to head home.

The next day, we booked our tickets to go see La Sagrada Familia. We had the morning to explore more of Barcelona, so we headed out to the streets with a basic idea of what to see per suggestion of our family friends. We explored the Gothic Quarter and finished at the Barcelona Cathedral. The architecture was absolutely stunning in the Gothic Quarter, and there were decorative details at every turn.

When we were getting closer to our ticket time for La Sagrada Familia, we hopped in a taxi and drove across town. We made sure we got there with some time to spare so that we could view the outside and take some time to admire the architecture before we went inside. We walked all the way around the building, which is still under construction after 131 years. The exterior of the basilica is stunning, but I was not at all prepared for the design and scale of the interior. It was absolutely breath taking, and I was completely mesmerized by the stained glass windows.

After visiting La Sagrada Familia, we hoped in a taxi again and headed to another of Gaudi’s most famous works: Park Güell. We spend the rest of the afternoon wandering around the park, and admiring the architecture and the views. The park was a nice escape from city life, and was beautifully landscaped.

While we didn’t spend the money to venture onto the terrace, we didn’t find it necessary with the amount of land to cover. We hiked all the way to the top of the steep hillside and back down again making a full circle around the park. The sunshine and warm weather definitely made the experience that much better.

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On our last night, we took the kids out for dinner. We also met up with one of Marguerite’s friends from college who had been living in Barcelona. We had a lovely night and spent a lot of good time catching up.

I fell in love with Barcelona and I honestly can’t wait to go visit again. There was just something about the bright positivity of the city that I can’t resist. I highly recommend visiting if you ever have the chance.

Madrid, Spain

Beginning last November, my sister (Marguerite) and I started planning our yearly trip to Europe with two new additions to our group. My brother (Olson) and his girlfriend (Sam) decided to join us this summer, only to add more fun to our adventures. For the past few summers, my sister and I have traveled to the Netherlands in the short time period between school and summer camp to visit our family. As we’ve gotten older and more adventurous we have added countries to our trips, always experiencing new things and visiting friends abroad. This summer, we all decided to check Spain and Italy off our travel bucket lists. We had about a week and a half of travel, so we found four cities that piqued our interest the most, and started planning.

Our first city was Madrid, Spain. One of my best friends from boarding school lives there, so I used our trip as an excuse to go see her. Unfortunately, we didn’t plan our trip very well and we came right in the middle of her final exams, but we did get to see her for a bit. We didn’t do a whole lot of planning for Madrid, and weren’t really sure what we should be going to see. So a lot of our time was spent just wandering the streets.

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On our first night, after a bit of miscommunication and confusion with our AirBnB hosts, we finally arrived at our AirBnB and were ready for dinner. We were not fully acquainted with the cultural differences in Spain, and when we arrived at this restaurant at nearly 8 p.m. we were shocked to find out that they were not serving dinner yet. Luckily they opened just a few minutes later and we were able to have our first true Spanish meal. This place was recommended by our AirBnB hosts, and it was absolutely delicious, plus who couldn’t turn down a restaurant with such an appealing look! We ended the night with a stroll around and a first taste of Madrid, as well as a cone of gelato before making our way back to the apartment.

 

The next morning, after a bit of research, we decided to visit the train station, the The Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, and Plaza Mayor. These things were all relatively close to our apartment, and we were able to knock out all of these sights before noon.

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We were starting to get a bit hungry and were looking for a place to rest for a minute. Knowing that Spain is known for its churros, we found the Chocolatería San Ginés which just happens to be one of the most famous spots for churros in Madrid! I definitely recommend stopping by and getting yourself some churros here. Also, the hot chocolate is a necessity for the churros, and no, it isn’t like American hot chocolate. Haha.

 

After a quick churros break, we headed back onto the streets, looking for Puerta De Sol. I think we were all a bit overwhelmed by the crowds (we are used to the quiet Appalachian mountains) to fully enjoy Puerta de Sol, and we decided to do a little shopping on the back streets of Madrid after that.

After some shopping and walking around all day, we were tired so we headed back to our AirBnB to take a quick rest before having dinner with my friend Sandra.

 

At around 8, we met up with Sandra, and had tapas at a restaurant I can no longer remember the name of. It was so nice getting to see her again after two years, and having someone who actually spoke Spanish to be our translator. Our limited Spanish was getting us by, but it was nice to have that person to actually know what was going on.

We realized after expressing our disappointment with Madrid with her, that we had not gotten a true experience of Madrid. I am definitely eager to go back and visit the city with a bit more knowledge and preparation. I would say that one day is definitely not enough time to truly experience a city, and I will definitely be making another trip.

The next morning though we were hopping on a train to Barcelona and our time in Madrid had come to an end. If you are planning on taking a trip to Madrid, definitely plan to have a few days to explore the city. We only saw a small section of the city, and unfortunately that section of the city wasn’t quite what we were expecting.

Mini NC Adventure: Rough Ridge

Rough Ridge is definitely one of the most popular hikes around the Boone area of North Carolina, and after visiting, I can see why. There are few other hikes that are as short yet rewarding as this one. While the climb can be a bit treacherous, the views from the top are amazing.

The trailhead is located on the Grandfather Mountain section of the Blue Ridge Parkway at mile marker 302.8. There is a pretty decent sized parking lot at the trailhead, and both times I have gone, the parking lot didn’t fill up. But I can imagine that during the summer and fall, it would be hard to find a space.

The hike all the way to the top is just under a mile, but if you wanted a shorter hike, you could definitely stop at boardwalk that has been built about 1/3 of a mile up. The boardwalk was built to protect the fragile vegetation that grows on the rocks, and hikers are required to stay on the boardwalk. The summit is another 1/2 of a mile up, and the views just keep getting better and better. Along the way to the summit you will find a rock jutting out which is a famous spot for photos. Be careful on the rock though. While photos make it look a bit more daredevilish, there is still quite a drop to the ground if you were to slip and fall. After just a bit more hiking, you will reach the summit at 4,773 feet.

From the summit you can see views of Grandfather Mountain, the Linn Cove Viaduct, and miles and miles of beautiful mountain scenery. There is a cable to help you get to the highest rock as it is pretty steep, but you don’t want to miss the views from the top there. You feel like you are on top of the world. There are several rock outcroppings to sit and enjoy the views which would be perfect for a little picnic on a sunny day.

The hike is an in-and-out trail, so once you have soaked up all of the views, just turn around and go back down the way you came up. There are more trails that connect to this one and is part of the larger, 13 mile Tanawha Trail and Mountains-to-Sea trail.

I have only enjoyed this hike in the winter, I can imagine that the colors are spectacular in the fall while the leaves are changing or in the spring and summer when the mountains are full and green. I’d also love to go back for a sunset when I can imagine the sky lights up a beautiful shade of pink and ends the night with a fade to purple and blue. I will definitely be visiting Rough Ridge again in the near future.

After exploring this trail with my dog, I read that dogs are not actually allowed on this trail. Pets are prohibited to protect the fragile and vulnerable plant community and keep it in tact. So, I would not recommend bringing your fluffy friend along with you especially if you are planning to hike on a potentially busy day. No one actually said anything to me, but I had the feeling I might be doing something wrong when I realized that no one else had a dog on the trail, something that doesn’t often happen.

I strongly urge you to test this hike out if you have not already. You could not ask for better views for such a quick hike, and if mountains are what you love, this hike is for you.

 

When you travel with your sister

When you travel with your sister, you argue, you make up, and you come back stronger than ever.

I couldn’t imagine a better travel buddy than my sister. Although, I’m still surprised by how well we travel together. With two years between us, my sister and I have always been pretty close. Growing up, I would follow her every move, trying to be just like her — I can distinctively remember her rolling her eyes when I tried to convince her to wear a matching outfit. She has always been there for me, teaching me the ways of middle and high school, taking the brunt of responsibility, and being the person I could run to when things went wrong. Despite our different personalities, we are always there for each other.
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Our personalities perfectly balance out each other. She is a planner. She likes to know what time we’re leaving, where we’re going, how we’re getting there. I’m more impulsive. I see something interesting and its all I can keep my mind on, I just want to go… do. She is organized, and has all of our travel details written down, always available. I’m easy going and will go along with any plans that are made. I calm her down when we’re running a bit late, and she always knows what to say to cheer me up.

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We share an appreciation of experiencing a city like a local, and would rather get a coffee in a local cafe than get sucked into all of the tourist traps of a particular location. We know what each other like, and make sure that we both get what we want out of our trip. I know that she collects shot glasses, and I collect playing cards, and we have both accepted the fact that we will not leave a country until we have added to our collections.

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After traveling for two summers with my sister, I can say that we have never been closer. I understand and appreciate her more deeply that I ever have. I’ve learned to love all of the little things that used to annoy me, like how she hates going into grocery stores alone, or how silly and touchy-feely she gets with a few drinks in her. Together we’ve learned how to navigate in foreign countries, tried all sorts of local cuisine, and seen some incredible sights. These experiences, both good and bad, have pushed us together as we learned and figured things out with each other.

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Together we are a stronger travel team, and I’m so glad that I have her by my side, whether we’re rushing to catch a connecting flight, exploring a city for the first time, or shopping at the Albert Heijn in Boxtel. When you travel with your sister, you are reminded just how much you love her.

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Mini NC Adventure: Upper Creek Falls

This spring break lead me to a wonderful new hike to another gorgeous waterfall in North Carolina. After two long months in Raleigh, I was ready to get outdoors, in the mountains, and surround myself with nature for a bit. After searching around the interwebs for some new hikes, I found this hike and immediately had the urge to go. The hike in and out wasn’t long and I can’t wait to go back in the summer and possibly swim in the smaller falls.

The falls are located in the Pisgah National Forest along NC Highway 181 near the small community of Jonas Ridge. I was driving to the falls from Pineola and found the trailhead on my left after driving for about 7.5 miles. You can see a Pisgah National Forest sign from the road, that leads you to a pretty decent size parking lot.

 

The hike was a loop hike, and you could choose to see the lower or the upper falls individually as well. I started with the upper falls, (although, for a less strenuous hike, I would recommend starting with the lower falls). The hike down to the upper falls was not too bad. Despite it being so close to the highway, I found that after a few minutes of hiking, you felt completely immersed in the Pisgah National Forest. The trail is full of rocks and roots, so be careful of your footing on your way down.

Once you have made it down to Upper Creek, you will find a wooden bridge that leads you down to creek. I wandered around for a bit trying to see what I could at the upper falls. To get across the creek you have to rock hop, but I found that the hop-able rocks were easy to get across. When you get to the other side you can walk out to the top of the falls and try to get a glimpse over the falls. I would not suggest getting too close to the edge, especially if the rocks are wet or you don’t feel sturdy on your own two feet. One slip, and the fall would be lethal. But the large open rocks would be perfect picnic spots on a sunny afternoon.

After crossing the creek, you will find a campsite with a trail leading you to the lower falls. There are a few other herd paths that lead you further up the creek, but it is obvious which one leads you to the bottom of the falls. There are several different herd paths that lead to the bottom of the falls, and after viewing several other photos from the falls, I’m not sure if I took the right one, but it was beautiful nonetheless.

After spending a few minutes chilling at the bottom of the falls, I hiked back up and out of the gorge. Again, you have to rock hop across the creek, but then its up, up, up to the parking lot. I am not the biggest fan of switchbacks, and found the hike out tiresome, but well worth the waterfall. As you hike back up to the parking lot, you will find a large boulder jutting out of the ground and it looked like climbers had already put anchors on the rock. If I could boulder, I definitely would have stopped here and had a little climb before finishing the hike out. You can also climb onto the top of the boulder from the back and find a slightly terrifying view of the creek below.

The hike was not too long, about 1.7 miles, and perfect for a warm afternoon. Since you’re hiking down a gorge to the waterfall there is a loss (then gain) of about 500 feet.  The majority hike consists of switchbacks so its not too steep, but your calfs will still be burning on the way up. I can’t wait to go back and visit in the summer months and hopefully take a dip in the upper falls.

Here’s to Strong Women

This post was meant to go up yesterday, but a little bit of prolonged International Women’s Day celebration wont hurt anyone, right! I am so proud to live in a time when more and more women are stepping into the spotlight and breaking down barriers hundreds of years tall. I also feel incredibly lucky to know so many of these strong women.

I have been surrounded by wonderful and powerful women my whole life, and so many of these women have shaped me into who I am today. They have shown me that I can be anything I want to be and that I can do anything that I set my mind to. They have taught me that real women don’t drag each other down, but rather build each other up. They have taught me that there is no shame in standing up for myself or my beliefs, and that I should always be proud of the woman I am.

My Mom

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So much of who I am, I can thank my mother for. I don’t even know where to begin with how she has inspired me as a woman. She always pushed me to be the best I could be and believed in me when I didn’t even believe in myself. She has shown me the power of an open mind and an open heart, and taught me to always lend a hand when I had a hand to lend. She has changed so many lives, and her passion for literacy has inspired me greatly. Thank you mom for being such an incredible, strong, independent, and compassionate female role model. I’ll love you forever, I’ll like you for always, as long as I’m living, my mommy you’ll be.

Diana King

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Diana King has been like a second grandmother to me. She is a powerhouse and all around bad ass. At 89 years old, she is still chugging away like steam engine, doing crazy shenanigans like parasailing in Costa Rica and getting full shoulder tattoos. She has taught me to fearlessly pursue my passions, and always take time to enjoy the little things like the sounds of the birds singing, or the last few moments of a glorious sunrise. She has taught me that I can climb any mountain I have the nerve to climb.

My Oma

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My Oma has taught me how to be gentle and kind. She has taught me how to love unconditionally and to treat even the smallest of creatures with respect and care. She has the biggest heart of anyone I know, and I’m thankful to have a heart like hers in my life.

My Girls

I’ve got such an amazing group of girls in my life that have inspired me and continue to inspire me every day. They are all so passionate about their interests and always have the best advice, even when they may know its not what I want to hear. They all share such a love for life that is infectious, and I wouldn’t be half the woman I am today without you all by my side. (Special shout out to Jasmin G., Sandra H., Hannah M., Michelle L., Keikichi L., Kaela R., and Marianna V.)

J Ro

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When I think of strong, inspiring women, JRo is one of the first women I think of. She was so much more than an art teacher to me and I am so thankful for this teacher-turned-friend. She always encouraged me and supported me not only in my projects, but in my life as well. She has taught me to live without fear of other’s opinions, and to always be myself. She has shown me the power of an open mind and that our differences only make us stronger.

Ishani

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I have met Ishani quite recently, but already, her bubbly personality, and unmatchable love for life has inspired me greatly. In the year that I have known her, she has already taught me to be myself unapologetically and to never be ashamed of the things that excite me. She has shown me that you are only as old as you feel. Her simple love for the little things in life is infectious, and I couldn’t imagine a better partner for Roan Mountain sunrises.

Ellen

Ellen DeGeneres is someone that I have been watching for years, and she never fails to bring a smile to my face. She has such an incredible and kind heart and her motto, “Be kind to one another” has played a huge role in my life. She is definitely making a difference for women everywhere, and showing all of us how to lift each other up and live a life full of empathy. (Maybe one day I’ll have a photo with her.)

This is just a short list of all of the incredible women that inspire me each and every day. I hope that one day I will be as strong and independent as all of these women. I encourage you to take some time to think about all of the women who have had an impact on your life and thank them for being fearlessly themselves.

“Here’s to strong women. May we know them. May be them. May we raise them.”

The Person I Want to Be

When I look back over the last few years, I feel a sense of pride for who I have become. But I still find it so easy to fall in the trap of comparing myself to others. Comparing my accomplishments, my dreams, my work, myself, to those around me. I focus so much on the progress that I still have to make that I fail to see how far I’ve come, and how much I have grown.

The problem is, I don’t exactly know where I want to go, or who I want to be. So, I thought I would take this time to answer the question for myself:

“Who is the woman that I want to be?”

The woman I want to be is kind. She lends a hand without a second thought when she sees someone in need. She knows that everyone is going through their own troubles, and doesn’t let hers hinder her ability to spread her kindness. She starts every day with open arms and an open mind.

She is honest: with herself, with her friends, and with her future. She speaks the truth even if it makes her voice shake. She doesn’t let herself get away with the half-ass. She goes after things with full force, or not at all.

She is confident. She believes in the person she is and doesn’t let other’s influence her opinion of herself. She carries herself with a grace that is contagious. She doesn’t waste her time with those who undervalue her.

The woman I want to be chases her dreams without reservation. She asks for help when she needs it, but knows that she is capable of anything.

She is thoughtful. She lives her life with intent. Every relationship she forms adds value to her life. When she loves, she loves deeply, but she isn’t afraid to walk away from those who cross her.

She is fierce. She lets nothing stand in the way of of what she wants. She doesn’t lose sleep over opinions that do not matter. There is a warrior within her.

The woman I want to be is brave. She looks at the things that scare her in the face and says, “I see you. Move aside, you’re in my way.” She doesn’t let her fear stop her.

She is strong in her convictions. She speaks out for the things that she believes in, even when its tiresome, because its the right thing to do. She stands up for the people who can’t stand up for themselves, and encourages others to do the same.

She is unapologetically herself. She does not dare to dim her light in order to make others feel more comfortable. She is aware of the fact that she’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but refuses to water herself down to please people.

The woman I want to be is happy. She dances in her kitchen, in the grocery store, on mountain tops. She celebrates every triumph no matter how small. She takes life day by day and is thankful for all of the little things in life.

She is in love with the world around her. She makes a point to wake up before the world and watches the sun light up the mountain peaks. She walks… runs… drives up mountains past midnight just to feel closer to the stars. She treats the world with the respect that it has treated her with.

The woman I want to be is warrior, and I am working hard to become more like her every day.

World Travel Bucket List

I really enjoyed making my North America travel list, so I thought I’d follow it up with my all-time travel list. Some of these places have been on my list for a while now, and some are relatively new. Researching a few extra places to fill out the list got me super excited to travel and I’m ready for another adventure. Luckily, the siblings and I are headed over to Europe again this summer, but more on that later. I’ll fill you in on our plans when we have actually made plans. But for now, here’s my all-time travel list. Not listed by importance, just my memory.


1. Patagonia, Argentina

2. Bali, Indonesia

3. Banff National Park, Canada

4. Cape Town, South Africa

5. Copenhagen, Denmark

6. Machu Picchu, Peru

7. Road trip around Iceland

8. Greenland

9. Madagascar

10. Austrian Alps

11. Great Barrier Reef, Australia

12. Giant’s Causeway, Ireland

13. Glow Worm caves in New Zealand

14. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

15. Giraffe Manor in Nairobi

16. Santorini, Greece

17. Great Wall of China

18. Taj Mahal, India

19.Floating Lantern Festival, Thailand

20. Galapagos Islands

What’s on your list?

30 before 30

I’ve been thinking a lot about traveling recently. Maybe its a side effect of the February-funk, or just my inherent desire to be constantly moving around. Nevertheless, I’ve been thinking about all of the places I want to go in North America and how many of those places I haven’t been to. So, I decided to make a list of the top 30 places I want to visit before I’m 30. I limited myself to just North America, because it seems a bit more manageable than trying to achieve my whole world travel list. I’ve only got 10 years to do it, but I think I can get to all of these places. Hopefully at least. I think you’ll find an underlying theme of mountains, and National Parks. What can I say, I’m a sucker for fresh air and forests.

1.Portland, Oregon

2. Road trip Big Sur, California

3. New Orleans, Louisiana

4. Salt Lake City, Utah

5. Denver, Colorado

6. Mount Rushmore, South Dakota

7. Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

8. Crater Lake, Oregon

9. Seattle, Washington

10. Zion National Park, Utah

11. Mount Rainier National Park, Washington

12. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

13. Yosemite National Park, California

14. Rocky Mountains National Park, Colorado

15. Grand Canyon, Arizona

16. Four Corners: Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah

17. Niagara Falls

18. Multnomah Falls, Oregon

19. Glacier National Park, Montana

20. Devils Tower, Wyoming

21. Antelope Canyon, Arizona

22. Boston, Massachusetts

23. Hoover Dam, Nevada

24. Emerald Lake, Canada

25. Lake Abraham, Canada

26. Morraine Lake, Canada

27. Banff National Park, Canada

28. Vancouver, Canada

29. Northern Lights from Greenland or Canada

30. Jasper National Park, Canada

I encourage you to make your own list, even if it is only a few places. Inspire yourself to travel more and explore this wonderful world of ours.

Do we share any of the same places on our travel wish list?artboard-1artboard-1