The Reluctant Segway Tour

So Segways, huh? Is there a more comical mode of transporation? How much do you chuckle when you see a mall security guard cruising down corridors on one. Or a group of people taking a city tour on Segways, with their helmets and fanny packs securely fastened to their bodies. What is wrong with walking? Or riding a bicycle? Well, I decided long ago you will never catch ME on a Segway.

This plan of mine was foolproof until my mom decided to plan a surprise outing for me before Andrew and I flew back to England. No big deal. The name of the game is choose adventure, after all. As long as it didn’t involve snakes, bungee jumping, or walking across a terrifyingly tall bridge, I’m cool with a surprise adventure. I saw a local Groupon deal for zip lining, and assumed it was that. Or horseback riding, because my mom loves doing that. Pssht, you can’t surprise me, I thought. I decided for sure it had to be zip lining.

It was not zip lining. It was the very thing I never wanted to do. As the car navigated downtown Winston-Salem and then into a parking lot, I glanced at my surroundings and noticed the words Gliding Tours on the window. Immediately, I shuddered, knowing that meant a Segway tour. I turned to Andrew, seated next to me in the back seat, and gave him quite the disapproving look. He was in on this little secret, and I’ve more than once made him aware of how silly I think Segways are. He only laughed at me in response.

I pouted for a few solid minutes, and then sucked it up enough to meet our tour guide, Joey. I stepped onto my Segway, and he complemented my fabulous balance. Well played, Joey. Flattery always lightens the mood. I got the hang of it quickly, and was soon doing circles around Andrew standing next to his Segway in the parking lot.

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^^ see? circles.

My mom, Larry, Andrew, and I set out on our two-hour guided tour with Joey. He took us through old Salem and around much of downtown Winson-Salem, many areas of which I had not yet been. My mood quickly went from pouty to sheepish enjoyment. I realized how much ground you can cover in a short time on a Segway tour. Plus, without a doubt, what made this tour most pleasing was the abundance of information Joey provided us with. We learned about new apartments, restaurants, and businesses being constructed. He made numerous recommendations about which cafes and restaurants to hit up. We learned that the RJ Reynolds Building completed in 1929 was actually the design inspiration for the famous Empire State Building in Manhattan. Who would have thought? Each of us peered through the locked entry doors to the vacant building, and immediately could see the ornate decorative similarities between the two buildings.

For my mom and Larry being relatively new to the city, and for Andrew and I on an extended visit, Joey’s narration was so perfectly informative. To this day, Andrew and I are still interviewing cities and potential places to live, and Joey’s detailed information about Winston-Salem was exactly the data we are both desperate to learn about each place we visit. Winston-Salem is rapidly expanding and being rejuvenated. Old Hanes clothing and Reynolds Tobacco factory buildings are being converted into loft apartments. New Wake Forest collegiate & Baptist hospital research buildings are going up downtown. It seems like now is the time to settle here and buy cheap, before the boom this city is surely to face. Hearing all this reaffirmed my mom’s decision to move here after living her entire life in New York State.

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^^ Joey, the tour guide extraordinaire

I can only hope all Segway guides are as friendly, easy-going, and as informative as Joey. He clearly loves leading guests on tours. Another thing we liked was each of us had an earbud & small radio hooked up to Joey’s microphone for the entire tour. This allows you to hear him whether you are directly behind him or the last one in the pack. The only constructive suggestion I have is that they may want to consider reducing the tour from 2 hours to 90 minutes, tops. The four of us agreed the last twenty to thirty minutes made our tour a bit too long. Plus our particular tour began at 5pm and we were all starving and ready to grab dinner by 6:30, satisfied by everything we’d seen to that point.

I clearly misjudged how fun it can be to do a city tour via Segway. And I hate to be wrong! They are very easy to use, at any age. Although I still think they look ridiculous, the Segway tour was positively an enjoyable way to cruise around and get to know a new city.

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^^ I mean, let’s be honest about the dork factor here

Thanks to Joey and Revolution Gliding Tours for a fun evening. You can check out their website here and facebook page here. And thanks to my mom for not surprising me with snakes.

Have you ever done a Segway tour?

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An Afternoon at the Ballpark

Sunday morning didn’t start out looking like the most glorious of days. It was cloudy and cool from the breeze. Thus, we were late to make any plans. The afternoon rolled around, the sun started to come out from behind the clouds, and around 1:25pm I remembered there was a 2pm ballgame at BB&T ballpark nearby between the Winston-Salem Dash and the Wilmington Blue Rocks. Andrew and I quickly hopped in the car and off we went to find parking and cheap tickets for the game.

Now, I’ve been a fan of baseball what feels like my entire life. However, truth be told, the last several years living in Seattle and having to endure excruciating Mariners games has nearly extinguished this admiration. I just lost interest, and for me it practically turned into what so many MLB-haters refer to as “a boring sport.” I can’t even recall the last time I watched a Yankees or other MLB ballgame on television, something I had previously done with such eagerness. I only went to maybe one or two Mariners games last year after Opening Day, which is pathetic in comparison to my attendance prior years. But the thing is, this year I’m willing to keep at it and go to a game here and there in efforts to rekindle that love.

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I am still fairly new to this city I’m currently inhabiting – I’ve only been in Winston-Salem for two months visiting my mom before returning to the UK – so I haven’t quite managed to find all the best hidden free parking spots. I would have laughed at the thought of paying for parking in Seattle to watch a game. Finding a free parking spot near the stadium when driving to a game after work just became part of the routine. But this time, when I failed to find any non-zoned or unlimited-time parking ((seriously, W-S, can’t you find it in your big heart to make Sunday exceptions??)), I handed over $5 to the attendant at one of the stadium parking lots. I will not be entirely defeated! Next time I swear I will find a free spot on the street if it takes me an hour.

Andrew paid the $14 for our 2 lawn tickets to the game and we entered into lovely BB&T ballpark, home to the Dash since 2010. The majority of seats were vacant, and even the lawn area and beer garden were lacking patrons. I sat at a table in the outfield beer garden with my clear plastic cup of Carolina Blonde, puzzled at such a low attendance. It was to be a mostly sunny & 60-something degree Sunday afternoon, so why aren’t more families here? The kids can even run around the bases after the game. Is it always like this on Sundays? Does the stadium see a better turnout other days? Is it too early in the season for fans to flock to the park? Are people too involved in their church communities on Sunday? This is the Bible Belt, after all.

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Maybe baseball just isn’t an important thread in people’s lives around here like it is mine. I can no longer enter a ballpark without reminiscing about my 2005 summer internship with the Hudson Valley Renegades, a NY-Penn League minor league team. I had just finished up five years of classes at three different collegiate institutions, the last being SUNY Cortland where I majored in Sport Management. All that was left for my completed degree was an internship for credit. The Gades hired me as their Merchandising Intern, and shortly after the semester commenced, I moved into a tiny studio apartment in Fishkill, NY, anxious to begin what would turn out to be an incredibly memorable summer, spent mostly at the ballpark.

I was 23 years old, and this gig was pretty much a dream come true for me because the last couple years of college, I decided I would use my degree to work in baseball. It would be the first time I lived alone. It would be my first non-retail job, even though it kind of was because much of my days were spent stocking/restocking the team store and game day kiosks. I was a true adult, all on my own, to make my own decisions.

The hours were long, since on game days I would be at the stadium between 8 and 9 in the morning, and wouldn’t return home until after 11pm or even midnight to get some sleep before repeating that exact schedule the remainder of that particular homestand. I tried my best to make a memorable impression on everyone that worked there. I would do practically anything asked of me. One time I was even suckered into dressing up as one of the big fuzzy raccoon mascots for an appearance at a nearby Walmart when the usual person backed out at the last minute. By the way, I’m so glad there’s no photographic evidence of this.

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Some of my favorite times that summer were when many of us front office employees would head out to nearby bars after the games for some pitchers of beer and/or shots. That’s when we could let loose and really get to know each other. Ok, I may have also hung out with a few trainers and players at the bars also, but we’ll keep that our little secret. Another one of the interns that year, Angela, and I became fast pals, and even remain friends to this day ((I stayed with her during my recent visit to NYC!)). Some people from that summer I have since lost contact with and wonder where they are now, but most I follow via various social media sites like Facebook.

As the season and my internship came to a close, I ended up not accepting the job offered to me to stay at the Renegades, and would move back home that winter, and then ultimately to Seattle the following summer where the rest is history. It was certainly the lowest paying, most demanding, longest-days, work hard play hard job I’ve ever had, but it was without a doubt the most fun. And trust me, fun is what Minor league baseball is all about. From the silly contests and games that are played between innings, to the mascot dancing on the dugout, daily giveaways and Friday night fireworks after home games. Baseball is the heartbeat of an American summer. The individual tickets to a minor league game are extremely reasonable, ranging from $7 lawn seats to $15 for infield box seats at BB&T. So come on, Winston-Salem! Come out and support your local team whenever you can. Bring the family or a couple of friends, sunglasses or a hat, and a blanket if you’ll be grabbing a lawn seat. The stadium employees are working hard to ensure you have an experience worth returning for, and the players are trying to make their way up to the majors. Summer will be over before we know it, and you’ll be wishing you’d been to a game. I know I am already browsing to schedule to find another game to attend in late May, to see if maybe, just maybe, that old persistent love of mine for this classic sport will return for good.

You can find the Dash schedule here, and directions to the ballpark here.

**In a rush to get to the ballpark, we regrettably forgot the Sony camera, and therefore the photos in the post were taken with Andrew’s Nokia Lumia cell phone.

Have you ever been to a minor league baseball game before? What was most memorable for you?

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Sarlat : A photo essay

Known as the Périgord Noir, Sarlat-la-Canéda ((simply referred to as Sarlat)) is situated in the Dordogne département of southwest France. Sarlat was developed around a Benedictine Abbey and became prosperous in the 8th Century.

As evident in the photos, much of the center of Sarlat depicts the 14th century town it once was. This preservation is thanks in part for being somewhat removed from mainstream southern France, as well as a massive restoration project that began in the 1960s.

As I was editing and uploading the photos, I couldn’t help but notice the remarkable monochromatic theme. Sarlat is a gem to explore and photograph, even on a rainy January day.

Come saunter through captivating Sarlat

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Ten Things You May Not Know About Long-Term Travel

Are you curious about what it is really like to take off on long-term travel? Many bloggers paint a picture of an ideal life full of sunshine and happy moments, which can definitely brighten your day while reading & make you forget about your boring everyday non-adventures. While I respect and appreciate keeping things positive instead of listing off a bunch of complaints or negative ranting, I think it is equally important to be truthful about the difficult times. That keeps it real, and reminds your readers and yourself that you are human.

Here is a list of ten things you may be surprised to learn about long-term travel, from my experience.

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You will probably gain weight. I already have a massive love/weakness for great food, so leaving a routine work schedule behind means eating whenever the urge arises. Being away from your own kitchen and favorite food shops can have pros ((trying new things, tasting local flavors, and not least – loved ones cooking delicious meals for you!)) and cons ((settling for what you can find, and consistently overeating)). Plus, you know how when you’re on vacation and say “Oh I suppose I can eat whatever, I’m on vacation.” Well, imagine several months of this attitude and whoopsie, you’re 10-15 pounds heavier. Is there a formal term for the freshman-15 equivalent of long-term travel weight gain? If not, I’ll get to working on one.

From time to time, you miss a regular routine. When I was longing to be out traveling, the normal everyday routine seemed like THE worst thing ever. I couldn’t wait to escape it. But ironically when I do not have any sort of routine, at times I miss the familiarity of a regular schedule. The grass is always greener and whatnot.

Not every day is the highest of highs. I thought being on this adventure would bring me immense happieness. And it has. But there are still days when I have moments of sadness, confusion, bitchiness, negativity, etc. This nomadic life is unchartered territory for most people before they set out on what can be an incredible journey. I think it is pretty normal to have days where you are sad about nothing specific, or about missing your family, missing out on a special occasion back home, or just feeling a bit lonely. It didn’t help that I’m traveling through the tough winter months that are so good at bringing me down. Some of my personal goals of this adventure included being more positive and living in the moment, both of which I’m still working towards, no matter what season!

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You will never have enough money. No matter how big our Excel spreadsheet of budgeting and planning was prior to departure, especially going to Europe, I should have taken all the estimates and doubled them. And it still may not be enough. I suppose you can comply to a rigid budget and stay in hostels when not with family, but honestly, being in my 30s, I feel too old & snobby for both those things. If we had saved more money and delayed our travels, perhaps life would have gotten in the way and maybe it wouldn’t have happened. We saved what we could and left when the timing was optimal, which has helped us make the best of our situation. Although I still want to visit so many more places, we have gone and done what we wanted to do in the moment, and spent money when we wanted to. You just have to do what works for you and understand that the money will run out quicker than anticipated.

Simultaneously, you will throw vanity straight out the window and also have a heightened appreciation for your hairstylist/esthetician/expensive products which you just bid farewell to in order to travel. You have no idea how much I miss the ladies in Seattle that kept me feeling pretty with regularly scheduled haircuts, color, styling, facials and waxing. Of course I could still get these things taken care of on the road, but it is never as high quality as with the ladies I’ve built a relationship with over the past several years. Plus, getting your haircut or your eyebrows waxed aren’t exactly a high priority in times of adventure and trying to use every penny on actual travel.

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Contradictory to the above, you will also start to care about your appearance before starting your day. It is hard to be in England or the rest of Europe and not notice that people take care in how they look and dress. Most do not leave home in sweats, pajamas, or workout clothes, even to just go to the local shop. While I wasn’t always wearing a full face of makeup or sporting a fresh hair color, I still tried to put my best outfit together for the day ahead while in Europe. Being less of a slob is a simple lesson to learn from the fashinable Europeans, but one that can easily brighten your whole day.

You will consistently be thinking about where your next destination should be. This includes obsessively checking flights on Kayak, accommodation on hotels.com and airbnb, scouring other blogs or photo sharing sights like Instagram to get ideas of where to visit next. This is obviously not isolated to only full-time travelers; I definitely spent a lot of minutes day-dreaming about my next trip before leaving my job and belongings in Seattle, but the planning mode is certainly amplified when traveling & choosing adventure is the prime agenda.

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Every decision of every day during your travels is entirely yours to make, without much outside influence. When else can you wake up and do practically ANYTHING you want? This is the time to say “yes” to every activity which peaks your interest. You get to do things you’ve always wanted to do most of all because the opportunity may not pass this way again.

Taking a long-term travel break can actually recharge your zest to return to work and routine life. Before we departed, my husband would tell people he is ‘readdressing the work/life balance, heavily in favor of life.’ I loved this description so much, and we have both found that a healthy break has made us feel amped about finding a new place to live, new jobs, and getting back to our domestic life. That is, of course, until we have saved up again and decide to take another year to travel.

No matter the difficulties or stresses you face, the invaluable experience is entirely worth it. I pinned something to my Pinterest the other day that said We must take adventures in order to know where we truly belong. Heavy, eh? Trust me on this point. Stepping away from a comfortable life of a good income, routine in order to set out for several months of travel can surprise and enrich your life in so many ways. Take a chance, and go for it. There is no better way to learn about other cultures as well as yourself. And if you are traveling with your spouse like I am, adventures allow you to you grow young together and grow closer than you could ever anticipate.

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A Day in Cambridge

Why has it taken me this long to post about one of my most favorite places in England? I have no idea, and quite frankly, feeling a tad embarrassed about it. Without further delay, I’d like to show you this richly historic and easily adored city, just fifty miles north of London. Of course, I’m talking about Cambridge.

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If London is the impossibly attractive sister that everyone loves and wants to be around day and night, Cambridge is the quieter, smarter, likable sister that you eventually realize might possibly be even more appealing than you originally thought.

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Based in Stansted Mountfitchet with Andrew’s parents during my time in England, I was little more than twenty miles away from Cambridge, so it has always been my go-to day trip destination for wandering around the shops and the old, narrow streets, gazing at the impressive architecture. Most times, Andrew & I would hit up the same places and eat the same lunch, but every once in a while, we’d split up and I would wander down some walkways I had never noticed before. Or we’d make a plan together to avoid stores and just explore and photograph Cambridge for its simplistic beauty.

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Home to what is now called the University of Cambridge and its thirty-one colleges, it is difficult not to notice students galore as you wander around Trinity Street, King’s Parade, or Trumpington Street. The thousands of students make up about 20% of the population of Cambridge. Until 1872, that student population was solely male. Of course there are a plethora of names like Newton, Darwin, and Hawking who are known notably as Cambridge Alumni and called this place home. One very recognizable current student is none other than Prince William, who is currently taking agriculture classes, and no, my efforts to stalk him ((research, obviously)) did not prove fruitful. Unfortunately.

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If you are spending any significant amount of time in London or the southeast of England, you must make it a point to spend a day in Cambridge. I highly recommend a weekday visit, if possible. I promise you will fall in love with Cambridge. London is the obvious destination for most Anglophiles, and with excellent reason. But Cambridge will truly surprise you.

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Here are my suggestions for a day spent in Cambridge…

GETTING THERE
Arriving by car: if you plan to spend the full day in Cambridge, I suggest utilizing the park and ride at Trumpington for £2.60 per person ((round trip)) shuttle to and from the John Lewis store in the Grand Arcade.
If you are spending just a couple of hours and don’t mind the hefty parking charge, go ahead and park in the Grand Arcade parking, located centrally. ((TIP: park at the very top of the upper level garage for an awe-inspiring panoramic view of the city))
Arriving by train: the Cambridge train station is located on Station Road, and takes about 20 minutes to get into town on foot.

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THINGS TO DO
Punting on the River Cam: taking a ride down the river on a punting boat in Cambridge is itself an institution. My in-laws even had a romantic date punting down the river early in their courtship! Relax on a 45 minute chauffeured public tour of the backs of the colleges for £12.50 from Scudamore’s ((purchased online; £16.50 at the dock kiosk)), or if you are feeling ambitious, take out your own private boat ((£22 per hour)). Either way, punting is a must-do while in Cambridge.
Walk until your feet hurt: wander the streets of Cambridge until you’re lost. There are so many photogenic buildings, chuches, nooks & crannies to appreciate. Cross over one of the bridges and walk behind the colleges, along the river for a peaceful stroll. If you prefer an organized walking tour, there are several guided versions to choose from here.
Check out a show at the Corn Exchange: plan your visit to Cambridge around an evening show at the Corn Exchange. Everything from comedians to bands to plays are presented at this venue.
Shopping: glorious shopping. My personal favorite stores like John Lewis, Fopp, Paperchase, Dogfish, Lush, Cath Kidson, Bank, TK Maxx, Next, and so many more can all be found in Cambridge. It’s like shopping in London, only better because you omit the stress and craziness of such a big city. Although, like anywhere, holiday shopping in Cambridge on a weekend can drive anyone bananas.
Browse the stalls at one of the markets: Open 10-4 Monday through Saturday, I recommend the Cambridge General Market. Vendors offer a wide variety of goods from fresh fruit, books, music, etc., located, in the square on Market Street and rather hard to miss.

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^^ a cheesy iPhone app famous artist’s rendition of my first time punting down the river

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THINGS TO EAT
For quick meals on the go: grab a hot sausage from the Hot Sausage Company, a cart usually located on the sidewalk opposite Monsoon & Scribbler stores on Market Street. My fave is the regular sausage with onion relish and chopped onions, with a thin line of mustard on top.
If you prefer vegetarian fare: skip just down Market Street to the Taste of Cambridge cart, or what I refer to simply as the falafel cart ((open Wednesday through Saturday, and now some Tuesdays according to their facebook page)). My favorite is the Garden Falafel with regular chickpea falafel, sauced mildly. Such fresh ingredients and a crispy pita that makes me salivate just thinking about it.
For a sweet treat: head to Fitzbillies on Trumpington for a sticky Chelsea bun, and then thank me later ((as I am still thanking my father-in-law for telling me about this treat)). Oh, and be sure to eat it warm if at all possible.
For a sit-down meal: head to Jamie’s Italian ((as in Jamie Oliver)) and order just about anything. I know his restaurants have become somewhat of a chain status in England, but the ambiance and food at the Cambridge location are fabulous.

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^^ and to quote my husband “do not walk past this cart without getting yourself a sausage. EVER.”

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THINGS TO PHOTOGRAPH
Bikes galore: biking in Cambridge is more popular than cars. You can see dozens of bikes leaned up against every square inch of fencing near the shops and colleges, which makes for a great photo.
Buildings galore: from Kings College to Trinity Church, there is more than enough architecture to appreciate through your camera lens. I dare you to find a square inch ((or metre!)) of Cambridge that is not photogenic. Explore!
Postboxes and phone booths: Maybe they aren’t such a novelty to Britons, but I just love coming across these iconic red structures. I’ve even spotted side-by-side postboxes from two different reigns of the monarchy.
Bridges over the River Cam: you’ll spot seven bridges that cross over the river in Cambridge. One of them, a wooden bridge, was fabled to be designed by Newton, and constructed without the use of nuts and bolts. What is factual, according to history, is the bridge was built originally in 1749 and rebuilt twice while still keeping the original mathematical configuration.

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And if the weather isn’t cooperating, or simply when all else fails, tuck inside a 16th Century pub and treat yourself to a pint, or three.

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What is your favorite thing to do in Cambridge?

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THE PLAN IS: there is no plan

What am I up to since I’ve been back in the US of A? And what happens from here? Well the first question, I can answer. While at my mom’s home just outside Winston-Salem, I’ve been meal planning; grocery shopping; cooking; going for walks; spending time with family in both NC and VA; watching dvds ((Dallas Buyers Club was really moving)); catching up on Girls Season 3; exploring the areas in/around Winston-Salem; dreaming about French baguettes and croissants; checking out books from the library and then not reading them; hanging out at Whole Foods and Camino Bakery A LOT; missing the UK and the Darbyshire fam; taking my mom to various appointments; refreshing Facebook/Instagram/Twitter feeds far too many times per day; and settling in enough to unpack my luggage & makeup bag. Oh, and also I turned 32 and celebrated 3 years of marriage to my darling husband.

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^^just one type of yummy goodness found at Camino

I thought I would rapidly get bored with being here. But surprisingly, I was wrong. Even though there’s been three snow/ice storms since my arrival, there have been even more gorgeous, sunny days reaching 60 degrees and above. I need sunshine in my life, and since I’m getting a decent amount of it here, I figure there are worse places I could be. It has been a good mix of being at my mom’s home and venturing out to do errands or grab lunch.

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^^already besties with the local Whole Foods via Twitter…no big deal

This area of North Carolina feels artsy and somewhat hip, with a fun downtown area full of theaters, restaurants, cafes, bars. But there are also chain favorites like Trader Joes, Costco, World Market, H&M, Target, etc. to provide my consumer fix. I’m well within day-trip proximity to places like Charlotte, Raleigh, and Asheville. Also, coastal Wilmington and lovely Richmond, VA are close enough for weekend visits. I’d love to get to Charleston, SC while I’m so closeby – I hear it is incredibly charming. My mom tells me there are dozens of state parks near W-S, and I am excited to explore some of them in the coming weeks when the weather is ideal for a hike where I don’t get mud up to my knees.

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^^a cinema downtown that shows great independent films & documentaries

So, what’s next? Honestly I’m unsure. I do have a flight back to the UK mid-April for a few weeks for the wedding of my brother-in-law and his bride, which is sure to be an exceptional affair. I have a flexible return ticket from London to the US, which means I can fly back on whatever date and to whatever location I wish ((most likely for a fee, of course!)).

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^^fondue night!!

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^^special days with family are everything

I find it kind of exhilarating to sit and ponder where it is I want to live once it is time to settle back in the US. And trust me, I ponder it often. Looking back at all the photos from the road trip across the USA fills me with immense happiness. We visited some truly great places, and I can’t help but reconsider which of those places I can see myself living. I love Boston for many reasons; one being proximity to family and friends. But I do not love a snowy, freezing cold winter. And that is all Bostonians ((and much of the Northeast)) have felt for the past four + months. Plus: traffic. No thanks. I love the year-round sunny weather in San Diego, but would I miss the seasons? I love Austin, but would living in Texas feel right? Where would I road trip to? Would I feel somewhat land-locked? I could see us living in Richmond, but would we miss major league sports?

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^^yes, that is coastal Carolina in Feb

So really, at this point, the plan is there is no plan. And the majority of my days, I’m actually cool with it. I know we will eventually end up in a place that feels right and suits us. I also know that now, more than ever, Andrew and I have to be smart about our spending because we aren’t sure how long it will need to last us. Which will be the ultimate struggle because we both dislike restraining from consumption.

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^^need a hand?

I am trying to take & enjoy each day as it comes. Which is, perhaps, ironically how we should live our lives anyway. As if we have no detailed plan. Just focus on the day or week at hand. No reason to worry about what comes next, because the decision is mine/ours to make. Cheers to lessons abound in this year of adventure.

Could you live without a plan?

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Adoring Rocamadour

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Well, it is certainly about time I get back to writing and posting, eh?

After a two-week hiatus spent with my family, I finally feel inspired again to give this little blog some attention. I have not yet mastered writing a bunch of posts and then scheduling them well in advance, as many bloggers do. Each one of my posts is such a labor of love, that I feel I have to be in the moment, writing and focusing on one at a time.

So, without further delay, it is back to the alluring southwest France we go! Come along with me to Rocamadour.

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The sunniest day in France during my week-long visit in January was spent in medieval commune of Rocamadour, which is believed to be named after Saint Amadour. The setting is breathtaking, nestled in a gorge above one of the tributaries of the River Dordogne, which is a major focal point of Le Lot Département in the southwest of France.

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At the base of the town are numerous homes, restaurants, cafes and shops catering to the massive tourist population that descends upon Rocamadour in the summer months. Towards the center of the lower town, a large flight of steps guide you above the homes and cafes to religious attractions like the Notre Dame and a sanctuary of the Virgin Mary ((not me; the other one)).

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Rocamadour has been attracting pilgrims of all fame and age for centuries. It is said that many of these pilgrims climb the 216 steps on their knees as a symbol of penance, which I certainly did not attempt. Climbing them by foot was tiring enough!

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As it was very much off-season at the end of January, the four of us ((Andrew, his mum & dad and I)) were part of the handful of visitors that day. I think the workers making repairs to the steps and buildings easily outnumbered us. I don’t recall seeing any of the shops open, so we took our time, admiring the ancient buildings and the remarkable setting of this commune of Rocamadour. The views from both the climb and the top are truly sensational. Not to mention how incredibly photogenic this place is, especially when you stay long enough for the clouds to separate to display the bluest January sky I’ve ever seen.

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^^I am kind of good at making friends with random French cats

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Pilgrim or not; high season or off-season, Rocamadour is not to be missed. Climbing the umpteen ((and that IS a real word! I looked it up to confirm!)) steps and wandering down coved alleys and entering into dark, serene sanctuaries was nothing short of astounding. Every day of my return to France was spent equally puzzled and astonished at how such ancient structures have survived for so long. Granted, many of them have been rebuilt over the years and we never really know if any part of them are actually original. And yet here they are, welcoming you to their world and tempting you with thoughts of what they have seen and experienced.

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Which of the photos is your favorite from Rocamadour?

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Happy Anniversary – A Guest Blog.

Mary and I have spent the last 6 months traveling together on this great adventure we have been fortunate to embark on, visiting and experiencing many different places and cities, while being boundless in the world. We’ve been free to make decisions on where we want to go and what we want to be doing at any given time, the freedom to not feel constrained or rushed. Even with a plan, we didn’t have to be anywhere or do anything we didn’t want. We could change our minds and deviate from our course. We had the choice; the choices were not being made for us. And it has been an adventure. Something that can never be taken away or changed. Through all the cities and states, countries and continents we have visited, we have gained memories, had fun, seen the sights, taken tons of pictures and made top 3 lists for each day, week and month (top 3 highs of the trip, Mary?).

We were so right to do this. So lucky to get the chance and so fortunate to be in a position to direct our own lives the way we wanted them to go while we could. With all this amazing opportunity being realised, the best part of all of it hasn’t been the adventure or the discoveries, it hasn’t been the time away from work or lack of worries or stresses, it hasn’t been the living the life on the road, sleeping in tents, hotels or on couches. It hasn’t been the food or the drink we have gorged our way through. Nor the cities, towns, villages or hamlets we have passed through, or the coast lines, deserts or mountains that have surrounded us. Not the skyscrapers or trees vaulting up into the sky around us, the rivers and lakes reflecting the world around them, the silence of the forest, or roar at a sports game. It’s not the sun shining on our faces on the beach, or the rain flooding us into our car in the city. It hasn’t been the campfires, sleeping bags or multitudes of beds we have slept in. It’s not been the car rides, trains or planes we have travelled in. It’s not. For all they are worth and as amazing as they all are it’s really been one defining thing that has made everything so good. It’s been my partner. It’s been the fact that I’ve been with my best friend the whole time, side by side, right there smiling, laughing and holding my hand. You’ve been my warmth, my laughter, my thoughts, my love, my life, and you always will be. And that is what I am so happy about for this journey. Long may it continue, wherever it takes us next.
Mary & Andrew forever.

Andrew Darbyshire

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My Favorite Blogs

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Before I post more about my recent trip to France, I thought it might be an ideal time to share with you the other blogs I frequently get sucked into read. If you are currently snowed in like me ((seriously…in western NC? this is bs)), you may need to step away from the same old draining television programs or Spotify/Pandora/Rhapsody playlists and dive into some great blogs.

I had no idea the blogging world was so expansive, particularly travel blogging. There is a massive community of people writing about their part-time and full-time travels. I became really inspired for my own recent adventure by spending hours and hours browsing these superb blogs. Not to mention, I’ve learned a number of valuable tips from the blogosphere, like what credit/debit cards to have while traveling overseas ((for the record, Capital One for credit card and Charles Schwab for debit)), and that 2005 was a really good year for wine. Spending money and drinking wine are two of my best talents, so you can imagine my elation when learning these important tidbits.

Not only do I frequently browse travel blogs, but I can also be found checking out any number of food blogs, as well as blogs about people’s every day life. It is kind of brave to put your life out there for others to read about, but if you love to write and tell your story, it can seem like the most natural thing to do. I think the really good bloggers find a way to be completely honest and comfortably share what they feel most passionate about.

Below are some of my favorites. Cozy up with a blanket, warm beverage, and give them a look. Who knows, maybe you will find some unexpected inspiration in your life!

TRAVEL BLOGS

Young Adventuress
I declare that Liz of Young Adventuress was born to write. She does it so well, with humor and brutal honesty. The icing on an already delicious cake is her stunning photos which help to illustrate her story. I can spend days and days reading this blog, and it would never be enough. Liz has a zest for life that I dream about. After reading a few posts, I think you will agree she is an old soul, and you too will want to immediately meet her for a coffee and/or a bungee jump.

Ashley Abroad
Ashley is a fellow American who moved to Paris at the age of 21 to become an au pair, and hasn’t looked back since. What I love most about her blog is how effectively she is proving you can live the life you desire, even when you are young and broke. She also posts some incredible photos, and her kindness just oozes through the site. I think every 20-something girl ((and older)) can relate to what challenges and moments she is going through, no matter what country she’s in. What an incredible time for her to be learning about the world firsthand, while also learning about what kind of person she wants to be.

Adventurous Kate
Kate is probably one of the most well-known female traveler writers in the blogosphere. I think it would be tough to calculate all the ladies and gents she has inspired to travel full-time, or just travel at all ((just to give you an idea, she has over 16,000 followers on her Facebook page and over 4,000 followers on Instagram!)) Kate quit her professional job in Boston at the age of 26 and has traveled to dozens upon dozens of countries since then, blogging the entire way. Adventurous Kate is a wealth of travel knowledge, and it is enjoyable to read what she has to say about so many interesting places all over the world.

The Grown Up Gap Year
If you read my interview about quitting my job to travel for a year back in November, you may already be familiar with this blog. Along with other valuable information about how to intelligently pack it up for an extended travel adventure, Emily-Ann also posts about her travel book club, and useful product/gear reviews. Truth be told though, I am partial to the weekly interview series ‘If I can do it, so can you,’ and look forward to a new post every Monday.

FOOD BLOGS

The Foodies at Work
The Foodies at Work is a fun collaboration between my friend Angela and her foodie pal, Melissa. Angela lives in Manhattan; Melissa lives in Boston. They each share posts about their culinary adventures in the kitchen, at restaurants in their respective cities, food expos, holidays & travels. I love the fun, positive vibe of their blog, and they keep it that way by choosing to write about great experiences.

In Sonnet’s Kitchen
I started out following Sonnet’s blog ((previously called ‘For the Love of Food’)) to drool over her photos of gorgeous food made from fresh ingredients and anyone-can-do-them recipes. She is a beautiful writer, and arguably an even better photographer. Her blog has evolved over the years to appeal to more than just the food lovers. It is hard to spend any amount of time on her site and leave not wanting to be the best version of yourself you can possibly be.

Healthy Happy Life ((also known as Lunchbox Bunch))
Even though all the recipes on this blog are vegan, you don’t have to be a plant-based diva to appreciate the beauty of the fresh recipes and food photography. We could all use a little dose of healthy in our lives, and this is the place to find inspiration.

OTHER / GENERAL FEEL-GOOD SHENANIGANS

Go Jules Go
I give you five minutes of reading Julie’s blog before you want her to be your gal pal. She is hilarious, and posts about anything and everything from pet photos/videos ((her pooch’s name is Uncle Jesse, ha!)) to recently losing her job and trying to sell her house. Nothing is perfect in her world, but it all seems perfectly ‘Jules’ to find the humor in every situation, and luckily for us, share it via her blog.

Love Taza
Warning: this blog will most likely give you life envy. When I read Naomi’s blog, I want to be a hip NYC mom/wife with two adorable little toddlers, baking with them in my tiny kitchen, and exploring NYC’s best pizza places with my handsome husband. They are the cutest family ever, and I love reading about their daily adventures, as well as marveling at such vibrantly gorgeous photography.

Someone Once Told Me
Mario of Someone Once Told Me happens to be engaged to Kate of Adventurous Kate, and thus how I found out about his blog. Every day, he posts a photo of someone holding a large white pad of paper containing a phrase someone once told them; a phrase which they have never forgotten. He then writes a little paragraph about the person’s story behind the phrase. I enjoy this blog because everyone of us have a story. At one time in your life, someone has told you something that crushed you, motivated you, made you feel ashamed or alive. ‘Someone Once Told Me’ captures these stories from people around the world.

What are some of YOUR favorite blogs?

PS wishing you all a happy Valentine’s Day, wherever you are and whomever you are with! And if you are alone, celebrate loving yourself. Pop open that special bottle of wine you’ve been saving, and toast to another day in your kick-ass life!

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A Return to France

The entirety of my adult life, I have unwaveringly hoped I would get the chance to return to France and redeem my 16-year old self, who only spoke English during a 2 week visit in the summer of 1998 with my school French club. I swore that if I ever returned, I would build up the courage to speak the native language and not be afraid to say the wrong words the second time around. I would appreciate the country more.

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For a while now, I’ve been begging Andrew to take me to his parents’ home in southwest France. During the first six years of our relationship, other vacations were planned, always followed by “we will do France next year.” With an extended visit to the UK as part of the adventure, it was inevitable that 2014 would finally be THE year. Salviac was added to the European itinerary, and nearly sixteen years after my first visit, I got my wish.

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One early Saturday morning in January, Mr. & Mrs. D, Andrew and I piled into the vehicle destined for our train awaiting us at the entrance to the Channel Tunnel ((now called the Euro Tunnel)). You can travel to France from England by vehicle ferry, vehicle train, or passenger train. The ferry is obviously on the water, while both trains travel through tunnels built underwater. Since we were driving to the French village of Salviac, we took the vehicle train. The crossing is unbelievably quick, lasting just over a half an hour, which is just enough time to eat a quick nibble and joke about seeing fish from the tunnel ((which, of course, you cannot)). In no time at all, it is all Bienvenue à Français, and off you go ((on the right hand side of the road)) onto the French motorway.

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To get to Salviac from the northern French border takes about nine hours. It is located in Le Lot Département, which is famous for foie gras and other duck delicacies. I didn’t care much about that detail – it was the croissants, fresh baguettes, wine, Orangina, eclairs and cheese that I was most interested in.

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^^the adorable Darbyshire home in Salviac

The four of us spent eight days exploring all the ancient towns and villages in Le Lot, including our home base in Salviac. It is rather difficult to fully comprehend that these towns have existed for so long, some over a thousand years. Many of the oldest towns were built on top of rocky cliffs or within a wall, in attempts to prevent intrusion.

During the daylight hours, we browsed a market in Cazals; strolled the streets of lively Sarlat; felt on top of the world in Domme; climbed the many steps to the top of Rocamadour; had lunch and a stroll along the River Lot and crossed over an 12th Century Roman bridge in Cahors; imagined the bright colors of booming summer markets in the centers of Monpazier and Belvès; marveled at an immense chateau in Montfort; and took many cafe breaks for a chocolat chaud. All the while, feeling as though we had this region of France to ourselves.

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^^a small Sunday market in Cazals

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^^does anyone know who lives in that Montfort chateau? Because I’m dying to see what it looks like from the inside. Thanks.

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^^blue hour in Domme

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^^this is breathtaking Rocamadour

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^^within the walls of quiet Monpazier

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^^the Roman bridge in Cahors

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^^did I mention it was a 14th Century bridge?

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^^a hilltop view of the bridge and Cahors

Apart from the year-round residents and workers performing off-season repairs to buildings and roadways, the smaller towns and villages felt mostly empty. There are certainly advantages and disadvantages to visiting someplace like southern France in the off-season. One of the advantages is avoiding crowds of tourists in the summer heat. I really believe I saw more than I would ever have, had we been there in the middle of July or August.

The biggest disadvantage, for me, is the weather. I get the winter blues right around this time every year, and it never gets easier to manage. I long to be basking in the heat and sunshine, preferably on a beach somewhere. To see this region of France in late January forced me to look past the closed window shutters, leafless trees and muddy fields and find beauty in the array of historic buildings and vibrant pops of colors at each place. And of course I easily found contentment in things like a perfectly buttery, flaky croissant from the local panier spread with BonnebMaman apricot jam, warm camembert with a Parisienne baguette, and a pistachio eclair from a patisserie. It’s no secret I do not have a difficult time finding beauty in delicious food.

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^^still having withdrawals from these little darlings

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^^that pistachio eclair didn’t stand a chance

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During the eight days, I spoke as much French as I could recall from my teenage days of learning it. I am sure during high school I acted as though it was a drag, but I really enjoyed learning the language. It is remarkable how much of it I retained after not speaking it for so long. The basics, anyway. I still couldn’t put together a full-on conversation. A few times during this visit, I panicked and had to resort to “Parlez Anglais??” when I couldn’t grasp any familiar words in a quickly spoken French sentence. One guy in a supermarket tried asking me in French where something was within the store, but when I gave him my puzzled/deer in headlights look, he kindly asked if I spoke English. When I confirmed, he began telling me ((in French)) about how he played rugby for six years. Which can only mean I look like I am from the UK and I will gladly take it, especially since sometimes I like to think I’m English or European at heart.

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^^taking a break in Sarlat

One of my favorite parts of being in Salviac was a forced break from internet, television and the constant dialogue of outside world. This meant resorting to old school entertainment. I happily devoured two books ((one of them being the 500-page whopper The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert, which I highly recommend)). In the evenings, after each delicious dinner prepared by Mrs. D, the four of us would chat, play cards, watch movies on dvd or vhs ((I said old school, didn’t I?!)). I particularly loved hearing Andrew and his parents recount previous family vacations to France with such joy in their memories. I also very much enjoyed the drawn out discussion regarding the differences of American pancakes, English pancakes and French crepes. For the record, all three are very different and not to be attempted anywhere but in their native countries.

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The visit to France ended with a drive through rainy Paris, all the more poignant now that I have returned to the US. I long to see Paris and southern France in summertime, when much like me, it is brought to life. Until then, it’s back to “we will do France next year.”

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My sincerest thanks to Mr. and Mrs. D for fulfilling my dream of returning to France. I hope this will be the first of many visits to Salviac with you!

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And also a little shout out to my middle & high school French teachers, Madame Hallberg and Monsieur Christensen, for sparking my interest in this stunning country and for teaching me the language.

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^^oh hello gorgeous

Many of these picturesque places visited will get their own upcoming posts. There are so many more extraordinary photos to share with you, so stay tuned!

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