Travel regrets and learning from my mistakes

I have traveled enough now to realize I made a lot of mistakes along the way. Not big mistakes, like forgetting my passport. They were small mistakes, stemming from my personality and expectations, that impacted my travels. I don’t think I even realized they were mistakes at the time, but looking back now, I wish I had done some things differently. Fortunately, now that I have recognized these mistakes, my travels are much more rewarding.

Edinburgh, Scotland

Thoughts on me being me

When I studied abroad in Oxford I was timid. On my own for the first time in a foreign country, I reacted by setting up new routines in an attempt to make Somerville College feel like home. I ate the same breakfast in the cafeteria, took my usual walk around town, and went to the same restaurants and pubs weekend after weekend. All of these routines were comforting, but I ended up falling into a rut.

I did have brief exploratory spells, like a weekend trip to Edinburgh, but overall, I was unadventurous in Oxford. It’s a shame and I feel like I missed out on some great experiences. I did see wonderful things, like Canterbury Cathedral and the Ashmolean Museum, but there is so much more I could’ve done.

Even though I am introverted and shy around new people, I wanted the company of other students while exploring, so I ended up waiting around for friends instead of venturing out. Honestly, I probably would’ve enjoyed walking around on my own more than trying to make conversation; if only I had given it a chance. I want to revisit Oxford with a new outlook, one that is unafraid and independent, so I can truly see the city on my own terms.

Quai de l'Hôtel de Ville, Paris, France

Thoughts on money

Another travel regret is not spending money. I was stingy while studying abroad, to the extent that I passed up unique experiences. I planned and saved for the trip, and I kept a budget while I was there, which is just fine and dandy. However, I wish I had saved or freed up more funds for things like nice dinners, weekend excursions, or a meaningful souvenir. To save money and stick to my budget, I cooked meals in the dorm and ate cafeteria lunches that were included in the program price, but then I didn’t really do anything with that money I saved. Looking back, it would’ve been worth it to splurge a little bit.

Telegraph Hill, San Francisco, California

Thoughts on photography

Every time I flip through (or scroll, because technology) my old travel pictures I think, “What was I doing??” From my first trip to Paris, I have dozens of Eiffel Tower photos and pictures of me and my friends in front of famous monuments, but very few photos of street scenes, unique architecture, or shots of everyday Parisian life. They are one-dimensional photos that don’t offer any depth or details to my memories. Now I spend less time photographing the sights I’m “supposed” to photograph and I focus on capturing new destinations from my own perspective.

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Playing trilingual telephone in Italy

Dove andiamo?” I asked for about the fifth time that day. “Where are we going?”

I was following my friend Bruna and her father around Udine, Italy, like a lost puppy. In an effort to communicate, I taught myself a few Italian phrases, like “I’m sorry, I don’t speak Italian,” “I don’t understand,” and “A cup of strawberry gelato, please.” It’s a good thing I learned that last phrase, because we were going to a gelateria.

Udine, Italy

I met Bruna during a study abroad program in England. An in-your-face Brazilian-Italian-American, we formed an unlikely friendship that, in contrast to the other friendships I made on the trip, actually strengthened when we returned home. She’s the type of girl who’s up for anything and is always on the go. You could usually find her at the kebab stand, where the guys working there liked her so much she got free food and got to go into the kitchen. (Lucky.) I, on the other hand, was shy, quiet, and not nearly as adventurous.

Udine, Italy

I was getting ready to study abroad in France when Bruna asked me if I’d like to spend a week with her family in Italy before heading to Paris. I jumped at the chance!

Unfortunately (or not, it ended up being interesting and entertaining), Bruna’s family spoke very little to no English, and I spoke no Italian. If I wanted to ask her uncle a question, we had to play a game of trilingual telephone. I would ask Bruna my question in English, she would ask her dad in Portuguese, and he would translate into Italian. It was complicated but it worked.

Several times at the dinner table, surrounded by Portuguese, I found myself following the conversation back and forth even though I couldn’t understand a word of it. If only I was talented at picking up languages!

Udine, Italy

Bruna’s family led me around Udine, a small, walkable city where I didn’t see any other foreigners. We shopped, ate, and sat in the piazzas. For an entire week I let myself be led around Italy, and it was a welcome change. Usually I would’ve been researching things to do and places to see, but in letting myself simply follow someone’s lead, I had a completely different experience. I have to say, it was a relaxing and stress-free week.

Cividale, Italy

Bruna’s family was incredibly generous to host me. Her uncle had us over for dinner nearly every night and drove us to the train station. Her sweet grandmother served us the most delicious chicken and polenta in her mountaintop home. Her father played tour guide for a week and took us to the best places around town. I hope I’m able to see them again one day.

A walk around NYC in spring

My husband and I went to New York City in April while visiting my grandparents. We took the bus from New Jersey and were in the thick of the city 30 minutes later.

New York City

New York defied any pre-conceived notions I had. In my mind, New York City is the American city, but stories of crime, hardship, “the American Dream,” never-ending noise and lights, poverty and luxury, all merge together and make this an intimidating place to me. I thought the streets would be dirty and the people unfriendly but New York City was such an enjoyable place.

The weather was wonderful and it truly felt like spring. After a harsh winter, the city and its inhabitants breathed a sigh of relief and contentment as Central Park grew greener and flowers bloomed along the High Line under a clear sky.

New York City

We just walked and walked – more than 8 miles that day. When we were tired, we sat and watched the people and traffic go by. The best things to see in the city were the people and the architecture; there was so much variety and color. I saw people dancing on roller blades, kids and adults running to pop bubbles, newlyweds taking photos, hundreds of kilt-wearing Scottish-Americans parading through the streets, a hot dog salesman trudging up 9th Ave with his cart and somehow making all of the lights.

New York City is a mass of vaguely ordered chaos. The streets are numbered but they’re bustling. The crosswalk signs flash red but people dash across the street anyway. Travelers corral into the correct lines at the Port Authority terminal, ready to break free and berate the tardy bus driver. It was easy to fade into the background and just watch the tide of humanity rush by.

New York City

Places:

The High Line: A fine place for a walk where you’ll see some unique people and buildings. We got off at Gansevoort Street and strolled around the cobblestone streets for a bit.

Times Square: We were tourists, so we had to. The highlight was the huge Toys ‘R’ Us store, which features an indoor Ferris wheel, an animatronic T-Rex, and several LEGO displays of famous landmarks. I didn’t realize this while we were there, but the store is actually closing and Gap will be moving into the space. Not as much fun.

Smithfield Hall: It’s hard to pick a restaurant when New York City has so many options and you’re bad at making decisions anyway. I pulled up Yelp for some help and we ate at this restaurant/bar for lunch. The burgers were good, a pint was a reasonable price, and soccer was on TV. Good choice!

Central Park: Another place we had to visit, especially since it was such a beautiful day! Find a spot to sit and watch the world go by.

Beach bliss on Ocracoke Island

I’m not sure what I was expecting when my husband and I booked a night at a camp site on Ocracoke Island, a stretch of sand on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, during the last weekend in May. I suppose I envisioned something similar to other OBX beaches; soft sand and moderate development with some summer crowds. Maybe going in with these preconceived notions made Ocracoke seem even more extraordinary, or maybe we truly discovered an amazing place.

Ocracoke Island

While we didn’t sleep on the sand, the campsite behind the dunes was well within earshot of the ocean’s dull roar, which I could hear all night. The campsite, run by the National Park Service, was clean and quiet. I regretfully forgot to pack bug spray, so the horseflies and other pesky bugs were interested in us while we set up and took down the tent.

On Ocracoke, the beach is bigger, the wildlife is warier, and the crowds are smaller. I don’t think they could even be called “crowds”; just groups of people clustered together in the village, the ferry, or the campground. It’s incredibly easy to find your own private stretch of sand on Ocracoke, especially if you own a four wheel drive vehicle. The island is about 13 miles long, and most of it is part of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. Protected lands take up a big chunk of the coastline and the village only occupies the island’s southern tip.

Ocracoke Island

One of my favorite activities from this trip was renting bikes in town. We were leisurely riding around by 9 a.m., after watching the sunrise, with a cool breeze in our hair. We were able to see a lot more of Ocracoke comfortably on two wheels. We saw the bay, the lighthouse, several feral cats, the appropriately named “Back Road,” and some of the cutest beach cottages on the Outer Banks. No four-story mansions or luxurious rentals here.

Even the ferry ride (free from Hatteras) was enjoyable. The hour-long journey took us through beautiful blue water under a clear blue sky. Every time we passed a ferry, naturally, everyone waved to each other. (You know you’re in North Carolina when…)

Ocracoke Island

I almost feel bad thinking about it, because I have so many fond memories of Topsail Island, but Ocracoke might be even better. Topsail is wonderful for a big family vacation; however, Ocracoke felt more natural, undeveloped, and local. And that’s even with many of the motels and inns sporting “no vacancy” signs.

Another thing that was painfully obvious to see, when comparing Topsail to Ocracoke, is how much larger and better protected Ocracoke is. The beach is much wider, even during high tide. The dunes are larger and they nearly line the whole island. These towering dunes are covered in waving sea grass, prickly cacti, and warped trees twisted by the constant ocean breeze, all of which help to keep the sand, and the barrier island itself, in place. As North Topsail Beach is currently facing major erosion problems, it’s clear to see the difference between the two islands.

Ocracoke Island

Even though we were only there for a weekend (and technically, we were only on the island for a little over a full day) time seemed to slow down on Ocracoke. Normally my vacation time seems to zoom by like one of those nimble fishing boats passing the ferry, but this weekend was different.

In short, I’m going back to Ocracoke.

Places:

Top Dog Cafe in Hatteras: A friendly, chill place to stop for lunch. The porch is screened in and lets in a nice breeze. I had one of the specials, a spicy shrimp wrap.

Buxton Village Books in Buxton: A decent selection of fiction, nonfiction, and used books. I picked up a book about the Outer Banks, which I intend to read before the summer’s finished. The place looks tiny, but it has some funky additions in the back.

Jason’s Restaurant in Ocracoke: We ate dinner here and had a good, filling meal. I had the catch of the day, which comes with sides. Lots of options, including pizza, make this an ideal family restaurant.

The Slushy Stand in Ocracoke: After watching the sunrise, we stopped here for an early coffee Sunday morning and rented bikes to see the rest of the island. There’s a nice porch at one of the village’s “busy” intersections for people-watching.

Cape Hatteras National Seashore Ocracoke Campground in Ocracoke: A quiet, clean, and inexpensive way to sleep on the island. Camping is just behind the dunes. There is a creek running behind the campground, so bug spray is a must. Facilities include bathrooms, water fountains, showers, dumpsters, recycling, picnic tables, and grills. Rates start at $23.

Words of wisdom:

There may only be a couple of police officers on patrol on Ocracoke, but they make their presence known. Do not speed on the island. The first car off our ferry was pulled over within two minutes. In the village, I would say it’s best to go under the speed limit. The sidewalks in Ocracoke are small or nonexistent, and there are many pedestrians, cyclists, and golf carts using the road too.

Take sunscreen and bug spray. The horseflies and mosquitoes can be nasty. My pale skin needed sunscreen on the ferry over, before we even got to the island!


Enjoy the photos! I’m really happy with how these turned out.

Such great heights: Cities from above

I like to look down on cities. London, with its slowly turning Eye, the Thames churning below. Tower Bridge and St. Paul’s show off The City and the wharfs, tiny workers and ships scurrying about.

London, England

London, England

Paris, with the iconic tower piercing the sky, the white and gray buildings stretching out for miles below, their grandeur muddled by distance. Montmartre, too, offers sprawling views from the cathedral steps; it seems a world apart from the rest of the city.

Paris, France

Paris, France

Venice and Bruges. Canals branching off every which way. Both have belltowers jutting up proudly from the main squares. Peals from the large bells clash and jumble through my ears before drifting out over the waterlogged cities. Venice, in my mind, will always feature blazing orange terracotta roofs and liquid turquoise under a sun turned up full blast, while Bruges, its northern cousin, rests cozily under soft gray skies, falling mist kissing steel blue waters and cobblestone streets.

Venice, Italy

Bruges, Belgium

Being above a city, looking down but still grounded, connects me to it on a personal level. I will gladly pay the fee to climb ancient, narrow steps and feel the wind of an entirely new place in my hair while I breathe in the scents, pulse and character of the city lying below.

I hope you enjoyed these pictures! Here are a few more I love.

Gent, Belgium

Gent, Belgium

Oxford, England

Oxford, England

Edinburgh, Scotland

Edinburgh, Scotland

Florence, Italy

Florence, Italy