AFRICA! WE DID IT!
Where do I even begin. Talk about a dream trip. Words can’t express how truly amazing this entire experience was. From start to finish, everything was perfect — transportation, weather, accommodations, food, our group and guides — it was complete perfection.
That being said, I’m happy to report WE SUCCESSFULLY SUMMITED MT. KILIMANJARO!!! What an insane accomplishment – A HUGE bucket list check.
And WE’RE BACK!
I know it’s been a very long time since the last post — real life gets in the way, that’s for sure — but, the good news is, we’re back on the road, FINALLY!
The funny thing about life and all of its circumstances, a year ago now I was wrapping up my 9 month trip around the world, flying home October 14th (my dad’s birthday). And now, a year later, I’ll be in Africa. Life is crazy, and I’m so blessed to be soaking up every moment!
Tomorrow we jump on a 24 hour travel day to Africa to embark on one of our greatest bucket list quests yet… HIKING MT. KILIMANJARO!!!
I blinked and a year has flown by.
How is this possible?
Did I even go on this trip?
It truly feels like I dreamt the entire thing.
Words can’t even begin to describe the experiences I had, the way I feel or the deep seeded travel bug that continues to grow within my soul. But one thing I know with certainty: This will not be my last Around the World trip. It may not be tomorrow, or next month, or even next year, but before I’m 100 years old, I know I’ll make it happen again.
Because I truly believe sunsets and sunrises are the most special time of day, I tried to make it a point to capture and enjoy as many of them as possible. Here is a collage of all of the incredible colorful skies we were blessed enough to experience throughout our travels:
I was told that you either love Split and hate Dubrovnik, or love Dubrovnik and hate Split. They are as much similar as they are different. And personally, I prefer Dubrovnik. Perhaps that’s why I visited this fort town on three separate occasions!
Krka National Park.
Schedule: 8:30am pick up — 10:30am arrival in Skradin — 11:00am start of the river cruise into the park — 5 hours free time — 4pm departure — arrive back in Split at 5:30pm. We booked with the Split Walking Tour Team through a hostel. Cost: 200 kuna for a private minibus transfer and boat ride. 90-110 kuna for the Park entrance depending on if it’s low or high season.
The mountains in Croatia are like nothing I’ve seen before. Gray granite with small green shrubs scattered throughout. This is Croatia.
I don’t know why some people hate Split. It’s Eastern Europe. Yes, there is graffiti and old buildings, but the alleys are interesting, tons of character with cute shops and restaurants. My favorite area is the small plaza on the interior walls of the palace where there’s live music every night; people sit around the outer steps, and enjoy drinks, music, and the ambiance. Couples even dance in the middle of the square!
The metropolis of Montenegrin tourism, thanks to the great number of beaches and hotels, make Budva a most desirable tourist destination.
Budva can be a day trip from either Kotor or Tivat, or as I would suggest, staying the night down there as it’s a huge city and I only dipped my toes into the Old Town.
A quick 30-minute drive to Budva from Tivat with stunning coastal views along the way will give you a wonderful sense of the landscape of beautiful Montenegro.
Tivat. Porto Montenegro.
Given the timing of this portion of my trip (mid-October), and how ‘dead’ it appeared to be in Croatia, I was a little concerned with Montenegro following the same seasonal ebb and flow. Unfortunately, I was right. Kotor and Tivat were both extremely quiet, with the majority of restaurants and shops being closed for the winter season.
However, Tivat could not have been more drastically different from Kotor. Tivat, Porto Montenegro was named the ‘Superyacht Marina of the Year for 2015’.
Picture this: A clear, crisp autumn morning with the sun rising over the Bay of Kotor, surrounded by stunning mountains, steam rising from the water, creating a mystical atmosphere. The perfect day to explore this hidden gem of a country.
Unfortunately, I’m watching all of this from a bus, leaving Montenegro. My time here was spent dodging the rain and taking advantage of the few hours of sunshine I had in Budva. I hoped to stay here a while longer, but with my luck, the only bus back to Dubrovnik was at 8am. Losing in Montenegro…
What a surprise you were! Like most people, I assume, I’ve heard so many negative/scary comments about the country that it was never on my radar of places to visit. However, after traveling, the city called Mostar, was brought to our attention on more than one occasion. Most notably, because of one very important landmark, The Old Bridge.
Oh Croatia, your islands are beautiful, your water is clear and warm, and your old towns are classic.
If you go to Croatia, go on a sailing trip. It’s the best way to see all of the islands and take full advantage of the Adriatic Sea. Also, Croatia is likely the only place I would recommend visiting during the high season. We were at the tail end (late September/early October) and all of the shops and restaurants were closing, the towns were so quiet you had to whisper, and most of the main tours weren’t running. A HUGE bummer if you fly all the way there and can’t go to the Blue Grotto or the Cave Bar, so be sure to do your research beforehand.
Munich Oktoberfest. How to Have a Successful Experience.
“Cloudy with a chance of cleavage.”
A little history.
Munich’s Oktoberfest began life as a wedding for the Bavarian crown prince Ludwig to princess Therese from Saxony-Hildburghausen (hence the name of the Theresienwiese) on October 12, 1810 and attended by the local community. Today the Munich Beerfest traditionally takes place during the sixteen days up to and including the first Sunday in October.
Once in Innsbruck, we went to the store, bought food for three days and didn’t leave our apartment.
I know this is probably starting to feel like a theme, but we haven’t truly relaxed since Budapest three weeks ago. It was time.
We stayed in a beautiful alpine apartment in Mutters, 15 minutes outside of Innsbruck. Only a 20 minute walk down to town, but the weather was windy and stormy so we decided to hunker down. We cooked, watched movies, updated resumes, applied for jobs and drank mimosas. A much needed break and relaxing two days before heading off to Oktoberfest!
What comes to mind when you first think of Austria??
“The hills are alive… with THE SOUND OF MUSIC!”
That’s right. The Sound of Music was filmed in Austria, near Salzburg. Sadly, I couldn’t talk Michael into going on “The Sound of Music” tour, so instead we ‘tried’ to relax. (Big surprise, I know).
After biding farewell to my parents, we made our way to Interlaken. Michael has been to Interlaken on three other occasions, but always speaks so highly of it that I knew we had to make a stop there for some adventuring.
Canyoning with Outdoor Interlaken — Full video below, but the highlights can be found at 1:15, 3:10, 4:00, 6:50, and 7:20. That last one still makes my stomach flip!!
Zermatt is known for one major attraction. And in my opinion, it’s one of the most popular attractions in the world, at least for mountaineers (or mouseketeers). THE MATTERHORN! Zermatt wasn’t in our original itinerary for Europe, but my parents were heading there after Cinque Terra so we decided to tag along.
Cinque Terra has been on my Bucket List for a long time now. So, naturally, when my mom and step dad said they were coming to Italy and hiking Cinque Terra, we HAD to meet them! Plus, it had been seven months since I’ve seen them and some Mother Daughter time was long overdue!!
Michael and I started in Portovenere, which I highly recommend. It’s on the southern end, past the last towns in Cinque Terra.
Like everywhere else in Europe, the last time I visited Venice was 15-years ago. I remember it being so beautiful and romantic, wishing I was older and excited to come back one day with my love.
How To: A Three-Day Amalfi Coast Road Trip.
Driving the Amalfi Coast has been a dream of ours for a long time. To say we were excited is an understatement. The Amalfi Coast is very compact and you can drive the entire thing in one day, although I highly recommend spending three days so you can relax and fully enjoy it. Here’s our experience…
An eight hour overnight train from Prague to Budapest was painless – Our own private room was definitely a treat. It was still hard to sleep with the loud noises and jolting movements, but it’s a nice way to save money on a hotel room!
In typical Michael and Deena fashion, we booked our flights from Norway to Prague only two days in advance. That meant we had high prices and three layovers for what would be a direct two-hour flight. Instead, SAS took us from Stavanger to Oslo to Stockholm to Prague. Ugh. #travelfail.
But we made it!
Everyone I talked to about Prague said how wonderfully romantic it is.
Sadly, I never quite had the “romantic” feeling… I’d attribute it to the crowds of tourists everywhere. Hard to feel the romance when you’re constantly running into selfie sticks.
We stayed in the Old City, which was the perfect location. Close to the main plazas, but far enough to avoid the noise of night life.
Throughout our quick two days, we explored the Old City and many plazas filled with tourists, music, and outdoor cafes…
How to hike the Big Three in Norway:
Calling all outdoor adventurers and hiking enthusiasts! If you haven’t already, be sure to put Norway at the TOP of your list. The hiking options are endless, not to mention rewarding.
As some of you know, Michael studied abroad in Copenhagen during college and has been talking about it ever since. This is a place I’ve been looking forward to visiting together for a very long time and I’m happy to report, it did not disappoint.
Let’s be honest, Amsterdam has a bad reputation. Sex and drugs. Legal.
As most people visiting Morocco can relate, I’ve dreamt about riding camels and sleeping under the stars in the Sahara Desert for a very long time. I researched a great deal beforehand, but here is a look into our five-day Sahara Desert Tour followed by my advice that I wish someone would have told me.
Marrakech is debatably the most popular tourist city in the Northwestern African country. To me, Marrakech felt exactly how you would imagine Morocco to be: Street vendors tucked into every alley, selling exotic merchandise, beautiful leather bags and jewelry, outdoor food vendors and street performers. But the first thing you’ll notice are the motorbikes. All I can say is, “LOOK OUT!”
Where to even begin? I’ve tried to think of something positive to say about Fes, but sadly I’m at a loss. This is quite possibly one of the first cities I’ve been to on this trip that I wanted to leave immediately.
All I can say is WOW! If you go to Morocco, you MUST stop in Chefchaouen. This city is straight out of a movie. Blue everywhere. Walls, stairs, doors, windows, cats. Ok, so not the cats, but there are hundreds of them roaming the streets. Just like stray dogs in South America, it’s stray cats in Morocco. So don’t be alarmed when they’re in the restaurants too 🙂
Before coming to Morocco, I read a number of blogs from female travelers stressing their concerns about safety in the Muslim country. I must admit, I was a little hesitant and nervous after reading their reviews as some had uncomfortable encounters with local men. Thankfully, I was traveling with five guys so I felt pretty safe. Plus, I knew without a doubt that these guys would protect me if something did happen. That being said, I still was very cautious and constantly aware of my surroundings (as every good traveler should be, alone or with a group).
Everyone, and I mean everyone, I talked to raved about Lisbon. Lisbon is the capital and the largest city of Portugal. Don’t get me wrong, it was a neat city, but that’s kinda all it is. A city. Perhaps because we’ve been traveling for so long and have seen countless cities that it wasn’t as impressive (?).
After Lagos, and especially after Running with the Bulls, I was in much need of some R&R, and a good detox. From the beginning of our trip, I told Michael I wanted to do some solo travel. I’ve met more solo female travelers on this trip and it’s really inspired me to do the same. I want that independent feeling again. Yes, I did some solo trips in Hong Kong, but I never felt truly alone. So that was one of my personal goals for this trip. Unfortunately, given our timeline, I only had a few days and I wanted to spend them wisely.
Lagos wasn’t in our original plan for Portugal, but since Erich, Nic, and Taylor (the rest of our crew from Running with the Bulls), were heading there, we decided to make a detour. And I’m so glad we did!
Lagos is a fun, very touristy, beach town in the south of Portugal. Not much in terms of nightlife, but the beach is where it’s at. Considering the scorching temperatures, we expected the water to be quite warm. NOT! It was definitely chilly. Refreshing, but cold.
An adorable port town, built to resemble San Francisco, CA, and I think they did a pretty good job. The town that gave the country (and port wine) its very name, Porto is Portugal’s second-largest metropolis after Lisbon. The old town, centered at Ribeira, was built on the hills overlooking the Douro River, and today is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Warning: Unless you like 45C (113F), I wouldn’t suggest going to Madrid in the summer time. WAY TOO HOT!
We were also coming off a ridiculous four days in San Fermin and really needing to recharge our batteries, mentally and physically. Madrid was the perfect place to do just that. Though we did sneak in a little sightseeing, of course.
A four day whirlwind at Pamplona.
Most have heard of this ridiculous festival. Some may think it’s a joke, and a few take it extremely serious. After living through it, there’s one thing I know… This is no joke. Running with the bulls is a real event and I highly encourage you to assess all risks before participating. My number one piece of advice: DON’T BE DRUNK!
As I’m sure you can guess, Bordeaux is the region in France where Bordeaux wine is from. We were ready to sip delicious wine and explore the small city. However, upon arriving they were having one of the biggest heat waves of the year… 40C and we were melting. Needless to say, the sun and heat really took it out of us, so we decided to just relax. The city is small and easy to see everything in one day.
Most tourists only go to Rennes as a way of getting to Mont Saint Michel. A two hour train from Paris, and an hour bus from Rennes will bring you to Mont Saint Michel. The streets of Rennes are lined with cute local cafes and restaurants on every corner; people sitting outside sipping Rose. Really is an adorable town full of great walking streets. Wish we had a full day here.
Day trip to Normandy.
A quick two hour train ride from Paris, Caen is the perfect day trip to be reminded of the history that took place during WWII at the Invasion of Normandy. It is a very busy day, and can be rushed, but well worth it. Take two days if you’re a big history buff and want to see everything.
There are so many tourist “Must Sees” in Paris; but thankfully, it’s easy to do so in just a couple of days. Here are some of our highlights:
Looking for a quick tour around Irish Country? Here’s our six-day guide to maximize your time:
Roadtrip: Torridon – Loch Ness – Stirling – Edinburgh.
Renting a car and driving on the other/wrong side of the road in another country is always a great way to explore… And usually makes for one hell of an adventure!
It would be a crime to leave Scotland and not trek along one of the thousand of epic hikes this beautiful country is known for. We were given a number of recommendations from friends and locals, and after some peer-pressure, we decided on conquering the Anoch Eagach Ridge, the most legendary Grade 2 scramble in Scotland.
Isle of Skye.
Situated off the west coast of Scotland, Isle of Skye is a popular tourist destination, known for it’s rich history, stunning scenery, and challenging hikes.
Cotswolds Weekend Getaway.
We took a weekend trip to The Cotswolds with our dear friends, Dougal and Sophie, and it was absolutely perfect. We had thoughts about flying somewhere tropical for a little getaway, but with it being a long weekend, everything was expensive and booked so we decided to keep it local. We jumped on a train to Oxford, rented a car and drove through the English countryside for two days. It was so picturesque and the perfect way to experience England. I highly recommend a trip out here if you have the time.
London was the first international destination (besides Mexico) that I traveled to when I was 15 years old. Now 15 years later, I’m finally back! To be honest, I don’t remember particularly liking London all that much when I was younger; but I must admit, I’m in love now!
All I can say is, “MEDELLIN IS AMAZING!”. Multiple people we’ve met on the road have raved about Medellin, but it wasn’t until I experienced it for myself that I truly understood why. So big, so beautiful, so historical, and literally something for everyone. Not to mention, the most gorgeous countryside I’ve ever seen!
If you’ve ever wanted to be a pirate, Cartagena is the town to do it. A great colorful city and colonial atmosphere — the culture is amazing, and the exploration through the Old Town is endless. The people are helpful, friendly, welcoming. Each narrow street with colonial style balconies, colorful walls, and the feeling like you just stepped into an episode of Black Sails. Personally, Cartagena is one of my favorite cities in all of South America.
I must be honest. At first, I was pretty unimpressed with Santa Marta. During the day, it looks like a quiet, dirty, port town. However, as the sun sets, all the streets open up and restaurants spill out into the plazas, salsa music pumping from every club – nightlife is alive! Good restaurants, street performers, and fun Salsa dancing bars! I guess Santa Marta isn’t so bad after all.
We flew from Bogota to Santa Marta on a quick hour and a half flight and stayed in Los Cocos Beach at Villa Maria. Tayrona presents a variety of climates and geography that range from arid landscapes, lush rain forest to 900 meters above sea level and is the second most visited national park in Colombia.
Colombia wasn’t on our original list of South American destinations, but after traveling for the past three months, everyone kept telling us how incredible Colombia is. Keeping with our travel fashion, we planned a last minute ten day trip to the Northern country to wrap up our South American tour.
I’ll start this post with a confession. Obviously, the Inca Trail is the famous route that everyone wants to take. However, we were unaware that the Inca Trail treks sell out six months in advance. We sadly figured this out at the end of February and were pretty disappointed that we wouldn’t be able to do it. However, after more research on other trekking options, we found the Salkantay Trek. This has the reputation of being the hardest trek and I must say, IT WAS, BUT SO WORTH IT! We were told by multiple people, including guides, that the Inca Trail is so packed, you’re never alone to enjoy the moment. But Salkantay exceeded every expectation possible. I couldn’t recommend this more. Absolutely remarkable. I’m sure one day I’ll still do the Inca Trail, but this was the best decision (though we didn’t have much of a choice) we’ve made thus far.
Most tourists travel to Cuzco to acclimate before heading to Machu Picchu. Cuzco is at 11,200ft, Machu Picchu is at 8,000ft. For us, we’ve been above 9,000ft for the past 2 weeks in Bolivia so we used it as a time to explore the city. Cuzco is full of culture, history, and charm. We also haven’t been around many tourists in a very long time so that was a bit of an adjustment as well. Michael’s mom, Bonnie, met us in Cuzco to do the trek to Machu Picchu so it was fun to all explore Cuzco together.
Traveling by train = The way to go.
Planes, trains, and automobiles. But trains are by far, the best. We decided to be tourists instead of travelers for a day. We splurged with a 10 hour train ride from Puno to Cusco, instead of the classic six hour bus, and I’m so glad we did. It finally felt like we were on vacation.
I’m sure most people haven’t heard of Copacabana, Bolivia (not to be confused with the ultra popular Copacabana, Brazil). But most probably have heard of Lake Titicaca. Copacabana is made famous by the infamous Lake Titicaca. I was definitely excited to see the highest navigable lake in the world at 12,507ft and check off another bucket list item. The four hour bus ride from La Paz to Copacabana had lovely views of the countryside. Bolivia really is a beautiful country.
“The city that touches the sky” — While the official capital of Bolivia is Sucre, La Paz has more government departments, and at 11,975 ft. is the highest administrative capital, and highest large city in the world. Michael and I realized that we’ve been above 8,000 ft since San Pedro in the end of March. And we’ll continue that trend until Lima, Peru at the end of April.
One of the highest cities in the world at an elevation of 13,420 ft, Potosi is a true mining community, but felt a little like San Jose, Costa Rica to me. Very poor, dirty streets, trash everywhere, terrible traffic, and the worst pollution I’ve ever encountered. It was physically difficult to take a deep breath. The city is packed with Bolivians living their lives, and not many tourists exploring the town.
I must admit, Bolivia wasn’t on our initial list of “Must See Places”, but after traveling through South America and every traveler we encountered exclaimed in sheer horror, “WHAT? You’re not going to Bolivia?? It’s amazing!!” We knew we had to change some plans. Thankfully, when you don’t have a definitive plan in the first place, changing them is quite easy 🙂
San Pedro de Atacama.
We took a two hour flight from Santiago to Calama in Northern Chile on Sky Airlines. Then a one-and-a-half hour bus from Calama to San Pedro. A beautiful drive through the Atacama Desert, the driest desert in the world, encircled by volcanos in every direction. You may have heard of the Atacama before as this is the region that the 33 Chilean miners were trapped and survived in 2010. No, we didn’t go to the mine, we only stayed in San Pedro. There was enough excitement there.
A 10-hour overnight bus ride from Santiago, delivered us to the adventure-filled, adrenaline-junkie loving town of Pucon.
As I mentioned in my previous post, we used Santiago as our homebase during our time in Chile. That’s a perk of having good friends that live abroad! Halfway through our time in Santiago, we took a couple of days to explore other beautiful regions of the country, including the coastal towns of Valparaiso and Zapallar. Here are those adventures:
Santiago – I’ve been excited to visit you since Michael fell in love with your empanadas and Pisco Sours when he first came to Valle Nevado Ski Resort for work with Mammoth back in 2012. And I must say, you definitely lived up to my expectations.
Those who know me, know I love wine. White, red, rose, champagne. All of it. Some may call me a wino, but I just appreciate all types of wine and don’t discriminate. Unless they’re terrible, of course. Thankfully, in the wine region of Argentina, known for their Malbecs, I’m pretty safe and easily pleased.
Torres del Paine – Chile
After reading dozens of blogs comparing backcountry excursions in El Chalten to Torres del Paine, each stunning and full of adventure, we knew we HAD to experience both. Due to the weather in Chalten being less than ideal, we cut the trip short and headed back to Calafate and straight into a day trip to Torres del Paine, Chile, through Patagonia Extrema South Road Excursions. The thing I find so incredible about the Patagonia region is it’s sheer size; creating a natural barrier dividing Argentina and Chile, both countries able to pride themselves on this beautiful landscape.
El Chalten — A backpacker’s haven — Not much to do in this sleepy little town with one main street of a couple restaurants and a handful of hiking/camping shops and outdoor equipment rentals. Most people use this place as a home base to gather supplies then head into the backcountry. We were told you need a week or two here in order to see everything and take advantage of all the hiking. However, if the weather isn’t on your side, there’s not much else to do here. Thankfully, heading into Fall, we had one lucky day.
Patagonia is a geographical region located in the southernmost part of South America, comprising areas of southern Argentina and Chile. Geographically, the Andes divide Patagonia into sectors East and West: the Patagonia Argentina to the east, and the Chilean Patagonia to the west. While there is no consensus on the exact limits or criteria to define them as the most recognized boundaries, 75.5% of the land belongs to Argentina, and the remaining 24.5% to Chile. The region comprises the southern section of the Andes mountains as well as the deserts, steppes and grasslands east of this southern portion of the Andes.
Taking the one-hour ferry from BA to Uruguay, we time traveled back to 1920 and spent the day exploring the sleepy town of Colonia. The cobblestone streets were straight out of a movie and the culture is much slower than in the city – a welcomed change for us – we were able to slow down and enjoy the moment.
Buenos Aires. Unassuming, and oh so Delicious.
Full disclosure: I actually struggled with this post. We didn’t do as much as we normally would; it was a relaxing week. But full of spending time with new friends, and while traveling, friends are everything.
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We flew from Foz do Iguazu to Buenos Aires, stayed at another great Airbnb in Palermo Hollywood for a week, then Palermo Soho for another three days. Since we didn’t really know what to expect in BA, we were ready to eat good food and drink good wine, which is exactly what we did. Mission Accomplished.
Iguazu Falls, Iguassu Falls, Foz do Iguaçu, or Foz de Iguazú. Not technically one of the seven wonders of the world, but definitely could be, in my book.
Ten days in Rio was perfect. We weren’t rushed to see everything, had nice relaxing beach days and fun adventure tours. I suggest staying in Leblon or Ipanema if you’re coming to Rio and definitely use AirBnB. Even though I’m proud to say I completed my bucket list for this city, I now have more added for next time 🙂
Bathing suits. Cover up! Don’t expose too much. People will get the wrong impression. Well quite frankly, who cares!
Don’t get me wrong, last week I was one of those girls. But after spending some time in South America I have a whole new outlook. The women here embrace their bodies and don’t care what other people think (at first I was hesitant because Brazilians love to stare, but I’ve realized it’s not in a malicious way. Their mothers obviously just never told them it’s rude to stare). But if you’re not wearing a thong, or something close to it, you actually stand out and people know you’re, well… American.
All shapes, sizes, colors, it doesn’t matter. No woman likes tan lines so just let yourself go, America. Your body is beautiful.
P.S. This goes for men too. Speedos, baby!
Warning: Just don’t wear the revealing bottoms at water parks in the US; you’ll be asked to leave. (Note: This is not from personal experience. Just nice advice from a friend.) #yourewelcome
Living in Rio.
This type of travel is so different from anything I’ve ever done before. We’re living here. Not rushing to see everything because we’re on a deadline.
“Only here for a week, hurry hurry!”
Despite our time in Sao Paulo being brief, we were able to taste a number of traditional Brazilian treats to help get us acquainted with the culture.
By Deena Betcher:
A new beginning. To me, and at this moment in my life, a new beginning represents the terrifying, yet exciting decision to end one chapter and start anew – quit and travel. It also speaks to relationships. The good, the bad, and the ugly.
By Michael Gregory:
Each day we make with decisions. Sometimes hundreds at a time without even realizing. Some of these decisions are small. Like which sneakers to wear. “Are these pants dirty?” Some decisions carry more weight than others. Dozens of decisions are made just in order to get out the door in the morning. Some with just a bit more calculated risk than the next, some with none at all. Choices. Read More