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Florence

For those who personally know me, the next sentence won’t come as a surprise, but for everyone else… I am fortunate to have been born and raised (for the first 7 years or so) just outside of Florence.  My dad has been living here for several years now, and since it has been 4 years since I’ve been back to Italy, why not #1 spend some time with my dad, #2 use our home in Italy as a base to explore other European countries and #3 make the eventual trip to Thailand not such a painful one from a flight perspective:)

I know, I know, I sound totally spoiled.  But I can’t help where I was born, I can only recognize how fortunate I am in many ways and most importantly to be thankful for what I am able to do and to have such an international family!!

Now that that is cleared up, I am currently still in Italy writing furiously to catch up on this blog from the years past travels so that I can write about more recent adventures and ones that are still to come:)  I arrived here in Italy at the end of August (2014- I know, I’m really almost caught up with blogging about my travels to present day!!!) at the Florence airport and was greeted by my dad at the airport with one of his famous “daddy” pick-ups, as we call it in my family.  That is simply where he insists on parking the car so he can go into the airport and greet the new arrival from the gate, instead of waiting outside in the car for the new arrival to walk out of the airport:)

We had a lovely dinner at a pizzeria near where my dad grew up and has been going for over 40 years!!  Let me just say, for the record that, in my opinion, there is no better pizza IN THE WORLD than the pizza in Italy, and more specifically the pizza in Tuscany!!!  The thin crust is to die for!!  Now the further South you go in Italy, the thicker the crust gets… Just a warning for those going South wondering why I’ve described the pizzas as being thin-crusted:)  Oh and the ham too… I’ve never tasted better ham either (on my pizza of course!!) than in Italy!!  Ok, I better stop talking about food for now… I’m making myself hungry!!

We headed to the house (about 40 Km outside of Florence) after dinner and turned in for the night.  The next few months were spent catching up, hanging out, hiking in the National Park that we back onto, exploring several surrounding cities, reconnecting with Florence, a trip to the Island of Elba, going to Salzburg, Austria for a few days together (then I left to explore more of Europe on my own), entertaining some friends from Scotland, blogging (for me:)) and now we are getting ready to head out on a cruise that the family organized for my dad’s 75th birthday present!!

It’s been a busy few months for sure!!  Not to mention that while I’ve been here I’ve been making sure that my dad has stayed busy making me homemade lasagna, limoncello, meat sauce, arista, crostate di more, pasta with the favorite sauce (can’t tell you the recipe it’s a family secret:)) focaccia, pasta fagioli, and on and on!!  It’s a miracle I’m not obese!!  Lol!!  Actually, it’s not a miracle… I workout vigorously everyday to counter the calories I indulge in while here:)

On to SpanItalish

Back to Europe

Oh… I should mention I’ve cheated a teeny bit on the pictures… All are current except for the Florence pictures… They are ones from winter 2010… But in coming posts of Florence I will have pictures from this trip, I promise!!  Just wanted to give you a little teaser to start;)

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Gatwick & Airport Fun (Leaving the UK)

Well, after about a month in Scotland, it was time to head to Gatwick and take off for Italy!!  After giving my many thanks to Anna for her hospitality, I left Glasgow via train and headed straight down to Gatwick.  I had booked a little B&B for the night (it took almost all day to get from Glasgow to Gatwick so it was a good thing I left the day before my flight!!) called Da Vinci Gatwick Guest House.  For 40 pounds (yea I know it was pricey but I got my own room/bathroom, breakfast and after traveling all day I enjoyed a little pamper:)) I reserved a single room only about 10 minutes from the airport.

Though a little pricey, I really enjoyed the Da Vinci Guest House!!  I found it comfortable, quaint, warming, welcoming and over all just had a great vibe!  The people who owned, or at least who took care of it are Latin American (I could hear them speaking Spanish) and the woman at least was very accommodating, polite and welcoming!  I didn’t get any actual chat time with the man, that’s why I only mention the woman:)  Though when I made my reservation over the phone, I spoke with a man (maybe the same one??) and he was very polite and accommodating too.  They even provided me with a number of a taxi service that they use that costs half what other taxis cost (according to them) and they picked you up right from the train station.

Quick note here though about taxis… CARRY CASH!!!  AT ALL TIMES CARRY CASH TO PAY THE TAXIS!!!!  Otherwise they will charge you a fee of 7 pounds to use a credit card!!!!!!  Yup, it happened to me… I was fuming!!  Though of course that was on the way to the airport, so what could I do??  The fee almost cost as much as the fare!!!  Consider yourselves warned!!

In any event, the night at the B&B was spent picking off ticks from my forearms (only 4 of them and they were babies, so it didn’t take that long!) and going out for a bite to eat at the local (potentially only) pub and restaurant just walking distance down the road.  The food was great (surprisingly very international!!) and the beers were splendid as always.  Needless to say that night was a quiet one as I prepped to take off the next day.

Because my flight was in the afternoon (6pm) but I had to be out of the B&B by 11am, I opted to just go to the airport and wait until my time to board.  Unfortunately, Vueling Airlines only allows people to check-in 2 hours before their flight, so I had to sit and wait (with my very heavy bag since I was carrying gifts) from basically 11am to 4pm before being able to get rid of my bag and go through security… I finally got checked in and through security, then the cutest thing happened…

As anyone who has ever been to the airport knows, past security there are a ton of shops and stores, and restaurants.  The larger the airport, the more there are!  Gatwick was quite busy and had a ton of places to shop and eat!  I stopped by one place to grab a slice of pizza (easy, cheap and I hadn’t eaten all day!!) then wandered around to find a quiet spot to play a game on my tablet…

I was there all of a few minutes when all of a sudden an elderly woman came by and asked “con permiso, habla Espanol?”  Translation: Excuse me, do you speak Spanish?  To which I responded “Yes, a little” (in spanish of course) and that’s all it took!  She was off!!  Thankfully I actually did understand what she was saying despite her speaking a mile a second!!  She was on her way to Orlando but her flight in Gatwick was delayed and she had no way to contact her family because for some reason she couldn’t get her phone to work and no one in the Gatwick airport spoke Spanish and she couldn’t find anyone to help her because she doesn’t speak and English…

I kinda had to chuckle, because she was just too cute!!  In any event, I explained that her phone didn’t work because she did not have a SIM card for the UK (she was from Spain btw) and I offered her to call her family with my Skype account on my tablet.  She was very thankful, made her phone call to let her family know about her situation, thanked me profusely and went on her way.

I simply went back to my game playing when all of a sudden, about 5 minutes later she snuck back around one again asking for help, lol!!  Poor thing!!!  My heart broke for her and loved her all at once!!  Anyway, she handed me two slips of paper and asked if I could tell her what it was all about.  The first was her boarding ticket for the plane.  But there was no gate assigned to the ticket, only the flight number and seat number.  So I explained that because the flight was delayed, they didn’t know what gate the plane would actually be at and that we would have to simply watch the monitors for departures to see what gate it would be once it was announced.  She got a good handle on that, then I looked at the second slip.  It was a voucher for 5 pounds from British Airways to redeem for food or a beverage at any of the food shops to make up for the delay in the flight.  I explained this to her, then asked if she was hungry.  She said yes, and I offered that if she was interested in pizza, I just happened to know of a place that sold a large slice for 5 pounds… She agreed, so I took her to the food shop, ordered her the pizza to go, paid the shop with the food voucher and gave her the slice.

At this point, as chance would have it I checked the monitor to see if my flight was announced yet, and in fact both mine AND her flight were announced, lol!!  So I told her that the gate for her flight was ready, walked her to her gate (mine was on the way anyway!) then went on to mine:)  She was very thankful, but honestly the whole experience just warmed my heart to be able to help her, so really I thank her!!

On to Italy

On to Europe

Back to United Kingdom

Back to Homepage

Most Random Street Signs!!!

I can’t leave the Scotland section  without mentioning the street signs…  Aside from the fact that when we went to Skye all the street signs turned to Gaelic, they had a whole slew of other street signs that were quite interesting…

There were the usual ones that we are all familiar with: Beware of deer, or Beware of Elk/Moose or even Bear or Cougar (if you are from Florida:))

But since Scotland has literally gotten rid of any and all potentially dangerous animals in the Country (no bears, no wolves, literally nothing that could eat or be a predator to humans) they had to pad out their street signs a bit to extend beyond the boring ol’ “Beware of Deer” sign…

So they extended to:

“Beware of Sheep” (ok, I get that since there are a ton there)

“Beware of Hairy Coos” (these aren’t as common as sheep, but could still be dangerous if challenged)

“Beware of Squirrels” (???  Really???  Are there that many around that we should be that cautious of them?  It would be terrible to hit one but it wouldn’t be quite as dangerous as hitting a sheep or hairy coo…)

“Beware Families” (I get this one is designed to get people to slow down, fair enough!)

But my personal favorite of all of them:

“Beware Old People!!!!” I just had to find one on the internet to include for you!!  Totally cracked me up every time!!  I love the detail of it too, how the old man has a walking stick and both are hunched over… LOL!!!!  Loved it!!!

Beware Old People
Beware Old People

On to Gatwick & Airport Fun (leaving the UK)

Back to United Kingdom

Necropolis & Heelers

While there are lots of place to wander around and sight see in Glasgow (Buchanan Street for shopping, the Royal Exchange Square where the statue of the Duke of Wellington somehow always has a street traffic cone on his head, George Square which is the principal civic square and is named after King George III, the Clydesdale Amateur Rowing Club where we met Anna’s friends then went for drinks at West nearby, and the People’s Palace and Winter Garden which boasts the World’s largest terra-cotta fountain out back!) perhaps my favorite was the Necropolis…

I’ve always enjoyed a good cemetery, and this one was not disappointing!  It literally went on forever!!  One could seriously spend the entire day trying to see all the tombs and plots!!  I’m just kicking myself for not having brought my camera though!!  While not every tombstone was hugely impressive, there was one of a person who was obviously involved in theater that still sticks in my mind… His tombstone was so well decorated and huge!!  It literally looked like you were in the audience of a theater ready to watch a show!  The curtains were drawn, you could see the side balcony areas where the seats for the wealthy were located.  There were the classic faces of comedy and tragedy adorning the top, and a lovely and lively poem written across the curtain… Like I said, it was really impressive because even though I didn’t have my camera, I still remember those details today!

I was joined at the Necropolis by two of Anna’s friends, Davie and Markie.  Anna had to work that day so she gave me her phone and I ended up making plans with Markie to meet in town and go to the Necropolis.  Davie just happened to be joining, but it was just as well because though he has lived in Glasgow for a long while (he may actually have been born there) and he had been to the very lovely church nearby the Necropolis, he had never actually been to the Necropolis!!  Funny how we never take advantage of our surroundings where we live…  It’s the same with me too though, I’m not any better for when I was living in Costa Rica, even though I was literally across the street from the beach, I actually went to the beach maybe a dozen times a month!!  Terrible, I know!  But you all know what I’m talking about!!

Anyway, the rest of that particular day was spent wandering around Glasgow on foot.  We ended up walking past Davie’s house so he was dropped off there and Markie and I continued our tour.  We came across a little park where there was an older gentlemen and three blue heelers (aka Australian cattle dogs).  It was obviously a training session and it was by far one of the coolest things I’ve seen!!  You could tell immediately which of the three dogs was the most experienced and which was the least… They were all in a large field, the older man standing on one end, the three dogs laying side by side down a way from the old man.  Suddenly the man would shout out a command and a name and one of the dogs would shoot up on all fours, race around in a large circle, then come to a resting crouch in front of the man.  The same command was called with another of the dog’s name and off he/she went!  Finally the last would be called (the least experienced) and often times during his/her turn the command would have to be called several times or she would have to do it again, lol!!  It was just so amazing!!  With no leashes, lines, treats, gimmicks, etc, these three dogs were at absolute attention and focus!  It was obvious they enjoyed their tasks and I believe that the more experienced dogs were really the ones helping to train the less experienced dog!  It was just such a treat for me to watch these dogs in action!  I was in complete awe!!!  Needless to say those dogs and their training session were gaining quite the audience from people walking by!!

On to Loch Lomond (Conic Hill)

Back to Glasgow

Back to United Kingdom

Bar Fights and Store Fights

This really was quite humorous because though I’ve never been one to pick a fight or even be involved in a fight, my time in Glasgow is somewhat known for being riddled with fights!  No real violence was involved though so perhaps a better term would be altercation… It just seemed like everywhere we went one sort of altercation or another broke out!!

Quick example: first day I was there, we went out to the Horseshoe bar, which is most famous for having the longest continuous bar in Europe!  Another quick funny here, while Anna is a local Glaswegian, she knows nothing really of Glasgow!!  She kept trying to tell me all this interesting facts about Glasgow, but would only tell them half-way!  “This ceiling (Central Station ceiling) is the largest glass ceiling!!” She would say… Ummmm…. ok…. The largest glass ceiling… where??  In Glasgow? Scotland? Europe??  Turns out (after a Google search) that it is the largest glass ceiling in the World!!  Impressive after all!  And she tried to tell me about the “longest continuous bar” but again didn’t know the rest of the statistic (longest continuous bar in Europe) and at first she named the wrong bar!!  It took another of her friends to straighten her out, lol!!

I digress… Anyway, we were in the Horseshoe bar enjoying some beers when all of a sudden the very drunk woman at the table next to us turned and said… Well, I will just write out the conversation for simplicity sake:

Drunk lady: “How are you doing in the future?”

Us: “Uh, we don’t know, we haven’t been there yet”

Drunk lady: “Ugh!  Nevermind. F off!!”

Us: “Wow, F off??  That wasn’t very nice!”

Drunk lady: “I wasn’t trying to be nice!”

LOL!!  Seriously!!  I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or well, actually I did just laugh!  Though it was really annoying as we were just there minding out business then suddenly had to deal with her lunacy!  And the friend that was with her was even worse!  She wasn’t near as drunk and kept laughing every time her drunk friend said something to us, then would turn to us and say “sorry girls, she’s just drunk, she doesn’t know what she’s saying” only to go back to laughing with her drunk friend!  Strange!!  Needless to say we left shortly after.

The store fight was again just a confrontation more than anything.  We went in to buy something and when it came time to pay, the price was 2 pounds over the actual price shown for the item.  I was paying with my credit card and spotted the increase in price so asked why it was 2 pounds more expensive.  Now, we were a wee bit drunk at this point, so perhaps I asked in not a nice way… But the clerk said it was a credit card fee.  To which I said that was bollocks and outrageous because all other stores only charge up to 60 pence for CC fees!!  Then I said he should have told me about the charge instead of just charging so much extra!  Anna was chiming in too, and I think he just got irritated with the two drunk girls challenging him, so he kicked us out of the store… I threatened to dispute the charges on my card, didn’t sign the slip for the charge and stormed out.  I didn’t end up disputing the charge because I did take my purchase with me as we left, so disputing the charge would have felt like stealing…

So yea, there you go!  There were some other altercations but for the life of me, I just can’t think of what they were exactly… LOL!  Obviously they weren’t that interesting to recall…

On to Necropolis & Heelers

Back to Glasgow

Back to United Kingdom

YES! Campaign

Quick post here about the YES! campaign… For those who don’t know, this past September, 18th 2014 Scotland had a vote on whether they would declare independence from England.  All while I was there during the month of August, the campaign on both sides was going on.  YES! stickers, posters, banners, flags, etc, etc were everywhere!  Much less “No Thanks” paraphernalia were seen, but as we now know, the “No Thanks” vote won.  While my friends in Edinburgh were for the “No Thanks” vote, Anna and just about every Glaswegian I met while there were for the YES! vote.  So while I was there, of course I had to help campaign:)

Literally this just meant sticking YES! stickers on a variety of places, and especially over any “No” stickers that were found, lol!!  Though personally I don’t have and didn’t have an opinion on which way the vote went (since it’s not my country nor business to have an opinion) it was fun to support my friend’s opinion while there.

I will say it was interesting that the silent majority were the ones to win… There was very little “No” campaigning going on, while the YES! campaigns were literally everywhere and in every town/city I had gone to!  Interesting indeed…

On to Bar Fights and Store Fights

Back to Glasgow

Back to United Kingdom

San Jose

I should start by saying that I really didn’t have a plan.  None of this trip was planned exactly.  The farthest I ever got with “planning” was that I was going to sell everything, quit my job and travel out of the Country.  But that was it.  Seriously, nothing beyond there.  So when I landed in the San Jose airport (located in Alajuela) I didn’t have any further idea of where I was going to even sleep that night or what my next move was…

Many would find that crazy especially since I had the time to figure it all out, but in my mind I was just interested in the experience and the challenge of having to figure it out as I went along.  I have always done my best work when thrown into the deep end of the pool and in a way, planning to NOT have a plan was my own personal ocean:)
Walking out of the airport I was immediately ambushed by tons of eager faces and voices all asking “Taxi???”.  I turned them down and asked someone nearby where the bus station was instead.  My thoughts were to get out of San Jose immediately and get out to a more typical Costa Rica town: more nature, less city!  As I made my way toward the buses I suddenly thought “well, one night wouldn’t hurt and I could use it to get my barring”.  So I headed back to the taxis and met a couple of other people who were asking if I wanted to share a cab to San Jose.  I took this as a sign that ok, I could stay one night in San Jose!

In retrospect, had I really understood that the airport was in Alajuela (which I did have a foggy memory of my brother telling me that, yet it somehow wasn’t solidified in my mind) I would have just gotten a taxi to downtown Alajuela…

In any event, about a half our later we were in San Jose and had dropped off my two taxi buddies at their various locations.  The taxi driver then turned to me and (all in Spanish) said- “where are you off to?”  I replied that I had no idea, but asked what he would suggest?  I stated that I wanted somewhere cheap- the cheaper the better in my mind!  He politely stated however that he would much prefer I stayed somewhere a little more pricey, but it would be in an area he considered safe for a single traveler.  I acquiesced and was taken to a little B&B near the downtown area.

After settling in I spent the rest of the afternoon getting lost and trying to get directions on where downtown actually was!  I ran into a few people on the street who I trusted to ask questions of and they assisted me very kindly- but each person also emphatically told me to either get back to my B&B prior to the night-time or take a taxi back.  “Muy peligroso” was what I was told.  Mainly because the drug addicts come out at night and petty crimes apparently aren’t unusual in San Jose.  Though there are crimes everywhere, I took the locals advice to heart and made sure I was back at the B&B by 6pm (yes, it gets dark here by 6pm everyday, year round!).

San Jose was a bustling, constantly moving city!  There were people everywhere!!  In the markets, hanging out in the parks, moving on foot or in their cars or on bikes going to their destinations.  Movement everywhere you looked!  Buildings weren’t very tall but they were everywhere all squished together as far as the eye could see, thus blocking any real view of the beautiful nature that surrounds the city.  McDonald’s, Quizno’s, Pizza Hut and other U.S. food chains were also everywhere!  I hate to admit, but as I was getting a little tired from all the travels and walking around all afternoon, I did drift to a Quizno’s for dinner.  The shame, I know!!  But crowds and areas with lots of hustle and bustle tend to wear me out fast and it was nice to get a little food that I could relate to, so to speak.  I knew there would be plenty of time to taste local flavors and I was certainly looking forward to that, but for the time I was happy with the Quizno’s.

After my bite to eat I did a little internet research at my B&B for Volcan Poas.  My cousin, who is a “seasoned” Costa Rica traveler said it was a good day trip from San Jose, so I decided to check out what was available there (hostels and such) for a trip the next day.  I found a few hostels online and took down their information so I could look them up once there.  I also had to get the bus situation understood because San Jose has 4, yes 4 different bus stations all in different locations from one another.  Depending on where you want to go to, that decides which bus terminal you need to show up to.

As I settled into the B&B to sleep, a huge thunderstorm settled in overhead… Now for those of you who know me, you know that I absolutely ADORE thunderstorms!!! In fact, so much that whether a place has thunderstorms on a fairly consistent basis is actually a deciding factor for me on whether I will plan to live there or not.  I know, I know- sounds absolutely nuts picking a place to live based on thunderstorms, but hey, I follow my passions no matter what form they take!

On to Volcan Poas

Back to Costa Rica