Thursday, March 26, 2009

The "Real" World

It's like a natural Wonderland, New Zealand. The landscape is overwhelming in a spectacular way, literally taking your breath away. I almost had to pinch my arm on a few occasions, just to remind myself that I was still on planet Earth. A land so surreal, with vibrant blue skies, low-hanging clouds and lush, green hills that give way to towering, dark mountains.

Milford Sound

Though known for its dramatic scenery, New Zealand's beauty extends beyond just physicality. Its purity, serenity and isolation easily explain its nickname, "Godzone."

With only 4 million people residing on its two islands, New Zealand is hardly populated compared to other nations; thus, offering immense landscapes and splendor. When surrounded by natural beauty, without so many trivial distractions, one is able to enjoy the scenery, find peace within themselves, become open to new ideas and experiences...and discover what truly is "real" in this complicated world.

At points during our visit, we drove 100 kilometers without another vehicle on the windy roads. Whether through the Southern Alps or along the rocky west coast, I sometimes forgot how neon signs assault your vision with their dancing lights and car fumes infiltrate your lungs and sting your eyes. For the second time in my life, I felt more alive than ever the way that only nature can invigorate you, nudge you with its open skies and heavenly landscape. It was like falling in love all over again with nature, myself... the world.

As the saying goes, the journey is more important than the destination. And my journey led me to Doubtful Sound. While on the overnight cruise, 70 other passengers and myself had the entire fjord to ourselves. To arrive at this celestial fjord, we surrendered ourselves to a boat that sped across the lovely Lake Manapauri, then we stepped on land and boarded a bus to cross the Wilmett Pass, the most expensive road in NZ...and from there, we became the only visitors of Doubtful Sound. There was no other humans for hundreds of kilometers. That, in and of itself, was amazing.

While on that cruise, we witnessed the glory of Doubtful Sound on a sunny day, which was only dotted with clouds, as well as the forested mountains engulfed in fog and rain. We also were placed to encounter some of the fjord's residents- seals, dolphins, sea lions, penguins and other nearly extinct birds. Yet, something else from that experience resonates with me on a different level to this day.

Our nature guide, who was very passionate and knowledgeable about the fjords (and quite dashing and witty, on a side note), gave a slide show presentation after nightfall. Holding the audience of 70 people captive with his superb storytelling skills and snarkiness, he spoke of the fjord's discovery and history, as well as of the native animals and those introduced. Yet, even though the overview was interesting, it was a more philosophical diatrite that grazed my soul --

Everyone who comes to Doubtful Sound loves the immense beauty of Fiordland but sadly has to return to the "real world." Yet, the "real world" isn't as bona fide as you may think. It's filled with "things" like TV, video games, iPods, designer clothes, flashy cars...all of which are man-made and hardly "real." What's pure and authentic is this fjord, which was carved out by a glacier thousand of years ago, and remains unchanged (for the most part).

And, it's oh so true. Our "things" don't really make us happy...they just offer us comfort, property, distraction. What can make us happy and does in a literal way (unbeknownst to many) is the immense beauty of this world and what it offers us, whether quenching our thirst, providing us shelter or giving us grand, panoramic views. And it does bring me great happiness and will continue to do so. I am forever changed by my Kiwi experience and am thankful for the opportunity to travel there and experience the land, people, culture and inner journey.... And I cannot wait to be surprised, once again, by the world.

Until next time...

Friday, February 27, 2009

I Heart My City: Louisville, Ky.

What's so special about my city? Well, everyone knows Kentucky for its bluegrass, bourbon, horse racing and college basketball....but it's time for people learn that Louisville is a city with much more to offer.

Since National Geographic's Intelligent Travel blog is hosting "I Heart My City" series, I wanted to expose Louisville for the great city that it is. So, in southern fashion, push your grits to the side and start reading, y'all!

(photo by brittanyculver on Flickr)

I Heart My City: Louisville, Ky.

Louisville (pronounced Lou-a-vull or Louie-ville) is My City!

The first place I take a visitor from out of town is to The Highlands for shopping, dining and nightlife.

When I crave delicious Asian cuisine, I always go to the all-vegetarian Zen Garden.

To escape stress and car exhaust fumes, I head to Bernheim Forest near Clermont, Ky.

If I want to go camping and hiking, Louisvillians go to the Red River Gorge.

For complete quiet, I can hide away in my apartment with a good book from one of our public libraries.

If you come to my city, get your picture taken with the “big bat” in front of Slugger Museum.

If you have to order one thing off the menu from The Bristol, it has to be the green chili wontons.
Swags is my one-stop shop for great running gear.

Locals know to skip franchise restaurants and check out “Louisville Originals” like Ramsi’s, Mayan Café and Café Lou Lou instead.

When I'm feeling cash-strapped I go to Slugger Field for $1 beers and a Louisville Bats game on “Thirsty Thursdays.”

For a huge splurge I go to Mojito's for tapas, good conversation..and, well, mojitos!

Photo ops in my city include a colorful panoramic shot of downtown after dusk, and the best vantage points are across the river at the Falls of Ohio.

If my city were a celebrity, it'd be Colonel Sanders. Though no longer with us, he was a gentleman with a drive to succeed and an innovator with ample pride for Kentucky. Plus, he’s buried in Cave Hill Cemetery, which is located in Louisville, Ky.

The most random thing about my city is that, while we’re near the Bible belt, our bars and nightclubs keep the liquor flowing until 4am.

My city has the most Catholic, bourbon-drinking men.

My city has the most Catholic, bourbon-drinking women.

In my city, an active day outdoors involves a run through hilly, scenic Cherokee Park, followed by frisbee with your dog on Dog Hill (and, of course, letting him romp and roll with other canines).

My city's best museum is the 21c Museum Hotel.

My favorite jogging/walking route is Iroquois Park because it’s embraced by beautiful trees and less populated than the other city parks.

For a night of dancing, go to a salsa party or 4th Street Live if you’re looking for something more mainstream. Or, for live music, check out our vibrant music scene at venues like the Louisville Palace, Brown Theatre, Headliners, Uncle Pleasant’s and numerous bars. Always live music in this city from rock to bluegrass!

Spinelli’s is the spot for late-night eats with its delicious pizza and (after 4am) beer selection.

To find out what's going on at night and on the weekends, read the LEO (Louisville Eccentric Observer) or go online to the MetroMix.

You can tell a lot about my city from its southern hospitality, where people with white hair or pink hair say “hello” to strangers.

You can tell if someone is from my city if one of their first questions asked is “What high school did you go to?’ (It’s a Louisville thing, seriously.)

In the spring, you should experience the Humana Festival of New American Plays at Actors Theatre in March.

In the summer, you should head down to 91.9 WFPK’s Waterfront Wednesdays and watch great local, regional and national acts for free.

In the fall you shouldn’t miss St. James Art Fair, which draws thousands of people to Louisville in October.

In the winter, you should warm up with the seasonal beers at Bluegrass Brewing Co. and Cumberland Brewing Co. (two fantastic local breweries!).

A hidden gem in my city is Vernon Lanes, which was built in 1886, and offers bowling, beer, live music and a great atmosphere for a night out with your friends.

For a great breakfast joint, try Toast. They have amazing french toast…hence the name!

Don't miss the Forecastle Festival in June, the annual Midwest symposium for musicians, artists and environmentalists.

Just outside my city, you can visit the Bourbon Trail -- touring distilleries such as Maker’s Mark and Woodford Reserve (my personal favorite).

The best way to see my city is by automobile since Louisvillians claim that they can drive anywhere within 20 minutes…but it’s best by foot when downtown or wandering around the Highlands or Crescent Hill.

If my city were a pet it would be an average-energy dog –- playful and eager, but at times so predictable and languid.

If I didn't live in Louisville, I'd live on the west coast.

The best book about my city is Capture Kentuckiana, a coffee table book that encapsulates the essence of our city and area through local photographers’ lenses.

When I think about my city, the album "Louisville is for Lovers" comes to mind since it's a compilation disc featuring "love" songs by all local artists. Louisville has a great music scene, and My Morning Jacket are our current music ambassadors.

If you have kids, you won't want to miss the Great Balloon Glow, where children see the hot air balloons that will race the next morning (all part of the Kentucky Derby Festival).

The Kentucky Derby could only happen in my city.

My city should be featured on your cover or website because it’s a mid-sized city with a small town feel and big-city dreams, as well as a thriving arts scence!

Other reasons that I heart my city:

Do you love your city? Click here to read the original blog post on Intelligent Travel. To participate, fill out our questionnaire and email your responses to They'll feature their favorite responses here on the IT blog. Now go and share your city!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Struck at a young age…

My heart seems to follow the beat of a wanderer. Not many seem to understand my ache to go, for my feet to take me somewhere. I constantly crave freedom, difference in land and culture, a world away from the one I live... where I can explore, think, learn and grow.

I could live without travel, adventure and worldly experiences...yet, for me that would be a life unfulfilled. That's why I recognize my inexhaustible passion to traverse the world. And passion is such an interesting topic in and of itself – able to bring great happiness, as well as cause longing and suffering. But I digress... (as I often do!)

When was I struck by wanderlust? I can't pinpoint an exact time or place, but it began with my family adventures of yesteryear. We would pack up the rented car (think teal Ford Taurus) and drive cross country to visit national parks, Indian ruins and off-the-beaten-track towns for weeks at a time…thankfully without fanny packs. There were no cruises, beach vacations or luxurious hotel stays. Instead, our summers became about breath-taking scenery, wildlife-viewing, hiking excursions, extensive "Cambo" action (old-school camcorder filming) and family bonding.

Here’s something I wrote about our Canadian vacation in the late 90’s…

“Darkness was slowly becoming light. The distant stars no longer shimmered and dotted the sky, teasing you to make a wish with their twinkle. I stood outside in our driveway yawning, pretending to help load the heavy luggage in the Ford Taurus. It was blue, ugly and practically would be my home – my family’s home – for the next three weeks.

The quiet of dawn was underwhelming. It whispered slumber, soon to end. But my envy for all those still sleeping engulfed me. Yes, I would get to travel Canada, walk across a glacier, see an abundance of wildlife and gaze upon awe-inspiring mountains – so many things that few get to experience firsthand. But, I was far too dazed by sleep (or lack thereof) to even grasp the breadth of this life-changing journey. At that moment, outside of our house in the dewy air, I only saw it as yet another crazy family vacation.”

Oh, how my perspective changed during that vacation, especially when we entered Glacier National Park. I guess that trip could have marked the birth of my wanderlust. And, excluding the embarrassing moments (thanks, mom and dad) and the unavoidable, constant “family time,” I am forever grateful to my parents for all of our road journeys and experiences. And, more importantly, for what they instilled in me – the fragility of the world’s beauty, an appreciation and love for all animals and people, and of course, a passion to travel.

With this blog, I hope to pay it forward by taking you, my fellow wanderer, on a virtual trek of my adventures, misadventures and daydreams, while also sharing travel photography, news and tips….and inspire you to wander the world.

Happy travels!