Wanderful

It’s no secret that I’m all about empowering women to travel (and especially solo). So when I came across Wanderful, I was immediately interested in being involved. From their site:

Wanderful is the world’s homesharing network and travel community for women, helping women travel safely and confidently through an online platform that connects them with their greatest asset – each other.

Writing Portfolio — Isabel K Thottam

Wanderful is a community of adventurous, independent women travelers that strive to connect with one another, get involved and live globally. Visit the sisterhood at sheswanderful.com.

And- I’m delighted to announce that I’m a new Wanderlust scholar! So excited to be a member of this awesome community, and looking forward to connecting with kickass women all over the world. They offer local chapters & meetups, homesharing, events & trips, and so much more.

All my ladies, check them out here.

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Did it for the Gram

Hi friends! I created a new Instagram specifically for my traveling/writing adventures.
Check it out if you wanna keep up ✈️

@fromthissideofthesun

#fromthissideofthesun

 

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Hi friends! I’m Kara, the face behind @fromthissideofthesun. I’ve traveled to over 40 countries (most of them solo) and want to share those adventures & stories with you! 🌎 Here’s a little more about me: • I’m the author of two poetry books & recently earned my MFA in Creative Writing 📚 • I started my blog back in 2015, after buying a one way ticket to Spain ✈️ • I’m a mental health advocate, and also suffer from anxiety, depression, and excoriation disorder 🤍 • I love to eat my way through new cities, and always say yes to dessert 🍦 • After undergoing surgery to get a pacemaker in 2016, I’ve learned to truly appreciate my health. I have since climbed Machu Picchu, completed a full marathon & several half marathons, and recently took up boxing 🥊 • I LOVE connecting with new people, so whether we are in the same city or not- let’s be friends! I’m always looking to swap book recommendations, travel tips, and chat about life ✨ • #fromthissideofthesun #travel #wanderlust #travelblogger #solotravel #femaletravel #womenwhowander #womenwhowanderco #womenwhowanderlust #femaletravel #femaletravelbloggers #sheisnotlost #wearetravelgirls #femmewanderers #independentwomen #girlpower #girlpowertravel #womenwanderer #explore #girlonthego #damestravel #femmetravel #travelgram #travelphotography #travelinspiration #travelpreneur #traveling #traveltheworld

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Finding My Balance in Ecuador

Something I constantly struggle with is finding balance in my life. When I visited Ecuador in January, I had an itinerary drafted. I knew, as a weekend warrior trip, that I couldn’t make it to the world-famous Galapagos Islands. But I knew that I wanted to visit the equator (of course!) and chase thrills in Baños, Ecuador’s adventure capital.

Still, you’re never really prepared for what could happen on a trip. What could potentially go wrong, and all the things that could go right: the people you never expected to meet, adventures you hadn’t accounted for in your plans, connections made that now will forever cement you to that moment or place or person.

One thing I’ve always struggled with in my life is balance. This trip was filled with small discoveries in just that: early mornings alone before a late night out accompanied by new friends; the rush of a fast swing over a town far below to quiet moments writing on an overnight bus; indulging at a cafe after hiking underneath waterfalls & standing breathless at the tops of mountains. The blending of two languages, feet between two hemispheres. Always learning. Always challenged. Always grateful.

I flew in and out of Guayaquil just because it was cheaper, but I’m so glad I did because it allowed me the opportunity to see a city I otherwise wouldn’t have.

Highlights in Guayaquil:

Malecón 2000- expansive boardwalk overlooking the Guayas River

Parque Seminario- THERE ARE SO MANY IGUANAS IN THIS PARK. If you want to see one, go here. It’s bizarre.

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Torre del Reloj- (Torre Morisca) iconic clock tower

La Perla- giant Ferris wheel right on the shore of the Malecón

Las Penas- sprawling colorful houses built into a hillside. I loved this view:

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Then to Baños!

Highlights in Baños:

La Casa del Arbol- Swing at the end of the world. No doubt the most famous tourist attraction.

 

There are actually a couple swings here at this location, so make sure to keep walking for the one you want!

Columpio Fantasias de Volar- a mechanical swing, like a roller coaster. A great thrill and unique view of the city all at once. There’s a video of me screaming like a little girl, which I will spare all of you.

Parque Palomino Flores- The main park at the city centre

El Pailon Del Diablo- also known as “Devil’s Cauldron,” an impressive waterfall. Here’s me hiking the path down:

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Cascada Cabellera de la Virgen & Termas de la Virgen- a waterfall & hot springs to bathe in? Sign me up.

Cascada Manto de la Novia- this was an experience like no other- a cable car ride over this waterfall is not for the faint of heart!

I tried canelazo, a hot alcoholic cinnamon beverage, and it was delightful.

Lastly, was Quito. I took the a bus to get there (Ecuador Hop, similar to what I’d used in Peru- highly recommend!) to get there, and we stopped to view Cotopaxi (volcano) and Quilotoa, a water-filled caldera on the way.

Quito highlights include:

Ciudad Mitad del Mundo- “Middle of the World” This is the monument & plaza marking the equator.

Mitad del Mundo- It’s a bit confusing, but this is where the actual latitude and longitude lines are. If you go to Museo de Sitio Intiñan, you’ll find tons of science experiments you can do & learn neat facts about the equator.

TelefériQo- gondola lift with amazing views at the top! I loved being able to see the city down below. Plus, they have swings at the top that make for really neat photoshoots 🙂

Plaza de la Independencia- a cute plaza lined with cafes and shops, the central square.

El Panecillo- hilltop statue. It was gorgeous lit up at night- don’t just take my word for it:

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I was here the shortest amount of time, but obviously there’s no shortage of museums, cathedrals, basilicas, plazas, and wonderful cafes to experience.

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Some new friends in Baños!

Thank you, Ecuador 🇪🇨

Also, I took home an unknown souvenir. I got SO SICK you guys. Day later, I passed out after getting off the bus on my way to work. I couldn’t eat anything. I turned down free dessert at our staff meeting– that’s how you know it’s real.

I have no idea how I got it. I was always very cautious of drinking bottled water, only eating thoroughly cooked food, and fruit that you could peel to open, etc.

Anyway, as someone who has been to over 40 countries and can count on one hand the amount of times I’ve gotten food poisoning or sick, I consider myself #BLESSED.

Hope you’re all finding balance in the world, wherever you are,

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A Decade Under the Influence

[Titled after the Taking Back Sunday song I listened to in my teenage years? Maybe.]

Here we are- at the end of a tumultuous decade. There isn’t a way to describe it all, really. Beautifully hard, bittersweet. My timeline and newsfeeds are overpouring with side-by-side photos, recaps of the past ten years: accomplishments, losses, pain, love, suffering, obstacles, growth, change. I’m no stranger to it all, as I think back on 2009-2019. I am more conscious of time, how I move forward through it, how much stares back at me in the rearview mirror…

Some defining moments:

• Earned my B.A. & M.F.A. degrees
I started at Susquehanna University my freshman year and transferred to Westminster College in the fall of 2009. I graduated in May 2012. I was part of Mortar Board, PRSSA, the Holcad Newspaper, Scrawl literary magazine, Campus Programming Council, Sigma Tau Delta International English Society, Alpha Gamma Delta sorority, and other organizations.
After six years out of school and months of consideration, I began my MFA at Carlow University in January 2018 and graduated this past December 2019. The two residencies at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland, were among the highlights of my time as a graduate student.

• Moved to Pittsburgh & into my own apartment
I moved to Pittsburgh (“the big small city”) in the summer of 2012 and lived for two years in a house with a few of my good friends before moving into my own little apartment, where I have made my home for the past five years. I’ve sunbathed on my roof, I’ve decorated my apartment with secondhand store gems, and I’ve burned meals. I took a bus for the first time, made it my mission to try all the new restaurants/breweries, learned that I love French fries on my salad, kayaked the three rivers in the summer, and fell in love with late night city lights. But I also grew tired of the never-ending sports talk and the dull grayness of this Steel City, how suffocating its boundaries can be.

•  Bought a one-way flight to Spain & traveled Europe for six months
In 2013, after working a job that left me burned out and at rock bottom, I bought a one way ticket to Barcelona, Spain. Through the help of Workaway, I lived with the most amazing family for three months in Blanes, and then spent the other couple months traveling all across Europe. It was the most thrilling thing I have ever done, and the thing I am most proud of, to this day. I learned how to rely on myself. How to love myself despite failure or faults or fear. How to feel the world around me, and see where I belonged in all of it.

• Traveled to 43 countries & countless cities
Though my wanderlust had begun long ago, that journey in Spain (or Catalonia, rather) kick-started what would be a nearly nonstop travel addiction. I have traveled extensively both domestically and internationally, since 2011. 43 countries in total, and 5 continents. And nope, I have no plans of ever stopping!

• Started my blog
Because of these adventures, I wanted to create a home for the stories, photos, and memories to live. I admittedly have a terrible memory, so I wanted to do this for myself, but also as a way to share these experiences with friends and family both near and far. Thus, this blog was born in 2015.

• Ran races, including first full marathon
In between 2014-2015, I fell in love with running. What began as a small challenge for myself grew larger like wildfire until I was running multiple half-marathons and even completed my first full marathon, just six months after I received my pacemaker.

• Got a pacemaker 

Which, oh yeah- I got a pacemaker in March of 2016, after some health issues. It came as a shock, since I was healthier than I’d ever been. But it was also fuel. Fuel to keep living a life riding the edge, to not wait until the next month/year or until I had more money and things were more convenient. Fuel to cherish this body I’ve been given and not waste any more time doing the things I want to do while I am still physically capable of them.

• Published two books & many poems

I published my first chapbook, Next to Everything that is Breakable, in 2017. Not long after, my second chapbook, The Shedding before the Swell, was published in the fall of 2018. Two book launches were celebrated, surrounded by ones I love most. Many poems were also written, sent out to journals and literary magazines, rejected, accepted, edited, published, revised, and reborn. I gave dozens of public readings. I attended a handful of writing conferences (Conversations & Connections, AWP, Sigma Tau Delta, etc.) and even won some awards. I started my author website and Twitter. Above all, I was able to cement my passion in something concrete, and from that foundation, build a community around it.

• Became an aunt to two adorable girls
My sweet Cora was born in 2015, and my fiery Ellie was born in 2018. They are as different as night and day, and their relationship as siblings reminds me so much of my brother and I when we were young. Watching them grow up, evolve into their own selves, and see their wonder for life and learning has captured my heart in a way I hadn’t felt before. (Although it’s still weird to me sometimes that my brother is a dad!) I cherish this family.

• Found Level Red Boxing
When my body decided it needed a break from running, I found boxing. As a woman who travels alone, I’d originally been looking for self-defense, but when I took my first class at this place, I was hooked. This gym has become my second home, and the members and instructors have become some of my closest friends. They push me every single time, and help me feel strong at every level.

• Left a toxic working environment
My first job was a hostess at a family restaurant and my second was being part of the general maintenance crew at PennDOT. During my college years, I worked in the Admissions Office and gave tours to prospective students, which I truly enjoyed. I’ve always been passionate about higher education and have loved working in the field, so after graduation, I started my career in Admissions at a for-profit college. In 2013, I finally left that toxic (and ultimately unethical) job to work in Administration at another thriving University where diversity, inclusion, innovation, hard work, and heart are the core values.

• Diagnosed w/ MDD, anxiety, & excoriation (dermatillomania) disorder

While I knew deep down I was struggling with my mental health, and always have, I was officially diagnosed toward the latter part of the decade. I began taking medication and started therapy. Everything comes in waves, still. And I suppose it always will. But I am learning to stay grounded and not be swept away with the first wave. Dermatillomania, however, was something very new to me, and difficult to accept. I try to continue to be transparent about each and every one of these struggles because not only is it important to end the stigma around mental health, but because you really never know who is suffering in silence. We all have our demons and downfalls. We all suffer. We are human. The more I am open when it is easiest for me to close off the world, the more it helps those around me know I need support. And this, my friends, is exactly what I’ve learned more than anything. I need love. I need support. I need connectivity. We all do. I have been nothing without those around me, caring for me and guiding me, always.

• Joined The Madwomen in the Attic workshop community & became co-curator of the reading series

I love the Madwomen in the Attic. With every fiber of my being. If you follow me on any social media, you’ve no doubt heard of this wonderful group of women writers. I was honored to start co-curating their reading series back in 2017 and am lucky to be the emcee. This has given me the chance to hear new voices, meet new poets, and stay involved in the community.

• Lost a lot of loved ones, learned how to survive my grief

My grandfather, a man I loved so dearly, passed away on Valentines Day in 2017. I have said goodbye to classmates, former friends, and extended family both in death and distance. I grappled with the fact that not everyone who enters your life is meant to stay, and that friendships don’t always outlast what you think they will. And that it’s okay- sometimes they aren’t meant to. I’ve watched friends become strangers and strangers become friends. I have entered and left two very serious long-term relationships, both which absolutely broke me at the time. I learned that heartbreak is incredibly physical. And that I can survive it. I have learned how strong I am- that I am, and always was, whole on my own. That I love the person I am becoming and every scar she used to try to cover up. That the essence of a woman’s worth is not equated to who she’s with, if anyone, or motherhood or beauty or any other ridiculous notion society pushes. I have written some of my strongest pieces after emerging from the fires that tried to engulf me and learned to become the flame- hence the current working title of my manuscript, Ember. Nothing can ever really extinguish us. We don’t have to have it figured out. We just have to keep going.

• Met some of the BEST humans & strengthened old connections
This needs no explanation. Through my travels, my education, my work and recreational endeavors, I have met some of the most fascinating, kind-hearted, talented, and brilliant souls. People who make early mornings more alive, who make long drives and running errands adventurous, and who make being lost feel like you’re right at home. They have carried me through so many seasons of my life. You guys- you are my home. Thank you, and Happy New Year, wherever in this world you may be reading this.

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Twenty-nine, Trinidad & Tobago

What do you do when you’re feelin’ fine & about to turn 29? Book a flight to Trini, of course!   Image result for heart eye emoji

I’ve been making it my mission to give myself a birthday gift in the form of a trip each year, and this was no exception. I traveled solo to Trinidad & Tobago after snagging a decent flight. A relaxing, tropical adventure awaited me. Or did it?

Of course, this was another short trip- flying into Piarco International Airport, spending time in Port of Spain- near Newtown. I spent my first full day walking around the entire perimeter of Queen’s Park Savannah, past the U.S. Embassy (which was conveniently very close to my hostel), the Queen’s Royal College, Archbishop’s House, Stollmeyer’s Castle, Emperor Valley Zoo, National Museum & Art Gallery, and the not-to-be-missed National Academy for the Performing Arts, etc.. But I wasn’t here for just the city…

I wanted to spend time in Tobago, so I caught a ferry from Port of Spain to Scarborough. From there, I made my stay in Crown Point.  Sandy Point Beach, Store Bay Beach, Coconut Bay, Swallow’s Beach, and Pigeon Point were my home grounds, and they were all close and gorgeous beaches! On my last day, the island did get hit with some rain, but I took cover at Bago’s Beach Bar and made friends with the locals. And don’t worry- before that, I’d gotten plenty of time with my booty in the sand, and a fresh coconut in my hand.

Just check it out:

Gorgeous, right?! If I still had a drink in hand, I’d cheers ya in the tropics– but until next time…

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P.S. Have you ever traveled for your birthday? If so, I’d love to hear the destination and how the experience was for you!

The Great White North

I have been blessed beyond measure with two supportive, loving, and hard-working people. They’ve watched me grow up, follow my dreams, wander around lost, make mistakes, fail, and get back up again. I know many people who either do not have good relationships with their parents (whether it be due to their lack of support, abuse, toxic traits, distance, e.t.c.) or people who no longer have their parents living. I want to be sure I cherish this time, these memories, and these two people, while I still can.

So, I convinced them to take a trip with me! (Can you believe it?) My mom likes to travel, but my dad is more of a homebody. Still, I thought he would enjoy the beautiful Canadian landscapes. Banff National Park had been on my bucket list for some time (and I thought it’d be easier to convince them to travel somewhere on the same continent, haha).

We flew into Calgary shortly after the Canadian Independence day, and just before ours. I wasn’t certain how busy a 4th of July weekend trip would be, but we weren’t overwhelmed with tourists at all. We spent a week traveling from Calgary to Canmore to Banff to Yoho to Kootenay to Jasper National Park in a rental car. Patience was tested, buttons were pushed, but we all made it out the other side!

Here are some highlights:

Four National Parks

We stayed the first night in Canmore, where we hiked the beautiful Grassy Lakes Trail (shown below). I have never seen water this color- it was unbelievable! Though it was a bit of a hike for all of us, the views were more than worth it. My parents are both in their mid-60’s, and I’m so, so proud of them for pushing through and following along with my crazy adventures! It wouldn’t have been the same without them. I think more than anything, this trip opened up our eyes to how fortunate we are to have healthy and capable bodies.

From Canmore, we continued on into Banff.

The famous beautiful lakes/sights-

Banff:

  • Peyto Lake
  • Lake Louise
  • Moraine Lake
  • Lake Minnewanka
  • Bow Lake
  • Johnston Canyon
  • Fairmont Banff Springs

Lake Moraine was one of the most stunning lakes, in my opinion. It almost seemed like it shone a different hue at every angle. I couldn’t stop staring at it. I decided to hurry and hike to the top of a cliff to get a better view, and told my parents I’d be back shortly. I knew they’d need rest after all the exercise we were getting. Once I reached the top, to my surprise, I saw my dad had followed me up! It was a special moment to have him there and able to see firsthand the incredible beauty before us. Again, the lake seemed to radiate a different blue shade from above. Because we were up for more adventure, we continued on to explore even more National Parks:

Yoho:

  • Natural Bridge
  • Emerald Lake
  • Takakkaw Falls
  • Kicking Horse Pass
  • Mount Victoria

Kootenay:

  • Paint Pots
  • Healy Pass Trail
  • Mount Assiniboine Park

Jasper:

  • Athabasca Glacier
  • Athabasca Falls
  • Maligne Lake
  • Maligne Canyon

My mom’s bucket list item was to see a glacier, so we made sure to make Jasper National Park our last destination, so we could walk out on Athabasca Glacier and even touch the water running down. We did this through the Columbia Icefield Adventure. The tires on those vehicles were as tall as me! Fun fact: there’s only about 30 of them that exist. Oh, and check out the traffic we ran into in the top left photo-

We only had rain one day, at Emerald Lake, and though we didn’t see a bear, we did narrowly miss one hiking- so thank goodness for that! I think my mom would have pooped her pants 😉 Some of the highlights of the trip included my dad making calls out the window to the elk and watching them lift their heads up & look around, getting mom to shuffle across the glass floor Skywalk, and seeing the blue beauties of the lakes for the first time.

I am so glad I had the chance to take this trip while we all were in good health and able to hike. No matter if you believe in heaven or not, this wide open slice of it is truly beautiful, and I was blessed to share it with my mom and dad.

Until next time, the Great White North–

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P.S. Where do you think I should go with my parents try to convince my parents to go with me next?

H-Town Vicious

Why yes, I’m referring to the Beyoncé song, “Bow Down.” And speaking of Queen B, I visited her hometown this year, and am here to tell you it’s irreplaceable. So get in formation, ladies & gentleman–

Remember when I went to Belize and met these amazing friends, and then went to Mexico with them a couple months later, and then again to Cuba? I had yet to actually hang out with them in the States, since I live in Pennsylvania and they live in Texas. However, that changed when I visited for a weekend, for my first time at the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo!  (I did not realize this was a thing. And it’s a HUGE thing!)

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We actually had a weekend full of concerts, as well. Cardi B at the Rodeo, and then Trampled by Turtles the next night at the White Oak Music Hall.

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Also- can’t forget the CRAWFISH! This was a first for me, and I was slightly terrified at first but then loved how messy and delicious this experience was! We also saw The Orange Show and Smither Park, two gorgeous installations of art.

 

 

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Most of our time was spent in between the Heights and downtown, so there wasn’t a lot of actual area covered, but we really packed so much into this three day weekend and I had such an absolute blast brunchin’ with these babes after Barbarella’s!

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What’s better than fried butter and friendship?!

Fried butter, frito pies, chicken and waffles, tamales, you name it! The food scene is on fire in this city! As is the weather, the nightlife, and the people. Can’t wait to visit again.

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Beachin’ in Barbados

JANUARY 18-21, 2019

My 40th country was the ever beautiful Barbados! Home to Rihanna, amazing rum punches and sunsets, and some guy that told me he’d buy me a Toyota…unless I greatly misunderstood the Bajan dialect, which is probably a safe bet.

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I met quite a few friends, including both locals and fellow travelers that became fast friends. I had flying fish for dinner, which was delicious, and chatted the night away with rum punches at some of the oceanside bars.

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I mainly stayed near Bridgetown, a port city and the capital of Barbados, and spent time on the lovely Rockley Beach, Worthing Beach, and also visited Brownes Beach, Pebble Beach, and Needhams Point. Walking along the boardwalk in the morning was one of my favorite experiences. It was beautiful to watch the waves crash into the white sand and feel the warm sun on my shoulders, not yet overpowering in the heat of the day.

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Like the graffiti? I had to send a photo to my mom 🙂

Barbados is such a friendly island and even though it is small in size (21 miles by 14 miles, to be exact) there was so much I wanted to do and see before my weekend there was up. I didn’t get to try pudding and souse, but I sampled Banks beer & Mount Gay rum while hanging out at the Chill Cafe.

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If you get the opportunity for an island getaway, I highly recommend Barbados as a tropical escape!

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Keeping it Cool in Curaçao

Thanksgiving looked a little different this year- no turkey at the dinner table or family all around me. I spent it with another love, one I’m grateful for: traveling solo. I am so thankful for the opportunity to see yet another gorgeous place in this world.

I decided to spend some time in Curaçao for a warm getaway, and was lucky enough to have a layover in Panama City, Panama on the way. I only had a short time in Casco Viejo and tried to make the most of it.

Walking around the beautiful Plaza de Francia (day & night).

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The view of the city looking out over the water was spectacular, as was the contrast of old & new cities.

I quickly stumbled upon the Cathedral of Panama, as it was right near my hotel and hard to miss. One of the oldest structures in the city.

Sunrise the next morning as I slowly made my way to the airport:

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Wandering around Plaza Tomás Herrera & Plaza de la Independencia

Aren’t these streets so colorful and charming?

Outside Iglesia La Merced

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Next: Curaçao

This was the weekend of the marathon, and also a busy time around the holidays, but this town was a breath of fresh air. Here I am posing on the Queen Emma Bridge. Also, speaking of posing- check out that bird in the photo above. I mean, come on…

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Cool drinks, cooler town.

La Bohème was the spot!

 

Sights around Pietermaai District:

Taking some time to relax on my last day.

This waterrrrrrr though.

Fresh fruit “pizza,” holiday decor, and crystal blue waters. Name a better trio.

Love seeing this view, hate seeing it go.

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Eat. Drink. Travel. Sleep. Repeat.

Until then,

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