Havana Good Time

Last month, I stepped back in time with the two best friends a girl could ask for. Havana, Cuba was unlike any place I’d ever been.

From the bright colored homes, classic cars, and heart of the Cuban people, nothing was more spirited.

We saw Fusterlandia (above) and admired the beautiful works of art. Then, we sampled different rums, savored the most delicious (and only) flaming coffee I’d ever had, and I had my first cigar, which I loved! We brought several back 😉

From Old Havana, to Mafia Mojitos, we soaked in every experience.

Getting lost around the capital.

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And come on, our balcony view was right near the famous MalecĂłn!

We also caught El Morro cannon celebration and the most breathtaking sunset! What a way to end a trip of a lifetime.

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Please- If you are from the U.S., do not let what is going on right now steer you away from this incredible country. I urge you to see it for yourself. You can get a visa at the airport like we did for support of the Cuban people. Stay at an AirBnB and exchange money beforehand. All things were actually less of a hassle than we expected.

This is one place you will be so happy you didn’t miss!
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AmsterDAMNNNNN

You guys, I just got back from one of the most fun trips of my LIFE! I flew to Amsterdam last week and took full advantage of my short time there.

Some quick highlights:

Van Gogh & Rijksmuseum

I Amsterdam sign

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Vondelpark- I stayed right near this gorgeous place.

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Heineken Experience- this was a BLAST. Tour of the brewery, boat ride to A’Dam, interactive experiences, bottling your own beer, everything!

A’Dam Lookout- come onnnnn, more like AmsterDAMN.

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Over the Edge- because why not?

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Anne Frank House- Truly an eye-opening and overwhelming experience to tour this annex and learn about this incredible young woman’s life and how her words have impacted us.

Dutch Pancakes & Coffee

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Floating Market

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Canal Tour- By the way, 12,000-15,000 of these bad boys get pulled out of the canals every year!

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Light Festival- so, so beautiful! Photographs don’t do justice. From November 30-January 21st, so I definitely picked the right time to go!

(These are just Christmas lights- but still, how spectacular?!)

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Dam Square

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Here, you can see bubbles in front of the Grand Palace.

Jordaan/Leidseplein neighborhoods

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Red Light District

I made fast friends with these lovely lads from Ireland and we had an amazing night out!

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I also got to see the charming countryside of the Netherlands:

Zaandam-  Behind me is the only working mill in the world that still makes paint.

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Volendam

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Cheese tasting is awesome. Until you’re a solid ten minutes in…

I tried kibbeling here, too. Delicious!

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Wooden shoes, anyone?

And I’ll leave you all with this bathroom stall wisdom from Friday night:

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Catch you wildly beautiful people somewhere in the world next time!

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Monologue of the Woman Dreamer

I don’t know how to peel back the months of my life. When those moments I was in became days that drifted into years, how I stopped recognizing myself in old photographs or where the people beside me in them went, or how to get them back. (As if I could convince myself it would be the same.) When six year old innocence became sixteen angst, became the shell of this twenty six year old woman. I blazed through adolescence with bleached hair, a hungry heart, a kind of wild ambition I can’t even dream up now.

Graduation was almost five years ago. The night before, I stood on that dock ready to jump, ready for cool dark water, something to shock my body, something to wake me up, just something underneath that May moonlight to either bathe me or drown me, I wasn’t sure which. It’s a strange feeling to want to be consumed. To be ready for it. That desire, that ambition, meant long city nights were ahead, and I fought my way to see them through. To pay the electric, to keep the light on, to keep burning. I set myself on fire. I raked through a 9-5 like I was taught.  I stopped looking for answers to the questions I forgot I’m allowed to ask, steadied myself against the current of the world and from reaching the bottom of the bottles on my shelf. I buried myself. Had milestones and mistakes on repeat. I bled trying to figure out just what it meant to be successful. A degree. A job. An apartment. Check, check, check. I did all of it. And yet…what for? And what now?

What happens when the supposed keys to happiness don’t twist and give way at the door in front of you? What if your wants and your needs and your reality don’t meet at this intersection and you look over to find nobody but doubt is sitting shotgun? I’m knee deep in my life and all of a sudden, I’m not sure where I am going or if I like it and who I am. I’ve stood in shadows and I’ve stood in the light, and I still don’t know how to love myself in either.

But I’ve loved. I’ve loved men who have seen all of me and yet never even knew my scars. What does that say about them? Better still, what does it say about me? I’ve loved the chase, the thunder of the unknown barreling through me. I love the hum of a heartbeat, the strength of fingers interlocked, the safeness of a naked soul. I clung to the notion I should romanticize busyness. I loved making calendars and planners fill up until I realized I was emptying myself. Running on coffee and the belief that I was making you, or at least someone, proud. That I was becoming something. Starving despite a full stomach, the appetite for my life lost. Maybe I’m repeating myself. Maybe we’ve all been there.

Women- how fragile and fierce are we? Too much this, too much that, but not enough. Crooked noses, big feet. Hair that frizzes in summer heat to swallow anything it touches. Clavicle bones that are never kissed, shoulders sunken with a weight we shouldn’t have to carry. The dripping curve of a lower back that forgot how it felt to be touched. Eyes an ocean of maybes. Stomach too soft, hips hidden from unwanted gazes (even our own), cellulite sliced into upper thighs as if it was a hot pepperoni pizza. Lips that beckon to tell secrets and inhale whatever a sunset is made of. Made of a million particles of “what ifs” and a swelling storm that rages even when we’re calm, even when we smile. Everything we are could bring you to your knees. We are composed of sheet metal our fathers molded from childhood, translucent glass that can never break, diamonds and teeth from past lovers, wood from the tree in your front yard, dirt roads and plastic bags, and stitched together with ribbon our mothers gave us- fragments of raw love, fraying at the ends. With bad posture and clumsiness and a beautiful brain and a lot of guts. I promise I am 75% fire and within me there is a real hurricane. I feel too much and I feel nothing at all. I’m trying to explain to you how that’s possible.

How do you learn to know who you are when the world is still telling you who to be? Where can you find what you love and let it kill you?  Maybe we’re just the blind leading the blind toward this whacked-out definition of happiness. Will there ever be a moment you look in the mirror and you don’t feel even just a little uncomfortable?  How do you make sure friends won’t be just a profile on a Facebook page and family won’t be strangers you feel obligated to see on holidays? Stop hiding behind filters and phones. Strip it all down, scream, do something. We’re so far removed from feeling anything and acknowledging it, revealing it. Too immersed in media and this illusion that everyone else has it together, and therefore so should we.

I’m here to tell you I don’t. I’m not exactly unhappy with my life. I’ve stood in crowds at concerts, feeling invincible. But when it ends, I wonder when’s the next time I’ll feel a part of something again. I’ve been told how envious people are of my accomplishments and experiences, like my life was this incredible dream they wish they could attain or trade something for. To some, that validation would hold meaning. But what do you say back, when they don’t realize the half of it? I’ve made friends in corners of the world, but those connections don’t reach across phone lines, probably for reasons that all lead back to me. I’ve stood on Machu Picchu, dined atop the Eiffel Tower, rode a camel in Morocco. I have traveled to cities where my tongue couldn’t speak the language, felt my skin burn from the fire of a different sun, and I’ve tried to soak my tired bones in all of it to find out what it means. Seeking fulfillment. I’ve crossed state lines and boundaries and crossed off bucket lists. I’m living but when do I start to feel alive?

And here we are already, another calendar year, another birthday looming ahead, emotions moving at the speed of light. How did we get to this place? I wish I could slow it down. These seasons are melting together so fast, memories always slipping through the tiny cracks in the palm of my hands as I try so desperately to hold on to them. And yet, I’m here still secretly hoping the leaves would just hurry up and change again, still wondering if there’s something more and measuring up just short of it, still waiting to find the word “yes” just so I can say it out loud, over and over again, to my reflection without flinching.

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On to the Next One

After two years of not traveling, I vowed that this year I would rid myself of excuses and make traveling a priority again. And I did: Dominican Republic, Peru and Bolivia, Iceland. And now, as 2016 draws to a close, I am excited to announce I’ll be squeezing in one last international trip. I am heading to a place that’s been on my list for a while: Asia. Specifically, I’ll be flying solo in Thailand and then visit my brother in South Korea for Christmas.

Those who know me know that I love to travel, but four international trips in one year (all while working full time, taking classes, and running marathons) is a LOT. I’ve been playing catch up on the last couple years, and while it’s been nothing short of incredible, I’m sure that I won’t continue to travel as much in this capacity as I have been. Moving forward into 2017, I would like to balance it out to one international trip a year.

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Furthermore, (and no doubt a contributing factor to this decision) I decided that I need to throw myself back into my passion- writing. It’s what I love, and in just this first full year of Madwomen classes, I have grown so much as a writer. I’ve dug deeper to find my poetic voice again, have been attending readings, gave a reading of my own, mentored with an incredible poet and teacher, and made connections to other writers in the Pittsburgh community and beyond. This year alone, I have had approximately thirteen pieces published in anthologies, literary magazines, and journals. And that’s with not even dedicating time to mass submissions. So why not keep the momentum going? I’m excited to announce that for the spring semester, I will be doubling up on Madwomen classes.

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Whew. What’s next in 2017- more publications? An MFA? Tackling another marathon? Exploring a new country? I’m not really sure just yet. All I know is that I have come so far in a year, and it’s inspired me to push myself even further to see all that I can be.

But first, some much needed relaxation and celebrating the upcoming holiday with family.

 

P.S. Have you been to Thailand? Would love to hear your recommendations!

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Land of Fire & Ice (And Everything Nice)

Bright rainbows breaking through clouds, the rush of a waterfall around every corner, rolling green fields, and the nicest people you’ve ever met?

Sounds like heaven, but the name is Iceland.

I was lucky enough to visit this incredible country this past week- this time with my boyfriend for our three year anniversary. It was our first international trip together, and his first time outside of North America- something I’ve been wanting to experience with him since we started dating!

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We got a sneak peek of the mesmerizing Northern Lights as we flew over Greenland. Our captain woke us up to instruct us to look out the left side of the plane for the show!

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Due to the weather, this would unfortunately be the only sighting we’d have the rest of our trip, but the views alone of this country and the adventures we went on more than made up for it! We spent the first full day exploring Reykjavik. The country’s capital and largest city, and it charmed us from the very start. Take a look at some of the city’s gems:

We saw the Sun Voyager, a striking steel sculpture along the water.

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Harpa, a concert hall near the harbor where we saw an awesome exhibit.

HallgrĂ­mskirkja, an immense church that boasts outstanding panoramic views of the entire city.

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Perlan, a glass dome rotating restaurant where we enjoyed a delicious dessert after a long day of hiking.

 

Lake Tjörnin, RĂĄĂ°hĂșs ReykjavĂ­kur (City Hall), Monument to the Unknown Bureaucrat,  etc.

 

As much as we adored the city, we loved the countryside even more. We couldn’t pass up one of the most famous routes out of Reykjavik- the Golden Circle- featuring Þingvellir National Park, Haukadalur geothermal area (Geysir, Strokkur), and Gullfoss waterfall.

Gullfoss waterfall– This double-tiered waterfall reminded me at first of Niagra Falls, but I loved how close we could get to it!  Not to mention the way the sun reflected off the water- the rainbow was a gorgeous payoff for the long climb and the downpour of rain we got caught in!

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Þingvellir (Thingvellir) National Park the site of two tectonic plates (American and Eurasian) that drift apart at a speed of 2 cm/year, and also the site of Althingi, the oldest functioning parliament in the world. We couldn’t get enough of the history and autumn colors here.

 

Haukadalur geothermal area (Geysir, Strokkur, etc.)

Bright blue bubbling pools, hot springs, and mud pots, this place was a delight to see! Although the sulfur smelled like rotten eggs, you forget all about it with the excitement of seeing Strokkur explode every 5-10 minutes.

 

We made a stop at Fåkasel Horse farm to see the famous Icelandic horses. They are all pure bred- once an Icelandic horse leaves the country it cannot ever return, and no horses can be imported. They also have five gaits instead of four, making them very unique.

 

We didn’t think we could top the Golden Circle, but we were proven wrong during our exploration of Iceland’s South Coast shores:  SkĂłgafoss waterfall, Reynisfjara’s black sand beaches, SĂłlheimajökull glacier, Eyjafjallajökull volcano, and Seljalandsfoss waterfall, among others.

SkĂłgafoss JJ and I were able to climb to the very top of this powerful waterfall. (Look to the top right of the photo- that’s where we were!) The slippery steps led us to an unbelievable view looking down below.

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Black sand beaches of ReynisfjaraThis world famous beach was like nothing we had ever seen before! Gray pebbles, dark sand, basalt sea stacks, rocky pyramids towering over us. The impressively strong, high waves crashing into the shore and gusts of wind were scary and wonderful all wrapped into one spectacular visit.

 

Sólheimajökull glacier- This glacier emerged right as we rounded the bend after a 10-15 minute hike. It completely took our breath away- it was the first time either of us had ever seen a glacier in real life! We learned it covers Katla, a dangerous volcano that is threatening to erupt in the near future. (Which we were glad we missed.)

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Eyjafjallajökull – You can’t see the glacier here in this photo below, but the left photo is the volcano that erupted in 2010 and stopped air traffic throughout all of Europe. The photo on the right is a massive rock in which houses have been built into. It’s been called the “elf house.” Many Icelandic people believe in elves. JJ and I weren’t convinced, but it is ironic that after we took this photo, our camera stopped working…

 

Seljalandsfoss– By far one of our most favorite destinations. This magnificent waterfall has a path that leads you BEHIND it, so you can actually walk to the other side for an even more stunning view. But beware: you absolutely will get soaked to the core. Definitely worth it!

 

So okay, you get it. We saw some extraordinary things in nature and kissed under a lot of waterfalls. But what did we eat?

Pylsa– Iceland is known for their hot dogs, and I certainly had my fair share of them. Not joking, I could really go for another one as we speak! The picture on the right is at BĂŠjarins Bestu, which proudly displays a picture of Bill Clinton enjoying his meal. If you order one with everything on it (which I recommend), it includes raw onions, crispy fried onions, ketchup, special Icelandic mustard, and remoulade.

Don’t believe me about how AMAZING and renowned they are? Check it here.

FlatbrauĂ°- rye bread with smoked lamb & Malt drink (non-alcoholic, typically mixed with orange soda for holidays)

 

Skyr– A thick yogurt that was very filling.

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Several different soups to help warm up on colder nights:

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Traditional Icelandic Meat Soup.

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Turnip soup- never had a turnip in my LIFE but this was delicious!

And, of course, who could forget FISH?

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The best fish either of us had ever tried at the Drunk Rabbit.

Chuck Norris Grill– we couldn’t stop laughing at all of these sayings!

 

Dillon Whiskey Bar– Sampled some Balvenie (aged 12 years) here that I loved!

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Drinks- Icelandic Pale Ale & White Ale, Viking, Thule,  Egils Gull beer, Somersby cider. etc. We tried it all but the Black Death, Brennivín, which we plan on trying in the States.

 

Blue Lagoon– How could we come to Iceland and not visit one of the 25 wonders of the world? On our last day, we spent a full day here relaxing and literally soaking it all in. With blue water the temperature of 100° F, a swim up bar, and silica mud masks that left your skin feeling 10 years younger, there was no better way for us to wrap up our romantic, fascinating, and completely breathtaking vacation.

 

We could not have asked for a more beautiful adventure together, and already can’t wait to go back. Iceland captured our hearts from the beginning, but if you’ve read this post, it’s not hard to see why.

 

 

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First Anniversary!

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Whoa. Exactly one year ago I created From This Side of the Sun. I had zero clue how to use WordPress, let alone how to blog, and no idea what would happen once I let this baby out into the world. All I knew is that I had to do it. I had to create an outlet for my voice.

Since then, it’s been nothing short of an incredible adventure in itself, and my saving grace in its own right. I’ve been able to share my stories of traveling, my struggles and accomplishments with running, my poetry, and even opened up about my health issues. I’ve written about my passions and my most embarrassing moments, from wild adventures to every day life. I have connected with so many individuals across the country, and surprisingly enough, this blog has brought me even closer to those already here at home.

So a massive THANK YOU, from the bottom of my heart, for following along these past 365 days, being an instrumental part of my continuous growth and support of strength, and letting me share my world with you.

New here? I got ya covered. Here’s a snapshot of  some of my favorite memories (both old & new) of posts from August 2015-now. Time really does fly when you’re having fun, huh?

 

Can’t wait to see what’s next!

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Anddddd, she’s off again!

I just did the craziest thing.

I threw caution to the wind, and booked a flight to Peru that leaves exactly ONE WEEK from today.

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Can’t wait to see this in person!

Borderline insane? Probably.

This wasn’t completely out of nowhere, though- I’ve been wanting to travel to South America for almost 5 years now. I created the opportunity, I got the time off work, and I didn’t let anything (or anyone) hold me back. I took the leap.

If you know me at all, you know I crave adventure. You know I love spontaneity. And I’m also a walking contradiction, because I also have to plan everything and be in control of knowing fully what’s going on. (So putting a trip together in under a week is going to be interesting.)

I’ll leave Pittsburgh next Thursday, July 14th, and after a couple years of no big international trips, I’m more than itching with excitement for my next solo journey!

Traveling alone isn’t new to me. Roughly 3 years ago, I boarded a plane to Barcelona with a dream to make my way around Europe. I was by myself, I was scared, I was nervous, I didn’t know what to expect. (Read about it here.)

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But, similar to this moment, I also knew I had to do it. I knew I wanted to explore all the corners of the world and dive headfirst into the unknown more than I’ve ever wanted anything. I wanted to indulge in the food and culture of a new place, meet new people, and see what I’d only ever seen in breathtaking photographs. I needed to understand the world around me and realize what a small place I took up in it.

Looking back, it was the best decision I have EVER made. I’ve met some of the greatest friends, not to mention really began to discover myself. I was surprised at my own strength. Cliche as it sounds, take my advice: Sometimes when you’re the most lost, you find who you are.

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Since then, life has been a whirlwind of small trips, working, training for races, surgeries, etc. I’m ready to get back out there.

Traveling shocks me in a way I can only describe as coming alive. Strange as it may sound, I feel the most at peace when I’m pushing through the London underground, getting lost in the streets of Barcelona, or jumping from the Alps. It truly makes me feel like I am LIVING life, instead of existing in this world.

There is so much more out there than you can imagine. Don’t get me wrong- starting a career or a family and planting roots are all wonderful things! I have a great job, live in a cool city, and am dating the most wonderful guy. But I also yearn for what’s outside my little corner of the universe, and I think a small part of me always will.

So, who has two thumbs and is finally going to South America? This girl! And I can’t wait to write & tell you guys all about it.

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Have you been to Peru? What are your recommendations? I’d love to hear from you about what you’d do again (or differently). Help me out, amigos!

*Lima
*Cusco
*Machu Picchu
*Sacred Valley
*Lake Titicaca

 

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