How can any travel/photography blog be complete without a trip to Florida? The truth is, it can’t. Florida may be totally over rated to some, but to me I fell in love. Well, I pretty much fall in love with everywhere I go, maybe that’s part of my problem. I left cold Minnesota in January to visit my dad and stepmom in sunny Fort Myers, Florida. I only had three short days there, flew in on a Friday and left Sunday morning. That didn’t stop me from soaking up as much sun as possible and visiting at least four different beaches. The first full day there we drove out to Sanibel Island to spend the relaxing day picking up sea shells and trying to get burnt.
I don’t really have any wild or crazy stories since I was with my family, but instead this vacation was the perfect amount of relaxation. Plus, I didn’t have to pay for the flight (my dad had some miles) and I didn’t have to pay for lodging or food. So, all in all I think I spent around $15 for some sun glasses at the farmers market. I’d have to say it doesn’t get much better than that, and my family spoils me.
Carnaval is a crazy time of year in South America, people all over the continent are celebrating. Jobs get put on hold, school work is pushed to the back, and everything shuts down to party. Merida, Venezuela is no exception. The streets become crowded with tourists and the party doesn’t stop for about four whole days. The majority of local Merideños head out to the beach to beat the tourists, the traffic, and unfortunately, increased crime. I really wanted to stay in the city and experience what Carnaval had to offer, however I had a strong desire to go to the beach. So, a bunch of Americans from my study abroad program got some Venezuelans to accompany us to the beach. We rented a bus, basically a school bus with a door that didn’t close all the way and windows that were permanently gone. This is something I would not advise doing as driving through the mountains at night is very cold and packing for 35 degrees and 90 degrees is difficult. We drove about 14 hours through the mountains and the plains until we finally reached the coast.
The house we had arranged to rent was already taken (I honestly still don’t know what happened or why), but we found ourselves trying to find a place to stay during the busiest time of year. Luckily, one of our Venezuelan friends knew someone and they rented us their house. When I say house, I mean a two bedroom with a mini kitchen and bathroom. I’ll start with the bathroom, it was nasty. The shower wasn’t really so much of a shower as it was just a shower head stuck into the wall next to the toilet. There also happened to be a window that people could see in from the back alleyway where there were chickens and stray dogs that lived. The kitchen had a “deep freezer” with a dead chicken frozen to the bottom. This chicken had been de-feathered, cut up, and just thrown in the bottom to be forgotten about. There was no fridge, no oven, of course no microwave, and no table. There was a sink, which happened to be our saving grace. Keep in mind we had about 16 people staying in a two bedroom, the guys got one room and the girls the other. Each bedroom had a queen size bed and we found an extra mattress somewhere. I still have scars from getting bit by unknown bugs in my sleep.
We rented a boat and headed out to one of the cayos (islands) for the day equipped with enough alcohol to go around. Needless to say, we didn’t really think beyond the alcohol and thus had no food, no water, and there was no place to buy either of these items on the island. Luckily, that night our boat came and got half the group and brought them back to the house. The other half, myself included, ended up being stranded on the island because it got dark and the boats have no lights. One thing you learn about Venezuelans is that they are extremely kind and generous. We were immediately taken in by a group who was camping on the beach, they shared their tuna and ketchup sandwiches with us and gave us fresh water to drink. Traveling is about learning and one thing you definitely learn is how kind people really are.
The next day the rest of our group met us back at the island and we laughed about what had happened and then were immediately angered that they hadn’t brought sufficient food and water for us. Our stay didn’t end there, we had plenty of other adventures as pretty much everything went completely wrong. Yet somehow I had the best time of my life.
Vienna is a grand city with some of the most beautiful architecture mixed with century old history. While exploring the streets of Vienna one can only be swept away by the attention to detail within the city and how even though it is a city of roughly 2 million, it really feels like a small town. I could never get bored of wandering the streets randomly, stopping in at cafes for wine and coffee, and photographing the many activities that are constantly happening.
Even though when I was in Vienna most of the time it was rainy and cold, I had such a fantastic time. This particular day happened to be sunny, but still cold. It was so windy I had to wear a head band and couldn’t get any good pictures without my hair blowing around crazily. Luckily, the flowers were in bloom and people were still milling about despite the cool wind.
The churches in Vienna are indescribable. I am not a religious person, but couldn’t help feel in awe at how they constructed these amazing churches hundreds of years ago without modern day machinery. One could spend days just exploring the churches around the city and metropolitan areas like the Vienna Woods. If you are one for architecture and have a respect for history, you should definitely not skip the churches. Many are free to enter and others have small fees, like a few euros. I grew up in a family that is not very religious, for awhile my father was atheist even though his family is very Catholic. So, even though I grew up in a more spiritual family, my extended family are strong believers thus instilling in me a great respect for religion (any religion). Faith is something that I believe is not tied to one religion or the other, however I always understand how one can feel closer to God when they enter these grand churches. There is just something magical that surrounds you the moment you walk through those doors.
Arriving at Vintgar Gorge is fairly easy and only about a 10 minute drive from Lake Bled, it’s a fun drive too. Drive through cute neighborhoods on the narrow, winding roads and you will be rewarded with a small parking lot and a tiny office where you pay your meager 4 euros to enter the gorge. You start by walking along a narrow path next to the river, walk down some stairs and you start down the board walk that they have built onto the side of the gorge. The moment you enter the gorge the temperature drops about 10 degrees and you can feel the cool air permeating off the river as it quickly flows by.
The walk is only a couple of miles, but it takes about an hour or so to walk to the end. We stopped plenty to take pictures and marvel at how cold the water is. At the end of the gorge there is a beautiful waterfall and a small convenience store where you can buy ice cream to reward yourself after the “long” hike. There are some other trails you can take to explore the area, we took a small trail up a hill and were not disappointed.
Lake Bled, Slovenia is a town full of charm and plenty of activities for the whole family. We drove to Lake Bled from Lake Hallstatt, Austria and arrived on a sunny afternoon, just in time to check in to our hotel. Well, we didn’t actually get a hotel room, we rented a house off Air B&B with a local Slovenian family. They had several homes next to each other where the uncle, father, and grandfather lived and an empty home that they rented out. It was a peaceful place with a balcony that overlooked a small stream with rolling hills and the mountains in the distance. The weather was perfect, 80’s during the day and cool 50’s at night. We were only a five minute walk from the lake and enjoyed walking the 3 miles around several times.
You can’t visit Lake Bled without taking a trip to the church on the island where you can ring the bell and it’s said to bring you good luck. You rent your own boat or hire one of the traditional oresman to row you across in one of the traditional wooden boats. Rowing boats is more than just a job, it’s a profession that is handed down for generations.
The most iconic photos of this little town have the castle and the church in them. You can easily visit the castle on top of the hill and spend the day overlooking the lake and drinking in the sunshine. We ended up skipping the castle and going to the Vintgar Gorge instead, we had saw some other castles in Austria so we decided to go with something different.
Lake Hallstatt is one of the most serene places I have ever been. The tiny town is surrounded by serene, lush mountains and a crystal blue lake. From the moment you arrive, you realize that this really is a special place with it’s old world charm and country flare. Driving to Lake Hallstatt is nothing short of amazing, you first drive through a long tunnel and along the lakeside before arriving in the small town. Parking is fairly easy and they have tons of space, even though you do have to pay. I suggest riding the funicular up into the mountains for an unforgettable view of the town and the lake.
You can rent traditional Austrian clothing and wear them around town to take pictures and send them to your loved ones. Spend your time wandering around the town, taking in the sights, shopping, and eating some local Austrian food. There’s no better way to spend the day than walking up and down cobble stoned streets eating ice cream and feeling the warmth of the sun on your skin.