I woke up today with an ache in my chest. It’s a pain I’ve felt before, one I’ve come to know all too well. The German’s call it ‘fernweh’, and while there’s no English translation equivalence for it, it can be loosely defined as distant sickness. Unlike wanderlust, another German word literally translated as a desire to wander, fernweh can cause actual discomfort out of the desire to travel to undiscovered places.
Considering my constant affliction with wanderlust, I’ve been fairly good at keeping my conceptual travel plans at bay during a global pandemic. The old me would comb through travel websites, marking up an ever growing Adventure List. But, amid COVID-19 I’ve only skimmed through a single book — realizing at that moment I could check off the cover photo as ‘places I’ve been.’ All things considered, I’ve done an excellent job at ridding travel temptation during this quaran-time. Albeit, I’m unsure if it’s self-preservation or actual self control.
But this morning fernweh washed over me like a tidal wave, my gut instinct drowning in moments of what could be. My mind drifted to the mountains and I saw the big Montana sky. I heard the neighing of a horse I longed to ride through the valley and felt the wind blow through my hair as the dirt kicked up behind. Fernweh grew, pinching my arms and legs. It eventually gripped my emotions, the way a good kiss lingers even after lips have left– happy at the memory, saddened by its disappearance. Was it possible to miss a place I had never been, to feel so completely lost for something I had yet to experience? The emotion is anything but foreign and yet I somehow forgot all about it.
In an attempt to ease my fernweh, I began scrolling through images of past adventures. I may not be physically capable of boarding a flight right now but in the meantime I could at least travel down memory lane. I recalled a drive I took through Jackson, Wyoming in summer of 2017. My friend gave me the keys to his truck and I drove for two hours in a single direction, to the point cell reception and GPS were out of reach. Locals yelled at me for driving irresponsibly down side streets (it was a very big truck, turns were impossible, and I had no idea how to work it). Eventually, I got to a dirt road and drove to the end. I parked the truck, got out with no one in sight, phone completely out of service, and started to follow the sounds of the river. I kept walking down a narrow path that was created by the few wanderers before me. It was beautiful, and very representative of my personality– always the pathway less traveled, giving my mother a metaphorical heart attack with each anecdote.
Suddenly, it dawned on me that today is Earth Day, established in 1970 as a way to spread environmental awareness. April 22, 2020 marks its 50th anniversary, a milestone date that is observed on a global scale with over 190 countries engaged and 1 billion individuals mobilized in action. Heightened by the novel coronavirus, this year’s message includes contrasting before-and-after images and statistics. NASA stating the Himalaya’s are being seen for the first time in decades in parts of India, sights of jellyfish swimming through Venice’s clean canals devoid of gondolas, and the World Economic Forum reporting a decrease in global pollution. The American Museum of Natural History posted a video . It points to a population increase from 3.7 billion to 7.8 billion in only 50 years, and the detrimental effects on planetary health, including its toll on wildlife. Now with countries enforcing quarantining humanity is beginning to see the Earth, and all of its inhabitants, a lot clearer.
It’s as though my soul knew this, literally awakening with an empathetic understanding that the world would never be the same; a world currently on pause that I may not recognize in a post-pandemic era. Could my fernweh be a universal ‘om’ of sorts? A calling for travelers bound to their homes who yearn for a plane ticket? Or is it all just coincidence?
While it never took staying home to elicit a desire to book a flight, or a road trip, it does produce a newfound outlook of the world around me. So, today I celebrate Earth Day in my papasan chair, admittedly searching the internet for places to add to that Adventure List– Montana, Iguazu Falls, Antarctica, the Azores, Lake Tahoe, etc.. Each destination a natural wonder that will afford a greater sense of appreciation, and growth, when social distancing is over.
For years I didn’t understand the concept of solo traveling. Who do you talk to? Who do you share the experience with? Gasp, who takes the pictures?
With family on the outskirts of San Francisco, I decided to give independent travel a chance for three days. I arrived at Hotel Zetta on a Friday morning before check-in, leaving me no choice but to hit the ground running.
A rumbling belly begged to be fed. Conveniently enough, right across from the hotel is a spot called Moz Café where I ordered the chorizo scrambled.
Next stop, the famous cable cars. I purchased a 3-Day Visitor Passport for $31.00 from the San Francisco MTA booth on the corner of Powell & Market Street. A single ride is priced at $7.00 but there’s about a 50/50 chance someone will check your ticket. With three lines, the most popular being Powell-Mason Line, it’s helpful to have a route in mind before you board.
After a 45 minute wait in line I hopped to the front of the cable car and took the local roller coaster down to Fisherman’s Wharf. Lined with outdoor markets of fish on the rocks (ice) I knew I was really in the city on the bay. I heard echoing Sea Lions in the distance and made my way over to meet Pier 39’s most popular residents.
I spent about an hour here, embarrassingly to admit, just laughing at the mammals pushing each other over for the ideal nap position before exploring the markets.
The next day I vowed to get lost. Lacing up my sneakers, I waved hi to locals, acting as though I knew where I were the whole time. Bubble tea? Huge trinket stores with foreign writing? I landed in China Town. Upon the turn of a corner and I was standing inside a local book store. Apparently, San Francisco is filled with quaint shops for the articulately inclined.
I stumbled into an American eatery, Mo’s, for a late lunch at the counter (solo travelers don’t take up booths we sit front and center). Within minutes an elderly man who knew the staff seemingly well sat next to me. I was alone, he was alone, it seemed appropriate to strike up a conversation. Norm* was a widow and a local patron of Mo’s for a few decades. A world traveler from his days in the army, Norms best advice to an independent soul on the move,
“Surround yourself with people who make you happy. The rest is wasted time.”
Countless steps and various detours later I finally made it to Coit Tower.
Later that night I was invited by the hotel manager to attend a private party in Hotel Zetta’s Playroom. Apparently the Treasure Island Music Festival was going on and I happened to be staying at the ‘it’ spot for late night schmoozing. I took some additional time in the famed stairwell where local artists painted the wall, #TakeTheStairs.
Walking the numerous hilltops of San Francisco the day prior prepared me for my greatest adventure yet, biking over the Golden Gate Bridge.
The next day I picked up my rental ride from Blazing Saddles and began to peddle the eight mile journey towards Sausalito. Despite my perceived exhaustion curiosity took over. Parking my bike, I began hiking upward through the streets searching for the perfect view of San Francisco which landed me near the highway overpass and I knew it was time to turn around.
Before missing the last ferry back I rewarded myself with Kona Mocha Chip ice cream from Lapperts (the sole reason I workout, dessert). The boat ride was scenic, passing by Alcatraz Island and giving a great view of Ghirardelli Square.
A Brit, a businessman, and I began talking, all three of us on our own. Soaking in the panoramic view of the city we exchanged tips and discussed our unique experiences. In that moment I realized that I never actually felt alone during my trip.
By not being engaged in a conversation with a companion I spoke to everyone around me. Each person I encountered became part of my experience, moments I was solely responsible for, good or bad. By living in each moment I spent less time looking through a lens, worrying. And when I did want a picture taken I asked a stranger and hoped they wouldn’t run away with my phone.
We spend so much of our lives relying on the opinions of others. Compromising what we want to do to satisfy someone else. And there is nothing wrong with that, but sometimes disconnection is the only way we can reconnect with ourselves.
Why travel solo? Because it allows us to be selfish and ignore the noise. Dare to find yourself again.
To travel is as much an action as it is a mindset, and both should be experienced passionately. For those who understand this, traveling isn’t a way to escape everyday life but rather a self immersion of mind, body, and soul into another culture. For those who dream about this, usually one country comes to mind. For me, it was Spain.
Ever so typically, I grew up being influenced by mother and somewhere around the age of 16 she introduced me to Spain as an ideal place to travel. The culture, food, dancing, the beautiful….landscapes. It was an introduction I yearned for.
Originally, I had planned to go directly after high school. But, I made it eight years post my senior year.
Spain, September 2015
Travel Time: About 7.5hrs from JFK Airport
Main Language Spoken: Spanish
Exchange Rate: 1EUR = 1.08USD
Recommended Amount of Days: 10-14
With only 24 hours in Madrid, I stayed with two girlfriends of mine who had moved there to teach English. They were living in an historic neighborhood called Malasaña, where the 20-somethings meet a bohemian alternative lifestyle. We kicked our jet lag with 1€ mimosas at a charming everything-store, J&J Books and Coffee, followed by restaurant hopping where I was introduced to my first authentic Spanish drink, Tinto de Verano aka Red Wine of Summer, at El Balcon de Malasana. Don’t be fooled by it’s taste, which is best described as a mixture of red wine and Fanta, enough of them will give you a good buzz.
I didn’t see much of the city but did manage to stop by Botin, the oldest restaurant in the world founded in 1725, on my way to Chocolateria San Gines for real churros with chocolate dipping sauce. My first day in Madrid eased me into the Spanish culture, which I learned consists of eating, drinking and siesta (napping). Small sharing plates, known as tapas, create a feeling of endless eating– and with endless eating comes the free drink that accompanies most small plates. After all of this the inevitable sleepiness takes over where the city will seemingly close down between 2 pm to 7pm (depending on the business). Can’t fiesta without a siesta, as they say.
The next morning I was on the AVE train from Madrid to Malaga, a two hour and 30 minute ride. As a commuter victim of the Long Island Rail Road system, I was in utter shock when the train left within seconds of its scheduled departure and arrived on time (the NY MTA should take notes). Malaga is dubbed the capital of Costa del Sol, the coastal region of Andalucia, and an absolutely gorgeous city. Unfortunately, my time here was only a stop-over on my way to Marbella.
Before the 45 minute car drive to my hotel I enjoyed a meal at El Pimpi. As I entered the front door of the restaurant I walked through the paintings, the photographs, the marvelous character that wowed me at every turn to sit down at a table outside in the back which looked directly at the Alcazaba and Roman Theater. Once my stomach and eyes were satisfied, I was on the road towards the ritzy resort town of Marbella.
Puente Romano welcomed me in a beautiful junior suite with a balcony overlooking the water fountain/gardens. My favorite part about the room was the large, jetted bathtub that has a window looking into the suite, with an automatic screen option for privacy.
With an active nightlife/dining scene that is similar to a square, restaurants surround a social focal point in the center. Choosing a restaurant here was more about the food preference than vibe. At Dani Garcia’s BiBo we ordered it all. Oxtale, pork belly, tuna tataki, duck, beef carpaccio, and the famous dessert, “Marbella’s Full Moon.” Come hungry, leave in a food coma.
This luxury beach resort has something for everyone with its ocean views, four pools, gardens, tennis, golf, a beach with water sports and a boardwalk, spa. ::inhale:: What I liked most about my time here was the ability to explore without ever leaving the property. Of course, I did leave the property to explore Puerto Banus Marina, a location of fine dining, shopping, and where yachts are lined up by the dozens. In a place of ‘champagne wishes and caviar dreams’ we opted for pizza tastes and wine realities at Pizzeria Picasso.
Out for Dinner in The Old City
Caminito Del Rey
Between Marbella and Ronda there’s ‘the Kings Pathway’ known as El Caminito Del Rey. Once considered the world most dangerous walkway, which was the sense of adventure I was seeking more or less, today it can be better described at “suitable for all ages 4 to 94.” Fantastic views and worth the visit, however if you’re looking for something more challenging this might not cut it for you.
An hour north of Marbella there exists a city that is boastful in its origins but humble in its existence, Ronda. It’s truly a location that is better felt than seen but when you open your eyes it’s something out of a painting. Located on the cliffs of El Tajo Gorge, the old town and new town are connected by the Puente Nuevo, ‘new bridge’, with the Guadelevin River flowing below. The views from above captivated me in sheer awe that I almost forgot the city’s historical significance as the birthplace of modern bullfighting.
After dropping my luggage off at Hotel Maesranza, a family run hotel with a homey feel, I ventured off with my friend/colleague, who grew up in Ronda, for some horseback riding through the country side.
We arrived back in town and all headed to dinner at Entrevinos where I had, what can officially be called, the best meal of my life (a combination of tapas with squid ink pasta being the favorite). Once dinner was over I decided to see Plaza de Toros where I had my first tears-of-joy experience. I looked up at the stars, grazed my fingertips along the stones laid down dating back to 1785. Suddenly, I was living the moment I always dreamed would come. It was perfect.
The Famous Bridge
Learning From The Professional
The next morning we were taken on a surprise adventure. In keeping with the bull fighting theme, we stopped at Reservatauro Ronda, a bull ranch where we met Rafael Tejada, a professional matador. They had little shows with the horses and bulls, separately of course, and acres of land to drive around observing the animals. This is great for anyone seeking the true culture of Spain, of any age. It will turn even the most anti-bullfighting person into an admirer.
It welcomes you with open arms as a vibrant city just dying to be discovered. Flamenco performances on the streets, nightlife going until six in the morning, winding street pathways leaving you lost in the right direction, beautiful architecture at every turn. It then becomes silence when you need it most. Welcome to Seville, ‘NO8DO,’ it will not abandon you.
The Inglaterra Hotel is situated in the Seville Center, where we had a stunning junior suite with a private balcony overlooking the Cathedral. The room style of the hotel retains more of a classic feel with an ideal location, everything within walking distance. It additionally has a popular rooftop bar overlooking the entire city where even the locals come to hang out.
My favorite part of Seville was Plaza de Espana, about a 20 minute walk from the hotel, where I spent a few hours marveling at its architecture. While here I highly recommend renting one of the row boats. Where does the boat go when you put three American women inside it? Hardly anywhere.
My final stop on the trip was the Arabic influenced city of Granada, located at the base of the Sierra Nevada mountains. Hotel Carmen, located amid all the shopping, provided stunning view from their rooftop. While in Granada a must visit site is The Alhambra Palace where you can easily spend three to four hours in the lush gardens, 360 views of the city, and Arabic architecture.
Despite being grounded in Spain, you will feel as though you have just crossed the Mediterranean Sea into Morocco. Shop through the Moroccan alley ways below makes the city truly one of a kind, and culturally fascinating.
What would a trip to Spain be without a flamenco show? On my final night in Spain I ventured to the caves to see a gypsy inspired flamenco performance at Cueva de la Rocio that overlooked The Alhambra. I had seen several flamenco shows back in the states but nothing compared to the authenticity of viewing the dance in its country of origins. By the end of the night everyone had their arms in the air ready to dance!
The next morning I was on my direct flight out of Malaga back to New York, thanks to the new flights provided by Delta. Reluctantly boarding the plane, I inhaled the final breaths of Spanish air. I didn’t say good-bye. I whispered ‘see you again,’ leaving a piece of myself behind to rediscover someday.
Traveling with a passion, with Spain, has been my unique proof that dreams do come true.
To my friends who came for the adventure, you gave me a reason to smile each moment. To my colleagues and fellow travel professionals who helped me along the way ( with a warm thank you to the Andalucia Tourism Board ), you helped turn my dream into a reality. To those reading this, I hope I inspired you to follow your dream destination.
My short career as a Virtuoso Travel Advisor began in the later of 2014. I promised myself that I’d take every opportunity to explore the world in order to myself a better travel professional. Thanks to a few friends who were up for the challenge that promise was upheld. Each visit gave me a unique experience.
Get your mental boarding passes ready as we head to Central America.
Travel Time: About 2hrs from Miami International Airport
Main Languages Spoken: English, Spanish
Currency: Belize Dollar- although they readily accept US Dollar.
Exchange Rate: 1BZE = .50USD
Recommended Amount of Days: 4-8
Being somewhat of an unconventional traveler, I don’t like going places everyone else has been. When thinking up my first big trip since 2013 Central America came to mind. People I knew had been to Mexico and, the increasingly popular, Costa Rica. Although both locations seemed appealing they both also had stories attached to them, other peoples stories. Pulling up Google Maps on my web browser I saw it, Belize. Under the radar and about the size of the state of New Jersey with a modest population of just over 300,000. I vocalized the idea to one of my travel-nomad colleagues and before I knew it Belize was booked.
We were off. Well, not without accidentally missing our connecting flight in Miami.
Travel Tip: No matter how hangry you may be never, under any circumstances, attempt a sit down meal between flights at an international airport.
First stop, San Ignacio. A city in the Cayo District of western Belize, San Ignacio is about a two hour drive from Belize International Airport. We set up our transfers through Cayo Adventures and our driver, Zach, was the roadway-tour guide we hoped for. On the way to our hotel we stopped on the side of the road for some fresh coconut water that we drank straight from the plastic bag (no gold fish required). Getting hungry, we enjoyed our first authentic Belizean meal at Lydia’s in the heart of San Ignacio town– rice, beans and chicken, with their local brew of Belikin Beer.
Driving about 5 minutes further down the road from the bustling town, we arrived at Ka’ana Resort. I sensed the dedication and passion that went into this 4 Star hotel. The place immediately felt like home as the staff treated us like we’ve entered into a family. Cool towels and Champagne upon arrival, nightly treats left in the mini fridge.
They have their own gardens and activities right on property, including complimentary yoga. I’m the furthest thing from a Yogi but a calming workout outdoors in a foreign country was convincing enough. The best part of this hotel was the couple running it. General Manager Wolfgang Brandl & his wife Anoushka describe the hotel as “luxury by night and adventure by day.”
Adventure by day was taken literally as Wolfgang recommended us to Hanna Stables where we’d travel by horseback through the forest, over the river and to the ancient Mayan ruins of Xunantunich (zoo-nan-to-nich) we’d go!
Santiago, the stables owner showed us around personally. He was an easy going guy with a big personality, and he seemed to enjoy my New Yawk accent, immediately pin pointing the borough I was from.
Our second accommodation was at Blancaneaux Lodge, owned by Hollywood filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola (who I learned is an alumnus from my alma mater, Hofstra University). This luxury, eco-lodge resort is tucked away in the Mountain Pine Ridge Reserve with it’s own air-strip. If you do not choose to take a plane directly to the property it is a very long, 1.5hr drive on an extremely rocky road…great for back massages!
The eco-lodge is more startling in concept than actuality, this coming from a girl who once thought Nassau County, Long Island was rural. The ceiling fans were efficient with a swift breeze from the forest coming in screen windows. As a plus, rather than hearing the buzzing of an AC I was surrounded by peaceful sounds of the forest, which is why I went in the first place.
Travel Tip: Bring bug spray! The outdoor spaces are not equipped to fight those bites.
Having two waterfalls on property I was coaxed into swimming in the man-made one, upstream. Well, not so much swimming as it was attempts to maneuver around the slippery, algae covered rocks in the water.
All in efforts for obtaining the perfect photo.
However, Big Rock Falls, the natural waterfall about a 20 minute bike ride down the dirt road (bike supplied by the hotel) was well worth the workout.
Through a guide with Pacz Tours, and a hike/swim/stumble over a mile underground, I was able to explore a site Mayan’s once went to connect with their ancestors and conduct sacrificial worship– the ancient ruin of the ATM Caves (Actun Tunichil Muknal. While the stalactites and stalagmites are an amazement on their own, nothing will compare to the eerie satisfaction of viewing The Crystal Maiden, the thousand year old skeleton.
Through Pacz Tours we also took a day trip into Guatemala, making a pit stop for a cup of Guatemalan Joe. Yes, it’s everything coffee addicts dream of. We came to visit the Mayan city of Tikal, best recognized by Star Wars fans as Yavin 4 from the 1977 original movie. Luckily, there was no intergalactic war going on.
After all the exploring in the ruins it was time to head south to Placencia . On the way down we made a pit stop to cool off in a natural park, St Herman’s Blue Hole (not the famous diving site of The Great Blue Hole). This was a great way to break up the drive.
Placencia, unlike the touristy area of Ambergris Cay located in the north, is a small fishing village in southern Belize and was just named one of Travel & Leisure’s Best Places to Travel in 2016 (not under the radar for much longer). Arriving at another Coppola property, Turtle Inn welcomed us warmly. It was a short bike ride from town with plenty to do but you don’t feel in the thick of things.
Francis Ford Coppola was once quoted as saying, “A number of images put together a certain way become something quite above and beyond what any of them are individually,” which was perfectly executed at this property.
From the large thatched roof entrance way to the detailed carvings of the wooden furniture, flown in from Bali, every piece of Turtle Inn feels like an artfully positioned movie set, except you’re living in it. Another eco-lodge, I borrowed my colleagues computer one night to watch Apocalypse Now (DVD provided by the resort). Watching a Francis Ford Coppola movie in one of his resorts was the quintessential moment I longed for, as long as I didn’t smell napalm in the morning.
On Mondays The Mare, a restaurant on property, serves an Indonesian-Dutch dish called Rijsttafel, an idea created by General Manager Martin Krediet who happened to join us for dinner on our first night.
While the hotel was an experience in itself, it was time for some snorkeling. We took a day trip with Splash Belize. The hour and a half long boat ride took us over to Silk Caye to see the second largest reef system in the world, after The Great Barrier Reef. We docked on a private island with just enough beach to accommodate about 20 or so people, along with a few tables, a grill, and a restroom.
I’m not a fish expert but, while snorkeling, I called out quite a few characters from Finding Nemo, along with childhood books like Rainbow Fish (this goes to show my level of education about the aquatic world). It was two of us to one guide who swam along, pointing out everything as we circled our private island, leaving no coral un-turned. Before we sped off to the next location we enjoyed a nice lunch and tanning session on the island.
After a break we boarded the boat again to go swim with nurse sharks, sea turtles, sting rays and eagle rays. This was a moment I’ll never forget, being along side these four different creatures as though I was part of their every day life.
TIP: Wear sunscreen and apply it three times during the day. We were out on the water for about 7 hours, applied sunscreen once when we boarded the boat and again before we swam with the sharks, and we got a decent sunburn that lasted two days.
The best way to get from Placencia to the international airport is by a small put-put plane that takes about 45 minutes. I’d never been on an eight seater plane before. When a storm began to ensue an hour prior to departing the hotel needless to say I was a bit panicked. JFK Junior and Aaliyah popped into my morbid mind. By the time we got to the airstrip, down the street, the storm had cleared and I went from timid school girl to a fearless flyer once in the air. #YouBetterBelizeIt!
Once upon a time there was a girl who dreamed of the world. She imagined exploring the unknown, tasting the unfamiliar. She dreamed of talking to strangers, walking on foreign grounds. Most of all, she hoped her experiences would benefit those who followed. She wanted her own story to tell.
Well, this girl got her story and is continuing to write it every day.
Questions or interested in traveling to Belize? Comment below
Make sure you read My Year of Travel 2015: Part II: Spain