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Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and Liechtenstein: How I Caught the Travel Bug (a.k.a the AwayBug)

Ms. Walker's last lecture

Ms. Walker’s last lecture

I just found out that my all time favorite teacher is retiring. Ms. Kelley Walker was my high school Advanced Placement European History teacher my senior year and she truly inspired me and shaped my future in ways she probably doesn’t even realize. If you’ve read my “About Us” section then you already know this. She was so incredibly passionate about European History that she took a subject that I previous considered boring and made it fascinating. I even (briefly) considered majoring in history after I took her class but decided on a much more useful degree…Theater. To this day my favorite genre of novels to read are historical fictions. On a side note if you haven’t read Katherine by Anya Seton go out and buy it now! A recommendation of Ms. Walker’s that is still my all time favorite book.

 

Ms. Walker with her students in Germany (I am in the back row 2nd from the left)

Ms. Walker with her students in Germany (I am in the back row 2nd from the left and Ms. Walker is the 4th from the right)

Every year in June Ms. Walker took her AP European History students to Europe. When I was a senior the trip was to Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and Liechtenstein. This would be my first time ever leaving the United States and I really didn’t know what to expect. We flew into Frankfurt and visited Heidelberg, Wuerzburg, Rothenburg, Nuremberg, Salzburg, Munich (and Dachau), Neuschwanstein, Liechtenstein, Lucerne, Freiburg, & Worms. Whew, that was a lot in 10 days! It was on this trip that I was officially bitten by the travel bug. One thing that Ms. Walker said to our class that always stuck with me was that her biggest regret of college was that she didn’t study abroad. She encouraged all of us to study abroad and I really took this advice to heart. I ended up spending a semester in London my junior year and if it weren’t for Ms. Walker I don’t think I would have had the courage to do this. At the time it was a really hard thing to do. When you are 19 it is difficult to leave all of your friends, your activities, your apartment, your family…you feel like you are going to miss out on something but I always had Ms. Walker’s voice in the back of my head pushing me to take that leap of faith. Studying abroad in London was hands down the most profound experience of my college career and gave me the confidence I needed to go volunteer in South Africa and all of the other travel I did after college. And without all of these experiences AwayBug Travel would not have been born! So you see she really did shape my future and I wouldn’t be where I am today without her. Have you had someone in your life that encouraged you to take a leap of faith? Who was your most inspiring teacher?

 

Me at Nymphenburg Palace

Me at Nymphenburg Palace (I think I’m wearing a fanny pack – Ha!)

Neuschwanstein Castle

Neuschwanstein Castle (This looks like a postcard but I actually took this photo!)

Ms. Walker with Liz and Mike on the Rhine River in Germany

Ms. Walker with Liz and Mike on the Rhine River in Germany

 

 

Surviving the Rain: Living, Working, and Volunteering in Ireland

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Killiney, Ireland

Of all the places I lived in my 20’s, Ireland was the place that I learned the most lessons. Lessons about independence, about being alone, about my inner strength, about the kindness of strangers, about courage, and about how to live in a place that rains every single day without killing yourself! It was here that I stopped caring what it looked like to go to the movie theater or a pub by yourself. It was a time in my life that I wouldn’t want to go back and do over again because it was really difficult, but a time that I look back on with so much gratitude and respect.

 

Just to give you a little background on the state of mind I was in at that time here’s a summary of the events leading up to my decision to do BUNAC’s Work Ireland Program. In May 2003 I graduated from UNCW. In September I left for South Africa to volunteer for 3 months. While I was in South Africa I decided that I wanted to do BUNAC’s Work Britain Program. In order to be eligible for the program you had to be a student or a recent graduate and my “recent graduate” status would expire on December 31, 2003. I left South Africa in December and was home for Christmas for 10 days before I had to leave for London. The day before I was supposed to board the plane my Dad was diagnosed with stage 3 melanoma. I can still remember sitting in my car outside of a bagel place when my mom called and told me the news. I was shocked…my Dad had never been sick in his life. Honestly! I can’t remember him ever having a stomach bug, the flu, or even a cold. Later that day I went to the doctors appointment with my parents. The whole thing was surreal. My mom asked the doctor if I should still go to London and he said yes…they didn’t expect my Dad to die anytime soon and besides, he said, you can always come home if you need to. They would do surgery and a series of treatments and hopefully they would catch it before it spread and everything would be okay. We were all scared, but hopeful, and my parents encouraged me to still go to London.

 

So the next day, with a heavy heart, I boarded the plane to London and landed on New Year’s Eve – the last possible day I could get there and still get my work visa. I loved London just as much the second time around (I studied abroad there in 2001). However, my time in London was riddled with guilt. While I selfishly enjoyed being able to run away from my Dad’s illness, the guilt of not being there for him in those first months of his diagnosis weighed on me. I ended up coming home in April even though my visa was for 6 months. At the time I felt like I was handling things well, but now that I can look back with a wider lens I see I was slowly falling apart. I spent that summer at Wrightsville Beach being free and wild. My parents were dealing with their emotions in different ways and it all made for one big emotional mess. I wasn’t used to having to actually face the reality that was my Dad’s diagnosis and didn’t know how to deal with it. When I was in London it was easy to pretend like it wasn’t real, but that summer at home I had to actually look into my Dad’s eyes and see the fear and sadness. The three of us were a mess and this lead to us not being able to get along which put me into flight mode.

 

I was no longer eligible for the Work Ireland Program because you had to be a student or recent graduate, but there was a loop hole that I discovered while I was in London. Through BUNAC’s London office I could apply for the Work Ireland Program, but it had to be done directly after the Work Britain Program. So as soon as my visa in England ended my visa in Ireland would begin. This meant that my Ireland visa would begin in July. It was my last chance to live in Ireland with a work visa and I decided to go for it! I would leave the end of July and stay for around 3 months.

 

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Des & I

My Dad was doing okay.  They did surgery and removed all of the lymph nodes around the area on his shoulder where the melanoma had been.  He had been through his first round of treatments and responded well. It had not spread to any other area of his body and he was in remission. While we were all of course relieved that everything was going good so far, the stress of the whole ordeal had taken a toll on us. We got in a huge fight two days before I was supposed to leave for Ireland and were no longer speaking. When I boarded the plane to Dublin I have never felt so alone in all my life. Luckily my dear friend Des, who I volunteered with in South Africa, is from Dublin. The few days I spent with him when I first arrived helped to lighten my soul.

 

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Renvyle, Ireland (a.k.a middle of nowhere Connemara)

I decided that since I had lived in a big city (London) that I wanted to live in a rural area of Ireland. I pre-arranged a job out in the middle of nowhere in Connemara on the west coast of Ireland. I was excited to get out in the country and try something different. It is so hard for me to explain how strange and terrible this place was but I will try. It was a restaurant and bar, but they also offered horseback riding. I was to work at the bar and hardly get paid anything because they provided you with room and board. When I first got there I was so excited because the area was beautiful! It was right by the sea with rolling green hills and cows grazing. I immediately got a strange vibe from the owners, but hit it off with the German girl who was the chef at the restaurant. The first couple of nights I stayed at the owners house and then they moved me down to the house where some of the other workers stayed. The house would have been fine except for the fact that the plumbing/running water was not working and apparently the owners couldn’t be bothered to fix it. I literally had to go outside that night to go to the bathroom. When the German girl finally got me alone she said that I must leave this place. She was so emphatic that it was scary. I tried to tell her – oh it can’t be that bad. They will fix the plumbing….She said “No, you must leave!” She told me some crazy stories about the owners and said “tonight after work I will drive you in the middle of the night to Clifden. You can stay there until Wednesday when I have the day off and then I will come pick you up and take you to Galway.” I can’t explain it but I just trusted her. If she said I had to go and she was willing to help me then that’s what I was going to do.

 

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Clifden, Ireland

So that night I packed my bags and she drove me in the dark to the little town of Clifden where I checked into a hostel for 3 nights. I felt so alone and lost, but was determined to make the most of my time there. I hiked up to the top of Sky Road where the views of the sea are breathtaking. It was everything you imagine Ireland to be…green rolling hills, emerald green sea, tiny stone enclosures with grazing cows, goats, and sheep. It was amazing and I felt so strong and independent to be sitting there on the edge looking out at this beautiful landscape all by myself. The German girl stuck to her word and came to the hostel that Wednesday and drove me to Galway. She dropped me off at a hostel and I never saw her again.

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The top of Sky Road

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Sky Road

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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My flat is the bright blue one on the left

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Kirby’s Restaurant with my co-workers

 

By this time I was getting low on money because I hadn’t planned on being out of work for so long. That first day in Galway I hit the streets with my resume and I went into every restaurant on Shop Street looking for a serving or bartending job. I was offered a job washing dishes and since I was desperate I accepted. I washed dishes with a bunch of Polish girls who didn’t speak English for a week or two and then one of the restaurants I had gone to that first day called and hired me. Through my dish washing job I found my flat. One of the cooks was looking for a roommate and it was the perfect flat – right in the center of town, cheap, but nice. So I always look back on that and know that I was meant to wash dishes in order to find my flat. The restaurant that I ended up waiting tables at was a fine dining restaurant called Kirby’s.  I made good money and everything just seemed to fall into place.

 

 

I did not know one single person in Galway. I liked the girls I worked with but I did not get close with any of them. I liked my roommates and I would hang out with them sometimes, but I never felt close to them either. Galway is a really cool place. It’s a university town and has this great pedestrian street full of shops, restaurants, bars, and street artists. It was so different from anywhere I had ever lived and I really loved it. On my days off (if it wasn’t raining) I would walk the promenade along the sea to Salt Hill listening to music and just being alone. One day when I was walking I noticed this cliff jetting out into the sea far up ahead. I wondered if it was possible to get to the top of this cliff, so I just kept walking until I was standing on the grassy edge looking out across the bay. The view was amazing and I loved being out there surrounded by water on three sides completely alone. I returned to this cliff often during my time in Galway. It was where I went to sort things out. To get away from the sadness I felt when I was alone in my flat.

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Shop Street – Galway

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Salt Hill Promenade

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My Cliff

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The view from the cliff

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Sunset at the cliff

 

My time in Galway was full of ups and downs, but one day at the restaurant where I worked I waited on this really nice American family from California who were traveling around England and Ireland with their daughter for a year. I ended up spending a lot of time with them and they really helped me sort out the feelings I was having about my parents, face my insecurities, and made me look at life in general from a different perspective. From this point on I had a lot more ups than downs and I am forever grateful to them for sharing their wisdom with me.

 

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Corrymeela

Towards the end of my time I decided to leave Galway and go to Northern Ireland. My friend, Ciaran, who I had volunteered in South Africa with, was doing a one-year volunteer placement in Ballycastle at a place called Corrymeela, which is a Christian center for peace and reconciliation. He worked it out that I could come up and volunteer for my last few weeks in Ireland. Corrymeela is a special place. I have never felt so completely surrounded by positive energy. It was exactly what I needed. The other volunteers were from all over the world and everyone that worked there was so incredibly kind. Corrymeela is a retreat destination where groups go to do team building and learn to love and respect each other regardless of their background. Corrymeela’s mission is: embracing difference, healing division and enabling reconciliation. Our vision is of a peaceful and sustainable society based on social justice, positive relationships and respect for diversity. The Corrymeela Community strives to embody these values in every aspect of our lives. While I was there I worked with adult groups, children, served food, cleaned, and participated in team building exercises with the other volunteers. It was a really great experience. I even considered coming back to do the full year of volunteering but never did.

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Ciaran & I

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The view from Corrymeela

At some point while I was at Corrymeela I called my parents and we started talking again. Ireland was my time to grow and learn some hard lessons. Being so alone in Galway made me dig deep. The  foundation of my inner strength and belief system began in Ireland. Without that time and learning a new way of thinking I never would have been able to get through my Dad’s cancer coming back and his eventual passing in 2009. When I look back on my time in Ireland I am really proud of my 23 year old self. It took a lot of courage to get on a plane by myself and go live in a foreign country that I had never been to before. And while I felt so alone during that time, I really wasn’t, and if it weren’t for the support of the following people my experience would not have been the same! Thank you Ray & Talley, Tom, Jaclyn, Ali & Jay, Simone, Des, and Ciaran (and all the other volunteers at Corrymeela) for being there for me when I needed you the most.

Volunteering in South Africa

Cape Town, South AfricaI’ve been thinking a lot about South Africa the past couple of weeks as I have been planning a honeymoon there for a lovely couple. They leave today and I cannot wait for them to experience this amazing country! South Africa will always hold a special place in my heart because I’ve traveled there twice for 3 months each time. In 2003 I went to South Africa through BUNAC’s Volunteer South Africa program. I lived with a local family in Athlone, which is a suburb of Cape Town, and volunteered at a local primary school called Sunnyside. As of the 2001 census the racial makeup of the suburb was 3.21% Black African, 69.66% Coloured, 23.45% Indian/Asian, 3.69% White and 0% from other races. When I first found out that I would be living in a “Coloured” community I had to educate myself on this term because here in the United States the term “Colored” is considered offensive and has a different meaning. In Southern Africa the term is used to describe an ethnic group which Wikipedia defines below:

In the South AfricanNamibianZambianBotswana and Zimbabwean context, the term Coloured (also known as BruinmenseKleurlinge or Bruin Afrikaners in Afrikaans) refers to an heterogeneous ethnic group who possess ancestry from Europe, various Khoisan and Bantu tribes of Southern Africa, as well as peoples of West AfricaIndonesiaMadagascarMalayaIndia,MozambiqueMauritius, and Saint Helena.[2]

Besides the extensive combining of these diverse heritages in the Western Cape — in which a distinctive Cape Coloured and affiliated Cape Malay culture developed — in other parts of Southern Africa, their development has usually been the result of the meeting of two distinct groups. Genetic studies suggest the group has the highest levels of mixed ancestry in the world.[3][4] However, the maternal (female) contribution to the Coloured population, measured by mitochondrial DNA studies, was found to come mostly from the Khoisan population.[5][6]

sunnysideps1Whenever I would tell a white South African that I was going to be living in Athlone they thought I had lost my mind because it is an area that you wouldn’t normally go and with my long, bleach blonde hair I definitely stood out. There were four volunteers that lived with my host family – two Dutch girls and a bloke from Dublin, Ireland. The two Dutch girls had a different volunteer placement at a home for disabled people and came home most afternoons in tears because the conditions where difficult. Des (the guy from Ireland) and I immediately hit it off and became the best of friends. I am so thankful that we were placed together because I don’t think I could have gone through this life changing experience on my own. Sunnyside Primary School needed so much that it was overwhelming. Des helped with the computer class since his background was in IT. I became close with one of the 1st grade teachers and helped with her class a lot because she had 40 five year olds with no assistant. Des and I also worked on improving their library which was a project that the volunteers before us had started. We called around to local white schools to see if they had any books they would like to donate, went and picked them up, and then cataloged them. There was also an after school program called the “Achievers Club” that helped students struggling with reading that we enjoyed helping out with.

The teachers at this school are truly angels. Each class only had one teacher and around 40 kids. They had limited resources but they loved what they did and it showed. Not every school in South Africa is this fortunate. One of my favorite things about my time at Sunnyside was once a month at the staff meeting everyone would bring in a dish to share and we’d all have lunch together. It was so much fun to try all of the traditional Cape Coloured foods and listen to everyone speak in their very distinctive accent which you will only find in this area!

Towards the end of my time volunteering I decided to go to the township of Kayamandi, which is outside of Stellenbosch, to see my friend Katie for the weekend. I wanted to see the community center where she had been working and meet her host family. This was the first time Des and I had not been together since I got to South Africa. Kayamandi means “sweet home” and is a much more impoverished area than Athlone where I was living. It is a black township which is mainly a shanty town with a few cinder block houses.

Getting there safely was not an easy task. Katie set me up with the daughter of a friend of hers – a young African girl who goes to school in Cape Town but lives in Kayamandi. We met at the train station in Cape Town so that I wouldn’t have to travel alone. Together we rode in 2nd class. It is so hard for me to explain what it is like riding 2nd class in South Africa as a white girl. I was nervous but tried to look confident as everyone was staring at me….sizing me up. The train stops outside Stellenbosch and once you exit the train you have to walk along the train tracks and up the hill into Kayamandi. This was the scariest part. I stood out like a sore thumb walking with everyone who worked and went to school in Cape Town and was returning home for the weekend. As we walked up the dirt hill there were people butchering and cooking chickens on the side of the road. I was surrounded by tin shacks.

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We worked our way up the hill and I could finally see the community center was just a short distance away. I relaxed a little. I had made it. My friend Katie walked out of the community center and started to wave at me and then it happened. A man grabbed me from behind and put a huge blade to my throat. His accent was so thick and hard to understand that he had to say it three times….”Give me your bag or I’ll kill you. Give me your bag or I’ll kill you. Give me your bag or I’ll kill you!” I had run over in my head many times what I would do in this situation. I didn’t do any of it. I lifted my bag over my head and handed it to him. If he had told me to take all my clothes off I would have done it. One of things I learned through this is that when someone puts a knife to your throat you will do ANYTHING they tell you to do.  All I remember seeing as this was happening was the young girl I was traveling with standing in front of me with her mouth wide open. As soon as I handed him my bag he ran off and left me unharmed. I never actually saw him.

Katie ran down the hill to where we were and I was completely calm. In total shock. I could not comprehend at that moment that I could have just died. Had he decided to cut my throat more than likely there would have been no consequences. The prisons are full and these things happen everyday there. I would have just been a stupid American girl who was in a black township when I shouldn’t have been. But I was a volunteer. I was there to help. No one would want to hurt me, right? However, when you have nothing, you have nothing to lose and I honestly feel no ill will towards that man because he was probably just trying to feed his family. Although the poor guy didn’t even get my wallet which was in my coat pocket. He did get my camera though, which is why I have no personal pictures to post in this blog entry.

I always hesitate to tell this story because I don’t want to make people scared to go to South Africa. It is an amazing country and you should definitely go! You would never be where I was as a tourist. I was young and naive and had a false sense of security since my friend lived in Kayamandi and I was walking with a local in broad daylight. If I had simply looked behind me while walking up the hill and noticed him following us I might have been able to prevent it. The locals who had been working with the volunteers at the community center to make their home a better place were furious. They know that if these things happen to the volunteers then we won’t come back and they need us. It didn’t stop me from coming back to South Africa. I returned in 2007 for another 3 months but not as a volunteer this time. That trip was completely different but I will save that for another blog entry.

Even though this one bad thing happened to me it does not take away from all of the amazing people, places, and experiences I had during those three months. This entry does not even scratch the surface of everything I did and experienced in South Africa as a volunteer. South Africa is a place that stays with you. The memory of it is always close at hand. Even though I’ve been twice I wouldn’t hesitate to jump on a plane there again…like my honeymoon clients who are somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean as I type this.

Prague

A Destination Wedding in Prague, Czech Republic

This weekend while at the birthday party of my best friend’s daughter I got to hang out with some old clients of mine. Matt & Carrie were some of my first clients when I started planning trips professionally and I will always remember planning their destination wedding in Prague with fond memories. They are two of the sweetest people and now have two beautiful little girls. It was such an honor to plan such a special trip for them! Matt told me a great story about the night they were having dinner at the rooftop restaurant of their 5-star hotel overlooking Prague. They were just married and Matt was taking pictures of Carrie at their table so they could always remember the moment. There was a large table of men and women in suits seated just behind them and one of the women came over and said, “I’m sorry but I’m going to need to take your camera and all the pictures you just took.” They were of course confused and shocked and said no way! She asked them if they knew who the man sitting at the table behind them was and they said no. She went on to tell them that it was David Cameron and that he was probably going to be the next Prime Minster of the United Kingdom. Sure enough he was elected about a month later! They were allowed to keep their photos and the cool memory that they were dining right next to David Cameron on their honeymoon.

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Planning a destination wedding is a complicated but fun process because not only do you have all of the travel aspects to arrange, you have all of the details of the actual wedding to figure out as well. Since I couldn’t physically visit the sites I relied on a local wedding agency in Prague that had a very good reputation for planning amazing weddings. They were fantastic to work with and together along with Matt & Carrie’s input we decided on Vrtbovska Zahrada for the ceremony, which is a beautiful Baroque Garden in the middle of Lesser Town. Carrie was an absolutely stunning bride and their wedding pictures might be the most beautiful I’ve ever seen! Finding the perfect photographer was a huge part of this wedding’s success. After a lot of research I found Kurt Vinion and I knew right away he had to be their photographer. I shared a sampling of his work with Matt & Carrie and they agreed. We picked the wedding day based on his availability and Matt & Carrie instantly felt at ease with him. After the ceremony he took them around Prague on a whirlwind photo shoot to some of Prague’s most iconic sites. They even ended up having a few drinks together after the shoot. See Matt’s testimonial at the end of my “happy clients” page for the full story.

Also, check out Kurt’s blog about Matt & Carrie’s photo shoot where you can see more stunning photos and hear Kurt’s take on the day – http://www.kurtvinion.com/blog/carrie-matts-destination-wedding-at-pragues-vrtbovska-zahrada-mala-strana/

Prague

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Prague  

After their wedding they joined up with a small group tour to visit Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic – Vienna, Austria – & Budapest, Hungary. After four days on their own in Prague they were excited to join up with some other travelers and have a guide to show them all the must see sites in each place. Both Matt & Carrie love art and history so these three destinations were perfect for their honeymoon!

Cesky Krumlov, Czech RepublicVienna, AustriaBudapest, HungaryBudapest, Hungary

Random Act of Kindness in Greece

Last night I was listening to a podcast about synchronicity and it reminded me of an old travel adventure. Synchronicity is defined by Wikipedia as the experience of two or more events that are apparently causally unrelated or unlikely to occur together by chance, yet are experienced as occurring together in a meaningful manner. I can think of no better example of this than when my friend Jenn and I went to Greece in 2001 – the semester we were studying abroad in London. 

Brettos3We found cheap plane tickets to Athens so we decided to go for a long weekend. Well we were young and dumb :) and didn’t research before we went how we would get from the airport to our hotel. If you’ve ever flown into Athens you know the airport is quite a ways from the city center and being students we couldn’t afford a taxi for that distance so when we arrived at the airport we figured out that there was a bus that would take us to the city center and assumed we could just take a taxi from there. Our plane arrived at night and by the time the bus got to the city center it was after 10:00 pm. There were no taxi’s waiting like we thought and we didn’t have a cell phone. Everyone got off the bus and disappeared into the darkness and the next thing we knew my friend and I – two young girls – were standing there on the side of the road, in the dark, in a big city, in a country where we didn’t speak the language, and we had no idea where our hotel was or how to get there. There was this one lady who was on the bus with us who realized what was going on and asked us if we needed help. She used her cell phone to call us a taxi, told her friend that was waiting that she would be right back, got in the taxi with us, spoke to the driver in Greek, paid for the taxi, made sure we got in our hotel safely, and then was gone. We said thank you but the whole thing happened so fast that we were kind of stunned. We were completely blown away by her act of kindness and kept saying she must have been sent by our guardian angels and that we wished there was some way we could thank her but we didn’t even know her name. 

Athens8After our long weekend we were at the airport eating breakfast at a cafe before our flight and we looked up and in line waiting to get her breakfast was the lady who helped us!! Jenn and I jumped up and ran over to her and thanked her over and over again and 
paid for her breakfast. How was it possible that in a city the size of Athens (see picture to the right) with all the hundreds of flights that come and go from there everyday that we were there on the same day, at the same time, in the same concourse, at the same cafe?!? Unbelievable! It felt so good to buy her breakfast and be able to thank her again and to this day (this happen over 10 years ago) I often think about that experience and the kindness of a stranger. It was late and she must have been tired and she could have easily just put us in a cab and said goodbye (or done nothing) but she left her friend and rode with us to make sure we got there okay and paid for it. A random act of kindness I will never forget!

Our first morning in Athens we woke up and looked out our window and there was a huge rainbow going over the Acropolis. Synchronicity happens all the time but it seems to always be more profound when I’m traveling. Do you have any stories of synchronicity in your life? Do you find that when you’re traveling you feel more connected to the people and places around you?

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Good Bye 2012, Hello 2013!

20121224_212533One of my new year’s resolutions was to start a blog so here I am! Welcome to AwayBug Travel’s Blog where you can keep up with what’s going on around the world, interesting travel stories and pictures, travel advice, and many other travel related topics! My name is Angie and I live in Wilmington, NC where I have my own travel business. My specialty is wine and food travel and honeymoons but I plan all kinds of trips to many different destinations all over the world.

20121224_212515The holidays are behind us which always leaves me feeling a little sad but at the same time I am always ready to have my house back to normal and for things slow down a little bit. My husband, Kevin, grew up in NJ just outside of NYC and we travel to see his family every other Christmas. This was our year to stay home and we had a lovely Christmas Eve at our house with my mom, her boyfriend, and our two Japanese foreign exchange students. Kevin and I participate in our local university’s host family program where we “host” a student who is studying abroad here. The students live on campus and we just help them out when needed and try to share with them as much American culture as we can. This is our 3rd year and in the past we have had a German girl and a Kenyan boy from England. This year we have Chiharu from Japan and she could not be sweeter! We had the best time sharing our Christmas traditions with her and her friend. We took them to church where we enjoyed singing Christmas carols, then we returned to our house where our neighbors joined us for an evening of eating, drinking, and being merry. The only thing missing was a fire burning in our fireplace because it was too warm! But because of the nice weather we enjoyed a walk on the beach on Christmas Day which was really nice.

20121225_144616Participating in the host family program has been so rewarding and a great way to learn about other cultures. Every time that I’ve lived overseas there have been countless people who were so kind and generous to me when they didn’t have to be so it feels good to “return the favor” in my own country. I hope you had a lovely holiday wherever you were! Thanks for checking out my new blog! Don’t forget to “like” us on Facebook  and “follow” us on Twitter and Pinterest to keep up with the latest travel news, stories, and photos.