Happy Blogiversary to Me!

Today is a special day because it marks a big milestone for me. It’s the one-year (plus one day!) anniversary of my having published my very first blog post. In other words, it’s my very first blogiversary. YAY!

That very first post was aptly titled It’s About Damn Time, because it took me so long to launch the dang thing. But anyway, I thought I would celebrate this feat by doing a quick and dirty year in review and also by looking ahead at new goals for the future.

Blogiversary Accomplishments

Well, for me, the fact that I even started this thing at all was a huge accomplishment! I knew nothing about creating a website when the debatably brilliant idea came to me that I should make one. So, I had to learn. Luckily there are lots of tutorials and articles online to help someone like me. I’m still quite the novice at this website stuff, but hey, I’ve made it work for my purposes so far.

For a visual look at this past year’s accommplishments, here’s a nifty little infographic I made showing some nifty little things! Continue reading “Happy Blogiversary to Me!”

Stef’s Five Faves: Portugal Edition

After fourteen days of intense travels through Portugal, I’ve decided to give an overview of the spots I enjoyed most, aka “Stef’s Five Faves: Portugal Edition!” If you’re planning your itinerary or just want to learn more about what Portugal has to offer, then this is for you! So let’s take a look at the very Best of the West — of the Iberian Peninsula, that is!

First, let me plot the course of our expedition.

Where I Laid My Head

My most-recent Europe trip started in mid-June with five nights in the Portuguese capital of Lisbon. The first two nights I spent on my own doing pre-tour independent explorationsThat was followed by three additional nights in Lisbon as part of a 12-day Rick Steves’ Heart of Portugal tour. Spoiler alert — Lisbon was a fave. More on that in a bit.

After those beautifully busy five days, it was time to say adeus to Lisbon. Our route continued on with a night’s stay in a town the Romans had occupied millennia before us:

Évora!

Praça do Sertório square in the heart of Évora

Évora is cute! It’s a whitewashed UNESCO-World-Heritage town with Roman-aqueduct remains.

Here I am, single-handedly holding up Évora’s old Roman acqueducts.
You’re welcome, Évora. You’re welcome.

But the spot that gets the most visitors is Évora’s Capela dos Ossos: a Franciscan bone chapel that’s on the macabre end of the spectrum, but fascinating!

In a morbid kind of way.

Those Franciscan monks of Capela dos Ossos had a real sense of esprit de corpse.

Continue reading “Stef’s Five Faves: Portugal Edition”

Lisbon Travel Packs the Unexpected

What do green wigs, sardine hats, music, beer, and Saint Anthony have in common?

Not much!

That’s what I thought anyway — at least until recently, when Lisbon reminded me that travel is full of surprises.

I arrived June 12th, on a slightly delayed flight from London, super excited to be back in Portugal after a five-year hiatus. It turned out to be anything but your usual Monday night.

The first hint something special might be underfoot was a message my Airbnb host had sent the day before my arrival, which I only noticed as my plane was taxiing to the gate at Lisbon Portela Airport: Continue reading “Lisbon Travel Packs the Unexpected”

Is it Safe to Travel to Europe?

As humans, we are well aware of our mortality. Naturally, we are concerned about our safety. We crave the peace of mind, and that desire to feel safe plays a role in determining our behavior. And that includes deciding whether or not to travel.

In considering our mortality, well, the fact is — spoiler alert! — we’re all going to die! None of us are getting out of this alive!

So the real question should be: how are we going to spend our precious time? For me, the answer is clear: by doing things I love to do. Such as travel.

Terrorism, Safety, and Travel

With that in mind, let’s consider terrorism, safety, and travel for a moment.


These days, the safety issue pops up a lot. As Travel Advisors in the Rick Steves’ Europe Travel Center, we get questions on this topic regularly. 

“Is it safe to travel to Europe?” they want to know.

Continue reading “Is it Safe to Travel to Europe?”

Spiders & Driving: A Public Service Announcement

People are well aware of the dangers of texting and driving or of drinking and driving, but there’s another menace lurking in dark crevices and under closed car visors that we rarely ever discuss.

What is this creeping menace, you ask? (Okay, I know you already saw the title and featured image. Just humor me!)

[Insert dramatic pause here.]

It’s spiders and driving!

Gasp!

As a potentially hazardous threat to public safety, we could all benefit from greater public awareness on this issue. For example, what should YOU do when faced with an eight-legged stowaway aboard YOUR vehicle?

If you wait till this scenario happens before thinking it through — before coming up with a concrete game plan — it may be too late!

Keep Calm and Refrain from Freaking Out!

Not long ago I was about an hour into a three-hour drive from Seattle, Washington, to Portland, Oregon. That’s when it happened.

Dun. Dun. Duuuun.

The dreaded tickle. Continue reading “Spiders & Driving: A Public Service Announcement”

Shit We Say in the Travel Center

I mentioned in my last blog post that sometimes words escape my gob and I’m not entirely sure where they came from or how they *es-cah-payed* my mouth. Because they certainly weren’t intended!

This isn’t a new phenomenon for me. Unfortunately, I have a track record. There’s one embarrassing episode I recall quite clearly.

It was back in the day.

Way back.

Back when I worked for Peter Piper Pizza in Prescott Valley, Arizona.

The Peter-Piper-Pizza Days!
Feel free to skip this embarrassing story to scroll straight to "Shit we say in the Travel Center" below!

I must have been 19 or 20 years old. I used to make pizzas for a living. I’d grab a previously prepared disc of dough, spread on the sauce, sprinkle it with cheese, and then add the toppings: mushrooms, beef, jalapeños — or whatever was indicated on the particular order.

Then: Continue reading “Shit We Say in the Travel Center”

Turning 41: My Top-10 Highlights of the Past Year

Sometimes, shit comes out of my mouth, and I don’t know where it comes from. I’ll be thinking one thing, but something completely different will escape my gob. Usually it’s something embarrassing.

Does that ever happen to you?

A random Intro!

Maybe that’s why I like writing as a form of communication. It gives me time to think about and to craft exactly what I want to say. I’m not a fast enough thinker to be able to come off as elegantly in verbal communication!

Therefore, I really admire those who are gifted orators. For example: the genius that is Russell Brand. I appreciate his quick wit and the vast trove of vocabulary he has at the tips of his clever-little neurons.

See exhibit A: an interview improvisation where Brand brilliantly impersonates Willam Shakespeare. True genius. (He really starts to get warmed up a few minutes into it — worth watching the whole thing if you’re fascinated by verbal gymnastics and equally captivated by the bizarre.)

Perhaps I have a somewhat decent-sized vocabulary (nothing compared to Brand’s), but at times it takes me ten-plus minutes to think of the word I want to use! Which isn’t very conducive to verbal dexterity! The darn words often get stuck at the tip of my tongue, and — “ain’t nobody got time for that!”

Yesterday was a prime example of my thinking one thing and saying another. I turned to my coworker and good friend, Rosie, and excitedly said, Continue reading “Turning 41: My Top-10 Highlights of the Past Year”

Morocco Beckons: Finding My Roots

“Coffee or tea?” Abdul asked when I entered the breakfast room. It was November 30th. I had woken up, gotten ready, and gone to breakfast as usual that morning — although it was anything but a usual day.

“Coffee, thank you.” I sat at one of the breakfast tables and unwrapped a few slices of my gluten-free bread on which I generously spread the butter, honey, and jam Mohammed had laid out.

Abdul came later, with the coffee. And I thought, as I sipped, about what the day might bring. Abdul had been helping at breakfast that morning and was also there to ensure everything went smoothly for my excursion.

Not your typical excursion: after breakfast I was scheduled to meet the English-speaking driver Abdul had organized to assist me on my mission. We would depart the Fez Medina and head east to try to find the forty-plus-year-old address of my birth father, who passed away thirty-seven years ago in Germany at the young age of thirty-two.  

Half way through breakfast I realized I was feeling fairly tense. I really did not know what to think that morning. It’s only natural that I was full of the feels. After all, I had only been wondering what I might find at that address since I was eight. What would the day bring? I had no idea. Continue reading “Morocco Beckons: Finding My Roots”

Morocco Beckons: Lost in Fez

My alarm barely made a peep before I switched it off and got up. I brushed my teeth and got dressed, putting on my jacket and scarf. It was sure to be cold out.

I unlocked the double doors separating my room from the breakfast room, trying not to let them creak. Stepping out, I was surprised to see Mohammed asleep before me on a breakfast-room bench.

He stirred, looking up at me as I entered the common area. I had no idea he’d be there and felt terrible for disrupting his sleep. But he put his head back down as swiftly as he had raised it. I shut the door behind me, heading out the adjacent entrance to the stairwell leading up. Up. Up.

It was pitch dark. I didn’t dare switch on one of the lights, so I used the display of my phone to see my way up the narrow stairs.

After a careful ascent, I stepped into the cold, fresh air. It was still dark, just beginning to show signs of light. And it was quiet. Shapes began forming as the dimness dissipated. Deeply breathing the crisp air, I enjoyed my solitude up there immensely.

Eventually I was rewarded with the early bird’s worm. Or something rather more appealing: Continue reading “Morocco Beckons: Lost in Fez”

Morocco Beckons: The Ancient Medina

“I’m almost half way to Fez, Morocco. My flight departed at 12:40pm — a delayed departure, so we should arrive in Fez around 4:00pm Central European Time. I’m not sure what time that will be locally, but I’ll find that out when I get there. This is a moment I’ve been anticipating most of my life…”

That’s how my November 28th mid-flight journal entry began.

I had departed Germany’s Frankfurt Hahn airport and was anxiously anticipating my arrival in North Africa, in the medieval Arab city of Fez. My journal entry continued with a brief synopsis of the background story that had led me to take this flight, and then proceeded along the following lines:

Because of these events, I’ve had an acute awareness, ever since, of how my life would have been different had I not been adopted. Would my father still be alive? Would I be living in Morocco? Would I be Muslim? Would I speak Arabic and French? Or would German be my mother tongue? Would I cover my hair with a head scarf?

The myriad might-haves are endless.

Would I have grown up in Germany and passed easily between two cultures: the Moroccan and the German? Or would I have left Germany as a baby and grown up in Morocco? What would my place in society be as a Moroccan woman? Would I have wanted to travel? What would my outlook on life have been?

Would I be the same person? Continue reading “Morocco Beckons: The Ancient Medina”