Introducing You to San Antonio in the Great State of Texas

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Let me start by saying yes, everything is bigger in Texas and that’s the way we like it. We all have big hats, big hair, and big Texas pride. You’d be hard pressed to find another state in the contiguous 48 with more state pride than my fellow Texans. Now that I’ve set the record straight on that; how about a little Texas history?

San Antonio was founded in 1691 and is the second most populated city in Texas. We are situated in the lower southeastern part of the state, with Austin and Dallas to the North of us, Houston to the East, Corpus Christi to the South and El Paso sits towards the West. Many will recognize San Antonio by its historical landmark the Alamo. Its significance lies in the great Battle of the Alamo whereas scores of men, including Davy Crockett and William B. Travis lost their lives defending the mission against Santa Anna’s Army in 1836. It is now known as a Texas shrine and it is a city ordinance that no building can be built nearby that will cast a shadow upon the Alamo.

Other reasons to visit include the famous Riverwalk. While many cities across the country are just now discovering the marketability of their urban waterways, San Antonio realized early on and was one of the first cities to capitalize on their unique city structure. Today visitors can find an array of shops, bars, restaurants, hotels and theaters along the Riverwalk. It is the host of several weddings, special events and river parades. While visiting, add the Tower of Americas, LaVillita, the missions, the McNay Museum, SeaWorld and Six Flags Fiesta Texas to your tourist attractions list. Contrary to popular believe, not everyone around here walks around in cowboy hats and boots, however if you really want to see one, check out the North Star Mall. They have a 40-foot cowboy boot in front of the mall to greet shoppers.
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San Antonio is also home to several sports teams. Whatever sport you like, you’ll find a team to cheer for here. We have the San Antonio Spurs (NBA), Silver Stars (WNBA), Rampage (Hockey), Mission (Baseball), Scorpions (Soccer), and the Talons (Arena Football).
This city is a great place to play, stay and eat. Tex Mex is the cuisine of choice and there are plenty of local Mexican food restaurants to enjoy the spicy and tasty flavors and the delicious Margaritas. While it is a local favorite, you can find more than Mexican food here. San Antonio is a hub for all things food and you’ll find nearly any and everything you may crave.
As you can tell, our city has a variety of things to offer. San Antonio welcomes you to come visit and see for yourself what makes Texas, so Great!

Journey To Giants

Over the river and through the woods is what comes to mind on a journey from Dublin, Ireland as you make your way by car to the northeast coastline to visit the Giants Causeway, located near the town on Bushmills.

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The scenic route up the Antrim coastline will lead you literally to the end of the world, okay maybe not the world; but it does lead to the end of Ireland at its northern most tip. The drive is highlighted by quaint villages, ancient castles and the most amazing and breath-taking views of the coast. There is a strong contrast of deep blue hues of the Irish Sea and the lush green fields of grass that blow in the coastal winds. Farmhouses are scattered along the hillsides and herds of sheep can be seen merrily grazing. The seascape offers dramatic cliffs, vistas and lighthouses for remarkable photo opportunities. When the sun peeps out from behind its hiding place, it hits the sea and creates an array of colors that seduces drivers to pull over quickly and grab their cameras. A few lucky ones are even able to capture glimpses of rainbows as they dart in out of the clouds.

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After driving for nearly five hours, may be shorter if you make fewer stops; you’ll reach the Giants Causeway. Thought to be created by volcanic activity 60 million years ago, it is a series of hexagonal shaped Balsalt rock formations in strategic columns along the sea leading towards Scotland. It is rare that nature produces such uniform shapes, which is why the Giants Causeway is listed as a World Heritage site and is one of the 7 Wonders of Ireland.

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For those unfamiliar with the legend, Irish folklore and mythology has it that an Irish giant named Finn McCool had a rival with another giant in Scotland, named Big Ben. For a true test of strength and brawn, Finn decided to build a land bridge made of rocks to cross the North Channel into Scotland and meet face to face with his Scottish counterpart. After completing the bridge, Finn was very tired and built a crib to take a nap in. When Big Ben arrived, he saw the sleeping “child” and grew frightened. For if this was the child of Finn’s, “Then how big must Finn be?” he thought. Big Ben ran all the way back to Scotland, tearing up the bridge behind him so that Finn could not follow.

Whether you believe the legend or not, the Giants Causeway is one of the top tourist attractions in Ireland and is just one of many reasons to visit the Emerald Isle. Additional points of interest to mention are the Carrickfergus and Dunseverick Castles, the Carrick A Rede Rope Bridge and the city of Belfast.

Reminder: When driving in Ireland, stay to the left hand side of the road.

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The Inaugural Weekend Kick Off Events

Continuing a tradition the First Family began four years ago, Inauguration weekend began with a National Day of Service (January 19, 2013) that honored the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Volunteers across the country organized service events in all fifty states and the Presidential Inaugural Committee hosted a major Service Summit on the National Mall. Speakers and performers at the Service Summit included Honorary Chair Chelsea Clinton, Co-Chair Eva Longoria, singer-songwriter Ben Folds, Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden, American Heart Association spokesperson Star Jones, actress Angela Bassett, singer Yolanda Adams, U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter and the Washington Children’s Choir.

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After a full day of pledging and volunteering during the National Day of Service many dashed home to get ready for the first of many Inaugural Balls to celebrate the historic re-election of President Barak Obama, the 44th President of the United States of America.

The International Inaugural Ball was hosted by Inner Caucus Entertainment and WHUR 96.3 (Howard University Radio) http://www.yeswediddc.com and held at the prestigious L’Enfant Plaza Hotel in Washington, D.C. The evening began with a sleek and elegant fashion showcase by Project Runway’s Korto Momolo and a special celebrity appearance by Will Downing. Afterwards, the DJ’s took over and guests were able to navigate through five rooms of entertainment. Everyone came dressed to impress for this formal black tie event. The party lasted until 3 a.m. and was well attended.

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The Black Perspective on Life in Berlin

It goes without saying that Germany is rich in culture, heritage and history. It’s easy to see why many Blacks have relocated to this region of the world in recent years. It’s not only the culture that draws them in, but also the people and way of life that extends a safe haven to live, work and play. Several decades ago, this wouldn’t have been a possibility, but as time marches on things change.

Fast forward to the year 2013 and the capitol city of Berlin. Huge populations of Blacks intermingle and co-exist with Germans in day-to-day life. It is a diverse city and many come from African countries, some from other places in Europe and a few from the Americas. While German is the official language, most get by with speaking English. It only poses a minimal problem in way of a language barrier if you don’t “Sprechen Sie Deutsch”. The city of Berlin is brimming with flair. It’s described by one resident, Nicole Blake as having a massive social scene; bars, clubs and very artsy. She is a transplant by way of New Jersey and has lived there since 2009. “I found it similar to a New York City circa 1980s feel.
Fashion DesignerEveryone is always working on their next project, whether it be musical, art, and photography.” She also explains that she feels the standard nine to five job isn’t as respectable because so few are actually doing it. There’s a free spirit about the Germans in Berlin and a working professional may sometimes feel out of place. Stamp Car

Along with the social scene, the dating scene goes hand in hand. Again, with Berlin being such a diverse city there is a high population of interracial dating. Cultural differences are present even in clubs. The Black men are typically more of the aggressor, while German men are more passive – that is until the beer starts flowing heavily. Once their inhibitions are down all’s fair in love and war. Black women especially are sought after for their dark skin, their textured hair and everything else that makes the Black woman so phenomenal. They are berated with compliments and constantly “being told or shown that they are extremely beautiful, desirable and/or sexy, having people display a deep – yet typically unwanted – fascination with their hair, having their singing or dancing skills admired (regardless of whether the woman in question actually has any proven talent!)” says Sharon Otoo a London native. On the flip side of this however, many Black women are transported to Germany due to sex trafficking. For Black women, it is not uncommon to be solicited for prostitution because it is legal in Berlin.

As with any other city in the world, Blacks even in Berlin occasionally run into racism. Sometimes hidden, sometimes not. As it goes, it’s always a sensitive subject, but nonetheless an occurrence from time to time. The Europeans see racism as an American issue. Blake says while she normally feels safe in her surroundings, there are still places and areas of town that she knows she’s not welcome or tries to avoid. Otoo, says “I am happy to live here. However, institutional and structural racism is a factor in my life. Indeed, it defines my experience here – yet at the same time mainstream Germany refuses to acknowledge this, which makes countering it very challenging. Still, I am active in the Black German community where I am a member of the management committee of the Initiative of Black People in Germany and have white friends I consider to be allies…”.

There are pros and cons for Blacks living in Germany. For instance, there are politically active Black communities, comparatively strong visibility of LGBT issues within Black communities, a strong sense of support and unity within the creative and entertainment industries. Otoo says, “Musicians have an instant credibility boost”. Blake notes as one of her pros, while yes there was a culture shock when she relocated, there are websites available and networking groups that help expats and other Blacks assimilate to Germany. Additionally for those who have the right nationality or immigration status, there is a higher standard of living, universal healthcare, social security and better fringe and educational benefits in Germany compared to other areas in the world.

Some of the cons are a limited number of Blacks in senior leadership positions in business. Some laws disproportionately affect Black refugees and asylum seekers according to Otoo. There are also few positive Black role models in both German literature and the community for children to look up too. It also goes without saying that hair care products and Black hairstylists are often hard to find.

Germany is a country laced with UNESCO World Heritage sites, museums, fairy tale castles, the Black Forest and so much more. With more than 10,000 towns and cities from the North Sea all the way up to the Alps, there’s a place for everyone to call home.

~Nicole Blake is an Expat and writer of the blog; “Nicole is the New Black”. Follow her @nicolenewblack

~ Sharon Otoo is an author, poet, activist and mother. Her novella entitled, “The Things I’m Thinking While Smiling Politely” can be found in Berlin bookstores and on Amazon. Visit her website http://www.sharonotoo.com

Morocco, More Than Meets the Eye

A culture shock is inevitable when landing at Marrakech-Menera Airport. Disembarking the plane onto the tarmac on a 105 degree day may be a bit of a change, but let’s remember that you’re here for an overall experience and this just happens to be part of it. Hopefully you’ve arranged for a driver to meet you, but if not a taxi will be happy to cart you off to your Riad (hotel).

Helpful Tips: 1. Negotiate your rate before you get in the car. 2. Exchange your money for Moroccan currency (Dirham) and get small bills to pay taxis and street vendors.

Once you’re all checked in to your accommodations (the Villa Guest Riad in Targa is highly recommended) you’ll be ready for your first day of sightseeing. As you jump into a taxi the experience begins immediately. By simply turning onto the street Muhammad V Avenue, animals that you are accustom to seeing only in a zoo or wildlife park are all curbside for petting, riding and photo ops. Camels, mules, monkeys oh my. As your taxi whizzes through traffic along side bicycles, mopeds and tour buses you will see when the old Medina meets with the new Ville Nouvelle in a distinctive shift as the historic parts of the city intermingle and coexist with the modern lavish sections of town.

The main focal point that you’re automatically drawn to is the beautiful and ancient Koutoubia Mosque which dates back from the 12th century. It is the largest mosque in Marrakech and stands over 220 feet tall (non Muslims are not allowed inside however). The Marrakech Mega Mall – Almazar with its scores of designer shops and boutiques are laden with bright flashy lights, billboards and fast food chains is most comparable to what you would see on the Vegas Strip; not what you think of when you imagine the land of enchanting Morocco.

To embrace the culture wholeheartedly, skip the mall and head straight for the Djemaa El-Fna. It is a large square in the Medina (old city) and where all the action takes place. During the day, tourists will find acrobats dancing and performing through the streets, as well as snake charmers and the monkey handlers trying to entice (swindle) you to take photos with them. Women walk around offering Henna tattoos (beware if you have ink allergies) and there are hundreds of Souks (shops) throughout to make purchases of souvenirs, spices, hand crafted items, clothing and household goods. The best part of Djemma El-Fna is the open air food market where fresh beef, chicken, fish, goat and fruit and vegetables can be hand-picked and purchased for mere pennies. This takes the saying from farm to plate to a whole new level. You won’t find any Styrofoam trays and plastic wrapped meat here. If you see a chicken you like, you tell the shopkeeper and he rings the neck, plucks the feathers and hands you your dinner. This is not a sight for the faint of heart; but a unique sight to witness nonetheless.

Tip: All prices are negotiable through haggling.

At night the Djemaa El-Fna really comes alive, street vendors will be peddling everything: candies, cigarettes, false teeth, live animals and more. Then there are the food stalls that prepare anything from mint tea, to couscous, to lamb head, to chicken and beef kabobs on a skewer. If you find yourself hungry you will definitely locate something to satisfy your appetite here.

Your next few days in Morocco should be spent trekking the Sahara Desert and exploring the Berber villages of the snowcapped High Atlas Mountains for a true to life Land Before Time experience. The lifestyles of the impoverished Berber village people are simple and antiquated to say the least and will make you think twice about taking modern conveniences for granted. There is a valuable lesson to be gained here and only those lucky enough to have the opportunity to visit will understand that there is more than meets the eye in Morocco.

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Jumping Off The Beaten Path In Jamaica

Your plane just landed at Sangster International Airport and as you make your way through customs you can hear the steel drums and beats of the Reggae sounds. Now you’ll have that tune playing in your head for the rest of the week. You know the one that goes, ”One love, One heart, Let’s get together and feel alright”. Don’t worry that’s normal because its official, you are in one of the world’s most desired destinations – Jamaica.

Next stop is the hotel lobby. Check in at any of the luxury, all inclusive, tropical resorts is a breeze; especially when you’re greeted with a refreshingly cold glass of Rum Punch. Hopefully you’ve booked an oceanfront room, it would be a shame to be in paradise and not be able to see the Caribbean Sea while standing on your balcony every morning. Now just because you like the finer things in life ie: fruity drinks and ocean views, doesn’t mean you can’t jump off the beaten path when needed, so let’s get down to business.
While the rest of the rookie tourists are loading up on Juta buses headed to the typical Jamaican spots such as the overcrowded Dunn’s River Falls, the Rose Hall Great House or Rick’s Café, the real Jamaica awaits you. There is nothing wrong with the typical tourist attractions, but the island has so much more to offer. For instance have you ever heard about the Lover’s Leap or the Blue Hole Gardens as Jamaican tourist attractions? Chances are, probably not.

Lover’s Leap is located on the southwest coast of the island in St. Elizabeth Parish. It’s a 1700 foot cliff from which two slaves jumped in the 18th century. Legend has it that the two slaves were lovers, but their slave master wanted the girl for himself. To avoid being separated, the pair met up and decided to jump so they could spend their happily ever after in Eternity. Fast forward to the 21st century and a restaurant now sits atop the cliff with a patio and a view that you would not believe. It is absolutely jaw dropping. You can barely distinguish where the sky stops and the Caribbean Sea begins because the hues of blues intermingle flawlessly. Take a moment to take it all in before you depart towards the next off the beaten path treasure hunt.

A trip to the Blue Hole Gardens located in Westmoreland is as far away from any path than you could imagine. The roads are so poorly maintained that a car may not be able to make the full trek. At some point you may be forced to take the path by foot, but only for a short walk – less than 5 minutes if that. When you reach a brightly painted blue door, you’ll know you’re there. From the outside it won’t look like much and you may be skeptical to enter, but when the gate keeper unlocks the chain and welcomes you in, you’ll have a whole new perspective. If you have ever wondered what the Garden of Eden looked like, this is probably a pretty good replica.

First you’ll be blown away by the sheer magnitude of the Blue Hole and then the color. You’ll find yourself thinking, “How did they get the water that shade of blue, green, teal, turquoise”…err okay admittedly it’s hard to decipher exactly what color the water is, but it is amazing. Then there is the garden itself, full of ginger, heliconia, orchids and fruit trees. The tropical climate and soil obviously help stimulate the growth of their incredibly vibrant blooms, not to mention the tender touch of the on-site gardener who is a local Rasta. You’ll find trails that lead throughout the gardens and eventually you reach the Roaring River. Depending on the time of year you visit, sometimes the roar of the river is more like the babble of a creek. Feel free to jump in either body of water for a cool and refreshing swim. Tip: wear water shoes as the rocks in the river bed can be sharp and slippery.

Jamaica has several more hidden gems to offer the tourist that marches to the beat of a different steel drum. All the natural attractions are equally remarkable in their own right. Since you’ve traveled all that way, you definitely owe it to yourself to hunt them out and lay eyes on the reasons why Jamaica is the most desired destination.

When in Rome….

Arriving in Rome and what an experience. My first flight on RyanAir Airlines and I had been warned from friends that it was different…but I really had no idea. This was the most “get your hustle on” airline I have ever encountered. The first item of the day (flight) that was up for sell, even before the plane took off included the following announcement, “This is a non smoking flight and FAA will punish you with a fine for tampering with the smoke detectors in the laboratories….however for your comfort, we do offer smokeless cigarettes that you can smoke during this flight.” Okay, what? Never in my day have I heard of such a thing. Then it went into a free for all 7-Eleven store…they were selling sandwiches, magazines, packs of gum and lottery tickets….yes, lottery tickets. Okay, when in Rome, right?

I met my driver Marcello at baggage claim and he led the way. As a big bright beautiful full moon welcomed me to Rome…I was surprised to see familiar sights. Like the fact that McDonalds has it on lock in every country…so far I’ve seen it in England, Ireland and now Italy. I guess the phrase chicken nugget knows no language barrier.

While riding in the backseat of this passenger van, I’m also noticing that the rules of the road differ here and I’m so glad I decided against renting a car. I mean, I see what looks like stop signs…but my driver isn’t stopping at them. I thought stop was universal…guess not.

So I’m dropped off at my hotel about a block away from Vatican City which was pretty cool. I go inside and I’m met with this antiquated Devinchi Code type elevator system that I need to go back to the year 1901 to learn how to operate properly. I’m a little nervous to even get on it, cause I don’t know if it actually works or if I’m going to be dropped 5 stories to my death. I say a quick prayer, get in, lock up and hope for the best. I made it to the top. The hotel was quite unique in the fact that it was in a large residential and office space building. When I got to the 5th floor, opened the door and went inside…the front was set up like a small lobby and the hotel consisted of about 6 private rooms all with their own private baths. The rooms weren’t very big, but I expected that of Europe. Perfect for just me however. The biggest challenge was the bath room. I had my first encounter with a bidet and was completely clueless on how to use it. First I have to explain…there was a toilet, a bidet and the toilet tank was hanging on the wall near the ceiling. Never in my day, have I seen anything like it. I had to call the innkeeper into my room to basically teach me how to “go to the bathroom”. So when I asked him which to use and how to flush…he pointed at the toilet and said, “use this…flush here” and then he pointed at the bidet and said, “this here…this is not important” and he turned and walked away. I guess that meant, if you don’t know how to use it already…I’m not going to teach you. So I turned to Youtube for a quick bidet lesson…needless to say, that was too much information and I decided to follow the innkeeper’s advice.
It was getting pretty late so I decided to inquire about where to grab dinner before everything closed up. After getting some quick directions and recommendations, I pulled out a few Euros and my travel translation book and headed into the night. I stopped at a quaint little Italian pizzeria…they even had the checkered tablecloths. The entire menu was in Italian and that was really my first sink or swim moment. I knew enough about the Italian language to know the words ham and mushrooms when I saw it. So that’s what I ordered. Didn’t get what I expected…but when in Rome, right. My pizza was scattered with mushrooms and two sandwich slices of ham where laid across the middle of it. Okay, that was different…but at least it didn’t taste bad. I didn’t say it was good…just that it didn’t taste bad. Next to my dessert, which was one of my favorite parts of Rome. The Limone Ripieno, which was a frozen lemon that had its insides scooped out and replaced with lemon flavored sorbet. Delicious and it reminded me of why lemons are one of my favorite fruits.

The next morning was my 3 hour walking tour that somehow turned into 5 hours. Booked via Viator, this day tour was comprehensive and priced right for my budget at just $30.00. The main highlights of the tour included the Colosseum, Roman Forum, Capitoline Hill, Trevi Fountain, Pantheon and Piazza Navona.
Where do I start when I describe the magnitude of the Colosseum. As I left the subway station I automatically knew I was in the right meeting area for my tour. From the subway station stairs, I could have thrown a rock and hit the Colosseum. It was just right there…in your face…big, bold and classic. When you see it in all its glory, all those days spent in history class just come rushing back. To see, touch, visit a symbol of Rome that is so globally recognizable, I was in awe to say the least. It had a gravitational hold over me. I could not stop staring and snapping pictures of it. Even when it was time for the group to move on, I had an overwhelming sensation to stay and just soak it all in. It was starting to sink in…where I was and what I was doing—alone. The tour guide gave a great refresher history lesson about the Colosseum as well. We were able to walk inside and see what was left of the ruins and guage an idea of what it must have been like to witness the Gladiator fights of the day.

The other sites where just as grand, but didn’t move me as much as the Colosseum. I did however take my coin over to the Trevi Fountain and toss it in to stick with tradition. As legend has it, if you toss a coin in the fountain, someday you’ll return to Rome again. Perfect for me, I can always use another passport stamp.

After 5 hours of hiking through the Roman ruins, I could only save room for a hot shower and a soft pillow. I passed out and slept like a baby. The morning had an early start as I was scheduled to take a three hour bus tour to visit Naples and the Island of Capri. Both places where described in my life guide, “1,000 Places To See Before You Die”. Naples didn’t have much to offer, but Capri was something out of a fairy tale. The island was mostly vertical with a little village tucked away near the top. The perfect get away from it all type of destination. This is where you go, when you don’t want to be found or bothered by no one but God himself. It was a serene and peaceful place with friendly locals that aimed to please. On a good day, if the weather is clear and the water is calm, it’s worth spending the extra Euros to take the ride out to the Blue Grotto Cave. The day I was there, the weather decided not to cooperate. To get the best view of the island, you can take the aerial tram which takes 30 minutes to the top and 30 minutes back down. Capri itself is a village full of boutiques. It’s a great place to shop for things that you may not find on the mainland. There are also plenty of fine dining restaurants plotted all over the island that serve local Italian plus other international cuisine. I was able to pick up several gems throughout the shops, some for friends but mostly for me. This village was a shoppers paradise.

When I returned back to Rome from the bus tour, I decided to skip the lines and visit Vatican City after hours. I walked all around and even at night it was a beautiful area. There were fountains and an 83 feet Egyptian obelisk in the center of St. Peter’s Square. It was an indescribable feeling to be there in almost total isolation and solitude. It was a wonderful place to find peace and collect my thoughts of the day. Then I strolled up the block and made my way back to my hotel…had to pack up and get ready for my next flight to Morocco.

Oh My Lucky Charms, I’m in Ireland

When you travel aboard you really do see and hear some of the strangest things. You almost have to be prepared for anything. I meet an older couple on the shuttle bus headed to my hotel once I landed in Ireland. They seemed friendly enough and asked where I was from immediately after hearing my Southern accent. My response was…North America (not wanting to give too much information of course, since I was traveling alone). The next thing out the woman’s mouth was that she had been watching the “tellie” and the news reported about the “twisters” that had recently hit in America. I knew she was referring to the Tennessee and Kentucky tornados. But the funny thing is what she said next. She told me, “You’d think that people in America would build their homes of stone instead of wood, so the twisters can’t knock them down.” I was like what the hell, lady? This woman is seriously thinking that we don’t have brick homes in all of America. Really?? And while I’m talking about this lady, let me just say that the reason her and her husband where on the shuttle bus was because they were disapproved from renting a rental car because their driver’s license wasn’t in English. They spoke perfectly good English, so I’m not sure which European country they were from, but glad to know that Ireland doesn’t cater to other countries like America does. The official language of Ireland is English and they stand by it.

I was only scheduled to be in Dublin overnight before I took my next flight into Rome. The first thing I noticed was that they drove on the opposite side of the road. Immediately, I thought…okay, this is going to be a problem. On my return trip to Dublin, I was scheduled to rent a car and drive around the country side for four days. I was starting to worry, but I didn’t freak out…yet.

From New York to Overseas, How Did That Happen?

Okay, so if you know me, then you know that I don’t particularly fly well. I’ve been known to have a panic attack or two or three in my day aboard a turbulent flight…but I didn’t expect for the panic to set in before the plane even left the ground. As I felt my eyes beginning to tear up, I kept thinking to myself where are these water works coming from??? I was just overwhelmed and caught up in the moment of leaving my country to visit a world of unknown. I quickly regained my composure and by the time I made it to my window seat, I was Zen.

The flight was completely uneventful, watched two movies and fell asleep. I woke up in a new time zone. I had a 6 hour layover in London, England…not too much time to see a lot, but just enough time to ride the tube into the city and walk around Piccadilly Circus. I took so many pictures and tried to soak in as much as I possibly could in the little time I was there. When I got hungry my first reaction was to go to somewhere familiar. I saw Pizza Hut and TGI Fridays. Then I thought…if I wanted something familiar, then I should have stayed home. So I marched into a steakhouse and ordered the traditional English breakfast they were advertising. Humm, okay this was interesting. It was a half fried egg, a grilled tomato, a slice of ham, a sausage link, two hashbrown patties, button mushrooms and a side of pork and beans. Strangest breakfast I’ve ever seen…there was really no rhyme or reason to it at all. But for the most part, it was pretty good (the parts I ate that is). Next I did a little shopping then a mad dash down the tube and back to London Heathrow to catch my hour flight into Dublin, Ireland. My first international excursion into London was flawless…so proud of myself!

A self-gifted trip to Europe

A week after my return and I’m finally making time to reflect on this incredible journey that I was blessed to embark on alone.  For those that aren’t aware, I set off on a self-gifted graduation trip to four European countries with a quick stop to North Africa rewarding myself for the hard work, determination and dedication of achieving my Bachelor’s Degree with a 4.0 GPA.  Although my graduation ceremony won’t take place until October, my degree is in Business Administration with a focus in Hospitality and Tourism Management.

The reason for the graduation trip—was simply perfect timing.  United Airlines had an unbelievable deal that I couldn’t pass up.  That’s how it started…I merely booked a cheap flight to Ireland and it was a domino effect from there.  I toyed with traveling with friends or a touring group, but it just didn’t feel right.  Independent travel was something that I needed to do.  I started planning a route that would carry me through the main European countries I had always dreamed of visiting some day.  A local European based airline offered inexpensive flights that helped me reach my goal of seeing as much as possible in the short amount of time I had. Through RyanAir Airlines, I was able to country hop from Ireland to Italy, then Morocco, then France and a brief stopover in England.  Morocco was an unexpected bonus and I only saw fit to add it to my itinerary for the sake of saying that I’ve had my foot on African soil.

Once all the plans were made and paid for, I started preparing for the extended time I was going to be away from my beloved family.  I am so blessed to have a supportive husband that saw the opportunity for me to travel and encouraged me.  I also have my dear aunt and uncle that put their lives on hold to come sit with my daughter and make sure that she was well taken care of and had a way to and from school every day.

So the day of my trip, I departed from San Antonio International Airport headed for an overnight layover in Newark, NJ.  I would have an entire day at my disposal to tour New York City before my 9pm flight took off across the pond towards the European continent that I hadn’t seen since I was 10 years old.  My day trip to NYC was exciting because it was a first for me to be in the Big Apple solo.  I was happy that from previous visits, I somewhat had a lay of the land and didn’t find it that difficult to navigate my way through the city.  The first order of business was to make my appointment time to catch the ferry over to see Lady Liberty.  It has always been something I wanted to see up close, but never was able to squeeze the time in to do this very touristy attraction.  I was determined through hell or high water that this time, I was going to touch Lady Liberty’s skirt.  So I make the ferry and pull my camera out to document every moment of this dream fulfilled.  The experience was all that I hoped for, except for the fact that I forgot that she was standing on a pedestal and there would be no chance for me to touch her skirt.  Oh well, that’s not the point…I saw her up close and it was a momentous occasion for me.  After my visit to see the Lady and Ellis Island, next on my agenda was to pay homage to all the victims of 9/11.  I made my way over to the site of the 9/11 Memorial.  A couple little known facts if you’re planning a visit there. (1) You have to make reservations to go and have a ticket…it’s free, but only a certain amount of people can visit per day.  (2) If you are active duty military, retired or a dependent no reservations are needed if you show your ID.   They have done a beautiful job with this memorial.  There are two huge reflecting pools surrounded by waterfalls and all the names of each victim are etched along the side.  There is an automated kiosk system located near the unfinished museum to help you locate the names of specific victims.  Its sacred ground and I got an overwhelming sensation of something that’s even hard for me to put into words.  It is just one of those places that you have to experience for yourself.  With nothing else left on my to-do list for NYC, since I’ve already seen everything else there, I make my way by back to New Jersey and prepare for my 7 hour flight.