Weekend in Sydney

Before I even get started, this post about my weekend in Sydney goes to my mom. I almost did not take this trip, but my mom said that I “could not go to Australia and skip seeing the Sydney Opera House.” I wanted to save some of the money I was making over here (I just graduated college, which is another way to say “I have no money”). Going to Sydney was going to be an expensive trip, so I was just going to do without. But my mom made a deal that if I bought the plane ticket then she would pay for my Bed and Breakfast and some of my meals as an early birthday present. So here’s to you mom: you are the best!12342787_10206521699894496_4419901661802309443_n

When I first arrived in Sydney, it was raining. I took the train from the airport to Surry Hills and had lunch at a cute café named Rustic Pearl. After the rain cleared, I headed for the Opera House. It was about an hour walk away from where I was at. I walked through Hyde Park and the Royal Botanic Gardens on my way there. They are absolutely worth the time to go through. I finally made it to the famous Sydney Opera House, and while it is a must see, it is also a huge tourist attraction. Crowds of people surround the area taking their photos and admiring the architecture while street performers are trying to make a buck. The Sydney Harbor Bridge is also in sight as well as many shops and places to eat. I stopped at Angel Place to see “Forgotten Songs”, a display of fifty empty bird cages hanging from wires in an alley. I fell in love with the display because I have always felt such a connection to the metaphor of an empty cage. After exploring around the city, I headed to Pyrmont where I was going to stay for the night.

12301667_10206521700694516_3211205528336155211_nI stayed at an AirB&B for the first time during this trip. My travel tip #1: book with AirB&B. It is a network of people around the world who rent out their houses or one of their rooms to travelers. It is much more comfortable than the typical hostel and way cheaper than a hotel. I rented a cute room from a French family who were going away for the weekend. I would definitely use AirB&B again.

That night I found a cute crepe place to eat dinner and walked around the city a bit before hitting the sack. Early the next day, I headed out on a tour of the Blue Mountains and Jenolan Caves. On the way we stopped at Glenbrook, a town at the foot of the mountains for brunch. They were having their Saturday market, which was fun to explore and get a few treats from the vendors. Then we headed to the caves. The roads to get there were some of the smallest I have ever been on. We got there and almost immediately went on a tour of the Lucas Cave, one of the largest of the Jenolan Caves. While it was beautiful and had some impressive stalagmites and stalactites, I must say that I was not blown away. I have been spelunking several times, so I struggled to stay entertained through a detailed tour full of tourists who wanted to take a photo of every cavern. I might have enjoyed it more had I gone through it alone. After we finished the hour and a half tour, it was back to the bus to head to the Blue Mountains.12316504_10206521704174603_3649401903899210278_n

On our way to the mountains, our guide told us one of the folk tales of how the Three Sisters got their name. There were three sisters who were being pursued by a man their father did not like, so he turned the sisters to stone to protect them, but he was killed fighting the man, and no one else could turn them back. Once we got there we got to explore the area and go down the world’s steepest railway. There are waterfalls and neat rock formations to walk around. After some time there, we headed back to the city.

That night I hung out at Chinatown and ate some delicious Malaysian food. Travel tip #2: Go to Chinatown in Sydney! This Chinatown was one of the best I have been to and I wish I could have stayed longer. If you are in Sydney, you definitely need to check it out. After dinner, I went to Darling Harbor to watch the fireworks that go off every Saturday night.

12346349_10206521706894671_5785328591575715595_nThe next morning, I got up early and headed to Bondi beach. It was about an hour and a half commute to Bondi, but totally worth it. Bondi beach is beautiful. You can watch the surfers catch the waves, admire the murals made by local artists, or just take in the beauty of God’s creation. After an hour at the beach, I grabbed some lunch and then headed back to the airport to catch my flight back to Melbourne.

I really enjoyed my weekend in Sydney. I honestly wish I had more time there and would definitely be up for going back again someday.

 

Advertisements

Cairns and The Great Barrier Reef

Hello from Australia again! A few weeks ago I went to Cairns for the weekend, and I have to admit it is a MUST SEE! Cairns is famous for being “the gateway to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef” and is located at the top of the country in Queensland. It was the first place in Aussie that I visited outside of Melbourne.

I accepted my au pair position knowing that I would have weekends off to explore the country. Which brings me to my travel tip #1: be an au pair! You will have your rent and living expenses paid for and get spending money to travel with. It is a great way to travel and make money at the same time. If you love kids and want to travel, it is the best way to see another country.

IMG_9981

Cairns

The flight from Melbourne to Cairns is about four hours. I left for Cairns on a Friday and when I landed, I was amazed at how similar Cairns is to Hawaii. It is tropical and humid, mountains surround the area, and you can smell the rain forest.  I stayed at a hostel right on the Cairns Esplanade, the part of town that is lined with bars and restaurants, shops, and a free saltwater swimming lagoon. This area is absolutely the place to stay; I loved being able to walk to anything I wanted to do. The first night I got there I went out and explored the city.  My hostel offered a meal deal which enabled me to get a nice restaurant meal and drink for 7 Australian dollars (which would be around 5 bucks). Just the city alone is an entertaining place to spend your time, but the reason I flew to Cairns was to see the reef.

IMG_0054

Can you find Nemo and his dad?

I had a tour that left early on Saturday morning. We left from the Marlin Jetty and started our two hour ride to the reef. I was so excited to get in the water once we finally arrived. Because I was flying the next day, I chose snorkeling over scuba diving (you can get decompression sickness from going far below sea level then far above sea level with 48 hours). The first part of the reef we went to was Hasting Reef. It was a vibrant coral reef filled with unusual and fascinating marine life. Seeing the reef was unreal. I felt like I was viewing a live version of Finding Nemo. I even saw a barracuda (the fish that killed Nemo’s mom). We snorkeled and chased fish for about two hours, and then it was time to get back on the boat and enjoy a delicious BBQ while heading to the second reef site, Breaking Patches.  Breaking Patches is an area of shallow lagoons. I actually liked this reef even more than the last. I was able to capture some amazing photos with an underwater camera that I rented. Travel tip #2- if you go to the Great Barrier Reef, you must rent a camera. It cost about 30-40 Australian dollars and is so worth it.

IMG_0384

The Jetty

While we were returning home from the Reef, we were offered a chance to go boom netting. Basically they tie a net to the back of the boat or the “boom”, and then throw it out in the ocean. You hop on and hold onto the net for as long as you can. The boat goes slow at first, but then picks up speed.  I managed to get a spot closer to the front so I never fell off. It was so much fun!

IMG_0249

Giant Clam

When we made it back to Cairns, I was exhausted but still wanted to enjoy the little time I had left in Queensland. After going to dinner, I headed over to the night market. Cairns night market is just off the Esplanade.  The markets themselves have food stalls, all sorts of souvenir and craft shops, and Chinese massage parlors (I got a twenty minute back rub for $15aud). I am a sucker for markets, so I would definitely put the night market on a Cairns to-do list.

I had a 9am flight on Sunday morning, so after an exciting weekend, I headed back to Melbourne. I was so thrilled to cross seeing the Great Barrier Reef off of my bucket list. I loved the experience, but I must confess: I would have liked the experience more had a not been traveling alone. Everyone else on the boat were with their families or friends, I was the only solo traveler. While I did meet people on the trip, I was reminded of the quote by Christopher McCandless: “Happiness is only real when shared”. I am grateful for my experience, but I have to admit I was lonely. That being said I am learning SO much while I am traveling solo in Australia. And I loved getting to see one of the Seven Wonders of the World.

IMG_0317

I loved snorkeling!

Cairns is breathtaking and there is still a lot more one could see in the area. If I get the chance to go back one day, I would plan some hikes and outdoor adventures that are available in the areas surrounding the city. If you are going to Aussie, put Cairns on your list of must go’s. You will not regret spending your time there.

Peace and Blessings,

Kelly

 

Australia

I feel like I need to check for cobwebs on this blog because it has been so long since I last posted anything…

So much has happened with my life. I graduated college, got into a serious relationship, and MOVED TO AUSTRALIA FOR THREE MONTHS.images

My reason for reviving this old silly blog I made years ago is to document about my time here in Australia (or Aussie as they would say). I will continue to give my travel tips and tell about the wonders of the country, as well as use this page as an open diary (a place to confess what it is really like to travel all alone).

Leaving on a Jet Plane

The start of my trip began like many of my last trips, stuffing things into bags late at night because I waited until last minute to pack. And just like the times before, I had someone there to help as I frantically tried to get everything I needed into a suitcase. Only this time it was neither my best friend from high school, nor my best friend from college. It was my boyfriend (yes, you read that correctly).

IMG_0793

Even though long distance is not easy, we get to Skype or Viber most days. This experience has caused us to become even better friends.

Confession #1: Leaving my boyfriend was harder than I thought it was going to be. I would not advise that someone get into a relationship months before they leave the country unless both people really know what they are getting into.  Clay and I had been friends for years. When he decided to pursue a relationship with me, I told him that he could not have picked a worse time. I had just graduated college, and like any good millennial, had chosen to travel rather than get a “real job” right away. But his persistent pursuit and constant reassurance that we could make it work ended up convincing me that we could start a relationship knowing that in a matter of months I would be moving 9,239 miles away (we googled it).

If packing with my boyfriend was not hard enough, I had two little girls bawling on my shoulder and begging me to take them with me as I packed up my things. I had been their nanny all through college and had moved in with the family for the summer. All the hard goodbyes made it difficult to leave…

But I did. I flew from Northwest Arkansas to LAX to Melbourne. I flew with Qantas Airlines over to Aussie and it was honestly the best flight I have ever experienced. Travel Tip #1: Fly with Qantas! The customer service was top notch. I was at the very back of the plane and there was no one sitting beside me, so I was able to spread out a little bit. The huge advantage of being in the back was that I was right by their “lounge” which allowed me to at any time get any drink, snacks, magazines, and toiletries I wanted. They had loads of good movies and a port to charge my phone at my seat. Seriously, I loved this plane and airline. And the best part was that I fell asleep after dinner with 14 hours left to go and woke up with 6 hours left. I’ve never slept on a plane so well.

“Do You Come from a Land Down Under”

IMG_0957

Daisy and I the first week I arrived.

When I finally arrived after two days of travel, I met my Au Pair family. Marc and Jane are from England originally, but relocated to Aussie six years ago. They have two daughters India and Daisy. I watch little Daisy, a sweet 7 month old with a contagious smile, during the work week. Her sister India, a three year old who loves animals and eating, goes to preschool three days a week, but joins us on the other days. My week day looks very similar to normal nannying, changing “nappies” (diapers), going on walks with the “pram” (stroller), and administering naptime. It is so interesting learning the way child raising is different in other countries. Confession #2: Australia is a very “family friendly” nation. The average maternity leave is a year, and they have a government paid paternity that is an average of two weeks. They have parks all over, and many of their shops have some sort of play area for kids. They require babies to wear sun hats during the summer. Australia, particularly the Melbourne area that I am in, is very health conscious. Organic foods are widely available, and you are very encouraged to stay active. It truly is a great place to grow up and grow old. No wonder Australians like to call it “God’s Own Country”.

IMG_0994

The beach in Frankston

Frankston South, the town that I am in, is a cute suburb about 40 minutes outside the city. The ocean is only a 50 minute walk, 25 minute bike ride, and 10 minute drive from my house. I try to go a few times a week to see the beautiful beach and pick a spot near the water to read and journal. There are plenty of cool shops and cafes in the area. The Melbourne area is known for their coffee. I must say I have had some of the best lattes since I have been here.

Like the UK, Australia drives on the left side of the road. While some people might naturally be able to switch sides, it has been difficult for me to get used to driving over here. Nothing has made me feel 16 again quite like having to drive on the opposite side of the road than I am used to. Honestly it is like learning to drive all over again. I am hoping that I will get better at it the more I practice.

Au Pairs are very popular over here because child care is very expensive. I have joined a Facebook group and have already connected with other Au Pairs. There are constant offers for travel partners and coffee dates. It is nice to see a community of people who are in the same boat as you are while exploring a new country. Travel Tip #2: If you are traveling alone, I would definitely suggest joining a Facebook group that connects you with other travelers. Even if it’s just for a one time meeting for drinks, it will help you feel less lonely to be connected with other people who share the same interests and struggles as you do.

While here, I have already spent loads of quality time in Melbourne. I have also flown up to Cairns to snorkel at the Great Barrier Reef, and I went to Sydney this past weekend. I am scheduled to go on a bus tour of the Great Ocean Road.  I will write about all of these experiences a post at a time. I will be sure to always include any tips I have as well as any confessions I must make. That is it for now folks; you have been officially updated. Thank you for reading.

Peace and Blessings,

Kelly McElfish

Cameroon, Africa

It has been over a month since my feet hit American soil again. I came home to weddings, housesitting, babysitting, work, summer camp, and the routine responsibilities of life. Being thrown back into my fast paced life gave my mind little time to process reentry and all that I was shown and taught in Cameroon. Honestly, I have been putting off writing this blog post because I am at a loss as to how to express my thoughts and feelings on Cameroon. Nonetheless, I will do my best.

1044147_10203025008079386_1765516756046776414_n

Place Royale

Belgium
Before we arrived in Africa, we had a six hour layover in Belgium. One of the biggest travel tips I suggest is making a short excursion to any of the connecting flight cities that you have a long layover in. We were able to eat real Belgian waffles, taste Belgian chocolate, and see the Place Royale at the Brussels Square. Brussels airport is relatively nice and everything is written in English. There is a lot of walking between terminals, but security goes fast. It is always fun for me to experience as many places as I can in one trip. I am glad I was able to make a mini outing in Belgium.      

Cameroon

We flew into the airport late at night. After two days of travel, all I wanted was a shower. When we arrived at the Bread for Life guesthouse in Yaoundé, I found out that there was no running water for the whole city until the end of the week (it was Sunday). It was at that point that I had to remind myself that “whatever comforts I had back home are luxuries, not needs”. I had to kick myself into travel mode.

10434217_10203108297161561_5177302619049823526_n

Picking peppers

Over the next few days, we went to several different places ranging from churches that were just being planted to the Bread for Life farm that was 4.5 hours away. It was so cool! It’s an all organic farm that grows coco yams, maze, plantains, papaya, tomatoes, peppers and many greens. We got to pick the tomatoes and peppers. It was such a good time to go out and help. Then we went just down the road to the Pygmy village. We hung out there for hours. We met with the pastors who lived there with the tribe and prayed blessing and protection over them. They are in a great need for more materials because their church is growing. Wednesday we woke up early to go back to the farm. Then we traveled on the worst “road” I’ve ever seen. It was three hours of slipping and sliding and bumping your head. But the ride was so fun. My cheeks hurt from smiling so much. We went to visit a medical center and then to another Pygmy village. After that, we finally made our way to the orphanage.

10494530_10203108298201587_7798344179623234958_n

Pygmy home

Grace Tait Children’s Home
The home was founded by Virginia Grace Tait who was from Chicago. She was a teacher for many years. She moved to many different countries and taught the English language before moving to Cameroon to accomplish a lifelong passion of adopting and raising orphans. Mama Grace was never married. Because of her age and failing health, (dementia and glaucoma) she passed away. The children’s home was dependent on her pension to take care of her and her ‘adopted’ children. So when her days ran out, so did the money. The household that was once home to 40 children and 10 staff had to drastically cut down.

The Grace Tait Children’s Home is now houses 14 beautiful faces. The orphanage is surrounded by beautiful mountains. It has a boy’s side and a girl’s side. There is a large living room, kitchen and dining room, and study room. The outside has a huge front porch. It is a very safe and fun place to grow up. And the kids call Grace Tait Children’s Home their own with pride. These kids love to sing worship songs and play instruments, so there is never a quiet moment. They love to be read to. They all have to play a part in making the house a functioning home. They love to garden, play soccer, and color with crayons and colored pencils. The girls would braid and re-braid my hair all throughout the day. Most of the kids really desire physical touch, so there was constant hand holding, hugging, or someone sitting in my lap as soon as I would sit down. I tried my hardest to get to know each child personally. Each one of them has a story. Each one of them has their own dreams, fears, and quirks. Each one of them has a brilliant future ahead of them.

10487479_10203108308161836_5798266554097760951_n

The girls doing my hair

So for you this is just a good time
But for me this is what I call life– City High

When summer break is over, I will walk 10 minutes from my car to my college classroom. They will walk an hour to the school they attend in a nearby village. Both of our lives will go on. It is possible that we will never see each other again in this world. But for the time I was there, I was able to make 14 new friends. Friends who taught me how to hand wash my clothes, eat mangos “African” style, and chase monkeys up a mountain. They did me the honor of letting me stay in their home, break bread with them, and spend quality time getting to know them and their country. I still think about my friends most days, and catch myself smiling when a fun memory pops into my head. I have every intention of going back another day and bringing others with me.

 

Man, I ain’t changed, but I know I ain’t the same– The Wallflowers

10481879_10203108314842003_3970538309785884476_n

I think there is a need for knowledge exchange among cultures. It should not be that Americans are the all-knowing superheroes who have to go save developing countries by giving them school supplies and painting old walls. It is damaging for missionaries to drop by, tell a story of this man they’ve never heard of that died for them, ask them if they want to repeat a prayer, give them a lollipop, then pack up and leave, never to be seen again. There is a need for knowledge exchange and relationship development. A man with whom we shared a meal said, “American’s have watches, but have no time; Africans have no watches, but lots of time”. The Cameroonians value relationships over technology. They value relationships over almost everything. It was refreshing to be around people who were not constantly distracted. It was beautiful to experience encounters with the same God miles away from my American home. Every time I travel, I am blown away by how big and small our planet is. Each country and culture has something to offer each person. I am so thankful that I was able to be exposed to what Cameroon had to teach me, and I am happy that I made new friends at the Grace Tait Children’s Home.

10537020_10203108318962106_5473305391922560930_n

The Grace Tait Children’s home

James 1:27

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. – James 1:27

I was 17 years old when I met an African man named Ernest. I love meeting people from other countries. I love other cultures. Being a sociology major has only heightened my desire to learn more about the human race. God placed in me a strong hunger for adventure and a heart for the nations. So when I heard that a nonprofit owner from Cameroon was visiting the church in which I was serving in children’s ministry, I knew had to meet them.Image

After hearing about my passion for both children and traveling, Ernest invited me to visit Cameroon to help with an orphanage that his nonprofit organization recently took on. The thought of going to Cameroon to live out James 1:27 was exciting, but I did not feel the liberty from God to go… until now.

 About two months ago, I had breakfast with Ernest while he was visiting the States again and he informed me that the offer to help out at the orphanage still stood. He asked specifically that I go with the intention to fill the orphanage’s need for help with organization, scheduling, and meal planning (things I am good at and love doing!).  After the conversation and a blessing from my parents and mentors, I have decided to visit Cameroon this summer to consult and serve the orphanage in Bamenda. I leave the 14th of June and fly back home the 1st of July. I am very excited to embark on this adventure and am still in shock that I am even going.Image

 Other nations have continually been part of God’s calling on my life and I feel very confident about my decision to chase after His purpose. This will be my seventh mission trip and my fourth one overseas. I am beyond thrilled about this!

I have been reading Kisses From Katie, rewatching Invisible Children documentaries, and imagining the children I will meet. I still cannot believe I am going. This has been my dream for a long time.

Overseas missions can be a touchy subject. Many times “short-term mission trip” can be another word for a Christian vacation. Give out some free food and tell a Bible story and suddenly you are Mother Teresa. Please know that I am not bashing short-term mission trips, I do think that it is beneficial to serve others whether it is in another land or just down the street. I just struggle sometimes with the American trend that says spend a week in another country and you become a hero, yet return to your home town and never serve your city. I have been asking God to not only use me in Bemenda, but to continue to show me how to serve in my own city of Russellville, AR. I am getting off subject; I just want to make my intentions clear. I am going to serve and love on these kids and use my experience in children’s ministry to help this orphanage. I love the way Heifer International says it, that it is about giving people a hand up, not a hand out.

 I feel confident that I am supposed to do this. That I was made to love many cultures.

I will be taking donations for my trip. The raising support approach is something I have often questioned and felt slightly uncomfortable doing. Do not get me wrong, if you would like to donate to my trip I would be so very grateful. It would help me immensely and be a blessing. But I am also aware that the money you have is money you worked hard for. My generation has been surrounded by the luxury of “first world problems” our whole lives and I will admit that I do not always realize how thankful I should be for all of the things I have because of someone else’s hard work. That being said, I ask that if over the next month you have any work (babysitting, house or pet sitting, housework, miscellaneous) that you need done, to please hire me in support of my trip to Cameroon. I will also be selling my paintings and artwork to raise money for my trip, so if you are interested in buying or having something custom made, that would be another great way to help out. I had 500 dollars that I had saved up that I have already put towards my 2,000 dollar ticket, but need to raise the rest along with money for food and gas while I am over there. If you have any item(s) you would like to donate that could be used at the orphanage (clothes, socks, toothbrushes, crayons, candy, ECT), please feel free to give in that way.

Whether or not you make any financial contribution to this trip, something that I am asking from everyone is to keep me in your prayers. Despite Cameroon’s high crime levels, most visits to Cameroon are trouble-free. Ephesians 6:12 tells us “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” From now until I return home, I am in need of spiritual covering for my travels. If you would, please keep me and the two other women who will be traveling from Imagethe United States to Africa with me in your prayers. If you have any questions for me, I would love to talk with you. And if you want to learn about Ernest and his work, please visit
www.breadforlife.org
.

 

I still cannot fathom that in a little over a month I will be in Cameroon.  

 

Backpacking Tuscany

Image

My backpack

Over Christmas break, I spent two weeks backpacking around Italy. The trip was a last minute decision (I bought my ticket two weeks before I left!) to go visit Rose and explore the boot of Europe.  It would be truly impossible to completely document all of the adventures I had over those two weeks, but here are some highlights from the trip and some traveling tips I learned along the way.

I left for Italy on Christmas day, which brings me to my 1st travel tip: travel on Christmas day! The lines were so short, my ticket was cheaper, and the workers were jolly. I did not even have to take off my shoes or jacket through security. I will travel on Christmas day again in the future. I flew from LRA to ALT, then from there across the ocean to Amsterdam. In Amsterdam I had an 8 hour layover, so I decided to ditch the airport go explore the city for a few hours. 

Amsterdam:

Despite popular belief, Amsterdam was a wonderful city! It was very clean, safe, and full of things to see. I only spent a few hoursImage there, but it was totally worth it. I did a canal tour (like Venice, Amsterdam is a canal city) that took about an hour and toured around all the major points of the city. If you have days to spend in the city, I would suggest skipping the boat tour and just walking around. The tour is great if you only have a few hours, but know that it is going to be crowded and loud. After the canal tour, I went to the Winter Market. This was my favorite part on the day trip; there were all sorts of cool things to see and foods to eat. It was starting to get dark and I was all by myself, so I decided to head back to the airport when I was finished looking at the market. I wished I could have stayed longer.  If you have a long layover in Holland, please go out and see the wonderful city.

I arrived in Florence late on the 26th and stayed in a villa with a family who was originally from Arkansas. The villa was over 100 years old and was absolutely beautiful. After a few days there, Rose and I traveled to Pisa.

Pisa:

Image

The Cathedral Square

Image

How could I not?

Pisa is a great city. It is easy to navigate through and has a lot of neat history. The leaning tower is great and the Cathedral Square is mesmerizing. There is a really awesome Keith Haring painting, on the side of a building, that is a must see. We stayed at the cheapest hostel we could find, and we got what we paid for.We did have some really cool roommates though! The first few nights we roomed with two friends who had met in high school. Their names are Daniele, from Milan, and Renee, from Buffalo, NY. We stayed up until way too late talking about religious beliefs and politics (the two things you are supposed to avoid talking about when you first meet someone). We spent NYE there on what is called “the main bridge”. There were all sorts of activities and we met some interesting people that night. One of which was an Indian man who said we could live a year at his house for free. On our last night there, we had a roommate who was an Australian, born in Israel. He was also an anti-consumerist, and he spent very little money traveling because he had learned the art of dumpster diving. He was not the friendliest person to us two Americans at the get go, but warmed up to us after a while. We ended up going on a dumpster diving excursion on our last night in the city. Pisa is a place I would definitely visit, but wouldn’t plan to spend more than a day or two there. However, it is a good hub to visit surrounding areas.

 Luca:

Image

Tandems are so fun!

We spent the first day of 2014 in Luca. Luca is a little town about 20 minutes from Pisa.  A medieval wall was built around the city, and it is a popular walking trail. We rented a tandem and rode on the city wall. If you have the time, I would totally plan to stop there. Luca is beautiful and fresh. The people are very kind, and everything is pretty cheap. Visiting the city was a great way to start out the New Year.

 

 

 

 

 

Image

Truly amazing

Cinque Terra:

Another great place to visit near Pisa is an area named Cinque Terra (which means five lands). Here there are five little fishing towns built upon the cliffs along the sea. We traveled to Riomaggiore, which is one of the most famous of the five towns. I can honestly say I have never been to a more beautiful place in my entire life. The smell of the bright blue sea, the disorganization of the random colored houses built along the ledge, and the tall bluffs holding it all together seriously awakened all of my senses.  I could have spent the whole two weeks there. The area was breathtaking. If you are going to be in Tuscany, this place is a must see!

 

Florence:

Image

The Duomo

The final part of our trip was spent in Florence. The first few hours we spent roaming around in search of the place we were staying. We were completely lost. Which brings me to my 2nd travel tip: if you are carrying heavy bags, and you do not have a map, and the directions you have tell you to take a bus, know that a lot of stress comes with just skipping the bus and walking to find your hotel.  We made this mistake in Pisa too. I will say it was a memorable experience, but I would suggest just spending the 1 euro to take the bus.

Image

ponte vecchio

Once we did get settled in, we were able to explore, which was easy because Florence holds most of Italy’s art. The famous Duomo cathedral was so beautiful, and almost all the buildings there are older than the US. We went to an English mass, which was a very special experience.  Another perk is that Florence has a gelato shop on every corner. Unfortunately in our last days there, we were starting to grow tired and running out of money so we didn’t see everything there was to see. A somewhat surprising thing we discovered in Florence was that Ponte Vecchio is actually prettier in photographs than it is in real life.  We also happened to be there for the annual Coming of the Magi Parade. It was cool the first hour, but started to drag on during the second. One of the coolest things we did was go to the Tuesday market. Everything was so cheap and cool to look at. A final highlight is that on one of our last nights there, we got a free lemonchello, because the pizza boy told the owner that he loved me. I was very flattered, and the drink was delicious. Florence was nice, but if I were to ever go back I would hope to have more money because it is an expensive city.

Image

My free drink

 

Overall, my Italy trip was incredible. I loved getting to backpack in Europe for the first time, and I gained life experiences that will always stay with me. I did this trip with very little money and most of the time we just ate one meal a day and a small snack, but that makes the trip even more special to me. There were a lot of unexpected charges, which caused us to be even more out of money. This brings me to my 3rd travel tip: never assume. Just because Americans do something a certain way does not mean the rest of the world will be understanding of your customs. O yes, and it is better to withdraw money from ATMs than use the currency exchange at the airport. The fees are ridiculous! Despite that I loved getting to spend so much time with Rose and I was able to read two books while I was there. I am so happy that I did it. I really recommend this kind of trip to anyone who is up for an adventure.

 

Image

Cannot believe I am 21

Maps, they don’t love you like I love you– Yeah Yeah Yeahs

Now I am home, and it is nice to be in my new apartment. I have been able to reconnect with all my friends and celebrate my 21st birthday! I was hoping that the trip would calm the desires of my hopeless wandering spirit, but it just made it grow. I cannot wait for my next trip and am hoping to go overseas again in the summer.

 

Thirteen things I learned in 2013!

In a little less than two weeks, 2013 will pack up and leave so that 2014 can occupy its space for 365 days. As I look back on this year, I have so many things to be thankful for. I have a roof over my head with a dishwasher and comfy bed, two jobs that allow me to work with kids, plenty of clothes and shoes, a loving family, a car, a cellphone, and I am getting a college education. I know many wonderful people, and I have the world as my playground. But to be real, 2013 sucked. I can think of something that was difficult for each month in 2013. It has been more stressful, more heartbreaking, and more depressing than any other year I have had. I am not sad to see it go.

Although this year was hard, I learned many lessons. So to finish out my last blog post for 2013, I will share thirteen things I learned in 2013. (With extra cheese please!)

  1. Accutane screws you up. I dealt with acne on and off throughout high school and treated it with two rounds of antibiotics. But when I entered college, my acne got worse and started leaving scares. Although I had heard different horror stories about the drug, I chose to be prescribed to it anyway. The normal trial is for four to five months, I was on it for nine. Accutane did work. I have clear skin and have been off of it since June. When I look back I do think it was worth it, but just barely. In exchange for my clear skin I had to deal with extremely dried lips, skin, and hair, sore muscles and joints, constant dehydration, and depression. Many of my close friends and family said they could tell a definite difference in my emotional state while I was on it. I am glad that I am off of it now.  My advice for anyone thinking about getting on Accutane would be to really think about all the side effects and talk it over with your dermatologist. Also, make sure you have a strong support system, you will need it.
  2. Real rock climbing is different than a climbing gym. I went to Horseshoe Cannon for spring break this year. I had been climbing in gyms for a while, so I thought that I would have no trouble doing the real thing. I never completed a single course in the two days we were there. The biggest difference was how much more my hands were torn up than in gym climbing. It was so so fun. And very beautiful! But not easy. I guess that’s why it is considered an extreme sport. I love rock climbing and highly suggest everyone who is interested to try it, both for real and in a gym, just know what you are getting yourself into.
    Image

    Horseshoe Cannon

  3. If you do not have a secret stash of chocolate somewhere, then you are not one of my roommates. Having lived with five different girls since I have started college. All these girls are very different, but one thing remains the same- we all have an emergency chocolate stash. Chocolate is a girl’s best friend. Whether it is dark, milk, white or maybe she is more of a mint chocolate fan, the girls you know are probably stashing chocolate somewhere. Chocolate is always a good gift idea, unless that girl does not like how it tastes and is therefore an alien.
    Image

    The dreamhouse girls

  4. My mom is my best friend. When I lived at home, I never realized how cool my mom was. After moving out and going through a very difficult year, I discovered how much of a super hero my mom was. We talk on the phone pretty much every other day. She listens to me cry, complain, and dream. She is a constant encouragement to me, and I love her. My dad is really cool too.
  5. I really love obnoxious songs.  Gangnam style, thrift shop, Disney songs and my personal favorite What Does the Fox Say are all songs that I honestly love. It’s embarrassing how much I like to listen to these types of songs. Judge me all you want, but a catchy silly song will always be my jam. If you can dig it, then you probably also know how to not take life to seriously and understand how fun it is to make obnoxious sounds.Image
  6. Deep conversations are good for you. Even if they are hard. Even if they make you upset or violate your happy thoughts. It is good to have to articulate your thoughts and feelings on God, politics, power, relationships and life matters. Having others question where you stand on such matters is healthy. Don’t run away from them.
  7. Learning to mind your own business frees you from taking on responsibilities that were never yours to take on in the first place. This is a tough lesson for me. I have the tendency to take everything very personally and to get emotionally involved in things that actually have nothing to do with me. Taking on the problems of others tends to not actually be that helpful to anyone. If this is something you struggle with, reminding yourself that you are not responsible for the rest of the world give you so much freedom.
  8. Making a list of what you’re thankful for brings prospective. This summer I started a list of 500 things I am thankful for in my journal. It is crazy how many things, places, and people I have in my life to be thankful for. I highly suggest everyone make a list, whether it is 10 things or 1000 things, your list will remind you of how much you have- and it will make you smile.
    Image

    Greg is a life I am forever grateful for.

  9. Mentors are mandatory in life.  I do not know how I would have gotten through the year without the mentors I have. They have encouraged me, comforted me, gave sound advice, and were there for me through every step and I could not be more thankful. I advise everyone to find a mentor(s). Someone you trust and look up to. It will change your life.
  10. Self-retreats should be done at least once a year.  I went on my first self-retreat in November. Taking time alone to think, pray, and meditate is so refreshing and good for your mental health. I walked around the city (I stayed in downtown LR) and took the time to just listen and look at the sounds and sites around me. I learned so much on my trip and will do another one next year. If you’ve questioned doing this, plan the trip and go. You will not regret it.
  11. Acupuncture is awesome. This is a Traditional Chinese medicine that is most commonly used to treat pain. It uses needles that are about as big as a string of hair and inserts them into trigger points. Your body becomes instantly relaxed and heavy. I love it. If you are interested in doing this, Dr. Netto is Russellville is great!
  12. Being a nanny is playing house for big girls. I love the Keaster kids. I have been a nanny since I was 16 but most times it is for one or two kids. Three kids is whole different ball game. Watching a 6 year old, 3 year old, and 19 month old has taught me many mommy skills. These kids have taught me so much about our Fathers ‘love and patience for us. Being a nanny is the best! Image
  13. Living in a hangout house is not my thing. I love living in the Barbie Dreamhouse, I really do. There is always someone to talk to, loads of laughter, and memories in the making.  With being an extreme extravert, I would have never guessed that I would end up having the desire for more calming living conditions. But with the season I have been in, I have made the best decision for me, which is to move out. I am moving into an apartment with a dear friend and will live there in 2014. I will still see the girls all the time and just because my bed will be in a different place does not mean I am closing the door on those friendships.

 

That is it folks, my 13 things I learned this year or something like that. Oh what a year it has been. May 2014 is golden and sweet. Please do not make fun of my cheesy blog. 

Image

Peace and blessings,

Kelly