travel

The Weekend Five: Travel Tips for the New Year

Wandering around a Kibbutz!

Wandering around a Kibbutz, 2011

As many of my readers know, I have always loved visiting new places. Whether I’m traveling across the Atlantic or simply a few miles to a local attraction I’ve never visited, I’m constantly looking for ways to broaden my horizons and see something new. Although I don’t foresee any far away trips in the near future, I do hope 2014 brings plenty of exciting adventures and opportunities to explore!

Over the years, I have been fortunate to visit the Caribbean, Europe, the Middle East and many of the wonderful states right here in the U.S. During that time, I’ve picked up a lot of tricks for having a better travel experience. Let’s kick off this weekend with a few of these tips to help you plan your vacations for 2014. :) Bon voyage!

 The Weekend Five: Travel Tips for the New Year

Dinner in West London, 2012.

Dinner in West London, 2012.

1. Do your homework.
Research and planning are two of the most important things you can do prior to any trip! If you can, talk to people you know who have been to the place you’re about to visit, and get their advice for the best sights to see. For most popular destinations, you can find guidebooks at your local bookstore, where you can flip through and learn more about some of the hidden gems. (This also allows you to avoid showing up at a museum on a weekday when it is closed!) Browse travel blogs as well – you can find a lot of good information and photos from those who have already been! (You can check out my blog for some suggested destinations in London, Paris and Rome.) Plan out a basic itinerary or list of must-see attractions for your trip, but allow for changes along the way as you make your own discoveries!

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2. Find a hotel slightly outside of the city.
If you’re visiting a city with good public transportation, your best bet is to stay in a hotel near the metro but slightly outside of the city. These hotels tend to be less expensive but still very accessible. I picked up on this trick through some of the organized trips I’d gone on, once I saw that there were still some exciting things to do and that a trip to the more bustling tourist areas was only ten minutes or so by train. Buy a temporary metro pass if you can to avoid long lines and travel with ease throughout the city!

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Sunburned at the Pantheon, 2012

Sunburned at the Pantheon, 2012

3. Keep your chargers handy.
My biggest regret when I went to Israel was not charging my camera enough. After spending the night in a Bedouin tent in the desert, we woke up at the break of dawn to climb a nearby mountain, and as the sun rose, the battery in my camera died. I was all set to take a beautiful sunrise photo at the top of the mountain, but because I hadn’t been charging my camera at the hotel in the days leading up to our desert trip, I had to settle for photo-bombing my friends’ pictures instead. Even if your camera dies, of course, you still have your memories – but the photos are definitely great to look back on once the trip has long since passed. Bring extra batteries just in case!

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4. Eat normally when possible.
For many people, food is one of the more exciting aspects of travel. However, when you’re adjusting to new time zones, it’s a good idea not to stray too far from your normal diet. In France, for example, many of my friends and I were tempted to start the day off with lots of pastries, but after a while, too much indulgence slowed everyone down. Because I eat a lot of scrambled or hard-boiled eggs when I’m at home, I tried to gear my breakfast toward those when possible, enjoying the occasional croissant here and there. Don’t be afraid to try new things and treat yourself every now and then, but don’t stray too much from your usual diet, either. You don’t want to let unhealthy food choices take away your energy to see the sights!

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Hanging out by the love padlocks near Notre Dame, 2012

Hanging out by the love padlocks near Notre Dame, 2012

5. Be kind and respectful.
This may sound simple enough, but you’d be surprised at how few people truly remember to say “please” and “thank you.” I’m always shocked to see how some people will behave in another country or when dealing with the staff at airports, hotels and attractions. Remember that you are in another person’s home state, country or city, and treat him or her with the same courtesy you would expect in return.

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Travelers, what are some of your tips? Where do you hope to visit in the new year?

The Weekend Five: My Adventures in Holiday Travel

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Outside the Eiffel Tower in Paris on Bastille Day, 2012

First of all, for those who celebrated on Wednesday, I hope you had a very Merry Christmas! :)

Because my father travels for a living, I learned the importance of flexibility around the holidays early on. If he was out of town for an important birthday or holiday, we simply celebrated on a different night and had just as wonderful of a time! As I grew older, I began to experience my own interesting travel adventures that overlapped with holidays, which gave me a few fun memories along the way.

This week, I’d like to share some of my holiday travel experiences with you. Feel free to share your own in the comments section below!

The Weekend Five: My Adventures in Holiday Travel

1. Flying to London on the Fourth of July.
What better way to celebrate America’s independence from Great Britain than to fly out to the very country we are commemorating our freedom from? In the summer of 2012, I left for a short-term study abroad program on Independence Day, and the irony was not lost on me. (Of course, I actually arrived in London on the 5th and was able to barbecue with my family a day early, but I still will never forget this very strange and unique 4th of July, which was mainly spent on a plane!)

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Selfie on the Champs de Mars

Selfie on the Champs de Mars, 2012

2. Celebrating Bastille Day by the Eiffel Tower.
On that same study abroad trip, I traveled to Paris for Bastille Day, which celebrates France’s freedom from the monarchy and the storming of the Bastille. My friends and I watched the parade from a hotel room with mimosas in hand, and were able to peek out the window to watch the jets fly by. Later in the day, after climbing the Eiffel Tower, we grabbed an early dinner and then camped out by the Eiffel Tower early so we could watch the fireworks that night. Music played and as people from all over the world sang along, I felt more connected to complete strangers than I would have ever expected. (I also witnessed more marriage proposals than I had ever seen in my life!) It was a beautiful experience, one that I would recommend to anyone traveling to France in the summertime. (I also wrote an article with tips for celebrating the holiday abroad.)

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Celebrating Hanukkah on Ben Yehuda Street in Jerusalem, 2011

Celebrating Hanukkah on Ben Yehuda Street in Jerusalem, 2011

3. Celebrating Hanukkah in Israel.
When I was a junior in college, I traveled to Israel for ten life-changing days. The trip, which took place in December, spanned across the entirety of Hanukkah, and so it was the first year that I didn’t spend any of the holiday with family. However, being able to spend Hanukkah in a country where a greater percentage of the people celebrate it, I felt a strong sense of belonging and community. One night, when my friends and I perused the night life in Jerusalem, we were approached by rabbis who gave us sufganyot (a Hanukkah food similar to a jelly donut) in celebration. Of course, in America, if a bearded stranger approaches me with free jelly donuts, I’m not as likely to accept so readily, but on that night, it seemed more than appropriate. Celebrating Hanukkah in Israel gave me a unique perspective on a holiday that I had been celebrating for my whole life, and it is a memory that I have carried with me every year since.

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4. Spending Christmas in the Philadelphia International Airport.
My very exciting Hanukkah was followed by a very lonely Christmas Day. My group returned from Israel on December 25th, and because we came from different parts of the country, everyone had different flights to catch from Philly. My flight wasn’t until that evening, so I spent the day reading, walking around, calling family members and people-watching. I wound up celebrating Christmas with my family on Boxing Day that year, but the experience gave me even more of an appreciation for those who work on the holidays, especially in service-based professions.

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sophisticated-ignorance5. Falling asleep early on New Year’s Eve.
When I was fourteen, I went on a family trip to the Netherlands. The trip was a blast – and my first time ever in Europe – but I came down with a nasty cold that was worsened by the flight home (which took place on New Year’s Eve). Because of this, I ended my year in bed, surrounded by tissues and drifting off to sleep before the clock struck midnight.

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What interesting holiday experiences have you had, abroad or otherwise?

Blog Spotlight: Tales for Scout

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Copyright Megan Lierley, talesforscout.blogspot.com

Not long ago, I exchanged blogs with Julie Kesti, a Minnesotan ex-pat artist living in Shanghai. I am happy to say that the experience led to a blog swap with Megan Lierley of Tales for Scout, a blog I will now be reading regularly! Tales for Scout focuses on especially on Megan’s travel adventures in San Francisco, where she lives, but is also a fantastic read for twenty-somethings.

Here is a round-up of a few of Megan’s wonderful blog posts. Definitely check out her page, especially if you plan to visit San Francisco any time soon!

So what are you waiting for? Check out Tales for Scout and let her know what you think!

Interested in a blog swap? Email me at vmoses90@gmail.com and we can get started. :)

Link Love Wednesday: Millennials vs. Baby Boomers

iphone-5-apple-generations-sympathy-ecards-someecardsWhat do you get when you take a very full work calendar, a birthday and a series of federal and religious holidays? A blogger who forgets to post Link Love for a few weeks! :) Hopefully today’s round-up of posts about topics ranging from Generation Y to jet lag won’t disappoint.

Read anything interesting lately?

International Adventures: Tips for Celebrating Bastille Day in Paris

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Sitting by the Eiffel Tower several hours before the fireworks went off! :)

Bon jour! For those of you of French descent/nationality, I wish you a happy early Bastille Day!

Last summer, I celebrated Bastille Day in the heart of Paris. Bastille Day, the French National Holiday that takes place on July 14, commemorates the storming of the Bastille in 1789, which symbolizes France’s freedom from its former monarchy. Because I had spent my Fourth of July on an airplane and missed out on all of the American traditions, I was excited to celebrate Bastille Day in France and become immersed in the French culture.

For those of you who made the trip out to Paris this summer, add Bastille Day to your itinerary for tomorrow. The city bursts to life with events and traditions that are enjoyable even if you aren’t French, but they can become a bit overwhelming for those who haven’t experienced the holiday before. Here are a few tips for how to appreciate all that Bastille Day has to offer without getting lost in the crowd.

Watch the parade on television.
This may sound counter-intuitive; after all, why would you watch a parade from your hotel room when you could watch it in person? Unfortunately, the Bastille Day Military Parade that takes place on the Champs-Elysses draws in such large crowds that it is nearly impossible to find a spot from which you can actually see the parade. Instead, open a bottle of champagne, turn on your television and stay by a window. If your hotel is near Bastille itself, you may even see the Patrouille de France jets fly by outside.

Paris226Spend your day in the city.
Once the parade is over, go outside and participate in all the revelry that Bastille Day has to offer. Take pictures with cadets from the military academies, climb the iconic Eiffel Tower (what better day to do it than on Bastille Day?) and eat an early dinner outside if weather permits. The excitement of Bastille Day in Paris is contagious, and by spending the holiday among the locals, you will feel like even more of a part of the experience. Be sure to watch your belongings, though – it is easy to lose track of your bags in these crowds.

View the fireworks from the Eiffel Tower.
The perfect place to view the Bastille Day fireworks from is the Champ de Mars, the lawn of the Eiffel Tower. Although the fireworks show doesn’t occur until late evening, arrive early with your camera, a few snacks and a towel or blanket to sit on. My friends and I selected our spots six hours before the show, giving us our fair share of seating. The fireworks are accompanied by music, so you will find yourself singing along among complete strangers from all over the world and having the time of your life.

Leave early.
Although the streets and subways are going to be inundated with people, you can still avoid a great deal of the crowds by leaving the fireworks show five minutes early. This will help you skip the big rush and get back to your hotel safely.

Enjoy your Bastille Day!

Original version published in Immersion World.

The Weekend Five: Things I Loved In Rome

Remember that time I studied abroad in Europe, then posted blogs about my adventures in London and Paris? During that time, my group and I also enjoyed a brief Roman Holiday! (Saying that makes me feel so much like Audrey Hepburn.) The last few days of our trip took place in Rome, Italy, a city rich with history, culture and delicious food. Although we didn’t spend nearly as much time in Rome as we did in London and Paris, I still had some memorable experiences that I will share with you!

The Weekend Five: Things I Loved In Rome

1. The Colosseum.
I have my minor in Hospitality Management, so of course I’d look at the Colosseum as the ultimate event venue. (Yes, that’s me in the picture.) Although it was not my first time visiting the Colosseum, I had a newfound appreciation for this arena as I thought about all that took place there in ancient times. The Colosseum is one of Rome’s most recognizable icons, and definitely worth a visit for anyone making the trip to Rome. You can take a self-guided tour and admire the Colosseum from different vantage points.

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2. Roman Forum.
Walk through the ruins of the Roman Forum, the plaza where Romans met to exchange goods, deliver public speeches, and much more. The Forum is located near the Colosseum and is even home to Julius Caesar’s memorial site. As you enter the Forum, think about how it must have looked in its prime, and visualize yourself in this once-bustling city center! Because of the proximity of these two sites, I would suggest visiting one right after the other — preferably early in the day, before it gets too hot!

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3. Trevi Fountain.
Toss a coin over your shoulder into the Trevi Fountain and make a wish! Legend has it that by throwing a coin into the water, you will be guaranteed a return trip to Rome. Regardless of whether or not you do decide to come back someday, visiting the Trevi Fountain is definitely a worthwhile experience if not for its beautiful architecture alone. I have been to the Fountain twice — once in the evening, and once in the early afternoon, but after my second visit, I would suggest going early. However, no matter when you decide to go, be sure to watch closely over all of your belongings — my classmates and I had to be especially careful about pickpockets in areas like this. The Trevi Fountain is beautiful, but it can also be overwhelmingly crowded, so keep an eye out while you take pictures and hold on tight to your bags.

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4. Pantheon.
From the moment we arrived in Rome, the Pantheon was the number one place I wanted to visit. I had learned about this former temple to the Roman gods throughout my early education and even in my university’s art history class, and wanted to see it for myself. The Pantheon is located near the Spanish Steps (which my friends and I didn’t realize until after we wandered around nearly half of Rome looking for it! :) ) and is free for the public to visit. The area may be somewhat crowded, but you won’t have to wait to get inside and walk around. Don’t forget to look up at the ceiling and admire the dome above you! It’s interesting to see how the light enters the Pantheon from there. (Now that I’ve been here, I’m dying to go to Greece and see the Parthenon, built for the goddess Athena!)

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5. Gelateria della Palma.
I’d be lying if I said that the Italian cuisine wasn’t one of the trip’s highlights. Everyone raves about gelato when they visit Rome, so I thought I’d mention my favorite gelato place, Gelateria della Palma. (See here!) The place was filled to the brim with tourists, but it had more than 150 flavors to choose from, and was a great end to my trip. This gelato shop is located near the Pantheon, and is a wonderful way to cool down in the summer heat. My flavors of choice? A scoop of chocolate and a scoop of stracciatella (kind of like chocolate chip). My classmates and I definitely didn’t shy away from the gelato while we were here, but this shop was by far the best!

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Other notable visits included the Vatican, Piazza Navona, Vitti (a restaurant with the most delicious food, best service and cutest waiters throughout our entire time there), and the Spanish Steps.

To my readers: What do you want to do when you go to Rome? If you have already been, what sites do you suggest for visitors?

The Weekend Five: Things I Loved in Paris

Bon jour, readers! For those who are wondering, yes, that’s me in the picture, standing in front of the Eiffel Tower on Bastille Day. :) (More on that later!) As Part II of my study abroad trip to Europe, my classmates and I spent a week in Paris, where we filled up on carbs, brushed up on our merci‘s and au revoir’s, and visited some breathtaking sites throughout the city.

Although I had been to Paris twice before (at ages 15 and 16), my experience this summer was unlike any other. This week, I’ll share five of my favorite attractions and memories from my most recent visit, and my recommendations for those who plan to travel to Paris in the future. Share your own experiences in the comments section below!

The Weekend Five: Things I Loved In Paris

1. Musee d’Orsay.
When it comes to famous works of art, everyone tells you to visit the Louvre when you’re in Paris. Now, I’m certainly not knocking the Louvre — you could spend days in there before you’ve seen everything! — but I found during my most recent trip to Paris, I enjoyed Musee d’Orsay even more. Orsay houses some amazing impressionist works, and you’ll have the chance to see paintings by Monet, Manet, Renoir, Degas, van Gogh and more. The building itself is a work of art, formerly the Gare d’Orsay railway station, and is also home to plenty of sculptures, photography and other media.

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2. Palais Garnier.
As a huge Phantom of the Opera fan, I always love visiting the Palais Garnier — the famous opera house that served as the backdrop in the original novel. Located near some of the high end Parisian shopping (Galleries Lafayette), the Palais Garnier is beautifully decorated and absolutely worth a visit. One of my goals is to eventually see a ballet or an opera there, but until then, I’m happy peeking into the auditorium and snapping photos in the venue’s various rooms. An added bonus is that Box Five is actually “reserved” for the Phantom… you can look at the box’s inscription to see for yourself! Even if you hated the book/musical, you’ll still appreciate the opera house’s gorgeous architecture and interior.

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3. Boulangerie Tour.
One morning, a smaller group of us visited a bakery called Le Petit Mitron, thanks to a tour we booked on Viator prior to leaving the States. For the next hour or so, we learned all about how bakeries produce croissants, pain au chocolat, and baguettes — and we had the chance to make our own! We had a very passionate baker and tour guide/translator, who both made the experience fun and interactive. Although I’m not much for food and beverage, I loved having the chance to create my own signature on a Red Label baguette, and I was very proud of my croissant-rolling skills! At the end of the visit, you get to take home a few creations for free.

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4. Tim Burton Exhibit at the Cinematheque Francaise.
My fascination with Tim Burton and his work probably began when I was three years old and Nightmare Before Christmas had come out. A lot of people will criticize his work nowadays for being too much of the same, but there’s something to be said for the dark worlds he weaves together (usually with the help of Helena Bonham-Carter and Johnny Depp), and I’ve always loved his cinematic style. That’s why I was very excited to see his work being exhibited at the French Cinema Museum, where they include early drawings and stories, notes from various film scripts, sketches of characters, short films, costume pieces from some of his movies and even the famous scissor hands that everyone knows from Edward Scissorhands (one of my all-time favorite movies). The exhibit will give you a deeper insight into Tim Burton and his work, and is definitely worth the visit.

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5. Bastille Day.
If you are ever planning a trip to Paris in July, Bastille Day (July 14) is a very exciting day to do it! Because it would have been difficult to attend the Bastille Day parade and have a decent view of everything, we decided to watch the parade from our hotel television… but little did we know that the jet fly-bys on TV would soon occur right outside our window! After the parade, we went to the Eiffel Tower for a bird’s eye view of Paris. But the best part of the day? Sitting on the lawn of the Eiffel Tower (pictured) for the remainder of the afternoon with friends, waiting for the fireworks show to begin. I don’t know when I’ll be back in Paris, but watching the fireworks with so many thousands of people from around the world was such a wonderful experience, and I know I’ll have to do it again someday.

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To learn more about my study abroad trip, read my last blog post about London! Tune in next week to find out what I loved in the third and final city of my tour.

The Weekend Five: Things I Loved in London

As some of you may know, I am currently in the middle of a three-week study abroad program in Europe. Our group consists mainly of event management and hospitality majors, and one of our objectives on this trip is to visit various cultural events and venues in each country and reflect on those experiences. We left our first destination, London, a few days ago, but in spite of the less than desirable weather conditions during our stay, many of us fell in love with the city.

Throughout my time in Europe, I will be documenting some of my favorite attractions from each country on my blog. This will not be a full recap of everything I’ve done or enjoyed in these countries, but rather a list of some of the highlights. A few other awesome things I did in London include snapping a picture at Platform 9 & 3/4, riding around in a double decker bus around the city (which I highly suggest doing no matter where you travel), standing in Piccadilly Circus, walking around on a Jack the Ripper tour, and visiting the Tower of London.

So, for those of you heading to London in the near future, here are five places and attractions I highly suggest!

The Weekend Five: Things I Loved in London

1. Buckingham Palace.
First of all, how many times do you get the chance to visit a real working palace? Buckingham Palace — home to the Queen of England — is beautifully decorated and rich with historical value. Several of my classmates and I reserved our tickets ahead of time to tour the state rooms and ballroom, where ambassadors and other distinguished guests have come to visit, and to walk through the gardens. This year was also the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, during which she celebrated 60 years at the throne, and so the palace displayed the tiaras and jewels of several English monarchs throughout history (including the tiny crown of Queen Victoria!). if you visit before October, you can see the Diamonds Jubilee exhibit in Buckingham Palace for yourself!

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2. Zoo Lates at the London Zoo.
On our second night in London, several of us attended an event called Zoo Lates, in which the London Zoo stays open from 7-10 p.m. and provides food, drinks, animal masks, live entertainment and access to visit many of the animals. Right away, we realized we were some of the only tourists at this event, as we noticed attendees in full animal costumes who seemed to have been to Zoo Lates a few times before. I love going to the zoo, so being able to go to a party at the zoo was awesome. (Yes, I’m a nerd.) Attend this event if a) you love animals; b) you need a break from some of the touristy stuff; or c) to see how some locals might actually spend a Friday night (aside from at a bar).

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3. Brighton Pier.
Brighton is about a 50-minute train ride from London, but well worth the trip. A small group of us traveled out to Brighton for a watersports festival, and wound up enjoying the rocky beaches, carnival events, restaurants and thrift shops that the city had to offer. We also discovered the palace of King George IV and had a wonderful time walking around there. For a scene a little different from the typical London streets, go to Brighton Pier. If you’re visiting the U.K. with a significant other, this is also (in my opinion) the perfect date location!

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4. British Museum.
A fan of museums, I had to go to the British Museum – I had heard all about it in my art history class as a freshman, so it was exciting to see the ancient Greek and Roman works I’d studied so hard. I also had the chance to see the Rosetta Stone! This museum is free to the public and runs on donations. If you are a museum person, then you won’t want to miss out on this.

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5. Olympic Infrastructure Tour.
With the Diamond Jubilee just behind us, and the Olympics coming up in less than two weeks, It’s a very patriotic time to be in London. Because my group is focused on the events and meetings industry, the Olympic Infrastructure Tour was a great way for us to learn about the way that huge sporting events are run and how cities can bid to be home to the Olympics. Because of certain restrictions that apply closer to the date of the event, we were unable to visit the actual grounds where the events and ceremonies will take place, but we did receive a tour from a very knowledgeable guide and we were able to view much of the infrastructure from a lookout point. It was an interesting way to learn about the Olympics and their overall effect on the surrounding community!

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If you have any questions about any of these attractions or want to learn more about my adventures in London, feel free to drop a comment or share your own suggestions for future visits!

Bon Voyage!

Hello everyone! :)

You may have noticed a lack of blog posts in the last few weeks. That’s because I’m getting ready to leave for a very exciting study abroad trip! My Internet usage will be limited throughout the month of July, but I hope to be able to share some of my adventures with you.

In the meantime, have a safe and happy Independence Day!

Valerie