Highlights of 2014

CJ at work in the Czech Republic

CJ at work in the Czech Republic

For the most part, the past year has been nothing short of terrific. I say “for the most part,” because C.J., my 16-year-old early 2000’s four-legged traveling companion, crossed the Rainbow Bridge in August. And because as the year closes out we opened the window, and in-flu-enza.

Simon and I are both down for the count – yes, we did get our flu shots, for all the good that did – so there will be no end-of-year partying. Always looking for the silver lining, I will be spending the evening sharing my reflections on last year’s travels, and some plans for the year to come, with you.

Panama: The hats, the Canal and a Whole Lot More

In mid-January, we were off to a flying start for 2014 with a month-long visit to Panama. Of all the places about which we read, Panama was the country that really grabbed, us as a fun place to visit, and a possible future place to live.

View of Boquete in the Chiriqui Highlands

View of Boquete in the Chiriqui Highlands

Between the temperate climate in the Chiriqui Highlands, the friendliness of Panamanians and an assortment of international expats, the low cost of living and the variety of things to do, Panama definitely exceeded our expectations.

Since this blog was in its infancy, I decided to begin a series titled “In Search of a Panamanian Paradise”, describing our experiences – what we did, what we learned and, who we met – as first-time visitors. The series is not quite complete, but one of my goals is to write the last few chapters and have it completed early in 2015.

Montreal: A Bitter-Sweet Destination

We met the boys in Montreal in May, and again in October, to visit my mother. After being held in hospital for close to 6 months while awaiting placement she is now in a long-term care facility, and her Alzheimer’s is taking its destructive and inevitable course.

On the Road to Montreal - A View from the Thousand Island Bridge into Canada

On the Road to Montreal – A View from the Thousand Island Bridge into Canada

Because she still recognizes us to some degree, we celebrated Mother’s Day in May, and her 97th birthday in October. Fortunately, we are a close-knit family, and supported each other through some stressful moments. Still, it was good to see my mother smile.

Since my mother sleeps quite a bit, and has a short attention span, we took advantage of our location by visiting three restaurants from my childhood that have become favorites of Simon and the boys. Kevin and I also spent some time exploring the magnificent interior and peaceful gardens of St. Joseph’s Oratory, a Montreal landmark.

New York to London: Weddings, Witches and Walking Tours

On July 2, Simon, Otto and I embarked on a five-week adventure that began as a logistical challenge, but ended as a totally amazing time.

First we drove to Connecticut for the Fourth of July wedding of our godson, Michael. After a wonderful party, we turned our car over to best friends, Steve and Vikki, who babysat it while we were overseas.

Our first flight on Virgin Atlantic really spoiled us for a trans-Atlantic passage. Our flight left Newark, NJ, early on July 7, and landed in the early evening, London time.

We were tired from a long journey, but, unlike those killer overnighters, we were able to grab some dinner and crash, instead of trying to stay awake throughout an entire day, following an abbreviated night. As a result neither of us suffered from the typical jet lag.

Harry Potter's Room Under the Stairs

Harry Potter’s Room Under the Stairs

Three days in London took us on a walking tour of the sites of the city’s most notorious happenings,  the London treasure that is St. Paul’s Cathedral, and the Warner Brothers Harry Potter Studio Tour. Each experience was exhilarating in its own unique way.

Then, it was off to Sheffield for the wedding of our youngest niece. The day was almost as beautiful as the bride, and we were able to spend time with siblings, siblings-in-law, nieces and our one nephew throughout the day and into the evening’s ceilidh – Gaelic music and dancing – that was a perfect ending to a perfect day.

Our Niece, Katherine - Just Married

Our Niece, Katherine – Just Married

It was this and our godson’s wedding around which the entire trip was built. Thank you Michael and Marisa and Katherine and Matthew!

Following the second wedding, we visited the bride’s parents in York for a couple of days. The walking tour we took was a fascinating trek into a multi-layered past. What we learned on this tour is also on next year’s “to-blog” list.

Spain: Teaching the Lingo Loco

On July 16, we made an almost abandoned dream come true when we flew from Manchester to Madrid to teach English for a week in Spain’s Andalusian Mountains.

Diverbo (Pueblo Ingles) is an organization that gathers volunteers to spend a week speaking English to professionals in an immersion program at various locations in Spain or for six days in Germany.

This is another topic about which I will write, so let’s not spoil the fun. What I will say, though, is that the preparation and anticipation were far surpassed by the actual experience.

Coto del Valle in Andalusia - the hotel site for Pueblo Ingles

Coto del Valle in Andalusia – the hotel site for Pueblo Ingles

Simon and I both had bad coughs that annoyed us throughout the week we spent volunteering for Diverbo, so we ditched our plans to do some traveling around during our remaining five days in Spain. Instead we hunkered down in Madrid. Our first day’s activity involved finding a laundromat and sleeping. Feeling somewhat better the next day, we took a walking tour of the Old City. You guessed it: there will be a future post.

It was this comprehensive tour that inspired us to spend time with the owner of the world’s oldest working restaurant, and partake of some of the most phenomenal calamari we’ve ever had.  Two of our final days in Spain were spent day-tripping to the historic and magnificent towns of Segovia and Toledo, thanks to the efficiency of Spain’s high-speed trains.

Madrid to New York: Family, Food and History

Still coughing, but not as badly, we headed back to New York for a visit with my cousin and his family. Kevin joined us there, making the visit that much sweeter.

The next few days before retrieving our car from Steve and Vikki were spent touring, sampling some of New York’s eateries and delving into some history. The Patriot Tour was a walking adventure on the city’s lower east side, which covered revolutionary history to the present. Courtesy of New York Tour Monkey we had our own private guide, Jared. And yes, you’ll be reading about that, too.

9/11 Memorial Reflecting Pool

9/11 Memorial Reflecting Pool

New York, being the walkable city it is, we spent time reflecting at the 9/11 Memorial, then found dinner in China Town and dessert in Little Italy. The last time we walked this exact path was in 1998. The Twin Towers were still standing and Gary was with us. It was a time before our boys really knew how evil people could be.

Another walkable New York feature was the High Line. There we strolled, sat and enjoyed the warm sunshine and the steady stream of people doing the same.

On our last day in New York, we had brunch with Steve and Vikki, then set off for New Bern. No sooner had we returned than we began planning for a fall road trip.

Annapolis, MD: Second Time Around as a Travel Writer

When we decided to visit the Annapolis Sailboat Show again this year, it was challenging to approach the show from another angle, and this time, I was able to interview some delightful and fascinating people. And we even got invited to the VIP Party.

Gettysburg, PA: A Bloody Past that Led to a Brilliant Future

It made sense, since we were headed north, to see what else we could do. It was only natural for us to drive up to Montreal after the Annapolis Sailboat Show to visit my mother. Kevin and Gary met us there, and that’s where we found her in good spirits for her birthday celebration.

After dropping the boys off at the airport, we headed for Gettysburg, a haven for civil war history buffs, and a wonderful place to rediscover old-time charm and family values.

Gettysburgh Municipal Building

Gettysburgh Municipal Building

Contrary to popular perception, Gettysburg has much to offer beyond the battlefield: a variety of outdoor activities, cultural events, antiques and even wineries and microbreweries for the chronically thirsty.

Beach Mountain, NC: Fun, Friends and Flu

Our last trip of the year was to Beach Mountain, which was a six-hour drive into the North Carolina mountains. Our friends have a timeshare, and invited us to spend a couple of days skiing with them.

The bad news is that it rained on and off the entire time, there was no skiing and Simon began showing early flu symptoms on the first day.

Not the greatest ski conditions at Beech Mountain

Not the Greatest of Ski Conditions at Beech Mountain

The good news is that we thoroughly enjoyed spending time with our friends, walking and enjoying the fresh mountain air between downpours, watching movies, doing jigsaw puzzles and generally basking in the warmth and joy of having such terrific friends.

Looking Ahead: Walking the Talk and Talking the Walk

This post began in 2014, and is ending in 2015.

Two days ago, we closed the car door on our last road trip of 2014, and this month, an airplane door will open to take us back to Panama.

There are tentative plans for April to teach English for Diverbo again; this time for a week in Spain followed by six days in Germany. If we are accepted, there will be 16 days between the two sessions for us to fill with new travel adventures. What will we do with the time? We’re not that far along yet in our planning. One thing that is certain is that we will do something, and I will write about it.

From a writer’s perspective, this blog has experienced slow growth, but it is growing. In September, I added the Weekly Wow, so that there would be a regular feature for which to write, and to make sure I do. So far, I haven’t missed a week, and hope to continue sharing those special WOW moments with you.

I have also been writing regular travel articles for The County Compass, the newspaper for which I am a staff writer. And in August, an article I wrote on how to spend a budget-friendly day in Madrid was published in Travel Post Monthly.

One of my New Year’s resolutions is to get over my fear of failure and send more pitch letters to online and print publications. If I can entertain, inform and amuse my blog readers, shouldn’t I try to spread the wealth?

I will keep writing, and trying to grow this blog. One of the major challenges to growing a blog is steadily increasing readership and subscribers.

If I get a lot of hits, and a lot of people subscribing to Six Legs Will Travel, my opportunities for being able to post affiliate links will increase. No, this doesn’t mean that you will see a lot of ads for stuff you don’t want. I hate clutter, and, as I said in my disclaimer, this blog will only contain links to products and organizations in which I believe through personal experience.

If you would like to be an active participant in the growth of Six Legs Will Travel in 2015, please subscribe, if you haven’t already done so, and share the SixLegsWillTravel link with friends who might enjoy my travel tails. And no, that was not a typo. After all, those wagging appendages are such an important part of the travel experience.

So, I will end one year and begin another by wishing all of you a healthy, joyful and prosperous New Year.

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