Good For My Soul

Sitting here on a quiet morning in the cool Pacific Northwest, drinking my coffee and listening to the sounds of a community starting its day, my first thought was “ahhhh”. The peacefulness I was experiencing wasn’t merely in the tranquility around me. I was vacationing in a place I had been to many times and the reason I keep coming back hits me every time I arrive – this place is good for my soul.

 
It’s the feeling that a place connects beyond the logical or emotional response you might be having. A gut reaction that says “I belong here.” With each passing day, you feel the nourishment your body and soul need go from empty to full. 

So much of the fulfillment I’ve recently gotten from traveling has come from being an explorer – seeing, hearing, feeling and experiencing new places. Recharging my batteries by expanding my day-to-day world. Today, however, I’m relishing a different type of fulfillment. One that comes in the familiarity, tradition and memories of being back in a special location, recharging in a completely different way. 

I’m happy I get to be here this week. To relax and know that just being here is enough. To spend time with my family and add new memories to the abundance of stories we already tell about this place. And perhaps, most importantly, to let my kids see me in a place that is good for my soul so they can recognize that feeling for themselves when they find a special place of their own. 

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Wandering with Yourself

When I decided to extend a business trip to spend a few days exploring the Côte d’Azur, I really had no idea where my travels would take me. Life had been so busy I hadn’t really thought much about where I wanted to go. I took to Facebook for recommendations from family and friends on places to visit. In the midst of Nice, Cannes and more obvious suggestions, I also learned about some smaller towns including Villefrance, Eze, and Saint Paul de Vance. One place mentioned several times was Sanremo, Italy.

I really hadn’t planned on visiting Italy as I had just vacationed there a couple of years ago, and prior to my visit to Monaco, had never spent any time in the French Riviera. I really thought I would want to explore someplace new. That said, I couldn’t ignore the recommendations, so Sanremo it was and it did not disappoint!

Stepping out of the train station the vibe between Italy and Monaco was so different. Italy is messy, crazy, chaotic, but in a good, authentic, passionate way. Monaco is refined, clean, and ridiculously wealthy. It was very easy to be there, but it felt like I was crashing the set of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. There was something about Italy that was refreshing and felt so much more real.

I started off my day exploring the Saturday market. It was a mishmash of everything from knock-off designer purses to clothes to home goods to underwear all in one hot, noisy sea of humanity. Tourists mixed with locals just trying to get their weekly shopping done. It was fun to explore because it was about as different a shopping experience from my weekly Target visits as you could get.

The highlight of the market for me was definitely the food stalls. The aisles were filled with colorful, fresh produce that made your mouth water just by looking at it. There were vegetables I had not seen before, more olive oil than you could imagine and herbs that smelled amazing. Surrounding the aisles were fish stalls, butchers, bakers, and I’m sure if I looked hard enough, I probably could have found the candlestick makers too. 

I so desperately wanted to fill a basket with all the delicious food I was finding and spend the rest of the afternoon creating an amazing meal to share with family and friends. Alas, my return train journey and hotel room in Monaco didn’t exactly enable that scenario to play out. Instead, I took a final, longing gaze across the stalls and wandered off dreaming of all the wonderful “Under the Tuscan Sun” type of scenarios that were playing out in my head.

After a quick lunch, I started meandering through the streets loosely in search of La Pagna, the historic old town of Sanremo. To be honest, I wasn’t exactly sure what I was looking for. The one Sanremo travel site I found described the circular streets that wind their way to the top of the hill as if you were climbing up the rows of a pine cone. Soon enough I started encountering cobblestone streets that narrowed as I walked and twisted and turedn their way up the hill. There was no sign, but when I logged into Google Maps I realized I was in the heart of La Pagna. 

   When I stopped and looked around, I saw this incredible street that was full of classic Italian character. I felt as if I had been transported back in time 300 years. It was one of those moments where you realize how far outside your daily life you really are and those are the moments I live for in travel. Those are the times when I feel my world expanding and I know my experience is making me richer, more fulfilled and a better citizen of the world. Those are the reasons why I travel.

 I reached the top of the hill and was rewarded with the most incredible views across the city and over the Mediterranean Sea. What I saw stretched out in front of me was worth every step of that steep incline and would make the pain my aching calves would be feeling the next day well worth it.

As I walked back to the train station, I thought a lot about the day and was really pleased that my unplanned and unstructured day uncovered some great moments that will turn into lifelong memories. When I shared my day with someone back home, she described my experience as wandering with myself. I realized it was a perfect expression to describe it. I had no agenda and just took the day as it came. Sure I had to deal with missed busses and delayed trains, but the day was my own to do with as I chose. It was so unlike the consummate planner that I am, yet it was so refreshing to just go with the flow for a change. 

It helped me realize that taking a day to wander with myself is something I need to incorporate into my regular routine. My time is so overscheduled that a day every now and then to just see where the streets take me might just be what I need to recharge my batteries and look at the world from a slightly better perspective. So next time I find myself with a free afternoon, I think I’m going to visit a part of my town I haven’t explored before and just wander for a bit. Who knows what I might find!

Capturing The Travel Spirit at a Conference

My trip to Monaco was driven by a work conference. I have been to dozens of these over the years and they all look the same after a while. As a colleague and I joked, you can be in any conference center anywhere in the world and never really know the difference. The empty halls and 10×10 booths are all alike, and depending on the industry, you can also see the same people over and over again. Days are long, evenings stretch into the wee hours of the morning and very little sleep is had.

So what can you do to capture that travel spirit in this kind of less than adventurous environment? My favorite thing to do is have dinner at a local restaurant. Not a chain, not a place where all the tourists go and nothing within a mile radius of the convention hall. Going local gives you the opportunity to see the city you’re visiting as it really is. What can be better than that?

This week we were able to take in one of those experiences at an amazing little restaurant in the La Condamine neighborhood of Monaco. It had been a long day with press briefings, trade show booth duty and presentation preparation. Our whole team was back at the hotel with half the group scrambling to approve a German press release translation and the other half answering emails as the U.S. business day was still in full swing.

We asked the concierge for a dinner recommendation and it happened to coincide with one of the choices we selected from Trip Advisor. Both resources can be your best friend when traveling, so don’t hesitate to use them. The restaurant was called Constantine and was about a 10 minute walk from the hotel.

It was a lovely evening. The weather was perfect and the sun was still brightly lighting up the sky even though it was after 8:00pm. The walk turned into a bit of an adventure itself as the streets of Monaco wind and curve with lots of tunnels as the country is built into the mountainside. After a couple of small detours, we ended up on a pathway by the Mediterranean Sea with stunning views of the very blue and calm waters. We even saw the Monaco Heliport, because who needs an airport when you can have a heliport. 

We turned the last corner and all stopped to give a collective gasp. It was the most amazing cliff side view with a couple of little restaurants tucked away on the street by the water. Boats lined the docks and sports cars were parked on the road. 

 Constantine’s was the last restaurant and at first I thought it was a flower shop as it was so filled with greenery. It was tiny inside, maybe 10 tables at most. All of the decor was simple – natural linens, whitewashed wood, potted herbs as centerpieces and the menus were even presented on cardboard with clothes pins. The place just oozed charm and character. Add that to the stunning view outside and you had the makings of an incredible dinner ambiance. 

The meal did not disappoint either. The Italian chef has created a locally sourced menu, so everything is super fresh and only in season items are available. The food was outstanding. All four of us thoroughly enjoyed the meal from starters to main courses to dessert. The staff was excellent as they paid attention to all the right details, made great recommendations and offered just the right level of service. All in all it was a fantastic experience.

The thing I loved most about this evening was the excitement in discovering this wonderful restaurant. I was practically squealing in joy when we found this lovely little street with stunning views. The outstanding meal topped it all off and made this one of those moments that makes me love to travel. How lucky was I to have found this place to enjoy it with my business colleagues? It didn’t matter that we were at a conference or had a really long day. In the end, we all found this unexpected travel experience that made the conference a little better and the trip definitely more worthwhile.

A Week in Monaco

I just had the privilege of spending the week traveling for work. Yes, you read that right, I had the privilege of spending my week traveling for work. Don’t get me wrong—just because I enjoy traveling, those words do not always come out of my mouth when it comes to business trips. This week, however, was different. I got to go to Monaco. A-ha—the lightbulb goes off! 

I had never been to Monaco or anywhere along the Cotê d’Azur. Needless to say, I was very excited and did something that I have rarely done. I booked my return flight home for Sunday instead of Friday and gave myself two extra days to explore the area. It is something so simple, yet I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve taken advantage of opportunities like this before. 

Why? I could give you so many reasons. In the early days, the kids were little and I didn’t want to be away from home that long. Family obligations on the weekend were pulling us in all different directions. Too much going on back at the office to stay away for an extra day. “I’m already going to be there for three days for work. I’ll see everything I need to see then.” “I really should be doing (fill in the blank) instead.” How many of these sound familiar?

None of these are bad reasons. There are always going to be times when genuine obligations prevent you from extending a business trip by a day or two. However, when I look back at all the times I’ve used these excuses, I realize many of them were limitations I put on myself. That makes me a little sad. How many wonderful experiences were never able to happen just because I gave into that nagging inner voice saying “you really should go home.”

What this week in Monaco helped me realize is that the world will not stop just because I take some time to expand my horizons and go off on a little adventure. Dad and the kids managed just fine and most likely created a few adventures of their own. The office did not come to a screeching halt because I didn’t check in. The team probably benefitted from getting a bit more responsibility, as someone kindly pointed out to me.

In the end, I know that taking this time was good for my soul and isn’t that what really matters? When I do these things then everyone around me — my family, coworkers, clients and friends — all benefit from a stronger me. As the airline safety video reminds us, we need to take care of ourselves before assisting others. These past few days were a great reminder!

A Passion for Travel

Globe Ornament
Global ornament from my parents after I returned home from studying abroad – the world of possibilities.

My first international trip happened right after my senior year of high school and there was no looking back. I had the travel bug bad. I studied abroad in college and even married a Brit. My first job at a high tech company sent me to trade shows around the country, a memorable event in France and across Canada for several years. Travel has always been in my blood and part of what I do.

After having kids, my opportunities for travel changed. We moved across country, so all of a sudden visiting family took on a greater importance. The obligatory trips to Disney happened, of course, and the joy in watching my kids have those experiences for the first time made them all worth while. We still even had the international trips back to the UK, but those were filled with severe family constraints that made them much less adventurous – and sometimes less enjoyable – than they could have been.

Run off from The Blue Lagoon in Iceland (Nov 2011)
Run off from The Blue Lagoon in Iceland (Nov 2011)

In 2011, I took my first trip to Iceland for work and it was as if something woke up inside of me. I NEEDED this. The adventure of travel. Going to a new place for the first time. Feeling slightly uncomfortable in a situation where you might not speak the language or eat the local food. Discovering something wonderful where you are visiting – and I’ll be honest, for me, it usually has to do with food. All of those feelings tapped into my authentic self in a way that many other hobbies or interests never could.

Since that trip, travel has become a much higher priority in my life. As a family we have agreed that giving our kids the experience of travel is far more important than “stuff” we could give them. We have also taken a few of those trips that we always talked about doing “one day”. As great as they have been, they are expensive and it’s not something we can realistically do on a regular basis.

In the last year I have done a lot of soul searching, and while I’ve always known it, travel is one of the things that makes me feel the most alive. I relish those moments so intensely that I decided that I was going to try and capture them where ever I could. Traveling for work to a city I’ve been to many times? Meet a friend for dinner. Taking my son to a soccer tournament? Let’s find the best local restaurant for breakfast. Traveling to a new city for a conference? Stay an extra day to explore.

Work trip to Monaco (June 2015)
Work trip to Monaco (June 2015)

It’s been amazing to see the difference those changes have made in my life. The thrill and adventure of travel is coursing through my veins. I’ve been lucky to have some truly amazing experiences presented to me in the last six months, but I also firmly believe my openness to finding travel adventure wherever it may be has made a big difference.

I want this blog to convey that excitement, and maybe, give you some ideas on how you can find that sense of exploration in your own life. Thanks for joining me on this journey.