Who Do You Think You Are?

Little did I know my last business trip was, in fact, going to be my last business trip for a while. I’ve recently left my job to take a much needed break and figure out what I want to do next. The reaction from family, friends and colleagues has been incredibly supportive, but I’ve also had more than a few people ask “What about the travel? You love that part of your job!” It’s true. The chance to explore new cities, experience new places and wander thru new locations has certainly been the most fulfilling part of my career in the last few years.

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I suppose this last trip was the perfect swan song as I got to visit Hamburg, Germany. Hamburg holds a special place in our family history as my dad was born there and generations of Wiederholds come from the area. When I was studying abroad in college, I had the chance for a short visit with my grandfather’s niece, who was in her 60s at the time. I stayed at her apartment and we went to visit the street my dad lived on – along a canal that was the background for many stories about him as a boy. I also got to see the building where the Wiederhold family furniture store once stood. It was a short visit, but one that ticked all the family history boxes a college student could need.

IMG_6548Returning more than 25 years later I wasn’t sure what what to expect. The last trip had been solely for the family connection. This trip served a different purpose, but I was amazed at how much resonated about who I am and the strong family connections that surrounded me. It was as if I was staring in my own TV episode of “Who Do You Think You Are?” Something as simple as seeing the Hamburg flag flying all over the city prompted instant recognition as my dad had one on his boat for years. One of the top tourist destinations in Hamburg is a miniature train museum. Could it really be a coincidence that my dad had a model train set up in our basement throughout my childhood? Knowing it was as much a hobby for him than it ever was a toy for my brother and me, tells me probably not.

The best surprise came in talking to my German colleague who told me about BallinStadt – the emigration museum in Hamburg. The museum focuses on German emigration to the New World and “follows the footsteps of people striving to fulfill their hopes and dreams on their journey to a new homeland”. That is my family’s story! Really, out of all the cities in Europe, it’s Hamburg that has this museum? The “coincidences” were starting to pile up.

Who knows, maybe I was seeking out these connections, but they weren’t hard to find. After the first day, I found myself looking around in wonderment to see what was going to pop out at me next. Ultimately, that is what I want when I travel. I want to find things that resonate and connect me to the place I’m visiting. While this particular city certainly provided a good backdrop for this kind of exploration, there were no guarantees. But taking the time to wander, shaking off the cobwebs of jet lag and being open to what I might see, resulted in a beautifully unexpected part of what could have been a very standard business trip. I’m so glad it was not!

 

 

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Holidays Away From Home

One of my favorite holiday traditions is going to church. I’ll confess I’m not a regular church goer by any means, but it was a significant part of my childhood. Christmas Eve and Easter Sunday services were important in our family’s holiday traditions growing up. Today, I can’t imagine the holidays without them – singing the familiar hymns and putting me in the right frame of mind to fully enjoy the day.

No matter where I might be for the holidays  – what city I’m in or where I am visiting – part of my celebration includes finding a church service to attend.  I’ve come to find there is a comfort at these services as no matter where I am in the world a Lutheran or Anglican church service is pretty much the same. While I know what meaning these services hold for me, I never expected to get more out of them than merely upholding the traditions I grew up with.

 

 

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Westminster Abbey at night

I have been lucky enough to attend services at some of the world’s most famous cathedrals. I’ll never forget the first Christmas Eve Mass I attended at Westminster Abbey. The service started at 11:30pm and as it began, the lights dimmed and the stainglassed windows were illuminated by the moonlight outside. It was absolutely beautiful. At the same time, the choir began to sing. The hairs on the back of my neck stood on end as the beautiful sounds rang throughout the eaves. The acoustics perfectly in sync. That experience was more than 20 years ago and I can remember the service so clearly – what I saw, the songs I heard, and most importantly, how it made me feel.

What strikes me now is how I’ve been able to experience these services as the churches were intended to be used. Westminster Abbey is an iconic part of British history. Tourists from all around the world visit every day to see where Prince William and Kate Middleton were married, where kings and queens are coronated and where famous Britons like Sir Isaac Newton, Geoffrey Chaucer, Rudyard Kipling and many more are buried. At its heart, though, Westminster Abbey is still an active place of worship. Being able to experience this magnificent cathedral in its purest form was an incredible experience.

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Even for churches not as grand as Westminster Abbey, there is still something special to be gained. Today, for Easter Sunday I was visiting St.Simon’s Island in Georgia with my family and friends. We attended Christ Church in Frederica for Easter service. This church has been in continuous operation since 1736! It was mind-blowing to think this church had been holding services longer than our country has been in existence. As a visitor I got a real glimpse into the history and culture of the area we were visiting.

The best part about these experiences and others is how excited it makes me to be in a new city during a holiday. Don’t get me wrong, I love being at home for holidays and building memories with familiar activities and locations. When I am somewhere new, however, knowing I can enhance my treasured holiday traditions with these new travel experiences, makes my holidays richer than I could ever imagine.

New Year, New Travel: What Will 2016 Bring?

After returning from my first business trip of the year, I had some time to think about my trips in 2015. At the start, I made a promise to myself to make the most of every trip I took. It didn’t matter if it was business or personal, I was going to find the sense of adventure that travel embodies for me. Reflecting back, I am proud to say I made the most of (almost) every single trip and am really kind of amazed at what I was able to experience – all because I opened up my perspective on what travel could be.

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Here are the top three things I learned in 2015:

  1. Friends: By far, the best thing I got out of my travels in 2015 was time with friends who I rarely see anymore. In DC, Boston, Seattle, Boise and the Bay Area I reconnected with friends, caught up on their lives and realized how lucky I am to have these people be a part of my journey. Conversations picked up where they left off 12 years ago, our kids hung out together and in the small space of an hour or two I was reminded why we were friends in the first place.
  2. Stay the Weekend: In the past, I’ve always hesitated to take an extra day or two and extend a business trip. Too much work in the office! Who is going to take the kids to their weekend activities? In other words, I came up with a lot of excuses. This year I had the chance to attend a conference in Monaco and decided I needed to stay to explore the country and visit an area I had never been to before. I learned so much about myself – sometimes its ok to wander with out a plan, eating at a great restaurant can be a wonderful experience even if you are by yourself, but most of all, I learned how important sharing a travel experience is for me. I would do it all over again next time a great opportunity presents itself, but I may just invite family or friends to join me.
  3. Find the “moment”: Regardless of where I was, there always seemed to be one moment that sent chills up my spine, took my breath away or made me want to jump around like a little kid. In Chattanooga, it was finding this cool breakfast place and deciding with my 13 year old we were going to seek out the best breakfast place in every city we traveled to for soccer. When I was in Monaco I was walking to dinner with my colleagues, we turned the corner to this breathtaking view and had an incredible dinner at this amazing little restaurant. Driving from SFO to Half Moon Bay, I took a trip down memory lane seeing the pumpkin patch I took my kids to as toddlers and the English pub randomly sitting off of Hwy 1 where we had 4th of July lunch one year. All of these moments gave me “that” feeling and I knew I needed to hold on to them. Those are the moments that make me feel alive.

So what will 2016 bring? As of today there are no big trips on the books, but I will admit I’m itching to plan my next adventure. There will be definitely be soccer travel and I can only imagine what 17 fourteen year old boys can get up to in Vegas. Hopefully they’ll remember they are there to play soccer!

The one thing I know for certain is I’m going to make the most of every day I can for traveling. Conde Nast Traveler had a great article in December about 8 New Year’s Travel Resolutions and the one that jumped out at me was “Make 2016 the year of no unclaimed vacation days”. Amen. I’m pretty sure that is a resolution I can handle.

Exactly What You Need

This year I’ve been very conscious of stepping outside of my day-to-day routine. It’s easy with kids, soccer schedules and work to get caught up in the same tasks week in and week out. For the planner I am, there is definitely comfort in those routines. However, I’ve also come to realize I need to push those boundaries and make the most of unplanned moments. 

Last week my best friend from high school texted me out of the blue. Her first words were “don’t give me an answer without seriously considering. . .” Needless to say she had my attention. Someone backed out of the Madonna concert she was going to on Saturday night and would I make the journey to Washington DC to go with her. Was I desperate to see Madonna in concert? Eh. Would I make the trip to spend an unexpected weekend with my BFF? Absolutely!

  
I packed my bag, threw on the ridiculously overpriced red Converse sneakers I bought in Rome when my feet hurt so bad I could barely walk (worth EVERY Euro BTW), and headed for the airport. I’m at airports a lot for work travel. I have my routines. I know how long security will take and exactly how much time I need to get from the parking lot to my gate. The feel of that routine was so different this time. I was seizing the moment and taking advantage of an unexpected opportunity that was being presented to me.

It turns out the weekend was just what I needed in so many ways. There is nothing like spending a lazy day talking, chatting and catching up with a friend who has known you for 30 years. So much is said and understood without really having to say a lot. The laughter is deeper and the familiarity is like a big hug that wraps around you. 

  
We had a really fun night. Dinner was great. Madonna was everything you’d expect her to be.  People watching was fantastic. The variety of gay/straight, old/young, conservative/outlandishly dressed people to watch and observe was probably my favorite part of the night. Even the ride home provided an unexpected treat when we drove by the Washinton Monument and were able to capture this really cool picture.

  
The weekend was a great reminder to stay open to the possibility of what may be. Making the spur of the moment decision, hopping on a plane and being open to the experience gave me so much more than the thrill of adventure. I got time with one of my favorite people in the world and a great memory to add to the many we have created over the years. Funny how those red sneakers took me exactly where I needed to be!

Rise and Shine

Let me just say upfront – I am not a morning person. The solitude of a quiet house at midnight has always held more appeal than peaceful early morning hours. I can be quite productive late at night, which is in stark contrast to the fog that clouds my brain when I first wake up in the morning. Jet lag and business travel, however, have a funny way of forcing you out of your normal rhythms.

My travel last week brought me to Idaho for the first time. I’m always excited to cross another state off my list of places visited, so I was looking forward to the trip. The three day visit and two hour time difference really didn’t make adjusting to the time zone very efficient, so I pretty much stayed on East Coast time. This meant early morning wake up at about 5am and a quick discovery of the benefit in doing so.

As our meetings didn’t start until 9am, my colleagues and I were able to discover some fantastic breakfast venues. I don’t usually think of trying new restaurants for breakfast when I travel for work. I’ve had some amazing dinners in really cool places all around the world, but breakfast, if I’m honest, is whatever I can grab running out the door. This time I took full advantage of the jet lag and made the most of my early mornings.


First stop was Bacon. Yes, an entire restaurant based on bacon. My kids would have thought they’d died and gone to heaven. There were about a dozen different types of bacon and a wide variety of breakfast items on the menu. I got the Eggs & Berryhill Bacon which were heavenly. The eggs were steamed, cheesy and served with salsa fresca, Berryhill bacon, potatoes & toast with honey butter. The scrambled eggs were honestly the best I’ve ever eaten and the bacon was sweet, salty and spicy all in one bite. The coffee was fantastic too – you can’t beat a better breakfast combination. It was amazing what a great meal did to put me in the right frame of mind for the day of meetings ahead of me.

After talking with the locals about our first breakfast adventure, we were quickly given a couple of other places to try. With only one more morning in town, we decided on Goldy’s due to the rave reviews for their Eggs Benedict. I’ll just say they lived up to the hype. Their Hollandaise sauce is homemade and you can taste it. The Black Forest ham perfectly balanced out the creamy sauce. As delicious as the Eggs Benedict were, the best part was you could get a half order, which made for a perfect, slightly less guilty way to enjoy the yumminess. This was a very good thing because the potatoes were totally worth the extra calories – crispy and tender all at the same time.


The was a trip filled with unforeseen food adventures. Mornings are not my natural time of day to be looking for new things to discover nor am I usually in the frame of mind to fully take advantage of them. This trip gave me a totally new appreciation for taking a gift of time and making the most of it. I’m going to think long and hard the next time I’ve got jet lag working in my favor and make the most of this opportunity for unexpected travel.

More Than A Game

With two teenage sons playing competitive sports, I spend a lot of my “free” time traveling for soccer. For many years the travel was in-state with an occasional out-of-state tournament. Last year, that all changed when my younger son was on a team playing in Region 3 competitions. All of a sudden our regular season games involved teams in three different states and many, many hours in the car. 

While this certainly took our family’s commitment to soccer to a whole new level, we realized pretty quickly there was a lot to be gained as well. The boys played some amazing soccer and had the privilege of representing North Carolina in the Regional Championships in Little Rock in June. They built friendships that came with not only being teammates, but spending countless hours hanging out together in hotels and on the fields. 

  

However, it hasn’t just been my son getting something from this soccer adventure, I have too. I’ve made new friends who adore my son and have my back as a working mom trying to juggle all these different time commitments. I got to spend one weekend catching up with one of my dearest friends as we schlepped to Chattanooga with our boys. It may have been a long drive, but I wouldn’t trade that time for anything because we actually got to sit and talk uninterrupted for nearly 16 hours in the car. I have even discovered some great breakfast places as we try to find something new in each city we visit for the first time. All of these experiences make the time, money and effort our family puts into soccer worth it for us all.

  

This weekend was the start of a new season with a new team and we were off to Atlanta. As with any new team, there was a lot of anticipation on how the weekend would go. How would the team do? What new friends would my son make? Heck, what new friends would I make? In the end the weekend was full of pleasant surprises.

The boys had a strong start to the season with a 5-1 win. After a team dinner and the official activities were out of the way, the boys wandered off to hang out together and the parents did the same. The other U14 boys team from our club was also at the hotel and as the evening wore on everyone intermingled together. 

At one point there were about 10 of us sitting around a large table and the stories started coming. The good, the bad and the ugly of tournaments won or lost. The comical adventures off the field. The treacherous weather we survived to get to those tournaments or games. People came and went from the group. Side conversations started with folks catching each other up on the latest happenings in their lives. Laughter dominated the conversations, but a few solemn moments were also had.

  

All of a sudden I stopped to really look at what was going on around me and I realized how lucky we were to share this experience. All of our boys have played soccer together for years. They have been teammates and competitors. They have won and lost games. They have cheered for their friends success and consoled each other when they have struggled. It was almost as if we had one collective memory of our boys playing together because somehow or someway they were all interconnected. The lines completely blurred on who had been on what team because everyone had a piece of the story to tell.

It’s not always easy being the soccer mom or dad. As much as I love watching my boys compete, there are times when the last thing you really want to do is drive 6 hours and spend yet another weekend on a field or at a hotel. Sometimes, though, you get those moments that make it all worthwhile. Sitting around a table with these parents who are on this youth sports journey with me, sharing stories – and a whole lot of laughter – made me very grateful that it’s not just my kids who get this experience, but me too.

Stepping Out of the Chaos

It’s not even Noon on Saturday, yet my weekend of unexpected discoveries has already begun.

My main objective for this blog has always been to capture the sense of adventure that I get when I travel. It’s such a fulfilling experience for me and the best moments are when I discover something new and take myself out of my day-to-day experiences. That is easy to do when you are traveling to a place you have never been to before. However, the last 24 hours has reminded me how easy it is to do that in your own backyard.

Last night, we had a last minute meet up with friends at a new brewery in North Raleigh. The Compass Rose Brewery describes themselves as “a modern take on the classic beer hall” and that is really a perfect description.

The wide open beer hall was packed when we arrived, but what struck me the most was the complete mix of people that were enjoying the ambiance. There were adults, kids and even dogs all hanging out together chatting, enjoying the very good beer on tap and just chilling out on a Friday night. There were huge tables and benches where folks were playing board games and the teenagers in our group dove straight into a two-hour game of Monopoly. It was a fun evening and discovering a place with a cool vibe 10 minutes from home was an unexpected treat.

This morning I dropped my boys off for a pick-up game of soccer and decided to go get a coffee. I was heading towards the local Starbucks drive thru wishing that my favorite coffee shop was just a little bit closer to this side of town. I remembered that there was another place – Jubala Village Coffee – that I had heard about from many friends, but had not yet visited. Boy, was it worth the stop.

There were about 20 people in line when I arrived which is always a good sign. I was reading through their chalkboard menu when the seasonal latte caught my eye – Coconut Cream Latte. Sold! I have no idea what they put into that coffee, but it was delicious. Sorry Starbucks Eggnog Latte, but a new favorite has arrived in town. It’s probably a good thing that this is just a seasonal drink. It tasted so rich and creamy, with just the right hint of sweetness, that consuming too many of them is probably not good for my 40-something-year-old waistline.

While I am not the first person to discover these cool places, they were new to me and a change in my day-to-day routine. Weekdays have been hectic and my weekends without kids soccer activities are quickly dwindling as the new season is almost upon us. These last 24 hours were a great reminder to step out of the chaos and into a place that both recharges me and inspires me. Both locations touched a part of me and made me excited to tackle the week ahead. You can’t ask for more than that.