I was lucky enough to have two of my best Key West friends, Cindy and Alecheia, plan a European vacation this summer, so of course, I had to meet up with them for a portion of their trip.  Cindy has been one of my most avid blog followers and has been keeping up with me all the way.  I said, “Hey Cindy, do you want to do a guest post on my blog about our trip together?”  She said, “Hell yes!”

So, here’s Cindy’s post 🙂

Alecheia and I started our trip to Europe in Yorkshire, UK, flying into Manchester and traveling to Leeds. We enjoyed some time there with Gree, a friend Alecheia grew up with, and her family. We toured York, and lunched in the horse stables of The Harewood Manor, home of HM The Queen’s first cousin, Princess Mary. From there we all three took a train into London, where we met up with Alecheia’s cousin, Heather, who lives in London & another gal from Alecheia’s small hometown, Missy. We had lunch together at King’s Cross, then split up for the evening as accommodation space was limited. During our stay in London, we were able to connect with a third Hardin County graduate, Jill…who happened to be in the UK for a family wedding. Good times reconnecting, included sightseeing ALL over London, drinking, walking, a hen party dinner, walking, eating, drinking, walking and an unforgettable hour trapped in the world’s smallest lift. I know, I know…this blog is NOT about me, it’s about Eryn. But look at me using ITALICS!

FINALLY, the next day, we all met up again at Buckingham Palace where ERYN surprised us to spend her last day, and ours too, in London*. Those were some big hugs. The start of many hugs. (I love friends who hug!!) This calls for ice cream in the park and a look-see at Clarence House, maybe we can glimpse a Prince, or a Duke. Excuse me, Harry, can we take a selfie? We didn’t get a whole lot of time together this day, but it was, without question, quality time. Some tears, more hugs, and off she goes to pack her bag.

*Thanks Gree for helping to coordinate the surprise meet up 🙂

The following day, we were off to Naples, Italy – meeting Eryn in Gatwick airport. This was the first time I would see, in person, the extent of “the backpack”. Um, excuse me Camel, those are ALL of your belongings? In all of the places we stayed, more and more items emerged from that “hump”. It was truly impressive! Everything she needs, compact and in its place. I had to see what it was like at one point, so I wore it briefly in the train station in Naples. Crazy the perspective I have now. That sucker is HEAVY! And, as Eryn explains, she’s already unloaded all sorts of things…such as a tent and sleeping gear for camping, among other things.

On the plane, we were separated by many, many rows, but Eryn looked like she needed a little time to decompress and the flight was full, so we didn’t really try to switch seats.  She later explained that it was getting harder and harder to say goodbyes each time she left a country with the realization hitting her on each departing flight that she’d likely never see her new friends again.  She shed some tears and drew a mandala on the flight that night – this is her routine.  I caught a glimpse of the mandala she’d drawn on the flight and I would soon come to understand, despite reading about it on numerous occasions, it truly is her best meditation.

While waiting in baggage claim for her “hump” and our bags she told us she was formulating her next blog post in regards to “Departures” and how difficult they were. Wow! I’m hearing, before anyone reads it, the thoughts you will put to paper next. Oh man, I’m in the know! I’m not just any groupie, I am your biggest fan!  I decided right then and there I would not read her blog until we too “departed”.

We walked out of the airport and were met with big hugs from our gracious hosts, Cher & Joe (friends from Key West now stationed in Naples) who take us to their amazing home overlooking the Mediterranean Sea with our own apartment / costume cave.  Despite carrying on with their own personal life, we were eternally grateful for one amazing day each, spent with Cher, walking the streets of Napoli and Joe, touring Pompeii.  And Joe’s brother Patrick happened to be in town at the same time so we had ourselves a fun group!

The next week consisted of more walking, eating, drinking, walking, touring, sightseeing, eating, eating, drinking, walking. We rode trains, ferries, busses and had the very best time navigating a teeny toll-stalling car. It was amazing. From the narrow, crowded streets of Napoli, to an unexpected over-night stay in Firenze, into the hills of Tuscany and up a winding road ending at a breathtaking Agriturismo and then back to Firenze where we would part – Eryn onto her next adventure, and Alecheia & I off to Rome for two nights & then home. We laughed, we cried, we bonded, we had the most beautiful time. We laughed a lot. Eryn is really, really funny. It’s great to spend time with someone who makes you laugh and who you can make laugh.  The three of us laughed.  A lot.

For all of the travel details, I will leave that to Eryn what she will share, as I am just a guest. But, I will say these things: Eryn is happy, level-headed, smart, organized, peaceful & emotion-filled, breathing a new life. Well before I read the blog, “Departures” as I sat in the airport in Rome, I kept thinking to myself, Eryn, you are alive. You have come to life! You are seeing and doing things many people would envy & you are doing it with grace & honesty & you are humble. Your happiness is overflowing. You are alive. No, I am not the person who commented that she looked alive. But without knowledge of that comment, I had already come to my own conclusion that Eryn is ALIVE.  Move over buddy, you will not steal my thunder! I loved watching Eryn, walking camera in hand, smile on her face, never hurried.  She is present wherever she is.  That’s big stuff, people! The lesson came loud and clear to me.  SLOW THE F’ DOWN SISTER!

I remember when Eryn originally told me about her travel plans. I was one of the people who encouraged her, despite my own fear of such a far-fetched idea. I had no doubt that when she said she may possibly be gone for a year, that she just might do it. I could tell her determination was solid and her adventure would soon be a reality.  I’ve been loyally reading the blog from day one and I’ve been transfixed by her writing ability to grab a reader and keep them in full suspense. I feel what she feels and I cry when she cries. I’ve had small moments where I was worried about her surroundings, feared for the tight bonds she was making with strangers and prayed for her health, happiness and well-being. I am always tapping my toes, waiting for the next blog post. And now, any worries or fears I had are long gone. Eryn is safe. She is making incredible decisions that could, very well, not only change the course of her life, but also those of others (like finally letting Alecheia have her dining room table in storage?).  I feel extreme suspense building as I know some, but not all, of her future ideas yet to take shape. I am one of the few to know.  See?  She trusts yet shows caution.  Eryn, our friend, is not alone, she is surrounded by people who love her and her journey is true.  From all over the world, Eryn is finding her way…she is alive. I am forever fortunate that we shared time together in Italy.  Ah, Italy… where we learned to jump.

I would like to thank all of the gracious & generous hosts, Gree & Robbie in Leeds, Heather in London, Cher & Joe in Napoli, Serena & Alessandro in Rufina, & finally & most especially, Eryn. Thank you for letting us in, showing us how you live & sharing your life. May we return the favor if ever you are in The Florida Keys. XOXO Cindy

Here’s Alecheia’s Post 🙂

Hi!

First meet up in England

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Yay, finally see my girls from Key West!

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At Gatwick with my traveling camel gear 🙂

Costume Closet – Naples Italy

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 Thank goodness Cher and Joe moved all their costume collection to Naples when they left Key West.  I was starting to get twitchy about missing Fantasy Fest this year.  Ahhh yes, just what we needed – Costumes!  A whole apartment full!  Yay!  10523995_10204399897145033_8655772819451108914_n10641145_10152843209286756_7121131103943872380_n

LIII, I was on the phone with you here… LOL

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Ohhh snap, look what we found!

Eat Pray Love – Naples Italy

Many people have paralleled my story to Elizabeth Gilberts’, Eat Pray Love.  I can’t deny there are many similarities.  We are both American women who went through a divorce, left our jobs, put all our things in storage and decided to travel.  I’ve even visited the same countries, India, Italy and Indonesia – not intentionally to visit the same countries as she did, it just happened that way.

I’m not sure I feel comfortable comparing myself to Elizabeth Gilbert.  She is a real author and I am just a girl traveling with a blog.  But I admire her for telling her story with raw emotion and authenticity and for being a trail blazer for American female solo travelers.  I read the book ions ago, before I was even married – before I even had any major interest in travel.  But I am 100% certain I would not have been brave enough to do this on my own if I hadn’t read that book.  Well, if she can do it, so can I!

Because we were in Naples, Italy, I felt it important to visit the pizza place where Elizabeth and her friend visited (and also Julia Roberts in the movie).  They talked about their jeans sizes and how they’d gained 10 lbs in Italy, which ironically enough, I have too!  LOL  The pizza was spectacular, by the way!

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When’a your’a in’a Italia, you’a talk’a with’a your’a hands’a (Hold your grammatical comments Vicky!)

Hangin’ with our Naples crew

P1100396 P1100391These are a few of my favorite things 🙂

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Wine tasting?  Yes, I think I will!

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Oh, heavenly nutella dispenser, will you fit in my bag?

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Nutella won’t fit, but I’ll take these pastries to go please!

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This is how the Key West clan rolls – jello shots galore!  Yes!

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Selfie lessons from Cher 🙂

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Awwwwww – dammit I missed you guys (CDG you were here in spirit)

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Our apartment at Cher and Joe’s – aka the costume cave!11“Alecheia, how are we ever going to try on all of those costumes?”

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20140920_131141Ummm, excuse me, I believe you have something on your face…

Lesbian Pillow Fight

Ok boys, this is the post you’ve been waiting for!  Finally, I bring you, (drum roll please) the lesbian pillow fight!  That’s right folks – 2 lesbians, 2 straight girls, 2 lucky male photographers and 4 pillows…  Good times were had by all!

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I don’t know about you guys, but that was the best lesbian pillow fight I’ve ever had!

Pompeii

Do you guys know the story of Pompeii?  It’s really fascinating… Really!  Here’s the link to wikepedia so you can read up on this ancient civilization destroyed by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PompeiiP1100540P1100628 P1100627 P1100604P1100600 P1100596 P1100595 P1100594 P1100590 P1100588 P1100585 P1100580

If you were looking for the local brothel, you’d follow this carved symbol in the road…  Look a little closer…P1100576 P1100602P1100545P1100535 P1100533 P1100530

Worlds first lego??

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And We Jumped

Cindy was totally into doing the jumping pictures with me… So we jumped – a lot  🙂

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Look at those two – natural jumpers!!  By the way Cindy, you’re the only person I’ve ever seen who can jump and maintain a normal smiley face.  The rest of us end up with these strange contorted funny facial expressions.  I’m jealous!

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And we jumped some more… P1100528 IMG_3892

 

And then, some more…  IMG_3850 IMG_3870 IMG_3891  IMG_3917  IMG_3946 IMG_3955 IMG_4005

And then because all that wasn’t enough, we jumped some more…  IMG_4051

Check out this cool video our friend Patrick put together – Thanks Patrick, my Naples BFF 🙂

http://youtu.be/TfHvXjHfo2o

Hey Cindy, “I do believe jumping pictures might be the single most important thing you can add to your life.”  Hahaha  Ok, that’s enough jumping, let’s go back to eating and drinking!

Tuscany

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Cindy tries on “the hump” 🙂

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These girls are prepared travelers!

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Awwww yeah, we rented a car and drove out to the Tuscan countryside.  Ok, yeah, so what if I stalled at almost every toll booth!  I’ve hardly driven in 6 months and I’ve never owned a stick shift!   I was still the only one that wanted to drive – so there!10689617_10152852328686756_112543582667049273_n

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So, we just had to make an emergency stop for some pictures!  Doesn’t everyone stop on the side of the road and pick up chairs out of the garbage for picture props?  Well, we do…P1110012  P1110023 P1110020 P1110016 P1110014 P1110030  P1110036

And then we drove away…P1110003 P1110002 P1100949 P1100938 P1100936 P1100933 P1100929 P1100927 P1100921 P1100917 P1100914 P1100887 P1100881 P1100877 P1100873 P1100870 P1100863 P1100854 P1100840 P1100819

Showing Cindy how to crochet 🙂 P1100802

Lots of drinking and eating – did I mention that?P1100784

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Cindy, didn’t I tell you pictures aren’t allowed in the morning?P1100758 P1100751 P1100748 P1100744 P1100741 P1100737 P1100736 P1100734 P1100708 P1100703 P1100690 P1100688 P1100684 P1100683 P1100681 P1100678 P1100672 P1100669 P1100656

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More eating and drinking!10678864_10152854605491756_1220514709892217864_n

We cooked with Serena one night – I love that woman, I believe I may go back to visit her 🙂 10653739_10152854604176756_4665323066062450886_n 10534756_10152854603916756_7376508545969634769_n 10440166_10152854596841756_1706073300253583422_n 1972531_10152854597211756_5348300648882279403_n

I couldn’t resist this photo opp… The wine tour lady didn’t seem amused.  10649698_10204434790457344_1217485800755129898_n 10635973_10204434788817303_3500169835133569617_n 1898050_10204434787297265_7132408186042914627_n 10702135_10204434785417218_7964622383296040842_n P1100735

 

Eryn’s Post 🙂

It’s hard to fully articulate how perfect it was to spend time traveling with Cindy and Alecheia.  Although my journey has been filled with beautiful new people and experiences, there’s nothing like an old friend – or better yet, two!  People who knew you best from times past and can truly see the transformation to the new you.  People you feel completely comfortable with at all hours of the day.  People you’re content and happy to be with whether you’re sitting quietly in a silent moment on a train holding hands or laughing uncontrollably to the point of peeing your panties (this actually happened to me!)  We had so many laughs, I couldn’t possibly count them all.  I laughed more in the week with Cindy and Alecheia than I have the entire trip, I think.

Being out here in the world all by myself (with a few exceptions) for so long has been really challenging, mentally, physically and emotionally.  I greatly appreciated that Cindy did all the research of where we’d go and what we’d do while in Italy.  It was their big vacation, I was just a tag along, I told her.

Having only relied on myself since I left, it really was a welcome break to share in the decision making, not be solely responsible for everything, and roll along with someone else’s plans.  I could let my guard down knowing we could rely on each other and would take care of each other if the shit hit the fan.

That’s one thing that may not be coming across on the blog; how much work it is to do this all by yourself.  There’s an idea of where to go, then research, planning and booking – none of which are done from the comfort of your own couch, but most likely a cafe.  Cafe’s have become my “comfort zone” by the way.  If I can get myself to a comfortable cafe with my laptop and a cup of coffee or chai tea, then I’m happy.

After all the ideas and planning travel, then there’s where will I stay when I get somewhere?  How will I get to where I’m staying?  Am I arriving during the daytime as a safety precaution?  Then there are visas, logistical hurdles, navigating new buses and train stations, mostly in foreign languages and always with the physical handicap of a large backpack and being a single white female.  There’s staying in strange places where you don’t know anyone, and always meeting new people, constantly assessing whether they’re “good people” or not.  Do I need to carry my pepper spray? Do I need to lock up my laptop if I go to the bathroom?  All of this equates to being out of your comfort zone – all the time.  So, it was especially nice to have someone else take the lead and share in the responsibilities of traveling.  And all of that was just a huge bonus on top of the fact that I like/love them both so much and we have so much fun together.

I don’t think I even realized until after I left Cindy and Alecheia how different I felt traveling with them vs. being alone.  I’d gotten so used to doing everything on my own and then I had 3 weeks with Vicky, and then the week traveling with Cindy and Alecheia.  I think maybe I was the most relaxed with them as I’ve been my entire trip.  Because I knew we had each other.  Why they won’t quit their jobs and come traveling with me, I just don’t understand.  LOL

I still don’t know for sure where my travels will take me or where I’ll land in the end, but I will always remember our jumps in Italy and I hope I’m always lucky enough to have you both in my life.  Love love love to you!  XXOOO e

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