About Cassie

When I went to my ten-year high school reunion, I wanted to feel validated in the eyes of people I didn't know and truly did not care about. What I did not realize at the time was that what I told people, that I work and travel as much as possible, is not only the truth, it is friggin' awesome. My true love and passion is traveling, and my rather unglamorous job allows me to do that. Thank you, Shitty and Unglamorous Job, for not caring when I take off for a few weeks.

Road Trip ’16, Part One: In Which Everyone Thinks I’m Crazy (Minneapolis, MN to Cuyahoga Valley National Park)

 

When I first proposed a two-week road trip across the mid-South (hitting three National Parks, one big city, and nine states), I invited a few friends to come along. As time went on, it became obvious I would undergo this trek alone. I get it. It was an ambitious trip and planned exclusively for my own enjoyment. So I wasn’t terribly disappointed or surprised when the eventual answers were, “Nope, sorry!” I was actually relieved. Now I didn’t have to worry if everyone was having a good time and making sure they got in their own idea of fun shit to do. I also didn’t have to face the social shame associated with needing to stop for the umpteenth time to pee. Traveling alone meant my trip turned into four National Parks, one big city, eleven states, and recommendations for certain rest areas on the interstates over others.

Not to say I wasn’t filled with some trepidation. I was, after all, going to be a woman traveling alone for an extended period of time. There was quite a lot to consider, and safety was my first concern. I researched the shit out of crime in National Parks (yet somehow Murder on the Appalachian Trail never came up). I schooled myself in what to do if I came across a bear on the trails (which turned out to be fucking useless when I eventually ran into old man Baloo). I watched YouTube videos on how to change a tire (let’s be real, that was never going to happen). I sent my family a detailed itinerary and planned to keep in contact every day (especially when I said to hell with that itinerary).My friends and family and coworkers and strangers on the street were always incredulous when I said I was doing this trip solo, but I felt prepared and elated. I honestly didn’t, and still don’t, understand why I got so many “You’re crazy!” or “Gosh, you’re braver than me!” The only thing I truly worried about was my car breaking down in the middle of Bumfuck Nowhere, Mountain Land, Home of Mountain People (which, to my Minnesota Twin Cities upbringing, was the most terrifying scenario I could think of).

Despite the general bemusement of those around me, I continued to make plans. Finally, one day, I loaded up my Jeep (lovingly christened Echo Base) and jettisoned out of Minneapolis. It was 4am on July 15th, 2016. I headed east along I-94, towards my first destination of Shinnston, West Virginia. Originally, a family reunion was to take place there. Family from all over the country and Europe were to descend upon this tiny Appalachian town. It was the whole reason I came up with this trip. If I was going to West Virginia to meet people I never knew existed, I was going to make an adventure of it. For various reasons, the reunion was canceled, but I never considered canceling the road trip. At that point, Shinnston really became a minor blip in a larger expedition. I took over my mom’s hotel reservation but didn’t actually need to be there until the 16th. The leeway in time gave me the idea to get off the intended route. By the time I passed Chicago, I was severely annoyed by driving and the traffic and needed to get the hell out of my car. It was at those times, I really longed for another person to share the driving. My route took me east along I-80, skirting the Michigan state border. I had never been to Michigan, so I thought, why not? Instead of 80, I continued on 94, heading north into the Mitten State.

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Warren Sand Dune State Park

Shortly after noon, I stopped at Warren Dunes State Park on Lake Michigan for some lunch. The weather was unbelievably gorgeous with picturesque sunshine, and lapping waves. The beach wasn’t terribly crowded and I dipped my toes in the water and watched people enjoying their day. I spent time exploring the dunes and taking in the water, but it was difficult to turn my brain off. I kept thinking, “Girl, you need to go. There’s still so much driving before West Virginia.” It was hard telling myself to shut up, I’m on vacation, damnit. This silent conflict became a recurring theme for days. Still, I mustered an hour and a half before heading further east.

I decided to head to Ann Arbor, simply because it is the birthplace of all of my college textbooks and I am a giant nerd. It was here that I got my flirt on. Shortly before Chicago, I realized I left my camp stove at home and I was not going to eat diner food for two weeks (I truly believed that – insert eye roll emoji). So I went to the local REI where I chatted up a sales associate. He was very sympathetic to my plight and found me some discounts and coupons and I ended up with a small stove for twenty bucks. Not bad for REI! I got back on the road for a bit longer, then spent the night in Toledo, Ohio. The next morning, I was on the move early.

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Marblehead Lighthouse, Ohio

I decided to follow a National Scenic Route along Lake Erie. Along the coast, there are countless Great Lakes maritime and historical museums to stop at, and many lighthouses. Like most people, I should think, I love lighthouses. There are also islands to explore in the Great Lakes that ferries will take passengers to for less than twenty bucks (However, I would love to kayak like the two women are currently doing on Superior). You can follow this route all the way to Pennsylvania, but I turned south at Cleveland.

The Ohio and Erie Canalway from Cleveland takes you straight through a national park. Cuyahoga Valley is one of the strangest parks I’ve been to. I wouldn’t have thought a NP was just thirty minutes from a major city and smack in the middle of an urban area, but Cuyahoga is 33,000 acres of ecosystem interspersed with homes and roadways. I stayed a few hours in the park, going on short hikes and enjoying the river scene. At one point, along Brandywine Falls trail, the bridge was out over the river and I had to forge my own path. I ended up hiking the river itself most of the time, as it wasn’t deep and I could walk without care.

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Rock Art

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Later I witnessed children sliding down this mini-falls

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The Ledges

I also visited the Ledges, which are fun rock formations. Mostly, they looked like beehives or sponges. A wedding had taken place there earlier in the day, and there were still decorations up. I also spied on a young man sitting along the (actual) ledges doing what looked like calculations in a notepad. He actually scared me, because I was sitting there to get away from noise and people and was not expecting to hear the heavy rustling he did when he got up. I ended my afternoon at a small café in the park, tucking into a delicious fish sandwich and cold beer before continuing on to West Virginia.

It took me several hours from Cuyahoga to reach my next stop in Bridgeport, WV. I got there shortly before sunset. On the drive over, I’d already decided to extend my stay to two nights rather than just one. I was sick of driving and needed to stay put for a couple of days. I’m glad I did. West Virginia, at least in the north where I was, is absolutely beautiful. That was the next day, however. I checked into my hotel that night, and passed out, not to be disturbed until eleven hours later.

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5 Things I’m Grateful For

Coming back to the routine of reality after a long vacation filled with new and exciting things every day can be difficult. I’m back at work and have already fallen into my old patterns. The last few weeks seem like a wonderful dream I’ve just woken from. I honestly can’t believe I was in Dublin just last week. Since those days are merely a concoction of my subconscious, I decided to put together a list of things inhabiting reality that I’m grateful for:

1. A Reliable Coffee Source (and Reliable WC)

I truly don’t think the caffeine affects me the way it affects other people. I certainly don’t need it to kickstart my day. However, drinking coffee every day has simply become a habit. A habit that was broken on vacation. There was a coffee maker in our apartment in Paris, but actually going to a market for grounds and then making it every morning seemed like a precious waste of time and money. That isn’t to say I never stepped into the nearest café and ordered a cup. 🙂

In Dublin, the people we stayed with had one of those French pressers and once again, I was feeding my habit. It was nice. Until about an hour later when we were on a bus out to the countryside and my bladder was yelling at me for that one cup I had. By the time we reached our destination, I would generally be sniffing out the nearest loo.

2. Clean Clothes (I.E. Not Scaring Off Other People By the Mere Smell of Me)

In our Paris flat, we had a washer/dryer combo. Not two machines stacked on top of one another. One machine to wash and dry. I had really never seen such a machine. Do they exist in the States?? No doubt, but they would be more common in larger cities. Regardless, the directions were in French, and as you can imagine, confusion ensued. Caity was at the flat two days before I arrived and she hadn’t figured it out. Surely, if we put our not unintelligent minds together, we could get it working. Not so. We washed a towel three times. On our last day there, we (sort of) had it figured out, but it was too late to actually wash clothes. This hurt Caity more than I; I had only been there for a few days while Caity’s been abroad for months. Who knows what the washing situation was like in Morocco.

Regardless, I wasn’t as keen on the washing yet and by the time I was, I was due on an airplane home. By the time we reached Dublin, I had begun to recycle shirts. This was after I had already started recycling socks. I think that was the worst. Trying to stuff my feet in stinky old socks that had seen a lot of walking the last few days was pretty gross. Thank God I had plenty of underwear. I scooped out every piece of article I owned and stuffed it in my suitcase. I was just fine on that front. Next time, I will bring more socks. They’re gold, and helpful for wrapping small breakable presents in.

3. Comfort Food

This is the text my brother received the minute I landed in the States: “Will you make sure I have spaghetti and Prego???” I am a lady who enjoys her carbs and spaghetti is my favorite meal. I like it pretty plain, too. Just noodles and Prego sauce. Sure, I could have gone to any Italian restaurant overseas and ordered a big dish. However, I am not that boring on vacation! I feel being elsewhere, and especially in Paris, one has to try the typical delicacies of that particular region. So I had cheese. Lots of cheese, and I do not typically do cheese. And Whiskey in Ireland. God, did I try that whiskey… Didn’t finish it, though, but I did try it!

4. The Long Shower

I am someone who enjoys a long shower. I will just stand under the showerhead, not doing anything other than enjoying the heat. I am also someone who is ready to get going first thing in the morning while on vacation. There is so much to see and do and not enough time in the day! Being clean is important, but I cannot enjoy this necessity when it eats into the time I want to spend doing things. Sleep also becomes a hated need. First thing Caity asked me when I arrived in Paris was if I wanted to shower or nap. I responded with a firm, “NEITHER.” We walked instead and went to Notre Dame. By the time I could no longer push through the jet lag (dinner – the wine may have been a mistake… no, that’s crazy), I was starting to smell and I’d been up over thirty hours. I slept pretty well that night.

5. All the People I Left Behind

I am not one for sentimentality or expressing the deeper feelings, but I am grateful to every single person in my life… from my family to my friends to my coworkers, it’ nice to come back to a place where I’m known and missed and appreciated. It was really great to see my family for dinner and story time. I didn’t even resent the baby (much) when she drew attention away from me. 🙂

General Observations of Paris

 

The Apartment and
General Observation of Paris

Like most European cities, Paris is a hot mess. There does
not appear to be any thought given into the construction of the city, save for
the Arc de Triumph, in which all roads lead. To any American, forget the
familiar grid pattern and alphabetical layout. Paris is a hodgepodge of
glorious chaos. In this, knowing landmarks is an easier way to get around than
following street names. At least it was for me. I always knew the Pantheon and
the Jardin de Luxembourg was home. It can be difficult to find which road you
are on; the names are on the sides of building, if you’re lucky. Roads and
buildings have sprung up next to the oldest parts of the ancient city, breaking
streets off and creating many a narrow alleyway. Fortunately, the Eiffel Tower
is always looming in the sky to mark where east is. By the end of my trip, I
always knew which way the apartment was.

Given European predilection for packing it in, the apartment
I stayed in was about the size of a moderate hotel room. Standing at the
doorway, I could see most of the flat. Immediately upon entering, I turn left
to enter the bedroom, which housed the most comfortable bed I’ve stayed in
while traveling, and a beautiful wardrobe in a small lovely non-working
fireplace. Continuing through the bedroom, I exit another door on the right
into the dining/living room. To the left is a bay window that overlooks the
alleyway and other apartment buildings. There is a round table in the middle of
the room and a sofa pushed against the far wall. With these two items taking up
most of the room, I have to turn sideways into to exit the other door that
leads me back to the entryway in which I started.

To the left is the kitchen. My brother and sister-in-law
would appreciated their small kitchen just a bit better after seeing this one.
The icebox took up half the far wall. Right next to it was the dishwasher
(about half the size of an average American one) with a small microwave perched
on top. The sink took up the corner between the dishwasher and the flat top
stove. Right next to the stove was a washer/dryer combo. Not too separate machines,
but one unit that washes, then dries and something we never did figure out.
Caity absolutely REFUSED to ask our hosts how to work the machine, even when
they emailed asking how everything was going!

Once again, we are back to the door leading the entryway.
Immediately on the right is the bathroom. The shower was fun to operate. There
were three handles and three water jets. One handle turned it on. Another operated
the temperature. The final handle controlled the jets. Turn it one way and
water shot straight down (the one I preferred), another way had water shoot
from three separate jets horizontally (this one scared me; it was very forceful
and quite literally, in your face), and the last way you could turn it pushed
the water towards and hand held controller for those hard to reach areas.
Showering was fun.

Random Observations I had While Walking Everywhere (and We
Did Walk Everywhere):

      
1.
Never not once did I hear a catcall. Yes, we
were mostly around the tourist areas in Paris; the inner circle, if you will.
Yet, even venturing to side streets for some sort of hidden gem, I still heard
nothing from any man. No honking, no whistling, nothing. At home, I cannot read
in the park without getting honked at.

      
2.
I have not seen any man’s boxers since coming to
Paris. I doubt any Frenchman would be caught dead wearing their trousers past
their butts. Everyone dresses to impress in Paris. I appreciate it.

      
3.
The Eiffel Tower is everywhere. It is Big
Brother, always watching. Only it sparkles.

      
4.
I rarely saw a dog on a leash (lead to Europeans).
Not that there weren’t any, but it does not appear to be mandatory.

      
5.
Paris has tons of hidden passages. I could be
walking down any narrow, suffocating street and suddenly come across an area
full of fancy cafes or boutiques. Or bookstores. So many lovely bookstores.

      
6.
As a European city, the streets and sidewalks
are very narrow. It was hard for my Midwestern/Northern American self to handle
being so close to building, cars, and other people while walking. Even in New
York, with as many packed in buildings, the streets are wider.

      
7.
There is a café on every corner.

      
8.
There is a pharmecie on every corner. I loved
the pharmacies. They flashed green all the time with what Americans would call
a typical medical sign (a cross).

      
9.
Every single building is old and beautiful.

  
10.
There are no skyscrapers, except for one small
section on the outskirts of the city. Everything else is virtual the same
height; which explains why you can see the Eifel Tower from pretty much
anywhere.

I head over to Dublin today,
making this our last day in Paris. We spent our last evening at a beautiful
restaurant called Le Petite Cour. Great food, great wine, great service; just
the perfect ending to this week. For this early afternoon before our flight, we
are getting wine and sandwiches and going to have a picnic before the Eiffel
Tower. We will also finally walk through the Luxembourg Gardens. We only ever
walked past it every single day.

There is so much to see and do in
Paris. I have a list with as many thing to do on my return trip (which, as yet,
does not exist) as I do of the things I got to. I feel to accurately do it
justice, I need to wait to blog until I come home. Every night, by the time I
reached home, I was dead exhausted and the most I could do was make some notes
before passing out!

Still to come… The Louvre, The Arc
de Triumph, Versailles, Food, Wine Tasting, Les Catacombs, the Eiffel Tower,
Notre Dame, Saint Chappelle, Conciergie, Palais de Justices….

Disclaimer – I’m actually posting
this from the airport as it was the next availability with the wifi, haha.
Picnic at the Tower was fantastic! I drank wine before noon! Haha, on to
Dublin.

In which I get to Paris and something immediately goes wrong…

My arrival in the City of Lights was without complication, save for one thing. I got through customs just fine and on the train with no fuss. Though, it is daunting to hear a language I don’t speak constantly floating about around me. No, it was not until I left the stop and did not see Caity that I started to feel out of sorts.

The plan was to contact her once I’d gotten on the train from the airport so she knew when to meet me at the train stop. Only, I arrived and my WiFi and International Data package was not working. I was livid. Technology is truly amazing; there are charger stations at airports and I saw tons of people scanning their airplane tickets instead of handing a paper copy to the attendant. Amazing. So when technology doesn’t work, it is a shit storm. I cannot even appreciate that I’m in Paris because I can’t contact the person I’m meeting and my GPS doesn’t work.

But I remain calm. I figure even though Caity does not technically “know” I’m on the way, I know she’s been tracking my plane and will have known when I landed and therefore have deduced when to go meet me. I hop off the train and head up into the city. The Luxembourg Gardens were to my left and Latin Quarter to my right. I walked up and down between the two Luxembourg train exits a couple times, looking for Caity. Didn’t see her. Figured I was SOL with meeting up with her, so I start looking for the apartment.

Lesson 1: Even though technology is great, sometimes it is for shit, so always have backup plans.

Fortunately, I did know the address of the apartment and I do have a physical map to search for said address. Unfortunately, I could not seem to find any street names….. ??? I saw plenty of signs that read “Museum of such and such this way” and “The Louvre this way” and the “The Eiffel Tower is this way” etc etc. Hmmm…. I walked up and down the street for about 20 minutes, judging by the names of the shops, I’m in the right place…. maybe….

So I’m walking and walking, pulling my gigantic suitcase behind me with my map in hand and bewildered expression on my face. Fucking tourists, eh?

Finally, a nice French gentlemen, who speaks not a word of English, ends up helping me out. I point out on the map where I’m trying to go and somehow indicate I know not one street around me. He points up and says, “Regarde! Regarde!”

Lesson 2: Street names are on buildings. I must look up. Interesting.

From there it was easy. I found the apartment building no problem, and snuck into the lobby as someone left. Then, I waited. About 20 minutes after, I hear a jingle at the door and it’s Caity. I yank the door open, scaring the bajeezezs out of her.

“Bonjour!” I say. We laugh, we hug, we exchange a “where the hell you’ve been”, and head up to the apartment to stow my crap so that I may start to enjoy my first night in Paris.

Coming up… The Apartment, Walking in Paris, The Louvre, Notre Dame, the Locks Bridge, Cafés, Wine

Salutations from the Emerald Island!

I’m only in Dublin a short while as I wait to get on my connecting flight to Paris, and I am already in love! My first impression was that it reminded me of flying over the Midwest, only much cooler. There are the fields that one sees flying out of MSP and ORD, but here it is greener and they are separated by hedges. My god, I love the hedges! The word I will use to describe the Irish countryside is charming. The cottages are charming, the roads are charming, the hedges are charming – mind, this is all from an airplane window; I have not left the airport!

I hope it remains charming when I return for St. Patrick’s Day next week.

I am awfully exhausted, friends. I slept some on the plane, more than I thought I would honestly, but not enough! I flew Aer Lingus and was impressed with their planes. There was leg room, cushy seats and head rests, and the shepherd’s pie was amazing! Still, sleeping on an airplane is no easy feat, no matter the comforts. I have a feeling I will just crash when I get to Paris (due there in about four hours). Then again, I may just be so excited to be in the City of Lights that I’ll get over my jet lag.

I’m excited to see C – I can’t believe she was in Morocco for four months! I’ve an image in my head of us catching up in a Parisian wine bar, one I tend to make a reality once I’m settled.

On to the subject most of my friends and family are obsessed with – the male specimen. I sat next to an attractive man on the flight over the Atlantic but he was not interested in chatting. As soon as the plane took off, his screen was on and head phones in. I think he watched three movies and various TV shows. I, of course, was trying to sleep.

Once landed, I had to track down my gate number as it was not on my boarding pass. A nice Irish gentleman helped me out; it’s still early in the morning that I was the only one walking through that particular area of the airport so we had a nice chat.

And that is all! My flight boards in an hour so I will track down some breakfast, guzzle some water, and try to make myself presentable for the hoity-toity Parisians! Until next time! Thanks for reading (Hailey).

Haaaaave you met Cassie?

I started this blog with two purposes in mind. One, to rediscover my love of writing and two, to develop a writing habit.

It has always been my passion to write a novel, but life has sidelined me quite often. I have not done the best with this blog since its creation. I have sporadically updated it with random posts, but I want to change that. My goal is to dedicate this blog completely to writing stories, any kind of stories, and also use it as a sort of travel blog. I believe experiences are what a good writer builds on. I’m hoping to discover some hidden story locked away in what I learn in my travels. Granted, I don’t travel as often as I like; this woman needs a steady paycheck!

My desire to improve my writing and develop the habit led me to join such communities as the Daily Post and Story a Day. Yet I am always on the lookout for more! I guess I also need to get in the habit of being more active in online communities.

So here’s to that!

Perfect Moments

Sunday morning saw me willingly (WILLINGLY) up before the ass-crack of dawn, trying to both guzzle coffee and shove some breakfast in my mouth at the same time. The end result was surprisingly non-life threatening. Fortunately. There was only the minor choking episode, and at this time I noticed my sister-in-law’s mother asleep on the couch. I decided to take my choking to a place that wouldn’t disturb her. Unfortunately, I knocked over some dishes in my waste to not wake her and it went downhill from there.

I am not the greatest in the mornings. Especially mornings that start at 5:30 am.

She only lightly stirred so I took that as a win. Of course, the snoring cut off when I was taking my bike out the back door and banging it around. I just shouldn’t even try.

Finally, after trying so hard to be quiet in respect the my roommates and our guests and failing so spectacularly, I had my bike in the car and my bag all packed and ready to go. I peeled out of there in the pre-dawn light (God, the sun was trying to so hard, kudos to it). It only took me ten minutes to get to the river where registration was. Honestly, I probably could have biked down there but I thought to myself, “Uh-uh, biking in the dark in this neighborhood? Girl, you will be mugged and raped and shot.” So that was out.

I checked-in and received a fancy light to go on my bike (it BLINKS) as well as a T-shirt saying I took part in the 2014 Bike Tour (sweet) and by this time, the clouds were rolling away and there were real beams of light making their presence known (as opposed to fake ones we in the Midwest get all the time). Checked-in, feeling exuberant with my fancy-pants light and T-shirt, I hopped on the bike and went to meet the rest in my group at the designated area down the street where I waited.

And waited.

And waited.

Thirty minutes later, my fingers were cold after obsessively checking Facebook and Instagram and Word With Friends over and over again. Then the first truck with friends pulled in followed by a couple cars. By eight o’clock, we were all on the course.

There were a couple friends who left us all behind pretty damn quickly. Misters I Don’t Have Time to Wait for These People. They were doing the 32-mile course around the city while the rest of us were doing the 25.

I was okay with taking our time. The city is gorgeous and it turned into a beautiful day. The 25-mile course took us a little over three hours, and in the time we went all over the city. We followed the river south and saw some bridges (I got a thing for bridges). There was also this one family in a canoe. It was a man and two kids, leisurely fishing as I went over them on the bridge. I felt like I was witnessing the perfect moment.

I had a lot of those yesterday, but my twenty minutes is up. 🙂