THE ISLE OF ENCHANTMENT

In our seven days on the Isle of Enchantment, we undertook quite a bit. Spending three days in San Juan and driving through the rainforest and mountain in the center of the island to reach the second-largest city, Ponce, where we spent our remaining four days, we got to see and do just about everything we wanted to. And now, only a month later, I’m finally sharing the wonderful memories we made! As the pictures show, Jordan actually commanded both my digital and film camera about half of the time, resulting in an unnerving amount of photos of me, but since he’s got a good eye, not all of them are hideous ;)

THE CATHEDRAL OF RUM

While technically a Cuban rum since 1862, Bacardi has been produced in Puerto Rico since the 1960s and has headquarters in Bermuda. The Cathedral of Rum, as it’s aptly named, is an amazing look into the history of the largest privately held, family owned spirits company in the world. Even their iconic bat logo has a tie to the family - when Doña Amalia Bacardí, wife of the founder of Bacardi, spotted fruit bats in the distillery, she insisted that a bat should appear on every bottle. They’re also a symbol of good luck in Cuba!

We opted for a rum tasting tour, allowing us to learn about and taste six of the brand’s finest rums. Because we also had the greatest, most sarcastic tour guide named Eric, this experience was especially enjoyable, and we found ourselves sipping on our rums a big longer than the tour should have lasted… The rums we tasted included: Superior (classic), Añejo Cuatro (Jordan’s favorite), Ocho, Diez, Limitada (notes of coffee, obviously my favorite), and the Reserva Limitada.

After our tour, we utilized the free drink tokens included in the booking and sat at the Bat Bar Pavilion for a few hours while the rain poured down. On the way, though, we of course had to stop and play in the sugar cane.

SAN JUAN

The third oldest European-established capital city, San Juan is now the 46th largest city under U.S. jurisdiction, and probably the most touristy area in Puerto Rico. We spent most of our time in Old San Juan, walking the cobblestone streets, along the ocean, and around the city’s former defensive forts. Not pictured here is the abundant bars and clubs contributing to San Juan’s night life, our favorite of which being El Batey where Hunter S. Thompson would hang out while he was authoring the Rum Diary. The bartender there also is in two bands, one of which is the song selection for this post.

EL YUNQUE NATIONAL RAIN FOREST

Another spectacular feature of this 100 mile wide and 35 mile long island is the only national rain forest in the U.S. forest system on the north eastern side of the island. The road leads you to all the major attractions, including a water fall, old watch tower, and natural swimming hole (not pictured, but posted to Instagram, are my adventures in the swimming hole’s small water fall). Unfortunately, due to damages caused by Hurricane Marie, many of the popular hiking trails are still inaccessible. That didn’t stop us from enjoying all the nature around us though.

CUEVA DEL INDIO

What good is driving across the island if you don’t make a road trip out of it? Our first (and only because we ended up completely enthralled and spending all our time there) stop was about an hour west of San Juan: Cueva del Indio, or cave of Indians. The prehistoric rock structure has protected the island against many a hurricane, and natives claim hiding out in the caves will save you from disaster. For more adventurous types, or people just better at planning ahead, you can snorkel underneath the caves and jump from the rock structure into the crystal clear blue waters.

Oh, and on the way there, we found this statue of Christopher Columbus donated to Puerto Rico by the Russians, because…….we sill don’t get it.

HACIENDA MUÑOZ

Anyone who knows me knows I adore coffee (and also tea). So when I found out Puerto Rico had coffee farms, I immediately found one close enough to one of our AirBnBs to make a day trip, and that’s how we entered the wonderful world of Hacienda Muñoz. At one point in time, Puerto Rico was the largest coffee producer in the world. Today, about 10 farms still produce authentic Puerto Rican coffee. Hacienda Muñoz is a rare bird, though, because they’re the only farm on the east side of the island near a town called San Lorenzo.

Hurricane Maria devastated coffee farms on the island. Typically, a coffee plant needs four years from the time it is planted until it begins producing beans. For Hacienda Muñoz, the hurricane destroyed over 10,000 of their 14,000 plants. They’ve slowly rebuilt their plant inventory, and through experimenting with soil types and hours in the sun, they’ve hastened the time for a plant to produce to only 18 months. Competitors are still trying to figure out their secret.

Hacienda Muñoz also offers two restaurant options on site, and we chose the one with more local cuisine options so I could finally try some mofongo.

Of course, the #travelingbearistabear had to come along for this excursion. What kind of bearista would he be if he hadn’t visited a coffee farm?

PONCE

Our home on the south side of the island, Ponce is the second-largest Puerto Rican city and offered us many excursions within driving distance, including visiting downtown and seeing the bio luminescent bay.

35MM FILM

Possibly the reason I’ve been posting far less on this blog than I ever have before is that I started shooting 35mm with a Canon AE1 I picked up at the thrift store last April, and through many trials and tribulations, have finally gotten decent at it. Not only that, I now prefer it to digital and find it harder and harder to convince myself to lug around my D3s (weighing probably 8lbs) when I could carry this light film camera and a few rolls of film instead. The downside of course is you don’t see you photos right away, and we have lost some incredible photos from various rookie mistakes, but even with the risk, the quality of the images you do get are (in my opinion) so superior and have so much more character.

THE SOUTH'S BEST KEPT SECRET

Home to the nation’s largest golf tournament, and perhaps more importantly James friggin’ Brown, Augusta is a mid-sized town on the Savannah River and South Carolina border. In fact, I accidentally drove to South Carolina to buy a battery for my camera during our stay there because it’s that darn close and the town is called North Augusta making things just plain confusing. Along historic Broad Street are some of the most unique restaurants including a 100% vegan restaurant/art gallery where we shamelessly photographed every corner of the eclectic space. But for whatever reason, outside of the month of April when every one in pastel colored shorts and high white socks flocks to the golf courses of Augusta, the town is relatively unknown as a travel destination. Hopefully these photos will change that, at least for the few people who read this blog post…

WINGS & WHITEWALLS

This weekend was the first-ever Wings & Whitewalls car and plane show hosted by the Aviation Wing of Marietta. While the event was geared to a more 1940s/50s, Rockabilly style (including a totally sweet pin-up contest), cars of all makes, models, and years were welcome with open...uh, doors? And with over 100 cars attending, it's sure to say they had a successful debut. 

Perhaps the most unique feature of the Wings & Whitewalls car show was, well, the Wings! The Aviation Wing of Marietta is a 15 acre park featuring civilian and military aircrafts from the latter half of the twentieth century, some of which were even produced in the city of Marietta by a prominent company Bell Aircraft!

There were also a few jivin' bands that performed, including the Sideburners and the Atomic Boogie, to kick start the day. 

Specifically for me, this was an exciting and eventful day because it was the first time ever I displayed my 1971 Mustang at a car show! Delilah has been with me for over five years, four of which she served as my daily driver – and that was before she had power steering. She will always be my baby, but I am glad to have been able to retire her and now show her off in all her glory. Which we will be doing a lot more in the future, since I am now slightly addicted to car shows... 

WANDERING THE WINDY CITY

I've long claimed Chicago as my favorite American city. Perhaps my grandfather, a born-and-bred South Sider who is able to write extensive maps of any part of the city from memory and has always shown me the most exciting plays and restaurants, engrained this love in me from a young age. It has, in any case, stuck with me through the years, and I had the lovely opportunity to visit last weekend.  

GETTING LOST

St. George is a 28-mile long barrier island off the Florida coast in the Gulf of Mexico which for the last week we called home. The island itself boasts an impressive State Park, where if you're lucky like us you can stumble across an eagle or two, plus a restored lighthouse built originally in 1852, not to mention the wonderful local bars, restaurants, and delicious ice cream. 

Two bridges off the island sits a small town named Apalachicola. Along with the local Oyster City Brewing Company, we managed to find one of the rad-est coffee shops in existence, and an open mic night with some new friends in a recently formed band performing.  So recently formed in fact, they don't even have a band name yet, but they do have a ridiculously catchy original that's been my Ohrwurm for nearly a week now. 

ST. PADDY'S IN SCRUFFY CITY

They may not dye an entire river green like Chicago, but Knoxville definitely knows how to celebrate St. Paddy's. As one of many Americans to claim Irish heritage (however small a percentage it may be), I was ecstatic to join my sister for this weekend adventure. 

Scruffy City is most known for its music scene and having held the 1982 World's Fair, from which the iconic Sunsphere still stands and is open to the public for an epic view of downtown Knoxville. We managed to do see most of highlights before our friend's concert St. Paddy's evening. 

Of course, the hidden agenda behind our little getaway was to see our close childhood friend perform with one of his bands, Jacks River Band. Their funkadelic sound rocked St. Paddy's day for Scruffy City Hall until last call. Be sure to give them a listen and follow them on all the various channels (Facebook, Instagram, Spotify, to name a few). 

авось IN THE MOTHERLAND

авось

One of many untranslatable Russian words, Wikipedia's explanation for it is as follows: "a philosophy of behavior, or attitude, of a person who ignores possible problems or hassles and, at the same time, expects or hopes for no negative results or consequences. It is an attitude that treats life as unpredictable and holds that the best one can do is count on luck." 

Never have I found my life philosophy so well summarized in a single word before, so while I may curse the Russian language for its complicated grammar and impossible pronunciation, here I must actually tip my hat and say a big Спасибо. 

So, now onto the actual travel stuff!

Obninsk

Home to the world's first nuclear power plant that generated electricity for a power grid, the city of Obninsk grew outwards from the plant's location and is known today as one of Russia's science-cities. It also has an eternal flame memorial to those who contributed to the efforts of the second world war, and many dachas for families to gather on the weekends for home-grown and home-cooked meals.

Crimea

Sometimes it's important to turn off whatever news channel you're watching (especially if it's Fox News, in that case please just turn it off altogether) and develop an opinion about a place by visiting and interacting with the people there. Here are some moments I captured while doing just that. 

Moscow

Russia's largest and capital city, Moscow is a strange blend of European facets with the bigness of American metropolitans. Every subway station is as architecturally impressive as historic buildings around the city, the lone photo attached to this post was merely the one closest to our hotel we would take each morning to get to the city center, but there are some you'd mistake for cathedrals. Until you actually visit the cathedrals, that is, and their beauty takes your breath away even more. 

If there's one thing I took away from my three weeks in Russia, it's that Russian and American cultures and citizens aren't that different from each other. My hope is that others (political leaders especially) can soon realize the same. 

From Russia, with love, 

The Queen of the Sabakas 

TRAVELING BEARISTA BEAR

Some of you might have noticed this little guy sneak his way into my travel photos. He was given to me shortly before I embarked on this journey, and has accompanied me to all the places I've visited along the way: Hannover, Berlin, Teufelsberg, Bad Belzig, Paris, Krakow, Salzburg, Reykjavik, Bamberg, Nuremburg, Ferropolis, Vienna, and now, his latest adventure to come, Moscow, where we will be reunited with the same kind and caring man who gave him to me.

It might've looked silly - a 22-year-old woman traveling with a little red Starbucks teddy bear and posing him for pictures at famous and sometimes seemingly random locations, plus the wear-and-tear of nine airplanes, over 20 bus/car/train rides, and three music festivals might be visible if you view the photos chronologically - but it was definitely worth it to look back at all the photos of the #travelingbearistabear. He's got a few more adventures to go before we head back stateside, so this won't be the last you see of him.

BORN TO DIE IN BERLIN

Before living here the last half year, I had visited Berlin four times prior, each with the same conclusion as I boarded my train/plane: god, i hate that city. 

This was an ignorant conclusion to draw from such short, depthless visits to a city. But after being exposed to the true Berlin - the parts you don't find in any books or travel websites, the parts you only find from breathing the Berlin air and accepting her for who she is (or sometimes in Kyle's case, by asking the nearest Turkish woman where we can find the best Döner) I changed my mind, and ended up loving her and all her quirky corners more than I've ever loved a geographical location before. 

Berlin is a city shaped by her history. She has layers upon layers of character because she's had a rough go at it. From her founding during the 13th century to being divided in 1961 by a physical wall and on a deeper level the fundamental disagreement between citizens of the same country, to her return as Germany's capital city in 1991, she has remained steadfast.

She's a city of uniting unlike ideas, of new beginnings, and a place where anyone, no matter their heritage, their language, or what types of clothes they wear, is accepted and celebrated. The citizens of Berlin are einzigartig, each a unicorn with different colors and characteristics, but all sharing some of the same basic humanitarian qualities which unfortunately lack in other metropolitans (I’m looking at you Manhattan and D.C). 

So here is my Berlin. Here are the places I will forever hold in my heart, the places where something happened or maybe nothing happened, but for whatever reason they add up to be what I now consider the most exciting and unique city on the planet. 

I’ll always be the eingedeutschtes Mädel, but now, ich bin auch ein Berliner. 
 

P.S.

I wouldn't have been able to experience the fullness of this city without the incredible friends (happy now Mehdi?) from IPS and their endless imagination for new adventures. Some days all I wanted to do was lay in bed, but with them I was able to accomplish so much more and rekindle my love for photography. I don't know how they put up with my annoying paparazzi self for five whole months, but I hope we can keep our friendships regardless of time or distance. Fühl euch ganz doll von mir gedrückt und weiß, dass ihr immer in meinem Herzen sein werden. 
 

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STIFTUNGSREISE

Kloster-Banz

For our group's visit to one of the five German political foundations, we ended up at the Hans-Seidel Stiftung in Bavaria. The Hans-Seidel Stiftung is associated with the Christian Social Union, a political party which exists only in Bavaria and is considered the sister party to the largest political party in Germany, the Christian Democratic Union. Their conference center also happens to be a former Benedictine monastery, with a bowling alley and pool and sauna, so that's where we stayed for our four-day trip.

Nuremburg

We also had the opportunity to take a day-trip to Nuremburg and learn the history of the city and the Bavarian state as a whole. And, of course, eat some awesome traditional Bavarian food.

Bamberg

Often called the Venice of Germany, Bamberg was another stop on our tour of Bavarian history. But the most interesting thing we visited here is actually only a few years old... (more to come in the next set of images). 

Aufnahmeeinrichtung Oberfranken

The Aufnahmeeinrichtung Oberfranken is a former U.S. military base now being used to house over 1,000 asylum seekers as they await their final placements. On site they have access to a school, healthcare, housing, and a cafeteria, with the average stay for an asylum seeking being around three months. Schooling can be a challenge due to the multiple languages spoken by the children, and while they make an effort to teach in German, they sometimes need to switch to English, or even just acting things out to break the language barrier. It is incredible to see this kind of work up close and honestly these pictures cannot do it justice.

URBAN EXPLORATION: CHAPTER ONE

Urban exploration has always been something I wanted to do, so when one of the other program participants suggested we check out the abandoned Iraqi embassy for a day, I jumped right on board. 

The embassy served the former East German government and closed down in January 1991. Since then, it's stood empty. Up until a few years ago, documents and furniture remained scattered about, but unfortunately when we visited this had all been tidied and the doors and windows boarded up. We still managed to enter the building, however, and tried to imagine for ourselves how it must have once been (even though with the windows being boarded up, the only light we had came from holding our iPhones a few feet in front of our faces and hoping we didn't trip over anything). 

I've titled this chapter one because I am hoping we will explore more before leaving Berlin, and that I can continue when I return to Atlanta in September... :) 

ICELANDIC ADVENTURE

Reykjavik 

The chance to visit Reykjavik, or Iceland in general really, was never one that had ever crossed my mind. But now after experiencing it for a mere four days, I cannot wait to return and explore its beauty in more depth. Even the 7°C temperature became enjoyable with the friendly Icelandic folk and never-setting sun (which as a self-proclaimed moon child is hard for me to admit).  

Secret Solstice Festival 

The festival coincides with the Midnight Sun, a natural phenomenon which occurs in certain parts of the world during the summer months when the sun remains visible at the local midnight, and closer to the summer solstice on June 21, for nearly all 24 hours of the day. Paired with the breathtaking Icelandic landscapes, and a diverse line-up of international hip-hop, electronic and indie bands, Secret Solstice has been called “one of the most unique events in the world”.

These photos were also published as part of a photo-review on KALTBLUT Magazine

COMING TOGETHER

The biggest night of IPS: the annual Empfang. Each country has the opportunity to present themselves to over 800 guests including Members of the Bundestag, IPS alumni, and other government officials, through traditional food, beverages, and even some clothing at their own Ländertisch. Basically, IPS takeover in Paul-Lobe-Haus

Danke, Спасибо, faleminderit, merci, ευχαριστώ, Paldies, Благодаря, Dziękuję, köszönöm, شكرا, Hvala vam, Хвала вам... truly, just thank you everyone from IPS for sharing your culture and for an all around extraordinary evening. 

NE MISCHUNG AUS ALLEM

A strange amalgamation of all the things we've undertaken in Berlin thus far, because despite what my blog implies, I do actually spend a lot of time in this wondrous city. And I must admit, Berlin has stolen my heart, with it's vibrant flea markets, international music scene, and, of course, the party tunnel.