Do You Believe in Signs?

Welcome to this week’s Margarita Moment! If you enjoy this post and my little island life inspired blog, please sign up for your free, weekly escape. (Look on the right sidebar.) It will sail to your inbox on Mondays, more or less, depending on life’s currents and my novel writing schedule. Thanks for visiting!

Fools Rush In, the 1997 romantic comedy starring Selma Hayek and Matthew Perry, is a story about opposites attracting and finding true love in spite of all their differences. The heroine’s belief in signs plays a pivotal role in bringing the two lovers together for their happily-ever-after.

I like that because I believe in signs too.

Jolyse Barnett PhotographyOn our recent Key West getaway to celebrate our twenty-fifth anniversary, my honey and I arrived at our favorite B&B to learn I had an offer of contract for my romantic suspense novel. That story is set in Key West.

Sign Number One.

We went into full celebration mode, biking, swimming, fishing, and dining at five-star restaurants. On the last night, we embarked on the Jolly Rover II, an eighty-foot tall ship known as a schooner–built in the same style as turn-of-the-century pirate ships. The friendly crew taught us the history of the ship as we soaked in the view.

Key West Harbor

Key West Harbor

Jolyse Barnett Photography

Key West Evening

As if all these wonderful experiences weren’t enough, a small yacht motored past our pirate ship just before sunset. On board appeared to be none other than Howard Livingston crooning his song,”Living on Key West Time.” (Judge for yourself by comparing to his official photos on Mile Marker 24′s website.)

Sign Number Two.

Howie Livingston?

Howie Livingston? I’d say yes.

The Cherry on Top of a Perfect Sail

The Cherry on Top

Mallory Square

Mallory Square

We were thrilled. You see, not only did we know and love the song, but I’d created a YouTube video for this blog  using it a few years ago. We listened as we sipped our favorite wine and enjoyed one more sunset before returning to our Long Island home. By the way, if you like your signs in sets of three, this story won’t disappoint. The current title of my novel happens to be One More Sunset.

Some say there is no such thing as coincidence, while others say signs are only a person’s wishful thinking, attaching meaning to a random event. What do you think?

A Bonus:

I hate cold weather, but these photos of frozen bubbles are utterly breathtaking.

http://kellyimagesandphotography.webs.com/

Key West Wonders

Boating through the backcountry

Boating the backcountry

I treasure many moments from our recent getaway to the Conch Republic, including a kayaking tour, a romantic sunset dinner at the famous Latitudes Restaurant, and to my honey’s delight, an early morning fishing excursion.

Sunny Key West Morning

Sunny Key West Morning

I’m not exactly a morning person. Okay, I’m most definitely not, and vacation is the perfect excuse to savor a lazy wake up. But we had so much fun fishing with Captain Ron a few years back on our first Key West charter that I agreed to do it all over again. This time out, I promised myself I would remember how to cast a line and I was determined to bait my own hook and learn how to handle any fish I caught.

Sailboat neighbors

Sailboat neighbors

You see these sailboats floating around on the gulf side of Key West? People live on these vessels, some full-time in the harbor and others staying anywhere from a week to a month before moving on. Imagine how much thinking, writing, or reading you could accomplish without all the distractions. I wonder…

Jack and Me

Jack and Me

I loved every part of the experience, from watching the sun rise as our skiff motored through the channels to the backcountry fishing spots to learning about the different baits, lures and eating fish, to catching  our lunch and releasing my first-ever fighting fish–a beautiful jack.

The competition

The competition — a brown pelican

For four beautiful hours we were part of nature, the warm sun at our backs, the waves lapping against the skiff, and exotic birds landing near us as we waited patiently for a tug on our lines.

An egret

A Great White Egret

I hope to travel to the southernmost city in America again one day soon. The waters are calling me. I’ve added Pilates to my routine in preparation for our next adventure–paddle boarding.

Our Catch -- feed us and guests at Turtle Kraals

The catch we shared with fellow guests at Turtle Kraals

What’s one of your favorite memories from 2013?

Giving Thanks 2013

Today in the United States we celebrate the feast of Thanksgiving, begun in 1621 at Plimouth Plantation. The Pilgrims celebrated a successful harvest with their Native American friends, the Wampanoags, for three joyous days.

In addition to the traditional blessings, I am especially thankful for these three:

DSCN7956My honey is in complete remission from prostate cancer, his blood counts back to normal for a man his age. He hardly broke stride this past year, and I pray his good health and attitude continues.

My readers, followers, and friends through social media are a treasure I could never have anticipated when I began this journey toward publishing three-and-a-half years ago. I have learned from you, laughed and cried with you, but most of all, have welcomed into my heart your wonderful friendships from around the world. Thank you all. You are dear to me. I wish I had endless time to respond to every post, Facebook Update, and Tweet I read of yours. Please know how important you are to me and how your being there has impacted my life. I only hope I have brightened your life half as much as you have brightened mine!

Row your little boat. You'll get there!

Row your little boat. You’ll get there!

Finally, thanks to all of you who encourage me to keep writing, to keep querying. I recently received an offer of contract from Entangled Publishing to make my romantic suspense/magical novel part of their Ignite line of ebooks. I promise to share all the incredible details as soon as I can!

Hugging Couple outside Key West Museum

Hugging Couple outside Key West Museum

In the meantime, I appreciate my family’s support as I clickety-click on the keyboard of my laptop, gaze into space while I imagine instead of clean, and work out story elements at the dinner table, on car rides, and–okay–pretty much everywhere they will allow. I realize how lucky I am they believe in me and my dreams.

And for you all, a big virtual hug.

Enjoy the moments!

Key West Sunset 2013

Key West Sunset 2013

Sunset Key and Latitudes

DSCN7912Welcome to this week’s Margarita Moment! If you enjoy this post and are a newcomer to my little island life inspired blog, sign up for your free, weekly escape. (Look to your right.) It will sail to your inbox on Mondays, more or less, depending on life’s currents and my novel writing schedule. Thanks for visiting.

The History of Sunset Key

During the 19th century, sediment from repeated Navy dredging projects in Key West’s Harbor was deposited a few hundred yards off the northwestern corner of the island. One of the resulting new islands was designated a fueling station and named Tank Island.

In 1986, the US government sold the 27-acre Tank Island to a developer. Westin Resorts built an exclusive resort on the northwestern quadrant and the island became known (at least to tourists) as Sunset Key. Exclusive vacation properties, owned by celebrities and wealthy business owners such as Oprah Winfrey, span the other three-quarters.

A Sunset Key Property

A Sunset Key Property

Latitudes

Latitudes is the renowned Westin resort restaurant on Sunset Key. I mentioned this restaurant in a previous blog post about romantic dining options in Key West. If you’re interested in planning a romantic sunset dinner at this particular restaurant, I suggest you reserve well in advance. Determine the time of sunset for your selected evening and then book online through Open Table. Take into consideration that the reserve time is when you’re expected to be at the Sunset Key Ferry on the Key West side. There’s a ten-minute ride across the harbor.

The view from ferry of Sunset Key Westin Resort

The view from ferry of Sunset Key Westin Resort

Once you arrive at Sunset Key, you may stop at the outside bar for a drink or enter the restaurant directly for your table. On the evening we dined there, we were given the option of a patio table or inside. The view outside is breathtaking but beware the heat. The inside tables still allow for a beautiful view while providing a cooler, intimate setting. Diners are welcomed (even expected) to leave their tables as the sun makes it descent beneath the watery horizon.

View from an intimate inside table at Latitudes

View from an intimate inside table at Latitudes

Coconut Crusted Grouper

Coconut Crusted Grouper

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Citrus Marinated Salmon

The food at Latitudes is delightfully presented. I chose the seafood cocktail appetizer, the mixed greens salad, and coconut crusted grouper with baby bok choy and black beans. My honey had the lobster bisque and citrus marinated salmon with risotto and grilled asparagus. The service was fine, the wait staff attentive but not intrusive. A couple can enjoy an intimate conversation, a great meal, and an unforgettable sunset. After your meal, transport will be waiting at the end of a short walk to the launch.

We found our meal at Latitudes to be a beautiful start to another romantic evening on our Key West getaway.

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Sunset at Latitudes

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Sailing Past Sunset Key

A View from the Dock

A View from the Dock

Five Quotes to Live By

Fun Times at RWA13

Fun Times at RWA13

“The most wasted of all days is one without laughter.”

EE Cummings

Living it Up at Disney

Living it Up at Disney

You’ve gotta dance like there’s nobody watching,
Love like you’ll never be hurt,
Sing like there’s nobody listening,
And live like it’s heaven on earth.”  

William Purkey

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“Everything you can imagine is real.”   

Pablo Picasso

“If you ask me what I came to do in this world, I, an artist, will answer you: I am here to live out loud.”

Émile Zola

Savor Each Day!

Savor Each Day!

“Don’t say you don’t have enough time. You have exactly the same number of hours per day that were given to Helen Keller, Pasteur, Michaelangelo, Mother Teresa, Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson, and Albert Einstein.”  

H. Jackson Brown Jr.

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What quote inspires you?

A Marvelous Mash-Up

Welcome to this week’s Margarita Moment! If you enjoy this post and are a newcomer to my little island life inspired blog, sign up for your free, weekly escape (Look along the right sidebar.). It will sail to your inbox on Mondays, more or less, depending on life’s currents and my novel writing schedule. Thanks for visiting.

Hey, all! You’re in for a treat today. Rylie snuck away from writing her secondary applications for medical schools to share a photo montage about Venice, Italy. She studied abroad her last semester of undergrad this past spring. If you missed her earlier posts, you’re invited to check out Off to Brunnenburg, Eating Northern Italy Style, Hiking the Italian Alps, Meran, Italy, and Dorf Tirol, Italy. I promise her photos are worth the click.

Venice

Hi! Rylie here. Like Mom said, I’ve been swamped with essays for medical school, but I want to show you the most incredible pictures and memories from this beautiful city. *drum roll* And the highlights are:

  • Traveling by waterbus down the Grand Canal
  • Seeing someone buy a freshly killed shark at the Rialto market
  • Getting gelato from every store near San Marco plaza
  • Waving to gondoliers
  • Finding as many paintings with Jesus in them as we could at the Gallerie dell’Accademia
  • Having – and hating – my first cappuccino
  • Getting lost on the way back from San Marco and unsuccessfully asking the police for directions
  • Almost knocking over a statue at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection
  • Going to over 40 stores to find the perfect Murano glass earrings
  • Watching two kittens play-fight in the garden outside our restaurant during dinner
  • Getting a beer glass for free at a pub after asking the bartender if I could buy one
  • Sitting on the Arsenale pier at night to watch the waterbuses finish their route
  • Getting lost in the back alleyways in San Marco
  • Learning that a dead-end in Venice is an alleyway that ends in water

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Fiction Fest

Five writer lessons I learned at Connecticut Romance Writers’ recent Fiction Fest:

1. Secondary character subplots must match the story’s main plot theme. (Kristan Higgins)

2. When ridding of that pile of papers on your writer desk, turn it over and start from the bottom. Quickly choose which items can be thrown and which need to be kept. Then file time-sensitive papers by the month, with files for the current month in files from 1-31. Check the following day’s file folder at the end of each workday to prioritize the next day’s to-do list. (Lisa Lelas)

3. Hybrid authors are fast becoming the trend in publishing. (Roxanne St. Claire)

4. Smashwords provides free books on its website for those authors going the indie route. (Jim Azevedo)

5.  Attending writing conferences are worth the time, money, and effort invested. (Jolyse Barnett)

Farewell to Summer

Are you silently mourning the passing of summer, pretending to be Turning Fall Into Spring? Are you nostalgic for the sunny days, reliving Summer Highlights to keep warm on chilly nights?

If you answered yes to these two questions (and even if you didn’t), this photo is for you:

2012-07-20 16.10.23

How have you welcomed the new season?

 

 

Scenes From a Country Road

Welcome to this week’s Margarita Moment! If you enjoy this post and are a newcomer to my little island life inspired blog, sign up for your free, weekly escape (Look to your right.). It will sail to your inbox on Mondays, more or less, depending on life’s currents and my novel writing schedule. Thanks for visiting.

It’s often said that you cannot truly appreciate the beauty of a place until you leave it behind. No truer words were ever spoken. Here are a few of my favorite moments en route to our family reunion in the Adirondacks, where we shared a few stories, a few laughs, and lots of food, drink, and hugs.

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How did you enjoy this last unofficial weekend of summer? What was your favorite moment of the season?

Here a Cluck, There a Cluck

Blue Heaven Resident

Blue Heaven Resident

Key West is known for its wild nightlife. Today we talk about its wildlife, or more specifically, its resident fowls. Anyone visiting the island, sooner or later, will come across these feral chickens. Some may have to stop their vehicle to allow a hen and her chicks the right-of-way, others will see them roaming the streets and yards throughout the small city. And pretty much everyone I’ve talked with who visits the fair island has been woken at one time or another by the energetic crowing of an energetic early rising rooster.

Isn't he beautiful!

Isn’t he beautiful!

Personally, I love watching the chickens. When I eat lunch at Blue Heaven, I happily observe them roosting in nearby trees and pecking at errant cornbread crumbs on the brick patio. I’ll often stop my bicycle as we’re rambling along side streets to take photos. Once, I even interrupted our Duval Street  stroll to video a mama hen teaching her babies how to dig for insects.

Cute animal video aside, I don’t live there. I don’t have to worry about these birds bringing disease to my backyard or their burgeoning population encroaching onto my private property. I’ve heard and read mixed reviews from the locals about the chickens’ presence. Some embrace them, most seem to tolerate them, but others are quite vocal about what they refer to as the “chicken infestation.”

Do you give a cluck?

The Key West chicken is a hybrid. When Cubans moved to the island, they brought their cockfighting fowl with them. The sport was outlawed by Florida in 1986 and the Cuban species was let loose. They bred with domestic chickens on the island left behind by former owners and voila–we have the modern Key West chicken.  (For more information about the birds’ history, you could read this article from Key West History Magazine.)

Fowl practices?

As human and chicken populations increased on the tiny island, the City of Key West found the need to address the issue and, since 2009, has assigned monies to help ease the concerns of residents regarding the animals’ health conditions and overcrowding. Approximately 1,000 of the 3,000 chicken residents were trapped and relocated to the Florida mainland that first year but the practice ended a year later. Some sources I researched claim that Key West residents were angered to learn the bird “retirement” homes was actually the site of a slaughterhouse. Other sources cite that holding pens were instituted but that practice was abandoned due to contamination of nearby waters from chicken waste. According to the Key West Wildlife Center  website, their new management (as of June 2011) has sought to “provide rescue, medical care, re-homing and adoption services.” Whatever the case, this debate over the Key West Chicken appears to be far from over.

What do you think about the issue of animal habitats conflicting with humans? Do you have a similar concern in your area? If so, how is the problem being handled?

Watch Hill, Fire Island

Welcome to this week’s Margarita Moment! If you enjoy this post and are a newcomer to my little island life inspired blog, sign up for your free, weekly escape (Look at your right.). It will sail to your inbox on Mondays, more or less, depending on life’s currents and my novel writing schedule. Thanks for visiting.

Long Island, New York has many wonderful, hidden gems. I blogged last summer about staycations, which focused on one of my favorite Suffolk County beaches. Watch Hill, one of several wonderful spots on famous Fire Island, isn’t exactly hidden or unknown. In fact, It gets downright crowded on warm-weather holidays, although it definitely is one of my home island’s jewels with an aura of otherworldliness, isolated from suburbia. In other words, you can’t drive there.

Getting There

For most travelers, there are two ways to reach this barrier island surrounded by the Great South Bay and the Atlantic Ocean: private boat or ferry ride from the village of Patchogue. One way via boat takes about thirty minutes. The third and most breathtaking experience in getting there would be hopping a seaplane from Manhattan’ 23rd Street Skyport.

Leaving Patchogue Marina

Leaving Patchogue Marina

A Fire Island Ferry

A Fire Island Ferry

If you are travelling on a private vessel, you may opt to go tubing, fishing, or swimming in the bay before reaching your destination of Watch Hill or on the way home. Our group anchored at one point for the kids (and two of the dads) to cool off in the salty waters. Others, like me, may choose to enjoy the sights while onboard.

DSCN7427Amenities 

Watch Hill, part of Davis Park, has a number of amenities (see related links below for more information), including a white sand beach with lifeguards, boardwalk nature trails, a snack shop, tiki bar, and souvenir shop primarily stocked with Watch Hill tee shirts and other clothing. Both the marina slips (day or longer-term) and the tent campsites, provide utility hook-ups. After visiting there for the day, I can easily picture wanting to return with the tent for a weekend stay with my honey.

DSCN7451What to Bring

Visitors to Watch Hill may wish to bring coolers, umbrellas, beach chairs, sand toys, boogie boards, blankets, towels, and extra sunscreen. Dogs technically are not allowed on the beach itself, but my relatives stated they’d seen dogs at the far end of the beach at times and the people in charge hadn’t seemed to mind.

If you are traveling by ferry, be aware that the changing rooms don’t have curtains. You could wash off in the outdoor showers to rid of the salt/sand and air-dry your bathing suit. On the other hand, if anyone in your party has sensory needs and MUST change into clean clothes at risk of a sensory meltdown, you may consider bringing a shower curtain to hang up and use as needed. Since I traveled with my fourteen-year-old son with autism (his dad had to work), we were very fortunate to have my in-laws’ boat available for this purpose.

Boardwalk to beach and nature trail

Boardwalk to beach and nature trail

DSCN7447If you plan to purchase items from the snack shop, be aware they only accept cash. My son had the hamburger (fresh slice of tomato and dill pickles on a seeded bun), fries, and a large Sprite. The total came to twelve dollars and change. The food was good, although you may wish to ask for no ice in your drink if you truly want a large soda. The shop had a large enough selection if you happen to be camping for the weekend, with breakfast items included.

Snack Shop & Tiki Bar

Snack Shop & Tiki Bar

Watch Hill Beach

Watch Hill Beach

Restrooms, seating area, and souvenir store

Restrooms, seating area, and souvenir store

There are a number of Fire Island communities to explore within walking distance of each other. There are full-service restaurants, twenty-something bars, gay communities, and small towns with shopping opportunities. The beaches are gorgeous and the people friendly. If you live on Long Island or plan to visit, Fire Island is a terrific summer alternative to the Hamptons.

DSCN7463Related Links:

http://www.watchhillfi.com/

http://www.fireislandcc.org/fitrans.html

http://www.fireisland.net/

Have you discovered any new gems in your summer travels?

Meran, Italy

Welcome to this week’s escape! My daughter Rylie is excited to share another of her favorite memories from her recent excursion to Northern Italy while I am in my writer’s cave working on revisions. Hope you’re soaking up every moment of summer. I look forward to posting a Key West escape for you next week. xox Jolyse 

PHOTO CREDIT:  Allison Lloyd

PHOTO CREDIT: Allison Lloyd

We walked up the hill from Brunnenburg to Dorf Tirol on a rainy morning, able to see where the precipitation turned to snow farther up in the mountains. Waiting for the bus, we shivered in the cold mist and snapped pictures of the snow-sprinkled farms. The ride down the mountain to Meran was fairly quick, certainly less death-defying than our first bus ride, and I was excited to see the market that we were told spanned much of downtown.

PHOTO CREDIT:  Allison Lloyd

PHOTO CREDIT: Allison Lloyd

The market – a strange, eclectic farmer’s market, cheap clothing mixed in with designer clothes and handbags – was pretty impressive. I bypassed the several food stands, selling everything from pastries and dried fruit to links of sausage and heaps of vegetables and fish, and headed straight for the clothing. The town square was somehow colder than Dorf Tirol, and I bought two scarves for three Euros each with the hope of maintaining some body heat. I was semi-successful, no longer shaking, so my friend and I wandered around the market looking at leather jackets and sundresses before heading back to munch on hot pretzels and chocolate croissants. Unfortunately, the rain continued, and we decided to cut our visit short and return to Brunnenburg where we could work on our writing assignments by the kitchen fireplace.

Trail to Merano

Trail to Meran

We were disappointed about not seeing more of Meran, so we opted out of a six-hour hiking trip to visit the town instead on another day, this time in bright sunny weather. We walked the entire way on a beautiful winding downhill trail, which took us about an hour to travel. There were plenty of streams and eroded rocks to hop over and around. We could see the vineyards and farms near Brunnenburg on one side, and between the thick cover of trees we spotted the yellow-painted roofs of homes on the outskirts of Meran. (I later learned many of those houses belong to North Europeans who vacation in Meran during the winter season.) My classmates and I became a bit mixed up when we ended up at a roundabout road, but thankfully, after about ten minutes of asking for local passerby directions, some joggers understood enough of our Italian/English jumble to point us in the right direction.

Meran

Meran

At the end of the trail, we were on a residential street and had to find our way to the center of town. We ended up weaving our way into a wide alleyway, and happened upon little souvenir shops clustered together. We attempted to find the bus station before we began our shopping, but were unsuccessful. Every sign was in Italian and we had no maps, so we decided to worry about that later.

An Antiques Shop

An Antiques Shop

One of my classmates was obsessed with the tea shop. There were all varieties of the beverage as well as tea-related dishware. She bought a tea strainer in the shape of a submarine. It was really cute!

My Woodcarved Purchases

My Woodcarved Purchases

There were antique stores with porcelain, painted dolls and handcrafted wind chimes. I especially liked the woodcarving shops, which interestingly, were the only ones in Meran that I visited with German-speaking shopkeepers. There was a forest display filled with wooden deer, rabbits, owls, and other adorable creatures. I wanted to buy the deer for my dad, but it was priced at over two hundred euros, a bit steep for my wallet. My parents have a few ceramic plates from past travels, so I was thrilled to later discover a shop with the towns’ famous clock-tower in a cherry-and-lemon colored glaze.

Hand-Painted Collector Plate

Hand-Painted Collector Plate

Of course, we stopped by no fewer than three gelato shops to find the best gelato in town!
I suppose a trip abroad is not complete without the travelers getting lost. After spending ten minutes trying to ask for directions back to the main bus station, and another half hour searching around town, we finally stumbled upon a tiny, deserted, out-of-the-way bus stop that we hoped would bring us back to Dorf Tirol. I was kicking myself for not having brushed up on my Italian more before the trip, but lucky for us, a bus did turn up at the time we thought it should. We always could’ve hiked back, but even as a newly-converted hiking lover, I wasn’t too sure how we’d manage wearing jeans and lugging armfuls of made-in-Meran purchases up the mountainside.

Amanda at Merano

What’s the most fascinating souvenir you’ve ever purchased? Have you ever gotten lost and begun to panic like I did?

The Georgia Aquarium

Welcome to this week’s Margarita Moment! If you enjoy this post and are a newcomer to my little island life inspired blog, sign up for your free, weekly escape. It will sail to your inbox on Mondays, more or less, depending on life’s currents and my novel writing schedule. Thanks for visiting.

America’s Largest Aquarium

Ocean Voyager

Ocean Voyager Gallery

Georgia Aquarium is home to many creatures, from teensy frogs to sizeable beluga whales and whale sharks. The picture above was taken inside the Ocean Voyager tunnel, one of seven galleries within the facility built in the heart of Atlanta on land donated by Coca-Cola.

DSCN7194Two of my Romance Writers of America pals and I took a break from the frenetic pace of our national writing conference to explore this beautiful underwater world on a rainy Saturday. Despite the sell-out crowds, the visit was worth the thirty dollar admission price.

Bernie and Billi Marcus of The Marcus Foundation are the aquarium’s benefactors, and companies such as Southwest Airlines, Home Depot, and AT&T sponsor exhibits.

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Coca-Cola World next door

We arrived at about two in the afternoon, and were able to explore five of the seven attractions before having to return for our conference. We experienced all but the dolphin show and the 4-D theatre that allows guests to see the world from a marine animal’s point of view. Okay by us, as my friends and I had seen previously seen these types of attractions, but if you’re traveling with children and/or want to squeeze every penny out of your admission dollar, arrive early. Allot at least three hours; more if you plan to eat and shop for souvenirs.

Love the blue fish and pink starfishies

In Cold Water Quest, you’ll see cool creatures like the ones above, as well as beluga whales, Japanese spider crabs, and an odd creature that made me wonder if dragons really do exist.

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Can you see the two Australian weedy sea dragons?

Humboldt Penguins

Humboldt Penguins

If you like cuddly puppies and kittens, you may enjoy crawling through a tunnel to pop up and view the world’s smallest penguins.

Families…

For those traveling with little ones, your favorite part of the aquarium may be the Georgia Explorer. According to the facility’s brochure, this interactive gallery “includes touch pools full of horseshoe crabs, sea stars, rays and shrimp.” The children I observed were having fun playing in the mock fishing boat and crawling through what I’d call an overhead hamster trail.

Tropical jellyfish, like from Nemo

Tropical Jellyfish

The Tropical Diver was my second-favorite, with its colorful fish, coral reefs, and simulated ocean surf. The exhibits make it easy to imagine yourself snorkeling in warm, salty waters. Or perhaps that’s just me?

Snorkling Visions

After oohing and ahhing over the vibrant tropical sea life, we anticipated the River Scout gallery to be bland. We were wrong. The fish colors may be predominately brown, but the water cascade, playful otters, and overhead river for much of the walk made for a fascinating experience.

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At first glance…

These river fish (below) don’t strike one as particularly fearsome. That is, until you read the exhibit plaque.

"I'm a piranha!" ~ Darla in NEMO

“I’m a piranha!” ~ Darla in NEMO

Last but not least, here’s my favorite photo from our aquarium adventure. Enjoy!

Tropical Diver Gallery Exhibit

Tropical Diver Gallery Exhibit

What’s your favorite activity on a rainy summer day?

Coming Up…

Fan Girl Moment with THE Nora Roberts

Fan Girl Moment with Nora Roberts

For those of you interested in romance books and such, check back Wednesday for this writer’s take on RWA13. For next week, Rylie has promised to post about Merano, Italy. I’m homesick for Key West, so I may sneak in a bonus Conch post along the way.

xoxo

Jolyse

Hiking the Italian Alps

Welcome to this week’s escape! Rylie is excited to share one of her favorite memories from her recent excursion to Northern Italy. First, I thank you, our readers, for your incredible response to her posts and for growing the blog through your Likes and Comments. Thanks, also, to those of you who recently subscribed to Margarita Moments & Other Escapes. I hope you enjoy your time spent with us.

Getting Ready

Despite the amazing food and picture-perfect landscapes I’d heard about regarding Italy, what got me hooked on the trip were four little words of a brochure headline–Hiking in the Alps. After months of dreaming about it, the day was finally here. Mentally, I was more than ready. Physically, I chose to gulp down pineapple juice and two slices of bread an hour before the event, my hands shaking with excitement. Ever since sustaining an injury during track, I’d been relegated to non-impact workouts, so the extent of my exercise lately had been trudging my overstuffed backpack around campus. Today my new backpack was stuffed with a jacket, my camera, a giant water bottle I bought for a Euro in town, and my wallet. I was stoked to hike the Alps!

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Frizzante?

We began the trek uphill through town, passing small housing developments and farms to get to the start of the trail. There was a moment of panic when my friend and I realized the drink we’d purchased, and thought was water was actually seltzer. (So that’s what ‘frizzante” meant on the label!) Luckily, we were able to refill our water bottles at a restaurant in Dorf Tirol before beginning our climb.

PHOTO CREDIT: Allison Lloyd

PHOTO CREDIT: Allison Lloyd

What sights!

The hike was exhausting, and admittedly painful, but oh so worth it. The trail, for the most part, was on a slight incline, with a wall of stone on our left and a thick forest on our right. Some parts were steep, particularly as we increased in altitude, and several of us skidded on pebbles on the way down. Between the clusters of trees we could often catch a glimpse of narrow waterfalls etched into the mountainside, plummeting into the brook below. The Austrian Alps peeked out from behind the forest and hills, their snow-capped peaks nearly invisible in the morning sunlight.

Can you see the Austrian Alps?

Can you see the Austrian Alps?

Our destination was a farm about midway up the mountain, and we rested briefly at the little restaurant on property to have a beer and the most delicious cranberry-cake dessert I’ve ever tasted. If you read last week’s post, you know how much I love my food and beverages.

PHOTO CREDIT: Allison Lloyd

PHOTO CREDIT: Allison Lloyd

I regretted chugging the rest of my beer when I tripped rather spectacularly over a small boulder on our way down. In spite of shooting pain in my ankles and knees at every step, I ended the hike out-of-breath and itching to do it all over again. I mean, who can resist climbing a mountain to have the chance to swirl around, pretending to be a character from one of the best movies of all time!

The Sound of Music…

I was Maria!

I was Maria!

Now it’s your turn. What’s an outdoor activity you enjoy best, or wish you could do more often?

Brunnenburg Castle and Dorf Tirol Italy

You’re in for a treat today. My daughter, Rylie, is sharing more photos and details about her recent ten-day trip to northern Italy. If you missed her first post, check it out here. I am in awe of all the beautiful landscapes and buildings, and hope you enjoy them, too!

Brunnenburg Castle

Brunnenburg Castle

Originally built in 1250 A.D., Brunnenburg was renovated by Boris and Mary de Rachewiltz. Mary, the daughter of Ezra Pound (who finished writing the Cantos while staying at Brunnenburg in 1968). She now lives there with her family.

We spent the first day at the castle exploring the extensive grounds, which consist of a vineyard, several animal pens, and an agricultural museum in addition to the castle, farmhouse-turned-kitchen, and dorm-style guesthouse where students from across the globe can spend up to a year working on the grounds and studying Pound’s work.

Brunnenberg 1

PHOTO CREDIT: Allison Lloyd

Walking around the castle grounds was beautifully eerie. There are no artificial lights outside and the sun peeks in around the tower walls. On rainy days, the pathway between the towers is cast in darkness. Ivy winds up and through the stonework. The wooden bridges and beams, though restored, are weathered and blackened.

PHOTO CREDIT: Allison Lloyd

PHOTO CREDIT: Allison Lloyd

The following morning we enjoyed an early breakfast to offset some of our jet lag. I normally don’t eat until lunch, but Brigeeta, Mary’s daughter-in-law and the resident chef, had baked fresh bread, and the juice selection was too fun to miss out on. I mean, who wouldn’t want to drink blood orange (Grapefruit??) and pineapple juices, along with other indiscernible flavors? After the quick meal, we had our first creative writing class before our walk.

Brunnenburg 3
Our walk was more like a hike since it took us twenty minutes just to reach town. Then, we took a gondola ride up the Italian Alps. Gondolas in Dorf Tirol are a type of ski lift (Who knew?), not the boats we would later see in Venice. I am not a fan of heights unless I’m firmly strapped in, so the ride was a bit nerve-wracking. The view, however, completely made up for it!
Once off the gondolas, we decided to hike even further up the mountain, with one of Mary’s grandsons as our unofficial guide. We walked the trail overlooking the valley as he taught us about its formation.

Brunnenberg 2The valley has two entry points, carved out by glaciers during the Ice Age. The varying ground levels, some with solitary farms or little towns such as Dorf Tirol, indicate where the glaciers stopped for a period of time. The point at which the glaciers collided is where the town of Meran lies–in the belly of the valley. The valley continued as far as I could see, flanked by snow-capped peaks of the Austrian and Italian Alps.
By the end of our hike, I knew my hiking sandals weren’t sufficient for this rocky terrain. So off I went to buy hiking boots in town, nervously bouncing between their two sports’ stores, trying to compare prices.

Overlooking valley of South Tyrol

Overlooking valley of South Tyrol

Unfortunately, employees in both stores only spoke German, so my limited Italian was useless, and they didn’t understand the words “cost,” “price,” or “money” in English. Eventually I just asked “Euros?” and pointed to different brand shoes. Eventually, I was able to purchase a pair I assumed was waterproof based on the employee’s hand motions. According to Mary’s grandson, the weather in Dorf Tirol was unusually wet and chilly for late May, so I was sure I would find out soon enough if I was correct.

Have you ever visited a castle? Do you have any funny stories about trying to communicate with someone when you didn’t speak the same language?

Sunken Meadow Beach at Sunset

My daughter, Rylie, spent most every waking hour this past week completing her AAMCAS application for medical school. Now that that monumental task is complete, she is working diligently on her next post about her recent trip to northern Italy. Tomorrow, Rylie will share her experience at Brunnenburg castle with another post here on Margarita Moments. She thanks you for your patience and understanding. (I guess I can cut her some slack, huh?) If you missed her first ever post last week, now’s your chance to catch up with her story.

In the meantime, here’s what I’ve been up to…

Photo Credit:  Jen Gracen

Photo Credit: Jen Gracen

I attended a book launch party for a dear friend at Sunken Meadow Beach, Long Island this past weekend. When I caught a glimpse of this incredible sunset, I was heartsick that I’d left my Nikon at home. Luckily, my romance writer pal saved the night with her iphone camera. Beautiful, huh? Thanks, Jen.

Then I discovered the sunset in Jen’s wine glass, and I asked her to take a shot of it so you could enjoy it too.

Photo Credit: Jen Gracen

Photo Credit: Jen Gracen

What did you do this past weekend? Any special accomplishments or simple pleasures?

Off to Brunnenburg, Italy!

IMG_2709I’m excited to introduce an extra special guest blogger, my daughter, Rylie. We hope you enjoy the first of her posts about her ten-day excursion to northern Italy. (Our lucky winner of Jeannie Moon’s debut novel, The Temporary Wife, is announced below!) 

Our student group traveled via Air Berlin out of JFK in New York to Germany on a seven-and-a-half hour flight with a five hour layover, and then on a one-and-a-half hour flight in a hopper plane to Venice, Italy. Our ultimate destination of Brunnenburg was a bumpy three hour ride into the Italian Alps, making the trip a total of approximately seventeen hours.
The allure of a trip overseas makes the discomfort of sitting upright between a rambunctious ten-year-old and a stranger bearable. Too wired to sleep, I managed thirty minutes or so of dozing around midnight New York time before the flight attendant offered us a breakfast of salami, tomatoes, fruit, and crackers. I ignored the cramping in my knees upon departure into Düsseldorf airport, and literally skipped through customs with joy. I was in Germany! I was officially abroad!

The best croissants ever...

The best croissants ever…

My second wind kicked in about an hour after getting our passports stamped. Off I went to explore while my classmates charged their iPods and iPads. Even the airport was a feast to my eyes, between the young German businessmen by baggage claim with their trimmed scruff and designer suits and an entire section of the building devoted to selling every type of chocolate you can imagine. I noted some differences between there and American airports. Some cool things: the bathrooms aren’t stalls, they’re little rooms. If you accidentally lock yourself in, you can’t crawl under the door to freedom. That may sound silly, but it happened several times to members of our group. Dusseldorf bathrooms are so clean that a person like me with OCD tendencies would feel comfortable making a sandwich on the bare floor. Speaking of food, instead of fast food restaurants like we see in many American airports, there were several cafés. They all sold these basic items: croissants, salads, fruit, a few types of sandwiches, and a lot of coffee and alcohol. I highly recommend the croissants. They were flaky, buttery, and filled with warm, gooey chocolate. (Do you notice a theme here? Yeah, I’m a fan of the sweet stuff.)

Chocolate HEAVEN!

Chocolate HEAVEN!

IMG_2702

GLEE fans would appreciate this.

On our quick flight to Venice, I was unconscious from the time I buckled my seat belt until we shakily landed on the tarmac. We then boarded the coach bus that would take us north to Dorf Tirol, Italy, a small tourist town about ten miles southeast of the Austrian/Italian border. The drive up was awesome. Street signs on the highways are massive enough for the most near-sighted of drivers to easily read them, and there are emergency sections every few hundred meters (yes, meters) where the little hybrid cars can pull over. The highway walls are transparent with little bird decals on them, and there were very few housing developments. As our vehicle climbed further north, we spotted castles along the mountainsides. Vineyards and farms, with horses, sheep, cows and goats, dotted the lush landscape.

PHOTO CREDIT:  Allison Lloyd

PHOTO CREDIT: Allison Lloyd

When I was in Bermuda last summer, I took a cab back to the shipyard with my cousins. The ride was terrifying – the driver easily surpassed New York speed limits, the streets were barely wide enough for two cars to fit, and pedestrians appeared unfazed by the stream of vehicles speeding by them. Multiply that fear by ten and that’s what I felt during the last bit of our drive to Dorf Tirol. The town is set into the side of a mountain, and the 1.5 lane roads run along cliff drop-offs when they’re not at impossibly steep up and downhill angles. Stop signs seemed to be a suggestion to the drivers, as did the speed limit.

Umm. We didn't even slow down for this sign.

Umm. We didn’t even slow down for this sign.

The fear effectively eliminated any leftover grogginess from the second flight, though, and soon enough we had reached the winding downhill drive of Brunnenburg Castle. From aerial views, the castle appears to emerge gracefully from the Küchelberg cliff side, nestled in a cluster of evergreens and ivy. Up close, the estate is quaint and quiet despite the many goats and chickens that call the grounds home, and as I lugged my suitcase under a stone archway toward the converted dorms, it suddenly hit me that I would actually be spending the next week in a castle, in Italy.
I couldn’t wait for the real adventure to begin.

PHOTO CREDIT: Allison Lloyd

PHOTO CREDIT: Allison Lloyd

Next week: The first days at Brunnenburg…sightseeing, the valley’s history, and lots and lots of shopping. Many more pictures to come!

Do you have any funny or harrowing travel experiences to share? Have you ever been to Italy?

Rylie

And the winner is…

Rhonda Hopkins. Congratulations, Rhonda! Contact me with your email address and kind of device you’ll use to read your free ebook, The Temporary Wife, courtesy of Jeannie Moon. Thanks, Jeannie! Until next week, I hope you spend your days doing what you love. Remember to live your life out loud, right?

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