The Lost Wanderer

We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us.

Tolkien is perhaps my patron saint of travel; the one whose quotes about adventures and struggles through the unknown have carved my view of what the world should look like. I’ve always felt a bit of a kinship with the hobbits; we are both quite fond of our routine, adore second breakfast and elevensies, don’t really come of age until our 30s, and are generally shy but capable of courage when the need arises. I couldn’t help but think of dear little Bilbo when I stepped out of my door two weeks ago, backpack slung over my shoulder and passport clutched in my palm. I had never even made it 1,000 miles from home (the distance between my town and Disneyland is somewhere in the 900 miles range), I’d only ever set foot in 4 states- and 2 of those don’t really count because I live right on the border between them. Now my little band of adventurers and I would find ourselves over 6,400 miles from home, covering over 13,000 miles in our quest for excitement. Little did I know, I would come back a very different little hobbit than I had been when I left.

Tolkien famously said that not all who wander are lost. Truthfully, I think my roaming came about because I felt truly lost in all the ways that mattered, and shackled to all of the things that didn’t. It is no secret that this past year was a rough one for me; my first pregnancy loss in January left me shattered and unsure of how to rebuild a life with the broken pieces left to me. I struggled with the things that normally brought me solace and joy. I had once been so sure of my place in this world and the future I had planned was crystal clear. But then the Earth shook, the crystals shattered and cascaded around me, crunching under the soles of my shoes. I was lost, unsure if my feet would ever set foot on the path I had taken for granted. Where do you go when the road is washed away by an avalanche? You wander, you blaze a new trail and see where it takes you. Mine took me halfway across the world to a places with new customs, accents and languages. It took me to a life I could still find fulfilling, even if it wasn’t the one I had envisioned. It took me to a place where I learned to depend on myself, and not rest on my own expectations. It’s easy to lose track of what inspires you when you stare at the same four walls, and traipse through the exact same routine day after day. In Europe I rediscovered my passions. I stepped into castles where kings and queens once walked, ambled through the streets and pubs that famous authors and artists once frequented. I saw the place where Lady Grey and Ann Boleyn were murdered (though history prefers to call them executions).

The memorial for the ladies executed in the Tower of London

In Westminster Abby I stood in Poet’s Corner over the final resting places of the great authors that still inspire my love of words. I stood in awe as I stared at the Rosetta Stone behind it’s glass case, and walked through exhibits of our histories and storytelling traditions that paved the way for writers like myself.

In Oxford I stood in the gardens that inspired Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. I walked down the street that is said to have led to The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardobe. And ornate door with a carved lion on the front with two golden fawns accenting either side of the door. You can look down the street to see the single lamp post that signifies the entrance to Narnia. We walked past the Eagle and Child pub that was once the meeting place for the writing group, the Inklings. Some of it’s members included Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Charles Williams, and many others. For Harry Potter fans, Oxford has ties to the movie franchise (though there are few literary connections). In a less literary (though just as inspiring vein), we even got to see Einstein’s chalkboard preserved with his own handwriting, tucked away in the basement of a science hall.

After a week in the UK we found ourselves in Romania. There is nothing more humbling than finding yourself immersed in a country that doesn’t speak your language. The impacts of communism were brutally apparent, and many people can still remember the revolution that led to it’s overthrow in 1989. You listen to the stories of the food cards and starvation, desperate times that led to people literally fleeing across the border for a better life. Perhaps listening to these stories would give some of my own countrymen a bit more compassion with the issues we are facing. Look into someone’s eyes when they talk about being imprisoned for traveling illegally to another country to survive, observe the desperation that caused them to leave behind everything they ever knew. Drive through the countryside where people grow their own crops and livestock because they don’t trust that there will be enough food in the stores. The lives that we all live are stories of their own, we are each the protagonist in our own tale.

We attended a traditional wedding that carries on for an entire day (the celebrations often last well over 12 hours, which is a big change from the traditional 3 days they once were). It is amazing to see the cultural differences in the traditions observed. No wedding is complete without a bridal kidnapping and ransom for her return, traditional dances that everyone learns from a young age, fog machines and sparklers that are taller than I am.

In Romania we carried on with our unofficial literary tour by roaming the halls of Castle Bran, the supposed home to Bram Stoker’s infamous Dracula.

The ‘secret staircase’ hidden in Castle Bran, once lost to history until a Queen decided to remove a fireplace and discovered this secret passageway.

We ate lunch on the back terrace of the home where Vlad the Impaler was born. The village was called Sighisoura, and thr old protion has changed very little since the 1500s, though it is still a very active city. People continue to live in the same homes that were occupied hundreds of years ago. We saw firsthand how Vlad’s story is told in a very different way within his country. While we view him as brutal and cruel, he is a hero to his country, a leader willing to fight for his people.

Statue of Vlad the Impaler in Sighisoura, the city of his birthplace. The ribbon tied around it is in the colors of his country’s flag
The house where Vlad the Impaler was born
The streets of old Sighisoura; unchanged with the exception of vehicular traffic (though it is still very common to see horses and buggies through the entire country)

It is a moving experience to see the world as others do, to experience cultures foreign to your own and acknowledge that you are the outsider in this beautiful place. It is compelling to see what humans have created throughout this world; the buildings, traditions, stories, and art we have brought into existence. Our art sustains us throughout history, leaving it’s mark for centuries to come. Though we may not always understand it (like the mysteries surrounding the Stonehenge), it will be there to be witnessed for ages. To walk through the halls of our past and pay homage to the lives that led to our own; this is a gift.

I stepped back through the same door to my home that I lad left from, backpack still slung over my shoulder, passport clutched in my palm. Yet, much like Bilbo after his return from the Misty Mountains, I was changed. My heart carried adventures, my mind held new stories yet to be told, my soul was lighter knowing I belonged to a greater human tradition. My home is still the same, the laundry I left unfolded is still sitting at the foot of my bed, my dog is still stretched out with his head on my lap, and I am still here clacking away at a keyboard. But I am not who I was. This lost little wanderer is finding her way back home.

More detailed posts about the different adventures from my travels will be coming in the next weeks, this was merely a tiny little glimpse. If there are any particular topics you are interested in, leave a comment and I will be sure to include it. Happy trails, my friends.

Invisible Girl in a Great Big World

There is something appealing about being a tourist in someone else’s city; the anonymity and freedom that comes with the large crowds of strangers jostling one another through busy intersections, giving yourself the freedom to act in ways you normally wouldn’t, take pictures of things that typically would never catch your attention, stare up into the edifices of buildings you are not intimately familiar with. I am a shameless tourist, hitting many of the bigger attractions as I wander through random streets, picking unknown restaurants based on their signs without reading a half dozen reviews online first (something that occasionally drives my fellow travelers nuts).

Naturally, I picked the worst time to take a trip; the first days of Camp Nano were in full swing. And where could I be found? Not at my desk , nor at the kitchen table, not with a pen in my hand or my nose hovering close to the screen of my laptop. Instead, you could spot me wandering through Seattle with my mom and sister for a long-overdue girl’s weekend. This wasn’t my first visit to the home of the Seahawks; no, it’s a jaunt I like to take about once a year. Considering I live only three hours away, I’d say it’s a pretty manageable destination. The thing that I love about it- it doesn’t matter how many times I’ve been there, I can always find something new to discover, or old haunts to entertain me.

Now, I could spend this entire post talking about the myriad of adventures you could have in this little gem of a city. I could tell you about standing at the top of the Space Needle with a black sky as your backdrop, watching the city lights spring to life below you. I could describe the winding and weaving of the glass-blown art at the museum across the street. Or explain to you the importance of the caffeine-induced pilgrimage back to the original Starbucks (and let’s not forget about the magic of the French bakery down the street). I could tell you a story about the Farris wheel and how, when given the right lighting, it can leave you with the embers of a ghost story burning in your soul. (Okay, so I just really wanted an excuse to post this picture- it’s probably the best one I’ve ever taken.)


Or perhaps I could divulge some fun facts about the infamous Gum Wall (to which I am a contributing member). It’s the second germiest tourist attraction in the world. I could tell you that in the past 20 years, there have only been a few hours where it wasn’t adorned with the sticky stubstances. It took 30 hours to clean last year- but was quickly returned to its artistic glory with a sticky peace sign that had the Eiffel Tower in the center. 

Or perhaps I should tell you all about the history of the city as we trudge down into the hidden underbelly, embarking on one of the coveted Underground Tours (why yes, my friends, there truly is a city under the city). There are buildings, streets, and stories buried below your feet when you walk through the steep roadways, ready and willing to share just a few of their secrets if you will only listen.


Or perhaps I’ll simply let you know that the best Bloody Mary’s can be found at Sam’s Tavern, if you are willing to trek to the newer side of town (their burgers and waffle-cut sweet potato fries are to die for, and the employees were fantastic).

No, I will not tug a travel-writer hat onto my head and pretend to be an expert today, mainly because Seattle is so much more than a destination for me. It carries more weight than a location I’m simply hoping to check off of a list. This beautiful city always brings me back to the passions of story telling, and it’s for a rather simple reason. A city with a touch of history has a thousand stories buried inside, just waiting to be brought into the light. These old streets whisper to you if you know how to listen, they will show you a human truth if you open your eyes to genuinly see. There is a distinct beauty to a place that carries such a wealth of humanity and diversity within its streets. The artwork that adorned the buildings themselves beg you to release your creative energies out into the world. The people you encounter evoke feelings that can only be whittled away when writing them down on the page.

I always drive away with fresh ideas and a renewed sense of urgency. I drive away with story lines dancing through my mind as characters build themselves out of the elements I found on the streets. I always step away with a sense of purpose. The ability to become invisible in such large crowds is a gift for the writer who simply wishes to observe the world as it truly is, unencumbered by the self-conscious gazes of those who recognize your presence for what it is. Life is the ultimate inspiration, telling you tales if you care to hear them, and this time I listened; I truly listened. As a writer, there is nothing more excruciatingly fulfilling as a story evolving inside, begging to be told. We tell the stories of strangers, we whisper the secrets of cities, we dazzle with tales of the past, the present, and perhaps the future. Sometimes you just need to go somewhere you can be invisible to allow you to truly see.

Lush-Us Lessons: The Coldest Village on Earth

Today all of us here at Tipsy Typer are thrilled to announce the return of an old segment that accidentally slipped through the cracks a few months ago. And by ‘all of us’ I mean me and my cat, who is currently snoring on my lap- but don’t let that fool you, Oreo is still very excited. That’s right the segment is coming back with a vengeance and a new name: Lush-Us Lessons. Get it? Lush-Us, since this is Tipsy Typer, it seemed fitting to me. Anyway, the name is different, but the intent is the same. Once a week I will be picking a random topic and start dropping knowledge like The Walking Dead drops cast members (RIP my friends, you will be missed). Perhaps you will find some inspiration in these pages, or, at the very least, you will be entertained for a little while.

I am one of those annoying creatures that loves when it’s cold, but hates actually being cold. Which means when the winter weather hits I am bundled up like the little boy in ‘A Christmas Story’- I’ll  put my arms down when I get to work, thank you very much.

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But there is a village out there where no amount of bundling will keep that chill from seeping into your bones, that’s right, even Elsa herself wouldn’t be able to keep up with this place. Let me introduce you to Oymyakon, a little village located in a valley of northeastern Russia, not far from the Arctic Circle along the Indigirka River. It is a remote village, the nearest town is a 3-day drive away. It’s name is a bit misleading- ‘Omyakon’ actually means ‘non-freezing water,’ and was taken due to the close proximity of a hot spring. But the area is also known as the ‘Pole of the Cold,’ it is the coldest permanently inhabited settlement in the entire world. In January this little ice haven averages at -50º Celsius (-58º F for those of you who were taught the same system as I was). Although they did set a new record in February of 2013 by dropping all the way down to -71º C ( this translates to an astonishing -95.8º F, according to google, because I don’t really remember how to convert temperatures on my own). To put that number into perspective, jet fuel will free at -40º C. And sadly, if you were planning on warming yourself up with a dash of some 80 proof vodka, it would have turned into a vod-cycle at a lowly -26.95º C. And don’t think about going streaking after visiting what has been called ‘the loneliest bar in the world’ because you wont survive long enough to say ‘maybe this was a bad idea.’ Although you might make a lovely ice statue.

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If you have ever had a desire to go cold-turkey (no pun intended) to get off the grid- this is the place that you need to go. Most modern conveniences that we take for granted wont even work in an environment this cold. Locals have to either keep their cars parked in heated garages (unlikely, given the economic conditions), or keep them running because leaving them off for even a short period of time could result in some serious mechanic bills coming out of your pocket, usually due to frozen grease or fuel tanks, and any unused pipes will freeze within 5 hours.

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Want to take some selfies as you walk through town on your Frozen adventure? Unfortunately, there will be a good possibility that your phone will be dead, as they cannot function in those temperatures. Batteries are not designed to work under such extreme conditions and will lose their charge at an astounding rate. To the people who live there full time- this really isn’t that big of a deal because they are in such a remote area that they aren’t eligible for cell service anyways. Most electronics, especially any that run off of batteries, will have to fight for their life out here. Spoiler: they’ll lose. Even the ink in your pen isn’t safe- that has been known to freeze solid. And, if you happen to require glasses like I do- you will be warned against wearing them because they will actually freeze to your face in this climate. Yes, you heard me right, though it bears repeating: your glasses will freeze to your face. Personally, I am a bit terrified to ask what would happen if you opted for contact lenses.

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Another problem faced by these inhabitants: burying their dead. This already difficult time becomes compounded, as it can take up to three days to dig the grave. Bonfires must be lit for several hours and then the hot coals are pushed to the side so that the people can begin to dig while it is relatively soft. They are usually only able to make it down a few inches before the process has to be started again. This is repeated over and over until the hole is large enough to accommodate a coffin (or your frozen streaker friend).

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Most modern conveniences are rare, and in many homes, you will still see people trekking to an outhouse to relieve themselves. The solitary school itself didn’t even possess an indoor toilet until 2008. Homes and buildings are still heated with coal and wood burning. If power ceases, the town will shut down in about five hours and pipes will begin to freeze and crack. The people survive primarily on reindeer and horse meat because- well, good luck getting anything to grow. The length of the days will vary from a scant 3 hours in December, but will stretch to 21 hours in the summer. While winters are, by all accounts, awful, summers can get a bit warmer, even attracting tourists to the surrounding forest. Their record ‘heat wave’ once brought them all the way up to 65.7º F, although the land itself technically remains permanently frozen year round.

There is a current population of about 500 people, with one solitary store to supply all of their needs and one school to teach their children. Now, as a comfort-seeker myself, I can’t help but wonder what brought these people out there to this land that is believed to belong to ‘Stalin’s Death Ring,’ named such because it was the region where political exiles were sent. Back in the 1920’s and 30’s, this little area was a stop-over for reindeer herders who would water their flocks from the thermal springs the village is now named after. At some point, the Soviet government was making an effort to settle their nomadic populations. They believed that the people of this area were difficult to control and were culturally and technologically backwards. So they came up with a quick fix, they allowed the people to stay and made the site a permanent settlement. To this day the residents still make a living with reindeer breeding, hunting and ice fishing.

Tourists make their way to the village with a deep desire to experience this record setting environment for themselves. There are no hotels, but you will find several families who are willing to house guests, in fact, they traditionally love to have visitors. If you wish, you can be invited to partake in many of their daily activities, which include reindeer hunting, ice-fishing, and there is even a possibility of going to the hot spring (please sign me up for that one, I will never leave). The mayor himself will give any guest a certificate to celebrate their visit to the ‘Pole of the Cold.’

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While the prospect sounds intimidating (like I said, I am a complete and total baby in the cold), the experience sounds like a once in a lifetime adventure. And while I don’t know if I will ever be brave enough to don piles of fur (which is the only way to stay warm- not strictly a fashion choice) to brave the outdoors and discover this beautifully hidden gem, I can’t help but find myself amazed that we live in a world where this is possible. And I can’t help but be thankful that I live in a place where I can indulge myself in the creature comforts that I so often take for granted.