How yoga can cure reverse culture shock

Blog, What I'm thinking

How yoga can cure reverse culture shock

1 Comment 21 November 2013

“You’ve been on a journey around the world, now it’s time to go on a journey within yourself,” the instructor at the front desk says to me as I’m signing up.

It’s my first day back to my local yoga studio since a short visit home in January, my second day back in the USA and I had been telling him how much I needed to get back into yoga immediately to find some sort of peace.

After three and a half years of traveling the world, I finally came home. Not for a visit, not for a short trip, but a one-way ticket home. It’s hard to explain the emotions and feelings that come with that sort of return. I saw the world, changed in ways I didn’t think possible and now I’m back in my old bed, living not far from where I grew up.

Reverse culture shock.

I had dealt with it once before after coming home from studying abroad for six months in London and backpacking Europe three months after. It’s a very real problem and an extremely sad and lonely time in life if you don’t deal with it properly.

After that trip, I moved into an apartment close to the university I was attending – on my own. I fell into a deep state of depression, hardly left my house, started smoking and packed on about 20 lbs. That was after only a nine month trip, so I wanted to be extra cautious and proactive about dealing with coming home in a healthy manner on this much longer and much more life-changing adventure.

I spent quite a bit of my recent trip learning more about yoga and meditation. I lived on yoga retreat in Dungog, Australia, volunteered at a yoga center in Brisbane and even meditated with two monks in Siem Reap Cambodia, so I knew about the inner peace and outer strength yoga could help me with. That’s why, on this scary return back to life in the USA, the next place I visited after home was my local yoga center, where I paid for an unlimited month and signed up for a 30-day challenge (30 classes in 30 days).

This decision has helped me deal with reverse culture shock by reminding me to stay present, teaching me how to overcome any bad feelings or challenges that come with returning home and keeping me in good health, physically and mentally.

Yoga

Photo: Jason Affleck

Be Present

You might have returned home, but your head and heart are still a million miles away. Whether you find yourself chatting endlessly about travel stories to every person you see or comparing every thing about your home culture to the cultures you experienced abroad, you’re living in a different time and place.

I found myself closing my eyes and picturing the places I had lived, where the bed was, the color of the floors and walls and style of the sheets. It’s nice to remember moments from our trip and share them with others, but it’s also important to take advantage of the present moment and keep looking forward to the next adventure.

Yoga is all about being in the present. During balancing postures, you have to focus solely on what your doing, positioning your body properly or even just one point on the floor to hold your balance. In meditation, you’ll hear your teacher constantly instructing you to let all those random thoughts that fill your head just pass through until your mind reaches complete silence, so you can just relax in your focus.

Yoga

Photo: Darko Sikman

Challenge Any Bad Feelings

Yoga is so much more than exercise. The positions you get into and ways in which you push the body all add up to some sort of mental lesson. On my return to yoga, I kept feeling nauseous in one pose in particular, camel. It’s a fairly simple pose compared to the rest but I found it harder and harder to push myself in it for fear of being sick. As soon as the thought hit me, my instructor was saying that this is normal to the entire class, that these are bad feelings from the body creeping up and we need to take them on and that your body is going into a sort of simulated “fight or flight” in positions like this. By testing the body in this safe environment – you’re strengthening your defense to things that may pop up in the real world to scare us. Push yourself deeper and challenge those feelings.

During a class, you’ll deal with it physically, but that physical training teaches you how to challenge mental bad feelings in the same way. Face all that negative and sadness head on and move past it. Don’t fall into a self-deprecating cycle, but instead go through the negativity and challenge it.

Lily yoga

Photo: !STORAX

General Health

There are a million and one reasons people feel sad and there are plenty of ways to deal with those feelings.

Coming home can be very hard. Don’t push it off as a problem that’s not real. You’re at a moment of weakness, which can lead to bad habits. A few drinks with friends to forget about your problems, leads to more and you’re spending the next day on the couch with a massive hangover. If you’re anything like me – that hangover will lead you into an even sadder state and you might find yourself having another few drinks to avoid it. It’s okay to have a few and enjoy being home, but when you’re already in an emotionally unsure state, the most important thing is keeping your mind and body healthy.

Exercise releases endorphins which naturally flow positive feelings through the body. On top of that, you’ll feel more self-confident when you look great and with a goal in mind, you’ll have something to work towards. It’s really incredible what a difference a little exercise can make in your life. So if you just got home and your feeling kind of lost, spend a few days doing any sort of exercise, it doesn’t have to be yoga, and see if you notice any sort of shift in your mood.

Reverse culture shock isn’t the end of the world, but it can be a real time of low feelings for a lot of people. Treat it like you would any other changing time in your life. For me, yoga gave me a place where I could reflect on those feelings and move past them. My favorite thing about travel is learning and experiencing new things, getting involved in yoga made it so I could keep on doing that, even in my hometown.

Returning to the USA after three and half years living abroad

Blog, Dispatches from Down Under

Returning to the USA after three and half years living abroad

21 Comments 19 November 2013

I’m going to be honest. The lack of writing on this website over the past four months has a lot to do with the fact that I was afraid of this post. A post that would be a sort of conclusion to the very trip that started the website. A post about my return to NJ after three and a half year of traveling and living abroad.

How do you write the ending to a trip you dreamed about your whole life?

A trip in which I swam with giants, soared from the sky, spear-fished with aborigines, climbed volcanoes and faced my greatest fears. A trip that made me trust in strangers, drop ties with possessions and completely enthral myself into communities that just days before I didn’t even knew exist. One that would have me moving into eleven different residences with a total of 38 different roommates and two cats, plus more hostel beds and dorm mates than I could count.

Rondel. The cat that made me fall in love with cats. – Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

A trip that taught me there is no one meaning of success and that ambition might have been the only thing holding me back from finding true happiness. A trip that would allow me to find answers to my questions on religion and spirituality. A trip that would have me fulfilling every dream I had for myself and my travels within six months and then totally giving myself up to chance.

I came into this trip with a plan: to travel and write. I would fulfil all the little goals that went with that plan only months after the start of my trip. Beyond those plans, I thought that would be it for my long-term travels and vagabond lifestyle. I can honestly remember thinking before going on this trip that I would “get it out of my system”, come home and settle into a career, marriage and children – all the things I thought were just part of life. I thought travel was an itch I could scratch and then move on to the next thing.

That’s not quite how it all worked out.

Once this trip exceeded my plans and expectations – I would no longer be the one dictating my future. I would no longer allow the restraints of where I came from or the ideas I developed in that small space control what kind of life I was going to have. Running out of plans opened me up to see a new way of living, to put my faith in new people, find a sense of true belonging and even to fall in love.

Now I know the most unpopular ending to any solo female travel blog is the one that involves “prince charming”, but that is exactly how my story went. The greatest lesson I learned in three and a half years of travel was how to fall in love and the greatest thing I found was a guy to catch me when I did.

Ric and I cruising in Malapascua. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Ric and I cruising in Malapascua. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

I’ve never had a problem doing anything on my own. Being alone was never a bad thing for me. In fact, often times, I preferred it. And before hopping on a plane to Australia on January 26, 2010 – I was content in the possibility that I always would be alone and I don’t mean alone in the physical sense whether that be with friends and family or with a partner. I’ve always had the the most amazing people in my life that would be there for me, no matter what, but in my head – I was still alone. And as for marriage or any type of partnership – I actually saw myself getting married at least ten times – but never really giving into it – always facing my biggest problems and greatest joys in life – alone – at least in my head.

This trip, the people I met throughout it and the situations I was in with them (good or bad) – would change that.

port

When you’re on the road in a new place, away from everything and everyone you know, often times you have to put all your faith into strangers. Whether this be something as small as receiving directions or as large as sleeping on some random person’s couch because otherwise you’d have no place else to stay. What came out of dwindling bank accounts, lack of a home and inability to call the people I had always known at the drop of a hat was a new kind of trust in people and the ability to share the ups and downs with whomever I was with at that moment. Somewhere along the way I realized that I wasn’t alone in it all and as if the pieces fell into place all at once – I met Ric and knew I never would be again.

Ric and I the day after we arrived in New Zealand.

Ric and I the day after we arrived in New Zealand.

I never intended this to be a trip where I found myself or the true meaning of life. I knew exactly who I was before getting on that plane three and a half years ago – in fact, I never would have been in that position if I didn’t know who I was. What I found on this trip was other people – that most of them are actually good and that we are in this crazy life together.

So to Lise and Veronica who taught me that no matter what language we speak (English, French or Italian) there can be understanding (even when cursing about weeding lantana trees in the bush). To my joyful “Shirley” who taught me that the things we have are only as good as the people we get to share them with (even when it comes to Kate Moss tops). To Bobbi Small who taught me that it’s possible to be strong – even when you’re scared and to question any restraints you have for yourself. To Hans, you gorgeous Brazilian man, who showed me compassion and warmth and of course a new way of making carrot cake. To my new English family who accepted me without question. To my family and friends at home who have always loved and supported me. To all the many travelers I met over the course of these past three years – whether we shared a couch at Iron Bar, divemaster training in Malapascua, a dorm room or the weight of my backpack on a long walk. And of course to the bear of the man for whom I get to travel the rest of my life with – Thank You. Thank you for all the little moments and for helping me realize that even though I thought I left America on my own three and a half years ago – I never was.

You were all there with me.

Lise, Veronica and I on a day off from Yoga in Daily Life Dungog, NSW.

Underwater in Low Isles with Milla.

Sailing the Whitsundays with Dorcey, aka Shirley.

With Bobbi Small on the Great Barrier Reef.

How do you write a conclusion to three and a half of the best years of your life?

You don’t.

In the words of my wonderful fiancé (we’re engaged by the way) as I pined over this post in our London flat – “This isn’t the end, just another chapter complete Bobble.”

I did it.

It was my dream to move abroad and go on a trip with no fixed end date and I actually did it. In the past three and a half years I’ve lived in Australia, New Zealand and England. I’ve traveled to the Philippines, Thailand, Malaysia, Cambodia, Fiji, Laos, China and Canada. I even got to explore my own country a bit.

It became clear to me pretty early on this trip that it wasn’t so much the places I was going to – but the nomadic lifestyle and the people I would encounter through that way of living that would propel me into a life of travel.

“Its a toss-up when you decide to leave the beaten track. Many are called, few are chosen.” - W. Somerset Maugham, The Razor’s Edge’

Big Sky Country from the Saddle

Destinations, USA

Big Sky Country from the Saddle

No Comments 20 September 2013

Since I’ve had this dream of visiting Montana for so many years – I’ve had a lot of time to envision what my time there would be like. Long days, relaxed nights. Big mountains, tranquil creeks. Friendly locals, wild wranglers.

One of my flaws when it comes to travel is that I think too much into a trip and start to come up with scenarios in a destination that are like something out of a movie. I say it’s a flaw, because I’ve often been let down by places that would have been incredible – solely because I expected too much.

Due to how long I’d been thinking about Montana, I was prepared to have that happen again.

But it didn’t.

And one day in particular went above and beyond any expectations I had for my time in the “Big Sky Country”.

Montana

Erin and I on our horses Happy and Price during a back country ride.

A Full Day Back-Country Ride

The biggest activity or highlight to any trip to a dude ranch – no matter where it is – is obviously going to be the horses. Lone Mountain Ranch makes every effort to ensure that that depending on your experience with horses, you’re paired with one that’s best suited for you and that you become familiar and comfortable with your horse before the main event.

This started long before I even arrived at the ranch. They sent me and my friend a questionnaire to fill out asking whether we had ever ridden horses among other things. Based on that they pair people with the right horse for them. Since I have limited experience with horses, they put me with one that was extremely well-trained and gently on the newbies: Price.

Price is gorgeous.

Pretty much every wrangler said she was their favorite, but I think they say that about all the horses. She was definitely mine though. She followed my commands no matter how lacking in confidence they were and took care of me through a week of riding. Visitors to the ranch can pretty much take their horse out on a ride throughout the day as long as a wrangler is their to guide them. So prior to the big horsey event: a full-day back country ride, I had a few rides to get used to Price and vice versa. It was pretty special that I – as well as everyone else on my trip – got to have the same horse all week, to which I credit the wonderful wranglers at LMR.

Then came the big day.

Montana

Erin and Happy pause to take in the scenery. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

For our back-country ride, Alexia – our wrangler for the day – took myself, my friend Erin and a couple from England to Sage Creek. I was a bit worried about riding that day as it was raining in the morning, but it cleared up by the start of our ride, about 10 a.m., and Alexia said this was the ideal weather to start a back-country ride, because if it was sunny the whole day – the ride would be very hot and a bit exhausting.

Our ride started in a heavily wooded area and just as we hit that “Tall, Wide and Handsome” scenery that Montana is known for, the sun crept out revealing one of the most stunning views I’ve ever had on my travels. A skinny, trickling creek divides wide open yellow land. Purple mountains ahead layer each other. The clean air is slightly perfumed by wild sage plants scattered all around.

The complete silence of this peaceful terrain allowed our group to get to know each other. We all shared first in line behind Alexia so we could pick at her brain a bit about riding and of course Montana. About three hours into the ride we stopped for a packed lunch, turkey and bacon sandwiches on the biggest slices of bread I’ve ever seen, and a quick cowboy nap.

Montana

Bobbi taking a quick nap after lunch. Photo by Erin Jensen

After lunch we turned around to head back to where we started and though we followed the exact same route – it looked completely different. While we didn’t get to see any unusual wildlife on the ride, I did trot and gallop on my horses for the first time. Motioning with the horse as you speed in the open air, hair blowing behind, might be one of the most thrilling feelings I’ve ever had.

I get the whole horse thing now.

They’re such beautiful creatures and so powerful. Though I only had Price for a week, she left a huge impression on me. I am not a fan of hiking, so I usually just end up driving through different areas when I’m touring, say, a national park. I like it, but I always feel like I’m missing out on something by not getting out of the car and venturing into unpaved roads. For this reason – plus my absolute love of animals – I’ve come to the conclusion that horse back riding is easily my favorite way to explore. In fact, I started envisioning Ric and I out on rides on our own – especially when we passed a group of cowboys and cowgirls on horses with a few mules traveling behind with their bags and Alexia told me they were heading out somewhere to camp for the night. It just all seems to perfect to even be true.

Montana

Alexia leads behind a group of cowboys and cowgirls heading to camp for the night. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

This back-country ride allowed us to see Yellowstone in a way totally different than all those suckers who follow the paved roads in the park – which is probably why the Yellowstone day trip I wrote about in my last Montana posts, was at the bottom of my list of best activities during my stay. Lone Mountain Ranch allowed me to see the park and Montana in a way that’s not possible to all visitors to the state.

This back-country ride allowed me to see the Montana of my dreams and then some.

Disclosure: I won my week at Lone Mountain Ranch through Passports with Purpose.

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Montana’s treasures: Yellowstone National Park

Destinations, USA

Montana’s treasures: Yellowstone National Park

2 Comments 17 September 2013

Montana’s nickname “The Treasure State” came about because of its wealth of minerals, including gold and silver, but for me that name resonates most in regards to Yellowstone National Park. Though most of this national park, which covers 3,468 sq miles of land, resides in Wyoming, four out of the five official entrances to the park are in Montana – making this great state the gateway to Yellowstone.

Yellowstone National Park

A lone bison grazes yellow fields at Yellowstone National Park. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Given my love of US national parks that spawned from my last road trip out west, you can bet the number one question on my mind after winning a week at Lone Mountain Ranch in Big Sky, MT (via Passports with Purpose) was “Will we be visiting Yellowstone?”. The answer: of course! Bozeman is one of the most popular means of getting to Yellowstone. Big Sky was about an hour drive from Bozeman Yellowstone Airport and the West Entrance to Yellowstone about a 45-minute drive from Big Sky.

During my week long visit to Lone Mountain Ranch, they offered two day trips to Yellowstone, which are included in the overall price of staying there. Plus, they drove my friend Erin and I out to the West Entrance for free to see the Grizzly Bear and Wolf Discovery Center on another day.

I took the first chance I could to go on a day trip to Yellowstone. We left at about 8 a.m. and didn’t return until about 6 p.m., so it was a long day – but it kind of has to be if you want to see the park in just a day.

Yellowstone National Park

Petrified wood scatters the volcanic park. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Yellowstone is the USA’s first national park. While I always think of Teddy Roosevelt when it comes to America’s national parks, especially this one, the designation of this space as a national park was actually signed into law by President Ulysses S. Grant on March 1, 1872. The park is most well-known for its geothermal activity. Home to Old Faithful and at least 300 more geysers, Yellowstone is placed on top of an active volcano. The park also has close to 300 waterfalls, including Lower Falls, located in the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, which you’ll see on a lot of vintage posters and post cards from the park.

Yellowstone National Park

Lowefalls can be found on several vintage posters for the park – it’s even better with no filters. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Beyond an active earth – this park also has a very active wildlife scene. It’s home to 67 species of mammals, two of which are threatened (the Canadian lynx and grizzly bear) and one of which is endangered (the gray wolf).

Anyone who has been following this blog will know that I’m more of a do-it-yourself, spend-as-little-as-possible sort of traveler. So going on a week-long trip to what is basically an all-inclusive ranch (minus alcohol and a few activities) was quite the luxury. In regards to things like park tours, I’ve almost never had someone to drive me around, let alone a highly-educated naturalist, so that was quite a treat. Our guide Kaitlyn knew pretty much everything there was to know about Yellowstone as well as the plants and animals there. She knew exactly where to take us and even better spots to see certain sights, like Old Faithful. Most watch it erupt from Old Faithful Inn, but she took us to a less crowded area.

Yellowstone National Park

Since it was foggy on my visit, I only saw steam as Old Faithful erupted. Still loved it. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Kaitlyn drove us around the Lower Loop and made sure to stop at Old Faithful, Fountain Paint Pots and Lower Falls. We spotted one bald eagles, a few osprey and several elk and bison while in the park. Plus, we got to see Old Faithful as well as Beehive Geysers erupt, which was a treat as the latter is bigger and usually only goes off every four hours.

Yellowstone National Park

I was actually more interested in Beehive Geyser erupting in the distance than Old Faithful. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

The only criticism I have about this trip, which was in no way Lone Mountain Ranch’s fault, is the crowds. I always like visiting places like this at low season to avoid annoying drivers and congested natural areas. Since Yellowstone is one of the USA’s most popular national parks to visit, I recommend going sometime outside of high season, which can be hard because the park closes certain times of year.

Oh, and one other thing – I saw a guy smoking a cigarette in the middle of a wheat grass field in the park during one of the worst times of year for forest fires there. It really annoyed me. Please don’t be a jackass while in Yellowstone. You’ll ruin it for everyone else.

Yellowstone National Park

The water color in the park’s hot springs is so interesting. A buffalo actually fell in this one and you can see its bones. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

It was an incredible day to say the least – but actually it was my least favorite activity of the week. Not because it was bad in anyway – but I just felt the other activities during the week, like canoeing and back country horse back riding allowed us to see the same beauty Yellowstone has to offer without having to be in a bus all day. Still, saying this is my least favorite is like saying Godiva came out last in a chocolate competition. It was still amazing, but means there are even better things to write about in the coming days!

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Dear Bobbi: 21st Century Pen Pals

Blog, Online Goodies, Other, Photography, What I'm thinking

Dear Bobbi: 21st Century Pen Pals

4 Comments 27 August 2013

For anyone who has ever had a pen pal or random travel partner they met in foreign lands who became their best friend – this website is for you.

Those who have been reading my site from the start (LEGENDS!) will know that almost four years ago I was in the running for “The Best Backpacker Job in the World”. There was a YouTube video that involved me scuba diving in a hot tub, which I bothered loads of people to watch to help me win. Sadly – I did not, but weirdly – another girl named Bobbi did.

I went to Australia – where this “best” job took place and ended up “working” it anyway with the other Bobbi (her name is Bobbi-Jo by the way and you can check out her blog here). After surviving shark tanks, monstrous spiders and wild cow stampedes – we parted ways, but never lost touch. In fact, not only did we correspond through emails and Skype over the following years, but we also managed to live in the same countries (New Zealand and England) and even the same city (London) again.

Now that we have the big bad Atlantic between us – as we did when we were just strangers with the same name entering random YouTube contests long ago – we’ve decided to keep in touch as pen pals of the 21st century.

May I introduce – Dear Bobbi.

A tale of two Bobbis. To the left is my photo of the New York skyline, to the right is Bobbi-Jo's of the London skyline.

A tale of two Bobbi’s, to the left is my photo of the New York skyline, to the right is Bobbi-Jo’s of the London skyline.

The website is a transatlantic correspondence between me and my name twin. Twice a week we’ll post photos with the same theme, such as self, skyline and fruit. Follow along as we send photographic love letters across the pond.

Have you ever met a great friend on your travels that you still keep in touch with? Have you ever had a pen pal?

Share your stories below!

If you want more Bobbi: Follow Dear Bobbi on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Creepy, but informative: The Mütter Museum, Philadelphia

Destinations, USA

Creepy, but informative: The Mütter Museum, Philadelphia

5 Comments 16 July 2013

Kidney stones the size of rocks, a black, gangrene foot on display and an unborn child with spina bifida preserved in a jar. It might not sound like the most pleasant way to spend your Sunday, but the museum that houses these items and others from medical cases is raved about in Philadelphia.

The Mütter Museum is home to a 20,000-piece collection of body parts, medical instruments and wax models dating back to the 19th century. Housed in The College of Physicians of Philadelphia, America’s oldest medical organization (over 200 years), this collection all started with a donation by Dr. Thomas Dent Mütter in 1858 and has grown even since.

You’ll feel time slip back as you walk into the two story “cabinet museum” decorated in dark wood and red carpets. No white floors or blinding lights, this is nothing like the medical facilities you’re probably used to today. The first thing I see is a wall of over 100 white human skulls staring back at me from behind a glass cabinet. My body shudders.

The Hyrtl Skull Collection George Widman, 2009, for the Mütter Museum of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia

The Hyrtl Skull Collection
George Widman, 2009, for the Mütter Museum of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia

I turn left where an exhibition is on display called “Grimms’ Anatomy: Magic and Medicine 1818-2012″. It displays medical oddities that could explain certain fairy tales the Brothers Grimm are known for, like a girl whose hair would mat into one long tail being similar to the story of Rapunzel.

After seeing this special exhibition, it was time to dig into the real collection. Those human skulls that first greeted me are a collection from around the world. You’ll find skulls from Egypt, Romania and more. Even creepier than the wall of skulls though is what’s on display directly across from it – human-skin leather. Some physicians in the 19th century would actually use the skin of their patients for wallets, book covers and more as a way of remembering them.

Downstairs, things get even more strange.

The first thing that grabs my eye is a long thick brown sort of tube. As I read the display card, I learn that this monstrous-worm like model is of a colon. A Philadelphia man who suffered from Megan Colon or Hirschsprung’s Disease, actually carried this in his body. They found that he had 40 lbs of feces in there that wouldn’t come out due to severe constipation.

Scene photographed in the Mutter Museum of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia, on June 11, 2009, in Philadelphia, Pa. © 2009 George Widman Photography LLC, Licensed for use by the Mutter Museum of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia

Scene photographed in the Mutter Museum of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia, on June 11, 2009, in Philadelphia, Pa. © 2009 George Widman Photography LLC, Licensed for use by the Mutter Museum of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia

Downstairs you’ll also find several skeletons, including one from a giant, severe cases of gangrene, President Grover Cleveland’s actual tumor in a jar and different cuts of the skull preserved in blocks. The most disturbing pieces though, have to be the babies preserved in jars on display. Each child has a different deficiency that happened before birth, such as conjoined twins.

I mention a few times how creepy some of the items on display here were and just the whole feel of the museum, but the purpose of this place is for research and to learn more about biology. It’s one of the most interesting exhibits I’ve ever seen. I liked looking at the odd medical cases, but it was really cool to see things that are in my body on display, and I don’t mean models. I actually saw a human heart, entire skeletons and brains from an array of species, including humans.

Dr. Thomas Dent Mütter donated to this collection in the 1800s to “improve” and “reform” medical education. Almost 200 years later and the collection is still doing that for medical students, doctors and the general public.

Fast facts: The Mütter Museum of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia is located at 19 South 22nd Street in Philadelphia. It’s open daily, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. General admission is $15. Visit their website for more information.

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The sweetest tour in London Town: London Cupcake Tours

Destinations, England, Favorite Things, Wine and Coffee

The sweetest tour in London Town: London Cupcake Tours

10 Comments 11 July 2013

Whenever I see a swirl of butter cream pink icing, a glistening beige cake beneath and some sort of delicious art on top staring back at me in a London window, I can’t say no.

Hi, my name is Bobbi and I’m a cupcake-aholic.

I am obsessed with the recent cupcake fad that has taken over this city. It’s hard to walk anywhere in London these days without being tempted by this itsy bitsy treat, but where should people go for one serious cupcake in the city?

London Cupcake Tours set out to answer just that with their self-guided tour packages. I spread my tour out over three days across two months and found some incredible places to eat cake in London Town.

The Package

I know what you’re thinking.

“Cupcake tour, what on earth is a cupcake tour?”

London Cupcake Tour

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

I return home one day to find a hot pink package addressed to me. Wide smile on my face, I run up the stairs to my flat and immediately open it. The first thing I pull out is the London Cupcake Tour Guidebook, which lists six places in London to try cupcakes, maps on how to find each place and popular attractions and sights nearby. Also in the package is six vouchers for one cupcake at each of the bakeries in the guidebook, a reusable tote bag, a few cardboard boxes to fit two cupcakes each, a London Cupcake Tour cover for my Oyster Card and two buttons that say, “I’m on the London Cupcake Tour”.

The gift certificates are valid for three to 12 months, so there is no pressure to do the tour immediately or even rush it all into one day. So I took my time and spread the tour out over three months sharing each day with a friend.

On Tour

Day one, Ric and I visit The Cupcake Bakehouse in Covet Garden to share a Nutella cupcake. From there, we walk to Sweet Couture Cake Boutique and use our voucher for there on a friend that works nearby. It’s her birthday, so we surprise her with a vanilla cupcake with one candle in it. Don’t worry – we also sample some of Sweet Couture’s cakes ourselves. Their zesty lemon cupcake looks too delicious to resist.

London Cupcake Tour

Taking the first bite of my first cupcake on tour. Nutella – yummm. Photo by Richard John Hackey

Almost a month later and I’m having serious cupcake withdrawals, so Ric and I set out on day two of our cupcake tour. After wandering through Portobello Market in Notting Hill, we find a Buttercup Cake Shop location next to Gelato Mia. It’s different from the location listed in the guidebook and you’ll find a few places on the tour have more than one location. There we try a sticky toffee cupcake. Next, we head to Holborn to visit Bea’s of Bloomsbury and try my favorite: red velvet cupcake. This is also my favorite sit-down stop on tour. Bea’s has such a cute and cozy set up. It’s a great place to meet people for cake and a coffee and their icing is so creamy.

London Cupcake Tour

A cupcake tree at Bea’s of Bloomsbury. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

The last day on tour I head on by myself, but make another birthday purchase. First stop is Lola’s Cupcakes in Mayfair where I choose a cupcake that looks like a tennis ball. This little shop is celebrating the Wimbledon finals in the sweetest way possible. I’m pleasantly surprised to taste jelly as I bite into the vanilla cake! Last stop is Ms. Cupcake in Brixton, which is my favorite shopping experience. The bakery has a retro feel to it and the cupcakes are vegan, so everyone can enjoy. I take a Ferrero Rocher cupcake to go and share it with a friend later in the day for his birthday.

London Cupcake Tour

A tennis ball cupcake at Lola’s Cupcakes the day before Andy Murray wins Wimbledon. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Price

A London Cupcake Tours single pack costs £34.50 and can be purchased online. I thought this price was a bit high considering each cupcake would have cost £2-4 if purchased on its own. Honestly though, after looking at a few other food tours in London, that’s actually quite affordable. Walk.Eat.Talk.Eat’s tours range between £50-65. Remember, you’re not just purchasing cupcakes, you’re being guided through different areas in the city while visiting some of its best cake shops.

Final Thoughts

I thought this was the most adorable tour idea I had heard about in London. Cupcakes are very popular at the moment and bakeries just keep popping up in this city. London Cupcake Tour is a great way to experience that side of the city, while also touring it . My major problem with guided food tours is that they pack so much into just a few hours, which can be sickening after a while. That’s why I liked the set up of this food tour, because I could spread it out as much as I wanted. I didn’t have to eat six cupcakes in one day, which would have probably made me hate cupcakes.

London Cupcake Tour

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Overall, London Cupcake Tours was a nice addition to London life for me that allowed me to see bits of the city I wouldn’t have, like Brixton. All the bakeries were high quality and had something very special about them. I would recommend this to tourists with a sweet tooth and even locals that want to sample this exciting trend in London.

Thanks to London Cupcake Tours for letting me try out their tour. As always, all opinions are my own.

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15 Things I Will and Won’t Miss About Living in London

Destinations, England, Moving Abroad, United Kingdom

15 Things I Will and Won’t Miss About Living in London

10 Comments 09 July 2013

London seems to be a city that just keeps coming back into my life. I lived here for six months studying abroad in college and returned five months ago for a sort of place to live in limbo as me and my Ric tried to figure out a more permanent living situation.

In a nutshell, I adore this city. I don’t know what exactly it is about London, but the city just has something. Maybe it’s the free  museums and world-renowned art scene. Maybe it’s the city’s lively mixture of cultures and activities. Maybe it’s the city’s intricate and exciting history.

Whatever it is, this city had me at “Ya, alright?”.

And now, probably as you read this post, I’m leaving the London once again with no idea when I’ll return for a vacation, let alone to live, so I think now is a good time to reflect on the ups and downs of living in London Town.

Things I’ll Miss

Getting lost – kind of

My absolute favorite thing to do in London is walk around with no plans or destinations. I could walk this city for hours and hours and not even realize it, because there is so much happening to take my mind off the fact that I’m exercising. Tiny side streets – blue plate homes – hole-in-the-wall cafes – so much has happened in the city and so much has been added that you never know where you’ll end up or what you’ll find on a wander. However, you’ll never actually get lost enough to the point that you can’t find your way back home. There’s always a tube station close by, no matter how lost you get, hop on that and you’ll know exactly where you are again.

Free magazines and newspapers

I’m very old-fashioned with my media. While I do read more things online these days, I’ll take a massive inky newspaper or glossy magazine over a website or kindle any day. It was really nice in London to have that for the same price as online media: Free 99!

Not only am I going to miss picking up my free copy of Time Out outside Shepherd’s Bush Market station on Monday mornings en route to the library or Evening Standard weekdays on my way home, but I’ll also miss the paper boys. The way the guy says “Evening Standard” is always a highlight on my walk home and I know I’m not alone. I hear kids repeating the phrase just as he does at the library, girls on Uxbridge Road throwing it into the conversation in his voice.

Random happenings

I think we can all agree, whether you love or hate London, one thing is certain, there is always something to do in this city and they’re so random and unique. Into art? Head to an auction at Sotheby’s. Love the cabaret? This city is a mecca for it. Want to live in the past? You can do that too – at themed parties. Are you a total foodie? Don’t get me started – the markets here are incredible.

This city literally has something going on every day to suit all types of people. You really never know what you’ll get into or where you’ll end up on any given day in London. They say nobody knows how to party quite like the Brits, they’re kidding.

Free museums and art

London is the city where I really fell in love with art, so I might put it on a pedestal a bit more than I should, but it is a really great city for art lovers. National Gallery, National Portrait Gallery, Tate Modern and Britain, Saatchi Gallery, V&A – there is no shortage of art galleries in this city displaying Picasso, Manet, Dali and more legendary artists. And what’s even more amazing, most of these galleries and museums are free. London can be expensive, but it doesn’t have to be.

British TV

This is something I’ll miss, but I know I’ll keep up with long after leaving London. England has some of my absolute favorite TV shows. For chat, shows like Graham Norton, A League of Their Own and Top Gear presented an entirely new and sort of no-hold-back sort of watching experience. It took me a while to completely understand the humor here, but I do now. And on some British chat show people are given wine – so you see a completely different side of all your favorite celebrities.

For scripted dramas and comedies, I’ll start by saying a lot of your favorite American series were based on British ones and often, the originals and a million times better. Shameless was my sort of awakening to how good TV is over here. Then of course there’s Made in Chelsea, which, for better or worse, I am obsessed with.

Curry and Kebabs

I never understood Britain’s bad reputation for food and drink. Sure fish and chips and Bangers and Mash are quite simple dishes, but they should not be used at the entire spectrum of British food. To be honest, I love eating in this country and especially London. Not only is England home to some of the world’s most famous chefs (Marco Pierre White, Heston Blumenthal, Jamie Oliver), but it’s also a melting pot of about a million different foods from around the world.

Two of those melting pot items that my mouth will miss (but my hips will not) are curry and kebabs. Let me start by saying I lived off Uxbridge Road during my most recent stay, where kebab shops and curry houses are literally almost every store front for about 20 minutes of walking. You try dieting when a spinning hunk of lamb meat is staring at you throughout every walk to and from anywhere. It’s not going to happen. We do a lot of food right in America, but we don’t come close to how they do curry or kebabs in London.

Urban parks

I get giddy every time I see a park anywhere in the world, especially England. London does parks right. Whether it be a perfectly trimmed rose garden or a wild forest, this city knows how to help people escape the hustle of the city, if even for just a stroll. It was actually in a London park that Ric asked me to marry him, Chiswick, so obviously that’s my favorite, but some other good ones to check out include, Regent’s Park, Holland Park and St. James’s Park.

Coffee

This is something I never thought I would miss about London, especially coming from New Zealand and Australia. Something big has happened in the cafe and coffee culture since I last lived here in 2007. There is so much focus on coffee here and they’re really producing incredible things with that. My favorite cafe is Wild & Wood in Holborn. Have a flat white there and you’ll understand why I’m not looking forward to going home to suburban chains.

The Tube

I’ve never seen a public transportation system run as efficiently as the London Underground system. If you can pay £7 for a day pass, that’s your entire day set in London with all it’s free museums and parks. You can literally go anywhere in the city with the underground and it always feels like a train arrives as soon as I enter the station. I am not looking forward to going back to NJ and relying on my car to get around.

Things I won’t Miss

Dog pee and poop on the sidewalk

I know it’s a city and sometimes your pets just have to go – that’s not controllable – but I’m not going to miss wondering if every bit of liquid I see in the street is a puddle of pee or water. Pee I can understand. You can’t clean that up as a pet owner, but crap on the sidewalk is inexcusable and so gross. I’m not sure if this was something that only happened in my area, because I have to say I did not see it often in other parts of the city, but for the love of god people – clean up after your pets, especially when they’re messing on pedestrian walkways!

Overcrowded

As much as I love all the hustle and bustle of a city and activities that come with that, I am not going to miss walking down the streets on a weekend in London. I feel like I’m in a herd of cattle a lot of days in this city. Crowded bars, crowded streets, crowded tube carriages…these things will not be missed.

Walking on the sidewalks

To add to my overcrowding and poop winge – I think people need an education in sidewalk rules before they arrive in London. I always walk according to what side of the street a country drives on, but I don’t think everyone else does that. Since the UK is the only country in Europe that drives on the left side of the road and loads of Europeans as well as people from around the world (most of which drive on the right) visit London on a daily basis – no one knows which way to walk on sidewalks. People from the UK/Australia/NZ go left – the rest of the world goes right. It especially annoys me at tube stations when there are signs on the stairs that say stay left, yet for some bizarre reason people are taking up both sides. It wouldn’t be as big a deal if the city wasn’t so busy, but it is and no one know which way to go, which frustrates me like crazy.

Overpriced

As cheap as a person can make London with free activities and discount stores, it is one of the most expensive cities in the world if you don’t bother considering your budget. This is especially troublesome when you’re living here on the American dollar. I can’t help but exchange money in my head and every time I go to the store I feel like I’m paying double on top of something that already costs more than it would in the rest of England, the rest of the world. £16 cocktails ($US24) – £3 triangular sandwiches ($US4.50) – £2.50 coffees ($US3.75)- as much as I enjoyed eating and drinking you, you will not be missed.

Not having the right of way

Cars in London rule the road and they’re not going to stop for any idiot who wonders into the road. Don’t worry, I’m that idiot too. But what always bothered me is at cross walks when I would have the green man and suddenly he would start blinking. Now my understanding in a lot of places is that this meant, “Hurry up, you only have a few seconds to get across, but don’t worry you can still walk”. Not in London. As soon as the green man starts blinking for pedestrians, a yellow light goes on for the cars that are waiting and they immediately start to go or get angry at people for still walking in the road.

Rush Hour

I was fortunate enough to only have to ride the tube or be in central London a handful of times during rush hour and that was enough. This isn’t just London, but in a lot of big cities, people lose all respect for each other between the hours of 7-10 a.m. and 3-5 p.m. I’m not going to miss getting shouldered on the streets and nobody apologizing and I’m not going to miss getting shoved out of the way at a tube station so some jerk who just got there can get home two minutes earlier than me.

Every place has it’s good and bad, ups and downs, and London is no different. Though I had a few erks about living here, I think it’s clear to see that the positives more than outweigh the negatives. Take advantage of all London’s free activities – museums and parks – wander through the city’s side streets as much as possible and avoid the CBD completely at rush hour and you’ll walk away loving this city as much as me.

What are some of your favorite things about London?

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Like what you see? Follow me on Bloglovin’, Twitter and Facebook to keep up with what I’m writing about. ;)

12 Photos for my One Year Instagram Anniversary

Other, Photography

12 Photos for my One Year Instagram Anniversary

6 Comments 05 July 2013

I was really late on the whole Instgram thing. I haven’t had a smart phone since 2009 and I still don’t, but in June of 2012 I treated myself to an iPod Touch and one of the very first things I did upon purchasing it was download Instagram.

I love everything about the app.

I love the filters. I like taking photos of all my food. I like seeing what everyone else is doing around the world. I love receiving likes from strangers. Plus, I like that it encourages me to take more photos. I’ll post pretty much anything and everything, but I do have one rule to my Instagram account that I take very seriously. I only post photos taken with my iPod. No SLR or point and shoot photos. That be cheating!

It’s hard to believe I celebrated my one year anniversary recently. In that year I’ve taken over 600 photos in New Zealand, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, USA, Canada and England. #landscapes #selfies #foodporn #fishporn #doglove – You name it, I’ve shot it. So I thought it be fun to have a look back at my 12 favorite photos in my first year of Instagramming.

Italian Renaissance Gardens Hamilton New Zealand

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

12. Italian Renaissance Garden – Hamilton Gardens, New Zealand

This was my first hardcore Instagram day and I think I probably lost all my followers during it, because all I did was take photos of gardens and flowers. Hamilton Gardens is a stunning spot to wander around on a nice day. They have gardens from all over the world. I spent an afternoon there in June 2012 waiting for my visa extension approval.

Mount Maunganui New Zealand

11. The Mount from the top of it. – Mount Maunganui, New Zealand

Ric and I lived in Mount Maunganui for about seven months. In the off-season, climbing the Mount is one of the only things to do there. So we spent a lot of time up there. It’s a beautiful sight of the seaside town.

Hobbiton New Zealand

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

10. Bilbo Baggin’s house – Hobbiton, New Zealand

This was definitely my favorite tour in New Zealand. It’s the actual film location for the Shire in Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. Once a sheep farm, this Hollywood set is open to the public and located in Matamata.

Yantarasri Chiang Mai Thailand

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

9. Terry-cloth robes make me feel like I’ve made it in life. – Chiang Mai, Thailand

Ric and I don’t stay at high-end accommodation often, so I had to get a shot of me on our balcony, looking out to our pool when we stayed at Yantarasri in Chiang Mai. I really wish I had a terry-cloth robe right now :/

Elephant Nature Park Chiang Mai Thailand

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

8. Had the most amazing day with the elephants. Don’t want to leave. – Chiang Mai, Thailand

I’ve written before about my visit to Elephant Nature Park. I really didn’t want to leave this place. It was so peaceful and open. I tried so hard to get a shot like this with my SLR, but for some reason couldn’t do it.

Railay West Sunset Thailand

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

7. Can’t imagine it gets much better than this. Railay, Thailand

This one did not require a filter. After two stints in Thailand that came to about three months altogether, I finally found my perfect Thai beach: Railay. This shot was taken at Railay West Beach, which isn’t the most beautiful at day (that be Pranang Cave Beach), but definitely takes the price at night. There is a bar there that lays out mats on the beach and delivers your drinks to you at sunset. My dad, Ric and I sat there for hours every night we were there.

Changi Golf Course Singapore

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

6. Flying over Changi Golf Club in Singapore.

Ric said his dad told him to look out for this golf course when he flew out to Australia years ago, but he said he didn’t see it. So when we flew from KL to Singapore this past Autumn, I was on the lookout for it. Looks pretty cool from up in the air.

Graffiti Brooklyn NYC

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

5. Graffiti by our Brooklyn pad – Brooklyn, NYC

This was my first visit to Brooklyn and I couldn’t get enough of the street art, like this little gem.

Falling Water Frank Lloyd Wright

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

4. Falling Water by Frank Lloyd Wright – Pennsylvania

I’ve been wanting to visit FLW’s Falling Water for years. It’s about a five-hour drive from where I grew up, but for some reason I just never made it up there. When I came home to meet my dad’s new girlfriend for the first time, I found out we shared a love for all thing FLW, so I took it as a sign that we had to go. Double-date weekend to Western PA and I got this iconic shot of the house.

Liverpool dock

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

3. Reflections at the dock in Liverpool. – UK

Ric and I mainly went to England to visit his family for Christmas, but he wanted to also show me around the north a bit. Though we had both been to Liverpool before (actually on the same day in 2007), we wanted to visit the city again for a day of touring. We spent most of the day at Anfield, then headed to the waterfront. I absolutely adore this photo. Liverpool is such a beautiful city – and it doesn’t quite get the attention it deserves.

Drummer Joshua Tree National Park

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

2. The things you’ll come across in the desert. – Joshua Tree National Park, California

My Jucy Tour of the USA came about very last minute and randomly, but was absolutely incredible. Of all the places I visited during my three week tour of Western USA, Joshua Tree was the one I was looking forward to the most. I have a thing for deserts and heard it was a really funky place. I expected to see some weird things there and I did – like this drummer playing by the side of the road.

London

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

1. Striped block in London.- UK

I spent the first half of 2013 in London, which was another random and surprising happening in my year with Instagram. I adore this city and could probably have picked 12 photos to represent this anniversary just from London, but I chose this one to represent my five months here. London has a million and one attractions, but I like to walk around the city and take it in. This was a random street block, somewhere in the city that appealed to me.

So that was my year first year in Instagram. What do you think? If you want to follow a long in real time, follow my photos on Instagram and leave your user name below so I can follow you.

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5 Favorite James Bond Locations and a 007 Tour of London

Film Locations, Guides

5 Favorite James Bond Locations and a 007 Tour of London

No Comments 02 July 2013

James Bond’s secret activities have taken him all over the world, without a trace, for over 50 years. Whether he be in a suit and bowtie at some swanky European party or in nothing but short shorts coming out of the water in the Caribbean, he always seems to blend in. I enjoy seeing where Bond pops up in films and leaning about where Ian Fleming found inspiration as much as the adventures he goes on, but a few places specifically stick with me.

Glen Etive, UK :: Skyfall

The scene in Skyfall, where Bond and M are standing on a desolate road, with nothing but his Aston Martin DB35 behind and a foggy Scottish landscape ahead is chilling. Foreshadowing a wasteland sort of battle in later scenes, this image will stay with you long after the film.

If you want to Bond’s view of the Scottish Highlands, go for a cruise on Glen Etive just of A82. But don’t bother looking for the house Bond grew up in where final scenes in the movie take place. That was created for the movie specifically and located miles away in the English country side.

Jökulsárlón, Iceland :: Die Another Day

Quite a lot of filming from Die Another Day took place in this area of Iceland. It’s where Gustav Graves premiered his diamond satellite that was said to give new light to darkness in the world, but is really just a terrorist weapon meant to drown the greatest Bond girl whose ever lived, Halle Berry, in an igloo, among other things.

The scene left me wanting to visit Iceland to see its dramatic landscape for myself, wondering how people stay warm in an igloo castle (by means other than having sex with Pierce Brosnan), vowing to never stay in an igloo hotel and really wishing Aston Martin would release an invisible car to the public. You’ll love the chase scenes on ice, the icy cliffs that are hundreds of feet above the sea and pure white scenery.

Venice, Italy :: Casino Royale

Venice is a pretty classic city in the world for chase scenes in films. The confusing layout of the streets, fact that most lead to water and mass crowds make it the perfect spot for a worrisome pursuit.

In Casino Royale, Bond, played by Daniel Craig and Vesper, the reason he becomes such a cold-hearted womanizer, arrive in the city by yacht and are later chased throughout it. Along the way, viewers get a good idea of what the city is like. The feeling you get from watching this on film can almost be re-created in person, because it’s easy to actually feel like your in a movie just walking around the streets of Venice. There’s something secretive and exciting about this city that translates even to non-spies. Just don’t go into any dilapidated buildings that are already sinking into the sea. We all know how that turns out.

GoldenEye :: Oracabessa Bay, Jamaica

The place where Bond came to life. Ian Fleming first imagined James Bond at his Goldeneye estate in Jamaica. While Bond might be fictional, a real-life spy scenario first brought Fleming to this part of the world. According to GoldenEye’s website, Fleming first visited Jamaica during WWII to investigate U-Boat activities in the Caribbean on behalf of Naval Intelligence.

He fell in love with the land and the people and ended up purchasing property near the village of Oracabessa Bay, which translates to “golden head” in English. Hence the name of his property and the inspiration behind of the world’s most famous fictional spies. You can actually visit his estate too and see where Fleming first dreamed about Bond, over 50 years ago.

Dukes :: London, UK

Every author or writer has his or her bar, cafe or park to escape to when they can’t get anything more done in their home. Dukes was one of Fleming’s. The high-end St. James’s hotel and bar is known for its specialty cocktails, so it should come as no surprise that this is said to be where the inspiration for the line, “shaken, not stirred”, came from.

This last location is part of a 007 James Bond tour of London that I just wrote for Unanchor. If you want to see more of Bond in the city where MI5 is located and the country which Bond spies on behalf of, check out my tour. The 007 James Bond Tour of London will have you visiting Ian Fleming’s former hangouts, significant places in Bond’s character building and of course film locations from Dr. No (1962), Goldfinger (1964), Live and Let Die (1973), Octopussy (1983), The World is not Enough (1999), Die Another Day (2002), Quantum of Solace (2008) and Skyfall (2012). Plus, it only costs $1.99.

Banner photo: Skyfall Official Movie Site

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