The last 6 months have certainly flown by. It was 6 months ago when I last sat down to write on my blog. I had many hopes to find the time to write, but between work and travel plans, I never seemed to find the ideal opportunity where I could relax and reflect on everything. It's hard to believe that today is the last day of the year. I have been on vacation from work since Christmas Eve and wanted to finally take some time to reflect upon the year and share some of its highlights. This was such a crucial year for me, both personally and professionally. I really have so much to be thankful for. For the first time in a long time, I decided to focus on what is important to me and to simply dedicate time to growing and investing in myself. Not only did I take every opportunity to travel to new places, but I also dedicated most of my time to my career. I wanted to take some time before the year ends to showcase all of the places I have ventured to and a few other memories as well. Here is one of my favorite quotes to commence a new year - and in 2015, I finally did just that!
"May your coming year be filled with magic and dreams and good madness. I hope you read some fine books and kiss someone who thinks you're wonderful, and don't forget to make some art (write or draw or build or sing or live as only you can) and somewhere in the next year, I hope you surprise yourself." Neil Gaiman
Without further ado, here are all the places I got to visit this year, documented in my favorite medium, photos. Though I did not allow for a big trip abroad this year, I went on so many amazing little trips throughout the year! As I've previously stated, travel is my greatest addiction - the one thing that fulfills me and keeps me energized, motivitates me to create art, and gives me something worthy of sharing. I can only hope next year's journey will be as visually diverse as this year's was!
Taste of Boston in Key Largo, Florida
Lake Okeechobee, Florida's Largest Lake
Spirited Attempt at Yoga in the Atlantic, New Smyrna Beach, FL
Art Deco District, South Beach, FL
First German Passport, Officially a German Citizen by Birth to a German National (My Dad), Miami, FL
Disney Staycation with my mom, Orlando, FL
St. Petersburg, Florida
Gulf of Mexico, Florida Panhandle, Southern Roadtrip Commences!
Sautee Nacoochee, GA
Covington, GA (house where scenes of the Vampire Diaries were filmed)
Juliette, GA (the original Whistle Stop Cafe)
Fort Valley, GA
A traditional Southern meal in Perry, GA (fried green tomatoes, chicken fried chicken and gravy, mac & cheese, and black-eyed peas)
Autumn in Connecticut
New York City
Kicking off the Holiday Season in Connecticut
The Breakers, Palm Beach, FL
Delray Beach, FL
Boca Raton, FL
"Move. As far as you can, as much as you can. Across the ocean, or simply across the river. Walk in someone else's shoes or at least eat their food. Open your mind, get up off the couch, move." Anthony Bourdain
As 2015 comes to a close, I am so thankful that even when life was busy and chaotic, I made the time to visit all of these places and to capture memories at each. Next year, I can only hope to travel as often and discover more beautiful and unique places around the world. One of my goals for 2016 is to take at least one trip abroad, considering it has been several years since I have been out of the United States. Cheers to new adventures, discovery, finding hidden beauty all around us, and creating magic on the darkest of days. Happy New Year to you and yours! May the new year bring you all the courage and strength needed to make your biggest dreams come true!
Happy 4th of July weekend! I'm back from my road trip, and while I'm a bit depressed it flew by so quickly, I'm so grateful for the experience and all that I saw while on the road, and I look forward to planning my next trip. I came back with 650 photos and so much to write about! I could have happily stayed on the road for another month, but due to work obligations, I squeezed in as much as possible in a week. Leaving on this trip was, by far, the best decision I have made in a long time. Looking back over the past 3 years, in which I have settled in Florida and only traveled back home to the Northeast, I regret not leaving the state and exploring more of the South sooner. While I have not been gone for very long, I am back a slightly changed, enlightened, and richer person. I learned a lot, met people whom I would never have encountered having not left, ate delicious Southern food, heard live music, and stood in jaw-droppingly beautiful and historic places. It is amazing how hitting the road can forever change your life and inspire you to seek and experience more than you did before.
"She was free in her wildness. She was a wanderess, a drop of free water. She belonged to no man and to no city." Roman Payne
I will say that I spent an enormous amount of time researching and planning out this trip and thoroughly enjoyed all the research that I did. Due to time constraints, this turned out to be crucial. On my next road trip, I will definitely take a little more time off work and split up the driving even more. I found that due to stopping and my obsessive picture-taking habits, my estimated driving times were way off, and it took longer to get from place to place. There were just so many picturesque little stops in between, and I couldn't resist! I was going to embark on this trip alone... I am very independent and have no problem traveling alone. A lot of times, I find it is easier to travel alone due to first, how many photos I take, and second, that I am a very fast-paced person with what can be expensive taste, and I often find it is difficult to coordinate travel with someone with different expectations. In the past, I have ventured off to Mexico by myself and spent many nights by myself in New York City. My mother, learning the details of my trip, offered to come along with me for the ride. She did not know what she was getting herself into! I give her credit for her patience - it certainly was quite a ride!
The first leg of my trip was from The Villages, FL to Mobile, AL. This was just under 500 miles. I drove to Crystal River, and from there, took route 19 to the scenic coastal highway, route 98, along the entire Florida panhandle to Pensacola. I had gotten sick a few days before the trip with sinus issues due to the extreme humidity in Florida, so I ended up sleeping in a little having finished work late the night before, and we left around 11am the next morning. The drive took about 12 hours (I have no idea how I estimated 6 to 7 hours) and we missed our scheduled dinner that night in Mobile. Regardless of missing a fine dining experience, it really was a beautiful leisurely drive, and I saw many places along the coast that I had not seen before. The drive was a bit drab until getting to the start of Route 98, in Perry, FL. Much of route 19 was a road carved out of pinetrees. Being from New England, I loved seeing pines, and the fresh pine scent began wafting in the car as we approached 98. The first time I pulled over, having finally found something picture-worthy, was in Crawfordville, and, yes, across the street from a pork smoker, it was a colorful watermelon stand, with a flashing "open" sign.
"I would rather have a mind opened by wonder than closed by belief." Gerry Spence
By the time we reached the watermelon stand, it was nearly 3pm, and we were starving. We were waiting for a place to picnic with a view of the water. We crossed a bridge over Ochlockenee Bay off of the Gulf of Mexico, and ended up finding a perfect little private beach on the other side of the bay with a shady spot for our picnic blanket, and of course, beautiful scenery. My mom had packed a delicious lunch: rotisserie chicken salad lettuce cups, olives and hot peppers, fresh fruit, and an assortment of cheeses, paired with glasses of pinot grigio, of course!
After lunch, we continued driving along the coast on Route 98, stopping further into Panacea for a view of the Gulf of Mexico. There we found another secluded beach area, perfect for a photo opportunity with my rental Challenger, which was comfortable, sporty, smooth-riding, and quite fun to drive! Here I am, estatic to be on the road headed to places I had never seen before!
Continuing along the scenic byway, the road continued to wind along the coast, allowing for a view of the water nearly the entire drive. We shortly reached the quiet town of Carrabelle, which was a pretty little coastal town, reminding me a little of New England beach towns, with several homes along the water and some wooded areas. Driving along for a few more hours, passing through what seemed to be an older more industrial town, Apalachicola, we continued onward. Eventually we reached a beach town that seemed to be much more touristy, Mexico Beach, with people walking along the street, hotels, restaurants, and even a little bar with live music. Finding an area with beach parking and a path onto the beach, I stopped, taking up the opportunity to put my feet in the Gulf, smell the salt in the air, feel the ocean breeze, and listening to the waves crash for just a few quiet minutes.
At this point, it was nearly 7pm already, and we still had several hours to go on our drive to Mobile. Looking back, I should have booked a night along the coast to break up the drive, and Mexico Beach would have been a perfect little area. It seemed to have a lot of character, and I would have liked to explore more... I realized I should limit my stops and forge ahead to Mobile. The drive was quiet, until we went through Destin. We hit some traffic and drove by many large colorfully lit restaurants, resorts, and bars. This would have been another great place to stay. The tourist traffic slowed us down a bit, and eventually we left the main strip of restaurants, and drove into the Fort Walton beach area, on a strip of road with the Gulf on both sides. The sun was going down, and alongside the road was a sandy area with tire tracks and what seemed like a perfect opportunity for a photo of the water with the last traces of the sun. It was here that I had a Tania moment; when I see what could be a spectacular photo, I just have to try to get that perfect shot... Well, I couldn't resist driving off the road into the sandy area, despite my mother telling me there were "no driving" signs... A few seconds later, I felt the car drop off the pavement and sink into the sand, which was much softer than I expected, the turning wheels digging deeper and deeper. Freaking out, I put the car in neutral, reverse, drive again, and tried accelerating... Nothing. At one point I got out and found a rock and tried shoveling some sand out from underneath the tires... Still nothing. We were stuck. Frustrated and upset, I was beginning to accept that we were never going to get to Mobile. Day 1 of the road trip, and to my embarrassment, I had gotten the car stuck in sand dunes.
My mother, who at this point had lost whatever traces of patience remained, angrily stepped to the side of the road and began trying to wave cars down to help us. After a few minutes, as car after car went by and no one stopped, I was about to the call the police, expecting to wait hours until we could get out of the sand. Miraculously, a large pickup truck pulled over with an enormous Confederate flag dangling off the back, and a young guy stepped out to examine the situation. In a Southern drawl, he said he worked as a landscaper, and drives up and down this road often, and he would be able to help pull us out of our mess. He said people get stuck often, and there is no way of driving out, that's why the signs were there, that I had regretfully ignored. He indicated the soft sand was just as bad as getting stuck in the snow up north... Calmly, after digging with a snow shovel and even laying in the sand to work, he placed a rope around my back tire, and as I steered the car in neutral, he slowly towed it backwards out of sand and back onto the road with his truck. He said it was simply Southern hospitality and to never call a tow truck, to simply ask a Southern boy to help! We gave this gentleman $40 and thanked him repeatedly for saving our day. The car was running fine with not even a scratch, and, only 20 minutes later, we would make it to the hotel after all. I really cannot thank this guy enough for coming to our rescue, and he gave me his business card, so I would like to promote his lawn service on here. If anyone is in the Fort Walton Beach area, please consider using T-N-T Lawn Service, as he certainly showed us what Southern hospitality is all about.
"A gentleman is not defined by the content of his wallet or the cut of his suit. He is defined by his manners and the content of his character." Unknown
We continued on our journey, surprised by a view of early Fourth of July fireworks shooting into the sky as we drove through Pensacola, and finally, after an exhausting day on the road, at about 11pm, we settled into our historic boutique hotel in downtown Mobile, Alabama, the Malaga Inn. The inn was originally two twin townhouses built in 1862, during the war, by two brothers-in-law. Parts of the inn include an old carriage house which now contains a dining area and a bar, a beautiful courtyard, and even tunnels under the West house, believed to be a hiding place for Confederate soldiers during the Civil War. We had a historic room with two high twin beds. When entering the room, it was like stepping back in time. It had all antique furnishings, creaky wooden floors, and was slightly eerie with a musty smell, yet incredibly unique in its own way, despite having a slightly haunted ominance. The room had beautiful diamond-shaped orange stained glass windows. The halls were dark, with giant wooden door frames, and decorated with dimly lit chandeliers. Since we missed our dinner reservations, we decided to take our picnic remnants, wine, cheese, cheddar bread, and smoked salmon, down to the courtyard for quiet moonlight dining after a very long day. It was still warm and humid outside, but the courtyard was beautifully lit by the glow of the moon shining amongst scattered clouds and the orange flickering flames housed in timeless lanterns. It was amazing and slightly mind-blowing to think of people sitting there under the same moon, with their horse-drawn carriages, nearly 2 centuries ago.
"I often think that the night is more alive and more richly colored than the day." Vincent Van Gogh
The next morning, sunlight streamed in the stained glass windows, casting an array of orange to almost burgundy colors across the room. We headed down across the courtyard to the old carriage house for complimentary breakfast. I had never had biscuits with sausage gravy or grits before moving down to Florida, and I will say it is an acquired taste, but if made well, both have the potential to be delicious. I passed up the bagels and waffles; considering I was in Alabama, I opted for the traditional Southern breakfast.
After breakfast, we headed outside to explore a tiny bit of the neighborhood before having to depart for Mississippi. The inn proved to be absolutely stunning in morning light, with its distinctive Southern charm.
We headed down the sidewalk, with a very humid breeze and specks of sunshine dancing around, filtered through the enormous beautiful green trees in the neighborhood. We passed historic builidings surrounding the inn and came across a fountain in Málaga Plaza, with a captivating story. The fountain features a fishmonger statue, a replica of the El Cenachero sculpture in Málaga, Spain. This was donated by the Málaga city council in Spain in honor of the "sister cities": Mobile and Málaga. The fishmonger is an honored figure in Málaga and was known to trade anchovies, mackerel, and sardines. Interestingly, on March 21st, Mobile honors "Málaga Day" and Málaga honors "Mobile Day." In 1779, Spain allied with France in the American Revolutionary War and overtook Mobile as part of Spanish West Florida until 1813. In both Málaga, Spain, housed in Mobile Park, and in front of the statue in Mobile, Alabama lies the following inscription, honoring each respective city:
"Málaga, sister city, we pledge ever to increase our understanding, our love and mutual respect, and we offer again living proof that true friendship can never be confined nor restricted by our countries' borders, nor by the oceans, nor by the years."
Prior to visiting Mobile and stumbling across this fountain, I was completely unaware of the city's ties to Spain. One of the joys of this trip was exploring new terrain and finding little pieces of history I never expected to see or learn about. With that, we departed Mobile to head to our next destination, Mississippi, en route to Tennessee (my favorite segment of the trip), which I will document in my next blog post. Still so many photos to share and so much to write about... Stay tuned!
I've had only a handful of pivotal moments in my life, all of which I will never forget. The first was when I was 18 years old, getting ready to graduate high school, and I was informed, very unexpectedly, that my father was not going to survive cancer. Growing up as an only child, and a tomboyish one at that, I was very close to my father. I still remember how excited I used to get when we would examine rocks together that I found (and cracked with a hammer and goggles) in our backyard. I'm sorry, but Barbies were boring and one-dimensional! In my mind, I was a budding geologist at 7 years old who was planning on finding dinosaur fossils and beautiful amethyst specimens that would be housed in Manhattan's Museum of Natural History. Lost in what I thought was the right direction, I ventured off to the University of Delaware to study environmental science, where I found myself surprisingly bored by the curriculum. Here I am now, a computer science major, with some sprinkles on top, or in academia terminology, a Master of Science in International Marketing Management (I wanted to do something techie with a creative spin). Cheers to a lot of late night projects, programming, and term papers. Woohoo! I still collect rocks, by the way...
Now where does this all leave me? Oh wait… We forgot my second pivotal moment. I was in California in my early twenties, exploring gardens outside of Santa Barbara with friends. I had strayed off on my own and found myself in a field of wildflowers overlooking the valley, with my point-and-shoot camera. The breeze was gracefully blowing across my back, the sun was warm on my neck, and my…. I was snapping amazing shots of vibrant flowers dancing in the wild. It was at that exact moment that I realized how in love I was with photography and capturing perfect chilling moments that probably no one would understand unless I snapped a picture of them. It was right then and there that I knew photography had to be, in some way, a part of my life. Shortly after, I enrolled in courses, workshops, and even a National Geographic expedition in Tuscany. Part of my masters degree requirements were to market a website, and, I ended up creating this portfolio site and what once was a photography business, which has now finally gotten a desperately-needed makeover and a new blog!
So let's skip over all the fluffy warm cotton candy feeling stuff about how I love photography and get to pivotal moment #3. My mother, who has always been there for me and is my best friend, decided to sell her house in CT and retire in Florida. Coincidentally, I had just gotten a business analyst job that offered to transfer me to their office location in Orlando. Always an adventurer, without hesistation, and with little holding me back, I knew moving was the right decision, as I had always wanted a change from living in CT, besides my 4 years away in Delaware for college. We packed up, took a leisurely road trip down the East Coast to Florida, with a few stops in Williamsburg and Savannah, and, well, here I am on a humid patio outside of Orlando sipping red wine and typing on my iPad overlooking stars and palm trees, rough life, I know.
This brings me to the last and current pivotal moment, #4. It has been an insanely busy few years since my move… Settling in, working like a dog (well more like a cute poodle), socializing, making new friends, learning to cook for myself, and, of course, the pursuit of what every girl wants (or thinks she does)... fried chicken... oh wait did I say fried chicken? I think I meant to say love... For the first time since I have moved into my little modern NY-gone-Florida apartment, a few weeks ago, I sat on my screened-in patio, with glimmering candles, the shadows of bamboo, and quietly ate my French chicken roulade dinner, freshly out of the oven, in calming and perfect silence. It was, in that moment, that I felt what I felt photographing the wildflowers in California. Somehow, for whatever reason, I am right where I need to be, where I am meant to be in life. Even though I have no idea why, but in the words of Steve Jobs:
"You can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something - your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever."
Recently, I had the urge to escape from Orlando and booked a spontaneous exploratory road trip through the South, which I have always wanted to do. Looking back, I am not sure why I waited so long to do this or to invest in myself, in traveling to places I have always wanted to see. I have come to the realization that I have lost focus in the past 5… maybe even 10 years. A generous person, I have given 90% of myself to work and numerous failed relationships, and as a result, what makes me happy and what makes me feel fulfilled was slipping farther and farther away from my grasp... And, I have been finding myself feeling more and more drained and disheartened. The grandest thing in life to me is traveling, photographing, learning, and exploring new places, new ideas. I realized this week that I have given that up in pursuit of a conventional white-picket-fence life which may suit others, but maybe it is not meant for me, and how much more time can I let slip away? Maybe someday, someplace, at the right time there will be a happy-ever-after. Or maybe happy ever after for me is a series of wonderful mind-broadening adventures that will give me amazing stories to tell?! And, as it turns out, I am pretty excited about the latter. So, in midst of preparing to leave for my first Southern road trip, here I am trying to pull together my photography portfolio and new blog in preparation for the beginning of a new chapter of my life. I want to see and explore as much of the world as possible and share my photographs and words, no longer as a business, but merely just as pure enjoyment, art, and love of life and all the little things I find along the way... And as my wise tea bag said the other day, sometimes we find the very best things and come to the greatest realizations when we stop searching and stop trying so hard to please everyone.
So, that leads me to my new vision for Tania Maria Photography. After working weddings and family portraits, I realized photography is only fulfilling to me when I can freely shoot what I like and what strikes me as beautiful, in the moment. At least right now, photography is not my career, it is my passion and what I do to relieve stress from my career. So I am maintaining my portfolio page to exhibit my photography, which is taking more of a stock/travel photography and fine art direction. I have also begun to dabble in painting and return a bit to drawing, which I will also exhibit here. I will try as frequently as possible to accompany my art with my story, which you will find on this blog. In the meantime, I am beyond ready to head out of state tomorrow, as I have not left Florida since last October. I will be heading through Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Georgia, and will leave all the exciting details for my future blog posts after I return in July. Here is a sneak peek at some of the goodies that will be hitting the road with me, along with my FUN rental muscle car (love driving it!), and another inspirational and perfectly timed message from my wise Yogi Tea bag this morning as I left town:
Needless to say, I'm definitely at a place in my life where I wouldn't call it lost, but open to discovery. I have no idea what the next few months will bring, let alone the next year, or where I will go, what I will do. But I do know that I am going to make it amazing, and the fact that it's all completely unknown is the fun part... It's so true that everything in life happens for a reason, and sometimes we need a little push to continue on the journey that's meant for us... Looking forward to sharing my adventures here with you and all the beautiful little moments I snap along the way! Until next time... See you in July!