Friday, December 18, 2009

Too Many Pictures to Count

You've gone on your trip. You spent days, weeks sightseeing, meeting new people, enjoying the local cusine and night scene. Your camera is full almost to its limit with pictures. You've returned home to reality. Now you want to share your experience in the best way possible. But how?
Sure, you could sit everyone down on the couch, have them surround your camera, and watch the film reel of photos flow by. But how fun is that, really? And let's face it, the computer isn't much better. Why not a scrapbook?

For those who have the time to spare, creating a scrapbook can be a release, an escape to your past vacations. It can be enjoyable to spread out all your colorful pictures and place them delicately and deliberately into formations and arrangements on the page. Stamping stickers, quotes, backgrounds, and borders makes the image complete, and appealing to the eye. You can even make it more personal by adding ticket stubs, flyers, maps collected from your travels. Most scrapbooking material can be found at Target, Wal-Mart, Michaels, even a local grocery store--though the selection may be limited. A personal favorite of mine, however, is Paper Source. A store dedicated to arts and crafts. You can find everything there from decorative paper to stamps, from unique pens to stickers, from design scissors to custom embossing. But be careful. If you're anything like me you will get lost in the masses of items and end up spending your whole paycheck. It can be expensive, so choose wisely.

For people without the time or the budget to scrapbook themselves, there is an easier option. It's called MyPublisher. Most people now have digital cameras, so those pictures are inevitably going to end up on the computer. Instead of picking out pictures, putting them on a flash drive or cd, bringing them to the store and paying upwards of $0.20 a print, you can simply download MyPublisher and import all the pictures you want into the program. They have various layouts to choose from--including a travel option--and then you can format the pages with one picture or twelve pictures. It's really up to you. You can even pick the cover--linen, book jacket, leather--and the size. Once you have designed your photobook, buy it. They print, bind, and deliver your book all for a pretty decent price. I have used this service three times now, and I'm never disappointed with the results, and everyone loves the books. They go perfectly on my coffee table.

Of course, not everything has to be done on the computer. For those particularly special pictures, get them blown up, printed, and nicely framed to place around your house or apartment.

Display those vacation photos proudly!!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Newsflash: Who Wants to Go to Mexico?


Thanks to the travelzoo newsdesk, I have learned that Apple Vacations is offering a week-long vacation package to three Mexican hot spots--Cancun, Puerto Vallarta, and Cozumel--for 60% off the original price. For a 7-night all inclusive trip--including airfare--prices start at $599.99**. To put this in perspective, that's about $90 per day per person for roundtrip flights, hotel accomodations at top resorts, airport/hotel transfer services, all meals and drinks (including alcoholic), and day and evening activities. Seems like a pretty good deal to me. Unfortunately it is only for a limited time, and travel must occur in the month of January--don't you hate limitations??? But if I had a week to spare, any of these hotels would be worth spending it at.

Cozumel- Melia Cozumel

Cancun- Blue Bay Club

Puerto Vallarta-Riviera Nayarit

This is just one of the many travel deals going on right now, and if time and money permit, it seems like a great one to go for. Plus, this bitter cold weather in Chicago just makes the sunny, white sand beaches of Mexico sound even more appealing.

**Taxes are not included in this price, so be aware of extra fees.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

For the Traveler in Your Family

It's the holidays--if you haven't noticed--and time for Christmas shopping. For those lucky few out there, gift ideas are streaming in like a strong wifi signal. But for the rest of us, finding the perfect gift is a little harder to come by. If you have an avid traveler in the family or as a close friend, I have a couple quick tips for possible presents.
If your world trekker enjoys venturing to countries where English is not the national language, opt for Rosetta Stone (or something like it because it is pretty expensive). Language learning systems are great gifts for anyone interested in learning a new language and hoping to use it on a future trip. Right now there are some decent holiday deals everyone should take advantage of.
They travel so much their luggage is starting to look a little worn out--and the fact that that zipper won't close all the way is a recipe for lost luggage disaster. Why not buy them a new suitcase? Or how about a whole luggage set? For those who practice tough love with their luggage, consider some serious baggage they will have a hard time breaking in. For something a little sleeker to suit that sophistacated type, there are some smaller, more creative, items you can look into.
Modern travel is not getting any more luxurious. In fact, making flying more enjoyable is next to impossible--unless you can afford those first class beds with private televisions and free champagne. So visit PB travel for cool accessories that make flying a little more tolerable. (Note: this website caters to women, but there are some pretty cool items.)
Something truly unique for a jetsetter is a personalized city map. Yes, you heard me right. A La Carte Maps combine the guidebook and the map in one easy to use tour guide which reduces the hassle of carting around a huge guidebook with so many places to visit it will make your head spin. You can get one made for a specific city, or there is the option to "create your own" city map where you can document the locations and adventures yourself. The possibilities are endless.
Finally, the best, and most obvious, gift for the traveler in your life: book a trip!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Being Spontaneous

If there is one thing I love in this world, it's an impromptu trip. Especially one home to Denver.

Let me rewind for a second. Every year my parents throw an amazing company Christmas party that their employees chat about for months to come. I am usually in attendance at this party, but this year, sadly, I wanted to get some more hours in at work to help pay off some high credit card bills--I have a shopping problem, I have acknowledged and accepted it. As a result, my travel plans home for the holidays had me missing out on the infamous festivities. However, things were in my favor this year.

My boyfriend is taking grad school classes online because his company will pay for it and he wants to get his Masters taken care of sooner rather than later. But because he took on two classes, he has had a lot of work to do, and his stress level is beyond a normal, healthy state. With the knowledge that his finals are next week, being around the apartment can be a large distraction for him, and I have nothing to do whatsoever, he decided he would pack up his things and head home to Crystal Lake for the weekend in the hopes of getting some real hard core studying done. When my mom heard this, she made a snap decision: Home was not the answer, he needed the apartment to himself. So she jumped online, found some great prices for flights, and booked me a ticket home to Denver. This way, not only would I be gone and out of his way, but I would also get to join in on the Christmas party tomorrow night.

When she called me last night in sheer delight of this plan, I was a little apprehensive. Did it really make sense to go home for a couple days, come back to Chicago to work for a few days, and then head straight back to Denver? Did I even have the time to do it? Would it be too stressful of a trip because it was so quick? After I had a moment to think about it, I realized I was the only one creating the stress in this situation. I have no commitments right now to hold me back, and I should take advantage of that while I still can--before classes start again and a full-time job becomes my life. Plus, as my boyfriend so astutely pointed out, I rarely get to see my parents--maybe two or three times a year, if I'm lucky. This year I have been lucky enough to see them more, and this was just one more opportunity. And I don't want to sound presumptuous, but these company Christmas parties are the best. It seemed too good to pass up. After rearranging some plans, I called my mom back and told her I was coming. She was elated.

I am aware of the fact that most people do not have this kind of time to just book a spontaneous trip somewhere for the weekend. But if by some chance you can find an extra day or two and a decent price on a flight--trust me there are many--then it may be worth a spur-of-the-moment vacation. Even if it's just up to a cabin a couple hours away, or into a city the next state over. Or maybe splurge for something bigger, a quick trip to Florida, California, the Bahamas. It can be anything you want it to be, and with all the obligations we have nowadays, wouldn't it be nice to just throw that schedule away for a few days and fly by the seat of your pants?

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Four Corners of the United States

Once again, a conversation with my boyfriend has sparked an idea. We were chatting on a drive back to Chicago from Milwaukee about the places in the United States we have visited or would like to visit. This may not sound all that exciting, but usually when we talk about travel we discuss exotic locations around the world we hope to go one day. But it occurred to me there are plenty of places in my own country that I have not visited and would like to. Steve said he wants to go to every corner the of the country: the Northwest--Seattle; the Northeast--Maine; the Southwest--Arizona/California; and the Southeast--Florida. (He has already made it to Key West, the southern most point of the U.S.--apparently.) Of those, I have only been to California and Florida, so I have a lot more ground to cover in my life.

There are fifty states in our country, and I have been to twenty-seven. Twenty-three to go. At the top of my priority list: Washington and Oregon
. Ever since I went to Vancouver this summer, I have been dying to go back to that North Pacific environment. After that, I'd love to go to Louisiana and see New Orleans. It will be a nice change from the frigid cold that has finally hit Chicago.

As much as I long to travel the globe and see all the world has to offer, there are regions around America that foster culture, history, and entertainment worth visiting. So maybe in the next few years I can make it around this country and see all the cities on my list. It just keeps growing the more I think about it. Looking forward to the road ahead...

Friday, December 4, 2009

Up In The Air

Traveling is a way to connect with other cultures, other worlds, other people. But for Ryan Bingham, it is a way to disconnect. With a job that keeps him flying constantly across the country, Ryan detaches himself from the pressures and stresses that come with people. He avoids weighing his life down with the baggage that inevitably comes with getting into relationships.

Up In The Air, the newest film from Oscar nominated director Jason Reitman (Juno, Thank You for Smoking), tells the story of a seemingly happy, yet cynical business traveler (George Clooney) who spends his life jetting from airport to airport. Ryan Bingham (Clooney) is a corporate downsizer, hired by large businesses to fire employees during an economic crisis. As he travels around the country, he finds comfort in the aspects that most people hate about flying: tight cabins, synthetic oxygen. He is the member of every travel rewards program imaginable and has a mileage goal in mind less than 10 people have ever reached. But Ryan's world is thrown for a loop when his boss (Jason Bateman) decides to cut costs with an idea from newcomer Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick) to ground his employees, for good. With no real home to return to, Ryan is faced with the prospect of setting up a stable base--something he has avoided all his life. With some help from a sultry, conspicuous traveler, Alex Goran (Vera Farmiga), and his sister's wedding approaching, Ryan gets a glance at a life he never thought he could have, and a true connection with another person.

I had the privilege of seeing a screening of this movie last night, and I highly recommend it. With just the right combination of sarcasm, irony, and heart, this film delivers on numerous levels. If the acting doesn't get you, then the script certainly will. Quick wit, insight, and blunt comments make for an unpredictable and enjoyable ride through the life of the ultimate traveler. You do not need to be a jetsetter to appreciate this film, or someone who has been fired, or someone who has fired someone else. You just have to be someone who relates to the curveballs life can deliver. Because it ultimately begs the question: Where will you go next?

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Just a Quick Thought...

...First, I'm sorry the entries have been lacking. I just finished the fall quarter last week, and now I have all this time on my hands and somehow I do not know how to handle it. I promise more posts to come.

...Second, IT'S DECEMBER!!! Christmas season is in full swing!! The Christmas lights and trees are going up all over the city!! The snow is falling--and for all the Chicagoans, it just started today!!

And with this holiday season comes the office blues. No one wants to be sitting in an office when the fectivities are taking place. Plus, the weather can be dreary, except when the snow is falling and settling nicely on the ground--and causing no traffic problems whatsoever in a perfect world. So to ease those times when you're feeling a little blue about sitting at a desk all day, find ways to celebrate the season while working.

1. Throw a holiday party at work-it doesn't have to be big and extravagent. Take a lunch hour, bring in Christmas cookies and some delicious casseroles--or sandwiches work, too--and have some sparkling cider. People will appreciate the break from the grind.
2. Find a Christmas Market: Plenty of cities have small markets selling crafts, gifts, and food. Chicago has the Christkindlemart in Daley Plaza. It's German, but anyone can go and enjoy the hot wine served in little boots, beer, brats, strudels, pretzels, and numerous vendors with delicate creations from all corners of Germany and beyond. What a way to experience the holiday and another culture all at once.
3. Take a trip!--Sure it's the holidays, and you should spend it with your family at home with a Christmas tree and presents. But why not jet off somewhere to go skiing? How about lazing on the beach? Or enjoying a nice mountain cabin? There are a lot of winter deals out there, so check them out and book a spontaneous vacation. That will certainly lift your spirits.

Personally, I'm looking forward to heading back to Colorado for two weeks to snowboard, lounge around the mountains, and spend time with my family and friends. It doesn't get much better than that.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Flying Innovations

I'm not really sure how we got on the subject, but my boyfriend and I were talking last night about flying: how expensive flights are, and how much time it takes to fly places. I was telling him that if I had the time and money to spend on flights, I would travel everywhere, and all the time. Unfortunately for both of us, money is the biggest issue and there is no way we could afford all those flights, with fees, taxes, etc. But then he said something interesting about how if the airlines could figure out ways to cut costs or create planes that were more fuel efficient, pricing could be improved.

This intrigued me, and today I actually found an article from Budget Travel that discussed the many innovations that airlines and airports are introducing. It was my luck that fuel efficiency was not mentioned anywhere, but there were plenty of other innovations that seemed interesting.

1. Cathay Pacific Airways, based in Hong Kong, has reinvented the coach seat. When a passenger reclines, the seat bottom slides forward rather than the back moving. This prevents the person behind from having the seat right in their face. My concern: would this cut down on leg room?

2. In cabin mood lighting. Not that kind of mood lighting. Rather softer light on long trips to help people adjust to time change. Apparently the harsh cabin lights can have negative effects on the brain as it is trying to fight jete lag. But better lighting could help travelers.

3. Worried about losing that boarding pass among your many bags and coats? Well, if you're anything like me, this next innovation will be most helpful. Mobile phone check-in. My dad mentioned this to me a while ago, but he said it did not work very well. But after some improvements, it seems like it could work well. When checking it, one enters their cell phone number and their boarding pass is automatically sent via email or text with a scanable bar code. The people at security and the gate simply scan the screen, and you're good to go. Now just don't misplace your phone.

4. Don't you hate it when you're working on an important document on your computer during a long flight and then your computer dies? In flight power sockets to the rescue! Virgin America was smart by providing Wi Fi on all flights, but to go along with it, there are individual power plugs at every seat. Needless to say, this will be helpful to those workaholic business types.

5. Upgraded radar is the newest innovation, but it is still in the early stages. Basically, radar is outdated, and it can take an airport up to 30 seconds to locate a flight--which I guess is pretty slow considering most planes travel at over 500mph. The FAA is rolling out NextGen, a GPS based air traffic control system, that gives real time plane locations to pilots and air traffic controllers. With this technology, planes will no longer have to fly those crazy zig zag routes, and flights will travel more efficiently.

Obviously, there are more innovations people would like implemented. (A few I read included sleeping compartments rather than seats for long flights, heated massaging seats, bigger windows, and letting passengers who didn't place luggage in the overhead bins leave the plane first.) Some are pretty out there, and others are just plain crazy. But isn't it nice to see that some things are changing?

Now if only we could discuss this free flight thing...

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Largest Sheet of Ice I've Ever Seen

Even with ice covering 80% of its surface, Greenland is still an incredibly beautiful country. And despite having an overall population of 55,000 people, there is plenty to do around the various regions.

Most of the inhabitants live on the West Coast, where Nuuk, the capital, is located. Cultures seem to collide in this area. One cannot help but notice the internet cafes and bus routes that have modernized the towns, and snowmobiles are a common form of transportation. But slightly to the north in Sisimiut,
dog sleds are still used in the traditional way.

For a complete contrast, head to the other coast and
witness the original Greenland--or the closest you'll come to it. There are only two towns in the area, because most of the time it is ice-bound and very secluded from the rest of the country. The language is totally different from the west, but it allows for the people to maintain their own eastern identity.

The North is known as the land of dog sleds and Midnight sun. When the fjords--waterways--freeze over, dog sleds are indispensable to fishers and hun
ters. During the summer, the sun never sets, and this period of endless light continues the further north you venture. The long distances between towns make for exciting boating trips where the full extent of the wildlife can be appreciated. One can see the skerries, the low mountains in the south, the monumental basalt mountains on Disko island, the highest mountains on the west coast near Uummannaq, the bird colonies on the cliffs of Upernavik and glaciers and ice fields along the way.

South Greenland is the greenest part of the country. In fact most of the flora of Greenland grow in this area. Since winters are much milder here, the culture is much different than the rest of the country. Where fishing and seal hunting are prominent elsewhere, the south has sheep farming and agriculture. Plus, the famous northern lights can be witnessed from this area at the end of August.

Venture to the farthest stretches of the north and you will find Qaanaaq. The average temperature in this area during February and March is around -30 degrees Celsius. Hunting is a way of life, and the people who live their use everything from their kills. Nothing from the hunt goes to waste: the skins are used for clothing and covering the kayaks; the flesh and offal are eaten by humans and domestic animals; the narwhal and walrus tusks are carved into finely-worked figures, jewelery and hunting instruments, and even feathers can be used in handicrafts.

All these regions surround the largest part of Gr
eenland, the ice sheet. It is a vast body of ice covering 1.71 km². It is the second largest ice body in the world, following Antartica's great ice sheet. The ice sheet is almost 2,400 kilometers long in a north-south direction, and its greatest width is 1,100 kilometers. But even with most of the country being covered with ice, it is difficult to ignore with such breathtaking scenery, culture, and history.

And no matter what area you visit, you will be greeted with brightly colored houses...

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

I Love a Good Road Trip

If you enjoy hitting the open road--or just going for a long drive--nothing makes the trip more satisfying than the right gear. But many of us can't afford all the equipment we would need for a quality cross country trip. Never fear, DailyCandy is here!! (Yeah, I know I talk about it alot, but this website is awesome!) They are offering a giveaway for all DailyCandy subscribers to get in on. Just enter your name and email address and you are automatically entered to win some pretty cool stuff.

1. The Magellan GPS System
2. An Oversized--and super cute--weekend bag
3. MP3 player car dock, and gift certificate to purchase more music
4. A new pair of sunglasses
5. A refillable Sigg water bottle and gourmet snack pack.

Check it out!
Magellan: Road Trip Essentials Giveaway

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Hot Spots for Next Year

Thanks to my new favorite website, Black Tomato, I know the "it" places to visit next year.

So if you have yet to book a vacation, here are some hot ideas for destinations that will be buzzing in 2010.

Turkey --one of the top places on my own list--will be a popular place for many tourists. Since it is out of the "eurozone" it's a bargain trip for sure. Istanbul, the thriving capital city, has a mixture of everything. It brings in aspects from other countries, while maintaining it's Turkish Style. And if a city scene is not your thing, there are plenty of mountain ranges and stretches of beach to keep you satisfied.

Colombia! Yeah, emphasis was necessary. I mean, the country has gotten a bad reputation in the past, but it also has so much to offer a willing traveler: The Caribbean Sea, the Andes, colonial cities and the Amazon. Jungles, Mountains, Beaches, Oh My!

How about a safari in Africa? On a boat? Yeah, if you head to Botswana. Journey to the Okavango Delta and you'll see plenty of wildlife. And it's an added bonus if you are viewing from a river cruise ship. But don't worry, you can venture on land as well.

Australia is always popular. But there is more to see than the Sydney Opera House. Venture to Western Australia for a more rugged landscape. The reefs here rival the Great Barrier Reef, and the wine is some of the best in the world. And who wouldn't want to swim with whale sharks?

The Middle East does not seem like the most ideal place to visit right now, but give Syria a chance and you may come back singing a different tune. Hit up Aleppo, poised to be the hippest new city in the Middle East, and you will be greeted with a culture rich in history, tradition, and food.

As for Central America, head to Nicaragua. Why you ask? Two words: volcano surfing.

For a bit of a slower, more relaxed vacation, Bhutan is the place for you. With a zen-like atmosphere, you're sure to leave your worries behind in the office. Plus, the scenery is simply breathtaking. So cross your legs, breathe deep, and say Om.

India is definitely on the list, and why wouldn't it be? One can explore the psychedelic cities of Delhi, Jaipur and Udaipur; and watch wild tigers in the thick jungle of Pench. Plus, venture into Amber--the ancient capital of religion--on the back of an elephant.

Wandering back over to South America, Chile has made the list. I don't know about anyone else, but I have been dying to go here for years, ever since my friend showed me pictures of Changara Lake. And with a long list of "best of's"-best landscape, best activities-there is plenty to see and do. Sip some of their heavenly wine along the way, too.

Finally, make time to visit colorful Tanzania. Black Tomato provides an exclusive safari destination that few have ever heard of. So if you want to see a place full of animals and devoid of other tourists, check out their website.

So there you have it, the top places to go to next year compliments of me and Black Tomato. Honestly, I'm going to be adding some of these locations to my list.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

South Africa is Booked!!!

For those of you who have been paying attention to my blog, I mentioned a couple weeks ago how expensive flights to South Africa are and the difficulty we have had in booking them.

Well, no need to worry further...our flights are completely booked!!

Thanks to my parents insane determination--and many, many frequent flier miles--we successfully found flights. Admittedly, it is going to be a long trip, but it's a sacrifice we are willing to make. First, my boyfriend and I fly from Chicago to Newark and meet my parents there, then we all fly over the pond together to Lisbon. We have to stay a night in Lisbon, but I've never been to Portugal, so that makes it all the more exciting. Then we fly from Lisbon, have a stop over in Mosambique, and then arrive in Johannesburg. The final leg is Johannesburg to Durbin. Yeah, it's gonna take us about three days to travel there, but that's half the fun, right?

Needless to say, I am very excited for this trip. The flights are set, the hotel is booked. Now all we have to do is wait. Wait for the matches to be decided--so we know who we'll be watching during the tournament. And wait for that glorious June day when we board the plane for our African journey.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Travel Website to Explore: Black Tomato

How is it possible I did not know about this website? I have no idea.

I receive emails from DailyCandy--a current events/pop culture website that talks about everything from food to fashion to art--and usually I get ones that specifically relate to Chicago. But I also signed up to get updates from DailyCandy Travel, which I receive maybe once a week. Most of the time the articles are about destinations the writers went to and what they liked about them. I enjoy reading these, mostly because I like to learn about new places and the things I can do while visiting. But this week I got an email that discussed DailyCandy Travel's new feature on Black Tomato.

Instantly intrigued, I ventured to the website. I soon discovered that this was not like any other travel website that just offers flight and hotel deals. This was much, much more. Not only do they discuss travel trends and point out must-see spots; they work closely with travelers to create a special, tailor-made, unique experience that fits their needs, budget, and desires.

The founders of Black Tomato--having a hard-core love of travel--realized that there are lots of people out there who want to travel, but may not have the time in their busy lives to put all the necessary planning into a trip. That's where Black Tomato comes in. Just tell them where you want to go, how long you want to stay, and what you want to spend, and they take care of the rest. They can plan incredible outings for travelers, like swimming between tectonic plates in Iceland or motorbike safaris in Botswana. They feature honeymoon vacations in destinations like Estonia--or Mexico, if you're looking for something more classic. Honeymoons, as a matter of fact, are one of their specialties. So if you're on the lookout for something truly original for that special trip after the big day, take a look at their honeymoon destinations. But you don't have to pick from a pre-created one, they can help you make one from scratch. They make you your own web page with all the details of your honeymoon. Pretty cool, uh?

Who wouldn't want someone else making arrangements for their trip? I mean, obviously, I want some say in the matter. But they work with you the whole time to make sure you're getting the vacation you want--and deserve. We work hard, our vacations should be everything we want.

One aspect of the website I really like is their way for people to search on vacations. There is a drop down box next to their "browse our ideas:" icon that reads "by need." When scrolled over, the box shows needs like "some bustle," "to get lost," "a purpose," or "freedom." I think that really stands out because everyone has different reasons for wanting to get away.

An added bonus--at least for me--is that DailyCandy subscribers get exclusive trips that are not available to anyone else. Also, if you book any trip through them, they will throw in a little something extra, whether it's an extra night's stay at the hotel, free airport transfers, a romantic dinner, or a day excursion--and it's all on Black Tomato.

I am seriously considering booking my next trip through these guys.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Worth Revisiting

Last night I was looking through old photos on my computer with my boyfriend. We were trying to pick out ones we liked to frame and hang in our study/guest room. As I scoured through the numerous files that documented my college years, a sense of nostalgia rushed over me with each memory I saw. And then we got to the pictures of all my trips, and I got this overwhelming desire to go back.

I mention in this blog all the time about how I want to see the world and venture to new places. I have a list on the side that mentions all the cities or countries that I desperately want to see. But there are plenty of places I have gone that I would consider revisiting.
With a lack of money and time, why waste it on a place you've already been?

This is an exellent question, and I'll be the first to say that I would rather vacation somewhere new. But there are certain places that just stay with a person, that have such an affect that one can't help but go back time and time again.
I have been to Italy 4 times, and if I was given the chance to revisit, I would do it in a heartbeat. Not only has Italy had such a profound impact on my life, but there is still so much of the country I have not seen. The Southern areas, particularly the Amalfi Coast, are at the top of my list. (Sicily is technically it's own country, but that is worth exploring for sure.) I have barely scratched the surface of the Eastern portion and the Umbrian region. And who wouldn't want to explore the Italian part of the Alps and snowboard in Torino? On top of there being more for me to see, there is plenty to do in Italy. I want to learn more about Italian cooking, Venetian jewelry, Roman architecture. Keeping busy in Italy would be pretty simple.
But the photos of Italy were not the only ones that made me want to go back. I was looking at the photos from my spring break trip to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, and I could just picture myself back on that beach watching the sunset. Or the pictures of me and my mom in Hawaii riding ATV's through the old sugar cane fields, and how I would love to have that dirt on my face again. And even the depressing photos from my trip to Auschwitz, Poland, made me yearn to return to the country and see some of it's more culturally festive and active cities.
I think now I may have another list--places I would definitely want to revisit in my life:
*Australia-Sydney, Melbourne, the Outback
*Paris, France
I'm sure there are others that I would go back to, but those are the top destinations.
Where would you go again?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Halloween Presents a Chance to Escape

All-Hallows Eve is almost upon us, scared yet?
Well, unless you've been visiting haunted houses, decking your place out in creepy spiderwebs and ghoulish pumpkins, or seeing horror flicks like Paranormal Activity--I hear it's pretty freaky--then you're probably not in the mood to be scared. And I'm with you on that. I prefer to look at the lighter side of Halloween: dressing up in fun and ridiculous costumes that allow you to be someone else for the night.
I just finished buying the last accessories for my costume, and I am ready to escape to a different world. While I don't want to give away what I am planning to be, I will divulge this: my costume will take me to a mythological time, when wine ran like water.
Mostly I'm excited because my costume reminds me of my time in Italy, and it got me thinking about how a lot of costumes on Halloween are inspired by distant places. Knights, princesses, eskimos, Romans, Russian guards, British guards, Kings, Queens. Those fancy masks and disguises were inspired by the Venetians and their masquerade balls during carnivale. I am aware that many people dress up as nurses, cops, soldiers, doctors, animals, etc., which can all be found in the U.S. But I like the idea of bringing another world into ours, even for just one night.

Happy Halloween!

Friday, October 23, 2009

The Moon, Come to Earth

Usually on Thursday nights, I sit in the ever-chilly McGaw Hall at DePaul University for three hours of Memoir Writing. But last night, my professor graced us with a pleasant surprise: A private reading from Philip Graham's travel memoir.
So, munching on some refreshments provided by the University, we all listened attentively as Graham read three dispatches from The Moon, Come to Earth:Dispatches from Lisbon. Graham spent a year in Portugal with his wife and daughter, and this book is a selection of essays from that time. As he read, I was drawn into his stories about the cuisine--every dish includes pork in some form--and a trip with his family for a weekend break from Lisbon, and finally about witnessing a reality television show similar to our Beauty and the Geek. He was funny, insightful, and interesting, and despite knowing that money is a little tight right now, I caved and bought a copy of the book. Hopefully some of his stylistic prose will rub off on me and help with writing my own travel memoir.
When he was signing my copy, I mentioned my desire to be a travel writer and the story I am currently working on. Immediately he asked to know more and seemed to be intrigued by my adventures. It was a promising reaction, and some of my doubts and reservations melted away as he gave me some advice and pointed me toward a book that might help me organize my memories. He thanked me for coming, but really I had to thank him, because his reading made me even more excited to document my own stories. I cannot wait to read the rest of his book, and hopefully finish mine soon.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Last Minute Travel on Halloween...

...make sure you read the fine print.

When I heard from Travelzoo that JetBlue was offering all nonstop U.S. routes on Halloween for $31 each way, I thought it was too good to be true. So I clicked the link to see what the deal was.

Turns out, there are a couple technicalities:
1. You have to book the flight TODAY! That's right, the deal only lasts until 11:59 p.m. tonight, Oct. 20.How can anyone in one day figure out where they want to go--on Halloween of all days--and get it booked in time?
2. The price is only valid on flights that depart after noon on Oct. 31--so if you wanted to leave in the morning so you could get to your destination earlier and have more time to spend there, it's not an option.
3. It claims that the cost is $31 each way, but according to the website, the price is applied to a one-way ticket. How are you suppose to get back? And since the price only applies to the day of Halloween and ends at 11:59 p.m. on the 31st, you have to pay for a full price ticket for the return flight--unless you want to fly there and back in one day, but who wants to do that?

Personally, I'd rather save myself the money and the hassle and just stay home for Halloween. I appreciate a good travel deal as much as the next person, but this doesn't sound like much of one to me.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Bing! I Found a New Place I Want to Go!

Lately I have been frequenting, the new search engine from Microsoft. Now, I'll be honest, I do still use google everyday, but Bing gives me a different element I can really appreciate: A gorgeous new photo background everyday. And provided me with inspiration.

Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria, Germany, is literally a fairytale come true. Translated it means New Swan Stone Palace, which sounds pretty mythical. And if the name doesn't do it for you, how about the castle itself? An idyllic structure atop a mountain, the castle has become an extremely popular tourist attraction, drawing millions to its doors each year. Not only that, but it was also the inspiration for Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland Park. And if Disney likes it, it must be good.

So I will now be adding this to my list of destinations to visit, and hopefully I'll have my own stunning picture of this medieval castle.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Struggling with Airfares

I know that right now is a great time to travel. Hotel deals galore, cheap flights, and easier ways for people to redeem miles. But my family and I are still battling with finding reasonable flights for the world cup next summer.

"But it's 8 months away!" You might be thinking.

Well, unfortunately because it is such a big event and the destination can take two days to reach, we need to jump on flights right now. But every time we search on any combination of options--Chicago to London to Johannesburg, or New York to Paris to Johannesburg--we are looking at prices far exceeding $2000. That is just way outside our price range, especially me and my boyfriend who are struggling graduate students.

But it isn't just the expensive airfare that poses an issue. Once we get to Johannesburg, we then have to find a way to Durbin, the city where we have tickets for games. The easiest option is to fly because it gives us more time to get there before the first match, but that's more money--as you can imagine. The train takes the whole night and we would arrive just before the game and a day later than our hotel check-in date, and the bus takes even longer.

I am tempted at this point to reach out to anyone in the travel business who may be able to find us a good deal. If we can't find one soon, we may have to bite the bullet and book the expensive flights.

I'm gonna need to start saving.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Shipping up to Boston

This past week/weekend, I went to Boston, Massachusetts.

I had never been to
beantown before, but I had expectations built up in my head. Historic buildings and architecture, classy neighborhoods, cold weather, good food, and, um, cultured people. And to my delight and dismay, most of those assumptions were correct.
On my first night in Boston, I was greeted by my best friend from high school, Emily, and she helped me hop the
T--still not sure why it's called that--to my parent's hotel, the Taj. After dropping off my luggage, we headed out to meet everyone at a local seafood restaurant, Legal Seafood. My brother, his friends, and my parents were all a couple drinks in and still waiting for their food, so we joined the festivities. A couple samples from each person's dish, and I was convinced that Boston would have a promising food selection, and I would have to divulge in a full meal the next day. After dinner, Emily and I headed off with my brother and his entourage to a place called Foundation Lounge. Your pretty average loungy bar and hot night spot. We received bottle service--pretty classy right?--and relaxed on couches reserved for our group. After Emily left because she worked early the next morning, the bar continued to thrive with more and more people arriving. But what became clear was that this was not really my scene, and the people were not all that thrilled with our presence there either. My brother began dancing around tables and got a couple sharp glances from the local crowd. Apparently some behavior is just unacceptable in Boston.

After stumbling back to the hotel at 2 a.m.--so not my style on a Wednesday night--I crashed until about 9 a.m. or so. Once showered and a bottle of water in hand, my parents and I hit
Newbury Street--the Michigan Avenue of Boston. Expensive clothing stores, cute boutiques, and fashionistas galore lined the street as we walked through the chilly fall air. Since it was almost noon when we finally started our day, we headed to a highly recommended restaurant on Newbury called Stephanie's. The warm setting, with a cozy fireplace and white linen table clothes, was welcoming for a group of tourists. After scanning the menu, which listed things from lobster salad rolls to citrus crusted salmon, I opted for an old classic which I have never had the opportunity to taste--New England Clam Chowder. Just a cup of this creamy mixture, and my entire body felt warm and satisfied. Definitely an item I will be eating again. The rest of the afternoon was spent scouring the shops for dresses--mostly for my mom--and I am happy to report that after four hours of searching, she finally found one she liked.

That night we all got dressed up for my brother's movie screening--the whole reason I went to Boston in the first place. Emily, her roommates, and I quickly dolled ourselves up in dresses and heels, while munching on cheese and crackers and sipping pinot grigio. Then we headed over to Cambridge--just across the river from Boston--to the theater where the movie was showing. We were greeted with free drinks and a spread of food. Once most guests had arrived, we moved into the theater, took our seats, and waited for the movie to begin. The Lonliest Road in America is the product of over a year of hard work and dedication from my brother, Colin Day, and his friend, Mardana Mayginnes (forgive the harmless plug). And it seems it was received with plenty of praise from the Boston crowd, and they aren't the easiest people to impress. The night ended with an after party at a local Irish pub with more drinks and food.

It's pretty clear I was well fed on this trip.

My last full day in Boston, I went sight seeing with my parents. We pretty much saw everything one should see while they're there: Trinity Church, Copley Square, Boston Common--to see the colors change,-- The Massachusetts State House, the Old State House, Faneuil Hall, and Quincy Market. At first, we had every intention of just making our way through Boston Common, and then we were not even sure what we would do next. But as it turns out, and this surprised me, Boston is not that big. Once we got through the Commons, there was the State House with its famous gold dome. Then we realized we were close to downtown, and it was an easy walk to the Old State House and Quincy Market. It was actually a very pleasant walk--minus the rain that seemed to follow us through the day. And while the city is not the easiest to navigate because the streets were not built on a grid system and there is no logical order to how they are set up, we were able to figure out--with help from street maps and my mom's GPS on her iphone--where we were and how to get to the next place. When we arrived at Quincy Market, we were starving. So we found a little cafe under the building called Salty Dog Grille and Cafe (sorry, couldn't find a website.) Now because of the location, it was pretty much known as a tourist spot. But we were hungry, it was raining, and we just needed some place to rest. We didn't want to wait for a table so we just sat at the bar, which turned out to be the best choice. It felt a lot more personal and comfortable, and the bartender was extremely friendly. My parents both got fish and chips and I opted for the crab cakes--another meal I was told I had to try while there. We each got a Sam Adams brew--them the Boston Lager, me the Oktoberfest--and they were very enjoyable.

After a long day of sightseeing, we headed back to the hotel, relaxed, showered and got ready to meet Emily for our last dinner in Boston. We went to a french restaurant that was recommended to us called Troquet. A quiant little place perfect for the theater crowd. A little fancier than I anticipated, but wonderful nontheless. My parents both ordered the lamb, Emily sampled the langoustines, and I nibbled on a rich pasta dish with mushrooms and truffle. If ever you're in Boston and you have a little extra money to spare, check this restaurant out, it is delicious.

Before my flight left on Saturday, there was still one more thing I had not done in Boston. I needed to go to the Omni Parker House and order a Boston Cream Pie--a round cake split and filled with custard and frosted with chocolate--the official desert of Massachusetts. The hotel apparently invented this sweet confection, though it is difficult to prove, so I figured why not go to the place where it all started. So after a large brunch with Emily and our friend Erik who came up to visit from New York, we headed over to the hotel. We ordered one piece to pie to share, and when it was placed on the table we all gazed in awe at its beauty. I almost didn't want to dig my fork into the perfect frosting...but I did! And heaven never tasted so good.

So maybe the people could have been nicer and the weather a little less dreary, but overall the trip to Boston was memorable. Add family, good friends, beautiful sights, strong drinks, and scrumptious food, and you've got yourself a darn good time in beantown.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Live Actively

Being active is extremely important to me, and I try to include some kind of physical activity into my daily routine, whether it's walking instead of taking the bus or actually going to the gym or taking a bike ride. However, there is a problem beginning to emerge...the weather.
Yeah, it's getting colder out there, and that makes it harder to drag yourself off the comfortable couch, lift the warm blanket off your body, and head into the frigid outdoors. But autumn and winter--unfortunately and fortunately--bring holidays with some of the most delicious delicacies. Personally, I can't get enough pumpkin pie. So keeping our bodies moving is essential.
Another problem I came across this past weekend, after talking to some executives that my boyfriend works with, is that traveling can make it even more difficult to hit the gym. People who travel for work have a lot on their plates as it is, and finding the time to get 30 minutes of cardio a day can be tough. I'm leaving to go on a three-day trip to Boston today, and I'm not sure when I'll get a workout in (which is why I got up an hour earlier this morning so I could bike). But I thought about it, and there are ways to get past these obstacles.
For travelers:
  • In the morning, hit the gym at the hotel--they usually have them--and bring some documents to read while you plug away on the elliptical/bike/stairmaster. Kill two birds with one stone.
  • Take the stairs throughout the day. You'd be surprised how many calories it can burn. And it gets your heart rate up.
  • Walk to lunch instead of taking public transportation or a cab. (Do this only if time permits.)

For people who dread the cold:

  • Sign up for fundraising walks or runs--it gives you more of an incentive to get out there because it is for a good cause. I just participated in the AIDS run/walk and even though it wasn't that cold, it was totally worth getting up early and running 3 miles.
  • Walk to the next bus stop--of course the one right in front of your house is convenient, but walking a couple extra blocks a day can really make a difference.
  • Get a gym membership--if you don't already have one. And if you don't want to go out in the cold to walk there, drive or take a bus. As long as you go, it doesn't matter how you get there.

I don't expect everyone to be like me and go out of their way to get a workout in, but it's all about the little things you do everyday. I know that when I go to Boston, I'll have to find ways to get physical activity because a gym will not be readily available. But I plan to go shopping tomorrow, and how else do you shop? You walk, a lot.

Monday, October 5, 2009

It's October, Where Shall We Go?

Fall has arrived--yes, it's official now even though the first day of autumn was two weeks ago. It's October now, the weather is actually starting to cool down, and I'm leaving my apartment with a scarf, jacket, and boots every morning. Not that I'm complaining, I love my stylish, fall jackets and my adorable knee-high boots. But the question on my mind is, where should one travel this time of year?
It's difficult because of work and school to find time to go anywhere, but if one has a couple sick days stored up, has a list of destinations that seem pretty sweet. I don't agree with every location on the list, and in fact some I would skip all together no matter what time of year it is. But there were a couple that intrigued me--because I had never been there--and some that definitely made me want to pack my bags and head to the airport.
The first one I was interested by was Maine. I have never ventured to the northern-most area of New England, but I have always heard good things. I have a friend who lives in Maine, and according to her it is unbelievably beautiful. And in the fall, I'm sure, the colors are breathtaking. And who wouldn't want to see a moose just wandering through the woods? The best way to get there, according to the article, is to fly through Boston--which I get the privilege of visiting this week (future post about the trip to come). Apparently airfare is pretty cheap right now, so why not hit up the picturesque landscapes of Maine.
Heading over to the West Coast, Napa and Sonoma made the list, and I have no objections to this at all. Um, hello, it's wine country! And fall is harvest time. Tourists will have the chance to participate in special activities as the grapes are being brought in from the vineyards such as grape stomping, wine-education courses, dinners and tastings. Being a wine lover myself, this would be an ideal trip to take with either my boyfriend or some girlfriends.
Venturing across the pond...ROMA!! When I saw this on the list, I nearly leaped out of my chair. For those who don't know--and I'm actually not sure I've ever mentioned it in this blog--I lived in Rome for four months three years ago. I was even there during the mild autumn months, and I can tell you all from personal experience it is worth the visit. This time of year is known as ottobrate romane--Rome's beautiful October days. Also, the wine will be spilling in from the vineyards, and the ripe olives falling from the tree branches. For all you chocolate lovers out there, like me, truffles are also a popular item in Italy at this time, appearing in dishes everywhere. Bring in fall "stile italiano."
Apparently Puerto Vallarta is a great place to visit this time of year. I, for one, am all for a Mexican getaway. The summer rains will have faded by this time, and the weather is temperate. In November there are a number of festivals going on in the city. Who wouldn't want to spend an autumn weekend on the beach? In a tropical enviornment? I wouldn't object to that.
Now, there were a couple places on the list I said I did not agree with, so I am going to replace those suggestions with a couple of my own...just for fun:
  • Denver, Colorado--yes I hold a bias, but it is still beautiful in the fall, especially if you head to the mountains.
  • Vancouver, British Columbia--Canada is known for it's gorgeous fall scenery.
  • Redlands, California--come on, the Redwoods have to be worth seeing in the fall.

Anywhere you think would be a good destination to go during fall???

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

O'zapft is!--Not For Much Longer

"It's Tapped!" was screamed enthusiastically by the mayor of Munich on September 19th, and the drinking began. Now in it's final week, Oktoberfest is as popular today as it was when it first began.

The first official Oktoberfest was actually a celebration to commemorate the marriage of Prince Ludwig and Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen back in 1810. Since then, the festival has grown each year and become a national tradition for Germany, as well as other countries around the world who have created their own Oktoberfests. Now millions flock to Munich every year, dressed head to toe in Sennerhut, Lederhosen, and Dirndl. They crowd the beer halls and stuff their faces with Hendl (chicken), Schweinsbraten (roast pork), Haxn (knuckle of pork), Steckerlfisch (grilled fish on a stick), Wurstel (sauseges), Brezeln (pretzel), Sauerkraut, and various other Bavarian delicacies.

But the most popular aspect of Oktoberfest is--of course--the steins of beer clinking together over the long,wooden tables. These steins have been a tradition at Oktoberfest since before the 1900s, and I think they will remain a staple for many more years to come.

While Oktoberfest is known for being a wild drunkfest, it is about much more than drinking. It is a time when people from all over Germany and the world can come together for one big party. Differences are put aside, problems are washed down with each sip of beer, laughter and music can be heard throughout the streets. It is truly a chance to broaden your horizons and step outside your comfort zone.
I have never had the opportunity to visit Munich, but if I ever do, I hope it is during Oktoberfest. I would love to sit at those long tables with a stein in one hand and a large Brezeln in the other enjoying the company of strangers. Next year marks the 200 year anniversary of the festival--who knows, maybe I'll gete the chance to stop on by for the big event.