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 Bing.com, 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 today...it 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, Bing.com 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???