Friday, April 29, 2011

A Royal Affair

The alarm went off at four-thirty this morning, and I did not bolt right up in my bed. No, in fact, it took me a good five minutes of self-loathing and stubborn debating in my head before I whipped the covers off and peeled myself out of bed. I quickly changed, splashed my face with water, came out to my living room and switched on NBC to watch the event that so demanded my early rising: the Royal Wedding.

4:45 am: I caught the first few royal family members driving up to Westminster Abbey, including Queen Elizabeth as she stepped out of her car in a classic suit and a hat--because she's never without one. And then I saw Kate Middleton sneak into her car, and caught a glimpse of the top half of her dress, a long sleeve lace overlay with the sweetheart neckline. Her ivory silk tulle veil draped across her face with perfection, and her sparkling tiara was something to be envied by every bride-to-be, or young girl watching at home. As she stepped out of the queen's Rolls-Royce Phantom VI (yeah, I know cars), the full extent of her gown was revealed, and it did not disappoint. The dress, designed by Alexander McQueen creative director Sarah Burton, featured an ivory satin bodice and a low cut back, with lace to cover her bare skin. Its shape was extremely traditional, with a nine foot train, which was carried by her sister and maid of honor, Pippa. (I won't go into the details of her dress, but it was spectacular, too!)

As Kate clasped onto the arm of her father, Michael Middleton, I sensed that the nerves started to set in just a little. At one point, I swear I saw her stumble slightly, though that could have been the shoes she was wearing, or a bump in the carpet leading up to the doors of the church, but I'd  like to think that it was a moment of weakness in an otherwise flawless ceremony.

Kate walked down the aisle to the tune of The Introit, as well as the anthem I Was Glad, written by Sir Charles Hubert Hastings Parry (wow that's a lot of names). It took Kate three and a half minutes to walk down the aisle to William. (I didn't actually time it myself, I just read that in an article.) The couple smiled brightly at one another as they stood hand in hand listening to the priest give his opening prayer. They wasted no time in getting to the vows and the ring exchange. And as the couple committed their lives to one another, and consented to be husband and wife, I could hear cheers from the crowds waiting outside. Both Kate and William held back tears as they spoke those sentimental words, and I have a feeling thousands of others cried tears of joy for them.

After the vows, there was no kiss--that was saved for later--and the service continued. Catherine (which is what she is requesting people call her now) sat next to William off to the side of the altar, as her brother, James, stepped up to give a reading from Romans 12:
I APPEAL to you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God - what is good and acceptable and perfect. Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honour. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.

I was not planning to include the whole reading, but I thought it was so fitting for the occassion--which is obviously why they chose it--and it also spoke to me and how I should act in my own life. Anyway, I digress...

At this point, it was a little after five thirty in the morning and I was starting to get tired again after my initial excitement began to wear off. But then the Right Reverend and the Right Honorable Dr Richard Chartres stood up to give his address and he started with "Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire." Those immortal words were spoken by Saint Catherine of Siena, whose memory is honored on this day, too. It was such a powerful way to begin, and he had me hooked from that moment on. This man is a scholar, a well-spoken, intelligent and insightful man, and I personally would love for him to give me an address as elegantly delivered as this one. I regret that I had my hands full with other tasks and was unable to jot down everything he said, but I was able to catch a few things:

In a sense every wedding is a royal wedding with the bride and the groom as king and queen of creation, making a new life together so that life can flow through them into the future.

A spiritual life grows as love finds its centre beyond ourselves. Faithful and committed relationships offer a door into the mystery of spiritual life in which we discover this; the more we give of self, the richer we become in soul; the more we go beyond ourselves in love, the more we become our true selves and our spiritual beauty is more fully revealed. In marriage we are seeking to bring one another into fuller life.

Marriage should transform, as husband and wife make one another their work of art. It is possible to transform as long as we do not harbour ambitions to reform our partner. There must be no coercion if the Spirit is to flow; each must give the other space and freedom.

We are all incomplete: we all need the love which is secure, rather than oppressive, we need mutual forgiveness, to thrive.

When the service was over, William and Catherine made their way back down the aisle and stood in the entryway of the church to greet the world as a newly wedded couple. Of course, now they will not just be known as William and Catherine--though I plan to call them that. They were given a slew of new titles, the first being the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, with dukedom as the highest rank in the British peerage. They will also be called Earl and Countess of Strathearn and Baron and Baroness Carrickfergus--the latter makes me giggle just a little.

The Kiss! Credit: ABC News
The couple climbed into an old horse-drawn carriage, and rode off back down the same route they took to get to the church. The whole family followed behind as they made their way to Buckingham Palace. Between their arrival there and their appearance on the balcony out front, I had to tear myself away from the television quickly to get ready for work--because some of us still have to go to the office. Luckily, I made it out of the shower and into the living room in time to witness William and Catherine's first kiss. It was a bit lackluster, to say the least, lasting a mere two seconds. I actually missed it, because I was looking down at the delicious Ann Sather's cinnamon roll that I ate for the occasion. Thank God for DVR. Though I was disappointed in the kiss, they made up for it by giving the crowd a second, much longer smooch, and then I was satisfied.

I am not sure what the rest of the day holds for the royal couple, but sources have said they will have an official reception with the Queen and her subjects in the afternoon, followed by their own personal ceremony this evening. The event tonight will be a smaller, more intimate affair, with about 300 guests and all the traditional wedding happenings, including the best man's speech and the first dance.

While I was forced to get up very early this morning, it was nice to get lost in a fairytale world for a few hours. It was like a dream watching Catherine shine in her gorgeous wedding gown as she declared her love for William for all the world to see. This is truly a special event, and one I will not soon forget.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

A Room Fit for a Princess

As many of you know, tomorrow is the day of the royal wedding, when Prince William will marry Kate Middleton in front of 2,000 guests and nearly one billion viewers around the world. Kate will ride down a long parade route, waving at spectators that have been camping out for days just to get a glimpse of her white-gloved hand. She will then step out in front of Westminster Abbey where thousands of paparrazi will flash pictures of the gorgeous bride in her flowing wedding gown designed by--well, we don't know yet. Once she walks through the doors, she will float down the aisle towards her prince, who she will promise to love and cherish until death parts them.

Needless to say, Kate's under a lot of pressure.

So how do you prepare for such a large spectacle as this? Stay in a fabulous hotel, of course!

Kate will be spending her last night as a single lady in the five-star luxury Goring Hotel, located just around the corner from Buckingham Palace. The hotel opened in 1910 and is still owned by the family of the founder. It was credited as one of the first hotels in the world to offer a private bathroom for each room. And since it is so close to the palace, it has had the privilege of hosting a number of royal celebrities, including Queen Mary and Queen Mother Elizabeth, who both enjoyed tea at the Goring.

Kate and her family have taken over the hotel, with the recently redecorated five-room suite overlooking the garden reserved specifically for the bride. Her room comes with a four-poster bed, silk wallpaper and a waterproof flatscreen in the bathroom. While Kate might be a little too nervous to eat anything before the ceremony, I hope her family takes advantage of the first-class chef the hotel has on staff. The kitchen is known for its Lobster Thermidor omelets--yum!

The Goring defines itself as the quintessential British hotel. Each room is individually designed in a range of color palettes. Most rooms overlook the historic Victoria Square and Beeston Place, while a select few--including Kate's--overlook the garden. The bathrooms are stocked with Egyptian cotton bath sheets and various toiletries from English perfumer, Molton Brown. The hotel provides bathrobes and slippers, 24-hour room service, internet and on-demand movies. As far as other amenities, the Bar features a verandah that looks out over the gardens. It offers the finest wines, deep tea blends and wonderful treats to nibble on. The food at the Dining Room is prepared with fresh, local ingredients, and each dish is a tribute to English heritage and culture. They serve everything from Eggs Drumkilbo and Gulls Eggs to Cornish Sardines with Sea Sandwort and the best oysters on earth. (Their words, not mine.)

It certainly sounds like a fairytale, but then again, Kate will soon be spending her evenings in a palace, so this is a nice preview of what she will have the rest of her life.

Road Trippin Contest

In my flurry of newsgathering stories, I stumbled upon this one about a great contest from Rand McNally. (You know, the guys that make those spiral bound books with all the maps in them, what are those old-fashioned things called again? Oh yeah, atlases.) Anyway, they are putting on an event called the Best of the Road contest, and you can go to their website and nominate your favorite small towns across the country. They can fit into any of five categories--most beautiful, most patriotic, friendliest, most fun and best for food. Along with that, you can submit your favorite raodside attractions, like the best mountain scene or best pizza joint.

If your nominated city or attraction is selected as a top entrant, it gets a permanent spot on Rand McNally's new travel site and a place in its 2013 Road Atlas. You will also see it appear on USA Today's Travel website, since they are collaborating with the company on the contest.

Now, I know what you are thinking, how can I possibly pick my favorite town? There are so many great ones to choose from, I honestly cannot decide. Obviously, I would love to pick my hometown of Denver, but I don't think you can really classify that as a small town. My college town of Milwaukee would be another great pick, but, again, not so tiny. I certainly can't nominate Chicago. So which town to pick? This could take some time. Luckily, I have until May 23 to submit my vote. And even if I can't possibly decide on a destination before then, I can always enter the other portion of the contest. (That's right, there's more.)

Rand McNally and USA Today will select five teams to go on a three-week cross country road trip to hit the top 20 towns nominated in each category, as well as all the attractions along the way. The trip starts on June 23 and goes until July 15. Each team will visit the four towns in their assigned category, and fans can follow their progress online through Facebook and Twitter. All teams will end their trip in Los Angeles, where the winners will receive $10,000. (Now there's a trip, and a prize, that is totally up my alley.)

So, who wants to be part of my team?

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

A Thirst for Jamaica

Perhaps it was the exotic photo shoot plastered on the pages of Conde Naste Traveler magazine, or the tantalizingly juicy jerk tilapia and baked plantains at local restaurant, Ja' Grill, or possibly the conversation among my engaged friends about the best exotic place to go for their honeymoon. Whatever it was that sparked it, I have not been able to get Jamaica out of my head.

An island paradise that is a true jewel of the Caribbean, Jamaica is not only known for its sand-swept beaches, lush jungles and balmy weather, but also for its rich culture and numerous ties to the art and music world. Ian Fleming, the James Bond writer, truly fell in love with Jamaica back in the 50s and 60s, capturing the islands character in his novels, most of which he wrote while staying there. He even bought land to build his own private oasis there, called GoldenEye. Singer and song writer Bob Marley called Jamaica home before bringing his iconic voice and laid-back melody to the states in the 70s. He became a symbol for the cool calmness and peace associated with the island. Today artists, writers, singers, actors and regular Joes like you and me, visit Jamaica to find out just what makes it so bashy. (local lingo I'll get into later.)

To really appreciate the country, let me provide a little background. The first inhabitants of the island were the Tainos, Arawak-speaking people believed to have come from somewhere in South America. These people were there to greet Christopher Columbus when he first arrived in Jamaica, which the Tainos referred to as "Xaymaca." The Spanish landing marked the beginning of 500 years of European occupation. When the British took over the island from the Spanish, their slaves were let lose and became known as Maroons who continually fought the new occupants. In fact, they still exist on the island today. The island became a major producer of sugar, and the large plantations thrived for many years. However, once slaves were emancipated in 1838, the sugar production suffered, and the island turned to other exports like bananas and coffee for income. Jamaica experienced much political strife as the crown colony system was implemented and then declined, causing civil unrest, ushering in the trade union movement. Eventually, Jamaica claimed independence from Britain and established its own diverse nation.

Jamaica is the largest English speaking island in the Caribbean, running 156 miles long and between 22 and 51 miles in width. It is located 90 miles south of Cuba and 600 miles south of Miami. It is divided into three counties--Cornwall, Middlesex and Surrey--which are further divided into 14 parishes. Kingston is the smallest parish, but is also the country's capital. The natural landscape is relatively mountainous, with much of the land rising above 1,000 feet. There are over 120 rivers that flow through the island, as well as numerous mineral baths that have been tapped by resorts and spas for their therapeutic benefits.

The great thing about Jamaica is that there is something for every kind of traveler, from crazy adventure trips and off-the-beaten-path options to relaxing beach stays and romantic hideaways. History buffs will appreciate the museums and monuments scattered throughout the cities, and foodies can indulge on delectable local cuisine.

Most trips to Jamaica tend to start in the capital of Kingston, a robust, thriving city full of culture, history and fun. With its historical and cultural sites, exciting social scenes, world-class dining spots and recreational activities, it is almost impossible to know where to start. I suggest beginning in downtown Kingston, where you will most certainly stumble upon Parade, the very center of the city. Parade is basically a town square that has become well known as a shopping mecca. The Coronation Market is the biggest shopping area on the island and probably the most chaotic, but well worth fighting the crowds. Flanked on the other sides of Parade are the Ward Theater, the most well-known performing arts venue in Jamaica; Coke Methodist Church, the first Methodist chapel on the island; and the Kingston Parish Church, a major landmark famous for its intricate graveyard and bell tower.

Kingston has numerous other attractions to visit, I could not possibly name them all. But I do have a quick list of suggestions: Linstead is a small inland area with bustling fresh produce markets; Morant Bay is one of the most historic locales in Jamaica due to the Moran Bayt Rebellion of 1865; Spanish Town acted as the former capital of Jamaica and showcases some of the most authentic 18th- and 19th-century architecture; and Devon House Heritage Site, which houses thousands of antiques, as well as some of the best places to get local fare.

Across the island in Montego Bay is a whole other world of Jamaica. Granted, you will still find historic buildings and bustling city centers. But Montego Bay brings its own specialties to the table. In the best sense, Montego Bay is a resort town, so there is a major emphasis put on its white sand beaches and clear blue water. But away from the hotels and touristy areas, you can find some true gems. The Rose Hall Great House is the old home of Jamaica's white witch, Annie Palmer, who practiced voodoo and supposedly killed her three husbands through magical methods. You can tour the old house, check out the dungeon and even see where her ex-husbands are buried. In the heart of the city is Sam Sharpe Square, named for the Baptist Deacon who fought against the confines of slavery. The square is a tribute to his mission with statues depicting slaves listening to his inspirational words.

Just outside Montego Bay is Croydan in the Mountains, a picturesque plantation that produces coffee beans and pineapple. You can take part in a three-hour tour of the facility, where you can get a look at how the products are cultivated, and take in the amazing views of the sloping mountains. After the tour, you can sample the fresh fruit and rich coffee from the plantation.

Some more secluded areas of the islands can be found deep in the Blue Mountains, or along less developed stretches of the coast, for instance around Negril or Oracabessa. If you are a fan of James Bond, you have to visit GoldenEye on the island's north coast. Ian Fleming's old house is still there, though now it has been transformed into a hotel, which features the original three-bedroom house, and nine new beach cottages and two pools. Strawberry Hill is an old coffee plantation tucked away in the Blue Mountains above Kingston. It is also now a hotel, and provides a nice escape from the hot beach resorts that populate the major cities.

Ackee and Saltfish. Wikipedia.
As far as food goes, Jamaica has a few staples that you will certainly need to try if you visit. The national dish is ackee and saltfish, a meal of salt cod boiled with ackee fruit, onions, peppers, tomatoes and other spices. It is usually served at breakfast along side breadfruit, dumpling, hard dough bread, fried plantains or boiled green bananas. For lunch, you must try the jerk chicken. As for what variety or level of spice you try, that is up to you. If you want to try more than one, there is a jerk chicken trail that runs all around the island where you can taste as many types as your heart desires.

Obviously, I would love to keep writing about this incredible island, but there is just way too much to cover and I have neither the room nor the time to talk about it all. Clearly, you will just have to go discover Jamaica for yourself. If you cannot manage to scrounge up the vacation time or the money to go, why not get a taste at a local restaurant. There are a number of places that offer the island's famous dishes. If you cannot seem to find one, I would say your best bet is to sip some Jamaican Rum or a Red Stripe, sit back and relax, mon.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Travel Deals Abound Amid Economic Crises

The financial crisis of 2008 hit everyone, but some countries were slammed harder than others. And while worldwide economic recovery is certainly desired, there are some benefits to the financial woes for travelers looking for a sweet deal.

If you thought you could never afford a Greece trip, think again. Hotel Price Index says that the average nightly rate in Athens dropped 10% in 2010, to $132. And it is still falling. What about a week-long trip to the Emerald Isle? Totally doable. A seven-day package--with flight, hotel and car rental--costs $800 per person, down 11% from 2008.

If these prices do not intrigue you--and I cannot imagine why they wouldn't--just think about the good you will be doing by booking a trip to some of these locations. They need tourist dollars as they try to pay back loans and right their economies. International tourism was up across the map last year, but Europe did not rebound as well. According to travel experts, they are desperate to get tourists, more so than usual, hence the super awesome deals.

Greece has experienced a lot of economic damage over the last couple years. Tourism revenue fell by 9%--to put that into perspective, $75.4 billion--and now the government is trying to draw people back. It has waived the landing, takeoff and stop-over fees usually added to airfares and reduced hotel tax from 11% to 6.5%, which can add up to $100 or more. Experts say new Greece deals appear every week. There is an eight-night mainland package from $1,099 per person, including airfare, hotel stays in Athens and other cities, and transportation between cities.

Blue Lagoon, Reykjavik.
 Iceland started suffering even before the crisis hit in 2008. In 2006, inflation started pushing prices up and out of tourists' range. When the economy collapsed, Iceland's three major banks went down with it. It is still struggling to pay back loans, and needs tourists more than ever. Icelandair offers a stopover in the country on the way to Europe for no extra charge, and even offers a two-night package with airfare, hotel and a one-day tour from $599 per person. The average hotel rate in 2010 was $99, down 26% from 2008. However, tourists may be put off by the high exchange rate and expensive cities.

While the luck may not be with the Irish right now, you will certainly feel blessed when you check out some of the travel deals available to the country. Ireland economy continues to struggle despite aid from the European Union. Tourism is probably one area that can bring in the most cash, especially from the U.S. market. The most appealing deals are packages that bring tourists to the Irish countryside, so trips to major cities will still cost a pretty penny. Overall, it is one of the most affordable places you can go to right now. Average hotel prices are $117 per night, making it the most affordable destination in Western Europe. A six-night package from Dooley Vacations features stays at five different castles, airfare and rental car starting at $799 per person. There are plenty of other similar tours you can choose from, some even cheaper.

Galway, Ireland
Personally, I was not a fan of Portugal when I visited last summer, but it is one of the countries that needs tourism revenue and does have some pretty reasonable hotel and travel package prices. To give it the benefit of the doubt, I only spent the equivalent of about 36 hours there, so I did not give it much of a chance. Still, it would probably take more than a couple cheap hotel rates to get me back over. But, Lisbon does have some of the best rates for five-star rooms, averaging $169 per night. While there are a few tours being offered throughout the country, travel experts say that many companies do not feature Portugal on tours mostly because it is not the most popular place people think of for a vacation. Even so, there are some packages available, like one to the Algarve for around $550 per person--but not that airfare is not included.

Of these four countries, I would probably choose to visit Iceland--mostly because it is the one place I've never been--although Greece is definitely appealing. In all honesty, I wish Croatia was worse off economically, because that has been on my list of vacation spots for a very long time, and finding a cheap package there would be like striking gold.

I realize that since these countries are struggling financially, many of you may be, too. But I encourage anyone looking to take a spring or summer trip to research deals for these destinations, as well as others, because you may just find something spectacular.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

National Parks Free for a Week!

I'm definitely a fan of National Parks, but the ticket prices? Not so much. So imagine my elation when I found out about an event being held by the National Park Service that is granting access for a week to almost 400 sites for free!

National Park Week promotion. Credit: National Park Service
 "Healthy Parks, Healthy People" is the name of the event, a theme that hints at the fact that people in the US need to move away from the television or computer screen, put down the smartphone, and get back to nature. (It probably also alludes to the fact that many people are overweight or obese, and walking around a National park is a great way to get some much needed exercise.)

National Park Week is all about promoting parks as a resource for building health and wellness in America. So from April 16-24, people can visit hundreds of parks for free, as well as particiapte in special events like ranger-led hikes, kayaking trips, volunteer opportunities, and much more. It's also a great way to celebrate Earth Day--April 22--and take part in park clean-ups or learn about ways to preserve the earth.

So if you live near a National park--or plan on visiting one--why not take advantage of the fact that you can get in free of charge? Not only does it allow you to see the breathtaking landscapes of our country, but it also gives you the chance to be active and adventurous.

For me, it's an opportunity to learn about the National Parks located near me, because, honestly, I do not even know if there are any.

Friday, April 8, 2011

But the Cherry Blossoms will Still Bloom

America is in the midst of a potential government shutdown, and while most of us will be able to go on living our lives, many will be seriously affected by this if it should happen. Those in Washington D.C. will be hit the hardest, especially in the tourism industry.

In case you were not aware, if a government shutdown were to happen, a number of places will be forced to close, too. These include:
  • National Parks
  • Smithsonian Museums
  • The National Zoo
  • Public Libraries
  • DC Trash collection will be suspended
  • DC Department of Motor Vehicles
  • Street sweeping and pothole services will stop
  • Most federal government offices
  • IRS paper claims filings will not be processed/audits will be suspended
There are many other facilities that will have to close, and many people will not receive pay or get their tax redunds.

Bottom's not a good thing.

Cherry Blossoms. Credit: USA Today
However, I did receive some good news today despite all the horrible news stories I have been reading: The Cherry Blossom Parade in DC will be held. Many--including myself--feared that the event would be canceled since it is run by the National Park Service, and part of the parade runs along Constitution Avenue, which is also under their jurisdiction. Luckily, festival orginizers have a plan just in case their is a shutdown. The parade route will be altered to avoid the area in Park Service territory.

The festival draws about 100,000 spectators during one of the busiest times for tourism in the city, so of course organizers were going to take every possible step to make sure it would not be cancelled. Even with many museums, monuments and attractions closed over the weekend with a shutdonw, the local tourism bureau is encouraging people to still visit. Some of the smaller, private museums will still be operating, and even offering discounts on admission.

Plus, there are numerous restaurants around the city preparing "shutdown deals," offering everything from discounted meals, free cups of coffee and free burgers. Clearly, businesses are trying to make the best of the situation.

Because even if our government cannot figure out a way to function, we can still see the cherry trees blossom.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

What's Your Travel Personality?

If someone were to ask me this, I am not entirely sure how I would answer, mostly because I think my travel personality is a combination of many different attributes. I am definitely a planner, but I also appreciate veering off the beaten path every once and a while and exploring new places. I am cautious most the time, but I have been known to take some risks when traveling. In all honesty, my travel personality is a mystery to me. And that is exactly what American Express is banking on.

American Express launched a new travel website called NEXTPEDITION, which analyzes your personality by asking a series of travel questions. Once you discover what you are, the company encourages you to speak with a travel expert to find out what kind of trip you would be interested in and how much you budget for your vacations. Then, AmEx will deliver a "mystery" trip with details about the destination to be revealed as the departure date approaches. You will get a smartphone-like device that will give you details about the trip every week. This concept sounds a bit familiar, doesn't it? For those who read my blog on a regular basis, you may recall a post I wrote about mystery vacations. The big difference is the personality aspect.

So, in an effort to learn more about the website--and discover my own travel personality--I decided to take the quiz. Some questions were pretty easy to answer, like what I would seek out if I was in Hong Kong (of course, real dim sum) or what did I just spend way too much money on (a vintage bottle of wine) or what I would do if the zombie apocalypse was real (grab a bat and start swinging). After answering all 15 questions, the quiz provided me with three signs, and a percentage as to how much I fit with that personality. I got Poshaholic, Detourist and Tasteblazer. You can select anyone that you think works the best for you, and I figured I was somewhere between Detourist and Tasteblazer, so I opted for the former. I was then given the option to share my travel sign on Facebook and speak with a representative to get my trip started. I already have trips planned this year, and do not have the funds to plan another one, but there is potential for me to use this feature in the future.

So even if you are not planning a trip, I recommend taking the quiz, if not for the results, then certainly for the questions. Some of them are pretty interesting. In the end though, the results may surprise you, and if nothing else, you may get some ideas as to what kind of vacation you want to take in the future.

Monday, April 4, 2011


Hey everyone!! I'm a finalist in the HomeAway BlogAway Contest!! So please vote for me today!! Head on over to Facebook, go to the HomeAway page and "like" it. The link below is for the votoing thread, so just comment and put in my name!! There is no limit as the amount of times you can vote, so keep voting!

Thread for voting

Thanks for your support!!!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Exploring Neighborhoods

It was one of the first nice days in a very long time, so I took the opportunity to walk instead of drive to run my errands. With any luck, the weather is only going to get nicer, which means more chances to go wandering around the city. The beauty of Chicago is its diversity, and there are 77 distinct neighborhoods each of which has a unique history and tradition. The best way to see these neighborhoods is to explore them on foot. Of course, it's difficult to know where to begin, especially with so many places to see. That's where Chicago Neighborhood Tours comes in.
Each tour is designed to allow visitors--and even locals--to experience different areas of the city that they may not have thought to see. Among the most popular tours is Chicago's Magnificent Churches, which visits some of the city's amazing houses of worship. The locations vary from tour to tour, but each church has its own intricacies, history and customs. The Taste of the Neighborhoods is another popular tour, which takes guests on a delectable journey to some of the city's best eateries. Tours include two restaurants and a dessert stop, and destinations change every two months. Other tours this year include Uptown & Argyle Street, Wicker Park & Ukrainian Village, and Columbus Park & Garfield Park. All tours go by motor coach and foot, and last anywhere from two to four hours. Prices and dates of each tour vary.

While I am opposed to paying to do something I could probably do on my own, I would consider doing one of these tours mostly because the guide will provide more information and background about places that I would not learn otherwise. When you go exploring by yourself, you can certainly discover a lot, but having someone who is familiar with the area allows you to connect on a deeper level. I think the weather is still too iffy to schedule a tour this month, but maybe once summer rolls around I can participate in one. Now I just have to figure out which one I want to go on, there are way too many great choices.