Thursday, December 25, 2008

Holiday Beachcombing

Merry Christmas from Nauset Lighthouse in Cape Cod, Massachusetts!
The tourists may be gone until Memorial Day weekend, but there are still plenty of beaches to walk on and lighthouses to see. Off season on Cape Cod t'aint really that bad. I retract my "Bah Humbug" from earlier in the week. My family and I spent the afternoon walking along the GORGEOUS National Shoreline, and driving past some of the "summer homes" in Chatham, MA. For a low-key holiday...this was perfect.


Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Galavanting TV's Upcoming Live Broadcast

Exciting news! The ladies behind Galavanting will be introducing a new project to the travel blog niche next week.

On Monday December 29th, Galavanting TV will be broadcasting a short program live from Colmar, France via broadband. The show will center around the Colmar Christmas Markets which run annually through December 31st.

What can you expect? Hot tips, local destination information, and live footage. Kim Mance will also be joined by Gary Vaynerchuck, host of Wine Library TV. Vaynerchuck will share his expertise on which wines to check out in the region of Alsace.

At the end of the program, viewers will have the opportunity to win a $25 giveaway of Hazel Mail custom postcards, so be sure to tune in!

Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A Festivus for the Rest of Us

I get EXTREMELY restless this time of year. Over a month of shopping and listening to Christmas songs - it is enough to DRIVE ONE INSANE. The only times I have enjoyed Christmas is when I have been fortunate enough to wave goodbye to Santa Claus, Christmas lights, eggnog, mistletoe, caroling, Christmas trees, chimneys, stockings, hung, and care - okay, well maybe not the last two, but you get the point. Back in my college days the fam and our closest family friends spent one or two Christmas eves packing and Christmas day on a plane down to Key West, Florida. Which is a brilliant trip  that I would highly recommend, but a story for another day.
This year money is a little tight and "the mom" is planning a Christmas at home. So, the travel plans are a lot less tropical, and doing a lot less to get me away from the Santa Claus. This year the plan is to head up North for New Years Eve to a little place called Maine, for 5 days of skiing, sledding, Wu-Tang Clan-ing, and hot tubbing. 

I've never done anything quite like this for New Years, so I'll have to let you know how it goes. However, pulling together this type of trip really proved to be rather easy. You see there is this thing called the internet - ahh kidding - most ski areas have Ski & Stay packages that are semi-reasonable. Or, if you are willing to stay off the mountain sites like VaMoose.com,  VacationRentals.com, and VacationHomeRentals.com will provide pricing, descriptions, availability, and pictures for houses & cabins in the surrounding areas. There are definitely some great deals to be found.

Stay tuned for pics & tales. 

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Arab Baths of Granada

Sitting huddled around the heater with our vino tinto and Manchego cheese, wrapped in blankets for extra warmth – we hatched our escape plan. We were tired of being so cold! You’d think we were in Antarctica – and not the Costa del Sol.


The Costa del Sol in southern Spain supposedly has over 300 days of sunshine a year – not that it wasn’t sunny. It was just so cold that the town now appeared devoid of people virtually turning into a ghost town overnight. A local bar owner told us that it was just too cold - the Spanish were staying inside.

Our lovely beach weather from mere days before had taken a turn for the worse – plummeting from a pleasant nineteen degrees to a very chilly six. Unheard of for this part of the country, even at this time of the year!

My husband Curtis (of Flashpacking Life) and I had spent the last two weeks in Nerja with friends who were visiting from home. Just as they were leaving, my friend Athena arrived from California, leaving behind scorching temperatures and raging forest fires.

When the cold snap struck, the three of us couldn’t stop thinking about the Arab baths in Granada. We made it our mission to go soak in the hot baths and finally thaw ourselves out.

The Aljibe Banos Arabes must be booked in advance. Each session lasts for an hour and a half; if you pay an extra nine euros, you’ll also get a 15-minute aromatherapy massage. For the baths only, it will cost you 17 euros, so the full deal with massage is 26 euros (if you visit on a weekend or holiday, you’ll pay an extra two euros).

The sessions start every two hours beginning at 10:00 am, with the last session at 10:00 pm (they close at midnight). Towels and lockers are provided free of charge, as are water and the tastiest sweet mint tea ever.

We arrived in Granada hours ahead of our scheduled bath session so that we could wander the streets and enjoy a tasty lunch before our soak. Wandering around the Albayzin – the North African part of town - with its narrow cobbled streets, shops full of colorful clothing and intricate carvings, and the endless choice of restaurants sporting hookahs, we felt like we were in Morocco.

Slipping into one of the restaurants where the smell of incense wafted about, we took a seat at a table tucked into what felt like our own secret nook. We had to duck under the archway (well, not Athena, who’s about the size of a Smurf) to get to the beautifully inlaid table awash in candlelight.

We ordered a delicious pot of Chai tea and the lamb with couscous – which was absolutely to die for!
With full bellies we continued our wander – eventually stumbling upon the perfect spot for a breathtaking view of the Alhambra, with the snow-covered Sierra Nevada Mountains in the background.


And then it was bath time! The free map that I had picked up from a tourist info booth helped us navigate our way to the small street (which looks more like an alley) that houses the baths.

After changing into our swimsuits, we heaved open the heavy wood and iron door and entered a different world.


There are seven different pools: six of them ranging from warm to hot, with one cold plunge pool. The idea is to alternate between the cold and warm pools, never letting your body get overheated. The cold pool sits at the centre of the room, lit from below and backed with a beautifully tiled wall. Marble and tile reign here and the room is designed to provide some privacy in the nooks and crannies of various baths – some of which are hidden by arch ways or columns.

The number of guests per session is limited, which is great. There were eight people in total in the baths during ours, so we never even had to share a pool with anyone else. The atmosphere is tranquil, relaxing and romantic. If you speak, it’s in a hushed whisper.

We were all given a number upon arrival, and when it was time for the massages, the cute masseur wandered the baths, softly calling out a number in Spanish.

When my turn came, I was given a choice between a back/neck massage and a leg massage – so, of course, I chose the back. As I lay on my stomach on the massage table, the masseur untied the strings on my bikini and covered me with beautifully scented oil. Then his big strong hands worked their magic as I drifted deeper into the relaxation. The only thing keeping me from falling asleep was the occasional drip of cool water against my warm skin, the condensation from the ceiling.

Those fifteen minutes were over too quickly – but they were worth every penny. After a quick shower to wash off the oil, I slipped back into the baths as Curtis began his 15 minutes of fabulous pampering.

Twenty minutes later, a man in a white lab coat appeared. He looked very serious and important as he snaked his way through the baths. But then he pulled out a flashlight, flashing each pool of people with his blinking light several times.

We bathers looked at each other questioningly, barely suppressing giggles at this weird sight. After a moment of confusion, we guessed it must be the signal for the end of our session.

The flickering flashlight finished our time in the hammans but we left our newfound paradise of warmth and tranquility filled with a spiritual sense of ahhhhhhhh.

Lindsie and Curtis are traveling the world for a year - follow their adventure on Flashpacking Wife.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Mexico is the Bestico...

....Especially when you don't have to pay for anything. I just recently returned from a destination wedding in Cancun (the groom's family is from Mexico). I know. My initial reaction was: "why would my friend want to get married with with fraternity brothers, high school students, and spring-breakers (oh my!)," Oh the relief in being mistaken. About 25 minutessouth of Cancun is the much more toned down city of Puerto Morelos. WHile built up to some degree, my friend was able to find the unbelievable, the gorgeous, the private: Playa de Secreto (duh, I think that means "Secret Beach" in Spanish). While I wouldn't characterize this as a destination for budget travelers, it is a wonderful place to stay if you have the extra money to spend or want a really nice setting for a wedding. However, you can get some pretty decent rates in the off-season, and everything is amazingly maintained.

Views are AMAZING:



Food delicious:
(Fry Piggies FRY!)

Music great:

The Bride & Groom were even happy:

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Shoes: The Ultimate Insult

I was going to go with the "Who Throws a Shoe" title, but after Googling it, I saw how unoriginal that would have been. I also pondered adding the infamous Austin Powers clip to the bottom of this post, but opted to simply link to it instead. See, simple modifications easily make this post stand out.. right?

Recent events have revived the popularity of this Austin Powers moment. While we've all found a way to chuckle over the fact that George W was nearly beheaded by a shoe at an Iraqi press conference, the fact of the matter is that this is one of the highest insults in Arab culture. Maybe it's something innate in regard to the Presidents that we elect, but Bill Clinton seemed to miss the memo on cultural awareness too. Anyway, I digress. And Willy C was in the States at the time, so he has a better shot at forgiveness.

Back to the topic at hand. Arab culture views the sole of a foot as the dirtiest part of a person's body. It certainly makes sense, if you think about it. When entering a mosque, the first thing a person is required to do is remove his or her socks & shoes and then wash his or her feet. By pointing the sole of your shoe at someone within this culture, you're demonstrating complete ignorance and total disrespect. As you can surmise, Bush basically got the steroid-induced version of this insult.

As always, be aware of your surroundings. Feel free to share any relevant experiences that you might have had in regard to the above noted situation.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Troopin' Travelers' Guarantee

As promised in Shooting Up With a Space Needle, visit Ben's Flickr page to see more of his fabulous photos.

Happy Friday, folks!

Stay Tuned, Folks

In the near future, we'll be featuring a guest post from Lindsie Tomlinson of Flashpacking Wife. If you haven't read about the travels of Lindsie & Curtis, then I can guarantee that it'll be a unique & humorous experience.

Happy Friday!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Proxemics: Don't Stand So Close to Me

Space can be a very mysterious concept when it comes to interpreting body language across cultures. Personally, unless I'm dating you, sharing a very small bed with you, or clearly in distress, then I'd prefer that most people keep their distance. I don't think I'd classify myself as claustrophobic.. that may be a bit extreme.. but we'll just say that I prefer to go to the 11:30a movie on a Tuesday rather than the 7:30p show on a Saturday. For me, the distraction has more to do with all of the white noise than the volume of people within one area. If someone in that theater is snapping gum, whispering, or lightly tapping on an arm rest - FORGET IT, that's all I'll hear for the remainder of the film. Ask any roommate I've ever had.. I'm insane when it comes to small noises.

Anyway, in 1966 anthropologist Edward Hall introduced the term 'proxemics'. The word signifies set measurable distances between people as they're interacting. To quote Hall, "Like gravity, the influence of two bodies on each other is inversely proportional not only to the square of their distance, but possibly even the cube of the distance between them".

Here's the general chart of proxemics per Hall's delineations in regard to body spacing, posture, & unintentional reactions:

  • Intimate distance: embracing, touching, whispering
    0 inches - 18 inches
  • Personal distance: interactions among close friends
    1.5 feet - 4 feet
  • Social distance: interactions among acquaintances
    4 feet - 12 feet
  • Public distance: typically used for public speaking forums
    12 feet - 25+ feet

While these delineations are standards upheld by North Americans, it's important to note that they do vary according to different cultures. High-contact cultures maintain smaller relative distances when interacting. Latin, Arab, & Mediterranean cultures are more comfortable with a shorter amount of personal space. Conversely, low-contact cultures such as Nordic & Asian people prefer most interactions remain within Hall's social distance zone. In fact, low-contact cultures often prefer no contact at all as it can be viewed as intrusive (i.e. hand-shaking, light tap on the shoulder).

Of course, in all cultures, the degree of space is heavily determined by specific elements involved in each unique situation. Gender, circumstances, privacy, and comfort levels among many other factors can alter or determine an individual's reaction. I'm sure that - if given the opportunity - any one of us would prefer a private jet over a crowded airplane. The important thing to remember is that facial expressions, tone of voice, and body language can easily be misinterpreted across cultures. Developing your knowledge of cultural awareness in regard to space can help to eliminate discomfort, confusion, and anxiety that the person on the receiving end may be experiencing.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Recent NEST Plugs

Not to change the focus of this blog to all things NEST, but I did promise to reserve Fridays for plugging non profit organizations and companies promoting social responsibility. And being involved in one of many successful charitable causes, exposing its press is one of my civic duties, isn't it?

Check out the following sites & articles for recent NEST love:

Unfortunately, the Country Living link does not direct to the specific article. My cooperative little iBook is having too much fun with trickery to allow me to grab the actual URL. And if I sit here and try to outsmart it, then Mr. iBook G4 (I know it's a man because who else would get me all worked up like this!) might find himself smashed through a glass coffee table.

Ahem, anyway, cheers to NEST & its recent accomplishments!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Rock the Kasbah: Ait Benhaddou Style

Kasbah. It's fun to say. Try it!

Although I made it to Ouarzazate & Ait Benhaddou before seeing either Lawrence of Arabia or Gladiator, I pretended that I was a huge fan of both films. It seemed like the appropriate American thing to do? To be quite honest, I still haven't seen "Lawrence of Arabia". It's on my list in between "Goonies" and "Pretty Woman". I'm clearly a movie buff.

Here are some quality kasbah snapshots for your viewing pleasure:

Ait Benhaddou
Ouarzazate Kasbah
Inside Kasbah
Looks like someone could use some more stairs.. hint.. self.

Another Kasbah View
Moroccan Molly
Moroccan Molly overseeing her village.

Kasbah Ait Benhaddou


The scene was just so surreal. As was the camel trek across the Sahara. Simply put, Morocco is a must-see destination.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Eau de Cologne

I'm not trying to be redundant - I swear - YOU MUST NEVER spend a full seven days straight in Amsterdam. I'm not talking Holland, I'm talking Amsterdam. I think we finally hit our "wall" on day number 5, but I can't be 100% sure. All we can know for certain is that I found myself back at the Amsterdam Airport about to rent a car.
At the time we felt these screens looked like some futuristic world where society could only communicate through flashing signs and advertisements. I now look at this picture and think: "Molly, two coffees ain't gonna be enough. You are aware that you are actually going to drive the car, right?"
 
In typical fashion, we were given a Renault "Kangoo" as a rental car - a vehicle that you only receive if you are in National Lampoon's European Vacation, or the rental agent feels like messing with you. Liz and I weren't being followed by a film crew, so apparently we had a target on our foreheads.
Before we hop on the road, let's quickly assess the foolish mistakes that were made in the planning of this excursion:

1) One of us thought that it would be "really cool" to be able to say that we had visited both Holland and Germany.
2) Whoever DID NOT come up with the idea to go to Germany hailed the idea as true genius.
3) We had booked our hotel room for the entire week, making a day trip the only option, and destinations in Germany not overly plentiful (or at least not within the scope of our 15 minutes of planning - duh what big cities can we find on the map). I think historians of future generations may very well ponder what exactly was going through our minds that ruled out the Dutch countryside as a good option for a day-trip.

The one semi-un-foolish mistake of the trip was that we did in fact have a destination: Cologne, Germany. A city selected (again) for no particular reason other than the fact that we could pronounce the name, believed it to be where cologne originated, and appeared conveniently close on the Holland-Germany road map we had purchased the evening before. While the first two facts ended up being true, the latter, ummm, not so much....

While I am SUPER excited to be able to say that I have in fact driven 110 mph on an autobahn in Germany:
(For real - I pushed the Kangoo to its limit)

And Cologne is truly a quaint and enjoyable city with a gorgeous cathedral:
Trying to do a round trip from Amsterdam to Cologne will really stretch you too thin. The trip takes approximately 6 hours round trip without traffic and assuming you don't get lost - doable, but we got lost AND hit "rush" hour both ways. By the time we got to Cologne we really only had time to view the Cathedral, wander around the main square, look at the Rhine River, and then attempt to find some Jagermeister at a department store.

Lesson learned: If it's avoidable, don't spend your whole day on a highway in any country. Never mind the fact that in this case it is called an autobahn - it is still a highway, we have them in the States, and they look identical. I recommend at the very least sticking to side roads/scenic routes, and definitely not trying to over extend yourself. There is generally more than enough to see near your "home base". Ewww, I sound like my mom (love ya).

Please Excuse My A.D.D.

Dear Readers [& Blogger],

I apologize if my constant color changes are inducing seizures.. I'm not really falling for the design or color options that Blogger has to offer. Until my "colleagues" and I can schedule an official meeting of the minds, then this layout shifting could be quite frequent..

You've heard it here first: we may soon be switching over to another hosting service. Feel free to take guesses, if you please.

Sorry, Blogger. I don't think we should go steady anymore. It's not you, it's us. Though I don't think our decision is going to cause you much suffering.

Thank you for your services.. you little devil, you.

Sincerely,
Lil' Boozie

Photographers: Stop, Don't Shoot!

"Seriously, if you take that picture, I'm going to put a hex on you."

How many times have you been in the situation where you literally want to rip a camera out of someone's hands so hard that you're willing to sacrifice grace, dignity, and your physical well-being in exchange for a tiny electronic device? This tends to become an issue the morning after an inebriated evening. You wake up all jolly, just so excited to see all of the great memories that you've captured from the previous night's festivities, and then there it is. That first picture forever freezing you in all of your glory. And then comes the rationalization: But at the time, I definitely WAS a sexy vixen, right...Mom?

While there are many a moment where I've certainly regretted jumping into a polaroid or allowing friends to take a "hilarious" [read: humiliating] video of me in action, there were definitely measures I could have taken to prevent the inevitable [embarrassment] from being both recorded & released by the PapaRazzi. Additionally, while here in the good ole US of A, we just love to razz one another for a good laugh at each other's expense, it can be a very different story abroad.

Regardless of where you may be traveling, it's absolutely vital to ask permission before photographing anything, especially people. While photography certainly boasts a plethora of advantages including sharing the world with others & capturing memories, it can be viewed as intrusive by those that know nothing about you. Asking permission is just a common courtesy that is well received anywhere - it helps to boost confidence & to connect with others. Believe it or not, in some places, taking pictures of people translates to stealing their souls. Unsolicited photography may also render people inferior, as if they're just another monument, piece of scenery, or animal. It is imperative to be open-minded when it comes to photographing abroad, and to thank your subject whether s/he allows you to take the picture or not. Additionally, don't be too hasty to photograph in international airports. Just follow the literal interpretation of these two words, "Ask" "Permission", and you should be golden.

For more specific information on this subject, Darren Rowse provides solid advice in his post "Asking Permission to Photograph People".

Monday, December 1, 2008

World AIDS Day 2008

Did you know..

  • There are over 900 children under the age of 15 living with HIV in the UK?
  • There are much higher rates of people with HIV in prison than in the general population?
  • That in 2007, less people were able to identify how HIV is transmitted than in 2000?
  • That last year 330,000 children died of HIV/AIDS?

I'd be lying if I said that I knew all of this..



If it weren't for BlogCatalog or the Boston Celtics, then I'm not sure when I'd have been made aware of World Aids Day. It certainly wasn't mainstream media. And this, my friends, is yet another reason why blogging is a very powerful medium. To find out more about how you can support those suffering with HIV/Aids, please visit WorldAidsDay.org.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Cape Cod & the Spirit of Mahi Gold

Growing up, my parents, sister, brother and myself would always spend at least one week every summer down the Cape. We were [and still are] fortunate enough to have grandparents that own 3 cottages within a quarter mile of each other in Dennisport. Steps from the beach, a short walk down Oak Street put us within view of what felt like our own, private ocean.

I remember the 1,000 feet of sand that connected two extensive jetties. I can clearly recall how I felt when I climbed up the semi-steep incline of rock that acted as a third wall surrounding our personal paradise. But most of all, when I picture this figurative peninsula, I remember the old, blue sailboat that had remained anchored just a few feet off of the eastern most jetty. Every summer, without fail, the symbolic dinghy would be lazily floating in the water, bouncing amidst the frequently choppy waves.

Summer spots tend to signify relaxation, renewed spirit, rejuvenation, and precious times with friends and family. Aside from myself, I know that this holds true for at least two other friends of mine. Becky & Mike Gorman were motivated to create a clothing line reflective of the summers they spent down the Cape in Chatham called Mahi Gold. While the inspiration came from Cape Cod summers, the clothing line embodies time spent in any memorable beach town. From the Cape to Nantucket to the Vineyard, the Jersey Shore, the Carolinas and beyond, Mahi Gold represents family, friends, beautiful weather, a beach nearby & a boat on the water.

Becky & Mike in Mahi Gold attire

Mahi Gold for men currently includes an offering of tees, sweatshirts, polos, and accessories. Conversely, Mahi Gold for women currently boasts a variety of tees and sundresses. The line is still expanding & new stores & events are being added gradually, so if you like what you see, then be sure to check the site regularly for updated inventory.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Sevilla - A Quick & Dirty Tour

I have yet to be disappointed by a single experience I have ever had in Sevilla, Spain. Sketched out, yes. Disappointed, NO. My most recent visit was this past spring, and was really more of a stop over on our way to Morocco, rather than a full-blown visit.

Irregardless (to use a non-existent word from my home state of Massachusetts), it was sooo easy in the 24 hours we had in the city to hit up most of the high points, at least enough to make every person I was traveling with want to stay for at least two or three more days. So, without further a do, here is my "quick and dirty guide to Sevilla if you only have 24 hours to see stuff."

1) Enjoy some Sangria in an outdoor cafe - we chose the roof deck of our youth hostel, because it was less dinero:

2) Have dinner at a restaurant with outdoor seating (notice a trend developing?) - paella is a traditional dish and is yummy at most restaurants. NO recommendations on best places to go, just walk around and find a place - there are tons of cute places spanning out from the Cathedral. Hello! It's the experience, get your nose out of the guidebook.

3) Visit the Cathedral of Sevilla in the morning. I have identical pictures from each visit, but that doesn't make the building less beautiful to see.
Home to the Sepulchre (tomb) of Columbus, and a spectacular view from the bell tower. The Cathedral sanctuary was under construction when we were there in April, but it was still worth the visit.

4) Real Alcazar. Loved it during my first visit, but was closed on the most recent stop over. Gorgeous architecture and HUGE gold fishies.

5) Plaza de Toros de la Maestranza. Ethical issues aside, it is another freakin' cool building.

6) Horse Drawn Carriage Ride. Sure, roll your eyes at the cheesiness, but when time is an issue it is a great way to a) cover a lot of ground in a short amount of time, and b) learn some additional history about the city. Our carriage driver was willing to negotiate, and was more than happy to answer all of our questions.

So, there you have it, a quick tour of Sevilla (maybe it wasn't very dirty, but I like the expression more). If you don't spend too much time at one place, this is totally doable in 24 hours.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

My Top 10: I Am Thankful For...

1) "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia".

2) Nick Lacheys (um, a.k.a. Miller Lights).

3) Friends who own actual properties and allow me to sleep on their couches.

4) Turkey & mashed taters. OMG, TURKEY. The food.. and probably the country too, if I ever visit.

5) The Moosehead in Paris.

6) The 99 - the pinnacle of Ltown.

7) Vests (a creative way to hide your Thanksgiving gut).

8) Birth control. Is there a better way to prevent the Immaculate Conception from occurring twice?

9) Traveling, traveling, traveling.

10) Friends & Family. Would I be human had I not mentioned them?

Hope everyone enjoyed a lovely and delicious Thanksgiving. My gut is supremely full... but not full enough for a few more beers, some darts, and some Rock Band.. give me that guuuuuuiiiiiiitar!!!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

NYC Through an "Adult's" Eyes

I did it, I G.D. did it! I visited NYC this past weekend and managed to not get completely and utterly...okay, stop that thought. Full stop. I managed to do a good job of balancing nightlife and sightseeing. The secret to my success? I convinced my fellow troopin' traveler, Kristen (you'll know her as the ever elusive Skiddies), to pony up and get a hotel room for one of the nights that we were in town. After a couple of weak attempts at searching for a hotel through Kayak.com and Hotels.com, we ended up with the cheapest, non-hostel, midtown Manhattan hotel we could find: The Hotel Pennsylvania. Unfortunately, I left the task of actually making a decision up to Skiddies, and she neglected traveling rule #22: look at the online review before booking a hotel. With the hotel already booked, we immediately noticed the rating was a measly 1.7 out of 6.Boo, Skiddies, Boo. And of course, the room could not be cancelled. Rule #36, be aware of online cancellation policies before you book, not all sites have a 24 hour policy. Well, it was only going to be one night, and there wasn't any mention of rats in the reviews, so we decided to just go cheap, and TROOP-UP!

I will officially report that my faith in online reviews has been shaken. The Hotel Pennsylvania wasn't nearly as big of a dump as the reviews claimed. It was totally acceptable for anyone who needs a place to crash. Central location right across from Madison Square Garden, felt safe, flexible check in (we dumped our bags off before 1pm), and friendly enough staff (they checked us in). Lesson learned: take some time to critique online hotel reviews. Read between the lines.

Beyond the hotel, we hit up some great tourist destinations. The top of the Empire State Building:

Yay! View! Burr! Cold!

Skiddies Lives!

Afterwards we walked and walked all the way down to visit the hipsters on St. Mark's St in the East Village. Checking out the farmers market in Union Square on the way. Got some Urban Outfitter style clothing for Kmart prices on Broadway (stay South of Houston) - Amsterdam Clothing Store on Broadway was addictive - 10% off when you spend over $100 - oops/wahoo!

I really feels like you can walk anywhere in this town. It allows you to earn all those beers and late night mac 'n cheese - might have been the booze, but P.J. Clarke's is open until 4am, and theirs is MAC-tastic.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

A Holiday Bacon Treat

I wanted to take a moment to recognize my good friend, Catherine. An avid reader and frequent commenter on our blog, I often refer to my Seattle-based pal as "Bacon". Why? Well, because she's a vegetarian.. obviously. In fact, for her most recent birthday, I chose to demonstrate my happiness for Bacon by honoring her with Bacon Beans and some other pig-related knick knacks that I found at Newbury Comics. Who knew that they'd have such a vast selection of carnivorous* trinkets?! I was in heaven. Unlike many meat virgins, she accepted my insensitivity with a smile & a laugh. Now, that's the sign of a true friend.

Anyway, while it's not necessarily travel-related, Bacon maintains a blog of her own. It's a place where she shares her deepest thoughts & passions, her life experiences, her appreciation for the simple things, and her infinite wisdom & open mind. Without someone like Catherine in my life, then I might be flying far above the clouds.. probably roasting myself on that there fiery ball of heat in the sky.. but instead, she helps to keep me grounded. Even if she is 3,000 miles away.

If you're ever looking for a daily dose of reality & truth, then visit Cchicken's Weblog. You might be curious about the name. Her devoted husband, Joe [a.k.a. Eggs.. whatever, I'm not that original], often refers to her as "sea chicken" or "c - chicken".

Such a unique term of endearment. It's weird, I agree.

*I know they're omnivores, but I just really wanted to contrast the identity of Bacon.

Monday, November 24, 2008

First NEST-Boston Event = Success!

Q): What do you get when you put 75 women, a handful of men, a plethora of unique merchandise, and a variety of classy boxes full of Charles Shaw in one apartment?

A): A lot of empty wine bottles... and our first NEST-Boston event!

With a silent auction, 4-item raffle, donated merchandise, and product made by many of NEST's loan recipients, we ran a very successful trunk show this past Saturday evening in a board member's Charlestown apartment. Thank you to everyone that attended and contributed to our cause - the turn-out was better than we'd anticipated.

NEST-Boston Trunk Show
Founded in 2006, NEST now has 8 nation-wide city committees. You can find NEST boards in St. Louis, Chicago, NYC, Atlanta, Seattle, Boston, Washington D.C., and San Francisco. With current work initiatives in 8 countries, NEST continues to grow at a rapid rate, and has already successfully aided over 100 women from Israel, India, Turkey, Tanzania, Brazil, Guatemala, Morocco, & Mexico.

To learn more about NEST events & press, visit Bangles & Clay, the organization's blog.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Surfing + Guaro = Costa Rica

Free private guide (kind of), discounted hotel room, discounted surf lessons, cheap booze (they have booze in Costa Rica, right?). Ummmmm, YES, I will participate in this vacation. I am lucky enough to have a best friend who worked at a ski & snowboard academy, because there is little likelihood that I would have been able to snag this sort of set-up through my own connections. Reid (my friend's co-worker) had been taking yearly trips down to Jaco, Costa Rica since he'd volunteered to work for a surf camp in L.A. Traveling with this type of pseudo local at a discount is an experience any true traveler couldn't pass up.

The western resort town of Jaco, Costa Ric is definitely a tourist destination and apparently expatriate mecca, but I think we were a far enough drive outside of the the town where I never got that "I'm going to punch the next frat brother who sings 'Sweet Caroline'" sensation. To be honest, even when we were in town it didn't seem like a typical spring break destination. I was only really aware that there were a lot of souvenir shops and "The Beatle Bar" had a lot of prostitutes waiting for American tourists, but hey, they played March Madness basketball games on the big screen, so I totally forgave Reid for taking us there.

It may seem I am being harsh in my memories of Jaco, but truly I loved every experience I had while I was visiting. The hotel we stayed at, Hotel Terraza del Pacifico, was directly on the beach (beach isn't great for sunbathing, but the pool is pleasant and view is amazing), and while not a 5 star accommodation definitely had a friendly staff and some beautiful views of the sunset:

Costa Rica sunset

(*Picture courtesy of Meriel's superior photography skills)

While sunset and beach vacations are all well and good, I really have a hard time sitting around relaxing - horrible, I know. The freakin' beautiful thing about a Costa Rican vacation is that the country is not only a mecca for "hardcore" surfers, but it is also really accessible to those posers (like myself) who are attempting to learn:

Molly surfing in Costa Rica
(*Up! Ahhh - so much concentration)

Molly riding waves in Costa Rica
(*Dern - You Jack!)
Molly and surfboard become 1 in Costa Rica
(*Further proof I did it more than once - see different bathing suit bottoms!)

In all seriousness, by early April the water off of the western coast is like bath water - making it really easy and enjoyable for just about anyone to get into the sport. Ha - unless your name is Meriel and you like Imperial beer and guaro a wee bit too much. Side note: guaro is local liquor, that although it made me go slightly insane, is delicious when mixed with Fanta or Sprite:

Meriel in Costa Rica - enough said
(*Meriel, not throwing you under the bus. We all enjoyed "Ladies Night", just not as much as you.)


Thursday, November 20, 2008

"Costa Rica, no rules."

"Costa Rica, no rules." Uhhhhhhh yeeeeaaaah. That isn't exactly what I wanted to hear as I was signing a safety waiver for a zip line tour of a rainforest canopy. I'd also really have liked to pretend I thought he was joking, but it had been a pretty long, fun week. Well, you only live once, right? These dudes were at least making us sign waivers, which had to show some level of professionalism. They also seemed to have a sense of humor, so I would probably die laughing...Costa Rica - monkey in a tree
(No joke, the monkeys were that close)

Well, I was most certainly not disappointed by the experience, and I clearly lived to tell the tale. My most succinct reaction: I think it is actually the closest I will ever get to being a monkey - well, a 5'8" monkey with no grace or coordination. The tour took us through the top of the rainforest canopy through a set of zip lines and platforms. Coordination wasn't even a requirement. Ha - I can still see one of the tiny little tour guides cringe as I came barreling toward the platform. I will admit that at one point I felt a twinge of vertigo, but that passed quickly as my carabiner was swiftly strapped into the next rope, and I was pushed down toward a platform I could roughly make out in the canopy of the next tree.
 
I would say if you are even the least bit adventurous, then it is an experience that should not be missed. Sure, you can absorb some of the nature from a hike or a horseback ride, but the perspective and view from the tippity top of a tree CANNOT be beat.
Zipline view of birds in Costa Rican sky
(I was apparently too scared to take a picture of anything except birds - boo me).

Tour providers are really easy to find. We stayed on the western coast near the town of Jaco (get surf town - that's another story), and we probably drove past over a dozen different signs for companies offering zip tours. If you are wary of safety, then I would recommend simply asking your hotel for recommendations, or going to any tourist gift shop will also have brochures. 

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Another Troopin' Travelers Logo Edit

Howdy, folks. Molly has once again been flirting with her artistic side and recently put a new twist on our logo. If you have a preference as to the fluid motion of this creative piece, then please share your opinion.

Just to refresh your memories, the previous logo looked more like this, with the blog name beneath the image & in a different color scheme:

Previous logo
In any case, if you have feedback, freely send it along. After all, your wish is our command.

Either way, my head looks pretty dern good atop a boot. Wouldn't ya say?

Earth to Meekus, Earth to Brint: Interpreting Body Language

I'm sorry, I haven't been able to get Zoolander quotes out of my dome all day - so much for an optimized title. That is totally irrelevant to everything I had intended on writing.

Anywho, this week's cultural awareness & interpreting body language post will center around the not so universal "A-Ok" hand gesture.

Ignore Willy's mug - just focus on his raised paw.

A-OK gesture by Willy Clinton

To Americans and to our friends over in the UK, this symbolic little number represents an expression of "ok" or "you got it" [dude.. if you're Michelle Tanner.. try to follow the lines here]. However, to many of our earth-inhabiting counterparts, this American act of good faith signifies something totally different. Here's a brief rundown:

  • Russia > Zero (Ok, I can see where they're coming from.)
  • Southern Europe (Portugal, Spain) > Ahem, "you are nothing".
  • Brazil > Vulgar Insult (My strangely perverse mind can also identify why this would be controversial.)
  • South American countries > "Marica" which translates to homosexual.
  • Japan > Money (You've lost me.)

If you want to get creative, apparently making this gesture around your nose means "drunk" in many European countries. Bottom line, just because you're used to making what you consider an innocently universal gesture doesn't mean that it does have just one meaning. Be careful out there, it's called diversity.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

HOLY Toledo! Spain That Is.

Don't let people fool you. Showing a sheet of unconjugated Spanish verbs to the ticket agent in the Madrid train station DOES NOT make a) it easier to get the appropriate train ticket or b) not make you look like a total dope. This is the predicament my friend Ali and I found ourselves in as we attempted to purchase round trip tickets to Toledo. A town approximately a 30 minute train ride outside of Madrid. Really, when it comes down to it, I blame my friend Erin for the entire predicament. An unexpected illness that I accurately diagnosed as a hangover had hit her that morning, preventing her from accompanying us on our journey. While I would never throw a stone at the glass house of hangover, it did leave us sansinterpreter, and holding a dern scribbled piece of paper with dern unconjugated verbs. Okay - anger subsiding - rule number 12 (out of the arbitrary rule book for responsible travel) if you don't speak the language at the very least bring your guidebook. Pointing at a map is the universal language - screw math.
(Eww! Stock Photo :( My digital camera decided to be annoying this evening - will update when I figure out the situation!)

SHOCKINGLY (and 20 minutes of blank stares later) we were able to secure two round trip tickets to Toledo, and beyond the frustration (truly part of the fun) it was totally worth the trip. The town (while very small) has tons of history and some good sites to wander around and explore. The prominent attraction is most definitely the Alcazar of Toledo which dominates the skyline of the town. The cost of entry isn't too steep, so I would def. recommend at least checking it out. However, be warned most of the building is dedicated to a war museum. It's got some good history, but little solider figurines t'aint my favorite thing. Still, learning about the destruction caused during the Spanish Civil War was extremely interesting.

Beyond the Alcazar, we actually spent most of the afternoon simply walking around the city - which seemed very accessible. We also stumbled across several quaint restaurants with quaint little wine lists. The one we ended up eating at didn't have exceptional food, but the people were friendly and had no problem letting us sit for a "short" little 2 hour meal. Overall, I would say it is a good day trip if you have had your fill of Madrid.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Remembering Amsterdam

I wish I could.

I jest. A couple of month's back, Molly recounted her experience in Amsterdam. While mine does share some similar elements, I knew that remaining there for any time longer than one weekend could potentially lead to a shortened trip abroad. Or trippin' life. Excuse me, trip - in - life.

Now, my timing on this post might not actually complement the assertions I made in my recent Space Needle post, but again.. I never said that timing was my thing. In fact, my entire life is essentially backwards. Ask my friends - I peaked in middle school. Ok, too far off topic.. I'll save those stories for some therapist.

Sadly, while Amsterdam is rich in culture & history, I cannot clearly recollect visiting any of its museums or landmarks aside from the Anne Frank House. I blame this on the fact that it was 7 years ago.. not because I might have accidentally nibbled on some sort of galaxy related dessert. Hitting the sack by 7p on both evenings of our visit didn't leave very much time to experience Amsterdam's nightlife, but something tells me that that outcome might have been better for my 5'1" frame.

I remember..

  • Ice-skating at the Heineken Factory .. no, no I don't think that ever happened.
  • Admiring Van Gogh's works of art .. or was I just painting with all of the colors of the wind?
  • Riding a bike through the cobblestone streets .. or was I just stoned? Obviously not. I was sleeping with my eyes open.
  • Having a cup of coffee at the Bulldog .. or maybe it was some other form of liquid courage?

Going to Amsterdam in your 20s is an official rite of passage in my book. Please keep all judgments to yourself.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Rolf Potts: Putting travel dreams into action

In the midst of some serious soul-searching and a desire to expand my passion for travel, I've been turning to the literary works of Rolf Potts for inspiration and wisdom. Unless you live in a box or have zero interest in travel, then my feeling is that [for many people] in the world of traveling, he's the equivalent of Bob Hope to the world of comedy. Each man is a true pioneer in his own right.

His vitality for independent travel has allowed him to arguably become the world's most revered vagabond. As I sit here on a rainy day in a suburb north of Boston fighting the urge of becoming a prisoner to my couch and an afternoon of Lifetime movies, I find myself pondering WIRPD? "What is Rolf Potts doing?" To me, he represents eternal energy. He's a true symbol of adventure, a person who spends every ounce of his time appreciating all that this world has to offer without getting bogged down by the pressures and stresses of every day life.

In case you're unfamiliar, definitely consider reading his two books:

They both contain extremely valuable resources and references for everything you'll need to know when it comes to packing up and hitting the road. No matter where that road exists.

To hear more straight from the source himself, check out this National Geographic interview with Rolf Potts:

Friday, November 14, 2008

Seattle: Shooting Up with a Space Needle!

I typically reserve Fridays for preaching about social responsibility & global non profit organizations, but I have a tiny surprise that I want to share with you today instead. Though my post title might suggest dirty habits, I promise that the Space Needle photos you're about to indulge in will pacify your fears about my [lack of] substance abuse.

My pal, Ben from Seattle, was kind enough to give me access to pieces of his artistic genius. If you like what you see, then stay tuned! I will be adding a link to Ben's Flickr page once he updates his account.

Enjoy!

Space Needle Black & White

Space Needle Sky View

Space Needle Puddle Reflection
Seattle Space Needle

Thursday, November 13, 2008

An Irish Bar in Roma

Further proof that every city around the world has at least one Irish pub (see: An Irish Bar in Portugal)...Rome refused to be the exception to this rule. They started appearing immediately across the street from our hotel, Duca D'Alba. I think I'll save my "the hotel my parents decided to have us stay at is a prostitute hangout" story for a Sunday, God's day.

Out and about I wouldn't even be looking for Irish pubs, and they seemed to pop-up out of nowhere. Stroll the Spanish Steps I was even able to find an Irish pub with the same name as the university that I was attending in Dublin: Trinity College Bar.

Taken on an Irish side street? Heck no! That's an Italian strada (that's Italian for road).

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Email Subscription Feature Activated

Hello, fine readers.

I apologize for having been living under a boulder for the past couple of months. One reader recently inquired about an email subscription option. Apparently I thought that this feature was already live on the site.. Rock? Hard place? I was somewhere in between - my bad. If you'll glance over to your right, you'll now see that the Feedburner box has been enabled. Subscribe away, traveling friends!

And now, I tune back in to my marathon of sitcom-watching. Why is it that repeats never get old? Man, I sure do miss Peter Boyle..

English Language Learners

Yesterday I had the unexpected pleasure of lunching with two of my teacher friends. As we were waiting for our table at PF Changs (um, YUM), CHRISTINE* & I listened to Courtney talk a bit about the case studies that she's doing as part of her Master's program.

Currently student teaching in a neighborhood of Boston, she is in a classroom with several ELL (English Language Learners) students, one from Grenada. I was particularly interested in the challenges that this student must face in the process of developing her EL skills. Because of the phonetical differences in her culture, her pronunciation of certain words did not mirror the correct spelling of these terms.

Example)

Term: Cheek
Pronunciation & Spelling: Shake

As you may be able to tell from a couple of previous posts about interpreting body language & cultural awareness, I'm becoming more and more interested in our educational system and how it has conformed and adapted to its increasingly diverse student body, in general. It has been projected that by the year 2010 (remember when that date sounded as if it were light years away?), more than 30% of school-age children will have grown up in homes where English is not the primary language. This already rings true in my mother's school in a city outside of Boston. Ever since she began teaching, she has faced a variety of cultural challenges and has proven to become a valuable resource in my quest to unify the world!

While many immigrants used to settle in more urban areas, America has become more of a melting pot throughout all neighborhoods - including suburban communities. Additionally, from coast to coast, many schools cater to students speaking over 50 unique languages. Included in this collection of dialects, you'll often find: Spanish, Chinese, Russian, & Korean, among a plethora of others.

The history of educating such pupils has certainly grown and developed, and has most recently turned toward privately tutoring ELL students. Having one-on-one time with a person focused on a specific culture, in addition to the child's previous use & knowledge of English is clearly an effective method of helping a child master a new language. However, immersion within a classroom is also critical. My French developed quite rapidly when I entered the classroom. Though make no mistake, learning math in a romance language was far from enjoyable.

Here are a few websites that may serve as rough guides and outlines to creating a tutorial curriculum for ELL students:

Now, I must reiterate that I'm not a qualified expert within this realm (as if it weren't already obvious). There are many students that are on IEPs. Tutors should always contact teachers & parents to develop an appropriate curriculum for each and every respective student as each individual's needs are unique.

Please feel free to share other resources pertinent to this subject.

*I think that Tine felt left out due to my initial non-mention of her name. Tine, you may now consider yourself famous!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Thanksgiving at St. Peter's Basilica

Did you know that they don't celebrate Thanksgiving in Italy? It's true. It's actually a holiday that is only celebrated in the United States...Okay, I am being very facetious. It may seem impossible, but I managed to forget this simple fact while I was visiting Rome a couple of years ago. Even then it took my family "abandoning" me to really make the connection. They really aren't so cold hearted. I was waiting to catch a flight back up to Dublin, and they had gone down to enjoy the sun in southern Italy.

Slightly bummed about my predicament, I had originally made the assumption that I would have to chill in the hotel, because all of the good museums and monuments would be closed...luckily my moron amnesia wore off quickly enough to realize that the Pilgrims had landed on Plymouth Rock in Massachusetts and not Sicily. Still slightly bummed abut wandering a foreign city alone on Thanksgiving, I decided my best option was to go BIG and OBVIOUS: St. Peter's Basilica. Nothing like visiting something BIG to put things in perspective. Now I wouldn't consider myself a religious person (I was raised a Christmas worshipping non-Catholic), but it is almost impossible not to be impressed by the massiveness and intricacy of the building. The fact that each slab of granite was raised to the top of the Basilica's dome by ropes and pulleys and not machines. Not to mention marble sculptures by Michelangelo and Bernini. St. Peter's is a can't miss in Rome - crowds be damned. However (for me), it is one experience in particular that stands out the most: climbing to the top of the church's dome. Never mind the view (although amazing in & of itself):
(*Thanks random tourist).

The actual process of climbing is fun and/or terrifying. You actually get to climb up and around the inside of the walls of the dome. You can even see the walls curve and narrow as you get closer and closer to the top. In addition, half-way through the climb you are diverted to the inside of the dome for yet another great view of the church floor:
WARNING: I wouldn't recommend this trek to anyone who is claustrophobic or afraid of heights.

Happy Veterans Day

Yesterday marked the Marine Corps' 233rd birthday. As I type this, a good friend of mine is celebrating that as well as Veterans Day to honor his tour in Iraq a few years back. Unlike many other Veterans, he's fortunate to be financially sound and to have job stability. This, however, is not a luxury that all Vets return to experience.

To coincide with Veterans Day, the Iraq & Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) partnered with the Ad Council yesterday in order to launch a public service advertising campaign. This national multimedia campaign directs to an online community dedicated solely to Iraq & Afghanistan Veterans: Community of Veterans.

In a time where social media outlets served to assist in the election of the first black President of the USA, this medium has also wisely been used to create the first social networking site for Veterans. It provides a place where Veterans can listen to & share experiences, access resources, and gain & pass on sound advice.

God Bless the USA!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Discovery Park, Discover Seattle

A couple of years ago, I went to visit my good friends, Bacon & Joe. Now residing in the Grunge Movement capital of the world, they call Seattle home.

It's true - initially, my desire to head to the Pacific Northwest was fueled by my early 90s obsession with the lead singer of Nirvana. If we could only visit one landmark, then it was going to be Kurt Cobain's pad. Bacon & Joe did grant my wish, but also enthusiastically showed me that there was much more depth to this city, a place dedicated to music, culture, and the performing arts.

On my last day in Seattle, we hiked around Discovery Park taking advantage of its many walking trails. Located in the Magnolia neighborhood, Discovery Park was created in the 1970s and is arguably the best place in the city to see some of Seattle's wildlife. From the park's south meadow, you can catch an awe-inspiring view of Puget Sound. The park's South Beach (not to be confused with Miami's famous plage) is certainly worth a visit as well, just be prepared for the hike back to the parking lot.

My one regret about this last minute adventure: my shoes. We sort of decided to venture through the park on a whim. The skies had just cleared, a rare feat for Seattle in mid-March. Unfortunately, my feet were enclosed by uncomfortable high-heeled black boots.. You be the judge.

Feast your eyes on these.

Discovery Park Seattle

Discovery Park View

And lastly, a random view of the Olympic Peninsula.. too pretty to keep out of this post.

Olympic Peninsula
**Photos courtesy of Bacon - thanks, Cath!**