Friday, October 31, 2008

GuluWalk: Organization Awareness

GuluWalk is a humanitarian effort devoted to supporting and saving the thousands of abandoned children of northern Uganda.

An initiative founded by two Canadians, Adrian Bradbury & Kieran Hayward, GuluWalk strives to raise voices and awareness about the horrific acts of violence and destruction that have remained prevalent in northern Uganda for more than 20 years. The effort highlights the plight of the Acholi children. This group of young and innocent children has been forced to trek to town centers in the middle of the night to avoid being beaten, battered, raped, abducted and killed. By the Lord's Resistance Army.. an inhumane mission spear-headed by Joseph Kony.

Despite all morality, Kony and his rebels have been stealing children between the ages of 3 - 17 to staff his gruesome army. Forced to kill or be killed, the youth of Uganda has been trained to murder mothers, fathers, and siblings with no remorse. Devoid of emotions, ethics, and morals, Kony's army has been destroying civil life in northern Uganda since 1987. With the hope of escaping titles of soldiers or sex slaves, tens of thousands of children called "night commuters" walk up to 12 miles each night to seek safety & solace from Kony's crew.

What child deserves to live like this? What child deserves to live with such ghastly memories? How do these children find hope for the future?

In its short 3+ years in existence, GuluWalk has evolved into a worldwide movement for peace. With a dream of eradicating what has come to be known as "the world's most neglected humanitarian crisis" and "one of the biggest scandals of our generation", GuluWalk has raised over $1 million for the children of northern Uganda.

Get involved with GuluWalk to find out more about how you can help this team achieve its goals & complete its mission.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

NEST: A Bird's Eye View with Rebecca Kousky

Another small tribute to NEST. Executive Director and founder of NEST, Rebecca Kousky, was recently interviewed on KSDK - St. Louis. She gives a brief background of NEST's mission and how the organization works. Rebecca also plugs a local event in St. Louis, although I believe the event actually occurred yesterday. In any case, view the video below to learn more about our unique social mission.

If you're having trouble viewing the video, please visit the following link:

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Look Me in the Eye: Interpreting Body Language

In an effort to heighten awareness of cultural knowledge, we're going to try a new feature here: highlighting the meaning of a particular piece of body language, interaction, or symbol across cultures. We figure that it won't hurt to take breaks from travel stories to infuse an educational, cultural tip or news from abroad into the mix.

As young children, American & European offspring are taught to look people in the eye. It's a command often heard when parents, teachers, or other authority figures suspect children of lying. Because it's the sheer nature of a child to engage in occasional mischief, you can bet that this is one piece of body language that kids work to perfectly master. As a young adult, this same segment of people is taught to look people in the eye in order to exude interest, truth, and honesty. Whether it be a casual chat with an acquaintance, a job interview, or a heated discussion with a significant other, maintaining eye contact demonstrates you're attentively & intensely listening to the words of your conversational partner. In many situations, it also helps to prove that you're not a proverbial freak.

However, while eye contact reflects a common act of courtesy in some cultures, it suggests quite the opposite for others. In Asian & African cultures, avoidance of direct eye contact is interpreted as a sign of respect & esteem.

I think I prefer the latter interpretation. The next time that I walk down a street in Boston, I'm simply going to assume that everyone is worshipping me as the Queen.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Siesta is the Best(uh)?

Upon my first arrival in Madrid, Spain, I was swiftly introduced to one of the most magical ideas ever conceived for the working individual, and the most annoying holdups for a traveling traveler: SIESTA. Siesta occurs daily most everywhere in Spain with shops and businesses closing from 2pm - 5pm, and bars and restaurants closing from 4 - 8pm. It is an opportunity for employees to go home for lunch, spend time with family, and overall just take a break from "the grind".  In my experience, it seems like pretty much everyone participates in siesta, leading most establishments to be shutdown between those hours. Which lead us, dear traveler, to a conundrum: whatever does a revved up U.S. tourist do during those 3 hours?

My friends (Ali and Erin) and I dropped into Madrid mid-afternoon, dropped our bags off at our youth hostel (Hostal Casto which was cheap, great location, and felt safe - but don't expect the Ritz! The most recent review is ABOUT RIGHT), and quickly went to work finding a place for a quick bite to eat before hitting up our first tourist destination. The restaurant we found had "succulent" duck and an attentive waitstaff - they were surprisingly happy to continually fuel us with bottles of wine. A little tipsy from lunch, we trolled over to take a tour of the Museo Nacional Del Prado - I'm a dope and totally thought it was called the Prada for most of the day. Inebriation aside, I highly recommend this museum. It houses beautiful pieces of art from well-known Spanish masters such as Goya and El Greco.
Following the Prado we scooted over to the Botanical Gardens, which were nice, but something I would recommend skipping if you visit in mid to late fall. Thus begins our introduction to...drumroll...SIESTA. A mere 15 minutes into our walk around the grounds we were kicked out because it was closing for the afternoon. Not quite ready to call it a day, we started to meander the streets of Madrid in search of something to amuse our little minds...or at least a bar or cafe to prevent the onset of a hangover. Closed door after closed door, we found what must have been the only open bar in Madrid - not surprisingly, we were also the only patrons in this lonely bar. With the exception of the bartender, and the late arrival of Ethan, a friend of Erin's who was studying aboard in Madrid.
Weathering siesta in our new favorite bar in Spain (plus a couple of hours), we were all ready for some dinner. It's reasonable to expect dinner around 7pm, right? WRONG-O! Workers will (actually) go back to work after siesta, which causes the work day to end much later. So, people won't eat dinner until 8 - 9pm. Beware - while I found it extremely fun to bop around Madrid getting my makeup done at some random department store, making late night pit stops for cheap and yummy chicken & fries, and do a little sightseeing:
(ha - nothing like taking pics in front of a monument - Casa de la Panaderia - in the dark, shortly after the chicken & fries).

This isn't going to be everyone's cup of tea. Some good alternatives are to simply take advantage of the downtime (write some postcards, rest/freshen up for the long night ahead), take a long walk, OR FIND A BAR TO BOND WITH FRIENDS OVER SHARED SHENANIGANS. 

Monday, October 27, 2008

Awareness Abroad: Knowledge of Your Cultural Surroundings

All too often do we hear tragic tales of incidents that occur to unsuspecting tourists while abroad. I'm going to go out on a limb here, type a bold statement, and say that many of these treacherous acts can likely be avoided when the necessary precautions have been taken before traveling to an unknown place. Of course, while the specifics of these critical steps indeed vary from location to location, the constant lies in doing your homework.

In a time where uncertainty and terror plague our world, it is absolutely vital that we're familiar with the culture, tradition, language, history, religion, economics, and politics of each destination we plan to visit. Being an expert in all of these elements is not a prerequisite for traveling, but keeping an open and educated mind is undoubtedly crucial. In my personal opinion, there is no greater insult to a group of people than ignorance and disrespect.

Sure, we all enjoy the softer side of traveling.. the romanticism, sightseeing, socializing, fancy hotels, room service, local cuisine.. however, in order to experience something real, it is imperative to immerse oneself within the respective culture. Living like a native defines true travel.

To make light of the concept of cultural differences, it doesn't take a genius to know that you wouldn't wear the attire you'd sport in a New York night club in the midst of more conservative Middle Eastern countries. Communication is key. Understanding interactions and how they can be misconstrued between various cultures is also a factor to take into consideration. For example, in the US, a firm handshake is often interpreted as a sign of masculinity whereas in Africa, a limp handshake signifies the appropriate way to complete this action.

In our day & age, there truly isn't any excuse for lack of preparation when it comes to trip planning. With so many valuable resources available from travel guides to books to internet articles and much more, cultural information is easily accessible in today's society. Some of the more popular references include:

If you know of other credible resources, please share in the comments below - the more aware & educated we all are, the safer we'll all be.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Running a Marathon + Sightseeing = Not a Vacation

Don't try to fool yourself. I did. It is extremely difficult to take a weekend trip where the main focus is work or some other commitment (whether it is athletic or family), and turn it into a sightseeing vacation.

Last fall I headed down to Washington, D.C for Halloween weekend to run in the Marine Corp Marathon. I had gone through months and months of training. I was ready to go. And, looking at the course map (and considering my "amazing" level of fitness), I was ready to take this 26.2 mile run whilst enjoying some of the major monuments in the D.C. area: the Pentagon, the Watergate, the Lincoln Memorial, the Capital, the Washington Monument, the Smithsonian museums, the Jefferson Memorial, and actually crossing the finish line at the Iwo Jima Memorial. Silly, naive Molly. While it was surreal running past all of these national monuments, I was way more focused on trying to make my legs move another step and not passing out by the side of the road.Marine Corps Marathon
(The Iwo Jima monument never looked so good with thousands of sweaty runners, and orange security fencing).

While it wasn't totally unexpected that I didn't fully enjoy my marathon sightseeing experience, I thought for sure I would be ready to go the following day before my friend and I had to get our flight back home. As I hobbled around the Reflecting Pool, past the Vietnam Memorial, and then through the Aerospace Museum (I touched a moon rock - I'm basically an astronaut now), I knew that my D.C. vacation experience just wasn't meant to be. While it was a beautiful day, and the monuments were impressive, I was so exhausted from the race the previous day, I really couldn't enjoy half of what I was seeing.

I have made a bunch of similar attempts while on work trips, and have run into very similar issues. I always seem too busy with work commitments and obligations, that the sites I do see seem tainted, and while not completely ruined, at the very least seem less charming or enjoyable.

Yes, it may seem that I am advocating not even bothering to try to turn this type of trip into a "leisure" vacation (ewww, I don't like calling it that), I'm don't mean that exactly. It is more meant to be a cautionary message: don't raise expectations when going on trips where you have larger obligations (such as work - the most cursed obligation of them all).  I feel that even when you are squeezing some fun into the trip, those obligations will generally act as a cloud over most of what you do...I'm still hoping to prove myself wrong on this point.

Friday, October 24, 2008

JHillDesign: A Calendar with a Cause

Jennifer Hill of JHillDesign has combined her involvement with the Alzheimer's Association and her passion for design to create a Block Island calendar print, a special print that will always be the month of November in her calendar. November is recognized as National Alzheimer's Awareness Month. A portion of the proceeds from this print will go directly to the Alzheimer's Association. The design was inspired by her father who lost the battle to Alzheimer's 3 years ago.

Author of the blog Places I Have Never Been, Jennifer's writing & designs are inspired by her imaginary vacations to far off places. She's a truly talented artist with unique visions and a strong heart. As a preview to her 2009 calendar, here are the patterns that you can expect:

  • January: Easter Eggs in Kiev, Ukraine
  • February: Bridges of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
  • March: Gorse in Galway, Ireland
  • April: Rainbow Trout in Sun Valley, Idaho
  • May: Chateau Gardens in Loire Valley, France
  • June: Silver in Zacatecas, Mexico
  • July: Tart Cherries in Traverse City, Michigan
  • August: Hops in Portland, Oregon
  • September: Cowboy Boots & Music in Austin, Texas
  • October: Black and White Clocks in Chester, England
  • November: Birding in Block Island, Rhode Island
  • December: Zeppole Festival in Positano, Italy

Each month's pattern features pieces of information about the particular place including its language, its distance, and the inspiration for the design.

Allow Jennifer's 2009 Wall Calendar to help you imagine your dream vacation.

Survivor Corps: Organization Awareness

Reader, Kwolph, brought to our attention a global network of people that help each other to overcome the effects of war and conflict, and give back to their communities. This organization? Survivor Corps.

The main objective of this group is to break the cycle of violence. Easier said than done? Yes. But this is something that we all want, isn't it? Initially bred as Landmine Survivors Network, the movement was founded in 1997 by Jerry White & Ken Rutherford, two landmine survivors.

Focusing on the unique contribution & leadership of conflict survivors, the organization has received praise, partnership, and support from esteemed names like Princess Diana of Wales and Queen Noor of Jordan. Survivor Corps believes that those who have survived war are the most effective, equipped, and motivated people to break the cycle of violence.

The movement operates a peer support program that successfully connects survivors with survivor role models to provide encouragement and motivation. The program serves as a vital component in helping new survivors find hope, jobs, and the strength to move on with their lives.

Courtesy of their community building programs, survivors connect diverse survivor groups with former enemies through collective action plans in order to rebuild communities broken by war. With the assistance of survivor advocates who campaign for their rights, the movement is able to change the world by speaking out together and addressing & acknowledging the challenges they face in their lives after war.

Historical Campaigns & Conventions of Survivor Corps:

  • Nobel Peace Prize-winning International Campaign to Ban Landmines
  • Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities: Goal to end discrimination and bring equal opportunity to 650 million people world-wide with disabilities.
  • Convention to Ban Cluster Munitions: Negotiated in 2008 to end the use of cluster bombs & help victims of this weapon.

Learn more about Survivorship and how you can help. After all, we all need each other to make this one life a proud life, a life worth living.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Sagres: It's More Than a Beer

Long, winding roads roaming among the purest of landscapes. Lush, green fields complete with grazing animals and a mosaic of beautiful flora. Quaint villages with a real sense of community. Invigorating scents of natural freshness. All of these elements led to Sagres, the southwestern-most point in Europe.

To put it simply, Sagres did more than just pacify my sense of wonder & imagination. It sounds extremely cliche, but I honestly didn't understand how fulfilling looking out into the vast ocean could truly be. Sun reflecting across the irridescent waters, we were barred by nothing except the edge of enourmous cliffs. It seems as though most elevated coastal views in the US are outlined by some sort of fencing - now, I'm not against safety, but the natural outline of the landscape quietly stated that Sagres was anything but a tourist attraction. Even if by the common definition of the term, it just may be.

A sneak peak at some prime rib views of the namesake of a delicious brew:

Fortaleza de Sagres
*Defenders of the Fortaleza de Sagres!

Sagres Cliffs
*Imposing cliffs of Sagres..

*Voila! The photo that made us famous. Thank you, Improper Bostonian!

Chillin' in Seattle and Freezin' at Mount St. Helens

Mi hermano (my brother, for those of you who don't watch "Arrested Development" or speak Spanish), Kris, moved to Seattle, WA for three months for work, and being the mooch of a sister that I am, decided that my friend Meriel and I should go out to visit him for a long weekend. Ahhh shucks, I'm not really that selfish, from that moment in Jr. High that I first heard Pearl Jam, I knew I would, nay, must visit the mecca of Indie music known as 'Seattle'.

While we saw some AMAZING live music at a seemingly endless number of clubs - I've legit never been so impressed by the vibe of a live music scene - and saw some really cool landmarks:
Pike Place MarketPike Place Market

Space NeedleThe Space Needle. Which is accessible via a monorail...the concept of which still boggles my mind. What's the f-ing point of a MONOrail that isn't in a loop. I just don't get it, I don't...also was the only sunny day of the entire trip!!

Not to mention Easy Street Records in the Queen Anne neighborhood for a little Pearl Jam worship and alterna music worship. Okay, this might not be a true landmark, but dude-ski it is where the band played a live concert, and they sell all sorts of rare singles and records.

It actually turns out that one of the most enjoyable (and at the same time disappointing) moments of the entire trip was when we decided to hop in the fire red Pontiac Grand Prix (rental car - woot woot), and take a road trip to Mount St. Helens about 96 miles outside of Seattle. Going to see a volcano, fun times, right? Well...I think I may have forgotten to mention that it was November...

We start out the morning, hit our first Starbucks of the day, and start busting down the highway listening to Johnny Cash and Black Star. It actually really isn't a bad drive (not overly scenic though) if there isn't bad traffic, and you've got some good, sleep deprived conversation. The weather was overcast as it had been all weekend, but nothing too messy as we took the exit off the highway. However, as we got closer to the Mountain and higher in elevation, the snow started to come. While snow would normally excite me - if i were heading to a mountain with chairlifts and groomed pow-pow - we were going to see an active volcano, and I WANTED to see that gosh dern volcano. Going 15 mph for the last 5 miles due to treacherous roads, I think we all kind of realized there would be no volcano peeping that afternoon, and we were right.

Complete white-out at the base of the Mountain only allowed us to see about 20 ft out of the observatory. Even with this disappointment, I still feel like the trip was a success.

Main accomplishments:

1. The observatory (even without the view) at Mount St. Helens does a great job of telling the story of the eruption that occurred in 1980, and paying tribute to those who perished.
2. Had some great bonding time with mi hermano and my friend.

Minor accomplishments:

1. I hit mi hermano with a snowball at the base of a volcano
2. I got the most delicious Taco Bell at the end of the day.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Great Barrier Reef: I See You, Outer Space!

5.. 4.. 3.. 2.. Curtain Call.. Drum Roll.. and the winner is: the Great Barrier Reef! What? It has been a long day. Ok, fine - at least dreary.

Our latest poll results reveal that snorkelling in the Great Barrier Reef is the ideal adventure for the majority of our respondents. I must admit, now that I've conquered the camels, it would have been my choice too. I must also admit that I've not yet been to Australia. My sister went abroad there in 2003 - so basically, it's essentially as if I went as well. Maybe that explanation would have worked if we were twinsies?

Aside from winning this poll, the Great Barrier Reef also wins the award for the largest coral reef system in the world. Spanning 900 islands and 1,600 miles, the Great Barrier Reef is located in - you guessed it - the Coral Sea. Take a kangaroo up to Queensland in Northeast Aussie Land and you'll be one step closer to seeing the world's largest single structure made by living organisms.

Trivia Question: Which childhood game guarantees a loss for the Great Barrier Reef when matched up against outer space?

Trivia Answer: Hide and seek!

Yes, that's right folks - our alien neighbors can spot this natural wonder without squinting.

After a bit of research & some suggestions from friends, here are a few sites worth visiting when it comes to pricing for snorkelling & diving along the Great Barrier Reef:

If you've had the pleasure of partaking in these oceanic activities along the Great Barrier Reef courtesy of a reasonable reef adventure company, please do share in the comments below.. and please take me with you the next time you go!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Sintra: A Small City with Rich Tradition

In my opinion, the title of this post really captures the essence of the village of idyllic Sintra. Before arriving in this quaint Portuguese municipality, we were informed by a friend with the same last name that Sintra better be our favorite destination in Portugal. I've already shared my affinity for Lagos, but this beautiful town in the district of Lisbon was my favorite for different reasons. It boasts many historic landmarks as well as a colorful, close-knit community and culture. It is also where all of my other traveling companions fell in love with Portuguese chourico [chorizo].

My words may not do Sintra justice, but the following images might..

Sintra street
*Please ignore our "outfits". All of our baggage was lost until later that night. The street cafe in the background was where our [minus me] meaty obsession mentioned above was birthed.

Sintra countryside
*Countryside view from the grounds of Sintra's National Palace, or the Palacio Nacional de Sintra.

Palacio Nacional de Sintra
*View from the main courtyard outside of the Palacio Nacional de Sintra.

Palacio de Pena
*Pena Palace, or the Palacio de Pena, which has been described as a Disney-esque castle because of its color scheme.

Pena Palace Grounds
*View of the intricate architecture inside the grounds of the Palacio de Pena.

Monday, October 20, 2008

One Bank(sy) in NYC You'll Want to Know About

I'm going to be completely honest with you: for me, New York City has always been a toss-up. I'm usually not intimidated by large cities (at least for a visit), but something about NYC can seem overwhelming, dirty, congested, harsh...have I used enough cliche adjectives for you? In all my most recent trips to the Big Apple I guess when it comes down to it, I have spent the majority of my time in a bar or club, on a couch trying to "get over" that bar or club. Hangovers don't really lend themselves to wanting to hike around the city trying to find knock-off Rolex watches.

Truth be told, I did go to NYC a couple of times where site-seeing was the main goal. However, both times were before the age of 13 years old, and I think I may have been more concerned with getting a pressed penny at the top of the Empire State Building, rather than actually taking in the view (I do remember the Russian Tea Room was fun...but the memories are hazy).

This past weekend I had every intention to mature my appreciation for the "City". While I cannot confirm that my appreciation was totally matured, I can most wholeheartedly say that I have expanded my respect for the city that never sleeps - after all - getting drunk at a dive bar in one city is surprisingly similar to getting drunk at a dive bar in another city (okay - the bars do stay open longer, which is actually part of the problem).

So, after a very long Friday night, and a pretty long Saturday night, I found myself doing my standard Sunday afternoon stop on Canal Street to purchase approximately 20 "pashminas" for $10 (seriously it was 3 for $10, and while it is a tourist trap, you can find knock off everything), I was re-introduced to one of the wide range (as I am continually told) of things that makes NYC worth at least a weekend visit. Beyond the art in the MANY art museums around the city, graffiti and murals have been expanded into a true art form, that I think you can truly only see in big cities like NYC and London.* Currently, in SoHo & Chinatown, there are some great murals by a British graffiti artist named Banksy. Many of his pieces have a decidedly political feel while still remaining 'light-hearted'. I absolutely couldn't stop laughing at one of his murals that I came across while walking down Broadway - see, a global financial crisis can be funny:

Any time you travel keep an eye out for any piece of local culture that you can't see in a museum, they are always the things you will remember the most. I would also recommend that you check out the coffee table book called "Banksy", it is a great compilation showing some of the artist's other works (mainly pictures taken in London) - H-h-h-h-ilarious.

*Not a dig at you smaller cities! It just seems like NYC has given more opportunities to artists.

Friday, October 17, 2008

KIVA: Organization Awareness

In light of Blog Action Day, I wanted to take this opportunity to bring to your attention another esteemed non profit organization, KIVA.

What is KIVA?

Similar to NEST's mission, KIVA strives to connect people through lending with the goal of alleviating poverty. Simply put, KIVA lets you loan to the working poor. Founded in 2004 by Matt Flannery and his wife Jessica, KIVA has established itself as "the world's first person-to-person micro-lending website." Its efforts allow empowering individuals to lend directly to original entrepreneurs in the developing world. Examples of entrepreneurs may include: a baker in Afghanistan, a goat herder in Uganda, a farmer in Peru, or a tailor in Iraq.. among many others.

How does KIVA work?

By partnering with existing expert microfinance institutions, KIVA gains access to unique, qualified entrepreneurs from impoverished communities all over the world. The partners upload individual profiles on site, allowing lenders to connect to a specific entrepreneur of their own choice. Because of the nature of the internet, KIVA's lending platform affords lenders the opportunity to measure the impact that their lends are having on the entrepreneur's business throughout each step of the cycle. Over time, the entrepreneur repays the loan - updates are maintained on the KIVA site and also emailed to lenders opting to receive these notifications. Once the loan has been completely repaid, lenders may extend loans to other entrepreneurs, donate to KIVA, or withdraw funds.

KIVA Partners

Well connected within the social media realm, some of KIVA's partners include:

  • KIVA is a Google Grants recipient. Google created this program to give free advertising to selected non profits. The partnership has enabled KIVA to attract new members instantaneously upon relevant search queries, and has proven invaluable to KIVA's continuing growth and success.
  • YouTube: A popular video sharing website, YouTube has donated 120 million free banner placements to KIVA. These banners help to increase exposure and awareness of KIVA, while also generating new lenders and donors.
  • Intuit Inc.: A leading provider of business and financial management solutions for many non profit organizations, Intuit donates accounting & reporting software to KIVA to support its mission.

Sound like something that may be up your alley? Help KIVA do more.KIVA Logo

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Sweet Molly Malone

All good things must come to an end...While this is far from my last tale of Irish lore, thus closes out the first annual "Molly Tells Irish Tales for a Week" Week (ha).

I would be remiss if I didn't tell at least one more wee yarn about my pseudo-hometown of Dublin. A fair city that is known for being the home to the Guinness factory. St. Patrick's Cathedral, Bono, Grafton Street, Ha'penny Bridge, James Joyce, PUBS, Enya, the Liffey River, and countless other amazing things. However, there is one person who is all too frequently overlooked, and her name is Miss Molly Malone...

In Dublin's fair city,
where the girls are so pretty,
I first set my eyes on sweet Molly Malone,
As she wheeled her wheel-barrow,
Through streets broad and narrow,
Crying, "Cockles and mussels, alive, alive, oh!"
"Alive, alive, oh,
Alive, alive, oh",
Crying "Cockles and mussels, alive, alive, oh".
She was a fishmonger,
And sure 'twas no wonder,
For so were her father and mother before,
And they each wheeled their barrow,
Through streets broad and narrow,
Crying, "Cockles and mussels, alive, alive, oh!"
She died of a fever,
And no one could save her,
And that was the end of sweet Molly Malone.
Now her ghost wheels her barrow,
Through streets broad and narrow,
Crying, "Cockles and mussels, alive, alive, oh!"

Yes, I am told there is a good chance that she was a prostitute, but lady was just trying to make a living - she didn't deserve to die of a fever. Maybe she was selling those cockles and mussels so she could buy herself a nice treat like a kick butt pair of leather boots, those totes are a frivolous purchase, but she just kind of wants them, OKAY! So, you keep standing strong Miss Molly, with your low cut dress. Stand strong.

Sweet Molly Malone

What Happpened in Vegas is all over Facebook!

I was the second of my 10 g-friends to arrive in Sin City this past Friday and enthusiastically greeted at baggage claim by a Devan – vodka tonic in hand. We grabbed my suitcase and headed for the curb.

The first cab line we came to was completely vacant – which we were beyond psyched about because the airport was a zoo. Unfortunately we were informed that it was a handicap only line and we had to follow the masses to the other end where hundreds (I kid you not) of people were standing around looking buzzed/pissed.

We decided right then that the theme of the weekend was going to be “VIP - no lines” and headed back inside in an attempt to cut (because it’s always a good idea to try to aggravate already irate strangers). Devan got tired of dragging her bag and we took up one of the skycap’s offers to help. BEST move ever because he paraded us right back to the handicap area and quickly tucked us into the first cab for only a $10 tip.

Checking into THEhotel was a smooth transaction, despite the fact that Expedia had incorrectly put my room in the regular part of Mandalay Bay. It only took an additional $90 (on top of the $1000 already paid) to get a room 3 doors down from the other.

The rest of the ladies slowly trickled in while we pre-gamed with a bottle of vodka and mixers (bought at a liquor store outside the hotel for way less than the little bottles you could get inside), and by midnight we were actually ready to go out. We headed to the Palms and up to the Fantasy Tower (Moon and Playboy Club). That’s pretty much where my memory ends.

The next morning I dragged a few of the ladies out of bed at 9am to head down to Moorea Beach Club (the 21+, tops optional pool at Mandalay). Not deterred by the $10 cover, 60 degree weather, or fact that we were the ONLY group at the pool, we actually managed to strip down to our b-suit bottoms and get a few hours of color. The $12 pina coladas were a huge help in tolerating the cold.

Later a group of us headed to the Bellagio to see the early showing of “O” (for which we were lucky to get tickets 3 months in advance). I’d been to 4 other Cirque du Soleil shows so I thought I had a good idea of what to expect but I was still blown away. It’s a combination of synchronized swimming, high diving, circus (contortionists, clowns, acrobats), and opera on acid.. and I would pay $168 to see it again in a heartbeat.

After the show we decided to hang around the Bellagio for a bit and grab sushi at Yellowtail (6 people + no reservation = 10 minute wait) and see the seasonal flower exhibit (very cool). We were on our way out, but got sidetracked by promoters offering to have us cut the line and skip the cover at The Bank (club with entrance up escalator from the casino - used to be Light). Since this matched the VIP theme we decided to try it.

The music was fun, the lingerie-clad go-go dancers and free shots they carried were great, but we were kind of stuck in a corner so we decided to bounce - although not before watching some girls get dragged out of a bathroom stall by security for doing drugs (very COPS).

We jumped in line for a cab and a girl fight broke out right behind us. Security wasn’t too concerned about the hair-pulling and name-calling, but then one girl ended up on the hood of a cab and they stepped in. We eventually made it to the Palms and headed in to Rain (not having to pay a cover because we’d received free vouchers the night before). I was pleasantly surprised to find out Paul Oakenfold was the guest DJ for the evening. The vibe in Rain was much like Ibiza (with crazy performance artists – kind of like in Cirque du Soleil). It was only enhanced by the fact that some random Canadian guys invited us to hang at their table and drink for free all night.

Towards the end of the evening Devan and I hopped into a stretch limo (found in the cab line) with two strangers and headed to another club to meet up with one of her guy friends. At 4am the bouncers didn’t want to let us in (since the club was closed and they were kicking everyone else out), but they did after her friend paid them $200. For that money we got about 15 minutes of club time then headed back to our rooms to sleep.

Sunday morning was a little rougher for me than the day before, but I was enticed out of bed to hit up the buffet (and endless champagne) brunch for $25 each. We made it back to Moorea – where there were actually a few other people – for a few hours. At this point I decided it would be a great idea to get a tattoo (under the influence of 4 glasses of champagne, pina coladas, bud light and a shot of tuaca – from a rando guy at the pool).

Conveniently I didn’t even have to leave the hotel to get said tattoo. We went to Starlight Tattoo (just off the casino – like everything else) and I was able to get an appointment in an hour. I didn’t care that I was charged the $150 minimum for a tiny tatt on my foot. I was going to commemorate the trip in ink. I was allowed to bring one friend into the room with me – and everyone else in the lobby watched through the glass wall.

Post tatt, we all started getting ready for dinner at China Grill in Mandalay. Dinner was AMAZING (family style dishes, delicious food, great décor and staff). We did a little gambling (black jack) and stumbled into a club in the middle of the casino when some rando guy insisted on buying us a bottle of grey goose (no arguments). Then we found ourselves in Forty Deuce (club with burlesque dancers and live music). The go-go dancers were very tolerant of us when we decided WE should be onstage dancing instead of/next to them. More free bottles of booze ensued (I consider it our tip) and then I went to sleep.

Monday was rough.. but the hangover was well worth all the good times, crazy pictures, and silly tatt that resulted.

Blog Action Day: B.A.D. or GOOD?

While I may technically be a day late on this post, shouldn't every day really be 'Blog Action Day'? After all, most bloggers understand the power that this medium possesses when it comes to content. For those that read blogs on a daily basis, but that may not fully comprehend how search engines work, the primary factor to be aware of is that search engine spiders [or bots] love frequent content. Especially content related to topics that are highly searched for on the web during a specified time period.

I don't want to drift too far off topic, so first: a quick background on B.A.D. Unfortunate acronym, but a very fortunate cause with a lot of potential. Essentially, thousands of bloggers unite to write about one pre-determined topic on a specific date.. which happened to be yesterday.. I never said that timing was my thing. Regardless, "poverty" was this year's selected topic.

In a time where those of us living in the United States have become all too familiar with the word 'crisis', this particular topic seemed to bring me back down to earth. Sure, our country is heading into a horrible recession, but do I personally suffer immeasurable consequences on a daily basis? No. I can still afford to buy gas, share cocktails with friends, pay my bills, live comfortably, and most importantly, purchase a surplus of food & bottled water (gasp!.. becoming environmentally-friendly is a goal of mine).. and then, if I feel like it, toss this food in the garbage. I actually just experienced a pang of disgust when I re-read that last phrase. Clearly, there are a lot of us in today's society that take the bare necessities for granted.. and why shouldn't we? We've never really been pushed into a compromising situation that would force us to address our ignorance. After all, ignorance is bliss, isn't it?

There are a plethora of causes to champion and non profit organizations to support these days. Because of this, I think it's often difficult for people to continually commit to assisting various missions. Factors that may dissuade people from assisting in ameliorating our world for the greater good include:

  • Monetary donations: where is the money actually going?
  • Personal issues: I need to look out for #1 before helping others.
  • Consistency: Is once enough? I don't have the time, money, or resources to consistently contribute.

Fine, I can identify with these concerns. But, the fact of the matter is, excuses are like.. well, you know how the saying goes. Perhaps the harshest reality is the fact that innocent children are typically the people most affected by poverty. I'm not going to get all Sally Struthers on you here, but compassion and follow-through can go a long way.

How is blogging going to combat poverty?

Some would say that B.A.D. serves as a dishonest method to acquire links, traffic, and exposure for purely selfish reasons. Those acknowledging this theory must be the people that use blogging from a pure, business perspective. They, fortunately, are not the only members within the blogging community. For a variety of opinions on this topic, visit this article. It raises some extremely interesting points, most of which are worth digesting or at least pondering.

Now I would say that, as mentioned in the beginning of this post, I believe that the power of blogging can significantly impact levels of awareness. It can reach audiences that other mediums may not be able to tap into, and in turn, spark a viral campaign. Discussing social issues is vital to addressing humanity entirely. We all know that in today's society, it's very easy to turn your head the other way. I've posed this question before and I'll ask it again: it may be easy, but is it right?

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Tangier to Marrakech: Chow Before You Ciao

"Excuse me, let me turn up my miracle ear.. you want me to eat what??"

Dangling pig carcasses. Skinned chickens. "Foods" that resembled insects I dissected in my high school biology class.

Tangier MedinaOh no.. it wasn't any of these delicacies. For me, it was much worse..

Granted my appetite was essentially eradicated after walking through the Medina in Tangier, I knew that it would be [at minimum] another 10 hours before we were able to eat a substantial meal. My travel companions were sort of relying on me to decipher the menu as I was the only one with a relatively extensive background in French. Visions of "poulet" kept running through my head. Apparently after 7 years of not practicing a language, it's pretty obvious to everyone around you that you're not the genius you thought you were. We finally surrendered, and asked our guide for assistance.. after all, 6 hungry girls are nothing to mess around with.. we think we've ordered something similar to a chicken kabob. Six sub-like sandwiches and a 10 minute van ride later, we arrive at the Tangier train station.

First things first: plop rear on ground. Don't even feign eating like a lady. It's just you and the sandwich - have your way with it. Unwrap said sandwich and sink your chompers into highly anticipated "hoagie".

Initially, there is silence. Seconds later, there is an unsuspecting sango sliding across the floor.

"Um, what's Suz freaking out about now?"


Ding, ding. This sammy was covered in my most despised condiment. A dollop, I might have been able to look past.. but this thing was painted with my arch-enemy. I can't even write the word without imagining the smell and, in turn, reflexively cringing. I tried to pick out the random fries that were also an ingredient in this creation, but I just couldn't do it.. my nemesis and I were mug to mug. And I had a snowball's chance in hell of winning the battle.

My Arch-Nemesis *Note: This is a sandwich. This was not my sandwich. This was a sandwich with "lite" mayo.

At least we have a comfortable couchette to look forward to.. I'll just sleep away the hunger.

Sure. Sure, I will..

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

I'm In Love, and His Name is Bailey's

We're in a pub called The Quays (pronounced keys) in Galway, Ireland. My friend Meriel is lying on a wooden bench trying not to vom. The rest of us are staring cross-eyed at the "Irish coffees" that the bartender has just brought over to our table.

Let's first take stock of what exactly brought us to this point. One. It was Halloween last night. Two. We all decided to dress up as "sassy" devils.

(Okay, so not totally sassy, but my bum can't support a mini skirt)

Three. We randomly ran into some high school friends on the street whilst brunching, which led us to feel like we should "celebrate like what." Four. The sassiness of the outfit transferred into sassy dancing. Six.. All these elements combined led to the perfect storm of late night drinking, and playing the British version of Trivial Pursuit until 6am at our friend Adrianne's apartment (who the F is going to know the English Cricket champions of 1994??!!). Seven. Our train back to Dublin wasn't until 5pm, and it is now exactly 12pm Greenwich Mean Time. Eight. WE had to check out of our hostel, and The Quays was the closest haven (5 strides across the street), and not one of us had the will to walk any further.
Which brings us back to the 'Irish coffee' that currently sits on the table in front of me, and the two most important questions: will I like it? And, will it cause my head to implode? Never having had an Irish coffee, and being unsure of its medicinal contents, I make a couple of quick assessments:
- I like coffee
- I like the Irish
- I like the look of the 1 inch of creamy froth on the top of the drink
My brain's conclusion: "go ahead Molly, take a big ole chugger."
My body's reaction to this decision: " Oh good lord, this is pretty much all whiskey. You may need to stand up and run to the bathroom."

Fortunately, the agony was only temporary, and I was able to have a wee chat with the friendly bartender, and learn a lesson. A "traditional" Irish coffee consists of a jigger of Irish whiskey (as a special "surprise" he actually gave us two) and coffee. However, for a lass in my state and drinking experience, I would be much better off ordering what is called a "Bailey's Irish coffee." I'll tell you what. That fine bartender was right, Bailey's Irish coffees are DIVINE. They have become one of my favorite after dinner/hair of the dog drinks, ever. So, thank you random bartender at The Quays. Not only for introducing me to a new drink, but also for allowing 4 American girls to lounge around your pub for 4+ hours, with all of our luggage. Nothing beats Irish hospitality!

Galway Girl: Galway Revisited

To follow-up on Molly's post about Galway, I thought I'd leave you all with a song that has become very special to a particular group of friends of mine. Originally written and recorded by Steve Earle & Sharon Shannon in 2000, the song "Galway Girl" was made extremely popular in the Republic of Ireland in 2007 due to the success of the film "P.S. I Love You".

Go on, have a listen..

I'd also recommend listening to Mundy's version.

Personally, I'm always up for opening my ears to new Irish tunes.. so if you have one that really hits you, don't be shy.. send it along!

Monday, October 13, 2008

Galway: Shake Off That Hangover & Enjoy the Countryside

The "Celtic Twilight" radio hour came on Saturday evening while I was cruising around town in my Mom's whip. Just as I started rocking out to Celtic Thunder, I decided that I was going to go into full on nostalgia mode about my year in Ireland...

Galway was the very fist weekend trip trip I took. It was early October, I finally had gotten settled into an apartment, was getting comfortable with Dublin, and felt I should start seeing a little more of the countryside.
Getting from Dublin to Galway is actually a relatively painless 2hr 45min train ride (Dublin train station is easily accessible from downtown Dublin, and timetables are available on their website: ). The cars are clean, and the cost isn't too high. We ended up getting
in around 7pm that evening, and headed directly to our youth hostel. The hostel we stayed at is a place called Barnacles: Quay Street House (pronounced "key"), and is quite possibly one of my ALL TIME favorite hostel experiences (so much so that I stayed there two additional times with different groups of friends). You may be asking what qualifies it for such a high Molly Rating, well let me tell you: the location is unbeatable, it is right downtown on one of the main tourist walk-ways in Galway, and close to a bunch of fun pubs and shopping. They offer a private quad with a private bathroom (including a shower) - yes, they are bunk beds. Finally, the price is totally reasonable, and it includes a continental breakfast (from 13 - 39 euros/night).

We quickly settled in, and rambled/sprinted over to the King's Head pub to meet up with my Irish friends, Barry (Galwegian native) and Adrian, for a couple (re: dozens) of drinks. The King's Head is a larger Irish pub, but has a great atmosphere and live music 7 nights a week. Even if you aren't much of a drinker, I would highly suggest going to pubs while you're touring Ireland. Pubs are a big part of Irish culture, but not just because of the alcohol - food and conversation are also a big part of the experience. The latter two may have taken a back seat to drinking on this particular night, but we were in college, so whateva. The four of us rolled back to the youth hostel semi-early with the intention of taking a bus tour of the countryside the following morning...

Two of my friends and travel companions [Ali and Norah], the chipper little go-getters that they are, woke up early the next morning and headed directly to the Galway tourism office (thanks again, Barnacle staffers). The woman at the tourism office was extremely helpful, and suggested that if Ali and Norah could get Julia and I out of our drunken slumber, that a bus tour of The Burren would be a great option. Fueled by a desire to not be a total waste-o-space, we were able to kick our butts in gear and make the bus with 2 or 3 minutes to spare. It really ended up being a great way to see the countryside (rental car is best, but this is a great alternative). We hit up all the "hot-spots":

Cliffs of Moher:

**The pub gets sooo much business from tourists, but the Fish & Chips are delicious.

Poulnabrone Dolmen (might mean rock table):

Aillwee Cave:
**Ha - not sure the point of taking a picture in a cave, but experiencing "total darkness" was nifty.

Dunguaire Castle:
**Tehe - Ali doing a jig of sorts...this was the end of our sugar high.

We ended up using Lally Coaches tour company which is reasonably priced, and accessible from downtown Galway. However, there are a bunch of different tours to choose from, just take a look at some that are offered from Hostel World (in US $). 

Friday, October 10, 2008

Moving to Dublin, the Wimp-o Way

Settlin' your wee (or large, whatever) bottom in, and adjusting for a year abroad - in my case it was Dublin, Ireland - can be done in a bunch of different ways, I chose wimp-o, I urge you to, you know, not do that. Let me paint a few strokes in the masterpiece (finger painting) that was Molly at age 20: a lass who hadn't experienced anything on her own, total lack of self confidence, and scared of her own shadow. Try to keep this mental image as I spin the following tale...

It's incredibly easy to get "super psyched" about the concept of moving abroad for a year, but the reality of living in a foreign city can be a bit more daunting. In the summer months leading up to my move to Dublin all I spent time doing was talking and thinking about how much fun I was going to have, with no real thought about who I was going to be having fun with. Plop me on a plane in early September (all by my lonesome) about to touch-down at Dublin International Airport. I'm still kind of groggy, but have a vague recollection of the sun piercing through thick, thick gray clouds (that I would grow to love) over Dublin. what. Right. First things first: luggage. Collected. Next, too scared to take public transportation, taxi it is. I do kind of regret this move, even though I could financially swing it, public transportation is really a great way to immerse yourself in a city. However, the double decker-ness of the Dublin city buses can be a bit daunting, and you really do need 10 to 15 minutes of face time with the map to decipher any clear routes. Of all the wimpy things I would do in the next couple of days, I would call taking a taxi borderline wimpy.

The cab driver was unbelievably friendly. At the time the Irish were in L-O-V-E with Americans. However, it was 2001, so they really hadn't had too much face time with 'W'. I will say that while I had mostly good luck with cab drivers, I had my share of shade balls, so whenever possible, try to have a good idea of where you are going when you are cabbing it in Dublin. My destination was Trinity College, which is an easy one, because it is in an area that I would consider the "heart" of Dublin. Physically, if not emotionally. I was going to be attending the college for the next year, and I was lucky enough to score a dorm room while I conducted my housing search.

I get myself checked in, and bumble over the cobblestones and through the courtyards to my home for the next two weeks. It really is a gorgeous campus, and should not be missed if you are a virgin to Dubs. Beautiful architecture, home of the medieval "Book of Kells" (okay mini-yawn), frequent rugby matches on the greens, and some great drafts at the Pav campus bar (great craic).

Thus leads me to wimp-o moment SUPREME. In my defense, I was jet-lagged. Being a rookie traveler, I told my self I would just take a quick nap, and then start my grand exploration of Dublin. Ha - with jet-lag naps turn into slumpers, BEWARE. In my particular case, it turned into an excuse to hide in my room and cower in fear.

Wimp-o moment numero dos: after waking from my "nap" (8 hours can be considered a nap, right), I couldn't even find the courage to go out to a corner store to get food -you know, the stuff that is essential for living. In desperation, I snuck (truly no explanation) down to the lobby of the dorm to get a chocolate bar and soda from the vending machine, using the last few actual Irish Pounds that I had left.

Wimp-o momento finale: I spent the rest of my first day and night in MY prison sized dorm room in various states of sleep.

"A new hope..." Fortunately for my health and mental state (I looked it up, it is called agoraphobia), my Dad arrived two days later, and yanked me out out of my room. I bought a cell-phone ("pay as you go" cells are MAD cheap and easy to purchase in any European country), and started getting in touch with friends of friends who were more than happy to take me out for a couple of beers. Ahhh, and we get to the point - once I got out of that freakin' room, I was able to start embracing one of the best cities, like, ever. Just a few preventative measures you can take:

1. It's hard (I obvi know), but make sure you get out of your room, new apartment, or wherever as much as possible.
2. You need contacts if you have any chance of enjoying yourself. Put the nets out early and see if you have friends or friends of friends that are living in the city, or maybe just visiting for a couple of days.
3. If contacts aren't to be had, have some sort of plan to meet up with a local group or organization - derrr it's called the internet.
4. Go outside of yourself. If you wanted to do everything you did at home, then what exactly was the point of traveling in the first place? Stay home - I hear it's cheaper.