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 and, 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.


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.


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!**

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Funny Travel Ad from Budget Travel

Just a little something for anyone with a case of the "Sunday Terrors".. oh the anticipation of Monday.

It's all what you make of it, right?

Friday, November 7, 2008

Primary Source: Organization Awareness

In a prior discussion about interpreting body language, we had been wondering about coalitions or organizations that prepped & educated US teachers about cultural differences. Well, oddly enough, I was reading an email this morning from our NEST founder, Rebecca Kousky, and we may be doing an event with an organization dedicated to educating teachers for global understanding. The organization: Primary Source.

Primary Source focuses on professional development for K-12 teachers in History and Humanities. The organization connects educators with people in cultures all over the world. By providing learning opportunities, curriculum resources for K-12 educators, and introducing global content, Primary Source enables and shapes the way educators & students learn. This concept helps to form the basis for a deeper knowledge and more flexible thinking leading to more open-minded & enriched discussions.

Founded in 1989, Primary Source is led today by Executive Director, Kathy Ennis. The organization offers learning opportunities in the content areas of Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Middle East, and the United States. With a concentrated focus on educators in the New England area, Primary Source maintains a partnership with 45 schools and school districts.

Get involved with Primary Source to see how you can significantly impact the efforts to globalize the K-12 curriculum in your district. All that is required is a passion for education.

We Have a New Logo!

It's official, the "Troopin Travelers" have a new logo! Courtesy of Molly's artistic genius & sharp Photoshop skills, we've dressed up our header.. now you have a visual of what we really look like.

We sort of wanted to keep our lack of bodies hidden from the public, but whatever, we trust you crazy kids not to judge. From left to right, we are:

  • Lil' Boozie
  • Molly
  • Skiddies

We hope you like our boots. They're really warm & weathered. Just like us.

Let us know what you think!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Bolting Down to Sevilla: the Semi-Super Sonic Way

Gooooo. My brain feels I have to catch a train to Sevilla in 45 minutes, and my brain feels like G.D. goo. This has inevitably happened on any trip that I have taken where my plans haven't been "set in stone." While the opportunity for spontaneity and (oh yes) ADVENTURE are great, there are these types of moments where the night before was a wee too long, and the train the next morning had to be scheduled a wee bit early. In these situations you need to make a decision: hit the snooze button and sleep two more hours - heck the town/city you're in has to have some hidden charms. Or, you get your butt in gear, forgo the shower, pray you've packed everything, and get yourself to the that train, ferry, or airplane.

On this particular morning my friends and I had already booked first class tickets on AVE - Alta Velocidad Espanola  the high speed train from Madrid to Sevilla, and we were running low on travel days before we had to fly back to Dublin - we were going to be getting on that train. A mini mental breakdown, some cobblestone streets, and a helpful cabdriver later, we had arrived at Atocha train station (one of the two main train stations in Madrid) with a solid 8 minutes to spare...just enough time to take a snap shot of Ali in from of some trains:
Now let me tell you: the extra effort was most definitely worth it. This was hands dow my numero uno first class train experience. Yes, it is only one of two first class train experiences, but lady has seen olde tyme movies, I know what it is all about. This extra HIGH Molly rating isn't due solely on my relief in actually catching the train, it is for the overall experience:

1. Roomy & Comfortable seats
2. Relatively quiet cars
3. Yummy adult beverages - my appreciation for Bailey's on the rocks grows
4. Only a 2 1/2 hour trip sans the aggravation of driving, and dealing with a rental car.

Beyond all of this, the scenery along the way is extremely pleasant, and both train stations are easily accessible via public transportation, because of their central location. The extra price we paid could have definitely been avoided had we booked in advance, and were willing to spend a little extra time getting to Sevilla. However, we had no problems booking the tickets just a day before our trip in a tourist office just around the corner from our 'youth hostel'. I would caution that we were traveling in November, which isn't a peek travel month in Spain. If you are more schedule inclined, then I would take a gander at this website: (the Spanish national railway company  website) or This will give you rates and timetables for the Madrid to Sevilla train.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Give with Both Hands: Interpreting Body Language

Here in America, we're all about efficiency. 'Efficient' is quite the buzz word in many corporate environments, yet I'm still not convinced that its definition among this crowd is crystal clear. We're used to passing plates of food, papers, pencils, beers, change, credit cards - you name it - with one hand. That way, our other hand is free to draft up a business plan, crunch a few more numbers, eat a slice of pizza, conduct a symphony, send an email, write a text message, flip off a nemesis - you name it - anything.

Prior to actually realizing that certain cultures tend to use both paws for passing anything, I can certainly understand how this simple gesture actually did/does exude feelings of a half-assed, careless effort.. but who was I to judge? I was engaging in the same act. Of course, I cannot sit here and say that I've changed my tune and now pass all things with two hands.. in fact, it's usually just objects that are too heavy for one hand, or objects that hold some sort of religious value. I don't think I'd ever pass the Bible with one hand - there's just something inherently wrong with that act.

Regardless, there are a number of cultures & countries that view the passing of any object with one hand as supremely disrespectful; namely, Japan. In many Middle & Far Eastern countries, the left hand is considered unclean. This stems from ancient stories, during times in which the left hand was used to support the right hand to prove that a weapon was not being concealed. In this day and age, though the left hand is viewed as being unclean, it is still used to support the right hand during the act of giving or passing an object. That, in my book, still signifies the use of both hands.

Funnily enough, and a bit unrelated, I was recently at a friend's apartment outside of Boston. She has a dog, a mix of some sort. I went to pat her head [the dog, not my friend] with one hand while my other hand was out of her vision, and she started to growl at me. Cassie, my friend, then told me that Sophie has "a thing" with hands. Apparently she, too, prefers the use of both.. fair enough!

Barack Obama: A Symbol of Change & History

"O-BA-MA, O-BA-MA, O-BA-MA.." Chicago can carry a chant quite strongly. And in the end, it really wasn't even as close as many had projected it would be. Obama won nearly two-thirds of the electoral votes needed to become President-elect. Well, America - we can breathe again.

His delivery suggested confidence. His family represented change. And his words, actions, and body language clearly stated "Yes We Can".

I think I'll write a Haiku about Obama's victory speech. A little 5-7-5 never hurt anyone. I may be missing a few of the definitive elements, but you'll get the picture. I hope.

"Positive. Honest.
Historical. Powerful.
Thankful. Refreshing."

None of what I can say will justify what this momentous occasion means to our country, our country's history, and our country's future. Simply speaking, I think we should just relish in the anticipation of a new administration, cheers diplomacy, and support Barack Obama & Joe Biden with goodwill, solidarity, hope, help, and enthusiasm.

Job well done, my fellow Americans!

McCain's Concession Speech: Gracious or Tactless?

To be honest with you, I was initially a bit surprised at the general reactions to McCain's concession speech that appeared in my web surfing this morning. I'm by no means a political analyst, but while watching his rhetoric last night, I thought that he delivered gracious words to his supporters, his family, and to President-elect, Barack Obama. Some of his statements did seem to carry suggestive undertones, but to be fair, beliefs are beliefs. Without strength in your personal beliefs or your party's beliefs, then you're not a viable candidate for the presidency. Sure, he might have made a few mistakes and probably should have said a few things differently, but at least he was consistent with the person he has been throughout his campaign. I guess.

He seemed sincere. It was a sincerity that was non-existent during all of the Presidential debates, and throughout the hundreds of other speeches that he has presented. Apparently this actually meant something to him. Perhaps, it was in part due to his body language.. a language entirely different from and more authentic & honest than the power of words can sometimes convey. He held eye contact, paused appropriately, & spoke [relatively] comfortably while remaining as relaxed as one possibly can in this situation. It'll undoubtedly be a speech to be scrutinized, dissected, and analyzed in years to come. Much like Obama's victory speech.

The reactions of the Republican party in Arizona are the words and actions that concern me. Booing at the mere mention of the President-elect's name either shows the true colors of this troubled party, or the immaturity & ignorance that plagues a good portion of our country. I'm not sure which is better. Or worse, for that matter. McCain handled the crowd's inconsiderate, untactful responses by imploring them to stop with his hands & his words, and by pausing until their insults were silenced.

Now, I'm not saying that I agree with everything he said or that I'm all of a sudden a McCain supporter, but in the end, I have some sympathy for the guy. It was a long, grueling race. A lot of blood, sweat, tears, money, time, & support went into this effort. But only one person can win.. and I'm glad it was Barack Obama.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

I voted for Obama

I am sharing this statement for one simple reason: I would really like to stop pretending that I am Canadian when I am traveling in foreign countries - pretty, pretty, pretty please. Some might question my decision to deny my nationality. I guess it has been that look I have been getting the last 5 years (or so) when I tell people that I am from the United States: contempt. Contempt for us greedy Americans who think that we can invade countries without just cause, and don't really seem to respect other cultures. While I do love taking the opportunity to prove not all Americans agree with the current administration's approach to foreign affairs, I just can't seem to get over that initial reaction.

I've been reading about, participating in, and listening to the campaigns and policies for each candidate over the last months, and I am much more confident that Barack Obama will do a better job righting the view of our country around the world. While McCain will be a definite improvement over Bush (I would be an improvement over Bush), I also feel that he would be much more willing to use force where Obama would be willing to use diplomacy. Less areas where there are military conflicts means MORE places for us to visit. I also feel that many foreigners really won't be able to distinguish between the two administrations, and a negative attitude would remain. Don't even get me started about Sarah Palin - she not only seems to cringe when talking about stepping foot out of Wasilla, AK, but also seems to have a disdain for the entire Northeast of the United States. You know, where all the "Unreal" Americans live. Maybe if McCain wins, then I can tell people I'm from the United States of Unreal America.

We need a CHANGE. Vote tonight if you haven't already.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Little Red Couchette: Surviving an Overnight Train to Marrakech

A couple of weeks ago, I had described our fine dining experience during our brief tour of Tangier - remember the mayonnaise massacre? In any case, following our little food foul, we boarded an overnight train to Marrakech. It was the cheapest and most logical transportation option given our timing and itinerary. And in our minds, it also signified the opportunity for an adventure.

Four people per couchette. The way it worked out, we were given a full cabin & then two of us would have to volunteer to sleep with a couple of strangers. Done. Well before the trip, Lauren & I decided to roll the dice and bunk up with a pair of whatever was in our God-given plan. Two twenty-something females barely above 5 feet, we were our posse's sacrificial lambs. No big deal, it was an honor.

As we set foot onto our moving bed and walked down the narrow hallway to our couchettes, it was evident that everyone was a tad uncomfortable. Our car conductor took our tickets, and then hurriedly guided us toward our sleeping quarters with a bit of a heavy hand. It was quite difficult to understand him. He acknowledged this. He removed his ashy cigarette from the grip of his teeth, reactively breathed a cloud of smoke into my mug, and spoke louder while widening his deep, brown eyes as if that tactic unlocked my newfound key to translation. We'll take our chances. The couchette numbering was in English. Couchette to MarrakechLauren & I say goodnight to our friends, and enter our couchette only to find that one of our bunk-mates was already situated. He was a gentle, older man from southern Spain. While he couldn't speak a lick of English, we knew how to butcher Spanish well enough to hold a polite conversation with him. Enter Swiss hiker. He knew some English. We exchanged pleasantries and then Lauren & I continued our game of Rummy 500 on our top bunks. Before packing it in for the night, I decided to venture out of the couchette to locate a bathroom. Option #1 had water seeping out from underneath the door. I'll pass. Option #2 smelled of a scent [read:repulsively pungent odor] that I hope to never accidentally inhale ever again. I'll forgo my hygienic routine for the night. Gum, mints, and anti-bacterial lotion will have to suffice.

Overnight train to Marrakech
Now, we were lucky in the sense that neither of these two men seemed as though they wanted to maim us in any way or had the intention of stealing our large, blue backpacks, ladies pants, or passports; however, the Swiss hiker had essentially no problem getting NUDY HUX in the presence of complete strangers. I, fortunately, had the front row seats to this peep show as he was sleeping directly underneath Lauren. She got to creepily watch the precious, old man snooze while I had the pleasure of drifting off to the sweet sounds of a nearly naked man's snoring. Normally, the "birthday suit" ensemble wouldn't be a problem for me, but given the circumstances, I just didn't feel like we were ready to take it to that next level. Oh well- you win some, you lose some.

After a long night of sleeping with one eye open, our conductor - still smoking - raps on our door to inform us that we're rapidly approaching our destination. We jump down from our bunks and join the wise Spaniard in the hallway to catch our first glimpse of Marrakech. The sun was beating down across the endless scape of flat land.. my first thought? Thank goodness there aren't any hills.

I thought you should know.. tips for traveling on an overnight train in northern Africa:

  • Change into your sleeping attire prior to boarding the train (it will help in avoiding awkwardness among potential couchette-mates).
  • Perform your hygienic routine prior to boarding (including anything requiring a need for water).
  • Use the lavatorial facilities prior to boarding (can you identify the theme here?).
  • Smoking is allowed. If you're in the market for clean air, consider other transportation options.
  • Invest in a fanny pack. Place money, passport, & other essential documents inside. Zipper it up. Wear this around you & underneath your clothing during your sacred slumber.
  • Don't drink the water. Enough said.

Happy Trails!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Where in the World is, SKIDDIES?

You might have noticed. You might be wondering. Why does this seem like "2 Troopin' Travelers" instead of three? Well, Skiddies has been in the field on an extensive assignment. She has been involved in an imbibing expedition in one of Boston's high profile areas, Southie.

Her mission: Scour every bar in the vicinity of South Boston to seek out the best "Beer & Nuts" combo.

When asked about her rather involved task, her reply:

"It's ok. I have hunger. And I thirst!"

To this point, we haven't been able to get much more specific information out of agent Skidz. Her last recorded whereabouts was at the "Green Door". I did a little bit of digging, but my research led me down an infinite path. We have reason to believe that this is a code name for one of her many visited establishments. She is believed to travel to each watering hole undercover.. although this cannot be confirmed.

Skiddies Undercover
Stay tuned for future Sundays with Skiddies. Perhaps one of these weeks, we'll actually be able to disclose some of her findings. That is, if we can find said slippery snake.