Archive | July, 2012

Ever thought of checking out Belarus?

31 Jul

I recently wrote a post about Russia, but I would feel extremely guilty if I didn’t show some love to White Russia (aka Belarus). Belarus is a beautiful country, and if you’re headed to Russia, you may as well hit up Belarus too! After all, it’s another stamp in your passport, right? Here are some things to know/do.

1. You need a visa for Belarus. While it’s possible to buy a train ticket from Belarusskiy Vogzal in Moscow without showing your Belorussian visa, and it’s even possible to get into the country of Belarus (by train) without a visa, you won’t be able to relax in the event a Belorussian official asks you for your visa. So, unless you want to risk some old fashioned jail time (and remember Belarus is still a dictatorship), do yourself a favor and get a visa. Sneaky-sneaky is not the best idea in old Soviet countries.

2. Remember! Remembering is a great thing to do in the country of Belarus and the architecture will constantly remind you of historical events. Sadly, most of Belarus was obliterated in WWII, and all that stands as original buildings is a small section of Minsk. As a result, much of the country has been rebuilt and there are manymanymany memorials built in remembrance of  WWII.  Touring Belarus is a heartwarming way to learn about WWII and honor those who died in the war. I would recommend visiting the city of Brest (right next to Poland) and also Khatyn. Prepare yourself for a lot of respect and reverence as you experience the atrocities of WWII.

3. Go to Minsk. Minsk is the largest city in Belarus and it’s happening, especially during the summer city festival. There are a lot of awesome art and history museums, great places to eat (seriously), and cool churches and sites.  I would especially recommend any Marc Chagall exhibits. Belorussians are proud of Marc Chagall, and, as such, they have amazing collections. Also, eat at Cafe Fresci. It’s “Italian” food. Well, it’s not really Italian, but it’s freaking good. It’s located  just behind October Square (Ploschad Oktyabrskaya). Save room for an ice cream sunday, because they are delicious.

4. Speaking of Marc Chagall. If you are into art, there is a little Marc Chagall Museum in Vitibsk, the city in Belarus where Chagall is from. I love Chagall, so to me, this is the definition of uh-mazing.

Marc Chagall Museum in Vitebsk

5. Don’t be lame and eat some Belorussian cuisine. Try borsch, cold borsch, pelmeni, pirogi, vareniki, oliveye, etc. I realized this probably won’t make much sense, so just go to Cafe Bistro Lido, and try what looks good. You won’t be disappointed, and if you are, sue me!

Belarus is beautiful. There are gorgeous dachas and green hills everywhere. It’s calm and the country is filled with beautiful memorials, reminding everyone of history. Go there. Love it.

Stop being a bummer, Seth Godin!

27 Jul

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Recently, I have seen this quote floating around Facebook, and it totally bums me out. It assumes that the only reason people go on vacation is to escape life. I don’t know what planet Seth Godin is from, but in my world, traveling is to enhance an already awesome life. Traveling is for learning about different cultures, understanding history, experiencing art, eating good food, making new friends, and bringing all these experiences home with you to share with those you love. Vacations are a win-win for anyone with the glass half full.

In my world, vacations/travel is an awesome way to enhance life, not a way to escape it. Am I right? Now, May I please have this message circulate the internet, so the world doesn’t have to feel bummed out for going on vacation? Seriously, folks.

Thaiglish

27 Jul

Not only is Thailand an adventure full of history and beauty, but it is also a complete hilarity for someone who studied language acquisition.

Exhibit A: Phonetics

Exhibit B: Morphology

Exhibit C: Syntax

I’d like to bear my testimony that my Master’s of Arts matters. Amen.

Russia Russian of Russianness!

27 Jul

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I found myself dreaming in Russian last night. When I lived in Russia, this was a daily occurrence, but Russian dreaming only happens every once in a while these days (and no, contrary to popular movie culture, Russian doesn’t pop up in my subconsciousness only when I’m dreaming about a mysterious villain).

Anyway, it got me thinking about one of my favorite places on earth–Moscow. While I think everyone should visit Moscow, there are a few things you ought to know before spending $200 on a visa and hoping over to Moscow for the trip of a lifetime. Here goes:

1. Moscow really is as cold as they say it is. Really, it is. Take the coldest you’ve ever been and times it by a lot colder, and then get your head wet, and stick it in a freezer for 45 minutes. Only come out when your nose buggers and eyeballs start to freeze.  That’s how cold it is.  That being said, don’t go to Russia anytime from October-March, especially not January and February. Russia has lovely summers, so go to Russia in June. Unless, you feel like killing a bear, skinning it, and using its coat for protection against the elements.

2. To an outsider, Russian sounds like someone is talking about something really important, or like they are plotting your death. At least that’s how it sounded to me before I learned the language. Chances are, people are just talking about something trivial like their dog or cat. I don’t know why you should know this, but I think it’s helpful.

3. Eat Russian food. It’s best if you can make friends with a Russian babushka and trick her into thinking you are her grandchild. If so, your tummy will be full of deliciousness.  If you do not have this luxury, don’t worry, you can find plenty of other delicious food there. If you eat at McDonald’s while in Russia, you are officially lame. Try borsch. Try pelmeni. Try verekni. Galuptsi. Pirozhki. Try it all. If you’re brave, try kvas (non-alcoholic wheat drink…or something like that) and kholodetz (jello-ed meat). I don’t recommend the later of the two, because, well…it’s jello-ed meat, folks.

4. Moscow is about culture, architecture and kick ass sightseeing. If you feel like going to the beach and lounging about, then head to the Bahamas, or maybe Sochi, or Yalta, but not Moscow. That being said, strap on your walking shoes, and check out the following: Red Square (obviously), Victory Park, Moscow University,  Old Arbat Street, The Church of Christ Our Savior, and more. If you’re serious about going to Moscow, e-mail me, and I will give more info on where to go.

5. Remember how I said you have to spend $200 on a visa? Here’s the deal. You can get a double entry visa for the same price. That means, you can leave the country and come back in again all for the same price of one entry. If you have time, go to Kiev, or Lithuania, or Estonia, or Latvia, or Finland, or Belarus (you need a visa for Belarus), and see another great place.

6. Use the metro. It’s rad. Everything is written in Russian, so it’s like a fun puzzle to figure out. Even if you get lost, the metro is really beautiful, so you’ll still have fun.

7. If you need to speak English, find someone that looks like they are in college. Old people (I hope that’s not discrimination) don’t really speak English there.

8. If you speak any Russian, give it a whirl. Unlike the French, Russians think it’s awesome when people try to speak their language. If you throw in some innocent slang (nothing vulgar), they will think you are super cute, love you forever and take you home to their grandma, so you can accomplish #3 on this list.

9. Register your visa. If you stay in any one place for longer than 3 days, you must register your visa. You can do this at the hotel where you stay. The only person who should touch your passport are the people at the front desk registering your visa.If you plan to hop from city-to-city, you can do this, but keep all proof of travel. If you don’t have your visa registered, these tickets will show proof of consistent travel, and then you will be a-okay.

10. If military or police confiscate your camera, it’s code for they are stealing your camera. Act natural and run away with your camera. That’s a specific scenario, but it’s also kind of a metaphor. Don’t let people take advantage of you, or mess with you. If you feel weird about something, trust your gut.

Okay, enjoy your trip!

30 of my Favorite Places for 30 Years Old!

22 Jul

Well, it happened. I turned 30 years old yesterday, and I didn’t melt, shrivel away, or anything like that. I thought I would have an “I’m not in my twenties anymore meltdown,” but it was all okay.

To celebrate the awesomeness of my life so far, I thought I’d make a list of the top 30 places I’ve been to, so far. I am all about traveling, and hope the next 30 years will bring many more adventure. Here goes.

1. Thailand (favorite of all places)

2. Moscow

3. Southern France

4. Amalfi Coast

5. Vienna

6. Hawaii

7. Cayman Islands

9. Rome

10. Copenhagen

11. Paris

12. Kiev

13. Krakow

14. Moab

15. London

16. Berlin

17. New York City

18. Prague

19. Sophia

20. Washington D.C.

21. San Diego

22. Turkey

23. Florence

24. Saint Petersburg

25. Bahamas

26. Niagara Falls

27. Havasupai

28. Interlaken

29. Snowbird

30. Vilnius

I guess those are in no particular order, but I am grateful for my travel experiences thus far. There is so much to see in this beautiful world, so much to learn, and so many people to meet. I am grateful for each year, each day and each minute I have here. Bring on the living, and bring on the wrinkles, life. I’m ready for it!

Happy travels!

US Airways Gets an F-

19 Jul

I’ve done a lot of traveling in my day, which means I spend a lot of time on airplanes. I’ve flown a bunch of different Airlines and mostly have had great experiences.

The best experience I ever had was with a Bulgarian Airline on a flight from Moscow to Sophia. I got really sick right before boarding the flight and was throwing up the whole time. I was so sick, I could hardly stand. The flight attendants took me to the back made me a little bed and tended to me the entire time. I was so sick, but I felt loved, cared for, and their dedicated customer service meant a lot to me.

Conversely, the worst experience I’ve ever had was with US Airways. Being such an avid traveler, I had special plans for my honeymoon and wanted it to be the most perfect vacation ever. My husband and I flew to Cancun, and a few days into our honeymoon, we both got extremely sick. My poor husband couldn’t keep anything in his body and was extremely dehydrated, and I couldn’t stop throwing up (again). After a few days of this and even trying Mexican medication, it was time to get home to a doctor and get home as quickly as possible.

We called the Customer Service representatives at US Airways and they assured us that all we needed to do was pay $300 now and then send a doctor’s note to them and then they would refund the money. We kept our end of the deal, paid the money, flew on a miserable flight home, and promptly sent in the doctors note to US Airways. We heard nothing for a while. Then, we heard that we weren’t sick enough to get a refund. Then we heard that they had no such policy. Needless to say, we still haven’t seen a refund.

Get your story straight, US Airways!

I love to blog, and I blog about experiences both good and bad. All I know is that travelers should be treated with honesty and respect, especially when prices for flights are astronomical and there is loads of competition in the airline industry.

For my future flights, I will not be flying US Airways, and I hope you don’t ever have to deal with their horrendous customer service either.

Announcing “Pic and a Paragraph!”

17 Jul

I am starting a new section on my blog called “Pic and a Paragraph.” I love traveling and would love to hear about all the cool places you have been too. If you would like to submit a picture and a paragraph about somewhere rad you’ve been, I would love to post it on my blog. Also, don’t forget to include a 2-3 sentence bio about you, so readers can learn more about you!

Learn more here.