Archive | March, 2013

Atlantis and hipness: Something I have in common with the Obamas

26 Mar

I learned a little something about logical reasoning back in the day, and I think this is the perfect conclusion, based on the premises. Here goes:

The Obamas are apparently vacationing at Atlantis in the Bahamas.

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I vacationed at the Atlantis in the Bahamas.

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The Obamas are hip.

Therefore, I am hip.

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Video

Our Prague hostel video

21 Mar

Found the video that shows what I meant in this post. This video is priceless. My only advice is this. It’s really cheap to stay in nice places in Prague, so just do it.

“My final tip is to spend your money (but do it wisely)!” -Rachel

20 Mar
Remember how I told you about my awesome friend, Rachel, that I met in a crazy hostel in Prague? Well, she’s had some amazing travel experiences, and offers great advice in the post below. Enjoy!
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Favorite place to travel and why: This one is a difficult one, since my one complaint always seems to be, “I want to go somewhere” (even when, like now, I’m living in Australia – the wanderlust bug has bitten me quite effectively!) and also, “I want to go everywhere.” I would have to say, though, that in my travels, Europe holds a special soft spot, particularly the entire country of Italy, and Berlin, Germany. Italy, because I am Italian, and there is an inescapable feeling of family while I’m there. Whether it’s the incredible food, the boys who all tell you you are beautiful, no matter what you look like, or the history of the place that just smacks you in the face as soon as you walk off the plane. I’m currently living in Sydney, Australia, and have found refuge in a local cafe run by a sweet-talking Roman who makes me feel closer to my home in NYC than anyone else here has. Also, in Italy, you can get a delicious bottle of wine for about 7 euros, and that, my friends, is amazing.
Berlin, on the other hand, is the sum of my teenage dreams, realized. I am a theatre geek, and Cabaret, set in a nightclub in Berlin before and during the rise of the Nazis and WWII, is my favorite show of all time. I visited Berlin for the first time as a senior in high school, and then again 4 years later as a college graduate. The city is incredible. It’s a bit gritty, a bit artsy and quite a bit filled with the history that has shaped, devastated and triumphed it throughout the years. What I love about Berlin is that it is a city that refuses to be beaten down. It’s faced awful times – WWII and the atrocities of the Nazis, Soviet domination, a separation of free and unfree that divided families and tore lives apart. And yet, there is beauty. The Berliner Dom Cathedral, monuments that will bring tears to your eyes and a vibrant bohemian artist scene prove that Berlin is here to stay. That, and it is just so cool. It’s the one city, aside from New York, where I currently live, where I could see myself slipping seamlessly into a life that is totally worth living.
What is your best travel memory? My best travel memory isn’t so much one particular memory, but rather the memory of my experience traveling. OK, I know that doesn’t really make sense. I am extremely Type-A, scheduled and not at all spontaneous. When I graduated from University, I was faced with the age-old yuppie dilemma: What am I going to do with my life?? While many people would say, “Get a job,” I knew that I wasn’t quite ready, and so I decided, a bit on a whim, to venture out on my own for the first time and travel a little bit throughout Europe.
Now, what I did is hardly extraordinary or unique (check out any European or Australian – they have gap years and are notorious for spending 3 months to 5 years globetrotting), but for me, throwing out the rule book and just doing something was a feat in and of itself. I went without a plan – 6 weeks of being by myself and making my way through Europe, using an LLBean bookbag (not a backpackers bag) and carrying 2 pairs of pants, 4 shirts, 3 dresses and some underwear, as well as my passport and the common sense I’d gathered while attending University in the Bronx is hardly something the Rachel my friends know and love would do – and sent emails replying to my mom’s urgent requests of “WHAT COUNTRY ARE YOU IN” when I was able to scam some free internet from whichever hostel was providing my bed that night. The places I went weren’t exotic. I stuck to the major western European big cities, but the memories are permanent, and I learned that I can indeed be pushed to share a room with amorous Swedes, drunk Irishmen and loud, opinionated Americans, as well as read a map, explore on my own and make new friends, no matter what the language or culture barrier. My travels throughout Europe proved to me that I can go places by myself and be self-sufficient. They also fed my growing need to go as many places as possible, and see as much as possible. They also opened me up to new friendships and experiences that I would not have had otherwise. A five day stay in Barcelona hooked me up with a Canadian who housed me when I went to the Vancouver Olympics in 2010, and just this past December, we met up on her first trip to New York City. I still email sporadically with a Swedish heavy metal rocker, and I am sometimes asked to talk about myself on the blog of a girl I met one night in a bed-bug infested hostel set up in the gymnasium of a Prague high school. It’s helped shape who I am today, and has given me the confidence to go and see what there is to see.
What is your worst travel memory? I think, for sanity’s sake, I’ve tried to block out horrid memories of traveling, but some bad ones have happened. On my overnight bus from Paris to London, a boy named Matt started chatting with me. At first, in the traveler state of mind, I was into it – we chatted about where we were from, where we were going, and were generally having a good time. Then he started to make me worry. He asked specific questions about where I was staying, was I staying alone, and how much money I kept with me. Later, when I dozed off, I woke to find him leaning over me, to “see if I needed a blanket.” The vibe quickly turned from friendly to strange, and being a young girl alone, with no phone, on a bus from France where no one spoke English, I saw a horror movie begin to play in my head. I was on high-alert, and spent the next five hours or so furiously writing in my journal all of the details I could see about him, with the hope that, if my mutilated body was found, they’d have a way of finding this creep. It was scary, and I felt so very alone and vulnerable. Luckily, I moved seats to sit near a family, and when we got off the bus in the morning, I was able to quickly get to the tube and to my hostel, but I was left on hyper-alert for the rest of my trip, no longer feeling invincible and ready to meet just anyone.
Do you have any tips/tricks for others traveling to (choose area of interest).  My main tip or trick is to be open. If you see a place that sparks your fancy, get there. I have this desire to go to all 7 continents (5 down, 2 to go!) and while Antarctica is a bit of a haul (and an expensive one at that), there is no doubt in my mind that I will one day have to find a way there. If you can’t get someone to go somewhere with you, don’t be afraid to do it by yourself. You will learn so much about yourself, as well as meet other incredible people – it will make you stronger and more well-rounded, I promise. My final tip is to spend your money (but do it wisely). There is no need to throw money away, but, if you’re in a place you may never be again, and there’s a concert, or an activity or a museum that you may never see again, take a moment and think about, in 40 years, will you be happy to have saved that money, or that you went bungee-jumping, or saw the opera at the Opera House in Sydney, or that you climbed to the top of Notre Dame. This may be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Experience it!
That being said, please don’t feel bad if you just have no desire to do something that everyone says you “just have to do.” No you don’t. If going to the top of the Eiffel Tower seems dumb to you, by all means, skip it. Just don’t skip out on something you’ve been dreaming of becuase it costs 10 euro more than you were hoping.
What is your favorite piece of travel gear–something you wouldn’t leave home without. There are two, and they are important: A lock. DO NOT TRAVEL WITHOUT A LOCK. Sometimes, hostels will have lockers that lock. Sometimes they won’t have anything. Sometimes they will have lockers, but no locks. Bring a lock. It can mean the difference between leaving a city with all of your things or spending lots of time at the American Embassy replacing your stolen traveler’s cheques. Also, they are cheap, and will provide you peace of mind when you’re trekking through museums and ancient relics. Also, bring a journal. I, for one, have one and almost always forget to write in it, but when I remember, I am so, so glad. It’s a great way to jot down places you’ve been, restaurants you’ve enjoyed/hated and places to stay. It also makes you look like a smarty pants when your friends travel and you can make actual recommendations to them, becuase you WILL NOT remember the name of that tiny restaurant in Florence that you ate at every day while you stayed there. Trust me (it was so good, and I would totally recommend it to you here IF I COULD REMEMBER IT). If you can use it to jot down some memories as well, all the better, but as a file of things to hit or miss, it’s an invaluable tool (espeically since guide books are pretty much all going to tell you the same things).
With this, I leave you with the suggestion: If you’re ever in Sydney, Australia, make sure to grab a nutella coffee at Bruschetteria 102 on Albion Street. It’s delicious, and the staff are incredible.
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Prague, Prague, Prague: You get what you pay for!

19 Mar

Before posting my next guest post, I thought it only appropriate to introduce how I met the next contributor.

My dear friend, Jeni, and I took an amazing trip to Europe, and visited Prague while we were there. Having recently graduated from graduate school, we were poor as beans. In order to save money, we decided to stay at a hostel that costed $9.00/night.

Bad idea.

It was probably one of the nastiest, and weirdest, places in existence.

Gross hostel in Prague

Seriously, look at it. Ew!

Basically, it was an old school gym with about 60 bed-bug infested, military-style bunk beds all in the open. It was like having a sleep over with 59 random strangers. I also happened to step in a pile of barf, and had to shower in a wide open area for all to see. We also came back to the hostel one night from exploring the town and everyone was having a costume party. In July. Super confusing. Anyway, that’s when we met a lovely fellow traveler–Rachel. She was traveling all by herself and rocking at it. We had a great time getting to know her, and she has since been traveling all over the world. Look for a post about her experiences in the next few days. In the meantime, some pictures from our Prague adventure.

Prague

Prague and Ashley

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Church at the top of the hill

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Bone church near Prague. This place is crazy cool and creepy. Everything is made out of bones.

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Jewish cemetery in Prague

Travel tips from Stef!

14 Mar

Check out this interview with world traveler, Stef!

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What is your favorite place you have traveled to?

My favorite place to travel to was Santorini, Greece. I first saw it on a calendar and then on Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. I knew I wanted to go there. I found a picture online that I loved of Santorini and I put it as my wallpaper on my computer. It was so awesome to go to that exact place and take my own picture. It was so amazing to be where I had always dreamed of being. I have since chosen another number one, because it was such a great experience.

What is your favorite travel memory?

One of my favorite travel memories was in Instanbul, Turkey. We went on a boat with all the teams from my Folk Festival. Teams from Belgium, Taiwan, England, Portugal, etc. We rode down the Bosphorus Strait. On one side was Instanbul in Asia and on the other side was Instanbul in Europe. We had a dance party with music blasting and the most amazing view of Turkey and its big buildings and mosques.

What is your worst travel memory?

My worst travel memory ever was one I am glad I lived to tell the story. My team and I went to the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona, Spain. However, we did it the totally wrong way, have learned from our mistake, and would advise friends to do it differently. We were dropped off at 8PM with nowhere to stay. The Running of the Bulls is a party all night with food, music, fireworks, carnival rides, dancing in the streets with everyone, but when you don’t drink, there is only so much you can do. At about 2:00/3:00ish we were sooooo tired. You could not enter the stadium until around 6:00 AM the next morning. (We were going to watch everyone run into the arena because we were not allowed to run with the bulls since we were on tour dancing). So, we literally found cardboard boxes and slept on them until 6:00 AM . We really felt homeless. It was awful. The worst was finding one of our directors, an older man in his 60s, curled up in a ball on some stairs. We all felt homeless and it was bad. It was so cool when the actual Running of the Bulls happened at 8:00 AM. We recommend people to go at night and do the fun activities and get a hotel room and then go at 6:00 to the arena.

What are some travel tips you would offer to other travelers?

Travel tips: some of my favorite moments are when I have stayed at hostels. In New York City, we had roommates from all countries. We even spent the day with our roommate from Germany. She was alone and spent the day with us, went to church with us, dinner with us, etc. It was a memorable day. She was living in DC at the time doing an internship. We were able to meet her there and she showed us around our own capital.  Our hostel in Lisbon, Portugal was a trek to get to. Up lots of hills, dragging our luggage, but when we entered our room it was the most BEAUTIFUL view!

Life in the Provo Hood

13 Mar

Okay, so maybe this isn’t a post about traveling any further than about 15 feet, but my neighborhood IN PROVO, UTAH officially just lost the “neighbor” part, and became just “hood” yesterday. This is sort of blog worthy, in my opinion.

I came home yesterday at about 10:30PM, closed my door, turned off my house alarm, and about 2 minutes later heard a freaky loud bang. I initially thought someone had dropped a ladder, and went on my merry way, until I heard the 2nd bang. That’s when I realized 3 things.

One: People usually don’t drop ladders at 10:30PM.

Two: Ladders don’t make loud bangs like that, unless they are dropped from outer space.

Three: Those loud bangs were either gunshots, or bombs.

HOLY CRAP! Panicking ensues.

Someone just shot a gun, or set off a bomb, IN. MY. NEIGHBORHOOD. That’s when I froke out and texted my husband for help.

Brandon walked me through the steps of what a non-panicked brain would do–call the police, go get the shotgun, and wait for him to get home.

This is where I learned some very important things about myself.

When it comes to fight, or flight, I’m more of the roll over and die type. I tried to get the shot gun, but I couldn’t find the key to the trigger lock, so I just pulled it out and put it in the corner. I also realized that if it ever came down to it, I am never going to shoot anyone. In fact, I’m never even going to be able to safely and quickly retrieve a weapon. Instead, I’ll just become a big pile of lead, fall over, and be murdered. I may be able to convince someone that I’m a statue. That’s about all I got here.

Moving on. Since I wasn’t going to protect myself, I decided to evaluate what kind of real danger I may be in, so I turned off all the lights and peeked out the window.

I peeked outside, only to find AN ARMORED VEHICLE parked in front of my house with men dressed in black right in front of my house.

Naturally, I double-freaked out, because I had no idea if these men were good guys, or bad guys. I was positive they were bad guys and going to come after me, steal my $10 jewelry collection, and MacBook, and leave me for dead.

About 5 min later, I peeked outside the window again, and saw close to 40 SWAT cops piling back into the armored vehicle.  WHAT IN THE WORLD ARE 40 SWAT COPS DOING IN MY PROVO NEIGHBORHOOD?!? That’s when I decided to do what seemed best and catch this on film. This is what I captured.

I know, my cinematography skills leave much to be desired. I don’t think I’m going to be the next YouTube sensation.

I finally decided to call the cops to see if I was in danger, and the dispatchers relayed that the “situation” was under control, someone was served a warrant, and tear gas was used, but they couldn’t say anything else. Um…sounds under control to me, especially since I’m now keenly aware that I live by a drug lord. Time to move.

I Reek of Russia and I Love it!

12 Mar

Time for a little throwback travel post. I found this journal post about my 3rd visit to Russia, and it gave me the giggles. This was back in 2009.

Highlights from Russia so far:

1. Told everyone in Tula I was coming to visit them on Saturday…Jeni and I BOTH thought it was Friday (freaking time change), so I managed to accidentally ditch the Russian friends I haven’t seen since 2007, while having a nice gulyat’ (stroll) in Moscow.

2. Saw Faberzhe egg special collection at the Pushkin Museum. AWESOME. I want one for my birthday.

3. Asked someone to take my picture on Red Square and it turned out to be Alice Cooper’s band. They got flirty with us and asked us to come to their concert. Alice Cooper is a bit scary, so we’ll have to see about that.

Jeni and Ashley on Red Square

Most people take pics of Alice Cooper’s Band. No, Jeni and I ask them to take pics of us.

Lenin's tomb

By 2009, I had been to Red Square DOZENS of times and had not seen Lenin. I finally saw him in 2011 when I returned with my sweetie, Brandon. It was both creepy and cool.

4. Sloshed through barf on the metro. I feel asleep for like one station and I got up in a panic and as it turns out…someone else had a panic and managed to barf right on my standing place, and I literally had slippery throw up feet. Was wearing flip flops. Had to pay 39 rubles for “gas water” that Jeni poured on my feet while I winced in grossed-out-edness.

5. Meet up with my friend, Larisa, and some grossies tried to pick up on us. One of them pinched Jeni’s butt. I punched him in the shin.

6. Missed the last bus to Rosinka (a place no one in Russia knows about)–missed it NOT because we weren’t there on time, but probably because we were not on the correct side of the street. Yeah, then we sat and twirled our hair and smiled at boys who naturally asked us if we wanted a ride. Turns out they were from Georgia (country, not state) and their dads were in another car giving us the mafia/creepster look. We didn’t know the address (totally RUSSIAN SELO type of place where it’s just Rosinka and a house number…no address), so we call the emergency number and find out it’s close to a place called Mitino. We pray in our hearts. God sends Russian guardian angel driver, who doesn’t know where Rosinka is either, but finds it and doesn’t charge us anything for the ride, because it was so “priyatno” (nice) for him to be with us. Wow! I love being cute.

7. I smell like chimney just from being here. No really…I do.