Tag Archives: destination

Why Russians aren’t smiling

29 Apr

A lot of Americans that come home from a quick trip to Russia ask me why Russians are so mean. I always respond that Russians aren’t mean at all, and, in fact, they are some of the kindest people that I know. What makes Russians seem mean is simply a cultural difference in what facial expressions are appropriate and when.

I came across this blog post about why Russians don’t smile like Americans do, and I couldn’t have said it better myself. Anyone who is planning a trip to Russia would be wise to read this blog post about why Russians don’t smile.

A Stalin era poster. "Be vigilant. Even walls are listening nowadays. Chat and gossip are not far from high treason. DO NOT CHAT!"

Learn more about Ashley R. Cummings on Google+.

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!

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.

Scuba Diving in Cozumel, Mexico

25 Feb

First things first, Mexico is not my favorite place for vacationing for one major icky reason: Montezuma’s Revenge. You can read more about THAT from my post about my honeymoon in Cancun. Anyway, when traveling to Mexico, it’s important not to be too cavalier about where you eat. Here are some guidelines I recommend following:

  • Skip the street food.
  • Stay at a decent resort and only eat at the resort.
  • Pack your own snacks.
  • Pack your own bottled water.
  • Don’t drink soda from a bottle; drink it from a can. Also, wipe off any can you will be opening with a Clorox wipe before partaking of your cool beverage.
  • If you want to go on a vacation and eat good food, then go to Italy, not Mexico. Mexico is about Pray and Love, but not Eat. MmmKay?  Mmmkay!

While this may seem extreme, I promise you will be thanking me when you are not spending every waking moment with the toilet moaning “why me, why-oh-why?” between barfs and poops. You’re welcome.

That being said, let’s get onto the good stuff.  Cozumel, Mexico has some of the best diving ever. If you’re even thinking about getting into scuba diving, you MUST visit Cozumel. If you’re worried about getting sick (can you tell my experience with getting sick in Mexico affected me just a tiny bit?!?!), then consider taking a cruise that stops off in Mexico and spending your day in Cozumel under the sea with a professional dive master. If you’re not too concerned, then seek out a decent resort and a hook up from one of the dive shops around, and dive your guts out.

Some of my friends and I got a great deal on a decent resort in Cozumel, and a great diving deal with Papa Hogs in Cozumel. We pretty much spent the entire time diving awesome ship wrecks, reefs, and some of us experienced our first ever night dives!

Scuba Diving in Mexico

Diving in Cozumel, Mexico

If you’re new to diving, you must go on a night dive. Make sure you have a great flashlight, so you can see the night sea creatures. Prepare yourself for some wild lobster, crab, and octopodes. It’s awesome to see what sea creatures come out during the night.

scuba diving in Cozumel, Mexico

Getting ready for our first dive in Cozumel, Mexico

Not only is Mexico beautiful under the water, but there are some awesome things above the water. Julie and I rented scooters and visited different beaches around the island and even found a fun festival with live music, a cool market, and Mexican food (again, don’t eat it). While we were exploring the island, the rest of our group took a day trip across the island to Tulum and Chichen Itza. If you’re into amazing beaches and wonders of the world, this is a great option. If you’re not into that, you’re weird, and probably hate fun, or hate getting up early…one of the two.

Enjoy your trip to Mexico! Don’t get the runs!

Hello Nashville! Hello Music City!

19 Nov

Some highlights of my recent trip to Nashville.

1. CMAs – Woo woo! Country music is a new thing for me, and I mean v. new. I’ve never been big into country music, but I figure if I’m looking to move to music city, and since my husband drums in a country band, I should probably check out the country music scene. Turns out, I like it. Carry Underwood. Miranda Lambert. Little Big Town. Taylor Swift. The Civil Wars. Oh yeah. I can do this.

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A pic of Little Big Town taken from our seats 100 miles away!

2. Country Music Hall of Fame – This was an awesome museum. If you’re into music, you gotta come check out the scene. If you’re poor, consider going after 4:00, because tickets are 1/2 off, and it’s easy to see the whole museum in an hour.

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Country Music Hall of Fame

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Gold and Platinum records. B’s record will be here someday soon!

3. Frist — Into art? Check out the exhibits at the Frist in downtown Nashville. Right now, they are featuring Carrie Mae Weems and Brian Aflred. Not only is the art great, but they have a great center to learn how to produce art. Take your kids, or enjoy it yourself. It’s fun. Brandon and I went crazy learning all about art.

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Frist Museum in Nashville

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Art workshop at the Frist!

4. Grand Ole Opry – So, we happened to go to the Grand Ole Opry on the day it was closed. Yeah, super bummer, but the good news is it’s not closed forever. Mark it down for future fun.

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Playing the guitar at the Grand Ole Opry.

5. Broadway! Check out Broadway for fun local music.

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Brandon playing with a band at the Honky Tonk on Broadway.

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Gem #1 from Nashville

9 Nov

I don’t know about you, but a huge part of going on a vacation is finding fun places to eat. By fun places to eat, I mean delicious food, great prices, and one of a kind. If you are thinking Applebee’s, or something, then we’re not on the same page here, and I call you to food loving repentance.

My husband and I spent the last week in Nashville and we stumbled on a few excellent food finds, but the best by far was Sam’s Sushi on the corner of Church and Printer’s Alley. Holy smokes, this place is awesome, and if you go to Nashville, you have to go there.

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It’s a small, dumpy little square building, but it’s run by a cute Japanese man that is down for a good conversation. We managed to talk football, politics, and he even told us the great places to park for free, which is great advice considering parking in Nashville is an expensive beast.

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Not only is the conversation great, but the prices are amazing. It’s anywhere from $2-$4 for a roll. Yes, you heard right. That’s $2-$4 for a whole roll, and they are GINORMOUS. My husband and I will usually order 4-5 rolls to share when we go to any of the popular sushi places in Utah. These rolls were so big that we shared 3 and were stuffed!

The rolls aren’t 100% the best sushi I have ever eaten in my entire life, but they are delicious and the value is amazing.

When you go to Nashville (and you should, because it’s rad), make sure to make the trek to Printer’s Alley and eat at this wonderful place.

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Also, they had this weird drink I’d never seen before, so, naturally, I had to try it.Image

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Sometimes the best vacation is right under your nose!

3 Oct

My husband and I spent a wonderful and romantic weekend together a few weeks ago. We enjoyed a fun concert, star-gazed, spent time together enjoying the mountains, and had a delicious  homemade breakfast.  It. Was. Awesome. Guess where we were? Oak City, UT. Where? Exactly.

Often times, it seems like in order to enjoy a vacation, it requires a lot of preparation and planning. We think we have to book a hotel, find a rental car, plan meals and activities that won’t be too expensive, pack, and hop on a plane. That’s a great way to spend a vacation, but it can be costly and require a lot of time off work.

If you are looking for a fun getaway, but don’t have a lot of time to plan, time to get away from work or kids, or maybe funds are low for the month, try exploring somewhere that is near your hometown. You’ll find every area has its charm.

We live in Utah, and we have enjoyed small getaways to Oak City, Moab, Park City, Salt Lake City, Eden, and the Unitas and the Wasatch Mountains, to name a few.

All you need to have fun is good company, a couple card games, some time in nature, and a delicious meal.

Hello Seattle!

29 Sep

For those of you who don’t know, I have a really rad husband. And, I’m talking rad. He cooks all the time. He’s really funny and sweet. And, he’s a drummer for a living. Straight up drummer. Like gets paid to drum. And it’s disgusting how good he is at drumming. That being said, sometimes we get to travel around for fun drum stuff. This weekend, we went to Seattle for a drum competition.

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This is Brandon setting up to rock!

Well, he pretty much rocked it and won this electronic drum pad something or other, and I was proud, and it was fun, and that brings me to the rest of Seattle.

The competition was in Belleview, so we meet up with some friends there, and they took us to this place called Din Tai Fung, and IT. WAS. SO. GOOD. It was the heaven of dim sum. They had a bunch of people working non-stop making dumplings from scratch. Basically, we were so in love with it, we almost went there 2 nights in a row. We didn’t end up doing that, though, because we were afraid that we would miss out on another Seattle treasure. But, the fact that we ALMOST went there was awesome.

Day 2 in Seattle was Sunday, so we spent the day walking around Pike’s Place Market and walking around the wharf. So much fun.

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Look how cute we are! Awww.

I don’t know what it is about Pike’s Place, but I love that place. It’s so peaceful and all the flowers are so pretty, and the food is delicious. Basically, we ate fish, shrimp cocktail, fresh fruit…um..we ate a lot of stuff, so I’m going to stop there, so as to not be embarrassing.

If you go to Pike’s Place Market, here are some MUSTS:

1. Washington Berries – Get some, eat them. It will change your life.

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Do you know how good these taste?

4. Fish throwing. Watching the famous fish throw is surprisingly entertaining. Eat some shrimp cocktail while you are there too. Nom Nom Nom.3. Flowers. Flowers are stupid cheap, and so beautiful. Need I say more?

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The fish throwers in Seattle!

5. Relax. Seattle is all about relaxing, even if there are a hundred bums asking you for money so they can go buy pot.

 

Okay, that ’bout sums it up for now.

Oh Berlin, I’ll see you again soon!

20 Aug

I can clearly remember my first urge to travel abroad. For whatever reason, I’ve been obsessed with Germany since I was a little kid. It may have to do with the fact that I had two German Au Pairs when I was a kid. Maybe it has to do with my candy obsession and a secret desire to be Gretel, and shove the witch in the oven and eat her delicious candy house all up. I’m not sure exactly why I was obsessed with Germany, but it prompted me to take German all throughout Junior high, high school and college (only to move to Russia and learn Russian instead), and to dream of going there some day.

Well, I finally got the chance to go on the European trip of a lifetime and to see the city I’d been waiting for so long to see–Berlin. Oh yeah. Berlin. My Au Pairs would be so proud. Frau Bills (Jr. High German teacher, and favorite teach of life, consequently) would be so proud. Ashley was living her perfect dream of seeing Berlin. And this is how it went.

First things first. I was really hoping to whip out my German skills and solidify years and years of book study with impressive dialogue. Basically, this is what happened.

Attempt One

Me: “Wo ist…wo ist…die Bushaltestelle?”

German Lady: Blank stare. “I speak English. If you get off at this stop and turn right, you’ll see the bus station.”

Attempt Two

Me (best German accent I can produce): Ich mochte Bratwurst, bitte.

Waiter: Great! I’ll bring it out to you, and what would your friend like to eat?

Friend: I’ll have one too.

Unfortunately, I realized that everyone pretty much speaks English, and that my attempts to speak German only prompted people to speak back to me in English. Well, except for the people who work at the hospital…

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By day .5 of being in Berlin, I got uber (high five self for using a German word) sick. I’m talking stuck in the hostel for 2 days straight sick, busy thinking of ways to put myself out of my misery sick, instead of waltzing around Berlin getting my passport stamped at Checkpoint Charlie, and taking pictures by the Berlin wall. Finally, my friend, Jeni, made me go to the hospital which is where I learned socialized medicine is actually kind of a bummer, especially when you’re a foreigner, and I also learned that my German isn’t all that good.

I went to the ER and waited and waited and waited and waited and waited and waited and waited (insert the word waited for about 2 hours more of reading) for someone to help me. Once I FINALLY got someone to help me, I realized that unlike everyone I had encountered before, the hospital Germans didn’t speak English. Turns out that playing “Ich spreche Deutsch ” is not as fun when you’re bleeding out your ears (side note: that was a drastic over exaggeration…I do that when I’m sick, and I’ll continue to do it till I have the right blanket, the right amount of attention, and chicken noodle soup, okay? I’m a bit of a diva when I’m sick).

Anway, try two went like this:

Me: Ich bin krank…

Dr.: Germangerman german krank?

Me: Ich habe Halsschmerzen. Ich fühle mich nicht gut…Um, do you speak English? Does anyone speak English? I don’t know how to explain what is wrong with me, other than Ich bin krank.

Dr.: Germangermangerman Warten Sie hier, bitte. Germangermangerrmangerman…Wir haben einen Arzt, der Englisch spricht. Warten Sie hier. germangerman. blahhhhhh. ?!?!?!!?????????!!!!!!!!

Anyway, I paid 150 Euros and waited for 6 hours to finally get a doctor that spoke English, only to find out I had a viral infection that was only treatable by Root Beer medicine. Now I get why Germans don’t like Root Beer.

The unsweetened Root Beer they gave me made me feel good enough to go wander the streets for a day, or two and I got to see some amazing things including: The Berlin Wall, East Germany, Check Point Charlie, Potsdamer Platz, Brandenburg Gate, and I saw some really cool underground art. I’ll have to blog about that separately.

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I’m sick and happy. And, I don’t know what I’m wearing either.

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Berlin Wall, sick Ashley, nasty outfit, happy girl!

Needless to say, as sick as I was, Berlin was still a dream, especially because I was walking around in a daze most of the time. I’m excited to return and will drink all the Root Beer in the world to prepare immune system for German diseases, so I don’t get sick.

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Outfit was better and I was feeling better too.

For real, though, when you travel, make sure you bring some familiar medicine from home and make sure not to get in the way of anyone else’s germs!

Need a place to stay for free on your trip? Try the awesomeness of couchsurfing.org.

9 Aug

I decided to backpack across Europe right after the movie “Taken” was released. As a result, everyone I knew chastised me and told me to be careful to not get kidnapped and sold into sex slavery. I promised them that I would be smart and safe and reassured them that even if I was captured, my father, who is a very talented and successful graphic designer, would come rescue me for sure. Thanks, Dad. Big card for you on Father’s Day! That being said, I utilized a service that may sound nuts, but happened to be the most awesome thing of life. I urge everyone who likes traveling to give it a whirl.

Instead of paying to stay in hotels and hostels in my favorite destinations, I used couchsurfing.org. Couchsurfing.org is an organization that connects other travels. Basically, you sign up and create a profile, and offer your couch for travelers.  In return, people in cool locations offer their couch to you. I cannot begin to tell you about the awesomeness of this service.

First, it is a great way to meet new friends who also love traveling. I met great people in France, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, and I also met people from other countries who were staying with us at the same time. It was fun to talk about travel and hear about the best places to go from other avid travelers.

Couchsurfing.org is also unique in that you are staying with people who live in the area. That means you have a primary source on where to go, what to do, and what to eat.  I saved a ton of time I would have wasted researching on the internet and looking at maps by just asking my kind host. I also had some great experiences with food, which is sort of my specialty. Get this. One of my Italian hosts invited his chef friend over, and he cooked the most amazing Italian meal. It was the best meal I’ve ever had in my life. Straight up delicious. I also attended a wonderful picnic in France on Bastille Day.  I saw fireworks erupt all over Paris—an experience, I wouldn’t have had if I’d been left to my own devices.

While couchsurfing.org is amazing, there are a few good things to know/do.

  1. Make sure to bring a cool treat for your host. They are offering their house, time and energy to host you, so bring something special and unique to share with them.
  2. Learn how to make something delicious. A great way to bond and to show your appreciation is to cook an amazing meal for them.
  3. Make sure to read recommendations on their profile. Staying with a stranger can be nerve wracking, but couchsurfing.org offers recommendations. This means, people who have stayed there before write a little review on the host. This way you can guarantee a personality fit and your safety. Don’t stay with anyone who has negative reviews, or no reviews. Simple as that.
  4. Travel with a friend if you can. Traveling with a friend is a lot more fun, and also safer.
  5. Make sure to open your house to travelers as well.

If you have plans to stay somewhere else, you can also use couchsurfing.org for recommendations and to just meet cool people. When I was in Berlin, I met up with a couple people from couchsurfing.org, and they showed me a bunch of cool outsider art, graffiti and an underground culture that only Berliner’s typically visit.

Next time you are traveling, consider using couchsurfing.org to met new friends and find a great place to stay.

If you have any cool travel tips, I would love to publish a post about them. Here’s how to submit. Also, feel free to follow me on Twitter and Facebook.