Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Surprise!

I've been behind on blogging lately because after two days in Berlin, Eric and I flew back to the United States to surprise our families for Thanksgiving!  We managed to keep it a secret from everyone except Eric's dad and a few friends.  There were hugs, tears, and some screaming.  (My brother and sister's response?  "Way to show us up on Thanksgiving, Laura."  My mom always says siblings are there to keep your ego in check.)  It was a wonderful way to end our eight months of travel.


Waiting at our gate at Berlin's Tegel Airport
Since then, we've been spending time with our families and starting to set up our lives back on US soil.  I feel like I'm still moving around as much as when we were on the road, but I do appreciate that I have access to my full closet now.  Soon we'll be settled in and I can finish blogging about the last few stops of our trip! 

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Transylvania!

After an overnight in Budapest, Eric and I caught a night train to Transylvania, a northern region of Romania.  I did not realize it existed outside of Bram Stoker's masterpiece until Eric assured me it was a real place.  We started our Transylvanian exploration in Brasov.


Brasov's main square
I had no idea what to expect from Romania.  We had heard conflicting stories from friends and I was concerned about getting around.  After a month in England, I was also nervous about heading back to countries where I didn't speak the language.  However, most people we encountered in Brasov spoke English, which made visiting easy.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Baths of Green and Orange

One of the baths, heated by a thermal spring
How can that shade of green not tempt you to swim?
After spending a month in Oxford, Eric and I decided we should see at least one other city before we left the United Kingdom.  We chose Bath, a small city where my mom spent a semester of college.  I heard her talk about it as I grew up and I was so excited to have the chance to see where she'd been.  As soon as I told my mom where we were headed, she sent me an email full of recommendations.  "You will really feel like you are in a Jane Austin book," she wrote.

Friday, November 2, 2012

An Afternoon at Blenheim Palace

Blenheim Palace is a short bus ride away from Oxford.  It's home to the Dukes of Marlborough and has some of the most stunning gardens I've ever seen.



The admission price for non-student adults under 65 is steep at £20, but you can convert your one-day ticket into a year-long membership.  If I lived nearby, it would be worth it just to walk around the gardens once a season.  (We saw at least one jogger running through.  I would enjoy jogging more with this as my scenery.)  Eric and I both got memberships just in case.  Fingers crossed for another trip to England before October 16, 2013.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

One Month in Oxford

After leaving Paris, Eric and I flew up to the United Kingdom.  We stopped in Oxford for what we planned to be a week's stay...

I keep thinking someone plopped an English country garden down in front of the Law Quad.
... and we've been here for about a month.  We both love it.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Locks, Keys and Cheese

We arrived in Prague around the time of the attack on the US Embassy in Libya and the subsequent wave of protests and violence across many countries.  Understandably, the four of us were concerned about the tensions in wherever we'd be headed next.  Since our initial final stop on Mr. and Mrs. Reed's vacation was Istanbul, we spent several days debating whether or not to continue with the plan.  Istanbul is a cosmopolitan city, but there had been some peaceful protests at the city's main university.  Eventually we decided it would be better to choose a different location for the last six days of the trip.  Hopefully we'll make it back to Istanbul soon.

As an alternative to Istanbul, we chose Paris.  I know, I know.  "Well, I guess we'll go to Paris.Le sigh.  We did some extreme last-minute planning, and it worked out wonderfully. 


Friday, October 5, 2012

Many Thoughts on Prague

I fell in love with Prague almost immediately.  Maybe it was the cold weather, since Eric and I have been living in an eternal summer mode since March.  Maybe it was finally being in a place with good sausages again.  (In Thailand, "sausage" often means "hot dog.")  Maybe it was the concerts everywhere or the city's history or the way the architecture made me feel like I was walking through a fairy tale.  

The cathedral at Prague Castle and the Charles Bridge

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Colorful Burano


Burano is an island near Venice that is an easy day trip by boat.  When we arrived it was clear what made this island remarkable.  Brightly colored houses reflect in the water of the canals.  The lines of laundry are noticeable not only for the old-time feel, but for the unique items that residents decided to hang out their windows. 

Friday, September 28, 2012

Rome, Venice and All the Pasta

September seems to be a recurring month of few posts for me.  This year, I have a good excuse.  We divided the month between five countries: Greece, Italy, the Czech Republic, France and the United Kingdom.  The days blurred together as Eric and I celebrated his birthday in Paros, flew to Rome to meet his parents for their vacation, and then traveled with them through Rome, Venice, Prague and Paris. 

Eric's 31st also included stuffed grape leaves, Greek meatballs and chocolate croissants.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Seeing and Understanding

Our overnight bus from Istanbul arrived three hours early in Thessaloniki.  Eric and I found ourselves deposited on the side of the road, blinking and disoriented.  After asking for directions at a nearby hotel's reception desk, we trekked towards the train station.  We passed a storefront covered in plywood and I commented, "I wonder how much of this is construction and how much is vandalism."

Eric shook his head.  "I don't think any of this is construction."

Kalambaka, Greece, our destination from Thessaloniki

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Back in Greece

Though we've been in the country for two weeks, I haven't written about Greece yet because I haven't found a way to do so without sounding like I'm bragging.  "Yeah, I saw some really cool monasteries and then hopped a ferry to one of the islands.  No big deal."


That said, I love being in Greece and want to share what we've been doing.  Here are some photos from the past couple weeks of adventures with limited commentary.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

We're Halfway There

Eric and I are halfway through our nine months on the road.  The time is going by so quickly, and I've been thinking about what has and hasn't changed in the past four and a half months.  It's not a very long time, but it is enough to notice a few differences.

In our apartment in Philly
My bag has since been dubbed "The Avocado."
From living out of a backpack, I've learned I can live with less.  I've also learned that I'm happy not to do so.  My current wardrobe consists of three tank tops, three short-sleeved shirts, a long-sleeved button down, a pair of shorts, a skirt, a cotton dress, a pair of jeans, a pair of gray pants, a thin sweatshirt, and a silk dress I picked up at the Chiang Mai Sunday Market.  

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

I Want to Go to There: Istanbul

As soon as we got off the tram at Sultanhamet, I could feel how happy I was to be in Istanbul.  I kept grinning as we walked past the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia.  After months of talking about Istanbul, we were finally here again.

Hagia Sophia at sunset
The Blue Mosque at night during Ramadan

Monday, August 6, 2012

Photos from Chiang Mai

I fell in love with Chiang Mai quickly.  The city won me over with its walls and canals, its bookstores, and its markets.  Perhaps more than anything else, though, I fell in love with Chiang Mai's food.  I joked to Eric in our first few days that I'd only taken pictures of meals.  As we got on our night train three weeks later to head back to Bangkok, I realized that in fact my food photos outnumbered all the other photos I took of Chiang Mai.  I don't have that many pictures of the city itself.

Elephant statues by the canal
(That should probably be a warning to you now.  This post is going to be mainly photos of food.  Either get yourself some fried noodles now or be prepared to eat lunch directly afterward.)

Monday, July 30, 2012

Back in Thailand, Always Learning

Whenever I've arrived in a new country, I've had to re-learn basic skills. 

In Indonesia, I had to figure out how to take a taxi.  The first men who approach you at bus stations yelling "taxi!" actually drive private cars and will quote you double what you should pay.  Official taxi drivers wear uniforms and use a meter to determine how much you owe.  By contrast, bus drivers and workers do not wear uniforms.  You have to get used to trusting the guys in cargo pants who tell you which bus to board by yelling destinations.

On the way to Gunung Bromo on Java - Probably not the best way to flag down a cab

Monday, July 23, 2012

Tamed by a Taco

Today I ran into a strange predicament.  For lunch, we went out to a delicious Mexican place here in Chiang Mai called Miguel's.  It is one of the few excellent Tex-Mex restaurants I've seen outside of the United States.  We started off with chips and salsa, my downfall snack.  (There were many late-night study sessions during college after which I realized I had devoured half a jar of salsa by myself.)  I ordered a taco and an enchilada, and my plate came with rice and beans.  I happily munched away until I was stuffed.  

Tortillas are on the long list of food from home that I miss.
Also on that list: mac and cheese, hot dogs, turkey sandwiches and chicken pot pie.
Looking down at my plate, I had half an enchilada left and the majority of the rice and beans.  Excuse me?  I devoured an eight-course meal last August, have eaten most of a Cottage Inn medium thin crust sausage pizza on my own, have always managed to find room for dessert, and now I'm being felled by a taco and an enchilada?

Friday, July 13, 2012

Volcanic Adventures in Java

Eric and I decided that we didn't want to leave Indonesia without hiking one of the country's many volcanoes.  After looking into a few near Bali and being stopped by three-day hikes, 36-hour ferry rides and other travel-related issues that would delay our return to Thailand, we decided to fly to Java and make our way to Mount Bromo.  The others would certainly be worth the effort, but maybe on a different journey.  (We're already brainstorming a south Pacific trip for the future.  There's so much to see!)

Bubble bubble bubble

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Budget Traveling in Beautiful Places: An Update from Indonesia

When Eric and I first got to Indonesia, I felt mislead.  I had heard stories about how cheap it was to travel through Indonesia.  Other travelers had spent weeks and months going through Java and Sumatra.  At something like 9400 rupiah to the dollar, it seemed that we would live well on our backpacker budget.  However, we struggled to find any hostel that fell within our $20 per day limit, even on the outskirts of towns in Bali.  As we counted up our daily expenses, I grumbled that Indonesia was the most expensive country we'd been to yet. 

A pleasant homestay that cost us $27 per night and had hot showers.
When we got to the Gili Islands, we found rooms within our budget, but without hot showers.  We started to look at other guest houses and homestays that had warm water, and I began to realize that while Bali and the Gili Islands are too expensive for our limited budget, you can find amazing accommodation and food for much less than what you'd pay in the US or Europe. 

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

From KL to the Beach

June flew by before I even noticed.  Looking back, I realized that my last couple posts have been on general topics rather than what we've actually been getting up to.  Here's what's been going on for the past few weeks!

After sixteen days in the Cameron Highlands, Eric and I started moving again.  We spent three quick nights in Kuala Lumpur.  Due to illness and the heat, we didn't explore the city much.  A few highlights were the delicious street noodles and satay, great nights with some new friends, and winning at beer pong and flip cup at the rooftop bar of our hostel.

I ate this dish at least three times in the three days we were in Kuala Lumpur.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Hostel Checklist

July 2 - Updated with photos

The bar at Francesco's in Ios, which faces the sunset every night
For a couple of weeks now I've been mentally putting together a post on how to run a good hostel.  I was inspired by the places we've been staying recently - some great, some okay, and some that could be so much better if they tried a little harder.  Hostel quality ranges depending on location, but there are some aspects that I find important in any good hostel or guesthouse.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Books for the Summer

One of the best parts of a new guest house or hostel is the book swap shelf.  I get excited every time I find one.  What books will there be?  What am I going to read next?  Some are better than others; a recent hostel had a lot of German guests, which limited my options to the few novels in English.  Others are crammed with the new blockbuster book of the summer and too many copies of Twilight.

Traveling gives me numerous opportunities to read.  On buses, on trains, in my bunk at the dorm, I can get lost in a good story.  Since the summer is quickly approaching back home, I wanted to offer a few recommendations of good books for an afternoon on the porch or the beach.  

Naxos, Greece in 2011 - I do love to read with wine and a view.
A few disclaimers:  I tend to read fiction, especially mysteries.  If a book is set in New England, the United Kingdom, or France I will most likely pick it up. 

Friday, June 8, 2012

The Cameron Highlands

I've realized that part of why I love the Cameron Highlands is because this all feels familiar.  This part of Malaysia is mountainous and lush, with green tea plantations rolling over the hills and cool temperatures.  It reminds me of other touristy mountain towns in Vermont, New Hampshire, and Jackson Hole, Wyoming.  Judging by the crowds on a recent public holiday, this seems to be a hugely popular vacation spot for Malaysian people.

Rolling hills of the BOH tea plantation

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Happily Surprised by Penang

Before we arrived in Malaysia, I assumed that Eric and I would be making a quick trip through the country.  We'd spend a few days in Penang, maybe see the Cameron Highlands for a couple days, maybe some islands on the east coast, and then we'd make a quick stop in Kuala Lumpur before flying to Indonesia or northern Thailand.  Even though Malaysia kindly gives tourists a free ninety day visa, I figured we'd only be in the country for a couple weeks.
A relaxing setting outside a restaurant
This is actually how I always pictured the British experience of colonialism,
plus a couple of gin and tonics.
It's been eleven days and I have no plans to leave.  After booking a hostel for three nights in Georgetown, Penang, we extended our stay for a full week.  I have fallen for Malaysia completely. 

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Favorite Photos from Two Months of Travel

At the main temple of Angkor Wat, Cambodia
Since we've been on the road for just over two months now, I wanted to share some of my favorite photos from our trip.  Taking pictures is especially fun with such beautiful subjects.  I hope you like these!

Settling into Krabi

Before leaving for Malaysia, Eric and I spent three weeks in Krabi, Thailand.  Krabi has a lot to offer — the food, the short distance to multiple islands, lots of great expats, lots of great bars — but it's not a big city.  It's an easy place to start to feel settled.  During our few weeks, I noticed that I was starting to set up routines.  I had my regular coffee place, where whenever I walked in the woman knew I'd want a cappuccino to go.  I had my regular soup lady, who had the best dumplings.  We picked out our dim sum place after branching out to restaurants with inferior bao buns.  I could walk around town without getting lost and I knew when the local general store closed for the night.

Speaking of finding familiar things on the road,
Eric found this Michigan t-shirt at a night market in Krabi.
Also pictured: the best soup.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Monsoon Season

I have been caught in the rain in the United States before, arriving home with waterlogged shoes and clothes that drip-dry in the tub for hours.  In Thailand, I have found a whole different level of storm.  Walking along the street, the feeling of a few raindrops on my face will send me sprinting for an overhang.  The storms don't ease you into things — there are no light drizzles that gradually turn into rain over the next twenty minutes.  Nope, it's dry to soaked within a minute.

A thunderstorm yesterday afternoon, as seen from outside my room 
The wet season in southern Thailand starts at the beginning of May and goes through November.  Depending on where you are, it will creep in, growing more and more intense as the months progress.  So far some days have been gray and cloudy while others have been bright with the occasional fifteen minute downpour.  I'm not sure what to expect as the season progresses.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

I'm Here for the Food

Eric and I are still in Krabi.  The small town is known as a short stop before heading to the islands, but it has proven to be an easy place to stay for a while.  There are many reasons for this, including cheap accommodation and a lively expat community, but I have to admit that the food is a major reason I'm happy to stick around.  I know, I know — the food all over Thailand is delicious, so why should Krabi stand out?  Let me show you.

Noodle soup with sliced pork and dumplings from a woman's street stall

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Budget Traveling in Beautiful Places


In the past week, Thailand has proven to me that its beaches are not over-hyped.  From Krabi, Eric and I took a day trip to Railay Beach before spending three nights on Koh Phi Phi

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Morning in Krabi

Eric already put up a great gallery of photos from our early morning in Krabi, but I wanted to share a few of my own.  

After our night train, my sleep schedule was out of whack, and I found myself wide awake much earlier than usual.  Eric and I took advantage of this to explore Krabi before the bustle of the day began.  We started at the waterfront, where the sunrise over the Krabi River seemed to draw a line down the center of the sky.


Thursday, May 3, 2012

Night Train to Southern Thailand

On Monday night, Eric and I left Bangkok for Krabi, a town on the southwest coast of Thailand.  After a few weeks in the city, I was ready to see some beaches.  We decided to take an overnight train.  I love train travel and am always disappointed that it costs so much more to take Amtrak than Megabus in the US.  The buses from Bangkok were also cheaper in this case, but we agreed that we'd rather spend fourteen hours on a train than cooped up on a bus. 

The Bangkok train station, complete with gardens and water features.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Over the Border and Back

On Wednesday, Eric and I did a visa run to get new Thai visas, allowing us to spend fifteen more days in the country.  Border runs are normal part of life to people traveling long-term, and this was my first.  It was certainly... an experience.

We woke up early to catch our 7:30 AM bus out of Bangkok.  As we grabbed some orange juice and a snack on our way to the travel agency where we'd booked our tickets, I marveled at how different the city seemed at that hour.  The market stalls were just setting up.  There were coffee vendors all over, coffee vendors who apparently disappear by the time I show my face on the streets on any given day. 

After checking in at the travel agency, Eric and I began the waiting that would define our day.  A man came and walked us down the street to a different spot, where we waited for a minibus to drive us to Poipet, the border town.  Eventually the bus and other passengers arrived, and we all headed into the Bangkok traffic around 8:30.  After two half-hour stops for gas and snacks at 7-11, we eventually made it to the border just after 1:00.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Bangkok's Street Food

I had heard stories about Bangkok's street food before I arrived.  My parents had recorded a few travel channel shows for me, one of which was primarily devoted to fried insects.  (I haven't tried any yet.  One woman who sells them charges 10 baht per photo of her cart.  Savvy business move on her part!)  Bugs aside, I have been overwhelmed by the variety and quality of the street food in this city.  Here are a few things I've seen and tasted:

Keeping busy while waiting for dinner

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Pad Thai and Songkran in Bangkok

Eric and I arrived in Bangkok a few nights ago, just before the Thai New Year.  So far this massive city has been full of good food and surprises.  After the ten hour bus trip from Siem Reap, I was worn out and ready for some food that didn't come from a gas station 7-11.  Pad Thai from a street vendor was the perfect dinner and a tasty introduction to Bangkok.  Delicious!

Pad Thai with chicken and egg cost 40 baht, about $1.30.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Searching for Authenticity


Several years ago I read an article in the Boston Globe travel section called "True Blarney" by writer Kirsten Giebutowski.  She had visited Ireland and expressed frustration at not being able to find an authentic part of the country.  "[S]omehow every cup of tea I had," she writes, "every scone, fish-and-chips meal, and Guinness, however pleasant, seemed a cliche."  Her one souvenir was a small rock she found on a walk through County Clare.  This rock allowed her to feel connected to the Irish landscape — the one part of the country she felt wasn't trying to live up to the images tourists wanted.

My attitude toward Giebutowski’s article hasn’t changed significantly since 2006.  I still think that when you are clearly not local, the people who live in the places you visit will treat you as a tourist.  They may play up the parts of their area or culture they think are most attractive to foreigners.  If you are in Ireland, they may rave about Guinness.  In France, they may serve you expensive coffees while pointing you towards the Eiffel Tower.  (For my favorite heartbreaking story of searching for authenticity in France, watch the “14th Arrondissement” film of Paris Je t’aime.)  In Cambodia, they may offer to drive you to the Killing Fields (that offer got unsettling real fast).  It will be more of a challenge to seek out an authentic-feeling experience because you are clearly not local.  This doesn’t mean it’s impossible, and it shouldn’t necessarily cheapen the experiences you do have. 

Two of many market stalls selling similar dresses.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Learning on the Road

After ten days in Siem Reap, I'm starting to get used to a few new aspects of life and I'm learning where I need to adjust.  It's still a bit difficult to condense my thoughts into a coherent post, so I hope that a list might help!
From the temple where they filmed Tomb Raider
I think the tree is winning.
1. I need to get better at pool.

Nearly every bar I've been to in Siem Reap has a pool table.  Even a quieter restaurant down the street from our guest house, with an entrance covered in leaves and a side path to two peaceful hammocks, has a pool table.  On our first night going out in Siem Reap, we started at the Sunset Bar above our hostel.  Eric and I each grabbed a beer and joined the group sitting around the pool table.  I met some great Europeans and learned that the pool skills I thought I'd developed in high school with occasional half-days spent at Diesel had not existed then and certainly do not exist now. 

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Siem Reap and the Temples of Angkor

The deck outside our first room in the guest house.
Eric and I got to Siem Reap after a long bus ride from Phnom Penh.  Eric worked and lived here in 2009, so it's been exciting to see a lot of the places I've heard him talk about before.  Siem Reap is a little more touristy than Phnom Penh, but in a good way.  There's a lot to see and do, and I've been trying to take in as much as possible.  I'm still working on writing down some stories and impressions of the city, but for now I have photos:

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Pictures from Phnom Penh

My first blog post from Cambodia was going to describe what it's like to take 21 hours worth of flights in one day.  After I began writing, I realized it can be described simply: it's long.  I got to watch "The Muppets," the Anchorage airport wasn't that exciting, the Taipei airport is huge with a lot of upscale shops, and it was a really long day.  When we got to our guesthouse in Phnom Penh, I curled up in bed and slept for about fourteen hours.

Today, Eric and I got up and began to walk around the city.  Here are photos from the temple Wat Phnom:

Looking down at the entrance to the temple

Monday, March 5, 2012

What I Will Miss in Philadelphia, Part II

Food.  I will miss the food dearly and in Philadelphia it is so good that it deserves its own post.  When I think of Pennsylvania, I imagine Amish farms with butter and doughnuts and Philly cheese steaks.  While Philadelphia does have these things, it has much more than I realized.  Even when you go to a pub for a burger, it's often well-made and fancier than you'd expect.  My taste buds will miss this place.

Food Trucks

When I mentioned the food trucks in Philadelphia to a coworker from New York, he responded, "Oh, yeah, like all the halal carts in Manhattan, right?"  No, not quite.  There are halal carts in Philadelphia, but Philly has taken its food trucks to a new level.  Many are also brightly decorated and distinctive.  Here are a few of my favorites:

Sunday, March 4, 2012

What I Will Miss in Philadelphia, Part I

Even though I'm very excited to get on the road, there are parts of Philadelphia I'm going to miss.  Here's the first half of the list!

West Philadelphia's Neighborhoods

Even though the residential feel of Philadelphia is not my favorite part of the city, I do love the neighborhood I live in.  The streets are lined with two-family houses with wide front porches.  Many people have decorated their porches and front gardens in unusual ways, and before Christmas there were lights everywhere, making the streets sparkle.  The houses make it feel more like a neighborhood than a collection of apartment buildings might, and they also remind me of wandering through residential streets in Ann Arbor.

The porches are often colorful and well-decorated.
In the spring and summer, many residents have bright gardens out front.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Panic Button

I had one moment of pure panic during the two months I lived in France.  There were smaller instances of concern, like when I pressed the wrong button and set my host family's washing machine on some kind of infinite rinse cycle and when I learned that the bulk of my internship would be answering phones to speak to nervous French students.  Though embarrassing and stressful, they were things I could deal with.  My panic moment was minor in retrospect, but at the time I freaked out and had no idea what to do.  Here's the story.

I had a long weekend in June, so I went to visit my friend Hope who was living in Roanne, a tiny town outside of Lyon.  She was an intern at Troisgros, which she wrote about here.  We had a very relaxing, very French weekend.  Hope introduced me to comté and Sancerre.  We found a Pirates of the Caribbean-themed local bar.  It was a great weekend, especially since I hadn't seen Hope in six months.

Our picnic of cheese, bread, cherries and wine - amazing!

Monday, February 27, 2012

T-21 Days

On March 19, Eric and I are leaving for Southeast Asia.  We're flying from New York to Phnom Penh, Cambodia, and plan to travel around the area for the rest of the year.  (If you read Eric's blog, The Wandering Lawyer, this may be old news.)  We'll be back in December — I don't want to miss Christmas at home — but so far the itinerary is intentionally vague.  Depending on employment opportunities, we may stay in one city for a longer period of time, but so far nothing is decided.  There are a lot of places to see.  I'm ridiculously excited.

A photo of Eric's from the Angkor Wat temple complex in Cambodia.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

I Heart NY

Last weekend I fell in love with New York City.  I'd been to the city a few times before and had always had a great time.  My previous trips had been brief with specific events planned: Broadway shows, a tour of Ellis Island, a visit to the New York Historical Society.  This weekend was for a wedding, but on Sunday I found myself with a few hours with nothing planned.  After dropping off my duffel bag at the hotel and praying I could check in with enough time to primp before the wedding started I began carefully finding my way around the neighborhood.  

Our hotel was in Chinatown near Little Italy (on Broome Street and Bowery).  I set out in search of breakfast and coffee, hoping I could find somewhere to sit and read for the three hours I had before I could actually check into my room.  At first I was disoriented, seeming to find only small markets and stores that sold lighting equipment.  I was tempted to sit down and eat cannoli at the first Italian café I found.  I kept going, reached Lafayette Street and saw this:

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

First in Line

I'm always shocked by how quickly I can feel like I'm five years old again. It doesn't happen often, but when it does it's a rapid transformation that leaves me frustrated and slouching. On the bright side, it usually doesn't last long enough for me to start wearing my hair in a whale spout.

On Saturday morning, I arrived extremely early to catch my 11:30 Megabus to New York. For the first time I can remember, I was the first person in line. I plopped my bag next to the "New York" sign and pulled out a book to read while I waited. Other people came to check if I was in line for the 11:30 bus and stood to my left. It seemed my travel day was off to a good start. The line grew, buses arrived to let off people from Harrisburg and Baltimore, and the area became more crowded.

At about 11:10, a girl with perfectly styled hair, full makeup and expensive boots walked up next to me and dropped her bag. My initial assumption was that she had just gotten off a bus and was waiting for her ride... right next to me, at the front of the line for the bus to New York. It seemed ridiculous that she had intentionally cut me in line. Who is that blatant about stepping in front of fifty people? No one is that obviously impolite, right? 

Sunday, February 12, 2012

No Really, It's a Vacation

I spent yesterday reading an entire book and it felt wonderful.  It wasn't War and Peace or any other six hundred page novel; I'm not trying to sound impressive.  The act of sitting with a book all day instead of working or being otherwise productive felt great.  Weekends often end up being times when I do the things that I couldn't do during the week — buying groceries, doing laundry, cleaning the apartment, writing blog posts, etc.  By the time it's Sunday night, I'm wishing for an extra day not just because I don't like waking up early on Mondays, but because I need some more down time.  

In this way, weekends are not that different from vacations.  When you travel, you go somewhere in order to see or do specific things.  What's the point of going to France if you sit in your hotel room all day reading a book in English?  If you're in Paris, you should be seeing the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe and walking along the Seine and eating crepes.  If you're in Montana, you should be hiking up a mountain at Glacier National Park (location of my 2003 family reunion) and trying to look at a deer without spooking it and drinking huckleberry lemonade.  It's what you're there to do.

Olympic National Park in Washington
Beautiful location of our 2008 Family Reunion

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Songs of Love

"Beckett, how do you know you're in love?"
"All the songs make sense." - Castle


Many current pop songs revolve around going to the club, dancing at the club and imbibing great quantities of liquor (looking at you Ke$sha) while at said club. However, love seems to remain the most popular theme. I listen to music at work all day and with Valentine's Day approaching I've been paying more attention to the kind of love songs that I'm hearing. Here are a few of my favorite love songs, categorized by what type of love you might be in the mood for this Valentine's Day. I may have gotten a little carried away. Please add your own favorites in the comments!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Apartment Tour

I love apartment hunting. I get to imagine how I'd arrange my things in a new place. In my head, it's always much more organized than my current apartment. Additionally, if I'm viewing apartments that still have occupants, I get to see how other people organize their stuff! I get to look at their books and wall art and try to figure out what they're like. I can scan their DVD collections and guess whether or not we'd be good friends.
Yes, that chair is really comfy when it doesn't have coats on it.
Eric and I are moving in March, so our landlord has started showing our apartment. Suddenly I'm considering what magazines I've left lying around or if the sink is full of dirty dishes. Does the Iron Man poster make us seem fun or nerdy? What do they think if they look in our kitchen cabinets to see the jars of curry paste, the leftover Halloween candy, and the surprising number of coffee mugs? It's been an odd feeling to wonder who is walking through my apartment trying to figure me out.

I've only been on this side of things once before when the lease was up at my house in Ann Arbor. The people who toured it learned several key pieces of information about my roommates and me within the first few minutes of walking into our house:

Monday, January 30, 2012

The Train to Brussels

When Eric and I were traveling together for the first time in July and August 2010, we planned to take a train from Marseille to Nice to catch a flight to Rome.  We got to the train station in Marseille early, grabbed some sandwiches for lunch, and sat near the right berth to catch our train.  When the time came, Eric asked a conductor - in French! - which train we should get on to get to Nice.  We boarded, settled into some comfy seats, and pulled out our books for the trip.

The train station in Nice.
As we pulled away from the station, the conductor began announcing the stops.  At first, the geography seemed okay.  The cities were in the right region, I thought.  Then I realized the cities were going the wrong direction.  Then he announced that the final destination was Brussels.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

My First Solo Travel Adventure

In the summer of 2010 I was an intern at a business school in Nantes, France.  Up to that point in my life, applying to work and live in France was the most adventurous thing I'd ever done.  I loved staying with my host family, exploring the city and practicing my French, though I was homesick and had some definite culture shock.  (Banks in France don't have cash boxes, so when the ATM gives you a 50 euro note you can't walk in and break it into smaller bills.  I still don't understand it.  It's a bank - why don't they have cash handy?)  There were two other girls from Michigan interning in the same school, which made it much easier to adjust and gave me automatic travel buddies on the weekends.  

Houses by the chateau in Nantes - the former moat is now mostly a garden.
One weekend, however, I had Friday off of work and the other Michigan girls had plans.  Without my usual travel companions, my first thought was that I'd be spending all three days in Nantes.  This would have been fine since it is a great city, but I wanted to see more of the country.  Specifically, I wanted to see castles.  The idea of traveling on my own made me nervous.  What if I got lost?  What if something happened and I got stuck in a random town?  What if my guide book was out of date and the buses I was counting on were no longer running?  As I thought through the various scenarios, I also thought about what some of my favorite people would do.  My best friend Hope was living in France on her own that summer and often took trips around the country.  My boyfriend Eric traveled on his own all the time.  My aunt moved to Turkey when she was only a little older than me.  If they could do it, I thought, I can do it.  I shouldn't let myself be held back because I'm on my own.  I got out my guide book, did some research online, and planned my weekend.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

A Flight Story

I am not a social person when I fly.  I get to my seat, pull out my book, and aside from smiling and saying hello to the person next to me, I usually read until we land.  I know people who have made great connections while on airplanes - my uncle met my aunt on a flight - but I tend to err on the side of "I'm just here with my novel."  For the most part my plane travel has been relatively uneventful (unlike this girl's story) but here is why I am hesitant to chat with the person in row 23 seat B.

I do make exceptions.

Monday, January 16, 2012

North and South


There are a few specific moments in the TV series Mad Men that make me want to teach American history.  One is a short scene in the Draper family kitchen in 1963 (Season 3, episode 9).  Betty Draper enters the room as her children’s nanny Carla is listening to the radio.  Carla turns it off, and Betty asks what she’d been listening to.  Carla replies that it was the funeral of the four girls killed in Birmingham.  Betty shakes her head and comments that it really is a tragedy.  After a pause she expands: "I hate to say this, but it's really made me wonder about civil rights.  Maybe it's not supposed to happen right now."  Carla doesn’t respond.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Kitten Spotting

When I first arrived in Athens in August 2010, what struck me most aside from the ancient ruins were the dogs wandering around the city.  They were everywhere, trotting through the Plaka, sleeping by the Acropolis.  They were mostly big dogs, which at first made me a little nervous.  I asked my boyfriend Eric about it, since he had spent a few months traveling around Greece before.  He explained that Greek people often toss their dogs outdoors at night.  The dogs spend the night exploring and sleeping out in the open.  It's not that the dogs were all strays, though many were.  Greek people were generally less concerned about dog-napping or other dog-related shenanigans than most Americans.  For the most part we left these dogs alone, and they ignored us.

Taking a nap in the shade next to the Parthenon.
After a night out, a group of dogs adopted a few of us and followed us around as we looked out over the city at night.  They tagged along as we walked back towards our hostel.  Just as I was beginning to wonder if we were going to have to find a way to keep the dogs from wandering into our rooms with us, all the dogs started barking and and galloping in the same direction.  In the distance, I could see a cat running for its life.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Keep Believing, Keep Pretending


One of my English class assignments junior year was to write a speech.  I could write as any person I wanted and on any topic within the boundaries of general high school decency.  I chose to write as Kermit the Frog, calling the Muppets to band together and make better movies.  It was titled “Those Without Feet Can Still Take a Stand” – I have to admit I’m still a little proud of my seventeen-year-old self for that one.  

As Kermit, I admonished the Muppets for giving in to a culture that refused to appreciate innocent entertainment.  Elmo had sold out for a snazzy dressing room with bowls of red M&Ms while unemployed Muppets auditioned for Avenue Q just to make some cash.  After Muppets From Space, all of the Muppet films were made-for-TV or direct-to-DVD.  Rather than embracing the light-hearted musical numbers and jokes from earlier films, the more recent movies relied on the same innuendoes and winking adult humor that Shrek used to draw in older audiences and to remain relevant in an increasingly crude and reality TV-driven culture.  My point was that they didn’t have to try to relate to the same audience that watched Fear Factor and The Simple Life.  There was still an audience for films that were fun, musical, and didn’t feature people who are famous for spending lots of money and making sex tapes.