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Cell Phones Suck

Cell Phones Suck

Cell Phones Suck

Remember when I said I would save my writing for stronger life convictions?

Cell phones suck!

Trust me, I know this is a trendy topic to talk about these days. Facebook “friends” love sharing videos like this one and articles like this one online. You know, with their cell phones.

My frustration peaked this past weekend, but it’s been building for over three years.

Cell phones suck the life out of life.

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Vacation and Travel Are Not the Same Thing

Just because you left your hometown does not mean you traveled. If you went somewhere with you family, stayed with your family, talked only with your family, and moved between places with only your family, you have not traveled. If you went to an all-inclusive, sat on the beach by yourself, had someone bring you everything, you have not traveled. If you go back to the same place every year, with the same people, and did the same thing, you have not traveled. You went on a vacation. (more…)


A Very Special Fourth of July

This past weekend David and I crossed off a couple items from our bucket list. We took a train for the first time, stayed in a Bed and Breakfast for the first time, and biked from Pittsburgh to Washington D.C. along the Great Allegheny Passage and the C&O Towpath. We covered 350 miles in 3.5 days. It was an amazing, scenic journey that I can’t wait to tell you about. But first, a side story. (more…)


Cheers to Four Years of Bliss

from slowlycomingtoconsciousness.blogspot.com

from slowlycomingtoconsciousness.blogspot.com

“But if you love someone, then you want your beloved to be happy. You might feel frightened for him initially, but that feeling soon gives way to pride at seeing him doing what he wants to do, and going where he always dreamed of going.”

- Paulo Coelho, Manuscript Found in Accra

It’s always amazing to think how fast time passes. Today is our 4th wedding anniversary! David returns home from Kazakhstan tonight, and I can’t wait to see him. It’s amazing how long 10 days away from my blue-eyed best friend can feel.

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Committed to Memory: Mental Souvenirs

photo (45)_We all love souvenirs. Seemingly irresistable while traveling, we are convinced that our trip memories will all be lost unless immortalized by that overpriced turtle made of seashells (I had a particular weakness for those growing up).  Over the past few years, my souvenirs have become less seashell turtles and more house items (I guess I really am getting older…). In any case, I love decorating our home with items from around the world that remind me of adventures. That table runner from Guatemala, the framed papyrus from Egypt, the swinging chairs from Ecuador, the napkin rings from South Africa… Admittedly, I just returned from the Bahamas with a magnet of a colorful lobster. Old habits die hard. Mom, if you are reading this, I really DO love it. Thanks again!

Of course, in the end, my favorite souvenirs are the pictures that we take. Nothing brings back that flood of memories quite like a candid photo. The biggest fear my husband and I have while traveling is that we will lose our camera memory card. We carry multiple cameras and have seriously considered putting stickers on them that say, ” If found or stolen, please keep the camera and enjoy. But if you could, kindly send the memory card to…” (more…)


Travel When You Are Young

Let’s get the usual suspects out of the way: You should travel when you are young because it is when you have the most independence and the least responsibility. Travel when you are young because grad school/law school/job opportunity will be there when you return. Travel when you are young because it is more difficult when you have children. Travel when you are young because you shouldn’t wait until retirement to enjoy your life. Travel when you are young because you will never regret the memories you make and the adventures that you have. Jeff Goins wrote a nice post about all this. You should read it.

How about this:

Travel in your youth to avoid being ignorant. (more…)


It’s Time to Write Again.

It’s time to write again.

This blog started as a way for me to practice writing and learn how to blog. I run the blog where I work, and I wanted a way to write with material that was comfortable for me without having our company logo on it. It was an experiment, it was enjoyable, and it was time-consuming. Now, having put TravelingChicha down for practically a year, this blog has become or will become something else for me.  It’s an outlet for those life convictions that finally sort themselves out on my hour commute to work in the mornings. It’s a way for me to chronicle my travels and the ups and downs in between. It’s a life portfolio that I can look back on years from now and shake my head at my foolish thoughts and ideals. It’s both public and private.

For me to write at all, I need to let go of the structure and promotion. Posts will be published, but not promoted on Facebook, Twitter, and any other outlets. SEO will be abandoned. Forget searching for outbound links. If they exist and I know about them, great. Otherwise, it doesn’t matter. Most of all, I’m letting go of the publishing schedule that I tie myself to with work and what anyone writing a “blogging 101″ article will tell you to do. When I go on a trip, when I’m moved by a thought, when I see God working in my life, I will write. Otherwise, I’m not forcing it. I’m sure there will be intense periods of writing and intense periods of drought. In any case, it is what it is.  It’s an outlet for the lessons I’m learning in life and my adventures, plain and simple.

And yes, I am aware that I abusively use the comma. It’s difficult for me to write a sentence without one. I legitimately get a jolt of happiness when I can. There’s one now…!


How to Slow Down Time

That day I painted a rainbow by the mall

“Wow, this year is going SO fast! I can’t believe it’s the end of August, it feels like summer just started.” “School has started already, it’s unbelievable. My baby is a junior. He’ll be graduating next year! “It’s September? Wow, I need to get more work done.”

And likely in three months, you are going to say,

“It’s almost Christmas! 2012 has almost come and gone.“Another semester under my belt, it went faster than I thought.” “Time goes so fast… it feels like yesterday that I…”

The changing of seasons, the start of a new school year, birthdays; starts and ends have a way of demarcating the time and pointing out how fast, how very fast life goes.  Often acute feelings of nostalgia and anxiety follow suit, for a brief moment. Then we settle comfortably back into our normal blur.

We can go through life in a haze. Wake up, go to work, come home, go to bed. Wake up, go to work, come home, go to bed. Wake up, go to work, come home, go to bed. Stuck in a constant cycle, we run in place until we dig a rut for ourselves so deep that we can’t see the life going on around us at the surface.

Routine kills our ability to celebrate life. Winning the rat race still makes you a rat.

So, how do you snap out of it? How do you climb out of your rut and live in the beautiful life on the surface? How do you slow down time? When will you say, “Wow, it’s still August?”

One of life’s sweet moments. I can taste the blueberry tea and popovers now. What a great August day in Maine.

Call them tricks, call them strategies, call them goals, call them resolutions.  Call them whatever you want as long as you do whatever you need to do to wake up, to shake up your life, to become acutely aware of what you are doing right now and how truly blessed you are right now. When you wake up, when you savor, when you notice, life does and will slow down.  My suggestions:

Around You, to you, or you, because of you: Journal, blog, or write letters (yes, real letters). Document what is happening to you, for you, because of you, and around you. The process of putting your experiences into words renders active reflection and causes you to notice. Most importantly, you think about things instead of moving on to the next immediately. Make bullet points to save time, just reflect.

Pack up and go: When you travel, life feels richer because you make time to slow down, to be adventurous, and to notice your environment. If you are in a new place, you are constantly taking in more information and learning. You are soaking in every moment. I encourage you to travel more, even to the town close by. Make more time for adventure, for enjoyment.

Shutterbug: Take more pictures of daily life. Take pictures of the dinner you just made, of your neighbor’s dog, of your friends. Don’t reserve your camera only for travel. Take a photo a day. Make a conscious effort to document small special moments and life will slow down. You will look back over them and smile, remembering that day.

Catch Z’s: No one likes the guy who brags about sleeping for 3 hours. They don’t. When you are rested you are ready to take on the day’s challenges. You think more creatively, are more productive in your day, and hold more interesting conversations. You are happier and more fun to be around. When you are really awake physically, you can be awake mentally. Life is better, time slows down. Live with intention and make it happen.

Celebrate:  Make a big deal out of small victories and small moments. Go out for ice cream, toast at dinner, do a happy dance. Say I love you, say thank you. Again, make a conscious effort to both notice and pay tribute to small moments in the everyday.

Be Skillful: What have you always wanted to learn? Take an active effort towards it. Sign up for a class, subscribe to a blog, read a book. Then you will remember this season, this year, as the time you learned x,y,z. You will remember that experience.

What will you do to slow down time? What do you already do that works for you? Comment below!


Airplane Etiquette and 8 Rejected Olympic Events

photo metrostarhotels.blogspot.com

Ahh, airplane etiquette. Some days I think a debriefing should be included after the airline safety presentation. Common courtesy goes a long way in making the flight enjoyable for everyone.  Having flown 20 times since June 1, I have compiled a list of events that won’t be added to the Olympics any time soon, despite what some passengers may think.

  1. Bag vs. Passenger Face Boxing: When boarding the plane, carry your purse/bag in front of you; not to the side, not overhead, not behind you. Stop hitting people in the face, in the shoulder, and in the ankles. No one likes it.
  2. Window Seat Vaulting:You have an aisle seat. They are at the window. When they want to sit down, unbuckle your seat belt and stand in the aisle. No one is skinny enough to maneuver the three inches of space available, nor agile enough to vault into place. Get up!

    photo housewifedownunder.blogspot.com

  3. Drink Cart Jousting: You have to pee. The flight attendants are serving drinks to 200 people. Let them finish and then use the bathroom. You can wait another 20 minutes and avoid royally inconveniencing them.
  4. Seat Back Climbing: When walking down the aisles or entering your row, avoid grabbing the seat backs. You likely just woke up someone who spent the last 30 minutes trying to fall asleep.
  5. Chair Luge: Just because your seat reclines, doesn’t mean it should!
  6. Armrest Wrestling:  Let’s settle this once and for all. The person with the middle seat gets both armrests. If you are by the window, lean against the window. If you are in the aisle, you have the outside armrest and easy aisle access. Stop being greedy!
  7.  Synchronized Standing: When the seatbelt sign turns off and you are in row 27, there is no need to stand. Relax for 15 minutes, you have time. If the guy across the aisle exits before you, it really is OK.
  8. 40m Aisle Dash Immediately After Landing: The people in the rows ahead of you have the right away. They exit first. Unless you have a connection in the next 20 minutes, wait your turn.

What events would you add? Comment below!


6 Must-See Places in Washington D.C.

Ceiling of the Library of Congress

I spend a considerable amount of time in Washington D.C. as a tour leader. Regardless of where I travel, Washington D.C. holds its place firmly as one of my favorite cities in the world. It is remarkably beautiful. On any given day, one can walk in the footsteps of great leaders of our country and be a part of living history. You would be hard-pressed to find another place in the world where you can learn and experience so much in such a short period of time. Although this list can be heavily debated, the following make my list for my 5 favorite places in Washington D.C.:

  1. Library of Congress: The Library of Congress, Thomas Jefferson Building, is absolutely stunning and hands-down my favorite building in Washington D.C. See Thomas Jefferson’s library, the Gutenberg bible, artifacts from the early America’s and much more. Numerous touch-screen kiosks are dispersed throughout the library to further engage visitors. View the reading room or take an art tour. The Capitol can also be accessed via an underground tunnel.
  2. The Capitol Building: Go on a free tour of the Capitol and marvel at the artwork of Constantino Brumidi. The Capitol rotunda will not disappoint.
  3. Arlington National Cemetery: Our nation’s most sacred and hallowed grounds, Arlington National Cemetery is incredibly peaceful and picturesque.  Soldiers are buried here from every war in our nation’s history, from the Revolutionary war through the war in Afghanistan, as well as President Kennedy and President Taft. It is a beautiful place to walk and to feel gratitude for the men and women who have served our country.
  4. Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns: Although occurring at Arlington National Cemetery, the Changing of the Guard deserves independent recognition as a Washington D.C. must-see. This solemn ceremony never fails to issue chills. It is a huge honor to be a member of the honor guard, and the men and women of the 3rd infantry conduct themselves with admirable reverence and respect for their duty. During spring and summer, the guard changes every half hour and during fall through winter, every hour. It is certainly worth the wait to see.
  5. Udvar-Hazy Center, National Air and Space Museum: Personally, I prefer the Udvar-Hazy Center, located near Dulles International Airport, over the Air and Space museum on the National Mall. The Udvar-Hazy Center is an actual hanger, with cement floors and high ceilings. The set-up is more open, and the crowds are minimal. Despite the historical aircraft, it feels as if a pilot could walk right in and take a plane for a spin. The SR-71 and Discovery space shuttle are located on ground level, where visitors can walk around all sides and view the air/space craft up close.
  6. Smithsonian American History Museum: What is not to love about the American History Museum? View artifacts from your favorite pop culture icons and presidents. See the star spangled banner. Tour Julia Child’s kitchen and see the Greensboro sit-in counter. Watch live performances from museum personnel.

What makes your list for a Washington D.C. must-see? Do you agree or disagree with the items on this list? Comment below!


6 Tools for Integrating Walking into Your Travels

This is a guest post by Sherry Dryja. Sherry blogs at Jet Planes and Coffee  and is most at home when traveling the globe, meeting new people, and exploring their communities. She and her husband spend half the year visiting places near and far. Each location is experienced to the fullest by taking tours, eating where the locals eat, and soaking in as much culture as can be found in museums, theater offerings, markets, and festivals. Jet Planes and Coffee documents her travels while sharing what she learns along the way. I have truly enjoyed reading her articles and have gained both knowledge and inspiration from reading them! 

Forget about renting a car. Book your stay in the heart of a city and get walking! Walking is one of the best ways to learn about a place and get fit at the same time. Below are six tools to make it easier to choose walking when you travel.

1. A well-placed hotel or vacation rental: This will make or break it for you if you’re trying to integrate walking into your travel plans. For a more local experience, try a vacation rental. Both VRBO.com and HomeAway.com can help you connect with property managers and home owners with condos or houses near the places you’d like to visit. Save some pennies by eating in for breakfast and lunch. There are lots of options available, both domestic and international, which fit all types of interests and budgets.

2. A map app: This probably goes without saying, but a good map app on your smart phone or computer goes a long way in strategizing integrated walks.

3. FitBit or other step-tracking device: Pedometers are great motivators.

Step tracking device

Knowing how many steps you take or don’t take in a day can help you make little decisions that have a big impact on your fitness goals. I choose FitBit because it not only tracks my steps, it helps me keep track of calories I’ve eaten and burned, and hours of sleep I get.

4. Good shoes: In the summertime, I recommend sandals by Naot or Ecco. The soft leather straps and cork footbed on the Naot sandals are a little better than Eccos for keeping blisters at bay.

My recommendation for excellent winter footwear is any boot by Aquatalia by Marvin K. These boots are truly meant for walking in any weather, rain, snow, or shine, and they are are built for comfort and durability. They’re also surprisingly stylish.

For the guys out there, my husband swears by Hush Puppies slip-on loafers with Zero-G technology. For casual summer outings, he reaches for OluKai slip-on sneakers for a smart, comfortable look.

Pack clothes that transition well from the sidewalk to the theatre

5. Clothes that can take you from the sidewalk cafe to the theater: My go-to brand for travel wear is Eileen Fisher. They move easily from one situation to another. Plus, they pack easily, hardly wrinkle, and layer well.

For budget shoppers, try eBay to pick up deals on pre-owned Eileen. Her clothes stand up to abuse and time, so don’t be ashamed about seeking out the pre-owned stuff. I do it all the time.

Hubby finds Original Penguin to be a good brand for mid-range-priced items which can be dressed up or down. For the summer he’s living in Original Penguin shorts and graphic tees he finds on Zazzle.com. When he wants to dress that up, he throws on a dark pair of jeans or dress pants, keeps the graphic tee, and adds a lightweight blazer.

SpiBelt!

6. Cross-body bag or backpack: A good, lightweight cross-body bag or backpack is a must. Cole Haan’s Jitney Ali Crossbody is great for accessing ID at the airport quickly and tooling around town with all the essentials, including cell phone and Chapstick. The brand “Picnic Time” makes an insulated backpack I’ve been eyeing for trips to the farmers market or grocery store. It could double as a carry-on. I also own an elastic belt called the “SPIbelt” that hides pockets beneath loose-fitting tops when I don’t want to carry a purse. Trust me. It’s not your grandmother’s fanny pack!


Mount Vernon: Who, What, Where, When, Why

Mount Vernon Mansion

Mount Vernon Photos

Who Lived There: Mount Vernon is where George Washington lived as well as his wife Martha, his step-children John and Martha, and his grandchildren George Washington and Eleanor.

Where is Mount Vernon? Mount Vernon is located on the banks of the Potomac, 16 miles south of Washington, D.C. and 8 miles south of Old Town Alexandria, Virginia, at the southern terminus of the George Washington Memorial Parkway.

What You Can Do There:

  • Tour the Mansion: See George Washington’s chair, bedroom, kitchen, etc. The rooms are restored to their 1799 appearance, the year that George Washington died. The outside of the mansion appears to be sandstone, but it is actually pine! The wood was beveled, painted, and then sand was added to give the appearance of sandstone.
  • See the tomb of George and Martha Washington.
  • See the demonstration by the working blacksmith.
  • Visit the Donald W. Reynolds Museum and Education Center which included over 500 original artifacts and video presentations. You must see the 4D-film on the Battle of Yorktown, Trent, and Boston. You feel the vibrations of cannons in your seat and snow falls during the movie!
  • Watch the inspiring film, We Fight to Be Free, in the Ford Orientation Center
  • Visit the heritage animals, including hogs, chicken, sheep, lambs, oxen, and more.
  • Talk with a Martha Washington, a character performer who is happy to discuss life at Mount Vernon.
  • Visit the dozen original structures on the plantation.
  • Walk through the vegetable and flower gardens.
  • Dine at the Mount Vernon Inn Restaurant
  • Hang out on the back porch of the mansion and gaze out at the Potomac
  • Shop at the shops at Mount Vernon
  • Walk to the demonstration farm and go inside the 16-sided barn.

When You Should Go: Plan to spend several hours there, 2-3 hours passes very quickly! Mount Vernon is open 365 days of the year. April through August, 8:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. March, September, and October, 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. November through February, 9:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m The least crowded time of day is in the afternoon, as school groups tend to go when Mount Vernon opens until right before lunch. Mondays are the least crowded days of the week. Peak season is during holidays and March 15-May 31.

Why You Need to Go: Personally, I think visiting the home of our first president is an incredible opportunity. The fact that it even exists should be enough of a reason to go. However, visits to Mount Vernon are very enjoyable. Life at the plantation is active, the grounds are beautiful, and there is plenty to see and do.  It is a great place to spend an afternoon outdoors and you inevitably walk away knowing something you didn’t know before you arrived. The education center will teach you in an hour what you likely learned in a year of school using engaging, hands-on exhibits. Go see Mount Vernon! You won’t regret it.

Related Articles:

Have you been to Mount Vernon? What did you think? Comment below!


Traveling Solo: Why You Should Try It at Least Once

“I met my ancestors in Udine for the first time, and stood in the church where my great-grandparents were married. “

This is a guest post by Sara Harenchar. Sara is the Audience Development Manager at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in Pittsburgh, PA. You can learn more about her at www.saraharenchar.com.  Follow her on Twitter @Sara_pittPG.

I’ve had the opportunity to travel quite a bit, but until this past year, I’d never traveled solo. I always thought it would be too risky and a little lonely. But a week before the fall trip abroad I’d planned for 2011, I found out I’d be traveling to Italy and Croatia alone.  My friend’s student visa got held up in UK Customs and she couldn’t leave England.

Should I really do this?
At first, I panicked.  I was meeting up with some Italian friends and also planned to meet my relatives in Italy for the first time.  Now I’d have to worry about navigating everything, and finding a safe place to stay – by myself. Although I’d been to Italy, I’d never been to Croatia and had no sense of the culture or navigating the area.

I could have easily gotten out of traveling alone by opting to stay in London. But what was so wrong with trying it on my own?

After a short day spent in London, I tried to sleep for a few hours before a 6AM flight.  I had a panic attack, not knowing where I would stay, if I would reach all the destinations I wanted to, if I would make it back safely. And then something inside me said, you have to just DO this.  Had I been all over the world, even on the Great Wall of China, just to chicken out over a little Eurotrip?  By the time I got in that 4AM cab, I was exhausted.

Sharing gelato with Fabio

The relief and the reward
When you see Venice, you will never want to see a representation of it again.  I chose a group hostel after reading reviews online, and asked for a single room.  I ended up being placed in a group room and met people from all over the world. Best of all, I got a good night’s sleep and heard about other’s adventures.

I met up with my friends in Vicenza, Italy, exploring the culture, trying to communicate through our language barriers, sharing delicious meals and each other’s company.

I met my ancestors Udine for the first time, and stood in the church where my Great-grandparents were married.  It was better that I was on my own: how could anyone else appreciate in the same way I could, seeing my 85-year-old cousin Carlo point out the graves of my ancestors in an Italian village in the alps?  Or eating homemade spaghetti and bread made by his wife, Stefania in their tiny kitchen?  Or sharing gelato with my 5-year-old cousin Fabio?

I spent a day in Trieste, a beautiful coastal city near Carlo’s house where a bus would depart for Croatia.  I could no longer go to Zagreb as originally planned – It was too far away. So I chose the coastal city of Pula.  I kayaked on the Adriatic sea, ate delicious meals, enjoyed the hotel’s daily brunch, and spent time just basking in the sun – perfect for the wandering traveler.  I spent a few final days in London – best parts? Cheese at Gordon’s wine bar, strolling through shops in Islington, and Gordon’s Market.

Pula, Croatia

When hitches come up in your plans, you always have to make choices.  The key with travel is to ask not “Why now?” but “Why not?”

Important Tips for the Solo Traveler:

  1. Luggage drop offs: really, its ok.  Try it.
  2. Be aware of your surroundings, especially at night.
  3. Be careful about where you use an ATM or computer.
  4. Purse/bag on front of body, passport on your person. Repeat.

5 Ways to Entertain Yourself on a Long Car Ride

20120531-080918.jpg

I must admit, I don’t mind long car rides. It gives me the chance to relax, enjoy great conversation with my husband, and let my mind wander. Although I can still tap into the 3G network on my phone, there is something comforting about being forced to detach myself from my computer and the internet. Inevitably, however, some external force is still needed to keep me from gauging my eyes out. Here is how I stay entertained:

  1. Magazines: Rarely do I actually allow myself to sit down and look through a magazine at home. I’ll hoard my magazines in anticipation of an upcoming car ride. Once in the car, however, I let myself devour Backpacker, Bicycling, and (somewhat shamefully) Better Homes & Gardens. J
  2. Audiobooks: After I become nauseous from looking through magazines, I’ll set myself up with audiobooks. Lately I’ve been into History in an Hour. They’re tagline is “history for busy people”… perfect.
  3. Podcasts: Podcasts are my driving hero. In 5-25 minutes, I learn something, feel productive, and am entertained. My favorites? TED Talks (audio only), RSA, Convince and Convert, and Michael Hyatt.
  4. Daydreaming/Writing: Driving often causes me to brainstorm or to run ideas past my husband (he can’t escape now, can he? ;) ) If I feel particularly inspired, I will crack open my computer and do some writing. Again, the lack of internet provides a welcomed focus!
  5. Car/Road Sign Games: I won’t pretend that I’m above the annoying memory or road sign games. David and I actually get pretty competitive about it, which makes it more fun.
      • ABC: Go through the alphabet finding a word on a sign that starts with A, then one that starts with B, then C etc. Race whoever else is in the car to see who can go through the alphabet first. You can cheat for X using exit. A major shout-out to Zaxby’s restaurant and Quality Inn for existing and causing this game to be shorter.
      • Categories: Pick a category. Go back and forth naming things in that category until someone can’t name one. Whoever wins gets a point. Figure out what point value you are playing to ahead of time. ;)
      • Ghost: The objective of ghost is not to finish spelling a word. The first person says a letter, the next person says a letter, etc. If you finish a word, you get a letter in “Ghost”. First person to spell Ghost loses. For example, First person says “A”, second person says “R”, first person says “T”. Since ART was spelled, the first person loses. They get a “G” in ghost. The next time the first person loses, they get a “H”. If they lose 5 times, spelling ghost, the game is over.

How do you entertain yourself on long road trips? Comment below!


Ridiculously Awesome Things I Have Seen This Month

Color Guard at Full Honor Wreath Laying Ceremony (photo by Rob Caldwell)

In no particular order, here are some of the amazing things I have seen or witnessed this month during my travels:

It has been a very busy and exciting month in Washington D.C.! I feel so blessed to have experienced what I did and I look forward to the exciting adventures of the summer!

What have you experienced this month? What are you looking forward to experiencing this summer?

Marines at Full Honor Wreath Laying Ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery (photo Rob Caldwell)


Washington D.C. Tour Leading: Skills Developed and Practiced

View of the Tidal Basin from the Jefferson Memorial

Let’s get the litany of excuses for the lack of blogging out of the way:

  • I’ve been leading tours of Washington D.C. for the majority of May.
  • Blogging hasn’t been prioritized.
  • I’m moving to a different state in less than a week.
  • I’m packing for 6 weeks of international travel.

There, fine. I said it and it’s all out in the open. My plan to write ahead of time failed! I have been fully immersed in tour leading this month and have loved it! It has been such a wonderful, welcomed challenge.  Tour leading has developed and used so many skill sets including:

  •  People Skills: Adults, students, teachers compose the groups. Each person begins the trip with varying expectations and apprehensions. Relating to the different types of people, gaining their trust, and making sure their expectations are exceeded (not just met) are the responsibilities of a tour leader.
  • U.S. History Knowledge: When traveling through Washington D.C., all U.S. history is fair game for questioning. All people, events, and buildings with even a minor tie-in to the past or present workings of our country is on the table.
  • Navigation: To be effective, a tour leader must know the efficient routes around the city, where buses can and cannot park, what building entrances groups can use, and alternatives to all of the above in case of a road closing. A few weeks ago, President Obama decided to return to the White House during rush hour at almost the exact time the bus was to pick our group up on 15th street, which had just closed.
  • Public Speaking: Tour leaders are relating facts, stories, and directions for days on end. If you have a fear of public speaking, you overcome that very quickly.
  • Handling Logistics: There is so much to see in D.C. Figuring out how to fit it all in, while keeping the group interested and happy is certainly a developed skill. Coordinating meals, hotels, buses, night security, etc. also plays a major part.
  • Entertainer/Story-Telling Ability:  Tour leaders must not just relate facts, but must also entertain and be a great story-teller.
  • Fitness: D.C. is best seen on foot, no questions about it. Miles are covered daily

 

Students reading words from Martin Luther King Jr. on the exact spot where he spoke “I have a dream”.

Scholastica Travel tour leaders aren’t city guides who step on the bus, show you around, and then say goodbye at the end of the day. We are with our groups from the time they leave their school until when they return, including at hotels, for all meals, and for all bus travel.  These multi-day tour elements certainly add new challenges along the way, but allow you to get to know the people and customize the experience to their interests.

 
This month I’ve traveled with students who have never left their home state, who have never stayed in a hotel, who have never been to a major city. I’ve also worked with students who likely wouldn’t have an opportunity outside of this trip to experience the nation’s capital. I am so grateful to the teachers who are making these experiences possible for their students and am honored to play a role in the process, to teach and to hopefully inspire.

 

 

 


I Really Hate to Admit This….

I really hate to admit this, but I am an iconic traveler. I see the classics, the places that photographically define a destination. The places where, if you had never been to the country, you would still know exactly where I was. When I was at Yosemite, I hiked Half Dome. When in Paris, I went straight to the Eiffel Tower. When in Cairo, my first stop was the Sphinx and pyramids.

 
Why I Do This:
The classics are huge tourist destinations for a reason. They are awesome. It is safe to say that if millions of people travel every year to see the same landmark, it is something incredible to see. With limited resources and vacation time, I want to maximize the “ridiculously sweet” in my travel experience. For better or worse, the iconic places have the highest probability of doing so. Now, they aren’t the only places I visit, or even want to visit, but they certainly are my starting point. I feel a pressure to cross off the classics before pursuing the lesser known locations.

 
Why It Drives Me Crazy:
Clearly, the classics do not define a culture, a country, or a city. Although I’ve been to Tikal, I do not know Guatemala. I want to understand the people and what gives the culture a pulse. You can’t grasp that in two weeks. My “jack of all trades personality” also applies to how I travel.

This most clearly resonates when I meet people in other countries who have been to the United States. They visited New York City, Washington D.C., or (God-forbid) Disneyworld, and feel that they have seen the country. They haven’t. At the same time, if the tables were turned, where would I go? I’d probably do the same.

If someone went to Pittsburgh and visited the Warhol, they certainly wouldn’t understand the culture, what it means to bleed black and gold. I feel like I did that with the Louvre!

 
When I Broke Free…and Loved It:
Sometimes I skip the classics, and love it. One example stands out. I was conducting field research in Peru but had a day to be a tourist in Cuzco. When faced with the decision to see either Machu Picchu or several other ruins throughout the Sacred Valley, I chose the other ruins. I know that I will visit Peru again, and whomever I am with will likely want to see Machu Picchu. The ruins were incredible, and I am very happy with my decision.

 
Your Travel Personality:
Can you relate? What is your travel personality? I find this amusing, but several quizzes exist online. Let me know your  travel style, I’m curious!

 
Related Articles:

What’s Your Travel Personality?


Chapel Hill, North Carolina: My Favorite Things

Enjoying a gorgeous day at Jordan Lake

Our house just sold. The fleeting feelings of extreme excitement have been quickly replaced by heartache. I love Chapel Hill. Over the past three years, I have certainly found my nearby favorite things, places, and people that have made it my home. The fantastic weather, UNC sports, and the two hour drive to the beach are a given, but here are my other favorites:

Outdoors:

  • Day Hike at Eno River

    Jordan Lake:  There are few better ways to spend a weekend than at the lake. Since we’ve lived here, we have taken sailing lessons and now are proud owners of a Hobie Cat and kayaks. Being on or around the water gives me peace and  immense happiness. Last Friday we went kayaking and saw FIVE great blue heron, all hunting for fish. :)

  • Dairyland Biking: It is tough to imagine a better place to bike than out on Dairyland road and the surrounding area. Rolling hills, smooth pavement(mostly), stretching farmland, and little traffic. Cars expect to see you and are respectful. I have a 50 mile route and can count the times I need to stop at lights on one hand. Glorious is an understatement.
  • Eno River State Park: Great place for leisurely day hikes.
  • Duke Gardens: Beautiful, active gardens and garden center. I have enjoyed volunteering at the gardens in the education department and recommend that you get involved!

Food/Restaurants:

  • Carolina Crunch at Maple View Farms

    Maple View Farm: Nothing beats homemade ice cream at the dairy. Carolina Crunch is my all-time favorite ice cream (sorry Ben & Jerry’s!)

  • Pint Night at Tyler’s: 95% of the glasses in my home are from Tyler’s. If I break a glass by accident, no worries. Back to Tyler’s I go.
  • Shiki Sushi: Blue Sea, Caterpillar, Superman, Marry, Woman in Red, Outer Banks, Toro, Toro, Toro, Special Maguro… I haven’t tasted a roll I didn’t like!
  • Carrburritos: Big burritos, fresh ingredients, punny name (It’s in Carrboro).
  • Mama Dip’s: Sweet potato biscuits. That is all.
  • Breadmen’s: Get the french toast with french bread. :)
  • Allen & Son’s: Best BBQ Ever.
  • Beer/Wine at Grocery Stores: I grew up in Pennsylvania, and will soon be moving back to Pittsburgh. The ability to buy beer and wine at a grocery store is a luxury I have yet to take for granted and will certainly miss. I will also miss being able to buy New Belgium beer, but am looking forward to the land of Yuengling.

Activities:

  • NC Zoo

    North Carolina Zoo: I love the expansive layout, creative exhibits, and interspersing of artwork and bronze statues at this zoo. It would make for a gorgeous park alone!

  • NC Theatre: My husband and I are season ticket holders for the NC Theatre shows in Raleigh. Every performance has been extremely well done and truly deserving of the standing ovations received.
  • ASL Classes at Durham Tech: I am finishing the intermediate level American Sign Language class at Durham Tech. Let it be known that Raven Sheridan is one my favorite professors I have ever had, in any discipline. I have learned so much from her in such a short period of time and am very grateful!
  • Go Heels!!

 

Do you live in Chapel Hill or have visited? What are your favorite things that may not have made this list?


Outer Banks Bike Trip: Kitty Hawk to Ocracoke and Back Again

Bikes on the Ferry to Ocracoke

Are you searching for an awesome summer bike trip? Consider a weekend bike trip in the Outer Banks, riding from Kitty Hawk to Ocracoke and back again. The scenery is gorgeous and the route is mostly flat, with only one hill on the bridge (see pictures). Although 170 miles round trip, we somehow convinced 7 other friends that this was a good idea ;).

Total Distance: 170 miles

Days Needed: 2 (85 mi/day)

Route: There is only one road through the Outer Banks, so no need to worry about getting lost. Traffic is light to moderate, depending on the the weekend and time of day.  Pea Island presented lots of sand, you have been warned. Overall, the route is flat and scenic with convenience stores every 10-15 miles.

Points of Interest: 
  • Bodie Island LighthouseTo see this black and white horiztonally striped lighthouse, you must take a short detour. Bathrooms are on-site. Mosquito swarms can get pretty thick, I recommend biking loops around the parking lot while waiting for your group to use the bathroom and finish up pictures.
  • Cape Hatteras Lighthouse- Like Bodie, a short detour is required to see this black and white spiral striped lighthouse, although it is well worth the trip. The visitor’s area has bathrooms, benches, and a short boardwalk to rest or refuel.
  • Ferry Ride to Ocracoke- To get to Ocracoke, you must ride the Ferry (fare is free). This is a great opportunity to rest and refuel, enjoy the breeze and scenery, and regroup before riding the last 10-12 miles. The ride is about 40 minutes long.
  • Ocracoke Lighthouse The Ocracoke lighthouse is solid white. We didn’t take much time to enjoy it though, we were so eager for food and our beds!
  • Piers at Ocracoke- Ocracoke is a very charming town and well worth the visit. Again, my energy was flagging at this point in the day. I unfortunately didn’t take in the scenery as much as I would have liked!

Places to Sleep:

  • Days Inn (Kitty Hawk)This hotel was a typical Days Inn, which included a standard continental breakfast (cold). The stay was $191 per night.
  • Anchorage Inn (Ocracoke) - Most hotels in Ocracoke require you to book for two nights. The Anchorage Inn allowed us to book one night. The hotel is also right on the water, which is beautiful. We had first level rooms with outdoor access, which was perfect for rolling the bikes in and out of the room. If you choose to stay here, please be sure to request this. Breakfast is included, however, this was basically packaged muffins, plain bagels and cream cheese, and drip coffee.  The stay was $119 per night.

Gear Needed:

  • Panniers: A front pannier is a little excessive, but a back pannier is required. Pack light!
  • Lots of water/gatorade: The ride is filled with salty air, sand, heat, and long distances. Be sure to heavily hydrate and stop frequently to refuel.
  • Gator skin or other puncture resistant tire: Although you are biking on paved roads,  you will also frequently bike over sand drifts, rocks, shells, and other debris. Be sure that your tires can meet the challenge.
  • Sunscreen and mosquito repellent

What We Wish We Would Have Done Differently:

  •  I wish we would have taken our bikes through Brew-Thru at the end of the trip :)

Trip Photos: http://www.flickr.com/photos/travelingchicha/sets/72157629853567551/

Have you biked OBX? What long bike rides do you recommend? Comment Below!


Best iPhone Camera Apps and Accessories for Travel Photography

My iPhone Photography Dashboard

There really is an app for everything these days. With the continually improving quality of iPhone cameras as well as the numerous post-processing apps available, I often default to my phone when traveling without sacrificing too much quality. I either shoot with the Nikon D300 with 18-200 lens or my iPhone.  The middle man point-and-shoot has been replaced!

As a contributing author for The Scholastica Postcard, a blog by Scholastica Travel Inc., I want to refer you to their recent post, “iPhone Camera Apps for Travel Photography, Tested in Philadelphia and Washington D.C.” as it provides a relevant review of 7 great iPhone apps that I use frequently. The post shows photos taken in Washington D.C. and Philadelphia using the following apps, ScratchCam FX, CameraBag, Dramatic Black and White, Photo Artista Oil, NightCap, PicStitch, and Phoster.  Here are a few photos from the review:

Photo courtesy of scholasticablog.com

photo courtesy of scholasticablog.com

photo courtesy scholasticablog.com

Personally, NightCap is my favorite. Although the iPhone flash is very powerful, it tends to washout my photos in lowlight environments. The up to 15x extended shutter speed truly improves the photo quality. Using the app itself takes some getting used to, as it isn’t entirely obvious when you have taken the picture.  Download NightCap and use the flash only as a flashlight.

Glif independent stand (photo amazon.com)

Additionally, I recently purchased a Glif and a GorillaPod and love the combination. They’re lightweight, easy-to-pack, and improve my photo taking capabilities. The Glif provides a stable tripod mount and can accommodate the phone in multiple vertical and horizontal configurations. It can also act as an independent stand.

GorillaPods are an obvious giant in the photography industry due to their ability to mount to just about anything and stabilize cameras in virtually any configuration. Using the GorillaPod has helped tremendously in setting up timed photos while hiking, and in other situations where a flat surface isn’t readily available. Furthermore, tripod use works well with NightCap since it stabilizes the camera during the lengthened shutter speed time.

 

Take-Home Message: Read this post. Download Nightcap and extend your capabilities with a Glif and GorillaPod.

 Relevant Links:


Casting Call: Guest Blog Posts on Hong Kong, Costa Rica, and Travel

I am looking for writers to guest blog on Traveling Chicha while I am in Hong Kong and Costa Rica during June and July. Travel bloggers, photographers, and food bloggers welcome!

Although I will certainly write about my experiences when I return (or as internet access allows), I am reaching out to the travel community to add vibrancy to this blog by sharing their experiences in Costa Rica and Hong Kong.

I will publish a post each Tuesday and Thursday in June/July on the following:

  • Hong Kong/Costa Rica Travel: That is where I will be!
  • Hong Kong/Costa Rica Food: That is what I will be eating!
  • Hong Kong/Costa Rica Photos: That is what I will be taking!
  • General Travel Experiences: Compelling insights or personal travel reflections welcome. I hope to have them as well!

Preference will be given to posts on Hong Kong and Costa Rica. However, general travel writing may also be submitted and accepted. Post length should be between 250-600 words and include a relevant photo.

If you are interested, please email your idea(s) to me at travelingchicha@gmail.com . Please include Casting Call: Costa Rica, Casting Call: Hong Kong, or Casting Call: Travel in the subject line, as appropriate. All entries will be approved by me in advance. Your posts will introduce you as well as link to your blog or website.  All entries must be received by May 5, 2012 to be considered. Thank you, ahead of time, for your contributions! I am excited about this opportunity to further network with my readers and the blogging community.The Blissful Adventurer has already signed up!

All the Best,

Natalie


A Local’s Guide to Pittsburgh: Best Place for Ice Cream

You scream, I scream, we all scream for ice cream! In my case, I scream for the ice cream at Oh Yeah! Ice Cream and Coffee Co. located in Shadyside on Highland Avenue. With a continually shifting menu of rich, adult (alcoholic), or vegan ice creams, variety is certainly not lacking at Oh Yeah! Added to the flavor variety are the number of mix-ins available, scrawled on the shop chalkboard, which range from Swedish fish, to bacon, to squirrel meat (actually a donation to a local charity). Note that I did not say toppings, but mix-ins. Oh Yeah!’s signature is the process of blending/pulverizing the mix-ins into the ice cream to create a unique tasting ice cream, rather than chunks in the ice cream. My favorite? Marshmallow and graham crackers mixed with caramel ice cream.

Waffle at Oh Yeah! (photo pittsburghmagazine.com)

But Oh Yeah! serves more than ice cream. They serve waffles. That’s right, waffles, especially those of the buttermilk, buckwheat, or vegan cinnamon variety. What’s better than waffles? Waffles topped with Oh Yeah! ice cream. What’s better than waffles topped with Oh Yeah! ice cream? Adding Oh Yeah! mix-ins into the waffle batter, and then topping with ice cream. The buckwheat and vegan cinnamon are also gluten-free, for those concerned.

Go check out the fun and crazy decor the next time you are in Pittsburgh, or take a virtual look around the shop. Grab a waffle or ice cream, you won’t be disappointed.


Have you been to Oh Yeah! Ice Cream and Coffee Co. ? What is your go to combination? Comment below!


5 Fun Things to Do in Philadelphia

Magic Gardens in Philadelphia

Rain or shine, Philadelphia can be a surprisingly fun town. Here are five fun things to do if you find yourself in the city of brotherly love:

1.Mural Mile Walking Tour: With over 3,000 murals covering building exteriors in Philadelphia, it is difficult not to pass several when doing anything in the city. However, organized themed tours make for a fun afternoon and add meaning to what you are seeing. The mural mile walking tour is free, self-led, and covers 17 gorgeous murals. I highly recommend it!

2. Reading Terminal Market: Foodies rejoice! At the Reading Terminal Market, you will find all the fresh produce, meats, seafood, baked goods, and poultry you could possibly want. Enjoy your next meal at the market and feast on soft pretzels, crepes, or a famous Tommy Dinic’s roast pork sandwich. Many say Dinic’s rivals the Philly cheese steak. After tasting it this past weekend, I’d have to agree!

3. Fairmount Park:  Fairmount Park follows the Schuylkill River along Kelly and Martin Luther King Drives. The long paved pathways are great for running, biking, or walking. Watch the rowers as they practice or race on the river. Spring is welcomed by beautiful blooming cherry trees.

Sorry! Game Piece in Municipal Plaza

4. Magic Gardens: The Magic Gardens cover what seems like a full city block in mosaics, adding a whimsical touch to the entire area. Mosaic materials range from colored glass pieces, to bike wheels, to glass bottles, to coffee cups, to plates. The gardens add a whole new meaning to “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” Admission to the gardens costs $5, but you can get your fill of mosaics for free by just exploring the area.

5. Photo Ops:There is no shortage of fun places to take pictures and goof around in Philadelphia. Pretend to hold up giant dominoes in Municipal Plaza, run the steps of the Art Museum like Rocky Balboa, or grab three friends and spell out LOVE in John F. Kennedy plaza.

 

 

Additional photos from these locations: http://www.flickr.com/photos/travelingchicha/sets/72157629362583022/

Related Links:

What are your favorite things to do in Philadelphia? Comment below!


Celebrate Spring: Washington D.C. Cherry Blossoms

Photo Shoot on the Tidal Basin

I am very thankful that I live in area that experiences four distinct seasons, as seasonal change is always a time of reflection for me. As March draws to a close and spring kicks into full gear, I am reminded to do a quarter year check-in. Am I growing? What lessons have I learned over the last three months? Am I on track with the goals I laid out in January? How can I improve this quarter? Spring is a great reminder to let go of what happened in winter, to look forward, and to grow!

Last week I had the immense privilege of being in Washington D.C. for the peak bloom of the cherry blossom trees. This year holds special significance as it is the centennial celebration of the gift of the cherry blossoms from Japan. Beyond the layer of whimsy that the blossoms added to the city, the scent was unbelievable! It was a wonderful feeling to close my eyes, take a deep breath of the blooms, and feel the cool breeze of spring.  Happy Spring!

Cherry Blossoms in Arlington National Cemetery

Tidal Basin Cherry Blossoms

Inside the blossoms


More Cherry Blossom Photos: http://www.flickr.com/photos/travelingchicha/sets/72157629695158235/

What have you been doing to celebrate Spring? What do you look forward to about this season? Comment below!


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