Tag Archives: traveling

Photograph Award

10 Dec

Beyond Yonder Hills

The Photo “Beyond Yonder Hills” was selected by Judges as a favorite, making it a winner of the Staff Winter Selection 2015!

Cool Tools! Mochi Travel Wallet

25 Sep

Better Together Note Pouch v1

Who: Mochi Things

What: Note Pouch (basically a wallet, far as I can tel)–

Dimensions 8.7 * 5.3 * 1.4 in.
Weight 8.18 oz
Material Polyester, Nylon, Paper
Ships Worldwide From Seattle, WA, USA

Where: MochiThings.com

Why: This looks like it would be a great wallet replacement for your carry-on or backpack during travel! I really like that it has room for a passport and/or notebook.

How Much: $45.95 (If anyone tries this, I’d be interested in whether it lasts!

5 Aug

“44 Tips for Traveling in Italy”

by History in High Heels.

 

I get lots of questions about living in Florence and emails asking for tips for traveling in Italy. So I finally decided to put all of my tips and advice together in one place! I hope you find them useful and please share any tips you have.

1. Plan and Pre-Book major sights and attractions whenever possible, especially if you are traveling in mid-March (spring break) or between May and July.

2. Don’t use third party booking websites or companies. 
Companies like TickItaly will charge you an arm and a leg for a reservation you could easily make on the official museum website (or officially sponsored website) yourself. Here is a list of official museum/gallery websites:
Vatican Museums
Roman Forum and Colosseum (combo ticket)
Borghese Gallery (Rome)
The David (Accademia, Florence)
Uffizi (Florence)
Last Supper (Milan)
Doge’s Palace (Venice)
St. Mark’s (Venice)

3. Avoid restaurants with pictures of the food.
You can read more of my tips for selecting restaurants in Italy here.

4. Make the most of the high-speed train. 
It is only takes an hour and a half to get from Florence to Rome or Florence to Venice, and only thirty minutes to get to Bologna! Plus the trains are comfortable and reliable. They are my preferred way to travel around Italy. You can purchase tickets online or through a local travel agent in Italy. If you are in Florence, the lovely staff at FlorenceForFun can help you get great discounts!

5. Don’t let anyone help you put your luggage on the train or take it off.
This is a scam (mostly by gypsies) to force you to tip. If you are fine tipping, go for it, but be warned they are not the most upstanding characters.

6. Watch your bags as the train arrives and departs the station. 
Just incase somebody tries to hop on and steal something at the last minute.

7. Be prepared to lug all of your luggage down cobblestone streets and up stairs (and on and off trains). 
If your bag is too heavy or large to do this yourself, you need to rethink what you have packed! There are lots of streets and squares taxis can’t go down, so even if you cab it, you still might have another block or two to haul your stuff. Elevators can also be a rarity and you will often find random small sets of steps you have to navigate.

8. Bring a portable luggage scale, especially if you are traveling via discount European airlines. 
They are serious about bag weight.

9. Get up early every once and a while. 
Many cities, like Rome and Venice, have a completely different feel without the hoards of tourists. It is worth it to get an early start (especially in the hot summer) to get a different perspective of the city and to see many of the monuments not littered with people.

10. Always carry cash. 
Most places will not let you use your debit or credit card for smaller purchases and restaurants don’t split bills.

11. Wear comfortable shoes.

12. Look up if your bank has any affiliations in Italy (i.e. Bank of America and BNL) to avoid service charges and fees.

13. Unlock your phone and pop in an Italian SIM card. 
If you have an iPhone that is out of contract (i.e. over two years old) this is fairly easy to do and Italian SIMs are inexpensive.

14. Don’t forget sunscreen.

15. Don’t put cheese on seafood pasta. 
Despite how delicious the cheese is here, Italians do not put it on everything. . . . .

“READ MORE”

THE SECRET TO TAKE BETTER TRAVEL PHOTOS

31 Jul

“THE SECRET TO TAKE BETTER TRAVEL PHOTOS”

via “Bacon is Magic”

Have a DSLR and don't know how to shoot other than on auto? Read this about how to take better travel photos.

Travel and photography seem to go hand in hand. A month before my 2007 trip to New Zealand I wanted to take better photos than what my point and shoot had been taking.

Fortunately, my ex (you know the one I left to travel) is a great photographer and gave me an old Canon film SLR from the 1970s and a crash course on how to take photos.

I had never considered myself a creative person before that but I fell in love with photography. When I returned from New Zealand I bought a used DSLR. Ten thousand photos later I travel with a Canon 60D with three lenses.

I spend a lot of time reading about how to take better photos and my frustration is that most sites list the basics or get too technical there seems to be no in between– I get that we’re supposed to shoot in the golden hour but what next?

Well Beth from Beers and Beans has finally told me.

 

getting out of auto

 

Bethany is an amazing photographer. She isn’t the kind where you look at it and think wow that is a technically perfect photo she is the kind that makes you feel something and think wow I wish I could do that.

She just launched an ebook called Getting out of Auto and I cannot express how amazing this guide is.

Part One includes all the basics, the stuff that seems complicated like f stops and aperture. But instead of just stating what they are, she actually explains them in a way you can understand with lots of photos. . . .

READ MORE

6 South African Foods that Look Delicious

7 Jul

“Swellendam Lake, South Africa” by Mad-Margaret

“South Africa never leaves one indifferent. Its history, its population, its landscapes and cultures – all speak to the visitor, to the student, to the friend of Africa.”

~ Tariq Ramadan

I still remember the first time I actively realized South Africa was a country in it’s own right.  Growing up in a small rural Mid-western town, my education definitely was more European focused than African.  What little I knew of South Africa was limited to the connection between a small city named Cape Town and the explorers of the 17- and 1800s.  

Then, my freshman year of college, I met the sweetest young man studying abroad from South Africa and attending my honor’s courses.  He was such a kind student, hard working, and seriously brilliant.  College was the first time I really had a chance to talk with foreigners and people from the far-off countries I had previously only dreamed about.  There was something exotic and exciting each time I could say: Voila! I have now spoken with a person from ____________ country!

He used to tell me about his country, describing the beautiful places he was homesick for and the culture he would have loved to share. His stories permanently marked South Africa on my list of “Someday to visit places.” 

After doing some research on the country, I’ve discovered that, in addition to the locations he mentioned, I’m kinda looking forwards to the food as well 🙂  If you are going to visit a new country, it’s pretty much required that you try out their best dishes and the following 6 are a must-try for me!  

If you get a chance to travel or study in South Africa, let me know how the local versions taste! 🙂

1. Boerewors

This past 4th of July, my family BBQ’d pork steaks and hot dogs on the grill.  In South Africa, they call this “Braaing” and they prefer to throw Boerewors on the grills.  Boerewors are the South African version of Polish Sausage — it is  a varying mixture of meat (primarily beef with lamb and/or pork) and spices.  According to my friend, the dish is traditionally crafted from scratch; no running to the store and picking up a package. It takes work and time, but it’s well worth the effort!  

If you’re interested in making your own, I found a recipe that looks promising here on Food.com.

2. Bobotie

Bobotie is a baked egg-custard dish with minced meat, fruits, and spices inside, and I’ve got to say I’m desperate to try it out. The pictures all just look so good!  Made of Beef or Lamb combined with various dried fruits (Apricot, Dates, Raisins, etc.), Indianesque spices, and topped with an egg-based sauce, the dish is very popular in South Africa. And no Wonder!  I love anything vaguely cassarole-ish, and they say this is a great variety.

Good-Looking Recipe available from Nigella

3. Koeksisters

I’m picturing something “Spike Cake” or “Lemon Cake” tasting (which I like anyway), but they say these are actually better.  It probably depends upon the recipe (some are more cinnamon-based, some are more ginger-based, others thrown in lemon with a dash of vanilla), but these little treats are supposed to be the bomb-diggity.  Most of the recipes I’ve found show a cake-based foundation, fried to perfection and then topped with some sort of sweet glaze or sauce.  They remind me of the Twists our bakery sells here in China 🙂  

Best-looking Recipe I found was on Food.com, but there are some others here and here

4. Potjiekos

Translating as “Pot Food”, Potjiekos sounds like something my grandmother and mom would love to make. They are always making the famous “Blessing Vegetable Soup” out of whatever vegetables are in the cabinet on a cool fall day.  Potjiekos sounds remarkably similar.  In the olden days, South Africans cooked over the fire in a Potjie (Cast Iron Pot), making delicious stew recipes that would descend through the ages.  Unlike my grandmother’s soups though, this fire was always outside! The food is added in via layers ~ Meat first then layers of different vegetables in order of the time it takes to cook them.  Pumpkin, Sweet Potatoes, Onion, Garlic, Carrots, Tomatoes, Broccoli, any veggies you want to throw in.  The result is a homey kind of stew that sounds soooo good!

Find out more about the process and recipes here at Potjiekos World

5. Chakalaka

I’m going to confess that half the attraction for this dish is the name ~ “Chakalaka” just sounds pretty awesome! 🙂  The dish itself changes a bit depending on the recipe, some are more of a salsa consistency while others look somewhat like a chili.  Chakalaka is not actually a dish in and of itself, rather it is a sauce or relish added to meats, curry, bread, etc. as a garnish to spice up the flavor.  I know some people who add it to chicken and say it’s the best for adding a touch of jazz to the taste!  Most recipes, though not all, include beans, onion, garlic, ginger, curry/chili powder, tomatoes, corn, peppers carrots, and other vegetables.  Mmm-mmm Good!

I found a pretty yummy-sounding recipe here on Food Network UK that I think I might try soon.

6. Melktert

Of course I haven’t forgotten dessert, and these Melkterts look like a must-try.  In fact, we’re going to test out the recipe below this month at my family’s fish fry.  It’s an egg-custard like pastry, but with a uniquely South African touch to an originally Portuguese concept.  The crust is made and the custard either baked within or added just before serving.  Apparently, it’s more milk than egg and if you add cinnamon to the milk first it is even better.  The custard has a buttery, sweet taste and you can add cinnamon and sugar on top.  I can’t wait to try it!

I’m combining two recipes from here and here.

Luoyang Peony Festival

23 Apr

Luoyang Peony Festival!

Follow up on part one of my Luoyang visit! You can see my post about the Longmen Grottoes in Luoyang, another beautiful site to see in the area 🙂

Did you know that for a long time the Peony was actually China’s official national flower? And it started right here in Luoyang, where the Peony was the flower of kings and noblemen.   Now, there are many types of Peonies grown in the gardens of Luoyang, and those gardens are opened up to visitors during the annual Peony Festival!  

Every year from the middle of April until the middle of May, the Peonies bloom and visitors from around the world come to check them out.  The festival itself is during the peak time, usually April 15-25, when the flowers are at their most stunning.  

There are many, many Peony gardens you can see, for example the Luoyang National Peony Garden (it was too busy so our tour bus couldn’t reach it; we checked out another garden) is said to be the very best.  But there are many others you can see, like the one we visited. It was much smaller, but still breathtaking!  You can check out China Highlight’s post for a list of options and prices!

You can reach Luoyang via Train (approximately 4 hours from Beijing and 8 hours from Shanghai) or by Flight, and the price to the gardens isn’t too bad. There are lots of hotels and restaurants to check out, and many other sightseeing activities for your family 🙂

Stone-Faced Buddha ~ Longmen Grottoes

22 Apr

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Longmen Grottoes

Took a little trip to the Luòyáng , China this past weekend as part of a culture trip hosted by the University! 

Pronounced something like “loi yahng,” this beautiful home to the National Peony Festival (I’ll add an update on the Peony Garden later) is one of the “cradles of Chinese Civiliazation” and one of the ancient capital cities of China (Henan has 2 of them! – Luoyang and Xinzheng).  The city itself is amazingly clean and open, the streets are unlittered and it’s pretty modern.  

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The best part of my visit by far though was the Longmen Grottoes and the Peony Garden.  This week was part of the 2 week festival they have each year for the Peony festival, so people were everywhere despite the rain.  

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The Longmen Grottoes themselves are absolutely mind-blowing ~ an amazing feat of human design and capability. To imagine that such intricate  design, specific carvings, and gentle touch art were feasible so many centuries ago is one of those things that always stops me in my tracks. I know a lot of people aren’t as interested as I in history and stone statues (several of the teachers I was with were fairly denigrating about spending so much time in a “Stone Garden). But to me, standing on the same ground, touching the rocks they touched, seeing the art they created, glimpsing pieces of hearts long past. It’s simply miraculous.

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The Grottoes are home to thousands and thousands of carvings on the stone faces of the mountain cliffs. Most are of Buddha or his followers, some are pagodas, buildings, and other designs. The varying stone colors used to frame and decorate the statues, each one different from the rest.  Carved over a period of centuries (5th – 15th Century AD), each set was designed by a different artist, many from completely different times. You can trace the changes, both in religion and philosophy (skinny to fat Buddhas for example) and in art styles.

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One of the other reasons the grottoes is so stunning is the River Yi (pron. ee) that runs alongside the valley in front of the rocks. The river is clean and beautiful, sweeping along a lovely walkway as antique-style dragon boats float up and down.  Stone bridges line the view, criss-crossing over to the other side that offers views of antique buildings lining the mountain paths.

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 It’s just a beautiful way to spend a day

 

Strolling through Seoul

27 Jan
Ihwa Mural Village

Ihwa Mural Village

Our China University was specially blessed this year with an entire 2.5-month long winter vacation before classes start up again, and the foreign teachers here make the most of their free time.  Many of us have headed off to such exotic locations as Bali, New Zealand, Australia, Heinan, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, India, Tibet – even the stunning ice scultures of Harbin here in China!

Personally, I decided to return to the charming city of Seoul, South Korea.  Have you ever watched the old Harrison Ford movie, “Sabrina”?  I always remember that quote: “America is my country, but Paris is my home.”  That kind of reminds me of Seoul, America is my country, but Seoul is my home.  The part modern/ part ancient artistic buildings centered around the lovely Han River and filled with lovely, kind-hearted people always brings out the calm, secure feeling that soothe my soul and rest my spirit. I could spend months just wandering from shop to cafe to palace to park, listening to the sweet locals and getting in touch with the looser, more contented me.

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This time, I was able to bring along my mother, who had never seen the city before but wanted to get a glimpse of the place that has captured my heart.  We were initially planning to stay for 2 weeks, but plans changed and we only spent 1 went out and about the town.  Although Spring is definitely a prettier time to visit, having the tourist sites mostly to yourself and looking at all the winter products up for sale was pretty sweet.  If you do visit in the winter, I highly advise that you visit the many, many, many unique cafes scattered around the buroughs.  Try out their “Peppermint White Chocolate” and a Blueberry BelgiumWaffle while watching the world go by outside the windows and tell me you don’t fall in love with the city too. ❤

Seoul is a place to have fun and take your time, you simply shouldn’t try to rush through everything. I know there is a lot to see, and you feel like you need to get ahold of all of it, but you run the risk of loosing the real feel of Seoul in the process.  I wouldn’t say Seoulites are a slow-paced as the Spanish or some of the the Latin Americans, but they definitely like to wander thorugh life to the beat of a slower drum.  You get up a little later, and grab breakfast at a hidden coffee shop.  Then you meander through the winding shopping streets to visit one of the many palaces, stopping for ice cream and a hot chocolate for an afternoon snack. Sit there for a while, chatting and looking at all the sparky fashions walking past you, then slowly wander home via a different path.  Maybe stop at a small park on the way home?  Someone once said Seoul was like a Southern Drawl – you talk slowly, throwing in a few “dahlings” and “sweethahts” to create a classy charming feeling. Don’t miss out on that feeling or you’ll miss the spirit of Seoul.  It’s indescribable.

Tips:

  • Take Your Time! If you have limited time, just visit one of the palaces or history museums.  Pick up either Building 63 or Namsan Tower – don’t try to do both.  It’s much better to move at your own pace and enjoy the sites you do see than to feel harried and rushed to see it all.  I say this because there is a LOT to see, and you just can’t make it everywhere in a week.
  • Test Out New Taste Buds! ~ Belgian Waffles, Italian Pasta, Chinese Peking Duck, Mexican Tacos, and Korean BBQ – Seoul has it all.  Don’t be too picky about the foods you try – be adveturous!  I admit I’m just not the greatest fan of street food or trying new dishes, but in Seoul you really should make the effort.  Their Ox Bone soup is delicious and the Chicken Galbi is to die for.  Some of the foods will look stranger than they taste. Korea actually uses a lot of the same ingredients as Americans (carrots, celery, green pepper, chicken, pork, fish, noodles, garlic, lettuce, ginseng, etc), they just put them together in unique ways.  And I msut say, the end result is often pretty yummy.
  • Watch your $$$ ~ Seoul has gotten a lot more expensive in the last two years, even since I was there last summer.  Taxis now run a minimum fee of 3,000 Won (~ $3), and other items have copied the higher priced trend.  Coffee shops easily cost as much as US stores, as do many shopping locations.  It’s a lot easier now to find yourself spending a ton of money unexpectedly. I recommend taking out a set amount of money each day (Woori bank doesn’t usually charge an ATM fee and we took out about 200,000 Won per day and split it between the two of us), and forcing yourself to stick to that.
  • Housing ~ While I usually recommend that you stick with the hostel idea for cheaper housing, I know that for some people this isn’t feasible.  My mother injured her back and couldn’t climb the stairs at our hostel and we had to find a place with a comfortable bed and a elevator for not a horrible price.  One of the other places you can check out are the Love Motels.  It sounds sketchy, but they aren’t as questionable as you might think. In a country where many couples still live in a home with both of their parents and their children, private time can be hard to come by. So there are a lot of “Love Motels” that rent by the night or hour for not a lot of money, and they are usually pretty nice.  We found one that had 2 beds, a large flat screen tv, a in-room computer, free wifi, a huge bathroom and bath, lovely wooden heated floors, and sweet desk clerks for only 60,000 a night. It’s a little pricey, but better than the upper level hotels and just as nice to stay in.
  • Buy a subway pass ~ Now that the taxi costs have gone up, it will save you a lot of money to pick up a subway pass, even if just there for a few days.  The subways are brilliantly easy to use and most directions are based on coming out of the closest subway stop.
  • Check out some of the stranger sights if you have time! ~ There is a trick-eye museum and lots of street art if you are interested. There are also some really artsy student shops near the university areas, and plenty of hiking expeditions to check out.  Don’t just focus on getting from tourist site to tourist site. Walk around a bit at each stop, and don’t be afraid to check out a small alley. You never know what cool thing’s you’ll find!

Check out our Itinerary Here!

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Chinese Health Concerns

17 Nov

You know you drink too much soda when . . . the gas station cashier gives you a free bottle of water and looks disapprovingly at your drink selection. All the while telling you, “tsk tsk . . . water have more power.”  0_0

Fashion I ❤: Po Campo Midway Weekender

31 Jul

As a frequent traveler, I’m always looking for well-designed, fashionable pieces of luggage.  And this new bag from Chicago fashion designer Maria Boustead is absolutely darling.  It is apparently intended for gym goers or sports enthusiasts with an expandable side strap to hold a jacket or yoga mat and a separate compartment on the bottom for shoes.

 I personally would be more inclined to simply use it as an easy overnight bag when traveling.  This would have been so helpful when I was traveling and then instantly on the move in Busan or during my overnight layover at the airport hotel.  Having something stylish available to carry a cute set of clothes and shoes and then later your travel clothes when you don’t have time to stop and drop things off at the hotel would be really helpful!  

The Po Campo Midway Weekender

“The Midway Weekender is ready for life’s travels, both big and small.”

There are three colors, all available on AMAZON:

 

BLACK ~ $94.94

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Purse 1

BLUE AND WHITE STRIPE ~ $91.20

 

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Purse 3 Purse 2

 

BROWN ~ $86.45

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