On Why Las Vegas Demands a Second Look

10 November 2012

I was last in the United States back in 1998 - visiting the east coast - New York, Atlantic City and Philadelphia. Fourteen years later, I had the opportunity to visit Las Vegas at the behest of the construction company I worked for. Despite the fact that my company were paying for everything, I was very pleasantly surprised at how affordable accommodation and dining out was in Las Vegas. Perhaps it was due to the fact that I was visiting in July (the city's "low season") that made things cheaper, coupled with the money being frittered away on the gambling tables. Whatever the reason, it really made me feel like I want to visit there again, because I had a wonderful time there going to shows, to the bars, and yes, having a little gamble too (you can't go to Vegas and NOT gamble). Since returning home, I've visited many websites to see what kind of hotel deals I can get - because I really do want to get back there for a second look.

Yes, you can spend a lot in Vegas if you want to, and you can certainly LOSE a lot of money in the casinos of course. I suspect - like many others - that much of the food, accommodation and entertainment in the city is largely subsidized by unsuccessful gamblers as much as it is by general tourism. However, the balance works because those that want to gamble seriously do so under their own volition. There's PLENTY of other things to do and see in Vegas apart from gamble of course. In my opinion, Las Vegas has the best musicals and entertainment shows that I've seen in any city and it's worth visiting just to see the shows alone.



Prague: I Was Totally Smittened By the Place

27 September 2012

Prague - one of those cities that had escaped my forays into Europe in the 1990s when I was in my 20s and both working and travelling around Europe during much of this decade. In fact, it got me reflecting - just HOW is it I've never been to Prague up until 2012? Vienna, Budapest, Krakow, even Bratislava - all part of my impressive list of experiences, except perhaps the most obvious capital in that region.

Until now.

Luckily my company was invited to attend a conference in Prague, and I was the delegate to attend. There are a number of popular business venues in Prague, and I was quick to realise just how popular this city was for holding such international conferences. The agenda of our meeting was to discuss our ordering strategy for 2013 given the Euro woes. Should we invest more into our new Thailand office, a branch completely untainted by the unfolding Eurozone crisis? This was to be a crucial meeting, and I had to be really careful what I proposed, because there would be jobs in my UK office on the line (a country that despite having its own currency, is still embroiled in the Euro problems) - and yet, we HAD to find a solution for 2013.

Despite our business worries, I was determined to have a good time in Prague of course. Just from its sheer popularity as a destination for UK travellers, I knew there is wide range of entertainment possibilities to be discovered in this great city, and planned to clear a whole day for sight-seeing and generally soaking up the atmosphere of the old capital.

Well, I just got back from my trip. We made our business plans, and I got to see as much of the city as I could in 24 hours. I fell in love with the place, and my 24 hour romance has smittened me. I have already made a plan to spend a full week in Prague to truly appreciate this wonderful city that somehow escaped all my travel itineraries up to now.



My Favourite Part of the UK: Buxton

7 February 2012

I've always loved going to the Peak District in England, particularly Buxton. The people are friendly, the scenery absolutely stunning, and the cost of the holiday always reasonable. Not only that, but it's a safe, clean country. I always hire a car when I'm over there, as that's very affordable. I always do a search for Cheap UK Car Hire at cheapcahirerates.com to ensure I get the best deals for car hire. It's pretty simple to get a quote - just enter your starting point and date, and finishing location and date - and browse the cars on offer.

But back to Buxton, what a lovely Peak District town. The opera house is a great place to visit in the evening after a long day out on the hills taking in the fresh air and scenery. The pubs on the market square are a real slice of northern English life (quite exotic for me since I'm from Texas!) and give you an authentic insight into everyday life.

Even if you tire of Buxton, Chatsworth House isn't far away, nor Bakewell or the Hope Valley. There's lots to see and do in and around Buxton.



Berlin: What a Refreshing Experience

4 February 2012

One of the best things about travelling is experiencing different cultures - and that often means experiencing different values and ways of life too - there's no better way to expand your own views than to immerse yourself in diverse cultures. On a recent trip to Berlin, I was reminded of the differences between my home country (UK) and Germany. One example: escort agencies. In Germany, paid companionship is fully accepted by German society and it's nothing to be ashamed of. I did check out one such agency - Escort Berlin - and I was glad of the company I paid for, who became my de facto guide to Berlin! In the UK, it's typical that us Brits feel rather ashamed to pay for anything when it comes to human relationships. I found the German attitude to be very refreshing and liberating.

In general, I found the local Berliners to be very friendly and rather urbane; English is well spoken throughout the city, and I had the usual feeling of being ashamed at my poor German language skills. Their love of the arts is manifest throughout the city - in its architecture, museums, coffee shops, parks. I had the feeling of being amongst a population who were autodidacts - a thrist for knowledge and learning. I did the usual tourist things - the Brandenberg Gate, the Olympic Stadium, Kunsthaus Tacheles etc - but for me it's the PEOPLE that are the fondest memory I have of Berlin - friendly, engaging, intelligent, erudite. I'll certainly be going back to Berlin again.



On Why I Rented an Apartment In Rome Instead of Booked a Hotel

4 December 2011

I love travelling around Europe when I have the time; in fact I do a LOT of travelling for both work and pleasure. However, a creeping annoyance was infesting my mind more and more with each journey I took. I'd certainly enjoyed the destinations - each and everyone has something unique to offer. But there was something about the formality, the convention, the orthodoxy of staying in a hotel that would make me feel like each trip had a similarity to each other. I grew tired of the locations of the hotels, the politeness (yes!) of the staff - I became jaded by being seen as a tourist or business traveller all the time. I wanted to see these places in a more informal, natural way.

On a trip to Rome, I found my answer - to rent an apartment. I know what you're thinking - you don't want to stay for months, just a couple of days. You can STILL rent certain apartments in Rome on a daily basis! What's more, they generally cost 50% less than a hotel of the same quality, but have twice the size too! I rented one right in the old center as well. I'd been to Rome three times before and each time stayed at a hotel. It was on this fourth trip that I really felt I saw Rome without all the protocols and formalities that tourists can seemingly never escape. It was wonderful. If you're interested in renting an apartment in Rome, there's more info here.

On my next trip to wherever, I'll be looking at short-stay apartments, not hotels - that's for sure!



The Most Magical Place in the World

13 August 2011

I was 12 years old, and it was Christmas time. The snow had been falling in Michigan for what seemed like forever. I grew up there, so I was practically used to it, but after some time, it does get old. Christmas morning finally rolled around, and my siblings and I anxiously awaited all of our gifts. Every year, we each get one "big gift". When everything was gone, we noticed there was no big gift. My parents walked away and came back with suit cases. I remember thinking, "Oh great, just what every kid wants - a bunch of luggage!" As we opened them up, a picture of Cinderella's castle was taped inside, along with a note that read, "WE'RE GOING TO DISNEY WORLD!". Imagine my surprise! We waited for May to roll around, and when it finally did, I couldn't believe it. I finally understood what people meant when they said what a magical place it was. I could feel the happiness all around me. It was almost overwhelming. For a twelve year old little girl to understand and recognize the goodness and amazement that a place had to offer still shocks me when I think back to that week we spent there. Our last night there, we spent in the park watching the annual parade. There were fireworks, Disney characters, floats - It was nothing but pure magic. I swear I could have had tears in my eyes. The funny thing is, though - I know I wasn't the only one who was feeling it. You could see it on the faces of every other boy and girl who had finally been given the chance to experience the wonder that Walt Disney so graciously intended to create. I realize that I keep repeating the world magical, but honestly, it is the best way to describe the holiday my family and I took there. It was nothing short of unforgettable.



My Greatest Holiday Experience in Florida

11 August 2011

One year, my family and I went on a long trip down south! It was a three week vacation which would include Christmas and New Years. We live in Michigan, so the drive to Florida felt like it took forever. We stopped in Atlanta, Georgia to visit with my Uncle. It was fun and it was also a nice break from driving. We kept going down to Orlando. We stopped in at Disney and had so much fun! We went to Epcot, Magic Kingdom, and Blizzard Beach. I really enjoyed all of the days we spent at Disney. We also went to see my dad’s brother in Tampa Bay. We got to visit with him and my aunt and my two cousins.

Even though it was December, we were outside playing baseball. We spent Christmas day in our hotel. We had brought some presents with us to share, and we had a cozy experience. We were all together and sharing a fun moment. We still kept up our tradition of reading the story of Jesus birth on Christmas. It was great to be in a new place, but still be able to have Christmas our way. It was weird to not have a white Christmas, but it was nice being so warm on Christmas day! One of my favorite parts of the trip, though, was New Years Eve. New Years is one of my favorite holidays because everyone gathers together to celebrate and have a lot of fun. This New Year’s, we could not have any friends over, though. Instead, we watched a marathon of the Three Stooges! I still remember my family laying on the hotel beds and laughing so hard! We laughed again and again as the New Year was arriving. That will forever be one of my favorite moments with my family.



The Independence Day that I Spent in South Korea

8 August 2011

I am American and I really enjoy Independence Day. I do not necessarily enjoy the holiday for what it celebrates; instead, I enjoy the holiday because I almost always go to the beach to visit my family, who I don't get to see very often. The holiday has a lot of sentimental meaning for me. In the afternoon, my family and all the neighbors gather for a big meal, usually a low-country boil. My favorite part of the meal is dessert, which is usually cookies, pies, and cakes of Cool Whip and berries, all made to look like the American flag. After we eat, we head over to another neighbor's house along the Intercoastal Waterway and watch all of the fireworks display put on by the surrounding towns.

However, a few years ago I skipped the trip to the beach and decided to visit my best friend, who was studying abroad in South Korea. I flew to visit her a few days before Independence Day and we traveled around Seoul, visiting the zoo, a Buddhist temple, museums, shopping centersand eating lots of great food. At first, I had felt guilty about not visiting my family, but I really enjoyed myself and do not regret taking the trip. I flew out of Seoul and began the long series of layovers and connections back home. I was flying back into my city on the evening of the Fourth of July. As the plane descended for its landing, I could see fireworks all over the placeit was a beautiful sight that I doubt I will ever see again. I appreciated this spectacular view, which I would not have seen if I had not taken the trip to Seoul.

Since that summer, I have spent several more Independence Days at the beach. I always enjoy the company, the food, and the fireworks. I am looking forward to many more of my favourite holidays.



The Way We Passed the Time on Road Trips in the Old Days

7 August 2011

The best family vacation that I ever had was going on a road trip to Myrtle Beach. The trip was for 2 weeks during March break from school. It was my brother, mum, dad and I. this trip was probly about 20 years ago so it was before the time of things like portable video games and being able to watch movies in the back seat. S

So to pass the many hours of travel my brother and I had to entertain ourselves and each other. My mum would set the back set up so that it was out own little playroom. She would pack everything up in the feet well so that we had a big level area to play in. We would play cards, play i-spy, board games. When it got to the point that we were at each other’s throat we would be sent back to out own side of the seat and would be forced to either nap or read by ourselves until we could be civil to each other again. I can remember us playing for quite sometime when we turned the back seat into a space ship and travelled around the earth.

Another time we turned it into a kitchen and had a bake off. But the thing that I remember the most and that gave us many, many, many hours of enjoyment was using each others faces as silly putty and making funny faces. We would see how far we could stretch each others mouth open, see how thin we could make the others eye by pulling on it. We would see how many rolls we could create by smooching their face up with all our mite. We would keep going until one of us called mercy because we had to give our faces a rest.

So while I can remember us having a great time on the beach, us all having a blast on different mini golf courses, laughing lots trying to put the tent up in the rain and having the chance the see a bunch of different states what I remember the most of that trip and what always makes me smile the most is remembering the pain that our faces would be in after a few hours of being in the car and entertaining ourselves in the back.



My Own Accidental Vacation

3 August 2011

My husband and I have three kids and 3 jobs between the two of us. With our own business and jobs that do not leave time for vacations, let alone the kids who do not leave us time for a vacation on our own, we have never taken a romantic, relaxing vacation...until now. It seems one man's disaster is another couple's accidental and forced vacation. I'll start the vacation a few hours before the mishap.

While on our way back from a business trip in New York, the GPS in our van malfunctioned. With my husband sleeping in the back, I drove through the heart of Harlem. When he woke up, he was a little more than surprised. Fortunately, we were not harmed in anyway, even though our license plate read GMANS LDY (refer to the term for government agent and you will get it). When we were finally able to get out of New York City, and get the GPS in an almost working condition, we got back on the highway.

But luck would not stay with us. The transmission to the van blew in Waterbury, Connecticut. We ended up being able to pull over at a convenience store called Winzz. This store was owned by an amazingly kind man who let us keep it there for the weekend as we could not get a mechanic to look at it until Monday (it was Friday). We stayed at the Super 8 in Waterbury. The placement of the hotel could not have been better for us. My husband is an incredible singer and spends much of his free time singing karaoke. That night we found that there was a bar, Muskey's Pub, behind the Super 8 that had karaoke on Sunday. My husband also loves food. There were no stores or other entertainment around...but there were 8 restaurants within a quarter mile. With a weekend of my favorite sport (pool), and karaoke, and food, we had an amazing weekend by ourselves. We slept. We ate. We were merry.

If I had a chance for another vacation, I would spend it right there.



The Fun Things You Can Do on Holiday at Seaworld!

2 August 2011

My favorite holiday was on a recent trip to Seaworld in Orlando, Florida. I went with my best friend, her husband, and her two older kids. We had an amazing time! First, we went to the stingray tank. There were at least fifty of them swimming around. They were all different sizes. We got to pet the really big one, and even feed it a fish. Then, we headed over to see the dolphins. We got to touch on of their backs as they swam by. At the underground viewing you could see the various dolphins playing with each other under the water. It looked like they were having a ball. They even would jump out of the water on their own to do a flip.

At the penguin exhibit, we saw all different types of penguins. The puffins were the cutest, but there was also a huge brown fluffy one. He was my favorite. At the shark tank, you stand on a moving sidewalk that takes you underneath a tube where there are sharks swimming all around you. It’s so fascinating!

After we rode the “Wild Artic” ride, we went down a hallway to see the beluga whales and polar bears. The belugas made a horrible noises when they were playing. It was like a baby scream, but they were happy. The polar bears were playing with a huge ball, which was fun to watch. At the “Clyde and Seymor” show there were seals, otters, and a huge walrus all dressed as pirates and looking for treasure.

The last thing we did was go see the “Shamu “show. We got there super early to get good seats in the first row. The trainers were playing/training the whales. It was so interesting to watch. Finally the show started, and we got soaked! The killer whales are magnificent to watch.

After this the park was about to close so we had to get back in the car and head home. Best holiday ever!



Jammin' in Jamaica Lasts Seven Days and All My Life

1 August 2011

University is a time in which many people build their greatest relationships, creating bonds that last the rest of their lives. Often these links culminate in one final trip during the graduating year that all of the participants remember for the rest of their lives.

For my friends and I, that trip found us in Montego Bay, Jamaica. Forty students clambered their way on to a chartered flight at 5:30 AM, aware only of the fact that their livers would suffer immensely during the week that followed. After several quick hours the plane touched down just 30 minutes away from the golden beaches and flowing mojitos. A gentleman flagged down our large group, directing us to a private bus that took us directly to the resort. The heat was intense but invigorating, and each bead of sweat signaled an increase in excitement. Within one hour of arriving at the all-inclusive hotel each student had found their room, unpacked their bags, and ordered a drink. Without given order, everyone gathered at the red, ocean-side pillow beds that would become our daytime homes for the next 7 days. Quickly we found ourselves chatting, swimming, playing cards, paddling in kayaks and spiking volleyballs. The sun was high in the sky and little could disturb this incredible private world. The night came softly, a remarkable sunset acting as master of ceremonies to reign in the evening.

Festivities began to unfold as a dance show took place on stage while our enormous group looked on in a spirited state. As the night progressed the group wandered into the ocean for a moonlit swim. It served as a perfect end to an incredible day. The ensuing six days saw little change in our routine. Daytimes were kept busy with sports, contests and endless alcoholic beverages. Evenings brought opportunities to dance at the bars and clubs both on and off the resort. A catamaran ride serving our group brought us to the Dunn’s River Falls where all forty of us linked arms and walked our way up the falls. Following this feat was none other than an open bar on the open sea. As we sailed it became clear that these people would forever remain an important memory for me: a marker that represented one of the greatest times in my life and one that I will recall for the rest of my days.

As the sun set on our final night and we departed for the airport we all reminisced about the previous week, sharing laughs and smiles through sobered eyes. The trip may have been over, but its impact has proven to endure.



A Maldivian Paradise Fit for a Princess

1 August 2011

I was more excited about my honeymoon than my wedding – we had decided to go all out and book the trip of a life time. We decided on the Maldives, not the most adventurous but I had never been so far away or to somewhere so exotic. We arrived after a 12 hour flight pretty tired and the heat hit you in the face as you stepped off the plane. We were to get to our island by sea plane, which in itself was a massive adventure. The water was so blue and so clear you could see right to the bottom and even where the sea planes took off and landed you could see colourful fish swimming happily around beneath you.

The sea plane was fun, although it was hot and stuffy, but the views made up for it. Thousands of tiny islands sprawled below and as we can into land you could actually see the giant sting rays sunbathing lazily in the shallower waters. Our hotel wasn’t really a hotel; it was a tiny island with 70 water bungalows, a bar and a restaurant. It looked just like it did in the brochures. As we walked up the jetty we saw basking sharks and an octopus. The water was crystal clear and the sand bright white. Our room was out on a little jetty on white metal stilts that were directly above the water. The room had a glass floor so you could see the water below and the marine life was incredible. In 10 minutes I’d seen angel fish, clown (nemo) fish, more octopus and so many others which I don’t know the name of. T

he room had a balcony with steps which went down into the sea. The water was hot, just like a bath. Going for a swim was one of the first things I did. We spent all week lying either in the water or on our glass floor looking down and spotting the fish. We bought a fish chart from the reception and marked them off as they swam past. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky all week and the food and company were amazing. It really was paradise and definitely fit for a princess!



Halloween in New York City: There's Nothing Like It!

31 July 2011

To me, Halloween always meant Trick-or-Treating or watching a scary movie with friends. But two years ago, my friends and I decided to go to Times Square for Halloween- you'd think we would have been there before, for this festive occasion, given we've lived in New York our whole lives, but sadly this wasn't the case. Leaving the house by 9pm, we arrived at Times Square by 10pm.

Everything about the trip there was as normal as ever; no signs of it being a different day, since the only people in costume were my friends and I. The moment we walked out of the Seven Train terminal in Times Square was when I decided that every Halloween would be celebrated in the heart of NYC. Everyone was in costume! It looked like the biggest Halloween out-door party. Virtually any block you turned, there wasn't a "casually" dressed person to be seen. Not only was everyone in character, but a lot friendlier than a normal New York day; strangers were talking to strangers, complimenting costumes. Even those dressed in the same costume, but different versions, were seen taking pictures together, then waving a friendly good-bye and "Nice to meet you!" We had stayed in Times Square for a little over an hour, until deciding to go to a lounge in Soho.

Now, the train was packed with fellow "costumers." Walking a short block towards the lounge, there was, as usual, garbage bags on the street waiting to be picked up. However, this one garbage bag plopped up and scared us! It was in fact a person, in a garbage bag, hunched over the side of the street waiting for candidates to trick- and it sure did work! The lounge in Soho was decorated with cobwebs, and even the waiters and bartenders had face masks or full out costumes. Some people even decided to go green for Halloween, and had costumes made out of recyclable material! The menu was also completely decked out in Halloween themed drinks, appetizers, and entrees. I had always known New York City was a special place, but to be able to see it on Halloween night was truly eye-opening! The fast paced, serious city finally shuts down and turns into a friendly non-stop party.



A Place of Unreal Planned Beauty

30 July 2011

Walt Disney World truly is a world of beautiful unreality. In 1998, I remember riding the shuttle from our motel to the airport and seeing all the enclosed backyards. That sight made me realize just how special my holiday at Walt Disney World had been.

Walt Disney World is of course located in a mosquito infested swamp. In the rest of the Orlando area people have huge netted enclosures built so that they can enjoy their back yards in peace. Seeing those enclosures on the way to the airport made me realize that for the past week I had not been bothered at all by bugs nor had I seen any exterminators or smelled any pesticide. Disney World is a place of unreality where there are no bugs in the swamp. It is a place where every view is planned, sculpted and beautified. The buildings are beautiful from every angle. Even the sound is planned. You don't hear the clashing noises of a city: no trash cans banging together, no inconsiderate motorcyclists roaring around, no boom boxes blaring. We stayed “on world” which is Disney's way of saying that we stayed in a Disney property.

We chose the lowest cost accommodations. The rooms were smaller than any two bed hotel room I've ever stayed in but nevertheless there was a certain beauty to the motel complex. The pools were not the elaborate ones with waterfalls that other Disney “resorts” have but they were interesting with clever touches such as being shaped in accordance with the theme of the resort. I remember the last day of our stay when I finally noticed that even the iron railings were designed in line with the theme of the resort. Then I had to laugh because my sister pointed out that even the outside stairwells were designed. In our case they were made to look like giant harmonicas.

I loved our holiday at Walt Disney World and every year I think about returning.



My Wonderful Vacation at Camp Seeley Cailfornia

26 July 2011

I can remember as a little girl about seven years old driving up to Camp Seeley in California. The trip would take about five hours driving through winding canyons and twisting mountain roads. The anticipation would become more difficult to contain the closer we came to our destination. I remember being in awe of the towering pine trees and the abundance of lady bugs flying and fluttering around as we entered into Big Bear Mountain.

Once we arrived we would be greeted by the enthusiastic camp coordinators so they could take us to our cabin. From that point we would walk to our cabin and get ready for the upcoming weeks activities. After un-packing my first stop would be the general store. The outside of the store always reminded me of the old western movies where the cowboys would tie their horses to the rail outside. Once inside there would be a plethora of candy and treats to meet any kid’s desire. After loading up on snacks we would make our way back to the cabin to get ready for dinner. Finally at the chow hall, we would fill our bellies with hamburgers and spaghetti until we popped. The night would include a stroll along a small creek where frogs would feast on any insects that would fly into their path and the remainder of the evening would include gazing at the stars that seemed to twinkle like diamonds in the sky.

The following days would consist of a hike to a tremendous waterfall which flowed into a heart shaped cove. This would be my favorite activity the entire week. At the end of the stay the last day would end with a talent show that the kids had partook in and a bonfire with awards for every child who had come to Camp Seeley and no camping trip would be complete without smores! To this day I will never forget the amazing memories and friends I made.



Oh What a Great, Unexpected Christmas Surprise!

24 July 2011

If your family is like mine it is spread out all across the world. It is very rare to remember us all in one place for a holiday let alone any other day. About five years ago, my Aunts that live in South Carolina had decided to plan a secret trip up to Pennsylvania to see us all.

Christmas morning my mom, dad, sister, brother and I all opened our gifts just like every other Christmas. My siblings and I helped cook the Christmas Ham that we would soon be taking to my Grandma's for the holiday feast we would be enjoying. After the ham was ready my mom dressed up in our best attire and off to my grandma's house we went. We arrived, my uncle and his wife were already there with their two kids Jordan and Anna Marie. My grandma was often frazzled when she arrived because, she was still in the middle of cooking.

My brother and I took our younger cousins outside in the snow to make a snowman until we all got really cold and had to go inside. It was always my job to set the table. In the middle of me setting the table I heard "Ho Ho Ho Merry Christmas" in my Aunt Laura's and Aunt Colleen's voices. In excitement I dropped the napkins I was holding and ran to the door. I instantly hugged them both while everyone gathered behind me to greet them as well. I added two more place settings and finished setting the table. After a while of the adults talking it was time to eat. We ate then opened the presents that we had for one another. It was such a great surprise to have us all together. We talked and caught up on what we all had been missing out on in eachother's lives. When I think of my greatest holiday that one always is the first that comes to my mind!



Our Memorable Vacation Experience in Kentucky

20 July 2011

My favorite holiday was last year, when my wife and I went to Kentucky. It was a dream of ours to see the mountains and to see horses, because that is something that my wife enjoys.

So, we planned our trip to Kentucky, with an itinerary that allowed us to visit the Kentucky Derby is Louisville, as well horse parks in Lexington, as well as some other notable sights in the region. Driving out to Kentucky was exciting in and of itself, as we were able to see some wonderful scenery. Once in Kentucky, we first went to visit the Kentucky Derby Museum.

As part of this experience, we took a tour of the racetrack and backstretch. It was a thoroughly rewarding experience, and we learned so much. After that, we planned to visit the Kentucky Horse Park, where a number of retired race horses are boarded, including the famous Cigar. We went on a cloudy day, so the temperature was not too hot, and the crowds were thin. It was delightful. Then, we did a few more stops in Louisville, Kentucky, including a stop at the Louisville Slugger Museum, where they make the famous baseball bats. We also did a quick tour of the Science Museum.

From there, we traveled south to visit Mammoth Cave National Park, where we were able to walk into a huge cavern under the ground. It was a little crowded, but we still enjoyed seeing the wonder of God’s hand. While in the area, we also stopped at the first Colonel Sander’s first restaurant, which later led to the chain of Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurants. On our way home, we were hoping to stop at the Country Music Museum, but we ran out of time. We drove back through West Virginia, and were able to see some of the beauty of that state, along with all the coal mining. It was a memorable experience.



Jordanian Joy by the Dead Sea

15 July 2011

The country of Jordan is famous all over the world for the natural attraction it holds for tourists in the form of the Dead Sea. The Dead Sea is the most salty sea of the world, and because of the salt concentration in its waters, there are no waves. This makes it appear like a rocky dark ground on the surface.

I visited the Dead Sea in the heat of June this year. The salty and dry breezes were relaxing; the view of the darkness of the sea was no less than exhilarating. People of all kinds and ages, ranging from fair-skinned locals to foreign-looking tourists, could be seen on the sea side. Couples sat by the sea on the rocks, holding hands, whispering living things to each other. It was undoubtedly a romantic place for them! Some people lowered themselves in the salty water of the Dead Sea, which is known for its healing powers. It is meant to heal various skin diseases as well as the problems in the joints. Some people merely ambled on the sea side and dipped their feet occasionally in the waters. The moon above us shined and the shadow casted by the moon appearing on the surface of the Dead Sea made it even more beautiful and charming all the same.

The Dead Sea Panorama has been built to enhance the natural beauty of the place. In addition to the Dead Sea Panorama there was a restaurant there too where people helped themselves to the joys of Jordanian food which is nutritious and filling at the same time. I captured various photographs of the Dead Sea Panorama which was so stunning that it will always remain unforgotten in my mind. The dimness of the waters, the moon overhead, the smells and sights of the place are etched forever in my memories.



How I Enjoyed North Carolina for Christmas

11 July 2011

Many view Christmas as a holiday only children and parents enjoy. I can tell you firsthand that this is a false assumption, as some of my favorite memories from Christmas are from my late teens and early twenties.

My favorite Christmas happened when I was 22, and it involved little more than some dumb luck and fantastic weather. My family and I took a trip to North Carolina for the holidays. We particularly enjoyed the atmosphere because the people there seemed to be far more friendly and polite than our neck of the woods (the northeast). We also lucked out because it was the first year in many that there was going to be a white Christmas, and unlike where I live, the parts of North Carolina we visited looked like a picture taken out of the North Pole. I was able to see snow covered mountains as far as the eye could see, and trust me, when you travel windy roads around those mountains, it certainly adds to the ambiance. I'm told that near the shoreline, the weather becomes much more temperate, but where we were staying in Asheville, the temperature barely rose above the low 20's. We had the hotel we were staying in to ourselves, that is until a group of Christmas carolers checked in unexpectedly and began singing some holiday favorites right underneath our room. On any other day we might have complained about the noise, but we decided to knock on their door and ask to join them.

The rest of the night was spent singing, eating delightful food, and watching the snow fall outside the hotel window. Yes, it might have been a bit campy, and I don't think I could ever replicate the series of events that would lead up to me singing Christmas carols in a strangers hotel room again, but for an abrupt trip to North Carolina, the day could not been any better. I would encourage anyone wanting a magical holiday to live outside their comfort zone, even for a day. They might surprise themselves.



Holiday Cost: Fifty Pounds, Holiday Value: Priceless

5 July 2011

My favourite holiday was taken with my fiancé while we were saving up for our wedding. We had both been working hard and we needed a break, but we couldn't afford to go anywhere fancy or stay in a hotel. We borrowed a 2-man tent from a friend (although I do not believe that two full grown men could have fitted inside it!) and headed off by car to Huntingdon, the next town over. We knew that we weren't going to be spending much, so to make it a fun challenge we withdrew fifty pounds in cash and decided that it would have to last for everything for the whole weekend. Almost half went immediately on camping fees and some of the rest on a bag of groceries to keep in the tent. We spent two whole days walking around Huntingdon on foot, reading every tourist information signpost, going in every shop, and visiting the city museum where we saw Oliver Cromwell's hat. We looked at sculptures in the park and spent at least an hour combing a suburb for a lost cat that we saw on a poster. One afternoon it rained and so we took shelter in a local pub and made Coke and crisps last for several hours, playing chess with a set they had for customers to use. We ate chips sitting on a bench in the deserted city centre and drank tea in tiny cafes. Most of all we talked - about things we saw, things which those things reminded us of, other holidays we had been on, other holidays we would like to go on when we had more than fifty pounds between us, places our cats had gone when they ran away in our childhoods, and hundreds more things. I recommend everybody getting married to have the same holiday - the tent was cold and leaky but the quality time was invaluable.



The Excitement of Diwali in Jaipur, India

25 June 2011

Accompanying several friends on a lengthy trip to India where they were purchasing artifacts for their two stores in America, I felt like a real-life Maharani as we checked into the Taj Mahal Hotel for a few nights in Bombay. It was 1982 and my friends had been to this part of the world many times before but it was a first for me. My excitement was overwhelming as I found myself surrounded by the marble and gilt of the room décor and the exotic looking, obsequious service people.

After a few days roaming the streets of Bombay, with its sacred cows ambling beside us, we headed to Jaipur, an ancient once-royal city whose Rambagh Palace Hotel was once home to the Maharajah of Jaipur and which is now a luxury hotel. It was late October and the population was readying itself for a festival known as Diwali or festival of lights. My friends told me that the holiday celebrates the triumph of good over evil and people get new clothes to wear and get together with friends for snacks and sweets. They planned a celebration dinner the evening of Diwali and suggested I get a special outfit to wear. The Hawa Mahal, or palace of the winds, overlooked the main shopping thoroughfare. This spectacular structure, built in 1799, is five stories high and covered with intricately decorated small windows. Darting in and out of the many open-front shops along the street, a striking outfit caught my eye. It was black silk shantung, with stripes of gold and silver, and consisted of pants, a tunic top and a large shawl. When the evening of Diwali arrived, I dressed and entered the Rambagh Palace gardens and verandas on the way to dinner, dressed in my Indian-lady finest frock. To my delight, every walkway and path had been lined with little clay lamps that were lit and shimmering in the dark. Suddenly spectacular fireworks began lighting up the night sky and I was overpowered with the beauty of it all.

I was invited back to India three times with my friends after that first trip, but, while all visually exciting, none of them could compare to being in Jaipur for Diwali.



My Memorable Trip To Jamaica

16 June 2011

My favorite holiday was hands down my trip to Jamaica. I got a cruise tickets at a very discounted rate because I went to Florida and waited for cruises that weren't full. It works just like how the airlines offer last minute tickets for planes that aren't full of passengers, and I got a great rate. This made the trip excellent before it started because I did not have to pay the usual rate for a really great cruise. The cruise included gourmet food that was free everyday, from breakfast to lunch and dinner. There was an on deck swimming pool, and I relaxed a lot of the trip by the poolside, enjoying myself. There were shows to go see, a recreation program, and even a gym. The days of sailing to Jamaica were awesome. I knew that I would get to Jamaica, but the journey itself was part of the holiday. I had drinks at the bar, got a great tan, and got to meet and talk to a bunch of interesting people from all walks of life. When we got to Jamaica, I wandered some of the most beautiful beaches that I have ever seen in my life. The native people are very open and friendly, and are quick to share information about their city and where the best places are to go shopping or to eat at. One of the best meals I had while I was in Jamaica came from a shack next to the beach. They served jerk chicken, and when I say it was delicious, it was definitely and understatement! Not only did I have to pay only a few dollars, it was some of the best tasting stuff I have ever eaten. I feel like I got a taste of Jamaican cuisine and experienced a small part of Jamaican culture.



Our First Christmas Without My Niece

15 June 2011

A couple of years ago, in the middle of Spring, my six-year-old niece passed away. My family, obviously, was devastated by her death. We all pulled together and tried to get through it as best we could. It was a busy year to begin with, and it made grieving that much more difficult. Barely a month after her passing, I got married, then my brother got married the next month and left the U.S. to live in England.

My niece's parents - my sister and her husband - moved their family to another state the month after that, and my mom moved back to her hometown to live with her boyfriend. Adjusting to all the changes was, to say the least, not easy. That Christmas, however, my husband and I, along with Mom and her boyfriend, were all able to stay with my sister in Florida. We felt it was important to visit since the first Christmas without their baby girl would be incredibly hard for them.

But, here's the thing. After all that moving around we all had done that year, we were broke. My mom LOVES Christmas, but since she hadn't found a new job back in her hometown, she wasn't able to get much for anyone. So, she decided we should have a Christmas where we don't buy anything new. That is, almost every gift we gave to each other was re-gifted. Personally, I bought some things from secondhand stores, though I did give away plenty of wedding gifts that my husband and I hadn't used. A lot of the gifts were things we made, as well. My sister, who is quite the crafty devil when it comes to making jewelry and sewing, gave all the ladies handmade jewelry.

The best gifts were the Christmas ornaments she made. She took scraps from some of her daughter's clothes and sewed them into tiny pillows shaped like butterflies. Then, she filled the butterflies with cotton and a little piece of my niece's favorite blanket, which was made of a loud, crinkly material. Every time any of us squeezes one of the butterfly ornaments, it crinkles. They're the perfect tribute to my niece, and helped make that Christmas my favorite ever.



A Return to the West Coast and Oregon

3 June 2011

I live in an area of Minnesota that is as flat as a pancake. My most memorable vacation in recent years took me over the Rocky Mountains, and then the Cascades, to the west coast. I saw the old railroad trestle, now rebuilt, where I had traveled as a child, now seeming to cling precariously to the sides of mountains. I had traveled here before, but had not taken note of the majesty of the landscape. I experienced snow in June in Butte, Montana and then the scariness of Lookout Pass, on the border with Idaho. A side trip took me to the Crow Reservation and the site of Custer’s last stand, and the interpretive center there. I could smell sage when I got out of the car to visit a rock shop, and realized for the first time that eastern Washington is a desert. I stopped at another shop at Ellensburg for the express purpose of viewing their famous, lovely blue agate. And I stopped at Roslyn to buy souvenirs for my neighbors who are Northern Exposure fans. All the while, Mount Rainier, Puget Sound, and the city of Seattle beckoned. That trip took me to Snoqualmie Falls, where I climbed to the bottom and all the way up again, to the antique shops of Snohomish, on a ferry to Vashon Island, and to the University of Washington where I took in a dance recital and a science exhibit. I got to hear Andre Watts in concert with the Seattle Symphony, and attended a lecture at Hugo House, a writers’ center. I attended church at Crown Hill and shopped for Scandinavian gifts in Ballard. Another side trip took me down the Pacific coast to Eugene, Oregon. As a result of that vacation, I now know what a marionberry is, and I know that blackberries can be a nuisance, the eradication of which is an industry all by itself. It was a fun trip.