first star on the right and straight on till morning

Last night I began my Great Railway Adventure. After a day filled with last minute errands and quickly hemmed pants, my dad and trusty airport chauffeur dropped me off at Dulles International Airport yet again- this time headed for Helsinki, Finland with a layover in Iceland. The planes were small, but I guess that’s alright considering that via Iceland, the trans-Atlantic crossing is split into two short flights.

The first flight last night was pretty. We silently glided through the darkness, with puffy white clouds below us hiding the choppy ocean waves I knew were there. The moon shown incredibly brightly in the sky, but it was not too bright to drown out the stars. I felt like I could be traveling to Neverland, following Peter’s directions: just follow the first star on the right and head straight on till morning and there adventure awaits.

The constellation Orion seemed to lead the way. I saw the full constellation out the window, just over the right wing, like I was looking straight across and not up at him like I have done from the ground so many times before. Were we equals last night, Orion and I? He seems like a good man to have in my life. He’s the only one I seem to look to for guidance, and certainly the only one I’ve chased around the world or even around the block. Aloof and unattainable, he has seen and known more than I ever will. Yet he has remained steady and controlled throughout his vast experiences, where I sometimes crave the chaos and instability that my travels offer me.

I thought I would continue this contemplation of my perfect star man, but as soon as I touch down in Helsinki I was overwhelmed by different thoughts entirely- mainly wonderful, “This is so EASY! This place is so BEAUTIFUL!” thoughts.

Because it was and it is. I landed, grabbed my backpack from the conveyor belt, and stopped by information for some directions to the Olympic Stadium, where I had reserved a bed at the hostel within- the aptly named Stadium Hostel. The bus ride was so easy that I barely had to focus on the stops and was able to let my mind wander out the window and take in the wide, amazingly clean streets of Helsinki. This was a city that was so green and blue! It was full of trees and lakes and streams. The weather was a perfect sunny 17 decrees Celsius. For 6.20 Euro I was dropped off a block away from the hostel, and the brief stroll told me that this might be called a city, but it didn’t smell or sound like one. I felt relaxed and comfortable immediately. I wasn’t overwhelmed by the stress and chaos that usually surrounds the first few moments in a new city when you’re trying to find your way to your lodging for the first time, disoriented from the loud sounds and unfamiliar landmarks and still groggy after a recent mind numbing flight.

I practically skipped through the front door of the hostel, checked in, and found my bed ready to be made up in the crisp clean white sheets I had been handed. I had so much extra energy, saved for the stressful first journey that was anything but, that I took a quick shower to wash off the last of my travel cobwebs, repacked my purse with the essentials, and hit the city streets once again.

I was in search of food. Finnish food. A quick stroll through a grocery store and I had an idea of what food prices might be like (expensive!) while I was here. I was also delightfully impressed with their large hard cider selection, a collection I shall be exploring in depth while I am here.

After wandering for a few more blocks I settled on a Nepalese restaurant, not Finnish, I know but a new cuisine none the less. It was a good decision. Nepalese coffee is AMAZING. It is everything I wanted Turkish coffee to be. It was strong and sweet and flavored with exotic spices that I couldn’t place. I think I detected cardamom, but I’m not sure what else.

Now I am back at the hostel and rapidly crashing. I think I’ll take a few moments to plan out the next few days and then I will turn in early. I was happy to find that the festival gods were favoring me again. I landed in Helsinki at the start of World Design Week 2012, celebrating Helsinki as this year’s Design Capital of the World. There will be a lot of fun, interesting and FREE things happening in the next few days. I can’t wait to find out what. When I know, you’ll know!




stories from a road warrior

3,500 miles. 7 days. 10 tanks of gas. Five old friends and three new ones. Some highway. Some weather. Some music.

There, I’ve told you about the road trip.

Oh you wanted more? Well then.

Like I said, I left Annapolis with a half filled Jeep on January 28th.  I drove up to Philadelphia that first night. Not a long trip, only two hours, but an important one. There was someone I needed to say good bye to before this wild journey.

The next morning I headed up to Nazareth, PA. Again, a short two hour drive for the day. But stopping meant spending time with my best friend and her son, my god son, Liam.  Here he is being a super hero.

Despite jokes about my poor sense of direction, on the 31st I continued heading north up to Hamlin, NY to pick up my traveling buddy, Mindy.  We spent one day helping her pack and praying we could fit everything we needed into or onto Alice the Jeep.  After many games of Tetris we were amazingly able to fit everything inside the car.  A couple of folding chairs had to be abandoned, and I’ve never seen a car riding lower on her rear shocks, but we did it!

It started snowing that night and we hoped it wouldn’t delay our departure in the morning.  But luckily February 1st dawned and both the sky and the roads were blessedly clear.  Now the real hour devouring driving  could begin.  That first day we drove from Hamlin, NY to Lexington, KY- a 7.5 hour drive through New York and Ohio.

In Lexington we had plans to stay with a friendly couch surfer named Travis.  We all got along great, and spent laughter filled evening swapping travel stories, discussing the renaissance and the air force, and even meandering into a conversation on religion for a spell.  Travis and his pilot friend took us out to show us the town and a few of their favorite bars.  We were his first couch surfers, so I hope we left a lasting positive impression! I think we did.

Despite the fun we had with our new friends, Mindy and I knew it was travelling time. So after breakfast the next morning we hit the road again.  That day’s goal was Memphis, TN new home of my childhood friend and her fiancée.  Living  apart, we don’t get the chance to see each other very often, so whenever my path can feasibly cross hers, I make an effort to do so . And this time was no different. We arrived in the afternoon, timing it so she got home from class around the same time we arrived.  Big hugs all around, followed by some extremely important wedding dress shopping and an amazing Memphis BBQ dinner.  I’d show you all the dress she picked, if I didn’t think I’d really get killed for posting it this time! You’ll just have to wait and tune back in after the big day.

Let me tell you- there is nothing to make you simultaneously feel all grown up and precisely like a child than putting on wedding dresses and strutting around the shop to test for wear and maneuverability. I don’t know how many times we played out that exact scenario with the discarded bridesmaids dresses of our parents and some flowers we guiltily picked from the neighbors garden.  I mean there still wasn’t a groom around, dress shopping being strictly off limits.  We’ve come a long way from the days of fighting over Barbies every afternoon, and slumber parties every other night- despite the fact that we only lived two doors down from each other.  I’m glad we’ve made it this far together.  But enough of this practice toast writing.

We had plans to stay in Memphis for a few days, but sadly my friend’s hectic pre-med schedule wouldn’t allow it. So the next morning back into the car we went, without any more solid  evening plans.  All we knew was that we had another 1500 miles and 3 days to accomplish it.  We debated taking a leisurely drive along I-40, but opted for a petal to the metal race west instead.

That day we took turns driving and made it 16 miles before stopping at a motel for the night.  Along the way, somewhere in the middle of Texas, we crossed paths with a violent thunder storm.  Though we passed through the rain quickly enough, it had a long train of grumbling storm clouds behind it.  The lightning show was so stunning that we had to pull over to enjoy it.  Tucked under an overpass (just in case there was a tornado hiding in those clouds) we blasted some techno house music and rocked out with the clouds to the best light show I’ve ever seen.  Ever.  I tried to record some of it, which you can check out here, but the quality just doesn’t do justice to the epicness of our sights. And it can’t trap the electric scent in the air, or the charged energy we could just feel.   Eventually the storm had moved off one way and we continued our journey the other way.

The next morning found us in the home stretch.  We would be in Apache Junction by 7:00 pm that night.  Unfortunately the Renaissance Festival office was only open until 4:00 pm.  So a few extremely polite phone calls later and our names were put on a gate list, so that we could get on site that night and check-in in the morning.

Now perhaps this deserves some explaining.  All festivals are different. Like all big things, they have varying levels of security, bureaucracy, etc.  The Arizona Renaissance Festival is a large and sprawling site with a campground and trailer rows behind it.  All workers get ID cards from the office upon arrival, and there is a gate house to pass through each time entering the grounds.  Since we were arriving after the office closed, the gate guard had to be warned that we would be arriving and we were good peeps.

Some traveling Rennies camp, some stay in trailers, and some stay in little apartments above the booths.  Mindy would be camping. I would be staying above the booth.  For that first night, because we arrived after dark, we both planned on crashing in the booth.  So our awesome planning strategy of packing Mindy’s stuff in last so it would be first out…well in “The Art of War” didn’t Sun Tzu  warn that no plans ever last past the first engagement?

Anyway, we didn’t care. We had arrived. Poor Alice carried us across the country on smooshed shocks.  In the morning we would better check out the place and get settled in, but for the night we were content with unpacking the blankets and tucking in with some pitas and a movie.

The End.

packing version 2.0

I know, I know. It’s been a while. I’m SORRY!!! But as soon as we got to Arizona we hit the ground running, and I’ve only now just tripped over a rock and had the chance to come to a crashing halt.

Wait, Arizona, What?

Oh right, ok, back up then.  About three weeks ago, January 27th to be precise, I left Annapolis on a circuitous road trip adventure, ending up in Apache Junction, Arizona, on February 3rd.  I headed north first, hitting my friends in Philadelphia, Nazareth, PA, and Hamlin, NY. In Hamlin I picked up a travel companion by the name of Mindy and then we headed west. Well…south west.  Making stops in Lexington, KY, and Memphis, TN, before making a mad dash west along 40 until we came sliding into Apache Junction like a baseball player stealing third.  Along the way we picked up several fantastic stories, which I will share, I promise, just not quite yet. Because before we can talk about the trip itself, we have to talk about the trip prep. Which is the real point of this post: Packing for a Road Trip.  Equally as difficult as, though much different than, packing for a crawl around Europe (see Packing with Poise).

How is it different? You may ask.

Well, road tripping around American means seeing the extremely varied countrysides our country has to offer, maybe getting accidentally or intentionally lost along winding side roads only to stumble upon fantastically quaint towns, and catching up on all the new music and NPR programs you’ve been meaning to listen to.

It can also mean spending hours on the highway stuck in the car with your traveling companions, few hostels or similarly inexpensive lodging options, and plenty of fast food temptations.  It is important to enjoy the perks and avoid the risks, so you arrive at your destination (if you have one) well rested, healthy, and happy.

Packing for a road trip is all about planning proper package placement.  Hmm, that’s some great alliteration there.  Lets go with that, here are the 4 P’s of road trip packing:

1. Plan

2. Place

3. Position

4. Prioritize

These aren’t really a step-by-step guide, but rather important guidelines to use every step of the way.

First you have to decide what you’ll need on your journey.  And that involves some pre-trip planning. Consider the trip: how far do you hope to travel each day, when and where will you stop, and where will you sleep when you do stop. Consider the destination: what activities do you need to pack for, what will the destination climate be, what will you need on the road, and what can stay packed until you arrive.

What did our road trip look like?  Well I was leaving early to visit with some friends, but ultimately the road trip west was about packing up myself and my business and heading out to the first renaissance festival of the Circuit season.  The “Circuit” is what traveling Rennies call the path one takes working one festival after another.  A “Rennie” is the nickname we traveling renaissance workers have given themselves, playing off of the slang “carnie” for carnival worker.  My Circuit starts in February in Arizona, hits Texas, New York, Pennsylvania, and ends in Maryland at the end of October.

Though I was leaving early, I had a lot of stops to hit in one week: Philadelphia, Nazareth, Hamlin, and Memphis were all must stops to visit old friends.  Lexington was thrown in as an entertaining half way between Hamlin and Memphis- a 17 hour drive otherwise.  We were shooting for driving days of 8 – 12 hours.  Good mileage without the risk of getting highway hypnosis.  For the most part we had friendly couches to sleep on each night.  But sometimes it doesn’t work that way.  So one important thing to consider before departing is your lodging options.

Will you be camping your way across the country, or are you more of a shabby wayside motel kind of traveler?  Camping can be inexpensive, with national parks coming in at around $7 – $15 a night for a campsite, and KOA’s averaging between $20 – $40 a night for a tent site, and more for an RV if you are so privileged.  However, camping can also be time consuming.  Spending time setting up and breaking down a tent each morning and evening might not be built into your schedule, if you’re in a rush to get where you’re going.  Though, if you’re in that much of a rush, maybe driving isn’t your best travel option? Planes anyone?

If you go for motels, there are plenty of options available.  Room rates tend to go up as you approach cities and towns, so sticking to obscure highway exits can be your cheapest bet.  If you’re a lone traveler, remember to trust your instincts.  If the motel seems shady, it probably is. Move on.  Also, hotels that offer continental breakfasts and other unnecessary amenities will charge you more in the room rate for that “free meal.” Think bare bones and brightly lit when picking a wayside motel for the night.

In Lexington we couch-surfed with a friendly Air Force rescue specialist and his bar-tending brother.  They showed us the town, checking out the local hot spots and their favorite spot- The Holy Grail, a renovated colonial church turned bar.

In between Memphis and Apache Junction we made a motel stop.  We gave up around hour 16 and pulled into a wayside Best Western with amazing pillows and terrible coffee.

But now it’s time to pack the car.  I realized I needed to pack for two trips: the big packing for the Circuit packing, and the little packing for the week of driving and visiting.  Into the Circuit bags went winter and summer clothes, costumes, a complete set of toiletries and lotions (Arizona is DRY!), and camping gear…for Two People! Remember my traveling mate Mindy? On top of all of that went my sewing chest and all the bolts of fabric we could cram into that little Jeep. Yup, Reincarnation Outfitters is just as mobile as their CEF (Chief Executive Fairy).  I’ll be building stock and making inventory while on my trips.

I am convinced Alice (my Jeep) has the powers of the Marry Poppins bag- there is always just enough room.  In the traveling bag went some spare clothes, a toothbrush, and my purse with the daily necessities.

Tetris for Gypsies.

But maybe your activities are different.  What will you be doing when you arrive? If there even is a final destination.  If this is your basic “make a lap o’the country” trip, than you won’t need more than some clothes and maybe some camping gear (see above).  But if this is a road trip with purpose, like mine was, than the packing list can become much more extensive.

Regardless of your activities I do recommend bringing a cooler along with you.  Fast food gets old faster than you can eat it.  It makes you feel heavy and lethargic while you drive, and can demand unplanned rest stops down the line.  Stock up on fresh fruits and veggies, bread and lunch meat, and crunchy snacks like granola and pretzels to keep you going.

So you’ve planned your trip. You’ve packed your bags with purpose.  Now it’s time to load the car.  This is where positioning and prioritization comes to play.  I’m sure you’ve all realized that it is important to pack the small week bag last, so it’s easily accessible each night.  But more than that, consider how you’ll have to unpack when you arrive.  We assumed that Mindy would need to be dropped off and set up first, since she would be camping in Arizona. She would need whatever remaining daylight we had to set up.  I would be staying in a booth with electricity (minor indulgences go a long way), so could unpack leisurely at night.  Also, the sewing stuff could stay in the car until we settled in and I had a chance to get to it.  So when we packed we packed sewing stuff first, then my gear, then Mindy’s gear.  The week bags got shoved at our feet in the front, sadly. We were that full!

Poor Alice and her poor old shocks.  She was weighted so far down that if we hit a speed bump too fast she’d scrape her tires in the wheel well.  It was a slow, delicate crawl across the country.  But crawl we did, with many a laugh and nary a flat tire to hinder our progress.

And if you’d like to hear about those laughs, you’ll have to tune in next time!





Yup. That’s the expense total.  On November 14, 2011 I set out to prove it was possible to travel leisurely and enjoyably for under $100 dollars a day.  This $100 a day budget was to include all transportation, lodging, food, tourism, and souvenir expenses.  Absolutely EVERYTHING.  Those of you who followed the whole trip will know, sometimes it was tough.  The average daily allowance fluctuated between the high of $100 and a low of $54.47.  Sometimes I was over budget. Sometimes I was under budget.  But not once did I pass up a tasty treat, pretty trinket, or chance for an added adventure.

I kept a tight record of my travel expenses, down to every 2 TL metro ride in Istanbul, and 5 Dinar glass of orange juice in Marrakesh.  Sometimes I felt miserly, but mostly I felt intrigued.  Would the average work out in the end? Would I come in under budget?  That Thing That Sucked Me In sucked pretty hard in Goreme, Turkey, when I bought over $300 worth of hand thrown and hand painted pottery (that included shipping, promise!).

But, I am happy to say, I DID come home under budget.  The total spent was $3,419.96.  A full $280.04 under the goal of $3,700 for a 37 day trip.  Wahoo!!!

So, what did I end up spending that money on?

$1,590.87 was spent on transportation.  Planes, Trains (and Metros/Trams), Buses, Boats, and Camels. Still no hot air balloon though.

$321.64 was spent on lodging.  Hostels mostly.

$459.87 was spent on food.  This included meals, grocery store trips, snacks, and water.

$266.64 was spent on other touristy things.  Things like museum entrance fees, my Sahara Tour, and tips for henna done by the little old ladies in Morocco.

$780.95 was spent on souvenirs. So I like new trinkets.  I’ll say it, and I’m sure others have said it- when traveling, go ahead an splurge a little on those strange and unique things that call you in.  What are the chances you’ll be back a second time to pick it up later? Pretty slim, I’d say, so go ahead and enjoy the shopping experience.

And of course, the souvenir budget wasn’t necessary for survival, so I could have skated in almost $1,000 under budget if I wasn’t such a sucker for the rare and hand made.

Needless to say, I was pretty pleased with myself for making it home with cash to spare.  So pleased, in fact, that I decided to spend the remaining funds on a weekend trip to Philadelphia, to visit with some old friends.  I managed to squeeze that trip out for $290; which included gas ($65), theater tickets ($56), a hotel room in center city ($89), food ($50), and a night at the bars ($30).  Getting to reconnect with college friends in a new Grown-Up way- Priceless.

Though I still think I prefer the $10 student rush fill in the front row tickets over the $56 with a terrible view tickets…

Well, now I’m back home and broke, a common enough state for an artistic fairy type. Stay tuned next month for a Great American Journey. A road trip to Arizona and the beginning of a most unique and exciting adventure- the Renaissance Circuit!

Westward Ho!

~Aeri Rose



airport campout

Here I am, another night in Paris. Kind of. Paris Airport at least.

You see, because I can be a stingy traveler (ahem, budget conscious!) I prefer to take the cheap, though often poorly scheduled, flights rather than the more expensive direct flights. So upon returning to Istanbul from Morocco, I flew up to Paris and than will fly down to Istanbul (well, via Munich). But it so happens that my flight up from Morocco left at 7:00 pm on the 14th (arriving in Charles De Gaul Airport around 11:30 pm), and my flight down to Istanbul left at 6:00 am on the 15th. Not enough time between flights to bother with a hotel or a trip into the city proper (an hour each way on a Nine Euro ticket), but plenty of time to leave me twiddling my thumbs at the airport.

This is the first time I’ve been in overnight flight limbo at the airport. My other late flight/early flight experience ended quite badly, and I was full of nervous tension on the flight over. Would it be like last time, in Rome, when I found out some airports CLOSE at night, and you’d best find yourself somewhere else to go? Or would I be able to sneak into some corner somewhere, unnoticed, to wait out the night. I compromised on worst cases- its not that cold out and I have a good coat. If they throw me out will I take the train somewhere, or will I just sit outside until they open the doors again? I had settled on “sitting outside” as my worst case scenario for the night.

But, yet again, I’ve really been pleasantly surprised. I arrived in Terminal 2 to a warm and well lit hall. After passing passport control I headed towards Terminal 1, where my flight departed from in the morning. Walking slowly I passed periodically stationed bathrooms, water fountains (I promptly filled up my water bottle), vending machines, and ATMs. You know, I thought, if you have to be homeless somewhere, an airport is a great place to do it. Sure, you’re stuck behind security lines like a rat in a cage, but also like a rat you’ve got plenty of food, water, and dry straw. All you have to do is hit the feeder button and out shoots a prettily packaged snack.

Arriving in Terminal 1, I wandered past a particular set of well cushioned benches which I decided to call Home for the night. Pulling two together, I took off my shoes, unpacked my computer, and began to write.

Somehow, being in this airport well past the time most customers have left, has put me in the Christmas spirit. Something about tiptoeing quietly around, awake when you shouldn’t be, in a special place- well shucks I feel like a kid on the night before Christmas. Or maybe its just that there is less than a week to my adventure left, and then I’ll return home in the thick of the Holiday Season. Warm and snug in my leather chair, it makes me laugh, now, to think about how nervous I was a few short hours ago, rationalizing a camp out beside the doors.

Well, at least in this quiet it gave me time to think up the introduction to my “Around the World in 80 Days” book concept. Let me know what you think, and if you want to hear more…HELP ME FIND A PUBLISHER!!!


Around the World, an Introduction

I’m going to travel the world in 80 days. No, my name is not Philleas Fogg, and I don’t have a loyal but bumbling French servant. I’m not undertaking this journey to protect my honor or my fortune. Philleas traveled the world to show off the speed and reliability of modern transportation- chiefly using railways and steamer ships. I’ll be traveling to show how wonderful it can be to travel slowly, and enjoy the journey and the details.

Transportation has advanced quite a bit since then, and one can now circumnavigate the globe in under 80 hours. You can get to the MOON and back in under 80 days, for goodness sake. But despite the modern speed and connectivity of technology, we know as little about people in the rest of the world ads we did in Philleas’s time. Now, travelers think a place isn’t worth visiting unless Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, and Channel have preceded them. Beaches are only as good as the all inclusive resort packages they offer- complete with airport to hotel, air-conditioned shuttles; ensuring the traveler needn’t set one foot in a strange land or breathe one refreshing breath of unfamiliar scents.

But I digress. I’ll be traveling around the world, to show how today’s technologies really can connect us. To show how much of the world there is to see, and explore; how many people there are to meet. And I’ll be following Philleas’s footsteps, because I agree a leisurely 80 days is a respectable amount of time to circumnavigate the globe (after all, the publishers would never go for “but it will take a lifetime to complete!”). I hope you’ll join me on my trip, and share in the excitement of my adventures. I hope you’ll be emboldened by my stories, and inspired to go on adventures of your own.


Well, what do you think? Want to hear more? I do! I can’t wait to write it! I just need to track down some of those handy publishers, with their cash advances and professional editors…

an enlightening bus ride

Essaouira was nice. Warm, sunny, beachy.  I spent three days and $82.78 getting there, being there, and getting back to Casablanca.  The trip itself was uneventful, and not nearly as entertaining as the bus ride back to Casablanca became.

It all started, I think, when I went to the bus station and was convinced to but a ticket for a no-name bus company, despite repeated online warnings by other travelers to take only CMT or Supratours busses.  But the salesman said it was less expensive, and would get me there quicker since it didn’t make any stops along the way. Direct to Casablanca he said.

Well, promptly at 2:00 pm, after waiting in a bus station that reeked of vomit, I stowed my backpack beneath and boarded the bus.  We left Essaouira on the main road, which we just as promptly left.  For the next six hours we traveled along a country highway; past fields of Argan trees, roadside markets, towns with more donkeys than cars, and hovels (homes?)- some of which showed no sign of electricity, plumbing, or even complete roofs.  While we didn’t make any scheduled stops, per-se, we did make frequent stops at unmarked points along the highway for country travelers to quickly hop on the bus.  As we slowed again and again for robed men and veiled women, my aggravation at being mislead by the ticket salesman quickly turned to amusement.

How the Hell, I asked myself, do I get myself INTO these situations? 

Well, I answered myself, this bus left at a more convenient time, and it was a whopping 40 dirham cheaper. At least you’ll get to learn how the locals really travel, I rationed.  Settle in and enjoy the ride. 

And the ride really was enjoyable, once you got over the vicious side to side sway of the bus just barely maintaining it’s position in the road, and being very liberal with its use of the lanes.

Looking out the window at the passing fields and setting sun, I let my mind wander.  I started out wondering at the motivation for travel some of the passengers had.  They looked like they carried their whole world with them, shoved into a few twine-tied boxes. One came on board with a hamper full of tomatoes at their feet.  The only thing missing were chickens in the overhead shelf.

Not for the first time, I cringed at the things most Americans complain about. The “horrible”, “unfair” conditions of our country.  A country where every child has access to a school, a school that will probably feed them most of their meals if necessary.  I thought about the little beggar kids I’d seen in the desert and at the beach.  Where was their school?  I’d willingly pay taxes to maintain the system we have.  That’s what a community is for.  To work together to make things better for everyone.  The US is just one big community.  Sometimes, in search of our American Dreams and individual aspirations I think we forget that.  But then of course the next argument is, “Well, we wouldn’t have to pay so many taxes if we quit blowing people up.”  And thats true too. If our army expenses were smaller, we would have more room in the budget for community building.  Thinking about communities made me again think of the recent protests, protests for more and more things for the people.  Perhaps what we need to protest isn’t for more, but for less.  To use less resources, to stop using resources so wastefully, so that there are some to share with other people. People who still don’t know the comfort of constantly available water, steady heat, or a light in the dark.

I think about the way some people have to live, and I think, “Now, THEY would have something to complain about.” And I’ve never even been to a third world country! Second world at “best” and even those can be considered on the cusp of becoming a first world nation.

Sometimes I talk like a fairy, to disassociate myself and give an unbiased perspective. But today, I can’t remove myself from the culture and community I’ve been fated to represent.

All these things were swirling in my  head as I disembarked from the bus in Casablanca. Before my bag could be pulled from beneath the bus, I saw trash bags, plastic laundry bags (you know the plaid square kind with a zipper), and- yes- live chickens being removed.  So there were chickens on the bus, I thought with absentminded amusement.  Before I’d even gotten my bag I had cabbies shouting at me, offering to take me to my final destination.  I admit I was a bit overwhelmed.  Unlike the Casablanca train station, the bus stop was not well lit, well signed, or comforting to a lone traveler.  Then, out of the blue, another travel angel saved my day. She was a quiet girl with a leopard print scarf wound tightly around her head.  She spoke perfect English.  She had an entourage of several other scarf bedecked women, probably sisters or aunts. She asked if I was traveling alone, and took control (much like my previous travel angel) when I replied yes.  She helped me to a fair cabbie, helped me call my host, and gave me her number- should anything happen on the way.  This much confidence and love for a stranger from a woman suppressed by her nation. Just think how strong these women would be, were they allowed to stand up for themselves!

I was so grateful for her help, and somehow humbled I almost cried in the cab.

I don’t have any more answers for the world than I did before my bus ride.  I wish I did.  Or maybe all I can wish for is to be as confident and loving as that leopard print lady had been.

And the rest will follow.


bazaar chumps and camel humps

My sojourn in Marrakesh couldn’t have had two more contrasting settings: the bustling, energetic Medina and the calm, expansive Sahara. In the Medina I spent too much money. In the Sahara I spent none. In the Medina I was overwhelmed with colors, smells, sounds, and people. In the Sahara I was just overwhelmed. The magnitude of the dunes, the fineness of the sand, and the camels. Just, everything about the camels. The camels were cool.

I spent about four days in Marrakesh, arriving the night of the 7th and departing the morning of the 11th. The night I arrived I was met in the square by someone from my hostel and led through the winding unmarked roads of the Souks, finally arriving at the door of La Casa Del Sol. I wondered if I would ever be able to find my way out and back again the next day. The hostel was great, and worth much more than the 70 dirham ($7) a night I paid to stay there.

I was taken to the common room, a narrow room lined with thickly cushioned benches, and offered some sweet mint tea. You drink a lot of mint tea in Morocco. Mustafa, the hostel manager, showed me a map of Marrakesh and circled some of the main sights, and gave me some tips.

  1. Boys will offer to lead you to the sights, some of which are pretty hard to find in the Medina. If you’re hopelessly lost, you can let them, but set a price in advance. They will ask for 100 Dh. Offer no more than 20 Dh.
  2. With haggling, on big ticket items, divide their initial offer by three and start from there. With little ticket items, divide by four. Don’t ever pay more than half their starting price. And they’ve all basically got the same stuff. Be willing to walk away. Playing them off each other is a good way to get to the price you want.

After that, I thanked him, finished my tea, and was led to my bed. The next morning I DID brave the winding roads myself, and while they were confusing, I managed to get myself around. I first tried my hand at sight seeing, and found the museum, school, and ancient mosque they highlighted. Leaving was a bit harder, because it became impossible to retrace my steps. I ended up treating the Medina like a forest, on a hike whose trail I had lost. I treated the roads like rivers, using the mentality “well, if I keep following the cars and turning onto progressively bigger roads, eventually I will get out of the Medina at least. From there I can figure out WHERE I popped out using the map, and follow the big roads back around to the square.”

This method worked for me, and I was out of the Souks, in fact out of the entire old city, in no time. When I found myself on the map though I realized I was at the entire opposite end of town. Since it was early afternoon already and I had been walking all morning, I cheated and took a $2 cab back around to the square. From there I had some lunch, took a break, and prepared myself for the second half of my day: Shopping!

There is a lot of cool stuff in the Moroccan marketplaces. It can be overwhelming and hard to decide what to get. It can also be a lot of fun! Here are some haggling aids I picked up while trying my hand at this ancient art.

  1. Price a few guys out first, just ask their starting price and walk away. You’ll be amazed at the variety you’ll find, even here.
  2. Keep different amounts of money in different pockets. The best way I found of getting the price I wanted was to stick to it, and say that was all the cash I had left. Even take out the cash and show him that’s all there is. Then at the end, scrounge around in another pocket for some loose change and say “Ok look, this is REALLY all that’s left”. They’ll usually take it.
  3. Really scrutinize the product, look for weak points or defects. Tell him, you’d buy it for the price he’s offering, except for the mistakes. Then offer him another price.
  4. Like I said before, play them off each other. Tell him there’s a guy around the corner that was offering it for the price you want (use the numbers).

  5. Agree to go up in price if he’ll throw in something small like a figurine or scarf.

These are the styles I found most successful while haggling. Hopefully some will help you too! Some may be a little underhand, but its all a game anyway. My favorite victory was when I wanted a green leather purse and talked the guy down from 600 Dh to 250, and then he handed me a wooden camel as I was leaving. Who gets presents for haggling down the price to almost a third of the starting price? Funny stuff.

The next day was the Desert Day and the energy totally changed. In the early morning I hopped on a bus with several other Americans, some Italians, and some Australians. We took a winding ride through the High Atlas mountains and arrived at the edge of the desert in the afternoon. Now I’ll admit, it didn’t just suddenly turn into sand dunes stretching out before us as far as the eye could see, like a golden ocean. It was just kind of rocky and brown, trailing into dusty dirt. But on the left of the road was a big group of camels, lying peacefully on folded legs. CAMELS!!! The desert men, complete with robes and turbans, tended to the camels and waited for the tourists to assemble. We were taught how to wrap turbans with any length of fabric on hand. One girl even used her Burbury scarf, which made quite a silly turban, to be sure.

The camel ride into the desert was nothing what I expected. It was BUMPY! My bum is still sore! The camels were adorable somehow, with their giant feet and bushy eyebrows and fluffy swiveling ears. We wandered on, led by a desert guide, until we could no longer see the road behind us. Gradually the rocks and dirt did give way to sand and small dunes. Nothing like the mountainous, frozen waves of sand I was envisioning, but sand dunes none the less. Toping one rise we saw a tent village in the distance. Our destination. Our home for the evening.

Sadly, the sky was cloudy, and not a single star revealed itself that night. But our eyes were kept grounded by the entertaining drumming of our hosts around a campfire. After a sunrise and a quick breakfast the next morning, we again mounted our camels for the ride home.

Chastise me for taking a dreaded Tour if you wish, but my mission was accomplished. I wanted to ride a camel and check out a desert, both of which I got to do. On top of that, I got to play a ceramic drum with a desert nomad. And I learned how to tie a turban. Well worth the $100 price tag.

Next up- Essaouira and the beach!

my travel angel


So far, Morocco has been everything I expected Istanbul to be. Or at least Marrakesh has been.  Warm, vibrant, energetic, colorful.  The markets are still filled with handcrafts and ethnic goods, rather than Chinese imports (or if they are imported, they do a better job disguising it).  The dry air is warm. The weather, sunny.  Walking through the narrow streets of the Souks, one could be in 2011 or 1911, it’s hard to tell with the donkey’s pulling carts of fruit or bread, being led by robed men with thin  leather sandals.

I actually landed in Casablanca on December 7th, and found my way to Oliveri’s Cafe, the meeting point set by Ali- my couch surfing host.  Too much? Let’s back up.  For the Moroccan leg of the journey I was hoping to couch surf or stay in hostels.  In Casablanca, however, there were NO hostels! Or I correct myself, there was one- Hostel International- but it was booked full for the night of my arrival.  Luckily I found a friendly couch surfer who would have me.   From the airport, as per my habit, I stopped at the information desk when I landed.  The resulting events encourage me to list “stop at the information desk upon landing” as an important travel tip.  The attendant recommended the best way to get into town being to take the train (40 dirham) and then a cab (which shouldn’t cost more than 20 dirham).  At the train station cabbies offered to take me to my final destination- for 70 or 80 dirham.  I was insistent with my 20 and eventually found one who would take me for 25.  At the cafe, I met Ali my host.  We met, hit it off, had some dinner, etc. General good time with new people stuff.  The next day I toured Casablanca, particularly enjoying the beaches and experiencing the Atlantic Ocean from the other side.  That evening I took the train to Marrekesh (for only 90 dirham/$10).

While trying to hail a cab back to the train station, I met my first true travel angel.  You’ll meet them, when you most need them and least expect them.  Mine was not “angelic”.  She was not tall and lean with golden hair and a white dress, sprouting feathery wings like an over grown pigeon.  What she WAS was friendly and quick to smile, with curly brown hair.  She was a little chubby, and was wearing a long  black sweater over black leggings with grey boots. She was standing on my street corner, waiting to be picked up.  I asked her if this was a good place to hail a cab to the train station.  I must have looked inexperienced in the ways of hailing a cab in Casablanca during rush hour (which, of course, inexperienced I am).  She took my hand like a child, and began to hail down each cab that passed, asking if they had room for one more to Casa Voyager (the station).  She was patient. She stuck with me.  Each one that said no, she would return, take my hand, and smile.  One dozen, maybe two dozen later (I lost count) and finally success! She put me in the cab, made sure the driver understood, and than stood on the curb and waved while we drove away, like a mother whose child was getting on the school bus for the first time.  I smiled and waved back, knowing that without her help I NEVER would have gotten a cab on time.  So, thank you travel angel!  Thank you! My tip from this experience is not to find yourself a travel angel, but to leave plenty of time to get to the station. It’s rarely a matter of “just” hailing a cab, or hopping on a bus, even when you know where you’re going.

Once in Marrakesh I checked in to the “La Casa Del Sol” Hostel, right off the main square- Place Jemaa El Fna.  I had booked it the night before using

That was last night.  This morning I woke up, ready to explore yet another new city.  But the results of that exploration, should be, I think, a story for another day.





For the last few days I’ve been settling back into the traveler’s routine. After my exciting first day, I decided to rein back in the adventures and do some sight-seeing. I started at the Topkai Palace, and like I anticipated, spent several hours wandering the rooms and courtyards. The mosaics inside and out were just stunning, and the views of the city were spectacular from that vantage point. Both the European side and the Asian side could be seen. After the Palace, I was in need of a rest and a snack. I got my snack in the form of a street cart. Many such carts can be found around the city, some selling steamed corn and some selling breads. More interested in the veggie, I tried a corn on the cob for 1 L. With tongs, the vendor adeptly flipped the corn into a waiting wrapper, salted it all around, and handed it off with a flourish. My Lira I dropped into the old barrel of corn water.

Munching happily I wandered some side streets and found some small art galleries. Modern art in Istanbul is quite stunning, incorporating old themes (like the Whirling Dhirvish) with new mediums (like photography and oil painting). My walk led me to the archaeological museum, with its extensive collection of statues and pillars. I was particularly interested in the toga wearing goddess statues, and snapped some great pictures for costume inspiration later.

After the museum I headed home to freshen up. That evening I was meeting Maree for drinks. Before that I needed to find myself some dinner. While kebab is good, I was ready for something a little more sophisticated. Taking the tram back to the historic district, I let my nose lead the way. Intrigued by a chef in the window, I wandered into a nondescript restaurant on the main road. Once again, my nose didn’t fail me. I ordered the cold mixed plate and the day’s soup- lentil. The lentil soup was unlike any I had ever had before. It had a strong brothy flavor and was served with a slice of lemon. Unsure of the lemon I tested one drop on a spoonful first. The combination of lemon and broth, with the thick heartiness of stewed lentils, was stunning. I happily squirted the rest of the lemon into the bowl, mixed, and enjoyed. The mixed plate was equally appetizing. Served with flat bread, the plate contained hummus, a thick taziki sauce, a spicy tomato spread, two egg plant dishes- one spicy and one sour- and something remotely similar to potato salad, but could never be given the name. Cucumber and tomato garnished the dish between spreads. In the center sat two dolmadas- spicy wrapped grape leaves. Anyone who has ever enjoyed greek dolmadas would be impressed with these Turkish ones, whose rice is a bit more spiced.

Lentil soup with lemon juice...whoda thunk?!

After enjoying my dinner (with tea of course) and paying the tab- 35 TL- I wandered over to Maree’s Hostel. She was staying at the Harmony Hostel, a cute cozy lodge in a great part of town. We had plans to go out for a drink, but instead picked up some beers from the mart across the street and enjoyed them in the hostel common room.

The room was adorable, and the most relaxing, and stereotypical, Turkish experience I’ve had yet. Big fat pillows covered the floor, surrounding low tables. A wood burning stove stood in the corner, which we promptly lighted for warmth. Maree and I discussed travel plans, and decided to go together on a coastal tour to Canakkale and Troy, and maybe over to Cappadocia Province. Though out the evening we were joined by another Australian girl, the Turkish hostel manager, a Syrian sculpture artist, and a Malaysian amateur antique buyer. This right here is the best part about hostels. Stomach the group bed-rooms, pinch your nose at semi clean bathrooms, and grumble when the food you’ve left in the fridge gets eaten. But at night, come home to a cozy common room and share some beers with people from around the world, and somehow its all worth it. Of course you start out talking about traveling, and finally you’re surrounded by your peers. You can tell your most bogus, absurd adventure stories and your listener can commiserate. If you’ve got a good crowd, as we did this night, the conversation will wander into more serious topics and you’ll be amazed at the things you’ll learn. This night I fell deep into conversation with the Syrian artist, discussing- of all things- women salesmen, love versus lust, and the subjectivity of emotions. Much later, coming back into our surroundings, we realized the beer was gone, and I wasn’t actually BOOKED to stay at this hostel. Taking my leave of the group, and agreeing to meet Maree for our trip, I again hopped in a taxi for the short ride home. All in all I ended my day just slightly over budget, but again every dollar was money well spent.

The next day, Friday, I wrapped up my Istanbul Tour. By the evening I found myself in Taksim square again, this time wandering the shops more leisurely. I also discovered that the path, closed to cars, filled with street musicians in the evening. I enjoyed each one for several minutes, buying CDs from some of the better bands. At 10 Lira a pop, I can afford to be a firm supporter of these arts. Home early, packed, and in bed shortly, I excitedly awaited our coastal tour in the morning.

That would be this morning. Maree, Sam (the other Australian gal from the night at Harmony Hostel), and I met at the metro stop and continued on the the bus station. The station was huge- a long strip of bus companies, each with their own ticket office. We chose Metro bus, recommended by the hostel manager. For 35 TL we could make it to Canakkale, a small island in the Aegean Sea. Maree had done her couch surfing research and we would be staying with a couple of young university students for the night. When we hopped off the ferry we wandered over to the tourism office for directions to the flat. We were told bus C3 would take us there, and it was only a block or two from the stop. C3 was easy enough to find, but the stops were less well marked. We rode the bus to the very end of the line, and had the whole bus trying to help us find the flat on the map. Luckily the driver let us stay on for the return loop and we hopped off at the right stop the second time around. 

Confused on the bus in Canakkale

When we arrived, we checked in with Tahir and Adam, our hosts for the night. We had passed a grocery store on our walk from the bus stop and after dropping our bags we wandered back to the store to hunt for dinner. With access to a clean kitchen, we went fresh, and picked up some veggies, cheese, bread, and yogurt. For 21 L we had enough food to feed the five of us. I’ll talk more specifically about the grocery store experience in a future post. It can be quite epic and deserves its own space!

After dinner, Adam’s friend Frantz came to round out our group. Though the boys spoke little English, and we spoke even less Turkish, we had a good evening. With pantomime, Google translate, and general good humor almost anyone can get along for an evening. We also took the time to learn some more important Turkish words. ‘Thank you’ is always the first phrase I learn in any new country. In turkish it sounds like “tea-sugary-dreams”, or “tea-sugary” for short. Yes, no, and help are petty universal with body language, but ‘thank you’ can be tough. Cheers is another good one to learn quickly too, especially when sharing a pint in a pub.

Why, you may ask, have I spent so much time describing this day? Because it is full of wonderful examples of more crucial travel tips.

  1. Learn the Metro System: Part of your mission in the first few days is to figure out how to navigate the city’s public transportation. It is often the quickest (yes even quicker than a cab if the city has traffic- as most cities do), and cheapest (again, certainly cheaper than a cab) way to move about town. Cabs are OK to hire at night, after the metro has closed, or if you’re uncomfortable walking to and from the metro stations; but often they are unavailable in the morning. Paying 2 L and hopping on the metro was the best way for us to get to the bus station this morning. Also, it provided a convenient meeting point for three ladies without cell phones.
  2. Travel by bus at least once: The bus is a great way to travel between cities in a country. The train is a good choice too. They both travel slowly and offer a great opportunity to view the passing countryside. This bus ride was no exception, and we spent several hours driving past fields and the winding along the coastline. We were even able to top off the trip with a surprise ferry ride.
  3. Learn a few key words in the local language: like I said before, ‘thank you’ is always the first phrase I learn. Other useful ones are please, yes, no, help, how much?, the first few numbers…oh and Cheers! Being able to say thank you in the local language is a fantastic way to be polite and really reinforce your gratitude.

All in all it was a great day. I got to see much of the countryside, rest my tired legs from days of intense walking, and meet some new friends in a warm and welcoming home. Oh, and I did it all for only 55 Turkish Lira/$30.55. Way under budget for the day!

Up next- Ancient Troy. Serefe!


maree from australia

Well it is now 3:00 am in Istanbul, Turkey, and despite the exhausting trip getting here, jet lag has gotten the best of me.  Since I seem to be reviewing the day’s events in my head anyway, I deemed this as good a time as any to blog about my day.

So, how was the trip getting here? Long, but uneventful.  After an on time departure from Dulles Airport in D.C., we arrived in Munich at 8:00 am their time.  I had time for a walk to stretch my legs, and a nap- stretched across several chairs- before the final flight to Istanbul.  Two an a half hours, and a surprisingly delicious in-flight meal later and I had arrived. We landed, I passed through customs after purchasing a $20 visa, collected my bag, and made my way to the tourist office.  There I got my hands on a map and instructions for the metro system.

At the ticket machines I made my first friend.  A “Maree from Australia” who had also just arrived, though she’s spent the last nine months backpacking around Europe.  These spunky Australian girls are a travel staple.  No matter where you go, you’ll find these spirited girls, laden down with packs as big as they are, and bursting with knowledge, stories, and a sense of adventure.  Maree lent me 2 Turkish Lira after the machine repeatedly rejected my 10 Lira bill, and shared a portion of the train ride with me.  Before she had to get off, to transfer to another line, we exchanged e-mails and Facebook information.  Hopefully we can meet up again and do some of the touristy exploring together!

A few minutes later the train came to my stop as well, and with simple map in hand I began the search for the flat I would be staying in.  About twenty minutes and 5 stops for directions later and I was sitting cozily in the living room of Erdi’s flat.  Erdi is a young Kurdish man who has lived in Istanbul for five years, slowly studying economics and making the rent by subletting rooms to travelers and doing free-lance computer repair.

We spent the rest of the evening chatting over tea.  We ordered in for dinner, and upon Erdi’s recommendations I had some spicy kebab, something that sounded like “ichili kutte”- a fried meatball squirted with lemon juice, and a salty yogurt drink, typical from this area.  It was all delicious, and I had it all for 16 Turkish Lira.

Spicy Kebab, Fried Meatball, and a Salty Yogurt Drink. All delicious!

After the food, the warmth, and the friendship I was quite content and relaxed.  My exhaustion quickly caught up with me, and shortly afterward I excused myself to retire for the night.  After all, tomorrow I had a busy day of learning about my new neighborhood!

So, to catchup with my budget:

November 14th

I did not spend any money as most of that day was spent on the plane.

November 15th

– one postcard for my dad, from the Munich Airport- .80 Euro, or $1.08

– Visa from the Turkish Airport- $20.00

– Metro token- 2 TL, or $1.11

– Dinner- 16 TL, or $8.88

– TOTAL: $31.07, well under budget for the day.  I’m off to a good start!

We’ll see how it goes tomorrow, when I start my first full day in Turkey.

Good night for now!