slow travel: be in the journey; FLiP W Magazine February 2016

This article is being re-posted from FLiP Magazine February 2016.  FLiP Magazine is a great publication with insight into pop-culture for both men and women! Aeri Rose is a regular contributor to FLiP W, the female focused half of the magazine.  You should definitely check it out, and subscribe for the free digital editions! Even if I’m quiet here…I’ll always find something to say there!

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“Slow Travel: Be In The Journey”

Did you know that the average airplane travels approximately 550 miles per hour at a cruising altitude of 36,000 feet above sea level?  Thats pretty high and pretty fast. But here’s a question: on your next trip, while traveling 550 mph, 36,000 feet above sea level, how many new experiences will you have? If you are an avid traveler and a frequent flyer probably not many. How many new people will you meet? Maybe two if you’re the type to strike up a conversation with your seat mates.  Put that way, the fast and efficient travel by air doesn’t seem very great at expanding your life experiences does it?  Not particularly.  Thats why this month’s article is all about slow travel, and enjoying the act of traveling as much as the destinations themselves.  Don’t believe me? Here are five reasons why you should try to incorporate slow travel into your next adventure.

Delighting the Senses

First off, what IS slow travel? Slow travel is seeing more by seeing less. It does away with the tours that offer a mad dash overview of a place; of stopping just long enough at each site to snap a photo in front of this famous building or that ancient sculpture before rushing off to the next attraction. No, slow travel moves at a relaxed pace.  It is walking or biking in a city, it is taking the train or the boat to the next destination, and it is quietly observing and absorbing the beauty that surrounds you. How often have you traveled the same routes at home, barely registering the changing scenery on your daily routine? With fast travel it is easy to pack that ambivalence and take it along with you. With slow travel, you can leave those blinders at home.  Open your senses to your surroundings.  Explore the plants on your trip. What colors are they? How do they smell? Listen. Is this city full of street performers? Are the bird songs different from park to park? Has the enticing scent of a corner bakery attracted your nose? Go in and have a snack.  Taste something new and decadent.  With slow travel, your trip will be a delight for all your senses.

Meeting New Friends and Travel Angels

As mentioned above, slow travel is about exploring all modes of transportation, and taking roads less taken.  Sometimes that means you’ll get lost. It does. Trust me.  But thats OK! Because with slow travel you don’t have to have a schedule. So you’re never lost, you’re never running late, you’re just taking a different route.  And despite what language or alphabet you’re trying to decipher, the expression for “bemused confusion” is pretty universal.  So if you’re feeling uncertain, don’t be afraid to ask for help! Ask for directions. Ask for advice when ordering a meal or planning a day trip.  The kindness of strangers is a real and wonderful thing, and often locals will happily offer advice, directions, or recommendations.  I have lost count of the number of times travel angels have come to my assistance when alone and lost. They have hailed me cabs, driven me across town to catch ferries, helped me order, and protected my luggage.  Some I met only once, and some I’m friends with to this day.

Immersing Yourself in New Cultures

Did you know that in China some travelers pay for a train ticket with no seat. They stand in the isles, or sit on a stool they bring along with them. Often travelers with seats will take turns in the isle, offering their seats to these other travelers.

Did you know that on the days long train journey across the Russian Siberia you can always find someone in the meal car willing to play cards. Or that at every stop there are old ladies selling delicious fresh piroshki and smoked fish?

Did you know that in Morocco it is common to share a cab with strangers if you are both going in the same general direction?

Travel is an important part of any culture. So to truly immerse yourself in a new country, you should make every attempt to try to travel like the locals do.  You are really denying yourself a gratifying and enlightening experience if your only travel experience is the flight in and the cab to your resort.

Bolstering Your Self-Confidence 

While living in Hangzhou, China, I discovered that the most difficult thing to master was the public  bus system.  Bus stops had giant maps with complex bus routes smeared with Chinese characters. Even the numbers were written in Hanzi, rather than Arabic numbers. It took weeks of riding busses just to see where they led, getting unbelievably lost, and eventually hailing a cab home in exasperation, until I finally got a halfway reasonable understanding of the system.  It was an incredible victory the day that I finally rode the bus from my apartment across town to the imports grocery store without getting lost.  That french cheese was victory cheese. I was powerful, clever, and self-reliant. I had conquered that bus!  Never mind that I got lost again the next day. Because I knew that I could figure it out eventually.  And that is a great feeling.

Finding Hidden Gems and Surprise Discoveries 

I know it is tempting to chase after each ancient tourist site, infamous restaurant, and trendy bar recommended by Lonely Planet, Trip Advisor, and WikiTravel.  But do you know why those trendy places got discovered in the first place? Because some travel writer out there knows that the real secret to exploration is to wander the less beaten paths looking for the hidden gems. Be your own trip advisor! You go find those surprise discoveries, and then you can be the clever traveler that impresses all your friends with little known wonderful recommendations.

I hope I’ve convinced you. Slow travel is wonderful travel. It is delightful, relaxing, enlightening, and inspiring.  But don’t take my word for it. On your next trip, try to slow it down a bit, and be amazed by all the incredible experiences you’ll have.  I guarantee it.

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_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ __ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ 
306545_10100339996775636_297841040_nHave you ever had the urge to just drop what you were doing, pack a bag, and set out on an adventure? Seven years and over two dozen countries later, Aeri Rose is proof that excitement, independence, and discovery await those who are bold enough to say “yes” to life’s craziest choices. When not exploring the world with her little grey backpack, Aeri Rose an be found living a nomadic lifestyle traveling the United States as an artist and entrepreneur.  To follow Aeri on all her adventures, check her out online at travelingwithaeri.com; or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/aerirose.

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when to take that first trip together, FLiP W Magazine January 2015

This article is being re-posted from FLiP Magazine January 2015.  FLiP Magazine is a great publication with insight into pop-culture for both men and women! Aeri Rose is a regular contributor to FLiP W, the female focused half of the magazine.  You should definitely check it out, and subscribe for the free digital editions! Even if I’m quiet here…I’ll always find something to say there!

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“When to Take that First Trip Together”

By Aeri Rose

This month’s article is definitely a case of “do as I say, not as I do,” because honestly the best first date I can imagine would be a backpacking (urban or backcountry) adventure somewhere.  Why?

A) It is an excuse for a weekend backpacking adventure.

…and…

B) Because it is a brief and intense way to really get to know this new person of interest.

But then, I’m one of those perpetually single types, so what do I know?

But if I was going to hazard a guess to the best time to go on that first get away with your new beau, and offer tips on planning the adventure, this is what I might say…

So the basic relationship timeline goes something like this: meet, friend each other on Facebook, spend the weekend stalking their page with your girlfriends, go on a first date, spend a whole weekend together, spare toothbrush in the bathroom, spare dresser in the bedroom, fart/drool/snore barrier is broken (this seems to fluctuate in the time line based on the individual), fight, break up, get back together, move in together, here it gets a little vague, and then viola happily ever after. Of course not every relationship makes it to every step. But if your budding relationship seems to be cruising along down the time line and you’re itching for a new adventure for two, I would schedule that first trip somewhere after “fart/drool/snore barrier is broken” and “move in together.”

If you haven’t broken the bodily functions barrier, I hope you are ready, because there is no way you will make it through a red-eye flight, mystery airline meals, and/or an overnight train ride without crossing that bridge.

If you have made it this far, congrats! Crack open a travel magazine and follow these Do’s and Don’ts when planning that epic first adventure!

1) Don’t take him somewhere you’ve been already. Don’t try to show him something you thought was wonderful and you want to share with him.  There will be time for that kind of trip later. For this first one, try to avoid places where you have pre-set expectations for his response.  Don’t make the trip a test. Do go somewhere neither of you have been, so you can share in the discovery and experience together.

2) Don’t go to a secluded love nest in the Caribbean or somewhere equally isolated.  Even though you’ve made it past “spending the whole weekend together”, having your own errands and your own apartment can be a comforting escape exit if necessary.  Even if you’re having a great time, an isolated love nest can leave you feeling trapped.  Do go somewhere with versatility: alone time, culture, nightlife, etc.

3) Do keep it short and sweet. Try not to plan any year long around the world journeys just yet. Stick to a weekend adventure. Hold off on the big bucket list treks until you can be sure you won’t go crazy after 30, 60, 300 days of the same bad sports jokes and compulsive need to straighten the silverware when you eat.

4) Do consider both of your interests when researching the local attractions. Be willing to compromise on activities. Encourage him to do something you’re passionately interested in, but be willing to branch out of your comfort zone and do the same for him too. Don’t expect to do everything together though. A little alone time is healthy and can be exciting, especially if conversations start to lag half way through the trip. Taking time to explore alone will give you hours of fresh conversation fodder when you’re back together.

5) Don’t consider the trip a superhero/sidekick adventure. Sure you want to show off how chic and independent you can be, what a cultured traveler you are, but stop pruning your feathers peacock! The way you two behave on this trip is a small glimpse into the future. So treat this trip like the partnership you hope your relationship will be, and enjoy the journey together.

=====================================================================================Have you ever had the urge to just drop what you were doing, pack a bag, and set out on an adventure? Five years and over two dozen countries later, Aeri Rose is proof that excitement, independence, and discovery await those who are bold enough to say “yes” to life’s craziest choices. When not exploring the world with her little grey backpack, Aeri Rose can be found living a nomadic lifestyle traveling the United States as an artist and entrepreneur. To follow Aeri Rose on all her adventures, check her out online at aerirose.com or travelingwithaeri.com; or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/aerirose.”

traveling like a vacationer

I make a great traveler. I make a terrible vacationer.  If this is what planning a trip feels like for most people, than I don’t blame them for not traveling very often.  I had no idea. Honestly.

This April my mother (blessed saint that she is) is taking her husband, Jeff, and my Grandma, Anna, to San Ambrosio, Italy, to visit our Sicilian Family.  (On a side note there seem to be an excessive amount of commas in that sentence but I can’t seem to ditch any of them.)

They all really hoped I could come along.  I really hoped I could too.  At first I thought I couldn’t. April is a busy month for me, because I am a vendor at the Scarborough Renaissance Festival.  Last year I ran the tent by myself and barely had a helper to take a pee break, let alone an epic international family adventure. But through a clever and convenient series of events it seems I actually WILL have the opportunity to go with them.  I have a great employee whom I am fully confident in leaving alone for extended pee breaks, and even for epic international family adventures.  And I have a booth. With real walls and a real roof under which my awesome employee can work with ease.

So with excitement and a slight feeling that I was somehow playing hooky, I visited my trusty travel site, Kayak.com, and began searching through options.

My initial instinct was to drive up from Texas to Maryland and fly from Dulles International Airport. Mostly because I was going to be vending at a Renaissance Festival in Virginia in May and it was a good excuse to drive the tent and some stock up early.  It also seemed to work out because flights from D.C. to Rome were the cheapest I’d seen (around $850).  But then I really started to think about the details.  Details”, I am learning, are a traveler’s worst nightmare. The more needy, clingy, bossy “details” you have to entertain, the more stressful and less pleasant travel seems to become.

First there was the details of timing.  My flights weren’t on the exact same days as the rest of my family’s because I needed to leave time for the drive north and I wanted to try to be away from the festival in Texas for as few weekends as possible.  But once I factored in flight time, lay overs, and extra time spent taking the train from Rome to Cefalu (the nearest train stop to my Sicilian Family’s tiny village of San Ambrosio), I realized that I would only really have 5 days in Sicily at the same time as my family.

Back to the drawing board.

It was right about this time that I realized how many more details were secretly latched onto my first “traveling as a business professional trying to fit in a little family vacation time” trip.  Like tiny leeches you don’t notice at first, suddenly these details had gorged themselves on my stress and grown to massive pulsing blood thirsty little buggers.

There were departure times to consider.  If I flew from Dallas instead of D.C. I could cut out the drive north and depart a few days earlier…but then who could take me to the airport?

There were arrival times to consider. If I flew directly into Palermo instead of Rome I could cut out the extra time on the train up and down the Italian coast. But it was still a two hour drive/train ride to Cefalu where my Sicilian Family could pick me up in the car.  But that meant an arrival time that allowed time to take a bus to the train station and catch a train…that arrived at a reasonable time for a “young girl” traveling alone to arrive.  Similarly, all flights home from Palermo seemed to leave at 6:00 am, which would require taking the train into the city the night before. I felt a headache beginning to throb just thinking about trying to convince my Sicilian Family to let me spend a night in The Big Scary City all alone.

Let me catch you up to speed. In 2006 (2007 maybe?) I visited San Ambrosio by myself.  And when I left, my Uncle Sarro somehow got a hold of my mom’s work number and called her to find out why she hadn’t called yet to tell them I had arrived at home safely.  She hadn’t called yet because I was still in the air! They miscounted the time difference and literally expected me to arrive home before I was physically capable of doing so.  I can only imagine how much they worried (needlessly of course, but worry and guilt are an Italian’s greatest talents) while I traveled that time, and how much more they would worry with every step that kept me alone and in transit this time. Explain to them that I had traversed continents alone with nothing but a backpack and, well, a backpack? No. NOPE. Not even going to go near that with a 10 foot pole wrapped in rosaries.

Convincing them to “let me” fly in and out of Rome instead of Palermo and take the train in and out of Cefalu was a fight I was leaving to my mother. (Did I mention she was a saint?)

What blood thirsty details am I leaving out? Train time tables, hotel and hostel reservations probably, my awesome employee and her sufficient stock of inventory, oh right and price.  Flying DC to Rome was coming in at $850 or so, where as flying Dallas to Palermo was coming in at around $1400.  And that wasn’t even for a great flight that kicked all those other nagging details to the curb.

ARGH! Is this how hard it is to plan a trip for a vacationer? I like the trips when all I need to know are sort of kind of the days I have free, a starting point, and and ending point.  I now truly appreciate the family that has gotten used to me coming and going, and at this point just hopes for a list of addresses and a copy of my passport.  I will never snicker at those I consider homebodies when they admit they’d rather just stay home and relax when they have holiday time off from work.  If THIS is the gauntlet they have to fight through just to get on the plane than I really don’t blame them.

I still don’t know what flight I’ll end up on. I know I have to book something soon. I’d just like to throw a tantrum a little longer first.

With grumbles and pouts,

Aeri

the border crossing, read at your own risk

Here is the second of my notebook posts. This one was written on September 26, 2012.  Warning: Concerned parents and friends, this might be one of those stories you don’t want to know about.  It happened, it was probably the result of a stupid decision sometime before, but we made it out OK, so don’t  give me any flack for it! Continue at your own risk.

“On the morning of the 22nd we were still in Listvyanka.  We knew that we had to get to Ulaan Baatar, in Mongolia, by the morning of the 24th, so that we could go on an orientation with the Ger to Ger organization before our scheduled trek into the Gobi on the 25th.

To get there we had heard about several options, all involving a return to Irkutsk.  Listvyanka was so small that the only way into and out of it, for travelers, was via marshrutka to Irkutsk, or via a ferry across the river to the almost as tiny Port Baikal. We felt like the three bears deciding between our next travel step, and hoping there was no big bad wolf lying in wait.

The first option, Option A, involved a thirty-three hour overnight train from Irkutsk to Ulaan Baatar.  There was no plascarte (third class) option on this train and second class was running a bit above our budget.  Also, the time spent on the train skirting around the western and southern edges of Lake Baikal is one of the prettiest parts of the trip and not to be passed in the dark.  So we nixed option A.

Option B was pretty nice.  For $33.00 you take a seven hour train from Irkutsk to Ulan-Ude, and then for $50.00 you take an 11 hour coach bus from Ulan-Ude to Ulaan Baatar.  The whole bus crosses the border together.  This is the option we decided on.  It was relatively inexpensive, gave us a day trip around the lake, and got us to Ulaan Baatar on time.

Option C was described as the adventurous option.  The “off the beaten path” option. Take the same $33.00 train from Irkutsk to Ulan-Ude.  From Ulan-Ude, take a marshrutka to the Russian border town Kyakhta (Кяхта).  There, hitch a ride across the border, since walking across is not allowed. The going rate is 100 Rub in a marshrutka, 200 Rub in a taxi, or 250 Rub in a private car.  “It  happens pretty regularly, don’t worry,” we were told.  Once over the border, take another minibus to Mongolia’s closest town; where you’ll pick up the coach bus there for the remaining five hour journey into Ulaan Baatar.  Needless to say, we were not feeling the need to take this risky route just to prove ourselves to the world.  And needless to say, the universe had other ideas.
We started out alright.  We left Listvyanka on the first marshrutka out on the morning of the 22nd.  The night before, we had purchased third class train tickets from Irkutsk to Ulan-Ude on the 10:00 am train on the 22nd.  Our minibus arrived in Irkutsk by 9:10 am, and a tram had us at the train station by 9:30 am.  I even had time to mail a few more postcards before we hopped on the train.  And despite the crying babies, dirty diaper, and crusty “4 days in” travelers in plascarte, we really enjoyed the ride- applauding ourselves mightily for deciding to make this leg of the trek during the day.

Skirting the lake, view through a dirty plascarte train window.

We arrived at our hostel around dusk, and even before our packs hit the floor, we asked to buy bus tickets to Ulaan Baatar for the next morning . “Uh Oh” said the girl at the Ulan-Ude Guest House.  “I can try, but they might be sold out by now.”

“Uh oh!” we said.  No one mentioned that possibility.  Of course, the tickets were sold out.  Did we want to get tickets for the day after? “We just couldn’t!” we said “We have to get to the Steppes! Tell us about this other way.” we said, and they did.  We’ll try it, we decided.

So early the next morning we made our way to the bus station to pick up a minibus to the border for 300 Rub (about $10).  It left at 9:00 am, stopped for a bathroom break and to change a flat tire at 11:00 am, and had us to Kyakhta by 12:30.  There, we were swarmed by cabbies offering to take us to the border for 200 Rub.  “Over the border?” we asked.  “No, to the border” they said.

We were getting no where with them when a guy with two suitcases and a Mongolian passport told us he was going to Ulaan Baatar too, and we could follow him.  I’m paraphrasing of course.  What he really did was wave his Mongolian passport at us and point to it.  We could share his taxi for 100 Rub each (traced on his palm with his finger) and he would get us across.  And so we met our mute Mongolian Travel Angel.  We could not have done this without him.  You “adventurous travelers”, take this as a warning.

Sometimes time and space are just like a giant fast flowing river.  You know just by looking at it that it is to strong for you to swim.  All you can do is focus on where you need to be, jump in, and try to float with your head above water and your feet pointed down stream; praying that the current and the cosmos will get you where you need to go.  This was like that.  When we got into that first cab we jumped into the river.  After that, we were present, but the fact that we made it to Ulaan-Baatar had little to do with us.

In the back of the first cab of our epic border crossing.

Anyway, we took that cab for 100 Rub to the Russian border.  The we got out, put our things in another car that was waiting for people just like us, and waited in line.  After about 20 minutes it was our turn.  We drove to a guard house, and got out with our things. The car was searched and our bags checked.  That done, we waited for the next station.

While waiting, smooth as butter, with confidence and finesse to put the most hardened Baltimore drug dealer to shame, the little old ladies in the car behind us brought over two duffel bags.  Our driver put them in the trunk just as we were putting our own bags back.  calm as anything, as if she smuggles things right under the noses of Russian border patrol every day.  Maybe she does.

When the guards were ready, we drove another 15 feet to the next station, got out again, and presented our passports for inspection.  And you do need at least one registration in a Russian city, even if you never stay longer than one week at each place.  You need at least one, so don’t let your hotels tell you otherwise.

Passing that inspection we drove into no-man’s land.  We had made it half way! We were out of Russia, there was no turning back now.

We passed a dusty barbed wire expanse, and reached the Mongolian border.  Passports? Check.  Drive up, park, into the building, get passports stamped and luggage checked, get back into car and drive through another barren wasteland and out another fence, and viola! You’ve made it to Mongolia.

There were beggars, drunkards, and currency changers thick and slow as zombies in the street. They called in your car window as you slowly drove past, and once you put your window up they tried to open your car doors until you locked those too.  And suddenly, in the midst of all this, our driver pulls over stops, and demands 200 Rub each.  Her job was done. You were in Mongolia.

We pay, get out, and are ushered into another cab by Ghengis, our travel angel.  But before getting in we exchange our remaining Russian Rubbels with a guy who has a fanny pack stuffed with Mongolian Tughriks.  This one is offering a good rate, Ghengis explains.  Transaction complete, we get in the cab and are told to give the driver 3000T each (about $2.00).

Along the way (about an hour drive) Ghengis explains through pantomime, scratch paper, and a calculator that this cabby will take us to one village.  I use the term “village” loosely.  Much like the ghost towns of the American Mid-West, these villages are strips of half a dozen buildings strung in a row with a public latrine on one end.  Anyway, at this village we will pick up another cab, which for 8000T will take us the two hours to the nearest bus stop.  The bus to Ulaan Baatar will be another 8000T.

Communication at it’s finest! This was our scratch pad conversation with Ghengis.

Sure, OK, we nod.  Do we have much choice? Lets just hope there is an ATM at the bus station we whisper to ourselves.  It is about this time that I realize our travel angel is not just signing with us, but with everyone.  He seems to hear alright, but hasn’t said much to anyone.  No wonder he is helping us! Apart from being a kind person, he must sympathize with the difficulty of traveling anywhere without being able to just say what he needs, common language or not!

And thanks to Ghengis, everything did happen just like that.  The 3000T got us…somewhere, the 8000T got us to the bus station, and another 8000T bought us tickets on the 4:00 pm train to Ulaan Baatar (and there was an ATM at the station).

Sandra and I were sitting with our bags in the cafe, after enjoying our first Mongolian meal, when suddenly Ghengis comes running back in, waving animatedly.  His message was clear: hurry! come! NOW!

We grabbed our things and dashed out the door. Our bus was on the move! We ran in front of it, cutting it off at an intersection, and thankfully it stopped long enough for us to throw our bags in the storage area beneath and climb aboard.  The time? 3:37 pm.  Hmmm…buses leave early here? Good to know.

Five hours later we re-emerged from the bus in the Dragon Center bus stop at Ulaan Baatar.  Ghengis, loyal to the end, shared a cab with us to ensure we made it to our hostel safely.  Stuck in bumper to bumper traffic, with smog so thick it burned my eyes and the back of my throat, I was reminded again how much I despise cities- especially developing Asian cities.  Anyway, another hour of traffic and 21,000 T later and Sandra and I were saying goodbye to Ghengis, the Amazing Mute Mongolian Travel Angel (the trip back to the bus station in the morning only cost 7000T, so you can see how expensive slow moving traffic can be).

Like I said, Sandra and I are good, but we aren’t that good.  Without Ghengis, I don’t think we could have made it past the taxis, the border guards, the beggars and money changers, and all the cabs and buses we took that day.  We jumped in the river and washed up on shore this time, thanks to the travel gods, the cosmos, and human kindness.

I owe karma big time.

Сайн яваарай! (Safe travels!),

Aeri

last days in russia

This post is about Lake Baikal and Listvyanka. The lake had so many faces, it changed every time we looked at it. Here it is at dusk.

The next three posts will follow each other quite quickly because they’ve already been written.  I am home already, safe, sound, and (now) healthy.  The end of the trip was a whirlwind of laughs, adventures, and limited internet.  So I picked up a notebook along the way, and wrote these final posts on pen and paper like a real nomad.  Or like something really cool that doesn’t have internet or a computer.  A vintage journalist.  A royal scribe.  Anyway…I hope you enjoy my stories- epic, embarrassing, and foolhardy as they are.

This first entry is from September 25, 2012

“I know I am getting behind on these posts, with infrequent internet and little down time.  I have been too busy making stories, to write them down!  Right now I am sitting on a bus on the way to сансар (Sansar), Mongolia to begin a nomadic cultural immersion experience.  I am writing in a notebook I picked up yesterday to do just this- write and document my experiences and maybe help communicate with the locals over the next four days.  but on the way I’ll try to catch you back up to speed as well.

So.  When I last posted we were still on The Train.  We arrived in Irkutsk at 3:00 am local time, and paid a cabbie $10 to take us where we could have gone for 50 cents each had we arrived at a decent time of day (as in, when the trams were still running).  We slept for a few hours, showered (horray!), and then went exploring in Irkutsk.  I don’t have much to say about that.  The only reason I would recommend stopping in Irkutsk is so you can take a marshrutka (a Russian minibus) to Listvyanka.  Which is exactly what we did that afternoon after enjoying a cup of coffee at the Lenin St. Coffeeshop- a delightful rip off of another well loved coffee brand.

Wherever did they get the inspiration for their logo? I love that a disrespect for intellectual property so often goes hand in hand with a communist philosophy.

For 100 Rub (about $3.30) the marshrutka will take you on the one hour journey to the village on the shores of Lake Baikal.  They depart several times a day from this farmers market style shopping area. Basically whenever the marshrutka is full, it leaves.

Lake Baikal was seriously amazing.  I wish we could have spent more time there.  The lake’s waters are beautiful, cold, and crystal clear.  They say it is clean enough to drink, and if you swim out too far you’ll get vertigo from staring through the clear waters into the depths, with visibility over 40 meters down.  There are hiking trails winding around the lake, including the Great Baikal Trail, which is still under construction, but will one day allow hikers to walk completely around the lake.   Our day hike meandered through a birch tree forest, allowing us to see, smell, and feel the trees we had watch whiz by for days on the train.  On our hike we met a four-footed travel angel in the form of Vicktor the Amazing Puppy- a young Great Pyrenees we found, or rather were found by, on the trail.  He joined us for our walk, alternately scouting ahead and herding us from behind.

The Great Baikal Trail, a delightful jaunt through birch and cedar forests through which you can catch glimpses of the shining lake below.

We lodged in the Baikal Eco Hostel, a beautiful place that smelled of wood and crist autumn days.  The beds were comfortable, handmade singles (no bunks!), and the fellow travelers were friendly and genuine- other serious travelers lured to this out of the way spot by its promise of beauty and tranquility.

After a lunch of smoked Omul, a fish found only in Lake Baikal, we wandered through an open air market.  There I learned how mineral rich the Baikal region is.  The stalls were filled with amazing pieces of stone jewlery of every color and size.  Especially interesting were the vibrant purple and green agates and blue lapis lazuli mined around the lake itself.

Listvyanka is the third place I found on this trip to which I would gladly return for a longer stay to think, write, and soak up the nature’s energy.  It was the only place where I felt I truly got to experience Russia; not just the Russians, with their complex history and brusque disinterest in helping a traveler, but Russia the place that takes up 1/5 of the world’s landmass, and is so mysterious and unknown to so many.

All too soon, we had to rush back to Irkutsk to catch the train that would begin our journey to Mongolia.  But that adventure is certainly a story unto itself, and must wait for another day.  It is a good one though- so check back soon!

We made it this far! At Lake Baikal, Listvyanka, Russia

Cheers!

~Aeri

travel blogger reboot

I promise we DID get to Portugal last December. It was a whirl of a time. We carried on to Switzerland, Denmark, Sweden, England and Ireland before returning home. I guess the lack of posts shows just how busy and fun the trip was…right? Can I really get off the hook that easily? Well, the itch has risen again and this time it will be scratched on November 14. Five weeks in Turkey, France, and Morocco. I promise to be a better travel blogger. I PROMISE!

I’m putting myself to a challenge on this trip. We all know Rachel Ray’s $40 A Day show, on the Food Network. She travels around and shows viewers how to keep to a tight food budget, of only…”only”…$40 a day for food, and still get the flavor of the place (pardon the pun). That’s right, $40 a day JUST FOR FOOD!

Anyway, in the spirit of that show, I want to take it a step further. I want to show my readers how it can be possible to travel comfortably, and completely on a total budget of $100 a day. Yes, one-hundred dollars per day for everything. That includes travel, tourism, food, souvenirs, everything. If it works I’m going to either turn it into a book, or pitch it to The Travel Chanel. What do you think?

So here is what we have so far.

The Dates: November 14 – December 20, 2011. That’s 37 days.

The Cities: Istanbul, Turkey; Paris, France; Casablanca, Morocco

The Budget: $3,700.00

The big travel tickets have been purchased.

Washington D.C. to Istanbul, Round Trip: $637.30

Istanbul to Paris, Round Trip: $222.23

Paris to Casablanca, Round Trip: $139.56

That great price between D.C. and Istanbul is what started this whole adventure. How could I pass up the chance to visit one of the oldest cities in the world? Nope, I couldn’t do it. And then, once across the pond I just had to visit my good friends Elise, Cloe, and Sandra in Paris. I think that will be the most challenging part of trip for my budget. But I think my friends will enjoy the challenge of the game as much as I will!

So, How’s my budget doing, before I’ve even taken off?

$3,700.00 starting budget – $999.09 for flights = $2,700.91

I’ve spent a little over a quarter of my budget on travel so far. I think I’m doing pretty well, but only the future knows the results of this little challenge.

To be continued…

its just a little snow

After Boston I went home to heal. I laid low, got a few simple jobs, and waited for my arm to catch back up with the rest of me. I had a great season at the Maryland Renaissance Festival selling Roses. So great in fact, that I’ve decided to go back on the road for a while. Until something more interesting and inspiring comes along. Seems I made the decision to go back on the road just at the time of the year most people are getting off of it. Winter is slow. So what’s a girl to do? Go back to Europe of course!

After adding pages to my passport…just in case…and talking a friend into going on a little adventure, I was ready to head back across the pond. Backpack packed, our first stop after a 24+ hr journy was Amsterdam. EJ, formerly known as Angelina, South Korean and former St. Mary’s exchange student, was studying there. We popped in to visit her, stayed for a day, and then ventured into Belgium. Well, we overshot Belgium and ended up in Lille, France. We stayed long enough to ride the ferris wheel and drink some vin chaud, before again heading over to Gent. Gent is nice, it rained, but we pub hopped and drank a lot of great beers. In the morning we tried to get back to Amsterdam and what should have been a three hour journey took eight because of snow. After endlessly delayed trains, and a 30 minute hike through a winter wonderland, we made it back to Angelina’s house. We only stayed a few minutes before heading back out into the elements to meet up with Chris, Sandra, and Peter (from the GEP) and their friends. The next few days were a wonderful Gepper reunion. Chris and I have decided Amsterdam should be an annual tradition- after all we’ve made it 2 years in a row now. That smells like a tradition to me!

From Amsterdam we went (back) to France, to visit Andrea and her fiance Brett in Pont Audemer, France. They live in the MOST ADORABLE place. It is a cottage behind their landlord’s home, with a kitchen (complete with operational wooden stove), small living room, bedroom, and bathroom. It is just the right size, the town is adorable, and their landlords friendly. I am so happy for Andrea. We left when they did, parting ways in Beauvais, France- they to Poland and we to Spain for Christmas. After all that snow, Spain and its sunny warmth has been wonderful. We spent one day wandering Barcelona, one day in a little village near by called Sitges, and today- Christmas- we spent relaxing on the Hotel roof and eating Tapas on Las Rambalas. Tomorrow morning, extreme morning, we fly to Portugal to visit with Jose, another Gepper.