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…

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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.

shipping up to boston

Boston was a whirlwind.

A week after getting settled in, and just beginning classes, I got The Call from my mom. Come home, this is it. I packed in a daze, borrowed Adam’s ipod car player, and jumped in the Jeep to return to Annapolis. A week later we were setting my Granddad to rest with his relatives and saying good bye. Reading at the funeral was one of the hardest things I have ever done. Luckily, I have such wonderful friends and Rachel Wells, best friend since infancy, jumped on a plane almost as quickly as I jumped in my car and spent a few days with us; and my GEP friends kept me in the loop at school. After the madness there wasn’t anything keeping me around and so I drove back to school, intent on enjoying my last months with the GEP.

And for a spell I was successful. We had cook-outs and picnics, took trips to the beach (I went skydiving with Ale in Ocean City!), and went to summer concerts. Adam’s friend Dave was out east working for Ween as a sound guy at the Disco Biscuits Camp Bisco Festival. We spent nights in the city (and on a trolly in route), and had parties on campus (love the rubic cube theme!). We even had a pool party with a temporary pool that Chris, Ashley, and Katrina got. We went on night time walks with the Dugout Crew. We cooked dinners, had chili-cookoffs, started families (Love you Robert Plant, Grace, and Eleanor), and went camping. Tabi had Liam, and I visited Chela in Oswego, NY. And we played Soccer.

And that’s when I fell into madness again. Playing Soccer one evening, I tripped, rolled, and broke my arm. I had to have surgery to fix it! Now I have a plate and seven screws in my wrist. This was the last week of the program. Again, my wonderful GEP friends stepped up to the plate. I will be forever grateful to my group that finished the presentation and got their act together for the end of our consulting project. I couldn’t have finished the semester without them. I spent the last two weeks totally stoned on pain killers.

And then, it was the last night. We had a touching intimate closing ceremony in the afternoon. We played one last soccer match (I even tried to join in, kicked the ball around a few times, but decided explaining to the doctor how I broke my JUST set arm would be too difficult) and we took a bus into town for one last party. We partied like Geppers do, but no matter how hard you party eventually the night turns into day. And as hard as we fought the dawn, it arrived just the same. Many tearful goodbyes later, and I was again in the Jeep heading home to Annapolis. Only this time I was being driven home by another good friend, there for me when I needed him- Reid.

Apparently parents don’t want their children driving nine hours by themselves with one arm, a hangover, and a bottle of painkillers.

So thats that. That was my year around the world. I partied with more people, in more places, and made more memories than I ever thought I would. I am forever changed because of it. Even now, four months later and finally finishing the story, I am overcome by emotion. I would give anything to have the entire group together again, but there is nothing I have to give that would make that happen. Instead I’ll smile, tell the stories any chance I get, and work on some new ones in between. And when I can, I’ll keep traveling.

Like now, on my European Tour, trying to visit as many Geppers as I can in the next month.

Ganbei!

annapolis to boston via…colorado?

I guess I felt silly blogging about my travels when I felt like I was “home” in America. Or maybe we just got caught up in the end of the year rush. Either way, now it is time to play catch up. I know the title of this blog is “France, China, Bostton in a Year”, but the travels continue and so should the stories. You might want to grab some tissues for this one though, its going to be a roller-coaster of story.

So where did we leave off? Oh right, the road trip…

Even before I got out there history started writing itself. The plan was, Adam would be packed and ready to go when he picked me up from the airport and we would leave straight from there. Talk about a short stay! Sadly, we had to push back departure for a few days because Adam had to stay in town to support a friend through the loss of his parents. Of course I understood, and just hoped to be out of the way and supportive. I did get to see his home, meet his friends, and catch a ball game in Denver. Go Phillies! Beat them Rockies!

Then the trip began. We drove South to Santa Fe, New Mexico on the first day, taking the scenic route through this really cool artsy town. We even passed through Larkspur and I got to get an Iced Green Tea from the Pony Espresso. That drink tastes like ice cold happiness. In New Mexico we visited one of Adam’s friends, had great Margaritas and some dinner, and hung-out with the new age hobos in the town square. Then I got the call.

The call from my Mom that you never want to get, especially not when you are across the country. The find somewhere to sit down first call. My Grandad was sick. Two types of cancers, either one of which would have been fatal. But he should have at least six months to live so just take your time, get home safe, and spend as much time with him as you can when you get back. I asked her to buy a tape recorder so that we could sit together and he could tell me his stories. It was already late but I would call him in the morning, to say…what?

For better or worse, we had a long drive ahead of us, thought a brief stop along the highway to take in the amazing expanse of starry-night sky. We wanted to make it to Roswell that night and camp in the desert with the Aliens. We did just that, passing through town around 2:00 am. I think that is the best time to visit a place like Roswell. Do you Believe?? Just outside of town we found a park and set up camp. Well, Adam set up camp. I know better than to get in the way of an Eagle Scout and his set-up routine. In three minutes flat we were tucked in and listening to the coyotes yip and play their midnight games.

From there we had to play catch up and had some long travel days. We shot down to Texas and I visited with Chela while Adam visited friends in Austin. From there we crossed over into Louisiana and stayed with Rachel in New Orleans. We got chased out of Texas by a monster rain storm. In New Orleans we had another chance to “rest” and we spent the day getting drunk on Bourbon street and listening to the great street musicians. Our plans of going to a Southern Baptist church on Sunday morning were thwarted by a couple of rough hangovers, but the timing couldn’t have been better.

From Louisiana we hit Alabama. First the Gulf Shores where some of Adam’s friends were staying at a beach house for a the Hangout Festival. By the time we got there, it was the afternoon of the last day after a rainy morning. The festival decided to let guests in for free once they started playing music again in the clear evening. And so we found ourselves sitting in a sand couch/alligator, with the Gulf of Mexico to our left and a massive stage in front of us, listening to Trey Anastasio (Phish) rock a great set.

In the morning we had lunch at the Floribama, a bar straddling Florida and Alabama, famous for their fish chucking contests and mudslides. In the evening we were in Birmingham, enjoying moonshine and macaroni and cheese on a back porch enjoying the warm summer air. Sadly our stay in Alabama was a short one, and we kept on trucking the next morning.

Up next? Tennessee, Lynchburg, and the Jack Daniels Distillery. This was one of the most relaxing days on the trip. We had a short drive, an afternoon tour, and an early camp. We stayed in a nice park some locals directed us towards, with a big lake. Sometimes you need a vacation from your vacation and this is what this night was. All it took was a camp fire, cool night air, and a bottle of Jack. A quick dip in the lake the next morning and we were ready.

Lunch was in a Nashville bar with a great musician. He played Willie Nelson and my request for some Johnny Cash was met with the San Quentin Medley. Our stay was short though because we were trying to make it to the Maker’s Mark Distillery that afternoon. Sadly we misjudged closing time due to a change in time-zone, so we didn’t make it in time for a tour. We did make it in time for a quick stop in the store though. Adam bought some bottles and got to hand dip them in the signature red wax. There was nothing for it but to keep going after that, into West Virginia and the country roads that would take me home.

After this time was a blur. Make it home, pack the car, visit with family, and head up to Boston before classes started. We spent the night in Philadelphia for my birthday, and held one last party on 32nd and Brandywine with the Philly Crew and the Jersey Boys. I will always love that crappy house.

And then there was Boston.

thanks for the tea!

This weekend was such a great weekend. I did soooo much!

Friday we went to Shanghai to visit a company, Bellinger, a trip that one of the Belgian students set up. We were only there for a few hours though and then we spent the rest of the day in Shanghai together. We went to a fake market which was quite an experience. So much stuff and people everywhere trying to get you to go into their shop. I bought a pair of Ray Ban sunglasses for 35 RMB, but I’ve already lost one of the Ray Ban labels on the side. I got a watch too because it was really cute, but let’s just say it ticks to its own drum… I’m going to turn the face into a button on a new bag I’m going to make though so it isn’t a total loss. Some people have good luck at the fakes market but not I apparently. After the market we wandered around People’s Square, went to a museum on the infrastructure developments of Shangahi, and then met up with the rest of the group (we had slowly separated throughout the day). We had an hour or so to kill before catching the train back to Hangzhou so we went up to the top of the Radisson building. It has a flying saucer looking penthouse with a bar, so we went and got a drink and watched the sun set over the city. It was a really cool experience. Then we took the train home.

Saturday was Barclay’s rugby match, which was fun to watch and drink at the sidelines. Rugby is such a tough sport! That evening we went to a cookout party with both teams and had burgers and potato salad. Ahh western food.

Sunday I went to lunch at a new Chinese friend’s house. She came to Lu’s evening language class to help teach us. She is an investment banker and a classmate of Lu’s. She invited us to go on a picnic to a park with her on Sunday, and myself Brian and Chun Li went to visit. We arrived around 11:00 and her mom fed us a huge homecooked meal. The food was delicious and there was so much! It started with fruit and nuts and tea while the meal finished. Then we had vegetable dishes, fish (like a whole fish), meat, nuts, gosh probably at least 10 different dishes. After lunch we went walking in the ecology park. It was really sad because they are building all these private houses in the park for investment so the whole thing is torn up and a construction sight. Holly, the girl, was so surprised because it was not like that at all when she was there before. She was really sad, rightly so because what was left was really pretty.

Monday was the best of all though I think. It was a special honoring the dead holiday here so we didn’t have class. Adam and I went to the hills in the south of the city to go hiking because it was such nice weather, 70 and sunny. It would have been a nice day anyway but it became an epic wonderful day because without realizing it we went to the tea fields where they grow the special Hangzhou green tea and dragon well tea that they are famous for. The plants are all in bloom and it is harvesting season. There were little asian ladies with the stereotypical straw hats all over the fields picking. And fields is a loose term, they just plant tea bushes everywhere they can, on the sides of hills, super steep, and among trees, everywhere. It is beautiful!! At the top of the mountain is the village where the tea pickers live and take the tea. They dry it right there and people serve you tea from their houses and try to get you to buy their specific strains of tea from their fields. We met the cutest little lady who calls herself Auntie and proudly showed us pictures of Chairman Mao visiting HER house for tea. She was born and raised in the village and owns tea plants on a hill. They sell 150 kilograms of tea a year!

The whole day was just so peaceful and relaxing and such total immersion. Like THIS is what you think of when you think of china, not smelly streets, dirty clothes, angry cabbies, or any of that stuff that sticks around cities. And it is only a 20 minute cab ride away! Amazing how different the two experiences are!

Definitely one of my best experiences, and it makes me so glad we went out and adventured instead of studying for the economics test we had today. I didn’t do the best I could have but I got this amazing experience in exchange. I can relearn managerial economics any day…right?

today i took the bus!

Today I took the bus all by myself. Usually, for me to take the bus I first take the route with a Chinese student so I can learn what bus number to take and what the exit point looks like. Because everything is in a jumble of Chinese characters and colorful bus routes on the sign. Essentially illegible.

But today I wanted cheese. And to get cheese you have to go to Carrefour, which is all the way down and around West Lake. It is like a 20 rmb cab ride. I had time and was feeling adventurous so I went to the bus stop and checked out the map. Essentially I stood around and decided “bus 25” looked pretty good so I got on, and figured if it started to get too far off course I’d just hop off. For 2 rmb a ride (like 30 cents) it wasn’t a major investment.

But bus 25 was the winner! It got me within a few blocks of the store!

So now I am home with cheese and bread and the satisfaction of getting myself around this city all by myself. I can’t believe that I’ve lived here for three months and I am finally able to do things without asking for help every step of the way. Well a little help. I wrote down the address (in Chinese characters!!) and asked a guard along the way (in Chinese!!) if it was near by. He understood me AND my written address and pointed me in the right direction.

I feel like I’ve leveled up in a crazy video game.

Take that China!

venice of the east

Wow! When I said I was ready to work they really listened. It has been crazy busy this month with projects and presentations. And I’ve been working a lot on my book which I think fulfilled my itch to write stuff that wasn’t business papers. Sorry for abandoning you blog. Oh and also, China thwarted my hacking attempts so I just figured out how to get back to my blog.

So what has been going on? The weather has been nice so I’ve been outside a lot. Spring in China is BEAUTIFUL! Their trees have lovely little delicate flowers that smell amazing and come in great colors. And Chela got here on the 13th. We did a weekend in Shanghai, and then she came down to Hangzhou with me. I’ve been showing her around, we went to West Lake and saw the big Pagoda at the south end. We took a photo shoot with her Moccasins, thanks to Adam’s great photographic eye. One weekend we went to Haining which is a huge leather market, so she could try to source new suppliers for her company. Sadly, it wasn’t any cheaper here so it wasn’t very fruitful but at least we know it isn’t an option. The next day we went to Suzhou which is suppose to be the “Venice of the East”. Venice don’t worry, there is no competition. They had some really pretty gardens but the city itself wasn’t that noteworthy.

Now she is visiting Beijing for the weekend so she could get to the Great Wall. I couldn’t go with her because I have a lot of work to catch up on.

There is exactly one month till I go home now. I can’t believe how quickly the time has passed. It always happens that way doesn’t it?

south korea

This past week was the Spring Festival, or Chinese New Year celebrations. We had off of class and I went on vacation. First I went to Shanghai for a few days. It was your standard city. And it rained. And I was sick. I don’t feel like going into details, nothing exciting happened.

But after that I got to go to South Korea to visit Amy for a few days. She’s there right now teaching English. That was an amazing trip. I ate so much good food: korean bbq, silk worms, street cart sweets and spicy rice cakes, and organs (stomach, intestine, bladder, etc). It was all delicious. Even the bugs.

I also got to see Angelina again which was such a surprise! Amy reconnected with her in South Korea. She and I have grown into such kindred spirits, we reconnected like its been five days not five years since we saw each other. I met one of her friends, another world traveler, and some of Amy’s friends. We went to their tall tower, and out on the town. Went to an underground punk club and concert and bar hopped around town.

Seoul is amazing and clean and modern and I had a great time with the girls again. It was good to be around old friends who know who you are because they were there when you were becoming who you are. You don’t have to explain yourself to them because they already know why you act the way you do.

Now I’m back in China for the home stretch. Two months till home. It feels like spring and I’m ready to work. Lets do this!

my life has been filled with dance

It has been a little while since my last post. I have gotten busy here! Amazing what a social life you can find in any place. So lets see what have I done…

1. Made lots of friends

We found a Reggae bar around the corner from our place and it is where all the foreigners hang out. There is a live band most nights and i’ve made friends with them too. it is fun to hang out with new people, play pool, chat, dance, whatever. I wonder why it is so easy to form connections here. Is it because there are so fewer people that we make concessions on personality and embrace all new friends? or is it because we all have similar outlooks on life and these outlooks have caused us to embark on similar journeys that lead us to the same place so it is easier to find compatible people once all the other personalities are weeded out. or maybe we have just become numb to communities in our homelands and we must try to be friendlier to strangers doing the same things we are. anyway

other fun things that have happened:

Yesterday was the best day I’ve had in a while. It was 65 degrees out so Adam and I skipped class (shhh) and went for a walk. We found a gazeebo where there was music playing and people dancing. We barely had time to register what was going on before a 70+ yr old man grabs my had and starts dancing with me. We danced for seriously 15 minutes it was so fun and he was a really good leader. Again- people being friendly to strangers for no reason other than they were in the same place at the same time.

after the dance we continued our walk, stopped at a tea house, enojyed west lake, and ended up at a restaurant for dinner. I had to run before our meal was finished though because I was meeting Elise, Lu, Jared, and Siva for an orchestra show at the concert hall. The orchestra was wonderful. They played chinese modern classical music for the first half and then some western pieces (classic and modern) in the second half. They were great but the best part was at the end for an encore. The conductor came out and played a simple well known piece and conducted the audience as well! We started clapping when he said and stopped when he gestured for us to stop. I really enjoyed the simple happiness the audience had for listening to the music. They weren’t pompous and hoity-toity about being at the orchestra like they are in the states some times.

When the show got out we missed the last bus back into town. It started raining and there were no cabs. Elise and I started doing the waltz in the rain in the middle of the road because it was warm and there were no cars. It was so fun, sining Disney songs and dancing with imaginary princes haha. Eventually Lu saved the day by asking the staff bus if we could hitch a ride back into the city center so we could get a cab home from there. They let us on!

This morning is the first day of our vacation. I am here until the 13th when I go to Shanghai for a few days. From the 16th to the 20th I’ll be visiting Amy in South Korea. It will be great to see her again. Stories soon…

blind massage!

Today Elise, Sandra and I went out for “Blind Massages” which are exactly what they sound like- a massage given by a blind person. They are supposed to be really good since it is assumed blind people have a heightened sense of touch.

The parlor didn’t do jutsice to the massage.

It was a big room with 5 beds with a masseuse at each bed. It smelled like Chinese food and there was TV playing softly in the background. But the massage was AWESOME! So I guess that out weights the aesthetics.

We also had our first round table discussion in China on Thursday. It was about the role of business in the 21st century, corporate responsibility and the like. We had a really good discussion and came up with some summary statements:

1. Money should be a means to greater ends and not a end in itself.

2. The cost formula used to evaluate costs is outdated and should be updated to include the hidden and external costs born by innocent bystanders that we can now easily evaluate. This updated cost structure will make it more aparent for businesses that behaving in responsible ways will improve their real bottom line.

3. Companies should empower their consumers and enable them to make responsible choices. ie- environmental, human rights

4. Business schools should teach classes on social entrepreneurship and corporate responsibility so that students are aware of the options.

We also debated the original motivation of businesses: monetary gain for the entrepreneur or progress and improvement for their community. This creates two perspectives for business opportunities: money or value. The actions to get to these conclusions may be the same no matter which perspective one perform from.

It was a great discussion, though I would have liked to have someone opposed to corporate responsibility come out to discuss too so that we could have had some counter arguments! Perhaps it is a good sign though that the proactive members are those in favor of societal change…