Saturday, December 31, 2011

Goodbye to 2011...Hello 2012!!!

Let me take this opportunity to wish each and every one of you a wonderful and Happy New Year! This past year brought many changes in my life -- some good, some bad; however, the chance to share my stories with all of you has been incredible.

As I look to 2012, I hope that not only new experiences, new adventures and new people enter my life, but I hope the same for all of you as well.  This past year has brought me some difficult times but through my faith, I have come through.

Thank you all for being so kind and supportive while following my blog. It is so nice knowing that people out there actually want to take time out of their day to read your thoughts.  Starting out, I never would have imagined that I would have even TWO followers and although I'm hoping to get more in the future, I'm thankful for each of you!

HAPPY NEW YEAR AND GOD BLESS!!!!!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Holiday Road

Christmas is coming and let's just say, I'm a bit panicked! Due to my busy work life, as well as events that have caused me to be out of town the past few weekends, my Christmas shopping has been very nill thus far. However, I did get a chance to do a bit of Xmas shopping this afternoon :) 

Of course, every slow car, every bit of traffic, and for some strange and crazy reason, a freaking parade, seemed to cause my somewhat happy demeanor to turn to aggravation and a boiling point that was topping the scale at around a 10!

Once at home, I couldn't help but smile when I saw my "already read once" Conde Nast Traveler sitting on the kitchen table. When it and my Travel & Leisure arrive, the world is once again, grand! I immediately started thinking of all the places I would love to spend the holidays in and of course, the most notable popped into my head -- Hawaii. 

To wake up on Christmas morning and open the door to see waves, sand and maybe a Santa sunbathing on the beach...now that would be a relaxing Christmas.  I've always thought spending Christmas in Hawaii would be one holiday I would never forget; however, until Hell decides to freeze over, my mom will expect a tree, presents and Christmas dinner at her house every year (which, I guess is okay since she cooks some amazingly good food at Christmas!)

So, since I'll be spending Christmas at home, I'll just pull out my faithful and friendly travel magazines and let their photos and words keep me company. Besides, if I couldn't handle traffic and a parade, I'm sure I'd get thrown into an airport holding cell if I were to go somewhere at Christmas.

Where has been the most unique and memorable place you've spent Christmas?

Sunday, November 20, 2011

We Found Atlantis!

For any of you who have been to Nassau in the Bahamas, I am sure you have either seen or visited the monstrosity that is Atlantis. A hotel that stands high above the blue waters, it shines of pink paint and looks like something off the cover of The Little Mermaid. Although it is far too expensive to stay within its rooms, one must make time to visit its grounds.


Visiting this site, one can enjoy the beauty of its indoor murals, aquarium, glass work and outdoor paths and walkways. On one particular visit, my family and I decided to pay the somewhat steep price, and walk through the hotel’s aquarium. I have been to my share of aquariums and I must say this one was something else. Creatures of all kinds swim within its waters, providing onlookers with a look into the sea life that calls Atlantis its home.


Zeus, a massive manta ray that was released into the "wild" not long after our visit
Outside, while walking along its many pathways, you will find that beneath you, fish, turtles and other sea creatures provide an extra bit of entertainment as you take in the exterior of the hotel. One year, at Christmas, the boating area, filled with yachts and sailboats, led me to imagine just how amazing it would be to spend the holiday down in the Caribbean, listening to steel drums play Christmas songs while I lay out on the deck of my own personal boat…*sigh* maybe that is what Santa can bring me this year…my own boat and a docking slip in the Bahamas!

Monday, November 7, 2011

And the Book List Continues...

A Thousand Days in Venice by Marlena De Blasi: I will admit, I’m not a fan of love stories. Unfortunately, this book is very much a “love” story. Although I did not dislike the book, I was also not a huge fan. The story follows a woman who travels to Venice and notices this man eyeing her…well, maybe more like ogling her. Turning down his efforts to get together, she leaves Venice but returns many years later only to find that she meets this man yet again. Eventually, she uproots herself from a life in America and moves to Venice to marry this man. The book follows their life in Venice, their ups and downs and the quirks that they find charming or annoying about each other. To be honest, the book dragged on and I was quite happy once I reached the end. If you’re not one for love stories, I would probably pass on this book.


The Monster of Florence: A True Story by Douglas Preston with Mario Spezi: Unlike my review above, I loved this book. Based on a true story, Douglas Preston and Mario Spezi tell the story of the Monster of Florence, covering everything from who (supposedly) did and did not commit the murders, the evidence, the media and system. Unknowing of any of these events, I was captivated by the story. It is a true real-crime event that truly rocked Florence and its people.

 
More Sand in My Bra: Funny Women Write from the Road, Again by Jennifer Leo and Julie Weiler: I know I’ve reviewed just about every Jennifer Leo book; however, there are a few that I have yet to read. This one, well…I’ll admit was not as funny as “Whose Panties Are These?” which was the very first book that I read by Leo. The women who contribute to these books do have humorous stories; however, it does seem that they tend to be less and less amusing. Luckily, I was impressed enough by the first book of hers that I read, that I will continue to read each of these witty titles, in hopes that I can once again find humor in these ladies’ tales.

The Thong Also Rises by Jennifer Leo: I can sum up this review in just a few quick words…Although I found the humor to be minimal in this book, I still have hope.
Notes From a Small Island by Bill Bryson: Talented, funny and extremely knowledgeable about his surroundings, Bill Bryson informs his readers about the ins, outs and all-around beauty that is the United Kingdom. Covering London, Edinburgh, Durham and multiple cities in between, it is not hard to picture these places in your mind. Years spent traveling to various countries, Bryson knows a multitude of information about the places he visits, and yet, he provides an entertaining read.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Wonderful D.C. Days

In 2008, I spent a few days in Washington, D.C. with my mom and my aunt. Having been there the previous year, although only for one whole day, I fell in love with the city and decided that as a history buff, I had to come back to visit.

Visiting the National Archives, the Smithsonian’s Natural History Museum, the Holocaust Museum and the Library of Congress, I managed to snap some photos of a place I love so much, so I’ve decided to share some of these photos with you. The ones you’ll see inside the National Archives may be a bit blurry due to the lighting inside the museum and the need to preserve these historic document.
White House





National Archives
Charters of Freedom room in National Archives
1777 Draft Card

The Constitution
The Hope Diamond
Library of Congress
Inside Library of Congress
Dinosaur in Smithsonian's Museum of Natural History
Elephant in Smithsonian's Museum of Natural History
Cherry Blossoms -- beautiful!
House where Lincoln Died sign
My mom wishing she were president at wax museum
Me and my favorite president (FDR) at wax museum

Monday, October 10, 2011

Advice Please…

Those of you who follow my blog know that I am hoping to travel to Greece this coming May. I’ve always dreamed of going to Greece, specifically Athens and Santorini. Visiting the beaches, seeing the history, and taking in the beauty that is Greece is something I find myself thinking about and looking forward to quite often.


However, with the unrest that is going on right now in Greece, I am hoping it will quiet down before then. If it doesn’t, I am looking for a back-up destination. I’m thinking that I will only have maybe 8 or 9 days available to take a trip, so I need a place that I can see a lot in that amount of time.

My ideal trip would be to travel through central and Eastern Europe; however, I know that 8 or 9 days would not be near enough time to see and do all of things I want to in Germany, Poland, and the Czech Republic. Seeing as that will more than likely be a trip for another time, I’m trying to come up with other destinations.

Currently, I am thinking maybe Ireland, Berlin or Munich. Does anyone have any advice or suggestions of places that would be good to visit? I’d prefer a place in Europe if possible.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Cruise Ship Surprises

If you’ve ever been on a cruise, you might notice the lovely little surprises that you might find during your time on the boat. Of course there is the luxury of having your bed made and turned down, a freshly cleaned shower each day and all of your meals prepared for you, but there is the few small surprises that help to bring that smile up just a bit further on your face.


One of my personal favorites is the towel animals that greet you in the evenings (usually after dinner). These little white creations can include a monkey, elephant, stingray, swan or even a frog! Carnival Cruise Ships often like to offer classes to show guests how they can recreate these animals at home. Although I’ve never taken one of these classes, I can guarantee that no matter how hard you try, don’t get your hopes up too much. Your towel animals will doubtfully look as good as the ones your stewards make each night.

To make the cruise ship vacation even better, walking into your bathroom to find a small bowl full of sample size toiletries can always bring a smile to my face. Placed in this bundle of fun can be a variety of things. I’ve brought home disposable razors (the much better brand razors), Tylenol PM, Pepcid (that will more than likely be used during your trip because of all the food you will eat) and even maybe some sweet treats to satisfy that sweet tooth most of us have.

Finally, each night, along with your towel animal, you will also find your bed turned down, a “Carnival Caper” (if you travel Carnival that is) and an appropriately placed chocolate square lying on your pillow. Unfortunately for me, eating solid chocolate gives me a migraine so I have to pass mine off to my sister who is happy to take it off my hands. However, it is a very sweet gesture from the cabin stewards to make sure you have something sweet to end your night.

So my friends, if you’ve read my previous posts about cruising, you should know by now that taking a cruise is an excellent way to travel (at least through the Caribbean). The food, the surprises and the excursions should be enough to persuade you to go; however, if you are still not convinced, stay tuned because I have much more to tell you about cruising vacations.

Monday, September 19, 2011

I Cannot Tell a Lie


For those who have seen Roman Holiday, you might recall the scene with Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck where they make their way down to the church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin. There, Peck tells Hepburn of the ancient Roman legend, one that says whoever places their hand inside “La Bocca della Verita” (The Mouth of Truth), if they are believed to be lying, they will lose their hand. Hesitant, Hepburn is too afraid to test the ancient myth.

My sister at The Mouth of Truth
The Mouth of Truth lives in Rome and many who visit often wonder if the legend holds true. When my sister and I visited Rome, we were among many tourists, who visited the large, concrete mask. Believed to represent a river God, its mouth and eyes are open, waiting for the next liar to insert their precious hand. 


Me braving the mighty Mouth
If you will notice in the photos, neither my sister nor I were willing to stick our whole hand into its mouth, hoping that if the legend still existed, we may just lose a few fingers. All joking aside, these concrete masks can be found in various parts of Europe. While visiting Venice, we spotted a much smaller version with a much different design and face.


Mouth of Truth in Venice, Italy
Happy to report that my hands are both still fully functional and intact, one cannot help but feel like Audrey Hepburn when approaching the Mouth of Truth. Let’s just say I’m glad I hadn’t told a lie before sticking my hand in its mouth.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Ten Years Ago Today…

As I am sure many other bloggers are devoting this day to remembering 9/11, I too find it fitting to take this time and devote this post to remembering what happened 10 years ago today.



“Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, to assure the survival and success of liberty.” – President John F. Kennedy

However you wish to interpret this quote, we must all agree that it has taken the bravery and sacrifice of America’s heroes to keep this country free and safe. Unfortunately, on September 11, 2001, that safety we all felt was shaken by outside forces. While many of us paused to grieve and take in the events that were happening before us, police officers and firefighters responded immediately, rushing towards the danger and debris while everyone else ran as far away from the rubble as they could.

While our parents recall where they were when they heard President Kennedy was shot, I remember where I was and how I felt on September 11, 2001. Walking into my history class, my junior year of high school, I noticed my teacher had the TV on and before me was a burning building in New York City. Telling us that a plane had flown into the World Trade Center, it was the belief of the media that this was some horrific accident. Sitting in my seat, my friend and I were glued to the TV screen. I remember saying “oh my gosh, look at that plane. It’s going to hit the other tower!” Sure enough, the next thing I witnessed was that very plane flying directly into the second tower, resulting in a ball of flames; it was then realized that this was a terrorist attack on our country.

The photos, images, video that we all have seen are some of the most horrific things I have ever seen. To see and hear the screams and cries, to listen to the phone recordings of those making their last phone calls home to their loved ones…I pray that we as a nation will never face such horror again.

In the 10 years since 9/11 our country has traveled a rocky path. In the beginning we all stood united together and now, we couldn’t be more at odds with each other. No matter what your political or religious affiliations may be, let us all stand united once more on this day and not only remember those who lost their lives that day, but remember and recognize those who saved and rescued those from the rubble. And let us not forget to give thanks to the men and women of this brave and beautiful country, who continue to put their lives on the line for us each day.

To all of our brave soldiers, firefighters, police officers and EMTs…God Bless You and your service to this country. And to all of those who lost loved ones that fateful day…may you find peace and comfort in knowing that the world stands with you and will never forget what happened on September 11, 2001.

May freedom and liberty continue to prevail in this country now and forever.

This was the actual flag that was flown at Ground Zero just days after the 9/11 attacks. Touring the country, it came to my hometown. To see its beauty and glory flying high above the ground, it was a humbling feeling to stand before this mighty flag. Her colors will never run and may we all be proud to call ourselves Americans.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Top Tips for Visiting Venice

When traveling to Venice, I honestly believe that there are a few tips one should at least take into consideration. My short time in Venice was an amazing experience and before I left, I read up about the dos and don’ts when traveling to the area…here are mine.

1. Unless you want the “romantic,” “Venetian” experience, don’t take a gondola ride

If you’re on a tight budget, take the water taxi and ride down the canal and see the beauty that is Venice. Gondola rides can be extremely expensive, going high above $100 depending upon the time of day, number of “riders,” and the extent of what you want for your experience (ex: gondolier, accordion player, singer, etc…)


2. If you buy anything, buy an authentic mask and Murano glass

I used to collect porcelain masks when I was younger and although I no longer display them along my walls, I still have a bit of an eye for unique-looking masks. All I heard while in France was that if I was visiting Venice, one thing I had to buy was a mask, but not just any mask. No, I had to find a shop where someone was actually making them, and so I did. Surprisingly, the mask I bought cost me only 15 euros, so it didn’t break the bank.

Also, make sure to buy some Murano glass. We didn’t get a chance to visit the island of Murano; however, we did manage to find a wine stopper and a pair of beautifully made earrings for my mom. Although a bit pricier, it was well worth the price as my mom now wears those earrings more than any others.

3. Take galoshes and an umbrella

For those of you who read my previous post about wearing galoshes while in Venice, this does not need further explanation.

4. Go with the Flow

When visiting a local restaurant, my sister and I were treated…well, let me put it this way, because we were not Italians, we were not worthy of “top notch” service. However, I knew going into this that Italians are much more laid back and do not hurry when it comes to things like bringing the check. As Americans, we are so accustomed to getting things done as fast as possible and to be honest, it is nice to be able to just sit back and relax for a while.

5. Do not visit in July

According to some of the tour guides, the months of July and August are the most brutal when it comes to heat. Now, my sister and I visited in June so the temperature was ideal. While we were there, we visited Doge’s Palace and according to the guide, they do not do a lot of tours in July because of the severe heat.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Visiting Versailles

After several hours of searching, scouring, and praying that we would find the wonder that is Versailles, we finally arrived at the golden gates. Amazed that this massive palace was before my very eyes, I fired up the video camera and ordered my sister to start taking pictures. Realizing that I officially looked like “a tourist,” I honestly could have cared less…I was thrilled to be entering a place where so much history took place.


Realizing we only had about an hour before the museum closed, my sister and I agreed, although it was an unfortunate agreement, that we would have to become the Griswold’s in “National Lampoon’s European Vacation” if we wanted to see as much as we could inside. Once we finally discovered where the freaking entrance into the museum was, I made a mad dash towards the Hall of Mirrors. I remember literally stopping in my tracks and standing there in complete awe of the sight before me.

Inside the Palace

Entering Hall of Mirrors

The brainchild of King Louis XIV of France, the Hall of Mirrors is considered to be one of the most popular rooms in the world. Filled with gold statues and glass mirrors and chandeliers, Louis XV met his mistress, Marie Antoinette here during one of his many grand parties. As interested as I am in pre-20th century world history, my reason for shock and awe was due to the knowledge that the Treaty of Versailles was signed in that very room, the treaty that ended World War I and started the League of Nations. I simply couldn’t believe how beautiful this room was and how much took place within its confines.


Quickly (almost running) through much of the rest of the museum and passing many of the paintings devoted to the King himself, we made it to the gardens. It looked as if the land went on for an eternity. The Versailles Gardens are quite a sight to see. Let me put it this way, I would HATE to be the gardener and maintenance crew…your job would never end.



The sculptures, the fountains, the manicured lawns, all of it drew me in as I pictured hundreds of guests walking around, men and women wearing proper 17th and 18th century European attire (depending on who was ruling and when of course), and admiring the splendors that Versailles presents to those who enter its gates. To call this place a garden is in my opinion, one of the biggest understatements. The “Gardens” are works of art, created by various men who showcased their work beautifully. Never have I seen such art displayed in such an enormous and thought out way. My only wish was that I could have seen more.


Thursday, August 11, 2011

Tips for Cruising

When preparing to go on a cruise, there are many things that new cruisers are unaware of prior to saying “bon voyage.” As someone who has cruised 9 times, my family and I have picked up a few tips that we believe are quite helpful when deciding to take a cruise vacation.


1. Watch your onboard budget
Once you board your cruise liner, you will forgo the cash and instead, be given a handy-dandy little card with your name on it. That my friend is your “cash” while on the ship. Now everyone knows that when paying with actual cash, it is much more difficult to part with; however, once you slide a plastic card into someone’s hand, well…you could easily end up with heart palpitations and your mouth agape once you see the bill at the end of your cruise. My tip: Alcohol and gambling seem to be the main reason why so many people have outrageous bills at the end of their cruises. Set a limit for yourself. When it comes to gambling, I set aside a specific amount of cash before I leave and I budget myself every night. If I lose it, it’s gone, if not, great! With alcohol, allot yourself maybe 1-2 or 2-3 drinks a day. Trust me, after being in the sun as much as you will be, you’ll appreciate the FREE WATER!!!

2. Pack a large water bottle
This is something that my dad picked up on quickly. Although you are provided small cups for water on the boat, you will constantly be getting up and down to refill your drink. When you’re laying outside, getting some sun and enjoying a good book on a “day at sea” day, the last thing you want is to pick up your cup and realize that you’re out of water, especially when you are sweating bullets. My tip: Pack a water bottle and fill that baby up before stepping outside in your shades and swimsuit…trust me, once you get comfortable on that lounge chair, and you realize that you have a nice, big, tall bottle of ice water next to you, you’ll thank me for this.

3. Watch your waistband
In a previous post, I wrote about the food that can be found on a cruise ship. If you are new to the cruising world, you might just be amazed, no, completely in awe, of what you might see when walking through the buffet line. Not only is every ethnic food made available to you, but you don’t receive just a plate, no, you receive a platter for your food. Piling on your pickings can result in a pooched out belly, tiredness, and the “why did I eat that much” comment. Think about it, when we’re at home, we eat only what is on our plate (our regularly sized plates at least) most of the time. We do not eat pancakes, oatmeal, cereal, fruit, muffins, bacon AND an omelet every morning; however, on a cruise, you can most definitely do that. My tip: I am as guilty as anyone else, but one thing I’ve learned, harder you work out before the cruise, the harder it will be to get back into the routine once you arrive back home. After a week of gorging yourself full of food and slacking on the work outs, the last thing you’ll feel like doing is hopping back on the treadmill. Watch your food intake on the ship. Besides, if you go to the nice evening dinner in the dining room; THAT is where you want to make sure that you’re hungry.

4. Pack Reasonably
When going on a cruise, if you are going to the Caribbean or a warm weather area, pack accordingly. If there are several days at sea, or you know you’ll be spending much of your time in port on the beach, pack plenty of bathing suits, flip flops, and athletic shorts (if you’re me that is). Don’t bog your suitcase down with fancy wedges, designer shorts and tops, thinking that you’ll be wearing this every day, etc…9 times out of 10, you won’t wear it. My tip: I tend to go for comfort when on a cruise. I tend to take flip flops (don’t take up much room), 1 nice pair of heels and/or wedges for nice dinner evenings, 1 pair of cute sandals for port days that don’t involve water and/or beaches, a few swimsuits, athletic shorts and t-shirts. Throw in a few sundresses, Bermuda shorts and cute tops for nights on the ship (going to shows, the casino, or clubs).

5. Tip the Appropriate People
Considering the fact that all of the cruises I’ve taken have been with my family, my parents have always fit the bill for things; however, I do understand the process of it all. At the end of your cruise, make sure to tip those who have made your cruise a joyful experience, after all, once you get back home, there will be no one there to make your bed and turn it down every day, cook your meals, clean up after you, and greet you with a smile at every turn. My tip: Tip your cabin steward, your maître d’, your waiter, any good casino dealers (mine usually go to the blackjack dealers), and anyone else who has gone above and beyond and made your cruising experience one you’ll never forget.

So, there are just a few tips I have for a great cruising experience. I have many more but in an effort to keep this post somewhat short, I’ll only give you 5 for now. Keep these in mind when thinking about a cruise. It is a great way to see various parts of the world and being on the ship can be just as fun as being off the ship!!!

For more great tips...go check out one of my favorite blogs by Alyssa!!! http://fleur-de-lyss.blogspot.com/2011/08/packing-cruise-edition.html

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Top Five Things You Must Do in St. Petersburg, Florida

Having spent many of my summer vacations in this lovely city, I have learned many of the ins and outs of St. Petersburg. Not only is it an ideal location for rest and relaxation, but as someone who has vacationed here ever since the age of well, a baby, I have to say…it is a place that is close to my heart.


1. Go to Fort De Soto Beach

Many would say that a beach is a beach, but there’s something special about Fort De Soto. Not only have I found hundreds and hundreds of shells along this beach, but I have built many a sand castles too. It may not be the softest sand, say like, Destin beaches, but it truly is a beautiful beach. My family once found a seahorse bobbing up and down in the water…and it was pregnant! (Side Note: Male seahorses carry the babies…HA)

2. Visit The Pier

Looking much like an upside down pyramid, The Pier is a staple in St. Petersburg. Filled with shops and restaurants, this is a great place to have some excellent food, listen to great music, and look out onto the great Florida water. Many times we have eaten at the Columbia Restaurant before retreating to the top deck and kicking back with a daiquiri and warm breeze, all while listening to a steel drum band…you can’t beat it for a nice night out.

3. Go to the Don Cesar Hotel

Unfortunately, this hotel is a bit out of our price range, but it sure does make for a nice little visit. Drowning in the color of Pepto Bismol pink, this hotel has been a St. Pete attraction for quite a long time. For those of us who can’t afford the lavish stay, a nice jaunt through a few of the shops, a stroll along the pathways leading throughout the hotel, and a gorgeous view of the beach makes for a nice and memorable day.

4. Visit St. Pete Beach

This is just one of the other many beaches I have frequented during my many stays in Florida. Hundreds upon hundreds of photographs have been taken of me in my bathing suit (as a small child of course), building sand castles and splashing in the waves. In all fairness, I do believe this is a much nicer beach, however, if you’re looking for seashells, you’ll have better luck at Fort De Soto Beach.

5. Drive a short way to Busch Gardens in Tampa

This is by far one of my all-time favorite amusement parks in the country. I have done Universal Studios, Disneyworld, Epcot, MGM, Kentucky Kingdom, and many more, but this place is very special to me. Not only do you get the exhilarating rides, which include inverted roller coasters and all-time classics like the Kumba, but you get to see animals, visit the Crown Colony Restaurant (which is the ideal place to go after spending all day in the hot sun because it has AC), and one of our favorite places was Das Festhaus. Apparently, in 2004, it was transformed into ‘Desert Grill,’ but it used to be a German eatery and while you ate, you could watch German dance performances.

So, there you have my friends…my top 5 things to do in St. Petersburg. I have not been back in almost 10 years and it saddens me greatly. I hope to return soon and enjoy all of the great things that I have mentioned above, as well as a few new additions that St. Pete now has for its visitors. I must say, this place is not for everyone; however, it is a great place to stay and relax. Besides, you’re not very far from some excellent amusement parks.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

And the Recommendations and Reviews Just Keep Coming!!!

As many of you know, I love to watch movies and read, especially if these particular movies and books pertain to traveling. I had hopes of watching "The Art of Travel" before writing this post; however, as I am about to go out of town this weekend and I won't be able to watch it before I leave, I'll wait until next time to include it in my recommendations/reviews. However, I do believe I have some worthy books and movies for all of you...well, with the exception of one.


Movies:

A Summer in Genoa: If I’m being totally honest, this was a different kind of movie. It starts Colin Firth and Catherine Keener and as much as I love Colin Firth, this was not one of his finest. After the death of his wife, he decides to take his two daughters to Genoa where a close friend from Harvard lives (Catherin Keener). His oldest daughter finds herself becoming friendly with some of the local boys while the youngest daughter continues to have nightmares about her mother’s death and has trouble dealing with living in a world without her mom. There doesn’t really seem to be much of a solid plot and ends on a very “what now” note. It is definitely not one that I would recommend; however, the landscape and scenery reminded much of Rome with the cobblestone streets and narrow alleyways.
My Life in Ruins: Having never seen “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” I have never watched many movies with Nia Vardalos; however, this one was quite…fun. Set in Athens, Greece, Georgia (Nia Vardalos), works as a tour guide who is tired of her job and tired of the same-old tourists who would rather shop than witness Greece’s historical beauty. Ready to move back to the states, she decides to take one more tour group. When they come along, not only does she meet some interesting characters, but she forms a friendship with a man who has his own words of wisdom for her. All the while, an attraction to an unlikely bus driver forms and she quickly finds herself falling back in love with Greece all over again.


Books:

Sand in my Bra and Other Misadventures by Jennifer Leo: If you’ve read any of my past reviews, you would know that I am a big fan of Jennifer Leo and her work. This book is no exception. With her clever titles, Sand in my Bra is just as funny as Whose Panties Are These? Women continue to tell their hilarious tales of traveling solo and you learn quickly of what should and shouldn’t do on the road. Reading about Ellen DeGeneres’ fear of flying, a woman’s tale of nearly being trampled by wild elephants, and even a woman going topless on a Tahitian beach…you will find yourself laughing hysterically with every story.

Educating Alice: Adventures of a Curious Woman by Alice Steinbach: This is the sequel to “Without Reservations” which I reviewed not too long ago. Alice Steinbach certainly has a way with descriptive words and imagery. In this book, she takes her readers to various parts of the world, detailing her experiences along the way. Not only does she learn about border collies and sheep herding in Scotland, but she delves into the world of geisha girls in Kyoto, Japan. On top of that, you get the feeling of what it would be like to take a cooking class in Paris, France; learn the history of Florence, Italy, and become a part of the hot Cuban lifestyle in Havana. I would highly recommend her books, not only for her style of writing, but because of the stories she tells…they make you want to pack your bags and take off on your own experiences.

French Lessons: Adventures with Knife, Fork and Corkscrew by Peter Mayle: All I can say is that Peter Mayle certainly knows his stuff when it comes to France and all things French. Discovering his passion for French cooking at 19, his book details much of the necessities and indulgences that can be found in French food. Devoting chapters to frog legs, cheese and wine, I often found my stomach rumbling through the process of reading this book. Although the idea of frog legs does not seem too appetizing to me, I cannot deny how wonderful French cheese, breads and wines are. And let’s not forget the chocolates. Oh the many patisseries that call France home. Including informative and interesting history in regards to the foods, the drinks, and the people, I can just say that this will not be the last book I pick up written by Peter Mayle.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Traveling Back to November 1963

Do any of you recall where you were on November 22, 1963? For most of us, that date is one that preceded our existence by at least a decade or more. The assassination of JFK stands out as one of those days our parents will never forget, just as many of our grandparents will never forget the bombing at Pearl Harbor, and we will never forget September 11, 2001.


I have been fortunate enough to have visited each of these sites at various stages in my life, with each one having a substantial impact in the way I view America and its history. While visiting my sister in Dallas a few years ago, our family decided to visit the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza.

Opting to take a tour of the old Book Depository, we worked our way through the museum’s exhibits and collections, learning bits and pieces about JFK himself, as well as those whose names are etched into history for the role they played in the assassination plot.

Videotapes, recordings, newspaper clippings, and photographs helped to display the events of that fateful day; however, it wasn’t until we stopped in front of the window that looked down upon Elm Street. Whether or not you believe that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone or at all in the assassination, one could not help but picture the man right there in that room.

After leaving the Depository, we made our way down to the area of the “grassy knoll.” Having stood in various places, where history took place, this was an equally moving moment. Standing where so many witnessed our 35th President be shot, I suddenly wondered how my parents felt. Hearing them recall how they were sitting in school when they heard the news, this must have been a surreal moment for them to actually be standing where it all took place.

I’ve always said that one can learn much about history in a textbook; however, to truly experience and appreciate it, one must travel to see where it took place.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

There’s No Place Quite like New York

In 2005, my sister was living in Manhattan, attending graduate school at Columbia University. I was fortunate enough to visit her on multiple occasions, to which I saw some of the most amazing monuments, buildings, and memorials. As many times as I visited, my sister and I made sure to take some great photos to hold us over until we get to visit again.


Overlooking Central Park

The amazing Empire State Building




A view of the Empire State Building from On Top the Rock...one of my favorite places in NYC!


The New York City Harbor at Night

The Rockefeller Center Tree...truly one of the most beautiful things I've seen...and what a day that was!

This was just down the street from my sister's apartment...yes, it is the "Tom's Restaurant" that you see in Seinfeld...at the least the outside of it.

I do have more photos but unfortunately, I can't load them onto my computer right now. New York City is a completely different kind of experience, especially from a girl who has grown up in Arkansas her entire life. It's some place that I love so much and believe everyone should visit at least once in their life. From visiting Ellis Island to walking through Central Park to standing in the presence of where so many perished on 9/11...New York City is quite a place and one I hope to visit time and time again.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Ragged Old Flag

Happy Birthday America! The stars and stripes of this great nation mean many things to many people...respect, courage, honor, humility, loss, pride, and faith. Our flag has seen it all and continues to fly high today...may her colors of red, white, and blue never run, and may the people of the United States honor her always.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Visiting Venice…Take Galoshes

When my sister and I visited Venice last summer, we ran into some unexpected weather. Only spending 2 days in this lovely city, we were not met with much sunshine. However, we were certainly not going to let that ruin our time there, so we pulled out the umbrellas, unfolded the map, and prepared to make our way through the charming areas of Venice.

Spending much of our day touring Doge’s Palace, visiting Rialto Bridge, and scouring our way through the narrow streets, we eventually decided that it was time to partake in the delicacies that Venice had to offer. Coming to St. Mark’s Square, we were halted by the sight before us. Now, I’ve heard for years that Venice is a place that everyone must visit at least one in their life because the city is literally sinking. Completely surrounded by water, I found it to be quite unique that only one car seemed to rest in the city. However, as much as I loved taking the water taxis from place to place, I didn’t think I would need to take one through the middle of St. Mark’s Square.


There, in the middle of the square, were people wading nearly knee deep in water. The rain that had fallen most of the day had practically flooded the square. Looking at my sister, we wondered if we might be exiled to one side, but luckily there was a narrow strip of ground that was dry. Deciding that I’d rather not walk around in wet, squishy tennis shoes and wet jeans, we opted to make our way to the dry pathway. As we passed through, I noticed there were many people who smiled, rolled up their pants, and walked on through.


By the time we made it back to the hotel, we learned that we could have rented galoshes…who knew? I guess when you live in Venice though; it’s not such a bad thing to invest in a pair. Either that, or just hike up your jeans and trudge on through.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Greece or New Zealand???

I need your help...or maybe really some advice. I'm trying to decide between two unbelieveably beautiful destinations to visit next year, around May. A good friend of mine is moving to Wellington, New Zealand and I would love more than anything to go visit her and to see a place I've dreamed of seeing for years and years. To see the waterfalls, the beaches, and all the beautiful scenery, it just seems like an amazing place to see.

However, I have been doing some research and looking into various places in Greece, and let's just say, I am completely in love with Greece and I haven't even been yet! If I go to Greece, I'm thinking I'll only be able to go for a week, maybe a little bit longer. I've already decided that part of mine time would be spent in Athens and the other part of my time in Santorini.

So, this is where you guys come in...what advice do you have for me in choosing between these two places? Is May a good time to visit either of them? What do I absolutely, without a doubt, HAVE to do in these places?

Saturday, June 18, 2011

For All You Travel Readers Out There

Sorry I've been away for a few weeks now. I've been a bit preoccupied, but I am back and have some more reading recommendations for you guys!

The Good Girl’s Guide to Getting Lost by Rachel Friedman: Rachel Friedman certainly has an interesting and exciting story to tell in “The Good Girl’s Guide to Getting Lost.” Traveling to Ireland, Australia, and South America, Friedman and a girl she meets in Ireland, both try out new and exciting adventures. To get the perspective of someone who’s followed the rules most of her life, done was is expected of her, and finds accomplishment in even the smallest of things, I found that I could really relate to Rachel Friedman. The way she talks about arriving at the airport in Ireland and her attempts to get to her hostel unscathed…I could definitely see myself in her shoes. This book is a fabulous read and I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to stop with the excuses and just get out there and see the world. Friedman brings to light many of the excuses we Americans make for not traveling and sadly…I’ve heard myself making those very same excuses.


Whose Panties Are These? By Jennifer Leo: If you want a book filled with hilarious tales of women’s travels, then I highly suggest you pick up this book. Not only will you read about a woman having hemorrhoid problems in Holland while she hopes to have a romantic getaway with her fiancé, but you will also read about a woman who experiences what it is like to have a bug crawl into her ear and the nonchalant attitude of her husband, as well as a woman who wonders if eating Lebanese chicken will make her breasts bigger. I never turn down a book that deals with humorous travel experiences. For those of us who have yet to set out on our own major adventures, it helps to relieve the tension when reading about other mishaps along the way.

Italian for Beginners by Kristin Harmel: A good friend of mine sent me this book and included a very heartfelt note inside telling me that from one Roman Holiday lover to another, this would be a great book for me to read. Normally, I am not a travel fiction kind of ready; however, this one was so incredibly good that it was hard for me to put down. I literally found myself turning the pages and getting lost in the story. I love books like that, ones that keep you so engrossed that the thought of having to put it up makes you mad. This is a book that details the life of a 34-year-old woman, Cat Connelly, who is quite unlucky in love. She also has mommy issues. She goes to Rome to see a long lost love and finds out he’s a dud. However, along the way, she meets Marco, Nico, and Karina, as well as a few other fun characters, and soon finds herself dealing with old “ghosts,” all while finding her true self.

Go Your Own Way by Christina Henry de Tassen: I read this while I was on vacation and honestly, I’d probably give it a 3 out 5 stars when rating it. It is a book that is much similar to Whose Panties Are These? But it is much more serious. These women tell their stories about traveling the world and only at times are some of these stories humorous. Mostly, you learn about the experiences of women traveling solo and the challenges they can sometimes face. It is a good book and I would recommend it, but just be aware that if you are looking for something more light-hearted, you might try Jennifer Leo’s books.

What are you guys reading and what travel books do you recommend?

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Swimming with Stingrays in Grand Cayman

For anyone who has ever been to the Cayman Islands, you know that swimming with stingrays is one of the highlight tourist attractions. Several years ago, my family and I visited the islands and did the whole tour of the island, visited a turtle farm, took a nice trip through Hell (there really is a city there called ‘Hell’) and finally, swam with stingrays.


That experience made quite an impression on me as this last time, we opted to swim with them again. It’s funny because when a lot of people think of these creatures, their first expressions are ones of fear; however, these are some of the gentle and amazing creatures of the sea.

The last time we went out to a sandbar in the middle of the ocean and were standing in water waist deep, just watching and touching them as they swam by us. This time, we were literally in the ocean and unfortunately, we had to wait for the divers to bring them up to the surface for us to see them.

Swimming in clear blue water, it was fairly easy to see where they were, but the current was so strong that we kept being pushed back into the rope that helped to hold the boat in place. I didn’t do much exercising on the cruise, but spending 45 minutes treading water and working to swim against a strong current and I promise you, you will feel it later.


That's me holding Romeo

One of the divers went down to bring up Romeo, a male stingray. Opting to provide us with a bit of stingray knowledge, he asked if any of us would like to hold him. Being the one closest to Romeo, I decided (after a bit of encouragement from my mom) to hold him. Now, there is a specific way to hold a stingray so that they one, won’t swim away from you, and two, they won’t take on a defensive “attitude.”

Being instructed by the diver, I placed my hands on the front area of his fins, with his face pointing towards me, and kept his eyes just below the water. I’m telling you, it was one of the neatest experiences being able to hold this stingray. He felt so smooth, yet a bit slimy. It’s not the kind of feel that makes you want to jerk your hand away though.

The instructor told me to just let him go whenever I was ready and so I did. He swam away and I immediately looked to my parents and asked if they’d gotten that on video. With a thumbs up from them, I was grateful that I’d though to bring my video camera on this trip; to capture moments just like that one.

My sister and me on the boat