Port-au-Prince, July 2012

Let me preface this entry by saying that I’m far from an authority on Haiti, and that I’ll also refrain from going too far into the weeds in terms of sociopolitical commentary. Haitians are some of the most enterprising people ever, yet the country faces an enormous number of interwoven challenges, many of which Haitian society must resolve itself, and which can’t just be willed away or covered up with billions of dollars in donor funds. The White Savior Industrial Complex permeates nearly everything related to foreign assistance, and that’s likely a big part of the problem.

Port-au-Prince is full of contrasts, and I’m not going to show you all the bad – the dirt, the trash, the poverty, the earthquake damage, you can find plenty of those shots in news reports. Instead, I wanted to show you some of what you probably haven’t seen on TV: a different side of Haiti.

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Deal of the Week: DC – Puerto Rico, $240 R/T through April 2013

This week’s deal: $240 R/T airfare to Puerto Rico from DC, or $211 R/T from Raleigh, NC, available for travel dates through April 2013. The weather will be nice enough to enjoy El Morro (below) without getting heatstroke, and you’ll have a chance to familiarize yourself with our future 51st state.

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I’d highly recommend staying at the El Convento, which has the added benefit of hosting all-you-can-consume wine & cheese soirees every night from 5-7 pm. Another food discovery was the El Meson sandwich chain (corner of calle San Jose & calle San Francisco), which serves a phenomenal breakfast. Great drinks & excellent conch are served at Aureola (106 calle San Sebastian) in Old San Juan. NOTE: If you’re going strictly for beach time, you’ll want to stay on the beach, as getting there from Old San Juan can get annoying and expensive.

CREDITS: image – Wikipedia, deal – Fly.com

A Guide to Kansas for Paul Theroux

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IMAGE CREDIT: Wikimedia Commons

Paul Theroux, the iconic American travel writer, recently published an article on his Travel Wish List in the New York Times  (he probably followed my example ;)). In it, he notes:

My wish list of places is not only long but, in many cases, blindingly obvious. Yes, I have been to Patagonia and Congo and Sikkim, but I haven’t been to the most scenic American states, never to Alaska, Montana, Idaho or the Dakotas, and I’ve had only the merest glimpse of Kansas and Iowa. I want to see them, not flying in but traveling slowly on the ground, keeping to back roads, and defying the general rule of “Never eat at a place called Mom’s, never play cards with a man called Doc …”

I find this to be true of most Americans, actually, particularly those raised on either coast; my friends from New York and California have trouble finding my home state of Kansas on a map. If you ask someone from Connecticut to list which states border Iowa, you’re probably going to get a confused look in response. The entire landmass that occupies the central 70% of the U.S., referred to as “flyover country”, is typically seen as having very limited appeal for the average “avid traveler”. These people want to see the temples of Thimphu and the shores of Easter Island, not some no-name town with a Wal-Mart and a Lowe’s as its main attractions. To be fair, having been raised in such a town, I can’t really blame them – I don’t have much desire to go out of my way to see rural Indiana, for instance. However, they might be surprised to learn that “flyover country” is actually creeping up towards the top of “exotic” destination lists for some foreign tourists, who’ll pay not insignificant sums of money to drive from Kentucky to Vegas, for instance, on a “One-Story America” type of organized tour. (Sidenote: “One-Story America” is a series of articles (later a book) written in the 1930s by popular Soviet authors Ilf & Petrov. You can find excerpts from the book in English here.) As Theroux rightly notes, “[t]he long, improvisational road trip by car is quintessentially American,” and “flyover country” has lots of space to offer wandering souls in that regard.

When going to Kansas, there are a couple things one should keep in mind:

  1. It’s very big. You don’t really realize how big it is until you try to drive across it.
  2. It’s very sparsely populated. Google tells us the whole state houses 2.8 million souls; for 82,280 sq miles (213,100 km²), that’s a population density of 34 people per sq mile. In Miami proper, for instance, that figure is 10,160.
  3. Everything is really cheap. An 8 oz filet mignon will run you $9.99. You also get two sides with that.
  4. Everyone is really nice… so long as you are, too. Don’t be rude, don’t stare at people wearing only overalls and nothing else, don’t get frustrated when they tell you that the place you’re looking for is “10 minutes north”. Kansans are born with built-in compasses. That’s just how it goes.
  5. Don’t drive under 70 mph on I-70. It’s just annoying.

With that settled, here are some places you should see, if for no other reason than because chances are, none of your friends ever will. Here’s where to…

EAT: Teller’s in Lawrence. Formerly a bank, now converted into a restaurant. Bathrooms accessible through old vault doors. Best ravioli you will ever – EVER – have.

VISIT: The Iwig Dairy Farm in Tecumseh. The only one-street town where it’s actually wholly possible to get really lost.

LEARN: Kansas Museum of History in Topeka. Because people forget the role played by this whole area in the history of the country.

DESCEND: Kansas Underground Salt Museum in Hutchinson. Because it’s awesome. One of the guides (hopefully!) still working there has spent his entire long life in the mine. Pretty spectacular experience, and you get to take home a piece of salt.

CHEER: for the Jayhawks playing basketball. Or football. Or any sport, really. Nowhere will you find a college community that’s as warm and welcoming.

GET CREEPED OUT: in ghost towns. The sad part of urbanization and development is that a myriad of tiny towns have died out over the past century and a half, leaving only eerie reminders of the lives that were once led there. Definitely worth a visit, but do some research in advance, and don’t break any laws.

Enjoy!

Funky Paris

Atlas Obscura may be my new favorite thing: it’s a great crowdsourced collection of destinations off the beaten path. It’s too vast for me to cover in a night – I only made it to page 16 – but I did come across some great finds, including places that are going on my list of things to see when I’m in Paris for work in a couple of weeks. My top pick: a Bohemian “artist squat” at 59 rue de Rivoli!

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Here I must admit that I’m not actually crazy about Paris. I’ve done all the touristy stuff and I’ve never been blown away by the city, except for this one particular spot in front of the Sacré-Cœur from which I love watching the sun rise:

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This time I’m going to plan my free time better and see as much of the off-road stuff as possible (with the exception of taxidermist crafts, because, um, ew.) The Arènes de Lutèce, which I always forget to visit, are on my list, as is Un Regard Moderne, where I will probably definitely buy too many books. We’re staying near Pigalle, which is guaranteed to be a shitshow, so my evening plans are sorted.

Might any Paris experts have further advice on cool and/or weird things to see?

IMAGE CREDITS: (1) Wikimedia Commons, (2) mine!

Deal of the Week: DC to Istanbul, Jan/Feb 2013

As part of an effort to do more for other people this year, I’m going to start sharing great travel deals I find around the interwebs, in the hopes that someone can take advantage of them, have a great trip, and spread general joy and cheer. Consider this my version of “baking a cake filled with rainbows and smiles that everyone would eat and be happy…” (c).

This week’s deal: DC to Istanbul for ~ $525 RT in January 2013 on Turkish or ~ $440 RT in February (dates vary) on United, Delta, KLM – take your pick.

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If we weren’t going to the Grand Canyon, I would SO be there – this is an amazing bargain. Do it! Not that you should need any more convincing, but here’s the Lonely Planet guide to Istanbul that should seal the deal.

P.S. Here’s a list of 20 great things to do in Istanbul. The only thing keeping me from going over Inauguration Day weekend, when DC turns into a zoo, is that I just won’t have time to see it all :(

CREDIT: image – Wikimedia Commons, quote – Mean Girls, deal – Kayak.

February 2013: Wherein We Survey Geological Formations

Because of our long-distance-ness and convoluted work schedules, my boyfriend & I began considering taking a trip somewhere in late February, as it’s the last available date before shit hits the fan in our respective lines of work. Initially, I was going to go visit him in Bermuda, as I’ve done over weekends past, but I was told it’s going to be “miserable” at that time (note that we have many first world problems of this nature), so we started looking at other destinations. Disney was rejected on the basis of it being a racket, Colombia was set aside because it didn’t seem like there was very much to do for the cost involved, and beach destinations aren’t up for consideration because, and I quote, “it looks just like Bermuda”. This is where I begin considering whether finding myself a nice young man from somewhere like Wisconsin would’ve been a better bet :|

Anyway, the boyfriend’s big thing is seeing the wonders of the world, so we have almost settled on the Grand Canyon. Bearing in mind that scene from The Guilt Trip where they’re standing in front of the Grand Canyon wondering how long they need to keep looking at it, I tacked on some additional attractions around the area. This is where I turn to you, People of the Internet: does this seem like a reasonable itinerary?

Day 1: Fly into Phoenix around midday, drive 4 hours to Grand Canyon Village, spend the night there.

Day 2: Spend the day doing Grand Canyon things.

Day 3: Drive 2-3 hours to Monument Valley in the morning, do Monument Valley things, spend the night there.

Day 4: Drive back to the Grand Canyon, stop there for lunch, drive to Phoenix, spend the night in Phoenix, and fly out at obscene o’clock on the morning of Day 5.

Note: We won’t be camping or hiking long distances or anything like that, so might there be a way to squeeze in, say, Arches National Park at the expense of extra time in the Grand Canyon? Please advise!

The Wishlist

Whenever I’ve tried to come up with a bucket list, it’s inevitably turned into a list of desired destinations. I don’t really care about running the Marine Corps Marathon (in fact, I could think of nothing I’d like to do less) or adopting a colony of feral ferrets, cute as they may be, but I do want to go everywhere and see everything. Like, right now. The idea behind this blog is thus to systematize my haphazard travel planning. I feel like I’ve missed out on many opportunities to see new places solely due to lack of forethought, and I’ve also been more conservative with finances than I really have to be, I think. My goal for this year and the years to follow is to travel more for pleasure and to go further in the process. So here it is: The Wishlist, with destinations I’ve never been to grouped by priority and feasibility, but in no particular order.

Priority Destinations (2013-2014):

  1. Peru – Cusco, Machu Picchu, pretty standard stuff
  2. India & Goa
  3. Colombia – Bogota, Cartagena, Medellin
  4. Ecuador – Quito & the Galapagos
  5. Costa Rica – THIS PLACE.
  6. Turkey – Istanbul & Pamukkale

Extended Weekend Getaways from the US:

  1. Trinidad
  2. Martinique
  3. Barbados
  4. Antigua
  5. Panama
  6. Alaska
  7. Curacao
  8. Honduras – Roatan & the Bay Islands

Extended Weekend Getaways in the US:

  1. Yosemite
  2. Grand Canyon
  3. New Orleans

Extended Weekend Getaways from Europe:

  1. Latvia 
  2. Estonia
  3. Finland
  4. Sweden
  5. Czech Republic

Should I Happen to Have a Week in Europe… Places (Summer Edition):

  1. Portugal & Madeira OR Portugal & Azores
  2. Corsica
  3. Sardinia & Sicily
  4. Croatia
  5. Bosnia
  6. Romania
  7. Georgia
  8. Abkhazia, which I will classify as semi-sovereign in the absence of a proper international ruling on its status…
  9. Ireland & Scotland

Should I Happen to Have a Week in Europe… Places (Winter Edition):

  1. Norway 
  2. Austria & Hungary OR Austria & specifically Berlin OR Austria & Slovenia
  3. Morocco
  4. Egypt
  5. Tunisia

“Eventually Getting There” Places:

  1. Brazil
  2. Chile
  3. Argentina – Buenos Aires & Uruguay – Montevideo
  4. Israel & Jordan
  5. UAE

“Eventually Getting There” Places, Dictatorship Edition:

  1. Burma
  2. Cuba
  3. North Korea

Trips of a Lifetime Routes:

  1. Indonesia & Papua New Guinea
  2. Patagonia & Antarctica
  3. Tanzania (including Zanzibar) & Madagascar
  4. Namibia & Botswana & South Africa
  5. Rwanda & Burundi
  6. Burkina Faso & Benin & Togo
  7. Cambodia & Japan
  8. Australia (incl. Tasmania) & New Zealand
  9. Fiji & Polynesia / Palau

The Leftovers:

  1. Hawaii, where I’m hoping someone gets married so I can kill multiple birds with a single boulder
  2. Nepal & Tibet, although I’m really not a hiker/mountaineer…
  3. Mauritius / Maldives (my guess is they’re more or less the same thing, with the former slightly less picture-perfect than the latter?)
  4. Sri Lanka – it would be ideal to tack this one onto India, but Goa wins
  5. Philippines

CREDIT: I was inspired by Lonely Planet’s Travel Book and the 1,000 Places to See Before You Die app whilst creating this list. If you enjoy traveling, you’ll love both.

NEXT UP: Planning where the $@#% I’m going to spend President’s Day. Stay tuned!

And so it begins.

Traveling is the single thing I enjoy most in life. I don’t have any particular talents, and my temporary “hobbies” have typically been little more than fleeting interests – certainly not enough to fill up a blog. I don’t want to start (and eventually abandon) yet another boring travel blog, the likes of which are strewn about the interwebs, in which I write about trips to inane places using unnecessarily flowery language. I do, however, want to keep a log of places I’d like to visit, places I’ve enjoyed the most, and places to which I’m actively planning trips. I currently have something of the sort on a giant whiteboard in my office, where flight itineraries are spelled out in IATA codes like some kind of Cro-Magnon-era cave paintings. This, with a few more poetic flourishes and maybe some Instagrammed pictures, is what I will transfer over to this space.

Eventually. Soon. Hopefully.