Monday, December 31, 2007

The Kite Runner Movie - Go See It!

I know, I know, I should have spent Sunday morning getting caught up on blogging and emails but when I saw that movies prior to noon cost $4, I ran out to see "The Kite Runner." I've read mixed reviews about the acting but I thought it was superb. The movie is almost as dark as the book but not quite. Still, it's an excellent movie almost staying true to the book. While little of the film was shot in Kabul, it evoked memories of the trip (here's the blog I kept, in case you missed it) and experience. I need to find some time, soon, to sit and write about the people and the experience some more, before the memories fade away.

Anyway, was happy to see a familiar face in the movie (the man in this photo). The shopkeeper across from the guesthouse has a bit part in the movie. He was also in the movie "Osama" and had a significant role (I haven't seen that movie yet).

All this talk of Afghanistan reminds me, I just received an email from Global Exchange, the group I traveled to Kabul with. They have several Reality Tours (which is what I participated in when I went to Afghanistan) coming up focusing on women's issues. Check them out.

But before you do, I just realized this will probably be my last post in 2007 so...

Just want to say thank you to everyone who's read, lurked and commented on this blog. Expect "different" things in 2008. It should be a fabulous year! Happy New Year!

Reality Tours Explore Women's Rights and Leadership in Afghanistan, India, South Africa and Venezuela

Global Exchange's tours provide insight into women's perspectives on their lives and the futures of their countries. Upcoming women-focused Global Exchange Reality Tours include:

March 1 - 11, 2008
Women's Rights and Leadership Venezuela
In Venezuela, women's advances have been dramatic under the government of President Hugo Chavez. The recently formed Women's Bank is empowering women to create and manage their own development projects through micro-credits and workshops; new laws require political parties to field 50% female and 50% male candidates; and the country is one of only a few in the hemisphere that acknowledges violence and discrimination against women as obstacles to the development of democracy.

March 3 - 12, 2008
Afghanistan Women's Delegation (this is the trip I took)
Join Global Exchange, in partnership with Afghans4Tomorrow on a women's delegation to Kabul, Afghanistan and bear witness to the self-generated transformation of women's roles in Afghan society. This trip provides the opportunity to gain first-hand insight into Afghan women's perspectives on their lives and the future of their country. In addition to meeting with women from all sectors of Afghan society, the delegation will have an opportunity to examine many other aspects of reconstruction including education, de-mining, arts, culture, and the media.

March 3 - 17, 2008
India: Women's Visions Confronting Globalization
Travel through northern India on this new tour that includes visits to highly successful people-based economic projects as well as stunning architectural and historical sites. Your exposure to sophisticated urban life to the dynamism of ordinary Indians in rural areas will give you a much more complete picture of this complex country than most Western stereotypes suggest.

August 6 - 18, 2008
South Africa: Women Building a Nation
This Reality Tour is centered on South African Women's Day, August 9th, which is the day when the Defiance Campaigns against apartheid began in the 1950s. Global Exchange trip participants attend rallies and celebrations, hear choirs and speeches and - most importantly - share the universal concerns of South African women for dignity, the full development of their talents and potentials, and economic self-sufficiency.

For a full list of Global Exchange Reality Tours (there's a trip planned to North Korea in 2008, that would be really cool), Click Here.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Home, Sweet, Home

There's always something about going home and being around family and I mean this in a good way. While there was time spent with family (see our Christmas photo) there was a lot of eating and sleeping. Not sure if I was getting caught up on a year's worth of sleep or if the wintry Buffalo climate makes everyone sleepy.

I'm now in my own home, without (again) my luggage. My flight was late leaving Buffalo and I barely made my connection to Tallahassee knowing the luggage probably wouldn't make it. U.S. Airways reserved me a seat on the next Tallahassee-bound flight, which is the flight my luggage is allegedly on.

I tracked the flight online, per instruction, and arrived at the airport about 10 minutes after it was to have landed. There was an eerie silence and no luggage on the belt. Turned out the flight was diverted to Pensacola due to fog. Hope my luggage makes it tomorrow and hope the cheese I packed in it holds up (I froze it, have an ice pack rubber banded to it and in a thermal bag). It's chocolate flavored and Buffalo chicken wing flavored, would hate to have these go bad.

Throughout my journey I read "Eat, Pray, Love" by Elizabeth Gilbert. A fabulous, fabulous read. I enjoyed it so much I gave a copy to my sister. Because of the book I want to visit Bali but it's inspired me to do something else, something I can actually do. And that something else will have to wait a little bit because tonight I'm tired and am going to call it an early night in preparation for the return to work tomorrow.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Just Had to Share This

Had to share this one with everyone. It was on the back of an SUV in a Buffalo parking lot. Love it!

Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas!

Wishing everyone a Merry Christmas. I'm enjoying the a white Christmas here up north and plan to resume my (ir)regular blogging next week. In the meantime, here's a photo from what I call my annual hair make-over. My sister can do miracles. Not sure if I'm going to be able to recreate this style once home. It's going to be especially hard to recreate the angelic-glow about me.


Enjoy the season!


Saturday, December 22, 2007

Who Let These Guys Past Security?

Made the journey yesterday from Tallahassee to Buffalo via Charlotte. I have to admit, the Charlotte airport is quite nice. Anyway, while waiting for my flight, a group of carolers stood right across to sing me Christmas carols. Just me, mind you, no one else was paying attention. This photo is proof of the airport serenade.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Hey! Any Literary Agents Out There? My Friend Needs Ya!

Hey! Are you a literary agent? My friend Mags needs ya. She's written her first novel, I'm sure it's brilliant, it has to be, she wrote it. Check her out!

Finding Hotels in Italy and Touristy Things to Do

Okay, so I'm still working on writing up my little Italy travel articles to include some info about the hotels in Italy, but, I've been a bit pre-occupied (that seems to be my mantra lately - always catching up but the in box never empties)...anyway...

My friends over at CheaperThanHotels.co.uk have inspired me to write this little post about hotels in Italy. After all, I just spent a week in November traveling in Italy so *now* I'm an expert :)

I have a travel agent to thank for booking my hotels in Italy and have to admit, t
he accommodations were pretty good. But, if I had to do it over again and put some more planning into the trip to Italy, I could have easily booked the hotels on my own. Thank goodness for the Internet!

Venice
First stop in Italy was Venice. I loved Venice. Our hotel was on the water and because it's a city of canals, I'm guessing most of the hotels in Venice are on the water.

Venice is extremely tourist-friendly and I recommend this being the first stop in the first-time-Italy-traveler's visit. Venice seems to ease travelers into the Italian culture with friendly people and easy to get around walkways and waterways. Be warned, expect to get lost in Venice, it seems a bit confusing but a tip I read in "Rick Steves' Italy 2008" advised to get lost and follow the signs posted on the walls and sure enough, found the hotel and where we wanted to go each time.

I loved Piazza San Marco and all the pigeons (although they scared me a bit), St Mark's Basilica (pictured above right) and Rialto Bridge. The morning fish market was fun, looking at the fresh catches and fresh produce. Took the vaporetto (think of it as a water bus) at night (I highly recommend buying a 24 or 48-hour vaporetto pass) which was incredible. Took it to Piazza San Marco and walked back to the hotel. It was a lovely walk allowing us to get a taste of the nightlife and see how the locals live.

We stayed at Hotel Santa Chiara, one of many three-star hotels in Venice. My bed looked like a sofa and the shower was small but the room was comfortable. Besides, when traveling to Italy, it's what happens outside the hotel which counts (unless of course, you're with a significant other, but I wouldn't know...)

Rome
Next was Florence, but that's another post for another day. So, I'll fast forward to Rome where we stayed at one of the select four-star hotels in Rome called Park Hotel Dei Massimi.

I definitely needed more time in Rome to explore the ruins and delve into the history. Did get to toss a coin into the Trevi Fountain (pictured) so guess that means I'll be returning to Rome someday. Also saw the famous Spanish Steps, Pantheon the Colosseum (pictured above left) by a full moon (yup, that was pretty cool).

Did spend a significant amount of time at the Vatican and was lucky enough to see the Pope. As I've written before, not sure what the Pope said but am pretty sure I was blessed! Took a tour underneath St. Peter's Basilica which was VERY cool. Got to see some of the Pope coffins, cool in a creepy way.

Although the hotel was four-star, I think I could have done better in choosing one of the many hotels in Rome closer to the city center. We had to catch a taxi from the metro to reach our hotel and when traveling on a budget, taxis usually aren't cool - they cut into the budget.

Milan
Heard fab things, especially about hotels in Milan, but didn't make. Did meet a couple of twenty-something gals who looked European (very fashion-forward) but who were from Chicago. They were taking the rail to Milan after Florence.

It's a city I'll have to see on my next trip to Italy. I mean, it has the Leonard Da Vinci National Museum of Science and Technology, the Duomo, one of the largest Cathedrals in the world and loads of fashion. Though I'm fashionably-challenged, think I'd enjoy Milan and imagine the Internet makes it easy to find hotels in Milan.

Hotels in Italy
There are loads of tourist-friendly hotels in Venice, Rome and Milan to choose from. In Venice, I'd recommend the Hotel Santa Chiara, it's close to the train station and bus drop off. As for hotels in Rome, if I was going to spend all my time at the Vatican, then the Park Hotel Dei Massimi is ideal but for a future visit, I'd find something either closer to the train station or city center. And finding hotels in Milan? I'd make sure it's near the city center or near a train stop to easily get around.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Would You Stay in a Hotel if You Found This in the Bathroom?

Warning: I certainly hope you're not eating when taking a peak at this photo - it's just plain gross. (Click on it to expand and get the full effect of grossness.)

Would you stay in a hotel if you found this (see photo) in the bathroom? Well, I did. I'm not a picky traveler but this hotel left the light on for me and wish they hadn't so I didn't have to see the dirtiness.

How did this come about? When I returned from Italy last month, my flight landed around midnight into Jacksonville International Airport. I booked into a hotel chain I used to frequent (and now I know why I haven't in a while) and is easy on the budget.

I hopped on the remote parking lot bus heading to lot #1. Of course I was on the right bus, I wrote the lot number down like a good traveler and tucked it in my wallet.

The driver asked where my car is, I told her which parking shelter I was parked and she informed me I was in the wrong lot! Doh! I wrote the right shelter down but the wrong parking lot.

My options were:
  • Be delivered back to the airport and wait (probably another 20 minutes) for the next shuttle.
  • Walk.
It's 12:30 now and I chose to walk. I'd been up for at least 24 hours and sitting on a plane for 7 hours, I needed fresh air to make it to the Jacksonville hotel.

Heading towards my car, a frizzy haired man, who was on my shuttle (and during the short ride, learned he's a grad student at the University of Florida), flagged me down.

"Do you have any jumper cables in your car? I left my lights on and my battery is dead."

Okay, I was sleep deprived yet remembered Ted Bundy murdered in Gainesville. Was this guy out to do bad things to me?

"Yeah, somewhere I have them, but I don't know where my car is. Let me get to my car," I said. I got thinking, there are people in the booths, why can't he go ask them for jumper cables?

I schlepped my luggage across the street to the other remote parking lot. I knew exactly where I parked, hopped in and in my brilliancy when selecting a remote parking lot, I chose the self-proclaimed "easy one. " The one where all you do is swipe your credit card, a receipt spits out and away you go.

Yeah, right...

I swiped my credit card, the machine read, "Processing" then "Approved." It then asked if I wanted a receipt and when I selected "Yes," nothing happened. The machine then directed me to pull forward. I pulled forward until the wooden arm of the gate was at the base of my windshield.

The stupid thing didn't open!

Because of the brilliant technology of the self check-out option, the booths are not staffed. Luckily, when I backed up the car, I found the "help" button (not to be confused with the Staples "Easy Button.")

I could barely understand the guy at the other end. Sounded like going through a fast food drive through.

"Yeah, I swiped my card and the gate won't open and it didn't give me a receipt."

I thought he said, "Do you want an apple pie with that" but after I let it processed, the garbled voice said, "You must have used the wrong card."

"No, I didn't. Why would it say 'processing' and 'accepted' and ask if I wanted a receipt and told me to pull forward if I used the wrong card?" [Hint - never argue with a woman who's been up for at least 24 hours and returning home from a trans-Atlantic flight]

"Hold on."

And then there was on-hold music. Not sure if it was his ploy to make me fall asleep or calm me down. But then the music was gone. He hung up on me!!!

Meanwhile, another patron was trying to leave and had the same issue. He pressed the button and was having the same pleasant dialogue as me.

I called the help button and an attendant was sent over and around 1:10 a.m., I was set free. But I kept a promise to help the frizzy-haired-possible-serial-killer-grad student.

I entered the parking lot (thinking, I better not have to pay for this good deed) and drove to his car.

"I thought you left," he said standing under the light smoking a cigarette.

"No, I got stuck at the parking lot, long story."

"Oh, well I didn't think you were coming so I went to the people in the booths and their sending someone. But thanks for coming back."

"Yeah, whatever, have a good night," and off I went and checked into my evening shelter.

The things I found in that room were disgusting. It took me 15 minutes to get the deadbolt to lock and I ended up shoving a chair under the door handle as added security. I took a shower in the morning and just didn't feel clean. If I hadn't been so tired when I arrived, I would have asked for another room or left, but at that point in the evening (really morning), I stayed. Think I fell asleep around 2:30 a.m. and was awoken around 4:30 a.m. by what sounded like someone trying to break into my room.

Come daylight, I was on the road back to Tallahassee around 8 a.m.

So I ask, what's the most disgusting hotel room you've stayed in?

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Get Jets! in Pensacola

Visit to the National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola today. Gives me a better appreciation of the Navy and military as a whole and helped me understand more of our military history. More about the trip once I get home.
On the way back to the hotel, saw a sign reading, "Navy Shopping Mall." Is that where I can pick up a guy in the Navy? Hmmm...

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

View from the Hilton Pensacola Beach Gulf Front

In Pensacola for our annual sales staff retreat. Lucky you, I figured out how to use the camera on my new Blackberry AND email them so enjoy the setting sun (which happens to be my view from the Hilton Pensacola Beach Gulf Front). Now if I can only figure out the GPS on this thing, I'll be all set...










Anyone Who's Traveled to Japan Will Appreciate This

Right after I returned from my trip to Japan in 2004, one of my team members sent me this video. Having been to Japan, it's one of the funniest things I've ever seen. I KNEW there was a conspiracy! Enjoy the video.

Which reminds me, I owe Eiko and Hiya cards and Toshi an email. I'm on it...


Japanese Food Culture - The most amazing home videos are here

Oh, and if you haven't read it, here's my article called, "How to Use a Japanese Toilet." My goal for 2008 is to write one about bathing in Japan.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Where the Road Will Lead Me in 2008

Next year is less than a month away and time to start planning my 2008 travels. In my quest to reduce my debt, my goal is to *gulp* travel less. Not sure how that's going to work out mentally, but it's just something I need to do. I can't cut back on anything else except travel in order to reach my debt-free goal by the time I turn 40. And I have some serious catching up to do in this department.

Anyway, I've decided to tie business trips with a bit of personal, taking an extra day off here and there. To that extent, this is what I have planned for the first half of 2008:

January: San Antonio, Texas to visit Yellowstone pal Madge. Really looking forward to seeing her. I talked to her over the weekend and she informed me our friend Rebecca, who still lives and works in the park, got married! Very happy for her and need to drop her a line. Madge also sent me the book Letters from Yellowstone for Christmas. Can't wait to read it! Having lived and worked in Yellowstone, I'm still a Yellowstone sponge, soaking up everything Yellowstone.

February: Virginia Beach, Va. Not taking any extra time off for this trip but leaving really late on the last day so I can kayak and bike with the group. Should be interesting kayaking in February. I imagine it'll be cold.

March: Going to TRY and get to Sarasota this month, not sure if it'll happen.

March: Asheville, NC. Haven't spent much time here so am looking forward to it. Arriving a couple of days early to celebrate my friend Zelda Mae's birthday and find some of the pottery places in the area. Airfare prices, though, are outrageous!

April: New Orleans, La. Participating in the Tourism Cares 2008 Project in New Orleans to help clean up Louis Armstrong Park. I wanted to participate with Tourism Cares a couple of years ago when they were in the gulf coast but due to a schedule conflict, couldn't. Glad my schedule will permit me to make this trip.

Atlanta, Ga. I hope to be meeting up with Meg while I'm in town for a weekend show in mid-April Maybe I'll get to see other Yellowstone pals, too.

And that's all I know. My Sarasota trips will be reduced and my car will be paid off in July 2008 (yeah!). I need to hang onto it at least another year, fingers crossed.

Tomorrow I head out to Pensacola for the a work retreat. Looking forward to it since I haven't spent any time (other than driving I-10) to that part of the State.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

The Kitchen Gadget I'd Like for Christmas

My Mom sent an email asking if I needed any kitchen gadgets for Christmas. The only thing I could think of was a decent wine bottle opener, then I read this article about the Hillary Nutcracker being on Stupic.com's "Stupidest Holiday Gifts" list.

I so want one!!!! Please??? I added it to my Amazon wish list :) It would go with my Bush shot glass and Bush magnet stating, "He volunteered for a beer run, he ended up running the world."

I'm a Traveler, Not a Sightseer

As I've been contemplating last month's trip to Italy and figuring out what I wanted to share about the overall trip, I decided I wanted to share my philosophy on traveling versus sightseeing. I wanted to tell you my strategy for the trip and what I wanted to teach and share with my traveling companion. I had the outline in my head and before putting my fingers to the keyboard, I opened the December 2007/January 2008 issue of "Arthur Frommer's Budget Travel" and it appears editor Erik Torkells and I are on the same page, no pun intended.

In the article "Paris and Amsterdam, Together," Torkells discusses how he takes his sister, who's celebrating her 40th birthday, on a trip to Paris and Amsterdam. He shares with her, and AFBT readers, his philosophy on travel, which happens to parallel my philosophy: I'm a traveler and not a sightseer.

My traveling companion, however, told me she didn't like the traveling part but did like the sightseeing. Perhaps someday I'll write an article about the difference, but in the meantime, check out Torkells's article.

Don't despair, I'm not letting you leave without any recap of the trip. You can check out the nearly 500 snapshots of the journey. A video snuck in there and when I tried to upload other video clips, couldn't figure it out. Enjoy! (Sorry, in order to protect my photos you need to login and register - it's free!)

Do want to share the two most useful items on the trip (despite my handy purse purchased at Kohls):

Rick Steves' Italy 2008: I loved this guidebook and it's the first time I carried and referenced a travel guidebook during an entire trip. The text is candid, attractions, walking tours, restaurants and tips were right on the mark. And, humor's splashed in here and there, i.e., there's a disclaimer in the book reading, "...accept no responsibility for loss, injury, bad pasta, or inconvenience sustained by any person using this book."

Maps are okay and although there's two pages of useful Italian phrases, that would've been useful. Saw loads of other people using the Rick Steves' Italy 2008 book, too. One thing I'd do though is put a book cover on it so it wouldn't be so obvious I was a tourist (I did have a few people ask whether I spoke English and if I knew where specific places were, so maybe I did blend in with the locals a little bit).

Note: Ironically, the same issue of AFBT reviewed several guidebooks about Rome and out of three guidebooks, the Rick Steves one didn't rank as a fave.

Disposable Dress Shields: This deals with hygiene but these things worked great and I didn't feel as gross wearing my shirts twice before washing. The pads are simply stuck inside a shirt at the armpits and absorbs the sweat so it doesn't get the shirt wet. With all the walking around and going in and out of buildings during the trip, we were doing a lot of sweating. These perspiration shields helped keep me fresh :)

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

What's the Worst Christmas Gift You've Ever Received?

Come on, admit it. Over the years, you've probably received some real stinkers when it comes to Christmas gifts. The worst Christmas gift I ever received? Hmm, well, you'll just have to follow the link to my article on the subject matter. Don't worry, the gift mentioned in the article is NOT from anyone who reads this blog.

So I'm curious, what's the worst Christmas gift you've ever received? It better not be something I've given you. Or get creative, what do you think the worst gift Santa Claus ever received?

Oh, for the record, I'm aware Santa Claus is spelled sans the "e" in Claus - just a little typo :)

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Did I Accomplish Anything?

It's Sunday night, the end of another weekend and I'm just as exhausted tonight as I was on Friday. But it's a different tired. I didn't get much done, just a couple of articles for Suite101 (one about the a girlfriend getaway at the Inn by the Sea, Vera Bradley in Seaside, FL; the other about ecotourism travel in Wakulla County.) The goal was to write three because I'm afraid I'm going to get booted off the site for not producing the three monthly articles.

I also had illusions of cleaning up my apartment (I have no idea how I let it get out of control) and catching up on emails, blog comments and blog posts.

None of these goals happened.

I did get most of my Christmas shopping done and ran (most of the way) Tallahassee's Jingle Bell run last night.

I'm exhausted in a good way tonight. A bulk of the weekend was spent with my Wakulla Institute Green Guide classmates. Yesterday was a trip to Wakulla's sinkholes, led by a self-proclaimed 1970s hippie who knows where the swimming (and skinny dipping) holes are. He had some great tales to tell (and I hope I'll get to post more, soon, over on my Tallahassee blog about this).

Today was "graduation" for everyone but me. I'm a part-timer but I went to today's event to celebrate the accomplishments of my classmates. Following was a bonfire at Norm and Melody's place. I swear I heard banjos while driving down the sand road through the woods but at the end is a wooded paradise (Norm and Melody's). Good folks. Thanks to them, the class had a chance to sit around a campfire underneath the stars and tell stories, eat s'mores and enjoy each other's company.

Tomorrow's plan is to finish the third article I started, reply to blog comments, reply to at least 5 emails (I know that doesn't seem like a lot but right now, it is) and clean up the apartment. Just hope I can leave the office at a reasonable hour. I should be able to. Everyone else seems to.