Archive for August, 2012

Blog Challenge Finale

A month ago, or a little over that by now, I decided to do a blog challenge with my friends and myself to blog every day in the month of August. I have two blogs, this and a personal one, so that was a daunting task of 62 blogs. I’ll admit that at times, due to travel and other circumstances, I had to write ahead of time and post on the day of. But still, 62 blogs!

August 31st is the last day of the blog challenge. I have written a blog for every day of the month. Some days I didn’t get to post them to social media for one reason or another (ie I was posting from my phone and it was being temperamental) but I did write a blog for every day.

This challenge was exciting, and honestly a bit grueling. Towards the end of last, I knew I was having company in town the following week, so went on a blogging marathon to make sure I had a blog to post every day. Whew! Let me tell you how much I loved coffee that day.

This challenge taught me a lot. I had to be creative, to think in different terms and challenge my brain quite a bit. I learned that I know more about the travel industry and travel in general than I even thought. I enjoyed sharing my thoughts, insights, pictures, and more. I also learned that no matter how much you know about travel and the world, there’s always so much more to learn!

I plan to continue to blog a couple of times a week after this challenge, but not every day, at least not for now. It was very time consuming, and after a while even the most avid travel and most knowledgeable travel professional would run out of things to say. I hope you enjoyed sharing this challenge with me, and thank you for reading! I hope you continue to enjoy my blog in the future.

Foods I’ve Learned to Love Through Travel

I’ve written before on vegetarian travel. It can be pretty difficult if you’re trying to sample the local cuisine… and sometimes even when you’ve given up trying to be authentic and just want something because you’re starving. There are, though, some foods I’ve learned to love, or at least like a lot more, when traveling. Because to me the food experience is an essential part of the overall travel experience, I thought I’d share.

1. Eggplant – in certain forms. I used to strongly dislike eggplant. But a few years back I took a trip to Europe in November, and eggplant seemed to be one of only two vegetables in season in Europe – the other one being mushrooms, which I still pretty much despise. So I think I probably ate eggplant in every form over the course of those two weeks. I discovered that I liked it in camponata (if made without the anchovies), parmasean, rolled and stuffed with ricotta, very thinly sliced and grilled. I still don’t like big chunks of it if not really “prepared”. i.e I don’t just like baked eggplant. But my eggplant tastes have come a long way and now I officially order it on a menu over other things!

2. Bibimbap. What the *%&# is that, you say? Well, I’ll be honest – I said the same thing. It’s a Korean dish that involves a large variety of vegetables, many of which I don’t recognize, put in a sizzling pan with a raw egg and red chili paste. You then mix it all up and in doing so, the egg cooks in with the vegetables and the chili paste. I know it sounds really odd and probably kind of gross. It is, at least at first, really odd. It’s not gross. Meat or tofu can be put into the dish as well, but I mainly had the vegetable and egg version, though perhaps I had tofu in there once or twice. To be truthful, when it’s all mixed up, it’s kind of tough to tell. Since this clearly requires a visual for full effect, here’s the wiki link.

3. Falafel. Falafel is one of my favorite foods in the world. I’ve now had it when not traveling, and may have prior to lots of travel, but travel helped me get to the love affair I have with it today. Though middle eastern by origin, it’s a food that seems to be found just about everywhere these days. It’s a great way to spice up my vegetarian diet when traveling abroad, as I will admit to often being limited to steamed vegetables and some form of bread, cheese, and potatoes.

4. Red wine. Ok, so it’s not that I can’t find wine here, obviously, and it’s not that I didn’t enjoy a glass here or there before. But it wasn’t until I began traveling to countries notorious for their wines that I really started to appreciate it. There’s a big difference between trying something once in a while and appreciating it. My travels to Italy, Argentina, France, Spain, and South Africa have helped me to differentiate between different types of wines (ie a Malbec as opposed to a Pinotage) and different wine regions throughout the world. Now when I buy or order wine, I often try to get something I’ve learned about from my wine tours in another country.

5. Tofu. You’d think tofu is rather standard for a vegetarian. However, tofu if done well is quite delicious, and tofu if done not-so-well tastes like eating your shoe. My meals in Asia have involved a considerable amount of tofu. After having it done well, and used as intended as opposed to just slopped in place of meat to make a dish vegetarian, I now seek out tofu dishes. Sometimes it still tastes like my shoe, but I’ve gotten more discerning about where and when to order it, and my chances of getting something tasty with tofu seem to have increased as a result.

I’m sad to say, mushrooms haven’t made the list. I still hate them. I did once have them mashed up very tiny with cheese and shaped into a little fried ball, which I actually enjoyed. But I enjoyed it because you couldn’t taste the mushroom and basically it tasted like fried cheese. I’m going to keep trying. I’ll rejoice the day that I decide mushrooms don’t disgust me. Until then, I’ll focus on the eggplant, tofu, and other elements I’ve learned to love while traveling. And of course, the red wine.

People of the World

People are quite possibly my favorite photography subjects. While I love a beautiful landscape or an ancient site steeped in history, people are what make the world go round, and I love capturing them in their daily life – whatever that might be.

Colorful Personality

If you follow me on Pinterest, you may have seen my board called Colorful Personality. I absolutely love color – it represents to me the vibrancy of life. As a very amateur photographer, color is one of my favorite things to capture, regardless of the rest of the subject matter. Flowers are also a favorite subject of mine, so you might notice a good number of them here.

Here are some of my favorite color images:

Have any favorite “colorful” photos? I’d love to see them!

Travel Quotes

There are some wonderful quotes about travel, that say more in a line or two than I could say in an entire blog (or several). These inspire me, and I’m pretty sure others, and they explain simply why travel has the effect it does on people. Here are some of my favorites. For those I have the source for, I’m including it of course. There are a few where the authors cannot be found/aren’t known.

“Discover consists not in seeking new lands, but in seeking with new eyes.” ~Marcel Proust

“The human spirit needs places where nature has not been rearranged by the hand of man.” ~Author Unkown

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, an narrow-mindedness.” ~Mark Twain

“My favorite place to go is where I’ve never been.” ~Diane Arbus

“Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer.”

“Not all those who wander are lost.” ~J.R.R. Tolkein

“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” ~St. Augustine

The Airline Boarding Process

On Chimera Travel’s Facebook page, I asked for questions about travels that baffled my fans. A great one about the airplane boarding process came up, and I wanted to answer it.

The questions was: “Why is it that airlines board front to back? Seems like it would make more sense to board the back first…”

First off, I agree – it seems so silly to be climbing over people to board. While airlines are always a conundrum and their methods can’t be entirely figured out, I’m going to answer the best as I can. Here are some insights into the airline boarding process that might help explain.

1. First and business class always board first, along with elite/premier/whatever term they use for the higher level of flyer miles programs. Then military in uniform. While First and Business are at the front of the plane of course, and generally those elite/premier/etc members get to upgrade or get preferred seats, so they’re also near the front. So you’re already walking through a goo number of people. There active military in uniform could be sitting anywhere on the place, so you may be walking past them too.

2. There are “choice” or “premium” seats on many flights that people in coach can pay for to get slightly more leg room and slightly wider seats. If you ever go to choose your seat and you see options in coach that say you must pay $45 or whatever to choose that seat, these are them. In addition to a bit more wiggle room, they also always get a “zone 2” boarding, and usually these seats are towards the front of the plane and on the aisle or window – because who pays an extra $65 to sit in the middle seat by the bathroom at the back. So these are more people you’re walking past to get to your seat.

3. Generally, airlines actually try to board from the outside in, not from the front to back or back to front. Meaning that window seats board first, then middle, then aisle (designated by the zone on your boarding pass). This means that someone sitting in a window seat in row 5 may board before someone sitting in the aisle in row 20. The theory being that people don’t have to climb over the people in the aisle to get to the window seat. However, people often like to take their sweet time to get situated when they board, so those window seaters are standing in the aisle, trying to shove what should be a checked bag into the overhead compartment, and those aislers boarding after them have to try to move around them, which we all know doesn’t work with an aisle that’s less barely the width of a moderately sized human.

I hope this helps answer your question. My personal suggestion – pay the extra $45-$65, especially on a long flight, and get the “choice” seat. You board in zone two, which means not only are you not pushing past as many people, but if you have a roller board or larger carryon bag, you’re more or less guaranteed space in the overhead bin, unless it’s a commuter flight that just doesn’t accommodate that size bag.

To Check Or Carry On, that is the Question

I used to be one of those people that lugged around a suitcase that was so large, even without much in it I probably went over the allotted checked bag weight limit. With the amount of travel I’ve done in recent years, I’ve gotten much better. I still can’t, and really don’t want to, do two weeks in Europe with a carry on, but I definitely carry on my luggage much more than I used to.

People often ask me – is it better to check or carry on? While that’s really up to you, as I don’t want you arriving at your destination with a one pair of mis-matched socks and too few pairs of underwear, I can provide some of the pros and cons.

Pros for carrying on:

1. You don’t pay for it!

2. You don’t bring 10 pairs of pants that you never end up wearing. You have to pare down.

3. If you’re running for a connection, you don’t have to wonder if your bag is going to make it.

4. You don’t have to worry about things being taken out or “misplaced” from your checked luggage.

5. You’ll feel accomplished – honest!

6. If you buy souvenirs and have to expand your suitcase or buy a duffle bag, you always have the option to check your bag on the way back without having to pay for a second checked bag.

7. If you print out your boarding pass online, you don’t have to deal with the baggage drop line at the airport. You can go right to security.

8. Two words: baggage claim

Cons of carrying on:

1. You really have to pack consciously. You can’t just throw stuff in there.

2. It limits what else you can take. When traveling for fun, I usually travel with my laptop or ipad (have to, I have client emergencies that pop up), my DSLR camera, my luggage, and my purse. I have a camera/laptop combo backpack, but that still leaves me with three items counting my purse. I usually shove my purse in my suitcase to board, but I need to leave enough room in there to do so.

3. If you don’t want to check your bag on the way back, it limits souvenir purchasing.

4. You have to lug it around the airport. Airport bathroom stalls with a roller board and a “personal item” get crowded.

5. Your toiletries are limited to 3 oz. Most hotels provide shampoo, etc but if it’s something like hair gel or a specific product you can’t find at your destination, this cramps your style.

6. You have to fight for overhead bin space, and if you’re on a very full flight and in boarding zone 4 or 5, you may have to check it at the gate anyway (though may be able to pick it up as you step off the plane and not have to wait at baggage claim).

Pucusana, Peru – A Must Visit

Peru is absolutely packed with amazing towns, cities, sites, history, culture, food, and truly interesting people. There are probably innumerable “must sees” in the country. Most of them are rather obvious – Machu Picchu, the rain forest, Cusco, for example. One town, though, that you probably won’t find on any tourist map is Pucusana. You need to go. It’s that simple.

Pucusana is a fishing village, about 45 minutes outside of Lima. We went on a private tour with Pax on Board, a Lima-based tour company that specializes in unique tours that you won’t necessarily find with your standard tour company. Our guide, Nilton, was absolutely phenomenal, and his passion about his country made the tour that much interesting – when the person taking you around for the day exudes passion for the places that he/she is showing you, the day elevates from a tour to an experience.

The first stop in Pucusana was a blow hole, quite a treat and not something we’d seen anywhere else during our time in Peru. Watching local kids wade and play in the water, running away every time the blow hole “erupted”, offered up an image of what life on a Saturday afternoon in Pucusana is like for these residents.

We then headed over to the fishing boats, where we boarded a very legitimately local boat with a very legitimately local fisherman. There was no question that this man fished for his livelihood. This wasn’t some touristy excursion, this was a couple of hours on an authentic Pucusana fishing boat. First off, the color and culture in the town is a photographer’s dream. Watching the boats wander out into the water, the fisherman bringing their catch back to the active fish market, the families and dogs (yes dogs!) working aboard the boats. It’s an ideal place to catch a cultural “action shot”.

Once we got out of the harbor area, we started to experience wildlife viewing more prolific than we’d seen even in the rainforest. Who knew this little fishing town was full of seals. Or penguins! Our boat “captain” stopped to feed some pelicans (cranes? I might not have the name correct), and they were so close I thought they may somehow manage to get into the boat. We saw endemic birds that we hadn’t spotted anyone else on our trip. It was truly an incredible example of the ecological scope that the country offered, right here in this small fishing town.

I can’t recommend this tour enough. To add to it, we also got a private tour of parts of Lima that traditional city tours don’t go to, where we say “real” Lima life, not just the downtown areas, also by Pax on Board, and highly recommended as well. I also can’t thank Nilton and his company enough, and I need to mention Donovan at Ideal South America, who connected us with Pax on Board in the first place. I would be 100 percent confident sending my Peru-bound clients on this tour, and hope to do so in the near future. Thank you, gentlemen, for a wonderful experience!

PS Let me make it very clear, I reached out to both Nilton and Donovan to ask if I could write this blog and mention them. They in no way hired or even requested that I write this. I just had to share my one-of-a-kind experience with my readers, and I couldn’t do so without mentioning those that made it that possible.

Rome in the Dark

I’ve been to Rome four times, and I’ve sent clients there to many times to count. I’ve toured Rome backwards, forwards, upside down, and inside out. Rome is fascinating from any angle, at any time of the day. But if you go to Rome and don’t do the night tour, you’re missing out. I don’t mean walking around at night looking for food or a bar. I mean a full on night tour of Rome. I offer it as an option to any client traveling to Rome. You don’t have to book before hand, there are companies that you can find while there that offer it, but if you want to make sure you get it, I suggest planning in advance.

Why Rome at night? It just has a different feel. It’s incredible to see the lights of the modern cars and mopeds speed past the ancient Coliseum. The antique structures aren’t quite deserted, but they’re not teeming with tourists. There may be a few people wandering around, other night tourers, say, but the contrast of the quiet inside of these gigantic pieces of history is somewhere between eerie and fascinating.

Modern Rome, by contrast, comes alive at night. While busy during the day, it’s nothing compared to the packed piazzas at night. The energy in the city at night is almost palpable.

When touring Rome at night, I suggest a private or small group tour. A big group tour may take away from the experience (i.e. the quiet calmness at the sites). For some reason the night tour feels like more intimate, and larger size tour may detract from that.

Tours that Measure Up

Many of you know I’m not a big fan of group tours. Virtually every tour I’ve taken is a private one, and a single day or half day length at most. Generally, the tours I take are more of the functional type – I don’t really want to try to get to Pompeii and Mt. Vesuvius on my own, so I schedule a with a private tour. Let me be clear that this is nothing against tour operators in general, and even the functional type have generally been quite interesting. It’s just that I like to wander and explore on my own. I have, though, been on several tours that really have impressed me, and that I highly recommend to my clients. I’m turning this into a series, my new thing it seems, to my already verbose blogs as short as possible.

Tour #1
Night Time Ghost Tour, Edinburgh, Scotland

Ghost tours can go one of two ways. Cheesy with masked figures “hiding” behind things that you can totally see, who jump out at you and don’t surprise you at all, or super creepy and therefore cool. This was definitely the latter. It was a group tour, but most of it was so dark you couldn’t see anyone else anyways. It was creepy enough with 20 people, so I didn’t mind. We toured Mary King’s close, a street that was paved over and now resides underground. In the 1600s the plague struck, and victims and their families were quarantined and basically left to die in the close. After this we went through the underground tunnels in which body snatchers used to the traverse the city. The tour guides extinguished off all forms of light (flashlights and candles), and we stood there in the absolute pitch black and stunning silence, except for the tour guides providing tales of the passages. Finally, you head to a graveyard where the body snatchers used to dig up bodies. Quite eerie!

There are numerous companies that do ghost tours in Edinburgh, and I’ve talked to people who have used a variety of tour companies. The key is to find a night tour that visits the underground tunnels and Mary King’s Close. This is not a tour for small children – in fact I think there’s an age restriction. We were petrified, I can’t imagine a small child not being scared out of their mind. If you truly have a real fear of the dark and ghosts, unless you just like to terrify yourself, you might want to opt for another ghost tour, say during the day. If you like the thrill though, this is definitely a tour worth taking.

I wish I could provide a picture, but it was so dark I really didn’t get anything worth posting. You’ll just have to go and check it out for yourself!