Saturday, January 18, 2014

Messing around with the Nikon

2014 is the year of change. I'm all packed and ready to embark on the great adventure but before take off, I had to scoop up a new Nikon Digital SLR camera. I started messing around with it already and Washington DC, Maryland and Northern Virginia became my muses for about a week or so. I honestly cannot wait to capture more great moments.

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Updating the blog :-)

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Saturday, December 28, 2013

San Francisco in Three Days

Two weeks ago, I had the good fortune of visiting San Francisco for the first time. The story behind my visit is actually pretty cool. This summer, I met some truly remarkable folks in Paris. Rich was one of them and he resides in San Francisco. Before his departure, he told me to give him a ring if I was ever in the San Fran area. Fast forward to four months later: I had some free time to kill and miraculously stumbled upon an affordable plane ticket to San Fran. I gave Rich a call, he gave me the greenlight and naturally, I purchased the ticket. 8+ something hours later, I was standing on the luminous tiles of San Francisco International Airport.

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Golden Gate Bridge

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Gallery of a Great Summer: Fort Lauderdale >>> Washington, DC >>> New York City >>> Paris >>> Toulon

The whistle of the frosty wind is penetrating a tiny wedge on my window sill and I -- curled under mounds of thick fabrics -- nervously watch the leafless trees outside, stripped from their former splendor by the impending brutality of winter. Yes, winter -- truly the season of one's discontent. But instead of wallowing in self-pity about the changing season, I prefer to reminisce and celebrate a truly great summer, probably the greatest season of sunshine I ever experienced. I know people (and travellers specifically) love to throw around the adjective "life-changing" to describe their trips and adventures. It is used so flippantly, the word seems to have lost its true meaning. That is why I hesitate to use it to describe my summer but at this moment, I can't think of any other adjective. Below are my favorite memories of the summer.

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Fort Lauderdale

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Gazing outward: window view at B Ocean Hotel

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Echostage, Washington, DC

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Old Post Office, Washington, DC

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View of Jersey city from New York city

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Brunch at Five Points, Manhattan

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On my way to the Musee du Louvre in Rainy Paris

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Mona Lisa

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Probably my favorite spot in Paris

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The biker gang

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The window of my friend's apartment in Paris

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Friends

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In beautiful Toulon

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The pristine Mediterranean Toulon

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Petit dejeuner on the beach with the multi-talented Souchi, an amazing amazing amazing friend.

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The beautiful Toulon sky. And that's all folks. How was your summer??

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Volunteer Abroad for Free: The WWOOF Option

This evening was deceptively chilly. The sun's yellow crawled on old concrete and all visible clothing hung above sweaty knees, but I could feel it, I could feel the subtle sting of Autumn, camouflaging its intentions in layers of mild humidity. It just finally dawned on me that summer -- with all its hopes and promises -- is finally over. More on summer later but right now, let's have a healthy chat about my favourite topic: volunteering for free. The world of volunteering can be an unscrupulous one. On the surface, it sounds simple: pick an organisation, travel abroad and give back to a community. The reality is this noble pursuit is quickly becoming a money-hungry and morally disingenuous machine with the primary intention of squeezing out every cent from the sagging pockets of unsuspecting volunteers.

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San Juan, Puerto Rico

There's always a scandal popping up here and there. Recently, the daily mail ran an article about volunteer scams. Aptly titled "Fake orphanages. Bogus animal sanctuaries. And crooks growing rich on Western gullibility...why do-gooding gap year holidays may be a horrifying callous con," it is a must read. Click here for the illuminating piece. This is the main reason why I am always on the look out for free volunteer programs with a transparent agenda. When I traveled to South East Asia a few years ago, it literally took me months to find a transparent organization I could volunteer with for free. I thankfully stumbled on Isara and documented my life-changing experience in this post.

A few years back, I was living and going to school in a city I didn't like and everything seemed excessively stifling. When summer came, I knew I had to rejuvenate myself, so I began looking for free volunteer programs. I came across WWOOF and discovered a wonderful opportunity in beautiful Puerto Rico. WWOOF stands for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. Their mission, according to their American website, "is part of a worldwide effort to link visitors with organic farmers, promote an educational exchange, and build a global community conscious of ecological farming practices." I used the WWOOF option to explore Puerto Rico and it was a phenomenal trip. I discussed my experiences in this post. Here is how WWOOFing works.

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En route to Utuado

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Living the Social: The Electronic Commerce Option

Yes, yes, I know. I have no excuses, only a confession: I am guilty of blog abandonment. My sentence? A more committed devotion to delivering you nothing but the very best of my perspective on the travelling world. I know I've probably said that a million times before, but I mean it this time, really I do. I can't wait to check out all the updates on your blogs, leave comments and resume our lively interactions. Let's jump into this one right away, shall we? Living the Social with LivingSocial. I'm sure most of you have heard of or used LivingSocial before, the deal-of-the-day website with copious amounts of discounted certificates that are usable at festivals, restaurants, bars etc. I have to say, I am generally skeptical about the electric commerce world; there's so much shadiness involved, I can't be bothered to sieve through the pile of scams.

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Sunday, February 24, 2013

Unexpected Travel Locations: Rockbridge County, Virginia

Me: Hey guys, my travellers today are Viola and Hermann and their unexpected travel location is Rockbridge County, Virginia. Hello travellers. How did you find out about Rockbridge County?

Travellers: It was our birthday weekend, and we were looking for an inexpensive and local getaway. We were very busy with work at the moment, so we were looking for something close yet cheap, convenient and adventurous. We did some research on Google and discovered a multitude of fun activities in the small independent cities (Buena Vista, Luray, Natural Bridge, Lexington etc) within the Rockbridge Country area.

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A stunning replica of the Stonehenge in Natural Bridge, Virginia. The first time I saw this picture, I have to confess, I thought I was actually looking at the Stonehenge. An impressive photocopy right? Even more impressive is that the entire thing is made out of foam.

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Foamhenge Natural Bridge, Virginia

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Viola and Hermann, our travellers.

Me: Was there any particular website that effectively helped you guys to plan your trip?

Travellers: Yes! The official website of the city of Lexington was incredibly beneficial. The website is organized, up to date and outlines all major events happening in the area.

Me: How did you get around Rockbridge County?

Travellers: A car.

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Natural Bridge, Virginia

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Natural Bridge, Virginia

Me: Where did you stay?

Travellers: At a comfortable local inn.

Me: Why would you consider this travel location "Unexpected"?

Travellers: We had never heard of Rockbridge County before. While we were doing our research, we were shocked to discover how historically and geographically rich and diverse the area is.

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Hiking, Buena Vista

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At a local winery, Lexington, Virginia

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At a horse riding event, Lexington, Virginia

Me: What was the most unexpected part of the trip?

Travellers: While we were driving to Natural Bridge, we were stunned to see what looked like the Stonehenge. The passengers in the car ahead of us were equally stunned, so we all stopped our cars and went out to examine the mystery. It looked exactly like the Stonehenge, but it was made out of foam hence the name Foamhenge.

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Native American Village, Natural Bridge

Me: What were the highlights of your trip?

Travellers: Where do we begin? We went to a horseback riding event, and we saw a brilliant performance of Pride & Prejudice at a local school. We also went hiking in Bueno Vista, visited a Native American Village in Natural Bridge and tasted impeccable wine at a local winery. The Luray Caverns were also a spectacular experience; they are extremely beautiful and the stalactites and stalagmites are impressive. You have to see it to believe it. The Lexington downtown area is small but bustling with vibrant shows and bars. And FYI, The drinks are cheap. The entire Rockbridge County area is very small and compact, so all these activities are literally happening right next to each other.

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Luray Caverns, Virginia

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Me: Thank you for sharing your "Unexpected Travel Location"

Travellers: You are welcome. Thank you for having us.

Viola and Hermann are young professionals and business owners based in the DC area. You can learn more about Viola's business ventures at ALOIV

And that concludes the first feature of my "Unexpected Travel Locations" series. My goal for this project is to showcase the underrated and under the radar destinations we invariably ignore when we travel. If you have any unexpected travel location you would like to share, it could be a city, a restaurant, a hostel, a bar, a club or anything unexpectedly fun, please feel free to e-mail me at shabbynumber@gmail.com Cheers xx

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

A Tale of Two Cities: Finding Cheap Accommodation in Pittsburgh and Cincinnati

When my proposal to present an academic paper on travel literature at the Mid-Atlantic Popular & American Culture Association (MAPACA) in Pittsburgh was accepted, I instantly began to worry about accommodation. I had never been to Pittsburgh, so I didn't know what to expect. After tirelessly searching for a decent place, my luck changed when a friend recommended Airbnb. For those of you unfamiliar with Airbnb, Wikipedia has a succinct yet thorough summary of how the system works, "Airbnb is an online service that matches people seeking vacation rentals and other short-term accommodations with hosts who have an unused space to rent, generally private parties that are not professional hoteliers.The site was founded in August 2008 by Nathan Blecharczyk, Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia. In July 2012, the company had over 200,000 listings in more than 26,000 cities and present in 192 countries with over 1,000,000 hosts and travellers on its platform.Listings include private rooms, entire apartments, castles, boats, manors, tree houses, tipis, igloos, speciality design housing, private islands and other properties."

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The living room area at Not Another Hostel

While browsing through Airbnb, I stumbled upon Not Another Hostel. This amazing hostel (the only one in Pittsburgh by the way) was founded by Jon, and his vision for the entire project is inspirational and impressive. Jon runs the hostel on a donation-based policy. I'll let him speak for himself, "Hostelling started as a way to help travelers. Period. Unfortunately, people have tried to cash in on a travelers' need for a cheap place to stay. This is not one of those places...This is my home, and I'm opening up the doors to help travelers. I ask for donations simply to help me pay bills. I recommend donating 25 USD per person, per night." Read more about his mission statement here. Sounds suspicious? Think again.

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The map on the hostel wall