Category Archives: World

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How to Cruise Like a Pro – Bermuda Edition

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Every summer, I join my dad’s side of the family (all 22 of them) for our annual family reunion. This usually consists of a few days in Upstate New York, but every couple of years we’ll venture out of the northeast. This year we decided to return to the high seas with a five-day cruise to Bermuda on Royal Carribean’s Explorer of the Seas. This was my fourth cruise and second time in Bermuda, and at this point I feel like I’ve gotten the cruise routine down. So how does one cruise like a pro? Read on, dear traveler.

1. Pick the right port.

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The port you depart from is almost as important as the one to which you’re sailing. You’ll probably end up staying a night or two in that city before or after the cruise, so you’ll want to make sure that that place is somewhere you’d like to visit. This all depends on where you’re going, of course. Port Canaveral, Miami, and Ft. Lauderdale are pretty common departure points for Carribean cruises, and I, as a 20-something, would personally much rather stay the night in Miami. There are also departure ports around the world, and there may be one within driving distance of your home. I’m lucky enough to live near New York City, a common departure port for cruises to Bermuda and transatlantic voyages. The first time we sailed out of New York, my parents and I drove into the port a few hours before go time and parked at the dock. That’s pretty damn convenient if you ask me.

2. You’re gonna want a drink package.

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While you can eat til you burst on a cruise and not pay a cent extra, drinks (aside from tea, coffee, water, and some juices) are unfortunately not included in your fare. And believe me, you’re gonna want a drink or five when you’re at sea all day. To save cruisers a little bit of a heart attack when they receive their bill, a lot of cruise lines are now offering prepaid drink packages. For a few extra dollars a day, you can drink to your hearts content. Royal Carribean offers a few different levels of drink packages to accommodate everyone’s thirst. I went with a package that gave me unlimited beer, wine, and non-alcoholic beverages, and I’d say it was definitely worth it.

3. Get off the boat, dummy!

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This probably seems like a given, but a lot of folks on my cruise actually never set foot on the island once we arrived in Bermuda. If that’s what you want to do, go for it, but I’m a fan of exploring. Definitely look into the excursions your cruise line offers. When you have limited time in a new place, it’s nice to have someone guiding your adventures.

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My family decided on a snorkeling excursion with a local tour company. We cruised around the island on a small boat and stopped near a reef for some snorkeling, kayaking, and paddleboarding. It was a nice, relaxing day out and the weather was fantastic. It also helped that they were serving complimentary Rum Swizzle all day.

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Since we were in port overnight, we decided to take it easy the next day with a trip to Horseshoe Bay. We laid out, did a little exploring, and took advantage of some excellent photo ops.

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Cruising definitely isn’t for everyone. It’s expensive, crowded, and sometimes a little too structured. But I’m a fan of seeing the world on a full stomach, so I’m definitely into it. Now to plan the next journey.

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P.S. If you want to see a silly video I made while I was in Bermuda, click here.
P.P.S. If you like what you see, consider following me on Bloglovin!

A Weekend in Sutton, Quebec

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I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little thrown by the cultural shift I felt upon arriving in Sutton, Quebec a few weeks ago. From the French signs to the quaint farms along the main road, I felt like I had just stepped off a transatlantic flight rather than a two-hour road trip from the Burlington, VT airport. It really didn’t help that I had just returned from a trip to California the night before. Not exactly the best travel decision on my part.

Once the momentary culture shock wore off, I fell in love with this little town. It’s a great place for a weekend getaway if you live on the east coast. The beautiful Mont Sutton is open year-round for skiing, hiking, camping, and more. My parents and I hiked up to Lac Spruce on our second day in town and somehow managed to beat the rain. The trail was challenging for someone like me who hasn’t hiked in a while, but definitely worth it. I mean, look at those photos. That’s a lot of green, y’all.

If you’re not into the whole nature thing, Sutton still has a lot to offer. There are a bunch of cute shops and galleries full of fantastic local art. There are also plenty of dining options, from cafes to pubs to more high-end stuff. I personally recommend Bistro Beaux Lieux. The food was fantastic and we had an awesome view of the Sutton sunset.

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IMG_3098We stayed a few minutes out of town at the Auberge & Spa West Brome, which happens to have it’s own farm. It’s really cool to see a hotel growing its own food and I just had to capture the symmetry of the tomato garden. And of course I couldn’t leave without a few shots of the cows. Man, I love cows.

P.S. Oh hey, I have a new blog title and theme. Let me know what you think of it!

The Road to Monterey

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I may have traveled a lot over the past four years but my “vacations” have been few and far between. You know, vacations? Those trips where you have no responsibilities and the primary goal is relaxation? Ringing any bells? Probably not.

Prior to last September, my folks and I hadn’t taken a proper family vacation since 2011. We traveled a lot over those two years, but those trips were always riddled with work meetings and looming schoolwork deadlines, and they were always far too short. When I decided to go out to LA for the summer, my parents decided it was time for another Dow family road trip. I had three weeks between the end of my program and the start of my senior year, so we took one of those weeks to drive up the Pacific Coast Highway from LA to San Francisco.

One of my favorite stretches of the journey was our drive between Ojai to Monterey. We stopped in Santa Barbara for lunch and to check out the city. We were only there for two hours, but it was just enough time for me to fall in love with the town. I also may have made some seagull friends.

After that, it was on to Big Sur. Aquatic mammals are kind of my thing, so I just about died when we pulled over to see a bunch of elephant seals just chilling on the beach. I broke out the macro lens and caught a few of these guys in action. We hit Big Sur just as the sun was setting so unfortunately we didn’t get to spend a lot of time in the forrest. It did make for some excellent photos, though.

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A Weekend in London

It appears that I am in London. I’m not entirely sure how I got here but I have a feeling that I watched Downton Abbey on the way. That’s not entirely important. What’s important is what I’ve been up to for the last few days, and that’s what I’m here to blog about.

(It’s occurred to me that “to blog” wasn’t a verb fifteen years ago. What a strange, strange world we live in.)

I arrived on Thursday slightly delirious. I did manage to get some sleep on the plane, but that didn’t make the tube ride from Heathrow and the journey from the tube stop to the flat with my fifty pound bag any easier. Regardless, I made it and unpacked my stuff in time to take a quick nap before our tour of the neighborhood. South Kensington is absolutely lovely. Almost everything I need is an easy walk from our flat in quaint little shops. After the tour, my friend and I had an awesome dinner at Nandos  and spent the rest of the evening recovering from jet lag.

Friday was spent in orientation and shopping for the essentials: food, a cell phone, and a hair dryer. On Saturday my flatmates and I went on a tour of the city. We hit the major tourist attractions that we could see on foot: Hyde Park, Buckingham Palace, Clarence House, Big Ben, Westminister Abbey, Parliament, The Globe, Tower Bridge, etc. It was a lot of fun, and definitely helped me further develop my list of things I want to see before I leave. We actually arrived at Buckingham Palace in time to see the tail end of the guard change. I saw the guard change during my first trip to London when I was ten, but I don’t think I could appreciate the uniformity and precision of it until now. I’ll have to see the full routine one of these days.

This city is so beautiful. It’s such a modern city, and yet it’s so impossibly old. I’m surprisingly feeling very comfortable here which says…something about me. I’m really looking forward to the next ten weeks, and taking you all along with me.

I’ll leave you with some pictures from our walking tour, featuring the infamous gray London sky.

A Few of My Favorite Things: Philadelphia’s Old City

One of the biggest and most important aspects of travel is getting out there and doing things: going off the grid, finding the places and things you like most about the city you might find yourself in at any given moment in time. This is why I’m starting a new series on this blog, appropriately named “A Few of My Favorite Things”. As I travel to new cities, or discover neighborhoods a bit closer to home, I plan to list of my favorite things about these places on this blog as a way to keep track of my experiences for myself and to send some travel recommendations your way. Sound good to you? Let’s get crackin’ then!

Yesterday I received a surprise visit from my parents, which was just lovely. Mom called me right after I woke up (around 1 PM, mind you) to ask if I wanted to go for dim sum in Chinatown. I didn’t really have anything on my plate for the day other than a self-imposed mandatory viewing of the Grammys (I just couldn’t keep away), and I can never resist dim sum, so I took her up on the offer. I also just like hanging out with my parents. I know, I’m an anomaly in the cross-section of young adults.

After brunch, we decided to visit an art gallery in Old City where one of my mom’s friends was showing her work. It was lovely, but unfortunately the name of the gallery has escaped me. I realized that a boutique I had visited over the summer was just around the corner and dragged my parents over there. That boutique was Smak Parlour on 2nd and Market, right next to the historic Christ Church. From the display windows, the store looks a bit like Nicki Minaj’s closet, but inside it’s a marriage of sophistication and girly fun. Smak Parlour has a little bit of everything a girl could want, from bright blue frilly strapless dresses to smart skirts and cardigans for the office. I got a little bit of both to add to my wardrobe for London. Smak Parlour also sells unique jewelry pieces such as earrings made out of LPs and Abraham Lincoln cameo necklaces. If you can’t make it to their Old City location, you can order plenty of their adorable pieces online!

On another occasion, my parents and I had an excellent mid-week dinner at Cuba Libre at 10 S. 2nd Street. I have a thing for restaurants that transport you to another world. It may have been a cold night in Philadelphia, but while sitting in the tropical courtyard-style dining room at Cuba Libre, I could have sworn I was in Havanna (or at least what I imagine Havanna to be like, as I have never been there – file that under more reasons to move to Canada). The atmosphere was incredibly relaxing, which was just what I needed after a long week of university classes. The food didn’t disappoint; I had the paella de mariscos, which was phenomenal. The prices are a bit steep for a college budget (hence why I went on my parents’ tab), but if you’re willing to save up, it’s definitely worth the trip.

Now, when I went to Old City the other day on my own, I realized that there were few places for me, as a single diner on a budget, to eat. When I felt as if all hope was lost, Margherita Pizzeria on 2nd and Chestnut appeared to me just like the star in the desert lead the shepherds to the baby Jesus. Religious metaphors aside, this place is great if you’re looking for a pre-bar crawl slice or when you’re simply on the run like I was.

Finally, one of my favorite things to do in Old City (or perhaps in Philadelphia in general) is to see a film at the Ritz. The Ritz Five and the Ritz East house the films that I can’t find at my local movie theatre/the films that I actually want to see. I went to the Ritz Five the other day alone to see The Artist and it was an incredible experience. The film was great, the theatre was comfortable, and I was in the company of people who truly love film, which makes all the difference in my movie-going experience. Of course I didn’t realize this at the time (as usual), but you can save money on tickets if you’re a student! Tickets are $7.25 with a student ID with the exception of Sundays and Holidays.

With all of these awesome places attracting a younger crowd, Old City proves that it’s anything but. I plan to spend plenty of time there in my last few weeks in Philadelphia, and even more when I return in the summer.

The Post 9/11 American Girl Doll

Whenever the time comes for American Girl to make a new historical doll set at the turn of the 21st century, they should totally base that doll off of my 9 to 10 year-old-self.

I’m not trying to say that I was the perfect representation of the average American girl at the time. But my life did follow the natural progression of an American Girl book series. Each doll had their own series of books, each book featuring the same theme as those of the other dolls to show how they were each similar and different. I could certainly find a way to fit moments of my young life into the themes of these books.

Meet Charlotte – Meet me! I’m fun! And 9 years old!

Charlotte Learns A Lesson – Math is designed specifically to make me cry.

Charlotte’s Surprise – We’re moving to Pennsylvania! Yay?

Charlotte Saves the Day! – A book of blank pages.

Of all of the books in my non-existent American Girl line, I think the most important would be Changes for Charlotte. My life as a 10-year-old almost seems too much like a cookie-cutter American Girl Changes For… book. In these books, some major event (bringing a family of former slaves back together, trapping season) in the featured girl’s life coincides with a major event in American history (the end of the Civil War, Manifest Destiny, etc.). For me, these two events were my move to Pennsylvania and 9/11.

The first few days at my new elementary school were all right. My teacher was nice, I met a few nerdy girls who unfortunately were not in my class, and I was starting to get the hang of things around there. I was particularly looking forward to going back to my old neighborhood in New Jersey to celebrate my 10th birthday with my friends. I mean, I was having a freaking gymnastics party. How cool is that?

I don’t remember much of my school day on 9/11. It was awkward and unremarkable like the rest of those early days. Everything seemed all right until I noticed that my dad was home early from work. And my parents had made chocolate pudding. You know something’s up when the Dows break out the pudding.

Mom and Dad sat me down at the kitchen table and we dug into our pudding. They explained what had happened earlier in the day as calmly as they could, given the situation. They’d had a few hours to process it by then and I applaud the way they handled breaking the news to me. Had I found out on the news or at school, I would’ve panicked. At that point a good portion of my family was working or living in Manhattan. My aunt was actually one of the survivors of the first attack on the World Trade Center in 1993. The fact that my parents weren’t panicking told me that everyone in the family was safe and that I could rest relatively easy.

I remember feeling a lot of emotions when I heard the news. I was mostly annoyed. How dare such a tragedy occur two days before my birthday? Once that wore off (it didn’t), I was worried. The first words I said to my parents after they broke the news to me were “I hope this doesn’t start a war”. In other news, yes, I am psychic.

More emotions followed in the next few days: relief that my family was OK, grief for people I didn’t know and a place I’d never been, confusion, the works. Mostly I just continued on with my exciting 10-year-old life, not thinking much about it because I didn’t want to.

And yet, every year on this day, I feel so attached to the event. Not because I knew anyone who died in the attack. Not because I was there. But because that day represents a very challenging, confusing, and upsetting time in my life.

I moved to Pennsylvania from a small suburb in New Jersey that just happened to be about 45 minutes outside of New York City. My parents and I went to the city often to see Broadway shows, visit family, and occasionally be big fat tourists. That was my city, is still my city. Leaving was difficult enough. Seeing the centerpiece of the skyline go up in smoke was almost too much to bear. It didn’t seem real at all. Sometimes it still doesn’t.

But back to the Changes. What followed that day were some difficult years of trying to find my place in a new school and town. My family and I were very much outsiders to the community. My parents didn’t meet and marry at Penn State, we weren’t the third generation of country club members in our family, and my mom worked. It was difficult to break into the crowd to say the least. Eventually we did. We carved out a place for ourselves in this community. My parents worked hard to hide their Long Island accents and people started calling my mom Catherine instead of Cathy. Our post 9/11 world was drastically different from our pre 9/11 world. And while I wouldn’t trade the life I have now for anything, I just wish that it hadn’t come at such a hard time for the country. The stress of my own little world was enough to handle.

American Girl would never publish that book. Way too depressing.

Thus ends everything I’ve wanted to say about 9/11 for the past 10 years but haven’t had the balls or the emotional depth to until now. Yes. That sentence makes sense.