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Traveling Periodical-ly

I know this blog must be your very first read when it comes to travel information, but who do you read when you’re not reading us? If you don’t have a go-to source, we can offer these suggestions.

Afar Magazine is the bohemian magazine in the travel market. It serves to inspire those who travel the world seeking to connect with its people, experience their cultures, and understand their perspectives (sound familiar?).

We have piles and piles of these!

We have piles and piles of these!

Travel + Leisure is the magazine for dreams. The destinations are often exotic and the accommodations are always top-notch. The magazine reviews the best-of-the-best in hotels and restaurants in each issue. I know the places and class level of travel are out of most budgets, but it’s fun to dream.

I was one of the first subscribers to Budget Travel when it made its debut. The pages of BT have changed a lot over the years, but it still provides some of the best information in the business. It’s the ultimate resource for the world’s savviest travelers. The current tips and tools come from some of the best travel writers and readers like you.

If you like sailing, boats, pictures of exotic locales, or adventure Cruising World is a great periodical for your collection. The magazine is perfect as a gift for the sailor in your life, supplying cruising advice and skills to help him or her navigate and sail safely in coastal waters, on lakes, or across oceans.

The pictures and storytelling in the pages of National Geographic and National Geographic Traveler may be the best in the whole world.  I, like many, used to collect National Geographic in the world before the internet (leading to many sagging bookshelves). I now have the magazine on the computer and my shelves are saved. Its sister publication, National Geographic Traveler, features the same trademark photography but focuses on what you need to know to get out and visit those places you used to only read about in the gold-bordered pages.

Backpacker exists to help readers explore the boundless wonders the natural world has to offer. Backpacker Magazine includes advice on the best gear, trails, training and great hikes near and far. I grew up hiking and backpacking (my parents’ property backs up to the Appalachian Trail) and the gear and advice that’s offered in its pages is great for the novice and experienced hiker and camper.

Traveling may be what I’d like to do full-time, but while I’m still forced to live in reality I’ll turn to these sources for inspiration between trips.

Did I miss one of your favorite magazines? Tell me about it!

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A Wow Moment

I was going back through our archives and realized there was one adventure that we haven’t talked about much: my adventure to Egypt.  When my little sister was even littler, she was fascinated with history and Egypt in particular. I — being her wonderful big brother — made her a promise, if she was still interested in Egypt when she graduated high school we would go. So, 10 years later, we were walking in the land of the pharaohs. We went with a small organized tour group of about 10 people from all over the world.

We saw dozens of amazing historical sites all over the Nile valley. Though it is almost cliche, one of the sites that still astounds me today is the Pyramids of Giza and our trip inside the largest of them all, the Great Pyramid (also known as Khufu’s pyramid). You can see the massive stone structure from miles away across the Nile as you hop on the crowded highways of Cairo. The Giza plateau sits 62 feet above sea level and the Great Pyramid rises 455 feet above that, letting it dominate the landscape. I’m not going to get into the theories of how and why these massive geometric tombs were built; I’ll simply focus on my own experience.

The best time to arrive at the complex is as early as you can manage it. The pyramids have been a major tourist attraction for about 5,000 years now. We arrived just as the park opened, exited the minibus on a large, dusty dirt parking lot and were hurried to the entrance of the tomb. We were told we could take pictures and look around outside later.

(L-R) Zachary (brother), Andi (Sister),Zeke (me)

(L-R) Zachary (brother), Andi (sister) and Zeke

We entered the tomb through a 3 ½ foot wide, 4 foot tall shaft, which descended at a 30 degree angle. If you’re over 4 feet tall you need to duck and keep your balance by holding onto one of the rope hand rails running along the smooth stone walls. The uncomfortable walk seems like it goes on forever, and just when it begins to feel intensely claustrophobic the passage opens up into what is known as the King’s Chamber. The room is roughly 35 feet by 17 feet and has a flat stone ceiling rising 19 feet overhead. The walls were covered with graffiti (where names have been carved into the undecorated walls), much of it hundreds of years old, made by grave robbers and early European explorers. The room still felt large as our whole tour group examined the walls and posed for pictures in front of the massive stone sarcophagus. The broken and undecorated sarcophagus is actually larger than any of the entrances to the room and must have been placed inside as the pyramid was being built.

The wow moment for me was not as much for the amazing age of the structure, or the miracle of its construction, but the weight of the situation. The estimated weight of the building is 5.9 million tons. There was at least 2/3 of that over my head. The structure had been solid and unmoving for 5,000 years, placed together with such precision that the space between the stones, some weighing 80 tons, was only 1/50th of an inch. I know it’s a simple idea, but to me it was mind-blowing a feeling that even with all my words, I have trouble articulating.

We were in the chamber for around 15 minutes, just us, our little group, before heading back out the same way we came in. If we were not alone the 3 ½ foot wide shaft would have been open to two-way traffic.  I shudder to think of the claustrophobic feeling of a crowd of people coming in as we came out. We were given plenty of time to take the pictures we were promised (when we bought our photo permit as we entered the park).

The experience is one that my sister, my brother and I go back to again and again as one of our most amazing adventures. It’s an experience we all recommend to everyone.

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A Walk Around DuPont Circle

DuPont Circle Sign

DuPont Circle in North West Washington, DC is probably one of the most vibrant and cosmopolitan neighborhoods in the nation’s capital. You can’t walk a block without coming across a restaurant, bookstore, bar, or club. The active, open and alternative nightlife is often what draws the college crowd from across the city.

One of the most amazing things about this neighborhood is just that, it is a neighborhood. The area, bounded by Rhode Island Avenue, NW and M and N Streets, NW on the south, Florida Avenue to the west and Swan Street to the north, is a living, breathing neighborhood where people live, eat, shop and work. The community has an interesting history, too, as one of the earliest planned communities in DC, and is a monument to the architecture of the gilded age of the 1880s.

The marble fountain in the center of the circle.

The marble fountain in the center of the circle.

The neighborhood is centered around DuPont Circle, a traffic circle and park at the intersections of Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Connecticut Avenues.

Note: Wherever two state avenues intersect in DC it results in a traffic circle.

The circle was originally called Pacific Circle and had a statue of Rear Admiral Samuel Frances DuPont in commemoration of his civil war service. The statue was later replaced in the 1920s by the massive two-tiered marble fountain you see today.

DuPont Circle

The statues represent the Wind, the Stars, and the Sea.

The statues represent the Wind, the Stars, and the Sea.

The two kinds of houses that predominate the neighborhood are palatial mansions of the gilded age and two- three- and four-story rowhouses mainly built during the 1900s.

Many of the homes have been converted into apartments.

Many of the homes have been converted into apartments.

The Whittmore House (also known as The Weeks house) is presently home of the Woman’s National Democratic Club 1892. The copper-covered oriel bay is punched and tooled (see photos below) and gives hint of the industrial age and designs that would follow. The rest of the house is designed in the American Shingle style, setting it apart from the French style predominating the neighborhood. It also has the honor of being one of the first houses in the district with electricity.

The Whittemore House

The Whittemore House

The detail of the punch and tooled copper.

The detail of the punch and tooled copper.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Perry Belmont

The Perry Belmont House

The Perry Belmont House easily stands out among the stately manors of the community. Designed in the Beaux Arts style in 1901, the house sits on a trapezoidal lot designed to take advantage of the space. The stately former home of Perry Belmont takes the form of a freestanding pavilion in a French style. The interior is filled with iron fixtures from France, wood from Germany, and marble from Italy. It’s eclectic, and somewhat odd when you consider that the former congressman was also the ambassador to Spain.

The building was home to lavish parties in the winter months for the Washington elite, and in 1919 housed Edward, Prince of Wales, as a guest on a state visit. Belmont, a freemason, sold the home to the masons and it’s now the home of the Order of the Eastern Star.

The unfortunate thing about many of the historic homes in DuPont Circle is they are not open to the public. So you’ll just have to do what I did and admire the architecture from the outside. (You may want to wait for warmer weather. It would be much more pleasant with temperatures above zero.) You may be able to contact some of the buildings that have been turned into embassies or businesses and work something out on a one-on-one basis.

 

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England Bound

With the holidays winding down it’s time for Amanda and me to start planning our winter break. Most of the time, Amanda gives me a budget of a couple thousand dollars and we escape to some place with crystal clear water and warm temperatures. I can’t express how much I look forward to running away to a tropical oasis each year.

But, this year is different. We made a promise we intend to keep; and that means we won’t be getting off the plane and feel a warm breeze in our face.

We'll be exchanging our dollars for British pounds in 2015.

We’ll be exchanging our dollars for British pounds in 2015.

We’re planning a trip to England. Yes, England — the rainy island — in February. If you’re concerned about miserable weather, well, you’ve got that kind of right. The temperatures that time of year tend to be in the 40s (the island rarely gets snow). The average temperature for that time of year in our home base in Pittsburgh hovers just below the freezing mark.

The other hang-up that comes to mind is, “isn’t that expensive?” Well, yes, it is compared to Mexico or the Caribbean. We will have to double our budget to around $4,000 about half of that is just the airfare. I already know it will take me hours of searching for the right flights in order to keep those tickets to $1,000 apiece.

We’re planning on spending two nights in London (at about $150 a night or below) so we can catch one or two of the city’s highlights Amanda hasn’t seen. We then plan on renting a car (from preliminary estimates, the cheapest part of the trip so far) and heading to the southwest coast, stopping at Stonehenge along the way. I do suggest to anyone visiting England to make the trek to Salisbury to visit the ancient monoliths. The simple stone circle will take your breath away.

The main goal, and the entire reason we are skipping the sun, is to visit some friends. I have known Kate for years, and she and her husband recently opened a bed and breakfast, the Anchor Inn, next to his family’s pub. We plan on staying there a few days and catch up on the last several years as well as explore the small seaside towns and villages.  So, that’s it. I’ll keep you all in the loop as the departure date is set and the prices we plan on paying and the reality of what we are getting for the price.

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You Drop What?

I’m not certain who started it, my guess is probably the New Years Eve Times Square party in 1908 when they lowered a crystal ball down a pole starting at one minute to midnight to celebrate the beginning of the new year. Since then all over North America other towns have decided to drop their own balls (and/or other items) to ring in the new year. The ball or ball substitute often is chosen to be unique to the local culture, so here are some that can make you question the word “culture” like an anthropologist observing a lost civilization.

Eastport, Maine – Maple Leaf

The folks of Eastport, Maine drop a Maple Leaf down a flag pole at 11 pm to celebrate Midnight in the Canadian Maritime, who are on Atlantic Time, then drop a “Great Sardine” to celebrate in Eastern Time in Freeport, Maine.

Bethlehem, Pennsylvania – Peep

The peeps in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania (home of everyone’s favorite marshmallow Easter treat) drop a 100-pound glowing yellow Peep. The Peep drop is part of a festival known as Peepfest to celebrate everything we love about the creations of Just Born Quality Confections.

Plymouth, Wisconsin – Big Cheese

Well don’t ya know, the people of Plymouth, Wisconsin gather for the Big Cheese Drop as they munch on complimentary cheese hors d’oeuvres and watch an 80-pound decorated cheese wedge descend from a ladder truck to great applause.

Hagerstown, Maryland – Donut

You’d imagine Homer Simpson would be a big fan of this one, in Hagerstown, Maryland -The Donut Drop. The main square in this western Maryland town becomes the center of attention as a massive donut is lowered to celebrate the new year. This just in: This year the donut will drop into a massive cup of coffee.

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania – Ball Raise

We couldn’t leave our new hometown off the list, could we? Pittsburgh’s countdown to the New Year doesn’t lower anything; the ball is raised. The ball atop Penn Avenue Place goes up, and then the fireworks go off. You knew there’d be fireworks, right?

Wherever you are and whatever you drop (or raise) we hope you have a happy and safe New Year.

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Passengers Behaving Badly

These days, I feel like it’s noteworthy if I can make it through a flight without being astonished (and annoyed) by the behavior of some of my fellow passengers. You’ll find plenty of examples on the Passenger Shaming Facebook page that leave me shaking my head.

Up, up and AWAY!

A video posted by Amanda Changuris (@amandachanguris) on

Why do some people turn into toddlers having temper tantrums when they travel? Science suggests there’s a psychological root to the problem: the feeling of being out of control. It’s no excuse, of course, but at least it makes sense. Someone else is driving, you have to obey a long list of rules (including some that may seem ridiculous), you’re crammed in a small space with a bunch of strangers — it’s not ideal all around.

If you’re traveling this week, try to remember — and avoid — these bad behaviors:

Disrespecting Others’ Space

Tight quarters make some people push the boundaries of ‘their’ space. Ever witnessed any of these?

  • Headrest grabbers — if I had a dollar for every time I’ve seen a passenger grab a headrest as he or she tries to get in or out of the row I’d be a wealthy woman. Unless that seat is empty, do your best to leave it alone. I was finally asleep on an international flight last year when someone grabbed my headrest and pulled my hair on his way out of his seat. I wasn’t pleased.
  • Armrest hoarders — I sat next to one on a short flight home on a business trip. He contorted himself in very interesting ways so he’d never leave either armrest free. Honestly, it made me laugh.
  • Kickers — from kids (or even adults) kicking your seat from behind to fellow passengers kicking your feet (yes, that’s happened to me), flailing about seems to be a common response to a sardine situation. Just don’t, okay?
  • Aimless aisle dwellers — I was on an international flight with a woman who thought nothing of standing in the aisle for more than an hour … with her derriere in another passenger’s face. I completely understand needing to get up and move during a long flight, but respect  that there are people around you.

Are you picking up on a theme? Be aware you’re not the only person on the plane.

Abusing the Flight Attendants

I kid you not, these things have actually happened in front of my very eyes:

  • A passenger filled out his customs paperwork incorrectly — twice — and proceeded to tear the forms into tiny pieces and scatter them on the floor. Just… why?
  • The same guy had trouble with his in-flight entertainment system and yelled for the flight attendants to come set it up for him, repeatedly. Notice he yelled; no call button needed when you can bellow!
  • On a flight to Athens, Greece we flew with a group of college students who got so incredibly drunk the police were called to meet them at the gate when we arrived. Having a drink (or even a few on a long flight like that) is just fine, but save the all-out bender for after you land.

We’ve all witnessed awful behavior while traveling; what was the last act that astonished you?

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Gift List 2014

The holiday season, aka gifting season, is upon us. For those of you who have procrastinated, here’s your heads up: As of this posting there are only 10 shopping days left.  So, for all of you who are stuck looking for a gift for the traveler in your life here is a quick list of a few thing we thought were pretty cool.

The Bemo calls itself the “social” video camera.  The small, yet rugged camera will let you record high-quality video and includes a time-lapse function. You can sync the camera with your phone and easily upload video to your social network after downloading an app. Pretty handy for sharing your travels while you’re still traveling! The Bemo Social Video Camera by Logitech runs about $119.

The Keyprop Keychain Stand ($12) is a simple but brilliant attachment for your smart phone. The key-shaped device fits on your key chain and plugs into your phone allowing it to be propped up so you can watch all the YouTube and Netflix you want without the inconvenience of holding up your phone.

If you have a photographer in your life, the Manfrotto Tri Backpack ($65) is a sensible and rugged camera bag. The design allows you to store your DSLR and 1-2 additional lenses. The backpack has adjustable straps that let you carry it like a backpack or messenger bag. The shell is water repellant and has a secondary rain protector that allows you to create a barrier between the inside and outside of your bag. The dimensions of 16″ x 9″ x 8″ make it the perfect carry-on for a plane.

Trackdot ($50) lets you know where your bag is even if it isn’t in the same city you are. The 3″ by 2″ device can sit in your luggage and is constantly pinging the network to determine its location. When you fly the device goes to sleep. When the bag lands, the device in your luggage wakes up and reports its new location. You can choose to be notified via text message or email. This can be a particularly helpful device when your carry-on has to be gate-checked. You’ll know if your bag made the trip as soon as you land; no more hoping and praying and worrying as you make your way to the baggage claim.

You can get the art lover and travel lover the same gift with these airport posters from 08left ($25). The frame-ready designs of airport codes and maps can be the perfect piece of art for your favorite travel enthusiast.

I often talk about the importance of journaling your travels and personally love using Moleskine Notebooks ($9-$30). The feeling of writing down your adventures in a bound hardback notebook can make you feel like a great explorer or writer like Livingston or Hemingway.

Zeke taking a moment to keep some of his adventures in Tanzania

Zeke taking a moment to write down some of his adventures in Tanzania in a Moleskine journal.

If you’re concerned your gift recipient might think they’re too cool for old fashioned pen and paper, Moleskine now has a cross-over notebook. The Livescribe Notebook ($30) is only the first in a line of paper notebooks that take what you write and transcribe it (via a Bluetooth pen) to an app. To better explain we’ll just quote the Moleskine website:

 ”The notebook features the iconic Moleskine design details, from the familiar rounded corners, ivory-coloured pages and ribbon bookmark to the elastic closure and “in case of loss…” label printed on the flyleaf. Its center-stitched binding ensures the notebook lies flat, for an enjoyable writing experience. The on-page commands which enable quick access to the app’s features, including voice recognition, have also been redesigned in the Moleskine style. Two bookmarks are stored in the back pocket with further commands for the Livescribe smartpen. Lastly, the debossed pattern on the cover subtly recalls the design of the smartpen, a perfect finish for this innovative tool that bridges analog and digital.”

We don’t always take our DSLRs and a dozen lenses with us when we travel, and instead rely on our phones for our snapshots. If you find yourself taking more phone-based photos, you’ll love Printstagram, now called Print Studio.  Their calendar, made of thick paper stock, can help you count the days to your next adventure. You get 365 prints for $40. You can also get posters, stickers, note cards and much more, by syncing your Instagram account.

We wish you happy shopping, happy holidays and a year full of travel adventures in 2015.

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