KNOW BEFORE YOU GO! Havana Edition!

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Man! It’s been a while! Hello there, great to see you again! 

I’ve been on a few adventures since we last spoke, but Cuba has lulled me out of my writers block. 

This country is amazing! 

We’ve only been here a week and I’ve only gone a few hours from Havana on this trip, but there are some things I think you might need to know before you head here! This compilation is entirely things I wish I would have known before I came here. This is from a “travel Spanish” speaking, well traveled, budget conscious, American traveler. Now, some of you might be more of a choose your own adventure while on the adventure type of people so I’m trying not to let my overbearing type-A mentality suffocate your fun out the trip, but I hope these tips will help all of you have a slightly more awesome time in Cuba than you’re already sure to! 

WHILE AT HOME

  •  Screenshot everything you think you might want to do with maps! To be fair, my cousin and I did very minimal research before we came and when I travel, I’m used to having a list of the things people told me to check out and looking them up when I get here. I know this seems stupid, but you not only don’t really have the luxury of abundant wifi, you also probably don’t want to spend the internet card time and money looking up places that you could probably have found with a screenshot of a basic google search screen! For us, it wasn’t the social media we missed, it was the google! It seems so common sense but I wish I had been a little more prepared for that.  
  • Try to arrange a driver from the airport and pay in advance so you don’t have to get CUCs out at the airport. We found the exchange rate to be the same everywhere we went (as of 9/20/16, 87% when you include the 10% fee for US$) so there was no real reason to get money in the airport other than to to pay the cab driver. And that line is about an hour long…there’s nothing like getting off a long flight, waiting forever for your luggage, only to wait in another line. Just in case you’re looking for someone, here’s our guy! Tell him Cessalee sent you! IMG_5938.JPG
  • Bring some inflight entertainment and back up chargers. Again, this may be travel 101 for some of you, but the planes we flew from the US to Mexico to Havana had no tvs and no chargers for phones. Also, we found it nice to have a few games to pass the time on buses and at the end of the day. 
  • If you’re flying through Mexico, its very easy to get your visa there for $20, but make sure you have at least an hour of a layover. We were towards the front of the plane and were able to get off and through customs quickly! Our bags were (surprisingly) already there so we grabbed them, went up to re-check them, got our visa, got back through security, to the gate and in line as the plane was boarding. Thankfully we were totally ok and had a few minutes to spare, but I wouldn’t chance it with less than an hour. We were one long customs line away from missing our connection.IMG_5922.JPG
  • Again, it may go without saying, but bring more money than you think.We set a budget of $500 each for 7 days not including lodging and exceeded it by about $150, but had more than enough to cover our expenses. 
  • Airbnb is a great way to find a casa particualar in Cuba! There are also great options in the other cities in Cuba. Just make sure that you’re extremely clear about the space that is yours vs. the shared spaces. We had a small issue where a listing said that we were renting an entire 4 bedroom, 4 bathroom home, but what they really meant was that we had an entire room with one bed in a 4 bedroom, 4 bathroom casa. Definitely not the same thing! So just make sure that you’re very clear about what you’re expecting. 
  • If you have any extra room in your suitcase, bring a few snacks. The bodegas are harder to find here than you’d think. And if you really have extra space, consider bringing small travel sized toiletries or toys for your host. We gave our host’s daughter two bottles of nail polish and it brought such a smile to her face! It’s the little things! 

WHEN YOU GET HERE

  • If you do have to change money at the airport, just know that if you change more than $1200, you are exempt from the 10% fee. So if you’re traveling with friends, pool your moola to save some moola! 
  • There are two kinds of money, the CUC, or convertible “tourist” money, and the CUP, or the “locals” money. We had absolutely no issues, but make sure that the money you’re getting says convertible on it and had pictures of monuments, not people. IMG_5824.jpeg
  • One thing I wish we had done on day one, was to head to the Infotur spot on Obispo. There a woman named Leda gave us all the information we needed and it didn’t cost a single cent! She’s got the most up to date schedules for the buses to the beach, Varadero, Vinales, Pinar del Rio and anywhere you might want to go! Head over to see her and take a few pictures of the schedules. That will help you know what time you need to get up in the morning to take the 5-10 CUC tourist buses instead of taking a 50-70 CUC tour! 
  • Wifi cards are available at most large hotels for between 2 and 5 CUCs. Some charge more for not being a guest, some won’t even sell them to you if you’re not a guest (I’m looking at you Inglaterra…grrrr). People on the street will sell them for 3, I”m not sure if they’re legit, but it sure beats 5! You can also buy them from the Etecsa office on Obispo (just past the Floridita Hotel) for 2 CUC, just make sure to bring at least a picture of our passport. And maybe a game, the line will be long! 
  • As for attire, for me, loose and comfortable was the way to go. The heat is on in Havana! So depending on your sweat level, you’ll want to make sure your clothes are lightweight! But these Cuban chicas are flaunting it, so if you’re a mini skirt and bandeau top kind of person, go for it!! Feel free to wear as little as you’d like, you won’t feel out of place. 
  • Someone is going to try to tell you that there is a “cooperativo” selling half price cigars for one day only and then they’ll take you into their house and show you cigars that they will sell for as low as 10 for $20. I personally didn’t know enough about cigars to even test their authenticity, but here are the things I do know. Many of these people sell “cigars” stuffed with banana leaves instead of tobacco so if you’re not sure what cigars are supposed to look, feel and smell like – I’d probably avoid it. However if you think you know what you’re looking for, the workers at the factories (at least the Partagas one we visited) get 5 free cigars a day to take home. So after a week, they’ve got a pretty nice batch of cigars to sell on the black market. So proceed with caution, but just know that it’s not one day a month! We’ve been here 7 days and it’s been happening every day so far! IMG_6220.JPG
  • Negotiate everything! And use your casa host/hotel as a reference. They’ll tell you what cabs should cost so you can start on a fair playing field. Most people start with about double what the actual price should be. Same goes for the tours that the cab drivers offer, the horses etc. 
  • But on the other hand, most people are working on some kind of kick back/commission situation. The cab drivers get a kick back from bringing you to the bar, the guys out front get a commission for bringing you to the club etc. So don’t be too weirded out when they walk you to the next place. It’s just so they can get their payment! 
  • It seemed that most of the “Havana tours” were the same. The hop on/hop off bus was the same basic route as the classic car tour and the walking tours. I’d suggest figuring out where you want to go and then starting with whichever mode of transportation appeals to you most and then getting a private cab/car to hit the places you miss! 
  • If you’re headed to Varadero, get 2 days for one night price like we did! I’d say, take the 8:00am bus (10 CUC) and then hang out in Varadero town near the bus station, check out the stores a bit and then get a taxi to your resort (10 CUC), and even if the room isn’t ready, they’ll let you enjoy the amenities. The next day, they’ll let you stay and relax and the last tourist bus leaves at 7:30, so grab another 10 CUC cab ride to the town (unless your resort is already in the city) and you just got two resort days for the price of one! You can also opt for the shuttle service which will take you directly from hotel to hotel! it’s a little more expensive but the convenience is totally worth it! 

There is so much more to say and share about Cuba! We had a wonderful time going all around Havana and visiting the beautiful beaches of Santa Maria and Varadero! Overall I would say that the people here are amazing! The sights and sounds you’ll hear are some of the most exciting and authentic in the world. Don’t be afraid to talk to people, they are excited that we’re coming and just want us to love and respect their culture as much as they do! Have a great time, enjoy Cuba and when you come back, please leave a comment about what you wish you knew! IMG_4329.jpeg

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Fly one, apply one (lesson that is)

Hey there friends, it’s great to catch up with you! I’m here in Jakarta on my way back to the States for my favorite day ever, Thanksgiving. And while I’m in the mist of the first chunk of my upcoming 27 hours of layovers/stopovers, I figured what better time to talk about all the things that went right on this leg of the trip..and the things I’ll re-think for next time.

So the itinerary of this major chunk of the #Cescapades went a little something like this:

  • 10/25 Bus from Indy to Chicago
  • Fly Chicago to Amsterdam (13 hour stopover)
  • Fly Amsterdam to Nairobi
  • 2 days in Nairobi
  • Fly Nairobi to Zanzibar
  • 2 days in Stonetown
  • 2 days in Matemwe Beach
  • 1 day between Nungwi and Stonetown
  • Fly to Nairobi and immediate safari pick up
  • Safari in Maasai Mara (3 days)
  • Safari in Lake Nakuru (1 day)
  • 1 night in Nairobi
  • Fly to Amsterdam
  • Fly to NYC (13 hour stopover)
  • Fly to Chicago (36 hour stopover)
  • Fly to LA
  • 3 days in LA
  • Fly to Tokyo (13 hour overnight)
  • Fly to Jakarta (15 hour overnight)
  • Fly to Bali
  • 6 days in Bali between Kuta and Ubud
  • Fly to Jakarta (10 hour layover-not by choice)
  • Fly to Tokyo (16 hour stopover)
  • Fly to LAX (4 hour layover)
  • 11/25 Fly to my bed in Indianapolis

Yeah. That’s a lot for one month.

And so let’s talk about the things I did right. Well, first of all the price was definitely right. The round trip flight to Africa was COMPLETELY free thanks to my Chase Sapphire Rewards Card. I used my points to book what would have been a $600 great fare for only $480 worth of points! Major score! And my flight to Bali came in right around $500. There was a flight deal for a RT flight to Jakarta in and out of LA for just over $400. The domestic flight from Jakarta to Bali was about $60. I booked a good deal on Virgin from Chicago to LAX and I had enough points thanks to my Delta card to book a flight from LAX to IND for free. The flight from Nairobi to Zanzibar was about $250 so I paid $1240 if you include the potential cash back from Chase, but really only $750 out of pocket. More on this stuff later. But overall, it was a really good deal!

Although I would have taken twice as long everywhere I went, I’m glad that I gave myself enough time to get adjusted to the new cities without having to be overwhelmed. Europe was so fun to do and see, but I was literally moving to a new city every two days and truthfully, I was exhausted by the end of it. I’m so thankful I had a little breathing room in this trip! And even thought it wasn’t my home, being able to be in the States was nice! I did laundry, I recorded a 5 Minute Call, I got to see tons of friends, it was great to reset!

TIP #1: When a great deal shows up to a place you’re not particularly interested in going, check and see where you can get from there. Cheap flight to Europe? Check out the routes to other cities you want to visit! Find a good rate to China/Japan? It’s easy and cheap to get to Thailand from there. And the same goes for departures. Is there a cheaper flight from a city near you? Could a $20 Megabus ticket save you $300-500? Thinking outside the box can keep your money inside your wallet 🙂

TIP #2: It seems obvious, but pay attention to your flight departure and arrival times. An overnight flight not only saves you from wasting a full day of vacation, arriving at the crack of dawn can also save you a lot of the traffic hassle that comes in the middle of the day. And the redeye means you don’t have to spend money on your hotel room that night. Sometimes those factors, plus any savings on the flight really add up.

Now there are certainly a few things I would have changed up if I could. Starting with the lay/stopover. A layover is anything shorter than 4 hours domestically or 24 hours internationally. Airlines usually allow layovers for free and will charge around $100 for stopovers. On the way here, there was nothing I could do about the stop in Tokyo, it was part of the flight. But I do wish I had purchased my second flight to Bali for the same day. And perhaps if I had done more research on my connecting airport, Jakarta, I would have known that. Jakarta is a big city, but along with the big city action comes the big city traffic. The airport is between 90-120 minutes to the city and landing at 6, going through customs and trying to get to my hotel, checked in, and in a cab to the downtown area was just too much work! I would have rather saved the money I spent on my hotel in Jakarta and spent it on a hotel in Bali a day earlier.

However, I did a good amount of research about my hotel choices in both Tokyo and Jakarta and I was pleasantly pleased with both of them. Both had airport shuttles, free breakfast and wifi, and were extremely comfortable for one overnight.

TIP #3: Play the layover game if it works for you. I’m excited to get to see Tokyo for free thanks to this itinerary! If you have time that you can sacrifice from your intended destination, you can actually fit in a free stop on the way there and maybe even a different one on the way back. I recently found a flight from LA to Phuket, Thailand with a 20 hour “layover” in Australia for under $1000! Talk about killing two birds with one stone!

Tip #4: However, be realistic about the journey to and from your hub. Certain airports, especially some “budget airline” hubs in Europe can be REALLY far from the city so just make sure that you’re giving yourself plenty of time to be back to the airport with plenty of time!

I’m quite the planner. Before even starting on this trip, I had a fully color coded (in ROYGBIV) itinerary with each continent chunk, hotel addresses, confirmation numbers, notes and more in a file on my computer! It was and is my bible for these 24 weeks. But I wish I left myself a little more flexibility in Bali. It turns out the hotel I booked there was ok, but I wanted to discover more. And since I had paid for it in full in advance, I ended up paying for another place in Ubud although I had a fully paid place in Kuta. A similar thing happened in Zanzibar. The days leading up to my stay were filled with political unrest on the island. The ruling party had been outvoted by newcomers and the possibility of a re-vote brought the possibility of riots breaking out basically in front of my hotel. Frazzled and worried, I decided to book a separate hotel for a few days just in case anything happend. Nothing did, and I loved the second place, but again, there was money down the drain.

Tip #5: Try to book only refundable hotels. Or better yet, ones that allow you to check out early. Or if it’s a big hotel that you expect to have rooms, only book a few nights and then try to extend. They’ll almost always give you the price you paid for the first nights so it’s a good way to go!

But no matter how much your plan or prepare, there are things you just can’t predict or fix. Although I built in 4 hours of time in Jakarta between my arrival from Bali and departure to Tokyo, I could have never imagined that the airline would email me at 10 pm to let me know that they had changed my flight to leave an hour later. Because I had been through the baggage claim process and had experienced the lack of timeliness on the part of this certain airline, I decided it was best not to risk it. And although leaving 7 hours early meant I had to sacrifice on more $6 massage from Bali, not missing my connection makes it totally worth it.

Tip #6: Make sure you know what protection you have. Rules differ country to country, but generally speaking, if you’re going to be put out by something the airlines did, there should be some consideration for your needs. When this airline tried to tell me they wouldn’t put me on an earlier flight, I demanded they speak to their supervisor. And when he did, it was clear that I had permission to change my flight due to their schedule change. Same thing if they have technical difficulties and have to ground a flight overnight or leave you on the plane for an extended amount of time. Know the rules! And request compensation for the hassle. The worst they can say is no!

More tips to come, for now, I’m going to enjoy the last of my $10 massages here in Indonesia!

 

#journeyon

 

CROC

I’ve been feeling a little guilty. I don’t think I posted ONCE during the European Adventure. So instead of a life lesson, I’m going to give you:

THE COMPLETE REVIEW OF CITIES! (Abridged) PART 1

100 words or so about each place and maybe a picture or 5!

SAO PAULO and RIO, BRAZIL: Not as scary as I convinced myself it would be. Everyone had me terrified that I was going to be mugged and robbed and beaten and tricked all at the same time, especially in Rio. I’m not saying don’t be vigilant and aware, but I wish I had started out with more fun than fear. The exchange rate makes things SO very affordable so I did quite a bit of shopping! You’ll be able to get by with only English, but be prepared to be patient and make sure you have google translate downloaded! Sao Paulo has a palpable energy, kind of like NYC. I loved it. And make sure to visit the Presley Pub in Villa Magdalena and tell them Cessalee sent you. Please take some time to run, sit and/or people watch in Ibirapuera Park. It’s a magical place. And take it easy on the caipirinhas. Trust me. Rio was great for the sights and although I had the guidance of locals, you can definitely wander about and find some great spots for nightlife! Get out of Rio and Ipanema. But please, go to Zaza Bistro. Please. For me. Be open, talk to people but not the crazy ones, and be ready to walk into a samba party at any moment.

COST OF VISITING:  $

FOOD: 4.5/5

FRIENDLY FACTOR: 4/5

EASE OF COMMUNICATION: 3/5

OVERALL EXPERIENCE: 4/5

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

Escadaria Selaron aka Where the Snoop Dogg video was filmed

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

Amazing piece at the Afro-Brazilian Museum in Iberapuera Park

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

The museum had a replica of a slave ship-a must see!

DUBAI and ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES: Decadent. Luxurious, Imported. That’s how I can best describe Dubai in particular. It was cool, so other worldly. The architecture is stunning, the extravagance afforded to even the common tourist makes you feel like royalty. Thankfully we visited the souks in Deira and took a trip to the Dubai museum. Otherwise, I’m not sure we would have really done or seen anything authentically Emirati. The cab drivers, the restaurant and bar employees, the tour guides, the yacht crew..no one was a native. It was sort of like they have imported in people to run their city so they don’t have to get their hands dirty. Truthfully the only place I got to see “natives” was in the malls. Abu Dhabi felt like the business version of Dubai. The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque Center is a MUST SEE. Probably one of the most stunning things I’ve seen on this trip. And what trip would be complete without at least ONE all you can eat Friday brunch? We chose Saffron at Atlantis and while I can’t say the food was particularly good, the drinks were a-flowing! Even Mom got in on the action, and we definitely had a good time. If I were to go back, I would love to see the cultural center and Louvre Dubai and Guggenheim Dubai when they open on Saadiyat Island!

COST OF VISITING:  $$$$

FOOD: 3/5

FRIENDLY FACTOR: 3/5

EASE OF COMMUNICATION: 5/5

OVERALL EXPERIENCE: 3.5/5

Sheik Zayed Mosque in Adu Dhabi

Sheik Zayed Mosque in Adu Dhabi

From the outside of the Mosque

From the outside of the Mosque

Brunch at Saffron in the Atlantis Hotel in Dubai

Brunch at Saffron in the Atlantis Hotel in Dubai

Here's to the ladies who Brunch :)

Here’s to the ladies who Brunch 🙂

Desert Safari with SAADI Tours! We had a blast!

Desert Safari with SAADI Tours! We had a blast!

OSLO, NORWAY: I didn’t get to spend as much time here as I would have liked, but it was great for the two hours I was there! I loved the Nobel Peace Center Museum. The exhibit of Malala and Kailash. So inspiring. The uniform Malala was wearing when she was shot is on display. It’s just so small, she was just so young. And she impacted the world. The Targets exhibit is pretty moving as well. It argues that if we have enemies, we are also enemies. And depicts the realities of war training throughout the world. Pretty moving stuff. The other thing I love about Oslo is how easy it is to get from the airport to city. You can take the FlytoGet which is super convenient and about $30 bucks..or you can take a train that takes 3 more minutes for $14! Baggage station to Central Station in under 30 minutes! Just ask the people to help you. They don’t offer up that info, but are happy to give it if you ask! It is a pretty pricy city. Cabs were definitely a lot more than you’d expect elsewhere to be prepared for that!

COST OF VISITING:  $$$

FOOD: N/A (I only ate at Joe and the Juice, a tasty chain with locations throughout Europe)

FRIENDLY FACTOR: 4/5

EASE OF COMMUNICATION: 5/5

OVERALL EXPERIENCE: 4/5

A lovely day in Norway!

A lovely day in Norway!

The Nobel Peace Museum is a MUST!

The Nobel Peace Museum is a MUST!

Gnomes and Trolls!

Gnomes and Trolls!

It truly is beautiful here

It truly is beautiful here

COPENHAGEN, DENMARK: OOOHWEEE! This place was awesome! Definitely needed one more day there! Tivoli Gardens was pretty cool to visit. I got some roller coaster time in and got to see a rather strange show in the park! The Little Mermaid was ever so slightly underwhelming but I’m glad I got to see it. The grounds of The Kastellet were pretty cool and I highly recommend popping into as many churches as you can. I did head through Christiana to get to the opera house and it’s so crazy to think that a city sans law exists as well as it does. Truthfully I didn’t get to close, but it was really something to see. And don’t think you’ll get away with pictures. They will literally smash your camera on the ground. I went out to the Carlsberg Brewery and it as one of the better tours I’ve seen of a beer brewery. This self guided tour is a great way to learn about the Jacobsen family who founded two Carlsberg breweries and eventually brought them together. I would highly recommend the Copenhagen Card, I didn’t get it but almost everywhere I wanted to go took it. I think I would have saved a good deal of money. Speaking of money, it didn’t strike me as a super expensive place, it’s definitely on my list of returns!

COST OF VISITING:  $$

FOOD: 4/5

FRIENDLY FACTOR: 5/5

EASE OF COMMUNICATION: 5/5

OVERALL EXPERIENCE: 4.75/5

Copenhagen from the water

Copenhagen from the water

A view from the RoundTower

A view from the RoundTower

Take a visit to Tivoli Gardens

Take a visit to Tivoli Gardens

The roller coasters are still run manually

The roller coasters are still operated manually

BEER!

BEER!

Denmark!

Denmark!

AMSTERDAM, THE NETHERLANDS: This is another place I need to revisit. Luckily I have a one day layover coming up so I’m definitely going to take full advantage. I took a canal tour and even if there was no guide, it would have been magical. It feels like you’re lost in a maze that you don’t actually want to escape from. I think Amsterdam gets a bad name for being a hotbed of Red Light Vixens and Pot Smoking Hippies, but there is just so much more. Farmer’s markets are everywhere, great food, good beer, lovely canals to explore via boat or to admire via coffee shop..it’s just really awesome. Add in some great music and friendly locals and I’m sold! (Not to mention, the men here are pretty hot. Just saying)

COST OF VISITING:  $$

FOOD: 4/5

FRIENDLY FACTOR: 4/5

EASE OF COMMUNICATION: 5/5

OVERALL EXPERIENCE: 4.5/5

Amsterdam is so lovely!

Amsterdam is so lovely!

The best airbnb of my entire European adventure!

The best airbnb of my entire European adventure!

The best

The best “coffee shop” in all of Amsterdam

Even the Red Light Ladies need a little Jesus now and then

Even the Red Light Ladies need a little Jesus now and then

The sun shines on A'dam

The sun shines on A’dam

BRUSSELS, BELGIUM: I liked Brussels. As a food lover, I had my work cut out for me as I apptempted to do all of the important things in Brussels in under 24 hours. At one point I had a Belgian Waffle, topped with Belgian chocolate in one hand, some frites with two sauces in the other, while looking at Manneken Pis and drinking a Chimay. Thank goodness I’m not gluten free! In a strange turn of events, I also ended up at a lovely Ethiopian restaurant, Toukoul,  near St. Katherine’s and they took such great care of me, it was a most wonderful way to be introduced to Brussels! I really wasn’t there long enough to give you a full review, but my highlights definitely included the food, the skate park des Ursulines, the look of disappointment when people finally made it to Manneken Pis, the food, the square, the no-car Sunday, the abundance of delicious beer, and most definitely the food! I will be back, Brussels!

COST OF VISITING:  $$$

FOOD: 5/5

FRIENDLY FACTOR: 3.5/5

EASE OF COMMUNICATION: 5/5

OVERALL EXPERIENCE: 4/5

There is an abundance of beauty in Brussels!

There is an abundance of beauty in Brussels!

Delicious Ethiopian food from Toukoul

Delicious Ethiopian food from Toukoul

There he is, in all is Pis-ing glory!

There he is, in all is Pis-ing glory!

BELGIAN FRITES!! Nom nom nom!

BELGIAN FRITES!! Nom nom nom!

Mmmm...chocolat!

Mmmm…chocolat!

FRANKFURT, GERMANY: Frankfurt is busy! Upon arrival you get almost an American-sort of vibe from the locals. People move fast and they definitely have somewhere to go. Sort of like New York but smaller, and lots more smoke. There are a lot of really cool things to see in Frankfurt and I had an excellent tour guide so I think I got the best of the best..but it still just wasn’t my thing. The food was good, the beers were big, but there was just something unwelcoming about the city to me. Of course that was juxtaposed with the most welcoming and lovely people I met through Alex, his mom and grandmother. We went to a small Apfelwein (Apple wine) tavern near his house and it was like we had entered another dimension. The owners, a pair of Middle Eastern brothers who specialized in pork products, knew and loved Alex’s family and as much as they welcomed them, they welcomed me! We had a few hours to kill before my flight and had an absolute ball! So maybe next time I’ll go for the Apfelwein festival in August and stick to the taverns and stay out of downtown!

COST OF VISITING:  $$

FOOD: 3.5/5

FRIENDLY FACTOR: 2.5/5

EASE OF COMMUNICATION: 3.5/5

OVERALL EXPERIENCE: 3.5/5

An ode to the walk-man!

An ode to the walk-man!

Architectural perfection in the train station

Architectural perfection in the train station

Even the malls are meticulously designed! This one has the longest escalator in Europe

Even the malls are meticulously designed! This one has the longest escalator in Europe

Alex's mom-such an awesome lady!

Alex’s mom-such an awesome lady!

This little lady is quite the firecracker!

This little lady is quite the firecracker!

BAD DURKHEIM, GERMANY: I loved this little town and wish I had more time there to explore! Bad Durkheim is the home of the largest wine festival in the world, Wurstmarkt. And while it literally translates to Sausage Market, it’s much more than than! It was a perfect preview to Oktoberfest. I was expecting the typical American wine festival with some wine tents and people offering tastings and pairings in small glasses and pinky-up sipping. Nope. Not in Germany you don’t. I got my first glass of wine in a pint glass. Let that sink in for a second. A pint of wine. You can see where this night is going. In addition to the wine, there were tents full of folks having a grand old time. Very rarely did I see someone “wasted.” I saw people having a great time, dancing, meeting their neighbors, sharing the good times together. And it was awesome. We rode the bumper cars where they do not take it easy on you, and a few of the rides before heading to our hotel that was on the grounds of the festival. In the morning we did a little shopping and while there were few people that spoke English, everyone was more than willing to participate in my game of charades until we could figure each other out! Definitely worth a stop on your next Oktoberfest trip!

COST OF VISITING:  $$$

FOOD: 3/5

FRIENDLY FACTOR: 5/5

EASE OF COMMUNICATION: 3/5

OVERALL EXPERIENCE: 4/5

Celebrating our Nomadness Travel Tribe!

Celebrating our Nomadness Travel Tribe!

A perfect way to end a great night!

A perfect way to end a great night!

I can't believe he made me do this!

I can’t believe he made me do this!

Ok, I”m going to stop here for now, because I’m here:

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Zanzibar, Tanzania

But I’ll be back to update more soon! In the mean time, I’ll get back to blogging! I promise, I’ll get back to my once a week schedule…but there’s just so much to do!! See you soon!

Journey ON!

Beautiful day trip to Brussles

The Europe leg is definitely the most rushed part of my Cescapade and that was completely due to my “planning.” At the time of booking, it was planned to be the only trip, other than GlitchGate, and then I was going to go back to New York and get a job. Because a month of traveling is enough for anyone-especially an unemployed anyone, right? 

  

#awesomehuman and his Mom

  
After spending New Years with one of my favorite humans and his Mama, Finn and Hezza, I got inspired to work towards my 40 x 40-a familiar phrase among the wonderlusting  folk that refers to hitting 40 countries by the time you hit 14,610 days…accounting for leap years, of course. I had only done 9 (10 if you count Northern Ireland as it’s own country) so I had a long way to go. I was almost 32 and accounting for potential years I would be pregnant or with small child and out of commission-again with the planning-I figured I probably need to hit about 8 countries a year on my good years and 2 on the off ones to make my goal. 4 good years, 4 off years and 2 baby years put me in good shape so I needed to hit 6 in this one trip.  Abu Dhabi was booked and there was talk of Iceland, and so a trip to Norway, Denmark, The Netherlands, Belgium, Germany and Czech Republic (France is a repeat so it doesn’t count) began to take shape.

Operation Eurotrip was alive with a mission to basically get into as many countries as possible. The flights into Oslo were extremely reasonable (thank you Norwegian Airlines) so it was the clear starting and stopping point. Then came the fun part. In addition to the places that made the final cut, Sweeden, Greece and Poland were up for review, but something had to give. Brussels even almost got the axe but got saved by an amazing hotel at a great price! I narrowed it down to 10 cities. Let that sink in. 10 cities, one city twice, in 19 days. Whew..I can do this! 

  

Turns out, this is hard! It’s now Sunday and in the last week I’ve been in 5 countries. I’ve been on 3 airport shuttles, 2 planes, 1 train, a handful of roller coasters, a boat and tomorrow I leave on a bus! And I’m loving it, I truly am, but even the good Lord needed a day of rest! 
   

While it may look creepy, this man is actually running the ride!

  

Demnark! On a boat!

 
 So here I am in Brussels. And on my way here I pulled out my map of all the pre-starred, check-listed, fully planned things I needed to do during my 17 hours here. I reviewed my must sees and my should dos and by the time I got to my hotel I had a plan. 
But then I saw that a former-Belgian friend on FB mentioned a few areas not in my list. And the lovely clerk who checked me in mentioned the sauna and hot tub are open til 11. And then I got out and realized that it’s Sunday and many of the things in my plan just aren’t open today. 

So I stopped at the first restaurant I saw and filled my belly with some delicious Ethiopian food…probably the best Brussles has to offer. And I’m gonna snake my way to the monuments and see what I can see, and hopefully a few pieces of chocolate or a waffle makes it way to my mouth before that hot tub starts calling my name. And then I’ll probably be in bed by the time the is day football games air here. 

 

Almost in bed before football

  
And that’s ok. Sometimes plans don’t work out. And sometimes the best things in life happen by mistake. So here’s to taking a vacation from my vacation.
#journeyon

Midriffs and the Middle East

Last week my #cescapades took me to Dubai and Abu Dhabi with my Mom and Aunt. When we arrived, I realized that “none at all” was a nice way of putting our pre-planning. None of us had any clue what we wanted to do. With only a few “must see” spots and group activities planned, we pretty much landed without a clue about the first move. It seemed the only thing all three of us had actually looked into was how to dress.

And when it comes to fashion my mom just wants to be cool. Literally. She’s not really a big fan of heat. Once we pass about 70 degrees, she’s ready to go inside. But she loves a sensible sun dress with a shrug! My aunt is a fashionista – looking good is ALWAYS important and in a place with such a rich culture and fine silks, she wanted to make sure to be in the running for Emirati’s top model…or at least look like it. I’m sort of ambivalent about fashion, but I like to be respectful. So all three of us landed in the middle of the desert with our cardigans and sweaters and long pants and maxi dresses and 2 hours in, we were soaked, I’m talking drenched, in sweat. And to make matters worse, we looked around and saw all the no-no’s our individual research had warned us against: exposed shoulders, short skirts, Bebe-I mean, WTF right? Here we are basically wearing our ski jackets and petticoats and these folks are just frolicking in their summer best! What gives?

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The Emirati culture is an absolutely beautiful one. The pride that the people had and have in their land and their work is clear to see today. The big Dubai boom came after the discovery of oil in 1966, but the foresight of Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum is, in my opinion, what turned the United Arab Emirates into not just an oil producing region, but a major travel and business destination for the rest of the world for centuries to come. Throw in the exports to Iraq and you’ve stumbled upon a gold mine. And it’s understandable why people who are native to this land want to celebrate that rich culture. (all puns intended)

So thanks to booty shorts and American Apparel, it became pretty easy to pick out the foreigners.

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Truthfully, there was a delicate balance between under dressing and over heating, but we gave it our best effort! We went to visit the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque (one of the three things we had actually planned) and we were ready! We went through the website several times to make sure we were in compliance: Nothing tight, nothing short, long sleeves, head covering, nothing transparent.

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Mosque Manners for the Sheikh Zayed Grande Mosque

Of course upon arrival, all three of us were told we were in non-compliance and were swiftly sent into the basement to pick up our abayas. Sure, we were a bit frustrated at the lack of recognition of our efforts (ok..it was just me), but we went and made the most of it. And to my surprise, they were pretty cool. Our guide, Laila, also made a point to talk about the traditional dress of both men and women in the UAE. She said that she enjoyed wearing her abaya because it ensured that people were listening to her and not passing judgement based on her dress or her curves. Coming from a country where we regularly judge based on all sorts of things long before we even meet people (I’m looking at you, Tinder), it was a very interesting way to think about appearance.

Auntie, Mom and Me at the Mosque

Auntie, Mom and Me at the Mosque

So by the end of the trip, we relaxed our dress a bit. We weren’t so terrified to wear a v neck t-shirt or throw on a knee-length skirt. But the traditions and the culture definitely rubbed off on us. I may or may not have bought a few traditional dresses of my own. I have no idea where I’ll wear them, but I’m excited!

And more than anything, I left with a great deal of respect for the women in the UAE, or anywhere, who choose to wear their abaya, burqa, hajib, chador, or niqab or any other garments that allow them to feel comfortable. In the States, I’ve seen my fair share of side eyes at women fully or partially covered, but I get it now…at least better than I did before. And I have to say ladies, though it may not be MY look, I think YOU are beautiful!

Here’s to beautiful people, inside and out!

Today’s lessons :)

(Note: I thought this posted on Sunday, so it’s a bit out of order!) 

I woke up this morning so excited for the adventure, I posted a “thank you and I’m out” message to my amazing travel group and was greeted with over 100 likes and comment and well wishes! 

I checked and double checked everything. Registered with the Embassy, made sure I had copies of my passport and everything I needed, checked in for my flight for tomorrow and then went to check in today!

Only then did I see that dreaded message, FLIGHT DELAYED! At 10am, my 6pm was already delayed by 10 minutes. This can’t be good…but I had too much to do! I had to send the final copy to my awesome 5 Minute Call intern, Alex. I had to re pack (for the 37th time) and I had to check Facebook for like three hours…no time for stress! 

And of course, as I was headed to the airport, mom praying and repeating her favorite saying, “Be careful for nothing” I get a phone call from American. “Ms. Stovall, we regret to inform you that your flight has been delayed by 45 minutes (I only had 50 for the connection) but don’t worry, we’ll keep an eye on your connecting flights and let you know if there are any issues.”

NO MA’AM! 

I jumped on my trusty phone and went to Google Flights to find a solution! Luckily I was headed to the airport two hours before flight time-I had previously never been a big advocate of that much time, but I’m thankful today! At exactly 4pm I walked my little self right over to the desk and told the gate agent my issue. She started to suggest getting in the next day, but that wasn’t an option so I asked for the 4:45 Delta to Atlanta and then to SP  and without a bit of hassle she said “Sure! Now run over toDelta and get yourself checked in!” 
I may have lost my exit row seat….grrrrr….but at least i didn’t lose a day of Brazil!!

I’m out!! 
#journeyon