Venice: Canal Grande

 

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Because I don’t have time for a “real” post (pretending that there were real posts from me this month) … I am giving you a photo of the Grand Canal in Venice. It didn’t smell as much when we were there, but we did go there during the winter months!

Coffee and a Book

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I’m back in New York and it feels great! I loved my trip, but I love New York, it is my home and I love coming home. ūüôā

I just thought I’d post a picture that I took in Paris. I was in a Starbucks getting “un grande caramel macchiato. Froid, s’il vous plait?” when I saw this sign… It basically says, “A coffee and a book. This library is here for you to read a good book while having good coffee. If you like the book, you can continue reading it at home. You can bring it back when you are finished, or bring another book in its place. Another reader might enjoy it as well.”

I’m in love! Where in NY can I find a Starbucks like this? ūüôā

Adventures in Asia: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

The adventure continues! From the parking lot, to Honolulu, to Guam, to Manila, now onwards to Malaysia.

Day 1; The Arrival

Eve and I touched down at the Malaysian Airport, whizzed through the customs and found the bus that would take us into the Kuala Lumpur where we were to meet with my friend, Addy.

Addy was thoughtful and super helpful to us! She did some research and found us a lovely hotel in the heart of Kuala Lumpur, just outside the city center. She also met us at the bus terminal and bought us a SIM card, some rolls to eat and a single pass card for their metro. We took the train to KLCC to get to our hotel.

We went to the city center to get some Malaysian food. One of the things I noticed was that people were still staring at us Рeven though there were a lot of ethnicities in KL. I guess we just had the foreign look.  We ate at Little Penang Kafe, the food was absolutely delicious (a theme for this leg of the trip) and they had coconut water in a real coconut! I was in love.

We walked around the mall and visited an internet cafe, then we went to see the Petronas Towers with their lights off in honour of Earth Hour. It was a fun first night. Continue reading

Adventures in Asia: Onwards to Manila

It took us four days to get from New Jersey to Manila – via Honolulu and Guam, but we made it! If a little late.

Having slept the entire way from Guam to Manila, I was awake and alert for our adventure in Manila. Sure, we finally made it to Asia, but since we had a three-day delay, we missed the first part of our trip and had to reorder things, so we only had one night in Manila, the next day we were headed to Malaysia where the real vacation began. You think this is tiring? Try living through it!

After clearing customs, we went to the information center where a lovely lady assisted us in getting to Clark. First, we had to take a fixed rate cab to the bus terminal where we needed to hop on a bus to Clark. Then, we had to take a tricycle to a car park where we took another cab to the airport. If you map out the distance between these two airports, it’s only about an hour and a half, but to traverse that we basically took all the different transportation options (except a jeepney).

Our bus conductor didn’t speak English well, so when we told him we needed to get off at Clark we were worried that we wouldn’t know where to disembark. However, when it was time to leave he came to our seats and indicated to the door, then he said, “tricycle” and we were stumped. I didn’t understand what he was telling us, and though Eve understood that he was saying “tricycle” she thought she misunderstood. Once we finally got that sorted we walked in the direction he pointed to the tricycles – a bike with a sidecar. ¬†I got the sidecar, Eve got to ride behind our driver. She was asking him questions and he was very chatty, so that was entertaining. I had the job of making sure our luggage didn’t fall out of the car when we turned corners.

Once we were deposited at the car park, we took a fixed rate cab to the airport. I had read about haggling prices for cabs, but I would never work up the nerve to do it, and I hadn’t yet passed this piece of information on to Eve, so when we got in and I asked the driver what the cost would be, he quoted us a high price (by their standards) and Eve, who had asked our tricycle driver about the cost told our driver that we were told a lower price, so he lowered it to match that.

me: Did you know about the haggling?
eve: What haggling? I just asked the tricycle driver what the cost would be.

But, the story doesn’t end there. It’s night, our flight isn’t until the next day and the only reason we took a cab to the airport was to familiarize ourselves with our surroundings. We also didn’t have a hotel reservation, so we asked a local about hotel recommendations. He asked me if I wanted a friend. I promptly pretended to misunderstand him. But, he still managed to give us some tips and get us into a cab, with many smiles.

Our new cab driver decided to take us through the scenic route of Clark. “This is where you come if you want to have fun.” he said, while showing us the red light district.

::shudder::

Welcome to Clark!

The next morning, I asked our hotel concierge about sim cards and where to buy them, she asked one of the workers to take me to get a one, this involved being on the back of a motorcycle.

As we snaked through the streets I saw people already up and about, and as we passed, many of them stopped to stare. “Surely this isn’t an oddity, a girl riding on the back of a motorcycle”, I thought, and it wasn’t. It was only then I realized the theme of our trip, we will be stared at, we will have to deal with it.

I got my card activated at the airport, a lady helped me with it and saw the background of my phone (I just want to say that I borrowed this phone from a friend and forgot all about the background), it was a picture of a man without a shirt. She smiled at me. I groaned internally, trying to tell her that it wasn’t mine. I’m quite certain she believed me. Or not.

Check-in at Clarke is strange. Security starts at the entrance of the airport. I had to check my bag because I had an umbrella and they don’t allow such things as carry-on! Then you have to pay terminal fees because that’s not included in your fare. Then we had to go through exit immigration to leave. It was one of those small planes, so we walked on the tarmac to get to it, oddly enough, they had umbrellas that you could use to get from the terminal to the plane.

We were on our plane to Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur, here we come!

Adventures in Asia – But First, Guam

The first part of my vacation in Asia can be found here. This part (still not in Asia) is all about Guam. 

Oh Guam, with a population of almost 160K1, no wonder you didn’t want us to leave!

First Day in Guam

We arrived in Guam and heard Eve’s name over the loud speaker. Running from our gate to the Manila flight we found that there was only ONE spot left, what did we want to do? Since we didn’t want to separate, we decided to spend the day in Guam and try our luck the next evening. We rented a car and hotel package at the airport, and asked the nice woman at the counter for directions.

Me: How do we get to the hotel?
Her: When you see the Home Depot, make a left.
Me: And how will we know it’s the right road?
Her: There’s only one Home Depot, you can’t miss it.

Yes, not only does Guam have 1/12 the population of Queens, New York, it also has only one Home Depot, one Kmart and one mall with one movie theater2 and they use these landmarks to give you directions.

Flights to Manila ran late night to early morning, so the next morning Eve and I decided to take an auto-tour in our rental around Guam to see the island before trying the airport. We got a map and hit the road in our rental. There aren’t many roads in Guam, but we took a road that lead us around the southern half. It took about three hours, including stopping at some lookout points and beach areas. We manage to find a yummy Jamaican Grill called Yo Mon¬†nearby and spent some time surfing the internet at an Internet Cafe in the Micronesia Mall.

We got to the airport and waited for the flights, again, we didn’t make it on so we came up with a plan, try one more night as stand-by, but buy confirmed tickets for the following night. We rented a car and another room, Guam had us in its clutches for one more day. Continue reading

Adventures in Asia – From The Parking Lot to Honolulu

A few years ago I flew stand-by to Asia. I’ve decided to chronicle it in installments. This is the first part of that adventure.

We got it into our heads, Eve1 and I, to go to Asia for 14 days. ¬†Eve wanted to go to China, but I didn’t want to get a visa, nor did have any desire to go to China, so after some research, we settled on the¬†Philippines,¬†Malaysia¬†and Singapore.

There is this thing that I do, if I have a long, morning flight and want to make sure that I sleep a good chunk of that flight, I usually stay awake the night before so that I’m tired enough to sleep for a long time on the plane. This plan usually works, but, I don’t usually fly stand-by, so I can say in hindsight – I was not prepared!

The plan to get to Asia was to fly from Newark to Houston, then to Honolulu, then connect to Guam and make a final connection to Manila, where our adventure would begin. We got to Newark airport for a 5:30am flight and found that we didn’t make the cut to get on the plane – the flight was full, all standby spots were taken. The next flight was at 1pm in the afternoon, a direct flight to Honolulu. 1pm and I did not sleep for 24 hours.

We “napped” for an hour in the car and decided to go to the mall for a bit of window shopping, or in Eve’s case, shopping for things that might be useful on our trip. Around 12:30pm we found ourselves at the gate, slightly delirious and very hopeful.

1:30pm, the last of the confirmed passengers boarded and by 1:35pm we were on the plane, ready to start our adventure.

~*~

Ten and a half hours later – Hawaii!

Sometimes time changes are awesome. We left the North East at 1pm and arrived at 7pm to Honolulu. The first thing you notice about Hawaii is the lovely weather, then, the ABC stores.

We found a cheap hotel in Waikiki, just opposite the beach. Even though we were flying on a flexible schedule, we still had some solid plans in Asia (one does go to a foreign country – where English is not the native language – completely unprepared2) so we spent some time changing things around and then went out, into the night, to explore Waikiki.

It was 9 in the evening and there was a lot of activity Рpeople walking, music playing, tourists being tourists Рso we felt very safe walking the streets. One guy asked if we wanted to take our picture together, another tried to make us smile, while another walked down the street with his ukelele, playing and singing to himself. We got the vibe that things were Laid-Back in Waikiki, and for some reason it made me feel confident; so confident that I managed convinced a store owner in the mall to stay open long enough to make us some fries3.

In Hawaii they have surfboards on their fire trucks

While he cooked the fries, we spoke about the economy, traveling and life in Hawaii. One interesting thing that he pointed out was that the Hawaii tourists see and the Hawaii residents see are completely different islands and that sometimes it’s easy to not see beyond the tourist-y Hawaii. I found myself enjoying a serious conversation with a random stranger, we chatted a bit more about the economy of Hawaii and what locals do for work, then, with fries in stomach, Eve and I carried on exploring.

The next morning, we boarded the city bus to go to the airport, everything went well (if by “went well” I mean that it’s OK for the bus driver to leave the bus on the side of the road for 15 minutes) and we found ourselves on a plane to Guam. The last time we checked, the flight from Guam to Manila was overbooked; another adventure awaits.

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1 Some names are changed, because, I felt like it.
2 Shanella’s first law of travel
3 That was a lot of confidence for a shy and introverted girl.

A Trip to The District

We boarded the Amtrak in New York’s Penn Station early on Friday morning. Four hours later we were pulling into Union Station, Washington D. C.

I’ve been to D.C. once before, and it was quite a whirlwind adventure, but this time I had a plan. And a map.

Before the trip, a few of us listed the things that looked interesting, our choices were placed on the map, with colour-coded pushpins and icons where agreed upon¬†activities¬†and restaurants could be found. Yeah, I’m a bit over-organized at times.

After checking in to the hotel, we had lunch at The Founding Farmers, a really great restaurant with really great food. Then we walked to the pier, a 2.5 mile trek from the hotel, taking in the sights. Continue reading