Rail Travel // Russia

English: Trans-Siberian railway at Nazivaevska...

Trans-Siberian railway at Nazivaevskaya, near Omsk, Siberia, Russia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

English: Metal Truss Railroad Bridge (Kama Riv...

Metal Truss Railroad Bridge (Kama River, near Perm city). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have this vision in my head of traveling throughout Europe via railroad, stopping every morning in new cities, spending the days exploring every corner of these new places and the nights whipping through the countryside aboard a luxury railcar. There’s something dignifying and yet very down-to-earth about rail travel. Having lived in Bulgaria where traveling by rail was not presented to me as an appealing option, I never envisioned a country so similar in culture and history to be home to the what many classify as the world’s greatest railway journey. Traveling aboard the Golden Eagle Private Train on the Trans-Siberian Railway sends you some 6,000 miles, one-third of the way around the world through some of the most beautiful scenery on Earth. Now this is train travel better than I could ever imagine, and seems like nothing less than a fabulous way to see the vast land of Russia, the largest country in the world.

Map of the Trans-Siberian railway Quelle: selb...

Map of the Trans-Siberian railway (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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Travel & Write // Write & Travel

My beautiful city of Blagoevgrad, Bulgaria.

My beautiful city of Blagoevgrad, Bulgaria.

Never {ever, ever} travel and not write.

I love this rule. It is one of the best travel lessons I have ever learned.

This little rule was founded on two different occasions. The first was my fourth grade class trip to Washington, D.C. My dad was a chaperone on this three day excursion and bought me a journal beautifully adorned with a nighttime photograph of the Kennedy Center. When I retured home, I wrote all about our fun little trip. The following year, when I was ten, we took a family vacation to the British Virgin Islands. My dad and uncle chartered a sailboat from island to island for a week. {If you are on the hunt for a great family vacation, this is definitely one}. While away, my mom encouraged my sister and I to take some time at the end of each day and write a journal entry. I still read both of these. It is rewarding to go back years later and discover what the highlights of my day were as a ten-year-old girl.

When I lived in Bulgaria for four months the spring semester of my junior year of college, I decided to start my very first blog. Granted this was only two years ago, but I am still shocked at the memories my blog brings back. Those were some of the best, most eye-opening four months of my life. I loved my little Bulgarian world, and I relish the feeling that my writing of those days has the power to bring back.

You don’t have to be a pro writer to keep a record of your travels. Even the simplest journal full of bullet lists and one-word scribbles from your excursions will give you something to glance back at. Check out my Bulgarian blog if you’re looking for a place to begin your travel writing: A Crossroads. I promise – you won’t regret following this little rule.

Trouble in Turkey

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As someone who has traveled to Turkey and fallen in love with everything about the people and the culture, it has been unbelievably difficult for me to grasp hold of the horrific events currently taking place in a country I once felt so at home in. The Turkey I remember was a place full of fun and welcoming people, with some of the richest history in all of the world. It was a place filled to the brim with the most beautiful architecture I’ve ever witnessed, and the food… well that’s a whole different story. My time spent in this country was short, yet it was some of the most culturally satisfying few days I’ve ever lived.

Wrapping my head around the vision of Istanbul’s protester-packed cobblestone streets is tough. I’d rather envision them the way I experienced them, filled with families out for weekend strolls, women decked out in colorful scarves, children laughing and the call to prayer filling the air. If you have access to this blog, I’m sure the news of Turkey’s protests have reached you. Yet, most people have probably just “heard it through the grapevine.” Rather than me explaining it word for word, I’ve included a few links for some of the best news stories I’ve found on the topic. I encourage you to check them out and let me know what you think about these events. In my opinion, this is another country facing civil unrest on a list that is far too long, but the reasons behind the anti-government demonstrations vary from nation to nation.

Of course, the Turkey that I remember in these photographs is still there. The 2013 protests will be written about in Turkey’s history books. I can only hope that the true Turkish culture has a chance to reemerge sooner rather than later.

Washington Post

Al-Jazeera

The Guardian

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New Orleans Vacation Prep

My only baby sister [well, my only sibling at all] just graduated college this past month with a Bachelor’s degree in Studio Art. She had hinted at us a while back that she did not want any “things” for graduation gifts. So, instead of buying her some token that would sit on her dresser for the next ten years collecting dust, we [meaning my parents, her boyfriend, my boyfriend and myself] decided a nice getaway would be appropriate. After much research and collaboration, plane tickets were bought and hotel rooms booked for a week-long vacation to New Orleans, Louisiana. Originally, my parents were supposed to come along, but scheduling conflicts left my sister, her boyfriend, my boyfriend and myself. None of us have ever been to New Orleans, so we are all very excited. We embark on this fun little trip in July. Yes… We’re all very much aware of just how hot it is going to be. Nevertheless, we are all so ready.

Brainstorming a way to give the gift to my sister was a fun task. In the end, I ended up at the dollar store sifting through the Mardi Gras section in the party aisle. Masks, beaded necklaces, and other Mardi Gras party necessities were wrapped in tissue paper in a gift bag. Her first guess was Venice. Wishful thinking, sis. At the bottom of the bag was a blank, unlabeled map of New Orleans and a blank plane ticket. Eventually, the surprise was revealed.

Amy and Josh decked out for Mardi Gras

Amy and Josh decked out for Mardi Gras

Recently, I have been doing some research on what there is to do in New Orleans. I’m a planner. As much as I enjoy spontaneity, I like to be educated on the place I’m headed and what there is to do there. I recently found a couple great blogs that have prepared me so much in learning about this fun city. Reading these have amped my excitement for this excursion by a million. From what I’ve learned, New Orleans is a city for the foodie in me, as well as the cultural student in me. Come our return in mid-July, I can’t wait to tell you all about our time in New Orleans. I sincerely hope these other blogs inspire you to add this unique place to your bucket list!

Not Derby Pie: Getaways: New Orleans

Georama: What To Do In New Orleans: Design Guide

Travel Eats

I will admit that I am a little behind on my reading these days, and in this crazy world, I’m sure I’m not alone. I recently caught up on Travel & Leisure’s April edition, appropriately named “The Food Issue.” Food plus travel equals my downfall. Of course, food is a vital part of any travel excursion. Not only does is provide a look into the culture of the place, but it tells a story of the people who live there and how their daily routines are structured. The French, for example, traditionally observe a two-hour lunch break. In Greece, dinner time is customarily late, around 9pm or later.

Food can also define a place. For instance, what would Istanbul be without spice markets and baklava? What about France without crepes and croissants? And Greece without sardines and fish markets? For many Americans, learning about culture is limited to the Western world, so cuisine acts as another outlets into these other worlds. What would we associate with India without the presence of Indian food in the United States? Or Japan without sushi?

The outdoor menu of an Indian restaurant in Budapest, Hungary.

The outdoor menu of an Indian restaurant in Budapest, Hungary.

Anywhere we go, from Chicago to Texas, Spain to Thailand and everywhere in between, experiencing the cuisine of a place is always exhilarating.

Indian food. Yum.

Reading Travel & Leisure’s Food Issue got me thinking about some of the best experiences with cuisine I’ve ever had while traveling. There are SO many. Spending four months in Bulgaria, I adapted and eventually fell in love with their food, from the awesome sirene cheese to the traditional shopska salad. There’s nothing like sangria and tapas at a seaside restaurant in Barcelona. Italy’s pasta shops are a wonder. But one of my most memorable experiences took place in Budapest, Hungary on Easter weekend two years ago.

Awesome hummus bar.

Awesome hummus bar.

Adorable confectionary in Budapest.

Adorable confectionary in Budapest.

While only there for three nights, Budapest was quick to make an impression. Everything about the city was welcoming, but the food discoveries my friends and I made were not at all expected but oh so welcomed. Let me entertain your mind for one second. Hungarian spaetzle, Mexican enchiladas, Indian curry bowls, Greek hummus and falafel, French pastries. All in one weekend. Around every corner. Living in Bulgaria, these foods are nowhere to be found. Particularly the Mexican meals. Let’s just say, cravings were satisfied.

Where have you had some of your best food experiences?