Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Around The World

You may already know this, but last year, after working 60 hours plus per week for many, many months, I had finally saved up enough to do my favorite thing in the world (no pun intended) -- Travel!

This time the trip was going to be around the world. Now, I am a planner and I usually like planning, but have you ever tried to plan a multi-month trip? It's not so much that we had to plan the day to day things, like buses and accommodation, but we did have to plan a few things ahead of time.

Here's the deal. We had the option of 6 stopovers. That means we could get out of the plane and stay out of the plane for over 24 hours SIX times. However, we got 16 "segments". A segment being any flight from point to point. For example, when flying from San Francisco to Madrid, we had a layover in Atlanta. So, SFO - ATL = 1 segment, ATL - MAD = 1 segment. 2 segments down, 14 to go.

At first it seemed like a lot. I mean, with only 6 stops, 16 segments should be fine, right?

But I haven't told you everything yet. This flight was being funded using airline miles. Have you ever tried to book an awards ticket? There are black out dates; you get the worst flight times (3 am flight anyone?); you have to fly from New Orleans to San Francisco via Boston. They don't always make it super convenient for  you.

So. We set out to plan. Not only where we wanted to go but how long we wanted to stay in each place. This is hard. This is already hard if it were only me planning it and it was a ticket I paid for so I could have any flight I wanted. Now, throw in a boyfriend who wants to go to Europe for 1 month, meaning 17 countries in 2 weeks and Portugal for two weeks. So, yeah, we had different opinions on EVERYTHING. How long we would stay in each continent was a discussion, let alone how long we would stay in each country!

I am of the "rather stay in one place longer than try to cram in many places" school of though. He is (was actually, but that's another story!) of the opposite school. Anyway, we finally narrowed it down after many arguments discussions and many weeks of planning. We decided on the 6 countries AND which city we would fly into and out of. Then we did all the research online. Which flights we liked the best, what times we wanted. Sounds great, right?

This was only the beginning. Next, we spent the ENTIRE day, and I do mean ENTIRE, on the phone trying to book the flights (You are not allowed to do it online. Poop). Delta had different ideas then we did however. We wanted to fly from Amsterdam to Cape Town. It's a direct flight. It would be perfect. What did Delta do? (WDDD?) They got us a flight from...Paris to Dubai to Nairobi to Maputo. Do you see any of the cities we picked in this list? No? Me neither. Now do you see where the segment thing got eaten up really fast? This counted as 3 segments! 3 x 6 = 18! This just would not do!

So it went like this. We would ask the lady about flight X. She would, inevitably say it wasn't available but that if we took flight Y, we could start in a city miles from where we would be, get rerouted through 4 different cities and then end in a city miles from where we wanted to be. Would that work for us?

And it did. I am making it out to be worse than it was, but we really did not get any very many of the flights that we wanted. However, it turned out fine.

The funny thing is, like I said above, I am a planner. Usually I like everything planned in advance so I know what to expect. When I travel, I don't mind throwing the spreadsheets out the window and doing things differently. If I love a city, I will stay for a few days, even if I thought I would only be there for a day. If someone says to me, "you have to go here! It is great!", I will go there and it will be great!

And picking these flights was the same. We threw the spreadsheets out the window. We let Delta do the picking. Because it doesn't really matter where you go, it only matters that you enjoy it, wherever it is.

Have you ever planned a really long trip? Did you have to plan anything beforehand? Was it hard? How did you do it?

Monday, August 22, 2011

running the road

Exercising while backpacking....is different.

When we were in Asia, it was always too hot to work out during the day.  We could have forced ourselves in the mornings/evenings, but it just felt wrong.  Walking thru a small town, you will almost always see a class being attended by all the local ladies doing dance aerobic type Tai Chi of some kind and rocking it!

In Africa, we never quite had enough energy/there were animals that could eat us/it wasn't super safe to venture out running around by myself....I definitely didn't see many people working out, although a lot of travel is done slowly by foot/hitch hiking.

In Europe I spent all my time wanting to walk around the beautiful streets and goggle at anything...who needs running, when you can move at a snails pace with your head in the architecture?!?

In South America, I did my best to hit the pavement in the morning before the heat set in, but I was generally the only gal on the sidewalks out of breath....and it can be difficult getting across streets safely without getting hit by cars/bikes/trucks/mopeds/taxis/buses.  It's really annoying.  A lot of Latina ladies attend Yoga/Pilates classes, rather then be assaulted by smog, cat calls, oggling and the intense glare of the sun.

This all being said, now that I've been back in the States for a few months, I feel almost unpatriotic not lacing up for a jog.  The concept of running for me personally has sort of lost its sparkle, which is a shame when I see so many around me doing it on gorgeous running paths along lakes parks with perfect weather for such activities!  My husband and I both noticed on first returning to the east coast how much running and the idea of an after/before work exercise session is so popular in the States.  To quote him "now this is something America does right!"

Perhaps just writing this will be the final push I need to get moving on my feet again!  I mean, if my goal is to thoroughly enjoy my culture to the max, when in Rome Wisconsin!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

I feel pretty

I'll never forget the first time I went to buy sun screen in Thailand.

There's a 7-11 on every corner and is the major way for giving directions in any Thai city, "Turn left at the 7-11 and you're there!"  It's the place you go to buy $1 beer to drink on the sidewalk and usually the only place you can find sunscreen...that is....if you want your skin lighter.  I made a lot of mistakes on our journey around the world, one of my biggest?  Not carrying more over 50+ SPF sunscreen with me before leaving the States... in Asia, women find beauty in being lighter skinned, so anything that isn't a very low SPF/meant for tanning/meant for tourists, is only available with added whitener!

I'll admit, this had an effect on me.  I started to view my own beauty differently.  I started asking myself questions about what I think makes me beautiful...I thought all of the women around me in Asia had such gorgeous perfect figures and beautiful faces....and now I wonder if we were all just looking at each other with an odd curiosity, wondering what it would be like to look like the other.

Prambanan Temple in Yogyakarta Indonesia
All the local field trip  groups wanted a picture with the "white girl"

Stepping out of one culture and into another gave me that temporary moment to really look at myself and all my weird cultural stereotypes and decide what I really want to look like....of course this changes all the time, but always looking slightly wacky with a travel pak on my back, dorky shoes on and wearing wacky foreign clothes in the middle of deserts, forests, cities, definitely doesn't make me look flattering anywhere!  I got used to looking odd, which gave me a weird kind of confidence in my oddness knowing that I had to just accept how I looked, no matter how hard I tried, I was not going to fit in.

Right before I got married, before we traveled, I went to a tanning bed for months mid winter and accepted a whitening treatment for my teeth from my dentist....looking back post travel, I don't know if I would have made those same decisions.  Being tan with white teeth doesn't necessarily make me feel more beautiful any longer and definitely not healthier.  I feel like I bought in to the bridal beauty myths and requirements, that what I was wasn't beautiful enough.  If you did this in a lot of other places, you'd be laughed at...or at least snickered at and talked about behind your back.  

All these beauty thoughts came about because of something my aunt said to me a few weeks ago.  She was telling me how as she ages, she looks back on pictures of her younger self and sees how beautiful she was, but then she remembers how she felt about her looks at the time....flawed, imperfect, ugly, clothes not right, etc..etc.., so she's now decided to do her present self the courtesy of enjoying exactly how she looks today and acknowledge her beauty in the present....which I think takes a lot of guts no matter what age you are!

Just now writing this blog, I walked into a public bathroom and stuck to the mirror while washing my hands...a sticker that reads "You are beautiful".....amen sister!

Wouldn't it be amazing if women all over the world loved how they looked without being lighter/darker/thicker/thinner/plumper/taller/shorter/brighter/less wrinkly/longer fingers/where does it end? 

It's like that theory on straight verses curly hair....us ladies always want what we don't have....

I just wonder what it might be like if women all over the world would see the true beauty within them however they look and love the heck out of it...
What if!
Just for the record, the one country where I felt like women really knew they were workin' it?  Botswana!
Oh yeah!  They worked it and they knew it.  They were luscious and large and they took great pride in being such with no apologies.  Men treated women with respect and awe of their beauty and I remember thinking...damn...I wish I had a bootie too...(in many parts of Africa, having largeness is a sign of wealth, that you can afford good food)

I'm just sayin.....Dumela ma!  (That's hello to a woman in Botswana, said with great respect, warmth and a huge smile)  Incredible, strong and proud women who love how they look whatever that look is!  Wow!

Right after this photo was taken, this women's friends began laughing hysterically
that we had taken her photo and she was going to be famous!
(Taken not in Botswana - where we were too shy for photos - but Tanzania)

Have you been to a country where women knew they had it goin' on?
Have you been to a country where they look at you as if you were a movie star?  How did you feel?

Thursday, August 4, 2011

My First Time

Do you remember your first time? I do. I was so nervous! I had no idea what I was doing; I wasn't prepared. I brought too much stuff. I was way too early.

What? NO!!! What did you think I was talking about? I am talking about my first time abroad! Sheesh.

The destination: Bordeaux, France.

The reason: I had taken a semester of French in college and had then (rashly) signed up for a summer abroad work program.

My French was not good. I was young and crazy. I would never do this now, since I really wasn't ready. But I am so glad I did.

I was not packed when my parents came to take me to the airport. And when I say "not packed", I mean...my entire room was in a shambles. I was moving out of my house I had lived in for a few years; I had quit my job, had a huge going away party at my house and two days later, I was moving out of my house. I didn't have ANY idea what to bring on a trip, especially when I would be gone for three months. I didn't know what the apartment I would be staying in would have in it. I didn't know what I would be able to buy in...ooooh....France (like it was Mars or something!) I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

We finally got everything together and my suitcases consisted of: 1 suitcase that I got from my dad and was probably from the 1950s. It looked like this:
Notice it DOES NOT have a sweet handle to pull it with. I does have a leather strap, but one that was not as long as the one in this picture. Think: one of those straps that goes on a clutch handbag. It was more like that. A wrist strap. So, to use the wheels, you had to crouch way over and pull it. (by the way, note to self, never google "crouched over" when you are looking for a visual aid for this post)

And 2: A regular, and by regular I mean old, suitcase which was also large and had to be carried by a handle.

So, I get on the plane in San Francisco and I arrive in Paris. If you have ever been to Charles de Gaulle airport, you will know that it is a bit confusing. There are multiple terminals and the train station has to be taken from a certain one and I was tired and I didn't have any francs yet, and I didn't speak French very well and I couldn't read the maps and I was shy! There were turn-styles that you had to go through to get onto the train and I had my two huge suitcases (and I think I may have also had a backpack) full of clothes and shoes and alarm clocks (what, you can BUY those in foreign countries?) and presents for my future new friends (I was told this was "good manners" but that's another story.)


I got stuck. My suitcase with the wrist strap got stuck in the turn-style and it was still attached to my wrist and I tried to heave the other one over the gate but it was too full of crap I didn't need heavy. And people were looking at me like, "what is YOUR problem?" and they were talking to me very quickly ("Vous-avez besoin d'aide? Madmoiselle? blah, blah, blah") and I couldn't understand what they were saying and I couldn't get my suitcase out of the doors and I couldn't get my wrist out of the strap and I wanted to sit down and cry.

I finally got my wrist free, got my suitcase free, got francs, figured out where the Gare du Nord train station was and how to get to it and got on the train. The TGV, which is the speedy train in France was awesome! I was highly impressed, although my jet lagged mind was really looking forward to going to bed. However, it was my first time abroad! I was so excited. Bordeaux was about 2 hours by train from Paris and the trip went by fast. I arrived at the train station in Bordeaux thinking, "how the heck am I going to get to the apartment?" But, wonder of wonders, the girl who's apartment I was subletting was there at the train station. With her boyfriend, who was VERY good at lugging around suitcases.

I still had difficulty trying to speak to them in French and to understand what they were saying, but luckily gratitude and kindness are both common languages around the world.

To see what I have learned about packing in the last 12 years, you can go here .

"Her Royal Highness's Matched Luggage" - Original Source HERE. Edited by Me.