Monday, April 23, 2012

Paris: Overrated?

Don't get me wrong, I love Paris. What's there to dislike about lounging on cool grass in front of the Eiffel Tower at dusk with a bottle of cheap wine? Who could hate that wondrous feeling the first time you witness the iron lady light up like a 1,000-foot Christmas tree?

video
(Let's all pretend that I filmed this video sideways on purpose to give it an artsy feel, rather than that I had no clue what I was doing.)

There's a lot to love about Paris, but there's also a lot to hate. Like crowds of tourists and McDonald's franchises. But tourists flock to any place worth seeing. And there's just no escaping McD's. I wouldn't be surprised to climb Mt. Everest or K2, and just as I reached the summit, I'd see the golden arches rise up out of the mist ready to sell me greasy cornburgers and carbonated sugarwater. These are problems that arise in every country, and so surely are not the reason for my less-than-loved-it feelings toward my experience in Paris.

Some people complain about the lack of hospitality shown by the French. Honestly, I didn't experience this. I found the locals warm and forgiving of my American ignorance if I smiled and attempted some form of "bonjour, parlez-vous Anglais?" Even in the rare instance when a Parisian was not friendly, I can understand why. How would we Americans react if every year millions of foreigners flooded our cities, ignoring our laws and customs and insisting that we accommodate their every need, from speaking their language to serving only foods they eat back home? I'll tell you how some Americans react: they get really racist and develop a strong hatred toward the foreign intruders. However, many other Americans react with hospitality, happy to show off their city and use the situation as a chance to gain fresh perspective on the world outside of their own small lives. I think Parisians react in a similar way. Yes, there are the few bad apples who hate you just because you're a foreigner. However, the majority seem to abide by a simple rule: if you are nice and respectful toward them, they will be the same toward you.

So what is it? Why do I feel disappointed, like somehow Paris has let me down? Perhaps I came to Paris with too high of expectations, or perhaps the wrong expectations. Before I even set foot in France, I had a mental picture of exactly what my experience in Paris would be like. In all the cities I've visited, I've never started with such a narrow view. I've always made a point of keeping my mind open to the possibilities. When my experience in Paris didn't turn out exactly the way I had imagined, I guess I felt let down. If I ever get the chance to return, I'll be sure go with no expectations and just let my feet take me where they will.

That being said, I still very much enjoyed my visit to Paris. Someday soon I will share my experience. For now, here's just a taste:

Whaaaa??


Sunday, April 22, 2012

Ljubljana - A Pleasant Surprise

Never heard of it? Me neither.

Until last summer, that is. I went on a study abroad trip with my school and spent some time in the Slovenian capital.

So... I know the big question on everyone's mind is how in the heck do you pronounce Ljubljana. Well, according to www.Ljubljana.info, it's pronounced lyoo-BLYAH-nah. Now that you still have no idea how it's pronounced, I'll try to explain. Just pretend that the j's are y's. Then draw out the first a as an "ah" sound. Yeah, that still didn't make sense. Just go to Merriam-Webster for an audio clip: http://www.merriam-webster.com/cgi-bin/audio.pl?ggljub01.wav=Ljubljana

Got it? Great. Now back to business. This city rocks. Literally. I somehow managed to find a sort of wild underground night club (disco?) with a d.j. and lots of grungy backpacker types.

 Above ground, Ljubljana is a city of contrasts. Soviet-era concrete eyesores compete with intricate and beautiful Baroque and Vienna Secession masterpieces. Not sure what I'm talking about? Here's some pictures:

View from the castle: courtyard and a mixture of buildings.

Dragon Bridge. Rumor has it he flicks his tail whenever a virgin walks by.

View through a castle window.

I filmed the short video below from the tower of the Ljubljana Castle. Sorry for the shakiness, but what can I say, I was super excited by the view!

video

So as you can see, Ljubljana is incredibly beautiful. But this city is so much more than that. After taking the day to explore and see the sights, my friends and I decided to see if we could uncover a different side of Ljubljana. And boy did we!

While searching for adventure, we ran into a couple of English blokes who invited us back to the hostel where they were staying. The hostel was packed with young European backpackers. Everyone sat around in the courtyard, drinking and smoking while a local band rocked out on a small stage. As we walked in, the group loudly welcomed us and invited us to partake in copious amounts of strong, Slovenian beer. These travelers, while coming from all different backgrounds, were united by a feeling of having discovered the wonderful little gem of a city that is Ljubljana.

After a couple hours, our new English friends told us they were headed to a bar that was just down the street from our hotel. We agreed to go with them and that's how we ended up in the crowded, steamy basement of a building, sweating through our clothes and dancing to house beats churned out by the d.j.

Underground, locals mixed with travelers. I managed to hear a good eight languages spoken. I was sure the feeling of camaraderie and youthful abandon that consumed the place would leak out and fill the entire city. Or maybe it was that the city was leaking in and filling the entire basement. Either way, it was a magical night in an equally magical city.

The last thing that impressed me about Ljubljana was the art. Wait! Don't stop reading! Trust me, I find art just as boring as the next person, but bear with me. The art I saw in Ljubljana was not your typical, snooty, I'm-better-than-you-because-I'm-an-artiste type stuff. It was alive and vibrant. The art was not contained in a gallery, rather the city itself was the canvas:

Street art in Ljubljana

The white design was raised, creating an interesting texture against this black, ugly side of a building.

Even the more traditional art was anything but traditional:

I found this in the castle. Don't ask me what it's about; I have no idea.

Even the anti-establishment folks contributed to the art scene:

Capitalism: F*** it.

All in all, I loved my visit to Ljubljana. I would go back in a heartbeat. Before I went, I had never even heard of this little city. It just goes to show that great things can be found in the most unexpected places.







Wednesday, April 11, 2012

How To Live in a Foreign Country

Sources close to Nessie say she is planning a meet and greet for late July.


One of my biggest dreams is to live in a foreign country. In fact, it's #2 on my bucket list, just after taking a picture of the Loch Ness Monster. Since the chances of old Nessie showing herself are slim, I figure I might as well concentrate on making #2 a reality.

Who knows, if I play my cards right, I might be able to live in Scotland on the shores of Loch Ness. That way I'd always be ready if the camera-shy creature should make an appearance. But I digress.

In order to kill two birds with one stone, I've decided to focus my efforts on figuring out how to live in the United Kingdom. After conducting hours of diligent research, I've determined that the most likely way for 'Mericans like me to live in the UK is through a work visa. Getting a work visa is sort of like trying to get into a club on South Beach. If you're not dressed right, or you don't have the right people with you, good luck. The bouncers at the UK Border Agency aren't letting in just any old riff raff.

I guess you could always try tipping the bouncer, but I'm pretty sure bribing a public official is a crime.

So here's the important stuff: there are different categories of workers who are eligible for a work visa. The two categories I want to focus on are high-value migrants and skilled workers.

To get a work visa as a high-value migrant, you need to pass a points-based system. To put it in Sobe club terms, you've got to be rich or important, and you better make sure you show up in the right outfit. There are currently four types of high-value migrants that are open to new applicants. Here's a break-down of each type:

         1. Exceptional Talent (important): This category is "for people who are recognised or have the potential to be recognised as leaders in the fields of science and the arts."

         2. Entrepreneur (important and rich): This is for people who want to run a business in the UK.

         3. Investor (rich): This is "for people who want make a substantial financial investment in the UK." Like I said, rich. This is like the guy who buys a $200 bottle of vodka in order to get into the club.

         4.  General (important): This is for highly skilled workers who are more highly skilled than the workers in the skilled workers category.

So if you're not important or rich, how do you get in? It's all about connections.

To fit into the second category, the skilled worker, you need to have already been offered a job in the UK by an employer willing to sponsor you. This is sort of like a guy who's not rich enough or important enough to get into the club on his own. He needs a group of good-looking women with him. The skilled worker is the not rich/important guy and the sponsoring employer is the good-looking woman. The sponsoring employer could also be the club promoter who put the not rich/important guy on his list at the door. Either way this guy needs a little help getting in.

There are a few other categories of workers who are eligible for a work visa. To find out more about getting a work visa in the UK, visit the UK Border Agency's website at http://www.ukba.homeoffice.gov.uk/visas-immigration/working/

Don't forget, just like in South Beach, if you can't get in at one place, you can always go down the street and try France.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Bucket List

My Bucket List is 3 full pages and growing!
A few years ago, I got the idea to start a bucket list. After having listed about 50 things on the list, I noticed a common theme. The majority of my bucket list activities involved travel. So, I decided to create a second bucket list dedicated solely to the places I want to visit.

Fast forward to today and my bucket list is out of control. It's three full pages long and still growing.

I realize it's not likely that I'll be able to visit every place on my bucket list. Thus, I've decided to narrow it down to the top ten countries I'd like to visit before I die. Here's the list:

1. Peru
2. China
3. Spain
4. Brazil
5. Argentina (Patagonia!)
6. Israel
7. South Africa
8. Egypt
9. South Korea
10. Japan

Whew! That was tough. There are about 30 more countries I would love to add to the list. I'm still not even sure if these countries are truly my top 10.

Now that I've (kind of) narrowed down my bucket list of countries to visit, I'm going to attempt to narrow down my bucket list of activities to do before I die. Here's my top ten:

1. Take a picture of the Loch Ness monster (one can dream, right?)
2. Live in a foreign country
3. Go to Oktoberfest in Munich
4. Attend La Tomatina Tomato Fight in Bunyol, Spain
5. Spend the night in a real haunted house
6. Take an edge of space supersonic jet ride
7. Go to the Harbin Ice Festival in China
8. Hike the entire Appalachian Trail
9. See the Naga Fireballs on the Mekong River in Thailand (October)
10. Go to Carnival at Rio de Janeiro

Again, I had a really hard time narrowing down the list to just 10. I wouldn't be surprised if these lists change over time. I think everyone should create a bucket list. Even if you don't end up doing all (or any) of the items on your list, it's good for the soul to dream.

Monday, April 9, 2012

I Live on the Set of Burn Notice (Kind of)

I live on the set of Burn Notice!

Well, kind of. I actually live in Coconut Grove, Florida (The Grove). The Grove is a city in the Miami metropolis. I love living here. It's not as touristy as South Beach and not as busy as downtown Miami. It's also very beautiful. Which is probably why Burn Notice shoots here. In fact, some of my favorite places have been used in several burn notice episodes.

Miami City Hall, located in Coconut Grove, is often used as a backdrop in Burn Notice episodes.

This is Scotty's Landing, one of my favorite hangouts in Coconut Grove. The dolphin sandwich is awesome!
Both of the places above have been used as backdrops in Burn Notice episodes. As a die hard Michael Weston fan, I am constantly on the prowl here. Who knows, maybe one day I'll actually get to meet the Burn Notice actors!

But The Grove is not just about hunky t.v. spies. This city is chock full of things to do and see. Today, I took a walk along my favorite path through The Grove. Along the way, I passed three parks, a marina, and a shopping area with lots and lots of restaurants. Here is what I saw:

Boardwalk at Peacock Park in Coconut Grove, Florida

Palm trees in Peacock Park. Coconut Grove is a tropical paradise!
The pictures above are from the first park I walked past, Peacock Park. This park has a large open field and a baseball diamond. It hosts festivals all throughout the year, including Grovetoberfest in October and the Coconut Grove Art Festival in February.

This is the second park I walked past:

Mooo! Ok, I don't actually know what sound a giraffe makes.

Neigh!

The giraffe and horse above are two sculpture in Meyers Park. This park is right across the street from Peacock Park and isn't very large. I didn't even realize it was a park the first few times I walked by. However, this park just recently got way more exciting with the addition of outdoor body weight exercise equipment.

Boats, boats, and more boats. That's right. Seeing as The Grove is a waterfront city, it only makes sense that it has tons and tons of marinas. Some are public and some are private. The pictures below are from the Dinner Key Marina, which is a city marina and is open to the public. Burn Notice fans might recognize this marina as it is often used in the show.




Yachts with the Miami skyline.

The last stop on my walk through The Grove is also the third park, Kennedy Park. This park is the largest of the three. It has running paths, sand volleyball courts, outdoor exercise equipment, a boardwalk, and a dog park.

My favorite thing to do in Kennedy Park is stalk the dogs in the dog park.

Boardwalk at Kennedy Park

I often stalk the dogs in the dog park. I haven't seen these labs before. They must be newbies.

Outdoor exercise equipment. Get your fitness on for free!

So there you have it. The Grove is great. You should come here. In fact, stop by my house and I'll take you on a tour.


Running Away

When I was a kid, I used to think about running away. Back then, I imagined myself escaping to exotic locations such as Grandma's house or the neighborhood tree fort. I kept an inventory of survival essentials ready at all times: juice box, granola bar, Nancy Drew novel, and about five dollars.

These days not much has changed, except maybe the locations. And of course the survival essentials. While I still dream of running away to Grandma's house, I've expanded my horizons beyond the backyard.

If I ever ran away, I think I'd go to a small Mediterranean island. Maybe I'd buy a little boat and take tourists out on snorkeling excursions. Or maybe I'd open a sea-side bar and serve frozen drinks to sunburned beach goers.

In fact, I even know exactly which island I'd choose. I would go to Corfu, Greece. Corfu is a large island in the Ionian Sea off the northwestern coast of Greece. You can get there on an overnight ferry from Italy. Or you can fly there from most major European cities.

The main town on the island of Corfu (conveniently enough, the town is also named Corfu)

Greek salad with tzatziki and wine in Corfu, Greece.

I love Corfu! It has all the amenities of a Greek metropolis without the hustle and dirtiness of Athens. It has the relaxed, live-life-to-enjoy-life vibe of a remote tropical island while still being conveniently located and easily accessible. The best feature of Corfu is it's insane beauty: from ice-cold, crystal-clear water to quaint villages and churches. Plus, Greek food is ah-maz-ing! So be prepared to gain a few lbs.


I traveled to Corfu on an overnight ferry from Italy.
While in Corfu, it is essential to take time to visit some of the beautiful beaches located all over the island. You can rent jeeps and drive around at your own leisure. Most of the beaches are within an hour or so of each other. Each of the beaches has a different vibe. Some are relaxed, some are touristy, and some are party hot spots. Some beaches are even clothing optional!

Hello Out There!

Basking in the beauty of Delphi, Greece during my first trip to Europe.


Hello World! I love you. No really.

I can't think of anything more wonderful than traveling the world. Every time I visit a new place, whether it's 2 or 2,000 miles away, I get this feeling in my gut. It's a feeling of excitement - an unquenchable thirst for more. I want to see more and travel farther.

Travel has become an obsession for me. All day I dream about running away to some exotic new location. Sometimes I sit at my computer for hours planning vacations. I've even created a three-page bucket list devoted solely to countries I want to visit.

I guess you could say I'm addicted. So naturally, I decided to fuel my addiction by creating a blog. This blog is my outlet to share my past adventures and to plan new ones.