Season 1, Travelsode 2 (The Blue Lagoon — Iceland)

The second travelsode of Travel Unplugged takes you to the beautiful Blue Lagoon! Located just outside Reykjavík, this geothermal spa (which is one of National Geographic’s “25 Wonders of the World”) is a “must see” on your travel bucket list!

Links:

More info about the Blue Lagoon (including pricing/directions) – http://www.bluelagoon.com

Products — http://www.bluelagoon.com/shop/us/

Icelandair (stop over for up to 7 nights on your way to Europe) —  http://www.icelandair.us/flights/stopover/

Gate 1 Travel — http://www.gate1travel.com/scandinavia-travel/

Save Me…Stockholm Marathon 2014

This poor fool here…sigh. Smiling like an idiot before reality sets in.

This poor fool here…sigh. Smiling like an idiot before reality sets in.

Back in December 2013, running a marathon seemed like such a great idea. Maybe I was hopped up on candy canes and Christmas cheer which impeded my ability to reason & make sound decisions? My sis had registered to run it and the Stockholm Marathon is billed as the most scenic marathon in Europe. So, why not? I really should’ve stopped to examine those reasons. Instead, I paid my money and started training. Then, got a new job and relocated from Atlanta to Washington, DC which meant I took a 2 month hiatus and just did mental training runs. Yeah, I said that. I claim a run even if it is just me taking a nap and dreaming about it. Which should tell you that I was not ready for this race. But, when has that stopped me? Remember when I wrote that letter from heaven after the Warrior Dash in 2011? Or when I got Jedi mind-tricked into doing Tough Mudder? Yeah, I never learn.

So, as with my other races, I am going to take you on the race with me…complete with pictures because you know I looked for ANY reason to take a break.

The race started at noon…which was kinda weird as most races start early in the morning. But, that worked for me because it meant I got to sleep in.

The only real prep I did was pack all the necessary running equipment...I guess "common sense" got left in DC.

The only real prep I did was pack all the necessary running equipment…I guess “common sense” got left in DC.

Let’s get started…

I am all limber and ready to go by the time the race starts. I feel good because I have on my favorite running outfit, compression socks and my running belt with electrolyte tabs & GU. Mentally, I’ve psyched myself up that this is just a sightseeing tour that I’m running instead of walking or biking. See? Sometimes you gotta lie to yourself to make it thru the day. Anyway, all is good and people are laughing and running with strides like Olympians.

After the first mile, I feel good. In fact, I think I’m a beast! My pace is awesome and the breeze is perfect. Then I remember I have 25.2 miles left to go and a piece of my soul dies. But, I psych myself up…I’m running a freaking marathon. Woohoo!!! (meanwhile people on the sidelines are looking at me like, “sucker.”)

Things are okay miles 2-5, then as I get to mile 6, I start to look for a scooter or Metro station. This can’t be my life. WHY AM I DOING THIS? GOD, DO YOU HEAR ME? Surely he can hear the sound of my sobs as I struggle.  Then, I look at my Garmin and notice that it is tracking a half mile off from the kilometer markers.  WTF?  I can’t run any extra steps.  So, I’m now running with this look on my face:

Only 8 kilometers?  Whatchu talkin' bout, Willis?  That should say 12!

Only 8 kilometers? Whatchu talkin’ bout, Willis? That should say 12!

Sigh.  Mile 7 arrives and my feet aren’t happy…even the song by Pharell can’t perk them up.  They are clinically depressed.  But, I’m talking myself thru it and focusing on my playlist…then I see a hill.  Lord, Jesus…WHY?  I grit my teeth and power thru it by just trying to sprint up as fast as I can while thinking about all the cakes and pies I’m going to eat to celebrate.

I will say that the course was laid out well and they had djs and bands throughout.  It was weird hearing someone calling my name over a loudspeaker when I stopped for a sports drink and telling me that I’m doing great…I guess the chip in my bib transmitted my name and country!  Very cool!  That got me feeling pretty good for the next 0.2 miles.  LOL

By mile 8, I was certain of 1 thing —

not ready

Seriously.  At this point, I’m mentally preparing my letter to send to Iyanla Vanzant asking her to fix my life because I am apparently the CEO of Bad Decisions, LLC.

Once mile 9 comes around, there is a big crowd and I notice they are really enthusiastic!  I thought to myself, “How nice!!!  They are cheering me on.  I can do this!”  Then, just as I’m luxuriating in all the adulation & affections, I see a Kenyan sprint right past me with a police escort.  Wait…did he just lap me?  IS HE ALMOST TO THE FINISH LINE?  CAN I HOP ON THAT POLICE VAN?  So many questions.  But, alas, I realized that the applause wasn’t for me…the lady who got lapped.  It was for the winner.  But, lets pretend like it’s still for me, mmkay?

By mile 10, I knew it was a wrap.  I made so many errors in thinking I could run this race.

  1. First, I didn’t finish training.  Having my longest training run as 8 miles did not prepare me for this.
  2. Second, I have  ran in my regular training sneakers — not the new ones I bought.  My thought process was that the new ones were just like my training shoes but would be “fresh”…well, they were fresh alright…fresh hell.  My feet felt like I had been running barefoot over crack pipes for 10 miles!
  3. Third, I don’t really like running.  I mean, I’ve done it for a long time and always thought I should do a marathon…but I don’t like running long distances.  I’m okay with topping out at a half marathon.  13.1 miles is the perfect distance and it feels like 9,658,720,148,932,451 miles anyway…so I win.
  4. It’s okay to say “no”.  I didn’t have to run this race when I knew I wasn’t ready.  And, it is okay that I wouldn’t get my money back.  Sometimes, you gotta know when to hold’em, and when to fold’em.

So, at mile 11, I ran right off the course and into the waiting arms of a beautiful park bench.  I swear I could not walk for at least 30 minutes and had to take my shoes off for relief.  I don’t feel bad at all for not finishing the race.  Why?  Because I am alive.  LOL.  I saw so many other people had the same idea so I did not feel like a loser.  In fact, when I had a debate with myself about finishing the second lap, my saner side was like —

Another mile?  Bye, Felecia!

Another mile? Bye, Felecia!

The good news is that my sis did finish the race and I am so super proud of her!!!  26.2 miles is a major achievement!!!  Have you ever registered for a race and didn’t finish?  Please don’t tell me I’m the only one!!!

The Beautiful Blue Lagoon

20140514-231000.jpgAfter seeing a picture of the Blue Lagoon on Crack Boards (also known as Pinterest), I was obsessed with soaking in the thermal waters that were said to turn back the hands of time like Cher!  It just so happened that Groupon was offering an $899 deal for a 3 day trip to Iceland (roundtrip airfare, accommodations and some tours included).  I figured the deal was too good to pass up (side note: I’ll review the trip and using a Groupon to travel in a later post). My fabulous photographer friend, Sarah (who is responsible for the profile pictures on this blog), was kind enough to join me on this amazing adventure.

Snow blankets the ground around the thermal pool.

Snow blankets the ground around the thermal pool.

The Blue Lagoon was everything I had dreamed about!  And that is saying something considering we went to Iceland in January when it was COLD!

20140514-231148.jpgNestled outside Reykjavik (on the way to the airport), this famous thermal spa is all that it advertises and more.  There are shuttles between hotels in Reykjavik to/from the spa as well as from/to the airport.  We actually spent our last day at the Blue Lagoon.  After checking out of our hotel, we hauled our luggage to the spa.  At the entrance, there is a separate building where you can store your luggage for a minimal fee.  After receiving your claim ticket, you walk thru a paved path of cleared volcanic rock towards the actual spa.

Once you are at the main entrance, you can stand in line for a ticket (or pre-pay via the website or one of the tour vendors…the line will be long so I highly suggest pre-paying so that you don’t waste precious time waiting to get in).  There are different packages available and you can also rent towels, robes and shoes.  I brought my own towel and flip-flops but did rent a robe (some spa packages include robe & towel rental). Once you are checked in, you are given a wristband that acts as currency.  If you want to purchase anything (products, food/drinks, spa treatments, etc.), just scan your wristband and it will be applied to your account (which is linked to a credit card you provide upon check in).  So easy! 20140514-215542.jpg

You are then free to go to the locker rooms to change.  The locker rooms are NICE!  Very clean and easy to use.  After changing into your swimsuit, you walk thru to the showers to rinse off then out to the thermal waters.  It was our luck that on the morning we arrived, it started sleeting.  It felt like someone was shooting a gun filled with icicles at me as we were walking outside to the pool.  But, once in the water, it felt like heaven!!!  Some areas of the pool are warmer than others.  The water has a sort of “milky” texture to it…maybe because of the silica mud.  It was so soothing!  Word on the street was that the spa mud was supposed to take years off your face…so you know I was caking it on in an effort to look like a pre-teen by the time we left.  Didn’t work.  Sigh.

After relaxing in the water for a while, we decided to take a break and get a quick bite to eat.  What better way to continue to unwind than with champagne and cheese?  Living the dream, y’all 🙂 Once we were full, it was time to try the sauna before heading over to the private thermal pool for our in-water massage.  For regular readers of my blog, y’all know I love to go to spas in each country I visit.  I’d like to say it is because I am a connoisseur of fine spa experiences.  But, honestly…I just like getting rubbed on…which is what got me in trouble in Bali.  Ha!

20140514-231051.jpgAnyway, each time I visit a spa, my goal is to try a massage or treatment that I’ve never experienced before.  The Blue Lagoon offered an in-water massage where you lay down on a floatation device and are covered with warm towels (for 30 or 60 minutes).  The masseuse will use silica mud or oils to exfoliate/massage your body.  In traditional massages, you always start face down on the table so they can start with your back.  Here, you are always laying on your back but the masseuse (who is wearing a wetsuit) can go under water to massage your back and legs.  It is so cool!!!  Who doesn’t want to get a massage in warm water?  Even when the sleet turned to snow while we were outside getting our massage, I didn’t care.  It was like kisses from angels…that water got to me y’all.  I know I sound crazy but by the time they are done using magic to relax your muscles, you don’t want to leave the pool.  I felt like I was floating on a cloud with not a worry in the world.  Sigh.  I miss the Blue Lagoon. 20140514-231130.jpg

ASCOLI PICENO…THE ITALIAN SOUL

After a somewhat longer hiatus than I planned, I am back!!!  First post of 2014 is a guest article written by Stefano Tulli from Ascoli on the Road!  After reading about this amazing Italian city, I can’t wait to visit this summer to experience it first hand.  Enjoy!

1Ascoli Piceno is an amazing and still unknown destination in the very center of Italy…What? Haven’t you ever heard of it?? Follow us and we are sure you’ll get in love with our hometown..

Ok, I don’t know anything about Ascoli..why should I consider it as an option to my trip to Italy??

First of all.. Ascoli Piceno is the perfect essence of everything you are expecting from a trip to Italy.. Ascoli Piceno is a very ancient Italian city, older than Rome! Every corner of this town is art, history and culture..

2Are you looking for Italian history? Ascoli Piceno is divided into 6 districts, each one having a historical beauty.. Roman bridges, arches, amphitheatres, the typical Cardo and Decumano organization of the city map..

Moreover..reach Ascoli Piceno in July and August.. you will witness a great medieval experience, with an ancient joust called QUINTANA (different from Siena). The whole town celebrates the local medieval history with a series of historical events aimed at commemorating Saint Emidio, the local saint..

3Are you looking for Italian art and architecture? Ascoli Piceno is called the travertine city..the 2 main squares are simply breathtaking. The Cathedral, the museums, the ancient houses, the old streets… Ascoli is a great city for art lovers and it’s also demonstrated by the development of a great architecture and design university which hosts many overseas and Erasmus students every year!

Do you want to taste great Italian food and wines?? Well…the most famous local product are the “Stuffed Ascolana olives” and we are sure you have heard of this great fried olive once in your life. Not yet? Trust us and trust every tourist who has tasted them..unforgettable! Probably you will also want to drink something. Apart from the great local wines, you will also taste the incredible local liqueur..the Anisetta Meletti , which has a very delicate and special aroma coming from the quality of the Aniseed, carefully cultivated in certain areas around Ascoli Piceno..

4

Are you looking for a relaxing experience, far away from tons of tourists that visit the most famous places? Well..Ascoli Piceno IS your destination.. Food, art,, history, culture, lifestyle..Hundreds of Americans, russians and northern Europeans had the chance to visit Ascoli and most of them never came back to their hometown..falling in love with our romantic, beautiful and elegant Ascoli Piceno

5“Ok.. Ascoli Piceno could be an option..but how do I get there??”

Easier than you think.. Less than 3 hours from Rome and 1 from Ancona or Pescara Airports, Ascoli can easily be reached by train with the Milan – Lecce/ Bari train: stopping in the city of San Benedetto del Tronto, you can arrive in Ascoli Piceno in less than 20 minutes..

“Well, seems like I can have a trip over Ascoli Piceno..what else should I know and when is the best period?”

Again, the answer is easier than you think. Do you love summer time? Ascoli Piceno is 15 minutes from the Adriatic Sea..Do you love winter? Great mountains are only 30 minutes away from downtown. Are you an autumn lover? Wow.. excursions, walks and pictures during this period are amazing in our city. Do you want to reach Ascoli in spring? Ok, just listen to our final words..there’s nothing better than having a walk in a historical Italian city, taking great pictures and relax in an amazing square drinking your favourite cocktail waiting for the colours of the sunset illuminating the historical buildings of Ascoli Piceno..

Hope you will now be convinced…We are waiting for you!

Guest post written by Stefano Tulli — Ascoli On the Road

www.picenontheroad.com

ascoliontheroad@gmail.com

Trouble Finding Your Passion? Start a Bucket List!

What are you passionate about?  Not sure?  Create a “Bucket List” that includes things you’ve always wanted to try or do.  You never know…one of those items may be what you are destined to do with your life!

Too many people wait until a certain time in their lives before they start pursuing their dreams.  Why do they wait?  There are various reasons:  “I want to wait until I get married”; “I want to wait until my kids are grown”; “I will do it when I retire”, etc.  Sometimes these “reasons” are really excuses.  START LIVING NOW!  Don’t wait until a certain event or milestone happens.  We never know when our last day on Earth will be.  Why not make the most of the time you have?

“Live as if you were to die tomorrow.  Learn as if you were to live forever.” – Mahatma Gandhi

Single?  Do not wait until you find that special someone.  Fill your life up with things YOU want to do in the meantime.  That means you’ll bring some fabulous stories to your next relationship.

Have children?  Don’t wait until your kids are grown.  Inspire them to want to live a fulfilling life as they observe you pursuing your dreams and taking chances.

Don’t wait until you retire!  In this economy, who knows when that will be!  Start your bucket list now so you can have an awesome retirement filled with things you love to do and places you want to visit.

The great thing about a bucket list is that it helps you to visualize what you want to do and take action when opportunities arise.  Groupon and Living Social have deals everyday!  This is how I fulfilled my dreams of skydiving, race car driving…and in January, a trip to Iceland!  Best part?  I am able to achieve my goals on a shoestring budget!

I am a long ways off from retirement and still waiting to meet Mr. Right.  But, you know what?  I’m happy!  Everything isn’t perfect.  There are times when I feel like I’ve failed at life…especially when others make insensitive comments.  However, instead of punching them in the throat taking it personal, I force myself to remember all of the things I’ve accomplished from my bucket list.  I didn’t get here overnight.  In fact, it wasn’t until my recent trip to Bali (another bucket list item) where I learned how to meditate properly and use yoga to control my mood.  And you know what?  My imperfect life is pretty fulfilling as I’m living, learning, dreaming and exploring!

So…join me in making an awesome bucket list!  I promise that you will love the feeling of trying new things.  Some you may enjoy…others you may not.  That’s the beauty of bucket lists.  It’s like shopping for dreams 🙂

Need inspiration?  I’m addicted to the free iPad app “iWish” which provides inspiration in the form of photos, quotes & maps as well as allowing you to create your bucket list electronically.  I also recommend Bucket List Living Magazine.  Follow the directions below and use the coupon code “3free” for a free 3 month subscription.  Let’s start living the dream!

What’s been on my bucket list?

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

How to Use the Bucket List Living Magazine Coupon

  1. Go to “App Store Downloads on iTunes”.  Search for Bucket List Living Magazine.
  2. Download the free app by tapping the FREE button.
  3. Tap the INSTALL APP button.  You will then enter your Apple ID Password and click OK.
  4. When the magazine app is finished installing tap the OPEN button.
  5. Permission to send new issues and push notifications from Bucket List Living Magazine is requested.  Choose OK.
  6. Tap the SUBSCRIBE button and then the CURRENT SUBSCRIBERS button.
  7. Enter the coupon code into the account number box and tap the CONTINUE button.  After you enter the code you will receive a notification that you have subscribed successfully.  Tap CLOSE. (The current issue should begin downloading in the background.)
  8. A VIEW button will appear below the current issue, tap it to begin enjoying the magazine.
  9. You will have access to any issue published during the trial subscription period.  At the end of the trial period you will retain access to any issue downloaded during the trial period but will be required to pay for any subsequent issues.

Photo of the Day: 3 Ladies (Ubud, Indonesia)

Photos of the Day: Nusa Dua (Bali, Indonesia)

IMG_0360Peaceful.  Serene.  Breathtaking.  Those are just a few words to describe the beautiful southern Bali beach town known as Nusa Dua.  I am currently staying at the fabulous Conrad Bali for work but was able to sneak in a couple of vacation days to lounge around the pool and spend the mornings on the beach as the sun rises.

With its awesome beaches, magnificent sunrises, crashing surfs and delicious food…this exclusive enclave is a welcome haven for those seeking to relax and get away from it all.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Amazing Amsterdam…Sex, Drugs & Queen’s Day

large_MG_0361.jpg

Okay, y’all…I absolutely LOVE Amsterdam! Super big thanks to Renee for flying over from London to hang out with me. This had to be one of my all-time favorite trips! The weekend was off the charts.

I’m not sure why (maybe it’s the movies & reputation of drugs & sex), but I expected Amsterdam to be kinda drab & seedy. In reality, it is a beautiful city with gorgeous buildings, lots of serene canals and lovely people.

MG_0293.jpg MG_0264.jpg

I was amazed at how friendly the Dutch are! Even the guy who told me that black people were greedy O_o [more on that later]. The only slight negative (which is completely my fault) is that I wish I had learned some of the Dutch language because we had people coming up telling us stuff in Dutch and had to tell them we were American and didn’t know the language. If they didn’t know English, they’d just smile and wander off. Thankfully, we came across some folks who could translate the funny/entertaining handmade signs for us.

So much happened so I am going to break this blog post into parts in an effort to remember most of it.

Hotel
Our hotel was fab-u-lous. So funky & chic. We stayed at the Inntel Hotel in Zaandam which is only 2 metro stops from center Amsterdam (Centraal Station) and located right next to the metro!
MG_0249.jpg MG_0247.jpg

Queen’s Day
It just so happens that we are there over Queen’s Day Weekend. Koninginnedag or Queen’s Day is a national holiday in the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Celebrated on 30 April (or on the 29th if the 30th is a Sunday), Koninginnedag is the official birthday of Beatrix, Queen of the Netherlands. Queen Beatrix’s actual birthday is 31 January; 30 April was the birthday of her mother and predecessor, Juliana. The holiday remains as an April observance in honor of Juliana and in hopes of better weather than would occur in January.

The holiday was first observed on 31 August 1885 as Prinsessedag or Princess’s Day, and was held on the fifth birthday of Princess Wilhelmina, the heiress to the Dutch throne. With the princess’s 1890 accession, the holiday acquired its present name, Koninginnedag. When held on 31 August, the holiday was the final day of school summer vacation, and rapidly became popular among children.

With the accession of Queen Juliana in 1948, the holiday was moved to her birthday. When her daughter, Beatrix, took the throne in 1980, she retained the celebration on 30 April, but altered her mother’s custom of holding a parade near a royal palace, instead choosing to visit different Dutch towns each year and join in the festivities. Koninginnedag is known for the nationwide vrijmarket (flea market), when many Dutch sell secondhand items, and as an opportunity for “orange madness” or oranjegekte, when the normally-staid Dutch let down their hair, often temporarily dyed orange for the occasion (source, Wikipedia).

However, this year marked the last “Queen’s Day” for a while as Queen Beatrix abdicated the throne for her son, King Willem-Alexander to take over.  This is the first new king in over 100 years.  Going forward, it will now be known as “King’s Day”.

Saturday, 30 April

MG_0276.jpg

Renee and I met a couple of American ex-pats, Samantha & Tabatha (who currently live in London), as we were leaving the hotel. We ended up sitting next to them on the train to Centraal Station and got along famously…so much so, we decided to hang out for the day!
MG_0338.jpg MG_0339.jpg

The energy of this city is unbelievable! All you saw were people covered in orange (from orange wigs & “crowns” to having their faces painted orange…it was fabulous)! I was told that there were over 1 million people in the city on Saturday! And, it felt like it. The streets & canals were packed. It really was like an upscale European Freaknik (especially when we were in the Red Light District).

MG_0268.jpg MG_0277.jpg MG_0260.jpg MG_0267.jpg MG_0313.jpg MG_0305.jpg MG_0308.jpg MG_0295.jpg

As we leave the station, we come across our first street performer who happens to be a Dutch hip hop artist named Pharo. He was actually pretty good! Kinda puts you in the mindset of DMX (especially when he started barking).
MG_0253.jpg MG_0255.jpg

We wanted to get a cd but he wasn’t selling any…which would never have happen in the US. They always have their street team out with folks selling their cds, t-shirts, posters, etc.

Next, we see a couple waving from a window pretending to be William & Kate.
MG_0257.jpg

Then, we head over to the pancake house to get something to eat. OMG, seriously? Who didn’t know about this? Me! Apparently, they are known for their many-flavored pancakes and pancake houses are everywhere!
MG_0273.jpg

It was even more delicious than the picture looks. Mmmmm! Mine was basically a chocolate sundae on a pancake. Renee & Tabatha had the banana split pancake. The pancakes are prepared in so many different varieties (from sweet to savory). I’ve never seen anything like it. I want one just remembering it. I mean, ice cream, whip cream, powdered sugar, and chocolate sauce on a pancake? Who needs Mrs. Buttersworth? You may require an insulin shot but then you are good to go!

After eating our pancakes, we start walking again. Because this is basically a big street party, all the streets in the city are closed so you don’t have to worry about traffic.

We ran into some guys selling €0.50 lap dances. Yes, 50 cents.
MG_0281.jpg MG_0279.jpg MG_0280.jpg

This was hilarious. You can see what you get for your money. Poor guy was doing all the work. He gave 1 guy a lap dance by taking a running start and jumping on to his lap. These folks are crazy. LOL

We then walk across a canal bridge and look at all the folks partying on the water. Clearly, that is where we needed to be!
MG_0282.jpg MG_0283.jpg MG_0294.jpg MG_0296.jpg MG_0297.jpg

The pictures can’t quite capture how massive an event this is but let me tell you…you WANT to do this next year. I promise you. We definitely need to rent a boat the next time. The funny thing was that even though the city was packed and people were high on alcohol and other substances, it was so civilized. Nobody was out of control and everybody was your best friend. I’ve never seen anything like it. I smiled the entire day! And, that isn’t the pancakes talking 🙂

After all the walking & partying, it was time to take a break for champagne & strawberries! We gotta keep our strength up to enjoy the party.
MG_0285.jpg MG_0286.jpg

The Dutch are some talented folks as well. After getting our afternoon champagne, we come across another set of street performers.  The kids have their hustles too. Queen’s Day is actually very kid-friendly.

Then we went to Vondel Park (which is a beautiful public park in Amsterdam). There were kids performing everyplace (from the violin to guitar to acrobatics & breakdancing). You can tell they have spent a lot of time practicing and more than likely perform throughout the year.

There was a kid playing the drums who was awesome. Like a little Travis Barker. He even had his hype men (who would pop out in some Michael Jackson dance spins then collect money). Then little boy in white strolls around the drum set and kicks that leg Michael Jackson-style? What? I cannot.  And, he is only giving you a taster. He can’t expend all his energy since it’s an all-day performance.  He’s gotta save something for the late afternoon blowout extravaganza.  #toomuch

We then came across 2 little girls with sleeping bags on the sidewalks and a sign that read “Getting Rich to Sleep” (as translated to me by a Dutch guy). Basically, they had a jar out and you could pay to see them sleep (which was a little weird).

While at Vondel Park, we come across a couple of guys trying to sell everything but their mama. They started by telling us that we could buy a teddy bear for 50 cents but hugs were free. We declined but they were entertaining. Next thing I know, they have us doing shots of Tequila and chanting “PUT IT IN THE BAG!” I don’t even know how that happened or what the “bag” was…but clearly you needed to put something in it. Ha!

MG_0318.jpg

They also had this cool idea where kids can play inside these huge clear balls and tumble around on the water.
MG_0320.jpg MG_0322.jpg

As we are walking, we see a vendor selling this:
MG_0302.jpg
Yes, those are rabbit ears with glasses and a penis as a nose. One of y’all almost got that as a souvenir.

Also, every block has Port-a-Potties and something for the guys –
MG_0301.jpg

I can’t tell you why these captured my attention like they did. I can’t imagine whipping my stuff out in front of folks just to take a leak. I wanted to get closer to figure out exactly how they were using it (bow chicka bow wow).

As we head back to the train station, we come across a carnival (which seems like a smaller version of your typical county fair).
MG_0330.jpg MG_0331.jpg

We also went into some stores where you can pick up your “products” and other souvenirs (i.e. t-shirts and everything that is sex or drug related).

MG_0332.jpg MG_0333.jpg MG_0334.jpg MG_0329.jpg

We then head over to the Red Light District (which I will cover in more detail later). The party is still going strong over here. We go into a sex shop which has more stuff than I’ve ever seen. There had to be at least 20 types of vibrators! And then I came across a “Doggie-Style Harness”. I wish I had taken a picture of it. I mean, it’s a piece of fabric (which lays across the woman’s mid-section, and 2 handles for the man to grip while he’s doing his thing. Seriously? If you need a harness to have sex doggy-style, then your ass is lazy and don’t need it to be having sex in the first place.

After spending most of the day walking around, we buy some french fries (which they serve with mayo) and head for the train station.

We head back to the hotel to shower and change for dinner. By this time, my feet are KILLING me, but I was determined to party it up.

We have dinner in Zaandam at a Japanese restaurant (which is the only place still serving food at 10pm). After dinner, Renee & I head bid good-night to our new friends, Samantha & Tabatha (who had a tour early on Sunday).

Then, Renee & I head to…

The Red Light District

MG_0336.jpg

It’s actually only a few blocks. I don’t know why I expected it to be the size of a mini city. So many observations.

First, there are actual “red lights”…basically red light bulbs that act as a “porch light” to the doors/windows the girls use to advertise themselves. You walk along these streets and come up on buildings that have doors that have huge glass fronts where the girls stand to advertise themselves to the potential buyers. Most of these little rooms had some sort of black light so the white lingerie the women were wearing was glowing.

If you are interested, it starts by sign language where the guys will ask how much, the girl holds up the amount of fingers to denote the cost (maybe 50 euro) and they negotiate that way. Next thing you know, they approach the door, the girl lets them in, and she shuts the curtains. Let me tell you this…there were a lot of closed curtains, y’all!

As we walked past some, the girls were actually in there cleaning (with mops, etc) and re-making the bed. I’d look at the guys congregating around these windows and give them the “you so nasty” look while I kept it moving. One woman (who was large & in charge) was playing aggressive with some small guy (she was double his size) and as she told him, “you know you want it”, he responded with “I’ll be back”…and walked approximately 7 steps before turning around. He was with his boys so I guess he needed a group consensus (or money) before he could walk over and complete the transaction.

Most of the girls look Eastern European. I’ve read stories about girls being sold into prostitution when they thought they were going to be coming to the west to find better job opportunities.  What I found interesting is that the prostitutes have a union and benefits!  There is even a prostitute museum.  I would’ve gone in and looked around had it not been closed.

In between where the girls advertise themselves, you will find plenty of sex/erotic shops, sex clubs (where you can watch for 25 Euro or participate for 35 Euro) and coffee shops.

Coffee shops…they sell more than coffee.

MG_0346.jpg MG_0335.jpg MG_0349.jpg

From what I understand, most of the coffee shops sell weed (in pure form, mixed with tobacco or in cupcakes) but not liquor. So, you can get high while drinking a cup of tea. There was one spot that we found that did sell liquor in addition to other substances. If you don’t get down with the stickiest of the icky, then they do have non-drug items on the menu.

One thing I did find strange was how narrow the stairs are. I mean, if you are high, won’t you just fall down those suckers?
MG_0344.jpg

We also passed a Condomerie which sells an array of condoms. I didn’t understand having a condom in the shape of Shrek but hey, what do I know? You couldn’t take pictures so you’ll have to go to the website and then use your imagination on how the window display was set up. Because one thing I can tell you about Amsterdam is this…some of those displays can make you blush.

Sometime during the night, I came up with the phrase, “Sit down, Suzy Brown.” Which I think is GENIUS. Go ahead, start using it. After seeing as much as we could of the Amsterdam nightlife, we finally arrive back to our hotel at 4am. MG_0340.jpg

Sunday, 1 May
Amsterdam is very different today. Things look to be back to normal and the crowds aren’t nearly as big. After checking out of the hotel, we store our bags and head back to the center of town for pancakes (again) and some sightseeing.
For some reason, we ended up back in the Red Light District (which looks totally different during the day time). The RDL is close to the train station so we walk thru there on our way to see the Anne Frank House.

Here are just a few things we see during our walk:
MG_0365.jpg MG_0354.jpgMG_0347.jpg MG_0345.jpg

This may be my new mode of transportation if gas prices don’t go down
MG_0363.jpg

Beautiful canals
MG_0360.jpg

Anne Frank House
MG_0356.jpg

We packed as much as we could into 48 hours and had an absolute ball!  Amsterdam is a riot and you will love it as long as you are open-minded and non-judgmental…which we should all practice on a daily basis.

Photos of the Day: Oia (Santorini, Greece)

Some say that Oia is the prettiest village on the Greek island of Santorini…but honestly, I found it hard to choose!  The entire island is gorgeous.  From Fira to Imerovigli to Oia, the views are absolutely stunning.  The white buildings accented with blue paint are enhanced by the masterpiece of the caldera.

The Chaotic Culture of Cairo

sphinx.jpg

Cairo…Lord help me…I wasn’t ready. Cairo is a HUGE city of over 25 million people.  It is chaotic, has the worse environmental, health and safety issues I’ve ever seen…and in spite of all that, it is magnificent.  In order to enjoy Cairo, you have to look past the current state of modern Cairo and imagine what it was like thousands of years ago.

IMG_0911.jpgIMG_0923.jpg

We start out today by taking a bus for 3 hours from Alexandria to Cairo. On the way, the tour guide gives us a history lesson (which conflicts with the history lesson from the Alexandria/Luxor tour and makes me consult my guidebook because you know how I am about details). Anyway, she does give us this tidbit as we pass this cone-shaped construction…

IMG_0991.jpg

It’s a pigeon coop and apparently, pigeons are considered a delicacy in Egypt. They construct these coops to trap the pigeons then kill them and eat them. I’m sure they taste just like chicken. My first thought was of Petey…the pigeon who took a dump on my coat in Florence. He better watch his back if he ever vacations in Egypt because Ahkbar will be like, ‘guess who’s coming to dinner?’

So, we get to Cairo and it’s instant chaos. Imagine 25 million people trying to get around the city. I’m going to break this post into the “good”, “bad” and “just plain sad”.

THE GOOD

Egyptian Museum
This museum alone is enough to bring me back to Cairo. It holds most of the treasure from King Tut’s tomb and words cannot describe how magnificent the treasure is. It is hard to imagine that there was that type of skilled artistry that many years ago. I expected crude drawings but this was delicate & masterful. The marble jars that held his organs were the most beautiful things I’ve seen. And, his bed? OMG. There was also a papyrus chair that looks like you can sit in it now. It’s just amazing how this stuff lasted for so long. And, how much they had! I mean, they had big patio umbrellas, boomerangs, huge beds, chaise lounges…you name it. They were living large back in the day! We were not allowed to take any pictures or even bring your camera off the bus so I apologize for not being able to show you these works of art. King Tut’s treasure does travel to other museums from time to time so I highly suggest you check it out if it comes to a city near you. I promise that you will not be disappointed.

Pyramids of Giza & the Sphinx
IMG_0960.jpgIMG_0944.jpgIMG_0943.jpg

Seeing the pyramids and sphinx up close was amazing. Now, I will be honest with you…you are going to have to block out a lot of foolishness and really FOCUS ON THE MOMENT. Because the hustlers are out in full force. You thought the hustlers in Luxor were bad? That was the B team. These are the professionals.

The pyramids aren’t in the desert…they are right there on the edge of town. Look to the left and there is a KFC/Pizza Hut. But, once you look right and go up the hill, it’s all pyramids. It took over 2 million stones to make the Great Pyramid.

The Giza Plateau which houses the pyramids is older than the Valley of the Kings. While Thebes and Alexandria were capitals of Egypt during pharaonic rule, Memphis may have been the original capital. The Great Pyramid was built around 5000 years ago and became the necropolis (royal burial ground) for Khufu, Khafre and Menkaure. It took less than 100 years to build all 3 pyramids.
IMG_0941.jpgIMG_0959.jpgIMG_0927.jpgIMG_0924.jpg

There were also smaller Queens’ Pyramids which were constructed for the wives and important relatives of the pharaohs.
IMG_1367.jpg

Then there is the Sphinx which is the guardian of the Giza Plateau. It’s known to the Arabs as ‘Abu al-Hol’ or the “father of terror”.
IMG_1376.jpgIMG_0970.jpg

THE BAD

The Hustlers.

IMG_0964.jpgIMG_0958.jpgIMG_0947.jpgIMG_0949.jpg

You could barely enjoy yourself because of how commercial it has become outside the major sites. You know it’s bad when they have to prepare you and give you “talking points” before you leave the bus. The professional hustlers are in cahoots with the cops. They play this game where they will trick you into paying them more money and if you refuse, they loud talk you and the police will come over and make you pay the hustler or face jail. Ridiculous. It’s just a very aggressive peddle market and if you aren’t prepared, it will overwhelm you. So, if you ever go over there, be on the lookout for 2 hustles.

1. The Camel Ride. The hustler will start by telling you it’s $100 to ride a camel for 5 minutes. Then, you negotiate down to $5. You have to be very specific and tell them that the $5 is for the ENTIRE THING. Because, they will charge you $5 to get on the camel…then $100 to get you off. That’s right. You could be held hostage on a camel. The fair price for a 15 minute camel ride is $10. Now, since the camels stank to high heaven, I decided I’d just get my picture taken next to one. This required every negotiation tactic I possessed. See, hustlers sense weakness. You have to go in confident and not show any doubt or insecurity with them or they will loud talk you. So, I just went in with the “I’m from the ATL…I ride MARTA, you can’t hustle me” attitude. I asked Muhammed how much it would cost to take a picture with the camel and his response? “Whatever you want to pay.” Naw, playa. I’mma need you to agree to a fixed price. So, I responded with, “will you accept $2?” He was like, “whatever you want to pay. It can be free. I’m not worried about the money.” Buddy, I’m from the ATL. You can’t hustle me. I already got caught up in the sphinx booty hustle in Luxor. I’m hustled out. So, I said to him, “you specifically agree to $2 because that is what I’m paying you.” He nodded and tried to distract me. Uh uh. Buddy…I’m from the A.T.L. Home of Grand Hustle Records. Please. So, I take the pic and you can see from the smile on his face that he thinks he’s about to pull a major hustle.
IMG_1372.jpg

After I take the picture and start to pull out the money, Muhammed was like, “most people pay me $7 or $10”. I was like, “well, you agreed to $2”. He then proceeded to give me a look like he was about to start loud-talking me…I then looked him dead in the eye, gave him the $2 and walked away.  I’ve watched Star Wars a hundred times…I know how to pull off a Jedi mind trick.  Don’t hate the playa, hate the game. Ha!

2. “Free” gifts. After I leave Muhammed, this kid comes up with something that he says is a gift. It’s supposedly free. I already knew about that hustle too. See, I go on the Rick Steves website and see what the current hustles are in each country & city I visit. There was nothing about the sphinx booty so I got caught slipping but I was determined not to make that mistake twice. So, when the hustlers try to give you something (even a “free” gift), you cannot accept it because it magically becomes worth a certain amount of money. So, Lil Buddha comes up and is like, “my father wants me to give you this. It’s good luck and will protect you.” I was like, “no thanks” because I already bought the evil eye in Turkey. I also got Jesus and I don’t need nobody else. After telling him no, he suddenly doesn’t understand English and keeps following me around and trying to lay this gift on my shoulder then arm. I was ducking my shoulder so much I felt like I was doing the wobble. So, after about the 10th time of me saying “no”, he then tells me the gift is from his mother. I was like, “the answer is still no. I don’t want it. Back up off me little boy.” Shoot.

The Just Plain Sad

Environmental, Health & Safety
Sigh. The most shocking thing for me to see was how dirty the city of Cairo is. I cannot remember seeing a trashcan and trust me, I was looking. The canals and streets are littered with trash.

IMG_0986.jpgIMG_0920.jpg

When someone asked the bus driver to throw a can of soda and potato chip bag away since they couldn’t find a wastebasket on the bus, he threw it on the sidewalk outside the bus! I was like, ‘the hell?’ Seriously? Even the Nile River was dirty! Looking at how squalid the living conditions are and how dirty and unsanitary things are really makes you not want to eat or drink ANYTHING. I’m sure quite a few people are walking around with scavies.

Why won’t the government establish an environmental protection agency to clean this mess up? That could create thousands of jobs that are sorely needed. It would increase the life span and reduce health issues. It’s ridiculous when I can look into a river and see dead fish…or see fumes rising from piles of trash in the center of the city. I can’t get over people littering like that either. Take some pride in your city! I’ve just never seen such squalor & dirtiness on this grand of a scale. If folks are gonna hustle something, hustle some Clorox.

I was reading the Egyptian Mail newspaper which is written in English and has lots of great articles. I’m hoping they have an online edition because if you want to really understand what is going on in Egypt, this newspaper breaks it down and is totally entertaining.  Recently, there was an article of a 6-year-old boy who died because he fell out of a window at school. Where are your safety procedures? Why were kids playing around an open window on the 5th floor?

Poverty
I think this had to be the most depressing thing for me. The city is so poor. With 50% of people out of work, they struggle to survive. Of course, I did see men out smoking “hookah” and just hanging out since they didn’t have a job. Don’t they need to be on monster.com or something? I know the hookah stuff aint free so save your Egyptian pounds for food. As you can see from the pics below, it’s hard to imagine living this way.

IMG_1382.jpgIMG_1381.jpg

There is a strong history of governmental corruption in Egypt and you can see by the disparity in living conditions. You can see how most folks in the city live above. Now look at the palatial estate below.

IMG_0987.jpg

Egyptian officials sold a lot of land at a HEAVILY discounted rate to rich folks who aren’t using the land to help the poor but to build high-end luxury homes. You know, if certain governmental officials would stop selling Egyptian antiquities to folks in other countries for cheap and accepting kickbacks, they could earn enough money to clean the city up. Which brings me to my next point…

The kids.
There are tons of kids out hustling. They are like 5-12 years old!
IMG_0975.jpgIMG_0979.jpg

They don’t go to school because they earn so much from hustling tourists! Apparently, they end up having drug problems when they get older because they don’t know how to handle having that much money. Also, they pay off the government so they will look the other way and allow them to be truant.

Color Complex
Like just about any country on this earth, there is a color complex in Egypt. The lighter you are, the more beautiful you are by society standards. While we have a product line in the US called, “Dark n Lovely”, they have one called “Fair n Lovely”.

The Funny
So, now I’m going to get to a couple of funny things that happened. Apparently, if you are a black American, you are automatically an Obama. Everywhere we went, we heard, “Obama Family!” I’m not sure if my brother is Malia or Sasha. 

On the way back to Alexandria, we were involved in a bus accident. The bus sideswiped a car on the highway (they drive so crazy here) and instead of pulling over and exchanging insurance information and calling the police, the bus driver speeds up and runs away from the scene of the accident. So, we are now fugitives from the law. Lord help me.

Overall, going to Egypt was a great experience. I would suggest you add it to your list of places to visit…even if it is just to see the Egyptian Museum. Once you get past the hustlers and the filth of the city, you can really see why Cairo has so much to offer.