Things to Know about Dubai

Here are some things to know about Dubai before traveling there, and some things to do in Dubai.

1. Dubai is kind of like Vegas, but on  steroids

I went to Dubai expecting to have an authentic Middle Eastern cultural experience. That was not the case. Instead, I was met with massive amounts of fabricated landscape. In other words, Dubai is built largely for consumers, businessmen, and tourists, and has the fake (yet fun) feel of Vegas.

Even though Dubai wasn’t what I was expecting in terms of a Middle Eastern experience, it doesn’t mean it wasn’t cool. There is plenty of fun to be had in Dubai. For example, I enjoyed the following:

  • Burj Kalifa – Tallest and coolest building ever. You will get dizzy looking up, and if you’re afraid of heights, probably don’t go up inside. Tip: Buy tickets in advance for $30, or make a reservation for the lounge, and spend $30 minimum on fancy food and drinks.burj kalifa
  • Dubai Mall and/or Mall of the Emirates — shop your face off here. You can also ski in the Mall of the Emirates at Ski Dubai, or you could come to Utah and ski. The Dubai Mall also has the Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Zoo, which is fun if you like sea life.dubai mall aquarium
  • Jumeirah Mosque – This mosque is awesome, but they only allow tours at 10am, so make plans in advance. Remember to cover your head and take your shoes off when you enter. If you want to see an even cooler mosque, take a taxi ($60.00) to Abu Dhabi, and check out the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. It is so beautiful. You won’t regret it.jumeirah mosqueshiekh zayed mosheik zayed mosque in abu dhabi
  • Spice and/or Gold Souq —  Shopping in the Gold and Spice Souqs is kind of a blast. Get prepared to bargain, and pressured into buying things. I’m an easy sale, so I always spend way more than anyone who is good at bargaining would. If you want gold, you can also check out the Gold and Diamond Park.
  • Cultural Fun — If you are looking for more of a cultural experience, check out the Bait Al Banat Women’s Museum and the Sheikh Mohammed Centre For Cultural Understanding. I didn’t make it here, but my traveling buddy did, and she said it was rad, and that they let you ask questions, and answered quite openly.
  • The Arabian Sea — The Arabian Sea is clear blue, salty, and it feels like bath water. Amazing.

2. Camel milk chocolate is not good.

The next thing to know about Dubai is that camel milk chocolate is expensive, and it’s not good. I bought a $21 box of choclate for my sweet husband, hoping to woo him with sweets, and instead it tasted like butt. In fact, my brother-in-law had a bite and described it as how he would imagine it tastes if he latched his mouth on to the backside of a camel for a while. V. accurate.al nassma camel milk chocolate

If you’re looking for a yummy souvenir, skip the camel milk chocolate, and get dates instead. In fact, they have some chocolate (regular chocolate) covered dates that are to die for. Nom Nom. They are much cheaper, authentic, and taste like yum.yum

3. The consumerism is overwhelming.

I don’t know why, but I didn’t expect to be thrown by the consumerism. I mean, after all, I’m an American, and live 6 hours from Vegas, so I should be used to it, but this was something else. The city is really centered on shopping. I was surprised, and a bit disappointed, to fly 1/2 way across the world to be swarmed with everything from Gucci to Aeropostale. If you’re looking to go shopping, however, this is a great place for it.

4. The taxis will try and rip you off.

Pretty much every taxi I got into tried to pull something sneak. The first day, I got majorly ripped off, because I didn’t know where I was going, or what I was doing. It cost 118 d. to get from the airport to the hotel, and it should’ve been around 30-40. Annoying. Let them know before you get in that you know how long it should take to get somewhere, and about how much it should cost. If you’re interested in saving money, take the metro. Just know that the walks from the metro to your destination are more like a New York Avenue, rather than a street. Yeah, you’ll be walking for a while.

Also, there is a 10 dirham minimum for taxis. I got into an argument with my taxi driver over this, but I guess it’s true.

5. You will melt into a pile of flesh and bone.

It is so hot there, you will want to die.

6. The architecture really is as cool as it is in the pictures.

You’ve seen a million pictures of the Burj Kalifa and the Burj Al Arab, and they really truly are as spectacular as they are in pictures. They are beautiful, enormous, ornate, and dizzying. In general, Dubai is not a place to visit if you’re afraid of heights.

7. Eat Shawarma, dummy pants.

Ditch the expensive hotel food, and find some authentic Middle Eastern food. It will be like a million times cheaper and a billion times more delicious. I ate a shawarma every day for like 7 dirham. It was awesome and cheap. I wish so badly we had good shawarma here at home. They also have great Lebanese and Indian food in Dubai. Chomp. Chomp. Yum.

8. Don’t pay all that money to go to just Dubai.

If you’re going to pay all that money for a Middle Eastern experience, make sure to combine your trip with more than Dubai. Check out Abu Dhabi, Oman, and maybe Qatar as well. In my estimation, Dubai is cool, but it’s probably not the best bang for your buck in terms of cool travel, unless you combine your trip with a few other destinations. I got a great deal, so it was a no brainer, but I wouldn’t recommend only Dubai to anyone, unless their company is paying for the trip.

That Time I Almost Got Arrested in Dubai!

I love it when weeks start out regular, and then suddenly get interrupted with a spontaneous adventure. Monday, I am grocery shopping and vacuuming my house. And Thursday, I’m on a plane to Dubai. Woot!

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Me and my tall buddy, Burj Kalifa.

So, by Friday, and after 19 hours of somewhat uncomfortable travel and 15 episodes of Homeland (not the best show to watch on your way to the Middle East, BTW), I arrive in Dubai, and head straight for customs.

That’s when it happens.

The scary looking man sitting behind the security camera screen thingy looks at me, then back at the screen, and then back at me, and says, “Do you have a drug addiction?”

“Sorry?”

“Is the needle in your bag for your drug problem?

That’s when my heart rate raises to a near-death level, I crap my pants, and think to myself, “Oh. Shit. I’ve seen Brokedown Palace, and I am a much prettier, but slightly fatter Claire Danes, and they are not messing around here. Someone planted something in my bag, and I am going to get arrested, and hauled off to rot in prison for the rest of my life, never to see my family ever again.”

Scary Dude opens my bag, pulls the “needle” out, and to my relief, it’s my EpiPen, and not something planted for the use of crack, or heroin, or whatever drugs you use with needles (seriously, I would be the worst druggie ever).

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This is an EpiPen, not an illegal drugs pen.

“Oh! That’s my EpiPen. You know, so I don’t die if I get stung by a bee.”

“Bee?” Looking puzzled. “Wait, are you in the military?”

“Military? Do you think they would let someone like me in the military?” Pointing to my chubby parts. “It’s for a bee sting.” Buzzing and flapping my arms enthusiastically.

Finally, my Oscar award winning charade skills pay off, and he gets it, or perhaps he just gets sick of me buzzing around, and let’s me pass through to get rid of me. Either way, I got to enjoy a magical Dubai adventure, and it was awesome. More to come!

10 Most Romantic Places in the World

romantic getawayCouples and honeymooners alike are always looking for the perfect romantic spot to get away and spend some quality time with each other. It’s important for couples looking to travel together to find the perfect place for their trip. Although this choice may be unique to each lovely pair, there are a few places in the world that will always treat you right. Interestingly enough, many of these locations don’t even require a visa, and an esta application is enough for entry. These following 10 places make the most hassle-free and romantic getaways.

1. Paris

Famously known as the City of Lights, the streets of Paris with the magnificent Eiffel Tower in the background are one of the most famously and widely loved places for a romantic getaway.

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Things to do: The streets of Paris, ringing with the melancholic tunes of the street musicians provide the perfect setting for a romantic stroll with your lover, or you might find yourself walking dreamily through the secluded gardens of the Palais – Royal. You can spend hours lingering over dinner wrapped in the warmth of the dim glow of the candle – lit bistros. For picture perfect magical sunsets you can perch yourself atop the stairs of the Sacre-Couer, or cuddle together on a bench alongside the Seine.

2. The Maldives

Brilliant white sun-kissed beaches and the crystal clear turquoise sea are a favorite among happy couples for honeymoons and romantic getaways.

the maldivesThings to do: Book an over water villa or bungalow in a hotel to enjoy the beauty of the Maldivian beaches with the utmost privacy and intimacy. The shores of the Maldives are perfect for fairy tale sunset walks on the beach and enjoy a romantic dinner in a quiet shamiana on the beach with the immense beauty of the Indian Ocean in the background.

3. Florence

Florence is named one of the most romantic cities in the world for its intricate Italian architecture and magnificent cobblestone streets glowing a brilliant orange with the charm of the street lights.

florenceThings to do: Enjoy your evening watching heavenly sunsets from the top of the Piazzale Michelangelo and sipping Prosecco in the intimacy of the little outdoor cafes in the streets after a long day of sightseeing. Take in the beauty of the artworks of some of the most prolific artists in history, and drown yourself in the dreaminess of the frescoes and stained glass windows of the churches and Florence museum.

4. Kauai

It is the least developed island of Hawaii and is perfect for those couples looking for privacy.

kauaiThings to do: Spend your days sipping coconuts together and lazing around in the warm waters of the Hawaiian Seas. Go for a nature walk through the lush green mountains, or bathe in the white sprays of the waterfalls, enjoying private and intimate time with your partner.

5. St.Moritz

Snowcapped Alpine mountains and and lush green Douglas fir trees set the mood for romance and leave you feeling overwhelmed.

st. moritzThings to do: Set out on an adventure together skiing down the icy slopes of the Swiss peaks and trekking through the brilliant alpine forests. End your day snuggling in the warmth of each other’s arms while taking a ride in a horse drawn carriage beside the frozen waters of the lake.

6. Santorini

Private terraces perched out over the brilliance of the Aegean Sea will make you fall in love all over again.

san toriniThings to do: watch the golden sunsets from the quiet privacy of your own terrace looking out onto the immense shimmer of the ocean. Take an evening stroll down the white and brown cliff sides of Santorini and wine and dine together in an amorous Grecian cafe.

7. Venice

A city perched on the banks of a river, Venice is the definition of romance. It almost seems that this city was built only for lovers.

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Things to do: Enjoy the evening sunsets with a romantic ride in a gondola down the canals or get lost together walking through the narrow streets and little bridges over water to rekindle the flames of your romance.

8. Prague

Rated one of the most beautiful monumental cities in the world, Prague’s stunning architecture and gigantic gothic towers are another wildly loved setting for a honeymoon.

pragueThings to do: take a stroll down across the fabulous Charles Bridge moving further into the

Medieval streets drinking the delicious sights of the architectural marvels of the city. Enjoy a luxurious dinner at a fancy designer restaurant and end the night watching the dancing shapes of the Rasin Building.

9. Seville

Spain’s most beautiful city, Vienna’s Moorish architecture and ethnic Spanish culture are an experiential discovery for happy couples.

sevilleThings to do: lose yourself in Spanish romance while watching bullfights and learning to dance the flamenco, or escape to the sultry beaches of the Costa Del Sol to enjoy the lovely warmth of the summer sun. One might even enjoy an exotic horse carriage ride through the Plaze De Espana.

10. Seychelles

Warm white sands and exotic blue seas are nothing short of paradise and make the perfect destination for a romantic getaway.

seychellesThings to do: Seychelles is the epitomy of relaxation. Enjoy your days tanning under the humid African sun and treat yourself to a midnight dip in the private pools of the beach villas. For a more adventurous couple, you can enjoy a variety of different water sports finished with an hour of pampering in the exotic beachside spas.

2 trips to St. George, UT with a baby child

Okay, so remember that one time when I said I was going to travel all of the time with a baby. Turns out it’s a tiny bit harder to get up and go than one would expect. Don’t get me wrong. We travel. For instance, we have made some serious trips to the following amazing places:

  • Thanksgiving Point
  • Living Planet Aquarium
  • The Library
  • Grandma & Grandpa’s House

You know, the essentials. While that may seem super lame to some of you, I submit that it’s a gigantic task for a new mom. In short, I rock at life.

Anyway, I have managed to make a couple sweet trips to Saint George, UT.

Here are my main takeaways for road tripping with a baby:

  1. Travel at night just before the baby goes to bed — There is nothing like a sleeping baby on a 4 hour car ride. Seriously. There is also nothing quite like a crying baby in a car, especially when you’ve committed to drive longer than…say…10 minutes. Our baby goes to sleep at 7, so we packed up at 6:45, gave the sweet thang a bottle, and she slept like…well…a baby. It was awesome. I’m dreading the day when something goes wrong and she fails to fall asleep for the entire way there and the way back.
  2. Bring someone with you to help (preferably that likes your kid) — We lucked out, because my 15-year old baby whisperer of a SIL came with us on the trip. Any time the baby got bored, someone besides me was there to save the day.
  3. Pack extra baby clothes — Something about traveling makes kids poop. A lot. All over. Seriously. One day my baby pooped all over everything, and there was more poop than clothes, so I had to throw her outfit away (sad), and tote her around in a diaper like a homeless child, until I was able to buy her a new onesie. Luckily, we were at the outlets, we only had to look like a white trash family for like 5 minutes. Okay, I think I’ve used the word poop enough for one article. Moving on.
  4. Get travel clothes right — Okay, this has nothing to do with traveling with a baby, but I think I’m onto something that could be big. Travel outfits. That’s right…something cute on the top, and something either pant-less, or practically pant-less on the bottom. It could be like the mullet of travel outfits. Business up top, party on the bottom. Hmmm…not sure that analogy actually works, but you get my drift. Nothing like lookin’ good and being comfy all at once.

Well, here are some fun pics from our trip. We have the baby in a disguise (this is the only pic I have from our first trip to Saint George), and then some pics of us hiking in Zion National Park. Best. Place. Ever.

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Who is this? I can’t even tell with the disguise on. How did she get on my blog?
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First family hike in Zion National Park.
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Zion National Park in Utah rocks. Go there.

 

Author

ashley r cummings

 

 

 

 

 

Ashley R. Cummings is an avid traveler, writer, and business owner. Connect on Google+, LinkedIn, or Facebook.

Utah Band Booking Agency Spotlight

Here’s the deal. I’ve mentioned this a few times, but Utah is seriously getting cool. There are a lot of different reasons to visit Utah including skiing, snowboarding, snowmobiling…and other non-snow related events like hiking, biking, jeeping, boating, and more. Not only does Utah have a great outdoor scene, but Utah also has a cool music scene. There are a lot of cool bands coming out of Provo and Salt Lake these days, but Utah is also a great place to find a band for your corporate event, wedding, or party. Check out the following band booking agency if you’re looking for some quality entertainment in Utah, or from Utah (they travel!).

Both Utah Live Bands and Dancebands.com offer the following:

  • Party Bands
  • Jazz Bands
  • Country Bands
  • Event Entertainment

Additionally, they offer some of the nations most popular party bands including:

  • Groove Merchants
  • Amplify
  • Dance Doctors
  • The Salamanders
  • TIYB
  • Chance McKinney

Whether or not you’ve heard of these bands, you may have heard of some of the singers that perform with these bands including:

  • Chris Crabb (big time musical crush on this guy), and
  • Amy Whitcomb (big time girl crush and musical crush on this girl)

Anyway, all I’m saying is that if you’re looking for some fun in Utah, or some crazy local talent, you may want to connect with this guy to get your event sorted out.

 

Provo, Utah is Getting Cool!

I know this might sound crazy, but Provo, UT is actually starting to get cool. I know this, because A) I’m extremely cool, duh, and B) I’ve lived here a long time, and it didn’t used to be cool. Before you think I’m crazy, let me elaborate.

Rockin’ Music Scene – In case you didn’t notice, some pretty popular bands are coming out of Provo these days. Some Utah musicians have hit it hugely huge including the Imagine Dragons, Neon Trees, Kaskade, and Lindsey Stirling, to name a few. Others are on the up and up like Ryan Innes, Polytype, and Scott & Brendo. With all the great music coming out of Provo, UT, it feels a bit like a mini Nashville, and it’s fun and cool. On top of all the great musicians, there are a bundle of fun places to attend a concert including Velour, Muse, and the Rooftop Concert Series. Music here is fun.

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Food — Once upon a time, Provo was confined to such boring restaurants as Applebee’s and Chilies. Nowadays, there are a bunch of hip places that are nomnomnommy. Check out Mountain West Burrito, the Tortilla Bar, Community, and be on the lookout for food trucks like Rocco’s, Sweet Burrito, and Waffle Love.

Google Fiber — If I have to explain to you why Google is cool, then we’re in big trouble. Provo is all hooked up and ready to go for Google Fiber and that is rad.

Not only is the music in Provo awesome, the food delicious, and not only are we capturing the attention of Google, but apparently, we have the hottest people here. Come to Utah for a weekend, and put Provo on your list of places to go. Go hiking, skiing, and find a pretty girl/guy to take on a date to a great concert. You won’t regret it.

Я́сная Поля́на — Check out Yasnaya Polyana in Fall

In celebration of Fall, I gotta say one of the best places on earth to experience this joyous season is Yasnaya Polyana, just outside of Tula, Russia. Yasnaya Polyana is the estate of Leo Tolstoy and one of the most peaceful places on earth. While it takes about 2 hours to get to Yasnaya Polyana from Moscow, it’s definitely worth the trip.

Quick Tip: The cheapest way to get to Tula from Moscow is to take the green metro line to “Tsaritsino.” Once you come out of the metro, you will walk across the street and you will see a few route taxis (“marshrutki”) parked outside of a small convenience store. It’s not the most comfortable of rides, but it’s certainly the best price. This will take you all the way to the bus station in Tula where you can get another route taxi to Yasnaya Polyana.

Check it out!

This is the path leading up to the estate.

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This is Tolstoy’s house. You have to put these little shoes on in order to go in to the home. The home has a great library and Tolstoy even has a Book of Mormon in his library.

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Here is the pond near the estate.

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One of the many paths where you can stroll.

 

 

 

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Larisa and I playing in the leaves. Sorry to whoever raked them into such a nice pile that we so gleefully destroyed.

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“One of the first conditions of happiness is that the link between Man and Nature shall not be broken.” –Leo Tolstoy

English/Engrish

When it comes right down to it, I’m a bit of a grammar snob. In fact, when in doubt, I use Grammarly’s plagiarism checker just to make sure I don’t sound like I was raised alone in the jungle by bears–bears that don’t know the difference between there, their, and they’re. After all, English is my precious language and I want to get it right.

While I’m a big fan of making sure I use my language correctly, I get a huge kick out of traveling to other countries and finding the most hilarious Engrish out there. Here are some of my favorites from my travels.

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Seen at a temple in Thailand. Everyone in my family loved this one.
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Brought to you by my friend, Ekitzel, who lives in China. She is the best at flushing!
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Lovin’ the use of contractions here!
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This one is not THAT weird, but who says “get free?” I guess punks in Lithuania do.

 

These are just a few of the awesome uses of English I’ve seen across the world. What about you? What are some of your favorites? I would love an explanation or a link in the comments!

 

 

Where have you been, Ashley?

So, I haven’t posted an adventure in quite some time. Why, you ask? Well, I was busy growing and birthing this little darling:

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Yes, she IS the cutest thing you’ve ever seen!

Anyway, this does not put an end to my traveling. This just means I will be blogging about what travel is like for both of us. Well, all three of us (mom, dad and baby girl).

In fact, this 2 month old already had a trip up to the Wasatch Mountains to learn about Fall.

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Anyway, we’re never too young, too old, too poor, or too rich to travel! Let’s do this!

Walden and Antarctica

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“I went into the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life and see if I could not learn what I had to teach, and not, when I came time to die, discover that I had not lived.” -Thoreau
 
I think I’m going through my Thoreau stage of life. I mean…I don’t necessarily want to take off to Walden Pond and live in a shack, but I reflect often about the meat and bones of life and what practices really yield true happiness and true growth, and then I think about everything else. It seems like there are so many “everything else” type distractions from “the essential facts of life” and often time and energy is squandered on fluff that just does not matter. I get tired of the bright colored time wasters and want to spend my time on fruitful life-giving activities.
 
When I went to the University of Utah, I had the honor of being in a poetry class taught by Utah’s Poet Laureate, Katharine Coles. I think she encompassed this Thoreau-ism nicely. She talked about how she once had long, beautiful, flowing hair and would spend hours upon hours fussing about her hair until finally she realized all the time that was being wasted on her hair and she shaved it off. She’s had a shaved head ever since.
 
I’m not saying the solution to really living is shaving our heads, but the metaphor is beautiful—each person can search to identify what distracts their energy, focus and time from really living and cut it off to spend time on practices that make life joyful. This can be different for each person. Katharine Coles recently spent time in Antarctica writing poetry and learning about the sciences.
 
 
I think I’ll spend some more time thinking about what my Walden Pond or Antarctica really is and report back, but for starters, I simply want to slow down.

Thank you, Sahar Qumsiyeh

I can’t imagine having a wall built around my city separating people of different nationalities.  I can’t imagine half the people in my country labeling anyone with different passport papers as an enemy.  I can’t imagine widespread discrimination that leads to daily acts of terror and brutality.

Today, I attended a lecture at Brigham Young University given by Sahar Qumsiyeh, a Palestinian woman, United Nations employee, and member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, who has suffered through years of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

She talked about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and shared her personal stories of growing up a Palestinian woman in a divided and violent area.  She told stories of long nights filled with darkness and gun shots, and talked about the day when her own hate for Israeli soldiers arose.

She related how one day a group of Palestinian students decided to lead a protest and wave a Palestinian flag from the University’s main building.  The protesters were immediately met with gunfire and tear gas.  Her friend, Irshad, was shot in the head, but did not instantly die.  The students protected his body, but Israeli soldiers wouldn’t let anyone leave the university to get medical care.  When the students were finally released, the Israeli soldiers took Irshad’s body to his parents house, forced his parents to follow them into the woods, dug a hole and made the parents watch as they filled the hole with their son’s body and dirt. She talked about hate.

Then, she talked about forgiveness.  She talked about praying for the gift of charity and then waiting on the Lord.  She talked about finally being able to look into the eyes of Israeli soldiers and feel love and peace.

The Palestinian-Israeli conflict seems so far away, but for so many people, it is daily life.  This kind of violence is literally beyond my comprehension and I am so thankful that I don’t have to live in fear every day.  I am so thankful that I live in a blessed country where we are blessed with freedom and peace.

Being a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints myself, it was a humbling reminder that the atonement of Jesus Christ is real and that we can have internal peace by applying gospel principles to our daily situations, even if our daily situations seem trivial compared to what others suffer through.

Sahar has every reason to hate, violently protest and lead a miserable life, but instead she travels and spreads a message of peace and hope.  She encourages everyone that the key to peace, even in destructive situations, is to have internal peace through the atonement of Jesus Christ.  She talks about understanding that we are all children of a loving Heavenly Father, to qualify ourselves to have the companionship of the Holy Ghost, and to forgive others.

Understanding a message like that is what softens hearts and helps tear down the walls that separate us.

Thank you, Sahar, for sharing such an inspiring message.  Thank you for your courage.  Thank you for sharing your testimony and message of peace. I promise to always be grateful for the freedom and protection I enjoy.

Why Russians aren’t smiling

A lot of Americans that come home from a quick trip to Russia ask me why Russians are so mean. I always respond that Russians aren’t mean at all, and, in fact, they are some of the kindest people that I know. What makes Russians seem mean is simply a cultural difference in what facial expressions are appropriate and when.

I came across this blog post about why Russians don’t smile like Americans do, and I couldn’t have said it better myself. Anyone who is planning a trip to Russia would be wise to read this blog post about why Russians don’t smile.

A Stalin era poster. "Be vigilant. Even walls are listening nowadays. Chat and gossip are not far from high treason. DO NOT CHAT!"

Learn more about Ashley R. Cummings on Google+.

Vegas, Tweeting and Pregnancy!

So my husband and I went to Las Vegas these past two days to celebrate his birthday. We had a great time, but after about 35 hours of Vegas, I tweeted out how I like #Vegas (notice the hashtag) for about 2 days and then I start twitching (true story). Anyway, I got the following tweet back immediately.

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This tweet gives me the giggles times 100. Mostly I am imagining my 30 year old, 6 month pregnant self showing up at the club and telling them I’m on the guest list. Pretty sure he/she would get fired as a promoter if I showed up. See pic below for reference. Not that I’m not a babe of a soon-to-be-mom, but…really, I don’t think a babe of a mom is quite the crowd they want showing up at Surrender Night Club & Encore Beach Club. ha!

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Should I tweet back? What do you think? Any ideas of what I could say? Maybe I’ll even call. “Hi Lazaro@Surrender! I’m totally interested in getting on the guest list for tonight’s dance party, but could you tell me a little bit about the bathrooms? I need quick access to pee whenever I need to, especially if I’m getting my dance on.”

Learn more about Ashley R. Cummings on Google+.

30 Things I Love about Russia & Ukraine

Came across this gem in my travel journal. It’s a quick read that really does highlight some of the best (and the “best”) things about Russia & Ukraine. I truly love these places.

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1. Any of the following: borsch, pancakes with tvorog, syrok, Russian black bread, juice, Zhivchik.

2. Watching out for vomit piles.

3. Faberzhe eggs.

4. Tanning on the beaches of the Black Sea.

5. The Lavra and cool, dead, old bones.

6. Russian.

7. Puzata Khata, best restaurant ever, and way cheap.

8. Tula, Russia and Leo Tolstoy’s estate.

9. Having time to read whatever I want. Interestingly enough, it ended up being Brothers Karamazov.

10. Big Mamma in Kiev.

11. Showering/bathing in the Black Sea when you don’t have an actual shower.

12. The sweet smells including–cigarette smoke, alcohol, dill, dirt, sweat, incense, salami and rain..

13. Ladies with beards…(LADIES…PLURAL…AS IN MORE THAN ONE).

14. Golden smiles.

15. Getting stared at all the time…probably for being pretty?!?!

16. Read Square.

17. Shaurma’s on the street, oh baby, yum.

18. “Mexican food…” (ew).

19. Techno music playing everywhere (also, ew).

20. Close calls with death (aka Russian drivers).

21. Cheap Russian vodka (even though I don’t drink).

22. Listening to people talk quite openly about me, because they don’t think I understand Russian, and then politely informing them that some Americans can actually speak Russian quite fluently.

23. Enjoying the shock on their face after #22 happens.

24. Ice cream.

25. Worst internet access of life.

26. Protecting your place in line like you’re protecting your life.

27. Any sign that says smoking and drinking is prohibited. ha!

28. Grosses lifts/elevators of life.

29. Trying not to die while crossing the street.

30. Moscow & St. Pete’s prices vs. prices everywhere else in Russia and Ukraine.

Oh…the essence of one of my favorite places on earth!

 

Learn more about Ashley R. Cummings on Google+.

“My final tip is to spend your money (but do it wisely)!” -Rachel

Remember how I told you about my awesome friend, Rachel, that I met in a crazy hostel in Prague? Well, she’s had some amazing travel experiences, and offers great advice in the post below. Enjoy!
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Favorite place to travel and why: This one is a difficult one, since my one complaint always seems to be, “I want to go somewhere” (even when, like now, I’m living in Australia – the wanderlust bug has bitten me quite effectively!) and also, “I want to go everywhere.” I would have to say, though, that in my travels, Europe holds a special soft spot, particularly the entire country of Italy, and Berlin, Germany. Italy, because I am Italian, and there is an inescapable feeling of family while I’m there. Whether it’s the incredible food, the boys who all tell you you are beautiful, no matter what you look like, or the history of the place that just smacks you in the face as soon as you walk off the plane. I’m currently living in Sydney, Australia, and have found refuge in a local cafe run by a sweet-talking Roman who makes me feel closer to my home in NYC than anyone else here has. Also, in Italy, you can get a delicious bottle of wine for about 7 euros, and that, my friends, is amazing.
Berlin, on the other hand, is the sum of my teenage dreams, realized. I am a theatre geek, and Cabaret, set in a nightclub in Berlin before and during the rise of the Nazis and WWII, is my favorite show of all time. I visited Berlin for the first time as a senior in high school, and then again 4 years later as a college graduate. The city is incredible. It’s a bit gritty, a bit artsy and quite a bit filled with the history that has shaped, devastated and triumphed it throughout the years. What I love about Berlin is that it is a city that refuses to be beaten down. It’s faced awful times – WWII and the atrocities of the Nazis, Soviet domination, a separation of free and unfree that divided families and tore lives apart. And yet, there is beauty. The Berliner Dom Cathedral, monuments that will bring tears to your eyes and a vibrant bohemian artist scene prove that Berlin is here to stay. That, and it is just so cool. It’s the one city, aside from New York, where I currently live, where I could see myself slipping seamlessly into a life that is totally worth living.
What is your best travel memory? My best travel memory isn’t so much one particular memory, but rather the memory of my experience traveling. OK, I know that doesn’t really make sense. I am extremely Type-A, scheduled and not at all spontaneous. When I graduated from University, I was faced with the age-old yuppie dilemma: What am I going to do with my life?? While many people would say, “Get a job,” I knew that I wasn’t quite ready, and so I decided, a bit on a whim, to venture out on my own for the first time and travel a little bit throughout Europe.
Now, what I did is hardly extraordinary or unique (check out any European or Australian – they have gap years and are notorious for spending 3 months to 5 years globetrotting), but for me, throwing out the rule book and just doing something was a feat in and of itself. I went without a plan – 6 weeks of being by myself and making my way through Europe, using an LLBean bookbag (not a backpackers bag) and carrying 2 pairs of pants, 4 shirts, 3 dresses and some underwear, as well as my passport and the common sense I’d gathered while attending University in the Bronx is hardly something the Rachel my friends know and love would do – and sent emails replying to my mom’s urgent requests of “WHAT COUNTRY ARE YOU IN” when I was able to scam some free internet from whichever hostel was providing my bed that night. The places I went weren’t exotic. I stuck to the major western European big cities, but the memories are permanent, and I learned that I can indeed be pushed to share a room with amorous Swedes, drunk Irishmen and loud, opinionated Americans, as well as read a map, explore on my own and make new friends, no matter what the language or culture barrier. My travels throughout Europe proved to me that I can go places by myself and be self-sufficient. They also fed my growing need to go as many places as possible, and see as much as possible. They also opened me up to new friendships and experiences that I would not have had otherwise. A five day stay in Barcelona hooked me up with a Canadian who housed me when I went to the Vancouver Olympics in 2010, and just this past December, we met up on her first trip to New York City. I still email sporadically with a Swedish heavy metal rocker, and I am sometimes asked to talk about myself on the blog of a girl I met one night in a bed-bug infested hostel set up in the gymnasium of a Prague high school. It’s helped shape who I am today, and has given me the confidence to go and see what there is to see.
What is your worst travel memory? I think, for sanity’s sake, I’ve tried to block out horrid memories of traveling, but some bad ones have happened. On my overnight bus from Paris to London, a boy named Matt started chatting with me. At first, in the traveler state of mind, I was into it – we chatted about where we were from, where we were going, and were generally having a good time. Then he started to make me worry. He asked specific questions about where I was staying, was I staying alone, and how much money I kept with me. Later, when I dozed off, I woke to find him leaning over me, to “see if I needed a blanket.” The vibe quickly turned from friendly to strange, and being a young girl alone, with no phone, on a bus from France where no one spoke English, I saw a horror movie begin to play in my head. I was on high-alert, and spent the next five hours or so furiously writing in my journal all of the details I could see about him, with the hope that, if my mutilated body was found, they’d have a way of finding this creep. It was scary, and I felt so very alone and vulnerable. Luckily, I moved seats to sit near a family, and when we got off the bus in the morning, I was able to quickly get to the tube and to my hostel, but I was left on hyper-alert for the rest of my trip, no longer feeling invincible and ready to meet just anyone.
Do you have any tips/tricks for others traveling to (choose area of interest).  My main tip or trick is to be open. If you see a place that sparks your fancy, get there. I have this desire to go to all 7 continents (5 down, 2 to go!) and while Antarctica is a bit of a haul (and an expensive one at that), there is no doubt in my mind that I will one day have to find a way there. If you can’t get someone to go somewhere with you, don’t be afraid to do it by yourself. You will learn so much about yourself, as well as meet other incredible people – it will make you stronger and more well-rounded, I promise. My final tip is to spend your money (but do it wisely). There is no need to throw money away, but, if you’re in a place you may never be again, and there’s a concert, or an activity or a museum that you may never see again, take a moment and think about, in 40 years, will you be happy to have saved that money, or that you went bungee-jumping, or saw the opera at the Opera House in Sydney, or that you climbed to the top of Notre Dame. This may be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Experience it!
That being said, please don’t feel bad if you just have no desire to do something that everyone says you “just have to do.” No you don’t. If going to the top of the Eiffel Tower seems dumb to you, by all means, skip it. Just don’t skip out on something you’ve been dreaming of becuase it costs 10 euro more than you were hoping.
What is your favorite piece of travel gear–something you wouldn’t leave home without. There are two, and they are important: A lock. DO NOT TRAVEL WITHOUT A LOCK. Sometimes, hostels will have lockers that lock. Sometimes they won’t have anything. Sometimes they will have lockers, but no locks. Bring a lock. It can mean the difference between leaving a city with all of your things or spending lots of time at the American Embassy replacing your stolen traveler’s cheques. Also, they are cheap, and will provide you peace of mind when you’re trekking through museums and ancient relics. Also, bring a journal. I, for one, have one and almost always forget to write in it, but when I remember, I am so, so glad. It’s a great way to jot down places you’ve been, restaurants you’ve enjoyed/hated and places to stay. It also makes you look like a smarty pants when your friends travel and you can make actual recommendations to them, becuase you WILL NOT remember the name of that tiny restaurant in Florence that you ate at every day while you stayed there. Trust me (it was so good, and I would totally recommend it to you here IF I COULD REMEMBER IT). If you can use it to jot down some memories as well, all the better, but as a file of things to hit or miss, it’s an invaluable tool (espeically since guide books are pretty much all going to tell you the same things).
With this, I leave you with the suggestion: If you’re ever in Sydney, Australia, make sure to grab a nutella coffee at Bruschetteria 102 on Albion Street. It’s delicious, and the staff are incredible.
Australia

Prague, Prague, Prague: You get what you pay for!

Before posting my next guest post, I thought it only appropriate to introduce how I met the next contributor.

My dear friend, Jeni, and I took an amazing trip to Europe, and visited Prague while we were there. Having recently graduated from graduate school, we were poor as beans. In order to save money, we decided to stay at a hostel that costed $9.00/night.

Bad idea.

It was probably one of the nastiest, and weirdest, places in existence.

Gross hostel in Prague
Seriously, look at it. Ew!

Basically, it was an old school gym with about 60 bed-bug infested, military-style bunk beds all in the open. It was like having a sleep over with 59 random strangers. I also happened to step in a pile of barf, and had to shower in a wide open area for all to see. We also came back to the hostel one night from exploring the town and everyone was having a costume party. In July. Super confusing. Anyway, that’s when we met a lovely fellow traveler–Rachel. She was traveling all by herself and rocking at it. We had a great time getting to know her, and she has since been traveling all over the world. Look for a post about her experiences in the next few days. In the meantime, some pictures from our Prague adventure.

Prague
Prague and Ashley
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Church at the top of the hill
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Bone church near Prague. This place is crazy cool and creepy. Everything is made out of bones.
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Jewish cemetery in Prague

Travel tips from Stef!

Check out this interview with world traveler, Stef!

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What is your favorite place you have traveled to?

My favorite place to travel to was Santorini, Greece. I first saw it on a calendar and then on Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. I knew I wanted to go there. I found a picture online that I loved of Santorini and I put it as my wallpaper on my computer. It was so awesome to go to that exact place and take my own picture. It was so amazing to be where I had always dreamed of being. I have since chosen another number one, because it was such a great experience.

What is your favorite travel memory?

One of my favorite travel memories was in Instanbul, Turkey. We went on a boat with all the teams from my Folk Festival. Teams from Belgium, Taiwan, England, Portugal, etc. We rode down the Bosphorus Strait. On one side was Instanbul in Asia and on the other side was Instanbul in Europe. We had a dance party with music blasting and the most amazing view of Turkey and its big buildings and mosques.

What is your worst travel memory?

My worst travel memory ever was one I am glad I lived to tell the story. My team and I went to the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona, Spain. However, we did it the totally wrong way, have learned from our mistake, and would advise friends to do it differently. We were dropped off at 8PM with nowhere to stay. The Running of the Bulls is a party all night with food, music, fireworks, carnival rides, dancing in the streets with everyone, but when you don’t drink, there is only so much you can do. At about 2:00/3:00ish we were sooooo tired. You could not enter the stadium until around 6:00 AM the next morning. (We were going to watch everyone run into the arena because we were not allowed to run with the bulls since we were on tour dancing). So, we literally found cardboard boxes and slept on them until 6:00 AM . We really felt homeless. It was awful. The worst was finding one of our directors, an older man in his 60s, curled up in a ball on some stairs. We all felt homeless and it was bad. It was so cool when the actual Running of the Bulls happened at 8:00 AM. We recommend people to go at night and do the fun activities and get a hotel room and then go at 6:00 to the arena.

What are some travel tips you would offer to other travelers?

Travel tips: some of my favorite moments are when I have stayed at hostels. In New York City, we had roommates from all countries. We even spent the day with our roommate from Germany. She was alone and spent the day with us, went to church with us, dinner with us, etc. It was a memorable day. She was living in DC at the time doing an internship. We were able to meet her there and she showed us around our own capital.  Our hostel in Lisbon, Portugal was a trek to get to. Up lots of hills, dragging our luggage, but when we entered our room it was the most BEAUTIFUL view!

Life in the Provo Hood

Okay, so maybe this isn’t a post about traveling any further than about 15 feet, but my neighborhood IN PROVO, UTAH officially just lost the “neighbor” part, and became just “hood” yesterday. This is sort of blog worthy, in my opinion.

I came home yesterday at about 10:30PM, closed my door, turned off my house alarm, and about 2 minutes later heard a freaky loud bang. I initially thought someone had dropped a ladder, and went on my merry way, until I heard the 2nd bang. That’s when I realized 3 things.

One: People usually don’t drop ladders at 10:30PM.

Two: Ladders don’t make loud bangs like that, unless they are dropped from outer space.

Three: Those loud bangs were either gunshots, or bombs.

HOLY CRAP! Panicking ensues.

Someone just shot a gun, or set off a bomb, IN. MY. NEIGHBORHOOD. That’s when I froke out and texted my husband for help.

Brandon walked me through the steps of what a non-panicked brain would do–call the police, go get the shotgun, and wait for him to get home.

This is where I learned some very important things about myself.

When it comes to fight, or flight, I’m more of the roll over and die type. I tried to get the shot gun, but I couldn’t find the key to the trigger lock, so I just pulled it out and put it in the corner. I also realized that if it ever came down to it, I am never going to shoot anyone. In fact, I’m never even going to be able to safely and quickly retrieve a weapon. Instead, I’ll just become a big pile of lead, fall over, and be murdered. I may be able to convince someone that I’m a statue. That’s about all I got here.

Moving on. Since I wasn’t going to protect myself, I decided to evaluate what kind of real danger I may be in, so I turned off all the lights and peeked out the window.

I peeked outside, only to find AN ARMORED VEHICLE parked in front of my house with men dressed in black right in front of my house.

Naturally, I double-freaked out, because I had no idea if these men were good guys, or bad guys. I was positive they were bad guys and going to come after me, steal my $10 jewelry collection, and MacBook, and leave me for dead.

About 5 min later, I peeked outside the window again, and saw close to 40 SWAT cops piling back into the armored vehicle.  WHAT IN THE WORLD ARE 40 SWAT COPS DOING IN MY PROVO NEIGHBORHOOD?!? That’s when I decided to do what seemed best and catch this on film. This is what I captured.

[youtube=http://youtu.be/6RfIEgDbMwk]

I know, my cinematography skills leave much to be desired. I don’t think I’m going to be the next YouTube sensation.

I finally decided to call the cops to see if I was in danger, and the dispatchers relayed that the “situation” was under control, someone was served a warrant, and tear gas was used, but they couldn’t say anything else. Um…sounds under control to me, especially since I’m now keenly aware that I live by a drug lord. Time to move.

I Reek of Russia and I Love it!

Time for a little throwback travel post. I found this journal post about my 3rd visit to Russia, and it gave me the giggles. This was back in 2009.

Highlights from Russia so far:

1. Told everyone in Tula I was coming to visit them on Saturday…Jeni and I BOTH thought it was Friday (freaking time change), so I managed to accidentally ditch the Russian friends I haven’t seen since 2007, while having a nice gulyat’ (stroll) in Moscow.

2. Saw Faberzhe egg special collection at the Pushkin Museum. AWESOME. I want one for my birthday.

3. Asked someone to take my picture on Red Square and it turned out to be Alice Cooper’s band. They got flirty with us and asked us to come to their concert. Alice Cooper is a bit scary, so we’ll have to see about that.

Jeni and Ashley on Red Square
Most people take pics of Alice Cooper’s Band. No, Jeni and I ask them to take pics of us.
Lenin's tomb
By 2009, I had been to Red Square DOZENS of times and had not seen Lenin. I finally saw him in 2011 when I returned with my sweetie, Brandon. It was both creepy and cool.

4. Sloshed through barf on the metro. I feel asleep for like one station and I got up in a panic and as it turns out…someone else had a panic and managed to barf right on my standing place, and I literally had slippery throw up feet. Was wearing flip flops. Had to pay 39 rubles for “gas water” that Jeni poured on my feet while I winced in grossed-out-edness.

5. Meet up with my friend, Larisa, and some grossies tried to pick up on us. One of them pinched Jeni’s butt. I punched him in the shin.

6. Missed the last bus to Rosinka (a place no one in Russia knows about)–missed it NOT because we weren’t there on time, but probably because we were not on the correct side of the street. Yeah, then we sat and twirled our hair and smiled at boys who naturally asked us if we wanted a ride. Turns out they were from Georgia (country, not state) and their dads were in another car giving us the mafia/creepster look. We didn’t know the address (totally RUSSIAN SELO type of place where it’s just Rosinka and a house number…no address), so we call the emergency number and find out it’s close to a place called Mitino. We pray in our hearts. God sends Russian guardian angel driver, who doesn’t know where Rosinka is either, but finds it and doesn’t charge us anything for the ride, because it was so “priyatno” (nice) for him to be with us. Wow! I love being cute.

7. I smell like chimney just from being here. No really…I do.

“Carry Less, Blend In, See More”

Enjoy the awesome pointers from this interview with world traveler, Nathan Green.
Camping in Europe
What is your favorite place to travel and why?
 
I would say anywhere I haven’t been yet.  Going back to the same place is fine, but there is such a huge world out there to explore.  If I have to pick a place…Can I say anywhere overseas? The ability to hop from country-to-country is so easy and cheap.  In two weeks, you could hit up 4-5 different countries.
What is your best travel memory?
 
Backpacking Scotland, England and Northern Ireland with friends.  No one ever talks about Northern Ireland when they talk about Ireland, but it is an amazing place.  Visiting the Giants Causeway was spectacular.  Setting up camp wherever you could find space for a tent was also great.  We were able to see so much of the local culture by walking everywhere and sleeping in tents.  Not to mention 7 days of backpacking cost us $100 each.
Backpacking in England
backpacking in Ireland

What is your worst travel memory?
 
That same trip, it got down to about 33° one night and we had freezing rain up in the mountains.  I only had a 45° sleeping bag with me and froze all night.  I was wearing every layer I brought and I was miserable.  Perfect weather the other 9 days and for some reason it just dropped that night.

Do you have any tips/tricks for others traveling to (choose area of interest).
 
I’m probably a bit jaded on this one since I usually camp if I’m traveling, but if it doesn’t fit in carry-on with you, you don’t need it.  I don’t care how long you’re going to be somewhere, it can all fit in a 40L backpack.  This weeds out what you really don’t need and allows for quick movement, be it through the airport to catch a connecting flight, or through public transport without being a royal pain to others around you.  And nothing says tourist like three rolling suitcases.  Carry less, blend in, see more.
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What is your favorite piece of travel gear–something you wouldn’t leave home without.
 
I would never leave for a trip without my camera.  I don’t take a lot of pictures with me in them or friends in them.  I try and sell my photos so I focus on the landscapes, the buildings, the interesting facial features of people in a different environment than the one I am used to.  On a recent trip to Singapore, I found my Peak Design Capture system invaluable.  It’s basically a metal piece that you can wear on a backpack strap, belt, sling strap, etc and your camera wears the mating piece.  It slides in and locks in place.  When you want your camera again you simply press a quick release button and it slides back out.  Not having to hold the camera constantly is a lifesaver.  And not looking like a tourist with a camera hanging around your neck is just a bonus!
travel to Singapore

New York, New York! Let it be a gamble!

New York is one of those places you can visit every year, and find something new and interesting to do every time you go. To me, it seems like I get more bang for my buck in New York than almost any other place, because the city is jam packed with fun.

Of course, if you’re headed to New York, you want to see the regular travel guide book stuff like the Empire State Building (preferably with your sweetie), Ellis Island, The Statue of Liberty, the Met, the Guggenheim, Ground Zero, and eat a New York Street Dog, but I think one of the best ways to experience New York is to let things in New York find you.

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My bro and I seeing the regular fun stuff in NYC.

My favorite way to travel to New York is on a short vacation, and not to make any actual plans beforehand. I know that sounds kinda nutty, but there is so much to do in New York, each time you go, you will experience something new and interesting.

There are so many great restaurants in NYC (both hole-in-the-wall, and fancy), so just stumble in one whenever you get hungry. Check the local guides for what art exhibits are happening where, and check it out whatever sounds interesting. Also, check out what is happening in Soho, Chelsea and other fun districts. Walk down the streets of Chinatown, Little Italy, or Russian-themed Brighton beach, and get some culture. Show up at the TXTS booth and get tickets to whatever show is on sale. Pick out what kind of dancing sounds fun, and then find any club that matches your groove for the night. Really, you can’t go wrong.

Mary Poppins on Broadway in NYC
TXTS brought us to Mary Poppins on this NYC visit.

The only thing I would say to plan on is a place to stay and transportation schedules. Hotels/hostels book up fast, and there are rats on the street at night, so sleeping on the streets is gonna bum you out if you don’t plan in advance. Also, figure out when the subway runs. The last thing you want to do is be stuck somewhere expecting to take the subway, only to find yourself gated out of the station. I’ve experienced that, and it’s not fun.

Fire Island
Once upon a long time ago, Zach and I thought we found an Octopus on Fire Island. Great place to visit on an NYC trip, btw. Just don’t waste your time chasing sea animals.

 

Scuba Diving in Cozumel, Mexico

First things first, Mexico is not my favorite place for vacationing for one major icky reason: Montezuma’s Revenge. You can read more about THAT from my post about my honeymoon in Cancun. Anyway, when traveling to Mexico, it’s important not to be too cavalier about where you eat. Here are some guidelines I recommend following:

  • Skip the street food.
  • Stay at a decent resort and only eat at the resort.
  • Pack your own snacks.
  • Pack your own bottled water.
  • Don’t drink soda from a bottle; drink it from a can. Also, wipe off any can you will be opening with a Clorox wipe before partaking of your cool beverage.
  • If you want to go on a vacation and eat good food, then go to Italy, not Mexico. Mexico is about Pray and Love, but not Eat. MmmKay?  Mmmkay!

While this may seem extreme, I promise you will be thanking me when you are not spending every waking moment with the toilet moaning “why me, why-oh-why?” between barfs and poops. You’re welcome.

That being said, let’s get onto the good stuff.  Cozumel, Mexico has some of the best diving ever. If you’re even thinking about getting into scuba diving, you MUST visit Cozumel. If you’re worried about getting sick (can you tell my experience with getting sick in Mexico affected me just a tiny bit?!?!), then consider taking a cruise that stops off in Mexico and spending your day in Cozumel under the sea with a professional dive master. If you’re not too concerned, then seek out a decent resort and a hook up from one of the dive shops around, and dive your guts out.

Some of my friends and I got a great deal on a decent resort in Cozumel, and a great diving deal with Papa Hogs in Cozumel. We pretty much spent the entire time diving awesome ship wrecks, reefs, and some of us experienced our first ever night dives!

Scuba Diving in Mexico
Diving in Cozumel, Mexico

If you’re new to diving, you must go on a night dive. Make sure you have a great flashlight, so you can see the night sea creatures. Prepare yourself for some wild lobster, crab, and octopodes. It’s awesome to see what sea creatures come out during the night.

scuba diving in Cozumel, Mexico
Getting ready for our first dive in Cozumel, Mexico

Not only is Mexico beautiful under the water, but there are some awesome things above the water. Julie and I rented scooters and visited different beaches around the island and even found a fun festival with live music, a cool market, and Mexican food (again, don’t eat it). While we were exploring the island, the rest of our group took a day trip across the island to Tulum and Chichen Itza. If you’re into amazing beaches and wonders of the world, this is a great option. If you’re not into that, you’re weird, and probably hate fun, or hate getting up early…one of the two.

Enjoy your trip to Mexico! Don’t get the runs!

Sundance Film Festival Warning!

In honor of the Sundance Film Festival (and yes, I know I’m a bit late on this topic this year), I thought I would share a personal story with you…you know, to help you prepare better for when you come to the Sundance Film Festival (a very good idea, if you like fun). Holy long sentence. Whatever. Moving on.

Okay, there’s something you should know about Utah in January before getting hyped up about traveling here. It snows here. A lot. And it’s cold. Not only does it snow here, but the air quality gets super-duper gross in January. And, I mean gross as in go ahead and order one of those intense air masks with a filtration system from China to help you breathe. As a result of the January weather monster we refer to as “inversion” (I refer to it as “joy killer”), it’s extremely foggy in January. Legend of Sleepy Hollow foggy. Driving through milk foggy.

Foggy.

One year, my BFF and I decided to see a film (FYI: you have to call it a “film,” instead of a “movie” at the Sundance Film Festival, or people won’t think you’re hip). After the film, we hit up a party and rocked out till about 1:00 am. That’s when we decided to brave JOY KILLER and head home to Provo.

There are two ways to get to Provo from Park City–you can either head through Salt Lake City, or head through Heber. The roads through Heber and the canyon are a bit scary, so SLC is probably a safer idea in January, but it takes less time to go through Heber. Anyway, we decided to go the Heber way, because we were super tired, and a few hours later, we ended up in…

….

…not Provo. In fact, not even Utah. We landed our sorry butts in WYOMING!

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Welcome to Utah! Photographic proof of said event.

Because the fog monster was so thick we managed to completely miss the turn that takes you to Provo and ended up in another state. While Wyoming has its own charms, it was 4:00 in the morning, and we had already had our fun.

Anyway, moral of the story is this. If you’re coming to Utah for the Sundance Film Festival, which you should, plan on snow, cold weather, and fog. Don’t be a dummy and use a GPS if  needs be. Also, pack a few Red Bulls in your car, in case you end up in the same situation.

Visit the Homestead in Midway, Utah

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Homestead in Midway, Utah

Utah is full of surprises. One of Utah’s great surprises is a little city in the middle of the mountains called Midway. You’ll know you’ve run into Midway when you start feeling like you’ve stumbled upon an area that looks more like Switzerland than any place in the United States. Midway is quaint, beautiful, and there are a lot of fun adventures to be had here in this small town.

Last week, it being Valentine’s Day and all, my husband stole me away to a nice getaway at the Homestead in Midway. The Homestead is the perfect place to visit if you’re looking for a fun, romantic, and moderately priced staycation in Utah. Besides enjoying the gorgeous town of Midway, here are some fun things you can do at the Homestead.

Swim – Of course, they have the regular indoor pool and hot tub, but the fun doesn’t stop there. They also offer snorkeling and scuba diving in…get this…a natural cave, similar to a Mexican cenote. The water is warm, the dive is fun, and it’s a great way to enjoy a bit of scuba diving in the middle of nowhere.

Hiking/Snowshoeing – There are a lot of amazing places to hike, or snowshoe, depending on the season. You can either find an empty trail yourself, or ask the front desk what trail they recommend.

Other Activities – There are a few ski resorts that aren’t too far away, if you’re planning to make a weekend out of staying at the Homestead. If not, check out some of the cool ice sculptures around the area. If you’re visiting during the summer, consider golfing, or visiting the spa. Oh yeah.

The Homestead is the perfect little place for a fun getaway in Utah. 

This fascinating place just got fascinating-er!

After living in Russia for 2 years, and visiting multiple times, Russia has become one of the most fascinating places in the world to me. The language is interesting and complex. The people are kind. The food is great, and the architecture and scenery in Russia is uniquely…well…Russian.

The country is plastered with memorials dedicated to Russia’s greatest leaders and cities. If you are interested in learning about Lenin, Pushkin, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, and heroic WWII generals and cities, all you have to do is take a stroll around any one of Russia’s great cities.

What you don’t see in Russia is memorials dedicated to great Americans. Until yesterday. And, mind you, this is absolutely blowing my mind.

Russia just erected a memorial to Steve Jobs by placing a large iPhone statue in the middle of Saint Petersburg. Check it out.

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Memorial to Steve Jobs in Russia

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I wasn’t looking to return to Russia for a few more years, but I may have to amend my plans just to see this. It seems so awesomely out of context, and I can’t wait to check it out with my own eyes.

P.S. I think Steve Jobs is an alien.

Skiing in Utah!

Since it hasn’t stopped dumping snow for the past few days here in Utah, I thought I would dedicate a post to the wonderful winter sport–skiing. I must say, I am kind of biased to skiing in Utah, because I grew up skiing here since I was 10 years old, and I haven’t really found too many other mountains that are comparable to Utah mountains. Some, but not too many. If you’re looking to enjoy a ski trip to Utah, this is how I see it.

Snowboarders — Let’s get this out of the way from the get-go. While I enjoy both skiing and snowboarding, there is Utah terrain that is better for one, or the other. If you are into sno

wboarding, there are a couple resorts that really cater to this sport. Check out Brighton and/or the Canyons. Brighton has a fun half-pipe, cool jumps, and great terrain for boarding. Also, Brighton has crazy night deals. If you can manage the cold, and don’t mind icy terrain, check out Brighton in the evening.

Skiing– Ahhh, sweet skiing. Okay, the best way to enjoy skiing in Utah is to pick a mountain that caters to your ski level. If you are a beginner, try skiing at Sundance, Solitude, or the Canyons. Brighton is also great, but I would pick any of the other resorts over Brighton for beginning skiing, because snowboarders can be a bit intense. If you are an intermediate skier, you can get away with skiing at any resort, but I would suggest going to one of the bigger resorts with a wide diversity of terrain. Check out Deer Valley, Park City, The Canyons, Alta, or Solitude. If you have years of skiing under your belt, there is really one place for you, and that is “the bird”–aka Snowbird. Snowbird is huge and is probably the most difficult and diverse terrain out of them all, and you can ski on both sides of the mountain. Snowbird is also beautiful. If you are hardcore and planning a long ski trip, consider getting a pass that allows you to ski at both Alta and Snowbird. These are two of the most gorgeous

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resorts in Utah. You will love it!

For discount passes, it’s best to get them in the Fall. You can usually buy 2 for 1 passes at BYU. Since it’s a little late for that this year, you can also consider buying a pass wherever you rent your skis. They usually have better deals than the resorts.

Happy Snowfall! Hopefully, you’ll get some nice powder snow!

Hello Nashville! Hello Music City!

Some highlights of my recent trip to Nashville.

1. CMAs – Woo woo! Country music is a new thing for me, and I mean v. new. I’ve never been big into country music, but I figure if I’m looking to move to music city, and since my husband drums in a country band, I should probably check out the country music scene. Turns out, I like it. Carry Underwood. Miranda Lambert. Little Big Town. Taylor Swift. The Civil Wars. Oh yeah. I can do this.

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A pic of Little Big Town taken from our seats 100 miles away!

2. Country Music Hall of Fame – This was an awesome museum. If you’re into music, you gotta come check out the scene. If you’re poor, consider going after 4:00, because tickets are 1/2 off, and it’s easy to see the whole museum in an hour.

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Country Music Hall of Fame
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Gold and Platinum records. B’s record will be here someday soon!

3. Frist — Into art? Check out the exhibits at the Frist in downtown Nashville. Right now, they are featuring Carrie Mae Weems and Brian Aflred. Not only is the art great, but they have a great center to learn how to produce art. Take your kids, or enjoy it yourself. It’s fun. Brandon and I went crazy learning all about art.

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Frist Museum in Nashville
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Art workshop at the Frist!

4. Grand Ole Opry – So, we happened to go to the Grand Ole Opry on the day it was closed. Yeah, super bummer, but the good news is it’s not closed forever. Mark it down for future fun.

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Playing the guitar at the Grand Ole Opry.

5. Broadway! Check out Broadway for fun local music.

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Brandon playing with a band at the Honky Tonk on Broadway.
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Gem #1 from Nashville

I don’t know about you, but a huge part of going on a vacation is finding fun places to eat. By fun places to eat, I mean delicious food, great prices, and one of a kind. If you are thinking Applebee’s, or something, then we’re not on the same page here, and I call you to food loving repentance.

My husband and I spent the last week in Nashville and we stumbled on a few excellent food finds, but the best by far was Sam’s Sushi on the corner of Church and Printer’s Alley. Holy smokes, this place is awesome, and if you go to Nashville, you have to go there.

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It’s a small, dumpy little square building, but it’s run by a cute Japanese man that is down for a good conversation. We managed to talk football, politics, and he even told us the great places to park for free, which is great advice considering parking in Nashville is an expensive beast.

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Not only is the conversation great, but the prices are amazing. It’s anywhere from $2-$4 for a roll. Yes, you heard right. That’s $2-$4 for a whole roll, and they are GINORMOUS. My husband and I will usually order 4-5 rolls to share when we go to any of the popular sushi places in Utah. These rolls were so big that we shared 3 and were stuffed!

The rolls aren’t 100% the best sushi I have ever eaten in my entire life, but they are delicious and the value is amazing.

When you go to Nashville (and you should, because it’s rad), make sure to make the trek to Printer’s Alley and eat at this wonderful place.

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Also, they had this weird drink I’d never seen before, so, naturally, I had to try it.Image

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Sometimes the best vacation is right under your nose!

My husband and I spent a wonderful and romantic weekend together a few weeks ago. We enjoyed a fun concert, star-gazed, spent time together enjoying the mountains, and had a delicious  homemade breakfast.  It. Was. Awesome. Guess where we were? Oak City, UT. Where? Exactly.

Often times, it seems like in order to enjoy a vacation, it requires a lot of preparation and planning. We think we have to book a hotel, find a rental car, plan meals and activities that won’t be too expensive, pack, and hop on a plane. That’s a great way to spend a vacation, but it can be costly and require a lot of time off work.

If you are looking for a fun getaway, but don’t have a lot of time to plan, time to get away from work or kids, or maybe funds are low for the month, try exploring somewhere that is near your hometown. You’ll find every area has its charm.

We live in Utah, and we have enjoyed small getaways to Oak City, Moab, Park City, Salt Lake City, Eden, and the Unitas and the Wasatch Mountains, to name a few.

All you need to have fun is good company, a couple card games, some time in nature, and a delicious meal.

Hello Seattle!

For those of you who don’t know, I have a really rad husband. And, I’m talking rad. He cooks all the time. He’s really funny and sweet. And, he’s a drummer for a living. Straight up drummer. Like gets paid to drum. And it’s disgusting how good he is at drumming. That being said, sometimes we get to travel around for fun drum stuff. This weekend, we went to Seattle for a drum competition.

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This is Brandon setting up to rock!

Well, he pretty much rocked it and won this electronic drum pad something or other, and I was proud, and it was fun, and that brings me to the rest of Seattle.

The competition was in Belleview, so we meet up with some friends there, and they took us to this place called Din Tai Fung, and IT. WAS. SO. GOOD. It was the heaven of dim sum. They had a bunch of people working non-stop making dumplings from scratch. Basically, we were so in love with it, we almost went there 2 nights in a row. We didn’t end up doing that, though, because we were afraid that we would miss out on another Seattle treasure. But, the fact that we ALMOST went there was awesome.

Day 2 in Seattle was Sunday, so we spent the day walking around Pike’s Place Market and walking around the wharf. So much fun.

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Look how cute we are! Awww.

I don’t know what it is about Pike’s Place, but I love that place. It’s so peaceful and all the flowers are so pretty, and the food is delicious. Basically, we ate fish, shrimp cocktail, fresh fruit…um..we ate a lot of stuff, so I’m going to stop there, so as to not be embarrassing.

If you go to Pike’s Place Market, here are some MUSTS:

1. Washington Berries – Get some, eat them. It will change your life.

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Do you know how good these taste?

4. Fish throwing. Watching the famous fish throw is surprisingly entertaining. Eat some shrimp cocktail while you are there too. Nom Nom Nom.3. Flowers. Flowers are stupid cheap, and so beautiful. Need I say more?

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The fish throwers in Seattle!

5. Relax. Seattle is all about relaxing, even if there are a hundred bums asking you for money so they can go buy pot.

 

Okay, that ’bout sums it up for now.

Remembering 9/11 – Honoring Freedom

Thanks to my dear friend, and talented professional photographer, Ashley Crist, I am able to share some beautiful pictures to help us remember 9/11. These pictures were taken yesterday at the memorial service in Arlington, VA.

As I am sure you do, I remember 9/11 perfectly clear. My dad was the first person to somberly break the news to me before I rushed off to school. I was a freshman in college, and there was chaos all over the television. The whole campus seemed to stop, and no one worried about the lesson plans for the day, as we all tuned in to get update after update. My heart broke as I watched the towers fall on television and heard the reports.

My main concern was for my sister who lived in New York City, and was staying close to the towers at the time. We finally heard back from her later in the evening, and learned she stood on a Manhattan roof and watched the towers fall. The next few days, she witnessed New York City come together as people rushed to donate blood and help in any capacity.

I think what I remember most was Americans coming together to participate in memorial services, prayer services, and charitable services. Regardless of how divided we may seem as a country, especially during the endless debates surrounding an election year, when the tough gets going, Americans pull together for the right reason. History proves that, and I am so proud to live in a country that pulls together when it really matters.

I am grateful every day for my freedom, for the safety of my friends and family, and for the courageous people who honor freedom. God bless America.

Enjoy the photos, and thank you Ashley for sharing your talents with us.

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Oh Berlin, I’ll see you again soon!

I can clearly remember my first urge to travel abroad. For whatever reason, I’ve been obsessed with Germany since I was a little kid. It may have to do with the fact that I had two German Au Pairs when I was a kid. Maybe it has to do with my candy obsession and a secret desire to be Gretel, and shove the witch in the oven and eat her delicious candy house all up. I’m not sure exactly why I was obsessed with Germany, but it prompted me to take German all throughout Junior high, high school and college (only to move to Russia and learn Russian instead), and to dream of going there some day.

Well, I finally got the chance to go on the European trip of a lifetime and to see the city I’d been waiting for so long to see–Berlin. Oh yeah. Berlin. My Au Pairs would be so proud. Frau Bills (Jr. High German teacher, and favorite teach of life, consequently) would be so proud. Ashley was living her perfect dream of seeing Berlin. And this is how it went.

First things first. I was really hoping to whip out my German skills and solidify years and years of book study with impressive dialogue. Basically, this is what happened.

Attempt One

Me: “Wo ist…wo ist…die Bushaltestelle?”

German Lady: Blank stare. “I speak English. If you get off at this stop and turn right, you’ll see the bus station.”

Attempt Two

Me (best German accent I can produce): Ich mochte Bratwurst, bitte.

Waiter: Great! I’ll bring it out to you, and what would your friend like to eat?

Friend: I’ll have one too.

Unfortunately, I realized that everyone pretty much speaks English, and that my attempts to speak German only prompted people to speak back to me in English. Well, except for the people who work at the hospital…

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By day .5 of being in Berlin, I got uber (high five self for using a German word) sick. I’m talking stuck in the hostel for 2 days straight sick, busy thinking of ways to put myself out of my misery sick, instead of waltzing around Berlin getting my passport stamped at Checkpoint Charlie, and taking pictures by the Berlin wall. Finally, my friend, Jeni, made me go to the hospital which is where I learned socialized medicine is actually kind of a bummer, especially when you’re a foreigner, and I also learned that my German isn’t all that good.

I went to the ER and waited and waited and waited and waited and waited and waited and waited (insert the word waited for about 2 hours more of reading) for someone to help me. Once I FINALLY got someone to help me, I realized that unlike everyone I had encountered before, the hospital Germans didn’t speak English. Turns out that playing “Ich spreche Deutsch ” is not as fun when you’re bleeding out your ears (side note: that was a drastic over exaggeration…I do that when I’m sick, and I’ll continue to do it till I have the right blanket, the right amount of attention, and chicken noodle soup, okay? I’m a bit of a diva when I’m sick).

Anway, try two went like this:

Me: Ich bin krank…

Dr.: Germangerman german krank?

Me: Ich habe Halsschmerzen. Ich fühle mich nicht gut…Um, do you speak English? Does anyone speak English? I don’t know how to explain what is wrong with me, other than Ich bin krank.

Dr.: Germangermangerman Warten Sie hier, bitte. Germangermangerrmangerman…Wir haben einen Arzt, der Englisch spricht. Warten Sie hier. germangerman. blahhhhhh. ?!?!?!!?????????!!!!!!!!

Anyway, I paid 150 Euros and waited for 6 hours to finally get a doctor that spoke English, only to find out I had a viral infection that was only treatable by Root Beer medicine. Now I get why Germans don’t like Root Beer.

The unsweetened Root Beer they gave me made me feel good enough to go wander the streets for a day, or two and I got to see some amazing things including: The Berlin Wall, East Germany, Check Point Charlie, Potsdamer Platz, Brandenburg Gate, and I saw some really cool underground art. I’ll have to blog about that separately.

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I’m sick and happy. And, I don’t know what I’m wearing either.
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Berlin Wall, sick Ashley, nasty outfit, happy girl!

Needless to say, as sick as I was, Berlin was still a dream, especially because I was walking around in a daze most of the time. I’m excited to return and will drink all the Root Beer in the world to prepare immune system for German diseases, so I don’t get sick.

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Outfit was better and I was feeling better too.

For real, though, when you travel, make sure you bring some familiar medicine from home and make sure not to get in the way of anyone else’s germs!

Need a place to stay for free on your trip? Try the awesomeness of couchsurfing.org.

I decided to backpack across Europe right after the movie “Taken” was released. As a result, everyone I knew chastised me and told me to be careful to not get kidnapped and sold into sex slavery. I promised them that I would be smart and safe and reassured them that even if I was captured, my father, who is a very talented and successful graphic designer, would come rescue me for sure. Thanks, Dad. Big card for you on Father’s Day! That being said, I utilized a service that may sound nuts, but happened to be the most awesome thing of life. I urge everyone who likes traveling to give it a whirl.

Instead of paying to stay in hotels and hostels in my favorite destinations, I used couchsurfing.org. Couchsurfing.org is an organization that connects other travels. Basically, you sign up and create a profile, and offer your couch for travelers.  In return, people in cool locations offer their couch to you. I cannot begin to tell you about the awesomeness of this service.

First, it is a great way to meet new friends who also love traveling. I met great people in France, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, and I also met people from other countries who were staying with us at the same time. It was fun to talk about travel and hear about the best places to go from other avid travelers.

Couchsurfing.org is also unique in that you are staying with people who live in the area. That means you have a primary source on where to go, what to do, and what to eat.  I saved a ton of time I would have wasted researching on the internet and looking at maps by just asking my kind host. I also had some great experiences with food, which is sort of my specialty. Get this. One of my Italian hosts invited his chef friend over, and he cooked the most amazing Italian meal. It was the best meal I’ve ever had in my life. Straight up delicious. I also attended a wonderful picnic in France on Bastille Day.  I saw fireworks erupt all over Paris—an experience, I wouldn’t have had if I’d been left to my own devices.

While couchsurfing.org is amazing, there are a few good things to know/do.

  1. Make sure to bring a cool treat for your host. They are offering their house, time and energy to host you, so bring something special and unique to share with them.
  2. Learn how to make something delicious. A great way to bond and to show your appreciation is to cook an amazing meal for them.
  3. Make sure to read recommendations on their profile. Staying with a stranger can be nerve wracking, but couchsurfing.org offers recommendations. This means, people who have stayed there before write a little review on the host. This way you can guarantee a personality fit and your safety. Don’t stay with anyone who has negative reviews, or no reviews. Simple as that.
  4. Travel with a friend if you can. Traveling with a friend is a lot more fun, and also safer.
  5. Make sure to open your house to travelers as well.

If you have plans to stay somewhere else, you can also use couchsurfing.org for recommendations and to just meet cool people. When I was in Berlin, I met up with a couple people from couchsurfing.org, and they showed me a bunch of cool outsider art, graffiti and an underground culture that only Berliner’s typically visit.

Next time you are traveling, consider using couchsurfing.org to met new friends and find a great place to stay.

If you have any cool travel tips, I would love to publish a post about them. Here’s how to submit. Also, feel free to follow me on Twitter and Facebook.

Las Vegas RollerCon: Come for the bouts; Stay for the butts

If you’re looking for the perfect place to escape the heat this summer, Las Vegas is not the place to go. It is hot, hot, hot. But if you’re looking for a fun time and endlessly entertaining people-watching, Las Vegas (specifically during RollerCon) is where you want to be, with one caveat:  don’t stay at the Riviera.

RollerCon is an annual roller derby convention. Skaters, referees, officials, vendors, and spectators from all over the world take over the Riviera for one week. Everything to do with the convention takes place at the Riviera, so if you’re part of RollerCon, it’s difficult to avoid this crappy hotel. This was my first time going to RollerCon, and while I can’t say for sure if I’ll go again, I know one thing: I’ll never stay at the Riviera again.

If you’re the kind of person who enjoys sleeping on only one flimsy floppy pillow, and you like your garbage piling up for three days before housekeeping bothers to stop by, and you don’t mind having only two washcloth-sized towels to use for three people, then you’ll love the Riv. But if you prefer that your trash be emptied regularly, and your request for extra pillows and towels be honored without having to chase the housekeeping staff down the hallway, then opt for another hotel. To say I was disappointed in the level of service would be an understatement.

So that’s my rant about the Riviera. Now on to the good stuff: butts, butts, and more butts! RollerCon is the mecca for butts of all kinds. Big ones, small ones, round ones, flat ones, jiggly ones, rock hard ones, ones eating booty shorts, and of course, bare ones. Everywhere you looked, there were more butts to behold. I spent a LOT of time staring at butts. I even stayed to watch one bout because I admired a skater’s butt so much. Sure some butts I’d rather not see, but I had to appreciate the confidence of these people – they put it all out there, and they didn’t care what anyone thought. I admired their ability to just let it all hang out, and too bad if you don’t like it.

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While I’m on the subject of butts, I have to mention The Thunder From Down Under. That show? Was the greatest ninety minutes of my life.  If you’re in Vegas with your girlfriends, I highly recommend checking out these Aussie hotties. VIP seats were only $60, I screamed so much that I lost my voice for the rest of the week, AND I got to touch six-pack abs and bare butts. Totally worth it.

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RollerCon was an amazing experience. Getting to spend a week skating, watching bouts, learning from derby royalty, buying ridiculous amounts of derby merchandise, and spending time being lazy at the pool was awesome. There were events that pushed me outside my comfort zone – like the Black & Blue Ball, to which I wore a blue spandex body suit – something I would NEVER have the guts to do in real life. And I got to watch some of the world’s best derby players in person, which made the cost of the whole trip worth it. But playing the drums on a stripper’s bare butt cheeks? Priceless. 

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Author Bio: Bone Junior has been playing roller derby with the Red Rockettes since January 2011, blogging since 2006, and shamelessly tooting her own horn since 1982. You can read more from Bone at http://www.sarahisdabomb.com/.

Thanks to Bone Jr. for your Pic and a Paragraph submission. Love it! Keep ‘em coming.

Ever thought of checking out Belarus?

I recently wrote a post about Russia, but I would feel extremely guilty if I didn’t show some love to White Russia (aka Belarus). Belarus is a beautiful country, and if you’re headed to Russia, you may as well hit up Belarus too! After all, it’s another stamp in your passport, right? Here are some things to know/do.

1. You need a visa for Belarus. While it’s possible to buy a train ticket from Belarusskiy Vogzal in Moscow without showing your Belorussian visa, and it’s even possible to get into the country of Belarus (by train) without a visa, you won’t be able to relax in the event a Belorussian official asks you for your visa. So, unless you want to risk some old fashioned jail time (and remember Belarus is still a dictatorship), do yourself a favor and get a visa. Sneaky-sneaky is not the best idea in old Soviet countries.

2. Remember! Remembering is a great thing to do in the country of Belarus and the architecture will constantly remind you of historical events. Sadly, most of Belarus was obliterated in WWII, and all that stands as original buildings is a small section of Minsk. As a result, much of the country has been rebuilt and there are manymanymany memorials built in remembrance of  WWII.  Touring Belarus is a heartwarming way to learn about WWII and honor those who died in the war. I would recommend visiting the city of Brest (right next to Poland) and also Khatyn. Prepare yourself for a lot of respect and reverence as you experience the atrocities of WWII.

3. Go to Minsk. Minsk is the largest city in Belarus and it’s happening, especially during the summer city festival. There are a lot of awesome art and history museums, great places to eat (seriously), and cool churches and sites.  I would especially recommend any Marc Chagall exhibits. Belorussians are proud of Marc Chagall, and, as such, they have amazing collections. Also, eat at Cafe Fresci. It’s “Italian” food. Well, it’s not really Italian, but it’s freaking good. It’s located  just behind October Square (Ploschad Oktyabrskaya). Save room for an ice cream sunday, because they are delicious.

4. Speaking of Marc Chagall. If you are into art, there is a little Marc Chagall Museum in Vitibsk, the city in Belarus where Chagall is from. I love Chagall, so to me, this is the definition of uh-mazing.

Marc Chagall Museum in Vitebsk

5. Don’t be lame and eat some Belorussian cuisine. Try borsch, cold borsch, pelmeni, pirogi, vareniki, oliveye, etc. I realized this probably won’t make much sense, so just go to Cafe Bistro Lido, and try what looks good. You won’t be disappointed, and if you are, sue me!

Belarus is beautiful. There are gorgeous dachas and green hills everywhere. It’s calm and the country is filled with beautiful memorials, reminding everyone of history. Go there. Love it.

Stop being a bummer, Seth Godin!

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Recently, I have seen this quote floating around Facebook, and it totally bums me out. It assumes that the only reason people go on vacation is to escape life. I don’t know what planet Seth Godin is from, but in my world, traveling is to enhance an already awesome life. Traveling is for learning about different cultures, understanding history, experiencing art, eating good food, making new friends, and bringing all these experiences home with you to share with those you love. Vacations are a win-win for anyone with the glass half full.

In my world, vacations/travel is an awesome way to enhance life, not a way to escape it. Am I right? Now, May I please have this message circulate the internet, so the world doesn’t have to feel bummed out for going on vacation? Seriously, folks.

Russia Russian of Russianness!

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I found myself dreaming in Russian last night. When I lived in Russia, this was a daily occurrence, but Russian dreaming only happens every once in a while these days (and no, contrary to popular movie culture, Russian doesn’t pop up in my subconsciousness only when I’m dreaming about a mysterious villain).

Anyway, it got me thinking about one of my favorite places on earth–Moscow. While I think everyone should visit Moscow, there are a few things you ought to know before spending $200 on a visa and hoping over to Moscow for the trip of a lifetime. Here goes:

1. Moscow really is as cold as they say it is. Really, it is. Take the coldest you’ve ever been and times it by a lot colder, and then get your head wet, and stick it in a freezer for 45 minutes. Only come out when your nose buggers and eyeballs start to freeze.  That’s how cold it is.  That being said, don’t go to Russia anytime from October-March, especially not January and February. Russia has lovely summers, so go to Russia in June. Unless, you feel like killing a bear, skinning it, and using its coat for protection against the elements.

2. To an outsider, Russian sounds like someone is talking about something really important, or like they are plotting your death. At least that’s how it sounded to me before I learned the language. Chances are, people are just talking about something trivial like their dog or cat. I don’t know why you should know this, but I think it’s helpful.

3. Eat Russian food. It’s best if you can make friends with a Russian babushka and trick her into thinking you are her grandchild. If so, your tummy will be full of deliciousness.  If you do not have this luxury, don’t worry, you can find plenty of other delicious food there. If you eat at McDonald’s while in Russia, you are officially lame. Try borsch. Try pelmeni. Try verekni. Galuptsi. Pirozhki. Try it all. If you’re brave, try kvas (non-alcoholic wheat drink…or something like that) and kholodetz (jello-ed meat). I don’t recommend the later of the two, because, well…it’s jello-ed meat, folks.

4. Moscow is about culture, architecture and kick ass sightseeing. If you feel like going to the beach and lounging about, then head to the Bahamas, or maybe Sochi, or Yalta, but not Moscow. That being said, strap on your walking shoes, and check out the following: Red Square (obviously), Victory Park, Moscow University,  Old Arbat Street, The Church of Christ Our Savior, and more. If you’re serious about going to Moscow, e-mail me, and I will give more info on where to go.

5. Remember how I said you have to spend $200 on a visa? Here’s the deal. You can get a double entry visa for the same price. That means, you can leave the country and come back in again all for the same price of one entry. If you have time, go to Kiev, or Lithuania, or Estonia, or Latvia, or Finland, or Belarus (you need a visa for Belarus), and see another great place.

6. Use the metro. It’s rad. Everything is written in Russian, so it’s like a fun puzzle to figure out. Even if you get lost, the metro is really beautiful, so you’ll still have fun.

7. If you need to speak English, find someone that looks like they are in college. Old people (I hope that’s not discrimination) don’t really speak English there.

8. If you speak any Russian, give it a whirl. Unlike the French, Russians think it’s awesome when people try to speak their language. If you throw in some innocent slang (nothing vulgar), they will think you are super cute, love you forever and take you home to their grandma, so you can accomplish #3 on this list.

9. Register your visa. If you stay in any one place for longer than 3 days, you must register your visa. You can do this at the hotel where you stay. The only person who should touch your passport are the people at the front desk registering your visa.If you plan to hop from city-to-city, you can do this, but keep all proof of travel. If you don’t have your visa registered, these tickets will show proof of consistent travel, and then you will be a-okay.

10. If military or police confiscate your camera, it’s code for they are stealing your camera. Act natural and run away with your camera. That’s a specific scenario, but it’s also kind of a metaphor. Don’t let people take advantage of you, or mess with you. If you feel weird about something, trust your gut.

Okay, enjoy your trip!

30 of my Favorite Places for 30 Years Old!

Well, it happened. I turned 30 years old yesterday, and I didn’t melt, shrivel away, or anything like that. I thought I would have an “I’m not in my twenties anymore meltdown,” but it was all okay.

To celebrate the awesomeness of my life so far, I thought I’d make a list of the top 30 places I’ve been to, so far. I am all about traveling, and hope the next 30 years will bring many more adventure. Here goes.

1. Thailand (favorite of all places)

2. Moscow

3. Southern France

4. Amalfi Coast

5. Vienna

6. Hawaii

7. Cayman Islands

9. Rome

10. Copenhagen

11. Paris

12. Kiev

13. Krakow

14. Moab

15. London

16. Berlin

17. New York City

18. Prague

19. Sophia

20. Washington D.C.

21. San Diego

22. Turkey

23. Florence

24. Saint Petersburg

25. Bahamas

26. Niagara Falls

27. Havasupai

28. Interlaken

29. Snowbird

30. Vilnius

I guess those are in no particular order, but I am grateful for my travel experiences thus far. There is so much to see in this beautiful world, so much to learn, and so many people to meet. I am grateful for each year, each day and each minute I have here. Bring on the living, and bring on the wrinkles, life. I’m ready for it!

Happy travels!

US Airways Gets an F-

I’ve done a lot of traveling in my day, which means I spend a lot of time on airplanes. I’ve flown a bunch of different Airlines and mostly have had great experiences.

The best experience I ever had was with a Bulgarian Airline on a flight from Moscow to Sophia. I got really sick right before boarding the flight and was throwing up the whole time. I was so sick, I could hardly stand. The flight attendants took me to the back made me a little bed and tended to me the entire time. I was so sick, but I felt loved, cared for, and their dedicated customer service meant a lot to me.

Conversely, the worst experience I’ve ever had was with US Airways. Being such an avid traveler, I had special plans for my honeymoon and wanted it to be the most perfect vacation ever. My husband and I flew to Cancun, and a few days into our honeymoon, we both got extremely sick. My poor husband couldn’t keep anything in his body and was extremely dehydrated, and I couldn’t stop throwing up (again). After a few days of this and even trying Mexican medication, it was time to get home to a doctor and get home as quickly as possible.

We called the Customer Service representatives at US Airways and they assured us that all we needed to do was pay $300 now and then send a doctor’s note to them and then they would refund the money. We kept our end of the deal, paid the money, flew on a miserable flight home, and promptly sent in the doctors note to US Airways. We heard nothing for a while. Then, we heard that we weren’t sick enough to get a refund. Then we heard that they had no such policy. Needless to say, we still haven’t seen a refund.

Get your story straight, US Airways!

I love to blog, and I blog about experiences both good and bad. All I know is that travelers should be treated with honesty and respect, especially when prices for flights are astronomical and there is loads of competition in the airline industry.

For my future flights, I will not be flying US Airways, and I hope you don’t ever have to deal with their horrendous customer service either.

Announcing “Pic and a Paragraph!”

I am starting a new section on my blog called “Pic and a Paragraph.” I love traveling and would love to hear about all the cool places you have been too. If you would like to submit a picture and a paragraph about somewhere rad you’ve been, I would love to post it on my blog. Also, don’t forget to include a 2-3 sentence bio about you, so readers can learn more about you!

Learn more here.

Travel to any place, any time throughout history. Where would you go?

Lately, I’ve been having all sorts of crazy dreams. For example, I had a dream that my sister and I traveled to Antarctica together to ski and look at old boats. Apparently, that’s what my subconscious thinks people do in Antarctica. After our adventure there, we took these huge, and totally unreliable, trains. The trains were more like 100 degree angled up and down roller coasters with no seatbelts—but, don’t worry; everyone was attached to the seat with a bungee cord. Anyway, the train took us to our next destination was hang gliding with about 100,000 other hang gliders in Australia. The point of all this is…well, I don’t really know what the point of all this is…maybe it’s that I’m not getting enough adventure during my waking time, or maybe it’s that I need to think a little broader.

In an attempt to do that, I would like to pretend that the Back to the Future Delorean is in my possession. That being said, I would obviously use my Delorean to travel back in time to visit some of the greatest cities of all time.  Also, I reserve the right to take a modern day toothbrush, water filter, and Tampons back in time with me.  It’s only fair. Okay, I would probably want to go everywhere, but here are the top five places.

Jerusalem at the time of Christ – Well, I am a Christian. I love Jesus, so why not hang around for the real life New Testament miracles, instead of just reading about them in the Bible. Jesus is awesome. ‘Nuff said.

1600s England –Hook me up with some real life Shakespeare plays in the Globe Theater. I call I don’t have to sit by the stinky groundlings though. I also want a big fancy Elizabethan dress and a funky wig. Then, I want to throw cabbage at Iago, because he’s one mean sonuvagun. And, I want to leave with a personal Shakespearean sonnet written by the man himself to muse about and show my futuristic friends.

1960s-1970s New York City – I want to participate in The New York School of Art and go to Andy Warhol’s parties. People were exploring all sorts of crazy art that I dig. Give me a paintbrush, pump up the music and let me run loose.

Ancient Rome – This one should be obvious. Gladiator. All roads lead to Rome. See the ruins in full force. Yadda Yadda. Send me there now, please.

Ayutthaya 1700 AD – Think one night in the Bangkok is crazy, imagine what one night in the Ayutthaya would be like. I picture it as the most gorgeous city with the best old school karaoke around. I would like to go there before the Burmese attack though. That doesn’t sound fun.

Well, those are the first places I would go in my Delorean. Where would you go?

Grateful the Family Lives in Minnesota, Instead of Boringcity, Borestate!

My Summer of Action 2012 trip to Minnesota is officially complete, and I must say I have to give Minnesota 2 thumbs up.  While I was severely disappointed that not everyone speaks with the Minnesota accent that I always heard in movies (you know what I’m talking about), I was very impressed with everything else.

The primary reason for visiting Minnesota was to hang out with my darling nieces and nephews, so I did a lot of fun kid things. One of the best places we went to visit was the Minnesota State Zoo.  I am from Utah and haven’t been to the zoo in a 100 years, but last time I went, I don’t remember being that impressed.  The Minnesota State Zoo far exceeded my expectations.  They have a wide range of animals, but we spent most of our time checking out the section dedicated to Minnesota animals.

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Foxy Cummings Ladies!

This is what I learned.  If you go into the woods in Minnesota, you might get eaten by anyone of the following animals:

  • Puma (aka BYU Cougar)
  • Lynx
  • Wolf
  • Moose
  • Porcupine
  • Raccoon

And the rest don’t seem all that dangerous, so I naturally lost interest.  When it comes to going out in the wild in Minnesota, I will think twice.

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That brings me to the shiny metropolis of Minneapolis.  Minneapolis is home to great universities, lots of diversity and the MALL OF AMERICA!

Why did I put MALL OF AMERICA in all caps?  Well, because it’s as awesome as it sounds.  First of all, they have an amusement park in the middle of the mall, and they have 3 levels of all my favorite shops.  We spent 7 hours shopping at the mall.  Normal malls only get about 2 hours of my attention, so I officially applaud the MoA.

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Mall of America 2012

The rest of the time, I spent hanging out with the family in parks, at church and whatnot, which was awesome.  Can’t wait for my return to Minnesota.

Also, Minnesota is home to Target.  I love Target and so I love Minnesota.

Park City, anyone? Stay in the Waldorf Astoria!

Brandon and I had a wonderful getaway, that wasn’t so far away after all.  Usually when we go away, we go places like Russia, or Poland, or Mexico, or California, but this time, we decided to take it easy and drove to Park City to enjoy the great state of Utah.

We spent a lovely weekend in the Waldorf Astoria in Park City, and we did it the cheap way!

Not sure if you’ve been to the Waldorf, but the first thing, and most important thing, you must know about the Waldorf is the kitchen is awesome.  I’m taking I want to have that kitchen when I grow up awesome.  Instead of eating out, Brandon and I took about 1/4 of what we would’ve spent eating out and went hog wild at the grocery store.  We spent the next couple days playing Food Network in the kitchen and came up with steaks and veggies, crepes, and homemade pizza.  When I say we, I actually mean Brandon.  Brandon is sort of the chef in the family.  I’m the cook, but he’s the chef.  There is a difference.

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The spa was awesome too.  Of course, we are poor, so we didn’t get a special treatment, but we did enjoy the free services.  We went to the jacuzzis, the steam room, the repose room (a great place to read, relax and listen to weird music), and drank tea and ate skinny people treats in the lounge room.  It was awesome.

Not only was the hotel awesome, but the surrounding area was a dream.  The Waldorf is nestled right below the Canyons ski resort, which makes for great hiking in the summer.  Brandon and I found a fun trail and had a wonderful time hiking in the beautiful Park City mountains.

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I’ve been to Park City a handful of times, and while I didn’t go into town on this trip, I must recommend it to all.  Park City has a ton of quaint art galleries, great restaurants and a lot of outdoor fun. When you’re in Park City, make sure to check out the hiking/biking, the Alpine slide, Main Street and the outlets, to name a few.

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South Dakota, not so snoring after all!

My initial thoughts about South Dakota were similar to the way I may feel about taking a math test.  I imagined it would be tedious and boring.  For whatever reason, the thought of having to go to South Dakota, in my mind, the American equivalent of getting banished to a Siberian gulag.  Alas, as I drove through the state last week, I must say the beautiful landscape and amount of cool activities called me to repentance.  Alas, I was wrong about South Dakota.  South Dakota is surprisingly cool, especially if you’re into camping and outdoor fun.

We mostly drove through the state, but I was impressed by the amount of random awesomeness.  For example, from afar, we saw some HUGE random sculpture of a cow head/bull head/some kind of head.  As we got closer, we realized there was a huge sculpture garden off the side of the road.  Porter Sculpture Park is kind of an awesome conglomeration of weirdness in the middle of nowhere.  It was a very noticeable, even a bit disruptive, but a pleasant surprise in the middle of a long drive.

Another fun surprise was billboard after billboard advertising the Corn Palace.  I pictured a huge castle made out of small bits of corn.  Turns out, it’s a venue for concerts and community events drawing popular artists from all over the country. Awesome.

The pinnacle of my visit to South Dakota was obviously Mount Rushmore.  I’ve always seen the pictures of the faces carved into Mount Rushmore, but I have never seen the surrounding landscape.  I also had no understanding of how big the carvings were.  Visiting Mount Rushmore was definitely worth the visit and a nice tribute to strong leaders.  I dug it.

Here are some pics that will hopefully give you a better idea about the things that were curious to me.

 

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United States Geography According to Me

My Travel Geography Lesson

This is my personal break-up of the United States of America that highlights each state’s fun factor.

States where you can have crazy wild fun are indicated in red. States that are off the charts as far as outdoor adventure goes are colored green. States that have rows and rows and rows and rows and rows and rows and rows and rows of corn are colored yellow. And, states I haven’t been to, but would like to visit are in white.

I also starred some of my favorite places, but just realized I forgot to highlight Seattle and Portland. Oopsie. Anyway, if you’re ever bored, and/or need a vacation, consider going to Southern California, New York City, Southern Utah, Portland, Seattle, Nashville, or Washington D.C. Do it. Love it.

Where are your favorite places to go in the US? Tweet me and let me know @ashleyrcummings.

Winter Quarters

I spent the last week driving across the country, and ended up at a place that is incredibly special to me.  After driving through Nebraska, which is a total chore, and a big time snore (that rhymes), I ended up at Winter Quarters.

The first time I visited Winter Quarters, I was 17 years old and it left a particularly strong impression on me for a couple of reasons.  For any of you who don’t know me personally, here is a bit of information about me, besides that fact that I love traveling.  I am a Mormon.  Yep, you heard it right…a Mormon…aka…a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  The reason why Winter Quarters is so special to me is because I come from a long line of Mormons, dating back to the pioneers.  I think it’s always touching to learn about my ancestors and to understand how I came to be born into a Mormon family in Salt Lake City, UT.

Statue at Winter Quarters.

Winter Quarters represents a place of dedication and faith that I greatly admire and appreciate.  Many of my ancestors faithfully left their homes, possessions, and comforts of every day life all in pursuit of their religious convictions.  Winter Quarters was where many of the pioneers built a temporary residence to wait out the winter till the weather permitted to them move forward to their final destination — Salt Lake City.  They built small homes, some of them encased in the mountains, and suffered many hardships.

I am definitely a faithful person, have a testimony of the Savior Jesus Christ, believe in modern-day revelation and the truthfulness of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but I can’t imagine having the strength, fortitude and faith to leave literally everything behind to settle in a desert and rebuild an entire community from scratch.

Regardless of what anyone believes religiously, I think that kind of fortitude shows faith, humility, patience, hard work and diligence–all qualities that I am proud are deeply rooted in my pioneer heritage.

Winter Quarters Temple.

God bless the pioneers.  May we always remember them as we walk the streets of beautiful Salt Lake City, or travel across the plains in our air conditioned cars.

Summer of Action 2012

Any of you that know me personally know that I can’t live without creating headlines for my life. For whatever reason, I function better when I have a headline for certain activities including — New Year’s, my wedding, and as it were…SUMMER!

In light of creating titles to explain phases of my life, I would like to introduce –Summer of Action 2012.

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Photo from a previous Summer of Action — This was in Thailand!

I just got married, and I’m really poor, but that is no excuse for not knowing how to have a good time.  People who don’t know how to have fun, even if they don’t have money, are LAAAAME!

Okay, here is what’s on my agenda, so far:

  • Road-trip to Minnesota
  • Moab
  • Goblin Valley
  • Nashville (husband is a musician, and we want to live there when we grow up)
  • Slip-n-slide
  • 7 peaks
  • Hiking a lot
  • Waldorf Astoria, Park City
  • 4th of July fireworks
  • Wake-boarding a lot
  • Tibble Fork kayaking
  • Riding my bike everywhere in Provo (honk if you see me…my bike is gold)
  • Anywhere else someone would like me to do a press trip.

Okay, any other suggestions for Summer of Action 2012?  What are you doing for Summer of Action 2012?  Tell me you’re going to Greece and Turkey, and I’ll be jealous.  That’s where I wanna go next. Cool!

The Bahamas is the perfect place for a summer vacation

If you are looking for the perfect vacation this summer, consider going to the Bahamas. Yes, the Bahamas is a popular one day cruise port, but, in my opinion, one day is not enough time to spend enjoying the beauty of the Bahamas. Here are some awesome things to do in the Bahamas.

1. Shark Diving — Regular diving is nice and pretty in the Bahamas, but if you go to the Bahamas, spend a couple extra bucks and dive with the sharks. It’s well worth it. The cool thing about the Bahamas is you don’t have to dive in a cage with the sharks. The dive master will take you to a great spot where there are a lot of sharks, draw the sharks in with food (fish food, not people food) and you can enjoy them swimming around you. Make sure to bring a camera, because most people won’t believe the size of the sharks you will be diving with. Don’t be afraid, be rad. Do it!

2. Atlantis — Atlantis is a fancy resort in the Bahamas, and it is awesome. You could spend a week in the resort and not get bored. They have a ton of cool activities, amazing aquariums, and wonderful restaurants. If you can’t afford to stay in the Atlantis (it’s not exactly cheap), then consider getting a day pass to go to the water park. The water park is so much fun. They have great slides, a fun wave pool river, and a slide where you are encased by an aquarium full of sharks. Atlantis is well worth your time.

3. Rent a scooter — If you are interested in seeing other parts of the island, consider renting a scooter. You can find local restaurants, private beaches, and speculate about which house is Anna Nicole Smith’s house. At least, that’s what I did. Make sure to wear a helmet, and don’t forget to bring your license, or they won’t let you rent one.

These are some of the things I consider “must do’s” in the Bahamas. However, if you are simply a beach dweller, grab a book, some cold drinks and your sun screen and spend your whole time in the water. You won’t regret it. The water is clear and warm, making it the perfect place to swim and get a tan.

Packing a nightmare no more!

Admit it.  You are guilty of packing procrastination, packing too much, and leaving important things at home. Going on a vacation is awesome, but packing can be a total drag. Before packing, you may think of everything that you have in your closet and feel completely overwhelemed.  Maybe you think about the routine you go through every morning of changing into three different outfits, and then think “how the heck am I going to pack for my whole vacation?!?!” Well, I’m here to help you out. Here are some general rules that work for me.

1.  Make a list of everything you need.  If you can see exactly what you do need, you won’t have to spend time worrying about what you don’t need.  If 10 pair of high heels is not on your “I need this, or I’ll die list,” then you won’t be tempted to throw them all in.

2. Commit to your outfits ahead of time.  If you have 3 business meetings, determine what you will wear for those 3 meetings, and only bring those outfits.  If you will be swimming for 5 days, consider bringing only 2-3 swimming suits and switching off.  Not only will this save you space, but it will save you time in the morning.

3. Try and pack outfits that match with the same pair of shoes.  If you are going to be in 3 business meetings, choose outfits that match one pair of business shoes.  You don’t have to pack your purple, brown and black shoes if you have 3 outfits that all match your brown shoes.

4.  Bring clothes that are interchangable.  For example, you can wear a cute T-shirt and jeans for daytime fun, and then throw on a cute cardigan and accessorize to make it work for evening fun.

5. Bring an extra change of clothes in your carryon.  If you are leaving for 10 days, only bring enough clothing for 11 outfits.  Make sure to pack 1 of those outfits in your carryon in case there is trouble at the airport.

These are all great ways to consilidate your suitcase space and great ways to make packing less of a nightmare.  The last rule of thumb is my favorite:  if you forget it, then buy it.  In fact, sometimes it’s better to forget so you can buy it.  WOOT WOOT.

Going to Russia? Learn the Cyrillic alphabet!

Russia is one of the coolest places in the universe, but it is also a completely new universe.  When you first get to Russia (and I hope you’re not going there in winter), you will feel an air of oppression and remnants of Communism and the COLD WAR…HEY, I’m just teasing…stop being so dramatic about Russia already!

Anyway, when you first get there, it will be a blast, but also a bit foreign.  I’m guessing all the Cyrillic-filled signs will pop out at you begging for you to just understand them.  Unless you have an extra few years on your hand, you probably won’t be able to understand them.  But, it will be incredibly helpful if you learn to recognize letters of important words like “metro,” “entrance,” “exit,” “explosive device,” etc.

Here is the trick.  All you have to do is be able to play a matching game.  Ask yourself if the letters you see on the metro stop  line up with the letters on your destination.  It’s a fun game, and it will help you get off at the right stop.  Happy travels to Russia, and happy studying.  Here is a list of all the Russian letters for you to study before you get to Russia.

cyrillic alphabet

Adventure yourself to almost death in Hawaii!

Did I mention that my trip to Hawaii was rad-tastic?  Oh, I did?  Cool!  Let me tell you a little more about why.

I don’t know about you guys, but when I go somewhere, I like to jam pack as much new adventure as I can.  It often results in me being pretty tired, but the good news about Hawaii is that Hawaii is way behind the rest of the US with regards to the whole Time Zone thaaang.  As a result, you can get up at 5 or 6 am and feel like you were born a morning person, or that you have Red Bull pumping for blood.  It’s awesome.

Now that you don’t have to be afraid of mornings in Hawaii, here are some things you SHOULD be afraid of (not afraid enough not to do it, but afraid enough to feel awesome after conquering your fears). Be afraid of cold water and heights.

First things first: cold water.  I say cold water, because to me, anything that is not a hot tub = cold water.  They always say you just have to jump in and get over it, so that’s what I do, even though I hate that cold feeling.  Here are some fun “cold” water activities we did:

  • Flume in da’ ditch:  This is a pretty fun, chill and gorgeous way to explore Hawaii.  You can ride through the flumes and ditches in the mountains and see the gorgeous terrain.  It gets kinda boring after a while, so make sure you have a list of tunes to sing on your raft.  It sounds dorky, but it’s fun, and you don’t have to be dorky if you sing something cool.Image
  • Snorkeling:  Oh man!  Snorkeling is the BEST in Hawaii!  For whatever reason, I always want to see a turtle whenever I snorkel, but the only place I have ever managed to see one is Hawaii.  It’s definitely worth swallowing ocean water through your snorkel and being cold in the water to catch a glimpse of these magnificent creatures.  Sea turtles: check! Sharks: check! Barracudas: check! Next on list:  killer whale and Nessie (I wonder if Nessie has an English accent)? Hmmm?
  • Surfing:  I tried surfing for the first time, and I learned a couple things.  One, I could totally have been cast as Bethany Hamilton in Soul Surfer, because I rock at surfing (by rock at surfing, I mean, I can stand up in the wave and look like a dork, until I gracefully get clobbered by a wave). Two, surfing takes muscles.  There is a reason why surfing people are strong and hot.  Three, everyone should try surfing, because it is exhilarating and fun.
 
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My personal favorite picture of me “surfing.”

Okay, cold water fear has officially been discussed.  Moving on.  Heights.  I am personally not afraid of heights when it’s clear that I am going to be safe, but after being with a group of people who genuinely thought they were going to die from heights, I am realizing that heights are scary to some folks.  This is my advice.  Conquer your fear head on and you will feel energized and awesome.  I think that’s great advice, unless someone applies the same logic to me by asking me to swim in a pool of spiders.  In that case, they should stop suggesting such ridiculous things, and stop bugging me to conquer my fears.

Anyway, we had the time of our lives on the ziplines.  It takes an hour or two to get through the zipline course, and it’s a blast.  They have lines strung from tree to tree, and you go really fast and feel like George of the Jungle.  I guess it’s scary to some people who are scared of heights, but again, it’s 100% safe, and you will not even a little bit die, so go and do it and have fun!

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Jumping on the bridges is fun!

Well, I think that concludes my Hawaii post for today.  Don’t worry, more to come.

Also, if you like me, follow me on twitter, facebook, and/or check out my website.

Ha-ha-ha-Hawaii

After an incredible week of being wined and dined in Hawaii, I officially understand why people work to live the life of luxury.  Usually when I travel, I have to scrimp and save, cram a few clothes into a backpack, eat granola bars and nuts, and sneak on trains n’ stuff, but not this time!  This time I was the guest of someone super important, and that made me important by association. (FYI: being important by association is the best way to travel.  You get all of the perks, and have zero responsibility).

Anyway, first things first, the Hilton Waikoloa Village Resort is amazing, and by amazing, I mean…it’s a total dream.  The property is ginormous and full of great restaurants, fun things to do and has an atmosphere that looks…well…pretty much like the most beautiful postcard you’ve ever seen, but real and with better weather and smells like flowers and ocean water.

At the resort, we spent our time sunbathing at any one of the various pools, swimming with dolphins (I am pretty  sure I am healed from any future ailment now), snorkeling in the ocean, and eating really delicious food.

Did I say we ate really delicious food?  We ate wonderful Chinese food, sushi, fish, crab and lobster.  My favorite place to eat at the resort was the Kamuela Provision Company (KPC). KPC is a fancy restaurant overlooking the beach.  It is the perfect place for an impressive business dinner, or a romantic getaway. (KPC is the restaurant I am hoping to visit for my 1 year anniversary. Ahem…could someone please mention that to Brandon)?

Not only do they have fine dining and fun things to do at the resort, they have also decorated the resort to the max.  The resort includes a beautiful outdoor art exhibit with different pieces of Asian art placed every 5 feet.  You can walk along the art museum to get to your destination, or, if you are feeling fancy, you can take a boat, or a small train to get from place to place.  Even the transportation is an awesome experience.

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View of the beach at the Hilton Waikoloa Village

You could spend your whole time in Hawaii enjoying this resort, but there are many fun things for you to do in Hawaii during your stay.  I’ll share some tips about fun things to do on the big island in the next post.

If you are interested in making all your dreams come true, consider spending your time at the Hilton Waikoloa Village Resort.

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Hilton Waikoloa Village

Announcements from Hawaii

Announcements from Hawaii

Before I get into the nitty gritty of how awesome it is to be in Hawaii, I have a couple announcements to make.

First, it took me about nine times to spell announcements correctly (not a hard one).

Moving on. As you see above, Zach Galifiaonoauwoehfkus, that hilarious guy in Tim & Eric and The Hangover dyed his hair red and is staying at the same resort. Holy star struck!

For those of you who may not be as chummy with Zach as me, here are some things you should know. First, Zach is a lot different in real life than in the movies. For example, he doesn’t try to be the center of attention. I always thought a star of his caliber would try and make everyone laugh by doing really hilarious things like interviewing famous people between two ferns, or referring to everyone in the group as the wolf pack. Also, he doesn’t have a camera crew. This really surprised me, because why else would Zach Galifianoeaghkus be in Hawaii, other than to spread his hilariousness with the world? Finally, his name is Mike, which really threw me off guard.

That’s all for now. More on Hawaii soon.

Engaged Shimmy! Best travel shimmy of life!

I guess I should post my favorite shimmy in my favorite place with my favorite person.

I was on business in Europe for almost a month, and Brandon flew out to surprise me with this stunning ring from Wal-Mart (bringing a real ring = not a good idea).

Brandon knows how much I love Russia, how enchanted I am by the Candy Castle (aka St. Basil’s Cathedral), and how much I love to shimmy.

It was the perfect proposal.

3 days before my next adventure…can you guess where it is?

Well, it’s only 3 days before my next adventure (I can’t reveal where that will be, or it will ruin all the fun).  In anticipation of all the fun I am about to have, or to help me not get too excited, I decided to focus on a few things that I love about the right here and now.

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An example of good grass

Grass in Utah — I don’t mean any type of crazy weed, or anything.  I am talking about actual grass.  I don’t know what the deal is, but grass is just not the same in other parts of the world.  When I lived in Russia and Belarus, grass equaled weird green weeds.  Any time we went to a park to play sports, we played on a field full of green weeds.  Also, the ground was never even, so 9 times out of 10, I would land my skinny running bum in some sort of pot hole.  I am glad that there is good grass in Utah, so when I play sports (which is pretty much never), I don’t have to fall into a pot hole, or worry about getting a rash from poison ivy.

J-dawgs — I know of no other place in the universe that you can eat a good J-dawg, other than Provo & Orem.  When I go on my vacation of awesomeness, I won’t be able to eat a J-dawg, and that will be sad.  Well, it will be sort of sad.  Actually, I won’t think about J-dawgs at all, because I will be eating other delicious things.  I just like J-dawgs, okay.

My Husband — Unfortunately, my husband won’t be joining me for this next adventure, which is a major bummer.  While I will be having fun in undisclosed location, he will be here working like a dog.  He is a winner, and I will miss him, which makes me a good wife.  Even though, I’m actually a bad wife for ditching him in the first place.  And it’s over his birthday.  Oh man.  He gets a BIG TIME FREE PASS.  Why is he a saint?

Um, that’s all I can think of to celebrate.  I think that will get my mind off the excitement of my next adventure for the next few days.

If you can guess where my next adventure is, I will mail you a Charleston Chew and a Flat Stanley.  If you already know, though, you can’t guess.

Travel memories

I wish I had a shimmy video for every adventure I’ve had with my friends. I can’t think of a better video to represent that than the Amber and Ashley Shimmy. This shimmy has been around since the early 90s, so I hope you enjoy it.

Just want to give a quick shout out to rad vacations with friends.

San Diego (x3) – Zach
Seattle – Amber (shimmy girl #2)
Havasupai & Idaho – Annie
Bahamas, Jamaica, Haiti, Hawaii, & Miami – Tiffany
Eastern & Western Europe & Mexico – Jeni
Mexico – Julie & Stacie
Denmark – Havilah
Turkey – Nadya & Yulia
Thaliand – Emily
Russia, Poland & Mexico – Brandon & Christie (Christie not in Mexico)

I’m sure there are many more fun adventures in the future.

I think some of my favorite memories include:

1. Stepping in barf not once, but TWICE, in Russia with Jeni, and having Jeni try and wash it off with that stupid fizz water. Why the rest of the world thinks bottled water should have carbonation in me is beyond me.

2. Feeling like a queen at Atlantis in the Bahamas, and almost getting eaten alive by a pack of dogs on our “hike” to the light house that “wasn’t THAT far away.”

3. Random Mexican festival Julie and I discovered while riding our scooters in the middle of nowhere in Cozumel.

4. HIking to Black’s Beach with Zach, and literally being shocked to death to learn that it was in fact a nude beach. Ew. I must say, though, the rock that is a marine biology factory with all the crabs, sea urchins and sea life was freaking cool. I felt like Ariel..Ariel that happened to land on a beach full of weirdos.

5. Paying 10 dollars for table water in Denmark with Havilah and Jeni, and that was probably the cheapest thing we bought there. Also, laughing really hard and immaturely at the word “fartplan” that appeared everywhere. Who knew Danish was hilarious?

6. Hiking out of Havasupai in the middle of night with water socks, starting my (.) and nearly dying from exhaustion with Annie. That strong kid had to come get our packs on the last .5 mile, because we were so tired, we almost died. Yeah, this is one of those “we will laugh about it later” activities.

7. Going scuba diving in Turkey and getting a little smooch from my handsome scuba instructor. Also having to communicate in our common language, “Russian.” This was my first of many diving experiences.

8. Getting engaged on Red Square to my sweetheart of life, Mr. Brandon Cummings. Best day of my life, and the start to my favorite adventure and favorite person to have adventures with…I love you, Brandon.

Free Travel Guides

I just wanted to give a quick shout out to a site with some awesome free travel guides. These are a great resource when you are trying to figure out exactly what you want to see, where you want to eat, and what you want to do.  There is nothing like hoping off the plane in a new destination and having no idea where to go.  Make sure to do the research before you leave and you will definitely have an itinerary chalk full of great places to go.

Poland Shimmy

Well, folks. Here is my Poland shimmy. This is back in the day when Brandon still thought my shimmy was embarrassing. Now that he is married to me, he loves it. Yeah, pretty sure that’s how it works.

I gotta say that Poland is one of my favorite Eastern European countries. I was surprised at how awesome it was….probably because I spent 2 years living in Russia, which is not as clean as Poland.

Here are some of my favorite things about Poland:

Krakow — holy radness! This city is so cool. I only got to spend a few hours there, but there were tons of cool things right in the center of town. I feel like I could spend a week just getting lost in this enchanting city. Go there.

Doner kebabs — There are doner kebabs all over Poland and they are so freaking good. I want to eat one every day.

3 Bit — Best candy bar of life. I’m drooling just thinking about it.

Poznan — Poznan had a fun market and a fun city center. We were going to check out a jazz club in this cool castle, but it was closed. That was a bummer. Make sure to do your research about when things are open. The taxi driver kept trying to tell us it was closed, and we kept telling him to take us there. We didn’t figure out what he was saying till we got there and it was closed. Oops…I guess I should learn Polish.

Getting locked in the mall — No really, we got locked INSIDE the mall in Poznan. There is this old brewery/new mall with all this rad art and fun shopping inside. When it closed, we exited only to find out that the shut the gates and we were locked in. We did some awesome jimmy rigging to get us out…climbed over the fence all ninja style.

Getting lost at the train station — Thank you, dear Poland, for changing the platform on us every five minutes. It’s a miracle we made it to Krakow and didn’t end up in some random town in France like me and Jeni did that one time when we got on the wrong train in Switzerland, and had to sleep on the floor at the train station. Yuck. Glad that didn’t happen.

Castles, castles, castles…I want to see more castles. I want to go back to Poland right now and go on a castle hunt, because I am a princess and I belong in castles.

We also visited Auschwitz, which was the saddest place on earth. If you are going to go to Auschwitz, make sure to bring a very reverent and respectful spirit. Also, prepare yourself emotionally. It is important to remember the Holocaust, but it is completely shocking and really hard to deal with emotionally.

I definitely would recommend Poland to anyone. Poland has a rich history, great architecture, amazing food and is interesting through and through.

Travel to Cancun: Montezuma wasn’t kiddin’ around

To be perfectly honest, when all is said and done, I don’t really like Mexico. It’s not very often that I just don’t enjoy a new destination (in fact, this is the first time I haven’t enjoyed a new destination), but Mexico is one place I would never return to.

Two reasons for that: it’s dirty and the food is swimming with parasites and amoebas.

No one can argue that the beaches in Cancun aren’t beautiful, but if you step out of the Hotel Zone, it’s just dirty. Additionally, you’ll be hard pressed to find food that isn’t going to give you the runs.

Seriously…that Montezuma was serious about the whole revenge business, and I’m not even Spanish. Not cool. I could just slap him in the face.

If you can manage to stay away from nasty food, then there are some cool things to see and do in Cancun.

X-caret — X-caret is awesome. It’s like a zoo and natural water park all meshed into one. You can also swim with dolphins, which is radical.

Chichen Itza — This is a beautiful Mayan pyramid. We were there during the equinox and so we got to see the snake come down the pyramid. Go there. They’ll tell ya all about what that means. Also, there aren’t really jaguars there. They are salesmen blowing these really annoying jaguar whistles. Bring ear plugs.

The beach — the beaches really are as blue as they look in the pics. You can enjoy some awesome water sports, or just relax with a book.

Well, that’s all I can tell you about Mexico, because right after, my husband and I got ridiculously sick, and had to come home. from our honeymoon. early.

Big time bummer.

If you go to Mexico, bring your own food, stay in the Hotel Zone in a NICE HOTEL (don’t skimp on hotels like we did). If I were you, or a wiser version of my younger self, I would just save yourself the trouble and go to Hawaii.

New York City Shimmy

Shimmyin’ in New York City with Ashley R. Cummings, and Jonathan and Michael Ruesch.

I thought I would start out this blog with none other than the great New York City.  No matter how many times I go to New York, I always come back looking for more adventure.  I just can’t seem to get enough of this place.

Some of my favorite places to go are the Met, Yankees Stadium for a good ol’ American baseball game, Statue of Liberty/Ellis Island, and BROADWAY. Visiting all of these places is kind of a no-brainer.

I also like to save a bunch of time to discover something new.  There are tons of amazing restaurants, art exhibits and cool venues to explore.  There is nothing wrong without having a plan when you go to NYC, because the second you start walking around, you will have one.

I’m excited to post more shimmy videos in the future.  Stay tuned!

Well, here goes nothing!

I have been writing bunches of guest travel blogs lately when I realized…why don’t I start my own travel blog?  So, here I am.  I want to share with you all the wonderful places I’ve been, some of the best kept travel secrets that I was lucky to stumble upon, and want to encourage you to share your stories with me as well. E-mail me at www.ashleyrcummings.com.Image

I heart traveling.  Do you?