Wednesday, August 17, 2011

I swear, I didn't fall off the face of the planet...

... But that's no excuse for me to be a month overdue of a post!

Sorry, you'll have to wait just a little longer. But trust me, I have tons to write about, now! ;)

Stay tuned...

Friday, July 8, 2011

Friday Favorite

Though I don't count myself as a "foodie," I do enjoy taking pictures of the food I've eaten during my trips.  This week's Friday Favorite: vacation food!







Can you tell by the amount of pictures just how excited I was to be eating this?! Driving to the eastern coast of Oahu, you can find tons of shrimp "trucks" lined up along the road.  They aren't really trucks though, I'd say they were more like shacks. The best part about it was that there are shrimp ponds right behind the shacks where they fish their own shrimp and cook it on the spot! The rice they serve with the meal is drenched in garlic sauce, too, just like they like it in the Philippines ;) Wash it all down with some Hawaiian Sun, and you're good to go!

I can safely say that I have never missed food the way I miss and long for more Fumi's. One day... one day! I'll be back and I'll have more than one helping. :D

Happy weekend!
Rowie

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Preparing for a Trip (Part I)

Looking ahead to August, I'll be traveling to the West Coast for some California Girl lovin'.  I've already talked about how I pack for a trip, so let's talk more about how to prepare for a longer trip.  I usually spend the month before booking hotels, rental cars, and planning specific sight-seeing trips within the vacation.  Let's focus this entry on an important element to a smooth vacation: booking hotels.

Location:
The first thing I consider when choosing a hotel is its location within the city.  What are the priorities of traveling to this city?  Would you like easy access to a beach; would you rather stay closer to a night-life scene; would you like to be near the trendy shopping areas; or would you like to be in walking distance of the best tourist sites?  The best thing to do after you figure out what you appeal to most is to use a mapping system to help you locate the best radius to encompass this area.  For me, I usually also use this mapping system to figure out if I can get to most places by local transportation or even by walking.

Visitor Reviews and Ratings:
Next, I list all the hotels within the area I chose from selecting a location.  If you're good at being a budget traveler, then staying at a Best Western or Holiday Inn shouldn't be a problem, and you can end your search after this step.  If you're like me, though, I like to try to spend a good amount of time enjoying my hotel experience while also seeing as much as I can around the area.  Thus, you'll want to consider checking a website like Trip Advisor to help narrow your choices.  This website is quite comparable to a life saver (haha) because not only do you get a professional rating on the hotels you're considering, you also get reviews from travelers who have stayed at the hotels, plus "real" photos rather than just the glamorous versions on the hotel websites.

You'll want to combine three things you research on sites like this: overall ranking, quality of positive reviews, and personal satisfaction that comes from the "real" photos.  If you're satisfied with all three of these categories, you should feel confident that you'll be going somewhere you will be content with.

Pricing:
This is probably the most difficult part: compensating for the package and the price.  If you have more than a month to decide where you'll be staying at, I recommend joining hotel mailing lists.  Sometimes, hotels will put together special deals for their mailing lists that other third party websites can't offer.  Otherwise, there are two approaches you can take for this part of the booking process: join "coupon/discount" websites for that area; search daily on third party websites for the best deal. 

If you join a coupon/discount website such as Travel Zoo, you could possibly find package deals for your specific hotel.  Websites like Travel Zoo are convenient because they do the narrow search for you.  They constantly browse other discount/third party websites that post deals, and keep them all in one place for your viewing ease.  The downside is that you have to wait until your ideal hotel has a worthwhile deal listed on sites like these (sometimes not even at all).  Otherwise, if you go the third party route, such as Orbitz, Hotels.com or Travelocity, most of these websites now give you the opportunity to view all other third party websites side by side, so that you can see which website has the best deal.  For the most part, though, these websites are aligned so well, that, it's a matter of cutting a few dollars from your taxes/fees when choosing which one to stick with.  One thing to watch for, though, is when certain hotels offer deductions on third party websites to reel in guests.  I've seen as much as 33% off for some hotels, and while you can still use this on the actual hotel's website, sometimes you'll be corned with a higher fee if you go this route. 

Wrap Up:
Make sure you consider other things when booking your stay: most hotels will have some sort of incentive if you stay for more than one night; calling the hotel to see if they can cut you a deal for a weekend rate if you stay for a few days during the week may work; booking both airfare and hotel at the same time can save some money.  If you have other tips or suggestions on how to book hotels, share them here! I'm always trying to become more refined and practiced in hotel searching, so I'd love to hear your ideas ;)

Until the next part,
Rowie

Friday, June 17, 2011

Friday Favorite

Lucky you! You get a blog post AND a Friday Favorite! Hooray! This week's Friday Favorite: My favorite mode of summer transportation.

I've been on many different sized airplanes, but can only remember a handful of experiences up in the air that were very enjoyable.  It seems as if airline companies (some, not all) are cutting short their hospitality to their guests and focus mainly on getting everyone to their destination quickly and safely (which I guess isn't a bad thing). While it's definitely a plus getting from one place to another way faster, airplanes are not my [current] favorite mode of transportation.

Even if you don't know me well enough, you'd know that I love to travel to warmer climates and beach scenes.  This almost always requires me to be complaisant with traveling from island to island on boat. I'd have to say that I love the cool breeze of wind in my hair, but if I don't pop a Dramamine in my mouth before I venture off on boat, I'd most likely get dizzy one way or another.  Thus, fun way to travel, but not my favorite.

Which brings me to my favorite mode of transportation: Biking! Ok, ok, last summer, you would have never caught me saying that biking was my favorite. You wouldn't have even caught me saying that at the beginning of this summer.  I'm bad at biking. But I recently discovered that, if you make sure you have enough air in your tires (which I somehow failed to have last summer), you're good to go! Usually I choose to drive around with the windows down in the summer, but since high gas prices are unyielding, biking is just way more efficient.

So there ya have it! Get out there and bike, people! If I can do it, so can you ;)

Happy weekend,
Biker Kid

Mini Trip: Hershey, Scranton and Philly

Now that students are finally out of school, I've found a little more time to tell y'all about my trip to Pennsylvania. The main reason for the road trip was to attend a wedding in Scranton, so we decided to do a quick tour around of surrounding cities.

Hershey, PA:
First off on the list, Hershey World! Since we arrived in PA super early (thanks to the safe driving skills of Matt and his dad), we decided to make the Hershey World tour and explore their enormous store.  Simply put: the tour was short and geared towards kids and the candy/chocolate was plentiful and did not fail to have every Hershey creation available. Awesome.




Steamtown Museum:
Next up was a train museum in Scranton, PA. The museum was situated on an old steam-powered train station, where most of the inside area was dedicated to how the trains and the people who rode them looked back in the day. You could walk inside a few train cars, too, so you'd get to see how each car was set up depending on your class status.  Then, for a few extra dollars, they let you ride on a real steam-powered train! Pretty sweet deal if you're a kid and you like trains ;)



Philadelphia, PA:
After attending the wedding in Scranton, we drove two hours to Philly to tour around the city.  We quickly dropped our bags off at the hotel then made our way to one of the busiest intersections I saw: an intersection holding Geno's and Pat's Philly Cheese Steaks! If you're gonna visit this part of town, I'd suggest you go with a partner, so that you can get the opportunity to share a sandwich from each of these locations.  And, don't forget to get cheese whiz on your sandwich (aka, the money maker)! While I liked both sandwiches, I'm pretty sure my stomach agreed most with Pat's cheesesteak because it had an extra onion flavor on top of the cheese whiz. Yummm.



Next, we drove over to the historical area of Philly, where Independence Hall and other important buildings stood.  It all looked like a smaller, more colonial area of Washington, D.C.  I'll admit, I'm not the type of person to be completely under a spell of the magic that happened here back in 1776, but I was still amazed at how great of a job they did at maintaining some of these historic buildings! It felt odd in a way to be in Independence Hall, knowing that at some point in time, something great happened right where I stood. 





I forgot to mention that during our visit to Philly, the weather was an average of 90 DEGREES the entire two days! Considering that, it was amazing just how much we got done on our first day there.  So what's up next? I really wanted to see the "LOVE" Monument not too far away from Independence Hall, so we all hopped back in the car and drove on over.  To my disappointment, the monument ended up being a lot smaller than I imagined! What was pretty funny, though, is that there was a huge fountain behind it, and tons of people were swimming in the water - our first of many sightings of people attempting to cool themselves off.  Right across the street from the Love Monument was a nice surprise: "Your Move" Plaza, an area littered with over-sized board game pieces!




As if the day wasn't hot enough, we finished the day with a run up the "Rocky Stairs" to the Modern Art Museum. Not much to say here other than: we all "raced" up the stairs, got up there, it was super hot, came back down, and treated ourselves to Rocky Water Ice. Nice.





Our last big stop came the next day. Besides driving out to go outlet shopping (to make up for our late attempt at shopping in Mall of Prussia), we wanted to hike around an area we saw from the highway.  Philly is home to a really picturesque dam that is situated near a very cute looking boating area.  The heat continued to overpower us, though, so we didn't stay too long at this view point.


While I feel like there were probably a few things I missed out on seeing in Philly, I'm gonna say that two days was enough to accomplish lots, since most everything is near each other.  Still, a jam-packed 4 day weekend without a minute spared! A productive way to spend my Memorial Day weekend :)

Cheers!
Rowie

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Apologies

I was thrown right back into the grind after my mini trip to Pennsylvania, so my apologies for missing my Friday Favorites.  I'll make more time for my Penn update, but here are a few cool things I saw over my Memorial Day weekend:

 The "Your Move" Plaza in Philly

These little guys were sneaking around downtown Philly

Friday, May 27, 2011

Friday Favorite

With the long weekend ahead of me, I thought I'd share my favorite weekend trip: The Annual Cedar Point Adventure.


Since 2007, a group of my friends and I have always spent one weekend in the summer driving to Sandusky, Ohio, to visit Cedar Point. Not only is this my favorite weekend trip, it is also my favorite budget vacation. Because we all stay in one room, the cost of everything for the weekend usually only adds up to $150 a person! What a steal. The coasters here are definitely worth the drive, too. The Maverick, seen in the photo, is the only coaster in the Midwest that curves further than 90 degrees on it's first drop!

I suggest that if you plan a trip here, you take either an early summer trip or a late summer trip, to avoid the heat while waiting in long lines. Otherwise, you could also visit during the fall weekends, where they have their "Halloweekend" theme. Awesome!

Happy Friday, y'all! And have a safe and happy Memorial Day Weekend :)

Master Packer

Throughout the past few years, I have become very skilled at packing for trips thanks to lots of practice.  As Memorial Day weekend approaches (FINALLY!) and I find myself packing yet again for a new adventure to Pennsylvania, I thought I'd share with all of you some of my packing tips to keep your travels organized.

Though it usually doesn't look as neat on the way back home, having an organized luggage helps you keep track of what to bring along with you and what doesn't make the cut. Usually, the first thing I separate are the things that need to be with me on the plane from the things that can be checked in. Then, I separate certain sections for different parts of my luggage.
    • I always start with the clothes on the bottom layer of the luggage. 
    • Then, I use a flat, canvas bag to separate my clothes from the toiletries. I've become really good at this after I had a long trip to the Philippines and opened my luggage with the horror of travel-sized detergent seeping through my toiletries into my clothes section. Horrible.
    • Always put your toiletries facing upward in their bags, and then put their entire toiletry bag(s) facing upward as well. This will prevent anything that breaks open to seep as much as it could. Another tip is to go ahead and tape the cover of each liquid bottle to be extra safe.
    • I like to make sure that when I initially start packing, the expandable zipper is zipped up. That way, once I know I have everything I need, I can always expand to fit.
    • I keep gallon-sized zip lock bags in my luggage for the end of the trip. It helps to put anything that is still wet (bathing suits, towels, liquid bottles) in these bags so that nothing else gets wet.
Eventually, your luggage will be like a layered puzzle.


Friday, May 20, 2011

Friday Favorite

I'm sorry, I'm sorry! And yet, who am I apologizing to? :) Happy Friday, readers! My weeks have been filled with substitute teaching adventures, and though they prove to be interesting at times, it has been a challenge to come back here and jot some things down.

So here's a short Friday Favorite for y'all. Since I went to the extreme last week, how about this week I do my favorite relaxing adventure?


Hawaii will forever be imprinted in my memory as one of the best trips I've ever taken.  While we went on lots of excursions during this trip, many of them were spent finding some of the best beaches to lay out a towel and just chill.  This beach, in particular, would count as my favorite relaxing adventure.  Totally secluded and hidden behind a residential community, Lanikai Beach is situated in Oahu, home to tons of awesome beaches.  Lanikai, though, totally fit the mood of "just lay back, and relax." The waves were minimal, water was super DUPER clear, and you had a view of two little islands off in the distance. The cherry on top? Sand as soft as a memory foam mattress! Wonderful.

As I sit in the high school library of the school I'm currently subbing at, I'm a little sad that I can't be there right now. Why just a little sad? Because it's payyyy dayyyy y'all! Woohoo!

Have a good weekend! It's gonna be hot!
-Rowie

Friday, May 13, 2011

Friday Favorite

Wow, has a week really passed since the last time I blogged? Good thing I've got Friday Favorites to keep me grounded! I apologize, readers. This week's Friday Favorite: my favorite extreme adventure.

This one was in a close race with sky diving back in 2008. The winner by a hair: zip lining in Phuket, Thailand!

We started the adventure with a 15 minute hike all the way up to the first station out of 14, and that alone was a feat! Zip lining from station to station, back down to the bottom of the forest was amazing. You're in the middle of the forest, so at the very top you have an incredible view of all the trees surround us - some were hundreds of years old and super tall! To make the experience even more special, I went with two people I love to go on adventures with: my dad and Matt. The three of us out in the forest of Phuket, zip lining, made for great company. 
Nothing beats your first time doing something, and this was no exception. If I had the opportunity to zip line somewhere else, I'd definitely take it, but I don't think it could ever replace the awesomeness that took place in the forests of Phuket, Thailand back in the summer of 2010 ;)

Happy Friday the 13th, y'all!

Friday, May 6, 2011

Friday Favorite

Kicking off my Friday Favorites with one of my favorite little surprises:

While there are many things I loved about my first trip to Hawaii, one of them had to be this. The McDonald's in Honolulu gives a cup of pineapple with your breakfast meal! It doesn't even replace your hashbrown... you get that, too!

Have a good weekend, folks!
Rowie

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

"It's a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood"

The clouds gave way to sun early this morning, so I got up and dressed and... rushed to make it to McDonalds around the block for breakfast! Making it with 5 minutes to spare, I thought I'd do a little bit of exploring in the area that I currently reside in: Bridgeport.

I grew up in a neighboring area, so Bridgeport is nothing new to me. But watching this area grow into something quite comparable to a suburb near the city has left an impression on me.  Here are two new places I ventured out to today:

Henry C. Palasimo Fishing Pond:
I drive by this fishing pond every day on my way to and from home, but just now decided to finally check it out. Growing up, this area used to be a rock quarry, which didn't really bring much beauty to Bridgeport.  In the past few years, it has been redeveloped into something that the neighborhood can not only use, but also be proud of.  The quarry has been transformed into a fishing pond, which is uniquely hidden below the towering structure of what was once the quarry.  Green hilly areas have been established, and in the mornings you can see dozens of elderly and youthful people hiking around the paths created on the hills for exercise.  In the winter, kids love to hit the slopes here for some awesome sledding excursions and in the summer I'm sure there are tons of kids heading down to the pond to try their luck at catching some fish. 

 The pathway leading to the fish pond.


 Birds chilling out in the hot sun and the cool water.


 Large dock area for fishers of all kinds.


 A little background on the fishing pond


 Pathway and sitting area overlooking the city


 Bridgeport's view of the Chicago skyline


St. Barbara's Church off in the distance
 
At the top of the hills, you can find a wonderful view of what I'd like to call the "everyday worker's skyline," as the Chicago skyline is a backdrop to I-55 and the I-94 E/W splits.  It also gives you a great view of Bridgeport area, with churches standing tall in a few directions.  One day, when I finally admit that my metabolism just isn't what it used to be, I'll get a bit of exercise here. One day...

Cermak Fresh Foods:
Bridgeport inhabitants have been patiently awaiting the arrival of this new grocery store to the neighborhood.  As a kid, this spot used to be a Jewel-Osco, and once I was in college the store closed down (I'd say most likely due to it being the oldest and smallest looking Jewel in all of Chicago!) What stunk about Jewel leaving this area is that many of the people that lived here now had to travel by car to the nearest full grocery stores, which are two Dominick's locations (one further west and the other further northeast).  For a while, all that was in walking distance to the heart of Bridgeport was two pharmacies: CVS and Walgreens.  While CVS has recently revamped their store floor to include a better grocery section, the two pharmacies still couldn't fill in the gap that Bridgeport had without a grocery store.

Now, the day has finally come! Cermak Fresh Foods has taken over the old Jewel-Osco spot, bringing life to a somewhat subdued area. And when I say "life," I mean it! I tried a few times to circle the block to find street parking due to an already congested parking lot and ended up finally settling for a spot down the street (out of sheer luck).  Note to self: the next time I go to Cermak Fresh Foods, I will walk there and bring my shopping cart.



When you finally get past the parking and reach the entrance of Cermak, tons of in season produce welcomes you before you even go inside. And then, on the inside, you're greeted by more and more produce that was the main set back of having just two pharmacies within walking distance of the area.  The food selection is terrific and prices are great when you compare them to Jewel and Dominick's.  The one drawback (and this might just be because of it being opening day): super duper long check out lines. While it's a sure sign of early success for this grocery store, it was a little overwhelming to go into almost every aisle and seeing half of it consumed by people waiting in line to pay for their things.  I'm sure that this will die down in a month, but for now, I'll probably only shop here during the late evening, just to make sure I avoid any long waits.

 Surprisingly, maybe only a third of the produce section


 Long lines for check out crowded dry foods aisles such as this one


 Though a small sea food section, you can find fresh (and fast) crab


 Totally reminded me of Chinatown markets, with the baskets and baskets of crabs


One whole side of the market was dedicated to fresh meats and poultry! Definitely a great location to buy grilling meat for the summer.

 Customers waiting (patiently) to buy their share of the market.


Cashiers hard at work!

With just these two sights alone, I'm sure that many Bridgeport inhabitants (does "Bridgeportites" sound reasonable?) are happy that their area is alive and happening quite like it was when I was a kid.  Now people who live here can try their luck at fishing for the meal, or, if they come out empty handed, can just walk  5 minutes away to Cermak Fresh Foods to grab some fish for dinner ;)

Till next time!