travel

This Must Be The Place

this must be the place

How gorgeous is that photo? I came across it on Gadling today and loved it so much that I had to reblog it. It’s by Flickr user il leleВ and part of his stunning photo set of White Sands National Monument in New Mexico. It kind of reminds me of the Bolivia’s Salar de Uynui–except with dunes. But nevertheless, I’ve now added it to the long list of places I want to visit.

(Photo by il lele via Gadling)

Learning a Second Language

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The other day, I referenced my upcoming Guatemala tripВ in an email and wrote: “If only I could increase my Spanish knowledge at least twenty-fold before then!”

Sure, the purpose of my trip is to learn the language. (Like I’ve mentioned, I’m tired ofВ bumbling through Latin America with broken Spanish–not to mention NYC, where every other person speaks Spanish.) But I feel I’ll get more from the experience if I arrive with a decent grasp of grammar and vocabulary. And so, over the past few months, I’ve tried to absorb as much Spanish as I can. Here’s how I’ve squeezed it in:

I’m taking a Spanish class. I purchased a LivingSocial deal for Rennert International, a foreign language school near my office. I’ll have attended eight sessions by the time I depart. I’ve never taken a small group class before, so I don’t have a point of reference for how good or bad it is. I’ll admit that I don’t love making up dialogues, which we frequently do; I’d rather be conversing about my real life. And there are times when I wish the class would move a little faster. But my instructor, Rolando, has taught me some nitty-gritty grammatical nuances that I may not have picked up on my own. (Like when to use “traer” and when to use “llevar.”)

I joined two Spanish Meetups and attended two events. The first was a happy hour–which I highly recommend to anyone learning a language. I spent several hours at a bar speaking nothing but Spanish with native speakers and other newbies. Even though my Spanish was worse than anyone else’s, every person I spoke to was very patient in explaining words I didn’t understand (in Spanish, which I appreciated) and correcting my mistakes. I understood a lot more than I could respond to, but I left with a better grasp of some basic phrases and concepts. Mal and I also caught part of an Argentinean film, “Anita,” at another Meetup. Everyone I know, who speaks a second language, said they learned a lot from watching TV and movies. In general, I don’t often do either, but Mal and I are thinking of having Spanish movie nights when I get back. (So she can improve and I won’t lose everything I learn!)

I listen to a podcast during my morning commute. Mal recommended “Coffee Break Spanish” before our trip to Bolivia. It’s a free podcast, available through iTunes, and it’s fantastic–probably the most useful resource I’ve come across. Like the name implies, the episodes are short and entertaining. Mark and Kara, the hosts, cover various topics–from asking directions to going camping–so well, that you come away from each episode feeling like you can converse about them. (They also break down grammatical points so they’re easy to understand.) I’ve actually learned most of my vocabulary from it.

While I know I’m making progress, I’m also aware of how much more I have to learn. When I hear people speaking Spanish on the subway or in stores, I understand a few words, but usually can’t follow exactly what they’re saying.

I’m not expecting to come back from Guatemala proficient or even conversant. But I’m sure I’ll know way more than I do now…which is more than I knew a few months ago. It’s slow going! But I suppose that’s the only way to learn a language when you can’t be fully immersed in it for several months: a little at a time.

Do you speak another language (or two or three)? How did you learn it?

(Photo via Pinterest)

Travelers in Transit

The travel photos that you tend to show off usually feature the highlights of a trip–I know mine are usually of me standing on the summit of a mountain, a gorgeous vista I drove hours to see, an amazing meal before anyone’s taken a bite. But the time I spent in a car/train/plane to reach that place? I could probably count those photos on two hands.

In her gorgeous series, “Transit,” German photographer Katrin KoenningВ captures those quiet moments before travelers reach their destinations–those times where they’re sleeping upright in airplane seats, dozing in cars, spacing out through subway windows.

According to Koenning:

Transit documents people on journeys. While travelling, you hear laughter and bits of stories in amongst the monotonous sighing of the train or the mourning sound of an aching ship. Mostly, you hear silence. By fate, destiny or chance, strangers are thrown together for a short while, forced to share an intimate space. There is a quiet comfort in sitting back and watching the world fly by.

Here are some of my favorite photos from the series:

(Photos by Katrin Koenning; found via My Modern Met)

Umbrellas in the Sky

Yesterday, as I was about to venture out into a soggy NYC evening–sans umbrella, of course–an art exhibit I’d seen photos of popped into my head.

In ГЃgueda, Portugal, rows of colorful umbrellas hang over a walkway creating a whimsical, rainbow canopy. The installation is part of the AgitaguedaВ art festival. I wish I could take a stroll beneath it (on a sunny day, of course)!

colorful umbrellas

colorful umbrellas

colorful umbrellas

colorful umbrellas

(Photos by Patricia Almeida via This Is Colossal)

Gravity-Defying Pools

Holiday Inn Shanghai Pudong Kangqiao's indoor swimming pool

I’m not a great swimmer and I don’t love heights (though I’ve tried to conquer that fear by doing things like leaping off the Macau Tower). But I think I could muster up the courage to spend some timeВ in theВ Holiday Inn Shanghai Pudong Kangqiao‘s swimming pool, pictured above. As you can see, part of it extends over the edge of the hotel–24 stories off the ground–and has a glass bottom, so swimmers are literally floating above the city. I imagine this must be especially thrilling at night, when Shanghai is lit up below.

The Atlantic has more pools in the sky here; scroll to the bottom to check out a truly terrifying shot of Devil’s Pool in Victoria Falls. As much as I’d love a shot of me in that guy’s place, I really don’t think I could do it!

Would you swim in one of these pools?

(Photo via The Atlantic)

Which Passport Stamp Are You Most Proud Of?

 

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Speaking of Budget Travel, the site just published another slideshow that got me thinking. The editors asked readers which passport stamp they were most proud of and compiled their answers into a slideshow. Looking through the responses was fascinating–and it gave me travel envy! People had been to Burma, Tunisia, Cuba, Nepal…even Pyongyang!

While reading the slideshow, I debated which of my passport stamps I was most proud of. My China visa has a special place in my heart. Both of my parents were born in NYC, but all my grandparents are from China. I’d always dreamed of going there, and was thrilled when I finally had the chance to visit Beijing and Shenzhen, three years ago. (Plus, I had a hard time getting that visa. I foolishly listed my occupation as a writer and I had to convince–beg–the visa office that I wouldn’t write anything bad about the country before they granted me one.)

I also love my Bolivia stamp for a few reasons. Before spending two weeks there in 2010, I really worked to learn basic Spanish phrases. English isn’t widely spoken there and I was sick of feeling like a dumb American in Latin America. (Previously, I’d bumbled my way through Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Colombia, Mexico, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.) But by the time I got to Bolivia, I felt comfortable ordering in restaurants, bargaining in markets and taking micros (passenger vans) by myself. Also: the Salar de Uuyni and Bolivia’s southwestern deserts are among the most gorgeous, surreal places I’ve ever seen.

But I finally decided that I’m most proud of my Australia visa from 2003. I went to the Land Down Under as a 20-year-old college senior. It was my first time out of the country and, to this day, I’m amazed I had the balls to do that. I went from dorming with my best friends and never being farther than a few hours from my family to living halfway around the world where I knew no one. While in Australia, I experienced things completely foreign to me–like camping in the Outback, seeing stars, hiking canyons, sailing and snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef. (Reminder: I grew up in Queens.) That trip also instilled a deep wanderlust in me–which I clearly haven’t shaken!

What’s your favorite passport stamp?

(Image via Pinterest)

Spy Gadgets That Can Improve Your Vacation

As one of my old bosses would say, here’s a bit of shameless self-promotion: I recently wrote a BudgetTravel.com piece about spy gadgets that are surprisingly useful on vacations. (It’s tied to the a new Bond movie that’s coming out–who doesn’t want to travel like him?) Below are my favorite products from the story, but check them all out here.

chloe hoodie

Clothing that conceals your valuables in numerous hidden pockets. (The slideshow displays a photo of one of the men’s options, but I personally like the Chloe hoodie above.)

Hammacher Schlemmer camera

A tiny camera for capturing surrepititious shots.

peeble watches

Watches that sync with your smartphone and alert your to emails, calls, texts and more.

(Also, another recent story I wrote for TravelandLeisure.com about America’s most popular zoos–check it out, especially if you love animal photos!)