Jamaica vibes

Jamaica is a vibrant and at times overwhelming. If you find a nice spot overlooking the area, I would suggest to sit back, drink a Red Stripe, and watch the local and tourist interact. Maybe go all out and drink some local rum, why not!

It may be too overwhelming to be approached by every person selling anything. Now if you are a seasoned traveler you may have experienced this at some point. The relentless sales pitches for anything, and they will walk and talk with you for as long as you let some of them. There is no trick having them leave you alone. It is either a very touristy area that you have just walked into and you must make your way out of the crowds of people. The mass number of people like for example a cruise ship docking for a few hours. The locals know when you will be getting off your floating city and they also know how long you will be on their land and all direct routs to and from the ship. This is how the locals practice their sales pitches, their English, and make their wages. Tell them no politely and keep walking, some may walk with you for a while and keep pushing their sales pitch. You aren’t a sucker if you buy something. There are many handmade items available in Jamaica, even things made right on the street just for you. There are many skilled craftsman to choose from and don’t be afraid to barter.

I really do feel there is something for everyone in this great island. There are amazing tropical hikes and breathtaking waterfalls. Getting to places like Dunn’s River Falls early or much later to avoid the crowds is the best way to see the natural beauty. There are multiable cruise ships that port in Ocho Rios and the falls become covered in cruiser only there for the day. There are plenty of other waterfalls and natural beauty near by Ocho Rio and all around this beautiful island. Try Laughing Waters or Konoko Falls to get away from some of the crowds.

Jamaica is a country best seen for a few days. Like any other destination, a few hours would never be enough time to get to know the country.  Sometimes that is all you have. My suggestion is to grab a plate of jerked chicken, rice, and peas from one of the many street vendors.

As you may notice as you make your way down the streets and shops Bob Marley is always staring back. Jamaica is the birthplace of the reggae god and he is praised everywhere. Make time to visit The Bob Marley birthplace and Mausoleum in Nine Mile, Saint Ann.

Siam Gulf

A Thai story of food with beer of course.

Chang Beer is a mild beer with 5.2% ABV and is seen as the “Bud Light of Thailand” because it is everywhere and relatively cheap. Chang is the Thai word for elephant which means much to the country. Singha Beer is a pale lager with a full taste and has 5% ABV. The meal started with lettuce wraps bursting with flavor in crunchy chilled lettuce. Siam Gulf has done a great job with the minced chicken with water chestnuts, mushrooms, onions and Thai spices served with crispy noodle on the side.

I have learned over the years of traveling I enjoy eating many things that one on sticks! Chicken satay with thick peanut sauce on the side was a great contrast to the lettuce wraps. It also came with a fresh cucumber salad that was a flavorful contrast to the Thai peanut sauce. The miso soup and seaweed salad was a great way to clear my pallet for the main course. I was getting full at this point and so was the small table I was sitting at.

I couldn’t go out to a Thai restaurant without ordering sushi. These perfectly formed tempura roll still found their way into my growing yet happy belly. Finally, it’s time for the main course pad see ew. A stir fry with flat noodles simmered in a house sauce. Carrots, broccoli, and eggs were mixed with my choice of scallops. Simply amazing.

The space was converted from a wide-open brunch restaurant with minimal decorations to an intimate and warm dining environment. The sidewall has a beautiful mural painted on it now and there are the decorations along the counter. Dark wood planks cover the windows and divide the eating areas into private sections for a more intimate dining experience.

Siam Gulf is located a short drive from the downtown area and off the tourist areas of the keys, so the prices for this authentic Thai food is much more reasonable. The location is at 12th Street and Tuttle Ave at 1100 Tuttle Ave. Sarasota, Florida.

Vienna

Austria is a German-speaking country with a charm of its own. Vienna is tucked away in the northeastern section and has all the old world charm. The capital city of Austria was home to famous residents such as Mozart, Beethoven, and Sigmund Freud. The museums Quarters District has a lot going on within a short walking distance. If you need a break there are shops, bars, and restaurants around every turn. Enjoy a local beer and watch the people wander through the square. Vienna is a beautiful destination for solo travelers, families, and lovers.

  • Transportation

Coming into Vienna by plane or train you will most likely start your journey in the city center. Public transportation is clean and well organized with local trains, subways, trams and buses running in a timely manner. Tickets are cheap and are on an honor system. There are no booths to check tickets. if you get asked by an agent to see proof and you do not have any, there are strict fines. Believe me, the officials have heard every excuse. I was on a train and thought my ticket could go on to the next city, but it turned out the first time I saw an agent, my ticket wasn’t good. The only reason I was let go with a warning is that I had just added money to my travel card. Let that be a lesson to anyone who is thinking about skipping buying a ticket and taking their chances. There is a large fee for not having a ticket plus the cost of the ticket you didn’t buy. There are also Vienna city cards for 24, 48, or 72 hours pass for public transportation and hop on hop off bus service which is available at the airport and transit centers.

  • When to visit

Summer is the busiest month with beautiful mild weather and all the bells and whistles for visitors. Followed very closely by the holiday seasons at the end of the year. Everything in the region is decorated to perfection in old world charm.

Offseason is Spring and Fall months where you will find discounted flights and dinners to the most popular tourist locations.

  • Weather

Vienna is a four-season city. In the winter months of December, January, and some of February it can be dry cold and snowing. As long as you know how to dress for the weather and make stops to catch a break from harsh weather conditions then Vienna is still a wonderful and walkable city year-round Summers are usually in the 70s but occasionally can get up to the 90s.

  • What to see

The main city draw to this cultured city is the museum district and the many palaces. The most popular is Schonbrunn Palace which is an easy fifteen minutes away on public transportation. All around the city, there are open-air markets filled with fresh flowers, bread, fruits, vegetables, herbs, and spices. There are multiple restaurants to sit and dine on local favorites. There are many parks with perfect lawns and fountains taking up blocks to get lost in or have a peaceful lunch.

Vienna is a great and walkable city. The locals are friendly and often English speaking for those not willing to test their German. I felt safe walking the busy areas around the city and quiet backstreets where I stayed. Like any good traveler, you should be aware of your surroundings and be careful after dark.

By Heidi Vastag

Oktoberfest!

Welcome to the beer fest of all beer fests!

Oktoberfest in Munich Germany puts on a grand show every year for almost 7 million people starting at the end of September. But before you can drink a pint of beer there is much planning, prep, and building that must go on with a team of highly skilled teams create a new vision each year. There are 700 vendors ready to set up for the weeks of madness ahead. The area of the event is already a construction site by July and doesn’t stop for ten weeks. The first thing that comes to mind is the giant beer tents. There are 14 major tents and 15 minor tents. In the biggest tents, there can be upward of 8,000 festival-goers. The tents are made of all wood grounded to concrete that is poured every year. For the management, this is a full-time job planning and pulling off this annual party. Several thousand people come together to wrap up the project in the few weeks of construction. Tear down is about half the time of set up running around five weeks. Most parts are stored in storage containers and delivered to the storehouses in Munich

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I planned my visit for the opening day. It was a calm morning when I arrived with my mother and took a stroll down the main road of beer tents standing tall. By the time we doubled back, the roads were filling with beer drinkers waiting for the day to get started. We picked the Hippodrome tent and sat and had a bite to eat and noticed that most tables were reserved. We quickly learned that there is an opening parade and each owner comes into their tent and taps the first barrel and the beer drinking does not stop for a few weeks after. From the beautiful windows, I watched the parade roll by with barrels of beer and horse-drawn carriage and everyone was dressed for the occasion. There is such a buzz for the town for the opening day, Like the city of Munich has been waiting to unwrap its gift for months, watching the structures go up for months in town.

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My favorite photo of my mother joining me October Fest in 2013

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Yes, this is a blurry picture but they move so fast with all that beer! This was the best I could get an even more beer was rushing by, being gripped tightly by fingertips.

My advice is to get here early to get a seat or wait for the short lines of smaller tents. I definitely would recommend going to multiple tents for different environments in each one. If you have a larger group it pays to plan ahead of time and reserve a table in a tent of your choice. All of Munich books up for this beer event, so planning ahead helps get more of what you are looking for before it’s booked up. My last bit of wisdom is if you drink a few too many pints, there is a nice grassy hill to rest your eyes until the next round. It’s all a very happy party and the locals are waiting to welcome you in. Do your country proud, don’t make a drunken fool of yourself. We have all seen this too many times. Safe travels and smart drinking!

Food Roulette

Walking into a restaurant in a foreign country with no English menu and only a few pictures scattered around you and must make a decision by pointing and hoping for the best.

This is a photo in Hong Kong at a window kitchen from the bottom floor of a large apartment building in Kawloon. There were different shops and other selling food out the window. The window I picked had a few people waiting in the line for the while I watched it. As one person walked away, another stepped up to wait, so I felt it was a popular and trusted enough place to eat random and in some cases unknown selections. I walked to the counter with money in hand trying to order in English to Chinese only speaking locals. After I failed at asking for whatever they will give me for $20. Finally the woman running the cashbox told a man something as she pointed to the back and then she called for the person behind me to come forward to select fried goodies and pay. As I thought this wasn’t the way to order foot and I should go back to the pointing and grunting method, then a younger man came forward from the rear of the kitchen. He spoke in very good broken English and asked what I wanted and with a smile, he filled bags and bowls full of things on sticks and some fried balls of something with spicy sauce on them. I could figure out what some items were and others I didn’t have a clue. I sat in the hostel balcony and tried everything loving some and not too sure on others, but it was amazing gamble that I think is a great way to try local foods.

If anyone knows what I was eating in the photo above please let me know, because I still do not know.

This amazing dish is kangaroo and I can’t rave enough about it.

Solo, one way, extended trip

Coming back after a extended trip can be hard for anyone. There are many emotions evolved in the days before you leave and the trip home. Weather it is a few hour car ride or a full day flight, the travel beings the emotions of home very real.

My latest trip was almost eight months long and I learned a lot about the world and about myself as cliche as that may sound. For me it was after the first few months I adjusted to life on the road and out of a pack. I started my trip in Auckland, New Zealand and stayed in most of the major area of the city for the first three weeks, and man did I ever get my bearings of a city then walking it everyday for three weeks for most of the daylight hours. After the innatinal first weeks my mother took the twenty something hour flight to come see her globe trotting daughter. My mother, being the planner she is, had all of our ten days filled with things to see and do on this once in a lifetime trip for both of us. We travled from north to south island and back again. When I finally had to tell my dear mum goodbye I had to be on my own again and for this trip my defining moment. Having to plan where you will sleep and how you will get to that bed you booked in the most beautiful picture the hostel can create, you learn how quickly judge pictures and rating. Which I feel I had learned from hostel hopping in Europe on a tight budget. After a few mad hostels in New Zealand and one or two in Australia I learned quickly that five US dollars could mean the difference between a small or out of the way compared to toilets soaked in drunken pee from the bar hostel downstairs. Reviews are worth the read and also worth the time to write.

  • Www.Booking.com always gave me the most results generally in my International travels
  • Www.hostelworld.com come up with much fewer results but are all on a backpacker/ budget level.
  • Www.couchsurfing.com is a way to meet locals that are willing to open up their home to you after registering and filling in important details to the website and matching with locals that want to show you their city. You may have to do dishes or keep clean in exchange for a very local tour,home cooked local food, and a place to lay your head.
  • Www.YHI.com comes at a price of a year membership at a very reasonable rate. I have found over many counties that this organisation have overall the best accomadation at comparative prices. The rooms are always clean and the location is usually near the things you came to that area for. I have nothing but nice things to say about Hostel International.

Like in most things, the people in each place can make or break even the nicest hostel. Community living isn’t for everyone.

After getting used to this life of everyday new city, new people, and new

Queen Victoria Market

In the controlled chaos of the CBD of Melbourne, there is a permanent place for the Queen Victoria Market. The mass area is filled about every other day with everything from fresh foods to clothes and home wares. Free samples draw you in closer to the sights, sounds and incredible smells. There is an indoor market with cheese, dried and fresh meats, and prepared and fresh grown good covering every square inch of the indoor building. The Market is the largest outdoor market in the southern hemisphere, and the secret is out. The rows are filled with people shopping  and bartering the fresh and hand made goods at every turn. The market has been filling bellies and bags for 140 years and has been recently been added to the National Heritage Site as an  historical Australian icon. This amazing market is spread over two city blocks and has over 600 shops to choose from. The goods sold range from local Australian fruit and vegetables and other food, clothing , and souvenirs.

Kangaroos, it’s what’s for dinner!

Yummy! Don’t worry there are a lot of them hopping around. The meat is available at the supermarket and on a few restaurant’s menus. When it’s cooked correctly the meat tastes amazing with rich flavors. People often compare the taste to deer meat. It’s always worth it the risk to try new food where ever you go.