Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Theodore Roosevelt National Park Part 1

So I'm back from France! It's a bittersweet feeling because I love being on vacation, but now I get to plan the next trip, which is fun. I've still got to sort through hundreds of photos and a handful of videos. I think it's going to take me a little while.

In the meantime, I'm sharing some snaps from my solo trip to the Teddy Roosevelt National Park. It was about an hour and a half drive from where I was working in North Dakota and I'd read that you can see a ton of wildlife. Since I'm all about the animals, I hopped in my rental car and headed west towards the Missouri Grasslands. It was an overcast day with a tiny bit of rain, but the thing about overcast days is that it creates amazing lighting for photography, so that was a good thing. Speaking of photography, I took over 300 photos while I was here, so, because of that, I'm splitting this post into two because I have a lot of photos that I want to share but I don't want to overload you all at once.
On my way, I kept seeing signs for the "Enchanted Highway" which apparently is the largest metal sculpture in the country or something. I don't know if that's true, but it looked pretty cool. There were these little geese on posts and a giant thing that looked like a ferris wheel with geese silhouettes on it.

Friday, May 23, 2014

The Badlands National Park

B-b-b-b-bad, b-b-b-b-bad, bad to the bone, b-b-b-b-bad. Uh, what the heck was that? I have no idea, but that's what I had stuck in my head as I was editing the photos below so now I'm subjecting you to the torture. So, the Badlands. What are they? It's a super cool natural occurrence where wind erosion creates really cool formations. It doesn't sound nearly as cool as it looks and you might think, "meh," but seriously, it was one of the prettiest geology-related things ever.

The Badlands were our second stop on our road trip through South Dakota. We also hit up Mount Rushmore. If you haven't seen my Mount Rushmore post, take a look through. I shared our route down from North Dakota and my yummy snacks, among other things. I feel like these National Parks trips are so appropriate for Memorial Day, which is just a few days away.
So, you've got to pay $15 to enter the Badlands National Park and you're allowed to drive through for a year with that pass, which is pretty cool. There's a road that winds right through the park, which was perfect for us, because we were able to drive right through before heading back to our hotel. The park is huge and there's so much to see and plenty or viewpoint areas and little pull-off points so you can hop out of your vehicle and get some good snaps. It was a somewhat overcast day, which I didn't mind because overcast = nice lighting. After a while, the sky did get somewhat bluer; just scroll down and you'll see.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Mount Rushmore

Well, hello there! So, right now I'm in France, chowing down on delicious bread and spee-keeng lah-eek zees. But, today, I'm sharing some photos from a good ol' American trip to Mount Rushmore. As you may or may not know, I was sent to North Dakota for a work trip a few weeks ago. I actually came home just in time to hop back on a plane to France. Anyway, while I was out west, two of my coworkers and I went on a road trip. We decided to head to Mount Rushmore and then drive through the Badlands, all in one day.
I'll be sharing the Badlands photos tomorrow, but I just wanted to show you our route and explain how we drove almost 800 miles in a single day. We're working in a tiny town called Beulah - it really is tiny but it's the 14th biggest "city" in the whole state, which I find fascinating. We all got up before the sun and met at 5AM, hopped in the car, and hit the wide, open, flat road.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Send a Postcard Giveaway

Morning everyone! I'm off to France tonight hooray! In celebration of my trip, I've got a tiny giveaway to share with you.

A few weeks ago, contacted me to introduce themselves and tell me all about their postcard sending service. Basically, the concept combines the ease of snapping a photo on your smartphone/ tablet/ laptop with old school snail mail. So, you can snap a selfie in front of the Lincoln Memorial, write a quick little note along the lines of "Wish you were here!" or "Lincoln and I miss you!", and scribble your actual signature. Then, you can fill out the address info, hit send, and will take care of the rest. Plus, they've got a new feature that saves your addresses to an address book so you don't have to fill out the little form every time. I think it's an awesome idea for frequent and infrequent travelers. If you're a wanderlusty minx like moi, you can use it every time you go somewhere really cool and make your friends jealous. If you rarely go on vacation, it's a great memento of your trip. Win-win situation right there.
I feel like in this digital age, we overshare the goings-on in our lives with everyone we know on social media and these moments becomes so impersonal. This is a cool way to use the technology we have but add that personal touch. I mean, how fun is it to get a bit of snail mail? Most of the time I just get credit card applications and car insurance ads in the post so when I get something addressed to me by a friend, it just makes my day.
I gave it a go and sent a postcard to my baby sister at home because I wanted to evaluate the user-friendliness of the site as well as the quality of the postcards for myself. The process was pretty quick. I opted to use my laptop because I'd uploaded all my photos there, but you can also use the site on your smartphone or tablet as well. I picked my photo, wrote down the location (location services can also be utilized), and filled in my message and sent the card on its way. A few minutes later, the confirmation popped up in my inbox.
I sent my postcard to my sister on 19 April and she received it on 1 May. Now, that's quite a bit of time - about 9 business days - but my sister doesn't check the mail everyday, so it could've been there a few days sooner too, who knows? Honestly, that was a bit longer than I'd expected but it was so easy, I don't even really care. The postcard arrived in slightly beat up condition because it got rained on. The quality of the paper is somewhat thick, like a cheap cardstock. I was pretty impressed with the print job though; it was rather decent. I think using a good quality photo is the key here.
It's $2.49 to send a postcard which is actually a great deal if you think about it. I mean, most postcards are along the lines of $0.50 unless you're at a fancy museum or something and it costs upwards of $2 anyway. But then you've got to think about the postage, which can totally suck if you're abroad where postage rules can get super confusing, especially if there's a language barrier and the postman has no idea what you're saying. Plus, it saves you that trip to the post office and time is money, people.

Lucky for you, I've got a fun little giveaway so that you can send your first postcard for free! hooked me up with 10 free postcards to give to my readers. However, I used up one of those for myself (I'm bad, I know!) so I've got 9 for the rest of you. If you are interested, click on over to this referral link to the website. The link has a credit built in so that each user can send one postcard for free. If the credit isn't showing up, it must mean that 9 lucky people have already made use of the free cards, in which case, sorry! If this becomes a popular enough request, I'll ask for a few more freebies, all right? Good luck!

Just an FYI, I am not being paid to write this post. just reached out to me to say hi (and gave me the handful of free postcards). I genuinely think that this is a great idea.

Cheers and happy travels!

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

International Driving Permit

I've never driven a car abroad. Wait, that's not true; I rented a car in Providenciales. Okay, so other than that one time, I've never driven a car abroad because I never had to and up until 2 years ago, I wasn't over the age of 25 so it was a huge bother (and it was expensive) to rent a car. I've always visited major cities with great public transportation systems so a car was never necessary anyway. However, for this trip to France, we're renting a car for one day so we can drive out to Annecy because it's more economical for four of us to hop in a car than it is to book four round trip train tickets. As I am the only member of our party that is comfortable driving a car with a manual transmission (my current vehicle is stick), it's up to me to (wo)man the wheel.

I've been reading mixed responses here and there in regard to whether or not an International Driving Permit (IDP) is 100% necessary in France but to be on the safe side, I popped over to the closest AAA location to get myself permitted. I checked the list of countries that honor the IDP and France was on there, so I think that technically (re: legally), I need one.
For those of you who don't know, an IDP is just a translation of your driver's license. So, when you're abroad in a country that speaks a different language, you've got a piece of identification and proof that you're allowed to drive that you can present to LEOs, car rental companies, etc. that they'll understand. Obviously, you've got to have a valid driver's license in your country of residence to get an IDP and it doesn't replace your license. If you were to get pulled over (God forbid), you'd likely have to present both your valid driver's license and your IDP.

Monday, May 12, 2014

France Packing Essentials

Whenever I go on holiday, I really enjoy experiencing new things. Sometimes the destination is a place I've never been and everything I experience on the trip is new. Sometimes, it's a repeat destination but I make sure to participate in a new activity. I just love "broadening my horizons" or whatever.

Though I've been to France multiple times, this upcoming trip has a lot of "firsts" for me. It's the first time I'll be traveling to cities besides Paris (not counting the handful of times I had to go to Beauvais and Orly because I had flights out of those tiny airports). It'll be my first time on a train in France (not counting the metro). Also, it'll be my first time driving a car in Europe (don't worry, I drive a manual car currently). Ooh, which reminds me, I've got to tell you guys about my experience getting an international driving permit. That'll be shared later this week once I've got the post put together.

It's all super exciting and I have all these random ideas floating in my head. One thing I'd love to do is buy fresh flowers and make a flower crown to sport on a sunny day - which means I'm contemplating what I might need to pack in order to execute that (and I predict that this will not happen). I'd also love to eat at a really tiny restaurant where there are only 4 or 5 tables and the chef brings you out whatever (s)he's decided to cook that day and you just eat what's placed in front of you. I was able to do this on my first visit to Paris but I think that was sheer luck. And, I really want to wear a striped tee, sport a boater hat, and cycle over a little footbridge. I've got such cool dreams, right?

Anyway, let's get to the meat of this post. One thing I'm crazy excited about is planning what I'm going to wear while we're abroad. French women are notoriously chic and gorgeous so I don't want to stick out like a poorly dressed sore thumb. I want a wardrobe that looks classic and effortless. 'Eer are what I consider to be zee essentials for a trip to Frahnce in zee summ-air:
A striped tee is so classic, right? I definitely need one of those. Red lips and a smudgey cat eye are also on my must-have list, as is some simple gold jewelry and of course, my camera. Also, a smart trouser, sundress, and comfy but stylish shoes are on the list. I haven't been on a trip where I cared about my outfits this much in a while. I think the last trip like that was Istanbul. Every other trip since then was a beach/swim holiday which is so much easier to plan and pack for because it's just a bunch of swimsuits and breezy dresses that take up virtually no room in my suitcase.

Friday, May 09, 2014

North Dakota Snaps

As y'all may or may not know - yeah, "y'all" is part of my vocabulary now - I've been in North Dakota for a few weeks. I was sent out here for work-related purposes. It's not the most exciting of places but it's brand new to me and I've been able to take some pretty cool photos, which is a fortunate thing for my blogging life. Since I've never been to this part of the world before, I need to tell you that I've never seen this sort of landscape in person so it's a whole new world (cue Aladdin music) and I think it's rather beautiful. I mean, I wouldn't want to live here, but that doesn't mean I can't admit its beauty is legit. Seriously though, I went to college in Ithaca and that town, surrounding towns, and the drive up is pretty rural, but North Dakota makes Ithaca look like a metropolis.

I have to admit that there isn't much to do around here and I've been missing Korean food and sushi and Indian buffets and cooking at home but it's been quite an experience to be immersed into this country, plains, corn fields and pastures type of atmosphere for a good chunk of time. I think that I'll be thrown back out here after my trip to France; nothings certain yet. But if I am, hopefully by then, the summer weather will be here to stay and the grass will be a little greener.
Okay, so these photos were collected over the course of two weeks, mostly on gorgeously sunny days with a couple on overcast afternoons and one or two on not-so-nice snowy mornings. The thing about this part of the country is that the weather is fickle. It's gorgeous one day, it's snowing the next. And don't get me started on the wind. The wind is insane out here; if it's blowing 20 MPH, it's a mild day. But, to make up for the randomly sh*tty weather, everyone is super nice and friendly. Like, they're so friendly that it surprises me every time. Sure, there are one or two cranky, ornery, jerky suckers but in general, the people around here are quick to smile, say hello, and help you before you even know you need help.
This is a v. photo heavy post, just warnin' ya. You can click through the jump break just to see the rest.

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Getting Around DC

We had the option to drive down to DC but we didn't; we took a bus. We didn't want to deal with the actual trip down (I like sleeping), we didn't want to deal with fueling up, and we didn't want to deal with parking. Even if we had driven down to DC, we wouldn't have driven around the city anyway. Why deal with trying to find a parking spot or meters or fees for lots when there's an amazing public transportation system and Uber?

Let's discuss the Metro first. The DC Metro has five lines (red, blue, orange, yellow, and green) and has a sixth line that's currently under construction (silver). The lines wing out like an asterisk to different parts of town and into Virginia and Maryland.
The cost to ride the Metro depends on the time of day as well as the distance you're traveling. When you walk into a Metro station, you can check the card machine which will have an alphabetical list of the stops and the cost to get there (from the station you're currently in) for both peak and off-peak hours. Peak hours are from 6:30 to 9:00 and 15:30 to 19:00.

Most frequent Metro riders have the SmarTrip card, which is a permanent and reloadable card that can also be used on buses. But, if you're only in DC for a trip, you'll probably just pick up a paper Metro card. You can get a paper Metro card from one of the machines in the station and add money to it, as necessary. If you're planning on taking the Metro just once, you can put in the exact amount you need or just throw a few bucks on and wing it. You'll have to feed your card into the machine when you enter the Metro and again when you leave so don't lose it! If you happened to not put enough money on your card for your ride, the turnstile won't let you leave but don't worry. You can go to one of the machines and throw some more money on the card.

The paper Metro cards don't work on buses. For buses, make sure to have some cash (small bills!) on you. Each regular ride is $1.80 so have some coins as well, if you care about the $0.20 loss. Each express bus ride is $3.65. Just feed the money into the little money machine; and remember, you don't get change back so have exact change with you. Tip: for bus rides, just use your Google Maps app on your phone to help you figure out which bus to take.

Anyway, back to the Metro. Once you make it underground, you'll have to decide which train to take. Each line runs in two directions (duh) and the direction is indicated by the final stop on each end. So, for example, if you're taking the green line, you'll either be heading towards Greenbelt or Branch Ave. If you're unsure of which direction you need to go, just look around for a map or one of the columns that list the stations that each train is heading to. Once you figure out where you're going, wait on the appropriate side. When a train is approaching, the little lights along the edge of the platform will start to blink. Hop on the train, listen and watch for your stop, and get off when you're supposed to. Feed your card into the turnstile when you're leaving and you're good to go. By the way, your paper card will have its new balance printed onto it when you leave.
Okay, now let's talk about Uber. So I'd known about Uber for a while but had no reason to use it. It's available in NYC but since taxis are so readily available, I've never needed Uber. But, in DC, you have to call a cab, wait for 20 minutes, and then hop in and pay a jerky driver to take you where you need to be. However, with Uber, you just open up the app on your phone, set your location, and ask for an Uber. The app will contact the closest driver who will come find you. Then, you hop in and get chauffeured. After you're dropped off, you'll be sent a receipt (to the app), and that's it. You're done!
You can view rates in your city and decide whether or not the Uber is worth it. Plus, you just store your credit card information (or PayPal info) so you don't need cash. And, because the drivers earn commission based on reviews of their service, there are no tips involved when you're driven around. It's so easy! Even if you've just been at the bar having a few drinks, you can easily Uber and get to where you need to be without fiddling with a credit card, which is an aspect I really like.
To actually use the app, you'll have to register and put in some valid payment information. Then, you'll find yourself on a map and either set your location based on where your phone thinks you are or you can input an address if you think that'll make things easier. Once you set your pick up location, you'll request a car. Then, Uber will show you a photo of your driver, the type of car he/she will be driving, and let you know how long it'll take for him/her to arrive. You can also watch the car heading towards your location in real time, which is kind of stalker-ish if the driver is your former lover, but totally normal and extremely awesome when you're waiting for your cab.

So that's it for my take on getting around DC. If you have any tips of your own, throw them in the comments!


Friday, May 02, 2014

DC Part 4: Museum of Natural History

The last "real" activity we did in DC was walking around the Museum of Natural History. Cornell's former president, David Skorton is now heading up the Smithsonian Institution, which I think is pretty cool. Anyway, D and I met up with our friend J and her daughter H and future baby N (still in the womb). Wow, is that enough initials for you? Anyway, I always love visiting the Mall and all of the awesome museums. The Air & Space one is another awesome one but I always love the Natural History Museum.
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