Travel Thursday featuring: Charleston, SC

Frequently and most recently ranked as one of America’s best cities to visit, Charleston, SC is without a doubt a must see tourist spot. This city has it all; history, festivals galore, gourmet dining, beaches, shopping and lots of southern charm.

Top 3 Sightseeing Spots

Be sure to visit Fort Sumter. The pivotal spot where the Civil War began. Aside from learning a bit of history, you willfrt get to enjoy the breathtaking views of Charleston and her harbor.

Sullivan Island is where you’ll find the locals. Just minutes away from Charleston, this family-friendly beach welcomes you to enjoy watersports, history and folklore, local restaurants and shops all year round.  Photo: Gosoutheast.about.com

beachTake a stroll through The Battery at the very tip of the peninsula, here you can see some of Charleston’s grand historic homes, displays of Civil War artillery and the beautiful White Point Gardens. Photo: Charlotte Magazine

6260614292_11f0560e52Photo: Flickr by Daniela Duncan

Tourist Note: Charleston is very tourist friendly and you will have no problem getting around. All of these spots can be reached on foot, carriage, bike, car or via ferry!

Interesting Activities

As one of the biggest culinary scenes in the south, Charleston has a lot more to offer than fine dining. Want to learn how to make delicious meals yourself? Head over to Zero George Street; a collection of five restored historic residential buildings, with accommodations featuring contemporary décor and furnishings. This hotel offers unique opportunities to stay on property, such as cooking lessons featuring local ingredients and beautiful plating presentations. The property was recently voted 2014 Best New Food Hotel by Condé Nast Traveler.   249011_503382373063528_1505652482_nPhoto: Zero George Street Website

When to Go?

The best time to visit this lovely area is during the fall (September-October) and around April-May right before the heat kicks in. During this time you can enjoy some of local festivals such as the Home and Gardens Festival, Charleston International Film Festival, Charleston Tells Storytelling festival, North Charleston Art festival and the famous Charleston Food and Wine Festival, a local favorite.

Favorite Local Hang out Spots

Zero George Street Concierge Manager Allie Bankart recommends Poe’s Tavern in Sullivan’s Island, an Edgar Allan Poe themed bar and restaurant two blocks from the beach famous for its Peanut Butter burger. Also the area near the local college for the best rooftop bars.

Whether you are into history, architecture, beaches or just looking to travel off the beaten path, “Chucktown” should definitely be in your radar when looking to book your next Travel Tuesday adventure.

EPCOT International Food and Wine Festival

Florida is a very diverse region in the United States. Luckily, there are various festivals, cultural events and fairs that are specific to all of the amazing people and cultures that reside here. I chose to attend Epcot International Food and Wine Festival. This gastronomic display is held annually and is quite popular for both locals and tourists. Each year they offer food and drinks from different countries as well as cooking conferences and lessons to learn how to make delicious dishes.

I enlisted the company of my dear friend Reiko as the festival has a section dedicated to her native Japan. I thought this way the perfect opportunity to taste some appetizing food and learn a bit more about her culture. I decided to try the Spicy Hand Roll, which was filled with tuna and salmon accompanied by Kazan Volcano sauce, something she found interesting as translated it would say volcano-volcano sauce. She told me this was close to an authentic tuna roll but it would have had raw fish in her hometown. She said it is a bit “Americanized” as people are not as keen on raw meat in the US. I for one was glad of this adaptation!

We also had a Teriyaki Gyoza Bun which I had tried while in Japan but here they were not fried, the bun was only steamed. Gyoza is actually a Chinese dish (Baozi) that was transformed by the Japanese by adding cabbage and frying one side of it. The one I had previously tried is my favorite style but this one was good too.

We walked around the Japan Pavilion and got to see some beautiful displays of kimonos and she explained they are only worn for special occasions such as weddings and graduations. I bought some of my favorite Japanese candy Hi-Chew and took great photos by the Itsukushima Shrine replica (Floating Gate) and a beautiful pagoda. All in all it was a lovely day with great food and great company.

Sightseeing Etiquette

Different cultures have all kinds of special greetings, sayings, customs and of course etiquette that us, as smart travelers need to know ahead of time when visiting certain places.

Below are just a few FYIs you should keep in mind to be respectful and be able to fully enjoy your traveling experience.

In general

  1. Do not photograph kids (no matter how cute they are) without permission.
  2. People can get quite loud when traveling in large groups so be respectful of others and keep voices down.
  3. Cheering, hooting and hollering after a performance is not well seen outside of the US
  4. Keep an eye open for what you see locals doing. If they bow to you, bow back. If they kiss on the cheek, be welcoming of the culture and so it as well!
  5. Do a bit or cultural etiquette research before you go on a trip. There are a ton of helpful websites out there. They even have this info on your handy travel books!

Removing Shoes5

When entering a home or certain establishments in Japan (restaurants with no chairs, hostels, castles) you are to remove your shoes and place them inside an empty locker (these are free in most places, in others, you will deposit a 100yen coin, which will be refunded once you re-open the locker) Sometimes slippers will be provided for you to walk around in. Be sure to place shoes neatly when shoes cubbies are full so others don’t trip over them.

Tip> Be sure to wear socks or have some available in your bag.

 

When experiencing an Onsen (Hot Springs in Japan)

3If you have the chance to visit an Onsen (which I highly recommend you do) you must be aware of certain rules:

Remove your clothing and wear the provided yukata (robe) and slippers to walk around the facilities.

You must shower/clean off before entering the hot baths.

Feel free to use the amenities provided such as soap and shampoo.

Most places do not allow bathing suits so just know you will be fully nude next to complete strangers (it’s the norm there so no one will be starring)

2If you have large tattoos YOU WILL NOT BE ALLOWED IN (Crazy rule but it is legal for owners to ask you to leave for this reason don’t ask me why)

When visiting a Japanese Shrine

You can simple observe the beautiful structures and watch as people pray for all sorts of things. The number one rule though is DO NOT PHOTOGRAPH PEOPLE PRAYING. This is the single most disrespectful thing no matter which country you are in. Please don’t do it.

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Now, if you want to respectfully part take on the prayer this is what you should do (http://japandora.com/archives/5199):

  1. Toss: Throw a coin into the offering box. A 5-yen or 10-yen coin is appropriate.
  2. Announce: Grab the thick rope in front of you and swing it side to side to sound the small gong.
  3. Clap: Clap once.
  4. Honor: Pray.
  5. Double-Clap: Clap twice, pausing slightly between claps.
  6. And Bow: Bow and then back away.

When visiting a Mosque

6These are the most scared places for people of this religion and some of the most beautiful buildings for us to visit. Luckily non- Muslims are welcome to enter and experience the wonderful architecture; love and attention to detail that went on when building these mosques. The Hagia Sophia in Istanbul is magnificent!

These are some things to keep in mind when visiting a mosque:

 

  1. You must remove your shoes before entering,
  2. You must cover most body parts (especially women). I recommend planning your visit ahead of time so you can plan your outfit accordingly
  3. Women must cover their heads (scarves make an easy and cute headdress)1
  4. Most mosques will rent scarves or fabric alike for women to wear as a long skirt or shawl.
  5. For obvious reasons you must not speak inside the mosque or if you do you must keep a very low voice level.
  6. Photos are allowed inside (in most places) but be sure not to use the flash.

 

 

Some of these may sound pretty obvious to you, but you have no idea how many times people forget they are visiting and not going around their local neighborhood where they can do as they please. If you keep these helpful hints in mind, you will have a much more enjoyable experience and represent your country well when overseas

Julie

Cheap Backpacking Tips!

Ok, so you want to visit Europe and go on a backpacking adventure (mind you the idea of “backpacking” for some is bringing a large suitcase full of electronics and expect 5 star hotel rooms with wi-fi and free breakfast. If this is what you are looking for… you won’t find it below)

1Preparation

Making a list of these things will allow you to begin the following steps and make the most of your trip. Look at a map and see which countries you want to visit are near each other; do a bit of research and make a sensible itinerary. In my experience 3-4 days per country will do.

2Finding a cheap flight

Search MULTIPLE websites. Simply going on Expedia and typing in your destination won’t go very far. Check for discounted websites such as Priceline and STA Travel, the latter caters to university students.

3Accommodations

From cheaper to cheapest option. When you want to travel on a budget and make the most of your trip you know you won’t be spending that much time in a room, so why care for it being overly fancy? I mean, you don’t want it to be disgusting or full of bugs but honestly, as long as you have a bed or couch to sleep on you should be good to go. Check out Hostelworld, Airbnb and CouchSurfing; this site offers -as the name suggests-couches for people to spend a night or two in someone’s home.

4Luggage

Mind you, you will be carrying this all over Europe and you’ll be doing a lot of walking so make sure it is a sturdy one! I have the Osprey 65L. Osprey Packs. It is light, durable and so worth the price.

Tip: check eBay for better bargains on used bags!

5What to pack?

People get freaked out by this one. I see it like this, I need a different top for everyday of my trip (can’t be wearing the same top twice on a picture!) BUT I can accessorize it differently SO I cut that number in half (Boys can use change items accordingly):

For a 14-day summer trip I packed:

  • 7 light tops (or a mixture of tops and sun dresses)
  • 4 bottoms (shorts, leggings, skirts)
  • LOTS OF UNDIES!!!
  • 2 pairs of shoes (sturdy walking shoes and sandals)
  • A light scarf (can use as a headscarf or shoulder cover when visiting churches)
  • A light impermeable jacket (in case of cold and rain)
  • My kindle (So I don’t have to carry too many travel books)
  • Photo camera (duh!)
  • Toiletries (toothbrush, toothpaste, shampoo, conditioner, body soap, deodorant)

AND THAT’S IT!!!

6Travel Books

You can read these on the plane, bus, train, etc. Travel books have hundreds of helpful hints on how to get “off the beaten path” and discover the less touristy areas. I absolutely LOVE Rick Steves’ books. “Europe Through The Back Door” is amazing and gets updates every year. It includes discounts you can get in places by showing his book!

Tip: I take my small kindle where I can keep my books and not have to carry the heavy paperback one

7Getting Around

Buses and trains run smoothly and on time (most of the time). The easiest way to travel between countries is to buy a train pass. I personally like to buy them ahead of time since I have a well-organized itinerary but some people like to get them as they go.

Tip: check your destination’s train website rather than your departure city, it will save you a bit of money.

8Sightseeing

Getting a museum “day pass” may actually end up costing you more than if you bought them separately. A lot of times entry fees are cheaper or even free for students! Also, flashy locations with lots of signs and giant tour groups are not your best bet. Various major cities give out tip based walking tours where a young university student will take around the city and give you some cool info facts about history and the local way of living.

I would also recommend making an itinerary of your day. Check out the places you wanna visit ahead of time. Get a hotel map and make a sensible itinerary; I say sensible because you don’t have to stick to it religiously, just an idea of where to go and what to do.

Tip: my favorite tour guides are from New Europe Tours… various locations!

9Food

Of course you’re gonna wanna try the local food and local drinks! Beware though, these are usually pricey in places that have flashy English signs outside the door and or English menus. Your best bet is to go to a small local restaurant. Most of them have pictures of the meals and you can just point at what looks appetizing. Also if you look it up ahead of time, you will know what the local delicacies are and be able to know what you’re eating! For those who drink, go for the local beer, stay away from well-known brands. These are a lot pricier! Also, buy breakfast at your hostel or a local supermarket. I personally have one big meal a day and snack throughout the day. Saves both time and money!

10Traveler’s Insurance and Credit Cards

You are not invincible, you will be traveling basically non-stop for 2-3 weeks in a new climate every week, climbing, walking, running, you name it. It is wise to pay $70 bucks for travel insurance that not only will save you a ton of cash in case (heaven forbid) you get sick or lose/break any of your things. Credit cards are a necessity when traveling too. For one you need it to check in/hold hostel and train reservations, and two, you want to have just in case.

11Souvenir Shopping

You should definitely not go crazy cause one, you wont have a lot of room and two, you don’t want to spend too much. Luckily most trinkets are small and inexpensive if purchased away from the heavy touristy areas. My magnet collection will FILL my entire fridge and then some. I also have a thousand postcards that will one day become part of a coffee and side tables set J These are fun ways to display your cool souvenirs and share stories with people when they come visit .

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ENJOY!

I know this list could have included a lot more info, but these are the things I have personally done to plan and enjoy a successful backpacking trip. I had the most amazing time summer 2012. I traveled all by myself, got to meet some great people and followed no one’s schedule but my own and had the time of my life!

If you have any questions, please feel free to ask!

Julie

My Top 5 Cities

What is your favorite city? This is probably the question I get asked the most and the hardest one to answer! I have been fortunate enough to have visited some amazing places and there is something I have loved from each and every place, but if I had to narrow it down (and this was a hard task!) I would have to say these are my Top 5 favorite cities:

1. HONG KONG – CHINA

hong-kong-harbour001Victoria Harbour

I suppose I am a little bias since this was the first city I visited overseas and the first country I lived on my own. It was a taste of freedom at the young age of 18. Hong Kong has a wonderful mix of old China with a metropolitan English lifestyle. The culture in Hong Kong is unlike any other. They do not consider themselves Chinese (though they are a Special Administrative Region of China) and neither do they consider themselves English (as once they were part of the U.K Commonwealth). They are have their own mixed identities which make Hong Kongers so warm and special. This city has SO much to offer. From their one of a kind harbor view (used in many movies, most recently Batman: The Dark Knight) to its wonderful peak views and astonishing mountain range. The nightlife there is pretty special too as exclusive clubs are hidden atop tall skyscrapers offering some of the best views in the world.

hk

2. KYOTO – JAPAN

 

38250012Maiko Photo Shoot

The old capital of Japan during the Edo period. This wonderfully maintained city is one of the most adorable towns I have ever visited. If you really want a taste of traditional Japan this is the place to go. From the beautiful shrines, to the wooden door tea houses where beautiful geishas entertain (for a hefty price I might add) Kyoto has so much to offer both visually and physically. While you’re here, be sure to visit an Onsen on Public bath (it is not disgusting, albeit a bit uncomfortable if you don’t like to walk around naked among strangers). These public baths offer hot springs and a number of spa treats such as whirlpools and saunas. I tried the “pink rose bath” which was a hot tub filled with water mixed with rose petals. It smelled AMAZING. Of course no visit is complete to Kyoto without a Maiko transformation. Locals and tourists alike visit photo studios to become a “Geisha Apprentice”. The traditional white make up, beautiful kimonos and headpieces are included in the package price. It is an amazing experience for the ladies! Don’t worry boys, they have outfits for you too. You can become a samurai and hold a real Katana during your photo shot!

jp

 

3. AMSTERDAM – NETHERLANDS

 

Amsterdam Canal Tab HauserAmsterdam Canals

Listen, I know why most people love Amsterdam, the infamous “coffee shops” and “red light district” are the most visited places by foreigners in this city. Of course I made a pit stop along the way (can’t go all the way there and not say I at least saw it) but the history and amazing architecture of Amsterdam take the win for me. The picturesque buildings along the river, the endless canals and the famous Anne Frank museum were some of the most wonderful things I have seen in my life. The tragic history old Amsterdam was bombarded with is sadly reminded of in this museum. There is no complete visit to Amsterdam without a stop at this once warehouse that hid (for sometime) the Frank family from the horrors of Nazi Germany. Walking through this building and thinking of the sorrow this family must have gone true was gut wrenching and shows the reality of this awful period in time. It also makes us appreciate the fact that it is over and hope nothing like that would ever happen again. (Photos were not allowed inside so I used some from the internet to share with you)

ams

4. BARCELONA –  SPAIN

 

urlLa Sagrada Familia

Probably the most picturesque city of them all. If you ever thought stone mosaics were cool, you ain’t seen nothing yet if you haven’t visited Barcelona! What amazed me the most was the fact this city looked brand new. Every building, every street looked as though it had just been unwrapped from a carefully packaged gift box. Gaudi, the creator of these masterpieces died before his largest one would be completed. La Sagrada Familia is the largest, most intricate church I have ever seen. It is so much so that this building has yet to be finished! Park Guell is also another wonderful piece of art. This large garden complex is filled with mosaics that decorate the walls and chairs along the park. it is truly a wonderful place to just sit and taken in the lovely summer breeze. Of course one of the must-do things in Barcelona (and Spain as a whole) is try their delicious tapas. These bite-sized goodies will keep both your stomach and your pocket happy as you delight on these Spanish treats.

bar

5. PARIS – FRANCE

Eiffel towerEiffel Tower

La Ville-Lumière or the City of Lights is everything you image and more. The cafes along the streets, the beautifully crafted pastries, the chicness and style of the people and of course the ever-impressive Eiffel Tower are some of my favorites things in Paris. Having lived there for 6 months, I was able to explore some of the “off the beaten path” beauties this city has to offer. Every shop here is unique, they may sell the same pastries but the way they make prepare and display them is so different you will think you are eating something completely different and magical every time. I would have to say aside from the big names, The Palace of Versailles, L’Orangerie, The Opera house, the Louvre is pretty special, but not because of the Mona Lisa (which is no larger than an 8×10, or so it seemed like to me) is the hidden apartment Napoleon owned in one of the wings of this famous museum. If you ever thought gold trims along the walls, victorian furniture with your initials carved on them and 100+ dinning tables adorned with massive chandeliers were your thing, you MUST visit this place. I have never seen anything glide it before. It is definitely my favorite sight in Paris, hands down. I felt like in a complete fairytale (mind you I have visited hundreds of castles too) but this one floor apartment was a dream come true for my inner princess desires.

ar

Aside

Welcome!!

I love to travel! There is no better way to spend my time and money than visiting another country and getting to know the people, as well as their culture and traditions! In this blog I will share my experiences and some of the photos I have taken on my travels. I will also add on some helpful tips in case you decide to go on our own adventures after reading this blog!