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Featured Lifestyle Travel

Munich, Germany

September 20, 2016

When in Germany you must go to Oktoberfest in Munich. My cousin Jamelia’s co-worker, Constanze from the worldwide company SAP and her son Vince, were gracious enough to open up their home to me. I spent 5 days in beautiful Munich exploring the city, museums, architecture, and of course Oktoberfest.

img_0282     img_0284I went to the city center, Marienplatz, where I was immediately greeted by a sworm of couchsurfers. We walked around city center where there actually were many American stores, Forever 21, H&M, Urban Outfitters, TJMaxx, ect. However, I was a mission find a Dirndl for Oktoberfest kick off, which started the following day. After I found my perfect outfit, we spent the rest of the night pre-paring for Oktoberfest which meant drinking a lot of beer. 🙂 We walked around to several different Augustines (very popular beer in Munich) which I actually fancy. It has the perfect amount of hops in it, not to hard and not weak! Now these bar are not your typical American bar. This is more like 2-3 mall food court size bars with full course meals, including whole and half chickens, with potatoes and gravy, ducks, lamb, and so much more.

img_0299 Getting ready for Oktoberfest and to my surprise, my new friend AJ from Paris came to visit me in Munich in Oktoberfest. He lives In Stuttgart, Germany which is only a 2hour drive. So I convinced him to come down for the weekend and he did. He’s my new travel ace! So I walked up to him at the train station in this Dirndl and he just bust out laughing. I thought I was cute lol We head to the festival by train when we get off on our stop we have no idea where to go. So we just follow all the other 1,000 people walking in one direction. And Wha-la we made it.img_0321

Just a quick reminder, it rained the entire week, but from the amount of people outside or in the tents, nobody really cared.

A couple of people that I met the previous day were in a tent and had saved us seats so we headed in that direction. However, they got kicked out of their seats because that table was actually reserved. A quick tip: If you don’t buy reservations for a table, its a good idea to get to the tent early. However, I was not going to a tent at 7am, when drink don’t start until 12pm. It just wasnt that serious for me. So me being me, I asked a waiter if we she brought us a beer outside and we gave her a tip, if she could get us in. OF COURSE, she said yes!!!

Another tip: I have learned that people do not really tip in Europe. So when you offer a tip, its not expected, but appreciated.

So she got us in a tent with about 200,000 other people. Our next mission was to find a table. So we just walked around until we found some people our age and Wha-la they say “heyyyyyyyy come sit with us!”  We probably ended up sitting with the best group of people. Everyone is so welcoming young and old. So eager to hear why your In Munich, or at Oktoberfest or traveling….because obviously I look like a local. haha!! I don’t think I have ever drank such big beers in my life! Oh, and AJ made me drink 2 before we could move. We ordered chicken, which in Germany means a WHOLE chicken, not a leg, or thigh or maybe a leg and a thigh, NO!! When I say a whole chicken, I mean an entire chicken, everything except the head. And ohms god, it was seasoned so well and so juicy!! I could eat it plane. We also had ( pulled apart pancakes and apple sauce), pretty much taste like funnel cake and strawberries, it was delicious!

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After this I was stuffed with beer and food! We went outside at about 10pm. Our tent closed at 10:30pm on this night, and we wanted to beat the crowd, which I’m glad we did. Outside are carnival games and rides for what seemed liked miles and miles. We hung out outside watching people play the craziest games in the rain might I add.

Later that night we went to a club called Jack Rabbit. It was pretty lame to us, although it was super packed. After a few drinks there we headed to Babylon II Shisha, the hookah bar next door which was more our speed. They were playing all the new or current music. We would later learn that this would be our late night spot for the weekend. The bartender kept the drinks flowing and our shisha fresh! Perfect!!

The next day we figured we would get a little culture and knowledge, so we took an incognito city tour with my host Constanze. She drove us around past some of the libraries, historic buildings, buildings built by Hitler, The City Wall of Munich and finally to the BMW Museum.

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This museum was on the top of my list for Munich, of course because I own a BMW and I love my car to death. I learned so much about BMW that I had NO idea of before. Such as BMW started as an airplane engine manufacture not a car maker.

We went back to our new favorite shisha bar that night and then I wished AJ farewells as he was off to Hawaii the next day! 🙁

I would have to say my time in Germany was great!!! Prost!!! 🙂

Time to get out of this rain and back to ….Chasing The Sun!!

Travel

FREE Walking Tours

September 17, 2016

I have discovered that just about every major city has free walking tours!!!! This is a great way to explore and learn about some of the history of the city or country you are in! Oh, did I forget to tell you, THEY ARE FREE!!! It is also a great way to familiarize yourself with the location and get a better understanding of what other tours or sites you may want to explore a little bit deeper.

I was going to make a list of all the walking tours I have come across but there is just so many.So I will lead you in the same direction as I took to find them…

GOOGLE!!! HAHA

Just google (Free walking tours in (city) or (country)!!!! and wha-la

Make sure to wear comfy tennis shoes!! Happy Walking!

Featured Lifestyle Travel

Musées à Paris (Museums in Paris)

September 15, 2016

Of course you have to go to The Eiffel Tower, The Louvre, The Arc De Triomphe, Versailles – Palace of Louis XIV and Musee du Orsay!!!

However, if you have the pleasure of being in Paris on a Tuesday you should also check out these museums, which are free on Tuesdays!

Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris: (10am till 6pm)

Address : 11, avenue du Président Wilson

*Subway: Iéna (line 9)

–Maison de Balzac: (10am till 6pm)

Address: 47, rue Raynouard

*Subway: Passy (line 6)

Musée Bourdelle: (10am till 6pm)

Address : 16, rue Antoine Bourdelle

*Subway: Montparnasse – Bienvenüe (lin 4, 6, 12 & 13)

–Musée Carnavalet – Histoire de Paris: (10am till 6pm)

Address : 23, rue de Sévigné

*Subway: Saint-Paul (line 1), Chemin Vert (line 8)

–Musée Cernuschi: (10am till 6pm)

Address: 7, avenue Velasquez

*Subway: Villiers (line 2 & 11)

–Musée Cognacq-Jay: (10am till 6pm)

Address : Hôtel Donon – 8, rue Elzévir

*Subway: Saint-Paul (line 1)

–Petit Palais, Musée des Beaux Arts de la Ville de Paris: (10am till 6pm)

Address: Avenue Winston Churchill

*Subway: Champs-Elysées – Clemenceau (line 1 & 13)

–Maison de Victor Hugo: (10am till 6pm)

Address: Hôtel de Rohan-Guéménée – 6, place des Vosges

*Subway: Bastille (line 1, 5 & 8), Saint-Paul (line 1)

–Musée de la Vie Romantique: (10am till 6pm)

Address:16, rue Chaptal

*Subway: Pigalle (line 2 & 12), Saint-Georges (line 12)

–Musée Zadkine: (10am till 6pm)

Address : 100bis, rue d’Assas

*Subway: Notre-Dame-des-Champs (line 12), Port Royal (RER ‘B’)

–Musée de l’Air et de l’Espace: (10am till 5pm)

Address : Aéroport de Paris – Le Bourget

*Subway : Le Bourget (RER ‘B’) and after: Bus 350, 152, 148

–Musée – Librairie du Compagnonnage: (2pm till 6pm)

Address: 10, rue Mabillon

*Subway: Saint-Germain-des-Prés (line 4)

–Musée de la Préfecture de Police: (9:30am till 5pm)

Address:Hôtel de Police du Ve arrondissement – 4, rue de la Montagne Sainte-Geneviève

*Subway: Maubert – Mutualité (line 10)

–Musée du Parfum-Fragonard: (9am till 6pm)

Address:9 rue Scribe

*Subway: Opéra (line 3,7 & 8), Auber (RER ‘A’)

–Théâtre musée des Capucines-Fragonard: (9am till 6pm)

Address: 39, boulevard des Capucines *Subway: Opéra (line 3,7 & 8), Auber (RER ‘A’)

Enjoy!!!

Featured Lifestyle Travel

Paris, France

September 15, 2016

The city of love…where do I begin…

Well when I arrived in Paris I was feeling a little sad and somber. The feeling of being in Paris was a dream, but I never dreamt of being here alone, without any friends or family. As I walked into my hotel room, I got a little sad, a lot of things just really started to sink in. I had been so busy with the hassle and bustle of Amsterdam and so relaxed in Belgium that I hadn’t really had the chance to just sit back and (think). So I think naturally, it all started to sink in and although knowing how proud my mom would be of my for embarking on this adventure alone, and although I know she is with me in spirit in the air, and footsteps next to me on the ground, the thought of not being able to physically share this experience with her is very heavy.

Eventually and once again, I got my life together and decided to go look for some food. It seems that all these random happy experiences keep coming to me when Im going to look for food. By the time I actually get settled in my room and showered its about 11pm. I went upstairs to the rooftop where there is a bar, however, no food. To my surprise, fireworks start and last for literally 1.5 hours. I walk around on the rooftop and at last. The Eiffel Tower is smack in front of me, lighting up the nights sky. My somber mood turned bright as I thought to myself “ Dreams really do come true, I am in Paris!”

So I gather my thoughts and decide to go on an adventure to find some food. I asked the front desk where should I go at this hour and she points me in the direction of a restauarant down the street. I head in that direction for a couple of blocks but I don’t see it. At the same time I was thinking “I don’t really want to sit in a restaurant”. As I hit the corner, I spot a pizza place so I walk towards it. At the same time this guy is walking from the pizza place towards me. He doesn’t speak we just walk past each other. I walk into the pizza place and think “did I really come to Paris to eat pizza!?” So I walk out and head towards the restaurant I was directed to. I get to the corner and the guy is standing there. I asked him “Are you from here?” and he replies “No!” Then I asked “Do you speak English?” and he laughs and says “I just answered you in English” We laughed and I said “no” doesn’t count, everybody knows what that means. Anyway, he tells me he was going to go to the same restaurant but didn’t want to eat alone so he ordered pizza. Great minds think alike. So I went back and ordered a pizza. He waited with me and coincidently he was staying at the same hotel. We continue with small talk and AJ, from the states, but lives in Hawaii, in the Air Force and currently working in Germany, turned out to be my new best friend in Paris. We took our pizza to the rooftop and ordered some beers and chat till about midnight. We planned to go to the club that night but after a whole day of traveling I was tired and passed out.

The following day, AJ and I explored Paris. We went to and up The Eiffel Tower, The Louvre, The Arc De Triomphe de l’Étoile, and back to The Eiffel Tower at night. All of these iconic sights were unbelievable to see in person, really a dream. After another day of crazy touring I was exhausted yet again. Sadly, AJ had to leave for Germany to go back to work. He probably doesn’t know it, but he really helped put me in a better head space and appreciate being in Paris and continuing on my journey. I had an amazing day!

The Eiffel Tower

Est. 1887, is a wrought iron lattice tower on the Champ de Mars in Paris, France. It is named after the engineer Gustave Eiffel, whose company designed and built the tower. It was constructed from 1887-89 as the entrance to the 1889 World’s Fair, it was initially criticized by some of France’s leading artists and intellectuals for its design, but it has become a global cultural icon of France and one of the most recognisable structures in the world.

 

    

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The Louvre

is the world’s largest museum and a historic monument in Paris, France. A central landmark of the city, it is located on the Right Bank of the Seine in the city’s1st arrondissement. With nearly 35,000 objects from prehistory to the 21st century are exhibited over an area of 652,300 square feet. The Louvre is the world’s second most visited museum after the Palace Museum in China, receiving more than 9.26 million visitors in 2014. 

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What most may not know, is that the museum is housed in the Louvre Palace, originally built as a fortress in the late 12th century under Philip II. Remnants of the fortress are visible in the basement of the museum. Due to the urban expansion of the city, the fortress eventually lost its defensive function and, in 1578, was converted by Francis I of France into the main residence of the French Kings. The building was extended many times to form the present Louvre Palace. In 1682, Louis XIV chose the Palace of Versailles for his household, leaving the Louvre primarily as a place to display the royal collection, including, from 1692, a collection of ancient Greek and Roman sculpture. In 1692, the building was occupied by the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles Lettres and the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture, which in 1699 held the first of a series of salons. The Académie remained at the Louvre for 100 years.[4] During the French Revolution, the National Assembly decreed that the Louvre should be used as a museum to display the nation’s masterpieces.

The museum opened on August 10, 1793 with an exhibition of 537 paintings, the majority of the works being royal and confiscated church property. Because of structural problems with the building, the museum was closed from 1796 – 1801. The collection was increased under Napoleon and the museum renamed the Musée Napoléon, but after Napoleon’s abdication many works seized by his armies were returned to their original owners. The collection was further increased during the reigns of Louis XVIII and Charles X, and during the Second French Empire the museum gained 20,000 pieces. Holdings have grown steadily through donations and bequests since the Third Republic. The collection is divided among eight very very large curatorial departments: Egyptian Antiquities; Near Eastern Antiquities; Greek, Etruscan and Roman Antiquities; Islamic Art; Sculpture; Decorative Arts; Paintings; Prints and Drawings. It is more than worth the 12euro visit. However, if you plan to visit take your time, I would give at least 8 hours minimal.

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               The Arc De Triomphe de l’Étoile

 Est. 1806, is one of the most famous monuments in Paris. The Arc de Triomphe honors those who fought and died for France in the French Revolutionary and the Napoleonic Wars. The names of all French victories and generals inscribed on its inner and outer surfaces and beneath its vault lies the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from World War I.

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The next day I was back to being somber again but it was followed by another amazing two days exploring this beautiful city. The first of which was on a Tuesday. In Paris, on Tuesdays several mueseums have free entry and I’ve found that every city usually has a free walking tours at some point in the day. However, Paris has 7 free walking tours which cover 99% of the must see sights and history in Paris and then some. I spent Monday night planning out the next 2 days of tours and museums and I was determined to make the absolute best of the rest of my days in Paris, and I did.

On Tuesday I woke up bright and early and headed to the Musée de la Préfecture de Police, a museum of police history in the 5th arrondissement, very interesting I have to say. Next I went to the Musée du Parfum-Fragonard, a French private museum of perfume, which was absoluetly amazing.  

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Then I took the train and met the walking tour for Montmarte district .I knew I wouldn’t make it in time to met at the meeting point, so I just went straight to their first destination and I was right on time. The tour consisted of Moulin Rouge – Chat noir – Cabaret of the Assasins – Sacre coeur church – Artists’ square – French pop culture – Haunts of Renoir – Picasso – Amélie and so many little secrets about the district and its history.

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After the tour, I met a fellow couchsurfer, Leilani, back at Moulin Rouge and we took the train to Musée Cernuschi, an Asian art museum, specialising in works from China, Japan, and Korea, followed by another train to Notre Dame Cathedral. She actually lived in Paris so I had the pleasure of a personal private tour of Notre Dame Cathedral. She taught me about the meaning of the architecture and the history. She was amazing as well. After dinner, I roamed around to do all my souvenir shopping and explored more of the city at night.

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On my last day in Paris, I went inside The Louvre museum. Some people just take pictures of the pyramid and walk around the outside but I really wanted to see the Museum and I had been waiting for years to see The Mona Lisa. Little did I know the Louvre is over 600,000 square feet and holds over 37,000 paintings, sculptures and works of art. I spent 8 hours in the Louvre and didn’t even cover the entire museum. I could easily go back and spend another 8-10 hours there.

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The one thing I did not do was go to the lock bridge…I’m saving that for my love!

My love affair with Paris concluded with walking to my room in the Paris night rain….bitter sweet!

Goodbye Paris…Hello Munich!…Chasing The Sun!

Featured Food Lifestyle Travel

Ghent, Belgium

September 10, 2016

In Belgium, I had the luxury of staying with an amazing host family. Bieke (pronounced Be-Ka), Frank and their very sweet 3 year old Aurora. As soon as I walked in the door she ran up to me and gave me a hug.img_9577I immediately knew I was in the right place. They were also hosting img_9710another workawayer, Lynn, from Germany, at the same time. I say the luxury because Frank and Bieke’s home was amazing. I particiapted in a workaway during this stay. Which means you work and in return the host allow you to stay in their home and provide your food. Well, I couldn’t have asked for a better workaway experience. Frank & Bieke have a beautiful home where they have started a Wellness Retreat. The Wellness Retreat consisted of a pool, jacuzzi, wet sauna, dry sauna, and infra red. Other than some very minimal house cleaning, because of my background in healthcare, anatomy & physiology, massage, yoga and mediation, I had the luxury of giving meditation and massage as my “work”!

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When I wasn’t “working”, I was able to utilize the pool, sauna, jacuzzi and spa for my own use. Lynn spent her time working in the garden on most days and during our free time we laid out by the pool reading or blogging, or in the pool swimming. I have to say I have not watched 1 minute of television since I started my travels. I have taken in so much useful information, history and knowledge in the last 3 weeks than I ever would from months of television. 

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Frank & Bieke are both really great cooks. I indulged on some very Dutch and delicious meals during my stay.

 

On our off day we took the train to Ghent or Gent (in Dutch) and went on a walking tour. In medieval times Ghent was one of the largest cities in Europe, second only to Paris. Today it is a city of culture, a place with an abundance of museums, galleries and assorted architectural gems. The tour consisted of:

img_9701Graslei and Korenlei (the medieval harbor of img_9703Ghent), this medieval port with its unique row of historical buildings, reflected in the long river, is the meeting place, for the young and old,  everyone meets in one of the many café patios or by the water. This is the thriving heart of the inner city. Every house on the Graslei has its own history. Together they form the story of the incredible blossoming of Ghent’s economy during the Middle Ages. On the other side of the water is the Korenlei. All that remains of some of the original buildings is the outer walls.

 The three towers of Ghent: St. Nicholas Church, The Belfry, and St. Bavo’s Cathedral, define the famous medieval skyline of the city center. St. Nicholas Church is one of the oldest and most prominent landmarks in Ghent, Belgium. Begun in the early 13th century as a replacement for an earlier Romanesque church.img_9708 The Belfry is the tallest Belfry in Ghent. It’s construction began in 1313. After continuing intermittently through wars, plagues and political turmoil, the work reached completion in 1380. It was near the end of this period that the gilded dragon, brought from Bruges,assumed its place atop the tower. The uppermost parts of the building have been rebuilt several times, in part to accommodate the growing number of bells. St. Bavo’s Cathedral is built on the site of the former Chapel of St. John the Baptist, a primarily wooden construction that was consecrated in 942 by Transmarus, Bishop of Tournai and Noyon. Traces of this original structure are evident in the cathedral’s crypt. The chapel was subsequently expanded in the Romanesque style in 1038. Some traces of this phase of expansion are still evident in the present day crypt.

Graffiti Street, this street/alleyway is definitely not something you expect to find in Ghent, especially when the rest of the city is so traditional, with castles, cathedrals, churches and all the usual stuff in between. Although graffiti is banned in Gent and will land you some serious jail time and fines, on this street street artist are free to decorate as they please without any hassle or worries. Authorities allow artist to free lance here as an aid to keep them from destroying the traditional medieval history of the streets of Gent and overtime it has become a very popular tourist attraction.

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 Vrijdagsmarkt square, In previous centuries, this square was where the greater part of public political and social life took place. It was here that rulers were solemnly received, feasts celebrated and feuds settled. Apart from the 15th-century Toreken, all the buildings on the Vrijdagmarkt date from the 18th century and the monumental socialist house of the people and even dates from the beginning of the 20th century. The statue that lies in the middle of the square is of Jacob van Artevelde, a man who managed to undo the boycott of English wool imports during the Hundred Years’ War between England and France in the 14th century. He is also known as ” The Wise Man” and “The Brewer of Ghent”. The textiles industry in Ghent was revived and Artevelde was hailed a hero because he was able to save Gent of the boycott and the loss of much income and money. In 1345 he was murdered during a riot. Since 1863 his statue at Vrijdagmarkt has been pointing to England.

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 Dulle Griet, is a medieval supergun from Ghent, Belgium. The wrought-iron bombard was constructed in the first half of the 15th century from 32 longitudinal bars enclosed by 61 rings. In 1452, the bombard was employed by the city of Ghent in the siege of Oudenaarde, but fell into the hands of the defenders on the retreat and was only returned to Ghent in 1578. The supergun now covered on both ends, used to be open, however, too many college students were sleeping in the supergun as part of dares or hazing, which caused them to endure hypothermia in the winter time. 

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 The Castle Gravensteen, is a castle in Ghent originating from the Middle Ages. The name means “castle of the counts” in Dutch. The present castle was built in 1180 by count Philip of Alsace and was modeled after the crusaders castles that Philip of Alsace encountered while he participated in the second crusade. Before its construction, there stood a wooden castle on the same location, presumably built in the ninth century. The castle served as the seat of the Counts of Flanders until they abandoned it in the 14th century. The castle was then used as a courthouse, a prison and eventually decayed. Houses were built against the walls and even on the courtyard and the stones of the walls were used to erect other buildings. At one time it even served as a factory. At the end of the 19th century, the castle was scheduled to be demolished. However, in 1885 the city of Ghent bought the castle and started a renovation project. The newly built houses were removed and the walls and keep were restored to their original condition. The castle has been repaired enough to allow people to travel through it and climb on top. It is still partly surrounded by the moat. Inside is a museum with various torture devices and a guillotine, that were historically used in Ghent.

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After the tour we walked around to find the best delicacies to eat. Of course, that consisted of Waffles and Chocolate. If you really know me, you know that I love chocolate and oh my god!!! Belgium has thee absolute best chocolate I’ve ever had in my entire life and trust me I’ve had a lot of chocolate.

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Thus far, my trip has been absolutely perfect Chasing The Sun!!!

Featured Food Lifestyle Travel Uncategorized

Vlaamse Frites

September 7, 2016

The French fries in Amsterdam and the most common condiment served with them is mayonnaise. Not only is that true, but French fries are an obsession in the Netherlands and it’s difficult to find a restaurant in Amsterdam that doesn’t serve them. When deciding what you want to eat in Amsterdam is hard to avoid these things, and you really wouldn’t want to anyway.

As you walk through the city you’ll notice many little take-away shops whose primary decorations are oversized cartoon depictions of a bag of fries. Some of them also serve falafels and other Middle Eastern food, but many of them do their primary business selling these salty high-carb treats. You’ll never have to walk more than a couple of blocks to get your fix, even late at night.

But before we go on, let’s get oriented. A couple hundred years ago, in what is now Belgium, some genius decided to slice up some potatoes and then deep fry the slivers. The Brits call them “chips,” the French call them “pommes frites,” and for some reason the Americans call them “French fries.” But in the Netherlands and Belgium they call them “Vlaamse frites” and they eat them like there is no tomorrow, or at least no such thing as high cholesterol. Vlaamse frites literally means “Flemish fries,” correctly attributing them to the northern Belgium region of Flanders.

They are served in a paper cone in Amsterdam, and that’s handy because they are always about a million degrees inside when they are handed to you. Biting right into one is a great way to sear your taste buds shut for the next few days. You’ll also get a small plastic fork, which becomes important nearer the bottom of the cone.

Most places serve 3 or 4 different sizes of Vlaamse Frites. The smallest size is still larger than a “small” at a McDonalds, and they are usually around €2.00. The largest is literally a meal-size cone and can be all yours for around €3.50, but you are not done yet. Just as crooked car salesmen try to sell you undercoating and other mysterious add-ons, the Vlaamse Frites also have options.

The majority of places will have about 5 different sauces available, and some will have as many as 10. Yes, the delicious and very rich-mayonnaise is definitely the most popular and the one you should try for sure, but they also offer things like curry sauce, garlic sauce, tartar sauce, chili sauce, ranch dressing, feta cheese, gravy, and yes, even ketchup for those whose tastes haven’t progressed since they turned 8. The sauces are usually 25 to 50 cents each (some 75 cents though) and most people just choose one, although drunken thrill-seekers sometimes do pile them on.

Most locals claim that they have the best Vlaamse Frites in Amsterdam, but to be honest they are all pretty close. Avoid the Vlaamse frites served at the FEBO automats, and obviously don’t try to get them at McDonalds or Burger King. I’ve found the Maoz chain to be reliable, and their falafels with the “free salad bar” are pretty good too.

As with nearly any other restaurant choice, it’s good to pick a place that’s busy over one that is dead. High turnover equals freshness, but that can be a bit deceiving in the world of Vlaamse frites. All the shops in Amsterdam use the same two-step cooking method. The thick potato wedges are initially deep fried at a low temperature for a while to cook the inside to a pleasant doneness. Then the guy will unceremoniously toss these half-cooked frites onto a steel grill under a heating lamp until somebody orders them. You’d be forgiven for thinking you are getting old Vlaamse frites as you watch the guy toss your desired amount into the oil again before giving them to you, but this Phase Two is a vital part of the process. The second dip is in very hot oil, and in only a minute or so the outsides become crisp and delicious while the inside stays tender and somehow gets as hot as the core of the sun in the process.

Bon appétit, but give ‘em a couple minutes to cool first. And you’ll figure out why that little plastic fork is handy when you get past the halfway point.

Featured Lifestyle Travel

Amsterdam, The Netherlands

September 5, 2016

So off I went to Europe. Making sure to check off everything on my “ Before You Go” checklist twice. With a 7 hour flight that left at 9pm, I arrived in Amsterdam at 6:45am (EDT) and 12:45 (CEST). After sleeping 6.5/7 hours on the plane, I was ready to go. To me it seemed like just going to sleep at home and waking up the next day, so I was not jet lagged at all

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After navigating through Amsterdam Schiphol Airport, which is big but fairly simple. I went through customs to get my bags and off I was!! Taking the train was a little difficult the first time from Schiphol, as there are about 50 platforms and 50 elevators. After a couple of days, its pretty easy to figure out which train number and in which direction you should be going.

I couldn’t have asked for a better way to start my travels!! Amsterdam was simply amazing. The people, the atmosphere, the pubs and coffee shops. You can be so free in Amsterdam-with no judgements from anyone. Amsterdam reminds me of New Orleans, Louisiana. Another one of my favorite places. It’s so free. When I first arrived in Amsterdam I was feeling a little somber. This was my first stop of my travels and the first time I have ever traveled alone. But I got me to thinking about my purpose and why I started this mission. So I got my life together and decided to roam around to look for some food. My host actually stayed in Naarden-Bussum which was about 30 minutes outside the city of Amsterdam. It is a very quite and beautiful place. It was actually quite nice to come back to her home each night or early early morning after all he hustle and bustle in the city. My hostesses name was Erin. Erin and her boyfriend were both very welcoming and very sweet. Her home was an amazing modern space that I absolutely loved. I learned very quickly that steps in Europe are very narrow. And when I say very narrow I mean VERY! I  had to learn to walk down sideways without busting my ass, as they just casually ran down 3-4 inch steps like it was nothing.

Erin’s Home

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As I was saying, I roamed around my first night looking for something to eat and I stumbled upon this bar called Murphy’s which had a ton of people outside. My first thought was “why is everybody outside, and the bar is empty inside”. Well I went inside and they didn’t serve any food so I proceeded to leave. A group of people outside casually stopped me and said why are you leaving so soon. I explained that I was looking for food. Of course, in English and they spoke Dutch and English. So they immediately knew I was a foreiner. This lead to about five hours of conversation, questions, and exchanging of information from night life to Belgian Beer to food to politics to geography and scenic landmarks. IMG_9251 I met a girl named Mercedes who was moving to Barcelona in few weeks later. We talked about my travels and also drank many beers together. We took shots of Fireman (not Fireball) which taste like cough syrup, yuk!!! We were supposed to go to the club the next day, but both of our plans changed. But we hit it off really great and she offered to host me in Barcelona, which was a blessing because I didn’t have a host their yet…. Well I finally ate some food at about 2am, after many many beers. From Day 1, the vibe of The Netherlands started off really great and so it continued….

The next 4 days I spent in Amsterdam. Late Nights & Early mornings. I woke up the next morning and connected with some other travelers via Hangouts on Couchsurfing. I met Saima, from South Africa and Marie, from Spain at the train station. We immediatedly went on a hunt to get some food. Saima and I found a pretty popular dish of fries and sauce with meat on top called Vlaamse Frites, while Marie found some pasta. I’m waiting until I get to Italy to eat pasta, because I am going to eat a lot of it!!!! Then we stumbled upon 3 more travelers Kitta, from Dallas, TX, Siuteesx, from India, and Ben, from Paris. We went to the bar to have drinks and we added Pierre, from Paris, Johnathan, from Peru, another Ben, from Norway, Nicholi, from Paris, and Alex from Canada. From there we had almost someone from all 7 continents. All we needed was Austraila (we filled that gap as the week went on). We pretty much walked North, South, East and West touring, coffee shop and bar hopping for the rest of the day. We walked to through the Red Light District, Blue Light District to get to the club district and partied at Smokeys until about 4am.

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I really hit it off with everyone but especially Kitta. Her host lived pretty far out from the city as well and  she was also from the states so we would meet each morning at Amsterdam Centraal Station and then meet the group. We spent the next 2 days soaking in some information on the history and important attributes of Amsterdam and The Netherlands. We took a FREE Walking Tour of Amsterdam, a Canal cruise, The Red Light-Blue Light district tour all with 360 Amsterdam Tours, Anne Frank Huis and biked south to The IAmsterdam sign.

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The FREE Walking Tour consisted of the tour around the city to enlighten the tourists of the great golden era, by showing them the magnificent and highly valuable masterpieces of great artists, to taking them around the beautiful canals and bridges and showing them what the city really has to offer. From the historic old districts and discovering how Amsterdam started- from a simple swamp harbour village in the 1200’s, to ‘the Golden Age’ in the 1600’s when Amsterdam became the most important trading city in the world. The tour showcased the Royal Palace, the Old & New Church, the Jewish Quarter, Canals, Bridges, the Red Light District, Art & Architecture, Golden Age, and many hidden treasures. It was amazing! Definitely a must do! My only suggestion is to do the tours on your 1st or 2nd day of arrival. It will give you more information of everything the city has to offer to help you plan what other sites you want to get a deeper perspective of and see more of.

The Canal cruise showed a different perspective of Amsterdam, including a look at The Anne Frank Huis at almost eye level from the water. The Anne Frank Huis is the most visited house in Amsterdam, with well over 1 million visitors per year. Anne Frank was a German-born diarist and writer. One of the most discussed Jewish victims of the Holocaust, she gained fame posthumously following the publication of her diary, The Diary of a Young Girl. which documents her life in hiding from 1942 to 1944, during the German occupation of the Netherlands in World War II. Anne moved to The Netherlands at a very young age and when the Nazi gained control over Germany, having been born a German national, she became stateless. May 1940, the Franks were trapped in Amsterdam by the German occupation of the Netherlands. As persecutions of the Jewish population increased in July 1942, the family went into hiding in some concealed rooms behind a bookcase in the building where Anne’s father worked. From then until the family’s arrest by the Gestapo in August 1944, Anne kept a diary she had received as a birthday present, and wrote in it regularly. Following their arrest, the Franks were transported to concentration camps. In October or November 1944, Anne and her sister, Margot, were transferred to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp from Auschwitz, where they died a few months later and just one month before The Dutch authorities rescued the camps. Anne’s father, Frank’s father, Otto, the only survivor of the family, returned to Amsterdam after the war to find that her diary had been saved by one of the helpers, Miep Gies, and his efforts led to its publication in 1947. 

Anne Frank Huis

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If you look closely you will see that the houses along the canal and in many more places are leaning. The leaning houses of Amsterdam. The buildings in Amsterdam lean forward slightly. It is not sinking nor a trick of the eye after a day of the smoke. The buildings in Amsterdam are built leaning forward on purpose. Even though it might look strange to our modern eyes, designing a building that leans forward, this way to build was a solution to another problem. The problem with these old buildings is that the stairways are always very narrow and steep. These stairways are impossible to use while trying to get furniture or any other big object to your house.These stairways are a consequence of the very narrow construction used in Holland at the time. Which meant you had to pull your furniture up through your window.If you take a look at most old houses in Amsterdam you will see a hook placed on top their roofs. This is used to hang a wheel and use it with a rope to pull things up. While pulling big object up a building, it helps avoiding hitting the building with these objects if the building tilts forward. You will also see that these houses are leaning to the side which is a result of instability of the land in the 15th century.dsc_0964

The Red Light District tour gave a lot of insight on the history of the red light district and how and why this area exist or came to be what it is today. We learned about the Red Light District and all of its secrets with a professional guide. 

img_9347-2I learned about how the sex workers operate in the district and admire the district’s centuries-old churches and architecture at he same time. It was crazy to learn about the history of Amsterdam’s legalized prostitution and it’s church history in the same tour. These two opposites are actually very much intertwined by their locations within the city. Amsterdam and the Red Light District is diverse in so many ways. The red light district being the oldest area in Amsterdam is not only a professional hub for sex clubs with beautiful ladies in their red lit windows, but it is dsc_0896also home to many cafes offering diverse menu options from around the globe to dsc_0883elegant dining spots with great Jazz and salsa music. The red light district showcases the ancient Dutch art and architecture in the form of its museums, monolithic and catholic churches and various beautiful buildings standing strong since the seventeenth century. I toured the Prostitution Information Center, peepshows, Bananabar, and the oldest and best in my opinion, Coffee Shop in the city, Bulldogs. I was able to admire the impressive churches, century ­old buildings, and canals in addition to learning about how the sex workers operate in the district.

All of my tours were amazing and I would definitely  recommend doing them. As I said, try to book them at the beginning of your stay to get the most use out of the information.

During my time in Amsterdam I also rode bikes as much as possible. People ride bikes like we drive cars in the states. There are so many “parking lots” for bikes. Literally parking garages for bikes. I think thats so amazing. I don’t think I saw one obese European since I’ve been traveling. It’s normal to ride your bike 30 minujtes-1 hour-2 hours to get to a destination. I utilized my host bike or renting a bike as much as possible. It really helped to immerse myself in The Netherlands way of life. I loved it!!

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Amsterdam, it feels perfect to be imperfect…Chasing The Sun

Lifestyle Travel

Before you go checklist

August 15, 2016

In addition to my own Europe planning research, my co-worker Angela bought me Rick Steves Planning Europe book, which was an amazing read. He is so on point with everything! THANKS AGAIN ANGELA!!

Rick says “Quite a few things are worth arranging while you’re still at home — lining up these details before you travel is a big part of having a smooth trip!”

 Check your passport expiration; you may be denied entry into certain European countries if your passport is due to expire within three months of your ticketed date of return. Get it renewed if you’ll be cutting it close. Take good care of your passport: Keep it in your money belt, and if you’re asked to show it, put it back in your money belt right away.

 Make reservations well in advance, especially during peak season, for accommodations, popular restaurants, major sights, and local guides. If you have read my previous post, you will know, I traveled during shoulder season so I did not make reservations in advance.

 Call your debit- and credit-card companies to let them know the countries you’ll be visiting, to ask about fees, and more. Get your bank’s emergency phone number in the US (but not its 800 number) to call collect if you have a problem. If you don’t know your credit card’s PIN code, ask your bank to mail it to you.

 Do your homework if you want to buy travel insurance. Check whether your existing insurance (health, homeowner’s, or renter’s) covers you and your possessions overseas. Flight Insurance, Trip-Cancellation or Interruption Insurance, Medical Insurance, Evacuation Insurance, Baggage Insurance,

 If you’re bringing the kids, make sure you have the right paperwork, including a passport for each, a letter of consent if only one parent is traveling, and documentation for adopted children.

 Make copies of important travel documents as a backup in case you lose the originals.

 Students should get an International Student Identity Card (ISIC) for discounts throughout Europe. Hostelers who’ll be staying at least six nights in official HI hostels should get a membership card.

 If you’re planning to buy a rail pass, you’ll need to get it before you leave the US. Rail pass or no, it can also be smart to reserve seats on certain trains before you leave. Also know that reservation cost are not included in the rail pass.

 If you need to bridge several long-distance destinations on your trip, look into cheap flights within Europe. For the best fares, book these as far in advance as possible.

 If you’ll be renting a car, you’ll need a valid driver’s license. An International Driving Permit is technically required in Austria, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Romania, Slovenia, and Spain.

 If you plan to use your US mobile phone or smartphone in Europe, contact your provider to enable international calling or to “unlock” your phone. Consider signing up for an international calling, text, and/or data plan, and be sure to confirm voice- and data-roaming fees. I utilized unlocking my phone and purchasing pre-paid starting at €10 sim cards for each country. I also dropped my US phone plan down to the most simplest they had. For me it was $30 a month. I only did this to keep my number and allow my neice to have a phone. Otherwise, I would have just cancelled my entire plan. This would only make sense if you are traveling for an extended period of time, like me.

 Get a proper guidebook.

 Download any apps you might want to use on the road, such as translators, maps, and transit schedules. Check out Rick Steves Audio Europe for free, downloadable audio tours of Europe’s major sights and hours of travel interviews.

 Take care of any medical needs. Visit your doctor to get a checkup, and see your dentist if you have any work that needs to be done. If you use prescription drugs, stock up before your trip. Pack along the prescription, plus one for contact lens or glasses if you wear them.

 Attend to your household needs. Cancel your newspapers, hold your mail delivery, and prepay your bills.

 Give a copy of your itinerary to family or friends. This will help them feel a little more sane about your travels, especially if your traveling alone as I am.

 Make a list of valuables that you’re bringing (such as electronics). Include serial numbers, makes, and models, and take photos of your items to serve as a record for the police and your insurance company should anything be stolen.

 Because airline carry-on restrictions are always changing, visit the Transportation Security Administration’s website for a list of what you can bring on the plane, and for the latest security measures (including screening of electronic devices, which you may be asked to power up).

Featured Lifestyle Travel

Planning Europe

August 1, 2016

Thereafter, all the previous traveling I did I was ready and itching for something bigger. I had no obligations such as kids and I had saved enough money to do or go wherever I wanted. For about a year, I researched and read a lot of other travel blogs from people who started out similar to me. I also started researching “ways to travel Europe for cheap or for free”. I was very surprised by how many resources were available to help backpackers travel Europe on a very low budget. After about six months I became really serious about my plan to travel Europe for an extended period of time and the more I researched the more resources and discounts I was able to find.

After you have picked your destination, what’s the first thing that comes to your mind? Flights, of course. “How much is my flight going to cost?” Well if you simply go straight to google flights or an airline website, a roundtrip flight to Europe would easily cost you $1,000. However, being that I had already flew to Dubai and Abu Dhabi and was able to cover my flight, hotel, all tours, transportation and food for under $2,000, I knew that it was possible to travel overseas for cheaper than most think. And thanks to some travel friends and research I was able to find fairly cheap flights to Europe under $600 roundtrip. Yes! Roundtrip!!

The trick to finding cheap flights is all about timing. For me, I knew I wanted to travel during the shoulder season. Shoulder season is  generally April through mid-June, September, and October. It combines the advantages of both peak-season and off-season travel, decent weather, fewer crowds, and a tourist industry that still wants to entertain tourist. I wanted to travel as soon as possible while also keeping a good rapport at work and giving my job ample notice of my departure for this extended period of time. I utilized www.secretflying.com the most and sometimes www.momondo.com, to look for error fares. You also have to shop around and compare many websites to find the best fare. Trust me its worth the time, when it saves you thousands of dollars.

Once my first flight was booked to Europe, which started in Amsterdam. I had to plan my route for the rest of my travels. I decided to go in somewhat of a logical order for me. Amsterdam-Belgium-London-Paris-Munich-Barcelona-Madrid. I had to end in Madrid for the second leg of my trip to Africa which I will discuss later.

In order to save as much money as possible, I decided to stay with host as much as I could, rather than in hotels. I used websites such as Couchsurfing and workaway.info to find host or families that would host me for free. I started contacting host months in advance to make sure my accommodations were set in stone, as that is probably the second most important thing next to your flight. Following your housing accommodations, I would say transportation is the next important. Again, I did thorough research on which routes would be cheaper for me to take within Europe. Plane vs. Train. You can also opt for the bus, however, I decided to splurge a little here because I wanted to be comfortable and get to where I wanted to go fast. Like I said I saved money for a while, so this was 1 thing I was willing to give on because I wanted to spend less time traveling between destinations and more time exploring. I researched the cost of each individual route by plane and by train as well as combined routes or days on the train. I found that, for me it was best to take the train to which shorter time intervals between origin and destination and to fly when the train would take longer. I decided to take the train to any destination shorter than 5 hours, and fly anywhere longer. Flying within Europe is fairly cheap and sometimes actually cheaper than the train. For example, a train from Paris to London is about 112 Euro vs. a flight from Paris to London on a budget airline started at 55 Euro.  The downfall to budget airlines are baggage fees, similar to Spirit Airlines if you live in the US (minus the bad customer service and airline service). I purchased a Eurail pass for my train travels which covered 5 days plus 1 day trip. It allows you to take the train as much as you want on any given 5 days, or however many days you purchase. That’s about $100 a day worth of train travel for half the price.  Remember, I said a train to London from Paris could start at 112 Euro. That does not include your train or tram to your accommodations, only to the main station. So the Eurail pass is worth the purchase, when you use it correctly to get the most out of your money. I like to travel early in the morning to make the most of my pass. You can do this by taking the train to travel from one country to another, travel to your housing accommodation drop off you bags, head out to tour for the day, take the train everywhere you want to go, and take the last train back to your housing accommodations. This allows you to really utilize the train a lot and get more than your monies worth!

Once I had my accommodations booked, I started researching and planning for all the sites in each location I wanted to see. I started with a google search on “points of interest” for every city, which gives you a pretty great breakdown of all the important, worthwhile, popular tourist sites as well as some small others. I did not book any tours in any countries I wanted to visit because I did not want to be tied down to a specific destination for a specific amount of time, if I wanted to venture off the beaten path. I’m a bit of a daredevil and can manage to find my way fairly easily. However, I wouldn’t suggest doing this for first time travelers or if you need every minute-hour of your itinerary planned out.

Now that the bulk of the most important things were done, I prepared a google calendar with all of my flight info, travel dates, contact name, address and phone numbers of my host to share with friends and family. This was really important considering I was traveling alone. It was great for friends and family to have to keep up with my journey but it was also great for me to be able to pull up the calendar on my Iphone when I needed to change or confirm anything.

This was a great growth to the birth of Chasing The Sun…

Featured Lifestyle Travel

Travel Embryo

January 21, 2015

After I returned from the UAE, of course I was ready to embark on a new journey somewhere new within 24 hours. Unfortunately, I couldn’t because like most of us humans we have to work. While I love my job as a Pediatric Occupational therapist and it gives me much satisfaction helping children with Autism and Developmental delays. There was still something missing. Everyday I felt very productive and accomplished as I observed much progress with my patients day after day. I love the little faces, smiles and laughter I get to see everyday. I love seeing that invisible lightbulb go off in their head when they finally understand something that they have been working on or practicing for days, weeks, months; sometimes even years. However, everyday I still felt somewhat incomplete. I spent the next 2 years working and taking 5-7 day trips to Mexico and the states, to places like Maryland,  Virginia Beach, North Carolina, Florida, Tennessee, Mississippi and of course, New Orleans. All of these places hold a special place in my heart because of family or friends. So its always nice to go and have a good time. Every time I visit and return home I feel a little bit more whole, more complete, more serene.

This last trip to Mexico was my 5th time in Mexico. I think Mexico is a good international destination for first time international travelers and young adults. My first time is Mexico was in Cancun of course for my high school graduation and with my mom of course. I guess you can say Mexico also has a little special place in my heart. Consequently, this last trip in Mexico I said would by last for a while, as I felt that I needed to see much more of the world. There is so much to see. And this is where my current Rule #1 came to be.

Rule #1: Never travel to the same place twice (The Bahamas, is an exception to the rule 🙂

This rule led me to St. Maarten, Puerto Rico, back to the Bahamas, and to the Dominican Republic in May 2016 and June 2016. (Read my post on each destination for more tips and information COMING SOON!)

Rule #2: There will never be a perfect time and there will always be reasons not to go, so now is the time to take the plunge.

There are so many reasons to travel and zero reasons to not!!

You will become richer in culture, diversity, adventure, knowledge, language, experience, opportunity, connections, friends, and gain a whole new perspective of yourself and the world.

Culture

Of course you can read a book. But you will not learn about the culture first hand. You will not get your own physical perspective and perception by sitting in your living room reading a book about Thailand. I think the best way is to travel and submerge yourself into another culture. Once you experience and understand cultural difference from a your own eyes, your perception and perspective of people who are different from you changes. You start to understand why they are different from you, why they wear a hijab, why the conserve energy, why they use a toilet or shower outside, why they attend a mosque, temple or church and you begin to have a better understanding of where people are coming from and why they do things a different way. In retro-spec, people from other cultures think the same thing about you! “Your weird” “Why do you do things the way that you do?”

Adventure

What’s more adventurist than packing your bags to go to a place you know nothing about (besides the books you may have read or the google searches you did)? Nothing!! Traveling has given me some of the greatest adventures and memories of my life. When your somewhere you’ve never been there 1,000,000,000,000,000 things to see that you’ve never seen and that many more people to meet. The possibilities are endless!!

Knowledge & Perspective

There is obviously so much to learn about a place you know nothing about! Its always a great thing when you can insert and digest  new and interesting information. You learn not just about the culture, the food, the language, the people but you’ll meet so many people who will have so much knowledge to give and experiences to share. I really believe if you could spend a 1/2 of a lifetime traveling and gaining new experiences and learning , that you could be more educated than one who spends 4 years in college. In addition to that, once you really start traveling you will not look at the world, object, people or even yourself the same. Suddenly, the new Iphone 7 or latest trend, isn’t so important anymore. After attempting to place all your belongings for 1-2-3 months or longer into one hiking backpack, your life will never be the same again. Whether traveling or moving abroad, you will learn invaluable lessons and make everlasting memories.

Language

Immerse yourself in a new culture, with new food and a new language. Believe it or not, it’s been pretty easy to pick up the basics along the way. If you want to learn Spanish or German, French or Afrikanns, immerse yourself in the language and you will pick up more than you thought was possible with ease.

Experience

As I have gotten older I have transitioned to enjoying and appreciating experience and memories rather than materialistic things. That is not to say that I don’t like nice things, because I do. If given the option between an adventure or going to a place I’ve never been (or maybe I have) and the newest pair of Louboutin heels or Air Jordans, I am undoubtedly going to choose the experience. These experiences will create memories that can’t be compared to materialistic things.

TIP: If money is your issue for not traveling, stop buying materialistic things for 1 year -clothes and shoes you want, but don’t need, Starbucks coffee every morning, restaurant brunch and dinners. Buy essential items, splurge every now and then (or not) and at the end of the year you will undoubtedly accumulate enough money to travel somewhere.

Lesson I learned from my mom: When my mom worked in the corporate world, she would call everyday on her lunch break. Her co-workers would always walk downstairs to get coffee from the Starbucks under her building, but she would never buy coffee. One day I asked her, “Why do you keep walking to Starbucks but never get coffee?” She said, “I’m saving money!” I said, ” It’s only $6″ and she said “Yes, $6 a day is $30 a week (5 working days), $30 a week is $120 a month, and $120 a month is $1,440 a year, and that’s my trip to Greece!!”

Opportunities & Connections

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You never know what you may run into or who you might meet. On my trip to Amsterdam, I managed to start a group of 3 which turned into a group of 15 in a matter of days. 15 people from different countries and we managed to cover all 7 continents. I’ve already made friends around the world and that was only in 5 days, imagine how many connections you can make in weeks, months even years. Now I have even more places to visit and people to see and show me around. Nothing gets better than exploring a city or town with the locals. My best times are always with the locals. You get to see the “real” and less of the Americanized-tourist scenes.