06/14/12

Travel Photography for the Free at Heart

Shutterbugs need to fly (for some reason I always picture a ladybug). Sitting at home and taking pics of your cat can only entertain you so far and if you’re not hoping to become a professional photog then you really want pictures you will be happy to frame and throw on your wall (and let’s face it unless there’s some really amazing light your ‘Apple in Repose’ is not making it up there).

Equipment

I have three cameras – a manual 35mm Sony (I think), a Casio 500, and a Nikon CoolpixP90. The Nikon has an incredible zoom which is mostly why I bought it, however, the light meter is pretty awful. My Casio is pocket-sized and takes the best night photos. My Sony is somewhere in my closet, I haven’t tried to use 35mm since finishing my art courses in undergrad. I’d suggest finding a pocket-sized, high pixel/resolution, with at least a 10x zoom for traveling. Also I am quite fond of those play settings like “party time” and “dusk”. I wish you could rename them since half are actually perfect aperture/f-stop readings for scenarios the company didn’t think of. Also buy at least 1 extra battery and 3 memory cards. Instead of buying one 16MB SD card I buy multiples so I can leave them in the hostel while I’m out. This way if I decide to go whale-watching and the boat tips I don’t lose all of my photos (also theft blah blah blah).

Timing

Automatic cameras are nice while traveling because you can literally snap a photo while running passed a church. You probably won’t be alone and should you have 3 seconds to snap a picture of the Louvre while you run to a tour bus, make it count. There is a limit to how much people will wait for you if you’re not with photo-friends, I generally got around this by doing the run-point-shoot method, getting behind and then sprinting, or suggesting a meeting place. This is good because your friends will have varied interests and while you weren’t particularly interested in cutting your trip to the Taj Mahal short to take a few pictures of a local market those pictures might be awesome to the point of iconic.

Tourist Pics

That being said, there are a lot of “iconic” pictures floating around my friend’s photo albums so don’t skip the Taj Mahal just because “everyone takes pictures of that”. They all take pictures cause it’s awesome!

Theft

If it is dark, and you’re lost, and there are very few people around put away the camera. This happens at least once a trip and even though most of your anxiety is cause by your unfamiliarity with the area it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Before You Go

Break out your camera and head to the local church, park, or parade. This will help you find all the right settings for direct sunlight, candle-lit churches, running water, and flood-lit buildings. It used to be that you’d take 100 pictures and get home and found out you’d been at the wrong aperture the entire time, film ruined. Now, you know immediately and spend twenty mins. finding the right one.

Final Word

Accept that some pictures won’t come out and that some memories will not be remembered any better because of a picture.

05/19/12

One Night in Rome

An important part of any trip to Italy is to try and fit in as many meals as possible. While food is usually a fun part of the travel experience I haven’t found it to be as good anywhere as in Italy. Skipping meals to save money doesn’t seem to make any sense in the land of truffle gnocchi and mushroom pizza.

When your arrive and check into your hotel they’ll give you a tourist map, the city is not very big and I used the metro for all transportation. Find a cafe and sit with a cappuccino and plan where you want to go.

The Coliseum is epic when it’s in front of you, a hulking mass of history, you can’t believe it’s just sitting there with cars zooming around it. Like Jupiter just sat down in the middle of a city and no one else sees it but you. The tour will take you about an hour.

The Roman Forum can be viewed from above and the Pantheon is free and a quick in and out. Neither is especially thrilling unless you’re a big Edith Wharton fan and want to re-read Roman Fever in the Roman Forum. There are a lot of yummy restaurants around here.

Sit in Piazza Navona to soak up the last bit of sun and pursue some art. Have a tartufo, a delicious little ball of chocolate and ice cream, in the spot it was invented.

Then head off to the Trevi fountain. The alleyways jutting off from the fountain are filled with fun shops of leather and cameos and gelato if you can handle it. The Trevi is such a nice and lively place to sit this is easy to do twice.

Sleep or Dance it’s your choice, a friend is moving to Rome so if she has good club recommendations I’ll update.

The Vatican takes almost an entire day. It is another country sort of. There are often morning viewings of the Pope which are long but an interesting experience. The Vatican itself is chock full of treasures from all over the world. The Sistine chapel is the best known, and oddly teeny.

If you follow the walls of the city you also wind up on a street filled with excellent pizza!

05/13/12

Dream Travel Plans

I read somewhere that your body starts decaying after 22. You loose bone density, skin collagen, and who knows what else. At 22 I said “ah that’s not true. Shush.” At 24 I say, “ah! what’s happening to me? I have a grey hair already? My friends have stopped trying to goad me into bungee jumping and now try to lure me into book clubs?! How did this all happen so fast?” So as I travel around Europe I find myself spending more time in cafes rather than bars, strolling through country lanes rather than cliff diving into frigid waters (ok maybe a bit of strolling through frigid waters but it’s really cold here). To force myself out of my funk, and to take a hopeful stance on my future financial position, I have created a travel plan for the next ten years, the plan being to do all of my adventure-cations before I’m 40.

To start with now, 2012 at 24 years old move to London and travel around Europe. Check.

2014 at 26, travel to Australia to stay with friends and scuba dive

2015 at 27, travel to Japan, eat sushi, maybe see those dancing snow geese, get a Geisha make-over, finagle a short trip to Angkor WatCambodia at the end of it.

2016 at 28, Machu Picchu, hike, hike some more, opt not to do the really scary fall to your death hike they offer you at the end, hike, eat some chili chocolate

2018 at 30, Egypt, hope it lives up to the mythical proportions it has taken on in my mind, hope that by 30 my expectations are more reality-based, ride a camel, get spit on by a camel, see the valley of the kings, see the valley of the queens, swear i like the valley of the queens better for the sake of feminism, touch a pyramid, see tut’s mask, stalk Dr. Hawass, be transported back in time for an epic adventure. Take a day trip to PetraJordon.

2020, at 32, India for Holi Festival. Ruin every article of clothing I own, make friends with an elephant, see a tiger on safari and ONLY on safari, drink chai and try not to be disappointed it isn’t a chai late, buy a sari that is so revealing I’ll never wear it once I get home

2022, at 34, hike the Navajo Nation, eat fry bread so I can’t hike anymore, see how far up a dune I can get, try to take some Peter Lik worthy shots and fail wonderfully

2024, at 36, Iceland for the Northern Lights, stay in the overpriced ice hotel, sit in some Icelandic mud

2027, at 39, Take a cruise to the Galapagos, play with tortoise and finches, and from there down to Antarctica, be cold.

 

What are YOUR travel plans?

05/3/12

How Things Work

In 1960 my grandfather, Martin Mann, published his first book How Things Work. The book, aimed at the younger generation, set out to explain the wonders of then modern technology. The first up on his list? The ballpoint pen. While I may not have his technical know how I’ve decided to keep this tradition going, with a bit of a twist, applying the how things work format to fashion, travel, and design. Stay tuned for future articles on smokey eyes, managing your digital technology, and much more!

Follow @mapsandrubies for more!

04/28/12

London Fashion

I haven’t incorporated this many flowers into my wardrobe since the 90s, then it was giant sunflowers on a denim “Blossom” hat – now it’s a daisy in my hair or small red roses on my leggings. Yes the 90s are making a come-back (isn’t that a bit fast?) but the flower prints in England are everywhere and it’s addicting. Floral china, flower power back-packs, flora earrings, even most houses have a small garden. My favorite thing about the city (which I may have mentioned already) is its phantom lilacs. These apparitions hit you when you least expect it, walking past a smelly dumpster, and make you think of childhood summers making bouquets and playing Indiana Jones. It all makes me want to get carried away.

04/28/12

Where Next? Lisbon, Portugal

Portugal was never at the forefront of my travel list, in fact I had never considered it at all. Not that I was consciously trying to neglect the nation, I just didn’t know what to see there. Growing up I had dreamed of walking the Seine, partying in Camden, and sneaking around Venice in a gilded mask for Carnevale – what does one do in Portugal? The I heard they had jungles there and my interest kicked up a bit. Then I heard of grottos and caves and forests. I’m not exactly the outdoorsy type unless it begins to sound like something from a Harry Potter novel. I’m like a nerd-adventurer. My roommate and I had been pondering a trip to India – something we’d both wanted to do for a long time – but had backed off because it was slowly flowing over the rim of our “extended” budget, and the trouble of planning and getting U.S. vaccinations while living abroad was too much work during midterms. Besides, by the time spring break rolled around we were exhausted and not looking for such a wild ride.

So we decided on Portugal. A little sight-seeing, a little hiking, a little r&r. Lisbon is small and lacking in tourist attractions. It rivals San Francisco on its hills and as for street signs, ha! good luck. There is a castle and a monastery you could visit but after the equivalent of a year traveling Europe those things kind of blur. (Besides the best ones are always the one’s you stumble upon like the cloisters in Adare, Ireland). We bumped into other travelers who went and said things like “oh yeah that’s nice”. Just nice? Instead we spent the days walking the river, buying antiques from the sweetest lady in the city, and riding the tram. The paella was excellent everywhere we went and the warm fresh air was rewarding after months in England.

We had been advised by a friend that Sintra was the place to go, and we planned to take the short train up there on our own, spend a day hiking and have a picnic. It would have been about 30 euros cheaper than the tour but honestly, the tour was worth every penny and it was my favorite part of the trip. We stayed at the Lisbon Living Lounge hostel which was just as nice as most “hotels” and had awesome decor. The lounge/kitchen was beautiful and friendly and the bedrooms were decorated by artists. (Although I do have to say if the place hadn’t been as nice our room’s CSI theme with police tape and a backdrop of the woods would have been CREEPY). They offered a Sintra tour – with lunch – for 40 Euros and we got talked into it by the charming clerk. (Doesn’t hurt that everyone who works there is attractive ;) ).

The tour – we went to the palace first and hiked it’s grounds which are extensive and amazing. Everything you want in a princess’s backyard, hidden grotto’s, golden sunshine, knotted trees – we spent almost all of our allotted time there and blew through the palace interior which was impressive but the outside was amazing. Then we went to Pena (I may be getting these names wrong I’ll get my roommate to check this) which I had never really heard of but it had caves! There are “cave walks” which consist of you taking long strolls under-ground. Some of the group wasn’t too keen on this, arachnophobia and all, but this was a highlight for me. Couldn’t really get any good pictures down there but it was the perfect place to hide from an evil queen. The cave let out under a waterfall and you had to navigate some teeny rocks to get to the other side. I’d suggest hiking boots although one girl in our group did manage it all in espadrilles.

From there we headed to the park for lunch. Stephania, our tour guide, cooked up some chorizo, bread and cheese (I call it cheese but it was magic cheese made by fairies sooo good!), wine jam, WINE, spiritual cod (which is like a white fish casserole that the monks in Portugal used to make), more wine, and chocolate cake. I’m sure I’m forgetting something there was so much food. And the cutest puppy came and finished it all up for us.

The tour group was an awesome bunch of women which is part of what made it so much fun. (More on that later I’ll compare some tours for you, if your new to traveling alone that will give you an idea of what to expect – not the giggle fest movies give you).

Next was the Western most point of Europe. I have a serious bone to pick here because when I was planning this trip I saw pictures of this and was all “eh why go to see a sign?” Online, everyone’s photos show them smiling in front of a huge stone pillar when in reality, if they had turned the camera around, it looks like this -

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Way better than a sign right?! It’s actually prettier than that in person but photos lie.

The last stop was the beach where we watched hot surfer dudes, adorable surf puppies, oh yeah and there was an epic sunset too.

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This is a photo of cats following the fisherman out so they can steal his fishies… cutest little thieves ever.

04/24/12

Around the European Union: Study Abroad Advice

I’ve been reading a lot of Around the World Blogs and I’m a little jealous of the ATW lifestyle. Reading about new adventures every week always gets me on online, trying to see where I can afford to go, and while an ATW might be out of my financial grasp, an ATEU (around the European Union) is not.

I also realize that I’ve titled this as a travel blog and have been neglecting that bit. To explain: I’m living in London while finishing my schooling, but am originally from New York. While here it is UNBELIEVABLE how cheap it is to leave the country for a weekend. So to gear up for my travelogue I thought I’d jot down some things I’ve learned getting this far and then y’all can break out the passports and join me!

Doing an ATEU is pretty easy if you’re studying abroad in a European country, this is how everyone I know has gotten their passport stamps. You can get financial aid, family and friends are more willing to help out, and at the end of it you get class credit / a degree making the financial burden even more worth it. When studying abroad the first time (one semester) I was told to budget $5,000 and nearly threw up. Of course that immediately turned into $2,500 pounds upon landing and while I didn’t spend it all I was glad I had it. I was lucky and found one of those magical unicorns of New York City – a paid summer internship – so if you want to study abroad start saving immediately (even if your 12 and run a lemonade stand, actually most of my money came from well-saved cat city money).

Plan where you want to go early. Not only do rates go up but you will be making a slew of new friends upon your arrival – this is true if your backpacking or studying abroad – and those friends will have their own travel plans. It’s great to be flexible but if all of your new friends have already seen Paris and it’s your “destiny”, or whatever romantic notions you’ve been nursing, make sure it stays in your plan. You will have to wade through a bit of travel-snobbiness (You haven’t been there?! You want to do something touristy?!). Not letting someone bully you into a weekend in middle-of-nowhere Slovenia instead of seeing Paris for the first time is difficult.

Not wanting to travel alone isn’t horrible! Even though so many so-called “experienced” travelers make it out to be. I still don’t like it. I get bored, also who is going to take my picture? There are International Student Houses, Travel Clubs, and tours for younger folks in every city just for people like us who like travel buddies. (I’ve always been a wee bit skeptical of these too but just went on one I LOVED it so that showed me.) (This is also so much safer, especially for women, a friend of a friend spent 3 weeks in a South American hospital with dysentery (where she was robbed of her passport), this would always suck, but ALONE?! If things get all Oregon Trail it’s nice to have a friend.

Pack things you want to throw away. I brought a few junky old sweaters, jeans that were on their last legs, and cheap tanks. For a semester, this fit into one massive suitcase and my business carry-on, and for a year it was two massives and a carry-on. You always wind up buying a few things – either gifts, textbooks, or clothing; maybe even a blanket that you buy because you’re cold and you love it so you take it home even though it dominates half your suitcase, cough *Becca* cough. Yes, you want cute outfits for your travels but I’ve never met anyone who had trouble dressing themselves once they got here. Odds are you’ll get so into the style of your host city you won’t even want to wear the new clothes you got for the trip. Bring the old stuff and donate it before you leave. (I’m in an apartment here and am thinking if I sold all the kitchen and home stuff I had to buy I could finance another trip that way).

Think business traveler when you think luggage. My parents got me a new suitcase before my semester abroad that has fold out backpack straps, wheels, and fits in an overhead (FYI: use Easyjet’s dimensions when buying as they’re one of the smallest and most frequently used for European student travelers). I can’t even tell you how many trips have met with crisis because people don’t have a carry-on size bag. Lots of crying and screaming, “how can I go to Milan without these shoes?”

Carry-on is always best, it saves you time and about $80 on the cheap airlines. The only thing my bag doesn’t have, which I’d suggest -hence the business idea – is a laptop case. Odds are you’ll be using this for any academic trips and at the very least on your way home, be prepared to remove your laptop at security. P.s. Laptops are HEAVY. I never realized how heavy until I was lugging it all over Europe.

Take photos! I know everyone is a photog these days but so many people never step out in front of the lens. Recently, a friend visited me and didn’t get a picture of herself in front of Big Ben! You don’t even need to look at the picture ever again but maybe one day you’ll want to and wouldn’t it be nice to have?

Coming up:

Hostels vs hotels, transportation, tour groups, money and more! Feel free to ask questions or request topics!