Ok…with this post we are not trying to be shallow…we just want to highlight some great couple travel blogs. There are some great twosomes out there on the road. So vote for your favorite Traveling Divas and visit some AMAZING couple travel blogs. Vote early and vote often! Voting ends and the Hottest Blogging Bombshell will be crowned on Dec. 1, 2010.
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Ok…with this post we are not trying to be shallow…we just want to highlight some great couple travel blogs. There are some great twosomes out there on the road. So vote for your favorite Hottie Husband and visit some AMAZING couple travel blogs. Vote early and vote often! Voting ends and the Hottest Travel Hubby will be crowned on Dec. 1, 2010.
Soweto- (SOuth WEstern TOwnships)
The site was the theatre for deadly clashes that started the dominos falling to the end of Apartheid. Candidly, on the visible surface, not much has changed in the 2010 version of the Soweto. Poverty still rules the day. Opportunity is no longer limited but an oppressive government, but it is a difficult road to travel. Access to healthcare, education and clean water is not as plentiful as your would expect.
The now abandoned twin nuclear cooling towers have been converted into a tourist attraction. I understand that they filmed a location of “The Amazing Race” here. Stretched between the two concrete towers is a bungee jumping facility. We were on a tight schedule and were unable to check it out.
We spent nearly a full day in the Soweto area, and came away with more questions than answers. We counted a significant number of Mercedes and BMWs coming and going in the neighborhoods. We saw well dressed folks coming and going. We saw clearly malnourished kids wandering among cardboard and tin shantys. There was a government employee strike during our visit and the large hospital at the hear of the area was completely empty. It was heavily fortified by the military. Where did the patients go? We understood that locals that attempt to volunteer during the strike are attacked.
So many difficult questions. No easy answers.
Our impression of the Soweto was dramatically different than our visit to Swaziland. The Swazi situation felt hopeless. The Soweto again presented a constant dichotomy. It appeared like some had found the escape hatch from desperation.
We must put a clear disclaimer on this post, there is one thing that we both hate more than a layover in anywhere that begins with Den and ends with a Ver: it is tour guides. WE DESPISE THEM! In so many places we have seen the gaggle of tourists led by someone that is supplying very simplistic remarks. To identify them simply look for the person holding the metal stick with a yellow flag on top- sporting the clipboard. You might hear them say, “There is a fine example of Greek statue….ok moving right a long.” This in front of the Venus de Milo! Or the most egregious example was a tour guide who said in front of the Celcius Library, “This is the library; imagine it,” and walked off. End of disclaimer. Ok one more disclaimer…(We are never, ever paid/compensated for anything that we review or comment on.) This is really the end of disclaimers.
We found a truly unique and frankly awesome service, Context Travel. This is not your run of the mill tour guide. You are paired in small groups never more than 6 people, with a true expert in the field. When we say expert, we mean….someone that has devoted a lifetime to study in a given field. Imagine having an architecture tour of Rome with someone with a Doctorate in Roman Architecture! Or a tour of Topkapi Palace in Istanbul with someone that wrote a book about the palace! Or even an incredible tour of Wall Street with a former bond trader! With Context Travel you get just that. Ok…must be expensive right? It really is affordable. Tours are much more specific in their breadth, but much, much more profound in their depth.Our guide Claire in Istanbul. She speaks seven languages and literally wrote the book on Topaki Palace. We spent four hours with her and it was a highlight of our trip!
Most of our tours with Context have been just Mike and I. They are not in every city. They don’t cover every topic. They don’t even offer tours to some of your typically touristy spots. But what they lack in quantity, they certainly make up in quality.
We have taken the following tours with context:
Many of the tour descriptions sound more like a college syllabus than a promo for a tour. Don’t be scared away. The beauty of Context is the questions you are able to ask. Forget the trite quicky response (quicky’s are good just not on a tour). You are always going to be surprised and enlightened. (In-depth info really makes you sound cool at cocktail parties.)
We have only had one bad experience with Context. Our foodie tour of NY. But he really ruined it for himself. He speaks fluent Chinese, so in Chinatown he kinda didn’t pay attention to guide.
We have recommended Context to many friends and now our blog-followers! A friend recently went to Rome with her two teenage daughters. They used Context to see the Vatican and the Vatican Museum. My friend said her daughters even thought the guide was cool! Context really puts things in, well, “context.”
We HIGHLY recommend:
Context is an in-depth alternative to traditional tours. We are a network of architects, historians, art historians, and specialists who organize over 300 different walks in 12 cities around the world.
- Small Groups (6 people max)
- Walks are led by Ph.D.-level scholars and historians
- Seminars: like going back to college
- Not a tour company; no umbrellas
Check out our latest post on a great choice for a weekender!
Dong Xi’s, Choch-Keys, junk, Dust collectors, trophies…whatever you call them… they are the items that you bring home as little mementos of your travels. The tradition is as old as time: Romans picked up Egyptian Obelisks…Greeks a golden fleece…hundreds of US midwesterns….I heart (insert town). Souvenierring is a time honored tradition. One of my favorites is exhibited above. My prized Whirling Dervish! My wife keeps hiding it as he continues to show up on various “highly visible”-her words not mine– places. I cherish my dervish. It really spins! I remember the tiny shop in the Grand Bazaar of Istanbul where I discover this treasure. Tucked way back in vast dark passageways, was this little family selling metal wares. I tried a little Turkish, they a lot better English, and the result was an emigrating Dervish (and a lighter wallet).
Why do we do it? Why must we bring a piece of our travels home? Do we worry that we will forget the sights sounds and smells of _________? I really think so. I think that in our soul, we hope that one day when time creates a great chasm between the now and then, we will find the Dervish and it will bring a smile and a rush of memories to mind.
Sometimes these items represent a victorious negotiation. Perhaps a memorable shopkeeper or locale? Not sure some items will qualify…my I heart NY t-shirt never really spans the distance like my Dervish.
What is your favorite item? What reminds you of your adventure?
Hit the Brick
“There isn’t any trendy food in the Treasure Valley!”–WRONG!
One of the best kept secrets in Boise…isn’t in Boise. Located just down the road from Boise in Nampa, Idaho, Brick 29 is one of the very best independent food joints in the valley. Highlights include: Bread Pudding, lamb shank, and of course the specialty dessert: “The Brick” basically it is a chocolate heaven!
Located in an converted Masonic Lodge, the historic property offers both ambiance and a hint of fun for the Idaho history buff.
Reservations are highly recommend.
Came across the ex-pat blog. I wonder what they teach there?
You may have heard now about short-term international volunteer opportunities, where you’ll have the chance to soak in a new culture while giving back to your host community. You also might have looked into different programs – figured out where you’d like to go, what you’d like to do, how much it costs, and more. It sounds like a fun trip, so what are the pros and cons?
– You’ll help an underserved community! There are so many options out there, whether it’s education, health care, orphanage work, wildlife sanctuary assistance, business startup, and more.
– Many organizations charge very little for your assistance. My website, for example, lists hundreds of groups who ask their volunteers to pay only $15 per day for their food and accommodations.
– You’ll experience a new culture, and in many cases, live with a local family. Depending on the type of trip, you’ll be immersed in the host community’s way of life – from working alongside them to living with them.
– Many new opportunities are short-term, allowing those who only have limited vacation time to help others and explore a new area.
– You’ll meet new people – both in the local community, and from around the world.
– Is the group helping or hurting the community? Unfortunately, some organizations may have the best intentions, but aren’t going about their “help” in ways that are sustainable, or that involve the host community in the best capacity. Try to find one that actively involves locals, giving them the tools necessary to help themselves.
– Costs can pile up. The first organizations you’ll find in Google searches charge upwards of $5,000 per week, not including your airfare! Look around until you find something affordable, and don’t become discouraged. Find people who have volunteered before, and see what they recommend – many can be found through Facebook and Twitter.
– Immersing yourself in a new culture will take you out of your comfort zone. Perhaps you’ll be in a community that views women’s rights differently than your own; are you comfortable adapting to and being respectful toward it?
– Short-term isn’t always the best. My general rule of thumb is that if you’re working with animals, children, or victims of violence, disaster, or neglect, it may be best to go for at least one month. A revolving door of one-week-workers isn’t exactly the best plan for vulnerable people or wildlife.
– It’s work! And it can be tough, uncomfortable, frustrating, and you probably won’t see the effects of it by the time you leave. But if you understand that before you go, and prepare yourself for it, you’ll have a great time.
Are you up for it?
As you can see, there are pros and cons for embarking on international volunteer projects. They can be frustrating but rewarding, and as long as you prepare yourself and know what you’re getting into, I can almost guarantee you’ll love it. And by “almost” I mean, I’ve only met one person who didn’t.
I’ll sign off here with one last bit of advice: Figure out whether you want your trip to emphasize “volunteer” or “vacation”, and then find a group that’s on the same wavelength. Once you do, you won’t be disappointed – and probably want to go again and again!
A huge thanks to our friend Sarah Van Auken for a great guest post! Sarah runs a website called www.Volunteer Global.com. Her site highlights the ins and outs of volunteering! Volunteering is the next best thing to fighting!