Thursday, February 28, 2013

Spring 2013 Edition of Airstream Life Magazine

I was so thrilled to hear that the portrait I took of Robert at Alumapalooza 2012 made the current cover of Airstream Life Magazine.  This image was one of my favorites from the event. Robert and his pups were such great sports to pose for me!

This will be my 3rd cover image for Airstream Life Magazine.  Looking back, I noticed that all three covers have a dog in the photo.  There must be something about traveling with pets that is so appealing.  I know that I can't even imaging traveling without Max.  The article in this issue is all about traveling with your pet...something Max and I know a little something about.  

Thank you, Airstream Life!

Friday, February 22, 2013

Death Valley National Park

Lowest Point In America - Badwater Basin
It's hard to believe that I've never been to Death Valley National Park until last week.  I grew up in Southern California and have lived here (when I'm not on the road) most of my life.  The weather was perfect so I thought I would go for a visit.

There is something about a National Park that gets me so excited inside.  I love driving up to the gate and showing my annual pass and getting a map and guide.  It's like an adventure is about to begin, and it does.  This is the first National Park that I've experienced that doesn't have a guard gate.  Perhaps because it gets so hot in the summer.  In any case, I arrived late so I went to the visitor center to get a pass the following day.

I woke up early to drive to Badwater Basin to find that I was the only person there!  As much as I love our National Parks, so does most everyone else.  Getting a private spot at an overlook is pretty rare so I soaked up the moment. Badwater Basin is the lowest point in United States so it was a treat to be able to visit the spot.  After that, I went on a hike to see a natural bridge, met Korean nun friends at the visitor center, ran the dunes with Max, then found a free camping site with a wild Burro watching over us.  It really was a magical trip.  In fact, I don't have anything bad to say about our National Parks.  I love them so much that I wanted to visit another one the following day!  We got up early and drove to Sequoia National Park to see the big trees.  Unfortunately for us, we needed chains to do so and we didn't have any so Ranger Dave sent us on our way.  I did get a nice portrait of him before we left so all was not lost.  

I hope you get to one of our National Parks soon.  It connects you in ways that the internet will never be able to and that's a good thing. Which is your favorite park?  Here are some iphone images from our few days at the park.

Koren Nuns Visiting Death Valley
Shut Down Motel near the park

Do you see our Burro friend?
Max loves running in the dunes
More happy dune running
Nothing for miles... 
Full Timers planning their next move, a la Risk style
Crow flying from a Palm Tree
Morning Ritual

One of the most beautiful roads just outside of the park
An old Sign outside of the park
Max refused to leave the comfort of his warm bed in the morning.
Gas Station outside of park
Jumping on Salt in Badwater Basin
Ranger Dave denying entrance to the Sequoia National Park without chains

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Ice Club Rome


An ice bar has been on my to-do list ever since I watched Travel Channel's Top 10 Las Vegas several years ago.  And that, of course, was before I really knew anything about drinking - that alcohol couldn't freeze, but it tasted awesome cold.  I just wanted to go for the igloo aspect and the opportunity to dress like an eskimo.

So when I read about Ice Club Rome in my Let's Go Italy tour guide (Let's Go is a travel book written by Harvard students after their studies abroad, so it's a great guide for college students that is informative about nightlife and understanding of our somewhat limited budgets when it comes to food and accommodations), I really wanted to go.  Luckily, my friends were equally excited about the opportunity to drink alcohol at -5 degrees Celsius.

Our hotel had a brochure about the ice bar, too, and it was very close.  There was a coupon in the brochure for buy 1/get 1 drinks - awesome!  I downloaded a Google map on my iPhone before I left.  I've learned that you can download the map using wifi/data, and then use the directions without using data.

We decided to make it an early night because we had to leave the hotel at 7 AM the next morning to head on to Naples.  So we got to the bar around 7:45 PM.  It wasn't exactly hopping.

The front desk was manned by an Irishman, which was convenient because the Irish speak English.  He told us that before 11 PM, our 15 Euro cover charge included two drinks, and after 11, it included one.  Unlike other ice bars, they didn't have a time limit, but once you exited, you couldn't re-enter.  "It usually picks up around 10 or 11.  Right now [looks at monitor behind him with two Arab-looking men who are line dancing].... well, you'll have company."  Wanting to stick with our early evening plan, we decided to go ahead in, despite the lack of other people.  We were dressed in ridiculous-looking parkas to keep us warm in the cold temperatures.  There was also the option of renting hats and gloves for 2 Euros, but since we were already bundled up, we didn't bother with that - it would be a good option in the summer, though.


Yours truly, dressed like a student from Hogwarts.
Our drinks came in frozen ice glasses.  I was pleased to find original mixed drinks with punny frozen names, rather than your standard Sex on the Beach or Mai Tai (not like I have a problem with either, but in an ice bar, I was wanting something more unique).  While the drinks were all very good, the conical shape of the glass decreased the amount of beverage you actually got, so it's a good thing we opted for the early entry with two beverages included.  I wish that I had taken a picture of the menu (the temperature and cloak, as well as the atmospheric blue lighting, made it rather difficult to photograph anything), but I do remember that I had the Arctic Sunset which was very good.  I was hesitant, as a key ingredient was melon vodka, and I recall hearing that my sister had some interesting experiences with melon vodka.  However, I think the chill of the alcohol alone makes everything infinitely better.

The ice bar felt small and intimate, but it was actually a rather large, but narrow space.  They took advantage of the temperature, utilizing ice sculptures as decorations.  The bar itself and all seating was constructed, seemingly, from ice.  However, the seats did have some warm sheepskin covers so that you didn't freeze your butt off.  Towards the back, they had actually constructed little rooms from ice.

Ice Coliseum

Ice Bar

Igloo Seating



After we finished our two drinks included in the cover charge, we were going to use the BOGO coupons to get an extra drink each.  However, when I showed them to the bartender, he told me that those were old, and they hadn't used them in over a year.  "I think I'm going to take a shot to warm myself up, though," and he poured us each a shot.  Frozen shots are the smoothest.  I had gotten Max a Margaritaville Liquor Chiller for Christmas, but hadn't had the opportunity to try it out, yet, but now I'm really glad I made the purchase!


I understand why they didn't limit the time people spent in the bar, as the temperature really limits it for you.  I think I could've stayed in there an extra twenty minutes, but Alex's feet were already frozen.  Luckily, we were already bundled up because of the winter weather.  I couldn't imagine visiting there in the summer with sandals - brrrr!  When we left the ice bar and stepped outside, the cold winter weather actually felt... warm!

I really enjoyed the ice bar.  While for many people, I'm sure this is a once-in-a-lifetime thing, but when given the opportunity, I would do it again if I was with other people who wanted to go.  It's kind of like a Margaritaville restaurant or a Rainforest Cafe.... yeah, it's a touristy attraction, but the atmosphere is fun and entertaining, and it's kind of fun to hit one in each city.  Maybe I'll make it my mission!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

You Can't Sneak a Fifth Person into a European Hotel... And other weekend travel discoveries

Train Station at Reggio Emilia

I had started this post several weeks ago, so now I'm back-logging, which is always annoying.  The internet here is spotty and I actually (believe it or not) do have studio work to keep me busy during the week, so I apologize for the slow-coming blog posts.  I will attempt to pick up the pace!

Our first trip as a class was to Reggio Emilia  to do some research for our project on a Thursday and Friday, and we had the weekend free.  We decided that we needed to do an independent trip just to have it under our belts - to say that we had been somewhere and that we had done it ourselves, with the idea that after planning the first independent weekend trip, it would only get easier.  So we booked transportation and accommodations in Torino (also known as Turin), Italy.  If it sounds familiar, it's probably because it was the host city of the 2006 Winter Olympics.

Why Torino?  That's a question we were asked by several, and honestly, we don't have a super great answer.  We wanted to go somewhere rather close and inexpensive.  Our first idea had been Portofino, but we had been (falsely) told that we would take a day trip as a class to Portofino.  It turns out that our class day trip would actually be to Torino, but by the time we had figured that out, the trip was booked and paid for.  So Torino it was - the location of our first independent adventure.

I booked the hotel, so the discovery of the title of this blog post is my fault.  When searching for hotels, I had entered "4 people" as the number of guests for a number of reasons that I will throw at you - 1) I'm from a family of 4, so that's just automatic for me 2) in the US, unless it's some sort of package deal, it's usually not a big deal to add in an extra person and request spare towels, pillows, and perhaps a rollaway 3) okay, okay - I like to cheat the system!  And sneaking in a fifth person is definitely cheaper than something awkward like a room of two and a room of three.  I am assuming that families of five can relate - (quoting Jon Gosselin, of all people) the world was built for families of four, and anything more or less usually isn't as good of a value.

So fast forward to the trip - we caught our train and made it to Torino.  The hotel was close to the station (this was one of our requirements and what lead me to book the hotel) and easy to find.

And then we go inside.  A young Chinese man was working the desk, which meant that there was a good chance that he spoke English, but for some reason, I chose to be a mute and instead plopped the reservation papers on the desk and smiled.  He pulled up my reservation.  "This is a reservation for four."  "Yes."  "But there are five of you."  Chinese man can count.  Think fast - "She's not staying here," and I pointed behind me at who knows who.  "Oh, okay.  I need to make a copy of your passports."  We handed them over, and Courtney spoke up, "Do you need mine, too?"  "Huh?"  "I'm not staying here.  Do you need to make a copy of my passport?"  "Oh, no."  This was the first point that I realized who I had pointed to and how lucky I was with my random hand flinging... out of everyone, Courtney was the most composed and definitely the best improv actress.  He finished copying our passports.  I paid for the room.  We got the key and started to head up to the room when, "Wait - since you're not staying here, I need to keep your passport.  You can get it when you leave."  DAMN IT!!!  Courtney promptly relinquished her passport as if this was no big deal and headed with us to the room.

Opened the door, and what do you know, the light wouldn't turn on.  So I had to go back down to ask about the light.  You had to put the card in the wall... I've found out that this is very typical in Europe, so if you're ever in a hotel room and the light switch won't work, try inserting the key card in the wall.

With the lights on, it was time to FREAK OUT!!!!

What do we do?  I was the only one ready to continue lying about the fifth person, looking for fire escapes to sneak her in through (I get this break-the-rules determination from my dad who taught my sister and I to tell people that we were 5-year-old twins when I was 7... he has always taken advantage of my baby face and tiny proportions).  Are we going to need to get another room?  We can't leave Courtney on her own.  I had already paid for this room.

With the lights on, I noticed that one of the beds was much wider than a twin, but not quite a double - two of us could share that bed.  We decided to go to the front desk and ask if we could pay for a fifth person.  Courtney played it cool, "I haven't gotten a room here, yet, and I was wondering if I could pay to stay here." "Oh, yes, it's a very big room."  If he picked up on the fact that we were really a group of five people who booked a room for four and realized we couldn't get away with it, he didn't let on.  He asked us if we were from America and told us he was saving up to visit there.  Courtney made small talk with me about how glad she was she didn't have to go looking for a hotel at this hour.  Such an actress!

In the meantime, back in the room... Alex had opened the door to the balcony and couldn't get it to close.  We had to go back to the front desk and get him to help us with that.  He couldn't figure out how to close it, either, and ended up jamming it closed.  There was no way to lock it, so we resorted to our own methods of fortifying the room....

Fortifying the Room

Fortifying the Room

As freaked out as we were about the hotel, it really wasn't that bad.  It was in a good, convenient location.  We had a private room and bathroom, unlike we would in a hostel situation, and it was a good price.  Yes, we had to go out of our comfort zones a little, but isn't that what spending the semester in Italy is all about?