Saturday, 13 July 2013

Welcome to my blog!

In 2001, I took a five month backpacking trip through nineteen countries on three continents. To read about my trip, please consult entries from February to June under the "2011" tab on the right side toolbar.  

I have also done some sporadic travel blogging since returning to the United States. This domestic blogging is comprised of all entries between July 2011 to present.

If you have any questions, please feel free to leave a comment.

Cheers to the big, wide world. 


Friday, 23 March 2012

Chicago, Illinois

In early February, I went to Chicago for the Association of Writers and Writing Program's (AWP) annual conference.  This was free to me as an MFA student; in fact my graduate school reimbursed me the full cost of airfare, hotel and food. Who can argue with that?

View of the Windy City's downtown from the Shedd Aquarium.

If you're a writer and have never been to an AWP conference, I can't recommend it highly enough.  I heard that there were over 10,000 writers in attendance. There were also an enormous book fair in the basement of the Chicago Hilton.  

But the highlight of each day were the panels.  The conference was three days, and there were six sessions per day.  During each session, there were twenty-five panels to choose from.  The panels were diverse, running the gamut from slam poetry to literary journalism to teaching writing in prison to balancing writing as a stay-at-home parent.      

Free glass of champagne I received at a panel hosted by Fourth Genre, a nonfiction, Midwest-based literary journal. 

Between attending writing panels and eating Chicago deep-dish pizza, I was able to do a bit of sightseeing.  The first thing I did was walk to Millennium Park.  It's a 24.5 acre park in the northwest corner of Grant Park that was opened in 2004 (four years behind schedule) to celebrate the millennium.  One of the defining features of the park is Cloud Gate.  Nicknamed "The Bean" because of it's shape, its Indian-born British creator - Anish Kapoor - said he drew his inspiration from liquid mercury.  The sculpture is a giant mirror; you can see your reflection it in from every angle, even the underside.

Cloud Gate in Millennium Park.

There are many other great things to see at Millennium Park, including the McCormick Tribune Plaza and Ice Rink.  The ice rink hosts about 100,000 skaters during the four months it's open per year.  The rest of the time, it functions as Chicago's largest outdoor dining facility.  

Ice rink photo in black and white.

I also spent an afternoon walking along Lake Michigan.  I passed the Field Museum of Natural History (has 21 million specimens including Sue, the world's largest and most complete T-rex), the Shedd Aquarium (contains 1,500 species and five million gallons of water), the Adler Planetarium and Astronomy Museum and meandered onto Northerly Island (a man-made peninsula along Chicago's waterfront built in 1925).

View of downtown Chicago from the edge of Lake Michigan. 

There were a lot of ladders along the lake. 

The Adler Planetarium and Astronomy Museum.

Northerly Island Park (near the Adler Planetarium and Astronomy Museum).

A cool marina I stumbled upon between Northerly Island and downtown.

I also snapped a lot of pictures of downtown:

Post-sunset in downtown.

Aren't these train tracks fabulous?

View of Michigan Avenue.

The last tourist thing I did was to go to Navy Pier, Chicago's #1 tourist attraction.  

Two friends on the walk from Millennium Park to Navy Pier.  Note downtown Chicago in the background.

As we approached Navy Pier, I was in awe of the turquoise water in Lake Michigan.

Navy Pier from a distance.  See the ferris wheel?

The 1,010 meter pier on the shore of Lake Michigan was opened to the public in 1916.  It houses a ferris wheel, an IMAX theatre, the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, the Chicago Children's Museum, the Smith Museum of Stained Glass Windows and dozens of shops and restaurants.  Here are a few shots I took from the pier:

 Posing near the ferris wheel.

Close-up of the Navy Pier ferris wheel.

Friends' reflection in a carnival mirror.

View of downtown from the pier.

Thought this view was kind of cool.

These pigeons were in a tizzy because some kid was throwing bird seed in the air.

Some shots from the Smith Museum of Stained Glass Windows:

All in all, the conference left me inspired and rejuvenated and reaffirmed my commitment to writing.  And Chicago was an amazing venue.  I'd love to go back in the summer when it's maybe not so windy. 

Monday, 23 January 2012

Charlottesville, Virginia

This post is quite retrospective (October, actually).  One of the highlights of the Fall was spending an afternoon in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Most of our time in Charlottesville was spent at Monticello, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the estate of Thomas Jefferson.

The thing I learned about Thomas Jefferson during my visit was that he was an all-around bad-ass.  Of course we know that he was the principal author of the Declaration of Independence, America's third president (he also served as Secretary of State and Vice President at various times), and the founder of the University of Virginia.  But that's just the tip of the iceberg...

Jefferson spoke five languages, rode horses, played the violin, graduated from the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, passed the Virginia bar exam in 1767, and was an opponent of slavery (though he owned slaves at Monticello and has been widely criticized by scholars for this and other hypocrisies).

It was under Jefferson that the United States bought the Louisiana Territory from France, a purchase that doubled the size of America.  Jefferson also organized the Lewis and Clark expedition and convinced Congress to fund and build the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York.

I could go on and on about Jefferson, but suffice to say he was a pretty accomplished fellow.

I would recommend visiting Charlottesville in the Fall, though I imagine it's beautiful all year long.  I'm just biased toward the Fall and feel as though Virginia has one of the best out there.

In addition to Monticello, the Downtown Mall of Charlottesville is a wonderful place to visit.  One of the nation's largest pedestrian malls, it's eight traffic-free blocks worth of stores and restaurants.

We hit up an Indian place for dinner.  There was also a Middle Eastern, Thai, Himalayan Fusion, Japanese, and other ethnic restaurants (plus many of your All-American type grills).  And for after dinner a cupcake shop, a frozen yogurt bar, and a movie theatre...

Monticello coupled with the Downtown Mall equals a great way to sample the best of Charlottesville.  And the city is only 115 miles from Washington D.C.

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Washington, D.C.

One of the most wonderful things about living in Virginia is my proximity to America's capital.  From Roanoke, Virginia, Washington, DC. is 240 miles northeast.  I took a day trip up there yesterday with a friend from graduate school.

Walking west along Jefferson Street, the Washington Monument and National Mall are visible to the right.

I've visited Washington, D.C. in the summer and fall, but this was my first experience with winter.  I wished I'd dressed warmer.  The pictures below showcase yesterday's weather...

Plants on the lawn of the U.S. Department of Agriculture headquarters.

And again.  

Washington, D.C. is the nation's only city that is not located within one of its fifty states.  Bordered by Maryland and Virginia, it was formed in 1790 from land along the Potomac River donated by those states (the Virginia portion was returned in 1846).

For the tourist, many of the attractions in Washington, D.C. are set in and around the National Mall, a national park that runs from the Capitol Building to the Lincoln Memorial between Constitution and Independence Avenues.

Capitol Building:

Beautifully illuminated at night.

Lincoln Memorial:

Front of the Lincoln Memorial.

The Lincoln Memorial is my favorite landmark in Washington, D.C.  It might be the architecture (architect Henry Bacon designed the building in the form of a Greek Doric temple)...

Interior columns and ceiling.


...or the sheer size of Lincoln's white marble statue (designed by sculptor Daniel Chester French) inside the building...

Lincoln's statue measures 19 feet from head to toe and weights 159 metric tons.  
...or two of Lincoln's speeches - The Gettysburg Address and Second Inaugural Address - that are etched on the walls in chambers on opposite sides of the building...

Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address is etched into the walls of the north chamber.  
...or the view of the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool and Washington Memorial from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial...

The Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool was under renovation when I visited.  

...or the fact that Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech was delivered here on August 28th, 1963.

But whatever it is, standing inside the Lincoln Memorial gave me goosebumps yesterday.

In addition to the Lincoln Memorial, some other attractions to see in and around the National Mall include the Washington Memorial...

The World War II Memorial (not to mention other war memorial such as the Vietnam Veterans War Memorial and Korean Veterans War Memorial)...

The White House...

And all of the Smithsonian Museums.  The Smithsonian Institution operates nineteen museums as well as the National Zoological Park.  Eleven of the nineteen museums are located on the National Mall.  The Smithsonian museums are free to the public.

The Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum, interior.

Sign for the Star Spangled Banner exhibit inside the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History.

Internal courtyard at the Freer Gallery of Art, part of the Smithsonian's National Museum of Asian Art.

Some other Freer Gallery of Art pictures are shown below:

Despite the cold, it was a great day in the capital.

Every time I visit, I feel proud to be an American and lucky for all of the freedoms I have as a citizen.  No better place to fuel those patriotic fires than the streets of Washington D.C.

Washington, D.C. is also a cosmopolitan city with people and influences from all over the world.  So, being in the capital also inspires me to travel internationally.  It inspires me to visit and live in different countries and continents, to try to understand and appreciate the diversity in our world.

P.S. I would suggest spending a minimum of two or three days in Washington, D.C.  There is just so much to do here and I feel like, yesterday, we only scraped the surface.