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March 5th, 2014
News of increased violence towards female travelers doesn’t mean the world is more dangerous now; it is because more victims are reporting crimes to the authorities. I hate to hear about bad things happening to anyone on their travels, because I think about all of the hoping, planning, and money it takes to make vacations possible. One of my last international trips was to India, which is where my parents emigrated from; the recent reports of horrific crimes committed there towards foreigners make me not want to go back anytime soon. That is a problem, since I have family and friends in the country, and would love to ride a camel in the Thar Desert in Rajasthan, trek through the Himalayas, visit the beaches in Goa, and so much more.
India is definitely not alone in this rise of violence towards foreigners; Mexico, some South and Central American countries,and a few popular Caribbean islands are among a number of nations that have endured the undesired international spotlight due to high profile violent crimes committed on their soil. In an article titled 25 Most Violent Places In the World, some cities in the USA are listed among the most dangerous, which I find surprising. I also know that some of my foreign relatives think that most Americans are used to violence in their daily lives.
What does that mean for us who love travel? I for one do not want to let fear prohibit me from travelling. I have come up with a list of some common sense tips, inspired by research and my own input. Regardless of age and gender, we all have to be careful out there, wherever we go. These simple guidelines are those I have and will continue to follow in the future; they can definitely work for you too.
- When in doubt about your destination’s safety, do your research. Even some of the most popular travel locales have gone through ups and downs in crimes of all sorts, such as Egypt, Thailand, and the Philippines. A great resource all travelers should use is the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs website, which is constantly updated with reports of all major civil or governmental unrest. You can also type in the name of the country you want to learn more about in the “Learn About Your Destination” search engine on the same page; you will get the most up-to-date information on the latest safety and security threats affecting travelers to certain areas, if any. You can also register for updates to be sent to your email address. There are also countless online and print travel guides that provide good information on general and specific dangers facing travelers, depending on when and where they go. My favorites are Lonely Planet, Rough Guides, Let’s Go, and Frommer’s.
- The buddy system works; don’t knock it! I love exploring places on my own or with one or two people, but there are places I will definitely go to as part of a larger group, if I can. Wandering off in an unknown place is not advisable. Bring a cell phone with you, and use it discreetly to connect with those you might get separated from; you can rent phones or unlock your phone and bring it with you when travelling internationally. If you are staying at a good hotel and trust the staff, stay connected to them just in case any emergencies arise.
- Travel safety gadgets will give you some peace of mind. There so many items out there, so it is completely up to the consumer; when it comes to preventing serious crimes in dubious locations, you might want to consider a door jammer for your hotel/motel door, and other portable alarms you can carry with you on the road. Corporate Travel Safety‘s website sells a Motion Sensor Alarm & Personal Alarm, which includes an ear-splitting, 100 decibel alarm and a motion detector you can carry with you at all times. I definitely think its worth the investment.
- Avoid large, chaotic crowds, whenever possible. You can lose your way and/or your fellow travelling companions, as well as your wallets, purses, and bags. Unruly groups of people can also gang up on solo travelers, if they can isolate them from others. If you are to go to a public area to shop or view an outdoor event, I suggest finding out from your hotel, tourist office, and/or locals when and where to go, when to leave. Getting advice from well-informed, knowledgeable locals will definitely help us avoid threats to our personal safety.
- When in doubt, don’t go out! If you are warned to avoid outdoor excursions at certain times of the day or night, or your instincts tell you to stay away, please listen. If you need to shorten your vacation to preserve personal safety, then do so; prior to travelling, it would be good to check travel insurance policies that may help make the procedure easier, if there is a possibility of early cancellation. Let your family and friends know your travel details, and when travelling abroad, make sure you keep your country’s consulate/embassy contact information handy.
With some planning ahead of time, we can reduce the probability of becoming victims of crime during our vacations. Stay safe everyone!
March 1st, 2014
Sometimes when I am really hungry I crave things that will fill me with meat and vegetables. Often times that leads me to the Whole Foods food bar or to Chipotle for a packed burrito. Every so often, though, I crave shawarma.
Now, if you don’t know what shawarma is, I first have to apologize. I am sorry you are missing out on such a glorious taste of heaven on Earth. That being said, shawarma is an Arabic sandwich. Shawarma deals a lot with how meat is prepared, mostly lamb, chicken, and beef, but sometimes even mixed meats. The shawarma meat may be grilled for as long as a day and then shaved off for serving. Shawarma is, especially in the American context, a sandwich with the shawarma meat served in pita bread. It is filled most often with chicken, pickles, and hummus, though the toppings very much vary from restaurant to restaurant and often times different options are presented.
The best shawarma I have ever had was in Dearborn, Michigan, right outside Detroit. This city has a population of 40,000 Arab-Americans, and the Arabic cuisine in the area is magnificent. My favorite restaurant in Dearborn would have to be Tuhamas, and they are rightly-known for their chicken’s tenderness and their amazing garlic sauce. A friend of mine in college used to drive 3 hours simply to retrieve some Dearborn shawarma from Tuhamas every so often. I still consider his craving-led trekking as noble and completely worth it.
Recently I have found out that here in Memphis, Tennessee, there is a place that serves chicken shawarma. ZamZamz Mediterranean Grill not only serves Shawarma, but gyros, kababs, falafel, etc. You would not believe how excited I got when I stumbled upon this place. I was able to get a chicken shawarma combo meal with hummus and pita and a glass bottle of coke (they provide you with bottle openers), and it was extremely affordable. I got to see them shave the meat of the gorgeous roasting chicken and plop it into my pita, and they packed it well with veggies. All the sides, such as the tabbouleh, corn salad, baba ghanoush, hummus, and pita, were all fresh, too. It was an enjoyable experience, to say the least.
For those skeptical, especially those who know their shawarma, I will say it now: ZamZamz’s quality is one the same level as Tuhamas. Yep, Dearborn-quality here in Memphis. That’s saying something. So when in Memphis, make sure you find your way to ZamZamz.
February 25th, 2014
Shelby Farms Park is one of the largest urban parks in the United States, ranked even higher than Central Park. Situated in Memphis, Tennessee, this 4,500 acres is a natural habitat for many species. You may spot beavers, turtles, deer, and even a bison herd when visiting Shelby Farms Park. There are also an abundance of birds, so go birdwatching if you’re into that sort of thing. Packed with lakes, forests, and wetlands, this park is perfect for a peaceful afternoon stroll. Alongside hiking trails, there are bike trails perfect for an awesome workout.
History of Shelby Farms Park
The history of Shelby Farms Park is actually kind of bizarre but extremely fascinating. Shelby Farm Park was first established as Nashoba Commune, an experimental project of Fanny Wright, an abolitionist, feminist, social reformer, and free-thinker. It was to be a place for the education of slaves and preparation for their freedom and eventual colonization in either Haiti or Liberia. Though the commune never reached its goal of emancipation, it was a project that stirred much controversy in its day.
The land was acquired by Shelby County in 1928 and was used as a “penal farm”, in which local prisoners were involved in agricultural labor. Since the 1970s, though, the farms became utilized for recreational purposes. By 2008, a major redesigning of the park was undergone, creating more boating activities, more paved trails and roads, and they planned to plant 1 million more trees.
A new playground has since been built, as well as a disc golf course, a BMX race track, and horseback riding trails. The Shelby Farms Greenline was built, which is a 6.5 mile long trail that runs from an area close to Midtown and into the Shelby Farms Park. The Greenline is the longest urban trail in Memphis and the first trail in the state of Tennessee to use a pedestrian hybrid beacon at two major crossings.
If you are ever in Memphis for the Italian Festival, Beale Street Music Festival, May in Memphis International Festival, or for the general music scene or even a day-trip to Graceland, why not make your way to Shelby Farms Park? It’s the perfect haven for Tennessee’s largest city.
For more information on events and attractions at Shelby Farms Park, go to http://www.shelbyfarmspark.org/
February 23rd, 2014
By: Mackenzie http://www.learntravelart.com/
Last spring, I celebrated by 16th birthday in the concrete jungle with my parents. We only went to New York City for three days because I had spring break while my parents did not. I had a fabulous time in the City that Never Sleeps, and I learned so much along the way as well.
Although waking up at 4:20 a.m. to get to my airport on time wasn’t fun, experiencing international JFK airport was memorable. People from all over the world were speaking in languages I couldn’t even comprehend was an experience in itself as was taking a taxi into the city for the first time. The temperature was only 37 degrees, and the streets didn’t look as busy as they probably would have during the summer. We stayed at a Double Tree hotel near Times Square, and the street it was on looked so rustic and non-touristy that it was a respite from the bustle of the city. We then waited in line for AGES (really it was only 45 minutes, but it was so cold!!) for tickets to see Mama Mia, the award winning Broadway show. It was amazing! The energy in the Winter Garden was infectious and the voices of the actors were clear and strong. Better yet, since I had waited in line in the bitter cold (I’m from the South—don’t blame me), I had a seat only seven rows away from the main stage.
Another interesting aspect about my trip was that my family and I went to McDonalds—a lot. I know we were in NYC, famous for its hotdogs and Delis, but our hotel was nearly $200 dollars a night (which is typical for New York City) so we had to scrimp. Plus, a $1 coffee that tasted just as good as Starbucks was too good to pass up. That night, we went to John’s Pizzeria for dinner (260 W. 44th Street). Their “NO SLICES” logo was plastered everywhere, and the building looked like a newly renovated old church. There were stained glass windows and an incredibly cool ambience produced by the dim lights and “celebrity” section at the top of the winding staircase. The pizza was some of the best I have ever eaten (excluding Italy!), and I recommend this place heartily.
My birthday! Waking up to my parents playing “Birthday” by the Beatles and “New York, New York” by Frank Sinatra is something that will be branded into my memory for a long time. After eating a quick breakfast at Dunkin Donuts, we hopped on the subway (which was surprisingly clean) to MoMA, the Museum of Modern Art. I love anything to do with art and art history, so admiring Warhol’s “Soup Cans” and Picasso’s “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon” on my day of birth seemed fitting. However, I felt like the Museum was more of a tourist attraction filled to the bursting point with tourists that didn’t really know/appreciate what they were looking at. But there is no denying that watching snow fall outside the window of the Monet’s “Water Lilies” room was thrilling. After another quick McDonalds break, we took a siesta in our hotel room because MoMA tired us out.
We had dinner again at John’s Pizzeria, and when it came time to sing me Happy Birthday, my waiter shouted out my name, “Mackenzie,” to the whole restaurant very loudly. Although my cheeks were probably the color of crushed cherries, I loved every single minute. We shopped along Times Square until 10 p.m., but judging by all the lights, it could have been the middle of the day.
You’re probably laughing now, but we went to McDonalds AGAIN for breakfast—so original. Because I am in love with museums, we went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in the morning. The façade of the building, Greek columns with an impressive pediment, was imposing and more “high art” than MoMA had been. The works inside were simply stunning, and the galleries contained everything from ancient Greek statues to a lithograph of Chairman Mao by Warhol. After satisfying my hunger for art, we toured Grand Central Station (built by Cornelius Vanderbilt in 1871) and the Public Library. My dinky little community library couldn’t compete with this mammoth of a structure. Apparently there are 80 miles of books cloistered in the labyrinthine building. At the end the day and our trip to New York, we saw the Empire State Building at night. We waited around four hours to make it to the top (although we already had tickets), but the view at the top was worth it. (Editor’s tip: Go before the Empire State Building opens to get on line to speed up your wait.) Everything was cloaked in black but simultaneously lit up by the multitude of glowing lights. It was a sea of artificial stars, an oasis of capital and fame.
After this once-in-a-lifetime experience, we ate at, you guessed it, McDonalds. It was 11 p.m. when we ate our chicken wraps in the little second story seating area. It was probably sketchy and unsafe but I was so hungry and high off the Empire State Building view that I didn’t care. We flew home the next day, and I can’t wait to return again.
February 17th, 2014
California has so many things to offer, but there is a hidden gem called Fort Bragg. This little city was our mini-weekend getaway during our fall break. I loved the atmosphere of this town, there was a mix of fresh air from the pine trees and the salty ocean mist that made this place even better. On our trip, we rode the Skunk Train, visited the Sea Glass Beach, and saw some furry friends along the way.
The Skunk Train is an attraction that gives those who ride the train, a scenic view of the Redwood Forest and much more. My family and I were able to go in the outdoor cart and it was beautiful. The train passed by small streams and rivers and it made me appreciate everything about nature. Unfortunately, during our visit, our train ride had to be shortened due to a tunnel collapsing a few weeks earlier. However, the 45 minutes that we rode the train were still enjoyable!
Next, my family and I headed out to the famous Sea Glass Beach. Honestly, the beach was not what I expected. There was not that much sea glass left because every visitor likes to take their own as a souvenir, but it was still pretty. There were lots of seaweed all around, that kind of made it hard to find the sea glass. This was definitely a beautiful experience though.
Once we started heading back to our car, my mother spotted a deer and started taking pictures. They were absolutely majestic. There was actually a doe and her two children, they looked like they were used to humans because despite all the noise we were making, they did not acknowledge us.
Fort Bragg was something different for our family. I would highly recommend this place to anyone who loves nature and is in Northern California. There were so many picture opportunities, I wish we could have stayed longer.