Friday, May 11, 2012

Not as Plain as You Think

So while it has been a few months since the last post, I’m actually taking a slight detour with this one.  Time has been hard to come by lately so this is going to be brief and touch on a subject very dear to my heart...the US Plain States!  If you spoke with a handful of people from various locations in the United States you would end up with just as many opinions as people.  The Great Plains encompass the middle portion of the United States just east of the Rocky Mountains and follows along from the Canadian Prairie to the Texas-Mexico border.  Varying definitions have it including all or parts of nine or ten states: Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Nebraska, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Texas.  The one state sometimes missing from the list is New Mexico.
I find the comments people make about these states quite interesting.  They’re boring, flat, empty, nothing’s there, nobody in their right mind would live there, nothing to do there, only farmers live there, more cattle than people, they live in the past, and the list goes on.  Having grown up in South Dakota in and amongst the rolling prairie, I have a wonderful appreciation for the so-called emptiness.  Personally, I find the vast space provides some of nature’s best views and some of God’s best handiwork.  Nature is where I tend to connect best with God and His love for both us and the world that He created.
How the colors can be such a contrast in the spring with the cool greens and blues of pastures and creeks to the warm reds and gold of the sunrise and sunset.  The winter brings freshness with the cold, crisp air and brightness of the sun’s reflection off the snow.  The summer fills the horizon with the dry, rustling prairie grass in the breeze in shades of taupe, fawn, and gold.  There’s a gentle sense of peace that can be found standing on a quiet gravel road looking out at the horizon.  My time living in large cities made me long for the wide open spaces of my parent’s farm and the view from the top of our hill down over the pasture and creek below.
 If you’ve been through any of these states what was your first impression?  Likely, you were among the majority impatiently waiting for the other side or the time when you could return home.  Did you take the time for a second look?  Or did you pass off the view out your window for the music on your radio and thoughts of your destination?  As a fan of country music and a big fan of Jason Aldean, I’ve enjoyed listening to his most recent radio release, “Fly Over States” off of his 2010 album "My Kinda Party", and watching as it continues to increase in popularity.  This song touches on some of the same views I have with the Plains and even some of the Great Lake states; how they can so often be overlooked by their sparse appearance and yet they are filled with so much quality of life.  I’m including the video of the song at the end and suggest you enjoy the music but also listen to the words and at least consider this part of the United States.
It’s a place consisting of hard-working, down-to-earth, quality people who want to make the best out of life and know that in order to achieve it they will have to earn it.  Nothing comes easy in this life, but with hard work and prayer we can unite our dreams with God’s and see them come to fruition.  There is much to take from these places and the people living within their borders and I hope that the next time you’re through you’ll take time for a second look at its natural beauty and all it represents.

Official Music Video

Official Lyric Video

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Ins and Outs of Flying

So I’ve already told you just how much I love flying in one of my first entries (In the Eyes of a Child) but don’t believe for a minute that this love is still going strong because my flights have all gone smoothly—I’ve definitely had my own fair share of traveling problems including a full international flight delayed overnight due to a pilot being pulled from my flight for an earlier one to the same destination that was short a pilot (as the rumor mill circulated).  There is something freeing and beautiful about flying.  You hand over the reins of control to the captain and his co-pilot relying on their hands and wisdom stemmed from experience to get you safely to your destination.  Window seats are by far my favorite place on a plane and whenever I get the option I sit there…I’ve even been known to switch with my neighbor.  Usually I mention the fact that it would be more convenient for them to stretch into the aisle or one less person to climb over to get out of the seats or the fact that I do not require leg room (my short legs have been known to fit just about anywhere without being squished).  I have to be able to look out the window when flying.  I enjoy the thrill of watching the ground slowly shrink and fade as you lift into the sky and the rush as it appears to come up and meet you upon descent.  And how marvelous is it to watch topographical features so large when face-to-face appearing as though they could fit in your hand?  What a marvelous work God has created and privilege He has given us to live and experience every day.  To me flying provides a glimpse into what He must see when viewing the world He made, ribbons of water winding through the terrain with precise curves so the flow of water never ceases its flow or the majestic mountains on the horizon with their jagged peaks distinctly set against the sky above. 

Maybe you’re like me and enjoy the sight of flying through clouds.  It’s amazing to think that the clouds we view from the ground don’t appear all that different when inside them either.  When I was younger I thought the plane would have to have wipers on the windows so the passengers could see when flying through clouds (we hadn’t gotten to this topic in science class yet, lol).  But when you think about it, there are things of this world that do appear different upon closer examination yet clouds remain the same-fascinating.  I sure hope I’m not boring you at this point and I hope you’ll continue reading because I do have experiences to share with you.  I think you get the picture of the joy I find in flying.  J

There really are some basic concepts in flying and if you’ve done it recently you’ve probably picked up on a lot of it, but if the last time you’ve flown was before the 9/11 terrorist attacks or if you’ve never flown there are some helpful tips to point out.  Travel as light as you can manage, but be reasonable and plan ahead.  If you’re planning a backpacking trip than make it an actual backpacking trip.  Think about who you are-are you someone who loves to collect little trinkets or souvenirs from each place you visit?  Or do you plan on getting birthday or Christmas gifts for family and friends while you travel?  These will make a difference in how you pack.  Sometimes you might have an option of shipping a box home but if your budget is tight carefully weigh the options of the spatial limits.  I’ve found that I usually pack a collapsible soft cover bag such as a sling bag or tote (similar to the reusable shopping bags that are widely popular-in fact they make great bags to bring with).  It’s also important to recognize your needs while on the trip and plan accordingly.  Do you really need that big tube of toothpaste or bottles of shampoo and conditioner?  Maybe you can get by with the travel size or a combo shampoo and conditioner or you have the option of purchasing what you need once you arrive or using what available at your hotel.  If you are only planning on having a carry-on be aware of the federal TSA guidelines as well as the specific guidelines your specific airline or flight may have.  There are actually weight restrictions for a carry-on as well as size restrictions depending on your airline and destination.  You can find these on your airline’s website.  It’s also essential to be aware of what you might have access to-if you have frequent flyer program you may have an option of using miles toward baggage fees or a higher weight limit for the same price.  There are numerous possibilities if you take the time to do a little research. 

Being aware of airlines and airports can also be beneficial when traveling.  This is where my not-so-pleasant experiences have benefited me.  I now know that the Denver International Airport and Charles de Gaulle-Paris Airport are not where you want to pass through on a short layover.  The multiple times I have been in these airports I’ve found myself struggling to reach my gate on time resulting in missed flights or impatient fellow passengers upon arrival.  I’ve found myself sprinting from one end to the other of a terminal at Denver’s airport never so thankful for the moving walkways in my life desperate to reach the final flight out to Sioux Falls for the night.  Most flight attendants will have listings available for connecting flights and if you make a request you can usually get assistance. In this specific case a fellow passenger and I were given priority when departing the plane in our attempt to reach the same connecting flight.  Other times I have had them contact the gate of my connecting flight alerting them that I was still coming and to hold the plane if possible.  In Paris, my one missed flight resulted in a little extra for the next flight they booked me on-being moved up to business class and allowed access to their lounge until it was time to board the flight.  Make sure you don’t become too angry and aggressive with the gate attendant or customer service worker-it’s not their fault your delay occurred or your flight was missed.  Make them aware of your situation and give them the facts don’t exaggerate your claims because more often than not you will not benefit and it will likely count against you in how your specific situation is handled.  Working in customer service myself, I know how difficult it can be to be the person on the other side of the counter or phone conversation.  Please be courteous to those assisting you and if you cannot manage that for whatever reason at least be indifferent in how you treat them rather than all-out rage or frustration.

If you’re looking for airports easy to get around in on a short layover the Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport is one of the nicer and more organized ones out there.  Also, the Amsterdam Airport Schiphol in The Netherlands, and the Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix are two other well organized and easily maneuverable airports.  I know not everyone’s views will be the same when it comes to airports or even air travel in general but if you know how to avoid certain situations or how to handle difficult occurrences that may come up your experiences should be relatively smooth.  I have my own personal preferences of airports to travel through and in some instances I have no way of avoiding those I dislike because of the limited connections available to me from a small-town regional airport. 
*Side Note*   If you are a student, faculty member, or under the age of 25 when traveling or purchasing airfare, be aware of the resources you have available to you.   One of my favorite sites for researching airfare is  They offer some great prices for both domestic and international travel.  Make sure you look around and see what is available before you make a purchase-it’s not one you can easily change once you commit.

Friday, October 7, 2011

30 Hours in Venice

I realize it’s been awhile but life has been keeping me busy these past couple of weeks. 

I want to tell you about one of my favorite international destinations recently visited.  It’s a place that falls on most people’s list of top dream destinations and that is the beautiful water/canal city of Venice, Italy.  I had a weekend to do as I please (Friday afternoon through Sunday night) so I was torn between a couple different options: Croatia, Kosovo, or Venice.  In the end Venice won out because of time constraints with the travel options available to me.  I likely could have made either of the other two work out but my time there would have been even more limited than what I ended up with in Venice.  My location was near Graz, Austria, and with train travel so prevalent in the area this was going to by my primary source or travel for the weekend.  Flying was too expensive and really didn’t gain me a lot of time with the flight times available.  I made a reservation at a hostel in the city online before leaving so I’d know I’d have a place to stay Saturday night and then took off with a backpack and my “purse” (more or less it’s a messenger bag).  I traveled to Graz by train and then went to the information office there at the station to get tickets for the remainder of my travel.  I had a pass that allows me to travel by train in Austria without purchasing a ticket so I mainly just needed to know availability and times for the trains into Venice.  I was able to have guaranteed seating to Klagenfurt but from there I had no guarantees and was told the night train (that traveled from Vienna to Venice) was sold out.  Figuring there would be more options available I went for it knowing I could always spend the night in the station there if it came down to it.  Upon reaching Klagenfurt I noticed the next approaching train was scheduled through to Rome with a stop in mainland Venice so I ran around to the other side of the tracks and asked the train official waiting at the doors if there was room available to Venice…getting conformation I hopped on and bought my passage from him before winding my way through the cars to find an open seat.
Canal through Venice
Thankfully, I managed to be a light sleeper for once in my life and woke up just before we approached the Venice station at about 4:00am.  I have to admit that the next hour and a half was a bit on the creepy side of things.  One, I don’t know Italian.  Having some generic language background and familiarity with German and French I could guess at some of the things being said around me, but I would probably not suggest arrival as a solo female traveler at 4:00 in the morning when you have to wait until about 5:30 for the first train out to the station on the island/s.   I will say that I was incredibly excited to arrive in Venice and stand on the bridge out in front of the station and watch the sunrise over the city.  I think the only thing that might beat that was if I had gotten there early enough to walk around to the east side of the island and watch it come up over the ocean-but either way it was absolutely gorgeous and something I will never forget.  J
Sunrise over Venice
I walked around the city for a few hours finding some bread for breakfast and learning my way around the main streets/bridges for easier navigation later.  I then found my way to the hostel so I could check in and dumped off one of my bags taking only necessities with me as it was a hot, sunny day in Italy.  Acquiring a map at the desk and some helpful hints on where I should go and what to see I set off for my day in Venice.  I enjoyed walking the streets with windows full of leather, glass, and beautiful masks.  One could never tire from the sight-it’s fascinating!  I walked the famous Ponte di Rialto (Rialto Bridge) over the Grand Canal, watched gondoliers floating along the way, and marveled at the Piazza San Marco (St. Mark’s Square).  There is a reason that Venice is a desired destination for most people and I now know that for a fact.  Rather than having a meal for dinner, I snacked my way through the morning and afternoon on fresh bread, gelato, and different Italian treats and then headed on a water taxi across to Murano where I watched a glass blowing demonstration and wandered around completely enthralled with all of the handmade glass products available.  It really is marvelous what one can do with the stuff.  J

Glass Display on Murano
The afternoon held a bit more adventure for me as I was caught unaware in a brief downpour (as were most of the people there).  I sought shelter in a little boutique and ended up finding a couple really nice shirts I bought.  Emerging out into the streets again I decided to make a quick stop back at the hostel to drop off my accumulating purchases, grab my umbrella, and seek some suggestions for a good supper restaurant.  *Take note that wearing flip flops on wet stone streets is NOT a suggested travel tip.* I walked back to my “sunrise” bridge to watch night fall on the city before setting out for the suggested restaurant that was a little off of the beaten path (walking alone on the “streets” of Venice at night may be a bit uncomfortable for some as it is more or less walking single file alleys with very little lighting).  I found the restaurant to be a nice little cozy place where most of the patrons were true Venetians and I and one other couple (also Americans) were the only tourists.  *Thank you hostel worker for your outstanding recommendation!*  I had an amazing real Italian pizza that left me stuffed beyond belief with a lot left over (and sadly nowhere to keep it, though I have to say I don’t know if asking for a box would be frowned upon there or not).  Needless to say I spent my one and only night in Venice sleeping very well.  I had experienced a wonderful day in the city and met some wonderful people along the way.

Nightfall over Venice
I got up the next morning with every intention of taking the train back the entire way only to find that the train schedules did not overlap enough for me to make my connections and get back to my little Austrian city in time.  I was left scrambling for a way home.  *This falls under one of those times where my spontaneity can cause problems.* I ended up buying a ticket for a bus to Klagenfurt later in the day but traveling by train to Udine, Italy, and then managed to catch the earlier bus to Klagenfurt.  This allowed me to barely-just barely-catch the right train connections to get me back to Graz and make the final train out of the city to my little town in the countryside.  I walked quietly into the house shortly before one on Sunday night/Monday morning brimming with excitement from the experiences I had had and also exhausted knowing I would be up bright and early the next morning to start working again.   

Piazza San Marco

Anyone who wants to plan a trip to Venice I would love to give you some specifics, it just gets to be a lot to type them all out on here.  Maybe another time…

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Networking In a Traveler's World

Networking…that’s probably the last thing some of you want to hear and I can truly understand that.  In the business world we now live in networking is largely the only way to gain that dream job.  You have to know someone to get inside and it can be a difficult way to get what you want when you begin with not knowing anyone…or so it seems.  But in the world of travel, networking is more focused on fun rather than business.  In all honesty, it may not even be the best term used for what I’m talking about-being able to go somewhere new and exciting because you know someone there.  And actually there are two different realms of this idea.  The first one is going to visit someone you know well, a good friend or a family member, and then taking the time to enjoy and explore a place you’ve never been before.  The second would be just the opposite and really the more cold and unfriendly of the two and that’s going somewhere to explore a new place and seeing someone briefly because you’re already there…this is better applied with acquaintances or friends of friends with whom you are more unfamiliar. 
Driving down the interstate heading for the Historic Apache Trail
People are unknowingly doing these or variations of them all of the time.  Maybe you go somewhere for a business trip but find time to grab lunch with a friend or family member who lives there as well.  Or you’ve got a free morning so you go to a museum you’ve always wanted to visit.  I’ve managed to travel in many variations of these as well.  One of the more recent was my trip to Mesa, Arizona, for the wedding of two good college friends.  I’d never been to Arizona before (and like a lot of people I have dreamed of traveling to all 50 states since I was much younger) and found this invitation to be the perfect opportunity to explore the area surrounding the Phoenix Metro.  I also have some family and friends down in the area and was hoping I could meet up with them or stay with some of them while I was there.  With the wedding on Saturday and a brunch on Sunday, I headed out from the Sioux Falls Regional Airport early Thursday morning and arrived at the Phoenix Sky Harbor Int’l Airport mid-morning with the time difference.  That gave me almost the entire day to do some exploring.  For this reason I was renting a car and not sharing rides with others coming to the wedding or getting rides from friends and family who lived there.  I wanted a bit more independence to go and do as I chose.
Part of the Trail-Tortilla Flats, definite tourist stop
Before purchasing my tickets and hotel and everything of the sort, I did a little bit of research for what I wanted to do and see.  Knowing I wanted to fit as much in as a could but leaving time for being my spontaneous self, I decided on a scenic drive from the Metro area up to the Theodore Roosevelt Dam on the Historic Apache Trail/State Route 88.  From there I headed southeast toward Globe and then took a scenic, but much more direct route, back to the Metro area on Highway 60.  It was an awesome experience and made me feel slightly more at home as the trail is primarily dirt roads except for the beginning and then once you reach the Dam.  There are many lookouts located along the trail providing ample opportunities for pictures of the desert scene.  I would highly recommend this drive (except maybe for those prone to motion sickness) and I would suggest being cautious of what time of year you go as many sections are susceptible to flash flooding.  I made it up to Globe for supper (dinner for you city folk) and drove around the small town before heading back toward Mesa.  The time change threw me off a bit so instead of doing something else I found my hotel and checked in for the night, content to watch baseball and bull riding on the TV mixed in with some light reading. 
Peeking at the Theodore Roosevelt Dam
I woke up the next morning to a beautiful, but incredibly bright sunrise thus getting me up a little earlier than planned.  Knowing I would be picking up a friend from the airport early afternoon I decided to stick closer to the metro area to explore.  I found myself coming across a small park and botanical garden (Park of the Canals) where I walked around for about an hour and then continued on my way.  Recognizing the time and not wanted to spend much money, I stopped at a store and bought some snacks I could make a meal out of and then returned to the park and garden where I sat under a shelter and read for the next couple of hours before beginning the drive up to the airport to pick up my friend.  We had a great time that afternoon hanging out at the nice outdoor pool at the hotel before heading off to Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar & Grill.  AMAZING food!  If you’ve never eaten there I would highly suggest it.  It was the first time for both of us and we thoroughly enjoyed it…plus the live country music was a big plus for me.  J 
With some time to explore Saturday morning before readying for the wedding, we took off for the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix where we walked every trail that was open.  The scenery was spectacular, especially for someone who is accustomed to prairie, pasture, and fields all on a flat or gently rolling plain.  My fair skin took a bit of a hit from the high Southern sun, but overall I faired pretty well on the sunburn scale of things.  *Something to keep in mind when you travel is to make sure you’re aware of things like this- especially if you’re from the north, going south can make a big difference in the strength of the sun.*  The Desert Botanical Garden was a really nice place (they do have student discounts so take your student ID if you’ve got it) as it portrayed some of the area culture as well through structures, gardens, and ways of living for the natives and early settlers scattered amongst the vegetation.  I would really recommend this if you’ve got a couple of hours to spend but need to stay close the metro as you can get a taste of the desert without leaving the city limits.  On our way back to the hotel we stopped and treated ourselves to true Mexican food at Matta’s…some good stuff there!
Desert Botanical Garden, Phoenix
The wedding was located at the gorgeous Lavender & Old Lace in Mesa.  And Sunday I was able to see a bit more of the area while driving to the brunch in Queen Creek and then up to Scottsdale to spend the afternoon and night with some family before heading back to South Dakota on Monday morning.  All in all, committing to attending the wedding and allowing myself two extra days off of work allowed me to explore the area surrounding the Phoenix Metro and still be able to relax with friends and family.
Outside area at Lavender & Old Lace, Mesa
Don’t be afraid to turn a trip with a purpose into something more-being able to explore and have some fun in a place you’ve not yet had the chance.  Let people know what you’re thinking of doing…most people can offer suggestions or help you brainstorm some ideas if you’re not completely certain.  And don’t be scared to ask friends or family if you can stay with them when you go.  Most people would love the chance to have you stay with them even if you’re going to be doing other things.  And it never hurts the pocketbook any either.  So enjoy yourself and take advantage of any trips you make…stop at places when you’re driving if you’ve got an extra few minutes or spend an extra day in a city you love after your business meetings are completed or the reunion or wedding you were there to attend is over-I can guarantee you won’t regret it.