From My Travel Bucket List

I’m one of those people who like to read travel books like “1000 Places to See Before You Die” or “The Geography of Bliss.” Book CoverSometimes I find myself planning my next vacation when I’m not even done with my current one. Well, not really planning but dreaming. Where will I go next?

There are so many places I feel I should go – places I’ve read or heard about all my life. Places like Venice, Rome, and Florence; Madrid, Barcelona, and Seville. I’ve never been to Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Vienna, Oslo, or even Prague. Then there are the places which intrigue me, the activities or people which sound more than just interesting – exciting, challenging, and even educational.

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Here are just a few of those places I’d like to go, in no particular order, taken right off My Travel Bucket List!

The items may change as the years go by, whether by necessity or choice, but I look forward to dreaming about each trip in the days to come. What’s on your Travel Bucket List?

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When Traveling, Remember the Moscow Rule

While traveling in Paris many years ago, my American friends introduced me to the Moscow Rule. Not to be confused with the Moscow Rules, this rule has to do with shopping and souvenirs and is fairly simple. If you see something, buy it, because you may never see it again.

My friends told me that this rule originates from people standing in line in Moscow. If you lived in Moscow under Communist rule and saw people standing in line, you joined them, because whatever they were waiting for you most likely needed or would need and you may not have the opportunity to buy it another time.

Although I try to remember this rule when I travel, the times I forget are the times I regret. Like the time I didn’t buy the metal toy truck in Cape Town because I knew we’d see several more during our trip (we didn’t).

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Or when I didn’t buy a drum and then had to resort to the airport gift shop. Or when I passed up a pretty necklace at a price I saw quadrupled in future stores.

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Sometimes it’s easy to remember, like buying Lindt chocolates in Zurich, wool scarves with the family clan in Edinburgh, or maple syrup in Vermont. I find it more difficult to remember when I see something different. Is it something I truly want? Is the price a good one? Will I see it again?

Maple Syrup

To prevent those post traveling blues, remember the Moscow Rule: if you see something unique, something you’re unlikely to find online or anywhere else, snatch it up, because you may never see it again. Most likely, you won’t regret the purchase, and the memories it holds will bring smiles for a lifetime.

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Exploring Colleges: American University

I learned a new word when I visited American University last April. Wonk.

According to Merriam-Webster, a wonk is: “a person who knows a lot about the details of a particular field (such as politics) and often talks a lot about that field.” According to American University, its students are wonks: smart + passionate + focused + engaged.

crosswalk to American campus and signWhile American University is technically located in DC, it is a 15-minute Metro ride from downtown. A free shuttle drives its passengers from the Tenleytown/AU Metro stop past the Department of Homeland Security to the 84-acre campus.

After a film about life on campus (one of the better ones we’ve seen) and a brief introduction by an admissions officer, my son and I followed our tour guide around campus, visiting a dorm and the quad. We learned a few statistics: not only is American University the largest school of international affairs in the country, its students are the country’s most politically active; 70 percent study abroad, and 84 percent complete an internship before graduating.

About half of the 13,000 students at American are grad students; in 2012, there were only 6,776 undergrad. The university’s 61 bachelors, 54 masters, 11 doctoral degrees, and JD are taught at its seven schools and colleges. The average classroom size is 22, and the maximum class size is 66, according to our tour guide.

Unlike urban George Washington University, American University has a campus feel. The main university buildings, including the library and the Kay Spiritual Life Center (which houses 25 different groups of faith), surround the Main Quad.

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As we walked, students milled about, entering various buildings.

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There was not the energy and excitement of a city campus, instead there was more of an academic feel. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons American calls its students wonks.

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To be a wonk is to know (wonk spelled backward).

Trip taken: April 2013.

Exploring Colleges: The George Washington University

In the middle of Washington, D.C., just four blocks from the White House, is The George Washington University; its Foggy Bottom campus barely defined, as university buildings blend in with other buildings in the city.

We got off the Metro at the Foggy Bottom stop at 23rd and I Streets and made our way through busy intersections to the Admissions Welcome Center, a few blocks away. At the appointed time, we joined a few hundred other high schoolers and their parents for an information session and a tour.

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The George Washington University is one of the bigger schools we’ve visited, with 25,000 students at three campuses (Foggy Bottom and Mount Vernon in Washington and the GW Virginia Science and Technology Campus in Ashburn, VA). Of those 25,000, however, only 10,464 are undergraduate students, 55 percent of them female. The average class size is 28, and the student-faculty ratio is 13:1.

We learned that the university’s motto is knowledge in action: through service, internships, and research. We learned that there are over six academic schools and 70 majors. Fifty-five percent of the students study abroad and 92 percent intern. The freshmen have a required day of service, and students all over campus logged in over 250,000 hours of service in 2012.

GW ranked number 40 in 2012 in a list of the most expensive schools (its tuition and fees in 2013-2014 are $47,343 and that’s not including room and board). It also must rank one of the highest for dining. There is only one dining common at George Washington, and most students don’t eat there. At least that’s what our tour guide said. Instead, students eat with the public at the several restaurants and take-out places interspersed among the university buildings on J Street or wherever their GWorld card is accepted. When we asked for a recommendation for lunch, typical of where the students eat, our tour guide recommended Tonic, a restaurant where a cheeseburger costs $12 and macaroni and cheese is $13.

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Whatever the cost, there is an energy at George Washington that we haven’t encountered at other universities; a vitality and excitement among the students who talk about their experiences: running to climb a tree after the inauguration, interning on Capitol Hill, and attending one of the 150 guest speeches at the Eliot School of International Affairs.

On the Road: Looking for a Burger

You’re in unfamiliar territory. You’re driving (or flying) for miles, and you need a burger. Or at least someone in the backseat does. Besides the obvious and familiar chains, where do you find a good and quick burger when you’re far from home? Here are a few places we’ve found while driving up and down the West and East Coasts.

The West Coast, South West, and Texas

In-N-Out Burger: The menu at In-N-Out is simple and old fashioned: just burgers (made with 100% beef), fries (fried in vegetable oil), shakes (made with real ice cream), and beverages. If someone in the family doesn’t eat meat, they can order a grilled cheese. If you’re gluten-free, be sure to order the “Protein Burger,” a burger wrapped in a lettuce leaf instead of a bun. Messy but yummy.

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All Over (Almost)

Five Guys Burgers and Fries: We first discovered this burger place on a trip to Florida only to learn there was a location close to home. With another simple menu, Five Guys Burgers and Fries specializes in burgers and hot dogs with your choice of a plethora of toppings. And the fries are good and plentiful. But don’t come here if you’re allergic to peanuts. Five guys uses peanut oil and offers peanuts to customers as they wait for their burger. If you’re gluten free, just get a burger without the bun. The burger is gluten free, even if the bun isn’t. Five Guys is located in 47 states. If you live in Alaska, Hawaii, Iowa, or South Dakota, you’ll just have to travel.

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New England

A small New England burger chain, Wild Willy’s has only six locations in Massachusetts, Maine, and New Hampshire. While its burgers are made with certified Angus, all natural beef or even bison, Wild Willy’s offers more than specialty burgers. There you can get a grilled chicken or steak sandwich, or salad with fries or onion rings and a shake. If you’re gluten free, make sure to ask for a gluten-free bun, and check to see if the fries or onion rings are fried in a dedicated deep fryer. Last time we checked, both were gluten free at the Worcester, Mass. location.

Washington, D.C.

While traveling in DC in April, we discovered another simple and fast burger joint, just off the highway, Burger 7. Burger 7 offers a healthy alternative to those who crave a burger but are trying to eat healthy at the same time. The menu includes grass fed hot dogs and hormone free beef, turkey burgers and veggie burgers, whole wheat buns and lettuce leaf wraps, potato fries and sweet potato fries both cooked in olive oil, plus shakes made with organic milk. Burger 7 has three locations in the DC area, but we ate at the one in Tyson’s Corner.

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Where else can you get a burger? Do some sleuthing on the internet if you’re visiting a particular place or check out these links for favorite burger joints in Los Angeles,  Boston, the Midwest, in South Carolina, and across the U.S.

Who serves your favorite burger?

Trip taken 2012 and 2013.

In-N-Out photo used under Creative Commons from whatleydude.

Five Guys Burgers and Fries photo used under Creative Commons from kennejima.

Riding Bikes Among the Cherry Blossoms

How do you avoid DC’s traffic and tired feet at the same time? Consider taking advantage of DC’s Capital Bikeshare program and let your legs do the work.

Intent on visiting Washington on the day of the Cherry Blossom Festival, a day known for its crowds as well as its beautiful flowers, we took the advice of our hosts. We parked our car in Springfield, Virginia, and joined hordes of other tourists in line to buy the fare.

Crowded Metro station.

After a few minutes surveying the situation, we switched to the shorter line of ticket buyers and purchased a SmarTrip card ($10) for each of us, knowing with its discounted fares, it would pay for itself over the three days we would be in town (as well as more than pay for itself in the reduced stress and aggravation of waiting in long lines!).

Six stops away, we got off the Metro at Pentagon City and began looking for our next mode of transportation. We found a row of bicycles on Hayes Street, entered our credit card information on the machine and paid our $7 daily membership fee, pulled out three bikes, and hopped on.

Red bikes with yellow writing.

For the next couple of hours we rode our bikes around the Pentagon, along the Potomoc River and through Lady Bird Johnson Memorial Park, over the Arlington Memorial Bridge, past the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, and along the Tidal Basin where cherry blossoms and onlookers provided many obstacles along the way.

Red car, gold statue, bikes across street

Crowd of people along base of memorial.

People hanging out beneath the cherry blossoms.

If you choose to try the Capital Bikeshare program, be forewarned the cost to ride the bikes increases exponentially with the time you choose to use it. It’s much more cost effective (and very doable), to ride a bike from one station to another where you can borrow a new bike. Each 30 minutes on a new bike is free. After 30 minutes on the same bike, an additional hour will only cost you $6, but renting the bike for 3 hours will cost you $30.

With stations all over the DC area, you can use the free app to find a location and determine the availability of bikes.

Trip taken April 2013.