железная дорога (2002 – 2006)

Yes, I realize I’m fudging the alphabet a little here because this should technically be under the letter Z, but since the Cyrillic letter looks like an X, let’s just go with it. This post is the Railroad!

While You Are There: You can do everything on a train. A train is a world unto itself. You can

  • meet locals you can’t communicate with in words but still enjoy the company of and eat all the food they offer you
  • meet interesting tourists, like an older Italian lady and her boy-toy, because the conductor forced you to sit in a tourist car because he doesn’t think it’s safe for foreign women to be travelling alone
  • get woken up on the overnight car by soldiers coming onto the train and locking it down so you can travel through a particularly dangerous area, all while a Buddhist monk sleeps across from you, making you feel like nothing bad could possibly happen
  • ride in the conductor’s berth because the train was sold out but you really need to get home the next day and he feels bad for you so he lets you share his space
  • buy delicious snacks from independent vendors at the stations
  • pretend you don’t speak any Russian in order to stonewall Russian guards who want to “fine” you for not having the correct permission to live in Moscow as you are trying to get to Finland for a flight to Spain, and laugh when they finally give up because they don’t speak English and no one else stepped in to help translate
  • get in trouble because your university laminated your rail pass and that’s against the rules and then you get fined and then the town finds out and the local paper publishes an apology to the foreign students for the “rude” treatment they suffered from train personnel for something that wasn’t their fault
  • go on an epic cross-country journey, lose track of what day it is, get on your train on the wrong day, get woken up in the night by the person whose berth you are in, watch as mass confusion ensues while a helpful local runs into the station to buy you a ticket valid for that day, and then be eternally grateful to that person even though you spend the rest of the night in overcrowded sitting-only car

Why It’s On My List: I love train travel, for all the true stories enumerated above and more. I only posted pictures from Russian train trips I took, but I’ve also taken the train in India, the US, and Western Europe.

For this year’s A-Z Blog Challenge, I’ve decided to showcase 26 of my favorite places in the world. I’ve only been to 22 of the 196 countries, so I’ve got some more travelling to do, but these places are well worth a visit.

Rhine River Cruises and Rheinfels Castle, Sankt Goar, Germany (July, 2001)

Tom Kelly Burg Rheinfels

While You Are There: Yeah, you could hike down the Rhine River, but a river cruise is really the way to go. There are so many castles and you get such a great view of them from the river while you are enjoying some German beer, so it seems foolish to exert the energy to hike. One plus for hiking: castle rules permit you to bring your hund but boat rules may not.

Why It’s On My List: It’s fun to imagine that I live in…what era were all these castles built in? Did anyone really live in them? They look cold to me. Magnificent, but cold. And isolated. If I could buy one now and live in it, I might. If I could also afford a private helicopter and some magical mechanism to keep those cavernous rooms warm. Really, there’s not a lot of appeal in this to me. But I did have a lot of fun getting separated from our tour guide and briefly lost in the dungeon beneath the Rheinfels Castle and having no light to find our way out (many people, especially broke college kids on a summer study abroad program in Germany, still didn’t have cell phones in 2002 and, besides, cell phones didn’t have flashlights). Also, being on a boat full of Japanese tourists had its own special appeal. The Japanese apparently loved the cruise so much that they bought one of the castles.

Me and Kelli

For this year’s A-Z Blog Challenge, I’ve decided to showcase 26 of my favorite places in the world. I’ve only been to 22 of the 196 countries, so I’ve got some more travelling to do, but these places are well worth a visit.

Darmstadt and Waldspirale, a Hundertwasser House (July, 2001)

Hundertvasser House

While You Are There: Unfortunately, you can’t go inside. You can only admire and be jealous from the outside. But southern Germany has so much to offer and travel is easy, so if you’re in Heidelberg, Mannheim, Marburg, Cologne, or Frankfurt, you really should hop over to Darmstadt for a day.

Why It’s On My List: Because it’s just so cool! Read all about its tree tenants, mismatched windows, and lack of straight lines here and here. Here are some pics of a few other attractions Darmstadt and its suburbs have to offer.

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For this year’s A-Z Blog Challenge, I’ve decided to showcase 26 of my favorite places in the world. I’ve only been to 22 of the 196 countries, so I’ve got some more travelling to do, but these places are well worth a visit.


My first international flight, which was also my first flight ever, cost $899 one way. It was scheduled to go from Buffalo to New York City to Manama to Melbourne. A snowstorm in Buffalo derailed that plan, so I ended up on a flight from Buffalo to Washington, DC to London to Singapore to Melbourne. This was back in the day when airlines took care of their passengers when things like this happened, no travel insurance needed, so my unexpected 14 hour layover in London came complete with a free stay in the Radisson Edwardian for the day, lunch, dinner, and transportation to and from the airport. Then I ended up in bulkhead seat (back in the day when you didn’t have to pay extra for those) on a double decker Quantas plane all the way from London to Melbourne. Not a bad outcome for a highly price conscious 19 year old.

I never played the airline mileage game until a few years ago, which was really a waste considering how much travel I did and how many miles I could have earned. I always looked for the cheapest flight possible. The best deal I scored was round trip on Air Transat from Toronto to Frankfurt, Germany for $425, all fees included, back in 2001 just before the TSA ruined airline travel for all of us. Sometimes I got lucky and landed deals on luxury Asian airlines, like Cathay Pacific from Melbourne to Bombay, with a free three day layover in Hong Kong. If you’ve never flown an Asian airline, you have to try it. Our first class is their economy. And I got an amazing package holiday deal to Iceland when Iceland Air opened direct flights from Denver to Reykjavik. Continue reading →


My parents were teenagers in the 60s and 70s and parents of young children in the 70s and 80s when microwaved, processed, convenient food was all the rage. I’m not even sure the word “fresh” was in the dictionary back then. So, besides candy, I grew up on a lot of Totino’s, Stouffer’s, Hot Pockets, Hungry Man, Gorton’s…anything you can find in the frozen dinner aisle. Except for iceberg lettuce and the corn on the cob that we bought from the farmers on our street in the summer, vegetables in our house almost exclusive came from cans. Asparagus in my world was those soggy, foul smelling, stringy green lumps that slid out of a Del Monte can. There is absolutely nothing to like about that.

Then I studied in Germany and lived with a host family who, apparently like all Germans, was crazy for white asparagus. We ate it for dinner the first night and many nights thereafter. Since I’m always of the “when in Rome” philosophy when travelling, I wasn’t going to refuse…and it turns out that I wouldn’t have wanted to. It was delicious. True there was some kind of sauce on it, so that helped (cheese on broccoli, anyone?), but the spargel itself was also really tasty. Continue reading →