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United States

The Marine Life Engravings on the Pier

Redondo Beach, just 40 minutes south of Los Angeles, is the perfect escape for a weekend. Far off the freeways, you’ll quickly forget you are anywhere near LA and become immersed in the relaxed beach culture. For your next weekend trip, here are the must-dos for a Redondo Beach vacation:

To Do:

After the Rainstorm
After the Rainstorm

1. Paddleboarding (SUP)

Hit up Tarsan when you want to try out paddleboarding. The instructor Elizabeth is nice and helpful, providing equipment for everyone to check out the marine life under the water. Paddleboarding through the marina offers ample opportunities to see sea lions and spot garibaldi fish.

2. Diving

Visit the Dive n’ Surf shop when you’re ready to get underwater. The Dive Pros there shared how Redondo Beach is unlike any other diving destination: divers spotting whales is a frequent occurrence and you can swim through a handful of different shipwrecks.

3. Whale Watching

The whales aren’t shy in Redondo Beach. They frequently come close to the beach because they follow plankton (their meal of choice) into a deep crevice near the shore. Whale spotting is frequent, even from your hotel room window!

4. Boating

Whether sailing or speed boating is your game, the local marinas offer a selection of opportunities for you to get out there and enjoy the fresh sea air. When I went out, a big rainstorm had just passed. The sky was beautiful as the clouds mixed with the light from the setting sun. Getting out onto the water cannot be missed!

 

To Eat:

A Sampler Plate at Kincaid's
A Sampler Plate at Kincaid’s

1. Kincaid’s

For a nice dinner out, look to Kincaid’s. The menu is vast and delicious, offering amazing appetizers. The short ribs cannot be missed, and the key lime pie is a must for dessert. The massive windows are perfect for watching the ocean. When I ate there, it was raining. Watching the rain from Kincaid’s was beautiful.

2. Tony’s

If the coconut shrimp from Tony’s crow’s nest bar won’t get you there, the view will. Add their signature mai tai to your tab, and relax. This nautical-themed restaurant is perfect for an afternoon drink and casual lunch.

3. Barney’s Beanery

If you’re ready for pub food, get to Barney’s. The chili fries and wings are perfect for sharing, and the drink list is a beer-lovers dream. For someone looking for a fancier drink, the WeHo is a delicious blended drink. If nothing else convinces you that you’re on vacation, the WeHo, served in a pineapple, will.

4. R10

For the hipper crowd, the R10 is the spot to hang out. With great appetizers and a nice bar, the R10 packs in the deliciousness with their whisky loaf, and my personal favorite, their thai curry mussels. For you oyster fans, their prep is excellent, serving them with a yuzu cream.

 

To See:

The Marine Life Engravings on the Pier
The Marine Life Engravings on the Pier

 

1. The Whaling Wall

Painted by renowned muralist Robert Wyland in 1991, his Whaling Wall, officially titled “Gray Whale Migration,” is part of his worldwide series of marine life art. He started the 100 piece series in 1981 and completed in 2008.

2. The Pier

The Pier makes for an awesome walk past great restaurants, an arcade, and plenty of surf shops. I even spotted a free yoga class being taught. The real feature of the pier, besides the view, is the engravings of sea life. From whales to sea lions, there’s plenty to see, even if you’re somehow tired of looking at the ocean!

3. The Sea Lions and Other Wildlife

Redondo Beach is not short on amazing wildlife. From beautiful birds to plentiful sea lions, and of course, whales, the marine life is a huge draw to Redondo. There’s always something cool to see, making it the perfect family destination. What child doesn’t want to watch the sea lions play in the water?

 

To Stay:

The Lobby at the Portofino
The Lobby at the Portofino

1. Redondo Beach Hotel

Recently remodeled, the Redondo Beach Hotel is the perfect family spot. Across the street from the marina, the Redondo is a convenient choice for all of your waterside vacation activities. The breakfast bar in the lobby has both delicious and healthy options, from oatmeal to waffles!

2. The Portofino

For an upscale spot, the Portofino is located on the water, with spectacular ocean views. Sea lions are something of a mascot for the hotel, as they frequently settle themselves right outside the hotel. It’s the perfect waterfront hotel for a luxurious weekend.

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I am aware that I could’ve written about one of my favorite vacation spots, places where I feel I can lounge, relax, and regroup. However, when I think of a place that helps me feel brave and inspires me to save the day, no place stands out more than my mother’s house. Just to clarify, my mother’s house is not where I reside. In fact, I have not lived with my mother since I was three years old, a mere young one! Ever since then, I have lived with my grandparents in Pfafftown, North Carolina, a small, friendly town just outside of Winston-Salem. My mother resides in Graham, North Carolina, a small town outside of Burlington. Now, obviously, this is not very far from my home. Yet, emotionally, it is quite far from me.

I have been separated from my mother for most of my life. It’s not great, but hey, I’ve gotten used to it. What I have not, and will not, grow accustomed to is being separated from my two younger brothers. Hakim, the older of the two, is ten years old, friendly, and bubbling with enthusiasm! The younger of the two, James, is seven years old, just as enthusiastic as the former, and very, very loud. The physical wall that has separated us from each other is not the only characteristic that makes my brothers unusual and different; they are both autistic. To me, this is a difference that can be sad, disturbing, and yet also adorable; it is a difference that I have accepted easily and with open arms. I have taken them under my wing, so to speak, and when I go to visit them, we do practically everything together.

When I see my brothers, mentally and verbally handicapped, and educationally and communicationally stifled, I feel the strongest motivation to be brave, a desire I always attempt to share with them. And saving the day?? The day I want to save is tomorrow…the tomorrow that my brothers will have, the tomorrow that they could have. Who knows who they could be? Autism is a disorder, quite a powerful one. But it is not powerful enough to stop thoughts, dreams, hopes, and aspirations. It can’t be!! If it is, then what is the point of life? What is the point of life if you are to be stopped by a handicap or the ones you love are to be stop by a handicap? Seeing my brothers inspires me to want to do something, anything to save their day. Their yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Their yesterday because I insist that they not have fought through all of the obstacles they have faced in their young lives, all of the tough times and struggles, for nothing. Their today because when I see their faces, their smiles, their frowns, and their tears, I am moved…not only moved, but forced, to do something to help them. Their tomorrow because each time I say goodnight to them, I promise myself that I will make tomorrow a better day for them than today was. Tomorrow must be their day! And I must save it. I do not know how I will, I do not know when, but one tomorrow will be saved, one day they will have what they want, need, and deserve.

These feelings that seeing them brings upon me are not just basic emotions, such as sadness, happiness, love, and determination. They are all a very strong feeling, one that I sum up as bravery. I must be brave for them! If they are to believe the things I believe about them, they must see that I believe them! They must understand who they are, who they were, and who they can be. Not who they will be, but who they can be. No one’s future is set in stone. And my brothers’ futures are definitely not set in stone if I have anything to do with it, if I can save their day. I must. And for this reason, I can find the strongest, most viable reasons to be brave when I am in Graham, North Carolina.

 

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Drinks at Bella Vista, overlooking the ocean at sunset

I have had a crazy 18 months. I knew I would (finally) have some free time, so I planned a vacation where I could really get back to myself. I set out on a restorative trip to find some peace. I went to Santa Barbara, and stayed at Four Seasons The Biltmore.

I had been there before as a teenager, but had never experienced the place as an adult. I’ll admit, I wanted a lazy vacation where I never had to get in the car. I wanted good books, poolside drinks, and palm trees. The gorgeous views were expected, but there was no way I could predict how relaxed I’d feel only a few hours into my stay. Here are the highlights of my trip:

Drinks at Bella Vista, overlooking the ocean
Drinks at Bella Vista, overlooking the ocean

1. Outdoor dining. For three days, I didn’t eat a single meal indoors. Breakfast on the patio, lunch by the pool, dinner across the street on the balcony at Tydes. I never got tired of the spectacular ocean views available from the Bella Vista restaurant at the hotel. It’s quite easy to spot dolphins swimming by every day. Some of the hotel staff told me they have spotted an occasional blue whale, as well. Above, you can see our drinks the first night, over looking the ocean. The poolside lunch menu was clean and delicious, featuring an amazing chicken salad that I couldn’t help pairing with a decadent piña colada.

2. The service. Having stayed in top notch hotels all over the world, the Four Seasons Santa Barbara has some of the best service I’ve ever experienced. By the pool, the wait staff came around with complimentary smoothie shots and fresh fruit. The concierge were always happy to rework a dinner reservation, and even afforded me a luxurious late checkout, so I could squeeze a few more hours by the pool. My book was just too good to stop reading!

Lounging by the pool
Lounging by the pool

3. The incomparable atmosphere. The pueblo-style compound immediately put me in the mindset of warm-weather vacation. The sound of the ocean drifting through the windows while I got a massage was amazing. And the beautiful, colorful decor in the rooms, including some fantastic, artful tiles, made me want to stay in my room almost as much as I wanted to hit the pool.

4. The beach. Santa Barbara is not your standard SoCal destination. It’s on the cooler side (during my visit the weather stayed between 68 and 72 degrees), but the beach is perfect for surfers and taking scenic walks (with a sweater). There is even a very unique graveyard on a cliff overlooking the ocean within easy walking distance. If you want to stay out of the cold, both pools at the hotel are wind protected and it feels way warmer on a sunny day!

Morning coffee on my balcony
Morning coffee on my balcony


After such an intense year and a half, it was amazing to sink back and feel the stress melt away in only a short, three day trip! I highly recommend taking a lazy vacation. Perfect weather, perfect pool days and perfect piña coladas!

 

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I walk out of the shady, pine-scented woods, and stop, mid-stride, frozen in fear and wonder. I can feel the panic rising up my throat, threatening to choke me. Below me, in all its miniature widescreen glory stretches the Yosemite Valley. Less than twenty-four hours earlier I had stood in that valley, craning my neck to look up at this very spot.

To my right, I can see the sensuous granite mounds of the Yosemite Wilderness, and, far in the hazy distance the jagged snow-crested teeth of the High Sierra beyond. To my left, looming above the tree-line, is the bald, grey pate that is Half Dome. It is my wildest dream and my worst nightmare all rolled into one.

I have travelled thousands of miles to be in this place. I have researched, planned, and trained for months so that I am prepared for the challenge. And yet, now that I stand here, staring in horror at the part-peeled onion layers of sheer rock in front of me, it might all have been in vain.

Since yesterday, I’ve climbed an arduous seven miles, over rocks slick with rainbow-hued waterfall-mist, and through root-tangled woods, still cool with lingering snow-drifts. My aching legs have been forced up sheer slopes that from a distance seemed impossible. There have been minor demons to conquer in the shape of wild camping, composting toilets, and a hungry young bear trying to take the rucksack out of my tent. And now my courage has failed me. I am terrified.

The end of my journey is within sight. A mere mile. The trouble is, I know exactly what that last mile contains. Four hundred yards of vertical ascent and the Half Dome cables, nemesis of the vertigo-sufferer. I will myself to relax. Breathe in. Breathe out. Slowly. Stop the panic. Gradually, my pulse returns to something approaching normal, and I try to think rationally.

An iridescent flash of cobalt blue catches my attention as a Steller’s jay swoops from a nearby tree to land a few yards away on a low branch. It watches me for a while, head tilted to one side as if in question, before fluttering to a point a few yards ahead of me. Almost without conscious thought, I follow it. As I get near, he takes flight and, in a graceful arc, moves further along the trail. We continue our dance, moving closer together and further apart in an unconsciously beautiful meeting of species, before the jay, clearly bored by my pedestrian progress, glides effortlessly away from me and out of sight.

I look up, and realise that I am within a stone’s throw of the switchback – the first part of the final ascent. Nearly as steep as the cable ascent, though not as exposed. Suddenly, the decision is made for me, thanks to my feathered friend. I will go on, one step at a time, until I either reach the summit, or get so scared that I have to turn back, but there is no way I am backing out now.

The rest of the climb passes in a daze. The switchback is challenging but not too frightening. I struggle to walk over the narrow shoulder between it and the cable climb, but I surprise myself on the cables by climbing strongly and steadily for most of the way. I have to stop once to let someone pass me on their descent, and I foolishly look at the four thousand foot drop below me. Having briefly, but vividly, considered my mortality, I cling to the metal cables until my head stops swimming, and plod on upwards.

Suddenly, it is all over. I haul myself over the last step, and I am walking across a vast, flat plateau of smooth, sparkling granite. It feels as big, and as safe, as a football pitch. I still don’t care much for the drop below me, but as long as I don’t get too near the edge I can keep the fear at bay. I even manage to shoot a whole roll of film on the awe-inspiring views. I lie on a flat piece of rock and bask in the midday sunshine, along with some creature which I think, bizarrely, might be a marmot.

I let my mind wander back over the journey to here. The long trek up the Mist Trail, past, and through, the mystical beauty of the Vernal Falls, the hard slog up the side of Nevada Falls. The sleepless night, post-bear, in the Little Yosemite Valley. And now I have it all to do in reverse, including the cables.

I haul my weary limbs upright, and with a massive grin, start the descent. After all, I’ve done Half Dome – I can do anything!

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Gratitude Travel Writing competition and tell your story.

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On October 3, 1999, I stood in disarray on the edge of a sidewalk in Singapore and stared at a busy street. I looked up from the small cars and motorcycles rolling over the steaming asphalt to the sixth floor of Singapore General Hospital.

 

How did I end up here? was the only thought that I could verbalize.

 

Over the past two years, I had accumulated thousands of dollars in debt in the United States health care system. My wife’s family was Malaysian citizens, but they had heard that Singapore had some of the best hospitals in the world. So when my in-laws offered to meet us in Singapore, I had no choice but to comply.

 

After a week she was released from the hospital. We stayed in Singapore for the rest of the month in order for her to continue to check up with the doctor. I tried to find a job, but legal work is difficult to obtain when you’re not a citizen. Jobless and helpless, I wandered around the streets of Singapore-Orchard Boulevard, Pagoda Street, Serangoon Road, Sommerset Road, …sometimes I sat on the MRT (Mass Rapid Transit) and alighted at random stations. After a month of aimlessly drifting around the island of Singapore, I told my wife’s family, “I am American and I belong in the U. S. We will return as soon as she is well.”

 

On November 3, 1999 my wife, her family, and I took a bus across the Johor-Singapore Causeway from Singapore to Malaysia. We stayed in her home town of Maran for three and a half months. I think they had hoped that I would find a reason to stay in Malaysia, but in my culture shock, my lack of competence, and to my wife’s frustration I insisted that we return to the United States.

 

Late one night in February of 2000 my wife and I strolled through the Mobile Regional Airport in Mobile, Alabama. The next day we rented an apartment and began our life again in America. Over the next four years, I became a successful guitar instructor. Despite my success, I often found myself telling friends and students that in Malaysia I saw monkeys causing trouble in parks like squirrels play in your yard; Singapore General Hospital is as good as any hospital in the United States; or Kuala Lumpur is the most beautiful city I’ve ever seen. In the fast food restaurants of Mobile, I would say ‘take away’ instead of ‘to go.’ I spent hours studying Mandarin so that I could communicate easier with my in-laws.

 

In Singapore and Malaysia I lived in regret of what I did wrong in the United States. Why couldn’t I have taken care of my wife there? In the United States, I said our life would have turned out better in Singapore or Malaysia. I lived in regret of what I did wrong in the Southeast Asia. Why couldn’t I have made life work there?

 

In December of 2004, we took our two year old son to Malaysia. It was an adventurous trip to say the least. He cried the entire twenty-two hour plane ride. On the first night in the hotel in Kuala Lumpur he slipped in the bathroom and his head was bleeding. With him in arms I ran down stairs, jumped into a taxi, threw some green American cash in the taxi driver’s hand, and the driver rushed us to Kuala Lumpur General Hospital. They treated his minor head wound and found out that he had been crying on the airplane flight because of an ear infection. In Maran, my wife’s hometown, he hid behind a rack of clothes in clothing store and sent me searching all over the street for him.

 

Early on the morning of December 30, after an exhausting one month visit, my wife and son slept most of the taxi ride from Maran to the Kuala Lumpur International Airport. I watched the mountainous jungles rise and fall as the taxi driver flew through the snake like highways of Malaysia.

 

What would I have done had I not been a coward and left Malaysia four years ago? I asked myself.

 

I looked at my son who was asleep in his mother’s arms, and I thought, I would not have had the experience of rushing to Kuala Lumpur General Hospital at 3:00 a.m. because of a fall; or I would not know what it is like to have entire airplanes filled with people from Mobile Regional Airport to KLIA look at me like they wanted to kill me because of a crying baby;  and I would not know the mixed emotions of searching the streets of Maran for a child whom I was ready to kill or die for.

 

 

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I suppose you know a place has impacted you when you return to the place that you’re supposed to call home, and find that, like a coat from your childhood, it no longer fits that ideal of home. The place that managed to shake me this hard was the east coast of the United States, during the month of April, 2014. The time is just as important as the place, because when it came to various places on the east coast, this wasn’t my first rodeo, per se. But something about the timing, company, and the events that unfolded on a twelve-day excursion to this collection of states allowed them to come together to form the lessons that would unlock a world of bravery for me, a world where I’ve become my own hero – and if you knew me, and knew me prior to this trip, you’d know this meant the world.

            The east coast taught me that the world can fit inside of a few days. I never knew quite how much I could accomplish in such a short amount of time until I was jolted awake by the sound of an alarm in a friend’s bedroom in northern New Jersey, reeling from my mere two hours of sleep. Some sort of whispered instinct, mixed with a completely overpowering desire to hone the unpredictable had I and my best friends making a last minute decision to make the four hour drive to try and figure out some sort of way to see our favorite band together for the second time – the first time having been the end of the previous day, a whirlwind of jetting around the suburbs of Philadelphia, crossing busy intersections, impossible-to-find radio stations, being thisclose to meeting said favorite band, and concerts that make our own mental history books. Connecticut quickly turned from an ill-thought-out whim, to an impossibility, to standing in a library in a tiny New York town waiting for a printer to spit out tickets to the last date of aforementioned band’s very first headlining tour, and biggest headlining show yet.

            All this, done in a period of time that I’d spend at home doing little more than binge-watching episodes of Orange Is The New Black and fretting about my future.

            The east coast taught me that all the planning in the world can’t guarantee you the time of your life. In fact you’ll often find more little miracles nestled in with chaos. Most of the things that we found ourselves doing were not set in stone as we left the state of Ohio to begin our adventure. We made up the rules as we went along, kept things in a constant state of “To be announced”, and found out how beautiful a lack of structure truly can be. In the end, we ended up extending the trip two days, attending five concerts on various tours, and making our way up, down, and around four different states.

            The east coast taught me that clichés are what they are for a reason. It’s the little things – looking back after ten months at this collection of moments, I’ve realized how many little moments have stuck with me in a way that I cannot explain. Staring at the NYC skyling from a swingset in central park. Crossing a bridge in New York with my favorite song blasting on the radio. Cracking up over a dumb joke while we were stalled somewhere in Pennsylvania. Waiting for pizza in some Kmart on the way to Connecticut. Somehow, tiny moments like grew into something larger, something extraordinary, little preserved pieces of the past that will always make my heart feel fuller. It’s not about where you are, but who you’re with – Any adventure is special to me. Any chance for me to get out of Michigan is something worth celebrating. But the people I shared this journey with took good times and made them incredible, took incredible times and made them legendary. With these girls at my side I felt in invincible, like I was more than just a confused, anxiety-ridden girl, like I could accomplish anything.

 

            Through lessons learned mostly while staring out of a car window, through joy and love and experience and adventure, I found ways to save the day for myself, to become the hero I always needed me to be. I strolled into my house after being dropped off at the end of twelve days that felt more like years, feeling like someone new. That day, my mother remarked, “You’re not the same girl you were when you left.” She meant it as something bad, but little did she know, nothing could have been better than that.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Gratitude Travel Writing competition and tell your story.

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I press my fingers into the red rock as the whimper in my gut is ripped up through my throat, mixes with my tears’ salt and pours down my face. I push my boot hard against the rock face and scoot my butt a few inches down the opening. Peter tells me to reach up and grab the overhanging edge and slide my foot down and over to a small ledge, then swing my body back around into the crevasse again. The whimper turns into a wail that silently screams through my skull, and I look down to see the ledge. The silent scream turns into a meltdown, and I press my face into the red of the rock and weep. “You can do this”, Peter says to me.

I have come to Sedona to hike, to look at the beauty of the red rock, and like many others, to experience the sacred energies of the vortex sites. Through the Couchsurfing network, I find a place to stay with Peter who runs the Top of Bell Rock Club. He will host anyone who will hike up to the top of Bell Rock and become a member.

Sun warm and shining bright over the middle of the day, the red rock is rich and vibrant against the blue sky. Our group of four climbs up slowly, places our feet onto a small ledge, pulls ourselves up with some fingers wrapped around a protruding edge of rock. I look up the rock face towards our final destination and it starts.

Did I mention my fear of heights? In my mind, we would slowly wind our way up a trodden trail with the occasional boulder climb.

“Move your foot over to the right and put your weight on that small rock lip”, says Peter, “and grab that rock over your head with your right hand. Now reach with your other hand and pull yourself over onto that ledge.” What? I look over to see the ledge, but what I see is the length of the crevasse below me, the same crevasse that I have been inching up and I am petrified. My heart won’t stop pounding as if it will push through my chest and take flight. My mouth, all gummy from breathing in so deeply, glues my lips together so tightly that I’m not sure I can take air in through my mouth anymore. “You’re almost there”, Peter says as he stands just below me so I can’t see the full scope of the crevasse opening. I pull up and swing my foot tentatively over to the too small ledge and slowly bring my full weight to a standing position while holding on with everything I have. 

Tears don’t roll down my cheeks, they spray salt droplets onto my glasses, rush over my cheekbones like a waterfall cascade. I don’t know what feels worse– the fear of falling and dying or this display of vulnerability. I stop and tell myself I can do this. I breathe deep through the mucus and place my foot over onto another rock ledge, and follow Peter’s directions, the same directions he’s given to 648 other people before me. I reach up and pull myself onto the flat area that is our destination, then collapse.

On the way up, I could focus on the red rock in front of my face as I leaned into the hill. Coming down, I now have to face forward, the whole view of the curved bulges sweeping down in front of me.                                               

Peter smiles while I attempt to work through my personal challenges. Going up,I somehow kept moving one step at a time. Descending, the tears and terror rip through me, melt me down, paralyze me. “Push your left foot against the rock across the crevasse, your left hand on the rock higher up while you place your right foot over here, and grab there with your right hand. Now, shimmy inch by inch down the crevasse “, Peter says as I move an inch, stop and take a deep breath, then move another inch. There is no time now, just each inch.

We finally reach easier rock and shimmy down on our butts to larger and more level ledges. I look back up the crevasse in disbelief that I actually climbed up it, or down it, at all. My legs start to shake a bit in the emotional aftermath, and I feel that I have endured some ancient vortex initiation ritual.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Gratitude Travel Writing competition and tell your story.

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Located in the home of the brave and the one that has been known as the city that never sleeps; say hi to New York City. The city that is usually termed as N.Y.C. offers the best things one can ever wished for, from fashion to food, from Chrysler building to chances. Whether you are looking for couture gowns or just to stroll down the park, New York will pleasantly provide them for you. The live and upbeat atmosphere of New York cannot also be denied to have inspired some of the successful people in the world; it can also include you!. People consider the atmosphere of New York as a magic seed. Everything you see, everything you hear, and everything you meet can certainly inspire you.

As you step into the city, your attitude starts to shift; not only your attitude, but your priorities too. The feeling of ‘everything is possible’ is securely held in your hand. It does not matter if you start your journey from the historical Matthew Henson’s residence and end it with eating at the famous New York street food, Red Hook Lobster Pound food truck; every activities you conduct in New York will still make you feel from ‘No’ to ‘Noble’. The bright city lights at Time Square and the trees at Central Park will generate ideas you have never come across. The energized feeling possessed by New York will make you feel brave and bold.

The contribution from the people of New York in making this city as one of the greatest cities in the world cannot assuredly be understated; the people of New York are one of the world’s exemplars. Do you know that there is a nickname for the people of New York? Yes, there is! They are called as New Yorkers. New Yorkers are equipped with the best self-esteem, knowledge, and of course, fashion.  The competitive yet friendly vibe carried by New Yorkers inspires the people around them to become better at whatever they are doing. The fire inside the New Yorkers to become better each day is very contagious. It does not matter if it is a New Yorker you meet at Bergdorf Goodman or the one you meet at China Town, the vibe will definitely still be there.

Culinary plays a massive role in New York. You thought you have tasted the best food in the world? Wait until you go to New York. New York’s culinary ranges from a 3 US$ street foods to the world’s fanciest ice cream at Serendipity 3 restaurant, which priced at 1,000 US$…a glass. There is always a place for everyone, from those who only fancy dessert to those who fancy big meals. What about entertainment? Well surprise, surprise. New York is not a stranger to have been one of the notable places for entertainment, from the famous New York Broadway plays to the eminent location for big-screen movies; for example: Breakfast at Tiffany’s, King-Kong, Batman and so on and so forth. Your visit to New York City will be worth it since you will get a chance to visit the real location of some of the famous movies in the world.

Not only that New York will provide you with the best experience that you will ever receive, New York City will also change you as a person; braver, bolder, better. The greatest entertainments, skyscrapers, foods, fashion, and etc. await you. But let’s not forget the opportunity offered by the city as well. Tom Wolfe once said that “One belongs to New York instantly, one belongs to it as much in five minutes as in five years.” – What are you waiting for? Pack your bags and see you in New York City!

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Gratitude Travel Writing competition and tell your story.

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There are over 50,000 miles of American highway, crisscrossing the country like heartlines on the palm of the ground or veins under skin. Between the towns of Salina and Green River in Utah, there lies the country’s longest stretch of highway without services. It is an empty forest without trees, sand and grass and road and sky and you are alone. There are no gas stations or fast food restaurant chains or cell phone service. It is only you, the sky, and the road.

Two Novembers ago, my dad I took a 3-day roadtrip to the Pacific Ocean. It was made of last-minute Subway runs, empty coffee cups and crumpled Burger King wrappers in the backseat, strange radio stations, and Florence + the Machine’s then-newest album “Ceremonials” on repeat.

As we neared the end of Salina’s city limits, a road sign proclaimed a 106-mile long piece of highway, completely empty of civilization, and a friendly recommendation to fill up your car’s gas tanks. My dad looked at me. “Wanna drive?”

Windows rolled all the way down, speedometer dipping 90 mph, wind thrashing our hair and watering our eyes, the SUV raced down Interstate I-70. It was as if something had been freed inside of us, and we could hear the heartbeat of the desert around us, could feel the breathing of the sky, and we never wanted to do anything else, just drive and listen.

 The sky was yellow-gold and the road was the color of dull smoke, cracked and gray. Around us rose stony golden cliffs and giant rock formations like they were constructed of asymmetrical Legos houses and uneven Jenga towers, earth-colored. Isn’t it funny how so something so dead can be so beautiful?

 It was like that for what felt like hours, as if we had somehow spent our entire lives driving on that cracked gray road that cut through the desert like the full force of the Colorado River slicing through the Grand Canyon, slowly wearing its golden-ridged walls further and further into sandy oblivion. I considered privately that perhaps I wouldn’t mind being buried here among the sand and sky and rock, because as they are infinite, perhaps so should I be, not a yellow-boned skeleton silent underground but a piece of construction paper sky, a grain of gray-yellow sand, and a single slab of pale yellow-gold rock. And then I wondered if I would ever die, this way.

 We drove all day and into the night, and even once we reached Green River, I couldn’t seem to get that 106 miles out of me, like I had learned an old secret and was expected to keep it.

 When we finally reached the sea it was like cold feet in a warm bed but we didn’t care, just ran in with our clothes on, wanting to fill the empty with seawater and sand and the uneven breathing of the waves.

 That night, we fell asleep to the tide crashing against the sand and we dreamed of yellow skies and empty roads.

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1 459

I hate spiders.  Hate them.  With a passion.  Yet, that first morning in Nicaragua, after sleeping only three hours following a delayed flight from the United States, I stepped into the eco-hotel’s bathroom…and a spider was exactly what I saw.  Brown, hairy, and huge, that awful thing could have eaten a small child.  Or at least a small mouse.

 

‘Welcome to Nicaragua,’ I thought, my eyes bleary, my mind weary, as I turned on the shower, careful to give Mr. Arachnid a wide berth.  He disappeared beneath an area rug, and I breathed a sigh of relief.  Thank heavens the water was warm.

 

Mindful of Nicaragua’s water shortages, however, I ended my shower only three minutes later–a record, in my mind, given that showers at home routinely last ten minutes or longer.  Anxiously peering out of the shower, I noted that the spider had vanished completely.  Good.  With my confidence bolstered and a wide smile on my face, I left the bathroom and awoke my eight-year-old daughter.  Our two-week sojourn in the Western Hemisphere’s second-poorest nation had begun.

 

While I hadn’t anticipated my early morning meeting with the pico caballo spider (absolutely harmless, I later learned), neither had I expected the delicious breakfast of fresh fruit, eggs, and coffee awaiting my daughter and me in the hotel’s open air dining area.  Or, now that the sun had risen, the stunningly lush jungle greenery surrounding the eco-hotel.  I hadn’t known that Nicaraguans were so warm and friendly, that hearing the rooster crow at 4 a.m. and sleeping beneath mosquito netting would soon feel natural, or that, the following week when a monkey grabbed my daughter’s flowery summer skirt and left a muddy handprint, my initial reaction would be ‘that mark will be a pain to scrub out.’  Given all laundry was washed by hand, my assessment of what constituted “clean” and “dirty” had rapidly changed.

 

Oh, the things I discovered about this beautiful, yet impoverished country–and about myself.

 

Changed, too, were my perceptions of poverty.  In the United States, all but the poorest of the poor have cell phones and flat screen televisions.  No one washes laundry by hand or lives in a home with a dirt floor (if they do, they are the rarest of exceptions).  All children, regardless of socioeconomic status, receive an education.

 

Not so for the children of Nicaragua.

 

I spied two such children just a few days before my daughter and I returned home.  We had been lounging on the hammocks in the eco-hotel, visiting with the other travelers, when we heard the tell-tale sounds of the ice cream man coming down the lane.  My daughter had turned to me, asking, “Mom, may I please have some cordobas for ice cream?”  The ice cream bars were nothing special; at home, we could walk by the same ones at the grocery store without giving them a second glance.  But here, they’d become a treasured treat.

 

I’d nodded, and as we’d happily joined the other travelers outside the protective walls of the eco-hotel to purchase our ice cream, that’s when I saw two boys sitting along the roadside.  With dirt-streaked faces, the younger of the two appeared to be four years old; the older, perhaps twelve or thirteen.  Their clothes were faded and torn–not even fit for a rag bag.  Behind them stood a man, presumably their father.  He may have been my age (31)–or younger.  Beneath the dirt coating his face, it was tough to tell.

 

‘It’s a school day,’ I thought, as my daughter and I joined the ice cream line.  Why weren’t these boys in school?

 

Because, I later learned, they were farm workers.  Field hands.  Their labor was needed to help support their family.  But, for now, they silently watched as foreigners like me shelled out money enough to purchase one, two, three days’ worth of rice on something as frivolous as ice cream.  My fear of Nicaraguan spiders paled in comparison to the worries these boys must daily encounter.

 

Pulling my daughter from the ice cream line, we approached the boys.  I saw a flicker of curiosity in the older boy’s eyes, uncertainty in the younger’s.  I knelt before him, asking in Spanish if he’d like some ice cream.  Shyly, he nodded.  My daughter led him over to the ice cream man, he politely made his selection, and then I posed the same question to his older brother.  He, too, nodded.  Though I saw astonishment light his eyes as he selected his ice cream, as he sampled that first delectable lick, he maintained a composure found in few adults. Both boys politely thanked me.

 

From an outsider’s perspective, it may look as though I saved those boys’ day.  But, to be honest, they saved mine.

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