...ideas from the road Wed, 29 Jul 2015 17:33:42 +0000 en-US hourly 1 What to do in Detroit Wed, 29 Jul 2015 17:33:42 +0000 13 Reasons why Detroit should be your next weekend getaway

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13 Reasons Detroit Should Be Your Next Weekend Getaway

A guest post by Ashley White

When my German friend Lena, who lives in NYC, told me she wanted to make Detroit one of her US destinations before she left the continent, I was skeptical.  Lena and I were roommates in Kabul, where we were both working for development agencies. We share eclectic ideas about what makes a great weekend getaway but…Detroit?

Detroit is derelict.  Detroit is grimy.  Detroit is hopeless.

Or so I thought.

Michigan Central Station - Downtown Detroit (Photo credit: Geoff Llerena

Michigan Central Stationg – Downtown Detroit (Photo Credit: Geoff Llerena)

Detroit is a city of insiders.  Its rhythms and routes more clearly visible to residents than visitors, even those from other places in Michigan.  It pulls makers and creatives from all over the country with its nominal housing prices and the grunting weight of those complicated, gritty human stories that force art to happen.  Yet it retains a structural grace that betrays the millions of square feet of abandoned real estate.

Our trip was inspired by Susan Ager’s interactive National Geographic profile of the City.  Lena flew in and myself and another friend, Erin, crossed the border at Windsor.  The Border Patrol Officer raised both eyebrows when he realized we were tourists to Detroit. He actually said, “Why would you do that?” “Where are you staying? Who are you meeting? What do you do?” The story became even more implausible when we told him about Airbnb.  He had never heard of Airbnb.  He simply didn’t believe that we were staying in the home of a stranger in downtown Detroit.  Eventually I snarked at him, “we’re interested in urban renewal.”  This was not my first time getting lippy at a border crossing but I thought, ‘since when are Border Patrol Officers also travel tastemakers?’  He let us through and we picked up Lena at the Detroit Metropolitan Airport on a Saturday afternoon.

Don’t get too focused on an itinerary for your trip because you can fit a lot in on the fly.  If you’re flying, rent a car.  If you’re driving, get comfy.  The roads in disrepair in some areas but nothing dangerous.  Drive everywhere to make the weekend trip worthwhile.  This is the Motor City.

Saturday Market at the Eastern Market

The Eastern Market (1445 Adelaide Street) is a 4.5-acre farmer’s market with specialty shops, antique shops and restaurants intermingling with pierogi sellers, purveyors of exotic succulents, lemonade stands and handcrafted soap exhibits.  The Market is known as “the market that nourishes our city’s soul” and the emphasis is truly on growers, farmers and butchers.  As soon as we popped out of the car, we saw our first East Side Rider standing beside his magnificent custom bicycle with its large ghetto blaster, pom-poms and all the chrome in the world.  The Riders are a loosely associated group of Detroit residents who love custom bikes and love their neighborhoods.  Detroit’s population shrank from 1 million, predominantly black, residents in 2007 to 500,000 residents today.  The sparsely populated inner city means everyone has to travel farther for the basics and custom bikes have become an essential part of the transport infrastructure.

A little farther into the market is Bert’s Barbecue Smokehouse (2727 Russell Street), an outdoor/indoor joint with plastic tables crowding the sidewalks, live jazz and lemonade cocktails.  Lena, Erin and I were enamored with the smoky, busy, trying-to-rain scene as we shamelessly gobbled extraordinary BBQ chicken and ribs, baked beans, slaw and fresh-squeezed vodka lemonades.  We sipped, watched and slowed way the heck down.

 Bert’s Barbecue Smokehouse, Detroit

Bert’s Barbecue Smokehouse, Detroit

I would have eaten fewer ribs had I known we were going to meet Allen and Donnie Love of Love’s Pie.  An Eastern Market staple vendor, this couple makes custard pies in the southern tradition.  I am not accustomed to such perfection in a pie, of which Travel Channel food critic Andrew Zimmern said, “It’s the best pie I have ever eaten in my life.  It’s worth going just for that…” Our bellies were full but Allen convinced us to try a sample of the original Chess Pie, a sweet custard and buttery-crusted mouthful.  We bought a pie.  Each.

For apparel, the Eastern Market’s Division Street Boutique (1353 Division Street) developed street brand Detroit Hustles Harder to help support local artists.  The Boutique feels like Detroit: spacious, tall and unpretentious.  Hustling, indeed.

Casa Avery

Gary Schwartz and his partner, Cathy, moved to Detroit from Los Angeles fifteen years ago when Gary, an Academy Award-nominated animator, got a job as a college teacher.  Now retired, the couple opens their century home to Detroit tourists year-round through Airbnb for $50 USD per night.  They can host two guests at a time, but three if you bring an air mattress for an extra $10 USD per night.  Gary and Cathy were laid-back and open to questions about their adopted home.  They love Detroit, flaws and all, and see it like insiders.

After unpacking our Market wares and luggage at Casa Avery, we decided to walk to Corktown so I could imbibe during dinner.  A neighborhood on the cusp of renewal, Corktown is a 30-minute walk from Casa Avery under normal conditions.  But large lengths of sidewalks in the downtown core have been allowed to recede under heavy grass.  Few people actually walk on the streets in Detroit because cycling or driving is faster and because many streets have no habitable buildings to drive pedestrian activity.   With the striking downtown GM Renaissance Centre visible in the distance, we were marching single file through roadside grass fields in what was not even the most post-apocalyptic moment of our trip.  Then we were caught in a torrential downpour.  Imagine the only pedestrians on the street are three white women sprinting for many blocks – at least once in the wrong direction – towards their dinner, sopping wet, freezing cold and covered in grass, giggling like little kids at the improbability of it all.

Gold Cash Gold Detroit

Our ultimate destination was Gold Cash Gold Detroit (200 Michigan Ave), a renovated pawnshop and our first sighting of a crowd larger than two since the Market.  “Where is everyone in Detroit?” we kept asking each other.  A fair number were at Cash Gold Cash, a classy, busy joint dedicated to local food and artisan charcuterie.  We were the wettest, coldest diners that evening, but servings of tangy Crispy Pig Ears and Saugatuck Starburst Wheat Ale made up the difference.  For mains, I had the house-made pappardelle while Lena and Erin had the low-country cioppino, both of which were excellent.  We Uber-ed back to Casa Avery at the end of the night, which is simpler than traditional taxis in Detroit.

The Hudson Cafe & The Detroit Institutes of Art Museum

On a gloomy Sunday morning, we drove to a quiet downtown Detroit to grab brunch before visiting the DIA’s Diego Rivera & Frida Kahlo in Detroit exhibit.  The Hudson Cafe was among the few places open on a Sunday morning.  It was packed with couples, families and college students awaiting their hardy breakfast fare that covered all the bases of classic American breakfasting.  We were beginning to realize that Detroit happens inside, at least in the downtown.  Our sense was that there would have been more pedestrian activity had the weather been brighter but not that much more.

The Detroit Institutes of Art Museum

The Detroit Institutes of Art Museum – Detroit

The DIA’s Rivera & Kahlo Exhibit was dedicated to the years between 1930 and 1934 when Edsel Ford, Henry’s son, commissioned Rivera to paint epic murals dedicated to the early auto workers.  Kahlo was Rivera’s unknown young wife but it was Detroit where she started to paint seriously after losing a child in utero.  The exhibit is now over but the murals loom permanently in the Museum’s Courtyard.  They depict the deep integration of men and machines at the time of Detroit’s birth as the Motor City.  The murals and their roots particularly took Erin, a labor lawyer in Canada, in the global political economy – featuring the rise of socialism and industrialism – of the 1930s.

Motor City Brewing Works

Cheese plate and tasting flight at Motown Brewery Works

Cheese plate and tasting flight at Motown Brewery Works

The Works (470 West Canfield Street) is Detroit’s oldest working brewery, operating in Midtown on a street of posh lifestyle shops.  The brewery’s Tap Room offers share plates, wood fired pizzas, tasting flights and pints.  It’s a comfortable place that is serious about beer and about Detroit.  We ordered a cheese plate and a tasting flight, but tours weren’t happening on Sundays.   We left with two six-packs of their signature Ghettoblaster English Ale that they call “an on going documentation of the Detroit music scene”.

‘Parking Lot’ Theatre

‘Parking Lot’ Theatre  - Michigan Theatre, Detroit

‘Parking Lot’ Theatre – Michigan Theatre, Detroit (Photo Credit: Bob Jagendorf)

The old Michigan Theatre, formerly a 4000-seat French Renaissance-style entertainment mecca, is now a parking lot.   The theatre (36 Charles Street West) was built in the 1920s and spent 40 years as a premier global destination for orchestras, films and performance art.  It was converted into a supper club for a hot second in the 1970s and then gutted for parking space in 1977.   We spent almost an hour just trying to find the entrance.  We pulled up behind an SUV parked in front of the entrance.  On inspection, the SUV was rusted out and abandoned.  Erin and Lena knocked on the gate to see if they could figure out how to get in and an attendant came out to see what we were on about.  After hearing that we were tourists, he opened the gates and let us drive to the top floor.  Faded glory is an expression that should be exclusively reserved for this particular building in this particular city.  This was the most post-apocalyptic moment of our trip.  We could all see exactly how prestigious the Michigan Theatre must have been which made its fall all the more regretful for us, in that moment, staring at the crusted molding and dulled crimson paint.  We left distraught for Detroit.  The attendant was nothing short of jolly.  There was a Taylor Swift concert the night before at the neighboring Panasonic Theatre.  He made a killing in tips.

Cliff’s Bells Supper Club

Tucked behind the Fox Theatre (2211 Woodward Ave) and Comerica Park (2100 Woodward Ave), Cliff’s Bells (2030 Park Ave) started out as a nomadic speakeasy during prohibition-era Detroit.  The place is right out of the 1920s with low ceilings, dim lights, ornate wood paneling and maroon velvet walls.  The center of the club is a large, glass bar with proper mixologists and almost a third of the lower floor is dedicated to a live music stage.  The food and cocktails were on point, the jazz band was energetic and skilled, and we left satisfied by our first real supper club experience.

GM Renaissance Centre

A mammoth glass edifice staring down the Detroit River, the GM Ren Centre was built by Ford Motor Company and opened in 1976 and bought by General Motors in 1996.  The Centre has hotels, bars, restaurants, and a movie theatre and is the global home of General Motors.  Visit the RenCentre for the stellar sunset view of the River, to appreciate it as an architectural feat and because you, if you’re Canadian, you can get home carrier cell service from the upper floors.

As I was driving us back to Casa Avery that night, we saw five or six people walking in the middle of the road.  It was really dark, many streetlights were out and one of the people was wearing a long black trench coat making him almost invisible to me.  We knew about the state of the sidewalks but we didn’t think walking in the middle of the road was the answer.  Cathy and Gary explained that, at night, it may actually be safer to walk in the middle of the road where no one can jump out of an alley and bring you harm.

Here’s the thing.  Detroit doesn’t feel dangerous to us.  Lena, Erin and I have travelled a lot and alone to far flung places with active conflict.  We know what dangerous feels like and it’s terrible.  But to see more than zero people walking in the middle of the road on a Sunday night told us that Detroit can feel dangerous to residents.  This shouldn’t be a deterrent to taking in the city but it should be a reminder to use rational precautions.  Drive very carefully to avoid hitting anyone and don’t take unnecessary risks.

Avalon International Breads

On our final morning in Detroit, we stopped for breakfast at Avalon International Breads (422 West Willis Street), an organic triple-bottom-line compliant bakery specializing in breads, baked sweets and quick savory bites.  They’ve got free Wi-Fi, awesome coffee, a street patio and a love for Detroit’s people, artists and growers that seeps from the one-story brick building.  The Avalon wholesales breads throughout Detroit so even if you don’t make it to the bakery – but you definitely should – you’ll probably sample some of their goods around the city.

The Heidelberg Project

The Heidelberg Project - Detroit

The Heidelberg Project – Detroit

If we thought we were starting to understand how painful the past 30 years have been for Detroit, the Heidelberg Project reminded us that we have absolutely no idea.  Though renewal is starting, the process is bittersweet.  Many are still excluded from participating in the City’s reinvention and the implications for Detroit’s social fabric are hard to appreciate as a tourist.  The Heidelberg Project (Office: 42 Watson; Art: 3600 Heidelberg St.) is in its 30th year as an open-air art environment dedicated to art education, community development and creative tourism.  We arrived mid-morning on a Monday without a tour and we were the only people on the block, other than a few city workers doing some landscaping.

Without context, the Project is bright in feel but dark in content.  There is a fascinating industrial garden, large colored polka dots painted everywhere and an entire structure made from old LPs.  But there are also mutilated plastic dolls, piles of filthy toys and houses on the verge of crumbling.  For the Heidelberg Project, book a tour in advance on their website.  We walked around perplexed, but so interested.  We would have benefited from a narrative grounded in the experience of someone who understands Detroit.

Hope Takes Root

Cathy, from Casa Avery, runs this little co-operative garden with a few neighborhood friends.  The co-operative feeds dozens of families on really cheap land and stands in profound contrast to the look and feel of the Heidelberg Project.

Mexicantown & Taqueria Lupitas

Before heading back to the airport and across the border, respectively, we stopped for lunch in Detroit’s Mexicantown.  The neighborhood is small, nestled right up against the bridge to Canada and smells like churros, or sugary fried Mexican donuts, in late morning.  Taqueria Lupitas (3443 Bagley Avenue) is very casual and very tasty.  We had beef tongue, chorizo and shrimp tacos with a soupy guacamole and golden tortillas for less than $10 USD each.

Detroit is not a glamorous locale for a girls weekend getaway but it was easily the cheapest – and one of the most fun – travel weekends I’ve had in North America.  Detroit remains on my mind, almost two months after our trip, because I can see it for what it was but have so many unanswered questions about what it is right now.  It is bright and quiet, broken down and rebuilt, rich and poor, grand and lonely.  Take in this place, a modern American story of punctuated redemption, without expectation or judgment and align your eyes not with the present, but with the possible.

Bio: Ashley White is a medical resident in Family Medicine in Southern Ontario. Before becoming a physician, She worked in humanitarian and health development in Kabul, Afghanistan and in public health policy for the Government of Canada. She has lived in Australia, Austria and Afghanistan, for a high school exchange, a UN internship and a job in the health sector respectively. At 21, She did a 3 month nomadic research tour through Northeastern India developing a model of political participation of women in local government. She made her way through most of Europe, South and Central Asia, Canada and the US. Her untapped bucket list includes the Uruguayan Riviera, Bolivia, Costa Rica and every inch of Scandinavia. Ashley writes about livable wellness with integrity for people interested in the art and science of our lives at You can also follow her on Instagram or Twitter.

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13 Reasons Detroit Should Be Your Next Weekend Getaway

13 Reasons Detroit Should Be Your Next Weekend Getaway

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La Sagrada Familia Guided Experience with Tinggly Tue, 30 Jun 2015 15:40:24 +0000 A recap of my visit to La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Spain

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I’ve been to Barcelona a few times already, yet until now, I still hadn’t visited Gaudi’s architectural masterpiece: La Sagrada Familia.  So when I arrived in Barcelona last month on my way to the TBEX conference (a conference for travel bloggers), I had to go and have a look.

La Sagrada Familia, Passion Facade

The Passion Facade of the Sagrada Familia

Luckily I received a Tinggly gift that allowed me to do just that! Tinggly is a company that specialises in special experiences, right now they have over 350 activities in more than 80 countries, and you can buy vouchers on their site that allow you to easily book adventures all around the world. It’s actually the perfect gift for those who love to travel since their gift card is valid for 2 years! So When I got my own Tinggly gift card and noticed that they also offered a guided tour of the Sagrada Familia, my mind was made up rather quickly!

The guided tour of the Sagrade Familia that the Tinggly voucher offers, is actually valid for 2 people, so I invited Jane from Scarlet Jones Travels to join me on this epic adventure into the extraordinary mind of Gaudi.

When we arrived at the Sagrada Familia, the first thing I noticed were the long waiting lines. Clearly not everyone knows that booking your ticket online is actually the best way to go. Luckily I didn’t have to deal with that, since all I had to do was contact Tingly with my voucher number, and they arranged everything for me. All we had to do, was be at the meeting point 15 minutes before our tour started and when our guide arrived we just cut in front of all those people in line and entered via a special ‘VIP’ gate. I never felt better! 😉

A mishmash on the outside

My first impression of la Sagrada Familia (literally translated” The holy Family”) was one of “work in progress”, everything felt like a mishmash of different styles too me.

La Sagrada Familia gallery1

La Sagrada Familia, a mishmash of different styles and materials ?

Construction of the basilica began in 1882 under the architect Francisco de Villar in the Gothic style and was taken over by the young Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí in 1883. The church became his most important life work, and he dedicated himself to it until his death in the year 1926.

Over the years, construction of the church has been delayed for a number of reasons, including the Spanish civil war between 1936 and 1939, funding issues, strikes, and disagreement over the interpretation of Gaudí’s original plans which were all but destroyed by anarchists during the war (and have since been partially reconstructed).

All of this resulted in the outside of the basilica being a collection of older sandstone constructions mixed with newer parts in concrete.

After decades of construction they hope to have everything finished by 2026 (for the 100 year aniversary of Gaudi’s death) but rumor has it that they won’t reach that deadline.

When construction will be finished, this is how it should look like:

Light and stained glass windows on the inside

While the outside is a hodgepodge, I was gobsmacked by the beautiful interior and the light show coming from the stained glass windows!

The interior of the basilica is flooded with light. The windows, the vaults and the skylights were all conceived by Gaudi to allow the light to penetrate and create an atmosphere of seclusion and prayer. Beyond their decorative value, the stained glass panes of the windows which Joan Vila-Grau has been working on since 1999 have a clear symbolic meaning, in accordance with Gaudi’s guidelines.

Stained glass windows, La Sagrada Familia

Stained glass windows, La Sagrada Familia


Being the number one attraction in Barcelona of course it’s touristy, but I would say it’s absolutely worth a visit.  You’ll never see another church like this in your life.  And if you don’t want to deal with the crowds, make sure you book the tickets online or use a Tinggly voucher, like I did.

 Subscribe to our Newsletter if you too want a chance to win a Tinggly Gift worth $125 !! 

Practical Info

Opening HoursLocation

November to February,
9 am to 6 pm

9 am to 7 pm

April to September,
9 am to 8 pm

9 am to 7 pm

December 25, 26, January 1 and 6,
9 am to 2 pm

Sale of tickets finishes 15 minutes before closing time.

The times and days when the Sagrada Familia is open to the public may occasionally be modified by the management due to special events taking place inside the basilica.

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La sagrada Familia Barcelona

Disclaimer: While I did receive the Tiggly gift for free, this hasn’t influenced my review of them in any way.


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ESMA museum, Buenos Aires Mon, 22 Jun 2015 16:28:41 +0000 Every visitor to Buenos Aires needs to visit ESMA.

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This is a guest post by Jerry Nelson

Every visitor to Buenos Aires needs to visit ESMA. Even if a visitor makes annual trips to the Argentine capital, return visits to ESMA are always appropriate It’s a work in progress. New buildings are always being opened, and new displays rotated in the museum.

After the first visit, there’s something unexplainable that keeps drawing many people back. The 40-acre campus is a comprehensive human rights memorial recalling the term and its lingering consequences

It’s the drama of lives destroyed and a monument to man’s inhumanity to man that attracts — fascination over how one group of people can kill another group of people over nothing more than political ideologies.

But it’s more. It’s also a place of the Phoenix. Where hope rises again from the ashes of madness.


On March 24, 1976 in a bloodless military coup, the Argentine army took control of the government apparatus and ushered in a period of terror and brutality.

President, and the Army’s Lieutenant General, Videla’s sworn purpose was to crush the guerrilla movement which arose during the bumbling Presidency of Isabel Peron and restored standing. Much of the Argentine press and public gave their support, at first. Anything, they felt, had to be better than social order run by a Spanish strip-tease artist.

During what the military junta euphemistically called the “Process of National Reorganization, or El Proceso, security forces, under the direction of the military junta, roamed the country arresting torturing raping and killing anyone on their list of suspected leftists.

Between 1976 and 1983, the Guerra Sucia, or Dirty War, raged. Human-rights groups estimate that 30,000 people “disappeared.”

Escuela de Mecanica de la Armada (ESMA) - Guard Tower

Escuela de Mecanica de la Armada (ESMA) – Guard Tower

Under military rule, El Proceso came unraveled, and the Argentine economy continued to decline into an utter collapse.

When General Leopoldo Galtieri assumed the role of president in 1981, he played the nationalist card and instigated an invasion in April 1982 to dislodge the British from the Falkland Islands. Argentina had claimed the Islas Malvinas for nearly 150 years, and it was game on.

Overnight, the military move unleashed a tsunami of nationalist euphoria that subsided almost as fast.

Galtieri had underestimated British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and after 74 days, the Argentine forces — consisting of ill-trained teenagers surrendered.
Navy Petty-Officers School of Mechanics (Escuela de Mecanica de la Armada)
Escuela de Mecanica de la Armada, known in Buenos Aires as ESMA, is five miles north from Casa Rosada On the edge of the city are 40 acres that few visitors to Buenos Aires will ever see.

Once a place where human rights were destroyed, human rights are now celebrated and honored. ESMA is an attempt by Argentina to remind people of the truth summed up by Spanish-born philosopher George Santayana” “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

The buildings stand as white washed watchmen and reminders of a time and place where the government got out of control and in its paranoia kidnaped, tortured and killed 30,000 of its citizens.

Today, ESMA is a school, museum, and living history. It is a testament of man’s cruelty to man and a reminder of what can happen when men put greed, and lust for power above the desire to do the right thing fo the most people.


Escuela de Mecanica de la Armada (ESMA) -  Museum

Escuela de Mecanica de la Armada (ESMA) – Museum

The museum is orderly, spacious, well lit and organized in such a way that as a person wanders through the exhibits, they retrace the history of the Dirty War.

Inside the museum, just past the information desk, possibly the most eye-catching display. A 1962 Ford Falcon is presented in an exploded-view. The Ford Falcon was the official vehicle of the PFA or Argentine Federal Police. The PFA was the military apparatus for rounding up dissidents, and the Ford Falcon was their car.

Escuela de Mecanica de la Armada (ESMA) - Ford Falcon

Escuela de Mecanica de la Armada (ESMA) – Ford Falcon

Beyond the Falcon are small displays of passports and other documents that recall the lives that were snuffed out. Cups, forks, knives — many handmade by prisoners — and other items, drive home the point that the people who lived, and died, here weren’t just faces and random numbers.

Escuela de Mecanica de la Armada (ESMA) - Passports

Escuela de Mecanica de la Armada (ESMA) – Passports

Next, are two galleries; one of photography one of the paintings.

Escuela de Mecanica de la Armada (ESMA) - gallery

Escuela de Mecanica de la Armada (ESMA) – gallery

The snapshots were made by various while the paintings and murals are by contemporary artists who share their impression of ESMA and its purpose. Both photographs and paintings were based on what the artists read and heard from survivors.

A cafeteria and bookstore complete the ground floor of the museum and the free and open library to human rights occupies most of the second floor.

The Grounds

The grounds are open to visitors although many of the buildings are not accessible as they are either private student apartments or under reconstruction. The important buildings are open and can be roamed and explored, either alone or with a guide led group.

On the shady streets are signs posts with images and stories of some of the prisoners who lived — and died — here. Their faces are also scattered throughout the property on sides of buildings.

The Plaza of Arms, in front of an administrative building, is an unadorned reminder of what transpired here.

Escuela de Mecanica de la Armada (ESMA) - Plaza of Arms

Escuela de Mecanica de la Armada (ESMA) – Plaza of Arms

Each morning, prisoners were woken and made to stand for hours on the plaza, known as “the grinder.” Any prisoner who couldn’t make it out of their bed was killed where they lay as others struggled to move to the concrete parade field.

It’s quiet now but doesn’t take much imagination to conjure up images of thousands of men and women standing on the slab, grateful that they made it through another night.

The Casino

Escuela de Mecanica de la Armada (ESMA) - Casino

Escuela de Mecanica de la Armada (ESMA) – Casino

The Officer’s Casino is the place that was central to the functioning of ESMA during its peak operation.

The building is almost finished undergoing restoration and will be closed to the public until the end of 2015.

This was the building the prisoners were first taken. It was also the building that held the torture rooms and the condemned’s cells.

With cells in the basement, third floor, and attic, the 2nd and 1st floor were administrative offices and were two floors where prisoners were never allowed to go.

Originally, the Casino was the only torture center. But by the end of 1976, four more had been added.

In 1977, offices were built to provide working space for prisoners recruited to assist Admiral Massera with his political objective. Massera used prisoners to make fake documents, fake Montonero items, and other fabrications to mark subversives and overvalue his own role in “keeping Argentina safe.”

In the Casino’s basement, doctors injected “transfers”, a polite term for execution, with tranquilizers before being loaded onto a plane or helicopter and then dumped into the Rio de la Plata.

The basement also had a phone booth where detainees were forced to call their families. Under supervision, and great pressure, the prisoners, would beg their parents to stop legal proceedings against the government.

When the World Cup came in 1978, it brought the inquisitive mind of the international press. The press wanted to look into the accusations of human rights abuses.

Based on the attention, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights visited ESMA in 1979. Anticipating the visit, the military changed key aspects of the building and the basement was cut off from the rest of the building. The main staircase was walled off and painted so as to appear as though it never existed.

The ruse worked and to the untrained eye, it was convincing.
In a 2010 talk with the New York Times, Pope Francis, then-Cardinal Bergoglio, said he had assisted in hiding people, and helped others escape the country during the period, and petitioned the country’s military leaders directly for the release and defense of others.”

Victor Basterra

Victor Basterra was a prisoner at ESMA. Held from 1979 to 1982, Basterra’s job was to make snapshots of ESMA’s officers for false identification documents.

He secretly made copies of their images, as well as some of his fellow detainees.

The pictures of officers are the only proof that individual men were at ESMA and are now being tried. The pictures of his fellow prisoners now are scattered around the grounds.

Escuela de Mecanica de la Armada (ESMA) - Pictures scattered around the grounds

Escuela de Mecanica de la Armada (ESMA) – Pictures scattered around the grounds

Today, Basterra is one of the volunteer guides that tell ESMA’s story. Basterra’s life has come full circle.

Standing in an area where he slept with other detainees, Basterra said, “This looks exactly the same as it did back then. It’s full of terrible memories — but also memories of solidarity and of courage.”

It’s a powerful feeling,” he added.

Bio: Jerry Nelson is an American freelance photojournalist who covers social justice issues globally. Busy on assignment in South America, Jerry is always interested in discussing future work opportunities. Contact him today at and follow him on Twitter @journey_america.

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ESMA: Navy Petty-Officers School of Mechanics, Buenos Aires

ESMA: Navy Petty-Officers School of Mechanics, Buenos Aires

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A Guide to Some of London’s Thrilling Sights Mon, 01 Jun 2015 16:38:49 +0000 London is annually one of the top destinations for tourists in all of Europe, and with very good reason.

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London is annually one of the top destinations for tourists in all of Europe, and with very good reason. There are an endless amount of things to see and do in this stunning city.

The capitol of England is a great place for people to visit if they have a passion for history. The city is known for having some of the best museums in the world. There is so much to do that you will need to plan your trip wisely in order to make sure that you see the key attractions that you are most interested in.

You should read Hipmunk’s guide to staying in London before you go on your trip. You will find the information it contains to be very useful once you arrive. Here is a guide to some of London’s thrilling sights.

1. The Tower of London

You will definitely know this ancient building once you see it. This is because it is very hard to miss its architecture in the middle of downtown London.

The building was constructed roughly 900 years ago by the legendary William the Conqueror. For centuries, it served as a prison, as well as the site for countless executions. Those days are long gone. Nowadays, it is one of the cities’ top tourist attractions. Visitors are free to tour the bowels of the dungeon to see where many of the condemned men were kept before their executions.

There are also some ancient torture devices on display. These are a reminder of the Tower of London’s brutal history. However, the building is most famous today for being the place where the royal family’s famous Crown Jewels collection is housed. They are some of the most valuable jewels in the world.

Tower of London at night

Tower of London at night (Photo credit: Stewart Morris at Flickr)

2. Windsor Castle

Windsor Castle is not in London, but it is close enough that you can easily visit it during your stay without the need to get a hotel room in another city. You will only need to take a one hour train ride through the beautiful and scenic British countryside.

Once you arrive, you will experience one of the greatest sights in England. The castle itself has been around for many centuries, currently serving as the weekend retreat of the Queen.

A tour is well worth the money because a large portion of the castle is open to the public. You will see many ancient artifacts and paintings by some of the greatest artists in history. This is definitely an attraction that must be at the top of your list.

Windsor Castle

Windsor Castle (Photo Credit: Craig on Flickr)

3. Buckingham Palace

If you are going to see where Queen Elizabeth lives on the weekend, you might as well visit the place where she lives during the rest of the week.

Buckingham Palace is much newer than Windsor castle, being completed in the middle of the 19th century. While a tour of the palace is available for the public, you should be aware that not nearly as much of it is open to the public as there is in Windsor Castle. However, it is a worthwhile experience to see where many generations of royalty have lived during the past 170 years.

You will also want to experience the famous changing of the guards, which happens daily in the front of the palace. There is no fee to watch it.

The Gates of Buckingham Palace

The Gates of Buckingham Palace (Photo Credit: Nicholas Schooley at Flickr)

This article was contributed by Fiona Moriarty of Hipmunk, a travel website that offers customers a fast and easy way to find the best travel deals.

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Ride of your life by Ran Zilca + GIVEAWAY ! Wed, 25 Feb 2015 16:27:12 +0000 Interview with Ran Zilca, the author of Ride of your life, a coast-to-coast motorcycle journey

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This week I got the chance to interview Ran Zilca, the author of Ride of your life. The book follows Zilca’s coast-to-coast motorcycle journey, describing the meditative experience of traveling the country’s back roads and his life-changing conversations with seven prominent positive psychologists and personal growth leaders, including spiritual leader Deepak Chopra and bestselling author Byron Katie, the creator of the self-inquiry method called The Work.

I really enjoyed reading his book, because I’m also soul-searching in my current life as a freelancer and travel blogger and it helped to reflect my own personal challenges.

Besides the interview, Ran also provided Inspiring Travellers with the opportunity to give away an e-copy of the book to three lucky readers! You can find out how to win your copy at the end of the interview at the bottom of this page.

But let’s start with the interview first:

– What inspired you to take the ride of your life?

Most of all, the realization that I needed to redefine who I am as I grow older and move to the next chapter of my life. At the time, being a successful entrepreneur I supposedly had reached my goals, but then realized that I became their captive- having to conform to a certain daily routine and a certain way of living that this success dictated. I needed to take a break from the normal course of my life so I can gain some clarity and familiarize myself with my future self, no longer a young adult but already an experiences midlife man. To become a “midlife mensch”, in short.

– How planned was your journey, and how much planning to you suggest people do when they set out on a trip like this?

One of the major insights form Ride of Your Life is to plan meticulously for the road ahead, and on the first day on the road dump the plans altogether.

This seems like the best way to go for a few reasons: First, planning for an adventure could be as rewarding as taking the adventure, so if you plan for months ahead, you are essentially extending the duration of your adventure and starting it on the first day of planning. This was also reinforced by what Sonja Lyubomirsky told me when I met with her in California, at the end of the Ride – that the planning process is a great way to extend the experience.

The second reason is that when you plan it forces you to think more in-depth about the meaning and purpose of what you do, so when you go on the road it takes a more meaningful form.

But most importantly, is to really dump the plans altogether as soon as you get on the road, because everything is different, and you need to be flexible and unattached to your plans, and you encounter the most pleasant surprises when you truly listen to the road and let it take you where it should. The most interesting and epic parts of my journey came from the random turns to side roads.



– How important is flexibility on the road?

Flexibility is everything on the road. When you’re on the road on your own, you realize that the road has its own plans for you, and if you don’t open your eyes and ears and listen to it, you miss out of the best places to go. The best mindset you can adopt is that of an explorer. Someone who is entering unchartered territory and learning it for the first time.

When I met with Deepak Chopra he and I discussed the notion of “inner strength”. He told me that he never uses the word “strength” in his vocabulary, and uses “flexibility” instead: “I have a favorite saying that comes from the Yoga Vasistha, “Infinite flexibility is the secret of immortality.” It’s, in a way, an evolutionary principle that you adapt. It’s not the strong who survive, but the ones who adapt. An oak tree is very strong but with the first storm, it may crack, whereas a little thin vine that is flexible will survive the same storm.”

– One of the guest posters on talked about overcoming the fear of travelling, what would be your advice?

In the book, when I describe the first day, it is a mixture of fear, confusion, and embarrassment. I believe that this fear is, in fact, one of the characteristics of the beginning of the most rewarding adventures. So one has to embrace fear, to realize that the experience of fear while on the road (whether literally or metaphorically) is an indication that you are doing the right thing, getting outside your comfort zone, and truly going on the road.

– Both Caroline Miller and Phil Zimbardo talk about traveling out of your comfort zone because the regret of not-doing is far greater than regrets of failure. Deepak Chopra calls it expanding your comfort zone. How did you leave your comfort zone and what was your proudest moment on the road?

The beautiful thing about riding a motorcycle, is that it forces you to go outside your comfort zone. On the 8th day of Ride of Your Life, I had to ride in pouring rain from Tennessee, through Georgia, to Alabama. I had not ridden in rain before at all, and I was terrified initially. Accordingly, the pride I felt that night (matching the level of challenge and initial fear) was sky high, and to a large extent it remained with me to date. Sometimes when I face a crisis or a challenge at work or in my personal life, I remind myself of how I rode in pouring rain through three states and made it.

Back Camera

Ran Zilca and his motorcycle – Ride of your Life

– How was it different to travel alone? Do you suggest that people travel alone from time to time?

Phil Zimbardo and I discussed this when we met, and agreed that it is absolutely necessary to spend time traveling alone. The fact that you experience things and absorb them without verbalizing or sharing them with other travel companions, makes a huge difference. And – people talk to you when you travel alone, so you develop the capacity to connect to new places very quickly.

– What are the most important lessons you learned from the road?

I list the major insights in the first pages of the book, but the biggest one is that “comfort kills”. Living (as opposed to simply being alive) means to experience the friction against life. To feel negative emotions like guilt and fear, and to face challenges. To live means not only to laugh and to rest, but also to sweat, cry, lift, push, get frustrated, and be afraid. And if you deny yourself of this range of life experiences, you reduce the friction with life to become comfortable, you may still be a live, but at that point you stop living. So essentially – comfort kills.

– Can you share some inspiring moments from your trip?

My meeting with Deepak Chopra at the Chopra Center in Carlsbad was one of the most insightful and inspiring. At that point I was already towards the end of the ride, over a month on the road, and I could ask the “right questions” and was ready to absorb the unusual views that Deepak sometimes expresses. It was one of these moments where the student was ready and the teacher was right there.

Another pivotal moment was when I entered Yosemite National Park, the day before I arrived in San Francisco. I parked the motorcycle at the side of the road, and looked at the snow-covered summits. The beauty and scale was so vast and so different from anything I had ever seen before, that I felt that I could not contain it. The only way to let it all in, was to stop looking at it as something external to me. To truly feel like I am one with the world around me.

– Many people feel like they want to introduce change in their lives, but they are not sure how to go about it. What do you suggest?

My advice (that I also discuss in the talk I gave at TEDx Russell Square (see video below) is to go about it in a very structured way. To start creating a vision, break it down into goals, and then into small baby steps, that you can take immediately. The trick is to break down a grand vision into small, daily tasks, and this is where many people fail. Often it is useful to use a life coach who can help you go through this process, and I was fortunate to help others go on the ride of their life.

– In your book, you mention that dreams matter. Now that you have finished this road trip, what dream are you still pursuing? What is your next adventure?

That is a great question, and it excites me just to think about it. Writing, speaking, and coaching has become a big part of my life. I started writing weekly on PsychCentral recently and my work is very focused on language as a transformative engine for changing lives. My next adventure is to create the technology that uses language in a smart way to help people change. I already started this work with collaborators in the research community, and I think that it can take many people on the ride of their life. I am also starting to think about my next book.

– Any final words or advice for the readers of Inspiring Travellers?

Choose your words wisely when you talk about your life. If you stop talking about “dreams” and instead start talking about “plans” your life wil change before you know it.


About Ran Zilca

Ran Zilca is a research scientist, technology entrepreneur, and certified personal coach, who pioneered the use of mobile applications to deliver programs of positive personal transformation. With a combination of psychological research and computer science, Ran’s companies develop innovative programs of personal growth and have worked closely with partners like Deepak Chopra and Stephen Covey. His research in engineering and psychology has been published in major scientific publications in the past 22 years, and his weekly posts on major blogs attract hundreds of thousands of readers each month.

Ran is a loving husband and father of three, a guitar player, and a biker. In the course of his work, he developed a step-by-step process of personal transformation and followed it in his life. The result was a 6,000 mile solo motorcycle ride across the country, a new book, the sale of his company, and a move to a different continent.


ride-f-your-life-amazon Published by Booktrope, Ride of Your Life is available now on .

GIVEAWAY – How to win:

You want a chance to win a free copy of the ebook? Here is how you enter:

1. Leave a comment on this post (If you comment as a guest, you don’t need a Disquss login). Be sure to use your own email address, it won’t be published but will allow us to contact you if you’ve won.

2. Like the Inspiring Travellers Facebook page OR follow Inspiring Travellers on Instagram

The contest is open to everyone. Three winners will be chosen at random using and notified by email on Friday, 6 March. We’ll announce the winners on our Inspiring Travellers Facebook page on Monday, 9 March. The contest will close at 10 pm. United States PST on Thursday, 5 March.

That’s it and good luck!


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Carnival of Aalst, Belgium Sat, 21 Feb 2015 16:47:52 +0000 The carnival of Aalst is a yearly three-day event in the Belgian city of Aalst.

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Carnival of Aalst, Belgium

The carnival of Aalst or Aalst Carnaval how they call it in Belgium, is a yearly three-day event in the Belgian city of Aalst. The carnival has a long and rich history and was rewarded the status of UNESCO intangible World Heritage in 2010.

The Aalst carnival has its origin in the Middle Ages but the official count of the event started in 1923 when the Aalst city counsel started to organise the parade, and so this year was the 87th edition.



Everything goes!


Young and old, everybody celebrates together

Exuberant and satirical, the celebration features a Prince Carnaval, who symbolically becomes mayor and receives the key to the city for 3 days. A big parade crosses the city on Sunday, with 79 groups this year. Groups of costumed volunteers and parade cars.


You will see a lot of men, dressed up like women ;-)


In addition to the carefully-prepared floats of official entrants, informal groups join the festivities to offer mocking interpretations of local and world events of the past year.


No political or religious themes are evaded.


When it gets dark, the lights on the floats and costumes come on


After 3 days of festivities, the carnival of Aalst ends when the Stoet van de Voil Jeanetten (Aalst dialect for “Parade of the Dirty Sissies”) goes through the streets on Tuesday. In this parade, men walk around in women’s clothes with as attributes a bird cage, a herring, fake breasts, corsets, a fur coat, a worn umbrella and a stroller.

This tradition originates from the history of Aalst: the lower class was too poor to buy or make a beautiful carnival costume, and for that reason the men put on the old and worn clothes of their wives.


Aalst carnaval is one big party!


Beatutiful costumes and floats


Aalst carnival is one big party where everyone can be what he/she wants to be, where everything is allowed and everything goes!

Wil we see you in Aalst next year?!


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A to Z of a USA road trip Wed, 28 Jan 2015 16:37:34 +0000 The story of a one-month long trip across the USA, covering 18 states by car.

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Jessica Zoo and Lars Christensen embarked on a one-month long trip to scout out the USA stretching from Texas to Massachusetts covering 18 states by car. This is their story from the road from A to Z

A quick hello to all our friends and family accross the pond(s)

A quick hello to all our friends and family accross the pond(s)

For those of you that have been following our travels, you will know that Lars and I have spent the past month traveling the USA Gulf and East Coast in the search of new horizons, discoveries and opportunities for the near future (we also had a shorter trip in November from Orlando to Dallas). Discovering America by road trip was not only mine and Lars’s dream since the beginning of time, but it was extremely valuable to get a good understanding of the work ethic and culture of the USA, as well as giving us a crash-course on how to effectively juggle our lives as “digital nomads” for the future of our blended business and personal lives.

Whether you are interested in finding out how to effectively keep your work going whilst on the go, you are planning your very own USA Road Trip or you are simply curious about what we got up to, we want to share some gems we picked up along the way.

Guesthouses in Tybee Island, Savannah, Georgia

Guesthouses in Tybee Island, Savannah, Georgia

Accommodation – When you’re on a road trip, one of the more important things is to find a place to stay. The main things we discovered is that while on the road, it is better to be flexible and book rooms last-minute. This is for three reasons:

  1. Trying to book 25 hotels in one go may be overwhelming as well as charging your credit card all at once
  2. It will reduce your flexibility of deciding to change route due to weather or unexpected plans and meetings
  3. It will end up being more expensive.

To find great accommodation at great prices, even though consulting TripAdvisor can always be helpful, we found that’s “TONIGHT” mobile app was the most hassle-free way to find hotels as well as offering you up to 70% discounts on last-minute deals for the same night. This in not just for more generic chains, but also for more high-end resorts and 5 star hotels.

Consistently, we found that the best value to quality hotels were Red Roof Inns and Super 8 Motels (with a rating of 7.0+) whilst you are on the road. For peak dates and weekends, however, using a week or 4 days in advance will be a better option if you want to be sure to find a good location before they get booked out.

Breakfast at Cafe du Monde, New Orleans

Breakfast at Cafe du Monde, New Orleans

Breakfast – When you see “breakfast included” don’t get over-excited. This means there is a coffee machine, apple and orange juice from a carton, some apples, muffins and a waffle-making machine which could also double up as excellent insulating material.

Equally if you go to iHop or Waffle House you may get drowned in whipped butter, maple syrup and pancakes. As delicious as they are, having a full “American” breakfast every day for a month or more may result in having to go clothes-shopping half way through.

We did, however – find a great healthy and delicious option if you want a great filling, healthy breakfast: iHop does a range of delicious fluffy omelets packed only with vegetables. As long as you stay clear of the “egg-substitute” low-fat option, something like the garden omelette with added spinach will make a tasty, healthy breakfast!

If you’re in a rush, another great hack we used was to buy an icebox ($10) which we topped up with ice machines we found for free in almost every hotel, and wend breakfast shopping once a week to keep any fruit, snacks and yoghurts handy!

You won't get bigger cars than in Texas (supersized in San Antonio)

You won’t get bigger cars than in Texas (supersized in San Antonio)

Car Hire – When you look for car hire options, comparison sites will lure you into “cheapest car hire” deals. Having used a handful of companies in the past, we can confidently say to stay clear of the cheaper options as they have a RIDICULOUS amount on hidden costs (such as usage per mile, tax, one-way fees and additional deposits) which more expensive car hire companies are more upfront about.

Companies such as Alamo and Enterprise may seem more expensive at first, but their fees are more transparent and the final bill will be significantly lower that their “cheaper” competitors. Plus, they are much more likely to give you an upgrade at the counter as they have more available cars, and offer much better service if you have any problems.

On the road, somewhere in Alabama!

On the road, somewhere in Alabama!

Driving – Driving in the USA can be a mixed experience. At first, the wide roads and large cars will give you a liberating feeling from your previous claustrophobic european driving experience. Things to note about driving in the USA which will save you from a few panic situations (we’ve suffered so that we can warn you!)

  • Anyone can overtake left or right, and americans love playing “fill the gap”. Be aware that you may be in the situation where the two people next to you may try to overtake you AT THE SAME TIME. We have never seen so many overturned or that have come off the road. The further away you can stay from having any cars around you. the better
  • You can turn right at a red light in most states, just as long as you stop for pedestrians. This can be unnerving and confusing at times. A red light to turn right basically means: “You can turn right as long as you’re not in anyone’s way”
  • Parking facing the wrong way will land you a fine. Just make sure that when you park your car is facing the direction of traffic at all times.
Friends and Fitness: leading a Cheeroibcs masterclass at StudioZ Abilene, TX

Friends and Fitness: leading a Cheeroibcs masterclass at StudioZ Abilene, TX

Exercise – Keeping fit whilst on the road may be a challenge: unlike Europe, it is much harder to walk places as the roads are not always pedestrian-friendly so you will find yourself sitting for most of the time. The more economic hotels will not have a gym, however most of the slightly more upscale chains will have a gym and a pool. 3 great ideas to keep fit while you’re on the go are:

  • Every 4 days book yourself in a slightly more expensive Hotel ($80.00 per night will be enough to get you a nice hotel with a gym) .
  • Get an online subscription to websites such as with live streaming classes or you could also go on Youtube for some great at-home workouts for both men and women.
  • If you’re feeling cheeky but have no solution, you can also get a free 3 or 7 day pass to a local gym chain if you tell them you’re considering moving to the area.The top nationwide chains are Golds Gym and Anytime Fitness.
Making new friends is the best part of the roadtrip! Here with Robert, our favourite Cowboy!

Making new friends is the best part of the roadtrip! Here with Robert, our favourite Cowboy!

Friends – Making friends in the USA is probably the easiest thing you can do, especially in the South. The north tends to be slightly more reserved, so depending on your preference and need for privacy you need to be prepared. When being waited on in restaurants and bars in Southern states, expect to be welcomed with a beaming smile and genuine interest in who you are, what you are doing, and pretty much ask about your life-story. This is not meant in an intrusion to the privacy or coy to leave a larger tip: it’s simply the Southern way and they take great pride in their jobs and customer service. We found that it was incredibly easy to go out and meet easy-going and interesting people wherever we went, in some states more than others. If this is not your “cup of tea” then smiling politely will go a long way – being snobbish down South will not give you along way!

Keeping the distance in Orlando highways

Keeping the distance in Orlando highways

Gas – (or fuel, never “Petrol) will be much cheaper along the gulf and will get more expensive the more you drive North. In order to make gas consumption more effective, it’s important to know a little bit about your vehicle. If it’s a 3 – 5 Liter V6 or V8 it’s best to keep the revs below 3000rpm. This drastically keep your fuel cost down and keep your vehicle healthy. Large American vehicles need to be driven in a relaxed manner so that you don’t accelerate too much and consume excessive fuel as a result.

Also when driving in higher altitudes use a higher octane fuel (mid-level one not premium necessarily). The other recommendations would be to stick to more known brands of gas stations (smaller ones may give you less fuel that the meter says!) and with UK debit or credit cards you have to prepay in store for gas, you can’t pay on the pump.

Under all costs try and avoid to buy gas in the states of New York, Connecticut and Maryland its very expensive, almost $0.50 more per gallon than the Gulf states. When up North try refuel either in Virginia or Pennsylvania & New Jersery, and Massachusetts, the states up North are small so it’s quite easy to do.

Taking smaller routes and enjoying beautiful scenery (cutting out the highway)

Taking smaller routes and enjoying beautiful scenery (cutting out the highway)

Health – Traveling lots and getting used to different environments on a day-to-day basis will most certainly put a strain on your immune system.

Firstly, it’s worth remembering that air in airplanes during flights is dryer than the Sahara, which makes it all much easier for you to catch all those wonderful bugs and germs that infest the aircrafts and airports. Washing hands on board and in general when traveling (especially after using Gas pumps which get manipulated hundreds of times a day with questionable levels of hygiene) – or keeping germ-kill detergent will make it a lot easier to stay in top condition.

The sugar-rich foods and change in climate will also make it very easy to get migraines: drinking lots of water and taking a daily Echinacea tablet will help you to feel better on a daily basis.

America doesn't so things by half measures - really feeling the patriotism here in Tampa

America doesn’t so things by half measures – really feeling the patriotism here in Tampa

International Calls – Receiving or making calls from the USA (and sending texts) can be extortionate unless you have an international contract on extra charge (FYI there should be no extra charge for 3 customers, just check your contract).

If you don’t want to come back from your trip with lots of zeros at the end of your phone bill, there is one hack that will work perfectly well: Skype. This wonderful app that you can have on your iPhone or laptop has a lot more functions than just calling t another Skype account. The three best functions that you can add are:

1) Having your own number, so you can get a UK landline for people to call you on without you or them costing them anything.

2) With Skype credit you can call any mobile and landline worldwide. With an average of 2 calls a day (about 5min each) I managed to survive with £18 of Skype credit only and no extra charges on my phone

3) Answering machine – if anyone calls you whilst you’re offline (through Skype or your temporary number) they can leave you a message which you will pick up as soon as you’re online.

The last suggestion we will give you is to record a temporary message on your mobile’s voicemail saying that whilst you are abroad you will not be taking voicemails (listening to voicemails while abroad can cost up to £1.00 per minute), and ask people to either text you or call your Skype number if you want to give it. Then turn off the ability for people to leave messages so that you won’t return home with a load of unanswered messages.

Beautiful skies in Charleson, South Carolina

Beautiful skies in Charleson, South Carolina

JetLag – Jetlag on your way to the USA can be a very good thing as it will put you at exactly the right speed for USA schedules. Even though they may be 5-7 hours behind, it is worth noting that over there, the average American’s day starts and ends about 2-3 hours that the average European’s. For instance: do not be surprised if you are refused dinner service after 9:30pm.

Most of the USA wakes up between 5am, eat lunch before 12, dinner around 6 and bed-time is never later than 11! Obviously this differs on the weekend, but if you use your jet lag (especially if you are usually a night-owl like us) to your advantage, it makes it very, very easy to adapt to American living. Plus you will find that your day almost doubles in time!!

The same thing cannot be said for the way back: this is where Jetlag can be brutal especially in the morning. It is strongly suggested that you do not plan an early-morning start on your return before your 3rd day back to Europe.

Finding top spots for a drink and meal: PRICELESS!! Here at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond

Finding top spots for a drink and meal: PRICELESS!! Here at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond

Kicking Back – The USA is great country for kicking back, having cold one at beer o’clock. There is myth in the UK that American beer is terrorble. This as true as the British drink luke warm beer and only eat boiled vegetables. Every town has an interesting brewery, when you are in a bar or restaurant simply ask the barmen or waiter whats ‘Local on Tap’ and you will be surprised every time.

Not only do the Americans make some of the best beers I’ve ever had, they also produce of very good wines on both the east coast and the west coast. And for those of you like something stronger, in the South you will find many variety’s of American whiskey and not to forget the mind blowing Margaritas in the kicking back capital of the USA Texas. Nothing like watching the sun go down over Lake Travis near Austin, Eating fresh Taco’s and washing it down with a margarita or cold Shiner Bock.

Monuments of gargantuan dimensions in Washington DC

Monuments of gargantuan dimensions in Washington DC

Laundry – When you’re constantly on the go you might find that you run out of clothes very quickly. Even though you packed 25 shirts and shorts, you could be faced with rotating the same 5 over and over again as they simply suit your travels better. No panic: there is always a washer/dryer in most of the budget hotels (NOT in the higher-end hotels) so chains such as Super 8, Motel 6, Days Inn and RedRoof Inn should have one: just check on the app or call ahead of time.

Money – Money can go a long way if you use it wisely in the USA. You can easily budget around $200 for two people including accommodation in a well-rated inn, two meals and fuel for two people.

The trick is to spend 5minutes on TripAdvisor and to find a good option for Hotels ($60-90 per night will get you a very decent option especially outside downtown areas) and on TripAdvisor look out for the $$ filter (options are: $, $$, $$$, $$$$) as this will give you the local’s choice for great quality at local’s prices. $ option will most likely bring you to a shack or self-service, whilst $$$ and $$$$ tends to attract more touristy or extravagant diners.

Another note about money is that you can use credit and debit cards in most places, but having some cash is very useful for smaller purchases such as parking etc..

Use InRoute App to track your roadtrip and favourite stops

Use InRoute App to track your roadtrip and favourite stops

Navigating – Navigating in a new city can be very daunting, and it’s worth noting that most cities have a very brutal one-way system that will keep you going round and round (special mention to Boston who kept us going round in circles for about 2 hours before we could escape it’s tunnel Maze of Mayhem).

You will also find that unless your GPS is connected to the Internet, you are very likely to be stuck in a traffic Jam. If you thought traffic jams were bad in the UK, you have not yet been prepared for the US.

Plus if you get stuck in a jam on a one-way system there is little hope for getting off it. The best things to do is either have two people navigating and using Google Maps navigator on your phone to warn you of heavy traffic and find an alternative, and carefully study the structure of the city before you enter it.

Another point worth mentioning that each street may have a WEST and EAST or NORTH and SOUTH section. So for instance You may need to go to 300 International Drive West, and if for any reason you select East on the GPS it will take you to the other side of the CITY!! Or, a city may have 7 streets named in the same and you might end up in the sticks. Take it from us, and check the post code or you might get some serious GPS rage!

Washington DC, HUGE city but with very little parking! Only option: Valet!

Washington DC, HUGE city but with very little parking! Only option: Valet!

Parking – USA loves Valet parking (especially in major cities and in the North) This can be a bit more expensive and if you have valuables in your car you may not be happy with leaving your car keys to a stranger. Parking may be free in some areas, or can cost $5-15 per day depending on location if you do not use Valet. Meters are often restricted by time so it’s better not to park there if you want to take your time. Evenings and weekends may have street parking, just be careful not to park next to a fire hydrant, check street cleaning times to avoid towing and always park in the same direction of the traffic to avoid a hefty fine.

Questions – If you’re stuck for directions, suggestions or simply how things work in your new town there are three places you can ask. The first place to look would be TripAdvisor: you just put the name of your location or select ‘Near Me Now’ and it will come up with a profile of your town, what it’s known for and suggested places to visit. If you get to an area which is a bit confusing or you want some indication, best people to ask are cops. They know the area well and will be very very helpful (unless they are busy raiding the building next door).

Eclectic, delicious food at CowFish restaurant, Charlotte North Carolina

Eclectic, delicious food at CowFish restaurant, Charlotte North Carolina

Restaurants – Food an travel go hand in hand: you can truly discover the culture of your surroundings by discovering the local culinary delights (plus waiters will love to fill you in about their beautiful town and give you lots of great ideas and pointers too!).

We found TripAdvisor unbeatable when it comes to selecting a good local spot. The trick is to select the top ranked restaurants within the $ or $$ sign (unless you want to splurge on $$$ and $$$$ ones too!). TripAdvisor will allow you to filter by price range and rank by popularity.

We had no trouble finding great places to eat by following these criteria, and it’s always useful to quickly look at photos, read the short intro and also check the website for opening times (most restaurants outside cities may stop serving between 9:30-10:00pm and some steakhouses may not open for lunch).

If in doubt: try and find a local Texas Roadhouse for a juicy Rib Eye steak – you can’t go wrong! If you drive late and past the 10pm kitchen curfew, you can always try to find your local Chinatown as they serve well into the night!

Lunch at the original "Fried Green Tomatoes" Whistestop Cafe, Irondale Alabama

Lunch at the original “Fried Green Tomatoes” Whistestop Cafe, Irondale Alabama

Sugar – Especially when you travel south, you will find sugar in everything. And yes, I mean everything: especially vegetables. And in large quantities. If you are not accustomed to an over-sweet tooth (and if you want to avoid making an extra hole in your belt after a week) an easy way to opt out of this is to ask clearly that your food comes with only your specified condiments, and if in doubt ask them for them on the side.

Similarly with drinks such as sweet tea, frappuccinos etc, they will have 2 or 3 times more sugar than you’re used to – so it’s better to ask for plain or unsweet, and add the sugar or a sweetener yourself to your taste.

The presence of Abraham Lincoln is palpable in his sombre monument at Washington DC

The presence of Abraham Lincoln is palpable in his sombre monument at Washington DC

Tax – Remember that when you make a purchase (especially for hotels, shopping etc) You will be asked to pay sales Tax. This varies around 15% depending where you are so keep this in mind! You do not have to pay Tax in restaurants however remember that waiters are paid less than minimum wage (just enough to make it legal for them to work!) and their salary comes 80% from tips so it is customary to leave 15-20%. On a serious note, if you leave less than 10% you better not return to that restaurant unless you want a sneeze-muffin or worse!

A storm stopes just quickly enough for us to see the windscreen in Alabama

A storm stopes just quickly enough for us to see the windscreen in Alabama

Umbrella – If you think you have escaped the curse of the British rain, think again and multiply by 10. If you’re traveling East in the summer, be prepared for regular heavy rain, especially in the afternoon and evening.

We’re not talking drizzle, we’re talking full-on power shower and you may not even be able to walk out with an umbrella. These heavy showers tend to come and go in waves, with an initial downpour followed by lighter drops and then settling back to heavy for a few hours.

If you’re looking to make an escape to your car, the best thing to do is wait for that initial break and make your way unless you want to swim through the streets. If you are driving on the Interstate when a down pour like this comes, Switch on your hazards lights so that other vehicles can see you. Reduce speed but not by breaking hard, just slowly lift your foot off the gas & if you have rented an SUV switch the vehicle into 4×4 or off road mode.

This rain shower could last for over half and hour so you will have to keep driving, keep the vehicle at 50 mph and do not unnecessarily change lanes and do any sudden breaking.

Rusty Tacos (TX chain) wins ALL the points when it comes to fresh, delicious and affordable lunch

Rusty Tacos (TX chain) wins ALL the points when it comes to fresh, delicious and affordable lunch

Vitamins – Even though the american countryside is home to vast fields of vegetation, it can be tricky to get enough fresh fruit and veg on a daily basis if you rely on restaurants, unless you want them smothered in butter, fried or topped with sugar. Fortunately we managed to find a few ways to sneak some extra vitamins into our diet by figuring out a few things. 1) Taco lunch can be very healthy if you stick to your leaner options. These include sides of Guacamole and Pico de Gallo, as well as doing for a lovely taco such as the Brisket taco which is beyond delicious and packed with lean protein. 2) Packing fruit in the car and keeping them in the ice-box will ensure you have extra fresh source of vitamins on the go. 3) Starbucks in the USA have an excellent range of blended vegetable and fruit juices with no added sugar, in many different tastes (these are sold in a plastic bottle where the soft drinks are). Not to say that this is the only way to rely for your daily intake of vitamins, but a quick and easy fix if you need an extra boost.

Upscale-beauty everywhere in Charlotte, North Carolina

Upscale-beauty everywhere in Charlotte, North Carolina

Wifi – Getting online can be a problem. If you want to be a true “Digital Nomad” and be able to work on the go and be around at all times may be a bit more difficult than you think if you’re unprepared. Using data on your phone (unless you have free data abroad) will only result in extortionate bills upon your return. There are two things that you can rely on:

1) Hotel Wifi – most budget hotels will have wifi but let us warn you that dependability is hit-and miss. You are very likely to be able to check your emails but you can forget Netflix streaming and Skype most of the time. If you know you will be in need of good internet, the best option is to either go to Starbucks or book a night in a slightly more up-scale Hotel to be sure to have high speed internet.

2) Purchase a Jet Pack from Verizon – this will cost $100 for the device and $100 per 10GB of data (which should last you the whole month unless you start streaming videos). Even though this may seem pricey at first, it will give you full independence to always be connected to your world and not miss important emails or calls when you’re on the go.

Plus it will give you a backup plan in case your Hotel wifi has issues (and trust me, it WILL happen!) Just a note that some of the devices’ battery may be temperamental. Check in the store that the device does not behave erratically and if it does, press the ‘RESET’ button on the side.

Lobsters big enough to give you nightmares in Boston. Massachusetts

Lobsters big enough to give you nightmares in Boston. Massachusetts

Xtra Large – When they say that everything is bigger in America, they are not just talking about the space. This really is true and especially in the South you can expect gargantuan servings of food, plus most meals will come with an obligatory loaf of hot bread and whipped butter. Before you start ordering everything on the menu, it may be worth ordering just one main dish unless you want to be carried out in a wheelbarrow.

Getting deep into the Texan Culture in San Antonio, Texas

Getting deep into the Texan Culture in San Antonio, Texas

Yankees VS Rednecks – Every state has its own identity and strong personalities. Most also have very strong stereotypes of the other neighboring state too.. mostly based on sports rivalry and characterized depictions. Yes it is true that the South and the North are two worlds apart, but it’s also true that that within each state there are many shades of gray, just like anywhere else.

Most people assume, for example, that Texas is populated mostly by trigger-friendly cowboys driving big trucks or that Alabama is mostly inhabited by river-rats. Let us tell you that this is far from the truth and that we immensely enjoyed immersing ourselves fully in each state’s culture by meeting wonderful people from all around.

For example we loved to discover that South Carolina must be one of the most up-scale, clean and prim states we have ever seen in our lives. The University of Charleston and the surrounding city are one of the most beautiful locations we have ever seen, immaculate, historic, and full of intellectual, well-to do Southerners.

Gulf Shores Alabama also has one of the most beautiful beaches we have ever seen, and our favorite so far in the USA. Like anywhere else, each state and each city will have some great areas, lots of surprises and of course, a few stereotypes too!

On a photographic Squirrel hunt for 3 months: finally found a poser in Washington DC

On a photographic Squirrel hunt for 3 months: finally found a poser in Washington DC

Zoology – The USA is home to many different creatures (tamed and wild) that you may never see. We were also gobsmacked to learn that for example in the state of Alabama, it is illegal to have a pet pig but you are very welcome to have a tiger in your home (no, this is not a joke). Most states keep their fauna under control, but it is worth noting not to wonder around in marshy areas especially in the dark (Alligators are not so friendly), and if you are traveling with pets they may run around chasing many of the squirrels that roam freely in the parks.

The main animals to watch out for will be snakes in the shrubbery (an extra excuse to buy yourself a pair of cowboy boots if you’re planning to spend time outdoors in arid areas), and dusting yourself in a cloud of insect repellent unless you want to get devoured by mosquitoes when you’re horse-riding.

BIO: Jessica Zoo and Lars Christensen are the founders of Social Media Mentors digital marketing agency based in London, they are a group of young, dynamic professionals with unique backgrounds in social media marketing & SEO offering a wide variety of services. After numerous visits to Austin TX they fell in love with this exciting diverse city, throughout 2015 Social Media Mentors will be setting up shop in Austin opening their first office outside the UK. Find out more about SOCIAL MEDIA MENTORS. Get in touch with them on Twitter: @UKbeSocial

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Januari Brussels Travel Massive Tue, 20 Jan 2015 15:59:17 +0000 Last week, the 3rd Brussels Travel Massive took me to a part of Brussels that I rarely visit: Elsene

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Last week, the 3rd Brussels Travel Massive took me to a part of Brussels that I rarely visit: Elsene (in Dutch or Ixelles in French)
Most travellers that visit Brussels, visit the center of town and never get to see all the beautiful suburbs around it, like Elsene.

For the people that don’t know what Travel massive is, Travel Massive connects thousands of travel insiders to meet, learn and collaborate at free events all around the world. They are a world-wide community of locally organised meet ups for travel & tourism companies, travel bloggers, startups, and travel media to connect and share globally.

The Januari Brussels Massive event started off in the Brussels version of an American diner, L’Amour Fou.

L'Amour Fou

L’Amour Fou

I was welcomed by Yvonne from Under the Yew Tree and offered a free spicy rum cocktail with some finger food, Nice!

Nachos & Guacamole @ L'Amour Fou

Nachos & Guacamole @ L’Amour Fou

After some speed dating between all the different Travel Massive Members, we headed off to the bar next door: De Haus

The first thing I noticed, was the special interior:

interior De Haus

De Haus, Brussels

De Haus: Bar & Interior

De Haus: Bar & Interior

De Haus (that’s not a spelling mistake by the way, it’s derived from a Dutch word) opened only a year ago, but it’s the place to be in Elsene these days.

We were there on a weekday and the place was pretty full and in the weekends, they told me, it’s always packed! De Haus is famous for it’s offering of Gin & Tonic, but you can also drink wine or beer and enjoy some finger food.

Fingerfood @ De Haus

Fingerfood @ De Haus

The idea is that you can enjoy great local food and drinks, in a homely environment where most things you see, are also for sale! Check their amazing site for more info:

Gins @ De Haus

Gins @ De Haus

Spicy Gin & tonic

Spicy Gin & tonic

After a warm welcome by the owner, we were given a quick introduction into the fascinating world of Gins & Tonics.

It seems there are more Gins then you would expect, each with their own typical flavours. De Haus also serves some authentic Belgian Gins that have a more spicy character. Definitely something to try!

After the quick introduction, it was time to start the tasting! We finished with the speciality of De Haus, and my favourite of the evening, a flambéed Gin & Tonic!

Learning all there is to know about Gin & Tonic

Learning all there is to know about Gin & Tonic


Specialty of De Haus: flambéed Gin & Tonic

If you ever visit Brussels, I can certainly recommend a visit to De Haus!
While some Gin & Tonic’s aren’t cheap, the food and drinks are all high quality and you can enjoy them at your own tempo and in a great atmosphere.

As you probably noticed, I had a great time and I would like to thank all the interesting people that were there @ #BXLTravelMassive

Till the next Brussels Travel Massive event!


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Abismo de Anhumas, Bonito Sat, 03 Jan 2015 18:34:13 +0000 Let's start off the new year with an incredible journey to Middle Earth in Bonito, Brazil

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Let’s start off the new year with an incredible journey to Middle Earth in Bonito, Brazil: The Abismo de Anhumas Tour


Abismo de Anhumas

When I was searching for things to do on my trip to Brazil, I came across the town of Bonito in the southwestern corner of Mato Grosso do Sul.

Bonito itself is a very small town and has only one main street but the natural resources of the surrounding area, the 76-sq-km Serra da Bodoquena national park, are spectacular! There are caves with lakes, beautiful waterfalls and incredibly clear rivers surrounded by lush forest where it’s possible for divers and snorkelers to swim eyeball to eyeball with hundreds of colorful fish.

Like Queenstown in New Zealand, Bonito also offers more adventurous tours that I couldn’t pass up on. Bonito’s most unforgettable attraction by a landslide is Abismo de Anhumas , 20km west of Bonito, it’s a 72m abyss culminating in an underground lake, home to incredible stalactite formations. The tour involves rappelling down to the bottom and snorkeling in the lake (visibility in the water is 30m).

The tour is limited to 18 visitors per day, but I managed to book the tour directly after I arrived in town, the night of the training, without any reservation. The rappelling training center is in town and you must successfully complete your training before 6pm on the day before your visit. The necessary abseiling techniques are learned the day before the tour with the help of specialized instructors, trained to guarantee the safety of the operation.

Training for the rappel

Training for the rappel

The training is done the night before because they want to make sure you are able to climb up again at the end of the tour, the next day. People that can’t climb up 10 meters in the training center can’t do the tour because you are expected to climb up 72m by yourself, the next day.

The transport to the entrance of the cave isn’t included in the tour, which I found a bit stupid. So you need to arrange the transport yourself! Luckily I met some nice people during the training who already booked a car and I could come along.

Since they only allow a few people into the cave at any time, you are assigned a certain timeframe to be there. When we arrived, the people in front of us were climbing back up again, with the girl shouting at the guy to “Slide up and PUSH, PUSH!” Apparently the guy got tired in the middle (remember, it’s 72m straight up), and because 2 people climb up together, for safety reasons, the girl needed to wait until the guy could climb further and they were hanging there for more than 30 minutes already! Haha!

This is them, making it to the finish:

So, after gearing up, my adventure began with a rappel of 72 meters inside the cavern, toward an immense inside lake with crystal clear water.

Entrance of the cave

Entrance of the cave

Ready to rappel 72m down !

Ready to rappel 72m down !

The wonder of the abyss is attributed to the diversity of its formations, both in and out of the water. You will float among formations of more than 10 meters high, giving the impression that you floating through a submerged city. It will be a surreal experience! It is also possible to dive in this cave, but divers need to obtain a cave diving license and book the dive in advance. The limit is 4 divers a day! When I was there it wasn’t even allowed because the level of the water was too low.

The dive platform at the bottom of the cave

The dive platform at the bottom of the cave

What you see when you go swimming

What you see when you go swimming


Incredible formations

Ready for the climb back up

Me and my guide, ready for the climb back up


It’s a long way to the top …


A long ….



I suggest wearing long sleeves, trousers and tennis shoes with long socks (I know! It’s not a fashionable look 😉 but it helps to protect your legs from the ropes while climbing up) for this activity. It’s cold inside the cavern, but you get a wetsuit for the snorkeling. Bring some water and some food and lots of energy for the climb back up! ENJOY!


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Happy Christmas! Thu, 25 Dec 2014 17:00:18 +0000 Wishing you a Happy Christmas and inspiring travels in 2015!

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Wishing you a Happy Christmas and inspiring travels in 2015!
Christmas carousel in front of the Holy House of Mercy of Macau

Christmas carousel in front of the Holy House of Mercy of Macau

Inspiring Travellers thanks its readers for a great year.
May the holidays inspire you to travel and see more of the world in 2015!



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How to conquer your fears and start traveling Thu, 18 Dec 2014 14:56:41 +0000 How fears can hold us back from seeing the world and what you can do to eliminate them.

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Today Casey Dugas from the Simple Travel Life talks about how sometimes our own fears can hold us back from seeing the world and what you can do to eliminate them.

Does it terrify you too?

You’re sitting there, minding your own business and planning your trip, when you glance down at your to-do list…

That’s when the panic sets in.

So many things could go wrong when travel is involved.

You have no idea what you’re doing—you don’t even know where to start! There’s too much to do and not enough money! Abort! Abort!


Deep breaths people.

Don’t let your fears get the better of you. You can conquer them and finally start planning that trip you’ve been postponing for ages.

The real reason most people never travel

Everyone assumes the hard part of travel is getting on the plane, but really, the hard part is planning the trip.

No one talks about how terrified and doubtful they were when they were planning their first trip.

And that’s where most people give up.

You have to overcome the doubts and fears that bubble up during the planning phase if you ever hope to get on that plane.

When people start to have these feelings about travel, the usual strategy is to do more research. They want to find all their answers by reading different websites and books.

But you know what the problem is with that strategy?

Why you should never do research first

Never do Research First

When people first start planning for travel, their research is all over the place.

They’ll read just about anything related to travel—including things that they weren’t originally worried about (but they are now).

The problem with this type of research is that you’ll come away with more questions than answers.

This is because travel is almost entirely built off the unknown, which is one of the most nerve-wracking things travelers must deal with.

The unknown really shows up in your what-if questions. These are the questions that you’ll never be able to fully answer.

  • What if I run out of money?
  • What if I get pickpocketed?
  • What if I hate the food?
  • What if I can’t make any friends?
  • What if I ruin my career path by traveling?
  • What if I get homesick?

The list can go on forever and usually ends with a resounding, “I can’t do this!

Traveling can feel somewhat pointless once you start thinking of all the things that could go wrong.

After all that research, most of your “answers” will just be large question marks.

Those question marks will start to convince you that you’re not ready to travel—I mean, you’re not even sure how much money you’ll need!

How can you leave now?

Clearly, you must put off travel until you’re ready—when you have more time, more money, and more answers.

But, that time will never come—the problem isn’t that you need more.

The problem is that you’re scared.

You need to understand the fears that keep you from moving forward with your travel plans.

The real first step to conquering your travel fears

The Real First Step

Fears can have a huge impact on how we live our lives, and half the time we don’t even realize what we’re scared of.

This is especially true of travel fears. We all know that travel can be scary, but what, specifically, about travel scares you?

The first thing you must do is make a list of your travel fears.

Spend some time writing down everything you’ve ever worried about while travel planning. And don’t just say “I’m scared.” That’s not enough. You need to go deeper than that and be specific.

Our what-if questions would be a good place to start—your list could include the fear of running out of money or the fear of being pickpocketed.

Try to get as many on paper as you can. Got it? Alright, now let’s take a closer look at those fears.

How to eliminate irrational fears one by one

How to Eliminate

All of those what-if questions can send us into a panic, which leads us to thinking irrationally and turning simple things into insurmountable fears.

The worst part is that we don’t even realize we’re thinking irrationally—everything seems legitimate.

Most of the fears on your list are blown out of proportion.

Take a look at one of the fears on your list. Is it really good enough to keep you from traveling?

For example, should the fear of possibly being pickpocketed keep you from traveling?

This was something I worried about all the time before I moved to Peru. What if they got my phone? Or my wallet?! I need those things!

But then I realized that having my phone or wallet stolen really wouldn’t be that bad. I mean, sure, it would be upsetting, but I would survive.

It’s the same way I feel about running out of money. I would be upset and have to cut my trip short—but I still got to see a new country, didn’t I?

Isn’t seeing a different part of the world worth the risk?

I think so.

I had to accept that it’s a little scary, but it didn’t matter—I was going anyway.

As you go through your list of fears, decide whether or not it’s really enough to keep you from traveling.

If not, stop using it as an excuse to stop planning.

How to minimize the chances of your fears coming true

Minimize Chances

Now that we’ve looked at all of our fears logically, we know that they’re not as scary as they seemed.

But some of them are still at least a little scary.

This is where our beloved research comes in.

You’re going to use research to tackle each one of your fears. This gives your research a focus.

Now there is one important mind-shift that you need to make regarding travel research.

You’re not looking for answers—those what-if questions will never have answers, remember?

What you’re looking for are prevention strategies—things that will decrease the chances of your fears coming true.

I can never be 100% certain I won’t be pickpocketed.

But you know what? I bought a really nice anti-theft bag that makes me a less-likely target for pickpockets.

And that makes me feel better.

Same thing goes for the fear of running out of money.

I researched how much my trip would cost, added a little more as a cushion, and then created a daily budget for my time abroad. I knew exactly how much I could spend each day to ensure that I had enough to complete my trip.

At the end of the day, all you can do is be as prepared as possible for your fears. And that makes them less likely to happen.

So, are you ready to start traveling?

Ready to Travel

Maybe your fears are still keeping you from chasing your travel dreams, but you know what?

Traveling will always involve some risk—everything important does. If it were easy, it wouldn’t be fulfilling.

The only true way to get yourself to travel is to have faith in yourself and your abilities.

Faith that you’ve done enough research and have made the right decisions.

Faith that you will survive—even if everything doesn’t go according to plan.

If you continue to let every little fear keep you from travel, you’ll never visit that place you’ve always dreamed of seeing.

But if you look over your fears and realize that you still want to travel—no matter what—you really only have one choice.

You must gather your courage and start traveling.

So brush your fears aside and take the leap.

You’ve got a plane to catch!

Bio: Casey Dugas is a world traveler who will help you fulfill your travel dreams. Check out her blog: Simple Travel Life.

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A new design and a fresh start Thu, 27 Nov 2014 15:31:13 +0000 has been redesigned!

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“Hi, my name is Geert, I’m a travel blogger …”

.. that’s how I introduced myself last Saturday, when I went to my first TravelMagic Meetup.

But It didn’t feel like I was a real travel blogger, it felt … like I was a phoney, a poster … a fraud. And I guess, in a way, I am!
Instead of gradually building out a reader audience of my own, I cheated my way into the world of travel bloggers by taking over a well established travel blog without having to proof myself as a great travel writer.

So far, I haven’t published any stories of my own yet since the passing of the torch last month ( has it really been a month already?!) but I’ve been thinking really hard about what I want to achieve with this blog.

Having said that, I felt that a redesign for Inspiring Travellers could give me the fresh start I needed to be able to really call this blog my own.


Farewell to the old look…

So instead of focussing on new content the past month, I focussed on a new design, which I’m thrilled to officially launch today:


Welcome to the new look …

I tried to give a more modern feel while keeping in mind that a blog needs to be responsive these days.

So far, not all the pages have been completely transformed to the new design and there is still a lot of things that can be approved on (If anyone has a good idea for a logo, let me know!) but I really like how it turned out.
Hopefully, you like it too!

About me

I thought this might be a good time to also share with you a little more about myself and what’s been going on in my live.

This year has pretty much been a transformational year for me, both on a professional and personal level.

Professionally, I got fired from my job as a hosting manager at the marketing agency that I worked for the last 12 years and personally that provided me with some time to think about what I really want to do with the rest of my life.

These days you hear a lot about people suffering from burnouts and not being happy with what they do professionally and perhaps it sounds like a big cliché to say that getting fired was the best thing that could have happened to me, but in hindsight it certainly was!

Since then I made some really important breakthroughs in my life. I started my own business as a freelance online marketing consultant and made room to pursue the things that really make me happy, like travelling the world, singing in a band and photography.

So on that note, I want to go ahead and put it out there that I plan on travelling more in 2015 and try to inspire you with in-depth articles on destinations, tales about my ‘off the beaten track’ adventures, beer from around the world and plenty of photos each month to go along with that. Giving you as much ideas and inspiration you can handle!

You can actually help me out by voting for me on the Kerala Blog Express so that you can travel with me to India thru my blogs next year, when I win. So your vote would be much appreciated!

In the meantime, I would love to hear what you would like to see from me in 2015 and thanks again for your support of this website and for sticking with me while I learn how to become a real travel blogger.

Happy Thanksgiving!



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A sacred pool reserved for Mayan Gods Wed, 29 Oct 2014 19:55:14 +0000 Why I want to revisit Yucatán, Mexico

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Why I want to revisit Yucatán, Mexico

Last night I came across the video below, about inspiring places from the Yucatán region in Mexico.

Even if you don’t like authentic Mexican food (trust me, it’s a lot different from what you get at Chipotle!), you can’t be but inspired by the gorgeous scenery and beauty of these images:

The Yucatán Peninsula captivates visitors with its endless offerings of natural wonders and an ancient Mayan Culture that’s still very much alive today. Watching the different videos reminded me of my own trip to Mexico 2 years ago and the one thing that eluded me: Scuba Diving a cenote.

Cenote diving, Mexico

Cenote diving, Mexico

A cenote is a natural sinkhole resulting from the collapse of limestone bedrock that got filled up with cristal clear groundwater. A lot of the times these sinkholes are connected creating a stunning underwater cave system that you can explore by scuba diving.

I was planning on visiting the Dos Ojos Cenote during my last week in Mexico, but unfortunately I got really sick that week. I came down with a bad case of the flew and I couldn’t clear my nose and ears, which is really necessary if you want to go diving.

Confined to bed, I had to abandon my plans completely and return to Belgium without this amazing experience:

Especially associated with the Yucatán Peninsula of Mexico, cenotes were sometimes used by the ancient Maya for sacrificial offerings. They are a sacred pool reserved for Mayan Gods, an experience on my bucket list that stays unchecked. FOR NOW!

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Passing The Torch… Thu, 23 Oct 2014 17:39:13 +0000 Andrea and John say their final farewell and a new editor-in-chief takes over

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This is a post about an ending, but also an exciting new beginning so let’s not dwell on the former. John and I just wanted to take a moment to say farewell to all of our readers from the past few years. Thank you so much for all of your support and sharing your own travel experiences with us. It has been wonderful getting to know everyone in the travel community. We are, of course, not saying goodbye to travel forever – it remains one of our passions and we will get back to it. But for the last year or so we’ve felt like quite the un-inspiring travellers – life has been quite busy with work and family commitments and we haven’t been able to get away as much as we would like. In September we had to cancel a three week trip through Utah and California that we’d hoped to share here, pretty much our last chance to travel just the two of us. It felt like it was time for a change and to inject new life into this blog.

Passing the torch ...

Photo credit: Alan Light

So I’m excited to introduce to you today the new owner and editor of, Geert Leysen. Hailing from the land of delicious beer, Belgium, Geert is an engineer come online marketing specialist, musician and traveller with a love for photography. In short, an excellent fit for this blog.

Geert has been travelling for more then 15 years and started travelling after he graduated, residing in California for three months as an exchange student.Then bitten by the travel bug, he made his way to Canada, Mexico, Costa Rica, Brasil, Bolivia, Tanzania, Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand, Europe, New Zealand and Laos among others. And he has many more adventures to come which he’ll be sharing with you on this site.

So please give Geert the warm welcome you’ve all given us and enjoy the new stories and fresh perspective he’ll bring to this website. John and I hope to guest post in the future when we get back to more frequent travels. Until then, wishing everyone out there all the best with your current and future travels. We’ll miss you and the blog!

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Why Traveling With Your Children Is Important Tue, 16 Sep 2014 17:40:05 +0000 James Lowell shares his thoughts on why travel with kids is important.

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Today’s guest post is a fun one because it has to do with children’s travel. I think most die-hard adventurers would agree that kids should be exposed to new experiences and lots of new places. James Lowell shares how he and his wife have started their son off on this path.

My son has traveled more during his first two years of life than most children. My wife and I love to travel and decided early on that we wanted our children to know the joy of travel. We will do everything we can to transfer our love and enthusiasm on to him.

We lived in Warren, Michigan when my son was born, a city located just across the Detroit border. Shortly after, we were forced to move and we ended up jumping from place to place for the first year and a half of his life. But because we were not tied down to one place, my son was able to experience many things that my wife didn’t experience until well into her 20s. We got to take him to Ohio to see his Aunt, to Frankenmuth, Michigan to experience some faux German culture and to many other fun-filled locations.

Mt Diablo State Park

Augie on a rock on Mt Diablo State Park

Here are just some of the reasons I think it’s important to travel with your children:

1. It teaches them patience.

For a two year old, my son is incredibly patient. When he was around a year old we took a three-day cross country train trip. He loved the train. We spent our time walking up and down the hall on the train, reading books and playing with toys. Sometimes he would just sit in his mother’s lap and watch the world fly by out the window. He was surprisingly well behaved, as he also was during his second long distance train ride a few months later. Recently we took a six-hour trip by car to Los Angeles to see family and, for the most part, he was incredibly patient the entire time. Sometimes he enjoys simply watching cars pass by out the window.

Monterrey Bay Aquarium

Watching a fish and Monterrey Bay Aquarium

2. Learning new languages is important.

Children learn very fast, even if they don’t seem to like it sometimes. My wife and I started learning German recently and while she was playing around with some language learning software my son started watching. Then he began to participate during the questions and corrected my wife on some of her choices. Something I always regretted was not learning a new language in high school (it was too boring and too hard). It wasn’t required so I brushed it off, but if you are somewhere for an extended period of time you are bound to learn at least the basics of that language. I lived in California until I was 12 years old so I did learn some basic Spanish, but never enough to be conversational. It is a rare quality these days to be able to communicate in multiple languages and could give an extra boost in future endeavors.

child at beach

On the beach

3. It helps eliminate prejudice and racism.

Growing up with family that liked to travel meant that I met tons of really nice people of all ethnicities. As a result I never judge people on their ethnicity. I never really knew that being of a different ethnicity could be viewed as any more than having a different hair or eye color, and for a long time I thought that everyone else felt the same. I want my son to be the same way. How can you have hate in your heart when you have met people from around the world and heard their stories?

Bravo Farms

At Bravo Farms with a lot of Tractors

4. Think outside the box.

Exploring new cultures and meeting new people will help children realize that they have no limits and that the whole world is open to them. Too many people end up becoming so used to the familiar and what they are “supposed to do” thanks to the media and the society around them. We often forget that there is a whole world outside of our borders. You might not be able to see it from our shores but it is out there. I have spent my last 12 years trying to decide what I am supposed to do with my life, where I’m supposed to live and how to make everyone around me happy because this is what was programmed into me. Then one day I decided, no more. I know what I want to do and where I want to go, and as a parent I want my son to be free to do whatever it is that makes him happy.

angel island

Our family on Angel Island

5. It’s fun!

Whether it’s a hike in the mountains, a day at the beach or exploring a museum, zoo or cave, every time I take my son somewhere he has a blast. Not everywhere we go will be a winner, of course, but you will never know unless you try. Children get ridiculously excited about small things and you would be surprised at what they enjoy doing. I want to nurture that excitement and foster a love of new experiences.

These are reasons why I travel with my son and will continue to do so. I hope that others will be inspired by this list and do the same.

Henry Cowell State Park

observing a Banana Slug at Henry Cowell State Park

Bio: James Lowell was born in Santa Cruz, California. At the age of 12 he moved Michigan and met his wife there when they were 18. Since then they have traveled to most of the continental United States and some of Canada. In 2012 their wonderful son was born. James currently lives in California with his wife and son, and is working hard to pass on his love of travel. The family blogs at and you can also find them on Facebook and YouTube.

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]]> 7 is For Sale Mon, 08 Sep 2014 22:27:38 +0000 After four and a half years writing and editing this blog we're ready to pass the torch.

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The last four and a half years have been a fun ride. From our around the world trip in 2011 to our expat adventures, we’ve loved sharing all of our experiences with our readers and the travel community at large. But recent events and life changes have prompted us to move on.

moving on

For one thing, we don’t travel as much as we used to. Not that we are happy about this – we love travel. At the moment, however, we have to focus on other priorities like family and work. We are expecting our first child at the end of the year as well, which will change the way we travel. These days it’s more pleasurable for us to relax and disengage when we go on vacation than to worry about documenting everything. We’ve had some amazing trips and worked with wonderful partners over the years and are so grateful for the experiences this blog has afforded us.

We don’t want to just kill the website. It would be amazing if we could find another passionate traveller and/or entrepreneur to take over. We are proud of how far our site has come and the foundation is in place for someone to take it to the next level. 

If you’re that person, please write to us at info AT inspiringtravellers DOT com (please note that we don’t read our Twitter DMs). Up for sale is all the written content (except the Moving to Australia eBook), site design/architecture (ready for transfer to you), limited rights to the digital photography (so that they may remain for your use on the site), our Facebook and Twitter accounts (Twitter alone has over 20,500 followers) and transition assistance from us (including an introduction to our current advertising partners).

Thank you to all of our readers and followers who have made this site such a joy for us to operate over the years. 

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Flying Private: The New Galaxy FBO Facility In Conroe, TX Thu, 07 Aug 2014 16:46:39 +0000 Welcome to the world of private aviation at this new facility.

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Next time you’re juggling your laptop and carry-on bag in a crowded airport security line or trying to find a comfortable place to sit during a layover, try not to get too down about what we’re about to show you. Yes, not everyone travels the same way. Some passengers drive right up to where their plane is parked, stroll through the doors of the airport and take off shortly after with no crowds or hassles. Welcome to the world of private aviation.

galaxy fbo private airport

galaxy FBO waiting area

We recently had the opportunity to tour the brand new Galaxy FBO facility at the Lone Star Executive Airport in Conroe, TX, about a 15 minute drive north of The Woodlands. This corporate and general aviation facility features two 50,000 sq ft hangars, VIP lounges, conference rooms, offices and the Black Walnut Cafe, where we were treated to a delicious lunch during our visit.

black walnut cafe conroe

black walnut cafe chicken fingers

tarmac lone star executive airport conroe

As we relaxed with some beverages (we highly recommend the Apricot Peach iced tea), it was fun to watch some small planes take off and land. John enjoyed the BWC Chicken Tenders Basket with cayenne ranch and honey mustard dipping sauces while Andrea had the delicious Grilled Chicken Croissant sandwich with peppered bacon and spicy avocado ranch.

private jets galaxy fbo

After lunch, Galaxy FBO owner Dirk Laukien gave us a personal tour of the facilities, which includes the world’s largest FBO arrival/departure canopy. This provides comfort for passengers and crew alike in the soaring temperatures of Texas. Private aviation travellers can enjoy a party in a VIP lounge or make it a day of work in one of the conference rooms. Private parking is available as well so they can leave their vehicles there in confidence, including a charger port for Tesla vehicles.

galaxy fbo facilities conroe lone_star_executive_airport-243

We also climbed aboard one of the private jets:

private jet

private jet cockpit

private jets

These passengers have their every whim catered to, both on the ground and in the air. According to Vice-President and pilot, Jeremy Gee, this might include blueberry muffins at 3 am. Talk about having friends in high places!

control room galaxy fbo

Have you ever flown on a private jet?

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Woodlands Weekend At Hyatt Market Street Wed, 30 Jul 2014 23:28:34 +0000 Just 30 minutes north of Houston, The Woodlands offers wonderful dining, shopping and entertainment options and the Hyatt Market Street is the perfect place to stay.

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Nestled among 28,000 acres of forest preserve, The Woodlands is a beautiful suburb just 30 minutes north of Houston. While it is home to many local residents and companies of all sizes, The Woodlands has also become a getaway destination as a result of its excellent shopping, dining, nightlife, golf and entertainment options. For Houston dwellers looking for a close getaway, Hyatt Market Street offers the perfect place to stay for experiencing all of this.

hyatt market street woodlands lobby hyatt_market_street_woodlands-086

What stood out to me the most about this boutique luxury property was the energetic, enthusiastic staff who greeted us warmly everywhere we turned. I also loved the dramatic lobby area with its natural trees and cascading chandelier. Our king room was both comfortable and inviting, featuring amenities like a 42-inch flat screen TV, MP3 docking station, complimentary internet, waterfall shower head, Cuisinart coffeemaker and views of Market Street below.

king room at hyatt market street

hyatt market street woodlands king room hyatt_market_street_woodlands-034 hyatt_market_street_woodlands-038

market street from room


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As we unwound in our room after check-in we were delighted by a generous gift bag of goodies from the surrounding shops. Market Street is the premier upscale shopping and dining center in the Woodlands, with green open areas and a comfortable layout for walking around. Pedestrian areas are in short supply in Houston so it’s always nice to find somewhere to get out and stretch your legs. If the streets in the photos look a bit quiet it’s because it was about 100 degrees F the weekend we visited. But as we don’t get up to this area much we decided to brave the heat ourselves and check things out.

market street the woodlands shopping hyatt_market_street_woodlands-104 hyatt_market_street_woodlands-106 hyatt_market_street_woodlands-112

We poked in and out of shops for an hour or so until we finally needed to get out of the sun. Heading back to the Hyatt we were eager to get to dinner to experience a special tasting from chef Andrew Kramer in the bar and restaurant area.

menu hyatt market street woodlands

jalapeno watermelon margarita

Jalapeno Watermelon Margarita – just one of the many signature cocktails on offer at Hyatt Market Street

We started off with a sampling of appetizers from the menu. The Avocado Mash featured charred tomato salsa, crispy tortilla chips and wontons while the Smoked Gouda Pimento showcased its main ingredient perfectly atop delicious Kraftsmen Bakery ciabatta wedges. This was followed by delectable Pork Tostadas, the succulent pork shining atop blue corn tortillas. We also indulged in the BBQ Chicken Flatbread with its chipotle BBQ sauce, smoked gouda, pineapple salsa and fried onions; a delightful medley of flavors!

hyatt market street appetizers hyatt_market_street_woodlands-144 hyatt_market_street_woodlands-152

Of course, we were unable to finish all of that, leaving room for the main courses. The cheerful waitstaff talked us into having a meal each instead of sharing something, although we were already quite full. We were glad we did when John’s perfectly cooked and seasoned 12 oz Ribeye and my tasty Shrimp & Grits came out. The steak featured herb-roasted potatoes, mushroom ragout, sweet baby peppers and chimichurri sauce, while my dish featured a creole Gristmill grit cake, spicy crawfish etouffee and fried gulf shrimp.

hyatt market street main dishes hyatt_market_street_woodlands-162


After such tasty main courses we felt like we couldn’t resist trying at least one dessert. The Ancho Spiced Chocolate Cake featured melting chocolate ganache, raspberry puree and ice cream on the side – the perfect ending to a delicious meal.


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Win A Year Of International Edibles From Try The World Tue, 22 Jul 2014 16:30:09 +0000 Win a one year subscription to Try The World.

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If you love trying new foods and gourmet products when you travel but don’t have the time or resources to make it to places like Paris, Tokyo, Rio, Rome, Istanbul or New Delhi all in one year, a new subscription makes your passion possible. Try The World has recently re-launched their website and, to celebrate, they are giving away a year’s worth of gourmet delights (that’s six boxes)!


Each Try The World box contains a selection of authentic food products from that month’s featured country. Open to residents of the United States and Canada only. Enter via the form below. To learn more visit


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Living And Working In The United States: An Outsider’s View Wed, 02 Jul 2014 16:41:37 +0000 John takes a look at what it’s like being an outsider in the USA.

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I’ve been living in the USA for a little over a year now, so it’s a good time to reflect on being a foreigner in this great land. I’m a ‘true blue’ Aussie, so please bear that in mind while reading through my observations.

usa flags

The first thing I noticed was the trucks that barely fit in car lanes. The highways are chaotic too and although I got my driver’s license early on, I’ve only recently been willing to take them on.

Being Australian, you have to get used to people assuming that you’re from England, which isn’t particularly new as it often happens when I’m in Europe. It’s always fun to figure out the differences in the language too. “I’m looking for a carton of beer?” you might ask at the beer store. When met with a blank stare, you adjust your question to “Pardon me, case of beer.”

I knew that the US is a religious place, but I didn’t realize how ‘in your face’ religion would be. I’m not going to go into details, because I’m not political at all and stay away from the news channels.

As for friendliness, people in the US are usually willing to have a chat and help you out. However, I’ll never get used to being called “Sir” or calling others “Sir” or “Ma’am”. It’s just too weird. When we bought our car, the salesman called me that at the end of every sentence. Here’s an example of the cultural differences:

Aussie phrase: “Hey mate, there’s a bloke over there who needs something.”

US translation: “Excuse me Ma’am, that gentleman over there is asking for help.”

Gentleman, really? I used it once and felt dirty straightaway. These formalities are just a form of politeness and it’s actually kind of nice.

In some countries, the customer isn’t always right and is treated with disdain. At a gift shop once in Switzerland, we bought a fragile souvenir and asked the cashier if they had any wrapping paper. He looked at us with such utter contempt and bewilderment, before casually reaching under the counter for said wrapping paper. Thanks for the effort, buddy!

Anyway, in the US the customer IS ALWAYS right. Broadly speaking, if you buy something and want to return it, no questions asked. If something you bought a year ago is faulty, you can still return it and get a replacement. Now that’s service indeed!

Real cable television. For most of my life, I never had any such thing in Australia. Cable (or satellite) TV and fast internet in the US leaves Australia’s pale imitation in the dirt. And my beloved sports…oh so many sports. It sure helps for conversation around the office and football season is crazy. Not just the NFL, but college football too. Why doesn’t the NFL schedule Friday night or Saturday games, I hear you ask. Well Friday night is reserved for high school football and you guessed it, Saturday is college day. In fact, every other car you see driving around will have their college emblem on the back windscreen or bumper. Around our neighborhood, college flags with appear on front lawns during game time. Speaking of flags, when some public holidays roll around, US flags also appear in front of houses and commercial areas.

All in all, the USA is not that different to other places I’ve lived. It’s just a lot bigger and more diverse. My work life here is pretty good. Compared to Norway, people work longer hours and are definitely more helpful. And it’s always fun being the token Australian in the office. You may hear others as you walk the aisles and hallways, but dare not speak because there can be only one!

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