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Experiencing Pre-Trip Jitters

Experiencing Pre-Trip Jitters

I have butterflies in my stomach as I write this. It’s just over 12 hours until I leave for Mali and Burkina Faso and I am really nervous – more nervous than I can ever remember feeling before a trip. And no, it has nothing to do with Ebola. I was nervous about this trip long before Ebola showed up in Mali. This will be my first travel to West Africa and only my second trip to the African continent overall (Egypt being the other trip in...

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My Plans for West Africa

My Plans for West Africa

I admit, I feel a little weird telling people I am going to travel to West Africa next weekend. I feel like I immediately have to qualify the statement with a “but I’m not going to any countries where Ebola is!” And that statement almost would have been true. While the first case of Ebola diagnosed in Mali happened back in late October (coincidentally, the same day I picked up my visa to the country), the 21-day quarantine for people who...

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Impressions of Bulgaria

Impressions of Bulgaria

The sun was still shining as I exited the airport in Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria. It was 6:30 p.m., but on a Saturday in late August, that meant I still had about two hours of daylight remaining. I ignored the touts offering me a ride and instead headed straight to the official taxi stand, where I easily hopped into a yellow taxi. I gave the cab driver the address of my hotel with confidence, speaking Russian that could sort of pass as...

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Yes, I am Still Going to West Africa

Yes, I am Still Going to West Africa

I am going to West Africa next month. On November 23, I will arrive in Bamako, Mali and spend one week there before moving on to neighboring Burkina Faso, eventually flying out of Ouagadougou on December 6. I booked my flights back in September and finalized an itinerary for the whole trip in the last week or so. It all became truly official when I picked up both of my visas while I was in Washington, D.C. for work this week. I have been...

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Open House Chicago: An Open Door to the Windy City

Open House Chicago: An Open Door to the Windy City

I have lived in Chicago for more than a decade, but there are still a lot of places I haven’t seen, things I haven’t done and buildings into which I have never ventured. Sometimes all it takes is a good excuse to do so and Open House Chicago this past weekend provided such an excuse. OHC started in 2011 (while I was out of the country) and is really pretty amazing in its premise: open up more than a hundred buildings throughout...

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Why I’m Quitting Travel Blogging. Kind Of.

Why I’m Quitting Travel Blogging. Kind Of.

I recently had an epiphany. I kind of hate what travel blogging has become. When I started blogging four years ago in anticipation of traveling around the former Soviet Union for a year, I was simply looking for a way to share my stories with friends and family, record my adventures for my own sake and maybe inspire a future traveler or two out there. I never got into it to make money or to get free trips. I didn’t even know those things...

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Trying to See All of Toronto in Two Days

Trying to See All of Toronto in Two Days

I will be the first to admit I probably overdid it on my weekend visit to Toronto in August. I was just so excited to visit and there was so much to see and do that I wanted to see and do it all at once. And then I realized how good the food was and I wanted to eat ALL the food. I arrived on a Friday evening on Porter Airlines – an airline comparable to my beloved Southwest that flies directly into the Toronto City airport, which is on a...

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How Not to Learn French (or any other language)

How Not to Learn French (or any other language)

I recently completed a Beginner II level course in French at Multilingual Connections here in Chicago. As you may recall, I first started thinking about learning French back when I was on my career break. Then, once I decided to head to West Africa this fall, I was even more excited to learn the language. Unfortunately, at this point, I am probably only qualified to tell you how NOT to learn French: 1. Sign up for an eight week class and...

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Riding the Highest Narrow Gauge Railway in the Balkans

Riding the Highest Narrow Gauge Railway in the Balkans

Did you know Bulgaria is technically part of the Balkans? I feel silly saying it, but I did not know that until I actually visited. I had always thought of the Balkans as being the countries of the former Yugoslavia, but in reality, the Balkan peninsula (and thus, “the Balkans”) includes Bulgaria as well. So when I read about the only narrow gauge railway in Bulgaria and learned that it was also the highest in the Balkans, I decided I had...

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Searching for St. Ivan’s Chapel

Searching for St. Ivan’s Chapel

Staring ahead of me, all I saw was green. The leaves were an amazing bright color of green, occasionally reflecting the glaring sun that they so thankfully blocked out. I felt like I was in a tunnel and had no idea how long it would stretch. I questioned whether I should continue, but told myself that I would give it 20 more minutes. If I walked for 20 more minutes without seeing some sign that I was on the right track, I would turn around...

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