Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Beyond Bonjour, Hola, and Privet

Want to combine a little education with your travel? Go beyond learning how to say "hello," "thank you," and "where can I find beer?" ("Wo finde ich Bier?" in German, if you're curious.) What better way to study a language than in its native country! Here are a few schools where you can scratch your academic itch.

{Photo by ilkerender}
Want to conquer Spanish in South America? Check out the Espanex Spanish Language School in Argentina. Their programs range from “Standard Spanish” to “Extreme Spanish and Paragliding.” Extreme indeed! You can even sign up for a class pairing Spanish and Tango, should you put your dancing feet to the test. Their web site also directs folks to internships and volunteer opportunities throughout Argentina. Campuses are located in Buenos Aires, Cordoba, and Bariloche.

{This could be you!}
Parlez-vous français? Non? You can rectify that by studying in Paris at Alliance Française, located a mere three blocks from the famed Luxembourg Gardens. With over 1,000 establishments in 136 countries, Alliance Française prides itself on being the leading cultural network worldwide. They offer both day and evening classes for beginners and advanced speakers. Prefer a more low-key location for your French study? Take a look at French in Normandy.

{Meet this lady personally at Peterhof}
Craving caviar, opulence, and copious amounts of vodka? Russia’s calling! You can study right in the heart of historic St. Petersburg at Liden & Denz. The only Russian members of the International Association of Language Centres (IALC), they offer courses for academic, leisure, or business purposes as well as teacher training and classes for seniors. Liden & Denz also have a campus in Moscow, should your travels take you there.

You can find handy reviews of these and other language schools across the globe at My Language Travel.

Atención linguaphiles! Share your language study experience.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Today In Travel News

Southwest acquires AirTran. CNN says it's thumbs up for Air-Trannies.

Huffington Post's Matthew Long sounds off on respect - or lack thereof - for gay and lesbian travelers.

The Washington Post reviews Catherine Price's 101 Places Not to See Before You Die.

Only 668 days until London 2012. Russell Brand hosting the Opening Ceremonies, please.

Tnooz releases the most popular US travel websites. Ping hasn't made the list....yet.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Travelzoo beckons, “Let me guide you, my Children of the Recession…”

Planning a trip to DC? Check out Travelzoo’s hotel deals.
I am a Travelzoo VIP. Impressed? Well, there’s 20,999,999 other Travelzoo VIPs so don’t get too excited. And you can be one, too! What’s Travelzoo, you ask?

Travelzoo publishes the best travel deals available from over 2,000 travel companies. According to their web site, their team researches, evaluates and tests thousands of deals to find those with true value and recommend only deals whose accuracy and availability they can confirm. I’ve booked a few trips through Travelzoo and can personally say I’ve yet to be disappointed. Deals include not only flights, but hotels, vacation packages, cruises, and even theater tickets.

This week’s highlights include:

$49 & up – American Launches New Fall Fare Sale (each way)

$69.50 – New York City: Orchestra Seats to Mary Poppins; save $52

$240 – Grand Opening: NYC Times Square Hotel, 40% OFF

$1288 – Tokyo 5-Night Vacation incl. Tour & Airfare

To jump on Travelzoo’s discount bandwagon and get their weekly Top 20 newsletter, click here.

Traveling to a city outside this week’s deals? Check out Bing Travel. Bing’s "farecast technology" searches various sites for the best fares and actually predicts airfare pricing. Should you buy now or hold out for the price to drop? Bing will steer you in the right direction. Kind of like the Psychic Network, but legit. (No offense, Dionne.)

Frugal travelers unite! Where do you find the best travel deals?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


Two years ago, I traveled to the Brazilian Amazon.

It was there I experienced a few firsts…

First ride in a sea plane.
(Water landings = awesome!)

First spider monkey sighting.

First tarantula-in-the-wild sighting.
(Note: photo is blurry because the person taking it – might have been me – was a bit startled, a little frightened, and maybe nearly capsized her canoe.)  

First Brazilian sunset.

First Victoria amazonica.
(ie ginormous Amazon lily pad)

First viewing of the Meeting of the Waters,
where the amply named Rio Negro meets the sandy-colored Rio Solimões.

Rainforest adventurer? What was your Amazonian first?
(Keep it clean, people.)

Monday, September 20, 2010

Fromage a Go Go

{Photo by Justus Hayes/Shoes on Wires}

When traveling, I love tasting local cuisine. However, there’s one meal I must have, regardless of locale, where the menu remains the same – wine, baguette, cheese. Perch yourself on a park bench and you have The Voyeur’s Picnic! What better way to feel the rhythm of a city/town/hamlet than with vino and fromage in hand? 

Here’s a guide to finding the best cheese and people-watching spots in some of my favorite cities:

Amsterdam – Abraham Kef
Did you know there’s an entire town in The Netherlands named Gouda? Guess who got really excited when she learned that little piece of trivia? Sadly, I never made it to Gouda, but enjoyed cheese from the same name in the country’s capital city, Amsterdam. New York Times-approved Abraham Kef can meet all of your pasteurized and unpasteurized needs. Where to noche? Canals, baby, canals! Marnixstraat 192; Tel: +31-20-626-2210.

 Bangkok – Quintessence
Always a bit of a challenge to find a plethora of artisanal cheese in Asia, Bangkok’s Quintessence provides the cheese-lover with over 300 varieties. Pick your rind then head to Lumphini Park to watch joggers and tai chi practitioners while you imbibe. (Yes, I recognize the irony.) 116/1 Soi 23 Sukhumvit Road, BTS: Promphong; Tel: +66 (0) 2 662 3578.

Chicago – Pastoral
Ken Miller and Greg O’Neill can provide your entire picnic in one stop – wine, bread, and artisanal cheeses to boot. Take your sack full of goodies and walk over to Millennium Park to watch people interact with Cloud Gate. Lakeview, Loop, and Chicago French Market; Tel: +1-773-472-4781.

Montréal – La Fromagerie Hamel
One of the best ways to enjoy beautiful Montréal is on foot. When the dogs start barking, rest up on a bench in Lafontaine Park with some cheese, charcuterie, and bakery bits from La Fromangerie Hamel. Five locations; Tel: +1 514-272-1161.

Seattle – Beecher’s Handmade Cheese
Home of the “world’s best” macaroni and cheese, this lively shop is just steps away from Pike Place Market. Grab a few hunks, find a spot on the dock, and watch Puget Sound go by. If you’re in need of a caffeine fix or simply crave a touristy photo op (no judgment), the original Starbucks is just a saunter down the street. 1600 Pike Place; Tel: +1 206-322-1644.

Fellow fromage lovers! Where do you get your fix? 

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Around the World in 30 Bytes - Inaugural Edition!

I love blogs. I read travel blogs of course, but what really got me trolling the blogosphere was food. Glorious food! I found cooking tricks and techniques from across the globe by some very talented food bloggers. So here’s a new recurring “series” called Around the World in 30 Bytes to share what's bookmarked in my virtual recipe box.

Today’s edition is All About Schokolade.

Atlanta Byte: Bakerella’s Congo Bars. Cookie walks into a bar and meets Brownie. Passionate love ensues. 

Cape Cod Byte: Vanilla Sugar’s peanut butter, chocolate chunk, and bacon cookies. Do I really need to elaborate?

Nashville Byte: Ezra Pound Cake’s chocolate orange fondue. I know it’s still a bit warm here in the northern hemisphere, but, for me, fondue is a four seasons affair.

Paris Byte: David Lebovitz’ banana and chocolate upside down cake. David shares hundreds of delicious recipes on his blog. Check it out and bake away. Then send me some.

Sydney Byte: Almost Bourdain’s Kit Kat and Jelly Bean birthday cake. Line an iced cake with Kit Kat bars?? Sold.

Byte me! What’s your favorite food blog?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Gettin' Salty in Portland has named Portland, Oregon as one of their September Top Picks. I couldn’t agree more!

Earlier this year, I traveled to Portland with my friend Erin on a whirlwind trip through the Pacific Northwest. Friendly folks, mild climate, and good brew are phrases that come to mind. I didn’t spend nearly enough time there, but here are some highlights:

Light Rail

As a car-free, public transportation patron for the past eight years, I found Portland’s light rail to be a winning system. Easy to use, clean, and runs frequently. Really all you can ask for in public transport – yet somehow rarely find.

Tax-free Shopping

Did you know there’s no sales tax in Oregon? Neither did I! You can support one of Portland’s many independent retailers and still have leftover cash in your pocket for that pint of Rogue. Speaking of…


BridgePort, Widmer Brothers Gasthaus Pub, McMenamins...and that’s just the beginning, folks.

Powell’s Books
Probably one of the most well-known independent bookstores in the US (now with seven stores in the Portland area), pop in here to buy new or used books, attend a book reading, or lessen your travel load by selling them your used books. Want to support the indie book scene from your desktop? Powell’s entire inventory is available for online purchase.

Gourmet Sea Salt
Sadly, we had no time on our trip to visit The Meadow, a gourmet shop specializing in sea salt, among other items. I nearly wept. Why, you ask? Sugar Maple Smoked Sea Salt? Bacon Barbeque Chef Salt? Black Truffle Salt?? You’d cry, too. For salt fanatics outside Portland, you can order online and also follow their mighty good-lookin’ blog, Salt News.

Struck by its dramatic natural beauty and vivacious cultural scene, I’m determined to make it back to Oregon soon to revisit Portland, explore the coast, and hit up some wineries.

Plus, I really, really want some black truffle salt. Seriously.

What’s your favorite stop on the “Oregon Trail”?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Let's Get Digital

I own a Canon Rebel xsiIt’s a beautiful little piece of equipment. I love taking photos with it, especially when I travel, but I haven’t quite mastered it.

Kinderdijk, The Netherlands {photo by me and my Canon}
Having taken a rather disappointing – yet not inexpensive – photography class a few months ago, I’ve been turning to the interweb to assist with my continuing education.

Not surprisingly, you have to look no further than the blogosphere to find tricks of the trade. Many professional photographers have their own blog with helpful info, Scott Kelby among them. Blogger/domestic goddess The Pioneer Woman has an entire section of her blog dedicated to photography: shooting tips, community assignments (winner receives some awesome loot), and even free, downloadable actions for both Photoshop and Photoshop Elements. Generous, indeed!   

Photojojo is a total delight. I subscribe to their twice-a-week newsletter and recommend all photo geeks do the same. In addition to uncovering new trends and trinkets in the photography world, they offer lots of DIY tips that are inexpensive-to-free, including how to take macro photos sans macro lens, make your photo look vintage, and create instagrams. And all of my friends should watch out on their next birthday: 2011 is going to be the Year of the Photo Cupcake.

Then, of course, there’s the Dalai Lama of the photo faction: National Geographic. Here you’ll find details on pro photographers, photo tips complete with instructional videos, and free desktop wallpapers (I change mine weekly), among other fab features. Their My Shot page allows amateur photographers to add to the community gallery and even turn personal photos into online games. Always wanted to make a virtual jigsaw puzzle of that wicked pic you took in India? No problem! In addition, Nat Geo spotlights a Photo of the Day from the My Shot community. Excellent exposure for sure (no pun intended).

With renewed appreciation for true photography talent, I voted in Nat Geo’s Energizer Ultimate Photo Contest. The winner receives a trip for two to Greece and their own Energizer ad in December’s National Geographic Magazine. So let’s get in on the fun and give these gifted folks their credit. The contest ends on September 15th - yes, tomorrow! Click here to rock the vote.

Photography enthusiast? Where do get your daily dose of wisdom?

Monday, September 13, 2010

Mad Men & Women: What’s Your “Gotta Have” Travel Gadget?

In last week’s Mad Men episode, the creative team at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce struggled to create the perfect ad slogan for Samsonite luggage. In the end, they leaned towards a campaign relating the news of the day – the Cassius Clay (ie Muhammad Ali) v. Sonny Liston boxing match. Clay is the victor, and, thus, is Samsonite. It got me thinking: What’s my travel accessory champ?

In spite of having traveled countless miles, I have yet to find that can’t-live-without travel accessory. So I turned to Time Magazine’s “Top 25 Gotta Have Travel Gadgets” list for inspiration. After finishing the article, one thing was clear: the average Time reader is over the age of 50 and has a Don Draper-sized income. A Macbook Air - that’s gotta have? This list should be called “Gotta Have a Trust Fund.”

As someone in more of the Peggy Olson tax bracket, I’ve compiled my own list of US$99-and-under gems from this ultra posh lot. (Don't even get me started on Play Station Portable.)

Under $99 and Notable:

Menospeak Book: This book illustrates basic transportation and personal needs so you can open it up and point to what you’re looking for. And, at US $9.95, it’s $220 cheaper than the #3 recommendation, Franklin 12-language Global Translator.

Kensington ComboSaver Portable Lock: For 25 bucks, this puppy locks your laptop to the table its sitting on to help prevent grab-and-run computer theft.

Reef Stash Sandals: Truly a clever item, you can fit your money, credit card, and hotel key into the sole of your shoe and wade/surf/swim-up-to-the-bar without much worry (US $45).

Airport Express: Apple's gadget acts as a portable Wi-Fi device. Though a bit pricey (US $99), this little item can save you loads on hotel internet fees.

Calling all Peggys and Dons! What’s your Gotta Have Travel Gadget?

Saturday, September 11, 2010

5 Reasons to Love Hong Kong

1. Steamed pork buns at Maxim’s.

2. Mid-Level Escalator…all 2,625 feet of it. 

3. The South China Sea.

4. Victoria Peak (even when it’s foggy).

5. HKG at night.  

Been to Hong Kong? Share your love! 

Friday, September 10, 2010

Smartphone Apps: 21st Century Commuting Bliss

This week, The Washington Post launched its official transit app, DC Metro. Not only does this free service project timing for the next trains and buses, but also alerts users of delays and service announcements. It even interfaces with Express Night Out so you can ping your way to happy hour or dinner.

The downside? The Post’s app is only available for iPhone users. As an HTC EVO owner/lover, I use the free app DC Metro Transit Info. (A paid, ad-free version is also available.) In the short week I’ve had my smartphone, I’ve used it several times and find it to be quite reliable. It’s most useful when riding Metro in the evening after “peak hours.” 15 minutes to a train? “Waiter, one more round!”

Transit apps are available for most major cities around the globe, handy for locals and visitors alike. Paris, San Francisco, Tokyo, and Vancouver are among the lot. So the next time you and your smartphone embark on a new adventure, check out the apps that can help you spend more time experiencing the city above ground rather than below. As my good friend Jim says, “You don’t have to live like that.”

Smartphone user? What's your favorite transit app?

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Lisdoonvarna: Ireland’s 150-Year-Old

Each September, the good folk of Lisdoonvarna, Ireland endure – and I do mean endure – their annual Matchmaking Festival, billed as “Europe’s Largest Singles Event.” Men and women from across the globe flock to Lisdoonvarna to drink all day, drink all night, and, in the process, find the perfect mate. Too rowdy for you? For those taking their matchmaking more seriously, they can pay a visit to the only traditional matchmaker left in County Clare, Mr. Willie Daly. Not only is he a matchmaker, but a horse whisperer to boot. You know what they say: Two birds…

Though it has been compared to “Brigadoon gone terribly, terribly wrong,” I still raise a pint to these pilgrims congregating in Ireland on their quest for love. Or at least some good craic.

In homage to these singletons, here’s a link to a free download of “Young Hearts Run Free,” covered by The Swell Season. Led by the charming, passionate Irish guitar guru Glen Hansard (of Once fame), The Swell Season is a live show not to be missed (unless you’re averse to total and awesome joy). You can also catch Glen on his 20th anniversary tour with The Frames in select cities this fall. My ticket is already secured!

Have you been to the Matchmaking Festival? Share your story!

“Willkommen, Bienvenue, Welcome…”

Welcome to Got the World on a Ping! Ping virtually circumnavigates the globe – from local fare, festivals, and people to covering trends in the media and technology travel realms. A personal and professional globetrotter for the past decade, one of the most important things I’ve discovered is that you can never stop discovering! I’m on a mission to learn more about this world - let’s explore it together, shall we? (Occasional show tunes references an added bonus.)

Thanks for stopping by – come back soon and often!