Posts Tagged travel

A “First Class” Start

27 February 2013

Creative writing teachers will tell you that bad experiences make for good stories. It’s true.

And I’ve had my share. The “wisdom” behind posts like Tips For If You Miss Your Flight usually comes from really stupid things I’ve done while traveling — like missing my flight because I’m sitting at the wrong gate or I’m waiting at the gate for a plane that’s going where I need to go and I think it’s my flight but, oh, it’s not my airline. I’ve slept overnight in airport lounges enough times to feel like a supporting cast member in Tom Hank’s movie The Terminal.

But every once in a while an experience falls into your lap that’s too good not to share.

Thanks to my uncle who trains pilots for a major airline, I was flying “non-rev” from Dallas, Texas to Norfolk, Virginia. Flying non-rev is a gamble: sometimes you don’t get a seat and get bumped to the next available flight, sometimes you manage to slip into the last seat available on the plane, usually a middle seat. And sometimes — blessed times — you get to fly First Class.

Yesterday was one of those blessed days. As I sat there in my luxuriously roomy seat watching the other passengers go by, I was trying to look sufficiently calm and composed on the outside while I was doing a happy dance on the inside. Thank you, Uncle Robert, thank you, thank you for your choice to work for the airline and support your family members’ addiction to travel. You are my hero.

I’ve already described in detail the pleasures of flying First Class, and how humbling it is to be given this gift through no merit of my own, symbolic in a way of that Other great gift we’ve been given through no merit of our own. So I’ll limit this post to describing what I had for lunch at 30,000 feet: grilled shrimp and cheesy grits. And they were surprisingly good.

This writers’ retreat week is off to a great start. Bring it on, Lord. I’m ready.

Homemade Hummus and Pita Chips

1 August 2012



A few days ago, I was on vacation in Greece eating souvlaki and swimming in the Mediterranean (not at the same time!). So today, to extend the experience a little, I decided to make that staple of the Mediterranean diet — hummus.


This recipe, posted by ROYHOBBS at, is super simple and easy to make.


1 (19 oz) can garbanzo beans, half the liquid reserved

4 TBS lemon juice

2 TBS tahini (I put in 3)

1-2 cloves garlic, chopped

1/2 tsp salt

black pepper to taste

olive oil


1. In a blender, chop the garlic. Pour garbanzo beans into blender. Place lemon juice, tahini, chopped garlic and salt in blender. Blend until creamy and well mixed, adding in liquid from can as needed.

2. Transfer the mixture to a medium serving bowl. Sprinkle with pepper and pour olive oil over the top.



The recipe for baked pita chips has been modified from an online recipe located at


4 pita bread rounds (I use whole wheat)

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil



1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Brush your baking sheet with olive oil, coating the entire sheet evenly. Brush the top of a pita round evenly with oil oil. Sprinkle pita with salt to taste.

2. Cut the pita in half, then in quarters, then in eighths to make eight equal sized triangles.

3. Place pita triangles seasoning-side up in a single layer on the oiled baking sheet. Repeat process for remaining three pita rounds.

4. Place baking sheet in the oven. Let the pita chips bake for 8-10 minutes, turning the sheet once during the baking to ensure even heat distribution. Chips are done when they’re golden brown and crisp. Towards the end of baking keep an eye on the chips, as they will brown quickly and can burn if not watched.

5. Remove chips from oven and allow to cool. Serve the chips on their own or with a dip like hummus or baba ghanoush. Store in a sealed Tupperware or Ziploc bag.

Nat’s Notes

* Hummus can be served with vegetables as an even healthier alternative

* Chickpeas contain loads of fiber and nutrients

* Hummus makes a healthy snack as well as a great sandwich spread



Helping the Greek Economy

25 July 2012

While I’m here, I’ve decided to make an effort to support the Greek economy … primarily by supporting the food industry. 🙂

My first attempt is seen below:

Clockwise from left: black olives (wrinkly kind), Greek yogurt, stuffed grape leaves, and green olives in brine.

These products were all purchased from the local store in the closest village, Agii Apostoli. The descriptions were all in Greek so I relied entirely on the label photos. They all had a Greek flag on their packaging, which I’m assuming means “Made in Greece.” Yum! Everything tastes so good!


Greetings from Greece

25 July 2012

Near village of Agii Apostoli

On Monday, I flew from London to Athens. After 3 1/2 weeks of rain in England with highs barely reaching the 60s and lows in the 40s, I had one desire: warmth!! And Greece delivered. It’s been lovely, with temperatures in the 90s, beautiful, consistent, reliable sunshine but a gentle breeze from the ocean and lots of shade to cool things off.

I flew Aegean Airlines, the largest Greek airline. Flying a non-US airline was something I hadn’t done in a while but I was impressed by the quality of the service (okay, so that’s code for “they served a free hot meal and it was good!”). We arrived an hour late but no one seemed too concerned. Everything is so laid back. No customs forms to fill out and just a short passport control line to get through, separated into EU and non-EU members.

The owner of the villa we’re renting picked me up in her car and we drove about an hour to the village of Agii Apostoli where I’ll be staying for a week with my sister, her husband and my two little nieces. I was pleasantly surprised at the modern infrastructure — nice highways and a subway system — and Amelia, my hostess, said all of that is new since the 2004 Olympics.

I found out a lot of information from Amelia concerning the political and educational system here and Greece, and asked her lots of questions about the political climate since the recent elections. As we drew closer to the ocean, the views grew increasingly dramatic and I’d interrupt her every once in a while with a gasp. What a beautiful country!

Smart Money: Cash Passport

11 July 2012

Sorry, folks. Traveler’s Checks are a thing of the ancient past. They’ve been replaced by debit cards, credit cards and most recently … Cash Passports.

I’d heard about Cash Passports for several years but was skeptical about them: I always felt deep down that it was some kind of scam. However, after reading some positive testimonials, I decided to try one this year for my trip to England.

You can get a Cash Passport at the exchange company Travelex, found in the international terminals of major airports. You put an initial sum on the card (you get the best deal on exchange rates if you go over a certain amount, like $700) then use it as if it were a debit card, either as a swipe card or to withdraw money from ATMs. It’s widely accepted here in England.

So why use a Cash Passport instead of a debit card? Several reasons.

(1) It has a “chip and pin” system which makes it very secure for use in Europe; over here they consider our non-chip US cards (both debit and credit) very unsafe as it’s much easier to steal information from them.

(2) The amount of the card is in British Pounds (you can also choose Euros) so you only have to deal with exchange rates one time, upon purchase of the card at the airport, and the rest of the time you can figure out everything in British Pounds based on the remaining balance on your card.

In my opinion, it beats having to monitor the exchange rates on your checking account as transactions go through, as well as being charged a percentage for each transaction. The advantage of a Cash Passport over a credit card is similar to that of a debit card with the additional advantage that the CP lets you withdraw cash without charge, whereas a credit card would charge for a cash advance.

You can check your balance online (supposedly — I’ve just been keeping a tally of all my expenses) and if it gets lost or stoelen there’s a number you can call immediately to deactivate the card and you’ll be issued a new one with the remaining balance.

Bottom line is that everyone has a different system and preference for how to handle their money abroad. I’ve tried the CP this year and been very pleased with how it’s worked for me. I think I’ll continue using the CP in my travels in the future. You might want to check it out, too!

4th of July in England

4 July 2012

Happy 4th of July!

We would soon be heading out to the Boathouse where our Oxford RAs are preparing for us a dinner to remember. Who would have thought that 236 years after our little revolution, the Brits would be hosting us in a little barbecue to celebrate our Independence Day? Just a little twist of irony.

But not the strangest thing that’s every happened here. I think that award goes to last year’s Oxford program students Trey Ramsey and Alycia Graves teaching the Chinese students how to do the electric slide, after they’d helped us celebrate the 4th of July — a holiday they’d never heard of before.

I love these multicultural interactions. 🙂

Will have photos later!


Sunshine in Oxford

25 June 2012

We had a sunshiny and — get this — warm day here in Oxford for the first day of class and the Welcome Tea. In fact (and this is a first-ever phenomenon for me) I got a little sunburn from sitting in the Hertford College quad for the better part of an hour. Sunburnt. In Oxford.

Yesterday’s lunch was chicken in a white wine sauce with a sort of rice pilaf, snowpeas and carrots. Chocolate cake for dessert.

Chicken in Wine Sauce

Walking back from class today, I made the mistake of taking a shortcut through the Covered Market. I came out on the other side with two flower containers and 3 bouquets of flowers from the discount bin!

Blue Flowers

Lilies in my dorm room


Today’s Highlight: The Grand Cafe

22 June 2012

Already Day Three and it’s going much too quickly. Another thing that’s going quickly is my spending money!! Why is it so much easier to spend British pounds than American dollars? I guess partly because it doesn’t feel like real money.

Tea with my colleague Diane — and yes, that is a winter sweater in June.

Lots of administrative details to deal with today but the highlight of the day was probably tea for three at the Grand Cafe, the oldest coffeehouse in England (established in 1650). Had “cream tea” with my colleague Diane and her son: cream tea consists of delicious scones (nothing like the hockey pucks you get in the States!) with clotted cream, jam and — of course — tea. We had a great time discussing the cultural differences between the British and Americans.

Diane & son Josh at Grand Cafe

Another highlight was getting a pass to the Botanic Garden — my favorite spot in Oxford.

Botanic Gardens, Oxford

Our students arrive tomorrow!

Oxford Times Six

21 June 2012

Christ Church Cathedral

Oxford.There’s just something about this place that makes me walk around with a smile on my face.

One thing I love about it is that it changes at such a slow pace that everything is still familiar from one year to the next. Sure, students may sometimes have complaints about limited access or no wifi — I understand; I go crazy if I don’t check email daily, too — but this is Oxford!

I am hoping and praying that this year’s group will be predisposed to fall in love with Oxford; that they will be flexible and adaptable; that they will have a sense of humo(u)r and enjoy everything that comes their way here, knowing what a privilege it is to be here and how neat it is to be in England.

This is my sixth year to help coordinate the program and I feel like one of the luckiest (most blessed, in “Christianeze”) gals in the world.

Smartest thing I did this year: PACKED LIGHT!! Everything fit into a rollarboard carryon bag!

Dumbest thing I did this year: Didn’t bring a book to read. My reasoning was that I could buy something here but it’s the end of Day Two and still no book! There’s always tomorrow but it stinks to be without a good book.

Today, my colleague Diane and her son Josh arrived. They were tired from their trip but they were such troopers as I dragged them around town saying, “I promise … although this feels like torture right now, you’ll thank me later when you have the best sleep of your life tonight!” The biggest mistake people can make is to sleep during the day on their first night overseas. The quickest way to get over jetlag is to adapt immediately to the local schedule of eating and sleeping.

We had a pleasant lunch “in Hall” with Fatjon and some other members of the Hertford College staff. They are such lovely people! Each one so smart and sweet-spirited. After lunch, we meet with the International Programmes director and with Fatjon so that they could get to know Diane a little better.

Afterwards we took the “mandatory” Oxford sightseeing bus tour. I think this was my 4th time to go?? It beats a walking tour when you are fighting hard to stay awake but need to get familiar with the layout of the city. Then dinner, then grocery shopping, then “home.”

Goodnight! Will report again tomorrow. The fun shifts into high gear when students arrive on Saturday!

P.S. Blame any typos on the jetlag …

Avoid Jetlag by Fasting? Hmmmmm.

28 May 2012

Have you ever:

  • Felt wide awake in the middle of the night when you should have been sleeping?
  • Had huge food cravings at the most inconvenient times?
  • Felt groggy and like your head was full of concrete in the middle of the day?

You may have been experiencing jetlag. Anyone who’s suffered jetlag can testify to how maddening it can be. The rule of thumb is that it takes one day to recover from jetlag for every time zone you’ve crossed. For example, if you fly to London from New York you’ll cross five time zones and it will be five hours later at your destination than at your port of departure.

Who wants to spend five days recovering from jetlag? A new study tested the theory that fasting may be key to avoiding jetlag — completely. Watch the video below and see what lengths you’d go through to avoid jetlag. I’m still thinking about this one.

Next Page »