Where To Travel In Europe If You Want An Inexpensive, Unique Experience

March 26, 2015 by  
Filed under Advice, Culture, Money

riga latvia window

Europe is the world’s most visited continent making it accessible but pricey and crowded at the same time. Much of Europe’s tourism however is concentrated in 7 countries, leaving plenty of cities for the budget traveler looking to see the less-explored.

When I was posed this question by a some backpackers in Estonia, these places immediately came to mind for travelers looking at alternatives to precise German architecture and English prices.

Sofia, Bulgaria

Don’t let Bulgaria’s harsh sounding name keep you away from its eclectic national cuisine, served through a remarkably modern restaurant scene health nuts, vegetarians, and vegans will especially enjoy. Accommodation in Sofia is inexpensive (I recommend Art Hostel) and given that Bulgaria has a GDP slightly less than that of Sudan, nothing is terribly expensive for travelers with Euro or dollars. Most Bulgarians also speak excellent English; although your Bulgarian will definitely improve after a few glasses rakia.

vitosha mountain bulgaria

Granada, Spain

I’m not sure where you stand on pub policy but bars in Granada after 8pm have a standard practice of serving a complimentary tapa (appetizer) with every beer or vice versa. Whichever way you order, the cost is around 1 Euro in a city with a strong Arabic influence remaining from the ruins of the Alhambra. Most people zip through Granada as they travel across southern Spain but these are all of the things you’ll discover on a longer stay.

alhambra windows granada spain

Reykjavik, Iceland

Although Iceland isn’t quite the bargain it was after a banking collapse in 2008, flights are cheap and Icelandair even offers free stopovers. Prices are even better in winter since most people don’t realize Iceland basically has the same average temperature all year round. That’s only one of 7 reasons to visit Iceland in the winter, a country whose landscape looks like it belongs on Mars.

reykjavik blue lagoon iceland

Sibiu, Romania

There is a lot to like about Romania and one of the reasons it does so well in The Best City To Visit Contests is because its residents are passionate about promoting tourism. To see why many Romanians are optimistic about the future where most are generally melancholy about government, plan a trip to Romania’s success story Sibiu.

sibiu romania food

Riga, Lativa

Of the three Baltic states, Latvia is certainly the one with the roughest edges. Polished Lithuania and tech-addicted Estonia are nice but Latvia’s capital Riga is less like a museum painting and more like a DIY graphic novel. Depending on how tight you like to tie your budget, you can easily spend a weekend in Riga for less than $100.

riga latvia square

Girne, Turkish Republic Of Northern Cyprus (TRNC)

Most maps don’t show that the island of Cyprus in the Mediterranean is actually split in two. You can read this quick travel guide to North Cyprus but in short its not internationally recognized. Whether or not the world wants to see it, on the ground the Turkish north is much cheaper than the Greek south; with beaches just as beautiful. The easiest ways to visit the TRNC are by air to Lefkosa from Istanbul or by taking a ferry from Mersin, Turkey.

girne trnc

Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Yes, Sarajevo is safe but sites like the abandoned 1984 Olympic bobsled track are reminders of how far the country has come since the Bosnian War ended in 1995. Sarajevo has a lot of the blending people can’t stop saying about Istanbul but in a much smaller package.

sarajevo market

See With Your Own Eyes

There are many people who might say about each of these cities, “there’s nothing to see there.” Ask any of them if they’ve been and they’ll probably tell you no. Each are experiencing rapid divergent evolution from their former selves without yet developing a tough tourist skin that’s hard to get beneath. Saving in Europe’s big tourist draws though isn’t impossible; you can spend a weekend in Rome on a budget or visit the rest of the first world, even if you live on a third world income.

How Visitors Can (Legally) Buy Weed In Colorado

March 12, 2015 by  
Filed under Culture, Food, Green, Guest Post, Health and Fitness

This is a guest post by Stephanie Vessely, who lives in Denver, Colorado and is somewhere in the middle of a lifelong love affair with words.

colorado legal marijuana

So you’re headed to Colorado and are hoping to enjoy its legal status? Here’s what you need to know to make the most of your stay.

Visitors Can Purchase Marijuana With Restrictions

If you are at least 21 years old with a valid, government-issued ID (a driver’s license or passport), you can purchase marijuana in Colorado. Non-residents can buy up to 7 grams (.25 ounces) of marijuana at a time. Though this is less than what residents can buy (28 grams or 1 ounce), everyone is allowed to have in their possession up to an ounce. (So if you are a non-resident and need more than the .25 ounce limit, you could feasibly visit a few different stores in a day).

chronic therapy colorado

Keep in mind that depending on what you purchase, a 7 grams (.25 ounces) can be quite a bit of goodies. Edible items in particular contain much smaller dosages, so you could leave with plenty of treats for your stay. For example, 10 pieces of hard candy is less than .1 grams (.004 oz.) But, because edibles are now highly regulated, they are also notoriously less potent, so you’ll probably need more than you think.

Weed Shops Are Everywhere But The Best Deals Are On Low Ground

There are over 150 stores throughout Denver, plus stores in nearby Aurora and Edgewater as well. Take a drive or a walk down South Broadway, for instance, and you’ll find several shops per block. Keep in mind shops are pretty competitively priced until you get into the ski resort areas. Prices there are much more expensive since they’re full of tourists and first-time smokers.

colorado little green pharmacy

  • Most stores in Denver are usually open from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., while stores in Aurora close at 10 p.m.; in Edgewater they generally stay open until midnight.

You’ll find everything from high-end retailers to smaller, less glitzy shops, so you might want to do some research before you get there. Deciding what kind of shopping experience you want to have beforehand will also help you pick which stores to visit. Check out Weedmaps, Leafly and The Cannabist to help you navigate your options. When you get to town, pick up a copy of Westword too. It’s a weekly local newspaper found in most restaurants and bars. It’s free and full of ads for local shops.

Prices range from about $65 to $135 for a .25 oz (7 grams), and most places prefer cash. There is usually an ATM on site. (An acquaintance with insider knowledge informed me that if you use a debit card the retailer will treat your purchase like an ATM transaction, meaning they allow you to purchase in $20 increments. So it might be easier to plan on using cash.)

colorado marijuana bottleBuying Is A Classy Affair

Each store offers a different experience, and caters to individual preferences. With some stores you can place your order online or via an iPad when you arrive. Then, you wait for your number to be called at a pharmacy-style window and pick up your product. There is very little human interaction and it’s quick.

At other stores there is much more human interaction and knowledgeable sales associates. You’ll walk in, hand someone your ID, and then wait to enter the main room. There’s a cap on how many people are allowed in the main room (usually about 10). Once inside, someone is there to help you decide what kind of weed you want. You can smell and inspect different strains, and be guided toward the kind of high you seek.

Find A 420 Hotel

The good news is that you’ve made your purchase. The bad news is that public consumption is still against the law. This means you can’t walk out of the shop and light up. You also can’t go back to your hotel to smoke, or smoke in parks, restaurants, ski resorts or any other typical tourist hangout. A small number of hotels advertise as being “420-friendly,” so doing your research could pay off. Another option is vacation rentals like Airbnb or VRBO. Smoking is allowed in private residences, so some hosts and hostesses might be willing to let you light up (or at the very least use their garage or patio). That being said, it’s not uncommon to walk down the street and get a whiff of weed, so I don’t know how often the public consumption law is actually enforced.

thc the herbal center colorado

If you can’t find a place to enjoy your goods, keep edibles in mind. They are a less conspicuous way of getting high. Some examples are baked goods, tinctures, hard candies and sodas. Additionally, a vaporizer pen is another alternative. These are commonly used on the slopes, but don’t forget about the public consumption law.

live well colorado marijuanaParty High

For those without a place to go to smoke, there are private cannabis clubs in the state. Some offer a day membership that allows you smoke openly on the premises. Again, you’ll want to check with specific clubs before you go. Every venue has its own restrictions.

In addition to the clubs, visitors in Denver can enjoy activities such as cooking classes, grow classes, painting classes, bus tours, and various events and conferences. You can find all of the current offerings here.

Don’t Consume And Drive

Driving while high can still land you a DUI, so it’s best not to get stoned and then get behind the wheel of your rental car. Police will run a standard DUI test, and will look for the same things they look for with alcohol – bloodshot eyes, slowed reaction time or other impaired behavior. If the driver fails or refuses the test, he or she may be arrested and given a blood test. Better safe than sorry – take a cab, ride the bus or hop on the light rail.

Remember, Marijuana Is Legal On Colorado’s Ground Only

Don’t want the party to end? Thinking of taking some weed home with you? Don’t. Marijuana is still not legal as a recreational drug in most places, and it is a prohibited item for air travel. Denver International Airport has banned possession of marijuana on its premises (getting caught gets you a fine) and taking it across state lines could lead to further legal trouble. Drug-sniffing dogs at the airport? Yikes!

Because the rules are constantly changing, it’s not a bad idea to do your own research before coming to Colorado. Check online, or call the stores if you have questions about anything. I found most everyone was friendly and willing to answer questions. And most importantly, exercise caution and common sense. We all want this to work and expand, so we all have to play by the rules.

Thank you Stephanie enlightening travelers to Colorado who might want to light up. Stephanie is an aspiring vegan who loves travel, hates small talk and hopes to help save the animals. Someday, she’ll learn how to tap dance. In the meantime, she keeps “scribbled secret notebooks” and knows everything is as it should be, even if she has a hard time remembering it. You can find her writing on Facebook, Twitter, and on her website. All photos in this post are courtesy Stephanie Vessely.

All The Places I’ve Been While Taking Online Language Courses With italki

February 12, 2015 by  
Filed under Culture, Site News

india rickshaw selfie

You can’t help but be amazed by the Internet when you’ve been attending a virtual classroom with teachers from all over the world while traveling and blogging for a living. But that is exactly what I’ve been doing since I began taking Arabic lessons on italki in December.

Despite shifting timezones, a long layover or two in Istanbul plus the occasional rickshaw traffic jam, I’ve learn to read, write, and speak Arabic conversationally. These are the 7 cities across 3 countries, from the developed to developing world, where I’ve been able to log in most days for class.

Sofia, Bulgaria

Although Bulgaria doesn’t quite have the amazing Internet speeds of neighbor Romania, in Sofia the average download is faster than 90% of the world. Maintaining a solid Skype connection was never an issue, at least on my end.

sofia bulgaria skyline

Varna, Bulgaria

Despite being a 5 hour grandmother’s drive from Sofia, by the time I got to this Black Sea coastal town I had picked up quite a bit of Arabic.

bulgaria varna church

Istanbul, Turkey

There are always late nights in Istanbul but I made sure to set aside some time during the day for an Arabic lesson.

mememen istanbul turkey

New Delhi, India

This being my fifth (or sixth, I can never remember) visit to India, I was well prepared for the first 48 hours – during which I was able to get in two lessons.

new delhi india fruit stand

Varanasi, India

The Internet in Hinduism’s holiest city wasn’t the easiest to work with but the Arabic teachers I have developed a routine with were very flexible. My regular teacher Ali has especially made rescheduling around flaky Internet connections very easy.

varanasi india ghat

Agra, India

I have visited the Taj Mahal three times and can further confirm, it’s one of 5 popular tourist destinations that won’t disappoint you.

taj mahal sunrise agra india

Jaipur, India

Where I am currently typing this from, a few hours before my next Arabic lesson using italki.

fajjon niwas hotel jaipur

Location Language Independence

Even learning to speak tourist before your next vacation takes some time, a commodity that oddly can be scarce when traveling. Programs that don’t have a human element are great for some basic phrases you should know everywhere, but having a teacher can force you to stay committed if you want to go a lingual level deeper. Even a few hours on italki can teach you the slang, local bargaining skills, or colorful curse words to give you a much more local experience.

How You Can Use Your Language Certification To Make Money With italki

February 3, 2015 by  
Filed under Culture, Money

laptop cafe

There are a number of ways you can save money to travel, see the world for less than $50 a day, but you can expand your travel budget from the other end by converting existing skills into a side income. The language learning website italki I’ve been using for the past several weeks lets you do just that as a language teacher in your native or other fluent tongue. Many of you may have teaching certificates, language degrees, or other qualifications you can use to become a teacher in your spare time to boost your travel fund.

I’ve spoken about my experiences from a student’s perspective, but for a view of the other side, I interviewed Ali Abdulwahed, a professional teacher who has been giving me lessons in Arabic. He shared his experience using the italki, how he puts together lessons, and how much you might be able to earn with classes of your own.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and teaching background.

I’m a 28 year old Arabic teacher from Cairo, Egypt. I earned a Bachelor’s in Arabic from Cairo University and have been teaching for the past 6 years, 3 of the last at Gumushane University in Turkey.

Ali Abdulwahed

How did you first hear about and get involved with italki?

Several years ago I began searching online for good teaching sites where I could give lessons when I have time from my university work. I found italki provides a lot of good options for teachers and was where I could be most visible to potential students.

How many courses have you given through italki?

I’ve given over 225 lessons, averaging one to two hours each, to approximately 30 different students.

hurghada harbor boatHow do you plan your curriculum for each student?

The first thing I do is assess the level of the student in terms of what Arabic they know. Some students are complete beginners while others require more advanced lessons. It’s also important for me as a teacher to know why the person wants to learn Arabic – is it for business, travel, school, etc. I have a number of course books as well as a series of my own supplementary lessons for a variety of levels.

About how much time do you spend teaching on italki? What’s the amount per lesson a teacher can earn?

I teach as often as I can when I have time which for me is generally between semesters; when school is in session I can’t offer as many courses. italki lets you set up your schedule so students can choose when to take a lesson based on when I’m available. Right now I’m teaching about 7 regular students. italki also lets teachers set their own rates and from looking at others, I decided to charge 120 italki credits (roughly $10 per hourly lesson). Most students purchase package of 10 lessons with some taking courses for months while others simply need a brush up.

What do you like most about using italki?

The site is excellent for connecting students and teachers. You can add a lot of information to your teaching profile, there are teacher ratings, and students can take sample courses. There is a great base of people who can search, find, and take classes with you.

What do you think they could improve?

There are a few things I wish were built-in to the italki site itself. Right now you connect with students directly through Skype but I would prefer a communication method embedded in italki. Also, a digital whiteboard or virtual classroom space would be great so I could prepare a few things before each lesson. Currently I use Google Docs with other online whiteboards which works but having it all in italki would be better.

Would you recommend others to become teachers on italki?

Yes, definitely. I’ve told a number of my friends to sign up to italki. You can be easily found through the site, it’s really superior to other online language websites in this regard.

Thank you very much Ali for taking the time to answer these questions. For those of you interested in learning Arabic, I can highly recommend Ali (here’s his italki profile). He’s an organized teacher who knows how to maximize every lesson so you learn as much as possible. This little digital postcard of mine shows what I was able to learn in a short time and what I need to work on for my next lesson!

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