Tag Archives: travel

Man Uses Google Maps to Walk 5,000 Miles Across Asia

In the summer of 2010, my brother Ryan and I drove from Miami to Los Angeles using only the Google Maps on my iPhone3G (in a Mini Cooper).  I thought that was impressive until I just heard about U.S. Marine Sgt. Winston Fiore, who used Google Maps to walk 5,000 miles across Asia.

Using an Android phone running Maps, Fiore walked across Brunei, China, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam to raise money and awareness for the International Children’s Surgical Foundation, a charity that provides free facial reconstructive surgery for kids with cleft palates in developing countries.  He began walking last October and finished Monday.

In this journey that he dubbed the “Smile Trek,” Fiore said Google Maps was “the hub” of his entire trip.  He used it to find the most accurate and easy walking directions and it guided him through remote villages and along dirt roads.

“Walking directions in Google Maps were critical to my trek. The directions were accurate and efficient — it’s essential to take the shortest route when you’re walking 20-25 miles each day,” Fiore told Google. “But the best part was being routed onto roads and trails through areas I otherwise never would have discovered with, say, driving directions, or even a physical map.”

During Smile Trek, Fiore also used other Google products including Google Latitude, which allows you to find your friends and family on a map and share where you are with the people you choose, My Tracks, which records GPS tracks and shows live statistics such as time, speed, distance, and elevation and Google Translate.

In 408 days, Fiore raised more than $65,000 for the International Children’s Surgical Foundation.

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Seattle, Portland & Willamette Valley

I just returned back to South Florida from an incredible Labor Day weekend spent exploring Seattle, Portland and the town of Dundee, Oregon (located in Willamette Valley).  The northwest was the only part of the country that I had never really been and I liked it a lot more than I expected to.  There’s lot of trees and beautiful scenery, fresh food and friendly, happy people everywhere.

Whenever we talk about the other places we would like to live, my boyfriend Jeremy often mentions Seattle.  The only thing I knew about the city before this trip was that it doesn’t have an NBA team and that it’s cold, rainy and gray for about seven months of the year.  I am a Floridian who loves my sunshine and Heat, so I was a little unsure.

We decided to check it out for the long weekend, which also happened to be Jeremy’s birthday.    The long, deal breaking winters are a damn shame because I really fell in love.  I loved the way Seattle is a colorful, diverse, big walking city without being overwhelming like NYC or Chicago.  It’s the perfect sized city for me.  While we were there we had six days of sunshine, and if it could be like that for a little longer than three months I could see myself living there.

Portland, on the other hand, was a bit of a disappointment.  The people (hippies) were nice, the farmer’s market at the university was huge and impressive and the fresh food was delicious, but the city is just sooooo damn sloooooow.  Service, although pleasant, took forever and nobody seemed to be in any sort of rush to accomplish anything.  We actually walked into a business hoping to get a drink early in the evening, only to be told that they were closing early because they were tired. Seriously?  I know this is only one small example, but this pretty much sums up the overall vibe that I got from the people in Portland, and I need to be surrounded by a little more motivation than that.

Here are some of my favorite places and things that we ate/saw/drank/did:


Pike’s Place Market. Probably the biggest tourist attraction in the city, but for a good reason.  Fresh, local food everywhere and some of the best restaurants and happy hour deals around (we loved The Athenian).

Matt’s in The Market. Our dinner spot for the first night in town.  It’s on the third floor of a building facing the market, and being seated next to the huge open windows provided some of the most beautiful views of the sun setting over the water.  My favorites were the Dungeness crab ceviche and guacamole and foie gras with chocolate doughnuts.  Service-A, Ambiance- A, Food- B.


Art of The Table. The perfect place for a date or celebration.  There are only six tables and a small bar in the place, and five employees.  The menu changes weekly and for $80 gets you a 10-course sampling of most of it.  This is what we did, and I can honestly say that every single thing I tried was delicious.  Service- A, Ambiance- A, Food- A+!

Bathtub Gin & Co.  A cozy little speakeasy that was not so easy to find.  We were lost in an alley for almost 10 minutes before we spotted the entrance, but I’m so glad we didn’t give up. The bartender Matt’s mixology skills were one of the most impressive things I’ve ever seen.  He didn’t make a single vodka and cranberry or rum and coke- everything was a carefully-mixed specialty drink, crafted with so many different types of fresh fruit, bitters and mixers.  Even the way he cut fruit and crafted twists was impressive, and he had some awesome jokes.  Every night Jeremy and I joked that instead of going out and exploring new places, we just wanted to go hang out with Matt again.

Kerry Park.  We were instructed by a local to check out this park for the most amazing view of the city.  We were not disappointed with what we saw when we got to this little gem in the West Queen Anne neighborhood.

Capitol Hill.  The “gayborhood.” Lots of cool little restaurants, bars and shops with character.  Jeremy scored a sweet new little party shirt from a vintage shop.

The Escala.  Ladies, the Escala is not fiction.  I wonder if Mr. Grey is.

Lola.  Across the street from the Escala is Lola, a breakfast spot that was recommended to us by Matt the Bartender.  After a long night of drinking, Lola’s fresh powdered doughnuts with homemade cream and blueberry jam and omelets hit the spot.  Service- B, Ambiance- A, Food- A

Toulosse Petit.  This Lousiana-style cajun restaurant was so yummy that we visited twice.  Service- A, Ambiance- A, Food- A+


Cougar Mountain.  We took a nice hike about 30 minutes east of downtown Seattle.  Lots of little trails and beautiful greenery!


Farmer’s Market.  We hit the biggest one at Portland State University.  The amount of amazing fresh food was overwhelming.  Just look at how many different-colored tomatoes there were!  Walked around for about two hours, ate breakfast from the Verde Cocina stand and bought enough fresh food for a small feast, which we enjoyed that night.

Aviary.  A newer, tapas-style restaurant on Alberta, one of Portland’s more “happening” streets.  We had a nice outdoor table that overlooked the block.  Pleasant but extremely slow service (15 minutes just to get a cocktail).  Luckily we were in good company and in no rush.  Service- C, Ambiance- B, Food- B


Willamette Valley. 

All three vineyards and wineries that we visited were at the top of the hills, so we had some of the most beautiful views.

Erath Winery

Bella Vida Vineyard

White Rose Vineyard

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If You’re Going to Jamaica

Jamaica is one of the most beautiful places I have been.  From the beach sunsets to the lush forests to the bright culture, color is everywhere you look.  Add some reggae music and spicy jerk food and it’s sure to be one of the best vacations you’ll ever take.

I went to the northwest coast last May with two of my girlfriends.  It’s only an hour and twenty minute plane ride from Miami, and even the flight is beautiful.  Our plane flew low enough the entire time that we were able to look down and see the beaches of Cuba and the reefs below the crystal clear water.

When we got there, we took a 45-minute shuttle ride to our resort in Lucea, which is located between Montego Bay and Negril.  Our resort was the biggest in the area- it was literally the size of a small town.  We could’ve went the entire trip without even leaving, but after exploring for about an hour I knew I needed to get out of that Americanized resort and experience real Jamaica.  We went to the lobby where the cab drivers hang out and met Locke, a local who seemed to know where all the spots to be were.  He told us that for a total of $75 a day he would drive us around in his cab and show us the island.

It was possibly the best $25 a day I have ever spent.  Locke picked us up each morning around 9 a.m. and would bring us back after we had watched the sun set somewhere.  He took us everywhere we wanted to go, plus some of the best little spots to eat, drink and shop that only the locals know about.  I highly recommend finding a legit local chauffer if you want to do those things.  We loved Locke!

Here are my other thoughts and recommendations on what to do and see in Jamaica.

-Eat at the little hole-in-the-wall restaurants.  They will most likely have the best food.

-I drank tap water the whole time I was there and did not get sick.

-Eat jerk everything

-Eat curried everything

-Eat the rum cake

-If you are driving, be careful.  The roads are narrow, steep and scary.

-As with most second and third world countries, there is a chicken and stray dog problem.  They are everywhere and often end up as road-kill.  Once again, drive carefully.

-Stop and check out some of the little shacks along the roads.  Some are not much bigger than a port-a-potty, but it’s a great way to buy unique souvenirs and meet some locals.  Most also sell coconuts and will crack them open for you.  Fresh coconut water!

-Check out the Rasta shacks.


-Go to Rick’s.  Jump off the cliffs!

-For a little cash the locals will climb really high and do some pretty awesome jumps/dives.

-Next to Rick’s is also a little underwater cave that you can explore.  It’s not too big and only takes about 15 minutes.  Ask a local.

-Negril is where some of the best nightlife is.  But it’s a little sketchy at night so be careful.

Montego Bay

-Drive about 35 minutes up into the mountains to Jamaica Zipline Adventure Tours.  They have the longest zipline in the Caribbean there.

-If you’re going to go zip lining there, I recommend doing it with a small group (don’t go through the hotel).  We were the only appointment that afternoon, so had the staff’s undivided attention.  They took us on an outside hike to show us some goats and a weed farm and made a pit-stop to pick, cut and eat some fresh mango and pineapple.

-If you want to do the touristy thing, Margaritaville is here and it’s on a street full of souvenir shops.

-At the end of the street is a beautiful place to watch the sunset (see below).

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Japanese Media One Year Ago

At this time last year I was in Japan, just three months after the big earthquake, tsunami and Fukushima meltdown.  I just found these notes that I wrote about the country’s situation, media and state of mind during my visit:

Things in Nagoya seem pretty normal, much more normal than I would’ve expected from a country that just went through what they did.  The only reminders I have seen of the disaster are the occasional store that sells a product to donate the proceeds and the ways that the country is trying to conserve electricity. After the Fukushima disaster, the local power plant was shut down in fear of aftershocks or another big earthquake. The country is now trying to use less electricity.  Many hand driers in public restrooms are turned off, some streets are only using every other street lamp and the temperature in many public buildings is now set to about 77 degrees.  It’s humid as hell outside and it’s not much better indoors, especially underground.   Businessmen are currently allowed to skip wearing their jackets and ties for a cooler “business casual” look.

As for the Japanese media (television, radio, print), I am not exactly sure what information is given because it is all in Japanese.  But from seeing pictures they do seem to have taken quite an interest in the whole Anthony Wiener drama.  They must think so highly of us classy Americans.

To get my news information, I have mostly been checking BBC.com and nytimes.com.  From there I learned about how the radiation levels may be much higher than the Japanese government originally reported.  I read that Shizuoka, which is only about an hour north of where I am in Nagoya, has stopped exporting its green tea because higher levels of radiation were found in it.  This is also how I found out about the thousands of people who protested in Tokyo last week.

What I find interesting is that when my friend (an English teacher) brought up these issues as a discussion in her adult class on the day of the protest, nobody even knew about it.  They were shocked to be told what was taking place just three hours away.  My friend said it stunned them to hear that their people were protesting.  Protesting is something that is almost unheard of in Japan, as people here are extremely obedient and peaceful.  I can believe this due to the fact that I have witnessed that these people don’t even jaywalk or lock up their bicycles on the streets, even in a big city like Tokyo.  They cross streets when they are told to by a crossing guard and the country has one of the lowest crime rates in the world.   The class didn’t even understand what the word “protest” meant at first.  My friend had to pull up pictures on her laptop to give them a visual and explain.

What shocked me is that while a huge protest had just taken place, none of the ten people in the class knew about it.  In America, that would be breaking news.  This leads me to believe that there is a lot that the Japanese government is hiding, or at least downplaying, to avoid panic. For a country that is facing such major issues, the people are eerily calm.  You would never guess that a tragedy to that magnitude just took places three months ago here.

Other countries, particularly China and European ones, are talking a lot about how the Japanese government is not doing enough testing for radiation levels.  It almost seems like Japan is trying to avoid the problem because they know that the results are not pretty. I have read that the media has been told to avoid using the word “meltdown.”  The Japanese people seem the most in the dark and I wish they would read more news from sources in countries other than Japan.   I don’t exactly know what kind of censorship regulations Japan uses, but I do know this isn’t China.  Find a way to get the information translated, people!

Since that day of the protests, my friend’s class has been asking her for new information about what America is reporting.  I sense a growing distrust of their country’s media, and these people need to demand more radiation tests and answers.  Their health depends on it. I think the protest in Tokyo was a step in the right direction, and hopefully Japan gets it together soon.

Here are a few other articles which relate to mine that I found interesting:




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If you happen to be going to Japan…

Japan was the most amazingly weird place I have ever been.  Totally worth the 21 hour solo flight around the world and $4,000 credit card debt that took almost a year to pay off (I underestimated the value of the yen vs. the U.S. dollar- oops).  Here is an overview of some random thoughts I jotted down throughout the trip, before I forgot anything.

-Go to the pet stores- they sell monkeys, kangaroos and other exoticness there.

-Ride the Shinkansen (bullet trains that travel up to 186 mph).  Recline all the way and enjoy the wi-fi.

-Check out a baseball game. Weird but awesome.

-Watch a game show on TV.  I had no idea what they were saying, but they looked so happy that it made me feel happy.

-Sing karaoke!!! Use the tambourines!

-Go to an onsen. Outdoor ones are better.  Bring your own towel.

-Eat the pastries and  ice cream.  Try the crazy flavors (tofu, curry, sesame, sweet potato, wasabi to name a few).

-Eat ramen.

-Eat udon.

-Eat yakitori.

-Eat oni nomi naki.

-Eat at a conveyor sushi place.

-Eat tako yaki from the street vendors (extra great when you’re drunk!)

-Sakuraniku= raw horse meat.  Just know that before you order.

-Check out the Don Quixote store. It’s like Wal-Mart on acid. You can buy toilet paper, whiskey and a kangaroo at the same check-out counter.

-Clubs have lockers in them.

-Kids typically speak better English than adults.  Ask them for help/directions.


-Shrines and temples on every street

-Go to the monkey park. Take the  hike and feed the monkeys at the top. Also a great view of the city.

-Check out the Gion district.  Lots of cool temples, shopping, and this is where you could see a real geisha.  They come out at night.

-The subway system is mostly hidden/non-existent. Unless you figure out the secret, the bus is the best way to get around.


-Party in Shibuya. Lots of great little bars and clubs.

Club Womb supposedly has the biggest disco ball in a club, but you’ve gotta like heavy house music to enjoy it.

-Great shopping in Shibuya as well as Harajuku.

Takeshita Dori: this is where the Harajuku girls hang out. BEST. PEOPLE WATCHING. EVER.

-Omotensando Hills: great street in Harajuku for high end shopping and awesome boutiques (birdbath rings!)

-Don’t bother with the Imperial Palace. Nice gardens, but you can’t even see the palace because there are huge walls around it.


-Check out Nagoya Castle and the park just north of it.

-Shop in Sakae and Aeon for nice stuff and Osu Kannon for cheap souvenirs.

-Takashimaya (in Nagoya Station) also is a great department store. They randomly have the Vivienne Westwood wedding dress that Carrie Bradshaw wore.

-Check out the Osu Kannon Temple.  Watch out for the thousands of pigeons who are not afraid to mob humans with food.

-Club id in Sakae- five-stories and ran by an American. His name is Thomas.

-Don’t waste your money at the aquarium at Nagoyako (Nagoya port). The ones in Osaka and Okinawa are supposedly much better.

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