Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Upstate New York: Apple Picking BLISS

After saying adios to life in Europe, I thought my fun and spontaneous weekend trips were over. False! I had no idea how many amazing things there are to do around New York City. For example, apple picking in upstate New York. I didn't even know apple picking was a "thing" until a few weeks ago...

In 1607, North American apple harvesting began with settlers in Jamestown who brought apple seeds from Europe. Initially, many of the produced apples were bitter and therefore used to make cider. Due to sanitation concerns, fermented cider was often served at meals instead of water. Today, the average American eats 19 pounds of apples per year (and 28 pounds of bananas)!

Courtney, Audrey and I had the best Sunday ever. Leaving Grand Central Station that morning, we took a train north to the Beacon station in Fishkill, New York where we spent the day eating apple cider donuts (absolutely amazing), drinking apple cider, picking apples and listening to live music.

The orchards were really beautiful - September and early October are the best times for apple picking. We all loved Fishkill Farms and agreed it was perfect for a day trip. Now, I just have to figure out what to do with my surplus of apples....

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

From Sketchbooks to Smartphones: The Evolution of Maps

I have been writing articles for different job interviews and applications. This one is my favorite and worth sharing, in my opinion :) Oh, and happy news - I accepted a job offer today in NYC!

Traditionally, maps have helped people navigate distance. Point A to Point B. A simple visual representation that is typically two-dimensional and never interactive. When Lewis and Clark set out in 1804, they spent over two years exploring and mapping the Western half of the continent. With maps, sketchbooks and journals in hand, the expedition could have really used a few smart phones.

Fifteen years ago, GPS mapping was introduced for everyday consumers through devices like the Garmin, which saved time and headaches while driving. Soon after, user-friendly apps were developed on smart phones eliminating the need for separate devices.

Today, new mapping technology is emerging to help navigate aspects of business, education, environment, media, history and humanitarian responses in an entirely different way. Data mapping can provide a visualization of any data collected from sensors, satellites, sales or social media that involves a latitude, longitude, coordinate, zip or postcode. So basically, anything.

For example, banks and financial corporations can use data from consumers to generate maps, which provide intelligence on spending patterns and trends. Then, corporations can analyze, understand and engage with consumer needs varying from ATM withdrawals to travel spending habits to the timing of purchases. The visualizations can also illustrate credit card history to see who is spending where, at what time of day, and in what quantities. Specifically, Mastercard uses data mapping to identify different spending trends from tourists based on location and movement.

Data doesn’t just equal numbers anymore. It can also reflect feelings. Instead of measuring dry statistics, data maps can now measure emotional responses. For example, take a look at the impressive worldwide twitter response to Beyonce’s latest album. Or see how data mapping provided a pivotal look at police violence in America after the events in Ferguson, Missouri.

This past April, an epic earthquake devastated Nepal killing more than 9,000 people and injuring over 23,000. It was the worst natural disaster to strike the area since an earthquake in 1934. However, this time the aid response was entirely different thanks to the progress and innovation of data mapping.

As many people were horrified by images and newsreels from the disaster in Nepal, few were able to physically go to Nepal. Many donated money. Thousands, however, opened their laptops and got to work behind the scenes developing information that allowed the people on the ground to create the most effective and appropriate response to save lives. Volunteers used crisis data mapping through sites such as Tomnod and Digital Global to aid emergency response teams by adding details into online maps of passable roads, collapsed houses, destroyed bridges and stranded people.

Everyone including volunteers, Nepalese citizens, the Red Cross and United Nations used these data maps to develop extremely efficient emergency aid plans. Response teams were able to clearly identify immediate needs saving time, money and lives as a result of the efforts. Because of mapping technology, people around the globe were able to contribute more than money. It provided an avenue for matching needs with resources.

Over the last two-hundred years, map making has evolved from the basic sketchbook drawings of Lewis and Clark to complex data extracted from smartphones and credit cards. For me, the future is using technology to enrich the human connection. Helping those in need where you are and with what you have whether it’s your next door neighbor or a stranger halfway across the globe. We may not understand other languages or cultures, but we do understand suffering and sympathy, joy and hope. And it proves that everyone loves a good Beyonce album.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Hvar, Croatia

At 4 am, we woke up to head to Hvar. Because travel options are limited in Crotia, we chose the most direct bus route  to Split and then purchased ferry tickets to Hvar. We rode the bus through Bosnia as the sun was rising and it was absolutely beautiful to watch. However, driving along the Bosnian coast was a little eery, especially with the appearance of creepy cops bombarding the bus and checking passports at the borders. On the left, there were beautiful water views and on the right, drab government-style blocade housing. The two sides didn't mesh.

Hvar is gorgeous and surrounded by teeny tiny little islands. We layed out, sea kayaked, swam in the sea and took a boat out. There is a ton of conflict and history behind this gorgeous beach destination that makes it more interesting than most. Several hundred years ago, it became the main Venetian port in the Adriatic Sea (accessible only by ship or donkey) and was well-known for wine, lavender, olives, rosemary, fishing and ships. In 1797, the Austrians briefly ruled the country before being usurped by the French. The Russians bombarded Hvar in 1807 and the Austrians retook control in 1813. Poor little Hvar was constantly fought over for the next 200 years until the Republic of Croatia was formally established in 1992.

Honestly, I have avoided writing about Hvar because our time there was very emotional. Shortly after arriving, we learned our sweet grandma passed away and quickly made plans to fly home to Texas to be with our family.  I am so thankful for technology because when I first moved to Madrid my grandma learned how to send facebook messages and we kept in touch through her sweet sassiness and charming sense of humor! She was such a talented painter, natural beauty and adventurous spirit. She is greatly missed, but I know she is dancing up a storm and throwing fabulous celebrations in heaven right now.

We love you dearly "Candy"! 

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Dubrovnik, Croatia: sister trip

Amy and I flew Vueling Airlines out of Barcelona at the crack of dawn (cheapest flight) and arrived in Dubrovnik excited for our Croatian vacation. Dubrovnik combines history, beaches, mountains and a beautiful port.

The history of Dubrovnik is incredible. It functioned as a solitary, merchant republic for 700 years trading with Turkey and India  until it was abolished by Napoleon in 1806. After World War I, Dubrovnik became part of Croatia, which eventually became Yugoslavia after World War II. Dubrovnik was hit hard by Serbs during the conflict in the early 1990's. Old Town was restored, but many people left the city walls permanently.

We stayed in Hotel Vila Vala for three nights at Uvala Lapad beach. Funny story: I thought the hotel was "nice" but Amy thought it was "so gross she wouldn't even take her socks off". Clearly, living in Madrid on a teacher's budget has lowered my standards. I wouldn't recommend this hotel for two reasons. First, it smelled like smoke (although they claim it's non-smoking). Also, it's pretty far from Old Town, which makes it slightly inconvenient.

It's really fun exploring the Old Town and we loved our Discover Dubrovnik Walking Tour. Well, I loved it at least. Amy "fell asleep standing up". I think it was the jetlag though and not from boredom. Our favorite vantage point was from the top of the hill overlooking the port. It's gorgeous! You just take a little trolly to the top. 
Don't miss the cliff bars for sunset drinks (Buza I and II), they are amazing. During the day, people swim and lay out on the cliffs until it's time to climb back up the pool ladders for drinks and dinner. They are a little tricky to find so the best advice is to just start walking along the back south walls until you see the narrow entrances. Restaurant recommendations include: Hotel More, Proto and Restaurant 360

If we had had more time, we would have loved to take advantage of our location and daytrip to Montenegro or Sarajevo, Bosnia. I really wanted to go to Bosnia after seeing Angelina Jolie's film, In the Land of Blood and Honey. I became fascinated with the country's history and conflict. NEXT TIME. 

Monday, August 10, 2015

Santorini, Greece

Santorini is exactly what you picture Greece to be... stunning blues, bright whites, incredible sunsets and quirky little donkeys. We loved our hotel, Stelios Place, and it's location at Perissa Beach. The owners are the sweetest people who go above and beyond to make your stay amazing. Airport pickup, welcome basket filled with fresh fruit and Greek wine, free books and magazines to borrow and impeccable rooms.

Since 3200 BC, Santorini (aka Thera) has been inhabited by the Cretans. It quickly became a booming port until 1500 BC, when the volcano erupted causing a huge part of the island to sink. This explosion was the most significant event in the Aegean Sea before the fall of Troy and is possibly one of the biggest volcanic eruptions on Earth. We actually hiked the volcano one day. Climbing up black rocks on a hot summer day is not really as much fun as swimming in the mediterranean or laying on the beach. I might skip it if I could do it all over again, but my friend KC loves geology so she was in heaven hiking. To each their own, right?

You could easily spend a week in Santorini. There is so much to do: black sand beaches, red sand beaches, volcanic hikes, vineyards, boating, snorkeling and all of your typical beach activities. We spent a day hiking a volcano, exploring a tiny Greek island, swimming in hot springs, eating the best seafood, riding donkeys up a cliff and watching the famous sunsets from Oia. Of course I got the gimpy and slightly blind donkey. He kept missing the steps and losing his footing, poor thing. Donkeys look so calm and docile, but they are not a treat to ride up a mountain.

In Oia, we loved Red Bicycle. Besides that most of our meals were picked on a whim and by which menus looked good as we walked around. You really can't go wrong!

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Mykonos, Greece: cool as a cucumber

When else in my life am I going to find last-minute 100 euro flights to Greece? Never.

 Two weeks before school ended, I did a quick search on skyscanner (best web site ever) for flights on Tuesday, June 30 from Madrid to "anywhere". Greece popped up as one of the best deals so I called a friend and a few hours later we booked flights for a WEEK in Greece. (This spontaneity will always be one of my favorite aspects of living abroad.)

We loved Greece from the minute we landed. Our trip began in Mykonos, which is famous for it's crazy parties at Paradise Beach, but grandma over here (aka moi) just wanted to lay on the beach and read and eat feta cheese. Besides, it was my vaca and I could be lame if I wanted to. Mykonos is one of the most expensive Greek islands, but we stayed in a relatively cheap, cute and very clean bed and breakfast called Casa Anna. Two thumbs up.

We arrived a few days before the referendum vote and everyone wanted to talk to us and hear our opinion. The majority of people expressed strong anti-German feelings and the desire to separate from the EU, which the vote reflected, but in the end it is looking like that won't happen. All of the ATM's had signs on them so that foreigners knew they were exempt from the 60 euro daily withdrawal limit. Besides conversation with locals and ATM signs, there was nothing that indicated Greece is in a financial disaster or crisis. Everyone was calm, happy and unaffected. #islandlife

I don't have many recommendations; however, you absolutely have to get drinks Scarpa in Little Venice at sunset. It's stunning!  For lunch I also recommend Fato a Mano for wonderful and authentic Greek food and Alley Cafe for coffee or cocktails. From Mykonos, we took a high-speed ferry to Santorini that we booked a few days before arriving! Sidenote: it's common for the ferries to show up 3-4 hours late...Plan accordingly.