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Turks and Caicos: Simply Divine

August 1, 2011

Map of Turks and Caicos Islands (photo property of Villa Palmera, Turks and Caicos)

There is just something just so magical about taking a much needed vacation.

In June, my boyfriend and I traveled to the picturesque island of Providenciales, the main island of the Turks and Caicos. I am fortunate that it was (I believe) my 7th trip to the Caribbean but it was Chris’s first.  I realized that I sometimes take for granted the absolutely stunning natural beautiful of these Caribbean Islands, and this trip was a great reminder of how lucky I’ve been.

We arrived late on a Sunday night, picked up our Avis rental car (which will run you about $500 a week but SO worth it ) and checked into the Comfort Inn Suites for the night. It was my first time staying at hotel on the island (the tenant at “my” house was leaving Monday morning) but it was an effortless experience. I would recommend the Comfort Inn Suites to budget travelers, but I would definitely suggest researching what other options/specials are available.  Our trip consisted of several incredible adventures & nights out- but I’ll just list the highlights.

Diving with Flamingo Divers: Tripadvisor was right. Diving with Flamingo Divers is a must for divers that crave small boats and personal attention. Run by owners Mickey and Jane, this is one of those diving trips that ruin other diving experiences because it’s so great. Two tanks dives are daily, but make sure to book far in advance. I called 5 weeks before my trip and could only get one day of diving with them!

Diving with Caicos Adventures: On our second day of diving, Chris and I went with Caicos Adventures on 3-tank dive safari. After diving with Flamingo Divers- this place had a lot to live up too. Luckily, we were on a smaller boat (only about 8 people) – the 2 tank dive boat held about 20 divers. Matthew- our dive instructor -made this trip. He was not only extremely knowledgeable, but fun, witty and a fantastic diver.  If you dive with Cacios Adventures, make sure he’s your on his boat. This place didn’t require booking too far in advance, but I would definitely recommend it during summer months.

Exploring Grace Bay: Cliche, I know, but it’s obvious why it was named Tripadvisor’s Best Beach in the World. Grace Bay is absolutely stunning. You can’t really go wrong anywhere on this stretch of beach but I highly recommend the area right across from Ports of Call.

Chris relaxing...

Eating Out: Pick up any dining guide on island and it will list all the latest hot spots. Of all the places we indulged, Las Brisas on Chalk Sound was by far my favorite. The food, drinks, servers, ambiance, everything…was just perfect. This restaurant is out of the way for most tourists, but the tranquil setting and delicious appetizers and entrees are worth the trip.

Chalk Sound: I’m slightly bias because my parent’s house is on Chalk Sound, but I guarantee it will be the most beautiful blue water you will ever see. Stop by the beach at Taylor bay or kayak through the sound- it’s the perfect way to get out of the tourist path and enjoy the real reason you took a vacation in the Caribbean!

Stargazing: Coming from Los Angeles, I don’t see the stars very much. If you can, get away from the congestion of the island and take a few minute minutes to look at the stars.

If a Caribbean vacation is in your future, the Turks and Caicos Islands will live up to even your highest expectations. And if you need anymore tips or advice, message me!

Me! (photo by Christopher Wheatley)

Back to Blogging

July 13, 2011

It’s been a few months since I’ve blogged and I would like to start off saying how much I miss writing! I will not let myself go this long again.

So much has happened the past few months (hence the lack of posts).  For starters, I graduated from the University of Southern California with a Masters from the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism on May 13th. My parents visited me in Los Angeles for the first time for this-it was an incredible weekend.

Two weeks before graduation, I landed my current job as an Account Coordinator at a travel marketing, publication and representation agency (perfect fit right?). I’m so grateful for such an amazing opportunity. It’s been 2 & ½ months since my start date and things are progressing quite smoothly.

Some other highlights from the part few months include a Memorial Day camping trip Salvation Mountain & Slab City, an Usher, Death Cab & Dispatch Concert, a week-long vacation to the Turks and Caicos & a weekend trip to Washington DC for an old roommates wedding. Not bad eh? More to come soon.

P.S. If you haven’t purchased Death Cab for Cutie’s latest album “Codes and Keys” do it now – it might just change your life.

Planning a Trip to Southeast Asia?

April 23, 2011

Thailand

A few close friends of mine are planning backpacking trips to Southeast Asia and have asked for some travel advice. I spent the summer of 2009 traveling the incredible countries of Thailand and Cambodia. During the three month adventure I earned my TESOL certificate, volunteered at a Wildlife Friends of Thailand, dived with whale sharks and attended two Full Moon Parties (and that was just the beginning). Leaving your home county for a few months can be an overwhelming stressful- nothing helps more than being prepared. Here are a few pointers for first time travelers to SE Asia:

Scams: If it sounds too good to be true, it is. Throughout SE Asia, especially in big cities, tourists are commonly harassed with offers of cheap cab and “tuk tuk” fares and deals so tempting it’s near impossible to say no. But say no, nicely. There are countless stories of travelers being taken to clothes and jewelry shops where they are forced to make purchases, and then the driver makes the tourist pay the gas. Use reputable forms of transport and always negotiate a price BEFORE the ride. If you take a cab, make sure the meter is on. After a day or two, it will be easy to spot the scam artists so you won’t have to stress about transportation.

Massages: Take advance of the amazingly cheap massages, manicures, pedicures and waxing. For most women (and men), Asia is a place to be pampered for next to nothing(compared to US prices). When you leave, you will miss getting Thai massages for about $5 an hour, so make sure to take time to relax and treat yourself.

Border Crossing: Chances are travelers will be visiting more than one country. Make sure to do your research about Visa requirements before making any plans. In Thailand, for instance, tourists are granted a Visa on arrival. When traveling to Cambodia, you can get  a Visa at the border. For Vietnam, however, you must get a Visa in advance. It’s usually quite simple to do, but knowing the laws can save time and a major headache.

Safety: Southeast Asia is extremely safe, but of course watch out for small petty theft. I took several overnight buses alone and never had an issue. Of course- keeps your wit about you-but you will find Southeast Asia has some of the most welcoming, warm hearted people you will ever meet!

Buddhist Temple, Thailand

Getting Around: Rent scooters! It’s the best way to drive around cities and suburbs, and to explore the country side. I came across the most amazing Buddhist Temple set deep back into the forest on a mountain. It was breathtaking! It wasn’t in any guidebooks and I would have never found it if I didn’t go off the tourist path. Some priceless advice: don’t go cheap withscooters, it could mean a big difference in the safety of the vehicle.

Most budget travelers could live on as little as $20 a day, but plan for more (just in case). The most important thing is to keep an open mind and have fun!

A Very Grateful Moment

April 20, 2011

My photography bio has recently been added Nicole Roberts website:  Vintage1981Photography under the “About Me” section. Check it out! The photo edits from the wedding on March 12th in Channel Islands, CA are finally complete- I will be sure to post some pictures soon. I am so thankful for Nicole’s support and for having the opportunity to work with her, she is truly inspiring. I am looking forward to collaborating on more projects with her in the future. In the meantime, anyone interested in having portraits done feel free to contact me, I’m looking for practice!

Wedding Cake (Photo by Jenna Markowick)

Expat Life in China? I’ll take it.

March 31, 2011

Alan Paul’s new release Big in China details much more than life as an expat in Beijing. In 2005, Alan, his three children, and wife Rebecca packed their bags to move over 10,000 miles from their home in NJ when Rebecca accepted a job as Wall Street Journal’s China Bureau Chief. In Beijing, Alan, a former senior writer at Guitar World Magazine, had a chance encounter with Chinese musician Woodie Wu. With a common love for blues music, they formed the band Woodie Alan. The band was a hit to say the least- they toured all over China and won Best Band in Beijing. Alan became a celebrity in China, and that was just the beginning.

Alan’s optimistic attitude and audacious spirit are extremely refreshing. It reaffirms my belief that anything is possible with the right mindset.  He challenges readers to take a deeper look inward to see ourselves as global citizens. Moving abroad, even for a short period, can be more than just life changing, it can be enlightening. Nothing has changed and shaped me more than my travels, which is why his experiences abroad resonate so deeply with my own passions and dreams.

Last summer, I was fortunate enough to intern for Publicis Consultants in Shanghai during the 2010 World Expo. During my time in China, I wrote this post on expat life for the Shanghai Expo Insights blog:

An American Girl Takes on Shanghai

If I wrote this a month ago when I arrived, I might be telling a slightly different story. In the past few weeks I have quickly adapted to the Chinese culture. I had no other choice; I learned Shanghai doesn’t slow down for anyone. Originally a New Jersey native currently residing in Los Angeles, California, I am spending the summer interning at Publicis Consultants in Shanghai through my Masters Program at the University of Southern California. Even as a self proclaimed city girl with extensive travel experience in Europe and Asia, Shanghai, especially during the 2010 World Expo, is in a league of its own.

Shanghai is massive, the expression Shanghai is Manhattan on steroids proves true, with an efficient 12 line metro system, endless nightlife options and enough restaurants to challenge even the most sophisticated palate. It is a Mecca for shopaholics, with everything from eccentric antique, fabric and tea markets (where I have perfected my bargaining skills) to malls with 6 floors full of the world’s most famous designers and, not to mention, Nanjing Road- one of the world’s longest and busiest shopping streets, spanning 3.4 miles long. All this aside, it’s important, and sometimes easy to forget, to embrace every aspect of this city and keep an open mind, as this place is extraordinary on so many levels. I spent one evening on Taikang Road in the French Concession, a beautiful and quaint art district with cafés, restaurants, art and photography galleries and boutiques, it was divine. The residents I’ve encountered, have for the most part, been genuine, kind and helpful and I have been photographed enough times to understand why celebrities are annoyed by paparazzi (this is an exaggeration of course, but it is entertaining nonetheless).

I cannot go without saying how lucky I am. I am here with 7 of my Chinese classmates and my professor, originally from Shanghai, who are all helping me along on this 2 month adventure. It has been difficult, however, to do the things I take for granted in the United States. Food shopping, locating a bank or post office, choosing a hair salon and even hailing a taxi all require planning and preparation. Whenever I venture out I make sure I have where I need to go written in Mandarin so the cab driver knows my exact destination (saying where I need to be in English doesn’t work and I am not yet ready to attempt  speaking Mandarin, I can only take so much embarrassment). The lack of personal space and apologies when some bumps you (sometimes really hard) and yielding to every moving vehicle even when the green man across the street lets me know it is safe to walk, have all been an adjustment. Also, the fact that I am a vegetarian has led to the loss of that last 5 pounds I have been trying to rid myself of the past 10 years, which I’m ecstatic about. Still, with every day that passes I discover and rediscover that indescribable feeling and energy about living in Shanghai. It’s a feeling that makes leaving in one short month almost tragic, as I keep uncovering new places and meeting new people who make me fall more and more in love with this city.

*****

If China (or Europe or South Africa- anywhere) calls you with a job offer,  don’t think twice- go!

Interested in Photography? Read this.

March 24, 2011

Me! Photo Credit: Nicole Roberts at Vintage1981photography.net

On March 12, my friend Nicole and I photographed our first wedding. It was an incredible experience and I am so grateful she asked for my assistance. The wedding was held in the beautiful town of Channel Islands, CA, about an hour north of Los Angeles on the coast. It took place at a clubhouse of a gated community and had about 80 attendees. Photographing a wedding is no easy venture and because it was my first, it took hours of preparation and practice.

I’ve always had a love for photography and when I moved to Los Angeles it was the perfect time to turn my passion into a practice. After extensive research, I purchased my first DSLR camera, a Canon Rebel XSi, in the spring of 2010. The moment the camera was in my hands I was in love.  I have since only taken one photography class at Santa Monica City College due to the exorbitant amount of work I have for my graduate program, but am excited to learn photography more in depth after graduation in May.

Here are some valuable tips I can offer novice photographers:

1)   Do you research & pick your passion(s). Whether it’s weddings, engagement shoots, family portraits or landscape photography, find what you enjoy photographing. This will aid in helping to choose what equipment to purchase.  Both Amazon and B & H Photo offer great reviews and advice for purchasing equipment in your price range.

2)   Learn your camera. Buying an SLR is extremely exciting, but it’s much more than a costly investment. After a full year, I am still learning about my Canon. It can be both a fun and stressful process, but once you begin paid gigs, knowing the ins and outs of  your camera is priceless.

3) Network. Have fun with this! Take a class, do a weekend seminar and look for photography events in your area. Photo groups can also be found anywhere online from Meetup.com to Craigslist.org. It can be more fun (and educational) to have practice sessions with others who are learning or with more advanced photographers.

4) Practice, a lot. If you are into portrait photography, practice with friends, family member, pets, people you have met networking, anyone!  If you enjoy landscape or wildlife photography, plan as many day trips as possible to different locations. This is a great way to build a portfolio and, more importantly, build confidence. 

5)   Invest in editing software. Whether it’s Photoshop, Photostudio or one of the other popular photo editing software, it’s a worthy  investment. No photographer is going to take a perfect picture every time, and a software helps to create those picture perfect moments.

Photography is fun, exciting, challenging and rewarding. I am meeting with Nicole this weekend for an editing session of our wedding pictures, I will be sure to post a link to them ASAP. In the meantime, if you are looking for some pictures I am looking for the practice!

By Jenna Markowick

A must do in Southern California: Big Bear and Snow Summit

March 11, 2011

Me with 2 International Students at Big Bear

This past Saturday my coworker Marcia and I took 46 students international students to Big Bear Ski Resort in the beautiful San Bernardino Mountain Range. We organized this event through The USC Office of International Services where we work as an International Program Assistants.  Big Bear is a famous destination in California and now I understand why (who wouldn’t love a stunning mountain town nestled deep in the forest?).  Located just 2 hours outside of LA, Big Bear and Snow Summit are a haven for skiers and snowboarders. While the resorts are a few miles apart, there is a complimentary bus that runs regularly back and forth throughout the day and lift tickets are good at both places. Both mountains offer beginner to expert trails, plenty of terrain park for adventurous riders and excellent conditions.

I hate to admit this, but at first I wasn’t that excited about my first trip skiing on the west coast. I started skiing at the young age of 7 in Northern New Jersey- I loved it. Skiing was a significant part of childhood; all throughout elementary, middle and high school I was part of ski clubs and even tried out snowboarding for a few years.  But one memory I couldn’t shake was the freezing cold nights I spent shivering on chairlifts. As I grew older and went off to college, my winter breaks became a time to relax with friends and family by the fire instead of bundle up to brave the mountain. The past 3 years I have been in California and I’ve always opted to hit the beach instead of hit the slopes. Before I knew it, I realized it had years since I’ve been on skies.

Big Bear Lake (photo credit zamoyta.com)

On this trip I learned skiing in California is a whole different experience.  The sun was shining and the weather was so perfect people were in t-shirts. It was incredible.

Big Bear and Snow Summit offer much more than just winter sports. If you plan to spend the weekend there are antique shops, spas, restaurants and snow tubing. There are also inclusive vacation packages.  And if you think there’s plenty to do in winter,  just wait till summer. Big Bear lake is gorgeous for hikers and mountain bikers or for a weekend in the wilderness.

I never thought I would be saying this, but I actually can’t wait to get back to the mountains. I’m looking forward to skiing again and visiting Big Bear in the summer for a relaxing getaway.  Next time, I’m renting a cabin and make it a weekend trip!

By Jenna Markowick