5 Reasons to Summer in Alaska

5 Reasons to Summer in Alaska
Wondering where to plan your next summer vacation? Look no further than our very own 49th state, Alaska! I had the pleasure of visiting Alaska in June and completely fell in love with the lifestyle, history, and epic views. I’ll be writing up a 48-hour itinerary for Juneau, Alaska in a few weeks. In the meantime, check out this article I wrote for CBS on all the reasons why you should visit, here. Local tour guide and fellow travel blogger Matt Koller gave me an insiders guide to this incredible city as well as an exclusive interview.

5 Reasons to Visit Alaska in the Summer

Read the full interview I had with Matt Koller below:
Merissa Principe: What brought you to Alaska?
Matt Koller: This is probably the number one question I get working as a guide in Alaska–people always want to know what life is like here, and more importantly, why I chose to come! The answer is always “the same thing that brought you here”–a sense of adventure, and a desire to see one of the most storied, beautiful parts of our country. While I’ve decided to spend a summer here and most people visit for a day or two, the yearning to learn about the Last Frontier is the same thing that brought us all up here.
Merissa Principe: What was your preconceived notion of Alaska before you moved there? How has it changed since living there?
Matt Koller: I worked in Denali two summers ago, which is much further inland than Juneau. The interior maintains a rugged sense of individualism; the “homesteading” culture is alive and well in rural Alaska. I expected much of the same when moving to Juneau, but was pleasantly surprised to find a community of artists, naturalists, and entrepreneurs…there is much more of a balance between being “outsdoorsy” and traditional cultural pursuits than in the other parts of Alaska I’ve visited.
Merissa Principe: Why should more American’s visit Alaska?
Matt Koller: Alaska is known as the Last Frontier, and while many Alaskans who’ve lived here for their entire lives have certainly seen it become overly commercialized in the past 20-40 years, it still maintains a sense of wilderness not often found in the rest of the United States. Alaskans regularly deal with inclement weather, wild animals, and the inconveniences of being off-the-grid of the 21st-century commercial supply-chain, and think nothing of it. It’s part of the way of life here, which is why so many people love it. Americans would benefit from a taste of what our country was like a hundred years ago–removed from the conveniences of modern life.
MP: In your opinion, what makes summer’s so special there?
MK: Alaska is far north, and in the summer gets 18-24 hours of daylight (depending on where you find yourself in this enormous state.) After a long, dark winter, summer is the time to play–no matter what the weather is. People come out of hibernation, and engage in every outdoor activity you can think of, from sailing & kayaking to biking & mountain climbing, summer is a time to be active. Even if you don’t spend your winters here, the energy is infectious and compels you to do more with your day.
MP: What’s your favorite Alaskan made memory thus far?
MK: My favorite Alaskan memory would have to be seeing a pod of Killer Whales in the wild. The legend surrounding their intelligence and emotion makes them an animal that humans revere, and they’re far too well-known for their ability to perform tricks at SeaWorld. Finding a family off the coast of Juneau, in their natural habitat, was an overwhelming experience.
MP: Name one thing you love about being a tour guide…
MK: I love the opportunity to spend every day educating people about the world around them. I only have their attention for a few hours, but sometimes that’s all it takes to get them excited about looking, feeling, and smelling the earth. I’m not looking to change lives in an instant, but the opportunity to inspire them to learn more about the environment and how we interact with it is a special job to have.
MP: Where’s your next trip?
MK: I’m currently applying to be a vehicle operator at McMurdo Station in Antarctica–a job I’ve been describing as half-bellhop, half tour guide. So assuming everything goes as planned, my next trip will be exploring a continent few people have the chance to visit!
About Matt Koller

Matt Koller is a writer and photographer currently living in Juneau, Alaska. He enjoys crafting narrative nonfiction pieces and taking pictures of the world around him.

In his free time, you can find him skiing, hiking, road-tripping, socializing, travel-planning, or just reading a book at the beach.

You can read about his adventures on www.verse-america.com, and follow his journey on Instagram at mkolle01.

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Photo was taken on Northstar Trekking Glacier Hike by Merissa Principe
Happy Traveling,
City Girl Riss

Managing Your Money to Save for Travel

Managing Your Money to Save for Travel

This week’s, “Tip of the Week,” is a hack you can use to save money for your travel fund. When trying to set a budget and plan a vacation, you have to start with the basics. Ask yourself how much income you currently have coming in, how much you need to cover your bills and how much you’ll need for weekly expenses such as groceries or a night out. Of course, you could sit down and count every penny you’ve ever made, every dollar you’ve ever spent, and so on, but why go through all that work? Once upon a time, I used to do exactly that and it was a meticulous and daunting process. I would track down everything I spent and put it into categories, such as food and drink, transportation, entertainment, etc. Once I had all of my finances mapped out I would create a budget and experiment with where I could cut back on spending. Personally, I’m a big abuser of buying coffees at Starbucks instead of making it at home. I would spend $70-120 a week on coffee! Some weeks that was more than I’d spend on alcohol after a weekend with friends. For me, making a one-time investment in a good coffee machine and disciplining myself to make coffee at home saved me an extra 100 dollars a week that went directly to my travel fund. Within a few months, I had saved up 1,000 dollars for a vacation I scored a great deal on flights, stayed with a friend and stuck to places where I could get a decent meal for less with a little research. For you, you may not drink coffee, however, you can look for an area within your budget that has some flexibility. Do you have a high grocery bill? Research cheap meals to make and set a strict budget for yourself! Have a high cable bill? Look into canceling your cable for a few months and invest in Netflix or Hulu. Not using that gym membership you swore you would? Cancel it, and find workout apps or youtube videos to stay fit.

Now, thanks to the ever-growing field of technology, I have an app that does all of my budgeting for me! I use the Mint app that tracks all of my accounts, categorizes my spending, allows me to set budgets for myself, and alerts me when I’ve gone over budget. It also has helpful tips and lets you know when you have upcoming credit card payments due. I’m not sponsored or affiliated with this app in any way, just sharing a useful tip to encourage you to start saving, start traveling, and living your best life!

As for my coffee maker? I personally drink iced coffee so it’s hard to find at home solutions. Luckily, my parents are amazing and got me a Ninja coffee maker for my birthday! I highly recommend it! You can find more info about it, here.

 

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Happy Traveling,

City Girl Riss

 

Romantic Valentine’s Day Destinations

Romantic Valentine’s Day Destinations

Valentine’s Day is a celebration of love often made out to be a holiday contrived by corporate America to make us spend money to prove our love to someone. However, we often lose sight of the ultimate message. During our daily lives of juggling busy schedules, work and family we often forget to take time out just to appreciate that special person in our life. So use this Valentine’s Day to show someone just how special they are by going to a romantic destination that you both can enjoy. Check out this article I wrote for CBS about the most romantic destinations around the world, here.

 

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Happy Valentine’s Day,

City Girl Riss

5 Scariest Haunted Houses in America

5 Scariest  Haunted Houses in America

 

Happy Halloween! With the final weekend of October approaching be sure to check out the  5 Scariest Haunted Houses in America. If you REALLY enjoy being scared be sure to stop by one of these haunted houses to get the full Halloween experience. Just make sure you can handle being touched, grouped, maybe even faux water boarded. The videos alone were enough to give me nightmares. Check out the article here.

5 Scariest Haunted Houses in America

Blackout

New York, Los Angeles

Adults 18+ Only

http://www.theblackoutexperience.com/

 

 

Dent Schoolhouse

Cincinnati Ohio

Parental Adivsory Explict Content

dentschoolhouse.ticketleap.com/2016-the-dent-schoolhouse/

 

 

Haunted Hoochie at Dead Achres

Pataskala, Ohio

Parental Adivsory Explict Content

deadacres.com

 

 

Freakling Bros: The Victim Experience

Las Vegas, Nevada

Adults 18 + only

Homepage

 

McKamey Manor

San Diego, California

Adults 21+ Only

http://www.mckameymanor.com/#!

 

 

5 Spookiest Halloween Travel Destinations

5 Spookiest Halloween Travel Destinations

Ready for a real horror story? Here’s an article I wrote for CBS about the 5 Spookiest Travel Destinations. This year I will be going to Halloween Horror Nights in Orlando, Florida! In 2013, I spent Halloween weekend at Burg Frankenstein where the actors are allowed to touch you. It was certainly my least favorite part about the interactive experience. However, no one was quite as scared as my good friend Melanie. Dear Mel, these are my absolute favorite please don’t hate me. I love you! Thank you, Kelly, for the pictures. You can read the full article here.

5 Spookiest Halloween Travel Destinations

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Happy Halloween,

City Girl Riss

7 German Phrases You’ll Want to Know

7 German Phrases You’ll Want to Know

The article I wrote for Pink Pangea is here!

 

Check out this post about 7 German Phrases You’ll Want to Know here. Be sure to explore Pink Pangea as well! A great site for female travelers offering tips, tricks, experiences, yoga, hiking, and writing courses all over the world!

7 German Phrases You’ll Want to Know

Hope everyone is enjoying the spring as much as I am! Prost!

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Happy Traveling,

City Girl Riss

Istanbul, Turkey: What to do


The one where I was banned from traveling…

 

…because they felt it wasn’t safe. As I’ve mentioned, my former boyfriend and I work  for the US Army. Before we travel to another country, we have to put in a pass for vacation and specify the country we will be traveling to. For safety reasons there are some places that we can not visit  (i.e. Iraq, Iran, Syria.)  due to recent political entagelements and proximity to neighboring “no fly zone” countries. Long story short, our pass was denied for Istanbul, Turkey and despite our booked flights, hotels, and tours the Army did not approve of our trip.

 

Luckily for me I’m an adult fully capabile of making my own decisions so I decided to go anyways. That being said, the following weekend would lead to a slew of “praying for you” and “you’re crazy” messages from my loved ones arond the world. The most frequently question I got was, “Is it safe?” Unfortunately, there is no black and white answer that exists. Instead I invite you to read my story and look at some basic facts that may help you in making you’re decision on future travel plans to Turkey.

 

Lets start with the facts…

Turkey is a country that is split between two continents. Separated by the Turkish Straight, Istanbul is located on both the European continent and the Asian continent. Turkey is a democratic, secular, unitary, constitutional republic with a diverse cultural heritage. The vast majority of the population is Sunni Muslim and practice prayer in Mosque’s. Having a long timeline filled with history, Turkish tourism has experienced a huge growth within the last 20 years. In addition to the beautiful city of Istanbul, Turkey offers two out of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, 13 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and 51 historic archaeological sites and historic urban centers. It’s no wonder that it’s the  sixth most popular tourist destination in the world.

 

Although Turkey is a predominately Muslim country, it’s important to remember that not all Muslim countries are created equal. Comparing Turkey to one of its neighboring countries would be like comparing the US to one of our neighboring countries. Different governments, different histories, different customs.

 

During my visit I never felt afraid or taken advantage of. To the best of my abilities I tried to respect the status quo dress code of turkey. Typically the men wear parents and a t shirt while the women wear pants, a longer tunic, and a pashmina. However, there was never an issue of my western clothing other than when entering a Mosque to which I either came prepared or borrowed the necessary items from the Mosque. Not to mention, that shopping for a pashmina at the grand bazaar was a lot of fun! Of course, whilst traveling in any country you should always be aware of your surroundings and try to travel with a companion when you can. It’s important to beware of people trying to take advantage you. I met two wonderful ladies from Ireland who had taken a taxi and been charged double the price because of their gender. Make sure you set a price with your taxi driver before the destination and inform him that you will only pay the agreed amount. If you still feel unsure about it take public transportation! It’s not as unmanageable as you’d think and I find that many people are willing to help if you ask.

 

Now on to the fun stuff…

 

From the airport we took a taxi and arrived at our hotel in old town. Old town is where you’ll find the more historical sites like our first stop to the…

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Hagia Sophia – This former mosque turned museum is the epitome of Byzantine architecture. Inside you will find mosaics, marble pillars, and a breathtaking dome in the center. Believe it or not, this famous mosque was originally constructed and used as a church. However, during the Ottoman Empire the country went through a series of changes and decided that a mosque was more suitable. You are encouraged to wear the traditional dress, however, it is not strictly enforced. Just across the street you will find the equally famous…

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Blue Mosque – You will be required to follow the dress code. Luckily, the mosque carries shawls and scarfs that you may use for your visit. This mosque is still active and has a small area where you may take pictures. The larger area is for prayer and is open to all who practice. Just be sure to check the daily schedule because the mosque closes for a prayer service every few hours. Fun fact: The Sultan Ahmed Mosque, more popularly know as the blue mosque gets its nick name from the several thousand of adorning blue tiles on the interior. Certainly a must see. Now just 500 feet southwest of the Hagia Sophia you will find the…

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Basilica Cistern – Built in the 6th century during the Byzantine Empire Justinian, this enlarged water filtration system was used to supply water to the great palace of Constantinople, buildings on the first hill, and the Topkapi palace. Although almost empty now, the cistern can hold 100,000 tons of water and is also home the mysterious medusa columns. Although no one is quite sure how or why they are situated there the conspiracy theories are enough to keep the history buff in your life puzzling for hours. On a side note, you have to look hard for this exhibit since it’s entirely underground and the entrance is a small building that can be hidden by large crowds. The next site you’ll find if you keep heading down south from the Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, the Basilica and you’ll find…topkapi-6.jpg

Topkapi Palace – What was once one of the major residences of the Ottoman Empire Sultans for almost 400 years is now a UNESCO world heritage sight, museum, and a huge insight into history and life during this 624 year reign. Containing important relics such as porcelain, weapons, shields, armor, Islamic calligraphic manuscripts, royal jewels, and Muhammed’s cloak and sword. If you fancy a more completed and modern palace and your time is limited be sure to take a trip to see…Dolmabahçe Palace -08 130501 For91days.com.JPG

Dolmabahçe Palace – Located in the Beşiktaş  district on the European coastline of the Bosphorus strait, this palace served as the main administrative center of the Ottoman Empire from 1856. The palace layout and décor reflect the increasing influence of European styles and standards on Ottoman Culture and is decorated predominately with gold and crystal. It is also home to the world’s largest Bohemian Crystal Chandelier with 750 lamps and weighing at about 4.5 tons. The gates, fountains, and gardens alone will surely have you feeling like Royalty. If you look across the Bosphorus strait you can see the asian side but if you want a better view try a….bosphorus-tour-istanbul-01.jpg

Cruise Trip – Just a cruise during the day will allow you to see all the sights Istanbul has to offer. However, if you’d like dinner and a show you must try a dinner cruise! You’ll be able to enjoy a traditional turkish meal followed by cocktails under the Bosphorus bridge accompanied by traditional turkish dancing and music. You’ll achieve amazing pictures and have lots of laughs. If you get sea sick but still want amazing pictures be sure to check out a…6915_hamdi-restaurant-eminonu.jpg

Roof top Restaraunt – Try a famous clay pot kebab and get great views of old town. There are tons of options to choose from in old town! A mixed meze plate, turkish tea, and baklavah is also a must have! If you like the tea as much as I did pick up some over at the…

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The Grand Bazaar – One of the largest and oldest covered markets with 61 streets and over 3,000 shops. With everything from pottery to pashminas to spices to leather products the Bazaar is a shoppers heaven. You will certainly find sovenuiers for the whole family.

 

Finally, to finish off the trip we missed our flight because turkish airlines requires you to check in an hour before your flight and we arrived 55 minutes before our flight ..moral of the story, make sure you check in for your flight an hour before or else you’ll be forced to buy new tickets to a different airport before you have to be back at work the next day for the trip you “didn’t” take. Apologize for the lack of pictures as well…the laptop and phone died within the same week….and thus lost all of my turkey photos 🙁 Guess i’ll just have to return!

 

Other notable mentions-

  1. Try some turkish delight. A sweet traditional Turkish treat.

2. Take a visit to the spice bazaar and explore the Asian side of Turkey.

3. Gülhane Park.

 

Have any other great things to do in Istanbul? Leave a message in the comments below!

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Happy Traveling,

City Girl Riss