World Malaria Day & Birthday Celebrations in Liberia

Last Wednesday was my birthday! Here’s how I celebrated here in Liberia…

As my actual birthday was a Wednesday, it was a regular school day so I had school in the morning. But not only was it my birthday, April 25th is also World Malaria Day. Here’s a few facts about malaria: Globally there were over 200 million cases of malaria in 2015 and 438 thousand deaths. 70% of malaria deaths are in children–every two minutes a child dies of malaria. Here in Liberia, malaria is the leading cause of death so it’s especially relevant and what better day to talk about it than World Malaria Day. So instead of having regular math lessons in class, I spent my time with my 10th and 11th graders talking about malaria and playing a game to learn about how to prevent malaria.

The game was called “Race to Prevent Malaria” and I split the class into two teams who were racing up their ladder I’d drawn on the chalkboard. The teams took turns drawing cards that had an action on it that determined if they got to move forward. Teams climbed up the ladder if they drew a positive prevention action like “you and your family slept under a mosquito net last night” and “you referred a big belly woman to the clinic” (“Big belly” or pregnant women are at a greater risk for malaria. If a pregnant woman were to get malaria, it could lead to placental malaria which can block nutrients getting to the baby and cause severe complications during childbirth. Pregnant women can receive a free mosquito net and prophylaxis, a preventative treatment, by visiting their local clinic).

However, they had to move back down if their action was negative like “you thought you had malaria but didn’t go to the clinic to get tested” or “you have a hole in your mosquito net that you still have not fixed.” I also included a few cards addressing common beliefs that actually have nothing to do with malaria either way. For instance, avoiding plums (Liberian English for mangoes) because you saw mosquitoes on them doesn’t matter–yes, you get malaria from mosquitoes but only by them biting you and transmitting the parasite into your blood stream, not from eating plums! For these cards, teams didn’t move either way.

The game seemed to be a hit–the students got very competitive and enjoyed it, and hopefully also learned something too!

Continuing my birthday, after school, my friend Patience made me Liberian spaghetti for lunch and one of my students came over to play scrabble on the porch. He recently got a scrabble game complete with a scrabble dictionary but didn’t know how to play. So I taught him and we’ve been playing during recess and after school every now and then too!

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The only picture I managed to take on our walk… we stopped to buy cold water from one of my students and he had it in this Ohio State cooler! I tried to explain to him that Ohio State is my team just like his football team is Chelsea!

To finish my birthday, later in the afternoon, I went for a walk (or as they say here a “walk about”) to a neighboring community with my friend Patience. My school is the only high school in the area so even though it’s a pretty long walk, many of my students live in this community. I’d seen it from the car driving past or just stopping briefly but it was nice to spend more time there and see where some of my students live–and get a reminder of how far they walk to school!

Over the weekend, I got to celebrate with some Peace Corps friends in Monrovia! It was another volunteer’s birthday a couple days after mine so a group of us met in town for the weekend. We got to have some of the foods we can’t get at site, like pizza and ice cream! And on Saturday we took a day trip to Libassa, a resort not far from the city, and spent the day relaxing in their many pools and floating around their lazy river!

And I can’t forget everyone else that I didn’t get to celebrate with in person… Thank you to my family for my birthday package which was waiting for me at the office when I arrived in town! And to all my friends both here in Liberia and back at home for the birthday wishes!

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Hiking into the Grand Canyon on Bright Angel Trail

With a day and half at the Grand Canyon we decided we had enough time to hike part of the way down into the canyon. We decided to take the most heavily traveled trail, the Bright Angel Trail. The entire trail descends 4,500 ft in 7.8 miles and leads hikers to the Colorado river. It is not advised to attempt to reach the river and hike back on the same day, so we walked for a few hours (2.5 miles) then turned around.

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View of Bright Angel Trail from above

Optimistically we began our descent. The trail zig zags down with beautiful views of the vast canyon the entire way. After a mile and a half, you’ll run into the first of four stops along the trail with restrooms (and water in the summer months). The bathrooms were nicer than I expected. While it was essentially a hole in the ground covered by a toilet, I didn’t need to fervently hold my breathe because of the smell. One downside is there wasn’t anywhere to wash hands in the winter so you might want to bring some hand sanitizer.

 

We decided to walk another 30 minutes before turning back, wanting to get back before dark. Unlike most hikes, the second half was the hard part. As inexperienced hikers, traveling back up the canyon was definitely difficult for us but there was never a steep climb and the trail is well maintained. Surprisingly the ascent looked completely different than the way down. Though our legs were angry and our breath was short we had no regrets in the 2.5 miles we trekked down.

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If you are planning to hike down into the Grand Canyon here are some things to note: Bring lots of water and salty foods. We thought we had plenty of water but found ourselves rationing it on the way back up. Also take plenty of breaks, something we probably should have done more of. The elevation at the Grand Canyon is 7,000 ft above sea level so it was very easy to be short of breath. Lastly, DO NOT attempt to hike to the river and back in one day. There are many warning signs posted but park officials have to assist over 600 hikers a year plus an additional 150 helicopter rescues.

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Hiking into the Grand Canyon was definitely a highlight of our visit. We hope to come back someday to do the entire trail and camp at the bottom!

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One Week in Denmark: A Copenhagen Based Itinerary

In the fall I was lucky enough to stay in Copenhagen, Denmark for an entire week. There were so many things I wanted to do during my time in Denmark, but here is what I was able to fit in to just one week:

Day One: Arrive in Copenhagen

Full of jetlag, I arrived in Copenhagen in the morning and decided to simply explore the city and enjoy the atmosphere without any particular destinations in mind. I window shopped on the pedestrian street, Stroget and visited the tourist information center for maps to plan out the rest of my week. After mingling in the hostel, I was off to bed early to be well rested for my first of three day trips!

Day Two: Day Trip to Frederiksborg Castle in Hillerod

After a 45 minute train ride I arrived in Hillerod, and made my way towards Frederiksborg Castle. While the skies were clear, I decided to explore the baroque style gardens before visiting the interior of the castle which houses Denmark’s National History Museum. Read all about my day trip here!

Day 3: Day Trip to Roskilde

Since I purchased a 24 hour train pass the day before, I figured I might as well do a second day trip 25 minutes away to Roskilde. The UNESCO World Hertitage Site the Roskilde Cathedral is located in Roskilde. It holds the world record for most royals buried in a single church. Roskilde is also home to the Viking Museum. The indoor/outdoor museum houses 5 salvaged original Viking ships plus many Viking ship recreations tethered on the docks.

Day 4: Explore Copenhagen

For my first full day in the city center, I spent the morning exploring Nyhavn, walking down “Pusher Street” in the free town of Christiania, visiting the Church of our Savior and observing the exterior of Christianborg Palace. After a quick lunch break my new friend and I headed to the Guinness Book of World Records Museum and the Hans Christian Anderson Museum to round out our afternoon.

Since I visited in October, I was just in time for the Halloween themed reopening of Tivoli Garden‘s! We spent the evening traveling around the world, riding rides,  and enjoying the Halloween festivities.

Day 5: Carlsberg Brewery and more exploring in Copenhagen

To begin my day I headed out on a short bus ride with my new friend to Carlsberg Brewery! There we saw a history of Denmark’s beer brewing companies, the Guinness World Record holding largest beer collection, and tasted some delicious brews in the Carlsberg tasting room. Last but not least we took a horse drawn carriage ride through the picturesque streets of Valby!

 

Once we arrived back in Copenhagen’s city center we visited the Marble Church and the royal residence Amelianberg Palace. After the changing of the guards, we made our way towards the famous Little Mermaid statue. Just around the corner, we ended our day exploring the 16th century star shaped fortress called Kastellet or the Citadel.

Day 6: Visit the Kings Garden and the Botanical Garden

After a quick breakfast, I headed out to explore the King’s Garden, just outside the Rosenborg Castle. Designed by King Christian IV in 1606, it is Denmark’s oldest national palace garden.

Just up the road lies the Botanical Garden, a part of Denmark’s Natural History Museum. The garden is arranged by types of plants that live in each biome. Overall there are over 13,000 species of plants!

Day 7: Day trip to see Kronberg Castle and the Louisiana Modern Art Museum

For my last full day in Denmark I decided to embark on one final day trip to see Kronborg Castle otherwise known as Hamlet’s Castle located a 40 minute train ride away from the city center in Helsinger. The renaissance castle is considered the setting for William Shakespeare’s famous tragedy, “Hamlet.” Luckily when I visited there was a Renaissance Fair going on! Read all about it here!  On the way back to the city center I stopped in Humlebaek to visit the Louisiana Museum on Modern Art. The museum features both indoor and outdoor exhibits of all mediums.

Day 8: Fly home

This trip was especially different for me, I’ve very rarely visited one city for an extended period of time. I made very lose plans, then when I made a friend at the hostel I followed along seeing places she wanted to see! While I’m sure there is plenty more to see in and around Copenhagen, this is how I made the most of my time in Denmark!

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Attending the Renaissance Fair at Kronborg Castle: A Day Trip from Copenhagen, Denmark

On my last full day in Copenhagen, I decided to venture out of the city center to Helsinger to visit Kronborg Castle, otherwise known as “Hamlet’s Castle”. It is theorized that William Shakespeare was inspired by the lavish banquets hosted by Danish King Frederik IV and Queen Sophie when writing his famous tragedy “Hamlet.”

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After a 40 minute train ride, I could see Kronborg Castle immediately after exiting the train station. On my short walk along the water towards the castle, I found a silver merman statue, similar to the Little Mermaid in Copenhagen, peering towards the ocean. Also along the waters edge were two cute, brightly colored light houses and the statue Herakles og Hydraen or Hercules and the Hydra.

Normally the castle grounds are free to explore in the winter, only the interior has a cost, but I quickly realized today was different. I had stumbled upon a Renaissance fair! There were people dressed in the Renaissance fashion of royalty, guards and common folk alike, plus tents lining the moat selling sweets and handmade items.

After looking at the day’s schedule, I decided to tour the inside of the castle first before attending any Renaissance fair events. While it definitely wasn’t as ornate as the Frederiksborg Castle I visited earlier in the week, the Kronborg castle stemmed from a simpler time period. Visitors were free to explore the bed chambers of King Frederik IV and Queen Sophie, see the King’s elaborately woven tapestry collection and walk through the expansive great hall where banquets were held.

Another feature of the castle itself was the “Casemates”, elaborate tunnels beneath the castle. I stumbled around the dark passages for around ten minutes before reaching the surface. After going underground, I next went to one of the highest points of the castle, the canon tower. After 145 steps up a winding staircase to the top, I could see views of the surrounding city as well as the courtyard below.

Next it was time for some Renaissance fair activities! First up was the “sea battle.” Two tiny row boats with Danish and Swedish soldiers “fought” in the castle moat. It was very much organized chaos but hilariously (possibly drunkenly) done. They even had miniature canons to “shoot” at each other! Kids and their families lined the moat taking in the spectacle.

Next up was the horseman and gentry training, where different weapons of the Renaissance period were demonstrated including the lance and the saber. To follow up what we just learned we got to watch a riding tournament. Although I couldn’t understand what anyone was saying as it was in Dannish, it looked to be another face off between Denmark and Sweden. Two champions from each side competed in various tests of skill such as speed, accuracy of a lance, and use of a saber by cutting apples all while still on horseback! In the end the tournament was won by popular vote so unsurprisingly Denmark took home the victory.

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Although my trip to Kronborg Castle was not exactly what I was expecting, the Renaissance fair added quite a bit of excitement! It was so fun to see the towering castle in a Renaissance setting. If you can, the Renaissance Fair at Kronberg Castle is definitely worth the visit!

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A Visit to Kennedy Space Center

We have had many chances over the years to visit the Kennedy Space Center. Kathryn had an internship a few summers ago in Cocoa Beach, FL, which is just 15 minutes away from the Kennedy Space Center. And we spent a summer in Cape Canaveral, FL, when I was 11 and Kathryn was 8, while our mom spent 10 weeks working at NASA. And yet we still had never been to Kennedy Space Center.

We finally made it there during a weekend trip (the same one where we went skydiving!), and finally got to experience everything we had been missing! It was great – there was so much to see and do and learn! What I liked most was that there were so many mediums to learn, from a bus tour to interactive displays and 3D multi-media presentations.

The staff at the ticket booth recommended that we start with the bus tour because it departs every 15 minutes and you don’t want to leave it until later and miss out. So we headed to the bus depot, and got on the next bus for a tour of the Space Center grounds. We saw the Vehicle Assembly Building where the rockets and shuttles are built, a couple of the launch pads and a bonus of local wildlife – an alligator and a bald eagle nest!

The bus tour ended at the Apollo/Saturn V center, where the main attraction is the Saturn V rocket that was the length of the entire building. We also touched a moon rock and saw a Lunar Module that had to be hung from the ceiling because it was built to land on the moon and can’t support it’s own weight in earth’s gravity.

Atlantis Space Shuttle

Then we headed back to the visitor center to the Atlantis exhibit, where the retired Atlantis Space Shuttle is on display. Besides the shuttle, highlights of the exhibit were the Shuttle launch experience simulator ride and the memorial honoring the crews that lost their lives on the Columbia and the Challenger.

I’m glad we finally made it to Kennedy Space Center – there was much more to do than I expected and so many different ways to engage. We had a really fun day!

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Traveling Misadventures: Lost Luggage

When traveling with checked luggage there is always the chance that the airline will lose your luggage. In fact, according to the SITA Baggage Report 2016, a historic low of 6.5 bags per 1,000 passengers were lost in 2015.  I assumed I was one of the unlucky ones when we landed in Montreal, Quebec on a family trip. Waiting at the luggage carousel in the Montreal-Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport, everyone in the family found their bags easily until it was just me left without a bag. After no new bags started coming out I went over to the help desk to try to figure out what happened to my bag; no one was there.

After 20 minutes of not so patiently waiting, an airline worker came back to his desk to help me. He had been helping a little, old lady in a wheel chair get her bag and into a cab to her hotel. That’s a fairly good excuse for being gone I suppose. I explained the problem and handed the guy my luggage tracking receipt. After a few clicks on the computer the attendant informed me that my bags had in fact made it to Montreal just as it was supposed to.

We checked the carousel again and noticed a large red bag similar to mine. Close enough that they could have been confused. The bag had a tag with a name and number, which we called to no avail. After a little while the attendant’s face started to turn red — he had a realization. Remember that little old lady he helped? Well she had a large red bag and that name had sounded familiar… A little old lady inadvertently stole my bag!

We made our way to our hotel as the airline continued to try to get ahold of the accidental burglar. We were leaving for a cruise the next afternoon and the airline was going to bring it to the dock if they got it back. After our walking tour of Montreal that next morning, we headed to the cruise terminal. I inquired about my bag as we checked in and the attendants didn’t know anything about it! Downtrodden we winded through the many decks of the ship to our cabin. Low and behold my bag was there waiting for me!

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Things I Wish I Knew Before Visiting Japan

Coming from the United States, there were many small things that surprised me on my work trip to Japan! To help prepare you, here are some random things I wish I knew before heading to Japan:

Bathrooms:

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Japanese Style Toilet

• Most of the toilets here are bidets aka if you push the wrong button water will start shooting up your butt. Don’t get distracted by the buttons though, I always found a lever to actually flush it.
• Another feature that seems very common in Japan is heated toilet seats. While it sounds like a great idea (who likes a cold toilet seat?), it was a very strange sensation to get used to.
• There are no paper towels or hand dryers in the bathrooms to dry your hands after washing them.
• Occasionally you will come across a “Japanese style toilet”, I only had to use them once during my 2 week trip when visiting the Hachimanyama park in Utsunomiya.

Restaurants:
• The waiter doesn’t really check up on you like they do in the U.S. To get their attention people just yell “sumimasen” or they might have a call button at your table.
• Be prepared to take off your shoes when you enter a restaurant and leave them by the door.
• You’ll find that the portion sizes are much smaller than we’re used to in the U.S.
• Tea is served instead of water in most places.
• Most menus have pictures so you can order fairly easily, even without knowing the language.

Trains/Buses:

  • To use the trains you put your ticket through the machine (where it punches a hole in it) then pick it up after you walk through. On the way out you put it in the machine then instead of spitting it back out, it keeps it. If you are getting reimbursed for your train tickets be sure to take pictures of them before you leave the station!
  •  People wait in lines to board trains and buses. It’s not a free for all as it usually is in the States, the riders form an orderly line and the beginning of the lines are marked on many of the train platforms.

Visiting Shrines:

  • There will be a hand washing station outside of any shrines you visit. Use the cups provided to spoon water on your hands and to rinse your lips before entering the shrine.
  • You also will need to take your shoes off before entering the shrine, typically there are shoe cubbies around but if not look to see where others have put their shoes.

General:

  • In Japan they don’t seem to believe in air conditioning. Buy a fan or bring a wash cloth around with you if you are coming in the summer and be sure to pack extra lightweight clothes as yours will get sweaty really quickly!
  • In Japan they drive on the left side of the road which means they also walk on the left. If you are riding an escalator it is expected that you will stand on the left and pass on the right.

These are some things that took me by surprise when I visited Japan so I thought it might be helpful for others too! Do you have any tips to add to my list?

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3 Parks to Visit in Copenhagen, Denmark

When you visit a bustling city center you wouldn’t be surprised to see busy shopping streets, and skyscrapers,  but it’s not a guarantee that there will be a quiet place to relax. During my week in Copenhagen, Denmark I found three outdoor spaces to explore all within walking distance from the city center and they were free! If you have the need to get away from the hustle and bustle, check out one of these three parks!

The King’s Garden:

Situated around Rosenborg Castle, the King’s Garden is Denmark’s oldest national palace garden. In 1606, King Christian IV designed the Renaissance style garden while the castle was being constructed. There are multiple areas to walk through including a rose garden, a fountain area, and a children’s play area.

 

The Botanical Garden:

Just a block away from the King’s Garden, the Botanical Garden is a part of Denmark’s Natural History Museum. The Botanical Garden is arranged in different sections each with a different type of plant. My favorite area was the rock garden where you could climb winding paths up a small hill displaying plants from mountainous regions. Overall there are over 13,000 species of plants in the garden. There are also greenhouses to explore but unfortunately they are closed on Mondays in the winter months.

 

Kastellet:

The last Copenhagen getaway is a well preserved star-shaped fortress commissioned back in 1662. Just around the corner from Copenhagen’s famous The Little Mermaid statue, Kastellet or “The Citadel” allows visitors to walk along its ramparts enjoying views of the city. There’s even a historic windmill up there! On ground level along cobblestone streets, there are picturesque 18th century barracks to wander through.

 

If you are looking for a way to escape the city life within walking distance, head to one of these parks!

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Visiting the Carlsberg Brewery: The Copenhagen ExBEERience

During my week in Copenhagen, I learned about the famous Carlsberg beers from another girl staying at my hostel. Carlsberg breweries were founded and are still located just outside of central Copenhagen but they export beer worldwide. My new friend had already made plans to go visit the brewery while she was there and I was more than happy to go along for the ride!

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We took the bus from outside Copenhagen Central Station to the town of Valby to get to the Carlsberg Brewery. Turns out there is a free shuttle you can take instead, find its pick up location here! After a short walk down the cobblestone streets we found the brewery entrance. Admittance into the brewery is 100 DKK (~17 USD or 70 DKK/$12 with a student ID) which includes either 2 free beers or a beer and a “free gift.” The gift is a pin with the company logo on it so unless you collect them you’ll probably opt for the second beer.

The first room you’ll enter houses the Guinness World Record largest collection of beer bottles. That day the exhibition had 16,919 bottles of beer from all all over Europe. The entire collection has 22,558 bottles in it!

Next came the museum which started with a history of beer in Denmark, not just the Carlsberg Brewery. J.C. Jacobsen opened his first brewery in 1847 (located where the museum is now!) and named it Carlsberg after his son Carl. Father and son eventually disagreed on how the family business should be run, creating two separate Carlsberg Breweries, Old and New Carlsberg. After J. C. Jacobsen’s death the companies combined forming the Carlsberg Brewery we have today.

After the museum you can explore the Sculpture Garden which includes a replica of the Little Mermaid statue in downtown Copenhagen. From the sculpture garden you enter the stables and can meet some of the brewery horses! Similar to the Anhauser Busch Clydesdales in the United States, the Carlsberg has their own team of Jutland horses. They switched to using only the Danish breed around 1930. The best part is they offer free horse drawn carriage rides through the quant, quiet streets of Valby!

After the carriage ride we headed to the brewhouse for our free beers, you can chose from a variety of Carlsberg beers.  Wanting to catch the next shuttle back we finished our beers quickly and headed out in search of the main entrance with the Elephant Gate, an entrance to the brewery grounds. One of Calrsberg’s signature beers is the Carlsberg Elephant which was first brewed in 1959. Although there was construction going on, the elephant statues were still worth a visit before catching the shuttle bus back to the city center. Overall the Carlsberg brewery had lots to offer and was a great way to spend our morning!

 

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A Unique Spa Day at Terme Tettuccio in Montecatini, Italy

After a busy day in Pisa and Lucca, we rushed back to our home base in Montecatini to visit the local spa, Terme Tettuccio before it closed for the evening. Terme Tettuccio isn’t your typical spa, the main treatment is drinking (yes, drinking) thermal spring water. While they also offer the more typical spa enjoyments, their most popular treatment is the spring water from beneath Montecatini  which was known even in Roman times to have special therapeutic properties to treat many ails such as constipation, diabetes, high cholesterol, intestinal diseases and more!

We arrived at the massive romanesque building and couldn’t resist the opportunity to have a photo shoot out front! When we finally entered, we paid our 6 euro admission and received our drinking cups. We immediately found ourselves in a courtyard with small drinking fountains lining one side. There were faucets flowing to fill our cups and many people sitting around enjoying the day. We filled our cups and sat at a small round table to begin our tasting!

Together we cheers to our trip and our friendship then all took a big gulp! Big mistake, it tasted awful! Turns out the therapeutic properties come from the extra chloride, sulphate and sodium that naturally enriches the water. While it may be good for you physically, the taste definitely leaves something to be desired…

With some hesitation, we refilled our cups and set off to explore the grounds. The grounds were even bigger than we realized. We found an outdoor double staircase with a fountain underneath, statues, and more Roman style buildings. We ended our time near the entrance at a gorgeous fountain surrounded by pillars. Cups in hand we tried to get the perfect jumping photo, needless to say we succeeded.

While the water wasn’t delicious, this stop was still one of the highlights from the trip. The grounds were extensive and exquisite. The drinking experience was absolutely hilarious and became my favorite story from our week in Tuscany. If you find yourself near Montecatini its definitely worth the trip!

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