The Disappointment that is Bali's Turtle Island

My toes squished in the warm yellow sand of Kuta beach as rolling waves offered the perfect conditions for surf lessons. A few turtle centers within close vicinity excite us with the promise of seeing baby sea turtles. During our pre-travel research, we briefly came across a small island off the coast of Bali called “Turtle Island” but didn’t do much research on it. Instead, we decided we’d visit the Kuta Beach Sea Turtle Conservation Center.

When the time came to visit the conservation center, we left our hotel hopeful that we could find it. With no reliable Wi-Fi at our disposal, we had to depend on our own sense of direction and a little help from the locals to find our way. Well, that turned out to be easier said than done as we spent almost two hours wandering around Kuta, always being pointed in the same direction when we asked for help, but somehow never quite finding it. Eventually, after being beaten on by the sun for too long, we gave up and decided to enact plan B: hitting the beach  

Our excitement to see sea turtles quickly turned into disappointment as our trip was nearing an end, and it seemed unlikely that we would get to see any at all. As we were walking toward the beach, we passed by one of the seemingly infinite tourist stands offering different tours. The little white stands plastered with posters and stacked with bunches of brochures fighting their way to be in front stick out like a sore thumb amongst all the other stores. We were fully prepared to walk by without giving it a second look until something caught my eye. Among the stacks and stacks of pamphlets, I noticed a small picture of a turtle printed on a poster on the stand.

For the first time our entire trip, we stopped to talk to the worker behind the stand. He told us about Turtle Island, explaining that we could see turtle eggs, baby turtles, and adult turtles. We’d learn about turtles and their different life stages, and we could even hold one. Now, maybe this was me just being a little naïve, but I was expecting a conservation center full of information. The name “Turtle Island” also lead me to believe that perhaps this was an island with a larger than average sea turtle population and that we might catch a glimpse of a turtle hanging by the beach or in the shallow waves.

I was very wrong.

The dock-less entry at Turtle Island, left us no choice but to land in the shallow water before climbing up into the sand. I know, I know it doesn’t sound that bad, but with nowhere to rinse our feet off at and no warning (I was not wearing the right shoes for this) we were stuck walking around with wet, sandy feet our entire time here. The second we walked into the area where the turtles were housed, a man came and rather aggressively tried to be our “guide.” His welcoming grin was overshadowed by his booming voice and hasty disposition as he explained that he was a volunteer, being sure to mention several times that he accepts tips.

The pitiful tour began at a shallow, tile tank which housed younger turtles. After providing us with no information, except a rushed explanation of their ages through broken English (I believe they were around 1-5 years old), he stuck his hands into the tank and pulled out a dripping, and obviously annoyed, turtle, urging us to hold him. He then rushed us towards the next tank housing adult turtles, before pointing us to a larger pool that had all the elderly turtles. He directed us to step down and feed them a few strands of sandy plants (my best guess is seaweed, but he never told us exactly what we were feeding them). Within 15 minutes our experience seeing turtles was over. We were rushed through every tank. and the only piece of information we received was that turtles live to be 150 years old. When asked why the adult turtles were still held in small tanks, he responded by telling us that they were used for breeding.

Young turtles in their tank at Turtle Island

Young turtles in their tank at Turtle Island

After being led to believe that this would have been an informative trip focusing on the lifecycle of sea turtles, we were extremely disappointed to see turtles being kept in small tile pools, not even close to imitating their natural habitats.

After our short and upsetting visit with the turtles, we were rushed off to the even more depressing mini zoo. All the animals were kept in wire cages, none of which made any attempt to imitate a natural environment either. The first cage housed bats, which our guide pushed us to hold. When I protested, he responded by pointing at the bad and telling me to hold it louder. Sheepishly, I folded and grabbed the scared bat by the feet. He proceeded to rush us to the next cage to take a picture with the cockatoos. However, upon closer inspection I noticed that each bird was chained to their little metal perch standing in the middle of the cage. A few seconds later we were being rushed out of that cage and into another. At the very end there was a tank of snakes all piled on top of each other. Again, our guide asked if we would like to hold one.  It was then that I noticed that the snake’s mouth was taped shut with layers upon layers of clear tape. Once the snake was back in its tank, we reached the end of the tour. Finally, we were able to gain access to some sinks, but they were dirty and accompanied with cheap soap that did nothing to remove the sticky feeling from my hands.

Cockatoo chained to the post at Turtle Island (look closely at it's left [our right] ankle)

Cockatoo chained to the post at Turtle Island (look closely at it's left [our right] ankle)

In what can only be explained as the universe trying to screw us one more time, a rain storm hit as soon as we tried to leave. We were left with no choice but to wait it out at one of the café’s benches which were protected under a flimsy roof. Unfortunately for us, our guide refused to leave our side even though we were already done viewing the animals. We waited a few minutes before deciding to get some food at the café. The second we got up to order, our guide jumped up and insisted that he be would order our food and bring it to us. Finally, when our less than subpar food arrived, the guide allowed us to pay him for our food (and a small tip) and left us alone.

When the rain finally let up, we took the first boat we could out of there. Turtle Island was the single biggest disappointment during my entire trip to Bali. I’m a huge animal lover and was excited to see sea turtles in an environment that keeps them healthy and happy. However, what we found was a breeding center that keeps its turtles in small and shallow pools. They didn’t seem to care about the turtle’s happiness and were only concerned about drawing in tourists through deceitful images and marketing. Furthermore, the mini zoo served no purpose other than exploiting animals in a pathetic ploy to increase tourism. If you are visiting Bali, I strongly urge you to skip Turtle Island, and research other options instead.

Atlantic Station Sweet Shops: Rated

Candy, cookies, ice cream, and fudge galore! If you find yourself in Atlanta with a nagging sweet tooth, look no further than the Atlantic Station to curb your cravings. The Atlantic Station is a large, outdoor shopping center, located in midtown Atlanta, Georgia. Shops vary from clothing stores, to restaurants, to specialty stores, so there is a little something for everyone. But, the best part of visiting Atlantic Station are the specialty sweet shops. Each sweet shop specializes in something different, allowing each to give their customers a unique experience.

3. IT’SUGAR

www.browardpalmbeach.com

www.browardpalmbeach.com

If you’re craving any kind of specific candy, IT’SUGAR is the place to go. This candy shop is stocked wall-to-wall with all different forms of manufactured candy. Want a jawbreaker the size of your head? They have that. Want to leave with your arms full of candy? Here’s the place to go. If you’re afraid you’ll never make it to Atlanta to visit IT’SUGAR, no problem! They have 90 locations around the country, as well as an online store where you can order a number of giant and novelty candies.

2. Great American Cookies

Like its name suggests, Great American Cookies is the place to go if you are in the mood for some warm and gooey cookies just like mom used to make. Their website boasts that they are the home of the original cookie cake, and their menu consists of different flavors of cookies, cookie sandwiches, and brownies. They also offer customizable chocolate chip cookie cakes that can either be ordered online or at your closest location.

1. Kilwins

At the top of the list is Kilwins, who has been offering the finest sweets since 1947. What does Kilwins sell? Well a little of everything. They have homemade candies, chocolate covered marshmallows and Rice Krispy treats, fudge, candy apples, caramels, and ice cream. Kilwins crowning feature are the waffle cones made fresh to-order on a thin waffle maker right next to the entrance of the store.

If you find yourself at Atlantic Station, be sure to stop in at one of the famous sweet shops. While I highly encourage that everyone indulges in all three shops, if you can only choose one, Kilwins can’t be missed. Their impressive selection of homemade treats and fresh waffle cones makes this the perfect place to satisfy your sweet tooth.

What Nobody Tells You About Returning Home from a Long Trip Abroad

Watching the glistening lights of the Eiffel Tower at night, bar hopping in Ireland, being serenaded by a gondolier in Venice, and eating your weight in authentic international food: these are the experiences many people dream of when booking a European vacation. After a full year of saving money and researching travel companies, I found myself ready to leave my small town in Pennsylvania for a six-week tour through Western Europe. 

The trip was everything I’d ever imagined (excuse the cliché). I traveled through eight European countries, starting in Ireland, and making my way down to Italy. I climbed the Swiss Alps, drank wine under the Eiffel Tower, saw the mysterious rocks of Stonehenge, walked the stone streets of ancient Pompeii, and so much more. Everyone who’s been abroad will be itching to tell you how amazing it is, the things you must see, and what to avoid, but nobody prepares you for the bittersweet reunion with your hometown. Here are three things to prepare for when you’re returning home.

French lunch crêpe filled with fresh vegetables

French lunch crêpe filled with fresh vegetables

American food might make you sick

Upon my arrival in Ireland, I stumbled into a small café called the Queen of Tarts. It was early afternoon, and in an attempt to shake off my jet lag, I decided to grab some lunch. I took one bite into my sandwich, and *gasp* what’s that!? Is that what a vegetable is supposed to taste like?! I felt like I’d be missing out my whole life…these vegetables tasted far superior to their American counterparts: fresher, crunchier, and tastier. Throughout my trip, I indulged in amazing foods from every country, and even the mediocre food tasted healthier than my “healthy” meals at home. But, unfortunately for me, adjusting back to American food isn’t quite as easy. After just six weeks in Europe, I noticed that our bread seemed sweeter, our pizza greasier, and our vegetables limper. Not only was I disappointed in the food I was eating, but some of it even made me sick. One of my favorite meals of hot wings and cheesy bacon fries that I used to enjoy entirely, now made me nauseous. It took me about a week to readjust to my old diet, so plan to eat very healthy for at least your first few days back in America.

 

   

Coming home will be bittersweet

Cinque Terre, Italy

Cinque Terre, Italy

When it’s time to pack your bags, and make the journey to the airport for your flight back home, it will be bittersweet. You’re saying goodbye to the trip you’ve spend so much time planning, and saying goodbye to all the friends you made abroad. You’ll probably be excited to see your friends and family back home, and you’ll definitely be excited to sleep in your own bed, but it’s sad to end the trip you so desperately wanted. You might even get nostalgic on the flight back home…I never thought I could be nostalgic about something that happened two and a half weeks ago, but I was.

   

  

Park Güell in Barcelona, Spain

Park Güell in Barcelona, Spain

You’ll immediately start planning for your next trip

Once you catch the travel bug, you’ll never get rid of it. My six week tour through Europe was my first time abroad-hell it was my first time out of the east coast! Before I left, I thought that I would only ever be interested in going to the big-name countries…I mean what is there to do in Indonesia anyway? Boy was I wrong. I have gained a greater appreciation for visiting other countries and learning about their cultures. Not only do I still want to see the big named countries like Australia and Greece, but I’m also excited to visit the less popular countries, like Chile, Iceland, Morocco, and (you guessed it) Indonesia. I’ve been planning for dozens of future trips ever since I got home. I just can’t stop.

It’s now about a year and a half after my trip to Europe, and I still miss being abroad. I’m addicted to keeping up with new travel destinations, and I’m constantly adding to my travel boards on Pinterest (yes, that’s right-boards…. I have seven). Most importantly, I can’t wait to get back on a plane and continue to see the world.

Carl, The Dollar Van Driver

So moms called me at work asking if I could go to Eastern Parkway and Utica to run an errand so I'm like no problem.
I'll walk to Utica.
Catch the 45.
I just plumped up the metro so I'm good.
I get to the bus stop and the bus pulls up right behind me.
Step in and see the metro slot is covered with tape so I'm like oh shit free ride.
Let's get it!
This arrogant mofo's banging on his protective glass.
You'd think bullets were going at it.
I'm like, "What's the problem?" 
He says, "You need to get a ticket."
So I back my ass on out.
I bust a pivot and see a dollar van pull up just in time.
I got change at the bodega so I'm good.
I hop in like I've done this before.
Now see, I've never taken a dollar cab in my adult life.
I've only ever taken it as a kid.
Bout five, six, seven years old.
See when you're an adult reliving things you did as a kid it's much different.
All I remember about dollar vans is that they were hood rides that cost a dollar and could get as tight as a sardine can with enough people.
I notice the guy beside me has a cane and he's getting off at a stop before me.
Soon as we pull up to his stop I start yanking on the lever trying to get the door open for him.
The goddamn door won't open.
I'm like what the fuck!
This man is waiting on me and I'm yanking at it with everything I got.
So the driver leans over and opens it with a fucked up attitude and some slick shit to say out the side of his face
"You never took a dollar van before?!"
I say, "Does that matter?"
"Well common sense would tell you..."
My ears start steaming.
The sound of his voice begins to fade.
I'm getting angry.
I'm hoping he'll stop talking but he keeps going so I tell him to shut the fuck up and take me where I'm going.
But it's too late.
I'm so fucking mad and I got between now and my stop which is half a block away to figure out if I'm even gonna pay this fool.
I decide to pay him but I don't hand him the dollar.
I throw it at him.
"Don't throw no fucking money at me bitch!"
Last man that called me a bitch was a gay dude and I think he thought it was okay since we both like guys but I didn't like it then either.
"I just did" is all I say and I start walking-
not fast but not slow.
I make it nearly two blocks away from my stop when I hear a voice behind me saying, "He's not playing with you. He's gonna stop."
I look to my left and I see his un-kept dreads poking through the doorway first.
I love locks but his were poorly taken care of and looked like they deserved to be on a man that makes frequent stops in a run down van for a dollar-
Or two dollars rather.
"You only gave me a dollar you dumb bitch! You dumb stupid bitch!"
I could feel all kinds of bitches and n words getting ready to come out like word vomit but I didn't say anything but,"Yep!I sure did."
I didn't wanna go there with him.
He finally drove off and I immediately called my mom.
There was so much heat coming off my body I was no longer cold in this 20 degree air. 
I told her about my unpleasant experience. I started to cry a little-
not because he made my first dollar van ride in years an unpleasant experience,
not because he called me out of my name,
not because the dude behind me laughed at me as I was being berated in front of all of Eastern Parkway instead of coming to my defense,
but because I know that if I was a cute light skinned girl with great hair and a fat ass it wouldn't even have gone this far. 
I hope that girl was waiting on you when you got home Carl the dollar van driver.

5 Things to Do in Amsterdam

This quaint city nestled in the Netherlands has more to do than meets the eye. Flowing canals and the ringing of bicycle bells give this capital a small town feel. However, there is no shortage of things to do, and you’ll find that Amsterdam has a little bit for everyone. If you're planning a trip to Amsterdam in the near future, here are five things you should consider adding to you itinerary. 

Photo from getyourguide.nl

Photo from getyourguide.nl

Visit the Anne Frank House

The line to get into the Anne Frank House can be daunting, but it’s worth it. It moves at a snail’s pace to ensure that not too many people are in the museum at once. While this makes the line awful (almost unbearable if you’re impatient like me), it’s worth it to be able to enjoy the museum without having elbows shoved in your ribs by a swarm of tourists packed like sardines into a small space. After soaking up all the history in the museum, you can make your way up to the annex and see where Anne Frank and her family sought refuge.

Rent a bike

Rent one of the over 800,000 bikes in this city (fun fact: there are actually more bikes in Amsterdam than residents) and ride through the streets, over the canals, and right out of the city. Beware: bikers in Amsterdam don’t stop for tourists, so if you hear the light *cling cling* of a bike bell, it’s best to move out of the way to avoid getting run over. For a more leisurely ride, go out of the city and ride through the meadows and tulip fields.

Photo from hottraveldestination.com

Photo from hottraveldestination.com

Visit the Red Light District

Take in a piece of local culture by visiting the Red Light District. While this may not be for everyone, it is certainly a unique experience. There are two ways to do this: a profesionally guided or a self-guided tour. A self-guided tour may be less awkward (for you and the girls) as you can blend in with the locals instead of looking like a gawking tourist. However, you can learn a lot more about the district and laws surrounding it on a guided tour. Whichever way you decide to visit the Red Light District, please do not take pictures of the girls. Most of them are not proud to be doing this as a living and do not appreciate having their pictures taken.

Photo from venere.com

Photo from venere.com

Go to a “Coffee Shop”

Ahh…coffee shops-another unique cultural experience that may not be for everyone. The marijuana laws in Amsterdam can be confusing. However, the majority of people visiting coffee shops are foreigners. Whether you decide to smoke (or try edibles) or not, just walking into a coffee shop is interesting. These cozy, smoke filled hang-out spots have special marijuana menus, and they are worth the visit.

Take a canal cruise

While Venice may be the city most famous for its canals, Amsterdam has 165 canals within its city limits. Various canal cruises are available, and they are a good way to learn the history of Amsterdam. Taking this tour in the beginning of your vacation has the added bonus of possibly filling up gaps in your itinerary. You never know what will peak your interest on these tours and what sites you’ll want to revisit later.

Amsterdam is a unique city with plenty of unique things to do. If you’re not into visiting coffee shops and the red light district, don’t be fooled, there is so much more to this city than these risqué stops. From historical sites, like the Anne Frank House to artsy spots, like the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam has something for everyone.

A Potterhead's Guide to 3 days in London

Harry Potter has captivated the minds of so many people over the past two decades. That’s right, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was first published 20 years ago in 1997, followed by the American version, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in 1998. Many locations in the book take place in the very real world of London, making this city a must-see for Potterheads from all over the world. If you only have three days to experience this city, here is good itinerary highlighting the best Harry Potter attractions while still incorporating the classic “must-dos” in London.

Day 1

Start your first day with a city tour that will take you past the major icons like Big Ben, the London Bridge, and Buckingham Palace. Listen to the tour guide for some inside information, and learn what monuments you’re okay just driving by and which ones you want to revisit later. One of the biggest things you probably won’t want to miss is the Changing of the Guard ceremony, which happens outside of the Buckingham Palace every hour, on the hour. Once the Palace has changed guards for the hour, head over to two different train stations (which happen to be right next to each other), King’s Cross and St. Pancras. King’s Cross, the famous train station mentioned in Harry Potter, has a special set up for platform 9 ¾ where visitors can take a picture entering the platform adorned by a house scarf of their choosing.

Entering Platform 9 3/4 at King's Cross Station

Entering Platform 9 3/4 at King's Cross Station

After visiting King’s Cross, go next door to St. Pancras. Some believe that this lesser known train station is the real inspiration behind Harry Potter’s King’s Cross Station since the aesthetics of St. Pancras mirror some of the descriptions in the books. If you have some extra time, a Harry Potter London Tour is also available which will take you past the locations used as inspiration for several Harry Potter locations, such as Gringotts Bank, Diagon Alley, and the Leaky Cauldron.

Day 2

Spend your second day by traveling a little outside of London to Oxford University. This world famous University has been home to Nobel Prize winners, actors, poets, Olympic medal winners, and world leaders. Oxford is worth a visit for this impressive merit alone, but Harry Potter fans will enjoy the locations around campus that were used during filming. The Oxford dining hall, divinity room, ballroom, and one of the courtyards are all places Potterhead’s will recognize. While you’re already outside of London, try taking a trip to Stonehenge. There are no Harry Potter connections here, but this amazing UNESCO World Heritage Site is a can't miss if you're in the area.

UNESCO World Heritage Site, Stonehenge

UNESCO World Heritage Site, Stonehenge

Upon your return into the city, get some tickets to enjoy one of London’s greatest gems-the theater. Don’t fret if Harry Potter and the Cursed Child tickets are sold out, there are always some amazing plays being performed.

Day 3

Head over to the “pièce de résistance” on your last day in London-the Harry Potter Studio Tour. Plan to spend the majority of the day here because once you get in, you won’t want to leave. They have almost every prop you can think of that was used in the movies, including Hagrid’s flying motorcycle, the cupboard under the stairs, Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak, the Hogwarts Express, and a whole set-up of Diagon Alley. Take your time to marvel in all the different aspects that went into making the movie, grab some butterbeer, and try not to go completely broke in the souvenir shop.

Buckbeak the Hippogriff at the Harry Potter Studio Tour

Buckbeak the Hippogriff at the Harry Potter Studio Tour

If you find yourself with some downtime during these three days, some other things to do include taking your picture crossing the famous Abbey Road like the Beatles, visiting the Leadenhall Market (which was the location for Diagon Alley in the first movie), making a call in one of the classic red phone booths, walking around Piccadilly Circus (which is where Harry, Ron, and Hermione apparate to while escaping death eaters during Bill and Fleur’s wedding), or taking a ride on the London Eye.

The London Eye

The London Eye

London is full of things to do for travelers, foodies, and Potterheads alike. If you only have three days to see as much as you can in this wonderful city, this itinerary will give you the best of both worlds; allowing you to bask in the magical world of Harry Potter while not missing out on the classic London attractions.