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Monday, July 27, 2015

Learning Foreign Languages: Russian 101

Having just returned from my second trip to Russia, I am finding that my ability to read the language has improved vastly since I first posted this. It's a good thing, too, as getting around the country without some knowledge of the Cyrillic alphabet is challenging. And so, for wannabe polyglots, here again is a primer.

To get around Moscow by Metro, it is
essential to know how to read Russian.
In St. Petersburg, however, there is English signage.

Now that we have covered the basic Cyrillic alphabet, let's proceed to a reading lesson. I chose to spend my one free day in Moscow last May wandering the Arbat and silently phonetically mouthing out the names of familiar fast food franchises. I highly recommend this strategy for those trying to learn the seemingly impenetrable Iron Curtain that is Cyrillic.

First, we visit McDonalds. This one is easy, right? MAK=MAC. The fourth character looks like the Greek delta Δ--which is D. O becomes an A sound in Russian when the syllable is unstressed, so we've got DO. In our previous lesson, we learned that H =N, so HA is NA. The third to last character is the Cyrillic version of L. Then we are back to delta, and C=S. What does it spell? McDonalds.

Very good. Now, let's get a cup of KOФE. Note the third letter, which looks the same as the Greek version of F (phi). Sound it out. You have coffee. Excellent. But where to get our coffee? Perhaps CTAPБAKC.

Now we need a doughnut to accompany our coffee. We do not get coffee at the pink and orange establishment above, because we cannot read the sign that says "Coffee & More". After all, we are reading in Russian. But ДAHKИДOHATC sounds Дelicious. To translate, we need to close the one hole in our doughnut sign literacy.  И =ee. Hence, Dahnkeen Donahtc. Close enough.

Let's moo-ve/MYB (merely a transliteration) on. 

MY MY, or Moo Moo, is a popular fast food chain in Moscow. If you can't read the Cyrillic, just look for the black and white корова.

Finally, let's wash this all done with a bottle of BOДA. B=V. The O sounds like A, due to the stress. Voila, Vahdah. Let's take a sip and call it a day/ДEHb. 

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Holiday Travel Road Trip Tips for July 4th and Beyond

It's July 4th weekend, when everyone needs travel tips.  WTOP Radio in Washington, DC turned to its favorite travel expert  for top tips for road trips.

Navigate Fourth of July traffic with helpful apps and alternative destinations

By Rachel Nania @nania

Nearly 42 million Americans will trek 50 miles or more from their homes to celebrate the Fourth of July this year. Avoid traffic with the hottest apps and some alternative destinations. (Thinkstock)

WASHINGTON — The grill is ready, the sunscreen is stocked, and for many Americans, the luggage is packed.

This Fourth of July weekend, nearly 42 million people will trek 50 miles or more from their homes to celebrate the holiday, AAA predicts — the highest number since 2007.

“A large reason for the bump up in travel is the fact that the economy is stronger this year, the jobs report has had a slight uptick, and also gas is cheaper than it’s been in at least five years,” says Laura Powell, travel expert and blogger at The Daily Suitcase.

But the good news for the American economy isn’t the best news for those planning a weekend getaway.  Of the 42 million people expected to travel for the Fourth, an estimated 85 percent will drive to their destinations.

If you’re hitting the road, it’s best to pack your patience. Of course there are also a number of free apps that can help you along your journey. Here are Powell’s top picks:

  • The driving app Waze has become a popular tool for many drivers, thanks to its crowdsourced map and navigation system, which alerts users to real-time traffic situations, such as jammed roads, police traps and road hazards.
  • Members of AAA can download the association’s app for free. The tool has maps, provides navigation and allows users to submit requests for roadside assistance. It also offers recommendations for rated hotels and restaurants.
  • Sit or Squat is perhaps one of the most unique apps in the travel market. In search of a clean restroom? The app, which is sponsored by Charmin, allows users to search for nearby restrooms, and even filter by cleanliness, handicap access and more. “Especially if you have kids and you’re in search of clean restrooms, it’s nice to have that one,” Powell says.
  • If you need to fill up but don’t want to get ripped off, Gas Buddy comes in handy. The app searches for the cheapest gas in the area. Users can also search by city, state and ZIP code to find the best deal on fuel.
  • Hotel Tonight is the perfect tool for planning a spontaneous trip or for finding a last-minute deal when driving through the night isn’t an option. The app posts deals that users can book for that night. Powell warns that the app doesn’t list hotels everywhere in the country, but it covers most of the major markets.
Another way to escape the traffic on I-95 and other highly traveled beach-access roads is to avoid those roads completely. Instead, opt for an alternative Fourth of July vacation.

“A lot of people are going to be going east to the ocean, so I recommend going west, instead,” Powell says. “Head toward the mountains; the weather is going to be cooler and the traffic is going to be a lot lighter.”

Harpers Ferry in West Virginia is a great town for outdoor adventure; there’s plenty of hiking, zip lining and white water rafting. Visitors can also take guided tours through the historic town, and visit museums and exhibits.

If being on the water is still your idea of a perfect Fourth, consider driving to a nearby lake, rather than a beach. Smith Mountain Lake is located in Bedford County, Virginia, just outside of Roanoke, and is about a five-hour drive down Route 29 from the D.C. area. Many lake visitors rent houses, but there are also nearby hotels and camping options for last-minute travelers.

For a day-trip option, drive out Route 66 and branch off to a number of Virginia vineyards. Many, such as The Winery at Bull RunTrump WineryKeswick Vineyards and Boxwood Winery, have live music, food and other festive events planned for July 4. If you’re out that way, Swing by Great Meadow for the area’s largest fireworks display.

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