about We are Akila and Patrick. Our minds (and waistlines) expand as we travel, cook, and eat our way around the world with our two dogs.
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easycanvasprints giveaway + we're off (again)

The Road Forks route through Europe

The first four months of our European trip

I have been waiting over a year to write these words:

We are leaving for Europe today.

Today!  We are, as you read this, sitting on the Queen Mary 2 cruise ship with Chewy and Abby in the kennels on the 12th deck.  In one week, we will arrive in Southampton, England.  Our plans tend to be as volatile as Lady Gaga's fashion choices but right now our 13-month European leg looks like this:

  • August: Cotswolds and Cornwall, England
  • September: Madrid and Barcelona, Spain
  • October: Cannes, France; Alba, Italy (for the truffle festival); and Tuscany, Italy
  • November: Sorrento and Rome, Italy; somewhere in Wales
  • December: London, England
  • January: Mexico (for a wedding); then to Croatia
  • February: Croatia
  • March: Bosnia; Austria
  • April: Germany; Holland
  • May: Belgium; France
  • June: France; Ireland
  • July: Ireland; Scotland
  • August: Scotland
  • September 2012: Back to the United States

If you're wondering why we're mostly sticking to western Europe, it's because we have limitations regarding where we can bring the dogs, as well as our own Schengen zone limitations that complicate the picture (you can read all about these complications over here at The Road Unleashed ).  And, yes, there are so many places that we wish we could include in this trip - we are especially sad that we will be missing out on Portugal and Switzerland (though we might try to squeeze Switzerland in somewhere).

Easy Canvas Prints

Our EasyCanvasPrints.com canvas

To celebrate the kick-off of our European leg, we have partnered with EasyCanvasPrints.com to give away an 8 x 10 canvas print of any photograph that you desire.  I am absolutely in love with the print that we ordered from them and I think you'll be very happy with any canvas print that you order, as well.

Pre-touch up

Touched up for the web

The process is super simple.  First, pick a picture you love.  I chose this one that we took on our Africa-in-Focus overland trip because I love the sharpness of the zebras and the way the background melts away.  The version above is the touched-up Lightroom version for the web.

Fixed up photo for EasyCanvasPrints

Version touched up for EasyCanvasPrints

Then, I went into Lightroom and I edited the picture so that I could have it printed out.  As you can see, I upped the brightness and the sharpness because I've found that, in general, any printed photo looks much darker than the version you see on the web.

EasyCanvasPrints border

EasyCanvasPrints ordering form

I chose my canvas size (8 x 10), uploaded my image, and selected my border option.

Edge on image wrap

Edge of canvas

I personally prefer the Image Wrap because I think it looks a bit more professional, but that's just me.  It took me a couple of tries to get the image wrapped exactly as I wanted but the EasyCanvasPrints website lets you adjust the size of your picture and maneuver where the cropping will occur.


Finished canvas prints

A week later, I had it in my hands.  The colors are sharp, the canvas is nubbly to the feel, and it looks as professional as anything you might find in a gallery.  I am in love.  But, sadly, my beautiful canvas is sitting at my parents' house while we head off to Europe.

Okay, fine, I'm not really all that sad.  Have I told you how ecstatic I am that we are taking our dogs with us to Europe?  This is going to be an adventure, completely different than anything we've ever done before, and I can't think of a better way to celebrate than to give away a beautiful canvas print.

So, here's the deal.  You will be entered into the drawing for a canvas print from EasyCanvasPrints.com if you do any (or all) of the following:

  • you leave a comment below telling me about your next adventure .  It could be something as simple as "going to check out the new Chinese restaurant" or something huge like "getting married."  I can't wait to read about the excitement happening in your lives.
  • you tweet one of the following two tweets: "Hey @theroadforks & @easycanvas: my next adventure is ____. [*fill this in here*] Pick me to win! http://bit.ly/nXPIbD"  OR  "I entered to win a canvas print from @theroadforks & @easycanvas http://bit.ly/nXPIbD"
  • you like EasyCanvasPrint's Facebook Fan Page AND leave a comment letting me know below
  • you like The Road Fork's Facebook Fan Page AND leave a comment letting me know below

You can enter by commenting or tweeting once a day until 11:59 p.m. EST, August 5, 2011 .  That's a lot of ways to win!  Unfortunately, this drawing is limited to U.S. and Canadian readers (sorry international folks - I need to run a special giveaway just for y'all.)

* This giveaway is sponsored by EasyCanvasPrints.com but all thoughts and descriptions of their website are, as always, my own.  I rarely pick giveaway partners because I'm usually not all that impressed by their products but I think you will be as impressed with this one as I am.

*** UPDATE *** A big congratulations to Cam at Traveling Canucks who has won the Easy Canvas Print.  Yay!

aqua hotels hawaiian vacation giveaway

Maile Sky Court

Maile Sky Court lobby

If you're like me and need a respite from the snow-packed, gloomy winter we've been having, this is the post for you.  In our biggest giveaway yet, one lucky person will win a 5-night stay at the Aqua Maile Sky Court Hotel in Waikiki Beach, Honolulu, Hawaii .  In case you konked yourself out when you hit your head in amazement at this giveaway like I did when I got the email from the Aqua folks, let me repeat that for you:

I haven't been to Oahu in over 15 years but I remember a sapphire ocean and sky that rushed into the emerald green island.  We are currently watching all of the LOST Seasons in a row which causes us to: (1) reminisce about our favorite show ever and (2) want to get on a plane and fly to Oahu immediately.

Maile Sky Court Hotel
Aqua Palms pool Aqua Palms restaurant
Maile Sky Court Hotel

We have (unfortunately) not stayed at any of the Aqua Hotel properties but this particular one has received good reviews at TripAdvisor .  Though it is certainly a budget option --- rooms start at $90 --- former guests pronounce it "clean," with "friendly staff," nice "views of the ocean," and, most importantly, "good location."  The property is located just a few blocks from the beach and the main shopping area and restaurants.

If you’d like five nights of free accommodations at the Maile Sky Court [and who wouldn't?], just a few minutes’ walk from Waikiki Beach, enter this giveaway in any of the following ways:

1. Leave us a comment telling us why you want or need a vacation in Waikiki or on Oahu. Please enter this way only once a day (you can use the same answer every day or you can use different ones, too).

2. Tweet the following on Twitter once a day: I entered to win a 5-night @aquahotels stay in Hawaii from @theroadforks http://bit.ly/hrF1iP

3. Like The Road Forks Facebook fan page .  Please leave a comment below letting us know that you liked our page.

This giveaway ends at 11:59 p.m. EST on March 11, 2011, which gives you two full weeks to comment, Tweet, and like this giveaway.  If my calculations are correct, if you comment and tweet every day, you have a total of 29 possible chances to win this free hotel stay at Aqua Maile Sky Court!  Some blackout dates apply and the 5-nights-stay must be used by March 11, 2012.  I will randomly choose a winner using random.org.

* This giveaway was sponsored by Aqua Hotels & Resorts , who operate resorts on five Hawaiian islands.

the lost girls book review + giveaway

Four years ago, when our round-the-world trip was a passing thought in our stream of consciousness , Jennifer Baggett, Holly Corbett, and Amanda Pressner, three 20-something friends, left their careers in journalism to travel around the world for a year, dubbing themselves The Lost Girls .  I was hooked on their blog as soon as I read their 20 Reasons We Took Off (my favorite being #4, "We want to ban the phrases 'in the loop,' 'per our conversation,' and 'out of the box' from our daily vocabulary.")  At that time, I was still working long hours at my law firm, spending my weekends at Home Depot for renovation projects, and cramming quality time with Patrick and our dogs in the remaining few waking hours.  I was completely and totally blown away by the gumption of these women to leave behind their lives, careers, and relationships for the thrill of the open road.  I wanted that to be my lifestyle.

A week ago, I received a review copy of their new book: The Lost Girls: Three Friends. Four Continents. One Unconventional Detour Around the World. The book is written from the first-person viewpoint of all three women; each woman writes a chapter and the story progresses sequentially, a la The Sound and the Fury .  This was a clever way to structure this book because each woman has specific challenges that she wants to resolve: one is obsessed with her career, another is searching for faith, and the third is looking for romance.

These women left New York City because they were bored and bogged down and wanted to do something daring and inspiring to revitalize their lives.  They had serious wanderlust and needed to satisfy their desire to see the world.  And, they didn't clamp down on their dreams, shutting it out with short two-week trips, but instead, took the leap out the door and into the world.

The book beautifully details the intensity of their lives when they stepped out of their comfort zones.  They talk in no uncertain terms about the horrors of long-term travel, from sleeping in stinky hostels with even worse toilets to dealing with unscrupulous strangers and wearing the same clothes over and over again.  They laugh about the silly and crazy adventures that happen to them like setting up a dance class in Kenya or their difficult hike up the Inca Trail.  They cry over their fears, sorrows, and romantic struggles (and there are quite a few of those).

Most importantly, these women describe a truth about humanity, a truth that I believe with all my heart:  there are good people in this world.  They talk about people who welcome them, care for them, help them, and touch them, like party-goers in Buenos Aires, an old woman in a Vietnamese market, and an orphan child in Kenya.  (This also leads to the only negative to this book: the cast of characters is huge and, at times, I lost track of who was who.)  The more I travel, the more I see what they see: in every country, every place, people love, laugh, hurt, anger, and live.

Travel is a gift --- a gift of realization, discovery, beauty, and joy.  These girls gave themselves that gift and, in return, they formed a sisterhood, built out of the closeness from living with someone 24 hours a day for nearly 365 days.  Four years ago, the Lost Girls helped inspire us to walk out our door and head into that Great White Somewhere.  I hope that you will read this book and feel the same way, even for just a short while.

To get you started on that path, I am giving away a copy of The Lost Girls book.  Woohoo!  All you have to do to enter is leave a comment below telling me one travel destination that is on the top of your bucket list and why .  You'll get extra entries if you tweet about this giveaway, or post on Facebook, or on your own blog.  Just let me know below that you tweeted, Facebooked, or posted on your blog about this giveaway or copy our Twitter ID (@theroadforks) so I give you credit for posting at the various places. All entries must be submitted by 5:00 p.m. EST on Friday, May 14, 2010 . And, sorry international readers, but you must be a resident of the United States or Canada to participate.

I'll go first:  Antarctica, because there is something magical about an uninhabited land built of ice.  And, I would like to pretend that I am Superman in his Fortress of Solitude.