About Me

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I'm a 30 something who loves to travel.  I have a full time job and enjoy writing (or blogging) about my travels.  I've traveled through several countries in Europe as well as Russia and Egypt.  I also enjoy domestic travel in the United States, including Disney.  My long term travel goal is to do a round the world trip.  

Friday, May 29, 2009

Helicopter Tour of Kauai

On the first day in Kauai Tara and I took a helicopter tour of the island and it was fantastic. At times during the trip I wondered if Hawaii was the most beautiful place I had ever been to, I was able to say it was towards the top of the list, but I couldn't say it was the most beautiful. Kauai changed that, it's the most beautiful place. It was so beautiful that I almost cried. Our friends from the Hana tour had a woman actually cry when they did their helicopter tour. It's that beautiful.

I was looking at pictures today from the tour and it's even more beautiful then I remembered. I've been to the Grand Canyon and on this tour we visited the Grand Canyon of the Pacific, Waimea Canyon. Waimea Canyon was created by lava, but the the caynon is much more lush and green then the Grand Canyon. It's not nearly as large, but I thought it was prettier. Then we moved onto the Na Pali coast... Tall cliffs leading to beautiful blue water, it's even more beautiful because of how difficult it is to get to - helicopter, boat and in some areas LONG hikes. Or you could watch it in a movie, though it's not the same as being there. We also visited the wettest place on earth, Mt. Waialeale.

If you go to Kauai you MUST do a helicopter tour, it's the only way to see some of these places. Tara was scared to go on the helicopter, but overcame the fear because I told her it was worth it. She LOVED the helicopter and wanted to go back up once we got back.


Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Kona, Hawaii

On the 5th day of my cruise we visited Kona on the Big Island. Although we had to tender at this port I still loved this place. Once off the tender the town of Kona is a block away and the beach is even closer. The beach isn't the best the island has to offer, but if you're not looking for a full beach day the beach here was very convenient. As and added bonus there were several girls who worked on the ship that was laying out there so I got to hear some of the cruise ship gossip. I didn't learn anything about the waiter I had at dinner the night before, but got a glimpse of what life is like for the staff. They make more money and work harder in Hawaii then in Europe, and working during dry dock is fun and has short days.

After Tara and I visited the beach we took a walk down the main street of Kona. This part of the port reminded me of some of the Caribbean islands I've been to like St. Maarten. Lots of touristy shops and places to eat. While that doesn't seem riveting it does have a nice feel, especially when there is nothing near you at other ports. Tara and I did have an afternoon glass bottom boat excursion. While it wasn't a highlight like Hana was, it was nice and relaxing and since it was the last boat of the day it wasn't crowded.

The other thing worth mentioning about Kona is that it is the "nicer" side of the Big Island. The weather is better, the port area is much nicer and this is the stop where you get to do several different types of water activities - snorkeling, Atlantis Submarine, Snuba, Catamaran sailing, para sailing, and more.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Back From Hawaii

I've now returned from Hawaii and am reimersing myself in everyday life, I'd rather be in Hawaii. I plan to do more posts on my trip and talk about the rest of my stops, and Norwegian Cruise Line. I thought though I would give an overall impression of Hawaii. I don't know if words can fully express the beauty of Hawaii, and part of the problem is that the beauty is in so many different forms - from beaches to mountains to cliffs to plants and trees.

When I was in Norway on the drive to Gerainger Fjord there was this gorgeous lake, beyond words. I was looking at it in awe when my Tour Manager came up to me and we were discussing how lovely it was there, and he made an ignorant comment about how there was nothing as beautiful in the US as was this, keep in mind he had never been to the US. I've been to some beautiful places in the US - Yosemite and the Grand Canyon come to mind, but I know there are several more that I still need to visit. I'm not sure that any one place that I've been to is as picturesque as this little lake was, or Gerainger Fjord for that matter. But for the concentration of land that Hawaii is and the vast types of landscapes, I think Hawaii would be the most beautiful place I've been. In particular, it was Kauai that won my heart.

Hawaii though wasn't as relaxed as I thought it might be. Perhaps my expectations were too high with the "hang loose" and surfer representation that we get from TV and movies. Or maybe it was because I only had a little time in each place and was trying to make the most of my time, without killing myself. Or maybe being on a cruise with other overworked, overstressed people separated us from the Hawaiian culture too much.

Friday, May 22, 2009

The Big Island: Volcanos National Park and stuff

On Tuesday I had my first stop on the Big Island in Hilo. We rented a car from Hertz and drove to Volcano's National Park. I rented a convertible for the day, which seemed like a good idea at the time, but it turned out to be a bit of a waste. We drove to the park with the top down and while it was a little chilly out it was fun. Once we got there though the air quality was low so we had to close the top. Then when it was time to leave it started to rain. I had a Mustang and I have to say I wasn't impressed with the thing, I wouldn't buy one for myself. I now know that Hilo is the rainy side of the island so it's not the best place to have a convertible in.

But the park was nice and I'm glad I did it. We got great views of the steam/smoke coming up from the volcano and saw a lava tube, overall it was a nice place and the staff there was very helpful in deciding what to do and how to do it. It's a pretty place, too bad the weather wasn't a little better. If you want to see lava though it's a 6 mile hike each way over hard and sharp volcanic rock, not for the casual visitor.

On the way back we had extra time so we took a drive on Banyan Drive, which offered great views of our ship. After we found out we should have seen Rainbow falls, but I didn't realize it, I guess I have a reason to return one day.

Overall Hilo is a nice spot, but I'm not sure it's the best destination in Hawaii.

That night our ship sailed by flowing lava which was really cool even though it was really cloudy and a bit rainy out. But you'll need a good camera with a good zoom lens if you want pictures of this.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The island of Maui

In a recent post I spoke about the Road to Hana, which was really beautiful, but a long day. The following day Tara and I went to Haleakala Crater for Sunrise. It was frigidly cold up there for a bunch of tourists in Hawaii. They said the temperature was 44 (apparently warm) with 30-40 mile an hour winds (lighter then usual.) But the views were amazing. Overall though I really liked Maui and can see why it's the Island that most people talk about visiting. It's lush and green and has good weather. My only complaint would be that it's not the best island for cruise ship passengers since there isn't much near the port and taxi's are expensive.

If you're visiting by cruise I would suggest either doing excursions or renting a car. If you want to see Hana do an excursion, the same for Haleakala Crater at sunrise. Most other things I got the impression that a rental car is the best way to go as most of the island is drivable and there is quite a few things to do which can be covered in one day by car. But with just 2 days in port I was left with a feeling that I would like to come back one day because there is more to see there, which is a good thing. Since I'm not much of a beach person I can't really comment on the beaches, actually I didn't visit any in Maui. But there are supposed to be some of the best in the world there.

Before leaving home I had heard the bike ride down Haleakala was really good, I saw people doing this and it looked like a death sentence. It's a steep ride down on the side of a road. The type of road with cars and buses driving right along side you without a separate bike lane. Our guide told us that they are considering stopping this excursion because it is dangerous. A couple that we met on our tour to Hana did the Best of Maui excursion, they said they liked it but certainly didn't seem impressed with it.

I did find the tour guides to be really friendly and eager for everyone to learn about Hawaii, this included the shuttle drivers who take you to the shopping centers near the port. Everyone I met wanted us to enjoy our trip and love the island as much as they did.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Road to Hana

On Sunday Tara and I did an excursion in Maui called, "Hana Picnic." It was an 8 hour (well in our case 9 and a half) tour where we went to Hana, had lunch, and came back. The tour was with a company called Imperial Tours and was really good. I was so glad I didn't have to do the drive, it's a long drive on a windie road and if you're driving you don't get to enjoy it. Plus I got to learn more about plants and flowers then I ever wanted to know. Gary, our guide was really into plants and flowers.

Once in Hana there was a lot going on, which is unusual and Gary had to find us an alternate place to eat then his usual. He made us a nice picnic with a table cloth and all. We had chicken, Mahi Mahi, rice, pineapple, bread, cookies and soda. It was a really nice lunch. Much better then the people who were stuck on tours that had to eat at the one quick place in town with $13 burgers.

On the way back we had a stop at a waterfall, which I did swim to. The water was cold, but it was fun and invigorating. Then I froze the rest of the way back to the ship in my wet bathing suit.

For anyone going here I would suggest looking at tours, I think it will allow you to truly appreciate the road to Hana since it's really about the journey and not the destination.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Getting ready for Hawaii

Here are some things I've done in the last 2 days to get ready....

Laundry, even changed my sheets so they'll be clean when I get home. I'm going to iron too so that I have clothes to wear when I get back. Also cleaned my kitchen and my bathroom.

Had my mail held by the post office for the days that I'm away, it's a dead giveaway when you don't pick up your mail.

Confirmed my reservations for the hotel and the rental car.

Caught up on my TV shows so that I don't have shows hanging over my head when I get back, except of course what is actually on while I'm away.

Collected some of the money that my sister owes me.

I've also done some packing. My carry-on is packed except for the things that I still need. My shoes and some of my clothes are packed up too.

I have a lot of work to do still, but things are coming together.

Tomorrow I'll get a pedicure and maybe a manicure and finish my packing.

I can't wait!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

My packing list

So here is my packing list. I have abbreviated a few things, I didn't think you cared if I had a blue shirt or a black shirt - stuff like that. This isn't my typical packing list it's just that cruises require much more clothing then my typical trip.

Facial Soap
Nail Stuff
Facial Moisturizer
Hair accessories
Shaving cream
Cotton Balls
First Aid/Medical
OTC meds: Simply Sleep,Multi Vitamin, Advil
Prescription Meds
Aloe Vera

7 dinner outfits
2 Bathing Suits
Cover Up
2 Shorts
3 Caris
10 T-shirts
Windbreaker/water proof thing/Umbrella
2 PJ’s
20 Underwear
Dress Shoes
Pool Shoes
Sewing Kit
Static Guard
Alarm Clock
DSLR Camera
Small Camera
Battery Chargers
Video Camera
Video Camera discs
Ipod wires
Headphone splitter
Memory Card reader
Movies for plane
Magazines, Books
Pen and Paper
Beach Bag
Bug Spray Wipes
Hand Sanitizer
Tea bags
Plastic Bags
Wrinkle Releaser
Little Coach Purse

Monday, May 11, 2009

4 Days to go...

So this weekend I have started to really push forward with getting ready for Hawaii. I have half my stuff for the trip on my living room floor. The only thing in my actual suitcase are two pairs of shoes. I have chosen 6 of my 7 dinner outfits, my shorts, capris pants, PJ's, bathing suits, and gotten most of my toiletries together. I still have to narrow down my shirts a bit more and pick which shoes I'm taking.

I've also been getting my camera stuff together, cleaning up the memory cards and making sure all my batteries are charged up. I'm also picking movies to bring, I don't expect we'll watch many, but since I have my laptop it would be nice to have a couple just in case. It looks like Pearl Harbor, Dirty Dancing, and the Princess Bride. Pearl Harbor since we'll be going there, and the other two are cute little movies we've both seen a bunch of times. I'm also bringing He's Just Not That Into You since I bought that the other day.

What's next, I guess actually putting stuff into my suitcase, I'm just trying to figure out what I will and wont need for our night in Honolulu. I obviously don't want to put stuff that I wont need on the top of my suitcase...

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Bad Lands by Tony Wheeler - A book review

Bad Lands: A tourist on the Axis of Evil.

About a year ago I read this book and really enjoyed it. Tony Wheeler discusses his travels through some of the countries known as "the axis of evil." Afghanistan, Albania, Burma (Myanmar), Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, and Saudi Arabia. I'll admit there weren't too many surprises for me when I read the book since I had heard an interview with Tony Wheeler before reading the book. But still I was surprised that he wasn't too impressed with Cuba, seemed to love Iran, and I'm not sure if he was as unimpressed as I was with Saudi Arabia.

What I liked about the book was that it wasn't too heavy. A book about these countries you might expect to be heavy with drama and politics, but it was really about the experience of being there. It's an unconventional look at these countries, nothing you'll see on your network news.

So, what was wrong with Cuba? The fact that a tourist could buy anything they wanted, but a Cuban can't. He didn't like the double standard that was imposed by the government. The good about Iran - the people, they're very warm and hospitable. Iranian's are nothing like you would think based on what you see in the news, but the do have a dramatically different public life then their private life. What's up with Saudi Arabia, an ally of the United States? I can't visit until I'm married or an old maid (a 45 year old single female for the Saudi's.) Well I could go, except that I don't think my father would go with me and he was my only other in. After reading this book I was more interested in visiting North Korea then Saudi Arabia, maybe I wouldn't be allowed to take pictures at leisure, but at least I was welcome to go out in public.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Post Contiki Depression

Several years ago on one of the Contiki messageboards that I visit someone made a post about Post Contiki Depression, I thought it was pretty funny, and very true:

Welcome to PCD (Post Contiki Depression) also known as PTD (Post Tour/Trip Depression).
I'd say about 90% of people on go on a Contiki tour suffer from this illness when they return to reality.

Symptoms can include, but are not limited to:
* A 24 hour silence virus on your immediate return, because you realize that anyone who isn't a tourmate, just won't understand.
* When this virus passes you may then be hit with Myxomatosis, also known as the Rabbit Virus, because you'll be rabbiting on about your trip so much people will think you have gone crazy. This time is best spent preparing a group email to your tourmates.
* Hallucinations - when walking around in public you may find yourself seeing tourmates in complete strangers. This symptom can also be grouped with the subconscious idea that you should be keeping an eye out for them, as 'they might be late for the bus and should just only be right around the corner!'
* After a few days of constant storytelling to friends, families, co-workers, anyone who'll listen, you may start ending sentences midway through saying 'oh it doesn't matter, you weren't on the tour, you wouldn't understand'.

These symptoms are usually followed by unwilling acceptance. Depression is the next stage when you realize the life you have come back to and that you'll never see most of your tourmates again. The sense of belonging has gone. But around this time you should start getting the group emails and a flood of memories return. Contiki reunions are marked on calendars.

The best cure is to definitely have a goal, preferably another trip to plan. For some of us the pain is only harder when we find this years travel plans have fallen through and we'll have to wait till next year instead.

It's kinda scary, but this is pretty accurate. It always stinks when you return home from a vacation, but something about Contiki makes it a little worse.

One thing that Contiki has done that I think is really cool is that every tour has a "day song." It's a song that is played every morning and occasionally on special occasions during the trip. It's a song that when you hear it after your tour is supposed to remind you of your trip, and it absolutely works. Here are my day songs:
Around the World by Red Hot Chilli Peppers
Hard Rock Hallelujah by Lordi
Rasputin by Boney M
Times Like These by Foo Fighters

I'm considering having a day song for my trip to Hawaii, a song I will play once a day on the trip to get us excited for the day.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Taking a trip with friends

I've traveled several times with different friends and it can be stressful. Figuring out how each person likes to travel and each persons interests and blending them is a challenge. I think all my trips have gone well, no had has said they wont travel with me again... I'm sure I'm not a perfect travel partner, and to be fair my friends aren't always either. Just because your friends doesn't mean that your good travel partners. A big part of making a good trip for all parties is reasonable expectations and planning together.

Last year I went to Disney World with Terye, before the trip I probably tortured her with emails about planning. First, I was figuring out a list of restaurants that we wanted to eat at, I was sending a little synopsis of pretty much every restaurant with review information. We were able to narrow that down to a reasonable list and I went ahead and made a variety of different reservations for us for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Then we worked on a list of attractions we did and didn't want to do, but the most important was a list of our MUST DO attractions. This was the list that would allow us to leave Disney knowing that we didn't miss anything that we really wanted to do. This allowed us to make sure that while we might not get to do everything we wanted, we wouldn't leave with any real regrets. Terye and I did have one issue, it's called mornings. Terye is not a morning person, she did ok the first couple days, but towards the end... Lets just say that I had to inform her that she wasn't allowed to put the TV on in bed when I had already taken my shower. I'm sure she had some issues with me - like me nagging her to get out of bed. In the future we decided that we should go somewhere where getting out of bed in the morning is not necessary for your enjoyment - I'm thinking Las Vegas or New Orleans.

Planning my trip with Tara to Hawaii has also required a lot of planning. I started with the list of what must have been 1,000 excursions and started to break them down a bit and learn what Tara was interested in that I was also interested in. I couldn't convince her that zip-lineing would be fun, but she's agreed to take the helicopter tour. As the more experienced traveler I've tried to send her information about what to expect when flying and on the cruise. It's good for things to be a surprise, but not all surprises are good. We still need to discuss the dining options on the ship as I hear it can sometimes be hard to get into some of the restaurants.

Here are some things to keep in mind when choosing travel companions and planning a trip. What are the eating habits of the person you want to travel with? If someone is the make every meal at home type and you like to eat out a lot, then you'll want to discuss that. My sister's friend traveled with a family who wanted to make dinner every night, but they wanted to go out every night - not a good combination. If the other person is a beach person and you hate the sand - another thing to discuss. Also, what types of activities do you want to do, art musuem, history museuems, major landmarks, photography. All these things are reasons people travel, and just because someone has different interests then you doesn't mean that you can't travel together, but it means that you need to discuss these things and find out if you can each compromise so that each person can get what they want out of the trip. If you want to travel together and have some different interests then consider setting aside time to split uop. Waiting until your on your vacation to have these conversations may lead to the end of your friendship. A friend of mine traveled with a friend once and their friendship barely survived, later on he traveled with a girlfriend of his and that was how he knew they could live together.

Monday, May 4, 2009

T-Minus 9 days

Since I last posted about getting ready for Hawaii I have "completed" my trip information sheet for my parents. This sheet has all my flight info, hotel info and cruise info, including phone numbers. I'll leave this with my parents along with a copy of my passport and credit card and banking info - incase of emegency.

I also discussed with Tara some packing issues, like what needs to be in the carry-on vs checked baggage. Also trying to consolidate some of our stuff, which isn't really working out all that well since we both seem to have gotten a lot of stuff that we needed anyway. I was working on my packing list today, it still needs a bit of work but it's getting there.

This week I need to work on getting an idea of what type of dinner reservations to make while on the cruise and at what time. I also want to go through my toiletries to make sure I have everything I need. Otherwise I'll end up buying stuff I already have and have too much of it again. I think I have 4 rolls of travel toilet paper, which I've used like once and now it just takes up room in my apartment.

Friday, May 1, 2009

The ATM is hungry

While in Egypt I learned about the hazards of ATM machines. I arrived on a weekend and the ATM at my hotel was mostly empty, I managed to get about 70 pounds out of it. I also came home to find a $50 withdrawl from my bank account on the same day when I tried to get more money out but when no money actually came out. My bank did reimburse me for that money. I was thankful that I had brought a fair amount of cash with me as well as some travelers cheques. My roommate Tara (not the one that I'm going to Hawaii with) had much bigger problems...

The day she left she notified her bank that she was going to Egypt so that they wouldn't block her ATM card, they failed to mention to her that they already had a fraud alert on the card and the card was already blocked, opps! She came to Egypt and couldn't get money out of the ATM, at first she thought it was just the 1 or 2 ATM's, but finally in Aswan she checked the internet and realized that she had this block on her account.

 I went with her to get a phone card to call the bank and we tried to figure out how to work the thing, but it wasn't happening. Then we tried Ed's cell phone, that didn't work either. Finally she as able to get through using my international phone - the 20 minute conversation only cost $60. The bank straightened it out and assured her that her ATM card would work, though there would be a lower then usual daily limit. We waited a few hours and went to the ATM machine - it ate her card - it went in but it didn't come out and neither did money.

 Tara took it like a trooper and after figuring out the hours of the bank we went shopping. Back on our ship a little while later we ran into our Tour Manager and one of the ships crew. We were told that "the ATM was hungry," not an uncommon thing at night in Egypt - ouch! The next day we used our little bit of free time before our ship left Aswan to get the ATM card back. We seemed to be interrupting the bank guy who was counting piles of cash, but we kept nagging him and finally got it back - but not before he made us walk across the street twice for photocopies. But Tara got her ATM card back and the next time she used it she actually got money out, she also got reimbursed for the cell phone call to the bank.

The lesson: don't count only on ATM machines.