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, July 31, 2009

Going back in time - California Highlights

I currently have a website that I had posted travelblogs about my past contiki trips. This winter I have to renew the domain name and extend my service for the webspace. For a variety or reasons I don't think I'm going to do that. However, there is tons of information that I spent a LOT of time on in the past writing up. I've decided that I'm going to add those blogs here as a place to store them for posterity and enjoyment. I'm going to start with my California Highlights trip - Las Vegas, Yosemite, San Fran, Santa Barbara and LA. This is the shortest travelogue with the least depth, but my notes from the trip were lacking so it was the best I could do when I was writing it 3 years later.

So here will be my first post from the that trip....

Prior to my tour I had a day in Vegas, this was pretty cool since it was my first time in Vegas. Too bad I was alone. I flew in around 10am and quickly made my way to the MGM Grand. I had decided to stay at a big Vegas casino since it was my first time there. The MGM Grand was very nice and HUGE. After checking in I explored the MGM Grand, figured out that the hotel where the tour left from was too far to walk, and headed to see Mandalay Bay, Luxor, Excalibur, and New York New York. Mandalay Bay was nice, but I ended up walking forever to NOT see the beach or go in the shark reef, then had to walk back. I thought Luxor and New York New York were great themes. I took the roller coaster at New York New York, it was around $15 and only worth it since I wouldn't have to do it again, ever. I've been on much better roller coasters. I had trouble getting out of Excalibur, which was annoying.

After that I took a nap since I had a cold and I had been up early in the morning. When I got up I trekked up the other end of the strip. I stopped in Bellagio, very nice! I stopped to watch the water show, which was neat. Then I took the tram between Mirage and TI (Treasure Island). Then I had dinner at TI and watched the pirate show which was entertaining. After that I headed back to the MGM Grand, finally getting to see the Volcano at Mirage. My last stop was a slot machine at the MGM Grand where I made $20! I was in bed around midnight.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

The London Eye

When I was in London I decided I wanted to ride the London Eye. Most of the reason I wanted to ride was that I had heard so much about it that I simply got curious, I do love a good view of a city though.

When I had booked my return plane ticket from London I choose to fly in the evening so that I would have some time during the day to continue exploring the city. But during my trip I had made some plans to go to the airport with a Contiki tour mate, but we were going to go after checkout time and end up stuck at Heathrow for hours. I got some inspiration from some other tour mates and reverted to my original plan and decide to do the London Eye. The London Eye is pretty darn big and moves pretty darn slow, but gives a fantastic view of the city.

I'm not going to really recommend the Eye though. It's overpriced ($25-$30 then, 17 pounds now), yea it's cool and I'm sure it's expensive to run, but it was too much money for an overhead view of the city. I was lonely, you're stuck in the pod for the half hour that it takes to go around and since I was alone it was lonely and boring - too much time around strangers and without friends. Finally, the wait, even with an appointment time the wait was too long, a half hour wait on line then half hour to go around. It was just too much money and took too long for what you ultimately got - a view of the city.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Booked my flight

I've booked my flights to Knoxville and Pittsburgh! Well that's one less thing to worry about. Now I'm working on hotel rooms and rental cars. any suggestions?

For my first night since I'm getting in around 9:30-10:00 I'm going to stay at a hotel airport so that I can save a day of the rental car and the drama of trying to find my hotel in the dark. I'll probably stay a night in Pigeon Forge near Dollywood and the Zorb place, then my last 2 nights I didn't figure out yet. I'm considering staying downtown, but the hotel prices are a little higher then I really want to spend. I would rather spend money on fun activities then on a hotel.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Figuring out my fall plans

Well I'm up to plan "Z" now with planning my fall vacation, but I think this might actually work! I'm off for 2 weeks from September 12 to the 27th. September 12 is supposed to be my nephews birthday party so I plan to start my trip September 13. The details are rough right now and subject to change at a moments notice, but here is the plan:

Leave on September 13 for Knoxville, Tenn. What is there to do in Knoxville was my first question... Apparently there is some Civil War stuff there, which I'll have to check out. There is also the University of Tennessee. Most importantly there is Zorbing, I love Kiwi's!

I'm going to stay there until September 17 when I will fly to Pittsburgh to visit my friend who had a baby in March. I'll fly back home on September 19. Then on September 20 I will drive out to Hershey, PA and meet another friend of mine to visit the Hershey Spa - after a week of running around I'll be happy to visit a spa. We'll return on the 21st, which is a Monday. Hopefully then I'll get to relax!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

1 Day in Paris

On my European Discovery Contiki tour we had a 2 night stop in Paris - 1 evening where we did a city tour and then a full day in the city leaving the following morning. On our night in Paris we did a city tour and stopped to go up the Eiffel Tower. The following day I had to do everything else the city had to offer. So what can one get done in the city of Lights in 1 day?

Our bus departed at 8:45 and took a little tour by the Arc de Triumph, down the Champs Elysee and were dropped off near the Opera House. I skipped the option of visiting a perfumery and instead headed to the Louvre. On this stop we planned to see the Mona Lisa and Venus de Milo. We tried to get a map of the Louvre, but they didn't have any English ones which made it a bit difficult, but we found both. Neither was quite as impressive as I had hoped, but both were worth the visit. The Louvre was also worth the visit, I think the landings for the stairs were bigger then my apartment.

Next we were off to Notre Dame by foot where I lit a candle for my sisters baby. We had been doing the same route as some other people on tour so we naturally met up by Notre Dame and all had lunch at a little cafe nearby. It was probably a crappy restaurant by French standards, but we all enjoyed it.

After lunch Nicola (my room mate) wanted to go to the Musse Rodan to see The Thinker. I would have preferred the Musse D'orssay which we passed on the way to the Rodan, but as I'm not much into art I opted to go with Nicola and her preference. We had tried to use the metro, but apparently ended up in the wrong station, we think, and walked this distance. It was a fun exploration but a long walk. The Musse Rodan was really nice though, the gardens were gorgeous and The Thinker impressive. After this we figured out the metro and shot over to the Ard de Triumph. We had a bit of trouble finding the walkway, but did and then almost died trying to climb the stairs. The view of the city was great and totally worth it. You get a different perspective of the traffic coming and going in the traffic circle from up above. Just to prove how small a big city like this can be when you're on a tour, we ran into a bunch of people from tour here. After that we had to walk the Champs Elysee and get some sorbet with some of the other members of our tour that we ran into.

It was now time to return to the hotel as most people on my tour were going to Moulin Rouge that night. I was also going, but I was going to a later show so when we returned I had some free time which I should have used to nap but instead found an internet cafe and called home. Then it was off to see Moulin Rouge and meet up with my tour mates at a bar nearby for out last night of the tour. It was a full day, but we did get to see a lot of what the city has to offer. We even got accosted by rude french men!

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Indie Travel Podcast

I've tossed around the idea of talking about this podcast for a while, the Indie Travel Podcast. It's one I've listened to for a while, but never fell in love with, but could never quite place my finger on why.

Craig and Linda talk about travel, they have been traveling for a couple years now and work while traveling to afford their traveling. Like, I said, I liked it but didn't quite love it, they've just seemed a little different from me and my style of travel, but some shows have been true gems so I've continued to listen. Well I finally figured out why I haven't been able to click with them. Craig and Linda were discussing a book - Wanderlust and Lipstick. While they enjoyed the book they were a little irked at times by some of the US centric stuff in the book, they used the word "grate." Once I heard that I realized I was dealing with a cultural divide with Craig and Linda and that was what was grating them in this book was what was grating me about them. If I recall correctly they are from New Zealand.   Now that I've figured this out I know where to go with talking about them.

They offer a lot of really usefully information about travel, particularly if you're interested in independent travel. However, their personalities may not mesh with Americans at first. But if you can look past this cultural divide (aren't travelers supposed to be open to other cultures?) and accept that they may do things differently at times then you can learn A LOT from them. So go ahead and listen a bit and make your own decision, you'll learn in the process, I promise

Friday, July 17, 2009

Walt Disney World Today Podcast

Another of my favorite Podcasts is the Walt Disney World Today (WDW Today). It's a podcast about Walt Disney World...

The podcast is done on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. The Monday and Friday episodes are usually about 20-30 minutes about all sorts of topics - Dining, park touring, resorts, etc. Wednesdays podcasts are for answering listener questions and are usually around 30 minutes.

The are 5 regular hosts of the show. Matt Hochberg is the main host to moderates the show, he's a Hollywood Studios fanatic. Mike Newell is the tech guy, he's usually pretty quite on the show but when he does speak it's either insightful or funny. Mike Scopa is the "old guy" on the show who REALLY gets the magic of Disney, he offers insight into the Disney experience as well as is vast knowledge of the Pop Century Resort AKA Scopa Towers. Len Testa is the co-author of the Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World and is the guru on touring plans and anything else statistical. But don't be deceived, he's the funniest guy on the show. Anette Owens is a new addition to hosting the show and brings the female touch. As a travel agent who works mostly with Disney products she offers insight on planning a trip.

What I like about the show:
The length of the episodes, they fit in well with my drives around town or to work and aren't overwhelming.
The interaction of the 4 or 5 hosts. They have a great chemistry and you often feel like you're hanging out with them having a conversation about Disney, including goofy jokes about stuff.
After listening to episodes since the double digits I feel like I understand the parks, touring ideology, resorts and all other things about Disney. Yet, I've only been there twice since I started listening to the podcast. I can now talk about Disney with confidence, yet rarely go there.

Here are a couple of my favorite episodes:
Sip, Snack and sick - episode 414

Episodes with Sam Gennawey - you can learn how the parks were designed to make a story and suck you in. episodes 583, 108 and 153

Mike Scopa's Main Ballroom Speech at DisMeets (now known as Magic Meets) in 2006, I was nearly in tears it was so touching.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Siege of Leningrad

For those who are unaware, Leningrad is now known as St. Petersburg. During World War 2 Leningrad was put under siege by the German army, the siege lasted 900 days. Hitler planned to stay at the Astoria Hotel once he took over the city, which never happened. When I was in St. Petersburg I had the opportunity to visit the museum for the siege, which like most Russian memorials was very good.

Here is some history of the siege: On June 22, 1941 Hitler's secret plan for the invasion of the Soviet Union, Operation Barbarossa began. The Russians were slow to respond and within 4 months the Germans were outside Moscow and laid siege on Leningrad in September 1941. To counter the effects of the German invasion Stalin released restrictions on the church and appealed to patriotism to rally for the cause - the Russians are good at rallying and being treated badly. Russians were able to bring in some supplies and do some evacuation of the city via Lake Ladoga by watercraft in the summer and ice/snow road in the winter, though this was very dangerous. Leningrad held out for 900 days, but never surrendered. As many as a million people may have died during the siege.

On my tour we first stopped at the Siege of Leningrad Memorial, which is quite grand and respectful of those who lived it. Downstairs they have a museum, they showed a video, without sound, of the hardships the residents of Leningrad, our tour guide explained everything in the video. The city was under siege for 900 days, and over 1 million people died, despite the fact that many people were able to leave the city. At one point the daily rations consisted of 175grams (a small loaf of wonder white bread is 340 grams) of sawdust laden bread people supplemented by eating pets, rats, birds, wallpaper paste, leather belts and eventually some resorted to cannibalism. Some days as many as 30,000 people died, many just falling over in the street. Despite the hardships they never surrendered and human spirit remained alive, including acts of kindness. It was a very moving experience and the museum gave a good reference of life under the siege, even though it was so harsh that one could barely imagine what it would be like.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Making a Change: Keep it Simple

I've been a bit inspired by a couple different things recently about the idea of changing your life - making it simple and maybe traveling. I've been looking at some different stuff about taking a year off, a gap year, or just a round the world trip. It seems like there are a lot of people out there who are working to make money, but not for enjoyment. Actually, a lot of people seem miserable. If you want some insight into this check out the books Work to Live by Joe Robinson or The 4-Hour Work Week by Timothy Ferriss. But then if you look around you see people who don't like what they do and do something about it - The families from A Brilliant Teacher, the blog From Here to Uncertainty, Six in the World, A Year in Europe - just to name a few... For all of them there is a need to see the world and change their lives by taking a leap of faith.

They all seem to come home and simplify their lives a bit. Work to Live, and then live within those means. Also, when you see people living with less, or just keeping things simple even though they can live larger, they identify a better quality of life in the little things - not the big TV and nice car. I have plenty of people around me who have nice cars and big houses and they don't seem to have any more fulfilled lives then those with fewer things. Part of this has to do with the fact that Americans like to identify themselves with what they do, not with who they are. Few people who know me would identify me with my job, it's my job and while I enjoy it most of the time and find it rewarding at times it's my job. I do other things when I leave work too, like write a blog on travel... I often think about leaving my job and exploring other things to do, but I've decided not to for a couple reasons - I make a good living (not great, but good), I get a lot of vacation time for an American - 5 weeks, I do find my job at times rewarding, there are a lot of different things I can do on my job - I have already worked in 6 different places in 10 years within my job and finally I can retire in 10 more years with a pension and health insurance. I'll have my gap year then if I don't like what I'm doing or if I'm happy maybe I'll stay longer, I'll only be 43. In the meantime for the next 10 years I'll work on what to do on that gap year and what I want to do after it.

If you're interested in a gap year or wonder what goes into planning and executing a gap year I have a website to recommend: Briefcase to Backpack. The site is relatively new so it's not fully developed, but it has a good base of inspiration and ideas and suggestions for how to deal with the issues revolving around a gap year. Good luck and enjoy life.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Braids in my hair

On my first cruise in the Caribbean in 2000 I sailed with my friend Veronica on the Enchantment of the Seas. We visited St. Thomas, St. Maarten and Nassau, Bahamas. While visiting the earlier ports people would get their hair braided by the locals on the beach. Apparently the going rate was $1 or $2 per braid depending on the island and it was suggested that you set a price beforehand. In my infinite wisdom I decided to do it at our last stop in the Bahamas. This was a problem for 2 reasons - it's more expensive in the Bahamas and it was 2 days before returning home. While the braids are cute on vacation they lose their thrill in real life after a day. To add to my poor decision making I set a price with the girl - $2 per braid and she estimated 15 or 20 braids for my head. Ok, I could handle that. Except she actually did like 30 braids, so my $30-$40 investment cost me $60 and I could tell Veronica knew I had done a bad job with my bartering, or maybe that was my own brain yelling at me. What was done was done, I paid my $60 and would like to think I'm a little more savvy for the experience. But even I know that the most savvy have bad days.

A funny little story about one of my tablemates who got braids in St. Maarten. She was dutch, as is the side of the island she got her braids, however it is illegal to do braids on the beach. Well her braider got caught half way through by the police. Well since she ws dutch and the policeman was nice, he hauled them all back to the police facility and made the girl finish her head, without getting paid of course before he did whatever the police do with braiding violators.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Tomb of the Unknowns, Washington DC

A couple years ago I went to DC with Tara and went to Arlington National Cemetery. While there we saw some of the famous tombs and the Changing of the Guard. We opted
to pay a little extra to do the trolley tour, and it was worth it, Arlington is large and spread out. Plus we got to learn a bit about what was actually there - the tombs of our Supreme Court members. Having read quite a few Supreme Court decisions I got to see the tombs of some of these men. and of course the grave of JFK and Arlington House. But there is also a memorial for NASA astronauts lost during space shuttle missions.

Arlington House was nice, though I expected a man like Robert E. Lee to have had a larger more formal house. But it looks picturesque from a distance, and I did enjoy the tour of the house.

The best part though was going to see the Changing of the Guard.
It's very different here then it is at palaces in countries with monarchs.
The Old Guard of the US 3rd Infantry protects the Tomb of the Unknowns. It's a very somber experience as it is honoring soldier who have died for their country and who are also unidentified. The tomb has guarded 24 hours 7 days a week and has been since 1937. During summer months (April 1 to September 31) the sentinel (guard) is changed every 30 minutes and every hour during winter months (October 1 to March 31). They change sentinels every 2 hours when the park is closed. The sentinel does a 21 step process that is highly processioned and fluid. The sentinels 30 minutes of guard duty is pretty impressive, and make the changing even more impressive.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Language Barriers - Shopping at the grocery store

While traveling through Scandinavia we often bought food at grocery stores and would have picnic lunches, an inexpensive way to eat and healthier then eating fast food. It's also sometimes the only way to eat when there are no rest stops which was often the case in Northern Scandinavia. Scandinavians typically speak very good English, however when they label their food they use the local language, this is a problem when you're trying to buy your picnic lunch. The juice that had a name that sounded like apple was actually Orange Juice. And how does one distinguish between the different meats? Ask a local, though you may have to cluck to help them distinguish what the word chicken is. Ok, I never actually had to cluck, but I was never 100% sure that I was eating chicken instead of some other animal. I suppose that's part of the adventure of traveling - both figuring out what is what, and eating whatever the locals eat.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Men and Women in Egypt

When I went to Egypt everyone was concerned about how I would be treated, as a woman. I didn't have any trouble, though the men have a "strange" way of paying a compliment. "You are beautiful," or "I want to marry you" are first time greetings. At first it would make me feel uncomfortable until I started to realize that they don't prescribe to western ways of complimenting people or courting. Then I just went with the standard response of "I have a husband." It's just easier, but apparently my mythical husband is a lucky man. It's important to say that I never felt threatened nor did anyone on my tour. In the touristy areas I think the Egyptians are catching on to our cultural differences. When asked how many camels I was worth I was told 2 million, so they have a sense of humor too.

I did take note a bit of the roles of men and women too. Men and women were often segregated and men would hug and kiss as a greeting. We most often dealt with men - in the markets, restaurants and ancient sites. But occasionally you would see women working, often in higher end tourism - like hotels. But girls are girls no matter where you go. When we were in Aswan we ran into a group of girls in a field trip around the country. They were FASCINATED by the guys on the trip and wanted to get pictures with them. Eventually that wore off and they started to swarm me and it didn't help when I mentioned that I'm a Police Officer. They thought that was so cool. We had been told that Egypt tried to have women as Police Officers a couple years before but had to disband it after 2 years because the men didn't respect them enough. I felt like I gave them a glimpse of another world and maybe a bit of hope that somewhere or maybe in the future here that things can be different. It's also a reminder of why I'm glad I don't live in a Muslim country. I learned during the trip that woman are segregated for their own good (for lack of a better word), men apparently see women, get all hot for them and have to pray for those sins (and others) 5 times a day. Separating men and women can make it easier for the men to resist temptation. Egyptians see this as showing respect for women, and I think they honestly believe it, at least on some level. Whatever the reason it does also disenfranchise women in their culture whether intentional or not.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Travel plans

As much as I try to plan stuff it seems that sometimes things just don't go as planned.

I found out last week that I need I'm going to have to start my braces and massive dental work in August, not in the winter as I had anticipated. This means that money will be hard to come by and I lost my pre-braces last trip reason for the fall trip. I'm now considering some options for something smaller and cheaper. One thing is a 5 day cruise from NY to Bermuda with my Mom during my 2 week vacation in September.

My travel plans for the duration of my dental work, which is estimated to take at least two years is to take smaller long weekend types of trips within the US. Places where I can get cheap flights and hopefully cheap hotels. There is talk of a family trip to Vegas for Thanksgiving, and one sister is considering a trip to Disney for the Spring which I may join with Tara.

My other plan is that I was thinking that I would want to take a big dream like trip after all this work - Australia or Africa or whatever else I come up with. But then I wondered if I would actually have money for this, which I probably wont. So I've decided that I will open a separate bank account to save some money for the trip. I received some birthday money which I will use to start it and then I'll occasionally move some money here and there to the account. Hopefully at the end I'll have at least enough to make it possible to do a big trip.