About Me

My photo

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.  

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

European Discovery Day 9

Day 9 (May 16): Rome Sightseeing

Today why not discover the ancient ruins of Rome with a local guide and in your free time leisurely discover the secrets of the Vatican City and the Sistine Chapel.

This morning was an early morning so we could get into the Vatican early, and out of the Vatican early. I was up at 5:45, breakfast was at 6:30 and the bus left at 7, ughhh! We took the overland train again, OMG it was crowded!!!! It was so crowded that you didn't have to worry about falling over since your body couldn't move. And it wasn't just the section by the door, it was the aisle too! People here at home would whine and cry if they had to take a train like this. Then it was back on the Metro, which seemed empty compared to the last train. When we got off we had to practically run, well it felt like it after spending the last 7 days on a bus, to the Vatican to get on line. The first people to get on line got our spot and then everyone trickled in after, not much we could do about trickling in since we had to walk single file past the line. Well, the tour guide who had the group behind us had a fit that we were cutting the line, I hear she threatened to call the police. Apparently Mondays are busy, they were expecting 15,000 people.

After waiting an hour we finally got in and had a guided tour. The tour was ok, I didn't love it. First, the ear pieces were painful after about 5 minutes. The tour guide was a little too detailed about the art, I was also tired and had trouble concentrating on what she was saying. She did give us some good info, but the tour was probably best for people who are into art work, which I'm not. When we finished the tour I made a quick stop at a store to buy some souvenirs. I didn't get a chance to go to the top of the Vatican or mail postcards, such is life.

I headed out with Nicola, Anne, and Alberto for some sightseeing, we finally got on the bus, where we ran into Monica and Michael. We got off at the Wedding Cake and walked up to the Pantheon for lunch. I ate lunch across from the Pantheon, how cool is that?! After that Anne went off by herself to sight see and the rest of us went to an internet cafe to update friends and family about our travels. Then we took a slow walk, while shopping, to the Spanish Steps for our 4pm meeting time. We didn't see much today, but it really was a nice day, not too much running around and I felt like I got a little more of a feel for Rome then if we had run around. Although it would have been nice to see more I have no regrets.

After meeting we took the Metro to the overland train and the bus took us back to the hotel by 5:00. I took a quick nap and shower as all the walking and heat left me exhausted. As much of a dump as the hotel was, the dinner was pretty decent. I took a walk out back with Michael (from Canada) where we saw the nicer part of the hotel, the outside. We ran into Steven, Anne and Maya out there too. Then it was back inside to the hotel bar, which had the worst bartender I have have ever met. Lets put it this way, I had to settle for my 4th choice of drink, a Sprite. But we had a good time hanging out. It was an early night, got to bed at 10:30.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

European Discovery Day 8

Day 8 (May 15): Venice to Rome

Southwards as we climb through the Appennine Mountains passing medieval hillside villages and travel to the Eternal City, Rome. Tonight a walking tour of this ancient city will include the Trevi Fountain, Piazza Navona and the Pantheon.

Today I was up at 6:15 for a 7:00 breakfast, and hit the road for Rome at 7:30. At our lunch stop the line had gotten very long and some "Antiki's" tried to cut the line, well actually they succeeded, but they didn't cut me. Hans underestimates these Antiki people! We got to our hotel around 2:30 and had an hour to get ready before leaving for Rome. Our hotel looked really nice from the outside, but in fact was a dump! The only good thing was that we had a triple room, so I had an extra bed to put my stuff on.

At 3:30 we took the bus to the overland train to the Valle Aurillias stop, and transferred to the metro. We took the Metro to Termini and transferred trains to get to Colosseo. In general the metro was pretty crowded, covered in graffiti and kinda dirty. Oh, and some kids ear touched my hand, it was so gross! I miss the NYC Subway!

When we got off the Metro, and out of the station we got a view of the Coliseum, how cool! Hans gave us a few minutes to take pictures, I took them and then bought myself a cheesy coliseum replica. Hans walked us up Via Del Fori Imperial where we passed the Foro Romano and some other ruins. Then up to Piazza Venezia and to the Pantheon. Inside was quite cool, too bad Donatello's tomb was covered for cleaning. Then we headed over to Piazza Navona for dinner, on our own. I had some yummy lasagna with Anne, Nicola, and Alberto, then had Gelati for desert. After dinner Hans took us past Piazza Colona, the Russell Crowe monument, through some mall over to the Trevi Fountain. I thought the Trevi Fountain was cool, I made my wishes and yelled at some guy who tried to sell me a flower. He did this by trying to stick it in my hand, I screamed at him. He went away. Then we headed past the Spanish Steps on our way to the tram. On our way we went by Police Anniversary thing, where they were giving away free stuff. We stopped to enjoy some Italian mayhem, I got a hat. The tram was packed, as in, packed like sardines, but we had a lot of laughs about it. Finally we got off the tram and had to take a much less crowded bus which dropped us off at the hotel. We got back around 10:30, finally called mom tonight, then crawled to bed at 11:30. Rome is very cool, but I was tired, and tomorrow would be an early morning.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Back to the cars and planes...

So my flights to Knoxville and Pittsburgh were relatively uneventful. My first pair of flights was NY to DC, DC to Knoxville. I did figure out that Reagan Airport (DCA) is not the best place to have to spend a layover, not much shopping or food there. Knoxville's airport was cute - 10 gates and the place was totally shut down (even the security lines) when my flight got in around 9pm. As in the area was gated off for the night. I didn't know airports shut down at night, it was kinda weird.

Then I flew from Knoxville to Charlotte to Pittsburgh. Charlotte is a much more interesting place to spend a layover; however, it's a dangerous place. My flight came in at terminal E and my next flight was from terminal C. There are tons of food places and shopping places, though I didn't partake in too much of that since it took so long to get between terminals, that was exercise enough! To top it off it's like a slalom course trying to avoid the golf carts for the handicapped people. What is going on in Charlotte? There were more people being driven around on carts then there were walking around. The theory I came up with is that there were always a higher number of handicapped people there and then they built the airport and started running people over with the carts creating a larger number of handicapped people. These are the theories you come up with when you spend too much time in an airport...

These flights to Pittsburgh were the more interesting pair. First we got NO service flying to Charlotte, I got service in Egypt on a 30 minute flight, US Airways Express is a bunch of weenies. I finally learned why it is that on some flights you can gate check a larger carry-on and why on others you don't. I flew US Airways - US Airways does not do gate checking, if you're on a smaller plane either it fits or it goes as checked baggage. On US Airways Express the planes are smaller so they will gate check larger carry-on. Finally, a mystery solved! I still didn't figure out how come the smaller plane that US Airways uses, which held a similar number of people as the US Airways Express plane, had so much more room in the overhead bins and why the seats seemed roomier too. But I did meet a nice girl on the flight into Pittsburgh, we talked the whole trip which made us not notice that our flight got in a little late.

Flying home from Pittsburgh was with Jetblue. I love Jetblue - I've only had one delayed flight with them, the staff is nice, you actually get a snack and you have a TV. When I got in the airport I had to check to see if my carry-on was still carry-on size. My friend in Pittsburgh had a large present for me and I had to expand my carry-on. It turned out to be too big for the smaller plane, though they did offer to let me try to take it on as a carry-on since there weren't a lot of people on the flight. I decided since it was free to check my bag and I didn't feel like dragging the thing around if I was going to end up checking it that I would just check it there. That worked out fine since the suitcase made it to NY. Also my flight got in 40 minutes early and I had to wait for my ride anyway, why not wait the extra 2 minutes to get the suitcase. Which reminds me, they had our suitcases at baggage claim super quick, I don't ever remember getting my bag that quick before!

My rental car... I rented from Thrifty at Knoxville for 3 days. I rented an economy car since it's just me and I don't need more then that. The girl kept trying to up-sell me a bigger car, saying the mountains down by Pigeon Forge were so big I might need more power. I didn't take her offer. I got a Toyota Camry, which is the first rental car I've had that I actually liked, and it had plenty of power for what I was doing. They probably ran out of economy cars and wanted to get me to pay for the upgrade. When I dropped it off, Thrifty was closed so I just dropped the keys in a box, I haven't heard anything since so I'm assuming everything was fine. One thing I didn't like about Thrifty at the Knoxville Airport is that their cars were parked the furthest away from the terminal. But then the airport was so small that it wasn't that big of a deal.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Planes, Cars and Children

Ahhh, I'm finally getting around to something about my trip... I thought I would start with the obvious - traveling by plane, car and children. I'll start with kids.

I complained recently about lap children (those under 2 who do not have a seat), while I understand there are people who can not afford to pay the inflated price of a seat, I think some parents are just irresponsible about it. If you're going on a vacation and you can't afford that seat, then maybe you can't afford the vacation??? But if you're visiting grandma and grandpa then I'm feeling a bit more generous to your struggle.

But, what I saw on my flight home from Pittsburgh was disturbing. A child, who had to be close to 2 years old, traveling with her father. Originally Dad sat in a seat next to another person (this was a smaller plane with 2 seats on each side of the isle.) Since the plane was fairly empty he moved up a couple rows, giving me a birds eye view of him and the daughter. The daughter never sat during the flight, she was climbing on the father during take off and landing in such a way that he could not sit straight in his seat. This was a child that should never have been a lap child, she should have had her own seat and had a car seat.

If you're child cannot sit down during take off and landing and turbulence, then you're child needs to be restrained in a car seat. I know it's a pain in the butt, but this is the safety of your child. I found this child's behavior disturbing, and I don't even have children of my own. The worst part is that the flight was $60, I think the highest I saw it advertised for was $80. Then the guy has this wacky contraption with a giant seat that straps to his back that the kid sat in when he went around the airport. I tried to find it on the internet, but couldn't. It was like a big canvass chair with metal tubing to make the shape of it. Then it harnessed on the father like a backpack, the child is seated facing the fathers head. Of all the wacky things they make that you could use to carry your child in while going away, he came up with THAT! But didn't get his child a seat on the plane, which is one thing if he figured the plane might be empty and he could get two seats. But how about the car seat???

I'm too worked up now to write about my flights and my car rental, I'll do that tomorrow, sorry.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

European Discovery Day 7

Day 7 (May 14): Austrian Tyrol to Venice

Spectacular scenery as we head south to Venice. Enjoy a complimentary motor boat trip to see St Mark’s Square, the Doges’ Palace, the Bridge of Sighs and treat yourself to a gondola ride.

Got up at 6:00am, and the bus left at 7:30 for Venice. The first sight this morning was Reuben's home in Hofpgartten. We started with a 3 hour drive till our first stop in Italy. Despite the dire warnings from Hans on how chaotic it would be, it wasn't too bad. I even managed to get lunch and go to the bathroom. After lunch we had another 3 hour drive, during which a bug took up residence on my windowsill. Since I was afraid of this bug I asked Alberto to save me, all he did was taunt the bug, which didn't move. And I thought he was a man! So I closed the curtain until Mike, Maya, and Anne saved me, Thanks Guys!!!! This horrifying incident was on top of my Pringles container opening and half the Pringles falling out into the bag it was in. I tried to get as many back into the container, but had to eat half because I couldn't fit them in. While eating them, one got caught in my throat so I grabbed my bottle of water. To my surprise I had accidentally bought carbonated water, which is VILE, even worse when choking on Pringles. Oh, and did I mention that in the middle of the night I got up to go to the bathroom and bashed my leg on the bed, leaving a huge bruise. No, today wasn't going well.

It had been raining all morning, but when we arrived in Venice around 2:00pm it had cleared up. Our first stop was glass blowing, again a brief interesting demonstration. The glass was too expensive for me though, so off we went exploring. Anne, Garry, Laurie, Nicola, Maya and I headed to the water bus for a ride to San Rialto, and met Mike on the boat. The bus was very crowded and we seemed to end up in the way whenever people were getting on and off. When we got off in San Rialto we got our first gelaties, they were yummy. We wandered around for a while in the general direction of San Marco Square stopping in shops. In Venice it doesn't help to use a map, you just wander around and get lost. There are signs all over the place that will point you in the right direction, and I know they worked because we ended up in San Marco. When we got there we went to find a bathroom, here I had the pleasure of paying 50 euro cents to use a skuzzy co-ed bathroom, but at least there were toilet seats. Italy doesn't have the best bathrooms...

So while waiting for Hans to meet us for our Gondolas rides it started to rain, and when it rains, it pours! Most bailed on the gondola ride, but 10 of us braved it in the rain. My boat had Me, Mike, Maya, Laurie and Garry. The other boat had Kristen, Yolandi, Lisa, Caitlin and Jenny. The gondola gave a different view of Venice, you got to see just how much Venice had sunk down and how rundown it had become from the salt water. It's actually pretty sad because you could tell how nice it must have been in its day, but was looking kinda sad now. Oh, and no the Gondolier didn't sing to us, but he wasn't on his phone the whole time like I had heard some other people complain about.

After the Gondola ride Hans got Maya and I spots at the optional dinner. We hadn't planned on going, but with the rain screwing things up we decided that was the best thing to do. The dinner really wasn't much to write home about. The food was ok, the vegetarians didn't like it at all. The entertainment was ok too, not terribly impressed by the guy not knowing the words to Thats Amore. Anyway, when we first arrived at the restaurant I noticed that the charm on my necklace was missing, I looked around the floor by me, but didn't find it. The problem was that the last time I remembered having it was before the Gondola ride, obviously it was gone forever. But as luck would have it, at the end of dinner Steven found my charm on the floor, it's a small miracle since I had only told one person, not Steven, that I had lost it.

After dinner Maya and I decided to take a little walk around before it was time to go back to the hotel. About 2 canals later I realized I had left my purse in the restaurant, what is up with me today??? Will nothing go right? So I ran back, and everyone was still there, as was my purse. Then I had to run back to meet Maya, you wouldn't believe how far apart these canals were! I ran into other people from the tour who said Maya had left without me, but she had asked them to wait for me. Kamala and Mikki got the biggest, gaudiest, bags. Mikki's was a Louie Vuitton, don't remember who supposedly made Kamala's, but they paid 20 euros. These bags were almost the size of my suitcase, they were hysterical!

After that we headed back to the hotel, I think we got there around 9:30. I had to drag my suitcase up a flight of stairs, that was nice. I tried to call home from here, but had trouble with the Contiki e-kit card. I ended up having to get pissy with Customer Service and they put my call through, of course when no one answered at my Mother's office I realized it was Saturday and she wasn't at work. duhhhh!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

European Discovery Day 6

Day 6 (May 13): Munich to Austrian Tyrol

A scenic drive through the Bavarian Alps takes us into the heart of the Austrian Tyrol. En route, perhaps a chance to try White Water Rafting. Later relax in this picture postcard paradise.

This morning we were lucky enough to get an extra hour of sleep so I didn't have to get up till 7am, yea! Today's first stop will be Dachau Concentration Camp, since their was not enough interest in White Water Rafting. Actually, most people decided they would rather go to Dachau over rafting. The Concentration Camp was a very good experience, interesting to see. Apparently, in Germany students must go to a Concentration Camp by the age of 12, I think one of those school trips were there, as their was a group of kids, two of which thought it was a jungle gym. I would have killed them if they were my children.

Around 2:00 we got to Innsbruck, a quiet little city surrounded by gorgeous mountains, and home to the 1964 and 1976 Olympics. We first saw the Golden Roof, then headed to Swarovski where I bought some gifts for Mom, Heidi and Kelly. I grabbed lunch at a little bakery across the way with Cindy, Christine, Caitlyn and Jenny, it was a nice lunch and cheap too. At this point I decided that I wanted to move to Austria.

At 4:15 we were off to meet the bus and drive to the hotel we were staying at in Itter. Itter is a quaint little town where the neighbor milks his cows and walks them up the street to a grassy field, I was NOT in NY anymore! In Itter there is a castle and great views of the mountains, since we were part way up the mountain. Our room had a balcony, but it was hard to get the doors here to stay closed, the latches worked funny. We had a chance to take a walk or hang out for a while before dinner. Then after dinner we had more time to hang out and walk again. I took a walk down to the castle, but didn't get further then the sign warning of a dog. On our way back we saw Laurie and Garry walking down to the castle, they came back a little while later, but now they were engaged. Garry proposed to Laurie by the castle, it was very sweet and a great setting. They are just the two nicest people, and a perfect couple, everyone was very happy for them. After that everyone hung around outside drinking until Hans sent everyone in so we didn't keep the neighbors up. But he was nice enough to let Michael and I stay outside for a while since we were having a nice quiet chat. After a while we went in with the rest of the group. Mike carried me to the dance floor at some point, I danced with him till I got an opportunity to run away. Sorry Mike, I hadn't had enough to drink. I also finally got to talk to Lynette and Steven, they're very cool! Just before midnight Nicola and I headed up to bed, the bar must have closed at midnight because a few minutes later we heard people going to their rooms and trying to close their doors, remember they didn't close right. The next morning I found out some never did get their doors shut.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

European Discovery Day 5

Day 5 (May 12): Rhine Valley to Munich:

We follow the Rhine on our way to Bavaria and its capital, Munich (Hansie Heaven). Our orientation tour includes the Marienplatz, with the famous Glockenspiel. Tonight, experience a typical Bavarian beer hall.

This morning I got up at 6:15, after 7 heavenly hours of sleep. So far this hotel has been pretty good. It reminds me a bit of the bed and breakfasts in New England, just bigger. My feelings would soon change... The shower was cold, not just not warm, but COLD, and the shower head had a life of its own. It may have been the worst shower I've ever had in my life. The breakfast was ok, bland cereal and good tea.

Off we went to a presentation on steins; interesting and brief, just the way I like these demonstrations. I went across the street and bought teddy bears for Max and Luke, my nephews. While waiting to get on the bus I found out what happened to all the hot water, Simon took a shower at 5am and used all the hot water! grrrrrrrr. So that's how I met Simon, but he's so lovable that I got over it. Ok, I might never get over it, but I can forgive him. After finally getting on the bus, I had to run off so I could see the worlds largest coo coo clock come to life, I think it made some noise and little dancers went around in a circle a couple times. Thank god I didn't miss that!

At 8:30 we headed out for Munich. Our first stop was around 11:30 for lunch it was a bit nerve racking as I had to try and order German food in Germany. I think I ended up getting Chicken, but I'm not positive. Then I had to pay to use the bathroom, but at least this one cleaned itself, the toilet seat spun around and had a cleaning thing in the back, pretty cool. At least I got a clean toilet for 50 euro cents.

We finally got to the Holiday Inn in Munich around 3:30 and had 45 minutes to get ready to head into the city. I got to see Munich's Olympic Stadium, it had a cool web design. The Holiday Inn was sooooo nice, I wanted to stay there all night, but in the end I did decide to go out. The hotel was clean, we had a balcony, and a menu for what type of pillow we wanted, I opted to stick with the one on the bed. The funny thing was that other people mentioned that when they walked into their rooms, they felt the same way, lets just stay here tonight. But everyone went out.

Off we went on the Metro to Marienplatz to see the Glockenspiel, or Glock Rock as Hans called it. Lets just say this was a step up from the worlds largest coo coo clock, but not a big step. After that the group was off to the Hofbrauhaus. After getting seats I went off with Nicola, Laurie, Monica, and Mel for a little shopping. I bought myself some sandals and some of the other girls got shirts. Then a couple of us broke off to head back for dinner and beer. I had some yummy goulash and a Rodun (half beer and half lemonade). I chatted a bit with Ryan for the first time, and got a good laugh at everyone getting drunk. Most people seemed to have between 2 and 4 liters of beer. I think it was sheer luck that got some people home that night.

At 10:00 Hans and Reuben rounded us up to go back to the hotel. Thankfully Reuben took us to the metro, a couple of us got on the wrong train and he had to save us. Who knows where we would have ended up. We got to be the loud obnoxious group in the train station. Some guy looked so mad at us, his face was bright red and he was holding his ears. On the train there was some poor guy surrounded by us who looked very unhappy. Kamala started talking to him in German, eventually he moved over and made a seat for her. Then he told her that he could speak English, he he.

Back at the hotel I had a nice little chat with Reuben about skiing and snowboarding. At his home in Austria he can sometimes ski or board from the mountain right to his door. How nice is that! After finding out he's a bit nutty on skies and boards I got to check my email. Who wouldn't want to get an email from Munich??? While emailing I found Michael's (Canada) camera on the table and rescued it. I got to bed at 12:30.

Monday, September 21, 2009

European Discovery Day 4

Day 4 (May 11): Amsterdam to the Rhine Valley

An orientation tour and a visit to a diamond cutting exhibition. Then to St. Goar on the banks of the Rhine.

I woke up at 2:30am and thought someone was stabbing me in the head, turned out to just be a hangover. I didn't sleep much the rest of the night and finally got out of bed to take a shower. This I thought would be interesting as the shower did not have a shower curtain, but I actually didn't flood the bathroom. After my shower I would give Nicola a report on the shower, a tradition I would continue throughout the trip. Then it was off to breakfast where I had some bread with a butter like substance and Jelly with bad tea, mmmmm.

Our first stop was demonstrations on cheese making and clog making. They were both fairly interesting and brief. At clog making we were told how men were supposed to make special clogs for the woman they wanted to marry, sorry guys but I would rather get a ring. Cheese making isn't the best activity to do when you're hung over, in case you were considering it. Then we headed off to Amsterdam. I went off with Roshni, Kreena, Anne, Alberto, Maya, Nicola to Anne Franks Haus and waited on line. It was a very nice and well setup. By the time we left my hunger had kicked in and I had to threaten Alberto who wanted to go to some museum, all I wanted was lunch. We ended up at Burger King, so much for "when in Rome, do as the Romans do." We did some shopping after that, I got my red Amsterdam sweatshirt I had been eying since the night before.

At 12:30 we met the bus for the drive to St. Goar, Germany. After driving through the extremely flat country of Holland, Germany would bring us beautiful hills lined in grapes for wine production. On this drive Hans announced our Day song, Times Like These by the Foo Fighters the words go like this:

I'm a one way motorway
I'm the one that drives away then follows you back home
I am a street light shining
I'm a wild light blinding bright burning off alone

It's times like these you learn to live again
It's times like these you give and give again
It's times like these you learn to love again
It's times like these time and time again

I'm a new day rising
I'm a brand new sky to hang your stars upon tonight
I'm a little divided
do I stay or run away and leave it all behind

It's times like these you learn to live again
It's times like these you give and give again
It's times like these you learn to love again
It's times like these time and time again

I would like to thank Jen (the not always sober one) for looking up the words, THANKS! After we listened to our song we all got a chance to introduce ourselves, announce our favorite superhero and help Hans with a study he was doing on what people do more often, fold or scrunch their toilet paper. I believe the results were inconclusive.

We arrived in St. Goar at 6:00 and found the weather to be improving. St. Goar was the first warmish place we had been to, and it was 6 at night. St. Goar is a sleepy little town on the Rhine River. Not much going on here, but it was quaint. I got to check my email at the hotel, which was nice. Then I headed out for a little walk around, took some pictures and tried to call home on my Contiki E-Kit card. I ended up spending a euro or two and only checked my voicemail. Sorry Mom and Dad.

At 7:30 we had dinner at the hotel; pork, spetzel, peas, and carrots. It was ok, nothing to write home about. At 8:45 we went to wine tasting. Earlier in the day I had sworn off alcohol, but since I promised Mike, my brother in law, to get him wine from Germany, I had to go. The wines were pretty good, but the company was great. I sat with Monica, Mel, Narelle, Alberto and had frequent visits by Mike (with the camera), and Michael (from Australia). I got some wine for my Mom, Mike and me. Back at the hotel was "Family Night." I had a nice chat with Sophie (who I renamed Pam, since Sophie and Pam both have P's in them), and Jess. I also had a nice chat with Hansie. I headed up to bed a little before 11, I picked the right night to get to bed early as this was the best bed the whole trip!!!!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

European Discovery Day 3

Day 3 (May10): London to Amsterdam

A warm welcome from your Contiki crew as we head for the White Cliffs of Dover and our ferry crossing to France. We continue through Belgium to Holland and its capital, Amsterdam for the evening.

I had set my alarm for 5:45, but hadn't slept much since I was so excited. All of us from the Imperial Hotel met the bus at the bus stop by the hotel and Reuben took us over to the Royal National to start the tour. Around 7:30 we headed out, on this first leg of the journey I sat with Laurie from Canada. She seemed like a really nice girl, and she was. The English countryside was quite lovely, with lush green grass and yellow flowers. Hans gave us an introductory speech. I actually don't remember too much about it, except that we shouldn't use the bathroom unless it was an emergency. I don't think anyone ever did. Hans had us talk to the people behind us, Christine and Cindy who both seemed pretty cool. We took a 10:30 ferry from Dover to Calais. On the ferry we had a chance to check out the White Cliffs of Dover and have breakfast. I also finally met Kamala, who I had met online before the trip, and her friends.

When we were finally in France we had a 3 hour drive until our first rest stop, I sat with Noriko. Noriko was from Japan, but was living in Canada studying English. At our first rest stop we had an opportunity to have McDonalds, pay for ketchup, and pay to use the bathroom. We finally arrived at the hotel at 6:30, where I met my roommate, Nicola from New Zealand.

At 7:00 I had dinner with Laurie, Garry, Chris, Bryan and Alana. I wished I had eaten a little more at McDonalds since the dinner wasn't that great. Luckily the dinners got a getter from here. But they did have good ice cream for dessert. After that we headed out to Amsterdam for our Canal Cruise, featuring free beer and wine. I sat with and had a good chat with Christine, Cindy, Caitlin, and Jenny, sorry to say we didn't hear much about Amsterdam as we were usually talking when the guide was. The best part of the boat though was the bathroom, the toilet was raised as high as a bar stool. After the Canal Cruise Hans took those who were interested on "Hansie's Dodgy Walking Tour of the Red Light District." The window shopping in Amsterdam is not like at home! At the end of the walking tour some went off to the smoke shops, and about 15 of us went to the optional Dutch Cultural Show. It's a bit of Contiki tradition to not talk to much about the Dutch Cultural Show, you'll have to learn about that somewhere else.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

European Discovery Days 1&2

I meant to post this for while I was on vacation, but forgot. Since it will take me a couple days to get myself together I thought I would start posting my travelogue about my European Discovery trip. Once I get my stuff from this past trip together I will post about it. But all went well, had lots of fun.

Here is day 1 and 2...

Day 1 (May 8): New York to London

I got up at 4am and took an 8:20 flight out of NY (Newark Liberty Airport) to London Heathrow. I flew Virgin Atlantic, one of the best airlines. The only complaint I would have about them was that the boarding was disorganized, but I got on the plane so it obviously wasn't a big deal. The plane had a pretty cool entertainment system, you could watch movies or TV shows, play games, track the flight, and get info on destinations. I watched Meet the Fockers, it was ok, the commercials looked better. I also watched Bridget Jones Diary, the sequel, not that great, the first one was better. The food was ok.

My plane landed at 8pm local time. When I got off the plane I made myself quickly through customs and easily followed the signs to the Underground. I took the Piccadilly Line about an hour to the Russell Square Station. I was impressed with the London Underground, the trains were nice and quiet unlike the NYC subway. After dragging my bag up a half flight of stairs and taking an elevator the rest of the way up I was finally really in London. What was the first thing I would see? A bum, I had to come all the way to London to see a bum! So I made a left turn out of the station like I had previously been advised, and then decided that it didn't seem right (perfectly logical since I had never been to London before) and turned around. After walking 2 blocks I learned the error of my ways and turned back and walked past the bum for the third time. I found it a little difficult to get around since I couldn't find a street sign anywhere, I thought I had seen one, but in retrospect I think it was a sign for something else.

Eventually I made my way to the Imperial Hotel and checked in, it was now 10pm. I was given a single room, #452, even though I had paid for a double, but I didn't complain as it would be nice to have some privacy. I room was pretty small, and a little lonely by myself so I went for a walk. I found the Contiki Basement, which was closed, and a little store where I bought some water and apples. I also called home to let the family know I had gotten in ok. I got to bed around midnight and tried not to think about how early it would be if I was at home.

Day 2 (May 9): London

Today is a free day to explore London...

I woke up at 7:30 so I would have an opportunity to see as much as possible in London. I didn't sleep well, and ended up only getting about 4 hours of sleep, ughh! It wouldn't be quite so bad, but I hadn't slept well the 2 previous nights. After showering and getting dressed I made my way to the Contiki basement, but the internet wasn't working so I headed out sightseeing. I took the Big Bus Company bus tour, it was one of those hop on and off tours. I was feeling a little intimidated by London after having gone the wrong way the first night when I got out of the Tube. I changed buses at Trafalgar Square and two stops later got off because I decided that I was feeling brave enough to do the Royal Walking Tour. I just hadn't really worked out my times well and ended up wasting a bit of time this morning. But, I did have an opportunity to take a walk around Trafalgar Square, where they were cleaning up from the VE Day celebration the previous evening, and I found a cute little market.

So off I went on the Royal Walking Tour. First we went by the Gentelmans Clubs (not that kind, the British Royalty kind) on Pall Mall. Then it took us to St. James Palace, and down The Mall to Buckingham Palace to see the changing of the Guard. It was cool, but what a waste or time and money for the British Government! After that we took a little walk around the Palace and ended the tour. I grabbed a quick lunch at a little cafe type restaurant.

After lunch I got back on the bus and headed to the Tower of London, passing the London Eye and London Bridge along the way. William the Conqueror built the initial White Tower here, and it grew from their. Apparently they killed a lot of people at the Tower of London, the records indicate the number is in the 300's, but they found the remains of over a 1,000. Hmmmm. I missed a bit of the guided tour as it had started to rain and I didn't have my umbrella. It was a shame really, aside from being cold, the weather had been nice the rest of the day. I should have known, I was in London. While I was here I got to see the Crown Jewels, quite impressive, but not really my taste.

After the Tower of London I headed back to the hotel so I could rest a bit before the Pre-tour meeting. At the Pre-tour meeting I met Hans, our Tour Manager, and Reuben, our driver. I also met Ali, Lisa, Anne, Maya, Alberto, Mike, Michael and Monica, Roshni, and Kreena. After the meeting a bunch of us went to The Goose, as was recommended by Mike. I think his exact words were, "we're goin to The Goose." At the Goose Mike pushed wine on Maya, making me think he would be a total pain in the ass the whole trip. He ended up pissing off a couple people that night. In the end though Mike really was a sweetheart who was always willing to help everyone, he would just take a couple dozen pictures in the meantime. After a bit I headed out with Kreena and Roshni for dinner at the restaurant at the Imperial Hotel, as I hadn't had dinner and was starving. I tried to get to bed a bit early so I could be well rested for the trip.

Friday, September 11, 2009

The Challenge - Only a Carry-on

For my trip to Knoxville and Pittsburgh I have challenged myself to take only a carry-on. There are a couple reasons for this, but it's mostly because I have 2 flights for each leg of my trip and am afraid my luggage will get lost. It's also an intriguing challenge for myself as a person who sometimes over packs. I've gotten much better over the years, which is why I think I might be able to do this. I also know that when I get to Pittsburgh I will be able to do laundry if I need to.

Some things I plan to do to get all my stuff in 1 carry-on suitcase. Skip the hairdryer. I have made sure that all my hotels have hairdryers available. I'm also only taking my small point and shoot camera that fits in my pocket instead of my DSLR. I'm going to wear my sneakers and bring a pair of sandals. I'm not sure what clothes I'm bringing but I will check the weather closely to make sure I have the right clothes, I often over pack clothing when I have the space to accommodate for different weather. I wont have that luxury on this trip.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Visiting State College and Penn State

This past weekend I went to State College, PA for a Penn State game. It was a fantastic weekend, but then I love it every time I'm in State College.

My weekend started with a delayed drive with my friend Tara (from Hawaii). I didn't think we would make it, but we did make it to the Football Eve events at Beaver Stadium (football stadium of the Nittany Lions). Tara and I easily got parking and were there a few minutes early. At Football Eve the Blue Band played and introduced some of the freshman to some of the Beaver Stadium traditions. Curt Warner was introduced and honored as he was being inducted to the College Football Hall of Fame this year. Then Joe Paterno and the football team were introduced. Joe Pa gave a motivating speech and the night was over. Tara and I however were quite hungry and went to Baby's for dinner. Baby's is a little 50 diner in town, the food is average but cheap and I've always liked the atmosphere, I always go to Baby's when I'm in town. After that it was time to start the shopping expedition, Tara and I always seem to have to visit every store twice to make sure we get just the right things to complete our Penn State clothing collections. A woman's job is never done!

We stayed at the Comfort Suites Hotel on North Atherton, it was a little outdated but otherwise an ok hotel. I do generally prefer to get a hotel room in town, but there aren't many of those. It was expensive though since there weren't many hotel rooms left when I went to book. We ended up with a "suite" - it had a couch in a separate area, though the area wasn't really separated. We did have a refrigerator and a microwave which are handy. The hotel also had a pool and hot tub as well as offering a free breakfast. The breakfast was pretty good for a hotel breakfast, cereal a variety of bread products and make your own waffles there was also orange and apple juice.

On Saturday we decided to take the shuttle to the football game, it was a good decision, though not a fun way to travel. We waited 20 minutes for the shuttle which is supposed to come every 10 minutes. We were the first stop so it took another 40 minutes to get to the stadium. The worst part was we were the last stop on the way back, but that only took 25 minutes at least. But for $6 it wasn't a bad deal. I just wish I had known how long it would take.

The game was great, the student section looked even more fun then when I was there and Penn State was only playing Akron. We won 31-7. After Football Eve and the game I remember how much I love Penn State, there is a great pride in the school and everything about it. Even the football videos who images of Old Main and other spots on campus, these are the places that every Penn Stater loves!

After the game we took a nap (12:00 games are WAY too early, and I'm not even a student!) After our nap we ate dinner at Mario and Luigi's an Italian place across the street from the hotel and it was fantastic. The salad was great, I got the Balsamic Italian dressing which was a bit oily, but there was an abundance of herbs in it giving it a lot of flavor, I don't find many places that can do that. The ravioli were freshly made and delicate and delicious. The Lemonade was fresh and delicious too, though no free refills for that. I would absolutely recommend this place to anyone visiting. Then we went back to town for some more shopping and then had a drink at the Fridays by the hotel (we liked the idea of being able to walk back to the hotel after having drinks). Sunday we just did a little campus tour and went home, I miss the place already.

Some places that we didn't go this time, but I do enjoy going to when I visit. The Corner Room, an inexpensive diner type of place with good food and always a line. The Deli a little more expensive, but also has good food. If I'm staying downtown I like the Days Inn, it's in walking distance to the campus and centrally located in town.

Things I don't like - The Nittany Lion Hotel, this is sacrilegious, I know, but the place is expensive and has the worst bed I've ever slept on in a hotel. The Diner - aside from having a sticky because it's a sticky, it's a crappy diner.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Dining Alone

When traveling, unless traveling with a friend or partner you sometimes end up eating alone – whether on a tour or when doing independent travel. For most people this is a departure from their typical lifestyle. For some it's a social stretch, how often do you eat alone?

 I first dealt with this on a conscious level when I had along wait in an airport. When you have 3 hours, there is only so much shopping and reading you can do so it’s nice to eat at the airport. But instead of just doing the fast food place I went to Fridays and had a nice sit down meal. An airport isn’t a bad place to try out eating alone. There are quite a few other people doing that already, you’re not in a place where you’re likely to run into people you know, and you probably already have something to distract yourself with - a book or a magazine.

When you’re on vacation alone you shouldn’t feel forced to eat fast food for every meal, or have to bring food back to the hotel or picnic just because you’re alone. You can and should eat in restaurants and enjoy the local cuisine without feeling subconscious or out of place. If it's hard for you, then try finding times and places, like the airport, where you can practice doing it, it's not as scary as it seems.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Babies on a plane and Penn State

Tomorrow (Friday) I'm heading out to Penn State for a football game. It's only the Akron game, but I'm quite excited. I haven't been to a Penn State game since I went to the PSU vs Boston College game in 2004 in Boston. Much too long... I'm dreaming of the fun of Beaver Stadium, yelling "WE ARE..." "..Penn State." Shopping downtown State College for Penn State clothing and visiting the creamery for some Ice Cream...

On a completely different topic... My friend is flying this year with your 7 or 8 month old baby. She was planning on buying a seat for her baby, until she found out that a seat for a baby is actually $100 more then it is for an adult. This is outrageous to me. A baby doesn't take up any extra room, and doesn't require a snack or drink. Further this is a safety issue. For some reason airlines apparently have this idea that because it's free it's a good idea to have your baby on your lap, I've heard of people being discouraged from buying an infant a seat by the airlines. Hello, it's a safety issue some people think that the extra money is worth their piece of mind. But there is a breaking point, like $100 more for an infant. I think it's irresponsible of an airline to charge more for a child. They should be encouraging (or at least neutral) to parents who choose to get a seat for their child. They should charge less, not more for that child. I don't get it?

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Coney Island, NY

I recently spent some time working in Coney Island, home of the world famous Nathans hot dog. I'm not impressed with the place, it's quite dumpy. It's slated for refurbishment, and it needs it. It looks like there were once a lot of "pay by the hour" hotels there that have since been boarded up, isn't that quaint? Most of the shops are small and unwelcoming. For food there is Nathans (with limited seating), Popeye's and some other not too exciting fast food options. There are vacant lots that are overrun with weeds. I'm told by others that Coney Island at night isn't terribly safe in terms of crime. Have I convinced you to skip Coney Island yet??

The good? The subway station was redone and is and fairly nice for a NYC Subway station. Keyspan Park featuring the Brooklyn Cyclones is nice for a family baseball game. The amusements are classic old school types of stuff - wooden roller coaster and carnival games. The beach looks (I'm working there, not going to the beach) nice and fairly well kept up.

The verdict? Unless it's summertime or you really want a hot dog from the original Nathans, don't bother. If it's summer and you want a NYC beach or you want that hot dog, then it's not a bad place to visit for a couple hours during the day. But don't expect a nice fancy area, this is a run down little area with a beach and boardwalk. Nathan's hot dogs are pretty good too.