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, January 29, 2010

Jetblue broke my heart

Last year I earned 2 Truepasses through Jetblue's frequent flyer program. I used one of those passes last September, the other will expire tomorrow. I had offered my flight to my mother a while ago and she planned to use it, but then they laid off a bunch of people at work and she couldn't commit to booking a flight this month. I've been toying with some ideas, but with surgery scheduled for next month I can't even think about a trip (did I just say that?). Then to add insult to injury, Jetblue announced this week that they were shutting down their reservation system today and tomorrow - effectively shortening my year at the last moment, thanks!

On Tuesday night I decided to take action and call Jetblue to see if their are any exceptions to the rule - that would be a big fat NO! And, my agent Karen wasn't terribly sympathetic to my case, it was just - no, their are no exceptions. I tried to explain again, thinking maybe she needed more persuasion, I ended up convinced that she has no heart. I asked to speak to a supervisor and was told I didn't need one because there are no exceptions. Now I was concerned with the lack of heart thing, and started wondering if she was a computer reading a script. Has Jetblue's phone been so busy that Karen (or the computer named Karen) forgotten to insert the part about "I'm so sorry about this inconvenience and I understand your frustration, but our policy is that we can not transfer calls to supervisors in regards to extending Truepasses." No, instead I got, "you don't need to speak to a supervisor."

Ya know what, I did, and I still need to.

I promptly went on the website to complain, I submitted my complaint and got a canned response back on Wednesday. Apparently, someone is missing the point. Jetblue is an airline that prides itself on bringing humanity back to air travel - I found that on their website, that's what they say - there words, not mine. Where is the humanity?

I've flown Jetblue many times and I flew with them within the first few months of their launch. I dealt with customer service a couple times and everything always worked out fine and I felt like a valued customer. I've had flights delayed with Jetblue and even those were relatively good experiences. My attitude has changed...

I woke up the morning after the call and Jetblue was dead to me, they had broken my heart and I no longer wanted to book a flight with them or fly on their planes. I wrote another letter, a real one, on paper with an envelope and a stamp and a signature (I think my true calling is consumer advocate.) I briefly explained what had happened and how I lost my desire to fly with them. I expressed my concern with customer service - I have NEVER EVER in all the companies that I had called (and trust me I have called my fair share) been told I can't speak to a supervisor. Then I went into how they weren't living up to their mission of bringing humanity back to air travel and that I no longer wanted to fly with them that I might as well fly with a legacy carrier because they would at least let me speak with a supervisor.

In the end all I wanted was for Jetblue to act like they cared, to humor me a bit and let me think I'm a special customer to them. Instead, they broke my heart. Jetblue your dead to me!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Oslo to Andalsnes

Day 8: Oslo to Andalsnes: On to Lillehammer, host town for the 1994 Winter Olympics, and perhaps a chance to try the bobsled run? We then follow a picturesque route past lakes, waterfalls and mountains to our beautifully situated campsite. (Breakfast and Dinner included)


Hotel: Tollstigen Camping & Gjestegard
Breakfast: 7:15 Bags to the bus: 8:00 Bus departs: 8:30

I got up a few minutes before my alarm today, and when I got to the shower there was a line, I knew there was a reason I got up extra early. After breakfast a couple of us were talking near the Top Deck tent and noticed that they had a toaster. WHAT? We do NOT have a toaster! I mentioned it to Dion who was equally disgusted with Contiki. But I guess when you have 14 people a toaster is easier to manage. Today I sat with Ted on the bus and got to wear my Bobsledding t-shirt since today we were going on the optional I had dreamed about in statistics class - Bobsledding in Lillehammer!!!!!!!!! But we had some things to do first, like stop for gas and the bathroom. Then we were off to Lillehammer.

We got our first view of Lillehammer when we made a quick photo stop across from Lillehammer on the Mjsoa Lake. Our first stop in Lillehammer was the Olympic ski jump, I of course spent the 10 NKr to go up to the top, and then I spent another 160 NKr on souvenirs. Finally, Olympic souvenirs! When we started to pull out of the parking lot we saw Nancy running after the bus, she almost missed it, but we did wait for her, but she said she was prepared to hitch a ride into town. After the ski jump we went into the town, and you could see why this was one of the best Olympics. It's a quaint little town, reminded me a bit of Innsbruck, only smaller, but it had that quaint small town Europe feel to it. We had a hour for lunch and to take a look around. I grabbed some lunch at the local supermarket and took a look around, bought a few more little things then sat in the park eating my lunch till it was time to leave.
By 1:00 we were off to the Bobsled. My team would be Lis, Jilly, and Nancy - "4 Non-Aussies." We were the 3rd sled to go, I sat in the front, behind the professional driver. A bunch of the guys pushed us off as everyone cheered for us, the noise was deafening! Then we picked up speed and turned to the left, the right, my head bopping back and forth, eventually hitting the sides of the sled because of the force. It was a rush, and I got a great view since I only had the drivers head in front of me. Then cheering once again as we went up hill and came to a stop. Our time was 65:72. We didn't beat any Olympic records, but we came in 3rd for our group. After we finished we had plenty of time to take photos of the other sleds coming down. I even went into the circle at the bottom on the inside of the track where they had a stone monument thing with the winners of the Olympic Bobsled and Luge competitions. There was some delay because they had a problem with the machine that moves the sleds off the truck (they are driven back to the top of the track), so we didn't finish until 3:00, which meant we had to eat lunch on the bus. On the way to our campsite we stopped at some Troll Shop that was supposed to have good prices (apparently it depended on what you bought, some people found good prices there, while others found things cheaper elsewhere). From there we had great views as we drove through the mountains to our campsite, aside from beautiful mountains there were also waterfalls everywhere, Norway is beautiful.

Finally we got to our campsite at 7:30, it was nestled in a valley surrounded by the mountains, quite possibly the nicest setting of all our campsites. At this site I was rooming with Leah, Caroline and Renae. We found out quickly that they had washers and dryers, we decided to mix our stuff together so that we could all get some stuff done and so that we could save a bit of money since it wasn't cheap. Apparently we weren't as quick as we thought and were next in line for one of the washers. Dinner was at 9pm and was a little skimpy this evening. Apparently this caused a bit of an uproar for some people, and in fairness we do have quite a few big guys on the tour, so while there was always enough to fill me up, I'm sure others left dinner hungry. I think someone said something to Dion, and we never had a problem again.

I ended up spending the rest of the night in the laundry room chatting with Leah, Renae and Karl. While there we found out the the dryer sucked and ended up having to hang all our stuff in the room, later on I found out that after 3 or 4 hours you stuff would be dry, isn't that handy! I got to bed around 12:30, but because we were talking, I didn't get to sleep till at least 1am.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Myrtle Beach is so not Pigeon Forge

A couple months ago when I found out I was going to Myrtle Beach I did a little research on what there was to do there. Based on the list, I thought it was going to like Pigeon Forge, TN. I was very wrong.

Myrtle Beach is a beach community (shocking, I know) with a lot of condo/time share buildings. There are also a lot of houses and middle class suburban areas. Pigeon Forge was a commercial strip of land with hotels and cheesy activities. I had kinda enjoyed that cheesiness of Pigeon Forge, but after visiting Myrtle Beach with my pre-conceptions I could see why National Geographic Traveler bashed Pigeon Forge for wrecking the Smokey Mountain area.


One of the curious things in Myrtle Beach were the houses, I'm sorry I didn't take pictures. There were quite a few very boxy houses. They looked like tall cubes plopped on a square of land, often 3 stories and narrow with what looked like a basement above land. Then a couple houses down there were be your typical bungalow type of house. Next there would be a large grandiose house with fancy steps leading up to it, something you would picture in Beverly Hills only smaller and with less land.

As for the things to do there, I didn't have much time but it seemed like there was just an entertainment complex with restaruants and recreation stuff to do (Ripley's Aquarium was one). Then in another area there was a massive mall that had some other activities, my nephew did a bungy thing there and LOVED it.

Overall Myrtle Beach was a nice area, a good place for families who like the beach and the availablity of other activities without over stimulation. The downside is that the place has every chain restaurant, but I didn't notice many local types of places.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Oslo

Day 7: Oslo Sightseeing: A whole day to enjoy the many sights. A chance to visit the Kontiki Museum with its amazing raft and see the Gustav Vigeland sculptures in Frogner Park. (Breakfast included)


Hotel: Vivbratan

Breakfast: 8:15 Bus departs: 9:00


I was up at 7am this morning and took a free shower, yea! But since nothing is truly free, every time you pushed the button for the shower it would last about 30 seconds, so you had to keep pushing it. After a few minutes you could kinda tell when it was about to go out and could keep a pretty steady stream going. The adventures in travel!

At 9am we were off to Holmenkollen, home of the biggest ski jump in the world. And I have to say, it was pretty damn big! You would have to be nuts to jump off that thing! When we first got there everyone was taking pictures of it and then we finally got to go inside, they have a ski museum there, showing skis over the years, and Holmenkollen over the years and Olympic stuff from the 1952 Oslo games, I was in heaven. Then I went up to the top, you take an elevator about half way (on the picture you'll notice a post holding the ski jump up, that post had the elevator in it), but you had to climb (141 steps) the rest of the way to the top. Again I have noticed that the Stairmaster does not translate to stairs, what good is a stairmaster if it doesn't help with stairs? While I was waiting to go to the top they had ski jumping skis on the wall, wow, they are really wide! I guess it makes sense since you use them to fly, but they were still wider then I thought they would be, and generally just really big. But the wait in line and the 141 stairs were all worth it once you got to see the view down! It was beautiful! After a little Contiki photo session I went back down so I could do some shopping for Olympic paraphernalia. Sadly there wasn't any Olympic stuff for me to buy. Then I wanted to go on the ski jump simulator, but I didn't have time for that, and the ATM. Money won out. But money did not come out of the ATM machine; for some reason it didn't like my ATM card, or Kevin's for that matter. All I had was 50 NKr from when I bought a ticket to the simulator with my credit card and then returned the ticket (got cash back) because I was afraid I would run out of time and miss the bus. Renae ran into her parents at Holmenkollen, they were on a cruise that was in Oslo today, I guess it really is a small world. She met up with them later to get clothes from them.

Our next stop on the bus was Frogner Park. I must admit I wasn't terribly excited about this, but when in Rome, do as the Romans do. Or go where the Tour Manager takes you. We arrived at 11:45 and were walked through a cemetery to the Park (I don't make the news, I just report it). In the park we saw lots of statues, mostly of naked people in strange poses. We of course saw the whining baby, reminds me of a temper tantrum. It was one of the smallest statues in the park, but probably the most famous (it was the only one I had heard of), I was surprised how small it is. If Che hadn't shown us where it was I probably wouldn't have found it.


After Frogner Park we went into Oslo. We were dropped off at Acker Brygge at 12:30 for our free day. The first thing I hoped to do was get my camera looked at, but since I didn't get my own map of the city I decided that I was better off going around with a group and seeing the city, I probably wouldn't have bothered getting my camera fixed, especially since it worked on automatic. So off I went with Marie, Kieran, Ashley, Chris, Jacqui, Kevin and Patrick. But first we needed lunch. Chris and I ended up at Burger King while everyone else ended up at a little deli type place. After our quick bite we were off to the National Museum. We tried a couple ATM's, but with no success, well Kevin and Patrick got money, it was just me who couldn't get it. Apparently, my bank was refusing to give me my money. I didn't understand why, I told them I was going away and hadn't had any trouble using my ATM card anywhere else or my credit card either. Of course it was a Sunday so I couldn't even call. But I trekked on, eventually I would get money, either that or I was going to owe someone a lot of money. So after eating and not getting money we went to the National Museum, which is free. So are you wondering what is in the National Museum in Oslo that is interesting to see? Well, The Scream, The Madonna, and Da Vinci's Self Portrait. I must admit that other then that I wasn't all that into the museum, but it was small enough that you could look around the whole place in an hour or so.

After the National Museum I wanted to see the Resistance Museum; however, there was a conflict. At 3:00 there was a bus going to the area of Oslo that has the Kon-tiki, Fram and Viking museums. Although that all sounded nice, I wasn't really into that stuff, and much preferred to go to the Resistance Museum. So Marie gave me her map and I grabbed another map from the museum and decided to venture off on my own to the Resistance Museum, setting a 5:00 meeting time with Marie so that I could catch up with the group later for dinner. Off I went, on my own. I found the Jewel of the Sea, one of Royal Caribbean's ships, on the way. Across from the ship was the Akerhus Castle which I found out is where the Resistance Museum was. When you walk in there is a handy sign that tells you where you are and where everything was. I studied it for a minute and went into the grounds. Once in I realized I was going to have trouble finding this museum and that I didn't have much time to make a final decision about going to the Kon-tiki Museum. So I looked around a little more, didn't find it and headed back to the 3:00 meeting place. In retrospect this was probably a good decision. Later in the day I found out that Tom had moved the sticker that tells you where you are on the map at Akershus Castle, confusing many tourists, and possibly me, and could be the reason I didn't find the Resistance Museum. Ultimately I ended up going back to meet the group.


When we got to the museums, I decided that they still didn't really interest me, especially if I had to pay to get in. So I took a little walk with Chris and Jacqui and sat on the water for a little bit chatting, it was probably the nicest day so far on the trip, it wasn't raining and it was almost warm out. From where we were sitting we had a nice view of Oslo and the harbor, which was really pretty. We decided to head back toward the ferry and ran into Lis and Jilly, we all took a 4:05 ferry back to Acker Bregger for 20 NKr. The hope was to find an open souvenir shop, but it was 4:30 on a Sunday in Oslo and we couldn't. We ended up just walking around town a bit and I was eventually able to get money out of an ATM. I think my problem was that I was trying to take too much money out at once and was going over my daily limit, all these different currencies were annoying to keep track of.

Eventually we found a little internet cafe with a pub next door, Lis, Jilly and I all checked our email while Chris and Jacqui had a drink next door. While I was gone Rob, Leah B, Stefan, and Tom had showen up. Lis and Jilly split off after a bit since they had decided to go to the movies, they were seeing X-Men, which was playing in English. The rest of us decided to go to an Indian restaurant, we expected the walk to be 10 minutes in the wrong direction. Along the way we ran into Danny, Samar, Karl, Skye, and some other people on bikes. They biked around Oslo and apparently had a wonderful time. When 20 minutes went by and we were only halfway there Chris, Jacqui and I decided to head back and grab something along the way. We eventually ended up in some little whole in the wall type of place having burgers. When we were walking back after dinner we ran into Lis and Jilly coming out of the movies. We were back at the bus at 8:40 (almost everyone was early since there isn't much to do in Oslo at 8:00 on a Sunday), and as we pulled out it started to rain. When we got back to the campsite at 10 the Top Deck tour was in and having a bonfire. I went inside and hung out with Nancy, Donna, Sara and Stephanie for a bit. I found out that I could only transfer around 256 photos onto my ipod before the battery died, too bad my memory card holds twice as many photos.


I liked Oslo, it wasn't an exciting city, but it was quant for how big it was, though I still wouldn't consider it to be one of my favorite cities, like Rome.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Guilty for enjoying your cruise

I saw today on CNN that some Royal Caribbean ships stopped at Royal Carbbean's private island at Labadee on the island of Hispaniola, the same Island that the country of Haiti is on. Apparently, this was quite insensitive to visit the island when there is such a crisis going on in Haiti. I have a heart full of sympathy for the Haitian people, but avoiding the cruise port of Labadee is not going to change anything. It's not going to change the number of people saved or lost nor will it clean up the buildings and rebuild the country. We should all take some time to reflect on the things we are grateful for and do what we can to support the Haitian people and all the people who have gone to Haiti to help. Skipping the Island of Hispaniola for another port will not change anything, to say that would be to say that we shouldn't visit the Dominican Republic and maybe we shouldn't visit other Caribbean islands either, they are close together after all. I was in NYC on September 11 and it was weird to see people getting their nails done, but a week later it wasn't so weird. It will be a LONG time until Haiti returns to anything resembling normal. Instead of worrying about people having pina colladas on the Labadee beach maybe we should worry about people forgetting the Haitian people in a months time when they're not in the news all day everyday.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Spirit, checked bags and fees for seats

A couple airlines last week announced a increase in checked baggage fees - I think it's Continental and Delta but I'm not really sure. And does it REALLY matter, I hate the fees and try to stick with airlines without fees and if I don't I know I'm getting hit over the head with these fees anyway.

But this week I ran into a work friend who is going to Myrtle Beach this Spring and is flying Spirit Airways. Our conversation reminded me of how much I know (even when I think I don't) about travel and that there are so many people who don't know much - the rookies of travel. Well my friend booked his $100 ticket that cost him like $300, he was shocked. I might have the prices a bit off, but the story is still the same... He saw the price, the non-stopness and booked the ticket. Then there were fees for his 2 bags (he's going for golf) and then the fee to choose his seat. What he thought was a good deal was in fact not that good of a deal and after booking the flight he found out that the flight would cost a lot more then he expected. When I think about how annoying I find the checked bag fee now I think how much worse it is for those who find out after booking their flight, at least I am able to factor that into my cost of the flight when booking the flight. Lets just say that my friend doesn't have a good opinion of Spirit Airways, so is the cost worth it if my friend forever avoids Spirit Airways?

Friday, January 15, 2010

Fining Airlines

http://rickseaney.com/2010/01/15/dot-fines-united-airlines-must-treat-passengers-fairly/
I just read the above article. For those who don't want to read it the short version is that DOT fined United Airlines for adding on an illegal fee during a 60 hour computer glitch. I wonder if it's really a glitch and they're sorry they got caught or if it was just a glitch and bad luck. Here is the thing... United was fined $30,000, good for DOT. However, where does that money come from - our pockets. I'm not suggesting that fines are bad and shouldn't be imposed, but I wonder is there other ways that might hurt the airlines more?

How about taking away gates and peak take off times at airports, I'm sure that's a complex process, but I would think that DOT might be able to use that as leverage and it would hurt more then a fine that is passed on to the consumers.

Twitter took me to see Ripley's Aquarium

Before I went to Myrtle Beach I had heard the recommendation that you should post on Twitter for tips on the location. I wrote a post asking what to do with a 7 and 11 year old (my nephews). The tips I got were to go to some indoor water park, Ripleys Aquarium and something else. The only thing I got to see, which I did with my 7 year old nephew was Ripley's Aquarium, and it was a nice place.

The whole aquarium is indoors, a plus when it's 32 degrees outside. The aquarium isn't terribly big, but it had a large selection of fish and exhibits, enough for a good hour to two for a family that isn't fish obsessed. We also did not see any of the presentations since the schedule didn't match ours. We also didn't buy any additional ticket items - like a movie. In addition to the fish tanks there was also an exhibit about babies and incubators included in the base ticket, which had little to do with fish, but was interesting anyway. It also had a couple funny photo spots, especially with a goofy kid like my nephew.

I'll admit I haven't been to all that many aquariums, the most recent was the Shark Reef at Mandalay Bay - this was smaller but just as nice. My sister often takes the kids to a couple different aquariums in NY and when they travel and she really liked this one and my nephew had fun too!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Stockholm to Oslo

Day 6: Stockholm to Oslo: Our route today takes us through Sweden and across the Norwegian border to the capital city Oslo. (Breakfast and Dinner included)

Hotel: Vivbratan
Breakfast: 7:00 Bags to the Bus: 7:45 Bus departs: 8:30

I woke up at 4:45 thinking it was time to get, but didn't realize I was an hour early till I got back to the cabin. Since I didn't want to wake anyone up I just updated my journal till it was time to get ready. Once Cathy got up we chatted for a while untill Leah came in, then we chatted some more until we had to go help with breakfast. The bus pulled out early today, at 8:20.
Our first stop was at 10:50 untill 12:00 at a much less crowded mall/supermarket. Then we drove until 2:35 and had a picnic lunch (since there seemed to be few traditional rest stops in Scandinavia this was common), with a lovely view of the bus! We finally arrived at the Oslo campsite at 6pm. I had slept most of the bus ride today, which is unusual for me, my cold must be making me exhausted when combined with the pace of Contiki. I missed some of it, but did get to see some of the beautiful mountains, lakes, and rivers that make Norway so nice. I think Norway may be more beautiful then Austria, which I didn't think was possible.



This campsite consisted of 2 big houses (one for girls, one for boys), and a couple little cabins (for couples). Our house was pretty cool, it consisted of different rooms with either beds, a sitting area, or both. Before dinner a bunch of us hung out in Stephanie and Sara's room sitting area. Ashley and Kevin came over, Kevin convinced me to drink straight Whiskey or something. He said it would make my sore throat feel better, it felt like my throat burned off... It was chilly outside so it was nice to have a place inside to hang out. At 8pm we had a "Viking" dinner, we were supposed to eat our pork chops with our hands, but I think AJ was the only one who actually did that.

After dinner I did a bit of hand washing and then went out to the campfire to hang out. Dion brought out some marshmallows so that people could toast them over the campfire. Since I'm not a big fan of toasted marshmallows I just ate mine uncooked, mmmmmm. I ended up going with Skye to the couples cabins, which weren't nearly as nice as our house and then to Kevin's room. The guys house was nice, but ours was nicer, go girls! Everyone took a lot of pictures since everyone was out and getting to know each other. Eventually Marie started telling ghost stories from her job and I got freaked out, which was my cue to go to bed. It was after midnight, but the sun had not fully set yet.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Stockholm

Day 5: Stockholm Sightseeing: Today an orientation tour including the Royal Palace and Old Town. In your free time you can visit the 17th Century warship ‘The Vasa'. Tonight why not explore the cobbled streets and sample the local fare? (Breakfast included)

Hotel: Angby Camping
Breakfast: 8:00 Bus departs: 8:30

I was up this morning at 6:15 for my shower, and it worked out perfectly because I took the last empty shower stall, and when I got out a line had formed for the showers. It was interesting taking a shower where you had to pay, especially since the coin slot was outside the shower and you only got 5 minutes. At 7:30 I reported to the cook tent to help with breakfast, although I did a couple things to help out, for the most part I felt like I was in the way. At 8:30 we headed into Stockholm and at 9:00 we did a tour of Stockholm's City Hall. When we first entered the building I dropped my camera, but I wasn't too concerned since I had dropped it before and never had a problem with it, this would actually be a problem later in the day. The building was very interesting, designed to look much older then it is, it hosts the Nobel Prize banquet in the Blue Room. Much thought was put into the design, like the designer having his wife walk up and down several different sets of steps in a gown, to see which was the easiest to walk up and down.

After the town hall we were dropped off at the Royal Palace. It was a cold day with rain off and on all day. Che had spoken to the Tour Manager from the tour ahead of us, the Wind-chill was -24° Celsius in Helsinki. In Stockholm the temperature was around 8-12° Celsius, with a wind that cut right through you. Oh dear, we had to still go a great deal more North.

When we were dropped off at the Royal Palace some people got pictures with the guard from the palace, including some rude Germany woman who would not stand the couple feet or so that you had to stand away from him. She would inch in and he would yell at her, she seemed to be laughing at the whole thing. It was very disrespectful, the classic obnoxious tourist, at least she wasn't American. Anyway, from the Royal Palace I went with Marie, Kieran, Patrick, Kevin and Rob to the Nobel Museum, but first we had to find it. After studying the map a few minutes we discovered that it was pretty much right in front of us, we just couldn't find the entrance. We found the sign for the museum, took pictures with it, walked around a bit and and still couldn't find the entrance. Of course if anyone had paid attention to the sign, it had an arrow pointing in the correct direction, though it was a small arrow. We eventually did find the entrance, and got in a few minutes before a guided tour was starting. After a little while I started to not feel so good, and had to find a chair to sit in. Not sure what came over me, but after a few minutes I started to feel better, and I never felt bad again. It was a little freaky though feeling that ill while I was so far from home and my couch. I guess maybe my cold was starting to drain me.

We tried to see the changing of the guard at noon, but it was pouring rain and you could barely see anything because of the crowd. We decided to skip it and had lunch instead. At 2:00 we met back at the Royal Palace for a ride over to the Vasa Museum.

At the Vasa Museum I saved 40 SKr using my International Student ID Card, Yea! Once inside I tried to take a picture of the ship, but couldn't get my manual settings to work - I tried every which way I could think of, but they didn't work (insert bad word here) I must have broken it when I dropped it at the town hall (insert more bad words here)! Well I wandered around taking some bad pictures of the ship and then went to the movie on the ship. Too bad it was the Swedish version, it had subtitles, but I couldn't keep my eyes open long enough to read them. At least I got a nap in and those who stayed awake gave me the short story when it was over. But the ship was quite large and from the looks of it I'm not terribly surprised that it sunk, it just didn't look right. It didn't look proportional. I was surprised at how many people were at the museum, it was packed! But I got myself a pin of the ship at the gift shop and met the bus at 4pm for a ride back to central station.

A bunch of us decided to go to the Absolute Ice Bar, one of the things on my to do list. Che had tried to get a reservation for us, but couldn't so we had to organize it on our own. When we got there they had a couple slots open to take the last 20 minutes of the current session, but we would have to pay the whole amount, and there weren't enough spots for all of us. In the end a couple of us went in, and then other people left the bar and the rest of the group that wanted to go, got in. It was a neat experience having a drink from an ice glass and hanging out in the silver coats they give you. It was worth the exorbitant amount they charged you, 105 SKr for non-alcoholic drinks and 150 for an alcoholic drink. But we all had fun together picking drinks and taking pictures, the bartender finally had to leave the bar in an effort to get us out of there since our time had expired.

Then it was time for some shopping. We stopped at the System Bologet (alcohol store), and I got 4 bottles of Smirnoff Ice. Then we hit the tacky souvenir stores. I got my one nephew a Swedish Flag Viking hat that I knew he would love. Then we almost had to run to meet the bus at 7:00 for our optional dinner at the Fenix Bar. I probably would have been better off missing the bus though, the dinner wasn't very good.

Our dinner consisted of several types of Herring (they all looked gross), pork Swedish meatballs, potatoes, and mouse. For dessert we had canned fruit salad. Needless to say I didn't each much, and simply consider it to be a cultural experience. I sat with Ben, Stefan, James and Tom. The evening turned into spin the bottle/truth or dare. After a few rounds of getting lucky I decided it was time to bow out gracefully before I started losing, but not before learning a bit about Tom and James. I went to another table to hang out till it was time to leave at 10 to head back to the campsite.

Back at the campsite "club 10" was hoping. Club 10 was cabin #10 where the party was the last 2 nights. I didn't stay up too late but I heard a bunch of people were hanging out with the Top Deck people. I think it was Dion who woke up in the middle of the night with a naked man (aside from the socks he was wearing) in his room, it took a couple minutes but he finally got the guy to leave. When Dion got up in the morning his socks were missing. The naked guy must have taken them, we had a good laugh at that.

Anyway, Stockholm is a nice city, though I didn't get the full feel for it since it had rained so much, I think I might have loved the city if we had nicer weather and actually got to see more of it instead of hiding from the rain.

Friday, January 8, 2010

The Airport is a pain in the ....

On January 1 I traveled out of New York's LaGuardia Airport. I found no difference in security from any of the other times I've flown from any airport. Just the typical take your shoes off and put your bag through the x-ray machine. I thought I might get a little bit of attention since I was flying on a one-way ticket without luggage (I just had a book bag size backpack), but no.


The rest of my experience at the airport was really aggravating! I arrived at the airport 2 hours and 20 minutes before my flight. Inside the terminal the flight departure signs only showed flights for the next hour and a half so I couldn't figure out the gate of my flight. I figured there was one security check point and that I would go through that and by then maybe my flight would be posted on a screen in the gate area. However, each of the concourses had their own security check point so I had to ask a TSA agent, he was pretty sure that my flight was out of gate B5. I walked around a bit and then went through security. Once through security there were NO signs listing the departing flights except for one at the end of the concourse from an individual airline, which wasn't Spirits. To further confuse me Spirits one desk was at gate B6 and that only listed 2 different Ft. Lauderdale flights that were delayed. I would have asked at the desk except that there was already a line of unhappy people and no one staffing the desk. On top of that the gate was in a crammed little corner and was full of people. I opted to walk around a bit more, and get some food. I asked a TSA agent who was inside the concourse if he knew anything, but he didn't and his most helpful advice was that I could go out to the main desk but that I probably didn't want to do that since I would have to go back through security. I decided that I would go find a seat to put my stuff down and try calling Spirit. Spirit's phone support didn't know the gate either and it was now a little over an hour before my flight.


My flight was boarding at 10:55 so at 10:50 I got up and went to gate B6 which now posted my flight, I went to the bathroom (these were poorly marked in the terminal to add to the experience) and went to board the flight. Since all I had was a backpack and I knew I was at the back of the plane I figured I would just board late so I didn't have to fight for a spot on line and sit on the plane forever. I figured maybe I would find a free seat in the plane that I could take instead of the one I was assigned. However, there was a lot of confusion with the boarding. The Ft. Lauderdale flight was leaving a half hour after mine so many people thought the line was for that flight and the announcements weren't very loud, you could barely hear them at the back of the line, adding to the confusion.


Spirit started with boarding the first class passengers and those who required assistance. Then they called some more people, though I don't think it was a group, it seemed like it was more rows in the front of the plane. Not that it mattered because the area by the gate was so crowded that you couldn't get through to the gate if you were called. Then the boarding seemed to have stopped. Then a cop went by, the rest of us got nervous then... Then a stretcher went by, not good. But the roomers were that there was a sick passenger. After 5-10 minutes they finally started re-boarding the plane. They never made another announcement and as the line got shorter people were being turned back at the gate because they were on the Ft. Lauderdale flight .


Once on the plane I found my seat 2 rows from the back, I found the seats to be really tight, when I was slouching in the seat my knees were touching the seat in front of me, and I'm short. But the flight attendant moved me up a couple rows so I could have an aisle seat with no one next to me. That was the highlight of the trip! Spirit charges for food and drink on the plane and the flight attendants weren't very aggressive about selling. I must have missed my opportunity and even my wallet and credit card sitting on my tray table didn't tip them off. Good thing it was a short flight and I wasn't hungry.


My flight only got in about 5-10 minutes late and my whole family - Mom, Dad, sister, brother-in-law and 2 nephews - came to pick me up.

Bottom line on Spirit Airways... I wouldn't rule them out, but it's not the first airline I'll look at either. They were fine for the price, but I'm not sure I would want a 4 hour flight with them where I would be more tempted to check a bag (fee), get myself an assigned seat (fee) and eat and drink (fee for a poor selection).

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Copenhagen to Stockholm

Day 4: Copenhagen to Stockholm: After a short ferry crossing, we arrive in Sweden and head north to Stockholm, Sweden's capital city. (Breakfast and Dinner included)


Hotel: Angby Camping
Bags to the bus: 7:15, Breakfast: 7:30, Bus departs: 8:00

I woke up at 5:30 and couldn't fall back asleep so at 6:00 I got up and took a shower. The bus left at 8 for Stockholm, I was sitting with Cathy today, who I had not yet met. One of the things I like about Contiki is getting to know new people from different places. I try to change who I sit with a lot as it helps to develop relationships.

Che introduced us to what would be our day song, Hard Rock Hallelujah by Lordi, which had just won Eurovision. Although we think he chose the song beforehand he did try to imply that the idea came from a conversation some people had at breakfast about the Eurovision contest. Most people did not like this song, though it seemed to grow on most people by the end. He also explained a bit about the trip, that we're all on two different tours. One, Scandinavia, does just the Scandinavian portion of the trip and returns to Copenhagen after Helsinki. The other tour, Scandinavia and Russia, goes on to Russia after Helsinki. Those going to Russia (me) would get a new Tour Manager and Driver in Helsinki, along with a new bunch of people who are doing just the Russian portion of the tour. On this tour there were 19 people doing just Scandinavia and another 19 doing just Russia, the other 27 (minus 1 since apparently someone left for a "family emergency" from Copenhagen, we think he was really just not into roughing it on this tour) of us were doing both portions of the tour.

After an hour or so we were on a ferry to Sweden. From the ferry you could take pictures of Korberg Palace, which was used in the movie Hamlet. Because of a line for the bathroom when the ferry was almost docked I almost missed the bus. Karl did, but he walked off and was able to get back on the bus. Apparently once they wave on the bus the bus can't stay any longer. After the ferry Dion explained to us about the different jobs on the tour and other cooking related things. The options were cooky, dishy, aqua girl, aqua boy, coach packer or tent erector. I decided to be a cooky, so I would help Dion with cooking meals. After that Che went over the list of optionals for the Scandinavian portion of the trip, I decided to do all but the all you can eat pizza and 10 pin bowling, I would later change my mind and do this optional.

At 12:30 we had our first service stop for 1 hour. It was at a mall and it was recommended that we get something at the grocery store. The mall was insanely busy and the grocery store was HUGE and they sold not only food, but clothing, lumber and everything in between. I ended up splitting a package of rolls with Lis, Jilly and someone else (maybe Nancy) and got some Turkey (that's what a stranger in the store told us it was), apples, bananas and apple juice. I ate my lunch on the bus, which wasn't the most convenient thing to do, I would have to do my shopping quicker next time.

At 4:10 we had a 20 minute stop and then finished our drive to our Stockholm campsite, arriving just after 6:00. The Top Deck bus we saw in Copenhagen was also staying at this campsite, and was right behind us pulling in. This evening I would be sharing a cabin with Leah D., and Cathy. The three of us would also be cookys with Kirsteen and Patrick. After putting our stuff down Leah D and I went to the shop on the campsite to get our shower tokens (you had to buy shower tokens to work the showers). Since the tokens only lasted 5 minutes we decided to get two for each day. Then it was off to help cook.

Dion had us make a salad, cut some veggies and make chocolate mouse (dessert). While preparing dinner the Tour Manager from the Top Deck tour came over and chatted with us, she seemed to have a lot of spunk. We found out that they only had 14 people on their bus and that they had an extra day in Stockholm, but were staying at the same campsite as us in Oslo. Then we served dinner, spaghetti. It wasn't mom's sauce, but it was ok. Poor Ralph sat on the fence to eat his dinner, and the fence broke making him spill his dinner on the ground. After dinner I ended up chatting with people at the campsite, and finally made it to my cabin to find Cathy and Skye talking, I joined them and didn't get to bed till midnight. I had hoped to go to bed a bit earlier since I felt a cold coming on, but I had a nice time talking to everyone, sleep could wait till I got home. So far the group seemed pretty tight, which was really nice.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Book Review - One Year Off

I recently finished the book One Year Off - Leaving It All Behind for a Round-the-World Journey with Our Children by David Elliot Cohen, I really enjoyed this book.

David and Devi took their 3 children (9, 7, and 2 - I think) on the road for 13 months. I liked David's writing style, it felt very intimate, I felt invited into their family. The book is a series of emails sent by David to family and friends, which would explain the honest and intimate feel of the book. The writing immediately caught my attention and I was quickly drawn in by the book.

One example of the honesty of the book and the people is that David and Devi tried to home school their children, a common theme for families that take an extended trip. I'm not a fan of home schooling (aside from the whole pulling your kids out of school for a year then you obviously have to do something). It seems like many families who take extended trips around the world were at least considering switching to home schooling if they weren't doing it already, so home schooling wasn't a jump for them. David and Devi are not that type of family, they tried and failed at home schooling and put the kids into school in Austarlia for 4 months as their education. It's honest and human, and they found a solution to the problem for thier family.

What did I learn?
France is not a good place to take children. Sardinia is a good place to take children. African safari's are good for children but not 2 year olds. Take the babysitter, they help manage the kids and allow you to have an occasional dinner without the kids.

What was missing from the book?
I would have liked a little more information on the families re-entry into "normal" life.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Copenhagen

Day 3: Copenhagen Sightseeing: Our sightseeing tour includes Copenhagen's famous sights like the Geffion Fountain, the Royal Palace and the Little Mermaid. Perhaps a visit to the Carlsberg Brewery this morning. (Breakfast is included)


Hotel: Belaegningen Youth Hostel
Breakfast: 8:00, Bus departs: 8:30

I woke up very early this morning, 6:30, and decided I should take a shower as there were only 2 showers for all the girls in the building (the hostel had us spread out into 3 different buildings). At 8:30 we left for the city and started with a driving tour of the city to orient ourselves. The city seemed much nicer this morning, between the sun shining and not being lost, I almost liked Copenhagen. On the driving tour we were shown Tivoli, Christianborg Palace, the National Museum, Radhuspladsen, Nyhaven, Amalienborg Palace (photo stop), Rosenborg Palace, Geffion Fountain (photo stop), the Little Mermaid (photo stop) and had a drop off at Tivoli for those who were not going on the tour of Carlsberg Brewery. I was excited to see the Little Mermaid, but not nearly as excited as Jilly, it was like a pilgrimage to her, and that made it even more exciting.

We had an 11:00 reservation for Carlsberg Brewery, and did the self guided tour. I don't think I learned much about making beer, but the tour included 2 free beers, which made it a good deal. First I had a Semper Ardens Abbey Ale, which was awful, and decided to cut my losses and get a Fanta after that. Though I did try someone's Winter Something, which was a little better, but I really just don't like beer and a tour of Carlsberg Brewery wasn't going to change that. We left a little before 1:00 and were dropped off at Tivoli for our free day.

A bunch of us headed over to the Church of Our Savior (AKA the inside out church) for a view of the city. On my last tour I missed one or two sites with views of the cities and I regretted it, I didn't want to make the same mistake again. Che warned us that it might be closed, but fortunately for us it was open. The stairs up were rough, all those days I spent on the stair master didn't seem to make it any easier, but the view was great and worth the stairs. Right after leaving it started to rain, and where do you think my umbrella was? At the hostel, so I ended up spending 40 Dkr on an umbrella. But I did trade the umbrella with Kevin for most of a danish, cutting some of my loss. Eventually we found a place to eat lunch - McDonalds, it was raining on and off and it was quick and easy. Leah D. was confused when she ordered the cheeseburger meal and it came with 2 cheeseburgers, instead of one. Apparently in Australia a cheeseburger meal only comes with 1 cheeseburger, well I saved her by buying one of the cheeseburgers off of her. But I was apparently the only person in our little group that was used to getting 2 cheeseburgers with there cheeseburger meal, see McDonalds can be a cultural experience!

After eating lunch we headed down Stroget for shopping, then to Nyhaven and back to Magasin (department store) to look at the legos, they apparently have the largest collection of legos in Copenhagen outside of Lego Land - I expected it to be a bigger collection. I bought a lego police man to add to my collection, one more thing to check off my list of things to get/do. In Magasin we found a little Hans Christian Andersen museum where we watched a little video about his life. Then it was time to head to the all you can eat pizza place most people were meeting at at 6pm. For 66 Dkr you got all you can eat pizza and salad. Then we went to an Australian bar to kill time until our 8:30 pick up. Unfortunately we never made it to Tivoli, since it rained on and off all day, and it was a bit pricey to enter Tivoli (and more to go on a ride) it didn't seem to be worth it. We had a good time at the bar, and I got to know people a bit better, so far everyone seemed cool and the group was starting to gel.

We were picked up at Tivoli at 8:30 and were back at the hostel by 8:50. I hung out in the hallway for a bit talking to Samar, Danny, and Skye, then met Karl in the TV room for a glass of wine. On the way back to my room I got on the internet for a bit, so I could let everyone know that all was well and finally got to bed at 11. Overall Copenhagen wasn't as bad as I thought it was the first day, but for some reason I still didn't love Copenhagen, something about it just didn't grab me.