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.  

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Disney adventure begins

Mom and I flew down to Disney on Jetblue on a Wednesday from T5 at JFK. I've been through T5 previously, and it's a pretty good terminal as far as terminals go. I do find the fast food area a little crammed and offered a strange selection. While there is a Dunkin Donuts, it only serves donuts and muffins - no breakfast sandwiches. The whole set-up is a little uncomfortable. You go to different counters or to the tables/refrigerated boxes and pick out your food, then go to a seperate area to pay. It's just overwhelming if you have luggage with you that you're dragging around.

The other thing I don't like is that there is no Hudson News. I like the extremely large selection of magazines they offer. T5 only has a Borders books (no magazines) and a CNBC with a moderate selection of magazines.

Our flight to Orlando was on one of Jetblue's Embraer 190's. My sister has a thing about these smaller planes, but I liked that I was sitting with just my Mom and not in a middle seat with a stranger next to me. The flight was uneventful - I got my chips, drink and watched TV.
Upon landing things got a little more interesting. After getting our luggage in Terminal A we had to find the Magical Express counter; however, it was in Terminal B which I didn't know until wandering around Terminal A for 10 minutes. My luggage didn't weigh too much, until I had to drag it all around the airport. We finally found Magical Express and since we weren't booked on the hotel room we had to pay $20 each to ride. Fortunately, we only waited about 10 minutes for the bus and the kids on the bus weren't annoying.
My sister met us with the baby, Matty, at the bus drop off and took us up to the room. The Boardwalk Villa's was very nice at first glance, and I got to see lots of since our room was at the end of a hallway. The balcony overlooked the back of the slide. That night we had reservations for dinner at Wolf Gang Puck at Downtown Disney. I got a BBQ Chicken pizza, it was good, but not great. I think everyone else liked there dinner, but no one found the place great. I wouldn't
add it to my list of places I would like to go to on the next trip, I would rather try a different restaurant.

After dinner we went to a place where my nephew Alex got to make his very own car. It's similar to a Build a Bear, but with cars. So you pick a basic car, and you can get away with just that for $15-$30. But of course you'll want the special tires, and stickers and the remote control - you get the idea. Then they put your car together for you, with your assistance if you want.

So far things were going ok, although the sleeping arrangements of my mom, nephew and I on a fold out couch kept me from being well rested.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

TBEX10 - New York City

This weekend I attended TBEX in New York City.  Only having this blog for a year or so and only a handful of readers I that I know of, I have to admit - I felt like a little giraffe in a giant Savanna with the Big 5.  Or is it the big 4?  Who cares - giraffes aren't part of either one of them.

It was really interesting there though on several levels - meeting people, watching people and learning about blogging.

When I got on line on Saturday morning I realized I had made a big mistake.  I had a good reason, but it was still a mistake.  I didn't go to any of the pre-parties.  My good reason - I get up at 4am to work in Brooklyn and leave work by 2pm and usually crash by 9pm.  It's not a good shift for party people.  Plus the whole dragging myself back into the city, blah blah blah.  But I realized on line that there were a lot of people who knew each other already and many from the party the night before.  I'm a shy person at times, so this was a difficult social setting for me.  I did manage to meet some people and make connections but not as much as I had hoped.

But I did enjoy watching some of the "rock stars" of the travel blogging world.  The first day at lunch Johnny Jet really struck me.  He had an almost childlike exuberance, and I mean that in a good way.  He was taking pictures and did it with no constraints on him - you could tell he was enjoying taking pictures and trying different angles without a thought as to the people around him.  Then there were the ever evolving groups of "rock stars" you would see talking - Don George, and David Farley or Chris Christensen and Craig and Linda from the Indie Travel Podcast.  There were many others, though I'm surprised now how many I totally missed, especially the ones I would have liked to have met.

I learned a lot though too, I'm going to try and take my writing in a different direction - write with more purpose.  It will take more work, but then again if I want to make a go of this blog then I have to put in the work.  I also realized why every video I take sucks - I'm just video taping stuff that strikes me, not with a purpose.  I don't think I'm going to get into video anyway, but I think when I do take video it will be better quality.  Then there's the concept of branding and finding a niche - I think it's easier to explain what I don't write about and I'm ok with that, but I think I will try to tighten things up with my content.  I don't think I learned much about self promotion though - I didn't do a very good job of it myself - or maybe that was what I learned.

Then there was the community keynote - someone described it as bedtime stories for travelers and the description was too true.  Heck, if I wanted I could have taken a nap.  Not that the stories were boring, but it was so mellow and I was so tired.

All in all though TBEX was interesting, educational and a good opportunity to meet people.  Will I be attending next year in Vancouver though?  I'm not sure, I have to see where the blog goes and what is going on in the next few months, but I wouldn't rule anything out.  But if you read, I'm more likely to go, so READ!!!!

And a big thanks to Kim Mance who made it all happen.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Photo of the Week: Washington DC

The Lincoln Memorial. The people in the photo weren't far from me, just on the opposite side of the WWII Memorial, but the effect makes them look so big in the photo.

Friday, June 25, 2010

TBEX 10

Just a quick post to say that I will be at TBEX'10 this weekend. That's the Travelers Blog Exchange conference. It's in NYC and since I'm just a train ride away I thought it was a great opportunity to meet some of my favorite bloggers and to learn more about blogging and make my blog better. I'll be posting on twitter this weekened - travelingiraffe
More to come this weekend and next week.

Berlin

Day 31: Berlin Sightseeing: Time to explore this lively city where East and West once met. A "must see" is "Checkpoint Charlie" and other famous sites. Also a chance to enjoy the
exciting nightlife. (Breakfast included)

Hotel: The GeneratorBreakfast: open Meet for tram: 8:45

At 8:45 we met in the lobby and took the Tram to Alexanderplatz where we met our tour guide, Torbin, for our optional historical tour of Berlin. On the way over, on the tram, Maggy told us
that she had run into some English soccer fans on the tram, they were cheering, "2 World Wars, 1 World Cup," an obvious reference to the fact that the English
have won 2 World Wars and the German's have only won 1 World Cup, classy! Torbin is our guide for the optional, he is a German who was raised on Long Island (YEA!), but was getting his degree in history in Berlin, I must say he really knew his stuff. Or at least he bluffed well. He walked us down Unter Den Linden showing us some of the museums, churches and other stuff: Humboldt University, Bebelplatz, Pariser Platz, Berliner Dom, Neue Wache, Zeughaus and the Altes Museum. He also explained to us about the Ampelmännchen (the walk/don't walk sign.) It's traditional to Eastern Berlin and after the unification when the signs would break they would put up new boring ones. Well the Berliners were not having that! There was a movement to keep Ampelmännchen around, and now they are always replaced with the Ampelmännchen.

At Bebelplatz we made a stop, not to take pictures with the UN Buddy Bears, but to see the memorial to the 21,000 books burned by the Nazi's. It's not the stack of books also in Bebelplatz, rather an underground room with empty book shelves that could hold the 21,000 books that were burned.

Eventually we made it down to Pariser Platz where the Brandenburg Gate is, this is also home to the Adlon Hotel (where Michael Jackson dangled his baby off the balcony.) From there we went to the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. I must say I was unimpressed with this memorial. It was
designed to make you feel oppressed, and while it wasn't an enjoyable place to walk through, I wasn't feeling oppressed. Combine that with the fact that if I wasn't told what it was, I wouldn't have had a clue, which explains why they sometimes find kids playing hide and seek or jumping from block to block.

Then we went to Hitler's bunker, which until recently was unmarked. They recently put up a sign marking the location and giving some info about the Bunker. We then saw another section of the Berlin Wall and the Topography of Terror (but did not tour it) and finished at Checkpoint Charlie around 1:00. At the end of this tour we said our first goodbye, Cathy was leaving from Berlin this aftern
oon to start her new life in Amsterdam, Good Luck!

For those who wanted to see the Checkpoint Charlie Museum Maggy collected 5.50 euro each and got us all tickets at the group rate. I liked the museum; however, as I heard previously, it's
not well laid out, but it still has some very interesting stuff. After that Leah and I made a quick stop across the street at Subway for lunch and then proceeded to do some shopping. I was looking for some more souvenirs, as was Leah. We probably went into 50 shops, but I got some World Cup stuff for my sister and her family (soccer and Germany fans) and a couple things for myself. If we had had time we would have gone to the top of the TV tower, but alas, we ran out. We had to get back to the hostel to get ready for this evenings optional dinner and nightlife tour. But I did have time for some really yummy Australian Ice Cream from a shop on Unter den Linden. We got back to the hostel at 5:30 and had till 7:00 to get ready.
At 7:00 we all met and took the metro to our restaurant. The dinner was ok, but the restaurant was in a half basement, meanwhile it was a beautiful night and all the restaurants in the area had sidewalk seating. The dinner experience the night before was much better. After dinner we went on our pub crawl.
For this part of the optional we had a tour guide, she was very nice and gave us a free shot (probably included in the price) before our first bar. At the first bar we were pretty much the only people in the bar and the bar was REALLY HOT, it was a relief when I went with Renae to the ATM for money. After that we hit another bar, this one was a little better, there were other people there and I
think we got a free drink here. After another 45 minutes or so we went to a third bar, again it was pretty much only us and we got another free shot. I had an interesting conversation with Clinton, I tried to arrest him for tacky underwear, which didn't work out so well for me, but we did review some martial arts moves in the bar. After that bar we went to a club. I wasn't impressed, it was really more like a bar with a dance floor, and well I'm not much of a dancer anyway. I've heard great things about Berlin nightlife, but I was not impressed with what I had seen on this pub crawl. Finally at 1am I left with Kate, Lis and Jilly and took a Taxi back to the hostel. Again I had trouble with my Ipod and didn't get to bed till after 2am.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Traveling with family

On my trip to Disney there were several signs before the trip that this trip was not going to be my best. My sister and her husband have some issues, and her kids are very demanding. But much more then that was the accommodations...

In the past with my other sister we have always stayed in 2 and 3 bedroom timeshare apartments, which even the 2 bedrooms can be a bit tight at times, but leaves enough space. Well for this trip my sister booked a 1 bedroom villa at Boardwalk, which is listed to accommodate 4 people. The villa consists of a living room, small kitchen, bedroom, bathroom (one part is a shower, toilet and sink, the other area is a tub and sink). There was 1 king size (I think) and a fold out couch.

My sister didn't put my mother and I on the reservation, because it cost too much. When I said we wouldn't be able to take Magical Express she said we could just take a taxi that it would be cheaper. This set the tone for the trip. My mother and I never really felt like guests on this trip or at this resort and that feeling started with not being added to the reservation because of the cost.

When we arrived at the hotel I asked where to put our stuff, she said anywhere. It was more of a I don't care then a make yourself at home type of comment. I put my suitcase in a corner and it never moved. When I put my clothing in a dresser drawer she made a comment about me "moving in." I often do this when I'm staying somewhere for more then a few days. Again, another little thing to make me feel less welcome.

Sleeping arrangements were my mother, my nephew and I on the fold out couch. At 3:30 in the morning my sister would go into the kitchen to make bottle for the baby and wake me up (I usually get up around 4am so this wasn't convenient). My nephew flipped and flopped all night long, it was an adventure.

So here is my list of things to do to keep your family from feeling welcome on a family trip:

1. Bring up costs and how expensive things are, often
2. Don't add the family to the hotel reservation (see #1)
3. Don't pay for transportation costs, but tell them how much money they saved
4. Say you're going to help out with transportation, but don't actually do it
5. Book accommodations without enough beds
6. Have family share a bed with 2 other people
7. Have a fight in front of the family, blame them for the almost non-existent involvement
8. Don't have a plan for anything (in particular for Disney World)
9. Tell them how wonderful the accommodations are, often, to the people who can't sleep at night.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Photo of the Week: The Hoover Dam

The Hoover Dam from a Helicopter. I learned to love seeing things from above on this helicopter ride.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Warsaw to Berlin

Day 30: Warsaw to Berlin: Our drive today passes through the Polish-German border to the cultural capital of Germany, Berlin. Upon arrival we'll see the Reichstag, Brandenburg Gate and the Russian Memorial. (Breakfast and Dinner included)

Breakfast: 7:30 Bags to the bus/depart: 8:00

This morning started with a really yummy breakfast, I love Poland! At 10:50 we had our first bathroom break which was the perfect opportunity to for people to analyze Andy's new t-shirt, it had a bunch of sperm swimming to the middle of the shirt where it said, "Everyone Loves Poland." I thought it was clever, others didn't get it. I was also wearing my new shirt that said "Polska," not entirely fitting for a trip to Germany, but it somehow worked out for me.

At 1:40 we had a lunch stop at McDonalds. Then at 4:35 we hit traffic at the border for Germany, fortunately we weren't a truck, their line was miles long. We were through the border by 5:00 and we even got stamps! That was totally unexpected, we assumed it had to do with the fact that the World Cup was going on in Germany and they had heightened security. By the way, as we were driving to Berlin the Germany Vs Equador game was being played in Berlin.
At 6:00 we got into Berlin, I know this because all of a sudden we started to see German fans walking the street with flags and other interesting German paraphernalia, apparently Germany had won. YEAAAAAA!!!!!! Once in the city we made a quick stop at the East Side Gallery of the Berlin Wall for pictures then headed to The Generator, where we would be staying. It was quite warm in Berlin, around 30° Celsius (86° Fahrenheit), and the hostel didn't have air conditioning, ugh. The next day we would find out that not much of Berlin had air conditioning, hazard of being a relatively cool city I guess.

The Berlin wall was built overnight and is an icon of the Cold War. After WWII the agreement between the allies was that Germany and Berlin were to be split up, as a temporary measure. But Stalin was in charge in Russia, and Berlin was in the middle of Eastern Germany, which wasn't doing well economically while Berlin was (thanks to foreign aid from the Allies). Berlin was the gateway out of the East, in Berlin you could basically do a one to one exchange for your East German passport for a West German passport and then travel freely.

At 1am on August 13, 1961 East German soldiers built the Berlin Wall around West Berlin, using barbed wire and checkpoints. Some people fell asleep at friends homes in the East side and couldn't get back home in the morning. This happened to one woman who didn't see her sister until the fall of the Berlin Wall. It split up families, screwed up roads and kept people from going to work.

The Wall caused problems with the Metro too. Many train lines covered stops on both sides of the Wall. Those trains were initially stopped, but eventually they made an agreement. The trains would run, but would not stop at the East Berlin stops, they would spend 28 years as empty unused metro stops.

The first wall was built 5-8 feet tall and 2 and a half feet wide, with broken glass on the top to keep you from climbing over. But over time the wall was improved, eventually it was built 8 to 12 feet tall with a cement pipe on top to make it impossible to get over the wall. The Wall also had a "dead zone" which included guard towers, anyone in that area would be shot dead. Some devised ways of crossing, but some died trying. They believe that 90% of attempts were thwarted. The Checkpoint Charlie Museum has a lot of paraphernalia about the many escapes.

In 1963 John F. Kennedy visited Berlin in a demonstration of solidarity. This is when JFK made his famous speech and said: "All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin, and therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words, 'Ich bin ein Berliner.'" The phrase "Ich bin ein Berliner" has been often translated into "I am a jelly donut," though after an extensive search of the internet, I am convinced that he really did say "I am a Berliner," and not, "I am a jelly donut." Though I now understand that the translation could easily be mistaken. Either way, it has been the butt of many jokes, and some t-shirts too, though I never found one.
On June 12, 1987 Ronald Regan visited the Berlin Wall and spoke his famous speech where he says, "General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!"

After this speech there is much turmoil in the Hungary, as there had been all across the Eastern Block. On November 9, 1989 it is announced that travel rules were lifted and those with the proper paper work (exit visa's) will be allowed out of Eastern Berlin, he said it was immediate - no one expected the response they got. Thousands went to the wall for exit visas, the guards are overwhelmed and had no instructions as to what to do with these people. So they took the wall down themselves... and so the Berlin Wall finally fell after 28 years. It took a full year to physically take the whole wall down, except a few remaining sections for posterity. And who was the first person to sing there? The Hoff! Yes, on New Years Eve the honor of singing on the Berlin Wall went to David Hasselhoff! Gotta love the Germans and their Hoff!

I was in room 302 (which at least had it's own bathroom - though it was smaller then the bathrooms I've had on cruise ships - with Tanya, Leah and Cathy, but we had 6 beds in it. Due to some roommate conflicts Bridget was going to be using one of our extra beds. After a few minutes to freshen up we were supposed to meet downstairs. Maggy showed us a little video she had made for us with our day song and pictures from the tour, how sweet. And then it was time to hit the town!

Ash drove us as close to the Reichstag as he could and along the way you could tell it was going to be a good night. People were all over the place drinking and partying. Once there I went with Cathy, Leah and Bridget to find an ATM, taking pictures and soaking in the atmosphere when we went by the fan mile to the area where the Brandenburg Gate is. We finally found one and then went to scope out a place to eat, we found a little sidewalk cafe about 2 blocks from the Brandenburg Gate that was able to seat all 12 of us, we had picked up Andy, Kate, Lis, Jilly, Cara, Renae, Caroline and AJ. During dinner Tom called, apparently he had fallen asleep and just woken up, Lis told him where we were and he met up with us. We all had really nice dinners and reasonably priced considering it was the middle of World Cup - 13.00 euros for a steak dinner.

After dinner we all walked over to the fan mile, apparently the England Vs Sweden game had just finished, which was why it was really hard to get in (most people were leaving). But some of us wanted to get in so Leah, Renae, Cathy, AJ, Caronline, Cara and I pushed our way in. At first we just soaked in the atmosphere and took pictures, and there was a lot of atmosphere to soak in, those Germans (and whoever else) can party!

Eventually we decided to walk around a bit and we found a dance floor with music and people dancing (go figure), and for one of the rare occasions of my life I actually danced! Renae even commented at one point that I looked so happy, and honestly this was one, if not THE, best night I had on tour. Here we ran into Skye, Tom and Bridget too. We also met some strange men that were looking for attention, they even had a little dance off for us. I think one of them was Polish because he seemed to like me and asked something about my shirt (which said Polska on it). At one point the song, "Footballs Coming Home," came on, apparently everyone but us had heard the song and loved it. So we loved it and sang along like everyone else, the song will always remind me of that night.

Eventually we were so hot and tired and decided to duck off the dance floor to get drinks. I got some souvenirs, a World Cup pin. I tried calling home (having a cell phone was handy, even at $1.50 a minute) to talk to my sister and see if my brother-in-law would want something. We were just in time since they were starting to close up for the night, they were also running low on pins. Then we went back to the dance floor again, but I didn't stay long, I went with Tom, Bridget and someone else to see what was even further down the fan mile, it was another giant screen showing recaps from the World Cup games. This crowd was more subdued (they were only screaming, not dancing too.) There were a ton of police there too. Then we all met up again and decided it was time to head back.

For some reason we decided to walk back to the tram, which seemed like a decent walk until you realized it was 12:30 and it really was a long walk, around 2K. While waiting to cross some street a guy said something about me being Polish, apparently he was a fan, I didn't argue the point. Then along the way we saw the UN Buddy Bears and took lots of pictures there too. After losing people and then getting back together we finally arrived at the tram stop, only to have missed the tram by 1 minute. If we had realized the tram was running every 30 minutes we could have run to it, owell. So we waited and waited and it finally came (all public transport was running 24 hours a day because of the World Cup). We finally got back to the hostel at 2:15 and was in my unairconditioned bed at 2:30am. FYI: Taxi's are pretty cheap in Berlin, or so I would hear the next day, but if we took a Taxi we wouldn't have had the adventure.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Reward Ticket Frustration

In August I'm going to Las Vegas on a family trip (I know, I never learn) and was going to use a old Jetblue Trueblue Reward (no, I'm not going to pick on Jetblue, ok, maybe a little bit) for one of the flights. My family (this is not the sister I went to Disney with in May) is going out on a Wednesday and returning on a Tuesday. My original plan was to fly out on Wednesday with them and return Sunday. However, I am having surgery a few weeks before and was trying to move that to a week earlier, which doesn't seem to be working out. In the meantime I was waiting for word on that and sitting on the fence with this trip. Well two of my friends recently, in the same week, had a young female friend die of cancer, I decided to not worry so much about my recovery from the surgery and just go on the trip.

When I looked at the flights the flight out was in the $200 range and the flight home was in the $400 range. But, plan A was to book the flight out with my sister and her family using the reward ticket and then wait and see what happened, hoping the flights would go down and/or I would be able to stay the extra days. I didn't have much of a plan B, just to try and book going home with it.

So I called Jetblue and they only had a ticket for much later in the day that the family was flying out. I went to plan B and they had one late afternoon flight coming home. I wasn't sure I wanted to fly back so late, so I called my sister first. I tried to get off the phone with her, but she kept talking. By the time I got on the phone with Jetblue again the last reward ticket was gone. There wasn't really anything else that fit with my plans either, and I called like 4 times too.

I waited a few days and came up with Plan C - I would switch my vacation week to the following week and fly out on Friday and come home one Tuesday with the family. I called Jetblue and I should have asked about the return flight first but I asked about Friday's flights instead. They had a seat on each of the later flights that day so I took the earlier of the two. Success!!!! I may try to go standby on an earlier one, I'll see how things are going when the time comes.

I tried to book the flight home with the family but it looks like Jetblue changed he time of their flight. Their confirmation email shows a different time then their website says. I asked my sister twice to check that and she ignored me, so I figured out a way to check their flight and it turns out their flight was changed. I booked the flight and now I don't have to worry about it anymore!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Photo of the Week: Disney with the family


Anyone who follows me on Twitter, travelingiraffe knows that at the end of May I went to Disney World. I went with my mom, sister and my sister's family. I actually have 2 sisters, one of which I vacation with fairly regularly - Disney and Vegas. The sister that I went on this recent trip with I don't spend nearly as much time with, but she has 2 young boys - an infant and a 4 year old.

This was actually my worst trip to Disney and has me rethinking going on family trips. Don't get me wrong, I had some good times, but I wouldn't do this trip over again if you paid me. Over the next few weeks I'll write some posts about this trip, I'll cover things like:
The Boardwalk Villas, making your family feel welcome on a trip, rides, touring the parks, dining, screaming children and how not to travel with children, getting on the wrong plane and lots of other stuff.

But just to give you an idea of how great this trip was, I came home and immediately had a cold, what fun!!!!

Friday, June 11, 2010

Warsaw

Day 29: Warsaw Sightseeing: Warsaw, the rebuilt capital of Poland, and home of Chopin, features many tributes to her turbulent history, not least the Ghetto Heroes monument. See it all on our sightseeing tour. Wander through the old city and Chopin's park. A chance to do your own thing tonight and try the local fare. (Breakfast included)

Hotel: Hotel Kyriad Prestige
Breakfast: 8:30 Bus departs: 9:00

Our wake-up calls this morning were screwed up, I got mine at 7:05, but apparently they were supposed to be at 8:00. I was already up when they called, but I got nervous that I screwed up the breakfast time and was running late. Breakfast was a wonderful spread though: more fruit, bacon, eggs, yogurt, rolls, toast (with little jars of jelly), cereal and more.

At 9:00 we went on our Warsaw city tour with our local guide. She explained to us about how 85% of the city had been destroyed during WWII. But after the war it was all rebuilt, including the Old Town, which was rebuilt exactly as it existed before. On the tour we were told about the 4 men with mustaches - the 4 great leaders of Poland, we saw the park that has the statue of Chopin, and where the Warsaw Ghetto was (including a remaining piece of the wall). The guide explained to us about the Ghetto and the famous uprising.

Poland generally hasn’t done so well. They had a rough history in general, then the Nazi’s came and destroyed much of the city (along with kill a bunch of people while they were there), then the Russians came and destroyed the rest of the city. Then they lived under Communism for decades. But Warsaw is a nice city and the people even nicer.

Our tour of Warsaw ended in the Old Town. I made a quick stop to mail off my last postcards then we had “lunch” in a little café, ok, it was really just a pastry, but a good one. In the square we took pictures with the little mermaid’s sister and did some shopping. Then we went to see the sights and get some good pictures of the memorials we had seen along the way.

Our first stop was at Marie Curie’s house, then the memorial with the cart holding the crosses (for the Polish people sent to Siberia under Communism). Along the way we ran into Tania who needed to get pictures burned to CD since her memory card was almost full. We also saw the Supreme Court and the memorial to the Warsaw uprising. On the way to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier we saw Nike, Goddess of War, and the Opera House. At the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier we saw the ended of the changing of the guard and then some rude tourists got in front of our pictures, and hung around for a little too long. Where are people’s manors? After getting our pictures we went on our way to the church where Chopin’s heart is buried - St. Cross's Church. We tried to walk around a bit inconspicuously, but couldn’t find it. Finally, I sat down with Lis and Kate while Andrew and Jilly asked someone who worked there. It turned out we were sitting next to the pillar where his heart was buried, except we were on the opposite side of the plaque, we weren’t that stupid. Then we headed back to the Old Town for lunch passing a statue of Copernicus along the way.

We decided to have lunch in the Old Town, we looked at a couple menus and the prices seemed reasonable so we picked one of the outdoor cafés. It was really nice to sit and people watch while having a nice lunch with a delicious dessert.

At 4:00 Lis, Jilly and I met the bus to go to the Chopin recital. The recital was in a lovely location with a lake and peacocks hanging around. The recital itself was very nice and relaxing, and came with a glass of Champagne, though I must admit I did struggle to stay awake at one point. But the piano player was wonderful and it was amazing to watch her fingers move so fast.

After the recital we were dropped off back at the Old Town to finish our free day in Warsaw. Lis, Jilly and I decided to go shopping since Jilly needed new jeans. We took the bus to where the shopping was, but since we couldn’t remember how to pay for the bus we ended up riding it for free, opps. No one made any purchases and we decided to walk back to the hotel (we were just on the other side of Central Station), even though we were really tired. We decided that we should grab dinner on the way back and ended up with Subway, which I was fine with since we had had a nice lunch.

Back at the hotel everyone was getting ready to go out to a bar and meet up with the Eastern Road Tour group that had come into Warsaw today, but I was way to tired to go out. Instead I did more laundry, I realized I was almost out of t-shirts, and played Uno with Lis and Andy while having my last Smirnoff Ice that I had bought in Stockholm.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Jetblue

On my trip to Disney I flew Jetblue (please note that in recent posts complaining about Jetblue I never said I wouldn't fly them again.) I'm getting more and more disenchanted with Jetblue's customer service - I think they might be a bunch of robots over there.

For my flight down Mom decided she wanted an earlier flight. I called the day before the flight to find out my options; $100 change fee plus the difference in the cost of the flight, wait until midnight and pay $40 for a confirmed seat, or go standby at the airport. The problem is that the girl sounded like a robot, like she pre-recorded the message and just plays it when someone asks about changing flights, it was kinda creepy actually. I opted to book at midnight and pay the $40.
On the return trip the entire planes luggage went missing for an hour. The only acknowledgment of that was after flights that landed after us got there luggage - they told us it would come out momentarily, it didn't come for another half an hour.



I wrote an email to Jetblue's head of customer service. I mentioned all of my problems this year with them. The initial email seemed to be written by an actual person, and then I was passed onto someone else regarding the issue of the Truepass. I knew it wouldn't go anywhere, and it didn't. I got hopeful for a few minutes, but I knew it was a waste of time. In the end, Jetblue put a better face forward this time, though I'm still not in love with them.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Ebook Review: Art of Solo Travel: A Girls Guide

I recently got an opportunity to read an advance portion of the ebook Art of Solo Travel, and since then have read the whole book. While this is touted as a Girl's guide, I found that the "girl" part was a small part of the book and it has a lot of information about general travel.

I found the book to be a quick, easy and informative read.

The good:
The most info I've seen about Couchsurfing.
It's encouraging.
Good information on dealing with your family.


The bad:
Not as much information specific to women.
Could have more information about other forms of lodging.
Thought the section on saving money and budgeting was a little thin.
It's a little light on recommending safety tips - such as read up on self defense. I've taken self defense classes in the past and even doing it it hard, reading about it isn't going to do much for you.

Overall it is a good book. I've read some similar stuff before which I found a little more information rich then this book. However, this book is more up to date and is handy in an ebook format. For those of you experience travelers, you can probably skip this book. But for a novice or someone who needs some encouragement you'll find great value in this book.

If you're interested in supporting my blog while purchasing the book, please use this link.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Photo of the Week: Lunch in Rome

Lunch at the Pantheon in Rome. It made for a great "place dropping" email.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Minsk to Warsaw

Day 28: Minsk to Warsaw: This morning we travel through Brest, the first Soviet city destroyed in World War II, before crossing the Polish border for two nights at our hotel in Warsaw. (Breakfast and Dinner included)

Hotel: Hotel Kyriad Prestige
Breakfast: 8:30 Bus departs: 9:00

This morning I got my passport back, and was sad to discover that there was no Belarus Visa in it, for what they charge you would think they could actually put a stamp or something in it! Our first stop this morning was at Brest Fortress, which has another nice memorial, in fact it was awarded the title of a “Hero-Fortress,” whatever that means. While walking around Lis, Jilly, and Brittany met a Belarusian woman who told them how happy she was to see tourists in Belarus and that she hoped more people would visit, she was a nice, well educated woman (I ran into them on my way back to the bus and heard some of the conversation).

At 1:15 we arrived at the border, which we were warned would be the toughest border of the trip. At first we waited in the bus in the sun, which was a bit rough since it had gotten quite warm out, but fortunately we were allowed off the bus. Then they moved our bus to an area that had a canopy but we weren’t told we could get off the bus. Well the bus got really hot really fast and people got antsy. I swear it got hotter once people started to complain, the atmosphere on the bus quickly deteriorated as the temperature went up. Eventually some people took it upon themselves to get off the bus, which didn’t seem to cause us any delays. In the meantime Maggy was getting bribed for 2,000 Euros (The tour ahead of us had gotten bribed for 200 Euros at this border and Anna, from St. Petersburg, took care of it), she called Anna who took care of it, that would have really sucked! Finally at 4:30 we were out of Belarus and into Poland, with exit and entry stamps in our passports! And again we changed our watches back an hour.

Just after entering Poland I looked out the window and on the side of the road, which was down a little hill, there was a naked man walking around. Interesting... Then when we were in Warsaw if you looked out the left side of the bus (I was on the right side) there was a guy fondling the breast of a woman in the car with him, he apparently wasn’t being very discrete. Ahh, the joy of people.

We got to our hotel at 6:40 and this was by far the best hotel on the tour, actually the best I’ve stayed in on a Contiki Tour. Not only was it clean, technologically advanced for a hotel, but it was also tastefully decorated. Who couldn’t say good things about a place where you could listen to the TV in the bathroom! Before dinner Lis and I went around the corner to a bank to get ourselves some Zloty for our stay in Poland. Our dinner was delicious and dessert was a bowl of fruit, not just any fruit - freshly cut fruit and not cheap fruit, but a delicious variety of good fruits.

After dinner Lis, Jilly, Andy and I walked over to Central Station to use the internet. Did I mention that not only was the hotel great but also a short walk from Central Station, meaning it was actually in the city! I used the internet for about half an hour for 3 Zloty and had gotten emails from some of the girls from the Scandi half of the tour; it was nice to hear from them, they were doing well. We got back to the hotel a little before 11:00 and I decided to do some laundry before going to bed, ahhh clean clothes.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

What's on your bucket list?

Chris Christensen from the Amateur Traveler posted his travel bucket list, which makes me wonder what's on my list, and what's on yours?

I've always had a list of places I want to go and always think I should make my bucket list, now I'm working on it - here ya go. It's of course always subject to change...


Jerusalm, Israel
Ankor Watt, Cambodia
Normandy, France
Sky Diving in New Zealand
Antarctica
See giraffes in Africa
See the Olympics LIVE


So where do you want to go before you die? Or where have you been that was worth every minute of the trip?


Some things that weren't on my bucket list, but should have been:

Abu Simbel, Egypt
World Cup in Germany
Visiting the Arctic Circle
Zorbing