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 28, 2011

MOMA, New York City

I recently visited MOMA - The Museum of Modern Art, in New York City. I had never been there before, part of the reason that I choose the museum for a day with a friend in New York City. Over the years I've been a little hesitant to go to MOMA, I'm not into modern art. I'm not even much of an art person anyway, but how could I not visit MOMA at least once?

Well, I'm still not much of a modern art person, but I did still enjoy my visit to MOMA. If nothing, I did get to add my own comentary to some of the art, I might have had better stories then some of these artists. There were a few things that made me wonder what "art" is - because if that was "art" then this whole art thing is BS - because that piece was NOT art. Sorry for the rant, but there were one or two pieces that I felt were cop-outs.

I did enjoy the Andy Warholl special exhibit, it caught the eye, drew you in and was fun. There were also some amazing pieces. Van Gough's Stary Night, I'm not a huge Van Gough fan, but Stary Night is an amazing piece - the color, the detail - it speaks to me. And who didn't have Monet's Water Lilies on their dorm room wall? 4 of the 250 panels are housed at MOMA. It's great stuff to just sit down for a few minutes and stare at.

There were other exhibits and pieces that I liked, and I now have a frame of reference for some artists that I had previously heard of but didn't know what type of art they created. If you're into art, then MOMA is a must visit when in NYC. If you're not an art person, then I wouldn't put put MOMA at the top of your list of things to do in NYC. But, if you have time there is some great art work to see. Will I go back to MOMA? Maybe in a few years or if I wanted to see a special exhibit. Otherwise, I think there are other museums I would rather explore.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Stonehenge, a pile of rocks???

Stonehenge, a mystical bunch of rocks in some weird alignment...  Or is it just a pile of rocks?

Well I have to admit, there is a part of me that after walking around Stonehenge I did feel a bit like it was a bunch of rocks.  But if you listened to the audio tour, there certainly is more to it.  The problem. it's not that long of a walk around Stonehenge but the audio tour has a lot of information.  It was also cold and windy when I was there.

Some cautions:
It is windy there, Stonehenge is surrounded by fields and gets a healthy wind.  Not so great if it's a cold day.  Though probably nice if it's hot out. 

It is right on a highway.  That makes for easy access, and only affects the view from one direction.  It's actually kinda strange how close it is to the highway. 

The audio tour is long and descriptive.  If you just want to see Stonehenge, you could do so in a 5 minute walk, but if you want to learn a bit about Stonehenge, then expect to spend a good half hour listening to the audio guide. 

The shop at the exit gets packed with tourists.

So did I think it was a pile of rocks?  On a superficial level after walking around I did, though I would have to say it's a pile of really big rocks.  But I also know there is a lot under the ground and that the place had special meaning when it was put together.

Do I think it's worth visiting?  Yes, it is Stonhenge afterall - one of those places that every tourist is supposed to see.  But it's not too far from London, you could do a half day tour there (I think), or stop there on the way to another destination.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Construction in Las Vegas

Anyone who has been to Las Vegas knows that there is often construction going on.  There is always a new something being built.  But with the recent economic meltdown several of the new construction projects have been brought to a halt. 

On my last trip to Las Vegas the economic problems were very evident by the half built Fountainebleau on the Strip.  This website shows the beauty that Founainebleau was supposed to be.  But if you check out the wikipedia page you get a slightly better idea of how it looks.  The tower is mostly finished from the outside, but the rest of the "resort" has no outside, just lots of contrete.  The cranes are even still in place, which is bizaar.  Isn't anyone looking for their cranes?  And a crane on the top of a building, that sounds like a disaster waiting to happen. 

But there are other projects that have been abandoned, but at earlier stages.  There was another city center type of property being built, the frame of some of that has been built and is just standing there.  I remember when I was there in 2008 that project had started, now it's a bunch of cement. 

But all these abondoned construction projects are a little depressing.  People go to Las Vegas for a break from their lives and problems, but now it feels like there is a constant reminder just staring at you as you drive down Las Vegas Blvd.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

York, England

We arrived in York in the afternoon and got a quick tour of the city.  As we walked through the streets I was struck by how narrow they were - just wide enough for a single car to drive and barely wide enough for people to fill the sidewalks 2 abreast.  Buildings, although small, generally 2 or 3 floors high, felt big on the narrow street.  I felt a little bit like I was on the set of a movie, where the buildings are made smaller so the actors look bigger.  And they were all crooked, really crooked - a carpenters nightmare.  Hundreds of years of buildings settling had taken their toll, and on this narrow street it felt charming, that old world charm that you expect when you visit England.  I felt like I was in England of my imagination.  The buildings were like Nestle Toll House buildings, white with wood trim, a cute little door in the middle.

After a few blocks we exited the narrow little streets to a large open area with a giant building: York Minster.  Compared to the small streets and quaint buildings, York Minster was a giant.  York Minster is actually one of the largest gothic cathedrals in all of Europe, but it felt like the biggest one after meandering through the narrow streets of York.  It was sandy colored, not like white sand, but like the sand we have on Long Island with a bit of yellow and brown to it, not a lot of yellow and brown though, that would be ugly and this building was not ugly.  To the left were the towers, which tower over the city.  This side of the building had buttresses and was covered in lancet windows filled with Stained Glass.

We ventured inside, but because it was late there was little time to explore the splendor.  In fact it was so late that we could not go to the top of tower for views of the city.  It was time for plan B - shop!  Shop in all the cute little shops that lined the narrow streets of York - candy shops, clothing shops, liquor shops, pet stores, a pound store (like dollar stores), and of course a Starbucks.  I'm not a Starbucks fan, but this Starbucks was a bit of a god send - it had a bathroom and wifi.  This city might have made us feel like we were living a couple hundred years in the past, but I had emails I had written to my family on my iphone that were waiting to be sent and the answer came from a 20th Century coffee shop tucked into a Yorkshire building.  


Having missed going to the top of York Minster there were actually two plan B's.  One was shopping, which did yield me some lovely fudge.  The other was to go to the top of Clifford's Tower, seated on a small hill in another part of town.  On the way we made a fatal error, using the bathroom.  Actually, for most people this was a good move, they used the bathroom and made it to Clifford's Tower.  I however used the bathroom and was locked out of Clifford's Tower, and also had to wait there another 30 minutes until our tours meeting time.  I made good use of the time, I climbed around Clifford's Tower for photos of the city.  You're not supposed to do that, but darn it, I had already climbed to the top and I wanted pictures of this wonderful city!


That night we had dinner in a pub, complete with Yorkshire Pudding. Then we took our ghost tour of York, which you can read about here. It was a perfect ending to a perfect visit in one of my favorite cities in all on England.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Flying home with British Airways

At the end of my Contiki tour through England and Scotland I flew home from Edinburgh to New York via London Heathrow, sadly in Coach (I flew out in Business Class).

I had previously paid to choose my seat with British Airways for the international flight, I had chosen an aisle seat in the 3rd row. When I did my online check-in the day before my flights I noticed that the first row was available. I was confused as to why I wouldn't have chosen it initially, and then decided to move myself up. At that time I also picked an aisle seat for my flight from Edinburgh to London.



I had an early morning flight from Edinburgh to London and decided to take the 10-15 minute walk from my hotel to the Airlink shuttle at the train station instead of taking a taxi. While I don't regret this decision, the walk from the hotel to the shuttle was a bit of a pain so early in the morning with all my luggage. But once on the shuttle it was a pretty quick ride to the airport with only 2 or 3 stops along the way. It is a great way to get to the airport if you don't mind the walk to the shuttle, and it has free wifi.

I arrived at the airport just over 2 hours before my flight and could not print out my boarding pass. Because I had done my on-line check in at an internet cafe I did not print out my boarding pass, so I had to do this at the airport. First, the kiosk would not allow me into the system since my flight was so far away (a whole 2 hours), then when it finally did let me into the system it told me I already had a boarding pass. So I went online to check my suitcase and at the counter they were more then happy to print out my boarding pass. I was finally able to go through security and do a bit of shopping and have a little breakfast before my flight.

Flight number: BA1439 - EDI to LHR

This flight was just under an hour and a half from gate to gate so it didn't bother me that there wasn't any entertainment on board, or was there? They actually had a full breakfast service on this flight. It was just an average airline breakfast, if you're not from the US. They served a hot egg and bacon thing, my memory is a little fuzzy about what exactly was served, but I remeber it was just ok. But it was hot food, on a short flight, that was amazing in and of itself.

Other then the food the flight was uneventful, though the plane was comfortable and only offered coach service. Being a British airline, they also offered hot tea service.

After disembarking the plane I followed the signs to connect, which lead me to a checkpoint to enter the Terminal 5 area, at this point they scan tickets to ensure that people entering Terminal 5 are departing the airport on another flight. I would have about 3 hours here to explore before my flight home.

Terminal 5 at Heathrow has only been open a few years, it is quite modern and has A LOT of services. There is a wide offering of food and shops. I did my last minute shopping here, I got myself a London 2012 Olympic shirt. I spent some of the last of my pounds and exchanged the rest of it. I also stopped at the restaurant Giraffe and had an excellent smoothie. Let me just say that it's much more fun to wander around an airport when you don't have the maximum allowed carry-on baggage. It was finally time to board my flight home.

Flight number: BA0177 - LHR to JFK

Boarding was done via bus. So you had to take an escalator down to your gate, board a bus then transfer to the plane. This is a serious pain in the ass! No wonder it takes an hour to board the plane! But I was on the first or second bus so when I got on the plane it was empty, which made settling in much easier.

I found out why I originally had not booked the first row of coach for this flight, it's the bulk head seat. I am a short person so I don't need the room that a bulk head seat offers, and I like to have my stuff handy under the seat in front of me. I quickly had to figure out what I needed and wanted and where the heck I could put it. I ended up going back into my bags two or three times during the flight. BUT, because I was the first person in my row I was able to take up all the space in the overhead above my seat (it was a small compartment, I didn't have THAT much stuff).

I have to rant for a moment. While I was sitting in my seat reading the newspaper I noticed someone stop next to me and put his stuff in the overhead for the seat opposite me, I didn't think anything of it at first, until the people seated near me came and couldn't put their stuff in the compartment. So some ass sitting in the back of the plane came and filled the overhead compartment of the bulk head seats (the seats without under the seat space) and then went to his seat in the back of the plane. This was early in the boarding process and I can assure you the overhead at his seat was not full, he was just an ass hole. If you're the guy who did this, you are an ass hole and if I knew what you were doing at the time I would have called you out then and there!

Back to the flight...

As boarding progressed the middle row of seats were filled with 2 families with small children. One lap baby and one toddler. I almost cried when I saw them and take-off did not go well, I was afraid of how long this flight was going to feel. But after take-off both kids settled in they were fine, they were even kinda cute. After we were given the ok to "move about the cabin" the flight attendants set up basinet thingys for both kids, which struck me as a god send to parents with lap children. I also noticed that British Airways offered the parents special seat belts with a loop for their child. For those of you who are unaware you cannot put your lap child under your own seat belt on a plane. But some airlines have special seat belt loops where the child is strapped into your seat belt, but in a seperate loop to keep them safe. This keeps the child from becoming a projectile and from them getting crushed under your seat belt (if you were to try to put your child under your seat belt).

What did end up being annoying was the kid behind me, I would guess he was about 2 and while he didn't cry he was apparently quite attached to his mother and her legs, which happened to be behind me. That kid bumped my seat the whole flight, and drove me crazy. Thank god this was a day flight and I wasn't trying to sleep or god only knows what I would have done to this kid.

The movie selection was good, I got to watch 2 movies I had wanted to see - Sex and the City 2 and Valentines Day. They were playing some other movies I had wanted to see too, so I was very happy with the selection. The movies helped make the flight go by quickly!

Good and Bad of my bulk head seat:

*Getting bumped by every person boarding the plane, yet the flight attendant managed to never bump my seat
*Half way through the flight the bathroom started to smell
*Not having to wait in line for the bathroom, except when the movies ended and everyone was going before the next round of movies started
*Lots of leg room
*Lots of people stopping by to use the bathroom
*Getting your food and drinks first
*The TV was in the arm rest so it was a little easier to adjust
*The tray table was in the arm rest and was a pain to take out and put back away, but it did fold in half
*No place to put my stuff - no seatback compartment or under the seat storage area and I forgot a couple things in my bag.
*No one climbing over me to get out of their seat
*A misaligned window with a poor view

Overall the flight was good.  The flight attendants were very nice, the food was good (for airline food), the movie selection was good.  We landed on time in NY and I was quickly reunited with my family.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Snow...

Snow is a funny thing, some people love it, others hate, but it always seems like more fun when you're traveling. 

On December 26th of 2010 New York City got hit hard by a snow storm, it's the worst I've seen the city aside from September 11.  Cars, trucks, buses, ambulances and anything else you can think of was stuck in the snow.  I'm not talking about just on December 27, it took until at least December 31 to clear all of those abandoned and stuck vehicles.  On December 30 the Sanitation Department was still plowing streets for the first time.

The funny thing is that depending on where you were in the city things were better, if you were a tourist in Times Square you might not have even known it had snowed.  Ok, that's a slight exaggeration, but Times Square streets were among the earliest to be plowed and in preparation of the New Years Eve Ball Drop all the snow was removed.  NYC uses snow melters, they melt the snow and put it into the sewer system as one way to clear the snow since NYC doesn't have much room for snow. 


I can say that I don't know a New Yorker who is a fan of snow now, they all seem to have a bad taste in their mouth and hate it at the moment, I do too (being stuck at work for 2 days and getting a bad cold will do that).  But then I think of the tourists who visited (not the ones who couldn't fly in or out of NYC), especially the ones who have never seen snow.  I know that most of them loved it and it made visiting the city a new experience and a unique adventure.  Snow does that, everyone has a story - good or bad - it becomes a bonding point for the people who experience it.

Friday, January 7, 2011

New to me attractions at WDW

No matter how much time you spend at Walt Disney World, it seems there are always attractions you don't get to do.  On my last trip there were several attractions that I finally got to ride:

Test Track - test the responsiveness of a race car.  Finish with a high speed drive.  I thought it was a lot of fun and the speed felt a little faster then I expected, though not crazy fast.  But then we only went around 60 mph.  The biggest problem with this attraction is its sensativity to thunder and lightning - it doesn't run, as we found out when we went at the time posted on our fast passes.  We waited a while, did some other things and eventually got to ride, but it was a ride that almost didn't happen.

Ellen's Energy Adventure - The pre-show is a little dated, but not stale.  The ride itself was cold, dark and a good place to take a nap.  Ok, the seats weren't comfortable enough to sleep on, but there was plenty of room to sleep if you wanted to.  The ride itself was interesting and fun, though not fantastic.  It is a nice long break from the hecticness of the day at Epcot. 

Living With the Land - A boat ride where you learn about ecosystems.  Wow, that sounds really boring, and I'll admit it's not exciting.  But it is enjoyable and educational.  It's also a nice break from the hectic pace of a day in Epcot.  Not at the top of my list of attractions, but certainly worth a visit every few trips to the park.

Turtle Talk with Crush - geared towards children, it is still a fun attraction.  It uses the same technology as Monster's Inc Laugh Floor.  It's interactive and funny.  You might feel a little odd going without children, but do it anyway, at least once.

Journey Into Your Imagination - I'll admit, I remember going on this and a bit of it, but very little.  The moral - it wasn't bad, but it wasn't great either. 

Mission Space, green - We did green because the line was shorter and I have some mild issues with my neck.  I can't say it lived up to the hype of being a headliner attraction.  It was fun, and interactive, but it didn't feel like the must see that it's billed as, but maybe that's because we did the green version.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Netbook Parties

It had been a few years since my last Contiki tour, and even my last Contiki tour wasn't a traditional Contiki tour, it was in Egypt.  But the biggest change I have noticed in Contiki since my last traditional tour was the emergence of Netbooks. 

On previous tours there might be one or two people with a laptop.  On my September tour of England and Scotland there were at least 5-10 people with laptops or netbooks.  Now, this might sound anti-social and in some ways it was.  But, the hotels on our tour typically either charged for internet anywhere in the hotel, or offered free wifi in only the lounge area of the hotel.  There was no hiding in your room with your computer surfing the internet. 

Instead there were Netbook Parties.  Everyone would meet in the lounge area with their laptops and netbooks and "friend" each other on facebook, check email, check bank accounts, etc.  I found most people shared their computers when they were done so others could do the same.  I quickly started calling them Netbook Parties.

This was way better then in the past when you would show up at a hotel that had 1 or 2 computers and everyone would be fighting to use them (that might be a little dramatic), or you're spending time in a cool city in an internet cafe, so you can update friends and family on your trip.  This way people could do their own thing, I found they were less fixated on the computer like they would have been if their were only 1 or 2 computers and limited time.  This means that while people might be checking email and facebook they were interacting with other humans in the room.

The internet is here and is a valuable tool for most people.  I think the emergence of netbooks and wifi are allowing people to be more mobile (hello internet banking!), less tied down, and at times it can have a limited impact on their interaction with other people around them.  Just don't spill your drink on your netbook.