About Me

My photo

I'm a 30 something who loves to travel.  I have a full time job and enjoy writing (or blogging) about my travels.  I've traveled through several countries in Europe as well as Russia and Egypt.  I also enjoy domestic travel in the United States, including Disney.  My long term travel goal is to do a round the world trip.  

Friday, April 29, 2011

Random Pre-Cruise Stuff

As I prepare for my cruise I've had a lot of thoughts going through my mind.  Things I'm curious about, excited about, and things to do.

I'm trying to work on excursions.  I've often done excursions offered by the cruise ships and while I feel like I'm ready to maybe do some independent tours, I'm also not feeling as independent as I want to feel.  Traveling alone in countries where English is not the first language makes me a little nervous.  What if I miss the ship?  All by myself, no ship, and can't speak the language.  ACKK!  So I believe I will be booking tours through the cruise ship.
So far in Naples I'll be doing the "Exclusive Italian Riviera and Pompeii."
In Florence/Pisa I chose "Pisa and a Taste of Tuscany."
Rome is tough to decide on since I've already been there and do want to do a basic tour, yet even the excursion that just offer transportation to and from the ship costs $100.

About a month and a half before the cruise NCL updated their website so that you can book not only excursions, but also entertainment - dinner and shows.  The problem is that I do want to go and book something for Tuesday night and then find out a bunch of solo passengers are going on Thursday night.  It's frustrating to my anal planning self!

But never fret, I have found a thread on cruise critic for my cruise, it's only 51 pages.  I wonder if I can get through all that before the cruise?

Friday, April 22, 2011

Edinburgh's New and Old Town

Edinburgh is a great city with a lot to offer visitors.  I've written about some of those things in the past, and I will write about more going forward.  But one of the magical things about the city is the 2 different faces of the city - the New Town and the Old Town.

When I started researching the city before visiting I knew about these 2 parts and I understood the basic difference of them, but until you actually go there it's hard to tell the difference between them and where you should stay when visiting and why.

The Old Town is where the city was first built around the 16th Century, it was a highly congested area with tall buildings to house all the residents.  The main road is the Royal Mile.  At the top of the hill is Edinburgh Castle and at the bottom is Hollyrood Palace.  In between is shops, restaurants, museums, apartments and hotels.  Much of the Royal Mile was rebuilt in the 1800's after a fire damaged much of the Old Town.  This is a very touristy area, but it also has the look and feel of an OLD city.  It's also quite pretty.  There are several locations with great views of the city - Scott Monument, Edinburgh Castle and Camera Obscura, but you can also get great views from the streets too, just go down a side street and you can see the city.

The New Town is just down the hill, depending on where you are in the city there is more or less hill involved.  It's very modern looking.  Clean lines, fancy stores, pubs, restaurants.  It's aesthetically pleasing and has a bunch of stores you can find at home, like the Disney store.  It's a new town, it was built for the rich people who were too good for the yucky (plumbing used to be throwing your "toilet" out the window), old town.

Now that I have sort of pushed the Old Town and picked on the New Town, I have a caveat.  The Old Town is where you go for the history and that old world feel.  But it's mostly full of tourists, in part because there are many tourist sites on the Royal Mile.  I don't think there are many locals hanging out there.  The New Town, while perhaps not offering the history, is where people are.  Locals are shopping, working, and eating there.

If you're looking to visit Edinburgh and want to know where to spend your time (and where you might want your hotel).  If it's 2 days, then stick around the the Old Town area, that is where you'll end up spending most of your time.  But if you're going to be in the city for a week then the New Town is probably a better area to stay in since it is less touristy.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Visiting the Statue of Liberty

One of the nice things about living in New York City is that out of town friends often visit, giving a reason to see the sights of NYC.  A friend from my last Contiki tour was here in April and she wanted to see the Statue of Liberty.  Since I was last there in the mid-90's, I was happy to go.

My friend booked the tickets herself back in December and ticketed time slots were already starting to get sold out.  And forget about tickets to the crown, I believe that is a 6 month wait!  We had tickets for 11:00 (everything earlier was sold out for the pedistal) for security.  I believe tickets were $13 each.

We arrived at exactly 11:00 and the line for security was quite long.  There were 3 lines, those with bought same day untimed tickets (longest line), pre-purchased timed tickets and people with New York Pass, which was the fastest line.  Actually the line was so fast that I would encourage anyone going to see the Statue of Liberty to look into this pass, it does have many other benefits besides skipping the line so there may be value to anyone who doesn't have a lot of time in New York City but wants to see a lot. 

We waited on line for at least an hour to get to security, which is similar to airport secruity, minus the nudoscopes.  You had to take off belts, shoes, jackets, etc.  I will say that the security was a little inconsistent.  Everyone went through metal detectors, and so did all bags, but it seemed like some lines you had to take your shoes off but on others you didn't.  Just like at the airport you can get lucky and have a quick moving line, or you can get stuck on the line with all the rookies and it can take a while.  This is done inside a temporary type of building that isn't quite big enough to process as many people as they have coming through. 

After you go through security you wait for the boat, boats come every 30 minutes and in spite of arriving at 11:00 we did not get on a boat until 12:30.  I think this had to do with there not being enough security lines to process people, but also once you go through secruity and you're waiting for the next boat, the area is not big enough and I think it backs up into the security area which stops or slows down the screening.  Of course the waiting area that we were in was kinda roomy with no one encouraging us to move towards the front of the area to make more room. 

My point?  The security process needs some tweaking so plan a lot of time into your day. 

The boat only took a few minutes (and wasn't really crowded), but there isn't a ton of seating onboard.  But there is a snack bar with food and drink. 

At the Statue of Libery you disembark the boat and are free to walk around the island as much as you want.  There is a gift shop and a snack bar on the island too.  If you want to go into the Statue you will need tickets that allow access.  You will also need to go through security screening again, though there was no line here.  Inside is a museum and the original torch, you can learn all about the Statue of Liberty, of course if you didn't plan your day well then you wont have much time for this section.  Inside you can climb the 192 steps to the pedistal.  I'll be honest, I'm not sure it was worth the work.  You get a nicer view of New York City, but a terrible view of lady liberty as you're just looking up her skirt and there's nothing to see there.  And the stairs killed both our legs, my legs were spasming, making it hard to walk up or down stairs for a while after.  I've climbed to the tops of many things and never had this problem.  If you choose to climb to the top of the crown you'll need to climb another 162 steps. 

After we finished on the island we waited online for the ferry which goes on to Ellis Island and then back to New York City.  We were short on time so we did not get off at Ellis Island.  I have been there in the past and it's nice to see if you have the time, but I don't think it's a must see. 

Overall I enjoyed going to see the Statue of Liberty, the Island is well cared for and offers great views of New York City.  This is a once (or twice) in a lifetime activity so plan accordingly.  Plan to spend a lot of time there, just bring your camera and some money and hope it's a nice day!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

EBook Review: The Visa Book

I recently had an opportunity to review The Visa Book by Christine at Almost Fearless.  This is a super handy Ebook for Americans who do a lot of traveling.  The book has information for Americans on Visa and visitation rules for pretty much every country in the world.  Going to Spain - no Visa required since it's part of the Schengen Agreement.  If you're visiting 1 country you don't need this book, everything in the book is available online.  But, if you're frequently visiting several countries a year, or planning a long extensive trip, this book will save you a lot of time and energy, which may be worth more then $10.

Quick facts:  
  • 253 pages
  • pdf instant download
  • covers over 200 countries and territories  
  • Only for US citizens (although there may be Australian and European versions in the future)  
  • New editions will be produced every year
  • Does not cover long term residency visas, work visas or education visas (in other words, this is for tourist visas only)
  • Cost is $10
60% of the countries of world do not require a visa for American passport holders.  But which ones?  Online information about visa rules are often incorrect and outdated -- and almost never cite their source.  The Visa Book gives you all the rules in one place, perfect for planning your round-the-world trip or brainstorming about your next vacation.  The best part?  We directly quote and link to the Department of State and Embassy website (when available) so you can double-check our data!  The Visa Book

Friday, April 1, 2011

Trips and Changes

Well I'm very excited to announce that I have booked my cruise.  I will be sailing on NCL's Epic through the Western Mediterranean!  I will be flying to and from Barcelona on Delta and will have 1 day before the cruise and 2 days after the cruise to enjoy Barcelona.

But I will be making a change to the blog for the next few months.  I will be taking an exam at work in the fall and need to spend the next few months studying.  That means I need to spend a little less time on the blog.  So, I will continue with my Monday photo of the week and then do 1 other post during the week.  I could even miss a week, but I will return!