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.  

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Barcelona, learning to love a city...

When I arrived in Barcelona is was early, I was tired, it was cool out, and it was cloudy.  My visit to Barcelona, while not bad, didn't start on quite the right foot.  It just felt like a city, but kinda short - as in short buildings.  But as I spent more time there the more city grew on me.  I guess it often works that way though.

I had met a woman on my flight who was going to be on my cruise through Cruise Critic, we decided to take a taxi together since our hotels weren't far from each other.  Much easier then taking the Aerobus and then walking 10 minutes to my hotel with my luggage.  We parted ways from there and I managed to meet another woman from my hotel that was on my flight.  We got to talking and ended up taking the hop on and off bus around the city.  It was nice to have company since I thought I would be alone for a lot of the cruise.  I was thankful I brought my fleece with me, it was cold on that bus!  It was also cloudy so Barcelona didn't get the chance to show its true colors, that happened when I returned to the city after the cruise.

But as time went on and I got to see all the different areas of the city - the gothic quarter, Montjuic, Barceloneta, Placa Espanya, Placa de Catalunya, and a bunch of Gaudi stuff, the city grew on me.  All the different areas seem to really complement each other, the city has a great flow to its architecture and several interesting buildings.

When I first walked around the Gothic Quarter I didn't really appreciate it, I think I was distracted by the thought of getting lost.  Also, when the area is quiet, it feels a little seedy.  It's made up of lots of little alleys and tight roadways and with the tall buildings there is often isn't any direct sunlight.  But, when everything is open and people are walk around, it's lively and inviting with shops and restaurants.  Granted, most of it is touristy, but there is a great vibe in this area, once you get past the fear of getting lost ;).  There are also lots of little (and occasionally big) open spaces for people to congregate, and for restaurants to have outdoor seating.  I don't think I appreciated this until I had gotten a feel for the city and could appreciate it. 
Gothic Quarter

Gothic Quarter
Barcelona is a great city, especially if you're interested in architecture.  I think it takes some time to get to know this city, for cruise passengers who may only have a day here they might not get a chance to see all that the city has to offer, but if you have the time to find the heart of the city, you will fall in love too.

Reminder: I can be found on Twitter @Travelingiraffe

Formerly the Athletes Village
Hotel Arts

Friday, August 19, 2011

Ebook Review - Getting Out of Auto (with your camera)

I recently got the opportunity to review a new Ebook - Getting Out of Auto Photo Ebook.  This was quite timely because my last trip to Europe (Cruise from Barcelona) was the first trip when I shot primarily in manual or other priority modes.  I'll admit it was occasionally a hassel, but at other times it was a fun challenge.  I also got some really great photos, and I loved hearing the compliments about them!

I highly recommend that anyone with a camera take a little time to learn about the different settings.  Even if you're happy with your Auto mode photos, occasionally the only way to get a decent photo is to play with the settings - sunrise, sunset, or night shots are prefect examples of when you'll want to know your camera.

Back to the book...

I really like the way the book simplifies Aperture, ISO and Shutter Speed with different types of examples.  I have  to admit though, the more I think about Aperture, the more confused I get, I think I have a block.  It has some relevant examples, the type that make you say, "Oh, that's how I get that effect, I love that look!"

The author does a great job of explaining the "rules" of photography, not only the what, but the why.  Knowing to use the rule of thirds is one thing, understanding why it makes a better photo allows you to use it more effectively.

I found this book very interesting, even though I've started to shoot in manual modes, I was reminded of how much more I still need to learn about photography.  But remember, you can read all the books you want, if you don't go out and practice and try different things you wont improve.  My biggest complaint about the book? I was trying to take a photo in Lake George and couldn't get the settings right, a week later while reading this book I figured out my problem.  Maybe I should have read faster!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Holyrood Palace, Edinburgh

The Scottish home to the British royal family...

Visiting Holyrood Palace is the first time I've been in a palace set up to be seen as a palace, that makes me think that I need to find new friends ;).  I wasn't exactly sure what to expect, I have been to see the Hermitage and the Louvre, but since they serve as museums they are different.  

The palace, while quite lovely, was not quite as grand as I expected.  You start the tour at an outside courtyard, which is very nice and then you enter the main building.  The first stop inside is of an outside walkway around another courtyard that is enclosed by the building.  From there you finally enter the palace.

Inside the palace I got the distinct feeling that there are spaces set aside for the tour, designed to represent different points in history.  Then there are spaces that are still used by the Queen, there doesn't seem to be much overlap of these two areas.  I would guess that at 2/3rds the tour was in areas dedicated to the tour and the history of the palace and of the Scotish and English royal families. 

After going through the palace you exit at the cathedral where you can again take photos.  You are not permitted to take photos of the interior of the palace which I find frustrating.  I'm sure there are several reasons for this, some better then others.  But, my memory has faded quite a bit since I was there.  I could have bought a book about the palace, but it would just sit on my shelf with the other books I've bought in my travels and maybe gotten looked at once or twice. 

I do remember the audio tour was very good, well paced and chock full of information without being overwhelming.  I really liked the dining room and some of the other public types of spaces, though many were not quite as over the top as I would have expected in a palace.  The rooms that were part of the history were also well done, particularly the areas designated for Mary Queen of Scots. 

Who would I recommed to visit?  Those who have never seen a palace before and for those who are interested in Scotish history.  If you've been to a palace before and are short on time in Edinburgh, you might want to spend time exploring other areas of the city.

I did not visit the Queens Gallary, I'm just not a big art person so thought I would spend my time doing something else.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Photo of the Week: Vermont

Incase you're sick of the heat, this one's from Okemo in Vermont.  Hope it cools you down.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

NCL Epic Mediterranean 2012

For those of you who have not heard, the Norwegian Epic will be sailing the Mediterranean in 2012 again, but with a different itinerary and with a choice of booking out of either Barcelona or Rome. 

New Itinerary:
Barcelona, Naples, Rome / Civitavecchia, Livorno, Nice, Marseille, Barcelona

I hadn't given much thought to the Barcelona vs Rome embarkation port since I just did the Western Med this summer.  But thenl my friend was talking about taking a Mediterranean cruise next fall, and I decided I would choose Rome.  One of the problems I had with the Mediterranean cruise is that Livorno is far from Florence and Civitavecchia is far from Rome.  You end up spending a MINIMUM of 2 hours going to and from the city, which kinda stinks since you only spend 12 hours in port. 

With this new itinerary you could board the ship in Rome/Civitavecchia, fly in early (or stay after the cruise) and spend as much time as you want in Rome.  Of course now you can't do that in Barcelona, which is a great city (more to come on that in the coming weeks).  But, Barcelona's port is right in the city, you can get off the ship and take a 10 minute taxi ride and you're in the heart of the city. 

I think the Rome embarkation just makes more sense if you're taking this cruise to see as much as possible.  Of course if you've already been to Rome, then boarding in Barcelona might make more sense, then you can have a "sea" day in Rome and relax.

Reminder:  I can be found on Twitter @Travelingiraffe

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Epic Studio Cabins, the good, the bad and the shower...

Studio cabins, did NCL accidentally get it right?

Yes and No!

I've heard that when NCL originally designed the studio cabins on the EPIC they were supposed to be small double occupancy rooms, but they didn't sell well so they made them solo passenger cabins, though you can still put 2 people in them if you choose. They have a private lounge area for only the studio passengers, it has a bar (open 1 hour a day), coffee, snacks and continental breakfast. There is even a member of the staff that helps to get the passengers to know each other.

It sounds perfect, and NCL absolutely got this right.  But it felt like now that they have this product they don't quite know what to do with them now, I think the concept needs a little nurturing to make it truely fantastic.
I'll start with the cabins...
The cabins, although small, are nice.  The bathroom is broken up - the toilet, shower and sink are separate.  The shower has a glass wall with frosting on it, but the frosting needs to be darker and cover more of the wall, luckily I was the only one in the room.  There are two closets in the room,with doors that slide (when open they cover the sink and the TV), each with a hanger bar and 2 shelves.  There are additional shelves in the room, but no drawers.  If you look hard enough, there are baskets under the bed for additional storage.  I thought there was plenty of storage for 1 person, but I think it would be tight if there was a second person in the room.  Actually, everything about this cabin was just fine for 1 person, but I couldn't imagine a second person in one of these cabins, except maybe a mother and small child. 

The room comes with "mood" lighting.  This was neat for about 2 minutes, then it was annoying.  Even more annoying was the panel to change the settings was next to the bed, not near the door.  Although there is no thermostat there is a panel that allows you to adjust the temperature to cooler or warmer, I think this is the first ship I've had this feature on and I like it!  My cabin had at least 3 sets of outlets, several of which were for european and american plugs.  There was a table and a bench in the room, but both were so small that I only used them to put stuff on. 
Mood Lighting

The Studio Lounge:
The studio lounge was a private area that offered a bar, drinks, food, sitting area and TV.  It was a nice sized space for the number of passengers in the studios, it was busiest in the mornings (continental breakfast was offered) and evening, but never crowded.  The space was used for the solo passenger meet ups, which was the only time the bar was open.  We had a member of the social staff assigned to us for the solo meet ups, Sol, she helped get everyone introduced and arranged for 1 group dinner. 
I think this is the area where the studio cabins fell short.  I met many wonderful people who were staying in the studio cabins, some were very outgoing and others were very very shy.  I think that the staff member who is assigned to the studio lounge should be organizing more activities.  I don't think this is the fault of Sol, from what I have heard everyone has had the same experience since the ship launched, so I think this is how NCL has designed the position.  I would have liked to have seen a few more dinners planned, particularly in the specialty restaurants, a session in the Ice Bar or bowling.  I think that would open up more opportunities for solo cruisers and it would generate more money for the cruise line - a win for all. 

The other thing that I thought was missing was a window or a balcony or anything involving fresh air and sunlight.  Since the studio cabins were inside I felt an extra need to go outside in my free time, I know other people expressed a concern about possibly feeling clausterphobic in these cabins.  I had no issue with clausterphobia.  There were a few occasions where I would have liked to have spent time in the lounge, but with no window or baloncy, I chose to go up on deck instead.  I think the interior nature of the lounge kept it from being a more popular place to congregate.  Not that it needed a big section of window or a large balcony, but anything would have been better.  The best example of this was on the last day of the cruise I ate breakfast in the lounge, got my things and debarked the ship.  To my surprise it was cold and raining and ended up not being dressed properly. 
Hallway for the Studios
I have written NCL a letter about all of my thoughts on improving the Studio cabin experience, so I don't mind saying it here.  They did write back and thank me for my input.  But since this post seems to be a bit negative, I do want to add that I absolutely LOVED this cruise and the studio cabins.  I made many wonderful friends and would definatley consider sailing on the EPIC again if I was traveling by myself.  I would also recommend this ship to anyone else traveling by themselves.  I just think there are a few things that can be done to make it an even better experience.

Reminder: I can be found on Twitter @Travelingiraffe