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, March 30, 2012

Delays in posting

As some of you might know, I had surgery in the beginning of the month.  I had a bone graft from my leg to my mouth.  I've run into an issue where I can't sit for long periods at my desk, so although I did have some posts lined up for post surgery, they are running out.

So, there may be some missed posts in the next few weeks while I catch up and also work on some posts to put up while I'm away in June.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Polynesian Review

On my February trip to Disney World I got to stay at the Polynesian Resort, which was on my Disney World bucket list.  I had the benefit though of not having to pay full price though as I went with my sister and her two kids ;)  The resort is really nice; but, it didn't live up to my expectations.

The rooms were really nice.  They were large with lots of storage.  The rooms had 2 comfy Queen sized beds, two chairs and a couch that converts to a bed, allowing a 5th person to sleep in the room.  And a balcony.  As far as storage there was a dresser, two closets, and a desk with a pull out table underneath.  There was also a night table and a refrigerator.  My nephew complained that the couch/bed thing wasn't comfortable, but my brother-in-law had slept on one on a previous trip and said it was fine.  Do you trust the adult or the 13 year old?


The bathroom was very nice - it had nice tiles and an asthetically pleasing look.  But that's where the hype on the bathroom ends.  I have stayed in a value and a moderate resort in the past and liked the bathroom set up there MUCH better.  Both had the shower and toilet in a room with the sink area seperate, allowing for more then 1 person to use bathroom facilities at one time.  With everything in the bathroom at the Polynesian it made getting ready much more complicated and we were two adult woman and two boys, I pitty a group of 4 or 5 woman trying to get ready with this bathroom.  Additionally, the bathroom had 1 sink and 1 mirror - again an issue when more then 1 person is trying to get ready at a time.  There was another mirror in the room, but the lighting around it was terrible. 

The resort did offer free Wifi, it wasn't worth the money!  It never worked, every single time I logged on it worked for less then 5 minutes before it just stopped working.  My sister got it to work one morning around 6 AM.  It was actually worse then not having wifi at all.

On to transportation...
If you're spending most of your trip going to the Magic Kingdom, you can't beat the location.  However, Disney recently changed the schedule for the monorail and it stops running earlier then it used to.  Don't ask me when it stops running because no one actually told us when, you just had to look for the sign.  While the boat isn't bad, it's not the monorail - one of the reasons people choose to stay at the Polynesian (or any Magic Kingdom/monorail resort for that matter).  I would definatly factor in this change in the monorail schedule into your decision to stay at any resort along the monorail. 

If you're not spending much time at the Magic Kingdom then I would consider other resorts.  From the Polynesian you can take a reasonable walk over the the Ticket and Transportation Center and take the monorail over to Epcot, but I'll admit that the ride was longer then I expected, the monorail is just a form of transportation, and not a magic bullet.  The bus ride to The Hollywood Studios wasn't long and I never went to the Animal Kingdom. 

Where the Polynesian shined though was in its theming. From the scents in the lobby to the trees around the resort, everything about the Polynesian represented the region it was themed after.  Even the pool was a volcano.  The resort had a relaxed "Aloha" kinda vibe to it, and that made it a fun place to stay.

Nanea Volcano Pool
There are two pools at the Polynesian (well, I saw two pools), the quiet pool was large and quiet...  The main pool with the volcano slide was on the small side, but it did have zero entry, nice if you're traveling with small kids.  And there was also a beach area.  I'm not sure if you can swim here, but sitting on a beach chair on the white sand is nice.  Or better yet, take one of the hamocks or swings inbetween beach vollyball games.  Are you getting the idea?  There is a very nice pool/beach area here - making the resort - resortlike. 

Quiet Pool
Overall the Polynesian is a very nice resort, it has a lot of great ammenities.  However, it's not all sunshine and leis, before spending a lot of money on this resort I would give some real thought to the needs of your group and if this resort offers the right ammenities for you.

You can follow me on Twitter: Travelingiraffe

Friday, March 23, 2012

Who or What is The Traveling Giraffe?

I've been writing this blog for a few years now and I'm not sure if I've ever really wrote about who or what The Traveling Giraffe is.

I had first made a website for myself back in 1999, just a few pictures to update my friends on what I was doing after college.  It grew a bit once something interesting was happening - travel.  Then I started to read travelogues and take some tours, I decided that I wanted to write travelogues about my own tours.  I set up a website at giraffegirl.net and kept it up for a few years (it's currently hosted on a friends website).  But there's a funny thing about travelogues, they stop when the trip stops.  No room for growth, so here I am writing a blog.

But, The Traveling Giraffe?

In 2006 after finishing my tour through Scandinavia I was walking through the main train station in Copenhagen when I saw it, a small giraffe.  I bought him and named him after our day song through Russia - Rasputin.  Not too long after that I realized that this would be my travel buddy, like the Roaming Gnome from Travelocity.  I could take pictures of him while I traveled to break up the monotony of pictures of me or pictures without me. 

When I needed a name for my blog I went through a lot of ideas, but I decided that Rasputin could be my partner in writing the blog.  He's been kinda useless, being stuffed and all, but it's still fun trying to figure out new ways to take pictures of him.

Rasputitn does have his own Flikr account if you want to see his travels.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Exclusive Italian Riviera & Pompeii Part 2

This is Part 2 of 2 on my Norwegian Epic tour:  Exclusive Italian Riviera & Pompeii.

Just a couple facts about this tour - it was a "small" group tour - 18 people max in a mini bus.  It was an expensive tour, over $400 a person.  The tour visits Positano, Sorrento and Pompeii - it was the only tour offered by the cruise line that went to Positano (only mini buses can get there).  The tour consists of a visit to Positano and Sorrento, lunch in Sorrento and a guided tour of Pompeii.  In this post I'll talk about Pompeii.

During our drives around the Amalfi Coast we had been given information about the Pompeii and Mt. Vesuvius.  We were told about the advance warning system (based on the volcano's activities giving 20 days to 2 weeks notice) and the different evacuation zones.  The Red Zone includes 18 towns and 600,000 people.  The Yellow Zone includes Naples.  Mt. Vesuvius erupting would be bad....

Before the eruption that covered Pompeii in the year 79, Mt. Vesuvius had one peak, since then you'll notice that there are two peaks to Mt. Vesuvius. 

Our visit to Pompeii started with a stop at a cameo shop, we had a quick demonstration (about 5 minutes) and then a few minutes to shop and use the bathroom.  There was no hard sell by our tour guide or by the people doing the demo.  However, in the shop they were polite, but definitely trying to sell.

Once inside we had a guided tour of Pompeii.  Our guide was very knowledgeable and showed us a lot of the elements of daily life in Pompeii.  How to tell which homes were owned by the wealthy, how they crossed the street before sewers, what the inside of a brothel looked like (a very popular spot) and even how to tell what type of front a store or house might have had. 
Line for the Brothel

We also got to see some of the casts from the excavation.  When people or animals were covered in ash a mold was made of them, eventually the bodies disintegrated, but the casts remained in tact.  From those casts they can re-create molds of the people and animals who died in the aftermath.  It was very moving and disturbing to see the faces and bodies.  The worst was the dog, and it made me wonder about the molds they do not display.
The answer to the street being the sewage system

At the end of the tour we went by what appeared to have been a cliff like area (The water was closer back in 97 AD), it was a beautiful setting for the edge of Pompeii, even now with the water further away.
Entrance to a home of the wealthy

After our tour of Pompeii we were given 20-30 minutes to walk around outside, there was a little market selling souvenirs and a "coffee" shop.  We were one of the lucky tours to end before it started to rain, and we left a few minutes ahead of schedule, taking the 30 minute ride back to the ship.  I know a few other people got caught mid-tour in the rain and there wasn't much for cover in the site. 
Mt. Vesuvius

We were back at the ship an hour or two before sailing, giving a little time to relax before dinner and the nighttime entertainment.

Overall this was a great tour.  I'm not sure it was independently worth the $400+ it costs, until you compared it to the prices of the other ship tours. 

As with most tours offered in Europe through the cruise lines, you can find better deals through local vendors, much better deals.  You do lose the security that comes with taking a ship tour (the cruise line is responsible for getting you back to the ship if it leaves without you).  For some the security it worth the cost (I was traveling by myself), for others they prefer to save money or to tour independently.  Neither choice is wrong, but a personal preference.

You can follow me on Twitter @Travelingiraffe

Friday, March 16, 2012

All I have on Barcelona

Since I have finally finished posting everything I wanted to say about Barcelona I thought I would offer a listing of links to all the Barcelona posts I wrote in one place:

Dining in Barcelona

Soccer/Football and Protests

Gaudi's Barcelona - where art and architecture meet

Sagrada Familia - where art and architecture blend

Learning to love Barcelona

Barcelona Hotels

The rest of what I have to say on Barcelona

Don't forget you can follow me on Twitter: Travelingiraffe

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Exclusive Italian Riviera & Pompeii Part 1

This is Part 1 of 2 about the tour I did from the Port of Naples - Exclusive Italian Riviera & Pompeii offered by Norwegian Cruise line on the Norwegian Epic.

Just a couple facts about this tour - it was a "small" group tour - 18 people max in a mini bus.  It was an expensive tour, over $400 a person.  The tour visits Positano, Sorrento and Pompeii - it was the only tour offered by the cruise line that went to Positano (only mini buses can get there).  The tour consists of a visit to Positano and Sorrento, lunch in Sorrento and a guided tour of Pompeii.  In this post I'll talk about Positano and Sorrento. 

The ride to Positano is about 45 minutes to an hour along the coast, it's beautiful - I suggest getting a seat on the right side of the bus for the views.  The drop off is at the top of Positano at a gas station/garage and we were given 45 minutes to explore.  This was enough time to walk the winding alley to the beach front of Positano and either do some shopping or have a cup of coffee.  The beach does have boat launches to Capris if you're visiting independently.  I can tell you that it's beautiful here, but that would be an understatement - let the pictures be your guide.  Positano isn't the most exciting place, but it is a beautiful setting and a quaint little town.  The shopping in Positano is pricey though, although there is quite a bit of touristy stuff, it's of a more independent style.

Positano Beach
After Positano we had a 30 to 45 minute drive to Sorrento and then an hour to walk around.  Sorrento was not a sleepy as Positano, there are lots of shops and restaurants.  The town was bustling the day I was there, it was FULL of tourists, probably due to the 7,000ish cruise passengers in Naples that day.  The shopping here is very touristy - pashminas, scarves, purses, and toys.  If you're just looking for touristy types of gifts this is a good spot.
Local to the area is lemon stuff - lemonchello and lemon drops.

I could see Positano and Sorrento both as lovely romantic vacation spots.  Positano is the more exclusive, quieter and more romantic.  Sorrento being more reasonably priced and having more energy to it.  Sorrento is also closer to Pompeii if you're interested in a visit there. 

After our free time we had a lunch stop at a hotel in Sorrento with fabulous views of the water.  The lunch was excellent, fresh tender homemade pasta with a cheesy filling - what I would expect from this tour and hotel.  Aside from the great view the restaurant had a balcony so you could overlook the sea and get some fresh air.  The restaurant was also quiet with just two tour groups.
View From Lunch
So far I had enjoyed the first part of the tour.  During our long rides along the coast we were given information about Naples and the region, but since that is primary about mount Vesuvius I'll leave that for the post about Pompeii in the next few weeks.

View From Lunch

You can find me on Twitter at: @Travelingiraffe

Monday, March 12, 2012

Friday, March 9, 2012

Follow Me on Pinterest!

I've recently joined Pinterest.  My boards are all over the place, but there are certainly a few on travel if you're interested. I've only just begun to play with it, but so far I like it.  It's a different way to search for things and express your interests. 

If you've never used it and are wondering what the heck it is or why you should use it - it's a social networking site where you share pictures of things that interest you.  You create "boards" for specific topics and "pin" pictures to it.  Travel is a great topic for Pinterest since it lends itself to photography so well.  I am happy to have you "pin" pictures from my site that you like!

Another way to use it is to pin things that interst you, the pin will provide a link back to where the photo came from, working as a bookmarking system.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Dining in Walt Disney World - February Edition

On my February trip to Disney World I tried a couple new restaurants and got to re-visit a few too.

Kona Cafe - This was a new restaurant for me located at the Polynesian Resort.  I had breakfast and lunch here with mixed results.  Breakfast was quick with good food.  Lunch wasn't as good.  The menu didn't appeal to me and my lunch was actually pretty bad.  I got a steak salad, the salad dressing wasn't to my taste, and the steak was terrible.  It was very fatty and tough.  I should have gotten a cheeseburger.

Ohana - A new restaurant for dinner for me (breakfast a few years ago was a different experience).  This is similar to one of those meatfest restaurants (aka Brazilian steak houses).  This was actually a very nice dinner, the salad and bread were tasty without being too exotic.  The veggies were fresh and the meats were tender and tasty.  I would recommend this to the meat lovers out there. 

Biergarten - I was here in 2007 and I wasn't very hungry when we went to eat, but I enjoyed the food anyway.  My biggest complaints are that the band was a little too loud and the desserts weren't very exciting.  But I looved the pretzel bread!  Not a good restaurant choice if you want a private dining experience, you will be seated with strangers unless you have a group of 8 or more.

50's Prime Time Cafe - I was here in 2007 and it was more low key then I remember.  The food here was good, my nephew loved his kid's meatloaf because it was shapped like a meatball.  While the restaurant still has that 50's Mom's kitchen theme to it, I remember it being a lot more fun the last time I was here.  While they told you the "rules" here they did not enforce them.  For some that's a good thing, but in terms of a dining experience, it's lost its edge. 

Whispering Canyon - Located at Wilderness Lodge I was also here in 2007.  This is a fun place to take the kids (ok, maybe not teens though), there is a whole gimick around ketchup, which we all got a laugh at.  The BBQ dinner is excellent, but a lot of food, everything tasted good.  I particularly liked the salad and the pulled pork.  The last time I was here there was an area in the back that was a little quieter, a good option if you're not into the whole running around with ketchup thing.

It's a ketchup thing
One other observation I had that was specific to dining was that I found myself singing Happy Birthday a lot.  I've never been in a restaurant for someone elses birthday at Disney before, but I found myself near at least 3 birthdays on this trip - it was fun though when a whole restaurant would sign Happy Birthday to a stranger.

You can follow me on Twitter at:  @Travelingiraffe

Monday, March 5, 2012

Photo Of The Week: New York City

Sunrise, The New York City Skyline
Not my best picture, it's taken from a moving car on the Brooklyn Queens Expressway, but it is one of my favorite views of the city at sunrise.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Travel Tip: Money Belt

This week I'm recommending a money belt, the little pouch you wear under your clothes. 

On my first trip to Europe I wore mine religiously, on my last trip, I wore it occasionally.  The years of travel have made me lazy and overconfident.  That and the fact that I work in NYC and on a good day zip up my purse, but haven't been robbed (knock on wood).

But I think the money belt has a very important role in travel.  When we travel our brains seem to go on vacation too, a money belt helps us protect ourselves from our vacation brain.  We're also in a strange environment, the signals we normally look for in life may be different in our new environment.  A money belt become a way to protect our valuables (not just your money). 

What do I ususally put in my money belt?
Extra money (my daily cash is kept in my wallet)
Passport (unless I expect to use it)
Extra Credit Card and/or ATM card
Hotel/tour information
Full camera memory cards

But here's the thing with the money belt, you have to use it properly.  It's not just a fanny pack that fits under your clothes.  You're supposed to put it on and not access it in public.  Too many times I see people acting as though it's just another pocket.  But if you go into it in a public place you've just told your would be robber where your good stuff is.  You should only access your money belt in a private place or around people you trust. 

The one I've had for years is a little cotton one, but I know they make water resistant ones, probably a good idea if you're in a hot and humid climate.

Does anyone else use a money belt? When?