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, August 29, 2012

Shedd and Field Museums

When I was in Chicago I bought the Citypass for the fast pass entry to the Willis Tower, so I naturally decided to explore some of the other sites included with he Citypass, I decided on Shedd Aquarium and Field Museum.

Shedd Aquarium is considered one of the best aquariums in the country.  As far as fish in giant fish tanks, this is not the best aquarium I have been to.  But this aquarium also had a dophin and beluga whale show which was very well done in low lighting (meaning not good photos).  They also had a nice exhibit on Jellies. I recommend taking a look at what the special exhibits are before you go, there are several different levels of tickets, knowing what is offered before you go will make purchasing tickets much easier.  Also, arrive a few minutes early to the dophin and beluga whale show, it can fill up pretty quickly and is worth seeing.  I was not impressed with the dining options here, they were quite weak for such a busy museum.  But do not forget to visit the store, they have the best museum shirts I have ever seen!

Field Museum is a natural history museum with exhibits on dinosaurs, Egypt and Genghis Khan.  The only dinosaur I saw was Sue, she's hard to miss being in the lobby and all, and she's a pretty cool dinosaur.  After snapping some pictures of her I went to my Egypt movie that was included in my ticket, it was a pretty good show for all ages.  After that I went through the Egypt exhibit, which included a tomb that was moved from Egypt.  It wasn't terribly big, but it was cool to walk through and then you can climb stairs and look down at it, a very different view then you usually get.  The rest of the Egypt exhibit was good, not as expansive as you would see at The Met in NYC, but still they had a nice selection of pieces.  I also went to the Genghis Khan special exhibit, I'm don't know his history that well, but I believe he has a very bad reputation.  The exhibit really tried to show the positive side of his life, I wonder how someone who knows his history would have viewed the exhibit?  I thought the exhibit had a lot of interesting stuff, and it piqued my interest to learn a little more about him.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Tip: Photo Themes

I'll admit it, I'm stealing this idea from Ralph Velasco.  Before your trip pick a theme for your photography.  It could be reflections, doors, windows, street photography, technology, food, etc.  Whatever interests you or a theme that you want to work on.  After concentrating on it for a trip I think you'll find it comes more naturally to you after that. 

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Willis/Sears Tower

Most of you have heard of the Sears Tower, the tallest building in the United States, well it's now the Willis Tower and it's still the tallest building in the United States.  It has been enhanced in the past few years, adding glass balconies that extends past the 103rd floor over Wacker Drive.

I had purchased the Chicago Citypass which allowed for fast pass entry at the tower, but I still showed up around 9:20 in the morning, not long after opening, and there was no line for entry (there was a line at 10:30 when I left).  After entry you go into a room that allows you to explore a little bit of Chicago from 103 floors without even taking the elevator, this is an interesting spot if there are already lines, but if it's quiet I wouldn't waist a lot of time here.  After this room you board the elevator.  I liked the elevator, as you rose up it told you how high you were based on other landmarks around the world, like the height of a giraffe or the height of the Eiffel Tower. 

Once at the top the skydeck is enclosed by windows and there are binoculars to look more closely.  There is also a small shop to buy souveniers.  Near the side where you exit the skydeck is where the balconies are.  These were relatively quiet, until the school group arrived!  I wish I had moved a little quicker.

I had been nervous about this, I'm not affraid of heights, but I do have limits too and when I'm that high I can be hit or miss.  This did not bother me at all, I was on and off it a couple times.  I found all the tourists here to be friendly and happy to take pictures of each other, and they even took a great picture of me! 

The views of the city were really nice, naturally things on the ground were tiny, but it was a great way to see some of the cool architecture in the city. 

One thing I've realized is that as much as I love to go to high locations to see cities you get a more intimate feel from a lower high point.  The Arc de Triumph gives a great view of the city because it's shorter, you can see the long avenues.  But from the Eiffel Tower you can see more of the city.  At the Willis Tower you can see the tall buildings and points further away, but you don't get to see the intimate feel of the city.  That doesn't mean I didn't like it, Chicago has a good layout for being viewed from 103 floors up, but it is a big picture view, not an intimate view.

If you like to see cities from high up, this is a great place to visit.  If you can go early in the morning then I wouldn't bother with the Citypass unless you had already wanted to get one.  Going early will not only allow you to skip the line, but it will also be less crowded.  Visiting only took me about an hour, including visiting the gift shop on the ground floor when I exited.  If you're not intersted in city views like this, then you might want to skip this if you have limited time in the city and concentrate on some of the other offerings of Chicago.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Wrigley Field Tour

You know the saying, when in Rome do as the Romans do?  Well I decided to do that in Chicago, so I went on a tour of Wrigley Field (there were no games when I was there).  I enjoy a  baseball game from time to time, but I am not a big baseball fan, even living near Yankee Stadium, so I was a little bit concerned I might not enjoy this tour, but I actually loved it.

 My baseball stadium experience is the old Yankee Stadium when I was a kid, Shea Stadium and the new stadiums: Yankee Stadium, Citifield (Mets) and PNC Park (Pirates) - you'll notice I have been to a lot of new ball parks.  That is probably why the first thing I noticed about Wrigley Field is that it is old, it is almost 100 years old.  You will not find the comforts of a new stadium here.  That gives the stadium a certain charm, but probably isn't as wonderful if you're at a game that's going into a 12th or 13th inning.

The tour had about 20 people on it and we had 2 guides, they were very nice, informative and accommodating to our group.  They also had a sense of humor and made us laugh.

The tour starts with us being seated behind the Cubs dugout and getting the early history of the stadium.   We did learn about some of the innovations that came out of Wrigley Field, such as the food vending behind the seating, instead of just people walking around the stadium selling food.

From there we moved to the original press area, which is now where the boxes are, and then moved to the new press box.  The most shocking thing here was how little technology there was here, just some chairs and tables.  Heck, it doesn't even have air conditioning or heating!  Here we learned about the bleachers on the tops of the buildings across the street from the park, some of the announcers, and having lights installed. These seem like little things, unless you're talking about Wrigley Field.

After that we got to the coolest part of the tour, the locker room and the field.  The locker room was nice, but small.  But during the game it doubles as a bull pen.  There is no bull pen with field access so they use the lockerrom. 

When we finished in the locker room we walkout out to the field through the dugout.  I was surprised how low the dugout was, and then the bench was really high.  I didn't expect that.  But it did have a padded bench, which is more then I can say for the visitors dugout.  We were given about 15 minutes here to take photos and explore.  We were only allowed on the dirt area of the field by the dugouts, but it was fun to be on the field and get some pictures. 

Maybe it's the history buff in me, but I really enjoyed this tour, the guides were personable and made the tour fun and the stadium come alive.  I would recommend this tour for anyone, including children.  It was a good way to get a piece of Chicago history.  If you're wondering about what they were building in the stadium, it was a stage for a concert later in the week.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Travel Declarations!

I apologize for not posting more often on Friday's.  I started a little venture with a friend and it's taking up a lot of my free time, combined with not having much to review or recommend.

But I am here today to declare new vacation commitment/plan/idea.  For my 30th Birthday I spent a month in Scandinavia and Russia.  For my post dental work trip I'm currently planning on doing Australia for 3-4 weeks late next year.  When I retire from my job in 7 years I want to travel around the world.  That leaves me with, what to do for my 40th Birthday????  Well it's in 4 years and on my bucket list is to go to the Olympics so for my 40th Birthday I'm going to the Olympics in Rio!!!!!  And with 4 years to plan I have no excuses for not planning appropriately.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Trying to Relax on Vacation

Before my trip in June I was a little stressed out.  I was refinancing my mortgage, closed on that Friday before my trip.  Then the week before I started having my bathroom renovated, I had no bathroom and was living at my parents house.  I was also having some issues at work.  Yea, I was stressed out. 

I have read some books on taking vacation and the positive impacts of it, basically that it takes a week to relax and that is why you need two, so you can actually relax on the second week, therefore enjoying your vacation. 

I never really experienced that until this trip.  I felt myself wired up the whole first week and then I finally started to relax and enjoy myself fully. It was great, I find I have a much more positive outlook on everything. 

So here is to 2 week vacations!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Contiki Northern Adventure Hotels

I'm not going to review each of the hotels we visited on the Northern Adventure as many of them were similar, instead I'll go with some broad generalizations.  I will exclude the hotels in Las Vegas and Chicago though as they were a bit different from the typical hotels on this tour.

The hotels were generally hotel/motel style.  The best one was a Comfort Inn in Salt Lake City and the worst was in Kanab, UT.

A few hotels did have pools - Keystone, SD; West Yellowstone, WY; and Kanab, UT.    

All hotels had free Wifi, but the wifi in Kanab was terrible - slow and constantly disconnecting you.  Some required passwords (usually provided with your keys at check in), others were open wifi. 

The quality of the hotels varied, some were modern and new, others were old but had character, like wood carved beds.  No promises that they were hand carved, but they looked like it.  But the beds and pillows were comfortable, rooms were clean and with one or two exceptions, the rooms were spacious for two people and their luggage.  Some had elevators, others did not.  We were usually on the first or second floor and I only had to carry luggage up and down the stairs once. On more then one occasion I did have the very last room in the hallway. 

In Chicago we stayed at the Best Western, Grant Park.  The location was EXCELLENT if you wanted to go to Museum Campus.  It was also only 2 or 3 blocks from the "L."  The immediate area did not have much, but there was a Walgreens and a restaurant within 2 blocks.  The hotel itself was old and a little sad looking.  But, the beds and bedding were new and comfortable, along with the bathroom.  The hotel did have wifi and I think it also had a pool, though I never saw it.

In Las Vegas we stayed at Harrah's, for those of you who are unfamiliar with Las Vegas, Harrahs is centrally located on the strip, but is an older hotel.  The Casino wasn't as nice as the newer hotels, but the rooms were very nice, especially after staying in all those motels along the way.  They did NOT have wifi, they only had wired internet and it was very expensive.  They did have a pool, but the one time I went there is was crowded and there was no shade and not many misters for 100+ temperatures.

Overall the hotels on this tour were pretty good.  None were fancy, but they were clean and provided all the amenities you needed.  Many hotels also had the shower/toilet separate from the sink which was nice when getting ready in the morning and at night.