"" Writer's Wanderings

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

It's Summer! Here We Go!

Well, technically it's not summer until June 1, meteorological summer, or June 21, the astronomical summer but who doesn't mark the Memorial Day weekend as the official start or at least start thinking about summer. TripAdvisor has listed the 10 top destinations for summer. I was a little surprised at some of them. Take a look and see what you think but number one was Las Vegas. Huh?

We've been to Vegas in the summer. It's hot! I mean really hot! It's even hot in the evening. Now I know some like it that way but 110 degrees was a little much for me. Of course that was when my niece asked us if we wanted to hike in Red Rock Canyon for fun. She was in Vegas for a gig in Mama Mia which is why we were in Vegas--to catch the show. Ah, youth. We politely declined the outing and just drove through the canyon, windows up and AC on.

Many of the other places on the list could be a little warm but a lot of them at least had beaches where you could loll in the sand and cool off in the water or a pool. London and Paris were interesting cities to make the list but as with many of the choices, it is more expensive in the summer time when people are taking their vacations and school is out. That's where retirement comes in handy. We can opt for the off seasons to travel for less and with less crowds.

Still, if you are a people watcher and enjoy a place for all the excitement a crowd can bring, these would be the places to go if you can afford them. TripAdvisor also adds their recommendations for saving money. Me? I'm opting for some less traveled roads and some quiet time.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Do All Cruise Extras Come At A Price?

"Nothing in life is free." It's a phrase my husband has said over and over again. It's right there on his list of best phrases with "Life isn't fair." The kids really hated that second one. So is anything on a cruise ship "free?" Perhaps the better question to ask is "What's included?"

Depending upon the cruise line you may have everything included, or most everything, or as we have found in some cases, many things are ala carte. I know as kids we hated homework but this is one time when you really do need to do it. Thanks to the internet cruise line sites and lots of forums that are available you can usually get a good idea of what to expect.

Most cruise lines today include the gratuities for your dining room staff, stateroom, and various other positions on board ship that you may not even realize get a tip. You can always add to it if you like and if you've gotten really bad service (it would be very unusual) you can ask to not have the gratuity given to that staff member. I suspect the reason gratuities are included is because too many people neglected to give any gratuities when it was not included in your cruise fare. Beverage servers however still seem to garner a 10% gratuity for each drink they bring you unless you are on a cruise where drinks are included in your fare.

Usually the more expensive smaller cruise lines are the ones who have an all inclusive price. While the price might be higher, it often includes (in addition to gratuities) all of your drinks, one or more nights at a specialty restaurant on board and in some cases excursions in ports.

Of course you can also get your airfare included with most cruise fares and that normally includes transportation from the airport to the ship. It pays to check out the cost of booking that yourself but remember that if the air booking cuts it too close to the ship's departure, it could leave without you. Usually if air passengers who booked through the cruise line have some problem caused by the airline which makes them a little late the ship will wait. We waited once on a plane full of German cruisers that arrived an hour late in Miami.

The one constant with cruise lines as it is with most anything in life is that things will change. Again, we're back to doing that homework. If it's been a while since you've cruised with a particular line be sure to check on just exactly what your cruise fare includes. Earn that A+!


Thursday, May 26, 2016

Revisiting Destinations

If you haven't guessed by now, I love looking at all the travel articles that tell me of the X number of places I should see before I die or the X number of places not to see or the X number of best places for [insert activity here]. After all I wouldn't want to miss something or waste my time on some place I shouldn't see although often times I disagree with the writer. Everyone sees things differently and some of those don't-go-there places I found interesting.

Well, here I go again. Independent Traveler published a list of twelve places you should only see once. So, have I been to any or all? I clicked on the link and here's what I discovered. I've been to seven of the twelve. Pisa was the first on the list and I might be persuaded to go back there. The tower is interesting and the surrounding buildings are nice to explore.The article complained about all the sellers hawking their wares but it is where I found my favorite travel purse for $10 (after a little bartering). I think I'd opt for a trip to Florence though if we are ever in the area again. We haven't been there yet.

Niagara Falls in the winter.
We made a brief visit to Hanoi while on a cruise. I might be persuaded to go back to Viet Nam but once in Hanoi is enough. I satisfied my look back at history. The best thing I got out of that visit was our guide's comment, "Most people say Viet Nam and think of a war. I think of Viet Nam and think of a country."

I agree. Once for the Mona Lisa is enough. It's a tiny picture in a large room full of people all struggling to get close enough to see that infamous smile. But I don't agree that once to Niagara Falls is enough and I would suggest going there at different times of the year. We once had to pass through in winter and we stopped long enough to admire the frozen trees naturally sculpted in ice.

The Kasba, Tangiers
Once in Tangiers, Morocco, and once in Guayaquil, Ecuador is probably enough. I would go back to Amsterdam again. Now Portland, Oregon, is also on the list and not highly recommended for more than a one time visit. We've been near Portland once to go to an indoor water park with our kids. Oregon is a state that we would like to explore more so I'll leave room for Portland and hope for a better experience than the writer had.

That left four other places I've not experienced yet. I don't know that I want to see the Taj Mahal at all. India is not high on the bucket list at this time. Tourist trap or not, I would like to see Pompeii once. Podgorica, Montenegro, was not highly recommended but since we've never been to Montenegro it would be good to see for ourselves.

The article's slide show ends with Nowhere--meaning there is really nowhere you wouldn't absolutely return to if it meant a chance to travel some more. I agree.



Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Travel Experiences - How Do You Meet The Locals?

So much of what is written about how to have the best travel experience talks about meeting the locals. We don't usually make this an intentional part of our travel adventures but if you are at all engaging with people it's hard not to get to meet the locals. They are the people who are waiting tables, serving drinks, driving taxis (even if they are from another country living in the place you are visiting), clerking in stores, etc. Here are a few incidents from our travels that I wouldn't trade for anything.

In Lichtenstein we found a small store and were exploring its contents when I noticed colored hard boiled eggs on a shelf behind the counter when it wasn't anywhere near Easter. Now my four years of high school German are just enough to get me into trouble sometimes but the lady behind the counter smiled pleasantly and in German told me that we would speak slowly. By the time we were done, I learned that the eggs were colored to distinguish them from raw eggs and I got a "Sehr gut!" from the lady. My German teacher would have been so proud.

Our trip around Ireland took us into territory (I believe we were in county Donegal) where the old Gaelic language (Gaelige) is often spoken. I remember it being a small town and my brother-and sister-in-law went shopping while we opted for a cup of tea. On a short side road was a small cafe and we purchased our tea and took the cups outside on the small porch. An older gentleman came up the steps and tipped his hat to us as he said something we didn't understand. I thought at first it was just a heavy Irish brogue but on his way out of the cafe he stopped and rattled on in a tongue we had never heard before, tipped his hat again, smiled, and moved on. We realized we had just had a lesson in Gaelic. I don't know what he said but hopefully the smile meant it was nice.

While travel books will encourage you to get off the beaten track, it isn't always a good idea in some places and really you don't have to in order to meet the locals. You just need to be pleasant. Ask a question or two. Smile. Be polite. Use all those good manners Mom taught you. Small cafes, pubs, little shops, even a picnic table or park bench are great places to start a conversation. Nature, architecture, museums, churches are all interesting but it is the people who make a country what it is.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Montezuma's Revenge?

Ever wonder about the origins of colloquialisms? I happened to be reading something about staying healthy as you travel and it mentioned Montezuma's Revenge. Now everyone knows what that means and it isn't pretty. But who was Montezuma and what revenge is he taking on innocent travelers?

The more correct term for Montezuma's Revenge is traveler's diarrhea. It usually comes from ingesting the local water. The best prevention is sticking to bottled water and soda and making sure there is no ice made from local water in your drink. It's caused by an e coli bacterial strain and is usually not serious but certainly uncomfortable.

Montezuma II was the leader of the Aztec civilization in the early 1500s when Cortes invaded and conquered the land. Montezuma was slaughtered by Cortes but whenever a white person visited Mexico and took ill, it was said to be Montezuma's revenge.

An interesting article I found on a British site said that there are lots of names associated with traveler's diarrhea depending upon where the traveler is visiting. You might hear it referred to as Ghandi's Revenge, Delhi Belly, The Cairo Two-step, or the Rangoon Runs to name a few. One of the more recent is Teheran Tummy which I assume came from troops stationed there.

So stick to bottled water. Don't eat fresh fruits or vegetables that do not get peeled. Stay away from salad greens that are washed in local water. And when you get that bottled water be sure to check that the lid was sealed (some places have been known to sell refilled bottles) and wipe the outside of the bottle if it's been sitting in ice water. Revenge is never pretty.

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