Category Archives: Misc.

Packing for a Month’s Trip to Europe in a Carry-On

For our travels before and after our river cruise on the Rhone on AMAWaterways, we were planning on using public transportation, mainly trains as well as subways and buses.  What we found on our train trips last year through northern Italy was that the luggage racks are above your seats and Blogger Hubby was always lifting our fully packed 26″ suitcases up to the racks.  He is in his early 70’s and quite fit but I still worried about all that lighting as well as all the stairs we had to climb up and down in some of these smaller train stations.  I vowed to pack lighter.

I was determined to fit everything into a wheeled carry-on piece of luggage.  I wanted to be responsible for my own luggage.  I didn’t want to have to ask for help from strangers and I didn’t want to take only what I could handle. I need to be able to lift it onto a train up the step or two as well as if we went up to the upper deck on the train.   If I couldn’t handle it, then I was taking too much.  My friends were somewhat aghast that I would be gone for almost a month but you know what….I did it and felt so great.

I brought with me 2 pairs of printed capri pants, one pair of nylon travel capris, a pair of shorts and three pairs of long pants and a dress.  I stayed with colors that were blue, white and black.  All the tops could be worn with at least three pairs of pants.  One of the tops I brought was a tank top that I could wear by itself if it was really hot and conversely I could layer it under long sleeve tops if it were chilly.   I brought a white sweater, a long sleeve heavier white top that would be layered, a knit outer layer quarter zipped pullover, a thin nylon raincoat/windbreaker, 3 pairs of shoes, underwear/night clothes, curling iron and a bag of meds.  My packing cubes from e-bags helped keep me organized and it made it easier to pack, unpack and repack throughout our journey.  In addition to my carry-on, I also had a LL Bean medium size tote bag that I could loops over the handles of the suitcase and I wore a backpack.

img_1368 img_1369I brought my knitting with me, my iPad that held the books I was reading and as a way to get in touch with family through the free wifi on our river cruise ship and the wifi that came with the hotels that we stayed with.  With my iPhone, iPad, Blogger Hubby’s Kindle and my camera all needing charging I found it an inconvenience last year plugging items in and then unplugging them to charge other items.  I bought for myself on Amazon an Anker 60W/12A 6-Port USB Charger PowerPort so I could charge everything at the same time  Here is a picture of it:

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I did bring a small purse with me so I would have it when we would go out to dinner rather than bringing my backpack.

With a limited amount of clothing, it was never an issue of what I was going to wear.  We did make use of the laundry on the AMADagio before we left to make sure we were leaving with clean clothing.  We brought a small bottle of Woolite with us to wash out some things in our bathroom sinks but found we ran out and bought some inexpensive liquid laundry detergent to supplement.

I’ve mentioned how I brought a 22″ carry-on and you are probably wondering what Blogger Hubby brought.  He actually brought the next size up though all of his things did fit in a carry-on.  He brought the next size along so we would have room for anything we might purchase along the way.

Coordinating colors certainly helped make the packing easier, not caring if you wore the same top twice within a few days, be willing to rinse out some of your items in the sink, and not always having your shoes match your outfit gave us the freedom to move around easier as well as for me, being responsible for what I bring.  It truly felt liberating.  Try it sometime

Do You Purchase Travel Insurance and if so What Type?

No issue brings us as much angst as the question as to whether we are going to insure a trip.

Buy Travel Insurance Online                     We used to always purchase travel insurance and yet when we did, we were never sure if it was a good policy or not.  You really have no way of knowing till you have file a claim, or someone you know, and how their claim was resolved.  The other part of this equation is,  if their claim was not paid, was it because the claimant didn’t follow the rules.  Perhaps they didn’t notify the insurance company and make a phone call before seeking out medical help first….or save the receipts…go to an authorized physician or facility.  Just  because it was denied doesn’t mean that it wasn’t a good company, it could be as I have alluded, that it was the fault of the insured.  But then again, maybe it just wasn’t a good company.

Let’s go a step back and talk a little bit about travel insurance.  I’m no expert and I don’t hold myself up as one but if you are going to purchase travel insurance make sure you ask questions and compare policies before you purchase.  If you are purchasing through your travel agent, they are not the ones to ask questions of.  They are not insurance agents but merely passing on to you the travel insurance that their agency sells. It may be a good policy but ask questions of that insurance company. Some questions to ask: are  you looking for a cancel for any reason insurance policy? cancel for health or death in your family?  how close must the family member be? do you want your pre-existing medical conditions covered?  do you want medical evacuation?  medical coverage? if you have several trips do you want year long coverage?  Lots of questions to consider and to ask. One thing that I will say about having your pre-existing medical condition covered, you generally need to purchase your travel insurance within 14-21 days of putting down your deposit on your trip.

If you are looking to compare different policies, I recommend you going over to the Insure My Trip website.  You can check off what you want in your policy and then compare them.  If you are more comfortable, give them a telephone call and tell them what you are looking for.  They will be able to guide you.

Another option for you to look at is your credit cards.  Chase Sapphire Preferred has primary rental insurance for your car rental.  In addition to that they also have Trip Interruption/Trip Cancellation coverage of up to $10,000 per trip; Baggage Delay insurance of 5 days at $100 per day.  Make sure you save your receipts to get the reimbursement. Finally, they have Trip Delay coverage.  You need to have purchased your tickets using your Chase Sapphire Preferred card which you should be using since you do get 2 x points on travel.

You should check with your health insurance company to see if you are covered overseas.  I do not believe that Medicare covers you overseas but my military health insurance, Tricare does.  It is called Tricare Overseas and if you do have Tricare and find that you need medical care while overseas, call their telephone number for the region that you are in.  Wondering how I know that?  When we were in Denmark I did have an accident – I fell out of a very tall bathtub while attempting to take a shower because there was no mat and the tub was very slippery.  I cracked my head open on the toilet and was laying on the bathroom floor bleeding profusely from the back of my head.  All I could think about was that we didn’t get health insurance.  Visions of the English actress Natasha Richardson with her head injury from her fall kept going through my head.  Tricare Overseas was called and off to the hospital we went.  But you know what?  Since Denmark has socialized medicine, there was no charge to be seen, for the tests, for the suturing of my head or for the two bags of medicine they sent  back with me to the hotel.

Right then and there it had reaffirmed my decision that if I was traveling in a country with a western culture and socialized medicine, I would forego travel insurance for medical purposes.

The next issue we consider is whether we would cancel due to a death in the family.  My husband’s father is still alive at age 90 and is quite healthy but we know that things can happen.  If something did happen, would we cancel the trip or would we need to return?  We discussed different scenarios and made the decision that works for us.

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Using our points for our airfare and hotel stays, we are able to cancel and get the points, sometimes with a small fee, redeposited to our account.  When estimating the cost of a trip, I have to exclude those arrangements that we are not paying for and that are refundable.

For our cruise to South America that we just booked, we did decide to get travel insurance.  We figure that being at the bottom of South America, medical care may not be readily available if something serious was to happen.  The insurance covers medical evacuation up to $500,000 if I should need to leave the area.  It’s been years since we purchased insurance but at our age and our destination, we feel that we are being prudent in purchasing it.

 

 

Seattle – Our Layover and What We Did

We chose to continue our trip after we got off the Empire Builder and took the AMTRAK bus to Vancouver. We had about 4 hours between our arrival in Seattle and our departure. Not one to miss an opportunity to explore, we were off.

In the terminal in Seattle, if you go to the ticketing counter, they will help you in holding your luggage. They do this because the room where the locker is store is not always manned. The cost is $4 per piece .

King Street Station, Seattle
King Street Station, Seattle

We left the train station and walked down to Pike’s Public Market. We were so hungry because that morning on the train, the breakfast was open from 5:30 AM till 7:00 AM. With all the time changes, it was not a problem getting up for breakfast at that time.

What I love about Pike’s Market are the flowers that they sell and have arranged in bouquets. They are so fragrant, so colorful and so inexpensive. One of my favorite flowers is the peony and you could get a beautiful arrangement with white peonies, dark purple irises, purple delphiniums and other beautiful filler flowers for $10!

Rows and rows of beautiful floral bouquets many featuring peonies and irises
Rows and rows of beautiful floral bouquets many featuring peonies and irises

Pike Market is known for a fish stall that throws the fish to the wrapper once you have selected your piece to bring home. It gets very crowded and when a fish is thrown, loud applause follows in appreciation. It is a sight to behold and if you haven’t seen it, look for a crowd around a fish stall.

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A new meaning to the term “flying fish”

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We found Pike Barbeque inside the market – only 7 stools but worth waiting for a stool – do not attempt to eat this sandwich on your lap. It is juicy with lots of sauce on it. In fact, they dip the top bun in sauce before putting it on the sandwich. Being from Virginia, I am somewhat of a barbeque snob but this was very, very good. We shared the brisket sandwich and I was licking my lips and fingers afterwards.  If barbeque is not your thing, go downstairs and you will find a restaurant that serves local fish as well as Dungeness crab. There are many other choices for lunch so walk around first and find what you want.IMG_0775

What I like about this area is the complete diversity of shops although many are associated with food in some ways. There was a Russian restaurant, Turkish, cheese making, a pear store, hot dogs and so much more. I wish I had a larger stomach and larger clothing so I could have a sample of all of these tempting tasty treats.

For those that may be coming to Seattle for the first time and have a little more time, please allow me to make recommendation – go down along the waterfront and take the cruise to Tillicum Village on Blake Island for the Native American Dinner Show. The ferry ride out to the island is beautiful and the native story and the salmon dinner (you can request chicken at time of booking) is delicious. Walk around the island before or after the show.  This will be one of your highlights of your trip.

at the Wharf
at the Wharf

We walked back to King Street Station in time for our bus to Vancouver. Since we took the bus up to Vancouver and the train back to Seattle, I’ll write a blog post comparing both means of travel.

All Aboard – AMTRAK’s Empire Builder

This trip was booked last December transferring points from my Ultimate Rewards account to AMTRAK.  This is no longer available.  You can read about it here.

We left the Holiday Inn and Suites and walked directly to Union Station going in the entrance that I described in my previous post. Inside the lounge is a checked bag room where we ditched our bags so we could still walk around the city and get some breakfast. You do need to show your ticket once you enter the lounge.

Entrance to the lounge
Entrance to the lounge
early morning at the lounge in Union Station, Chicago. It will get much more crowded the closer to departure.
Early morning at the lounge in Union Station, Chicago. It will get much more crowded  closer to departure.

The lounge that we used will be closed in a few weeks and a new lounge will be opened, probably around the second week of June. The new lounge will have showers, more seating, and will be located in the Great Hall. In the lounge were hot and cold drinks and snacks like potato chips, pre-packaged breakfast rolls and nachos.  Here is a link to the new lounge.

After checking our bags, we left the station and headed to the French Market which we had discovered the day before. I had one of the best breakfasts that I’ve ever had – a freshly made crepe filled with fresh strawberries, crème fraiche, and almonds. Delicious !  Blogger Hubby had the crepe with lox, cream cheese, tomatoes and red onions. There were tables at the back of the market and outside for you to sit and enjoy your food.

The best breakfast ever!
The best breakfast ever!

With no bags and still a few hours before we needed to be back at the station, we walked around the city more. We walked over the to canal where tourists boats took passengers on a city tour.

IMG_0574We found the Chicago Cultural Center and went in – free admittance is always an incentive. They have two beautiful rotundas and one was by Louis Tiffany. This building was the former Chicago Public Library.

IMG_0577Close by was Millenium Park and the Chicago Art Museum – both worth walking to and through.  Throughout the park we saw a number of fountains, sculptures that we found very unique.IMG_0585

 

IMG_0591Did you know that the famed Rt. 66 begins in Chicago?IMG_0593

Throughout the city were beautiful tulips in bloom as well as other sidewalk arrangements in concrete planters – some with pussy willows which I hadn’t seen in a long time.   Another building that we saw was the Board of Trade building – very unique with huge eagles at the top corners of the building almost looking like gargoyles.

When we returned to the lounge, it was crowded and difficult to find seating. There are two screens on the walls – one for arrivals and one for departures. You will see the same name of trains so be sure you know what you are looking at. For example our train, The Empire Builder was arriving at 3:00 yet our train, the Empire Builder was leaving at 2:15.

Traveling in a sleeper, we had priority boarding. They will call you and open the door to the track. Everyone stops at the first car to see if it is theirs. If you are going to Washington State, keep moving. Our train splits in Spokane during the – the cars at the end are going toward Portland and the cars in front of the dining car are going to Seattle. That clue will tell you where your car will be.

Our Room – To get to our room, we entered the train and had to walk up a narrow stairway. If you have a large suitcase that you won’t need in your room, you can leave it on the first floor in the luggage area. We had the larger bedroom and they were denoted with a letter – we were in “D”. The smaller rooms had numbers. That tip might get you in the correct corridor since you can go left or right at the top of the stairs.

The lower level had rooms as well though I think they were smaller rooms, community showers and extra toilets (we were warned that there is no ventilation in the community bathrooms). Yes, train bedrooms are small. We knew that and expected it. The bathroom is a combination toilet/shower. To take a shower, put down the lid on the toilet and turn the water on. Since there is a lip to get into the bathroom, the water stays in the bathroom. You do have the option of using one of the community showers if you want something larger. Tip – put down the lid to the toilet to prevent it from crashing down in the middle of the night when you hit a rough patch of tracks.   We propped open the bathroom with a backpack so we could see the blue nightlight in the bathroom. Again, we didn’t want the door slamming in the middle of the night.  To get more air or less air, look to the ceiling to open or close the vents.

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Tip: If you are charging electronics, you might want to bring an extension card as one outlet is on the wall by the sink mirror and the other is on the wall by your head. You don’t want your electronics dangling as you recharge them.

We didn’t sleep well the first night because the train was always blowing their horns due to all the train crossings that we were passing.  You’ll get to know the whistle – 2 long, 1 shorter and 1 long.  Sometimes it seemed as though when the first set of whistles ended, the next one began.

The top bunk, which I had, was doable.  In the fact that there isn’t much turn around in and the ceiling was about 2 feet (or a little less) from my bed.  Getting up wasn’t a problem but getting down was (for me) as trying to turn around to come down the ladder was difficult since there wasn’t much room to turn around in.  I ended up putting my foot on the corner of the vanity and then the other on Blogger Hubby’s bed.  Not pretty but I did it.

We both brought carry-on luggage and a backpack. I would not bring anymore than that as they only place to store the luggage is under the bench sofa and chair in the room and a very small shelf above he chair. The rooms are small and compact and for just two nights on the train (or longer for us since we are continuing on) you really don’t need much. My concern in packing is whether the train ran hot or cold – I found this particular car on this particular day ran right in the middle. I have on a sleeveless top with a lightweight sweater and long pants though in the evening it did get a little cooler but never, in my mind, cold.  We’ve been told the Super Chief runs very cold.

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OBSERVATION CAR – had both seats and booths with a table. Downstairs was a lounge car where you could buy snacks as well as sit at one of their few tables. On our train were two Park Service Trails and Rails volunteers that gave a small narrative when we were going by a few things. If you brought your National Park Service passport book, they will stamp it for you (I had mine). Tip: there are some seats with 110 volt plugs so you can charge your electronics there as well. TIP – I turned on my Google Maps app while in the observation deck to see where we were and what we were passing.   There is no train wifi so I was careful how much cellular data I was using.

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DINING CAR – When you first board, stay in your room because a dining steward will come by and you can make reservations for dinner. Dining is about on par with airline food. For dinner I had the signature steak which was okay, baked potato and very overcooked medley of veggies. The salad was very fresh and served with packets of Paul Newman salad dressing. Second night I had the herb chicken which was much better and Blogger Hubby had the seafood shrimp/crab cakes and he thought they were very good.  Dessert was a good portion, neither too large or too small. All of this is served on plastic plates rather than the china that AMTRAK used to serve food on. Your first class accommodations include your meals on board and a drink. Beer and wine are a separate charge and they are available in the dining car. One thing to remember, although your meals are included in your accommodation if you are a first class passenger, you need to remember to tip the wait staff in the dining room. It also appears that the menu is the same on all the trains with a dining room. TIP: your first night when you leave Chicago, sit on the right side of the dining car as you are going forward and sit so you are facing forward. We had the 7:15 dinner and you could see the sun setting over the Mississippi – a bright orange ball and it was beautiful. Unfortunately we were not sitting on the correct side or facing the correct direction to get a picture but it was beautiful

Two rules that are strictly enforced on AMTRAK – no smoking and you always must wear shoes when walking around the train.

NOTE:  If you do plan to experience the Empire Builder, I strongly encourage you to download this PDF of the train route.  It gives you information on the train as well as the stops that it makes.  It’s interesting to know a little information about the cities that you are stopping or passing through.

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We have met very interesting people on this journey so far either at meal time (4 to a table) or in the observation car.  We were the only ones doing a train trek.  Many were going to or from vacation, family celebrations or just as a means to travel.  I was very pleasantly surprised at how much room there was in the coach section with leg rests and room between the seat in front of you – so unlike air travel.

More to come tomorrow.  If you have any particular questions, drop me a line and I’ll try to answer as soon as  can.

All Aboard…..

 

Daily Getaways are Back Starting Today!

An event that we look forward to every year is the Daily Giveaways for four weeks sponsored by the US Travel Association. Each workday for two weeks, beginning today April 4th promptly at 1:00 EDT,  you have the opportunity to  (attempt) to purchase one of their daily specials.  Some days are better than others but there is usually something for everyone during this four week period. To purchase, click on this link.

I have purchased points from Club Carlson, IHG as well as a few other vacation goodies to bump up my point totals when I had plans to use them.

What I like about the first week of daily getaways is that they are family friendly. You can be one of the few to buy points from IHG (Holiday Inn, etc), Comfort Inn, Sleep Inn and a few more.  Want to go to Busch Gardens with discounted tickets or planning a trip to Vegas.  You might try getting a great deal through the Daily Getaways.  Here is what is planned for next week:

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There will be more goodies the following week and that is the end till next year.

Looking at what is offered for this coming week I might consider the Busch Garden tickets since our daughter lives fairly close to one of the Busch Gardens – or I might just get them and give to her. They like to go when it is Howl-o-ween at Busch Gardens.  They took their 2 year old this fall and he loved it!  I might consider some of the IHG points since I have just used up a couple of hundred booking our trip in New Mexico/France and Belgium.

Remember, it begins at 1:00 Eastern time and they are very limited so if there is something you want, get the correct time and jump on it as soon as you can.  Some daily giveaways have more opportunities to purchase than others.   Post here if you are able to purchase anything so we can all congratulate you!

Good Luck

Boredom While River Cruising? Not in the Least! Also Info about Future Cruise

Many people are under the misconception that with river cruising you just sit and watch the scenery as we cruise down the river.  They are so wrong.  We were so active on this cruise that a common comment I heard was “we need a sea day”.

I’ll be addressing what we encountered on our recent AMA river cruise down the Danube in June 2015.  Every day you have at least one, if not two, activities to do off the ship.  A city tour is included at every port we went to.  Generally speaking we had regular walkers, active walkers and gentle walkers.  The gentle walkers was a nice way of saying those who either had mobility problems and couldn’t walk far or those who just needed a little extra help.   However you still need to talk to the Cruise Director about how much walking and what type is ahead of you. The trip to Salzburg for the gentle walkers was especially very good as the van took them all over. The Melk Abbey would not have been good for these walkers as there was much walking to do. Again do your homework and talk with the cruise director.

The regular walkers were most of the passengers on the ship.  Then they had active walkers, who for the most part, were part of the regular walkers group with a few exceptions when there was something specific designed for them.

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Additionally, our ship, like many who ply the rivers all along the world, had multi gear bicycles that they brought along.  Almost every day there was a bicycle excursion that you could take in place of a city tour.  One day there was also an optional 30 k bike ride through the Wachau Valley while the ship cruised along.  No shortage of activities.

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If you didn’t want to be part of any tour group, you could be independent and go off on your own.  You just needed to know when you needed to be back on board the ship.  Several people I know did this and they would eat their dinners on land rather than on the ship.

On our ship we also had a very small exercise room, and a very large hot tub that was more like a small swimming pool that I made use of more than a few times.

Overall, we felt that we were very active and did not just sit around though to be honest, sitting around a little would have felt good.  I did skip an afternoon excursion and stayed on the boat making use of the hot tub and putting my feet up.

We also had some evening entertainment – opera singers, gypsies, classical and not so classical musicians, a visit to a winery for a tasting, a concert in Vienna – so much to do.

For this cruise down the Danube, I invited friends and asked that they invite their friends so that we could qualify for group rates.  Also, by booking with my travel agent who is also a Virtuoso Certified Travel Agent, we were also given a free excursion to the Schonbrunn Palace in Vienna AND an on board credit.  We were a group in name only although we did sit together a few times, did a couple of group activities that I organized in Prague and it was always nice to see a familiar face when walking around the ship.

I’m doing another group river cruise and I would like to invite you to come with us.  We will continue to sail with AMA Waterways and will sail this time up the Rhone from Arles, France to Lyon, France.  If you choose to do the pre-cruise, it will be in Barcelona and the post cruise will be in Paris.  The cruise will begin on September 9th, 2016 (yes, next year and space is getting limited) though the pre cruise begins September 6th with your arrival in Barcelona.  If you are interested, leave me a note in the comment section and I will respond back to you.  Good news for those who like to travel solo – the single supplement is waived!  Think about it but not for too long.

 

 

Our Czech Cooking Lesson with Tereza

Blogger Hubby and I both love to cook and we always enjoy learning new dishes particularly dishes of the country we are visiting.  For that reason I researched through Trip Advisor for a cooking lesson for us.  I found a few but I was not willing to pay a hundred Euros per person for us to learn to make a new dish – that was too expensive for us.

I did find a young woman, Tereza, who charged, at the time of booking, 69 Euros per person.  There would be just my husband and I in her kitchen preparing dishes that we had chosen a few weeks earlier.  She also had a Facebook but doesn’t really keep up with it.

The arrangements were that she would pick us up at our hotel and we would go to her apartment by public transportation.  We would return to our hotel by public transportation (subway).

Tereza had given us our choices of dishes and we chose two soups and a beef dish.  She was very happy about this because many of her students had chosen the duck dish.  In fact, she said that they had duck for almost two months last year.

She was right on time and we conversed as we made our way to the subway station.  She taught us where to buy the tickets and which line we would take to get to her place and how to come home including which exit to take out of the station.

Tereza is also a licensed tour guide in Prague with a college degree in Tourism as well as a degree in Art History. She is easy to understand so Blogger Hubby had no problem. She told us of an interesting story about one of her first jobs as a guide.  She was hired to be a guide at Auschwitz and came home and told her grandmother.  Her grandmother asked her if she wanted to know something about it.  Tereza asked if her grandmother had ever been there before and her grandmother replied “just once”.  She then told Tereza that she had been a prisoner there during World War II because she was Jewish.  No one in the family, either Tereza or her mother, knew that her grandmother was in a concentration camp or that they were even Jewish.  She has now embraced her religious and cultural heritage.  Listening to her speak of her grandmother and how no one knew nothing about her experience at Auschwitz or their Jewish heritage really puts into perspective what many of the citizens went through during this dark time.  As we would do more touring of Prague we would learn more about other revolutions.

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We made two soups – a potato and dill creamy soup as well as a garlic soup (no, it wasn’t very garlicky).  Our beef dish was similar to one that I make.  Mine is a German dish called Rouladen, the Czech version is called Spanelshy ptacek.  It is a piece of beef (I use top of round sliced thin), pounded if it is not thin sliced.  Spread Dijon mustard on it and then add chopped onions, crumbled cooked bacon and chopped dill pickles.  For the Czech version they also add 1/4 of a hard boiled egg, no chopped pickles but rather a gherkin pickle.  Roll up the beef and tie it to keep all the filling in.  Once browned, then you cover the meat with water and let it simmer for about 2 1/2 hours.  Take the meat out and thicken up the broth and use it as gravy.  Delish!

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As we were talking and getting to know each other, we were served Czech liquor and boy, did it taste like firewater to me. After two shot glasses, I was finished!  Tereza’s husband attorney, came home from work and we proceeded to enjoy our two soups and then main course.  To compliment the meal two bottles of wine appeared on our table.

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We enjoyed the time we spent with Tereza and it really personalized our time in Prague. I would also highly recommend her as a tour guide and wished that I hadn’t already booked a tour guide for the next day to Kutna Hora.

We have taken cooking lessons in Italy as well and will try to continue taking lessons wherever we go.

If you are interested in arranging a cooking lesson or a private tour in Prague, please contact Tereza at http://www.praguewithme.com or email her at tereza@praguewithme.com   I do not receive anything for recommending Tereza other than the joy of knowing that others may enjoy her and her services as we did.

A Personal View of OAT – Overseas Adventure Travel – small group travel

I pleased to introduce my guest blogger Roberta – a world traveler who just happens to be related to me by marriage.  Blogger Hubby and I always enjoy seeing her and receiving her Christmas cards to read about where she has been during the year.  It might have been all the cards that began my lust for traveling after hearing about all her adventures.  Hope you enjoy reading what she has to say about OAT.

My name is Roberta and I am Blogger Jane’s cousin-in-law as her Blogger husband is my first cousin. She asked me to share some of my impressions about Overseas Adventure Travel Company better known to all as OAT. I have traveled with them 44 times and my fiancé Joe 45 times.

We both lost our spouses many years ago and luckily found each other, two people with a lust for life and love of travel. Not long after we met Joe informed me that for his vacation next year (1998) he had found a company that specialized in “adventure travel” and he was going to go on an African Safari with them. I was not invited as “we did not know each other well enough to share a tent” and I was also still teaching plus the trip had been booked months before we met. His month in Tanzania and Zanzibar was a life changing event and he couldn’t wait to take me there and every other place on his bucket list.

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We started traveling, slowly at first until we retired and then with a vengeance, having now visited over a hundred countries many more than once.
OAT became our travel company of choice because their trips are an excellent value, their Tour Leaders are top notch, they want to show you a country up close and personal warts and all and the places you stay, foods you eat and things you do are all cultural experiences and adventures.

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The people you meet in this small group travel company (land tours have a maximum of 16 guests) are just an added bonus. You do not simply get on and off the bus, you take rides in rickshaws, in canoes, on camels and horses, you hike in the jungle, you climb sand dunes, your Zodiacs take you to see the penguins in Antarctica and have leopards and lions walk so close to the vehicle you could touch them. Obviously our list of OAT trips is too long to complete but some of our favorites have been SAFARI SERENGETI (6 times for me 7 for Joe and every adventure was different even though we were in the same country), Morocco, China, Thailand, Italy, Bhutan, Vietnam, Namibia, South Africa, Japan, Turkey and Myanmar are just a few.

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Overseas Adventure Travel has changed since we have traveled with them both in good ways and some we haven’t liked. One excellent change this year is to include the tips required for everyone except your Tour Leader in the cost of the trip. This has been one area that the post trip evaluation forms kept emphasizing as something that needed to be done by the company. Another change that we found “troublesome” is the price for the airport transfer if you book your own air. We feel that they are extraordinarily high since the “bus is heading there” anyway and today if you are interested in accumulating air miles the airlines will not give them for third party ticketing or consolidation fares. In order to keep prices down we have seen a decline in the quality of properties OAT uses for their accommodations. They are always clean, often hotels reflecting the culture and/or unusual in some way but they are definitely not what they used to be when we started traveling with OAT.

The company does an excellent job of getting travelers up close and personal with people in the country where you are by school and orphanage visits, home-hosted meals and sometimes an overnight stay and trips thru local markets and villages. These are wonderful ways to really get a feeling for what it would be like to live in this country. The Tour Leader is a citizen of the country he is representing and shares his or her knowledge and love of country with you and/or the problems there as they see it. No topic is off limits to questioning.

We have traveled with many other companies but I would say OAT has a very good product if you prefer small group travel and you are physically able to take a little more adventurous trip. You will not be required to lug your gear or climb Mount Everest but you will have fun!

Thank you Roberta for your perspective of traveling in a small group with a tour guide.  I think what I took away from this is the difference between OAT and other tour companies in that you are welcomed into the lives and culture of the people of the land that you are visiting.  A more intimate visit than just wandering the streets.

A Gift for Travel Photographers – or for yourself!

I don’t know if you are anything like me but sometimes I don’t like  gift giving.  I guess I should qualify that statement and say that  I really do love giving gifts.  I love seeing the joy when a gift is a hit, the excitement of something random that is just what they want.  This is what gift giving should be like but most times it’s not – it tends to be a nice gift.  Most times  I stress too much about what to buy, is it something they want, does it fit their style, does it fit, etc, etc, etc.  This year I found the PERFECT gift for our son.  Here is the story about the gift – now stay with me because you may like this gift as well.

Blogger Son #1 has a great eye for photography.   He is our family photographer photographing the babies that have come into our family, engagement photos, candid wedding photos, and all family gatherings. He has been in art shows with his photographs, he is a published photographer for two cookbooks and wrote a travel blog about his travels around the world told in part through his photographs.

When you think of travel photographs what do you think of?  For me I think of all the beautiful photographs that the National Geographic photographers have taken to grace their articles and magazines.  Many people have commented to Blogger Son #1 and to me that he should submit some of the photos to Nat Geo but he hasn’t yet.

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I read on the National Geographic website  that they have seminars for amateur photographers.  They have half day, full day and a weekend long seminar this year.  They offered different themes in different locations around the country.  Some of the themes that they offered are Creative Travel Photography, Adventure Travel Photography, Nature and Landscape, People and Cultures, Photographic Eye, Storytelling Photography, and stories from actual National Geographic Photographers telling the stories of how they were able to capture some of those images which we are all familiar with that have been on the covers and pages of National Geographic.

Knowing this and seeing where the locations were made my Christmas giving easier for me and a great gift for our son – there was even one in the city that he lives in!    We typed up a certificate offering him either two half day seminars or one full day seminar.  If he decided to travel to go to these seminars, then he would be responsible for the travel.

Each seminar has a different photography focus and I wanted  him to find the one that best suited his needs.  He chose “Creative Travel Photography”.

If you want to give a gift of photography or if you would like to improve your photographic skills or take them to a different level, please go to this link for  National Geographic  and find the seminar that holds your interest.

Here are a few of the pictures that he has taken during someof his travels.  I hope you enjoy them and if you want to look at more or perhaps purchase some, please go to this website.

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Travel Clinics and My Experience

When we recently traveled to South Africa, it was suggested to us, a few couple weeks before our departure, that we might want to consider getting some anti-malaria pills.  The only location where we would have had a remote chance of getting malaria would have be in Kruger National Park.  Additionally, since it was winter in the Kruger, the chances were extremely low.  Nevertheless, since I do have an auto-immune disease I thought it was prudent to get anti-malaria medication.

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We immediately called the local travel clinic to see about scheduling an appointment.  When the clinic called back they basically said that they could not help us as they would need to see us two weeks prior to our trip to begin the shots and medication regimen and they didn’t have any available appointments.  I questioned them about shots since I “knew” that all I needed was anti-malaria medication but they wouldn’t budge.  I would get no appointment and no medication from them.  Now what!

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I then went to the CDC website to see what they story was.  I was able to look up country specific information again confirming that the risk was low and it would be only for Kruger.  The CDC website listed different malaria medications, the reasons why we would consider the specific ones and the reasons that we might want to avoid using some of the drugs.  Some of the medications only required us to begin taking the pills 1-2 days before we enter the area where malaria transmission could occur.  Additionally, some pills we only had to take for 7 days after leaving the area instead of 4 weeks as some meds required.

I made an appointment with my family doctor, brought the print-out from the CDC website.  She was very happy that I did bring the print-out as she didn’t have to leave the examining room to go to the website and print it out.  We went over all the medications available, the pros and cons including costs.  I walked out with my prescription.

I was very happy that I pursued this even after the travel clinic did not give me reason to pursue it.  If I had listened to them, I would have gone to South Africa without any medication since I was “late” in contacting them.  No shots were needed for this trip – only pills.

What I am trying to say is to do your homework.  You need to be responsible for your well being.  If you find that you are late like I was, go to the CDC website.  Print off their recommendations and bring it to your local doctor or clinic that you go to for medical care.  Your doctors will appreciate your bringing the information to them.

What Happened When I was Injured Abroad

Okay, I’m almost done with Kruger National Park and our safaris posts and thought this might be the time to switch it up and talk about something else that happened to me on our trip.

As some of you might know, we did a stopover on our way home from South Africa.  We spent a week in Copenhagen and other parts of Denmark.  With our Club Carlson points we booked a 3 night stay at the Radisson Bleu Royal Hotel, a block from the Central Train Station, in Copenhagen  I’l report of the hotel later.

Anyway, on our last night before we headed into another part of Denmark, I went in the bathroom to take a shower.  We had  been touring Copenhagen all day, walked ten thousand miles or steps (which is greater), and packed our clothes to get ready to go on a 8:00 AM train to Odense.  I was feeling icky and tired.  The tubs at the Radissons we went to in Denmark are retrofitted so you can shower in them and they are also very tall tubs.  The shower controls are on the side of the tub with the portable shower head along the side as well.  The tub had a swinging door on half on the tub at the end where the shower head would be.  Yes, a swinging door!

When I had taken a shower the night before I noticed the tub was a little slippery so I laid a bunch of towels on the bathroom floor to give myself a little traction.  Can you imagine what happened yet?  Yup, you are correct but stay with me and follow along.

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I got in the shower, bent down to adjust the water temperature and before you could say “Be Careful” I had slipped out of the tub, the door swung open and my head hit the toilet seat where I swear I heard it crack.  Now I am laying on the bathroom floor, bucknaked, with lots of blood around me from my head wound.  Had to call to Blogger Hubby because with the water running from the shower and the television on, he couldn’t hear me.  The one thought that kept going through my mind was Natasha Richardson, the actress who was married to Liam Neeson and daughter of Vanessa Redgrave.  She fell on the bunny slopes and died form a head injury.  Initially she refused medical treatment feeling fine.  I knew head injuries could be serious so I was quite adamant that Blogger Hubby talk to the concierge and have him call the hotel doctor.

The hotel doctor hearing of my head injury and the fact that I couldn’t stop from violently shaking, referred us to a hospital.  He would call ahead to make the referral for us.  We also called our military insurance company – Tricare Overseas – to alert them in case I needed to be admitted as well as to inform Blogger Hubby if he needed to do anything.  They went over our plan and what they would cover and what they wouldn’t.

Now I had to get dressed while holding towels against the back of my head to try and stop the bleeding.  That done, we went down to the lobby and the concierge hailed a cab for us.  Fifteen minutes later we were at the hospital.

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We checked in and were sent to the waiting room.  Still violently shaking and feeling sick to my stomach, I laid down on the floor – we were the only ones and I didn’t see a problem with it.  The hospital staff did.  They came in and saw me and immediately found a room for me.  I saw about 3 nurses and one “bone” doctor.   I was given a blood test to determine if there was any bleeding on the brain and there wasn’t.  Diagnosis and treatment:  I needed four stitches in the back of my head, and had whiplash from when I fell backwards.  Blogger Hubby was given signs to look for in case I needed a return to the hospital.  By the way, the violent shaking was my adrenaline kicking into action.

I would have at least one severe headache for about ten days and achy neck and shoulders from the strained muscles.  I also wasn’t allowed to get my head wet for 48 hours.  Since my hair was gross and very matted with blood, I had Blogger Hubby, when we returned to the hotel get a damp facecloth and try to pull the blood out of my hair.  His comforting remark “at least the color matches your hair”.  Thanks hubby 🙂  As we left the hospital I was given a bag of prescription medicine.  When we went to check out, we found, to our surprise, that there was no charge for the visit, the blood test, the medicine – nada.  We found our that Denmark has socialistic medicine and that they take care of tourists.  If I was a visitor from another EU country, they would have billed my country for my health care.   There is a two tier system of health care in Denmark.  I was at one of the “free hospitals” under their socialized health care system.   If we didn’t want to go there then we could have gone to the paying hospital. For my injuries, it was fine and it might be fine if my injuries were more severe .  Luckily I didn’t need to make that choice.

When we were leaving that morning (and we would return two nights later) we asked to fill out an accident report.  They didn’t have a form so I wrote out what happened.  In my opinion, the hotel didn’t do enough to protect the guests from slips in the bathtubs.  This had never happened to me before and Blogger Hubby also thought that the tub was slippery.   The tub had no bath mat or adhesive grippers on the tub bottom.  It looked like they had stenciled in the grippers because when I ran my hand over the bottom of the tub, it was extremely smooth and slick.  What I will do next time if I find a slippery tub is put a towel inside the tub to stand on.

Blogger Hubby gave my report and a copy of the hospital report to the Front Desk  manager.  As we check-out that morning the Front Desk manager came over to me and wanted to know how I was and what he could do.  We told him we were happy with the care we had received at the free hospital and there was no charge.  I did ask him if they could pay our $60 taxi fare.  He agreed and was going to give us a room credit but we had booked on points.  When we left nothing had happened but he had left me with the impression that they would reimburse me when we returned in two days.

We continued on with our journey though getting a later train to Odense. Head was very tender and I needed to find position where I could rest my head comfortably when sleeping. Eventually I washed my hair and saw pink soapsuds, was able to get the stitches out here in the United States and finally the headaches stopped. I am now going through physical therapy to help with turning my head to the left and right and it is getting better after each session.

When we checked in a few days later, nothing had been said to us about the reimbursement and we decided just to forget about it.  When we checked out the next morning we had the Front Desk Manager checking us out and he did give us the cab money.

We left immediately for the train station to go to the airport for our trip home.  It is still scary to me that an accident could happen as quickly as it did and that it could have had more serious outcome.  I now have a little fear of step in showers and would much prefer a walk-in one.  I am also always feeling the bottom surface of the shower/tub to assure myself that I won’t slip.

I was nervous when this accident happened cursing myself for not traveling with travel health insurance.  But traveling in a country with socialized medicine does make it easier on the mind if you do not buy travel health insurance.  I was very happy with the Danish health care system.  What I will reconsider is purchasing medical evacuation insurance, just in case.

Have you had an accident happen to you while traveling?  What was your experience?

Long Haul Flights – Compression Socks and Exercise

I recently spoke with Dr. Bailey, my physical therapist, about my upcoming long haul flight since I have varicose veins despite them being surgically treated  twice.  Additionally, as many people my age realize, our ankles/feet swell.  I asked her what I should  do to minimize DVT and to help my swollen ankles/feet.  She wrote this article for the readers of Air, Land and Sea.

Travel related Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) occurs due to a slowing of blood flow through the veins.   Blood can pool and a clot can form.   This typically occurs in the lower leg due to gravity and a dependent (hanging) position. Vascular flow is maintained by muscle activity. On long haul flights (longer than 4 hours) muscle activity can be diminished. Combine that with limited space and mild dehydration and certain consumers can be at risk for a DVT. Symptoms don’t generally happen immediately which makes it difficult to spot.

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Things can be done to help prevent the development of DVTs. The following are some tips on how to reduce the risk of developing a DVT on a long haul flight.

    • Hydrate the day before the flight and during the flight
    • Wear compression stockings to keep your legs from swelling
    • Avoid alcohol the night before or during the flight because it will dehydrate you. The same goes for coffee, soft drinks, and chocolate.
    • Try to get an aisle seat so you can easily walk around the plane.
    • Do exercises in your seat or during your flight to improve muscle activity

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Compression stockings and travel socks can be a good tool to help manage swelling and prevent DVTs for both men and women. Stockings with a pressure of 15-20mm Hg are adequate to prevent swelling and DVTs. Travel socks/compression stockings can be purchased online and at several travel websites. For Your Legs is a site that has free shipping and quick service. Be sure to take good measurements according to the brand that you are ordering. Some stockings can also be purchased at medical equipment supply stores. Be careful with sizing as most stockings cannot be returned once they have been opened.

 

Walking and standing during a flight can be helpful in keeping blood flow in your lower extremities. Also make sure to wear clothing that won’t cause any constriction behind your knees when sitting for a long time.

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Exercises can be done in your seat during a flight to encourage blood flow in the lower legs.

  1. ABCs – lift your feet off of the floor and “draw” the ABCs (capital letters) once every ½ hour.
  2. Heel lift/Toe lift –keep your feet on the floor and lift your toes off the floor (hold for 10 seconds) then lift your heels off the floor (hold for 10 seconds) Alternate 10 times every ½ hour
  3. Squeeze your buttocks muscles together as if lifting yourself up in your seat (hold for 10 seconds) and repeat 10 times every hour.
  4. Tighten and squeeze your thighs together as if you are squeezing a ball between your knees (hold for 10 seconds) and repeat 10 times every hour.

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You can also perform some simple exercises while standing waiting for a restroom. Be careful not to disturb those around you and practice good etiquette. Avoid pulling at the seat in front of you or bumping into others as your try and stretch.

  1. Heel lift – Lift yourself up onto your toes and repeat 20 times.
  2. Balance on one foot and bring the opposite leg up toward your chest- hold 10 seconds and repeat 2-3 times each.
  3. Bend your knee and bring your heel up behind you near your buttock-hold 10 seconds and repeat 2-3 times
  4. High Marching while standing in line.

 

Risks associated with developing a DVT for most people are very small but taking a few simple precautions can help you arrive at your destination ready for an adventure.

Thank you for your information.  I’m sure this will help many of my readers including me.

Welcome to Air, Land and Sea

Welcome Readers of Million Mile Secrets.  I’m delighted that Darius asked to interview me and to introduce you to my blog “Air, Land and Sea”.

Let me begin by introducing myself.  My name is Jane, I’ve been married for 37P1020079 years to Blogger Hubby and we have three adult children who all have the travel bug.  They were the ones who inspired me to get out and see the world.

I don’t fly first class and usually don’t stay in Hyatts except for that one time in Hawaii where we got two free nights. I tend to be more of a Radisson/Club Carlson or Holiday Inn/IHG patron. I like average rooms when we are traveling because honestly, we don’t spend much time in our rooms.

As a senior on a fixed income, I’m cautious about trying the newest and latest ways to do Manufactured Spending (MS) for meeting spends on credit cards as well as points.  Instead I wait for reports from others to see how it has gone for them.  I don’t want to get stuck with a lot of gift cards or product that I can’t sell on Amazon.  I also live in a rural area and don’t have all the opportunities that others have for MS.

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I focus on all types of travel as my blog name implies.  Readers will read about my plans for a river cruise for next year, my two springs break trips (Puerto Rico with the family and a road trip to Charleston and Savannah with a close friend) as well as renting a home from Home Away Rental for a family holiday weekend. last month.  I focus on many areas of our country to visit as well as spots overseas.  We have so much in our country to see that I like to try and balance our travel.

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Blogger Hubby and I are proud grandparents and we think forward to the time when we can take our grandchildren on a vacation.  Not knowing if we can keep them entertained or if we’ll have enough energy, we were interested to learn of the Intergenerational Trips sponsored by Road Scholar (formerly Elderhostel).

I’m a big fan of cruising and my articles on cruising – how to pick a cruise line, doing your own excursions, how to choose who to book a cruise with and travel insurance – are all part of my cruising series (part one begins here).  We have cruised Australia, New Zealand and the Eastern Med as well as the Caribbean and the Panama Canal.  We have also cruised the Rhine River and will be cruising on the Danube next year.

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If you think my blog is what you would be interested in reading, please consider following me and receiving notification every time a post is made.

To mark the date that I was interviewed by Darius of Million Mile Secrets, I am offering a $50 VISA gift card.  All you have to do is leave a comment and tell me what type of traveling you enjoy doing.  You can only enter once.  Contest will close on Sunday night, August 3rd at 9 EDT.  Random.org will choose the lucky winner and I’ll notify you by email.  You’ll have three days to respond back and if there is no response, random.org will choose the next winner.  Good luck.

 

Traveling Internationally with Medicines – What’s the Scoop?

As Blogger Hubby and I are of … shall we say, a certain age where we take daily medicines, we try to find out what are the rules are for flying with liquid medicines as well as bringing prescriptive medicines into the countries we are visiting.

The TSA has stated that you can bring more than 3.4 oz of medically necessary liquids and gel and they do not have to be in ziplock bags BUT you must tell the TSA screening officer that you have them.  There rules state:

Travelers who bring medically necessary liquids in excess of 3.4 ounces or medical accessories such as freezer packs, IV bags, pumps and syringes to the checkpoint must inform the TSA officer at the beginning of the screening process. TSA suggests, but does not require, medication be clearly labeled to facilitate the screening process. If a traveler does not want a medically necessary liquid to be X-rayed or opened for additional screening, the traveler must inform the officer before screening begins.

 

We assume that if it is prescriptive, we can bring it into another country without any problem, but not so fast.  There are rules about how much you can bring in, what type and whether you need a physician’s note

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We are traveling to South Africa next month and to find out what their rules are I went to the a South African government site – A Travelers Guide:  Custom Requirements when Entering and Leaving South Africa.  Reading through this online handbook I learned what I can bring in and whether I need a doctors note for medicines that will be for more than a 30 day supply.

To begin my quest to find out what the rules are I go to where most people go to for information – Google.  There you will find lots of information but I am not always sure if it is accurate information.  I look for the “hits” that are from a government source – those I’ll rely on.

Do you travel with medicine?  Do you check to see that you will not have any problems when entering a country with your medicines.  I know that many will think this is an unnecessary step but I always feel better knowing that the rules are.

 

Best Bakeries in the World

I enjoying eating and many times when we reminisce about trips, we remember what special dishes we ate and where.  Does anyone else do that?

Anyway, Blogger Daughter sent me a list of the top bakeries in the world.  I think she sent it because many times Blogger Hubby and I will seek out bakeries to buy things for our breakfasts or lunches as we travel.  In fact, we found a great one close to where we were staying in Sydney called “Bread Works” that had the most sumptuous bread ever – delectable breakfast buns, meat, veggie and cheese filled rolls for lunch. Bread so soft it could float off my tongue.  I can still taste it.

This list comes from Buzz Feed.  How many have you been to and will you try to go to some of these on your next trip.  I know that when we are in Copenhagen in September, we will be looking for #5 –  Conditori La Glace.  I didn’t know about this bakery before and now it is on my list of things to do, see and taste.

Anyway, here is their rankings:

1. Dominique Ansel Bakery, New York City.   The Cronut, need I say more?

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2. Tatte in Boston.

3. Pâtisserie Sadaharu Aoki in Tokyo and Paris

4. Demel, Vienna  Blogger Daughter was there a few years ago and she had a difficult time deciding what to try.  We’ll be there next spring and I’m anxious to try it as well.

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5. Conditori La Glace in Copenhagen  I’ll report back in the Fall about this bakery shop.

6. Du Pain et des Idees in Paris.  According to the article, this bakery has the best croissant in Paris

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7. Czech Stop in West, Texas  Well known for its kolaches

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8. Pasticceria Marchesi in Milan

9.  Bakerbots in Toronto  Their specialty is their handcrafted ice cream sandwiches in many unique flavors

10.  e5 Bakehouse in London

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11. Bourke Street Bakery in Sydney

12.  Gagou de Paris in Jerusalem

13. Tai Cheong Bakery in Hong Kong

14.  Conditorei Schober in Zurich

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15.  Pastéis de Belém in Belém, Portugal

16.  Tartine in San Francisco

17. Konditorei und Cafe Buchwald in Berlin

18.  Hafiz Mustafa 1864 in Istanbul.  I’ve had the best baklava in my life in Istanbul mainly because they use pistachios instead of walnuts.

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19.  Boulangerie Guerin in Rio de Janeiro

20.  Macrina Bakery in Seattle

Have you been to any of these bakeries?

Our Home Away Rental in Rincon, Puerto Rico

1.  Spring Break Trip #1 – Rincon, Puerto Rico

2.  Our Home Away Rental in Rincon, Puerto Rico

3.  2nd Rental Home in Rincon

4.  What to Do in Rincon and the Surrounding Area

The Nitty Gritty of Our Rental

Our homes were located right on the beach in a neighborhood made up of rentals and residents. We were in one side of a duplex. They day after we arrived, the other tenants left so we had the entire yard to ourselves. Even if they had stayed, there was no need for worry as the yard was HUGE.   We had about 12 chaise loungers and 12 chairs in addition to the fold up beach chairs.

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We also had 2 hammocks.

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One of the great things about the yard is that there was a sunny side and a shady side. I like the sunny side and Blogger Hubby likes the shady side. We also had two enclosed outside showers to wash the sand off and a water bucket to wash our feet off before we went in the house. The yard was fenced in and we only had to walk 4 steps down to be on the beach.

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When we were there, the back yard was all grass except for a concrete walk way.  The beach itself was about 15 feet of sand before we actually went into the Caribbean. Little bit of trivia here – Puerto Rico sits by a trench where there are two moving tectonic plates. The eastern side of the island is in the Atlantic while the western side is in the Caribbean.

casa serena beach

We entered into the water and as you walk out you’ll notice that there is a rock shelf with some small growth on it. It was not slippery to us though the rock does have deep cracks in it. Do not step into the crack. The water is clear enough that you can see these cracks. After you pass the rock shelf, you have sandy beach again until you get to the drop off. Our family liked to snorkel here at the drop off where they saw all different types of fish. Our guest home provided boogie boards, noodles, sand toys, inflatables, a high chair, a booster seat and a pack and play. That made it so much easier for Blogger Daughter.

The home had 2 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms, a combination kitchen, dining room and family room. It wasn’t a large space but then we weren’t there often. It was large enough for what we needed. No central air but there were fans and window a/c units in each room.

We were within walking distance of a grocery store though we did use our car to go to that one as well as another grocery store.  Great bakeries and pastry shops were nearby as well.  We found a fruit/vegetable vendor by the side of the road and every day we would get ripe, delicious pineapple, large avocados, fresh mini bananas still on the stalk (or is it called hand), freshly picked cilantro and so much more.  Our owner even gave us the name of a local fisherman would bring us fresh fish if we wanted it.

Next – Blogger Son #2 rental

 

 

 

Passport DC – Visiting Embassy Row, May 2014

If you visit Washington DC in the spring time then you might want to take part in Passport DC 2014.  According to About DC this is an annual celebration of international culture that showcases embassies and other cultural organizations with a wide range of performances, talks, and exhibits. In addition to embassy open houses and events, several Washington, DC museums participate in Passport DC with special programming.”

photo credit: washington.org
photo credit: washington.org
  •  May 3 from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm is an Around The World Embassy Tour that highlights embassies in Africa. Asia, the Middle East, Oceania and the Americas
  • May 10, 2014, 10 a.m.- 4 p.m. will be the Shortcut to Europe: European Union Embassies’ Open House. The Embassies of the European Union and the Delegation of the European Commission to the United States will open their doors to the public
  • May 17, 2014, 10 a.m.-7 p.m  Asian Heritage FestivalThe festival offers a variety of activities including musical performances, a multicultural marketplace and art exhibits.

Participating embassies are:

Embassy of Afghanistan
Embassy of the Argentine Republic
Embassy of Australia
Embassy of the Republic of Azerbaijan
Embassy of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh
Embassy of Barbados
Embassy of Belize
Embassy of the Plurinational State of Bolivia
Embassy of the Republic of Botswana
Embassy of Brazil
Embassy of Chile
Embassy of the Republic of Cote d’Ivoire
Embassy of the Commonwealth of Dominica
Embassy of Ecuador
Embassy of the Arab Republic of Egypt
Embassy of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia
Embassy of Ghana
Embassy of Guatemala
Embassy of the Republic of Haiti
Embassy of the Republic of Indonesia
Embassy of the Republic of Iraq
Embassy of Japan, Japan Information and Culture Center
Embassy of the Republic of Kazakhstan
Embassy of the Republic of Korea: KORUS House
Embassy of the Kyrgyz Republic
Embassy of Malaysia
Embassy of Mexico: Mexican Cultural Institute
Embassy of the Republic of Mozambique
Embassy of Nepal
Embassy of the Republic of Nicaragua
Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan
Embassy of Peru
Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia
Embassy of the Republic of South Africa
Embassy of Serbia
Embassy of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka
Embassy of St. Kitts and Nevis
Royal Thai Embassy
Embassy of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago
Embassy of the Republic of Turkey
Embassy of Ukraine
Embassy of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela
Embassy of the Republic of Zambia

For a complete schedule of events please click here.

Renting a Vacation Home for a Weekend

Blogger Hubby has a BIG birthday coming up in May.  What we enjoy most is spending time with our children and our grandchildren.  My father-in-law will also be joining us.  We thought we would try do a family reunion/birthday celebration all in the same weekend.  We had several constraints that we needed to work with.  Since it would be a weekend, we wanted it to be in a location that most could drive to and for those that were flying in it would be within two hours of an airport.

We looked at Smith Mountain Lake but for Blogger Son #1, who would be driving from Washington DC, we felt that a 4 1/2 hour drive would be too far.  For those flying in, they could have flown into Roanoke, VA but the cost would be more than flying into a larger airport.  We looked into Williamsburg, VA but couldn’t find a place for all of us.  Finally, we looked at Lake Anna and that location seemed perfect for us.  At the most, it was only about one hour and forty minutes from the furthest airport and an hour from the closet airport with two other airports in between – lots of options for those flying in.

With three children ages one and under who take morning and afternoon naps and a 2 year old who takes an afternoon nap, we decided that we wanted to rent a house.  That way all the parents who have napping children can be together and find things to do.  We had looked at cabins and lodges at another location (Cacapon State Park in West Virginia) but then the mons or dads would be in a room with their sleeping babes without much to do.

Now, to find a house that had 7 bedrooms.  Yes – that was how many we needed.  We looked at airbnb, vrbo, vacation rentals and home away.  We found several that sounded great through vrbo, homeaway and vacation rentals.  We struck out with airbnb.  We reviewed what their minimum nights would be; how many could sit at the dining table; what amenities they had like kayaks, foosball, png pong table, pool table, etc.  We also read the reviews and if it was a negative review, what the response was and if it was only one bad review.  Finally we reviewed the costs.  Some charged tax, some charged a booking fee, most charged for a cleaning fee though some were more than others and the security deposit.

The home we chose seems perfect for us – always something to do no matter what the weather is.  We have room to be together, as well as our private rooms.  There are two grilling areas and I can smell the steaks and ribs cooking.  You can fish from the dock which we know that the grandchildren love to do.  The home is only about 45 minutes from Kings Dominion Amusement Park.  Additionally there is a state park on Lake Anna and they might have weekend activities.  Finally, the closest airport is an hour away and the most anyone has to drive is 90 minutes.

Want to see what we are renting.  Here it is:

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What Travel Books Do You Like? Here are Some of the Best

I love reading Budget Travel magazine.  I get some many practical ideas of what to see, where to stay that’s affordable and even where to eat.  I had a collection of some of their articles for future trips.  I also like to read about travel and travel stories.  When the two travel loves combined, we get the Top 25 Travel Books of All Time from Budget Magazine.  How many of these have you read and how many are you going to put on your reading list?

photo credit: Kiera Kim
photo credit: Kiera Kim

Anyway, here is their list:

  1. On the Road, by Jack Kerouac
  2. The Sheltering Sky, by Paul Bowles
  3. The Beach, by Alex Garland
  4. Daughter of Fortune, by Isabel Allende
  5. White Teeth, by Zadie Smith
  6. A Passage to India, by E. M. Forster
  7. The Talented Mr. Ripley, by Patricia Highsmith
  8. Open City, by Teju Cole
  9. The Historian, by Elizabeth Kostova
  10. Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchell
  11. The Plumed Serpent, by D. H. Lawrence
  12. Brooklyn, by Colm Tóibín
  13. The Sun Also Rises, by Ernest Hemingway
  14. In a Sunburned Country, by Bill Bryson
  15. Video Night in Kathmandu, by Pico Iyer
  16. Into the Wild, by Jon Krakauer
  17. Travels With Charley, by John Steinbeck
  18. Desert Solitaire, by Edward Abbey
  19. Wrong About Japan, by Peter Carey
  20. Confederates in the Attic, by Tony Horwitz
  21. Out of Africa and Shadows on the Grass, by Isak Dinesen
  22. The Snow Leopard, by Peter Matthiessen
  23. The Great Railway Bazaar, by Paul Theroux
  24. In Patagonia, by Bruce Chatwin
  25. Great Plains, by Ian Frazier

I know that I have added to my reading list and I hope you have too.  Have you read any travel books that you would recommend?

 

Kiva – loaning to others worldwide while you are meeting your minimum spend

Have you heard of Kiva?  Our sons introduced us to it years ago.  Kiva is a non-profit micro-lending organization that connects folks around the world who need a loan with people who are willing to make those loan, often at $25 increments.  Their mission is to try to alleviate poverty by loaning money to vetted individuals throughout the world to make them more able to provide for themselves and their families.  It’s a loan that will change their lives.

kiva

According to their website, “Kiva field partners vet, administer and disburse funds”.  Kiva’s Field Partners have expertise in their local markets and they know their local communities.  They do all the leg work required to get Kiva loans to the borrowers posted on the Kiva website.  The Field Partner collect borrower stories, pictures and loan details, and upload them to Kiva. The loan requests are reviewed and published to the Kiva’s site.

By combining microfinance with the internet, Kiva is creating a global community of people connected through lending. Kiva was born of the following beliefs: people are by nature generous, and will help others if given the opportunity to do so in a transparent, accountable way; the poor are highly motivated and can be very successful when given an opportunity; and by connecting people we can create relationships beyond financial transactions, and build a global community expressing support and encouragement of one another.

kiva 2

Since Kiva was founded in 2005 they have had 1,039,131 Kiva lenders that have made a total of $516,426,650 in loans to people in 73 countries and they have had a 99.00% Repayment rate.  I am amazed at this and am thankful that generous people are able to believe in others and lend a helping hand.

I mentioned that you can meet your credit card minimum spend by becoming a lender with Kiva and that’s because you can make your loans via a credit card.  In case you are wondering,  Kiva is very highly rated by Charity Navigator.

Have you thought about helping someone out with a small loan?  If so, please go to the Kiva site.

My First Airline Trip and Student Standby

Back in the 1970’s I was a college student majoring in government in Boston.  I was a member of our college’s Mock UN Team representing Zambia.  We studied the county for months and the issues that the country faced.  To get to the New York, where it was being held, we took AMRAK – an easy trip from Boston.  It was exciting to be in New York sans parents and to participate in this great event.

amtrak

The mock UN was over several days with it concluding on Sunday.  Unfortunately I was going to a big end of the year frat dance on Saturday as was another member of our team.  We decided to leave a day early and to take the shuttle from New York to Boston.  I was truly a flying novice in those days.

For the shuttle no reservations were made, no prepaid tickets – you just got on the plane and the flight attendants (called stewardess in those days) went down the aisle collecting money for the flight.  I’ll never forget the cost – $25.   Times have certainly changed.

eastern

Another thing that I remember from this era was student standby.  We’d go to the gate, register our name and just wait for them to call our name and let us know that there was room for us on the plane  For students, the fare for flying student standby was about half of what everyone else paid.  It was a way for the airlines to fill up their empty seats, a way for us poor students to travel and it introduced many of us to flying.

What memories do you have of your early flying experiences?

Flying with your Pets

Have you ever had to ship your animals on an airline?  I’m not talking about the small animals that you can elect to put under your seat, but rather animals that are dropped off in the cargo area to be transported in the belly of the plane.

dog with wings

United has a program called Pet Safe in which they say they will do the following for your pets:

  • Pets travel within United’s specially designed plane compartments that are pressurized in the same way as passenger cabins.
  • A dedicated 24-hour PetSafe desk is available for help at any time (1-800-575-3335 or 1-832-235-1541).
  • Each pet receives a confirmed booking prior to departure.
  • You have the ability to track your pet’s transport from its origin to its destination online.
  • On the ground, both plane and warehouse facilities are climate-controlled for the safety of your pet. To ensure comfort in any weather conditions, pets will be the last cargo loaded and the first cargo unloaded from the plane.
  • Pets receive personal handling in climate-controlled vehicles for connections in United’s hubs if the animal will be exposed to temperatures greater than 85°F (29.5°C) for more than 45 minutes.

dogs cargo

There are many complaints that United has not lived up to what it has said it will do for your pet.  According to “The Bark” many people have experienced problems in shipping heir beloved animals.

One woman from San Diego relates in this video how United almost killed her animals, a gryehound and her cat as she was shipping them to Boston even with a “comfort stop” in Houton.  She videotaped them from her seat on the airplane as her animals were left out in the high temperatures on the tarmac for more than the 45 minutes and more than 85 degree temperature.  She refused to sign the Non Disclosure Statement and therefore UAL would not pay her almost $3,000 vet bill from her animal being in the Intensive Care unit of the veterinary hospital.  By law, airlines must report whether a pet is hurt, lost or dies on a trip within 45 days of an incident occurring. As of November, the Department of Transportation has no record of her pets’ injuries, even though they were happened in July.  There is also a dedicated FB page for this incident.

Have you ever had to ship your animals?  Were you satisfied with their care or did you have a problem?