Wednesday, October 9, 2019

One of the main reasons I don't cruise

As much as I travel, I have never, and plan to avoid, going on a sea cruise.

This post shows the dark side of cruising. NCL ran into bad weather that drastically changed their cruise routing. Their fault? No. Could they have handled it better? Possibly. But the real thing is being around hundreds of angry passengers working themselves into a mutinous mob. Trapped.
At least when things go wrong on land, there are more opportunities to escape, but I can't imagine being around all those people with no way off or to unwind.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Pack Light


Before this Fiji trip there was some, um... let's call it "unpleasantness" in my life. I had a lot of hurt and anger brewing from multiple things and lost motivation to devote time and energy to things that I loved. 
I was even at a point that had I not sunk so much money into the Fiji trip on non-refundable hotels and flights, I would have considered cancelling it altogether and staying home. As the departure date drew closer, I started to worry that I wouldn't be able to enjoy myself by holding onto these feelings. Unlike most struggles in my life, I couldn't let it go. A week prior, I started to at least look forward to the trip, deferring my angst until I returned. But then, on the day before I was set to leave, I woke up and all that emotion had washed away. Without any further effort on my part, I had let it go. I was relieved.
Someone knowing a portion of my stresses said to me "Pack Light" in reference to the emotional baggage. It resonated with me because it is already my travel mantra but it further applied to my mental health.
I see people in the airport struggling with gigantic bags for short trips. Why? Why do we burden ourselves with so much baggage? I'm speaking somewhat of the metaphor too, but it's a practical application for travel. Why do you load up so many alternate outfits and items? Why do I continually hear of people getting robbed with heaps of jewelry or money on their person? 
I think some of it comes down to fear. Fear of the unknown. I applaud the people bold enough to travel somewhere new, but does all that baggage signify what they are holding onto? What is in that bag that they can't let go? When was the last time you went on a trip and had a light load? 
I think of my first trip on my own. Australia. My dream since I was a child. I spent 3 weeks in the country living out of a duffel bag. I was definitely scared on that trip, but that's a whole other story and half my life ago. 20 years later, I packed that same small duffel bag for Fiji with room to spare. When that person told me to pack my emotions light, it mirrored what I had already done travel-wise.
For me, Fiji equaled being free. And you know what? I still have clothes I didn't wear on this trip.
So take care of your baggage, literal and emotional and PACK LIGHT.

Except for underwear. I'll never make that mistake again.

My trusty 20 year old duffel <3

Monday, May 27, 2019

Jet lag: Post trip numbers review

Home from another whirlwind trip to Asia - this time Myanmar with some time in Singapore.  It was originally planned as an extension to my trip to Sri Lanka

Here is the summary of my time on the road:

9 Days in 5 cities

4 different airline carriers: United Airline, Jetstar Asia, Myanmar National Airlines and KBZ

7 different airports: Newark, San Francisco, Singapore, Yangon, Mandalay, Bagan, Heho

9 flights totaling 51.5 hours of flying.  (OMG)

Longest flight San Francisco to Singapore: 17 hours

Meals eaten in a day: Breakfast, 2nd Breakfast, Snack, Lunch, dinner, Dinner, Sandwich, Brunch, Snack

Most expensive meal was buying snacks in Newark Airport pre-flight: $26

Highest temperature: 107 F with a "feels like" temp of 122 F.  I was singing Midnight Oil's "Beds Are Burning" in my head a lot

It was an absolutely brutal trip, but worthwhile.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Myanmar National Airlines: Trying out the Mandalay Airport slip and slide

Always a treat when you see the exact plane/flight you were on 2 days prior had an "alternate" landing...

https://www.irrawaddy.com/news/burma/myanmar-pilot-safely-lands-plane-nose-landing-gear-failure.html/amp

Ironically, I remember thinking that it was an unnecessarily bumpy landing on the runway when we did it considering it there were no weather issues to contend with. I rolled my eyes to myself and thought 3rd World country carrier on a short route...not the cream of the pilot crop.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Sri Lanka: Conflict and Conflicted

2 weeks ago I woke up early on a Sunday morning as I normally do.  I didn't immediately get up and go for my usual run and instead sat down with a cup of coffee at my computer to quietly relax.  Scrolling through Facebook, I was catching up on what people had been doing on Saturday night when I saw a friend shared a news article from that morning.

Bombings in Sri Lanka.

My entire day changed. The place I had visited only 4 months ago was subjected to a massive act of terror. Churches and major tourist hotels they targeted and I was set to leave on a business trip there in 2 weeks.

For the first time in my travel career, I was scared.

I get asked the question a lot: Aren't you worried about xyz? Whether it be the destination, the state of the world in general or something else, there's always a perception people have when it is something they are unfamiliar with.  I normally laugh it off, explain safety statistics or that things can happen anywhere.  I think the worst example of this when we were en route to Jordan from Germany and a passport control agent in Germany asked if we were worried to go to Jordan.  I was dumbfounded because Jordan was unaffected by any conflict happening in neighboring countries and what a stupid question to ask someone who was clearly flying to Jordan at that moment!

In the case of Sri Lanka, I was that person. I spent the next 3 days trying to muster my courage to keep my commitment to go on this trip. It would be important to show support to the country and my contacts there. I didn't want to let the terrorists gain another point for their objective of terrifying the world.  But I couldn't do it.

For three days, I got angry. Cried. Frequently, which is unusual since I typically do not cry.  I didn't sleep.  Eating was a chore and I didn't feel well. I didn't want to work out or do anything else I normally enjoy.  I obsessively read articles on the latest updates. Curfews. Raids. Blocked roads and rippled pockets of clashes. Tensions between opposing sides. Government pointing fingers at each other. I researched what to do when traveling to places that had issues in order to prepare myself.  Tried to think what if I was a journalist like Christiane Amanpour.  I consulted people who knew travel and had the same type of guts I did when it came to going places.

At the end of the third day of this cycle, when the thought went through my head that I didn't want to purchase something expensive because I was afraid I would not make it back, I gave up.  It was a difficult decision that I could not honor my obligation, but I was out of time to wait and see what would happen.  And the only place I was set to go was straight into the capital, the main combat zone.  I don't have the tools and network that journalists have either.

I didn't realize how much stress I had been bottling up. I was utterly drained, but the following night, my appetite returned and I slept. I knew I made the right decision. Over the weekend, there was more violence and the US State Department raised the travel warning to a 3.

Will I return to Sri Lanka someday? Absolutely. Would I go in a month or so if things are the level of stability they are now? Maybe. I would have been more comfortable letting the tension diffuse a few weeks and letting people forget their hurt and anger.  I would have been more comfortable if I had been going somewhere other than Colombo, such as back to Yala or Weligama. I hope that memories of this soon fade, and that the "Resplendent Island" can return to its normal daily life.









Nansha?

I was watching Hallmark Channel last night (don't judge! I had a hard week!) and the strangest TV ad for a destination came on:

https://www.ispot.tv/ad/I0Dw/china-national-tourism-administration-nansha

Nansha.

Having never heard of it and having only just gone to Hong Kong 6 months ago I had to look it up.  What I found is that it is a giant port that is part of Guangzhou China where a pilot free trade zone has been established.  There really isn't anything there unique to speak of other than perhaps it's location near other heavy hitters (Hong Kong, Macau). 

My serious question is: If the goal of the 'city of the future' (watch the ad!) is to attract businesses to register there and increase port traffic, why the heck are you advertising on Hallmark Channel during "A Royal Christmas" or whatever garbage I was watching?  You would think that part of the marketing strategy would be to know your audience.  It's not like anyone will plan a vacation there.

...unless of course their end game is to create a Nansha royal family?  In that case, well played Nansha, well played indeed...


Thursday, April 25, 2019

Notre Dame Paris: Mixed Feelings

I really don't watch the news anymore because I feel it tends to focus on a lot of dramatic life pieces (STUDIES FOUND THAT BREATHING WILL NOW GIVE YOU CANCER!  STAY TUNED!!!). With this ban on media centered on indifference, I tend to be a bit late to the story when something big happens.  Case in point, Notre Dame cathedral in Paris catching fire.
I was at lunch at work and coworkers starting talking about it, and I honestly thought it was the college in the US and not the church in Paris.  Strike one for my mental empathy sensors. I checked Facebook and saw my friend that was in Paris on her vacation and listed Notre Dame as one of her top sights to see had in fact seen it that morning.  She posted a sad picture of the smoke plume from a distance and it felt bittersweet that she was able to see it but then watched it be destroyed.
Scrolling further through my Facebook feed, nearly everyone posted a link to an article, a live feed or their own personal pictures of Notre Dame.  At that point, my sadness dulled and I felt confused.  Did I not care about a building burning?  Had I become so numb to tragedies that this was relatively nothing?  Or more worrisome, was I now a person who judges the masses on what they chose to take interest in?  Oh, you care about a building but not the humanitarian crisis in Libya, Yemen, Syria, etc etc etc?
Even though you really can't control how you feel, this bland feeling bothered me. And then it hit me. While tragic, it wasn't a death sentence for the cathedral. The support and popularity of the site meant that there would be support worldwide to repair and rebuild.  There is solace in the fact that due to renovations, some of the statuary and other pieces from the inside were removed and therefore not damaged. I thought about a story of the National Museum of Brazil where thousands of irreplaceable artifacts were lost in a massive fire and I started to get upset.  My empathy was not dead.  In the case of Brazil, there wasn't that rallying support to get it rebuild or even any knowledge of
Happy news - the oldest human found in the Americas was not a total loss.  You can see some of the details on the recovery efforts as well as links to other articles on what happened here.
With that, I will join the masses and share some pictures from my first visit to Notre Dame almost 10 years ago.
 





Edit: This was originally to be posted Saturday April 20 but it failed to upload

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Caribbean Travel: Aruba Riu Antillas Palace

I will admit that I am not someone who knows how to enjoy "Sun and Fun" types of vacations.  That being said, once a year we go somewhere that specializes in that with a fun group of friends and have a blast.  This year we went to Aruba and stayed at the Riu Antillas Palace hotel.  It was all inclusive and adults only which was a selling point for us.
Anyone who had been to Aruba before thought we were crazy for staying at an all inclusive on the island.  The food on the island is great quality and there are lots of choices.  However, the value of this resort to keep the trip affordable because the one night we went out was expensive.  Plus, with 6+ people, coordinating 3 meals a day plus drinks, snacks etc is too much hassle on a short trip.  When we wanted lunch, we spent exactly 10 mins gathering together, brushing the sand off and getting seated at a restaurant.  We all could do our own thing and not have to worry about
This was my first time at an adults only resort and I had mixed feelings.  I thought it would be quieter without kids running around all the time, but instead it was some sort of midlife spring break.  The resort actual has policies against spring breakers if I remember correctly from their website.  It was LOUD - lots of music and lots of drunk adults.  Granted, there wasn't anyone running through the hallways or making a ruckus in the middle of the night.
The hotel itself has older "bones".  The building opened in the 70s as the Aruba Concorde Hotel.  Riu took over maybe 10 years ago and I saw the last renovation listed as 2014. That would be the biggest downfall of the property, the age shows.  It the lobby, the air conditioning system drips onto the floor and if you look at the ceiling, the wear and tear from this is evident.  There doesn't seem to be a proper luggage room.  Before check in time, the bags are all stacked in the middle of the lobby.  It makes the lobby feel really closed in as well as the issue of not having a ton of security with only the staff watching the bags instead of an actual locked room.  The front desk staff is friendly but inconsistent considering 3 couples got 3 different versions of information.
The lobby bar is small, but they make the best drinks on the resort.  The food is actually great with lots of choices.  For lunch and breakfast, it is buffet restaurants with some cook to order stations set up.  We could also go over to the sister property next door to the buffet restaurants which was nice to mix it up.  Dinner there is also a buffet, but there are 3 specialty restaurants for served dinners: Italian, Fine Dining/Fusion, and a steakhouse. They don't accept reservations, it's first come first served which had some people lining up. The great part about not taking reservations is that on a busy Saturday night, we could put our name on the waitlist and they gave us a buzzer for when our table was ready.  This gave us the flexibility to go have a drink while waiting and the only caveat is that you had to be there within 15 minutes of the buzzer going off.
The rooms are a good size, but old.  There was a popcorn ceiling.  The bathroom felt dated.  The beds were super saggy and the linens scratchy.  The balcony with the ocean view was a huge plus, especially considering you could not see your neighbors from it.  The hallways had musty carpet that was pulling in some areas.  This being said, all of these areas were exceptionally clean.  Especially considering the one day I dumped a gallon of sand out of my bathing suit onto the tile floor, the cleaning staff is fighting a constant battle.  There are also little touches like the towel animal with chocolate in the room at check in and the nightly turndown service. I had an extra blanket on the bed that they made into it for the duration of our stay.  We had one bottle of water in the fridge and one bottle out and as they refilled nightly, they followed this pattern.
The outdoor spaces were also clean.  The pool was a little less so, but impressively, the beach was very clean.  One thing I couldn't stand was the drinks in flimsy, non-reusable plastic cups.  There were some stands to "recycle" the cups, but no one was really using them and I am skeptical as to where the cups went.  The only other thing about the outdoor spaces was the inconsistency in the bartenders. Some made drinks really strong (too strong for me!) so made excellent drinks and some made margaritas with lemons and vodka (seriously).
Verdict: I think Aruba is new to the All Inclusive game as there are limited options.  The Divi Phoenix next door did NOT look remotely as nice for a similar price.  The Riu has great food and service next to beautiful beaches for a good price.  I wouldn't hesitate to go back to this property.


Double bed room


Beach

Pool Area

OK, so the only shot I got of the bathroom is me drunk...dancing...?  I had been awake since 2:30AM the night before and drank a bunch after not drinking for 2 months.  No clue.


Saturday, April 6, 2019

Diet Coke - Diet NOPE

I love to read the"behind the scenes" lists about airline travel and one particular fact from such a list sticks with me.  Flight attendants say their least favorite drink to serve in flight is diet coke.  Diet Coke takes up to 3 times longer to pour than other drinks due to its fizzy nature.
https://www.thisisinsider.com/flight-attendants-hate-diet-coke-2017-7

And there is a real reason behind it!  Regular coke is made with sugar which increases the surface tension and viscosity in the drink - and in real terms that means bigger bubbles are forming.  If you ever played with bubbles as a kid, think about how the larger bubbles floating in the air would burst first and the tiny little bubbles would be the last to burst.
This tiny air travel science lesson was all to say that I was surprised that on my United flight this week napkins were advertising Diet Coke specifically.  Not Coke, or Coke products, but Diet Coke, the bane of airline drink service.  What's up with that United?  It's not as if soda is a purchase item for passengers and choosing any other Coke product would be stealing profits.  Very strange.


Friday, April 5, 2019

East meets West: Afternoon Tea in Hong Kong

I'm an anglophile.  I blame my mother for raising me on PBS shows in the 80s which were almost completely British programming.  Considering that this was a time before cable, it makes sense given the lack of options coming through on the antenna.
One of the things I was looking forward to in Hong Kong was some of this British imprint on Chinese culture. Even though the British officially departed 20 years ago, this tradition of afternoon tea has taken hold in Hong Kong.
Hong Kong definitely has a strong tea culture in general (I love milk tea! More on that at a later time) so it is no wonder that this remained.
Afternoon tea is credited to the Duchess of Bedford for beginning this trend. Dinner used to be late and large so getting there from breakfast was a challenge.  The Duchess of course was having her dinner fashionably late as was the style of the 1800s, but we girls all know that you're going to get hangry waiting that long. Thus, afternoon tea was born! Though there seems to be other theories that it began before that time and even that it may have begun in FRANCE.  I don't believe the English enjoy that last bit.
In Hong Kong, it has remained true to the British roots of it and is a refined experience.  Refined unless you turn up to the Peninsula Hotel and see a queue through the back of the hotel.
My husband and I had been walking around all morning, it was a Saturday and the Peninsula does not take reservations unless you are a guest at the hotel so I did not have high hopes.  It was however worse than I expected.
Walking into the lobby, you are greeted by the famous string quartet.  Once you gawk around, you see about 30 people standing in front of the musicians taking pictures. Then you notice the noise of people talking.  The lobby has incredibly high ceilings and the noise level was akin to being in New York Penn Station.  No exaggeration.  There are hundreds of people already seated in tables close to each other and servers are clearing and setting tables with lightning precision. Hmm, maybe we can try to get in here based on the sheer volume of tables available and the efficiency of the staff, but it's not exactly the classy experience that I was hoping for.
We then get into the line that we saw queuing on the one side of the lobby.  It didn't look too bad but then we were located at the doorway with more people filling in behind us.  Hotel staff then came to direct people in line in order to keep doorways clear.  It was at this point that we heard something that sounded like "half hour" for the wait.  Well, that's not bad at all, but we weren't sure if it was truly a half hour or one and a half hours.
Then the staff told someone again it would be a two hour wait.
TWO HOURS?
For TEA?
Okay, and some snacks, but I'd be paying 350 HKD for the privilege after waiting in line for TWO HOURS. It's not Disneyland! I wouldn't wait 2 hours for a ride at Disney either to be perfectly honest, but that's a whole other ball game.
I quickly did a google map search of where afternoon tea could be had in Kowloon with the resignation that we could always go back to our own hotel and get pastries.  Ritz Carlton was a bit too far with all the walking we had done in the morning and of course there were no guarantees that we would be able to get in there.  I then saw the Langham come up on my map less than a half mile away though not as a tea venue.  I've visited the Langham in London - actually, it's one of my favorite hotels in London - and I knew they absolutely had to have a tea service.  The hotel's website informed me that they did indeed serve afternoon tea identical to what they serve in London in the Hong Kong property's Palm Court.


He apologized for the poor location of the table as it was against the wall and the harpist was directly behind my seat.  I actually found the harpist's location to be a bonus and we were a little bedraggled from walking around all morning.  Probably best that we were hidden from sight.


 

The menu was holiday themed, but it's based on the traditional Langham English tea that has been served at the London location for 150 years. It's served with Wedgwood and in fact, there is a special "Langham Rose" pattern of the tea ware.

I am an Earl Grey fanatic so I opted for the very normal Earl Grey.  The Hubs did a fruity rosy blend.  I said it was The tea came out followed later by a contraption that held all of the snacks (petit fours?) to enjoy with the tea.

THEN a basket of scones came out, which we instructed to eat warm. Perfect.


At the end of our meal (and it was truly a MEAL), we could have gotten more water for our tea and stayed longer.  I would have planned much better if I knew the Hubs was going to also enjoy it.  Must do in Hong Kong!!


Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Hong Kong Escalators: Missing the point

Hong Kong (or officially Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China) is the fourth most densely populated region in the world. It spans over 200 islands and is built on reclaimed land or hilly terrain.  The Hong Kongese have developed every way imaginable to get around the city with these challenges, including the longest escalator system in the world.

The Central-Midlevels escalator is 800 meters long in total and is located (you guessed it) in the Central Business district, linking up to the Mid-levels on Hong Kong Island.  I did not fully do my research ahead of time and the suggestion to see (via tourists websites and a local) was taken without a second thought.
Here we go!  Escalator woooo!
First, I didn't realize that it was not one or a handful of long escalator. It's actually 18 escalators spread out along the way.  Second, I thought they were older than they were. The escalators were built in 1993, not sometime during the postwar population boom as I incorrectly assumed.  And finally, while it is neat that the escalator is reversed overnight to go back down the mountain, there isn't anything particularly interesting about the escalator construction itself. There's actually a spiral escalator in Hong Kong Times Square which would have been a more impressive escalator to see.
Color me Not Amused ;-)

The moral of the story is that I completely missed the point of seeing the escalators. The journey for a tourist is to give you a peek into the different areas and levels of Hong Kong Island and you get off along the way to enjoy shops and restaurants. We rode the escalator after we had already walked through the hilly streets because I am simultaneously someone who enjoys seeing all the nooks and alleys in a destination as well as being a jerk who makes my husband walk everywhere.

Oh well, lesson learned. At least there was a pretty view.


Saturday, December 29, 2018

Merry Christmas!

A few days late, but Happy Christmas!  Funnily enough, I don't typically get travel themed gifts from people.  I have relatives who always get me things that are stuck in a certain theme, but they haven't latched on to the fact that I am travel obsessed.  A few years back, my brother/sister-in-law got me and my husband an awesome travel map that's worth its own post sometime, but this year, my stepfather takes the prize for most enjoyed gift.

He got me a book of transit maps of the world.  And to be honest, it sounds boring when you type it, but I LOVE IT.  It has the rail/metro/subway/etc. maps from about 250 cities worldwide, including some places I've never heard of before (note to self: learn more about Brazil, what is there outside of Salvador, Brasilia and Rio?).

I think the reason that I love it so much is that when I travel, figuring out how to get around is part of the fun. Then, when your plan works seamlessly and you are transiting around with ease in a foreign city, it's even more satisfying.  There's also something artistic about the design of some of the cities with all the different colored lines laid out. Actually, there are a few maps that were taken a redesigned by an artist in the front of the book
Take a look here at the publisher's site: Transit Maps of the World
I also enjoy the description of the author's background: "Mark Ovenden is a transport historian, broadcaster, design consultant, and the author of the bestselling Transit Maps of the World. He currently resides in London."

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Back! Hong Kong Kung Fu and the art of revisiting

It's been a long time since I last posted ! My life schedule has been allowing only a sliver of time daily in a jam packed schedule.  One of the fun things that contributed to that hectic time was our trip to Hong Kong and Bali!  It was the first time to visit either destination and Hong Kong officially marked off 60 different countries that I've been to around the globe.
Cheers to me! A drink called a Mulan at the Chin Chin bar

Before I get into the main part of the post, I'm reminded of something a friend said to me at a holiday party last week. I was talking about visiting new countries versus revisiting places around the world and she asked "Why would you ever go back to any place you had already been?". As much as there is the thrill of conquering a new country I do LOVE going back places that I've already been.
There are of course places that I would not really want to revisit, but most places I've gone to I can find a reason to go back. Travel for me is not just the monuments and ticking them off the list (not that there is anything wrong with that - I appreciate anyone who is getting out there and traveling).  Travel for me is made by the human element of it.  While the major sites might remain exactly the same for hundreds of years, the human element of a destination changes how you see it.  I've been to London about 8 times, wouldn't hesitate to go back and still love standing on the opposite side of the Thames to take a picture of the Houses of Parliament in any weather.  Blend that feeling with exploring new restaurants, shops, museums, people watching and BANG!  You've just made an old destination new again.

Anyway, back to KUNG FU.  When I am home, I practice martial arts in the form of boxing and kickboxing.  My kickboxing training has some nods to karate and Muay Thai styles. This is to say that I thought my husband & I would have limited success with the basics of Kung Fu and we would get by. WRONG. We were awful. Don't get me wrong, we tried and weren't completely unfortunate during our hour session, but it was a struggle.
I just realized this says "Not Quite" Kung Fu...what?!


I'm glad that we tried.  We signed up with a Wing Chun Master Sam Lau who trained under the same instructor as Bruce Lee: Grandmaster Yip Man.  Master Sam Lau was amazing! 72 years old and lightning fast.  For that alone, it served as inspiration to me.  I started martial arts later in life and fell in love with it.  I worry that I won't have much time to do practice the sport because of age, but I see that there is opportunity if you keep yourself sharp for all those years.  I'm also happy to understand more what Kung Fu is all about compared to other martial arts.

The particular discipline of Kung Fu we did was Wing Chun, which is a Southern style of Kung Fu.  There are hundreds of subcategories of Kung Fu and Southern styles put more emphasis on the hands in general. The legend starts with a woman during a time of war in China.  She was propositioned by a warlord to marry him. She refused and it was agreed that if she beat him in a martial arts contest, he would leave her alone.  She then began to train in a style of boxing with a Buddhist nun (Sisters are doing it for themselves!).  We wouldn't be telling this story if the outcome was anything other than her defeating the warlord and Lim Wing Chun was free to live her life. She married a different man later on and when she taught him the style of fighting that she had learned, he named it after her.

Perhaps practicing Kung Fu with a master is my "ticking monuments off the list" moment because I don't think it is a discipline that I will be taking up anytime soon and definitely not flying back to Hong Kong to practice again.  Time to find some Tai Chi I guess ;-)