Saturday, March 13, 2021

Postcards


 I came across an article in Travel + Leisure that talked about sending postcards - whether you were traveling or not.

About a year and a half ago, one of my close friends at my travel job (we had been there the whole 13 years together) decided to leave to take on the job of stay at home mom. I struggled to think about what I could do to mark our time spent together but what token would do that?

Inspiration struck, and I went online and bought a stack of postcards. I took half of them, stamped them, and put my address on them to give to my friend.  I kept the other half for myself so that we would have a way to continue our little "chats" that we would have at the office or the notes that we would leave for each other.

Little did I know that the Pandemic would strike 3 months later and this would be a blessing for communication. I also like the postcard idea because it is just a little note and it doesn't need to be for any occasion.

I purchased London postcards, like the one pictured, because we had spent some fun times at World Travel Market when she was living in Ireland. I have tons of postcards that were purchased but never sent during travels because of the hassle of trying to figure out how to purchase stamps and then how to send them. Also, due to the accessibility of internet via cell phones, you are always in communication with someone. I no longer had to find internet cafes (Australia, 1999) or use the business center in the hotel (Turkey, 2009). Actually, Turkey was probably the last time I sent a lot of postcards, including one to myself!

Do you send postcards when you travel? Or are you like me and have the best intentions, but never send? ;-)

I think I need to get on a plane

Fair warning that there is nothing specifically travel related or useful in this post. Still bored enough to read on? Have at it then ;-)

I just woke up from a travel dream (Ok...nightmare) that combined all of the travel missteps into one swirling mess. This is probably because I have been stressing about emailing the lodge in Belize for the 100th time about changing the dates of our stay...each time thinking that it is going to be the final one. 

It starts when getting off the plane. The seats are so close together that I can barely squeeze through and instead of waiting for people to get off in order, it's everyone for themselves. I keep hitting the people still seated with my backpack even though I am trying not to. The seats themselves are red patterned and that fuzzy fabric you find on buses.

I make it out into the terminal and it is the generic look of metal, sunlight and plants. Somehow, I had collected more items in getting off the plane. I was desperately stuffing them into my checked bag which then disappeared. However, I ended up with even move stuff which I stuffed into my backpack, which now resembled a large duffle bag that was the size of my body.

At some point, I realized that I was in terminal B and needed to get to terminal C, but the initial wave of passengers had disappeared along with all the taxis. There was 1 taxi still parked there, but the driver was asleep on a bench.  I didn't want to wake him up so I sat there with all of my stuff fretting about I was going to get to the next terminal.  Did I have time to walk?  As I was looking around, someone was looking at my ridiculous pile stuff in the middle of the floor and I accused a woman in turquoise and yellow, with her child, of stealing. She had the steely calm to deny it and move on.

Someone clearing trash woke the taxi driver up, but he looked really sleepy, and I decided that it wouldn't be a good idea to have him drive me even though his taxi was parked right there.  I set about trying to walk to the terminal with my stuff in tow, which was ever multiplying.  It now included:

*My original, now gigantic, backpack

*Two plastic display cases, approximately 2 x 2 feet. Never figured out what the models were of inside them.

*A hand truck with 20 bags of sugar. Or flour. I think it changed. That was the most annoying because this, and the display cases, somehow related to whatever job I had.

*Another heavy, awkward object that I have forgotten what it is. I'm think something like a small engine?

*A large, assembled, Lego set...because why not at this point?

I made it as far as a restaurant that had picnic tables for seating. A group of girls from Germany started pointing and laughing at me. I was annoyed...but really, I think they were justified in laughing at me.

There was some other general airport scenes that played out during the dream. I think I made it to the wrong gate and that's when I started to wake up.

Needless to say, I woke up annoyed. 

It's going to be strange when I finally get back on a plane again. Hope I don't forget my Lego set.


Thursday, February 11, 2021

This post is for the birds


So, I have become more active with birding and identifying birds during the past year during the pandemic, but it's been recently to look back on now birding adventures and see where birds fit in.
In my memories from 9 years ago, a picture of me holding a falcon in Dubai at a desert experience outside of the city popped up. Additionally, I came across images and a story from a Saudi Prince who booked 80 seats on a commercial flight for his falcons. Did you know that they all have to have passports?! 
https://www.cntraveler.com/story/saudi-prince-bought-airplane-seats-for-80-falcons

And, if you are like me and wondered why falconry is so important in the UAE, take a look at this article.
https://www.emirates247.com/lifestyle/falconry-an-ancient-tradition-report-2017-09-29-1.659646

As for me, I'm just excited for this weekend's Great Backyard Bird Count to help round out some Northeast US winter weather quarantine.

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Faroe Islands

Roundabouts.

Something I hate in the US because no one really knows how to drive in them. Though...I did get used to them driving in Iceland.

Faroe Islands.

Something no one really knows where they are. 😆

So here is a post about an underwater, roundabout in the Faroe Islands because it is simply that beautiful.

Faroe Island Roundabout

And, if you look at the links to the other article recommended at the bottom of the post about roundabouts on the BBC you will not be disappointed.....hashtag man living in a roundabout

Monday, February 1, 2021

Pandemica

Hello, can you hear me?
I'm in Pennsylvania dreaming about who we used to be
When we were younger and free
I've forgotten how it felt before the world fell at our feet

Hello from the other side.

...well, not quite the other side yet, but that Adele song is so appropriate.

I have been heartbroken. I lost my travel job back in March 2020. After over 13 passion filled years in the industry, and seeing what my peers in tourism are going through has me gutted beyond belief. Even though I am happy in my new career, there is still a little nagging twinge knowing that I am not returning to the industry. 

My resolve to go back through and finally post all of my past adventures while having the opportunity to not be distracted by an upcoming trip didn't happen. 

That being said, I'm finding ways for new adventures, local excursions and still travel thievin' on a much smaller scale. I've always been an advocate for people to get out and travel or explore on any scale and now it's time to practice what I preach - We don't all have to be nuts and spend less than a week in a country on the other side of the globe (like my trip to Myanmar: Over 50 hours total flight time in just 7 days).

Today, a year past my last plane trip, I start my new relationship with travel.

The Remote Resort, Fiji


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.