Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Safety Concerns

Do you have a concern about your safety when you travel? Are you having a hard time finding helpful resources to address your questions?

I did some research on the topic of safe travel and put together some information that addresses both personal and property safety.

You can find this information at my new site Information for Safe Travel

Friday, April 25, 2008

When Internet Time is Expensive

Usually, internet time in South America is quite cheap. In Puerto Natales, Chile, I paid US$1 for a full hour. Other places have cost more, but generally not more than $5.00/hour.

Then I board a ship and the rates go sky high. I was on the Nordnorge to Antarctica and the rate there was 60 kronas per hour. That works out to about $12 per hour. Since we had many days at sea, I was very tempted to shell out the money for an internet time package which were available in 30 minute (40 kronas), 1 hour (60 kronas) and 6 hour (240 kronas) increments.

However, before I purchased the internet time, I checked the computers in the internet cafe. Every one of them had Word on them and it was accessible to the user without having to sign in. So I bought the one hour package and it lasted me the entire 14 days on board ship. How?

I would use Word to type my outgoing mail. I had my diary with me and took my time (assuming no one was waiting, of course) to compose a document with the events of the past couple of days. When done I'd:

1) Log into my onboard internet account
2) Log into my email
3) Hit Compose
4) Bring Word back up and copy the document
5) Back to my email where I would paste the document into my email
6) Hit Send

Done with an absolutely minimal number of minutes used!

That left me time to scan my incoming mail. If there were any I wanted to reply to in a lengthy manner, I copied it, opened a new Word document, pasted it, then exited out of the internet. Now, off line, I would answer the email and when ready, I'd repeat the above routine.

If anyone has other suggestions about efficiently using internet time I'd love to hear about them. I will include them in another post.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Galapagos: We got VERY close to the wildlife

I know, previously, I've had photos of various wildlife that we saw during our visit to the Galapagos. Some photographers out there might we wondering what size lens my husband uses.

For wildlife photography he uses a 100mm-300mm lens which, with his camera's multiplier, ends up being 480mm. As professionals know, this is not a particularly powerful lens for shooting wildlife. Then why do the animal pictures look so great? Because we were so close to them that sometimes he had to back away, even at 100 mm.

Technically, we needed to remain 15 feet away from the sea lions. But as 'they' say, nobody told the sea lions. Thought you might like to see how close they really DID come. They either went about their business or came up close because they were curious about us.

The behavoir you see towards the end of the video is typical of what we saw: A female touches noses with a pup, checking to make sure it is hers. She then roles over, exposing her nipples, so the pup can nurse.

The Floor is Moving!!

Normally, when we return from a cruise, during the first night or two in my own bed, I 'feel' the bed rocking. It's a weird experience since I KNOW the bed is stationary.

In a previous post I mentioned how we had some rough seas during our Galapagos trip. That lead to an even more interesting experience.

During our first night on land after the cruise, I needed to make my way to the bathroom. I COULD HAVE SWORN THE FLOOR WAS MOVING. I, literally, had to hold onto furniture, walls and then the bathroom sink because I was SURE, otherwise, I would have fallen.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Review: Scenic Drives in America

Yes, I know gasoline prices are going through the roof. But depending upon where you live, you don't have to go far to enjoy the beauty that is America. And if you stay off the Interstates, taking the scenic routes, you'll probably end up saving gas because you'll get better gas mileage at the lower speeds.

Check out America's Byways®: National Scenic Byways Online and send away for their free brochure. It is a great overview of the designated scenic highways in the U.S.

For a more detailed description, I found the Reader's Digest book invaluable when planning our last road trip through Wyoming, Utah, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana and South Dakota. And I'm using it now as I lay out a trip to the Southwest.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Daffodils and Weeping Cherry Trees

Where I live, spring has arrived. At least for a few days. Maybe I'll stay home for a while.

These are my daffodils, blooming profusely in my front yard.

And my weeping cherry looks great also, if I do say so myself.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Protect Your Camera: Pacsafe Camera Strap

My husband has a Canon digital SLR. As all Canon digital SLRs, it came with a neck strap that has Canon Digital blazoned all over it. What a GREAT advertisement for Canon but not so good for someone who wants to keep their camera uninteresting and, therefore, safe.

So my husband purchased the Pacsafe Carrysafe - Travel Camera Strap. The Pacsafe strap doesn't have Canon or any other text on it. And buried inside the strap is slashproof wire. My husband used it on our last two trips and is very happy with it.

Friday, April 18, 2008

We cruised with a TBA cabin.

TBA stands for To Be Assigned. Another term for this in the cruise industry is ‘guaranteed rate’. What it means is that, no matter what, we would get a cabin in the category we purchased. If we get lucky, we could get an upgrade.

We have never sailed with a TBA cabin before. Our travel agent at Sea 4 Sail calls us a ‘tween’ customer. We like to be on a deck that has cabins below us and cabins above us. In addition, we like to be in a corridor ‘tween’ the elevators and staircases. But for this particular cruise we decided to chance it.

Never again! Our purchase had been for an outside cabin on ‘A’ deck, ‘tween’ ‘B’ deck below us and ‘Main’ deck above us. When our cabin assignment came in we were on Main deck. Were we upgraded? Technically, yes.

BUT, our cabin was now under the promenade deck. Did we hear the early morning walkers? You bet! Our cabin also looked straight across the open area by the staircase and elevators. Did we hear other passengers as they gathered to say Goodnight. You bet! (If you'd like to see our cabin location, right click on the deck plan. We were in 551. I guess we should be grateful we weren't opposite the laundry.)

The advice given to people who purchase TBA or guaranteed rate cabins is to be sure to buy a category of cabin that, if you don’t get upgraded, you would be happy in. In our case, not only would we have been satisfied with our category if we didn't get upgraded, we would have been happier.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Environmentally Friendly Adventure Lodges

I try to travel eco-friendly in any country I visit. I don't litter. When in a park or wilderness area I take only photographs and leave only footprints. I try not to disturb the wild animals I see.

Eco-friendly travel is becoming big business and accomodations are being built around the world to attract this type of tourist. These lodges are built using local building materials. They are staffed with local residents. Some of the lodges conserve water by using gray water for watering the landscape. Some conserve on electricity by generating their own with solar panels. And most are now also being built with an eye to the tourist who also wants to be comfortable.

I've included a brief list, below, of some eco-friendly lodges around the world. As you can see, these accomodations don't come cheap. The big exceptions in this list are the Maho Bay Camps on St. John, USVI and the Three Camel Lodge in Mongolia.

(in alphabetical order by location):

Bali - Nihiwatu Resort
Price: from $266 per person nightly

Brazil - Araras
Price: from $870 per person for four nights

Chile - EcoCamp Patagonia
Price: from $1,059 per person for four-day packages

Costa Rica - Pacuare Lodge
Price: from $326 per person for a two-day package

Easter Island - explora en Rapa Nui
Price: from $1,230 per person for three nights

Iceland - Hotel Hellnar
Price: from $198 per night

Mongolia - Three Camel Lodge
Price: from $80 per person per night

Namibia - Damaraland Camp
Price: from $354 per person per night

Peru - Mountain Lodges of Peru
Price: $2,500 per person for a six-night package

St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands - Maho Bay Camps
Price: from $80 per night

The Architecture of Buenos Aires

Many buildings in Buenos Aires were designed by Italian and French architects. These pictures are a very small sample, showing the variety and different styles.

As we spent several days in the city, we were amazed by the variety. We saw one beautiful building after another.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Delta and Northwest Merger

The Delta and Northwest merger has been big news in the travel industry over the past couple of days. All the hype about the size of the airline. All the questions about route changes.

All I want to know is if this will mean better service for us, the customers. On a positive side, an airline with a huge trans Pacific presence (Northwest) will be joining up with one that has the largest number of trans-Atlantic flights of any US domestic airline (Delta). So if one does a lot of international travel (me?) I could rack up the frequent flyer miles in one account.

On the other hand, Delta has a worse rating for lost luggage and involuntary bumping. (Make a note for yourself: When you fly Delta, fly only with carry-ons.)

To read more about this merger: USA Today.com

Blogrush: Another post on traffic - NOT!

Regular readers of my blogs might notice that the Blogrush widget is gone. I had considered several times, over the past few weeks, about removing it. Made the decision today.

For those not familiar with Blogrush, here is how it is supposed to work:

You sign up

You put the widget on your blog

The number of times your site (and widget) are loaded (and bonus points you get) determines the number of times your most recent post title is displayed on ANOTHER blog in someone elses widget

Goal: Click throughs and readers from those other blogs

In the, probably, 1000s of displays of my post titles, I've had about a dozen readers. Not a great ROI in my opinion for taking up that much space on my blogs.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Showering in Rough Seas

We've been on many cruises. Most of them have been mainstream cruises like with Princess or Holland America Line. We've also been on some smaller boats, with not more than 100 passengers.

The boat we were on in the Galapagos was the smallest we've ever sailed on, with 16 passengers. During our week on her, we traversed some very rough water.

Doing things like taking a shower was a real interesting experience. To keep from falling, we'd put our back into a corner and then plant our feet out in front of us, in a V shape, firmly pushing ourselves into the corner.

Next we'd put one hand on the outside edge of the shower stall to keep from falling foward. That left one arm for washing. Have you tried to shampoo your hair with one hand? Not easy. Wedged in the corner, we'd lean over slightly to wet hair. Then we washed as well as possible with one hand, leaned over slightly again to rinse hair, washed a few vital parts, then got out of the shower.

Drying was not much easier. It's hard to dry your back when you need to wedge it against a bathroom wall to stay upright.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Magellanic Penguins, Patagonia, Chile

(This post is a bit of an experiment for me. It's the first one I've added video. I am concerned about the quality of the video and whether or not it significantly affects the loading time of my blog. Any and all feedback would be GREATLY appreciated. Just click on Comment below.)

The last penguins we saw on our Antarctica trip were the Magellanic penguins. The environment these penguins live in is very different from the others we saw. Magellanic penguins live on a sandy beach, digging into the sand to create their burrows.

The penguins always had the right of way. In this colony, boardwalks had been build for the observers but every now and then a penguin (or two) decided that's the way they wanted to go. In that case, all of us had to just stop and wait. No matter how long it took, we could not continue along the boardwalk until the penguins were off of it.

There were other places in the colony that were obvious paths the penguins used to reach the sea. In those instances, the boardwalk was built OVER the path, allowing free access to both penguins and observer.

Up, Up and Away

My husband loves the window seat when we fly. Why? So he can capture sunrises, sunsets and clouds like this photo.

The rest of the pictures are from our flight from Santiago, Chile to Buenos Aires, Argentina as we flew over the Andes mountains.

Currency Exchange at EZE

EZE is the airport code for Ministro Pistarini International Airport, the international airport for Buenos Aires. Our pattern, upon arriving in a new country, is to find an ATM at the airport and obtain some local currency.

After some research on line, the feedback I had was that the ATMs at EZE aren't very dependable. So instead, I used the currency exchange booth that is located right in the luggage carousel area. I wasn't happy with the exchange rate but I thought, in the airport, I had no other good option.

WRONG! Immediately after leaving the baggage area, there is a bank branch on the right. A BIG branch with a whole bunch of windows. Boy, was I annoyed. So if you arrive in Buenos Aires, at EZE, during business hours, exit the luggage area and exchange your money at the bank.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Elephant Seals, Antarctica Wildlife

Most of our landings in Antarctica looked like this: barren and desolate. Until you look carefully and find wildlife all around you.

We were very lucky when we landed here. The plan was to see some penguins but we stumbled upon a whole bunch of young elephant seals at rest.

You can see how close we are to them. We had to be quiet as we watched them. It would be easy to spook them back into the water. Which would probably mean the death penalty for those ashore by those who hadn't yet made their landing. We were fortunate in that all the passengers had a chance to see them.

I don't know about you but I know what these two pictures make me want to do.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Heading to Charleston, SC

Well, looks like I'll be heading off soon for a short visit to Charleston, SC. Going to be way too short as Charleston is a fantastic place to visit. Our daughter is moving from there and I'll be keeping her company on the ride. So quick in and out.

She's been looking for a job in her new home town. She's also a coffee junkie. So finding the Jump Start Your Day & Career with itzbig promo was a double bonus for her. This is a job site and just by entering her profile she'll quality for a $5 gourmet coffee card. Win, win for her.

Stay properly connected with the proper electrical adaptors

As readers of this blog know, my husband and I have done quite a bit of international traveling. And since we now travel with digital cameras, battery rechargers and our photo backup, it is very important to know what electrical outlet adaptors we need.

You might be wondering why we aren't concerned about the current, whether it is 110 or 220. Well, we used to travel with a heavy bulky converter. Until I read on a forum (aren't those forums wonderful!) to check the small print on the power supply. Sure enough. The small print on all of our electrical gadgets clearly states that it will work with 110 AND 220. We don't need the converter.

However, that still doesn't handle the issue of adaptors. We have a 'travel pack' of assorted adaptors. To make sure we have the right one(s), I use the Electrical Connection Wizard at Magellan's.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Beware of luggage weight allowances

Luggage weight allowances can be a real problem for some people. Checked luggage is limited, domestically in the United States, to 50 pounds. Passengers pay extra, depending upon the weight, for anything over 50 pounds. And if you tend to end up with a heavy suitcase, splitting your travel items up into two bags won't help either. Many airlines in the US now charge $25 for every checked bag over that first one.

So if you travel a lot, it's worth investing in something like Escali digital scales. Be prepared and know BEFORE you get to the airport how much your suitcase weighs and lighten it at home if you have too. If you tend to travel a lot, the reasonable pricing on these scales will be made up quickly by being able to avoid overweight fees at the airport.

The Colors of Buenos Aires

Buenos Aires is a beautiful city. And if you look in the right places, also a very colorful city.

One of our first stops on a city tour was La Casa Rosada, The Pink House. It is the official government seat, the presidents palace. Many people have spoken from its balcony including Eva Peron and Pope John Paul II. This was also where Madonna sang 'Don't cry for me, Argentina'.

Another area of Buenos Aires that we visited is called La Boca, The Mouth. During the later part of the 19th century and the early part of the 20th century, many immigrants came to Argentina. About 50% of them were Italian and a good number of those were from Genoa. As Genoa is a port town, many of these new immigrants settled at la boca, the mouth of the river. One of the old traditions in Genoa is to paint the houses with paint leftover from the shipyards and that is what they did in their new country.

But when writing about La Boca, one must also mention Benito Quinquela Martin. By the late 1950’s, La Boca looked nothing like it had in the early part of the century. The colorful housing was being pulled down and being replaced with blocks of flats. Quinquela, as he is commonly known, was an orphan who had been adopted by Genoese immigrants and grew up in La Boca. He became one of Argentina’s most famous painters. With the port of La Boca being his inspiration, he decided to do something to preserve the old barrio.

The result was the street of Caminito. This is a small street showing the way La Boca used to look, with brightly painted corrugated metal housing. On the weekends, this little street becomes a place for local artists to show their wares and where you might spot a couple or two doing the tango along the street.

And finally, this interesting mural which we just happened to pass as we wandered some of the side streets in Buenos Aires.

As Featured On Ezine Articles

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Hurtigruten Overbooking

In an earlier post I said I’d report on the cruise line we used for our trip to Antarctica. As promised, here it is. This was the pre-trip experience from Hell.
Let me start by saying that our experience on board the Nordnorge was close to excellent. The cabin was comfortable. The ship was spotless. The food, when served buffet style which was most of the time, was varied, plentiful and excellent. (I was particularly fond of the self-serve ice cream cooler.) The lectures were interesting and entertaining. The shore excursions were wonderful. One thing that could have been improved upon was communication to the passengers. But that aside, all in all, an experience I would normally recommend highly. But the fact is we almost didn’t get to take our trip.

My husband and I expected to be in Santiago, Chile on Wednesday,January 9th 2008, preparing to fly further south to board the Nordnorge for Hurtigruten’s (formerly Norwegian Coastal Voyage) sailing through the Chilean fjords and Antarctica. Instead, as we try to check in for our international flight, on the night of Tuesday, January 8th, we learn that there is a problem with our reservation/tickets.

As JFK LAN personal politely ask us to step aside so that they can help other passengers, my husband and I are in shock. I call Hurtigruten at 7:30 PM, and learn that Hurtigruten purposely created a problem with our outbound air so that we would call them. Why? Our ship had been overbooked and our trip was cancelled!

Shock turns to dismay and anger. WHAT??!! We had reserved this trip a year ago, in January, 2007! We had received our documents two weeks previous. I had been in daily contact with our travel agent and she had not been called. Instead, Hurtigruten leaves us stranded at the JFK LAN counter, baggage in hand and mouths open in shock.

The Hurtigruten rep I was speaking with apologized, of course, stating that this is not the way they normally do business. I didn’t care. Our trip was cancelled and we were going nowhere but home.

We were offered a re-booking on the next (reverse) sailing which would start in Buenos Aires and end in Santiago. Many stressful days passed as we rearranged our post cruise plans to precruise and our travel agency (Sea 4 Sail) negotiated compensation for us for this fiasco.

In the end, it all worked out. While we did not say one word about this experience to any of the Hurtigruten passengers, others were not as reticent. Regarding Hurtigruten’s claim that this is ‘not normally how they do business’, we learned otherwise from other passengers.

Gentoo Penguins, Antarctica

As we reached shore, we headed for the rookeries. Any one landing site would have several rookeries. We wandered around, looking for chicks and watching the behavior.

We saw a lot of chicks. They are all adorable. But little ones like this were born too late in the season and won't survive the harsh winter.

The rookieries were consistently noisy. Penguin after penguin would point their bill to the sky and screech. Yes, screech. That's the only way I could describe it.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Deception Island, Antarctica

Whaler's Bay at Deception Island was our first landing on our Antarctica cruise. The island was once active as a whaling station. Now, bare and ugly, it is the home to old rusted tanks that once held the whale oil, and in the area we visited, a few penguins and seals.

We anchored in the now waterfilled caldera. Entrance to the caldera is through a very narrow channel called Neptunes Bellows. It was neat being on deck, watching as the Captain maneuvered the ship through this narrow area.

Heat is still rising into the water. Technically, it is a 'restless caldera with a significant volcanic risk'. It was the only place on our cruise where we would really be able to get into the water. Several people came ashore wearing bathing suits under their heavier clothing. I wasn't that brave and just waded in. The shallow water along the shoreline was HOT! Almost too hot to stand in. As I waded deeper, the water got cold, then COLD! What a neat experience.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Port Lockroy, Antarctica

One of the many fascinating stops we made on our Antarctic cruise was to Port Lockroy.

This was a British base and is now a historic site. It is staffed and maintained over the Antarctic summer. It has become a regular stop for cruise ships and they have a small gift shop that I took good advantage of.

On display was a lot of the old equipment that was once used.

The facilities are not heated so the sleeping bunks were piled high with down quilts and the old stove was also used as a clothes dryer. The kitchen was loaded with supplies of food and fuel. It definitely is an out-in-the-middle-of-nowhere place to spend your summer.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Going ashore in Antarctica

Investigating Antarctic cruises, I read how zodiacs or similar small boats were used to transport passengers from the ‘mother ship’ to the shore. Our cruise ship used a small boat called a polarcirkel. I didn’t think the different name meant much. I figured it was just a brand name for a type of zodiac.

We had used boats similar in design to zodiacs when we cruised the Galapagos. On that adventure, climbing in and out from our ship, and then out and back in close to shore, was, at times, a dicey experience. It was easy to lose one’s balance stepping onto the inflated side of the zodiac. And swinging legs over and out of the zodiacs as we had wet landings was sometimes difficult. Thanks to lots of hands from crew and other passengers, everyone safely navigated the ins and outs.

However, in the Galapagos, we were wearing shorts and water sandals and I wondered how we would handle this bundled up with warm weather clothes, boots and gloves.

Our first indication of how different our Antarctic experience would be from our Galapagos trip was that the first boat ashore was expedition staff with emergency supplies. The weather in Antarctica can turn in an instant and one minute there can be safe and easy landings and the next minute it is impossible to bring passengers back to the ship. Brought ashore every landing were tents, food and water to be used in just such an emergency.

The next difference was the polarcirkels. The polarcirkels that were being used hold a driver and 8 passengers. They are hard sided (unlike the soft sided zodiacs) and when you need to step from the ship’s ladder into the polarcirkel, not only is there a flat platform to step on, but there are rails, on both sides of the platform, to hold onto. As you step down into the boat, there is railing along the middle, to hold as you make your way to your seat. How easy!!

Getting out onto shore and back in was easy too. The expedition staff placed a two step stool at the front of the polarcirkel. To get out we stepped back onto the boat platform then down two steps, with expedition staff available to provide assistance, if necessary. And getting back in was the reverse, and just as easy. Piece of cake.