Sunday, August 31, 2008

Gustav

Hurricane Gustav is bearing down on New Orleans.

New Orleans has always been a city I had hoped to visit. After getting slammed by Katrina it still looked like the city could rebuild and be revitalized again.

Now, nearly three years to the day when Katrina hit, another storm is bearing down on the city. Parts of New Orleans are under mandatory evacuation orders.

Will New Orleans get another direct hit? You can track the path of Hurricane Gustav at the National Hurricane Center site.

Will New Orleans survive another direct hit? I sure hope so.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Register To Vote!

If you've moved since the last election, don't forget to register to vote.

And if you'll be traveling on election day, it is not too soon to send in your application for an absentee ballot. Contact your local board of elections either by phone or on line. (When I decided to write this I checked the site for my local B of E and they have a link to print out a request for an absentee ballot. Easy!)

Don't lose out on that fantastic right we have as Americans. VOTE!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

AP Misrepresents 26,000 Feet Airplane Descent

The Associated Press reported that a Ryanair jet 'plunged' 26,000 feet.

The fact is the plane did no such thing. Did it 'descend' 26,000 feet? Yes. I don't know about you but if I'm on a plane, there is a big difference between 'plunging' and 'descending'.

Apparently the plane became depressurized and to assure that the passengers had enough oxygen to breath, the pilots descended the airplane to 8,000 feet. At all times the pilots had the plane under control which was demonstrated clearly by the aircraft's safe landing.

You can read more about the misrepresentation by the AP and the more accurate report by the BBC from links on The Cranky Flier.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Registry Plan For Foreign Travelers

Homeland Security's latest and 'greatest' idea is the requirement that foreign travelers to the U.S. register, on line, at least three days before departure.

This is supposed to start January 12th and it is for travelers only from 'friendly' nations, i.e. those not requiring a visa before coming to the U.S. The idea is to give Homeland Security time to do a background check on these travelers.

What a lousy idea. As if the U.S. doesn't have a bad enough reputation abroad, let's just add a few more items for potential foreign visitors to be annoyed with. Perhaps so annoyed that the foreign visitor decides that traveling to the U.S. isn't worth the hassle?

And imagine not knowing about the required registration and arriving at the airport, only to learn that you can't board your flight.

Like I said. Lousy idea.

Farmer's Almanac Winter Weather Prediction

No global warming this winter........Cold. Colder. Snow. Snowier. Or so says the new version of the Farmer's Almanac.

That is the prediction for the winter for those of us in the northeast. I am not a big fan of the cold or the snow. My idea of winter sports is sitting in front of a fireplace with a hot rum toddy.

I need to go to Florida in February or March. I visit my (88 yr old) Dad, do his taxes, and take care of other things for him. Wonder how long I can extend my stay without wearing out my welcome?

Sunday, August 24, 2008

(More) Touring The Finger Lakes, New York

In my post Touring New York State Finger Lake Wineries the topic was, of course, wine.

Today I came across a great article in the New York Times Travel section: Finger (Lakes) Food

I'm familiar with many of the types of foods described in the article. While I've never had spicy Buffalo wings at the Anchor Bar in Buffalo where they were created, I've certainly had my share of them as an upstate New York resident.

Garbage plate? I'm not a fan but our son, who now lives in Philadelphia, never misses a chance to have one when he visits.

Dinosaur has a branch in Rochester. Not only have I eaten there but I've been to loads of summer picnics that are catered by them. I love their pulled pork.

Want GREAT salt potatoes? Head to the Rochester Seneca Park Zoo and line up at the small Eagle Cafe. I had some from there recently and they are the best!

And for ice cream? Don't miss out on Rochester's own, Abbott's Frozen Custard. And while you are at it, add some of their hot fudge to your cup of black raspberry. Heaven in a dish!

Friday, August 22, 2008

Olympic Gymnastics Age Scandal

In case anyone has not been watching or reading about the Olympic gymnastics competition, a quick summary here: To compete in the Olympics, athletes must turn 16 during the year of the competition. Questions have been raised about the actual ages of the athletes on the Chinese women’s gymnastic team, particular gold medal winner He Kexin.

So the IOC (International Olympic Committee) set out to investigate the allegations. After a ‘thorough’ 12 hour investigation, the decision came back that all of the women athletes were of proper age.

What kind of nonsense is that? This is a disgrace. In my opinion, and the opinion of many others, it casts a dark shadow over these Olympics and, particularly, China.

Why am I writing about this in my travel blog? Because my husband and I have been looking at a trip to China and all this doesn’t leave me feeling good about the country. It would be nice, for all parties, if a thorough investigation was done to really put all these rumors to rest.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

English To Spanish Translation

Are you traveling to a Spanish speaking country? Actually, are you traveling to any country where the native language is not English? Want to know how to say a few words in the language of the country you'll be visiting?

I use TravLang, a great resource site that offers a whole bunch of free options for the traveler.

There is an on-line translating dictionary. Use the drop down menu to pick the starting and destination language, type in the word you want translated and Click. There is also a text translation tool and a website translation tool.

I use this site for every trip to a non English speaking country. Inside our luggage tags is a folded piece of paper that has on it our itinerary and our contact information. On the outside I have "If luggage is lost, please open this paper and deliver according to the itinerary inside" in both English and, with the help of TravLang, in the language of the country we'll be visiting.

Airline Fees Comparison Tool

One of my readers just informed me about a site that helps figure out the various airline fees. CompareAirlineFees is perfectly named.

The user enters their departure and destination cities and the dates of travel. Then, as the user clicks on the list of different Fees in the right hand column, the display changes and shows how much each airline charges.

If you'll be traveling with extra or oversized luggage, plan on buying meals or beverages on board, or just want a pillow and a blanket for your red-eye flight, this site can help you choose between equally priced flights on different airlines.

Monday, August 18, 2008

South Florida Weather: Tropical Storm Fay

My Dad (age 88) lives in the West Palm Beach area. Fortunately, he lives pretty well inland so when a hurricane comes through, I don't have to worry about him being flooding out. But I do worry about him with the wind and the rain. Particularly if the electricity goes out.

I try and stay on top of things, weatherwise, by checking the National Weather Service National Hurricane Center website. Plus, I subscribe to their email list .

If you live in a hurricane zone or will be traveling to one, the National Weather Service National Hurricane Center is a great site to have bookmarked.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Ryan Lochte's Olympic Feat

All the news has been about Michael Phelps. Don't get me wrong. His accomplishments certainly should be applauded.

But all that has overshadowed what Ryan Lochte did which was win two Olympic medals with less than 30 minutes between races.

Lochte, the world record holder in the 200 backstroke, won Gold with a last surge in the final 30 meters, taking 1/2 second off his world record.

Then, less than 1/2 hour later (actually less than 27 minutes between race start times), Lochte got back into the pool to win Bronze in the 200 meter medley.

An incredible accomplishment. At most Olympics, this amazing feat would have been cause for worldwide acknowledgement. Unfortunately, not these Olympics.

Oh...why write about this in my travel blog....Ryan Lochte is a former resident of upstate New York and those of us here kind of consider him our 'home town Olympian'. And this was the best way I could congratulate him.

Friday, August 15, 2008

'little ways' tips continued

I've often read about rolling clothes before putting them in a suitcase so you can pack smaller and more efficiently. A new one on me is to put rubberbanks around the rolled clothes to keep them tight and small. I used this idea on a recent trip and it worked great.

On a road trip with the kids, hang a shoe organizer on the back of the seat in front of each child. Use the pockets for games, crayons, snacks, etc. all within easy reach of your child.

Speed up your time through airport security. Bring a large ziploc bag with you and put into it all the things you have to empty from your pockets like coins, cell phone, money clip, pens, etc. Send it through the x-ray machine with your luggage. Then just grab it at the other end, without worrying that you are leaving something behind.

Never have enough clothes hangers when you travel? Save the wire hangers from the dry cleaners and pack them in your checked luggage. When you are ready to return, simply leave them behind. The next occupant of your room will thank you.

Of course every travel kit should include a small sewing kit. But if sewing on lost buttons while you travel isn't your 'thing', here's something you can do to minimize the chore. Barely touch the tip of a tub of a glue like Krazy Glue to the threads on your buttons. The glue will seal the threads and they will be less likely to fray.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

FAA Seeks to Fine American Airlines

Just the type of thing we want to read....a major U.S. airline being fined by the FAA for safety violations.

Apparently, American Airlines continued flying MD-80s, in restricted airspace, even after problems were reported on the autopilot system.

The FAA is also seeking fines for the violation by American Airlines of alcohol and drug testing procedures.

You can read the full story at USA Today.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Can You Trust tripadvisor?

My travel agent, Ellen from Sea4Sail, has warned me for years to take what I read at tripadvisor with a grain of salt.

She has always given me excellent travel advice so I kind-of/sort-of followed her advice regarding tripadvisor. I'd read the various reviews and sort of try to weed out the reviews that kind of looked like they might have been written by ringers.

Most of the time it is easy to do. Like when there is one glowing report among others that say negative things about a property. Other times it is not that easy.

I belong to a forum that, among other things, hires posters and writers. I just came across this thread: Trip Advisor Poster Needed. It is a request for posters to write positive property reviews. I shouldn't have been surprised but I admit I was.

Doing some more research and finding Can you trust trip advisor? I think I'll use other resources. The Internet is loaded with them. I know there ARE honest reviews out there. I'll find them.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Airlines Add Fees and More Fees

So now US Airways charges $30 for booking a frequent flyer domestic ticket on line. Fees for an international ticket on line and booking on the phone are even higher.

Jet Blue is now charging for a pillow and blanket. The perk? You get to keep them. Big deal. Just what I need. Something else to carry.

Because I fly with only carry ons and have enough to carry. I mainly do this because I want my luggage to arrive at my destination airport the same time I do. Now, with the additional fees being charged for checked baggage, I have even more reason to use only carry ons.

It is getting more and more difficult to know what you will actually be paying for your flight. Just like many ticketing sites display fares without the taxes and fees, many of the new airline fees are popping up after you get to the airport or even on the airplane. I bet a lot of people were surprised to find out they had to pay for a pillow and blanket. I know we were when we recently flew a US Airways red eye from Denver.

USA Today made an attempt to chart the various fees. I'm sure it was current when they created it but be sure to check with your airline before ticketing and/or flying. I could almost guarantee there will be some changes.

How Do I Find Flight Status?

I recently learned that a lot of people do not know how to check out flight status on line.

Two of the main reasons for checking flight status are 1) you are picking someone up at the airport and want to confirm their flight is on time and 2) you are flying somewhere and want to check that your flight is leaving as scheduled.

For either purpose, you will need some basic information. You are able to find flight status with just departure and destination cities. Having the airline and flight number makes it even easier. And for your own personal reservation, having the reservation code makes it the easiest.

One of the nicest sites I just found is, appropriately named, Flight Stats. This is a great site for general flight status information.

If you want to check, specifically, on your own reservation though, you'll need to go directly to your airlines web site. There is usually a tab on the home page with something like My Trip, Check Flights, Flight Information or something similar. Just follow the instructions to get your flight information, usually needing to enter your reservation code and last name. With this information you can check on all of the legs of your itinerary and, if you want, select your seat assignments.

Cabela's Opens in Rapid City

As my husband would say, "Ah, Cabela's". Obviously one of my husband's favorite stores. So, a couple of years ago, when we saw the sign for a new store on our way home from visiting our grandchildren in PA, we decided to take a little side trip and pay it a visit.

The signs directed us to Hamburg, PA. Little did we know that the day we picked to visit was the store's opening day.

There was this HUGE store, perched on the top of a hill. It was like a volcano in reverse, where instead of lava flowing down the hillside, streams of cars were flowing up towards the peak.

There were police directing traffic. The HUGE parking lot was full. We managed to pull over on a side street and joined the wave of shoppers moving towards the store.

I'd never been in a Cabela's before. It was amazing. As one entered, on the right, was the fishing department, complete with a walk through aquarium area. On the left, as you walked through the hunting section, you entered a room with a display of mounted animals and trophy racks.

Part store, part museum, it truly was a shopping experience. And, yes, we've been back several times since and we always remark about that first opening day experience.

Now I've learned that a new store opened in Rapid City today. I wonder if the shoppers there are having the same type of experience.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Kasatochi Volcanic Ash Plume Causes Flight Cancellations

Alaska Airlines took safety measures early this morning and cancelled 41 flights.

Eruption, on Thursday, of Kasatochi in the Aleution Islands created the ash.

Flights to Denver and several west coast cities were affected.

If you'll be flying into or out of Alaska over the next couple of days, be sure to check the status of your flight.

For more on this story....

Free Tours in Kyoto

Japan can be a very expensive country to visit. If you'll be in Kyoto, free tours are available from the Good Samaritan Club.

The group is made up of college students who are studying international communication and the tours are given in English.

To book a tour, e-mail samaritan-reservation@h.vodafone.ne.jp. Include in the message your name, gender, nationality and age of each participant, the name and phone number of your hotel and any special requests you may have.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Arch Collapses In Utah's Arches National Park

Arches National Park, located near Moab, Utah, is one of the most photographed national parks in the U.S. The red sandstone structures are really beautiful to see.

This past Monday, August 4th, one of those arches collapsed.

Wall Arch, found along the Devils Garden Trail, succumbed to the forces that created the park: erosion and gravity.

Until the debris is cleared away and the area is declared safe, the trail will remain closed.

For more information, Iconic stone arch collapses in southern Utah park

Friday, August 8, 2008

Super 8 Motel $8.88 Promotion

Super 8 Motels is running a promotion between now and 8/15/08.

Starting at 8 PM EDT, get on line and be one of the first to book a room at the rate of $8.88.

Up to 800 rooms in the chain can be booked at this rate for occupancy between now and 12/30/08.

Here are the promotion details.....

Nature's Nook, New York

A new 'store' just popped up in our area. I put 'store' in quotes because like many new businesses, this one is mainly on the internet.

I previously wrote about helping my daughter move back to upstate New York. Her plan was to open a shop selling natural care body products, accessories from renewable resources, makeup not animal tested, etc.

After a lot of attempts at finding the right 'spot' for the shop, and not being successful at it just yet, she decided the next best thing was to get started with an e-store.

VOILA!

Nature's Nook, New York just opened for business. Besides internet sales, plans are being made for attendance at various local events like public markets, non-profit fundraiser fairs and other similar events.

If you live in the upstate New York area, be sure to check the Events page to see if Nature's Nook, New York will have a table in your area. If not, you can always order off the web site to have the product shipped directly to you.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Are You A Perfect 10?

Millions of eyes will be on China and the Beijing Summer Olympics 2008. There will be lots of television time devoted to the major events. And one of those major events is gymnastics.

Being a perfect 10 in Olympic gymnastics used to really mean something.

For those that watched the Montreal Olympics, seeing Nadia Comaneci rack up a string of seven 10s was thrilling and exciting. How many of us made a point of watching the replays over and over. I know I did. It was a fascinating performance.

Looking forward to seeing more 10s at this upcoming Olympics? Sorry but you probably won't see any. A bunch of scoring errors at the Athens Olympics caused the Olympic officials to rethink how gymnastics are scored.

No more 10s. A 17? Maybe.

A perfect 16? Doesn’t have same ring as that 10

'Little Ways' Tips

Protect small, fragile items by packing them in plastic travel soap dishes. The colorful ones with the hinged lids can be easily labeled and can be used over and over.

More and more people are packing liquids in their checked luggage because of the TSA 3 oz limit carryon rules. Protect your suitcase contents from liquid coming from someone else's carelessly packed bottle by lining your suitcases with large garbage bags.

Use an inexpensive USB flash drive to store your important information while traveling: insurance company and policy number, credit card numbers and bank phone numbers, confirmation codes, important medical information, etc. Look for a drive that will password protect your data or us a free encryption program.

If you are traveling with an infant, finding a suitable place for a bath can be very difficult. Those little sinks in hotel/motel rooms just won't do it. Instead, look for small, inexpensive inflatable baby bathtubs. Just inflate it when you get to your destination and used in the tub or bottom of the shower.

Take care of scuff marks on your shoes by putting a little bit of skin cream on a shoe mitt (sometimes provided by the hotel) or just use a tissue. Voila! Scuff marks gone and shoes nice and shiny.

Brett Favre Traded to the New York Jets

I'm not a huge football fan. I know the teams. And if a player has been around for a long time, I know about them too.

Brett Favre is one of those players I know about. It's been interesting reading what has been going on between Favre and the Packers.

First he's retired. Then he's not. Then he wants to be released from the Packers. I got the impression from reading some of the news reports that things probably got kind of heated a time or two between Favre and the franchise.

Despite that, the New York Jets actively persued getting Favre for this upcoming season. And since they got him, and I'm a New Yorker, I figured I'd voice my opinion here.

Personally, I'm not sure I'd want him on my team. After what went on with the Packers, can the Jets really depend upon him not pulling the same nonsense?

He's 38. Can he really hold his own on the football field? Obviously the Jets think so.

You can read more here.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

I Got a Prius From Hertz

I was in Los Angeles recently and rented a car through Hertz. I had reserved a midsized car and when I got to the counter I was offered a convertible for the same price. Nope...not for us.

Then I got lucky. I was offered a Prius. That I grabbed. I was amazed to find that I was offered a Prius at the same price I would be paying for a regular mid-sized vehicle.

According to an article in USAToday, more and more renters, concerned about gas costs, are renting smaller vehicles for the better gas mileage.

I would have thought the small Prius would have fallen into the same 'small' category but I guess it doesn't. It is still considered a premium for a rental. I loved the car. Handled well. Had good acceleration on the highway. And I got 50 miles per gallon.

Will Coach Class Totally Disappear?

There is no question that First Class and Business Class is where the money is. The development of Business Class Only airlines was one sign of this.

I recently wrote about showers in First Class, the installation of suites in First Class and the possible elimination of free food, in Coach, on international flights.

I can picture, if these First Class and Business Class seats fill up, that Coach passengers will begin to suffer more and more. After all, running an airline is a business. If the First Class and Business Class seats are sold out, I would want to add more of them.

So will Coach class disappear as room is made for more and more high priced First Class and Business Class seats? I'd like to think not. Why do that when the Coach seats sell out as well? So the next option, in my opinion, is simply to reduce knee room in Coach and reduce the seat back incline.

Any way you look at it, I believe travel is going to become more uncomfortable for those of us in the back of the plane.

Monday, August 4, 2008

United Looking at Charging for Food and Drink on International Flights

The one thing we could count on during an international flight was being fed. But with what is going on in the airline industry, I guess I shouldn't be surprised when it looks like an airline is considering doing away with those free meals.

United Airlines has been sending out a survey to see how their passengers feel about paying for food and drink on international flights. Apparently there are different surveys being circulated with different pricing. The one displayed in this article shows a standard coach meal for $12.00! No way! Or how about $24 for a 'gourmet salad'?

Or how about I fly a different airline than United?

Beijing Summer Olympics 2008 and RFID

Friday is the opening day for the Beijing Summer Olympics 2008. It is estimated that 3 million people will descend upon Beijing for the duration of the games. Besides the athletes and tourists there is support staff and, of course, all the reporters.

One thing being watched carefully at the Olympics, besides the athletes, will be some new technology. China has invested heavily in radio frequency identification (RFID) for its ticketing and food tracking systems.

The purpose of the mini chips built into the tickets is to help protect against counterfeiting and to speed passage through the entry gates.

The one working with the food tracking system is for food being delivered to the athletes. After negative reports on food safety, China is going all out to make sure there is no problem with the food being delivered to the athletes.

In spite of that, latest report is that the U.S. Olympic team will be bringing its own food.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Tropical Storm EDOUARD

The National Weather Service National Hurricane Center website has maps showing predicted winds and direction. Whether you live in a coastal zone, or will be traveling to one, this is a great resource.

Knowing about new tropical storms or hurricanes is very important for people living in coastal areas. Whenever news pops up of a new storm, the number of Internet searches for information on the storm goes way up.

You can be one of those searchers. Or, by signing up for regular alerts, you can be kept up to date by having tropical and hurricane storm information delivered right to your e-mail.

Pocono Raceway - And The Winner Is.....

Major NASCAR racing went on this weekend at Pocono Raceway. Our route to visit our grandchildren takes us pretty close to the Raceway. We have friends who are NASCAR fans and I'm surprised they never mentioned it to us.

The Sunoco Red Cross Pennsylvania 500 was run there this weekend. Carl Edwards took his fourth victory for 2008 by winning today.

You can read more about the race results here.

Now There Are Suites in First Class

I recently wrote about showers For Emirates First Class Passengers.

Starting soon, if you'll be flying First Class on Emirates, Qantas, and Singapore, your First Class seat will actually be a small suite. Never mind the day of simple seats turning into flat beds. Now there is floor space with room for a meal table and a large, easy to handle remote to go along with the much-larger-than-coach TV screen.

Obviously there is still a market for these type of seats or the airlines wouldn't be falling all over themselves seeing who could come up with the best configuration.

And I suspect, personally, that to make room for these suites, those of us in coach will be losing a few more inches of knee room.

You can read more details about these First Class arrangements at Qantas and Singapore’s Battle of the Suites.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Review: GAP Adventures

I've had some inquiries as to what tour companies I use.

The one I've taken multiple trips with is G Adventures. This the company that I used with a friend for the Costa Rica trip and that my husband and I used for our Galapagos/Ecuador and Peru trips.

GAP stands for Great Adventure People. GAP Adventures is a small Canadian company. It specializes in small group adventure travel. But don't let the word 'adventure' scare you. The company has evolved along with the needs of their clients. Yes, you can find bare bones trips (usually filled with 20-30 somethings) but you can also find 'comfort' trips (that's where you'll find us 60-somethings).

What I like about the GAP Adventure trips is that I don't end up paying for things I probably wouldn't want like 3 meals a day with the whole group. The price includes your accommodations, transportation, and group leader. And the prices are great.

Some tours include more and that is very clearly spelled out in the trip dossier. There is a lot of free time and I can chose to do nothing or I can opt for a local tour. I do and pay for what I want...not what is already built into an expensive itinerary.

G Adventures has a great forum that I participate in regularly. It was extremely helpful to me before my trips so I like to return the favor. Their web site is very user friendly and it is very easy to search for and book your trip online. You'll find, online, trip summaries and also complete dossiers. Customer service is superb. Got a question? Just write. You'll get a speedy reply.

Obviously, I was happy with our GAP Adventures trips. Yes, we had a glitch or two but it can be that way with ANY travel. (Read my Hurtigruten Overbooking post.) If you are looking for unique, small group travel and are able and willing to do things like carry your own bags, then I do recommend that you take a look at G Adventures.

Oh...I almost forget....BIG advantage of G Adventures for the solo traveler....NO single supplement!

Trying To Stay In Shape

It's tough keeping up your exercise routine while traveling. A lot of motels/hotels have added exercise rooms to help their clients keep up their good work.

But suppose you are a jogger and I don't mean the kind that likes to kick up their heels on a treadmill. How do you find good jogging routes in a strange city.

Enter the USA Track and Field Running Routes site. Click on Find a Route for information on routes based upon where you are located and distance. Click on Advanced for further options like the type of terrain you want to run over. If you are a jogger, now you can keep up your running program while traveling.

seethroughny.net

Living in upstate New York, the site See Through NY really caught my attention. If you live in New York, you know that you are taxed just about every which way possible, with sales and income taxes among the highest in the nation.

The site, See Through NY, was created by the Empire Center for New York State Policy which is part of the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research.

On the site, a visitor can find out how much each of the lawmakers are spending and how much is paid to Legislature vendors. Looking for payroll information? You'll find it here. And let's not forget information on those pork-barrel projects, pet local spending for a legislator's home town. I guess it's nice to finally see where some of my money is going.