Wednesday, December 22, 2010

What we all should want for Christmas.

Posted on Facebook by my friend Colleen:

"Every Christmas you always hear people saying what they want and bought. Well this is what I want, I want people who are sick with no cure to be able to be cured. I want children with no families, to be adopted, I want people to never have to worry about food, shelter & heat. Now, lets see how many people re- post this... who actually care. I have a feeling I am gonna see almost no re-posts.. prove me wrong."

AMEN!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Review: Seneca Niagara Casino & Hotel

Just returned from two nights at the Seneca Niagara Casino & Hotel. There was an ad in our local newspaper for rooms at $75/night, Sunday through Thursday. Sounded like a good idea for a mom and daughter getaway.

I called to make the reservation. I was told, in addition to the $75, there is a $15 per night 'occupancy fee.' I asked about sales tax and was told there wasn't any, perhaps because this is an Indian owned casino?

Check in is at 4 p.m. and we arrived around 3 to find out room ready. I was surprised to find our room faced the Falls and the Canadian side. I had figured for the special rate we'd be facing in the opposite direction. Nice!

Room, with two double beds, was large and comfortable. Very nicely appointed bathroom with plenty of towels and personal amenities, including a full sized hair dryer and a coffee maker.

There are several restaurants in the hotel: a snack bar, coffee/pastry/sandwich restaurant, coffee shop open 24 hrs and serving breakfast at any time, an Italian restaurant, a steak house and a buffet. We ate both nights at the buffet which was $18.99 pp, Sunday through Thursday, with a player's card. Wide range of foods from salads, to soups, to Italian, to Asian, to carved roast beef and turkey, freshly grilled steaks and loads of hot vegetables. For breakfast we ate at the coffee shop. All food was very good and all service was excellent.

My daughter and I both like the blackjack tables and I like the slots. Our plan was to not leave the hotel/casino comples for the three days/two nights, playing in the casino, visiting the spa, eating at the hotel restaurants and sleeping in. We managed to get 3 out of the 4....we came home exhausted. LOL

Staff in the casino, restaurants, spa, and front desk were all friendly and helpful. My daughter and I are even talking about repeating our little trip next winter.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Use a Travel Agent

When I travel, I do a lot of Internet research. I research destinations. I research tour companies. And sure, I could book my travel online. Many people do and things work out just fine. But I don’t. Why bother? It doesn’t cost me anything extra to book that hotel or tour company or cruise through my travel agent. And I now have a travel professional to help me out if things don’t go quite as planned.

The same thing applies if you are in business and need to arrange travel for your company. Why should you sweat the small stuff when you can have a corporate travel agency take care of it for you? Even better, that agency can get you where you need to go, make your local arrangements and maybe, with its connections and expertise, even end up saving your company money in the process. What could be better?

Venice Fish (Antique?), Fruit and Vegetable Markets

Our last day in Venice. I had heard so much about the open air markets by the Rialto bridge but had yet found them. That was the goal for today. With the help of my great map I realized they were located just off the street coming from the bridge. Once I knew where they were located, they weren't hard to find.

It was interesting walking around the food market. We some some fruits and vegetables that we weren't familiar with. I love persimmons and bought some to eat back at the room.

We walked over to an area that was supposed to be the fish market. Actually, there was a big sign that said Fish Market in Italian. But this day (a Monday?) it was an antique market. There were some very interesting items there, including a tile decorated mirror that was shaped like a violin. I fell in love with it and considered making an offer. I had no doubt it would fit in my suitcase. That was until I inquired about the asking price: 2500 Euros!!

Part of the area we walked by was flooded. I found this so interesting, how the city was, literally, at the water's edge.




And seeing the bottom of so many doorways rotted away because of so much contact with the water.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Being with Family for the Holidays!

Guest post written by Eva Livingston

Even though it cost us a pretty penny, my husband Jim and I have successfully purchased two tickets to Seattle to visit our daughter and our lovely family on Christmas day. It's hard to believe that we haven't been able to see our daughter's new home since she moved out there three years ago. It's been on our agenda for the longest time, but we just haven't been able to successful coordinate a trip until now. I'm actually glad that Jim and I have finally reached retirement age. We've been able to do all these things that we've wanted to do for years.

Christmas with our daughter is going to be great. We can't wait to see our grandsons Justin and Matthew. Our son in law is also a really great guy, and we are looking forward to having him show us around the city. Before we leave we have a few last chores. I need to get some better winter gear, and I need to stop by a Miracle Ear Testing Center. Other than that, we are both ready to go and enjoy a lovely holiday.

More Wandering Around Venice

We left the vaporetto at the S. Toma stop. I wanted to head into a part of Venice that we hadn't been to yet. We found a nice little cafe for lunch where I had risotto with mushrooms, definitely a dish I'm going to have to find a recipe for. My husband and I also shared a spritz. This is an orange colored cocktail I had seen MANY people drinking. Finally I just broke down and asked someone. The orange ones are made with Aperol. The red ones, stronger, are made with Campari. I have to admit I didn't care for it but I'm glad we tried it.

We were right next to Santa maria Glorios dei Frari. Our daughter strongly suggested we pay a visit to this church. She said this church was so different from all the others she saw and took her breath away. Well, she was right. Unlike so many others we saw, this one was open and bright. It was a refreshing change.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Recommended Map for the City of Venice, Italy

If you are heading to Venice, keep in mind that one of the best things about the city is getting lost in it. It was great wandering down narrow alleyways, only to discover they ended at water's edge or someone's front doorway.

But if you want to get to a specific place in Venice, other than a major attraction like the Rialto Bridge or San Marco Plaza, you'll need a map. And you'll need a good map.

I bought for our trip MapEasy's Guidemap to Venice and highly recommend it. The map is waterproof and tear resistant and after using it a lot over five days, my copy has lots of creases in it but no tears.

The map is easy to use and to read. It has some neat facts and interesting comments on it that easily made it a supplementary guide book. There is no doubt that the next time I need a map for a major city, it will be made by MapEasy.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Venice Grand Canal

We had already spent a lot of time walking around Venice and had spent a little bit of time on the Grand Canal when we arrived. Now it was time to maximize our water time and we boarded a vaporetto that took us to Lido. Lido is the resort island of Venice. It has some large hotels and excellent beaches. The island of Lido gave its name to future lidos...beach/resort areas.

Before we even got to the Lido, though, we were treated to the site of gondolas racing (?) along the waterway. We felt the vaporetto slow down and we wondered why. We then realized it was trying to reduce its wake so as not to upset any of the rowers.

video

By now the group was down to just four of us. We walked up and down the main street. It was strange actually having a street to walk along, with cars and buses, after having spent a few days in Venice which had neither. The we boarded vaporetto number 1 to head into the Grand Canal.

It was neat seeing things from the water. We had been over many, many small bridges, taking pictures of one bridge from another. Now we had an opportunity to take photos of the bridges from the water.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Murano and Burano, Venice, Italy

Although we had just gotten off a cruise ship, we wanted to maximize our time on the canals of Venice. To do this we decided to buy a 36-hour pass. By buying it at around 10 a.m., this gave us two full days of on-off travel. Our plan was a day for Murano and Burano and another day just cruising around the Grand Canal.

Weather was cloudy, as usual, but that didn't stop us. The number 42 vaporetto to Murano left from a dock about a 5 minute walk from our hotel. The ride to Murano was less than 10 minutes. Known for its fabulous glass, Murano is one shop or glass blowing factory after another. What we found interesting was that some shops carried a specific artist. Others carried several. The glass ranged from little figures costing a few euros to museum quality pieces carrying huge price tags.

The island is small and it was easy to wander around, popping into shops here and there. Our group had lunch on the island and then we caught the vaporetto for Burano, a 30 minute ride from Murano.

Burano is know for its lace-makers. Actually, I should probably put that in the past tense....was known for its lace-makers. There are only a few women now who continue up the tradition. Most of the lace is made elsewhere. And the shops were full of it.

Burano is an extremely picturesque island. All of the houses are painted different colors. The photographers in our group went nuts. We walked all over...down streets, into plazas, along canals. Stopped in pastry shops, of course. Too soon it was time to return to Venice. It was a great day.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

SNOW!

This picture is taken out of my kitchen window. The snow is piled up on the railing and tables and chairs on the deck. And it keeps growing and growing.

I have frequent flyer mileage on several airlines. It is times like these that I want to go to the airport, look at the departure board, and head over to the first plane heading south. Sure, I'll have to pay a last minute fee for a mileage ticket but who cares....

San Marco Plaza, Basilica, Doges Palace, Venice, Italy

After lunch at Gam Gam, most of us went our separate ways with plans to meet for dinner. We headed to San Marco Plaza...our chance to see it in the daytime. It was now easy to see all of the tables that were lined up, ready to be walkways when the area flooded. Every 3 to 4 tables one was removed, as a passageway, and stacked up on a nearby table. You can just see the legs of an upside table to the right in the photo.

There was no line to get into the Basilica. The main area is free but there is a fee for each of the separate areas, like the Treasury. We just wandered around the main part of the church and left. We have seen much more beautiful ones inside than this one. Although the outside was pretty spectacular.

video

We did pay 12 Euros each for admittance to the Doges Palace. That was worth it. The courtyard is absolutely magnificent. Many of the rooms are HUGE and the paintings on the walls and ceilings were really something to see. We had about an hour to tour the palace. Not enough. And we are not the 'read every label' tourists. The place is just so big! Be aware that there are staircases to climb and one seems to just go up and around and up and around and.......After the hour, I had enough and found it difficult to find the way out. We had to cut around ropes to get back to the staircases taking us back down to the courtyard.

video

At this time of year there are not a lot of tourists. (Typically the rainy season, the plaza had been flooded the week before we arrived and it was raining the day we left.) Still it was amazing to meet up with two of the couples from our group, who just ended up being in the plaza same time we were. The lack of crowds made it easy to spot someone you knew.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Sun, Sand and Sea

This is how Lonely Planet describes Mallorca. And with 25 inches of snow outside and a temperature of 25 degrees, those are words that often describe my own thoughts.

I am constantly on the lookout for new destinations. There is no question that I am a beach person and both myself and my husband are nature people. So when I saw Majorca travel info pop up, I thought I'd take a deeper look.

Mallorca is one of a group of islands off the coast of Spain. Being the largest of the Balearic Islands, most people visit for the beach. But there is a lot more to the island than just beaches. The northwest coast is mountainous, with forests, olive groves and a beautiful rugged coast. Sounds perfect!

I can just picture myself in one of the villas in Mallorca, just feet away from the beach. I have often thought about doing something like renting an apartment....our vacations have been very active ones and it would be nice to simply have a week or 2 or 3 to just relax and enjoy the beach and the scenery.

I'm sure, when we are ready, there will be lots of information on the Internet to help us choose a place. In no time at all I turned up helpful sites like Lonely Planet, Eyeflare and Frommer's.

Venice's Jewish Ghetto: Gam Gam, David's, Museum

Friday was for the Jewish ghetto. The ghetto in Venice was the very first Jewish ghetto. The word 'ghetto' is from the Italian word for foundry, of which there were several in the area. When Germans settled in the area, they could not pronounce the 'j' sound of the Italian word for foundry and the word became 'ghetto.'

We visited the Jewish museum and some of us took the synagogue tour, including me. I found it quite interesting. The synagogues we visited were built on top of houses because there was no ground space within the limited ghetto walls.

Of course the shoppers had to stop at David's. And we spent a lot of time there. We even came back there because their prices on Murano pendants were the best we saw. The staff was helpful and friendly and I would not hesitate to return there. Highly recommended.

Our final stop was Gam Gam, the kosher (meat/pareve) restaurant within the Ghetto. There were 10 of us. All of us enjoyed our food. Particularly outstanding was the eggplant appetizer, the pasta bolognese and the Israeli appetizer plate, which at 9,80 Euros, could feed two.

Camping Gear?

I know....we are just back from a trip. But that never stopped me from planning ahead for the next trip, and the next trip and the next one.

One I am working on is a car trip to the southwest. We have done a lot of international travel and the fact is we also have some wonderful things to see in our own country. We have traveled extensively along the east coast, and we did a fantastic car trip to the northwest. Now we've decided to do a similar trip to the southwest.

When we took our northwest trip we had some camping supplies with us. Except for one city, we had no reservations for accommodations. Just in case we couldn't find anything, pre-trip we went out and looked at camping tents and bought one to throw in the trunk, along with some extra blankets. And we almost did have to use the tent...in Vernal, Utah.

So for this upcoming trip, the tent will definitely go into the car again. And I was also thinking about camping stoves. We have one passed along to us by my Dad...maybe that should go into the car too?

Review: Ai Barbacani, Venice, Italy

We had dinner our first night at Ai Barbacani on Calle del Paradiso. I had chosen it for several reasons.

One reason put it at a good location for people coming from three different hotels: ours (Hotel Giorgione), a hotel near San Marco Plaza, and the Stuckey Hilton (which provided a free shuttle to San Marco Plaza).

And the other reasons had to do with research I had done on the Internet, including sites such as TripAdvisor, Fodor's and Frommer's. I also wanted a restaurant that wasn't horribly expensive.

There were 10 of us for dinner that night. We were all treated to a glass of their house wine. Out of the 10, two were unhappy with their meal. One person had ordered salmon (and friends who ordered salmon later in our stay at a different restaurant were not happy with it...could it be the salmon?) and another friend had ordered pasta with white clam sauce (it was too dry for them).

The remainder of us enjoyed our meal and tried some new things like marinated sardines with onions as an appetizer. I don't remember the exact cost of the meal but it was within the 30-35 Euros (for both of us) that we paid for dinners during our stay in Venice. I would not hesitate to go back if we should ever be in Venice again.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Canals and San Marco at Night, Venice, Italy


We spent a few hours walking around the Rialto Bridge area. Everywhere we turned there was another photo op... canals.... gondolas. We did what we were advised to do....walk and walk and walk. We popped into stores and churches. We shopped and we window shopped. We had crepes and gelato.

And then we pooped out and headed back to our hotel for a brief respite before meeting up with friends for dinner.

After dinner (see next post), we were recharged and wandered over to San Marco Plaza at night. There was nobody there. The shops were all closed. It was a great, quiet, and eerie experience with the fog coming in off the water.

Only the top of the clock was lit. The other facades, like the Basilica, simply reflected light from the streetlamps. We looked forward to returning in the daylight.

Rialto Bridge, Venice, Italy

Our first destination as we wandered Venice that first afternoon was the Rialto Bridge. And in spite of all my reading, it was nothing like I expected.

I had seen pictures showing the beauty of the bridge as it crossed the Grand Canal. We lucked out and our foggy cloudy morning had turned into a sunny day and we got some beautiful pictures with blue sky. We walked up the stairs that are on both sides of the bridge, enjoying our view of the canal and traffic below us.

What I didn't expect was how the center of the bridge was one gift shop after another, some selling junk, some selling BEAUTIFUL quality items. Not only that, but there were kiosks along both streets that approached the bridge. What a shopping opportunity! So while the photographers headed off, shooting pictures of the bridge, from the bridge and from canal side, the shoppers headed off to...what else..shop!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Solution For Checking Overweight Bags

In the U.S. there are only two airlines that don't charge for the first checked bag: Jet Blue and Southwest. Southwest even allows you two free checked bags. On all other airlines, that first checked bag can cost anywhere from $15 to $35 and, if it is over 50 lbs., you'll get hit for another $50!

So what to do if you want to stuff everything into one bag and it is overweight? Check the weight of your suitcase empty. You might be giving up lots of pounds with the suitcase itself.

Instead, consider something like a rolling duffel. The Olympia Eight Pocket 26" Rolling Duffel Navy - Wheeled Duffel from eBags.com holds a lot and weighs only seven pounds.

It is now on sale for $32. Buy the lightweight rolling duffel instead of paying a $50 weight overcharge and you are ahead $18!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Review: Hotel Giorgione, Venice, Italy

We stayed at Hotel Giorgione during our recent visit to Venice and would not hesitate to stay there again. The location was great...5-10 minutes to the Rialto bridge, 15-20 minutes to San Marco Plaza, 10-15 minutes to the Ghetto, 5 minutes to transportation to Murano and the airport.

Hotel Giorgione is an old boutique hotel. It has a spacious comfortable lobby that we used often as we waited for friends or enjoyed the afternoon coffee, tea and biscuits. Chandeliers and sconces made of Murano glass were everywhere, including the rooms.

This hotel is landlocked which meant that our water taxi needed to drop us about a 5-10 minute walk from the front door. There were no bridges between the drop-off point and the hotel so it was an easy walk with our rolling suitcases.

We arrived from our cruise ship at approximately 10 a.m., expecting to simply check our luggage and get on our way. Surprisingly our rooms were ready. We were staying there with another couple from our home town and two sisters who were traveling together. We were all on the second floor and, between the two elevators, were quickly into our rooms.

Our rate of 120 Euros per night included all taxes and a buffet breakfast. Hot items on the buffet included scrambled eggs and sometimes bacon, sausage or beans. Typical layout of cold meats, cheeses, pastry, cold cereal, breads, jams, etc.

The rooms we saw were all different. Some were larger than others. Some had a shower. Some had a tub. Our room was actually up a small flight of stairs. So if you require something specific, like no stairs at all, be sure to mention that when reserving your room.

Guest Posts?

I'm trying to decide whether or not to allow guest posts on this blog.

They are typically written by people looking for links back to their site from a website like this which has a Google page rank of 3. They are clearly labeled as guest posts and, yes, I will be compensated for allowing these posts on my site.

Of course I will be discriminating and will try to keep it somehow related to travel. But I was just wondering if any of my regular readers had any feeling about it one way or another.

Of course I will not accept every offer that comes my way but was thinking about one here...one there....

Comments?

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Venice: Water Taxi From Ship to Hotel

There is no question that water taxis (as opposed to water buses) are the most convenient way to get to your hotel in Venice. They are also the most expensive.

But the first piece of advice is for when you, literally, disembark the ship with your luggage. If you see an empty luggage cart, grab it. You might be at just the right pier for transportation or, like us, it could be a VERY long walk.

Options for getting to a hotel include the People Mover to P. Roma and then a vaporetto (water bus). It is also possible to pick up a land taxi outside the pier to take to P. Roma and a vaporetto. But the vaporettos can be crowded and we would all have to be able to handle our luggage on and off.

video

So, because there were 6 of us going to the same hotel, we decided the best option would be splitting the cost of a water taxi. I went to the ticket booth, told them where we were going (Hotel Giorgione) and the number of passengers. I was asked about our luggage and then told the fare would be 20 Euros per person. I had done my research and knew this was a fair price. I bought the ticket, the ticket seller radioed a water taxi and I was told where we needed to wait and the number of our taxi.

We waited about 15 minutes, our taxi arrived, the driver loaded the luggage, and we were off to our hotel. Hotel Giorgione is actually a land locked hotel and we were dropped off a five minute walk from the front door of the hotel.

Cruise Port Review: Venice, Italy

This is going to be SO hard. Writing just a few short posts about Venice. We, like loads of people before us, fell in love with the city.

Although we arrived on a cold, chilly, foggy morning, I was not prepared for the magic as our water taxi exited the area by the cruise pier and entered the Grand Canal. Everywhere we looked there were spectacular looking buildings, gondolas and water taxis. As we made our way to our hotel, we passed by small canals with bridges over them and, of course, the buildings right up to water's edge.

video

We turned down one of those small canals to get to our hotel and I had to duck my head as we passed under one of those small bridges. We checked in, along with friends from our cruise group that were staying at the same hotel.

We had booked five nights because this time of year rain and flooding was common and I anticipated we might lose time in the city due to the weather. Well, we lucked out. There had been flooding the week before, it was raining the day we left, and in between we had some cool and cloudy weather but it never stopped us.

Note: This is my first post on Venice and, at this point, have no idea how many more I will write. To read them all, simple click on Venice in the Label field below.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Cruise Port Review: Ravenna

Princess provided a free shuttle into town (about a 20 minute ride) and I had been really looking forward to seeing the mosaics that the town was famous for. Here is the information I provided our tour group:

Ravenna:

Known as the mosaic city because of the stunning 5th-6th century mosaics that adorn the walls of its churches and monuments and because it is still one of Italy's top producers of mosaics.

Basilica of San Vitale: This is THE place to visit to see the beautiful Byzantine mosaics. It takes a bit to orient yourself to the various buildings because the basilica is connected to the National Museum. It is through the National Museum that you gain entrance to the basilica by passing back outside through a pretty enclosed loggia.

Right next door is Tomb of Galla Placidia. It is known for its ancient and breathtaking mosaics. The small brick structure dates from around 430 AD, making it one of the oldest monuments in Ravenna.



Lunch?
Consider Enoteca Ca’ de’ Vén
on Via C. Ricci









Dante’s Tomb and The Church of San Francisco: Conveniently located just behind the restaurant, these are not major tourist stops. But the church of San Francisco has a strange lower church visible through narrow windows under the main altar that is completely covered in several inches of water – and there are gold fish swimming about!

A full day can be spent in this city seeing more mosaics such as:

The octagonal Neonian Bapistery, the oldest mosiacs, is supposedly a converted Roman bathhouse and contains further superb mosaics. You can get close to some of the mosaics giving a greater insight into the adept work of the artisans. A huge baptismal font big enough to swim in sits to one side.

With more a feeling of a traditional rectangular church with stylish columns, the Basilica di Sant'Apollinare Nuovo, contains two long walls of mosaics. One side shows a procession of martyrs and the other shows a procession of virgins led by the Three Wise Men carrying their gifts.


Map of Ravenna Town Center….Mosaics are at #2 and Dante’s Tomb is #14




Well, this stop didn't turn out anything like I thought it would. It started with me getting turned around when getting off the shuttle bus and walking away from town instead of toward the city center. That was easily corrected with the help of the compass that my husband always has in his pocket when we travel.

We made it to San Vitale where the fee was 7,50 Euros and included entrance into the Basilica, the museum and the Tomb of Galla Placidia, all on the same grounds, plus a couple of other places. We went into the Basilica and it was DARK inside. We could not take any photos, which didn't really matter as I could not find these wonderful mosaics that the city is so famous for. No where did we see the glorious colors I had expected, based upon photos I have seen. So where were they? A visit to the gift shop afterwards, and looking in a guide book, we noted that a good portion of them are within the roped off area of the alter. (If seeing specific mosaics is important to you, I strongly suggest getting a guide book showing exactly where to look.)

We next went into the Tomb and the mosaics in there were great and we were able to take pictures. Those were worth seeing. We then headed towards the city center, wandering through some narrow and quaint streets.

The main thoroughfare in Ravenna is loaded with one upscale shop after another. It is definitely not a place for bargain shopping. We even had trouble finding tourist-oriented shops.

We did find the restaurant, CA'de VEN. The restaurant is old and well worth a peak inside. It is very photogenic and we decided to have lunch there. We had a helpful and honest waiter who told us that a bottle of house wine would cost the same as the three glasses we had ordered so he delivered a bottle to the table. Most of us had some form of pasta. It was a pleasant break in what had been, so far, a not-what-I-had-expected day.

And adding to that was an attempt to visit the Church of San Francisco. Located on the street right next to the restaurant was Dante's tomb, which we went into, and the church. And the church was closed!

Time to head back to the shuttle bus and back to the ship. Where there is NOTHING except for the ship. Don't expect to shop by the port in Ravenna.

Last Minute Travel: Australia

The LastMinute travel brand recently redid the Australian LastMinute travel website. I understand it is a significant improvement over the old site which was hard to navigate and wasn’t the most attractive looking site either. I just took a look at the new site and it is bright, clean and looks very easy to navigate.

Traveling around Australia and need a last minute accommodation? Or need a last minute flight on Qantas, Singapore Airlines or Jetstar? All are available though the new LastMinute travel Australian website with its easy to use search engine.

Whether you are traveling to, from or within Australia, the Australia site for LastMinute travel is definitely a site worthy of checking out.

Cruise Port Review: Dubrovnik, Croatia

Rain! But that didn't stop us. At least not totally.

Here is the port information I provided for our group:

Dubrovnik is an easy port to do on one’s own. The old, walled city is a delight to wander through. However, if you are interested in history or some specific sights, you might want to consider a ship’s tour.

One of the highlights here is to ‘walk the wall’. This is not easy as there are lots of steps. However, if you think you can do even part of it, enter at Pile and walk counterclockwise, to the scenic seaside portion. You can either return to the Pile entrance to exit or can continue and exit near the Maritime Museum. Along this portion of the wall there are a couple of places/cafes to stop, sit and rest.

I read that it is suggested to get a small amount of the local currency if you’ll be doing any shopping or stopping into any restaurants. The merchants really prefer that.

There may be a Princess shuttle providing transportation to town. There will also be plenty of taxis. The taxi drivers will accept Euros for the trip to the old town. Average price to Pile gate is 10 Euros. Be prepared to negotiate. If driver won’t drop his price, move onto the next taxi. Once at the old city, don’t take a taxi through it/around it. There are lots of one way streets and the old city is small.

For a history of the local culture from the early days, a recommended museum is the Rupe Museum.

As you walk along the Stradun (main promenade) you might be tempted to stop and buy from the vendors. Don’t. Get off the main street and into the little side streets. You’ll find some very nice local shops (the kind the locals buy from), good gelato, and, if you are looking, wonderful art galleries.




No, there was no Princess shuttle. Yes, there were taxis and the rate was 10 Euros per taxi. Our group of 14 was down to 12 for this port so we split into 3 taxis. Worked out perfectly.

The walled city of Dubrovnik is a lot smaller than I thought it would be. We were early and between that and the rain, the streets were pretty empty. We walked the main Stadun in no time at all. Actually, I was surprised at how fast we exited through the gate at the other end.

We canceled our plan to walk the wall because of the rain and we were concerned the steps and slopes would be slippery. We found the synagogue but it and the museum didn't open until 10 a.m. In the meantime we strolled the streets, stopping in at a local supermarket, viewing the local produce market and shopping in tourist and jewelry stores as they opened.

Silver is a very big item here. I wasn't going to buy anything until I came across a gorgeous necklace with a typical Croatian designed ball-shaped pendant. It truly was beautiful but too much for what I was willing to spend. So I 'settled' (VGB) for earrings with the same type of design.

The old walled city is built at the base of a mountain. Toward the mountain, the city streets are narrow and steep stairs. Towards the waterfront, the city streets are narrow and flat. The city was spotless and our short stay was too short, made more difficult by a downpour we just managed to find shelter from. Perhaps we'll return another day and be able to walk the wall and stroll more streets.

So we found a taxi for our 10 Euro ride back to the port. For those interested, there is some shopping at the port... some of it a bit upscale art and some the typical kiosks with tourist related items.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Recommended Restaurant in Alexandria, Egypt: Samakmak

As part of our tour with Egypt and Beyond Travel (not to be confused with just Egypt and Beyond) we had a wonderful lunch at Samakmak, 42 Qasr Ras at-Tin, 03 481 1560.

Excellent pita with typical Middle Eastern appetizers, fried calamari, grilled shrimp and grilled fish. Doesn't look like much from the outside. Don't let that stop you from going inside.

Upon returning I found the following reviews. I agree totally.

Lonely Planet review of Samakmak:

Owned by Zizi Salem, the retired queen of the Alexandrian belly-dancing scene, Samakmak is definitely one step up from the other fish eateries in the neighbourhood. The fish is as fresh as elsewhere, but customers flock to this place for its specials, including crayfish, marvellous crab tagen (stew cooked in a deep clay pot) and a great spaghetti with clams.

Fodor's review:

This seafood restaurant is located in a suitably rundown area near the port where the fishing boats dock, and it is so close to the landing stage you could throw the fish straight from the dock to the restaurant grill. Inside, the place has a slightly more formal atmosphere than most and serves exquisitely fresh seafood that benefits from the short walk from boat to plate. The staff is friendly and helpful.

Cruise Port Review: Alexandria, Egypt

Our tour of Alexandria, with Egypt and Beyond Travel, was another whirlwind, made even longer by our Egyptologist adding in a few thing not on our list but that she thought would interest us.

The drive to Alexandria from Cairo took about 3 1/2 hours, including a stop at a rest area, where our group of shoppers managed to actually find time to shop and buy! The drive itself was not very interesting and it gave most of us a chance to relax, what with our late finish to the previous night (10 p.m.) and our early start this morning (breakfast at 6:15 a.m.).

The difference between Alexandria and Cairo is like day and night. Alexandria is a newer city and a lot cleaner. It hugs the waterfront which makes for some beautiful views. It has many wide boulevards although it does have its share of

small streets as we discovered when our bus made its way downtown through the main shopping area. It was a very crowded shopping day and I think if we had an extra day, our shoppers would have been off the bus in a heartbeat, wandering through the downtown stores.

Most of the sightseeing in Alexandria that we did was strictly from the outside. We stopped at Pompeii's Pillar, The Montazah Palace and Gardens, Pharoah's Lighthouse and the Abo El Abbas Mosque (where we could not go inside).




And it is obvious Alexandria is still a working fishing port.




Having more time today, we stopped for a relaxing and excellent lunch, with our final stop being the library. I have to admit this stop turned out to be a bit disappointing. We had to wait for a tour in English, and then were escorted into the main library. We were in a glassed off area overlooking the main floor and not a good place for photos. To step to an area for good photos meant not hearing the guide.

After an explanation on the history and parts of the library, she then took the group over to a computer with Internet access to show how the library could be accessed through a home computer. This was going on and on and we really didn't come there to learn how to access the library through a computer....we wanted to see more of the physical library.

Actually, I would have loved to be able to just wander around the lower floor. But we couldn't. And the group voted to leave. I have to admit I was disappointed. I would have loved to have more time in the library. But it would have required much more time than our tour had allotted.

To the ship where we had a choice of being dropped off at the pier entrance, for shopping, or being taken directly to the ship. The group split up here, with most staying to shop. We discovered that Princess was running a free shuttle from the ship to downtown to the port shopping area. We didn't know this because we had not been on board the previous night. So some of us wandered the shops, some of us sat and watched (DHs) and we then caught the shuttle back to the ship, ready to recuperate on our upcoming two days at sea.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Cruise Port Review: Cairo, Egypt, Part 2

(Be sure check out Part 1).

Lunch. Well, sort of. We had a very full agenda for our day in Cairo and we didn't want to take time out for lunch. So, based upon our wishes, Egypt and Beyond Travel sent one of their staff members to a takeout falafel place. The bus swung by and she boarded with bags of falafel sandwiches, water and bananas. We ate on the bus, ready for our next stop....

The Ben Ezra Synagogue. This is the oldest existing synagogue in Cairo. We had to walk a way to get to it. It is located in the old Coptic section of Cairo. On the way we also stopped at an old Coptic church which had actually been underwater before restoration. I found it fascinating that something could be under water in a desert.

Last on our daytime agenda was the Egyptian Museum. No photos here as cameras are not even allowed into the museum. Our goal was to see the King Tut exhibit. I could have sworn that I had read this was the 'new' Egyptian museum but you couldn't prove it by me. Inside it smelled old and musty. The museum itself could have been a museum IMHO.

The King Tut exhibit was crowded. Very crowded. We had a limited amount of time in there with lines around the display cases. The craftsmanship of what I did see was, of course, exquisite. Amazing amount of gold and number of relics found in the tomb. The small room with the display of his burial mask, two of the coffins and several cases of smaller pieces was just part of what was on display. Outside that room there were displays of his beds, throne and additional coffins (he was buried in multiple coffins, one inside the other). Of course all the gold amazed us but we learned that gold was not, at that time, the precious metal it is today. Actually, silver was more valuable then.

We were supposed to go shopping. On our agenda was the Khan el-Khalili Arab market. But we couldn't do it. Even our group of consummate shoppers were done in. So off to the Cairo Hilton for a chance to freshen up and change before heading out AGAIN for our Nile dinner cruise.

Thanks to Ellen we all had Nile view rooms. With sliding glass doors that opened onto a small balcony, we were able to view the Nile and listen to the noises of Cairo as the city began to get dark. We were being picked up at 7 p.m. The Nile dinner cruise included a buffet dinner with entertainment. And we had a real surprise in store for us!

There was a wedding celebration on board! A beautiful glowing bride, the groom, mother and mother-in-law, brothers of the bride and some friends. It was a real treat interacting with them.

Dinner was a selection of Egyptian food. There was something for everyone: fish, chicken, vegetables. A table was set up with salads and another table with desserts. Certainly plenty to eat and I thought it was delicious. Entertainment was a very good belly dancer and a whirling dervish, an exhibition I had never seen before. (He never stops...not until the performance is over!)

video

At 10 p.m. our guide and bus were waiting to take us back to the Hilton. Breakfast at 6:15 a.m. tomorrow and on the road to Alexandria by 7 a.m.

Cruise Port Review: Cairo, Egypt, Part 1

Our day in Cairo was an incredibly wonderful experience. Private tour arrangements were made by Ellen with Egypt and Beyond Travel. (DO NOT confuse with another company called Egypt and Beyond!)

The first thing that caught my attention was our tour guide right on the pier waiting for us. Of all the tour guides, he was the only one that came to meet us by the ship. Our beautiful, clean, comfortable bus was first in line for the convoy into Cairo. We had a full sized Mercedes bus, a driver, Egyptologist, guide AND a gentleman to handle security, with no question that he was packing.

We knew we'd be leaving Port Said in a security caravan. Port Said itself is not very interesting. The streets were dirty and the ride between the port and Cairo had a lot of nothing. But our Egyptologist helped the time go quickly by telling us about her country and answering our questions.

Our first stop was the Pyramids of Giza. I had read that the Pyramids were located right outside of the city of Giza. And, yes, that is exactly where they are. As we turned a corner, the top of the Great Pyramid appeared above the city buildings and THAT was something to see. It really gave me a feeling for how large it really is.

We had time to walk to the Great Pyramid and even to climb up about 3 courses. No one is allowed to climb higher than the opening and there is a charge to go inside. It was very crowded, very noisy and not the cleanest of places. Still, it was most impressive.

Our next stop was an overlook. Crowded with tourists, vendors and camel drivers, it was still a worthwhile stop with a beautiful view of the three pyramids: Great Pyramid for the pharaoh Cheops, his wife and his mother. A warning here to be careful of the camel drivers. (DO NOT allow them to put you on a camel unless this is something you really want to do and have negotiated a price BEFORE getting on. One couple told us how they were, literally, steered onto a camel and then the driver wanted $100 to let them off.)

Our final stop on Giza was the Sphinx. I was looking to the left, outside of the bus, and when I turned my head to the right, THERE IT WAS! WOW! The road goes literally along the length of the Sphinx and we were dropped off at an area that allowed us a view of the Sphinx with the pyramids in the background. Not good enough for my husband and myself, we crossed an area of sand, weaved our way through an ancient temple, and made our way up a ramp that runs along the side of the Sphinx. Much more up close and personal and we are glad we did it.

(Click here for Part 2)

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Does Amtrak Auto Train Have Internet Service?

I've seen this question come up quite often so I thought I'd do a post about it.

Briefly, the answer is No.

That said, we had excellent Internet access during our last Auto Train trip using Verizon's USB Modem.

If you already have a smart phone, check with your telephone provider regarding wireless Internet service. Friends of ours have Verizon and use their phones for Internet access when they are traveling.

Cruise Port Guide: St Martin St Maarten

I was just looking at some new posts on the Cruise Critic forum and one that caught my eye had to do with St Martin St Maarten. I have to admit this is not my favorite island. Yes, the shopping can be great but, in general, I find the island boring and traffic congested. And this from a beach/water lover.

Anyway, the question had to do with taking a taxi from Philipsburg to Marigot. The solution suggested by several members of the forum was to simply take a local bus. Walk from Front St, the street by the water, to Back St, one block over. Wait at a bus stop or wave down a bus with a sign for Marigot in its window. Fare was just recently $2 pp. To return back, wave down a bus with Philipsburg in the window.

And if you don't want to go too far for a beach on St. Martin, I have read that the beach right in Philipsburg is nice, without dealing with the traffic hassles often found on the island. Not as pristine as some of the outlying beaches but for a few hours of sun and water it was more than adequate.

P.S. My TA subscribes to this blog....and she just sent me an email with the following information:

We were just there in July (2010). You CAN walk from the ship, regardless of which dock you are parked at, and it’s a beautiful beach with shopping all around.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Convert Your Digital Photo to Quality Works of Art

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Does a cruise passenger need to, independently, get their own Egyptian visa?

I participate in several cruise forums and one topic that seems to consistently come up is whether or not cruise ship passengers stopping in Egypt need to independently obtain their Egyptian visa.

From personal experience, on the Pacific Princess, I can tell you our answer is 'No.' Princess asked for passports upon passengers return to the ship in Ashdod, Israel, our last stop before Port Said. We needed to pick them up the next morning before disembarking. All passports were stamped with the necessary visa.

It didn't matter if anyone was on a ship excursion, an independent excursion (as we were), or just getting off the ship to wander around the city. And based upon what I have read on forums, this is true for any ship.

Another item I read on the forum is not to simply check with your TA. Unfortunately, some TAs were less than truthful because they would handle getting the visa and got a commission for it. If your TA says, yes, that you need one, double check by calling your cruise line directly and ask to speak with a supervisor. Not all front line employees know the correct information.

Want to check further? Register for the great forum at Cruise Critic and post your question there.

Kudos to my HIGHLY recommended travel agent

I've often mentioned my TA, Ellen, in my posts. Her full name is Ellen Posard and she is the owner of Sea4Sail.

Don't let the name of her company fool you. Yes, she specializes in cruises but she also handles land tours. With over 20 years in the business, and as a respected member of a major travel consortium, she has developed many excellent contacts throughout the travel industry. And her contacts and experience came to play, directly, on our Holy Land Trip.

Ellen arranged our land tours in Turkey, Israel and Egypt. As previously mentioned, when our tour guide for our first day in Israel did not meet her standards, she was livid. Immediately on the telephone, and then later in emails, she handled the situation in an extremely calm and professional manner. Me? I would have been screaming at someone. But Ellen is the consummate professional and before dinner was over that evening (she brought her laptop to the dinner table to stay on top of her emails), she received a very sincere apology, was assured that we would have a new guide for Jerusalem and that she and her clients would be extremely pleased.

And, yes, we had a lovely, very knowledgeable young lady who made sure we saw everything on our agenda, even if it meant we were back to the ship an hour later than originally contracted for.

Kudos to Ellen!

Cruise Port Review: Haifa, Acre (Acco)

This was to be the second day of the custom tours arranged by our travel agent, Ellen, who was one of our group of 14. Our tour for Kusadasi was wonderful and we had great expectations for our days in Israel. Unfortunately, day 1 was not up to Ellen's standards nor what our group had come to expect.

It started with our guide being late. The tour bus was not where it was supposed be to meet us and we lost time with that being straightened out. Our guide was severely lacking in local knowledge as in having to stop at the Bahai Garden gate to see when it opened. At one stop he had the bus letting us off on what was the wrong side of a very busy street. Our protests persuaded him to ask the driver to make a U-turn so we could disembark the bus without crossing heavy traffic. His commentary was worthless. He answered questions with everything from "I don't know" to making things up. And Ellen was beyond livid! (More on this later.)

Our agenda included the Bahai temple and gardens (and the spectacular view of Haifa), a Druze village, the Crusader Citadel at Acco, the Turkish Baths and the Beit Shearim Catacombs. We got to see them all and enjoyed them all but we were sure our experience would have been better with a more knowledgeable guide.

That said, the Crusader Citadel and Turkish Baths in Acco is definitely worth a visit. At the Turkish Baths we had headsets that allowed us to listen to the explanations and it was an interesting experience. I wish we had more time in the city. Based upon the little we saw, it looked like a wonderful old city to wander in.

Our last stop was at the national park that contains the Beit Shearim Catacombs. Originally I didn't want to include this but Ellen persuaded me otherwise and I'm glad she did. It was a fascinating and not at all what I had expected. From one who has claustrophobia, I expected small enclosed spaces. Instead we found large open tunnels, with beautifully decorated sarcophagi and, of all things, a menorah carved into one of the tunnel walls.

Lastly, we asked our tour guide about shopping in Haifa. We wanted a place where tourists shopped, like the stalls we saw in Acco. Actually, when it was time to leave Acco, we specifically asked him if there was shopping like that in Haifa and he said 'yes.' So where did he have the bus driver take us? To the shopping area where the local shop: shoes, clothes, hardware, etc. NOTHING like we wanted. Cancel that and take us back to the ship. As next reported, Ellen was, big time, ready to take care of this problem.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Cruise Port Review: Ephesus, Kusadasi and Sirince, Turkey

Disembarking was right on time at 8 a.m. And our tour guide from Vanguard Travel Services was waiting for us right outside the port terminal doors. We had a very comfortable minivan and quickly set off for Ephesus.

The ride from the port was about 45 minutes. Shopping was available just outside the site but we didn't take time for it. A quick stop at the private facilities and we headed to the entrance.

Several of our group had been to Ephesus, approximately 10 years ago. They couldn't believe how much had changed. Over the 10 years there had been significant new digging, including the restoration of the Terrace Houses, now available for public viewing for an extra fee.

I found the history of the city fascinating. (Our tour guide was excellent!) Originally on a harbor, the build up of silt resulted in a land locked city. When the Romans built it, they planned for gutters, aqueducts to bring in fresh water and drainage pipes to handle the sewage. The toilet house was built with continually running water under the seats. The Terrace Houses show, by the location of clay pipes, that the homes were heated and had hot and cold running water.

I was familiar with pictures of the fantastic library but the facade was even more spectacular when seen 'in person.' Funny story we heard about a tunnel being discovered from inside the library to the brothel across the street. And at the end of our tour was the absolutely huge city amphitheater. Visiting this city was a definite highlight.

As expected, there were shops at the end, by the bus pickup. We didn't stay long as we had more on our agenda: a visit to Sirince.

Sirince is a hill town in a region known for its wines. We have a beautiful ride up into the mountains with great views every way we looked. Lunch was at the Artemis Restaurant and was fabulous. It included two beverages (I had a glass of white and a glass of red wine), appetizers of olives, tzidiki and hummus, salad, skewers of beef with rice, roasted sweet pepper and onion, and dessert of baklava with ice cream. Fantastic!

We had an opportunity to tour the village but it meant walking down a steep hill that we would have to climb back up again. With the average age of our group in the high 60's, the vote was to skip the tour and head back to Kusadasi for the bazaar where we were dropped off right by the port.

The bazaar area outside the port is HUGE. And the shopping experience wasn't very pleasant. We were practically dragged into stores with "end of season - special pricing." One of the women I was with literally had to force her way out of a store. We wandered the streets which had mostly shops for shoes, clothing, leather jackets and jewelry. Very few tourist souvenir shops and what shops there were all sold the same thing.

After walking just to walk and get some more exercise, we made our way back through the port towards the ship. And there were some very nice shops right at the port that you wouldn't see on the way out. We had no time to stop and shop so I can't really report on them but they looked, at first glance, kind of upscale.

Cruise Port Review: Patmos, Greece

Here is the Patmos section of the Ports of Call document I prepared for ourselves and our fellow travelers:

Patmos, Greece, the Jerusalem of the Aegean (9 AM to 6 PM)

Patmos, a small island of the Dodecanese, is a popular destination due to its religious significance. Patmos is the place where Saint John wrote his Apocalypse. The world-heritage listed monastery of Saint John and the holy cave of the Apocalypse are open to the public. Patmos is also an ideal destination for those that love unspoiled sandy white beaches.

It is easy to visit the monastery by taxi. Built high on a hill, a visit affords beautiful vistas of the island and surrounding sea. For those who are more beach inclined, Meloi beach is a short taxi ride from the pier. I will be heading to the beach and all who want are welcome to join me.




The reality? While most of the ladies opted for the beach, it didn't work out that way. We could not find a taxi driver who would take us to the beach and pick us up in a few hours. (Later we figured out why.)

So with that news, most of the ladies headed off to shop. My husband and our very good friend Stu opted for a taxi to the Grotto and Monastery to take pictures. Cost: 35 Euros

That left me and Marla, our cruise friend from Carson City, NV, to try and make our way to Meloi beach. We never made it. It would have meant walking on the roadway up and over a BIG hill. Instead we walked along the shoreline and found a sign pointing to the local acropolis. We started to climb, first past houses and then on a rocky path. We came to the old ruins and a beautiful view of the ship in the harbor.

In a way we did make it to the beach. There is some beachfront right near town, heading off to the right after leaving the tender dock. We spread our towels under a tree, and enjoyed just relaxing and watching the water. And where we were soon found by my husband and Stu.

So why couldn't we get a taxi to the beach? The drivers have their tour routes down to a science. They take pax to the Grotto, drop them off for 1/2 hour, pick them up, drop them off at the Monastery for an hour, etc. etc. In between they are running additional pax to these spots. It would really mess things up if they had to go in the other direction to the beach. Oh well. Live and learn.

The shopping/restaurant part of town is very close to the tender landing. The ship warned pax that some people had become ill after eating and drinking in Patmos. That didn't stop Marla and me from heading into a bakery to try a few things Patmos is known for: cheese pie (like a soufflé) and poughi (wallet) which is dough wrapped around nuts, spices, honey, etc. And, of course, baklava. I liked the cheese pie and loved the baklava. Didn't care for the poughi but Marla loved it.

We also did some shopping. Pretty much the same stuff we saw in Athens but a chance to pick up something we might have missed. And we were back on board in time to grab something to eat at the buffet.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Ship Review: Pacific Princess

We boarded the Pacific Princess on October 30, 2010 for a 12 night Holy Land Cruise. With a capacity of 680 passengers I was sure we would love her. And we did.

The ship is easy to get around. The staff was excellent. My husband brought some of our trip DVDs to show any member of our group who might be interested in seeing them. He asked at the front desk if it was possible to get a DVD player in the cabin. And it didn't take long for a member of the maintenance staff to arrive and install a brand new DVD player.

Compliments of our TA, Ellen, we had dinner at The Sterling Grill, one of the specialty restaurants. I had the rib eye, my husband had the filet and it was an excellent meal.

The library on this ship was the most beautiful one I have seen on any ship. Lots of seating on the pool and promenade decks. I would love for an opportunity to sail on this ship again.

Cruise Port Guide: Piraeus, Greece

This post is going to be very short.

Stay on the ship!

There was absolutely nothing worth looking at within walking distance of our ship.

Recommended Souvenir Shop, Plaka, Athens, Greece

I am a shopper. I like to buy local items. And I like to do it for as little money as possible. And one thing I have never done on this blog before is recommend a souvenir shop. First time for everything.

On our first night in Athens, I had stopped at The Greek Shop, 120 (?) Adrianou, Plaka. You really can't miss it. It is a large (like double wide), brightly lit shop, selling olive oil, ouzo, candy and olive oil skin products.

As we walked around Athens, I popped into many souvenir shops, comparing items and prices, and looking for new items to buy. And I didn't buy anything until I went back to The Greek Shop.

I had decided I wanted to exchange some of the smaller bottles of olive oil I had bought for larger ones. No problem. Their selection and prices were as good and even better than other shops I had stopped in. (I found only one item where they were more expensive). There was no pressure to buy, unlike the other stores which had more expensive prices and then they would give me a 'deal' by dropping the price .... to what it was marked in The Greek Shop.

The staff was soft-spoken and thoroughly answered questions I had. Unless asked, the staff stood by the counter simply watching and waiting. It was a pleasure to shop there.

Athens: Central Market, Greek Agora, Flea Market

Friday morning we awoke to another chilly, cloudy day in what I had thought would be warm, sunny Greece. Today we were going to wander through Athens.

Our first stop was the Central Market to see the meat and fish vendors. We were not disappointed with the spectacle. It was just as reported: loud, busy, hectic. I took a lot of video, trying to capture it. We saw lots of fresh meat being cut specifically to customers' orders and different types of seafood, many we did not recognize.

video


Across the street we found the fruit and vegetable market. Here were the olives I had heard so much about. I was looking for olives similar to what I buy at our local supermarket. Finding some that looked close, I was invited to taste one before buying. I bought a 1/2 kilo and we munched olives as we continued to walk about the city.

We found the new Holocaust Memorial and I left a stone. Not surprisingly, since they are all over Athens, there were ruins being excavated right next to the memorial. (We learned that if ruins were found on private property the government took possession of it with no compensation to the owner.)

Our next stop was the Greek agora (marketplace). We used our Acropolis ticket for entrance. This site was pretty neat because of the restored stoa, the shop area. Plus the temple on top of the hill was still in great shape and wasn't covered with scaffolding, cranes or crowds.

Then through the flea market which had very few shops geared towards tourists. It was here I checked prices against the store I found in the Plaka. But most of the stores were selling shoes, pants, jackets, etc. We did stop at a bakery and bought something that looked like pizza with feta cheese, tomato and olives which we shared and was delicious. And then we shared a chocolate filled donut.

Refreshed with our blood sugar level on the rise, we headed towards the Tower of the Winds and the Roman agora. Because of construction the entrance wasn't where we expected it to be and it would have meant going out of our way to enter. It was getting late and we were tired, so we didn't make it into this site.