Thursday, December 29, 2011

CDC "The Yellow Book"

The CDC publishes The Yellow Book every two years. It is a reference book with advice for international travelers about possible health risks. While the book is meant for health care professionals, it can be a great resource for anyone. It can be purchased at online stores like Amazon. A Kindle version is even available.

For those that don't need a reference copy on their desk, the entire contents of the book is available online. Just click the link for Table of Contents under the heading Access the 2012 Yellow Book online.

And don't forget to check the CDC's Travelers' Health site if you'll be traveling soon. Take a glance at Travel Notices to see if there is something new in a country you will be visiting. Also take a look at Destinations to read medication and vaccination recommendations for the area you'll be in.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Thinking About the Galapagos

The daughter of a friend of mine just returned from the Galapagos. She was amazed at how much she loved the trip. I wasn't surprised. When my husband and I went, we found it fascinating and exciting.

Today we have the coldest day we've had so far this winter. We've been lucky in that we've had only about a total of 2 inches of snow. But it is in the 20's today and the wind is howling outside and days like today make me think back to our Galapagos cruise, the warm weather and the wide variety of wildlife we saw that can't be seen anywhere else in the world.

Our Galapagos cruise ship was tiny. We had only 16 passengers. It definitely was a low end trip and I think, if we were to do it again, we would look at Galapagos cruises where the ship offered more than just the basics. We had minimal outdoor seating and when I think about the beauty of the area, it would have been nice to have more options. And our meals .... they were pretty much take it or leave it. And there was at least one time when we left it. :(

I still think back to the time the baby seal came over to my feet and tried to snack on my sandals. Then there was the time we hiked to the top of a peak on Bartholomew Island and could see the bay where Master and Commander was filmed. I still wear the fleece jacket I bought at the Darwin Center. A visit to the Galapagos is a great experience and, if you have the opportunity, experience it for yourself.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Check Holidays At Ports of Call

With Christmas, literally around the corner, I was reminded of a cruise my sister took that included Easter. The port of call for the day was Martinique. She booked a shore excursion that turned out to be 'adjusted' for the holiday....everything was closed. She was livid and expressed her strong opinion to the tour excursion desk where they did refund her money.

While it should have dawned on her that Easter would be celebrated on Martinique, the fact is there are local holidays we would know nothing about unless we did our research. Some times we would love to be there at festival time like when my friend and I went to see the annual National Day of the Ox Cart Driver in Costa Rica.

Other times though, when our time is limited, we might want to reroute ourselves so we are not in a city when all the museums. If something or someplace is important to you on your travel, check to make sure there are no special events on the day you will be there. Books like Frommer's where I linked to above, are a good place to start your research.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

New Pilot Work Rules - It's About Time

About three years ago there was a fatal crash of a commuter plane about 75 miles away. Blame for the crash was placed on pilot fatigue since it was later determined that neither pilot has spent the previous night in a bed.

It has taken THREE years for the government to come up with new regulations to prevent pilot fatigue. Not only did it take three years to come up with the new rules, but the airlines have two years to adapt to them. Too long in my opinion.

Although the FAA has been urged by safety advocates for over two decades to make these types of changes, it took an accident where 50 people died to finally get airlines and pilot unions to agree.

You can read the entire store here: New FAA rules to help end flying while sleepy

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Keep An Eye On Your Valuables

Traveling? Don't, for a second, take your eye off your purse, briefcase, tote bag, carry on, etc., etc., etc.

Today I ran into someone who I know had just gotten home from Florida. I asked her how her trip was and got a long story. Her purse was stolen while she was having breakfast at the airport. It seems she was tired and just not thinking and hung the strap over the back of her chair. Need I say more?

The daughter of a friend lost her backpack the same way. Other friends lost their carry on, filled with medications, when they put it down on the floor while they sat at a restaurant.

The moral is to keep everything in sight at all times. If you have to put a suitcase or backpack down, put it down in front of you. Don't put it next to you or between your legs or (GASP!) behind you. If you really want to hang your purse on your chair back, hang your coat over it.

In a restaurant, if you put your tote on the floor, put your foot through the handle. If the handle isn't big enough for your foot, put a leg of the chair through it. Ditto with a backpack. Even better, if you have a spare chair at the table, put your bags on it where it will always be in your vision.

Big travel weekend coming up. Play it safe and never let your carry on bags out of your sight.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Hotels in Queenstown NZ - family fun and adventure

We visited New Zealand a couple of years ago. We flew into Christchurch and did an overnight stay in a Christchurch hotel. The next day we took the train for a beautiful scenic ride to Greymouth where we picked up our rental car. We routed ourselves south towards Queenstown where we checked out Queenstown hotels and stayed for a few days.

Queenstown, situated by a beautiful lake and below majestic mountains, would make a fantastic family destination. Between boats and bikes, hiking and skiing, museums and nature, it looks like there are enough choices to keep everyone in the family happy. On the trip we made there was just the two of us. Maybe one day we'll be able to return with our grandchildren.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Trying To Use Delta SkyMiles

I have a friend who just tried to book a trip using Delta SkyMiles. According to the Delta SkyMiles Award Chart, the ticket should have 'cost' her (one way) 12,500, 20,000, or 30,000 miles. At first I thought this was nothing new.

In the past, different mileage levels typically referred to flying at peak or off peak times. My husband and I saved a bundle of miles on air for our Holy Land trip because we were flying to Europe off peak. We flew American.

On the Delta chart site I couldn't find anything that really clarified what the different mileage levels meant. Apparently my friend didn't either until she went to 'buy' her ticket and found different mileage levels FOR THE SAME DAY! Not only that, but she found the mileage levels changing from day to day.

I went to Delta's site to 'buy' a SkyMiles ticket. Picking an arbitrary date for Florida travel, going and coming in January, I found flights, for the same day, ranging in cost from 12,500 to 20,000. For instance, returning from Florida early in the morning cost 12,500 but if I wanted to fly out around noon, the cost was 20,000. This is the first time I have seen multiple mileage 'costs' on the same day for the same economy seats.

American doesn't appear to have changed from the on peak/off peak I am familiar with. I was playing around with American mileage seats for a potential future trip. As expected, all available economy seats for the same day had the same mileage cost. Interestingly though I found some seats blocked out as Premium. Since I was just playing around, at this time I have no idea what the additional cost of a Premium (aisle) seat would cost, in either dollars or miles.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Save Money on Lift Tickets

If you are waiting until the last minute to buy your lift tickets, you could be missing a good chance to save some money.

Ski hotels and resorts are now selling lower priced tickets during times that are historically slow. Typically, skiers bought their lift tickets when they arrived at their destination. Now, it is possible to save money by buying tickets ahead of time.

There are websites like Liftopia.com and Lifttickets.com that can provide significant savings. Recently it was possible to buy a ticket for January 12, 2012 at Mont Tremblant Ski Resort in Quebec for $58.99 on Liftopia. If you bought the same ticket at the resort website, you would pay $75 Canadian. The downside is that the tickets cannot be transferred and must be paid in full at time of purchase, if it rains instead of snows you could be out of luck.

Call the ski resort and ask for their best price or if they offer any type of promotion. In Park City Utah, the Quick Start program lets travelers trade their airline boarding pass for same day lift passes, allowing them to ski for free the day they arrive.

Buying tickets early is another way to save. At Liftopia.com, purchasing more than 14 days out offers possible discounts of 33 percent compared to 27 percent when buying within the 14 day window.

Check out websites like worldonskis.com and ski.com for their package deals. They negotiate room, food and lift tickets with resorts and put them together in money saving packages, compared to booking each item independently through the resort itself.

Season passes, or simply multiday passes, are another way to save on ski lift tickets. Check with your local ski resort. Ask about passes for Monday to Friday if you ski only midweek, another opportunity to save big.

Friday, December 9, 2011

First Real Snow of the Season

We had our first real snow of the season today. Woke up to find the grass covered and it snowing like crazy. I was ready to pack my bags, head to the airport, and grab the first flight heading south.

Fortunately it didn't last too long. The roadways were clear and According to the newspaper we shouldn't have any measurable snow for the next week or so.

Last year, by this time, we already had 24 inches of the white stuff. So maybe I shouldn't complain.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Find Cheap Flights – Fly During a Dead Zone

What’s a dead zone? It’s a time when no one else wants to fly, like before and after holidays and after spring break. To keep their planes full, airlines sometimes drastically lower their fares.

Typical dead zones are the beginning of November and December and the month of January, after the New Year weekend. (This is also a perfect time to get a great fare on a cruise.) February can also be good as long as you don’t want to fly to Florida, around Valentine’s Day or to the Super Bowl city.

The best time to fly to Europe is during the dead of winter but fares can also be good in October and May.

Deal zone deals are usually available at least three weeks before you plan on traveling. Best time to get online and check ticket prices is Tuesday at 3 p.m. ET. Actually, this is the best time to buy any ticket because this is when airlines reshuffle and reload fares.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Are Time Share Expenses Tax Deductible?

The short answer is that it depends. For the long answer, read this post. (I had to provide a sample tax-related post for a potential client. Now, a couple of weeks later, it dawned on me this was just a sample and wasn't going to be published. So I decided to post it here, providing what I hope is helpful information for any of my readers who has a timeshare.)

Timeshare owners may incur many expenses such as interest expense, property taxes and maintenance fees. A common question is whether or not these expenses are tax deductible as some owners equate timeshare ownership with owning real estate. However, the two are quite different and the answer to whether or not the expenses are deductible often depends upon how the timeshare is used.

Any loan used to pay for a timeshare must be structured very carefully to allow the interest to be taken as a tax deduction. For tax deductible interest, the loan must be secured by the property. Not all loans available through developers meet this requirement and, therefore, the interest would not be deductible. In addition, interest may be deducted on only two homes, a primary residence and a vacation home. If you have timeshares at more than one property, no matter how the loan is structured, only the interest on one may be tax deductible.

Unlike the interest expense deduction that limits the number of properties, you may be able to deduct property taxes on any number of units that you own. Methods of assessing and billing property taxes vary by state. In some areas, the timeshare owner is billed directly. In other states, the individual weeks are assessed through the developer and the tax bill shows up on the maintenance bill. In such cases, the tax is probably deductible since it has been assessed directly against the time that you own. However, property taxes that are billed directly to the resort as one large parcel will probably not be deductible.

As with the cost of maintaining your primary residence, fees and assessments are not typically tax deductible, even if they are for a one-time tax assessment, such as public road or sewer improvement throughout the resort.

Where you claim the deductions on your federal tax return depends upon how you use your timeshare. If your use is totally personal, deduction are taken on Form 1040, Schedule A. If the use is totally rental, then Schedule E is used. If the unit is both rented and used for personal use, both forms are used with the expenses proportioned based upon the time used personally and the time used for rental. For instance, if you have a three week timeshare that is rented for one week, two-thirds of the expenses should be entered on Schedule A and one-third on schedule E.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Avoiding Liquids When Flying

Liquids in bottles over 3 oz. aren't a problem if you'll be checking your luggage. You can put the big bottles of shampoo, condition, hair gel, etc. in the big suitcase that gets checked at the counter.

But if you like to try and travel with only a carry-on as we do, the TSA 3-1-1 rule can be a challenge. Depending upon the trip (domestic or international) and how long we will be gone, there is a large variety of items I try and fit into our 1-quart zip bags. I usually bring at least a travel size toothpaste and shampoo to get us started. When we get to our destination, I'll sometimes go into a local supermarket or pharmacy (yes, even overseas) and buy what we need in its larger container.

But there are a bunch of creams and ointments I like to take along, "in case of emergency", and I really don't want to buy large sizes at our destination. Some items I might even have trouble finding, such as insect repellent. And I still laugh when I think about trying to locate sunblock in a South American supermarket.

Therefore, when I read about items that I can purchase as a solid, I sit up and take notice. Cutter Outdoorsman insect repellent is available as a solid that is 30% DEET. It can be found in drug stores and in outdoor gear stores. Sunblock is also available as a solid. Neutrogena has an Oil-Free Sunblock Stick. Seen at CVS, if it is not available in your local store, it can be purchased online.

Saving On Airport Parking

Airport parking can be very expensive. We live in upstate New York and our closest airport is ROC. Fortunately we are close enough to usually manage to get a ride from friends or family and do not need to leave our car in a parking lot. However, are airfares are not particularly cheap and there are times they are cheaper if we can fly out of BUF. But them we have to add in the cost of airport parking and maybe a hotel night. Sometimes it still works but most of the time it doesn’t.

Our son, who lives near Philadelphia, often flies out of Baltimore. Even with the cost of travel to the airport (gas, tolls), the airfares are often cheaper and the airport parking at BWI is a LOT less than PHL.

Some airports, like Miami airport parking, are very busy and even if you were willing to pay the parking costs you can't even find a spot. So I thought it was pretty neat when I found a web site that lets you reserve a spot and save money while doing it.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Researching a Trip With Kids

The other day I was on the phone with my son. He is considering taking his children (girl, age 11 and son, age 10) away for a few days. We were discussing suitable places for a winter time visit. He lives hear Philadelphia so I suggested Washington, D.C. He's been there before with the kids and they love it. During the winter it should be a lot less crowded. We also talked about places like Gettysburg. (My husband reads anything he can grab his hands on about the battle.) My son, though, felt the children are still too young to appreciate what went on there.

So we discussed other possible trips like at a resort that has everything inside. That brought up topics like indoor water parks in Virginia. Both of my grandchildren are water nuts and Virginia is far enough away to make it seem like a real vacation and yet close enough to do it for a long weekend.

He still has to decide where to go but living in the Philadelphia area gives him lots of options.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Corrected Instructions For My Subscribers

I just played around with the email links. You have to click on the blog title within the actual email post.

So if you didn't see the videos, go to the Polar Bear email you received and click on the blog title at the bottom of the email.

For My Subscribers

I also subscribe to my blog, just to confirm information is sent correctly.

I want to confirm that everyone who subscribes also received the polar bear videos. There are two videos embedded in that post.

If you do not have them in your email, click on the blog title to be taken directly to the actual post. You don't want to miss them. :)

Friday, November 25, 2011

More Pictures From Churchill: The Polar Bears!!

What I assume all of my regular readers have been waiting for .... the polar bear pictures and videos! I think one reason this took so long in coming is that it definitely was the hardest post of the trip to write. Actually, the hard part is selecting the pictures. We were out on the tundra for three full days and probably saw between 15 to 20 bears each day. That's a lot of bears and a lot of bear behavior and a lot of pictures and video. Hope you enjoy the selections I've made and find the reason why I chose them interesting.

So, obviously we saw a lot of bears just lying around doing nothing.








Other times we saw them interacting with each other. The area around Churchill is the only place polar bears show social behavior. In other parts of the world the bears are solitary as they complete for food. Here the bears are all waiting for Hudson Bay to freeze and, once that happens, they will resume the typical solitary behavior.

Most of the time they ignored us but every now and then their curiosity got the better of them and they came over to the rovers and looked up at us or got real close, went up on their hind paws with their front paws on the rover, and gave us a thorough look-at through the window.

We saw a lot of playful sparring ... bears up on their hind legs pushing and shoving. This behavior strengthens the bear and will help its survival because once it is on the ice the bear will rise on its hind legs and punch down on the ice with its powerful forequarters in order to break the ice and get at seals they see below it.




I found it interesting that as big and strong as these bears are, with no natural predator, they can still be easily spooked. When we had the windows of the rover open, the only thing you would hear was the clicking of shutters. We all spoke in a whisper and no one out on the back deck made any quick movements. Notice in this video how this bear got startled and walked away. And look at the size of the paws! I couldn't get over how HUGE they are.

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And some of the time I just watched as the bears walked along the shore, sniffing the air, and pretty much just minding their own business.


video

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Vacation Rentals

I recently wrote about how to save money on hotel costs by using some of the discount sites online. Another way to save money, or to get more for your money, is by doing a vacation rental.

I've always wanted to do a vacation rental. I think it would be really neat to stay in an apartment, with two of the big amenities apartments have to offer: a kitchen area and lots of space. As I was thinking about it, I realize we have already done just that. Our hotel accommodations in Reykjavik was a studio, a huge room with a sitting area, a dining area and a galley kitchen. It was great!

Friends of ours just returned from renting a villa in Tuscany ... another item on my bucket list. And other friends rent a condo in Florida very February. Whether Tuscany, Reykjavik, London or Barcelona vacation rentals, or just heading to Florida, consider an apartment for your stay.

Up, Up and Away - The Bear Jail, Churchill

Yes, Churchill has a bear jail. During polar bear season, there is a regular bear patrol. If a bear is reported as being too close to town, an attempt is made to scare the bear off by, essentially, firing a 'firecracker' in its direction. If that doesn't work, the bear is tranquilized and taken to the Polar Bear Holding Facility.

We didn't get to see inside the facility but were told that the inside is kept dark, the bears are kept in cages close to each other (not something they normally like) and are only given water to drink ... essentially, making the place somewhere they don't want to return to.

The bears are tagged and then flown far away from town and released. If the bear returns it gets a second chance. A third time, though, and they are out.

We were fortunate to see a bear lift on our last morning there.



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Wednesday, November 23, 2011

More Landscape Pictures, Churchill

There are no roads to Churchill, Manitoba. Everything comes in by air, boat or rail and that includes both supplies and people. Most of the trains coming into Churchill (3 days per week) are hauling grain during the growing season. The grain is then loaded onto barges which head out to the Atlantic through Hudson Bay, delivering grain all over the world.


As we traveled around the tundra we saw tire tracks from the polar rovers. The tires are huge and cost $3,000 each. There is not doubt they cause damage so there are very specific areas where they can go and where they can't. The park service determines which tour companies have permits and for which areas, trying to keep some of the damage under control while still allowing the tourism that brings so much money into the area.




As we traveled around the tundra, our expedition leader encourage us to look at the landscape, patterns on the ponds and rocks along the bay's shoreline. After all, we WERE on a photo trip.


Sometimes there were pictures worth taking by looking backwards. These are the ripples left by our rover as it went through the water.






More pictures out the window:
















Tuesday, November 22, 2011

More South America Glacier Sailing

The recent post I did on sailing the Chilean fjords reminded me of some research I had done before our Antarctica trip, sailing the glaciers at the southern end of the continent. The majority of Antarctica sailings are round trip to Ushuaia and I had figured if we were going to travel that far, I wanted to see as much as I could. So I had considered a sailing between Ushuaia and Punta Arenas on the Via Australis.

Taking a cruise to see the glaciers is a great way to visit Patagonia. A friend of mine who did a land tour to Patagonia actually did this sailing, even though she is prone to seasickness. She had done her research and knew that the inside waters are extremely calm and the scenery and experience was going to be well worth any slight discomfort she might feel. As it turns out, she was totally right and thoroughly enjoyed the sailing.

The ships that sail this route are small but are beautifully outfitted with lots of wood. There are lectures after dinner and gorgeous scenery to enjoy during the day, for a full travel experience.

Monday, November 21, 2011

How To Save On Hotel Rooms

The Internet is absolutely the best place to do research for a hotel room. Whether you are researching a property by using sites like Tripadvisor or Frommer's, at some point you are going to want to book that hotel.

I typically start right at the hotel's web site and check the availability and rate for the date and accommodations I am interested in. Sometimes I learn something that makes me want to book directly with the hotel, such as wanting a specific type of accommodation.

Other times I'm just interested in a general area of a city (like when I went on a long weekend trip to Boston with our daughter) and any hotel meeting certain requirements, such as star rating and location, will suffice. In cases like that I check out a site like Hotels.com.

Besides providing great rates, Hotels.com has a Welcome Rewards program that can earn you a free night. I did some checking at other booking sites and I didn't see anything like this. (Hope someone will let me know if I'm wrong.) For someone who travels frequently, this can be a great deal.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Souvenir Shopping in Churchill, Manitoba

Shopping in Churchill is expensive. Just for the experience we went into the supermarket and I checked prices of items I buy at home like a box of Cheerios. In general, prices were 50% to 100% higher than my local grocery. And there was nothing like the selection I have at home. It was kind of take it or leave it. We could see how items were shipped in on shrink-wrapped pallets and often just left like that rather than shelved.

By far the best shopping, for us, was at the Eskimo Museum. They didn’t have a huge selection of items but what they did have was some of the best prices in town. Jerry likes to collect baseball caps and they had the perfect one for $16. We saw others for $25 and $30 that weren’t as nice.

There was a good selection of t-shirts and jackets. We bought, of all things, safari shirts, perfect for our hot weather travels. We thought it would be real neat wearing safari shirts with polar bears and Churchill embroidered on them.

Also at the museum was a very good selection of carvings and books. They had a small table of jewelry at excellent prices. I bought Inukshuk earrings for myself and for my daughter.

All together there are about 8 gift shops in town, some stand-alone and some within hotels. The Great White Bear Tour Company had very nice stuff at decent prices but the majority of their items had the company name on it, not the type of stuff we look for. Northern Images had fantastic high-end art.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Tundra Landscape

Jerry had the camera and lens for the polar bears. I got some good shots when they were close to the rover. But for me, this photo trip resulted in my learning more about my camera and concentrating on other-than-wildlife photo opportunities.





The landscape around Churchill is stark. There are very few trees and those that do live in that climate are called flag trees. The part of the tree facing north is bare, sheared clean by the freezing north wind. The area approaching Hudsons Bay is marshy and rocky. The low and high tide line is huge, with the water coming in at places 400 to 500 feet.



Rocks are covered with lichen and the ground is covered with moss and some small berries.






As winter approaches, the marshy areas freeze over with ice hard enough to support a full-grown polar bear. This is the time the bears come into the area, preferring the feel of firm land or hard ice under their paws versus soft marsh where they will end up with wet feet.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Sailing the Chilean Fjords

I have a friend who has sailed all over the world. He once told me that the cruise along the Chilean fjords was the most beautiful scenery that he had ever seen so, of course, this area of the world has been close to the top of my bucket list. But only being familiar with mainstream cruise lines that sailed between Santiago and Buenos Aires, I didn’t think this would be a trip we’d ever make.

Until I came across a web site of Patagonia Chile tours by ferry. Duh! Of course there would be a ferry in the region, providing transportation for the locals to get from place to place.

The site is for Navimag ferries and they offer three types of Chile tours. The sailing along the fjords is a four-night adventure that starts in Puerto Montt and ends in Puerto Natales or the reverse. The web site gives full information regarding departure dates and pricing and also provides photos of the accommodations.

As I would expect on a ferry, the accommodations are a bit low-key, small with bunks, and the option of cabins with shared or private baths. High season runs from November to March and low season, with a significant drop in price, runs from April to October. For anyone doing a land tour of South America, this is a great option for sailing the Chilean fjords.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

A Typical Day on the Tundra, Churchill, Manitoba

Churchill, Manitoba, Canada is located on the southwestern shore of Hudson Bay. We were fortunate with the weather. Yes, it was cloudy most of the time it was also relatively mild, with daytime temperatures in the 30’s (F) versus the teens that are more common at the beginning of November. We did have some snow flurries that iced up the walkways and plenty of wind.

Our accommodations were at the Northern Lights Inn. Our room had two double beds, a table with a flat screen TV on it, a night table between the beds, a dresser with a mirror and a small area with hangers. There really was not a lot of room to spread out but we managed. What I loved was being able to adjust the temperature in the room, something we had been unable to do at the Hotel Fort Garry in Winnipeg.

We spent three full days in Churchill, shuttled around by Lindsey who, when not driving a tourist shuttle, works at the one and only hardware store in town. We were up at 6:00 a.m. for breakfast at 6:45, a buffet of eggs, french toast or pancakes, sausage, Canadian bacon, potatoes, cold cereals, bagels, muffins, fresh fruit salad (yes, FRESH – cantaloupe, honeydew, pineapple, watermelon, orange slices), juice and coffee, and on the shuttle by 7:30. By 8:00 a.m. we were on the polar rover and on our way.

We went over (and through) some incredible landscape. Permits are required from the Canadian parks department for travel through this area. The company NatHab uses in Churchill, Great White Bear Tours, has permits that allow it to go the furthest out on the tundra than any of the other companies. We went on rocky roads, through water, up and down rutted ditches. The ride alone was an experience.

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Out on the tundra, 17 pairs of eyes were looking for wildlife. We had 15 tourists, our driver, Brandon and our expedition leader, Brent. We saw bears, ptarmigan, snowy owls and more bears. (I’ll do a post later with bear photos and video.)

Mid morning we would stop at a good spot (read that as a place to watch bears) and have coffee and snack (brownies, cookies). At lunchtime we would stop at another ‘good spot’ and have a hot veggie soup, a choice of three sandwiches (one veggie, one usually chicken and one usually beef), a pasta or potato salad and dessert. Beverages were always available.

We were out on the tundra until about 4 p.m. when it was time to head back to the launch site. Then we climbed back onto the shuttle for our trip back to town. The trip back varied as we went in search of arctic fox or arctic hare, two animals we didn’t get to see. (However on our first night in town, J and I took a stroll and came across a blue fox.)

Dinner was a selection of soup or salad (again, nice fresh greens and other veggies), a choice of about 5 entrees offering fish, vegetarian, chicken, beef or pork served with vegetables, desert (every desert except one was carrot cake LOL) and beverages. We sat down to eat anywhere from 6:15 to 7:30 p.m. depending upon what was scheduled.

We had one evening program of a slide show and another evening program visiting with an Inuit woman in her teepee. That was quite neat. The Inuit are the ‘people of the caribou’ and it was fascinating listening to how they made use of the entire animal, from thread to snow goggles.




Other evenings we had a bit of time to walk around town. We didn’t run into any bears, fortunately but we did spook a blue fox. On another night we were able to photo a great sunset and then, after returning to our rooms, were alerted at about 9 p.m. that the Northern Lights were visible. That night we were back at our room by 10:30 p.m. or so, as 10:00 p.m. is when the curfew siren goes off, part of the bear patrol routine during bear season.

Shopping at Amazon.com

Do you shop at Amazon.com?

If you do your holiday shopping through Amazon.com (or actually any shopping at all through Amazon.com), I would appreciate it if you would click on the link in this post first and shop through my Amazon Associate site.

There is no additional cost to use and, yes, I get a small percentage of your purchase.

THANKS!!!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

How to Plan a Guided Day Trip

While I typically research a destination to death before we leave home, there are times I want to leave the planning to someone else.

In my current ITN newsletter, there is a brief article on Viator. Viator offers almost 9,000 guided day trips throughout Europe, South America and the Caribbean. Travelers can search for excursions using several criteria including location, city, dates, activity type and more. Results can then be sorted by price, ratings and best sellers. Information provided for each tour includes itinerary, price, time, exclusions and inclusions. A complete itinerary for a location can be built and booked at the website.

I haven't used the site yet myself but it certainly looks like it has potential. Just for the heck of it I clicked on a few cities I've already visited to see what might be offered. For instance, we've already been to Venice but I've been looking at another cruise that begins there. Since we like to arrive a day early when we tour, I wondered what options there might be for a day in Venice. On Viator I found a day trip to the Dolomite Mountains or the Veneto Hills.

If nothing else, looks like this site could be a great destination resource.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Inukshuk

Starting with our visit to the grounds of the Parliament building, to the Manitoba Museum and throughout our visit in Churchill we were exposed to the inukshuk.






An inukshuk can have several meanings. It is used as a guidepost, pointing which direction to travel. It has been used to mark places of historic and ceremonial importance. The Inuits also used inuksuit (plural form) to help them hunt caribou, building inuksuit in a V-shaped configuration and driving a herd into the open end, forcing them together as they came out the end of the V.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Our Latest Small World Story

A few weeks before we took our Antarctica trip, we read of the sinking of the MS Explorer and the rescue of her passengers by the Nordnorge, the ship we would be sailing on.

On our polar bear trip we met an Australian from Brisbane named Scott. Not only was Scott on the ill-fated Explorer, but he was actually the passenger who sounded the alarm. He was awakened by the sound of running water and, thinking the faucet in the bathroom had been left running, he swung his feet out of bed only to land in ankle deep ice cold water.

Leaving his cabin he found some crew members in a lounge and alerted them to the water. They returned with him to his cabin and radioed the Captain. One of the crew member dipped a finger into the water and put it to his tongue. Apparently the Captain asked the crew member to taste the water to find out if it was fresh or salty. Salty! The Captain then came to the cabin and did the same thing, followed by an expletive. The abandon ship order was soon given.

Passengers congregated in the lounge, some bringing suitcases and tote bags. The crew grabbed the bags and tossed them into the middle of the lounge, making it clear that the life boats were for passengers only.

After about 3 hours bobbing around the Arctic Ocean, Scott climbed aboard the Nordnorge. It took about 5 hours for all passengers to be brought safely aboard. Fortunately the MS Explorer purser had collected all of the passports and had the presence of mind to grab them before climbing into a lifeboat, making the trip home for the Explorer’s passengers just a bit easier.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Packing for a Winter Visit to Churchill, Manitoba, Canada

In my opinion, the best thing we did when packing for this trip was to plan on layering. With everyone dressing for the outdoor wind and cold, I could not understand why the buildings were kept so warm. I peeled every time we entered a gift shop or sat down in a restaurant. Plus it got hot in the polar rover if the windows were closed for any length of time.

The weather when we visited, at the end of October/beginning of November, was unusually warm. (We were told that the pack ice was forming two weeks later than normal.) Daytime temps were in the 30’s and we had only a dusting of snow. We never wore the boots provided by NatHab but certainly would have if there had been a few inches of snow or it had been significantly colder. As it was, we wore our hiking shoes with sock liners and wool socks.

During the day, we layered with items like long underwear, quick dry t-shirt, long sleeved shirt, fleece jacket and/or fleece vest. We topped it off with our waterproof/windproof shell that we had received from Hurtigruten on our Antarctica trip. We added gloves/mittens with glove liners, hats and I added a scarf. Jerry added windproof pants since he planned on spending time photographing from the rover’s open deck.

Night was different. It was COLD. At night we wore the NatHab parka instead of our waterproof/windproof shell. We still had our layers underneath so we could shed based upon the inside temperature.

Finally, if soap in a bar and shampoo in a bottle is important to you, pack them. The Northern Lights (photo), the hotel we stayed at in Churchill (and I’m guessing the few other hotels also) had dispensers at both the sink and in the shower containing a blue gel that came out as a foam. It worked fine for us but I can see where some people would prefer a bar of soap and liquid shampoo.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Churchill, Manitoba, Canada

Located on the southwest shore of Hudson Bay, Churchill has a long history in the trading and shipping industry. Previously it had also been a rocket testing area for the Canadian and U.S. military. Today its harbor, which is open for about four months of the year, is a major grain shipping port.



Churchill is very small, with one main street that has 15 street lamps. This picture is of one of the side streets which are mostly residential. The town has a large town center that holds the library, town offices, a theater, pool, hospital and essentially provides a place for the local residents to congregate during the winter. There is one supermarket and one hardware store. Everything must come in by boat, rail or air.






Today industry in Churchill means tourism with the town promoting the northern lights during the winter, birds during the spring migration, beluga whales and brown bears in the summer and polar bears in the fall. Accommodations are basic with about five hotels, similar number of restaurants, an Eskimo museum, about eight gift shops and a post office that has a “Polar Bear Capital of the World” cancellation stamp.


I have been in some out-of-the-way places but Churchill seemed the most desolate to me. I don't know if it was the cold or clouds or the short days but I also have to admit this is the first time I stayed in accommodations where one of the emergency telephone numbers was for Polar Bear Alert.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Review: Manitoba Museum, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

Our trip to the Manitoba Museum was part of our Extra Day package that we elected to take on our National Habitat Adventures trip to see the polar bears in the wild in Churchill, Manitoba, Canada.

If you go to Winnipeg and do not spend a few hours at the Manitoba Museum you will be missing one of the best things Winnipeg has to offer. This museum is excellent with beautiful dioramas, well-labeled displays and great organization. We had a two hour guided tour and it was very informative and thoroughly enjoyable. If we were on our own, I could see us spending much more than two hours. It is well worth a visit. Just be sure to allow yourself a few hours to make the most of your visit.

(In case you are wondering why there are no photos in this post, the fact is I just couldn't do the place justice with my little point and shoot. I felt surrounded by history ... like part of it ... and my pictures made the museum seem so static. It really has to be visited to be appreciated.)

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Review: Oak Hammock Marsh, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

Our trip to Oak Hammock Marsh was part of our Extra Day package that we elected to take on our National Habitat Adventures trip to see the polar bears in the wild in Churchill, Manitoba, Canada. The marsh is a restored wildlife area, providing a home for 25 species of mammals, 300 species of birds, amphibians, reptiles, and fish. We were told that during the migration season, it is possible to see 100,000s of birds on a daily basis.


Our visit was at the end of the season. There is a very nice interpretive center at the marsh, with many hands-on displays and some interesting dioramas.


We had a guided walk on one of the trails and while we found the information very interesting, there really wasn’t a lot to see. Based upon what our guide often said, it appears that the best time to visit is during the late spring. So while I couldn't get any pictures of wildlife, I decided to try my hand at some creative photography like this photo of dried grasses.