Saturday, November 10, 2018

Around Australia Cruise - Our First Day in Sydney - Riding the Ferries

Of course nothing ever totally goes as planned but that's to be expected when you travel. With a bit of luck it turns out positive and that's the way it worked for us today. 

A very long trip to Sydney with flights to Atlanta, then Los Angeles, and then Sydney. It was easy to find an ATM at the Sydney Airport and also the WH Smith store to buy our Opal cards, the tap on tap off cards used for Sydney public transportation. We took a taxi to our hotel (taxis in Sydney are EXPENSIVE) and we were lucky that our room was ready. Very nice which gave us an opportunity to shower and rest a bit.

We were booked for 2 nights at Hotel Challis located in Potts Point. (This was our second visit to Sydney and previously we had stayed in the Rocks area. This particular weekend was the finals for some major sporting event and hotel prices in the Central Business District (CBD) were very high.) Hotel Challis is a small boutique hotel located in a residential area. It was about a 10-minute walk to the train station, with some of the walk uphill and some downhill. Our room was very comfortable but very small.

Today's plan was to take the Parramatta ferry in the morning (anticipating only being able to drop the luggage at the hotel) to the town of Parramatta, wander around a bit, have lunch, and then take the ferry back to Circular Quay in Sydney proper.

Well with our room ready the morning plan turned into an afternoon plan and it turned out to be perfect. 

We took the train into Sydney proper and then walked to Circular Quay. Fortunately, my husband was not wearing polarized sunglasses like I was and he easily found the destination and time listings for the ferries. Me? I walked right by the updating display and had to take off my sunglasses to see the ferry destinations and times of departure. :(

Our ferry to Parramatta turned out to be simply a ride on the river. We were tired and decided not to get off. We just stayed on the ferry for its return trip to the Circular Quay.

It was a great day to be on the water. Partly cloudy with a nice breeze and temps in the 70s. It was a delightful afternoon. And we got a great view of the Opera House house and the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Sydney Opera House

Sydney Harbor Bridge

Riding Along the Parramatta River

Riding Along the Parramatta River

Riding Along the Parramatta River

Riding Along the Parramatta River

Time to head back to the hotel. The walk to the train station from the Circular Quay was uphill so this time we grabbed a bus right by the Quay to take us to the station, transferred to the train and made our way back to Potts Point. We stopped for dinner at The Fish Shop just a few steps from our hotel. Excellent dinner. Then time to call it a day.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Using the Sydney Australia Tap On Tap Off OPAL Card

First thing I'm going to do is put the link for the New South Wales transport authority that can be used to plan itineraries on the bus, train, and ferry system. I used it extensively while still home to get an estimate of what our transportation costs would be so I could put the appropriate amount of dollars on our Opal cards.

Once in Sydney, I used the NSW transport authority site to find out the numbers of the trains and buses we would need to get from 'here to there.' Very easy to use and very helpful.

When we arrived at the airport, I bought our Opal cards at the WH Smith store, located after the customs area. For a couple of reasons, I decided to overestimate the amount of AUD$ we would need on the card. Essentially, (not having a smartphone) I didn't want to deal with checking what the balance was and then finding a place to top off the cards if necessary.

Well, it turns out that keeping track of the balance is really easy because every time you tap off when exiting a bus, train or ferry there's a small monitor that tells you what the balance is. And every station had a kiosk for buying or topping off a card. Topping off the card would have been a very simple thing to do and I could have put less money on the cards to start with. 

So we did end up with money left over on the cards but not because I didn't do a good job estimating our pre-cruise transportation costs. We ended up with money left on the cards because of a couple of things I didn't expect. For instance, our plan for the day of arrival (figuring we'd be tired and just want some easy sightseeing) was to take the ferry to Parramatta, wander a bit, then take the ferry back. But instead, we ended up staying on the ferry for the return trip back to Circular Quay. I really thought that when we tapped the Opal card on exiting the pier back at Circular Quay that it would deduct round trip to Parramatta. It didn't. Only one-way was deducted.

Ditto with a ferry ride to Manly. We rode over getting some nice water views of the Sydney Opera House and then rode back. Again, only charged for one way. We didn't realize that there was no tap off on rides to and from Manly because they were nonstop.

And after our ferry ride, we took the bus to the train station and then the train back to our hotel area. Because we got on the bus less than an hour after tapping off the ferry and then tapping on the train less than an hour after tapping off the bus, there was no charge. These were transfers and the ferry fare covered both additional fares. 

OK ... no problem. We'll just hang onto the cards and use them for more train/bus/ferry rides for the day we had post-cruise. That day we rode all over and was surprised that after a small deduction, all the fares were $0.00! Well, what I found out later was that being a Sunday, adult fares were capped at AUD$2.70 for the entire day!

So my recommendation is to start off with the minimum that you think you will need. And then top off as you go along.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

How Dry Is The Air On An Airplane

The answer is very. That's in VERY! And the longer the flight, the worse it is. I've always known it was important to keep myself hydrated while flying but it was only recently that I had a demonstration of how dry the air really is onboard a flight.

On a flight from Los Angeles to Sydney Australia, I managed to spill a full cup of water right into my lap. Not partially on my leg. But squarely in my lap, if you get the picture. My pants got soaked and my underwear got soaked. We were in Delta Comfort + which has non-fabric seats and there was even a puddle of water on the seat when I stood up that need a bunch of napkins to mop up.

Now you can, if you want, picture me heading to the bathroom, stripping down and wringing out my underwear. (And of course, this would be the one time I didn't have a change in my carry on ... lesson learned. ) 

But here's the point of this post. My pants are made of quick dry Supplex nylon and they were dry in minutes. But what amazed me was how fast my cotton underwear dried.  While still on my body!

And now the purpose of the post. Sure, we've heard this before but now I'm really emphasizing it for my readers. Drink lots and lots of water when flying. Use lip balm and lotion to keep your skin moisturized. Consider bringing eye drops to avoid that gritty feeling in your eyes and a saline nasal spray for your nasal membranes. 

But especially drink water. And a lot of it, the longer the flight. 

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Museum For James Bond Fans in the Austrian Alps

In July 2018, a new James Bond museum opened on the peak of Gaislachkogl Mountain at an altitude of 10,000 feet.

Called 007 Elements, the futuristic-looking building, and its Ice Q restaurant were used for location shooting for the 2015 Bond movie "Spectre." In the museum, you'll find nine galleries, each with a different theme, plus a screening room.

The only way to get to the museum is by taking the 12-minute Gaislachkogl Gondola from Solden. Open daily from 9.a.m to 3:30 p.m., the cost for the gondola and museum admission is 54 euros (about $63).

Tickets can be purchased at the base of the gondola or ahead of time online. It is recommended that you wear warm winter clothing for touring the museum.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Model Aircraft Exhibition at Shannon Airport, Ireland

This exhibition went on permanent display in July 2018. It is the world' largest collection of die-cast model aircraft. The gallery is located off of the Departures lounge. There are 1,500+ models of military, commercial and other aircraft, each at 1:200 scale. The models are on loan from Michael Kelly of County Limerick and reflect his 30+ years of collecting.

Some of the highlights include the Spruce Goose, the Queen of England's personal BAE 146, and every Aer Lingus plane from its beginning to the modern day.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

New Czech Glass Museum in Prague

The Museum Portheimka is showing glass art by contemporary Czech artists. Located in a Baroque-era summer palace, in opened in June 2018. There are six themed galleries which hold permanent collections and there will also be temporary exhibits.

It is open Tues through Sun from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and the cost is CZK 120 (about $5) for adults and CZK60 for seniors.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Coastal Pacific Train Service To Be Restored in New Zealand

The Coastal Pacific is a train that connects Christchurch and Picton on the northeast coast of New Zealand's South Island. It went out of service because of track damage from the 2016 Kaikoura earthquake.

Repairs are almost complete and the route is scheduled to open in December of 2018. The trip from Christchurch to Picton takes about 7 hours, travels along the coast, and stops in Rangiora, Kaikoura, and Blenheim.

A flexible pass can be purchased which allows hop on hop off privileges on one day of travel and costs NZD 159 (about $107). 

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

New National Parks in Chile in 2018

On the Corcovado Gulf, in the south-central regions, Parque Pumalin is 715,000 acres of coastal and Andean terrains and includes flora and fauna that are endangered. There are many hiking trails and campsites within the park.

The other park is south of Pumalin, Parque Nacional Milimoyu. It had been a nature preserve and is heavily forested. It gets its name from the 7,800-foot Melimoyu active volcano and the park, which shows very little human activity, includes marine regions that whales and dolphins call home.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Hurricane Guarantee For Cayman Island Accommodations

Some hotels in the Cayman Islands offer a hurricane guarantee to their customers. This allows the guest to cancel or rebook for a later date with no penalty if there is a hurricane warning within 48 hours of their stay.

You can check to see if your accommodation participates in the guarantee by visiting and click the link on that page.

The Cayman Islands has been offering this guarantee for several years during the hurricane season which officially runs from June 1 to Nov 30. Be sure to check the participating accommodation list because it can change year to year.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Air Canada's Smartphone App Data Breach

This data breach may have resulted in the theft of personal information from thousands of customers, including passport information. Authorities are investigating but don't know how it happened or who was responsible. All they did do was confirm that Air Canada has a weak customer password system.

All customers who have an account with Air Canada are being asked to reset their passwords using the new and more stringent guidelines.

This breach only applies to the app. It does not apply to anyone using the website. Also, credit card numbers are encrypted and were not listed in the data stolen.

Friday, September 21, 2018

What Happens When Your Flight Disappears From the Airline's Schedule

Good question. And one I just recently had to deal with. So what can you do? Basically, nothing!

We are traveling to SE Asia next year. The outbound air was easy. We are flying into Hong Kong first for a few days and I was able to get Business Class on Cathay Pacific with American Airlines miles  :)

From HKG we then fly to Saigon and with an alert set up on, I was able to grab a flight for $217 pp.

But planning the return was agonizing. Part of the problem was trying to decide if we go straight home or head off to one of the Thai beaches for a couple of days and/or spend some time in Singapore. That meant some research and while I used to enjoy sitting at my computer, digging through links, looking for the neat hotels and best things to do ... well, not so much anymore.

I started to do some research on the Thai island of Koh Samui. Which hotel? Which beach? I started to do some research on Singapore. Which hotel? What to see/do? I became overwhelmed. Because a couple of months on either side of our SE Asia trip are cruises and those ports of call require research and planning too. So in the end, decided we'd come straight home from Bangkok.

Air from BKK to home was cumbersome. Lousy departure times. Long layovers. Unless we wanted to pay exorbitant prices. I had enough miles to get Main Cabin on AA from HKG to home. For this long a flight we wanted Premium Economy so I figured I'd get the mileage seats then pay to upgrade to PE. Should be no problem. After all, we did just that on Delta last year. So the plan was to fly BKK to HKG, stay overnight near the airport, and fly home the next day on America in PE seats.

Called AA and guess what? You can't pay to upgrade on AA. So I'm now back at square one.

More air research. Pros and cons of flying all the way from BKK or stopping overnight in HKG. The big disadvantage of the later is that we'd have to go through HKG Immigration and Customs and then go through Security the next day. So finally, after many comparisons, found a flight on Air Canada that had one of the best prices in PE and a short overall flight time of 'only' 22 hrs. We would fly from BKK to HKG to YYZ (that's Toronto) and then home.

Now we come to the subject matter of the title of this post.

I get on the Air Canada website and the flight is not there!!! It was just there a couple of days ago. I know because I almost booked it at that time. I expected to get on the site today and find a price change but not the whole itinerary disappear! So I checked the segments. BKK to HKG. HKG to YYZ. The first could be done with now one stop instead of none. The later also had one stop instead of the previous none. So I called Air Canada and spoke to a rep. He couldn't find anything either. I told him I had almost booked this a couple of days ago. What would have happened to my reservation? He said we would have either been rerouted or we could get a refund. So guess what? There is NOTHING you can do except yell and scream (not helpful), accept the new routing, or ask for a refund if you don't like the rerouting (like a 22 hr trip going to 30+ and four changes of planes instead of two) and be, like us, back to square one.

Well, after more time on Kayak and airline sites, we now have our flights home. What did I end up doing? I got to thinking about why change planes in HKG? Suppose we changed planes in the U.S.? And spent the night at a hotel near that U.S. airport and next day security is a breeze because we have TSA Pre-Check.  Plus it meant only the U.S. Immigration and Customs which we'd have to do anyway.

I checked flights from BKK to Chicago, JFK, Newark, and Atlanta. What I learned was a big advantage of doing it this way, using an air search engine like Kayak, is that I got options on non-U.S. airlines. The end result? We are flying BKK to Newark on Cathay Pacific in PE seats. We will stay overnight at the EWR airport Hampton Inn 1/2 mile away and fly home on United the next day.

And the end $ result? Air Canada from BKK to home in PE was (when it existed) $1757 pp. Presently the only other viable option was AA at $1854 pp with BKK departure times we didn't like and, most options, with 3 plane changes. The air on Cathay Pacific from BKK to EWR, changing in HKG, in PE is $1440 pp. The flight on United is $126 pp and the baggage fee, assuming we have to check 2 bags, is $30 pp. With the hotel at $60 pp, the grand total is $1656 pp, $100 less than the Air Canada fare I was willing to book.

On top of that, we get to fly Cathay Pacific which is a top rated airline, we leave at a reasonable hour of the day (1:05 pm - Delta had flights leaving 1:05 AM), arrive in the U.S. at a reasonable hour (9 pm local time) and get home the next day at a reasonable hour (3:30 PM instead of midnight) for friends to pick us up at the airport.

Friday, September 7, 2018

Michael Palin of Monty Python Fame Donates His Personal Papers

British actor, writer and adventurer, Michael Palin donated his personal archives to the British Library and On August 7, 2018, they went on display in the Sir John Ritblad: Treasures Gallery. The archives include diaries, photos, and scripts plus more than 50 notebooks of Mony Python material, including unfilmed skits.

Entry is free to the British Library and it is open daily from 9:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Friday, August 31, 2018

Lonely Planet Publishes Books on Cruise Ports

In May 2018, Lonely Planet released its first-ever guidebooks about cruise ports. Titles available are "Cruise Ports Caribbean," "Scandinavia & Northern Europe," and "Alaska."

Each book has information on sights in and around the port cities, advice on booking excursions and cultural information. The guides cost $19.99 each.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Cruise Ships Leaving Home Fleets

Two well-known cruise ships will be leaving their fleets in 2019

Built in 1988 and holding 835 passengers, Holland America Line's Prinsendam will join the fleet of German cruise company Phoenix Reisen in July 2019.

Built in 1995 and holding 1,822 passengers, P & O Cruises' Oriana will exit in August 2019. No word yet on future plans for the ship.

Monday, August 27, 2018

New Roman Museum in Nimes, France

With more than 5,000 pieces on display, the Musee de la Romanite opened on June 2, 2018, across the street from the Arenes de Nimes, the ancient Roman coliseum located in that city.

Among the displays is a large mosaic, unearthed during the museum's construction, depicting the Theban king Pentheus being murdered by his mother.

Open daily at 10 a.m. Closing varies from 6 to 8 p.m., depending on the season. Entrance is € 8 (about $9).

Friday, August 24, 2018

Frankfurt "Old Town" Being Rebuilt

Before it was destroyed by Allied bombing in 1944, the Altstadt (Old Town) in the city of Frankfurt-am-Main was home to the largest collection of wood-frame buildings in Germany. A new, reconstructed "Old Town" has been built, with a grand opening scheduled for Sept 28-30, 2018.

The site contains 15 buildings constructed according to the original plans plus another 20 buildings (shops, restaurants, etc) in the appropriate style.

A guided tour in English can be booked at any Frankfurt Tourist Information Office for € 12.90 (about $15). 

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Change to Belarus Tourist Visa

Minsk Academy of Sciences
On July 25, 2018, Belarus increased the number of days that some visitors can stay visa-free from five to 30.

To qualify, you must be a citizen from one of 80 counties (the US is among them) and enter the country through Minsk National Airport (MSQ). You also must present evidence that you will be flying out of MSQ within the allotted time. 

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Limits To Stays on Easter Island

As of August 1, 2018, tourists who visit Easter Island (Rapa Nui) are limited to 30 days.  The previous limit was 90 days.

In order to board a flight to Rapa Nui, the traveler must present a passport, a ticket showing return within the 30-day limit, proof of hotel or other accommodation and the provided Immigration form stamped by the Chilean Police Investigations Division.

Stays of longer than 30 days can be applied for in advance. For info contact the Chilean tourist office. 

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Edinburgh, Scotland to Dublin, Ireland

 This turned out to be an incredibly long day. We did pass beautiful countryside and we had a ferry ride to Belfast. But the bus ride was long and then add to that the time at the Titanic Museum. We didn't get to our Dublin hotel until about 8 pm and we were tired and hungry. Not a great beginning to our Ireland tour.
More of the Scottish countryside

Approaching the ferry point to take us to Ireland

The Titanic Museum. Unfortunately, the inside wasn't very conducive to taking photographs.

And now the Irish countryside

Tuesday, May 22, 2018


From the outside ... this was a BIG castle
Today was a full day in Edinburgh. We had a scenic drive around the city and then the afternoon on our own. The bus dropped us off near the Castle entrance and afterward, we walked the street known as the Royal Mile. It sloped gently downhill (thank goodness!) directly away from the castle, as we strolled back to our hotel.

A view of Edinburgh from one of the gunports

Loved the idea of a dog cemetery

Looking down on just one of the many 'floors' of the castle

Giles Cathedral along the Royal Mile

The most popular non-alcoholic drink in Scotland

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Pitlochry to Edinburgh, Via St. Andrews

Well, the picture of our route for this one is a bit fuzzy but including it anyway,

We were moving out of the Highlands and heading to Edinburgh. Our first stop was Glamis Castle which is thought to be the setting for Macbeth and is the childhood home of the late Queen Mother. As usual, we were not allowed to take any pictures inside the castle.

St. Andrews Cathedral
 We then moved on to St. Andrews, where the game of golf started. We drove around the golf course and clubhouse and then had some time to walk the streets. Some of our fellow travelers headed straight for the clubhouse. We wandered the streets.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Our Day in Pitlochry

We had two nights in Pitlochry and this day was a day trip from the hotel. And, of course, it was cloudy and drizzly.

We visited Blair Castle, home of the Dukes and Earls of Atholl. The castle dates from 1269 and has some beautiful gardens. Unfortunately, we couldn't take any pictures inside the castle.

We then went to the Blair Atholl Distillery to learn about making whiskey and we each got a sample. Again, no pictures inside.

We were next dropped off in the town of Pitlochry, which was the foot of the hill our hotel was on. We had time to wander this charming town and then the bus was made available to take us back to the hotel.