Category Archives: Travel Planning

Suggestions for better travel planning, recommendations for travel tools and the results of my travel planning, both good and bad.

Coming Attractions

happy-new-year-sms-message-card_nyztjrgTRAVEL THERE: WHAT’S NEXT!

Just about the time I start to fret and wonder if I’m about to become the unwilling hostage of my pond, the travel gods smile on me and give me a peek into my travel future.  Here’s what 2017 holds for me – so far.

Wichita Falls, Here I Come!

OK, so Wichita Falls in March isn’t all that exciting, but Beth Moore is.  I’ve been enjoying her Bible Studies for almost as long as they’ve been available on video.  Confession, I watched the first one, A Woman’s Heart – God’s Dwelling Place, on VHS.

Perhaps you remember I finally saw the Bible Study Superstar in person in Wichita, Kansas in 2015, on a little road trip with my bestie.  Beth is compelling on video.  In person she’s riveting.  Her road show is called Living Proof Live and this time around I’m upping the ante and will also attend her You Lead training.  I’m about to get Beth-inized!

Bestie is coming along this time too, but I’ll also have a number of my Buffalo Gals Bible Study girls with me.  Road Trip!  Girl’s Trip!  Look out Wichita Falls!

My first visit to the Pyramids

My first visit to the Pyramids

The Big Trip

So, a few months back our nephew, Bassem, proposed to a lovely girl in Egypt.  Hubby made it very clear from the moment the engagement was announced that we would NOT be attending the wedding.  I complied obediently, because I knew the secret weapon was coming to visit in December.  Who could resist Bassem?  He’s as subtle as a freight train and as relentless as a Doberman Pincer, but also completely earnest.

Within 24 hours of his arrival, Bassem had Bill doing a 180 and I’m now researching round-trip airfare to Cairo in April.  I’ll see my first Coptic wedding and attend the reception at one of the famed Fairmonts in Cairo.  The schedule is still being hammered out, but a celebratory family trip to beautiful Sharm El Shiek is on the must-do list, while we juggle other possibilities like a short cruise on the Nile, a day trip to Alexandria and maybe a night at the luxurious Mena House Hotel in the shadow of the Pyramids.

I can’t even begin to tell you how excited I am about this trip.  I was in love with Egypt long before I fell in love with my Egyptian.  I’ve only been there one time before, but it was marvelous.  To return is a dream come true that I never dared to dream.

The Crazy Possibility

That should be enough excitement for anyone, but there is one more little possibility on the horizon.  I may actually have an opportunity to go to the Holy Land in the coming year.  It’s related to the ministry I volunteer with and a zillion things would have to fall into place for it to happen, but it is being discussed and I am keeping my calendar open.  Cross your fingers for me.

So that’s what’s up for 2017.  I have a couple of small trips from 2016 to cover in the next few weeks, but get ready to strap on your seat belt, because this plane is about to take off!

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Chasing Castle Intell

cesky-krumlov-69TRAVEL THERE:  RESEARCHING CESKY KRUMLOV CASTLE

Our day in Cesky Krumlov was one I will long cherish, but Museum Girl was mad at me.  My faithful followers know me and they know that as much as I love to eat, I’m willing to miss a meal in order to visit a good museum (or castle or palace or abbey etc.)  I live for museums.  I have this ever-growing collection of historical and artistic items in my head and one of my main goals in life is to expand it.  On this particular day, I abandoned my prime directive and I’m glad I did, but Museum Girl is still a little miffed.

An Absence of Good Intell

Last week I complimented Viking on their ground game, but I was a little challenged by them on the planning end of things.  Because they know what they’re doing, they don’t spell everything out.  They know things happen when you’re traveling and they don’t want to spend their days making apologies to disgruntled passengers.

This lack of information is probably a blessing to most passengers.  My husband was completely content with the absence of logistical information, but I was a crazy person.  I’m driven by that museum in my head and I carefully curate what I’m going to see.  On this trip, to a certain extent, I had to just let go and follow the guy with red Viking sign.

So in Budapest, I had no clue what spa I’d be visiting until I got on the bus with my fluffy towel.  I’m convinced I was stuck on the castle AND walking tour in Bratislava because the walking-only tour was full.  (Yes, I should have spoken up, but didn’t.)  As I planned for my day in Vienna, discovering where we would dock was like searching for the Holy Grail and even when I got someone to tell me where they usually docked, they were careful to warn me things could change.

Finding out what we’d see of the castle in Krumlov was pretty much the same sort of thing.  The UNESCO website was great, but how Viking plugged into that opportunity was like diving down a black hole.

Bravo Senor Frog!

Bravo Senor Frog!

Kudos to Norwegian

Since I pretty much hated everything about my cruise on Norwegian Epic (except going with my bestie and the day we spent with Sunny Liston, which is still one of my best days EVER) I’m loathe to admit it, but I loved their website.  Well I didn’t love everything about it, because I had some navigation issues, but they did have a section of the site devoted to passengers sharing travel tips.  (Yes, I read them all.)

Norwegian disclaims in large letters these are experiences of past cruisers and things change on every cruise, but I gained great comfort from knowing what usually happened.  I’m well aware things can change (did I hear someone say Josay?), but I like to be ready for what is probably going to happen.  The internet allowed me to research everything about a destination, but Viking kept the details, of exactly what they’re going to show you, pretty close to their vest.

Come back next week and we’ll stroll through the castle grounds.

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Filed under ART, Attractions, DESTINATIONS, International, Museums, Road Trips, TRAVEL, Travel Planning

Cesky Krumlov and the Czech Republic

Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic

Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic

TRAVEL THERE: SOME PLACES SEEM FURTHER AWAY THAN THEY ACTUALLY ARE

“Go” is an important word in my vocabulary.  Whatever the destination, I want to go.  I want to go to Tucumcari and Timbuktu.  I want to go on safari and I want to go shopping.  I want to go on a boat and in a plane.  However, I confess, given the option, I’ll go for the exotic every time.  Maybe not the inconvenient and uncomfortable, but exotic?  I’m all over it.

That’s how I ended up on a cruise visiting Budapest, Bratislava and Cesky Krumlov.  These aren’t cities the majority of American travelers visit, so they were ever so much more interesting to me.  I was particularly interested in Cesky Krumlov.

I Remember Czechoslovakia

Though there is nothing new under the sun, this old world has changed a lot since I was a kid.  I grew up thinking of gray-suited Soviet bureaucrats, each with a finger on the nuclear red button, as the bad guys.  Nowadays the bad guys wear turbans and are more likely to have dirty bombs than an ICBM.  I also grew up with a country named Czechoslovakia being mentioned on the nightly news.  That’s back when a guy in Poland, named Lech Wałęsa, was causing a lot of headaches for those guys with the red button.

In my twenties I was a regular visitor to West TX on Labor Day.  This charming little town, which is actually in Central TX, has a festival that celebrates all things Czech – especially kolaches and polka music. I crushed on one of the local folk dancers, lived from year to year with dreams of potato pancakes with brats and thought Brave Combo was one of the coolest bands ever.  (I’m over my crush, but I still love Brave Combo.  I still love the kolaches, too, but rarely allow myself the indulgence.)

When I first read Viking’s Danube Waltz itinerary, the inclusion of the Czech Republic gave me pause.  The last time I checked, the Danube didn’t visit Czechoslovakia  the Czech Republic.  Closer inspection revealed Cesky Krumlov would be reached by a bus trip from the dock in Linz.  That made more sense.

3l-x-6Other Viking Options

Perhaps exotic is not your thing.  If so, Viking has you covered.  If bus trips don’t do it for you, then cruisers are welcome to enjoy a walking tour in Linz.  I must warn you however,  if you take the walking tour, someone could get a picture of you on this obnoxious yellow tram.  I think it’s important for you to realize this.  The memory stick of photos we purchased on the cruise included a series of these tram pictures, some of them with close-ups.  Tourists beware!

If bus trips aren’t your problem, but you’ve never wandered around Austria, then there’s a shore excursion touring  the countryside around Linz and I would heartily recommend it.  Austria is gorgeous, especially when you get away from the big cities and wander the verdant farmlands dotted with small towns and onion-domed churches.  Having had the opportunity to do that, I knew I had to hit Cesky Krumlov.  On the other hand, having wandered the verdant farmlands dotted with small towns and onion-domed churches, it was very tempting to enjoy it again.

Let me tell you about the third option which was enjoyed by a number of my fellow cruisers.  I think they are crazy, but perhaps you’ll like their option.  We were on the boat with people who never never disembarked between the embarkation in Budapest and the final destination.  One of them was a delightful lady in a wheelchair and I got her.  She had no desire to maneuver her very cool motorized wheelchair through the streets of Europe, but she was so happy for her husband to have the opportunity.  She was petted and cooed over by the staff, and it was apparent she was thoroughly enjoying herself.

Welcome to Aqauvit Terrace!

Welcome to Aqauvit Terrace!

But she wasn’t alone with the crew on the boat during the day and the rest of her tribe wasn’t wheelchair-bound.  They just didn’t like all that shore excursion stuff.  They were having the time of their lives.  They’d gaily wave adios to their disembarking traveling companions in the morning and I have no idea how they occupied themselves while we were gone, but come lunch time they had the best seats in the dining room all filled up.  If there were afternoon shore excursions, they’d repeat the fond farewell of the morning and when we came back in the evening, they staked out the Aquivit Terrace as their own.  Fat chance having a drink on the bow if you didn’t have friends among the these shore excursion dropouts.

So, let me urge you, if your significant other is just dying to go on a cruise and the thought of enduring days and days of shore excursions makes you a little crazy, so ahead and go on a cruise.  You can go on a cruise, never leave the boat, and still have a great time.  Your cruise-loving companion will love you for it.

Well, we didn’t quite get to Cesky Krumlov, so I guess you’ll just have to come back next week.  See you then!

 

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Hotel Reservations the Old-Fashioned Way

holiday inn imagesTRAVEL BUG TALES: WHAT? NO EXPEDIA!!

Expedia and Trip Advisor are my friends.  Trivago and Kayak are my allies.  It’s no wonder people used to rely so heavily on travel agents.  Many more either stayed home or bunked with relatives.  Heading out on the road was scary.  Even with pictures and reviews available on the internet, I’ve ended up in some strange accommodations.  What my mom pulled off with Mobil Guides, her letter-writing campaigns and a few phone calls was amazing.

From Investigations to Reservations

Over several months of research, Mom’s itinerary would come together.  She and Dad would map out our route and decide where along the way we’d need to spend the night.  Then Mom would hit the Mobile Guide.

Back in those days there were not a million hotel chains with a gazillion locations.  You basically had three types of places to stay.  The top tier was the first class resorts and hotels.  Those were a bit beyond our budget.  The bottom tier was the mom-and-pop locally owned hotels and they could be a real adventure.  Everything else was pretty much Holiday Inn or Best Western.

Mom was all about Holiday Inn, but in those days there was no 1-800-HOLIDAY.  I can’t say for sure whether Mom actually made reservations for all our stops or not.  I know she didn’t when we made the trek back and forth between Georgia and Texas, because some of dad’s spontaneous choices were the reason she got Mobil Guides in the first place.  I do however know for our 1969 vacation she did make some reservations, namely in D.C. and Williamsburg, but it seems they also depended a little bit on luck.

See, you couldn’t check your GPS for traffic or TXDOT for detours.  Mom had to build room for ooops into her itinerary.  The speed limit on interstates back in those days was in the 80’s, so as long as you could travel on one of those you were golden, but there weren’t as many interstates in those days.  You also had to use state roads or farm-to-market routes and no one knew what that would lead to.

Construction was a nightmare.  Signage was iffy.  Detours were awful.  Dad once missed the sign to get back on our route and we traveled at least an hour out of the way.  Our travel days always began at the crack of dawn and Dad would call a halt before he had to drive in rush hour traffic.  With all these variables, we’d just keep an eye out for the next Holiday Inn.

The Reservation Process

I mentioned a few weeks ago Master Card and Visa were still in the future back in those days.  American Express and Diners Club were still in their infancy and middle class folks like my parents didn’t have them.  So when Mom did make reservations it was somewhat of a challenge.

To make a guaranteed hotel reservation you had to send a check or money order.  One of the benefits of the Mobil Guide was reservation procedures were often listed in the guide.  You could always call, but it was a long distance call and your reservation wasn’t guaranteed until they had the money in hand.  So, in much the same way that Mom solicited travel information, she utilized snail mail to get her hotel reservations.

Dear Sirs: Please find enclosed a check in the amount of $X to reserve a standard room with two double beds on June 3, 1969.  There will be two adults and two children in our party.  Also enclosed is a stamped self-addressed envelope for your letter of confirmation. Sincerely, Ruth Cave  

I remember the excitement we felt as the letters of confirmation arrived to be a few notches above what we expressed when travel brochures arrived.  The brochures just meant we were thinking about visiting.  Letters confirming hotel reservations meant we were actually going.

Are you loving your online reservations yet?  Let’s start traveling next week.

 

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Filed under Accommodations, Road Trips, TRAVEL, Travel Planning

Travel Research at the Library and by Snail Mail

The apple didn't fall far from the tree. Note the tabs I created for this guide.

The apple didn’t fall far from the tree. Note the tabs I created for this guide.

TRAVEL TALK: HITTING THE ROAD WITH HARD COPY MEDIA

My love affair with travel brochures began with my mom.  Last week I mentioned her love for newspapers, magazines and the Mobil Travel Guides, but that was just her starting point.  Inspired by travel articles and armed with her Mobil Travel Guide Mom’s next stop was the library.  There she’d find books about the places she was considering, but she’d also spend a lot of time in the reference department.

You Couldn’t Google That

We are so spoiled.  It’s not my job to figure out whether Al Gore invented the internet or not, but back in 1994 I was still in love with DOS.  I remember well the evening my new husband sat me down at a computer and forced me to use a mouse.  He owned a computer company, after all, but I wasn’t happy about the whole Windows/Mouse thing.  I had all my shortcuts at work memorized, so it seemed unwieldy to click through all those windows to get where I wanted to go.  Eventually, I got an AOL email address, but while I’d been using computers since way back in the 70’s, I just didn’t see them fitting into my personal life.

Now I google everything, but that was not an option back in those early days of my marriage and when my mom was planning our family vacations, it wasn’t even a pipe dream.  We had two sets of encyclopedia, we took both papers and Walter Cronkite gave us our evening update.  For everything else you went to the library.  Anyone remember the Dewey Decimal System?  Back in those days you could understand a lot about a book just by knowing it’s Dewey Decimal Number.

Good Old Reference Books

Pretty much everything we search on the internet today, we once had to find in the reference section of the local library.  From cold calling to travel planning, the library was your friend.  Things like business directories, atlases and census data were in huge volumes and it might take browsing several different sources to get the simplest of information.  If the data was five years old, it was good enough.  If you needed newer data or something more specific, you might have to go to the Central Library.  You might even have to talk to the librarian!

Mom would go to the library with her Mobil Guide and a yellow legal pad.  There she’d drag out volume after volume to find the addresses she wanted.  I’ve seen her list page after page of addresses on those legal pads.  Then she’d take the addresses home and  begin a letter-writing campaign begging for more information.

Let the Correspondence Begin

Dear Sir: Our family is planning to be in your area in June of next year.  We are interested in visiting ________ and _____________.  Please send us any information you have on these attractions and other places of interest in your area, as well as any events that may be occurring during our visit.  Enclosed please find a stamped, self-addressed envelope for your convenience.  Sincerely, Ruth Cave

Sometimes in response, Mom would get a personal letter from the destination providing answers to her specific questions and outlining other information she might be interested in.  At other times she might get a form letter and a couple of brochures.  Here’s the hysterical part.  From time to time, she’d get back a letter stating that if she’d like more information she should send a 9X11 manilla envelope, with X amount of postage and a check or money order for X, then they would send her what she wanted.  Can you even believe that?

Now you’re wondering why she didn’t just call these places and skip all this back and forth stuff.  Do you have any idea how much long distance calls used to cost and how cheap postage was?  She could send a lot of letters and stamped self-addressed envelopes for the price of one short long distance phone call!

Then Came the Brochures

Do I have to tell you how exciting it was to get those envelopes of travel information?  I can just hear myself saying, “Mom, we got a letter from the National Park Service!”  We didn’t dare open those envelopes without Mom.  Some brochures would be mimeographed.  Do you even know what a mimeograph machine was?  On occasion, you got a fancy four-color brochure on slick paper – or even a booklet.  We couldn’t have been more excited if they’d have sent us gold nuggets.

All these treasures would go into Mom’s travel tote, where she gathered up her information.  She’d circle words, put stars next to other things and put dollar signs next to the prices.  It seemed to me all of these activities were magic incantations which Mom turned into great vacations.

Come back next week and we’ll make some hotel reservations.

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Getting Ready for Summer 1969

My Mom's Travel Bible

My Mom’s Travel Bible

TRAVEL BUG TALES: TRAVEL RESEARCH BEFORE THE INTERNET

Hard copy travel information is still very important to me.  I print out all my reservations and tickets, not trusting my phone to deliver on demand.  I read and mark up several travel guides before every vacation and tote them along on my trips.  I will not head anywhere without a printed map, because you never know when your GPS is going to get confused.  However, I do most of my actual research online.  My mom didn’t have that luxury.

The Mobil Guide

The hardest thing for me to throw away when I cleaned out my parents’ house was my mom’s collection of old Mobil Guides.  Though the information in them was totally outdated, the memories of our travels with them are ever fresh.  I was trying to be practical, because I knew I couldn’t save everything.  Now I wish I would have kept at least one.

These guides were her Bible for travel.  She discovered them while we were still making those wild dashes between Georgia and Texas.  My dad had a penchant for getting hungry or sleepy at places that scared my mom and her Mobil Guides were her defense against his whims.

Dad would say, “I’m taking the next exit to find a motel/restaurant/service station.”  She’d say, “No you’re not.  It’s not even listed in the guide.  We’re about X miles from ______.  You can exit there.”  Then she would go on extol the virtues of the town she deemed appropriate.  Occasionally she’d even beat him to the punch.  “George, I think you should stop in _______ for lunch.  After that we hit a stretch of road where there won’t be anything for at least  a hundred miles.  You can fill up the tank there, too.”

When we moved to Texas and didn’t need the Southeastern States edition anymore, Mom started her collection of other editions.  Though I don’t specifically remember her using it on the way to Carlsbad NM or Houston TX, I am quite sure she did.  Our next summer vacation was to Washington D.C. and I do remember her poring through the appropriate Mobil guides for months in preparation for the trip.  Her elegant handwriting filled the margins and listings in the guide had circles, underlining, check marks, question marks and stars.

To Begin at the Beginning

By the time Mom purchased a Mobil Guide, she’d already decided where she was headed.  When it came to choosing a travel destination Mom and I were a little bit alike.  She wanted to go everywhere, so the only real problem was choosing where to go next.  I’m fully convinced that, like me, Mom had 10-12 potential itineraries floating around in her head at any given time.

As to her sources of inspiration, forget the Travel Channel.  All we had were ABC, NBC, CBS, PBS and in Dallas, one local independent channel.  None of those channels had travel shows such as we think of them.  There was Disney’s Wonderful World of Color, which sometimes featured a possible destination, and Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, which might mention a National Park, but that was pretty much it.

Print media was her travel source.  The Dallas Morning News arrived daily on our front lawn and on Sundays it included a Travel Section.  Whenever Mom saw something that interested her, she’d cut it out of the newspaper and file it away.  By the time I was an adult, that collection of articles took up a four drawer file cabinet.  The articles from the Dallas Morning News weren’t the only thing in there, because Mom and her scissors found a lot to snip.

For years the only magazine my mom took was Better Homes & Gardens, but once we moved back to Texas and she went to work, our selection of magazines grew.  The first addition to the list was National Geographic, so Susan and I could “use the magazines for school reports.” (Uh huh, sure!)  Then there was Texas Highways and eventually Southern Living.  They rounded out their magazine collection with The Smithsonian Magazine.

I’ll tell you more about Mom and her travel plans for our trip to Washington D.C. in the coming weeks.  Grab your Mobil Guides and join me!

 

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From No Vacation to River Cruise – BAM!

Budapest here we come!

Budapest here we come!

AT HOME IN HEATH: JUST WHEN I LEAST EXPECTED IT, A RIVER CRUISE

We choose to live a frugal life.  Sometimes we run into a financial boundary I find inconvenient, but I get over it pretty quickly.  At the end of the day, I love laying my head on the pillow of financial security.

Travel is a Luxury Item

In late December I asked Bill if we’d have room in the budget for travel in 2016.  Family concerns and budgetary constraints have dominated our lives for a number of years.  We’ve enjoyed a few vacations, but there have been blinders on our imagination.  I had my parents’s health to consider, we’ve built a house and there have been other issues.  Bill was ready to put travel back in the budget, but with limitations.

His first suggestion was Myrtle Beach.  I grew up going to Myrtle Beach and loving it, but on my last trip I was dismayed by the number of miniature golf parks and beach towel emporiums.  My memories of Myrtle Beach involved a cozy beach shack and driving to Calabash for fried flounder.  A few years ago with my mom, I discovered that Myrtle Beach no longer exists and I wasn’t crazy about spending the money to confirm it again.

To me, Destin sounded like a better beach target.  I started researching Destin and proposed several road trip itineraries, but none of them floated Bill’s boat.  So, we discussed other items on my American short list.  At the top of that list is the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island, Belle Grove Plantation on the banks of the Rappahannock River in Virginia and perennial loves, like Sedona.  Bill still wasn’t buying into it.  Then I mentioned Washington State and reminded him of all the places we’d fallen in love with when we were researching the Pacific Northwest for other potential vacations.  I was given permission to start thinking toward a fall road trip in Washington, which would include a visit to Butchart Gardens in Victoria BC.

Then There Was the Travel Show

Even when we are not in the market for a home, my husband loves walking through model homes and open houses.  I’m the same way about travel shows.  Even though I’m not going to put down a deposit on a cruise or a tour, I love to go and acquaint myself with the possibilities.  I love sharing what I learn here on my blog and enjoy creating wonderful travel fantasies in my head.

So, I went to the CTC travel show and brought home tons of brochures and spread them around my den to enjoy.  To my surprise, Bill picked up one of those brochures and fell in love with a price point.  A clipper ship cruise has always sounded intriguing to me, even if it wasn’t at the top of my wish list, but if that’s what Bill wanted to do, then I was all for it.

I called the travel agent and she gave me additional information about the clipper ship cruise with the great price point, but she also invited us to a Viking Cruise wine tasting event scheduled for that evening.  From the minute the Viking presentation started, it was all over for the clipper ship.  For several days my email box and my phone were very busy.  The bottom line?  Sandra Rubio booked us for Viking’s Danube Waltz Cruise in mid-April and she did it for a price I would have never dreamed possible.  If you are even thinking of a cruise, then I suggest you give Sandra a shout.  Her email is Sandra@CruiseTourCenter.com, or you can call her at 214-206-4488 or 800-447-4435.

I’ll be exuding my joy over this trip in the days to come and then I’ll give you all the details when I come home, but for now, I just wanted you to know who to call if cruising was in your future.

 

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