Aug 19

The Tower of London

In 2005 I visited London on my Contiki trip. I had a long list of things I wanted to do, but only a day and a half to do them all so I had to pick selectively. I decided the second thing (the first was the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace) I wanted to do was the Tower of London because I wanted to see the crown jewels. I’m really not into jewels for myself, but they are fun to look at.

Shortly after I got there a tour was starting with one of the Yeoman/Beefeater so I took that tour. The first thing I remember learning was what their uniform means, or what the insignia “EIIR” means – Elizabeth The Second Reigns. This insignia will change when there is a new monarch in England. I distinctly remember it being a cool and rainy day (shocking!) in London, and it rained during the tour. But the Yeoman was friendly and continued on with the tour. The official records show that 300 or so people were killed or tortured in the Tower of London, but they found the remains of over 1000 people under the church, hmmmm. Today the moat is empty, apparently stuff tends to accumulate there when it has water so they leave it empty. Rumor has it that the Tower is haunted, the most haunted building in all of London. I didn’t see any ghosts, but then they might just know that I’m afraid of them and steared clear of me.

After my tour, which was excellent and informative about British history, I went to see the crown jewels. They don’t advertise it, but I believe they’re all copies. But it was still fun and interesting to see, they are quite impressive. I didn’t know that there are different crowns, they don’t all wear the same crown to the coronation. They’re all quite similar but there were so many different ones that it actually became confusing.

In hind site I don’t know that I would put the Tower of London as my first thing to see, or even my second. I’m kinda sorry that I missed Westminster Abby, I suppose that just means that I have to get back to London one of these days. But the Tower of London is worthy of a top 5 things to do in London, so if you have more then 1 day in London, add it to your list.

Aug 17

From a Town known as Oyster Bay Long Island…

..Rode a boy with a 6 gun in his Hand… From Billy Joel’s Ballade of Billy the Kid.

Oyster Bay is an interesting little town on the North Shore of Long Island. There’s a beach and some historical sights, what more could you want? It’s not a bad little place to spend the day if you want to see a smaller town on Long Island that isn’t too suburbanized. While there is some strip malls, they hold a lot of the necessary places – grocery store, drug store, Dunkin Donuts. You wont find large box stores here, and there is a small downtown district so it has a quaint feel to it. And if you’re looking for stars, go to Stop and Shop and maybe Branjolina will show up.

I’ll start with some historical sites: Teddy Roosevelt’s house, Sagamore Hill is in Oyster Bay Cove, it’s a very nice National Historic Site. Visiting the house is by tour only, which are conducted regularly throughout the day and only cost $5. Check their website for operating hours. If you’re stuck waiting for your tour there are a few other things to do there – take a walk, Sagamore Hill is in a lovely woody area and walking paths. There is also another museum on the property about Teddy. Of interest in Oyster Bay is the talk of building a Theodore Roosevelt museum in Oyster Bay, though I’m not sure of the status of it.

Raynham Hall is another museum in Oyster Bay. Raynham Hall is the former home of the Townsend family and features the history of the American Revolution and Victorian Times. There is also a Railroad museum in the works for the town.

The beach. Oyster Bay has a quaint little beach, it has a view of Centre Island and its mansions, always fun to look at. There are tennis courts, handball courts, a playground for children and the Oyster Bay marina with some lovely boats to look at. I enjoy taking a walk at the beach when I’m in the area. The one problem with the beach is that it is VERY rocky. If you’re not interested in going in the water you’re better off hanging out at a grassy area and avoiding the rocky sand. If you need to park and don’t want to pay the fee, there is some parking near the old train station at the end of Audrey Avenue.

There are no hotels in Oyster Bay, the closest one would be in East Norwich, but I believe it is closing if it hasn’t already.

Dining – For a diner type of restaurant I recommend Taby’s on Main Street. The prices are reasonable, better then many other diners on Long Island, the portions large and the food is fresh and consistently very good. There is also Canterbury Ales which is popular with the locals. They have a bar and are a little pricier. Oyster Bay Clam Bar has a good reputation though I’ve never eaten there. If you want some quick pizza or pasta you can try Mario’s, I don’t love their pizza, but the have fantastic ravioli.

Aug 14

California Highlights Part 7 – Los Angeles

This morning we had breakfast at the hotel and headed to LA. It was about a 2 hour drive to LA and then we got the option of doing a walking tour of LA (we were trying it out and if it was good Contiki might add it to the list of optionals). It was was, good info. I had been to LA and the Hollywood Walk of Fame area before, but I did learn a bunch of new stuff. We saw the theaters and the Hollywood Sign then it was back on the bus and off to Venice Beach.

At Venice Beach we saw a glass walker and I got to help with his show. Let me tell you, the plastic lobster freaked me out for some reason, almost as bad as the guy walking on the glass. Venice was interesting, muscle beach and rollerblading guy with the guitar. But we had a nice lunch.

After Venice Beach we dropped a couple people off at LAX since this was the end of the tour. The rest of us headed down to our hotel in Anaheim. We all settled in to our rooms and went to dinner then the hotel bar for drinks. We had a lot of fun together for our last night, it was sad saying our last goodbyes and reminiscing about the trip.

The next morning I was up early and off to the airport to fly home…

Aug 14

Update on fall travel

I’ve been meaning to post this, but my job has been very demanding of my time lately, hopefully next week will be better. But here is an update on my fall travel.

I have all my hotels booked, I even have two booked in Knoxville. I’m debating staying at the downtown Holiday Inn or an independent downtown hotel – the hotel St. Oliver. While it’s budget, it seems quirky and to have personality. It’s also cheaper, and in a good location (I think). I haven’t made the decision officially, but I have some time. I am leaning toward the St. Oliver.

I’ve also got a car rental secured, unfortunately it’s much more expensive then I thought. I’m playing around on priceline though trying to find something cheaper, but I doubt I’ll save much money, but I’ll keep trying.

Aug 12

California Highlights Part 6 San Fran to Santa Barbara

This morning we boarded the bus and headed down to Santa Barbara. We arrived in Santa Barbara in the early afternoon and walked around Sterns Warf and some of the stores on State Street. I wasn’t overly impressed with Santa Barbara, not much there and kinda expensive.

After Sterns Warf we went to the hotel, which was very nice and a bunch of us went in the hot tub to chill out for a bit. We had dinner at the hotel and then we headed out to some bar in Santa Barbara where we played pool, danced and generally had a good time. The bar closed at 2am so at 1:30 they had last call and at 1:45 told everyone to get the fuck out, it was great! We call cabs to get back to the hotel and hung out in someone’s room for a while talking. We had found out earlier that 2 people on our tour were actually Tour Managers in Europe with Contiki so I got a couple tips from them for future trips.

Aug 10

California Highlights Part 5 – More San Fran

The first thing we had to do this morning was say goodbye to the those who had done the LA to the Bay tour, this was the end of their tour. Then we were off to breakfast (the best breakfast of the tour) at Pier 39 and then take the 9am ferry to Alcatraz. After breakfast we had some time to goof off and take some silly picture.

At Alcatraz we did one of those tours where you rent the headphones and it tells you stuff, I found this whole thing exciting since I was interested in prisons when I was in college. This was a highlight of my trip. We also went on part of a live tour of the underground that the Military had used before it was a Federal Prison.

After Alcatraz we went over to the Ghirardelli factory shopping center thing, which was very nice. After that I was starving so my group broke off and I went off with the kookie guy from Vegas for lunch. We ended up at some quaint little restaurant where the guy working their thought we were a couple, then thought we were with a church group, then that we were gay. It was an interesting lunch. Then we headed up to Lombard Street where we ran into other people from the tour, it’s amazing how small a city becomes when you’re on a tour. At this point I went back to sightseeing with my regular group and we headed off to Chinatown on the cable cars. It was a nice ride through the city. After Chinatown we saw some other stuff, Coit Tower, Washington Church (I think that’s the name), and the Trans American Pyramid.

After touring the city we went back to the hotel to chill a bit then went to dinner with a bunch of people, after wandering a bit we finally found a place to eat. After dinner some went in the hotel hot tub and there was a room party where I heard some guy in the hotel had been arrested while someone on the tour was on the phone with his mother in Australia. Good times had by all!

Aug 07

California Highlights Part 4 – San Fran

We were up early for breakfast and the drive to San Francisco. All I really remember about the drive to San Fran was watching The Rock in honor of our visit to San Fran. Once in town we were dropped off at Pier 39 to get lunch and walk around a bit. Finding something for lunch was tough since I’m not much of a fish eater, I eventually broke down and had some fried shrimps. We also did some shopping and I bought an awesome shirt to wear to dinner that night.

After we were picked up from Pier 39 we were taken on a city tour. We went to our hotel then and were given some time to chill out before going to the optional dinner in Chinatown. I went out with a couple people around San Fran in our free time, we saw their City Hall which was a nice building. Then we went back and got ready for dinner. On the way to dinner we took a cable car into Chinatown. The dinner was ok, I distinctly remember someone at my table insulting the staff by refusing the soup, apparently that’s not appropriate. It turned into an amusing cultural exchange.

After dinner we all went to a bar not too far from Chinatown. After that I went home in a cab with a couple people and the rest went to a club.

Aug 05

California Highlights Part 3 – Yosemite

After breakfast we were off to beautiful Yosemite National Park for some hiking. Hiking? I thought this was a vacation? A couple of us decided to do the Upper Yosemite Fall Trail hike to Columbia Rock, but ended up going almost to the top of Upper Yosemite Fall…

As we got close to the top A.J. (my roommate) and I decided to head back down as it was getting late and we were getting tired. We ran into Bon (our very cool driver) on the way down and finished hiking down with her. By the time we got down we only had time for a quick snack, which sucked since we were hungry. We we got back to the Chalets a couple people did laundry and a couple of us headed to the hot tub, it was the only water sports we could do since it was winter, but it was nice to relax.

Tonight we had to make our own dinners, which meant going to the grocery store to get something to make in the kitchen, unless you wanted to spend a lot of money at the restaurant in the chalet village. We bought some microwave type stuff and ate in the Chalet.

After dinner we went to a room party at one of the Chalets.

Aug 03

California Highlights part 2

I was up around 6am to get ready and get to the Hotel where the tour would leave. When I arrived I found out I was early. I had to wait a bit to meet the Tour Manager, Dan, who sent me with coupons to get some breakfast. After breakfast I got on the bus and met Ty, who was still drunk from the night before and a couple other people. Apparently a bunch of people had stayed out all night, so I knew this was going to be a good tour!

Las Vegas was the end of the tour for those doing Western Highlights, and the beginning for those of us doing the California Highlights. In honor of us everyone had to do introductions then Dan played the day song – Around the World by Red Hot Chili Peppers. While we were on our way to Yosemite I got to see the worlds largest thermometer and windmills designed to generate electricity, which I think look kinda cool. After 2 or so hours of driving we had our first stop at an outlet center, I did some shopping (bought some sandals) and had lunch at In N Out Burger, a good opportunity to get to know people on the tour.

After that we were back on the bus and on the way to Yosemite. Our hotel for the next two nights would be Chalets on Bass Lake. The Chalets were cool, each had a kitchen and living room on the main floor, an upstairs loft and downstairs was a bedroom with two beds and a bathroom. The only drawback was that there was 4 to a Chalet so you had to juggle 4 people into the bathroom in the morning to get ready.

When we got in we had dinner at the hotel, another opportunity to get to know people. After dinner we hit the bar for drinks.

Jul 31

Going back in time – California Highlights

I currently have a website that I had posted travelblogs about my past contiki trips. This winter I have to renew the domain name and extend my service for the webspace. For a variety or reasons I don’t think I’m going to do that. However, there is tons of information that I spent a LOT of time on in the past writing up. I’ve decided that I’m going to add those blogs here as a place to store them for posterity and enjoyment. I’m going to start with my California Highlights trip – Las Vegas, Yosemite, San Fran, Santa Barbara and LA. This is the shortest travelogue with the least depth, but my notes from the trip were lacking so it was the best I could do when I was writing it 3 years later.

So here will be my first post from the that trip….

Prior to my tour I had a day in Vegas, this was pretty cool since it was my first time in Vegas. Too bad I was alone. I flew in around 10am and quickly made my way to the MGM Grand. I had decided to stay at a big Vegas casino since it was my first time there. The MGM Grand was very nice and HUGE. After checking in I explored the MGM Grand, figured out that the hotel where the tour left from was too far to walk, and headed to see Mandalay Bay, Luxor, Excalibur, and New York New York. Mandalay Bay was nice, but I ended up walking forever to NOT see the beach or go in the shark reef, then had to walk back. I thought Luxor and New York New York were great themes. I took the roller coaster at New York New York, it was around $15 and only worth it since I wouldn’t have to do it again, ever. I’ve been on much better roller coasters. I had trouble getting out of Excalibur, which was annoying.

After that I took a nap since I had a cold and I had been up early in the morning. When I got up I trekked up the other end of the strip. I stopped in Bellagio, very nice! I stopped to watch the water show, which was neat. Then I took the tram between Mirage and TI (Treasure Island). Then I had dinner at TI and watched the pirate show which was entertaining. After that I headed back to the MGM Grand, finally getting to see the Volcano at Mirage. My last stop was a slot machine at the MGM Grand where I made $20! I was in bed around midnight.