May 08

Post Contiki Depression

Several years ago on one of the Contiki messageboards that I visit someone made a post about Post Contiki Depression, I thought it was pretty funny, and very true:

Welcome to PCD (Post Contiki Depression) also known as PTD (Post Tour/Trip Depression).
I’d say about 90% of people on go on a Contiki tour suffer from this illness when they return to reality.

Symptoms can include, but are not limited to:
* A 24 hour silence virus on your immediate return, because you realize that anyone who isn’t a tourmate, just won’t understand.
* When this virus passes you may then be hit with Myxomatosis, also known as the Rabbit Virus, because you’ll be rabbiting on about your trip so much people will think you have gone crazy. This time is best spent preparing a group email to your tourmates.
* Hallucinations – when walking around in public you may find yourself seeing tourmates in complete strangers. This symptom can also be grouped with the subconscious idea that you should be keeping an eye out for them, as ‘they might be late for the bus and should just only be right around the corner!’
* After a few days of constant storytelling to friends, families, co-workers, anyone who’ll listen, you may start ending sentences midway through saying ‘oh it doesn’t matter, you weren’t on the tour, you wouldn’t understand’.

These symptoms are usually followed by unwilling acceptance. Depression is the next stage when you realize the life you have come back to and that you’ll never see most of your tourmates again. The sense of belonging has gone. But around this time you should start getting the group emails and a flood of memories return. Contiki reunions are marked on calendars.

The best cure is to definitely have a goal, preferably another trip to plan. For some of us the pain is only harder when we find this years travel plans have fallen through and we’ll have to wait till next year instead.

It’s kinda scary, but this is pretty accurate. It always stinks when you return home from a vacation, but something about Contiki makes it a little worse.

One thing that Contiki has done that I think is really cool is that every tour has a “day song.” It’s a song that is played every morning and occasionally on special occasions during the trip. It’s a song that when you hear it after your tour is supposed to remind you of your trip, and it absolutely works. Here are my day songs:
Around the World by Red Hot Chilli Peppers
Hard Rock Hallelujah by Lordi
Rasputin by Boney M
Times Like These by Foo Fighters

I’m considering having a day song for my trip to Hawaii, a song I will play once a day on the trip to get us excited for the day.

May 06

Taking a trip with friends

I’ve traveled several times with different friends and it can be stressful. Figuring out how each person likes to travel and each persons interests and blending them is a challenge. I think all my trips have gone well, no had has said they wont travel with me again… I’m sure I’m not a perfect travel partner, and to be fair my friends aren’t always either. Just because your friends doesn’t mean that your good travel partners. A big part of making a good trip for all parties is reasonable expectations and planning together.

Last year I went to Disney World with Terye, before the trip I probably tortured her with emails about planning. First, I was figuring out a list of restaurants that we wanted to eat at, I was sending a little synopsis of pretty much every restaurant with review information. We were able to narrow that down to a reasonable list and I went ahead and made a variety of different reservations for us for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Then we worked on a list of attractions we did and didn’t want to do, but the most important was a list of our MUST DO attractions. This was the list that would allow us to leave Disney knowing that we didn’t miss anything that we really wanted to do. This allowed us to make sure that while we might not get to do everything we wanted, we wouldn’t leave with any real regrets. Terye and I did have one issue, it’s called mornings. Terye is not a morning person, she did ok the first couple days, but towards the end… Lets just say that I had to inform her that she wasn’t allowed to put the TV on in bed when I had already taken my shower. I’m sure she had some issues with me – like me nagging her to get out of bed. In the future we decided that we should go somewhere where getting out of bed in the morning is not necessary for your enjoyment – I’m thinking Las Vegas or New Orleans.

Planning my trip with Tara to Hawaii has also required a lot of planning. I started with the list of what must have been 1,000 excursions and started to break them down a bit and learn what Tara was interested in that I was also interested in. I couldn’t convince her that zip-lineing would be fun, but she’s agreed to take the helicopter tour. As the more experienced traveler I’ve tried to send her information about what to expect when flying and on the cruise. It’s good for things to be a surprise, but not all surprises are good. We still need to discuss the dining options on the ship as I hear it can sometimes be hard to get into some of the restaurants.

Here are some things to keep in mind when choosing travel companions and planning a trip. What are the eating habits of the person you want to travel with? If someone is the make every meal at home type and you like to eat out a lot, then you’ll want to discuss that. My sister’s friend traveled with a family who wanted to make dinner every night, but they wanted to go out every night – not a good combination. If the other person is a beach person and you hate the sand – another thing to discuss. Also, what types of activities do you want to do, art musuem, history museuems, major landmarks, photography. All these things are reasons people travel, and just because someone has different interests then you doesn’t mean that you can’t travel together, but it means that you need to discuss these things and find out if you can each compromise so that each person can get what they want out of the trip. If you want to travel together and have some different interests then consider setting aside time to split uop. Waiting until your on your vacation to have these conversations may lead to the end of your friendship. A friend of mine traveled with a friend once and their friendship barely survived, later on he traveled with a girlfriend of his and that was how he knew they could live together.

May 04

T-Minus 9 days

Since I last posted about getting ready for Hawaii I have “completed” my trip information sheet for my parents. This sheet has all my flight info, hotel info and cruise info, including phone numbers. I’ll leave this with my parents along with a copy of my passport and credit card and banking info – incase of emegency.

I also discussed with Tara some packing issues, like what needs to be in the carry-on vs checked baggage. Also trying to consolidate some of our stuff, which isn’t really working out all that well since we both seem to have gotten a lot of stuff that we needed anyway. I was working on my packing list today, it still needs a bit of work but it’s getting there.

This week I need to work on getting an idea of what type of dinner reservations to make while on the cruise and at what time. I also want to go through my toiletries to make sure I have everything I need. Otherwise I’ll end up buying stuff I already have and have too much of it again. I think I have 4 rolls of travel toilet paper, which I’ve used like once and now it just takes up room in my apartment.

May 01

The ATM is hungry

While in Egypt I learned about the hazards of ATM machines. I arrived on a weekend and the ATM at my hotel was mostly empty, I managed to get about 70 pounds out of it. I also came home to find a $50 withdrawl from my bank account on the same day when I tried to get more money out but when no money actually came out. My bank did reimburse me for that money. I was thankful that I had brought a fair amount of cash with me as well as some travelers cheques. My roommate Tara (not the one that I’m going to Hawaii with) had much bigger problems…

The day she left she notified her bank that she was going to Egypt so that they wouldn’t block her ATM card, they failed to mention to her that they already had a fraud alert on the card and the card was already blocked, opps! She came to Egypt and couldn’t get money out of the ATM, at first she thought it was just the 1 or 2 ATM’s, but finally in Aswan she checked the internet and realized that she had this block on her account.

 I went with her to get a phone card to call the bank and we tried to figure out how to work the thing, but it wasn’t happening. Then we tried Ed’s cell phone, that didn’t work either. Finally she as able to get through using my international phone – the 20 minute conversation only cost $60. The bank straightened it out and assured her that her ATM card would work, though there would be a lower then usual daily limit. We waited a few hours and went to the ATM machine – it ate her card – it went in but it didn’t come out and neither did money.

 Tara took it like a trooper and after figuring out the hours of the bank we went shopping. Back on our ship a little while later we ran into our Tour Manager and one of the ships crew. We were told that “the ATM was hungry,” not an uncommon thing at night in Egypt – ouch! The next day we used our little bit of free time before our ship left Aswan to get the ATM card back. We seemed to be interrupting the bank guy who was counting piles of cash, but we kept nagging him and finally got it back – but not before he made us walk across the street twice for photocopies. But Tara got her ATM card back and the next time she used it she actually got money out, she also got reimbursed for the cell phone call to the bank.

The lesson: don’t count only on ATM machines.

Apr 29

Bethpage Restoration, Long Island

Old Bethpage Village Restoration is an outdoor museum type of place on Long Island, think of visiting Walnut Grove from Little House on the Prairie. The village offers a variety of buildings where you can learn about mid-19th century village life – like running a local store, hat making, or running a farm.

It’s a nice place, but I’m not in love with it. I liked it more the first time I visited. There was talk of closing it because of budget issues. As a history buff, I think that would be a shame. Here is what I don’t like about it – it’s a village which means it’s quite spread out. It’s a long walk to the village from the entrance and then everything there is fairly spread out. While I understand that this is a part of village life, it’s a lot of walking in the direct sunlight and on a hot day it makes it a long day. I’ve been there twice and felt drained when I left both times. What is good about it is seeing how people lived 100+ years ago. Also, they have a lot of nice events – period baseball games, civil war battlefield reenactments, and other period things. If you’re interested in going I would highly suggest going on a day when there is an event scheduled as it will make your visit worth while. I do see some more promise at the village, there are quite a few buildings that haven’t been developed yet. Unfortunately, I wonder if they will ever have the money to actually develop them.

It’s a nice quaint place, good for children and families. Once you pay for admission their are little costs inside the village – unless you want to buy a drink, cookies, or candies in the period shops. I suggest wearing sneakers as the paths are dirt, apparently they didn’t pave them in the 1800’s.

Apr 27

Getting ready for Hawaii

With Hawaii less then 3 weeks away I thought it was time to start checking on some things.

I went to book the final excursion Tara and I are going to take while in Hawaii, the Helicopter tour of Kauai. I was debating between a 9:30 am and a 10:30 am flight, and decided to go with the 10:30 flight. It will be one of our only “late” mornings of the trip. When I went into the booking system it showed that Tara and I were scheduled for the Wailua River and Fern Grotto on Thursday, I was sure I booked that for Friday. I scrambled through my papers and found that I did book it for Friday. A bit nervous I called Norwegian to check on this, apparently there was a problem with the website and I was booked on that excursion on Friday. The girl then booked Tara and I on the Heli tour and emailed me a confirmation of everything.

I also called Continental to find out if it would be an issue for Tara and I to arrive at the airport at different times. While speaking to the woman from Continental I realized that we would actually be checking in online from home. We just have to make sure that we each end up with the correct boarding passes so we can get through security and check our bags.

Apr 24

Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!

The Berlin Wall…

I heard something recently that I thought was quite ironic, they’re fixing the Berlin Wall. I wonder what Ronald Reagan would think? The restoration is scheduled to finish before the 20th anniversary in November. Has it really been that long? I vaguely remember it happening, I was barely a teenager at the time, I certainly didn’t understand it. But I do now, or at least I like to think that I do.

In 2006 I had an opportunity to visit the Berlin Wall, I must admit that our stop there was overshadowed a bit by the World Cup which was in Berlin. About the same time we arrived at the East Side Gallery fans were getting out of the Germany vs somebody game and Germany won, the city was celebrating, the city was electric that day. We only had a few minutes to visit the Eastside Gallery of The Wall and if not for the fact that we were told the history of the wall before arriving, it might have just been a photo op. As a group I think we all looked at it as a symbol of the Cold War, and the evils of Communism.
 The following morning we took a tour of the city and visited the Checkpoint Charlie museum which brought it home. A saw a poster there which I think epitomizes the Berlin Wall, I’ve included a picture, but it has the Berlin Wall in the middle. On one side is green grass, a tree, happy people, people playing ball, flowers. On the other side there is no grass and dead people. Whether it was drawn by a child from the East or West does not matter, the sentiment is there, the wall was bad and it divided people and countries. The world and Germany is better for its fall. I think the world is also better for having kept part of the wall as a reminder of what it symbolized.

The Checkpoint Charlie Museum was very good. The layout of the museum isn’t the best, but it’s filled with so much good stuff that it makes up for it. It tells the story of the wall and the story of those who tried to cross it, these were people who were thinking outside the box.

While doing research for this post I ran across an interesting article, and something totally up my alley. An apt was just opened that had been abandoned just a few months before the fall of the Berlin Wall, and has been left as it was left almost 20 years. Do I smell a museum opening? Or maybe just some things that can be taken to a museum.

Apr 22

One Night in Trondheim

On my tour through Scandinavia we had a 1 day and night stop in Trondheim, the 3rd largest city in Norway, and a quaint one at that. The day was nice, but the night was quite interesting…

We arrived at a bar at 10pm and it was dead, people didn’t start showing up until 11:30 – 12:00. I’m used to bars starting late, but there was no one at this bar, except us until 11:30, that was the first sign that this was going to be an interesting evening. I had even considered leaving since it was so slow. There was a piano player who started around midnight and the locals danced, it was nice. But there was also 2 business men who were accompanied by a girl in pink who had to be a prostitute. She would dance with one guy, practically having sex on the dance floor. Then she would go to the other guy who was sitting at the bar and pretty much give him a lap dance, and he was enjoying it. This went on for a while, then she would leave for a few minutes with one guy and come back, then leave again. It provided us with a lot of entertainment. Once they left we concentrated on some other people in the crowd. Like the girl who flashed the piano player. Later on in the night some of the guys from the tour tried to meet some of the locals. 3 of the guys did get to know the locals a little better… Tom, an 18 year old, met an older woman. She said she was 30, he said he was 25 – she had to have been in her mid 30’s. But they had a good night and Tom didn’t get home until 6am. We sang Mrs. Robinson to him, but the humor was lost on him since he doesn’t know the movie The Graduate.

It was an interesting night, and I can’t help but wonder if we happened to have picked the right bar, or if this is part of the affect of having the sun up all the time. The vibe was more of a casual local bar, not the type where you brought a prostitute and flashed people. I can’t imagine in the dead of winter when there is no sun out that the locals are just starting to hit the town at midnight, and really hitting the town. The sun really does disorient you as to what time of day it is, and makes you want to stay up a little later and live a little more.

Apr 20

Evolution of a Traveler, Part 4

In 2007 I ventured off to Egypt, I wanted to see the pyramids. I found something much different when I was there. I liked seeing the pyramids and all the ancient stuff, but the difference in the culture was so dramatic, and often in a good way. The other thing I liked was that on this tour, which was with Contiki, we only had 20 people on it, the smaller tour size made a big difference. I should also mention that our tour guide was an Egyptian and he was amazing, really made us Westerners understand life in Egypt.

While cruising on the Nile we stopped in some smaller towns/cities. These places gave a glimpse of what life was like thousands of years ago. While technology has come here, there are satellite dishes everywhere, it’s obvious some things have changed very little. I guess when you live in a small town and have little need to travel a donkey is just as good as a car. Also, if you live in a mud brick house you don’t really need an air conditioner. Life seemed simpler. Even in Cairo things seemed simpler. Just build a building anywhere and don’t finish it, then you don’t have to pay taxes on it. It was pretty bizarre but it made sense once I had this conversation with Sherif, my Tour Manager:
Sherif: Poor people at home don’t do that?
Me: No, you have to get a permit to do work. If you don’t get a permit when you build you have to get it when you sell the house.
Sherif: Well here we just pass it down through the family, they don’t sell it.
Me: Well then the neighbors might call and report you.
Sherif: That’s not very nice.
I’m not ready to move to Egypt just yet, but I can appreciate keeping things simple. It seems that things just get more and more complicated here at home, and the more complicated things get the more there is a need to make new rules and regulations, making things more complicated.

My tour only had 20 people on it and we really jelled as a group. I wont tell you that everyone liked each other and that we were all one big happy family. But we were all friendly and everyone got along and many of us have continued to keep in contact in the past 2 years. I also felt like everyone in the group was always willing and able to help each other out. I think part of it had to do with being in Egypt, but also I felt that since we were a smaller group we got to know each other well and also had to count on each other a bit more. When I did my tours with groups of 50 people I did have good groups, but with the size it can be hard to get to know everyone (or easy to never get to know people), and even with a great group it’s hard to really jell as an entire group, you’re more likely to get cliques and they’re more likely to isolate themselves from the group. After this tour I’m more interested in trying to do things with smaller groups. A friend of mine did a 38 day tour of SE Asia in 2006 with Intrepid Travel, which has small group tours, from his writing I like Intripid. Groups max out at 12 or 16 and the tour company tries to help you get to know the communities more then Contiki does, both pluses.

In my future travel I’m looking to either tour with smaller groups or to spend more time in one place. I think if my tour had rushed through Egypt more then it did (I was there 10 days), then I wouldn’t have had a chance to get to know Egypt and the culture. Unfortunately, I have to work and I’m not rich in money so sometimes I have to compromise and that’s why I like tours. They get you to see several different places in a short amount of time without wasting a lot of time.

Apr 17

Hawaii by cruise

My trip to Hawaii is barely a month away so I thought I would give an update on my plans there. Tara and I will be sailing with NCL America on the Pride of America on May 16.

We’re flying out on May 15 to Honolulu and will be spending the night on Waikiki Beach. The following day we will try to spend a little time at Waikiki and then head back over to Honolulu to drop our luggage off at the ship and take a little time to explore downtown Honolulu. If we can we would both like to do a tour of the only palace on US Soil, Iolanai Palace. Then we’ll go back and board the ship, hopefully our luggage will have made it to our room by then.

May 17th and May 18th we’ll be in Maui where we’ll be doing excursions for the Road to Hana and to Haleakala Crater for sunrise. If we’re still awake after that then we’ll probably go to a beach for a while, or maybe some shopping. You can sleep when you get home, right?

May 19th we’ll be in Hilo and are renting a convertible to go see Volcano’s National Park.

May 20th is Kona where we plan on taking a glass bottom boat and hitting the beach.

May 21st and 22nd we’ll be in Kauai. Here we’ll do an excursion to Wailua River and Fern Grotto and also a helicopter tour of the island – Tara refers to that as the day she is going to die. She’s very excited she just has trouble expressing herself.

May 23rd they kick us off the ship. Since our flight isn’t until 8pm we will go see Pearl Harbor on this day.