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.

Jul 30

The London Eye

When I was in London I decided I wanted to ride the London Eye. Most of the reason I wanted to ride was that I had heard so much about it that I simply got curious, I do love a good view of a city though.

When I had booked my return plane ticket from London I choose to fly in the evening so that I would have some time during the day to continue exploring the city. But during my trip I had made some plans to go to the airport with a Contiki tour mate, but we were going to go after checkout time and end up stuck at Heathrow for hours. I got some inspiration from some other tour mates and reverted to my original plan and decide to do the London Eye. The London Eye is pretty darn big and moves pretty darn slow, but gives a fantastic view of the city.

I’m not going to really recommend the Eye though. It’s overpriced ($25-$30 then, 17 pounds now), yea it’s cool and I’m sure it’s expensive to run, but it was too much money for an overhead view of the city. I was lonely, you’re stuck in the pod for the half hour that it takes to go around and since I was alone it was lonely and boring – too much time around strangers and without friends. Finally, the wait, even with an appointment time the wait was too long, a half hour wait on line then half hour to go around. It was just too much money and took too long for what you ultimately got – a view of the city.

Jul 29

Booked my flight

I’ve booked my flights to Knoxville and Pittsburgh! Well that’s one less thing to worry about. Now I’m working on hotel rooms and rental cars. any suggestions?

For my first night since I’m getting in around 9:30-10:00 I’m going to stay at a hotel airport so that I can save a day of the rental car and the drama of trying to find my hotel in the dark. I’ll probably stay a night in Pigeon Forge near Dollywood and the Zorb place, then my last 2 nights I didn’t figure out yet. I’m considering staying downtown, but the hotel prices are a little higher then I really want to spend. I would rather spend money on fun activities then on a hotel.

Jul 25

Figuring out my fall plans

Well I’m up to plan “Z” now with planning my fall vacation, but I think this might actually work! I’m off for 2 weeks from September 12 to the 27th. September 12 is supposed to be my nephews birthday party so I plan to start my trip September 13. The details are rough right now and subject to change at a moments notice, but here is the plan:

Leave on September 13 for Knoxville, Tenn. What is there to do in Knoxville was my first question… Apparently there is some Civil War stuff there, which I’ll have to check out. There is also the University of Tennessee. Most importantly there is Zorbing, I love Kiwi’s!

I’m going to stay there until September 17 when I will fly to Pittsburgh to visit my friend who had a baby in March. I’ll fly back home on September 19. Then on September 20 I will drive out to Hershey, PA and meet another friend of mine to visit the Hershey Spa – after a week of running around I’ll be happy to visit a spa. We’ll return on the 21st, which is a Monday. Hopefully then I’ll get to relax!

Jul 23

1 Day in Paris

On my European Discovery Contiki tour we had a 2 night stop in Paris – 1 evening where we did a city tour and then a full day in the city leaving the following morning. On our night in Paris we did a city tour and stopped to go up the Eiffel Tower. The following day I had to do everything else the city had to offer. So what can one get done in the city of Lights in 1 day?

Our bus departed at 8:45 and took a little tour by the Arc de Triumph, down the Champs Elysee and were dropped off near the Opera House. I skipped the option of visiting a perfumery and instead headed to the Louvre. On this stop we planned to see the Mona Lisa and Venus de Milo. We tried to get a map of the Louvre, but they didn’t have any English ones which made it a bit difficult, but we found both. Neither was quite as impressive as I had hoped, but both were worth the visit. The Louvre was also worth the visit, I think the landings for the stairs were bigger then my apartment.

Next we were off to Notre Dame by foot where I lit a candle for my sisters baby. We had been doing the same route as some other people on tour so we naturally met up by Notre Dame and all had lunch at a little cafe nearby. It was probably a crappy restaurant by French standards, but we all enjoyed it.

After lunch Nicola (my room mate) wanted to go to the Musse Rodan to see The Thinker. I would have preferred the Musse D’orssay which we passed on the way to the Rodan, but as I’m not much into art I opted to go with Nicola and her preference. We had tried to use the metro, but apparently ended up in the wrong station, we think, and walked this distance. It was a fun exploration but a long walk. The Musse Rodan was really nice though, the gardens were gorgeous and The Thinker impressive. After this we figured out the metro and shot over to the Ard de Triumph. We had a bit of trouble finding the walkway, but did and then almost died trying to climb the stairs. The view of the city was great and totally worth it. You get a different perspective of the traffic coming and going in the traffic circle from up above. Just to prove how small a big city like this can be when you’re on a tour, we ran into a bunch of people from tour here. After that we had to walk the Champs Elysee and get some sorbet with some of the other members of our tour that we ran into.

It was now time to return to the hotel as most people on my tour were going to Moulin Rouge that night. I was also going, but I was going to a later show so when we returned I had some free time which I should have used to nap but instead found an internet cafe and called home. Then it was off to see Moulin Rouge and meet up with my tour mates at a bar nearby for out last night of the tour. It was a full day, but we did get to see a lot of what the city has to offer. We even got accosted by rude french men!

Jul 20

The Indie Travel Podcast

I’ve tossed around the idea of talking about this podcast for a while, the Indie Travel Podcast. It’s one I’ve listened to for a while, but never fell in love with, but could never quite place my finger on why.

Craig and Linda talk about travel, they have been traveling for a couple years now and work while traveling to afford their traveling. Like, I said, I liked it but didn’t quite love it, they’ve just seemed a little different from me and my style of travel, but some shows have been true gems so I’ve continued to listen. Well I finally figured out why I haven’t been able to click with them. Craig and Linda were discussing a book – Wanderlust and Lipstick. While they enjoyed the book they were a little irked at times by some of the US centric stuff in the book, they used the word “grate.” Once I heard that I realized I was dealing with a cultural divide with Craig and Linda and that was what was grating them in this book was what was grating me about them. If I recall correctly they are from New Zealand.   Now that I’ve figured this out I know where to go with talking about them.

They offer a lot of really usefully information about travel, particularly if you’re interested in independent travel. However, their personalities may not mesh with Americans at first. But if you can look past this cultural divide (aren’t travelers supposed to be open to other cultures?) and accept that they may do things differently at times then you can learn A LOT from them. So go ahead and listen a bit and make your own decision, you’ll learn in the process, I promise