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Rick Steves Labor Day Travel Sale

3 Sep

I think that the Mister are just about done gear shopping but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to share the We Can Do It Rick Steves image.   So head on over and get your savings now. 

Trip Ahoy! is in no way affiliated with Rick Steves (but gosh darn it, we wish we were).

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Slightly Apologetic in Salzburg

3 Sep

I’m from North Dakota, a land populated by Lutherans.  If you don’t know any Lutherans (they aren’t very vocal about it, typically) let me describe them.  They are kind people but they frequently beat themselves up for not being kinder.  If someone gives a Lutheran a compliment on their shirt such as “I like your shirt, that’s a great color on you” they are likely to get an earful.  “This?  Oh, this is old.  And I think it makes me look kind of washed out.  I shouldn’t even be wearing it because it’s too warm out today but it was clean.  It’s not as nice as the shirt you’re wearing.”  After saying something of this sort they will find a way to compliment you a couple of times or leave the room in abject horror.

Typical Salzburger fare - not sure what it is, not sure I care. Let's eat!

Lutherans are also embarassed of their food.  They don’t want it to be too flashy so they typically cover it in some kind of Cream of Something soup.  The Holy Trinity to a Lutheran is Campbell’s Cream of Something, Cool Whip and Miracle Whip.  Let not a potluck be had without them.  I am glad of this.  When Lutherans have a potluck they delight in dishing out whatever is there and knowing that it will taste like what they had at the last gathering.  You know, except for that new fangled ramen salad that just showed up.  What was she thinking?

I joke but I love these people, which is good, because I am one.  I like to tell people that a North Dakotan Girl Scout’s cookie sales pitch is something like “You wouldn’t want to buy cookies, would you?”  Kind of assuming failure and wishing that this moment in the spotlight was over already.  Heck, I bought more than half of the band candy I “sold” and gave it to friends to spare myself this shame.  (Random aside, I just realized my band teacher’s name was Mr. Salzburg.  My life is not unlike a poorly written episode of the new Twilight Zone that no one watched.)

Durrrrr…  maybe I should get to the point about the Austrians here?  Well, I was reading a site today about Salzburg written by real live Austrians.  The Off the Beaten Path section appealed to me and I started to feel at home when I read phrases such as: “If you are in Salzburg as a tourist, you probably won’t be interested in any of the city’s sports facilities” or “Alas, since it is still in Salzburg, it effectively became a nice, but rather tame mix of a theater and bar”. 

I’ll be darned if their lukewarm enthusiasm hasn’t won me over.  I even read that Austrians are really uncomfortable with compliments.  They either are somewhat suspicious or embarassed.  These are my people.  I can’t wait to try their hotdish!

Oh and please read the wonderfully titled post they wrote called “Crappy 10: Things Not to Do in Salzburg“.  My favorite quote “Don’t wear Canada flags on all parts of your body if you are American.  It is ridiculous and doesn’t work.  Don’t worry: we know that not everyone of you guys voted for George W., and since Austria doesn’t have any oil, we can still love you without fear, no matter if you are Texan or Ontarian.”

Me and Seat Guru, We Got a Thing Going On

15 Aug

Any good travel guide or website worth its salt will tell you to head on over to SeatGuru.com.  There you can look at seating plans for your particular flight and pick the one you want and birds will magically appear and start doing your laundry.  I never bothered with the site because when I travel for business we’re usually booking last minute and seat assignments aren’t available.  There’s no fun in logging in to see what you cannot have, right?

Wrong.  I finally rambled over to Seat Guru today because apparently I’ve reached the End of the Internet.  And guess what?  There’s a whole bunch of stuff on there that’s useful… besides seats!  Cue the singing birds, it’s time for fluff and fold!

Go buy this owl doing laundry ceramic tile on Etsy! Click the link to get it. Amazing.

Seatmap for Your Flight

Okay, so this is pretty self-explanatory.  This is what Seat Guru’s bread and butter.  Pick your airline, type in your flight number and get the insider info.  Good seat, poor seat, seat from hell; they are all artfully detailed for you.  Now when you play Choose Your Destiny, you aren’t just blindly guessing.  Maybe you’ll actually get to sit in the seat, too.  Gadzooks!

Airlines

On the left navigation bar you can pick out which airline is lucky enough to serve you in-flight peanuts.  After selecting the carrier, you’ll get loads of information.  On the left, below the airline, the different planes they fly will be displayed.  You can click on a specific plane to get a seatmap, see the amenities and learn how many first class flyers will be avoiding your eye contact as you board.

The General Information for the airline has lots of information, in general.  Check-In, Baggage, Infants, Minors and Pets are the main categories.  So you can figure out how much your carry on can way or how big it can be.  Because I know that’s as exciting for all y’all as it is for me.  Jumping up and down yet?

Comparison Charts

Towards the bottom of the left navigation bar you’ll see links to Comparison Charts.  These suckers will give you a quick glance at what the airlines are offering, in general.  You can click through to the carriers or the specific planes you’re interested in.  I mean, China Airlines gives you a personal TV, don’t you want to learn more?

Travel Tips

There is such a wealth of information under this heading that I probably won’t be able to sleep tonight, I’m that excited.  But in all seriousness, this is really good stuff.  Researched, practical and updated advice from people who honestly travel.  You could do a lot worse than to browse through here and see if anything grabs your interest.  Examples include reviews of iPhone travel apps and guides to airports.

I Like What I’m Seeing

8 Aug

A couple of sayings come to mind when I think about art.  The first is that if the art is good it will make you feel something.  You may not like it but if you are responding to it then it’s good art.  The other thought is by Rick Steves.  He said that if the art is boring then you don’t know enough about it.

I’ve been trying to learn more about art in prepration for our trip for just that reason.  The Mister and I are making our way to the Louvre but we both like Impressionism a bit more, so we’ll be hitting the Orangerie (ohr-rahn-jzehr-ree) for sure to see Monet’s work there.  But this post is about the Musée d’Orsay and its fantastic website.  The Orangerie site is entirely in French, as befits a site for a museum in France, but if you click English in the top right corner you’ll get a PDF with all the particulars for visiting the museum.  Great information but then the Orsay had to kick out the jams with something they call Discovery.

The Orsay has set up a part of their website to really help you discover what kind of art appeals to you.  It’s magnificent, really.  It especially caters to those of us who like the art of this period but aren’t really sure about the terms or the artists.  Using Discovery you can view a work in the center frame with additional works on all four sides.  The top has a display of other works by that artist at the Orsay.  The bottom displays works from the same artistic movement and some will belong to more than one.  On the left are works from the same year and on the right are works with the same type of subject matter such as landscapes or modern life.

If you get caught up in one work then you can easily explore different aspects of it.  The tool doesn’t suggest anything either.  It doesn’t say “Oh, I see you like Rage Against the Machine.  We have some Joni Mitchell that you might also be interested in.”  Art is very personal and it lets you make the choice as to what you want to see.  I dig it. 

Even if you aren’t planning a visit to the Orsay any time soon I’d recommend visiting the site and finding out what art you love.  Angry Birds will still be there when you get back, promise.

Fly Like a Beagle

6 Aug

Do you have a dog?  We do.  Last October we brought home Henry and now all you dog people can shut up because I finally get it.  I was raised a cat person and I can’t imagine life without them but I have noticed a distinct difference.  Cats are like roommates.  They check in when you get home then they get back to what they were doing.  You interact with each other on your own terms.  They don’t need you but they like you.  Being loved by a cat is a pretty special thing.

Dogs, however, are like kids.  They need you.  They couldn’t be happier when you get home or sadder when you leave.  Their innate trust in their hoomins means we feel we need to earn it.  I’ve seen many a bump sticker that read “Lord, please let me be as a good of a person as my dog thinks I am”.  I don’t think that’s possible but I do think that we can try to do right by our dogs and, for that matter, all animals.

That’s why the Humane Society recommends leaving the animals at home when you travel by air.  They cite reasons such as extremes in temperature, issues with ventilation and being treated like the rest of the baggage.  So, in addition to losing our luggage, airlines have lost pets.  Animals do become ill, get injured and even die on flights. 

Boarding time at Pet Airways. Yet another reason that I want to be a dog in my next life. A rich dog.

Domestic airlines are required to provide this to the Department of Transportation and you can check out there latest reports here.  I read the one for July of this year and found that there was one injury and one death on board this year.  It’s fantastic that this number is as low as it is but… what if that was your pet?  I read the report of a pug that arrived at the Minneapolis airport in 2010 no longer breathing.  I can’t imagine how his owner felt when they opened his carrier.  You can read reports by region by visiting PetFlight.com which is an amazing resource.  They have information by carrier and suggestions for keeping your friend safe.

Despite all the cons, you may still find yourself traveling with your pet.  The best thing to be done in this scenario is to research it.  Petfinder.com, where I met up with Oona and Higgins, started doing a review of the most pet-friendly airlines in 2010.  Here’s the link for 2011.  At the top of the list is a carrier called Pet Airways.  And they are called that because they don’t have passengers, they have “pawsengers” according to the airline.  Everybody gets checked on every 15 minutes and potty breaks are available to the animals on the go.  It’s spendy and the routes are limited but this would be a really good option.  Everybody gets their own crate and their own bag of peanuts.  Okay, I lied about the peanuts.

Henry is not going with us on our trip next year.  Actually he’s bumming us out because we know we’re going to miss him like crazy pants while we’re gone.  I guess we’ll just have to teach the little buddy how to use Skype.

You Can’t Spell Tsar without TSA!

31 Jul

Yes, it’s a stretch.  But it could very well mean that the TSA, like the Russian tsars, rule while their people quietly grumble.  Except a number of Russians were executed for quietly protesting, not frisked.  And I’m pretty sure that there were no 3-1-1 baggies, no matter how annoying they are, behind the Russian Revolution.  Anyway…

Whether we like it or not, the TSA is still in power and we have to play their reindeer games in order to fly.  That means taking off your shoes, your coat and any metallic business that will set off the metal detector before you walk through.  It also means making sure your laptop computer is in a bin or in a bag that the scanner can easily see through.  Then there is the whole list of things that you can’t bring on board.

That list is fairly long and boring.  This may be why the TSA has created a smart phone app that takes the guess work out of packing your carry on.  Well, kinda.  If you download the My TSA app you can type in the name of the airport in question and then the item you want to bring on board.  And it will tell you if you should check it, carry it on or leave it at home.  Sorta.  It will give you a suggestion as to the item’s fly-worthiness but then there is some fine print at the bottom that reads:

“Even if an item is generally permitted, it may be subject to additional screening or not allowed through the checkpoint if it triggers an alarm during the screening process, appears to have been tampered with, or poses other security concerns.  The final decision rests with the TSA on whether to allow any items on the plane.”

So basically a disclaimer that means you might be able to take it but then again… you might not.  Which is not great.  It’s somewhat understandable but it’s not great.  Assuming you’ve done your research on what you can tote along with you, your expectation should be that you’re hunky dory.  Some inconsistencies among TSA staffers and airports makes it hard to know what will, ahem, fly.

We are told to pack our 3oz or smaller liquids in a 1 quart clear plastic bag.  But what if the liquids aren’t factory labeled?  Some airports may snatch them and some might not.  The TSA is working on getting everyone on the same page for situations like this.  While the scenario I listed is a minor inconvenience, when these issues are multiplied it results in a lot of disenchanted fliers.  TSA has also been credited with a reduction in the number of fliers as some feel the hassle outweighs the convenience of flying.  Increased communication between airports is happening and the appearance of this app and improvements to their website have made it easier to get information on requirements.  The TSA is a newer agency, started after the tragedies of 9/11, so maybe we are witnessing the growing pains.

I’m not sure what I think of the TSA naming puppies after 9/11 victims though.  It’s not just any puppies, I know,  but explosives detection canines.  And there’s no arguing that having a cute puppy associated with your group is much better than a body cavity search.

Weather with You

17 Jul

Oh, man.  I love Neil Finn.  When all my friends were frying their bangs and listening to New Kids on the Block, I was listening to Crowded House.  Of course, my sister is to thank for this because had she not been listening to them herself I’d probably have gone into the dark abyss of liking Nelson.  So I just involuntarily shuddered, who wants to know?

I found this picture online with the caption "Neil Finn - backup singer to the world's girlfriends". Obviously this person didn't know that in the US most ladies haven't succumb to his charms yet and are singing with Bon Jovi instead.

Anyway, Neil wrote a song called “Weather with You” with his brother Tim.  It’s on an album called Woodface which you should run out and buy right now.  I mean that, by the way.  Anyway, this song in particular has a couple of meanings in regards to today’s post.  The first is that during the family trip to Europe I had Woodface with me and I listened to it constantly, as one did with really good albums back in the day.  I let my Sony Walkman loop it and even now I know what song comes next.  This song in particular reminds me of being in Amsterdam on a boat with a giant Van Gogh sunflower on the roof.  And “Four Seasons in One Day” reminds me of North Dakota.  ‘Nuf said!

The other thing that this song reminds me of is the weather.  Wherever you go, there you are and there will always be weather.  Medieval travelers would go out in any kind of weather because that’s how they lived.  They had no idea if waiting would bring on more of the same or worse, so why wait?  Many a Britisher will tell you that there is no bad weather only bad clothing.

With that in mind, you may want help in picking out your clothing for whatever trip you might be taking.  No matter where you are headed I vote for layers.  It’s easier to remove a layer here and there then pack a collection of tops that will keep you – ahem – covered.  Having a selection of layers also gives you a few more options when deciding what to wear. 

Below I’ve listed weather sites that either I’ve used or I’ve found while doing my daily browsing of travel sites.  Everyone has their favorite but it’s good to use caution.  A weather man from a local TV station once told the Mister that any forecast is only dependably accurate about 3 days out, the rest is a very educated guess.  That being said, I’d highly suggest leaning on the historical averages, even if global warming likes to laugh at us when we expect any kind of predictability.  I don’t mind being laughed at, after all, I had flat bangs in the ’90s.

  • WorldClimate.com – This site is recommended by Rick Steve’s.  It’s pretty bare bones but if you type in the destination it will give you the data.  Remember that when you enter a foreign city you’ll need to use the local name.  Such as Roma for Rome.
  • Trip Planner: Weather Underground – This site is a favorite of the guys at 1 Bag, 1 World which is a complete treasure trove of information for the light packer.
  • MyForecast.com – Has good information but is a little less user-friendly than the two listed above.  The info is there and if you like digging there is plenty to find.
  • Weather Channel – When all else fails, the people at the weather channel still specialize in weather… especially if it’s gnarly and possibly life-threatening. 
  • Travel Planner – World Weather – This link actually brings you to a site to buy a book that I know some travel guides still depend on.  It gives you a bunch of information in one place.  If you like to have reference guides then this might be great for you.  Though I’m thinking that if you’re reading a blog you might have what it takes to get the info the cheap and easy way, like I do… asking the Mister.

TravelSmith is Good at Travel and Stuff

15 Jul

I’m super gung-ho about traveling light.  Did you know that airlines lose luggage for one out of ten passengers?  If they’ve never lost yours don’t you think that you are pressing your luck now?  I certainly do but perhaps you don’t and that’s okay.  More room in the overhead for the likes of me.

If you are on the fence it might help to check out the Carry-On Guidelines on TravelSmith.com.  They have a printable PDF with info for domestic and international flights.  There’s info on the max sizes and the charges for checking.  A great idea to put all the information in one place AND keep it up to date.  They also have packing tips but keep in mind that TravelSmith will actually want to sell you stuff because they are a business.  I mean, they even have links to the stuff they want you to buy in their sample packing lists (which, by the way, are cleverly sorted by type of trip).  What the what?  Are they trying to be profitable or something?  Holy free holy!

We all know what a website looks like so here's "Trip Ahoy!" in Greek.

Their lists are on the heavy side so use them with a grain of salt.  I don’t think that I’ve ever traveled with a robe and I’ve yet to be called a heathen by my travel mates.  I have our current list linked at the top under The List, if you’re wondering.  And if you are, I’m betting that you are just as bored as I am.

Lastly, the peeps at TS have a Quick Links section in the Travel Center that I thought was really helpful.  Info on weather, reading, TSA and the like are linked there.  I feel like I should order something from their site now since I got so much darn info.  But I’m going to overcome that urge for now by eating a donut.  That usually does the trick.

It’s Electric!

21 May

You know that I like gadgets.  After yesterday’s little love letter to my Kindle, I’m a little embarassed at just how much I gushed.  But I’m not going to take it back.  You see, back when everyone else started buying up their iThings I avoided the temptation.  Heck, I scoffed and scorned those that would need every song, every bit of info, every video at their fingertips.

Be glad that I didn't post a picture of some of the burns I saw when I searched for electrical "fun". Be safe out there, travelers!

That all changed when I got an iPod.  I’m not proud of caving.  Being just another member of a herd isn’t much fun… except when it is.  I don’t like being just another sheep with ear buds but I do like having songs with me when I want to listen to them.  I also like being able to learn things when I want, when I think of it.  In fact, I’m probably driving myself crazy and taking others along for the ride with all this info I’ve been glutting on.

But since I mentioned it… I did some research on taking gadgets with on travel and I thought that I’d share.  There are three different things you might wish to bring with you for power: converters, transformers and adaptors.  I’ve already bought two adaptors for our trip.  An adaptor simply adapts the plug so that it fits in the wall.  Pretty simple, huh?  But where do the converters and transformers that everyone wants you to buy come in?

Converters convert voltage.  Here in the US of A we use 110-120 V and in most other countries 220-240 V is the norm.  Most portable gadgets are ready to go with either current.  You just need the adaptor to change the plug.  However, if you’re running something with heat or a motor, the example that everyone uses is a hairdryer, then you’ll need a converter.  Lots of companies make converters with adaptors on them so your voltage and your plug are taken care of in one fell swoop.

The transformers most of us won’t need.  This is when you’re powering a bigger electronics device.  Maybe you travel with a full-sized printer and a dorm fridge, I don’t know.  These guys would need a transformer and I’m not talking about Optimus Prime.  These devices typically weigh a few pounds. 

For both converters and transformers it would be best to think about if you really need the sucker instead of getting it to be safe.  Somewhere down the line I’m going to throw my packing list on this blog but one thing I can tell you right now: if you don’t need it, don’t bring it.  This is especially true if you are traveling to an industrialized country.  Loads of people are packing for the “what if” scenario.  If you’re renting a car or have a staff, then okay.  But if you are the mule who be carrying your pack just remember that you can buy stuff when you get there if you find you really need it or have a memorable experience figuring out how to get along without it.  Remind me to tell you about what Mom and I did when we couldn’t find a bathroom in the Roman ruins.  It’s memorable.

There are some fantastic sites for figuring this stuff out but here are my two favorites are Frommer’s and Voltage ValetFrommer’s talks more about how power applies to the average traveler and leaves out the whole history of electricity bit.  Voltage Valet helps you figure out how to tell if your device will work or blow you into next week.  (If you’re a Mac user the power information isn’t on the device but on the charger itself).

For Those About to Rock

25 Apr
based on this, imagine my t-shirt collection

This post was inspired by listening to “Beat It” with the Mister last night while we drove to Brooklyn Park… because it was there.

I like to see bands live.  I also, apparently, enjoy buying their merchandise and the CDs of the bands that open before them whether I like them or not.  This might have less to do with how great the band that I came to see was and more with how much cash I spent on whiskey Cokes.  I’d hate to dig too deeply into my motivations here so we’ll leave it at that.

Something happened to music when we all stopped listening to the same records.  In the ’80s we all had Thriller and we all knew that Cyndi Lauper was so unusual.  They still play ’80s music at weddings because everybody knows those songs.  As we entered the ’90s it was less likely that we’d all know a song unless it had to with rumps, babies having backs or thongs.  So though we hear those tunes too, we feel more nostalgia for the crap music we enjoyed and less a rememberance of how much we loved that song.  When “The Humpty Dance” comes on, we don’t say things like “classic” or “genius”.  No, we say “once got busy in a Burger King bathroom”. 

So something you get when seeing a live show that you don’t get otherwise is the feeling of community.  Yeah, we’ve all heard the bed intruder song or heard Rebecca Blackwell “croon” about Friday.  It’s not the same as being a room with a bunch of people who want to sing along to a song because they intensely feel it.  I sing the “Friday” song but I mostly do it to antagonize my co-workers.  That’s not the same.

Back in the day musicians made albums knowing that people would sit around and just listen to the music.  Now their listeners might just buy their one hit song off iTunes and never really know what the band is about.  The more music we have and the more access we have to it the less likely it is that we’re all going to agree on a band.  It does mean that I’m a unique little snowflake because I like Young the Giant and you’ve never heard of them before but what fun is that?  (If you are hipster than don’t answer that question; your head may explode.)

Anyway, I’ve been thinking about trying to catch a show while we’re in Europe.  It’s kind of like when people who normally go to church take Mass in a foreign country, except my religion in music and my priests wear really beat up jeans and washed their hair in a sink.

Finding places to see shows of bands you like in places you don’t know, especially when the language is one you don’t speak, could be difficult but I have a trick.  Whenever I’ve traveled and wanted to see a show, I know how to find the venue where bands I like/could like will be playing.  I go to a website for a band that I know I like and see what dates they have had in that city.  Sometimes this takes looking at more than one band site but eventually you see a pattern.  This makes it less likely that you’ll end up watching a jazz odyssey but it could increase your band t-shirt consumption exponentially.

Brussels – Botanique

Amsterdam –  Paradiso  Melkweg

Munich – Olympia Park  Muffat Halle

Paris – Olympia Hall  Alhambra