Travel

There are somethings in life that VR will just not replace. One such thing is the experience of a Contiki tour. Or can it? I just read an article on Travel Week where with $149 for 3 hours you can experience a 3D VR experience of world wonders like Oktoberfest in Germany.

I’m sorry but there is nothing close to Oktoberfest in Germany then…

Oktoberfest in Munich
Oktoberfest in Munich

Not Even…

Oktoberfest in Kitchener-Waterloo
Oktoberfest in Kitchener-Waterloo

I have been on 3 and soon to be 4 Contiki Europe trips, and the experiences you get from days with people from all over the globe just cannot be virtually obtained. Especially the smells of cities like London, Paris, Rome, Venice are also part of the experience. Travelling is to me about the experience more so then just seeing the sites.

Check it out here http://www.contiki.com/virtually-unlimited

Note: I wrote this post before visiting the actual Contiki site about this.

Travel

Voyage to the Caribbean – Part 3 (2 Days, 1.5 Islands, 0 Plans, 0 Disappointments)

So as we left off last time I had finely made it to the ship with my luggage and we were on our way.

I spent the first night expiring the ship and visiting every nook and cranny that I could. It was a very interesting group of people who I was seated with in the dining room. Then I went to the Ivan Hoe Theatre for the welcome show which was amazing and caught the end of the sail away party on the Lido deck.

On the second day it was a stop in St. Thomas on the US Virgin Islands. Let’s just say that I enjoyed myself greatly the previous night and on my list was to get some Advil as I had not packed any. I started wandering around the cruise terminal area and did not find anything overly interesting so I started to walk further down the street until I seen the sign for a K-Mart. It must have been 20 years since I last seen one of those places.

I proceeded to the K-Mart and it was a 2 story shop and was air-conditioned so I browsed every isle for about a half and hour and bought 1.5L bottle of water and a bottle of Advil. I then decided to walk back to the ship and then do nothing and enjoy the sun as the Advil kicked in.

On the way back to the ship I ran into a man offering a taxi tour of the island. Guaranteeing it was one of the best island tours. He asked where I was from an after telling him I was from Canada he pointed to the other people he had crowded up were also from Canada. After some hesitation I agree to take the tour. We get into the van and start driving around as he points out things of interest along the way. He was very knowledgeable and very funny and kept everyone laughing most of the time.

After we left town we went to the first stop where we would get out to take pictures. There was a man with an ass named Monica Lewinsky at this stop. Now I knew about thinks like this from the gladiators in Roma where they convince you to have a picture taken for money and for US$2 I get my picture taken with the ass. Then the tour guide offers to take group pictures for everyone, and then we move on.

The next stop was just up the hill a little further. It was the lookout at Drake’s Seat. Once again there was a guy with another ass named Lady Gaga. One ass pic was enough. The view of Mohones Bay was amazing from there. The next stop was at Coki Beach which was some of the clearest water I have ever seen. Then the to our ended and I went back to the ship.

I went to have some lunch and then played some trivia before moving on and exploring more of the ship, and trying out the pools. It was about departure time that we heard the alarm and they announced staff to staging areas and the doors to my hallway were closed. There turned out being a fire on the port side of the aft section on Deck 8 (or Verandah deck). That was when the rumors started. Everyone had their own story of what they heard happened. It was not until I was waiting in line for dinner from people who were in the next room over from the fire the I got the real story.

It turned out that there was an electrical fault with the lamp in the room. At dinner I met most of my dinner group that I would be dining with for the rest of the trip. It was a very big group everyone was a solo traveler just like I was. This is probably one of my best tips of advice for somebody traveling solo is to take the assigned dining option and not a flex dining option. This way you have somebody to talk to about your day and somebody to listen to about their day.

Next day was very interesting. It was our only day at sea on this voyage. I went to art shows and seminars and trivia sessions but then just spent a chunk of the day relaxing on the Lido deck. It was shortly after lunch when we had learned that there was a medical emergency onboard. The captain said that she would have to divert to Martinique. He assured us that we would still get to Barbados on time the next day.

It was very fortunate that we detoured as we were sailing away there was the most amazing rainbow I have ever seen. Then there was a meet the captain and crew formal event as this was our first formal night on the ship. I got interviewed on the ships TV station by the assistant cruise director and after that all the old women on the ship were saying “Were you the guy on the TV?”

Travel

While we left off on the last post I had arrived to San Juan but had no luggage as at this point it was still in Toronto. I got up later about 8am showered and went to the free continental breakfast buffet at the San Juan Airport Hotel. It was not the greatest of breakfasts but it was typical of other hotels I have previously stayed at. Before leaving the hotel I made a call to American Airlines to see if my bag was on its way on the flight I was explained last night. I was assured it was scanned and was in the air on its way to Miami. Since the bag was going to be delivered to the ship there was no point in waiting around the airport on a beautiful sunny winter’s day.

I decided to go catch the bus but when I got to the bus stop I seen some people walking so I decided to as well. I was not sure which way I was headed from the airport as many of the signs were in a language I would later learn was Spanish. I had a map on a brochure that had only 7 roads and 2 dots to go off of but I know if I could find the coast that I could follow it to the cruise port. Since the sun was behind me I knew that had to be east and since tall hotels are usually built along a coastline I figured the tall buildings on the other side of the airport had to be north. With that in mind I followed the side-walk around the airport until it ended then to the dirt trail along the fence until that ended too. I ran across the exit ramp and under the over pass then I ran out of places to walk. In hindsight that could have been the reason all the cabs had honked and gesture if I needed a cab. From there I climbed a grassy knoll and jumped a concrete barrier and ran across a busy off-ramp.

As I emerged beyond the highway to Pueblo Supermarket in the very Spanish town of Carolina neighbouring San Juan. I decided to go to the supermarket because I decided that I needed water in the heat. While walking across the parking lot some random guy started to yell at me in Spanish. I said that I did not understand Spanish and only spoke English. Then he said “I’m sorry. I said that Fatty should lose some weight.” That caught me first by surprise that someone would say that and secondly, what neighbour hood did I get myself into? I then sold him about my recent weight loss, and he gave me some more tips before we pith went on our way. When I entered the grocery store I was grateful for the air conditioning and then picket up a fresh local tangerine then noticed how processed and fake most of the other food actually was compared to what I am used to then I also picked up a litre bottle of water and proceeded to walk along the was westward bound to the cruise terminal.

As I proceeded along Avenida Isla Verde and found impressive the resorts and hotels on one side and the bars and restaurants on the other side. When I got to the end of this street I came across a stretch of  gated neighbourhoods keeping me from the coast until I came across Barbosa Park that was the 1st time I got to see Caribbean waters even though it was technically still the Atlantic Ocean. It was here that I received the first automated call from American Airlines that my suitcase had made it to Miami. I then proceeded to walk further until after drinking the entire litre of water I needed to find a toilet. I then came across a restaurant but it looked busy so I kept walking then on McLeary I found the Yogen Früz. I decided to stop there and get a frozen yogurt and then hit the toilet. I stayed there enjoying the frozen yogurt and air conditioning. I got some Wi-Fi access here and decided to load a map to determine if I was actually going the right way.

When I left here I shortly ended up in another hotel district. I was walking past a large group of people loading into a van to head to the cruise terminal and I could tell by the tags that they were going to the same ship as me. I got a little nervous as I knew I had another hours walk at least to get to San Juan. I eventually made it across the bridge to San Juan and then decided to walk to the coast again to check out the fort that ended up being gated off. At this point my feet were very sore since my walking sneakers were in my suitcase that was just departing Miami. I then by this point was getting tired and dehydrated. I walked down Ave Juan Ponce De León and came to enjoy the shaded benches along Parque Luis Muñoz Rivera. I found a store but it was locked and the guy inside did not open up so I kept walking. I eventually got to the cruise port and then found the CVS where I got water, juice, and Aloe Vera Aftersun. As I was waiting in line I started to feel like I was going to pass out. I left the store just in time to find a bench with some shade and drink all the juice and water before I passed not in the sun.

While on the bench I called American Airlines the final time to see if my luggage was scanned on the flight to San Juan and it was so I decided to go board the ship, the Carnival Valor. The first thing I did when I got on the ship was found my room and it was bigger than I expected for an inside cabin. I then decided that I needed lunch considering I had a late dinner reservation and I found the Burrito Bar, and it was amazing. I then explored the ship and received the call the my suitcase was in San Juan and would be delivered to the ship at 6pm. I then went to the welcome event at the Ivan Hoe theatre and then to dinner where I met a diverse group of people. I then had a few drinks and went to bed.

Travel

I decided fairly last-minute to try out taking a cruise. So I booked the Carnival Valor to add five new countries to my list. I went into the trip with very few expectations as the trip was strictly to add countries to my list.

I booked the trip with a travel agent for a change as I was finding it difficult to find a flight to San Juan, and I wanted to get insurance since the weather van be uncertain this time of year. I booked the trip with Maritime Travel since they seemed decent with their travel show the week before.

I got up early that morning to take an uneventful flight to Toronto and then experience the pain it was to go through pre-clearance to enter the USA. The flight with American Airlines was a different experience I had a good view of the wings and the screw heads all had cracked paint on them and it freaked me out. I had to transfer flights in Miami so I checked out the airport. I had dinner at the Clover Irish Pub and watched some Olympic coverage. I had the Sheppard Pie and it was to die for.

In one of the shops the souvenirs had “Key West Mile 0”. I asked one of the clerks what was special about mile 0 and she did not know as she was new to the area. The other guy said it was the Key West was as far south as you could drive and that it was an amazing place to travel to. The other clerk asked where I was going to I told here San Juan and she said “High Five Puerto Rico!” She then explained how that was where she was from.

I found the boarding process to be unusual as no one wanted to see any ID or passport to board the plane a boarding pass was all they wanted to see. Therefore in theory you could just switch boarding passes with anyone and get on any plane and they would have no idea who was on the actual plane. I think the Canadian system is much safer. Then I got to San Juan and was exhausted for the long day of travelling.

I waited to get bag and then it was not there American decided to leave it in Toronto. I was really nervous since I was on the cruise the next day. The baggage rep was very helpful and explained the process and how my bag was going to get to San Juan the next day. When it arrived they would send it to the ship directly. I then left the airport to find the San Juan Airport Hotel where I was going to spend the night. It was not the easiest to find and I asked an airport worker for directions and all he said was “about 10 minutes.” I think that there is a possibility that he did not speak English that I learned the next day was common for Puerto Rico.

When I checked into the airport there was a lady who missed her flight and didn’t think it was fair to have to pay a whole night where her flight was very early in the morning. Another guy said that “spending a night at this hotel is a sign something has not gone right.” After the long day of travel I went to bed. The hotel was not the greatest but it was not terrible either.

I’ll post more later about my trip.

Rants and Raves, Travel

I love writing and submitting views and reviews on a lot of things. With that I feel that some people over favourly review things. For me a 5 star is in my opinion the best of the best where the service was above and beyond, or for movies that I loved it so much I would buy the DVD and watch it a couple times a year.

I see a 3 or 4 star review as a favourable review still. When it comes to traveling places I always ignore the 5s anyways and look to the reasoning why people did not like it. Quite often people will have just been too picky.

Right now I am getting close to 50 reviews on Trip Advisor check them out and let me know what you think. Am I being too hard?

Travel

The Face of Truth
Fountain Replica of The Face of Truth

There is not a more fitting way to start this post than with the Face of Truth. The truth about Rome is that it is the most miserable place on Earth.

This was my 3rd visit to Rome and it seems to never get better. Rome has a very limited  Metro system so getting around is not the easiest although unlike many other cities Rome is very consolidated into 2 hour walk to anything. The charm about Rome is it’s history as the centre of an ancient empire. Though when you get to see the real Rome most of the ancient ruins besides the Coliseum, a field where Circus Maximus was and the Pantheon there is really not much left to see of that empire. The only real remaining Empire left to see is that of Christianity and Catholicism.

When it comes to food, Rome is very lacking on it’s own identity it adopts styles from other Italian regions and International inspiration. On my first night in Rome I went to a place called Piazza Navona which was loaded full of people easting at all the restaurants that circled the Piazza. I went through a couple of allies and found Ristorante Ottavio. I was small, quant and “Roman”. In typical fashion while travelling I ask the server what is really good to try. The gentleman says that the lobster is very “fresh and wonderful”.

I then ask him how fresh it is. He quickly leaves and brings back this poor almost dead looking lobster that to most who have never seen a real fresh live lobster before would be very thrilled.

So instead I ordered a pasta dish that was much more amazing than the plate that that poor unfortunate lobster would eventually ended up as. While in the Piazza I saw a Seagull catch a Pigeon in mid-air and fly off with it in it’s beak. This had me thinking that given the number of pigeons and seagulls that we have in Saint John that this is just further proof of the miserableness of Rome.

Rainy Day at the Pantheon
Rainy Day at the Pantheon

Though Rome does have many sides and moments of wonder. Earlier that day I was on a walking tour of of the area and as I approached the Pantheon the skies just opened up and dumped as mush water as it possibly could on the crowds of tourists and street people who with amazing speed switched from selling collectibles to selling ponchos and umbrellas.

That being said it did not rain for very long just long enough to get completely wet, and leave enough water to make it more humid as being evaporated by bright sunshine that rapidly came out.

The Trevi Fountain was amazing as usual and like Pigeons in King’s Square or like any other old thing in Europe was over packed with crowds of people.

And the Coliseum and Roman Forums have not changed a bit since the last time I seen them in 2011.

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