Traveling: Avoiding the Ugly American Label

Hello, please, excuse me, thank you, and goodbye are the most important words when traveling. If you can learn those four words in the native tongue of the country you are in, you will have a successful trip.

Continue reading


Traveling: The love of travel

This is a Cristina blog. You’re welcome.

Ever since I can remember, I have loved to travel. I think that stems from my family and I moving so much when I was a kid. We didn’t move because my dad was in the military, as most people ask me, but rather because we were just always in search of something better than what we had. We weren’t exactly dirt poor, but we did struggle. Though I don’t really remember too much, by the time I was five I had lived in Ohio, California, Australia, and Louisiana.

Continue reading

Traveling: Mistakes Were Made

So, our Europe trip was an amazing success. We did our research on everything from what to visit to what shoes to wear. It was almost a perfect trip. Almost.

Mistakes were made. Words were flown. Tears were shed. In other words, it wasn’t a perfect trip.

Mistake number one came in London. We forgot our ticket for a bus excursion trip to Windsor, Stonehenge and Bath. I decided to go back and get it. Cristina decided to stay near the Victoria Station and get some breakfast. Well, somewhere along the way, Cristina lost her jacket. It was a nice little jacket that zipped inside itself. She had it tied to her purse and it just fell. She retraced her steps to no avail. Somewhere, someone is walking the streets of London in the rain wearing her jacket. To make it worse, we didn’t need the tickets.

Luggage for Our Europe Trip

While it doesn’t look like much, our luggage was quite heavy if you are walking city blocks

My memory and directions that I wrote failed me in Paris. When we emerged from the Metro, we took a wrong turn. We walked about four blocks before I noticed. Carrying the luggage made this a bad experience. The next morning, we had a nice little fight in the rain in front of a breakfast café near the Eiffel Tower. We were both tired and grumpy. We both have no idea what the fight was about (even though I would bet it is somewhere in Cristina’s journal). We did end up having breakfast in that café, albeit a quiet one. Finally, the one museum I wanted to see in Paris besides the Louvre was the Musée d’Orsay. I forgot to find out what days it was open. Turns out the day we planned to go there was not one of them. Disneyland was a mistake, but it wasn’t the park’s fault. We were just too exhausted to enjoy it. We should have gone there straight from London and then toured Paris.

Zurich, however, was a mistake. This is the one time my MetrO app let me down. I knew what tram to take but had no idea how to catch it. Plus, the tickets were coin only at the stop we were at and we didn’t have change. We walked, and walked, and walked. We then went to look for a bite to eat, but we forgot to mortgage our house. We found a sandwich shop that made decent sandwiches at twenty francs a piece. Our sandwiches weren’t much higher class than a Subway sandwich.  The franc at the time was roughly equal to the dollar. The next morning, we had the hotel call for a taxi. A Lexus pulled up and charged  us another twenty francs to drive us to the train station. Now, I said we walked a lot, but it wasn’t that far away. We just had our luggage with us. Let’s just say, that would have been a cheaper cab ride in most American cities. In fact, we took much longer taxi trips in Florence and Rome that cost much less. I’m sure Zurich is beautiful. We have already decided that when we do it again, Switzerland might be its own trip.

Florence was beautiful, but our hotel was not actually in Florence. There was a bus that took is into the city, and the ladies behind the desk explained to us how the bus system worked and where to buy tickets.  While, I have no problems with the hotel at all, next time I would shill out the extra money to stay in Florence especially since that is a walking city.

We hadn’t planned on going to Pescara. I had no research on it. We booked a room in the Best Western while we were in Florence. We printed out walking directions according to Google. We arrived at Pescara and there is no one that can speak English.  We walked for about a half hour before we found someone to help us. We still had trouble finding it. Come to find out, it was across the street from the train station and then about two blocks. Google did warn me the directions were in Beta. The directions are now a lot simpler.

In Rome, I think I got swindled by a cab driver. I gave them a twenty and he said I gave him a ten. I don’t have proof, but I swear I’m right.

Cristina’s cousin had told her he lived next to Milan and was a short train ride away from the fashion capital. In the grand size of Europe this is correct. In practical terms, it was too great of a distance to do any sightseeing in Milan. This hurt since we had to eat the tickets we bought to see Da Vinci’s Last Supper. However, they were gracious hosts and treated us to some great homemade lasagna and pizza.

The rest of the trip was mostly smooth sailing with a few glitches. I wouldn’t go straight from Innsbruck to Prague again. That was an eight-hour train ride which almost didn’t happen due to late trains. In Amsterdam, eating outside caused me to come down with heat exhaustion.

Avenue des Champs-Élysées

The Avenue des Champs-Élysées from the Arc de Triomphe

However, errors can lead to wonders.  Due to the d’Orsay being closed, we got to stroll down the Avenue des Champs-Élysées at a nice leisurely pace.  I even sat on a park bench that was older than my country.  The bus ride in Florence allowed us to see parts of Florence we wouldn’t have plus we had a great view of the mountains from the hotel.  Getting lost in Pescara allowed us to see a football celebration and a wedding party emerge from a church.  Sometimes, mistakes are the best thing that could happen.

Traveling: How We Got Our Money’s Worth Part II

The other day, when I wrote about Europe, I wrote about how valuable Rick Steves was to making our trip a success. There are few more resources that I feel are just as valuable.

The first one is I used it extensively to find out not about the tourist attractions (I used Rick Steves for that) but for hotel reviews. We had decided to stick with no frills because every-room-looks-the-same chain hotels specifically Hotel Ibis have all we need: a bed and a shower. We understand we were giving up charm and personal service, but it was worth it for having a private bath in our room each night at a generally low-cost. Well, why look up reviews if you are staying in cookie cutter hotels? Because location is everything. I tried to find out if people had issues with safety in the area, how close it was to public transit, and what it was near any places we wanted to visit.


"Walking" through Sulmona with Google Maps

However, reviews can only take you so far. Google Maps are, simply, amazing. When researching, I would often “walk” around the neighborhood that we were staying in. This really put Cristina at ease because I for the most part knew where I was. We only got lost once, in Paris, and that wasn’t too bad…ok it was horrible because of the luggage, but we did get to see a lot of neighborhood butcher and bakery shops we normally wouldn’t have been able to see.

Finally, the MetrO app for the iPhone made public transportation in Europe very easy. All we had to do was type in the tourist attraction we were next to plus which one we wanted to go to and it would tell us how to get there. Best part is that it works offline so that we didn’t have to use the very expensive 3G networks in Europe.