A short update of our travels

Wow, how long has it been since we have posted anything?  Too long.  Well I would say that it is because we haven’t been travelling much, but that’s false.  Leslie has recently been to Amsterdam, Prague, and Vienna, while Scott and I conquered Key West and went to Holland, Denmark, and Norway.  We have a lot to catch up on, so I’ll start with just a short top 5 list of my recent travels (in no particular order):

5.  Key West- All of it was great.  We stayed in a b&b and just hung out.  We had great food, including Blue Heaven, Pepe’s, and Santiago’s Bodega.  The Chart Room for drinks was like stepping back in time.  We rented jet skis and went around the island, and hung out on the beach.

4.  Queen’s Day in Amsterdam – It should be on everyone’s bucketlist to experience Queen’s Day.  It’s an all-day affair where you wear orange, drink grolsch/amstel/dommelsche/heineken, and either wonder through the streets admiring the lankets of crap people sell from doing spring cleaning or try selling your own crap.  Side note – best beer we had in Holland was the seasonal beer by Jopen in Harlem.

3.  Biking through small towns in Holland – We started in Alkmaar and biked through Bergen and wound up at the Sea.  We brought prosecco and had a picnic at the beach of crackers, cheese, ham, and chocolate.  On our way back, we stopped at a cute cafe for a beer to relax after the long journey.

2.  Taking in the sites – and rides – at Tivoli in Copenhagen.  There is an amusement park in the center of the city.  Think of state fair meets Epcot.  They have rides, country themes, and beautiful gardens.  We rode this swing ride and got to see the city; however the ride went so fast that it was hard to enjoy the scenery.  The best part was enjoying ebelskeivers and hot chocolate at the end of the night.

1.  Staying in a cabin in the fjords of Norway – We stayed in Aurland, which is a town of little consequence, but right on the water overlooking the mountains.  It was like being in a cold non-tropical version of the Maldives with our cabin right on the water.  The ferry picked us up at our doorstep and we took the ferry through the fjords for the day.

Posted in Bucket Lists, Denmark, Drinking, Food, I'm on a boat!, Key West, Norway, Sights To See, The Netherlands | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Top 5 Monday: Dream Vacations of the Nerdy and Cutting the Talk

Happy Top Five Monday, travelers!  Although it has been a slow summer/fall adventure-wise at CCC, Kelly and I recently cured all of that with the arrival of our long-awaited Pride & Prejudice tour of Great Britain.  Faithful readers and anyone who has ever spoken with either Kelly or me will recall that this trip has been atop both of our bucket lists since…well, basically since we met and discovered our mutual love for all things Bennett, Darcy, Pemberley, and Colin Firth.  The genesis of the trip was our desire to see in person the sights and places that inspired this most beloved book and its modern retellings, but being faithful CCC-ers, we also wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to add a few new countries to our tally.  The result was a fortnight that exceeded even our expectations for a fantastic vacation.  A week after returning, most of my down time is spent looking back at the pictures and thinking how a-mah-zing everything was.  (Seriously – Kelly and I are genius travel planners, think of us for your next adventure if you want it to be awesome!)

The grand tour in pictures. Clockwise from top left: the Assembly Rooms in Bath; the Derbyshire countryside; Conwy, North Wales; castle hill in Edinburgh

All of this awesome got me thinking about secret dream vacations and why most people never experience the same level of awesome.  The reason this little nerdfest was so perfect to Kelly and I is because it was designed entirely to our unique nerdy specifications.  I propose that despite individual preferences and independent-minded travelers, most vacations, trips, honeymoons, and other travel fits within generally accepted guidelines and characteristics.  (If you’ve always wanted to go to Paris, it’s probably because of a love of art at the Louvre, or pictures of the Eiffel Tower, an extreme food and wine fetish, or a combination of all of the above, and a trip that you plan to Paris will include these things.)  But everyone has their own list of places/books/movies/games with which they can “nerd out” big time.  Many will talk a big game about one day making a pilgrimage to the “Lord of the Rings” New Zealand, or the hometown of a favorite athlete, but too often these trips remain fantasy.

So therefore, let my top 5 post today serve as encouragement to walk the walk, put your money where your mouth is, and start planning your own nerdfest dream vacation!  If you like mountains, see the tallest peak on each continent.  If architecture is your nerd paradise, find the oldest/tallest/smallest building.  If Canadian red-heads are your thing, visit Anne’s Green Gables.  If you’re a Star Wars fan, go…see some Star Wars stuff?  I don’t know, there’s got to be a desert where they filmed or a world fan appreciation museum or something, right?  Anyway, if you can dream it you can do it!

Top 5 Reasons to get moving on that nerd’s dream vacation:

1. You’re not getting any younger.

I know this isn’t easy to hear, but it’s true.  Someday very soon you’re going to be looking back at your travel days in the past tense, and would you rather see unchecked boxes next to the trips you’ve always dreamed of, or awesome pictures of the trips you did take? 

2. It’s easier than you think.

So, maybe you’re reading this thinking, “But my dream is to visit the setting for a very important and obscure book that no one else has heard of and there’s no way to plan a proper vacation around it.”  Trust me, no matter how obscure your interest, you can design a trip because the only person you have to please is yourself.  There is probably even a fan out there who loves Important Obscure Book just as much as you and has started a business taking other fans and easily-duped tourists on his themed tour of said location.

3. It’s not as expensive as you think.

Or maybe you’re reading this thinking, “Yes I totally agree with you, Leslie, you’re so smart and awesome!  But I have a very fulfilling but low-paying job saving the world, three kids, and a house with a leaky roof.  There’s no way I’ll be able to afford my dream vacation.”  Boy, do I know how that is.  Except the three kids and leaky roof part, but we all have something keeping us out of the Scrooge McDuck realm of wealth.  The great thing about nerdy dream vacations though, is that your deepest darkest nerdiest dreams aren’t going to change.  Whether you leave tomorrow or next year, you will still enjoy it every bit as much.  This allows the freedom to save for as long as needed.  Also, you won’t be tied to the typical tourist traps that add the most cost to trips (monument entry fees, museum entry fees, looking at something that’s been there for 1,000 years entry fees, etc.)  The important thing is to keep your eye on the prize and commit to a goal.

4. The opportunity for a truly unique experience.

If it’s your deep dark nerdy dream that’s driving the experience, you’re guaranteed to enjoy it in a way that no one else would, and that’s strangely satisfying.  The keys to a guaranteed success are as follows:

  • Find a nerdy partner – this must be someone who enjoys your nerd dream just as much as you, and will be just as interested in each nerdy detail.  You can admit up to three nerdy partners, but cap the group at 4 people max to prevent groupthink taking over.
  • Plan ahead – this is probably the only time you’ll be in your dream fantasyland, so you’re going to want to see everything there is to see.  It would be a shame to make the trip to Yoda’s house and only find out later on that Luke Skywalker’s light saber was in a house just up the road!  (I don’t know, I haven’t really watched Star Wars so I’m guessing what the cool things would be.)  Do the research ahead of time!
  • Document the trip – if you’re like me, it can be tough to remember what you had for breakfast this morning, let alone a week or more of once-in-a-lifetime nerdy experiences.  Kelly and I made nightly (or every other nightly) notes in my iphone about what we saw and the funny encounters we wanted to remember.  Not only does this help trigger your memory later on, the notes written after a few pints at a Welsh pub can provide welcome amusement!

5. Stick it to mainstream travel.

This one’s for the hipster readers.  Who says you have to see/pay for the monuments and museums in the world’s capital cities?  Go to Italy and don’t see the Colosseum.  Go to New York and spend no time in Times Square.  Damn the man!  Save the Empire!  The point of a nerdy vacation is not to see the TripAdvisor top 10 of attractions, but to shape your own top 10, and again, this is satisfying to hipster and non-hipster travelers. 

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Interesting article

Maybe not the most ethical thing to do, but its an interesting travel hacking scheme.


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Top 5 reasons why Sri Lanka will be the next “it” destination

Scott said that the key to a great vacation spot is that it leaves you wanting more.  I definitely feel like Sri Lanka fits that bill.  We had a 24 hour layover in Sri Lanka on our way to India, and truth be told, we weren’t that excited about it.  Sure, it was a country we could add to our list, but we didn’t think it would be anything special.  Before going, we saw the Anthony Bourdain, No Reservations episode on Sri Lanka.  I won’t lie to you, I’ve never seen one of his episodes that made me steer clear of a country more than this one.  The show portrayed the country as a war plagued, hot, overcrowded country.  Well, it was hot and overcrowded, and I’ll give it to them, that there was a civil war at the time they filmed the show.  The thing is though, that I don’t think these elements define this country.  In fact, none of those characteristics even come to mind when I think of my short time there.  With the construction of a highway that will go from the airport to downtown Colombo, this will be a tourist mecca for anyone from adventure seekers, beach (and surf) goers, nature lovers, religious sightseers, and much more.  So without further adieu, here are my top five reasons why you should make a trip there before everyone figures out how awesome it is.

  1. 1.       The people – This was probably the best part of the trip.  I don’t know if I have ever been to a place where everyone was so nice.  A quick hello to our driver, and he was showing us all around Colombo, giving us history lessons, and the political drama of the day.  From speaking to people, they had a lot to say about the country.  They had recently been through a civil war, that left them with a government that is…well, not that great.  Still, they had such a peaceful and positive outlook on everything.  It’s amazing that these people, that had been through so much (and currently struggle in the time of the unknown), are so friendly and have such great sense of humor about them.  I think a great example of this is when we were reading the paper that morning we were there, they dedicated an entire section to amazing things that dogs do.  Yes, dogs.  They featured dogs around the world. 
  2. 2.      The beaches – Sri Lanka is a small island country.  If you want to go to the beach, just go south from Colombo, and you’ll find great seaside towns.  Colombo’s waters are too treacherous to swim in, but a short drive south, and you’ll hit some fun beaches.  I think taking a trip along the south coast and back up through the middle of the country sounds really fun.  Surfing there is also supposed to be really nice. 
  3. 3.      Tea – Sri Lanka is known for their tea.  While I didn’t go to one of the traditional tea plantations, I did try the tea, and loved it.  They served it to me with milk.  Not the usual way I take my tea, but it was very delicious.  You can even stay at a tea plantation while you are there….very unique and exotic. 
  4. 4.      No second language dictionary necessary – Most shops and restaurants are in English.  You can definitely tell this is a Commonwealth of Nations country, and the many architectural gems in Colombo reflect its former British Rule over the country.  You won’t have trouble getting around with English only here, although it’s always fun to learn a few words in Sinhala (their official language). 
  5. 5.       Did I mention that it’s really inexpensive? – Maybe if you are Mr./Mrs. Moneybags, then you won’t be concerned with this one, but for the rest of us….getting a great bang for our buck on vacation is always a plus, and a way for us to go somewhere far away.  Sure, the plane ticket might be a bit pricey, but once you are there, you are golden.  You can stay at nice hotels, and have a driver without breaking the bank.  This is important since you won’t want to rent a car.  The drivers down there don’t follow ANY driving rules….or maybe that is their only rule.  Anyway, there is so much the country has to offer, from great zoos, Buddhist relics, great beaches….and this is all inexpensive to get to.  The food is also really cheap, (but really spicy). 
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The Maldives – A First Impression

If you boil it down, there seems to be two types of travelers.  The first type of traveler is the adventurer.  This ADHD type is always on the go, hiking, biking, anything to keep the person busy.  The second type is the leisurer.  This person would be happy laying at the pool/beach all day long with nothing to do.  I thought I would belong to the adventurer group on our trip to the Maldives, and thought, “are we even going to enjoy being there a whole week with little else than the beach to occupy us?”  I was completely wrong on all accounts.  First, there are plenty of activities in the Maldives, from snorkeling, to night fishing, even touring local towns.  Second, I realized the second I saw the water that all I wanted to do for the week was float on my raft and nap in the water.  And thats what I did.

We stayed at the Conrad – Rangali Island, which we took a seaplane to get there.  That was an adventure on its own.  On a sunny day, you can see plenty of neighboring islands on the 30 minute ride.   We spent most of our time there just laying around in the water on our floats.  I have not seen a picture than can do the color of the water justice.  We were there in May, and the temperature in the water was perfect (mid 80s), although I doubt it changes much during the year.  They have a reef that is about 100 ft. from the shore, so that was a great thing to see without having to pay for an expense “excursion”.  There is so much sea life to see just off the back of your villa if you dont feel like venturing far from shore.  We saw a shark that loved to circle our villa..that kept me out of the water for a bit.

The only excursion we took was a sunset sailboat ride.  It was so great to get out into the water and get to see so many dolphins gliding by the boat.  And service on the boat was as attentive as on the island.  Champagne and appetizers were flowing the entire time.  And with only 8 people on the boat, with almost as many crew, we had a lot of private attention.

Even a foodie would be in heaven.  The food there was so fresh and delicious.  And in May, most of our dinners felt like private dinners with our own chef (which did happen one night).  The beef there was even better than I’ve had before.   And for anyone who is planning a trip to the island, the Koko Grill was our favorite of all our meals.

I know, I know….its far.  Well if you don’t go, you are doing yourself a disservice.  I can’t imagine a more serene, inviting, and breathtaking place to go to.  In the end, a week was too short, and I wish

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My (short) ode to Indian Transportation

Before heading to India, Leslie gave us a checklist of things to do or see.  I am happy to say that we checked off most of the list.  Some of the more interesting items were the different modes of transportation in Delhi (and beyond).  We took a car, taxi, auto rickshaw, bike tuk tuk, the metro, and the scariest of them all…..walking.  Trying to cross the street was like playing a game of frogger….and thank goodness we didn’t forget that they drive on the other side of the road when we were looking for traffic.  There doesn’t seem to be any speed limits, and I didn’t see many street lights or stop signs, at least not as many as there should be.  It made it fun, a simple crossing of the street was taking my life in my hands, which added to the whole experience.

The easiest and safest was the Metro.  Anyone can figure it out, it costs the equivalent of $.50 to go anywhere, and its clean.  I know Leslie mentioned it before, but I love the “ladies only” train cars.  I didn’t ride in one, but there were at least 2 times when a man offered me his seat.  After 5 years of living in Chicago, I can count the number of times that happened on one hand.  Plus all the stops were announced in English (although you could have asked just about anyone if you got confused). 

The cabs are really cute, and never pricy (about $3).  We took an auto rickshaw all around New Delhi for half a day, and it was only about $4….plus he gave us a tour of the city.  Granted, he tried getting us to go to countless “tourist offices” where he could get a commission on tours we would book through them….don’t fall for that scam.  We took the bike version of the same thing when we went to Old Delhi.  The streets are so narrow that it is about the only way to get around unless you walk.  It’s a maze though, so I”m glad we had someone to show us the ropes (and some good food). 

When we got out of the city, we saw people taking any number of animals to get around.  We saw someone on an elephant on the road, some camels, donkeys, horses, goats, and other various (non riding) animals….such as a cobra, monkeys, sheep, and others.  I think a camel down the highway would be interesting….something to save for next time.

So there you have it….the fun ways of travel in such an interesting country!

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Summertime (and cabin fever) blues

Well, summer 2011 has (unofficially) been here for approximately 100 hours, and I officially have summertime cabin fever.  Cures in the near future will certainly include a weekend beach getaway, and hearing and reading about the honeymoon of the century from my fellow CCC bloggers after they’ve recovered from jetlag. (Congratulations, Scott and Kelly!)  For now though, I am contenting myself with globetrotting at my desk and thought I’d share my favorite tool for the activity – Kayak Explore (www.kayak.com/explore).

After entering in a departure city, the site will display a world map with the lowest-price airline tickets.  To anywhere!  If you know you will have vacation time in a specific time period, you can refine the search up to a year in the future.  I have found it to be useful for everything from planning when to go home for a visit, to checking out last-minute deals, to dreaming of vacations I never would have planned.  For instance, today I could book a flight to Bermuda for next weekend for $240.  Or Panama City for a week for $330.  Or Ufa, Russia next February for $830 (Moscow is $1200, so comparatively a great deal). 

Imagining all of these possibilities makes the work week a tad less monotonous, and also fuels the never-ending travel fire.  So, happy exploring, travelers…and if I go missing next weekend, you can ask the Beach Boys where I went.

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