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The Good, the Bad, and the Gracias's – Colombia

Here I am! Yeh, I know it’s been a bit too long. I left you without a Drop Me Anywhere ending. I seemingly went under the radar and, for all you knew, decided to go live with a lost tribe in the Amazon (would you be surprised?). Or, perhaps Tarantulina Jolie decided she no longer wanted to be friends. In an effort to improve my editing skills, my challenge is to tell you about it in 5 sentences. Here goes: Immediately after returning from Colombia, I began leading a couple of tours (writing isn’t famous for its livable salary) which had me working 80-90 hours per week. During this time, my friend Rose had an emergency back in the Congo. I’m head of her foundation (yeh, I have a few secrets but, now that you know, check out www.RoseMapendoFoundation.org) and we had to gather some money for her to return. Then to New York, for meetings and to London for a conference (with a stop in Norwich, UK to, you know, sleep). Immediately following the conference, I flew to Vienna because, when you’re location independent and have to be somewhere anyway, why not Vienna.
So, Vienna is where we’ll finish talking about Colombia with our traditional final article on a location, The Good, the Bad, and the Gracias’s. This is where I let you know what was good in Colombia, what was not so good, and who I have to thanks for helping me along during my visit. I’ll also tell you how much things cost me, so you can figure out your budget should you decide to do a similar trip, as well as rounding up all of the various links to hotels, restaurants, local tour companies, and more, which were included in the serious. Yup, they’re wrapped up in one nice package (with the receipt attached should you wish to return it for something you really like).
First, a couple of small things to note. It is Colombia, not Columbia. This is not Washington DC (District of Columbia), but a whole different place. It’s even pronouncedd Co-lōm-bia. And, as I learned, Medellin is pronounced Me-de-jzean. Traditionally “ll” is one letter in the Spanish alphabet which would be pronounced as a “y”. This is why most of the world pronounces it as Me-de-yeen. For some reason, nobody could explain why, but Colombians don’t pronounce it that way. And, for those who would argue, might I just bring up Arkansas, Worcester, and all of those UK “shire” places pronounce much differently than they’re spelled. Medejzeen it is!
 
The Good
Where to begin? There was so much good!

  • Let’s start with the people. Colombia makes it into my top three places with the nicest people. Ireland comes in at number one, and Colombia is now tied for second with the people of St. John’s, Newfoundland. Hell, it might just pull in front of St. John’s. Or perhaps that’s only because it’s been a while since I visited there. Regardless, I’m reassured that there are extremely nice people all over the world.

 

  • Corcora ValleyThe beauty. Colombia is beautiful. The green mountains, the jungle, hell, even the birds (I’m really not a bird person) are gorgeous. The Corcora Valley has made its way into my top 10 travel experiences and the striking beauty is a big part of it. And Medellin, that’s the big city which doesn’t just lie in the base of the mountains but is part of the mountains. As my taxi climbed over the hill from the airport it gave me a spectacular first view of this city in the mountains, which literally took my breath away. And the taxi driver was so proud of it that he insisted on pulling over so I could take a photo.

 

  • That’s another good thing; the pride of the people in their cities and the country as a whole. They remember how bad things were and are so very proud of how far they’ve come. It wasn’t all that Restaurant Ownerlong ago that Colombia was a place which must not be visited. And, if you did, you might as well have bought a one-way ticket as there was a good possibility of you being murdered by a drug lord. From the people who were anxious to show me around their cities to those who simply shouted out on the street, “Welcome to my community!” their pride in their homeland is both remarkable and a joy to experience.

 

  • Their games. ‘What?’ you say. ‘What’s this about their games?’ The Colombians are full of From the men playing chess at tables set out on the street to Carambole, the three-ball billiards game I somewhat learned in Salento, it’s clear that a sense of play is part of the culture. And, Tejo, what Colombians call their national sport, involves beer and gunpowder. What could go wrong? The game is played by throwing a hard, metal disc at a rectangular board filled with soft clay which has been set at an angle on the ground. A circle of small, triangular packets of gunpowder is set around the center. The object is to land your clay disc in the center. Should a player miss by just an inch, the disc will hit the packet of gunpowder and, boom, well, that’s even more fun. Oh, and drinking beer while playing is part of the game. Now, who couldn’t love a country like this?

 
The Bad
 

  • The travel warnings. I’ll be honest, my sister really didn’t want me to go to Colombia. She’d read the travel warnings put out by the U.S., the U.K., and Canada, and was so concerned that she had her family and friends voting for another location. Still, some out there really wanted me to go to Colombia and, for every vote she and her family cast, there were two or three votes for Colombia. Sure, Colombia has its dangerous areas and cities like most other countries, but I felt as secure heading out alone after dark as I have in most other countries and even more comfortable than in some.

 

  • The coffee. What? So here’s the thing; it’s not that the coffee is terrible, it’s just that it isn’t the Coffee Growergreat coffee I’d expected to find in a country known as being one of the top coffee producers in the world. I like my coffee like I like my men – strong and bitter. Their coffee (like many men) disappointed me. It isn’t terrible, just a disappointment if you expect to drink some of the best coffee in the world. I learned that the excellent coffee which they’re known for is exported to make money, while the crappy stuff stays within the country.

 
The Gracias’s
 

  • New FriendsBig thanks to my new friends Fabian and Marcella. Fabian, for telling me so much of his story and the story of his country, as well as inviting me to the 130th Anniversary party of El Espectador and introducing me to Marcella. To Marcella for taking me shopping and introducing me to new areas in Medellin, and for allowing me to have some much-needed girl time. I’m often asked if it gets lonely being location independent; these are the people who help that loneliness subside.

 

  • Gracias to El Espectador, for allowing me to come to your party and meet the very handsome mayor of Medellin. May you continue telling the stories of your country for another 130 years.Newspaper
  • Gracias to Hector and the entire staff at La Cabaña Eco Hotel Your lovely place showed me what heaven on earth looks like, and your dining experience by the fire will always be a memorable night for me.Hector
  • Thanks to the Volunteer Hostel for the good work you do and for hooking me up with FEM who are also doing good work helping to educate the kids in more economically challenged villages. And thanks to Kristy from Cartagena Connections for showing me the Bazurto Market, as well as hooking me up with these folks. Please click on the links below to read more about these wonderful organizations.

 

  • Thanks to the wonderful people of Colombia. From the lady on the airplane who invited me to stay at her farmhouse (perhaps next time when I have more time) to the people in Medellin who taught me Colombian blackjack, to Jean Paul at the Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana who offered to give me a lift to a town two hours Seriously, these Colombian people are so darned nice.

 

  • Finally, as always, thank you to you, my Virtual Travel Buddies. For reading, for traveling along with me, and for patiently waiting for the ending of the story. I hope you find it useful and worth the wait. I plan to return to Colombia this winter to write, work on the Drop Me Anywhere book, and enjoy the beautiful people and scenery. I hope to see you there.

 
The Budget
Should you ever decide to do a similar trip (mine was 27 days), here’s the breakdown of my costs so you can have an idea of a budget:
Airfare/Bus – $709.81 (Airfare from Phoenix to Cartagena and Bogota to Phoenix; bus from Cartagena to Santa Marta; flight from Santa Marta to Medellin; bus from Medellin to Salento; flight from Periera (Salento) to Bogota.
Accommodations – $1,119.96
Food/Drink – $368.84
Taxi’s, Mass Transit, Bike Rental, Motorbike rental, etc. – $114.27
Admissions and activities – $97.50
Tips, Luggage Fees, other Miscellaneous – $80.69
Total cost – Approximately $2,490.27
 
The Links
Accommodations
Eco Hotel La Cabaña
Estelar Blue
Hotel Lomas 10 (Medellin)
Hotel Minca la Casona (Minca)
Old Town Premium B&B Cartagena
Volunteer Hostel  (Cartagena)- Stay here or even check out their place to purchase crafts made by, and supporting local indigenous communities.
Activities
Cartagena Connections
Comuna 13 Tours
Corcora Valley (hiking and beauty)
Free Tour Cartagena
Hollywood Casino
Museum of Antioquia (Medellin)
Oviedo Mall (Medellin)
Palace of the Inquisition and Historical Museum
Santa Fe Mall
Vergel Tours
Air
Jet Blue
LATAM Airlines
Miscellaneous
El Espectador Newspaper
Orbitz
Restaurants
La Mulata
Lazy Cat
Salon Malaga
Transportation
Flota Occidental Transportation
Marsol Transportation
Medellin Metro
Volunteering
FEM (Fundación por la Educación Multidimensional)
 
 
 
 
 

The Good, the Bad, and the Thank-yous – Australia

It’s time again for the final article on the current location, always entitled The Good, the Bad, and the Thank-yous. The location? Well it’s a bit murky as you chose the Big Rum Bottle which is actually in Bundaberg, Australia. There’s not a whole lot to Bundaberg except for the rum distillery, so you got some other “Big” things and a trip in a camper van as a bonus. (I’m all about value for money.) But, as they say, all good things must come to an end so it’s time to stop standing on my head, and leave Australia. First, I’ll tell you what was good and what was not-so-good, as well as thanking those who helped make this location special, or simply made it easier. While travel is my love, it can sure be exhausting doing it long-term, and sometimes you’re given some great advice or a soft place to land. So, without further ado. . .
The Good
They speak English! Yeh, I know, I know; so very American. But it does make getting around, meeting people and ordering food easier.
Rainbow BeachThe beaches – They’re really nice. They’re un-crowded (at least this time of year), un-littered and just beautiful. Aussies are known for their beach culture and it’s easy to see why.
The free camping areas – the best campground I stayed at wasn’t really a campground as much as a rest-stop. These are scattered throughout Australia and, though the bathrooms are basic, they often have lots of picnic tables, some barbecue areas, trees, and larger areas to park or pitch a tent.
PicnicThe rum – well, yeh, the rum in Bundaberg was quite nice and but the guides constantly trying to get us to say “poppycock” was pretty irritating.
The weather – yes, I finally warmed up!
The U.S. Dollar – okay, I know Australians aren’t thrilled about it but their dollar isn’t doing so well against the U.S. Dollar (as of this writing in 9/2013) and, well, it really helped me.
Cow with babyThe farm in Thangool – I can’t even. . . (Read about it here).
The people – they really want you to like Australia. No, they’re not as friendly as many of the folks in Vietnam, most of the people in St. John’s Newfoundland, and every person in Ireland, but they do care what you think. And many of them are very polite. They say, “Pardon?” instead of the traditional American, “Huh?” Something that I will now work on. And they seem to not be in so much of a rush and will take the time stop, talk and be polite.
The Bad
The campgrounds, or holiday parks, or caravan parks – whatever you want to call them, a rose by any other name would smell like a can of sardines as that’s how tightly they shove everyone in. Really Australia, you keep reminding everyone how big you are, yet you shove your campers in so tightly that they can barely see a ray of sunshine in between the campsites.
The prices – thank goodness the Australia Dollar is weak against the U.S. Dollar. It’s all that saved me from living on the street. (Ok, I did live in a van for a while and also with my friends’ parents.)
People wanting me to pick stuff – Whenever I mentioned that this was also an around-the-world job hunt, I was told I could pick something – strawberries, peppers, ginger – or about a sign in the window for a short-order cook. And when I asked about volunteer work, I was told that a hostel was trading free room and board for work. (Inconceivable! This word, “volunteering,” I do not think it means what you think it means.) Australia issues under-thirties work visas and most end up working in fields picking things. They seem to have no concept of a foreign worker who might be older than thirty and who brings a resume (CV) filled with experience.
The shortening and cutesiness of words – please note; this is just personal preference. The Aussies shorten everything and add “ey” or “ie” to the end of the shortened words to make them sound cute. I don’t do it because then it seems like a silly American making fun of them which, honestly, it would be. And while we’re on the subject, to me, the Australian accent sounds like a drunken American attempting to do an English accent. (Boom, just insulted Australians and Americans.)
They don’t understand the concept of under-promising and over-delivering. This is something I learned through many years of working in tourism. Australians seem to work on the over-promise, under-deliver concept. Yes, it’s nice. But they’ll tell you something is a must do/see and, when you do/see it, it tends to be a bit less than you’d expected (note: the Manly Ferry and the seventy-two colors in the sand at Rainbow Beach). Besides my feelings on this, I also heard this from other travelers.
The history – I now understand why Europeans are underwhelmed when they come to America and miss a sense of history. Yes, like Australia, America is a young country. I like to point out the Anasazi, or Ancient Ones, who lived in the desert southwest in America left cliff dwellings and petroglyphs for us to see. Perhaps the Aboriginal Australians have some of the history which can be experienced in central Australia. Around the sides, however, the history comes down to the convicts who inhabited so much of the place (yet their descendants won’t allow me to come work here).
The Thank-yous
First, a big THANK YOU to those who let me crash at their houses. Janette and Mark (Farmer Jane’s Yuki Dogparents) – thanks for allowing me to stay in a comfortable place, taking me to see the Big Rum Bottle and introducing me to Yuki, my real, live teddy bear (okay, he’s a dog, but he sure is cuddly). Thanks to Rosemary in Hervey Bay. I appreciate the stay and the loaner computer. And Cattlethanks to Jeanette and Vern in Thangool. I can’t even explain what my stay there meant to me. Your farm is a place of peace and beauty. You welcomed me to your school Christmas party and drove me to the races so I could enjoy a bit of wine (okay, maybe a bit more than a bit) and not get to see what an Australian jail looked like. And you introduced me to your animals and allowed me to give them nicknames (thanks Lampshade, Cher, Colored Girls and White Chicks).
Thank you to the nice bus drivers who understood that I didn’t have small bills and let me ride for free. I learned.
TAFEThanks to Jack, Sue and the students at TAFE in Sydney. Yes, I know Sydney wasn’t part of this vote and was simply an in-between place, but I had such fun meeting you and sharing my experience. I love meeting our next generation of travel and tourism experts. Sue, I wish we lived closer I think we’d have fun hanging out. Jack, my former boss, it was so wonderful to see you again. You still inspire me and I enjoyed our dinners and ferry ride. (Steve Jobs was not saying “Ow!”)
Thank you to the people in the campground who shared meals, good conversation, and even refrigerators. This is what makes camping great.
As always, thank you to you, those who have read about my Australian journey. Heck, those who have read about the journey of the last nine-and-a-half months. You may be wondering about the volunteer opportunity for this vote. Unfortunately, I just never got to it. But, as it’s part of the deal, I’ll be heading back to Akumal, Mexico for a little R&R in a couple of days and will be stopping by the Hekab Be Biblioteca where I previously volunteered (read it here). Oh, and I’ll have an update on what’s next. In the meantime, I give you the budget and the links, all gathered up together. Perhaps you should bookmark this one in case you decide to come here.
The Budget
Accommodations – $251 – note – camper van rental is listed under transportation category and I stayed with friend’s families many other nights. Much of these expenses are campground fees.
Activities – $87 – There were many more activities to spend my money on but, unfortunately, there was less money available to so them. Here and there DMA is provided with media rates or comps. The actual prices are included in the total here.*
Food and drink – $450 – don’t forget, I stayed with other people and we shared meals.
Transportation – $490 – this includes rental of Van Morrison and fuel.
A grand total of $1278
*Drop Me Anywhere would like to thank Australia Zoo, Bundaberg Rum Distillery and Noosa River and Canal Cruises for their comps in support of travel writers and helping me tell you about my experience. As always, no positive reviews were promised, or given, in exchange for any discounts or comps.
**Airfare is not included because you will, no doubt, be coming from a location other than Sydney.
***The Australian Dollar is currently at about $0.70 of the US Dollar and that helped immensely. If given options of what currency to price things in, try various options and convert them. Sometimes it pays to, well, pay, in a foreign currency.
The Links
Accommodations
Caloundra Bay Waterfront Park
Halse Lodge Backpackers Hostel
Landsborough Pines Caravan Park
Ocean View Tourist Park
Rainbow Beach Holiday Village
Rainbow Waters Holiday Park
Activities
Australia Zoo
Australia Zoo Wildlife Hospital
Bundaberg Rum Distillery
Ginger Factory
Noosa River and Canal Cruises
Thangool Cup
Food and Drink
Rainbow Beach Hotel
Retro Espresso
Transportation
Spaceship Camper Vans
Virgin Airlines
 

The Good, the Bad and the Cam Ons – Vietnam

It’s here, the end of our Vietnam adventure; and an adventure it’s been. I’d say that, next to India, this has been the most challenging location. Sure, the language barrier was a big part of it. While the younger generation of Vietnamese learns English in school, they have little opportunity to use it as it can be difficult to obtain a travel visa to visit other places and, even if you can, money is a problem. As far as the visas go, someone mentioned to me that they’d like to visit America but American won’t issue a visa to visit. Without much research, I told him that this was untrue. America welcomes tourists from other countries (living there is a different story). I believe it’s the Vietnamese government who makes obtaining a travel visa difficult.
Ho Chi Minh StatueVietnam was the first actively Communist country I’ve traveled to, and I definitely noticed it. Besides the Vietnamese teenagers telling me their famous people were a now deceased dictator and a general, also dead. (Read Communism and the Common People.) I received various comments from others whom I won’t name as to protect their identities as it became clear to me that certain things they said could get them in trouble. In fact, I’ve waited to tell you about some of these because criticizing the government is against the law. Bloggers and writers have been arrested in Vietnam for such things and, while I was there, a few people told me I was most likely being watched. The various comments included:
“If you lose your job here, you will die.” This was said very clearly by someone being sure to look at me directly in the eye. When I asked who the wealthy people in Vietnam are, “Doctors? Lawyers?”
The response was, “The government.”
I had a long talk with an expat couple I met on the beach. We talked about many things. I later received an E-mail from them asking me not to identify them, where they’re originally from, or what they do for a living as “it could cause problems for our job.”
When discussing my trip to the War Monuments Museum, I mentioned that it was now clear to me that America never should have been in Vietnam. The response I received surprised me.
“Some of us wish America would come back.”
“What?” I asked. “Why?”
“Because of our government.”
“You don’t like them?”
“No. We wish for America to come back.”
I explained that it would not happen and, if enough Vietnamese felt that way, they must try to make changes from inside.
Twitter was blocked for much of the time I was there and, in the north, as it’s been under communist rule for much longer than the south, more internet seems to be blocked and the people seem much more isolated from the world outside of Vietnam.
So, you can count censorship and lack of freedom of speech as one of The Bads of this country. Below is my list of the rest of the Goods, the Bads and the Thank-yous.
The Good
Vietnam - Bana lunchThe people – With a few exceptions, the people of Vietnam are gracious and friendly. They don’t even know you yet they invite you to their house for tea, or for a picnic on the beach with their friends, or to adopt their daughter (I think they were joking but I totally wanted to). Sometimes people do nice things just to be friendly and in hopes that you’ll enjoy their country, for others, there’s often a trade-off. I got to know and understand the game. You’ll stop on the street to look at your map; sometimes you’ll be stuck and nobody will offer to help, and sometimes someone will approach and offer to assist. They’ll point you in the right direction and then make small-talk – “Where are you from? Do you have kids?” They’ll then tell you that they’re a tailor and ask for you to come see their shop. Once I understood the game, I became a player when, at the train station, I stopped a lady to tell her that her backpack was open and I helped to close it. She thanked me and I then asked if she could help me read my ticket and find my train. Just playing the game.
The Bad
The taxi drivers – I can say from both personal experience as well as here-say that most Vietnamese taxi drivers will try to cheat you. It’s not simply because you’re a tourist (though the probability of being cheated goes way up for you), it’s simply that they can get away with it. The worst that will happen is you’ll catch on and they won’t win. They will not be fined, fired or arrested. We’ll also include the various hotels, tour guides and companies, and the Irishman who cheated me. I can do little else but feel sorry for you as dealing with an angry redhead certainly takes more energy than simply telling the truth and taking pride in your work. Oh, and lastly, the prejudice of many people. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from Asia, prejudice is not simply an America issue. I have white skin and therefore, must be rich and therefore, will never get a price as low as someone with darker skin and will often be cheated. It’s how it is in Vietnam, as well as India and Indonesia (also, to some extent in Malaysia).
The Good
LanternsHoi An – Should you find yourself visiting Vietnam, you must stop by Hoi An. Yes, it’s a bit touristy, but this ancient city feels a bit magical. It could easily be the setting for a Disney animated movie, so go there and pretend you’re the prince saving the ancient town (and maybe a princess) from a villain. With the beautiful lanterns and candles to launch down the river while making wishes, anything could happen. Oh, and while you’re there, get a custom-made suit, or coat, or shoes. And buy that princess a custom-made gown. Who needs a fairy god-mother when you have a Hoi An tailor.
The Bad
Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)- ten million people, few of whom are very friendly. Air pollution, traffic, noise – it’s just not my kind of place. Do yourself a favor, if you feel you must go to HCMC, don’t stay for a week like I did. Say Goodnight Saigon after three or four days. While you’re there, you might want to check out a cruise on the Mekong Delta. And do the overnight one as that’s the only way you’ll see the famous Floating Market in action if you start in HCMC.
The Good
The trains – I sat for 17 hours in a four-berth sleeper car. It was really quite comfortable. Not quite like European train, but somewhat like an old Eastern European train I once took from Berlin to Krakow.
The Bad
The bathrooms – While they tend to be pretty bad in most places, the one on the train I was on was especially bad. Do yourself a favor, if you take a train, limit your water intake. Dehydration can be pretty awesome compared to having to use the facilities.
The Good
I learned how to use chopsticks correctly – place between the middle and ring finger.
The Bad
Just because I know how to use them correctly, doesn’t mean I’m very good at it.
The Good
Volunteer VietnamVolunteer Vietnam, the organization I volunteered with in Da Nang. They do amazing work and I hope you’ll read my story about them here.
The Bad
The fact that Volunteer Vietnam even needs to exist. Agent Orange, abandonment of the elderly and disabled, and lack of resources. But thank goodness for people like Viet, the director of Volunteer Vietnam and his staff and volunteers.
The Thank-you‘s
Thanks to Jessica in Kuala Lumpur – for holding onto one of my bags as sweaters were not needed in Vietnam and it made travel throughout the country so much easier.
Vietnamese FamilyThanks to my friend Yen and her family – you truly represent the friendly Vietnamese people. I wish everyone in Vietnam was like you. You made me part of your family, brought me into your home, and showed such kindness. If you are ever able to travel outside the country, I hope that you’ll visit, and stay with me. My door is always open.
Thank you Ngoc – While your AirBnB, The Penguin Friendly House, couldn’t accommodate me (link to Penguin AirBnB), you took me for a picnic, introduced me to your daughter and your friends, and welcomed me to Da Nang. Next time I hope to stay with you (and I’ll bring my penguin!)
Coffee MakerThanks to Kim, King and King’s dad (darn, I can never remember your name sir) – He owns the wonderful Blueclouds Homestay, Kim runs the desk, reservations and so much more, and King shared his expertise on coffee roasting and coffee-making at his soon to be opened coffee shop, The Espresso Station
Thanks to the three men I shared dinner and drinks with on my final night. You shared your food, your culture, and your views on the world and your country with me. It was a special moment for me and one travel memory which I will always cherish (and no, I’m not secret police).
Thanks to Viet at Volunteer Vietnam – you are doing such important work and taking on so much. I think of you as the Mother Teresa of Vietnam. The true measure of hero is someone who sacrifices so much to help those who can never return the favor. You are my hero.
Halong Bay FriendsThanks to the travelers I met along the way – Lara, Shohan, Eoin, the people I had dinner with in Hoi An, Khánh and his family from the Ba Na Hills trip, and so many others who I enjoyed spending time with and sharing views on Vietnam and the world.
Finally, thank you to you, my Virtual Travel Buddies, without whom none of this would be possible. Well, it would be possible but not nearly as fun. It would just be me, traveling and talking to myself. Okay, I do that too, but still, I appreciate that you read, encourage and learn along with me. This project has been a leap of faith and you help me keep the faith daily.
The Budget
Should you ever decide to do a similar twenty-day trip, here’s the breakdown of my costs so you can have an idea of a budget:
Airfare and Train – $450 (Round-trip air from Kuala Lumpur including some changes, one-way air from Da Nang to Hanoi, and train from Saigon to Da Nang).
Accommodations – $504
Food – $270
Taxi’s, Buses, Bike Rental, Motorbike rental, etc. $49
Admissions and activities – $264 (includes the hotel for overnight Mekong Delta cruise and night on boat for overnight Halong Bay cruise)
Total cost – Approximately $1,537 (twenty days)

The Links
Accommodations
Blue Clouds Homestay
Hong Vy 1
Moon View 2 Hotel
Paradise Saigon Boutique Hotel
The Penguin Friendly House (AirBnB)
Tu Linh Legend Hotel
Activities
Ba Na Hills
Imperial Cruises
Reunification Palace (aka Independence Palace)
War Remnants Museum
Miscellaneous
booking.com
Cheap Tickets
Charles Schwab (debit card with no international fees)
The Man In Seat 61 (helpful website for understanding foreign rail systems)
Vietjet
Restaurants
The Espresso Station
Volunteering
Volunteer Vietnam (please be sure to read about this great organization in Rebel-With-A-Cause.org – Volunteer Vietnam.

The Good, The Bad and The Thank you’s – India

It’s time for the final article on India (actually, well-past time thanks to a crashed computer which will cause my ever dwindling funds to dwindle further). This is where I tell you what was good and what was was not-so-good, as well as thanking those who helped me along the way. I also provide all of the links in the articles on India in one handy space. It’s a great one to bookmark if you ever hope to get to India. I normally include a costing sheet which tells you how much I spent on the trip so that, if you ever do a similar trip, you’ll have an idea of how much to budget. I’ll not be doing this for India as, well, you’ve heard the term, “prices may vary?” In India, prices will vary. Except for food, nothing is a set price. It will vary according to the person selling, the person buying, the time of year, the year itself, how good you are at negotiating, the color of your skin (yes, sorry to say this is true), or simply how the person selling it feels that day. So budget? Throw that out the window. Suffice to say, if you think India will be cheap, I can tell you that wasn’t exactly my experience.

The Good
It’s India! I’ve always wanted to go and now I will not die wondering what it’s like and regretting that I never went.

It’s diverse – Hindu’s, Sikhs, Janes, and Muslims. You’ll find their Lotus Templemosques and temples everywhere mixed throughout neighborhoods. In some areas (more down to the south), you’ll even find churches and a synagogue. Still, there is an undercurrent of non-acceptance and religious divide, and even some violence.

It feeds its poor – The poor gather around areas with Rolling Doughlots of temples as the temples distribute free food daily for anyone in need. It would just be great if there wasn’t so much poverty and if the government did something.

Life is good. . . if you’re a cow. Cows are sacred and not to be eaten (though down in Goa and south it’s a different story due to the Christian influence as opposed to the Hindu one). In some cities, a different day of the week is designated to feed a different color cow. This way the cows don’t go hungry.

Dwarka – This resort is a vacation from the noise and constant harassment to get you to buy things or simply give people money. There is no litter piled in the middle of the streets as, there are no streets; it’s sand!Lagoon

The Bad
Pollution, pollution, pollution. Trash piled a foot high in the middle of many streets, and scattered about on others. Noise pollution in the form of the constantly honking traffic as it’s considered, well, considerate to honk your horn to let someone know that you’re driving behind them, next to them, in front of them, or simply that you’re driving at all. Air pollution as, if it’s not thrown in the street, much of the trash is burned. Fires are also used for cooking and craft-work. Even at Dwarka the air pollution was fully present, as was some water pollution.

Wedding RingMy fake wedding ring – it turned my finger green

My fake husband – he came in handy here and there as he’s an Engineer and was working in Belgium but “joining me tomorrow” as my story was told over and over. We have two kids. But he never bought me a ring that didn’t turn my finger green.

The attitude towards westerners. It’s like the cartoons where the man blinks his eyes and you see $$ in them. That’s how westerners are viewed by many people there. You will be asked for money and people will attempt to cheat it out of you. Sorry to say, but that was my experience.

Cleanliness, or lack thereof. It’s dirty. The train stations are dirty, the restrooms are dirty, much is dirty. Most of the guesthouses which I stayed in were clean, one was okay and one hotel was downright dirty.

Booking accommodations online. Many hotel and guesthouse owners have taken to bashing their competition on Trip Advisor and other sites. They’ve also loaded the sites with false good reviews of their own properties. Proceed with extreme caution. And three-star in India, is very different than three-star in other places. Three-star more likely means one or two-star.

Travel without a plan. Yup, I said it. While this whole project is about travel with minimal planning (m preferred travel style), India is not the place to do this. Have a plan. There’s supposedly a round-about way non-Indians can book a train online, which I’ve been told is through a specific website and is time consuming, frustrating and involved. Non-Indians cannot book a train through the national website as a PAN number (the national ID number) is required. You must have an agent or local person do it for you, or go to the train station in person. Trains fill up well in advance and it’s difficult to book a train less than a week prior. Finding India Someday was a helpful thing for me and you should either use them, or talk to people who have used an agent and been happy with their service.

Taj Mahal
Doing the sad Princess Diana pose on the Diana Bench

Traveling solo. Don’t do it in India; especially if you’re a woman. If you have white skin, you will not receive any good deals and stand a good chance of being harassed. Going out at night in many cities is not an option. For a woman, overnight train travel is not recommended for safety reasons (some train routes only travel overnight).

Air Asia – While they’re a low-cost airline (I didn’t realize this when I booked with them), this does not give them the right to be less than transparent with their policies, to change any disclosed policies on a whim, or to treat their passengers with no respect. Following my bad experience with them, I met an Indian couple who just had a similarly bad experience with them in regards to luggage fees. No matter what their ticket cost, I do not recommend them. You will most likely end up paying more in the end simply because the agent feels like charging you.

The starving child scam – okay, scam or not, it’s a bad thing. There’s a real divide between rich and poor here. There is real poverty in India. Still, there’s a scam where people work for men (basically pimps) and are sent out into the streets in dirty clothes to beg for money. Children are employed and, rumor has it, some women have children so that they can go out into the streets and beg for money to support the family (people are more likely to give money to children). I’m told by various people that many of these people live quite well and eat better than me. True or not, the poverty is terrible.

Corruption – India is not a country at war. Countries like Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq have hope, as they are at war and they hope that someday, when their wars end, their children will live a better life. India is not at war. There is no excuse for their major issues. Their government should be ashamed.

Education – If you have money, your child will be educated and have a future. If you don’t, your child will not. Simple as that.

The Thank You’s
Thanks to Dann, my fellow guest at the Tree of Life Guesthouse in Delhi. Your guidance and support were invaluable.

Thanks to Abbas at India Someday. This is a company you should talk to if you’re planning a trip to India. Like I said, do’t do this place unplanned. India Someday will help with as little or as much as you want. While they were kind enough to offer their services to me in kind, I came to realize the value of paying their consultation fee and having them pave the way. Think of them as your “fixer” as it sounds kind of exotic.

GuesthouseThanks to the Tree of Life Guesthouse and Jaipur Friendly Villa. You made the going easier by providing more than a place to stay, but guidance and advise. And thanks for negotiating tuk-tuks, SIM cards and many other things that, unfortunately, you can get better prices on than me simply because I’m not Indian

CotttageThanks the staff at Dwarka. As I said, you were an oasis in a desert of noise and craziness.

Thanks to When In India, who was kind enough to include me on their Old Delhi Rickshaw Tour without charge so that I could tell you how great it is. It really is something you should do as this will help you appreciate, and even like,Rickshaw this area. The history is explained as you’re touring it and you’ll love the spice market, the stop to taste food and the colorful streets which your bicycle rickshaw driver takes you down. Worth it.

Thanks to Elvis and Elston. I truly can’t thank you enough for your generosity and kindness. You made the end of the trip better than many other parts and I gained new friends.

As always, thanks to you, my Virtual Travel Buddies, for reading and voting. Not every location will be a place I wish to return, but every damned one is a learning experience. On April 15, I leave to learn about Indonesia, and more about myself. I sure do hope you’ll join me.

The Links

Activities

Agra Fort

Akshardham

Amber Fort

Anokhi Museum of Hand Printing

Bom Basilica

City Palace – Jaipur

Fatehpur Sikri

Hawa Mahal (Palace of the Winds)

Jantar Mantar Observatory

Khan Market

Lotus Temple

National Museum

Rathambore National Park

Sahakari Spice Farm

State Archaeological Museum Panaji

Taj Mahal

When In India

Accommodations

Dwarka Eco Beach Resort

Jaipur Friendly Villa

Martin’s Comfort

Tree of Life Guest House – Delhi

Agent

India Someday

Restaurants

Karim’s – Delhi

Martin’s Corner

Soda Bottle Opener Wala

ZeeBop

Transportation

Air Asia

Air India

Jet Airways

Qatar Airways

The Good, the Bad, and the Köszönöm’s

It’s that time again; time for the last article in this series and, as always, it’s The Good, the Bad, and the Thank-you’s. While I’ll stay in Budapest for a couple more weeks until I leave for the next location you’ve chosen (have you voted? Still a couple more days left), this will be the time I catch up on my work and maybe, just maybe get one of thoses Thai massages that are very popular in Budapest. I don’t think they’re that creepy kind of massage, although the posters can be kind of creepy, with Thai women looking at the camera either seductively or with those “I’m a little-girl come play with me” looks. Still, as long as there’s no “happy ending,” I’ll take it.

 

If you’re new to this, this is where I tell you what’s great about the location, what’s not-so-great, and I thank those who have helped me along the way. I also give you all of the links to the accommodations, restaurants, activities, organizations, and anyone else I’ve provided a link for in the series. But here, they’re all gathered together and grouped according to type (it’s a great one to save in case you ever do a trip to this location). But wait, there’s more; this is also where I tell you how much I spent, and on what so, if you decide to do a similar trip, you’ll have an estimated budget.

 

So, without further ado:

 

The Good

  • Hungary - Parliament River CruiseThe beauty – Seriously, the waterfront here is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The evening cruise is a must. I’ll be doing it again before I leave. It was the night I fell in love with this city.

 

  • The culture – Theatre, cabaret, opera, art, jazz music, classical, dance, museums, film bars, bookstores, poetry, and more. You want it? Budapest has it.

 

  • The people – While, for the most part, they’re very friendly, there’s so much more to them than that. They’re smart, informed, varied, interesting, open to new ideas and, again, friendly. Perhaps it’s their history, or all of the bookstores, but these people are really smart and well-versed in world matters.

 

  • The mass transit – While it’s an easy city to walk around (which has been my usual mode of transportation), the buses, trams and metro are easy to use, inexpensive and a great way to get around.
  • The cost – with approximately 1,000 Forints equally $3.72 U.S., well, if you want to visit Europe and do so affordably, consider Budapest as an option.

 

  • The food – Roy Orbison may just have been referring to Budapest when he sang, “Anything you want, you got it.”

 

The Bad

  • Okay, the burrito at the Mexican restaurant was okay, but the margarita and horchata were pretty bad.

 

  • The history – Don’t get me wrong, the history is incredibly interesting, but it’s also incredibly sad. Between the Turks, the Nazis and the Communists, well, the history of this country is pretty sad. After learning about the history here, I find it amazing that the Hungarians can trust anyone. Yet they’re some of the friendliest I’ve met in my travels. Yes, the history is certainly bad.

 

The Thank-You’s

  • Thanks to Hungarian Tourism, Ltd. who helped with suggestions and some arrangements.

Thermal Bath

 

  • Dancing Girl
    Photo courtesy of Ivan Aigner

    Thanks to Legend River Cruises, Szecheny Bath and Orfeum Theatre for providing admission to experience classic Budapest experiences. As always, all opinions were honest and no positive reviews were promised in exchange for accommodations. In other words, I liked them, I really did. If admission is provided and I don’t like them, I generally don’t mention them.

 

  • Thanks to Adam, who owns the apartment I’m renting. It really feels like home and, in my opinion, is the way to go in Budapest. Apartment rental can be very economical here and gives you a chance to shop at the historic Central Market and cook things which, well, might be a challenge as you may have no idea what they are. Go ahead, buy them and take a shot at cooking them. You might experience a new exotic taste. . . or you might toss it in the trash and try that kabob place down the street (they’re on every corner). If you want to stay at Adam’s place, the AirBnB link is below.
  • Thanks to all the amazing and interesting people I’ve met while here: David, Dom, Emily, Jorde, the various people I met at Szimpla Ruin Pub, Tünde, Hoiny and the whole crew at Heti Betevö, the girls I met at the cabaret (“Challenge accepted!”), and all of those who have helped me fall in love with this incredible place.
  • As always, thanks to you, my Virtual Travel Buddies, choosing our location and traveling with me. It sure makes it a lot less lonely having you come along (though feel free to buy the drinks here and there). If you haven’t voted for our next location, please be sure you do now as the voting closes in less than two days! VOTE HERE!

 

 

The Links

Accomodations

Adam’s Apartment on AirBnB

hotels.com

Museum Central

Restaurants

Kisüzem

Monarchia

Activities and Sight-Seeing

Dohány Street Synagogue

Exit Games

Fisherman’s Bastion

Go To Hungary Tourism Board

House of Terror Museum

Hungarian Jewish Museum

Hungarian National Museum

Hungarian Parliament Building

Ice Bar

Labyrinth of Buda Castle

Legend river cruise

Orfeum Club

Shoes on the Danube

St. Stephens Basilica

Széchenyi Bath

Szimpla Ruin Pub

Charity/Volunteering

Heti Betevö

www.Rebel-With-A-Cause.org

Budgeting

While I’m still here, the following are my approximate expenses from January 30 – February 18; pretty much what I’ve written about here. Please remember, I traveled in low-season and costs in the summertime will, most likely, be a little higher.

Accommodations – $633 (Like I said, it’s a really inexpensive city.)

Activities – $137*

Transportation – $30.80

Transportation from Freiburg, Germany to Budapest, Hungary – $166

Food and Drink – $282 (Staying in an apartment and cooking can be very economical as can flirting with strangers and having them buy drinks, not that I’d do this. . .)

*Includes actual cost of all activities including some which were discounted provided for media consideration. As always, no positive reviews were guarantees for considerations.

Note – Average exchange rates used – 1 Euro = US$1.14 and 100 Forints = US$0.37

The Good, the Bad and the Dankeschöns

As is now tradition, I close out this series with The Good, the Bad and the Thank-yous, or, in this case, the Dankeschöns (see, my German is getting better). This is where you’ll find a wrap-up of what I thought was good, what I thought was not-so-good, and my thanks for those who helped me along the way on this trip and, in general, made it a better experience. You’ll also find all of the links mentioned in this series, all in one handy place (click-away). Finally, here is where you’ll find my approximate spending broken down by category so, in case you’d like to do a similar trip, you’ll have an approximate budget. As always, your mileage may vary according to time of year, how much you eat and drink, and other ever-changing situations (because that’s what travel is all about).

First, a reminder of a big part of this project; you may be wondering, “Wait, what happened to the volunteer part of Drop Me Anywhere and Rebel-With-A-Cause?” It’s coming. Unfortunately, volunteering doesn’t seem to be a big part of Berlin’s culture (I’m not saying that there is none, but it’s not easy to find). As I’ll be traveling more in Germany, with the help of the German National Tourist Office, I believe I may have found an interesting project in a different city. Watch out for it in the coming weeks.

Also, please don’t forget to vote on the next Drop Me Anywhere location. Voting ends January 20th! Vote here!

The Good

  • GluweinLet’s begin with the obvious – Glühwein.You told me to go forth and drink it and go forth I did. Traditional red, with amaretto, with Cointreau, white, with cranberries and the unusual Glühbier. They also had Glühwein spiked with rum, whiskey, or even the Caipiri Glühwein – a take on the traditional Brazilian drink Caipirinha, which I didn’t try because, well, how much can a girl drink (don’t answer that)? All I can say is come and try this stuff. As Kayla, the roommate of Jen, the woman I house sat for said, “If I were stranded on a deserted island, all I would need is Glühwein” (and perhaps George Clooney).
  • Snow QueenThe Christmas Markets – yup, that’s one thing I can now check off my bucket list. Still, now it’s made me want to go more Christmas markets in the future (apparently they’re like carbs, the more you have, the more you want). And speaking of carbs, add the food in at the Christmas Markets as a “good” (perhaps I need an “Oh, so good” category).
  • The trains and the buses – yes, once you figure them out and learn to trust the signs and the system, they work quite well. And they run on time! Still, many of the attendants working in the train stations could be a bit nicer.
  • The shopping – although I’m not really allowed to buy things (okay, one necklace at the Christmas market, but it doubles as a watch) as my life is currently lived out of one suitcase (no more than 50 pounds, thank-you), a carry-on and a day backpack, if you’re a shopper, you’ll love Berlin. It has everything you could want. And you’ll love shopping at the KaDeWe as long as it’s not robbed by “gangsters” that day (read about that here).
  • PalaceThe museums, palaces and other places of interest. For the most part, the buildings are beautifully designed and the contents are nicely displayed. The interesting thing here is, there are as many (dare I say more) museums Reichstag Buildingand memorials dedicated to the terrible part of German history – let’s just say it, WWII (I’m not talking about Checkpoint Charlie, although the museum is fantastic, as, remember, that was the USSR) – as the good parts (the Reichstag, palaces, etc.). The thing about Germany is, they put it all out there; the good, the bad and the ugly. I appreciate that immensely.
  • Dogs in restaurants – oh yes, did I mention this? The Germans love their dogs. And dogs are generally allowed in restaurants and bars (nothin’ like taking Fido out for a beer). I’m thinking that, if you might be an alcoholic, you just get a dog. As one sign of alcoholism is drinking alone, you’ve taken care of that part as you always have a drinking buddy.

The Bad

  • The weather – I know, “You came in December and January, you idiot. What did you expect?” This is true (although I expected pretty, fluffy, white snow like in a Currier and Ives painting). Often reality is different from the fantasy. Get over it. It was nasty during that first Drop Me Anywhere trip to St. John’s, Newfoundland (remember that time my snow boots disintegrated?). Still, I had no expectations except that it would be cold – it was. That’s one big thing I found while working in the travel industry for twenty-years; people blame you when their unrealistic expectations aren’t met. I don’t blame Germany, or Germans, for the crap weather in December and January, but that doesn’t make the weather any better.
  • The language barrier – same thing, it’s not the Germans’ fault that they speak, well, German. It’s even less their fault that I do not (again, I tried in college and failed miserably). But still, many Germans have told me that pretty much everyone speaks English, many just won’t. In my experience, if I say, “Sprechen Sie Englisch?,” if they answer, “Bitte” (a little), it means they don’t, and if they answer, “Ya,” it means they won’t.
  • The WiFi – You’d think a country known for such fine, precise products as Mercedes-Benz and Hugo Boss, would have better WiFi technology. I’ve now come to appreciate Starbucks much more, as it seems to be the only place with a reliable internet connection. Many hotels and other places (if they even offer WiFi) have security settings which prevent even the most common websites (no, I wasn’t trying to get porn) from working. Due to these settings, your E-mail on your mobile device may also stop working correctly. Know this and don’t spend a lot of time deleting and reinstalling it (as I did). There’s no easy way around it. And plan to spend some time waiting as, if it does work, it’s very slow.
  • In general, people don’t smile, or even acknowledge others when passing on the street. Yes, this could be said of some places in the U.S., and yes, it’s probably just my cruise ship and Disney training which has trained me to do it. And I’m pretty sure the Germans find it fairly irritating. Strange thing is, even their dogs ignore me when I pass by and say hi.
  • Men don’t often bend down to pick something up for a lady if she drops something. Still, on the positive side, when I bent down to pick up my coin, I accidentally left my wallet on the counter. When I came back up, it was still there. So that’s a “good.”

The Dankeschöns

  • Thanks to Germany for making Glühwein! Enough said.
  • Thanks to Visit Berlin for the information and assistance. They’re a great source of information and you can go to their website to learn more about the many things to do here.
  • Thanks to Jen, for the opportunity to spend some time with Siegfried cat sitting. Your flat is lovely and Siegfried is one quirky cat. But then, I’ve learned to embrace my quirks, so he was a good fit. Have fun decorating.
  • Thanks to all those who took the time to speak with me. I understand speaking in a language that’s not your native tongue requires more concentration and can be exhausting. Please know that it was most appreciated. And thanks for those in-depth conversations. I appreciated the great exchange on serious subjects. Meeting people like you is why I travel. Special shout-outs to Frank, my unofficial tour guide through comments on Drop Me Anywhere. I appreciate the great information and your views and opinions on cultural differences, and comments are always appreciated; Peter, my friend at the Cheech and Chong bar. A great character; Michael, who I met at Einstein coffee. Great conversation and I wish you well with your daughter (good luck during the teenage years); Tom, Eve and Emile from Hamburg, who I met at the Christmas market; Andreas, from the massage chairs at the KaDeWe; Nicole and Kai, from the Christmas market – thanks for the great talk and the lift; the Australians from the Christmas market – thanks for filming, directing and guest starring in my video!; and the two fun German girls from the dried apple stand at the Christmas market who not only made me feel “almost famous,” but gave me hope that there are adventurous and excited young people who, perhaps, my project can inspire to live out loud.
  • As always, you, my Virtual Travel Buddies. Thanks for traveling with me. You’re great company!

The Costs

Air – $786 (one way, booked through Webjet)

Accommodations – $157.00 (yup). Please note that this includes the $100 annual fee I paid for membership to Trusted Housesitters. If you’re an animal lover and you travel, this is a great way to get free lodging as well as have a warm, fuzzy friend to come home to.

Food and Beverage – $350.24. This includes groceries as, when you stay at a house, flat or apartment, you have the option of cooking.

Ground Transportation (buses, trains, parking, taxis) – $98.52. Note that this price includes a five-day Berlin Welcome Card which Visit Berlin was kind enough to supply. At €32, it’s well worth it.

Attractions/Activities – $64.20 (again, while I received some media rates, this number includes actual prices of things).

Miscellaneous fees and tips – $9.00

For a grand total of 1464.96..

The Links

Transportation (Air, Ground, Underground)

Berlin Welcome Card

VBB app

Webjet

Accommodations

Berlin Plaza Hotel

Cheap Tickets

House Careers

Hyatt Place Hotel

Trusted House Sitters

Restaurants

Carisma Bakery

Activities

Brandenburg Gate

Charlottenburg Christmas Market

Deutsche Opera

Haus am Checkpoint Charlie

KaDeWe

Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtnis-Kirche Christmas Market

Lagoa Yoga

Memorial to the Homosexuals Persecuted under the National Socialist Regime

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

Radio Tower (Funkterm)

Reichstag Building

Schloss Charlottenburg

Staatsballett Berlin

Topography of Terror

WeihnachtsZauber Gendarmenmarkt

General Information

Visit Berlin

 

 

Gratitude

Thank You

Hello Travel Buddies. I wanted to take this opportunity update you on a few happenings on Drop Me Anywhere. But first, in honor of Thanksgiving, I would like to give thanks for a few things.

First, I’m thankful for wheels on luggage. I know it’s hard to believe but, a long time ago in a galaxy not so far away, people were expected to carry their bags. Yup, while cavemen had invented the wheel so many years ago, it took millions more to get them put on luggage. That, my friends, is the definition of “eternity.”

Next, I’m thankful for earplugs and eye-shades. If you’re the person sitting next to me on the airplane, well, I’m sure you’re a lovely person. But I need you to go away for a while because sometimes the airplane is my only chance at sleep.

Next, I am thankful to have been nominated for Travel Blogger of the Year. While I may not have won, I must throw-out a big thank-you for the nomination. It turns out my gracious loser face is genuine. It really is an honor to be nominated. And while I’m really competitive and love to win, I now understand that I already have. Through the publicity for that nomination, we’ve won some new Virtual Travel Buddies. Welcome! And this past year has been a win. Each hurdle I’ve overcome to develop and grow Drop Me Anywhere has been a win. I’ve also won personally, by getting to know the people I’ve met along the way. From all of the people I’ve met while volunteering, to the nudist community in Oregon. From the family who invited me into their home in Ireland to my favorite bartender/tour guide in St. John’s, Newfoundland. From the staff and kids at Hekab Be Biblioteca to my three favorite drag queens in Limerick, Ireland. There’s no way I could consider myself a loser.

Finally, I’m thankful for you. All who have read, voted and supported Drop Me Anywhere so far. This, giving up my home, traveling without a plan (or a destination which I choose), and writing a book is a scary process. Your support and comments (both online and off) have meant the world to me.

Now for the updates:

Reminding you that there are only four days left in the voting for the next Drop Me Anywhere trip. Remember, this is an interactive site. You decided where I go and write about. And, due to the time of year, you’ll also be deciding where I spend Christmas. You should know that Christmas is my favorite holiday. I know what you’re thinking, “Isn’t Carole a nice Jewish girl from Detroit?” Why yes, yes I am. But who can resist the joyful songs, the beautiful, twinkling lights and the feeling of “peace on earth and goodwill towards men?” The presents and food aren’t bad either. So please vote!

So far, drinking Glühwein in Germany is still the frontrunner. Some of you think I should go to Japan and drink Sake. In third place we have Danish Snaps (which just reminds me of the Addams Family – Ba-da-da-da, snap, snap) followed by French Champagne (classy). Puerto Rican rum comes in next followed by the write-in candidates in the “other” category. Each of these has one vote: Mexican Tequila, Peruvian Pisco, Scottish Whisky (obviously someone who knows me well), Belgian Trappist Ale, Prague Absinthe and Cayan Mudslide (I think they meant Cayman as the only Cayan I could find is a Middle East real estate developer. I doubt the developer has their own drink).

So, what are the plans for Drop Me Anywhere in the new year? First, rent out my house! Yes, I’ve decided to rent it instead of selling it simply because it’s in a fabulous, growing area and I think the investment in the housing values will help finance more travel (or getting set up in a new location) when I finally do sell it (but, if you do want to buy it, heck, plans are made to be broken). So, I need to rent it. . . now! Any takers? Spread the word. It’s on Craig’s List right near downtown Gilbert, Arizona.

The obvious next question is, “Where will you live?” Well, I heard you might have an extra bedroom. No? Okay, then I’ll be going location independent. “What the heck is that?” you ask. While you (or a friend, or a friend of a friend) are renting my house, I’ll be house-sitting around the world. I’ve signed up with a couple of house-sitting services and, in between Drop Me Anywhere trips (because those are done with minimal planning), I’ll stay in other people’s houses and take care of their pets. The only time I’ll stay in their place during a Drop Me Anywhere trip is if I’m able to snag a last-minute housing assignment (pretty much for people like me who hate to plan).

When will it end? Good question. I believe it will end when I have enough material for a book AND when I find my next job that I’m passionate about. I can’t provide a date as, well, that would be an awful lot like planning which, well, you know. . .

VOTE HERE!

The Good, the Bad and the Gracias’s

I’ve got a secret; I wasn’t thrilled to be going to Mexico. I’ve been there before – many times. From working on cruise ships and visiting many of the ports, both on the Pacific side and the Caribbean side, to my time in meeting planning when I worked for a week each in Cancun and Playa del Carmen, Mexico just never drew me in. It felt like a place you go to drink too much, have people sell you things you probably don’t need (just sold two, never-used, chair hammocks with the plastic still on which I bought in Cabo San Lucas), and eat Mexican food. Yes, the beaches are nice, but I always felt that people were pushing me to rent their kayaks or snorkel gear or braid my hair (careful not to turn your head too quickly or you’ll chip a tooth when the beads slam into your mouth). And, after all of the Irish friendliness of the last trip, I couldn’t see how Mexico could compare. But, as we know, I don’t choose where I travel to; that’s your job. So there I found myself in Mexico, working hard to have a good attitude. Who knew that the joy in this trip would be how it turned my attitude around and, let’s just say it, won me over; which is what made leaving so difficult.

So now I get to tell you what was good, what was not so good and, of course, thank the people who helped me along the way. Here is where I also give you the numbers on what this trip cost, as well as all of the links listed throughout in one place. It’s a great article to bookmark so you have the info. at your fingertips when you decide to go.

The Good – Spirit Airlines – It’s inexpensive and they don’t charge extra for being nice; a pleasant surprise.
The Bad – Due to weight limitations on checked luggage, and extra fees for carry-on, you must plan (oh, the dreaded “p” word)! Measure your carry-on bags, weigh your checked bags – I know, I hate planning but, to avoid a $100 fee at the gate, do it!

The Good – Hertz Rental Car and American Express, again, check out your insurance coverage on your credit cards before you go. While many will cover rental car damage, most don’t cover liability which is required by rental car companies in Mexico. Hertz includes liability in the price, many others do not.
The Bad – Hertz tried to give me what I like to call, the Deliverance car – “Squeal like a pig!” My recommendation is the Nancy Reagan response – “Just say no!” Also, car radio didn’t work and the guy tried to get me to visit his time share. Aah, Mexico.

Casa Alux
Casa Alux

Mexico Vista Del Mar HotelThe Good – The accommodations. I arrived in Mexico with no reservations. At just over $50 per night Vista Del Mar (now known as Del Sol Beachfront) was perfect. Right on the beach, room overlooking the ocean, free WiFi and even a hammock stored in the nightstand to use on the balcony (what’s in your nightstand, hhmmm?). And Miguel at the front desk was incredibly helpful. In Merida I stayed at The Studio at Casa Alux (full disclosure, it’s owned by my friends Stewart and Jesus and was comped, which really doesn’t change my opinion). The place had everything I could want – a comfy king-sized bed, a kitchenette, a lovely terrace, free WiFi, and it’s walking distance from downtown. At $50-$80 per night, it’s also a great deal.
The Bad – Vista Del Mar had some serious renovations going on which could be very noisy in the morning. Still, it was a good choice for them to wait until low-season to take care of them.Mexico Moonlight and Candlelight

The Good­ – The food! If you’re a fan of Mexican food, well, it seems obvious. And I’ll include La Buena Vida Restaurant in here. The food is great (as are the drinks), the prices are reasonable, and the view, oh the view (catching my breath as I write this). Just go.
The Bad – The food; it’s carbalicious. Tortillas, rice and beans, churros (Mexican doughnuts), horchata (a fine, non-alcoholic drink) and margaritas (a fine, alcoholic drink).

Mayan PyramidThe Good – The Mayan Ruins – they’re pretty fantastic and there are so many you can’t swing a stone carving without hitting a ruin. It’s kind of crazy knowing that only a small amount of buildings have been unearthed. And throw the cenotes in with the good. Yes, they’re refreshing, but their beauty is what makes them incredible.
The Bad – The vendors within some of the sites. There are way too many and it takes away from the experience. Also, in my opinion, the extensive restoration of the ruins. I understand we want to keep them standing but some might have just been built last year with the amount of restoration done.

The Good – Hekab Be Biblioteca, otherwise known as the Akumal Library. They provide a fun, safe, caring, educational environment for the children off Akumal, many whom live in very basic housing (some could be described as shacks). They love volunteers to come and help teach the kids English as that doubles their earning potential when they’re adults. They operate on donated funds and supplies and are an official non-profit in the U.S. and in Mexico. I’ll profile them in Rebel-With-A-Cause next week. Please subscribe there and I’ll let you know when that’s published. And if you wish to help them out (with funding or in-person volunteering) I’ll let you know how.
The Bad – There are none. Come here, meet these amazing kids and you’ll understand.

IMG_0453

The Good­ – Snorkeling with the sea turtles oe anywhere else in Akumal.
The Bad – I didn’t have time to do it, but you should. I hear it’s great!

The Good – The driving; there are actual rules of the road
The Bad – Nobody knows them. Many people in Mexico don’t actually learn how to drive. When they’re eighteen they go into their version of the MVD and are given a driver’s license. It can make things a bit chaotic.
The Good – My driving was no worse than the locals. You shouldn’t be afraid to rent a car here. Go, have an adventure!

The Thank-you’s

Thank-you, Anne at the Hekab Be Biblioteca. You welcomed this strange girl who showed up right from the airport, you introduced her to your children and your friends, and you even found her a place to stay. You are an amazing woman and the library is an inspiring place which does a great service!

Stephanie
Stephanielucky to have you.

Thank-you, Estefani., you’ll never know how much of my heart you stole.

Akumal Turtles GuillermoThank-you, Guillermo from Centro Ecológico Akumal, for taking the time to walk with me and explain your mission. The sea turtles are lucky to have you. I can’t wait to write about CEA on Rebel-With-A-Cause next week.

Thank you, Stewart and Chucho. You made me feel welcome, showed me your town of Merida, introduced me to more Mayan ruins, and took me to a chocolate museum. What more could a girl want?

Unprocessed chocolate tasting face
Unprocessed chocolate tasting face

Thank you to Randy and Stewart, my proofreaders. Writing on the fly isn’t easy and your help was invaluable, although you seemed to become a little competitive – don’t worry gentlemen, I make enough mistakes for everybody!

Thank you to the Mayans for leaving your “stuff.” I learned much about your fascinating culture and, while I never want to play ball with you (I’ll let you win), your buildings are beautiful.

Finally, thank you to, well, you, my Virtual Travel Buddies. This was the fourth DMA trip we’ve done together. I appreciate you joining me, your comments and your votes deciding where to “drop me” and I look forward to sharing our next trip together. The vote will be up next Thursday and let’s just say, “Drinks Are on Me!” Subscribe and I’ll let you know when it’s up. And please remember, we share responsibility in this so be sure to vote (once per day per electronic device) and share the link.

Budgeting

Here’s a breakdown of the costs of the trip:
Airfare –$361 including one checked bag and one seat reserved.
Parking – $87
Car Rental – $172 for nine days including one tank of gas and roadside assistance coverage.
Gas – $60
Admissions and activities – $100
Food and Drink – $266 – note that I was taken out for dinner a few times (and I took others out). Also, this may be less accurate depending on how many drinks were involved.
Accommodations – $534. – this includes the approximately $220 it would have cost at The Studio at Casa Alux which was comped because of friendship.

Grand Total – $1580

The Links

Accomodations:
Casa Alux
Vista Del Mar Hotel (now Del Sol Beachfront)
VRBO.com (Vacation Rentals By Owner)

Activities:
Chichen Itza
chocolate museum
University Autonoma de Yucatan

Restaurants:
El Templo Bar
La Buena Vida Restaurant
Turtle Bay Cafe and Bakery

Shopping:
Galerias el Triunfo

Transportation:
Global Airport Parking
Hertz
Spirit Airlines

Volunteer Opportunities, Non-profits and NGO’s:
Akumal International Artist Residency
Centro Ecológico Akumal (CEA)
EZ Snorkel
Hekab Be Biblioteca (the Akumal Library)

The Good, the Bad and the Thank-you’s – Ireland

Today I get to tell you about what was good (or, dare I say, great), bad (or perhaps terrible) and who deserves thanks for helping to make this trip unforgettable. These are people and places you should make every effort to see if you do a similar trip. I’m also providing you with a list of the links throughout the articles all in one place, as well as what things cost me so you can have an approximate idea of what your budget should be for a similar trip. If you have further questions, you can ask me via a comment below or privately through the “contact” link at the top.

The GoodShamrock

– The Guinness – seriously, it’s so different here. I don’t enjoy Guinness at home. Here, I could live on it.

– Let’s include the porridge, fish and chips, Irish stew, beef and ale stew and every other unhealthy thing I tried here. Going home to eat salads now.

– The Cliffs of Moher – It was my Irish Grand Canyon. You should make the time, whether it’s on and organized tour, or as I did it, on the public bus.

Cliffs of Moher flowers

– The history – I’ll admit it, I knew very little about Irish history when I arrived. During my time here, I learned that the history is fascinating. From famines, to sieges, to rebellions, this place has it all. It’s even found in their drinks as Guinness and Jameson’s have rich and interesting pasts. And all of it’s ingrained in today’s society.

Dublin Castle

Treaty Stone with Peader– The hospitality – I cannot say it enough, these people give new meaning to nice. I’ve not met such nice people before. Well, that’s not completely true. The people in St. John’s, Newfoundland give the Irish a run for their money (read about them in Oh Canada). This shouldn’t be surprising as most people in St. John’s are either from Ireland or of Irish descent.

The walkability – The cities I visited – Limerick, Galway, Dublin and Adare are all very walkable. You may do a lot of it, but things are very close to each other and the walks are enjoyable.

The public transportation – The trains and buses (as well as the LUAS lightrail in Dublin) will get you most places in a comfortable and efficient manor. And, if you choose public transportation, you’ll have the opportunity to meet some of the really nice locals as well as some fellow travelers ( a great place to get tips on places to see and things to do).

The Bad

– USAir – Yup, I said it. The unnamed airline is USAir. Between the three mechanical issues and the incredibly rude staff – all except the Irish ones upon check-in at the Shannon Airport (big surprise, hospitable Irish) – it has convinced me to avoid this airline, along with its partner through merger, American Airlines, at all costs. I should note that I’ve spoken with “customer service” and was not only treated rudely by them too, they lied. According to them they “proactively” sent an E-mail to all on the Philly to Shannon flight, the day after the flight finally arrived, apologizing and offering a whopping $75 voucher towards future travel. While I receive every other bit of information they send, I received no such E-mail nor did the family I met on that flight. They also say that the EU regulation doesn’t affect them. I’ve read the wording of the regulation and beg to differ and have submitted the official complaint forms to the EU regulating authority as well as the US Dept. of Transportation requesting the €600 I believe is required as compensation.

– The coffee – Seriously, have tea instead. Or better yet, have Guinness!

– A room facing the front of the Limerick City Hotel. Be sure to ask for a room not facing the front which is also over the bar with live music and loud drunk people.

The Thank-you’s

– The general hospitality of the Irish people. As we in America say, “You Rock!”

– The Dublin Convention and Visitors Bureau – Thanks for the support which allowed me to visit so many of your city’s wonderful sites. The hop-on/hop-off bus through Dublin Bus Tours was a great way to get the lay of the land and I found some interesting restaurants and sites I never would have known.

Film Crew– The many people I met who helped make this trip better because, for me, travel Guinnessis mostly about the people you meet. Gareth, Min, Albert, Orla, Dolph, Rich, Celine, Madonna, Sheila, all of the various Pats and everyone else who, like me, talks to strangers. You have left a mark on me, not like a bruise, but like a kiss from Ireland.

– Karen – Who not only saved me $100 by driving me to and from the airport, but came to my house and turned on my air conditioning and water before picking me up so that I’d be able to relax upon my return. If only she’d unpack and do my laundry for me. Still, everyone should be lucky enough to have a friend like this.

– Randy, Stewart and Shaunah – Old friends who have been incredibly supportive of me and this project. They’ve provided moral support, encouragement, proof-reading and, when needed an ear to listen and a shoulder to cry on (actually six ears and six shoulders, they’re not circus freaks).

– My new family, Peadar, Áine, Siobáhn, Aibha and Aisling (Greg too, although I didn’t get to spend much time getting to know you). I can’t explain how hospitable they were. Between giving me a lift (and a tour) from the airport, to inviting me into their home and giving me a walking tour of their beautiful village, to a lovely dinner and tea (oh and porridge!), to a piano concert, to a lift back to the airport, there aren’t words to describe how wonderful these people are. If I were staying in my house I’d wish you Céad Mile Fáilte. For now, I’ll simply raise my glass of fine Irish Whisky and say sláinte!

Piano Concert

– Finally, a big thank-you to all of you, my Virtual Travel Buddies. Thanks for reading, for your feedback, and your encouragement. I’ll be selling my house after this next trip in order to finance this project and future book stemming from it. It’s a big step and I currently live my life in a constant state of fear, but sometimes you’ve just gotta leap. Your feedback at least makes me feel as if I’m not talking to a wall and, at most, makes me think that you find informational travel humor, well, informational on travel and, dare I say, a little entertaining.

Tomorrow, please tune in for the next vote. I can’t wait to find out where in the world you “drop me” next! In the meantime, please read about Limerick Pride Week 2014 which I profiled in this series in the fresh off the presses article on www.Rebel-With-A-Cause.org

The Links (most of the links I provided in the series all gathered up for your clicking pleasure).

Retail Me Not

Cheap Tickets

Limerick Youth Service

Limerick City Hotel

Generator Hostel

AirBnB

Eliza Lodge

Dolan’s Pub

St. Mary’s Cathedral

King John’s Castle

Hunt Museum

Phoenix Park

Phoenix Park Bike Hire

Writers Museum

St. Stephen’s Green

Trinity College

Book of Kells

Old Jameson Distillery

Guinness Storehouse

Gravity Bar

Brazen Head

Christ Church Cathedral

National Photographic Archive

Gerry Andrews

Dublin Castle

Adare Manor Castle and Golf Resort

St. Patrick’s Cathedral

Holy Trinity Abbey Church

Augustinian Friary

An Post Museum

Temple Bar area

Temple Bar Food Market

Smock Alley Theatre

Café en Seine

The Church

Queen of Tarts

Dublin Bus Tours

Maccoole Tours

Bus Ēireann

Irish Rail

LUAS

Cliffs of Moher

The Hunt Museum

ILoveLimerick.com

Limerick LGBT Pride Festival

Budgeting

Air – $1331 – yes, last minute air can get expensive. I booked on July 6 to depart on July 23. If I had booked on July 3, it would have been $400 less.

Accommodations – $531 – Please note, I stayed at my Irish family’s house for free one night, I booked an + 4 night hotel package through Cheap Tickets with a coupon code from Retail Me Not (see links above). I booked other reservations through Cheap Tickets and got some great rates at Generator Hostel and Eliza Hotel.

Activities – $175

Food and Beverage – $526- Yup, I ate dinner, tea, breakfast and some whisky at the Irish family’s house on the final day (and some fine food and drink it was). Also, I might not have kept great track of every Guinness I had as, Guinness may be good for you but, it can cloud your brain a bit. And no, I did not eat breakfast lunch and dinner on most days as I was just too busy taking in this beautiful country.

Transportation (Buses/Trains/Taxis) – $222

So, the total is $2,786. I generally included the full price even if I received a media discount. Remember, I went during high-season and you might find some great deals (and a whole lotta rain) during the winter. I’d say you can do this in the summer for around $3,000.

The Exchange Rate used during my trip was .721

Some business including Cafe en Seine, The Church, various activities in Dublin and Generator Hostel  provided discounts or comped services for media. While I’m grateful, my opinions in all articles remain honest and based on what I would perceive as the value based on full rates.

The Good, The Bad and The Thank-You’s – Oregon

It’s my final day in the Beaver State (yes, that’s their real nickname) and I head out to explore downtown St. John’s which is a neighborhood of Portland. Portland Record storehas many “neighborhoods,” you see. There’s “North,” Northwest,” the “Pearl District” and many more (Mr. Rogers would have a tough time figuring out where he lived). There’s not a whole lot to downtown St. John’s; a nice pastry shop called Tulip, a used record shop (kids, it’s a round thing that used to play music), an interesting restaurant with an identity crisis called Patti’s Homeplate which also sells old Avon products, matchbox cars and used clothing, and a beautiful bridge.

The St. John’s Bridge, dedicated on June 13, 1931, is a Gothic design and, on a misty day or dark night, could easily be a place where Dracula might hang out. It’s also the only suspension bridge in the Willamette Valley and is the farthest north of any bridge on the Willamette. Underneath it you’ll find Cathedral Park which is a great photo spot where you might even catch a ghost photo-bombing you as it’s supposedly haunted.

St Johns Bridge

As I fly home I’ll give you a list of the Good, the Bad and the Thank-you’s:

The Good

– The wine and the beer (I mean, what’s not to like).

– Secrets of Portlandia tour – take the tour, trust me.

– The Edwin K B&B – the bathtub, the breakfast, the sherry and the town of Florence are all amazing.

– Climbing Spencer Butte in Eugene – the view, oh my, the view!

– The natural beauty of so much of the state.

– The nice people I met along the way.

– Food trucks! – you can find just about any kind of food at these gatherings.

– The Dining Room in Eugene, OR – they fought hard to develop this creative place that helps those less fortunate.

– Voodoo Doughnut – The first (and last) time I’ve enjoyed an Old Dirty Bastard. Yum.

– The weather – I expected rain and cold, it’s Oregon after all. Nine out of ten days were lovely. It may always be sunny in Philadelphia but, contrary to popular belief, it’s not always rainy in Portland.

– The Kia Soul – that was my rental car and I loved it. So fun to drive.

– Bubble Tea

The Bad

– Trying to balance driving, experiencing, meeting people and writing. It’s much easier doing it without the driving, either by staying in one location or traveling by train as the driving, even shorter distances takes time out of the day. My apologies for typos and grammatical errors in this series, it was a lot of work and I’ll do better next time.

– The not-so-nice people along the way. I wish I could say differently but, for the most part, I didn’t enjoy Eugene or Corvallis as I didn’t find them very friendly. Even in Portland, I would often smile or say good morning to people as I passed and I received simply a blank stare in return. Perhaps they thought I had gone off my meds.

– The homeless situation – there’s a lot. Make no mistake, I’m not saying the homeless people are bad, I’m saying their situation is. Some unfortunately choose to be homeless. They call it a lifestyle choice and ask for “donations.” There’s a huge difference between these people and the ones whose situation (abusive relationships, mental health issues, catastrophic financial issues, etc.) has landed them on the streets.

The Links (most of the links I provided in the series all gathered up for your clicking pleasure).

Global Airport Parking

Sleeping In Airports

Priceline

AirBnB

The Roundhouse

Jazz Station, a Performance Space and Gallery

Spencer Butte

Slurp

Townshend Teahouse

The Hideaway Bakery

The Dining Room

Theo’s Coffee House

Edwin K Bed & Breakfast

Bridgewater Restaurant

Sand Dunes Frontier

Willamettans Family Nudist Resort

Arkeny Vinyards

Buena Vista Ferry

Willamette Valley Vineyards

Broken Yolk Café

Max station (the Portland public rail transportation)

BrewCycle Portland

BrewStop Pub

Powell’s City of Books

Pioneer Square

Secrets of Portlandia

Voodoo Doughnut

Budgeting

While an unplanned trip comes with unplanned expenses (heck, every trip comes with unplanned expenses), here’s a list of what things cost on this trip so you can have a bit of a budgeting plan should you choose to do a trip in this area. I’ve included tips for guides in the cost of the activities as you should always plan on this. I’m a former guide and have strong feelings about how hard these folks work and how little they often get paid.

Airfare – $268

Fees/Tips – $54

Accommodations – $642

Food/Drink – $240.37

Transportation (includes taxis, car rental, gas, ferries and public transportation) – $370.24

Admissions and Activities – $72

For a grand total of $1616.67

Note that totals are actual costs. I stayed with family for three nights and enjoyed dinner at a friend’s house one night. Any media discounts I received are not reflected in these total. Also, any discounts received in no way changed any of my opinions. On that note, I would like to thank:

Sand Dunes Frontier, Edwin K B&B, BrewCycle and the Red Roosts Guest House

The Thank-You’s

As always, the people I meet are the biggest joy I find in traveling. Here are a few who made the trip better:

– Amber in Eugene – nice to see you again. So glad you’re happy. Thanks for dinner!

The ladies from Townshend Teahouse – thanks for explaining Bubble Tea and Kombucha and discussing life in general.

– Dana and Eric from the Red Roost Guest House in Portland – thanks so much for your hospitality. It was    great getting to know the family.

– Don, Nate and Boston from The Roundhouse – thanks for making your house, my house.

– Marv and Laurie from The Edwin K B&B – your property and your hospitality are unmatched.

– Nigel and Mary and Barb and Brian – thanks for a great dinner, the transpo. and helping me experience Lacrosse. So great to see you after all these years.

– Adam and Annie, my fellow wine lovers from the Arkeny Vineyards Winery and the Beth, Jason, Dan and Stephanie, more lushes from Willamette Valley Vineyards.

Diedra, Jan, Sally Jo and all of the others from the Willamettans who made me feel so comfortable.

The guests, staff and volunteers at The Dining Room – if you remember, part of Drop Me Anywhere is to find a project or organization that is doing good and spend a day, or part of a day volunteering with them, and then to write about them in Rebel-With-A-Cause. Thank you for allowing me the honor of volunteering with your amazing organization. Thank you for your hard work and dedication to providing, not just food, but dignity and respect to . And to the guests, thank you for allowing me to serve your meal and to be reminded that poverty is a temporary situation, it does not define you. The article will be published on Rebel-With-A-Cause next week.

Finally, thank you to all the Virtual Travel Buddies who vote on where I go, read the stories, follow the blog and offer comments. Your opinion matters so please feel free to comment. On that note, here’s where you get to tell me where to go again. The next vote is up and running! Please click on A Walk in the Park and vote! Remember, you can vote once per day, per electronic device.