Monday, February 5, 2018

5 'absolute' rules to follow when traveling.

Traveling the world can be one of the most satisfying things you do in your life. We have all seen those pictures on Instagram, Tumblr or Facebook of exotic places and smiling friends and family enjoying crystal blue waters or delicious gourmet meals in some European capital. Yes, they make me jealous too!

But the truth can often be very far from what the images tell us. Chances are that those pretty pictures are not the norm. It does not take very much to ruin what would otherwise be a wonderful vacation. Traveling can be very stressful and it can be even more rigorous when its to a foreign country with unfamiliar customs.

So what can we do to maximise our enjoyment when we travel? 

Here are 5 rules to ‘absolutely’ follow that will ensure you make the most of your “summer vacation”.

  1. “When in Rome.” If you travel to a country for its ancient history, incredible ruins or unique culture you will be in a country that has had customs much longer than we have.
    They have found particularly unique ways to live their daily lives that may be very different or even exactly contrary to how we do things. We may think that ‘our’ way is more logical, but they have had much more time to work out a custom or social norm that works for them based on their common background that may extend for many thousands of years. So the rule is; enjoy the differences and celebrate the contrasts and DO NOT COMPARE.
  2. Give yourself time to relax where you are and just take in your surroundings. It’s fine to have a precise schedule of places and things to see, but it can get awfully hectic if you are rushing from one place to another with little time to actually take in the moment. You will miss so much. Our memories of a place should be more than just a photograph. It should be made up of sights and sounds and smells. Sometimes we miss the real ‘sights’ when we are photographing them. So, put down the camera after you get the shot and just sit and relax and contemplate the millenium that have seen people walk those streets. I like to research the history of the place I am in and I am always amazed at the resilience of the people whose ancestors have lived through very difficult times, and that is what I see in their faces as they walk past my table while I sip a hot tea. So, sit, have a cup of tea or espresso at a street cafe and just breath in and contemplate all you are so fortunate to see around you.
  3. Be daring. Don’t hesitate to ask questions, even of random people on the street. Chances are that they are as eager to help as you would be if a foreigner asked you a question at home. If you don’t understand something, ask. Waiters will be hesitant and often annoyed if you ask them questions during busy times but if you wait until they are not so busy you will find that they are more than happy to explain any question. Show up at a restaurant you want to dine later on in the evening during a break between busy times and tell the waiter you are planning to go there later and if he would explain the menu to you so you are prepared for later. You will be surprised how helpful they will be. Don’t be afraid to ask people on the street for directions. Try asking young people, they are the most accepting and curious about Americans. They tend to know the city better and they are most likely to know English. You might even make a friend. Trust me, it happens.
  4. Don’t be afraid to get lost in the old parts of town. Take the long way to your destination. You will discover amazing things that may not be part of your itinerary but will be your favorite discoveries. Give yourself enough time to get lost. Looking for your way back will become an adventure and you will become more familiar with the city. Don’t begrudge having gotten lost. Take it as an opportunity to learn about the city you are in. Make note of places to eat or cafes or bars.
  5. Eat where the locals eat. This is a universally accepted rule. But how do you find those mystical places of legend? Three very simple and easy tell-tale signs are; find places where everyone is speaking the local language, where the menu is not in English and where most of the patrons are older folks. If the menu is in English steer clear. Very simple. When you see older locals at a tapas bar bellying up at the bar chances are that the place is a local favorite, it’s inexpensive and the food is good. It also helps if the place is rated by Trip Advisor. But be aware that if the place is on Trip Advisor then it  will probably be expensive. Be willing to try a few places before you find that wonderful, local restaurant where the food is incredible. You can also ask any locals you meet in rule number 4!

So there you have it. 5 very easy rules that if you follow, even loosely, you will enjoy your trip of a lifetime just a little more. But remember, allow the place to take you. Let the breeze flow and push you in it’s direction. You will be well rewarded.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

How to find the cheapest flight fares

While planning a European trip on a budget I quickly discovered that the single most expensive part of the trip was going to be the air fare. You don't have to be a seasoned traveler to know that simple fact. In fact, traveling to, as well as in Europe will be your largest expense.

I began looking for cheap fares using all the "known" search tools that I read about in all the travel blogs I could find. Kayak, Skyscanner, ITA Matrix by Google, Cheapoair are among some of the more popular airfare search engines. Most returned very similar results that were still more expensive than I would like. Then I stumbled on a blog, cannot remember the name, that listed Norwegian Airlines as an inexpensive source for flights to Europe.

Airline fares are all about when you travel and where. The cost to fly to London from Miami can go from $390+ on one day to $2,000+ with the same airline and the same economy seat just one day later.

If you can be flexible with your departure and arrival dates and times you have a much better chance of finding an expensive flight.

Norwegian Air listing for April
Some sites offer a month fare view giving you a wide range of options of days to fly. This kind of flexibility can save you $100 to $200. In the example I found, a one way ticket to Oslo, Norway from New York can range from $278 to over $600 depending on the day you fly. "But," you say; "I don't want to fly to Oslo, I want to fly to London!" Well, Ryanair flies to London from Oslo for $20!
Actual Ryanair fares listed

Making your trip to London just $247 one way. And, you get to spend one day in Oslo!

If you are as flexible and imaginative on the return leg, you may even find lower fares.

Though Kayak and other low fare sites may find you low cost fares to your destinations, if you do a bit more research and consider other non orthodox destinations you may be able to find dirt cheap fares to some pretty interesting places.

Start with Norwegian Airways and find other low 'with-in' Europe carriers like Ryanair. Enter several destination until you find fares that fit closest to your budget.

A flight to Riga Latvia on Norwegian Airline is $329 one way (OW) from New York's Kennedy Airport. AirBaltic, Latvia's airline flies to Paris for $89 only a day later, or stay a couple of days in Latvia, it's the same price! The flight to Paris comes to $418 one way. Kayak's lowest fare for a flight to Paris on the same day was $439. And that is without the added bonus of a day in Latvia. If you are adventurous, a day in Riga, Latvia is an added bonus!

If you are truly adventurous, try flying to Dubrovnik on Norwegian for $298 (OW) and from Dubrovnik on Easyjet to London for $34! Thats $301 to London from New York. And you get 2 days in Dubrovnik, the jewel of the Adriatic. Its a no brainer.

Actual EasyJet fare
(In some cases the return flight might be cheaper.) You can be as imaginative as you want. London by way of Dubrovnik and then New York by way of Bucharest is a real possibility. You just need to be a little creative.

Pay special attention to the dates! Make sure that your secondary airline has flights a day or two after your arrival from the US. This will give you the opportunity to spend a day in a wonderful city you may not have even considered.

When you purchase your tickets from the small regional airlines like Ryanair and Easyjet, make sure you confirm the flight status and reservation by phone with an airline agent. Don't depend on printed boarding passes from your computer. Get any reservation and confirmation numbers by phone. Although you should not have any problems purchasing your fares on their websites, it always pays to confirm.

There is only one thing you must do: Travel light, in both baggage and mind. You will be taking advantage of very low fares which will require you to make several trips to an airport. You must travel like a traveler, not like a tourist. Your attitude should be that you are off to see new, incredible things and places and meet wonderful people. Do this and you will enjoy a once-in-a-lifetime travel experience.

You can price round trip fares this way also but lower fares can be found by looking for one way destinations for each leg of your trip. You only have to take the time to plan. Imagine flying to Glasgow then to central France on your inbound leg and then from Dubrovnik to Oslo and home on your outbound leg for under $600! Its possible. The only critical variables are when you fly and where you are willing to explore. If you are flexible with those aspects of your trip it will be an exciting adventure that wont make you go broke.

Your dream trip does not have to cost you a fortune, just a little time planning. 

You can find a list of European airlines here as well as lesser known destination

Just another teaser; Condor flies to Glasgow from Orlando for $204 on May 3rd and 10th, Ryanair then flies to Carcassonne, France 2 days later for $56. You get to France for $262. Once in France you have all of Europe on rails.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Travel young: an old guy traveling young.

I was bitten by the travel bug when I was 25. I loved everything French so I made plans and went to France for 3 weeks. I learned a lot during my trip. I learned not to see the world as a tourist or as an American (Americans have a tendency to compare too much), but instead, to just see the world. I was never able to travel again after that. Life happened and I never gave myself the opportunity to travel once more. I have all my pictures in a plastic box and I take them out every so often and dream.
Walking to Avranche
Now I want to travel again, this time to Spain. But unlike 30 years ago today I have the Internet.

I found dozens of sites and blogs dedicated to travel. From the aggregate flight search engines that can find you the cheapest air fare, to blogs and travel journals dedicated to traveling young. They range in topics from how to pack for a budget trip to how to order tapas or pintxos to how to avoid the latest scams and pick pockets. I know now from my research to pack light. I know how to avoid scams and pick pockets on the Rambla in Barcelona. And I am anxious to practice what I have learned so I can order pintxos and wine in Pamplona. Just a cursory Google search for “travel blogs” will earn you hundreds of excellent web sites. Even if you aren’t traveling you can visit almost every country on earth virtually. 

To get this shot
I noticed that many blogs today are by young people who have decided to pack up and take off. They decided to seek life on their own terms. Many stay abroad for periods of time ranging from several months to a year, or even years. They post beautiful pictures and glamorous descriptions of adventures that I’ve only dreamt about. Well, I want to do that too! But, alas, I am not young any more. My trip to France was almost three decades ago in 1987! But this has not stopped me from dreaming and planning and then dreaming some more. With every blog and vlog (that’s a video blog) I see my wanderlust just keeps growing and I get a little younger. 

I have grappled with the question of my age. Am I too old to travel like I am 25? Should I stick to a tour group and just sit comfortably on the tour bus and watch the scenery roll by like a movie backdrop? 

I think not. 

I started with Google Earth. It was my virtual desk top globe. I planned my route by adding paths and yellow pins. Google earth is an excellent tool for planning a trip. I check the Euro exchange rate several times a day to compare the dollar and cheering every decimal downturn and bemoaning every up turn. I used great online resources to find the cheapest air and train fares. I even found a great resource for very inexpensive accommodations. This I will also document.
The trip is now planned out from where I stay every night to where I eat, in micro detail. I have a spreadsheet with dates and locations and train connections; obsessed? Perhaps I am. But, what I am counting on is the unplanned surprises; the ones that will change everything. The ones I will write about and be the better for. 

I am going strap on a back pack, get a pair of comfortable shoes, pack that back pack as little as possible and maybe even get a selfie stick and a GoPro. Nothing says young like selfie stick and a GoPro!  I am going to head out with train tickets in hand and discover the small, out-of-the-way, hidden gems of small villages in Spain’s Galician, Basque region, and Andalusian country side. But first, of course, I will visit the big cities like Madrid and Barcelona and pay homage to El Greco and Antonio Gaudi. 

I will write about my journey and take as many pictures as I can. I will prove to myself that I can travel on my own terms while still enjoying being an observer. I want to be surprised at every turn, excited by every discovery, and amazed by every beautiful thing I discover. In short, I want to travel young again.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

pictures for travel article

Walking up to Avranches
To get this picture, circa 1987

Monday, October 28, 2013

On the Hydroponic Farm

Nestled away in a small corner of north west Hillsborough County there sits an unassuming yet amazing place called Urban Oasis. Just off of Linebough Avenue, Urban Oasis takes up perhaps an acre of land where owners Dave and Cathy Hume have developed a very practical form of growing vegetables: organic hydroponic farming.

I drive by this almost hidden treasure a dozen times a day and have always told my self I would stop to see what it was all about. Today I did.

I talked to John Carminati who manages the farm and who has had an incredibly interesting career (more about John a little later.)  John explained the workings of the farm and the methods used in their hydroponic system. He showed me the many varieties of vegetables they grow; from egg plant to okra to tomatoes to Genovese basil and the list just goes on. He even showed my where the bees work that make their honey!

Now just a little about John. In reading his website, Chef on The Farm, you learn that he is a classically trained chef, having graduated with honors from Le Cordon Blue College of Culinary Arts in Orlando, who has worked literally all over the world in his search for, as he put it, "...something new." Learn more about Johns fascinating life and career at his website by clicking here.

(Photo credit: Chef on the Farm)
Now back to Urban Oasis. I was very impressed with the concept of Urban Oasis. They offer fresh, local organically grown vegetables as well as grass fed beef, fresh milk, eggs, and honey harvested right there on their urban farm. They offer a "farm share" program which gives you a share in the harvest. They have a full season harvest share and an 8 week harvest share. Either way, if you love to cook with truly fresh organic ingredients or you are concerned about your families consumption of pesticides found on vegetables from your local big market retailer, you will really appreciate Urban Oasis. You can also just walk right up and shop just as you would a farmers market.

Expect to pay a little more for products offered at Urban Oasis; but then again, you are getting so much more. There really is no comparison between vegetables that are grown organically and naturally and those that need a layer of wax just to make them attractive.

You can visit their website but better yet, just go there, I guarantee you will find something you like. Urban Oasis is located at 5416 West Linebaugh Avenue, Tampa, FL 33624 : 813-293-FARM (3276)

What is hydroponic farming?

Hydroponics is a method of growing plants without using soil. Urban Oasis uses a coconut fiber growing medium to hold the plant roots while using natural fertilizers to provide plant nutrition.

An automatic drip irrigation system complete with timer guarantees a perfect growing environment for most types of vegetables or plants. As Dave Hume declares on his website it's "the farm of the future." The hydroponic farming system available from Urban Oasis is ideally suited to urban living where land may not be especially suited to farming or where space may be limited. You can visit their website for more information on their systems by clicking here.

If you visit the farm be sure to tell John you heard of them from me! Thanks.

All photographs are copyrighted 2013 jnadesign, inc. except as noted in photo credit. Please ask for permission to use and give appropriate credit.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Spiced apples over oats. Just like autumn

You can taste Autumn in every bite of this spiced apple and oats breakfast. But it isn't just for breakfast, its a great desert as well.

It features another great recipe from Therapy Bread. And although it is not the easiest recipe, it is fun to make and well worth the effort. Toasting the steal cut oats give it a nutty flavor that is topped off with spicy cinnamon apples.

Light brown sugar, cinnamon, and good old nutmeg brings the smell of Autumn into the house like no ones business. Its like good old pie filing.

The steal cut oats are toasted in butter. The apples would go just as well with regular Quaker oats but toasting the steal cut oats give it a natural nutty flavor that is worth the extra effort.

Once the liquid is absorbed, the oats are ready. And viola!

Its delicious! And though its no where near fall down here in Florida, if you put the air down to about 69 degrees you can pretend. Not really, but you know what I mean. Get to Therapy Bread pronto and try this recipe.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Chicken Scampi Alfredo, need I say more?

Another great recipe from Therapy Bread. I just cant get enough ideas and recipes from there.

This one features chicken, spaghetti, and one of my favorite: Alfredo sauce.

Jess over at Therapy Bread does it again. Be sure to check Jess' recipe for chicken scampi alfredo and try it. It's super easy and delicious.

Here's my version of it.

A little Marsala wine, a little fruity but nice anyway.