Some New Thoughts on Museum Passes.

Normally, I’m not a raving fan of museum passes or city passes in general. They tend to give you one or two must-see locations, and then fill the remainder of the pass with under-visited attractions.

I understand why this is. Don’t get me wrong, if you can find a way to drive traffic to a site that isn’t necessarily performing as well as other sites, that’s not a bad thing.

In the beginning I bought the passes. I was like; yes, I got a pass! Let’s go! Then I would use it for one entry, and that was kind of it. All the other stuff I wanted to see wasn’t included in the pass. So, I stopped considering them.

A couple days ago in Athens I learned the value of the museum pass all over again. I will say that Athens isn’t a cheap city to sightsee in. There are a lot of attractions, and every single one of them charges an admission. In a place as old as Athens, this is to be expected.

When I made my first stop, the Acropolis, I didn’t consider the multi-pass. I should have. Athens has a multi-sight pass. It covers six prime locations, and costs 30.00 euros. Why do I mention the price? Because entry onto the Acropolis costs 20.00 euros. And, the Agora at the bottom of the hill costs 8.00 euros. You can feel the math, can’t you?

It wasn’t until after I had left the Acropolis and was standing at the entry gate for the Agora that I figured out what I hadn’t done. Oops. Live and learn, I guess?

So, if you’re planning a trip to Athens. Invest in the multi-museum pass. It will save you cash. Also invest in the multi-day metro pass. Athens is a very walkable city, especially the historical center area. Still, your feet will hurt after a fashion. Buying single ride tickets will chew through your euros. I burned up my multi-day metro pass.

(Me starring into the sun as it rose over the Parthenon. You need sunglasses in that town.)

Just some thoughts from the road. Now, get out there and see the world for yourself.

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A Weekend in Geneva.

The city of Geneva, Switzerland is one of those places you kind of don’t end up at unless you’re headed there. Odd, since it’s the seat of the UN, really picturesque, and pretty much dead in the center of the continent.

I slid through for the weekend, hoping to get a couple pictures of the lakeside and do the necessary stop at CERN. This was accomplished and more, as Geneva turned out to be a great place to visit.

Stopping at CERN.

(Sculpture commemorating the science leading up to the discovery of the Higgs Boson in 2012.)

The European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) is located in the western suburbs of Geneva. There is a tram that goes straight to the CERN complex from the city center. It is tram 18, and can be caught from multiple points in the city.

The research center is a worthwhile half-day excursion to make. There are two permanent exhibits to explore. One deals with the science of mass and matter. The other deals with the particle accelerator itself, and some history of the complex. Both are quite good.

Guided tours are available however, the tickets need to be obtained in advance for the day of your visit. They are awarded first come first served, and are quite hard to get. There is generally a much larger number of requests than tickets.

Geneva and the Lake Front.

(Old Geneva and the Lake Front, as Seen from the Cathedral Tower.)

The major shopping and sight seeing options are located on the south side of he river, in Old Geneva. The south side is dominated by the fortified hill that comprised the original defended city center area. The old city area is compact, so walking between one place and the next isn’t an issue. The high area itself is quite steep, but easily navigated.

The Cathedral of ST Peter sits on the high point of the old city, and makes a good reference point when walking. Most of the museums are in this general area of the city as well. If you visit on 19 May, the International Day of the Museum, they are all also free entry.

Logistics.

Getting to/from Geneva is pretty easy. The city train station and airport are both located on the north side of the city, and cover all of the General carriers.

If you fly in, be sure to stop at the kiosk in the arrivals area and get the free train ticket that takes you from the airport to the train station. The ticket and your flight boarding pass, and you have a free train ride.

Also check with your hotel upon arrival. Most all hotels offer free tourist transit cards. This with your passport gives you free travel around the city center on all the local transit systems. So the two together make it basically free to move about!

Swiss Francs are about on-par with the US Dollar, but the city is still otherwise fairly pricey. Don’t let this discourage you though, just plan accordingly.

The people are wonderfully friendly. French is he recognized official language of the city, but you will hear some others too. Almost everyone is happy enough to default to English, if you get stuck. This makes it a good place to practice your French!

Now, get out there and enjoy! Bonjour, from Geneva!

A second short story about the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage.

My current part of the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage ends in Burgos, Spain. I’ve had many grand human encounters along the way. I recommend attempting the trek just for this reason. Talking to people from every conceivable part of the world, and listening to their stories, reaffirms your faith in the human condition. And after all, isn’t that what it’s really all about.

I confess, I’m stopping at this current point due to an extreme apathy. I just don’t know why I’m really doing it or what I thought I was going to get out of it. Even in this short run, I’m absolutely sure that I got more than I thought I would. There’s a truth in walking that you find along the way.

(A half-dozen other pilgrims waiting on a train out of Burgos. Doing a section of the Camino is quite fashionable.)

Now, In all practicality, I made a bunch of miss-steps. I hadn’t planned on the trails being what they were. When the guide books showed nice smooth gravel paths they were being overly kind. There are large section (especially downhill) where the trails is a loose scree of sharp gravel rock more akin to a outback mountain trail. The section of old Román road is particularly daunting! The percentage of paved path is optimistically high, and mainly applies to through-town section. The trail is legit.

I came equipped with a pair of Columbia walking shoes/trekking shoes. These were not the right choice. With the sharp gravel, you want something with a sturdy sole on it. Otherwise, the rocks start to push through, which they did. Also, I literally started to walk the stitching out of them. Tip …. don’t short your footwear!

My next major miss-step was weight. My pack was much too heavy for an extended excursion like the Camino. You definitely want your weight at the absolute minimum. I need to cut my weight by a good 5 pounds or more. That being said, I saw many people suffering along with packs obviously heavier than mine. I wish them Buen Camino!

On this baggage front, there are numerous companies that will transport your bags from town to town. And many pilgrims utilize this service. This seems (to me) missing the point of the Camino. If you want a leisurely walk through the country, there are other numerous options in both Europe and America. That’s just my opinion.

So, I sit at the train station. Sore feet on both sides. Right foot tore up from wearing my Tevas instead of my shoes. Left foot tore up from a blister in the middle of the ball of my foot (which I walked on for several days). My shoulder bones are sore from the pack (not the muscle, the bones), and I am running on low ambition.

Safe to say, I have learned a great deal about what not to do. These lessons were hard won, and won’t be dismissed any time soon.

I don’t think the Camino is done with me yet? I had trouble not putting my pack on and walking this morning. Still, I plan on waiting out any further attempt until I have better feet to carry me.

Lesson. Know when to concede. There is no shame in stopping. There is shame in injuring yourself being stupid. As I have said before; if James had of found a horse, he would have rode it!

Peace. Out.

A couple days into the Camino de Santiago Pilgrimage.

Since I came up with the idea of becoming a pilgrim, and maybe finding out something new about myself in the process, the idea of the Camino de Santiago Pilgrimage has changed and shifted in my mind. A simple walk across Spain, to potentially learn/experience something new. A chance to . . . Encounter faith. A way to experience new people and points of view. Exercise.

Where I have found every one of those things over the previous days, I have also learned some things about the Camino itself. Trust me when I say, the undertaking isn’t what you think it is.

(The parapet wall behind the cathedral in Pamplona. Tye architecture of the city is still amazing.)

If all you’ve seen about the undertaking has come from YouTube, I can say that’s those portrayals are all pretty accurate. They’re all a little tainted by personal opinion, as is mine, but their accurate enough.

I think the thing that’s most shocking about the whole affair is the lack of actual pilgrims. There are a lot of people walking along a path that is surprisingly well marked and vendor-laden, but I don’t think any of them are out looking for much more than a stamp in a booklet and a bed for the night.

(A realistic picture of the modern pilgrimage.)

To be fair, I’m one of those people. I’m not overflowing with spirituality. I assume this is because I understand too much about people and their motivations. Still, an actual pilgrim, now and again, that would add so much more to the experience.

The initial days under foot have all been ones of decision. The decision: to continue this craziness or stop and go to the beach? Everyday I quit. I’m going no farther. This was a bad idea. And everyday I end up having a conversation with someone I never expected to have which continues my persistence. I still want to quit. Right now. As I type this. But, I’ll get up in the morning and continue on toward Logroño, My pack on my sore shoulders.

(The alter area of Santa Maria, in Los Arcos. A reason, in-and-Of-itself, to walk the path.)

I may have another conversation there that will continue to push me on. I hope I do. That would be great! We’ll all just have to wait and see.

(Your pilgrim’s credential. Your access card to cheap rooms and cheap meals.)

On another note, some logistics. I flew into Pamplona from London, in Iberia. Got the one-way ticket off Expedia for a reasonable price. I stayed at the Hotel Castillo de Javier. Booked it on booking.com. It was centrally located in town, and quite accommodating, though a bit loud.

Since I stated my Camino in Pamplona, I picked up my pilgrim’s credential at the Bishop’s office next to the cathedral. It was either one or two euro. I honestly don’t remember.

More to follow, if my feet hold up.

(I don’t know what the flower is, but their everywhere along the way.)

Buen Camino!

Readying For Europe 2019

One of my two main goals when I departed Kuwait last year was to spend the summer in Europe. The other was to write a new book (which has already been accomplished), but is unimportant to this blog post.

As with the passing of the clock hands, time has cruised by, and it’s almost time to head out for a summer of backpacking and picture taking. The plan (which is rough at best) is to start by undertaking the Camino de Santiago Pilgrimage across Spain. After that’s either accomplished or not, I’m going to be on a backpacking train/plane trip across Europe, Eastern Europe, and the Near East. I say it a little tongue-in-cheek because I’ve changed the route about a dozen times, so far. I have absolutely no doubt that it will also change while I’m doing it. The area has so many options that I’m sure I will get distracted. (Hence the title of this blog. HAHAHAHAHA!)

I’m going to start this “series” of post with some logistical information. First will be on plane tickets. I bought my intercontinental plane ticket in advance. I used Kayak.com to scan ticket prices for all airports in Europe, and purchased when I found a ticket that fit my needs. I am flying into London, England, because it was the first ticket that met my pricing requirements. From there, I’ll connect to the mainland by either train or plane.

The ticket search engines of choice for my trips are as follows: Kayak.com, Expedia.com, and Easyjet.com. I find that I like the kayak search engine, and that easyjet and expedia include the majority of low cost ticket options. I plan to use one-way plane flights to connect disparate parts of Europe, without wasting multiple days on the train. This concession to speedy travel is important, because an American tourist is only allowed 90 total days in the EU Zone within any 180 day period. To fit in maximum travel, I need to limit my wasted travel days. That’s why the internal flights are necessary.

Second is the necessity for general getting around. For this I use the train. The continent of Europe has a magnificent rail system. The different country rail systems are all interconnected, and laced together in the different rail timetables. I use EURail.com to purchase multi-country rail passes before I depart America. You’ll get a significantly better rate using a rail pass, as opposed to buying tickets one-at-a-time. I prefer trains to renting cars in Europe as it’s just more convenient. Once you’re in most European cities and towns, you really don’t need a car. I’ve used several different websites to purchase rail tickets over the years. I happen to like EURail.com best. They have good prices, a website that is easy to navigate, and an excellent mobile app to keep up with the train schedules.

Third is hotels and such. Normally I use hotels when in Europe. Mid-range hotels are realistically priced and clean. I use Booking.com for my hotel reservations planet-wide. I like the way the website is laid-out, and I find the mobile app works without issue everywhere I go. If I can book before departing, I do. With the unknown path and timing of this trip, I will be doing a lot of booking on-the-fly.

The initial part of the trip (the Camino pilgrimage) I’ll be utilizing Albergues and Pensiones, which are basically pilgrims hostels. The state-run units are first come, first served. So, it will all be a day-to-day hunt for a bed. (That should work out well.) For the city traveling that comes after that, I am going to try my hand at renting through Airbnb.com. It’s my first time utilizing them, and I’m excited to see how it turns out. If it’s a good experience I’ll definitely continue, as the prices are well-below hotel rates.

Fourth major task is packing. When going to Europe, I normally pack for a European Holiday. On this occasion, the bag will be somewhat different. With the pilgrimage planned for the beginning of my excursions, I’m packing specifically for the Camino. With the addition of a GoPro and some swim trunks, the packing list is Camino specific. When I’m done, I can change out the pack (Send home stuff I no longer need, and add stuff I find while traveling). I’ll be adding a complete list of my Camino packing in an upcoming post, as soon as I know what it’s finally going to be.

Right now, The planned country list goes something like; England, Spain (multiple stops), Holland, Germany (Multiple stops), Austria (Grand Prix weekend), Slovakia, Czech Republic, Poland (multiple stops), Croatia (Ultra Europe weekend), Greece (multiple stops), Turkey, Israel (Multiple stops), Romania (multiple stops), Hungary, Switzerland, and then back to England. I’m sure that It’ll change along the way.

That’s the current plan. The next series of post will be coming from this summer’s European and Near Eastern (Turkey, Israel, maybe Lebanon) experiences. I hope you’ll enjoy the notes-from-the-road.

The continets of my Camino backpack. It’s camino specific, at this point.

That’s the basic logistics of the beginning. It should be a crazy trip. I hope you find some useful information that you can use in your own travels. If you have any ideas/suggestions, definitely let me know in the comments.

Now get out there! Go travel somewhere.

Reasons to Double-Check your Plans Before You Go.

This post isn’t so much about grand adventures or optimistic locations, as recent one’s have been, but more one of prudent advice. To sum it all up, double-check your plans before you leave on your adventure.

When I was younger, the term seat-of-your-pants was an apt description for my travel style. And, while I attempt to continue that trend as I age, I find it necessary to be slightly more on-point regarding travel plans. I offer two reason why, as I have had two major screwups in the recent past.

Screwup Number One: Assuming I understand Visa Requirements For Europe.

I have been to Europe over numerous decades, and always had an excellent travel experience. It has become so casual that I look at Europe as a comfortable and welcoming place. Kind of a go-to locational area when I’m tired of working my way through South America or the Middle East.

I have become so comfortable with traveling in-and-around Europe that I hardly think about the logistics of it any more. With it mindset in my planning, I somehow missed the fact that a person can only be in the Schengen Zone of Europe for a total of 90 days in any 180 day period of time. This bit of information put a serious change in my upcoming trip plans. I have done several multination trips, but have never been in the area long enough to run up against this requirement before. And, with the continuous swelling of the Schengen Zone, the ability to travel Europe without dealing in this requirement is becoming harder and harder. Where I had planned on an ample amount of time in Eastern Europe, I now find that many of those countries are in the zone too.

This issue has complicated upcoming plans, but not derailed them. It hasn’t derailed them because I learned this before leaving. If I had encountered this after travelling for a couple months, it definitely would have been problematic. Definitely check your immigration requirements before traveling.

Screwup Number Two: Using The Wrong Information To Plan With.

Over the last weekend I made an excursion across Texas to the Guadeloupe Mountain National Park, so that I might climb the peak. In planning for this weekend adventure I used the closest google maps town to figure out the local weather. The weather was supposed to be excellent, so I packed accordingly. I learned when I arrived that the weather wasn’t as grand as I supposed that it would be. Apparently, I used a town down on the mesa bottom, not up by the mountain base. It was a good thirty degrees cooler, with much more wind.

Needless to say, I froze all the time I was there. It ruined camping out, and it ruined climbing the peak the next day. The whole weekend was a bust. If I had of planned for the appropriate weather, it wouldn’t have been nearly as bad. You live and learn.

So, before wandering off on your next adventure, I suggest that you check your travel plans one more time. It’s a good idea to make the most of your travels, and will help you have memorable trips (not good bar stories). Where I did less of it earlier on, I do more of it now. And, Where I still leave my itineraries loose so that they’re flexible to new plans, I will be checking the big stuff one more time, before getting on the plane this summer.

Check your stuff, and then get out there. Have a great travel experience.

Reminiscing About The Beach.

With all of the Spring Break action cascading across my social media feed over the last couple weeks, I have been thinking about time spent at the beach. I like a good beach. The beach, and the ocean with it, have a different vibe than the hills and valleys that I’m naturally used to.

As I considered my different beach experiences, I came to a small realization. In the truest spirit of the blog’s long-off introduction, my favorite beach experiences as a working adult are different than the social media beach splash I’ve been passing through. When I was younger, I was content to party any place that there was beer and girls in bathing suits. As an adult-ish adventurer I find that I still enjoy a bikini-clad beach, yet I also enjoy more intellectual beach pursuits.

So, what follows is a collection of a few of my favorite beach distractions. Some beaches are good for drinking. Some beaches are good for history. Some of them have sport. All of them have something to offer.

Number One: Rincon, Puerto Rico.

The beach outside my hotel in Riicon, Puerto Rico.

If you need a place to escape the northern winter weather, you can do a lot worse than the beaches on the western coast of Puerto Rico. Even with North American tourists wandering about, you can find a quiet stretch of beach to kick back on, and drink a beer or two. (It should be noted that the Rincon beaches are magnet of the surf scene. Yes, I went to surf classes. No, I did not master the surfing.) This picture was taken just off the steps of my hotel. I wandered through in January, and it was hot and sunny. Hotels along the beach are easy to kind, and a rental car is almost a prerequisite for getting around.

Number Two: Seven Mile Beach, Australia.

The walk over to surf class on Seven Mile Beach, on Australia’s south east coast.

As one would expect, January along the Australian coast is sun-filled and beautiful. I made my way down to Seven Mile Beach to attend the surfing school located there. A younger, hosteling affair, Surf Camp was a great experience. I didn’t master the surfing (or even really minimize it much. But, I had a great time.), but the beach scene was excellent. The beach is a long, shallow affair with a gentle break. There are a lot of camping option in the area, but not necessary a lot of hotel options to be seen. Once again, it’s a location where a rental car is valuable.

Number Three: Cocoa Beach, Florida.

(SORRY NO PHOTO.)

With Florida being almost entirely known for beaches, Cocoa Beach seems an out of the way choice. But, as an old dude, I love an old dude beach. Cocoa Beach is just that, an excellent old dude beach.

Known to most people as the stop for the cruise port or as a family option for a stop at Kennedy Space Center, the beach has a plethora of hotel options and several decent places to get a beer and casually drink away the day. The beach is easily accessible from multiple point along the strand, and the small town of Cocoa is easy to find from almost anywhere in Florida (Thanks to Kennedy Space Center).

Number Four: Omaha Beach, Normandy, France.

A section of Omaha Beach along the Normandy coast.

It’s hard to justifiably describe the impact that a blank stretch of beach can have on you when you know its history. Omaha Beach is one of those places. I can’t describe the awe felt in seeing the distance men had to run on D-Day, to get from the waterline to the start of the bluffs at the end to the sand. The distance isn’t done justice in any movie I have seen, and is almost impossible to adequately describe. You have to see it.

There are a number of day tours run out of the town of Bayeux, France. Think Bayeux Tapestry (it’s housed in the local church). The town is easy to get to by train, and has numerous hotel options. The center of town is also small enough that you can walk around easily. The different D-Day beaches however, are spread out across the shoreline of the Normandy coast, and will require a rental car or day tour. Whatever path you take to get there, I recommend that you get there.

Number Five: Thong Saia Beach, Koh Pha-ngan, Thailand.

The beach outside my beach-front hotel on koh Phangan, Thailand. Fingertip included for lack of professionalism.

If you need a place to sit and drink beer, there aren’t a lot of options better than the islands of Thailand. The islands still have that something that is/was indicative of the seventies backpacker-hippy culture. wandering, day drinking, cheap eating, scooter driving, and washing in the ocean are the primary options for the average day here. Low cost beer and food make it an instant draw for a cheap travel option. I drank a lot of beer there.

There are multiple hotel and hostel options on the island, but no airport. You will need to fly into Koh Samui, and then take the high-speed ferry from one island to another. The ferry is cheap, and the scooter rentals on the island are literally everywhere. Because there’s no airport, getting to and from the island takes a bit of preplanning, if you don’t have a lot of time to waste waiting around.

well, that’s my take on the beach scene. I love a good beach. Most times, I just love hanging out at the beach, drinking, scuba diving, or whatever. if you love the sand and the surf, I suggest that you put a beach on your travel list. I find them a requisite part of any coastal adventure.

Hope you found something useful. Now, get out there. Go to the beach.