ASK Musings

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Travel Archive

Monday

28

March 2016

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Eyewitness Travel: Costa Rica by Christopher P. Baker

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Three Stars

My husband visited Costa Rica about a month after we started dating, and he’s wanted to go back ever since. He asked that instead of my regular planning, that I just get a guidebook and let us see what happens when we get there. So, I bought this one.

It’s fine. I don’t know how to review travel books – I think I should always wait until I get back, but by then I’ve moved on (I try to always review books within a day or two of finishing). This book seemed a little light though on what I think I need. Maybe it’s because it’s my first time going to a country I’m really unfamiliar with, so everything just bleeds together. I can’t tell any of the national parks apart, so I’m not really sure which ones I want to try to see.

But maybe that’s a good thing. We’ll pick a place on a map, find a bus that goes there, then open up the book and see what we’ll see.

Tuesday

7

October 2014

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New Orleans Day 5 – One Last Hurrah

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Thanks to the kindness of the person who owns the house we stayed in, we didn’t have to race to vacate the place by noon. Instead we were able to wander the city one more time, taking in Armstrong Park, a little bit of Treme, and one more visit to a couple of the bars we really liked. Today was very, very warm and humid, and a good send-off, as I am very much looking forward to Seattle’s cool fall weather.

We got a last meal at the Napoleon House (red beans and rice!), walked through Jackson Square one final time, then visited the Carousel Bar again for Ramos Gin Fizzes and more good conversation. As we were leaving, we ran into a pretty famous pop star who was in town as part of her tour. It was pleasing to see that she seemed to be really nice to the wait staff.

We wrapped up our trip with a visit to 21st Amendment – the first bar we visited when we arrived on Friday. We had a great conversation with the bartender, then caught a cab with an extremely colorful driver. It’s hard to leave in some ways, but I have no doubts that we will be back. It’s a great city, with great food, drinks, music, architecture and people, and I can see why so many people choose to call it home.

Monday

6

October 2014

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New Orleans Day 4 – Rollin’ On the River

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Today was a busy day in the quarter. We got up and grabbed a quick slice (our first – and likely only – foray into one of the many Pizza + Daquiri joints on Bourbon Street) then caught a shuttle to Mardi Gras world. It’s one of the five companies that does props and floats for the two-week Mardi Gras celebrations for which New Orleans is famous. We ate King Cake (so good!) and learned some interesting facts. Like everyone on the floats pays to be a member of the krewe, and that each float costs $50,000-$80,000 up front, and then $5,000 t0 $15,000 each year to refurbish it. Or that the krewe members have to buy their own ‘throws’ (beads and other things they toss from the floats).

Afterwards we caught a ride on the Steamboat Natchez, which was pretty awesome. It gave some perspective about how the city really is below the river, and also showed us the ports along the way. It was a nice, relaxing way to see more than just the French Quarter.

For dinner we finally visited Frenchmen street. I was in charge of picking the restaurant, and it was (of course) our first ‘meh’ meal experience of the trip. But it was still good, because we got to enjoy some jazz during the meal. Then we wandered the street and caught an art fair and two fantastic bands playing on street corners. This is a Monday, and it’s still more lively than Seattle most nights of the week. It was amazing, and it will be hard to leave this place. Especially because of our last stop of the night – an dessert visit to Cafe du Monde for one more round of beignets.

Sunday

5

October 2014

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New Orleans Day 3 – So Much Deliciousness

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Today was a wandering day. We managed to get brunch at this fairly small place called Cafe Soule. Really great Louisiana / French food. So good. We explored the French Quarter a bit more, then found a very cute dress shop. Damage was done. Next up was Carousel Bar, where I got to taste a Ramos Gin Fizz (sorry bartender). It was pretty good, although too flowery for my palate.

Dinner was the highlight of the day. We ate at Commander’s Palace, which is known for being just fantastic. And it was. It was a leisurely dinner with fantastic service, great drinks and even better food. It’s a huge place and clearly the kind of restaurant where people go to celebrate anniversaries and such. Afterwards we wandered our neighborhood some more, stopping for a drink by Jackson Square, then popping into a jazz club for a couple of sets. Sunday night, 11 P.M. and it felt like a Saturday night at 10 P.M. anywhere else. Apparently they have to close Bourbon Street to traffic every single night. Fascinating.

We have nearly two full days left, and we have a lot on the schedule. A couple of museums and a steamboat ride are in our future

Saturday

4

October 2014

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New Orleans Day 2 – 10 Miles and Many Beignets

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It’s easy to be lazy here. It isn’t so hot at this time of year (thankfully) that we can’t move, but the place we’re staying is comfortable, so there was no need to race out the door. But once we were out, we were ready to take on the day. First up was Cafe du Monde for beignets. Delicious fried bits of heaven covered in tons of powdered sugar. They are open 24/7, so we might have to visit later one of these nights. You basically stand in a line (that moved surprisingly quickly), grab a table, they come and clear out the dishes before you and you order. The only options are beignets and either chickory coffee, black coffee, OJ or cocoa. So they can churn this stuff out pretty quickly. They deliver the food, you pay right then (cash only) and then start down the road towards a sugar coma. They are delicious.

We walked over to the St. Charles Avenue Streetcar after and hopped on for a very nice ride to the park. Then we turned right around to walk back. The homes on that street are ridiculous. Just ginormous, with huge porches and manicured landscaping. The sidewalks are not well-kept, however; we have running assumption that one of us will twist an ankle by the weekend’s end. But the walk was gorgeous and it was nice to be out in the world. After a break to rest we went out to a brewery and then dinner at Cafe Giovanni, a delicious Italian spot.

I’m really enjoying this city. The architecture is gorgeous and its so easy to walk around and just get lost. Also, the drinks are delicious 🙂

Friday

3

October 2014

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New Orleans Day 1 – Not What I Expected

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Because of the work I’ve done for the past eight years or so, I (sadly) associate New Orleans with Hurricane Katrina. I’ve read three books about New Orleans this year; one was a guidebook (which is being very helpful I must say) and two were about the hurricane (Five Days at Memorial and Zeitoun). I know there is so much more history here, but in my mind when I saw that dome as we drove in from the airport I didn’t think about the Saints, I thought about people needing to be evacuated.

But I’m getting past that. We arrived and made it to our rental quickly, and it is lovely. It’s a small self-contained apartment with a kitchen and sitting area downstairs and two bedrooms and a bathroom upstairs. It’s got just enough furnishing to feel comfortable but not so much that it feels like someone else’s house. We were 50/50 on the Air BnB thing before this trip; now we’re 2 out of 3 in the plus column, so that’s good. We’re set far back from the street just a block from Bourbon Street, and that’s fantastic, as we have this great courtyard along with two sweet cats who look like they’ve been beat up on the streets. Seriously, ugliest cats I’ve ever seen in person. But still SO SWEET.

Bourbon Street is narrower than I imagined, but just as raunchy as I expected. Even more so, actually. There’s the Hustler Club, the Penthouse Club, and something featuring ‘barely legal’ dancers which, I have to say, should not be appealing. What is their tag line – feel like a pedo without that nasty lingering fear of arrest? Yikes. It also seems that every other storefront is a daquiry/pizza joint. That exact combination is repeated throughout the street. Odd.

The rest of the French Quarter so far seems pretty awesome. We found a bar (21st Amendment) that had this little room we managed to commandeer. It felt like where the head mobster would meet and grant favors to his men. The drinks were delicious, and the bartender recommended a restaurant nearby to try out. St. Lawrence had very tasty food and a good drink selection. I couldn’t finish mine, but that’s okay, because you just ask for a to-go cup and they pour it into one for you to take away. Wow.

We wandered the streets a bit then found Fritzel’s, which was featuring a really great brass band. Fantastic jazz – the kind I really like, that sounds almost like a big band but not quite. They also had a bumper sticker that I must find:

“New Orleans: We Put the Fun in Funeral”

Monday

7

July 2014

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Alaska By Cruise Ship

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Two Stars

ABCS

I’m going on a cruise to Alaska this summer to celebrate my dad’s 70th birthday, and I’m pretty excited. I’ve never been north of Vancouver on the West Coast, so I thought I’d pick up a book to learn what I should check out when I’m in the various ports. I’ve been on a cruise before, so I generally know what to expect on that front – I just wanted some information on locations and maybe a little history.

This book is fine. I don’t think a lot of editorial effort went into it – there’s at least one pretty obvious error that shouldn’t have escaped anyone’s eye, really – but there’s a lot of information, and some history. In fact, there was probably more history than your average travel book, so I appreciate that. However, I’m a bit suspect about the accuracy. It’s not just the aforementioned typo; that can happen if you don’t have a great editor, or even if you do, mistakes still get made.

However, it’s not just typos. Because many Alaska cruises start and/or end in Seattle, there’s a nice section on my home city. Even though I live here, I still read that section, and it was full of errors that would have been avoided with some basic fact-checking (i.e. Googling). I know information can become out of date quickly in the travel guide world, but considering this edition of the book came out in March of this year, I expect it to be fairly accurate. Some things I take issue with might just be a matter of interpretation – the author claims the north cruise ship dock is 20 minutes from downtown, which, I guess, if traffic is moving at 5 miles per hour, that MIGHT be the case. But it’s literally four miles from the heart of downtown – I know because I used to go for runs from the middle of downtown up to there and back. But like I said, maybe she just wanted to cover her rear so people allow enough time. Okay.

But Ms. Vipond also talks about buses in the downtown Seattle corridor being free between 6 AM and 7 PM, but they got rid of the ride-free zone in September of 2012 – not exactly close to the deadline for this edition. And the IMAX Dome theatre she mentions closed well before that – I want to say in 2007? Even the name of our football stadium, which changed a couple of years ago (and got a lot of press this last year, what with the Seahawks winning the Super Bowl) is incorrect. She does point out a relatively new attraction – a Ferris wheel on the waterfront – so clearly she did some research. The point of me going into such detail is because knowing all of those errors in just five or six pages makes me really question whether any of the information in the rest of the book can still be considered accurate.

If you happen to be going on a cruise this summer and want some basic background on the ports of call, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with picking up this guide. I just can’t vouch for accuracy.

Saturday

19

April 2014

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DK Eyewitness Travel Guide to New Orleans by Marilyn Wood

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Three Stars

DK New Orleans

First off, I fully recognize that this review would probably be best saved for AFTER I visit the city for which I purchased it. However, that trip is over five months away, so I don’t know if I’d really remember much at that point. If anything in the book has led me wildly astray, however, I’ll come back and update my review.

In my experience of the travel book world, there are a few big players, which I usually envision this way: Rick Steves (a.k.a. what your parents use); Fodor’s and Frommer’s (the sort of generic middle of the road); Lonely Planet (for the SLIGHTLY less mainstream traveler), and Eyewitness (for the person who likes shiny things and detailed maps). I know there are others; these are just the ones I have found to be the ones usually in stock at a bookstore. In looking at my husband’s and my travel bookshelf, we have 10 Lonely Planet guides and three Eyewitness Travel.

(more…)

Wednesday

17

July 2013

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What I Learned on My Honeymoon

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DSCN2951

Austin and I just got back from spending two weeks traveling across Scotland and Ireland. It was fun, relaxing, interesting, stressful and tiring. Some observations.

1. When I’m in the UK and Ireland there are only two types of alcohol I want: Cider and Whisk(e)y, primarily of the Bulmers/Magners and speyside/Jameson varieties.

2. Scotland and Ireland start to melt around 82 degrees, and shift into a circle of hell around 88 degrees. When that happens, I average three showers per day and become a decidedly un-sunny person.

3. It doesn’t matter how lovely the scenery or wonderful the company; if it’s 90 degrees in my room at 12:30 A.M. I’m going to be miserable. I recognize that makes me a wimp, and possibly a bratty one. I’m not okay with that, but couldn’t figure out how to just ‘get over’ melting into a puddle.

4. The Isle of Skye is gorgeous and I could spend another week there exploring.

5. There’s really no need to visit Inverness.

6. Edinburgh is gorgeous in the summer, when it is light from 5 A.M. until 11 P.M. I can also imagine it being dark and gloomy in the winter and still awesome because of all the cool architecture.

7. By settling down and just picking one major thing to do each day, I was able to relax more and enjoy myself more. I’m not going to be able to see or do everything I want, and trying to takes me away from relaxation and over to stress.

8. I still love Ireland more than most places I’ve been, but I feel okay about not going back for a few years. There’s more to see.

9. There really is nothing like seeing old friends. Ben/Bonnie, Kate/Richard, Vanessa/Diarmuid: it was WONDERFUL to see you and catch up. You are welcome in our home any time.

10. My husband is awesome. After 16 days of near non-stop togetherness, five flights and about 24 hours of road tripping, we only came close to fighting once. Freakin’ sat nav taking us to the train station instead of the train station parking lot.

Next stop: NYC in October!

Tuesday

13

July 2010

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