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New and traditional ways of exploring the globe, and your own backyard.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Vote for the 7 Natural Wonders of the World

There is a lot of natural beauty in the world, and one group is trying to come up with a list of the top seven natural wonders. I don't envy them.
Finalists include: the Bay of Fundy in Canada, the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland (which I'm hoping to see this fall), the Black Forest in Europe, Mud Volcanoes near the Caspian Sea, Table Mountain in Africa, and the Great Barrier Reef. Um, that's just a few of the finalists.
There's only one in the United State: the Grand Canyon.
Personally, after all the natural beauty I saw in the United States this summer, I really think we have more to offer than the Grand Canyon (actually, that's one of my least favorite national parks). There's mud volcanoes in Yellowstone, the Devil's Tower in Wyoming, the western coastline of California - to also name a few.
I didn't have a say in the list of finalists...but we do have a say for the outcome of the 7 Natural Wonders of the World. Check out this site and vote for your favorites. We'll get the outcome in November (11/11/11).
There was also a 7 New Wonders of the World in 7/7/07 (they like those cool dates, I guess...well, them and most engaged couples). Check out that new-ish list here.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

A new Turkish Hotel made out of caves

When I first read about this on Yahoo and saw the photo, I had a feeling I had been there before. Turns out I have...uh, kinda.
Last time I was Cappadocia, it was 2004, we were in a pretty new war in the Middle East, and I was on an awesome tour in Turkey. The Cappadocia region still remains one of my favorite places on earth mainly because it is so different from anywhere else I had been and nearly anywhere I've been since.
I was told by our tour guide that scenes from the latest Star Wars movies were filmed in this part of Turkey, mainly because it really did look like another planet.
On top of that, the area has these fun landmarks called "Fairy chimneys" which are naturally-carved out of the earth from similar rock as this new hotel.
The new 30-room, 5-star Yunak Evleri hotel, by the way, is carved into a mountain, and it six cave houses and a 19th-century Greek mansion. And there is still wireless. Amazing.
The hotel probably isn't far from Pamukkale which is a hard to describe area (photo below) with calcium mineral baths that have formed a white colored cliff that can be seen for miles. The photo looks very inviting but when I was there, the world heritage site had strict rules about visiting - you couldn't wear shoes and you technically weren't allowed to bathe in the water. I remember it smelling and looking kinda funny so I didn't really want to. There was another mineral bath nearby, also near some Roman Empire ruins, that you could bathe in though. Story has it that Cleopatra went there.

The Cappadocia area, in the eastern part of Turkey, is a volcanic region which is why there are so many cool rocks and formations. There are times like these when I wish I was better in geology. I actually saw my first volcano in Turkey in this region. Ah, memories.
So, I was happy to see that they were using the soft limestone to carve out new attractions. While the country is immensely popular with European tourists, namely the British and German, it still has not really caught on in the U.S.
Just doing my part to change that...

Sunday, April 24, 2011

United We Fly

There were a couple surprises this morning when I went to greet a Make A Wish family at the Albany International Airport.
The first was when I went on the United Airlines site to check the status of the last leg of the family's flight back from their tropical break. Apparently, the flight number had been changed. The one in the family's original itinerary was for a United plane to Chicago, not to Albany.

I ended up calling Premiere Limosine, an awesome local company that provides transport for the kids and their families to and from the airport and usually in one of their luxurious limosines which is a great surprise for them. I knew Premiere had to pick up the family but they had the same problem I did since they had the wrong flight number. Eventually, after checking the flights into Albany International, we found the right one (mainly due to Premiere's help on their 24-hour phone service which was greatly appreciated, especially being Easter morning and all).

Kinda made me wonder how often flight numbers change and why. An obligatory online search found this as one answer, citing mainly airline mergers and continuous changes with the industry, but I'm sure there is more to the story and might do a future post on it when I learn more.

Since I knew the family had a long trip back (as well as a long trip over) with multiple layovers, I had a feeling there might be a delay along the way and was 100 percent sure that they would not arrive on time.

My second surprise of the day was that they were on time. Infact, they were early.

So, I have to give the United folks kudos for that since they got me home to my family on a holiday on time and the Make A Wish family home with plenty of time for Easter celebrations, following some jet-lagged rest anyway.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

No Double Occupancy Required on this Cruise Ship

As I've said before, I've never been on a cruise. So, I have not really written much about them on here until recently. I guess I'm more the the road trip around the country and backpack around Europe kinda gal.

But, I know they are a very popular type of vacation for all types of people - my grandma, my fellow Make A Wish volunteers, my co-workers, married and single friends. But the latter group, sometimes find themselves in a bit of an unfair bind due to either preferring to travel alone or not being in a relationship. The problem, the monetary portion of it anyway, can be summed up in two words: double occupancy.

Unless you're camping, hosteling, or staying with friends, most travelers have come across that phrase because motels, hotels, tour groups, and even cruise ships usually ask that single travelers pay a double occupancy rate, even if there is only one of you. And, financially, it does make sense (for the venue) since you are using a whole room that otherwise would be paid for by two people so why shouldn't you have to pay that full, or almost full rate?

Well, it seems at least one cruise line has noticed this singledom strife and they, more than a year ago, started offering single studios which were attached to a lounge area where the other singles could all mingle.

I see pros and cons to this, as with anything, but mainly pros in that you're not being asked to pay more just because you're traveling alone. However, a con, obviously, is that there may be a reason you are traveling alone (maybe you want some privacy) so a small studio with attached common living room may not be the best idea (but then, if that's the case, going on a cruise - which, though I've admittedly never been, seems like a social affair - may not be a good idea either then and you should stick to road trips and backpacking).

The Norwegian Epic, with Norwegian Cruise Lines, is the only cruise ship I've found so far that offers this sorta studio and it mainly travels for 7-day jaunts to either the eastern or western Caribbean for $799. There are 128 single rooms, which may sound like a lot, but not when you're talking about a ship that can fit 4,100 passengers, not including crew.

Carnival, however, has some single deals as well that seem worth looking into. Again, there are pros and cons, and another con I see at this point is that the single rooms seem to mainly be the ones located in the interior of the ship (which seems to be the case for Norwegian as well). It would be nice to eventually have something available with a balcony too, just like what's used by the newly-weds and couples celebrating anniversaries. But, baby steps...and, hopefully, you won't spend too much time in your cabin anyway in order to enjoy the shows, the restaurants, the amenities, and other attractions.

I'm not the first to highlight this feature and hopefully I won't be the last. Maybe some day I'll check the whole cruise thing out for myself too.

Bon Voyage!

Friday, April 22, 2011

The Titanic dock remains, intact

So, the fun thing about my job is that I get to meet a lot of interesting people. Really, this is the only benefit of my job (I'm almost not kidding). This week, after talking business with a guy for a while, we got to talking about cruises.
I've never been on a cruise. I've heard good and bad things about them, so I really should give them a shot at some point.

But on one of this person's last trips, via Yankee Trails I think, to New York City for a cruise launch, he said he saw the dock where Titanic was scheduled to arrive. Amazingly enough, nearly a century later, it is still there. And it is still owned by the White Star Line too, though they apparently use a different name now since it merged with a rival line and is part of the Carnival Corporation now.
And, after some modern day Web browsing/researching, I found that the same dock (Pier 54) was where the Lusitania last left port before sinking, killing about 1,198. Titanic's fatal and maiden voyage had slightly more, 1,517. (that's the Lusitania below)

I've been looking more into the Titanic history since I'll be visiting where it was built, Belfast, in the fall. I hear they're doing some things to mark the centennial next year.
I just hope when I eventually take a cruise ship that it does not leave from Pier 54, given the track record.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Country vs City Living

One thing finally occurred to me when I was last in Berlin, NY, I got the feeling that people who live in the country take (a lot) more pride in where they live and know more about where they live than those who live in the city.
I'll admit, this is a broad statement and probably not true for every city slicker (especially those who may take good care of their brownstones in downtown Troy or Victorian homes in east side). But, the reason I thought of this was because the address I had for a maple sugar house was totally wrong (thanks internet). I had wound up at a store that sold their syrup but that did not even really help me since the place was closed - it was a Sunday, after all.
I drove down a side street near the store for a bit and found some people standing outside, enjoying the yay-it's-not-snowing weather. I asked for directions to where I needed to go, Kent's Sugar House.
Not only did this random mother know of the place but she knew exactly where it was was too. "On the mountain," she said, pointing behind the nearby fire house to the west, where a small mountain sat adjacent to the town of Berlin, separating it from Poestenkill.
One thing I'll say about street layouts in the country is that they do seem a bit more simple than in the city, which could be a reason why it's easier to remember where things are.
To me, it also seems like she knew the family (maybe even grew up with Kent) and was more than familiar with the business and its location.
This amazes me. And maybe it shouldn't, but it does. I've been asked for directions by people in downtown Troy and I'll admit, sometimes I know where they need to go but sometimes I don't - even though I've lived here a good majority of my life.
Maybe it's a generational thing, maybe it's a complex downtown Troy thing (with a lot of one way streets and, luckily, new businesses), or maybe it's just me.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Road Trip, Part Deux

It's road trip week on Wheel of Fortune (I made a point to be home for it and Jeopardy today) which is a funny coincidence because the warm weather (and a good friend of mine finalizing wedding plans) has inspired me to start tentatively planning another long-ish trip, this time around Colorado, Arizona, Utah, Montana and Wyoming.

Those five states were included in the 28 state free-for-all this past summer but I felt there was a lot I did not see, especially in Utah. My cousins in Aspen had recommended seeing Zion and I just did not have quite enough time.

Well, as seems to have become an annual tradition for me, I am planning to head back to Colorado in the spring of 2012 (I went there with my family last year and on my road trip in July 2010). This time I'll be out there, in Denver, for a wedding (again, wedding travels seem to be a semi-annual tradition for me now too). Even if this road trip does not work out, I can't wait to be out there again - though it will be weird to actually fly there since the two past time I either drove or took the train.

But, it would be awesome if this comes to fruition.

As I watch my latest installment from Netflix of Californication, I'm dreaming of a 4,000-mile trip of mainly national parks (big surprise, right). I already have the itinerary worked out too. It would include Mesa Verde, known for its stone ruins in the cliffs and very old artwork; Canyonland, most recently known for where 127 hours took place; Monument Valley, where eroded, beautiful rock rises from the barren plain; Bryce Canyons; Zion; and then a 14 hour drive north to Montana to Glacier National Park on the Canadian border. From there, I'd re-visit Yellowstone (one of my favorite stops in my last road trip) and head back down to Aspen to visit family there.

It'll be a crunch but I'm pretty sure this can be done in two weeks. One day, maybe when I'm retired, I'd love to spend just two weeks in one of these places. But, until then, a sampler seems more fun and effective.


Denver - 2.5 days (Sat, Sun, Mon)

Mesa Verde - Cortez, CO (7 hours from Denver) (Mon, Tues)

Canyonlands - Moab, UT (2 hours from Cortez) (Wed)

Monument Valley - Kayenta, AZ (3 hours from Moab) (Thurs)

Bryce - Bryce Canyon, UT (4.5 hours from Kayenta) (Fri)

Zion - Springdale, UT (2 hours from Bryce) (Sat, Sun)

Monday for travel

Glacier - Browning, MT (14 hours, 20 mins from Springdale) (Tues,Wed)

Yellowstone - West Yellowstone, MT (6 hours, 50mins from West Glacier) Thurs

Aspen - (11.5hours from West Yellowstone) (Fri,Sat)

Denver - (3.5 hours from Aspen) (Sun)

Total: 4,010 miles (66.5 hours driving) ---two weeks (May 26 to June 10, 2012)

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Tours and my (purple) Northern Ireland Bridesmaid Dress

I got my bridesmaid dress in the mail this week for the Northern Ireland trip in the late summer. It’s like the photo only even more…purple (or so it seems to me). I told this to the bride and she said it sounded like I thought the purple was a bad thing. I wouldn’t say that. I guess I’m just not used to so much…purple. Not since my days of watching Barney the dinosaur anyway. But the trip is, indeed, getting closer and I really do need to buy my airfare soon – before gas prices skyrocket even more. For those who are not interested in planning these things on your own, there are tours. I’ve never really been one to take a tour. I visited most of Europe solo (well, I always met people there to see the sights with but my traveling was mainly on my own). I didn’t go to Egypt with a tour. I went with my friend Anzinga and we had a ball gallivanting around the country in taxis that were lacking the metal parts to roll up windows (the drivers hid them it seemed to make sure no one would steal them) and sleeping on overnight trains in lieu of air conditioned tour buses. But I realize this way of life is not for everyone. It can be a pain in the butt as far as planning, I will admit that. So, I was recently talking with Sandra at Albany-based Celtic Tours. Their Celtic Sojourn goes all around Ireland and they have another tour that focuses on Northern Ireland. She explained they also have dinner/show specials in Dublin where you drive yourself and have vouchers that the tour company gives you. They have a couple specials this week that are available until Friday, and in countries other than Ireland and Northern Ireland since they also go to Italy, Britain, Australia and New Zealand. I did do one tour of Turkey in my college days and I have fond memories of it. Every time I hear Madonna’s Like A Prayer, I still think of my group - mainly Aussies, Kiwis and Americans – drinking in excess bottles of raki, which is like ouzo in that it tastes like black licorice. I encourage others to make similar memories – whether it’s on a tour or not. I’m currently debating about Northern Ireland. In my “old” age, easier is becoming better…

An Italian Delegation Visited The Record

I was watching The Italian Job this morning. The one from 1969 with Michael Caine, not the new one. It reminded me of some sort of combination between a James Bond movie and something in the international heist genre. But probably more like James Bond mainly because of all of the implied women that Caine slept with in the movie and the myriad of cars that blew up and plummeted down cliffs in the Alps. But, I digress. A lot. The movie this morning made me think of the Italian delegation that visited The Record last week. Not because they plummeted any cars, just because they were Italian. A group of four Italians, to be precise, accompanied by two translators were making their way around the region and they found their way into our printing press room and newsroom, mainly due to fellow blogger Diane Conroy-LaCivita. The group encompassed a manufacturer, publisher, entrepreneur, and marketing professor. And this was their first visit to the U.S., though they had all been to pretty cool places before like Tunisia, Valencia, Maldives and even Zanzibar. (ten digital points to anyone who knows where those places are) At the paper, I showed around the group and was assisted by the editorial secretary, Sue, and production manager, Randy. Randy explained the inner workings of our huge 30-year-old press and our new-ish plate machine. Sue gave some pretty cool tidbits about the building itself and its history. The paper, for example, has been at 501 Broadway since 1906, a decade after The Record started, and the only fatality here was when a publisher got too close to an old press in a room that is now barricaded. We were asked if there were any ghosts. I, personally, have not seen any but I’ve heard stories. The visit from the Italians, coordinated by the International Center of the Capital Region, impressed me since the delegation was learning so much about our area’s businesses. They also visited the Albany-Colonie Chamber of Commerce, the Small Business Development Center, the Center for Technology and Government, and the Business Review. The group wanted to meet with federal and local policy experts to better understand government requirements for businesses. The project they were involved with was called: Cutting Red Tape to Improve the Business Environment. They were in the states for about three weeks. I think projects like this, or exchange programs like the one I just wrote about at The Doane Stuart School with Northern Ireland, are essential, especially with globalization and the world becoming so flat, as Thomas Friedman might say, and so small and connected. When it comes down to it, we’re all just people and we need to realize there is more to our cultures and everyday lives than many realize.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Road Trips and High Gas Prices

It’s finally road trip weather again. The last stubborn snow piles in the Walmart and grocery store parking lots are looking less and less like abstract winter art and more like melted mush – which is how it should be. It is spring. While every year people look forward to the thaw, there is one thing they do not look forward to. That would be the summer increases in gas prices. And this year it looks like it came early. I saw my first gas this weekend for over $4 (it was $4.03 at a Mobil on New Scotland Ave. in Albany). It’s highway robbery. Kinda literally. But we’re all dealing with it. One of my friends said there were some benefits since the last time it got really high, following Hurricane Katrina, it seemed like just enough incentive for people to finally stop wasting gas on small trips when they could walk, bike or take the bus. So, that is a good side effect. A bad side effect, however, is that many people might have to put off their planned road trips this summer or at least decrease the originally intended distance. This makes me sad since I truly feel America’s byways were meant to by explored. I was thinking about my cross-country trip last year. And, I have to admit, I really don’t know what I would have done if gas prices got this high. The average gas prices in the Capital District are over $1 more than the average gas I paid for on my 18.5 day trip. I had to utilize 41 gas stations from here to San Francisco and back – using mainly I-90 to get there on a northern route and then mostly I-40 the way back. The average price I paid was about $2.87 with the highest in a gas station out in the middle of no where in the Utah desert (it was $3.69) and the lowest was off the highway in South Carolina (at $2.36). Full disclosure: I probably have an unnatural fixation on gas prices…which I blame completely on my father. After church every week, we would compare notes on where the cheapest gas was in the area – usually it was in Wynantskill – and go there to fill up the family van. To this day my friends catch me spending an unnatural amount of time staring at the large gas station signs to remember the price and weigh it against other finds. (The cheapest I’ve seen lately is out in Nassau at $3.83, for those interested.) But my gas obsession finally came in handy since I was pretty accurately able to gauge our gas budget for the 8,799 mile trip. I budgeted about $860, it ended up being about $830. Don’t worry. I put that extra $30 to good use on the lodging which I under budgeted for. Oops. I found that gas was cheaper the more inland we went on the way over and got more expensive as we got to the west coast. I wondered if the reason it was sometimes cheaper in the Midwest was because we were so close to the oil sources. We passed by a lot of large oil pumps, sometime that were just off the road.

(On a side note, I also made sure we stopped for gas when we were at a half tank. My friend Jess said I was being responsible. Really, I was just being paranoid since I didn't want to get stuck in the middle of nowhere without a gas station.) Obviously, it was expensive in the more posh areas, like in Aspen. And then cheaper in some areas where you might not expect to see a lot of tourists, like Alabama. By my calculations, we used about 288 gallons of gasoline. And this makes me think that if the average gas price a year ago was $2.87 and now average prices nationwide are up about a dollar. That means the average now would probably be around $3.87 and I would be spending more than $1,100 for gas this summer for the same trip I did last year. Oh sure, it’s still do-able but I have a feeling I would be spending a lot more nights camping than in motels and hotels.

(Did I also mention I'm a spastic gas price recorder too? These are all my records from the trip.) Gas prices from 8,799 miles in 18.5 days

Highest: $3.69 – Utah dessert/ Lowest: $2.36 – South Carolina

$2.79 – July 1 NY

$2.86 – July 1 NY

$2.73 – July 2 Ohio

$2.99 – July 2 Indiana

$2.87 – July 3 Chicago

$2.69 – July 3 Wisconsin

$2.74 – July 3 Minnesota

$2.69 – July 4 South Dakota

$2.84 – July 4 South Dakota

$2.82 – July 4 South Dakota

$2.63 – July 5 Wyoming

$2.77 – July 5 Montana

$2.79 – July 5 Montana

$3.09 – July 6 Yellowstone

$2.89 – July 7 Wyoming

$2.85 – July 7 Wyoming

$3.55 – July 8 Aspen

$3.69 – July 9 Utah, near Moab

$2.74 – July 9 Utah, near Salt Lake City

$3.59 – July 10 Nevada

$3.05 – July 10 Nevada

$3.13 – July 11 Reno, Nevada

$3.66 – July 11 Yosemite, California

$3.15 – July 13 California

$2.95 – July 13 California

$3.39 – July 13 California

$2.99 – July 14 near Hoover Dam, Arizona

$3.34 – July 14 near Grand Canyon

$2.65 – July 14 Navajo Nation New Mexico

$2.73 – July 15 New Mexico

$2.55 – July 15 Amarillo, Texas

$2.49 – July 15 Oklahoma

$2.75 – July 15 near Oklahoma, Arkansas border

$2.49 – July 16 Jonesboro, Arkansas

$2.41 – July 16 Alabama

$2.59 – July 18 Georgia

$2.36 – July 18 South Carolina

$2.43 – July 18 Virginia

$2.59 – July 18 Maryland

$2.67 – July 18 Pennsylvania

$2.85 – July 19 Albany, NY

Thursday, April 7, 2011

My New Lofty Goal: The Appalachian Trail

Our extremely knowledgeable editorial secretary informed me a couple weeks ago about a travelogue that would be given at the New Lebanon Library regarding a local woman's solo hike on the 2, 175 mile Appalachian Trail. Sue, our secretary, knows me very well indeed (so well, that she knew to tell me about the upcoming Thunder From Down Under male revue at Vapor too).

Now, I love hiking and I'm really looking forward to the spring/summer/fall hiking seasons here but I've honestly never really thought about hiking the Appalachian trail. To me, it was kinda like my thoughts on climbing Everest - sweet bragging rights but I'm just not that crazy.

After all, the AT, as hikers apparently call it, goes through 14 states and those who attempt the trek have a success rate between 10 percent and 29 percent which is a lot lower than the 23 percent to 60 percent success rate at Everest.

My other goal of swimming the English Channel has a success rate around 40 percent. Overall better odds, really. Even though only about 600 have made the swim in the 130-years since the crazy 23-mile dip started.

The speaker at Thursday night's talk, who finished the AT journey in 2010, convinced me that the trail could be a very worth while six month trip (or 47 days if you're reeeeally nuts like Andrew Thompson in 2005). Canaan resident Joanna Ezinga said she did not initally intend to do the whole trail but that is what ended up happening.

She faced unending blisters on her feet, a dislocated rotator cuff, dozens of rain drenched miles, the loneliness associated with walking much of the trip alone, some malnutrition, and a menagerie of animals including bears and venomous snakes (in the words of my favorite fictional adventurer "Snakes. Why did it have to be snakes?"). And on top of all that she was hiking about 15 miles a day and climbing lots of really tall mountains, the tallest being around 6,600 feet.

Who in the world would put themselves through all this and come out smiling? Well, more than 11,000 people have hiked the entire trail (many known as thru-hikers since they did it all in a single trip) but still thousands of others hikes sections of the AT annually.

For Ezinga, she said she would do it all again since it put you in a situation few people rarely enter where it is just them and the bare necessesities of what they need. She reflected that it made you realize what you really do need and how we are surrounded by so many luxuries.

On her trip, she carried about 25 pounds of supplies including one set of clothes, a small tent, food, personnal items, a propane-fueled cooker, sleeping bag and an inflatible sleeping pad. She collected water along the way in streams and other sources, and disinfected the supplies with bleach (about 2 drops for a liter of water, or more if the water is iffy). And she went off the trail into nearby towns for food, showers, and other supplies, usually every two to eight days.

Now, she hopes to one day be able to teach area women some of the skills she learned along the way - the AT was her first and last hiking trip. She was a triathlete and continues to be a personal trainer.

We are lucky in that this area is not far from the AT in Massachusetts, New York, Connecticut, and Vermont so day hikes are feasible.

In all honesty with myself and the bloggerverse, I'd probably be more likely to be a non-thru hiker and finish the AT in portions. But maybe I'll change my mind.

Now, what I really need is to find one of the 600 people who have swam the English Channel and get some input on that. At least there are no snakes involved...but there are jellyfish and super tankers.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

With gas prices up, should we expect more at the pump?

It was an odd start to my day today. For the first time in the more than five years of working here, I forgot the punch code to gain access to the second floor and the newsroom from the parking lot entrance. I had to call my editor (Jim Franco) to ask for the code. I walked in to him laughing at me, and I was laughing at myself. Then, around my desk, some of my co-workers had gathered to talk about random things. They were also laughing and joking, but about many different topics. One of the conversation points was about the awkwardness we New Yorkers feel when pulling up to a full-service pump at a gas station. Apparently, our Rensselaer County reporter had accidentally pulled up to one the other day and she did not exactly know what to do since full service stations are kind of a thing of the past and really almost a relic of bygone years when there were only a few models of cars on the road, thruways had not yet gained popularity and taking the family on a drive along a two-lane highway was considered fun (well, I guess it still is but now the kids are too busy texting and listening to their iPods to really notice any scenery). But my co-worker was not sure whether she should tip the attendant since the price of the gas was already more expensive than at the self-service pumps. I remembered being in a similar situation when I was visiting a friend in Cambridge, Massachusetts, not far from Boston. My friend told me that all the gas stations in the community were full service and she said the reasoning was two-fold: fewer people stealing gas and more jobs. I made the mistake of thinking this full-service thing applied to the whole state, even though I realized I had been to gas stations along I-90 and Route 2 in Massachusetts that were obviously not full service. So, I just did what anyone my age would do: I Googled it. The overwhelming online consensus is that you should tip these attendants, except if it is in an area that mandates the full service stations. According to wiki, this applies to Oregon, New Jersey, and a town on Long Island named Huntington. I have to admit. New Jersey takes a lot of badmouthing but you can’t go too wrong in a state where you get notoriously cheaper gas and it’s pumped for you (along with a quick windshield cleaning). And, with the high gas prices we’re seeing these days, it would kinda be nice to at least have someone pumping it for you. Maybe another thing to write to your state representatives about: lower our gas taxes, and require full service stations which should create more jobs in the process. And, random wiki fact of the day, did you know that along with full and self service there are also “minimum service” filling stations? I guess that means the attendant (another fun fact: sometimes they’re called “gas jockeys”) just pumps the gas and no extra services.

Monday, April 4, 2011

South by Southwest

So, I'm sure you've all heard about the overhead fuselage that ripped open this weekend on a Southwest airplane. (Is it sad I didn't know what a fuselage was until this?) Luckily, even after an emergency landing, no one was seriously injured of the more than 120 passengers and the crew.
Over the weekend, more than 300 flights were canceled, with an additional 70 recently, according to the New York Times.
As a result, at least 79 planes have been grounded and there are mass inspections of the Boeing 737-300s. Cracks have since been found in three more jets.
Despite this, it seems people are still fairly confident in the planes being used and I agree. The airline has nothing to gain from another incident and everything to lose so it is really in their best interest to ground necessary planes and cancel flights. Sure, it is an inconvenience but I would rather be on a safe plane than one that has a subsurface crack.
Although....there are some not-so-friendly posts on Facebook from some who are stranded. (For example: "WOW! Just looked up the FAA guidelines to when an airline needs to take responsibility and reimburse an individual passengers cancelled flight due to their mechanical errors....... Southwest even includes “mechanical difficulties” in its list of not-our-fault situations. - Been stuck for an additional 36 hours and its seems as if they dont care, wont reimburse, and if is most definitely "Not their Fault"..."-From a Shelly Simone on the Southwest Facebook site. ) Not sure I agree with this policy, but I understand why the airline has it. Less responsibility means less money on their part.
I've always enjoyed flying with Southwest. I flew with them to Vegas a few years back and not only did they have great snacks (which might have been eliminated for budget reasons at this point) but the flight attendants also sang to us. Weird, but cool.
I have a feeling they'll make a quick recovery. In the meantime, don't sweat it too much if your flight was canceled. It really was in your best interest too.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Have you ever been in a foreign city when a bomb went off? I have.

There's apparently some unrest in Northern Ireland, which has me a bit restless as a result since I'm planning to fly over in T-minus five months.
Rodney Aldrich, who has spent a decent amount of time in the religiously-torn country, reported in his blog that the first killing since March 2009 occurred on Saturday when a 25-year-old policeman (described as a Catholic) was a casualty of a bomb booby-trap.
The Record's lucky to have Rodney, who I've spoken with myself on a few occasions, as a blogger since he really is a good authority on the N. Ireland topic.
Coincidentally, I just interviewed two teachers from Northern Ireland this past week, one was from near the area where my friend's wedding will take place and the other from the county near the Giant's Causeway which I plan to visit hopefully not while a severe conflict is brewing and manifesting in the country. I might re-interview these teachers about this possible IRA attack.
Though, if these incidents continue, it would not be the first time I was at a location during a bombing.
I was just "reminiscing" with my dad about when I received a travel enrichment grant from my alma mater to study the ancient city of Troy. (Ten points to anyone who knows where the ancient city of Troy actually is. Two hints: it's not in Greece and not in New York's Capital District.)
Through the grant (which was a decent chunk of change and I am still very grateful for the donation and the opportunity to this day), I was to travel from London where I was already studying abroad to Istanbul. I would then meet up with a tour group and see various parts of the country - including Hisarlik and Mount Ida near Canakkale which is where excavations continue to this day of the remains of Troy. They've found about nine layers of the legendary city and it is believed that layer seven is when the Homeric Trojan War took place mainly because of the city walls found from that time period, around 1,200 B.C.
Normally with these grants the school frowns upon using a tour company since the main purpose is to really absorb the culture and research your topic (mine, being an English major, was to compare the findings at the site with the classic books about Troy). They made an exception in this case mainly due to the Nov. 2003 bombings in Istanbul. Actually, for a while, I was not even sure if I would still be going due to the travel warnings. But I went. Needless to say, my parents were a little...ok, very...worried. I did my study abroad from Jan. 2004 to May 2004. (Also, during this time the March 2004 Madrid bombing occured which almost affected some of my fellow study abroaders, but that's a whole other blog entry.) My plan after was to fly to Istanbul, spend 10 days in Turkey, and then make my way from Eurasia back to Europe where I would travel via bus, ship, and train through the continent mainly using a Eurorail pass. (All told, I went to about 20 countries in two months but, again, that's another story.) I've been on a lot of planes but I still vividly remember the four-hour trip from London to Istanbul. I think the best way to describe how I was feeling was anxious. On the outside, I was trying to put on the facade that I was fine but deep down that was anything but true. It was probably partially because I was about to start a long trip where I would be traveling alone and I really did not know what to expect. If I were to be given the same opportunity now, I don't know if my 28-year-old self would have the kahunas that my 21-year-old self had. But the other reason I was worried was because I was going into a mainly Muslim country (my first visited Muslim country, even if it is secular) and protests of the U.S/Britain involvement in the Middle East had reached a climax. This included targeting British HSBC banks. My bank. I remember waking up on my third day in Istanbul to news that there was a "small" bombing (if these things can ever be small) across town from where I was staying. I made a point not to visit HSBC banks for the remainder of my trip in Turkey. Aside from that "small" scare, I had the time of my life in Turkey and I still believe it is a very misunderstood country. It has been denied entry into the European Union for years for reasons which I believe mainly stem from mistakes made on the part of small sects of the population(which would have been like not letting Germany into the EU because of their Nazi heritage) and because of its Islamic ties even though Turkey has one of the richest histories in Christianity. The house where Mary (ya know, that dude Jesus' *cough* virgin mother) was purportedly born is in Turkey, as are some of the very first Catholic churches which at the time had to be hidden in caves and grottos for fear of persecution.I've since developed an affinity with Turkey that I'm not sure I share as much with the other countries I visited that year. And, like Turkey, I believe Northern Ireland is misunderstood as well since it's hard to see through the IRA bombings, the killings, and the bloody past to see the beautiful country that it is. I'm looking forward to discovering as much of its history, bloody or otherwise, and experience its culture upon my visit in September. I have a feeling there might be a confluence of my current and my 21-year-old selves since I very well might need that same courage I had back then and combine it with knowledge I've gained since.

posted by Danielle Sanzone at 0 Comments

Mechanicville's White Water Derby

It's not too late to check out today's White Water Derby on the Anthony Kill in Mechanicville. It started at noon but, with an estimated 40 or so participants on kayaks and canoes, the race should until about 2 p.m. or so. At that point, the Anything that Floats portion will start which is a real hoot! (yes, I said "hoot")

Since starting at the paper more than five years ago, I've covered this derby nearly every year. Two years ago, I actually went down the stream with my experienced guide, Ken. I imagine he is participating this year, the event's 38th.

I went on one of the clean up trips to clear the creek of debris prior to the main event but it was still intense. We went over two rapids which is pretty impressive if you consider the fact that I had never been over one before and I had only been white water canoeing once prior to that and it was with Ken near the Cohoes Falls in preparation of going on this excursion. I'm not the only reporter to say I've done this, and I doubt I will be the last.

I'm up at my parent's place in Grafton today (enjoying the remnants of the snow blended nicely like an Impressinoist painting with the pure, clear blue skies) but even I'm thinking of making it up there before the end. It really is a good time, whether you're in the boats or not.

Best views are usually near the end of the creek at the Hudson River. The derby used to bring thousands (at one point estimated around 15,000 people) a year, so on a beautiful day like today I don't think you'll be alone.

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Friday, April 1, 2011

Tri-Delta...everyone else has

(the headline is a not-so-inside joke about a sorority on my old college campus that happens to have the same name of an airline…now, back to business…)

Delta Air Lines started its new service between Albany International Airport and Raleigh-Durham International Airport today, according to the Business Review.

It was previously announced that the daily nonstop flight would start on April 11. Instead, they started April 1.

If it’s not an April Fools joke, the schedule is for the plane to depart Raleigh-Durham at 10:45 a.m. and arrive at Albany at 12:41 p.m. and then the return flight leaves Albany at 7:40 p.m. and arrives back in North Carolina at 9:40 p.m.

Know what would be even better than this announcement? If there were nonstop international flights to locations other than to Canada.

Still, more flights is good news for Albany.

posted by Danielle Sanzone at 0 Comments