Blogs > Millennial Traveler

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

Friday, December 30, 2011

Free Coffee for Thruway Travelers New Years Eve

We may be just coming out of a recession but the state can still afford to offer weary travelers free coffee in many thruway rest stops as a way to start the new year off right.
At 27 plazas on the New York Thruway system, a 41-year-old tradition will continue as drivers who stop can get free coffee from 11pm Sat. Dec. 31 to 7am Jan. 1, according to various news entities.
Participants in the free coffee offer include McDonald's, Delaware North Companies Travel Hospitalities Service, and HMS Host Corporation.
A complete list of plazas can be found at

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Snow Train - A new way to see the Adirondacks in Winter

Starting this Friday, a snow train will start its winter route from Saratoga Springs to North Creek for those who want to skip snowy roads but still enjoy Adirondack attractions like Gore Mountain skiing, cross-country skiing, snow tubing, or a scenic outing.

The train, run by Saratoga & North Creek Railway, will leave each Friday, Saturday and Sunday through March, and two Mondays including Martin Luther King Day and Presidents Day.

Attractions include Cunningham's Ski Barn for X-C skiing which is just a mile from the North Creek train station, tubing at the North Creek Ski Bowl, and shopping in the North Creek area.

Shuttles will bring folks from the North Creek station to various points, like Gore Mountain, every 30 minutes at no additional charge.

I first read about this in The Record in a special story by The Saratogian's Paul Post. He also reported that 60,000 people have used this train since it re-opened in the summer. There have been attractions like Thomas the Tank Engine and The Polar Express.

This resurrected travel tradition dates back to the 1930s.

While the rail company is trying to appeal to more than just skiers, they are also offering ski discounts up to 30 percent off Gore trips.

The one-way trips range from $30, for coach, to $55, for the dome/scenic seating on the ski train.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Euro, Dollar Conversion

Over the past few weeks, the conversion of American Dollars to Euros has becoming increasingly more beneficial for the American tourist. Finally!
It's taken months/years of a poor economy in Italy and Greece, and the EU re-thinking if the Euro was a good idea, but the conversion rate is now $1 for .7669 Euros. Six months ago it was .7031. It's been slow but steady progress....well, for us anyway. Though, it was also about the same rate a year ago.
Still, with no real solution for the Euro issues, I'm thinking the rate should continue to improve (well, again, for us anyway).
Overall, despite ongoing problems, I think having the same currency in most European countries has been beneficial for tourism and investing but there needs to be more regulation of the Euro. But, until my next trip to Europe, don't tell the EU that, kay?

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Niagara Falls for the Holidays and Winter - Beautiful, Frugal

You may or may not know that I recently went to Niagara Falls for a quick weekend escape. There are pros and cons to going to the natural wonder in the winter (as there are pros and cons going anywhere at any time). But, for the most part, I'd say it's a unique winter experience and makes a lot of financial sense.

If you are planning a last minute trip there, maybe for the holidays, the Niagara Falls Bridge Commission (yes, there is a commission for this....) announced today that there will be free admission on their bridges for Christmas. That means the Rainbow, NEXUS-only Whirlpool Rapids, Lewiston-Queenston bridges will be free from 11:30pm Christmas Eve until 11:30pm Christmas Day. This is at least the second year in a row that this has been done, which saves tourists at least a few bucks.

In relation to this, I also got a $96 Travelzoo deal emailed to me for a stay at the Sheraton Niagara Falls Fallsview Hotel with $120 of dining and entertainment vouchers $80 Canadian for two area steakhouses and $40 for Dave and Busters. This includes Friday-Sunday stays through March or Saturdays including Dec. 24, Jan. 7, Jan. 14, Jan. 21, and Jan. 28. Rooms can be upgraded to a whirlpool cityview room for $10 more. The deal can be found here.

I'll warn you it's pretty cold in the western most parts of NY and border with Canada this time of year (which is why these deals are available to attract tourists). This means fewer tourists to deal with while also fewer attractions to choose from since many are seasonal.

Still, the icy falls' nightly light show is pretty awesome - especially from the Canadian side.

Local Media Firm Partnership

The Albany-based media organization responsible for the Knickerbocker Film Festival and Knickerbocker Ledger announced today that it will enter into an exclusive partnership with an agency involved in marketing, event promotions, and talent relations.
BASKnickerbocker Inc. has entered into an exclusive strategic partnership with Avid Agencies. The partnership will include BAS's news, web development, communications operations to move into the Washington Avenue Armory, the headquarters for Avid, starting Jan. 2012.
"This partnership represents significant market advantages for both BAS and Avid. Considering the number of projects we've worked on with Avid over the past couple of years, I am confident that this move to downtown Albany will benefit our clients and customers," said Joe Bonilla, CEO of BAS.
Terms and conditions of the agreement shall not be disclosed. The move, Bonilla said, does not constitute an entity merger.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Albany Bar Thinks Expansion, Local Brewmaster Moves to 'toga

For anyone who has ever visited the new-ish Barrel Saloon or the staple Albany Pump Station, you may be interested to know that changes are (possibly) underway.

In the case of the Pump Station, changes are definitely coming since the current brewmaster George de Piro has plans to leave the popular Albany restaurant/brewery and start a brew pub in Saratoga Springs.

I interviewed him not long ago for a field trip story I did at the Pump Station, but while there he said he hoped to have the new business up and running by May since he did not want to start a new business during the track peak season. The Saratogian also had some info on this since they covered a planning board meeting regarding this business proposal.

In other news....

When I was at the Barrel Saloon - Rock and Roll Country Bar on Broadway in Albany (it's not too far from the Biergarten), I had the fortune of coincidentally meeting the owner there (Chris Pratt). I had (again coincidentally) emailed him earlier that week because a friend told me that if you drank the Birthday Trifecta, aka the Trilogy, aka the boot, the teacup and the margarita, you got to drink for the rest of the night for free at the Barrel Saloon. Chris response was something along the lines of "nope, but that's amusing."

As it turns out, Chris is apparently good friends with the owner of the Biergarten, Olde English Pub, and Bomber's which do the Trifecta/Trilogy/heckofalottaalcohol. But, he had no plans for such a promotion.

While talking with him the other night (I went there for the Saloon's birthday drink - called the Dirty Swamp Water which is beer and lemonade served in a large, actual fish bowl), he said he was planning to hopefully expand the bar which currently has an outdoor mechanical bull in the warm months but no room for an indoor one during the rest of the year. Not sure where this stands in the planning process. I actually liked the bar the way it was - it was quaint with paneled wood everywhere, a decent menu (though we weren't particularly fond of their nachos, it was probably the canned chicken on top that killed it) and their live music was great. It felt just like a western bar, even the bouncers wore cowboy hats.

Morals of these stories are - check out the Pump Station before the brewmaster leaves (even though they'll likely serve similar beer afterward anyway) and go to the Barrel Saloon in the summer to check out the bull (but avoid the nachos).

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

EZPass's Customer Service far from Easy

So, this is my fourth blog about my misadventures with dealing with EZPass. I accidentally went through an EZPass lane back in August and, honestly, I've regretted it for the past four months because in that time I've gone through a yo-yo of mail and phone calls with EZPass and most recently now with a collections agency contracted by EZPass. All of this...for a $5.25 toll that I have already paid!
Since I've kind of been using my blogs as a type of record-keeping device (because God knows EZPass apparently is not keeping records on their side), I figured I would give an update.
After calling on Thanksgiving Eve and a few days later, I finally got a piece of mail with a short, two sentence message that I was hoping I did not fully understand.
It said the referenced case had now gone to collections and to refer to NCO notifications about appealing or paying.
First off, I didn't get anything from NCO. And, as far as I know, I still have not gotten anything from NCO (it's been a good two weeks after -finally- receiving some kind of notification from EZPass about an update regarding my request that they either reimburse me the $5.25 I paid to someone else's account after they sent me the wrong account number OR transfer the money to appropriate account).
After a few days passed, I called the given number on the mailing and it was for NCO. I was directed to their EZPass division (yes, the collections agency apparently have a division just for EZPass) covered by a nice woman who answered my call twice that day.
The first time I was asking where my account stood exactly and I told her I planned to fight the collections. She advised me to fax a paragraph to NCO to her attention explaining my dispute. I ended up sending a page-long EZPass epic which had a Cliffs Notes section a paragraph long in the beginning (for those reading it who might not want to read the entire explanation) and an extended version after the summary for anyone who cared to read why I really refuse to pay - main reason being that this would all be over with now if EZPass had sent me the right account number to begin with AND/OR had got their s*$# together and transfered the money I have already paid.
The second time I called the NCO employee, I think her name was Laurie, I wanted to confirm they received my fax. Since it was the end of the day, she said she probably would not see it until the next day. She also informed me that she did not know what the outcome of this might be.
My opinion: after dealing with this for a few months, it's apparent that EZPass offers to waive the $25 admin fee and then asks that you only pay the toll owed. I paid it the first time and then I refused the second time because I had already paid it because it would have been paying double. But now, according to the collections agency, I owe $43.35 (the $25 admin fee plus $18.35 for the entire length of tolls on the state thruway, even though I was only coming from Albany and headed to Exit 15 near NYC).
Maybe I should have just paid the additional $5.25 (in hindsight, it would've been only a quarter of what the collections agency is asking now). But, really, it's the principle of this.
I continue to stick to my guns and, if this dispute is reviewed and given back to the collections agency, I'm going to another section of my arsenal - my connections as a reporter. (I didn't want it to have to come to that but....I'm not above showing my plight to friends directly associated with EZPass and the Thruway authority.)

Monday, December 12, 2011

Cohoes Holiday Performances

There are two creative performances playing in the Spindle City this holiday season. At the Cohoes Music Hall, the C-R Productions crew has brought to life a Christmas classic - A Wonderful Life, the Musical. And the Spendwood Dance studio is putting on The Nutcracker but, as they put it, with a little pizzazz (if that's how you spell pizzazz) and to raise money for charity.

One of our photographers at The Record observed that maybe The Cohoes Music Hall decided on A Wonderful Life for other reasons than it being a holiday story. Maybe people in this economy can relate with the Baileys' money problems in the 1945 movie. And maybe people want to see a musical of this to escape their own world for a while. Or maybe they just knew it was Mayor John McDonald's favorite movie?

Whatever the's showing through Dec. 18 with Thurs., Fri. and Sat. shows at 8pm and Sat./Sun. at 3pm. More information can be found here.

You can also check out the annual Spendwood School of Dance and Gymnastics holiday pageant of The Nutcracker Story. Along with being entertaining, the show is also a charity benefit which has raised $38,000 over the past seven years for organizations like Clothe-A-Child, C-R Kids, the Cohoes Music Hall, the Open Door Community Center of Cohoes, and the Cohoes Senior Center.

The next show is Dec. 18 at 7pm at the Cohoes Music Hall. Tickets are on sale at 50 Johnston Ave. in Cohoes, where the dance studio is located. For more information, go here.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Victorian Stroll: Does it Show the Best and/or the Worst of Troy?

With more than 20,000 people who attended the Victorian Stroll, without a doubt it was a success - it drew people to the Collar City to see architectural gems and visit businesses that they might not have otherwise seen.

But, with the crowded streets and venues, did the visitors experience the best Troy that they could have?

An article written by my co-worker Katie Roberts noted that many shops were packed which put the shop owners slightly out of their element since they specialize in one-on-one shopping experiences. However, as the Some Girls Boutique owner said, the stroll gives people a taste of what's in Troy so they then come back for more another - less crowded - day.

Then I read several Facebook comments from people saying what a good time they had at the event on Sunday. Good days were also had by the business owners. Sticky Fingers' owner said they sold out their merchandise and they had a celebratory meal afterward.

But for nearly every positive remark I saw, I also saw (or experienced) some negative feedback as well.

People were happy, overall, with the mild weather but it also brought large masses of people and some felt the crowds were not managed as well as they could be. Fellow blogger Kristi Gustafon Barlette said in her Facebook that the Saratoga Streetwalk was even more crowded yet those mobs of people were managed and organized.

In terms of cafes and restaurants, dozens waited much longer than usual for even small coffees or sandwiches. And I'm thinking one of two things will happen now: 1) they will want to come back to experience everything when it's not crowded or 2) they will have a bitter taste from the bad experience no matter how much the owners and managers apologized for the late service or for even running out of food (like what happened around 6pm - prime dinner hour- at the new Bat Shea's Celtic restaurant Sunday, just two days after opening).

This is not the only Troy event I've "critiqued". I also gave some tips for the Chowderfest, which I really hope are taken into consideration.

In the end, I do feel that the Stroll (and Chowderfest) brings more positive than negative feelings for the city, and I have a strong affinity with the event (after all, we're both 29-years-old).

$133,000 Raised for Cystic Fibrosis

The 11th annual Emerald Eve raised a record $133,00 for local cystic fibrosis patients.

The event, with 350 guests at the Canfield Casino in Saratoga Springs, was through the Donna M. Crandall Memorial Foundation.

The organization donates items to families directly and gives funding for supplies for area hospitals. I wrote about them last year for The Record and last month for 105.7 Crush FM's site.

Since its inception more than a decade ago, the foundation has raised $1.3 million for cystic fibrosis. The Emerald Eve event usually raises $100,000 but it has grown, despite the economy, over the years.

In another charity announcement update, Otto Cadillac has partnered with the Village of Colonie Outreach Center in their promotion to give away a car to a nominated Colonie family once the business' Facebook page gets 2,000 likes. The dealer has about 250 likes now.

The Best Airport in the World

In this, my 200th Cowabunga blog, I delve into a very important topic in modern day travel - airports.

I've traveled to four continents and been through about a dozen airports of the hundreds out there. I'm not an expert.

But I was reading the Wall Street Journal recently and its travel editor dubbed Singapore's Changi International Airport as the best airport. This, for good reason, is due to the myriad of services available right at the airport - fish that eat the dead skin from your toes ($17), a nap room $23, swimming in the pool ($11), a shower in transit (priceless, well, it's actually $6).

So, I'm kinda stingy when it comes to spending my hard-earned money and while a slide in between shopping levels sounds really cool (yes, they really have that at Changi too) it doesn't seem like it would be worth it to spend $8 to be able to use it.

And I've had showers for free at airports before (holler to my homeless homies at Gatwick Airport).

I think Changi, and other similar airports, appeal to the bigger-spenders of travel. Maybe someday I'll join those ranks...until then....there area couple other airports I'd like to nominate for best airport, on a budget.

Googling brings up another site that has Singapore at #1 for being able to sleep in the airport. Runners up are Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, Amsterdam, Munich and Vancouver.

The Huffington Post reported the Airports Council International recipients of Airports Service Quality awards. This was topped by Incheon International in Seoul. The Post noted that not many American airports make the quality list that is mainly dominated by Asian airports.

In my own experience, Iceland's Rekyavik International airport (named after Leif Erikson) has been named best airport in Europe and you could tell. The airport was clean (did not allow overnight sleeping) and there was plenty to do there or you could pay the $50 roundtrip, including activity, to go to the nearby Blue Lagoon spa for a dip.

I guess no matter where you go, money will need to be spent and airports will need to be visited (if you plan on traveling, quickly, inter-continentally). The wheres, hows and how much depend on the individual traveler.