Blogs > Millennial Traveler

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

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Rethinking Visits to Jamaica and Russia

After reading these Savage Love posts about the extreme anti-gay measures seen in Russia and in Jamaica, I'm definitely reconsidering any future visits to both countries.

I've never been to either, though I've heard of the homophobic attitudes in Jamaica from friends who were from there. And I'm just learning about similar issues in the former USSR.

Not going to Jamaica will not be a huge issue - for me anyway. There are plenty of tropical islands with beautiful beaches and turquoise water. Jamaica never really stuck out for me - other than my brief ambition to one day say I went to all the locations listed in the Beach Boys' song Kokomo. But....that's not really an absolute must for me.

Russia, on the other hand, I have *always* wanted to go to Russia. Specifically, I really, really, really want to visit the Hermitage. Having checked off the Louvre, the British Museum, the Egyptian Museum, and the Smithsonian from my list of must-visit museums - the Hermitage was honestly one of the next ones I wanted to see. A lot.

(from the Hermitage page on Wiki)

Not to mention the myriad of ornate cathedrals and churches in Russia, the sights in Moscow, and how epic it would be to cross the entire length of the country of Russia.

(from the Wiki page on Moscow)
I know very little about Russia. I've never been and I know really only fragments about the country and our relationship with it - it might as well still be behind the Iron Curtain because I really know nothing about the place other than it gets pretty darn cold, and when Russians visit the U.S. they stock up on jeans and clothes since they are so much more expensive where they're from. My general understanding is that the economic system there is not doing so well - which may be helped at least by the 2014 Olympics coming up.

I really want to change the fact that I'm not more informed about Russia, but they're making that very difficult when they're discriminating against my friends and family who are gay - even from afar.

Maybe, just as I have a lot to learn about Russia, Russia has a lot to learn about the world beyond their borders too.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Martha's Vineyard on a Budget

When my sister first invited me to go on a 5-day trip to Martha's Vineyard, I honestly was not sure I could afford it.

For starters, the reputation of the place is a bit daunting - celebrities live and vacation there,  US presidents go there, and it's not exactly easy to get to considering you have to utilize about three forms of transportation to go there - car, shuttle, and ferry (unless you fly, or pay to take your car on the ferry).

(Shadow of lighthouse near Edgartown)
But, just like anywhere in the world, the experience there is only as expensive as you make it. And we were able to do and see quite a lot for about $50 per day, including lodging.

There are a couple options for cheap lodging: the camp grounds near Vineyard Haven, and the Hostel, closer to the central area of the island. Both end up being around the same price - $20-$30 or so per night.

The Martha's Vineyard campground - the only campground on the nearly 100 square mile island - is about $55 per night for two people (yeah, a bit pricey for camping but not bad for Martha's Vineyard). You can have up to four people at a camp site but it's $15 more per additional person. We ended up having four people (so $21/person/night). The campground has other options besides using a tent - including trailer sites for $59 and cabins for $135 (4 people) -$155 (6 people).

(Beach near Oak Bluffs)
Aside from hauling our luggage - and there was A LOT of it - from the car to the shuttle to the ferry to the bus to the campsite (and visa versa going back), I actually really did enjoy the campground. They had a field for sports, indoor gaming area, a second floor patio, a convenience store (the wood was surprisingly cheap - $5/bundle), a community camp fire area, and indoor and outdoor showers.

I ran into a few people on the trip who stayed at the hostel. They seemed to like it. Their rates are about $30 per person and it was also along the bus line.

I never use the public transportation around the Albany,NY area but this trip made me think that I should. We got the three-day pass for the bus system ($15) though, in hindsight, it might have made more economical sense to get the $25 7-day pass. You can purchase these on the bus or with one of the purple-wearing transit employees at main bus stops near the ferry. The complete list of passes is here.

(Menemsha Beach)

The buses go everywhere - even the cemetery where John Belushi is buried. It seemed like the only place I didn't notice on the bus route was one of the two nude beaches on the island (one is near the Gay Head Beach and the other - Lucy Vincent Beach - appears to be off the bus route and you need a parking pass to go there).

As with all things, there are pros and cons to taking a car. I found that part of the vacation for me was letting someone else do the driving, but it's also nice not having to be on the (sometimes late) bus schedule. Despite some beaches charging for parking - if you brought enough people and stayed long enough on Martha's Vineyard - it may make more sense to pay the $137 round trip for your car. I'm still debating about what to do on my next visit. I'm leaning towards just paying the $16 round trip for an adult passenger again.

I'm used to whirlwind trips of staying in one place for only a couple days then moving on, so I wasn't sure if spending 5-days on a small island would really be for me. But it was. There is enough to explore on the island to keep anyone occupied for at least a week.

We went to the West Tisbury Farmer's Market on Saturday, and noticed events like a craft fair and a community festival in the same area over the time we were there. Lighthouses are an obvious attraction, most with a fee to go inside of about $5.

(Gayhead Lighthouse and Cliffs)
One thing you should know about Martha's Vineyard before arriving: there are NO vineyards on Martha's Vineyard. None. We asked. We looked. They do have, however, a brewery called Offshore Ale Co. which does interesting tours for $5 and even more interesting tastings for an additional $5. Tip the tour guide, he's pretty awesome.

The Gayhead Cliffs are beautiful, when you can see them without a haze of fog. And the sandy beach there -spattered with free standing boulders - is free, unless you have to park a car. On the same bus going back, you can catch a connecting bus to Menemsha which is where part of Jaws was filmed. The small fish-focused town has a rocky beach but, being on the southwest tip of the island, I hear the sunsets there are beautiful.

(A Gingerbread House in Oak Bluffs)

The town of Oak Bluffs, on the eastern side, is known for the "gingerbread houses" which, honestly, I didn't find to be very ginger-bready but they were still pretty. That area also has the world's oldest carousel in an indoor kids park, and a decent sandy beach - which, again, is free.

Between Oak Bluffs and Edgartown, there is the State Beach which seems to run along much of the eastern coast of the island. Along there, is the Jaws Jumping Bridge where, again, parts of Jaws were filmed. Lore has it that the large, fake shark got stuck under the bridge at high tide. Now, people use the short bridge to jump off - which was fun, but definitely make sure to blow out of your nose while going in or you'll get a weird shock of salt water in your sinuses.

(The Jaws Jumping Bridge)

Edgartown, on the southeast portion of the island, seemed to be the place to go to shop, eat and be seen. It's also a good jumping off point for either going to the nearby lighthouse, getting a bus to the nearby South Beach area (another beautiful sandy beach) or going across a small channel to Chappaquiddick "Chappy" Island, where there is no public transit and where most of the celebrities (including Lady Gaga and Meg Ryan) have built or are building homes. The Chappy ferry is $4 per person or $12 for a car.

(Classic example of homes in Edgartown)

And, on MV, there's even hiking. We hiked the Menemsha Hills which was nice and took us to a rocky beach. There's also a huge state forest on the island.

In order to meet my $50 per day budget (while still getting souvenirs,etc), we didn't eat out much and, instead, chose to go to grocery stores which were not as expensive as I would think (still not as cheap as your store at home, but not bad). We did eat at a couple places near Gayhead Cliff which was nice and I had some of the best hazelnut coffee of my life in Edgartown. Otherwise, check here for food recommendations.

(Lighthouse near Edgartown)

Martha's Vineyard was nothing like I expected. Each community on the island had it's own, individual, and very unique feel. I never thought I would say this, but I could see myself spending a whole week - even in one place - right there. In which case, I'm already looking at renting a house - which may also be inexpensive and a bit easier on my back, in lieu of carrying camping gear.

(All our camping stuff - yep)

Fun Facts
One initiation on the island is to drink/smoke at John Belushi's grave - which we learned from a quasi-new islander.
A native of Martha's Vineyard said he used to go fishing decades ago and they would see 400 sharks out in the ocean each day. Now, they maybe see two. He also used to be able to make out the Gulf Stream as something like a "river in the ocean" and he can't anymore.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

U.S. First Family Visiting Martha's Vineyard in August

President Barack Obama and his family will once again be visiting Martha's Vineyard. Their next trip, according to multiple sites and media outlets, will be in August.

For me, I went to Martha's Vineyard earlier this month more so to check out an area I had never been before. And it was beautiful: The beaches. The hiking. The picturesque streetscapes. The architecture.

I'll admit, though, people watching was pretty awesome. From the men in their Nantucket Red shorts to the possibility of walking into a candy store and running into Meg Ryan, like a friend of mine did a couple years ago.

(from a blog on the Chicago Sun-Times)

Our celebrity sightings, overall, were pretty much a bust. We saw Paul Harding (of Martin, Harding, and Mazzotti fame) and we're preeeettty sure we saw Oprah's yacht since a bunch of local islanders confirmed it was hers, as did the internet.

But it would be pretty cool to have the chance of running into the First Family while vacationing anywhere.

I definitely wanted to go back to Martha's Vineyard. Maybe those plans will be moved up to go back in August....hmm. (#stalker) Or...not.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Big Apple Circus Discounted Tickets in Lake George

The circus, which is air conditioned by the way, is in town and here's your chance to see the Big Apple Circus for 30 percent off.

Travelzoo is highlighting this deal which discounts the regularly priced $40 Preferred Center Ring tickets to $28. This is good for the 12:30pm and 7 p.m. shows on:

  • Wednesday, July 17
  • Thursday, July 18
  • Friday, July 19
  • Wednesday, July 24
  • Thursday, July 25
  • Friday, July 26
 The show, located at the Charles R. Wood Park at 33 Westbrook Rd in Lake George, is actually held in a tent with no seat further than 50 feet from the ring. The Big Apple Circus - which I remember seeing when I was about five-years-old (mainly because Grandma the Clown totally picked on my dad and it was hilarious) - is now in its 35th season. This year's show is called Legendarium.

To get the deal you have to book by July 26. And the show runs through Sunday, July 28.

Tickets for Legendarium start at $15 and are available at or by calling 888-541-3750. The box office at the site is open Tues-Fri, 10am-8pm; and Sat-Mon, 10am-6pm. The tent *is* air conditioned in warm weather, with shows running just over 2 hours with a 15 minute intermission.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Toddlers Almost Arrested for Public Nudity in New Jersey

A fellow journalist in New Jersey posted this article describing their experience of almost being arrested for washing off their children in a beach stall after going in the ocean.

I'm sure they're a wee bit biased and possibly a bit melodramatic but it does sound like an initial police officer at the beach thought the children being naked was against the community's law and wanted to see the family punished.

It's an interesting and amusing read. I'll leave it up to you to decide if you go to Spring Lake with your family.

Death Valley Egg Frying

It's so hot you could fry an egg outside. Seriously, you could but don't- especially in Death Valley.

A video was posted last week that showed someone frying an egg in a pan in the over 100-degree weather of Nevada and that caused a surge of others to do so. The National Park has asked folks via Facebook to stop frying the eggs - especially since many are doing so without a pan or tinfoil which is causing a mess and making the park smell like egg.

Incidentally, the National Park is also celebrating the centennial for the world's hottest temperature recorded from 1913 which was 134-degrees. The temps this past week have been around 120-degrees.