Coast to Coast By Train

Sometimes, when traveling, there are things that cost more than you want to spend but something tells you to just go for it. The trans-isthmus Panama Canal Railway definitely fell into this category for me. Although the cost was about 10 times what a bus to travel the same route would have been, I love riding on trains. So with the coaxing help of Ms. Della, we decided to do it....and boy was it awesome!

While the route doesn't exactly parallel the canal, as one might assume from the name, it goes through jungle, over swamp, and along the canal for a stint. We saw a crocodile(/alligator?), jumping fish, wild banana and other fruit trees, and some of the coolest terrain I've seen in a long time. We were constantly running from one side of the train to the other to take it all in.

And speaking of the train, it was gorgeous. With exotic wood paneling and dark stylish lighting in the passenger cars and a dome topped viewing/cafe car, it was meant to mimic the experience of riding the trains of yore, when train travel was more than just a means of transportation. Although a picture doesn't do it justice in the least, we tried. But despite the lavishness, Della and I mostly hung out outside to take all the scenery in.

When train travel combines with awesome scenery and some wicked interesting history, it makes for something really remarkable, something that's worth the extra money. Finding gems like these is a big part of what travel is all about.
Wednesday November 20 2013File under: travel, Panama

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Oops We Did It Again

Oops, we did it again. We went on another international, dirt cheap, one-way cruise. Two cruises in 6 months seems like it is setting a bit of a bad precedent. But what can I say? They are good fun and a good value.

This cruise was a 3-day Miami to Colon, Panama. Three days is hardly enough to even find your groove in the ships routine, but did our best. We ate good, watched some shows*, and generally had a great time.

Second time around, cruising lost a little of it's magic. Or perhaps it was just this cruise: the food wasn't as great, the shows weren't as fun, and the ship wasn't as awesome. But the second go also afforded some great chances for comparison* and also a head start on knowing the ropes*

But just because some of the magic was gone doesn't by any means mean that I didn't enjoy myself...because I totally did. Highlights included watching "Wizard of Oz" on a giant outdoor screen while in the hot tub, seeing Cuba off the starboard bow, watching the pilot disembark in high seas, and shuffleboard! And, to top it all off, I'm in Panama! (more on that soon)
Monday November 18 2013File under: travel, cruise

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Travel Lists

I'm a bit of a list keeper, as anyone who has spent any time on my blog knows. I have a list of books I've read, of places I've slept, of states and countries I've geocached in, and more. So it's only natural that I keep travel lists. I was prompted the other day to review a few of my travel lists and I thought they might be fun to share here.

First off, my countries/territories visited. Why "countries/territories"? Well, it's a funny thing. Should Tahiti be the same thing as France? Or how about Hong Kong and China? Political designations are complicated. So instead of categorizing them myself, I'm using a list from the Travelers Century Club, a group dedicated to this kind of thing, of which I hope to someday be a member. While I may not agree with 100% of territory distinctions (Turkey in Europe vs. Turkey in Asia, e.g.), it is a somewhat official and current list that is easy.

My current count is 47, which ain't bad if I do say so myself. I look forward to seeing it continue to go up over the years. Maybe when I hit 100, I'll have a party!

Countries/Territories
  • * Alaska
  • * Albania
  • * Belize
  • * Bosnia & Herzegovina
  • * Cambodia
  • * Canada
  • * Canary Islands
  • * China
  • * Crete
  • * Croatia
  • * Denmark
  • * Ecuador
  • * England
  • * France
  • * French Polynesia
  • * Galapagos Islands
  • * Germany
  • * Greece
  • * Grenada
  • * Guetamala
  • * Hawaiian Islands
  • * Hong Kong
  • * Italy
  • * Japan
  • * Korea, south
  • * Kosovo
  • * Line/Phoenix Islands
  • * Macau
  • * Mexico
  • * Montenegro
  • * Morroco, Kingdom
  • * Morocco, Spanish
  • * Netherlands
  • * New Zealand
  • * Peru
  • * Portugal
  • * Puerto Rico
  • * Ryukyu Islands (Okinawa)
  • * Spain
  • * St. Maarten
  • * Taiwan
  • * Thailand
  • * Turkey in Asia
  • * Turkey in Europe
  • * United States
  • * Vatican City
  • * Vietnam


The other travel list that I very much enjoy keeping is one I've posted about before. It's Hillman's Top 100 Wonders of the World, a list of some dude's best places in the world. The list includes most of what you would expect from a "wonders" list: pyramids, Great Wall of China, Taj Mahal, etc. There are also some lesser knowns. I check out this list before I go anywhere just to make sure I'm not missing anything.

My count of Hillman's wonders is at 39, having added only 13 in the 6.5 years since I last posted about it. I guess I'll have to step up pursuit of that one, a challenge that I'm happy to pursue. Anyway, here's my list. As with last post, feel free to post your list/numbers in the comments below.

Hillman's Top 100 Wonders of the World
  • 2 Great Wall of China
  • 5 Galapagos Islands
  • 6 Grand Canyon
  • 7 Machu Picchu
  • 11 Amazon Rainforest (ish)
  • 14 Angkor Wat
  • 16 Forbidden City
  • 21 Bora Bora
  • 22 Acropolis
  • 25 TerraCotta Warriors
  • 26 Chichen Itza
  • 30 Cappadocia
  • 31 Colosseum of Rome
  • 33 St Peter's Basilica
  • 37 Hong Kong
  • 38 Sistine Chapel
  • 40 Alhambra
  • 41 Louvre Museum
  • 42 Canals of Venice
  • 43 Versailles
  • 47 Metropolitan Museum
  • 49 Temple Emerald Buddha
  • 50 Hagia Sophia
  • 60 Dubrovnik
  • 61 Uffizi Gallery
  • 63 Golden Pavilion
  • 67 St. Mark's Basilica
  • 68 Florence Cityscape
  • 71 Li River Cruise
  • 73 Sahara Desert
  • 81 Yellowstone NP
  • 82 Santorini
  • 85 Marrakesh
  • 86 Eiffel Tower
  • 88 Niagara Falls
  • 89 British Museum?
  • 91 Yangtze River Cruise
  • 99 San Francisco

Saturday November 2 2013File under: travel

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Sleeping Around 2012-2013

Anyone familiar with this blog probably knows about my favorite pet project, my sleeping around page, so I'll save you the ramblings about how I feel it encapsulates my life, how much fun I have making it, and how I hope to keep on collecting data for a long time to come* Well, my ubicational year has recently come to end and it serves as a great time to sum up the data.

From a general categories standpoint, things look pretty average*, either a testament to how predictable my life has become or evidence that over the span of a year, even erraticness can average itself out.. On the subcategory level, however, we see a dramatic increase in international travel over last year which brings it up to about the 5-year average.

An interesting, yet unsurprising, rising trend is the number of nights spent at the quarry (47). I can only imagine that with the impending completion of my cabin, that number will continue to rise.

Travel Breakdown
In-state86 (56%)
Domestic28 (19%)
    # of states (other than WA)2 (OR, HI)
International37 (25%)
    # of countries (other than US)5*
Additional Stats
Nights in a Car40
Nights in a Tent20
Nights on a Boat10
Nights in a Hotel26
Longest Stretch at Home15


While I could probably go on about the ins and outs of this data for hours, I'll spare you the pain. If you're really that interested, play with the full data yourself.

Previous years' posts can be found here: 2008-2009, 2009-2010, 2010-2011, and 2011-2012.

Thursday August 22 2013File under: stats, travel

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Cruise-Europe-Morocco Trip Financial Breakdown

I really like, after a significant travel adventure, to put a little time into reviewing it's finances; to get an idea of overall costs after so much time of looking at finances from a one hotel room to the next view. And since I find it so interesting, I thought maybe other folks might too. So here's how the money panned out for this last trip. (Oh, and if you like this kind of stuff, you might like previous trip recaps here and here.)

(Interesting side note: I spent over $55 in "international exchange fees" from my stupid bank on top of bank withdrawal fees. This 3% on all non-domestic expenses is worth keeping in mind (and is going encourage me to look for a new bank for my next travels))

Major Transportation Expenses
Flight Seattle -> Puerto Rico$188
Cruise Puerto Rico -> Portugal$452*
Ferry Spain -> Morocco$50
Flight Casablance -> Amsterdam$122
Flight Amsterdam -> Vancouver$515

Day to Day Expenses (hotel, food, domestic travel, sights, etc.)
PlaceDuration of stayTotal CostCost/dayNotes
Puerto Rico2$70$35This was just bare bones hotel and food. We didn't do any internal transportation (except for a city bus or two) and no sights/museums/tourist activities*. I imagine if I was to visit in earnest (rather than a cheap as possible layover with trips to the beach), these numbers might be higher.
Cruise10$452$45For the caliber of food, lodging, entertainment, and more, this was a spectacular deal. The fact that it covered transporation as well* just made it all the better a deal.
Portugal/Spain9$425$47For Europe being one of the more expensive places in the world, I feel like these totals aren't bad at all.
Melilla (Spanish Morocco)2$125$62I used this time to huddle up in a hotel with wifi to do some work, so I imagine I could have gotten by slightly cheaper. But Melilla doesn't have cheap hostels*, so housing, at €35, really makes it an expensive stopover.
Morocco11$465$42Morocco was quite a cheap place. A bit of an extravagant 2-night trip into the dessert at $130 greatly up the per day.
Amsterdam3$195$65Again, lodging was the culprit for such a high per day, but again, I'm pleased with being able to visit a European city for such a relatively low cost. And since this 3 day stopover saved me $200 on airfare*, I consider it pretty much a free stop in an awesome city

Overall
Total cost# of daysTotal cost/day
$2653*38$70

Saturday June 8 2013File under: travel

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Leftover Pictures of Cruise Europe Morocco etc

While the best photos from any trip I take usually makes it into a blog post, inevitably some slip through the cracks. So, just like so many times before (SE Asia, East Coast, Grenada, Taiwan/Japan, Mexico, etc., NYC, etc.), I threw a bunch of the better leftovers together with a word or two of explanation and am calling it a slideshow. Enjoy!

Sunday June 2 2013File under: travel, pics

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My New Favorite Travel Pastime

When I was in Paris a couple years ago, my travel partner had a city guide by Rick Steves that turned out, despite my hesitation to be one of those kinds of tourists, to be really insightful and interesting. Being that I was back in his domain, I decided to see what he had for offer. What I found heightened my travel experiences in Amsterdam incredibly* and gave me a new way to explore on my travels (besides geocaching and aimless meandering.)

The Rick Steves Walking Tour podcasts are what the name implies: a podcast that leads you on a walking tour of various places. It points out architecture, talks about history, customs, etc., and leads you to areas of interest for tourists. Each seems to be about an hour or so and cover a distance between 1 and 2 miles.

For Amsterdam, there were 3 tours and after trying out the first one, I was hooked. My favorite, by far, was the Red Light District Walk. Along with architecture, history, and cultural context, it dove pretty deeply into the logistics of how the area's drug and prostitution worked, which I couldn't help but find incredibly fascinating. In fact, I would suggest giving it a listen even if you weren't walking the narrow canals of Holland's most notorious district.

So while I'm sure I'll continue my random tourist meanderings just like always, I'm super stoked to have found another great way to get to know a city. Now if only Mr. Steves' empire expanded beyond the bounds of the world's most expensive cities. City Walk: Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea. Now we're talking.
Wednesday May 22 2013File under: travel, Netherlands

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Amsterdam Has So Many Bikes...


Okay, folks, it's time for your favorite pastime: audience participation! I'm here in Amsterdam and am totally blown away by the number of bikes. They're everywhere! It's actually quite comical. The task: to create the best "Amsterdam has so many bikes...." joke. Be as crass and creative as you like (Jule, I'm looking your way here). Here are a few to get you started.
  • Amsterdam has so many bikes, "bing bing" has become an accepted greeting in the local dialect
  • Amsterdam has so many bikes, the strippers in the red light district don't even have to go the gym.
  • Amsterdam has so many bikes and drugs, Lance Armstrong is consider a run for mayor.
  • Amsterdam has so many bikes, I score 75 points before even getting out of the rent-a-car lot.
  • Amsterdam has so many bikes, the hipsters have given up and now all drive SUVs.
I know you can do better than those. Let us have 'em!
Friday May 17 2013File under: travel, Netherlands

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The Wonder of Marrakesh

In his list of 100 wonders of the world (previously covered here*) Howard Hillman includes the city of Marrakesh Morocco, citing its famed public square, its souks*, and its minaret. Mr. Hillman hasn't led me astray yet, so I figured I had to stop by to have a look.

While the minaret was great, everywhere you turn in this country there are minarets. And besides the normal beauty of almost all the minarets I've come across, this one didn't stand out so much. As for the souks, it's hard to get excited about an attraction where the main activity is to buy stuff. I long ago gave up buying souveniers/trinkets for folks back home, which makes the draw of markets, aside from their energy and bustle, largely lost on me.

But the public square, Djamaa el Fna, was something that I haven't really seen before*. At first impression, it doesn't seem like much, just a big square with the occaional fresh orange juice stand. But as evening sets in, the large chunk of pavement become totally covered in street performers of all kinds and the people who come out to watch. There were snake charmers, acrobats, storytellers, impromptu boxing matches, dudes with monkeys, henna artists, traditional musicians, and more. Much of it was lost on me because I don't speak Arabic so couldn't quite figure out many of the clusters, but the excitement and bustle of it transcended language barriers. The only letdown was the lack of jugglers*. Alas.

I can't say whether Marrakesh would make it to my top 100, but it would definitely be in the running. But in my write up, I might skip the minaret and souks and instead highlight the Majorelle Garden and the Bahia Palace. But to each his own. Whatever the case, Marrakesh is a city worth visiting.
Wednesday May 15 2013File under: travel, Morocco

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Walk the Casbah

Everywhere I travel, I can't help but notice the architecture. In Europe it is narrow streets, gigantic cathedrals, and pillars and columns. In Thailand, it is thatched roof huts raised up on poles. And here in the Moroccan desert, it is mud bricks and neat almost Navajoan designs.

While I have seen this style throughout the past couple stops here on the hot* and dry side of the Atlas Mountains, the best example of it was seen near Ouarzazate* at a place called A�t Benhaddou. The reason for its exemplary condition is that it is somewhat of a tourist destination. Many films were made here include Gladiator, The Jewel of the Nile, and Prince of Persia. It's just my type of tourist destination, though, because the main activity is to roam around and look at the buildings.

I took some pictures too, not because I think they'd be any better than what's already out there, but because, when rolling solo, it is a good activity to extend your roaming around a place. Oh, and I found a geocache there too!


(Would you look at that...I made a picture oriented blog post without one of those silly self shots in it. I guess this is what it feels like to be a grown up.)

Sunday May 12 2013File under: travel, Morocco

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