How to Have Fun at an Air Show

2017 Thunder Over Michigan Brochure Front

2017 Thunder Over Michigan Brochure Back

Some times just thinking about going to an outdoor event and dealing with the traffic to get in, parking, getting in through the gates, and then having to deal with the crowds and lines while trying to see things, is enough to make you, or certainly me, tired just thinking about it.  Maybe I’m just getting old and cranky, but I guess that is why I’m pretty selective about which crowded events I choose to attend.  Having said that, why would I choose to attend, more than once, something like the Thunder Over Michigan Airshow?  Have I gone off my rocker (i.e. a dated expression meaning “are you crazy?”), or WTF is wrong with me!  I think of airshows as different from museums because with museums people come and go throughout the day so, while it can sometimes be crowded, it varies at times and parking is also spread out throughout the day.  Also, they are, for the most part, inside and immune to weather conditions.  Whereas with outdoor events such as airshows, concerts, auto races, etc., fill up parking and seating before the events start and then all head for the exits as the events end; and they are subject to the weather.

Let me be clear now, I still resist generally going to crowded events subject to the whims of the weather for all the reasons already listed above.  But this particular event has several aspects that cause me to break my own rules.  First, I like aircraft (USAF Veteran here)!  I have worked on them, traveled on them, seen them in various museums, read about their history, etc.  Second, I like history and particularly the WWII era including the aircraft flown during the war.  So I’m naturally attracted to places I can see those aircraft up close, such as museums and airshows.  Third, Thunder Over Michigan includes a large number and variety of WWII-era ground vehicles, including Tanks, Halftracks, Jeep-type vehicles, Motorcycles, etc., and they even do great WWII Re-Enactments; they scheduled for an actual parachute drop from a half dozen C-47 Skytrains but it was cancelled for the day we attended due to weather conditions.  and Fourth, it’s local so we can spend the day there and then just drive home.  Taking all of these things into account helped to push me over my resistance threshold.  Last but certainly not least, my wife loves airplanes and flying, too.

Then we get to the details for Thunder Over Michigan.  The basic cost to attend the airshow is a parking fee for each vehicle and then the entry fee for each person.  The total for this is reasonable but you need to be ready to bring folding chairs or blankets to sit while watching the action and pack food and drinks subject to any entry restrictions, or buy them from various vendors once inside.  Also be sure to pack sunscreen, hats, umbrellas, and other necessities.  Then there are the add-ons such as various levels of tents that have costs and values that can add to your comfort, convenience, and enjoyment of the show.  The lower end of your anticipated costs to join a tent would include a great viewing location, simple refreshments and light snacks, all the way to the high-end (Officers Club) that includes a hot buffet breakfast and lunch, soft drinks, beer & wine & open bar throughout the day, the prime location equivalent to sitting on the fifty yard line for seeing all the action in the air and on the ground…Oh, and the only air-conditioned port-a-potties at the show.  Guess where we ended up!  The food quality was actually quite good and the tents are a great way to get out of the sun (or rain) as well as not having to bring in anything but yourself.  Plus it makes you feel special for the day.

As for the actual reason for being there, there are plenty of preserved and well-maintained aircraft from the earlier days of flight through the WWII era and on into the jet age on display to get up close and personal with.  Some are set up for you to actually go inside and get a first-hand look.  Then there are aircraft on display that are functional that take part in the flying demonstrations as well as some of the main featured aircraft such as the Navy Blue Angels or the Air Force Thunderbirds.  The earlier you arrive and enter the show area, the shorter the lines are for everything; maybe even non-existent.  That’s the best time to do what you came there for-to see lots of vintage aircraft.  After you’ve seen enough for a while and it starts to get busy and lines start to form, take a break and go for some refreshments, snacks, etc. or check out where is a good viewing area for the airshow…or head for your tent, if you decide to go that route, and have some drinks, snacks, or a hot buffet meal.  One advantage of the tents is you can come and go throughout the day to see whatever you want and then escape the crowds into your Fortress of Solitude to recharge.

The other big headache associated with big outdoor events like airshows is parking, often with long, slow-moving lines getting into the parking area as well as the logjam trying to get out when it ends.  The best advice I have is to arrive early enough that the entrances just opened or are about to open so the traffic getting in is still relatively light.  Specifically in the case of Thunder Over Michigan, the WWII re-enactors and their vehicles are set up in an encampment outside of the airshow grounds and we were able to walk through the area to visit and talk with some of them (yes, the German Re-Enactors speak English) and see their vehicles up close as we made our way to the entrance, timing it to arrive just as the gates opened.  Leaving is an entirely different matter!  Unless you want to skip the last couple hours of the show (usually the featured part, such as the Blue Angels) to get ahead of the crowd, you could just relax and spend some extra time looking at aircraft, talking to show organizers and other attendees, or visit with the people in the Re-Enactors Encampment while the crowds are all trying to crawl out of the parking lots and onto the local roads and then the Interstate.  Put on some tunes or listen to audio books or have conversations about what you saw at the airshow as you slowly exit.

Thunder Over Michigan 2017, a well-earned rest…until next year!

Presenting the Colors

If you get your mindset to accept that you may need 30 minutes or more just to get out of the immediate area, You will get home a little later but so much more relaxed and ready to come back again next year.  How did I do?  Did I miss any major ideas or issues we have to deal with to attend open air outside events like airshows?  What strategies do you use to get the most enjoyment out of major outdoor events?  Has it made you more open to come back and repeat?

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Too Stupid to Travel?

CAUTION: SARCASM AHEAD!

Great Wall of China-race to the top!

Is it possible for some people to be too stupid to travel?  With what I see and hear all around me these days, I really have to wonder.  You have very likely seen many of these “man (or woman) on the street interviews” where people’s knowledge of current events, history, geography, and important figures in our world, past and present, are tested with sometimes laughable results.  You know the ones I’m talking about where they are asked things like who won the Civil War and typical responses are like “who was in it.”  Or question: when was the War of 1812 fought? And answers are all over the place!  Seriously!  Or being shown a picture of our Vice President (any one of them) and asked who that is and…crickets!  But when asked a question about Snooki, the Kardashians (Kloe’s pregnant, by the way), or any Hollywood celebrity or entertainment topic and most score close to 100%.

Graves at the American Philippine WWII Memorial Cemetary in Manila.

I’m not sure what is being taught in schools today but it doesn’t appear to include history, geography, or anything of substance.  People of college age and older as a group, apparently, didn’t pay attention in school or these subjects are no longer being taught…at least not how they were taught when I was in school…back in the days of the Louisiana Purchase!  I get it that memorizing lots of important dates and events can be boring, but not knowing when the War of 1812 was fought?  Or who the Axis Powers and Allied powers were during WWII (that’s World War 2; it came after WWI…that’s World War 1)!  I think I lost half of my audience there…Oh, well…Google it!

Great Pyramids of Egypt

To me, travel has always been more than just going somewhere, seeing something, taking pictures, and going home.  I enjoy the opportunity to visit an historical site and see with my own eyes where some battle took place, where the first flight happened, or even where tragedy took place like Pearl Harbor or Hiroshima.  We have visited the sites of five of the seven Wonders of the World; only one of them is still standing today…oh just Google that, too.  It is sad to think how many people today seem to lack a basic knowledge of history such that they can’t really appreciate what they are seeing while traveling…like a monkey visiting the Golden Spike National Historic Site or Mesa Verde.

Another day in paradise-Tumon Bay, Guam

I sometimes wonder if we should have to take a test to qualify to visit historic places.  If you can get 70% or above, you are good to go; less than that and you still get to travel, but just to beaches or skiing or camping, yeah, camping.  Then their brains will never need to get out of first gear!  Some of you may be thinking, “but they can learn about history by going to places like the Alamo!”  Not very likely since they got all the way through school without a clue what any of that was about.  Either it wasn’t taught or they didn’t learn it because they weren’t interested (maybe teachers don’t know how to make history interesting) and didn’t care…so they should stick to the beaches, or camping.

Wright Brothers Memorial

Wright Brothers Memorial at the top of Big Kill Devil Hill in Kitty Hawk, NC

Back in the day when our kids were very young, we did a lot of family trips, mostly driving, to visit history all around us: Fort Ticonderoga, USS Constitution (Old Ironsides), Statue of Liberty, Alamo, Pearl Harbor, Hiroshima, the Gion District, Teotihuacan, etc.  I enjoyed seeing historic places with the family where we could imagine what it was like to have lived in those times.  This can actually bring the book learning (remember those days?) alive and make it more personal.  We could read the information on the monuments (don’t get me started on this), test and improve our knowledge about events that shaped our country.

Blue-Footed Booby

Blue-Footed Booby on Galapagos Islands

Now, back to another aspect of my original question, should ignorant people be allowed to travel?  I think beaches, camping, and perhaps hiking are generally OK for them, although that actually requires some directional sensitivity to find them and get there.  As for visiting historical sites, it most likely will be a waste of money, but it is their money to waste in any way they see fit.  And as a practical matter, I suppose we really can’t stop them, even though they will likely only get as much out of it as our monkey at a new iPhone introduction…on second thought the monkey may have more appreciation for the experience.

What do you think.  Does it annoy you to be checking out the Mona Lisa next to people checking up on Snooki on their smart phones?

Risk Management for Travel

Triptik

AAA Triptik flip maps for trip routing

There have always been risks associated with travel from missed flight connections, to misplaced reservations, to pickpockets, natural disasters, terrorism, and much worse.  But we still travel, because we must.  Keep in mind that I could be hit by a speeding car in front of my house while out checking the mail, or a sink hole (not too likely in Michigan), or gas explosion, or home invasion…Nowhere are we guaranteed to be one hundred percent safe.  In our daily lives we have our routines and we feel safe because we have gone to work (if you still work) and back or shopping and back so many hundreds or thousands of times without incident other than possibly traffic delays.  We often become desensitized to possible risks all around us and may let our guard down when we are traveling.  We need to be alert for this as we may not recognize possible dangers inherent in travel to certain destinations.  Of course sometimes we just can’t foresee something that develops quickly.

Back to Yankee Doodle Dandy for our trip home

But when you combine an unfamiliar location with normal risks, suddenly the risk levels can be increased in a new environment.  There are definitely things we can do when preparing for a trip.  So what can we do to lower our risk while traveling?  Destination selection can make a big difference; to help choose safer destinations we should pay attention to international news and check the US State Department website for trouble spots to avoid.  Also, be familiar with average prices for airfare and hotels so that if you see unusually low pricing, ask yourself why.  There have recently been some very low prices to countries in Europe that are very likely due to a drop in tourism because of violence associated with refugees.  At the same time there isn’t much happening in Iceland or Switzerland as well as many destinations in the Pacific or Far East like Guam, Australia, or Japan particularly.

Yelp Map of Bookmarks for Trip

Yelp Map of Bookmarks for Trip

Of course there are always domestic destinations including Hawaii and Alaska to choose from, although you still have to be alert.  We just came back from a trip to San Antonio for my Air Force reunion. During the trip we became aware of Hurricane Harvey approaching the Texas coast.  But we were over 100 miles away so we did not expect much effect.  Then we found several of our tours and other plans were canceled due to high winds of 35-50 MPH and rain off and on.  On the day we left there were warning signs about possible flooding and roads closed especially toward Houston and the coast.  The hotel where we were staying offered to let us extend our stay and hunker down an extra few days until the weather improved but we decided to start heading home.  We had to stay alert as the roads were wet and the winds were gusty but the further north towards Dallas we went, the more it cleared up and the rest of the trip home was uneventful.  Although I don’t remember changing plans because something had changed, I have had them changed or cancelled by a travel provider because of weather or changes in a political situation.  On a cruise in the Mediterranean our original itinerary included stops in Turkey, Greece, Israel, and Egypt.  But because of flare ups in violence between the Israelis and the Palestinians our cruise line made the call and dropped the port calls in Israel.  They then substituted extra stops in Turkey and Greece.  That worked out fine for us and we enjoyed the substituted ports.  Generally travel providers want to avoid putting their customers and themselves in danger if they can find alternatives.

Tropical storm clouds approaching Guam

Of course another thing we do to deal with risk is to buy travel or trip insurance.  I always buy it when major expenses are at risk such as a cruise with Air and hotels or a pricey international trip package.  Insurance doesn’t actually reduce the risk of the trip itself but protects you against financial loss.  I’ve even had to use it once or twice and was glad I had it.  On a road trip with a string of hotel reservations that can be canceled, there is not really much at risk so I never bother with insurance.  Although these common sense ideas will help, there is still no guarantee that your trip will be 100 percent safe.  You do what you can when planning the trip and then stay alert and use common sense while on the trip.  Do you have any additional suggestions to lower the risk of traveling?  Would you cancel a trip or change your plans if the risk seems to be increasing as the travel date approaches?  Good luck and safe travels!

A Trip of A(nother) Lifetime! Part Two!

Yankee Air Museum Hangar at Willow Run Airport

The time finally arrived for our trip to Toronto on the WWII C-47D aircraft, owned by the Yankee Air Museum, named Yankee Doodle Dandy!  First of all, we have previously only flown on commercial airlines where you arrive at the airport several hours early to park, get dropped off at the terminal, get in the check-in line, followed by the security line, and then find your gate, and wait for boarding.  For our flight with the Yankee Air Museum aircraft, we were flying out of Willow Run Airport and arrived one hour before departure time.  A light rain had rolled through the area and continued as we pulled into the parking lot.  Parking was right outside the hangar; check in was done inside the hangar, as was security.  Then we waited for the plane to be moved out of the hangar before we could board.  We took advantage of this time to look at the other flyable aircraft in the hangar that belong to the Yankee Air Museum: a B-17 Flying Fortress named Yankee Lady, and a B-25 Mitchell named Yankee Warrior.

Yankee Doodle Dandy a C-47D owned by the Yankee Air Museum

When the crew called for us to board, we handed our luggage up through the aircraft door and then climbed the ladder into the plane.  Luggage was stacked and strapped into place for the trip in the rear of the cabin.  Seating was along both sides of the cabin, facing the center, and consisted of molded metal bench-style seats with every other one having a seat cushion.  We chose our seats and proceeded to try to figure out how to fasten the seat belts; we did, with a little help from the crew.  At rest, the plane slopes with the rear lower than the front.  Our pilot, Howard, and co-pilot, Jerry, did all of their pre-flight check list, the door was closed, and they started the engines one at a time.  We taxied out and stopped short of the runway so they could run up the engines before takeoff.  When they were satisfied, we were cleared to taxi onto the runway and started our takeoff run.  We’ve been through all of this many times before but never in a vintage plane like Yankee Doodle Dandy.  We continued to pick up speed and then the tail came up, we were almost level and, suddenly, we were airborne (Click)!

As we gained altitude, I noticed the light rain was resulting in water beads streaming along the outside of our windows.  We had no reclining seats, no cabin service, no in-flight movie or entertainment, no bathroom, and definitely no WiFi; to summarize – it was one of the best flights I’ve ever been on!  The flight was about ninety minutes, a little bumpy early on but then it smoothed out.  The noise level was higher than today’s commercial flights but tolerable.  We initially climbed until we got above the clouds and then, when it was clear, we dropped down to about 5,200 feet at about 135 knots (approximately 150 mph).  We were then able to get up and move around the plane, including taking a peek into the cockpit to check on Howard and Jerry…they were fine.  As we started our approach to land at the John C. Munro Airport in Hamilton, Ontario, we all took our seats again.  The landing was very smooth and we were to learn later, this was no fluke…Howard is very good at what he does; we found out he had been a US Navy Pilot and a Corporate Pilot before he started flying these old planes!

Walking to the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum in the rain

After we had landed and come to a stop, the crew opened the door and were greeted by the airport ground crew.  Our pilot called Canadian Customs and Immigration and we waited for someone to board the plane and give us clearance.  After about 15-20 minutes, we were informed that we had been cleared…I guess we didn’t look like troublemakers so they never came out…plus all of our passport information had been provided in advance.

Traditional Poutine (French Fries covered in Gravy with Cheese Curds) served at the Museum Café

So we closed the door, sat down, and buckled up for a short taxi to the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum located at the airport.  Then we were able to deplane and head into the museum where we had a quick lunch in their cafe.  In addition to the expected hamburgers, hot dogs, and sandwiches, this cafe had two of the food items on my “must eat” trip list: fish & chips and Poutine (French fries covered in gravy and cheese curds – don’t judge, just try them).

Avro Lancaster (flyable) at the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum

After lunch, we spent a few hours touring the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum’s aircraft collection and had a good look at their huge Avro Lancaster heavy bomber that, by the way, is still flyable!  We looked for and found some nice t-shirts on clearance for CDN$9.99 that has a silhouette of the Lancaster on it!  Then we were off to downtown Toronto to our hotel, the Intercontinental, located near the  CN Tower.

We had plenty of free time.  Friday evening, Reiko and I wandered off in my culinary pursuit of more fish & chips, Poutine, scotch eggs, sticky toffee pudding, and Guinness!  After much research on Yelp, I finally found a place in walking distance that had all these items.  It was called the Duke of Devin.  The food was great, especially the Sticky Toffee Pudding.  The service couldn’t have been better, and then there was the Guinness!  On Saturday. we visited the Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada, a five-minute walk from our hotel, and then a group dinner at the 360 Restaurant in the CN Tower.  All of these have more details in my Yelp reviews that you can read by clicking each of the links.  We were even able to visit with one of my cousins who lives in nearby Mississauga.  He and his wife came to our hotel lobby.  But these are ordinary (but fun) things that anyone can do so…back to the trip!

Back to Yankee Doodle Dandy for our trip home

Finally, on Sunday, the inevitable return flight was upon us, and we headed back to the plane.  We made our way through the Canadian Heritage Warplane Museum and out onto the tarmac where we handed up our luggage and boarded Yankee Doodle Dandy, our flying Museum piece.  Once the pre-flight checks were completed, we taxied out to the runway and took off for our return flight to the USA.  Unlike our earlier flight, we had great weather, except for some rain on our way to the airport.

Enjoying my In-Flight Meal…only because I remembered to bring it

After a brief stop in Port Huron (and another smooth landing, this time by Jerry), we deplaned to clear American Customs and Immigration.  We were quickly back in the air for our final leg to Willow Run Airport, and a final smooth landing (again by Jerry).  We taxied back to the Yankee Air Museum Hangar.  We deplaned just outside it one last time.  We then waited inside the Hangar while Yankee Doodle Dandy was backed into it.  Then our luggage was handed off the plane to us.  We said goodbye to our new friends, and walked outside to our car.  All of that was completed in less time than exiting a commercial flight, heading to baggage claim, and waiting for your luggage to show up!

Yankee Doodle Dandy, another job well done, back in the hangar

Now, for a few final thoughts.  To me, wandering though an aircraft Museum and seeing these old warbirds up close is fascinating.  Being able to take a flight in one of them is phenomenal.  Going on a weekend trip in one of them just leaves me speechless!  I kept thinking “so this is what it was like to travel by Air back in the day” as we like to say now.  And I wondered about all the soldiers who had been on this particular aircraft over its years of military service.  I can’t wait to do this again whether to a different destination or to the same one again! I suggest you check out the Yankee Air Museum if you would like to take part in this type of unique trip or any of the other programs they have.  If you are not local, you should look for an equivalent Air Museum near where you live and find out if they have similar programs.  Until then, off we go, into the wild blue yonder!

A Trip of A(nother) Lifetime!

C-47 saw action with the USAAF during WWII

Have you ever wondered what it would have been like to travel the way people did in earlier times (we’ll leave future travel for later)?  Now, I’m not thinking about trips on foot like cavemen or covered wagons like the pioneers, although those could all make for a fun adventure, too.  I like to read, watch, listen, research (in my amateur way) about the 1930s and 1940s; the WWII era, specifically.  I have often wondered what it was like for pilots, crew, soldiers (think paratroopers), and passengers traveling by plane in those early but rapidly evolving-evolving aircraft.  Instead of weeks to cross the Atlantic by ship, for instance, being able to do it in 25 hours or so was a huge leap forward.  But it was generally for the wealthy and initially relied on Clippers, or flying boats, that were capable of landing on water if it became necessary; few planes initially had the fuel-range capacity for the plane and a pilot, let alone passengers or cargo.

Yankee Doodle Dandy C-47D belonging to the Yankee Air Museum

We have an opportunity to fly to Toronto for the weekend in a WWII vintage C47D Skytrain named Yankee Doodle Dandy!  The C-47 was a variant of the DC-3.  C-47 started being produced in 1941.  Yankee Doodle Dandy was delivered and put to use by the US military in April 1945.  C-47s were very versatile and could be used to move cargo, passengers, drop paratroopers (it still has the zip lines installed), and more.  Yankee Doodle Dandy is owned by the Yankee Air Museum located at Willow Run Airport in Belleville, Michigan.  It was the museum’s first flyable aircraft and was fully restored to airworthiness in 1984 after 20 months and is now maintained in flying condition by the Museum.  It is painted in the colors and markings from when it served the United States Air Force in the 1950’s and 1960’s as a navigational trainer.  The basic stats are: max altitude-24,000 ft; range-1,600 miles; cruising speed-160 mph, max speed 230 mph.  The rest you can find on line by Googling C-47 if you are interested.

B-17 made up to represent the Memphis Belle

The Yankee Air Museum also has flyable B-17 Flying Fortress and B-25 Mitchell bombers from WWII.  All of these planes participate in airshows around the country, including Thunder Over Michigan, a spectacular annual airshow held at the Willow Run Airport…more on that in a few months.  They also sell rides in these planes for people who want an experience that few people have had.  In case you didn’t know, Willow Run was where the US Government and Ford Motor Company built the B-24 bomber-assembly plant to make the B-24 Liberator, four-engine heavy bombers that, at its peak, was producing them at an astounding rate of a bomber every hour.

B-25 Mitchell Bomber named Yankee Warrior and owned by the Yankee Air Museum

Now, back to the time travel adventure!  Unlike the short rides mentioned above, we and our fellow travelers, twelve of us total, are essentially taking a charter flight on this old warhorse to spend two nights in a downtown Toronto hotel where we will have plenty of free time to try local restaurants (already picked out on Yelp) and see some of the sites.  Our trip will include the flights to and from Toronto, a tour of the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum near Hamilton, two nights hotel, dinner at the CN Tower restaurant, and time to get to know some fellow members of the museum.  Now, I had to consider the likelihood that if I waited until after we returned from the trip to write about the experience, this post would probably qualify as a short story. So I will post A Trip of A(nother) Lifetime Part Two focusing on the trip experience and what WWII-era air travel felt like.  We expect a rather spartan flight.  I’m given to understand there is no cabin service, no cushioned or reclining seats, likely no in-flight movies or WiFi, and probably not even parachutes!  So…stay tuned later this month.

To be continued…

Stuff, Pictures, Memories

Open roads…get out on the highway…

Most of us go on trips to enjoy the travel, the people, the food, the souvenirs and, of course, all the amazing sites to see around the world.  Once we return home from each trip, we prolong the experience by telling friends and family about where we went, what we saw, the food we ate, the people we met, and how we were generally treated.  Part of the fun of describing our trips is showing the things we picked up, pictures we took, and experiences we had as well as what we learned on each journey.  Recently, I was pondering how much we really get out of all the travels we have experienced and what is the most important of these.  Obviously, there is no universally correct answer because what is more important for one may be less important for another.  For some people, just getting away from their day-to-day activities to anywhere for a few days is the best part of a trip.

Great Wall of China-race to the top!

A small representative sample of my T-Shirt collection…

When it comes to souvenirs, gifts, memorabilia, or basically…stuff, what we choose to buy and bring home depends on a number of personal factors.  Some people like to collect a same or similar thing from every state or country they visit, such as spoons or bells.  Others like to buy something that quintessentially represents where they were, something like a sombrero trimmed with velvet & gold from Mexico, a grass skirt from Hawaii, or a volcanic stone from a sacred mountain that may carry the eternal curse of a thousand deaths-although I don’t know who in their right mind would want to temp the fates on something like this; I’ve seen too many movies where it didn’t turn out well!  Now, the main thing about stuff is that it is at risk of being lost, stolen, chewed up by dogs and cats, given away or sold (by mistake), or damaged in a natural disaster like a tornado or house fire.  Then what are you left with?  Only your memories of all the trips you have taken.  The other aspect of stuff is, depending on the size of your house, it can make your home look like a permanent and growing flea market.  And the bigger the house, the more stuff can fit in it.  At one point, we decided to buy minimal stuff and just take pictures of it.  It was when we found a very large and beautiful tapestry of the Great Wall of China on a trip to Beijing that we both really wanted.  But we had to admit that we had no place to hang or display it in our home; so I just took a picture of it.  After that, we rarely bought stuff…except T-Shirts, I can always use more T-Shirts!

Relaxing on the Deck at Salt Lick Lodge

When it comes to pictures, many of us can never take too many of them.  When we went on a safari in Kenya, I had a 35mm-film camera, a digital video camera, and a small point-and-shoot digital camera.  I shot about 22 rolls of 36 exposures film, 12 digital videotapes of 90 minutes each, and about 1,200 digital photos.  I can’t remember the last time I ever looked at any of them, but I still have them, somewhere; and if I ever get bored enough, I can look for them.  I took a similar variety and quantity of media on our Antarctica trip and, other than occasionally looking through them for a screen saver or something to add to a post on my blog, I rarely look at them.  But I still have them…or some of them.  Media, like stuff, are at risk of some of the same things such as fire, being misplaced, accidentally deleted, etc.  But you still have your memories of the trips and even specific memorable pictures.

Blue-Footed Booby

Blue-Footed Booby on Galapagos Islands

Then it all comes down to this – we have our memories.  Long after stuff and media about our trips have been lost, misplaced, or destroyed in one way or another, we still have our memories of many of our trips.  I can’t immediately find my photos but I still remember the darkness and cold in Hawaii on the top of Haleakala as we waited for sunrise and then rode bikes 38 miles back down; I remember the thrill of wildlife drives on safari in Kenya; and the walks among the creatures of the Galapagos; and more penguins than you could imagine in Antarctica as we were in THEIR environment; gliding through the Panama Canal…I could go on as could we all.  Then there are accomplishment memories that don’t really have any stuff or pictures directly associated with them; for example, like a number of people, we have been to all seven continents…unlike most of this group, we visited all seven within a year!  Now, where do we sign up for a cruise to Atlantis?

Museum Of Childhood Memories in Wales

Anyway, the point is that our memories of trips can pop into our heads at any time, like our seven continents did just now, and I can sit back a minute (literally), think about it, smile, and then get back to reality.  Memories are like that.  Sometimes they can provide a pleasant distraction from an otherwise challenging or boring day.  Sometimes they can completely blow your schedule if you decide this would be a good time to find your stuff and photos from one of those trips and make some coffee (or Rum & Coke or…) and reminisce because it would be more fun than what you should be doing.  The downside to memories is that they can fade with time and mental health.  Seeing stuff and pictures helps refresh our memories and certainly talking about your trips with someone who was there with you is a big help.  On the other hand, fuzzy memories can turn what had, in reality, been a mediocre trip into something much more spectacular and may even include fun and daring activities that you didn’t actually do!

So, as to my original question about which is more important, I guess I’ll just have to brew a fresh pot of coffee and daydream…I meant ponder…some more.  What are your thoughts about the history of your trips, while you still have them?  Do you have a lot of trip stuff, pictures, or both?  What do you think is more important to you?

Happy and memorable travels to you!

I Hate You! But You Sure Make Tasty Food…

Welcome home; whatcha bring for me?

Is food the ultimate peacemaker?  Right or wrong, many people hate, or strongly dislike, or are intolerant towards others often as a group that is made up of those from a particular country, or ethnicity, or religion, etc.  This may be founded in or caused by personal experience with people from that group.  But more likely it is because of things that are said about those groups with no personal experience with them.  We can become suspicious and distrustful because we have seldom, if ever, interacted with them.  Sometimes it may not actually be a dislike but rather a lack of knowledge or understanding that results in fear or suspicion.  With little or no contact, a change of heart towards this group is unlikely to occur.

Teriyaki Gabutto Burger in Arlington Heights, IL.

One way to break these barriers is travel because we can have opportunities to meet and interact with people from all over the world and get to know what they are really like.  You may get first-hand experience that reinforces why you don’t like some groups but more likely the suspicion and dislike will begin to melt away.  Another related way to change your outlook on certain groups is through food…especially ethnic or culturally based-based food!  After all, we all love to eat.  This is my favorite method for learning about people.  And even those who get stuck in a food rut (hamburger, fries, and, for variety, maybe a cheeseburger) eventually want something different (maybe a Chicken Sandwich); enter the ultimate in different…ethnic food from around the world!  And most of us are always up for any excuse for a food fest.

Guinness Saint James’s Gate Brewery

For example, it seems that everyone is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day.  Think green beer (not Irish), Corned Beef and Cabbage (marginally Irish), Irish Stew, Shepherd’s Pie, and Colcannon (look it up).  Actual Irish people or even partially Irish people don’t really mind that everyone wants to honor their heritage by hanging out in pubs all day and night (lots of stereotypes there) and pretending to be Irish for the day.  Then there is the American celebration known as Cinco de Mayo.  It is in commemoration of victory by the Mexican army over a stronger French forces at the battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862.  It isn’t widely celebrated in Mexico except for some parades but here in America it has come to represent Mexican-American heritage and, in America, we celebrate by drinking lots of Mexican beer such as Dos Equis, Tecate and, of course, eating all the Tacos, Burritos, and Tamales that we think we can handle and pretending to be Mexican for the day.

Scallops and Peapods at Jade Tiki in Utica, MI

When you start to eat ethnic cuisine, you begin to appreciate more of a country’s culture through their food.  You might even search out more authentic ethnic food.  Like when you go to a Chinese restaurant and pick something from the menu (in English) like Beef and Broccoli and then you notice at another table some Chinese family ordering from a special menu that is printed in Chinese, you just know you’ve ordered Chinese-American food…and there is nothing wrong with that either as long as it tastes good.  But you feel like you are not part of a secret society, in a sense.  Just ask for the Chinese menu and point at something, especially if it has pictures.  You may even learn that you don’t like the original as much as the dish modified for American taste buds.  But that’s a whole ‘nother topic for another time.  The point is that, unless you are a strict Meat-and-Potato-tarian, it’s fun to try new foods.  And trying new foods in the country that they represent is definitely a big plus as you can directly associate the cuisine with the people.

Lebanese Sampler For Two Part Two

I often think that the more people travel and the more we try each others’ cuisine, the closer we come together.  When you try something new that wakes up your taste buds, you have to wonder how can we not get along with people who make this kind of scrumptious food?  That’s why I believe that food has the capability to be the ultimate peacemaker in the world.  We used to have an Indian-Pakistani restaurant nearby and it was really good.  We wondered why they can’t get along back in their home country but seem to follow different rules here in America.  On a more personal note, my wife, Reiko, was introduced to middle eastern food in Dearborn, Michigan by a Jewish friend; only in America!  Now it is one of our most favorite cuisines.

Do you have any stories about food solving any international crisis or at least making you some new friends?

Trip Planning for Hungry Travelers

Travel apps

Travel Apps make trip planning easy

Let’s face the facts here.  We travel because we want to see and experience our strange and wonderful world.  But, while we do that, we also recognize that we will work up a huge appetite along the way.  And while there are McDonald’s, Burger Kings, KFCs, and Pizza Huts all around the world, if we stick to the familiar while in other countries and cultures, we will miss out on a very large part of the potential experiences we could encounter.  Often, my main memory about a visit to a particular country is focused on a meal I had there before anything I saw; for example, for me, Wales was first and foremost where I got my Fish & Chips; Guam is Fuji Ichiban Ramen; Singapore is Fish Head Curry; Budapest is real Hungarian Goulash, and Russia is non-descript (but tasty) chicken with shots of Vodka to name but a few examples!

Fish and Chips; Mission Accomplished!

As part of my normal trip planning, I try to scout out restaurants where we can get a reasonably good representation of local cuisine.  There are any number of sources that can be used for that purpose, a number that has vastly increased with the Internet and the many websites devoted to descriptions and ratings of places all over the world.  Back in the day, we would rely on recommendations from relatives, friends, or acquaintences who had already been where we are going; advice from travel agents; books such as Fodors we could buy or get from the library; or recommendations from the hotel staff that know the area.  While these are all still valid ways to find good places to eat while traveling, today’s primary source would definitely be the Internet.

Gone With The Wind

Movie poster for Gone With The Wind

Now we have more information about where to eat, what to eat, ratings, rankings, and detailed descriptions of meals ordered and eaten with photos of the bite-by-bite action!  With websites and apps for Tripadvisor, Followthatfoodtruck, Fodors, AAA, and, my favorite…Yelp, “as God is my witness, I’ll never go hungry again!” (As Scarlet O’Hara said in Gone With the Wind, in case you didn’t recognize it.)  Not that I can recall ever going hungry.  And, of course, if you are not into adventure eating, there are apps for your favorite chain comfort food places from fast food to IHOP, Cracker Barrel, Pizza Hut, etc., although for those you who already know what you want, you just need to locate one near you or along your route.  And there are creative ways to use these apps that can really enhance your trip planning.

Guinness Brewery

Sampling the product at the Guinness Brewery in Dublin

As an example, we will be driving from Detroit, Michigan, to San Antonio, Texas, later this year.  I start by dividing the trip into segments of 300-500 miles per day and then start my hotel search for the end of each segment.  I’m usually flexible enough that if hotel prices are high, I can add or subtract miles until I find a less expensive area.  I use Yelp or Tripadvisor to check ratings and then select and book the hotel.  Once I have hotels set for the trip, the culinary fun begins.  Since most of the hotels we stay at offer complimentary breakfast, I look for restaurants that are three to four hours away from our overnight stay for lunch and up to an hour before our arrival at the next hotel.  Then I search on Yelp for restaurants with local flavor, with a rating of at least four out of five and a minimum of fifty reviews.  I select one or two choices (need to have back up in case one is closed) and bookmark them in Yelp so that they are easier to find later.

Yelp Collections

Yelp Collections

Yelp has a feature called Collections that allows users to collect and group your bookmarks.  You might make a Collection for someplace you visit regularly, like a city, say, Chicago.  You can make a Collection for a certain cuisine such as Sushi.  You can also make a Collection for a trip like from Detroit to San Antonio, which is what I did.  I included in this trip collection bookmarks for the hotels, restaurants, as well as landmarks like the Alamo.  Now, as I stated earlier, I bookmarked way more restaurants than we could possible eat at on this trip just to have some back ups and alternatives to choose from.  For example, in an area known for Bar-B-Que, I would bookmark one or two of the best rated ones but, in case we weren’t in the mood for that, maybe I would also bookmark a Mexican or Indian restaurant, and maybe an old standby like a Cracker Barrel.  When we arrive in the area, we can quickly decide where to eat based on our mood and how hungry we are.

Yelp Map of Bookmarks for Trip

Yelp Map of Bookmarks for Trip

What is really cool is that Yelp lets me display my trip Collection as a list or on a map.  Then I can see, at a glance, every possible stop for restaurants and our hotels.  Now, my planning method may be an overkill and you may be thinking I have way too much time on my hands.  But even a light version of what I do can be helpful.  And trip planning, for me, is just part of the trip experience.  Who knows, perhaps your new favorite food is on the horizon if you can get past the familiar and discover it.  Have you found ways to leverage Apps to do more for you than their readily apparent purpose?

To Tip or Not To Tip…

Google: the great equalizer for travel information!

Google: the great equalizer for travel information!

Short month so I am writing a short blog about something we all wonder about…tipping.  The practice of tipping is very ingrained in American culture as well as some other countries around the world.  But for some countries, tipping is not generally practiced, like in Japan, or varies significantly with respect to percentages or amounts to tip as well as whether to tip at all.  In fact, tipping may even be considered insulting in some cultures as they are proud of the work they do and feel it is inappropriate to take extra money!  There are too many customs with respect to tipping to cover in a short blog on the topic.  So a quick use of the Google Machine will easily bring up way too much information; try narrowing to a specific country or region to which you intend to actually travel.

Chocolate Truffles...Not mine because we ate them all before we thought to take a picture...but looked like these!

Chocolate Truffles…Not mine because we ate them all before we thought to take a picture…but looked like these!

In our earlier days of international travel, I had not given much thought to the art of tipping.  So on our first trip to France, we stayed in Paris and made day trips in and around the metro area.  While I had heard stories of snobbish French people, particularly when it came to Americans, I was quite pleasantly surprised when everyone was so nice to us.  In fact, the only bad experience we had was with one waiter in the restaurant in the hotel where we were staying.  The food was really good and the service was generally good until we were almost finished.  On the dessert menu were listed, among other things, Truffles.  I asked the waiter for more information about them thinking about some delicious chocolate truffles we had experienced that our daughter-in-law had made from a French recipe, in French.  Our daughter-in-law had studied French and was pretty good with it but not enough to tackle this recipe.  Not having a French-to- English dictionary, but my wife having a French-to-Japanese dictionary, we decided that we had to first translate the recipe into Japanese.  Then it was a simple matter to translate from Japanese to English, at which point we were able to make the best chocolate truffles!

Flag of France

Flag of France

So, back to our waiter…he either didn’t understand what we were asking or pretended not to understand (my bet was on the latter) and became a bit insulting to us (in French while smiling at us but the tone gave it away).  We decided to drop the whole matter and then I thought I would teach him a lesson by reducing his tip to only ten percent!  He would regret having crossed the line with us on this one.  So when the bill came, instead of the normal range of 15-20%, I wrote the tip amount for just under ten percent.  I almost never do this unless the service was really bad and not caused by the kitchen or something beyond the server’s control.  I felt great having dealt a blow against snobby French waiters on behalf of all Americans; even though he was the only one we encountered.  Later, back in the room, I was studying my handiwork when I noticed something…some words on the bill that I had initially overlooked…during the whole trip: service compris!  An automatic service charge of ten percent added to the bill as a built-in tip.  With the ten percent I added, that made a 20% tip for a snobby, insulting waiter!  Not to mention, I probably had been way too generous for tipping throughout the trip.

So it pays to do your homework when it comes to things like tipping.  One source that you might start with is by Conde Nast Traveler called Etiquette 101: Your Guide to Tipping Around the World that I found using Google.  There are many other resources available as well.  I also have a book that is both interesting and helpful titled “Kiss, Bow, or Shake Hands” to help with general understanding of cultures around the world.  While not specifically addressing the issue of tipping, I first encountered it as a guide for those engaged in business on an international basis to help navigate local customs without insulting your hosts or starting an international incident.

How do you approach the issue of tipping while traveling internationally?

Comfort Zone – Revisiting Places

Just back from Flightseeing on Taquan Air in Ketchikan

Just back from Flightseeing on Taquan Air in Ketchikan

With such a great big world available to see and experience, why would anyone return to places that they have already been to?  It seems that the reasons we travel to new places is to gain new experiences, learn about new cultures, meet locals, and certainly to taste the local cuisine.  And then there are reasons like accomplishing personal goals of visiting a certain number of countries – maybe with a self-imposed deadline, maybe for bragging rights, or even to gain material for a personal travel blog or for a website or magazine as a professional (sometimes paid) travel writer.  At the same time, there are many reasons why we choose to make a trip back to a previously visited destination.  A common one would be places where our friends and relatives are living, sort of a combination trip.  Then there are great places we have experienced that are relatively inexpensive to visit for when we are low on funds.  Some places we enjoyed so much that we want to go back to re-experience it or explore new aspects that we didn’t get to yet.  Of course, there are occasions where the main purpose of the trip is to get miles so a long-miles previous destination may be a great choice.  It may also be as simple as to enjoy the food.

There will be no Clean Plate Club tonight!

There will be no Clean Plate Club tonight!

We have destinations in all of these categories to which we have made multiple, even regular, trips.  For friends and relatives, we travel to several places in Wisconsin, including Milwaukee; and Cleveland, Ohio.  We make trips to Chicago for food and as a convenient stop on our way to and from Wisconsin.  We have visited Mackinac Island a number of times for the unique experience of having no motor vehicles and to stay at the Grand Hotel.  These are mostly done as road trips.  When it comes to longer distances including international destinations, we have made many trips to Japan (food and relatives), Guam (food and snorkeling), Singapore (food and lots of miles), and, of course, Hawaii (hey, it’s Hawaii, no other reason needed…but, food and…).  You may have noticed a pattern involving food; what can I say?  I like to eat good food!

Our ship Ruby Pricess for the Eastern Caribbean cruise

Our ship, Ruby Pricess, for the Eastern Caribbean cruise

There is absolutely nothing wrong with making repeat visits to places we have enjoyed.  In fact, because we already are familiar and know our way around, they are usually the easiest trips to plan and pull off.  This is somewhat like going back to a favorite restaurant where you enjoy the food, service, atmosphere, or value for what you pay.  With the number of restaurants in the world, in your country, in your state, or even just in your immediate area or city, you would not ever have to repeat any restaurant.  But then you have to recognize that you can go to the same restaurant but order something different that you haven’t tried yet.  So you go back to a favorite place for the weather, entertainment, activities, food, etc, and maybe this time you try the deep-sea fishing, hang gliding, and other things that you didn’t get to try on your previous visits.  In a sense, it is like a trip to a new destination.  Another example would be a cruise to the Eastern Caribbean.  It may stop at some repeat islands, it may include some new islands, and even if it is an identical itinerary, your choice of shore excursions will make it a completely different trip.

Marco Polo: Our Transportation To Antarctica

Marco Polo: Our Transportation To Antarctica

This is not to say that you could possibly find yourself stuck in a rut, so to speak, if you are not careful.  Back to the restaurant example, if you like a certain restaurant so much that you go there once a week or month, and you always order the Double BLT with a side of Onion Rings and a Diet Coke, for example…just saying.  When we were on our cruise to Antarctica I remember overhearing a conversation between a couple of fellow passengers where one asked the other if they were going ashore on one of the stops we made and the answer was something like “no, I did that last time.”  So they were enjoying being in a comfort zone that most people will never experience but not wanting to take part in one of the reasons for being on the ship.  Perhaps he should have taken a cruise to the Galapagos Islands or…scratch that…probably already been there-done that, too.

Do you have favorites that you like to repeat frequently?  If you do, does it interfere with you being able to experience new places?  Or is it a way to just relax and decompress a bit?

Curious Monkeys Travel

Dreams Near and Far

Kathleen Duffy

Freelance Writer, ESL Teacher, and Edacious Traveler

A Note From Abroad

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sailaway from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” ~ Mark Twain

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