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North America, Reviews

Checking out the Big Zombie Tour with Atlanta Movie Tours, Part 2

November 18, 2014 • By

Last week, I shared my experience with the first part of the Big Zombie Tour in Atlanta.  Today, I want to discuss the second part that covered location shots in the small towns of Senoia, Grantville, Newnan and Haralson, Georgia.  Senoia is roughly 50 miles away from the main tour offices in Atlanta, so you would have to either drive there on your own or use their shuttle service.

The cost of the shuttle is $30.00 RT pp and is well worth it if you are directionally-challenged as I am wont to be.  On the drive there, we decided to eat our packed lunch and were treated to episodes of The Walking Dead on the tv monitors that were installed throughout the cabin.

Once we reached the city of  Senoia, it was obvious that the main street was the setting for the fictionalized town of Woodbury:

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The driver instructed us to go to the Woodbury Shoppe (where the Walking Dead store is housed) on the corner so that we could check in for the second half of the tour.  This store was a Walking Dead fan’s dream.  There was nothing that they did not sell that would not make a true fan’s eyes glaze over.  But fan though I may be, I couldn’t bring myself to splurge on the $270.00 katana sword!

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Consumer Advice, North America, Reviews

Checking out the Big Zombie Tour with Atlanta Movie Tours, Part 1

November 6, 2014 • By

For as long as I can remember, I have always been a fan of the macabre.  Horror movies have always been my favorite genre.  I love the idea of being frightened out of my wits and I suspect I’m not alone in that feeling.  I’m not saying that I haven’t looked away or closed my eyes when the sacrificial lamb met their doom, I have some standards.

But, I still love the suspense, the obligatory run from the villain by the world’s clumsiest victim who can’t help falling down numerous times, then the final showdown where the evildoer meets their inevitable doom.  The formula is predictable but satisfies the essence of a good storyline.

That’s probably why I’m a big fan of The Walking Dead.  I haven’t missed an episode since it debuted in October 2010 on AMC.  It follows the lives of a group of people who’ve banded together to form a protective community in order to survive what is essentially the Zombie Apocalypse.  For me, the show is a perfect blend of unspeakable horror and one’s attempt to hold onto some semblance of humanity while trying to survive it.

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Photo courtesy: amctv.com

Fortunately for me, the show films in the state that I live in.  While I haven’t had the chance to meet any of its stars, I have found pretty much the next best thing:  Atlanta Movie Tours!  Located in the Castleberry Hill neighborhood of Atlanta, this company offers a 3 hour guided tour to scene locations depicted in various episodes of The Walking Dead.  The Big Zombie tour is actually divided into two separate tours.  The first tour covers all of the notable scenes that were featured in and around the Atlanta area.  The second focuses on the more rural areas of Georgia – the cities of Senoia (aka Woodbury), Haralson, Grantville and Newnan.

The tour guides are very likable actors who have all played walkers on the mega-hit which happened to score 17.3 million viewers during its 5th season premiere on October 12, 2014.  These ratings are unheard of for most network television shows, much less a ‘lowly’ cable series, so you can imagine that its popularity will continue to increase.  In fact, a companion series is scheduled to air by 2016 with one of the writers from the Sons of Anarchy acting as the show runner.

The first Big Zombie tour started with a short walk down the street.  There we stood in front of the Norfolk Southern Railway Building which was the scene where the gang had to leave a repugnant Merle Dixon handcuffed to a pipe on the rooftop in Season one.  Our guide, Patrick, mentioned that when nearby residents heard the staged ‘gunshots’, cops and a swat team were quickly dispatched.  Needless to say, no one was arrested.

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Europe, Reviews, Travel Advice

The 8 things that surprised me during my trip to Rome, Italy

June 25, 2013 • By

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Rome, Italy was my second sojourn into Europe. Having visited Paris the year prior, I thought myself very fortunate to be going back so quickly. I had been intrigued with Rome for awhile, mostly through the lens of a movie camera.

There were so many great films like “Three Coins in the fountain” and “Roman Holiday” that set the tone for my romanticized (pun intended) and lofty expectations.

As wonderful as the city is, when I finally got the chance to visit this beautiful country, some things were were not as I expected.  Not everything one envisions matches the fantasy, but that doesn’t mean that you won’t have a fantastic time anyway.READ MORE


North America, Reviews, Travel Advice

A Review of Gatlinburg Falls Resort in Tennessee

April 1, 2013 • By

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I have always believed that you can find little hidden treasures close to home. I think Gatlinburg Falls Resort is one such treasure. It is located approximately six miles from the little town of Pigeon Forge, Tennessee with only the Smoky Mountains National Park separating the two. We decided to take a long weekend break to visit Gatlinburg which is a little over a four hour drive from Atlanta.

I hate to admit that I got lost the first time trying to find the resort. Once you pass the Park, you will come upon the first traffic light in Gatlinburg. It is literally marked with the number “1”. You will need to turn left at that light. We had gotten to stoplight number 10 when we finally decided to call the resort for directions. Luckily, the lights are in close proximity, otherwise I would have been upset.

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This is the entrance to the Conference Center which can be used for free. A public swimming pool is on site for guest use as well.

Once you make the left turn, keep driving up a steep hill until you get to the stop sign. Bear right at the stop sign and keep going until you see the resort on your left. I wish that they would install a sign indicating that you should turn left to get to them. However, there is a lot of sign porn going on, so you may miss it anyway.

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The Welcome Center is where you come to check in. You will be given codes that will allow you to open your cabin’s front door via keyless entry.

We realized that we were early….very early. We left Atlanta around 5 am, so it was now 10ish. The front desk clerk was a little terse with us. He didn’t ask if he could help us. He said something like, “What can I do for you?” without looking at us. I told him that we had reservations for the Rainbow’s End cabin. He quickly offered that they only guarantee that rooms are ready by 4 pm and he didn’t think it was cleaned yet.

That wasn’t a problem for us. We knew we were super early, but we were a little tired and had crossed our fingers for an early check in. I sent an email three days prior to let them know that we would probably be arriving by noon, but I guess they couldn’t accommodate us. The fact that they weren’t ready for us was quite alright. I was a little put off by the disengaged attitude of the clerk who after checking his phone (their internet was down) verified that the room wasn’t ready.

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Taking a breather in the Welcome Center before having to hit the road again. Our room wasn’t quite ready yet.

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Europe, Reviews

The Top Five Things to Do in Amsterdam in 24 Hours

December 20, 2012 • By

I have to admit, before my visit in November, my impression of Amsterdam was that it was a party town, a place to score mary jane and watch lots of live porn. Mind you, this was coming from a very uninformed point of view. The Amsterdam that I actually witnessed is the polar opposite. In fact, it struck me as being very family friendly, cultural, progressive, stylish and a historical bulwark of days gone by.

We’d decided that we wanted to take a day-trip while we were in Paris. My motto is if I am going to cross an ocean, I’m going to make it worth my while. So, what better way to maximize our experience than to visit a city that I had long wondered about after seeing so many beautiful pictures posted on various social media by my travel blogger friends. Maybe I should give the city a try despite the questionable reputation that preceded it?

The problem was that we would only have one day to experience the true ambiance of a city that held so much promise as I began to do my research. So, I decided to set a challenge for the two of us (my daughter, Carisa and I); we would attempt to use that limited time to discover the top 5 things to do if you only had a day in Amsterdam.

The best resource in helping us to meet that challenge was to contact the city’s Tourism Office. The number one thing to do is to purchase their 24 hour I amsterdam city card for 40 euros. It truly is the most cost effective and less taxing way to see as many of the famous, local museums, gardens and the local zoo.  Other activities can be experienced at 25% off the entrance fee.  The card is actually a mini-guidebook with tips from locals on must-sees, maps, a list of literally everything there is to do in the city when it comes to shops, restaurants, gardens, comedy clubs, night clubs, etc.

When you open the book, you will see a museum pass and a travel pass affixed to the inside cover. Carefully remove these two cards because the museum pass will allow you unlimited entry into all museums within the time specified. Similarly, the travel pass will allow you unlimited passage on all of the local transportation systems like the Tram or the Metro Buses for the same 24 hours; the clock starts ticking as soon as you scan it.

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Be sure to wave your travel pass across this scanner when boarding AND exiting a bus or tram.

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Europe, Reviews

A Review of two sisters, The Hotel Taylor and Hotel L’Annexe in Paris, France

December 10, 2012 • By

 

There is nothing more comforting when you visit a city far away from home than knowing that your newer and more temporary digs offers you that same warmth and familiarity. I felt that way as soon as I found my way to the second and third hotels that we would be staying at in Paris, France. I wasn’t expecting anything out of the ordinary; a clean room with a comfortable bed were the limits to what I had hoped for.

Hotel Taylor would be the first of the twin or sister hotels that we would have the pleasure of staying during our last two days in Paris. The second was right next door, the Hotel L’Annexe. While they were both owned by the same couple, that is where the physical similarities ended. Both hotels were immaculate and traditional, very much what you would expect from a European boutique hotel. They are modern in the sense that all conveniences were provided like television, a buffet breakfast (at an additional cost of 15 euros) and updated bathrooms. Plush and comfortable mattresses were juxtaposed with traditional, period furniture, which seemed to give guests the best of both worlds.

We did notice that the Hotel L’Annexe’s room was significantly smaller than the Hotel Taylor’s. That could work to an amorous couple’s advantage, so I won’t say that it was necessarily a bad thing. Luckily, my daughter, Carisa and I managed to make it work somehow because the bed was essentially a king which predominated the space.  The room was arranged where there was sufficient open closet space and the bathroom, which was literally the size of one of my closets at home (boy, we Americans are a spoiled lot!), actually worked!

Address:

Hotel L’Annexe is located at 4 rue Taylor 75010 Paris – Tél : +33 (0) 1 42 08 23 91 – Email: contact@hotelannexe.com

The Hotel Taylor was perhaps my favorite. Its dimensions were larger than the typical European hotel room; the bed was the same size as L’Annexe’s, but there was enough room for a very large wardrobe and double windows, which allowed a pensive view through a Juliet styled balcony. The bathroom’s size was doubled and the requisite sample sized toiletries were made available to guests. Both hotels operate with a conscious commitment to green/sustainable living.

Address:
Hotel Taylor is located at 6 rue Taylor 75010 Paris – Tel: 33(0)1 42 40 11 01 – Email: contact@paristaylorhotel.com

One of the nice things about both hotels is that they are located at the end of a pedestrian street. While it is very quiet, it is still within close proximity to the Post office, a myriad of restaurants, retail shops and grocery stores. You are within two blocks walking distance of the Republique Metro station. While we were there, the city was installing cobblestone right outside the hotels. It definitely requires the work of artisans as the stones were laid in a fluid and harmonious geometric pattern that stayed true to European style.

While both hotels were beyond satisfactory, none of the aforementioned accoutrements were the best part of either hotel. The best and most enjoyable aspect were meeting the owners, Angel and Sylvie Sanguinetti. They are two of the most charming people that I have met in quite sometime. They radiated warmth, were hospitable and more than that……are truly genuine. I meshed with them immediately. They love what they do and it is obvious that they are in this industry purely for the love of it. They are people oriented and take great pride in what they have built here.  In a city full of competing hotels, they have managed to set themselves apart by instituting a system where their only purpose is in making their guests happy. To witness this first hand in a world where there is very little hospitality in the hospitality industry was refreshing. I think the rest of the everyone else is on to them as well…..they seemed to have a respectable flow of customers coming and going as I observed and deservedly so.

We’d planned to take a day-trip to Amsterdam two days before checking into the hotels. When asked if it would be ok to leave our luggage there so we wouldn’t have to go traipsing around Holland with it and they responded positively with no hesitation. When we returned to Paris, we arrived rather early……hours before the 12 noon check in. We forgot to inform them that we would need an early check in but there was no worry. The attending desk clerk, Mafelda, had the housekeeping staff ready a room for us within minutes.

So, it appears that these people walk on water and absolutely nothing went wrong……right? Actually, there were two issues for me. They do offer free wi-fi for both hotels; you will have to get a user name and password from the front desk. However, it was more difficult to get a clear signal that would allow me to sign on at the Hotel L’Annexe so I wasn’t able to check in nor print out my boarding passes for my upcoming flights. So, how did another front desk clerk named Magda handle my ‘complaint’?

She took my flight info, logged onto the airline’s website, checked my seating and printed out my boarding passes. I was expecting my previously arranged airport pickup service at the same time but they were late. She called them and was told that they had no record of my booking. She emphatically explained to them that THEY had called her the day before to confirm the booking!! She was very apologetic and asked if I would like for her to call us a taxi or another shuttle service. We asked for a taxi and she arranged for one to pick us up in less than 10 minutes and we made our flight with no problem.

My last complaint…..the elevator lift is small. No surprise there, but still a complaint! lol If you are looking for a truly wonderful home away from home, don’t think twice. Call them and book!!

Disclosure: I was a guest of the Hotel Taylor and Hotel L’Annexe but the opinion of my experience there is my own.

 


Europe, Reviews, Travel Advice

A Review of the Hotel Paradis in Paris, France

December 1, 2012 • By

There’s one truth about large cities. There are lots of hotels. Lots. There will never be a shortage of them but there always seem to be a shortage of recommendations of which may be the best ones to stay at. I had the chance to stay at a hotel in Paris called Hotel Paradis. Paradise. That’s a lot to live up to and I was anxious to see how close the experience would come to it.

After a little confusion about my reservation, I was given a card key and directed to the very bijou elevator that would take me up to my room on the sixth floor. The room was the the hotel’s suite….it was larger than I thought it would be with plenty of room to mill about without feeling constrained. You immediately walked into a foyer which is always a great transition into the rest of the suite. The bathroom was just to the right of the sitting room. It was nice to see that the toilet was separated from the rest of the bathroom; an asset in certain situations. The bath was obviously a renovation and a very well done one at that. The furnishings were meager, but functional and the predominate color was a wine/mauve and silver medallion combo that seemed to suggest that couples were in mind when they decided on the decor for this suite.READ MORE


Reviews

Introducing Cloud Nine Living

October 25, 2012 • By

There’s no shortage of ‘Experience’ options from Cloud Nine.

 

 

I’m not going to lie.  I love gadgets, trinkets and thingamabobs as much as the next person.  However, there comes a time when you figure out that you have more than enough ‘things’ and that you’ve reached a saturation point.  Never does this become more clear than when you are trying to find the perfect gift for someone who seems to have it all.  Or perhaps they do not.  Maybe you just want to show that you care by gifting a loved one, friend, co-worker with something that they can treasure longer than the warranty of the latest version of the hottest electronic gadget that can do everything but tie your shoelaces.

“Trying to be happy by accumulating possessions is like trying to satisfy hunger by taping sandwiches all over your body.” – George Carlin

Enter Cloud 9 Living.  Its concept is not new, but it certain does get your attention.  Cloud 9 Living is the US leader in experience gifts, offering more than 1,700 unique experiential gifts for men, women & couples in 43 regions. They take pride in delivering exceptional customer service to ensure every gift recipient enjoys a memorable experience.  I loved the idea of gifting someone with an experience, something that they could always carry with them as a pleasant memory.

Cloud 9 Living offers some really exciting choices like race car driving, hot air ballooning, learning how to become a fighter pilot in one day, one on one golf lessons with a pro.  The offerings from the gamut from being pampered to being physically challenged with a wide variety of sports-related activities.  The great thing is that the activities are set up in such a way that I am not limited to my particular geographical region, I can send one of my southern friends to helicopter ski in Telluride, CO.  You can also select experiences based on who your recipient is, what the occasion is and/or what type of experience you think that they may enjoy.READ MORE


Reviews

NetZero stages a comeback with its new 4G Mobile Broadband Hotspot device

October 15, 2012 • By

One of the most frustrating things about traveling is the inevitable search for wi-fi hotspots.  Of course, if you are lucky enough to be staying in accommodations where wi-fi is available you are lucky indeed.  Unless…… you have to pay a tidy per diem for the pleasure.  Think about it.  Between paying to logon at the airport, hotel or wherever you have to access the internet, you can end up paying a pretty penny at the end of the day.

Oftentimes, to avoid the highway robbery of hotels that still charge for this service, I will leave the comfort of my room to hunt down a cafe to secure free wi-fi service.  As a travel blogger, it would be nice to set up shop in your hotel to post articles and interact on social media without being bothered to track down service.

In this day of multiple electronics that require wi-fi, such as laptops, kindles, cellphones, tablets and ipads, it just makes sense to have one device to service them all.  Enter the age of mobile broadband!  I was asked to test drive a new mi-fi unit being offered by NetZero.  After I rubbed my eyes thinking that I was being punked, I was quite surprised because I wasn’t aware that they were still in business.  In the early days of public utilized internet, NetZero offered dial up service alongside such companies as AOL, Compuserve, Juno and Earthlink.  As it turns out, they still offer dial up along with DSL service.  But, I won’t judge.  Obviously some people still use dial up, otherwise, it wouldn’t exist.READ MORE


North America, Reviews, Trip Reports

Discovering the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone National Park with Wildlife Expeditions of Teton Science Schools

June 25, 2012 • By

Last summer, I spent an entire day exploring two of our best known National Parks.  They’re the ones that everyone learns about in school but nothing prepares you for what you actually witness up close and personal.  We were fortunate to be the guest of the Teton Science Schools which has two campuses in the Grand Teton National Park and in the city of Jackson Hole, Wyoming.  The school’s mission is to educate about natural resource sustainability and conservation and they offer six innovative programs to do that:

  1. Educational Programs are offered year round to students and youths to learn “geology, ecology, weather or plant and animal adaptation” .
  2. Graduate School “develops leaders in place-based teaching, field ecology and experiential education”.
  3. Teacher Learning Center “combine nature-based and outdoor education with innovative leadership strategies of educational reform.”  Science teachers throughout the country come to hone their skills by studying this delicate eco-system.
  4. Journeys School is a pre-k to 12th grade program that “consists of four critical pillars that act together to empower students to change the world”.
  5. Conservation Research Center “was formed in response to the growing need in Jackson Hole and the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem for responsible conservation and land stewardship”.
  6. Wildlife Expeditions ” has a well-earned reputation of locating all kinds of wildlife in the Greater Yellowstone Geo-ecosystem and providing fascinating educational experiences in a fun and relaxed environment”.
Naturally, our tour was a part of  the Wildlife Expeditions component of the school.   All of the tour guides are bona-fide Biologists who not only led you to the spots that made Yellowstone famous but taught you so many great details that you actually felt as though you were on the most inspiring field trip ever.  The full day tour began barely at the crack of dawn and ended around sunset.  We boarded a large safari styled four runner with roof hatches for easier viewing.  Mark, our guide, was friendly and a little too chipper for that hour of the morning.  However, his enthusiasm was instrumental in snapping me out of my stupor.  That and the lovely thermos of coffee that he had on hand for tourists who refused to go to bed on time the night before.  At noon, we had made our way through the Tetons and Mark stopped at a lovely scenic spot where he set up a tasty picnic lunch for us to devour.  Continuing on, an hour later, we got to spend the bulk of our time in Yellowstone where we learned about the history and mystery surrounding it.

Our guide, Mark leading us to the first waterfall in Yellowstone

During westward expansion, the government decided to protect and not allow development in the region now known as Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons.  At first, it was scoffed at because there was literally land as far as the eye could see so what was the point because land was inexhaustible.  It worked out well because the idea of having a protected area that everyone could enjoy was a good one and thus, the first National Park in the world was established.

Yellowstone is one of the largest active volcanoes in the world.  It has over ¾ of the world’s hydrothermal features.  There are over 10k that lie within the boundaries of Yellowstone, the second largest number is in Iceland which only has about 900:

Clepsydra Geyser at Yellowstone

Geysers – actively shoots up boiling hot water from underground.

The Morning Glory Pool at Yellowstone

Hot Springs – boiling water pooled on the surface.

Fumeroles billowing to the surface

Fumaroles are steam vents blasting from underground.

Fountain Mud Pots

Lastly, fountain paint pots is where the mud is actually boiling.

When early explorers came and noticed all of these hydro-thermal features their only explanation was that there had to be a volcano nearby.  Of course, there was no evidence of a cone shaped above ground volcano and it wasn’t until satellite imagery was invented that they could see volcanoes close to the earth’s crust.  The explorers had no idea that they were standing in the middle of the volcano. When a volcano erupts it spews out molten rock from the earth’s core and after its finished erupting, the space that the rock once occupied is now vacant and over time, the crater walls of the volcano will collapse in on itself.

Historically, there have been 5 major eruptions at Yellowstone.  One happens about every 600k years and the last time was 640k years ago, so we are way overdue for an eruption but that’s from a geologic standpoint where time tables are much different from ours.  It’s thought that a massive earthquake will take place before an eruption.

There’s an average of 6-8 earthquakes that occur daily at Yellowstone; people aren’t aware of the seismic activity which ranges from 1-2 on the Richter scale so not really large enough to notice.  Yellowstone is constantly monitored so all activity are easily measured by scientists.

The hydro-thermal features act like pressure releasers.  In 1959, there was a 7.2 magnitude quake right outside the western boundary of Yellowstone and it affected the Teutonic plates underneath the pressure releasers, the hydro-thermal activity and its plumbing structures.  As a result, some geysers stopped erupting and formerly grassy areas suddenly began to spew steam.

Three features that we focused on in Yellowstone:

Old Faithful Geyser in the middle of showing off

Old Faithful – which not surprisingly, gets the most press.

The magical, pastel wonder of Artists Point at the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone River

The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone – has a 300 ft waterfall over the canyon; neither are discussed that much in the press.

Watching the water flow through the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River

The Yellowstone River

Yellowstone Lake – largest lake in North America; above 7k ft in elevation.  There are no boat size limitations on this lake and it is completely surrounded by 15.3 sq miles of wilderness and freezes over in the winter.

The Grand Tetons

The Grand Tetons is 330 acres in size; Yellowstone is 2.2 million acres.  Yellowstone used to be the largest National Park in the lower 48 until 1994 when a wilderness area was added to Death Valley National Park giving them a total of 3.3 million acres.  However, Alaska’s Wrangell St. Elias is the largest with 13.2 million acres.

6 mile stretch between Yellowstone and Grand Tetons

There is a six mile stretch of land separating northern edge of the Grand Tetons and  southern tip of Yellowstone.  This stretch of land consists of forests that are under the control of the Department of Agriculture.  The National Parks surrounding it is under the Department of the Interior.  Therefore, hunters can actually use that 6 mile stretch to hunt.  However, they are forbidden to use either the Tetons or Yellowstone.  During the hunting season, this forest is flooded with hunters who are attempting to get elk, moose or deer as they migrate from one park to the next during the winter.

People getting way too close to the moose at Grand Tetons

The vast majority is hunting for sustenance and will target the female elk (cow) for instance, the hunters who are strictly hunting for game will target the males because of their enormous size.  As long as they do not cross into National Park territory, it’s all legal but it does affect the blood line of the Elk over time if the best and strongest are brought down by the hunters.

[box type=”info”]I was a guest of the Teton Science Schools which is a private, 501(c)(3) non-profit educational organization, operating year-round in Jackson Hole, Wyoming in partnership with Grand Teton National Park and as a permittee of the Bridger-Teton National Forest and the Caribou-Targhee National Forest. Please contact them at 700 Coyote Canyon Road | Jackson, Wyoming 83001 | Ph. 307.733.1313 | Fax 307.733.7560 | email: info@tetonscience.org[/box]