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North America, Travel Advice, Trip Reports

Visiting the Grand Canyon with Red Rock Canyon tours

September 6, 2016 • By

Alright, I have to admit that I have been on a tear when it comes to visiting as many U.S. Parks as I can before my annual pass expires.  So far, I have been to Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks and more recently, The Great Smoky Mountains.  We decided to add The Grand Canyon to the list while planning our trip to Las Vegas.

The problem that we encountered is that there are so many tour companies who will pick you up from your hotel off the Las Vegas strip and after doing the same thing for each successive passenger, they will finally pull off hours later to your final destination.  Some of the tours will make a stop at the Hoover Dam, which is becoming less of an attraction due to the drought.

Quite frankly, it was difficult to distinguish one service from another, so how do you ensure that you’ll make the best choice?  Well, I decided to pay a visit to TripAdvisor, which allows you to read real reviews from real travelers about specific hospitality services.  I came across one tour that really appealed to me because it was run by a gentleman by the name of Tom Dziadek whose stellar reviews won me over.

A little background about Tom’s company

His company, Red Rock Canyon Tours, started out unsurprisingly as a tour company that served visitors to Red Rock Canyon six years ago.  Two years ago, Tom decided to apply his wealth of knowledge about the Grand Canyon into a full service group tour for people visiting Las Vegas.   While his fledgling website leaves a little to be desired, it was fairly easy to see what he offered in comparison to other companies and it was easy to purchase our tickets on his site.

The prices were slightly higher than the rest of the tours ($119.00 PP/entrance fee included), but I was happy to pay it because the maximum number of participants on Tom’s shuttle would be 14, we would leave earlier than the rest of the luxury tour buses which meant we would arrive before they would and have ample time to explore and take photos before the rest of the hoards arrived.

We were told to meet in what was essentially a passageway between the Paris Las Vegas hotel and the CVS pharmacy next door to it.  It was where taxis and limousines would park to pick up their fare.  I must caution you that Tom takes his schedule seriously, so do not be late!!  As each person arrived, he had you to fill out the standard liability contract that you must sign before leaving at 6 a.m. sharp.

We took our seats but I must confess, that while the shuttle is comfortable, if you are tall, you will have a problem.  We had two stops along the way for a bathroom break, coffee, food, etc. and I mentioned to Tom that my legs were cramped and his relief driver, Kevin, happily gave up his front passenger seat to ensure my comfort.  I was able to keep that seat the rest of the way and on the return trip.READ MORE


North America, Travel Advice, Trip Reports

A day trip to the Great Smoky Mountains

June 28, 2016 • By

You may recall that I purchased an annual National parks pass in anticipation of my visit to Utah last year.  Since I was  visiting Gatlinburg again to spend time with family, I figured that we might as well check out the Great Smokies while we were there.

Due to an agreement between the state of Tennessee and the Federal government, the Great Smoky Mountains does not have an entry fee, so no annual pass was needed.  However, as we drove past the entrance, it reminded me of our time at Zion National Park, where you traverse a long winding road that has various points of interest on the side of the road along the way.

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City Views, Travel Advice, Trip Reports

48 Hours Discovering the Magical Parks of Utah

November 30, 2015 • By
utah

The Petroglyphs of Monument Valley, Utah

A Few of the Many Beautiful Sights of Utah

I’ve developed a fond appreciation for brief vacations.  If nothing else, it proves that you can still enjoy and experience a great deal that a city has to offer without spending an extended period of time there.  I’ve spent 24 hours in Amsterdam and 36 hours in Savannah and didn’t feel like I sacrificed anything in the process.  When I managed to find an exceptional fare from Atlanta to Salt Lake City for $139.00 RT via Google Flights, I  knew that I had to book it.

While I enjoy touring cities with the best of them, nothing makes me feel closest to the Creator than experiencing the Great Outdoors.  I have a poster of the Petroglyphs in Monument Valley in Utah hanging in my office.  After looking at it for five years, I decided that there was no time like the present.  In fact, I booked the trip for early November which happened to be during the off season, but thankfully the parks were still open.

My first order of business was to order an annual park pass for $85.00 (including shipping; it arrived in less than a week) from the nearly century old National Park Service.   The passes are free for park volunteers, members of the military and the disabled.  Citizens 62 years or older can get a lifetime pass for $10.00.

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City Views, North America, Trip Reports

The End of an Era? | The Seattle Gum Wall

November 19, 2015 • By

I heard about it while doing some quick research on a city that I had longed to visit and quite frankly, my stomach did a somersault at the mere thought of it. The gum began appearing right outside the entrance of a little hole in the wall, the Market Theater, thanks to the creativity of patrons lining up for the next show.  It’s located right beneath the main entrance of the Pike Place Market, one of the must sees of any first time visitor to Seattle.

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As with all bad habits, the idea caught on. Over the course of twenty years, it began to mimic some version of abstract art. This colorful, gaping wound of three dimensional graffiti soon took on a life of its own.

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North America, Travel Advice, Trip Reports

A Salute to Fall from Prince Edward Island!

September 29, 2014 • By

 

I first fell in love with Prince Edward Island through the narrow view of a photo lens.  Its’ vast beauty shined through whether it was the picturesque countryside or pensive seaside.   I was enamored with its quaint architecture, beautiful seashore and knew that one day I would have to bear witness to it to make sure that it was all real.

I was fortunate to get that chance around this time last October.  Fall was upon us.  The leaves had begun to change, the air was crisp and the island was only occupied by the people left behind to brave the cold weather that was yet to come.  Tourist season was well over which is what made this trip all the more appealing.

While there was public transportation, it was imperative to rent a car so that you could spend time exploring all of the nooks and crannies of the island.  There was always something incredible waiting just ahead and our impatience wouldn’t have been able to bear the constant interruptions of the leisurely island trams.

We wanted to get away from the hustle and bustle of the big city and just relax and enjoy the wonders of nature.  We were not disappointed.  Now, a full year later, I want to share what makes PEI such a special place to visit.  Come along with me and explore the first installment of discovering the miraculous natural aesthetics of this wonderful island, won’t you?

 

 


Europe, Reviews, Travel Advice, Trip Reports

A Review Of Two Sisters, The Hotel Taylor and Hotel L’Annexe in Paris, France

December 10, 2012 • By

Hotel Taylor

 

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.READ MORE


South America, Trip Reports

My Easter Island Trip Report

August 23, 2012 • By

easter

Easter Island is known for the strange statues that dot the landscape and the vast mystery surrounding how they were made and moved and why they were toppled over.

But for the uninitiated, that’s literally the extent of the layperson’s knowledge of the land known as Rapa Nui by the residents of the most remote island in the world.

What makes this mystical island even more special is discovering it through the eyes of Rapa Nui Travel, a local tour company which was arranged by Ecotours Chile Private Tours. We hit the ground running our first day when a rep came to our hostel to give us a schedule of events for our two half day tours and one full day tour that we had booked.

Each Easter Island tour was made special by the two guides that had an obvious affection for their work. We were picked up from our hostel on time every day and never ran behind schedule. Our complete and absolute comfort took precedence and their thorough knowledge of the island’s history was evident.

Both of our guides (Frieder, a German native and Tongariki (sp) a 6th generation Rapa Nui) were kind, affable, intelligent and took the greatest pleasure in sharing their vast knowledge with us. There was no question too silly to ask because you always felt that they eagerly anticipated each one of them. With few exceptions, we pretty much covered the entire Island. Just driving through the various sectors was an exercise in tranquility.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”.

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North America, Reviews, Trip Reports

Bucking ‘n Bronco’ n In Wyoming At The Jackson Hole Rodeo

November 25, 2011 • By

You know the old saying: “When in Rome, do as the Romans do”. The same holds true when visiting the wild west. Not because someone would challenge you to a duel in the town square, but because you’d want to experience everything that makes a particular region special or unique. We were invited to attend the Jackson Hole Rodeo and absolutely jumped at the chance to experience something so exciting and new. We took a few short videos to illustrate exactly what happens when attending such an event.

As usual, the bull wins!

This bull is in therapy for anger issues, not that I blame him.  Wouldn’t you be upset if someone was always riding your back?

Warm-ups before the games began. I was surprised to see so many kidlets in the rodeo.

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City Views, North America, Trip Reports

36 Hours Of Fun In Historic Downtown Savannah, Georgia

October 29, 2011 • By

We wanted to get out of town, the problem was deciding where and how far could we go on such short notice. My sister had never been to Savannah and it had been over a decade since Carisa and I’d seen it, so we decided to go for it. After a four hour pre-dawn drive, we arrived in the city around 10 am just in time for our first activity, the Grayline Trolley Tour that we scored for $15.00 pp.

It was a great way to get an overview of the city so that we could investigate it fully later on in the day. We were enjoying the sights and sounds of this cultural gem until we happened upon the funeral of Troy Davis, the man who was executed days earlier despite a world-wide outcry against it.

It dampened the mood, undoubtedly, but we decided to stay focused on what was destined to be a world-wind of activity for the three of us. Immediately after our hop on hop off tour, we decided that one time around the bend was enough for us. We knew that it was getting close to ‘supper time’ (southern vernacular for lunch) so it was time to stop by the Lady and Sons eatery to try their 15.99 buffet(drinks and dessert included).

The Lady’s reputation certainly preceded her because we were warned to come by early in the day to make reservations for lunch and/or dinner due to the overwhelming demand for a table there. Still we were fortunate because we only had a two hour wait given that we gave no prior notice of our arrival.

We decided to kill some time by walking across the street and spending probably too much money purchasing souvenirs from a store that sold its goods for half off. I’m willing to bet that the half off sale is a perpetual event, but it was worth the effort. After one and a half soul-killing hours we walked over and luckily was told that a table was ready.READ MORE