Friday, September 30, 2011

Ithaca Apple Festival

I'm headed to Ithaca today! My former roommate and I are driving up for the Ithaca Apple Festival, a hint of nostalgia, and to visit my sister - three birds with one stone? As a Cornell graduate, I have some bittersweet feelings about Ithaca. The weather is always fickle, the schoolwork was stressful, and navigating campus meant I'd break a sweat getting a really good calf workout. But, I love Ithaca nonetheless! It's beautiful (a.k.a. gorges), there are tons of fun events in the commons, and the Ithaca farmers market is great. I haven't had a getaway in a while - I think LA was my most recent trip and that was back in July! - so I'm due for a little holiday.

The apple festival is actually an awesome reason to go up because it's so much fun. There are shows, music, and lots of food. I'm excited to chow down on some homemade apple pies.

We're saving lots of money by staying with my sister, who is an RA, in a dorm (which I think is an adventure in itself) and we're driving ourselves because bus costs are around $80 per person. The scariest part of staying in the dorm with my sister is the communal bathrooms and showering with flip flops on. I think I'll survive. I estimate that we'll probably spend $50 each for the entire weekend for gas and food.

I've packed my fashion backpack (meaning I'm using a backpack I'd never put on the ground, i.e. I'm not bringing my Northface Jester) since this is a short trip (2.5 days). It's going to be a bit chilly so I'll need some warmer clothing and in order to save space in my bag, I plan on wearing the same pants all weekend. Judge me if you must, but I don't plan on wrestling in mud and I have control of my own bladder so I think my pants will survive. I can roll up all my tops (space saving and wrinkle preventive) and everything will fit nice and snug. I'll be wearing my boots all weekend because they're comfy and because if it rains, my feet will be well protected.

Anyway, I'm off to exercise George Michael at the dog park before I leave.

Cheers and happy weekend!
Ithaca Weekend

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Past Trips: Glasgow

We were supposed to hit up both Edinburgh and Glasgow but because of a time restraint we ended up sticking with Glasgow. How did we decide? Our departure city was London and the bus tickets to Glasgow (£10 per person via National Express) were cheaper - plain and simple. The bus ride was 8+ hours overnight so we saved money on lodging, though we sacrificed a bit of comfort. You should note that National Express is another one of those places where tickets are cheaper the earlier you book.

We stayed at the Holiday Inn Express which was the cheapest hotel we could find in the city center. It was literally right across the street from the Buchanan Bus Station (where we arrived and would later depart from) so it was incredibly convenient.

The city has a pretty easy public transportation system but the weather was great and we wanted to explore as much as possible so we ended up walking everywhere. Here are some photos of the sights.

Buchanan Street
George Square (down the road)
Glasgow Cathedral
Glasgow Cathedral
St. Nicholas Hospital
St. Nicholas Hospital






Glasgow Royal infirmary






















St. Nicholas Garden
ugly face statue!
Peacock in Princess Square
Princess Square
Bridge over the River Clyde
the Armadillo!
Bridge over the River Clyde
Donald Dewar Statue
(in front of the Royal Concert Hall) 




























THE FOOD! We had two memorable meals so I'm highlighting them here.
tomato bisque
fig & goat cheese tartlet
fish
shrimp
scallops
roasted vegetables
creme brulee
We were only in Glasgow for one night so for dinner we wanted something a bit fancy. My sister did the research and we made a reservation at Two Fat Ladies and we were really excited because we used to watch a show on Food Network by the same name (though we later found out the two were not affiliated). The restaurant is known for its seafood so we made it a point to order as many oceanic dishes as possible. Everything was really delicious and we thought the ambiance was spot on - elegant but not stuffy.




















chicken stroganoff
blintz with ice cream
blintz with beef
For lunch on one of our Glasgow days we went to this Russian restaurant, Cafe Cossachok, after reading rave reviews in one of the many brochures we picked up from our hotel. They boast themselves to be the first and only authentic Russian restaurant in the U.K. The food was different, but delicious and it was a nice new cultural moment for us.
statue in front of
Buchanan Station
I would have loved to spend more time here (though, don't I say that about every city?) but I thought we did a decent job of getting to know the city. Maybe I'll get to go back some time soon.
Cheers!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Pillows for Travel Comfort

Whenever I fly, I get envious of the passengers with neck pillows. I don't like to tote a neck pillow with me because it's just one more thing I have to pack (and I'm all about efficient packing) and I've never been so uncomfortable on a plane that I've felt I absolutely needed one. But I'm still envious because I always think it would be nice to have one.

I've decided to do some research and invest in a travel pillow, inspired by my Hawaii trip (97 days to go). Why? The longest plane ride I've ever had was back in middle school when I went to Korea. I was traveling for more than 24 hours (each way) but because I was young, my body wasn't filled with aches and pains after the flights. However, lately, I'll be on a less-than-5 hour flight and my neck, back, and tushy will be sore from sitting still for too long. This trip to Hawaii is going to have me sitting on a plane for 10+ hours each way so I expect it's going to be brutal. Thus, I've decided I'm going to do what I can to get myself as many comforts as reasonably possible and a travel pillow is a good start.

Here are the two main criteria for travel pillow shopping:
  • Portability - the pillow needs to be inflatable/deflatable so that it can be rolled up and packed in my luggage and/or have little straps with velcro or snaps so that the pillow can be attached to a bag handle for easy toting. Plus, it can't be too heavy because I like to travel as light as possible (since it gets rather tiring to carry bags around all day).
  • Comfort - duh! The pillow must offer neck support and have a soft exterior and be comfy; otherwise, what's the point?
From my research I've found that there are two options for pillow shape:
  • horseshoe shaped
  • long or golf club shaped.
And there are four options for pillow insides:
  • beads (styrofoam - like the filling of a beanbag chair or organic - hulls, a.k.a. grain husks)
  • memory foam
  • air (inflatable)
  • stuffing/down (the stuff in normal pillows).
I've highlighted one option in each category that interested me the most. So I went and just searched "travel pillows" in amazon.com and got a whole slew of results. Here are the ones that interested me most:
I've highlighted the one that I'm going to test out. The price is right and the reviews are pretty good. I'm still a bit concerned about the inflatable factor because I worry the pillow might pop or develop a hole but I'm going to be fearless and try it out!

Cheers.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Another post about feet

I'm the type of airplane passenger that enjoys popping off her shoes for the duration of the flight (so sue me) so having a pair of aloe socks in my carry on is a must. I could be more civilized and leave my shoes on but I'm small enough (5' 3") that I can sit in my chair "Indian style" (is that offensive and politically incorrect?) and I'm not going to be rude and rub my shoes all over the seat. Plus, it's just more comfortable, and let's face it, sitting on your derriere for hours and hours is awful enough so I'm going to do what it takes to be as comfy as I can and give my toes some freedom.

That being said, I must say that I love aloe socks. Kohl's tends to have sales on these every once in a while so I'll stock up and have a few to wear around the house in the winter and a few to take with me when I have to travel by plane. These socks are infused with aloe so they moisturize your feet while you wear them.

During summer travels when I show up to the airport in flip flops, I'm not going to lounge around the airplane barefoot so I pop on these bad boys. Plus, I find that I'm always freezing on airplanes so they keep my little piggies warm and toasty. And in the colder months I'll layer these over the socks I'm already wearing. And instead of putting my shoes back on, I'll just walk around the plane with these socks, which might disgust you, but these socks only have one function for me: to be worn on airplanes.

The importance of taking care of your feet on long trips
Two summers ago when I flew to London with my family, all of us passed out the second we got on the plane and only woke up when the pilot announced that we were landing. I started stretching to wake myself up only to look down and see that my feet were massive and swollen and alerted my family members who both discovered their feet were in the same condition. I'd never realized the importance of getting up and walking around to make sure my blood was circulating adequately. During our 6+ hours of sitting, gravity had sent all the blood to our feet and that is not good. And in addition to not drinking any water, the air on the airplane is really dry so we were also incredibly dehydrated.

Even though I'd had countless airplane adventures before, I guess I'd always been a bit more hydrated and active. So I learned my lesson and since that notorious flight, I've always made it a point to wake up when the flight attendants come around with drinks and I'll order a soda/juice and water (yes, two drinks, because they're always more than happy to oblige) and consuming liquids means I'll have to pee which forces me to get up and walk around to get my muscles some movement. And a little pre-flight preparation, I'll avoid salty foods for a few days prior to prevent my body from really wanting to bloat.


Be good to your body.

Cheers!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

These Dogs are Barkin'!

Did you know that gel insoles for your shoes are on the TSA list of prohibited items? I didn't! Maybe it's because I didn't read the list thoroughly enough (because I know better than to bring a meat cleaver on board) or perhaps it's because it's all the way at the bottom of the list but wow! Does that mean gel-padded bras are not allowed as well? (Just FYI, the insoles can be put in your checked luggage and that's fine).

This particular ban hasn't affected me until now since I only use insoles for heeled shoes (in particular, Dr. Scholl's 'for her' insoles) since flat shoes don't bother me much. However, over the summer I got a pair of lace up boots (because they were only $30, how could I resist?) but they don't offer much in the way of arch support so I got some Dr. Scholl's massaging gel arch supports and literally, it's like walking on clouds. I highly recommend these for traveling because they'll keep you happy and comfortable while touring and sightseeing. Anyway, I wanted to wear these shoes (with the insoles) on my Hawaii trip for the following reasons:
      1. Our departure date is January 1 so it's going to be cold and there's a likelihood that there will be snow on the ground and these shoes will offer some protection.
      2. These shoes slip on and off rather easily and follow my travel etiquette guidelines of not holding the lines up at the security checkpoints.
      3. We will definitely be doing some hiking in potentially rainy conditions as well as some cold weather touring (sunrise at Haleakala will be 40 degrees) so I will need some sturdy/waterproof/warm shoes and these fit the bill.
So I figure I have three options. The bravest option is to leave the insoles in my shoes when they get sent through the x-ray machine and have the TSA agents "use their discretion" in allowing/forbidding me to bring the insoles with me through security. The cowardly option is to just leave my insoles at home and not even chance it or find some less comfy non-gel insoles (boo!). And the in-between option is to toss the insoles in my carry on luggage and hope that they don't notice them - which is what I've decided to do. It's not as flamboyant-in-their-face as leaving them in my shoes so hopefully they won't cause a ruckus. Worst case: they make me toss them, in which case I won't argue and I'll have lost $10 - no biggie. But to be frank, I've left little tubes of lip gloss and lotions in random pockets in my bags on almost every flight I've taken since the 3-1-1 rule started and haven't gotten in trouble yet (knock on wood).

Cheers!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Yapta


I heard on the radio yesterday that airlines are cutting more and more flights so prices are expected to increase drastically in the coming months. That means now, more than ever, I'm going to be tightening my purse strings when it comes to deeming a flight worthy of purchase. This also means planes are going to be crammed full of passengers - good news for environmentalists, bad news for cranky travelers. I also heard that there are going to be even more baggage fee increases. And from my recent flying experiences, airlines are looking to make a penny wherever they can by charging for headphones, in-flight entertainment, blankets, pillows, food; the seat backs even have a slot to swipe your credit card to make your purchases. And most incredibly, last year the discount Euro airline, Ryanair, announced it had plans to charge for toilet usage. Also, the rumors swirling about more airlines deciding to charge for carry on baggage has me in a tizzy as well. I'd be fine being charged for these amenities if the flight fares were lower but they are not!


So if you're a little tight on cash (who isn't these days?) then like me, you scour the web for the best deals for your holiday booking. I'm like a flight/hotel price stalker and I tend to get a bit anxious once I've booked things because I'll worry about whether or not my timing was right. Yapta can alleviate a bit of that anxiety and it's free to sign up. The site helps you track prices before you book so you can time your purchase and it tracks costs after you've booked and helps you get money back when prices drop. There are limited guarantees with the companies willing to dish out refunds and you have to book directly through the airlines/hotels (sorry no Priceline/Expedia/Hotels.com/etc.) but hey, I'll take what I can get.

Honestly, since signing up I haven't received any refunds but I guess I just have impeccable timing with my purchases? The cost tracker has been helpful in aiding me with my impeccable timing though, so it's been a really useful tool nonetheless.

Good luck and happy traveling!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Google Flights

Welcome Google Flights! Almost a year ago, I wrote a v. brief post linking an article that explained how Google bought some software from ITA to get their foot in the travel industry and now they are here! I'm about a week late with this post, but I wanted to play with the site for a bit before blogging about it. Plus, it seems like it's a soft launch because I can't seem to do searches outside of the U.S. yet. Let me just say right now that I love it. Kayak is going to get a bit of competition!

Here's my screenshot pathetically dolled up in MSPaint highlighting the features. Though, really, I suggest you just hop on the site and play around with it yourself.

You just fill in the blanks (the yellow boxes) and the site immediately spits out a list of potential flights. You can sort by the given criteria (takeoff/arrival time, airline, price, etc.) to make it easy to choose.

If you have flexible travel dates you can click on that little calendar icon (purple arrow) and choose the dates based on the best price. The graph button (pink arrow) lets you filter your results based on your tolerance of flight duration and price. And of course, there are the normal filters - how many layovers you're willing to endure, the airline you prefer, the time of day you'd like to depart and/or land - to narrow down your results even further.

Once you find the flights you want, you click on your outbound flight, your return flight, and then an orange "Book" button will appear that links you to the site where you can purchase your ticket.

Even if you're on regular google search and you type in, "flights from new york to london," Google will give you a Google Flights search and link.

On a side note, 103 days until my Maui holiday! I know it's a long time from now but I'm excited because this screenshot was taken using my recently downloaded "Big Day Lite" app (re: my best travel apps page).









Cheers!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Past Trips: Madrid

A few summers ago, I found January flights to Madrid for under $400 per person so I hopped on the chance to take a long weekend holiday to Spain. We stayed at the Petit Palace Italia - Gran Via which was located right in the city center. The hotel was recently refurbished so it was really clean, welcoming, and had a nice modern feel. We took public transportation from the airport to our hotel; Madrid has a great metro system. During our trip we didn't need it much because the city was small enough that we could walk everywhere (but it was definitely convenient).

our first meal
paella mixta
crema parmentier de setas


ensalada de tomate y ques
carrillada de cerdo en su jugo
pollo asado
calamares rebozados con ensalada
The paella was delicious! The seasoning was unbelievable and the rice was cooked perfectly.
The pasta with the spinach and tuna was lovely. The Spanish cheese is what made the dish.
The homemade fresh mozzarella in the salad was so creamy and delicious.
The pork cheeks (when in Rome Madrid!) were really tender and delicious.
Roast chicken, as much as I hate the word, was crazy moist and flavorful.

The calamari was really tender and I was so glad it was served over a fresh salad to cut the potential grease slick from the fryer oil.
bizcocho de chocolate y helado
fruta
Chocolate in Europe is much richer and creamier so this chocolate cookie-cake-ice-cream mess was heavenly.

These oranges were the sweetest and juiciest I've ever had.



the sites
Plaza de Espana
Templo de Debod
Jardines Ferraz
Jardines de Sabatini
Palacio Real

Plaza de Orient

Palacio Real

Cathedral Almuneda
Plaza de la Ameria
Iglesia de San
Francisco el Grande
Jardines del Descubrimiento
We were in Madrid for three and a half days and we saw pretty much everything there was to see. I recommend that you put on your walking shoes and explore the city on foot. There's plenty to do outdoors but if you're a museum freak, you'll have lots to browse as well. Museo del Prado was rather impressive and best of all, free admission.





























view of Los Austrias from
Viaducto de Requena
Plaza Mayor



Puerta del Toledo














Puerta del Sol
Museo del Prado













more food
millefeuille de dulce de leche
con helado
pintxos: ham sandwich











pintxos: duck confit springroll
pintxos: quesadillas










paella mixta (La Barraca)
sangria (La Barraca)
paella (served)
creme brulee (La Barraca)




caramelos! (candy store)

























chorizo
chocolate cake
langoustines
fideua

It was definitely a whirlwind trip but we observed daily siesta so it was a relaxing holiday too. We almost couldn't help but nap because the entire city pretty much shuts down so we thought we'd go along with custom. I would have loved to spend a few more days here, but I felt like I accomplished and saw everything I wanted to so I was definitely satisfied with our mini break.

Ciao!
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