Prepping for a trip to the Middle East

Given that I will probably be traveling to Dubai on business in the coming months, I thought I would pick up a copy of Customs & Etiquette of Arabia and Gulf States from my local Barnes & Noble. Fascinating little book. I really found it interesting to read about the protocols and etiquette when visiting someone's home, insight on hospitality, Bedouin culture, etc. Since Saudi Arabia may be on the itinerary, as well, I want to make sure I've brushed up on the proper way to behave and interact with my business colleagues. Oh, and speaking of Dubai, rumor has it that a new hotel, Palazzo Versace, will soon open... the hotel, owned by that Versace, will likely have, get this, an air conditioned beach. Is this any surprise in the resort town that brought us the world's first seven star hotel or the world's largest indoor ski resort?


Holy Crap!?

Ah, well... speaking of mountains...

wingsuit base jumping from doubleA on Vimeo.


Travel + Leisure's New List... and BsAs in sight?

The January issue of Travel + Leisure started arriving in subscribers' mailboxes and includes a list of their top 500 hotels in the world. I can't link to the list, yet, but rest assured it will show up online in a matter of days. As you can imagine, with 500 hotels to choose from, you'll see most of the names you would expect. I ran through a quick search of the list and spotted three that I've frequented... the Hotel Amigo in Brussels, the Grand Hotel in Rome and the Beverly Wilshire in Beverly Hills. All three were no-brainers to make the list. Other "wish list" hotels made the list... places like the Llao Llao in Bariloche, Argentina.

The Famed Llao Llao Hotel near Bariloche
Speaking of Argentina, it looks like a business trip to BsAs is in the works. Our client has preferred rates with the Intercontinental Hotel - a nice place in an unfortunate microcentro location. Given my choice, I'm going to look elsewhere. So long as I can keep our nightly rate at or below the Intercontinental, I'm sure I can swing a place in Palermo Viejo or Recoleta. While I may lean on a well-known boutique hotel like the bobo or Five Cool Rooms, I might try out one of the new boutique hotels that's landed on the BsAs scene... maybe Mine Hotel Boutique? I've read great things about Tailor Made Hotel and 248 Finisterra but the Las Cañitas locations are a bit inconvenient for this particular trip.

We'll see...


UT Opens up a First-Class Hotel

It looks like The University of Texas has decided to open up an on-campus executive conference center and hotel... and what a hotel it is. For the little economic recession unfriendly sum of $279.00, you can book a standard king room at the hotel. Is the hotel worth it? Absolutely...

Why? If you happen to be going to a Longhorn game, staying on-campus (and not in a dorm, of course) is simply invaluable. Roll out of the room... walk to the game... watch the Longhorns win... and then head back. So easy. It was a breeze for the 7:00 PM kickoff on Thanksgiving night. Given our late arrival time on campus, we didn't have time to go check into a hotel further afield.

And the hotel is actually really very nice. The common areas are first class, there are multiple on-site restaurants (the breakfast buffet is relatively good - cost is reasonable for a hotel like this) and you simply can't beat the location. From what we could tell, the hotel not only had Longhorn fans but other guests who were simply enjoying the new digs.

A few thoughts... spend some time in the relaxing courtyard - a minimalist but very well laid out space with plenty of comfortable seating on the edges. Behind the check-in area, there's a very nice seating area where you can drink coffee (purchased at the nearby coffee bar) and watch some TV. Valet parking is $12.00/day and, ironically, self-parking is higher with in-and-out priveleges.

What else? That's all I can think of... it's a really nice hotel and would gladly stay there again when my economic circumstances warrant. Keep in mind, though, that UT has started something called the Santa Rita Society. While I can't see that they'll sell too many memberships during lean economic times, this may eventually make rooms harder to come by.

And not just occasionally, but at every regular season UT home football game for at least 15 years, you will be guaranteed the right to share the home game experience. You will enjoy the rewards of impeccable service, a concierge at your beck and call, complimentary amenities, a destination restaurant (The Carillon), a sports café (Gabriel’s), exceptional room service, rooms available for private parties – in addition to being near world-class museums, shopping and all that The University and Downtown Austin have to offer. It is a unique opportunity to network in an unparalleled setting, to form lasting relationships with like-minded social, business, educational and government leaders who – like you – are members of this by-invitation-only, inner circle known as the Santa Rita Society.

Room licenses and Santa Rita Society memberships are limited to 250, so you must act quickly. Single rooms (for two people) and a limited number of suites are still available.


Venice: Cold and Foggy in November... but Worth It!

Our November 2005 trip to Venice was a bit chilly - yes, it even snowed - but it confirmed to me that the best time to visit Venice is during some of the colder months. Problem is, the water isn't always cooperative. The acqua alta can put a damper on anyone who wants to wander across San Marco.

Still, there's more to Venice than the San Marco district and, well, let's face it... it's a bit of a gamble. If you can handle the possible risk, then I still say that Venice during a month like November or January is a magical place... cold, foggy and relatively quiet. Tourists crowds are scarce and great deals can be found throughout the city - whether you're after a luxe option or a wonderful little hotel like the Ca' Del Brocchi in Dorsoduro. Finding a gondoliere is an easy task and you can even negotiate a fair rate - something you certainly can't do during the "swampy" summer months when hordes of tourists are qeueing up for a ride.

Plenty of Elbow Room in November


The Colors of Downtown Houston

This past weekend, we went to the Via Colori festival in downtown Houston. Apparently this was the third year the festival had been held though it's the first that comes to mind. Held in other cities like Scottsdale, AZ and Columbus, OH...

The festival will showcase more than 175 artists who will create original masterpieces on the street in a pastel medium. From creation to completion, festival-goers will be able to watch as artists turn asphalt into art. Food, beverages, entertainment and children’s activities will round out this spectacular fall weekend in Sam Houston Park and the surrounding streets of Bagby and Allen Parkway.

It was a gorgeous sunny day with highs in the 60s so just walking around Houston while viewing some amazing work was truly enjoyable. The festival runs for one more day and is sure to return in 2009. Below are a handful of shots from the event...

Treasure Trove of Travel Photos

By now, you've probably heard the news that Google is hosting the Life Magazine photo archive online... over ten million images of every historic subject you can imagine. It's fascinating stuff and a terrible time waster if you want to really dig.

Give then purpose of this site, I thought it would be cool to post some tourist and travel related images.

TWA Stewardess in 1933
American tourist and his guide in Paris, 1957
Cafe patrons in Buenos Aires in 1961
Tourists visiting ancient ruins in Greece in 1959

Musicians entertain travelers in Mexico City Airport in 1958


Hello Kirchner

Seems to me like porteños have elevated the use of stencils for graffiti to a whole new level. From still-scarred areas of the microcentro to the buzzing streets of Palermo Viejo, you're likely to come across all kinds of random stencils. Many, if not most, are of a political nature, while others are just odd or amusing. This stencil plays Hello Kitty off nicely with (at the time) Nestor Kirchner. Turned out to be a relatively timeless design now that pension-hungry Kristina is in power. The other stencil was located on a bank building in the microcentro - site of some of the fiercest rioting during the Argentine crisis.


Exotic Food Options in Houston

How about some food updates for Houston?

Let's start with some bad news - one of my favorite Houston restaurants, Bice, is no more. According to My Table's web page, the upscale Italian restaurant restaurant recently closed. I saw this confirmed on the B4-U-EAT web page, as well. Not sure if the economy is to blame or a somewhat poor location. Either way, it's a loss for Houston's dining scene.

Now... let's talk about places that are definitely open. The first is Himalaya... a Pakistani restaurant located at 6652 Southwest Freeway, on the northwest corner of the intersection with Hillcroft. The food at Himalaya is wonderful - so flavorful, abundant and reasonably priced. The family-run restaurant offers a wide selection of dishes. Kaiser and his wife are always willing to provide insight on what to order. The last time I went, I ordered goat keema (he described it as being like goat chili) and daal fry. So many delicious complex flavors and quite a bit of fire, to boot. The special is usually a safe bet and offers a taste of different flavors. I've ordered mutton before, as well, and it was out of this world. Now, should you choose to eat there, the atmosphere can be a bit lacking but, let's face it, atmosphere is not why one goes there. It is all about the food. For more on Himalaya, a 2005 Robb Walsh review in the Houston Press provides more insight.

Since we're talking ethnic food, let's talk about Phoenicia Specialty Foods at 12141 Westheimer. What can I say about this place? If you like Mediterranean food, Phoenicia is heaven. I still can't believe I haven't mentioned this place before. I thought of it earlier today after nibbling on a date filled maamoul (a cookie filled with date paste).

So... how can I describe it? In many respects, Phoenicia is like a typical grocery store - produce, a butcher, bakery, deli, etc. The thing is, you'll find products you would never run across in your typical Kroger. How about a butcher that offers kakta kabobs or soujouk links? Or a bakery that offers delicacies you would typically find in a Lebanese pastry shop? And a deli that has 6 different types of fresh feta cheeses from Greece, Cyprus and Bulgaria as well as homemade marinated string cheese like you might find at a Bosnian restaurant. Of course, you'll have an endless selection of packaged goods, aisles of exotic sweets and even a counter where one can buy various tobacco products to be used in a hookah.

If you're a foodie or just curious about new cuisine, I would just suggest you go check it out and enjoy walking around and taking in the place. I guarantee you'll find something of interest. Check out some pictures of Phoenicia on the she eats blog.


Italy - Always a Cell Phone at Hand

This scene cracked me up when I fist saw it because it was so Italian. That is, in Italy, everyone has a fascination with cell phones... the country has one incidence of cell phone usage on the globe with articles even noting that adolescents often have multiple cell phones. As early as 1999, there were more cell phones in use in Italy than landlines... similar to cell-phone crazed Finland. It could be because landlines are ridiculously expensive in Italy. When I call my aunt in Rome, she's always in a rush to get off since calls are metered, like traditional cell phone plans. Anyway, watching this scene unfold in Villa Celimontana in April 2008 had us laughing. So normal to Italians but so typical, too. Certainly the children and the pony are unfazed.


Let Your Taste Buds Take You Back

Just this past week, one of our good friends in Italy commented to me that he felt one of the best ways to get to know a culture or a people is through their cuisine. I couldn't agree more. In fact, when we travel, I make it a point to eat local delicacies... a full-blown parilla in Buenos Aires, tiritas in Zihuatanejo or geschnitzel mit roesti in Zurich. Mmmm... geshnitzel.

OK... my mind and taste buds are wandering. Anyway, he made a very good point. In fact, not only can you enjoy local cuisine while on a trip, you can bring that local cuisine home with you. For example, during our July trip to Zihuatanejo, I made it a point to pick up a 750 gr bag of sea salt for a mere 30 pesos. You read that right... 1 1/2 pounds of sea salt for about $3.00. While in Paris, we saw 1 kilo bags of fleur de sel French sea salt for under 2 Euros. To me, using food products from another country make it easy to relive memories from a trip over and over. Just this week, we started a meal by cracking open a jar of locally grown olives we purchased in Milos, Greece. Tonight, I seasoned a batch of broccolini with a bit of fleur de sel de Camargue purchased in France.

You get the picture... so, here are some of the culinary items we've purchased during some of our trips to spark some ideas on what to pick up on your next trip:

  • A jar of chimichurri herbs in Buenos Aires
  • Wine in Italy, Greece, Spain, Argentina and, yes, even Canada.
  • Local spirits like Nocino or Amaro d'Abruzzese in Italy and local rum in Gran Canaria
  • Chocolates in Switzerland, Belgium and in Bariloche, Argentina
  • Parmigiano in Italy
  • Shrimp seasoning in New Orleans
  • Maple syrup in Quebec
  • Lizano salsa in Costa Rica
  • Rosa mosqueta in Bariloche, Argentina
  • Oils in Italy and Spain
  • Red salsa mojo in Gran Canaria
  • Delicacies in the food halls at Harrod's in London
  • Bricks of Lavazza espresso coffee in Italy
Seek out a local grocery store, take a look at various local products, particularly those that don't look familiar and pick out a few to take home. Just make sure you're not bringing back anything that might get you on the wrong side of customs. Soft cheeses, packages of prosciutto, foie gras, etc... a quick look a the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol page will shed some light on what can't be brought back.


Buenos Aires - Dirt Cheap Days are Long Gone...

I love coming across new blogs written by expats living in Argentina. While not "new" per se (they've been there for ten weeks or so), Discover Argentina is fun to read... all about a couple from New York City who moved into a furnished apartment in Palermo. My favorite entries are their "Random Observation" entries... picking up on the little odds and ends of Argentina. Some are about the food...

Empanadas are everywhere! They have empanada speciality stores; they’re delivered by the pizza places; sold in diners, grocery stores, pasta stores, etc. I’ve eaten more empanadas in my time here, than throughout the rest of my life. I initially thought all empanadas were the same, and bought them from the supermarket at least once a week, but then last week we had empanadas from Gourmet Empanada and I realized what I’ve been missing. I know now that I will never be able to eat a supermarket empanada again.

While others are about things we noticed and found particularly funny, as well...

As you walk down the street here, you might notice some cars that have jugs half-filled with some type of liquid sitting on top of the roof. We’ve seen this many times and have finally figured out what it means. (Well, ok, we didn’t actually figure it out, we asked our Spanish tutor, Marco, what it meant.) Ready? It means that the car is for sale. Yep, that’s it. I guess a sign in the window is just too simple. The benefit of the jug though is that it is much more visible than a sign when walking or driving by.

So, that sounds kind of odd but we started spotting those, too, and had to ask a taxi driver what that was all about. This was a car we saw for sale in Palermo Viejo:

Now, while the dollar keeps making big gains against the Euro, the Pound, the Argentine Peso and other currencies, things aren't as cheap as they used to be. More people are starting to notice, too. Inflation in Argentina has been quite heady - causing prices to shoot up. While cheaper that most major cities in the world, the dirt cheap prices of just a few years ago are starting to disappear. In 2006, our favorite BsAs hotel, the Bobo Hotel, used to charge $90/night for their smaller rooms. Today, those rooms will set you back $165/night. Popularity comes with a price, I suppose. The political situation hasn't been stable either - witness my earlier posts on the mess earlier in 2008. Now Cristina has her eyes set on raiding private pensions. Fun stuff... can't say it tempers my enthusiasm to go back but some of the shine has rubbed off.


Chestnuts roasting on a Roman fire

One of my most vivid memories of my childhood in Italy is the smell of vendors selling warm chestnuts during wintertime. I guess the old song about chestnuts roasting on an open fire still rings true in Italy. To this day, you can wander the chilly winter streets of cities like Rome and buy a rolled up paper cone of warm chestnuts - a great little snack on a wintry day. Here is a picture of my cousin getting his fill on a cold November day in 2005...


"Are you going to South San Fraaanciscooo..."

When you don't have any vacations planned, even a simple business trip can be refreshing. Today, I find myself in South San Francisco... that's the city of South San Francisco, located within spitting distance of San Francisco International Airport.

South San Francisco isn't know for much from a tourist standpoint. It bills itself as the birthplace of the biotech industry and is home to biotech giant Genentech. Otherwise, I can't tell you what there is to do in this town. I'm located in a business area, not really next to downtown South San Francisco. I did, however, take a jog from my hotel over to the Oyster Point Marina. From there, I connected to the Bay Trail and where it goes from the marina to Point San Bruno. I really only went as far as the Oyster Point Pier where a handful of fisherman were basking in the sun. To the left, you could see San Francisco in the distance. To the right, planes taking off and landing at SFO. The weather was perfect so it was nice to just get away from the hotel and explore.

Below are a couple more photos taken during my little jaunt...

Oyster Point Marina
Oyster Point Pier

Heading West...

Sitting in a President's Club, while far far better than sitting in a general waiting area, can get old when you do it for a couple of hours. I'm connecting through McCarran Intl in Las Vegas on my way to San Francisco. I'm about to have my first experience with Ted, the airline that one fellow passenger on Continental referred to as the airline that almost brought down United.

McCarran is a very nice airport - everything seems shiny and brand new, probably paid by some pretty stout gaming taxes. That's my guess anyway. Plenty of shops and a handful of restaurants abound... and more Starbucks than I've seen in one terminal. Of course, there are the ubiquitous slot machines... no shocker there. Rather than dropping a few quarters in a slot machine, I decided to temporarily pause my mid-week Starbucks diet and get a latte. Ahhh...

Next up... South San Francisco


Staying in Athens

Our time in Athens was awfully limited... essentially only two nights, one when we first arrived and one when we were on our way out. We wish we'd had a chance to see more of Athens - particularly in the daytime - but that wasn't on the agenda for this trip. I would imagine that our next trip to Greece might involve some extra time in Athens. At the same time, I think to myself... who am I kidding? The thing to do is get to the islands as quickly as possible .

Well, whether you're limited on time or you will be in Athens for quite some time and want to be in the thick of things, we would recommend a hotel like the Athens Gate Hotel. The hotel is usually ranked in the top 5 on TripAdvisor. It is stylish, reasonably priced for a 4-star hotel in a major European city and, simply put... it has location location location. On one side, you have the temple of Olympian Zeus. On the other side, the Plaka and an unbelievable view of the Acropolis. Really... what an ideal spot.

We paid a bit more to get a Double Executive Room - we thought that might give us more space but that didn't quite seem to be the case. The room was relatively small but not out of the ordinary for a European hotel. The piece de resitastance was the marvelous terrace view.

Service was excellent and the full breakfast was more than enough to keep us happy. It was great to relax on the terrace while looking up at the Acropolis. Unfortunately, by 9:30, we had to bolt from the hotel and head to the airport to catch our flight to Milos. Unfortunately... what am I talking about? We were heading to Milos.

Anyway, you get the point - great hotel, stylish decor, outstanding location, reasonable price and a great breakfast. If you do stay there, let us know what the park is like by the hotel - looks like a great area to explore. For us... next time!


Nerdy Hurricane Heads to Los Cabos

Anyone seen the latest tropical update? It appears Hurricane Nortbert is heading towards Baja... read that right? Norbert! Sweet... what kind of a name is Nortbert? You get the feeling that when Norbert was just a young tropical depression, he used to get picked on by Ike. And Katrina? Yeah... she wouldn't be caught dead in public with Norbert. His only friend was Gustav, a foreign exchange storm.

Oh well, I guess Norbert had an inferiority complex so he's now a powerful category 4. Let's hope for the best in Baja.

Assuming Los Cabos rides out the storm without a problem, let me make a small suggestion. If you happen to be heading to Los Cabos, my suggestion would be to either stay in the hotel corridor, where many beautiful hotels are located (our favorite is the Melia Los Cabos, now the Dreams Los Cabos, or near San Jose Del Cabo. San Jose Del Cabo is the original colonial town whereas Cabo San Lucas is the touristy, less authentic town. I'd rather opt for a more authentic experience than a party town known more for Carlos n Charlies, Cabo Wabo and "The Office". That's just me... that's what I look for.

When we stayed by San Jose Del Cabo, we stayed at the Royal Solaris, an all-inclusive hotel. It was nice but not where we would normally stay. BUT... it was free which made it wonderful. The only problem... being there in February. I guess that's OK if you're from Jersey and you're used to cold Februaries but, those of us from the Gulf Coast like a little warmth with our beach experience.

Assuming Norbert doesn't go all postal on Los Cabos, here are some places to check out while there...

Wandering the side streets of San Jose Del Cabo

Snorkeling in Santa Maria Bay

Horseback riding on Las Mananitas beach

Visiting the Main Square in Los Cabos


Visiting Kleftiko in Milos

Yup... the power is back but all this gloom and doom about the economy makes one think about great past vacations. Greece is still fresh on my mind, clearly. Once things pick back up, Milos will definitely be back on my target list.

One absolute must to visit in Milos is Kleftiko. Located in the southwest corner of Milos, Kleftiko is a protected cove of stark white rocks, cliffs and arches that was once used by pirates to raid ships sailing past Milos. The only way to reach Kleftiko is via private boat, sea kayak or a chartered day trip. It's hard to describe the place without visiting in person.

We took a full-day trip with the Mama Maria, a sailboat we found in the port town of Adamas. Our group consisted of 20 or so tourists (mostly Greek, Italian and French) and a crew of 4 - Giovanni, Kostas and their friends. The tour took us from the port all the way around the northwest and southwest of the island down (with a stop inbetween) to Kleftiko. We enjoyed nearly five hours day, just lounging, swimming, taking a dingy into the various caves and snorkeling into the caves around the area. It was nice and quiet - maybe four boats, at most. No one was playing loud music or getting hammered - just taking in the peace and quiet of a truly stunning area. The tour was 50 EUR per person and included snacks, coffee, drinks and the by far the tastiest Greek salad we tasted in Greece.

Here are a few more pictures of the experience...


Good food in New Braunfels

Being without power for 13 days is harder than you think - even the most basic things are thrown off kilter and you suddenly find that you have to do everything you can before it gets remotely dark outside. Otherwise, it's lantern-time.

That being the case, we opted to flee our powerless situation this past weekend and head up to New Braunfels. Of course, the power came back on on Friday night and, like Thomas, I didn't believe it until I put my fingers in the holes of His hands... we saw the light on Sunday. All is good again.

But... while we were in New Braunfels, we had a chance to eat at some great little places. Most are well-known but, if you haven't been to NB before, you may not immediately know where to go. The area offers the oldest dancehall in Texas, the oldest bakery in Texas, BBQ, home cooking, Mexican and much more. So, here are four places that benefited from our power outage:

Huisache Grill - 303 W. San Antonio - You wouldn't find it unless you knew to take a little dirt backroad next to the railroad tracks. Once there, you'll find a great wine bar and restaurant with a peaceful garden, a nice selection of wine and some very good food. We make it a point to eat here any time we're in New Braunfels. Excellent food.

Crosswalk Cafe - 489 Main Plaza - Right on the main square, this is a great place to get your coffee fix or to grab a light breakfast or lunch. Never overflowing but usually abuzz with regular clientèle. Great place to grab a spot outside and enjoy a nice espresso.

Grist Mill - 1287 Gruene Road - Telling someone about going to the Grist Mill is far from sharing an "inside tip" but, again, if you haven't been to New Braunfels or Gruene, it may not be as obvious. So, make it a point to go to Gruene, put your name on the potentially long waiting list and look forward to eating at a local landmark. When you're done, see who happens to be playing at Texas' oldest dancehall, Gruene Hall.

Union Street Station - 512 E. San Antonio Street - This tiny place is a great place to catch up with locals. Not far from Schiltterbahn, Union Street Station offers breakfast all day as well as sandwiches and other casual and country cooking. 50+ omelets are on the money and, if you get there at the wrong time on a weekend, expect a long wait. Prices are nice and cheap and you get plenty of food.


Motoring Around on Milos

I've been wanting to post so much about Milos but, simply put, being without power for 11 days makes it kind of tough. I suppose I could sit and write one blog entry after another from work but that might not be too wise. So, when I can, I'll post a tidbit or two until I can actually get online and post more.

Let's talk about something very worthwhile in Milos - renting a car. While there, we rented a car and used it to go all over the island. Since we stayed in Pollonia, access to good transportation was a must. From Pollonia, we would regularly drive to Plaka (the island's hilltop capital), Adamas (the island's main port) and beaches like Yerontas, Tsigrado, Firiplaka and more. Without a car, I would imagine it would be just about impossible to go to places like Klima, a picturesque fishing village on Milos Bay and an absolute must-see.

Now, we rented from Sea Sun Sophia - why Sea Sun Sophia? Simply put, they are the only agency on the island with automatic transmission cars. They are few and far between so, if you want one, that's who you need to contact. We paid 60 EUR/day for a Hyundai Matrix (included insurance).

You'll occasionally see people riding around in dune buggies or four-wheelers but they were slow and tended to clog up the roads. Mopeds? I wouldn't... no way you can drive to Yerontas on a moped - it's a rocky dirt road. Not ideal moped territory.

So, what can you access with a car that you can't access with public transportation?

Remote beaches like Yerontas

The stunning white rocks of Sarakiniko

Wrong turns that lead to this remote overlook near Vatos

The charming fishing village of Klima


Pining for Milos

One week ago, this was our view... Firiplaka Beach on the island of Milos. After our numerous flight cancellations, delays and the current aftermath from Ike, last week seems like last year.

In case you happen to be going to Milos, Firiplaka is definitely a beach worth visiting - gorgeous shallow waters, a long and varied beach with fascinating colors and easy access with a beach bar. You can access Firiplaka by taking the same road to Tsigrado. At the fork, just turn right to Firiplaka. The closest part of the beach includes the beach bar and rentable chairs/umbrellas. Walk further down the beach and past the jutting rock and you'll find a rockier beach with fascinating formations and a few scary nudists.


Ever Evolving Travel Plans

I'm a big fan of keeping work and vacations completely separate. In my opinion, there should be a massive gulf (or ocean, really) separating one from work while on vacation. Typically, I leave my laptop at home and turn off my phone's e-mail capabilities. I don't want anything to do with work.

This time, we actually brought my laptop to Greece - the agreement was to not open Outlook so I couldn't read any work e-mail. I kept my end of the agreement. However, when Ike was about to hit and all travel plans went out the window, my laptop turned out to be a lifesaver. Combine that with Skype and the ability to make plenty of calls to Continental for $.02 a minute, we were able to constantly work on travel plans when everything was going to pot. Simply put, I would strongly recommend bringing a laptop when traveling on vacation - just be sure that you have the willpower to stay away from work or just leave it off unless you really need it. If you make the commitment to not work, as I did, you can do it.

Our travel plans have constantly evolved... essentially, we'll end up home 3 days after originally planned. Our flight from Athens to Paris took off without a hitch. After that, things got confusing. Our Paris to Houston flight was cancelled for two days. That left us in Paris for two nights. OK - not a bad place to be. On the day we were supposed to fly back to Houston, we found out our flight to Houston was cancelled again. We shifted to a flight to Newark (that included an overnight stay) with plans to then fly to San Antonio. Newark was fine (that's 3 unplanned nights in a hotel) but we later found out that getting a car in San Antonio to drive to Houston was impossible.

San Antonio was out so we worked with three ticket agents at the Continental ticket sales counter to then switch our flights from eTickets to paper tickets (I guess that's what they had to do to make the change) so that we could fly from Newark, via Nashville, back to Houston. The next day, when we went to check in, we were told that we essentially didn't have tickets on anything... Nashville, San Antonio, zilch. Hmmm... OK, not great. So, the agent started fixing the mess the last 3 agents had made. She worked over the phone with someone from Continental and actually found us seats on a direct flight from Newark to Houston - something we thought was virtually impossible. From what we know, flights should be taking off and landing in IAH so we should arrive back shortly after midnight on the 16th. Our original plan was to be back in Houston on the 12th. Juuuust a slight delay.

Wow... fun stuff. It's hard to keep sane but we made the best of it, enjoyed a bit of time in Paris and Roissy (more on that later) and tried to keep a sense of humor without strangling each other. Soon, I'll be able to post some pictures from the wonderful island of Milos and our stops in-between.


Hotel Gift Shops and Absurd Prices

What is it about hotel gift shops that they feel the need to gouge customers staying at hotels? Some items are simply overpriced - little travel size deodorants for a few dollars rather than the usual 99 cents. Today, however, I spotted a new one... while staying at the Newark Airport Marriott Hotel, I came across a package of two generic diapers (some no-name brand) for $5.00. Now, let's think about the math. That's $2.50 a diaper. We usually buy a pack of 110 Pamepers diapers (I believe that's what size they are) for $30.00... that's $.27 a diaper... so, the hotel gift shop charges 9x more for a no-name diaper than Target. Wow... nice! Besides, as if two diapers can help... you usually need more, just in case.

Moral of the story - be sure you have extra supplies. We learned that on this trip as our 8 night vacation ended up being extended by 3 nights.


When Life Hands You Lemons

Greek adventures, stunning beaches on the island of Milos, crooked Athenian cab drivers, precarious mountain roads, layovers in a surprising Roissy and hurricanes... so much to post, so much to catch up on. I'll have some great tips coming up in the next few weeks with plenty of pictures of fascinating places like Tsigrado, Yerontas and Klima.

Our trip to Milos was an absolute dream and our journey began to draw to a close with some unexpected twists and turns. This is what is so great about traveling... you never know what to expect. More to come soon... in the meantime, the next time you get stuck at Roissy by CDG in Paris, don't fret - the tiny little town actually has a bit to offer the weary traveler.