Sunday, October 21, 2012

UK 2013 Part 2 - find a tavern

Continuing the planning for our trip. Last posting I stopped on action #3. Here is action #4 (this part was planning the lodging):

I spent the day trying to find the kind of lodging my husband wants: those old-fashioned taverns that have food on the first floor and lodging on the top floor.
Key words on (tavern, pub, inn, accommodation), as well as searches on Google maps.

So far, finding taverns has been the single most challenging thing I had to do while planning trips to England.

Dean's idea! Dean has his crazy ideas, and I have to suck it up and somehow make them happen. As if things could be materialized out of thin air.

So Dean wanted to stay at a tavern, as the travelers from somewhere in the lost 1500's I suppose. You know, those you see in the movies.

Apparently this combo of pubs and inns are not so common anymore.

I found this one in Cookstown, Northern Ireland called The Central Inn. It's on the main street of Cookstown, which is supposed to be the longest straight street in all of Northern Ireland.

For our first trip I had to search the entire world wide web for the key words and with Google maps. Most of the places I found were either basically B&Bs or just regular pubs...

Eventually I found a tavern like that in the town of Street (near New Age-ish Glastonbury). It's called The Two Brewers and the owners are extremely friendly. Oh, the food and the drinks were great and the people that attended the place were very nice too. We didn't want to leave there. We hope to stay there again.

The New Inn, in the town of Avebury, is older than than Brazil. The town of Avebury has about 3 streets, of all them with no names. Very interesting place if you are looking for something peculiar. Unfortunately my husband found out that The New Inn just closed. However, Avebury is worth a visit. It's a very peculiar place and, hey, maybe the pub is still open! Who knows!

This time my job was finding other Taverns/Inns/Pubs since we were going to stay at different places. Dean is doing some genealogical search, so we are going to places such as Cookstown (Northern Ireland) and Wendover (England). So far I found the place in Cookstown (from whom I have not heard back yet), and The Five Bells (in Weston Turville, near Wendover).
So, bottom line is - they are out there, those places where you party on the first floor and sleep on the second. You just have to do some searching.

That's all for now folks!

Saturday, October 20, 2012

UK 2013 Part 1 - lists and videos

I just sat down tonight to plan our 2013 vaca.
Dean wants to make this trip a genealogy search trip. We are going to Northern Ireland and to Wendover, England - mainly. But it is still a vaca, so we still want to go places for fun.

We watched a few Rick Steves shows to refresh our memories of our first trip there. Then on to planning.

Draw from our previous trip database. I went through the itinerary (list) and made a list:

- places we want to go back to; places we never made it to and want to go; places we want to try for the first time. (itinerary)

Highly touristy places such as Bath and London stayed out of our list this time. We liked it there, but we really don't have to do that sight-seeing/museum-visiting again.

I added to the list places we were tipped on during our first trip there - the oldest pub in England for instance, is in York or Nottingham... I have already searched the internet with the key words "oldest pubs in England"and found a few.

Last time we went to the second oldest pub which is in Lacock - we literally just stumbled upon it while walking through the streets of Lacock - totally by chance.
We are also going back there and to the Brazen head in Dublin - the oldest working pub in Ireland.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Orlando/Chapada Diamantina/Rio de Janeiro 2012 - several tips

So, since I was really bad about posting a more detailed day-by-day guide of our trip, I will go with the famous Resumão (which is a Brazilian word for Big Summary - an oxymoron).
I feel really bad when I go on my trips and I don't write what happens every single day. But, hey, I'll get better next year.

So, let's go by parts and try to cover everything.

1 - car rentals.
- When renting cars, don't do it too far in advance. You get better deals if you do it about 2 months before your travel date.
- When picking up your car, make sure the jerk at the counter doesn't upgrade you for a fee without bothering to tell you.  Do you think Jerk is a bad word? Really? Well, he's a jerk. A whole lot of counter people are jerks. They screw you over as much as they can.
The jerk at the counter offered my husband a smaller car than what we paid for. He said "too small, what else do you have?" Then he over a car twice as large. Hubby took it. Unaware that the car was being given to us for an extra fee. He handed me the paperwork, I looked it over and the numbers looked very similar to what I had paid for the car a few months before, so I just figured that was the cost of the rental, not a new charge. Well, when we were gone from Orlando, I decided to check my AMEX website only to find a new charge from HERTZ.  It took me a gazillion calls a few screams at the idiots on the other side of the line to get a mere voucher!!!! A voucher!!!! I don't ever want your company to serve me again and you give me a voucher??? (What? Idiot is a bad word? Idiot.)

2-Disney and Universal
     Tickets:  Tickets for these places don't expire, but they do go up in value every year. If you know you'll be travelling 5 years from now, buy them TODAY, tomorrow the price goes up.
      Don't buy the park hop option. It's not worth hopping from park to park. Do a park a day. Have tons of fun and move on. Just make sure you pick your days carefully. For instance  if you are there on fourth of July, where do you want to see the fireworks? We did it at Epcot.
      Day plan: get out of your bed by seven, be on your way by no later than 8:30. You want to get to the park as it's opening.
                          Don't forget to take millions of pictures. Disney is magical and the only way to preserve the magic is by taking magical pictures. Take pictures in front of every place that makes you say wow or feel like a kid again!
                          Then get your group together, get one of those park guides and decide what you want to do. Map out your day according to the make of you group. If you have no kids, skip the kidddy rides. If you like the kiddy rides, than, heck, go for them. Don't try to hit everything just because it's there. Check out the places that make you happy, map them out and go-go-go.
                           By the way, do me a favor and cancel your trip to Disney if you have children that require a stroller. You're only going to make life miserable for all of you. You'll be miserable bc you can't make it to the rides you want. Your babies will be miserable bc it is a long and hot day for someone who has no clue what is going on. Don't bring kids to Disney unless they can wolk on their own.
                           Don't waste time with fancy sitting down restaurants for lunch. Grab a snack and keep going. And don't fill yourself up with snacks. Keep yourself hydrated. There's plenty of drinks stands. Drink. Well, try to drink stuff that has no alcohol in it unless it's hard cider, which won't dehydrate you.
                           Take advantage of the fast pass at Disney. It's free. Don't do it at Universal. It costs too much. Just build in time for the waiting. Keep an eyue out for the wait time electronic boards. They are spread out through the park. If you hear my advice to get there early, the wait will be short for the first  few hours.
      Rides: Let's go by parks. Universal first.
                           Universal has 2 parks Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios. They are both awesome places. The two times we were in Orlando we did one park a day.
                           If you are planning on hitting the Harry Potter rides, do it first thing in the morning. I believe that one park opens at 8. Harry's rides do get crowded early and the Olivander was an impossible task for us. Olivander is the wand store in which you can get your personalized wand. SO I was told, bc we could not make it in.
                           The Hogwart School ride is a phenomenal ride. Don't miss it.
                           At Disney a lot of people don't enjoy going to Epcot Center. I have to say I love it. For one major reason - this ride called Soarin'. Soarin'is a 180-ride that takes you places in a flying machine. Since you can't see the ground or the roof and you are put lifted up right in front of the screen it really feels like you are flying over awesome places like the Golden Gate Bridge. They even have wind and fragrances that makes you feel like you're there. Well, this is Disney, so forget all the technicalities and live the dream.

3- Motels - You'll book them online, right? Right. Remember to consider location, cost and amenities. Also remember to make sure they are not screwing you over. If they do that, leave. If they won't refund you for days not used, call your credit card immediately.
                        In Orlando 2010 we had a blast, and our motel was great. In 2012 we had a few issues:
                        Issue #1 - the website I used to book was defective and they booked me a smoking when I required a non. The only reason I know that it's because I tried the same website last month and it tried doing the same thing to me. So, fine. It was not the motels fault. I was going to request a change but knowing that the mistake was mine, not theirs. However there was no time to go request a friendly change. (for the record, the problem website was the Wyndham rewards)
                         Issue # 2 - They charged us almost the same value of the daily rate in extra fees not specified on the booking website - internet (which we didn't need) and Shuttle bus (which we obviously didn't need).
                         Issue # 3 - Dead roaches in the bathroom and cobwebs in the lamps.
                         Well, Maybe I'd pay for the extra fees .... not. But I would definitely not have my aunt, my little brother and my husband in a room that hadn't been cleaned in at least a week. God knows what other creepy animals were going to be crawling on us at night. Considering that I sleep naked ... no, I don't want to think about that.
                         We packed up, went to the front desk and required a refund. Then we left. We drove towrds the same motel we had stayed in 2010. They were advertising $29.99 daily rate. Ooh! But that's when we made a BIG MISTAKE. The four of us walked in. The counter guy looks at us and says "$29.99 is for one single bed only. Two doubles will be $49.99"
                        Thank you sir, we said, turned around and climbed back in the car. Then we drove around the parking lot to the Days Inn. The Days Inn, mind you! Was ran by Brazilians! What are the odds!!! I walked in by myself. I said I wanted a room with two doubles for my husband and I. $29.99. that was it. After chitchatting in Portuguese for a bit, I paid, grabbed the keys and left.
                        They said breakfast at 7. But since the place was ran by Brazilians, it was 7:30 when they started getting breakfast ready... We grabbed a Dunkin Donuts on the way to the park. Hey the rooms were clean and cozy, and the place was ran by fellow countrymen. Their delay was actually a great compliment on my Brazilianhood.
                       A few weeks later, in Rio we had another motel issue. We got to the cozy bucolic motel advertised on the internet. The motel was on the tippy top of an unreachable hill and there were tons of stairs to go up and down once you walked in. This time I had grandma with us. Are you seriously thinking I'd let MY grandma stay in place like that, so she'd go up and down a gazillion stairs jsut to get to breakfast, then down the steepest hill in Rio just to get to the tour bus? NO way, Ray! But, this time it was Aunt Inaja who took charge. Sometimes when I'm travelling with my family I have a hard time acting as the grownup in charge.... wonder why.
                     We drove through Rio's streets for  a few more minutes looking for another motel. We found a great one, which happened to be right where there was a tour bus pickup/dropoff point.
                     So, in a nutshell, don't stay in a crappy lodging. If you hate it, leave. There will always be something else around. Remember, when you're making reservations over the internet you're never really 100% sure of what you're getting. Even if you read all the reviews and they all sound great, there is always a chance you'll be the unlucky winner of the line "I hate this motel. It's the worst place ever."
                      Howard Johnson is a place I will never stay again. Three awful experiences in different places and years. New Jersey's Ho-Jo, 2009, with my family. The place was dirty and unkempt. THe parking lot was disgusting. Latham, NY, 2011. It was supposed to be a romantic getaway in a room with a jacuzzi. The jacuzzi area had broken tiles, the ceiling was peeling and the jacuzzi was dirty. Orlando 2012. Too far from the parks, dirty, extra fees, no complimentary breakfast.
                       Days Inn is one I trust. Never had issues. The crappiest one was this one near Plymouth, but still reasonable. ... Now remember that my husband and I travel on a budget. Not only do we not have money. We are cheap. We want to save on the non-essentials to be able to have money for the fun of the trip.  If you really care about the place you're staying. don't listen to me and jsut stay at some 5 start hotel. I don't care.  It might save you the trouble of having to go to the manager and announce "we are leaving your crappy motel never to return again."
4- Guided tours- If you're an independent traveler, you probably won't need a guided tour. But agian, I was travelling with my my grandma, and two aunts. They wanted a guided tour. And, hey, do you really think I want to get lost in Rio with my grandma and my two aunts? And I get lost quite often... No. The naswer is no. I don't want to be walking around Rio, with Grandma, Aunt Lea and Aunt Inaja, trying to figure out what was that wrong turn we took. We got a tour with the website they had good prices and good itinerary.
You can also rent a van with a driver for the day. Or you can just take public transportation. If you want to know Rio, read no further. This posting is not for you. All I wanted was to get my best friend off my back. She is enfatuated with Rio and she kept driving me insane with her incessant "You have to go to Rio, because you haven't lived till you've been to Rio." Seriously, go to hell. You haven't lived till you've seen Salvador da Bahia. I was born and raised in Salvador, so I have lived a long and beautfitul life.
We went to Rio and we saw the major tourist places. Corcovado (Cristo Redentor), and Sugar Loaf. We walked on the Copacabana sidewalk, we saw the Maracanã, The Sambodrome, the archs, the sao sebastiao cathedral and the presbyterian cathedral. That's all I needed. You can do those things without a tour bus and guide.
I really wanted to see Globo studios, but I was told you had to have a personal invitation to get in there. Well, don't happen to know anyone famous, so I had no personal invitation.
On the next day we travelled up the hill to the IMperial city - Petropolis, where the king of Brazil used to live, as well as Santos Dummond, the real inventor of the real airplane, excuse me ! The Right Brothers were so wrong!
Petropolis is also home to a delicious yummilicious chocolate factory where you can buy a super delicious hot cocoa and a few other flavored chocolate bars. They are also the home for the beer Bavaria. We hired a local guide at their main Cathedral - Sao Pedro de Alcantara.
Do you need a guide? Well, considering, I have traveled all over Great-Britain, California, BOston, New York City, Washington DC, Plimouth MA,  and other little places with out a guide, based solely on my internet searches, and hey, I am still alive, my answer is no. You don't need a guide. BUt when you travel with family members, here's what you do - you compromise. They wanted a guide. We got a guide.
We got a guide for chapada Diamantina as well. But halfway through the trip the fam realized we didn't really need a guide. I had done my homework. We knew where we wanted to go, we knew their open and close times and prices. All we needed was a couple of tips from the inn owners and off we went on our onw.
Was the guide a good idea in the frist few days? Yes. The guide is a local and he gave us a lot of tips on what the local plants were good for. We actually came come and bought seeds to a plant called rue, which can be used for sinus issues. CONsidering Hubby and I are the Inflamed Sinus family, we NEED that plant. Right now, I have two seedlings growing by my window sill.
So, yes, a lcal guide might actually help you for life.
Also, if the place you're going requires knowing how to read rocks and trees, because the trail is not well-marked - hire the guide!

5- Flight -
If they want you to be at the airport 2 hours before the flight - plan for 3. I f they ask 3 plan for 4. If they ask 4, plan for 5. if they ask 5 ... hire a private jet and tell them to f*** off. There's a limit for everything, including my patience.
But, i say, plan to be at the airport at least one hour before the time they ask you to be there. For a few reasons
1 - you never know what the traffic will be like.
2- you never know if you'll get lost. Even the best GPS might die on you, or have a slightly outdated map.
3- your rental car might not be so easy to return.
4- you might find out that your baby brother was carrying illegal and potentially dangerous souvenirs in his hand luggage. If you are just on time, you'll have to watch the airport security officer throw your baby brother's souvenirs down the trash can. If you have one extra hour, you might just have time to pull out your brand-new sponge bob bag, put his souvenir inside it, run back to check in and check in the souvenir. Yes, Sponge Bob will arrive at the destination looking like he was beat-up. But the souvenir will make it home.
5- There's a million things that can go wrong. car, luggage, body scanning, passports with maiden names, check in, puking husbands ... give yourself time to deal with all of that without missing your flight.

6 - Parking at the airport - If you are driving your own car to the airport and don't want to pay airport parking fees, try the hotels in the area. We were able to park our car at a hotel that offered shuttles to the airport every half hour. Our car was parked there a whole week for only $50.  Just don't leave your chocolate milk cup in the car. If you must drink chocolate milk on your way to the airport, do it, but then run inside the motel and rinse the cup. Otherwise, it will take you a few weeks of very strong Yankee candle air fresheners to remove the sour milk odor from the car. Besides, the cup is made of plastic and even the nicest plastic cups might warp. Yes, they only cost $5 a Walmart. But hey $ 5 bucks saved is $5 bucks earned....

Well, I guess that's all for now.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

DC/NYC/MA/Chapada Diamantina/Rio 2012 - itinerary

This is the itinerary for the 2012 vacation:

Chapada on the Web

As I have promised, here is a list of the websites I used to plan our trip to beautiful Chapada Diamantina, Bahia.
- - information about the main city of Chapada, Lençois. There are pictures, information about places to visit, lodging and food.
- - leanr a little bit about Chapada Diamantina.
- - website of a B&B that brings suggestions of itineraries.
- - website of a B&B in the town of Mucugê. Mucugê is about an hour south of Lençois. This website has suggestions of trips in the area of Mucugê.
- - another B&B in Mucugê with trip suggestions.
- - map of the whole Chapada area., with attractions. Suggestions of itineraries as well.
- - The first motel that we considered. It was too expensive for our budget, but it is beautiful!!!!! Worth  checking it out! It also has suggestions fo places to visit.
- - One of the first motels we considered. Also too expensive, but also beautiful! Yummy breakfast tables! Good suggestions of trips.
- - this is a description of one specific trip. But if you read Portuguese  you can find other descriptions of places you might want to check it out.
- - suggestions of trips all over the area of Chapada.
- - website of a tourist agency with several itinerary suggestions.
- - a B&B in the town of Igatu, in the south area of Chapada.
- -  a guide magazine of Chapada Diamantina.
- - another website with suggestions
- - more suggestions from a tourist agency.
- - great place to find B&B and motels!
- - website of my favorite place to stay in the south part, but my aunt was scared of the forest... spiders...
- - map and guide of the area.

Well, that's it. Some of these websites do require a little bit of a knowledge of Portuguese, but Google Translator helps a lot too!

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Traveling with family members

Traveling with family is always a challenge.
My aunt and her boyfriend are coming with us and finding lodging that fit both our groups standards was hard, but we did without having to compromise much.
I hope she feels the same way.

As I have metioned before, Hubby and I don't believe in fancy 5-star lodging, but just something cheap, clean, and with a local feeling. Since this is Chapada Diamantina, a rich local breakfast table was also an important item.

Hammocks were also something I looked for, but not a deal breaker. Hammocks are just it! There's nothing above hammocks to a legitimate Baiana, like me. But I do sleep in beds on a regular basis and I have learned that life isn't made of hammocks. I could do without them, but I was lucky enough to find a place that has them.

My aunt and her boyfriend seemed to me to have a bit more of an upscale taste. Well, it turns out that we found a place that seems to have satisfied both our groups. It doesn't look too cheap, but it was not expensive either. It looks very local and it is home-run.

We are paying R$ 72 reais a day at the Corona de Pedra , in Lençois, and R$ 115 a day at the Sincorá  in Andaraí.

Now the issue is, to hire or not to hire a professional guide. Apparently the husband of the Crona's owner is a guide, so she has been pushing for us to pay a guide. The people from the Sincorá have already told me they can help me get around the area without a guide.

Why are we staying in two towns? Because the Chapada covers a large area with not awesome roads and more to do than we have the time for.

To get to Chapada, from Salvador you can either fly or drive. It's a 6 hour drive vs a 25-minute flight. However flights don't leave everyday.
Since our family is from Salvador we opted for driving in our own car.

If you have your own car, your guide will agree to ride in the car with you for a daily fee. The Corona guide will do a daily rate for R$80 reais.

If you don't have your own car, and either take a bus or fly there, the guide you hire will drive you in his own agency's car. I can't help with that, bc I did not do any research on that.

Planning 2012 part 1 - Chapada Diamantina, Bahia

The planning of our trip began by the planning of the Brazilian leg of it.
We were going to spend a week in the Amazon forest, in the state of Amazonas, and a week in the country side of Bahia, the beautiful Chapada Diamantina, a trip that has been cancelled twice already due to situations out of our control - my unexpected new job in 08 and my father's illness in 10. This year I did not want to cancel it. Nothing could be in our way. And so far, so good. We are finally going to Chapada.

Chapada is portuguese for Plateau. Chapada Diamantina is a place in the country side of Bahia that is famous for its hills, caves and natural pools, some of them inside caves. I have been there once. It had been my dream to go back again for many years now. Check out this website:

Planning the Amazon part of the trip was easy. There are plenty of websites out there promoting Amazon tours. However the Chapada trip was hard to plan because there are not many websites about the places to go in Chapada. Not many people there are connected and websites don't get updated regularly. The streets of the cities of the chapada aren't on Google Maps either. I didn't find a website for each attraction with distances, directions, COST (very important!) - these, you will notice, are virtually non existent in my search.

I had to get help from friends and family members who have been there a few times to get ideas of places and costs.

I did, however, find a few websites that were helpful. Websites with lists of B&Bs. Some are innactive. But some are very active and many of them even have suggestions of  places to go and daily itineraries. These websites helped figure out our itinerary. Two of those websites also ended up being the ones I chose for our B&B:

1- Corona de Pedra in the town of Lençois.

2- Sincorá in the town of Andaraí

I made a special deal with each of them (one of the reasons why I ended choosing them): we paid for the place in advance to hold the 2011 rates for 2012. I even got a 10% discount with the Corona de Pedra for paying in full.

What to look for in a B&B in Chapada Diamantina?
Well, Chapada is a place in the country side of Bahia, so the typical food is a unique experience. But it's also a place where you go to enjoy nature - a lot of hiking and diving, so fancy places to stay are a waste of time!
A good description of breakfast and rooms that looked clean but not fancy is what you want.
Also try a place that has a local look.
The last thing you need is an expensive hotel that looks just like any other place in the planet. For example, stay away from places like Portal de Lençois, with its international (expensive) standards. You want a place that looks like the place you're visiting.
And if you are going for a place to spend time outside, paying for fancy lodging is a waste of your hard earned money.

Go to the posting Chapada on the Web to find a complete list of  websites I used for the planning of this leg of the trip with a description of what each of them are.
Also posted is the suggested itinerary. Why Suggested? Well I have learned from previous trips that itineraries must always remain flexible. To prepare this itinerary I talked to local guides and researched the websites I have mentioned earlier. But when we are there, things might change. The important thing is to remain flexible and enjoy each second of the trip. Enjoy each second because you won't get a second chance to live those seconds.