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RTW #2: From the Thin Air up There to the Wonders Down Under

My 2nd Annual Round the World Trip Begins Today!

Posted by on Jan 2, 2007 | 0 comments

My 2nd Annual Round the World Trip Begins Today!

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Well, it’s January 2nd, 2007 and I’m all set to embark on another month-long round the world trip!

For those of you who followed my trip last year, thanks again for all the e-mails and comments – I am glad you all enjoyed reading the blog as much I as enjoyed writing it. I will try my best to live up to last year’s story-telling standards.

In the past few months, as I have planned this trip, I have gotten a lot of the same questions from friends & family so I would like to take this opportunity to address some of the most common:

Q. Are you going to all new places this time or back to some of the same ones from last January?

A. All new places with the exception of Cape Town, South Africa.  As you may recall, that was my favorite city on the last trip and I didn’t feel like I had enough time there. I am also going back to Thailand and China but to different cities within. Other than that, all the stops are places I’ve never been before.

Q. Are you really going by yourself AGAIN??

A. Until one of you reading this can figure out how to take a month off and join me, the answer will continue to be YES. Though, thanks to alert reader, Lynn, I do now have one small travel companion, a “Roaming Gnome” she bought me for Christmas. This was an idea she had last year – very cute, he even has a little passport. I hope he doesn’t eat much.

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Into Thin Air – Cuzco Peru

Posted by on Jan 3, 2007 | 0 comments

Into Thin Air – Cuzco Peru

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It’s the first stop on Round-the-World #2 so obviously that means no sleep on the plane on the 7-hour flight down. We landed in Lima around midnight and my night began to look up when I saw that the Lima airport was very modern, clean and had wireless internet throughout. Score!

This was especially important since I had decided not to book a hotel in Lima for the night. My flight to Cuzco Peru was at 6:00am and I couldn’t see spending the money on a hotel for 3 hours or so of sleep – not to mention I ran out of time to try to find one.

So, I found a corner table in a little café, bought a wireless internet access card, ordered a glass of wine and spent the next few hours on my laptop updating the website and trying to find hotels in New Zealand – which I am starting to wish I had found the time to do pre-departure. All in all, it ranks as my best overnight experience in an airport (though admittedly, there was not a ton of competition for that title).

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Machu Picchu at Last

Posted by on Jan 5, 2007 | 0 comments

Machu Picchu at Last

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At 5:30am this morning, there were several of us from the hotel gathered in the lobby for Oscar to take us to the train station. Joining me, there was a family of four from Spain and two grad students from the University of Wisconsin, Vik and Jarron, who were on a 2 week tour of South America. We were all on the same train up and were all planning to spend the night up there and return the next day.

The train ride to from Cuzco to Machu Picchu town (also known as Aguas Calientes for the hot springs that are nearby) takes slightly less than 4 hours and the scenery is beautiful all the way up. But it’s not just the scenery that makes this ride interesting.

In order to get up the enormous Andean Mountains, the train utilizes a method of “switchbacks”. For the first hour when you leave Cuzco, the train will go forward for about 15 minutes and then stop and go backwards onto a different upward sloping track for another 15 minutes, then forward again on another track. There is actually a train system employee who stands at each point and manually switches the tracks.

This zigzag process continues until the train has reached the highest point of the journey and then it continues in forward motion for the remainder of the trip.

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Just Me in Fiji

Posted by on Feb 3, 2007 | 0 comments

Just Me in Fiji

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Bula from Fiji!

When the wake-up call came at 3:45am, I was not happy. But, I quickly remembered that I was getting up at that ungodly hour to catch a flight to Fiji and somehow that made it inherently more bearable.

The flight from Auckland to Nadi, Fiji was a short 3 hours (at this point in the trip that seems short). When we flew in over the crystal blue waters of the barrier reefs surrounding Fiji, I began to fully appreciate the brilliance of making this my last stop.

I had originally decided to skip Fiji after finding that the hotel prices were upwards of $400 a night for the places I wanted to stay. However, in early December, the tiny island nation of Fiji made international news when its government was overthrown in a military coup. Tourists were evacuated off the islands and the tourism industry took a major hit.

Now, I realize most people would avoid a destination for a while after this type of event, but to me, the whole situation just reeked of opportunity.

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Back to Sea Level – Lima Peru

Posted by on Jan 7, 2007 | 0 comments

Back to Sea Level – Lima Peru

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LEGS…HURT…OH-MY-GOD…OUCH.

The next morning I slept in a little for the first time since my arrival in Peru. When I got up around 8am – feeling like I had run a marathon the previous day after hiking Machu Picchu Mountain – I hobbled upstairs to the breakfast room. Vik was already in there and said that Jarron was really sick and planning to stay in bed for the forseeable future. I told him he was welcome to ride into town with me later but I didn’t have much planned other than lunch and maybe an internet café to start uploading pictures to the website (which I had been neglecting since the hi-speed access in Cuzco and MP was more of the dial-up variety and I knew it would take forever). I mean, after you’ve seen Machu Picchu in Peru, everything else there is sort of anticlimactic.

I had a 3pm flight to Lima later that day but the guys still had 3 more days in the Cuzco area. Vik was anxious to get out of the hotel so he decided to come with me. We spent some quality time in an internet café, had lunch and then Oscar came to pick me up and take me to the airport.

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Dubrovnik: Pearl of the Adriatic

Posted by on Jan 9, 2007 | 0 comments

Dubrovnik: Pearl of the Adriatic

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I couldn’t get all the way from Peru to Dubrovnik on Skyteam, just as far as Zagreb (the capital), so I had to book an additional flight on Croatia Airlines – it was dirt cheap, even for business class, so of course that’s what I booked.

Unfortunately, since it’s not high season, the flight times were few and far between so I was faced with a little time to kill in the Zagreb airport. This turned out to be harder than it sounds.

The airport was tiny – the kind of tiny where you can just pull right up to the front door and leave your car for as long as you feel like it and no one cares. There was no business class lounge (ouch) and only one food place boasting minimal options. The worst part was that everyone in the darn place was smoking. It was like walking into a really smoky nightclub. Even though it was cold, I found a place to sit outside for a while just to get away from the smoke.

The flight was a quick 30 minutes and as we approached Dubrovnik the views out my window were amazing.

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Back to Africa – Cape Town Part Deux

Posted by on Jan 14, 2007 | 0 comments

Back to Africa – Cape Town Part Deux

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After a lengthy journey from Dubrovnik including 2 connections, I finally made it into Cape Town around 3pm on a glorious summer day. I grabbed a cab and headed straight for my hotel, the Westin Cape Town. This is the same hotel I stayed at last year and really loved, so I was looking forward to returning. Rates this time of year start at about $400 per night but thanks to my Starwood points (hooray for business travel!) I will be spending all 4 nights here free of charge.

I haven’t really planned out what I want to do with my four days back in Cape Town. On my last visit to Cape Town on RTW #1, as you may remember, I climbed Table Mountain, spent some time at the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, took the Robben Island tour and checked out a few beaches in the 3 days that I was here.

It was just such a beautiful city that I knew I had to come back again this year and, in fact, this is the only repeat stop from last years’ trip. So, my plan was to spend some quality time with the hotel concierge and get some advice on what else to see.

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Chiang Mai – Northern Thailand

Posted by on Jan 20, 2007 | 0 comments

Chiang Mai – Northern Thailand

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Paris in Transit – One last time

Back in Paris again after another lovely flight spent in the comfort of Air France’s new Business Class seat. This time I even had the seat next to me open – love it!  When I arrived in Paris this morning, I headed straight for the Air France Arrivals Lounge which features extremely convenient private shower rooms. 

After a hot shower and a change of clothes, I was ready to take the train into town and shop for a new camera. Thankfully, there were much better prices here than in Cape Town (scene of the camera-sand debacle). I actually managed to find the newer version of my current Casio Exilim for under $300 after the tax refund. The new camera is awesome and has even more cool features than my last one. So, brace yourself for some serious photo-taking.

After another lovely overnight experience on Air France, I landed in Bangkok with about 2 hours to spare before my Thai Air connection to Chiang Mai. 

Since my last trip to Thailand, Bangkok has opened a brand new airport – Suvarnabhumi International – and it is a huge improvement over the old airport. It’s much more in line with the other fabulous hi-tech Asian airports like Singapore, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur and Seoul.

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Sleeping Through Shanghai

Posted by on Jan 24, 2007 | 0 comments

Sleeping Through Shanghai

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I should start by warning you that this entry will not be particularly exciting. On the overnight flight from Bangkok to Seoul, I started to feel like I was coming down with a cold. By the time I landed the next morning in China, I was definitely feeling lousy.

Now, China is not the best place to land when you’re sick as you have to fill out a health card upon landing so they can establish that you don’t have the bird flu. Fortunately, I was pretty sure I didn’t have a fever (they can quarantine you at the airport if you do) so I lied my way through the health card and breezed through immigration and customs.

Next came the most exciting part of my stay in Shanghai, riding the “World’s Fastest Train” into town.

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Australia Day in Sydney

Posted by on Jan 26, 2007 | 0 comments

Australia Day in Sydney

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I’m happy to report that by the time I got from Shanghai to Seoul I was feeling much better.

On my flight from Seoul to Sydney, the girl sitting next to me was from Atlanta. In fact, she just bought a house in Vinings – about 3 miles from mine…small world! Her name was Katie and she was on her way to Melbourne to meet her brother at the Australian Open. They were planning to spend a few days in Sydney on the way back and she told me about the Sydney Harbor Bridge Climb they were planning to do. 

Apparently, they have recently started doing guided climbs up the Harbour Bridge. It’s fairly expensive and though I was skeptical about whether it was something I wanted to do, Katie convinced me that it was a must-do while in Sydney so I checked it out when I got to the hotel.

She was obviously right about its popularity because when the concierge called to book it for me, it was completely booked up for all 3 days of my stay. Oh well. (Katie – just for the record, I tried!)  I guess the next time I come back to Sydney I’ll have to book it in advance.

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New Zealand: Adventures from the Bottom of the World

Posted by on Feb 2, 2007 | 2 comments

New Zealand:  Adventures from the Bottom of the World

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Greetings from the bottom of the world, or at least, the bottom of the globe.

My flight from Sydney to Wellington on Air New Zealand was great, even in coach. I landed around 11:30pm and grabbed a cab to the hotel where my friend Kay had gotten us a room. Kay and I both work for ESPN and she had been in Melbourne, Australia for the past 2 weeks covering the Australian Open. When we realized a few months ago that we were going to be in the same part of the world, we decided to join forces and travel together for a week!

We had been communicating via e-mail for the past few weeks while she was in Melbourne and I was everywhere, trying to figure out where we wanted to go in New Zealand and what we wanted to do. We knew we wanted to spend a few days in Auckland and I was able to score us a room at the Hilton Auckland with my Hilton points.

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New Zealand Part 2 – Bridge Climb Auckland

Posted by on Feb 3, 2007 | 0 comments

New Zealand Part 2 – Bridge Climb Auckland

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After arriving late the night before after our drive across the north island from Wellington, the next day started earlier for me than for my friend and Kiwi-travel-buddy, Kay. I had to get up to return the rental car before 8:30am about a mile from the hotel.

When I got back to the Hilton, I stopped at the concierge desk to inquire about our time to do the Auckland Harbour Bridge Climb. On the way back from dinner the night before we had asked about it but it was too late for the concierge to call and get us a reservation so we had to wait until morning.

As you may remember, in Sydney I really wanted to do the Harbour Bridge Climb but it was sold out every day I was there (thanks to the Australia Day holiday). 

In reading about Auckland, Kay and I discovered that Auckland offers a similar experience on their Harbour Bridge and we were both excited about doing that.

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