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RTW #3: Eat, Pray, Run – From Marathons to Maui

RTW 3 – Ready or Not (mostly not), Here I Go!

Posted by on Jan 22, 2008 | 0 comments

RTW 3 – Ready or Not (mostly not), Here I Go!

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I’m going to have to start the posts for this year’s round the world trip with a MAJOR disclaimer. You may notice I’m starting out a bit later than usual. That’s because I wasn’t entirely sure I was even going to do a trip this year. I had a new client with a show in Atlanta in the middle of January and that has kept me pretty busy for months. I thought I might not have the time to do another trip justice. But, the later it got in January, the more I was itching to cash in those Delta Skymiles and hit the road. So, in a two-week planning whirlwind, I scrambled to pull together as much of a trip as I could.

The flights were definitely the toughest. Imagine trying to cash in miles for more than a dozen flights on two weeks notice. This is the kind of thing most people book at least 6 months in advance if not longer. But, with daily persistence on the phone with the Skyteam Around the World desk, I think I finally have a workable itinerary.

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Beaching it in Nassau Bahamas

Posted by on Jan 24, 2008 | 0 comments

Beaching it in Nassau Bahamas

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My first choice for Stop 1 on this trip was Santiago, Chile. Unfortunately, since I didn’t book the ticket until last Thursday, flights to Santiago were totally sold out so I had to get creative.

After striking out with every South American destination I could think of, I started looking in the Caribbean. To give you a little background: The rules on the Around the World ticket with Delta (or rather, Skyteam) are pretty simple, you pick a direction (east or west) and keep going until you get back to your starting point, no back-tracking allowed.

Once again I chose to go east since it allows me to choose overnight flights which save time and hotel nights. Of course, if I had all the time in the world to spend entire days on a plane and money were not an issue, I think I’d go west, it would be a lot easier from a jetlag perspective.

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Morocco – The Marrakech Marathon

Posted by on Jan 27, 2008 | 0 comments

Morocco – The Marrakech Marathon

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Traveling from the Bahamas to Marrakech, Morocco required stops in both Newark and Paris on Continental and then a change of airports in Paris to transfer to an Air France flight to Morocco. All in all, roughly 24 hours of travel time.

I was, however, looking forward to trying out Continental’s Business First service “across the pond” to see how it compares with Delta’s Business Elite. I had heard great things about Continental’s international service and I had high expectations since this one flight (and one Northwest flight from Tokyo to Honolulu) had cost me an extra 60,000 miles on this ticket – the difference between a business class and a first-class around the world award. 

Turns out, Continental and Northwest consider their international Business First cabins as first-class (not business) when it comes to award travel – so, of course, I was dying to see why.

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Exploring Casablanca Morocco

Posted by on Jan 28, 2008 | 0 comments

Exploring Casablanca Morocco

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Well, I have to say that those expecting romance or adventure here in Casablanca Morocco will be sorely disappointed. Humphrey Bogart never came here, and the film Casablanca was filmed entirely in Hollywood. “Casa“, as the Moroccans call it, is actually Africa’s second-largest city after Cairo with a population between 3 and 4 million. It’s a very modern city compared to Marrakech and also home to Africa’s largest port.

When I arrived at the train station last night just after dusk, I was greeted by a throng of people and about 100 taxis all hustling for a fare. Much more crazed than my arrival in Marrakech. Once I secured a taxi, the first thing he did was try to talk me out of my hotel choice because it was “very expensive” and of course he knew of a hotel that would be much better for me. 

Thanks, buddy, but I think I can decide where I want to stay (not to mention, I ran a marathon this morning and I am in pain from head to toe so argue with me at your own risk). He gave in and took me to the Le Royal Mansour Meridien, my hotel for the one night I will be in Casablanca (and I’m starting to think that will be plenty).

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Spain, Part Uno: Madrid & Seville

Posted by on Jan 29, 2008 | 0 comments

Spain, Part Uno: Madrid & Seville

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Well, my trip from Casablanca to Madrid Spain turned out to be a little more exciting than it should have been. I briefly debated whether to share this little nugget with you all but I figured I’m quick to tell the stories when I do something smart so I guess I should fess up when I do something stupid. (Those of you who think I never screw up with travel planning will get a kick out of this one.)

I booked the flight from Casablanca to Madrid with European discounter Easyjet. I had heard a lot of good things about Easyjet but never flown them before so I was looking forward to trying it out. And the best part (aside from the fact that they actually had a direct flight to Madrid from Casa) was that the entire flight cost $42 (including the $8 I paid to get something called “Speedy Boarding” which lets you board first – there are no seat assignments on this airline). 

And I must say, I was quite proud of myself for being so “budget-conscious”.

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Lovin’ Lisbon Portugal

Posted by on Jan 31, 2008 | 0 comments

Lovin’ Lisbon Portugal

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Well, first of all, I have to say that the drive to Lisbon Portugal from Seville was delightful! It only took me about 3 hours and it’s great scenery most of the way. Oh, and if you’ve never driven 130 km/hour through the Spanish countryside while belting out Hotel California at the top of your lungs, I highly recommend it. Very therapeutic. You’ve gotta love those European radio stations.

I arrived in Lisbon just before sunset and was amazed at how beautiful the city is. It actually reminds me a lot of San Francisco (with an oddly similar bridge and even cable cars). 

My trip to Lisbon was actually planned around meeting a friend of mine from Ireland, Des. Des lives in Dublin and he and I used to date a while back and we’ve kept in touch since. When he heard I was planning to be in Lisbon on this trip, he scheduled a business trip (he’s been working over here some lately) to coincide with my dates. 

I left all of the planning for these two days up to him since I figured I had enough planning to do and he knew the city better than I did.

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Spain, Part Dos – Barcelona & the Costa Del Sol

Posted by on Feb 1, 2008 | 0 comments

Spain, Part Dos – Barcelona & the Costa Del Sol

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This morning I got up super early in Lisbon to get on the road and head back to Spain in search of the Rock of Gibraltar and the famous Costa del Sol.

The drive wasn’t bad and I entered the UK territory of Gibraltar (known as “The Rock”) about 4 hours after leaving Lisbon. The very British Gibraltar is only a little over two square miles in size, but it’s been a big thorn in the side of Spain for a long time (the border was closed from 1969 to 1985). It’s been under British rule since the early 1700’s and the residents of Gibraltar have, in very large numbers, repeatedly voted to remain British. 

Because of its strategic location at the point where the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea meet, Gibraltar’s history has been volatile and it has at various times been ruled by the Spainish, the Moors and even the Dutch. The British took control for good in the early 1700’s and Gibraltar was a critical British base during World War II.

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48 Hours in Istanbul Turkey

Posted by on Feb 5, 2008 | 0 comments

48 Hours in Istanbul Turkey

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To say that Istanbul Turkey is a city rich in history would be a bit of an understatement. Formerly Constantinople, and cradle to the Ottoman Empire, it was founded 667 years before Christ and is the only city in the world built on two continents. 

Istanbul’s airport is a very modern facility and though Americans do need a visa to visit Turkey, I read that they could be easily obtained upon arrival. This was indeed the case and my “visa on arrival” was issued at the visa window in about 30 seconds, or immediately upon the surrender of my $20 US dollars. (2017 Update: Visitors can now request an e-visa online here.)

After obtaining my visa, I breezed through passport control and just caught the 3:30pm bus to Taksim Square which was very close to my hotel, the Hilton Istanbul Bosphorus.

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Doing the Dead Sea Float in Israel

Posted by on Feb 7, 2008 | 0 comments

Doing the Dead Sea Float in Israel

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Now that I’ve reached the half-way point of the trip, I’d like to take a moment to thank all of you for the many e-mails and glowing comments about the website. I am really glad you are all enjoying it as much as I am.

Thanks also for the travel advice from some of you who have already been to a few of the places I’m going. And, as always, feel free to make requests. For example, alert young reader, Chase Swims (son of my good friend Autumn), sent an e-mail requesting more pictures of unusual animals. Sounds like a tall order, Chase, but I promise I’ll work on it.

So, next stop…Israel. First, a few words about the current political situation. The independent State of Israel was established in 1948 and has been the subject of political unrest with the neighboring Palestinians ever since.

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Would you believe, this is Tel Aviv?

Posted by on Feb 8, 2008 | 0 comments

Would you believe, this is Tel Aviv?

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I arrived back in Tel Aviv from the Dead Sea around 4pm on Thursday and was thrilled to discover a beautiful beach just outside the door of my hotel, the Sheraton Tel Aviv.

The hotel upgraded me to a suite with a great view of the Mediterranean. Luckily, I had the benefit of seeing a few pictures and getting a little advice about Tel Aviv before I arrived thanks to my friend Bill who recently visited here. 

The city was not at all like my pre-conceived notions. I never pictured it as a beautiful beach city like Rio or even Honolulu but, like those cities, the beach definitely dominates city life here.

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Heaven on Earth – Ko Phi Phi Thailand

Posted by on Feb 12, 2008 | 0 comments

Heaven on Earth – Ko Phi Phi Thailand

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Getting from Israel to Bangkok was a bit of a challenge since (due to the lateness of booking this RTW trip) I couldn’t get a seat on the direct flight from Paris to Bangkok that I’ve taken the past two years.

The only way for me to get there on the date that I wanted to travel was to take an Air France flight from Paris to Moscow and then an Aeroflot flight (the Russian national carrier and recent Skyteam member) from Moscow to Bangkok. I was a bit nervous about the Aeroflot flight since there was some conflicting information online about whether I needed to obtain a Russian transit visa for my 90 minute connection.

All of the consulate information said that I didn’t need one but I’d read a few stories from other travelers who were held up by Russian immigration because they didn’t have one. The prevailing wisdom from the travel agencies was to get one just in case.

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Good Morning, Vietnam!

Posted by on Feb 15, 2008 | 0 comments

Good Morning, Vietnam!

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For once, I caught a break with my flights and was actually able to get an earlier connection out of Bangkok to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). So, instead of arriving at 8:00pm, I landed at 6:00pm, which was good since I needed to buy a train ticket to Hanoi for the next day.

When I landed at the airport in Saigon, I had to spend about 30 minutes at the visa window while they processed my pre-approved visa application. The process was actually much simpler than I feared it might be and I was on my way into town within the hour.

I have to admit, I didn’t have high expectations for Vietnam. Actually, I guess I didn’t know what to expect, but I’d set the bar pretty low.

As I got closer to the hotel in my cab I was mesmerized by the thousands of motor-scooters rushing by on all sides of the cab and by the dazzling light displays all around the city celebrating the Tet New Year (which was technically Feb 6-10 but is apparently celebrated all month).

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Hanoi & Halong Bay Vietnam

Posted by on Feb 17, 2008 | 0 comments

Hanoi & Halong Bay Vietnam

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Well, if Saigon is like Shanghai then Hanoi is definitely like Beijing (and that’s probably not a compliment).

When I finally arrived at the train station it seemed almost like a different country than Saigon; dreary, depressing and cold – maybe I was just in a bad mood from the train ride.

I arrived at my hotel, the Sheraton Hanoi, a little after 10pm and the first order of business was trying to set up a tour to Halong Bay (about a 2 hour drive away) for the next morning. Obviously, this was a little difficult at 10pm but I didn’t think about making the arrangements ahead of time so I had to take whatever I could get.

There weren’t any group tours still available at this late hour (which was fine by me) but they were able to arrange for a driver and guide for me for the next morning complete with a 4-hour junk boat tour of the bay including lunch so I happily agreed to the $160 price figuring it was probably time for a splurge anyway.

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Whale Watching in Maui

Posted by on Feb 24, 2008 | 0 comments

Whale Watching in Maui

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Okay, so I first have to apologize for neglecting the website for the past week. I’ve gotten a number of concerned e-mails but, not to worry, I’m just fine here in Maui.

Truth be told, I think the jetlag from Vietnam finally caught up with me this week and I’ve been spending a lot of time sleeping and just generally lounging around near the beach watching the thousands of humpback whales migrating by just offshore.

Though I have been to Hawaii a number of times, this was my first trip to Maui. On the 45-minute cab ride from the airport to Ka’anapali, I was struck by the amazing beauty of the island. From the spectacular lush green mountains to the royal blue waters surrounding it, Maui is quite a welcome sight for the weary traveler.

Maui has been named the #1 island in the world in Conde Nast Traveler magazine 13 times and with good reason.

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