Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Aussie Border Bust: The $2K Kiwi Chicken Sandwich

Here's a cautionary tale presented as a public service.

A 77-year-old woman flying from New Zealand to Australia to house-sit for a friend claimed to have forgotten she had in her bag a sealed chicken sandwich bought but not opened at the Christchurch Airport before her departure.

The Australian border authorities at Brisbane Airport found it, confiscated it, and fined her the equivalent of about US $2,000 on the spot.

What catches our attention is the fact that the hapless traveler is about our age, and claimed in her own defense to be forgetful. Yes, we can relate to that.

We have four reasons for never lying when crossing an international border.  

First, we consider lying to be immoral.

Second, the risks (fines, placement on a watchlist, loss of Global Entry) outweigh any benefits.

Third, we're poor liars. We've met a number of skillful liars in our days as educators, and we don't measure up in the fibbing department.

We've already forgotten the fourth reason. 

In any event, forewarned is hopefully forearmed. 

You can read more about the travails of New Zealander June Armstrong in the New York Post or in Canada's National Post.

Half the Fun?


Is it planning travel that's half the fun, or is it getting there that's half the fun? Maybe it's some of each.

We're not surprised by a Dutch study that indicates travelers are happier when anticipating travel, and happier when they're actually traveling. However, they're ordinarily no happier when their trip has concluded. We've reached similar conclusions based on our own experience. That's why we're always planning at least one future trip (and usually several trips). We also spend a fair (inordinate?) amount of time looking for travel bargains. We've been doing just that during the past couple of weeks since returning from Europe.

A lost and confused tourist supposedly asked a New Yorker, "How do you get to Carnegie Hall?" The one-word reply was "Practice!" When others ask us "Where do you find your travel bargains?", our one-word reply is "Research!" We've found no single magic source, but we check a variety of sources regularly. 

As we've previously mentioned, our bodies tell us to settle for nothing less than Business Class on foreign flights longer than five hours, so FlyerTalk's Mileage Run Forum isn't as useful to us as it once was. We just signed up for Jack's Flight Club with a three-month trial membership. While they're flagging some great bargains in economy class to a variety of destinations, they don't offer much in the way of premium cabins, so it's doubtful we'll maintain our membership.

We do monitor FlyerTalk's Premium Fare Deals Forum regularly. We also utilize Google Flights Search, using a variety of originating airports, always including Seattle and Vancouver. We have absolutely no hesitation in adding repositioning flights to an itinerary if it's worthwhile. If we see a great deal that starts or ends in, say, New York, we'll fly there with points or cash. 

For example, in 2019 a bargain one-way Business Class fare became available on Singapore Airlines for what was then the world's longest flight, SIN-EWR (Singapore to Newark). The catch was that to use the bargain fare (somewhere around $1,200 in our recollection) it was necessary to start in Ahmedabad, India, AMD-SIN

We flew from Bangkok to Jaipur, where we enjoyed a most enjoyable cooking class, before flying to Ahmedabad and boarding our flight to SIN. After a short stay in a Changi Airport transit hotel, we flew 17 pleasant hours on SQ 22 We repositioned on both ends, enjoyed a great time in India, experienced the world's longest flight, earned a lot of miles in the process, and found our way home from EWR. Well worth it!

Using the same strategy, if we were planning to catch a cruise in Lisbon (LIS), we'd look for a cheap Business Class flight to just about anywhere in Europe, knowing we can find a cheap flight or train trip from there to Lisbon. As it happens, we'll be looking for one of those in Fall 2024.

We also monitor various travel blogs (check out our list of favorite links). Kathy in particular makes use of ITA Software, and we find Expert Flyer useful enough to pay for an annual subscription.

Finally, airline websites occasionally reveal bargains. We look at those, especially Alaska, from time to time.

Our travel plans for the first several months of 2024 look like this:

Early January: Larnaca Cyprus  

Mid-January: Fort Myers Florida  

Late January: Quito Ecuador  

Mid-February: Cancun Mexico  

Late February: Budapest Hungary  

Late March: Grandson’s Europe Tour

Late May: Cairns Australia for Oz Fest

Our March trip with grandson Jace and our May trip to Australia are currently booked on points (Alaska Airlines miles). In the unlikely event a cash price becomes competitive, we'll snap it up. Our paid round trip Business Class flights to Cyprus, Ecuador, and Hungary cost us about $2,200 each. It's an investment from which we receive a lot of benefits.

We're delighted with our upcoming itinerary. It will include our first visits to Ecuador and Cyprus (we just booked the Cyprus trip last night after spotting it out of YVR on Google flights), a return to Budapest after quite a few years, a traditional "grand tour" of Europe with our eighth grandchild, and our 18th trip to Australia to attend our 16th Oz Fest.

By our calculations, that's over 75,000 miles earned on Alaska for our paid flights. It looks like a lot of fun planning and getting there.

Friday, November 17, 2023

Successful Senior Travel: Geezers in Motion


 As we near the end of 2023, we two wanderers look back on yet another active year of travel.

Alaska Airlines will credit us with close to 110,000 miles flown on it and its partners by the end of the year. We have therefore re-qualified for Alaska’s top-tier status, MVP Gold 100K. We’re also closing in on lifetime  Hilton Diamond status.

We started the year with a Caribbean cruise and ended it with a Mediterranean cruise, both on Oceania’s Riviera, a cruise line for foodies. We’ve achieved Platinum status on Oceania, which provides us with some pleasing and profitable perks.

In 2023 we spent time in France, London, Bali, Indonesia (a new country for us), and Australia.  We also overnighted in Iceland twice and stopped in a variety of ports of various countries during our two cruises. We traveled domestically, although not as much as we would have liked. One of our favorite trips this year was one of the shortest in distance, to southern Colorado with some of our family members to visit the remote Tres Piedras Ranch in which Kathy’s family has an interest.

We’ve been traveling fairly intensively since 2001, the year we took early retirement from public education. Back then we were in our mid-50s (here we are in Egypt in 2007), and now we’re… just a little older.  In the course of flying over 1.6 million miles on United and its partners, another quarter of a million miles on Alaska and its partners, and visiting more than 75 sovereign countries (fun fact: the country we’ve visited with the lowest per-capita birthrate is Vatican City – think about it), we like to consider ourselves a little wiser too.

As Brian has been known to say (Kathy: “incessantly”), we suffer from jet lag even if we stay home, so why not travel? We’ll continue to explore the world as long as we can, with a few added considerations.

First, we derive both pleasure and peace of mind by planning our trips in great detail. We use the TripIt website and app to outline every detail of our itinerary, including not only the transportation and accommodation, but the information required, for example, to get from the airport to the hotel.

Along with that, we utilize a variety of free and paid websites and travel blogs to find the most cost-effective flights and accommodation.  We check back regularly on our flight and accommodation rates, and have saved a lot of money over the years by rebooking right up to the day of travel. For anyone who wants further details, we’re just an email away for subscribers, or a query in the comments section.

Kathy uses a variety of websites to book European train travel, including foreign language sites, and we try to book far enough ahead that we ordinarily travel in the modestly superior first or business class carriages for a cheaper price than a second-class ticket purchased closer to the travel date.

We continue to use a packing list that we check religiously before departing home. By the way, we continue to carry lots of paper with us, i.e. printouts of reservations, tickets, etc., rather than simply  relying on what we store on our phone. We've been able to point out discrepancies in rates to more than one hotel front desk employee when checking out.

As the years go by, we also strive to take into account our physical reserves. For example, earlier this week, we flew one evening from Naples to London, with a short overnight in the LHR Holiday Inn Express. Very early the following morning we arose (earlier than we needed to) to fly from LHR to Dalles-Fort Worth and, after a several-hour layover, onward to Seattle.

That was already too much flying for us, as Brian confirmed by literally falling asleep in the middle of eating ice cream somewhere over Montana, thereby creating a rather spectacular mess that the flight attendant and a couple of other passengers helped to clean up (Thanks, new subscriber Daz!). We did overnight at the Seattle Airport Hilton Garden Inn, rather than taking a flight that would have landed us at Bellingham around Midnight, but next time we’d add another overnight along the way.

Second, we take health and security seriously. Our Medicare insurance supplement covers emergency hospitalization when we’re abroad, and we’re limiting the length of our future visits to third-world countries. We want nearby access to first-rate medical care if we need it. We register the itineraries of our trips with the US State Department's Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP).

We walk more slowly than we used to, often arm-in-arm to maintain balance. We notice that more and more people offer us seats on buses and trains, or offer to help us hoist our carry-ons into the overhead compartments. While that’s sweet, it also means we look old, dammit! We’re obvious potential victims for pickpockets and muggers, so we keep a special eye on our surroundings. No more romantic evening strolls along deserted streets for us.

After Brian’s wallet was pickpocketed out of his front pocket on the Paris Metro last year, he invested in pants from Clothing Arts that feature secret zippered pockets, and a hoodie from SCOTTeVEST with another set of secret pockets. We’ve both worn the original SCOTTIEeVESTS for many years. Brian also carries a dummy wallet containing some cash and expired credit cards, and we each carry our own credit and ATM cards, with contact phone numbers recorded in our phones in the event of theft or loss. For that matter, we also store in our phones photos of our passport ID pages and our carry-on suitcases.

Our cellular provider is T-Mobile, which for a bargain monthly rate gives us virtually free phone calls and data in almost every country in the world and free WiFi on Alaska and other airlines.  This gives us further peace of mind. If we used another provider, we’d spend the money required - $10 daily or whatever - to give us coverage.

Finally, we’re not ashamed of spoiling ourselves. In fact, we call it being realistic rather than selfish. If that means we take fewer trips because each trip costs more, so be it. We won’t fly domestic redeyes, even in First Class, and we will only fly Business Class on overnight international flights. Long gone are our days of “mileage runs” in Economy to reach destinations like Singapore and Hong Kong. 

We consider taxis or car transfers between one spot and another, as opposed to climbing on a bus, then catching a subway, then walking a kilometer to reach our hotel.

Traveling with congenial companions can provide both shared enjoyment and mutual support. Some of our favorite trips over the years, including the one just concluded, have been with adult relatives, including Brian’s brother and sister-in-law and Kathy’s brothers and sisters-in-law. Showing Europe to our grandchildren starting about 10 years ago has kept us feeling young, and we’re looking forward to taking our eighth and youngest grandchild on his special trip in March 2024.

We quote Robert Louis Stevenson on our main page: “For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel's sake. The great affair is to move.”

We hope to keep moving for some time to come.

Happy travels to all! 












Tuesday, November 14, 2023

Revisiting Pompeii

As a recent article in Science Magazine puts it,  The destruction of Pompeii, Italy, is one of the most well-preserved catastrophes in human history.”

What took place nearly two thousand years ago in 79 A.D. was a tragedy of considerable magnitude, but as archaeologists uncovered the ruins of this city over a period of centuries, the impact of the eruption of Vesuvius on individual citizens became increasingly obvious.

This region was populated at least as far back as the 6th or 7th century B.C. Pompeii grew to be a prosperous and significant trading center, not far from the Appian Way. All that changed over a couple of days as the city was buried in ash and pumice, and countless residents - probably more than a thousand  - were poisoned by fumes, although scientists are still investigating the cause of deaths.

We two had visited Pompeii back in 2001. Since we were driving right by it on the way to the Naples Airport. Our driver arranged for a two hour private tour.

Imma proved to be an excellent guide.

She showed us main squares, private homes, the public baths, and business and government sites, including those selling fast food.

Two-thousand-year-old mosaics and frescoes were still visible.

It was an impressive grand finale to a successful trip.

Monday, November 13, 2023

Dining Exceptionally Well in Sorrento, Italy

We discovered Casa Tua by researching TripAdvisor and Yelp. Our efforts were rewarded by a fascinating dinner in this modest little joint.

The fixed-price menu consisted of a collection of the chef’s favorite dishes, supplemented by what looks good in the daily market.

We savored a ceviche or fish tartare.

Lemon Sea Bass Meatballs…

Katalfi Prawns…

Cuttlefish Salad…

Courgette Fliwers stuffed with ricotta and Parmesan.,,

Calamari and more…

We finally gave up and skipped the final course. Another outstanding Sorrento dining experience.

On our final night in Sorrento, we ended up at a pizza joint after our original choice is apparently closed Sunday, despite the reservation website The Fork confirming our reservation before canceling it at the last minute.

Lieve isn’t a bad place at all, and it was quite reasonably

We two dined on Neopolitan-style pizzas today in the miserable Naples International Airport, and enjoyed it too.

We do admit to still preferring Kathy’s homemade pizza, but we certainly will keep that to ourselves.

Sunday, November 12, 2023

Positano or Bust

The Amalfi Coast must be one of the world’s most scenic coastal roads. We’d stayed in Positano with Kathy’s youngest brother, Greg, and sister-in-law, June, back in 2009, and visited briefly againwhen our cruise ship anchored nearby in 2012.

We wanted Tom and Ellyn to see it, and traveling by bus around the hairpin turns and switchbacks makes for a real thrill ride.

Armed with a schedule and directions from the hotel, we made our way to the bus station Saturday morning and lined up to buy a €10 24-hour pass. The woman at the counter gave us instructions on how to transfer at Amalfi to get to Ravello.

We lined up at the end of a very long queue that stretched around the edge of the road. We waited and then waited some more in the on-and-off light drizzle.

Rumors spread and were then confirmed. There was no bus to Amalfi until 4:00 PM. We continued to queue and watched buses come and go, some advertising our €10-pass on the side. Yes, it’s a great pass if you can actually use it.

If we could only go as far as Positano, we’d go as far as Positano. Besides, we’ve spent as much time in line for Disneyland rides that are no more thrilling.

Eventually, upwards of two hours later, we were lucky to board and to get seats on the right (ocean) side of the bus. Others were not so lucky.

The ride itself is as spectacular as the bus driver’s skills are impressive.

The moving clouds provided us with varying lighting effects.

We eventually saw Positano clinging to the hills, the only town built on a “vertical axis,” according to the artist Paul Klee.

And then we arrived at the Positano bus stop, getting off as various would-be passengers found out the bus to Amalfi wouldn’t appear for hours. There’s no doubt an Italian expression equivalent to the French “C’est comme ├ža” or our “That’s just the way it is.”

As for us, we wandered down the hill to take in the sights of Positano.

It was Armistice Day in the U.S. and Remembrance Day in the British Commonwealth, so it seemed appropriate to stop for a moment at the modest plaque commemorating the WWI and WWII dead of Positano.

Three of us rode the little municipal bus back up the steep hill.

Ellyn shamed the rest of us by jogging up the hill and waiting for us at the top. The next bus to Sorrento arrived promptly and we all obtained seats (Mirabulum, as the ancient Romans used to say) for the return ride to Sorrento.

A day of thrilling rides and spectacular views made the long wait worthwhile.

Friday, November 10, 2023

Mount Vesuvius from Sorrento

It’s a cloudy Saturday but the peak is at least visible from our Hilton Sorrento Palace balcony.

The weather forecast is indicating a strong chance of rain tomorrow, so let’s enjoy the view while we have it.

Update: Monday dawns beautifully. The weatherman was foiled again.

A Splendid Sorrento Eatery: Benvenuti in Casa!

Once we’d checked in at the Hilton Sorrento Palace, we followed the instructions for a shortcut to reach downtown. At the back of the hotel there’s a large walled exterior that holds a small citrus grove. A sturdy door at the back opens with room key cards and provides a much more direct route downhill.

We’re going to find out what those large fruits are that seem to grow on the same trees as limes.

For now, however, our objective was a tiny restaurant with outstanding reviews. Its name, Benvenuti in Casa, translates as Welcome Home.

The husband works the front and the wife is the chef. Their six-year-old son, when not in school, spends his time in the restaurant. This was hanging next to our table.

The bambino has probably outgrown the small chair we spied across the room.

The husband is a charming individual who speaks good English and shows great pride in what is served. We were all impressed, from the focaccia and grissini onward.

We shared two appetizers, Burrata with raw shrimp…

Eggplant Parmigiana…

Tom’s Octopus pasta…

Ellyn’s pasta with clams and lemon sauce (delicious)…

Brian’s tasty meatballs with penne…

Kathy’s Rigatoni with Bolognese sauce…

One of the best dining experiences of our trip, it was reasonably priced and very satisfying.

No need for dinner last night! These appetizers served us during the Hilton’s Executive Lounge Happy Hour were more than enough.