Wednesday, November 2, 2011


Written by my friend Teodoro Martin

We upgraded to High Definition Satellite just in time to watch a few travels shows before we made our trip to Europe. We were gone for four weeks. We started in London because we had both never been. We loved the city and the history, but the weather was lousy for the few days we were there. We took the famous Chunnel to France. We spent time in my absolute favorite city in the world, Paris. We had so much fun together there. We splurged and stayed in a fancy hotel for a few nights. I felt like Carrie on Sex in the City when she wore couture, went to Paris, and stayed in a fine hotel. The only difference was that I was really excited to be there. On a travel show we watched, it suggested taking a day trip to Normandy. It was truly a highlight of the trip. The beach and the history is extremely moving. We traveled to Monaco, Spain, Italy, Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. It was truly a trip of a lifetime.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Trying out my new car on a roadtrip

There is really nothing like getting in your car on a pretty day and heading down the road. I had a long distance trip scheduled this past week, and in addition to looking forward to getting out of town, I was anxious to try out my new car on its first roadtrip. The stereo system is very nice, and the interior of the car is quiet, unlike my previous car, so I was happy to find out I could listen to music without having to crank it up to split eardrum level. All was well until I got back into my car after lunch and headed back to the highway.

A few seconds later, the absolute worst noise surrounded me. I couldn't hear the radio anymore. The sound was indistinct--almost seemed like a pulse that was getting louder and louder. Then I noticed a squeezing pressure on my eardrums. I became frightened, thinking, what is this? The noise just came out of nowhere.  The car still seemed to be driving all right, and there were no warning lights on the dashboard. I pulled off at the next exit and got out to look at the exterior auto parts. I thought maybe I had a flat tire, even though it didn't seem like that was the case. And no one passing me had been pointing at the tires, like people do when you have a flat.

I circled the car--no flat tire. I didn't see anything wrong--not that I would have known what to do if I had. I got back in the car, hoping miraculously it had disappeared. I started the car up and drove off, and it was fine--for a second. Then the loud, almost sonic boom started again. I felt dismayed. The car was driving OK, and I had an appointment that I had to keep. Is there anyway I could drive 250 more miles under this condition? Do I dare consider that? No, I didn't think I could. And what if continued driving hurt the car? It is driving fine now, but what about tonight? Maybe it would strand me in the middle of nowhere.

I looked around at the surrounding billboards, hoping to see an auto parts store advertised, but no luck. The best I could hope for would be to get to the next town, find an auto repair place or an auto parts store to see if they could figure out what was wrong. And fix it quickly!

Just as I was about to despair, I turned my head around and looked into the back seat.  My right rear window was down. I must have hit the automatic window button by accident. Could that be the problem? Holding my breath it was, I hit the button to roll it back up. Success! How could a rolled down window have caused that racket? And that weird sonic boom feeling? Well it did. I continued down the highway once again a happy camper. And my car was a 10 on the road.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Vote For Your Favorite Cool Small Town

Budget Travel Magazine is again running its Coolest Small Town Contest. Only towns with a population under 10,00 are eligible. And they must have that je ne sais quoi.  Plus neat independent shops. Culture. Good energy. And good coffee! You can vote once a day. My favorite small cool town is Franklin, PA.,8/

Monday, October 3, 2011

Irritated by hotel internet fees? You're not alone

Checking into a nice hotel a few months ago, I held my breath. I regularly use my netbook and was hoping there was not an internet fee. I asked the clerk, and she said no. I was a happy camper!

But more and more nice hotels are charging as much as $14.95 a day for connection, and some charge per computer. That could add to some some hefty extra fees if multiple people in the room have a computer.

Mid-range and lower priced hotels tend not to charge for internet connection, because they want to entice you to stay there and don't assume their guests have big expense accounts.

Hopefully more luxury hotels will drop the fee. They assume their guests can afford the fees or are on expense accounts. It is what the market can bear, says one person quoted in the article below. But even so, that doesn't mean they want to pay it. Guests may pay the charge, but stay somewhere else the next time.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Gaylord Opryland Hotel Is Back In Business

It has taken me a while to get out to the reborn Gaylord Opryland Hotel in Nashville. You may remember that it sustained a great deal of damage in the 2010 Nashville flood, with water 10 feet deep inside the hotel. Closed for approimately six months, it reopened about a year ago. To the casual eye, you can't really tell that anything is different. It looks wonderful, just as it always did. Except for one major change. The main entrance is no longer the Magnolia entrance but the Cascades.

Photo from the Gaylord Opryland Website

To the uninitiated, Magnolia and Cascades refer to major parts of the hotel, along with Delta and Garden Conservatory. Each of these arms of the hotel have distinguishing features. Cascades, as you may suspect, has waterfalls, Delta has a lazy river with boat rides, the Garden Conservatory is like walking through one of the largest greenhouses, and Magnolia is the original part of the hotel. In addition, there is a gigantic convention center.

Sitting in the Cascades dining area this afternoon, I soaked up the afternoon sun coming through the glass roof and watched conference attendees come and go. And I listened to the indoor waterfall just to my right. It is just like being outdoors, exept you are indoors!

The Cascades

You can find almost anything here in the hotel--shops, food, entertainment, even indoor boat rides. It truly is a little city under a roof. Those from out of town must feel like they have stepped into hotel heaven. So many things to do and no reason to leave the hotel. Those in Nashville, however, may hesitate to go out there, because of the steep parking fee ($18). But just grab a meal while you are there, and you can get your parking ticket validated.

Delta Boat Rides

From the Cascades, you can walk through the Garden Conservatory to get to the Delta or Magnolia areas. There are both lower and upper walkways through the Garden Conservatory. Are you in a greenhouse, an arboretum, or the jungle? A little bit of all of it. Some guest rooms overlook the conservatory area.

Views from the Garden Conservatory Walkway

There are buildings inside the hotel. Below is the Old Hickory Steak House.

Old Hickory Steak House

Magnolia Area

The Magnolia area is the original area at the hotel and has its own  convention rooms and ballrooms. Luckily, the great murals in Magnolia, such as the one above of the original Kirkland Hall at Vanderbilt University, were left unhurt by the flood.

There are a number of fine dining restaurants at Gaylord Opryland Hotel, as well as some quick eating options. There are also a number of nightlife spots and retail stores. Buy a pair of cowboy boots while you are there!

Guests have access to a couple of pools, a spa, and a video arcade. The Grand Ole Opry House is next door and a golf course is in the neighborhood. Downtown Nashville is less then 15 minutes away.

At the end of the day, how did the new hotel compare with the older version? As a Nashvillian, I spent many hours in the past at Opryland Hotel attending various functions. I always had trouble finding my way around. But today it seemed like a breeze. What made the difference? Was it that I am older and wiser? That I finally picked up a hotel  map for the first time today at the concierage desk? Or is it because they must have reworked the hotel to some degree to make it more navigable? Probably all of it.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Passenger Bill of Rights: What it means for you

The new airline passenger bill of rights was supposed to go into effect around the end of August-- about a month ago.

What is supposed to be different? Well, hopefully there will be no more 8 hour delays on the tarmac. Domestic flights are supposed to have a three hour limit for being stuck on the tarmac, and international flights a four hour limit, before the passengers can deplane.

H.R. 729 states that airline carriers must implement at a minimum a plan for :

1) Essential needs for passengers on aircraft that is delayed taking off or delayed in disembarkation including
  • adequate food and potable water
  • adequate restroom facilities
  • cabin ventilation and comfortable cabin tempertures
  • access to necessary medical treatment
2) The right for passengers to deplane and return to the terminal if:
  • three hours after the passengers have boarded, with cabin doors shut, the aircraft has not taken off, or
  • three hours after landing, the passengers have been unable to deplane
  • these options will be available to passengers at least once during every three hour successive stay on the tarmac
  • exceptions to this are if the pilot determines that letting passengers deplane would jeopardize passenger safety or security, OR, if the pilot determines that the plane will take off, or the passengers will deplane not more than 30 minutes after the three hour delay
Also incuded in the bill is the establishment of a passenger complaint hotline.
Passengers are also supposed to see other developments such as being refunded baggage fees if your luggage is lost, higher compensation if you are bumped from your flight because of overbooking, and to make taxes and fees on airline tickets more visible to purchasers.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Nashville's Exit/In Celebrates 40th

If you are familir at all with Nashville's live music scene, you have heard of the Exit/In. Chances are your favorite group or musician has played there at some point. Check the photo above of the wall outside the establishment to see some of the greats who have graced the stage: Eddie Money, The Police, REM, Steve Martin, Waylon Jennings, The Talking Heads, Billy Joel. And that is only part of the wall displaying names of those who have played there over the past 40 years.

This week, Exit/In is celebrating its big birthday with a series of concerts benefiting MusiCares, a foundation that provides musicians in need with housing, emergency financial assistance, addiction recovery, and other services. Standing tickets are only $15; seats up front are more.

Check out the schedule below and come here some of the best music around.

Tuesday, Sept. 6:

Buzz Cason, Barefoot Jerry, Mac Gayden and Skyboat, Dianne Davidson, Tracy Nelson, and Marshall Chapman.

Wednesday, Sept. 7:
Cowboy Jack Clement, Roger Cook, Lee Clayton, Denny and the Jets, Ballhog!, and Ranch Ghost.

Thursday, Sept. 8
The Babushka Brothers, The Dynamites featuring Charles Walker, Old Union, Alex Harvey, Tom Kimmel, and James Talley.

Friday, Sept. 9
Matthew Perryman Jones, Drew and Ellie Holcomb, Daniel Ellsworth & the Great Lakes, Griffin House, and Daddy

Saturday, Sept. 10
Walk the West, The Cadillac Black, The Weeks, Buffalo Clover, and New Pleasure.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Couch Surfing--Seeing The World One Sofa At A Time

Have wanderlust, but a travelbust budget? Try couch-surfing, the best way to bring your hotel costs down to $0. Coachsurfing is an honest to goodness international nonprofit network that connects hosts willing to share their couches with world travelers. Not only does it save big bucks in hotel costs, but it helps develop one-on-one friendships around the world.

Sounds risky, you think? Well, members are verified and can vouch for each other. And references are left on the site. If you trash someone's couch, well then everyone is going to know about it. You can sign up as either a host or a surfer or both. According to the sites TOS, you are not allowed to make money from the process, but a surfer may want to buy the host a gift or a meal, or do something nice like help clean the house.

The top 10 couch surfing countries are United States, Germany, France, Canada, England, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Australia, and China. The topc 10 couch surfing cities are Paris, London, Berlin, Istanbul, Montreal, Vienna, Buenos Aires, Melbourne, New York, and Barcelona. Couch surfers range in age from 18 to 89.
Check it out here.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

500 days and counting: London 2012 Olympic tickets on sale today

The Olympics are never a budget travel proposition, but many people including me have a fascination with the games and hope to go someday. For those wanting to attend the London 2012 Games, tickets went on sale today. Order here. Ticket prices range from $44 to more than $3000, but never fear, supposedly there are some free viewing areas for the marathons and the cyling part of the triathlon.

Tickets are on sale until April 26 and are not processed until that time, so are not first-come, first-served. Events that are over-subscribed will be handled by random ballot. And if you go, don't forget to take your Visa card!

Friday, February 4, 2011

Cruises: thumbs up or thumbs down?

Despite many people saying they don't like cruises, the number of people sailing keeps multiplying. For those who haven't cruised in a long time, you might want to try one again. Even the cheap rooms are nice now, and not the prison cells of yesteryear. It is an easy way to travel and see multiple ports. It is just one way to travel that you might want to put in your repetoire.

Why Americans Don't Travel Abroad

Only about 30 percent of U.S. citizens have passports, a number way too low for such a rich country.