Saturday, November 29, 2008

I'm Having a Bad Hair Day!

Most people do not worry about how they look on vacation. After all, they will never see the people that they meet again. Most of the time I feel the same way. Then why must I take makeup, three brushes, a hair dryer, special shampoo, and hair-styling essentials, even though I will probably never use them?

At one time, I had short hair and it was very convenient to blow dry it with whatever type of dryer the hotel or cruise ship provided because it always looked neat. Now with my naturally curly longer hair, I have a big decision each day - should I let it dry curly or should I blow it out straight. Even if I spend a lot of time styling it to perfection, the minute I go outside, the wind will restyle it for me, regardless of the hold feature of the hair spray that I used that morning. And of course most hair products don't come in travel-sized containers that are approved for carry-on so I must put them in my checked bags and hope the bag arrives safely at my destination. Travel-sized hair spray cans are very expensive and do not hold enough product for a two-week trip if I use it once or twice every day.

Makeup is another big concern - do I need it or not? It is always recommended that you apply products containing sunscreen on exposed parts of your body, especially in sunny climates. I found this out the hard way in Estonia, thinking it was too far north to worry about sun protection. Lip products containing sunscreen are better than regular lipstick, especially if you are fever-blister prone like I am. And why use eye makeup when your eyes are going to be hidden by sunglasses or transition lenses? And of course with makeup, you also have to take specialized cleaning products to remove it at night. And woe to you if you perspire freely because all of those foundations and tinted moisturizers will run down your face and neck and stain your clothes that you probably won't wash until you get home.

Beauty products are essential for formal nights on cruises or if you're going to church on Sunday while traveling, but that's about it. I have been on trips where I never used the makeup I brought with me. There are times I never use a hair dryer either. After all, you will never see the people you meet on a trip again so why worry about how you look?

Thursday, November 27, 2008


Luggage, or too much of it, is a big concern by travelers and passengers alike. Once upon a time, people were able to check two or more suitcase and carry on two bags, plus a purse, laptop case, briefcase, etc. No longer is this true. Now it is wise to make sure your luggage is the proper weight and size before leaving home or you may have an unpleasant surprise when you get to the airport.

We were (and probably still are) guilty of trying to pack everything as well as the kitchen sink. We would try to pack for all types of weather. This is why we had winter clothes when it was 107 degrees in Moscow, and only a light jacket for March in Amsterdam. I am very thankful for all of the "traveler's" clothes on the market today because at least you don't spend a lot of your vacation ironing clothes that wrinkled in route.

I have one suitcase that perpetually seems to be overweight when we are coming back, no matter what we try to do. It is a boxy 26-inch Atlantic with extra space that can be unzipped on the lid to give us even more of a chance for excess weight. Of course at the time it was impossible to weigh suitcases when you weren't at home. We have had to go into a corner and switch items from suitcase to suitcase to carry-on to try to get the weight down. Fortunately, we now have a portable scale that we can take on trips so we can weigh the luggage at the hotel before leaving for the airport.

One time in France, I was told that I could not take my backpack and my 21-inch carry-on bag because my backpack was too big. It also doubled as my purse. I ended up going into the restroom and completely repacking since I had items in my 21-inch bag that were irreplaceble gifts and didn't want to trust them to the unfriendly skies of my aircraft carrier. I got the last laugh twice concerning this matter. In my backpack, I had a healthy back bag which I stuffed with all of the items I needed as well as those I thought I needed during the flight. When I got to the first US destination and was going through customs, I was permitted to take the bag I had checked since the remainder of my flight was on a commuter plane and the bag had to go underneath anyway. I was thankful for this because it gave me a chance to change clothes.

In the past, I have come home with more bags than I left with. In Australia, I bought so many stuffed animals and puppets that they wouldn't all fit in my suitcase. A friend was throwing away an old suitcase and I asked her if I could throw it away in the United States because I needed it for all the furry creatures that I had. I also bought a bag on a cruise ship after I bought a silk comforter in China which wouldn't fit in my overweight-prone suitcase with my too-many clothes and extras that I absolutely needed while away from home. Now I would have to pay extra for these additional pieces of luggage.

My husband is always telling me to pack light. He says that we only have two hands and do not need any more to carry than what we can comfortably handle. Our son can go on a two-week trip with only a large backpack and a daypack and get along fine. Now that we have such strict regulations on checked luggage, maybe his warnings will finally sink in. Just so we don't go to Italy in the winter any more with only a light fleece jacket.

Now, what did I forget that I absolutely need? Is it my laptop when there are Internet cafes everywhere in Europe? 2000 watt hair dryer that is absolutely not supposed to run on anything but 110 volt electricity? Three hairbrushes and three types of frizz-controlling serum? Enough medicines to fill a pharmacy? The list goes on and on.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008


Because we spend a lot of time traveling, we also spend a lot of time in hotels. In the United States, we have stayed in all types of hotels from the most expensive to budget. In Europe, we usually rely on our travel agency to help us get the best accommodations. However, there are still times when we have to assert ourselves once we actually get to the hotel.

There are two times in Europe where we have had to stand our ground. In Amsterdam, we were given a room that reeked of marijuana. We went back to the front desk and told them that we had requested a non-smoking room. The desk clerk argued that our travel agent had booked a regular room and we had not paid for a non-smoking room; if we wanted one, it would cost us 25 Euros more. We gladly paid it. I could not have spent two days in the marijuana-scented room. Another time was in Paris where we were told that the hotel was full and we were to be transferred to another. We had spent the last hour dragging our suitcases through the Paris metro system and then walking two blocks to the hotel so we were in no mood to hear this excuse. We finally got a room and believe it was right over the kitchen because it was so warm. Also we found out that the hotel was full of American teenagers on their spring break tour of Europe.

On another trip to Paris, my room was over a bar. And of course it wasn't air conditioned so I had to keep the window open, letting in noise and mosquitoes. And staying in a room facing an alley in London during a heat wave wasn't too pleasant, either. Fortunately, the room did provide a fan.

Connecting doors and thin walls bother me. No, I don't want to hear the baby crying or the toddler whining in the next room. And I don't want to know the personal life of the couple whose bed is head to head with ours. I'm not interested in hearing someone else's television going at midnight. And why would someone be taking a two-hour bath at 2:00 a.m.?

Please make sure the rooms are visited periodically by an exterminator so ants will not feast on a guest's leftover goodies during the night. Once we even had ants get into our cat's food. I know that flies will get into the rooms when you hold open the door to bring in your suitcases, but ants and roaches don't need to come in as well.

I like hotels that will check you in early, even if the check-in time isn't until 3:00 and you have just arrived from an all-nighter over the Atlantic. And I like rooms where the Internet service is easy to connect to, the plumbing doesn't drip, and the air conditioning keeps the room at the right temperature. I don't like hotels with running toilets, spotty Internet service, and inadequate lighting. And please put in more than one very slow elevator that is large enough for a guest and his or her luggage.

I also like hotels with cheap internet pricing that don't charge your credit card until 6:00 p.m. on the day of arrival. High on my list are hotels that give you a free breakfast with enough food to call it a breakfast, and that have enough food for the guests who decide to sleep late even if the early-leaving tour group members eat more than their share. And a special hats off to the hotels who monitor the batteries in their smoke detectors.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The "Friendly" Skies

Because of all the traveling that we have done, we have spent a lot of time in airports and airplanes. The longest flight we took was from Los Angeles, California to Sydney, Australia - 14 hours nonstop. You eat, you watch a movie, you sleep, you wake up, and you discover that you still have at least 8 or 9 hours to go to your destination.

Flying used to be a pleasant adventure. Now flying is an adventure, but usually not at all pleasant. The first hurdle takes place when you get to the airport. After waiting in line to check in and having your suitcase weighed, you have to take your suitcase back and around to a security device that makes sure it is safe for travel. Then comes security - showing your ticket and ID and hoping that everything you packed in your carry-on meets TSA guidelines. I don't like taking off my shoes and walking through security in sock feet so I usually wear sandals and go through barefoot - at least I can go in the restroom and wash my feet before boarding the plane.

There are several things that bother me after I get on the plane, especially on long flights. One is when people don't stay in their seats and clog the aisles talking to people seated near me. I don't appreciate having someone's rear in my face while they engage in social chitchat. Another is children running up and down the aisles. What if there is turbulence? And pets on planes? On one trip, the dog belonging to the people seated behind us whined loudly when put in his cage. It seemed that his tranqulizer did the opposite of what it was supposed to. The flight attendant finally told the owner that the rest of us had a right to get some sleep and to bring the dog to the galley. I think the dog spent the rest of the flight there. And we must not forget the crying babies, the loud children, and of course, the slow restroom lines.

Question: Why should passengers sit for hours with the leftovers of their meal in front of them? It seems to take forever for some flight attendants to come back and pick up the trays. They serve dinner and drinks, then coffee, then coffee again, etc. before coming back to pick up remains.

My real pet peeve on a plane is when the flight attendant asks everyone to pull down the window shades so people can see the movie. What if I am not interested in the movie and want to look out the window?

And don't forget the end of the trip. Why is it that people who are in a hurry to board a plane, don't have connections, and who want the seats in the front are the slowest when it comes to getting off?

And in the airport again? Why do they have 25 stations for customs officials and only 5 are staffed? Hopefully all of your luggage arrived with you and that getting ground transportation isn't too much of a hassle. We've checked in at car rental counters and then had to wait over an hour to get our car, which was reserved months in advance.

Now that you've cleared the hurdles of getting there, have a great stay at your destination.

Saturday, November 8, 2008


When we first started traveling, we would go into souvenir shops and buy souvenirs to take back home. Then we realized that when we got home, most of the souvenirs would end up in a drawer or closet and we would never look at them again. We started rethinking our souvenir strategy and decided to buy only those items which we would use or which we would be proud to display in our home. We also try to buy only those souvenirs which are made in or are unique to that country.

When we started cruising, we noticed the plethora of jewelry that is available in any port wherever you stop in the Caribbean, Alaska, or Mexican Riviera. Sometimes you even get great deals on your jewelry. We also noticed that cruise companies have favorite merchants that they want their passengers to use. I enjoyed buying Star of David pendants in Israel because that meant a lot to me. I had a cartouche with my name in hieroglyphics shipped to me from the ship's jewelry shop. This was because I was able to get better quality and know what I was getting instead of going to one of the ship's choice of souvenir stores. At least jewelry doesn't take up a lot of space in a carry-on bag or purse and doesn't add weight to your luggage. My students tell me that I like to wear my souvenirs when they see me with jewelry that I bought during my travels.

The natives of any country that you visit make it very convenient for you to purchase their product. At many ports, they have markets set up or are on the dock showing you their items. Sometimes they get downright pushy, as in Egypt, shoving postcards in your face. After a long day in Cairo, it was all we could do to walk from the bus to the ship because of the merchants blocking our path trying to sell us merchandise. It was late, we were hungry, and shopping was the last thing we wanted to do. We waited until the next port where the sellers were not as pushy.

You have to be careful when buying souvenirs. Of course in China, you want items made in China. I have a beautiful silk comforter and robe that I treasure. But you still don't want to buy cheap, poorly-made items. In other countries, you don't want to buy anything made in China; you want to purchase items made in that country. By the way, I had to buy another piece of luggage to get the comforter home. Fortunately they weren't charging for a second suitcase at that time.

Of course souvenir merchants know how gullible their customers are and that's why they are in business. I was glad to see a souvenir shop selling sweat shirts in Queenstown, New Zealand. I thought it was summer there and it was cold that far south. I still wear that shirt 10 years later. In Australia on that same trip, I bought so many animal puppets that I had a "borrow" a suitcase from a friend who was throwing one away.

The merchants in almost all countries love taking American money or credit cards for their merchandise. The only exception was Croatia, who wouldn't take either dollars or Euros. Just be sure to notify your bank that you will be traveling abroad. We ran into trouble in Turkey and had to go to the ship to call our bank to let them know that our transactions were OK.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Visiting Relatives

Bill and I usually don't plan our trips around visiting relatives, but meeting relatives on my mother's side in France was a highlight of our French trip. Previously, I had gone to Paris by myself (a feat of bravery) to visit a then 90-year-old cousin of my mother's who has compiled a very thorough and accurate family history. I wanted to meet with him while his health was still good and he was still able to remember things about the family. A year later my husband and I visited France again and were able to visit my grandmother's birthplace, Duppigheim, a small village outside of Strasbourg. It was very exciting to see where my grandmother grew up and to visit the Jewish cemetery, where our cousin was thrilled that the grave markers had not been destroyed by the Germans. We then took a train to Paris where Bill was able to meet our family historian.

We have also visited relatives in Brussels, Belgium, who are very delightful. During our visit, we were able to see another couple from Bordeaux, France, who had previously visited us in the United States. They were surprised when we said that there were no guards at our Jewish temples and synagogues in our country.

In my great-grandmother's family, five of the nine children came to this country and four stayed in France. The relatives that we met on our trip are descendants of those who stayed. Over 50 were killed during the Holacaust and several hid in the mountains until it was safe to return. One interesting story is that of the historian's niece, who is my generation. Her father and mother were warned that the Nazis were in the village where they fled, asking about Jewish people there. They put their son in a Catholic convent and left the daughter, who was an infant and very sick at the time, with a woman in another village, and disappeared until it was safe for them to return. Maurice, the historian, is still alive because he spent all of World War II in a German prison.

My father's family is from Lithuania and I would love to visit there one day. Many of his relatives were also affected by the Holacaust.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Ancient Ruins

You cannot travel around the Mediterranean without seeing ruins of the ancient civilizations that once called this area their home. People in Greece, Turkey, Egypt, and Italy are very proud of their ruins that let others know about how ancient their history really is. We in the United States have an extremely brief history compared to the people in that part of the world. Some civilizations, such as the ancient Egyptian civilization, is even mentioned in the Old Testament!

In Greece, the Acropolis, which houses the Parthenon, and the Temple of Zeus teaches us how advanced these people were. Today, the Greeks are so proud of their history that they are spending a lot of money trying to reinforce these old ruins so they won't crumble into dust. The ruins of Ephesus tell us that people even around the time of Christ had very advanced medical care, shopping, entertainment, and knowledge. Egypt is very proud of the Roman ruins that they have excavated; in fact, they found an old ampitheatre when they were getting ready to build the foundation of a new building, so they abandoned the new structure and excavated the entire ampitheatre, and made it a place for viewing. Athens stopped building an air vent for a subway when builders found ruins and now they have the ruins on display.

Americans do not seem to be as proud of their historical buildings. For example, the Birmingham train depot, a magnificent structure, was torn down to make room for an expressway. The Birmingham News building was torn down for a parking lot. What will Americans have to show future generations about their ancient history?

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Zapped by Electricity

Electricity in other countries is not like electricity in the United States. The currents are 220 volts (the same as a clothes dryer or electric stove in the U.S.) and the plugs may be small round holes, large round holes, or slits slanted toward each other. The plugs in England are huge, just like your dryer plug at home. The only appliance that I have had any luck with overseas is the battery charger to my Sony digital camera, which works on both 110 and 220 volts. However, I did have to have the correct plug to fit into the wall. All of this makes me think twice before taking anything electrical overseas.

Laptops are a no-no. I have taken mine on a plane to places in the United States and to Honduras on a mission trip, but they can be a pain in the neck. You have to take it out of its bag going through security and you can't use it for internet in most airports without paying for it. Cities overseas have numerous internet cafes which allow you to check your messages for a very cheap price. Yes, some of the keyboards very from ours, but there is usually a helpful assistant in the internet cafe who can help you. Some hotels have computers where you can check internet free or for a very low price. Cruise ships have internet cafes and, although they are not cheap, they are very convenient and you can buy a package that gives you a certain number of minutes. Don't take a chance ruining your laptop. Even electronics store personnel don't always know the correct plug/adapter combination to use overseas.

I have a new hair dryer that works on both voltages if I can get the screw to turn from 110 to 220. However, most hotels overseas have hairdryers, even if they don't put out the heat that mine does at home. I guess I'll just go around with frizzy hair since the wind will get it anyway. Cruise ships don't really want you to use powerful hair dryers since they tax the electrical capacity that the ship has to generate. I almost burned up a hair dryer in Australia trying to use it with the converter.

For a while, I had to use a nebulizer. I couldn't use it for two days in Beijing since I didn't have the converter or plug for it and couldn't wait on the last day to get to the ship so I could plug it up. Beijing is very polluted which played havoc with my asthma.

So it is better to leave your converter at home and use the appliances provided by hotels and computers that are manufactured for the foreign currents. After all, you will probably never see the people you meet again so don't worry about your hair. And all of this electrical stuff does take up room and add weight to your suitcase.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Tour Guides

You come into contact with numerous tour guides when you travel as much as we do. Even if you are traveling independently instead of with an organized tour from start to finish, taking a local tour is the best way to see some of the sites unless you want to rent a car and drive there yourself (and I don't recommend renting a car because the traffic is horrendous in some of the countries we have visited). I would rather put my trust in someone who knows the area and is familiar with the streets and traffic patterns.

Tour guides come in many shapes and sizes and with different personalities. One of my favorites was a young Chinese man in Dalian, China, just starting out in the tourism business. He had a delightful personality and everyone loved him. He gave me his email address and I am still corresponding with him; he calls me his American mama. The tour guide in Beijing, China, had retired from the Chinese tourist association but still guided tours when he was needed. He was very knowledgeable about Chinese history and customs, and was very good at keeping us away from beggars and pickpockets during a crowded tourist season. The tour guide that took us to Nazareth and Galilee was a Jewish man, but whose knowledge of Jesus and his ministry was fantastic. The guide that we had in Aruba was great and even sympathized with us when we told her we were from Birmingham, the same area where Natalee Holloway was from.

Some tour guides can be very annoying. For example, the one we had in Taiwan had a habit of repeating the last sentence that he said. After a few hours, we were tired of this. The tour guide that took us to Stonehenge filled in the time when he was not giving us facts with trivia, when all we wanted to do was rest or sleep. He also had a habit of rolling his r's to show off to make us think he was a typical upper-crust Englishman. The guide in Split, Croatia, spoke in a monotone that sounded like a child in school memorizing a piece of poetry. She also used "uh" in about every other sentence and had no interaction with the people on her tour. The Russian tour guide was very cold and would not let us stop to use the restroom in the airport - her answer was "use the one on the plane." You can imagine the poor flight attendants trying to work around the line in the aisle.

I have some advice for tour guides. You are, in fact, a teacher and you are teaching visitors about the country that you are so very proud of. Be aware that you have a captive audience on a bus full of people who are usually jet lagged, have had too much to eat, or who have not slept well in strange beds. Let them know that they are welcome and give them a reason to want to hear what you have to say. After all, your tips reflect on how well you pleased your passengers.

When Are We Going to Stop? I Need to .....

No, this is not something inappropriate, but using the restroom in other countries can be a great adventure. One of the most favorite pictures of the students in my China video is a picture of the "squatty potty" or toilet on the floor. I explain to them that China has so many people that it is easier to clean the floor toilets by mopping rather than having to clean our familiar Western toilets individually. At least the ones that we encountered in China, Japan, and other Far Eastern countries flushed like ours, only you had to squat (both men and women) rather than sit.

In Moscow, we found the restroom (called "toilet" in Europe and Australia) down in the basement of Gum Department Store, which is now a large mall filled with high-end stores that ordinary Russians cannot begin to afford. We knew that there would be a "babushka", or grandmother-like lady wanting to take money for the privilege and we had one-dollar bills to give her. However, this lady chewed us out in Russian for even thinking of giving her foreign money and tried to tell us where the money changing booth was and of course we couldn't understand a word she said. Knowing we were running out of time since we had to get on our bus, we went and found our guide. She gave us the correct amount in very small change saying that the ladies did not like to give out change. We got chewed out again becuse we had such small change, but she did allow us to go in. When we got in, we discovered that the "toilet" was a hole in the floor, with two metal strips for our feet. Of course, there was no way to flush it and everything ran down into a trench. No paper either, so we got out our handy Kleenex.

In Europe, you always pay for the privilege in a public restroom and a man might encounter a cleaning lady or lady taking up money. In Egypt, you are given one square of toilet paper as you go into the fairly clean restroom and you have to pay as you leave. In Dalian, China, I was trying to help my friend who uses crutches (fortunately this was an American fixture) open a stuck door and the entire door came off the hinges! I have taken a lot of teasing for this. At the original Olympic stadium in Athens, the restrooms were marble!

In some countries, the plumbing is so primitive that you are asked to throw your used paper into a trash can next to the toilet. Most of the time, I forgot since I was in the habit of throwing it in the toilet at home. How would you like to clean these bathrooms?

The one complaint I have about restrooms in all countries is that why do tour companies plan their stops at places with the least number of ladies' toilets and the maximum number of buses and tourists. I hate spending all of my stop waiting in line to use the facilities.

A Shouting Match in Shanghai

One of the stops on our modern Shanghai tour was riding the maglev train, a train which runs 268 miles per hour. Our tour guide told us that we would ride from a station in the city to the airport, get out long enough to take pictures, and get back on the train for the ride back. It was very interesting to see how much faster we were going than the cars on the adjacent highway while riding the train.

When we got to the airport and got off the train, our group was met by a lady who works for the airport station. She told the guide that we could not just get back on the train but would have to go to the entrance, go through the turnstile, and then board. The guide and the station lady got into an extremely loud shouting match in Chinese and eventually a policeman had to come and separate them. We were able to get back on the train without going back to the entrance.

After we got on the bus, the guide explained to us that this happened all the time and she couldn't understand why there were problems getting back on the train. We had round-trip tickets, purchased with the tour, and she always showed the station personnel those documents. She said the tour didn't allow time for going all the way to the entrance and back up because we would surely miss that train and have to wait for another.

A Taxi Experience in Beijing

As I mentioned earlier, I collect Hard Rock Cafe bears. So while in Beijing, I wanted to go to the Hard Rock Cafe to get a bear. One of the men on our pre-cruise group in Beijing collects Hard Rock pins so he, my husband, and I decided to take a taxi to the Hard Rock Cafe, purchase our collectibles, and eat there since we knew the food was familiar. The concierge at the hotel gave us a card with the name and the address of the hotel written in Chinese so we wouldn't have any problems getting a taxi back.

We had no problem at all getting to the Hard Rock Cafe where our friend paid the taxi fare. We noted now much it was. When we got ready to go back to the hotel, we got into a taxi that was waiting in front of the cafe and our friend showed him the card given to us by the hotel. My husband and I noticed that the way back didn't look like the way to the cafe and it seemed as if we were going a long way out of the way. When the taxi driver stopped at a strange apartment-looking building that looked nothing like our hotel, we showed him the card again and he reluctantly took us a very long distance back to the correct hotel. The fare was considerably more than the fair going to the restaurant.

As we got out of the taxi, the doorman, a large man with a turban on his head, went to the taxi driver and asked him where we had come from. We explained to him that the driver had taken us to the wrong hotel and then way out of the way. The doorman and the taxi driver got into a very loud shouting match and the result was that we were refunded some of our money. Apparently, the doorman knew of this taxi driver and this is why the taxi driver didn't want to go to our hotel. I'm sure the driver was reported to his company by the doorman, who thankfully looked out for his guests. Anyway, I did get the panda Hard Rock Cafe bear, which sits in a place of honor in my computer room.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Eating While Traveling

Eating while traveling to other countries can be a confusing experience. There are several parts of the world where you don't feel comfortable eating the native foods and others where it is an enjoyable experience. One important fact to remember is that in most countries, don't drink the water from the tap unless you are told that it is safe to do so. Instead, buy bottled water and have plenty of it on hand.

It depends on what country we visit whether or not we eat the food. In China, when we went on our day tours, we never knew what we would be served. We had tables for 8 people with a turntable in the middle. At each place setting was a saucer-size plate, a soup bowl with weird shaped spoon, a glass, a fork, and a set of chopsticks. The servers would bring the food out and put it on the turntable. Many times we did not know what it was but we learned that Chinese food in China is not like Chinese food in the United States. We could not even recognize some of the food. We would try to take a sample of each food, but I was glad that white rice and watermelon were served at the meals because I knew what they were. At one stop we were served chicken feet, which nobody ate. I was told later by a Vietnamese person at home that chicken feet are a delicacy in China and we were being honored.

In Venice, we had delicious lasagna in one of the restaurants there. In Egypt and Israel, the food that we ate on our tours were just like American food with meats and vegetables. In Russia, we had Chicken Kiev and some of the people were afraid to eat the salad because they didn't know if the vegetables had been washed with fresh water. In Honduras, we ate only the food at the hotel and snacked during the day. In Australia, we were introduced to "dim sum", food with a dumpling coating and we also tried squid and kangaroo meat. In New Zealand, we had a traditional English Christmas dinner at a farmhouse with the three meats (one was turkey but no dressing) and all of the other English trimmings, including Christmas cake (which we call fruitcake).

Many sandwiches in Europe are served with a fried egg on top. Raw beef is listed on a menu at nice restaurants in France. At the McDonald's in Venice, we were surprised to see that pigeons were encouraged to come into the restaurant to eat food that had fallen on the floor; however, it was unnerving to be eating and have pigeons flying around your head. Yuk!!!! If someone closed the door, another person would open it and let the birds in. The gelato in Venice, however, was delicious.

These are just some of the ethnic experiences that I have had. However, I would rather stick to the familiar, since I don't want to spoil a once-in-a-lifetime experience by getting sick.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Hard Rock Cafe Bears

I am a collector of Hard Rock Cafe bears. Right now I have around 30 of them with the latest being from Gatlinburg, Tennessee, where we visited on our tour of fall leaves. Most of them are the standard Herrington bears but depending upon the country, there are different types. In Beijing, China, the bear is a stuffed panda bear and in Sydney, Australia, the bear is a koala bear. I have bears from places as Reykjavik, Iceland; Puerto Vallarta, Mexico; Niagara Falls, Amsterdam, Edinburgh, and Stockholm. They are displayed all around my computer room and I am running quickly running out of space to display them.

Whenever we are in a place with a Hard Rock Cafe and are able to get to it, we go purchase a bear. In Stockholm, we walked many blocks to get to the Hard Rock Cafe. In Athens, we were disappointed that they didn't have the large bear for sale, so we had to get a smaller keyring bear. In Destin, we visited the smallest Hard Rock Cafe in the world to get that bear. In Reykjavik, we found the Hard Rock Cafe by accident when we went into a mall there. In Beijing, we went by taxi with another fellow traveler who collects Hard Rock pins and were taken way out of our way by our taxi driver on the return trip. The concierge at our hotel recognized the driver and made him refund some of our fare because it was considerably more than the price we paid to go to the cafe.

Fortunately the bears take being squashed in a suitcase quite well.

We don't always eat at the Hard Rock Cafes when we go to buy bears but I like collecting them because they do show the places we have been. I plan to buy bears whenever I can on our future trips wherever I can find a Hard Rock Cafe.