Tagged: Vacation

7/1/2016 Bihor, Romania (Day#10)

Day 10. It was our last day on the farm with Alex’s family. We spent the night at Alex’s cousins house and Alex was going to drive us back to the little town of Stei. We made our last visit to the farm and said our goodbyes to Alex’s Aunt and Uncle. It was emotional and I did cry a little. Even though I had only spent a few days with these people, they were the most giving, kind people I have ever met. We arrived in Stei around the early afternoon and we said our sad goodbyes to Alex. He too cried a little as Alex and him were very close growing up. So it was sad. We promised to visit more often (when we could) and always welcomed them into our home (whenever they wanted to visit).

Alex drove away down the half-paved road and we went back inside Uncle Traian’s house. Who would’ve thought but he already had a bunch of food cooking…

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…and I was excited. The meat is fresh. Like I’ve stated many times before, the meat is fresh. It comes straight from the animal to our plates. There is no heavy processing, there are no chemicals, no MSG’s, hormones, nothing. Just meat. And it tastes amazing. It’s like nothing you’ll ever experience in America. I envisioned even the best restaurants I’ve ever eaten at and tried to compare but there is no comparison. This food is pure. After eating very well for 10 days I really could feel my body adjusting and I felt really good. I felt like I had a lot of energy and I wasn’t getting those 2pm mid-day crashes and wanted to take a nap. It just wasn’t happening.

We feasted to say the least. We ate so good, and left overs are turned into another meal for the next day. And it all still tasted so fresh. It was awesome.

Stei is a wonderful, tight-knit community, and it was so fun to stay there. There’s a main route through the town so all throughout the day there are lots of big trucks barreling through, and the noise can get quite bothersome. But after a while you get used to it. The house we stayed in was old and full of culture. It was fun to just hangout outside, drink coffee and eat good food. I’ll miss this place, for sure.

Tomorrow we would be heading to Oradea to get on the train to head back to Bucharest. It was scheduled to be a 12 hour train ride and we decided to ride the train at night so we could sleep during travel and not lose a day just riding a train. I think the day train would’ve taken closer to 18 hours because of all the stops it would make. I’ve never been on a European cross-country train before so this would be an adventure in itself. Alex told me that we have to be extra cautious on the trains at night because some times thieves and gypsies will board the train and pay off the train guards and try to steal people’s stuff. Alex and I weren’t easy targets, though. So all this was just precautions I was prepared to take, anyway.

Tomorrow would be our final day in Stei, so we got to bed early so we could enjoy our last few hours during sunrise the next day and head to the train station. What an amazing trip it’s been so far.

 

 

6/28/2015 Grand Cayman Islands (Day #6)

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I took this picture as we headed to the hotel lobby to get our cab and head to the airport. This is 4:30am and the sun was just starting to come up. It was absolutely gorgeous.

I don’t normally blog about a “travel day” because typically nothing very eventful happens while sitting in the airport for hours on end waiting on flights. Since we had such a miserable flight coming to the Grand Cayman Islands, I thought I’d share some more nightmare-ish flight adventures.

As you know, (if you’ve been reading since day one) Alaskan Airline left our luggage in Seattle on our way over to Grand Cayman. Oops. No big deal, right? Except for the fact that we needed clothing because after traveling for a day and a half we weren’t exactly feeling very fresh anymore. So on our first day on the island, we went out and spent $300 dollars on some swim stuff so we could at least enjoy the pool while we waited on our luggage. Our flight itinerary was basically this: Seattle to St. Louis, St. Louis to Miami and Miami to Grand Cayman. Every flight after arriving to St. Louis was delayed for one reason or another. It wouldn’t be such a big deal except that one delayed flight screws up the entire order of things.

American Airlines was our main flight provider, and although they were extremely helpful in helping us get our luggage, they really didn’t offer us much more than an apology over Twitter. And that seems to be the norm on their Twitter account. Endless apologies for things that have happened to other travelers.

Soooooo fast-forward to our travel day back to Seattle. Our flight from Grand Cayman to Miami was seamless. When we got to Miami, our flight was supposed to leave at 2pm. That didn’t happen. About five minutes before boarding at our gate, they changed our gate number and we had to go to our new gate which was literally on the other side of the airport. When we got there, the American Airlines guy kept saying something about interference on the field or something, we couldn’t understand what he was saying. We didn’t board our flight until around 3pm. Then we sat on the tarmac for ten minutes before finally leaving for Dallas/Fort Worth. We knew when we got to Dallas/Fort Worth airport, we’d have about ten minutes to get to our gate. Luckily, we didn’t have far to go when we arrived. Unfortunately, our seats were literally at the back of the plane.

We arrived closer to 5pm local time and I thought to myself that were still in good shape to get to our gate. I also thought that American Airlines would communicate to any connecting flights that there was a half hour delay and to hold any planes for arriving passengers. Apparently, they don’t do that anymore. We hustled to our gate with moments to spare. 5:05 PM to be exact. The plane was departing at 5:15pm. I figured since every other flight we’ve been on from American Airlines has been late, I assumed this one would be too. I expected to encounter a long line of people or a nice lady with a smile on her face welcoming us onto our flight. We received the exact opposite. It’s like a storm cloud followed us over to our gate and we got some unhappy, rude woman standing there. I said, “hold on, hold on! We are on this flight!” I attempted to hand my boarding pass to the woman and she instantly stated “No, you were on this flight” like it was our fault that we were late. “Excuse me? What do you mean “we were“?! I replied. “I already gave your seat away…”

Oh, hell no. You did what, American Airlines? You gave my seat away?! Is that what I heard correctly?! Every flight on this trip has been late by 30 minutes or more and I’m late by TWO minutes and you give my seat away?! I was floored. No apology. No sympathy, nothing. One of the rudest person I’ve ever dealt with in my life was standing in front of me and I had to do everything in my power not to literally verbally destroy this woman in the middle of the airport. I was blown away at how cold and uncaring this person could actually be. Flying domestically has become such a travesty. There isn’t any customer service anymore. The airlines (and not just American Air) nickel and dime everyone. They don’t even hand out small bags of peanuts  and most airlines won’t let you have a full can of soda. It’s shocking that stuff is even free anymore.

After getting a new flight (now departing at 6:50pm) we trekked across the airport again only to get to our new gate to get the news that our gate had been moved again. Good grief. Of course, I took my complaints and frustrations out on Twitter and started tweeting about how miserable this experience was with American Airlines. What do you know, they responded, and apologized:

The American Airlines Devil Woman at the desk who kept me on my flight that I paid for, you know, the one that gave my seat away? She wouldn’t even look at me let alone give a sympathetic apology. I had to go fishing for an apology on Twitter. That’s pretty pathetic.

I get that airlines like to run flights at near-full or full capacity to turn more of a profit. Unfortunately, they are sacrificing good customer service. The American Airlines Devil Woman made it seem like it was all our fault for being late. Like, we were nursing a hangover or out boozing it up at a local bar in the airport. No, lady. We weren’t. It was the airline that you work for that made us late. We were early for all of our flights like they say to be. Two hours before your flight you need to be at the airport and blah blah blah. Why, so I can sit at the gate and be redirected two or three times to another gate only to have our flight delayed by some mechanical error or some other issue and have to sit on the tarmac for an hour like my flight back to Seattle from Chicago earlier this month?

Our flight was supposed to depart at 6:50 PM and when we finally got to our gate the flight information read that it was delayed to 7:05 PM. Prefect. Why wouldn’t our flight be delayed. This was American Airlines after all. I wouldn’t expect anything less. We started boarding at 7:05 PM and when our group was called to board the reader board stated that all the overhead bins were now full and people were told they had to start checking their luggage. Great. American Airlines ought to put “it’s a surprise” under the departure time instead of an actual time. It was now 7:39 PM when I actually sat down in my seat on the plane. At approximately 8:01 PM, the flight took off from the runway and we were Seattle bound. Un-freaking-believable.

We arrived at Sea-tac around 10:30 PM and while we were walking passed the baggage claim area, we overheard a conversation between a customer and an American Airline staff member. Something along the lines of “it’s showing your luggage was left in Dallas and was never put on the plane”. Well, that’s no surprise.

I don’t want anything from American Airlines. I surely don’t want a travel voucher or a free flight. What I want is my time back. I want my three hours back. I should have been home at 7 PM instead of 11PM. That’s what I want. I want my time back but American Airlines cant give me back my time. Even if they offered a free flight, I would decline. I wouldn’t give it to a friend or a family member either because I wouldn’t want to put anyone I know through the kind of hell they put me and my girlfriend through. I wouldn’t wish this kind of torture on my worst enemy. The best thing American Airlines can do at this point is to tell Devil Woman to get rid of her Resting Bitch Face and start treating customers like they have some kind of value to the company. To tell someone who’s been traveling all day “you were on this flight” and “I already gave your seat away” because they were two minutes late was a pretty good slap in the face. It was rude and I should have cussed her out. But I didn’t. I’m above all of that kind of nonsense because it doesn’t solve anything.

Sorry, American Airlines, but I’m not sorry. You have offensive and ill-mannered employees. And it’s not just with Devil Woman. I’ve noticed a handful of other employees having attitudes as well. Maybe this company needs to invest in better customer service programs. The customer service industry can be a real pain and it’s not easy but that doesn’t mean your employees need to take it out on their passengers.

It’s no wonder that American Airlines had to file for bankruptcy back in 2011.

6/27/2015 Grand Cayman Islands (Day #5)

Our last full day before we had to head back to the United States. Boo! Leaving this tropical paradise would be so hard but at the same time, it would be bittersweet. After seeing what Georgetown had to offer us yesterday, my girlfriend and I ventured off to see Seven Mile Beach.

Seven Mile Beach is the number one place on the Grand Cayman Island. The water is crystal clear, the sand is so fine and it literally feels like walking on cotton balls. It was the place to be. After arriving to the beach, we instantly regretted not coming out here sooner. But our whole premise behind the trip was to not be rushed and try to cram a bunch of stuff into our day and be exhausted at the end of our vacation. I felt a little rushed when I went to Australia last year and I certainly wanted to just enjoy my stay on the island and not be all wore out when it was time to go home.

The beach was absolutely stunning…

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…and what vacation wouldn’t be complete without a beach selfie:

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The sun felt so good on us. The sand was so pure and soft between our toes and the water was warm and it cooled us down from the hot summer sun. It was everything we wanted it to be and purely amazing to be here. For the next few hours, we sat underneath a grape tree and talked about life. We stared out into the vast Caribbean sea taking in all her beauty. It was so breath-taking. To think we would be leaving soon to go home kind of made me sad but it would be great to get home and share our memories with friends and family.

We splashed around in the sea for a while longer and then decided to head back to the hotel. Our flight was leaving early the next morning and we needed to pack and get good rest. Plus, our hotel was prime real-estate for a beautiful sunset.

Here’s a few more pictures of us having fun in the Caribbean sea:

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If you ever get the chance to visit the Grand Cayman Islands, I highly recommend the Holiday Inn and Resorts. It’s a little out of the way of everything but the hotel offers a courtesy shuttle that runs every hour on the hour from 9am to 5pm and will literally take you to all the places you’ll want to go. If you want to venture out further, you’ll have to take a cab but they are reasonably priced and the cabs are not metered . So you’ll pay a flat rate which is awesome. I’ve been ripped off by so many cab drivers in my travels thus far and quite frankly, it’s really nice to see some kind of control so people can’t get taken advantage of in foreign lands.

From day one the staff has been extremely helpful and polite. Everyone from the house keeping staff to the cab drivers are extremely friendly. People go out of their way to help others here and the Holiday Inn staff made us feel extremely special. The food was amazing wherever we went. It was a little pricey so make sure you bring plenty of money when you visit but it was so worth it. They do have some fast food places like KFC, Wendy’s and Subway, but we weren’t interested in those places so we never stopped in to see if the food quality was any different from the United States.

Aside from Alaskan Airlines leaving our luggage behind in Seattle, (which we got two days later) I would certainly come back. I’d recommend visiting all three islands, though. There’s Grand Cayman (where we stayed) and then just East of this island there is Little Cayman and then Cayman Brac. Eventually, I plan to see all three islands in another visit. Also, there’s Rum Point where you can see sting rays swimming around and a turtle farm about ten miles North of our hotel. We didn’t get to all of those things mainly because we were on “island time” and we just let our day unfold as it did. We were in no rush to do anything except what we wanted. Isn’t that the point of a vacation?

Tomorrow we’d be flying out and that made us sad. But we finished strong and ordered a huge pizza from the Blue Iguana and ate some ice cream afterwards.

6/25/2015 Grand Cayman Islands (Day #3)

Initially, my girlfriend and I, Alexandra, were going to go to Georgetown today. But since we were so badly sunburnt from the day before we decided to stay indoors for the better part of the morning. We finally braved the sun and ended up in Camana Bay.

I don’t know about other hotels within the area, but the Holiday Inn has been exceptionally good to us on this trip. We’ve had complimentary shuttles all week so we haven’t had to take a cab anywhere. When I went to Chicago earlier this month, I used Uber and other taxi services to get to and from Wrigley Field but it was entirely too expensive.

Camana Bay was awesome. We ate at a place called The Upper Crust…

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… and Alexandra ordered the Croque Madame…

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…and I got the Fish n’ Chips:

IMG_0872I know, I know. I’m in the Cayman Islands and ordering typical American dishes at restaurants. Rest assure. When we hit up Georgetown and Seven Mile Beach, we will be eating exquisite seafood once we find a place. The shopping center was really pretty and the few shops that we did go into, the merchandise was extremely expensive. We went into a store called Sand Angels and they had swim suits in their for $80 dollars! Since Alaska Airlines had lost our luggage, we had to buy some swim wear so we could at least enjoy our first day in the Caymans and the store we went to was called Divers Supply. They had a lot of name brand stuff like Oakley and Polo Ralph Lauren, Hurley, etc. We ended up spending $313 dollars on one pair of board shorts, two pair of flip flops  and a bikini for Alexandra. $313! Wow! Good thing the airline is reimbursing me.

We ventured over to a small island that had a bridge connecting to it…

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…and once we got over there, you wouldn’t believe what we saw running in front of us in the sand:

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Yep! Another Iguana!! We think the one we saw here is one of the Blue Iguanas that are protected because they were literally going extinct ten years ago.

We took our pictures on the sandy island and caught our courtesy shuttle back to the hotel:

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On our way back, I noticed how much gas prices were…

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…and we also passed through Georgetown. What an amazing town. We were totally excited for the next day to come to spend all day in Georgetown and while we were stopped, we snapped a bunch of pictures of three giant cruise ships that were docked close by. It was amazing to see these mammoth ships up close but the people on them have got to be the most obnoxious, egotistical humans that have ever walked this earth.

While at our hotel a couple of days ago, a huge group of people passed through while we were at the pool. One guy was chugging beer and smoking cigarettes while in the pool and they left a huge mess which allowed the Ching Ching birds to come in and scavenge all the left over food. It was pretty horrific and I couldn’t even eat my lunch because the birds wouldn’t leave me alone. That group acted so entitled like, “hey look at us, we are on a cruise”. Dumb.

Time to wrap this up and get some rest for tomorrow!

6/24/2015 Grand Cayman Islands (Day #2)

Breakfast in bed…what a luxurious treat:

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When we got to the Cayman Islands yesterday, the airline had lost our luggage. Right before breakfast we received a phone call from the airline stating that our luggage had been left behind in Seattle. What?! How does something like that even happen?! The good news was; our luggage was on the first flight out of Seattle and would be a straight flight to Miami and then, of course, another hour to the Grand Caymans. I was expecting it to arrive some time in the late evening.

After breakfast, we ventured back out to the pool area and out towards the ocean. I walked passed the bushes and this guy decided to show his face…

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…they were literally everywhere! And this was the biggest one we’ve seen so far!

Today was one of those days were we wanted to just sit in the pool or lay by the ocean and we pretty much did that for about eight hours…

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…not only did I lay by the ocean for hours on end, but I took selfies with the local wild life…

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…and took pictures of the local chickens and her baby chicks:

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Later that evening, we ate at the Blue Iguana…

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…and watched the sun set on the pier…

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When we got back to our room, the front desk had left a message on our door letting us know that our bag had made it to the hotel. We were ecstatic and relived at the same time! I rushed down to the front desk, grabbed our bag and returned to our room. What. A. Relief!

We made plans to head out to Camano Bay the following day and experience an adventure in Georgetown. Can’t wait.

 

6/23/2015 Grand Cayman Islands (Day #1)

The day actually started on the 21st with a flight out of Seattle at 6pm. We arrived in St. Louis around midnight to a completely empty airport. Our layover lasted until about 6am when we caught our second flight out to Miami. When we got to Miami, we immediately boarded our third and final plane to the Grand Cayman Islands. When we arrived at the Cayman Island airport, we had literally been awake for 26 hours. So you could imagine how tired, hungry and ready we were to check into our hotel and get some rest.

Our adventure was just starting. We flew under Alaska Air initially and then our last two flights were under American Airlines. I’m guessing because since we had a short layover after getting into St. Louis that could be the reason as to why our luggage never made it all the way through the trip. The staff was extremely sympathetic and helpful and told us that the airline (American Air) would reimburse us for anything we would end up having to purchase because of our lost luggage.

When we were in St. Louis, my girlfriend, Alexandra, had a feeling that maybe we ought to at least check baggage claim to make sure our luggage didn’t accidently get dropped off. I had a similar gut feeling that maybe we should ask someone about our luggage and just to double-check that it wasn’t sitting somewhere in the airport like in Lost and Found or something. We even thought a couple (who were flying with us) were completely selfish for not checking their two large bags when the airline staff asked if anyone would be willing to check their bags since the flight was full and the overhead compartments would be limited. Ha!

The lobby of the hotel was absolutely stunning…

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…and our room was equally amazing:

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We made the best of our situation and took our first stroll around the hotel:

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On our way over from the airport, the cab driver told us all about the Cayman Islands and how they became. The British and the Spaniards battled in this very location in the 1500’s when Christopher Columbus sailed the seas. There was an apparent cease-fire and the Islands were given to the Brits as part of the deal. We also noticed plenty of Iguanas running around. Those were brought over by the Hondurans for a food supply and they just multiplied like rats. There are native Iguanas but the driver told us we won’t see many of those as they stay on the Eastern side of the island and hate people.

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We spent the remainder of the day in the pool and then finally called it a night.

I tweeted about American Airlines losing our luggage and they promptly responded, and I do appreciate that. I’m just a little upset about the entire situation for the fact that this is a six day stay in the Caymans and we literally have no other clothing to change into. The staff member for Alaska Airlines told us our bag would be waiting for us when we got to our destination and we wouldn’t have to get it and re-check it. So not the case. Traveling as become such a wretched endeavor these days…

The cramped leg space, the crying babies, the checked bag fees, the delays and lost luggage issues, along with the airlines literally nickel and diming everyone over movies, wifi, drinks and now meals, it’s amazing anyone ever uses airline companies anymore. But how else are we supposed to get anywhere? Good grief…

Alcatraz Island 2014

The most memorable part of this trip was probably meeting the last known surviving inmate to ever have served time at Alcatraz:

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His name is Bill Baker and we spoke for a few minutes, he signed his book for me and we shook hands. It’s beyond me why I idolized this man so much. But I love history, I love crime documentaries and I’m always intrigued by the human mind as to why people do the things they do. I suppose that’s why I was so interested in meeting him even though I had no idea he would be doing a book signing on The Rock (as it’s informally called). My girlfriend and I, Alexandra decided to visit Alcatraz Island before we headed over to AT&T Park to watch the Giants play baseball. You can read that entry by clicking this link. We were both mesmerized and astonished at the sheer beauty and history that this place had to offer.

The other part of this trip that was truly interesting was the great escape. You may recall a movie with Clint Eastwood called Escape from Alcatraz made in 1979. Well, I saw the jail cell in which the three escapees escaped from first hand. Here’s a picture:

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See the black hole on the back wall? That’s a vent that all three men crawled out of. They used small tools to literally chisel a hole big enough to crawl out of and climb out of the prison through the walls where the plumbing was. Then they crafted rubber floating devices and floated away from the island. No bodies were ever recovered so no one really knows if they made it or not. Some say sharks got them. Others say they died from rip currents or drowned. It was really interesting to see. Here’s a close up of the exact hole that they climbed out of:

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What guts and determination it took to pull something like that off. Another factor in their escape was their ability to make fake heads (which were on display in the gift store) and place them in their beds which in turn bought them extra time to escape. The guards had no idea until they were long gone. Here’s what the bed looked like with a fake head in place:

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And as you can see in the background the green colored vent has been removed off of the wall to show you just what was in place to make it look like the vent had not been tampered with. Of course, now-a-days our prison systems are much more elaborate and have less means available for prison escapes.

The island was massive. By the end of our self-guided tour, we were exhausted. We spent nearly all day trekking around on the three-tier island looking in every nook and cranny that we could find. A lot of the island was off limits due to repair or safety reasons and if I uploaded every picture we took of this massive place, I’d be posting pictures all day long and this blog entry would never end. It was awesome, though and I’m happy I went.

Here’s a few more pictures that we took:

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The picture above is the old guards recreation quarters. This is where the guards have their dance parties, evening parties and everything else. The guards and prison staff, for the most part, lived on the island along with the inmates. During our tour on The Rock we also found out that some big names in crime history served their time here. Like Al Capone and James “Whitey” Bulger. Click this link for a full-list of all the “gangsters” that served some time on Alcatraz.

Here’s a picture of my lovely girlfriend, Alexandra:

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Our final stop after Alcatraz was the infamous Ghirardelli chocolate factory. It wasn’t far from one of the marina’s and after we ate dinner where we had a gorgeous view of Alcatraz…

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…we snapped a couple pictures of the entrance to the shop, went inside to get some chocolate and then headed back to our hotel.

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What an amazing trip. Next up: The Cayman Islands!

Stay tuned, readers!