Train to Amsterdam

Wow.  As I type this post, I’m taking the train from Paris to Amsterdam.  All I can say is everyone that ever told me that traveling in Europe by train was the best way to go was absolutely right!  After getting your Eurail pass activated, which was a small pain in the butt, all you basically do is show up a half hour prior to departure, show the attendent your ticket, and board the train.  Very easy.  No checked baggage and no hassling with TSA.  There is plenty of room above your seat to put your backpack or suitcase.  The chairs are very comfortable.  The coach is so much more quiet than I ever could have imagined.  Add included lunch (with wine), drinks aplenty and free Wifi and this is a true win.  We are traveling the countryside of Belgium at around 100 mph.  You can see cars on the highway and we are passing them.  Such a wonderful way to travel.

No, No, No…

 The word you never want to hear three times in a row, especially in a foreign language. Well, it happened to us today, and it wasn’t pleasant. So, let me start from the beginning. We deciced yesterday to purchase two city and boat tour passes around Paris. There are about three different carriers, we went with the L’Open Tour by CityVISION. We stumbled on this one by accident. We went out in search of the carrier we found on the web, BigBus, but when we asked for directions we were pointed to a bus stop for L’Open Tour. The driver of the bus spoke fairly good English and gave a quick explanation of the services offered, such as bus, boat, day, night, one-day, two-day, three-day, etc. We went with the one-day bus and boat pass for 41 euro each. 

 

By this time, it was about 1pm. We failed to ask the time the buses stopped running. Come to find out, the bus (day pass) stopped at 5pm and so did the boats. There are four different bus routes, blue, orange, yellow and green. From 1pm to about 5:30pm we were able to complete the blue route, a partial of the green route and no more. We  thought it wouldn’t hurt to ask if we could add the second day pass to our original purchase. Much to our delight, they were understanding and let us add the additional day of bus and boat, by only paying the ticket difference of 4 euro each. We were pleased and went on our way for the evening. Our plan for day two of the bus and boat pass was to begin earlier than the day before. First a boat ride along the river Seine, then on to routes yellow and finish green. 



 
Okay, so now you’re caught up. We woke early, as planned. We started with a quick breakfast of café crème, croissant, and fresh squeezed orange juice. It was our second day eating at this cafe. Then it was on to the river Seine just across from Notre Dame. This is were we chose to start our boat ride, as there are about five other stops on the route that we could have picked for our starting point. This particular stop just so happens to have a L’Open Tour ticket office. We stood in a short line and asked the gentleman there to confirm we could use our tickets at this boat stop. He looked at our tickets for a second with a puzzled look on his face. It was understandable as the tickets we now had in our possession, after our addition of the second day pass, was two tickets that indicated a price paid of 4 euro each and not the 45 euro required for a two-day bus and boat pass. We explained how we had originally purchased the one-day pass just the day before, but decideed to add the second day and that this was the ticket that we were given. He looked at the tickets a bit longer and realized that indeed while only paying 4 eruo the ticket did indicate “EXT 1J” (the J stands for “jour”, which in french means day). He agreed the tickets were good and sent us out to wait for the next boat, now due in about ten minutes. 

During this wait, we saw a couple and asked if they’d take our picture by the Siene with Norte Dame in the background. They agreed happily. They in-turn asked us to return the favor, and we agreed. During this exchanged it was determined that this couple, at least the male, could speak English! However, they were also speaking what sounded like French. We asked where they were from, to which he replied “Luxembourg”. We talked while we waited for the boat. The couple was fluent in three languges, French, German, Luxembourgish, and had studied both English and Spanish in school. We also talked about Paris, futbol (soccer), and of course Albuquerque and Breaking Bad. The female brought up terrorist. I’m not sure how the conversation changed direction, but it did. Her comments to us were how terrorists had put such fear in people and detered travel. We all agree that neither fear nor terrorists would keep us from traveling freely.
During this time, the boat arrived. We were fourth in line of about six couples. The Luxembourg’s behind us, and two others behind them. One-by-one the boat attendent took and accepted tickets. It was now our turn, we handed him our tickets and watched as he displayed the same puzzled face the ticket booth attendent had shown. We begin to point out the “EXT 1J” and date, but he wasn’t having it. He returned our tickets to us and begin to dismiss us while saying “no, no, no”, and he reached out to the couple behind us for their tickets. It was at this time that our newly found friends from Luxembourg came to our aid. We explained to them quickly how we had paid only 4 euro the day before in order to add the second day of bus and boat tours. He understood our case and begin to communicate this in French to the dismissive boat attendent. It was then and only then that he seemed willing to help. He walked over to the booth and spoke to the ticket attendent who confirmed our point and we were allowed to board the boat. 


 
During this boat tour, people exited and people boarded at each stop we made. As I looked around and listented, I could hear many different lanugaues being spoken. It was then that I reflected back on the incident at our boarding and came to a conclusio. When back in the states, I will never look the other way when I come across a foreigner in need. I’m not talking about someone in need of emergecy help, as I’d always help in those instantces. I’m referring to times of communication aid, similar to our experience. I can’t remember a time that I have, but I’ll be certain to never let it happen. I’m sure there could have been a time in which I didn’t feel it was “my business” to intervene and therefore continued to walk along to have him/her fend for his/her self. Never again! I will forever and always put myself in their shoes and do anything I can to make sure that they too can be understood and don’t get left beind. As the nice couple from Luxembourg did for us. 

Paris

Paris is such a beautiful place. Watching Reina’s reaction, although a little toned down due to sleep deprivation, when we first arrived here, is priceless. The small outdoor cafes, the architecture, the history. An amazing place.
Here’s a few random thoughts after the first day or so:
Once we arrived at Orly Airport, our initial plan went south immediately.  We had originally followed Google’s advice and started looking for something called the Ouibus. Never found it and most of the local people hadn’t either. So we had to find out how to get downtown. We found a local tram that took us to the Paris Metro and it was a quick ride into town. Before you travel to any destination, I would recommend download that city’s subway app. Most have them. And I would 100% recommend Maps.me app. You can download local maps and use them offline (no internet connection) to map your location.
After we arrived, we checked into our Airbnb apartment. Here’s a pic of our place:
It is a very nice place but it’s tiny. But we didn’t come on this trip to stay in an apartment. Haha. The price is great for Central Paris) and location cannot be beat.
A few random observations.  Competition is fierce for your money here in Paris. This is the offseason and every place isn’t over full. So you will see the cafe owners out in front of their place of business actively trying to lure you in to eat. Not what we’re used to in the United States. They were never aggressive. More like, “Look what I have to offer you.”  This was all happening in the Latin Quarter.
People all over the place were also trying to take your money.  Everything from hand held glow in the dark helicopters for the kids, to roses, to wine and beer being carried around near the Eiffel Tower. That’s something I warn everyone about. Don’t be intimidated by sales tactics. A simple “no” or a nod of the head has always worked for us. But it is different.
Overall we had an excellent first day in Paris. Looking forward to today.

Should I stay or should I go?

Haul ass or Chillax?  That’s the eternal question when you are on vacation.  I think it’s important for you to get what you want when you are away from the hustle and bustle of work.  This trip is going to be a mixture of three very different situations.  When we were discussing where we were going and what we were going to do, Reina and I had some decisions to make.  Here’s what we faced:

Where do we go?
What do we do?
How long do we take in each place?

But there’s still the question.  Haul ass or chillax?  Have you ever taken a vacation and then thought, “Damn, I’ve got to get back to work so I can get some rest!”  Ha.  This comes from high expectations of your trip and you want to cram so much into a certain amount of time.  The opposite, total relaxation, may lead to not seeing the very place you want to visit.  Is this just my problem?  Here’s a perfect example.  Our first stop is Paris.  The Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, Notre Dame, the Latin Quarter, Shopping (for Reina), Eating (for me), and the River Seine.  I feel we are going to be humping around the city to see a lot of this.  But we have to sit and enjoy the river and I totally want to sit at a sidewalk cafe and enjoy people watching.

And then there’s knowing that we’ll be on a sixteen night cruise immediately after Europe.  Do we haul ass around Europe and wear ourselves out living it up and seeing everything knowing we’ll be lounging around a ship for a couple of weeks?  That’s probably more the direction we’re headed.  Haha.

I’ve never taken a long vacation like this and I can’t wait to get this thing started.  Thanks for reading this blog.  I  look forward to posting here from the road.  Six days from today we leave.

Money, money, money, money. Money!!!

Money, money, money

I always get the question, “How much cash should I take when I visit ___________?” I always answer, “It depends.”

Some people are comfortable carrying cash while others would rather wait until they get to their destination and withdraw money.  Others aren’t very trusting of using their credit cards overseas or withdrawing money at ATMs.

Here’s what we typically do.  Reina works with the bank to purchase some foreign currency.  Typically we’ll take a few hundred dollars equivalent of cash.  As soon as we get to our destination, we’ll test the ATM to see if it works.  Now that the United States is finally upgrading to the EMV standard, which is that little microchip  looking thing on your credit or debit card (see below), it will be easier to use cards overseas.  We’ve had some pretty significant problems using our cards abroad.  You think everything is working great until you get to the ATM and it asks for your five digit PIN.  Huh?  We don’t have five digit PINs here in the U.S.

Here’s the bottom line for money and traveling.  The time of traveler’s checks has passed.  You need to have a plan for funds be it cash or credit/debit cards or a combination of both.

Travel Apps

Isn’t there an app for that?  Ummmmmmmm.  Yup.  The evolution of apps is amazing.  Especially for traveling.

What kind of apps do you need/want/desire when traveling?

Here’s a short list:

  • Photography
  • Email
  • Communication
  • Social Media
  • Language Translation
  • Financial Management
  • Entertainment
  • Navigation

NOTE:  I’m going to focus on iPad and iPhone since that’s what we’re taking with us.

Overall Travel Apps

Tripomatic is one of the better apps out there.  It’s very simple to use.  You just build your itinerary and based on where your going, the app will inform you of the more common tourist sites.  This is a good place to start.  If you are like us and want to do something off the beaten path, you will still have to either do additional research or ask when you are at your destination.

Tripomatic App

tripomatic2

I like Tripomatic because it’s like a digital guidebook.  It will show you well laid out tours, local weather and places to go.  Also, since you’ll probably be using public transportation a good bit, it includes maps of the local subways, etc.

Trover is a photography app that will show you some amazing images of where you’re going.  I’ve never been to Prague and I want a quick glimpse into what it looks like.  So I open up Trover and type in Prague Czech Republic in the search bar.  Below is what came back:

Trover

Photography
Can you imagine taking a long vacation overseas and not taking a single picture?  I cannot.  Photos are our history.  They remind us of that time when we stood next to the Eiffel Tower.  Or while standing on Copacabana Beach.  That cool train you rode on across Europe.  Or the first time you ate guinea pig in Ecuador.  You want to take some good pics and you want to save them for eternity.  For this trip we are taking a camera and a Connector Kit for the iPad.  After we take the pics, we’re going to back them up to the iPad first, and then to the Cloud.  Our app of choice is Flickr, which offers an easy interface to upload our pics.  And you get 1,000 Gigabytes of free storage for your photos.

Communication
Skype is like the Swiss Army knife of communications products.  You can video or voice call people all over the world for a very minimal price.  We’ve used it extensively overseas and we’ve enjoyed great success.  All you really need is a wifi signal and you can use Skype to call landlines and cell phones here in the United States.  Basically we use our iPad as a cell phone.  The only weird thing is that it somehow connects to a telephone here in the United States and dials from there.  So you need to inform the person that they may get a call from California, which will be you.  If that person doesn’t answer calls from an unknown number, they may miss your call.

Entertainment
Reina dragged me from being a cable subscriber to being a fan of Dish a few years ago.  I’m glad I made the move.  When I purchased Dish, I bought a Sling Media Box.  Basically, the Sling Box takes the signal from your DVR and sends it out into the cloud.  What that means to you is you can watch your DVR as if you were sitting in your living room.  We used this extensively in Ecuador.  We streamed movies, news, sports and music to our iPad.

Navigation
MAPS.ME is a great app because you can use it offline.  The give and take of that is it takes a huge amount of space on your device.  I’ve downloaded all of the maps in Europe and South America where we’re traveling and it’s taking up over 5 Gigabytes on the iPad.  It does a great job showing you restaurants, shopping centers, and metro stations.  We have used this extensively and it’s a definite download before you take your trip.

Trying to understand the damned foreigners.

I don’t know about you, but it’s a daily challenge for me to speak my native language.  And now we’re going to be in countries that speak French, Dutch, German, Czech, Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese.  I haven’t been this screwed when it comes to language since I stood in that restaurant in Kuwait City 13 years ago with my hands in my armpits flapping my “wings” trying to order chicken.  I’ve also learned that if you speak really loud and really slow, that doesn’t do a bit of good either.

dim

So what and the hell is a traveler to do?  Number one, most places that host tourists have someone who can speak at least minimal English.  Find that person!!!  My strategy through the years has been to learn the phrase “Do you speak English?” in the language of the country I’m visiting.  Number two, get an app.  And there are good apps for translating languages.  Probably the best app I’ve seen is Google Translate.  You can either say or type in the word or phrase to translate.  It even has an option where you can point your camera at a word and it will translate it for you live.  Check this video out to see that feature in action.  The problem with most of the language apps is that you have to have data connectivity for them to work.  Either Wifi or a foreign data plan.

But what do you do if you don’t have data connectivity?  We are going with an app called Translate Pro.  It is geared to work with wifi or data but has thousands of commonly used phrases pre-translated for you to use in a pinch.

image1

If none of the above works?  Stay calm and use hand gestures or draw something out on paper.  Hahaha.  Let the adventure begin.

By the way.  If you are ever in Belgium and you gotta pee, know that H means men (hombre) and D means women (damas).  Trust me, it could save you some embarrassment.

Hello__in_languages__by_keirakinz

Red River New Mexico

We are road tripping for the weekend and thought I’d try out the blogging thing from the iPad.  I’ve seen many travel blogs simply die on the vine.  It is going to take discipline to post every day or two on this thing.  I’m already finding a couple of limitations on the App (Blogtouch Pro) that I don’t normally encounter on the laptop.  The app interfaces with WordPress and is easy to use.  However, with ease of use comes a downgrade in what you can do.  
So, until I can figure this out, you are going to get words and pics.  Haha.  
Today in Red River was outstanding.  About 20 degrees cooler than Albuquerque.  Lots and lots of Texans here for the three day weekend.  Red River was also celebrating Oktoberfest.  As we walked along the town, you could hear the Oom Pah, Oom Pah of a tuba in the band.  Ha.  
We ate at a steak house called Texas Reds.  The food was okay.  Elijah had filet mignon and that was outstanding.  The fried okra was to die for.  However, the service was lacking.  I’m not sure what you have as a pet peeve, but if the waiter/waitress doesn’t pay attention to your drink levels, that’s it.  haha.  
Overall it was a great day here in Red River.  As the sun went down, the temperature cooled off to the high 40s.  That’s chilly.  
Oh yeah, the Texas Longhorns defeated the Oklahoma Sooners in the Red River Shootout.  My Longhorns have not been that great this year but they got it done today.  Hook em!!!

Riding the rails around Europe

Today I’m going to talk about riding the train around Europe.  It’s so prevalent overseas, which is a total opposite of life here in the United States.

If you are from the United States visiting Europe, then you definitely want to consider taking the train.  Right now the US Dollar is very strong versus the Euro so Europe is an amazing deal.

Which website do I use to purchase a Eurail ticket?
Eurail.com is probably the best site with all the information.  If you are traveling for any length of time AND traveling to multiple countries, I would recommend getting a Eurail Global Pass.  Here’s a screenshot of the prices for two I took on 5 Oct 2015:
Global Pass Prices for 2It seems like a helluva deal for two people to travel First Class on trains for 5 days out of 10 for $884.  And it is.  What they don’t tell you is that there is a limited number of Global Pass passengers on some of the more popular routes.  And it’s a requirement to make reservations on some trains.  On others, it’s optional yet recommended.  And there is an additional charge to book.  It wasn’t much more but it all adds up.  I think we paid in the neighborhood of an additional $150 for our entire trip.

The trains look amazing and we are very excited to travel this way.  Here’s a pic of the train we’ll be taking from Paris to Amsterdam:


I’ve talked to so many of my fellow service members who have traveled all around Europe this way.  They all swear by it.  The Eurail people have gotten smart and have located the ticket shipping centers here in the United States.  So shipping is free to this country.  The deliverables included our global passes, the tickets for the reservations and we even received a free telephone sim card for buying the passes when we did.  We cannot wait.

 

 

Planes, Trains and Automobiles. Ships, shuttle buses and feet too!

 A lot of people misunderstood when I said I was going to “Backpack Europe.”  My bad for not being more clear.  We are using backpacks as suitcases.  We are not in any way hiking around Europe.  Ha.  I’m soon to retire from the United States Air Force.  Roughing it for us is if the batteries go dead on the TV remote.  Or, God forbid, we have to share a hotel room.

The backpack will be carried from the airport to the Airbnb property to the train, etc.  Here’s our itinerary:

Albuquerque to Paris – Plane
Paris to Amsterdam – Train
Amsterdam to Berlin – Train
Berlin to Prague – Train
Prague to Venice – Plane
Venice to Rome – Train
Rome to Barcelona – Plane
Barcelona to Lisbon, Madeira, Rio de Janiero and Sao Paulo – Cruise Ship
Sao Paulo – Rio de Janiero – Unknown at this time (Automobile? Bus? Plane?)
Rio de Janiero to Albuquerque – Plane

Simple right?  I think the adventure of getting from A to B, C, D etc is going to be a lot of the fun.  And this won’t be like a lot of the other vacations since we won’t really be in a big hurry to see everything.  I’ll be done working and will be able to relax and enjoy this.

Hopefully it doesn’t end up like John Candy and Steve Martin with a burning car on the side of the road.  Hahaha.