Ten Tips to Save for a Dream Vacation

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Do you love to travel? I do, and I’ve visited 107 countries so far. I started traveling in 2003, so I average about 7 or 8 countries a year. Some of those trips have been short, one week breaks (such as spring break, as I am a school librarian). Others have been on a Continue reading “Ten Tips to Save for a Dream Vacation”

New York City: 5 Boros Bike Ride

Five Boro Bike Tour Medal, New York City

We came to New York City to ride the 40 Mile 5 Boros Ride, but first we had two days of sightseeing. We started off on Friday afternoon, arriving in the city around 4 pm. We decided to tackle mid-town, heading north. Times Square first, then over to St Patrick’s Cathedral, with a stop at Rockefeller Plaza along the way. I love the small botanic garden right there. Up 5th Avenue looking at the amazing stores there and their very stylish displays- all things I could never afford! (Or maybe I could, if I didn’t spend all my money on travel!). Past Trump Tower, with the NYPD police blocking off the entrance and the two cross streets next to it, and then we found ourselves in Central Park. It was nice to get out of the traffic and walk through the park to see the “Imagine” memorial to John Lennon, and then we crossed back over the park to arrive at the Met, open late on Friday nights. They stayed open till 9 so we were able to take in a few exhibits there. Wow, that’s a lot of art!  After the Met, we meandered slowly back to Times Square to see it at night, full of people and bright advertisements (it costs between $1 million and $4 million to advertise there!). Tired, thirsty, and hungry, we visited Authority Beer for a late dinner and drink, and then took the bus from Port Authority to our hotel in Union City, NJ.

The next day we decided to take the PATH train in. We arrived at the World Financial Center, ready to explore lower Manhattan. We arrived in the middle of the crazy white mall/PATH station called The Oculus, which opened last year to a tune of $4 billion dollars. Yep, that was with a “b”. It supposedly represents a dove in flight. Hmm. Anyway, as we exited, we were at the 9/11 Memorial Center and the three existing World Trade Center buildings (a 4th will be built soon). At the 9/11 Memorial Center, two large pools of water continually drain and refill, surrounded by granite ledges with the names of the victims carved in. White roses populate the ledges in places where birthdays of the victims are commemorated each day.

From the WFC, we headed south to Wall Street to check out the “Charging Bull” statue and the “Fearless Girl”- both very popular statues. From there we continued south to the bike expo, to pick up our packets containing the bibs, bike plates, and helmet covers for our ride. Passing through the Bowery, we stopped and grabbed a bagel with lox. Heading north, we encountered The Strand Bookstore, the Flatiron Building, and finally the New York Public Library. I visited the Rose Reading Room- absolutely beautiful- and also the children’s section, where they have an exhibit featuring A.A. Milne and the actual, real stuffed animals that inspired Winnie the Pooh.

After the library, we had one more stop to make, just before dusk- the Empire State Building. We took the elevator up 86 floors and took in the aerial view of New York. Stunning.

On Sunday we took the ferry from Paulus Hook over to Manhattan and at 8:15 we were starting our 40 mile ride! It was surreal to ride our bikes through the completely empty 6th Avenue, past all the sites we had seen yesterday. Up past Times Square, through Central Park, into Harlem. Then over to the Bronx, back into Manhattan down FDR Drive, and then into Queens, then Brooklyn. Riding up the steady incline of the BQE to approach the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge was the absolute worst part and I kept thinking I would have to dismount any minute and walk it up. But I actually made it to the top, where we stopped to take in the view and shake out our arms and legs. Then we coasted down the last mile onto Staten Island and arrived at the finish. All in all about four hours for us. Afterwards we took the ferry from Staten Island, passing the Statue of Liberty, and then ferried from Manhattan back to Paulus Hook, and drove home, where we warmed up (the cold front came in just as we finished the ride) and ordered a large pizza.

On Sunday we started the drive back home, stopping in Pennsylvania at the Valley Forge Historic Park. They have miles of trails and a car drive, connecting nine points of a tour you can access with your cell phone. Washington’s headquarters, a memorial chapel, examples of the barracks the soldiers created to house themselves for the winter made this encampment the 4th largest city in the colonies in 1777. If you’re into Revolutionary War history, this is a great place to visit.

Next up: a guest update from Chris as he hikes the Camino Santiago in Spain from mid-May to mid-June!

Free flight to Europe? Sign me up!

Deah in front of small plane in Haiti

With vacation time quickly approaching, C and I wanted to nail down our destination so we could start planning our next trip. The first thing we did was check our various accounts and see if some of our “points”, “miles”, and “rewards” were doing some serious accruing.

So many rewards programs to choose from….

And it turned out, they were. We’ve been flying on United Airlines or their partners off and on for several years, and I had over Continue reading “Free flight to Europe? Sign me up!”

Scuba Adventures

Chris and Deah, Diving in Australia

I’ve had friends and fellow travelers ask me about various diving experiences, and as I was recently transferring info into the new PADI app, I was trying to recall the places I have dived around the world. I don’t have super extensive diving experience, but I have been diving in about a dozen places around the globe. For some of these trips we took an underwater camera, but our underwater photography leaves something to be desired, so any suggestions on underwater pics is appreciated. Read on to see if any of these dive locales interest you:

Cote des Arcadin, Haiti

I did my first Open Water dive class here, in 2004. At that time, there was only one dive master in Haiti, he spoke French, and the only textbook available was in Spanish. It made for an interesting course. The hotel at Wahoo Bay was only open on the weekend so I wound up finishing the course while staying on the couch of my instructor- always an adventure to be had in Haiti! The water was clear and warm- no wetsuit needed- and even the parts of the course sometimes taught in a pool were taught in the ocean, in a warm shallow bay area called “the bathtub”. Over the next year or two I returned to the same area to dive a few more times and the water was always amazing.

The Caribbean Sea off of Haiti

Roatan, Bay Islands, Honduras

In 2007 my friend Hunter and I went diving off of the island of Roatan. The Bay Islands are one of the cheapest places in the world to dive, and purchasing a dive package generally comes with a free, albeit somewhat crappy, single or double room. But it’s a party island so most people don’t care too much about the accommodations. We dove with Captain Morgan’s Dive Company, so that pretty much says it all.

Under the sea at Roatan, Bay Islands, Honduras

Sao Tome, west coast of Africa

In December of 2007, Chris and I flew from Angola to visit the island of Sao Tome so that we could take a dive class. Chris was certified from his childhood but had no paperwork, and I figured I could take the class again (maybe in English this time). But on our way to Sao Tome, the plane we were on had a small depressurization incident and I wound up with a terrible ear problem for the better half of the week. I couldn’t hear and had vertigo to boot. Chris wound up diving there and I just swam or snorkeled, and we got to visit the equator, so at least we still had lots of fun.

Chris ready to dive in Sao Tome

Port Sudan, Sudan

Our first year in Sudan, we visited the east coast of the country, which sits on the Red Sea. Port Sudan is a big departure point for people who have traveled overland across Africa to take a boat to Saudi Arabia to go to Mecca. The waters off of Port Sudan are ones that were selected by Jacques Cousteau for his underwater living experiments. In addition, there are two wrecks nearby, one an Italian war supply vessel from 1940 and one a cargo ship carrying Toyota cars that sank in 1977. There is only one dive shop out of Port Sudan, at the Red Sea EcoSafari Diving Adventures.The small city next door, Suakin, is actually constructed out of blocks of coral that were cut from the bottom of the Red Sea to make the the harbor deeper for the larger ships.  Definitely off the beaten path.

Resting up between dives at Port Sudan

Alexandria, Egypt

Chris and I visited the city of Alexandria in May 2010 and went diving in the bay of Alexandria, which was simply amazing. Our dive instructor gave us hand signs for “Greek”, “Roman”, and “Egyptian”, and we were able to identify statues, urns, and columns on the bay floor relating to the three cultures. We saw parts of the famed lighthouse of Alexandria, felled by an earthquake in the 13th century. We also stood on the marble floors of what was perhaps Cleopatra’s palace- certainly a piece of history, even if it was not her actual living space. Egypt has long been talking about opening the world’s first underwater museum here to see the underwater sights in the bay. Very cool.

Alexandria, Egypt Bay: UNESCO photo

Unawatuna, Sri Lanka:

In the spring of 2011, we won two plane tickets at a ball and decided to use them for a spring break trip to Sri Lanka. While we were there we went diving off the southern coast of Sri Lanka at Unawatuna beach. We went diving there and explored a large rock sunken into the ocean floor, and also a ship that wrecked in 1869. Also, I have to say,the beach town of Unawatuna is relaxed and fantastic. Highly recommended.

Unawatuna Beach, Sri Lanka

Galapagos Islands, Ecuador:

It was more than two years before I went diving again, which might have been a little too long in between dives to feel comfortable. While in the Galapagos, we wanted to go diving to see the hammerhead sharks, which are typically fairly deep dives. Unfortunately I got a bit spooked, by maybe a combination of the dozens of sharks swirling around me and also the depth, and didn’t feel comfortable going down for the second dive that day. We did lots of snorkeling around the Galapagos, including in an area with tons of baby seals, which was really fun also.

Hammerhead sharks, Galapagos Islands

Great Barrier Reef, Australia

In October 2014 we started our year-long tour of SE Asia, and we started off in Australia. I decided to take the Advanced Open Water course in order to get more comfortable with diving, as I had not felt too comfortable the last time in the water. We did a four day live-aboard and completed the course and had a great time. The water was amazing, the flora and fauna were excellent, and the atmosphere on the live-aboard was great- fun but we were all there to take a very demanding class, so it wasn’t just one non-stop party. I know the Maori Wrasse in this photo looks terrified, but actually he came and visited our boat every day and loved swimming near all of us, so don’t worry about him.

Great Barrier Reef, Australia

El Nido, Palawan Island, Philippines

Six months later, still traveling around SE Asia, we were up in the Philippines and wanted to brush up on our diving skills again. We went diving in the beautiful water of the Philippines, which were warm (quarter-length suits were fine here) and full of fish.

Chris in the Philippines

Thingvelier National Park, Iceland

Okay, this one is cheating a little bit, because technically we weren’t diving, but anytime I have to shove myself into a wet suit I am going to count it. We went snorkeling at Thingvelier National Park, where you can see the North American and the European continental plates at their closest points- and it is just a couple of degrees above freezing. You have to wear a wet suit and a dry suit and even still your face and hands are numb for the duration. But the water is so pure you can drink it and it really is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Wouldn’t miss this one, for sure.

Silfra fissure

Utila, Bay Islands, Honduras:

This past Christmas I returned to the scene of some of my earliest diving, when Chris and I visited the Bay Islands, ten years after my first visit. We were smarter this time- managed to get a slightly better free room with our dive package PLUS two free tank tops- and although the dive prices have gone up, at $35 a dive, the diving is still cheaper in Honduras than almost anywhere else. I saw my first green moray eels here, and some really huge gliding eagle rays. There are so many choices for diving in Utila and Roatan, so my suggestion is to go with a dive shop that actually pay their reef fees- some of them are quite unscrupulous. Really, it’s worth the extra $4 per dive to treat our oceans right.

Beaches at Utila, Bay Islands, Honduras

If you have questions about which dive shops we used or where we stayed, let me know, and I’ll try to check back through my dive logs and let you know. Happy diving!