Seen from the Road tagged posts

Safari in Etosha National Park and Damaraland, Namibia

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This is part 12 of my series exploring my March 2017 trip to South Africa and Namibia, which started here.

You could easily spend several weeks in Namibia, with a range of terrains, suitable for safari, watersports, adventure sports, and a range of exploration.  I didn’t have a long time, though, as I was really just squeezing in my stay between Cape Town and Johannesburg legs.  I had no real flexibility on dates, so there was only one choice for my excursion, which worked out well – the Etosha Express 3-day tour run by Chameleon Safaris...

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Two Days in Gyeongju, Part 1: KTX and the Hilton Gyeongju

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My original plan was to head South for three days, splitting them between Gyeongju and Busan, with one night in each. Gyeongju is a smaller city, filled with World Heritage sites as the former capital of the Silla Dynasty, about two hours south of Seoul by train. Busan is South Korea’s second city, large and on the southeastern coast, about an hour South of Gyeongju. There’s a Hilton in Gyeongju which looked nice and wasn’t too expensive on points or cash, and a Park Hyatt in Busan that should have been redeemable using my annual free night certificate as a Chase Hyatt Visa cardholder. The free night was supposed to be deposited in my account sometime in September, so I was checking daily, hoping there would be still be award availability. I decided to just give up and spend two nights at the Hilton Gyeongju, as part of my new philosophy that trips aren’t relaxing unless you stay at least two nights in the same hotel.

Since this was a fairly last minute decision, I had already bought a 3-day Korail pass, which allows for unlimited travel on Korail trains for a three day period for 96,000 won (about $83). This would have covered my KTX high-speed train from Seoul to Singyeongju, Singyeongju to Busan, and Busan back to Seoul, where I’d spend one night before flying down to Taipei the next morning. (Had I planned in advance, I could have flown directly from Busan to Taipei and done 2 nights in Gyeongju and 1 in Busan. Whoops.)   The Korail pass is only for foreigners living abroad, and you buy it online, print a voucher, and then exchange the voucher for an actual pass. Then you book tickets using the pass in person.

Seoul Station

Seoul Station

Without the Singyeongju-Busan leg, it only saved me about $1.50 – probably not worth the inconvenience. I left the Four Points at around 10:30, and it took about 15 minutes to walk to the KTX (as opposed to subway) portion of Seoul Station. I went on the ticket line, only to be told I needed to go to the Information Desk first to exchange my printout for the pass. The lines weren’t that bad, though, and I soon had a ticket for the 12:30 KTX to Singyeongju.

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Trip Report: Exploring Seoul

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I ended up having four nights and two and a half days in Seoul, which I think was actually good enough for me. Seoul is an absolutely massive city – probably the biggest I’ve ever been to; the streets are packed and the neighborhoods are sprawling. You could spend a week and not see all of the areas of the city, but at the same time there aren’t that many “must sees.”

First, some general observations. Seoul stood out among cities I’ve been to and that I didn’t really see any poor people. The people I did see were super stylish and put-together, regardless of age – much more than in NY or other big cities.

People in Seoul seem to love three things: coffee, makeup, and food. On the coffee front, there are Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts, Coffee Bean & Tea Leafs, Krispy Kreme, local chains, and independent shops everywhere. Coffee isn’t cheap, and young Koreans seem to love sitting and posing over elaborate drinks with their friends at night. Note, though, that coffee is not a breakfast thing, and it’s hard to find a coffee shop open before 8am. As for makeup, there are cosmetics shops everywhere, open until late at night – as well as 24-hour plastic surgery clinics. Finally, food. I was actually a little disappointed in the food in Seoul. In many areas, there were tons of Korean barbeque restaurants, and lots of Korean fried chicken, and not much else. Other neighborhoods had more traditional Korean food – hotpots and such – which is authentic but didn’t really do it for me. But restaurants are everywhere.

Just like home

Just like home

Coupledom is also very big in Seoul. There are lots of stores that sell “his and hers _____”. The most common is his and hers underwear sets. And you’ll also see a lot of young Korean couples walking around Seoul dressed in matching outfits. How do you say “barf” in Korean.

Despite the sprawl, Seoul is a great city for sightseeing. Attractions such as museums and palace are generally very cheap or free. Also, the subway pretty much goes everywhere. As a warning, though, you will transfer changes at least one on any trip, and transfers can be a huge walk, as each station is massive. (And you will probably get lost.)

And last before specifics, if you think Americans are attached to their cell phones, you haven’t seen anything.   Walking down the street, I was shocked more people weren’t tripping.

My ...

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Exploring Mykonos, the Geranium Hotel, and Scooter Shenanigans

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And then I was in Mykonos and the vacation could truly begin!

There’s a whole range of hotels in Mykonos. There are many beachside resorts on the island, which can go for upwards of a thousand dollars a night. There are also hostels and small inns in Mykonos Town. The resorts are not convenient if you want to spend the evenings taking advantage of Mykonos’s night life. When I went to Mykonos in 2011, I had decided to stay at Geranium, one of two gay hotels about a 15 minute walk up a hill from the town. The other one is Elysium, which is more expensive and more of a party hotel, which hosts a nightly drag show and sunset happy hour. Geranium is a short walk up the hill from Elysium, so it makes for a good alternative.

Poolside at the Geranium

Poolside at the Geranium

Geranium is not a luxury hotel, but the staff is super friendly and, most importantly, the pool is phenomenal. There is a range of rooms, including more apartment-style rooms, and I went with a mid-level room for150 Euros a night, which included all taxes, a welcome drink, and transfers to and from the airport.

It was a super short ride from the airport to the hotel, and I checked into my room on the second floor. The room was basic, but clean, with a double bed, chair, and a small private balcony facing away from the ocean. There was also a shared balcony in front of the room, which had spectacular views of the water – particularly at sunset! And of all the hotels I’ve stayed in, this was one where I spent the least amount of time in the room. If I wasn’t sleeping, I was out and about, or at the pool.

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Exploring Budapest, Day 1: The Danube Bend and Cafe Kor

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On my first full day in Budapest, I was picked up early for my day trip/tour to the Danube Bend. I had initially thought about splitting my time between Budapest and Bratislava, but had decided it would be more relaxing to spend the whole time in Hungary. Since I had been to Budapest before, and thought I would have three whole days, I figured I’d spend one of them doing something outside the city. Since it was winter, there weren’t a ton of tour options, and many were only once or twice a week. I was able to find an interesting tour of the Danube Bend, a particularly picturesque area along the Danube River north of Budapest, snaking its way towards Slovakia.

A driver picked me up at my hotel and drove me to the Intercontinental, which was where the travel agency’s office was, where I met up with the tour guide, an older Hungarian woman, and my traveling companions for the day – a family of three from Guadalajara, Mexico. This ended up being an interesting scenario. They didn’t speak a word of English, and the guide spoke Spanish, so she ended up just saying everything all day twice. Why was this interesting? Because my Spanish was fairly on par with the tour guide’s, so I essentially heard everything twice. I went back and forth a few times over whether I should just tell her to skip the English but ended up saying nothing.

Our ride was in a minibus, something between a van and a bus, and was fairly comfortable. We had a driver in addition to the guide, who maybe spoke 5 words the entire day. From the Intercontinental, we rode over the Chain Bridge into Buda, and then out of the city. I hadn’t been in those districts before, so it was a little interesting and there were some ruins on the way that our guide pointed out.

We drove along the Danube, through a number of small towns. One thing I noticed was just how many outdoor swimming pools there are in Budapest – even in January! You could see the steam rising off them. It makes sense, then, that the Hungarians are an Olympics swimming powerhouse.

Driving upstream

Driving upstream

During the summer, the tour I took makes three stops moving northwest towards the border, and then takes a boat ride down the Danube to return to Budapest. In the winter, alas, it is all by minibus, and the first stop is the farthest north, and then you make your way back down to the City.

The first town we visited, about 90...

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Exploring Tegel Airport, or The Time I was Detained by German Airport Police and Almost Missed My Flight

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In my experience, if I’m going to have problems with my flights or anything on a vacation, it will more likely than not be on the return home. Because why allow the relaxation or positive feelings to even stay with you until you get home. My Berlin trip did not disappoint on this front.

My routing home was from Berlin to JFK on Air Berlin, in business class, connecting on American in JFK to DCA.  I had allowed for a leisurely trip to the airport from the Hyatt, planning to take the 200 bus from Potsdamer Platz to the Zoo Station, and then the express bus from Zoo Station to Tegel. The total trip should have been 35 to 50 minutes depending on wait times.  Of course as I reached the bus stop a few blocks from the Hyatt, I saw that the 200 bus was pulling away.  I didn’t worry much, because I had taken the 200 bus 5 or 6 times over the past several days, and never had waited more than 5 minutes. Something must have been up though, as the display showed the next bus was not for another 20 minutes. I thought about waiting, but then thought I should just take the S-bahn or U-bahn from Potsdamer Platz to Zoo Station, figuring there must be a way to do so. On the way, though, I passed the taxi line outside the Ritz Carlton, and decided that would just be the easiest way to go, especially since I still had 65 Euros in cash on me and I’d read that a taxi to Tegel was about 20 Euros and 15 minutes.

But the taxi hit monstrous traffic, and the driver kept muttering one curse word over and over (the only one I know in German). He ended up making a series of questionably aggressive moves before just making a U-turn and taking us on an alternate back route. He was friendly about it, though, and even with the traffic and reroute I was at the airport in 25 minutes, and the fare was 21.80 Euros.

Berlin-Tegel was supposed to close four years ago, as Berlin was opening a new airport, Brandenburg, alongside the current, smaller airport farther outside the city, Schonefeld. Brandenburg has been plagued with delays, and almost opened in February 2012, but didn’t due to construction problems. Now, there isn’t even an estimated opening date.

That means Tegel remains open...

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My Virgin Virgin Atlantic Flight: LHR Hilton and LHR-IAD in Upper Class

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The Hilton at Heathrow was a bit disappointing for its price point. Even as a Gold member, we had a small, dark room that only had a window facing into the fluorescent atrium of the hotel. The gym was okay for an airport hotel, though. We had lounge access and access to the full breakfast buffet, but I decided to forego it in exchange for extra time at the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse.  Basically, you’re paying for the convenience to Heathrow.

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The nothing-special Hilton London Heathrow

The nothing-special Hilton London Heathrow

My flight was on the early side, at 11:35, but I left the Hilton around 9am so I could enjoy the most of the Clubhouse (although I knew the English breakfast was unlikely the best of their food). It took awhile to get to Terminal 3 from the Hilton, as I had to take the long walk from the Hilton to Terminal 4, and then wait for a Heathrow Connect train over to Terminal 3. The check-in line for Virgin’s Upper Class (business) was quick and efficient, and soon I was in a dedicated security line which was a bit slow. Then it was into the main terminal, and onto the Clubhouse at around 9:45.

Beginning of long walkway from Hilton to T4

Beginning of long walkway from Hilton to T4

Virgin Atlantic Terminal at LHR

Virgin Atlantic Terminal at LHR

There was a bit of a wait to check in to the Clubhouse, as each passenger who was new to the lounge was given a tour by the check-in agent. In addition, it was peak time for the lounge, as lots of flights from the U.S. had arrived in the last few hours, and flights to Asia and the US were leaving in the next few hours. Although it was crowded, the Lounge was beautiful, with a range of seating areas – restaurant tables and more traditional lounge seating – a huge bar, a shoe shine, a game room, and a kids area. But I headed right to the back corner, where the Spa is. Each guest at the Clubhouse is entitled to one free treatment – either a massage or facial, or a haircut from the on-site Bumble and Bumble salon. I got an appointment for fifteen minutes later, so headed back to the dining area to grab some breakfast. The friendly waitress said it would take 12 minutes to get the hot cooked-to-order breakfast, so I grabbed a yogurt and muesli from the “deli” area and had some coffee before hitting the salon.

Pre-breakfast

Pre-breakfa...

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Trip Report: Exploring and Eating Through Lyon

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Where were we? Ah, yes, Lyon.IMG_0682

We spent two nights and nearly three days in Lyon, and it turned out to be one of my favorite cities in Europe. Lyon is the third-largest city in France, with a metro area population of over 2 million, but is often overlooked by tourists in favor of Paris, the Mediterranean, and Bordeaux, or used only as a transit point traveling into the Alps. But with a rich history, a lovely location straddling the Rhone River halfway between Paris and Marseilles, and a short train trip from either, it’s a great city to add to a French vacation. With rail connections and flight connections throughout Europe and North Africa, it’s also a good weekend destination in and of itself.

There are a number of different areas of the city each with their own character...

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Trip Report – Riding the French Rails: Of SNCF and RailEurope

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We spent a total of nine days in France, split between Lyon in the Rhone Valley (central France), Montpellier in the South, and Paris. It was a lot of ground to cover in that time, and we purposely picked cities that had relatively short and cheap transportation connections. (We couldn’t do an open jaw flight into, say, Lyon, and out of Paris on this trip, because Paris was technically a nine day stopover on the return of our award tickets from DC to the Seychelles and back.) In the end we did two intercity rides on SNCF, the French national rail company, and one domestic flight on Air Francet went through France included two train legs – a two hour ride on the TGV from Paris to Lyon, and a shorter one hour leg from Lyon to Montpellier...

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Trip Report: Exploring the Seychelles Part 2: Hiking to Anse Major and a Sainte Anne Marine Park Excursion

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As promised, this is the second of two posts covering our experiences of the Seychelles outside the Hilton Northolme.  To read about eating in the Seychelles and the capital of Victoria, check out this post.

Hiking to Anse Major

I like doing at least one physical activity on my vacations, be it mountain biking in the foothills of the Andes in Mendoza, kayaking in Panama’s Gatun Lake, or hiking through Cinque Terre in Italy.  I knew there were a ton of beautiful hikes throughout Mahe, and somehow convinced my typically hike-averse boyfriend to join me on one. There were a number of options, some which went higher than others and provided wonderful views, but we decided to combine our hike with a beach day, and head to Anse Major, a beautiful beach that can only be accessed via boat or hike.

The directions for finding the trailhead were not particularly helpful – basically drive south from Beau Vallon and follow the road until you can’t go any farther by car. After a few “is this it?” false alarms, we pulled our car into a nook at what seemed to be a huge hotel under construction and began the hike.

Looked like a spot

Looked like a spot

The hike had been labeled as “easy,” but I actually think moderate would have been a better description. Although the path was fairly well-marked, there were a decent number of climbs up and down using small rocks as steps. There was also a lot of uphill and downhill, making neither direction particularly easy. But one thing that was not underrated were the views, which were simply breathtaking the entire time as you stay along the water, going through what seem to be several different climates (jungle, arid, wooded forest). It was a hot day, and we were glad we had our Hilton hats.

Hiking to Anse Major

Hiking to A...

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