Category Archives: Experience

Traveling with Parents

National Lampoon's Vacation - Courtesy of NYMag.com

National Lampoon’s Vacation – Courtesy of NYMag.com

I’m convinced that a switch is flipped during adolescence and/or young adulthood that acts like a headlight on an orange traffic cone in the rain, cautioning and repelling any parent or authority figure who approaches.

While I’m not a parent, I can only imagine there’s a little bit of hurt experienced when a young adult, who used to enjoy family vacations, litters the road with traffic cones and detour signs, warnings to their parents to proceed with care or to take another road altogether to avoid bumps and potholes.

Until my 40th birthday, I didn’t think much about traveling with my parents. We had great times when I was younger–weeks in the Outer Banks and day trips to historic places like Jamestown and Williamsburg–but the switch flipped in my 20s and I wanted to see the U.S. and elsewhere on my own or with friends. Back then, parents were no different than the added weight I used to throw in my hatchback to get through snow, ice, and other dangerous road conditions.

It was when I was contemplating a trip to Norway two years ago that I stepped back and thought about asking my parents if they wanted to travel overseas.  Naturally, England (specifically London) came to mind because none of us had ever visited, and there’s a comfort in going somewhere where there aren’t language barriers.

England is also a great primer for individuals who want to dip a toe into overseas travel. It’s rich with history; has a diverse landscape; a comfortable climate; and depending on where you live in the U.S., isn’t too difficult or expensive to get to. Seemed like a perfect segue for them into international travel.

When I broached the subject, my mom was instantly on board.  My dad (like me) asked dozens of logistical questions.  I get it.  The apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree.

With a little persuasion and reassurance, they agreed to go.  I was floored, excited, and a little nervous.

Having now traveled with my parents twice overseas as an adult, I have some tips based on my experience (in no particular order):

#1:  Include them in the planning:  My parents don’t have access to the Internet on a regular basis, so trip planning rests on my shoulders.  I don’t mind; I’m a natural planner, down to the laminated checklist I keep in my suitcase of “things not to forget”.  However, our trip wasn’t all about me.  Since my parents prefer to touch and leaf through books, I sent them a few London guides via Amazon. This made creating a loose itinerary easy because all three of us were able to give input on what to see and do while leaving room for unexpected changes in weather, rest and relaxation days, and unforeseen holidays (e.g., bank holidays).

#2:  Pay attention to physical limitations:  My mom had had surgery months before we left for London. While her doctor had given her a clean bill of health without any restrictions, the plane ride to London was agonizing.  Our initial flight was canceled and we were put on a later flight.  I begged and pleaded with United Airlines to provide her with something that wasn’t a cramped middle seat, which was what she had been assigned with the rebooking.  United came through and she was given a middle seat—in the front row of an aisle in the middle of the plane cut off by lavatories.  She had more than plenty of space to stretch.  Silver linings.

#3:  Speaking of, get space!:  Cities such as London and Paris are very expensive to visit and accommodations are usually cramped.  We decided to stay in the East End of London and rented a two-bedroom apartment with creature comforts. While not expansive by any means, separate rooms helped the three of us decompress and re-collect after a long day of touring.

#4:  Respect differences:  Traveling with anyone involves a lot of negotiating. Traveling with family can add another layer of stress because there’s history. A lot of it. For example, my mom and I wanted to visit the Tate Modern. My dad wanted to visit the Churchill War Rooms. Maps in hand, we parted and no feelings were bruised.

Furthermore, spending can be tight especially if your parents are retired and/or on a fixed income. The same can be true for a son or daughter who is saddled with college debt or other expenses that come with adulthood. Set a daily spending limit that is agreeable with everyone and try to stick to it. Chances are, anxieties will be lessened and everyone can get on with enjoying the trip.  There’s no use fighting about money while traveling.

#5:  Recognize when the road is rough:  There may be times during the trip when nerve-racking, parent-child interactions from decades ago rear their heads. There may be bickering. There may be immature behavior. There may be days ruined as a result.

Get away or recommend doing so.  You may be traveling with one parent or two.  Plan your itinerary and let them plan theirs. Agree on a place to meet later over a meal, beer, or coffee. Mutually share the day’s experiences, sights, and impressions. The breathing space keeps nerves from getting frayed and makes for good conversation.

If you’re able to travel with your parents, I highly recommend it. Parents bring a different perspective and years of personal experience to the table. They see things differently and may challenge your opinions or world viewpoints.

Don’t be afraid to remove the traffic cones and deal with a few bumps in the road during your trip. You may discover a new-found dynamic in your parent-child relationship that had never been there before.

Do you have any suggestions on traveling with parents?  Feel free to leave them in the comments.

Experience: Flying Solo

"The Lonely Planet" - Southwark, London

“The Lonely Planet” – Southwark, London

A year ago today, I was wrapping up a trip to Munich that started and concluded in London.  It was the second trip overseas by myself, or as I like to refer to it:  flying solo.

I have to admit that I’m split 50/50 when it comes to my level of enjoyment when traveling by myself or with other people.  I’ve found there are benefits and drawbacks to both.

A short while ago, I read an article that gave seven keys to traveling alone.  It was a pretty insightful article, although a little too spiritual for my tastes.

Since I like to strike a balance between my practical side and my adventurous side, I decided to add a few more “keys to traveling alone” based on personal experience.

#1 Learn a Few Phrases if Traveling to a Country that Doesn’t Speak Your Language.  

Getting around by yourself can be a little frightening especially if you aren’t with someone who is fluent in the language spoken in the country you are visiting.

It’s important to learn a few phrases before you go even if it’s “please”, “thank you”, or “pardon me, my (insert language here) isn’t too good, can you help me?”.  Don’t be afraid of “toddler-speak”;  it will help you get your point across.

For example, when I visited The Hague in September, I tried my hand at a few Dutch phrases and was met with surprise.  I would apologize for not knowing much of the language, but I was commended for trying.  Ask how to say or pronounce something.  You’ll be surprised at what you’ll start recognizing.

Chances are, you’ll also feel a bit more confident that you’ve attempted something new.

#2 Ask a Local.  

As a solo traveler, you will find yourself alone at a market, restaurant, bar, or somewhere else where people congregate.  Don’t be afraid to ask for tips on fun things to do and see that may be “off the guidebook grid”, so to speak.  Obviously, safety is key and should never be discounted.

I struck up a conversation with someone who lived in The Hague and was introduced to Jenever and the best broodjes anyone could ever experience.  Was I little weirded out eating a cow’s udder?  Sure. However, it was something new to experience and travel is all about experience.

#3 Research and Plan, but Be Flexible.  

I’m notorious for booking a trip to a certain destination months ahead only to tweak my itinerary a little to accommodate my desire to see and do something else.  As a solo traveler, you have the flexibility to do so.

My experience has taught me that you can enter and depart in one country, and experience other destinations in between by train and plane.  Likewise, if you’re in the states, you can usually fly to a certain destination and drive, hop on a train, or take a short flight to see something else not too far away.

For example, my trip this time last year originally involved flying into and out of London with a train ride to Edinburgh, Scotland for a few days.  I scratched the trip to Edinburgh not because I didn’t want to go; rather, I wanted to visit Munich because I had heard so much about it and learned that Salzburg was a short train ride away.  Therefore, I weighed my refundable train cost to Edinburgh versus my flight to Munich and it was about the same.

How do you remain flexible?  Many Websites such as Orbitz and Booking.com have deals that allow for hotel cancellations up to a specific date before your arrival.  You will need to review the restrictions when you book, but if you book a refundable stay, chances are, you’ll be able to make a change if you need to according to the hotel’s policies.  However, it’s important to note that changing flights can be tricky, and many airlines impose a hefty fee to change in addition to the fare difference.  Weigh your options if you want to remain flexible.

Renting an apartment for your stay?  Be sure you speak with the owner and confirm his or her refund guidelines.  I’ve often found that a downpayment for a reservation is not refundable.

#4 Save, Spend Wisely, and Just Take It In.  

You may be traveling to a place where your currency is crap, to put it bluntly.  Furthermore, traveling alone can be costly because you aren’t splitting expenses.  Check out apartment rentals if you have identified a specific place to stay and don’t think you’ll make changes.

Travel is all about experience, right?  Budget for your trip ahead of time, but plan for unexpected expenses.  If you live by yourself, you’re probably already used to doing this.

Chances are, you can go a whole day just seeing and exploring for free and only spend a little money on inexpensive meals and snacks you’ve thrown in your bag.

Do you have positive and negative experiences to share regarding “flying solo”?  Please share in the comments section.

Experience: Shockoe in 24 Hours

Urban Farmhouse Market & Café - Richmond, Va.

Urban Farmhouse Market & Café – Richmond, Va.

I was visiting family near Richmond, Va. area over the past few days for the holidays.  My decision to stay downtown was a strategic one because I desperately needed content for TravelReider, and, in 41 years, I have never stepped foot in the city.

Growing up, Richmond was a passthrough from Washington, D.C. to other points south, mainly the Outer Banks of North Carolina and Florida.  From the backseat window traveling north to south on I-95, all I can remember was moving my eyes from the low-rise Robitussin manufacturing facility on the right, to dilapidated row houses on the left, to VCU’s concrete buildings on the right, then to the stately Main Street Station–its rich, brick beauty brutally robbed by an eerie, futuristic interstate–on the left, and finally, the big cigarette welcoming travelers to Philip Morris on the right.

Blink a few times, smoke up if you’re one to indulge, and continue on.  That was Richmond to me.

It wasn’t until I started reading about the Shockoe neighborhood downtown that I became interested in actually visiting the city.

Shockoe, seated on the James River and bordering the financial district to the southeast, has roots dating back to the 1600s when it was used for trading and commerce. Over the decades, it’s been restored, revitalized, and repurposed.

For someone who doesn’t own a car, it’s also a walker’s dream.

Here are some highlights on where to go and what to do while on foot in Shockoe:

  • Arrive:  Oddly, Richmond’s Staple Mill Road Station, located on the outskirts of town, has more arrivals and departures during the day than its Main Street Station.  To reach downtown by train, you will need to book your ticket to arrive at the Main Street Station. In my experience, however, trains from Washington, D.C. arrive in the morning and depart in the evening the next day.  Perfect.
  • Sleep:  Stay at the Berkeley Hotel on East Cary Street.  It’s about a seven-minute walk from the Main Street Station.  The hotel, built in 1988, looks much older style-wise and complements Shockoe’s architecture.  It’s spotless, elegant, and reasonably priced, even during the holidays.  The daytime front desk manager and concierge, Starlett, is a breath of fresh air and offers visitors efficient and much-appreciated personalized attention.
  • Eat:  You’re going to need some food and caffeine for your urban hike around Shockoe. Check out the Urban Farmhouse Market & Café a block down from the Berkeley Hotel at E. Cary and S. 13th Streets.  The café offers coffee, snacks, and lunch options in a cozy, coffeehouse environment.
  • Visit:  Conjure up your days as a student of literature and indulge your gothic sensibility by visiting the Edgar Allan Poe Museum on E. Main Street past the Main Street Station. The building where it’s housed is the oldest standing building in Richmond.
  • Hike:  Follow E. Main Street to Libby Hill Park and hike the steps to the monument. There, you will have amazing views of the James River and downtown Richmond.

I’m sure there are countless places I’ve omitted, particularly as one ventures out to other neighborhoods.  As a result, I have several reasons to return in the future.

Photos will follow soon in the photo galleries.  In the meantime, check out these links:

The Berkeley Hotel
The Urban Farmhouse & Café
The Edgar Allan Poe Museum

 

 

Experience: Music on Travel

Music shapes and confirms my emotions.  When I travel, I have to associate my experiences with music based on my mood.  It’s that simple.

I traveled abroad three times this year and visited London, Munich, Geneva, Paris, Yvoire (France), and The Hague.  With the advent of Spotify and cloud-based music, I’ve been able to pull up my favorite songs and discover others along the way.

My old-school Nano stays with me when I’m offline and don’t want to use up my data plan. However, when I’m on a train such as when I was going from The Hague to Paris on Thalys, I just want to experience my music.  Sound familiar?

Here are my top five songs from my trips this past year in no particular order:

  • Goldfrapp “Head First”.  The whole album is a throwback.  I’m in my 40s and like high-energy, synth-y music.  Listen while traveling from The Hague to Paris.
  • Class Actress “Keep You”.  Yep, this one has synths and power.  It’s the best song to listen to when exploring in a good mood.  It’s also good for running in unknown territory.
  • Frankie Rose “Into Blue”.  Amazing!  Don’t question it; just go with it.  Also, listen to the whole album.  You’ll be amazed.
  • Marnie “We Are the Sea”.  Have you ever been on Amtrak from DC to NYC?  Listen, absorb, and be glad you’re seated in the Quiet Car.
  • First Aid Kit “Emmylou”.  I had the pleasure of seeing them in DC a year ago.  They are amazing and remind me of my teenage years.

Do you have travel music?  Leave me a message and I’ll post them.

Weekender: Baltimore’s Visionary Art Is a Charmer

@travelreider

From Nancy Josephson’s “Gallery-A-Go-Go Bus”

I haven’t visited the American Visionary Art Museum (AVAM) since the late 90s, shortly after it opened. The only thing I remember was the towering statue of local celebrity Divine that greeted visitors on the first floor.  It now resides outside. The museum’s three floors and basement are packed with stimulating visuals and thought-provoking works from its current exhibitions and permanent collection.

Rebecca Alban Hoffberger, who was doing development work at the Department of Psychiatry at Sinai Hospital in Baltimore, opened AVAM in 1995.  Taken from its mission statement, visionary art “refers to art that is produced by self-taught individuals, usually without formal training”.  This type of art has been connected to the Collection de l’Art Brut in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Throughout my self-guided tour, I noted on more than one occasion pieces of art that were created by individuals who had been institutionalized in mental facilities.  “Horse Dress”, for example, is an intricately crocheted garment created by schizophrenic patient at the Sheppard Pratt Hospital.  The artist is listed as anonymous.

“Recovery” is a sculpture created by another mental patient.  The artist is also anonymous.  The sculpture is slender and was carved from the trunk of an apple tree.  What struck me was the concave chest representing the artist’s battle with tuberculosis.

Is there a connection between Hoffberger’s vision and her work at Sinai Hospital?  I’d like to know. What I do know is that pieces such as these further support the museum’s mission of showcasing art by self-taught individuals who are not bound by the “rules”.

The Federal Hill neighborhood sits adjacent to the AVAM.

The Federal Hill neighborhood sits adjacent to the AVAM.

The American Visionary Art Museum is located on Key Boulevard near Federal Hill and the Inner Harbor.   The museum is not free, but well worth the affordable cost of admission. Be sure to include stops at the Sideshow Shop and Mr. Rain’s Fun House, a café located on the third floor.

Also be sure to check out AVAM’s current exhibitions including Frank Bruno’s apocalyptic A Life Devoted to THE END.

Note:  Photography is not allowed inside of the museum.  However, if you want to check out photos from my trip as well as several taken outside of the museum, visit the photo gallery.

Gritty Paris In Transition

MDear Clementine - Taken in the 10th Arrondissement

Dear Clementine – Taken in the 10th Arrondissement

When I was in Paris in September, I needed to be near the train station to make a quick entry from Charles de Gaulle, a quick exit to The Hague, and a quick re-entry back to Paris so I could get home to DC via Reykjavik, Iceland.  That was a lot of unpacking and repacking.

During my five days in Paris, I experienced the transitions in the 10ème in more ways than one.

Paris has 20 districts known as arrondissements.  Each is assigned a number and may appear with a suffix of -e, -er, or -ème.  Arrondissement is sometimes abbreviated as Arr.

The 10ème has two train stations (Gare du Nord and Gare de l’Est) making it convenient for day trips and for getting to Paris attractions in minutes via the Metro.

At Le Balto - 10ème Arrondissement

At Le Balto – 10ème Arrondissement

This once gritty and overlooked part of Paris has gotten a makeover over the years and is exploding with restaurants, bars, and sites that beg to be noticed.

Want to stay close to everything yet don’t want to spend a lot?  Want an area where cultures from all over interweave?

Consider the 10ème.

Here are the top five things I experienced during my stay:

1.  Walk:  Visit the Canal Saint-Martin.  The waterway connects to the Seine and offers soothing walkways for picnics and people watching.

2.  Eat:  Steps from my hotel was an intimate Italian restaurant called Da Giacomo on the Rue du Château Landon.  Had your fill of croissants and pâté?  Stop by and enjoy the friendly service at this non-hurried restaurant.  They have great pizza that you can take back to your apartment or hotel.

3.  Browse:  Visit Coin Canal for some nostalgia.  The store on Rue de Marseille sells high-quality, streamlined mid-century-to-70s-style furniture.

4.  Gaze:  Stop by Le Balto for an espresso or Jupiler and take advantage of its covered outdoor seating.  Watch the people and traffic as everything collides at the intersections of Rue de Maubeuge, Boulevard de Magenta, Rue de Dunkerque, and Rue Saint-Vincent de Paul.

5.  Get Out:  Use the easy access of Gare du Nord to your advantage.  Hop on a Eurostar train for quick access to Lille, Brussels, and London, to name a few.

The 10ème is no longer the gray and gritty neighborhood of Paris it once was.  It offers a vibrant spirit, sets trends, and gives you a launchpad for easy access to other destinations in Europe.

Interested in snaps from Paris?  Visit the photo gallery.

 

 

Flying with the Aigles

Leysin, Switzerland

Leysin, Switzerland

Aigle, situated in the Vaud Alps and resting on the eastern side of Lake Geneva, serves as a base for poking around points skyward like Leysin and Berneuse.

What drew us to the area was the opportunity to view the impressive Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in the EU.

Aigle (translation:  eagle), is reachable by train from Lausanne in about 30 minutes.  The area offers opportunities for sightseeing, hiking, skiing, and relaxation.

From Aigle, you will need to hop on a cog wheel train to get to Leysin.  Not familiar?  Cog wheel trains act like the hook and chain mechanism of a roller coaster–guiding cars up steep grades.  In the U.S., you can experience a cog wheel train in Colorado as you climb to the top of Pike’s Peak.

During your journey to Leysin, make sure you take advantage of the slow-moving train by capturing photos of the postcard-perfect towns below.

Being a gloomy Monday during the shoulder season, I didn’t think Leysin was going to offer much.  We were also coming off of a pleasant-weather high from the weekend.  Honestly, we were just looking for something to do and see with few expectations.  We were both wrong and impressed.

A short walk from the resorts and international schools of Leysin is a cable car system that seats four people per car.  Now, I don’t like heights and I don’t like confinement.  In fact, I get panicky in either situation.

Don’t let either stop you.  You can handle it and the payoff is worth it.

Berneuse, Switzerland

Berneuse, Switzerland

Even on a cloudy day in Aigle and Leysin with zero chance of burn off and an ever-increasing chance of rain, Berneuse offers a dry and snowy atmosphere for gazing and picture taking.

The summit sits 6,700 plus feet above sea level.  It’s a little less than half of the elevation of Pike’s Peak which is 14,114 feet.

Berneuse offers views of the plush, green valley, town of Aigle, Lake Geneva (when clear), and Mont Blanc in the distance.

Hungry?  Warm up at Kuklos, a revolving restaurant atop Berneuse that offers regional food and lunch specials.

Berneuse provides an astonishing view during your stay in Lake Geneva and an alternative to visiting Mount Pilatus if your stay is limited and you can’t get to Lucerne.

Interested in snaps from Switzerland and the Lake Geneva area?  Visit the photo gallery.

Cruise to Switzerland

bdennisreid

Nyon, Switzerland – May 2013

Switzerland is landlocked by France, Germany, Italy, Austria, and Liechtenstein.

However, it’s not difficult to enter and exit the euro zone by boat when staying in the Lake Geneva area.  In fact, during our trip, my parents were disappointed that there was no checkpoint in France to add another stamp in their passports.

Lake Geneva (locally, Lac Léman) is surrounded by the Alps and Jura mountain ranges.  While we were able to admire the mountains high atop Berneuse and at the overlook of the Cathedral of Notre-Dame in Old Town Lausanne, we gained a different perspective of how vast and glorious the jagged and snow-capped mountains were by boat.

Lake cruises can be expensive especially when you factor in the luxury lines that serve meals.  I say this not to suggest that you shouldn’t take a cruise along the lake.  There is a cheaper alternative for your journey.

The CGN’s Navimobilité runs passenger ferries to points in Yvoire, Évian-les-Bains, (yes, that Évian), Thonon-les-Bains, and Chens-sur-Léman, France, and Nyon and Lausanne in Switzerland.  The CGN Mobilité is a public transportation system that operates ferries year round via the N1, N2, N3, and N4 lines.

Some things to remember:

  • Take your passport.  While we didn’t encounter checkpoints, we also didn’t want our excursion ruined if stopped.
  • Pay careful attention to the line you want to use for your destination across the lake.  Each line only connects to one destination.  For example, if you are in Lausanne, and want to get to Yvoire, France, you may want to consider taking the train to Nyon and crossing the lake on the N3.
  • Beware that although the ferries run year round, schedules may be reduced or cut on the weekends during low season.
  • Save some money and skip the first-class ticket, which runs about CHF32 to CHF77 depending on the destination.  Second-class tickets (CHF 32 to roughly CHF55) still offer comfortable seating and chances are, you’ll want to move around and take pictures during the cruise.
  • Want to hop through France during the day?  Trains from Thonon-les-Bains to Évian-les-Bains, for example, run frequently and only cost roughly €12-15.  Be sure you don’t miss Yvoire, a medieval city that is said to be one of the prettiest destinations in the Rhône-Alpes region.
  • Regarding currency, remember that crossing in and out of the euro zone means that you’ll be using different currency.  While some proprietors in France, for example, may accept Swiss francs, many do not.  You should have some Euros on hand for shopping or grabbing food.

Above all, be sure to look out and up at your surroundings.  Your journey to either country offers a picturesque landscape at sea and on land.

Interested in snaps from Switzerland and the Lake Geneva area?  Visit the photo gallery.