Is This Thing Still On?

It’s been a while since I’ve posted here. I struggled for a bit with being in the right frame of mind to write anything. I struggled with thinking there was no point in posting anything because no one cared anyway. My days were(are) sometimes stressful and demoralizing. I needed a break.

Fortunately, I decided a couple of months ago to take the day after Veteran’s Day off and take a short trip to visit family in Kentucky. I found a very cheap flight($90 round trip) on Spirit Airlines. I was able to pack all of my stuff in a backpack that counts as a personal item and I let them pick my seat so I had no other charges. Both flights were on time or early, the crew was friendly and the seats were comfortable. I would recommend them for anyone who is fine with no frills, no snack flying.

I got there early Saturday morning and spent the day at a school watching my niece’s 8th-grade basketball team play.  Doesn’t everyone fly hundreds of miles to watch middle school basketball? I did go out to lunch between games, so I had that going for me.

Sunday my sister came over to my brother’s house, we grilled out, hung out and played Scatergories. This gave us the funniest part of the trip. One of the categories was states. My niece rolled a K and wanted to roll again saying “There aren’t even any states that start with K!” Remember, we were in Kentucky…

My brother took Monday off. We went out for breakfast. We went bowling. I won. We stopped for coffee. We played Madden on his old Play Station. I lost. We went out to dinner with a friend from high school. We went to another middle school basketball game and then drove home in the snow. It was a good day and really made me want to retire. It was much better than going to work.

On Tuesday I drove to my hometown. It had been a while since I’ve been to my hometown. I walked around downtown a little, had lunch with my sister, and got a doughnut at the new doughnut place in town.  I went to the public library to see how much it has changed since I was a kid. I stopped for coffee at a new coffee place in town and then headed back to my brother’s to get ready to go to the airport. Since my niece’s game was canceled that night we had time to meet my other niece for dinner before my flight.

As you can see from my very boring synopsis, it was a nice, stress-free four day weekend. I really needed it. I really need to retire so my life is more like that on a daily basis.

We will see if it has revived me enough to feel like writing more. The stress came back strong.

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Past Me Did A Lot on this Date

8 years ago me threw out the first pitch at a minor league baseball game. I have no picture because my family wasn’t there and none of my friends got to the game early enough to see it.

7 years ago me was on vacation in Arizona. We stayed in Sedona and traveled out places from there. It was a great trip.

4 years ago me was in Livingstone, Zambia. Our social program that year was an animal encounter with lions, elephants and cheetahs. On that day I walked a cheetah.

Today me is sitting on the couch watching the Muleller testimony while doing laundry and then going to work.

What I Did On My Summer Vacation

I love traveling. I love going to all of the different places my wife’s work takes her. I love traveling, but traveling is tiring and I need a vacation when I get back from my trip. This past week I’ve had the type of vacation I’ve needed for a while. The type of vacation where you get to relax and have fun with no travel stress, no airports, no 12-hour flights.

My vacation officially started on the 4th of July, but we didn’t leave until the 5th so I had one day to relax and spend time with friends. We skipped the fireworks so we could get out of the neighborhood before the traffic and get some rest before our drive the next day. The 5th was travel day. I’m not a fan of 8 hours in the car, but at least you have control over your trip and can stop and rest if needed. There’s also no TSA lines, delays or random strangers to deal with. When we got to our destination we had dinner and I read my book while everyone else played cards.

The next day we headed west to my brother’s house. We spent the day hanging out with his family, my sister and her son and my other nephew and his girlfriend. We had good food, played in the pool, played basketball and just relaxed and had fun. The weather was perfect. We ended the day with fireworks.

The next day was a kayaking adventure. I will admit that I was leery about the whole kayaking thing. I’m not a swimmer and I’ve always had a bit of a water phobia so 4 hours in a kayak on a river did not sound like a good way to spend the day. I ended up really enjoying it. I was better at kayaking than I expected and the 4 hours went by quickly. We did have a couple of issues. My brother flipped his kayak twice after being hit by others and lost his glasses to the river. We hit one point where a tree had fallen over the river and we could barely get through, Luckily, the guy who ran the company where we rented the kayaks was there to help us through, We had to lie flat in the kayak to fit under the tree and then he pulled us out in the open to row away. It was the one time I felt a little panic start to set in as I could feel the kayak tip while I was trying to get low enough to fit. We survived and  I would definitely do it again.

That was the most active we were the entire trip. The next day was another relaxing day hanging out at my brother’s house and playing in the pool. We also played a lot of Kan Jam. I really need to buy this. It’s a really fun game. We went out to eat that night and then our time there was over. We ate lunch at our normal leaving town lunch spot, Freddy’s Custard and Steakburgers, and headed back to spend one more night at my mother in law’s before heading home.

Luckily, I mixed up my dates and asked for one more day off than I needed and then decided to keep it. Tomorrow is my regular Friday off because I work Saturday, so I came home to two more days off before going back to the real world. I’m probably going to go see Spiderman today. Tomorrow I have to take my daughter’s car in for an oil change, but I will get to read my book while waiting, so it’s not terrible.

It’s trips like these that make me long for retirement. I’m ready to spend my days relaxing and reading a book. I’m ready for no work stress and not dealing with other people unless I want to. I’m ready for the simple life again. Alas, I’ve got 6 more years to go before I get there.

Oh The Places I Will Go(Maybe)

I was thinking about what to write and travel kept sticking in my head. I only have one upcoming trip scheduled and it is home to Kentucky. Sometime next year my wife’s conference trip is to Bhutan. Bhutan is very restrictive on travel, so I’m not sure if I will be able to go on that one. After that, it will be Kuwait, Qatar or Indonesia. There are a lot of countries in the group that I would like to visit. Here is a brief list on order of desired visit:

  1. Fiji
  2. Maldives
  3. Austria
  4. Russia
  5. Moldova
  6. Georgia
  7. Portugal
  8. Kenya
  9. Argentina
  10. Sri Lanka

I only listed places I haven’t been and that are not on the possible list. I capped it at 10. There aren’t really any places in the group I wouldn’t go. I just need to retire so I can go without worrying about getting time off work.

Here are international places I would like to visit that are not in the group:

  1. Australia
  2. New Zealand
  3. Ireland
  4. Wales
  5. Spain
  6. Sweden
  7. Germany

I’ve driven through Germany before and spent the night, but didn’t really experience it. I’m sure there are other countries I’m just not thinking of yet.

My top US cities I still haven’t visited:

  1. Seattle
  2. Portland
  3. San Diego
  4. Denver
  5. Chicago
  6. Los Angeles

And states in general, with no particular city”

  1. Maine
  2. Michigan
  3. Minnesota

So many places I want to see. Only 6 more years until I can retire and really get started.

Tater’s Updated Ranking of Conference Trips

My wife has a conference every year with representatives from multiple countries. Each year the conference is hosted by one of the member countries. I have been on seven of these trips with here. The recent trip to Baku, Azerbaijan was the latest of these trips. While in Baku we talked about how it compared to the other locations. Here are my updated rankings of the trips:

  1. Livingstone, Zambia – We stayed in a resort with access to Victoria Falls. Zebras, baboons, impala, and giraffes lived on the resort grounds. We went on a safari. I walked a cheetah and petted a lion. I’m not sure any other location will ever beat this.
  2. Helsinki, Finland – This was our first trip with her for the conference, Both kids were able to go. Helsinki is a very nice city with plenty to do. The hosts took me and the kids around to see the sites and on a lunch cruise while the meetings were happening. We spent time in the country after the meetings to travel around to see more places. It will probably always stay high because it was the first and it was the only one my son has attended.
  3. Seoul, South Korea – This one is a close one. Baku is really close to being in the third spot, but I think Seoul barely pulls out the win. The hotel was in a great location. We could walk to the market street for food and souvenirs. We could walk to the palace for sightseeing. There were beautiful temples in the area. We could take the subway to get to other parts of the city. We didn’t need hosts to take us around the city because we had so much right outside our door. The only downside was the social program at the end of the conference was underwhelming.
  4. Baku, Azerbaijan – You can go back and read my post from yesterday to see more about Baku. It was a fun city, very walkable. The hotel location was a nice waterfront area, The hosts were great, The social program was interesting with a great tour guide. I think Seoul barely wins because it was a little bit harder to get from the hotel to the traditional shopping in the historic area of the city. Plus it was hot and not a city where it is common for people to wear shorts.
  5. Santiago, Chile – The best airport experience. We were met at our gate and taken to a VIP customs area where we sat in comfortable chairs and ate cookies while the government got our bags and cleared us to enter the country, It was a nice city with plenty of stuff to walk to around the hotel. They did drive me around the first morning to make sure I saw the sites. The kids didn’t go, so I was able to spend my time worrying only about myself. It falls to this spot because it rained a lot while I was there and most of what I could easily do in the hotel area was eat and shop. I did enjoy the social program trip to a local winery.
  6. Manila, Philippines – This is now the country in charge of the entire group. They are the ones who set everything up and run the conference. They do a good job with it. We had a driver the entire time we were there. We got there a day early and drove us out of the city to see the sites in the countryside. The social program trip to a cultural park was interesting. The food was good and cheap.. The city was terrible. So much traffic it would take half an hour to drive from our hotel to the conference location. We could walk it in half the time but it was extremely hot and humid and the walk was not fun. The only things to walk to were malls. My daughter and I spent a lot of time reading in the hotel room after a morning of walking to various malls and stopping at small parks along the way. Maybe a smaller town in the country would have been a better location.
  7. Hyderabad, India – I was so excited to go to India. I really wanted to like it. I hated it. There was nothing to do around the hotel but walk across the street to a mall. Even that was difficult as there were barely any sidewalks. The hosts were not helpful We went from having drivers in cities where we didn’t need them to being told we should Uber if we wanted to leave the hotel area. I was not allowed to go to the dinner. This is the only location that excluded accompanying people from the dinner. They couldn’t tell us where to go shopping for traditional gifts even though there was a large market area we found on our own that was all traditional market. How would they not know this? We were not officially invited to the social program and told if we wanted to go we had to pay exra. It turned out they changed their mind and paid for us anyway. We were made to feel very unwelcome. The food made me sick. I tore open my arm on a tree branch while trying to walk around the area. It was a terrible trip.

Next year sis Bhutan. It will be difficult to go with her as Bhutan is very restrictive on access. She can go because she is a guest of the government, but anyone else would have to pay a lot for an official tour to be allowed in. Maybe the Bhutan hosts will be nice to me and make me an official guest as well. 2021 will be Kuwait, Qatar or Indonesia.

Tater Tours Istanbul

A bonus second trip report! We decided to do a 24-hour layover in Istanbul on the way home. The new airport is about an hour out of town, so it is a little more complicated to get to and from these days, We booked a car through the same company, Taxi2Airport, to and from and it worked out great. They even arrived 10 minutes before our requested time on the way out of town. Our hotel was in the Fatih District and within walking distance of the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia Museum. We were just in time Sunday night to tour the mosque and the tombs before they closed. We walked down to the water and did some shopping. We had dinner at an outside cafe where we all had tons of food for only $12 and then a really good chocolate cake at a local bakery.  We were in line Monday morning for the opening of Hagia Sophia and were able to see it before we had to leave for the airport. We ran into another couple from America doing the same thing we were doing. I also saw someone from the ticket line at Hagia Sophia at the airport later, so the 24 hour Istanbul layover seems to be a popular option. I wish we could have seen more of the city. I really liked what we were able to see in the short time we were there. It was obviously more of a nightlife city. Our hotel had a balcony that overlooked a street of shops and restaurants and it was active pretty late, but then empty when we headed out a little before nine the next morning. If you happen to fly Turkish Airlines anywhere, I would recommend this option. Also, speaking of the airline, I would recommend them as well. Our flights were all on time. The food was good. The entertainment options were extensive. They gave us a bag with slippers, socks, eye mask, toothbrush, and toothpaste. It was an overall good experience.

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Tater’s Baku Trip Report

I wasn’t really sure what to expect from Baku, Azerbaijan.  Who goes to Azerbaijan? There has to be a reason for that, right? We were headed there due to my wife’s work conference. We go to places we would never go on our own. We departed Dulles 11PM Monday night on Turkish Airlines and after a 5-hour layover in Istanbul arrived in Baku at 1am Wednesday morning. My wife had work for the first three days. My daughter and I were on our own for a day(which we used mostly for rest) and then taken around to the sites the other two. The Azerbaijani’s were great hosts. They made sure we made it to the major sites and had a nice lunch and paid for it all. We were invited to all of the official events. They made an effort to make sure we had a good time while my wife was at work. A+ hosting and a nice change from last year when it was clear we weren’t really welcome.

Baku was a very nice city. It is very walkable. Our hotel was near the Caspian Sea and it was an easy walk over to the waterfront and its nice walkable park. We were able to walk along the water and then cross over to the historic old city area in less than half an hour. The old city area is a very nice historic area filled with sites, souvenir shopping, and food. You can spend hours there(and we did Saturday evening). The city is also very safe. You could find people strolling along the waterfront way past dark with no concern about crime. I never found an area that made me leery of my surroundings. I’m sure having hosts to make sure we went to the nice places helped with that.

On our excursion with our hosts, we were taken to the Haydar Aliyev Museum where we learned some Azerbaijani history and saw their classic car exhibit. We went to Atagash Fire Temple. We toured the Baku Carpet Museum. We were driven out to the beach area to experience the Baku beach resort life. We walked up to an overlook of the city that was also a memorial to Azerbaijanis who lost their lives in conflicts. On our social day with the entire group, we went to Gobustan National Park where we saw prehistoric carvings and then back to the city for lunch and a tour of old city. Our tour guide was excellent. One of the best I’ve ever had on a tour. The only disappointment was not being taken to see a mud volcano while at Gobustan. I would recommend a trip to Baku. It is a nice place that is not yet overrun by tourists.

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Greetings from Baku

I am typing this on my phone so there will likely be typos. I’m old.

After an 18 hour trip we have arrived safely in Baku. The trip was weirdly easy. We just beat a crowd getting to the Turkish Airlines check in and also the Dulles security line. We made it to the gate with plenty of tome before boarding. The flight was on time. I slept well on a plane for the first time in years. The food was good. There were plenty of movie options.

We had a 5 hour layover in Istanbul. That’s a long time in an airport, but it was a nice airport. My wife asked about food at a Turkish Airline information desk and they randomly gave us a voucher for a free meal at the airport. Our flight to Baku was also on time and was only a little over two hours.

I had talked about not liking to stand out as the obvious foreigner while traveling and how the last few trips we went places where we were very obviously not from there. We got to our gate and discovered a large group of blonde girls from Finland were on our flight to Baku. There was also a group of girls from Hungary. We discovered when we got to the airport that there is a big gymnastics event in town this week and then next week is a big soccer thing. We hit the mother lode of not being the only obvious tourists in town this time.

I think today will be a “take it easy and explore the area around the hotel day” to get rested up for the full day of tours they have scheduled for us tomorrow.

Here is a photo of the view from the free breakfast at the hotel

Thoughts From Orlando

If you follow my personal Facebook or Instagram, you’ve seen several of my photos from our trip to Orlando. Of not, you can see a selection of them below. I’m not going to bore you with a day by day synopsis of my trip. I do have a few thoughts.

I am not a very patient person, so a trip that involves standing in a lot of lines is not great for me. Luckily, being January. the lines were not nearly as long at the parks as they could have been. They were longer than we’ve had in past January trips. We had one ride at each park we didn’t ride because we didn’t think it was worth waiting. 7 Dwarf Mine Train at Magic Kingdom was never below 90 minutes. Avatar at Animal Kingdom was never lower than 120 minutes and Slinky Dog at Hollywood studios was never lower than 75 minutes. There were other things to do that we considered better than waiting in lines. The Fast Pass system is different now and we were behind schedule on it, so it was harder for us to get passes for better rides. I hate the fast pass line when I’m in standby, but love it when I’m in the fast pass line. It is all about me. I also get irritated with the people who don’t notice the line is moving, especially when we are not yet to the merge with the fast passers. The faster you get to the merge, the faster you get past the fast passers. Now, with cell phones everywhere, it is more common for people to be staring at their phones and miss the fact that the line is moving. I think way too much about the lines.

Speaking of cell phones, there are way too many people stopping at messing up the lines taking multiple selfies. There are too many people taking pictures and videos of the rides instead of enjoying them. There is no need for a flash being used on the Kong ride so you can get a really good picture to post. My daughter got irritated with me mentioning it, but I do think you lose something from the experience when you watch it through your phone.

If you have several people in your party, please don’t walk in a line blocking the entire walkway, especially if you are really slow.

I always kind of liked Universal more than Disney and, now, with Harry Potter World, it is even better. If I had to choose one, I would go back to Universal. Also, butterbeer is delicious.

Customer service at Disney is still very good. I’m pretty sure I screwed up using the app and messed up a fast pass. They didn’t ask questions when we asked for help. They just added the fast pass back to the app so we could ride the ride.

It was nice to see my kids be kids again. Harry Potter World especially brought out the kids in them. They were very excited to get interactive wands and do the spells at the magic locations. It’s a little sad to be back to school and work.

I hope this isn’t the last big trip we get to take as a family. I know it will get harder as the kids get older.

 

Greetings From The Road

Writing this on my phone so expect many typos.

After over 13 hours in the car we are about 30 minutes from our hotel. We left 20 degree weather and 8 inches of snow and are now at 53 degrees at 9pm. We were able to avoid a closure of 95 south due to a major accident by taking backroads. We saw another closure on 95 north later. Both were major accidents involving semis. Hopefully, the drivers were OK. We stopped at Cook Out in Dunn, NC for lunch and my son was very happy. It’s weird to have the option to get a corn dog as a side. The only mishap so far is my son apparently yet again losing a beanie, most likely by having it in his lap and the getting out of the car and not noticing it fall out of the car. I used to do that with my cell phone. I’m not very smart.

Tomorrow we head to Magic Kingdom.