Passengers rights on a flight.

There are times when you have the right and times when you must sit down and wait. According to the US Department of Transportation, there are rules in place that US airlines must abide by. If you are on a domestic flight the airline can hold you for no more then three hours and international flights for hours unless there is a safety issue. If you have been waiting in your seat with the same view of the tarmac for two hours the airline must provide food, water, and a lavatory.  In the United States if you have been waiting for three hours you must be given the option to get off. You may not see your checked bag for a while and may find it hard to book another flight, but you will be free of the same seat you have been waiting in for hours. Passengers who choose to leave a plane that has been delayed may not be allowed back on and is then responsible for finding another flight. If you are outside the USA there is still hope to escape a flight stuck on the tarmac, but you must wait four hours to be given the option to deplane and the same issues arise only on an international setting. Trying to track down baggage and book a new flight in a foreign land and losing the money on the flight you just walked off of are just a few headaches involved. These lengthy tarmac delays aren’t the norm, but it is always good to know what options and rights as a passenger you have.

Vienna

Austria is a German-speaking country with a charm of its own. Vienna is tucked away in the northeastern section and has all the old world charm. The capital city of Austria was home to famous residents such as Mozart, Beethoven, and Sigmund Freud. The museums Quarters District has a lot going on within a short walking distance. If you need a break there are shops, bars, and restaurants around every turn. Enjoy a local beer and watch the people wander through the square. Vienna is a beautiful destination for solo travelers, families, and lovers.

  • Transportation

Coming into Vienna by plane or train you will most likely start your journey in the city center. Public transportation is clean and well organized with local trains, subways, trams and buses running in a timely manner. Tickets are cheap and are on an honor system. There are no booths to check tickets. if you get asked by an agent to see proof and you do not have any, there are strict fines. Believe me, the officials have heard every excuse. I was on a train and thought my ticket could go on to the next city, but it turned out the first time I saw an agent, my ticket wasn’t good. The only reason I was let go with a warning is that I had just added money to my travel card. Let that be a lesson to anyone who is thinking about skipping buying a ticket and taking their chances. There is a large fee for not having a ticket plus the cost of the ticket you didn’t buy. There are also Vienna city cards for 24, 48, or 72 hours pass for public transportation and hop on hop off bus service which is available at the airport and transit centers.

  • When to visit

Summer is the busiest month with beautiful mild weather and all the bells and whistles for visitors. Followed very closely by the holiday seasons at the end of the year. Everything in the region is decorated to perfection in old world charm.

Offseason is Spring and Fall months where you will find discounted flights and dinners to the most popular tourist locations.

  • Weather

Vienna is a four-season city. In the winter months of December, January, and some of February it can be dry cold and snowing. As long as you know how to dress for the weather and make stops to catch a break from harsh weather conditions then Vienna is still a wonderful and walkable city year-round Summers are usually in the 70s but occasionally can get up to the 90s.

  • What to see

The main city draw to this cultured city is the museum district and the many palaces. The most popular is Schonbrunn Palace which is an easy fifteen minutes away on public transportation. All around the city, there are open-air markets filled with fresh flowers, bread, fruits, vegetables, herbs, and spices. There are multiple restaurants to sit and dine on local favorites. There are many parks with perfect lawns and fountains taking up blocks to get lost in or have a peaceful lunch.

Vienna is a great and walkable city. The locals are friendly and often English speaking for those not willing to test their German. I felt safe walking the busy areas around the city and quiet backstreets where I stayed. Like any good traveler, you should be aware of your surroundings and be careful after dark.

By Heidi Vastag

Pooping in public

Using the restroom in public is never relaxing but at times a necessary adventure. There is always the standby of McDonald’s or Starbucks with free public bathrooms. When stepping off the train in Europe make sure you have some loose change to pay for a potty trip. Each region has different challenges that you may not be aware of. Asia uses a squatty potty. If you are not used to relieving yourself hanging over a hole in the floor, then you may end up with wet feet. Backpackers have more of a solitary advantage but also have to dig a hole first. This isn’t in public, but it’s not on the privacy of your own home seat advantage.

Walk into a hotel lobby as if you belong there to avoid the front desk.

You may even be able to wander around to find snacks and cookies just don’t look too out of place.

On the unpredictable road of travel, food can be a friend and then seemingly turn on you. That is why it’s important to keep different toilet locations in the back of your mind as a safe bet.

There are a few tips for any country you find yourself in where you are crossing your legs and asking with big hand gestures trying to make yourself understand. I recommend having some small change on you to pay for the maintenance “tip” basket sitting next to the strick looking bathroom attendant. Having your own paper is safer than hoping for the best after the door shuts. In some places in Asia, you must grab paper before you enter the stall. The best tip I can pass along is to wash your hands and stay regular!

Oktoberfest!

Welcome to the beer fest of all beer fests!

Oktoberfest in Munich Germany puts on a grand show every year for almost 7 million people starting at the end of September. But before you can drink a pint of beer there is much planning, prep, and building that must go on with a team of highly skilled teams create a new vision each year. There are 700 vendors ready to set up for the weeks of madness ahead. The area of the event is already a construction site by July and doesn’t stop for ten weeks. The first thing that comes to mind is the giant beer tents. There are 14 major tents and 15 minor tents. In the biggest tents, there can be upward of 8,000 festival-goers. The tents are made of all wood grounded to concrete that is poured every year. For the management, this is a full-time job planning and pulling off this annual party. Several thousand people come together to wrap up the project in the few weeks of construction. Tear down is about half the time of set up running around five weeks. Most parts are stored in storage containers and delivered to the storehouses in Munich

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I planned my visit for the opening day. It was a calm morning when I arrived with my mother and took a stroll down the main road of beer tents standing tall. By the time we doubled back, the roads were filling with beer drinkers waiting for the day to get started. We picked the Hippodrome tent and sat and had a bite to eat and noticed that most tables were reserved. We quickly learned that there is an opening parade and each owner comes into their tent and taps the first barrel and the beer drinking does not stop for a few weeks after. From the beautiful windows, I watched the parade roll by with barrels of beer and horse-drawn carriage and everyone was dressed for the occasion. There is such a buzz for the town for the opening day, Like the city of Munich has been waiting to unwrap its gift for months, watching the structures go up for months in town.

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My favorite photo of my mother joining me October Fest in 2013

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Yes, this is a blurry picture but they move so fast with all that beer! This was the best I could get an even more beer was rushing by, being gripped tightly by fingertips.

My advice is to get here early to get a seat or wait for the short lines of smaller tents. I definitely would recommend going to multiple tents for different environments in each one. If you have a larger group it pays to plan ahead of time and reserve a table in a tent of your choice. All of Munich books up for this beer event, so planning ahead helps get more of what you are looking for before it’s booked up. My last bit of wisdom is if you drink a few too many pints, there is a nice grassy hill to rest your eyes until the next round. It’s all a very happy party and the locals are waiting to welcome you in. Do your country proud, don’t make a drunken fool of yourself. We have all seen this too many times. Safe travels and smart drinking!

Windy Wellington

The Capital of New Zealand and tucked away at the bottom of the north island and is the gateway to the south island. The ferry across the Cook Straight runs from Picton to Wellington three or four times a day through two different companies, Interisland and Bluebird. But we didn’t come here just to leave. There are things to do and see in Wellington! The first place I feel most people are drawn to is the downtown waterfront area. The length of the water has shops, restaurants, and some museums lined up ready for the next batch of visitors. The weekend is the big draw for the waterfront, farmers markets and rummage sales going on every Saturday. Sunday has different events and activities going on all year. When I was there one Sunday morning there was a relay for life race going on. Being the capital city center you can count on various functions.

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The streets are narrow and are filled with endless shops of all kinds. Wellington is a busy city but a friendly one. Like most of New Zealand, their citizens try to look out for one another and give the benefit of the doubt. Wellington is a great city for a pedestrian. I never took a cab or bus while in the capital city. There is wide sidewalk twisting with every street even in the midst of road construction. There are so many fascinating places I passed on my many hours of getting to know this city I definitely didn’t have enough time to stop at them all.

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The best view and my favorite part of the windy capital city is the cable car that lifts to the top of the city. There are signs on the streets to direct you towards the ticket and the bottom of the cable car. Every ten minutes the car runs for a small fee and you will have two options. You can pay for a return ticket down or get a oneway ticket and walk back down to the city. You must take a oneway ticket and wonder the way back down. There are multiple paths to follow heading down and there are even maps available along the way. Lush green landscapes and manicured yards give way to a stunning rose garden. The rose garden was in full bloom on that warm day I found myself at the edge of row after colorful row. Not only roses but the exotic flowers from a place a half a world away from my own home. So it was all new and unique to me. The rose garden is The Lady Norwood Rosegarden and has The Wellington Botanic Garden just up the hill.

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Melbourne, Australia Chinatown vibes

The Chinatown in Melbourne Australia in the central business district and is home to places of business, worships, and restaurants for the home of the longest continuous Chinese settlement. The Chinese originally came for the Australian gold rush and stayed for a new life. This small section of Melbourne is home to the Chinese’s New Year festival which lasts for a few weeks every year with fireworks and the waking of the dragon.

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Many people just pass by  Little Bourke Street on their hustle of the madness of the downtown. I can not say enough how amazing getting away from the droves of people can be. The hidden discovers to be found. Chinatown is missed often because there is so much to do in Melbourne. You can walk down the gate that is the start of Chinatown and see many different Asian restaurants and shops.  Chinatown has grown from one block with a gate on each end to now have grown to multiple blocks over the past few years. I learned that in American Chinatowns, there are mostly Cantonese settled there. In Melbourne, there is a much more diverse Chinatown represented. Why is that good for you? Many more types of food to try and more mixing of cultures.

When you make it to the busy area of CBD of Melbourne make sure you take time out to walk the few blocks of Chinatown. Even if it is just to see the beautiful buildings and for the free smells.

A first look at Melbourne Australia

Reichstag 

Walking up to this large front lawn of the Reichstag on a nice day makes me want to sit and have an afternoon lunch. There is no time for this in Berlin there is just too much amazing things to see. The Reichstag building is a parliament building and has strict guidelines to get in the door. Registration is free to enter but you must register before you enter. Be sure you bring your passport. I never tell anyone to go wandering around the city with their passport on then, but every rule has its exception. The dome and the roof terrace have different times for the terrace and dome. The Reichstag is also closed for maintenance and holidays throughout the year, so be sure to check opening times and dates when planning your visit. I did not pre-register before going to the Reichstag. I did wait in a long that moved pretty quickly, bringing in a small group of people in to check passports with faces before we were allowed up to the elevators to the dome and terrace.

Walking into the beautiful glass and mirror dome that spirals up to the observation deck overlooking Berlin. The dome is 23 meters high and 40 meters wide and designed by Sir Norman Foster. Foster originally planned an air cushion-like flat roof and only under political pressure planned a dome. There are guided tours available and a wealth of knowledge and fascinating facts that are hidden in the Reichstag. One such fact not largely known is that there are still Cyrillic graffiti left by Soviet soldiers after the siege in 1945. It has been carefully preserved and can still be seen by visitors today. There is also a bullet hole from the Second World War.

The Brandenburg Gate is a short walk away. The city is very well laid out from The Reichstag building. The Holocaust memorial isn’t too much further than the Brandenburg Gate and Museum Island is further past that. I don’t recommend trying to push yourself and see it all in one day. There is so much to see in this city, so plan for full days of exploring no matter how long you are in Berlin.

Reichstag is a must if it is the first of the fiftieth time you are coming here. Just the walk up to the top is a piece of living art to the view of this unique city. I can’t get enough Berlin.

There is a restaurant on the terrace serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Reservations are required for dining here and the menu is on the pricey side, but the views are free. The hardest part about visiting Reichstag is deciding whether to visit in the daytime or at night.

Budapest

An old world feel from the moment you get off at Keleti Train Station. There is much history under the layers of dirt from time and neglect. Please don’t let my negative comments sway you from seeing this great and old city. After you make your way out of the sketchy train station and wander around you will see a beautiful city with many secrets.

This man was waiting to greet me at the corner with his belly wore from rubs. I feel like I could outrun him.

On one of my stops from the subway, I walked up steps to a festival in full swing with dancing, fresh food cooking, and music. I spent a few hours deciding on what I wanted for lunch and watched the street performers.

Wandering around I found local treats and homemade crafts that I recognized from my Hungarian grandmother’s house. The same red pattern of tablecloths and napkins brought back great memories of family dinners of the same food I was seeking in the city. This is a big reason I travel, its to reconnect with your past if only by a pattern or a smell.

 

There are so many grand stone building with complex curly ends and detailed columns, don’t forget to look up.

Florence

The colors in Florence is one of my favorite things about this city.

Incredible detail from floor to breathtaking ceiling.

After a long warm afternoon, I treated myself to a nice pasta dinner. It was so delicious that in my haste I forgot to take a photo. I did, however, get a photo of my amazing custard with a blackberry sauce.

Hello Berlin

Berlin may bring up mixed thoughts and feelings upon hearing the name, but the city has grown to be a cultural and artistic hotspot.

The Holocaust Memorial is a maze of different sized columns numbering 2711 in all. The artist meant for the memorial to be confusing and disorienting. It is not taken kindly if you climb on the memorial, so please be respectful.

The great Brandenburg Gate always seems to be filled with life. This gate marks the former city gate where the beginning of the road from Berlin to the town of Brandenburg an der Havel.

While walking around there was a “checkpoint” where I received an old school passport stamp for Checkpoint Charlie at the east and west side of the Berlin checkpoint.