Don’t miss the train

There was one train that stopped in Broken Hill, Australia and it only came a few days a week. I missed it and I was crying to the ticket agent while she was giving me options I couldn’t afford on my backpacker’s budget. I was in the middle of Australia’s outback and I guess I was going to be staying for another day or two. At the time it seemed like a horrible day, but these are the things that can happen while traveling.

To be fair, this was my fault. I arrived at the train station on time and waited for nearly an hour. There was an announcement over the speakers saying the already late train was broken down and they believed it would be an hour until it arrived at the station. It was early morning in Broken Hill, so I left to get a cup of coffee a few blocks away. While at a cute cafe I hadn’t visited during my time there I looked over the menu and ordered a small breakfast. I waited with my coffee for my carryout order to be ready and boxed up. It took a total of fifteen minutes and I started back to the station. I heard train noises coming from the station. I went running with my not very light backpack, coffee and bag of freshly cooked food to the Broken Hill train station a few short blocks away just in time to run up the flight of stair to see the last of the train pulling away. I yelled out and began to cry, a reaction I do not normally have when things turn upside-down on me. The ticket attendant tried to comfort me and give me options to get out of this lonely outback town. These options included buying another ticket leaving a few days later or getting a taxi to drive to the next town the train was stopping at and asking the train conductor to wait. The cab ride would be cutting it very close and the train would only be able to wait about fifteen minutes. I did not have money to pay a taxi to speed to the next stop a few hours away. I was also not able to get my money back from the train I had just watch leave without me. Still very upset and felling defeated I left the train station and walked down the road still with hot breakfast in hand. I Found a parking lot with a space for me to sit unnoticed under a ramp and called my mom. She did what all great mothers do and told me it was going to be all right and there were other options for me. I knew this to be true, but I was just so mad at myself. I let my mother talk softly to me as I ate my delicious breakfast still sniffling. With my head hanging low I went back to the small hotel I had just checked out of and explained my situation and asked for another night. The owner was so kind to let me go back to the same room which wasn’t yet made up.

I did make plans to leave and I was only delayed a single day. I caught a bus very early the next morning and said goodbye to Broken Hill once again and watched out the bus window a beautiful outback sunrise as the bus drove down Barrier Highway back towards Sydney.

Flight etiquette

It can be the largest game of Russian roulette as you walk down a planes narrow aisle looking at all the people you don’t want to sit next to for eight hours.  Judging all the faces as you get nearer to your seat. I don’t want the mother and the young kid,  I really don’t want to sit next to that large man that has the middle seat, oh no please not the kid playing music so loud everyone can hear. No not him he is fighting on his phone pre-flight. There are snap judgments that we all make on people for the behaviors or actions. A lot of these things are happening to unknowingly passengers. I want to help anyone who thinks that their seat has a bubble around them and no one can smell your feet. There is simple flight etiquette I would recommend everyone to follow.

  • Food
Why wouldn’t I want to bring food from home for a long flight you might ask.  Why would I want to pay for overpriced snacks in the maze of the store the airport snakes you though on your way to your gate. Every few paces there is another restaurant or food stalls set up to lighten your wallet. There may be a few times to choose airport food. AT the type of places that have pre-packaged items such as sandwiches, salads, and bowls or restaurants for a hot burger to go. All of which don’t have an overwhelming odor and are relatively not messy. If you don’t mind dropping some extra money for ready to walk on board with a decent meal. There are deals if you look hard, sometimes. Look for where the crew eats at, they work there every day and know where the best deal is. Sometimes a full day of flying with tight layovers all you can do is buy and fly. You know you get a little envious when you see that mother three rows up with the young child break out multiple bags filled with cookies and crackers. Bringing snacks seems to get left with childhood but is a great cost-effective way to eat until you arrive at your destination. Cookies, crackers, beef jerky, and candy and my favorites to stash in my pack. Avoid eggs, garlic, onions, and other strong odors. There is no amount of mints that truly get rid of garlic breath. Annoying loud crunchy chips are also on my foods to avoid list.
  • In-flight meals & snacks
If you are getting a free meal on a flight, consider yourself lucky with all the budget cuts in the airline industry. On a meal service on a long flight, there are usually two options to choose from and possibly a kosher meal. Depending on how full the flight is, you may not get a choice at all. If you plan ahead there are special dietary meal option through most airlines. When the whole flight is eating the same thing it doesn’t matter if it has a weird smell. When I was taking a short flight from Hong Kong we all received a hotdog in a roll in a paper bag with a small container of water. I could smell the snack being handed out long before I could see it. I was still very thankful for this free snack on a travel day and devoured it.The same goes with meal service on the flight it may have an odor but the while flight is evolved so no one will notice. How your food is eaten is another topic. Although eating on a plane is not a fine dining experience, please don’t leave your manners on the ground. Be aware of how you are eating and what it sounds like. It makes for a long flight when Mr. Middle seat is slurping his food or audibly drinking. For the love of everything, please do not burp or fart in the main cabin. Try to save those gems for the lavatory.
  • Dressing & Undressing
Please keep your clothes on. There I said it. If you are flying a few hours leave your shoes on, besides jackets and cold weather gear, there is no reason to start shedding your clothes. On long flights, you will have a small packet of goodies from some airlines. When you open the in-flight toiletries bag, you may have toothpaste, toothbrush, earphones, and socks. On long flights, you can take off your shoes but make sure you put your sweaty feet in the socks the airline provides. It is never ok to walk to the lavatory in bar feet, that may not be water on the floor. If your shoes are terribly smelly then maybe you should suffer and keep your shoes on the rest of the flight instead of making the passengers around you suffer.
  • It is NEVER ok

If you have to ask yourself if it’s ok to do something on a flight, then it most likely isn’t. Never put your feet between the seats in front of you if there is anyone in those seats or not. Don’t even think about painting your nails in an enclosed airplane. Tweezing is gross when you are in public, don’t try on a flight.  Where are you going to put the hairs you remove? There is a toilet on board and before you say it; I know there is always a line when the cabin lights are turned on after a long flight. Everyone wants to get cleaned up and ready for their arrival. Please be patient, ad wait for your turn to do the five minute clean up in the lavatory. You would think something as innocent as brushing your hair could cause some dirty looks. What you may not notice is little pieces of your hair are now floating around the cabin. Never ever spray cologne, perfume or other types of smelly sprays until you are off the flight. What may smell amazing to you could start a full-blown asthma attack on the passengers around you.

  • Boarding and Disembarking
We all know the drill when boarding an airplane. Disabled individuals, parents with small children and active military usually get to board first. Then comes the fancy perk members with all the points and miles or peoples who pay extra for early boarding. Then comes the common folk. At things point in the boarding process, everyone is already crowded around the gate waiting to rush over to the already formed line to enter the jetway. When your group is finally called and you start the slow one-two step onto the flight remember a few things as you look for your seat. Mind your bags. If you have a backpack, keep the straps on both shoulders until you are ready to take not off. I have been hit and also have hit others in the head with my bag walking down the aisle. Purses also should be kept under control for the same reason. If you need help placing your overweight carry on suitcase in the overhead compartment then please ask for help. Getting hit by a suitcase is much worse than a book bag or purse. I know you are trying to save money and overpacked a carry on but dropping a suitcase can potentially take out a row of passengers. The only thing that would make this worse is your seat is right next to the row of angry and bruised travelers you just accidentally assault. Take your time and don’t rush the person in front of you. Disembarking the same rules apply.  Everyone wants to exit as fast as possible but there is no reason to stand so close that I can feel your breath in my hair. Personal space is important, especially after a long and full flight.I wait until there is almost no line at all at the ticket counter before I even get out of my seat. I have never seen a good reason to stand in a mob waiting for the next group to be called, just to add to the already long sluggish moving line. I will wait even if my group has already lined up. I know the flight isn’t going anywhere, I know I have a seat assigned, and I am not missing out on anything by waiting to board nearly last. The airline does not, however, have to wait until every passenger is on. They will leave you at the airport bar or the duty-free shops fifteen minutes before take-off time. Flights are also allowed to leave ten minutes if everyone around the gate has board.Be kind to those around you. You never know who you are sharing a row with. You may sit next to the best single-serving friendship and the most amazing conversation, but don’t break the unwritten rules of flying. There will be private time soon enough when you are off the aircraft, so please be sensible

Siam Gulf

A Thai story of food with beer of course.

Chang Beer is a mild beer with 5.2% ABV and is seen as the “Bud Light of Thailand” because it is everywhere and relatively cheap. Chang is the Thai word for elephant which means much to the country. Singha Beer is a pale lager with a full taste and has 5% ABV. The meal started with lettuce wraps bursting with flavor in crunchy chilled lettuce. Siam Gulf has done a great job with the minced chicken with water chestnuts, mushrooms, onions and Thai spices served with crispy noodle on the side.

I have learned over the years of traveling I enjoy eating many things that one on sticks! Chicken satay with thick peanut sauce on the side was a great contrast to the lettuce wraps. It also came with a fresh cucumber salad that was a flavorful contrast to the Thai peanut sauce. The miso soup and seaweed salad was a great way to clear my pallet for the main course. I was getting full at this point and so was the small table I was sitting at.

I couldn’t go out to a Thai restaurant without ordering sushi. These perfectly formed tempura roll still found their way into my growing yet happy belly. Finally, it’s time for the main course pad see ew. A stir fry with flat noodles simmered in a house sauce. Carrots, broccoli, and eggs were mixed with my choice of scallops. Simply amazing.

The space was converted from a wide-open brunch restaurant with minimal decorations to an intimate and warm dining environment. The sidewall has a beautiful mural painted on it now and there are the decorations along the counter. Dark wood planks cover the windows and divide the eating areas into private sections for a more intimate dining experience.

Siam Gulf is located a short drive from the downtown area and off the tourist areas of the keys, so the prices for this authentic Thai food is much more reasonable. The location is at 12th Street and Tuttle Ave at 1100 Tuttle Ave. Sarasota, Florida.

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!

The art of coffee in New Zealand

Although there are Starbucks close to everywhere New Zealand does coffee slower and much better. Like a lot of things in the country, Kiwis take pride in their coffee making. There are a few distinct differences when ordering coffee in New Zealand (and Australia). The two big differences are the flat white and the tall black. There are many other types of coffee available when you walk up the the counter. The barrister takes pride in the art of coffee in New Zealand. Every coffee is started with fresh roasted grounds perfectly pressed into an espresso machine. Drip coffee pots are very hard to find.  If you enjoy coffee then drinking four hour old coffee may not be your idea of a good coffee. Every coffee is made to order and is worth the wait and the line to get your morning coffee. It is not only in coffee shops and restaurants that this bean art is taken so seriously, gas station also follow suit with a coffee bar with someone there to make it. There is no stale coffee in pots or urns. So you better know what you want as you walk up and dont just say “I want a large coffee” because you will get a strange look. Most coffee is espresso based in many varieties.  You can get a large, not so strong cup of coffee called the Americano which is a espresso diluted with water. Short black, long black, short macchiato, americano, long macchiato, flat white, latte, cappuccino, mochaccino, piccolo, affogato, and vienna are all common espresso drinks you can find and should try. But the drink of the Kiwis is the flat white and its easy to see why. The flat white is 1/3 espresso and 2/3 steamed milk with mineral foam. It is still up for debate where this drink originated from . Both Australia and New Zealand both lay claim to starting this drink. It is a common and heated topic at times because both countries are very passionate about the coffee art.

  • Flat white• starts with a double espresso with steamed milk and foam. The difference between a flat white and an
  • Tall black • no milk, no sugar just great coffee, and strong

Coffee art is very trendy lately and New Zealand is no stranger to the beautiful creations made atop your coffee. As see above my cup of flat white has a little bird and a fern, a symbol of the country. The barista make it look so effortless as they dump the steaming coffee and creamy foam into a mug. But the most important this is the taste. The flat white is where the pride and the art comes in. It is much harder to make a pretty picture on top of a tall black. If you love coffee then try the local favorite of the area you are in. Go out of your comfort zone and try new things, you may never go back to drip coffee again.

Manly Island

Going to manly Island on the Ferry is a slow peaceful way to some other parts of Sydney and great photo ops on the way of the iconic Sydney Opera House and the Sydney Harbor Bridge. There are sailboats scattered all along the waterways and speedboats zipping by.

Getting off the ferry I was surrounded by small tourist shops selling food and beachwear. The boardwalk leads right out from the shops to the long stretch of golden sand beaches. Manly Island is a great Sydney surf spot and on a sunny day, there is competition for the good sets of waves. When I walked down the path along the beach there were two beach volleyball courts set up with bleaches on the beach for events. At the end of the path are an ocean pool and a health center with an amazing view.

The pink dolphins of Hong Kong

Away in an old fishing village, there are regular tours of something I have never heard of before, pink dolphins. More commonly called the Chinese White Dolphin but affectionately called pink dolphins for this unusual pink and white-colored dots making themselves stand out against the dark water. I found this tour in Tai O village, a once-thriving fishing community, now being overshadowed by a giant bridge connecting the Hong Kong cities of Zhuhai and Macau. It is the longest sea-crossing bridge spanning the Pearl River Delta. Tai O has been an attraction to see the local fishing culture and to catch a glimpse of the pink dolphins, but now the village has an added feature on the boat tour, to see the new record-breaking bridge. The bridge construction has been a threat to the rare pink creatures. Marine experts say the dolphins feeding and communication activities of these very social animals have been distributed. Hopefully, now that the construction is about over and the bridge is waiting for its grand opening the sea life will be left alone.

The Dolphins start their lives as dark calves until they grow into the famous pink spots. The pink spots are from blood vessels beneath the skin of the dolphins. There isn’t a great deal known about these pink dolphins of Hong Kong but the numbers don’t lie. The animals in the Pearl River Delta areas have seen numbers drop by eighty percent over the past decade.

Try as you may, but you will not find any pink dolphins in my photos. Like many others on the boat, I was never ready when these creatures would jump up to say hello. After many missed shots, I simply sat back in the first of the boat and watched pointed pink heads pop up and splash away just as quick. It was a calm end to a busy Hong Kong day.

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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