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October 25, 2017

Orland, Florida – as much fun as you can handle.

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brandon-mowinkel-199350 (1) Epcot Center, Walt Disney World

Orlando, Florida is one of the fun capitals of the world where we can all have a guilt-free “second childhood” for a few days. Home to the iconic Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando with their own theme parks and water parks, there is also the unique and amazing Discovery Cove, as well as gorgeous beaches like Cocoa Beach and New Smyrna Beach about an hour’s drive east of the city. And because Florida is a narrow state you only have to drive 2 hours west to visit the equally lovely Clearwater Beach on the Gulf of Mexico, passing the city of Tampa on the way.

If you are interested in space exploration the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex is also only an hour’s drive directly east of Orlando on the Atlantic Coast. It has interactive displays, movies and exhibits on the complete history of space flight, bus tours of historic and current launch sites, and you get up close and personal to the actual space shuttle Atlantis.

If you’re a petrol head you might like to take a day trip to Daytona International Speedway, famous for the Nascar Daytona 500 race which will be held in 2018 on February 18th. Of course there are lots of other race meets throughout the year so check out the schedule. You can now explore the new Motorsports Hall of Fame of America when you visit the Speedway. It showcases all forms of motorsports and has an exception array of cars, motorcycles, drag cars, land speed record holders and powerboats. There is also the bonus of the fabulous Daytona Beach only 15 mins drive from the speedway. So you see it is clear that you really can’t go wrong with all the action-packed family Florida holidays available to choose from.

Most of the theme and water parks in Orlando are owned and managed by three of the majors players in the entertainment business: Disney, Universal and Sea World. Many people choose to stay onsite at either Walt Disney World Resort or Universal Orlando Resort, but it is not mandatory to do so. For example there are accommodation options to suit all at Lake Buena Vista , which is near entrance to Disney World. Hotels on International Drive are close to Sea World, Universal Orlando Resort and Universal’s brand new water park Volcano Bay, for those without a car. An advantage of staying within the Universal Resort complex is that you are allowed early admission into a theme park of your choosing, 1 hour before “outsiders”. Walt Disney World has a similar arrangement so check it out online.

If you are a fan of wildlife and like the idea of a relaxed waterpark where you can swim in close but safe proximity to dolphins, sting rays and tiger sharks, then Discovery Cove is the place for you and me alike. Entry is all-inclusive too so food, beverages, lockers, towels, use of snorkels and wetsuits, sunscreen and most things you’ll need are free once you’ve paid the price of admission. If you are visiting Miami during your Florida holiday you could take the family to the awesome Miami Zoo. It’s the only zoo in a tropical setting in North America and gets great reviews. For an even more intimate experience take a tour of the Zoological Wildlife Foundation in Miami. It places a big emphasis on educating the public about rare and endangered animal species and visits are by appointment only so you need to book ahead and can do so online.

The best time of the year to holiday in Florida is during the dry season of November through April, when it is consistently sunny and warm, but without the excessive humidity, heat and frequent rainfall of the wet season (May-October). Visiting during the “dry” months will also ensure you avoid the Hurricane season.

Image by Brandon Mowinkel via Unsplash

November 3, 2014

First Time San Francisco – 6 Tips

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1. Tailor your trip to your interests.

Like NYC, San Francisco is a city with a lot going on in terms of events and nightlife. You could do a trip in which you did the tourist basics like taking a cable car ride and walking over the Golden Gate bridge. Alternatively, you could look up meetup groups that fit with your interests. This is especially the case if you’re a tech nerd and would like to hang out with some of your own kind.

There are lots of SF-based blogs where the bloggers mention nightspots, coffee shops and restaurants they like. Ask your favorite SF bloggers where they like to go.

If you like comedy and are visiting San Francisco over winter, SF Sketchfest is a popular annual comedy event that will be held January 23 – February 9, 2014.

If you like Broadway type shows, you can see touring productions at the Curran Theater. I’ve seen shows there a few times. The theater is conveniently located downtown.

2. Prepare for it to be cold – even in summer.

San Francisco has lots of great attributes. The weather is not one of them. Even in summer there can be fog and there is almost always a cold wind that makes it necessary to wear more than a t-shirt outside. Get your warmth fix elsewhere.

If you like warmer temperatures you can head elsewhere nearby. For example, wine country to the north or the tech towns to the south, such Mountain View, where Google HQ is located. These places don’t get the fog and bitter wind that affects San Francisco itself.

3. Visit a Farmers market.

The fresh produce in California is delicious, especially the strawberries. If you’re a foodie, make sure you include a visit to one of SF’s Farmers Markets during your trip. The most convenient large one is probably the one at the Ferry Building. It’s open Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays.

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4. Get an unlimited metro card.

The metro in San Francisco is pretty good. A 7 day pass is $28 and allows you unlimited rides on the metro (called Muni) and busses. There’s metro service to both SFO and Oakland airports (flights in/out of Oakland may be cheaper than SFO). It’s easy peasy. You can buy your pass from a machine as you’re leaving the airport and you’re all set. There are also 1 day and 3 day passes available, and monthly passes. The unlimited metro card even includes riding the cable cars.

5. Prepare to indulge in great food.

San Francisco is one of those cities I’d prefer to eat and drink my way around rather than see any specific attractions. The shopping is not particularly awesome in San Francisco. If you’re going to other cities in the US (e.g., Vegas or NYC) save your shopping for those destinations and spend your San Francisco budget on leisurely meals and nightlife.

Burritos are one of the cheap eats options that SF is most famous for. They are so giant they’ll keep you going all day. The Mission District is where to go for the most choices.

6. Accommodation is expensive.

Hotels in San Francisco and super overpriced for what you get. For example, there are very few even 4-5* hotels in SF that have swimming pools. Save your cash and book at one of the good hostels. We always go private room, no more dorms for us. I generally prefer to stay at HI hostels in the US as they’re predicable quality and good for non-party-people such as us!

If you buy an H.I. membership there’s a coupon for stay 1 night, get 1 night free in the membership packet (inside the brochure so don’t biff it!). It’s only good for dorm stays and you can’t use it at the same location where you buy your membership. If you’re planning to stay at the NYC HI hostel it makes sense to use the coupon for that stay, since hostels beds are pretty much most-expensive there. The membership easily pays for itself. You automatically get it if you stay 6 nights (across any of their hostels). If you don’t plan to use the coupon, pass it on to a fellow hosteler! It’s also a nice gesture if you give away your metro card at the airport if you still have a few days left on it. It’s easy to forget to do these things while traveling and wonder later why you didn’t think of it.

photo credit: Thomas Hawk Thomas Hawk via photopin cc

August 17, 2011

Gettin’ Fishy With It

Gettin’ Fishy With It

Just because we aren’t traveling the world right now doesn’t mean we can’t view our own city through the eyes of a traveler.  Chicago has so many amazing places to see and foods to eat that there is plenty to blog about. My “Kim’s Tips” for Chicago started to look more like an e-book than a concise city guide, so for the next few months I’ll be featuring great spots in our home town. Hopefully, I will inspire locals to get out and enjoy their hometown and travelers to stop by Chicago and see what it has to offer!

Isaacson & Stein Fish Company

It’s been a long road, but I have seen the light on seafood. Clark gently introduced me to sea creatures through fried calamari and Captain D’s. Now, I gladly throw back oysters and chow down on a mouthwatering hunk of hamachi sashimi. We moved to the Fulton Market district at the end of April and started wandering around our ‘hood to find the best neighborhood places. We came across a plethora of Italian bakeries, subs shops, and pizzerias (subjects of a future post, don’t worry!). But, the biggest catch was Isaacson & Stein Fish Company.

Isaacson & Stein's Fish Company

Three generations have been running this market for over 80 years and it is the oldest fish wholesaler in the city. The current owner, Sherwin Willner, began working at the market at the age of seventeen in 1967. They sell to restaurants as well as every day folk.  It’s safe to say that the Crab Cake Crusted Trout at Wildfire last night came straight from the icy tubs of Isaacson’s.

Isaacson & Stein's Fish Company

Isaacson & Stein's Fish Company

Prepare yourself before walking through the doors. If you have a weak stomach or strong aversion to that overwhelming fishy smell, this is not the place for you! It is, however, Clark’s idea of heaven. It’s full of smelly, slimy, and seemingly smiling seafood. The scene is disturbing enough to bring a nine year old girl to hysterics. It didn’t help that her brother shoved a fish in her face and made it talk. Clark does the same thing to me nearly every visit, so I felt her pain.

In the summer, the gush of freezing cold air is a savoir after the three block walk from our apartment. You’ll hear sounds of fish being scaled, chopped, and tossed into buckets while the very jovial employees chat, laugh, and enjoy their work. If you wear sandals, be prepared for your feet to get icy, slimy, and stinky the minute you walk in the door. Once you taste the amazing freshness of the seafood, you’ll know it was worth it.

Isaacson’s receives daily shipments from Greece, Brazil, Costa Rica, Hawaii, Florida, the Gulf of Mexico, and loads of other countries on the Atlantic.  About 10 tons of seafood per week goes through their doors! They also have a nice supply of locally harvested fish from the Great Lakes. Some of the best sushi joints in the city even get their fish from Isaacson & Stein’s. The merry fish guys that work at Isaacson’s will happily clean and gut your fish on the spot.

The market is very crowded on the weekends, but that’s when you realize how good this place really is. You’ll rub shoulders with chef’s from Chicago’s top restaurants and little old Greek ladies planning a family meal. If you’re craving seafood, definitely head to Isaacson & Stein’s and buy enough fish to eat yourself into a mercury-induced coma.

January 11, 2011

Home for the Holidays

Home for the Holidays

We never had a strict plan for our trip. That was, sort of, the whole point. We promised each other to keep traveling as long as we both felt like it. This is the ideal itinerary, in my opinion. You do what you want, when you want, for as along as you want.

After the six month mark, many travelers feel desensitized and road weary. The UNESCO sights just don’t blow you away like they did at the beginning. Another ancient temple? Eh. One more perfect beach? Ho hum. There is so much to see and do in Southeast Asia, but Kim had days where she had no practically zero motivation to do much besides order Pad Thai across the street. After 200 days on the road, very little was new, different, or surprising to us anymore. We were still having fun, but the constant small battles really wear you down. Can you show me one taxi driver that knows where he is going in Bangkok? Do the tuk-tuk drivers really think I need a ride when I just stepped out of a cab?

Honestly, we weren’t getting the most from travel anymore. We needed a break. We needed to regain our motivation to see and do the things we quit our jobs for. “Different” became so routine that almost nothing felt different. Again, we were still enjoying ourselves, but we needed a change of pace.

As fate would have it, a few opportunities sprang up for both of us back home. A visit home started to make a lot of sense. We acknowledged we would have to see Cambodia and Vietnam another time, and we booked our return flight to the States. Soon after, we hit Bangkok’s many stores and loaded up on inexpensive goodies.

We even gave ourselves a bunch of tailored suits for Christmas, but that’s for a later post.

We let my family know of our plans (so we wouldn’t be out in the cold, literally) but decided to make it a surprise for Kim’s. We pulled it off pretty well. Her parents were definitely surprised.

We’ve been back for three weeks now, and we are still quite mobile and very homeless. Kim will be traveling solo to Guatemala to study Spanish, and I will…do something, I guess. She has a Master’s in Urban Education Leadership and will need to brush up on Español to boost her career as a school administrator.

I might travel. I might work. I am waiting on a few job opportunities, and depending on how things go, I am seriously thinking of spending some time in Costa Rica or Mexico to escape the unbearable Chicago winter. Maybe one of the drug cartels could use another henchman. I’ve heard Colombia is nice. I’ve also looked into backpacking the United States, but that is a difficult proposition. Unlike the rest of the world, our public transportation system is quite lame.

In the mean time, we are having fun in Chicago. It was great to be back for New Year’s Eve and catch up with our old friends. We rang in 2011 at a house party and sampled some ’68 Champagne. Not too bad.

Happy New Year - Chicago, USA

Happy New Year - Chicago, USA

Our decision to come back was made at the last minute, but it was the right decision. We are well rested and looking forward to more adventures. Kim flies to Guatemala City on January 19, and I’m sure I’ll find something of interest– career or travel wise.

There are more posts to come, so don’t un-bookmark us quite yet. We have covered “uncertainty”, but haven’t even touched on “beyond” yet.


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