Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Camping on the Beach

I was aware of the camping at Cinnamon Bay in the USVI, but doing a search came across camping at Jost Van Dyke. I visited this party location on my last trip, and it seemed cool.

Ivans Campground

Monday, July 6, 2009

DC for the 4th!

I spent the July 4th weekend in Washington DC. My weekend got off to a slow start with the airport backed up by a fog that had lasted for the last 3 days. Once my plane landed the public transportation to the city was no longer running. I had to shell out an extra $30 to get to the city, but I was ready to hit the town. I went to Clyde's in Chinatown and got a crab cake minutes before they closed the kitchen. I also ordered a #9 beer, which I just then realized tasted like apricots. The pints certainly seemed bigger in DC, I was ready for a good time. I slept in late, and did some work the next day on an iPhone App. I had some tasty Indian food from the restaurant across the street from the hostel, and the hostel had a fridge full of red-white-blue cupcakes that I feasted on. I went out to the Brickskellar for drinks after loading up on sushi at the only happy hour sushi place I have ever been to. I had a $5 spicy tuna roll and $5 spicy salmon roll. They were pretty awesome. I had a few belgian triples at the Brickskellar along with a russian beer at The Russian House. I drank too much and that night the air conditioning didn't work at the DC HI hostel in my room. It was miserable.
After I recovered I had a tasty burger at the "5 Guys" burger joint, and went to down to the national mall. I stopped at the portrait gallery, and saw the famous Obama picture with "Hope". It is a very compelling picture even though I am not a fan of Obama and his policies.
I then walked through the art gallery and found a spot on the capital lawn for the evening concert and fireworks.
The next day I went to see the Smithsonian Folklife festival on the national mall which features cultural exhibits from African-Americans (Chicago?), Wales, and Northern Mexico. I thought the rappers and Mexican artists were cool.
I walked all over the mall, went in many of the museums, and went to the washington, lincoln, jefferson, mason memorials. I didn't realize George Mason had such a strong influence on our nation. It seemed worth looking into. I went over to Georgetown for dinner, but was really too tired to do much.
I fly back to Boston on the 10:30 am flight, and headed back to work.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Argentinian Malbec

This 2003 Argentinian Malbec I brought back from my trip to Buenos Aires. It is a mix of 50% Malbec and 50% Cabernet Savignon. You can find more info about this wine here.

The CNBC website suggests that Argentinian Malbec's can be a great value, and that the 2002 and 2003 years are the best.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Friday, April 3, 2009


I have always wanted to try grappa after reading Hemingway novels. He commonly drinks it in Spain, but it is also a popular drink in South America. There they drink it mixed with honey. Interestingly, there is no mention of this on the webtender website. So, if you want a taste of Buenos Aires, order a Grappa con miele. Grappa is a form of Brandy, and wikipedia suggests trying it with espresso.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Skype iPhone App

I just downloaded the Skype iPhone App from the App Store. I was able to log-in to my account, but was unable to make a call. The app requires a Wifi connection, and is disabled when the phone is connected to 3G. This app will be great when I travel and have Wifi access. Unfortunately, this came a week too late for my last trip to South America.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Mega-bus recap

I made it back to New York Penn Station to catch the Mega-bus for the final leg of my South America trip. Initially, I wasn't sure where to find the bus, since they don't pick up passengers at the same place they drop off. I wandered around Penn Station and had seen the Bolt buses on my trip to New York. I walked down to the drop off point, and still couldn't find where they picked up. Walking back, I saw a Mega-bus drive by and finally found a bunch of people waiting by a Mega-bus outside Madison Square gardens. The place was a circus, and not just because a bunch of people were getting out of the Wringling Brothers show inside the gardens. There were lines for a number of buses going up and down the East coast, and I bought a gyro while waiting for mine. After a 20 minute wait, I was on my way to Boston.

While waiting I overheard a conversation between two girls who preferred the Greyhound service from the Port Authority. While Greyhound charges $20 o/w, you can wait inside, and it is a much less hectic environment. I think for a few extra bucks I can agree.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Cheap international phone calls

The NY Times has an interstesting article about how to get cheap calls overseas using Fring or Skype.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Hostel Review: Portal de Sur

This hostel goes in my pantheon of rejected hostels. I will never stay
here again. I was woken at 7 am to a bass line of blaring music from
the hostel's neighbor. I'd rather not do that again. This place has a
lot going for it, but I need my sleep.

Sent from my iPhone

Sunday, March 15, 2009

New drinking laws in Utah

Having traveled to Utah several times for the Sundance Film Festival, I was glad to read recently that Utah has eliminated their archaic liquor law that requires drinkers to be members of a club. This ridiculous law required purchasing for a few dollars a "membership" in order to buy a drink. Utah has other liquor laws, similar to other states, that regulate the strength of drinks that can be purchased at a bar versus with a meal. I don't believe these laws have changed. The article mentions a law requiring restaurants to mix drinks out of the view of children. Apparently, common sense still escapes this state. The reason suggested for the change was the lost tourism dollars caused by people shunning this backwards state.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

HI-Boston is upgrading

The Boston Globe has an article about them moving to a new location. They are abandoning their 208 bed location by Berkeley, which leaves a lot to be desired, for a new location with 375 beds. Hopefully, this one will be rebuilt as a hostel, unlike the old building which feels like bathrooms were shoe-horned into closets.
They also mentioned not renting the building from BU that they set up a summer hostel in Boston. I have never stayed there, but I was surprised to read the average bed is $30. I paid $40 the last time I was there.

Visa on order

I made it to the Brazillian consulate in Boston at 9 am, in time to be #10 in line for a tourist visa. The visa costs $130, by money order, and signs posted in the consulate say it is only that high because the US charges the same for Brazil. All of the other countries listed were MUCH lower, usually below $50. I had my itinerary to go with the tour guide into Brazil, but not my itinerary to fly to Argentina. Apparently, this wasn't acceptable, and I had to go across the building to print these. (another $5 gone) After waiting for about 2.5 hours total, I think in the future I will do this by mail. I still have to go pick up my passport and visa up on monday. Brazil better be awesome for all of this running around.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Brazilian Consulate

I am hoping to visit Brazil on my trip next week, but I still need a visa to cross into the country. The consulate offers 20 visas a day at their offices, but I was a few people past that limit when they gave out the numbers. I plan to arrive much earlier tomorrow in an attempt to be further up in line. The place felt like a stuffy meat market, and there were a bunch of other people waiting, apparently not for visas.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Spring Break is Back!

The New York Times is reporting that resorts are wooing students to drum up more business. In a good economy, the spring break crowd has been increasingly considered more trouble than they are worth. Panama Beach City, FL, is going to be hosting MTV once again in a week of drunken reality shows and inane hilarity.

Students can get some good deals by sharing rooms through STA Travel, a popular student travel network. For non-spring breakers, I recently saw a deal from Jetblue offering what I believe was $69 flights from Boston to Cancun (courtesy of Travel Zoo). That was very tempting in this sub-20 degree weather.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Czech Inn: Hostel Web Cam

While many hostels have pictures of their accomodations on their website, the CZECH INN Hostel (curious name) has a link to a web cam right on their home page. While the video isn't great, it does give you a warm, fuzzy feeling of seeing the hostel live. The web cam page refreshes the video every few seconds to give a live streaming view of the hostel. Located in Prague, it has some pretty good ratings on hostelz.com.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Toilets for a Quid

A BBC article just announced that Ryanair CEO, Michael O'Leary, was considering charging a pound to use the airplane restrooms. Available after depositing money through a "coin slot on the toilet door", the restrooms may become a new revenue stream for the airline. More likely a PR stunt to get the airline in the papers, the PR chief down-played the idea. A more palatable money saver the airline just announced is the plan to close down all of its airline check-in desks by the end of the year.

While Ryanair has certainly led the budget airline market in Europe, it sure would be nice if some of the prices they offer were available in the US. I am not sure if these techniques are what makes the low prices possible. A more vibrant traveling culture in the US would certainly help to stimulate the economy. President Obama should look at how budget travel can stimulate the economy and lead to richer life-style for Americans.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Steve Ricks: Euro-nerd video

Rick Steves recently posted to his blog this amusing spoof video:

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Hostel Review: Santa Cruz HI

The Santa Cruz HI Hostel is a set of bungalows conveniently located in downtown Santa Cruz near the beach and boardwalk. The hostel is a mixed bag with pros and cons that should be weighed before you check-in. The hostel is quaint, nicely furnished, and located on a quiet street. The hostel offers free wifi, a good sized kitchen, and a computer available for $1/10 minutes. The downside to this hostel are the restrictive lock-out and curfew rules, and the cadre of older men staying here. The lock-out rule seems minor, considering on a nice warm day you would probably want to go down to the beach. However, during my stay it mostly rained and number of guests were wondering where to go for 6 hours (11am - 5 pm). Additionally, check-in can only occur after 5 pm, an inconvenient restriction when you just want to drop off your stuff and relax for a little during the day. The 11 pm curfew also seems unnecessary, especially, for travelers wanting to go out for a late night on the weekend. Finally, the most annoying part of this hostel is the older guests who seem creepy, annoying, and snore all night. I had an interesting conversation where a guy thought the electromagnetic field was causing a buzzing in his head.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Rental car prices

I looked up rental car prices a few days before my trip on hotels.com. Many budget rental services offered cars for $25/day. When I checked the prices on the day of my trip, they jumped to $60. The only company that was in the previous price range was Payless that offered a sedan for $26 on orbitz.com. The rental company was off the airport premises, had it's office in the foyer of an Econolodge. When I arrived the Payless customer rep. wasn't there, and the Econolodge suggested I check the Payless website in the mean time to see if I could get a better deal. I thought it was funny the Econolodge guy was trying to get me a better deal, and he offered 20% off a room, also. I wasn't sticking around, so I didn't take him up on the offer. While the Payless website certainly looks professional, the Oakland dealer seemed more like amateur hour. The car I rented had about 50K miles on it, but I guess I can't complain about the price.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Website Review: Hotels.com

I booked my first night in Oakland at the La Quinta near the Oakland Airport. This is my first time to use the site eventhough I have been visually barraged at the airport by people w/ the name on their boarding pass envelope. I didn't have much trouble booking a room, and the price was the same as the price on the La Quinta website before taxes. I was happy with the experience and glad it didn't make me spend a lot of time creating a customer account. I could book it and be done.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Marin Headlands HI Hostel

The Marin Headlands HI hostel is located in the beautiful Marin Headlands, a part of Golden Gate National Recreation Area. The hostel is a converted hospital on a former military base built to fortify the San Francisco bay. The park contains plenty of paths for hiking and is a quiet respite from San Francisco. The following picture shows the beach a short walk from the hostel and visitor center.

The hostel has a huge sitting area, which was nicely furnished and surprisingly modern for such an old building. The hostel felt nearly empty, and offered an atmosphere of a slower pace to life than my stay in downtown San Francisco. Another couple staying in the hostel were enjoying their "staycation" the weekend after New Years. The hostel was also conveniently located near Sausalito and Muir Woods, both beautiful spots.

The staff were very friendly, and the hostel is in a great natural location, but you probably want a car to get there.

HI San Francisco: Downtown

I stayed at the San Francisco: Downtown hostel over new years, and had mixed feelings about the hostel. The foyer just inside the entrance has a cool changing map displayed on the wall, and the map zooms in and out on the San Francisco area. There are a few couches in the foyer, but it isn't a large area. The people at the front desk will check visitors for reservations, but I found it lax when there are a large number of people waiting to check-in. The hostel has an old elevator, left over from when the building was a hotel. The hostel still displays the "Hotel Virginia" sign, which is kind of odd. [See here]

My room was in the front of the building and contained two bunk beds and an attached bathroom. I rarely used the bathroom since the window didn't seem to close properly and it could get quite cold. Below you can see my room, a little dishevelled.

There were two bathrooms across the hall in the interior of the building which were perfectly usable, but one night I think someone slept in one of the bathrooms and locked the door. The room was kind of noisy due to it being right on the street, but it was nice to have so few people in my room. The hostel offered a very simple continental breakfast consisting mostly of toast, bagels, and coffee. I believe the hostel had wifi, but I don't really remember using it all that much.