Tuesday, May 16, 2017

EAA Museum- Great Place for Families

1 of 30 nose art pieces on display currently
We were in Oshkosh, Wisconsin for the weekend where we visited the EAA Museum.  Since I spent 21 years in the Air Force, I have an interest in aircraft but had never been to this attraction. It features and supports experimental aircraft, but it also has a great collection of other aircraft and memorabilia.  
replica of the Wright Brothers aircraft

The current exhibit of WWII nose art is rare and unusual. This is the first museum to display these vintage paintings. Though some might find them offensive because of the women depicted, it is a view into the history of warfare. Some pieces are in the main hangar gallery, while the more provocative are in a segregated area with a warning to parents. They are beautifully presented with a history about the artists and where the aircraft flew.

Our 11 year old son was invited to take a plane ride on the opposite side of the grounds with a volunteer pilot as part of the young eagles program. This program promotes aviation among young people ages 8-17. Older teens can fly in a biplane. It was definitely the highlight of his day going up in the air and actually having the opportunity to man the controls as they flew over Oshkosh. The flight was about 10 minutes. Be sure to take the trolley to the flight side of the grounds whether you plan to take a flight because there are several hangars full of aircraft.
Checking out the plane before flight

Strapped in and ready for flight
If you want to make a day of the EAA grounds, bring a fishing pole and a picnic lunch.  It has a beautiful natural area and a fishing pond.

With a new theater showing older flight related movies, you can go to evening events.  There are also special events scheduled throughout the year, which include displays, social gatherings, and aircraft rides like the B-17.

For us it was a memorable day and though we skimmed through the museum in a couple hours, we could easily go back again and learn something new.  The volunteers are what really make this place great.  If you go, let me know what you enjoyed most!

Monday, May 15, 2017

Holland Michigan Tulip Festival

My front yard in bloom
There's something so encouraging about seeing tulips in bloom.  It's why my own yard is planted in hundreds of the pretty flowers. We know that winter is behind us and summer ahead.  The days are getting longer and that means more time outside in the sunshine.  Though I would love to be in the Netherlands right now, the US has some pretty good places to enjoy tulips on a smaller scale.

We had been to Pella for tulip season two years ago and thoroughly enjoyed the color and festive atmosphere. This year we wanted to see Holland Michigan,  known for its Tulip Time festival. Unfortunately it was very cold, so we didn't stand outside for too long, but we made our way quickly through some of the parks taking a few photos. First stop was the Windmill Island Gardens, where we paid admission, and there were tulips galore as well as costumed performers and a reenactment with fur traders, which was colorful and fun. People could have a tour of the windmill, or see the enormous organ play. Shops sold traditional cookies and sandwiches.

tulips with the white tents in the rear, used by the reenactors and merchants

Next stop was the downtown park Window on the Waterfront, which had a nice monument and again, thousands of tulips. They even had an explanation about why they didn't have more- hungry deer had eaten about 9000 in winter. This is a free stop with walking paths to a nice wetland/wildlife area at the rear. During the festival, there were trolleys to take people around the city.

Traditional Dutch costumes on these statues at the front of the park
There was an art fair at Centennial Park going on during the festival, with unique handcrafted items.  At the center of the park were performing Dutch dancers, though we didn't stay for it.  I just wanted to get into a warm place and drink some coffee. I know the photos look sunny, but it was about 38 degrees F and quite windy. The tulips were indeed beautiful though.  Well worth a visit if you are there in early May.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Some Oddities in Dubai- Box Park and Miracle Gardens

I think the places that really surprised me in Dubai were the shopping mall made of shipping crates and the enormous A380 airliner completely covered in flowers.  Would you expect that?  Dubai can be full of surprises and I love that about the city. I enjoy knowing that there will always be something new to explore.

The Boxpark might be the best place to watch New Year's Eve fireworks, as it is outside the city center but has a great view. It's marketed as a hip shopping and dining experience, and has most of the shops you'd see in any city, but every one of them has some component that comes from a shipping container.  They are stacked and arranged like a set of building blocks, though unless you really take a closer look, you wouldn't know they weren't average buildings.  It is a place you just have to see to appreciate the engineering, architecture and beauty of the space. They even managed to sneak in patio tables, a chalkboard, and play areas for kids. I thought it was genius. We didn't do much shopping, but stopped to enjoy a gelato.

Dubai's Miracle Garden is an anomaly.  I mean, who would have thought you could grow millions of flowers in the desert? We went early in the day, but it was still incredibly hot.  The displays are a mix of structures with annual flowers planted into pots covering them, as well as normal landscaping scenes.  The A380 was a totally new way to recycle a plane though. It made the Guiness Book of World Records. If you go, bring your camera and plan to spend about an hour. With cafes surrounding the gardens, it's easy to find a place to enjoy a cold drink or snack.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Dubai- A Family Playground

We got in the tank with live sharks
I've been to Dubai several times, and each visit we focus on some new aspect of it.  There are so many choices that you could probably try a new place every day of the year. This time, we went because the Atlantis Hotel was running a special that made the rooms affordable for a long stay, and the cost included 2 meals a day (called half board). I learned once we got there, Virgin Atlantic Airlines has a special agreement with them for an even lower price with inclusive meals if you fly with them from London. If you have that option, check it out.

It was my son's spring break, which meant others were also enjoying their spring breaks, and it was operating at capacity. I normally don't like that kind of environment, but we managed to find ways around the crowds. We ate meals at the smaller restaurants instead of buffets, went to the waterpark near closing time, and got a rental car to do things outside the resort. There was a magazine type guidebook in the room that was a good read for finding the lesser known places in the hotel complex. You can also stumble into good deals, or just ask the concierge for advice.  Everyone was very helpful.

Most people we met were coming to the Atlantis just to enjoy the Atlantis.  It's kind of a long drive from the city center and the airport because you have to go to the far end of the palm island, so that makes sense.  The Aquaventure waterpark (ranked one of the best in the world), 2 swimming pools, and aquarium are included with your stay. We loved the aquarium, but went at the last hour before closing and laid on floor pillows in front of the huge tanks. What a wonderful end to the day. I took the once a week yoga session at the aquarium, which can be booked once you get there. Talk about a wonderful relaxing way to start the day. It was a favorite experience. We also tried the shark experience, ate afternoon tea in the restaurant with a fish tank, and played in the game room.

One evening we walked along the boardwalk that fronts the hotel and watched the sunset. That's a great people watching place.  You can rent a bike and hit up all the food trucks if you're hungry. They really have thought of everything.

Dubai has several new theme parks since we were there last time, so on a rainy day we tried IMG Worlds of Adventure, which is indoors. My son likes Lazytown, so he enjoyed the live show. He also enjoyed seeing his parents absolutely scared out of their minds riding the superfast roller coaster. There are plenty of food stops, live shows, and rides.  It was not busy at all on a weekday. We booked a night time show at Bollywood, and loved it.  They allow you to enter an hour before the show at no additional cost, so we managed a few rides too. With so many theme parks in the area, you could probably spend an entire week just visiting them.  Even in the summer, they are open late and have lots of indoor spaces, so don't let heat keep you away.

If you're a theater person and enjoy live shows, you can book tickets in the heart of the souk at Madinat Jumeirah. They had a kids' play so we spent a couple hours there for a matinee performance and enjoyed both the play and walking through the aisles of beautiful goods. Plenty of food options there too.

We still have quite a few things left to try- ice skating, skiing, more theme parks...looking forward to our next visit! If you want to read about previous visits, here are links to the desert safari and Dubai during Ramadan. 

Thursday, May 4, 2017

What Happens at a Travel Blogger's Conference?

Showing the hashtag to be used for every event on the big screen

I've been blogging for five years, but it was only a few months ago I realized there were conferences for this kind of thing. I had done the Amateur Traveler podcast program about Milwaukee, and as I followed the host, Chris Christensen, he mentioned a conference happening in Jerusalem, that happened to be the week before our family vacation to Dubai was planned. The conference, Travel Blog Exchange (TBEX), cost less than $200 and included tours.  It sounded like a real adventure, so I bought a ticket and planned my trip which would also include a few days in neighboring Jordan.

The conference formal session lasts just three days, but is bookended with free tours, evening events, cooking classes, food tours and parties arranged by the hosting city. In this case, it was I Travel Jerusalem. You can also apply for longer tours that extend into the region in small groups. If you're chosen, you're expected to write about the experience and places you've seen. It's a fair tradeoff for anyone with passion, energy, and the ability to connect with an audience. We received a free transit pass and a mobile phone sim card so we could truly explore and share what we were seeing.

TBEX hosts three conferences every year in different geographic regions, so there is an opportunity to see a variety of places, though many of the speakers and sessions will be the same. With multiple tracks, it's impossible to hear every presentation anyway. The other conference locations were in Europe and the USA. Dressed in typical office wear, I showed up for free breakfast and a group session.  Then the tracks featuring many well known travel professionals were set up throughout the day.  With short breaks and snacks in between, there was time to ask questions of people I had been following as they traveled the world. I expected I'd be among the older participants, but it turned out that I was in good company. Some were younger. Others were older than myself.
 Just a selfie with my new friends
Bloggers come with all kinds of interests: food, fashion, UNESCO sites, museums, family, gay travel, disabilities, travel with pets, solo adventures...the list goes on. So, the impact for the hosting city can be enormous with hundreds of travel writers using social media to tweet, blog, and instagram their way through the local sights. Each has a different approach and audience. Nearly all walk with cameras or smart phones.  A few even had go-pro video cams attached to their bodies at all times. Some did video blogs or interviews with locals, as well as other bloggers.  There seemed to be something happening at every minute of every day.

Doing tours with other adults was a bit of a novelty for me since I normally travel with my family, and being with other travelers was nothing short of amazing.  It was easy to make friends, share travel stories, and find a way to connect in future.  We exchanged business cards and instagram accounts.  I followed many on twitter and Facebook. Nearly every destination I had on my future travel wish list had an expert in the room who could offer tips. It was like being at adult summer camp. Though I was exhausted at the end of the conference, I thoroughly enjoyed it.
On a tour through Jerusalem, we hear about local social problems
Just a few weeks later, I attended another travel blogger event in Milwaukee that I stumbled upon looking through Eventbrite- Women in Travel Summit (WITS). It was too good to be true that something this fantastic was happening in my own home town. This one was only for females, and run similarly to TBEX, it had general sessions for 2 days and tours at either end. Having written the Milwaukee Bucket List, most of the tours were at places I had already seen, so I didn't participate in those, but it was interesting reading the social media posts of bloggers from other places discovering my favorite haunts for the first time. It reinforced my love of Milwaukee.  Visit Milwaukee did a great job of providing materials and arranging interesting things to do for attendees. There was even an evening event at the Harley Davidson Museum featuring live music.
Ladies who attended WITS in Milwaukee
For travel bloggers and others in the travel industry, I'd recommend attending one of these conferences.  I learned a lot, connected with people, and enjoyed exploring a new city. Too often, I feel we're in our own travel bubble, but having fun with people who have similar interests was unforgettable. 

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Finding Deals for International Road Trips

There’s something incredibly liberating about driving around a foreign country with your bags tucked in the trunk, radio blasting some unfamiliar tunes, and snacks right beside you. You have the freedom to make your own itinerary. You can stop at roadside stands to buy fresh fruit. If you see a destination  on a roundabout sign, you can follow it freely.  Once you’ve done this, a commercial tour with a rigid itinerary just won’t do. It does take a bit of courage though, and a device to help you find your way like an iPhone with a data plan or a GPS with local maps downloaded. My usual takeaway from a road trip is that I feel accomplished, having gone out of my comfort zone a bit more. Every trip brings something new- roadsigns in a foreign language, police checkpoints, tolls to be paid, and interesting vehicles like the truck we saw carrying an enormous load of hay.

Last summer, we took a month long road trip around Morocco, which I wrote about in a book coming out in June, called Journey to Fez.  We found our vehicle, a tan Citroen Berlingo using Groupon Coupon before we left the US, and picked it up at an office in Marrakesh. We drove more than 1000 miles, through dusty rural roads shared with donkey carts, and also on the modern tollways through mountains. It was an adventure, to be sure. My husband who has never had a speeding ticket in his life, got two during this trip. It was impossible to avoid them. Police were everywhere. 
Police held speed guns along the street

Our car for the month
For anyone planning a trip, you’ll find that Groupon is the first place to go when searching for bargains.  You might be familiar with city tours or restaurant deals, but with Groupon Coupon, you can search companies that advertise through them, click on links for whatever you need, and save a bundle.  In this case, we used Sixt, a company we’ve used several times abroad in Zagreb, Santorini, and most recently Dubai.  It’s our go-to company because of price, service, and quality of vehicles. In every case, we got a car that was nearly brand new for much cheaper than we would have paid in the US, and the price was in US dollars, payable by credit card.

Using Groupon Coupon is easy, no matter what you’re seeking. You can find hotels, electronics, clothing stores, and much more. Just look for the coupons tab at Groupon.  You don’t actually need to copy a code or print anything. Just click on the coupon and it should take you to the deal at their website.  Easy peasy. So where would you like to drive this summer? A road trip adventure awaits you!

This post contains sponsored links from Groupon.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Jerusalem- So Much More Than I Expected

Jerusalem has holy sites and much more

During a visit I made to Jerusalem in March, I was treated to history and a lot more by iTravelJerusalem and other local sponsors.  The event was a Travel Blog Exchange conference and it was four action-packed days of speakers, tours, and special events. Naturally we made our way through the ancient, walled city to see holy sites, like the Western Wall, often called the Wailing Wall where Jews pray and fold up notes to be placed in cracks along the wall. But there were many surprises too.

Jerusalem is full of artwork.  From the murals at a renovated marketplace to the modern graffiti by local street artists, you will find a variety of beautiful paintings.

A portion of a larger mural at Cardo, a collonaded area
More of the Cardo, which is being renovated

Local artist Dan Groover creates a piece before our eyes

 Food stands and a fashion show by some of the city's top designers was held at a place called The First Station. They turned an old station for train travel between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem into an outdoor mall. If fashion is your thing, you might review some of the articles in TimeOut about fashion and where to find it. Eclectic, modern, beautiful, elegant. So many words to describe the gowns coming from this region.
Look at the evening designs by Persy
And talking about shopping...the city is full of shops with everything from tourist goodies to high quality gold and clothing. Spend a morning walking through the various quarters of the city to enjoy the markets.  Then walk along some of the city streets for pedestrians only.  More on top shopping destinations to get you started.  Walk slow enough that you can look at windows.  Sometimes you'll find hidden bargains.  You will undoubtedly see street performers too.

The Market in the Muslim Quarter

You can buy all kinds of food at Machane Yehuda. Eat as you go.
Carry coins to tip the musicians who will gladly play for you

Even a ventriloquist for all ages

Stop at a cafe for coffee thick enough to eat with a spoon
The highlight of the week was a music festival held on city streets and parks, and then an outdoor light and sound show at the Tower of David, called the Night Spectacular. Jerusalem is a city of festivals.  Who knew that it could be so hip and fun? I really enjoyed every facet of the outdoor night time experiences.

Projections on the wall tell the story

Ths Tower of David at night is quite beautiful and a great place for a city view
It was easy to get around during my stay. With buses, a light rail, and plenty of walkable spaces I found everything. People were eager to help tourists with questions and everyone spoke English. I used Googlemaps for instructions on what bus line to take and where to walk. Taxis were plentiful but quite expensive.  A trip just a few miles in length cost more than a shared van from the Tel Aviv airport.