Thursday, August 18, 2011

Ryan Air Anyone?

I have heard so many stories about Ryan Air and other budget airlines. Lets start with Ryan Air it is a budget airline, and you should expect to get what you pay for. But if what you are paying for is just to get from point A to Point B no frills needed, then you are in business! If what you think you are paying for is top notch service and extras than you should look at Virgin Air.

My favorite Ryan Air story comes from a co-worker. You see the airline does not assign seating, so first on the plane gets the best seat. And they board everyone at once (with one exception) and from both ends of the plane. So his story goes like this: Everyone gets checked in, and gathers outside the gate on the tarmac. An attendant unhooks the stantion, and everyone starts hauling ass to the airplane. No holds bars mad dash to the plane, children and elderly be damned, everyone for themselves kind of thing. I think-"well that just adds to the experience!". If you have a Ryan Air (or other budget airline) story, please share it in the comments-I'd love to hear it!

Let me tell you something...when Italians are confused and start asking you questions about how the airline works and if they are in the correct line, you should be concerned. When tell them in your best Italian (which is horrid) that you are in line for flight 1234 and hope you are correct and they take your advice-worry more. Low and behold my sucky Italian actually got me in the correct line, but not before I creeped up on other passengers to sneak a peek at their boarding passes just to be sure. And that one exception I mentioned before? For like 5 euros you can get priority boarding, which to me seems worth it, but at a 70% increase to my 7 euro ticket, I guess it is kinda steep. At the end of the saga (yeah, there were delays) my 5 extra euros got us all exit row seats, for far less than what American charges. And since our flight was just over an hour, it was all worth it. If you are flying a short flight and don't care about frills, I would highly suggest trying Ryan, if you are in for a long haul, I would seriously weigh comfort vs price, because sometimes, the extra $200 is well worth it.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Italian Odessey Part 2: Venice

Ahh, Venice. Often referred to as one of the most romantic cities in the world. Well, if you like see teenagers making out on every corner and think droves of tourists romantic, then I say go for it! In all honesty, while I don't think Venice is very romantic, it is an incredibly interesting city, and I think it should be visited at least once.

You may remember from my previous post here that there was a public transportation strike the day we arrived in Italy. Well, Venice was no different and when we got to the rental car drop off we learned that there were no taxis or vaperettos going to the island. So, we decided to keep the car, drive across and deal with that later. Pain in the ass that turned out to be.

Finally we arrived at our apartment, which was very cool and modern, which was strange to see inside such an old building (but also the reason that we picked it). Venice is a maze, a tangle of streets, canals, and piazzas with dead ends everywhere. Get a map. A good one, and then cross your fingers that you get where you are going because even the street names change every block in some places! If you do find your way around, Venice is packed with museums, great churches and neat little shops. One of our favorites was a tiny Venetian mask shop. And by tiny I mean it was maybe 10x10' and packed, there was probably only 10 sq ft of space to stand in and the four of us pretty much were cramped in there. The thought was that as a thank you for traveling to my sisters wedding in Italy, she would give them a Venetian mask (along with some other items). The store was so charming filled with all these masks, just magical.

The Wedding party and guests in our masks

One of the masks from the tiny shop
We did check out the Rialto Market, which was pure insanity. So much hustle and bustle, and everything from beautiful stores selling Murano, to stands selling key chains-and people everywhere, lots of tourists. I love open air markets enjoy the hustle and bustle of them, just know what you are getting yourself into-this place is busy with tourist shopping for souvenirs, chefs strolling the pesceteria, and everything in between. I believe that having a realistic expectation of what you are getting into is part of the key to enjoying travel. If you expect to stroll charming markets and get crazy market, you will be dissapointed. If you expect crazy market you will get and experience that treats all your senses, sight, sound, smell. taste, everything.

In fact, expectation is key to everything. I have heard from so many people, and read so many unhappy reviews, and I often ask, "Well what were you expecting, and why?". When you read reviews, take the exceptionally good and bad with a grain of salt-the truth is in the middle somewhere. And, lighten up some. I read a review once that said "BUGS!! Do not stay here!" in the title. I was totally thinking bed bugs. Ick! It turns out that he saw some ants by the window and it ruined his experience at that hotel. Really. Ants. They ruined his trip. Lighten up-you are in the tropics there are way worse things there than ants.

A typical Venitian canal at night
All in all I can say that we checked out Venice and I truly appreciate the engineering that went into building this city, but it is over run with visitors and for me at least, was not as charming as others made it out to be. I did however take some great photos, and can see why people see this labyrinth of a city as being among the most beautiful in the world.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Shopping Bag Six!

One of the Animal Rescue of Texas volunteers was at the Texas Theater in Oak Cliff last month. She was approached by a couple of kids who asked if she wanted a puppy. They opened a sack and inside was 6 overheated, dehydrated, hungry, five week old puppies that they were trying to sell for ten bucks each. She could not turn her back and took all six home. They have since been dubbed "The Shopping Bag Six". 
All puppies are doing well and are as cute as can be! There are still four available for adoption if anyone is interested! So here is some puppy cuteness to get your day started:

You can also visit their Facebook page here!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Life is Too Short to Drink Bad Wine

Ahh...Northern California, I love you so! With your great weather, great wine, and the great outdoors I could stay there forever-or at least until I run out of money. We just got back from a mad dash weekend trip to Sonoma. We typically go to wine country once or twice a year, and always discover new wineries, and usually squeeze in time to hike in some Redwoods.

This trip was a little different than our usual ones and we learned a few things along the way. My BF owns a restaurant, and usually his fantastic reps set us up at wineries who then wine us and dine us, but this trip we were meeting friends out there and opted to forgo the rep itinerary. We learned a thing or two on this trip, and had a travel ideal really come into focus for us also.

The first thing we learned (or realized) is that we use Sonoma/Napa as the test run for whether we can travel with other people. After all, that is how the four of us started traveling together several years ago. With all of us staying in a house together, plus all the wine and the general having to cooperate so we can follow/agree on a plan it is a true test of patience, planning, and perseverance. If we can't work it out here, we certainly won't survive each other outside the country.

Lesson 1-You should actually stay with the people to get a good picture of if you will travel well together. It also makes it easier to find said people once you are there, and keeps everyone on the same schedule. Otherwise someone is coming while others are going. It may be worth noting that the more people in your group, the bigger the need to have a more defined plan. Ever ask a dozen people what they want for lunch, and then try to make them all show up at once? Its not easy, and then people get "hangry", you know, when your hungry, and the lack of food makes you angry? Not pretty.

The bocce score board
We visited several wineries, our aim was to visit small "mom and pop" type wineries, and just have a laid back weekend. At Sunce, a winery in front of the owners home, the guys had bocce ball smack down, while us ladies relaxed in the amazing weather. Sunce is super charming and owned by the regions reining bocce ball champ, who also happens to make an excellent Meritage.

Even though we were an hour and a half late, Jim of Pedroncelli Winery, gave us a lovely tour and told us about how four generations of their family have worked the winery and vineyards. Built around the original family home, Jim's office is his old bedroom when he was a child!
Imagery was another cool winery we visited, all of the artwork for their labels is commissioned by artists. The winery sits on a beautiful property, and on the weekends they grill on the patio for guests. Special thanks to our host Bull, who tipped us off to great burgers at the Wolf House, Jack London's Pub. Very laid back cool staff, a gorgeous patio, and awesome burgers and fries. They were so yummy I took a pic before they disappeared.

Beer on tap at the Wolf House Jack London's Pub, and the best fries ever!

Misty-soft and fuzzy, but watch out!
We also checked out Merry Edwards, run by one of California's first female winemakers. Merry Edwards has two winery cats-a nice one, and a not so nice one...and although she was very sweet to my travel companions, we were told that there was an incident that spurred the winery to make a warning sign! Another winery we checked out was the Larson Family Winery, who makes a wine called Three Lab Cab. Yes, we picked the winery based on the fact that they named one of their wines after their dogs. The winery has been family owned since the 1800'. 

Sunny, doin' what what he does best.

And on that note, Lesson 2-wineries with dogs are always more fun than ones without. I think we may have to plan a trip just based on which places have winery dogs. I have never been to a winery that had dogs and wasn't in general full of laid back, friendly, and genuinely nice good people (and their furry sidekicks).

So Lesson 3, is really something we already knew, but I think is the key to traveling-or at least why we enjoy traveling. It is the people you encounter along the way that make traveling worth it. Of course I want to see the ancient places, natures greatest, and all the other things the world has to offer, but it is those people that we come across along the way that make the best trips, whether it is for a few hours of wine tasting, or weeks trekking across a country. I feel very fortunate to have family and friends that I can travel with and am grateful for all of those that I have met all around the world.