"" Writer's Wanderings: January 2014

Friday, January 31, 2014

The Bento Box To Go

Our beautiful Japanese daughter-in-law has introduced us to lots of wonderful new foods and ideas for eating. One of those is the bento box. It's a container with little compartments so that you can enjoy a variety of tasty foods without having them get all mixed together on a plate. Bento boxes come in all sorts of sizes and shapes and when you order a bento box meal in a restaurant, you can sample several different items rather than getting a plateful of just one thing with a side of rice.

But the bento box is also a convenient way to tuck in some food for travel for the airplane or the car ride or the train or bus. Find a bento box with a lid and three or four compartments. Pack some healthy snacks like grapes (they always travel well), some cheese, crackers, trail mix (if you're traveling on public transportation you may want to exclude nuts), mini-carrots or other finger food that will help you get past the hungries while you travel. It sure beats over priced airline and airport food and will help to keep you healthier.

There are lots of recipes and ideas for bento box lunches, snacks, meals, if you search around the web. I found one that would travel and sounds good. It's a Tangy Apricot Pecan Pasta. Check it out. The site also sells boxes.

Grab some tortillas and wrap up some veggies and maybe a slice of ham or other lunchmeat. Slice them into smaller sections and tuck them in your box with fresh mini-carrots, grapes, and cherry tomatoes.

For breakfast, a small muffin and some fruit will travel well. Don't add yogurt until you're through TSA checks though. You can always find some at one of the airport kiosks.

And remember, you can take an empty water bottle through security and refill it once inside the concourse.

Domo arigato!

Thursday, January 30, 2014

The Travel Agency for Stuffed Toys

Afraid to fly? Not able to get around easily? Don't want to cope with jet lag? Send your favorite stuffed toy and let him do the traveling for you. The Unagi Travel Agency is a Japanese company designed just for that. You send your favorite stuffed toy to them and they take the toy on a tour of sites in Tokyo.

Once your toy reaches them, you will receive an email that it arrived safely. There will be pictures posted to Facebook so that you can see your favorite Teddy exploring Tokyo and having a great time in your place. The whole trip takes about 2-3 weeks by the time Teddy arrives, takes his tour, and then is returned to you.

It's a whole lot cheaper than going yourself. The tours range in price from $35 to $95 depending upon the one you pick.

We did a similar thing for our granddaughter last year. She sent us a Flat Stanley and he toured with us from Seattle to Cleveland to Florida including a stop at the Kennedy Space Center. I blogged the whole trip and put together a Shutterfly book for her to share with her class when she reported Flat Stanley's adventure. It was a lot of fun but virtual travel is not for me.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Things You Find At The Airport!

Our own Cleveland Hopkins Airport has some nice art work on the walls in some of the concourses and a nice relatively new food court but other airports have some unusual things to make your time between flights a lot more interesting.

The Heathrow Airport in England has nap rooms, cubicles with a bed and shower facilities that rent for $40 for 4 hours. Great idea for those traveling a good distance and can't sleep sitting up in a plane.

In Vancouver you can visit the large aquarium in the airport. This must be something more recent since we've been through there a few years back and didn't see it.

San Francisco, Burlington, Chicago and Dallas/Ft. Worth all have yoga rooms for those who need to work out and relieve the stress.

We found a small museum in the Athens Airport that was an interesting diversion. There is also one in the Amsterdam Schipol Airport that is an outpost of the Rijksmuseum.

I'm not a golfer but if I were this might appeal to me. There is a nine hole golf course at the Hong Kong Airport and is up to the United States Golf Association standards.

Now in all the research, I think the best find was the Singapore Airport. Wow. That's the place I want to be if my flight is canceled or delayed. They have all sorts of stuff for adults and kids including a butterfly garden, a koi pond, a movie house, lots of other gardens and horticultural displays and I found one site that says there's a huge covered slide for your amusement. Who knew an airport could be a destination?!

Friday, January 24, 2014

Breakfast in the Florida Everglades

We spent a day at the Everglades this week and arrived in time to see this cormorant catching his breakfast.

He hustled it ashore before it could break free of his grasp although with that hooked bill in him it would have been difficult to get away.

He worked at subduing the catfish by poking that hooked bill into a soft spot until the catfish stopped wiggling so fiercely.

Unfortunately the proverbial "eyes bigger than your stomach" or in this case throat prevailed and he couldn't swallow the whole thing. He ended up leaving it for the vultures who were standing nearby waiting for the right moment to capitalize on the situation.

Later, when we returned after lunch, we saw another catch by a cormorant only this time he flung his head back and swallowed the catfish whole, head first, in one gulp. You could see his throat expand. Then he gulped and the lump went away. Don't know how he managed to swim again with all of that in his belly.

Things are never dull when you explore the Everglades.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Calling All Girl Scout Grandmas!

It's Girl Scout cookie time. Arrived quickly, didn't it? If you are the fortunate grandma of a Girl Scout or two, you will most certainly be asked by those big hopeful eyes or quivering hopeful voices on the phone to purchase some. Now, I love those chocolate mint ones and have several scouts--related and non-related, who will ask me to buy some. I really can't afford the calories and unfortunately the ones I really want to buy from are located across the country from me. Last year they
spent more money sending me the boxes I purchased than the actual cost of the cookies. What to do?

At this point do you see the little light bulb above my head? It's actually one of those new-fangled energy saving coiled ones and it takes a bit longer to light up but eventually the light and my brain come to attention. Here's how the conversation on Skype went with my Seattle Girl Scout:

"Grandma, would you like to buy some Girl Scout cookies?"

"I would! But please don't mail them again. That costs way too much money."

"Uh-huh." She sounded disappointed but my next comment thoroughly caught her off-guard.

"I love your cookies but since I am so far away and it costs so much to mail them, how about doing this. I'll pay for two boxes of cookies and I want you to give one box to your teacher at school and one box to your Sunday school teacher. Okay?"

There was a pause while this sank in. Then a bright smile spread across her face. "Yeah. Okay!"

"Be sure to tell them it's from your Grandma. We wouldn't want them to think it was some sort of bribe--especially the one at school." That got a giggle.

I'm sharing this idea with the rest of you Girl Scout Grandmas--just in case your energy efficient light bulb doesn't light up fast enough. Smiles!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Road Trip - All Audio-books Are Not Created Equal

On our recent road trip to Florida I downloaded two books to listen to as we drove the 18 hours or so it took us to get to sunshine and warmer temperatures (note: We arrived to cloudy skies, strong wind gusts, and cool temps predicted to have wind chills in the 30s at night. No snow though!) The first book we listened to was The Paris Wife by Paula McLain and read by Carrington MacDuffie. It was very good.

The Paris Wife is the fictionalized story of the early years of Ernest Hemingway when he met and married Hadley Richardson. They lived in Paris the five years or so they were together and the story includes many of the writers and artists of the day that were gathered in this clutch of intellectualism. It is told from the point of view of Hadley who was entirely in love with Ernest despite his quirks. It reminded me some of the movie  Midnight in Paris that also portrays this group partying in Paris and our trip when we visited The Shakespeare and Company Bookstore where many of the writers were offered space to use as they created their literary works.

Next we plugged in Cover Of Snow by Jenny Milchman and read by Cassandra Campbell. The story line was good, a mystery to solve involving the apparent suicide of a police officer but right away I knew I wasn't in for a good "read." In the opening, as the protagonist discovers her husband's body, the reader was overly melodramatic and slow. Really slow. At a point where the heartbeat of the wife should have been racing, the words were slowly coming out. So slow I wanted to shout, "Get on with it!" Not having another book to plug in at the moment, we continued on and were hooked on the plot enough to want to see it through but I would have much rather read this at my own pace than listened to it.

Now I need to find a book with a good story line and a male reader. My husband has tired of the female readers. Time for a good suspense thriller with a male protagonist and a reader who keeps you awake on the highway.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Books For The Road - A Soldier's Heart

When you don't have a lot of time to read and need something to at least past the time while you are getting from point A to point B (usually sitting in an airport), a novella fills the bill nicely. Here is one I read recently that is worth a look: A Soldier's Heart by Tamara Lynn Kraft. It is actually #13 in a series called Murray Pura's American Civil War Series.

Kraft is from Ohio and she writes with authority as she has studied and researched the historical background of the civil war and Ohio's part in it. A Soldier's Heart surprised me as I had no idea that post traumatic stress syndrome was recognized back then but that's what they called a soldier's heart. The story is one man's struggle to overcome the awful things he experienced during his service and how his family and community helped him. It is interesting reading and short enough to get you through that layover in the airport and you can get a glimpse of Ohio albeit in the days of the Civil War.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Avoiding Travel Bloat

The last thing we want is to spend hours in a plane and/or arrive at our destination feeling like a balloon ready to explode. There are a few things we can do to alleviate that awful feeling starting with that trip past all those airport food places.

Avoid carbonated beverages. Stick to water. Coffee or tea if you must or a light juice like apple or cranberry. Something that won't cause a lot of acidity.

Stay away from sodium. Try to find something that is not so full of salt. Salads are a good choice. Have breakfast again and order "naked" eggs. Then you can add your own light sprinkle of salt. Steer clear of the bacon and sausage and opt for a fruit cup. If you must get a fast food meat item stay away from the Big Mac and the Whopper and go with the smaller versions. Split a small order of fries if you must have them or just eat half.

Artificial sweeteners are not your friend. Sucralose can cause bloating.

Step away from the Starbucks and Cinnabons. Too many calories and way too much to eat before sitting in a plane seat for a couple of hours. If you must, go light. Don't order the fancy lattes and get a mini-bon.

Eat light. It's best to get some good snacks: fruit, crackers with a little cheese, yogurt. A big meal will sit and sit and sit and build and build and build--well, you get the picture.

Get up and walk. This isn't always possible if you are flying into some turbulence but try to get up at least once to walk to the restroom and back. Even if you just stand in the aisle for a few minutes it will help. When you are between flights take advantage of the opportunity to exercise those legs. Walking will also
fend off the bloat that comes from sitting.  Your body will thank you.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Oh Those Pesky Cell Phone Charges Overseas

International travel can be a nightmare when you receive your cell phone bill if you don't take some precautions before your trip. Here are some ideas I gleaned from the web:

  1. Keep your phone in Airplane Mode. It turns off cellular and data usage but still allows you to use your phone when WiFi is available.
  2. Check with your service provider for a temporary International Data plan. Be aware however that if you don't cancel immediately when you get home the charges may keep coming and be increased. (Oh, the things we learn by experience.)
  3. Rely on Facetime, Skype, etc. for your communication with home. These only require a WiFi connection and you can usually get that for free at your hotel or a minimal charge at an internet cafe.
  4. SIM cards are possibility. Our phones wouldn't work with them but it's something you may want to check into with yours. There are some that are International and allow calling from different countries rather than buying one for each country you are traveling through. Just be sure it will work with your phone before you buy.
  5. If you don't mind changing your phone number for a short time, you can buy a phone with minutes loaded in the country you are visiting.
  6. If you are going to rely on your phone for directions, download maps that don't need a connection to use. Some are available at TripAdvisor, MetrO, and Pocket Earth.
Finally, don't let that smart phone out of your hand or travel bag or deep pocket. It can be gone in the blink of an eye. Get the latest security for your phone to lock out anyone who may acquire it by unethical means. At least then you know that all of your data (which hopefully you've backed up to a cloud or other service) isn't compromised.

I'm beginning to think I'm only as smart as my phone. How about you?

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

How Old is Too Old When It Comes To Travel?

With seniors who are living longer, healthier lives age is becoming less of a factor in many facets of travel. Seniors have more flexibility in schedules and can travel in less expensive seasons, stay longer, and take advantage of lots of discounts world wide. Here are some tips for seniors who are looking to travel more:

  1. Always ask if there is a senior discount. This applies to tours of sites of interest as well as hotel and transportation. Many countries honor seniors with a discount after the age of 60 at their historical sites and in their parks. A couple of times we even got free coffee in New Zealand!
  2. Be aware that you may have difficulty in some countries if you want to rent a car. Age limits apply sometimes and you will either be denied, need a doctor's note that you can drive, or be charged extra for the rental. Shop around.
  3. Plan your travel for the off-season and remember that off-season in one hemisphere may not be the same as another. If you plan your trip on the cusp of the change in season, you can usually still get the better weather as well as the better prices.
  4. If you are traveling a great distance, a long plane flight overseas for example, plan to stay a little longer and see more. Being retired has its perks. You don't have to be back for work on Monday. This allows a little more time for adjusting to the time change and taking advantage of what the area has to offer when you're not sure if you'll return again soon. We have found that long distances traveled begin to take their toll. So to enjoy the trip, we slow things down and plan to stay longer.
  5. If you have physical issues or health issues, you may want to look into some travel insurance that will cover you in the event that you require treatment, evacuation from the area, or cancellation of your trip. Choose wisely and weigh the alternatives. Insurance can be costly. 
If you have any more tips, please leave them below. I'm always looking for more ways to enhance these senior years of travel.

Monday, January 13, 2014

The Traveling Ambassador

Homework. We all hated it as a kid. If you are about to embark on the trip of a lifetime or just a nice time away from the usual work at home (I almost said homework), you need to do some research. Research is a nicer word than homework. Why research, you ask? Because if you are off to another area of the country or the world, you are about to be an ambassador.

Let's face it. We all label people by the region of the country or world where they live. In the USA, west coast, east coast, north, south or midwest, we are all a little different in our way of life and often in the way we speak. Certainly the differences in language and custom are accentuated when we visit a foreign country. Often our perception of a group of people is based on one or two we have met from that region. Sadly if the encounter was not a good one, it can leave a bad impression.

So, I'm back to homework. When you are planning your trip take time to notice some of the cultural differences especially the ones that are extremely different from yours. Check out the cuisine of the area. The food may be a little challenging to your palette and  if you know that ahead of time, you can adjust your expectations and plan on eating what you think you can handle. There is less chance that you will offend someone and thereby, you become a good ambassador representing all those back home and paving the way for the next traveler to be received warmly.

I remember a trip to Orlando back in the 70s when my parents took our families to Disney World. Dad didn't know that the hotel only had a buffet breakfast and he couldn't get his egg over easy on toast like usual. While it was a great trip, we all cringed every morning when he complained about the scrambled eggs he was forced to eat. Dad would not have made a good traveler. I'm sure that hotel breakfast staff was glad to see our trip end and those Northerners go home.

And then there was the Texan in London. I assumed he was Texan with his drawl and big 10 gallon cowboy hat. We were having breakfast in what was normally a quiet atmosphere in the hotel dining room. Brits are pretty quiet when they are not in a pub. (See, I'm classifying as well.) The waitress brought the man his "American breakfast" which was sausage, beans, eggs, toast, and some kind of potato. The sausage is not like what we usually get in the US and not many people eat baked beans in the morning. And who knows what kind of usual breakfast is served in Texas? Like my dad, it wasn't what he expected. He bellowed his disapproval to the whole restaurant. "Darlin' that's not an American breakfast!" I could see others around me giving each other a look and a nod as if to say, "another loud and rude American." I cringed.

Be a good ambassador when you travel. Be flexible. Put a little adventure into your life and try something new. And above all, be respectful. You are visiting someone else's homeland and that's the purpose of travel--to experience new things, different things, meet new people. Use a little diplomacy.

Friday, January 10, 2014

We Have Arrived! Now What?

Here you are at your destination. Time to begin--but where? Chances are, unless you drove to your destination, you have landed in a bus or train station or at an airport. The first thing to tackle is getting from there to the place you are staying. And if it is too early to check in, what will you do in the meantime?

Hopefully you have done all your planning before leaving home. With Google maps and other interactive locators, you can plot your path from here to there and figure out the best transportation arrangement. Taxi? Rental car? Bus? Train? Subway? It will reduce stress if you have a plan and work your plan. Public transportation in most big cities will have online schedules, maps, and even tickets or passes you can purchase ahead.

Most hotels and even B and Bs will allow you to leave your luggage with them if you arrive too early. Then you can start exploring. Just remember to keep those personal items with you like small electronics, medicines, passports, etc. Plan ahead for this and your backpack will be lighter. We often plan a bus tour (hop-on-hop-off) if it's available. We can relax from a long day of travel, stick our backpacks under our feet and get an idea of what we want to go back and explore a bit more. Sometimes you can get a good taxi tour for a decent rate.

When you plan your arrival day, leave some time to relax. Traveling is tiring--physically and mentally. Often you are also dealing with jet lag. We planned a little too much on a trip that started in Stresa, Italy, once. One the things on our itinerary was a trip in the funicular to the top of a mountain. There were no seats and everyone stood to see out the windows. Everything was fine on the way up but on the way down, the woman next to me screamed as she saw my husband start to collapse. He caught himself and laughed, assuring everyone he was okay. He'd literally fallen asleep on his feet.

I cannot stress enough the importance of carrying a bottle of water throughout your trip but even more importantly on that first day. You've been traveling for hours and no matter what mode of transportation, it can be dehydrating. Keeping your body replenished with H2O will help to keep you refreshed and healthy.

And, don't forget to let someone know you arrived. Facebook and/or Twitter
is not necessarily the best place to do that unless you have a great police department back home that keeps a good eye on your house and you've also installed a great security system. It's good to check in with someone from time to time especially if you are traveling alone. Smiling she says, "We like to check in with our kids so they know where their inheritance is being spent."

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Flying? Avoid That Dreaded Six-Lettered Word: STRESS

We all love vacations, time away from home exploring, relaxing, seeing new things and meeting new people. But most of us just don't like the getting there and most often it involves a plane which means checking in, going through security and trying to find room for your carry-ons.

Checking in can be done from home most of the time and if it's your return trip, often it can be done on your smart phone with wifi access. Otherwise, you can go to a kiosk at the counter for your airline and swipe a credit card, driver's license, passport, or just enter your reservation number and print your boarding pass right there. There is always someone handy to help you through the process.

Bags? Here's where a little preplanning can save you anxiety and money. Many airlines have no fee or charge a smaller fee for the first bag. After that it goes up, sometimes a lot. If you are going to be gone for more than a week, plan to have a laundry day. Many hotels and motels and even some B and Bs offer laundry facilities. Cruising? Often a ship will have a self laundry or you can send clothes out to be cleaned. The cost probably won't be any more than an extra bag and in most cases, less.

For your carry on, use a soft sided bag or backpack. It is easier to squeeze into an overhead bin or under the seat in front of you. If you absolutely must have two carry-ons, be sure to put all your personal items (electronics, medications, etc.) in one of them as you will most likely be asked to check the other at the gate. There is no charge for that but it can be a bit unnerving and inconvenient.

The best policy is to only carry on one bag that you can comfortably fit under the seat in front of you in case you find yourself in a crowded plane or one of those smaller commuter flights for one leg of your trip.

Remember that TSA policies are always changing and often are different in different countries. Most standard policies ask that you keep the liquids to the 3-1-1 rule: Containers with no more than 3 ounces each all put into a 1 quart ziploc bag and only 1 bag per person. Don't buy that bottle of water until you get through security. Or you could take an empty bottle through and fill it at a water fountain. Shoes on or off? Depends upon where you are. Keep an eye on those ahead of you or ask the TSA agent. Unless you have the right computer bag, your computer needs to come out and into a tray of its own. Tablets and eReaders not so much. Coats and outer sweaters or jackets will need to come off too. I just don't wear them to travel in any more or I take them off and stuff them in my backpack until I'm through security.

Grab a sandwich or snacks inside the airport before boarding unless you want to pay for airplane food or you're flying first class. Drinks are still free although we did run into a charge for coffee once. That didn't last long.

If you are uncertain about procedure or what is allowed, ask questions. It saves time. And if you find yourself stuck in an airport with a huge chunk of time between flights, you might want to ask at one of the airline lounges if you can buy a day pass. Chairs are comfy. There's usually snacks and TV and Wifi and a lot less noise.

Flight canceled? Get out that smart phone and call the airline while you walk to the ticket counter to rebook. Sometimes you can get it done faster that way especially if there are a hundred others in the same boat, er, plane as you.

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

All Cruise Balconies Are Not Created Equal

Our first experience on the Queen Mary 2 taught us to check out what the balcony looks like on a ship before booking the stateroom. The QM2's balcony on the lower deck is cut out of the hull. While you can stand out on the deck and get the fresh air and sunshine, if you sit in the chairs provided, you can't see over the railing. Other decks have balconies with the familiar plexiglass that allows you to see through it. Now if you are going transatlantic on the QM2, you won't be using the balcony much anyway. It is too breezy and usually too chilly to be out there long.

I thought we had gotten wiser but then we booked a mini suite on a Princess ship and discovered that the newly designed ships are tiered. Therefore while you have a very large balcony, the two decks above you look down on whatever you are doing out there. So much for a cozy breakfast on the balcony.

There are some other balconies you want to watch out for. If it's privacy you want, be careful of what stateroom you book on the large RC ships, Allure and Oasis of the Seas. Balconies on most ships face out to the water and unless you are in port with another ship docked across from you, you usually have plenty of privacy. On the two large RC ships, there are some rooms with balconies that overlook the center of the ship where the park and other themed sections are. They may not be as private but they could be entertaining.

If you are booking through a travel agent, be sure to express your concerns and preferences. TAs will have a good idea of the layout of the ship. Most of them get to tour the new ships when they first come out or at least have a source to check the stateroom out. If you are booking online, check with some of the forums like Cruise Critic to see what you room might really be like. Some cruisers will even tell you if the location on the ship is good with regards to vibrations, elevators, etc.

Now, if your purse is up to it, you can get a balcony with a hot tub! We stayed next to the luxury suite once. We were a little stateroom tucked between two suites. That's as close as we'll get to the big suites unless we win a

Monday, January 06, 2014

Credit Cards - Take Two

A couple of years ago we arrived on the island of Maui in February to begin a two week respite from the snow and cold back home. It's whale season then. The time when the whales populate the warm waters of Hawaii, mate and have babies. We were late getting there and and drove to our rented condo in the dark. By the time we reached our condo near Lahaina we had decided we didn't like the car that the rental place had given us and decided that we would exchange it for something else in the morning.

The airport rental car company was on our way to see Haleakala so it wasn't really out of our way to get rid of the big car and get something a little smaller with more comfortable seats. We pulled into the parking lot and for some reason, Bob checked his phone for messages. There was one from our credit card company that said we needed to call about suspicious charges. We smiled at one another and thought that maybe our charges for the car and a few other things had raised suspicion since we were so far from home.

Bob called and discovered that it was much more than that. Someone had bought musical CDs, some electronic equipment, and, lo and behold, signed up for a dating service. I raised my eyebrow at Bob. He shook his head vigorously. The credit card company canceled the card immediately and we arranged to have them FedEx us a new card ASAP. Unfortunately, we were miles from home and the weekend was looming ahead. We'd be without our major credit card until Monday at best!

Thankfully, I have a card that I use for my writing costs and we used that to get along. While the idea of consolidating all of our charges into just one card was a good one, in this instance it would have been disastrous if we'd not had a second card to fall back on. Of course Bob spent the weekend online and on the phone getting the new number registered with all the automatic payments we make.

Moral of the story I guess is that it might be prudent to carry two credit cards as you travel. Keep them separate, using only one and reserving the other for a backup. That way if one is stolen or, as in our case, the number pilfered somehow online your vacation can still go forward without interruption. It is still safer than carrying cash and much more accepted everywhere than are traveler's checks. Do they even make those any more?

Friday, January 03, 2014

Free eBook Giveaway! Death Among the Deckchairs

A cruise. A bikini clad body. What next?

All Casey wanted was a relaxing cruise where she could visit with her daughter, the cruise director, but suddenly she finds herself in the middle of a murder at sea. Who would have guessed the beautiful young woman dead in the deckchair next to her had an enemy who would use her love of the sun to end her life? When Max joins Casey, what she thought would be a romantic ending to her cruise becomes an intense search for evidence. Somewhere among all the dermatologists holding a conference on board ship is a killer. Is it the victim’s doctor husband? Or one of his co-workers? And how does the shark expert fit into the puzzle?

While I can't afford to give away a cruise (unless you have some way of making me a best-selling author with a huge advance) I can offer the chance to win a book that takes place on a cruise ship. Many of you probably received new eReaders for Christmas so here's a chance to win a download of Death Among the Deckchairs. Even if you don't have an eReader, it is possible with the Kindle app to download a version to your computer or smart phone. So here's how you get your free download. . .

Leave a comment below (not on my Facebook page but right here on the blog). In that comment, tell me what your dream cruise would be or tell me something that was outstanding about a cruise that you took. Leave your email address so I can contact you if you win. Please write it out as Your Name at mail dot com rather than as a link to avoid being harassed by those pesky bots that search for those things.

I will contact the winner/s (I'm guessing there will be more than one good comment) and send the code to download the book from Smashwords. That is the place where I can generate free codes for my books. You will have opportunity to choose whatever format you need--Kindle (mobi), Nook (epub), pdf, etc. I think there's even a way to just read it online.

Let's have some fun with this! Sure beats sitting at the window and watching it snow. You have until January 10 to post your comment. And be sure to pass on the news to other readers. If someone says you sent them to my blog, it's a guaranteed free download!

Thursday, January 02, 2014

New Zealand Impressions

Obviously if you have been following my New Zealand Diary posts, you know that we have been home for a while. Our trip ended on November 6 with a rather uneventful trip home albeit a very long one. We had a nine hour layover in Los Angeles thanks to United's change in our flight times. Total travel time was about 26 hours. But the memories are still fresh and I'd just like to share a little of the impressions I got from the wonderful country of New Zealand.

New Zealand is pastoral. You can see that from our pictures. It is quiet countryside with mostly small towns/cities. So relaxing for the traveler.

The service we experienced in the motels and B and Bs we stayed at was exceptional. Only once were we not escorted to our room, shown around, offered milk for our tea (which we used for cereal) and made to feel appreciated.

As I have shared with friends and family, I could count on one hand the times we saw any graffiti and then it wasn't much. There was no litter on the highways or even in the cities we visited. And people were very polite--even the kids! There were lots of skateboards and scooters primarily in the morning when the kids were on their way to school. If you moved over to let them pass, they invariably looked back over their shoulder and shouted a "Thank you!"

Perhaps if we'd spent more time in the larger cities we would have had a different experience but I'm thinking that the polite attitude extends from the countryside to there as well. I just want to know what they are doing right. Only once did we run into teens who were just slightly rude. Even then it was only a passing comment and not really foul language or nasty--more a funny joke among themselves as we were obviously old folks
out of breath climbing a bunch of stairs.

There is a pride in their country. It's obvious in how they look after it. The parks and public places we visited were well cared for. Even the toilets. Every town, no matter how small, had a public restroom that was very, very clean. One of the parks had a team of cleaners that even made sure the more "rustic" toilets were clean and litter free. It made me embarrassed to think of what they would run into should they visit the U.S.

Hats off to you, New Zealand. What a wonderful place to visit. We will cherish the memories of the places and people we visited and look forward to our stops there when we return in 2015 on a cruise.
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