New Year’s Day on AmaMagna

Everything had a bit of a delayed start on New Year’s Day, but I was up, as usual. I had my early breakfast, did a bit at the gym, walked around the ship, watched us go through a few locks, and had lunch. We arrived in Melk at around 2:00, where the big tour of the day was Melk Abbey. That involved a short bus ride up the hill to the Abbey, a tour of the Abbey, and a walk back down the hill and through the town, on our own. Here are some highlights of the day:

As a friendly reminder, I am a travel advisor/agent and can organize these same experiences for you!

Entering a lock on the Danube
Approaching the bridge. Will we make it??
Just made it under the bridge!
Panoramic view from Melk Abbey
Photos are not allowed in the Abbey 🤫
😍

Don’t like tours or cruises? Maybe you’re a FIT. What’s that?!?

When traveling, some people like to go to a companies that offer tours, whether they are small groups or large groups. These tours often have a specific purpose or theme, such as “Spanish Wine Tour” or “Classical Music in Vienna,” and the group will have a set itinerary, which probably also allows for a certain amount of free time. These can be great, and I encourage you to check out my host agency, Travelex International, which offers several wonderful music, food, and wine themed tours each year. Tell them I sent you, so that I get credit for it! 🙂


Jonathan Pilkington, of Pilkington Travels, LLC, is an independent affiliate of
Travelex International, a Virtuoso Member Agency.

Of course, another “easy” way to travel is going on a cruise. The convenience of a cruise is that you unpack once, and your accommodations, food, and transportation are taken care of for the entire week. Over the course of a 7-day cruise, you’ll visit anywhere from 3-5 different ports. The ports may be different cities within the same country, different islands in the Caribbean (or Greece, or Hawaii), or each day might take you to a different country. This can be very fun and exciting. You leave the ship in the morning, explore the port town, maybe take an excursion, and you return back to the ship in the evening for dinner, entertainment, dancing, etc.FIT Travel Cruise Tour Dancing Party

However, this isn’t for everyone. Many people would prefer to fly to one location, stay there for a week, be immersed in the culture, get to know people around town, and live like a local. In the travel industry, this person is known is a FIT. So what is that? A FIT is a Fully Independent Traveler. While a FIT may travel solo, that isn’t necessarily what it means. A FIT can be a solo traveler, a couple, a family, or a group. A FIT doesn’t like to be tied down to a set itinerary each day. A FIT may take part in tours as part of their trip, but they will select tours that specifically interest them and provide a better experience than they would have on their own.

Train Tour Alaska Skagway White Pass

In my opinion, a FIT trip can range from a quick, weekend getaway to an extended European tour. It may seem that a FIT can make all of the arrangements themselves, and they can. However, since everyone is busy these days, and there is so much information available on the internet, it is a great idea to use a travel advisor. The travel advisor’s business is to know the best places to go for information, to have a network of contacts who can help when they don’t know all of the answers, and to help the traveler get the biggest “bang for their buck.” Travel advisors have access to resources that other people do not have, and through consortiums and other resources, they can often provide special perks and incentives. There is great VALUE in using a travel advisor!

The FIT need not worry that they will lose control of their plans. A great travel advisor will be there throughout the entire process to get to know the client, provide options, and adjust hotels, flights, etc. to fit the client’s needs. For some people, though, the convenience might be the most valuable thing.

I feel that part of my job is to educate people about the benefits of using a travel advisor, because we can really be a valuable resource. I absolutely love this work and am excited every time I get to plan any amount of travel for someone. They say that the anticipation of travel is almost as beneficial to our well-being as the travel itself, and I am grateful to experience this over and over again with my clients. If you have not considered using a travel advisor in the past, I would encourage you to try it. Maybe start small, the next time you need a hotel reservation, or start big, with the trip of your lifetime!

Please visit my website, www.pilkingtontravels.com or contact me below!

Cruise vs All-Inclusive: The Pilkington Perspective

 

This post is inspired by my recent visit to El Dorado Royale in Cancun, Mexico. It was my first visit to an all-inclusive resort. I discuss check-in, the property, entertainment, meal times and food, as well as entertainment and activities. Hopefully this helps, and feel free to reach out if I can help you decide what is best for you!

It is no secret, I love going on cruises, whether is a 3-day cruise or a 15-day cruise. I first started going on cruises when, as a single college professor, I was looking for somewhere to travel solo during spring break. I was able to afford a decent trip, but all of the “deals” I found required a single supplement (the fine print would say something like “$250 supplement for solo travelers”), or I would have to pay double. With a lot of internet research, I found out about Norwegian Cruise Line’s studio cabins, which are specifically for the solo cabins. I decided on the NCL Epic, which was one of the first ships to offer the studios. They also have the “Studio Lounge,” which hosts a daily solo meet-up. This is not a match making thing. It is simply to encourage people to mingle, make friends, and go to dinner and events together.

I had no idea whether or not I would love or hate the cruise, whether I would be bored, whether I would make friends, or what would happen. On the first night, I went to the solo gathering and ended up having dinner with three people who became my friends for the rest of the cruise. We had a fantastic time. There is a general understanding among solo travelers that there is no pressure to hang out. Solo time is respected, but if you want to interact, there is a place for you. At the end of the 7-day cruise, I didn’t want to leave. It was the most fun, relaxing vacation I had ever had. That was in 2015, and I have been on eight other NCL cruises since then, as well as one on Holland America and another with Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line. Even my worst cruise wasn’t bad, and I’ve always enjoyed it.

Now that I am a travel advisor, I feel a bit of a need to experience different locations and ways of traveling. As I travel, I try to see the big picture, but I also see myself as an advocate for the solo traveler. In the past year, I was unusually aware of several friends going on vacation in Cancun, so when I found myself with a few free days at the end of the summer, I decided on a quick visit to El Dorado Royale. Since they offered a rate for one person, that seemed like a good sign.

I flew direct from Atlanta to Cancun and then took the shuttle (paid for with my reservation) from Cancun airport to the resort. From the start, everyone was very friendly. However, check-in was annoying and lengthy. All I cared about was lunch since it was 2:00 EST and I hadn’t eaten. I was told that my room was not ready, but I was able to enjoy the property, eat lunch, etc, and return at 3:00 CST for my room. I had learned from cruises to pack my swimsuit in my backpack so that when my suitcase is taken, I can change. I did not realize that the same would apply here, so I was stuck in the clothes that I had flown in.

I was directed to a restaurant overlooking the ocean and had a nice, light lunch. I then checked out some of the property before going back to the lobby to see if my room was ready. It wasn’t, so I walked around some more and returned at 3:00. It still wan’t ready, and I showed obvious disappointment. About 30 seconds later, a bellman came and told me that we were going to go to my room, and hopefully it would be ready when we arrived. As we arrived, they were putting the finishing touches on the room, so that was fine! For comparison, a cruise is similar in this way. An announcement is made giving an estimate of when cabins will be ready, and then a final announcement is made when they are ready.  I appreciate that on a cruise, there is no need to keep checking, unless you choose to do that. Next time at a resort, I will be prepared with a change of clothes!

IMG_1911

The property was beautiful and well maintained. The pools were plentiful, with bars and restaurants scattered about conveniently. Of course, this was a beachfront property, but I didn’t see a lot of people in the ocean or on the beach. Also, my room, which was described as a “beachfront suite,” was not really beachfront. I had a view of palm trees and had to duck and squint through the branches to see the beach or the ocean. That was a bit of a disappointment.

Resort Beachfront palm trees
View from my room

At mealtimes on an NCL cruise, you arrive at the restaurant and are asked for your keycard, and they will ask how many. If you are dining alone, there is no issue made of it. I should mention that sometimes you will be asked if you would like to be seated with other people, and on certain days, that could be nice. At El Dorado Royale, when I showed up at a restaurant alone, I was usually asked if I would like a table for two. I would look around awkwardly at the otherwise empty lobby and say, “No. I am only one person.” This was so annoying to me, and when I provided feedback about it, their response was that since it is adults only, they are trained to assume that people are in couples. Ugh, that is an old-fashioned, unhelpful response! While I don’t mind dining alone anywhere, it is best if dining alone is treated as a non-issue, as it is on cruises.

Speaking of mealtime, I should discuss food. I chose El Dorado Royale because they advertise their “Gourmet Inclusive Experience.” Based on reviews I read, my expectations were cautiously optimistic, and I was pleasantly surprised. On my first night, I went to the Fuentes Culinary Theatre, which is basically a cooking show. It was fun, and the food was interesting and delicious. Also, after googling the wines offered in the wine pairings, I decided to pay for the pairings. While I didn’t necessarily feel that the wines were perfect pairings for the courses, I enjoyed all of the wines offered. Another outstanding meal was a lunch at the Asian restaurant, Kampai. The Korean beef was delicious. Also, the steak dinner I had at Santa Fe was delicious! Although it can vary in quality, I always enjoy most of my cruise food as well, so in the food category, cruise vs resort are quite even.

 

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At the resort, there would be a few entertainment options each evening. There was a guitarist who sang some songs by one of the bars/restaurants, and there were different shows each night. I would say that the entertainment was good enough. On a cruise, the same is true. The shows are on a grander scale, though. On a cruise, though, you will find musical acts throughout the ship at any time during the day. At the pool, music will vary throughout the day from a DJ to different live bands, and inside the ship, there will be different small acts scattered about at different times. At the resort, you would only find recorded music at the pools during the day. I found that different pools had different music, though, and I liked the chill “house” music that was played at the pool by the Health Bar that served smoothies, salads, etc.

Mexican Fiesta show at El Dorado
Mexican Fiesta show at El Dorado

On a cruise, you can walk for miles going from one thing to another. If you have trouble walking, you either walk less, or you take a motorized scooter with you. You also have the option of stairs or elevator to go up or down. At a resort, the property is very spread out, and you can also do a ton of walking. However, at this resort, there were golf carts everywhere ready to shuttle people about. It is just like taking a taxi, and you tell them where you want to go. To get to some restaurants would be a 20 minute walk, or a quick ride on a golf cart. I generally prefer walking, but at the same time, when you choose to walk at the resort, you arrive sweaty. There is no escaping the heat! On a cruise, when you walk, you can escape the heat by going inside.

Golf Cart ride at all inclusive resort
Golf Cart Ride

I suppose some people like a change of scenery, and some people like to be at the same place for a while. If you are at a resort, you are just at the resort, unless you pay a lot of money to leave the resort. You have to arrange for a taxi and go through security as you come and go, and the taxis are not cheap. I visited a different resort that I chose because it was nearby, and the taxi was $20 each way! There were a lot of British people at this resort, and some told me that they were there for two weeks. If that’s what they like, that’s fine, but I was ready for something different after 3 days. Of course, on a cruise, you either have a sea day or a port day. Sea days are fun for enjoying the ship, but after one or two, you are ready for a port day, and then you end up on a different island, usually in a different country. That is fun and fascinating to me! I have heard of people who fear feeling stir-crazy or claustrophobic on a ship, but I actually felt more that way at a resort.

Finally, as far as activities, there were some good ones offered at the resort throughout the day. I did the 8am yoga class each day, and they were fantastic. Other things, such as cooking classes, water polo, bike ride, and rifle shooting were all available and free of charge. There was a weekly schedule posted, and it appeared that the schedule would remain the same for the season. On a cruise, there are also many different activities on board, such as language classes, fitness classes, dancing classes, and game shows. Most are free, but some have an extra charge. I feel like there is typically a greater variety of activities on a cruise, but I was pleasantly surprised by the variety offered at the resort.

Yoga class at El Dorado Royale
Yoga class at El Dorado Royale

To sum it all up, each type of vacation has its own set of pros and cons. For me the cruise wins, especially Norwegian Cruise Line, because of how solo travelers are treated. Maybe other resorts are geared toward the solo traveler (I need to find them), but it seems that couples are generally happier at a resort. I enjoy seeing a new place each day but having the comfort of my cruise cabin; however, I understand that some people like to stay put and do nothing but drink cocktails by the pool all day. Another important thing is that I love on a cruise is getting up to see the sunrise and then seeing it set in the evening. At this particular resort, I found that near impossible. Maybe I could have seen the sunrise on the beach, but the sunset was behind the trees. I will try other resorts in the future, but the cruise has my heart for the overall experience!

Please follow my blog, find me on Facebook & Instagram, and visit my website! You may also contact me here for help in planning your next adventure:

 

5 Facts About Using a Travel Advisor

Travel Advisor Pilkington Blue Hill Stone Barns

Pilkington Travels, LLC is my company name, and I am an independent affiliate of Travelex International. That is a mouthful, but it is all important! Travelex International, established in 1992, is a Virtuoso® member travel agency that advises travelers in personalized leisure travel, custom group travel & corporate travel. As a Virtuoso® member, one of the top 1% of travel agencies worldwide, we provide custom itineraries for our distinctive clientele to the seven continents of the world and throughout the United States.

As a travel advisor, I now know that my first job is to educate people about what a travel advisor does and the value of using one. Here are five things that stand out to me!

  1. Travel Advisor” is now the correct term. A great travel advisor, along with their own expertise, has an extensive, international network and support system to guide their clients through the process of planning travel. This includes selecting the best flights, hotels, experiences, and even restaurant recommendations, as well as support along the way. The old travel agent might have been a person to book airfare & hotels, but our industry has evolved to meet (and exceed) the needs of 21st Century clients!
  2. Travel Advisors should be paid for their time and expertise. If you want the best accountant, you pay them for their services, even if you are getting a tax return. While a travel advisor may charge a fee, the overall trip cost will be very similar, if not lower, than booking independently, but the VALUE of having the support of an advisor is priceless. A travel advisor will be there for you if anything goes wrong. For example, if I book air through my agency, Travelex International, and your flight is canceled, we can deal with the airline for you, often before the general public knows about it!
  3. A Virtuoso travel advisor, which I am, elevates every trip. We know how to get the best value for your time and money, and, thanks to our global connections, we can VIP you at hotels, on cruise lines, on tours, and more. All of our suppliers are vetted to ensure that they offer a high level of quality and service.
  4. As a travel advisor, it is an honor to help clients wisely use their hard-earned money and leisure time. Americans, in particular, are often criticized for not traveling internationally. However, when someone has only two weeks out of the year to vacation, they stay close to home. That is fine! However, I hope to educate clients that it might be possible, and more gratifying, to do more with your time, while staying in your budget. If you choose to go to the same resort you’ve always enjoyed, maybe there are extra perks available through an advisor!
  5. You might find an excellent deal from one of the popular travel sites, and those actually can be fine. However, you don’t have the one-on-one support of a travel advisor who can make sure you have a good flight (minimal connections, good seat, etc), choose a hotel that meets your desires, and support you from beginning to end with personalized trip specifically for you! We can also get you perks that you can’t get on your own or on the internet.

Please contact me to explore your travel options!

 

My Solo 7-Day Alaska Cruise: How and Why

IMG_0075Over the past year, I have transitioned from being a full time college professor to being a freelance voice teacher, singer, and travel advisor with Travelex International. Summer is a scary time for an educator since income is reduced, but I’ve become pretty good at saving thanks to my budgeting app that I mention later. While I might be a bit crazy to book an Alaska cruise with a somewhat uncertain future, I knew that everything would work out (without going into debt)!

I usually cruise with Norwegian Cruise Line because they have studio cabins, which are intended for solo travelers. In case you didn’t know, solo travelers usually have to pay for 2 people, and that’s really annoying! NCL’s studio cabins are great. They are 100 square feet, but they’re so well designed that it’s comfortable enough. Even if they were not so well designed, I have no interest in spending time in my cabin, except to sleep and shower!

ncl_Bliss_Studio.jpeg
NCL Bliss Studio

One of my favorite features about the studio cabins on NCL Bliss is the “virtual balcony”. It might sound cheesy, but it is a the screen to the right of the bed, and it shows you what is happening on the outside of the ship. The regular interior cabins don’t have that, so this is a nice little perk. You can also always turn the television (to the left of the bed) to “a view from the bridge” which shows what the captain sees in front of the ship. Another fun feature of staying in a studio is the Studio Lounge, which is sort of a living room and gathering place for solo travelers.

The Studio Lounge on Norwegian Bliss
NCL Bliss Studio Lounge

The “studio host” will have daily meeting at around 5:00 to organize activities, dinners, etc for those who want do things with other people. I have made some really fun friends this way, and I am still in touch with them. My FAVORITE thing in the Studio Lounge is the coffee machine. It is an automatic espresso machine that grinds fresh beans and brews espressos, lattes, and cappuccinos for free. This may not sound like a big deal, but if you want espresso elsewhere on the ship, you have to pay for it. This machine made my mornings so much better!

In searching for an Alaska cruise, I considered NCL Joy, Bliss, and Jewel. Jewel was actually the least expensive cruise, but it was a one-way cruise. While that is actually appealing, it complicates getting flights. If the cruise leaves from Seward, AK, you fly to Anchorage and make your way to Seward, which is over 2 hours away. That is fine, but it would be best to have one or two days to enjoy the area before the cruise. I didn’t have that option on this trip. Then you disembark in Victoria, B.C. and have to fly home from there. I decided that round trip from Seattle was a better option for me.google map anchorage seward

That left me to choose between Bliss & Joy. I sailed on Bliss in May of 2018 and had an amazing experience. I also got to know a lot of the staff and wanted to see some familiar faces. Joy was originally designed for the Asian market but was reworked for US sailings. While it would have been fun to sail on a different ship, I chose Bliss.

I use YNAB (You Need A Budget), which really has changed my financial life. It is a budgeting app that works a bit differently. You place money into categories as you make it, so every dollar has a job. Travel is a priority, so this has allowed me to make it a priority while paying my other bills!

That is the How & Why of my Alaska cruise. I will soon publish a post about the actual cruise, which was wonderful!

Day 12: Just look at the pretty pictures

This is the time late in my trip that I don’t feel like writing about every detail, and you might not feel like reading them either. 🙂 I’m going to post a bunch of photos and make comments when needed. It was a good, full day of squeezing in as much as possible in a sort period of time. The main thing is that I absolutely love this city and the people here, and I definitely need to return to explore more of the city and the rest of the country!

The morning. A stroll through Vondelpark and The Van Gogh Museum:


The Heineken Experience. Like Guinness in Ireland, Heineken is very important to Amsterdam. They did a lot to build the city and make it what it is today.


Lunch at a place recommended by someone at my hotel. It is a place where locals go to hang out. They don’t even have English on their menu, and I didn’t hear anyone speaking English. I loved it!!

I read that the Dutch love this thing called “gezellig.” It is sort of just hanging out in a cozy, warm place, and I think this place is very typical of that.

Friends waiting to surprise someone for a baby shower
My table
Salad with quinoa, beets, and feta. It was delicious!!

A few other things from the walk before or after lunch:

Really interesting architecture!
People boarding a river cruise. #goals

I had free admission to The Eye Film Museum. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but they happened to have a huge Martin Scorsese exhibit. Kind of odd to see that in Amsterdam, but it was very interesting. Scorsese was definitely involved in putting this together, since many of the things are just his personal belongings:

The museum is the oddly shaped building on the left
The family’s dining room table from Little Italy
Dress from The Aviator
Boxing Shorts & Gloves from “Raging Bull”
Some of Scorsese’s record collection
On the ferry from The Eye, going back to Centraal
Really famous ice cream place. It was time for a snack. Only 1 Euro for a small cone!
It was described as “unbelievably good vanilla ice cream.” It was good, but I thought it was sort of like Chic-fil-A’s Ice Dream or Dairy Queen Ice Cream.
Last stop before nap time
There are hooks at the tops of gables for hoisting things up to the top floors!
Pigeons near my hotel

I was overdue for a nap, so I returned to the hotel. I wasn’t sure where to go for dinner, but I remembered that Amsterdam has a pretty new Food Hall. Just like I am a sucker for a rooftop, I am a sucker for a food hall (Ponce City Market & Krog St Market!). My hotel friend confirmed that it would be a good place to go, so that’s what I did! After that, I decided to take a canal cruise, which was for free with my iamsterdam card. Finally, before going home for the night, I got some fries. Fries with mayo are a big thing here, so I needed to have some. I actually walked about a mile to find a place that was supposed to be the best, but they had closed at 5:00 (I was there at 10:00). Oh well…

A few more pictures from my evening:

The house boats were amazing!

Last day of this trip & Closing thoughts

 Considering that I only had about 1/2 a day to complete my time in Oslo, I was pretty productive. It certainly helped that it was another beautiful day! After breakfast, finishing up yesterday’s blog, and actually falling asleep again (because I woke up around 5:30), I went out to explore the Akershus Fortress at the recommendation of my host. On the way there, I stopped by Joe and the Juice, a juice and coffee bar that I’ve seen since I was in Reykjavik. I got a juice that I believe was called Joe’s Green Kiss. I had freshly squeezed spinach, apple, and ginger. I’m glad to have had the opportunity to try it before leaving Scandinavia. Yum!

Akershus was a short walk from there, and it is an old fortress area between Aker Brygge and the Opera House. There are many buildings to see and a nice view of the port, although the place wasn’t actually open when I was there. It was a nice place to walk around and take some photos, anyway. I thought I might go into the Visitor’s Center, which had some sort of exhibit, at 10:00, but when it wasn’t open at 10:03, I left.

      

I decided to just wander around the main shopping area, which is basically like wandering around 34th street in NYC. I went into Steen & Strøm, Oslo’s equivalent to Macy’s or one of the major stores in London. It is a very nice store, and of course, I was interested in their food court on the bottom level. They have several very nice establishments down there, including a sushi place called Jonathan! It must be good! They also had a Marks & Spencer (or M&S), a store I always enjoy in London. The Scandinavian people seem to have an obsession with stuff in tubes. When I was at Anne-Helene’s in Bergen, she served me caviar in a tube, but they have several varieties of tubular goo. Here they had BaconOst, SkinkeOst (ham), and BBQ Chicken Ost. The caviar at breakfast was supposed to be eaten with the soft boiled egg. Not sure of the use of all of this stuff, but I can imagine that it would go on toast. Using Google Translate, I found out that “ost” is cheese, so Bacon Cheese, Ham Cheese, BBQ Chicken Cheese…hmmm….

  

I went in several other stores, which I always enjoy since it just gives a good feel for the culture of the area. I noticed a lot of book stores everywhere I was on this trip, so I went in two today. I was most excited by, and tempted to buy, a 48 CD collection of Ella Fitzgerald because it was pretty inexpensive. It must be all of her recordings! I resisted, hoping that I could either find it at home or find the recordings that I want on vinyl.

Eventually, I made it to where i was planning to have lunch, which was Fiskeriet Youngstorget, a fish market and restaurant. When I got there, I noticed an outdoor area with some vendors setting up in the plaza nearby, including some food vendors, as well as a random assortment of vendors selling things like records and DVDs. I flipped through the records a bit but didn’t feel terribly inspired to buy anything. I went ahead and went to get my lunch. Considering the ridiculous eating I’ve done lately, I wanted something on the lighter side. What I had been considering all along was fish soup, which is apparently something very common in Norway. Bacalao is another thing they have often, and I was truly torn about what to order. Even worse, once I went ahead and ordered the fish soup, I noticed that they had salads ready to go, which is  less expensive than eating in. Oh well, I had chosen the fish soup, and I was happy with my decision. It was delicious and a good last meal in Oslo.

    

I walked through the rest of the building where Fiskeriet was, which houses a theatre, in addition to several other restaurants. I came across one of the oddest statues I’ve seen anywhere. Maybe it was in front of a dance center of some sort? I also thought I should point out the use of of firs on chairs in all of Norway. I’m not sure of the point, but many restaurants have firs draped over the backs of chairs. They also often have blankets available at places with outdoor seating. They sell these things at Ikea, so it might be an interesting thing to do in the USA.

  

I got back to the apartment and gathered my belongings. I weighed them on the scale in the bathroom first to be sure that I wasn’t over Norwegian Airline’s limit. I was just under. I was carrying more in the suitcase this time and less in the backpack. I took the airport shuttle train from the central station, which really is the most convenient airport shuttle ever. It costs around $23, I think and takes about 20 minutes from the center of the city directly to the airport terminal.

I had plenty of time to spare in the airport, especially since check-in and security were both extremely easy, so I wandered around some of the shops and bought a piece of chocolate and a refrigerator magnet with my remaining Norwegian Kroner. For certain flights, including flights to the US, as well as one on Qatar Airlines (probably all non-EU flights), there was another checkpoint to go through to stamp passports. Woo hoo, another country stamped in the passport!

  Rolls Royce engine. Not too shabby!  

Boarding the flight was easy, and I once again had seat with good legroom in the front of the plane. This time, it would be particularly important since this is about a 9 hour flight to Fort Lauderdale! Watching people as they board a plane is always an interesting event, and I got to see many of them, including the lady who sat in then window seat on my row. She was wearing a Versace fur stoll. I couldn’t tell if she was American and from the Palm Beach area or if she was European. Later on, after we took off just a few minutes late, she didn’t have any headphones for the entertainment system on the flight. They cost $3 to purchase, and she had some cash in her hand. She eventually got a flight attendant’s attention and told her that she had lost her purse in a taxi earlier that day so all she had was cash. Fortunately the flight attendant was able to give her a headset to use, although the only form of payment they accept is credit cards. 

Meals had to be pre-ordered on this flight, so I hope this lady didn’t need anything to eat for a while. They announced that after the main meal service, there would be a snack served to everyone before landing. I had ordered a gluten-free meal, not that the meals are usually a problem on flights, but I kind of wanted to see what was served. I got some sort of chicken with broccoli & rice, along with a salad and 2 small cinnamon roll things. I think that instead of being specifically gluten free, the meal was completely free of anything that would cause anyone an adverser reaction, such as salt, dairy, etc. It was not very good, but a bit of salt helped.

I began eating my salad and took one bite along with a spicy olive that was in it. Then I noticed what I first thought was a piece of dill. It moved. Out crawled what was attached to the antenna—a very live bug. I put the lid on the salad and rang for a flight attendant. They were busy serving everyone else, so they didn’t get to me until they were finished. Oddly, the flight attendant wasn’t horrified. She just kind of laughed and said she would see if she could find me something else. She came back with two options. The one I chose was some raw carrots and cauliflower with a curry dip. It was probably better than the salad anyway. The cinnamon roll things were OK, but I was jealous when I saw someone behind me eating ice cream. You live & learn.

Two men sitting next to me were laughing and enjoying themselves—laughing and talking—and they ordered some wine (3 small bottles each). They tried to order more wine, and the flight attendants cut them off. I don’t believe that the wine was causing them to be loud—they were just having fun. A bit later, one of the men asked a flight attendant why they couldn’t get the other wine they ordered, and they were told that in another hour they could get more. The man said that he hadn’t seen the other man for 25 years and that was why they were a bit rowdy. That conversation continued for a while off & on, and I got pretty annoyed with it, especially since the flight attendants started giving them a lot of water, meanwhile it was like the Sahara for everyone else!

Oh, and I watched “The Imitation Game,” which I had been wanting to see. Great movie! Later on I watched “Darjeeling Limited” and most of “Horrible Bosses,” in addition to a great episode of “Mr. Selfridge.” It was a long flight!

Overall it was a pretty good flight, and there was a beautiful sunset as we arrived in Fort Lauderdale. My legs were getting a bit restless by the end. When they served the snack, I was ready for it. It was a small sandwich with yogurt and apple juice. It was actually just what I needed to make it through the rest of the flight and customs & immigration. At some point, the fancy lady next to me was talking with a flight attendant and told her that she was on her way to Naples, FL to see her boyfriend/fiancee. She seemed to have a French accent. The 2 rowdy men nearby settled down for a while, and I think the flight attendants gave them free wine, which I found pretty annoying!

Arrival in Fort Lauderdale could use some improvement. First of all, you have to load a bus that takes you to the gate. Then, there were only two baggage carousels for all of the international flights arriving. To make this “work,” they clear the carousel and put the baggage from the previous flight in the middle of the floor so that the bags from the latest flight can load. It was a mad house, and apparently two or three huge flights had just arrived as well. They only had three people for the final customs check for all of these people, so after waiting about 30 minutes for my bag, it took at least 30 minutes to get through the final line.

I requested an Uber to pick me up, and my driver was great. It took him a while to get there because of the traffic from the other five million people who were waiting for rides. The place I was staying, another Airbnb place, was just a few miles from the airport, and it was easy to get to. The host had left a key under the door mat for me. As I entered, I realized this was the least nice place I’ve stayed from Airbnb. I know this area is really expensive to live, so having a nice place isn’t easy. I couldn’t figure out how to turn on a light to begin, and once I did, I saw that things were just a bit messy. It wasn’t necessarily dirty—just messy. The room I would be staying in was nice and neat, so I put my things down, got some water, and went to the Publix to find something for breakfast.

I got a cobb salad. Yes, a cobb salad for breakfast, but it has bacon, eggs, and avocado, and it’s low carb. It’s my best attempt at getting back to my normal eating ASAP. As you might imagine, I was exhausted, so about as soon as I got back and got slightly settled (around 10:30), I was ready for bed. I slept pretty well considering everything. I woke at 3:30, 4:30, and 5:30, then finally got up a little after 6:00. I think this is a good start to recovery from jet lag and the trip.

Now I’m just waiting for the final leg of this amazing trip, which will be a flight from FLL-ATL at 11:45!

  Great day to go to the beach!!

A few thoughts to sum up the trip:

-Scandinavian people are very nice. I think that being rude is something that they just don’t do. If you’ve experienced Americans of Scandinavian descent are from Minnesota or Wisconsin, you probably understand this.

-They’re happy to speak English and have to learn it in school. Someone actually told me that they don’t have any delusions that everyone should speak their language (like in certain countries). I usually catch on to some amount of a language when I visit a country, but it was really hard for me to grasp. If I had a diction book, it would help my brain to process the written and spoken language. If it doesn’t exist, well, maybe I’ll have to write it!

-Scandinavians love licorice. The candy aisles consist mainly of different varieties of licorice, covered in chocolate, candy coated, different fruit flavors, etc. I don’t get it.

-The water is really good in these countries. In Iceland, there’s a slight sulphur smell sometimes, but the water in Norway is great!

-If you love seafood, as I do, any of these countries are great to visit!

-It’s bloody expensive in Norway, especially. I way overspent on food, and now I’ve got to let my bank account recover!

-Unlike in other European countries, you don’t necessarily come across Norwegian, Danish, or Icelandic restaurants on every corner. They all have their traditional foods, obviously, but it seems that the natives enjoy eating other food just as much. You might find a traditional dish on a menu with other things, like Norwegian fish soup at a place that serves sushi, but you have to seek out a restaurant that serves purely local, traditional foods.

I definitely want to go back–especially to Iceland. I just don’t feel like I allowed enough time there. I need about 2 or 3 days to see more of the nature outside of Reykjavik. It’s so cheap to fly there, it could happen!