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A Day of Sailing

A guest post from the youngest member of the No Kids, Will Travel family — and we literally mean family — Andrea Changuris.

I’m sitting around at the beginning of summer talking with my boyfriend, Matt, about our plans. We rattle off the standard wishes for summer. Let’s go on the river, let’s try for the beach, maybe we can do a day trip somewhere. Then he brings up sailing. Wait, sailing? Do either of us know how to sail? He mentions the times he has been out with his family. I remember the one time I went on the Charles River with a friend. Sure, maybe we’ll go sailing this summer.

A few weeks later, he asks if I have off on Memorial Day weekend. No, but I could probably get off on Sunday, why? He says, “I’m renting a sailboat for the day”.

Sure enough, for $250 you can go sailing for an entire day with the Annapolis Sailing School. Now, the Rainbow 24 that we took out did not have a motor, if it had a motor you would need to be in possession of a boating license which costs $30. We invited our friend, who unlike either of us, actually took sailing classes. Although I never cease to be amazed at what Matt learns by reading a book or watching an online tutorial.

Andrea out on the Chesapeake Bay.

Andrea out on the Chesapeake Bay.

The 3 of us — armed with our PFDs (life jackets) which are required to have in your boat — sunscreen, music, snacks and paddles (just in case), drove up to the dock. After a quick check-in they pointed out a boat, told us where the sails were stowed and to have fun. This is where I sit and read the safety checklist out loud and watch as the two boys go about assembling our boat so we are ready to ship out.

Then, off we go! We are able to smoothly get out from the dock and then out of the harbor, leaving the view of the Naval Academy behind us. A few practice maneuvers and sure enough we start working together to catch the wind, make our turns and set a course. Our goal became the Bay Bridge. We spent the next four hours or so listening to music and talking. I got to wave to others out on the bay, sunbathe and Matt even jumped in the water at one point. I even learned how to tie a few knots.

We made it to our goal, sailing from Annapolis to the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and back.

We made it to our goal, sailing from Annapolis to the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and back.

It was a day with little wind and a couple of anxious moments where I thought we would be paddling our way back to the dock, but we made it to the to the Bay Bridge and back. What a gorgeous way to spend our day off. It was $250 well spent. I recommend this excursion to anyone with basic knowledge of how to sail. I was lucky enough to learn from two capable sailors on my trip. You do not need to be an expert, but you do need to know how to operate the boat.

If you don’t know how to sail and still want a day on the water, the school offers lessons and there are charters that sail out of Annapolis and its surrounding ports.

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The Challenge and the Plan

A few months back Amanda gave me this year’s vacation challenge and it took some doing but we’ve got a destination. If you remember we skipped our vacation in February, due to our move to Pittsburgh, so we are ready to go and find some sun this September.

Amanda has asked for years, ever since our first trip to the Virgin Islands, if we could visit the Baths, a series of grottoes along the surf on the British Virgin Island of Virgin Gorda.  The problem of a trip to the Virgin Gorda is the difficulty getting there. You either have to fly there (very expensive) or take a ferry there (moderately expensive), and syncing the ferry schedule with your arrival and departure time is definitely a challenge. So, unlike most trip planning where you book a flight and plan around it, in this case you have to start with and plan around the ferry. The challenge is finding the perfect flight that lands early enough, not too early, but just right; a Goldie Locks flight time, so to speak.

I consulted the ferry schedule and found that it leaves Saint Thomas, USVI for Virgin Gorda at 4 pm on Saturdays and leaves Virgin Gorda, BVI at 8:30 am to Saint Thomas. I had to use this as my guide for searching flights. I found 5 ferry companies and one taxi service in a general search, but not all of them go “out of the way” to Virgin Gorda on the days we’re traveling. The ferry only went to and from Virgin Gorda once a day, so we didn’t have a lot of room for error.  We settled on a round trip ticket ($70) using Speedy’s  Ferry Service.

Departures

I set to searching and searching for a specific flight that didn’t waste my time and wasn’t exorbitantly expensive just because we had to stick to a certain schedule. I prefer to use three search engines for most of my research for flights: Kayak, Hipmunk and  Orbitz.  Kayak is great for the wide net it casts, Hipmunk does great with its agony index (it rates the flights by layover, time, length, etc.) and Orbitz, just for a baseline. I eventfully found a flight that was direct to Saint Thomas, but we had to fly out of Dulles. We decided we’d just leave Pittsburgh a day early and spend the night with parents instead of making a 6+ hour drive and then a 4 hour flight.

So with all that in place we were able to go about looking for a room. The island isn’t that big or that populated so we knew inventory would be tight. We decided on a rental cottage, instead of a B&B or a hotel, simply because the cost was significantly better with hotels ranging from $250 to $1,000 plus a night. It’s also closer to where we wanted to be and we’ll be there six nights for a little more than $900.

Yes, yes — you get what you pay for, and that might be particularly true at a place that offers to set up a portable AC unit for an extra cost. We’re willing to rough it, but we don’t think we’ll need to.

The total price is about $2,000 for this tropical vacation. We can’t wait to tell you how it goes and share all of the details, including who we flew, where we stayed and what we saw.

To be continued!

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One Last Beach Weekend

The summer is winding down on the east coast of the U.S. and many are thinking about one last dash to the beach. A spot popular to many in Maryland and Pennsylvania is Rehoboth Beach, Delaware.  But the seaside community is more than just sand and surf.

The Junction & Breakwater Trail located between the towns of Lewes and Rehoboth is one of the smooth-level trails made from converted abandoned railroad tracks.  A ride or walk along the trail carries you along the Lewes-Rehoboth Canal and the rural landscapes and wetlands.

If the biking and hiking has worked up a thirst the Nassau Valley Vineyards is there to quench it.  The vineyard boasts of being Delaware’s first and only award-winning winery. Nassau Valley Vineyards grows, presses, ferments and bottles on the farm creating four different varietals.  The vineyard is open year-round Monday through Saturday 11am – 5 pm and noon to 5 on Sunday.  You can take free self-guided tour and have a tasting when you’re done for just $5.

So, now that you have had a lovely wine tasting, let’s wash that down with some beer.  The Purple Parrot Grill is a restaurant and bar with half off drinks during happy hour (3-6 pm) if you order at the bar Monday-Friday.  But the beer isn’t the only attraction. If you want to belt out your favorite hits by Journey they have Karaoke every Friday and Saturday starting at 9pm. Just when the weekend couldn’t get any better Tara Austin and the Birdcage Bad Girls Drag Show is every Sunday at 10pm.

If drinking and drag isn’t your idea of a great evening the Clear Space Theater Company brings the best of Broadway to the beach with musicals like Oliver and The Full Monty. The theater is celebrating its 10th year in its mission to “educate and inspire audiences, artists and students to explore and participate in the performing arts through high-quality experiences.”

If you really want to slow it down the Indian River Life Saving Station Museum at Delaware Seashore State Park is as about as sedate as it gets. The life saving station, built in 1876, was used by the United States Life-Saving Service, a precursor to the U.S. Coast Guard.  The museum is filled with information on shipwrecks, history and life along the windswept coast around the turn of the century.

If you’re looking to take advantage of the last days of summer without wanting to risk a last-minute sunburn, Rehoboth Beach has plenty of alternatives.

I also want to thank my amazing Aunt Cynthia (part-time resident of Rehoboth) for her help with this post.

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Kayaking the Allegheny

Ever since the weather warmed to a reasonable temperature here in our new hometown of Pittsburgh, I’ve been watching clusters of bright yellow kayaks slip up and down the shoreline of the Allegheny River. I’ve never been in a kayak, but it looked like fun and I’m a big fan of anything on or around the water.

Last weekend we finally had a chance to see the city from the water (versus our apartment’s view a few stories up), and it did not disappoint.

Zeke’s sister was visiting for the weekend, and since she and Zeke both have experience working for a river rafting company I felt like I was in good hands for my first kayaking experience.

We walked down to PNC Park and hung a left toward the river to reach Venture Outdoors‘ location on the North Shore. We had to wait a few minutes for a few people in solo kayaks to return, and then we were ready to get on the river. We paddled upstream first (a good idea because you can wear yourself out and then ride the current back downstream), passing under the Three Sisters bridges and waving hello to our apartment.

Andi and Zeke were both very patient with me. I struggled with the concept of turning (intentionally at least), running into their kayaks on a regular basis. They were kind enough to reword and repeat their clear instructions until it sunk into my head.

We had a great time down on the river, paddling at a leisurely pace and enjoying the mild temperatures, light breeze and a new perspective on our new home.

Venture Outdoors offers memberships (which gives you a discount on their many activities in the area). I’m ready to make the investment and make kayaking a habit!

 

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A Night at the Theater with King Arthur (and a rabbit with sharp, pointy teeth)

 

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The phrase “who knew?” is said a lot these days in the Changuris household, especially in reference to our new home in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

The “who knew?” of this post has to do with the theater scene and that there are six theaters in the Cultural District as venues for the symphony, opera, theater troupes, and Broadway-caliber musicals.  The theater we visited this weekend is the Benedum Center for the Performing Arts, which originally opened as the Stanley Theater in 1928 at a cost of $3 million.

The Stanley, named after Stanley Warner, was the home for Warner Brothers first-run films in Pittsburgh.  You could buy your ticket for 25¢ before noon and 65¢ for regular admission.  The Colonial Revival structure seats 2,800 and was the perfect example of a classic movie palace.  Between 1977 and 1987 the Stanley hosted The Grateful Dead, Bob Marley (his final performance before his death in ‘81), Kansas and Prince. A $43 million renovation to bring back the original grandeur was completed in 1987 and it was rechristened the Benedum Canter for the Performing Arts. The grand marquee and its bright lights are the first hint you are going somewhere special. You walk in and feel like you are in the Guilded Age with the original crystal chandeliers hanging above and 1,500 feet of polished brass railing snaking its way up and down the grand staircases, most of which is original to 1928.  We of course put on our Sunday best considering that a building this nice demands its patrons share the same air of sophistication.  The irony here is the play we went to see has a distinct lack of sophistication. Though the musical focuses on the noble quest of Arthur and his knights of Camelot as they seek the Holy Grail, we learn early on that this Camelot is actually a very silly place.

The foyer of the Benedum.

The foyer of the Benedum.

There are, according to Andi (who counted), exactly 100 octagon inserts in the ceiling of the auditorium.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The legendary British comedy troupe Monty Python’s take on the Arthurian legend is center stage in this adaptation of Monty Python and the Holy Grail called Spamalot, by Eric Idle and John Du Prez.  You will travel across the whole of medieval Britain facing much peril, such as the Knights Who Say Ni, a GREAT AND POWERFUL SORCERER named Tim, and Killer Rabbits (run away!) as they search for the Grail (to be found in a most unlikely place).

The adventure was not for the faint of heart or those who just don’t get it (like Amanda), so my sister and sometime guest blogger Andi was my date. The seats were in the upper balcony but the view wasn’t bad. We didn’t even have anyone in front of us, having chosen to get seats behind the railing.  I’ve found that stage productions make a great attempt to ensure even the cheap seats are great seats. We laughed from almost beginning to end. The new music blended with the old numbers and fit perfectly into the story.  The best part of this production was that it didn’t take itself too seriously, constantly breaking the fourth wall and it not seeming forced. We had a blast.

The experience has me ready to see what else the city’s theater scene has to offer in productions and, if the grandeur of the Benedum is any indication, the history and architecture, too.

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Coping with Travel Troubles

Whether you’re setting off for the adventure of a lifetime or hitting the highway for a quick trip, there’s always a chance things won’t go quite as planned.

In the course of our travels we’ve come up against everything from flight delays and lost luggage to bus and ferry schedules that are treated more like suggestions and missed connections with (pre-paid) excursions. What we’ve learned is that travel troubles will happen and, generally, they’re only as awful as you’ll allow them to be.

Flight delays, missing ferries and missed connections may be frustrating in the moment, but it’s best to take a deep breath — however challenging that may be — and put things in perspective. Stepping up to the counter and berating the staff may feel like a great way to vent, but no amount of abuse will make the plane ready faster, the ferry materialize, or compensate for the way you misread the train schedule.

So, deep breath … and relax.

Easy for me to say, right?

I had to take my own advice just last weekend.

I’ve been trying to celebrate my birthday (which is in June) with my family for nearly an entire month now. First I had bronchitis and couldn’t make the trip from our new home base in Pittsburgh back to Maryland, so we  rescheduled for last weekend.

I got up Saturday morning, got ready for the day, put a few things in a bag and bid our cat farewell for the weekend. I got out to the car, pulled out of the parking spot and made it about 50 feet before I realized something wasn’t right. I pulled into another parking space and hopped out to find one completely flat tire.

To make a long story short, Jason with AAA came to my rescue and diagnosed the problem: somehow my tire had been cut on the inside wall — probably something kicked up on the road last time I drove. It couldn’t be repaired, so he quickly put my spare tire on the car.

My little Bean (Fiat 500) with it's little zeppole (donut).

My little Bean (Fiat 500) with it’s little zeppole (donut).

I wasn’t going to make the trip down the Pennsylvania Turnpike on that donut, so I started calling around to look for a new tire. An hour later I was convinced I was never going to get to celebrate my birthday with my family. Apparently my tires are very unique and no one in a 30-mile radius had one in stock. I even called the local Fiat dealership — but I couldn’t get them to answer the phone (#sadtrombone).

Was I frustrated? You bet. Upset? Sure. Disappointed, bummed? Yep. But I didn’t let those crappy feelings consume me. I did what I could, made arrangements to get a tire when one will be available, and called my parents to break the news.

Yes, I let myself have a pout and a nap that afternoon — a mini pity party, if you will. Then I took stock of the time I had left in the weekend and started checking things off of my to-do list (the list I wasn’t going to touch since I was going to be away).

We’ll all encounter less-than-perfect moments in life and in travel. In my experience, I’ve found letting off a little steam (appropriately and without blaming any staff who may be associated with the issue by virtue of their employment) and then doing whatever I can to make the best of things is the most effective way to proceed.

 

What about you? What travel troubles have you encountered? Did you take it well? Badly? What coping strategies worked or didn’t?

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Nafplion: First Capital of Modern Greece

Two hours south of the crowded capital of Athens, Greece on the Peloponnesian Peninsula is the first capital of modern Greece, Nafplion. The hamlet and its surrounding enclaves has a population of only around 33,000 people compared to the 650,000+ of hot and busy Athens. The beautiful old harbor town is cooled by the gentle winds off the water, giving you an ideal place to spend an afternoon or whole vacation.

The Venetian influence on the architecture is predominant with many brown and tan stone three- and four-story buildings with gabled roofs and terra cotta shingles. A special charm will overwhelm your senses as you walk down the narrow streets between houses with wrought-iron balconies overflowing with hanging baskets of flowers.

A note from Zeke's journal on his first visit to Nafplion in 1998.

A note from Zeke’s journal on his first visit to Nafplion in 1998.

The main square, Syntagma Square, is much smaller than its Athenian counterpart and makes you think you’re in the middle of an Italian piazza. The cafes along its borders beckon you to take a seat and have a coffee in the afternoon. When evening comes you may find yourself along the promenade to enjoy a drink or gelato and watch the people stroll along the water front.

When you look up in Nafplion you inevitably see the Palamidi Fortress, originally a Byzantine construction, it was eventually occupied by Venetians and Ottomans. I suggest taking a taxi or finding a ride to the fortress and taking in the stunning views of the town and the sea beyond. The other fortress in the neighborhood is the Boutzi Fortress, built in 1471, that sits in the harbor and is now home to a summer concert series you can reach by boat.

Three beaches (you’re in Greece so you must want to go to the beach) are within a short drive via bus or car, all less than seven miles away. Tolo Beach, Nea Kios and Kandia Beach all offer crystal clear water and soft sand. Tolo is the most developed, with restaurants and beach club amenities, the other two are less developed but still offer places to eat, stay and play.

I consider Nafplion as one of the best values for your dollar when visiting Greece. You get the sun and the sand without the island mark-up. The hotels in and out of town are bargains; you can easily find rooms for under $100 a night. I stayed at the hotel Leto years ago and a quick check on Trip Advisor shows they’re still getting great reviews.

I really think Nafplion is a great home base for exploring a lot of ancient sites like Mycenae (the home of Agamemnon of Homer’s Iliad 30 minutes away), Sparta (the home the famous 300 1.5 hours away), Mystra (the last refuge of the Byzantine Emperors 1.5 hours away), and Ancient Olympia (the site of the original Olympic Games — though it’s 3.5 hours away by car, you might want to spend the night there).

The elegance and grace of the city is the perfect place to return to after a day hiking through ancient ruins in the hot sun. The Peloponnese is full of history and wonderful places — off the tourist routes — and since it’s basically an island itself, there are hundreds of miles of coast to explore.

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