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It’s Just Like Being There? (Well, Kind Of)

Merge VR Headgear

We tend to be techies here at No Kids and are often early adopters of new technologies. We had a DVR when TiVo was the only game in town. We got a plasma TV when LCD was the only alternative and LED hadn’t been introduced yet. We even got on to platforms like Twitter really early, too, when there were 18 million users compared to the 328 million users there are today. Yet, it took me a very long time to try virtual reality. I just couldn’t find a use for it other than a simple distraction, not to mention the start-up cost seemed really high until recently.

I finally bit the bullet and decided to spend a little money ($50, about the same amount it cost to fill up the tank in my Jeep a few years ago) and buy the best VR headset for the lowest cost that would work well with my phone. I settled on the Merge VR, a headset made out of molded foam with simple functionality. The Merge Miniverse is a store on their website with a large selection of apps for VR beginners and has been a place to play around and get used to the concept.

I had to explore the net to find the travel-based apps. I’d seen virtual tours of places on my laptop but now wanted to try them in a true 360° experience. I was disappointed in the Apple app store when they didn’t offer a VR tour of the Uffizi in Florence or even one to explore the Colosseum in Rome. But I was able to find a few videos on YouTube to get my fix. I went to Italy in Virtual Reality and found a good collection of 360 videos on some of my favorite spaces. The videos aren’t interactive but you can turn your head in any direction and see what is around you. The tour of Florence, Italy by TravelingMel is pretty good, too. The tour guide explains the history and significance of the location and you stand in one spot and look around. I really enjoyed walking across the Ponte Vecchio in Florence and taking a tour of the Piazza Del Duomo, being able to look up and see the bell tower and then turn behind me and see Ghiberti’s Doors on the Baptistry. The experience is good and we can’t wait to show our parents.

Florence Italy Tour in 360 Virtual Reality by TravelingMel

I think the VR experience still needs a little work. You can see the sites and in some cases move around the virtual landscape but it lacks a few of the important experiences, like touch and taste. We won’t be giving up exploring the world in real life anytime soon but VR is certainly a way of getting a fix of a sunny place you love.

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Social Media, the Winter Olympics and My Small Winter Olympic Encounter

On Thursday, the world of social media  was flooded with clips and photos of the opening ceremonies of the Winter Olympics hosted in PyeongChang, South Korea. The official coverage by NBC of the opening of the winter games was broadcast on tape delay Friday night (EST).  You’ll find that despite being promoted as “live” coverage most of what you’ll be watching will be live-to-tape. You can tune in to actual live coverage if you’re interested in watching in the middle of the night. You need to remember that South Korea is 14 hours ahead of those of us on the east coast of the United States; if you truly want to be surprised you’ll have to avoid looking at social media.

The impact of social media on how we watch the games makes me think of the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City in 2002. You may be old enough to realize that 2002 was two years before the founding of Facebook and five years before Twitter. You didn’t have social media to spoil things. I was still working in news back then and was lucky to have access to the Associated Press wire service that alerted us in real time as the winners were announced for each event. At times we were under embargo by our parent company, NBC, and couldn’t spill the beans since they had broadcast rights. I just find it fascinating that less than twenty years ago it took a team of people to get the news out and today we just need one person with a phone.

The encounter I mentioned in the title was when the torch for the Salt Lake games was traveling across the country. I was fortunate to be at one of the stops. A small Olympic village popped up in a parking lot in Martinsburg, West Virginia where the flame stayed for the night. After being relayed down its route for the day, the torch would light a portable cauldron. I was able to get nice and close. I was so close I could feel the heat pouring off of it which was good because it was really cold. I hope to go to the games one day and witness the event my ancestors created.

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Slow News is Good News

News in Slow homepage

We’ve found a common trait among travelers is an interest in languages. The goal could be just to know a word or two like please or thank you or to become fluent, but in general we all want to be able to communicate. We know a couple of people who speak two or three languages fluently (and, of course, we’re jealous).

Personally, I’m really bad at learning languages. I tried and tried in high school and not much stuck. The teacher even told me that for someone like me to learn to speak Spanish, living in Spain was the only option. I’ve never had the pleasure so you can imagine my Spanish skills aren’t that great. I used to have a elementary grasp of Greek but it evaporated from lack of use. I’ve picked up bit of Japanese from anime but it’s really not a real grasp of language. Heck, my writing takes a lot of work to get it right in English and I’m what they refer to as a native speaker.

If you hover over the highlighted word it gives you the translation.

We came across a new way to work on your language skills called News in Slow. The course focuses on listening comprehension and vocabulary building. You even get a good sense of grammar and idioms. The concept is pretty simple: you listen to a newscast read at a slow pace so you can hear each word clearly and in turn each sentence. Right off the bat you’ll be able to identify some of the topics covered because the reports cover current events. The website has a player and a transcript you can follow; the key vocabulary is highlighted so you can hover over words to see the translations.

News in Slow has beginner, intermediate and advanced lessons to help you become proficient. You will probably need to practice and study if you are going to truly succeed — just like any kind of education. The online course currently has French, Italian, German and Spanish courses.

News in Slow is a subscription service with prices ranging from $16.90 for one month at the Bronze level to $179.90 for a full year at the Gold level. That’s not a bad price point to learn a new language (or brush up on your long lost language skills). Check out one of their demo episodes before you make the investment — and let us know if you try it! We’re intrigued but haven’t bought in (yet).

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The USVI is Back in Business and Letting Everyone Know

The USVI recently detailed a new marketing plan for the islands after the disastrous impact of two category 5 hurricanes in September.  The islands are rolling out a 150-day marketing strategy to help bring tourist dollars back to the islands.

“This new plan has been developed to establish priorities and a road map of activities we will pursue as our destination recovers,” Commissioner of Tourism Beverly Nicholson-Doty stated in a press release.

Nicholson-Doty noted that the new plan will have to remain fluid to handle the ever-changing conditions in the recovery process.

The main challenge for the department is they are funded by the island room tax, which is way down in the post-hurricane islands.

“With a significant number of accommodations unavailable for most of 2018, the marketing plan reflects working with a reduced budget,” she explained.

“Our digital marketing efforts will primarily focus on social media, where we will highlight segments such as cruise, shopping, dining, watersports, beaches, romance, culture, available accommodations and yachting,” she said. She wants the hashtag  #USVIStillNice to promote the islands are open for business and are welcoming guests.

“As we recover from the challenges posed by Hurricanes Irma and Maria, we have no doubt that there is an opportunity for the U.S. Virgin Islands – with a refreshed product and visitor experience – to become the premier tourism destination in the Caribbean,” the Commissioner stated.

She asserted that you will still see the USVI at industry trade and travel shows to help spread the word about everything from voluntourism to vacations in the USVI.

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Packing the Wine Cellar

We are sure that this isn’t a problem for most travelers but it was a problem for us: going on vacation and taking your wine cellar with you.  We’ve mentioned in several posts that my family runs a vineyard and we make some pretty damn good wine.

The idea of taking a bottle or two with us as a gift for our captain and to share with our crewmates was only natural. The problem is that a 750ml glass bottle of wine isn’t exactly TSA approved for your carry on. We had to do a little problem solving on how to get that wine down there and in one piece. We looked at shipping it, but the USPS doesn’t ship alcohol, and the cost for FedEx to ship it was ridiculous.

Yes, we could have given up and bought wine down in the Virgin Islands and it would have tasted just fine. It just wouldn’t have been ours. We realized that we each could check a bag without any cost for our flight. We hate checking bags and can’t remember the last time we did it; it might have been on our trip to Tanzania.

We were both nervous about shipping the glass bottles of wine as luggage. The image of broken bottles and a soggy wine-stained box meeting us at luggage claim was hard to escape. We then devised a plan to pack it extra carefully. We first got a wine box, one with space for 12 bottles. We then chose 6 bottles of wine.

A trip to the office store for bubble wrap to go around the bottles might have been enough for most but we wanted to be sure.  We realized that one of the best packing materials ever created was at our fingertips. A biodegradable and delicious packing material that could be shaped to fit the contours of the box and would soften any impact. What was the miracle packing material? Rice Krispie Treats! I made a tray of the marshmallow and rice snacks and placed them in large gallon bags. Then we packed them in the box around the bottles. The added benefit to this idea was we could eat the packing material as a snack later.

You don’t want to bring cardboard boxes on to a boat. A box takes up too much space and insects often lay their eggs in the glue and then hatch on the boat. So after we collected our box from the luggage conveyor belt we opened her up. We did notice that the TSA had opened the box and retaped it (they didn’t pilfer any of the tempting treats or wine inside). I broke down the box and we placed the bottles in a cloth wine bag. We stuffed the treats in our bag and headed to the taxi stand after disposing of the cardboard. We got some interesting looks in the airport as we unpacked and repacked, and got a few compliments on the creativity of our packing.

We really enjoyed the wine. It was really special to have our wine, that we made with our own hands, while sitting in the moonlight after a long day of sailing.

We opened our best wine, the Sangiovese, on the last night after our final test.

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Convention Center Campers

Ice and high water on the Allegheny River in Pittsburgh

The rain earlier in the week followed by four inches of snow in the Pittsburgh area made the roads a mess. Fortunately, the perfect distraction was just across the swollen, frozen river from our apartment; the convention center was hosting the Pittsburgh RV Show. The event has been around since 1968. You can browse and tour nine acres of campers, RVs and every other product related to hitting open roads and campgrounds.

You inevitably have to deal with a lot of salespeople when you visit a show. The interactions aren’t that bad, they tend to understand that most of the people are just looking. I, on the other hand, enjoyed saying “I’m a sailor, I’m just here to see how the other half lives.”

RVs, campers and boats have a lot in common in that they are all designed around space efficiency. You find very similar bathroom and shower designs in that there is seldom a seperate space for the shower and the toilet flushes into a holding tank. The advantage in the land yacht is the bump out, a section or sections that can push out from the side when parked that increase the interior space; boats can’t really change their configurations. The trip over the the show was fun and a change of pace. We don’t expect to find ourselves trading the high seas for rivers of asphalt, but it was educational.

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Baby, it’s #*@&ing Cold Outside

Image courtesy of The Weather Channel

The last several weeks in the Pittsburgh area and across the entire United States have been downright fridged. Even the places you’d imagine as warm are cold. I mean, even Disney World closed its water rides due to the freezing temperatures in Orlando Florida. Yes, FLORIDA!

We can’t seem to escape the cold almost anywhere in the continental United States. We’ve seen numerous reminders on Twitter that the iguanas falling out of the trees in the Florida Keys weren’t dead, they were just cold, and that if you let them be or moved them to the sun they’d eventually warm up and start moving.

And yes, someone apparently had to learn this lesson the hard way.

The winter storm that went up the east coast earlier in the week closed the airport in Charleston, South Carolina with 6 inches of snow. If you’re from Boston you’re probably thinking 6 inches shouldn’t cause a ground stop, but remember — they don’t have snow plows at the airport in the Palmetto State.

The windchill in Maine is -20. The warmest spot on the map is San Diego at a nice and toasty 69. We’ve talked about it before, Amanda and I are sunseekers. The two of us just thrive on warm weather. We don’t have the opportunity to flee south at the moment, no matter how much we want to. So we’ll cope by only leaving our front door when we have to and spending a lot of time cuddled up under the duvet. We hope you all stay warm and snug until this passes.