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The Fulfillment of a Childhood Dream

I have always been in love with sailing. I think we might have mentioned that once or twice in past blog posts. We have taken every opportunity to get out on the water when we travel. We’ve booked sailing adventures out of St. Mary’s, Maryland; St. Thomas, USVI; and Playa Del Carmen, Mexico. I’ve even gone on a very slow overnight sail with my brother-in-law on his 22’ Catalina and enjoyed every moment of it. I remember being a child and having mason jar on my dresser with a picture of a sailboat drawn in crayon on it filled with change “to by my own sailboat.” The dream of a sailboat, like many dreams you have as a child, are dreams deferred. I am happy to announce that a sailboat is a dream deferred no longer.

My brother-in-law, Matt, and my sister Andi approached us with an offer about a year ago. They were selling the Catalina (and no, we didn’t buy it). Andi and Matt wanted us to partner with them in buying a much larger boat, a 40-foot Morgan Ketch. I was nervous in approaching Amanda with this offer, but it didn’t take too much convincing before she was a yes vote. We had to do a bit of research and make sure the diesel engine worked before we wrote a check, but it hummed along just fine. The boat is a ketch-rigged Morgan, it has the masts, rigging and sails and could go into the water immediately. Just one problem: the interior is nonexistent.

We had the boat — dubbed “Errant,” as in a wandering knight — towed from New Jersey to my parents’ place in Maryland. We will then commence the work of building out the interior. I am sure that we will make mistakes and learn a lot along the way, but when we finally take that first plunge into crystal clear water the Caribbean we will know it was worth it.

If you’d like to follow along on this adventure, you can check out The Adventures of the Errant Comma — their blog detailing the work in progress.

The Morgan trailered in New Jersey. We have a long way to go in the refit.

The Morgan trailered in New Jersey. We have a long way to go in the refit.

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A Different Kind of Bird

Condor Airlines, a subsidiary of Thomas Cook Airlines, has been serving global destinations since 1956. Condor Airlines serves more than seven million passengers and 80 destinations in Europe, America, Africa and Asia. Condor merged with Thomas Cook Airlines UK, Thomas Cook Airlines Belgium and Thomas Cook Airlines Scandinavia in October 2013 to form the Thomas Cook Group Airlines. The fleet is comprised of 94 aircraft.

Condor is constantly expanding its flight connections. In summer 2017 San Diego (SAN), Pittsburgh (PIT), (we know this from a billboard I pass every day on the way to work) and New Orleans (MSY) were added as non-stop destinations from Frankfurt. With the new non-stop flights, Condor now flies to 16 destinations in North America. In winter 2017/18 the airline plans to add Nassau (NAS) Bahamas, (not that it will help US travelers since the route is from Germany).

The non-stop flights only take off twice a week from Pittsburgh, but we know from our travels that Frankfurt is a great gateway to the rest of Europe and destinations beyond. Having a quality low-cost international carrier offering nonstop flights from smaller international airports will be a great value for the communities they serve.

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We’re Feeling a Little Flighty…

We’ve slowly taken the time to explore Pittsburgh over the last few years, checking off site after site of must-visit attractions. We chose this weekend to take a look at the National Aviary. That’s right, the National Aviary isn’t located in the D.C. orbit but up here in Western Pennsylvania.

The biggest surprise was that it was only a 15 minute walk from our apartment, a very convenient location for anyone visiting Pittsburgh. The National Aviary is the only independent indoor nonprofit aviary in the United States and the largest aviary in the country.  The “National” status is an honor given by the U.S. Congress and it’s the only nationally designated aviary we have. The aviary is home to more than 500 birds and 150 species. The aviary is a great way to spend a couple of hours and the $15 per person price tag makes it easily affordable. You can even pay extra for experiences like feeding the birds (don’t miss Amanda’s face in the photo below) or having an encounter with their young sloth, Valentino. We hope you enjoy the pictures of the beautiful birds, including the Andean Condor, Rhinoceros Hornbill, Flamingo, Toucan and Bald Eagle.

 

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Going Over, Over the Border.

We mentioned previously that over Memorial Day weekend my sister Andi and I took a little brother-sister road trip to Toronto.  The trip went without a hitch… well, almost. I’ve gotten in the habit of using Apple Maps for directions (I used to be an avid user of actual paper maps) and she piloted me from Pittsburgh to Toronto with ease. I only noticed the problem was when we checked into our hotel and had the chance to take a break from our travels.  I finally had the chance to take a look at the messages on my phone and found this:

Oops. I immediately turned off my roaming data.

I also went through my messages and found this…

I wasn’t going to try something like that without a little research, so decided to just use wifi when we needed access and screen cap directions to and from places. We made do without using Maps but it wasn’t as easy and we missed an exit on the way home that added about a half hour to our drive.

We got home and looked into it to see what accepting the TravelPass from Verizon really means. If we had said yes, since we were in Canada, the rate for extending our Talk/Text/Data plan would only be about $5 as a opposed to the $2.05 per MB.  Yes, that would have been far cheaper..

 

Attention: No husbands were harmed as a result of this overage.

 

Since we are locked into Verizon and can’t swap out SIM cards, we should have said yes and made our lives easier (and the bill significantly smaller). In our research we found that the cost varies depending on the country you visit outside of North America, so look into it carefully before accepting the plan.

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The Beach Boys Might Not Be Right

One of the things we really don’t like about travel is the feeling of being rushed or getting to a destination and being utterly exhausted. We know most of us don’t have all the time in the world when we travel and we want to rush to our destination as fast as possible and begin our restful trip. An option has begun to emerge to challenge that theory of — to quote the Beach Boys — “get there fast, then take it slow,” by offering the option to start off slow to begin with. The idea is simple: why spend 20 straight hours traveling and suffering when you could break that trip up just a little bit and potentially get an amazing experience out of it?

For example, if you are flying on Emirates and transiting through Dubai, you can book a Dubai Stopover package. The airline offers plenty of incentives such as discounts and hotel deals if you spend from a single day to an entire month on the ground in the UAE. Emirates will also help arrange your stay, including getting your visa, making it as simple as getting a passport stamp in immigration. You’ll also get some complimentary VIP treatment at the airport with a concierge to meet and assist you the moment you arrive and help you find your way in their home city before you head on to your final destination.

Icelandair is one of the best transatlantic carriers for the money, and all you have to do is make a stop in Iceland. So instead of changing planes Keflavik Airport and sitting at a gate or airport bar, why not leave the airport and explore Iceland? Icelandair has a deal where you can stopover in Iceland for up to seven nights with no additional fees. You get a mini-trip, a stamp on your passport (and we travelers love to brag about those), and even a buddy to help you find your way when you arrive. The Stopover Buddy is a Icelandair employee who can act as your host for the day to help you get the lay of the land from a local’s perspective.

We know not all airlines offer this kind of service, and incentives vary from free hotel rooms for your first night to discounts on excursions. The key to making the most of it, like with all travel, is to look into the details. We know it will take some patience to look at the fine print, but there are deals to be had. You may also find that by flying when the airline wants you to fly including a 24 hour layover may bring the cost of the overall ticket down.

We’ve often found ourselves exhausted after traveling; it’s frustrating when the trip home cancels out the rest and relaxation we were trying to bring home. We think this is an option we’d love to use on our next long-haul flight as a way of keeping that vacation glow as long as possible.

These airlines each offer some kind of stopover option:

  • Air China
  • Air France
  • Emirates
  • Etihad
  • Finnair
  • Hawaiian
  • Icelandair
  • Japan Airlines
  • Singapore Airlines
  • Turkish Airways

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A Little Road Trip With My Little Sis

This weekend I took a Memorial Day trip to Toronto with my favorite little sister and assistant Andrea. She was a little disappointed that you don’t get a stamp when you drive into Canada; you only get a passport stamp when you fly in.

The trip from Pittsburgh only took 5 1/2 hours. We did find out that I got slammed with a $50 roaming charge on my phone because I was using maps. I quickly shut off the data.  I took her for breakfast at the St. Lawrence market in downtown Toronto. We also went to a Japanese-themed semi-formal ball, part of the Anime North Convention. I’ll tell you more about that on another day. For now enjoy your Memorial Day.     

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Marking a Milestone

The following post is not about travel, but about being a couple that is childless by choice. The culture of most of the western world promotes the concepts of marriage and parenthood. We’ve mentioned before that the path of motherhood and fatherhood just isn’t for us, and we don’t regret it one bit.

When people, usually parents, say “Oh, I don’t regret having children one bit,” or “I love my kids, I can’t imagine my life without them,” I know we can’t imagine our lives with them. And we don’t feel cheated at all. We don’t feel like we’re missing anything, even though society often defines “having it all” as job, home and kids. I often debate the use of that phrase whenever I see it used.

But even if we don’t have kids of our own, we don’t miss out on milestones or the amazingness of watching children grow. We have friends and relatives with children. We’ve got four nephews and one niece. The mention of them brings us to the inspiration for this post: my nephew, Matthew.

I remember the day he was born. I was the first person other than his parents to hold him. If you ask me specifics about his childhood, I’m not too good at it. I just don’t have that kind of memory. I can tell you he worked on the televised morning announcements in middle school so I gave him one of my National  Association of Broadcast Technicians and Electricians (union) shirts and told him he owes me 2% of his allowance. I am amazed at the patience he shows toward his younger sister, who can be a handful, and the way he includes his younger, quieter brother in whatever he is doing.

Matthew is a smart kid. He wants to be an engineer. He’s an athlete who works hard and listens to his coaches — and he’s got a lot of them: my dad, myself and the ones at school. He even became a pole vaulter just like me and exceeded all my marks in Track and Field. I’m exceedingly proud of him. He is a great kid. Matthew is a responsible young man who you can trust to take his work seriously no matter what he’s doing. I can’t say enough about that. He helps his grandparents whenever they ask and without complaint.

I am not the best uncle or godfather. I easily admit that. I miss birthdays. I didn’t go to his soccer games or track meets. But my lack of attendance didn’t ever mean I wasn’t proud of him.

I know a lot of his success and our pride has to do with his parents. My sister and her husband did a wonderful job. I brag about them a lot and their great job as parents.

I bring all this up because he is graduating high school in a couple of days. He is completing an 18-year journey from cradle to adulthood. It’s a milestone worth mentioning and sharing with the world.