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Oh Christmas Tree

It may seem strange for some people, especially living here in the United States, but Amanda and I have never had a proper Christmas tree in all the years we’ve been married. The argument has been that we don’t have enough space and that I’m a bit of a Grinch and not a huge fan of the holidays. I know that my right to veto anything my wife wants is rather limited and should only be reserved for something I really care about. Our first tree is just one of those compromises that come with being married.

I had always been proud of our “Peanuts” Christmas tree, a small wire tree that looks like the one that Charlie Brown had in the Charlie Brown Christmas special. Amanda, on the other hand, had always wanted a tree of a proper size.  She “asked” (and it’s in quotes because it’s more like she told me) if we could get a narrow artificial tree for our apartment. She pulled out all the stops, even noting that our cat, Storm, always loved to lay under her parents’ tree when she was just a kitten. I felt like when a kid asks for a puppy and the parent says “it’s your responsibility to feed it” and I left the assembly and decorating to her.

So for the first time more than a decade, a Christmas tree stands in the corner of my home. I promise there will be something more interesting than a spousal debate on the purchase of a seasonal artificial conifer in the post next week.

The 6′ Artificial Seasonal Conifer with Lights

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I’ve been in New York this weekend on business. I haven’t been to New York since my childhood. I took a few pictures as it gears up for the big Thanksgiving Day Parade.

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Veterans Day: Remembrance and Respect

I was raised by two children of the 1960s peace movement in America. My parents protested the Vietnam War war and were tear-gassed and arrested in protests in Washington, DC. I’ve always described my mother’s belief system as more similar to Quaker than Greek Orthodox. It is no surprise then that the children they raised wouldn’t grow up an join the armed forces. We were never told not to do it and we all know they’d have supported our decision to join up if we chose to. The reason is despite their peace-loving nature they were the children of Veterans. They appreciate the sacrifice that our service members have made and continue to make on behalf of the rest of us. We want to thank our vets today for all that they have done.

We haven’t forgotten that this is a travel blog, so here we go…

Veterans Day was conceived as a way to honor all those who served in the Great War or World War I. The war was mainly fought in Europe, Anatolia and Arabia. You can visit and tour many of these battlefields today, especially in Europe. The National World War I Museum and Memorial hosts a top-rated tour of the European theater. The tour takes you to the battlefields of Saint-Mihiel and the battlefield of Verdun, where future U.S. President Harry S. Truman served as well as famed tank commander George Patton. You will also get to walk in the footsteps of Sgt. Alvin York whose exploits have grown like a myth since a movie following his service starring Gary Cooper was released in 1941. The trip also visits cemeteries like Romangne-sous-Montfaucon.

If you have the chance to visit a military cemetery from a war your ancestors fought in, take a moment as you stand surrounded by those who never came home to think about how close you came to never existing. I had a great-grandfather fight in the first world war and two who fought in the second. A bullet, an infection, a cloud of poison gas and my life never would have happened.

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A Big Name in Hotels is Going Smaller

Motto by Hilton is the newest Hilton Hotels brand. The Hilton company is almost 100 years old and is seeking new ways to diversify its brand in an effort to reach a broader traveling audience.

“Hilton prides itself on being a leader in the hospitality industry and evolving with the needs of our guests,” said Christopher J. Nassetta, president and CEO, Hilton. “Innovation is in our DNA, and as we embark on our 100th year as a company, we are innovating more than ever before. With Motto by Hilton, we are bringing to market something the industry has never experienced with its flexible and affordable room product, desirable locations and guest-empowered service.”

The properties that will be part of Motto are micro-hotels with an urban vibe in prime global locations.

Hilton came up with the Motto brand while looking at getting into the thriving hostel market. The hotelier wanted to find a new opportunity in the shared room concept of the hostel industry. The research they conducted came back with one thing: even though people liked staying at hostels they hated sharing rooms with strangers. Hostel-goers typically stay with a large group of family or friends. Hilton then focused in on the other key factors on why people choose hostels.

  1. Prime Locations: Travelers like being in the heart of the city and in the most popular neighborhoods.
  2. Authenticity: What does it mean to be “here”? Locality breeds identity, community, and ultimately, a sense of place (a philosophy we also promote here at No Kids, Will Travel).
  3. Affordability: The rates are lower and when that is combined with the location it becomes a hard opportunity to pass up.
  4. Flexibility: One size doesn’t fit all, so creating a multi-purpose space is extremely important in attracting this kind of customer.

“Following extensive market research that focused on consumers’ needs and wants, we discovered the opportunity for a brand that offers travelers a trifecta of centrally located, reasonably priced and less traditional lodging that provides a one-of-a-kind experience,” said Jon Witter, chief customer officer, Hilton. “These findings led us to create Motto by Hilton, a flexible environment that allows guests to design their stay, their way.”

We haven’t seen or stayed at a Motto and aren’t what you consider the hosteling travelers.  I didn’t even stay at hostels as a young person. But, we are intrigued by the possibility of blending the hostel experience with the privacy and quality standards of a hotel.


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Sustainability in the Sky

A major threat to our environment and especially our oceans is the production of single-use plastic items. Single-use plastic items are things like stir sticks, wrappers, utensils, and straws. The problem with this pollution is so bad that the European Parliment voted to enact a complete ban on some single-use plastics across the nations of the European Union. A report by the United Nations called Single-Use Plastics – A Road Map to Sustainability points out that “Plastic bag bans, if properly planned and enforced, can effectively counter one of the causes of plastic overuse.”

U.S.-based air carrier Delta Air Lines is also stepping up its environmental stewardship by removing a variety of single-use plastic items from its aircraft and Delta Sky Club. The ongoing effort comes on the heels of the global airline’s leading move to remove plastic wrap from international main cabin cutlery in April of this past year. Delta is expected to eliminate more than 300,000 pounds in plastic waste annually; that’s more than the weight of two Boeing 757 aircraft.

Credit: Delta Airlines

Delta’s long-time sustainability efforts include the elimination of unnecessary plastic wrapping from Delta One amenity kits, and reducing Styrofoam in the cafeterias at Delta’s Atlanta headquarters. The styrofoam is being replaced with compostable and/or reusable alternatives.

We hope to see this trend continue and encounter less single-use plastics in our daily lives.

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The Land of Make Believe, Music Legends, and Lunar Landings

Tom Hanks as Fred Rogers

If you grew up in the U.S. in the 70s, 80s, or 90s, the chances that the public television show “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” was part of your childhood. The host of this iconic children’s show was Fred Rogers, a man who used his gentle voice to teach us about friendship, diversity, growing up, loss, music, and above all how to use our imagination. Fred Rogers would welcome us to his home every morning or afternoon telling us how happy he was to spend time with his neighbors. The documentary “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” was released this past year and was a resounding success. A feature film starring Tom Hanks as Fred Rogers is currently in production. The filming of the tentatively titled “You Are My Friend” was mainly shot in Rogers’ hometowns of Latrobe and Pittsburgh, PA.  Amanda and I both answered the production call for extras and were chosen to be background actors in the film. She participated in a scene a couple of weeks ago and my scene was filmed this week. We couldn’t take any pictures and can’t say much about the show other than the days were extremely long and involved a lot of waiting. I was 14 feet from Tom Hanks for a couple of hours and can tell you he truly looks and acts like our favorite neighbor. We can’t wait to tell you more about the production when the film finally hits theaters next fall.

Metallica at PPG Paints Arena

In marriage, you often find that you have to make compromises and learn to like new things that your spouse likes. I had to do that this past Thursday. Amanda’s musical tastes are a little hardcore compared to mine. Her favorite rock group is the legendary band Metallica. The group was in concert at PPG Paints Arena and I agreed to go to the concert with her.  We’ve mentioned before that the arena is in walking distance, so making a trip over there isn’t a big deal for us. We just avert our eyes from all the NHL Penguins gear and banners hanging all over their home rink. Watching a heavy metal band in concert is an experience. I didn’t need to know the words of the songs I could just feel the music. I literally mean that; the parts of my clothing that weren’t touching my skin were vibrating like a speaker membrane. We sat for about three hours listening to these truly professional performers pump out more energy on stage than OPEC has in their oil fields. Amanda, though not as animated or intoxicated as some of the fans around us, really seemed to enjoy it. I’m glad I had the experience and really happy that we were able to see them together.

The Apollo 11 Command Module Columbia

We know it is well established that Amanda and I are space nuts. We love everything to do with the science of exploring the stars and other celestial bodies. The chance to get up close and personal to some of the most important space artifacts in history was an opportunity we couldn’t pass up. As part of the upcoming commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission to the moon, the Heinz History Center is hosting Destination Moon: The Apollo 11 Mission. The epic exhibition about the moon landing was created by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES) is currently at the museum only a few blocks from our apartment.  We had to take a couple hours to stare in wonder at the Columbia Command Module that ferried Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins to the moon and back. The exhibit also offers the chance to listen to hours of audio from the NASA archives collected during the mission. I have trouble explaining to people, especially Millenials, the amazing idea of the moonshot. The idea that from the time we had our first powered flight to landing on the moon was only 66 years. In the span of a lifetime we went from being unable to fly to landing on the moon; the accomplishment still awes me today. You can even be more dumbstruck when you think about how your smartphone has a million times more computing power (not an exaggeration) than all of NASA during the Apollo program. If the traveling show comes to a museum near you it is something to check out. Seeing a vehicle that’s been to space and back is an exciting and rare opportunity.

Destination Moon is open at the Heinz History Center until February 18, 2019.

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The Caribbean Has a Rhythm All Its Own

The Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association has kicked off a new campaign to highlight the diversity of the million square miles of geographic and ethnic variety the region has to offer.
“Visitors, past and present, have not been introduced to the offerings of our vast and diverse region. We will change that by highlighting the charms contained in the million square miles of Caribbean Sea, home to French, English, Spanish, Dutch, Creole, African, Asian, American and many other cultures,” said Frank Comito, Director General and CEO of the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association, encouraging residents and visitors to experience more of the region’s rhythms.
The region sees the Caribbean as a brand and wants to reinforce the idea that with the year-round nature of their product, the Caribbean itself, “The Rhythm Never Stops.”
We at No Kids, Will Travel understand that sentiment. Whether it is the sound of the waves softly crashing on the sand, the sound of a steel drum echoing on the wind, or the causal no-hurry attitude, the Caribbean has a rhythm all its own.
“The Rhythm Never Stops” is a marketing campaign enticing travelers to revel in the Caribbean’s incredible natural beauty, diverse cultures and hidden treasures.
The initial online campaign will run for 12 weeks and focus on the Bahamas in the north; the Cayman Islands and Jamaica in the western Caribbean; the French department of Martinique and its eastern Caribbean neighbor St. Lucia, as well as Grenada and Trinidad & Tobago in the south.