Wednesday, June 27, 2007
High Rock Lake, North Carolina
Last weekend, Ellen and I spent a few days at High Rock Lake in North Carolina. This was really a business trip, but it was also very enjoyable. We hooked up with Florette and Chuck again, whom I often refer to as "my American parents". I spent a lot of time with them about a dozen years ago during one of my first ventures to the US. It was a great time I have fond memories of.
Going back was great, actually. Much less has changed than I would have expected. High Rock Lake is developing, and there certainly are more homes the rich and famous built around the lake than there used to be, but it isn't nearly as bad as I would have expected. All the old places (like the boat club) are still there, except for Speedy's BBQ, which apparently has just fallen down (probably due to the hot-sauce-vapors). Lexington style BBQ is excellent. I prefer it much over Texas style BBQ for instance. We had some the last day we were there (at a different place) and it was very good. I also forgot how much I liked those hush puppies. Mmmmm......
We did some work while we were there, but we also had a very enjoyable time on the water. Being out on pontoon boats is as fun as always. Here's a picture of Chuck (that would be "dad" :-) ) and us out on the boat:
It is amazing to see some of the houses around the lake. I didn't bring a camera, but Florette (well, "mom" :-) ) took some pictures for me. We missed some of the bigger ones, but these are still pretty cool. Here is Chuck's and Florette's house:
And here is their neighbor's house, which has a cool mediterranean flair:
BTW: Florette is selling some of these unique properties on the lake. If you are interested, check it out here.
Anyway: It was a blast. We socialized, we sailed around the lake, and we may even had a beer or two :-). We also visited friends of Florette's and Chuck's who have an awesome pier with a private bar. Unfortunately, we didn't bring a good camera that evening, but I tried to take some pictures with my cell phone:
Yeah, I know. These pictures are not great. You'll just have to take my word for it: It was awesome!
Oh, and as much as Chuck is probably hoping I wouldn't mention it: We also had another High Rock Horse Championship. Chuck and I used to play basketball in the driveway (a "father and son thing", you know) so I challenged him for a competition. But as it turns out, Chuck had no balls! Literally. But we shamed him into buying a basketball the next day. At that point I thought I might be in trouble. And in fact, I was already down H-O-R-S to nothing! Oh boy, how embarrassing that would have been! But I fought back and won the whole thing with 5 straight points! Yeah, baby! I never doubted my ability. Really, I just wanted to cut Chuck some slack. That is my story and I am sticking to it! :-) Hight Rock Horse Champion again! Unbeaten for the last 12 years...
Posted @ 12:16 AM by Egger, Markus (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Sunday, June 24, 2007
Finding Good Fares Online
I book just about all my flights online (well, *I* book some of it online... Tammy and Ellen would argue that they do most of it for me though... :-) ). Doing this is an art in itself. So I thought I might share my usual course of action and the sites I find most useful:
I typically start out with Expedia.com. It gives me a pretty good idea of what is available both in terms of rates and flight options. Expedia also just added a cool new feature called a "Fare Comparison Calendar", which allows you to see what the same flights would cost if you took them on different days. It's quite nice:
The only problem with the thing is that it is limited in the routes it supports. I believe it currently only works for US domestic flights, and even there, it is only select cities. But still, it's cool. And hopefully, they will extend this feature in the future.
Depending on the outcome of my Expedia search, I often end up saying "...this can't be all there is!" and move on to ITASoftware.com. ITA is a cool site that searches a ton of available options and provides cool graphical views that show exactly how long layovers are, what the total flying time is, and so forth. Nothing truly earthshaking in concept, but still, not something many other sites offer. ITA does not allow you to book flights. They just search for flights, but often they come up with great options that are not available elsewhere. Sometimes that also means that once you found a flight, you have to contact the airline directly to book it.
Talking about contacting airlines directly: Once I find a flight (regardless where), I often also check the arline's web site (usually Continental.com in my case). Sometimes flights are priced differently there (plus there usually are extra options, such as getting first-class upgrades). Also, there often are benefits such as extra miles for booking directly on an airline's site. Be careful however: The prices are often deceiving, since they do not include taxes and other fees that are included on sites like Expedia.
Often it also pays to just check around at the standard travel sites. Orbitz.com and Travelocity.com for instance. And of course there is always PriceLine.com, but I have not used that much, to be honest (especially lately). BTW: A cool feature that many of these site offer are fare alerts that you can set up to be notified by email when favorable fares are available.
One of the big questions when booking airfare is "should I book now or should I wait a little longer?". After all, fares bounce up and down all the time! A great tool to answer this question is FareCast.com. This site provides predictions as to whether fares will go up or down if one was to book later:
This site also only works for limited destinations, but for those destinations it does work for, it is awesome!
Beyond these sites, there are a bunch of other sites dedicated to comparing fares. AirFareWatchDog.com and FareCompare.com are some of the newer sites dedicated to this, along with the more established Air-Fare.com, BestFares.com, and Kayak.com. All these sites are usually worth checking out, especially if the immediate result provided by your first search (such as on Expedia) is not to your liking. Also, I just check these sites out on occasion just for the heck of it, because they usually point out inexpensive destinations from any given airport (such as your home airport), which sometimes leads to great travel ideas. Note: If is often worth checking out all these site, because they do not always cover all airlines. Especially carriers such as JetBlue and Southwest are often excluded by some sites. FareCompare and Kayak include tons of flights from all around the world. BestFare and especially Air-Fare Watchdog on the other hand seem to be a bit better in including more carriers for US domestic flights.
Oh, and if you travel in Europe, you should make sure you check out low cost carriers there, such as Ryan Air and Jet2.com. These carriers also aren't included on standard sites like Expedia, but there are sites such as FlyLowCostAirlines.org that provide a convenient overview and the ability to search those carriers and the flights they offer.
So that's what I do. I am sure other people may know of even more interesting strategies to find the best fares and flight options. I'd be interested in hearing about those too!
Overview of Links:
Posted @ 2:36 PM by Egger, Markus (email@example.com)
Tuesday, June 19, 2007
Airport Security (and some fun with GeorgeW)
If you ever travel, then this isn't news to you: Airport security is getting worse and worse. No more liquids in carry-on for instance. It has already been acknowledged that the rule is nonsense, but still it applies. After all, there was the incident with the liquids that terrorists tried to mix together. I am just hoping that there won't be any incidents with "solids", because it would really suck if we couldn't carry anything on that is either liquid or solid.
I like to travel light. Carry-on only if possible, although that is now very hard due to those silly rules. When I go back and forth between Europe and North America, I often travel with hardly any luggage. It freaks them out! After all: Who goes on a transatlantic flight without luggage? Well, apparently it is just me and the terrorists. And surely, that makes me a nasty kind of person...
And how about that whole shoe nonsense? Does anyone really think the world is safer, just because millions of travelers get their socks dirty?
Personally, I think it is quite the joke, really. It is a hassle for travelers, and I would be very surprised if it makes anything safer. I mean, what terrorist brings on anything liquid or tries to blow up his shoes? Whoever attempted such a feat at this point would have to be so dumb, they wouldn't be very scary in the first place.
Anyway: enough ranting. But check out this post from Bruce Schneier on air travel security. Quite interesting.
BTW: Bruce has some other interesting posts too. One of my personal favorites is the Bush in Albania post. W's recent trip to Europe was apparently rather rough, since he isn't really welcome there. But things got a lot better in Albania, a country that is practically completely isolated from the rest of the world and what's going on. They are all great Bush supporters, so Bush enjoyed a "bath" in the excited crowd. Hands were shaken and shoulders slapped, and by the time it was all said and done, one Albanian had gained a presidential watch that Bush was now short. Priceless! (The video can be seen on YouTube).
Posted @ 3:41 PM by Egger, Markus (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Saturday, June 16, 2007
As long as your expectations aren't too high...
I have now been in Houston for 10+ days straight. Not a bad record for me :-). So what does one do when stuck in a single place for such a long time?
Seriously though: I like spending time in Houston. I have a cool pool and I like playing hockey in my spare time, which I can do here all year round. Nevertheless, I decided that I was ready for a bit more fun and excitement this year than the last few Houston summers offered. You know: European style quality of life, and such...
So what can one do on a weekend in Houston? Last weekend, we went to the movies again after what seems to be ages. We watched Ocean's Thirteen, and I quite liked it. (I think it is especially enjoyable if you are familiar with Las Vegas...). We rounded the day off with a nice Thai dinner. Not bad for a Friday evening, but there is more to a weekend.
Saturday started out a bit slow. I already thought "boring, boring, boring, boring, boring, boring, boring, boring, boring, boring, ...", but then we decided to go to the beach at Galveston. We haven't been to Galveston in a long time, because in all honesty, the beach there kinda sucks. The water is brown (mostly sediments, but with some possible pollution mixed in...), and the beach is boring. But we decided to go anyway. And as it turns out: It actually wasn't a bad day. The water seemed nicer than usual. The surf wasn't overly exciting (the forecast had said "hip-high and diminishing", and it was...) but it was enough for some boogie-boarding. Plus, we enjoyed a few drinks at The Spot. There isn't anything quite like a cool drink while looking out over the brown surf and the hazy white-ish-blue sky, while a few container ships pass by and the sun reflects off an oil rig on the horizon...
This may sound sarcastic (and I am proud the last sentence turned out so well...), but I actually *did* enjoy myself. I guess it is all a matter of expectations. Mine were pretty low and I got pleasantly surprised. I think we will be back this week or next. Hopefully the surf will be a bit more promising.
What else is there to do in Houston on a weekend? Well, I played two hockey games of course. We won both and it was very enjoyable. (And since I do not want to be called a "showoff", I am not going to tell you that we won the first one 12:1.... oops, too late...). Beyond that, we just took it easy on Sunday, and spent some time by our pool. There was the very enjoyable Formula One race in Montreal of course. Best in a long time. (Robert Kubica may take exception to that statement, since he had a massive shunt... but he's unhurt, so that is good...). Makes me wish I would have stayed in Montreal longer to watch the race, but there simply was too much time in between. I am considering to go see another F1 race live at some point though...
So what's in store this weekend? Well, not too much today. Just another hockey game and some pool-sitting. Yesterday however, we had a great dinner at Benji's (which I highly recommend, even though our waiter yesterday was a little grumpy... and what's the deal with splitting the ticket? Cheeeeeezzz....) and afterwards, we went to see Spamalot (the Monthy Python musical). I saw it before and I would go see it again in an instant! Yes, it is that good. (Well, it you are a Monthy Python fan that is... if you do not like MP, then don't even think about going...).
Afterwards, we decided to go for a drink, but you know what: It always is amazing how little there is going on in downtown Houston, considering how large this city is. Oh well, I guess my expectations were too high...
Posted @ 11:20 AM by Egger, Markus (email@example.com)
Tuesday, June 05, 2007
An Educational Trip...
"What is going on with Markus' travel blog?", you may ask. "Isn't he going anywhere anymore?". Well, I am. But I have been so busy and just somehow didn't get to blog much...
Anyway: I just got back from a multi-leg trip. Houston, Montreal, Salzburg, Leeds, Salzburg, Leeds (yes, back and forth), and back to Houston. It was very educational in some ways. For instance, I learned that...
- ...Montreal is still fun, but it can be cold and rainy. Plus, bars can be pretty empty on Tuesday evenings. (Or was it because Beth and YAG dragged us into a place that could have been straight out of the 70s?). Still, Montreal is cool, and I always enjoy going there.
- ...the flight from Montreal to Amsterdam is shorter than the flight from Houston to Amsterdam. Who would'a thunk? But seriously: It went real fast. 5 hours I think. Basically, hardly more than going from Houston to Seattle. I arrived in much better shape than usual.
- ...Cooking Khan is still one of my favorite restaurants in Salzburg.
- ...driving from Munich to Salzburg sucks. Especially if you do it 6 times in a row!
- ...parking at Munich airport is outrageous! 98 Euros for 4 days. Those Germans are nuts!
- ...the trip from Salzburg to Leeds may be short in the winter (I think less than two hours on Jet2.com), but it really sucks in the summer, when there are no direct flights. I had to fly Munich-Amsterdam-Leeds since the direct flights are skiing tourism flights that go in the winter only. That turned the trip into an 8 hour ordeal that I went through 4 times. Not fun.
- ...my reflexes are still good. Even at 2am after a full day of work and 8 hour trip from Leeds to Salzburg, I managed to avoid hitting wildlife running across the road on 4 different occasions (3 foxes and a deer). It was like driving in a zoo!
- ...the Kaiser Chiefs are from Leeds. I didn't know that before. I think I might buy a few of their songs...
- ...flights from Leeds are usually late.
- ...when you think you missed your connection in Amsterdam: Run like hell anyway! You might still make it. Worked 3 times for me...
- ...they let drunk Germans onto planes in Amsterdam. Then, if they can't find their seat anymore after a bathroom visit, it all turns into a fun game for the entire plane.
- ...when in the UK, eat Asian food. It is actually really good. I had a few English things too. Minced lamb was good. I also discovered my love for cornishes. Stay away from room service though ;-)
- ...Indian waiters get very disappointed when you fail to know their "friend Davis who lives in L.A.". After all, I live in the US too...
- ...watching a small barge go through a manually operated lock can be amazingly exciting to a bunch of high-tech geeks like us.
- ...when people from Leeds say "cheers", they aren't asking you to drink with them.
- ...when people from Amsterdam say "cheers", they are asking you to drink with them.
- ...there are more fellow F1 fans there than in the US.
- ...after drinking 3 gallons of tea a day, sleep is completely out of the question.
- ...the Brits have tea kettles you can hook up to your computer's USB port.
- ...whether you initially start brewing your tea from cold or warm water seems to have absolutely no impact on the final result, but it still somehow is of utmost importance to start out with cold water. (And I imagine starting with warm water does wonders to your bettery life in the USB scenario...)
- ...after a few glasses, you do not even notice how warm and stale the beer is anymore... :-P. (Maybe they should try starting the brewing process with cold water...)
- ...warm and stale or not... ale can be stronger than it appears.
- ...pubs are really cool. (Although I am told that foreigners are not supposed to look at locals they don't know).
- ...Austrian beer tents can really ruin your next-day mountain biking plans.
- ...missing Austrian store-closing hours on Saturday can really ruin your weekend food-wise. (And it makes beer-tent-recovery more difficult too...)
- ...you find out who your friends are when you need a trip to the Munich airport at 3am. Luckily, the first one I asked agreed. I must be a lucky guy! :-)
- ...the flight back to Houston appears a lot longer without a working computer.
And that's about it! I am back in Houston now, ready to go back to a healthier lifestyle...
Posted @ 8:57 AM by Egger, Markus (firstname.lastname@example.org)