Pick Up The Phone I’m Always Home

by Nancy Bestor

Last month I traveled to Los Angeles on Allegiant Air out of Medford, Oregon. My round trip flight was $130, a bargain in my opinion. I did not choose a seat ahead of time (up to $80), I did not sign up for preboarding ($4 – $12), I did not request a boarding pass ($5), I did not bring a carry-on suitcase ($10-$75) to go in the overhead compartment, and I did not buy any food or water (water costs $2) on the flight. So although Allegiant can add on fees, one does not have to pay them. And when one opts out, the bargain fare really does remain a bargain. I am perfectly willing to bring my own snacks and fill up a water bottle after going through security in the airport. I am also fine with sitting in any seat on the plane, as long as my flight is a short one. I had no complaints about my flight, but I did have one complaint about Allegiant.

I forgot to enter my Global Entry “known traveler id number” when I booked my flight. Once I realized this, I figured I could easily add it to my Allegiant ticket. Well I figured wrong. After some internet research, I determined that the best way to add my id number would be to call Allegiant. Apparently, cheap tickets translate to few customer service representatives, because I waited on the phone for 55 minutes before giving up. Allegiant’s website said you can call their phone number (it didn’t say that someone would answer—ha) or add your id number with an agent at the airport. I figured I could add it in Medford, and although it might not work for my flight down to LA, it would certainly work for the flight back. Once again, I figured wrong. The Allegiant agents at the ticket counter, although very nice, had absolutely NO IDEA what I was talking about. One of them had never even heard of a known traveler id number. I found myself having to explain what the id number is, then having to educate them on what it says on Allegiant’s website about adding it to my ticket. Needless to say, they were not able to help me and I didn’t get TSA precheck in either direction.

It wasn’t the worst thing in the world though. And again, my direct flight was only $130 round trip. I learned my lesson too. From here on out, I will ALWAYS put my known traveler id number in my booking when I make it, and I will not expect a customer service person to answer a phone. Because how ridiculous is that?

Don’t Ask Me No Questions

by Nancy Bestor

Bob and I have a habit of getting into interesting conversations with strangers when we are traveling. Sometimes we’re sitting in a bar enjoying a beer and end up chatting with locals and/or tourists sitting near us, hearing their stories, why they’re where they are, and what they do when they’re not traveling or sitting in a bar.

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If you know me, you’ll understand how this happens. I will ask questions as long as you will let me. Truth be told, I’m a nosy person. But there is something weirdly fascinating in learning things about strangers, particularly strangers from other countries. I will very likely never see these folks again, yet I have a crazy urge to know if they are in a relationship, what their job is, how they spend their free time, and more. And what’s equally fascinating is that people are willing to answer my questions. Maybe they’re a little lonely, or perhaps they don’t get the chance to talk about themselves very often. Whatever the reason, I have yet to meet a person unwilling to answer my questions.

Last month, on a trip in Japan, we met a couple at Meiji Jingu Temple in Tokyo. This time, they approached me (really, they did), and asked if I spoke English, and if so, could I answer a couple of questions for them. Of course I was more than willing to answer their questions, but soon enough, I was able to turn the tables and get a few of my own questions answered. It turns out that Yoshihiko is a big fan of American comedy, and one of his favorite shows is Saturday Night Live. In his broken but quite good English, Yoshihiko told us how he loves the skits SNL puts on, particularly the political skits featuring Hillary Clinton and the Donald. This of course led to a conversation about whom we voted for and how we felt about the results. They also wondered if we could explain the Donald’s victory. (Side note: we could not.)

Then we got to talking about Japanese culture. My question to them was why do so many Japanese people wear masks over their noses and mouths? The answer was complicated, they said. At first, people started wearing masks to prevent themselves from getting sick when in public places, especially on crowded trains. But then it turned into something quite different. It became a way to hide their faces. In their own words, wearing a mask is a “strange” cultural phenomenon of Japanese people, but those without masks do not “seem calm.”

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We exchanged emails and upon our return to the US, sent a picture of us with them, and let them know we enjoyed meeting them. They replied, thanking us for our kindness during our conversation. (Not once did they mention that I was nosy.) They also told us that they would like to visit the USA.

And this is why we travel. Not just to see new places, but to meet different people and learn about different cultures. Maybe I am nosy, but I’m not going to stop asking questions. I’m just getting started.

 

I Guess It’s Healthy, I Guess the Air is Clean

by Nancy Bestor

I grew up in the “big city”. I’ve lived there, I’ve worked there, and I’ve traveled there. And although I feel like I am experienced, there are times when I’m away from little Ashland, Oregon, and I feel like a country mouse with its mouth agape in astonishment. Last weekend in Los Angeles was one such occasion.

I was in L.A. to spend a couple days with my daughters, but their plane was due to arrive several hours later than mine. So after picking up a rental car, I headed out to explore the City of Angels. My plan was to go to one of the 17 hottest Los Angeles cheap eats restaurants,  then head to a nearby movie at the Landmark Theater. I figured I had plenty of time to accomplish both before I would need to return to LAX. That was the first mistake of this country mouse. I left room in my schedule for traffic, but not the kind of traffic that requires 65 minutes to go just 10 miles—thanks Google Maps for the heads up. Once I realized I couldn’t make it to dinner and a movie in time, I dropped the dinner plan and just went for a movie.

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Nixing dinner worked out perfectly however, as the Landmark theater in West Los Angeles has a beautiful bar where I got a salad and beer before my movie, and then took the rest of my beer into the theater. The gleaming concession counter at the Landmark looked like a place you might buy diamonds, not Nestle Crunch Nuggets (one of my weaknesses).

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And in addition to the lovely bar and fancy concession stand, the Landmark also boasts a lobby concierge, assigned theater seating, parking validation, and, similar to an airport departures board, a screen in the bar displaying the times when each movie will begin seating, so you’re sure not to be late. An employee even came into the theater to introduce the movie, and point out a few features of the theater. My movie did cost $14, but honestly, it was worth it. I do love my sweet little Varsity Theater here in Ashland, but every once in a while it’s nice to pretend I’m not a country mouse, and enjoy the benefits of the “big city.”

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Is This The Future?

by Nancy Bestor

coffee-in-the-air-1450007-639x961On our way to Jordan, Turkish Airlines offered free wifi to all its passengers. This my first opportunity to use in-flight wifi, and I was excited by the prospect of whiling away the hours endlessly surfing the internet. I logged in easily and my surfing began. I quickly realized however, that while wifi at 30,000 feet may be advanced technology,  it is painfully slow advanced technology. It reminded me of the days of the dial up modem. Actually, it may have even been slower than the old dial up modem. Perhaps in flight wifi works fine when you want to send an email, but to actually browse the internet? Kind of frustrating, in my opinion.

Now I know what you’re thinking. Well, in truth I don’t know what you’re thinking, but I know what Louis C.K. is thinking.  I need to stop whining and be grateful there are airplanes, let alone airplanes with wifi! And indeed, I am grateful. But I have to wonder about passengers who pay for wifi when they fly. Passes with GoGo, one of the most popular in-flight wifi providers, range from $7 for a one hour pass, to $60 for a month long, multi-airline pass for domestic travel. Seems pricey to me just to do lots of slow browsing. JetBlue, however, recently announced that on any plane equipped with wifi, that wifi will be free for all passengers. Perhaps other airlines will follow suit? And pigs will fly. I predict I’ll be sticking to reading good old fashioned books for the foreseeable future.

Here’s an interesting article on how in-flight wifi works, along with a ranking of every major airline’s wifi service.

So This Is What Makes Life Divine

by Nancy Bestor

When our younger daughter Sarah was first home as a new-born from the hospital, her sister Emily—then age 2—took to serenading her. She would put her face very close to Sarah’s and sing “So this is love, so this is love, Sarah. So this is what makes life divine.” I’d like to think she was singing about the love she saw between her two parents, however, the truth is, she was singing one of her favorite songs from Cinderella.

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But without getting too mushy here (I know this is a travel newsletter, not a newsletter for cupid.com), I would say that Bob’s and my relationship is indeed all about love. My world changed for the better the day I met Bob, and I am fairly certain he would say the same thing too. He’d better.

grandoleopryBill Murray, or Carl Spackler as he is known to golfers around the world, said if you have someone that you think is the one, don’t just make a date and get married.  First, travel around the world with them, and if you’re still in love after your travels, then get married at the airport. Bob and I may not have traveled the world before we got married, nor did we get married at the airport, but the first significant trip that we took together was a doozy—our extended five month long honeymoon around the United States in a Volkswagen bus.

We drove—slowly—from California to Florida, then up to New York and back across the northern states to Oregon. In our time puttering around the USA, we learned that we travel well together. Let’s face it, if you’re spending all day every day with a new spouse in a tiny Volkswagen pop top camper, you’re either going to decide you are good travelers, or you’re going to get a divorce.

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We gave up the VW Bus a long time ago, and now do most of our traveling by air. We haven’t been everywhere—far from it—but as Susan Sontag would say, it’s on our list. And almost twenty-four years later, we’re still traveling well together.

Just like in our marriage, we seem to have figured out how to be good traveling partners for each other. Bob helps me be more spontaneous and adventurous when we’re in a new place. He also helps me stay out later when I’m fighting jet lag and really want to crawl into a hotel bed at 6pm. I keep us organized and am the source of communication with our kids, work and family. Bob might tell you I am the source of too much communication, but I digress.

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We’ve traveled when nothing is planned out, and we are choosing hotels and restaurants on the fly, and we’ve traveled when everything is planned to a T. Our activities when we’re traveling together are not that different from our activities when we are home together. We enjoy eating, we enjoy walking and exploring, we enjoy bike riding, we enjoy drinking beer, and we enjoy listening to music, to name just a few things.

The truth is, I think what makes us such good traveling partners is that our traveling life is pretty similar to our real life. We each have our strengths and weaknesses (although I don’t really know what my weaknesses are), and we play to our strengths. When one of us is panicking about something—the time we didn’t have visas before an overnight stay near the airport in Australia comes to mind—the other of us is the port in a storm. We encourage each other to try new things, but also recognize that at times a person just needs to chill out in a hotel room and surf the internet. I’ll sit with Bob in a bar in a remote place in the world and watch the feed of an athletic event that is important to him, and he will tirelessly shop with me for the “right” gift for our daughters.

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We’re off this month to explore new places and experiences in Japan. And let’s face it. There’s no one I’d rather share these things with than Bob. This really is what makes life divine.

The Roman Ruins of Jordan

by Nancy Bestor

If you asked me before the days of owning a travel store which countries had the best preserved Roman ruins, I would have said Italy (duh!). Little did I know that the Romans left their mark in countries all over the ancient world, and although there are indeed fabulous Roman ruins in Italy, there are also top sites in Turkey, Syria, Spain, Libya, Jordan and more.

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Before our bike tour of Jordan began, Bob and I took an extra couple of days to visit two fantastic Roman ruins north of Amman and fairly close to Syria. The first was in the city of Jerash, the ruins of the Greco-Roman city of Gerasa. It is said that these ruins are the best preserved outside of Italy, and they are outstanding. Everything from a hippodrome and theater to a colonnaded street still paved with original stones that are rutted from chariot wheels. The oval forum, surrounded by 56 columns, was particularly impressive, as were the columns that, 2,000 years after being built, still sway with the wind. This is a great site, fabulously preserved, but with little signage and no shade. And it is big. We were glad for our guidebook and water bottles on the day we visited.

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Outside of the ruins of Gerasa, Jerash is surprisingly not a tourist city. Indeed there are just two hotels in the city of more than 50,000 people. It seems that tourists come to Jerash on day tours to see the ruins, then bus right back out. We stayed overnight, at Hadrian’s Gate Hotel, a lovely hotel run by a family originally from Yemen. It was here in Jerash that when we walked into town to find an ATM, we realized that locals don’t see many tourists, particularly women who are not wearing headscarves and whose pale lower calves are exposed to the sunlight. We also strolled to another part of town for a dinner of hummus, falafel and shawarma, and children hung out of their car windows to get a closer glimpse of us. No television was needed this night, as we were the show.

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While the ruins of Gerasa were fairly quiet, another great Roman ruin further north was virtually empty. Umm Qais is located in the northwest corner of Jordan, above the Jordan Valley. Although the ruins of the Decapolis city of Gadara (now called Umm Qais) are smaller than those of Gerasa, they also include the remains of an Ottoman Village, and much of the city was constructed with black basalt, which makes them incredibly striking. We explored a well preserved theater and church/temple, and also got a close up view of a mausoleum/crypt, that gave off Indiana Jones-like vibes. Umm Qais offers great views of three countries, Jordan, Syria, and Israel. We loved our visit here.

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We had hired a driver for 60 Jordanian Dinar—about $84—to drive us from Jerash to Umm Qais, Ajloun Castle, the ruins of Pella, and then drop us in Madaba. After visiting Umm Qais, we asked our driver to take us to a locals spot for lunch. Sameer didn’t speak much English, so he called the hotel owner who had arranged our transportation for the day, and he was able to translate our request. Sameer stopped at a local joint along the road, and we had falafels in pita with tomatoes, pickles and fries. (Ashlanders might recognize this as similar to the old Happy Falafel’s “bomb” sandwich.) It was delicious, and two falafel sandwiches, along with two sodas, cost 1.3 Jordanian dinar, less than $2.

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At times we were less than 10 miles from the Syrian border, and we would never have known. Twice we were stopped at checkpoints along the road, and soldiers manning the checkpoints looked at our passports. One time a Jordanian soldier asked “Nancy?”, and when I responded with “yes”, worried about what he might ask me, he replied with the phrase we heard again and again on this trip, “you are welcome.”

The People on the Bus Go Up and Down

by Nancy Bestor

img_4491When traveling overseas last month, Bob and I flew on Alaska Airlines out of Medford, Oregon, to San Francisco—via Portland, Oregon—to catch our Turkish Airlines flight to Istanbul. San Francisco was apparently having some significant weather delays, so our flight out of Portland was delayed, and delayed, and then delayed again. Finally, we were told that our plane would take off shortly, but not to SFO as ticketed. Instead we would fly to San Jose, and then be bused about 45 minutes to SFO. We originally had a six hour layover in San Francisco, and thank goodness we booked it that way, as we ended up getting to San Francisco with just enough time to grab a quick snack and board our Turkish Airlines flight.

The flight to San Jose went just as planned, but the busing, well, let’s just say that left something to be desired. The Alaska gate agents had an extremely difficult time communicating with the bus company in charge of picking up the Alaska passengers and getting them to SFO. We were told the buses would leave San Jose within 20 minutes of our deplaning, but it took the two buses over an hour to get to our waiting point. We could, however, see the buses from where we were waiting, but they (for some strange reason) could not get to us. They kept driving around and around on the wrong access way. Needless to say, many passengers got a little angry. Anyone who had a tight connection in San Francisco was out of luck. For that matter, even those with a generous connection time (2-3 hours) were out of luck. Passengers unfortunately started taking their anger out on the Alaska gate agents, who were trying as best as they could to get the buses to come to the right spot. But the buses continued to drive by us, just slightly, and ridiculously, out of reach.

Finally the buses arrived and we made our way to SFO. Bob and I were fortunate enough to be sitting in front of a three year old girl who sang “The Wheels On the Bus” almost the entire time. Frankly, it was refreshing to hear this little girl happily singing after watching too many adults throw temper tantrums. Because apparently, it’s not just babies on the bus who go “whaa, whaa, whaa.”

Delays happen. We don’t have to be happy about it, but we also don’t need to take out our wrath on other humans. We’re all just doing the best we can.