Living Large on the Big Island

by Nancy Bestor

Bob and I snuck away from work and from our two teenage daughters last month for a quick trip to the Big Island of Hawaii. My goals for our trip were, in no particular order, relaxation, fruity drinks, hiking, and snorkeling. We had no set plans, just a copy of Hawaii The Big Island Revealed, by far the best travel guidebook series for Hawaii. Once we arrived and got the fruity drink supplies purchased, we made plans for accomplishing my goals.

We did a bit of snorkeling on our own near Kona, but decided to book a last minute zodiac boat snorkeling trip with Sea Quest. For about $80 each, the boat captain and his assistant took our group of 10 to a couple of fabulous snorkeling spots, including Captain Cook’s Monument. It was a little like Disneyland’s old Submarine Voyage, only real of course, and 100 times better. We swam along coral reefs with turtles, needle nose fish, polka-dotted puffer fish, eels, rainbow-colored fish, bright yellow butterfly fish, and much more. Amazingly, it got even better after snorkeling as our captain took the boat right into the middle of a pod of spinner dolphins. For 15 minutes we sat still and watched more than 100 dolphins jump and swim all about our boat. They were close enough to touch. It was incredible.

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A Night at the Opera in Verona

by Bob & Nancy Bestor

We spent a week in Verona this past summer, and of the many sites and events on our must-do list, I was most looking forward to seeing the opera Aida at the outdoor Roman arena. The amphitheatre, built in AD 30, seats more than 15,000 people.

We had tickets for the cheap seats (about $28 euros each), packed in shoulder to shoulder with others right on the stone benches of the amphitheatre. The arena was full, with well-to-do opera aficionados on the red-carpeted floor of the amphitheatre, dressed to the nines, and the riff raff, sitting in shorts and other casual clothes, filling the benches all the way to the top around the arena. After being herded into the low price section like cattle, we settled in to our not so comfortable “seats” to await the start of the 9:15 evening show. At the last minute, Sarah and I had to bail out on the show, but Bob and Emily remained. This is their story. ~ Nancy

Let’s just say that my musical tastes lean a little less…..cultured. With virtually no prior opera experience we had done our homework and knew two important things: Aida dies in the end and the opera is four acts long.

But even our untrained ears, from the very first notes, knew that this was a special performance. First off remember that the venue is an outdoor two-thousand-year-old stadium that seats 15,000. Yet the opera was performed without the aid of a modern sound system. No microphones, no speakers, no megaphones, no pre-recorded music, etc. And yet there we sat, well into the cheap seats dozens of rows up, and both the orchestra and the singers came through clear as a bell.
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Traveling as the Third Wheel

by Sarah Bestor

My parents have owned a travel store since before I was born, thus I’ve been traveling my whole life. I grew up traveling with three other people: my mother, my father and my sister. Starting when I was two years old, when we went to Croatia and Italy, we evened each other out with the perfect mix between adult stuff and kid stuff. I’d always have someone to complain with me, be tired with me and keep me company lagging behind on the hikes. In arguments, it was two versus two, always a tie, even though Mom and Dad usually won. Everything was right, and perfect, then came our trip to Italy this past summer.

It was normal for the first two weeks, but then Emily left for Paris by herself, and it began. Two against one–two parents, one kid–they had such an unfair advantage. As a young child, I loved being the center of attention, so you’d think one week without Emily would be heaven in my eyes, but it was not as it seemed. Having four eyes on you and only you everyday and every dinner is hard. Too many questions to answer and too much talking.

Things got easier, as they began to run out of questions, and started talking about their own stuff that I wasn’t interested in. So, I started bringing books to dinner, and talking to my imaginary friend (ha ha).

Four people fit around the table perfectly, four people can split into two groups and no one will be alone, four people can share a hotel room with two beds perfectly, but as it turned out, three wasn’t all that bad either. I often got to choose the treat (gelato!) we would have in the afternoon, I got to use the computer and internet as much as I wanted, and I got first choice of the best seat on trains, boats, and planes. I got used to being an only child, but then Emily came back and it was weird all over again. Soon I’ll have to get used to being the only kid again, as she is going to college next year. This’ll be interesting.  

–Sarah Bestor is a sophomore at Ashland High School. She really did have an imaginary friend when she was two.

An Ode to Rick Steves

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways…..

Okay, so I don’t really love Rick Steves. I’ve only met him once, many years ago, in our Ashland, Oregon store, and it’s not possible to love someone you’ve barely (or never) met….except perhaps for Heidi Klum or Johnny Depp, but I digress. I do like Rick Steves a whole lot, and I’ll tell you why. I find the information in his guidebooks absolutely unbeatable. Our family has used Rick Steves’ guides in many countries, including Turkey, Italy, France, Great Britain, Switzerland, and just last month, Spain. When our daughter Sarah was younger, I would pull out our Rick Steves’ guidebook to read about a site or museum we were visiting and she would groan, “not Rick Steves AGAIN”, knowing I was about to read aloud some historical information I was sure she would find scintillating.

While Sarah may not find the information in Rick’s guidebooks scintillating, I do. By the time a trip is over, I have read most every page, and benefitted from many of his recommendations. We’ve hiked his suggested routes in the Swiss Alps, eaten at his favorite ristorantes in Rome, walked his tour of the Pére Lachaise cemetery in Paris, and learned the historical significance of paintings in the National Gallery in London. His attention to detail, particularly in museums, is outstanding. For example, in Paris’ Orsay museum, Steves offers step-by-step instructions: “turn left onto the mezzanine overlooking the main gallery. Enter the first room on the left. Working clockwise, you’ll see…”

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If It Sounds Too Good To Be True…

I like a good deal as much as the next gal. While I’m not willing to shop at 5am on the day after Thanksgiving for discount tube socks, I have been known to peruse a sale clothing rack or two. So when Allegiant Air, a small discount airline, announced they would begin flying from my hometown of Medford, Oregon to Oakland, California (the hometown of my parents and sister), my interest was piqued. And when I found out Allegiant would be offering one-way tickets between said cities for just $29 (taxes and fees included!), I actually became excited. But it was when I tried to purchase tickets for my daughters that I remembered the age-old saying, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is”.

I’ve written before about “extra” airline fees, including checked baggage fees, carry-on baggage fees, internet purchase fees, telephone purchase fees, seat assignment fees, and bathroom fees–just kidding, I wanted to make sure my readers, (hi Mom and Dad!) were still paying attention. I was fully prepared to pay the additional $10 each for my girls’ carry-on bags. But by driving out to the airport (30 miles roundtrip and I was headed that way anyway), I thought I’d save on the internet or telephone purchase fees.

Because Allegiant doesn’t fly every day, I checked their website to see when they’d be open and staffed. The only information I could find stated that ticket purchases are available in MOST cities for one hour following a scheduled departure. Some airports had listed hours, Medford did not.

Credit card in hand, I made the 30 mile round trip drive, and entered the airport to find four Allegiant employees at the counter. Three of them were checking in passengers for an upcoming flight. The fourth wasn’t doing anything. The line was long, so before waiting, I approached the fourth Allegiant employee. You know, the one who was not checking in passengers. When I asked if I could buy a ticket for a future flight, she smiled politely and said, “We’ll be selling tickets from 3-4 pm today.” It was 1:30.

There I was, ready to give my money to Allegiant Airlines, and there she was, an Allegiant employee with nothing to do. But alas, I could not buy a ticket. I was not there during their ticket-selling window. Not willing to wait 90 minutes, I turned around and drove home, highly irritated, and feeling like a victim of the old bait and switch. Sure, one can avoid paying the internet or telephone purchase fee with Allegiant Airlines, but in Medford at least, you have to be able to go to the airport during a specific one hour period that occurs just two days a week.

Grudgingly, I bought my tickets on Allegiant’s website, where my $29 one way fare turned into a $49 one way fare. Yes, still a good deal, but not the deal I was expecting. If I added in the cost of gas and my hour of wasted time (worth hundreds and hundreds of dollars), I’m not so sure I came out ahead in the end. And even more than that, the frustration of a poor policy that results in poor customer service is what stands out most.