Saturday, April 28, 2012


I can't stop thinking about the safari.  Ok, it's out there.  I am utterly, completely, consumed by the thought of this trip.  I play with airfares, trying to find the quickest/cheapest/fewest connecting flights.  I look at others' online albums from their safaris.  I use safari planning guides to "plan my ultimate safari".  I cannot stop thinking about it.  Thinking about riding through land so open and clear and flat that I can't see anything else for miles.  Thinking about being on the home turf of lions, giraffe, elephants, rhinos, wildebeest, seeing them where they belong as opposed to where they were relocated.  Good lord, I can't think of anything else.

I try on the "I'm going on safari" announcement by telling people I'm thinking of going on safari.  No one's surprised, except maybe me.  It's getting pulled 8 years into the here and now rather than living 8 birthdays away as it was supposed to.

I'm neglecting all other trip planning (sorry Germany, there's time for you; and Cleveland I've done what I need to to get myself there) because I cannot shake this all-consuming aura of safari that's enveloped me.

I've got it bad.  Roar!

Friday, April 20, 2012

I Hold These Truths to Be Self-Evident

After the Cleveland airfare booking fiasco, I realized that I have some hard and fast rules for my travel that I just subconsciously follow:
  • I will not fly south to go north, west to go east, north to go south, east to go west
  • I will not connect for a European flight in the US; connections in Europe are, however, ok
  • I will not connect to save money, unless it's A LOT of money and through a non-icky airport
  • I will pay up for breakfast in a hotel, only because I love a good breakfast and like to brush my teeth afterwards and before I head out for the day
  • I will always take the flight that will get me where I'm going at the earliest part of the day, even if that means getting up at 3 a.m. to get on that flight 
  • I will always take the last possible flight home, unless it's a red eye
  • Economy/Coach is fine, unless the flight is 16 hours, then that extra legroom feels like a mile
  • I have to have a day after a trip at home before I plunge myself back into work.  Always.
How strange this is, yet it seems so logical to me.  Just sayin'.

Juggling trips...

Can there be such a thing as too many trips in the mix?  I'm starting to wonder.  Just as the books on Germany start to pile up...a couple on the sofa, one next to the bed, a map on the side table, I get thrown the curve ball that my sister wants to go to Cleveland at the end of May, do I want to go?  And who am I to say  no to a trip anywhere?

The draw in Cleveland is the exhibition Rembrandt in America, which we both want to see, as well as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame which neither of us has ever seen, but as music lovers, feel it's on the must-do list.  Other than that, Cleveland has never hit our radars.  So all of a sudden, I found myself temporarily ignoring all things German and thrusting myself into the midwest of my own country.  I knew nothing, absolutely nothing, about Cleveland; not how to get there, what area is good to stay in, what Cleveland has going for it.

Wise travelers going for an "event" or a big attraction look into hotel deals that get you there at some sort of a discount.  On the Rock Hall website, I found "preferred hotels" with packages that include room, breakfast and entrance to the museum.  For $150, we'll be staying in the theater district in Cleveland, within walking distance of the Rock Hall, which we will have paid entry for.  Cool.

Airfare however, proved to be a challenge.  I've always prided myself on managing to catch a bounce in airfare or at least get the best deal I can find.  I figured Cleveland isn't that much of a draw, right?  (Although my sister noted that the weekend she originally wanted to go, that of the annual Rock Hall induction ceremonies, airfare was over $700 from Boston!)  I found out that United flies direct, so YAY ME, more frequent flier miles accumulating.  An initial look-see a mere week ago showed that air from Boston to Cleveland was $388 round trip, which is really more than what I wanted to spend, but Bing's fare predictor said that a $50 dip was coming in 7 days.  So I waited.  And waited.  By Thursday (the day after I traditionally see a dip), airfare was going up.  $399.  $417.  We talked and decided to try to connect through Newark to get the $348 airfare.  By the time I decided, there were only economy plus seats left on those flights, so that would be the same fare as flying direct.  So I switched the fare back to flying direct, only to find only economy plus left there as well.  So I tried a later flight, same deal.  In the end I just bit the bullet and paid the $417 to go direct, plus $12 more each seat for Economy Plus.  But we're front row on the plane, and because it's only overnight (YES, one night!) we'll be going carry-on only, so hopefully we can make up time once we land.  Frustrating is an understatement.

Meanwhile, the group of folks I traveled to China with started a discussion somehow about lions and safaris, and it turns out that some of us want to do a safari.  The discussion got very carried away to the point of narrowing it down to the great migration in February in Tanzania.  I even made contact with one of the safari providers I met at the Boston Globe Travel show to scope out what he could do for us price-wise and itinerary-wise.  We agreed to wait to decide until we all have time to focus and commit, probably early summer.  But HOW EXCITING!  Because of this discussion the Fodors Ultimate Safari Planning Guide has now joined the pile of guidebooks on the sofa.

And finally, the initial phases of scoping out a return to China in late 2013 have begun.  Access China gave us an initial itinerary that seemed ok but for an exorbitant cost for three day cruise through the gorges.  I'm hesitant to return to China and do anything I'd done before, but for working with the pandas, so we'd really have to have a different non-panda itinerary to pique my interest.  But there's time to work that out.  And to think about how realistic a safari AND a return to China is all in the same year.

There are worst things that could be happening to me than just having four trips in the works.  But I feel like I need an organizer to keep it all straight.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Signed, sealed, delivered

In a mere week I have managed to completely nail down my Berlin trip.  Last Wednesday, I jumped on airfare early and managed to get the dates I wanted at the price I'd seen a few weeks ago.  When I last checked, the fare on Aer Lingus for my dates had gone up and I was going to go a week later in order to get the lower fare.  No such need!  So I now have 11 days in Berlin burning a hole on my calendar!  And it didn't take me long to start jumping on accommodations either.

Sometime in the last few years I must have considered a trip to Germany, because I had a "Saved Trip" folder on Trip Advisor with some hotels I'd eyed at the time.  As good as they looked then, I managed to find better.  At least I think so.  I'm starting with five nights in Berlin in a pensione/B&B. The location is near Charlottenburg, southwest of the city.  It is just off Kurfurstendamm (the main shopping thoroughfare) and very accessible to the subways and trams.  The price is spectacular (60 euro per night) and will afford me the opportunity to get bed and breakfast while enjoying a nice residential neighborhood and stay with Berliners to start my trip.

After those five nights, I head to Dresden for two nights.  I had read on Fodor's forums that a major 5* hotel chain just opened a location in the historic district there, and I managed to score an opening week deal there, so I'm splurging on a 5* experience for two nights there for about 100 euros, including breakfast.

Lastly, I decided to stay in a different part of Berlin for my last two nights, so I found an apartment-style hotel in the former East Berlin in a trendy neighborhood close to the old Berlin Wall and Alexanderplatz.  I should be able to get an entirely different feel for the city here.  I am curious though, because each apartment is designed in a different "theme" and I'd love to know what apartment I'll get!

So it's a good feeling to have this nailed down.  Up next is to reserve times at the Reichstag and the Green Vault in Berlin, both of which I could miss if I don't have reservations.  And to start learning some German and reading like a maniac...

Monday, April 2, 2012

Required Reading...

While I haven't pulled the trigger on the proposed Berlin (and possibly Dublin) expedition, I did manage to order a slew of guidebooks.  I'd been reading Fodor's Germany 2012, which while beastly in girth, actually doesn't cover some places I'm interested in visiting (Braunschweig, anyone?  They have a Vermeer!).  Friday I ordered from Amazon:
  • Eyewitness Guides Berlin
  • Rick Steve's Snapshot Berlin (he may be simple but for some reason when I'm taking on a new city and he's written a guide on it, I always lean on him a bit for the practical info)
  • Baedecker Dresden Guide
  • and of course...Streetwise Berlin laminated map.  I collect them, don't you know.
When these books arrive, sometime later this week, I'll be narrowing down (or perhaps expanding!) my itinerary and settling on a plan.  Then comes airfare.  Meanwhile I'm combing both the Fodors and Trip Advisor Germany forums for details, details, details.  I may have already found my Berlin hotel!