Sunday, May 21, 2017

Recap: Routes Flown With Friends

Since 2007, I've had the pleasure of sharing the skies with friends. Travel with friends makes both the journey and destination even more fun, plus stories to share forever. Here are the who's, what's and where's...

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2007:
LAS-LAX on US Airways with Dan

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2009:
LAX-PHX-OMA on Southwest with Fernando

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2010:
DEN-LGA on Frontier with Fernando
PHL-DEN on Southwest with Fernando

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2011:
MSP-LHR on Delta with Gil
LGW-AMS on British with Gil
FCO-VCE on EasyJet with Gil
FCO-LIS-MAD on EasyJet with Gil
MAD-ATL on Delta with Gil

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2013:
ICT-ATL-LGA-MSP-ICT on Delta with Matt
ICT-ATL-LAS on Delta with Matt
LAX-HNL on American with Fernando
HNL-OAK on Alaska with Fernando

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2015:
LAX-HNL on American with Walter
DFW-OMA on American with Jennifer

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Getting ready for Omaha-Chicago with Tara and Leigh

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2016:
DTW-OMA on Delta with Jane
OMA-ORD on American with Leigh and Tara
ATL-AUA-JFK-ATL-SLC on Delta with Kailash

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John and I enjoying the trip we won from work!

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2017:
OMA-ATL-FLL-ATL-OMA on Delta with John

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Rome RELOADED!

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Fiumicino Airport has a lot of hi-res posters...and good ground transport to downtown Rome.

Overwhelmed by the heat and all the crowds at the Colosseum and the Forum? Don't want to pay the ridiculous entry fees to go inside? No time nor budget for Pompeii? No room for Cinque Terre? No problem! Nessun problema! In Rome, there are still free or inexpensive areas to satisfy your appetite for history and yes, even for seawater.

First Things First - Fiumicino Airport Connection
Most flights arrive here, if not at the other airport Ciampino (CIA) for Ryanair and Wizzair only. I've done the main methods at Leonardo da Vinci–Fiumicino Airport (FCO) going to and coming from central Rome: the express train and the bus. Signs are easy to follow on foot upon arrival at any terminal. Obviously, the Leonardo Express train is faster although more expensive. It's pretty much nonstop between the airport and Termini Station in downtown, and uses rolling stock with lavatories. The FL1 is another train, but it's commuter line and has several local stops before reaching the somewhat centrally located Ostiense Station, so it's not as practical if you're in a hurry. Bus service in air-conditioned motorcoaches is provided by a few competing operators, such as Terravision, SIT Bus, TAM, etc. and so their fares are all the same, and they all go to Termini as well. Allow 30-60 minutes of travel. There is a round trip discount, but you can keep your options open by trying one mode inbound to the city and another back to the airport, you know? Either option offers full above-ground views of the city passing by.

Ciampino Airport Connection
Some of the same motorcoach operators at Fiumicino also provide Ciampino-Termini service, which for tourists is the most practical way to go downtown.

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Start your Roman holiday in the heart of it all - Termini Station.

Roma Termini Station
All roads lead to Rome's main train station Termini, which is also a hub for airport-bound buses, city buses and the transfer point for the Metro subway lines A and B. And a shopping and dining mecca unto itself! I was fortunate enough during my first visit back in 2011 that my hotel was walking distance to here; indeed, all of Italy was just a short walk and a train ride away. I went on day trips to and from Venice, Florence and Pisa from these platforms with inexpensive tickets on Trenitalia. After getting off the train, I would just walk three blocks back to my hotel room! The streets around Termini are also a good place to look for clothing and souvenir bargains. There's also a tourist information desk to help familiarize you with using the transport network (ATAC) for your sightseeing. This is also the perfect place to buy your ATAC day ticket, good for all-day riding on any bus or Metro train.

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A 2-for-1 selfie at the Colosseum grounds

Free Areas, Priceless Selfies
Obviously the pedestrian areas outside of the major monuments are free and open to the general public, and these are where your most useful photos should be taken anyway. You can still pose all day in front of the Colosseum; you only pay to get inside. If you don't really need to see it (and there's really nothing interesting in there, anyway), then don't spend for that ticket. It's also free to pose next to the Arch of Constantine. It's only low-fenced, like a typical protected monument. There are several good angles to photograph yourself - all for free - at Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum, particularly at overlook platforms along the sidewalks of Via dei Fori Imperiali, that road connecting the Colosseum with the Vittoriano. In Vatican City, you're free to enter and exit this semi-walled sovereign enclave, and free to walk the front grounds and wings of St. Peter's Basilica, if there aren't any major events going on. Castel Sant'Angelo, just outside the grounds, is also a good free photo op; the bridge with statues leading up this castle is an open pedestrian bridge. Most visitors to the Vatican use Metro Line A and get off at Ottaviano, which is sub-labeled San Pietro-Musei Vaticani to identify it as an access point for Vatican City. It's about a 5-minute walk between the station and wall entry point on the north side.


Take the Rome-Lido train to the ruins or the beach. It's included with your ATAC card!

And Now...The Alternative Forum, Pompeii and Cinque Terre
You can visit the remains of a true Roman port city, complete with an amphitheater reminiscent of the inside of the Colosseum, columns reminiscent of the Forum and frescoes and mosaics reminiscent of Pompeii just a half-hour west of central Rome, in Ostia Antica.

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You can leave the crowds in Rome and take the train to Ostia Antica instead.

You can reach Ostia via the Rome-Lido train line (part of the ATAC ticket) from the adjoined Piramide-Porta San Paolo station, itself having great photo op outside with the Pyramid of Cestius and the castle-like St. Paul's Gate of the Aurelian Walls. Before entering the Ostia Antica excavation site (small fee and very well worth it!), you'll see the fortified Castle of Julius II.

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Reach the edge of Italy with just your ATAC ticket.

A few more stations beyond Ostia Antica of course, is the coast. Any one of the last 3-4 stations of the line is a short walk to the beach. Plan on bringing along your beach gear. And guess what, you're in a true Italian beach on the Mediterranean!

www.adr.it
atac.roma.it

Paris RELOADED!

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Boarding the RER C train bound for the Palace of Versailles

After 6 years, I was back in Paris to see what I didn't get a chance to see on my previous two visits: the opulent Palace of Versailles (Château de Versailles). It's out in the suburbs and requires a commuter rail line, but a normal Paris Visite transport ticket works just fine. In fact, on this trip I was staying at an airport-area hotel (near Charles de Gaulle-CDG in Roissy) and it only took me just two trains from CDG 2 to Versailles, as both are on regional RER lines. The medium-distance RER trains, which are alphabetically labeled (A B C, etc.), complements the city's main Metro train lines, which are numbered (1 2 3, etc.).

RER Trains Between Airports, Central Attractions and Versailles
RER B connects both CDG from the north and Orly Airport (ORY) from the south with central Paris, particularly at these three main transfer stations: [Gare du Nord], [Châtelet-Les Halles] and [Saint-Michel-Notre-Dame]. RER B then connects with RER C at St. Michel-Notre Dame. The world-famous cathedral is just above it.

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Beware the station name change! This sign actually covers both the old and new names.

RER C (bound for Versailles-Chateau, formerly Versailles-Rive Gauche) in addition to taking you all the way to the palace in the suburbs from the cathedral in the city, is useful for visiting Les Invalides (Napoleon's tomb), the Orsay Museum, the Louvre (just across the river from Orsay) and of course, the Eiffel Tower. The terminus of the westbound train is Versailles-Chateau itself, or Versailles-Rive Gauche on some older signs, so there's no risk of getting lost. Just be sure to board the right RER C train! Once there, it's a two-block walk to the palace grounds.

The city of Versailles has all the comforts and conveniences of a suburb. If you forgot something at your hotel in Paris or looking for a quick bite while visiting the palace, you can find it at one of the many shops and restaurants facing the train station.

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The same motorcoach stop at Etoile (Arc de Triomphe). Air France Bus is now Le Bus Direct.

New Name, Same Great Service
Aside from the renamed Versailles station, another Paris transport icon has changed its name: Air France Bus (Cars Air France) is now Le Bus Direct! Only the name has changed, though. Le Bus Direct still provides fast, easy and comfortable motorcoach service between either CDG or ORY and central Paris, and each other. During my first visit to Paris back in 2010, I took it from CDG to Etoile (Arc de Triomphe). Now six years later, I was taking it from Etoile back to CDG where my hotel is.

It was only fitting that my journey begin and end with an old friend :)

www.ratp.fr
www.lebusdirect.com/en/

Friday, May 12, 2017

London RELOADED!

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At the Embankment Pier waiting to board a River Services boat

The storied River Thames, running through central London, provides an iconic complement to your sightseeing with many of the city's most recognizable monuments right on its banks. River cruising on the Thames isn't a new concept; in fact, it's a popular package tour provided by many operators. But guess what? Your Oyster Card, which you had been using to ride the tube and the double-decker buses, is also good on Transport for London (TfL) branded river craft!


Enjoy a relaxing cruise on the River Thames - with just your Oyster Card!

London River Services Limited (LRS) is a division of TfL, which manages passenger transport of all types on the river. Just find a pier, look for the familiar roundel logo with the word "River" across it and then tap your Oyster Card for a cruise on the Thames! The appropriate fare will be automatically deducted from your card balance.

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Approaching the Westminster Millennium Pier

The ideal route of course, is between St. Katherine's Pier and the Westminster Millennium Pier, both of which have convenient tube and bus connections. All the famous landmarks are there...starting with the Tower Bridge, the Tower of London, glimpses of the Gherkin and the Shard, St. Paul's Cathedral, Tate Modern, the London Eye and finally Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament.

With LRS and your Oyster Card, you have a delightful hop-on/hop-off type boat tour that's seamlessly connected to your existing tube and bus fare payment.

tfl.gov.uk/modes/river/

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Porto RELOADED!

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TAP Portugal's air bridge between LIS and OPO

After a short flight from Lisbon on TAP Portugal's very own air bridge shuttle program (serving pastéis de nata egg tarts and coffee on board), I arrived in Porto. This is my 2nd visit, so I've decided to try something new - the aerial tramway!

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The Gaia Aerial Tramway (Teleférico) is next to the Jardim do Morro Metro station.

The cable car is located on the south bank of the Douro River, on the Vila Nova de Gaia side. Called Teleférico de Gaia, the aerial tramway system transports visitors between the emblematic Dom Luis I Bridge and the wine cellars of Gaia.

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Leaving the iconic Dom Luis I Bridge behind

The ride itself was surprisingly smooth, reminded me of the OHSU tram in Portland, Oregon. The views from inside the gondola are simply stunning...the river, the bridge, the red-tiled rooftops, everything. The round-trip ticket cost only 9 euros. There is an optional pre-ride souvenir photo for an additional 5 euros.

www.gaiacablecar.com
www.flytap.com


Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Lisbon RELOADED!

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Sun, sand and surf in Cascais, an easy train ride from Lisbon

I was so glad to be back in one of my favorite cities in the entire world - Lisbon, Portugal. This time, I was on a mission. I wanted this visit to be the visit when I actually go to the Atlantic coast of Cascais. You'd think after having been here 3 times before that I'd already been! This visit also marked the first time I've ridden one of the iconic funiculars in the city center.


Let the Urbanos commuter trains take you to a beach...or to a colorful castle on the hill!

The Lisbon transit network is complemented further afield by commuter rail lines called CP Urban Services (Comboios Urbanos de Lisboa). These trains use the same farecard, so coverage for these zones may already be included.

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Getting ready to board the Gloria Funicular, just off of Restauradores Square

The Gloria Funicular
One of 3, Gloria is the funicular railway line that connects the lower town at Restauradores Square with the upper town at the São Pedro de Alcântara Park, which gives a breathtaking view of the city from above. Also located at the top is the Solar do Vinho do Porto, a port wine-tasting institute. As it's part of the Carris transport network, any bus/metro pass is valid on it, such as the reloadable Viva Viagem card. The nearest Metro station to this funicular is the Rossio

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Enjoying the ocean view on the Cascais train

The Cascais Line
Off to the beach we go! The Cascais train easily connects downtown Lisbon (at Cais do Sodre station) westbound with the beach communities of Estoril (where there is a popular casino) and finally Cascais, the line's terminus. The route is very scenic - 20 minutes or so into the ride, the river view gives way to the open sea. There are a few noticeable fortified structures along the seaside towns, and Cascais itself has a typical Renaissance citadel with the characteristic flat profile and star-shaped floorplan.

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The Aguas Livres Aqueduct, just outside the Campolide Station

The Sintra Line
Definitely useful for visiting the famous and colorful Pena Palace, the Sintra train can also take you to a surprising photo-op at the colossal Aguas Livres Aqueduct. Yes, this is another one of those landmarks which I only got to see on this 4th visit. From Lisbon, this train begins at Rossio station. To see the aqueduct, exit the train at Campolide. People actually jog at the top of this structure, so check it out!

www.carris.pt
www.cp.pt

Saturday, April 22, 2017

South Florida: Miami and Fort Lauderdale

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Waiting for the Miami Beach Airport Flyer at Miami Airport Intermodal Station

The whole of urban South Florida, anchored by its largest cities Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach, is all interconnected by the area's commuter rail network Tri-Rail, which operate clean and comfortable double-decker trains with lavatories. Some Tri-Rail stations are also Amtrak stations, connecting these communities with northern Florida, Georgia and beyond.

Miami
Miami International Airport (MIA) has its own intermodal terminal. This is served by the city's rapid transit rail service Metrorail (to downtown and Dadeland), by Tri-Rail (to Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach) and by several of the city's Metrobus lines. Between MIA and Miami Beach (a.k.a. South Beach), the service is by either Bus J or Bus 150, the faster of the two, also known as Miami Beach Airport Express or Airport Flyer, because it practically flies along the causeway bridge over Biscayne Bay. Metrorail and Metrobus are part of Miami-Dade Transit. On the other side of the causeway, the city of Miami Beach operates 4 free trolley routes that provide a reliable transportation alternative complementing the existing transit network and providing connection to regional transit routes, as well as helping you save time, money and energy while sightseeing.

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Colleague John and I at the Marriott Harbor Beach Resort in Fort Lauderdale, served by Bus 40

Fort Lauderdale
Bus transportation for Fort Lauderdale, Hollywood and surrounding communities is provided mostly by Broward County Transit. Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (FLL) is easy to get to or from downtown Fort Lauderdale (at Broward Central Terminal) via Bus 1, or completely free by taking two Tri-Rail shuttle routes connecting through the namesake train station. From Broward Central Terminal, there are buses that go to beach and marina communities such as Bus 40.

www.miamidade.gov/transit
www.broward.org/bct/