On the Way to Amsterdam

On the Way to Amsterdam

As a young pothead in 1999 I had one major thing to look forward to, and that was the Cannabis Cup held in Amsterdam, Holland. This would be my first trip on a plane and just getting there is a story in itself, thus, this travel story.

I awoke at 5 AM, that had not happened in about three years. My bags already packed I go take a shower, and then get my stuff ready. One half of the filthy, nasty, repugnant Anderson Brothers, Jason, picks me up. He receives some bonus money for the trip as do I. My Mommy kisses me bye and then continues to put a damper on the trip by crying, realizing this could be the last time she sees her beautiful baby boy in one piece.

One thing I forgot to pack for my trip were Philly Blunts. I figured they would have them in Amsterdam, and they did, for roughly $15 for two packs.

We eat breakfast at Denny’s. I didn’t have much, getting on a metal tube had me a little nervous even though it was hours away. Jason ate like a hog, he is part hog. I get the squirts at a gas station and use their facilities. Now, we are on our way to Atlanta. Being the spoiled young man with money that I was I would have much rather flown to Atlanta than driven. But the Anderson Brothers are part Jewish, they like to save money.

Three hours later we arrive in Atlanta. We check our bags. I stop and buy one awesome U.S.A. fanny pack that I never wore. A couple hours later and it is time to board. At the time I seen an imaginary line. Once crossing this line there was no turning back. I could get on the plane or not. Before leaving I called my mother like a good little boy, she was crying again, so I’m thinking damn, maybe I shouldn’t get on this plane. That was my choice. Not get on the plane, waste the money I spent, and go back home. Or take a chance, get on the plane, go to Amsterdam, and maybe fall from the sky in a metal tube.

So hell yeah, I got on the plane.

I was a little leery of the takeoff. I had learned by this time that most airplane crashes occur shortly after takeoff and upon landing. So I grabbed my armrests and got ready, it was uneventful, yet scary. From watching movies I heard airline food and the in-flight movies are not great. The movies were right.

Our in-flight movies were Wild Wild West, which is Wild Wild West, no explanation needed. The next movie was Big Daddy. I’m an Adam Sandler fan but Big Daddy just wasn’t good. It didn’t help that I watched the flick a week earlier. The food wasn’t bad. We had a choice of chicken or pasta. I wanted the chicken, I wished for the chicken. The stewardess asked me which I wanted, I said chicken. She said they were out of chicken. I pondered why she even asked.

I couldn’t sleep on the plane, but I could get drunk off the free Heineken. I figured if the plane was to crash it would be my best bet to be drunk. I couldn’t sleep on the plane. Something about closing my eyes and hearing a jet engine doesn’t relax me. I listened to my headphones provided by the airline KLM, “Larger Than Life” by The Backstreet Boys became my in-flight anthem.

The hours ticked by slowly, our little plane on the big screen inched along, across the Atlantic, over Ireland, the United Kingdom. Our pilot informs us we are approaching Schipol airport. We come in for the landing, I pray we don’t crash, we land safely.

Step one complete. I’m now in Amsterdam. The time in Amsterdam is earlier than when we left the states, that will be mind trip one. I wonder what awaits me in this magical city?

Winter Fun and Travel

Time to Book Your 2011 Winter Fun and Travel

Booking a winter wonderland vacation means many different things to the traveler. It is that time of year to begin looking into booking that winter trip. Remember the first tip to planning an inexpensive trip is booking early.

Make a list of those great places that you want to visit. This is the most important planning step for any traveler. Once the list is created then it is time to check and see who will be traveling with your party. Perhaps this winter you wish to take children or grand children. Prices always change from season to season and it is best to remember that traveling with children can be less expensive if you choose the off season for those theme parks and other activities geared to the young.

If getting away from your hometown’s weather is the reason for a wintertime trip, plan to visit a place that is experiencing summertime during your winter months. Places like South Africa have their spring in August. Research every detail of the weather and be sure to search out the historical weather patterns of the area being considered. Recently when planning a trip to South Africa myself, I used Accuweather at www.accuweather.com/ to check on the best time of year for travel. Don’t always depend on your travel agent to know exactly what the weather has been like or will be like in the future.

After choosing who is going and where you are going now it’s time to find out the price of that trip. When booking for overseas travel it is best to use a travel agency. One like Costco Travel can give a traveler a great price. Their upcoming 2011 season includes trips to the Caribbean, Jamaica, Italy, Spain, and more. When using a travel agency they are able to find some all-inclusive packages for travelers that include ground transportation and meals in the total cost of the package. Keep in mind that the agency is adding a cost for their services so a comparison of prices when booking with your agency and on your own can save money in the long run.

Booking a trip from beginning to end can be stressful but it can be done. Choose the dates, air travel, hotel, and then visit Priceline, Expedia, Travelocity and use your search guidelines to include air, hotel and rental car. It is a good idea when booking a trip like this to put in anytime as your flight time, locking yourself into a specific time of day can cause the prices to rise considerably.

If your choosing a place such as Italy, Spain, France or another destination that may have lots of driving, it may behoove you to chose to stay in more than one hotel/motel or even a villa. Research for these extras will need to be done separately as you cannot put in more than one destination when using sites such as Priceline, Expedia, or Travelocity.

Make sure when booking an overseas destination that the cost is being quoted in US dollars and not the currency of the geographical area. It is easy to use the currency calculator but the rise and lowering of the currency exchange can be several hundred dollars from day to day. Travellers need to keep this currency exchange fluctuation in mind when travel time comes also. Pick up some of the local currency at the airport before leaving the US. Most major airports have a currency exchange office. There will be a charge to change money over both leaving and coming from and to the US.

Travelers Checks and credit cards are not recommended. During our recent travels in South Africa we used a personal credit card, which was then compromised and used in Italy, Spain, and with several rental car agencies. If a credit card is a comfort issue then purchase a pre-loaded credit card to use on your travels. That way if the card becomes compromised it is for a specific dollar amount and will not affect your personal credit.

Passport to the Future

Malta’s Past is Its Passport to the Future

I first visited the tiny Mediterranean country of Malta in the early 50s.

I stayed for 5 magnificent years. It was where I found my passion for things archaeological. I was Associated Press’s stringer on the island (amongst other things) when I was invited to join Cambridge University’s archaeological team under the direction of Dr. David Trump, to record artifacts and excavations at the catacombs of St. Agatha’s in Rabat, adjoining the ancient capital of M’dina.

Prior to this I had been assigned the task of recording (photographically) many of the artifacts currently displayed in the churches that abound on this small catholic island and many of which dated back to the historic Knights of Malta. (1530-1798). My assignment at that time came from the then Central Office of Information, now replaced by the Department of Tourism and Heritage Malta.

Six years ago I returned to my beloved Malta for the first time in some 50 odd years. (‘Odd’ being the operative word here!) The only item I excavated on this occasion however was my lovely wife Rosaria. I stayed for another 4 years and left I must admit a broken hearted man. The heart I should add that I had bequeathed to my beloved Malta.

Although the country was moving ahead by leaps and bounds since severing its ties with Great Britton and now becoming one of the newest members of the European Union (EU), it had lost or perhaps better described, was losing, its focus on the one element that truly held its passport to greatness in the future, the archaeological and historic past that is surely unequaled anywhere in the world.

Across the island magnificent remains of this glorious past stood unattended and uncared for, the public even in government controlled sites like St. Paul’s Catacombs were allowed to wander unescorted, allowing them to add graffiti and untold damage to this magnificent site. By contrast across the street the magnificent catacombs of St. Agatha’s with its amazing original fresco’s remained intact only because the site is owned and maintained by the Sacred Order of the Society of St. Peter ¬†amp; St. Paul, whose monastery and school is located above this remarkable crypt and catacomb complex.

Fr. Victor Camilleri whose side I was privileged to work at during the 50’s, still to this day (although his sight is almost gone) continues to safeguard some of Malta’s most sacred and amazing treasures.

Over the past few weeks I had the opportunity to again re visit with Victor and once again explore some of my old haunts. Certainly there have now been changes. It appears that the preservation on many of the ancient sites are under the care of private contractors though it was my impression that the government still retains an active involvement. Protective covers have been placed over some of the more spectacular archaeological sites to provide a modicum of weather protection, though somewhat taking from their previous visual splendor.

I discovered a new and very pleasant visitor’s center at the Hagar Qim and Mnajdra site. However sites like “Clapham Junction” with the remarkable and unexplained ‘cart ruts’, sit unsupervised and unprotected!

I took the time to re visit the Palace State Rooms and the Armory which by the way contains a collection unequaled of weaponry used by the Knights in the fortification of their home for several hundred years.

Though as remarkable as it is, it lacks attention to detail and the atmosphere brings no excitement to what should in this archaeologist’s opinion be a lifelong memorable experience. The same could be said of the Palace Staterooms with their magnificent paintings and memorabilia.

Mother nature has done her part in the preservation of much that remains on the Island but the time has come for the government to step up and preserve the remarkable wealth that history has placed in their hands. I recall a conversation with a fellow archaeologist in Egypt some years ago when he described the Pyramids as being Egypt’s Oil Well! Meaning of course that the countries ancient treasures would be its source of wealth for as long as they were maintained and treasured.

Buck Creek Winery

Buck Creek Winery Will Delight Your Palette

Buck Creek Winery was originally established as Durm Vineyards in 1991 by Jeff and Kelly Durm with the planting of 1500 vines. By 1996 Jeff was producing award winning wines, including ten medal winners at the Indiana State Fair that year. During those early years some grapes from the vineyard were sold to other vineyards and the public, including Korean and Amish church groups.

This enterprising family business had gained a state wide reputation for producing excellent wines and grapes. After Jeff retired from the Marion County Sheriff’s Department in 2004, he and his family were able to realize a long held dream: Opening a winery complete with store and tasting room. The Buck Creek Winery opened in April, 2006. Its growth in the number of varieties of wine produced and awards received since the opening has been remarkable, to say the least.

On the clear crisp January day that we visited Buck Creek Winery we were greeted by Dick and Josette Randolph. (Josette is Kelly Durm’s mother.) Dick gave us a tour of the production and warehouse portion of the winery. Dick explained that when the winery began they only needed four wooden barrels and one stainless vat. Today I counted 37 barrels and eight large stainless vats. Buck Creek employs five people full time and four people part time. Volunteers often help during bottling time. “Many people like to volunteer when we bottle” Dick told me with a smile on his face. “It’s fun to bottle, cork and label the wine, and you get free wine to drink!”

Jeff Durm was kind enough to spend some time with us in the store and tasting room. He talked about their vineyard with its 2500 vines representing 14 different varieties. He described ripping out of one poorly producing variety and replacing it with a more viable type of grape vine. Then he asked if we wanted to do some tasting. “But of course!” was my reply.

Alley Cat, a red table wine is their best seller. Winner of an Indiana State Fair Gold medal, this wine tastes of cranberries and strawberries with a hint of spice. We also partook of samples of red raspberry and blackberry styles. All the wines we tasted were delightful on the palette. And then there was Pleasant View Pink, a wine named after a small burg just down the road from the winery. I asked Jeff what set Buck Creek apart from other wineries. “For one thing” he said, “a full 50% of our wines are made with Indiana fruit. Few Indiana wineries can say that.” In addition Jeff pointed out that “Here you will like most everything you try.”

Last year the winery produced 60,000 bottles of wine, or approximately 12,000 gallons. Buck Creek now offers 34 varieties of wine. In the most recent Indy International Wine Tasting Competition Buck Creek was awarded 22 separate medals, the most of any winery in the competition. After our visit, we realized why they have won so many awards through the years.

Buck Creek Winery is located at 11747 Indiana Creek Road, South, Indianapolis. See their web site for details and hours.

Animal Planet Portable Pet Kennel Review

Animal Planet Portable Pet Kennel Review

Having owned a cat that chewed her way out of a fabric pet carrier, I knew when I purchased the Animal Planet Portable Pet Kennel that it might not work for my 10 pound Australian Silky Terrier. However, the price was too good to pass up! This retailed for $24.99, but Kohl’s had them on sale for only $7.99. It was worth a try.

The Animal Planet Portable Pet Kennel is a very handy, portable kennel that can be placed in a car, as well as inside or outside of your home. It is made of a weather resistant fabric that resembles what most tents are made from. It comes in two colors, blue and brown.

The kennel has dome shaped ends, with three ventilated windows and a large ventilated door that zips closed. All of these openings also have flaps that can be dropped down to give a pet privacy and darkness, or they can be rolled up and secured at the top of the doors and window with a loop and plastic tab.

It measures 20″ wide by 22 length and is 20″ high. What I love about this kennel is the way it folds flat to take up very little room in storage. We used to have a hard sized kennel, and it was just to large to have around the home for occasional use, and we got rid of it.

While the Animal Planet Portable Pet Kennel does have a floor, it is very thin and I feel this needs some type of bedding to make your pet comfortable. The picture on the front of the box shows the kennel with a plush flat bed inside of it.

Set up is not hard, but I did run into one problem that I will mention in a few minutes. To set up the Animal Planet Portable Pet Kennel you spread it open and turn it upside down. There are two sleeves on each side of the kennel and you thread two of the poles through these two sleeves, securing them via hook and loop style closure tabs. Turning the kennel right side up, you do the same with two end sleeves and one center top sleeve. This is where I ran into a problem.

The kennel has a fabric handle running along the top, which is sewn into the middle of each end area. On my kennel the handle was sewn right into the closure for the middle sleeve, and I could not open the sleeve to secure the pole. I got out my pointed sewing scissors and snipped the threads to separate the handle from the closure, and this did the trick. The handle now is in the correct position for carrying, and the pole is secured in place. I will mention that the poles are a bit hard to put in place! I did a lot of pulling and stretching to get them where they belonged, and if you have to take this down and put it up very often, I personally wonder how well the stitching will hold up over time.

The kennel bears the Animal Planet logo on the side corner, so I know this is an authentic Animal Planet product. It seems like a good temporary solution to carrying your pet when travelling. Since my dog is a small breed dog, and she isn’t very aggressive at her age, I don’t have any issues with this kennel. However, I could see a larger dog or any aggressive animal being able to claw their way through this product.

Preschool Aged Children

Educational Road Trip Games and Activities for Preschool Aged Children

Long car trips with preschool age children are a challenge for both the kids and the parents alike. Make your car time with the family more enjoyable and educational this season with these travel games and activities for preschool aged children.

Play I Spy Say to your child, “I spy with my little eye something blue,” and let your child guess what you are saying. If she spies anything blue-a car, a billboard, the sky-she “wins” and gets to say the next I spy riddle. (Vocabulary and observation skills)

Pack a Trip Bag Load up a backpack or canvas bag with some of your child’s favorite toys that can be played while sitting: white boards and markers, small toys, Silly Putty, travel games, coloring books, etc… Include a few new games and toys, especially ones related to travel such as toy cameras, toy binoculars, journals and toy cell phones. (Creativity, role play, small motor skills)

Make a Map Take a hint from Dora the Explorer and make a simple map of where you are going and some of the landmarks you will be passing. Use simple drawings as icons of what you will be passing: forests, cities, bridges, mountains, lakes, rivers, and towns. Every so often take out the map and show how far you’ve gone. (Visual skills, map skills)

Pack a Sing Along Tape Preschoolers love to sing and they love when their parents sing with them, too. They also don’t care if you sing off key. (Vocabulary skills)

Play Travel Bingo Draw or find clip art pictures of items that you commonly see on the road and make a few bingo cards with nine pictures (three across and three down) or sixteen pictures (four across and four down). Make sure the pictures are items that you commonly see on a road trip, such as stoplights, RVs, Exit signs, airplanes and so on. Let your child look for the items on the card until he gets Bingo. (Observation skills)

Silly Sounds Make up sound effects to go with the things you see on the road. Say “moo, moo” every time you see a cow, “beep, beep” when you see a bus, “splish, splash” when you cross a river, and “vroom, vroom” when you pass a convertible. Your child will be giggling all the way to you destination. (Oral language skills)

Counting Signs Give your child a piece of paper and a pencil. Ask her to keep track of how many items she sees in two minutes, such as stop signs, cows, big trucks, and other common items. Show her how to make an X on her paper every time she sees the item. At the end of two minutes, say “stop” and count the Xes. (Math and small motor skills)

Group Drawings Give your child a piece of paper and crayons and let him draw one thing on the picture, such as a person or a tree, and pass it to the next person. The next person adds something else to the picture, such as a sun or a house, and passes it on. Continue until the entire paper is full. (Creativity, small motor skills)