Alaska Cruise

Reflecting on My First Cruise

This trip was quite a few years ago from my home port of Seattle, but since COVID-19 is affecting the world, there may be no cruises to Alaska this summer…so I thought I should write a blog article about my experience.   Who knows when we will be able to travel again or take a cruise?  I am trying to keep a living blog updated to provide people the latest information and good links for various countries.

Alaska Cruise

Yes, I know it was on the Norwegian cruise line and that is for older people, but it was in the early days of cruises that left Seattle, so I had to give it a try.

Going to Alaska was actually my first cruise after being out of the US Navy for a few years.  After two extended war cruises on an aircraft carrier, I thought I would never go on a ship again, but my travel bug hit!

Cruises to Alaska are a staple of the Seattle waterfront.  There are 5 major lines and at the moment, all have been cancelled until at least July.  Will they run into the fall this year…or not.  Still a major unknown.  Check out my planning analysis posting if interested in learning more about the current state of vacation planning.

Regardless, the departure from Seattle is popular with many as there are many things to see and do around Seattle and hence why many people like these cruises.

OK – what is there to see on a Alaska cruise?

It basically an easy way to visit parts of the massive state by going from port to port that could take a month (possibly?) to actually to to drive between the small cities.  Is city the right word or are they just summer ports?  They are very isolated and similar to visiting the Cascade Mountains in the Pacific Northwest.

For some people, their favorite port (stop) is Skagway.  That is where many people like to take train excursions.  Other people take helicopter and dog sledding adventures.

The Glaciers and Ice

The best part of an Alaskan cruise is going up in the Inside Passage where you can see the glaciers and frozen ice.  This is quite a few years ago and you could still see a lot of ice even in the summer months.

It is not quite as good as the cruises I did later to Antarctica or to the Arctic Circle on Le Boreal, but it was a much lower cost that almost anyone can experience.

I am worried that there will not be many cruises or years left where you might be able to actually see the ice on an Alaskan cruise.

The ports are great places to go hiking and not really great places to buy souvenirs.  They are pretty much small tourist trap stores that are sponsored by the cruises and they get kickbacks from the sales.

I think one of the major highlights in visiting these small port towns is the food.  Yes, of course, the seafood!  It is amazing walking into a town and having GIANT king crab for $10.  It has been a while, but you could buy a gigantic king crab leg of 3 lbs for only $10.  That was amazing.  One leg.  I am not sure I would want to encounter that guy scuba diving!

Whales

Now, this was the early days of digital cameras and there were no smartphones back then…but one of the fun elements of the cruise is actually seeing pods of whales following or near the ship in their habitat.  They are not too common or frequent compared to Antarctica, but you will get to see them as you cruise north.

Overall, it is a relaxing and fun trip for many families to get away from the cities and have almost a camping feeling.  Let’s hope that we get past COVID-19 and be able to start cruising again!

 

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When to plan travel due to COVID-19?

COVID-19 Travel Planning

I normally only post my visits, sites and locations, but I thought I should try sharing my thoughts on travel planning in general.  This has become a living blog to share the details as they unfold.

Updated June 4th, 2020.  Delta will block all middle seats until September 30th.  Premium and First Class cabins will also be limited.  How will this affect families looking for vacation travel?

Updated May 26th, 2020. Will the airport experience be miserable for the foreseeable future as shared in this latest observation?  And here is what hotel loyalty programs may look like in the year ahead.

Updated May 19th, 2020. Will the new airline rules make business and vacation miserable as shared by WSJ?  It is going to be difficult for a while.  Forbes also has some region by region guidance posted but not as detailed as the Points Guy.

Updated May 12th, 2020.  A great country by country guide has now been posted and regularly updated.

Updated May 10th, 2020.  Austria is now indicating that if you do not want to be quarantined, you can pat $190 for a virus test.  Is this going to be the new visa fee for high end business travelers and affluent vacationers?

Updated May 6th, 2020.  Now, 2 major cruise lines have cancelled all summer cruises.  Will there be any summer cruises anywhere this year?

Updated May 4th, 2020 with additional links and articles.  Will see see “immunity passports” become a reality?  Some countries are already looking at 2-3 hour tests upon arrival to determine if you can enter the country or will be in quarantine.

 

 

The Challenge

2020 is a challenging year due to COVID-19.  Travel, adventures and vacations have been basically stopped (locked down). I was fortunate to actually get married at the very last minute before Washington and Nevada states locked down all their residents.  Here is our story and how we got married in Las Vegas.  What an adventure, but what if we still wanted a honeymoon, what would we have done?

Fortunately, we did not plan an immediate honeymoon, but we did plan one much later in the year based on our dream preferences.  It is clear that travel is pretty much impossible in March and April, and even though many states are hinting they will start to relax restrictions in May, it is probably unrealistic plan a serious trip in that month.

Coronavirus: Travel restrictions, border shutdowns by country ...

Vacation Planning

Let’s start thinking about this summer.  June, July and August.  What states and cities will be open?  Is there any way to think about what countries borders will be open and not require mandatory 14 day quarantine like in Israel?  As of today, it is hard to get almost anywhere based on published restrictions.

Will anyone be able to travel to Europe from the US at all this year?

This is how coronavirus could affect the travel and tourism ...

The questions that come to my mind.  If we have a long weekend planned (and booked) in NYC in August, what should we do?  Will it be safe?  Will it be open?  Will our flights still be available?  What if the flights are still available, but it is still not safe to travel and both states are locked down?

Conde Nast Traveler on MSN had a good recent article based on several travel experts.  Summary: there is no easy answer.  Even now that phases of lockdown easing being announced, it is not clear when which locations will be opened and which will not.  How to predict?

US airports ranked by flight cancellation rates

Numerous questions come to mind!  What states will be in phase 3 when we want to visit?

Should we cancel our flights now?  Will we get a refund or just a credit?  Should we wait to the last minute?  Will the cancellation fee reductions return if we wait too long?  So many questions!  The Points Guy blog shared an interesting story on requesting a voucher versus a refund.  In general, it appears to be best practice to wait to the last minute to see if your flight is cancelled by the airline.

CORONA VIRUS VACATION PLANNING | image tagged in coronavirus,funny | made w/ Imgflip meme maker

So the tough question: if you want to plan a vacation, should you plan now or wait until there is a vaccine or complete normalcy for a continues 3-4 months?  Will either be possible or occur in 2020?  Not likely.  The Washington Post had a good article on this topic, but it is probably pay walled for many people.  I think we should all be prepared to think more about NEXT year and less about this year.  Painful, but that appears to the best forecast based on the latest data when writing this blog.

I want to take a side path on vacation travel for a moment and discuss business travel a little bit.

 

Business Travel

People love, crave and like business travel because of the frequent flyer/guest perks.  Many of us were worried that the airline and hotel programs would suffer during the lock-down as travelers would not be able to maintain their status.  The good news is peer pressure occurred and most of the programs have extended or rolled over status to 2021.  This is awesome.  Here are some of my current favorites:

Now, Bill Gates has recently stated that business travel has and will change forever.  (Sorry about the business insider paywall everyone if you are not a subscriber).  Now, the question in my mind is:  “Will that persist?  Will business travel never return as part of our vulture, operating model and how business is performed globally?”  This could impact the overall travel industry and how people use frequent flyer/guest perks to travel to places they never would have considered if they had to pay full price.

Home | International | Business Traveller

Will this reduce loyalty if the benefits of mileage/hotel credits are not as easily achieved as previously accomplished by many travelers?  Time will tell…

Business Traveler is a good source for tracking some of the latest news. India is one of the largest destinations for business travel and the Indian government has declared that all domestic and international flights are banned/blocked.  They are not even allowing airlines to offer ticket sales according to Forbes.  We must assume this will impact international business, opportunities and engagements like never before.

The Economist published an interesting article that the expectations and experiences for business travel may change dramatically and frustrate many.

Stay tuned, if interested, I may provide periodic updates on this blog.

Back to Vacation Planing

Now, let’s get back to vacation planning as that is what this blog is all about!

There are some amazing deals out there.  They may be at prices that you may never encounter or see again.  They could be once in a lifetime opportunities.  It is probably worth the risk of booking and hoping the virus will die down and not continue for another year.  But surprisingly, I am not finding many domestic (United States based) opportunities opening up yet.  They are all still holding at the standard economy prices at this time.  That may change if the lock-downs persist.

Is this like current homeowners that wanted to sell their homes, but are not taking them off the market because they do not want to take a reduction in price?  They are going to hold to the previously high prices and not accept any slowdown or reduced demand?  Hmmm….

Atlantis Paradise Island Bahamas deals

Now Forbes, has hinted that some cheap deals may be appearing around the world in one of their latest articles.  I have started looking around myself, but I am not seeing major discounts, price reductions or frequent flyer/guest point reductions quite yet for destinations in the latter part of the year.  It appears that most of the world is still betting that the fall time period (Sep – November) will return travel and activities to normal.

However, I think some deals are starting to appear and I am continuing to explore and take notice of some expensive resorts and destinations that would normally never be affordable.  But the risk is no refunds.  I think this is where choosing your travel company, agency, hotels and carriers is important.  Do you trust they will provide reliable “credits” in their system if you or they cancel the reservation?  If not, you may want to look further before putting down a deposit.

Shutdowns and Bankruptcies

How many airlines will go bankrupt and never come back?  What hotels will be closed and never open?  Will some resorts take your money and then shut down?  There are some clear risks here.

I did expect some regional airlines to be risky and close permanently like South Africa airlines.  But I was not expecting Virgin Atlantic to be at the high of a risk.  Does this mean that more are ahead?

 

Summary

It is going to a challenging year.  Be patient, but take some risks and plan for the dream vacations. The reality is most plans should target 2021 and not 2020.  Until we have vaccines, we will be restricted.

If you do plan, be comfortable with credits and vouchers.  Be flexible and ready for change.  Don’t be disappointed if the trip does not work out and is cancelled due to continued COVID-19 lock-downs and restrictions.

And most importantly don’t assume refunds if there are cancellations.  As you know, you should never assume!

 

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Venice Italy

Lets continue to talk about cruising.  It looks like cruises will be shut down for many more months according to the CDC. There are so many places that you can visit on a cruise ship — and many of those are around Europe given all the coast lines.

Then, I just realized I had never blogged about Venice Italy even though I had been here so many times….My first time was on a cruise…not a luxury cruise, but on an aircraft carrier when we were deployed in the Adriatic Sea during the 1995 conflict in Yugoslavia.

Of course, everyone has to visit San Marco Square.  It is ALWAYS full of people for hundreds of years.  It was full 25 years ago after serving the Persian Gulf and full when I visited on a cruise 15 years ago.

What does it look like today in the beautiful spring due to COVID-19?  Maybe one person.

Now, lets go back to the good times.  It was amazing to experience first how many things did not change in 20 years outside of converting from the lira to the euro.

Venice is a wonderful place to walk around all day with many historic architecture and scenery.  Myself I love walking, and I have never tried the gondolas.  Even back in 1992, they wanted $45 a person for a ride (if I remember correctly).  10+ years later, they wanted $90 a person for a ride.  Yes, I know the wood is specially made and the boats carefully crafted, but that is an outrageous price.

Yes, the water is dirty and the summer months are not the best time to visit.  The canals can smell very very bad.  That is why some people like visiting in the winter months.

 Looking at the webcams today, it is interesting to see now how clean the water is without all the tourists and boats cruising the canals all day long…

Check out the satellite views of the canals from an article on CNN.

I am not sure if this is highlight of Venice, but the pigeons are everywhere and they swarm quickly.  It feels like millions and they will cover your entire body and if you fall down in a pile of corn, you will be covered like in a zombie horror movie.  Watch out!

How are they survive today without all the tourists today?  Have they all departed?

Lets all be hopeful that cruises and travel will recover by the end of 2020 and people can have the opportunity to visit places like Torre dell’Orologio (the famous clock) in Venice when they take cruises and travel the world.

Venice is a place that everyone should visit at least once in their lifetime and I have to admit I would like to do it again someday on another European cruise. I just don’t the risk of an infection this year as we get older and the risks are higher!

Here are some past cruises which have been an annual highlight for me and I have visited some great destinations based on them. Here are just a few:

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Exploring Aruba on a Cruise

I thought the recent events of COVID-19 and the pretty much shutdown of all cruises was a time to reflect and look at what destinations I had visited based on a cruise that I have not posted about (yet).

Cruising has always been an annual highlight for me and I have visited some great destinations based on them. Here are just a few:

Unfortunately, it does look like a cruise will be possible this year, so I wanted to share one of the great stops that I made a few years ago on a Caribbean cruise.

It is a small island, but Aruba is a great place for a day trip.  I know it is famous from the disappearance of Natalee Hollaway and all the news around that, but it is much more than hotel resorts and beaches.  It actually have some great nature preserves and places to hike!

It is called the Arikok National Park and it is easy to get to and not expensive to visit.  It has a few surprises which you may not expect, so continue reading if interested.

Owl

It was kind of funny to see this owl watching me enter the park in the middle of the day and just sit there on the ground watching a creek.

If you love exploring flora and fauna, this is one of the best places to do it on a Caribbean cruise.

One of the unusual and unique attractions in Aruba and this hike is the famous Indian art drawings.  It was quite a surprise.  There are even caves in Aruba that can explored and there is actually 4,000 years of history here!

In the end, it is not as good as my cruise to Cuba, but it was a great stop to visit for a day and explore a little that was completely unknown to be as an American.

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Getting Married when Marriages are Banned!

We had been planning to visit and get married in Las Vegas.  Because we had such a great time a year ago when we visited Lady Gaga there and told that story…But the COVID-19 virus hit the world.  Did we give up on our plans? NO!

So, let me tell you a fun story, with a little humor, but at the same time how we kept our distance to keep and others safe.

We needed to get to the airport even though all residents were ordered to “shelter in place”.  So we hired black ops crew to shuttle to the airport and avoid any potential checkpoints or barriers.

As you can guess, the airport was operating at 5% capacity.  It made security a breeze.  We got extra “random checks” when going through TSA pre-check.  Not sure if they were suspicious we were even travelling during the lockdown or they were real bored as there were no other travelers.

So were everyone hiding out?  In the airline club lounges.  It was amazing to see how the crew continuously swept through the entire lounge wiping and cleaning all surfaces.  Thanks to Delta for letting us hide out from the infected zombies out in the main terminal.

The next challenge was how to actually to Las Vegas.  Huge numbers of flights were cancelled, delayed or re-routed for one reason: one or more of the flight controllers were infected with COVID-19 and the entire radar control tower was evacuated and shut down.  They had to move to the emergency tower which could only manage 80% incoming flights in McCarren airport.

As a result, if you actually arrive in Las Vegas and rent a car, you pretty much get the rental car shuttle as personal chauffeur.  The buses were all lined up to take single passengers to the rental center.

But if you DO rent a car, it is pretty amazing the choices you can pick at < $50 rental fee!  Pretty much your only option anyways since taxis, Uber and Lyft are all shut down too.

Hertz was very reasonable and also made it easy when our flights were cancelled to come back to Seattle to easily extend the rental by an extra day at low cost.  Being in the Hertz President’s Club has its perks sometimes!

Now, despite Vegas being shut down, there is a lot of traffic and it still takes a long time to get around.  It is not as desolate on the roads compared to the sidewalks in front of the casinos.

It turns out that a rental car is a critical asset in Las Vegas for more than one reason.  If all the public offices and marriage license bureaus are all closed for 30+ days, how can you actually get a marriage license?  Answer:  You road trip across the mountains!  For being the end of March, it was quite cold and drove through the snowy mountains.  Good thing I chose an AWD SUV!

We refused to give up and found a very old town in Nevada called Goldfield which is based on a very very old mining town and only has a population of 280 people.

Yet, it is the country seat for Esmeralda county in Nevada, and one of the functions is to issue marriage licenses.

It has a lot of history and it is not open to public, but if you have the right connection, you can get a marriage license issued!  The history and relics in this city hall/courthouse/sheriff office are quite amazing to stay the least.

On the way back, of course we had to visit Area 51 and have lunch with the aliens.  We were being stealthy with this secret mission to get married in Las Vegas when no marriages were publicly allowed…so sneaking into Area 51 seemed almost second class to our primary mission this weekend.

Now, if all the weddings are cancelled at the famous chapels in Las Vegas, what do you do?  The hotels, casinos, resorts are all shut down.  Answer:  Find a great home on Airbnb!  They are all HEAVILY discounted.

It was disappointing to not be able to stay at a resort as I had high status with mLife thanks to the partnership with Hyatt that matches status!  But, I never give up and adapted as necessary!

The one downside is that despite all the roads being crowded and full…the grocery store shelves are EMPTY.  If you rent a house and need food, you pretty much need to use DoorDash if you want a full meal.

At Smiths grocery:

  • Eggs? Nope.
  • Milk? Nope.
  • Meat? Nope.
  • Chicken nuggets? Nope.
  • Cereal? Nope.

Discount on some French Perrier Jouet champagne? Yep!  We have sustenance for Vegas!

Of course, I went for a run the morning of my birthday and wedding to check out what would an abandoned strip look/feel like. I think this article really descried it well.

It was deserted, but the police were in place every 100 meters or so. I asked them if they were getting ready for the zombie invasion to flood the streets and that is why they were present.  They answered “There are always zombies here…” .  Enough said.

I was only ale to find one other on the strip this morning near the Wynn…we unfortunately violated the social distance rule when taking this selfie though.

For dinner food on the second night, we went to Whole Foods to see what we might be able to find.  They had a long line outside to limit the number of customers.  The good thing is they had eggs, water, meat and even a birthday/wedding cake to take home!  It reminded me of the line I saw outside the gun store this morning when I was running back to the Airbnb house.  There were so many customers at the gun store, they had to wait until to get inside because of the crowd.

I also found there was only one open hotel/resort on the strip today.  They were open and even had a taxi waiting for customers.  Is that a surprise?

Now, on to the wedding plans!

and then find a dedicated bridal seamstress like Bridal Elegance that will open up the store, just for you to have a dress.  The Armenians know how to make a lady feel special!

And even if all the wedding chapels are shutdown or locked out, you can go mobile!  We connected with the Vegas Mobile Minister and staged our own private wedding,

The result? Yep, we were officially married in Las Vegas, Nevada when they were banned and locked down.  We never gave up and there is always a way to accomplish a mission and still be socially distant from everyone!

We celebrated in the wonderful backyard pool and sauna! Had a wonderful day and evening. Now, what is next?

The challenge is now to get out of Las Vegas if we locked down and trapped?  Do we rent an RV and go into Mad Max mode?

Delta airlines has been very helpful and accommodating despite all the challenges.  When we got to the (very) quiet airport, we outnumbered the agents at the check-in desk.

We found out why so many flights were being cancelled.  Because the tower had been infected with COVID-19, they reverted to VFR rules only and most airlines will not fly the big jets with VFR only.  So…we needed to book a flight out using the smaller Embraer jets which can fly using visual rules.

It was nice that The Club in the Las Vegas airport was open!  We had the place to ourselves which was much better than waiting in the unknown terminal full of walking zombies…

Even though one airline kicked us off (long story) because one of us coughed…Delta took care of us and found us a way home.

The choices for a drink to recover from all that turmoil and challenge was quite limited, but you never look at a gift horse in the mouth right? 🙂

What an adventure!

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The Best Stress-Free and Affordable Travel Tips For Dog Owners

This week I wanted to explore hosting a guest author on my popular travel blog 🙂 and gather feedback on the value and interest on such topics.

Kicking off the start of this experiment is with Nick Burton.  Nick Burton is the co-creator of Our Best Doggo. Together with his wife, they are proud parents of three rescue dogs. After the passing of their 15-year-old lab/terrier mix dog, Willie, they decided to create this website to share all types of dog information and help people that are mourning the loss of a dog.

Photo courtesy of Pexels

 

The Best Stress-Free and Affordable Travel Tips For Dog Owners

As a dog owner, you’d probably like to show your furry friend the world. As a matter of fact, having your dog with you might even make your trip more enjoyable for you. If you’re going to do this on a budget, though, there are a number of things you’ll need to put into place in order to avoid common travel mishaps.

 

Get the Right Supplies

While your dog might have a lot of fun when they finally get to your destination, it takes the right supplies to get them there without a fuss. Whether you’re traveling by car or plane, you’ll definitely want to keep your companion occupied. According to Trips With Pets, chew toys are a great way to make sure your dog doesn’t get antsy during the trip. If you have more than one dog, then ropes may be a better way to go. When it comes to carriers, you can pull out an old favorite if you’re taking a road trip, but unless it’s airline-approved, you’ll need to go shopping for hassle-free air travel. Don’t forget about keeping your dog well fed and hydrated. Since you can’t lug a big bag of dog food around, it’s recommended that you pre-measure exactly what you need. When you’re shopping for all your pet toys and supplies, you can save some money by snagging deals online, such as coupons and discount codes.

 

Have Information Handy

If you’re traveling internationally, you’re not the only one who needs papers. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, there are quite a few people that need to be informed of your intended travel. This includes your dog’s veterinarian as well as your contacts at your intended destination. You should make sure to have a copy of your dog’s medical records and vaccinations. It’s also recommended that you have a chip installed in your dog so they can be easily found if they get lost. Bear in mind that even with the required paperwork, some countries may still choose to quarantine your pet. Since you’re on a budget, it’s best to avoid them, but if that’s not possible, then make preparations for their stay.

 

Be Prepared for the Flight

Unless your trip into another country involves a very long drive, chances are you’ll be traveling by air. In that case, make sure you know what regulations you need to meet. According to Bring Fido, it’s best to become familiar with not only the general rules but what specific airlines require. Make sure you make your arrangements in advance and re-confirm your details at least two days before you travel. There are restrictions on how soon before the flight you can feed your dog, but water is never limited. As you’re researching your affordable options for airlines, look out for those with the best reviews. To reduce stress for your pet, consider saving towards a non-stop flight.

 

Choose Ideal Destinations

When you’re planning a relaxing, fun-filled vacation with your dog, you need to consider the accommodations as well as possible activities. As you’re doing your research, make sure to check if the hotels you’re interested in declare being pet-friendly among their amenities. If you can’t find the information, don’t be afraid to ask your booking or travel agent to find out—and have them suggest affordable options to you as well. If you’re staying in the country, you can find fun, inexpensive activities in Florida, New Mexico and North Carolina, just to name a few. On the international scene, cities in Europe and Canada may be just what you’re looking for. Since these destinations are known for being dog-friendly, you probably won’t have to spend extra cash to accommodate your furry friend.

It’s no secret that you can have an absolute blast when you’re traveling with your dog, but you have to make sure you plan everything right. Since you have a budget to work with, spend enough time doing your research to avoid costly surprises. It’s also worth your while to look for discounts when you’re looking for all the supplies you’ll need to keep your dog comfortable.

 

Post a comment and send us feedback!

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Business Trip to Hyderabad India

This week I snuck in a quick visit to Hyderabad India on a business trip.

I stayed at the Westin in the Mindspace area which is a great hotel with great service. the fascinating thing is how many people, restaurants, businesses, etc. all get excited about the Christmas holiday and festivities. The funny thing is that most people really do not exchange gifts here during the holiday, they just like the decorations and atmosphere.

Here is what you need to be prepared for: even if you land at midnight, it will take you 1.5 hours to get to the city. If you land in the middle of the day, it will be much worse. It can be as bad as 2.5 hours each way. Plan for it!

Of course, I had to go running every morning while I was here. It was interesting to explore early in the morning as I had never stayed in this part of town previously.

I have to admit the morning winter weather is a delight for runners and the pollution is far less compared to cities like Bangalore.

The amount of construction in the high tech sector is mind blowing. There are no clear trails, sidewalks or roads without debris, wires or other obstacles. I would definitely say that it is equivalent of a pacific northwest trail run!

Dogs are everywhere and most are quite skittish. But, every now and then, you have to be careful as some really like to bark and chase after you from time to time.

Yes, the food is spicy here in Hyderabad, so you have to be careful if you are not native. But every now and then you can find something different that is international in flavor, but still has the local fusion/spiciness that is unique to this region. You have to love the name of this one!

Previously, I was able to visit the old fort in Hyderabad which a great way to spend the afternoon if you get a little break or afternoon free. I believe it is called Golconda Fort. Very historic site and also popular with locals as well as tourists.

Great views and not a strenuous hike that would prevent many from visiting.  It is not any easy places to park so it is best to get a driver that drop you off and pick you up when finished.  It is very crowded on holidays and weekends (as expected).

 

OK – time to fly out and head north to Bangalore which has a lot of interesting history which you can see in my recent post as well. Tonight, we are taking a late night flight on SpiceJet which is a little different low cost airline that tries to capture your attention in different ways! 😉

Headed now to Bangalore. I am not sure if this is the planned refreshments on this short flight or not 😜 If interested in more of my travels in India, check out my extensive tour of Northern India as well as a trip to Bangalore recently.

Running around the world is always fun. Some of my other favorite spots:

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