Thinking about a new carry on

I have been doing some research on a new carry on bag.  Big Mistake!!! It has created new questions rather than answered them.  I am a strict believer in travelling light so we seldom check our bags or carry more than one bag.  (The exception is when I go to Brazil and buy so many shoes that I need an extra suitcase to carry them home.)

These are some of the questions I came up with:

-What size should I get?  Most US airlines allow up to a 22″ bag but international airlines vary so much in size that you never know until you get to the airport.  Plus some airlines make you check in your bag if it weighs more than a certain amount.  So buying something because I think it will work, might not always work.  If you have questions about sizes, here’s a handy chart.

-What features are necessary?  I was shocked to see how much some bags cost.  In the past I have been very lucky with some really cheap bags.  My daughter’s bag was one of those “fashion” bags and it has lasted years.  My husband’s as well.  Plus if we are forced to check the bags I don’t feel too bad when they get trashed or dirty.  But they have held up pretty well.  I love my Kathy Van Zeeland suitcase but I don’t think they make it anymore and the paisley floral simply won’t go too well with my husband.  So I started looking in earnest to see if I can find something affordable, durable and with a convenient size.  I am pondering on the Eagle Creek bags.  I love that they have an unconditional lifetime warranty, their sizes seem to be practical and they way they are built seem to be logical.  Plus there are some cool features like a bungee cord to carry your coat and a removable mesh holder to hold your pillow.  The only problem is that they are a bit pricey.

Another line of bags that have intrigued me is called Bago Travel bags.  They only have duffle bags and I am not sure if the sizes are good for carry ons but I am intrigued about how light weight and that they fold so compact.

Finally one big consideration is the weight.  Some suitcases weight 7 or 8 lbs empty.  I don’t want to be carrying around extra weight.

-Where to buy it from?  While the internet makes it easier to shop around, I also don’t always trust every vendor.  Sometimes you might have to pay more to get some good customer service.  In addition, I feel that so many times I am comparing apples to oranges.  Similar bags but not exact, gifts, extra charges, etc…

-Do I need any extra accessories?  I have never used packing cubes before but after seeing a suitcase packed with the Eagle Creek system, I was converted.  I couldn’t believe how much fits in the suitcase and how organized it was.  I ordered Eagle Creek’s Pack-it Specker sets.  I chose this particular style because they are so light weight and the material is supposed to be very durable.  I can’t wait to try the envelope and experiment with it.  This adds to my questions, will the packing system work well with my suitcases?  How many do I need?

I will continue the search because my want to buy a new suitcase doesn’t outweigh my need to get a good deal.

Talking about good deals I got my Specker starter set from REI in the color flame.  It’s a bright orange but it was only $27.93 while the other colors cost almost twice that much.  I cannot tell you how impressed I was with the customer service I received from REI.  They sent me an incorrect item first and then I was so touched by how they handled the situation.  They asked me that if I couldn’t use the item, to please donate it to some charity so that someone could get some good out of it.  Amazing to hear that a corporation has a heart.  Because I was so impressed with them, I ordered a second set.  I got a good deal and am going to be a loyal customer from now on.

What suitcase do you love?

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Lots of layovers

I have to make a confession,  I just went on my first trip with lots of long layovers.  The first one was a 7 hour layover in Detroit. That was long but that airport was actually okay. We ate a nice lunch at the Mediterranean grill then walked a lot.  It is a very long airport perfect for getting some exercise done.  Then we sat and watched a movie thanks to the half hour free wi-if and then read.  Overall it wasn’t a terrible experience. Our next layover was in Amsterdam. I liked that airport.  It had lots of shopping, some stores had some good sales even. Then upstairs they had fake trees and birds and some really comfy chairs.  Some of them were loungers that you could sleep.  They also had bean bags and science activities for kids and some exercise equipment.  How exciting it was to see that someone thought about the comfort of us poor people who travel coach. There is also a hotel which you can use overnight or even hourly but I don’t know the prices. Finally Athens was our last layover. It was the shortest only 2 hours but I had to get luggage (Yes I did check in this time due to all the layovers) and transfer to another airline and I knew that was going to take time.  However check in was super quick and then you go into the terminal where all the shops are and you do the security right before the gate.  Weird but it was quick.

Overall it wasn’t a bad experience. I think I slept more than I usually do because I took naps in each flight, rested in each airport and got to watch a whole season of Downton Abbey on my long flight. It beats running like an Olympic athlete from one terminal to the other so I don’t miss a flight because my first flight out off Ohare was delayed.  That’s life in Chicago

Moments that take your breath away

One of my favorite quotes is “Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take but the moments that take our breath away.” I’ve learned that when traveling I am often surprised by when I have my breath taken away.  Some times it is at all the expected places, others it is completely unexpected.

Art

Art has the power to speak to you in ways that words can’t.  It can reach down to your inner most feelings and express hidden thoughts or ideas.

David by Michelangelo

One of the most amazing moments in my life was standing in front of Michelangelo’s David at the Accademia in Florence.  He was so beautiful that I cried.  His eyes were piercing, his body was perfect, his size was overpowering.  It was the first time that art spoke to me in almost a paralyzing way.  I just stood there for almost an hour looking at him.  The most amazing thing was that my son, then 13, had a similar experience.  He was transfixed by this majestic artwork.

Last year I had a similar experience and I must say it was very unexpectedly.  I love impressionists and I simply can’t stand many modern art pieces, especially cubist.  They don’t speak to me.  Picasso has never been one of my favorites.  I respected his work but I simply didn’t get it.  That is until I stood in front of Guernica.

Picasso's Guernica

I never knew that a painting could make me hear the cries of pain and anguish that this majestic painting did.  It was like I was transported into that awful scene and I was helpless, I couldn’t stop the slaughter.  All I could do was witness it.  It was such a powerful experience.  I hope I am a better person because of it, that when I see injustice I will try stopping it so no more Guernicas will happen.

I must say that I was expecting a similar experience when I went to the Louvre.  Mona Lisa is one the masterpieces of all time.  I am sad to say that I didn’t feel the overpowering experience that David or Guernica gave me.  There was a painting in the grand gallery that caught my eye so Mona Lisa was almost secondary.

Monet’s Water Lily

One of my  favorite Impressionist art experiences was visiting Monet’s Water Lilies (Nympheas) at the Orangerie in Paris.  Once again the size is impressive.  The play of color, light and movement make this work so interesting. There are several panels that show all the different seasons and times of the day.  And he did it while going blind.  The will power and the passion that certain people display never cease to amaze me.  I am sad that I was not able to visit his garden, but it’s on my to do list next time I am in Paris.

Two Sisters by Renoir

Renoir is my all time favorite painter and I am so lucky to live near Chicago where I can often visit my favorite painting, Two Sisters.  I simply run up the stairs of the Art Institute of Chicago and find the girls.  I must always say hello them first.  The colors are so vivid and the size is powerful.  I wish I could paint like that, brush strokes that don’t seem to have a purpose but overall give you a play of light, depth and texture.

When traveling go to the museums don’t miss out on some of these experiences.  I know some museums can be very boring, some can be very exhausting but you never know what  will move you.  After all “a picture is worth a thousand words” and you will be a better person for having taken that mental picture.

What makes a hotel special?

I am going on a short trip over Thanksgiving and I am really looking forward to staying at the hotel I made reservations for. The reviews have all been great and the pictures are fabulous. I am actually afraid that we won’t want to leave the room.

I am not a fancy hotel person so I can’t comment on fancy 5 * hotels. But there have been some hotels that have simply captured my heart and made me want to go back. Why?

My favorite hotel is actually a B&B near Kusadasi, Turkey. It only has 11 or 13 rooms, none of them are fancy but they are nicely decorated using Turkish wares. The rooms don’t have any TVs or phones either. But it is still one of my favorites places on earth. It has the most beautiful gardens, the views of the surrounding vineyards are amazing, the employees and owners are like old friends, and the common areas as beautifully decorated. I actually came back early from sight seeing to spend more time in this idyllic place. This is one hotel I plan on returning with my family. Everything went really well, that is after we found it. The memories are simply perfect and it is the hotel by which I measure all other hotels.

The entrance to the rooms

The dining room of Bakkhos Guest House

Some of the gardens

Another hotel that I simply loved was in Milan. We had booked a hotel due to some great reviews but I found that the hotel did not meet my expectations. But fortunately there was another hotel down a couple blocks that took me and my family in. The gentleman at the front desk was so friendly and concerned about us. He put us in rooms that they usually don’t use because you have to take the elevator to the top floor and then go up some stairs. It wasn’t easy to get to but it was so worth it. We had two beautiful (albeit simple) rooms with gorgeous wood beamed ceilings, each room had a balcony and we had very roomy bathrooms. The breakfast was a typical Italian breakfast and we were the only Americans. I felt like I was visiting famiglia.

Other hotels are great because they look good or because of their great location. However, one common feature of my favorite hotels is that every one of them had great employees. They make all the difference in a hotel. I love it when I connect with the employees rather than just being their job.

For instance this summer we stayed at the Hilton Bonnett Creek in Orlando, FL. It is a good hotel, the rooms are nice, the pool is great but my favorite part was my interaction with the concierge. We were talking about Italy. She was born where my family lives. She hasn’t been there because she was born while her father was in the service but was very excited to meet someone who had been to her birth place. If I hadn’t had this interaction this hotel would have been one of the many good hotels with nothing too exciting to write about.

Some of my least favorite hotels have been because of the people who just do their job and don’t treat me as a friend. We stayed at a hotel in Lisbon that I have nothing to say about it because it was very sterile. The rooms were clean but not really memorable and the front desk personnell were not that great. In Madrid the lady at the reception was just so rude and the manager made matters worse. Needless to say that is one of my least favorite hotels.

Besides great employees all these hotels have made me feel at home. I want to go back, I want to sit and relax, I want to be there.

So hotel owners and employees remember that I want an experience and not just a clean bed to sleep on. I want to be able to remember your hotel because of something, be it great employees, great location, great amenities or because it’s simply home.