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A quick search on the web reveals many sites that are dedicated to long-term, ’round the world travel. Now most of us aren’t planning a massive sojourn such as this, but the article inspired me to start calculating the costs of the next trip I’m planning: the summer Italian honeymoon.

Unless you’re Bill Gates, cost will always be a factor in planning your trip. So, after you’ve decided on a destination and duration, I recommend taking an inventory of your anticipated expenses. Open up your favorite word processor or spreadsheet program and make a list of all the places at which you want to stay, the sites you wish to see, and the food and drink you wish to consume. Tally up your costs, airfare, and any pre-trip purchases (books, gear, and rail-passes) and voila–you’ve established your preliminary budget.

Either this exercise will relieve you of your monetary worries or open your eyes to cut costs. I recommend listing not one but multiple places of accommodation so you can easily compare prices. If your anticipated spending exceeds your funds, perhaps cutting back on expensive dinners or downgrading to a cheaper B&B will suffice.

As for me, I’m trying to cram a two-week Italian honeymoon with a decent budget without a) overnighting in airports or seedy street alleys and b) not busting the bank. My wife-to-be and I want to at least experience Italy’s big three destinations: Rome, Florence, and Venice. I’d especially like to encounter the ruins at Pompeii and the Roman Coliseum. My fiance is an art history buff so she’ll appreciate the art galleries in Florence. And I’m sure we’ll both embrace Venice as we romantically glide through the city’s narrow canals. Indeed, budget planning is in order.

Or, one can simplify the process by enrolling in those tour packages. Though I think half the fun is in planning the trip on our own terms.

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My Seattle Trip Recap

When I spoke of my Seattle trip, many asked whether I was traveling for business or pleasure. Although I ventured to the west coast on the company dime, the differences between work and pleasure blurred as I had more personal time than originally imagined. Seattle is indeed an exciting Pacific coast town with spectacular views, the freshest seafood imaginable, and yes, soggy weather.

Considering that I roughly had only four hours to spare, I planned my site-seeing efficiently. Below are my must-see locations:

  1. Pike Place Market. Lying against Elliot Bay, this is the world-famous seafood market where the fishermen toss the freshly-caught fish of the day at each other. Today, the market is also known for its restaurants, French cafes, and street-corner musicians. There are also plenty of locals selling their trinkets and artwork for the tourists.
  2. Pike Place Market

  3. The Space Needle. Yes, it’s touristy but I just had to climb to the top. Or, rather, ride the elevator. At $16, Wikitravel calls this the most expensive elevator ride in North America. Unfortunately, an overcast loomed over the city so the view wasn’t as grand as it could have been. Still I thought it was worth the trip.
  4. Space Needle

  5. Pioneer Square. This, according to Wikipedia, is the location of Seattle’s founding. Reminiscent of Greenwich Village, Pioneer Square is lined with narrow streets, cafes, art galleries, and bookstores. Along with its downstairs café, Elliot Bay Bookstore also calls Pioneer Square home. A bust of Chief Seattle and a nearby totem pole memorialize the city’s founding.
  6. Pioneer Square

  7. The Waterfront. I didn’t have much time to spend here. Initially I planned to ride the ferry to Bainbridge Island, where I could capture some skyline views. Unfortunately I needed to return to the hotel for business purposes but I did get a chance to see a few of the piers.
  8. The Waterfront

Seattle is also stocked fresh with trendy restaurants. If your expense account allows for it, check out Palace Kitchen on Fifth Avenue. I recommend the olive poppers and the Idaho trout. If red meat strikes your fancy, El Gaucho steakhouse will fill your carnivorous needs. Though here your wallet will burst into flames so don’t go unless you can handle the fire.

In all, the business trip turned out to be a success and I took away some memorable experiences. Who knows if I will ever return to this urban area known as the Emerald City but I’ll be familiar with the territory if I do.

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I’m Off to Seattle This Week

This Wednesday I’m heading off on my first (and possibly last) business trip to Seattle, Washington. For confidential purposes, I can’t disclose why or what business I’m visiting but I’m a bit nervous about my brief three-day cross-country trip. I just hope I’ll see more of the city than the airport and conference rooms.

The home of grunge and WTO protests, Seattle conveys images of environmentalism and depressingly soggy weather. Hopefully I’ll be fortunate enough to see some of the sites in between rainstorms. At the very least I’d like to take some photographs of the city skyline and savor the Pacific Northwest salmon I keep hearing about.

By the weekend I should post a detailed narrative of my brief experience with Seattle. I doubt I’ll have enough time to climb the Space Needle but I should be able to stroll down some of the city’s more popular avenues.
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Melissa and I are getting married next summer and the conventional entry into lifelong matrimonial bliss usually involves two things: the wedding and the honeymoon. While Melissa’s emotions have been downright giddy in planning the fine details of her dream wedding, I have been delegated the task of packaging our ideal honeymoon sojourn.

What to do? Where to go? These were the first two questions we asked ourselves. Now I tend to think big whenever I embark on a task so we ruled out local destinations. We also considered some domestic locations but given that Melissa has rarely ventured outside the country and I haven’t been to Europe since my semester abroad in college, both of us decided to look internationally.

The one exception to our rule of excluding domestic places was Hawaii. Two of my friends spent their honeymoons in the fiftieth state and both had a blast. One couple loved Hawaii so much he packed up his bags and moved there permanently!

Hawaii does have its charm (or so I’ve heard; I have never been there) and it constantly ranks as a top destination for honeymoons. The beaches look breathtaking, the water glimmer a clean turquoise. Still, we were looking for something a little less tropical and a little more adventurous.

Maybe England? The British isles as a honeymoon destination, you ask? Melissa is quite fond of medieval English history—she is a fan of Phillipa Gregory’s historical fiction—so it became an option. As for me, I already lived in England during a college semester abroad. So I was looking for something a little different.

We considered other destinations—China, Greece, Australia, France to name a few—but we finally found a place: Italy. Neither of us has visited the Mediterranean, Melissa’s quite knowledgeable about the Italian Renaissance and I admire ancient Roman history. Traveling to the many different cities in Italy and struggling to speak the local language will give us the sense of adventure I crave. Everyone who has been there tells us the food is to die for, and yes the summer weather will be hot but we think manageable. The museums are filled with world-renowned artwork, the historical heritage is ubiquitous, and the romantic, eye-opening views of the Mediterranean make Italy our perfect choice for our honeymoon spot.

Some people have asked if we’re going with one of those group tour guides. I’m trying to avoid it if I can—they seem too packaged and inauthentic. Instead I think I’ll plan a general itinerary but nothing too rigid so we can be flexible when we want to be. We want to experience Italy on our own terms.

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In my free time, I like to lurk around the popular travel message boards. Web sites like BootsnAll and Lonely Planet are loaded with thousands of travelers visiting all sorts of places around the world, from Belize to Beijing and everything in between.

Maybe it’s just the daydreamer in me but I love the idea of visiting new places and experiencing new cultures. Many regulars on the travel message boards have even traveled around the world and it’s gotten to the point where a niche RTW (round-the-world) market has developed.

Now, round-the-world travel may be a little beyond my reach at this point in my life but during my tenure on this planet I’ve been to some places, and plan on traveling to more. I’ve spent a semester living in England and even managed to travel across the Channel to spend some time in France. I’ve been to the Bahamas a couple of times, cruised to Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, Canada with my family to celebrate my grandmother’s 80th birthday, and visited a few states.

Unfortunately, like millions of other working stiffs I am entrenched in the corporate rat race. On one hand my job gives me enough vacation time to travel at least once a year; on the other hand I only travel once a year. Hopefully I’ll get a chance to travel more in the future. We’ll see.

In my opinion, traveling is not so much a description of getting from point A to point B; instead it’s a state of mind. Travel allows you to get in touch with yourself while discovering your environment.

For the summer of ‘08, I’m planning my next trip: my honeymoon in Italy. We haven’t worked out the details just yet, but we hope to manage a couple of weeks. Let’s hope that dollars-to-euro exchange rate narrows a bit. If not, maybe I should be looking for a cheap deal in Southeast Asia instead.
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The very essence of autumn signals a transition period. Its arrival marks the end of backyard barbeques and beach parties that are hallmarks of the lazy days of summer. The brisk morning air and the beginnings of red, orange, and yellow leaves are nature’s ways of preparing for the cold and brisk months of winter.

Summer may be over but fall can bring lots of fun activities too. Apple picking in late September has become a bit of a tradition with my fiancé and her parents. It’s an activity that almost anyone can do, promotes healthy eating, and is affordable. Not to mention the many different foods you can make with apples. Homemade applesauce, apple butter, and the classically American apple pie all can be easily made with a sack full of freshly picked apples.

This year we visited Masker Orchard in Warwick, New York. Here you can pick all kinds of apples, from Macintoshes to red delicious and jonagolds and cortlands. Different apples ripen at different times so you might want to check their ripening schedule online. Macintoshes ripen in the second week of September; jonagolds and red delicious apples are ready in September’s third and fourth weeks. Going yesterday, we were able to fill our bags mostly with red delicious and Macintosh apples.

When you arrive at Masker Orchards, turn your radio to 87.9 FM and you’ll find a running loop of a character named “Apple Steve” giving you advice for a great apple picking experience. I found his rouse comical as he espouses “to do the right thing” by “respecting the apples.” With the pop-crackling of a 1940s phonograph, Apple Steve advises his guests to respect the apples and compares the taste of cider to “liquid apples.”

Masker charges by the bag so be sure to stuff them as best you can. One bag will cost $18.25, which is a steal if you utilize all its space. The teenage boys and girls who greet you at the entrance will hand you enough bags. If you find yourself needing more, ask one of the attendants and they’ll be happy to give you more.

At the end of our trip, we took home two bags and two full quarts of cider. My fiancé and I managed to pick a few tiny pickings for our pet hamster and dragged home enough Macintoshes and red delicious apples for an apple pie or two. True, this trip marks the end of summer but after savoring the cinnamon-spiced flavor of a home-cooked pie, I think I can embrace the onset of fall. Maybe.
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