Premium Economy Class – a New Way to Travel Comfortably

Air travel is an interesting segment of the economy for sure.  Over the years, we travelers have observed the airlines cancel and consolidate flights and essentially reach a point where on the average (in my experience and that of colleagues and friends of mine) flights are close to 100% full.

It appears that each time I am at the airport (which is very frequently) the gate personnel for a given flight are announcing that “the flight you are about to board is full and so please mind what luggage you are bringing on-board…”.  The more important aspect of this though is that the airlines have conditioned many travelers to seek upgrade alternatives and overall better flying conditions.

Ta-taa….Enters the PREMIUM ECONOMY seat.  Multiple airlines have been introducing it over the last couple of years.  So in this post I wanted to give you a view of which airlines have that class and what are their specifics.

Seat description

Economy Premium Description

I will be adding more information from the various airlines so stay tuned for that.

Overall, I think premium economy is definitely worth it especially on the long-haul flights so consider booking it.

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Arbanasi Bulgaria – Picturesque Village Near Veliko Tqrnovo in Bulgaria – Part-II

Continuing the photo blog view of Arbanasi – here is the next installment and next set of photos.

If you ask me for more specifics on what exactly you should do in the area, my response will be simple – Arbanasi is a great place to just go to and wander around – whether on foot or on a bike.  You will enjoy the architecture, interesting surroundings…and nature most of all…

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Arbanasi Bulgaria – Picturesque Village Near Veliko Tqrnovo in Bulgaria

Well so for this post I intend to be as short in my text as possible and focus on the pictorial representation of a picturesque village in northern Bulgaria in the Veliko Tqrnovo area.  The village is Arbanasi (in Bulgarian – Арбанаси) – and it dates back to the 15th and 16th century A.D.

I do not think there is much of an old history to cover here – but the natural surroundings of the place are just beautiful and so are the village’s own old buildings.   So here we go with the pictorial:

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Terrapin Beach – Beautiful Even in December

The Terrapin Park and its beach are located on 276 acres of land north of the Kent Island Terminus of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge.  It is very easy to find and to get to once you cross onto Kent Island.   Here is a map of the area to assist you:

The park has about 4,000 feet of shoreline large amount of which is the actual beach (see below on the slideshow).   Additionally, it includes large area of wetlands – which by themselves create a great landscape with their plants.  Then you get to experience (from two observation blinds which border the tidal ponds), a number of birds – herons, ospreys, swans, and when you walk – turtles, bullfrogs…

Shown below is a slideshow I pulled together from our visit at Christmas – December 2014.  The amazing thing is that we had a very nice day – the temperatures were in the 50-degrees F, the day was sunny, and overall we had a very nice time going on a long walk through the park and the beach.  Enjoy the photos in the slideshow:

Then just in case you would like to help this blog and purchase some of the photos, you can look into the album list of photos below…Enjoy!

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Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge – a Beautiful Place to Visit

Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge Eastern Shore Maryland

Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge is a great park which appears to be overlooked in the grand scheme of things.  We visited the refuge on a very cold and rainy December day (right after Christmas) and were very surprised to find it extremely interesting.

Driving through the park (which is very easily accessible) we saw tons of wild birds – blue herons, geese, ducks, to name a few.  The views were spectacular and memorable

 

Here is a slideshow with photos I took during the trip to the park and the near-by (about 20-30 minutes away) Hoopers Island on the Chesapeake Bay

In terms of any suggestions and tips on getting there etc, here are my observations:

  • At the entrance to the park (if you are coming along route 335) you will see directions to the visitors center.  I recommend you take advantage of it – nice bathrooms :-) and of course a lot of helpful brochures and maps of things to see and do in the park
  • Once you leave the visitors center, you will continue by turning right on Key Wallace Drive and look for the entrance to the park self drive road = the so called Wildlife Drive.
  • At the entrance you will fillout an envelope with information and deposit $3 fee and the envelope lid will be your ticket/receipt to put on the windshield (inside) of your vehicle
  • Proceed along the Wildlife drive – there will be many places to stop and observe
  • Here is a link to a great brochure from the park service

Once you are finished with your visit to the park – you have the option of driving to Hoopers Island – please see map above.  The slide show above also shows you some images from our visit there (albeit a very brief one).  During December most places in the area are closed for the season – including a restaurant we were recommended to visit for a nice seafood dinner – Old Salty’s – but which was closed.

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Connecting Flights – How to Avoid Missing Your Flight

Connecting flights

In today’s world of hub and spoke air travel most of us are bound to get to our ultimate destination via at least one connecting flight.  Gone are the days of direct / non-stop flights even between major US airports.  In most cases you will have to ‘experience’ the pleasure (and in some cases) the frustration of going through one of the hubs for the airline you have chosen.   Additionally, you may have to rely on a connecting flight or two to get to your destination internationally.  The experience may turn out to be just fine and in some instances you may experience flight delays which ultimately may result in you missing your next / connecting flight.  What happens at that point in time may depend solely on how you have booked your flights — the end result being

  1. No hassle – smooth connections and on-time arrivals.   Of course, in that case, great! everyone is happy…enough said!
  2. Your initial flight is delayed causing you (and your travel companions) to rush madly through the airport in order to catch the connecting flight.  In many cases this scenario ends with a lot of anxiety, sore legs (from the run) and stories of how you were able to rush through a terminal or two in an Olympic runner fashion….Congratulations!  Good stories are half of the enjoyment of travel, right…
  3. If point 1 and 2 above are not you….Oh, sorry – the frustration, financial and time inconveniences may be a big deal here…What do I mean ?  Well, how you fare in case you missed your connecting flight will depend on how you booked your tickets.   So let’s talk about what you need to do in order to prevent the double negative of both missing a flight and potentially having to buy a new ticket
    1. Booking a multi-connection flight often involves flights on more than one airline.
    2. This is when the temptation is big to book the flights on the different airlines separately.   Ticket costs may be significantly lower in that case.  BUT, in most cases I will strongly advise against it.  Why?  Because you will have no protection in case your first flight is delayed and you miss your second /connecting one.
    3. Speaking from experience – you may have a flight from Los Angeles (LAX) to Shanghai (PVG) and then from Shanghai to Shenzhen (both in China).  The connection time between your arrival in Shanghai and departure for Shenzhen is 3+ hours.   Well, I have missed the connecting flight at least once due to (a) delays in leaving LAX and head winds in route to Shanghai.  Then on top of that the immigration line in Shanghai was huge and long story short, I missed the connecting flight.  Luckily, my flights were connected at time of purchase and I purely lost time waiting for the next flight to Shenzhen.  On other occasions, I have booked my connecting 2nd flight separately and in that case you will most likely have to purchase another ticket!

So, with that in mind your best practice is to follow these guidelines (rule of thumb):

  • Book your multi-flight itinerary as one reservation – i.e. on partner airlines and via one of those airlines’ itinerary.
  • Make sure you have at least 45-minutes connection time — although often the airlines will book you with even 40-minute connection time.  In this case you risk only your time – the airline will have the responsibility to get you to your final destination since you booked the ticket with that connection via them
  • For international connections, again, book all legs of the trip via one itinerary / reservation – i.e. one airline arranging all the flights and ensuring the separate legs of the trip are connected.  This way you will ensure you are protected and even with a delay will get to your final destination.  Be aware even if the flights are on partner airlines but if they are booked separately you are at risk of losing a ticket if you miss your flight.
  • Check with your booking airline if there is enough time for your to clear security and customs checkpoints in the airports where you are making connections.  Many airports require you to clear security even after you disembark from one plane and before you board your next one even if you have not left the airport at all.  Tokyo’s Narita, London’s Heathrow among many all require you to clear security as you change terminals – i.e. you arrive from Dallas into Narita and are connecting let’s say to Bangkok or Beijing — you will have to clear security check between the two flights!  Therefore make sure you have plenty of time for that!
  • Finally, keep your cool, enjoy your travel and look at it all as a set of stories you will tell for many years to come :-)  Happy Travels!
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Fall Colors from Austin, Texas

I continue to be amazed at the colors one could see during the Fall even in Austin Texas.  Most people go to New England (the Northeast of the US) to admire the Fall colors…but having started mountain biking again in the last 4 years or my family and I have experienced great views in our own backyard in the Texas Hill Country.

So here are the colors of the Texas Hill Country in late November 2014…. Enjoy!

And of course, a link to my Biking Blog

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Bulgarian Beaches – Sunny Beach

Bulgaria is a country that offers great resorts and activities both in the winter and in the summer.  I will spend some time over the next few days to provide updates on the beaches my family and I have traveled to.   Several of those beaches were covered recently in an article / guide from Lonely Planet, and while that guide does usually a good job to capture the specifics of the place being reviewed I thought to add some more insight from having visited many of the beaches on multiple occasions over the last 15 years or so.

So here we go – starting with what most guide books refer to as the most popular and my family calls the least pleasant beach — SUNNY BEACH

Sunny Beach is probably one of the oldest and most traveled to resorts in Bulgaria, dating all the way back to the 1960s and 1970s.  The place was developed to the effect of 800 hotels today – a mind boggling number given the small space it occupies.  The result is that many of the hotels are really not that nice and location wise not even close to the beach.  So be very careful in your selection and travel plans.

Sunny Beach is located about 35-km north-northeast of Burgas (one of the main cities on the Bulgaria Black sea coast).  There are regular buses traversing the distance and you should be able to get to the resort very quickly upon arriving in Burgas either by plane, train or other means.

In terms of nightlife there are the usual places to go – i.e. discos and restaurants.  Sunny Beach certainly has its overabundant share of those.  Here are a few that have been recommended by various folks over several years

  • Discos:
    • Disco Orange
    • Beach Disco (near hotel Burgas)
    • ClubXL (operated and owned by hotel Kuban)
  • Restaurants
    • Khan’s Tent – located on the way to Varna, to the right of the highway
    • Morris – located opposite of hotel Neptune
    • Lapa Lapa – its address is Kv. Kamelija No36, Sunny Beach 8240

Here is a great map of Sunny Beach complete with a legend – courtesy of carhirebourgasairport.com/

Sunny Beach

Near Sunny Beach is located probably one of the most interesting towns along the Black Sea coast of Bulgaria – the town’s name is Nessebar / Несебър in Bulgarian.

The town has survived through the centuries and as a result inherited a large number of historic buildings and consequently has been included in the list of World Heritage sites in 1983.

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How Not To Annoy Others During While on a Plane

Recently Conde Nast Traveler published a good article / summary of the things to avoid doing while on a plane – i.e. how not to annoy your fellow passengers on a flight.   The list from that article is shown below and while it is pretty good – I am going to add to it and hopefully provide you with enough to be a good and friendly traveler in today’s cramped and fully booked flights.

Here is the list from Conde Nast Traveler:

  1. Don’t use the seats for balance as you walk down the aisle. Instead, use the overhead compartments. If you reach up and slide your hand along it, you’ll be able to catch yourself if there’s a sudden bout of turbulence. Every time you grab the corner of a seat, you create an earthquake, and if you’ve ever had someone do it to you while you’re nodding off, you know how annoying it is.
  2. Along those same lines, don’t use the seat in front of you to pull yourself up when going to the restroom. Use the arm rests to push yourself up, as grabbing and pulling on the back of a seat is on par with kicking it.
  3. Turn your bags back to front in the overhead. Time and time again, we watch people put their bags in sideways and take up the space of two. Don’t do that! It simply delays takeoff when the last people can’t find an open bin and the flight attendants have to go around turning the bags themselves.
  4. Look behind you before reclining. We know you have the right to recline, but sometimes, especially in smaller planes, we’ve wanted to knife the person sitting in front of us. If you’re on the tall side—say, 6’2″—you may have had situations where one minute you’re working on your laptop, and the next the laptop is under your chin; you couldn’t type a word comfortably even if you had Tyrannosaurus arms. Take a peek behind you and just make sure you’re not making someone more uncomfortable than the comfort those few extra inches will provide. That’s not too much to ask, right? By the way, if someone does it to you, all bets are off. We would feel no hesitation or guilt pushing on the seat to access the bag at our feet. We hate to say fight fire with fire, but sometimes it’s the only way.
  5. Don’t eat aromatic food. Notice how we didn’t say bad smelling food, as that leaves too much for interpretation. You might love the smell of tuna, but the other hundred people on the plane most likely do not. We had a man next to us eat canned octopus in garlic sauce once, and we spent the next three hours keeping the woman on our right from shoving the can down his throat.
  6. Introduce yourself to your seatmate. You have to walk a fine line with this one. We’ve all heard people complain about the passenger next to them who “wouldn’t shut up,” but at least say hi to your seatmate. We find most people are up for some conversation, and it can even turn into a pleasant back and forth. That said, feel it out and pick up on people’s signals. If they’re fiddling with their earphones, casually give them a chance to end the conversation. But, at the very least, make an effort during takeoff and landing. To us, it’s weirder to sit next to someone for three hours and not say a word than to introduce ourselves.
  7. Wait until the row in front of you deplanes before deplaning yourself. We’re not sure why there is so much confusion about this (cough, Europe!). It seems like it should be common sense (and common courtesy) yet inevitably, there always seems to be that guy who thinks he shouldn’t have to wait. We were once in the second-to-last row of the plane and had the man in the last row almost knock us over as we stood up from our aisle seat and stepped out. Needless to say, words were exchanged—it’s just plain rude. If you happen to have a tight connection, be nice and quietly ask permission to go ahead (there’s nothing worse than a panicking person screaming about a connection. It’s a rookie traveler mistake and no one takes you any more seriously whether you ask nicely or act like a knucklehead. In fact, it’s the people who are pushy we want to help the least).
  8. Don’t stand in the aisle when waiting for the bathroom. We know you have to go, but we really would rather you not stand over us while you wait. It’s already tight quarters, and hovering over someone sitting in an aisle seat doesn’t make it any better, not to mention that certain body parts tend to line up with our face. (This is also a common time for people to rest their hands on the back of seats.) Stay in your seat until there’s no line, or wait in the food galley until the person in front of you comes out. Thankfully, airlines have started to police this themselves and it doesn’t happen as often as it used to

Now, let’s enhance it – Here is the Travel.China-Finds.com add-ons

  • Do not stretch your legs out in the aisle while in your seat.  Yes, often it is very tempting to stretch given the tight space between seats….But think before you do this.  Others will trip while walking down the isle
  • Do not recline your seat suddenly – You are likely to crush a laptop (if one is on the tray table of the fellow passenger behind you.
  • Do not spend too long arranging your belongings while the others are boarding the plane.  Move into your seat and do that, but even if one of your legs is out in the isle – most likely everyone is stopped and waiting for you — those roll-aboard bags won’t be able to pass by you.
  • Do not put small bags in the overhead bins unless everyone has boarded and space available. If your small item fits beneath the seat in-front of you, please place the item there.  We all need to be mindful of the fact that overhead bin space is limited.

Hope this list will make you a better traveler and one that others appreciate traveling with.  Let me know with you comments on the topic….and safe travels.

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Chiprovtsi Carpets – Now Part of the World Cultural Heritage

The new news from Bulgaria and the village of Chiprovtsi specifically is that the carpets which are woven on vertical hand-looms have been accepted in UNESCO’s world cultural heritage listing.   To be more precise, the carpets originating in Chiprovtsi have been “Inscribed in 2014 (9.COM) on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity”

This is an important development as the move recognizes the uniqueness of these carpets and their value as historical and cultural element – part of the world’s history and heritage.

My family and I have been going to Chiprotsi for many years – and of course are proud owners of several of the carpets.  For those of you who have not seen them, here is a brief photo gallery

Here are also some links inside this blog as well as on the UNESCO Web site

Enjoy!

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