Summer Adventure

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I’m taking a six week hiatus to Europe. It’s my first time overseas since summer 2011, when I last came to Europe.

First up: A redeye flight from Montreal to Paris, where I’ll stay for a couple of days, adjusting to jet-lag. After that, I’ll probably head to the South of France, but nothing is set in stone.

I have a few locations on my hit list that I’d like to get to, but I’m not going to get weighed down by too much planning. I prefer to wing it as I go along and keep my options open.

I plan to split my time between hostels and airbnb listings. I’ve yet to use airbnb, but it’s been blowing up and seems like a great alternative for the budget conscious traveler.

Another wrinkle for this trip: I’ll be carrying my DSLR with me. Last time I traveled, I used my iPhone as my camera. It worked well, but I want to up the quality of images I bring back with me this trip. It’ll be a bit stressful, constantly worrying about a potential theft situation, but I feel the high quality images will be worth it.

I’m backpacking, so no suitcase, just a big pack and a smaller bag for day trips. Overall, I’m traveling pretty light. I took a test walk the night before I left, wearing my packed bag and didn’t have any issues with the weight.

That’s all for now, I will do my best to post updates as I travel along.

Visiting Tampa

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Greetings from Tampa, Florida.

I’m typing up this blog post on an outdoor patio of a local coffee shop, where I’m sitting in a t-shirt and shorts, sweating. So there may be a few typos in this one.

This is my first time in Florida and so far I’ve really enjoyed it. Tampa’s got a very relaxed, chill kind of attitude, the weather’s been great and it’s not an expensive tourist trap.

Trip In

To get here, I was able to fly out from the Ottawa airport. I’d never been to our local aiport, having always flown out of Montreal or Toronto. I had heard through the grapevine that Ottawa’s airport is great and it’s true. It’s neat, easy to get around and there’s free wifi throughout the terminal. Bonus!

Since I packed all my belongings into a carry-on bag, I was able to avoid the lineups and counters, going straight to the self-serve machine. For flights to the US, the Americans have set up their own customs operation at the airport, which works in our favour I think. There’s no customs hassle to go through when you get to your destination. I’d imagine that the custom agents based in Ottawa would be far more relaxed than those based in a major US city.

I transfered at Detroit Metro Airport, a massive airport with three terminals, two of which are connected by an indoor light rail system. Pretty neat! Although I was happy to walk around and stretch my legs.

 

My flight landed in Tampa about half an hour early at 10pm on Friday night. The airport was virtually deserted, all the shops were closed and there wasn’t much going on. I was able to hire a shuttle service that took me to my hotel.

Overall a really convenient and stress-free trip. I flew Delta airlines and everything went smoothly. A nice moment happened on my Detroit-Tampa flight. Once the plane got up to cruising altitude, the attendant got on the PA and announced that we had military personel on-board and thanked them for their service. Everyone on board gave the troops a round of applause.

Tampa

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Tampa itself has been a great place to unwind. While the weather forecast keeps calling for rain, I haven’t sen any of that so far. It’s been sunny and warm. A welcome change from the last few weeks we’ve had in Ottawa.

I’ve spent some time exploring Ybor city. It was pretty busy last night and has a definite Mardi-Gras vibe to it. It’s a bit like if Crescent steet in Montreal just went on and on and on. And if it was summer all year round.

I’ve been eating lots of bad American food, with Pizza and Chicken Wings leading the charge. I’ve tried to temper some of that bad and save a bit of money by hitting up a grocery store near my hotel for some fresh fruit and Gatorade, so that I can stay hydrated in this heat. Food here is far cheaper than in Canada.

My hotel, the Westin Tampa Harbour Island, has been very nice. The pool is most likely the warmest pool I’ve ever experienced. The coldest part is getting out. There’s no adjustment period when you dive in. Only complaint about my hotel is that they charge for wifi. $2.95/hour. Not a fan of that policy.

Later on today, I’m going to rent a car and take a trip out to the coast and St. Petersburg, I’ve heard good things and Hertz has a good deal on weekend car rentals at $14.99/day.

NHL Lockout

It’s funny that the lockout should end today. When you get to the airport in Tampa, the first thing you see are lots of ads for the Lightning. My hotel is right near their home rink and it’s plastered with huge posters of Lecavalier, St. Louis and Stamkos. Pretty remarkable to think that Lecavalier
has been here for well over a decade now.

This morning, I’ve seen a few people walking around the downtown core sporting Lightning t-shirts and sweaters. So even way down here, people are excited about the lockout being over.

I’m here until Wednesday, so I’ll make sure to add more when I get back to Ottawa. If you’ve got any advice about what I should see, feel free to leave a comment.

So… I’m Going to Florida

Westin Tampa Harbour Island - Where I'll Be Staying
Westin Tampa Harbour Island – Where I’ll Be Staying

I’ve settled on Tampa, Florida as my winter vacation spot.

As I had mentioned, I had hoped to get back to Europe, but the flights at this time of year are double what they are at just about any other time of year, so I had to make some concessions. In the past I’ve had success booking last-minute flights. Not this year.

For the price of Montreal-Paris round trip airfare I can fund a plane ticket to Tampa and a week’s accommodation at a nice resort-style hotel, in the Florida sun right on the beach.

I’ve never really seen myself as a “Florida guy, having always prefered to load up my backpack and go on an adventure in Europe. I’ve also enjoyed road-trips to the US Northeast, including NYC and Washington, DC.

But as I researched and reflected on Florida, and Tampa in particular, I became more intrigued. It’s got a few things going for it that lead me to take the plunge.

Convenience
I’ll be able to fly out of Ottawa for this trip. Usually when I go to Europe, I have to fly out of Montreal. This time I can leave my car parked at home, hop on the OCTranspo and head to the Ottawa airport for an afternoon flight in short order. It’s nice to eliminate that hidden travel cost of a train ticket to Dorval or Park N Fly.

The actual travel isn’t too bad either. I’ll be in the same time-zone, so no jet-lag and the travel time is pretty brief. I’ll connect in Detroit both ways. In total, it’ll take me about six hours each way, but they’re both afternoon flights so that suits me just fine.

R&R Factor
As I mentioned before Christmas, I’m planning to hit the ground running in 2013 with multiple projects on the go. I’ll blog about them in detail as they develop, but I can already see my calendar will be very busy as 2013 gets underway. Making sure I’m well-rested and refreshed is key for me.

In Tampa, I’ll be staying at the Westin Tampa Harbour Island. I’ll be able to walk around in shorts and a t-shirt, hang out by the pool and maybe even hit the beach, although it’ll probably be too cold for a swim. Long-term forecast calls for highs in the low 20s (centigrade). Whatever the case, it’ll be a welcome change from the ongoing battle we’ve had with snow here.

It’s Not A Resort
Nothing against resorts and people who enjoy them, I can definitely see the appeal, but I worry I would get bored staying put in one artificial area for a week. I like that in Florida I’ll get the warm weather, pools and beaches of a resort but I’ll be in a real city, with its own distinct vibe. I’m looking forward to exploring downtown Tampa and all it has to offer, including the food and nightlife. It’ll be a totally new experience for me, having never been any farther south in the US than Washington DC.

Overall I’m excited about the trip. I’ll be sure to post an update and some photos of what I see and how I like my first Florida experience. If you’ve got any advice, feel free to leave a comment or tweet me, I’m open to suggestions and recommendations.

Starting Today, I’m on Vacation

667airplaneToday marks the start of my Christmas/Holiday/Winter vacation. Our office is scheduled to be open today, but on the count of the massive snowstorm that is walloping Ottawa as I type this (more on that in a subsequent post), I figured I’d cash in some overtime and start my break a day early.

I’ve got a pretty lengthy holiday break this year.‚ I’ve‚ saved up some vacation time that will be put to use once the office opens up in the New Year. As it stands now, I’m off until mid-January.

With three weeks off,‚ I’ve‚ got a couple of things I want to accomplish.

Travel

My Last Vacation: Berlin 2011 at the now closed iconic Tacheles building.

Firstly, I want to get some traveling done. I haven’t done any traveling in over a year, save for a couple of trips to Montreal and Toronto.

My destination of choice would be to get back to Europe. Not too picky as to where I end up. I’d like to get back to Berlin, Spain and France would also be nice.

However, flight prices are pretty steep right now. In the past,‚ I’ve‚ always traveled in the spring or summer months.‚ I’ve‚ always been able to book cheap one-way flights in each direction, giving me a round trip to Europe for around $600. Booking over the holidays looks like it’s going to be a little more expensive. I’m still hoping to be able to jump onto a last-minute deal on Boxing Day. I don’t really care in what European city a flight takes me, just get me there.

If I can’t find a reasonable deal on flights, I might have to settle for a trip to the States. It’s about time I revisit New York City, haven’t been there since 2009 (I was there when Michael Jackson died), it would be nice to go back, but a trip to NYC just wouldn’t be the same without being able to take in a baseball game, be it Mets or Yankees.

I’d probably also visit Washington, DC if I was to take a trip down to New York, since it’s close by and I’ve always enjoyed myself in that city. Seeing the White House and the National Mall covered in snow would be neat.

Another option that is a bit more tempting to me than it has been in the past would be taking a cheap flight down to Florida. I have no desire to visit Disney or any of those theme parks, but it would be nice to relax on a beach and just chill for a whole week. A t-shirt, shorts and sandals would be fun in January.

Recharge

Traveling ties in with my other holiday goal, which is just to relax and recharge. I put in a lot of work over the past year, without taking any vacation time. September and November were particularly busy months with lots of 12 hour days. I’m looking forward to relaxing and not having to do anything for a few weeks and being able to feel refreshed when I head back to the office.

2013 is looking like it’s going to be another busy year. I’ve got a full slate of events at my day job and I’ll be taking on more freelance video projects for different clients so I’ll have lots to keep me occupied. I want to be well-rested and in a good state of mind when tackling all these opportunities. Suffering from a feeling of burnout in February or March would not be good.

So with that said, I’m going to relax and lay low for the next little while, and not feel guilty one bit. After all, three weeks will fly by in no time.

Have you got big plans for the Holidays? Are you planning to relax?