Thursday, June 1, 2017

New Orleans- The Prytania Park Hotel

New Orleans

It's my favorite American city! Luckily I got to spend a whole nine days there back in March. Now I have been to New Orleans about nine or ten times in my life. I grew up about nine hours away in North Mississippi, but now I am only about three hours away. Usually I just make day trips or overnights but the extended week there was a rare treat. It allowed me to see a bit more of the city, and surrounding area. We of course thoroughly covered the French Quarter, if that is actually possible (psst it isn't, we still missed a lot).

The Prytania Park Hotel
The Prytania Park Hotel

We booked our stay at the Prytania Park Hotel, in the lower Garden District. It's a great location, if you cant get a room in the quarter. The hotel is a only a block away from historic St. Charles Street and their iconic street cars, making that a legit, and inexpensive, way to travel to the quarter. Just remember the street cars are part of the city's transit authority and full of commuters and local travelers. When I say full, I mean packed. We made the trip once and after that relied on Uber.

The Prytania Park was also just a short drive from the World War II museum, the Confederate museum and Lee Circle. Of course Lee Circle is in the news a lot today and it wouldn't shock me to see it renamed now that the statue of the General has been removed. But we aren't getting political here, maybe in my next Cuba post (not!).
New Orleans World War II Museum
Hanging plane at the New Orleans World War II museum 

If you are planning a trip to New Orleans the Prytania Park is an excellent choice. I have always tried to stay in the quarter but with rising hotel prices, it simply wasn't possible to find a hotel in our budget for a whole extended week. We got the Prytania for what I consider a steal at $129.00 a night. If that wasn't enough it came with free parking. My last two times I spend in the French Quarter, I paid over $30 a night for parking. Saving that really stretches a vacation budget.

Using Uber to travel from the hotel to the French Quarter cost us around $6 dollars a trip, which saved the hassle of finding parking space, dealing with Quarter traffic (car and foot) and the cost of parking. Basically we used the car to explore the greater metropolitan area of New Orleans, and the outskirts of town, and Uber to go into the French Quarter, and some Garden District areas. The Garden District streets can be narrow and rough, and parking can be an adventure. The small fees for Uber were well worth it, and it also allowed us to enjoy an occasional adult beverage!

Monday, April 17, 2017

Google Scheduling posts

So none of my scheduled posts actually posted. Ah well this was my first attempt at using the scheduling function. Guess I will do it the old fashioned way for now. At least they all look in order they were written versus order I published them. Be back soon with New Orleans

Cuba as a Journalist

Visiting Cuba as a Journalist.

OK, I know what you guys are thinking. If anyone out there is actually reading this blog. You are probably thinking, “Ah hah! That's why he started this blog! He's working the system”. Well not really, maybe a little. But I actually am a journalist “cough” of sorts. I actually have a degree in Journalism, and Associates of Arts degree from Northeast Mississippi Community College in Booneville, Ms.

And I have used my degree to some extent. I was a community news correspondent for two local papers for a short time. I hated it. I didn't do it long. Since then I have dabbled in writing, some more serious than others. I wrote for a couple of content mills, mostly, Associated Content and later for Yahoo Voices. I actually made a decent amount of side change from Yahoo Voices.

In 2008, I started Lord Dixie's Dark Domain, that's still chugging along and I update semi regularly with the written word and photos. Since then I have started several other blogs, none as successful as the Dark Domain. In the last two years I have been working at the House of Tortured Souls, first as a staff writer, then editor, now site admin (while still writing). I have also hosted three different podcasts, and worked as a freelance photographer. I'm no Dan Rather but I think I can call myself a freelance journalist without feeling too dirty.

The official qualifications for the journalistic exception is that you are employed full or part time as a journalist, or are a freelance journalist. A few years ago I might have been a bit more uneasy about my qualifications. Now however, the state department is basically giving a wink and a nudge to people applying for a license. Enough so that I'm going to try it. All of course depends on whether Trump or the Congress decides to slam the Cuba door shut again.

So there is some amount of risk. My room will have a cancellation policy that, if the rules change, at least if the change up to a week before, I can recoup my housing fees. I don't have a clue about the airfare. If travel to Cuba is tightened up, will I be allowed a credit or refund? Time hopefully wont tell. Much of the relaxing of restrictions was done by executive order, which can be hard to undo, except with another executive order. Hopefully so much progress has been made that the new president will see it as needlessly complicated to reverse direction.

So for now this is it on my Cuba trip. I will update more as my plans are updated and put into motion. I'll also blog any deals, short cuts, troubles I come across. I will also begin to blog about my other travel fun, with photos from past trips to New Orleans, Memphis, Cincinnati, Williamsburg, Biloxi and elsewhere. And since I live on the beach (or very close), I'll probably do some blogging about my home area. Sharing info about local attractions, restaurants and whatever else seems interesting.

Till next time

Going to Cuba, legally

How do you get to Cuba legally?

Cuba was once a legal no go for American citizens. The two countries have been enemies since the Cuban revolution and travel has been banned since 1963. Noting that the embargo has done nothing to actually help the Cuban people, the Obama administration began to relax restrictions, with the goal of fully normalizing relations with the island nation.

Then in 2009, President Barrack Obama begins to ease travel restrictions. Over the following years of his administration, trade and travel restrictions continue to be eased. The American Embassy re opens in 2016, and restrictions are loosened on the import of Cuban rum and cigars.

But getting to Cuba still isn't quite as easy as flying to Cancun. Right now American citizens are only allowed to visit Cuba if they fit into 12 categories. Here are those 12 categories.

1.Family Travel
2.Official business of the US government, foreign governments, or certain intergovernmental organizations
3.Journalistic activity
4.Professional research and professional meetings
5. Educational activities
6. Religious activities
7. Public performances, workshops, athletic and other completions, and exhibitions
8. Support for the Cuban People
9.Humanitarian efforts
10. Activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes.
11. Exportation, importation, or transmission of information or information materials
12. Certain export transactions that may be considered for authorization under existing regulations and guidelines

Now you can also visit Cuba on a People to People Cultural tour. Which you would book through a tour company or travel agent. This would allow you to travel on a fully guided tour, where you would interact with the Cuban people. With them you would immerse yourself in Cuba's history and Cuba, but no lounging on the beach!

The people to people option is really great but there are a few draw backs. All the tour itinerary are mandatory. Don't feel like attending Salsa lessons? Tough shit. Its part of the tour, and part of their licensing agreement. While it's great fun and educational, some of the itinerary look pretty hard core. 8-10 days of walking, (with your nights free), so you have to come prepared and be in decent health. The other draw back can be the price. An 8 day tour, without airfare could run you from 3-8k, and with reason since you have a fully guided tour each day of the trip. This was what I originally intended to do, however as the restrictions eased, I realized I could go on my own, as a journalist.-

More to come

Cuba Bound

So where to go....

From my earlier plans, I knew airfare to Europe, Africa or Asia was fairly high. Usually when I priced it, they ran anywhere from 1200 to 2000 dollars. I eventually found ways to bring that price down. We will talk about that later. The Caribbean was more easily in reach. Lots of islands could be reached with a flight in the 500 dollar or less range. Plus there was a new island, just coming into play for the casual visitor. Cuba.

Now full disclosure, at the time of this writing, Cuba is still not open to American tourists for the most part. Obama made great strides, and after the death of Fidel Castro, the walls fell quickly. Obama's second term came to an end, and Hillary Clinton, the candidate most likely to follow in his path lost the election. Republicans, and indeed most democrats have never been too eager to normalize relations with Cuba. Old grudges die hard.

But Cuba was my goal, in spite of, and because of the uncertainty of Trump's plans for Cuba. There's a way in now, but who knows how long that will last. At the present Trump seems to have higher priorities than Cuba. Honestly it's probably a good thing. There is currently a bill in Congress to drop all travel restrictions to Cuba, but I don't have much hope it will pass.

But there is an opening now, and I plan to exploit it if possible. More on that next post.

So Cuba is my goal. Flights are reasonable from my home base on the Alabama Gulf Coast. I can fly out of either Pensacola, Florida or Mobile, Alabama. Pensacola is usually cheaper but it does vary. By booking a few months in advance, I hope to snag a flight under 500 dollars. That's my goal anyway, and I think it's reasonable.

To be continued in “Legally getting to Cuba”

Saturday, April 15, 2017

My first flight

So where were we...

My first flight, to Massachusetts, or to Connecticut and on to Mass in a car. And that was it for travel of any kind for three years. Three years of struggling with school and dreaming of the day I would get out and earn BIG BUCKS. I still haven't found the big bucks but I'm doing alright I guess. But this is about travel, not the shitty pay the south offers.

So while I was finishing school, I started looking for a cheap hobby, obviously that wasn't travel. So I started collecting autographs through the mail. The cost was a stamp, a sheet of paper and a little finger work in writing. I always wrote long hand, it seemed more personal than typing. About this time, I came across celebrity conventions. I decided, once I was out of school and gainfully employed, I was going to travel to one of them. After much debate, I finally settled on Baltimore for my first convention. It was a great experience, and the beginning of something that still continues.

Since then, way back in 2005, I have traveled by air and by car to conventions in thirteen different states (as of now). I went as far west as Dallas, South to New Orleans and Pensacola Florida, Virginia, Ohio, Indiana among others. Those were just convention travels. I also flew to Las Vegas and drove through the California desert to Lake Havasu Arizona for a job interview. I also made smaller trips, here and there for fun and vacation.

But I never flew outside the country, and I've never wanted to drive to Canada again. Now I made some plans to visit places, but life always seemed to interfere. Other things took priority. Then last year, I successfully saved up for a weeks vacation in New Orleans with my friend Robin. I could save money, to some extent at least. Then something else happened. An innocent conversation with my friend Dean, where he said he had realized, he had reached a point where he would never live long enough to watch all the movies he wanted to see. It hit me, I would never live long enough to visit all the places I wanted to travel to. And the longer I waited, the less places I would visit.

To be continued

Friday, April 14, 2017

Welcome to Distant Sunset.

I have always wanted to travel. Ever since I was a small kid, but for some reason, I just never thought it was something I could do. I'm a child of the 70s, yet my first airplane flight was post 9-11. I never knew those crazy days when you could board an airplane without feeling violated. Still I always yearned to see the world, and now I'm starting to do that.

I think travel is important. Almost as important as an education. I honestly believe, we really can't hope to understand other people, without meeting other people. Once you leave your home, your comfort zone, it's harder to keep those preconceived notions about other people. Southerns should visit the north and the west, and Northerners, head south, East and West Coast, visit the Midwest and vice versa. It's harder to hate people, if you know them, if you can talk to them and touch them, versus seeing them on television, YouTube and social media.

And Americans should visit the world! Not just those countries we feel akin to, Canada, England and Ireland, but everywhere. Mexico, and not just the resorts, France, Russia, China, Japan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and all points on the compass.

Now I mention I never flew until after 9-11, but after then, I have logged some air miles. However all of those miles have been domestic. I did drive all the way to Canada with a group of people for a Network Marketing meeting once. All the way from North Mississippi to Niagara Falls in a car with four other people. That was travel hell.

My first flight was for work. I flew to Hartford, Connecticut for a job interview in Worcester, Mass. I had just got notice I was losing my job, but the idea of a free airstrip made it almost worth it. Sadly I didn't get to see a lot of the area that weekend, and I turned down the job offer to go back to school. It was hard to break from my comfort zone, but ultimately was a good decision.

To be continued.