Tourists

Scotland Or Bust!!

Ah, Scotland! The land of bagpipes, majestic highlands, Nessie, wonderful single malt scotches (the nectar of the Gods), and haggis.  Well, the jury is still out on haggis. I will give it a taste while we’re there, but I’m not really expecting much.

Wifey® and I have booked an 8 day, 7 night bus tour for May 2019. This has been a long drawn out process fraught with perils. We started looking at a Scotland trip several years ago but just could not get the time and funds to match. Seems when we had the money saved up, something came up (like the clutch in my truck blowing up), or when we had time off from work we didn’t have the money.

So fast forward to July of this year. Wifey’s® father had passed away and she and her brothers and finally closed on selling his house. And that would be a whole ‘nother post. What a fiasco that was! We had been vacillating between buying an RV and finally making a trip to Scotland since both of our families are of Scots descent. After several visits to various RV places in and around our home, we were just about set on the RV.  When one Friday evening it all changed. We really didn’t want to spend all the money Wifey® received from her share of the house “all in one place”. So that made the decision much easier.

I immediately contacted the agency we’ve been talking to over that last couple of years to get updated tour dates and prices. Over the course of the next couple of weeks, we decided on which tour we wanted.

The agency we were using is Exploring Vacations, based out of Ireland. They have a New Jersey phone number, but I think it routes back to Ireland as everyone we’ve ever talked to has a most beautiful accent.

On July 31st we made our deposit. It’s really happening! This began the process of getting everything together. We had to renew our passports (a surprisingly easy process), start buying all the “little things”, like a power converter, RFID blocking passport wallets, pillows and eye masks for the overnight flight. OH! Wait! We need airline tickets too. That means days and days of watching Priceline, Kayak, Booking, Orbitz etc…

Then on August 28th, we made the decision to pay off the tour completely.  That proved to be a very wise move. Because on September 14th, I received this email;

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Suddenly, we were not sure our trip would happen. Needless to say, my heart just about jumped out of my chest. That RV was looking better and better. I told Wifey® to call the credit card company we used to see if there was anything we needed to do so we wouldn’t lose all of what we paid.  But when she looked at the website for the card, she saw that we didn’t pay Exploring Vacations, we paid directly to the actual tour company, CIE Tours International! A glimmer of hope appeared. And sure enough, when I open the PAID IN FULL invoice, it’s from CIE Tours! CIE is also based out of Ireland, and also has a New Jersey phone number. You know I’m calling as quick as my shaking hands can dial.

While I’m waiting for someone to answer I tweet this;

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A lovely sounding lass “Alli” is the representative I get to talk to (with an amazing accent too!).  I explain the situation to Alli, but she doesn’t know about Exploring Vacations going out of business. Heart rate is starting to go up again. She sends me to a supervisor, Ernesto. Ernesto is either in New Jersey or is from there, he has an entirely different accent than Alli. But right now I really don’t care where I’m calling as long as someone can tell me what’s going on.

Turns out Ernesto is on the ball. He can find our tour and yes, we are PAID IN FULL! Ernesto takes care of the transfers to and from the airport and hotels since that was one step we didn’t get to finish (at no cost!). The only issue he sees it that our tour is reserved under the Exploring Vacations name and not ours. He says that is a minor issue as the receipt has our names.

One thing that amazes me about this entire deal is that Exploring Vacations has been in contact throughout. As much heartburn and stress this situation has caused us, the fact that they emailed me to tell me what’s going on and have answered every email I have sent with questions says that this was a solid company. It also says a lot about corporate America. If this had been an American company we would only find out that they went bankrupt when a letter showed up, or we tried to call and found the phone disconnected.

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The email that allowed me to sleep again

We still have lots of stuff to procure for this trip. We need real raincoats (or should I say a “mac”?), more clothes, luggage, and exchange currency.  But we have time.  I’ll post more about the trip as things get settled. The itinerary is not finalized yet but should be by the end of the month.

Tell me your travel horror stories!!

Peace,
B

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P.S. Samhain is getting close!!

Bike Week ’18

Today the 77th annual Daytona Beach Bike Week starts. Originally this event was nothing more than a small dirt bike race. It has now ballooned into a 10-day event (I hesitate to call it a festival) that floods our local streets with upwards of 250,000 motorcycle “enthusiasts”.  We get everything from the rich doctors and lawyers riding their $100,000 custom bikes (which only come out of the garage for this event – they’re not even ridden into town, the bikes are usually in a toy-hauler to protect them from the elements – or they just rent them), to some very serious biker types (not exactly Hell’s Angels or Outlaws, or at least if they are gang members they’re smart enough to remove their colors before coming into town). Usually, the majority of the bikers are your everyday rider that goes out on weekends and when the weather is nice kind of folks.

But that doesn’t make them your regular tourist. Remember, Daytona is tourist income based town. We have four major events every year that keep the revenue up. Two bike events, and two NASCAR race events. Everybody that I know that works in the hospitality or food industry (both of my sons, one ex-daughter-in-law, and one current girlfriend) will tell you that they’d rather have bikers over race fans any day.

Race fans, which will number in the 75,000 to 100,000 range depending on which race week we’re talking about, don’t seem to understand that a small town like Daytona cannot handle that many people at the same time. Our restaurants will have waiting times of two hours or more, run out of certain high demand items (i.e. snow crabs), and just generally be a miserable place to be. Us locals tend to stay at home during these times.

Bikers, on the other hand, have no problem waiting for a place to eat. They just go grab a beer a hang out in the parking lots when there’s no room anywhere else. Most restaurants will have one or more “Beer Tubs” in the parking lot with pretty girls in short shorts and crop tops selling beer (usually at the same price as usual – quantity is king).

When we first came to Daytona (1997), most the bike week festivities took place just a mile or two up the street from our apartment. So other than the Harley’s gunning up and down the road outside the windows making it impossible to listen to the TV, it was no big deal to walk up to the “party area” have some fun and walk home.

But then Daytona did it’s usual (got greedy and/or stupid). They had already driven the Spring Break TV shows away, we still do get some college kids, but not like it used to be when MTV would be here every year. Now they set their sights on Bike Week. Daytona Harley Davidson (the area where everything happened just up the road from us) used to rent the big grassy area across from the Harley shop really cheap. I’ve heard anything from $1000 to as cheap as $1, so I don’t know for sure. But I do know that city raised the “rent” to $10,000. So, the guy that owned the Harley dealership closed that shop and moved north to an unincorporated area of the county. He built a huge complex. Not only his new Harley Shop but a hotel, restaurants, a truck shop, even a motorcycle mechanic school. The area is called Destination Daytona (even though it’s not within the city limits). There is also a nice covered open-air concert pavilion.

One other area that the bikers still go is Main Street. Yes, Daytona really has a Main Street, although it’s only on the beachside, once you cross the bridge it’s Fairview Ave. The city engineers loved to play with street names back in the day. This place gets packed. It’s lined with bars and clubs on both sides. You’ll see every type of motorcycle you can think of parked along the road, all nice and neatly backed in. The crowds are worse than Disney on the 4th of July (and I’ve been to Disney on the 4th, it’s freaking crazy).  About every 100 feet you’ll find a “Beer Tub” as I describe above, except the prices are a bit higher on Main Street.

And the people! You’ll see so much leather you think the Village People are performing. Men and women in chaps (and there’s no telling what some of the women are or aren’t wearing under the chaps). Leather jackets or vests all over the place. It’s a bit scary to see what appears to be a gynecologist or a real estate broker wearing all leather, drinking a Mich Ultra, while talking to the tax accountant, also wearing leather chaps, a leather vest with a very clean Harley patch (only worn once a year) and also drinking a Mich Ultra, probably raspberry flavored. While their rented Harley’s sit out at the curb. Best patch I’ve ever seen during a bike week event said: “$10,000 and 10,000 miles doesn’t make you a biker!”

Standing right next to them will be the Euro bikers. We get many from Europe that come over for this event. They will have the BMWs and Triumphs parked out front. They are easy to recognize, as they will be considerably younger, and have the Kevlar padded road suits instead of leather. Oh, they’ll be drinking Grolsch or Stella Artois (which I think is Belgium for Budweiser).

The official website for the event is: http://officialbikeweek.com/ (Not real original is it?). Sometimes a location will have a webcam streaming, so look for those if you’d like.

And in case you’re wondering, no I do not ride. Like most things in life, I’m simply a voyeur. I’ve only been on a motorcycle once in my entire life when I was about 8.  Just doesn’t appeal to me, nor do jet skis, four-wheelers or any of that ilk.  Oh well.

And I’m not complaining about the events or the bikers. I thoroughly enjoy bike week. The weather is usually beautiful (but, it does tend to rain the first weekend – very odd that’s it’s always that one weekend). I get to see some beautiful bikes as I go to and from work and sometimes so very attractive ladies on those bikes. I no longer attend any of the free concerts or other events, but we do not hesitate to go out for dinner during bike week like we do on race weeks. The bikers are much more fun.

“I’d rather laugh with the sinners than  cry with the saints. The sinners are much more fun.” ~ Billy Joel – Only The Good Die Young

Peace,
B

P.S. If you do a Google Image search for “Daytona Bike Week” you *may* want to turn “safe search” on depending on who may be looking over your shoulder (children/boss/small furry animals/etc…). You’ve been warned.