Monday, July 16, 2007

A Recipe for Disaster

What kind of traveling European vacation can you have when you combine the following:
  1. Two kids under 10, two adults over 50, and six 20-somethings who have not accepted that they are not young anymore.
  2. Residents from four countries, arrivals from five locations.
  3. One passport that was "mutilated" (according to the US Embassy) in a washing machine and one passport that has no more pages left to be stamped, traveling across three borders, staying in a town split by a border.
  4. One two-door sedan that fits 4 people.
  5. A trip organized by Vas and his legendary timeliness and logistical prowess (note sarcasm)
  6. A schedule that couldn't be finalized until three days before arrival (due to our Vienna tour-guide Leif's flight schedule).
  7. Stefan.
Well, believe it or not, the trip was amazing! Roland pulled a spade out of his sleeve with this trip, organizing a flexible trip that wasn't too expensive, wasn't too stressful, and one that was appropriate for all age groups. My mutilated passport was causing some issues at the Komarno/Komarom (Slovakia/Hungary) border after crossing it daily and I ended up having to get a new one in Budapest, but it was not a big deal. I hope to blog about our trip over the next few days, though it's possible it won't be as detailed as I'd like (I think I say that every time!)

But feel free to check out pictures here:

Abridged Version (collection of the best from several people's cameras)
J. Riley Version (all of my pictures)

Being a slave to corporate America, I have adjusted my vacation scheduling to fully maximize the days off, typically flying in on Monday morning or, worst case, Sunday night. On this trip, since I was using my miles and the flights available are limited), I was "stuck" flying home on a Friday. I was pretty bummed that I couldn't squeeze those two extra days in, but let me tell you: I have never been so relaxed and refreshed after a vacation thanks to those two extra days between returning from vacation and going back to work. It gives you time to ease back into day-to-day life and fully recover from your trip. I know that I'm to frugal with my vacation days to do this on all my trips, but I think I'll consider doing this on long trips like the one I just finished.

In other news, I think the J. Riley Mac Experiment is over! After dealing with the sluggish performance lately, the OS crashing, the poor clarity in resolution, and the buggy iPhoto plugins for uploading pictures, I have switched back to my PC. Part of the reason was because I have found that Google's Picasa photo organizing software easily matches or exceeds Apple's iPhoto, not to mention the fact that I'll be moving to the Bronx soon and I need to get rid of a computer. It was fun while it lasted, though, and if it wasn't for the cost, I would consider an Apple laptop in the future.

J. Riley, time to start my vacation blogging outlines!

Monday, July 02, 2007

Can't Say it's the First Time this has Happened...

So, for the record, I am going to be moving to the Bronx in August/September.
I'm not sure if that was clear or not in my last blog.

Now I'm getting ready for my summer vacation of the year - a wedding in
Slovakia! I leave tomorrow afternoon and it's been an interesting couple of
weeks on a few fronts. I broke the LCD screen on my digital camera when I was
in Peru a few weeks ago. I've had it for a couple of years and was more or less
satisfied with it, so I started shopping around for a replacement (i.e. newer
model), reading reviews, spending hours at a time trying to figure out if I
want this year's model or last year's model, etc. I was going to buy a used one
I found on Craigslist, but backed out at the last minute and opted for a newer
model with face-detection technology (Canon SD800). Then I started my barrage
of purchases online for the camera (shipping and tax-free) and accessories
(extra batteries from ebay).

Then I thought about it and wondered how much it would cost Canon to fix my LCD
screen on my broken (but otherwise functional) camera. They wanted like $100.
Then I thought about it and wondered if I could somehow get the part and fix it
myself. One google search later and I had found the number for the Canon parts
warehouse in NJ along with step-by-step directions for replacing the lens. Of
course I ordered that up and had the part two days later. That night, foregoing
dinner, I started the replacement process, following the detailed steps. Until I
got halfway into the surgery and realized that the directions I had were for a
similar, but different, model. D-O-H! I was pretty much screwed because I had
taken most of the camera apart and disconnected things I shouldn't have. I
found the correct directions eventually but had a lot of trouble replacing it.
A few hours later, I had it all together finally and amazingly I didn't have
any extra screws laying on my table and the camera actually worked. Amazing!

This weekend was great, apart from spending some time with Alan and Andrea (and
Liz!) I did some major cleaning on my apartment in preparation for my trip and
it's looking great. Unfortunately, in my haste to do my laundry, my passport
landed in my pile and went through the wash. Of course I didn't realize it
until I was folding the clothes. Oh crap - I panicked big time, especially with
the elevated threat level here and in England (which I am going through both
ways). I'm leaving in two days!! All the information (stamps, photo, numbers,
etc) is there but the heat must've dissolved the glue holding the covers to the
pages. I ran out to get new pictures taken and was prepared to go down to the
Passport Center in NYC at 7:00am today in order to get a replacement. But all
the information is there. The guts of the passport look as good as new, it's
just the cover that is seperated from the first and last pages, though the
binding is still all held together. This had to happen to me right now. We'll
see what the passport control folks in the six countries I'm traveling to have
to say...

J. Riley, maybe I won't make it to Europe this year after all....