"b1bob's Excellent Adventures" b1bob's Profile
I'M BACK FROM ECUADOR, but I may be back soon. Quito and Provincia de Imbabura are done...for now.
NEW FULL PAGES: Hanover, Petersburg, Tappahannock, Glen Allen Fredericksburg
Greetings y'all. Welcome to my web site of excellent adventures. For me, the excellent adventures began when I was really young. My parents took me nearly everywhere with them, providing me at an early age with a traveler's sense and knowing the difference between a "tourist" and "traveler". Now that I am considerably older, I travel alone and to more different places. It is not my goal to visit every country in the world. Some countries are just too dangerous at this time and there are some countries in which I haven't lost anything. I may want to see Eastern Europe, Singapore, Thailand, some other parts of Asia, other parts of Australia, Mexico, parts of Central and South America. I can't say which trip was the most exciting. Each trip had its own character. I guess if I had to pick the most memourable trip, it would have to be my most recent foreign trip: to Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay. The best thing about travel isn't the sights or even the different foods around the world, but rather it's meeting with old friends and making new ones. That's the important thing.
I love traveling to foreign countries. I do it every chance I get and I learn a little something each time I leave the United States. I don't see myself as a "citizen of the world". Rather, I am a Virginian who loves to travel, plain and simple. A good traveler shouldn't have to love his or her own region or country any less. I love the United States of America, particularly the South, and I make no secret of it on my USA page. In that, I like to offer practical information for first-time travelers to my country and to shatter any myths that my friends from around the world might have about the United States. If that comes off as too pro-American, well, I can't please everybody. If I tried, my pages would have all the substance of a rice cake. I hope y'all understand.
I hope some of the recommendations I make here and in the individual sites will help some of you along the way. If you have any specific questions that my recommendations don't cover, please feel free to write and I'll do what I can to answer them straightaway. If you want me to see your site, please bring it to my attention by e-mail and, unlike some members, I will give it a look.
My favourite thing about VT is reading about everybody's adventures. In that reading, I have found out that every VT member has his or her own travel style. Mine is outlined below and you can decide what you think about it. The pages I like best are those that are brutally honest. When I read only good things about a destination, I have to wonder if I'm getting the whole story. Even my favourite destination (Rio de Janeiro) has its negative points and I'm not shy about bringing them up. It is just as important to alert first-time travelers to disappointing sights, bad restaurants, shops that rip tourists off, etc. as it is to decribe the great things about the place. I don't advocate making it a point to look for the less good qualities of a destination, but when they do come up, it's best to tell us about it.
Recently, there have been people who have had problems with my photography. My line of thinking is simply this: When there is a "no photographs" sign in a prominent place, I will respect that. There have been 4 or 5 cases where the sign was not prominent and I snapped away not knowing it was forbidden. Where there is no sign, I'm going to take pictures. If you don't like it you can go someplace hot and I don't mean Charlotte. That goes for for those who think they're God just because they have a title or a badge too, incidentally. On photography for VT pages, it is always preferable to use your own photos. However, some folks just aren't good at photography, or things come up (like leaving your camera in your hotel room, the film doesn't turn out well, some grits for brains stole the camera, etc.). If you want to use other means to fill in the photograph slot, I don't have any problem with it. The blank "no photo available" slot looks barren, so my fellow VT members shouldn't raise a big fuss either.
GENERAL TIPS: My interpretation of the "general tips" category is that it affords you more latitude to describe details of the trip that stand out to each VT member personally. The other tip categories are more objective, but "general tips" is where you can describe your favourite restaurant that may have closed down, an amusement park ride that was taken out to make way for another said to be bigger and better, or to put items from your travel journal.
FOOD: I like simple cuisine in whatever country. Another thing a dining or culinary experience does not necessarily have to be experienced within the 4 walls of a restaurant. Some of the best food I have ever had has come from a trolley pushed by a street vendor in Strasbourg. Also, some members have been good enough to provide recipes of foods from the country they visit. One of two things essential things I would recommend bringing back (to make the trip live on) is a cookbook from the country you visit.
My biggest pet peeve in dining is TOO MUCH SAUCE. One has to wonder about the quality of the food buried somewhere underneath if that much sauce is needed. I like simple diners. A good rule of thumb on the quality of diner is how many trucks are parked out front. If the truckers are willing to eat there, then chances are the food is pretty good. I don't like these fancy restaurants. As a service to y'all, I'll help you spot these snooty establishments straightaway:
If...your restaurant is a little too fancy.
...they are more interested in what you are wearing than how much money you have in your wallet...
...they put fancy sauce on even their hamburgers...
...they cook their tomatoes, but don't cook their green beans...
...your table has a finger bowl...
...they fuss more over the presentation than the taste...(you hate to eat something that looks like it was done by Rembrandt)
...they hire a keeper of the pepper mill (it's a big one too, I've seen rifles smaller than some of these pepper mills) whose sole mission is to make sure everybody's salad has enough freshly ground pepper...
Fancy restaurants aren't the only thing that bothers me. At the other end of the spectrum are multi-national fast food chains like McDonald's or Burger King. The wrapping the food comes in tastes better and is better for you which is why I give them no space on my tips. Having said that, local and regional chains like Southern California's In-n-Out Burgers or South Carolina's Maurice's Barbecue are right good. Third, It seems like there is a Starbuck's on every corner. Folks, don't even fool with it! In my opinion, Starbucks Coffee tastes like it was brewed in an old gym sock and they charge confiscatory prices for it. (This almost ought to fall under "tourist trap".) When I go out to eat and want coffee, I don't want some kind of a mocha latte (whatever that is), but I want my coffee to be coffee-flavoured!
I am pleased with VT's addition of rating restaurant experience in a way that is similar to how we rate pages. 50% of the consideration goes to the quality of food, 40% goes to service and 10% to ambience. It based on 100 points and a 10-point grading scale.
Great Experience: Excellent- great food, great service, great ambience.
Very Satisfied: Above average- still a great restaurant with small room for improvement.
Satisfied: Average- a place to go if you think of food as merely fuel.
Somewhat Unsatisfied: Below average- not recommended, but it has at least some redeeming qualities.
Totally Unsatisfied: Failure- stay away, stay very far away.
If you are new to a town and are unsure of the best eating places, get a copy of the local newspaper. There will be restaurant reviews with a local slant not found in guidebooks. Also, for those who are minding their budgets, search the newspapers for coupons and eat at a cafeteria-style place to save time, fuss, and money.
ACCOMMODATIONS: When I have to stay at a hotel, I look 4 basic things. a clean room, a comfortable bed, a loo with a shower, and a telly that gets most cable channels including FOX News. Big fancy hotels like The Jefferson in Richmond are nice for some folks, but why pay all that money? Those who stay at hotels: remember before you go to bed to check and see if the previous guest left the alarm clock on if you don't want to be awakened at o'dark thirty and make sure the clock shows the right time.
Of course when one thinks of accommodations, one thinks of hotels or motels. However, there are also house rentals where one can enjoy all the comforts of home while on holiday. For some who like to travel in motor homes, the accommodation tip and transport tip can be one in the same which may or may not be parked at campgrounds. For the more rugged among us, one's accommodations can be carried on their back.
For house rental, when figuring the cost, impute the nightly cost by dividing the total rental cost by the number of nights of the stay.
MUST SEE ACTIVITIES: I'm not real big on sightseeing, folks. When I travel, I like to pay more attention to the people. On my first foreign trips, the group tours of 1986 and 1987, I saw enough castles and cathedrals to last me a lifetime. I didn't rule them out totally after that, but they had to really stand out architecturally for me to want to fool with it. I'm interested in historical sites and museums.
WARNINGS OR DANGERS: The best advice I can give a first-time traveler to a country outside their own is to keep it simple and be aware of your surroundings. I know some people who believe they have to take every stitch of clothing they have ever owned for a week's trip. They say, "You never know what you might need." However, it is always easiest to travel as light as possible, especially in this new normal where checked and carry-on baggage is inspected more thoroughly. While there is no such thing as a guarantee against getting your valuables stolen, you can make it as difficult as possible for a pickpocket or other kind of thief from stealing your things. First, wear a neck wallet. Common pickpockets go for wallets placed in back or side pockets and "fanny packs" because they are easy targets and they, most often, won't waste any more time with you and move on to an easier target. Second, take traveler's cheques. They can be replaced if lost or stolen. Just be sure you keep the documentation of your traveler's cheques in a different spot than the cheques themselves. Third, before you go, make a photo copy of your passport and keep it separate. In the event it gets stolen, it would be easier for your country's embassy to process you a new one. Fourth, if your gut tells you that some place may be dangerous, heed that inner warning. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Be as adventurous as you dare, but using a little common sense, you should be all right. To me, warnings and dangers don't have to always be about something which threatens life and limb (if that were true the category would be dangers full stop). It can also be a tip to avoid making a fool of yourself like on Honolulu, Never Chug Your Mai Tai.
TOURIST TRAPS: A lot of times, the touristy part of the town you visit is a caricature of that town. They mark up the prices something fierce just to stick it to the tourists. I like to go to a safe, but more "off the beaten path" portion of town, I have found that you will get a lot from the newfound genuine cultural experience without them getting as much out of you.
PACKING LIST: See my detailed travelogue for complete details.
LOCAL CUSTOMS: If there is one example I should like to set for all my fellow VT'ers, DON'T SKIP THE SMALL TOWNS. The largest cities in a country are an exaggerated stereotype. New York and Los Angeles do NOT represent the whole of the United States. Sure, smaller towns lack the 5-star restaurants, grand hotels, tourist traps, etc., but that's part of the charm. I have always met with friendlier people, gotten one-on-one attention at the small diners-and, get better food too- even when crowded. The true essence of every country I've been in has been in the small to middle-sized towns. Paris isn't typical of France, London isn't typical of England and on down the line.
Local Customs just doesn't cover things like taking off one's shoes before entering the home of your Japanese host. All aspects of a country's, state's or region's culture is fair game here. On my local customs tips, I add famous people from the destination. I also talk about a cuisine unique to a region and give recipes. Some folks seem to believe that in order not to offend your host, you have to try the local delicacy even if you don't like the ingredients, you don't happen to drink alcohol, you are on a strict diet, or it seems just flat repugnant. Most reasonable folks will understand. There's no glory in making yourself sick for the sake of appearances. Literature and local media outlets are also a part of a region's culture in that it captures the local attitude. Since VT doesn't offer regional destinations, all local customs tips that cover "The South" (of the USA) can be found on my Virginia page. All local customs tips that cover "The North" can be found on my New Jersey page. The best local custom tip I can give you is to supplement your fancy travel magazines and guidebooks by talking to the regular folks such as cabdrivers. They can let you in on places only the locals know about that won't be featured in those publications on which many tourists rely. Also, buy some typical local music for the country you visit. Your trip can live on even as you play it at work or during your commute.
SHOPPING: Before I tell y'all about shopping opportunities on trips, let me give you an idea of how I shop in general. There is a good reason why you don't see upmarket department stores such as Macy's or Bloomingdale's in my shopping tips. Those stores aren't me. I'm more of a Wal-Mart and Dollar Tree type of guy. It isn't only because of price that I avoid the upmarket shops. If I wanted some of that rubbish, I could buy it. I just don't feel comfortable in that type of environment.
When I put a shopping tip up, it does not necessarily mean that I think a place is unique or special to that destination or that I shop there regularly. I put the tip up there to show people on their first trip to a destination that this is among the stores you will find there.
Whenever I go on a trip, I never promise everybody and his brother-in-law to bring them back a WHATNOT (souvenir) from where I'm going. I send them a postcard instead (electronically when I can do it). When I go shopping, get a real flavour for the place by avoiding multinational chains wherever possible and go with a small local shop. Although I put Wal-Mart and all the big chains on my USA page, I do that to give examples of places you'll find all over the USA. There will be more local flavour and, if the shop is not in a touristy area, a better buy. Some countries encourage bargaining. They say, "When in Rome do as the Romans do." By playing it cool, you can pay as little as 30% of the marked price.
GLEN ALLEN: J.E.B. Stuart Monument 4 Jan, Walkerton Tavern 15 Jul, Class & Trash, Phat Boyz.
MECHANICSVILLE, VA: Willie's Barbecue, 36th Wisconsin Infantry Marker, Sapori, The Patron, Zheng, Carolyn's Fountain @ Westbury Pharmacy, Marty's Grill, Tokyo Hibachi Grill, Arizona Joe's, Sports Page Bar & Grille, Parkway Restaurant, Giovanni's, Cold Harbor Restaurant, Veterans' Memorial.
RICHMOND: Cookout 17 Dec, Plaza Azteca, Mi Guerrero Grill, Northside Grille, West End Antiques Mall, Mi Guerrero, old bank building turned into a banquet hall, Crossroads Coffee House, El Jardin Latino Market, Alamo Barbecue, Jefferson Park, Captain Buzzy's Beanery, "Qué Pasa" festival, El Potrillo, Millie's Diner, Kitchen 64, Governor's Inauguration, Executive Mansion, Shenanigan's, The Phoenician, Tarrant's, Lakeside Farmer's Market, Roy's Big Burger, Little Mexico, European Deli, 2M.
HANOVER: Two Frogs on a Bike, Houndstooth Cafe
ASHLAND: Hickory Creek Antiques, Knickers at the Hollows, Bamboo Chinese Restaurant, Hanover Country Club, China Star, Homemades by Suzanne.
VIRGINIA: Old Forge Grill 9 Aug, Flip Flops V.B. Grill, naval aviation monument, Norwegian Lady statue, Sticks Kebob Shop, fried green tomatoes, Padow's, Main Street Cafe, Capital Ale House, Wild Rose Cafe, Wreck of Old 97.
MARYLAND: G & M Crabcakes
NAGS HEAD: Shipwreck Museum
FRENCH POLYNESIA: Hinano Beer
USA: Longhorn Steakhouse, Golden Corral, Mimi's Cafe, Whole Foods, World Market, Qdoba, Piccadilly Cafeteria, Islamorada Fish Company, Trader Joe's, Noodles & Co., T.G.I. Friday's, Red Robin, Regal Cinemas, Jason's Deli.
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