Points, Miles & Life

Travel adventures on this earthly pilgrimage

Category: Exploring

A Day Exploring Orlando

Last weekend I flew to Orlando on a whirlwind trip to attend the Family Travel 4 Real Life conference. The event is held twice a year, and it was my first time going. More on that later.

I gave myself an extra day to get to the conference since you never know what United is going to pull when you fly out of Arcata (SEE: Our First United Horror Story). The ticket was booked using Merrill Lynch “miles” (actually flexible points worth up to 2.0 cents each toward travel), so I wasn’t beholden to United award availability.

My connection time at SFO was 35 minutes, which is asking for trouble. Amazingly, I made the flight no problem, literally walking off one plane and onto the next. If I hadn’t, I had a back up plan in place.

Waking up in Florida

I arrived late and got to my hotel after 10:00 p.m., but didn’t get to sleep until after midnight (still on California time). I didn’t set my alarm, so I slept in until 8:37, which is ridiculous. Until you realize that is only 6:37 back home.

It was late enough that I missed breakfast, however, at the Staybridge Suites. I guess I could have headed downstairs un-showered, but I wasn’t going to do that to everyone. An hour later I checked out and hit up Starbucks, and then figured out what I wanted to do for the day.

Looking at my options

Orlando is home to a TON of stuff to do. They have Disney World, of course, as well as Universal Studios, water parks, and other attractions. Without my wife (or future kids), though, I saw no point in heading to Disney for the day. It would be pretty costly, and I doubt I could make the day worth it since I had to be back at 5:00. Plus, I am finding more and more that I dislike crowds, and Disney parks are the epitome of crowds.

Another option was the Kennedy Space Center. But at $50, I didn’t really want to spring for it, even though I was extremely interested. It would be pushing noon by the time I got there, and I wanted to be checking into my hotel around 4:30 in time to meet up with the group  and head to dinner.

Settling on a cheap easygoing day

So, I figured I would instead split the day between the beach and a quick visit to downtown. I was already paying for a rental car, and this seemed like a fine way to both enjoy Florida and save money. Unfortunately the car ended up costing me much more than I anticipated (SEE: The ONE rental car mistake I often make).

The beach at Cape Canaveral was the closest, at about a 45 minute drive. The weather was glorious. A cold front had passed through during the night, and the temperature had dropped an easy 15 degrees since the time I landed the night before. I’m not sure how long it rained, but I slept through all of it.

My time at the beach consisted mainly of walking through the surf, taking pictures, and trying to relax and let my mind rest. I’d had a long chunk of work sandwiched between two trips, which meant I worked over the weekend.

The Atlantic Ocean in Florida is *so* nice compared to the ocean at home. The water is actually pleasant instead off frigid. This may start changing my mind when it comes to destinations.

Back into the “city”

Lunch was Cold Stone (yes, lunch), and then I headed back toward the city. Orlando has a good amount of sprawl, and it took longer to get to downtown than I anticipated.

Orlando isn’t really a “city” per se. I mean…it is, but it is nothing like New York, Los Angeles, Denver or even Calgary or Montreal. It has a totally different feel to it. I’m not sure what I can compare it to from my previous experiences.

I parked in a garage and took a walk to Lake Eola. There wasn’t much in particular I wanted to do, but I try to find parks in a new city as the first place to explore, as long as they are close to the urban area.

My remaining time consisted of a leisurely walk around the lake. I snapped some photos of both the city and the huge geese at the lake.

Off to the pre-conference dinner

I headed back to the other airport hotel (a Club Carlson hotel booked on points) directly across the street from the Hyatt Place where the conference was located. I met up with some of the other attendees and we headed out to dinner at a barbecue place.

Dinner was a good distance away in Winter Park, but we’d been told the barbecue place was good. Turned out it was Cinco de Mayo, so we ended up getting some fusion cuisine. A brisket taco and conversation with fellow travel hackers was just the beginning of a great experience.

Sydney, Australia in 13 photos

Two days of my little trip down under were spent enjoying Sydney. As Australia’s largest city (20% of the Aussie population lives in Sydney or its suburbs), there is a lot to see. I barely scratched the surface. Here are my favorite photos:

Circular Quay

Opera House from Royal Botanic Garden

Eastern Sydney Harbour from the Sydney Tower Eye

Sydney Harbour Bridge

St. Mary’s Cathedral

Manly Beach

Sydney CBD from the Opera House steps

Entry to the NSW State Library

The iconic Sydney Opera House

Royal Botanic Garden

Western Sydney Harbour from the Sydney Tower Eye

Coastal cliffs east of Watson’s Bay

Flying in to Sydney Kingsford Smith airport

Hiking Monaco To La Turbie

High on the hill above the glitz and glamour of Monaco is the tiny town of La Turbie. Initially, it was just a name on a map, and somewhere from which I thought we could enjoy a great view of Monaco. Now I know it is a gem in it’s own right. The idea for the hike came from a blog tip.

On a beautiful July morning, we arrived at the Monaco train station at 10:00 a.m. to begin our hike. There weren’t any good signs that directed us immediately toward La Turbie, so my wife and I simply started toward the hills and away from Monaco. After winding our way up a couple streets, we came across a sign that told us we were on the right track.

la_turbie-sign_1

Found the first sign for the “Path of La Turbie”

This was exactly what I was looking for. The simple directions I had noted down included walking ‘Chemin de La Turbie’ and ‘Chemin Romain’. The middle part between the two was kinda fuzzy. But I was sure we would manage just fine.

After the sign the path began to steepen and alternate between street and pedestrian path. A couple hundred yards later we arrived at a busy road. The Chemin de La Turbie (Path of La Turbie) continued up some stairs, straight across from us. We caught our breath and waited for a break in the traffic.

la_turbie-sign_2

Sign pointing us up the stairs across the Route de la Moyenne Corniche

Then it was onward and upward. The view got better and better the higher we climbed. My wife and I were soon dripping sweat just a few hundred more yards up the hill, so we began to stop in every patch of shade we found that offered a view of Monaco (and some that didn’t).

la_turbie-path

The path between Chemin Romain and Chemin de Sotto Baou

The only point at which we got confused was an intersection of four different roads. There were no signs, and we had two uphill options. We look the left fork, which seemed more direct, along Chemin de Sotto Baou. Looking at Google maps later, we could have easily taken either, although it would have been a bit longer if we had taken the other fork along Chemin des Révoires.

la_turbie-sign_3

Which way to La Turbie?

Overheated and winded, we finally reached the top. The climb took about an hour, but the view from the top was entirely worth it. We headed over to the lookout point. The view is exquisite.

la_turbie-into_italy_pano

Monaco in the center right, and the coast toward Italy on the left

Just next to the lookout area is the entrance to the Trophée Auguste à La Turbie. For those who are completely hopeless in French like myself, that equates to the Augustus Trophy in La Turbie. Besides the clues that the signs had given us along the way, I really had no idea what the Trophy was, and I assumed Augustus referred to the famous Roman emperor. My latter assumption was correct. The new revelation was that a spectacular monument once existed on the site commemorating Augustus’ victories in the Maritime Alps. It has been partially restored.

la_turbie-gate

Medieval gate into old La Turbie

Instead of heading up to the monument, however, my wife and I spent some time exploring the streets of old La Turbie. The old section of town is very small, but it is incredibly interesting. The gates and a few of the buildings date from the Medieval period.

la_turbie-streets

We spent about 20 minutes wandering around before heading back to the monument. The Trophée Auguste costs €5.50 per person, but it is entirely worth it. The first stop was the overlook to get some more panoramic shots of Monaco.

la_turbie-monaco-pano

la_turbie-monaco-view

Our next stop was the tiny museum. Along the way we stumbled upon a random foosball table near the Trophy.

la_turbie-foosball

Maybe Augustus was a big fan of table soccer?

The museum was a single room. In the middle is an artist’s model of what the Trophy probably looked like when Emperor Augustus had it built to commemorate his victories in the Maritime Alps. Around the rest of the building are details on the history of the monument and details on its partial restoration in the early to mid 1900s.

la_turbie-model

The best part was getting to climb up on the Trophy itself, accompanied by a guide. Most of the monument was torn down by locals through the centuries to use as building materials for homes and fortifications, but the restoration gives a glimpse of what it may have originally looked like.

la_turbie-trophee

la_turbie-columns

After exploring the trophy, we headed back to the main road through La Turbie.

la_turbie-main_road

Lunch was in order, and we treated ourselves at the Hôtel Restaurant Napoleon, not far from the tourist info office and the old town.

la_turbie-fish_lunch

My wife had fish with veggies and potatoes, and I had pasta with smoked salmon. Everything was excellent.

la_turbie-pasta_lunch

After lunch it was time to return to Monaco. We considered returning by the way we came, but it was already later than I had anticipated, and we still wanted to see some of Monaco. The quickest way down was by bus, and we caught it at the stop just off the main road. Twenty minutes later we were back in the tiny principality and off on our next adventure.

Looking back, I am extremely glad that we stumbled upon the idea of hiking to La Turbie. It turned into one of the best days of our entire trip. If Monaco is on your list of places to visit, make sure you don’t overlook the lovely little town sitting on the hill above.