Saturday, July 4, 2015

Happy July 4th; We'll Be Back Better Than Ever!

Fireworks Courtesy of the Williams' Household

We may be world travelers, but we're proud to be Americans first and foremost. In the last two weeks we've driven coast-to-coast, nearly 3,000 miles, and are enjoying America's great west until October.

So let us be the first to wish you and your family a very happy 4th of July. Enjoy your burgers and hot dogs, keep the beer nicely chilled, and be safe with the fireworks!

With that, we'd like to announce that our blog is about to get a big, better-than-ever style facelift! We're moving to a new website tool that is more capable than the platform we have been using. To move to this new tool is mostly a learning and experience exercise, just like blogging in general is for us, but we're also going to be adding a whole lot more new, fun, and exciting stuff. Not for any grand commercial purpose, but just because we want to...which is the best motivator in the world.

Transition takes a little time, so we're going "off the air" for a bit. I hope it's only a week or so, but we'll be right here at when we return. So you don't have to do anything but check back in about a week. Or, if you are on our email list, you'll get an automatic update when we're back online (which might be a great reason to subscribe to our list!)

In the meantime, safe travels, and feel free to stay in touch with us on our social channels:

Twitter - @travelworkplay
FaceBook - chuckandloridotcom
Instagram - chuckandlori

Chuck and Lori's Travel Blog - Chuck and Lori Wearing Cowboy Hats
Chuck and Lori in Texas

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Durham, England and "We're Not Dead"

Chuck and Lori's Travel Blog - Durham England from the River Wear
The View of Durham Cathedral from the River Wear

For our regular readers who expect our typical 3-a-week blog frequency, we're pleased to report that we're not dead. We didn't meet our demise in the Louisiana swamps, the 110+ degree heat we've experienced hasn't melted us into oblivion, and we haven't gotten lost 800 feet below the Earth's surface at Carlsbad Caverns. These are, however, hints of what we've been up to since our last blog hit the world wide web a week ago.

No, our silence has been due instead to the inexplicable practice of luxury hotel brands to charge, and to charge ludicrously high rates, for unusably bad Internet. We won't mention any names, but the Hilton (oops!) we've stayed in the last few days has been unable to get wifi signal to our room. They charge for it, and as we're here on business I would only gripe a little about having to pay for it, but I couldn't even get to the point of connecting to pay. So the best Internet service we've had all week was the hotspot on our mobile phones, which has only been useful in the wee hours of the morning before the hordes who've descended on Vegas wake up and start checking their FaceBook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts.

I'll jump off the soapbox and not belabor the notion of hotels charging for Internet: they can charge for the toilet paper if they wanted, and I don't have to stay there. I know that Internet a little freebie they like to reserve for their "gold" club members and such, but it just seems peculiar for the high end brands to charge for a service that has become commonly free for the discount and intermediate brands...where we actually now prefer to stay as full-time travelers.

Anyway, now for our regularly scheduled blog content (at least scheduled for last Saturday)...

Note to self: Durham, England is a destination worth returning to. Last year we spent a few days in York. It's a great city, with a splendid cathedral (the York Minster), probably the best railroad museum in the world, and lots of history going back to Viking days and before. Durham is a similar city: worth a 3 or 4 day stop if you're traveling to the northern reaches of the realm, with a grand cathedral, a castle, and lots of interesting history.

Unfortunately we weren't too aware of how nice a city Durham is to visit and we were only passing through for the day to check out the cathedral. The city is on a high peninsula created by a u-shaped bend of the River Wear. It's easy to imagine the river acting as a natural moat, so it's not surprising to learn that the city has an incredible 4,000 year history. It sprang to prominence when monks selected it as the final resting place of Saint Cuthbert's remains in the 10th century, for which that grand cathedral was built. It's status as the seat of a diocese for the ensuing centuries gave it significance, including becoming a repository--to this day--of several copies of the Magna Carta.

Durham retains that medieval charm, with twisty and windy streets full of interesting pubs, restaurants, and shops. There are squares with statues and monuments, smaller parish churches as interesting as the giant cathedral, museums, gardens, and more. Durham is also a college town, giving the city a young vibe, with students and student groups everywhere you look, guys playing violin on the bridge, sculling teams practicing in the river, libraries, bookshops, and more.

It's hard not to love a city that has a shop entirely dedicated to fountain pens and 19th century writing implements...

Chuck and Lori's Travel Blog - Old Fashioned Writing Tools Shop, Durham, England

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Ripon Cathedral

Chuck and Lori's Travel Blog - Ripon Cathedral
The Ripon Cathedral
The problem with expectations is that they leave room for disappointment. We sadly admit that we were rather disappointed with England's Durham Cathedral. Bill Bryson, one of our favorite writers (and not just among travel writers), has called Durham's Cathedral one of the grandest in Europe. It is indeed grand, but we were underwhelmed. Had it not been for their summer exhibition of the Magna Carta, and if we weren't making our way to eventually see all of England's cathedrals, we might not have even mentioned it in a blog.

Chuck and Lori's Travel Blog - The Nave of Ripon Cathedral
The Nave of Ripon Cathedral: Note the Different Arch Shapes

Chuck and Lori's Travel Blog - Differing Arch Shapes and Heights at Ripon Cathedral
Different Arch Shapes and Heights

On the other hand, having no expectations leaves as much room for pleasant surprises, as we experienced with the Ripon Cathedral in Ripon, England. It might not be as large as its cousin to the north, but we think it's considerably more interesting. The current structure is 800 years old, and a church has stood on the same spot since the 7th century, so it's age rivals that of the cathedral in Durham. Owing to its construction and rework and repairs through the centuries, it's central tower sports four different arch types and heights: some might call it architecturally inconsistent, we think it wonderfully interesting.

The Ripon Cathedral has interesting art and a splendid little treasury. You can descend into the crypt, and photos are allowed throughout the church. And finally, on the back of one of the seats in the quire is a curious carving of a griffin chasing a rabbit while another rabbit (to the right) escapes into a hole. This carving is believed to have inspired Lewis Carroll in his writing of "Alice of Wonderland" (the author's father had once been a canon in Ripon).

Chuck and Lori's Travel Blog - Quire Seat Decoration at Ripon Cathedral
Griffin Chasing Rabbits, Inspiration for "Alice in Wonderland"

Chuck and Lori's Travel Blog - Ornate Quire Entrance, Ripon Cathedral
Ornate Quire Entrance

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The Magna Carta and Durham Cathedral's Anniversary Exhibit

Chuck and Lori's Travel Blog - The Standard of Baron Robert de Ros
The Standard of Baron Robert de Ros

800 years ago this summer, a group of rebellious English barons forced King John to sign the Magna Carta. This document is often cited as the first document to establish human rights, but technically it was the first document to establish the responsibilities and limits of those who govern. Prior to the Magna Carta, those who governed pretty well did it however they wanted as their "God-given right". The Magna Carta (Latin for "Great Charter") changed the relationship of the governed and government forever.

This summer, Durham Cathedral--which is the custodian of three original copies of the Magna Carta--is offering a splendid exhibition for the 800th anniversary of this landmark document. Photos weren't permitted, but we laid eyes on both a copy of the Magna Carta, and a slightly later revision called the Forest Charter, and we learned a lot about the Magna Carta that we had long forgotten or perhaps never knew.

A few of the interesting things we (re-)learned is that while the Archbishop of Canterbury had authored the document, King John later appealed to Pope Innocent III that he had been pressured into signing in, and the Pope, agreeing with the monarch, annulled the agreement. The barons rebelled again, King John died (of dysentery, not in battle), and the regency of his young son, King Henry III, issued a new version of the document which was signed and became the basis of future English rule of law.

Copies of the charter were made and distributed throughout the realm so that everyone would understand what the responsibilities of their government would be. This is how the Durham Cathedral wound up with several copies. Every year, for many centuries, the charter would be taken out and read to the public, lest anyone forget. Many of those copies were destroyed through the years: as new editions of the charter were issues, the older versions, considered obsolete, were thrown away.

Another interesting thing we learned is that one of those rebellious barons was named Robert de Ros. We have no idea is there's an ancestral connection here, but it's certainly a curious (and fun) coincidence.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

A Nifty New TripAdvisor Feature for Travelers

TripAdvisor Download Feature

We're diehard TripAdvisor users. We use it on a daily basis to check up on hotel and restaurant reviews and ratings, and we use it to research attractions when we visit a place. We've written tons of reviews ourselves, earning TripAdvisor's "Top Contributor" badge, as a "Level 5 Contributor", "Restaurant Expert 12", and with almost 8,000 points as of this writing. TripAdvisor makes us feel very special, obviously, but as Drew Carey said, "The points don't matter." If you're interested, you can check out our TripAdvisor Profile.

In short, if you don't have the TripAdvisor app on your phone, you should download it today.

So a while back we started to notice a nifty little feature we thought blog-worthy for our TripAdvisor-using readers (which should be everyone). The inherent problem with any such app is that when the Internet goes away, so does the wonderful information they serve up. This happens more often than anyone would like, such as when you're in a bad coverage area (strolling between tall buildings in your destination), don't have wifi to connect to, or are on an airplane (and don't want to pay the premium rates for Internet-in-the-sky, IF it's available). Inevitably, the moment you want to read up on restaurants or decide which museum to visit is when you don't have Internet.

TripAdvisor obviously aims to head this problem off with the ability to download information to your phone or tablet so it can be accessed while offline. This download isn't available for all destination areas, but we're hoping (assuming) that TripAdvisor is busy adding more. When a destination is available for download, and you've searched for a destination like San Antonio, Texas in my examples, you'll spot a little circular "Download" button in the top right corner of the screen (see screen capture at the top of this blog). Simply tap it.

Downloading TripAdvisor's San Antonio Library

Download Complete

Obviously it takes a bit of forethought to do this: you'll have to download while you do have Internet, preferably wifi as the size can be relatively large (34MB for San Antonio, but 268MB for a destination like Paris). But once you've downloaded it, you no longer need Internet access to see summary information about hotels, restaurants, and attractions in your downloaded city, including their rankings.

The Green Checkbox Indicates You've Download That Destination

Offline Viewing of San Antonio Restaurants

To demonstrate the feature, I've now entered Airplane Mode (note the airplane icon at top left on my iPhone) so I no longer have Internet. But tapping into San Antonio's Restaurant list, I still get results. I even get the thumbnail picture, ranking, average review and count of reviews, and type of cuisine. If I were interested in reading up on Saveurs 209, the top-rated restaurant in all of San Antonio, I can just tap it.

Saveurs 209 in San Antonio

Here's where you start to see the difference in downloaded content versus live content. The download doesn't store all the pictures for all the thousands of restaurants and hotels and attractions in a city: you'd easily fill your phone memory. Neither does it download all the detailed reviews. You do get the overall info we mentioned earlier, plus contact and address information. You can even pinpoint it on the map, though the map isn't interactive.

Saveurs 209 On The Map

We think this is a great new feature, so kudos to TripAdvisor for better enabling our travels.

In case you're wondering how you might delete a downloaded destination once you're done with it, simply look up that destination city again, and on the main page, tap the green checkmark circle icon: a menu option pops up allowing you to delete the downloaded content. Then you're off to your next destination.