Roxanne and Dana, her girlfriend from Romania, joined me on the trip and spent their days sightseeing. They discovered amazing caves and castles and toured the museum dedicated to the hometown "hero" of the city of Gori, a fellow named Stalin. Yes, they say, he was a tyrant who killed millions, but the trains ran on time and everybody (who lived through it) had food.
While I was there, the town's children took over a soccer field for a show of ethnic dances of the occupied regions, South Ossetia and Abkhazia, to draw attention to their plight. Thousands of ethnic Georgians fled those regions and now live in marginally habitable apartments or tiny houses without plumbing. They want to go home, but they are no match for the Russia's army.
It's a poor but proud country, tucked in between Turkey, Armenia and Russia. It would have been low on the list of places I would have picked to see, but now that I've been there, I can recommend a visit if you're in the neighborhood.
Oct. 2, 2013
Allegiant is a successful airline that flies all over the United States. Unless you're in one of the cities it serves, like Roanoke, you probably haven't heard of it.
The airline's slogan should be, "Make your schedule fit ours, because we fly for a low price non-stop to Florida, but only two days a week." And lots of people do accommodate Allegiant for its ninety-minute flights to Sanford, the alternative to Orlando, and to Clearwater/St. Pete, the alternative to Tampa.
Right now, the schedule has a single flight each way to each city on Thursdays and Sundays.
Seats can be priced at $29 or $249, depending on when you book. Watching those prices at Allegiant.com is like trying to time the stock market. Nevertheless, last year, I made six round-trips to Florida for a little more than $700. Total.
Some warnings. If you book and pay online, there's an extra fee. You can avoid the fee by paying at the airport, but tickets are sold only in the sixty minutes after a flight leaves for Sanford or Clearwater. Again, timing is everything.
The lowest fare is available only for debit cards. For credit cards, there's a fee. There are more optional fees: baggage, carry-on that doesn't fit under the seat, seat selection, priority boarding. I usually travel light, and I don't care about my seat assignment on this short a flight, so I beat those charges.
The only option I sometimes take is the one that allows me to cancel at any time for any reason for full credit against a future flight. That's better than the insurance deals other airlines offer.
Your travel needs may not fit with Allegiant's grand plan. Let's just say that Allegiant is making a profit and a lot of travelers, willing to be flexible, are saving money.
September 22, 2013
There's so much in New York that's free and easy. Or nearly free.
Roxanne and I just took our 11-year-old granddaughter to New York for her first time. And while you drop a lot of money taking carriage rides through Central Park and riding to the top of the Empire State Building, there's much you can do that's less expensive.
You can walk the park for nothing. It's safe -- although I wouldn't do it at midnight –and lovely, a great place to enjoy nature or play with it.
One of the world's finest museums, the Metropolitan, is on city land, so the rule is that you pay what you want. They recommend an admission price, but they tell you clearly that it's just a recommendation. Poor artists go there all the time for nothing and see masterpieces...and not just art on the wall. The Met has textiles and armaments and much more.
We haven't gotten to it yet but the high line, which used to be the elevated railway, is now on the list of must-do sights. It's now an aerial greenway, a city park one mile long and as wide as a couple of railroad tracks.
The New York Public Library is an architectural gem and an amazing repository of books and documents.
Pretty soon, you'll be able to watch the skaters and admire the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center. The windows at Macy's and Lord and Taylor are decorated fancifully for the holidays. Vendors take over Bryant Park at holiday time, and it's fun to browse.
What can you add to this list of ways to see New York for free?
September 13, 2013
I drive a 2007 hybrid. It's comfortable and easy on the gas.
Last week, I had to deal with a family situation, which meant going to Richmond, Indiana on short notice. Flying would have cost $660. Driving was the alternative.
I compared rates on one of the Web travel sites and found a rental car for $26 per day, or $52 for the 48 hours I would need it for the drive up and back, which turned out to be 887 miles. How does that compare with the cost of driving my hybrid?