Signing up for Pompeii

Posted on May 8th, 2011 in Carnival,Cruise,Editorial,Europe,Naples,Pompeii,YouTube by alex

When we decided to embark on the Carnival Magic’s Inaugural Voyage and learned about each port of call, I was beyond thrilled to learn that they offered many different shore excursions to the archeological site of Pompeii. Though Luke did not know what Pompeii was or what exactly was in store for him, I did not feel it necessary to confer with him on this decision… we were going and thats all there was to it (a decisive action on my part that is entirely uncharacteristic of my normal laissez-faire attitude to such things).

Luke and I have never been the kind of tourists who are keen to line up for things. We don’t often sign up for things either – not because we are cheap, but because we don’t like the hassle (or even the threat of a hassle in the future). We don’t like crowded spaces, we don’t like administrative annoyances and we especially don’t like dealing with other hassled tourists in similar scenarios. It’s not that we are loners, we are just addicted to finding those special moments where you encounter something new, something novel, something greatly anticipated and every detail of that moment is simply splendid and all your own.

I know we are not alone in this.

I also know that for every other explorer out there like us, there are some things in this world that they will sign up for (and line up for) without any hesitation despite all of the ensuing hassle. For me, one of these things is Pompeii.

And so it was… Within minutes we were signed up for “The Ruins of Pompeii” and I was blabbering on to Luke about every possible historical detail I could recall from my days as a student of art history. The thought of lines and crowds and hot buses did not even enter my mind.

When the day arrived that we were to set out in search of MY Pompeii, and we found ourselves piled into a coach with 50 other cruisers in search of THEIR Pompeii, I was entirely too thrilled with myself to even care that I had to wait in a line or that the couple behind us were engrossed in a loud binge of their various life complaints. My positive attitude lasted for the entire bus ride… and maybe for the first 12 minutes of the guided tour.

But then it hit me. Here I was in Pompeii with thousands of other eager souls all looking to get as much as we could out of our few hours in historical paradise, and it seemed like we were all huddled around the same few sights fighting for a clear shot of a brick wall with our cameras.

And so I made another decision. The tour guide was passionate and informative, but it was time for us to take off on our own. For some of our fellow cruisers this was a bold and daring move that would leave us vulnerable to all sorts of tourist pitfalls… What if we got lost in the ancient streets? What if we walked right by the most significant monument and didn’t even know it? And the worst of the worst in a cruiser’s eyes – what if we missed our bus and ended up not making it back to the ship on time!!!????

It was a risk we were willing to take.

We headed out into the vast area that was once the city of Pompeii, without a map, without a guidebook, without a care in the world. And you know what? It was one of the best decisions I have made on this trip to date.

Rumor has it that upwards of 15 000 people visit Pompeii EACH DAY! But what you might not realise if you stick with your group is that this ancient city is absolutely huge and there are acres of it that the guides don’t get to on their tours. If you dare, you can find yourself completely alone strolling down stone streets, peering into Roman houses, sitting under a shady tree in a vineyard – not another camera, school group, or sweaty tourist in sight. In fact, Pompeii is so enormous I could have easily spent three or four days there and still not taken it all in.

At the end of the day I might only get to Pompeii once in my life, while wikipedia and library books will always be available to me to fill in the informational gaps. Experience was what I was after, and I found it by signing up and then wandering off.

We still need nominations!

Posted on January 31st, 2011 in Editorial by alex

So we are currently sitting in the #5 spot in the travel category for the Shorty Awards, which is a place we would like to stay because if we do the judges will at least consider us, and that would be unbelievable. This online community that you have become a part of and we have all built up together is extremely unique, and we believe that what we were all collectively able to accomplish this year deserves a little bit of attention. You guided us through two incredible countries entirely by using social media to connect to us, and in turn we shared our discoveries through the exact same network and with the exact same tools, and we think that’s pretty neat.

Something else that’s pretty neat? Tomorrow is alexandluke.com’s first birthday!!! How appropriate is that? We would love nothing more than to be celebrating as Shorty Finalists on our blog’s birthday! Well, cake would be good too… okay, let me rephrase – we would love nothing more than to be a Shorty finalist WHILE eating birthday cake!

Now, we understand that many people out there are not that familiar with the Shorty Awards, and that’s understandable… its only three years old for one, and its all about Twitter users, which many of you might not be (hello Facebookers, YouTubers and Gowalla-ers!). But to put The Shorty’s in perspective, we have taken note of some other potential finalists in the other categories. Here are some names of other Twitterers who currently sit in the #5 spot in their categories:

Neil Patrick Harris
Britney spears
Jk Rowling
Astronaut Paolo Nespoli
Sesame street

Quite a list! Good luck to all of them, we know what it feels like to be teetering near the cutoff spot on the last day of nominations!

Now here’s the part where we beg… pppppppplllllllleeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaasssssseeeeee consider nominating us in the travel category so that we may remain in good standing to become a finalist. We could not have done our social media road trip experiment without your participation, and so it is appropriate that we ask for it again now.

If you are a Twitter user, simply click below and fill out the reason why you think we should be nominated.

Nominate Alex and Luke for a social media award in the Shorty Awards!Nominate Alex and Luke for a social media award in the Shorty Awards travel category

Thank you so much, and good luck to all of you as well. We believe that if we get recognized, it’s the alexandluke community that matters more than the alex and the luke – so this Shorty Award nomination is just as much about you (we would have included you in our name but that url would have simply been too long…)!

Top 3 places in North America to spend New Years Eve

Posted on December 30th, 2010 in British Columbia,Editorial,Florida,New Hampshire,Top 3's by alex

People often ask us what the absolute best highlights of our cross continental road trip were, and we have such a hard time answering because there are just so many. We have our favourite scenic drives, our favourite breakfast spots, our favourite national parks and beaches, our favourite hotels and motels and hostels… even our favourite states, provinces and territories. So we thought we would make a series of Top 3’s so that we can focus on the best of the best and provide you with some great insight into some of the most fabulous places right here in our own backyards.

And so we begin with the Top 3 hotels and resorts from our travels that we think would be great destinations to ring in the New Year!

Number 3
Pacific Sands Beach Resort in Tofino, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

You may remember from Episode 21 Of Monday Evening with Alexandluke that we absolutely loved this resort because of its cozy and luxurious amenities and spectacular beachfront location.  This is one of the first places that comes to mind when we think about absolute rest and relaxation and for this reason we think it would be an amazing spot to rejuvenate during the holidays.

Situated on secluded Cox Bay, which is a haven for surfers, the suites and villas at Pacific Sands Beach Resort are part beach house, part luxury hotel.  With fully equipped kitchens, Jacuzzi tubs, fireplaces, contemporary yet comfy décor and spectacular views of the wild Pacific Ocean, it really has everything you could ask for if you are looking to stay in and be cozy with someone special this New Years Eve. Low key doesn’t have to mean tasteless tv tray dinners and reruns of The Golden Girls (though if you’re Alex, that actually sounds like a pretty decent Friday night). At Pacific Sands Resort low key can be sophisticated.   Even the frozen food they offer in the main lobby to prepare in your villa is first rate! Hint – the curry and pizza is to die for!

And if all of that wasn’t enough to sell you on this magical corner of the world, check this out – between October 12th and April 30th the resort offers Storm Watching Packages that start at just $117. Before you question why I am trying to tempt you while using the word “storm” let me just explain a little bit about Tofino on Vancouver Island…

Tofino is the type of place that is absolutely spectacularly beautiful when the sun is shining and the seas are still, but it is arguably even more special when the waves are crashing and a thick coat of fog sits heavily on the bay. Tofino is world famous for its wild seas and emotional weather and The Pacific Sands is well equipped for anything Mother Nature throws its way. Heck, they even offer complimentary rain slickers to every guest to use during their stay!

A dark and stormy night at The Pacific Sands is exactly what you should hope for to get you in the spirit, but on the off chance that the weather is clear come New Years Eve you can still ring in 2011 with a bang because you will have front row seats to a fabulous fireworks display right there in Cox Bay.  It seems they really have thought of everything.

Number 2
Mondrian Miami in South Beach, Miami, Florida

If all this talk about stormy weather and rain slickers has you running in the other direction, this next destination may be just the place for you.  With unbeatable views of Biscayne Bay, the quintessential eccentric styling that Miami hotels are known for, and a retinue of poolside patrons that are as colourful as the lights on Ocean Drive, The Mondrian Miami is the perfect choice for the partygoer who wants both sunshine and an unforgettable night on the town this New Years Eve.

We loved our stay at the Mondrian, not because it was comfy and cozy and felt like home (though it really was quite comfortable).  No, we loved the Mondrian because it was actually nothing like home.  It offered us a perfect escape from the familiar and a glimpse into the fast and colourful life that is Miami.  When we thought about where we would go back to in order to have the most outrageous time on New Years Eve, we both immediately thought of The Mondrian Miami.

With a little research we discovered that this year’s soiree is proving to be as over the top as we imagined it would be.  First of all, it is hosted by the one and only Chloe Sevigny… we are BIG Big Love fans and cannot even imagine anything better than attending a Miami party with Nikki – what would Barb think??? On top of that your ticket includes an acoustic performance by Andrew Wyatt of Miike Snow (who we deemed favourite song to in Episode 16 of Monday Evening), music by DJ Paul Sevigny and The Misshapes, a premium open bar (hello open bar!) AND midnight fireworks over the bay!

We can only imagine the Facebook albums that are going to result from this New Years Eve party, and might consider combing twitter on the 31st to see if we can get insider glimpses into the festivities!!! If you plan on attending, kindly DM us some Twitpics of Chloe’s outfit!

Number 1
The Balsams Grand Resort Hotel, Dixville Notch, New Hampshire

Okay, okay – we know, we haven’t actually been to The Balsams yet, but that will soon be remedied! And from everything we have learned about this place in preparation for our upcoming stay there, it is obvious that as a destination to spend New Years Eve, it is the absolute tops. It may not have the outrageous party scene of South Beach or a view of surfers riding waves, but what it does offer more than makes up for it.

For us, the ultimate New Years Eve festivities involve very little planning, a lot of relaxation, quality time spent with family and friends, and that old fashioned but totally alluring vision of a grand party with a live band, party hats and noisemakers, champagne toasts and fireworks, and guests dressed up in cocktail dresses and blazers with patches on the elbows, maybe smoking pipes out on the veranda as the snow lightly falls and kids on a sleigh ride glide by…

I realize this is starting to sound like a New Years party hosted by Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney, but that’s what’s so great about it!  The Balsams is exactly the type of place where you can have all of the bells and whistles of a traditional New Years Eve party as described above! Who wouldn’t want to be transported to a world where you feel like a group of performers might break out into a choreographed tap number with full sets and costumes at any moment?  Okay, so maybe that’s not quite realistic but at the very least we can confirm that the sleigh ride thing really does happen at The Balsams, and you better believe we’ll be partaking in that activity as soon as possible!

There is a long tradition at The Balsams, and New Years Eve is one of the biggest nights of the year.  Between the all-inclusive on-site skiing, the grand buffet, the picturesque surroundings of The Great North Woods, and the charming historic backdrop that the hotel provides, we cannot think of a more perfect place to ring in The New Year.

RIP Burt Reynolds

Posted on December 20th, 2010 in Editorial,ontario,Road Trip,VW by alex

If you haven’t heard already, then you might want to sit down before you read this…

Burt Reynolds is no longer with us.

Before you run screaming from the room so you can go find your old VHS copy of Smokey and the Bandit to watch repetitively for the next 24 hours as you grieve the fine actor’s death, let me remind you that Burt Reynolds is also the name you chose for our beloved Volkswagen Rabbit, and it is the car version that has perished, not the man (to the best of my knowledge the man is still kickin’ it). While it will surely be a sad day when news comes of Burt Reynolds (the man)’s passing, today we struggle to find words to describe the unthinkable loss we feel without Burt Reynolds (the car) parked safely in the driveway.

What could have possibly happened to this strong, resilient car that over 9 months carried us swiftly and safely through 48 states, 10 provinces and 3 territories you wonder? Well, to put it simply, we were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Here’s how it all went down.

I needed to be in Oakville Sunday night so that I could visit with my best friend and her family for an early Christmas celebration, but I was in Toronto babysitting my niece all day, and would have had to pay for a cab if Luke had not offered to drive all the way into the city to pick me up and take me back to Oakville. Potted rosemary plant in hand, I climbed into the passenger seat as Luke piled my things in the trunk and we set off for Oakville on the Gardiner Expressway.

There was a steady flow of traffic on the Gardiner westbound, which might be rare in most cities on a Sunday night, but not in Toronto. We were traveling at the speed limit in the “slow lane” closest to where the collector lanes start to merge into the express lanes, just west of Kipling. Then suddenly from what seemed like out of nowhere, a car was positioned right in front of us in our lane, but strangely, they were facing completely sideways. We could clearly see the driver as we approached her because her side window was straight on to us. We can’t imagine how this person managed to maneuver their car into this position – she was just there, as if waiting for a left turn signal at an intersection.

I think I uttered the words “whoa what is…” and then couldn’t finish my thought before BAM!!! Luke’s quick reaction allowed him to avoid hitting her straight on, but we still managed to slam into her back end sending her spinning backwards into the express lanes behind us. The impact was severe enough to deploy our airbags (but not hers). Luckily we didn’t spin out. Instead we landed miraculously just to the right of us in the dead zone right before the collectors and expressway merge together. I looked down and saw that I was still holding the rosemary plant that was in my lap and it looked relatively unharmed – as were we both, though it was clear our heavy belongings had pitched forward and hit our seats from behind. We sat there for about 6 or 7 minutes unable to exit the car because there were lanes of traffic whizzing by on either side of us. The smoke from the airbags was both painful to breath and scary, as it made it seem like the car might be on fire, but we had to sit there waiting – hoping the worst was over.

The tow trucks were the first on the scene, and the driver was able to park in a way that allowed him to get out and come see if we were okay. He told us the police and fire trucks were on their way, and to hang tight in the car until we were able to safely exit. Soon afterward a police officer had arrived and moments later there was a fireman leaning in to see if we needed any physical help. After asking us if we were wearing our seat belts, to which we proudly stated “of course!!!” he seemed to disappear – no doubt to go check on the other driver. The tow truck drivers and police set up their vehicles so that we could safely exit the car and climb into the tow truck. Soon we were whisked off to a local mall parking lot to fill out accident reports.

And so goes the story of how Burt made his exit from our lives and from the alexandluke escapades. He carried us safely and swiftly around North America for 9 long months. He was our home away from home, he was an icebreaker when we met strangers, he proudly displayed all of our travel badges, he kept us safe and comfortable, he accompanied us to some of the most wonderful corners of this continent. From the rocky salt flats of Utah to the very southern tip of the Florida Keys, from dodgy motel parking lots to colourful tail-gaiting parties, Burt was with us almost every step of the way and we will always remember him fondly.

What we cannot get over is that we traveled 73000 kilometers in that car this year and drove in every kind of condition on every variety of road you can think of, and yet not a single scratch, dent or even traffic ticket occurred until we were just 10 minutes from our homes. Go figure. And the weirdest part of all? The other driver lives about 200 meters away from Luke on the very same street!

We sure are glad that we were driving in a Volkswagen when this terrible accident took place. Though we are stiff and sore today, we truly believe we could have made out a lot worse if it wasn’t for the engineering of his VW Rabbit. We don’t take this lightly – we really do love Volkswagen and hope to find ourselves behind the wheel of a VW again someday.

So where the story goes from here is anyone’s guess. I suppose you should just stay tuned as always! We would like to thank you for all of the kind messages of love and support. We appreciate every last one of you more than you know!

Stay safe and happy holidays!

Yours,
Alex

Travelocity’s Border Blunder

Posted on November 12th, 2010 in Editorial,ontario,Road Trip by luke

I called Travelocity the other night after the Top Secret Hotel™ I booked was in a different country than I specified. I wasn’t too upset as it seemed like a problem that could be easily fixed by their customer support staff – I specified that I wanted a hotel in Canada and I was booked a hotel in the United States – this was clearly a mistake. I anticipated the operator on the other end apologizing for the mistake, canceling the reservation, apologizing again, and then wishing me a good night. After all, I have called a different travel-booking website with an issue regarding me being assigned a smoking rather than non-smoking room and it was resolved within minutes. If I could get a refund over the smoking orientation of my room, I should surely be able to receive a refund for being placed in an incorrect country. Right?

Forty-five minutes, two customer service representatives and a supervisors later I would learn that this is not the case. This is my story:

Alex and I arrived in the city of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario after a long day on the road. We pulled into the local Swiss Chalet, ordered some soup, and powered up our laptops to book a hotel online. When we don’t have suggestions we always (and, I mean always) book secret hotels. In case you don’t know what a secret hotel is, Priceline, Travelocity, and Hotwire all offer hotel deals where they specify the star rating of the hotel, the rate, but not the name of the hotel. Because the name of the hotel is not being advertised, the rate can be up to 55% off the rate listed on that hotel’s website. The catch is that after the ‘Purchase’ button is clicked you’re unable to cancel or change your order. If you’re upset that you’re in the Days Inn, you have to live with it. In the past we have been upset for being placed in a hotel on the periphery of the city, or being placed in a hotel with a star rating it clearly didn’t deserve. But, that’s part of the Top Secret Hotel™ game, and if we were twenty-minutes away from where we wanted to be then it’s our own fault. However, when the twenty-minutes away places us in a different country, we feet we have a valid dispute.

I attempted to book a hotel in the city of Sault Ste. Marie in the province of Ontario which happens to be right across the United States/Canada border from a city also named Sault Ste. Marie in the state of Michigan. I knew this going into my booking and was very deliberate in my selection to make sure I was selecting Ontario. I selected a room for $57 Canadian Dollars, clicked purchase, and was informed that my hotel was in Michigan. I immediately called Travelocity to correct the mistake.

Click ‘Continue Reading’ to read the story’s conclusion

Ontario Bound!

Posted on November 6th, 2010 in Editorial,Manitoba,ontario,Road Trip by alex

Tomorrow marks a very important day in the story of our social media road trip experiment.  After lunch, we will be taking a hike from our lakeside cabin at Falcon Trails Resort in Manitoba, to check out an eco-friendly cabin on a lake nearby.  The reason this is noteworthy is that part of said lake is actually in Ontario – the province where it all began!  Following the hike, we will be driving over the border and on to spend the night in Thunder Bay Ontario!

Ontario!  Our home province!  After 230 days of North American exploration!!!

You might be curious to know how we are feeling on the eve of our return to home soil.  Well I can only speak for myself, but I have to say that I am actually rather excited.  Turns out, there really is no place like home.  For the duration of this project, when I was as far away as Skagway or Key West or San Francisco, I didn’t have even the slightest inkling of being homesick.  I knew my home was where I left it, and I was entirely content to keep driving deeper and deeper into the heart of the continent and away from the familiar without a thought of what I had left behind.

I never have been one to feel the pangs of homesickness, even when I lived overseas, which is why it came as a surprise a few days ago, when all of a sudden I could not rid my thoughts of my two psychotic dogs, a refrigerator I can access whenever I want, and that iconic Toronto skyline.  I cannot wait to go home.

After some consideration, I have decided there are a few reasons for this unexpected and late-onset homesickness.  For one, my recent battle with the flu not only weekend my immune system, but I think it threw me off my emotional balance as well.  The next time you come down with the stomach flu, I challenge you to endure the entire ordeal without a single thought of your mom, or your childhood bedroom, or those little toast fingers that seem to make any sickness disappear at least a little bit quicker.

But the other thing, and I think this is the real key here, is that as soon as we departed on our drive south from Yellowknife, I began to accept that I was on my way home.  Have you ever noticed that when you are on a trip, be it a weeks vacation at an all inclusive down south, a trek around South East Asia, or a semester abroad, that once you know you are nearing the end, and you think about what awaits you, that you start to get a little bit anxious for your home life or your regular routine?

Now throw in the added emotional triggers from the rapidly increasing regularity of sappy holiday ads on the television, and the waft of gingerbread and peppermint I get every time I walk into a pretentious coffee shop (which is more frequent than I’d like to admit) and you have yourself a recipe for homesickness.

However, and this is a BIG however, I don’t want you to get the idea that the alexandluke social media experiment is over.  If you have been following closely and know what our map of progress looks like, you will know that we have a few regions left to visit.  They are (in no particular order) Vermont, Hawaii, and Nunavut.  As we have explained in the past, Nunavut is not a place we can take ol’ Burt Reynolds, as there are presently no roads to this territory.  But thanks to the hints of a clever Northern follower, we figured out how to book really economical air tickets for the end of November!  Needless to say, we will be documenting and sharing this adventure here on alexandluke.com.

As for poor Vermont, who kept getting voted over time and time again, his day will come.  Mark my words, we will get to Vermont, and it will be triumphant!  It will also be sooner than you might think.  And Hawaii, some might say the most coveted of all American destinations, will have to be patient for our arrival, as we have not cracked the case on that one yet.

Some interesting things have been happening behind the scenes at alexandluke.com, and some big, I mean BIG, announcements will come in the next few weeks that will reveal that all important question “What on earth will you two do when this is over?”

So fret not, our road trip is taking a turn towards home, but the journey continues.  Even though a week from now you might find me buried under a mountain of homemade cookie crumbs, know that underneath, I’ll be gearing up for the next adventure and that crazy notion of homesickness will be a distant memory!

Stay tuned!

– alex

Canada (and turkey) awaits

Posted on October 10th, 2010 in Editorial,Road Trip by alex

We couldn’t have planned it any better if we actually had control over this trip ourselves.  Tomorrow is Thanksgiving in Canada, and we will be arriving just in time to embrace the festivities.  We have already Google-mapped the nearest Swiss Chalet restaurant to the Canada/USA border and will be making a beeline to some “festive specials” as soon as we cross into our home country.  Our eagerness to get back is palpable, but we won’t soon forget what we leave behind us in The United States.

The United States – never have I felt that a name was more appropriate for a country than now, after driving through nearly each and every last one of them.  From the sticky sultry air of the Florida Keys where the blue green water laps warmly at you from every direction, to the crisp Alaskan sunshine of Glacier Bay, where to plunge into the same blue green water is surely much more of a jolt to your system, this country is so much more unbelievably varied than my imagination ever allowed me to comprehend and yet so united (for lack of a better word) at the same time.  And that’s just the landscape.  Every region has its own personality, and subcultures are invited to flourish (and do), and every eight hours of driving takes you deep into a whole new world (especially when you stay off the highways) and yet there is this common culture, this common landscape, this common goal that pops up again and again amongst all the variety.  The United States of America is truly an amazing place, of which I have much more to comment on, but will wait for another day.

Today I look forward to closing a chapter (Hawaii and Vermont didn’t make it into this one, but the story doesn’t end here) and embarking on a new, much more Canadian, chapter.  It might seem like our journey is almost done, but we have some pretty big obstacles ahead of us – maybe the most daunting yet.  Our first task is getting ourselves up to the far north – the Northwest Territories to be exact – and back again in one piece.  Then there’s always the issue of how on earth we will get to Nunavut.  Nunavut is Canada’s newest territory, and it is only accessible by plane (and its not cheap).  But with your guidance we have managed to get to some pretty unbelievable places already, so I know we will find a way to reach our final goal of visiting every state, province and territory and reporting back to you with all of our findings.

So without any further adieu, we are off for Canadaland.  We leave behind many new friends and a few forgotten personal items (including about 3 razors, 8 shampoo bottles, 2 cell phone chargers, and a necklace), and we take with us a boatload of memories, a few terabytes of video footage, a remote control from a hotel in Iowa (oops), and some Swedish Fish.  Its been a blast America – see you again soon!

Show Me Older Stuff »