Sunday, August 30, 2009

Travel Tips: Dealing With Jet Lag

We all hate jet lag, but rather than write a post complaining about it (really, Sacramento to Rome in 14 hours is not worth complaining about), I will share what has (and hasn't) worked for me.

I'll get the one you'll hate me for out of the way first. The single best experience I've had on an airline was when I got bumped to first class for a flight from Toronto to Rome on a brand-new Air Canada plane and slept like a baby for the entire flight, except when I was tossing back complimentary beers. You can read about that here.

The London Eye Ferris wheel seen from a hop-on/hop-off bus
my first time in Europe, when I was trying to deal with jet lag.

Suffice to say that when I got to Rome around midmorning, I was ready to go and almost completely unaffected by jet lag.

Another time I did fairly well with jet lag was when I flew to India, leaving Sacramento at five or six in the morning and arriving in Mumbai (Bombay) about 10 or 11 p.m. (local time, which was about 13 hours' difference). I did not sleep on the flight over, but I was out when I laid down in my hotel room, and I woke up at about 8 a.m. the next day. My sleep schedule was a little messed up for the next three days, as I kept waking up before dawn, but it wasn't so bad.

The best way to deal with jet lag is to stay awake until it is time to sleep wherever you are. On my first trip to Europe, I didn't think that would be too difficult.

Flying to London from the states, the sun never set, though night passed (the fun of flying so far north in summer).

I arrived in London, stood in a long and excruciatingly slow customs line at Heathrow, then dropped my bags at my hotel. I honestly can't remember what I did that first day, other than wander around a bit and try to keep from imitating their accents.

One thing I do know was that I took one of the open-top, hop-on/hop-off bus tours (which I highly recommend, by the way). The photo at the top of this post was taken from that bus, but it was pushing 6 p.m. in London and I had been awake for about 28 hours without really having slept more than a few hours the previous night.

I remember trying to stay awake as the bus lolled along in traffic, and the next thing I knew, I was swearing at the completely unexpected pain in my forehead. Apparently, I had nodded off and let my face fall forward to smack the metal rail on the seat in front of me.

Jet lag affects everyone differently, and the rule of thumb is that for every hour you miss, it will take you one day to adjust. Therefore, on a trip from California to Europe, expect a nine-day adjustment time. I have found that I usually adjust in about four or five days, as long as I stay awake as long as possible when I arrive.

If you can sleep on the plane, do it. I'm somewhat unfortunate in that I can't ever seem to sleep on planes, except the time I flew first class.

Do not get to your hotel at one in the afternoon and settle in for "just a little nap." It ends up throwing you completely for a loop.

On my last trip to Europe, I took advantage of the fact that I was waking up at 5 a.m. in Pragua and not being able to sleep. I went out and explored the city at an hour I am almost never awake for. You can read about that here.

Regardless of how much you are or aren't affected by jet lag, the trip is always worth it. The only real ways to deal with it are to do everything possible to force yourself onto the local sleep schedule and to just give it time.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Photo of the Week - Castle Guard in Prague

This photo was taken at the Castle Quarter in Prague. I'm actually curious how close I would have had to get before I either got a reaction out of this guy or was kindly escorted away by his comrades (or colleagues, since we're talking post-communist era here).

Though my ushanka with its Soviet emblem clearly labeled me as a tourist, I couldn't resist buying it. The shopkeeper swore that the emblem wouldn't offend anyone, but I removed it shortly after this photo was taken and only replaced it when I got back to the States.

Incidentally, about a third of Prague's population sports similar fur hats in the winter, and my touristy trinket actually helped me fit in - until I opened my mouth and butchered the language.

The two vents in the photo (one under the guard's feet and the other just behind it in the shack) are heaters to keep the guys warm.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Snorkeling in Hawaii

The best thing Hawaii has to offer is its natural beauty. The nightlife and posh resorts are nice, but that experience can be had just about anywhere.

No trip is really complete without getting an up-close view of the myriad tropical fish.

There are, literally, hundreds of places to snorkel on the islands, but one of the easiest to reach for most visitors in Hanauma Bay, on Oahu's eastern shore about 10 miles from Waikiki.
The best advice I can give for a trip to Hanauma Bay is to get there early. The nature preserve is invariably crowded during its open hours, and the more people out kicking through the water, the more sand gets stirred up, obscuring your view.

After paying $1 to park and $7.50 per person to enter, there is a mandatory video before visitors can descend to the beach, either on foot or by tram.

I've been to Hanauma Bay several times, and despite snorkeling opportunities elsewhere, it is still worth the cost.

I brought my own snorkeling gear, but there are numerous places to rent it in Waikiki, as well as at the bay itself. The benefit to renting in Waikiki is that you can take it to other parts of the island once you're done with Hanauma Bay.

On my last trip, I swam along the surface as I snorkeled - something it takes some people a while to get used to, as breathing underwater just isn't natural.

With the narrow inlet to the bay, there is really no danger of being swept out to sea as long as you stay close to shore, and the water is shallow enough to stand up in if you get tired.

The fish you'll see the most of are schools of unimpressive silver fish, but they are exciting at first.

After about 10 minutes in the water, I spotted several angelfish, with their tall, narrow bodies slicing through the water as they scurried for cover. I also notices several rainbow-spotted fish, a number of skinny trumpetfish that resemble eels and dozens of other sea creatures.

After about two hours at the beach, the cars and buses brought more and more people, and I decided to head out to another part of the island and get on with the trip.

For more information about Hanauma Bay, visit the official site here.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Photo of the Week: The Bay Bridge

This is the Bay Bridge, heading to Oakland from San Francisco. During the 1989 earthquake, a portion of the top level - Oakland to San Francisco - famously smashed down onto the lower level.

Thursday, August 6, 2009


Many travelers following Germany's Romantic Road would love to find a town that is the non-touristy equivalent of the picturesque Rothenburg ob der Tauber.

Unfortunately, such a town does not exist, as Rothenburg's preservation as a medieval city was only made possible through its fall in the Thirty Years' War (1618-1648) and the ensuing poverty that lasted until the 20th century.

One town, however, comes close - Dinkelsbuhl.

Dinkelsbuhl sits along the Romantic Road less than an hour away from Rothenburg by car.

With many of Rothenburg's charms - a medieval wall, a Gothic cathedral, cobblestone streets and excellent local eateries - Dinkeslbuhl is less crowded and feels more like Germany and less like Disneyland, but it lacks the historic significance of Rothenburg and the myriad restaurants.

I visited Dinkelsbuhl in 2006, and I found it to be worth a stop on the way to Munich if you have time. It seems like much of the wall has been taken out, but substantial portions still stand. You can't walk its length like you can in Rothenburg, but after Rothenburg, you should have your fill of walking around the walls.

There are a few shopping streets in Dinkelsbuhl, and you can find the sorts of shops the locals typically frequent. Rather than Rothenburg's tourist traps - where sellers hawk spoons, beer steins, fake medieval weaponry and Christmas decorations - Dinkeslbuhl's shops include clothing stores, soccer shops and grocery stores.

What Dinkelsbuhl has that Rothenburg lacks is a lake full of swans and a nesting spot for the birds atop one of its buildings. (There's a chance the nest is for a stork, but swans are on the lake).

When I visited Dinkelsbuhl, I wandered around the town's uncrowded streets, visited the cathedral and had an excellent serving of apple strudel with ice cream at a small restaurant near the cathedral recommended by one of the helpful locals.

One of the trips I want to take in the future is a bicycle trip along the best sections of the Romantic Road, with more time to explore each individual town and the surrounding rolling green hills.