Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Bolt by Bus for $1

Halloween can be scary, but it is also an opportunity to travel from Los Angeles to San Jose or Oakland CA for just $1. If you book a seat on Bolt Bus ( from Oct. 31 to Nov.3, the price on this new route for the line is only $1.

Bolt Bus, a subsidiary of Greyhound, offers service at sometimes ridiculously low prices on its routes, which at present cover just the heavily populated East and West Coasts of the U.S. There is one route into Canada, between Seattle and Vancouver. On the East Coast, Bolt Bus serves several large cities between Washington DC and Boston MA.

Safety concerns after some big bus accidents have apparently resulted in a crackdown on some of the low-cost bus lines operating in the Eastern corridor of the U.S.Therefore, it is good to know that there are still some operators who are giving consumers a big break on travel fares.

I have not yet travelled by Bolt Bus, but at these prices it is tempting.

Monday, October 28, 2013

YUL Deals

If you live anywhere in Canada, you are probably aware that airline passengers in Canada pay among the highest taxes in the world to fly. I recently booked a flight where taxes and fees accounted for exactly one-third of the total fare.

That is the reason many Canadians choose to fly from and into nearby airports in the United States, where travel taxes are a lot lower.Canadian airports lose a lot of travellers to airports in Buffalo NY, Burlington, VT and similar places close to the Canadian border.

 So any news on good airline deals from |Canada is welcome. The site highlights some current bargain flights from Montreal, mostly to Asia. For example, you can fly to either Beijing or Shanghai, China this fall and winter for just less than $850 return by booking with certain Websites. YUL deals tells you how to do the booking.

If you don't live in Montreal, there are similar sites for other Canadian for Toronto, for example.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Travelling Solo in the 1930s and 1940s

This is the 500th post on this blog. Thanks so much for reading. The blog has wandered a little since inception, with occasional posts on Jungian topics or the stock market. In the past year or two, however, I have tried to stick strictly to travel, perferably of the budget variety, and ot post at least three times a week..

 I thought you might be interested in an account my mother Mary Brady Piton (1906-1998) wrote about her travels as a single woman in the 1930s and 1940s. I grew up hearing these stories, and they certainly made me eager to see the world. I hope they have the same effect on you. Please forgive a few typos--the document is in a format which I cannot edit.


In 1935 I discovered the wonderful world of travel. I had been depressed and Kate suggested I take the same trip she had taken the year before: out of New Orleans on a United Fruit boat for 8 days to Cuba, both coming and going, and then two ports in Guatemala, Puerto Barrios and Tela, or maybe that is in Honduras. I had a wonderful time, met lots of nice people and even had a proposal of marriage from a Fruit Co. man who worked down there out in the jungle and was coming back for his leave. He showed me $6,000 cash but I didn’t like him; he looked like he could be mean. But it added excitement to the trips!

In 1936 money was scarce so I just took a 7-day lake cruise out of Detroit which only cost $75 or $85. We went up Lake Huron stopping at Midland, site of the massacre of the Jesuits in 1600. Again interesting people. We stopped at various places in Georgian Bay, including Mackinac Island which was charming. On the way back to Detroit we ran into a violent storm, so violent that the ship was tacking like a sailboat. It had a shallow draught to navigate the lakes and was somewhat topheavy. Everybody on the ship was seasick, but not me. Finally we had to turn around and head for Owen Sound, and wait there until a train could come up from Detroit to take us back.

I think my best trip was in 1937. Another Fruit Co. cruise 16 days out of New Orleans again, this time Cuba coming and going, down to Panama and back calling at several Caribbean ports. This was all on behalf of our load of bananas. There was a little sign on deck: “Bananas our guest; passengers a pest.” The boats had a capacity of 200-300 passengers, wonderful southern chefs - you could order during the day anything special you wanted for dinner. I met people on that trip that I kept in touch with for years afterward. One is Polly Anne May who lives in Cincinnati. We still write at Christmas. We always stopped in at Sloppy Joe’s in Havana; good rum drinks and a unique atmosphere.

In 1938 I went to California on a train excursion for 13 days, very cheap. We went through the Feather River Canyon on the Santa Fe RR and then a bus to Sacramento, where we boarded a river boat down to San Francisco. Jim was out there then. He had been working at Yosemite Park Inn and came down for the weekend. I hadn’t seen him since he went to California. Then we went on by bus to Los Angeles. There Jim had arranged with a woman he knew who was a voice coach for the studios to get us into M-G-M which was hard to do. We were to go in, this Irene Maloney from Chicago and I, as guests of Luise Rainer, the star who was making The Great Waltz, but it got fouled up and Luise had a tantrum because she didn’t know anything about it. The voice coach—I can’t think of her name—told her that we were very important people, that I was Secretary to the Governor of Chicago, and she being Austrian didn’t know the difference. Anyway, it all ended well and we had a lot of fun over it.

Then in 1939 Kate and I took our momentous trip on the Hamburg-American SS St. Louis in June. It was the first time German ships were taking cruises out of the United States, and this was the first one. The ship had just docked in New York the day before we left. It had earlier brought a boat load of Jewish immigrants from Germany first to Cuba, which had promised to take them and then wouldn’t; the United States would not take them., They were forced to return to Europe where England, France, Holland and Sweden I think, said they would take them. All the crew and the waiters especially were jittery. There was much breaking of dishes in the pantry. Later Fritz, our waiter from Munich with big beautiful green eyes, told us about the trips and they were dreadful. People killed themselves, including some of the crew.

The first morning out near Jamaica people said they saw submarines. We werent on deck that early. The crew pooh-poohed it and said they were whales. But there was a U-boat base in one of those Central American countries. In Jamaica the crew had to stay at the dock, the natives were so hostile.

Kate and I were invited to the captains cocktail party. We had gotten friendly with the Cruise department and they did the inviting. The Captain was no bigger than me but the first mate was formidableabout 6 foot 6 and with shaved head. Later, we were up on the top deck as we left Curaço to watch the sunsetwe had been invited. I was hanging over the rail as the channel was very narrow, and somebody tapped me on the shoulder. It was the Captain, and he said: May I look over the rail? I have never been in these waters before. So probably part of the purpose of the cruise was to check out that part of the Atlantic.

Later, after war broke out on August 31, the St. Louis was in Havana. It dumped all its passengers and made a forced run across the Atlantic to the North Sea and got home safely. Later, it became a troop ship and was sunk. The flag-ship of the fleet, I think the New York (they were all named for German-American cities) was in Brazil and sank itself rather than surrender. All so tragic!

In the summer of 1940 Kate was spending a few months in Mexico City and we decided to go down too. There was Grace Minot and a girl from Baton Rouge that I had met on the 1937 cruise and two young friends of hers, one half Mexican and the other her boss’s son and he lent us a car. That is a rugged drive and the first night out from Laredo on the Pan America n Highway another car ran us off the road. It was easy to fall asleep on the momentous road. Everything turned out all right after some scary hours and we had to carry a special permit because we had lost a fender. Some of us went on down to Acapulco by native bus and ate green-bone fish, I remember. Acapulco was just a tiny little village then with maybe 2 or 3 big hotels.

In June 1941 I took my last cruise anywhere. It was to Guatemala again on a United Fruit Co. ship I can think of the names of some of them but I can’t sort out which ones on which cruises. There were the Sixaola, Metapan—all alike but some bigger than others. On this trip were six recent graduates from California and Stanford University, who had been given the trips by their parents as a graduation gift. Very nice chaps, a couple sensational looking, and we had a lot of fun. At Puerto Barrios, Guatemala, we disembarked and took a train, narrow gauge, up to Guatemala City. There the United Fruit people were waiting for us with a big party, but we were so exhausted from the change in altitude, sea level to over 5,000 feet, that I think we all begged off; I know I did. The next day we set off for our week’s tour through the mountains. I was in a car with two Stanford boys - the rest had gone somewhere else - and a lovely couple and their 20-year old daughter, six altogether. Big limousine with a driver who was constantly urging us to hurry. It seems that he was clocked all through the trip, having to be at our various stops at specific times and report by phone to someone, probably the police.

Guatemala is a beautiful, strange place with volcanic mountains and villages where only one costume was worn, varying from place to place. We ended up at Chichicastenango, the most picturesque village of all. It was market day and that’s where I bought my two little turquoise owl pitchers for 100 apiece, plus as many textiles as I could afford. The Indians were not friendly, just passive. There was a haunting sense of mystery about the mountains, even threatening. The little white adobe church there had rows of burning candles down the center aisle and rose petals scattered about.

My last vacation before Phil came back was to Canada with Grace Minot of Chicago. By train to Toronto which seemed like a small town then, then a boat up the St. Lawrence to Quebec. But we got stuck on some shoals and had to finish the trip by train. We liked Montreal, so picturesque and such a lovely setting on the river. They had sightseeing cars painted gold with back seats higher than the front. We visited St. Joseph Cathedral high on a hill, and down the hill the tiny log cabin where Brother Andre was buried. He had died only a few years before after a life of many ‘miracles,’ and much revered. When I walked into the cabin I thought ‘this is a holy place.) I never thought that before or since.

We stopped at Tadoussac for 2 days, then took a boat up the Saguenay where we encountered many American clergy, who all wanted to know why I was traveling with a Baptist!"

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

American Gypsy

The gypsy or Roma culture is one that has fascinated me for a long time. Spread across Europe but concentrated in Eastern Europe, gypsies have been alternately despised, envied, and often mistreated. What they have done very successfully is retain their culture, which is believed to have originated in northern India, for many centures in exile.

The book"American Gypsy," a memoir by Oxsana Marafioti published last year, tells the story of one part-gypsy family that left the Soviet Union for Los Angeles in the late 1980s. The author was 15 at the time, and had to adjust to life in a big American high school which was as foreign to her as gypsy culture is to most of us. She grew up touring around the Soviet Union with her family of successful musicians. However, in the Soviet Union even money did not overcome prejudice, and her family decided to emigrate.

Their story is both funny and poignant, according to reviews. I have yet to read this book myself, but it is high on my list.

Another book that is peripherally concerned with gypsy culture in Russia is the wonderful memoir "Them," Francine du Plessix Gray's story of growing up with her eccentric mother and ambitious stepfather, Alex Lieberman. Gray's parents left Russia after the revolution and ended up in New York, where Lieberman became art director for Vogue magazine. Her mother, who had been one of the muses of the noted Soviet poet Mayakovsky, developed a successful business designing and selling hats.

 Lieberman was half-gypsy and, in Gray's view, began displaying more gypsy traits as he got older. For instance, after her mother's death, he immediately threw out all the mother's belongings and refused to speak about her. Gypsies believe life is for the living and do not encourage long periods of mourning..

I ahve encountered gypsies frequently in Europe, playing violins in the restaurants of Budapest or hustling for change in Zagreb. A few eyars ago I spoke to a woman at Helsinki airport, complimenting her on her beautiful costume. She said she was gypsy and seemed quite friendly.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Cruise Week Starts Now

The week of the year when a number of cruise lines offer special deals, lower prices or onboard credits and other goodies, begins today and ends Oct. 27. By booking a cruise this week, you can score a number of deals with certain lines.

For detailed information, check Many of the offers consist just of onboard credits in addition to usual promotions, but some are better than that. If you are attracted to the South Seas, Paul Gauguin Cruises out of Tahiti is slashing prices by 50 per cent on its Paul Gauguin and Tere Moara ships. For the Paul Gauguin itineraries, this savings can be combined with free air from Los Angeles.

The more rough and ready Hurigruten which serves the coast of Norway will reduce prices by five per cent for bookings made this week. If you prefer river cuuises, AMAS Waterways gives you an additional $200 on board credit per cabin, on top of current promotions.

These savings can be booked by travel agents, or directly with the cruise line. The cruiser Aurora below, permanantly docked in St. Petersburg, Russia, is not among the ships participating in cruise week.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Lodging Bargains in St. Petersburg, Moscow

This fall seems to be a good time to find reasonable rates in Russia's two main cities. During summer prices can be quite high, but it seems that cooler weather brings some deals.

In beautiful St. Petersburg, an apartment for one person is listed for as little as $61 a night on Trip Advisor ( The Acme Hotel on Nevsky Prospect also has rooms for as little as $60, while at the STN Apartments near the Moscow railway station flats cost $66 per night. Of course, the advantage of an apartment is that you can prepare your own meals and thus save money and having to get dressed for breakfast, one of my least favourite travel activities.

Moscow, which a few years ago was notorious for high hotel prices, also seems to have cut its rates. Even the elegant Metropol with its mosaic murals by Mikhail Vrubel, is now offering rooms for as little as $228 per night on average. The cost is still high, but a lot less than it used to be and than some newer luxury hotels still are. I love the Metropol for its Art Nouveau design and great location, but because of its price I have yet to stay there.

Budget offerings include a bed and breakfast called Petrovka Loft, where a  double room goes for $68. Petrovka should be a very safe neighbourhood, since it is the site of Moscow's main police headquarters. It's probably like the area where I stayed in 2005 in St. Petersburg, just a block and a half from the Big House of the KGB/FSB. I wondered why there were so few people on the street when I went out for walks.

Even less costly is the Napoleon Hostel in Kitai-Gorod, a central neighbourhood in Moscow. A bed in an eight-bed room you share with people of both genders goes for only $19 per night. I obtained these prices by checking the same October dates in either Trip Advisor or

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Cruise for a Week for $419

November is generally one of the duller months in terms of weather, but not in the Eastern Caribbean. It is a great time to get deals on Norwegian Caribbean :Line's ( voyages from Miami to St. Martin, St. Thomas and Nassau. St. Martin is an especially interesting island, since it is split between French and Dutch ownership, and is a jet set playground. NCL has seven night cruises in November starting at just $419 per person, for two people sharing an inside cabin.

If you prefer to sail out of New York, the line offers cruises to the Bahamas and Florida, returning to New York. The fare for a seven night cruise on two November dates and one December date starts at $549, again for an inside cabin.

Norwegian Caribbean has a policy on its ships called freestyle cruising, which avoids any of the stuffiness that some passengers find is associated with traditional cruises. Meal times are when you want, and you can eat with people of your own choice. This is popular with families and large groups, apparently. However, as someone who usually cruises alone, I prefer set meal times and table assignments, since it is an easy way to get to know fellow passengers.

To my fellow Canadians, happy Thanksgiving weekend. The weather is great here in Montreal, and I`m off to tennis this afternoon.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Inspirational Senior Travellers

If you are concerned about travelling and need some inspiration, check out the blog of two Canadians,, who are full-time travellers in their later years.

Having sold their condo and car in Vancouver and begun drawing on their retirement savings plans, they set out to see the world despite the fact that one of them, Don, had health problems. He discovered that travelling made him feel a lot better.

The couple have travelled mainly in Asia and the South Pacific, with forays into Europe and Latin America. They are now in Argentina. Moderate budget travel is their style--they stay in small hotels or apartments, or sometimes house sit, rather than staying at hostels. Still, they claim their costs average about $100 per day, a reasonable sum. I'm not sure whether this includes air fare.

They join Linda Brown, of the Website, in showing that it is quite possible to travel extensively in one's later years without breaking the bank.

I am indebted to Matt of for bringing Alison and Don to my attention. Matt has one of the most interesting travel blogs around.

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Cuba Cruises

Starting December 16, you will be able to take a cruise aorund the island of Cuba with multiple stops to see different parts of the country, as well as a stop in Montego Bay, Jamaica. Best of all, prices for the 7-night cruises start at $586 per person, based on double occupancy.

The Website is, and the cruises seem an interesting and easy way to see some of the highlights of this country that, at least for Americans, is little known becuase of U.S. State Department travel restrictions. It is possible to board and leave the cruise either in Havana or in Montego Bay. If you chose the latter, you would probably be able to comply with State Department policies.

While the price is right, the ccost of excursions can add up quickly. For instance, in Jamaica an excursion to Dunn's River Falls costs $114 while one to the beach at Negril costs just $49. Of course, it is also possible just tpo walk around Montego on your own at no cost, or to hire a taxi. Taxis can work out well in terms of price for groups.

In Cuba I am not sure of the availability of taxis at all the stops, but I suspect they would be there in abundance in Havana and Holguin, major tourist destinations. The other ports are Punta Frances, Cienfuegos and Trinidad, and Santiago de Cuba.

I have never been to Cuba, but in Jamaica I can vouch for the interest of both Dunn's River Falls, where you can climb up slippery rocks, and the lovely beach at Negril.

Monday, October 07, 2013

January Deals on New York Hotels

What could be a better cure for the post-holiday blues than an inexpensive trip to New York City? In 2014, if you travel between January 3 and 12, you can stay at a number of New York hotels for as little as $100 per night, plus tax.

Check out to book online. There are $100 rooms available in many different parts of the city--at the Affinia Manhattan in Midtown; at the Manhattan Hotel at Herald Square; at the Ramada New York Eastside; or The Hotel @ Times Square; or the GEM Hotel Soho, as well as the Wolcott Hotel.

Remember that even at these comparative bargain rates, tax will add quite a lot to your bill. However, you are unlikely to find better rates at these hotels any time soon.

I last visited New York in January and found it a good time to be there. The city was comparatively uncrowded, and while the weather was cold there was no snow. In fact, New York City rarely gets snow that stays on the bground very long, so you can visit in January with little worry about being stranded in your hotel room by a winter storm.

Friday, October 04, 2013

Retire to Thailand?

According to CNBC (,) many Westerners are choosing Thailand for early retirement.

The number of retirement visa applications from citizens of the UK, Germany and the USA reached 35,000 recently and is expected to climb to 45,000 soon. People choose Thailand for the climate, the lower cost of living and the amenities and activities.

One couple rent a three-bedroom villa with pool in a resort area and eat out a lot, and still their total monthly costs come to less than $2500, considerably less than they were spending in Britain for a smaller place and eating out rarely.

There are downsides. Medical insurance becomes expensive once the retirees reach their 70s. and so do medical costs. Still, at least in the early years of retirement, this sounds like a good deal.

I haven't visited Thailand myself. The place in Asia that appeals to me for retirement is Siberia or the Russian Far East, but then I have yet to endure a Siberian winter. Mongolia is also of interest, but I understand it is very windy and that would be difficult for someone like me who wears contact lenses.

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Help Preserve the Planet

If you are concerned about the fate of our planet (and who isn't?) you may want to devote some time to helping scientists around the world who are working on various conservation, wildlife and biodeversity projects. Easrthwatch ( is the place to find many projects that can use your skills in various ways.

These projects are not cheap, but they can be a way to contribute to the world's welfare. In addition, if you are considering a career change, they are a good chance to try out various types of fieldword.

For example, you can travel on a reconditioned old-fashioned Amazon riverboat to regions where you will assist with research designed to protect pink dolphins, giant river otter and some other unique and threatened species. The excursions last 8 days or more, with a minimum contribution of $2575 per person.

Or if the steppes of Mongolia are your preference, consider an expedition where you work organizing and classifying various archeological discoveries in this remote area. This project lasts at least 14 days, with a minimum requirted contribution of $3475. For 2014 Earthwatch has announced nine new trips, including one that tracks predators and prey in Kenya.

Before you book one of these trips, check carefully on living conditions since some are pretty rugged.