Where to find the old Google Flights site

I found the nearly hidden button that takes you to the classic/old Google Flights site! See the image below to see where the button is.

I love Google Flights. I use it to search for all of my travels. Recently, Google has been rolling out a new version of it, which I don’t prefer (for various reasons). Up until today, you still got the classic version when you visited the site (with a suggestion to try the new version).

But today, it appears they have rolled over into the new version. I tried it out for size, and honestly, I still like the simplicity of the old version. The new version seems too busy with images. I also couldn’t add nearby airports to the departure airport as quickly and easily as the old version.

Then I worried that they had totally abandoned the old version. But they didn’t! I found the tiny little secret way to get back to what they call the “classic” version. Just click on the small running person in the bottom left-hand corner of the screen. You’re welcome.

Sunrise at Masada

IMG_0847.JPG
Masada was the final Jewish stronghold when the Romans took Jerusalem and the surrounding areas in the early to mid 70’s AD. It is small rocky plateau in the desert just west of the Dead Sea. Herod built a grand palace atop Masada in the 1st Century and ruins of his palace still remain.

Today you can climb (or ride) to the top of Masada and the best views are in the morning, when the sun is rising over the Abarim Mountains of Jordan (in which is Mt. Nebo, where God showed Moses the reaches of the Promised Land).

IMG_1624.JPG

Alone with Michelangelo

IMG_2750 IMG_1990There is a lesser known Pieta sculpture by Michelangelo in the Duomo’s Museo in Florence, Italy (also known as The Deposition or The Florentine Pieta). His famous one is the Pieta with Mary and Jesus on display in St. Peter’s Basilica in The Vatican City.

The one in Florence depicts Nicodemus (whose face is a self-portrait of Michelangelo), Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of Jesus, and Jesus. Jesus falls limp towards the ground as Nicodemus and the Marys hold his corpse from falling completely. It is a masterpiece that only Michelangelo can make.

When Sarah and I went to Italy last month, we were there at the lowest tourist season all year – mid-January. Who wants to go anywhere in mid-January?…We do! Because there are no crowds (the hotels are cheaper too).

The crowds were so low that we had this entire Michelangelo masterpiece to ourselves. Instead of large tour groups cramming the space around the sculpture, we had the freedom to walk around it, gaze upon it, ponder it, and appreciate the moment without feeling rushed.

Jerusalem IMAX Review

Jerusalem_205x305Yesterday, I saw the IMAX film Jerusalem at the Fernbank Museum in Atlanta. Put out by National Geographic Entertainment, it shows both the bloody history as well as the beautiful peoples and cultures who live there today.

I spent a semester living in the Old City of Jerusalem when I was in college for a study abroad program. I also got to re-visit Israel with my family last May for a few weeks. So this was a film that I was greatly anticipating ever since I heard it was coming out.

The film is a mere 42 minutes long, but it is fully packed with stunning fly-over shots, three-dimensionally moving panoramas, and everyday-life Old City action that really does make you feel like you’re shopping for fresh pita bread just inside of Damascus Gate. The soundtrack is driven by a recurring orchestral riff akin to tracks found in epic action movies (think Daft Punk’s Tron soundtrack).  The only sense it was missing was smell (think a mixture of Old City garbage, ferrel cats, incense, and baklava), but I guess IMAX technology hasn’t reached that level of development yet.

I have to admit, there were a few moments when I wanted to shout out loud “Oh Yeah!” when I saw these beautiful arial views of Jerusalem from various angles. But I kept my thoughts to myself out of respect for the other movie patrons. My eyes raced around the wraparound screen to find the spots where I lived, studied, and visited multiple times. It was a real thrill, and I will come back to see it again (and bring others with me).

It opens with a brief overview of the history of Jerusalem (starting with a nice 19th Century David Roberts painting of the city). The narrator explains why the city has been the centerfold of history, religion, and humanity – brutally fought over more so than any other piece of real estate on the planet. The reasons, of course, include being positioned at the crossroads of the world’s major continents, the elevated bedrock which served as a high holy place for worshippers, and the water coming from the Gihon Spring.

Then we learn about the three major monotheistic religions that call Jerusalem home: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam (in that chronological order). Each is given equal attention and the unique culture of each is shown in a positive light. Three young women, each one raised in their respective faith community in Jerusalem, tell the story of their faith from their perspective. The film then displays how these women’s lives (and also their entire communities) live so close yet connect so little. The movie closes with the three ladies, well, I won’t spoil it for you. You have to go see it yourself!

I love Jerusalem the city. The main reason is because it holds so much meaning in the story of my faith as a Christian. But I also love it for the architecture, archaeology, the various people groups, the cultures, the politics, the inescapable intense global issues, and the gorgeous scenery (might I say heavenly?).

Where is the Google Flights Calendar Chart Graph?

I love using Google Flights. In my opinion, its the best flight search engine out there. One of my favorite features is the calendar chart that shows the lowest fares by departure date for any given set of itineraries (both cites and length of trip).

The problem is that I cannot find the button for that feature anywhere on Google Flights right now. Does anyone know what happened to it? Am I missing something?

Venice’s Bridge of Sighs

The Bridge of Sighs, Venice, Italy
The Bridge of Sighs, Venice, Italy

There is a famous bridge in Venice called The Bridge of Sighs. Sarah and I got our picture taken in front of it and then later on learned about the significance of the bridge. The bridge linked the palace of Venice’s ruler (Doge’s Palace) to the city prison. Convicted prisoners were allowed one last peek at Venice out the window of the bridge before venturing into the dark, windowless prison. Thus, they would “sigh….” at their final glance of such a beautiful city and water scape.

The views are indeed tremendous in Venice. We got to go in January, when the weather was in the 40s and 50s and somewhat misty. It actually made for a very romantic (and crowd-free) Venice experience.

The view from the Bridge of Sighs (towards San Giorgio Maggiore)
The view from the Bridge of Sighs (towards San Giorgio Maggiore)

 

Unleashing Your Creative Potential

The interior of the dome of the Pantheon in Rome. Built without modern technology in A.D. 120.
The interior of the dome of the Pantheon in Rome. Built without modern technology in A.D. 120.

Sarah and I recently got to visit Italy – home to some of the world’s greatest art, architecture, and historical sites. It is a very moving experience to stand in front of Rome’ Pantheon or Michaelangelo’s David statue in Florence and reflect on the human ability to create beautiful art.

You could make the case that some people are more gifted at certain skills and talents than others, but we are all still incredibly creative – more so than we give ourselves credit for. I believe God has imparted His image (which includes creativity) upon all humans. We all have a divine creativity deep down inside of us, and unfortunately, many people go through life not tapping what is already there.

I used to think that I was not “the creative type.” Then I realized that that was just a cop-out. Check out what some of the Bible’s first words say:

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1)
“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:27)

That means we are stamped with the image of the one who created the universe out of nothing. Let that sink in for a moment.

When I am juggling or playing the piano (my favorite ways to express creativity), I feel like I am transported to another world. I think that is God’s way of showing us that He has made us all creative in unique ways and we can celebrate His greatness by doing those creative things. He fills our hearts with joy when we create the way He creates.

I recently presented a workshop on this topic. I don’t have all the answers, but I do feel there are some steps we can take that will help us grow in our God-given creativity. Here they are:

1. Realize that you are inherently creative.

2. Explore new things and ideas all the time (even things that seem risky or uncomfortable).

3. Face the fears associated with trying new and creative things.

Whenever I ask for volunteers at my shows, you know who wants to volunteer? Kids. The adults just sit there and stare in any direction except me when I ask for volunteers. The older we get, the more averse we are to trying new or different things. Kids want to try new things all the time. Jesus taught us to have faith like children (Mark 10:15). That’s the only way we can enter the Kingdom of God!

Growing in creativity means returning to a childlike view of the world around us – always exploring, trying, and discovering.

“Everyone is born creative; everyone is given a box of crayons in kindergarten. Then when you hit puberty they take the crayons away and replace them with dry, uninspiring books on algebra, history, etc. Being suddenly hit years later with the ‘creative bug’ is just a wee voice telling you, ‘I’d like my crayons back, please.”

-Hugh MacLeod

Here is a link to my notes for the workshop if you’re interested. Feel free to use these as long as you give credit as to where you got them 🙂

https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B1num3oEhjmTdFJHT0lKcW5tSXM/edit?usp=sharing

Visiting Israel with a Toddler

My wife and I celebrated our 10 years of marriage this past May by visiting Israel and the West Bank. It was a two and a half week trip and we have a daughter who is two. We decided that we did not want to be away from her for that long of a trip, so we brought her along.

We’re so glad we did, because visiting Israel with a toddler is an adventure that is memorable and well worth it. There are some unique challenges, but we would do it all over again in a heartbeat.

First of all, this was a self-made trip/tour. We did not go with a large tour group. We bought our tickets from IAD to TLV, stayed the first week in Jerusalem and the rest of the trip driving around the country in a rental car.

IMG_1526
On the roof of our first accommodation for the trip: the Ecce Homo Convent and Guest House in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem.
IMG_0133
A lion statue in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City.
IMG_0323
Dressing up at The Citadel (David’s Tower) next to Jaffa Gate in the Old City of Jerusalem.
IMG_0787_2
At the beach in Haifa.
IMG_0939
Reading Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount overlooking the Sea of Galilee.

So here are some tips/things we learned about traveling half-way across the world with a toddler (some of these are specific to Israel sites and others are general travel-with-a-toddler things):

1. In-flight movies are your best friend on long-haul flights. We try not to let our toddler watch too much media (we don’t even own a television). But those little monitors on the transatlantic flights are a dream. Our daughter watched Lady and the Tramp three times in a row.

The flight attendants also gave her a little bag of toys and crayons. Of course, we also brought toys and books, but the movies were the real winner. It kept us sane and prevented an already uncomfortable situation from turning chaotic.

IMG_1112
ahh, an entertained child
IMG_1113
“I really think the rice and chicken pairs well with the apple juice, would you agree?”

2. Bring a stroller AND an ergo carrier/sling/wrap. That’s what we did – and it worked. We also have a frame hiker backpack, but that is a little bulky, so we left that at home in the States. The Ergo carrier did the same trick (our daughter is on the lighter weight of her age) and was a lot easier to travel with. That way, when we went out for the day on foot (often in Jerusalem), we had the choice of using the carrier when the terrain was bumpy (as it is in the Old City and around the valleys) and the stroller when we walked around the New City. We just planned out our days so that we left the stroller in our room when we knew we were going to do mostly Old City and archaeological sites for the day.

IMG_0706
At Dulles airport before checking in for a long trip!
IMG_1532
Bethlehem.
IMG_1460
“Can I take a nap yet?”
IMG_0474
“Please don’t fall, Daddy.”

3. The financial cost of bringing along a toddler is next to nothing (after paying for the plane ticket, of course). She was over two, so we paid for her plane ticket. But after that, she cost us about zero dollars or shekels. She was free at all museums, tourist sites, public transport, and even most restaurants (because the food comes out Mediterranean style – lots of generous plates for the table to share). She was also no extra charge at all of our lodging situations (which were convents, guest houses, and a bed and breakfast).

IMG_0859
Caesarea.

 

IMG_0579
Standing guard at Nimrod’s Fortress in the Golan Heights.

4. Speaking of lodging, we stayed at five different places over the course of the trip (Ecce Homo Convent in Jerusalem, The Bridgittine Sisters in East Jerusalem, The Masada Guest House at Masada, The Quiet Place B&B in Tiberias, and Stella Maris in Haifa). All five had something comfortable for our daughter, whether a folding crib or a spare mattress that we could lay on the floor – all for no extra cost. We simply checked ahead of time and made sure they had the crib or mattress available.

IMG_1589
On the front lawn of the Bridgittine Sisters Monastery on the Mount of Olives overlooking the Old City of Jerusalem.

5. In terms of safety and security, we had no problems. Like any large city around the world, you need to keep an aware head on your shoulders after dark, but we weren’t out after dark with our daughter much anyway. We felt extremely safe the entire time we were in Israel AND the West Bank. The vast majority of people on both sides of that 1967-border are very friendly and look out for guests and visitors. It helps if you smile and don’t look scared all the time. Israel has some of the best defense and security systems in the world. And though you wouldn’t think it, Israel’s murder rate is LESS THAN HALF that of the USA.

IMG_0949
“Mommy and Daddy want to see archaeological remains at Tel Dan, but I just want to play in this huge tree!”

6. Our daughter also scored lots of bonus trinkets from friendly shopkeepers or restauranteurs. Locals loved meeting her and interacting with her (more so than in the USA). That made us feel very welcome and comfortable in the country.

IMG_0994
A yarn doll from “Mary” at the Nazareth Village.

7. One of the most meaningful aspects of bringing her along was watching her take in the entire experience. I don’t think this will escape her memory as she grows older. We have pictures and videos, and she even talks about things she did in Israel (3 months later). Some friends of ours gave us some kids books about Israel as a welcome home gift. She loves reading those and recalling her trips to Masada, The Dead Sea, The Sea of Galilee, Haifa, and Jerusalem.

IMG_1640
On the Sea of Galilee.
IMG_0744_2
The gardens at the Ba’hai Temple in Haifa.
IMG_1456
The Israel Museum.

8. We did go through Hezekiah’s tunnel with her (in the Ergo carrier). It was a little nerve-racking at first (the water came up to my waist at one point and the walls of the tunnel are VERY narrow – not to mention pitch darkness). But we finally got her a working flashlight and that calmed everyone down. We used the flashlights on our phones since we didn’t bring our own battery flashlights. It was an adventure, but if I did it again, I’d probably pass on the toddler-on-your-belly-through-Hezekiah’s-tunnel thing.

IMG_0248
Hezekiah’s tunnel with a toddler.

9. We also hiked the snake path to the top of Masasda at 4:30 in the morning with our daughter on my back in the Ergo. That was a wonderful experience – especially when I was passing other hikers and they made comments to me like, “show off….” What I do regret is taking the snake path back down after 2 hours on top of Masada. We should have just splurged and rode the cable car down. Either way, there is a huge complimentary brunch waiting for you at the Masada Guest House if you stayed there the night before.

IMG_0848
“I got up at 4:30am for that.”
IMG_1623
Masada at sunrise was well worth it.

10. Naps. So we were bad parents and didn’t always lay her down for a nap every afternoon. Hey, we were on the other side of the world and wanted to make the most of our time. Of course we were attune to her needs and made sure she was happy and healthy. But on our last full day in Haifa (towards the end of the trip), we laid her down for a nap in the convent around 2pm. We thought we could have a nice family outing that night after her nap. But that didn’t happen. Our daughter didn’t wake up until 8am the next day! That was her way of saying, “If you’re not going to give me a full daily nap on this trip, I’m just going to make up for it by sleeping for 18 straight hours!” She was bushed – and so were we. We just chilled in the room that evening and rested up before heading to a big day in Caesarea the next day.

11. Car seat. We rented from Eldan Car Rental, which was a great choice in my opinion (except returning the car to the Eldan lot at TLV was a little confusing due to some detour signage). We were able to add a car seat to the rental for some $30 extra, which was well worth not lugging a car seat with us halfway around the world.

IMG_0831
The car seat was only about $30 extra on the whole week of a car rental.

12. Sun and Water. We brought plenty of water and water bottles with us everywhere. One of the shopkeepers in Jerusalem told us that a trick some people use with toddlers who don’t drink enough water is to mix in some juice or powder drink mixes. We indeed tried that and I think it helped her stay hydrated! As for the sun, we made sure she had sunblock and a head covering or a wrap for her body or the stroller when the sun was too much.

IMG_0801
The wrap helped in the heat at Herodian.
IMG_0832
Our tour guide at Qumran.

I hope this helps anyone out there considering taking a toddler to Israel. I say “do it!” We made lots of fun family memories and it was well worth every penny and every pound of weight on my back.

IMG_0851_2
One happy camper.
IMG_1495
One of my favorite pics from the trip. Looking at candles together in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

The Top 10 Travel Search Websites

IMG_0296_3I travel a lot for my work and for recreation with my family.  I love the thrill of searching for and finding great travel deals – whether it be a flight, hotel stay, car rental, cruise, or some other fun getaway.

Here at my 10 favorite sites for searching for and finding the best deals on travel:

  1. Google Flights

    This is my newest web fascination.  Google has done it again: found a user-friendly way to organize information that will blow your mind.  Just put in your airports and your dates and it will find the best deal before you can blink.  Then try clicking on the graph-looking button on the right and prepare to be amazed.  You can put in the number of days you want your trip to be and Google will graph out any set of dates with that range and graph out the prices depending on what day you leave.

  2. Kayak.com

    I have always been a big fan of Kayak, despite the recent competition with Google’s Flight search.  My favorite feature on Kayak is the “explore” option (www.kayak.com/explore) where you simply put in your start city and your months available for travel and then it shows you a map of the world with pins to different cities around the world indicating how much it costs to fly there.  You can see all your options at once!  This is great for fun getaways where you know you want to get away but it doesn’t matter where.  You’ll be surprised at the deals you’ll find to continents you once thought untouchable.

  3. Priceline.com

    There are ups and downs to Priceline.  The old saying is true, “you get what you pay for.”  Yes, you can get some real steals on travel (particularly on hotels).  I’ve gotten upwards of 60% off room rates (as they claim).  But there is a downside: you don’t know exactly what you’re getting.  Now, you can set parameters like the part of town or the quality of hotel, which is great.  And none of the hotels are going to be roach dumps.  But you are still taking a risk by not knowing everything about the hotel up front.  Furthermore, by being a Priceline customer, you are often unfortunately placed at the bottom of the pecking order for room preferences.  You might get the rooms by the noisiest parts of the hotel or the handicapped accessible rooms, which don’t have tubs.  You can also forget about collecting any travel rewards on your frequent traveler programs, because they won’t honor bookings made on discount travel sites.  If you want top notch customer attention, room preference, and travel rewards, book directly with the hotel.  If you don’t care and want a killer deal on a hotel, go with Priceline.

  4. Hotwire.com

    Hotwire has long been an alternative to Priceline (and Expedia and Travelocity for that matter).  The nice thing about Hotwire is that you can get great deals on hotels.  But like Priceline, you don’t know exactly what you’re getting.  The difference between Priceline and Hotwire is that you don’t bid on Hotwire.  You see a discounted price up front, but not the hotel name.  You just know the quality level and the neighborhood of the hotel.  If you do some good research on other sites, like google and tripadvisor, you can sleuth your way around and come up with a 99% guess on the exact hotel Hotwire is talking about (especially in smaller cities/towns with fewer hotel options).  So if you want a good deal without the stress of bidding, go for Hotwire.  If you want to spend a little more time and energy taking chances, you might save a little more by going with Priceline.

  5. Google Hotel Finder

    And Google does it again with the hotels.  I know this sounds cliche, but “all the other sites” don’t match up.  Google is in the business of collecting information and organizing it for productive use.  You put in the city and dates and they give you an instant map with prices and search organizing features.

  6. RetailMeNot.com

    While it sounds like it might be just for shoes and clothes, this site has everything in the world of discount codes and coupon codes.  It is a user-generated and user-reviewed site that organizes all the retail discount codes out there.  Often you need to sign up on a emailing list with a company to hear about their online deals.  But let others do that work for you and visit this site.  I just rented a car in Dallas and found what I think was the best deal I could have found on this site.  Just type in “car rentals” and it will show you all the current deals going on in various car rental companies.  They give you the discount code (for free, with no sign up required) and then you take that code, visit the retailers web site, put it in, and watch your online price go down.

  7. CruiseCritic.com

    If you’re into cruising or want to be into cruising, this is the site.  You can search for cruises and read tons (and I mean TONS) of user reviews on all the cruise lines and cruise ships in the world.  You can also visit your upcoming cruise’s “roll call” to meet other passengers that will be on your ship with you.  Take some time and explore all their features.  If you spend too long, you’ll be signing up for your next cruise.

  8. VRBO.com

    This acronym stands for Vacation Rentals By Owner.  This site is great if you’re into homey alternatives to the traditional hotel stay.  Not only can you save money, but you can find some very unique housing situations that you can’t find anywhere else.  The title says it all.  These are owners of homes, cottages, apartments, and cabins who rent out their units by the day or week.  Some have lots of amenities while others are more rustic, depending on what you’re looking for.  You can read user reviews so you know what you’re getting into.

  9. BedAndBreakfast.com

    This is THE bed and breakfast website.  My wife and I like to hit up a bed and breakfast at least once or twice a year.  The bed and breakfast scene is full of extremely friendly and hospitable people (that’s why they do it!) who make really good food.  It’s well worth the dive.  This site lets you search for and read reviews about B&B’s all over the world.

  10. TripAdvisor.com

    Whenever I’m in a new place and want to know the best restaurants, I go to TripAdvisor.  You can search for the most popular things to do, places to stay, and spots to eat in a particular city.  Like most other sites, this is user-review driven.  Lots of people use it, so that makes it more accurate than if otherwise fewer people used it.

What are your favorite travel websites?

Remarkable Things About AirTran

I fly a lot. I most often fly Delta. But I also end up taking US Air, United, and American Airlines (the major carriers). I have also flown on some of the smaller carriers, such as Jet Blue and Southwest. There is another one called AirTran that I flew for the first time this past weekend.

The big airlines, for the most part, have little to no unique features from one to another. They all pretty much get you and your luggage (most of the time) safely to your destination, with a little drink and snack for refreshment.

The small airlines have come up with some unique characteristics that set them apart from the big airlines. That’s probably one of the ways they try to remain competitive with the larger carriers.

Southwest is known for the “free-for-all” seat acquisitions (you have a number for your spot in line and then you just get on the plane and find your favorite seat) and their free baggage (which is huge).

Jet Blue has TV’s, cool snacks, and real laid back flight attendants.

Here is what AirTran has (based on my experience this weekend):

1. XM Radio (dozens of channels) in every seat (BYO headphones)
2. Free Wi-Fi on every flight (BYO laptop or smart phone)
3. Free coffee in the gate area before you board
4. A designated attendant greeting you as you get off your plane to tell you the gate of your connecting flight (I actually really appreciated this feature).
5. Upgrade to Business Class for only $49 extra. While I did not take advantage of this, that’s a pretty good deal.

What are some features that you appreciate or do not appreciate about certain airlines?