Notre Dame is Burning: An Iconic Landmark Devastated

When I was a teenager, I read many books which featured Notre Dame Cathedral and it was always my dream to go visit this iconic landmark.  Fortunately, my travels have taken me to Paris twice. Today, when I looked at my news feed at lunch, I was shocked to see the news that Notre Dame is Burning. This is one of those devastating events that I will always remember where I was and what I was doing when I heard the news.

When I first saw the item at the top of the ticker is simply said “fire at Notre Dame, more to follow.” I figured maybe a small fire had started near the church but would be quickly put out. But a short time later the pictures started to come out showing billowing flames coming from the roof. I literally gasped. I just know this church that I love is not going to ever be the same.  At this point I hope they can save it, but later in the day additional news comes out from French Officials that the Cathedral cannot be saved.

UPDATE: After this post was published, it turns out that roof collapsed, all the wood inside the church burned, and the spire collapsed; but the main structure was saved and there are plans to rebuild. Additionally, while a few first responders were inured, overall it was a blessing more people are not hurt. My thoughts to the families of the first responders.

A landmark that has stood for over 700 years is reduced to ash and rubble. The first time I visited Notre Dame, it was a brisk November morning. It is my first time in Paris and I am visiting as part of a tour group. The bus drops us off near Point au Change and I walk across the bridge, finally I get to see this historic building that I have read about so many times. The sun is just coming up over the spires, there are not a lot of people in on the small island, Ill de la Cite, on the Seine River. There is a feeling of timelessness as the sun rises over the square.

Finally, the church opens and the group gets to go inside. TV and movies do not prepare you for the beauty of the church. It is smaller inside than I imagined. But on the other hand, the stained-glass windows with the early sunlight steaming in creates such a stunning, beautiful, dispersion of light. Looking at the architecture of the building is amazing; to think that hundreds of years ago this great building was crafted by talented people who did not have access to modern technology. You look up at the soaring ceilings and realize how amazing this work really is. The tour only gets to stay for 45 min and we are on to the next location. But overall, this is a wonderful experience for my first visit to Notre Dame.

The second time I was lucky enough to visit Notre Dame, it is August, the end of Summer. This time I am visiting the city for one week with my friend Jenn. We both wanted to visit the city but did not want to go alone, a girl’s weeks was a great idea. Jenn had never been to the Cathedral so we go the first afternoon in Paris. The sun was out, the island was full of people, the church has a lot of visitors, but it is still a wonderful experience. Despite the noise outside, it is quiet inside; people speak in hushed voices as they admire the beauty and artistry.

Because it is summer, the towers are open. For an additional charge, a visitor can join a group and climb to the top, see the bell tower, and get a wonderful view of the city. I love to climb things, people who travel with me will tell you it is an exhausting habit. But Jenn is game and we wait the 30 minutes for our turn to climb the tower.

The entry is in the left tower. About half way up there is a gift shop, where the guide invites the group to stop, shop a little and rest. There are many stairs on the circular staircase, so it is nice to take this break on the way up. I have to admit I did get a little dizzy on the way up. Oh, but the climb was worth it for the panoramic view from the top.  The bell tower is nothing like described in the book Hunchback of Notre Dame, and nothing like portrayed in movies.  It is actually tiny and a bit difficult to get to with the trusses up on the roof. Still, I had to go up the extra stairs so I could say I have climbed all the way to the bell tower. The guide lets the group wander for a few minutes on the path set out. From this vantage one can get some unique pictures of Paris. Sadly, my pictures, like the Cathedral are lost. After the time is up, the guide takes the group down the right tower and we are back on the ground. Thus, ends my wonderful second visit.

My heart breaks for the people of Paris, to watch this beloved landmark burn must feel like losing a piece of yourself. Notre Dame is such a wonderful piece of history and the city will never be the same. Oh, it will go on as Paris always does, but there will be a hole that can never be filled for those of us cherished this beloved church.

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Business Travel Interrupted

This year the travel schedule is slow to get rolling, but spring is here and I have an assignment within driving distance of the office (about 3 hours). Because this assignment is fairly close, I do not have to get up early, I feel like I won a prize! Hold on to that feeling I tell my past self, things are about to get crazy.

As I have mentioned in previous posts, I like to recon my work locations on my travel day. I get in my car early afternoon and start down the road; I have plenty of time for a recon before checking into the hotel. When I am about 15 minutes from the training location my phone starts to blow up with texts, “what is going on? I guess I better stop at the closest gas station and check in” I think.

The boss writes “customer has pushed back event, if you have not started travel stay home and wait for updates.” 

Uh oh, I am almost there, what do I do?  So, I text back “hey boss, I am 15 min from location, do you want me to turn around and come back to office?”

Boss says “not sure when the class is going to happen, don’t want you driving up and down the freeway needlessly. Stay in place until further notice. Will have more info soon.”

Like a crazy person, I am now sitting in a gas station parking lot wondering what to do now. Ever wonder why people just sit in the car in a parking lot; they don’t go in to the business and they don’t drive away. They just sit there. Well now I have a good reason to imagine why people do this.

Finally, the boss sends out another blast “trip canceled, class might be Friday, everyone who can go back home. Work from home tomorrow and wait for additional guidance.”  Lucky me I am only a few hours away. I feel bad for my coworkers who had to fly to their training location; they are stuck in limbo.

Telling us to go home is all well and good, but what about the travel plans we made? In my case, I booked a hotel that has a 24-hour cancelation policy. I am going to have to pay for the room even though I am going home. My coworker rented a car and had a hotel room.  These costs will also have to be accounted for.

The tricky part is related to the people who had flights. Now the company has to decide if the cost of bringing the employee home is worth it, or do they let the person sit in a hotel for a couple days hopping the class is not delayed again.  

Being a budget minded person, the first thing that came to mind when the trip was changed last minute was all the costs associated with interrupted business travel. Canceled hotel rooms, mileage to and from training locations, wasted man hours and productivity, and the cost of keeping people in place until a final decision is made. What a crazy thing to happen.  At least I did not have to pay for parking at the office 😊

Packing for Business Trip

This week I completed a business trip to another middle of nowhere location…boy does my new customer like to put offices far away from the beaten path. While on location the choices of dining locations were limited and I came across an interesting situation. The local restaurant does not provide plastic straws; you can have a paper one but only if you ask. This got me to thinking about the things I pack when on a business trip. My stainless-steel straw just made the list.

I read other travel blogs and I know many of them advocate a principle of packing light.  Not me, I usually go on long business trips and take so many gadgets and comforts of home that TSA must be confused by my bag.

Although I don’t live there at the moment, I am native to the west coast where plastic products have been considered bad for a while. About two years ago I made the switch from purchasing plastic straws for home use to stainless-steel straws. It took some trial and error to find the exact right set…I feel like Goldie Locks here. One set was the bendy straw, one set of regular straws, and the other was a set of straws with a wider opening for my morning shake.  But after all this time I have a mix that is just right. But it never dawned on me to bring my metal straws on business trips with me.

Flash forward to this week and the restaurant will only, grudgingly, give me a paper straw, which gets all soggy before my meal is done. I begin to long for my favorite straw and wish I had packed it. When I get back to the hotel that night, I call home and tell my story. Guess what I learn? There are states and cities that have legally banned plastic straws.

A quick Google search turns up the following information. California and Hawaii have banned full-service restaurants from using plastic straws; Washington State, New Jersey, and Florida all have parts of the state that also have banns in place.  

As a business traveler, one might now know all the rules and quirks of the locations they will be traveling too. It is hard to be prepared for every situation so being comfortable on the road is a matter of trial and error. Over the past few years, I have discovered there are so many things that I take for granted when I am at home. Items I use almost every day but somehow do not think to pack when traveling.

As an instructor, I am on the platform teaching most of the day, which means I drink a lot of water or tea during the day. My tip for this week is to have your own straw and put them in your travel kit. They are small and do not take up much space. If you do have some extra space, an insulated cup is also nice so you don’t have to rely on finding a place to buy a drink each day (or in my case, twice a day).

If you are like me and enjoy a few comforts of home when on a business trip, it is worth finding the extra space in your bag for reusable straws. Especially if you are going to travel to California and Hawaii, or parts of New Jersey, Washington State, or Florida.

Here are some of my favorites:

Set of 4 Regular Straws and 4 Bendy Straws. I like these because they are extra long and fit in my bigger/taller cups. S

Set of 4 Milkshake Straws: I like these for my protein drinks in the morning. I use so much ice for my shake that normal size straws just don’t work well for me.

RTIC 40oz Cup: This is one of those insulated cups that keeps the beverage cold enough that my ice lasts all day. When I run out of my morning beverage, I can just pour more water or tea over top. This is a huge plus to me because I hate room temperature beverages.

Note to Reader: I have recently joined the Amazon Affiliate program and the links to my favorite products will take you to their website. Amazon does pay a small commission if you purchase items when using the links in this post.

Airport Travel Programs: A Guide to Help Travelers Choose.

Business travelers spend a lot of time in airports trying to make it from one business engagement to the next. Once in the airport travelers see all kinds of signs for airport travel programs, but what are these programs and what benefits do they offer? And maybe more importantly what is the cost of these benefits? In this post, I will compare and contrast the three main programs so that one can make an informed choice about which program to choose, if any.

What are these airport travel programs and what benefit do they offer? The three programs are TSA Precheck, Global Entry, and Clear Airport Security.  Each has a different primary benefit and price point.

  • TSA Precheck: This program provides expedited security screening process and the passenger usually does not have to take off their shoes or unpack their carry-on bag. Occasionally, the passenger may be selected for additional screening as a security precaution. This has happened to me twice in 5 years, not a big deal.  You do have to do a background check and a short in person interview at an enrollment center. Precheck works at many US Airports. The major benefit of this program is that it expedites security screening in US airports. Depending on the airport and where the flight is going, you may not be allowed to use TSA Precheck for international flights.  Still at $85 for 5 years this is a good deal, even if you only fly occasionally.

For more information follow link: https://www.tsa.gov/precheck

  • Global Entry: This program has all the benefits of TSA Precheck but adds in expedited customs when returning to the US from an international flight.  If you have nothing to declare, the traveler goes to a Global Entry kiosk, scans their passport, does a fingerprint check and then goes to the line to have the border patrol agent check the paper that the machine spits out. To enroll you will complete a background check and interview at an enrollment center. If you have ever waited in the long customs line trying to claim your bag and recheck it when making an international connection you might think the $100 for 5 years of participation in the program worth the cost.

For more information follow link: https://www.cbp.gov/travel/trusted-traveler-programs/global-entry

  • Clear Airport Security: This is the program I know the least about as it is newer and I have never participated in it. From my research I have found that the benefit of this program is the traveler will use biometrics such as iris scan or fingerprints to bypass the usual process of having a TSA person check their identification. The traveler goes to the kiosk, gets verified, and then jumps to the front of the security line to have their bag scanned. The cost of this program is $179 per year.  

For more information follow the link: https://www.clearme.com/

It is important to know that TSA Precheck and Global Entry are government run programs, which is why you will have background checks and screening interviews. The Precheck program does randomly select individuals to go through the regular security line so it is not 100% guaranteed every time you travel. But again, I have only been pulled out of line a couple of times.

The Clear program is a private program and not subject to background checks. It basically uses biometrics in place of ID cards to verify a person’s identity and then jumps them to the front of the security line, whichever line that may be. If you have TSA Precheck you go to the front of the Precheck line. If you don’t have Precheck you go to the front of the regular line and will still have to take off your shoes, belt, and all the other rules.

On personal travel a few years ago, I stood in the customs line for almost 2 hours in Dallas all the while watching the Global Entry people speed by in 5 or 10 minutes. When I first started traveling for work, I decided to give Global Entry a try.  If Dallas is any indication of the program, I know this will be worth $100.

The very first international trip after signing up I am at the back of the customs line and I hear the airport employee counting the people in line, 120, 121 all the way to 130. Then the airport employee says “is any one Global Entry?” One other lady and I raise our hand and the employee says “you two go to the front of the line.” I am not ashamed to say, I left my 3 coworkers standing at the back of the line and zipped right to the front.  My luck continued when I got to the baggage carousel and there was my bag, spinning around just waiting for me to claim it. On this trip I happened to have a direct flight so I go out of customs straight to my car and beat the traffic home. On Monday morning I learn that my coworkers were in the line for an hour. They only had Precheck… the extra $15 was worth it just for the one trip alone.

In the 5 years I have had Global Entry I have used the international benefit maybe 6 or 7 times. The real benefit is that it comes with TSA Precheck, which I have used a lot. On average it takes me 15 min from the time I am dropped of at the airport until I am at my boarding gate.

My personal opinion is if you only travel in the USA, Precheck is worth the price of $85 for 5 years just to spend less time waiting in security lines. If you travel international even a little the $100 for 5 years is value added. To me it is frustrating to be stuck in a long customs line after a long flight. I just want to go home and rest. I cannot say if the Clear program is worth $179 per year just to go to the front of the security line. My home airport has such a fast Precheck line that it would not be value added for me. But at bigger airports with longer lines it might be worth it. I leave that up to the consumers to decide.  

My Global Entry is about to expire and my research and travel routines have led me to the decision to renew Global Entry… this is where cost meets value for me. If you found this post interesting or helpful please click the like button. If you have any experience to share regarding these programs, comments are welcome.

Niagara Falls: Business Travel Adjacent

The next business trip is a few weeks away, so in the mean time I figured I would share some photos from previous trips. Over the summer the company sent a team to Upstate New York for 3 weeks. We were lucky that the business trip had a holiday weekend in the middle, meaning I had a 3 day weekend to explore the local area. Niagara Falls was about 3 hours away. Using hotel points, I booked a room on the Canadian side of the border and then spent a day exploring the national park on the American side of the border.

Saturday morning dawns bright and sunny, with a mild temperature. It is the perfect weather to be outside…not to hot or cold. The thing to know about being near that much water is that in the parking lot area you may be hot, but on the path next to the water it is cold. Bring a light jacket.

On the path at the top of the falls visitors can get very near the falls. The roar of the water is not only heard but felt. Thousands of gallons of water rushes by each second. A force of nature that cannot truly be described, it has to be experienced to really understand what it feel like.

The fun part is going down the falls to the decked area where you can walk next to and in the water. You pay for a ticket at the top of the falls, they give you a pair of sandals and put your shoes in a cubby. Visitors also receive a plastic jacket to protect your clothing from getting to wet. When ready, visitors will get on the elevator to the bottom of the falls.

Once out on the deck, you get up close to the water and walk right up next to the rocks with water rushing past. You are so close to the water that on some parts of the deck the water is gushing right over your feet. To me this is one of the coolest parts of the day. For some reason I am obsessed with touching and playing in rivers and waterfalls.

Cool fact, there is so much water rushing in and around the deck that the park rebuilds the deck each year. Visitors get to take their time walking around the deck and go back up the elevator at their own pace.

Another fun activity when visiting the national park is the boat ride that takes you right to the base of the falls. When you are right at the base of the falls you can feel the power of the water rushing by. The boat rocks as the ship pilot goes as close as safely possible then does a 180 degree turn. The whole trip take about 30 min but was worth the price of admission.

The rest of our day was spent exploring the rest of the park, having a picnic next to the water and just enjoying a day off. Early afternoon comes and it is time to drive back to the business trip area. This was one of the time a business trip allowed me to feel like I had a bit of a vacation in the middle of work.

Business Traveler: Aberdeen Wrap-up

The business trip to Aberdeen is all done and it was a long week. The bosses changed the lesson plan daily so the team had to work several hours at the hotel after teaching all day.  On the one hand it was a good team building experience but on the other hand it did not leave any time to experience much of the local flavor. So, lets talk about the good, bad, and indifferent of this business trip.

The Good:

The team stayed at Homewood Suites in Bel Air, MB. The rooms are clean and comfortable and have cooking facilities. This turned out to be a really good thing because most nights I came back from the customer location, put together a quick bite to eat, and then went down to the lobby to collaborate with the team on whatever new lesson plan we were given that day.

Speaking of rooms, the hotel was sold out most of the time that I stayed there and I never heard any noise from the rooms around me. Once or twice I faintly heard people in the hallway. Many hotels skimp on soundproofing the rooms but this does not seem to be the case for this hotel. Having a quiet room allowed me to get the rest I need when I am going to be on my feet all day teaching.

The staff members I interacted with at the hotel were friendly and Housekeeping did a good job cleaning the rooms. If you continue to read my series on business travel you will discover that I can be a bit picky about the cleanliness of hotels. The rooms and the lobby were very nice at this location.

The lobby/Dining area has a lot of room and plenty of plugs for electronics. The team spent a lot of time in the lobby working together and we never had to fight over who was going to plug in their computer. It kind of remined me of that commercial where everyone is going around saying they are dying because the computer battery is running out. Well we were never dying.

From what little I saw of Aberdeen and the surrounding area as I drove too and from work showcased an area with a cute small-town feel. There are a lot of local restaurants to choose from; when the team went out together for dinner on two occasions, we did not have to eat at chain restaurants.

I try to bring in a money management element into my writing. On that note, traveling this week saved me from paying the usual parking fee of $11.00 per day. Yea $55 extra to go back into my budget.  I also received a food allowance of $396.00, of which I spent about $100.00. I purchased groceries to cook my own food and the hotel had snacks in the evening Monday – Thursday. The snacks were not enough for a full meal but enough that combined with my groceries I did not feel the need to go out each night. This is a net benefit $455.00. Why this number? Well I would have purchased food anyway and I would have paid for commuting expenses.  Since I was on a business trip, I did not have to pay these expenses out of my regular salary. In terms of extra cash in my budget, I came away with $296.00.

The Bad:

The internet at the hotel was not the best. We all struggled with maintaining connection and it was slow considering I was connected to the “Premium” service. It was enough to check my email but not fast enough to run any of my high-end programs. Actually, I struggled to even connect to the site that hosts this blog. As I mentioned above, I spent a lot of time this week learning new lesson plans on the fly, which means testing the software in a sandbox. The internet was so slow that I could not connect to the sandbox most of the time. I expect better from an extended stay hotel that caters to business travelers.

The Indifferent:

I was indifferent to the food offered by the hotel. The breakfast the first day was good because it was plain scrambled eggs, potatoes, and sausage. Then of course the standard muffin, bagel, cereal options. However, the rest of the week the eggs had additional items added to them. Tuesday was “Mexican eggs” but I am not sure what they put in them, just that they did not look good. Friday was eggs with jalapenos, I don’t think a single person on the team ate that day. I think it would be better to stick to the plain eggs and put the jalapenos or whatever the daily topping was on the side.

Homewood Suites used to offer an evening meal that was a real meal back in the day. Over time it has reduced to small snacks. At this location, the hotel offers “salad” every day if you can call lettuce, croutons, and tomatoes a salad.  Two of the nights the salad was augmented with soup and French bread. One night we had chicken fingers, potatoes wedges, and biscuit. This was the most substantial meal of the week. But I do have to say the potatoes were undercooked, after one bite we were all done with eating them. Don’t get me wrong, the food came in the price of the room so it was essentially free, and for free food it was not bad (thus why it falls in the indifferent category).

I wish I would have had more time to explore the local area during my week in Aberdeen but that was not in the cards this time. I saw a lot of my classroom and my hotel but that is fairly standard for this kind of business trip. I had a lot of fun with my students and that is the real reward of my job.

Business Travel: First day teaching in Aberdeen….It was a long one.

Today was a typical day for a business traveler, it started with the best laid plans to get my work done and maybe check out a local attraction, or at least a local restaurant. The reality is, today was so long and exhausting that once all my work was done it was already dark and I had no energy left to explore.

Today started early; if you read my post yesterday you might recall that our class posters were lost in transit so my class is not fully set up. I am hoping to correct the issue first thing and have a smooth day teaching. LOL, I do not know why I hope these things because of course that would be too easy. No big deal, I can recover and move on with the class without the visual aids. This is not the easiest way to teach, but it can be done.

At the end of class we still have an internal meeting to attend, paperwork to be done, and other associated admin tasks. Our 15 min meeting takes an hour. This time of year 45 min makes a difference regarding whether or not there will be daylight to see a local attraction. Today is not my day.

The hotel I am staying at offers a evening social with some snacks so that can be dinner if I want. Today the provided food is salad and some bread with two kinds of dip. I decide to get a recommendation from the hotel staff for dinner rather than eat the free food. Just not in the mood for light snacks. The young lady at the desk recommends Pat’s Select, a pizza place.

The restaurant is a chain but not a huge one, they have less than 20 total locations and this one is locally owned, I count this as eating local. If you are ever in Aberdeen and in the mood for pizza, pasta, or subs this is a good place to go. The food is good, the service friendly, and the portion sizes good for the price. I have enough left over for lunch tomorrow.

Upside for today: the breakfast at the hotel tasted good and was filling. This allowed me to have a light lunch and a moderate dinner. From a budgeting perspective, I totally saved money today. Not only was I able to make the best use of my food allowance, I also did not have to pay any commuting expenses. WIN!

Today all I really got to see was the hotel and the inside of a classroom. Normal business travel kind of day. In reality working on the road is not much different than going to the same office every day. At the end of a Monday at home I am just as tired after teaching all day. If I were home I would not have gone out to see my local city. The real difference is I get paid a bit more when traveling for business than I do when going to the office. The location may change, but the routine is the same.