S1E19: Discussing Destinations: Where Do Tech People Go to Take Some Time Offline?
S1E19: Discussing Destinations: Where Do Tech People Go to Take Some Time Offline?
In this week's episode we explore the favorite vacation spots of some of Moser's consultants. We sent out an employee survey to learn our colleagues' favorite spots when it comes to taking time off and unwinding. Producer Brian joins Angel to discuss the survey and they are joined by 3 of Moser's consultants who drop in to discuss their favorite places.
Brian GentrupMultimedia Creative Specialist / ASCII Anything Producer
Sheri GarvinSenior Consultant
Angel Leon: Hello, everyone, and welcome to another edition of ASCII Anything, presented by Moser Consulting. I'm your host, Angel Leon, Moser's HR advisor. In today's episode, we did a survey of our consultants to see what spots are their favorite when it comes to taking time off and unwinding. I'll be going over the list with producer Brian, and we will have several guests along this episode, talking about their favorite spots. How's it going, Brian?
Brian Gentrup: It is going very well, Angel. Thanks for having me be a part. I've always been a big fan of travel, so happy to help.
Angel Leon: Yeah, absolutely. I think this is one of my favorite topics, just traveling in general, and the interviews that we did for this particular episode were very fun in that we got with three of our consultants where we learned a lot about the stuff that they like to do to unwind. But first of all, let's talk about the survey. What can you tell us about it?
Brian Gentrup: Well, we put out a survey on our internal Slack channel, just asking various employees or asking all employees on the channel, " Where do you like to go? What do you like to do when you vacation?" As pandemic numbers go down and vaccination rates go up, hopefully that means that also vacation rates will be going up too. Where are places we should go? What should we check out? And we've had a lot of people more than happy to make suggestions, and you can hear that. I know we're an audio podcast, but we can see it on the video screen. I really think you can hear it in their voices when they're talking. You can hear the smile on their faces. Everybody likes to talk about their favorite places to go and what they like to do. This was a really fun episode to make, as you said.
Angel Leon: I really had a lot of fun going over these interviews. And just like you said, we just had one not too long ago where Mark, one of our guests, you could see the passion of the things that he was talking about. And I won't spoil it, so I want you guys to listen to it when we get to that part. But he had such amazing things to say about the spot that he specifically went to several years ago. I'm hoping that you guys can hear it and hear his passion of the topic. So, let's go over some of the go- to places, because we got 10 different spots but we want to concentrate more on the top five. We might sprinkle a little bit of those other bottom five, if you will. Not that they're bottom, because I would certainly go to some of these places. But it's interesting to see where our folks would like to go. So, why don't we start with number five?
Brian Gentrup: Yeah. And I'll say if you're like me, you're listening... I have to take show notes anyway, so I already had a pen and paper. If you've got a pen handy, you're listening on your device, you got your notes app, go ahead and fire it open because as I was listening to the talks, I'm like, " Oh man, I've got to check that out. I've been there. I really liked that place. I should go back." You're going to have a couple of new or a couple of remindings of yourself of places that you want to go when you're done with listening to this episode. Top response? I think probably if I gave you two guesses, one of them is going to be the beach. And absolutely number one, overwhelming numbers. Everybody, at least at Moser, loves going to the beach.
Angel Leon: Yeah. And who doesn't? As I was telling one of our guests who you'll hear from later, she went to a spot where I grew up, which is Puerto Rico, which is an island. It's surrounded by water. It's surrounded by beaches. So, I love the beach. Who doesn't love the beach? We did talk a little bit about some of the beaches down in Florida too with our other guests, and you'll hear that later. But the beach, God, there's so many wonderful things about beaches. It's just when you go there, the smell of the water, the sand on your toes, that feeling of when you get on the water for the first time. Oh, it's just fantastic.
Brian Gentrup: I know there are people listening who are rolling their eyes because they're saying, look, I say the word beach and I sunburn, let alone actually visit it. We've got you covered in other areas too. We've got national and state parks. We've got staycations. We've got international travel. We've got, as Angel mentioned, extra continental national American travel with Puerto Rico. We've got the high desert, Sedona and the American Southwest. We've got a little bit of everything for everybody today. International travel was also a really popular suggestion amongst our consultants and Moser employees. And as things start to open up, I don't know, I imagine they're going to be deals?
Angel Leon: Yeah.
Brian Gentrup: Check local listings, check with your travel agent, check wherever you arrange your travel. But I think they are going to be incentivizing... Places that traditionally rely on tourism, they're going to want you to coming back as soon and as often as possible. They've got some ground to make up.
Angel Leon: Yeah, absolutely. And for some of you, you might have seen this in the news. I know this could equate to international travel obviously, because it depends on when you get it. But cruise lines, I believe the CDC has allowed them to start cruising again from US ports starting in June or July. I may get this wrong. It's one of the two summer months. But that's obviously... When you factor in that international travel, that can get you some places. That was one of our options too that some of our consultants chose, cruising. I personally love cruising. I love international travel. I think that, in my opinion, cruising is the best way to get international travel because you get to different places in one trip. My last cruise happened right before the pandemic or four months before the pandemic in October 2019. We took a cruise, my wife and I, for her birthday. We went out of Copenhagen, Denmark, and we went to places like Germany, Sweden, Riga, Latvia, Saint Petersburg, Russia. A quick note on Russia: If you're an American citizen, obviously you need a visa to get off the boat. But if you decide... If you want to go ashore if you don't have a visa, you can actually take a cruise tour. So, if you take a tour with your cruise line, you can actually go ashore. And let me tell you, Saint Petersburg was beautiful. The architecture was stunning. It's really hard to put into words just how pretty Saint Petersburg was and Northern Europe really in general. Sweden, of course. You would expect that to be a very beautiful place, as was Copenhagen in Denmark. The one that really surprised us the most was this little fishing town off of Germany. If you've ever thought or watched a movie where they talked about, or saw, or showed a little picturesque German town off the coast, this was it. This was just like a movie. The only thing that was missing, honestly, was snow. That was probably the only thing missing.
Brian Gentrup: Yeah. I thought that the visa point was a great one. It's something I hadn't considered and a way to get in to see some countries all at once with cruising, and by booking an excursion being able to get in places that you wouldn't otherwise be able to get into through the tour options provided by the cruise. I had never considered that before, and I wrote that down. I was like" That is a good tip. I'm writing it down."
Angel Leon: Yeah. And the cruise lines will let you know. They will put it out in front. They will tell you if you need a visa or not, or if by they providing an excursion, you can actually get off the boat to be able to visit that place. But for the most part, most places are open. Obviously, I'm talking prior to the pandemic, but I would assume that they would do some sort of opening, a soft opening or maybe a full opening hopefully later, after the summer or right at when summer starts. Because that's why we're doing this podcast, because summer is about to start here in Indiana. Our kids are going to be coming off of school, so everybody's ready to take that vacation. And like Brian said, vaccination numbers are up. COVID numbers are starting to get down. So, it's time for people to get out. That's what people want to do. They want to go out and take time off and be with each other, be with their families, or just go somewhere other than the couch.
Brian Gentrup: Yeah. And when you're traveling, pay attention to what's going on. If they want you to wear a mask, probably a good idea. It's nice to be a polite traveler and to adopt and respect the customs of wherever it is that you're visiting, even if it is just a neighboring state. Don't be an ugly traveler. Be cool.
Angel Leon: Yeah, definitely.
Brian Gentrup: We hit the beach and international. I also brought in national state parks and staycations. Another number from our top five, of course people have been waiting. There's no way they're not going to talk Disney. There's no way they're not going to mention Disney. Now, we didn't go into detail because let's face it, if you want to know something about Disney, that information is readily available.
Angel Leon: Yeah.
Brian Gentrup: But it did make our top five.
Angel Leon: There's many other places where you can get that information other than ASCII Anything. But in the interest of fairness, it is on the top five of our lists for people like me that have kids that... I have a seven- year- old who's always asking me, " When are we going to Disney World? When are we going back to Disney World? Yeah. I just had that question asked this morning. So, yeah, it's a little bit hard not to think about the subject because of course you turn on the TV and there's the Disney channel. You turn on the computer and then there's an ad about a Disney cruise or there's an ad about Disney parks, so it's kind of hard not to.
Brian Gentrup: A couple of years ago I went with my kids and completely inadvertently, not scheduled on purpose, which made me look like an accidental genius was... Even if you're not a ride fan at amusement parks, we went and it turned out it was the international food and wine festival, which that was a real happy accident. We were like, " Oh, the kids can have their fun, and we're doing the things and character interactions. And yeah, we'll ride the ride and It's a Small World. And oh, there's a food and wine stand over here with a lot of different options for mom and dad to also have a good day too."
Angel Leon: Yes. Epcot is definitely known for that. That is one of my favorite, if not my favorite season, if you will, to go to Epcot just because of... Again, traveling international, just the amount of food/ drinks that you can get there that may not be readily available, depending on where you live? It's phenomenal.
Brian Gentrup: From friends who live in Florida, some of whom may or may not have worked at Disney over the years, I have recommendations on if you are going to either eat or drink around the world at Epcot, do not start in Germany. You will never leave. Start with some of the smaller countries like Iceland, maybe Japan, something nice that's good. But if you start in Germany, you tend to stay in Germany. So-
Angel Leon: I don't know why, maybe-
Brian Gentrup: If your goal is to make it all the way around, plan accordingly and start smart.
Angel Leon: It's not like the Germans have any sort of adult beverage that people might like here in the States. I don't know.
Brian Gentrup: Or delicious meat- cased products, or-
Angel Leon: Yes.
Brian Gentrup: Yeah, their food and drink are notoriously just bland and not good.
Angel Leon: Yes, absolutely.
Brian Gentrup: Sarcasm.
Angel Leon: So, this is our list, obviously. And then, of course, we've got any big city. So, we're here in Indianapolis, of course. Our biggest city up north is Chicago. Who doesn't love to go to Chicago and walk around the Windy City? As we were talking about, German food, they have a lot of German influenced food up there in Chicago. So, again, depending on where you're living, you can get close to bigger cities like that where the experience you are going to get is definitely going to be a little bit different. It's going to show you a little bit more of the world.
Brian Gentrup: Yeah. And the people that we talked to for this episode specifically, we didn't get into big city exploration too much. But when you're there and any time you're traveling, if you can eat at local mom and pop- owned or locally owned non- chain establishments, especially as we move closer to past normality or whatever new normal is going to be. If you can eat at a family- owned or locally- run restaurant as opposed to a chain, you're going to impact that local economy and a family a lot more. And I'm sure coming off of the last 14 to 16 months, it'd mean a lot. So, if you can find something local, go ahead and try it.
Angel Leon: Absolutely. I couldn't agree more. I mean, you're going to be helping the local economy for that community. And like Brian was saying, you're going to help those local shops who have definitely been impacted heavily by the current pandemic. So, please, if you're going to a big city near you, make sure you stop in those sites. Make sure you contribute to the local economy. Nothing against the bigger establishments, but we want to help the little people first, the little guy. Guys that have been struggling through the pandemic may or may not have been able to open up, may have been only doing carryout or delivery. So, as we're going back out to the world, make sure you help those folks out.
Brian Gentrup: Yeah. I've got two kids. I'm more than willing to grab fast food in the name of silence and peace in the car and for the trip. But if I'm traveling, I would very much like to eat places that I can't eat when I'm home.
Angel Leon: Right. Absolutely.
Brian Gentrup: That's one of the philosophies that I try to stick to when I'm traveling. If we need something fast and we need to avoid a cross- family argument because of hunger, I'll eat whatever is available, fast food, whatever. But if I have time to plan or time to look into some stuff, I'm going to ask some locals. I'm going to ask people that work where I'm staying, " Where do you go for dinner? If you have a family birthday, if you have a special occasion, whatever, what are your favorite restaurants around here that don't end in- Garden or an apostrophe S? What are your favorite non- chain places around here?" If the town you're in, their best restaurant is Olive Garden? Olive Garden is great. But if I'm on vacation, I can eat at Olive Garden when I'm home.
Angel Leon: Right. Yeah, absolutely. I completely agree. It is time to definitely support local. So, as you're starting to go out, please remember to support those local eateries. I can tell you that your contribution is going to be very helpful. So, Brian, we spoke a little bit about our guests, so why don't we start bringing them in? First of all, we're going to have our good friend, Jennifer. Jennifer is somebody who wrote in our survey that she visited a place that's near and dear to my heart, which is my hometown of Puerto Rico, back home in the Caribbean. Jennifer, how are you?
Jennifer: I'm good. How are you?
Angel Leon: I'm doing great. I've got to say, when we did our survey I was pleasantly surprised that somebody mentioned my home place, Puerto Rico. Great beaches, great island. It's not that big. It's only 100 by 35, so a small island. It's easy to get to, obviously, from the States, a two- hour flight from Miami. So, Jennifer, tell me about your experience?
Jennifer: Well, that's funny you say that because the reason that we decided to go to Puerto Rico was because I didn't have a passport and I couldn't go out of the country, so we decided to go there. Just picked it on a whim and I'm glad I did because it was one of the best trips. And like you said, it is a beautiful island. I didn't want to leave.
Angel Leon: Well, I'm glad you're saying that. So, tell us about your experience. I understand you visited some beaches, you visited the historic old San Juan. What else did you do? What can you tell us about your visit?
Jennifer: The beaches are beautiful. I'm one of those people who is scared to swim in the ocean and I will not get in the water without water shoes on, but I was able to down there because the water was clear and the sand is really nice and I would be able to see if I was going to step on anything. But typically when I go on vacation, I like to just relax and disconnect. But I do like to do like one or two excursions at the place I'm at to get some history and cultural information. So, we decided to do the tour of historic San Juan, which was... The architecture there is gorgeous. And part of that was going to the military fortress. I can't remember the name of it. It started with a C.
Angel Leon: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Jennifer: A lot of walking.
Angel Leon: Yes, yes. In old San Juan, you can do a lot of walking. So, there's actually a couple of fortresses in old San Juan. There's the Castillo del Morro, which is basically what the Spanish used in the Spanish- American War. They built this big fortress on the seashore high atop a hill, where they basically could see out to sea, for lack of a better term, I know, in order to verify that there were no enemies coming. So, they had all the cannons pointing out to the sea to make sure that when enemies came, they were ready for them. So, that was one of them. The other one... I'm trying to remember the name, but I'm sure it'll come back to me during the conversation. But what else did you do? I understand you had a little tour in a facility that I also hold near and dear to my heart because I went to a number of parties where may or may not have been adult beverages involved. I don't know. You tell me, what did you do?
Jennifer: Yeah. When we were down there, I saw that they had a tour of the Bacardi facility where they produce Bacardi rum. And I was like, " We have to go do that," of course. I was on vacation there with my father and my husband, and my dad was like, Yeah, let's go. Let's go check out some rum." It was awesome. The facility is huge. They put you on this little tram and drive you around, and we learned about the history of the Bacardi family and how they got started, the whole history of Bacardi obviously. And we got a lot of free samples, so that made the tour really fun. And then I bought a$ 90 bottle of rum that you can only buy from Bacardi in Puerto Rico. It's not shipped anywhere. It's not exported anywhere else. So, I gave that to my dad. It didn't take him long to finish it. He said it was really good.
Angel Leon: Good. I'm glad he enjoyed it. Yes, you're right. This segment is, by the way, not brought to you by Bacardi. So, is there anything else that you'd like to tell us about your visit?
Jennifer: If you have the chance to go there, go, because it's gorgeous. Actually, our driver who drove us to historic San Juan, he gave us a lot of history about the area as well. And the people there were very friendly and love to talk about Puerto Rico because they love it. So, you'll learn a lot down there and enjoy everything that they have to offer and the beautiful beaches and the history there.
Angel Leon: It's a mix of history because we are such a diverse culture. We came from the Spanish, the Tainos, which basically are native Indians from the Caribbean, the Tainos. And then we also had some influence, obviously, from African... when the slaves were brought over after we were founded in 1492. So, there is a lot of history. We do have a very diverse culture, so I agree. If you have the chance to go out there, like Jennifer said at the beginning, you don't need a passport. You don't need a visa or anything like that. You just need your driver's license and just go. Obviously, please visit the tourism company information for the latest info on travel because of COVID. So, they have different restrictions right now. But if you do get a chance, absolutely go visit. And then you have a beach, depending on where you live you can be there in five minutes, you can be there in half an hour. It's not that far away. So, I'm glad you enjoyed it. I am very, very glad that we had this conversation today about my hometown of Puerto Rico.
Jennifer: I didn't realize that that's where you were from when I said that. I wasn't... And I have been on Zillow recently, looking at houses in Puerto Rico just for fun.
Angel Leon: Well, I hope your search goes well. Thank you very much, Jennifer. We really appreciate your time.
Jennifer: Thank you.
Angel Leon: All right. Thank you very much, Jennifer. That was very lovely. So, up next we have Sherry. She is another one of our consultants, and she is going to talk to us a little bit more about national traveling. So, what does national traveling look like? We're talking about internal to the US, national parks, state parks, those kinds of things.
Brian Gentrup: Yeah. So, one of the other points that Sherry made was local travel, finding things that are in your own backyard and your own state. For example, we're here in Indiana. We have one of the newest national parks, the Indiana Dunes. Sherry is very into birding, birdwatching, and photography, and she was very impressed with the biodiversity shown in the birds and the other animals and plant life that are contained in the Indiana Dunes, now national park.
Angel Leon: Yeah. So, if you've never been there, you've got to visit it. We talked a lot in detail about specifically Arizona and some spots in Florida that I think you don't want to miss, so here is Sherry. Sherry, how are you?
Sheri: Hi. I'm doing great.
Angel Leon: Great. So, in our survey you gave a great answer about traveling within the States, so I want you to tell our listeners: What have you done? Before we jumped on, you were telling me a little bit about how you started traveling from a very young age. So, run us through those experiences. What can you tell us?
Sheri: Well, I kind of have to blame my dad for probably giving us kids the wanderlust. From a very young age, he was traipsing us as a whole family in a huge old van, one of the big old Chevy vans, all across the US and we would take two- week- long vacations. Sometimes he'd travel through the night and we'd sleep in the back. But he loved history, so he would hit all the historical places, all the big name places back in the'60s and'70s and into the'80s. And then from then on, I started doing my own stuff. But Arizona was one of the biggies that caught my attention when I was a kid, and so I've gone down back there a number of times. And if you want to state that's got everything except for the ocean, that's a good place to go. I fell in love with the history there. And after that, everywhere I go, I look up the history of the area. It's so rich out there. We talked about Sedona. Oak Creek Canyon, it's just absolutely stunning. You go straight up the canyon if you're willing to drive, and then you end up in Flagstaff. You can go to the Grand Canyon. If you don't want to drive that crazy straight up straight... It's almost perpendicular. It's ridiculous. If you don't want to drive that, you can also take tours out there. They'll take you on tours and you'll get actual Native Americans who will talk to you about their history and about the spaces that you stop and see, and also take you to the Grand Canyon so you don't have to drive it. I've done both. We like to go to places like Sedona and go off from there, but there's a little gem that I never hear anybody talking about and that's right outside of Phoenix. It's to the east of Phoenix. It's a place... Well, there's a little town there called Tortilla Flats.
Angel Leon: Okay.
Sheri: I think it's owned by some Indiana lawyers. They just bought the town. I think about six people live in that town. But to get there, that's a drive and a half. And I'm telling you, we were not prepared and we did not have a high... One of those, what is it? High profile vehicles?
Angel Leon: Yeah.
Sheri: I'm telling you, I lost some years on that one because I was the one driving. But the views were stunning. I don't know what it's like now. This was probably 10 plus years ago that we did that. They may have made the roads better, but they were just gravel roads, some of them was washboard. I don't know why, because I didn't know it rained that much out there, but somehow they got washboard and some of the things would wash out and you'd have blind turns. So, I'd send one of my riders out to go look around the curve before we actually went around the corner because one of us was going to end up down the steep slope. So, it's that kind of a thing, but I'm telling you it was worth it. The views are absolutely stunning. So, that was one of the little gems. There's a lot of gems in Arizona, so I could talk about it for a long time. But we love Sedona. You can go shopping there, somebody who likes to shop. You can go to the history. You can go hiking. We took air balloons. And then that's a good spot to bounce off to everywhere else. And then also you've got to have breakfast at the coffee pot. That thing is an institution. I think they've got a hundred different ways to make pancakes or something like that. I can't remember. It's wonderful, and it's been there for over 50 years. I don't know how long it's been there, but we visited it when I was a child. We visited it as adult and it's still there.
Angel Leon: Pancakes-
Brian Gentrup: This is Brian. I just wanted to jump in real quick and mention that I have at least a hundred ways to eat pancakes, so that would be good.
Angel Leon: I was going to say that. Pancakes, that's right up my alley.
Sheri: Go there, then. You need to go there and see if you can teach them anything.
Angel Leon: I've got friends who live in Tucson, so I might take a flight down there and just go visit this place because pancakes is definitely my favorite breakfast. That's a topic that we could definitely spend some time on, but-
Sheri: And if you go down to Tucson, which is about an hour south of Phoenix or something like that-
Angel Leon: Yes.
Sheri: You can bounce off from there and you can go into the Saguaro National Desert. National Desert? I don't know what it is, but it's the Saguaro cactus park, the only place in the US that's saguaros naturally grow. Go south of that and you can go to Tombstone, learn about the O. K. Corral fight and all that kind of good stuff.
Angel Leon: Yeah.
Sheri: There's even a Hollywood set there called... I can't remember it's called Old Tombstone or what, but there's another one right there outside of Tucson where you can actually go and tour the set where a lot of the Western movies were made. So, on and on. It's just amazing.
Angel Leon: Let's segue this into Florida, because I know you mentioned something about Florida. I know you mentioned the Keys. I personally was down in Florida about three weeks ago for our spring break here in Indiana, and we went all the way down to Key West, which I always have to go. I love going to Key West. So, what can you tell us? What's your favorite part about the Keys?
Sheri: So, down to the Keys. Oh my gosh. The Keys are a good place for me to just.. when I've had a really rough time. Arizona is someplace you want to explore and really just get something. For me, the Keys are just relaxed, laid back. And sometimes when you go straight down there, you're still on this high moving thing.
Angel Leon: Yes.
Sheri: We had a tour bus dude down in Key West say, " Chill. You're in the Keys." We were just a little too antsy for him. I didn't think I was that antsy, but it was just a little too much. So, it's just a place where you just chill, relax. And down in Key West itself, I didn't stay there at night. I'm not a nightlife type of person, but we went down during the day and we walked it. Oh my gosh, there's places to just shop if you want to do that. Views you can see. Definitely the farthest point south in the US you can go. But also there's Hemingway's house and all of his cats. I went for the cats and actually got very interested. I read Hemingway. Who hasn't going through school? But I wasn't really interested in him, but it was actually very fascinating. I was glad I went to the house. There's a lot of history with it.
Angel Leon: Yeah.
Sheri: So, we did a lot of that kind of stuff, kind of a mix of just having some fun, watching the chickens walking the streets.
Angel Leon: Yes. Have to watch them.
Sheri: I tool pictures of those of all things. And I grew up with chickens, so why take pictures? But they're special. There's just something special about them.
Brian Gentrup: While you were down there, while you were in Key West, did you go to the Mel Fisher Museum with the shipwreck, the Atocha, the gold that they found?
Sheri: Yeah. I can't remember if we did. I know we looked at something about that. I don't know if we got into it. I don't think we actually got in there.
Brian Gentrup: When I was down there, we went. It was really interesting. I also went to Hemingway's house because as a writer and that thing, it was very interesting with me. And the six- toed cats and all of the paw prints in the concrete where it's been poured, where you can't keep a cat off of anything ever.
Sheri: I know.
Brian Gentrup: So, all these the six- toed paw prints all over everything was really-
Sheri: It was fascinating. It was absolutely fascinating. And the history of all the stuff he had collected in there and the things that they had in the house was really interesting.
Brian Gentrup: Yeah.
Sheri: I can't remember where all we went down there, but it was a lot of fun and I want to go back. However, the one place that I go back to regularly is Islamorada.
Angel Leon: Yes.
Sheri: It's just a little... It's like halfway down or something? And that's where we go a lot of times, and we'll just go for the evening. We'll sit there and do some shopping right there. There's only three or four things right there, but there's some shopping, fresh fish for food, fresh and key lime pie. True hey lime pie, not the crazy stuff we get up here. Just sit there and drink. And for me, I don't drink alcohol, but I drink the virgin piña-
Angel Leon: Piña colada? Yeah.
Sheri: Oh my gosh. And so I just sit there and drink those piña coladas, listen to the music right there on the beach. Because I guess they brought in sand, so they actually have a sandy beach, because the Keys do not have sand. So, if you're going down the expecting a sandy beach thing, you're going to have to hunt for it.
Angel Leon: Yeah, if you go, especially... So, in Key West, we went and... By the life of me, I can't remember the name of the fort, but there is a beach in Key West.
Brian Gentrup: Zachary Taylor.
Angel Leon: Yes. Fort Taylor, yes. So, we went there this last time, and the beach there is gorgeous. One of the reasons we like it there too is because they have benches. They have small barbecues that you can actually take your food and cook it there, so you bring your own stuff and you can do it. Yeah. But the beach is gorgeous: white sandy beaches, rocks everywhere for people to climb on and throw themselves in the ocean.
Brian Gentrup: The other place-
Angel Leon: It's a lot fun.
Brian Gentrup: The other place... You were talking about booking excursions when you go places to explore. You can do an overnight camping in Dry Tortugas National Park. It's a boat ride out and they drop you off, and you have dinner and then you camp in the park overnight and they bring you back the next morning. That's really cool.
Angel Leon: Yeah. And speaking of Islamorada, I was there too this last time. And I don't know if you've been there, Sherry, but they've got this place right off of a bridge. When you cross the bridge, it's right there to the right. You have to hook a right to get in there, but they let you feed bigger fish in there.
Sheri: Oh yeah.
Angel Leon: You've got all the...
Sheri: I can't remember the name of those fish. Yes, we did that.
Angel Leon: Yeah. So, that place was awesome-
Sheri: That was wild.
Angel Leon: cross talk What's that?
Brian Gentrup: Are they the tarpon?
Brian Gentrup: They're really, really big and they...? Yeah.
Angel Leon: Yeah, and then there's a bunch of pelicans there. So, it's like you get the pelicans trying to eat the fish out of your hand while you're trying to feed the fish in the ocean, so that experience is nerve- racking.
Brian Gentrup: They may may actually seem like they're trying to take your hand as well as the fish, a couple of the more enthusiastic ones.
Angel Leon: Yes.
Sheri: We stayed in one of the upper... The first Key you go into, we stayed up there in a condo. It's really close. The very first key, I think it was. I can't even remember now what it is, and it's a famous name. But anyway-
Brian Gentrup: Key Largo?
Sheri: That's it.
Brian Gentrup: Yeah.
Sheri: Thank you. So, we stayed in Key Largo for about a week I think, and so we did a lot of branching out from there. And you can do everything from taking glass bottom boat tours to walking through just all kinds of conservation kind of information. You can actually get on and you can swim with dolphins, or you used to be able to. They had to be dolphins that grew up in that situation versus one wild- caught. So, that was interesting to learn about when we went to that because I have this issue with conservation stuff.
Angel Leon: So, Sherry, tell us. Besides Florida and Arizona, what other place would you recommend for people to visit?
Sheri: Okay. Every state has its thing. How about staying at home? Indiana Dunes, how's that? Has anybody checked that out lately? I have lived here my whole life and it wasn't until about three years ago, I think, I decided just check out the dunes right before they became a national park. And I just went up there and I took a friend for her birthday, and it's like, " Let's just go and walk, go birding. Let's see what they've got. I hear a lot of people talking about it and I don't even know what it is." Oh my word. It's someplace you want to stay for several days. The hikes are gorgeous. Depending on what time of the year, it can be hot and muggy because of the kind of vegetation that grows there and the weather that's there. I'm told that the vegetation there is more diverse than in the whole British Isles. So, from what I was reading, they were telling us there is more diversity there. And I'm not into vegetation stuff. I don't think about it much. I'm really into birding. So, we went up there with our big, huge cameras and we're walking all these trails, taking pictures of really neat birds because that's a fly- through or throughway, or whatever you call it with birding, to migrating birds. And we went in September and it was hot. So, we're out there walking, and you're actually on a dune when you're out there. I didn't realize. I'm walking in sand. It's like, " Good Lord, this gives you a workout." And I'm looking around and I'm like, " There's ferns growing here in Northern Indiana?" Ferns and all these other interesting things I had never seen before. And I'm like, " What is that stuff?" So, I started investigating and that's when I discovered there's a lot there that's just... It's fascinating, okay? And there's a lot of biodiversity. There's a lot of people who study that area, and they come from other countries to study that one little spot in Indiana. Who knew? So, you get the migrating birds. You can go up and you actually see them if you're there during the migrations in spring and in early fall. You can actually see thousands of birds flying over, going across Lake Michigan. Depending on which time you're there, either heading south or north. So, they go up to Canada because they're going to go up there and breed or they'll fly down to Florida because they're leaving. We just happen to be a pass- through state. Not too many of them stick around. They're looking to pass over us, and if you're not paying attention, you miss it. I've lived here my whole life, had no idea. It was actually somebody who came here from California and I was working next to her and she was talking about all this stuff our state has to offer. And that's what opened my eyes to what Indiana has to offer: their wetlands and the thousands of birds. A hundred thousand pelicans fly through and land, and if you go down to Goose Pond in the spring, you're going to see a hundred thousand pelicans down there, or geese. Actually, it's snow geese I think. But you will see the pelicans too. A hundred thousand snow geese and I don't know how many pelicans, but a lot.
Brian Gentrup: Yeah. Just a couple of weeks ago, I was cleaning up, working in my backyard, and I heard this call and I'm like... And it's very distinctive. I just looked up. I'm like, " Where are they? Where are they? There they are," and it was hundreds and hundreds of Sandhill cranes that were going back. And I just stopped what I was doing and I just watched them fly over and then just disappear into the distance. And there were two very large groups, and they all came together as one and then just moved away. All right. Heading home for the spring. All right, cool.
Sheri: Yep. In Jasper- Pulaski, which is right up there right below the dunes, Jasper- Pulaski Park in November/ December, really the first part of December but November, 25, 000 Sandhill cranes gather there as a launching off point. However, the closest I ever got to a Sandhill crane was up in the dunes, and I've got some fantastic photos. It was right there, just one. He was... I don't know why she decided to stay there and have her colt. I think there may have been a male there with her, and they were just a little family and they were there that year. So, I don't know-
Angel Leon: They were vacationing there like you. They were exploring.
Sheri: crosstalk He's crazy. This is a nice spot," and so-
Brian Gentrup: Talking about a local restaurant.
Sheri: It's a fascinating place. They've got bogs. I didn't even know Indiana had such a thing. So, it was a great education, but also a wonderful place for kids because you can take them on nighttime tours. They give nighttime tours, so you can go and learn about bats. You can watch the bats. They'll do scientific things because they're studying the bats up there. They'll talk about that. I learned a lot about bats. I didn't know I liked them. I do now. And I'm learning a lot more about them and loving the ones off my back deck now because of that. We also went on a tour for owls, searching for owls in a small group, and that was a lot of fun. So, things that kids can enjoy. There's a lot there. There's really a lot there. It's just a gorgeous place. For me, If I'm going to tell somebody... There's so many places to go in the US that are just gorgeous. You can't see it all, but you can try. But if you can't get out, then do day trips here in Indiana. I was shocked at what we have. I kept leaving Indiana thinking everything else was more exciting, and yet here we have everything from Spring Mill, which... The gristmill down there. And you can do boat rides in the caves, to things like the dunes where people come from around the world to study it. So, learning about the local places is something that's really, I think, really cool for kids.
Angel Leon: I guess a lot of people don't realize what they have in their own backyard that might exactly be just as much fun as you getting on an airplane and going somewhere else. Just get on a two- hour car ride and you don't know what you can find in your own state. And on that note, we'd like to thank Sherry for sharing her ideas and her travel experiences with us, and for pointing out the obvious. If you live in Indiana or you live anywhere in the states, make sure you visit your local spots. That's always a good thing. You're helping the local economy. You're are helping develop your own culture within your state or your city, so make sure you do that. Thanks, Sherry.
Sheri: Thank you. Happy travels.
Angel Leon: All right. Thank you, Sherry. And now we bring in Mark. Mark had a great experience in a country that I'm pretty sure a lot of you are very familiar with. We're talking about Italy. Italy has some of the most beautiful places that you can visit in the world. Mark had a great experience out there and he's going to share with us how that went through, through all the different sites that he saw, and what specifically he took to heart from his trip. So, here is Mark. Hi, Mark. Thanks for joining us.
Mark: Hello. It's nice to join you here.
Angel Leon: Tell us about Italy, because you had a lot of information in there about several places that you visited that were really nice. I personally have only been to Sicily in Italy, so I want to get your take on what you've experienced over there.
Mark: My wife and I, about 14 years ago, we decided that we wanted to go somewhere abroad before we started a family, and Italy was something that definitely spoke to us. But anytime you travel, particularly abroad, it can be overwhelming looking at all the things that you've got to consider and all the things that you have to put together from a schedule standpoint. So, we opted to go with a tour agency, and we had set up a 14- day tour. The one that spoke to us, it was called Off the Beaten Path. We definitely wanted to see some of the big highlight areas, but we wanted to go away from the touristy spots, some because wherever you go, that's where you really get to feel the heart of where you are and really get to know that area and the people and everything. So, the tour, it started in Rome. That's where we flew into. We spent a couple days there, and really Rome was great. One of the things that I really liked about it is you could easily walk to everywhere that you wanted to go. Some places might have been a little bit more of a hike, but you really didn't need any transportation. It was the city that was built in a small footprint, and there are so many things to see on your way, just admiring the old architecture, these buildings that have been there for not just hundreds of years but, in some cases, thousands. I remember my tour guide said, you" The difference between Roman and Greek architecture is the Greek architecture, it's in ruins. If the Romans built it, it would still be standing." So, as you go through all those things are there. And it was just amazing being in one spot like the Trevi Fountain and being able to just walk over to Santa Maria del Popolo Square and see this old church and all these people who were just about. And it really was amazing. We went into the Vatican and that for me was definitely a moving experience. Some things we couldn't see as well as what we would like, such as Michelangelo's Pietà, because of the time that it came to America decades ago and a crazy person went up with a hammer and hit its foot. The Vatican protects that statue quite a bit, so it's actually behind bulletproof glass way far away from where you could see in person. But you could still just kind of get a great appreciation for it, even at a distance. It was interesting going into the Basilica there to know that there actually weren't any paintings in there. Everything in there was tile mosaics. I think the official name might be Rococo or something like that as well. But walking through it was pretty amazing. It was jam- packed. The Sistine Chapel was something that I've seen pictures of it and books my whole life, but then actually going in there and being amongst all the people just in there in silence because they're just in awe of the magnificent depictions that are there. And it's really a small place. It's a chapel, but the paintings by Michelangelo at the ceiling, the fresco The Last Judgment, it's just kind of overwhelming. It's amazing that someone did that and they did it by hand. It's not some sort of modern way of printing. It took him quite a bit of time. I admire things that are skillful and great, regardless of what the medium is. It's not just art and architecture. I love watching the beauty of someone doing a long jump and track. It's just amazing. It's amazing looking at the things that they can do and appreciating that skill. The same thing can be with software, to be honest, seeing a really beautifully designed user interface or set of code. But specifically with art, it really was amazing. And being able to see... They had swatches that showed before and after they had restored everything, because everything is restored now but there were purposely spots on the ceiling and on The Last Judgment that they did not restore. They left all the soot that had been there for hundreds of years so you could see what it looked like to people who went 50 years ago to see it, and then what it looks like now. And, man, the restoration really brings out the color and the vibrant aspect of it. It really was beautiful. From Rome, we had traveled up more in towards the central part of Italy in the Florence and Sienna area. Definitely, if you like art and architecture, Rome and Florence would be your places to go. In Florence, that's where the Uffizi gallery is. That is a place where you could probably go every day for two weeks and still not see everything, so you have to have that type of expectation. The walls are jam- packed with art. And maybe you could like run through it and see everything, but I'm talking about really see and appreciate.
Angel Leon: Right, exactly. You're not going to be able to appreciate everything in there. So, yeah.
Mark: Correct. And going in and just some of those things that... I know that the Mona Lisa is at the Louvre and people talk about how they're surprised at how small that is. Well, you go into the Uffizi and you see like the Birth of Venus, and you're amazed at how huge it is. It takes up the whole wall. But it is amazing going through there and seeing the art of the masters and being able to see how different aspects and techniques changed over time. In the Renaissance is when they really added in the concepts of perspective and seeing... Paintings that were two dimensional before, but then, bam, now that they look life- like and three- dimensional. It was pretty cool. Now, those areas, particularly like the Uffizi, Florence, man, there's a lot of tourists there. So, you have to be comfortable around crowds, without a doubt. You also have to understand that a lot of the art, whether it was the doors of the Baptistry by Ghiberti or Michelangelo's David, the original artwork has been removed from the outside public square to protect it and then brought into museums such as the Academy. So, what you actually see are reproductions in their original locations. Even the reproductions, they look great, but just so you don't feel cheated when you go in there, you definitely should know that and understand that. But Florence was also a beautiful area. What I really liked about Sienna was it definitely made you feel like you were basically in the Middle Ages. All the roads were cobblestone. The streets themselves and the buildings, they were built for hundreds of years ago when people had horses and carriages and were walking, not for cars nowadays. So, the buildings were so close together. As you walked around the whole town, you definitely felt like you were transplanted to somewhere that might be just more of your imagination or something you'd see in a TV show or movie, but you really are living it there. Siena is an area where it's known for its yearly derby that it has. I'm from Louisville, Kentucky, myself, so when I hear people say like the word race, I think of the Kentucky Derby.
Angel Leon: Yeah.
Mark: I live in Indianapolis now. If people say the word race, they think Indy 500. In Siena, they have their own derby and it's actually pretty cool. This square, they have a square with a track in it, and they've been doing it for quite a while. I wasn't there when it was ran, but just seeing the pictures of it was quite impressive. So, if you want to feel transplanted, definitely Siena is a nice place to go. I definitely went to a number of other smaller areas. L'Aquila is one that if people have heard of it, how they'd know of it is... Saffron is a spice and cooking. Well, the world's best saffron comes from L'Aquila. Now, what makes it so special? I don't know. I learned that it was so great from it. There was a Disney movie called Ratatouille, and there's a scene in it where he's getting saffron and the mouse is like, " Make sure it's from L'Aquila."
Angel Leon: Yeah, I remember that.
Mark: A place I really liked was a small town called Torgiano. It was in the Tuscany region, which when I went there, where I stayed at the hotel was actually... It was a, I want to say, 17th century castle or something like that that had gotten refurbished into a hotel. So, it was cool staying in an old place that had that character. It's the same reason why people in America buy old homes. They say, " Hey, it's got character and appeal with that." The hotel really had that. They had modern aspects of it too, such as they built a pool in the back. And I just remember going out there, I was laying by the pool reading Tony Dungy's book. Quiet Strength had just come out, so I was reading that, just kind of relaxing. And every once in a while I look up and just look at the hills in Tuscany, thinking, " Wow, this is amazing. I understand why people painted so many pictures of it," because those rolling hills with the sunshine and the weather, it was beautiful and it really felt like you were in heaven there.
Angel Leon: Let me ask you something that came to mind while you were talking specifically about places like Rome, Vatican City, Siena. Thinking about how we here in the states and how people like us who work for a tech company, we're always connected. We're always on the go. We have our phones with us. We have our laptops, our tablets, you name it. But then for some reason, when you go to a place like Italy, Rome, or if you go to Europe in general, you see lifestyle, how that differs from ours. It's a little bit more easy going. It's a little bit more, I don't know, not to sound too cliche, but it's laissez- faire. It's more... It's okay. The Spanish take a break during the day. They close their stores because they go take their siestas, and then you go to a place like Italy where there's so much history. There's so much culture. Talk to us a little bit about how, as a tech guy yourself, when you go to a place like that, how do you get away from all your tech stuff? Because I feel like, and I've done this because I've traveled the world too, thank God. I've been able to just disconnect myself and just breathe a different air without having to be connected to my phone or things like that. So, what can you tell us about being a tech a person and just disconnecting and having a different lifestyle when you're... I don't want to say just on vacation because I think the places that we've spoken in Italy, like Rome and the Vatican city, those places have so much history that it just kind of disconnects you, right?
Mark: Yeah. Definitely no matter where travel, you should appreciate the moment that you're in there, even with technology. When you travel, you see a lot of people bring out their phone so they can take a picture of it or a video so they can capture that moment. But often they do that too much. It's just appreciate that moment because the memory itself in your mind is more important. For me, the easiest way to disconnect is simply don't buy the international plan for your phone when you travel and then you won't have to worry about that. That's definitely a good way to do it, but everybody has their different limitations, particularly depending on your family situation. If you have kids at home, you're traveling without them, you might want to be able to call back. There's different things that you can do. But I think probably the best way to do that outside of just not buying that plan is the people that you go with. Keep each other honest. If you're going with spouses, friends, family, whatever it is, and just kind of make a little bit of a pact of, " Hey, we're not going to be rude to each other, but everybody, just gentle reminders to put your phone away. Let's just enjoy this."
Angel Leon: Well, and I think what you mentioned is important too because nowadays we have these phones that have such powerful cameras, so it's not terrible to just walk around with that if you're going to record or take a picture of something with that specific item. But I just find that interesting because I was out in Europe before the pandemic began in October 2019, and just by walking around in the different places and the history that happened in the places that I was at... I was in Denmark in Copenhagen. I was in Sweden and a small fishing town off of Germany, which... It's exactly the picturesque, small fishing town that you would think is in Germany, just how pretty the architecture. The people were super nice. It's just so different that I had never once thought about taking my phone to go to the different social media sites, to go to check my email for work or something like that. I was just taking in the moment, and that I think is key when people travel, especially abroad because sometimes it's a once in a lifetime opportunity. So, you don't know if you can get back to that place or if you even can go somewhere else after that. So, I think that's very important. What else can you tell me about Italy? Because I know you mentioned something about Assisi earlier in our discussion prior to us recording today. So, I want you to share that with our listeners.
Mark: Oh yeah. So, definitely my favorite place on my whole trip was going to Assisi. It was not something that I had built up in my head before I went at all. It was somewhere where I knew I wanted to go. I had a lot of wishlist items. But there were just several aspects of it that had... I had a very spiritual and religious connection there. I was lucky. The tour that my wife and I signed up for, usually on tours they have like 70 people on the bus, but our tour, for some reason, only 14 people signed up for it.
Angel Leon: Wow.
Mark: They still did it even just with the 14, so we had a lot more freedom. We weren't getting herded as much from place to place, and we were actually ahead of schedule quite a bit. So, either we had more free time or we had a... Our tour guide was really good. He lived in Italy. He had done it for a long time, being a guide. He knew other places to take us to fill it in, and the first place was when we had extra time. There is a church in Italy that has Saint Francis' actual chapel that he prayed in when he was living. That chapel is housed inside of another church that was built around it, and there's a dome in the center that's right above Saint Francis' chapel. It was another case where when we went in, and I... It's a small little building, but just walking into it and just the awe and the aura that I was feeling walking in there, the same place that Saint Francis had been. I was just speechless and really taken emotionally. And from a historical standpoint, what our tour guide said was there was actually an earthquake at some point where the church that protected Saint Francis' chapel had all crumbled. Basically, an earthquake came and the whole thing came down except for the dome that protected the chapel. So, that structure was completely protected, and they rebuilt around it again. That was part one for me. Part two is in Assisi they have two... I can't remember what the proper term is for it, if it's basilica or whatnot. But they had more of a newer church, which was built right on top and next to an older church in Assisi. The newer church, maybe, was like 400 or 500 years old. The older one, when you went into that, that was more of a cave almost. When you went, it was dark. I don't remember there being windows. There were frescoes on the walls, and that's actually where Saint Francis of Assisi's body is laid. And it's just kind of another aspect of it. It's really hard to put into words what I felt, but what I felt was magnificent when I was there. I'm not a person who talks about my faith too much, but I had a very moving spiritual experience there. And I feel an urge to go back to have that again. I do wonder would it be the same if I went back, but just being there... Yeah. I just can't put it to words too much. There was another aspect of it. I remember when we were leaving, there was actually a statue of Saint Francis. And Saint Francis, among other things, he's typically known as being the patron saint of animals. The statue, the arms were out almost like you're cradling a baby, and in it were actual live birds that were just resting there with Saint Francis. It seemed amazing that live birds would be taken to the statue there. So, I'd definitely enjoy going back. There were aspects where it was definitely touristy as you were walking down the street. There were vendors trying to sell you knickknacks and that, and I admit I did get a Christmas ornament of the Pope. They did succeed there. But the true meaning for me was that spiritual connection that I had.
Angel Leon: Certainly. And that connection and that experience, it goes back to what we were talking about not too long ago about that connection with where you are and how you enjoy that without your technological items by just being present, by just being there and experiencing that.
Mark: Correct. I never thought about pulling my phone out the whole time I was there. And then also, to people who might have that urge to bring their phone out, I guarantee whatever picture you want to take of whatever statue or artwork or landscape, you can buy a better version of it, a poster on the internet. You can get a book. There are professionals who that's their job. So, if you really love it, you can go back later and look for that on the internet. Just live in the moment there and appreciate that opportunity that you've been given, because you may never know when you're going to be able to go back.
Angel Leon: Exactly, yeah. And just for the listeners, you obviously can't see us, but I'm looking at Mark through my computer just to see his expression and his mannerism when he was telling you that story. I can tell you, it definitely is better than what a picture would have been if you were taking that picture. Just by looking at him expressing himself and expressing his history, his story, it's definitely worth your while. So, Mark, we really appreciate you taking the time today with us and telling us about your experiences in Italy. We've really enjoyed it. Thank you very much.
Mark: Thank you.
Angel Leon: So, thank you for listening into this week's edition of ASCII Anything, presented by Moser Consulting. We hope you enjoyed our conversation of our experts' favorite vacation spots. We'd love it if you would join us next week when we continue to dive deeper with our resident experts in what they're currently working on. In the meantime, please remember to give us a rating and subscribe to our feed wherever you get your podcasts. Until then, so long everybody.